Sunday, 10 February 2013


Well, the last post on THIS blog, hosted here...

Like many people, I have been very disappointed to read that many international corporations, such as Google - the owners of this blogging site - do everything that they can to avoid paying their corporation taxes. We would all like to pay less tax (at least, 99% of us would, I suspect), but for the most part, we pay up and shut up, seeing taxation as a necessary part of running a civilised society. Not so for some of the biggest companies in the world.

I have already stopped shopping at Amazon and I no longer buy my coffee from Starbucks (it was filthy anyway). I have a problem when it comes to Apple, who also practice this off-shore nonsense, so I suppose I could easily be accused of hypocrisy in this small step to put the world to rights, but the alternative is probably no better. At least I buy my Apple stuff from John Lewis, who DO pay their taxes and do support the British economy properly.

There is the wider context of buying locally, of course and we are doing everything we can to do that too. The scandal of the Romanian horse meat in ostensibly beef products which has broken this week, demonstrates that even the food chain is completely out of control. We are proud to only buy our meat from the local butcher in town. We are pleased to buy locally produced eggs and "Buy British" wherever possible in Sainsbury's. We do not shop in Aldi, Lidl, or any of the other supermarkets which have a positive "Don't buy British" ethos.

So, after nearly four years of having this blog hosted here, on Blogger, I have moved it, lock stock and barrel to Wordpress. The link will be at the bottom of this post.

I played around with other alternatives, especially Tumblr. I have friends who seem to be able to use Tumblr quite successfully (if their Twitter feeds are anything to go by!), buy I just found it incomprehensible, despite several rainy afternoons of effort. Within one hour of setting up the Wordpress account, it had imported the whole of this blog, including all the photographs, comments over the years and so on. Very impressed. The formatting, or "theme"might need a little tweak here and there, and the number of "widgets" on the right hand side is fewer than this blog system, but overall, the new look is very pleasing.

So, if you do follow this blog, and I am very grateful that you do, I would be delighted to continue our relationship over on Wordpress. Thanks for reading here over the years and the support that you have offered me, both through the comments facility here, and off line. It really is appreciated, and has helped me through a most interesting period of my life.

See you on the other side.

The address is

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Paris and a psychological study

As hinted at last time, we didn't go to London for the weekend.

We went to Paris for lunch instead.

Now, this might sound a bit extravagant and it is. But it made some sense at the time. The cost of a hotel room in London is approaching £150 for a night these days, plus, of course, there's the train fare to get there from the folks' house, dinner to pay for, and so on. Having been a collector of AirMiles (I still can't get used to the name "Avios"), I reasoned that it would cost us a lot less to go to Paris for the day.

The parking at Heathrow T5 Business Car Park - the one with the pods - was the same as two tickets to London from Maidenhead. Two return flights to Paris via Avios was £60. By the time the train at the other end was factored in (more of that in a moment), the whole thing cost a lot less than the hotel in London would have cost on it's own.

So, there we were at around 6 am getting a pod from the Car Park to T5. As always, passing through security there on the way out was a breeze, and we had some breakfast while waiting for the plane.

On arrival at Charles de Gaulle, we had a different story. They were working on the railway link to the city that weekend, and we were forced to get a shuttle train to another terminal, then find a bus to be taken to another railway that was working. This probably added half an hour to each of the journeys that day.

Still, we got into the city at around 11 and made our way to a restaurant recommended by my friend Nigel, who lives in the city. It opened at 12, so we were one of the first people in.

"Le Soufflé" does what it says on the tin. It's a soufflé restaurant. You can have a three course soufflé meal if that's what floats your boat. We chose from the traditional menu, which still had a "mini" soufflé as part of the chicken main course.

Here's Ann, when the first course was brought...

And on conclusion of the pud...

It was a real experience, and easily the best lunch we have eaten in Paris for a long time. A bit bizzarre though...

On leaving the restaurant, we did the usual stuff of walking along the river, into Notre Dame and finding a place for some coffee, before heading back to the airport, arriving back in Maidenhead at around half nine. A really good day out!

