soapbox

Oprah-bashing the country

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  It would appear that certain Australian commentators are suffering through a ‘winter of discontent’ at the moment. Fueled by too much coffee, not enough vitamin d, and a terrible lack of perspective, they are sitting at desks trawling through the last six months of news, snuffling out old articles that raise their ire enough that they can start gnashing their teeth over. This week, it would appear that it’s Tourism Australia’s turn to (again) feel their discontented wrath.

Tourism Australia has copped it a lot in the last twelve months, and some people like to keep flogging. This time, the ‘outrage’ is centred on Tourism Australia paying $5 million to lure talk show host Oprah Winfrey and her studio audience here, to advertise and raise Australia’s tourist profile late last year. Apparently, this demonstrates Tourism Australia’s complete incompetence as a marketing body. Of course, this was debated at the time it occurred, but here it comes again. Why? Ah, because six months on, commentators have 'cleverly' constructed, oops, I mean, 'discovered' 'proof'.

Apparently, corroboration of this massive flop has been found in Tourism Australia's own statistics. The evidence cited by the media, is that since the show aired in January this year, visitor numbers to Australia from the U.S have actually declined, compared to the same period last year. On the face of it, the argument could work. Oprah came, Oprah hawked, figures declined, end of story. Of course, conveniently omitted, are the statistics that show that tourism numbers from most major tourist markets also declined over the same period. Does no one remember the GFC, or all the natural disasters that have occurred in our 'neighbourhood' lately, perhaps curbing tourist enthusiasm and/or ability to travel to this part of the world? It would appear not. Poor Tourism Australia!

Now, I’m no particular fan of Oprah, nor a detractor. I haven’t watched talk shows since uni, and definitely don’t like the format. I didn't watch the show in question when it aired, and didn't join in, or even watch the local hype when she was here. Oprah just wasn’t my thing.

But, does it deserve the negative commentary it’s generated? I really don’t think so. Was it a Roman candle of an advertising stunt? Yes, I think it was meant to be. Got your attention, didn’t it, good or bad?! In the short term, was Oprah (and the local broadcasters who televised almost every minute) the first major beneficiary of the coverage? Definitely. Were Oprah’s goals and motivations different from Tourism Australia’s. Undoubtedly. Does the fact that Oprah ‘won’ something first, mean that Tourism Australia who paid for it, can’t? Since when? It would appear that some elements of the public don’t understand the notion of ‘win-win’ scenarios, and how parties at the same event can possess different goals. I guess that possessing all the facts, displaying a balanced perspective and critical thinking skills, while acknowledging views other than your own just isn’t convenient to opinionated ‘soapboxers’.

For a start, are the commentators who are calling it a failure, even arguing a valid point? I haven’t heard or found any evidence that in staging the event, Tourism Australia’s goal was to prompt a great influx of tourists from America within six months. Surely to prove that the exercise was a waste of money, you need to prove that it was a goal to start with?

Are we really that short-sighted, and expect gratification that quickly, anyway? The show didn't air worldwide until January this year. Barely six months has passed. For a start, a holiday from the U.S to Australia is not a long weekend jaunt to Bali, New Zealand or Perth. It's a long haul commitment, requiring money, planning and motivation.

I had the privilege of doing the reverse trip earlier this year, and it certainly wasn’t a snap decision. It was the realisation of a trip of a lifetime, which included NYC. However, in reality, as part of a fixed earning household, it couldn’t happen overnight. Between work and family commitments and schedules, the associated costs of international travel, trip planning, and northern vs southern hemisphere seasonal conflicts, it took months for to get us there. From first serious suggestion to take off it was a full eighteen months to action (we first toyed with the idea two or three years earlier). A lot of that came down to budgetary considerations, and saving. We didn't want to carry a lot of debt back with us from an overseas holiday. As it was, given our budget and work commitments, we still couldn’t afford to travel at the height of the U.S peak summer season.

