Light Pollution

Where we live is in a strange place when it comes to dark skies – the north and east of the village suffer from a lot of light pollution from places like Crook, Consett, Durham and even Newcastle but the south and the west are relatively dark – and so they should be given that they look inland towards the more sparsely inhabited areas in the North Pennines. The upshot of this is if you venture away from the street lights in the village you get some wonderful views of the stars in the night sky.

In fact if I’m honest you don’t have to go that far, the Dark Sky Discovery site classifies two types of site to view the night sky – firstly there’s a Milky Way site where the Milky Way is visible to the naked eye and then there is a Orion Site where the seven main stars in the winter constellation Orion are visible to the naked eye which puts my back garden into the latter category. Then there is the Thornley Road (before that idiot put those super bright spot lights outside his unit), at the bottom of Ironworks Road and behind the cemetery where the Milky Way can be seen on a really dark night and both of those are within walking distance. We’ve also got Derwent Reservoir and Parkhead Station within a twenty minute drive that are both recognised by the North Pennines AONB as being dark sky discovery sites.

Of course over 100 years ago, when the skies would have been much darker, there was an observatory in the village. A local clergyman built one in the garden of the rectory. The Rev Espin, who also dabbled with medical use of x-rays, was a well renowned astronomer and even has a crater on the dark side of the moon named after him!

So the other night when I discovered that the sky was really clear I set out to discover for myself if the skies were dark enough for astrophotography. I would have driven to a dark sky discovery spot but by the time I discovered the sky was so clear I’d had a couple of glasses of wine so it wasn’t a good idea! I has also seen on Facebook that the moon was due to set at around ten to one so I figured I’d go out just before that and see what it was like.

I decided that I would head up to behind the cemetery so I got my camera out and refreshed my memory by looking at the cheat sheet I’d got from Kielder observatory earlier in the year and set my camera up ready to save me fiddling around in the dark. I took my tripod and headed off through the quiet streets to the edge of the village and then turned down a lane that runs down to the old railway track. As I did the moon was hanging low in the sky and I decided to see if I could get a picture of it. I started to set up but that was then I discovered that in future I need to remember that as well as setting my camera up before leaving I should also familiarise myself with the tripod, at least until I get used to it as this is only the third time I’ve actually used it and remembering the ins and outs in the dark wasn’t a great idea.

After a while and not getting any satisfactory shots of the moon (need to work that out obviously!) I moved on and continued to the end of the track where it meets with the old railway track which runs pretty much north -south being the line that used to run towards Consett. I moved into a position that meant I had the lights of the street behind me and where I was facing where I assume the Milky Way to be. I set my camera up and started to take a few shots. After 3 or 4 I realised that I had zoomed in to take the shots of the moon and once I’d gone back to the widest setting I could see a lot more of the sky!

I started to take various shots using various settings but decided that the light from the moon was too bright so it might be best to wait until the moon had set before trying again. At that point I turned around and I saw that the Plough was sitting directly above one of my favourite trees in the area so I swung my camera around and tried to capture the shout.

I did a 20 second exposure and when the image popped up on the screen I could see that I had an issue with light pollution – firstly in the bottom left where the street light on the A68 was causing a huge orange glow but also from the general north and east spill of light from our village and the surround area which was showing bottom right. Still the Plough had come out well and I wondered if I could move to get a better angle. I tried to take another shot and as I did nothing happened – I realised that the battery was dead and put my hand in my pocket for the spare only to realise that it was still sitting on the windowsill as I’d forgotten to pick it up!

I had no choice but to head back cursing myself for forgetting it and then cursing the nettles I walked into in the dark! Still it had been an experience and I had learned a few things for next time. It was quite eerie round the back of the cemetery especially when I could hear an angry horse in the field in front of me as I was leaving!

Still when I got home and processed the images I was quite pleased with this one – despite the light from a very bright moon!

Brian Wilson – Live from Times Square 

I went to see Brian Wilson on Sunday as I’d got a free ticket from someone at work. I only got there about half way through Martha Reeves and the Vandellas but luckily in time to hear her sing Heatwave and Dancing in the Streets before which she name checked the Grateful Dead among the artists who had covered it. 

