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8.

Cousin Fraser’s Naming Ceremony took place on Sunday; Ruben slept the whole way through ! Fraser is eight months old now, and was very interested in Ruben. Cousin Cameron asked a lot of questions about the stray balloon on the ceiling throughout the ceremony, which made everyone laugh. It was a lovely day, where family came together to show their support for each other. Aunty Tara took Ruben to see the fairy lights on the Christmas Tree (as he loves looking at different, bright lights). Tom + I went on the bouncy castle and laughed uncontrollably until I laughed so much that I gave myself a stitch.

On the way home, we took Ruben to IKEA in Cardiff and picked up a couple of things for the house. Tom showed him all the soft play toys.

Ruben + I had our belated six week, health visitor appointment at the local doctor’s surgery. Ruben was weighed at 9lbs 8oz (he was born 7lbs 12oz) + it turned out that his health visitor was also mine when I was a baby ! Her name is Carol. Ruben was booked in for his first set of immunisations too.

The weather has turned much colder this week, it’s feeling a lot more like Winter. We had to wrap up really warm; those gifted, hand knits came in very useful. Surrounding us is the constantly changing Welsh landscape; with it’s ash branches + coppery leaves, the hint of Autumn lingering behind.

This eight week old babe no longer fits comfortably on our laps, laying down, anymore. He has not been quite as grizzly as last week but he is still quick to turn the waterworks on !

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7.

We are still settling into our new home – and feeling so grateful that we found somewhere before Christmas ! Ruben has been pretty grizzly this week, so one of the afternoons I put him in his sling + we explored the back garden together. We have quite a few apple trees + the birds like to eat them from the inside out. We love birdwatching from our kitchen window.

On Saturday, Aunty Siân took us on our first long journey. We travelled over 200 miles to Bracknell for cousin Fraser’s Naming Ceremony ! Tom travelled down in Iggy the VW T4 after work. Ruben met his Aunty Zoe, Uncle Michael, two cousins (Cameron + Fraser) and Grandad Bracknell for the first time.

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6.

Aunty Siân moved out of her flat + into our new house this week; there were lots of trips in the vans and to-ing and fro-ing to coffee shops. But we all managed ! Even if we did get her bed frame wedged in the staircase at one point…

Ruben has had his very first smile this week (Aunty Tara even caught one on video). Although for every up there is a down, as they say. His cries are changing, more vocal. Almost like he has finally found his newborn cry. He especially dislikes putting his cardigan on to go outdoors. But as soon as we are in the van, he is fast asleep ! The same goes for bath time. He cries his little heart out whilst getting unchanged and as soon as he is underwater, his big, blues eyes widen and he settles down.

Sandy Lamb, one of Tom’s clients, brought in a present for Ruben; a grey, handspun + hand knitted blanket. So, so cosy. Ruben adores it.

We also managed to do a tiny amount of Christmas shopping in Carmarthen with Hen Gigi + Grandma.

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5.

This week has been a big one ! We have a five week old Ruben + have managed to move house with the help of family. Unfortunately, our previous landlady gave us notice on the on the old property until January. But we found a beautiful, little dormer bungalow in the same county in West Wales and it is named ‘Field of Trees’. It has a garden for Ruben and a garage with a driveway for Tom’s cars.

I couldn’t have done any packing without our sling, so there has been even more baby carrying this week. Ruben quite likes to fall asleep when he’s tucked up inside it. ‘Grandad Birmingham’ helped me do a lot of the heavy lifting + he took me to The Aberystwyth Arts Centre to see a Jazz Band from Birmingham called ‘King Pleasure and The Biscuit Boys’. He used to be the band’s driver so we had chat with them all after, which is always entertaining.

We have noticed that Ruben is finding more with his hands now, maybe not with much accuracy but you can tell he is exploring different textures. He has even grown out of his ‘tiny’ baby clothes and into 0-3 month sized clothes !

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4.

Ruben had his first visit to the beach, his fingernails cut (not at the same time) and adored his first time in the baby carrier that ‘Grandad Ireland’ bought for him and he was even babysat for one evening by ‘Grandma Birmingham’ whilst Tom + I went out for dinner with “Grandad + Grandma Ireland’ to La Calabria.