Weekly travel shows, endless advertising of ‘cheap’ flights, and a small percentage of frequent jetsetters within the poulation, might give us a perception that people are constantly travelling around the world willy-nilly, and at the drop of a hat. But, is that the reality for your average Western tourist, with work commitments, household costs, and dependents? When I say, leisure tourist, I don’t mean business people travelling on a company tab. Australia is not a ‘long weekend’ destination to Northern hemisphere travellers. For America’s ‘Bali’ of short stays, look to Mexico.

Did anyone really expect American viewers to watch the episode, and be so instantly enamoured that they booked a trip to our shores the next day, or the next week - and for the Australian winter, just as they were gearing up for their own summer?

With the decline and recession of the global economy, the American dollar's subsequent loss of potency, coupled with current employment pressures on the average American worker and family, holidaying is even more likely to be a medium to long-term aspiration. Especially one involving large capital outlay to the other side of the world. In the last five years, the average visitor from the U.S spent an average of 23 days in Australia, just under a month. That length of stay requires motivation, planning, and a good amount of money. It doesn’t mean it won’t happen, it just won’t happen overnight.

Aha, say the bashers, if it's going to take so long anyway, then why did we spend the money on Oprah to start with?!

My opinion, is that this demonstrates a real point of difference in how Tourism Australia is now approaching its marketing spend. It targets a completely different channel of marketing, compared to  traditional TV advertising campaigns, which are limited to targeted, but isolated markets (and run at much greater expense).

Oprah was listed as "one of the 100 people who most influenced the 20th Century" and "one of the most influential people" from 2004 to 2011 by TIME. The "Oprah Effect", or the power of Oprah's opinions and endorsement to influence public opinion, especially consumer purchasing choices, has been well-documented, in domains as diverse as book sales, beef markets, and election voting. Not only is Oprah one of the most influential people in North America, the reach of her talk show, accompanying magazine and online presence extends worldwide. As a result, her adventure to Australia reached a global audience of tens of millions of potential visitors (and let's not forget, potential purchasers of Australian products, as well). That’s not just influence over Americans, that’s global traction.

Fine, you may sneer, but why did we have to bring her and her audience here?

Ultimately, because Oprah's talk show format is also a world leader in 'testimonial' marketing. Testimonials possess two important characteristics — source credibility and similarity — both of which have been found to positively impact on customer belief and attitude change in both marketing and psychology. Testimonials are currently one of the most potent marketing tools.

It focuses on people watching Oprah and her audience engaged in positive and personal experiences, which portray Australia as friendly, valuable, and worthwhile. Effectively, they 'testify' that Australia is a great place to visit, through their enjoyment of their personal experience. In creating satisfied customers, in the form of Oprah and her audience, Tourism Australia was looking to affirm the quality, depth, and/or value of Australia’s products and services to viewers worldwide. If the customer on screen ‘buys’ into what they see and hear watching the experience of others, they sell themselves on the idea, and are more likely to be motivated to experience the same - especially if it's an aspirational, more costly item, such as world travel. It has much greater impact than just sending Cate Blanchett or Croc Dundee to an American studio with a script and a show reel, to tout the virtues of Australia to a passive, seated studio audience.

In the U.S alone, 7.4 million people watched Oprah daily. The largest segment of viewers were female, white, and over the age of 55, representing about half the total audience of about 3.7 million viewers. Overall, 2% of all 18 to 49-year-old Americans watch Oprah. Before finishing this year, her show aired in 140 countries, and was the most popular talk show worldwide every year since 1998.

Why is that significant? Why on earth would we want older women watching Australia? It might challenge your personal perceptions, but it’s because of power and influence. In the United States alone, the average woman in this demographic annually spends 2.5 times more than the average American on consumer goods, and is the primary purchaser of computers, cars, banking and financial services, and other 'big-ticket' items (including holiday travel). The average 55 to 75 year-old consumer’s role has changed in recent decades “from homemaker to purchaser of security, convenience and luxury items.” As well as purchasing, there is also the influence these women have on male partners and family members, in recommending goods and services for purchase. With this particular demographic being the healthiest, wealthiest and most active generation of women in history, according to "Demographics" by Mark Miller, companies now tailor their message according to their needs by life stage and health, rather than chronological age.

