Tuesday, August 07, 2007

DSC_4632 - Vogue HouseGolly, a post without an on-the-day shot to accompany it (which might have been a good thing, freeing me from the prerequisite of Flickrisation and the innate spoilerdom of that, had I posted about it anywhere near the time it happened). But because I've not yet written properly about it, I'm going to lurch from copy-and-paste to copy-and-paste, with minor amendments along the way. Hope you don't mind.

I was spotted. In [No Google] Street (and that's not the one by Trafalgar Square). Apparently they want someone who "doesn't look like a model" (gee thanks). And due to having what has been termed "a seafaring face" (i.e bony, weathered, haggard) I got to spend a day pretending to be part of the merchant marine for some training scheme (presumably the people actually on it are all too ugly to use). It's all quite bizarre.

While I think of it, no seamen jokes please.

So after much dithering over logistics and quibbles over details (when you say "chest" do you mean literal size or what is necessary to fit my shoulders in?) a date was arranged, and then via a succession of cars, navigation methods and illegality of driving a cluster of people ended up at Revod in a queue for a POSNC ferry, the Fuller's London of Revod [the disguised names are less about you lot working things out than other people unearthing].

The Cast:
Me - The dashing naval officer, gallant hero and quiet one.
NOM - My opposite number, in many fields. Blonde, considers that an excuse, niece of the photographer.
Kanya - The photographer. Not blond, but genetically related to the girl.
The Fixer - He who mediates and drives like a former sales rep.
The Liaiser - The man from the client company. Former employee of POSNC. Possibly the type to have left after not advancing sufficiently. Slight air of ineffectual, put-upon despair, or perhaps tobacco smoke, permanently around him.
Sundry employees of POSNC.

Eventually, after much standing upwind of the smoker, and discovering I'm the only one who's brought a coat (but we're going to sea), hence being the only one not to huddle in the car when it started spitting, we board, and promptly confuse the other passengers by doing a three-point-turn. Out of the car, up to the passenger decks, booking in while trying not to block the stairs. Then through staff stairs and corridors, surprised by the smell of smoke (exempt or just unenforceable?), into a curtained off cabin to change. Then up onto the bridge, and out to the external stairs do the most cheesily staged shots ever (I at least tried to look like I was going up the stairs, she of little brain stood with both feet on the same step and smiled perkily into the camera), while trying not to lose the hats (I had suggested going round to leeward, but just like the Ginger Nuts comment, no one knew what I was talking about; they just think I have a ginger fetish).

Then let back in - like Downing Street, the external doors to the bridge only open from the inside - to pose languidly. The photographer complained that everywhere I went I was hunched, crouched against some console. Having failed with the first couple of suggestions, I didn't point out that this is my anti-gimble stance. If I go on anything that floats, I do tend to brace myself, always working with one hand in contact feet at ninety-degrees to each other, hip clamped against anything sturdy. It's just what one does, to save skittering wantonly into some handily sharp corner (and even the most rounded of objects becomes sharp if approached fast enough). Either you move with the ship, or you move through it, and the former is a lot less painful.

Admittedly it was natural caution rather than a necessary requirement, as the roll was only enough to cause occasional stumbles (and the camera tripod to intermittently turn metronome). So I tried unhunching, settling on sprawling across equipment, legs out like guy ropes so he could get my head in shot. Much feigning of interest in disinterest. Have you tried standing in front of a computer adjusted radar screen? I kept wanting to cock my head round to our course and use my hands as representatives of other ships, eyes curled up into my head while I work it out, flitting down again to spot the actual ships poking over the horizon. It's quite hard to do this when one is supposed to be still, looking engrossed in the screen, but not actually being engrossed (I kept being told to stop biting the inside of my lip while I thought). And of course the girl was a natural at just standing, staring dumbly at things, pretending she knew what it was and what it did.

In the end the photographer realised that having all the shots showing someone at instruments, looking down, was unrealistic, so had me do addressing both views. Which some people might take as an indication that I can't stand still, but I prefer to think of it as inspiration. It's quite hard to come away and not address a suitable man in uniform to just check they're keeping an eye on that orange-hulled container ship a palm-width to starboard of the ferry that overhauled us, as it's on a collision course with us, and they've got right of way.

Next came getting my hands on the controls, after the girl stood limply by them. The ship was on autopilot but had just been given a new bearing when I found myself stationed in front of it. I was told I could waggle levers to my heart's content as they were all disengaged, so I stood in front of the panel, flicking my eyes between the compass and the horizon, adjusting the left-hand-down-a-bit (or right hand in this case) trying to keep her on course, while knowing I'm doing no such thing. Except it turns out I was. There's a manual override they'd half forgotten about, so by doing what the autopilot wanted to do, I was confusing the hell out of it, explains why she wasn't staying on course.