Now, I have also been to see my consultant for a three-monthly "watch" part of the "watch and wait" regimen that I am now on. Nothing untoward found, which is good and the news is that he won't be going to Australia until May at the earliest, so I will be seeing him for a last time in April. 

He has also asked me to take part in a psychology study being undertaken by a PhD student at Chester University; something I have gladly volunteered to do. The session will take place next Friday. The have some concern that they don't have the opportunity to offer much in the way of psychological counselling as part of the standard diagnosis and treatment, so they are looking for volunteers to offer their experiences. Let's see what we discover at the end of the week.

The new car is going very nicely, but I am currently disappointed with it's fuel consumption. This will no doubt improve when it's properly run in, and the warmer weather comes, but I am only getting mid-high 40s, when I think I should be getting in the 50s somewhere. BMW's claim of 60 mpg is, as usual, complete nonsense. I do wish that te EU would get their act together and provide realistic figures.

Venice to look forward to next, but lots of work to do before we get there. I am starting to put together a new project that may see us through another few years and it's good to be starting something new.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Buddy news and the accidental car?

Further to a post back in the summer, after a terrible delay caused by having the forms in my briefcase and not posting them off, I have now been invited to attend one of the Lymphoma Association's "Buddy Training Days". This will be in Aylesbury in early March. Fortunately and by coincidence, I will be in that part of the country in any case, so the time and venue are ideal.

A day is all it takes, apparently, and I assume that the training involves telephone technique and how to be a good "listener". We will see.

Now, a quick post-post Christmas and New Year catch-up...

Despite not having any offspring at home over Christmas, for the first time in 26 years, we had a great couple of days. I cooked the dinner on Christmas Eve, which we enjoyed with a bottle of Léoville Barton that I had bought during the summer. It was the most expensive bottle of wine we have ever had, but it was delicious. The memory of the taste stays longer than the memory of the cost - honest.

On Christmas Day we went to Arneside, just south of the Lake District. We had a nice walk along the Kent estuary and across the viaduct between there and the north bank. It seems that Network Rail turn a bling eye to people walking across on Christmas and Boxing Days, when the network is closed. There were dozens of people out there and obviously there is a unique perspective to be had both of Arneside and the hills.

There weren't many people around and the roads were clear so, with our turkey sandwiches and mince pies, we had a great day out.

My current car has now got 93,500 miles on it, despite being only 2 1/2 years old. When I got an invitation to test drive a new VW Golf Mk VII, I decided that it would be an interesting experience to see how the car had improved since my Mark VI. Well, it has improved, but unfortunately, the cost of the car means that I am not prepared to pay what VW want as a rental. On driving away, I went next door to the BMW dealer, to see what they had in the used 3-Series Touring department... Handy that lots of car dealers seem to gather on certain arterial roads, no doubt for just this reason.

Subject to what VW finance can tell me on Monday, I appear to have bought a new shape 3-Series Touring, with 5 miles on the clock, for about £10k less than the asking price. Why anyone buys a NEW BMW, I don't know - if you are prepared to compromise only slightly on your ideal spec, and don't mind being the second owner, then there are some serious discounts to be had. End of December / end of June are the best times as they are BMW UK's half and full years and they pre-register a LOT of cars to make up the numbers.

So, within half an hour of walking into the BMW showroom, the salesman had a holding deposit from me, pending a settlement figure from VW. Scary that you can do this and not even break out into a sweat.

As in some previous years, we had planned to have a weekend (well, Saturday night) in London at the end of January. I was looking at hotels and somewhat baulking at the price of them. Then another idea came to mind... more in February...

Finally, we need to find some time to get to Edinburgh in the next couple of months - maybe a good place to test the new car (if it works out) on a long trip?

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

End of year review

Well, it's been a little bit quieter on here this year than some previous years and that can only be a "good thing. I like "good things", particularly in the context of a blog about experiences with cancer. Hopefully, by the next next year's review comes around, I will be looking back on a similarly uneventful year.

That said, the year has been far from uneventful, as a re-read of the blog posts has just reminded me.

For example, I cannot believe that it's only 9 months since we were in New York - it seems like years ago. Seriously, I must be getting old. Boston and New England last year are from a different life altogether.