Next up was Seasick Steve who I knew of but wasn’t really familiar with. I know a lot of my friends rave about him which is usually enough to put me off! His set started while I was at the back talking to one of my friends and seemed very loud. I went down the front only expecting to stay for a few songs but found myself enjoying his set so I stayed there right till the end. He played some odd instruments throughout his set from guitars made out of hubcaps to a one stringed, banjo necked, washboard guitar.

Brian Wilson’s set was interesting to say the least. It was a big band, I counted four guitars and three keyboard players! Brian Wilson was led on by someone and sat centre stage at a keyboard where he remained for the rest of the evening. There were two original Beach Boys on stage, Wilson and Al Jardine {who’s son Matt seemed to contribute most of the Beach Boy type vocals and  there was also later band member Blondie Chaplin. 

They opened with California girls and then played a few more numbers before launching into playing Pet Sounds in it’s entirety. Wilson sang occasionally although his voice is no where near what it used to be. He seemed to play keyboards sparsely throughout the set. At one point the band played an instrumental and it dawned on me that he was just sitting there with his hands in his lap.  

Talking of instrumentals, Wilson was occasionally introducing songs but he spoke slowly and didn’t say anything of grest import. He would say “here’s a song that features Mstt Jardine on vocals” or “now we’re going to play Pet Sounds” but the classic was “we’re going to play an instrumental without words or singing!”

They finished off the set with a section of some of their best known songs Good Vibrations, Help me Rhonda, Surfing USA etc. At the end of the evening Wilson stood up, joined the others for a bow and then left the stage, there was no encore.

The more I reflected on the show the sadder it made me feel. It dawned on me that the show wouldn’t have been that different if Wilson hadn’t been there at all! It’s clear that the guy isn’t well and it really made me worried that he was being used – his presence allowing the ticket price to be inflated, especially given that they were selling VIP packages at most shows giving access to the band and soundcheck for several hundred pounds. Nostalgia sells and makes someone a lot of money. I personally wouldn’t have paid £45 for tonight! 


California Girls
Dance, Dance, Dance
I Get Around
Surfer Girl
Don’t Worry Baby
Wild Honey
Sail On, Sailor

Pet Sounds:

Wouldn’t It Be Nice
You Still Believe in Me
That’s Not Me
Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)
I’m Waiting for the Day
Let’s Go Away for Awhile
Sloop John B
God Only Knows
I Know There’s an Answer
Here Today
I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times
Pet Sounds

Good Vibrations
Barbara Ann
Help Me, Rhonda
Surfin’ U.S.A.
Fun, Fun, Fun
Love and Mercy


All photos ©Kevin Geraghty-Shewan

All photos taken using a Google Pixel and edited in Snapseed and/or Photoshop

Well that made my day! 

I posted this picture I took of Seasick Steve at Live from Times Square on Instagram on Sunday evening. Then yesterday a professional photographer left a message saying that he had got a very similar shot and it was his favourite from all seven gigs that he’d attended.

I could have left it there but I responded with a message pointing out how I had left my Nikon at home and instantly regretted it and that all my photos had been taken using my mobile phone from the audience.

He was gobsmacked and asked what phone I’d used and said they were “class pictures” given that they were taken on a mobile!

I told him it was a Google Pixel but obviously I was going to take the credit rather than the phone.

He then replied that he’d used five thousand pounds worth of equipment and I’d got the same shot with my mobile – he said he was retiring!

As I said – made my day!

Durham Miner’s Gala 2017

Here’s a few of the photographs I took at the 133rd Big Meeting this year including some from the inaugural Davey Hopper Memorial Lecture on the Friday evening at the Miner’s Institute with guest speaker Ken Loach.


And on the Saturday – in and around Durham City

Then onto the Racecourse and the speeches

And the home again…

…until next year!


Reaching for the Stars

On the 26th March I headed off to Kielder because I was booked onto an Astro Photo event at the Observatory. Sarah had bought me a voucher for my last but one birthday and it had expired so I had to cajole the Observatory into letting me use it to book this event. She also bought me my tripod for Christmas and this would be it’s first outing. Given all this I couldn’t understand why she was moaning about me going…unless of course it was because it was Mothers day!

