This is my first attempt at a review! It's a little long I'm afraid!
Thursday the 18th is going to be largely remembered for the tremendous storm that lashed the UK. But for some of us, we will also remember it for battling the weather to see Ray Mears at the Royal Assembly, Tunbridge Wells, a battle that whilst not quite on par with those seen on shows such as Extreme Survival certainly for some worth an equal mention.
My wife and I arrived at the theatre at approximately 7.10 having had a lovely dinner at an Italian Restaurant called Strada which was just around the corner from the theatre and worthy of a plug.
As you sit and wait for such events to start you often can't help yourself but scan the crowd for people you know , and whilst looking for fellow BCUK types I was struck by just how eclectic the group gathering was. They seemed to fall into two main groups, armchair Ray fans and bushcrafters, and pretty much every group in between were represented. A true measure of just how popular both the man and the subject has become over recent years. Whilst some may express some concern over the subject perhaps becoming ‘trendy’ or part of pop culture, who can forget Ray flirting with Jo Whiley on Radio 1, it was rather clear that these people were not just here to see the man, but to learn of his adventures and share in what seems to be an often spiritual journey for him.
Whilst being excited about the evening, I don't get out much, I'd become a little worried about just how Ray would come across and whether this would have a bearing on the lecture. What I mean to say is that whilst I've always found Ray and his work rather engaging, I consider myself a bushcrafter and give Ray the credit for having waived the green flag that signalled that it was actually ok to get out there and experience nature first hand, I've recently heard some disparaging things about him and his persona from people who, some from this site, claim to know him personally. So was this evening going to be a 'bow down and worship' fest, or the educational ‘fire side chat’ that I’d hoped for. Anyway, time would tell as broken conversation about rubbing sticks together, sniggers and coughs faded.
The lecture was entitled 10 years in front and behind the lens, which was to be prompted by photographic images, often taken by Ray himself, acting as the conduit for his story telling.
As part of Ray’s short introduction he explained that he had scoured his photo slides and had selected a number of images that had prompted a memory of his time filming, he further explained that these images would be grouped into locations.
However, there was no time to waste and we were off on a tour of the last ten years, with us being thrown straight into the ‘Northern Land’ and -50. Whilst here Ray demonstrated the hardship of Inuit life, often drawing comparisons between their lives and our own. The most striking image, for me, being that of a mother on the school run struggling with four children and a skidoo.
Ray, talked of the old ways, a subject that would be something of a running theme, and how these skills were being lost in many communities but lived on in the few remaining old folk.
From here we bounced to Namibia and +53, a temperature changed imagined and felt by all who were engrossed I’m sure. From here we headed north again visiting Canada and Siberia where we learnt of life for the Rain deer herders and the children who would need to be lassoed to be sent to boarding school at the age of 8. Collectively, we also visited Indonesia, Thailand, the Amazon and of course Australia.
The presentation seemed to be a little unprepared, at times, and a little untidy. But this was what gave it it’s charm, a feeling that Ray was chatting with YOU over a beer and some holiday snaps. Indeed, the images themselves were often, despite Ray being recognised as an accomplished photographer in his own right, ‘happy snap’ style pictures blended perfectly with studio quality images again only adding to the personable nature of the presentation.
In Ray’s usual style he was informative, entertaining, humorous and sentimental, touching upon environmental, cultural and social issues, along with politics even venturing to offer advice and a solution to world issues to Tony and George Bush, Amazonian style!
At the end of his talk Ray had the house lights raised and invited questions from the floor. What struck me was the intelligence of the audience who questioned Ray, with the exception of my own, and the respectful and equally intelligent responses he gave.
Having left for home as soon as the presentation was over, childminders are a bind, I did not see this, but I have been informed by other attendee’s and by Woodlore, that Ray made himself available for signings and photo’s for two hours after he’d finished.
There were a few things that detracted from the event it’s self however. The venue is now a little tired and could do with a lick of paint here and there along with replacements for their rather uncomfortable seats. I’m quite sure I’ve sat on more comfortable logs for longer! The audience, in my opinion were less than courteous to to their fellow observers and to Ray with frequent, and rather noisy, trips to the loo.
However, all that said, and despite the weather, the evening proved to be very enjoyable and informative.
I think when you go to something like this, or you see a collection of images you often feel obliged to identify your favourite bit and whilst being obvious it is easy and truthful to say that it was all rather good and indeed special. But perhaps the image that will stay with me for some time is that of the African tribesman dancing. An out of focus ghostly image taken at night. When Ray showed a collection of these images he pointed out that whilst we sat in the theatre these people would be sitting outside their shelters dancing and singing and I’m sure that at that moment I could here the ghostly music in the distance.
What are my own views of Ray now? Well I think balance has been restored. He proved himself to be a very genuine man, who is emotionally linked to what he does and the people he meets. A man who takes pleasure in sharing his journey’s and teaching those who will listen.
And for those who are more interested in the Heat magazine review and the Sunday Support Gossip page, I thought he looked physically fit and didn’t appear to be over weight at all.
What have I learned? Well lots, but perhaps the most significant thing I will take away with me is something that he said and that I will now adopt as something of a new motto for myself: “There's a lot of people who talk about it, just get out and do it”.