It's actually been an extremely good year. Completing the maintenance treatment was another milestone, as was learning that it had worked and the disease is in more or less the same state as it was when I'd finished the chemo in 2010. This is definitely a "good thing".

Edward and Nicki's wedding, as you may have read, was another "good thing" and something to look back on in years to come. Such a brilliant day.

Travelling to new places and meeting new people - more "good things". New York was everything I had expected it would be - and then some. The city was just stunning and the people we met were brilliant. Knowing some of our hosts via the internet, we sort of knew them already, but they were just as charming in real life. What a treat, for which we cannot thank them enough. A return trip is definitely on the cards at some time in the next few years, but these kinds of trips have to be planned and saved up for, as they don't come cheap.

Lewis and Harris reminded me that you don't have to travel thousands of miles from home to find some of the very best scenery and hospitality in the world. It's there on your doorstep if you're prepared to drive North for a couple of days. Just a stunning "pair" of islands - a return visit there, at a different time of year, is also a must.

Copenhagen, a long-term "must do", was "done" this year. A beautiful city with more friendly natives and some very interesting food. Not sure that I need to go back, though, but we'll see - I say that about quite a few places that we go back to!

We have undoubtedly been very lucky and privileged to be in a position where we can take such trips,  but with things being the way that they are with the economy, long haul trips are certainly going to need some particularly careful consideration going forwards and more local ones will have to be planned carefully. I am still trying to get things done while I still can as I just don't know what's round the corner.

Finally, after 6 1/2 years, we now have four contracts running simultaneously on a large development project, three of which will be completed within the next twelve months. It's going to be an extremely busy time.

Friday, 7 December 2012

The Wedding

It's a couple of weeks now since the wedding of the year. The celebrations have been and gone, as has the "mini-moon" and it's back to work and the rest of their lives. Such is life.

We had a fantastic day on that Sunday. The weather wasn't very promising, with rain in the morning, but it brightened up long enough for the pro photographer to do her stuff in the afternoon, before setting in again. The weather gods were smiling on us, that's for sure.

The happy couple looked fantastic and had a lovely ceremony at Inglewood Manor, not too far from our house. The whole event was managed brilliantly by them and it made for one of the most relaxing and enjoyable weddings. Family members came from far and wide and it was just a really good day.

I think that just a few photos will sum up the day much better than I can.

But the best one was this one, even if it was taken in virtual darkness...

They were dancing to "Nothing Else Matters" by Metallica. Not knowing any Metallic songs, I thought that was an odd choice - until I listened to the lyrics the next day. Absolutely perfect.

All in all a great weekend.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

A long, long time ago

I wrote the last entry here. And quite a lot has happened that I really should have written about before, but will now play catch-up.

Last time I was looking forward to Copenhagen, about which more later. I have also had the first of my 3-monthly arch-and-wait checkups. Finally, I got to see the results of the CT scan I had in August. As my haematologist had predicted, the CT scan showed no sign of enlarged lymph nodes, which proves that both the chemotherapy I had in 2010 and just as importantly, the maintenance therapy that finished in July have both done their job. This is excellent news and means that I can, with a bit of luck, look forward to two or three years of respite from the treatment. I just have the watch-and-wait to think about.

The bad news is that my "man" is emigrating to Australia. Since he was the first sensible consultant that I saw, back in 2009 and has been instrumental in my treatment plan ever since, I am a bit disappointed. Very selfish of me, of course, as he is going to take up a Head of Department job in a large city main hospital. And it's in Australia. Even BUPA aren't that generous. So, in the New Year I will have to find myself another consultant. I will have one more check-up with him at the end of January, so maybe he will have a plan of action then. He did say that the next time I needed treatment, he would refer me to the Christie in Manchester, under one of their professors, but whether that's necessary for check-ups, I doubt. I will have to do some digging around myself, I think.

Now, then, Copenhagen. Cue a song with "Wonderful" in the title...