Marketers understood that advertising on 'The Oprah Winfrey Show' capitalised on that trend. In television terms, the daytime time slot is also a cost effective time period to reach those women, especially as advertising rates are lower during daytime programming, compared to primetime hours. With 75% of all purchases in the U.S made by the same female demographic that watched Oprah, it’s no wonder that advertisers used the show as the perfect vehicle to capture the attention of their target market, including Tourism Australia.

(You might scoff at this intentional bias of pro-female marketing, but it is a reality, and it's actually proliferated by companies dominated by male CEO's and executives).

The 'real' value of advertising sponsorships is always hard to quantify. However, given Oprah's worldwide daily audience of approximately 14.6 million, Tourism Australia's $5 million worth of  advertising amounted to spending just 34c per person for everyone who watched the programme. In anyone's terms, that is an extremely cheap price for reaching 14.6 million people.

Regardless, bashers sneer, it was still $5 million dollars of taxpayers money!

Yes, five million dollars seems a crazy amount of money to me, Joe(sephina) Blogs. But, is it realistic for me to baulk at the figure, given that it was for advertising an entire country, to a worldwide audience? Really, it seems like peanuts, and Australia as one of the richest and strongest economies in the world currently can afford it.

In 2009-10, the Federal Government recorded tax revenue of $270.9 billion. In the 2009-10 Budget, the largest spending areas for taxpayer funds were budgeted to be: social security and welfare ($116.5b), other purposes ($58.8b), health ($51.2b), education ($35.2b), defence ($21b) and general public services ($17.8b). 'Other purposes' mainly comprise revenue assistance to State, Territory and Local Governments, while 'general public services' refers to money paid to run the government, as well as public research and foreign aid. If we can spend $21 billion on defence, why not a fraction of that on positive marketing of the Australian experience? 

If you want to bash a case of ill-conceived taxpayer spending, how about the annual Melbourne Grand Prix? This event has posted a multi-million dollar loss every year that it has been run. In 2010, this loss was posted at $49.2 million, more than double the amount lost four year’s earlier, in 2006. A loss  countered by a state government ‘investment’ of the same amount in taxpayer funds. The last publicised Government statistics from 2008, claimed that the race generated up to $175 million revenue for Victoria. However, that same year, the Auditor-General found that the cost of hosting the grand prix outweighed those benefits by $6.7 million. Yet, even last year a further $7.8 million capital investment was allocated by the government for capital upgrade works to the race venue. Now, if you’re going to concern yourself with perceived misuse of taxpayer’s money, at least be consistent. Funding the Melbourne Grand Prix isn’t just a one-off cost, and has been proven to be a total loss to the Victorian Government (and taxpayers) since it began. Now, that’s a real, gross and ongoing ‘waste’ of taxpayer money, in my opinion!

I would suggest that bringing Oprah here was not a direct ploy by Tourism Australia to get Americans on planes within six months (nor is it all they spent their marketing budget on last year).  I imagine that they have a more realistic, and medium- to long-term view of the potential 'Oprah Effect'. This was a campaign to introduce Australia to a large worldwide audience, cheaply by global standards, geared to subtly win the hearts and minds of viewers, with fun and positive experiences and products on display, rather than with a hard sell. It was a change of tactic that acknowledged the changing trends in marketing and advertising practices worldwide. In the face of earthquakes, tsunamis, and GFC's, it presented Australia as a positive, attractive, and fun place to escape to. Good on Tourism Australia for trying something different!

It’s a pity that it didn’t generate the same thought, consideration and acknowledgment from commentators. But, that’s not what social commentary is all about, is it? Why completely analyse facts, and display critical thinking skills, when you can pour scorn on any decision that you don’t personally agree with, while bagging the rich and famous? Being small-thinking, and ‘bah humbug’ about the country, that’s much more ‘fun’.  I'd recommend that they drink less, and get out of the office more!

