Don't panic Mr Mainwaring!

This is not 'stop press' news: I'm no fan of the over romanticising of the past. And this is especially true when it comes to the period covering the World War Two period.

Harking back to a hypothetical bygone era when people were dying by the thousand and acting like it's some sort of jolly theme park is not something that sits too well with me.

Keep calm and don't carry on.

However, putting slightly curmudgeonly moral issues aside and sticking them in a Jerry can inside an Anderson shelter, I shuffled off with the family to Hughenden Manor in Wycombe to take in their 'living history weekend'.

Now, thankfully Hughenden has plenty of actually non- rose tinted WW2 history being the centre of a secret mapmaking operation during the war.

But also - rather thankfully - my concerns about it being a bit of a theme parky sort of the day really didn't come to fruition as it was actually pretty tastefully done. From beautiful vintage cars to painstakingly put together military re-enactments to a thunderous Spitfire flypast, even this old cynic got vaguely in the mood.

Quite aside from all the 1940's stuff, Hughenden Manor is really worth a visit to find out more about it's most famous occupant Benjamin Disraeli - and this part of its history is - in usual National Trust style - fantastically told throughout the building.

The family (including visiting Grandpa who really can just about remember the war) seemed to have a jolly time, especially when the dressing up box was found, and if nothing else i had plenty of opportunity for an interesting shot or two (hundred) as it felt not unlike being on a movie set for the day.

So there you go. Cynicism put aside, it was a really well put together day with minimal romanticism and plenty of heart, although one wonders what decade the NT could do next - surely a 90's weekend with dodgy Vauxhall Corsa's on show, a re-enactment of the Poll Tax riots and a set from Toploader?

Ugh. Maybe not...

Tech corner:
Usually people capturing stuff so the Zeiss 85mm was out to play along with the old dependable Sony 35mm f1.4 for indoor shots.

All roads lead to Brighton.

One of the added benefits of being self-employed is school holidays. So long, difficult logistics of child care, and a big hello to impromptu road trips to the seaside.

We'd not been to Brighton for ages, but after an afternoon spent putting pins and twine into a wall based map of the south of the UK (ok, we didn't. We spent 5 mins on Google), it was decreed that an enjoyable 2 hour drive in the morning rush hour was just what was required of Dad to revisit one of the UK's most famous seaside towns.

Gaff of Pink Floyd guitarist, David Gilmour. 

After parking in Hove - Brighton's 'posher' sibling - enjoying a caffeine boost at Hixon Green and me being disappointed I couldn't hear any guitar noodlings whafting from David Gilmour's house on the seafront, Shortround and myself took the long walk along the prom past beach huts and angry seagulls to our main attraction stop of the day, the slightly controversial "British Airways i360"

A 531ft observation tower on the seafront, the i360 is a fully enclosed pod which goes up a tall tube making it look not unlike an olive on a stick. Built by the same people who brought you the London Eye, the idea is a 'vertical pier' and while I think that's somewhat cobblers - my idea of a pier would involve at least one ride with a horse and kiss me quick hat monger - it does involve getting some fantastic views of Brighton, the South Downs and as far away as Beachy Head.

Apparently, the locals are a bit sniffy about the i360. It does rather stand out on the seafront, but my feeling is that change is always met with that sort of opposition and the longer it's there the more it will be accepted.

The British Airways i360.

As ever some people seemed more interested in just looking at their phones during the 30 min trip (why go up?) but for the sights you get it's definitely worth a visit, although £25 for myself and one smaller one does put it at the upper end of 'affordable' during the wallet-emptying six week school holiday.

Post olive stick ride to the heavens, we decided that a trip to Brighton wouldn't be the same without fish and chips on the beach and a dip (her, not me). Apparently, it was 'so cold', which considering our recent stratospheric temps of late was a little surprising. 

Avoid the advancing gulls on the poach for our leftover takeaway, we escaped into town for a whirl up The Lanes, with its colourful shops and locals before we trooped back down to Hove for another rush hour drive.