The week started with another wonderful trip to Llanerchaeron woodlands, but this time with ‘Grandad + Grandma Ireland’. On the Sunday, we showed them the way to Penbryn beach – for Ruben’s first experience of sea + sand. The pushchair wasn’t so good on the sand, so we abandoned it and decided to carry Ruben across the beach ! ‘Grandad Ireland’ skimmed stones while Tom enjoyed cuddles with Ruben.

Uncle Edward + Aunty Hazel came to visit and meet Ruben for the first time. We walked to theirs and had lunch (avocado and lemon zest on fried bread) with them. Sadly they had to leave early because their friend wasn’t able to look after their cat ! I thought that Ruben was still too small to use the sling but we tried it out in our living room + he fits quite snugly. I think Uncle Edward + Aunty Hazel enjoyed holding him in it too ! So this week has been full of baby carrying.

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3.

This week has seen to some more visitors, autumnal walks + cream teas. The first walk was with Ruben’s cousins, aunties and ‘Grandma Birmingham’ through Aberaeron park, the second was with his ‘Grandad Birmingham’ and uncle through Llanerchaeron woodlands.

We’ve noticed a few changes to Ruben this week; his umbilical cord dropped off, his eyes are opening wider and he seems so much more alert now. Tom went back to work this week, after spending two weeks together to bond as a new family.

‘Grandma + Grandad Ireland’ came over to Wales to meet Ruben, on Thursday and are staying until Monday !

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2.

Today, Ruben turned two weeks old ! It has been our first week home + a week fit to burst with firsts; first bath (not at the hospital), first time being bottle fed by Tom, first outing in the pushchair.

We’ve also managed to squeeze in 20 visitors, 2 midwife visits, 1 health visitor appointment and 1 cream tea. He’s officially been registered as a person through the council and at the doctor’s surgery.

This week Ruben has taught us that getting out of the house with a newborn always takes a lot longer than we always anticipate – but that the fresh air is worth it.

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1.

Saturday 8th October 2016 saw to the birth of my son – Ruben Offen. I think my first words, when he was born, were “He’s real”; this tiny soul was just as quickly whisked away as he was put on my chest in the first place. I looked over to my left, as they placed him down, I noticed his long, flat feet with toes sprawling.

I would tell you details, but this isn’t a birth story. This is the beginning of his life, that he shares with us. His first week was spent in hospital, and each day he has taught us more + more. He has opened us up to a whole new world and will continue to teach us.

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Flamboyance: Hyperslow (II)

Re-visiting ‘Hyperslow (II)”. Without distraction. Working in a well-organised and deliberate way. To quote myself. Organic matter. Exhibition on at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre ‘Flora’. Resonance. Must make a visit.

Series of slipknots. Last visited this piece in the old studio space in Gwbert. Continues to flourish + adapt. Almost annual visits. Fungi. Myco-. Revisits areas. Grow + die. Rejuvinating. Cycle. The process coming back to me like a familiar face in conversation.

Flamboyance: Belle Vue, Aberystwyth

Recently, I was given the opportunity to photograph the food at The Belle Vue Royal Hotel, Aberystwyth. And my, what a treat ! Head Chef, Charlie Thompson cooked + presented 13 different dishes on Wednesday evening.

I’ve never officially photographed food before and all morning I was keeping an eye on the weather – hoping it would brighten up a little. To my luck, the rain stayed away. It was overcast, but there was enough natural light to work with (even in the evening) Thank you long, Summer days.

A prop table was set up, I set the ISO to as small a number as I could get away with, and we were good to go !

Dish Number 1 : Starter – Cured Salmon, SY23 Wild Garlic, Toasted Pine Nuts, Ricotta Cheese, Water Biscuits.

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This is the dish that is still at the forefront of my mind, two days later. The flavours are so familiar – essentialy salmon and cream cheese. But it’s the presentation and the attention to detail that really holds power over this dish. Head Chef, Charlie Thompson, was keen to mention that his kitchen team (himself included) love to use local produce, and go as far as to forage their own ingredients. ‘Allium ursinem’ also known as wild garlic flowers, is one of those ingredients. Their respect for the food, which stems from foraging, does not go unmissed when tasting this dish. Delicately presented and reasonably priced.