Of course, having accidentally steered a ship, I now want a proper go. And the Revod Straits aren't quite the place for wanging on full lock to see what happens.

We continue on, aping others on the bridge, occasionally co-opting them to stand embarrassedly beside me while I pretend to ask them a question, pointing at some scope, currently showing Northern France (don't worry it wasn't in shot, though the guy next to me's smirk was, but by this stage I'd stopped pointing out errors).

While nestling against the youngest guy on the bridge (I know the photographer told us to stand closer, but we were risking electric shocks from the constant rubbing of wholly manmade uniforms), the roll of the ship bouncing buttock into hip, I realised she was listing to port. Which also happened to be leeward. That's some windage.

A few shots of us poring over the chart (singular, under perspex; you can tell this is a ferry). I at least tried to make it look like I was plotting bearings, while mostly trying to keep the string sticking out of the sharpened end of the pencil out of shot (I have no idea), though the conspicuous lack of anything nearby other than my ever-framing-the-shot cap, might belie this. Whereas the girl just stood in front of it, looking like she'd never met a pencil before, finger on the end of her mouth to denote brazen coquettishness intense contemplation, while her other hand is drawing a daisy somewhere over Amiens. I got about as far as "You do know..." before being silenced with "It'll be fine" as I tried to point out that the yellow bit is the land, and unless she's been taking bearings, and has excellent eyesight, including the ability to see over the horizon, the resultant image is going scream its falsehood to all comers, and if you think the client won't notice that you're a bloody fool, and if they don't, then they're a bloody fool too, because anyone with a rough idea of the basics is going to realise that shot is a bit suss, so if the clients only want to recruit those with no knowledge and no brain, only then will it be all right. It's probably just as well I only got three words out. I know there's reflections and lighting and camera angles to consider, but unless you get the fundamental elements of the image right the rest is an irrelevance.

Bloody amateurs, said the amateur model. Just take the money, smile vaguely and make sure you don't look at the camera.

Then came much waiting, as she docked and we waited to head down to the engine room. I should have taken my camera, despite the warnings that we'd have nowhere safe to leave stuff, and the expectation that I'd be busy all day. So much interesting, so much abstractable, so much quite cool actually.

Instead I settled for leaning on the beneath the windows, watching her coming in to dock, Calais drifting around the ankles (and in such a pose attract the photographer, him thinking I haven't seen him, me trying not react while subtly trying to bring my chin forward and stand up straighter). It's quite bizarre seeing the little nudges, miniscule manoeuvres that quietly park such a great hulk, not even deigning to acknowledge wind tearing at her or waves ramming her, instead blithely crushing the same inexorably against the quay. Only once she's completely stationary where she needs to be do the lines become more than cobwebs garlanding the chasm.

Ramps like slide-rules are winched down from the land, concern ensues as there's a man on the uppermost, stance recognisable to most as that of the camera-wielding-man. Frantic communication with the French trying shoo him, with the French denying his existence, when eventually he turns to depart. The cyclists scramble off, riding down past the sign demanding all bikes are wheeled throughout the port the ramp. Then lorries and cars stream off and the other party, the shareholder party, who the captain has been regaling, are ready to go down, so we depart en masse.

The reaction of others to cramming into the lift, round the soup cart or whatever it was, proved entertaining. Apparently those descending to the engine room weren't used to sea-based personal zones (which are smaller than the those on the Tube in the rush hour). Practicality rules, and I'll try not to get you in the groin with the tripod.

Spilling into the kitchen we head down through doors with signs prohibiting their opening while at sea. It's warmer here, damper too. A few shots of us standing around the consoles and becomes apparent that we're not really dressed for an actual engine room, as everyone else is in well-paunched overalls. I'd quite like to go and look, but there's a limit on how many can go at once, so the photographer and fixer go, leaving the models to stand round forlornly.

Next door is a storeroom-come-workshop, where the photographer tries to get shots of us working, but double-breasted blazers don't really go with chuck keys, instead being chased away (due to all of us standing out of the way while still managing to be in shot). So instead I went back to the control room, trying to interpret what is before me.

Eventually an inhabitant sidles up (you really can tell the engineers) and asks what I know about it, and then proceeds to explain as much as he can, with me carefully not asking the really stupid questions, knowing he'll be so thorough as to unintentionally answer them later. I manage to confuse him by asking about the layout of the three propellers (it's obvious the third has to be midships, but it still seems odd to have one protruding from the base). But I also learn that they are physically feathered, with motors responsible for pivoting the angle of blades to match the optimum for boat speed. Once we'd covered the arrangement of V-whatever engines (16? 18? I'd remember the latter, but the current Sulzer output is V-14), the conversation petered out as by this stage my lack of knowledge was beginning to show, and despite my polite inquisitiveness his enthusiasm for the subject waned when he asked if I was a navigator or engineer and I'd reply that I was just a hired face. If the expert clams up it's very hard to ask the right questions as one doesn't tend to know what they are.

