Happy snapping? Not any more

IT was the carp that hooked me.

Aidan Semmens

IT was the carp that hooked me.

You simply don't see anything that fresh on sale in Britain - not actually swimming about inviting you to take them home for dinner.

I figured people here might be interested to see it, so I whipped out my camera to snap a few shots of the very-fresh-fish counter.

I've taken pictures in markets from London to Calcutta, Marrakech to Istanbul, so why not in a supermarket in Lithuania?

I'd just got into my swing when I was hailed gruffly by a very stern-faced, grey-uniformed woman, either a store detective or possibly the manager.

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“No photograph, no photograph,” she insisted with a frown, waving a stiff finger in my face for emphasis.

“OK, I understand,” I said as sweetly as I could, making a great show of putting my camera back in its bag and zipping it up.

And that was it. No threats, no pursuit, no attempt to take my camera or destroy the images I'd already taken. A bit disappointing really for a former Soviet state.

It got me wondering how much quicker and heavier-handed the response might be if I were to start snapping away in Tesco or Sainsbury's.

I've certainly had more threatening warnings-off when unholstering my Canon in London - not even inside buildings, but in the public street outside.

What threat my camera and I could possibly be I struggle to imagine, but simply knowing the word “terrorist” is enough to license security-men to throw their brain-dead weight around.

One of these slightly unnerving encounters took place a stone's throw from Tower Bridge, where a short stroll is enough to get you into the background of 100 happy snaps to be handed round in Tokyo, Toronto and Timbuktu.

On the same day I took what would once have been a roll or two of film, openly and unchallenged, in the galleries of Tate Modern, which is the sort of place where you could understand a ban on photography.

That shows just one of a myriad inconsistencies of attitude towards cameras and photography in our odd, unbalanced society.

On the one hand, we are photographed by “officialdom” - police, shop security, in offices, even on trains - umpteen times a day. On the other, that same officialdom is apt to take a dim view if we point a camera back.

The ironies are multiple.

On the day of the 7/7 tube bombing, police chief Sir Ian Blair asked the public to come forward with any photos they might have.

Now we have posters on that same tube urging us to “report” anyone we might see suspiciously taking pictures.

Once, the worst risk run by trainspotters was to be mocked as sad anoraks. These days the aggression they face from police and railway officials threatens to make an inoffensive hobby a thing of the past.

My brother has taken photos on the Underground, but frankly it's about the one place I wouldn't be seen wielding a camera these days.

Well, maybe not quite the only one. I'd be a tad circumspect about taking photos in the very places where once the box Brownie reigned - the beach and the funfair.

If there's one thing our society is even more paranoid about than terrorism it's paedophilia.

A professional photographer I know was hauled off the street recently, dragged into the back of a police car and given a thorough grilling.

They'd come after him with blue lights flashing after a tip-off call from a member of the public.

His crime? He'd walked past a children's playground with a camera hung round his neck.

These days, with digital cameras, it's not too hard to demonstrate that the pictures you've been taking are innocent.

But the aura of suspicion surrounding the very act of photography is still an uncomfortable and unwarranted thing. It can lead to some unpleasant encounters.

And it's particularly strange in an era when photography is officially the most popular hobby in America, and probably here too.

WHEN it comes to carp, I have a lot of sympathy with the Poles and Lithuanians.

In much the same way as I have sympathy with the cormorant.

Both tend to get it in the neck from anglers.

Cormorants, natural fish-eaters, find carefully stocked ponds a treat. I can't see that they have less right to a meal than an angler has to a bit of sport.

In England, the carp is one of the staples of that sport. In eastern Europe it's part of the staple diet.

So it's little wonder some immigrants - especially coming from countries where taking your food free from the countryside is both normal and a legal right - find fish-ponds rather handy.

Mind you, I've eaten carp now and I'd put it near the bottom of my fishing list.

Even well prepared in a nice Polish restaurant it turned out to be alarmingly bony and almost tasteless.