The drive up to Kielder is quite a wild one, I think we live somewhere quite remote but really it’s nothing compared with some of the places you pass on the way to England’s remotest village! We’ve been to the campsite before and we know that there’s no mobile signal or anything up there – in fact on the way back it was about 40 minutes of driving before I got any signal! The last bit of the drive is up a single track road which winds it’s way up the side of the hill before flattening out at the top where there is a car park next to the observatory building. It seems like you are really high up but in reality you’re no higher than you would be at Tow Law, which of course used to have it’s own observatory once upon a time.

I parked in the car park, I could see there were people waiting outside so I guessed it wasn’t open yet. I wasn’t sure which coat to wear as I’d brought my jacket and my big coat. As it wasn’t too cold I plumped for the jacket but figured that I could always go back and get the bigger one if I needed it. I got talking to the chap who was parked next to me as I was putting my coat on and getting my camera out. It dawned on me that I hadn’t brought a hat but I did have a hood so figured that would have to do! I wandered down to the door by which time people were going in. I had printed off my ticket but didn’t need it as they had a laptop with everyone’s name on it.

We were invited to take a seat in the room we’d just gone into. The room was quite small and made of wood. There was a screen onto which were being projected images of space and wood burning stove in the corner. The room was lit with red lights powered, presumably, by the wind turbine we passed on the way in. While we sat and waited for the event to start one of the organisers came dashing in saying “I need my camera there is a beautiful sunset out there” and then he left again. A few seconds later he returned and said “I’m not joking, it’s beautiful and there’s all you lot here with cameras…” I followed him out and took a picture using my mobile phone, others followed and soon there were quite a few of us out there.

The event started with a lecture about photography (obviously) and they ran through a ten point plan to get us started discussing exposure, focussing, file formats, location etc. I found a lot of the stuff I either knew or could have worked out myself but it was useful to hear the tips and techniques. The talk went on for about an hour and at that point we were invited to get our cameras out and go and give it a try. They apparently have a contingency plan in case the sky isn’t clear but thankfully we don’t need it tonight as the skies are clear. I spend a little time sorting out my camera before heading out. I have a shutter release cable but although I’ve tested it before I discover that it doesn’t work if I use the mirror up setting! I also spend time getting the focus correct only to discover later that my lens actually had infinity focus marked on it!

When I eventually get outside I’m struck by how many stars there are out there especially given it doesn’t seem that dark! I was expecting, as we’re in a dark sky park, it to be pitch black but it wasn’t – in fact I think I know places where it seems darker at home but I’m guess that the main factor is lack of light pollution which means the stars can be seen. I spend the next couple of hours taking photos with varying degrees of success! I notice at one point that my camera has gone from RAW to TIF and I wasn’t sure how that happened but I later realised that the button for changing it is next to the button for changing the ISO so I must have changed it by mistake. I also discover that the dial for changing the aperture is right underneath the on/off button and I lost count of how many times I accidentally switched the camera off!

I try different settings and different framings to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t. I realise that although the sky looks uniformly dark there is more light nearer the ground than if you point the camera into the sky. I also discover that a foreground object like the observatory works better than just pointing at the stars. I bracket my exposures to see what works and what makes a difference.

At one point we’re called in so they can take coffee orders – apparently we can have tea, coffee or hot chocolate but we can have them in a normal mug which means they have to wash up 30 mugs or we could purchase a nice souvenir Observatory mug from them for £3.50, drink our coffee out of it and then take it home. Apparently they’ve been spotted as far away as Whitley Bay! Needless to say most people went with the second option!

We went back outside while they made our drinks and while I was taking photos it dawned on me that not only did I not feel the cold as much as most people – I was wearing my jacket and hoody but both were open and had no gloves or hat whereas others looked like they were off to explore the artic – but I seem to have much better night vision than most too as people seemed to flounder in the dark and lots had brought red torches to find their way about. My theory is that I’m used to walking in the dark as I have spent most of my life in darkened conference halls but as well as that I walk the dog regularly in the dark roads around Tow Law. I also think your eyes will adjust if you’re in the darkness but if you insist on using a torch they’ll take longer!