So after some awkward standing round failing to make conversation while the engines started, the photographer decided there's only so much one can do with a floor mounted drill, and so we returned up the greasy stairs, my cap as vexillum on the folded tripod. And so by the backstairs labyrinth to the one of the mess rooms, where I'm encouraged to feign interest in The Times while Sky is on behind me (presumably the far end of the table bore a Fox sticker). Presumably the Telegraph readers bring their own and the Guardianistas read it online on some salt-prone bit of kit. She picked the Daily Express. No comment, except she might have thought it was the Daily mail.

While I'm investigating rumours of squash my hopes are squashed like a liferaft between hulls as we move on once more. But this time to the crew galley, used in preference to the officer's wardroom, which is simply the end of the same room behind a glass partition and so known as the goldfish bowl. We collapse onto the drinks machine, the brighter people downing milk or mixing drinks, the less-with-its swearing into their boiling tea.

Our present minder is despatched to coax some food for us out of the supposedly closed galley, for the purposes of photography. We're presented with half a dried, battered piece of fish, and half a chicken, both with a scant portion of chips and peas, along with the words "You can eat it, but I wouldn't".

After complaints that I've drunk the hot chocolate (I hadn't had anything to drink since 7.30 and the galley had stopped serving lunch), and being handed a scorching refill, we commenced eating while trying to look both photogenic and natural. I sincerely hope they use those taken over her shoulder and so focussed on me, not through vanity, but simply because the girl had no clue what to do with cutlery, other than nearly stab herself in the eye while eating the chips with her fingers. When the shots were focussed on her, she sat with a daft grin flanked by fist gripped silverware pointing straight up. As I said before, not officer material.

For some reason we get left alone, so I continue eating, having already raised uncomprehending eyebrows by eating peas with a fork not used as a spoon (where do they find these people?), although perhaps that was just the idea of eating peas. I clear my plate, while the girl finishes her hand-picked chips, not touching the chicken or her peas (I know they were tinned, but it's still food). I avoid conversation by watching people outside trying to smoke when their cigarettes are bending in the wind.

Suddenly our presence is required again, and negotiations occur with the minder as to whether we can borrow a staff cabin for more shots, which supposedly was prearranged, but like so much else turned out not to be. We end up shanghaiing the minder for his cabin, where we were each shot in various stages of relaxation, reading the only materials available in the spartan cabin, which were very HR-sounding self-assessment exercises from POSNC; all widely ignored buzz-words.

Back along corridors, being mocked for meandering with the roll of the ship rather than fighting it, and out onto the crew only deck, for a variety of horizon-gazing shots, all of which were rather disrupted by the force 8 gale coupled with a ferry running at full speed (so 22kn/25 mph + 39-46 mph, although there are complications of angle, tide and local effects). The hefty tripod wouldn't stay up in that wind, so the photographer was freehanding, while trying not get barrelled along. He got round this by making me sit in the full force of the wind, while he sheltered, elbows clamped to my sides to keep the slack of the jacket from exploding into a spinnaker again, threatening to burst. He's yelling encouragement from the side, simultaneously chastising me with "try and keep your eyes open this time", as I squint against the peals of spray rolling six storeys up to us.

About the time the photographer started thinking the dousing all his equipment in brine might not be that great, it's all suddenly over. Back inside to seek out the original cabin and change. Finally, I'm feel of blazerdom underpinned with the word's shonkiest belt. Undressing I realise I'd forgotten to do up the internal buttons on the jacket, not being used to such complexities, although no one commented.

We pile everything in one of the passenger lounges, and go our separate fleeting ways, regrouping before she docks. Down to confuse the caravanners, lugging kit back to our now badly parked car, standing discussing drop-down levels and various workings of the ship, glowering at those with their engines running before we've docked, and only piling in (once more making sure I'm not the middle of the back seat guy) once we see the vehicles ahead start to move.

Out through the marooned, congested oddity that is Revod, pulling off to drop the Liaiser and the uniforms off, trying to get back to the motorway, but instead alighting at an improbably named pub, for decent though unseasonal and slightly too expensive food, but I wasn't paying. Instead I was being paid, cash in hand, in a pub. Classy.

Then back, and back again. And that was it. I am now a model. I fear I shall have to get a new mobile, one specially designed for minion-maiming. Such is life.


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