If you’d like to learn about Tourism Australia’s full strategy, including domestic tourism (which I think is just as crucial to the economy) their website can be found at www.tourism.australia.com/en-au/.

Disclaimer: I have no personal or professional affiliations, or dealings with either Tourism Australia, or Oprah Winfrey - in any way, shape or form - although I do go on holiday from time to time!

Fear of White, Pt. 3

I liked the idea that the white page is ‘chaos’ (have I read too many comic books?), but what stuck with me was the image of the calligrapher being on a journey. It was an idea that filled me with possibility, rather than dread. I’d always focussed on the end point, of what I was trying to say, and how I was trying to say it. The concept of exploring while I was writing was exciting. The concept that writing was an echo of that journey, also eased the focus on perfection. Echoes are not perfect replications, each is unique.

Without boring you with all of the flow diagrams, and doodles that ensued, with a bit more work, things fell into place. I took actions, based on the principles I'd learned about: self-acceptance, an appreciation of the world’s natural order, altering my view and perception of the situation, while changing my approach (or incorporating new elements into the existing one). Together, it all conspired to have me writing again.

What did I learn from the process... wax on, wax off.... Haha, just kidding. Well, maybe a little - you do have to put work in, in order to make a breakthrough. However, I also learned (in no particular order):

  • When you’re in a situation, sometimes the hardest thing, is to change the way you see and think about it, and be able to see other options. This is where casting the net wide, and being open to suggestions can be invaluable. What I read, gave me different perspective, and most importantly it challenged my perception of the problem. It also challenged me to tackle the problem from a different angle. You can interpret fresh and different ideas and concepts in surprising ways, and make them work for your specific situation.
  • The media message is contradictory, but perfection is a mirage. I still strive to perfect my writing as a way of communicating, and improve one piece upon the next, but I don’t aim for each piece to be perfect. I’m looking for continued progression and growth along the journey. With each passage, I build upon the lessons, and hopefully, ‘beauty’ of the last.
  • I try not to be my harshest critic anymore. Perfect or not, self-expression is authentic. It’s not always up to you to love or hate it, but to be yourself, and accept your work as a reflection of your own (valid) expression.
  • Read widely! (Libraries and secondhand bookstores are cool)
  • Sometimes that square peg, just won’t fit! I subsequently realised that I was attempting to write in a format, that was contrary to my natural style. When I accepted my style, I found a genre that worked for my writing. The world is a big enough place that there is a niche for everyone, even if it ends up being different to the one you thought it would be!
  • Rather than fighting your differences, and attempting to mould yourself into a shape or form that you’re not, recognise that there is a kind of perfection in just being you. If and when you change, it’s organic, shaped by the progression of time, and natural action of experience.
  • No matter how deep you think the hole is (it’s perception, remember), you can beat your brain at it’s own game! It might try and bamboozle you every so often, but you can grow and work through the challenges it presents. Now when I look back through my work, instead of encountering a sad prose cemetery,  it’s a photo album. I might cringe at the odd spiral perm *silent scream*, and wonder how I could’ve worn those jeans so short with those socks, but overall looking back makes me smile. I can’t deny that it was me (even if I do think, that I looked like a poodle), and maybe there’s actually the odd shot that I think is still kind of cool.

I now recognise that each passage of my work is a reflection of me at a certain time, at a certain place. Somedays my writing is better than others, and some pieces are better than others - and, they all have a place in the journey.

When it comes to my creative writing, I observe the following, “nurture all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect." *

All can be beautiful.


*  from, Wabi Sabi Simple, Powell, Richard R. (2004).

Fear of White, Pt. 2


In essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese philosophy and art of finding beauty in imperfection, and profundity in nature, and of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. Wabi-sabi is an aesthetic which embraces principles such as, asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity), simplicity, economy, austerity, and an appreciation of the inherent integrity of natural objects and processes. The author, Leonard Koren, describes wabi-sabi as an aesthetic which at its core, finds beauty in the "imperfect, impermanent and incomplete"* - the rusted gate, the shadow of a tree across a path, smile lines at the eyes, indicating the passage of time.