Dish Number 2: Starter – Welsh Scallops, Granny Smiths, Caramelised Apple Purée, Sanbaizu

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First off, I had to ask Charlie what ‘sanbaizu’ was. To which he kindly explained that it was a Japanese sauce, part vinegar/part dashi (which I know is a stock). Presented in a kidney-shaped, glazed ceramic dish, you find the scallops in their own little entities. Similar to tiny capsules of food. Slicing the scallop and ensuring every ingredient is included on the forkful, the flavours  dance around. The most prominent flavour being the chargrilled scallop, bitter but not unpleasant. To which, is offset by the sweetness of the caramelised apple purée. An absolute dream of a combination.

Dish Number 3: Main – Pan Fried Sea Bream, Asparagus, Quail Egg, Herb Croquette, Sanbaizu Sauce

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What a shock, when the pan-fried sea bream was brought to the table. Completely different in aesthetics to the previous two dishes, yet still the main ingredient is fish. Less delicate in the way you read it (it’s still delicately put together) and more flamboyant. Charlie obviously understands his basic colour wheel rules; the reddish-pink of the pickled onion against the greens of bottom layer. You almost miss the sea bream itself ! But not in taste. In taste, you cannot miss the sea bream. The technique used to cook the sea bream, results in a crispy texture of the skin, which is overwhelmed in taste by the quail egg. The delicacy lies in the flavours of this dish.

Dish Number 4: Main – SY23 Pan Fried Sea Bass, Pickled Onion, Potato Salad, Broccoli, Chargrilled Spring Onions.

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Very similar to the previous dish, the same applies in aesthetics here. It’s flamboyant, yet surprisingly the flavours don’t have the intensity you might expect when the dish is popped in front of you. The key difference here is the potato salad. The creamy texture, much like the quail egg with the sea bream, complimenting the crispy texture of the fish.

Dish Number 5: Main – Roast Cornish Sole (On The Bone), Leek, Crab Bon Bon, Burnt Leek Mayonnaise.

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The same rules apply, colour-wise, to this dish as to the previous two. But it has taken a back seat, and let the roast, cornish sole be the centre of attention. The fact that it is on the bone, is mentioned on the menu, And it’s also the first thing you notice when the plate is placed on the table. After you’ve succeeded in getting a forkful of the sole, you pick up the leek and burnt leek mayonnaise. The overriding taste is the gritty, bitterness of the burnt leek. Don’t forget to look for the hidden treasure, that is the crab bon bon, underneath the sole.

Dish Number 5: Main – Glazed Sweet and Sour 24-Hour Pork Belly, Pork Tenderloin, Pot Roast Carrot, Carrot Purée and Fondant Potato

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One word would suffice here – genius. But I will do the dish justice, and try and replicate the feelings this dish conjures. For one, just look at it ! I wasn’t expecting something so vibrant when I read pork belly and carrots.

Flamboyance : Hafod Estate

A different atmosphere. Weather. Surroundings. Take the Gentleman’s walk. Thick forest. Ground carpeted. A natural softness. Balance across. Appreciate textures + colours. Signs of man. Fallen trees. Whole hearts.  Stabilise. No clumsy tripods. Steady. Satisfied. Cross the wishbone bridge. Climb upwards. Pause for breath. Study the views. Conjures images of the different seasons. Inevitability. Downwards. For every up, there is a down. Back into the forest. Hear creaking. Listen to the larches. Swaying. Tiny details. Myths of a magnificent waterfall in a cave. Unimaginable. A dark space in my mind. Sit under the trees for a while. “This might be my favourite place, so far.” Return to the journey. Winding paths. Lose sight momentarily. Flashlight on. Coolness to the face. Round the corner. Mouth drops. Flashlight off. Overwhelming sound of water falling. Unstable footing. “CAREFUL!” Fall into side. Laugh it off. Turn back. Slow shutter speeds. Unfamiliar. Other-wordly. Imagine you are on another planet. Occupying a different space.