My one take out of being back in Brighton for the first time in a few years is that it's got a bit more confident and grown up. Hard to articulate this really, but there's a more polish in the shops, bars and restaurants than a couple of years ago.

What I was surprised about was that the beach was quite light on people considering the time of year. But perhaps they've got somewhere else to go, and other road trips of their own to have.

Tech Corner.
Majority combo of the Zeiss 85mm and Sony 35mm f 1.4 on this trip.

French Fried.

Ok, we know it's hot. Like real hot.

And when we've had scorching weather in the UK around the early 30's for weeks, it made complete sense for us to hit the road, jump on a ferry and head to an even hotter bit of Europe. Mad dogs etc.

Our destination this time was the lazy river running through the Loire Valley in the central section of France (down from Paris, across to the left a bit ok?)

With a 10-year-old in tow, a week's worth of vineyard visitations was sadly out of the question, so instead we did what lots of other Brits do - the 'Europcamp thing' - which to the uninitiated is rocking up to a mobile home affair (or for the brave, a tent) on a site with pool, bar, pizza etc. Our home for the week was Camping Château des Marais just outside Chambord. 

It's an 8+ hour drive - 2 to Dover from Maidenhead, then another 6 odd from Calais but you can shave a couple of hours off if you want to do toll roads and not be cheap arse like us. 


Riverside at Blois.

After that mammoth journey, the first day was a potter around one of the local towns - Blois. 

Funnily enough, for a town of its type in the Loire, Blois has a Chateau and a Cathedral (sarcasm), plus some lovely streets ripe for photography leading down to the river. Lovely place and we liked it so much, we visited twice!

Château de Chambord.

Day Two. With driving legs sufficiently recovered, we jumped back in the car for the short hop to our rather magnificent local French Renaissance big house - Château de Chambord.

Brimming with a history tied up with Sun King (who didn't stay there much... rich people eh?), it's a pretty magnificent building and beautifully kept up. One of the crowning glories is the stairwells, which depending on who you believe - and it's a bit vague - were designed or inspired by Leonardo da Vinci who lived in the region until his death.

Basically, it's an amazing place and a must see if you're in the vicinity.


Orléans and Vendôme.

Slowing down a tad, the next couple of days were spent popping to two more local towns (well, I say local - both around an hour each way from our base... France is big). The first was Orléans - yes, the Joan of Arc one - which again has a pretty awe-inspiring Cathedral and more excitingly, a branch of C&A just across from a lovely square with children playing in fountains.

Second on the list was the sadly mostly shut town of Vendôme. Well, i say mostly shut: we went on a Sunday which we forgot means everything really is shut as unlike the UK, the French actually do have some sort of day of rest. Still, another lovely town with great views from the castle.


Clos Lucé.

There's a lot of Leo in the Loire, and by that, I don't mean DiCaprio. As previously mentioned, Da Vinci entered French service in 1516, and was given use a rather nice manor house called Clos Lucé where he spent three years until he died. The house is now a reworked museum with not only recreated rooms, but actual working models of his inventions.

I felt the gardens, rather than the house was the main draw - not only are they wonderfully kept but they're peppered with inventions for kids (and adults) to play on, and lovely little touches like steam popping out of the little river flowing along the grounds. 

So, château visited, wine drunk, towns walked around, bike rides had and, for one of us, a lot of time spent in the pool, we snaked our way back via Rouen to the coast. We could have easily had another week in the Loire region as there's loads to see and the campsite style is great as a base - especially when it's as hot as it currently is. 

Perhaps next year we'll head a bit further south and try out a similar gig in the south of France. Global warming allowing.


Tech Corner:
The whole gang of Zeiss and Sony lenses from 25mm, through 35/55 to the 85mm got a runout but I really enjoyed playing with the Voigtlander 40mm f/1.2 this time out too. I'll do a full review using all sorts of shots from that soon once i've got some semblance of mastery of it.