There is a lot I like about wabi-sabi, although it may require a leap to understand how the philosophy could help resolve a case of writer’s block. Maybe you’ll have to take my word for it. Maybe it has something to do with the connections my mind makes(!). At any rate, as I read more about it, the acceptance of imperfection struck a chord with me. I’d found a philosophy that acknowledged everything I loved about the world, and I couldn’t escape the ‘elephant in the room’ - imperfection was the very thing I refused to accept in my writing. This had always been the rotten contradiction. I thought about how I could apply wabi-sabi principles to the way I looked at my writing. For all the lumps and bumps that I saw, could I look past them? Could I appreciate a passage for what it was, not what I thought it could, or should be? I’d tried self-chastisement to solve things - quite unsuccessfully! Was it time for a little self-acceptance?


“C’mon”, I said to myself, “creative writing isn’t a direct dictation of life (that’s non-fiction!), but a series of your interpretations. An interpretation, isn’t perfect or imperfect, it just is, and it’s unique to you”.

“Hmmmm”, I replied.... there was still that nemesis of the stark white page...

Still, thoughts percolated.

In time, I came across the other piece of the puzzle, flicking through a completely unrelated book on Japanese calligraphy (I’d started out just looking at the artwork!), one day in Borders (remember Borders?). I encountered a Japanese description of the blank page, completely contrary to the one I’d been taught growing up, and it was a kicker. 

Here, the empty page was not ‘perfect’, apt to be spoiled or scarred. To Japanese calligraphers’, the paper was in fact itself a representation of a void, or state of chaos, which preceded the creation of form. With the touch of brush to paper, the calligrapher began a journey to draw the lines forth out of chaos. A finished sheet of calligraphy was an echo of each journey.

True, the poetry of this description appealed to me, but it also caused a synapse in my head to snap awake. I could also almost hear it, as I re-read the passage. All of the ideas and thoughts I’d had over the last few months, were prompted to spontaneously swarm, compress, and blend together in the small vortex of my brain. *Bang!* - I could see what might solve my problem.

Better still, it worked.


Concluded in Part III...


*  Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers, Koren, Leonard (1994).

Fear of White, Pt. 1

Okay, so here’s something you might have already figured out about me - I love writing. I’ve always loved to write. I’m fascinated and captivated by the written word, language, communication. From a young age, creating stories for myself and my younger brother (especially of our own fantastic adventures), was my favourite pastime. As I grew up, the writing grew too, and I was successful at it.

But, here’s something you might not know - for quite a long period, I wrangled with a very personal, 'fear of white'. Being confronted with a sheet of blank, white paper made me anxious. Or rather, the prospect of writing on it did. Not all writing eluded me, just anything personal. I never lost the ability to write or edit for others. In fact, once the fear set in, I found it much more gratifying to invest my energy in helping other people  to realise their own written ‘voices’ and stories, than worry about where mine had disappeared to. Writing for other people, I could exercise an objectivity that I found impossible to apply to my personal work. Confronting a blank page for a client is an exciting challenge, full of possibility. Put the same page in front of me for personal writing, and it was a pristine expanse that would only be ‘ruined’ by my inky scrawl.

For one reason or another (seldom is there ever just one), there came a time when nothing I wrote was good enough. I was a walking contradiction. What I loved most about life - the imperfections, the shadows and wrinkles, the flawed qualities of humanity - I came to despise most in my own prose. I was consumed with striving for perfection, phrasing every line and scene ‘perfectly’. I wanted to capture every detail, faithfully reproduce every nuance of what I saw, whether in life, or my mind’s eye. If I felt that an idea wasn’t perfectly conveyed on a page, I’d destroy it. Words no longer flowed like a torrent, each was weighed very heavily. Spontaneity vanished. I became mired in order, rules, descriptions, and definitions. Over time, this rigid pursuit of perfection, and rejecting anything ‘less’, snowballed. It gave way to misgivings, apprehension and fear. Soon, I didn’t want to mar the page at all. Alone, it was pristine, white, perfect. In the end, I lost faith that I could write anything. I was paralysed.