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Flamboyance : Elan Valley

Lack of control. Passenger seat. Grey skies. Uncovering hidden gems. Welsh countryside. Welcome to Powys. No through road. Park the car. Textures + tones. Distant sound of a horn. Intermittent. Trespassing ? No, a farmer rounding his sheep. Calm. Return to the car and follow the roads. Houses dotted throughout the landscape. Isolated. Private. A taxi rushes past; a surprising sight. Another bridge. Each one with it’s own character. The rain crashes down around us. Wrong step. Don’t fall in. Reservoir. Crouch amongst the trees. Imagine that giants have torn them down. Sheep roam. Lambs covet warmth. Keep the camera sheltered. Try my best. Retreat. Follow the roads. Dam. One of six, in the Elan Valley. Spectacular structures. Follow the path. A different kind of rain crashes down. Great force. Winds are whipping at our legs, all around. Hair flies wildly above. Spot the island in the middle of the reservoir. Surrender. Fighting a losing battle. Numb hands. Soaked to the skin. Laugh + cry. Feeling infinite. Follow the roads. Find a tiny church. Open to visitors. A prayer for visitors. A prayer for the door. Pull the viewfinder to my eye. Condensation. Saturated. No luck. Retreat once again. Retire. Drawn to the sunset. Reminiscent of a Turner landscape. Dramatic.

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Flamboyance : Praha 1

A presence. Present. Being. Wake up with light. First morning. Host said it would be sunnier. Grab a coffee. Walk through the park, metro next. Make a decision.

Old Town. Get stopped, offered a ‘Segway’ tour. Only city I’ve visited where there are so many, yet such an inappropriate place with its cobbled streets. Might not be clear tomorrow. Climb the Town Hall Tower. See people we know on the way up.

Narrow, spiral staircase. One at a time. Crowd control. Selfie sticks and smiles. Spectacular views. Serene. Sky. Lauren starts waving. “Hey, I think that’s Rob + Duncan!” The people we saw on the way up. Sat in a rooftop café. Serendipity.

Meet for a guided tour. Cubist café. Only one to laugh at guide’s joke: ‘even the coffee cups are square!’ Next up, Čern’s moving sculpture of Kafka. Mesmerising.

Metro. Tram. Prague Castle. “Do you know who used to live in this building? Lions!” the guide says, in his strong Czech accent. See the excitement bubble up from behind his eyes. Step into St. Vitus cathedral. Temperature drop. Extraordinary stained glass windows. Mucha. 1930’s. Gothic frescoes and ceiling vaults. A developing sky. Stretching across the day, into night. As we settle into ‘Chapeau Rouge’, an Art Nouveau house with three floors and a backwards clock.

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Flamboyance : London to Prague

Day one:

Mobile phone, flooding the room with light. Off. Off. On. Dim. Off. On. A modern morse code, of sorts. Closed eyes, danced across my eyelids. Fell asleep holding onto the idea that this is what modern conversation looks like.

5:30AM start. Lift. Train. Plane. Plethora of people. But less and less contact. De-humanisation. Online check in. Electronic boarding pass. Printed luggage tags. Noticeable transition. “One day a machine will do that job.” A line circling my mind.

Meet old friends. Spend money on coffee, pastry and a Prague book. Try and establish currency equivalents. Czech Koruna : Great British Pound. 350 : £10. 100 : £3. Can’t quite grasp it. Unnerving to be in possession of a note with the figure 1,000 on. Psychological. See through the eyes of another. Swipe picture reel. Right to left. A different culture. A trip to India. Phenomenal culture differences.

Eight hours from West Wales to Central London. Two hours from Central London to Prague. Askew.

A decision. Digital passport control versus employed airport security. The latter. Train. Metro. Walk. Pick up a three day (72 hour) travel card. 310 : £9. ‘Stamp your ticket only once’, she said. New surroundings. Use your instinct. Find the bus. Everything becomes a challenge. Are we going the right way ? Are we on the right bus ? Which stop are we at ? Where is the Metro ? Which line ? Which direction ? Decisions becomes so apparent. Transport official. Digital scanner. “Do you speak English?” he barked, “This ticket is not validated. 800 fine.” Tears spring forward. Stubbornly avoid spilling. Honest mistake. Landed an hour ago. Indifference. 800 : £22.50. An emotional knock. Deflated.

Meet the host. Welcome words. Push the setback, back again. Points to patisserie. Fresh bread, conjures hunger pangs. The smells. Garbage to incense. Walk up the stairs, try and breathe in all the details. The yellow, textured walls. Wooden handrails. Stained glass. Hanging festive wreath. High ceilings. Familiar furnishings. House rules explained. Keys handed over. An amazing connection and opportunity that would’t exist without the technological transition.

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