It is a wonderful city. The hotel we stayed in, the Copenhagen Strand was clean, comfortable and very well located. A bit pricey though, especially since breakfast (which was very good) wasn't included in the rate for the room. We were close to Nyhavn, the real hub of the tourist area and the scene you imagine when thinking about Copenhagen, if that scene doesn't have a mermaid in it. In fact, it looks a lot like this.

The quayside is wall to wall bars and restaurants, with some sort of dodgy looking club thrown in the middle for good measure. There is another hotel right at the end of the row and plenty of ships and boats moored alongside, some of which appear to be actually working.

Kulturnatten was a bit of a let down, I have to say. The bits we saw were more like any Friday night in Liverpool, but I'm sure that if you are a native, or least a Danish-speaker, things might have been more interesting.

Apart from the weather, we did have a very good weekend, but boy, is it expensive there. It was rare to get a two course meal with a bottle of wine for under £100, but we did eat in some interesting places, including Cap Horn, one of the restaurants on the strip above. I braved a herring starter - and wish I hadn't - but the rest of the meal was very good indeed and the place has a terrific atmosphere. We walked past Noma, one of the world's top 5 restaurants, but unfortunately it was closed. Also fortunately, we hadn't booked 3 months in advance either, so that wasn't a problem...

Finally, the mermaid isn't worth the walk in pouring rain. She might be worth it on a sunny afternoon, though.

All in all, a good weekend, even if the One Challenge competition proved to live up to its name once again - winning in Berlin seems like a very long way off now...

And now, at last, it's wedding time. 10 days to go and we found out today that the bride-to-be was in hospital last week with pneumonia... What a great way to start your preparations! As far as I know, however, all that side of things is properly sorted out and all planned and ready to go; we will find out the truth this Sunday.

All suits and shoes and dresses and handbags are bought. I do need to organise a decent taxi to take us to and from the hotel, though - a job for Saturday morning, I think.

There, that's it since the end of September.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Shirley, Cologne, Seal and wedding preparations

The presentation to the Shirley Photographic Society went very well indeed. As I was driving down the M6 from Blackpool, I was thinking that it could go one of two ways - fortunately, it seems to have gone the right way.

They were generous hosts and a nice bunch of people and I spoke for nearly an hour and a half on a selection of my photographs. They were very complimentary during tea afterwards and they offered me a fee, which I asked to be sent to the Lymphoma Association on my behalf. I have no idea what the fee was, but it will have been gratefully received by the Association.

Unfortunately, the M6 was closed due to an accident in the Stafford area on the way home, so I had to double back and come the long way round via Telford and Wrexham. Still, it was a good evening.

I have also been to Germany this month to the Photokina photography fair. I was invited to attend the private Leica launch party as a guest of the owner of the Leica Forum and happily accepted. I used Eurostar and the DBahn train service to get to Cologne via Brussels with the view to taking in some of the scenery between the Channel and Cologne. Unfortunately, there isn't much to see as it is extremely flat, but the train service was very good and got me to the city at just the right time for the event.

A couple of new cameras were launched, to pretty much universal approval, especially the new "M" model, which looks particularly interesting and, for Leica, at a very good price. Saving up already...

The party was finished with a concert from Seal, a great friend of the Leica owner, Dr Kaufmann. Very good he was too.

The highlight of the evening, though, was an interview with Nick Ut, the photographer who took probably the most iconic photograph of the Vietnam War, that of Kim Phúc, the nine year old girl running naked from the napalm attack.

The rest of Photokina that I managed to see, was vast. It took around 20 minutes to walk from one end of the Halls to the other. Some are on two levels and every camera, film, lens and accessory company in the world seemed to be there, from the global giants such as Canon and Nikon, to small Chinese firms selling replacement lens hoods. No wonder that the hotels were all full and the city was buzzing.

The wedding is now only two months away, so this weekend, some serious shopping was necessary. Two decent pairs of shoes, two suits, two new shirts and a tie later, Ed and I are ready. The girls finished their shopping too, and that seemed to go pretty smoothly too, considering... That's good to have that out of the way, and, from our point of view, it doesn't leave much to be organised. Mustn't forget to sort out some taxis.