Self-expression is a tricky and stubborn ‘animal’, however. Ultimately, it ‘will out’! I fretted that I might never write personal creations again, but I also knew that there had to be a solution - no two ways about it. It may have looked as if I was standing still, but apparent inaction, doesn’t always mean that there’s no learning in action! What’s that quote about icebergs, or treading water? It’s all going on under the surface?

In the end, I came across two concepts, which resonated with me very powerfully. Although separate, they were catalysts which percolated together, and set me on a course to overcoming my fear of white. First, found on the pages of a dog-eared book about acrylics, in a second-hand bookstore, came the concept of wabi-sabi.

Continued in Part II...

Catch and Release


Sometimes, things fall into your lap - literally!

This shot is a photo of a temporary housemate of ours, rather unimaginatively dubbed "Skinky", just before he was released back out into 'the wild'. Skinky, funnily enough, is a skink(!). And, he literally fell into my short-term care. I was out for a walk with our dog, next to a creek, and while I was watching a bird flying low, across our path, Skinky fell from the bird's mouth just a metre or so in front of us. I couldn't believe it!

While I was still standing there, amazed (probably with my mouth unattractively wide open!), Neo (the dog) lurched forward, and made a beeline for what had dropped. Holding onto him, I ineveitably lurched too, and almost stepped on it. It took an angst-filled moment or two to get Neo away from this quarry, which he was also keen on as a potential protein (yuck!), and see what exactly the bird had 'lost'. After a little hooplah, there in the long grass, rolled into a ball, with a bloody nubbin where his tail had been moments earlier, was a very sick looking skink. I think we were both in shock, and for a moment, neither of us was moving!

Years of growing up with wildlife doco's, suddenly flooded back to me. The childhood trauma of watching the 'reality' of nature, gripped me (enter images of 'lion versus baby wilderbeast'!). David Attenborough's potential disapproval tsk-tsked in my head, but in this case - I could not let nature fend for itelf. I knew I may be tempting fate, and had no idea what the result would be... but, something lead me to wrestle home a very grumpy, and unco-operative dog, while carefully carrying a bloody and cold skink in a very unglamorous (but empty!) canine faecel receptacle (i.e. empty dog poo bag). At any rate, Skinky was a fine example of an animal that really wanted to live, despite the odds. He survived bird attack, loss of quite a bit of his tail, near dog attack, potential plastic bag suffocation, a heaping dose of shock, as well as a bit of a wait, while I rustled around in a panic, trying to find him suitable convalescent housing.

Enter, unused fish bowl, and assorted garden flora and fauna! Which, to make a long story short, worked very well. It took a few days, and I worried incessantly that David Attenborough would be right all along, but Skinky didn't die. In fact, I knew it was time for him to be released back home, when he started looking for a way out of the bowl. It was great to see him back to being a vigorous, wriggly skink. All up, he was kept just long enough for his bloody stump to callous over, and to regain a little more wriggle than when he 'strayed' across our path. I'd like to think that our meeting was mutually advantageous. My favourite part of watching him recuperate, was when he would crawl into a saucer of water that I had in the bowl and cool down. Watching him move around, eat and drink was awesome, and not something you get to see every day, unless you're watching a documentary. I feel very privileged to have experienced it at such close quarters. I just hope that he kept well away from would-be attackers back down at the creek!

I have to admit to a real love of skinks, not least the amazing details and patterns of their skin. Here he paused for a minute to sun himself, and I could get a shot. Look at those little toes. Although it's blurred, you can even see how his tail is now blunt at the end, rather than the usual slender taper. That bird got a good mouthful of tail, that's for sure!