The event finished at 11 and then I had an hour and a half journey home again. One road in particular was worrying me as it had been a winding narrow road that was quite scary in the light (I remember it from our trip in the campervan last year)  but at night it would be worse. It turned out not to be as bad as I thought but as I got near the end another car came up behind me. This car then followed me all the way down the A68 till wereached the A69 where he finally overtook me – why he couldn’t overtake me sooner or drop back I don’t know…unless it was because it was a Volvo!

I had a great evening and I am looking forward to finding somewhere near me to go out and take photographs but in the meantime here’s a couple I took tonight!

Seven Years Later…

So I originally started this blog in 2010 meaning to document the family but at that time it was felt (not by me) that it might not be such a good idea putting information about the kids online so it kind of fell into disuse. I kept the domain because I use it for my email address but a few weeks ago I decided it might be a good idea to start using the site again primarily to promote my photographs but also to put up pictures of events we have attended.

So that’s what I’m going to do! So there!

You know when you’ve been…..

So we have another new cat bringing the total to 4.  I’m told that this is it – definitely no more! I was looking at my e-mail one morning when I saw a message on Freecycle offering a “Ginger fluffball” . Now I’ve always wanted a ginger cat so I did the pathetic look at Sarah and she told me to e-mail for more details. So to cut a long story short, his owner couldn’t keep him because he kept picking up fleas from her neighbours cats and one of her children was reacting really badly to bites from the fleas.

So after a few e-mails passing backwards and forwards the cat was brought over on Sunday afternoon. he is very similar to Diesel and Louie in that he is a huge furry cat with a big fluffy tail. He’s bigger than the other two and didn’t react quite as badly to his new home as Louie did. he hid for a while and is still wary of the other cats but he is starting to settle in.

tango 1

tango 2

His name?


Eggs, Snails and Pussycat tales

The week before we went on holiday we had been trying to convince Louis that he would really like to go outside but every time we opened the door he looked out, sniffed and then went back in again. On the rare occasions when we did manage to get him to cross the threshold he would only go a few feet and then scarper back to the house!

The on the Friday night while we were packing he decided to go a bit further and without realising he was outside the door got shut and we went to bed thinking he was hiding in the house. It was only the next morning that we noticed he was missing and despite lots of shouting he didn’t reappear. Lissi set off round the streets and alleyways armed with some chicken and calling him and while she was getting ready Bex went out to look for him, but he was no where to be seen.

So we had to set off on holiday and text Alex who was feeding the animals to let him know that Louis was missing. Unfortunately Alex had never seen Louis so keeping an eye our for him was going to be difficult. We had a few reports while we were away but they were all to say he hadn’t reappeared. Alex had been putting food outside for him and it had been disappearing but he had no way of telling if it was Louis or one of the other cats who were eating it.

So as we made our way back we were convinced that he wasn’t coming back. I half expected his former owner to call us up and say he had turned up back there! So it was a nice surprise to find when we opened the kitchen door that he was sitting there, large and life and twice as hungry!

Meanwhile Brian the snail was back to stay for the Easter break and Lissi was insistent that he couldn’t be left at home so we had to take him on holiday with us! So she put his cage in a carrier bag and sat with him on her knee all the way to Portsmouth. She then insisted that he couldn’t stay in the car on the ferry so took him up onto the decks with her.

Once we arrived in Shanklin he had a nice spot on the shelf above the fire in the caravan where he stayed for most of the week munching on cucumber! Except he didn’t – he ate the first few bits but then didn’t touch any more all week – we were getting worried about him….

brian hols

Then when we returned on Friday evening after being at Flamingo Park all day we noticed 8 little round white balls in the corner of his cage where he was sitting. Surely they couldn’t be eggs…..could they? We googled Giant African Land Snail eggs and sure enough they looked just like the ones that were in his cage. Now we knew that snails are hermaphrodites but we also knew that Brian hadn’t seen another snails since he arrived at the school about 6 months ago. So we googled that too and found that they can still lay eggs even if they have already laid some since they were last in contact with another snail!

The next morning there were hundreds of them. I think Lissi counted 178 in all. We have no idea if they will hatch and it hasn’t helped that the “Snail Lady” who knows these things had been stuck abroad – a victim of the Volcanic Ash flight ban. So we could be hearing the slither of little Brian’s and Briony’s very soon!