Now it's only three weeks until Copenhagen. I have downloaded some information about the Kulturnatten which is an annal event on the 12th October and, while I can't see myself dancing the night away until dawn, I can see a late night in store. It's going to be very interesting. I have wanted to visit the city for years, so this is the perfect reason to go. For the competition shots, I'm probably going to try out some of the high silver black and white film I picked up in Germany this week, but I must try some out first. Next weekend...

Health-wise, I am learning that "watch and wait" isn't so bad. This coming week is the week when I would have been going in for a top-up, so it's from next week that I am really exploring uncharted waters. I have the next check-up at the end of October, and I am sure that everything will be fine then.

I did think that I had had a night-sweat earlier in the week. I woke up convinced that it was happening, but I am pretty sure it was only a dream. Will have to watch for this though, as I suspect that my symptoms will be the same when they return.

That said, there's lots of good things to look forward to!

Saturday, 1 September 2012

New light through old windows

Well, an old lens actually.

Whilst clearing out a bedroom, my wife came across an old Olympus XA2 camera of mine in the back of a drawer. I bought it while a student in Bristol and, while not having forgotten it, I hadn't used it for a good 20 years. Fortunately, it had been left without any batteries in, so was in good condition.

I took it for a walk around Media City yesterday lunchtime and last night revealed 38 beautifully exposed shots on a roll of Ilford Delta 100. The results are remarkably good.

This got me thinking about old cameras (of which I have a few) in the digital age.

I don't know where my first digital camera is. I think that it actually broke and was thrown away, but I can't be sure of that. I do know where my first more serious digital camera is - it's on the shelf in front of me. It doesn't have a battery in it either, and I don't know where the battery is (not just a case of going to Sainsbury's and buying some SR44s...). So, it is unusable, even though it was only bought 10 years ago. In 20 years time it will definitely be unusable. Even if it were useable, it's pathetic file size, restricted ISO range and noise characteristics mean that it would take far worse photographs than my iPhone today.

This is progress.

Yet, I can go into any second hand camera shop anywhere in the country and buy an old Nikon F, or Olympus OM1, put a roll of Delta into it and take photographs BETTER than when they were new, and FP3 or HP4 were the best film around.

Now, this really is progress.

Long live film. Long live Ilford. And long live Leica film cameras.

Monday, 27 August 2012

August Bank Holiday, CT scan news and Leica...

And I am considering putting the central heating on. What a lousy year this has been for weather - a couple of nice weeks in April and that's your lot.

Oh well.

I didn't print anything large for the living room chimney breast - we bought a third Roy Alexander to go there instead and I really must get round to hanging it one of these days...

I had the CT scan at the end of July and had to wait for a couple of weeks, as always, for the result. One can rest assured that if you arrive in A&E after an accident and need one, they will  get round to looking that the results a bit more quickly than they did mine, which is obviously just a routine. That said, it is something that you would prefer to be told about as soon as possible.

I am pleased to say that when looked at by my haematologist and subsequently by the radiologist, neither saw anything that they were concerned about. I can therefore head off into "watch and wait" mode with some confidence, so that's very good news. I feel perfectly well and wouldn't know that there was anything wrong with me if I didn't already know - if that makes sense. Long may this state of hiatus continue.

I haven't taken many photographs recently, partly because of the weather, but partly because Ann has been working a lot of weekends since going "semi-retired" as I have been cruel enough to describe it. She has given up the Sister's role and reduced her hours, meaning that she now only works four days a week - of which two seem to be regularly at the weekend. She has a couple of nights coming up in the next month, which will be a bit of a shock to the system. I was going to go to the Matthew Street Festival in Liverpool this weekend, but the rain forced that off the streets today, which is a pity. I am sure I will get back into the swing of things soon enough.

The wedding plans seem to be going OK - apart from the "finding the dress for the groom's mother" bit... A concerted effort may be required in the next couple of weeks. On a similar note, I did enquire about a made to measure suit at Gieves and Hawkes on Saturday, but to be honest, it's very difficult to justify the expense, even for your only son's wedding! I don't know when else I would wear such an expensive suit - certainly not to the office. I will have to keep looking further and a trip to London for both of us might be in order.