Le Tour 2011


Ever since setting up camp in Australia, I always know it's my birthday month - when I find myself doing long kilometres on the couch for three weeks, watching "Le Tour"! I guess that's one of the drawbacks of being hitched to an ex-professional cyclist - sooner or later, some of that passion will undoubtedly rub off on you. No matter how hard you might fight it, one day you find yourself camped out on a hot, windy stretch of roadside for hours, waiting expectantly for a bunch of colourful, lycra-clad thighs to speed past, waiting for that split second glimpse of a Cadel Evans, Thor Hushovd, or Fabian Cancellara. You find youself nervous with excitement at the prospect of actually capturing a shot of one or two of them on your own camera. Sunday's at five, you find yourself watching Cycling Central on SBS. June, and you can't resist that first trawl of the Tour de France website to check out this year's course, and wonder just how cruel this year's mountain stages will be.

This month, not just the cyclists will suffer through Le Tour. Woe betide the besotted viewer on this side of the world! Coverage here in Australia is pretty much FULL (i.e. goes for HOURS daily!), is LIVE (i.e. doesn't start until 10pm local time!), runs Monday through Sunday for three weeks (although, they do have a couple of rest days, to be fair), and if you get too cold when you're still on the couch at 1am, there's LIVE WEB STREAMING to take to bed. Need I mention, half hourly summary shows twice a day, in case you did nod off the night before, and missed something? Suffer?! The square eyes! The dark circles! The torture, and angst! The sleep deprivation! Such is the cycling fan's life in July.  

Not that it's all bad. Gotta love Phill Legget's commentary, and 'colourful' soundbites of weird and wonderful cycling information and history. The cycling is epic - almost insane at times. There are the endless crowds, the humourous French signs, the scenery (long fields stuffed full of flowering lavendar, or towering sunflowers, anyone?), the chateau's (how many fifteenth century 'castles' can one country have?), the threat of the plane trees proving potential to lose the feed altogether! The motorcyle camermen are just plain scary, but also disturbingly compelling to follow. There are the nights watching with the odd glass of faux-French bubbly, the (late) mornings of 'celebratory' French breakfasts with lashings of strong coffee, and warm croissant. Personal highlights for me, The Mighty Thor, seeing the solitary kiwi, Julian Dean, doing New Zealanders' proud, and the uber-consistent Cadel.

Another July when for three weeks you hope like heck that Cadel Evans can throw off the shackles and nail this one! Bring it on! Allez!!

This year's Tour starts tonight, check out the official website @ www.letour.fr/us/

Early Morning Webs


I haven't met the spider who's awesome work this is - but, I think it deserves a medal. Especially when this is just a small section of the entire work. All in all, this series of webs were strung from paling to paling along the three metre length of our front gate. Quite a feat in one night, and not bad workmanship, considering that they had been subjected to an hour or so of hard winter rain at dawn!

Sitting just below eye-level, they had my attention straight away, shining in the cool morning light. Having just finished a run, I thought twice about going for the camera - moments earlier, I'd been thinking about heading to a good, hot shower. But, something about this small scene caught my full attention. The amount of work was incredible, not to mention the intricacies. The rain had moved on, and the wind was picking up. I knew that in spite of the spider's best efforts, this small world wouldn't last forever. The rain was already an evaporating memory on the concrete driveway, the sun was climbing higher.

I grabbed the camera. The webs were swept away by the day, but I have a little memory of that moment. Whenever I look back, I'll remember that I was tired, and sweaty, and found it hard to keep the camera steady - I was breathing hard after the run, and my hands shook. I held my breath for each shot, scared that if I didn't, I'd puff away these delicate strands. Delicate, yet strong enough to support the heavy raindrops suspended from them. I''ll remember the chill of the sweat in my hair, the goosebumps on my bare legs as I cooled down. I'll remember the thoughts I had while I stood there, thinking about the quality of the light - so different in winter. The way the solidity of the raindrops served to enhance the seemingly tenuous, and fragile appearance of the webs; strength and fragility bound up in one tiny scene. The way that the tree in the garden behind the gate was silhouetted. Even realising that I really need to clean the fence of that mildew at some stage, makes me smile.

Perhaps one of the best things about capturing a small part of that moment, was being able to share it that night after work, with others who otherwise would've missed it.

There are always great and varied reasons for capturing images, and sharing them - even if it means putting off a shower for a moment or two.