Everything is set for the trip to Photokina - I have been invited as a guest to Leica's press party on the Monday night, so that should be good fun. I will take a blank SD card with me should there be an opportunity to play with some new toys :-) I am really looking forward to the train journey too and there should be a few people I know in the halls on the Tuesday, so it should be a good couple of days. I just hope that they can get their act together and sort some of their PR out - they appear to have a problem sourcing a component for the M8 camera, last sold in 2009, rendering a fault with that part (the LCD screen on the back of the camera) unrepairable. For a camera to be unrepairable after only three years really is not great, so I hope that they can get their act together soon, as the publicity isn't doing them any favours. The internet forums have been going 15 to the dozen, as one would expect when this particular rumour surfaced a couple of days ago. Makes me glad that I haven't taken the plunge with a digital M camera as yet - I am still not convinced that they are ready  for my money...

I haven't quite got into a "Looking forward to Copenhagen" mood yet, (that will come next month I'm sure), but we also have another trip to Venice to look forward to in the Spring. We had a lovely time there for the same week a few years ago so fingers crossed for similar weather. We are staying at The Palazzo Stern this time though, closer to the Accademia bridge, which is great because it's closer to one of the decent value restaurants we have found on previous trips. It's been recommended by a couple of friends whose opinion we trust, so it should be fine.

I do have one photography project in mind. The construction projects that I have been working on for six years are finally coming to fruition and should be on site in October and November. The highways works have already commenced. I am thinking that a photographic record of these schemes and some of the people working on them, might be an interesting idea. Indeed, if I can pull it off, it might make an interesting gift - I have already been thinking about putting a book together for the Library in town. Let's see how we get on.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Birthdays come and go and the end of an era

Well then - another birthday bites the dust. I have moved into Area 51 ...

I had some very nice presents from the family and we decided to buy a couple of watercolours from my friend Roy Alexander to go in the newly decorated living room. The link above is typical of his style, but the two we bought are of scenes in Snowdonia and are subtly different, and darker. They look terrific on the wall and we are very pleased with them.

As I have been hinting for a while now, another late "birthday present" is the completion of the maintenance. It really doesn't seem like two years since I started that episode, but that's the end of treatment for the foreseeable future. It does feel a bit odd, not having anything to "look forward to". My "watch and wait" starts here and it's going to be a period that I will need to come to terms with. Not thinking about it might not be a bad idea - let's see how it goes.

I had a very good chat with my haematologist on Thursday and he has asked me to return 3-monthly for a general check-up. (Mental note - that'll be after Copenhagen). Firstly however, I have a CT scan next Friday to establish the new "base-line" and he will advise me over the phone the results. Given that he has been manually examining me every time he has given me the Rituximab, I am not expecting to see anything untoward - I would be disappointed if there were anything, obviously. That's not what the maintenance is about. I will write here after the results come back.

It was my sister-in-law Susan's birthday yesterday and we gave her a couple of framed photographs as a present. She was very pleased with them, which is very good!

Next exciting event is Photokina in Cologne in mid-September. This is the biggest photography trade-fair in the world and is held once every two years. There are always new cameras held back for release at the fair and this year could be very exciting for those of us who love our Leicas. The company has taken an entire hall to itself, so something must be happening. There are plenty of whispers and rumours, of course, but a replacement for their flagship M9 is pretty much a shoe-in, as is a camera capable of taking their old SLR "R-series" lenses. I have converted mine to Nikon mount, but might consider converting them back if the camera, and the price (!) are right. It will have to go some to beat Nikon's new D800, the replacement for my own D700. I will be taking the Eurostar to Brussels, then the ICE train to Cologne for a three day whirlwind visit. The train timetable is extremely good - roughly 4 hours from London. It would be difficult to match that by air, if you were going city-centre to city-centre. I'm looking forward to seeing just a little bit of Belgian and Germany countryside on the way. I might even blog on the way if the train has wifi...

I have found a replacement for a mislaid film holder for my flatbed scanner, so can now look at scanning the Hasselblad films from holiday properly. We need one final piece of work for the living room and a big, square photograph of Scotland might just do the trick above the fire-place.