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. 

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Lewis, Harris and a general catchup

Since last time, which is six weeks after all, we have been fortunate enough to visit a really fabulous island at the edge of Europe. Lewis, and its co-joined twin Harris, form the largest of the Outer Hebrides at the very North West of Scotland.

A three day journey there, via Bankfoot near Perth and Ullapool ended with the 2 3/4 hour ferry crossing to Stornoway, the capital of the islands and the only sizeable town out there. We were lucky that this little corner of the continent often has completely different weather from the rest of the country - this time it worked in our favour, as after a few days of somewhat mixed weather, it became settled and sunny, with high broken cloud. With the sun setting at around 23:00 and rising at 04:00, it never really gets dark at this time of year, so there is no excuse for not getting out and about.

We were staying in a very pleasant cottage owned by a very friendly couple in a sub-hamlet about 25 minutes from Stornoway, so it was very quiet but not so remote as to make life too complicated. Nearby, at Calanais, were a group of 5,000 year old standing stones which were an excellent place from which to watch the sunset.

With golden eagles flying above the cottage and seals in The Minch, between the island and the mainland, we only lacked for otters this time.

I bought myself a new Harris Tweed jacket while there. We found an excellent shop, The Harris Tweed Company in Grosebay,  selling quality jackets, unlike those found in chain stores on the mainland. There are some truly awful quality jackets about these days, so one has to be careful. It is most definitely worth buying from a shop where the provenance of the tweed and tailoring are known. Mine is a deep green tweed. I also discovered via the Harris Tweed Authority, that my Grandfather's jacket must have been made prior to 1958, as it doesn't have the reference number to connect it back to a particular weaver. Older than I thought, and older than me, it's just starting to wear at the cuffs and inexplicably, it doesn't fit me quite as well as when I inherited it 25 years ago. Oh well...

The tweed for my new one was woven by Donald John MacKay MBE in Luskentyre, not far from Gosebay. It's quite an interesting concept to know who actually wove the cloth for the jacket you are wearing. He certainly has a magnificent view to ponder over as he makes the cloth

All in all, despite being a long way away, Harris and Lewis are fascinating beautiful places and I can see us returning in the future.

Got an interesting couple of months coming up now. After my birthday this week (thanks!) I have a trip to Photokina in Köln to look forward to in September, with a very busy time at the office in the meantime. Then it's Copenhagen in October, then it's the wedding, then it's Christmas and another year over.

My last maintenance is now less than two weeks away. I've written in the past about what this might mean, so I won't repeat myself more than I usually do, but it's going to be interesting. We were discussing this with the Lymphoma Association Group on Wednesday.

Now, what can I do to avoid the Olympics..?

Friday, 1 June 2012

Buddies, Zevalin and 500s

Yet another May has come and gone and a catch-up is in order.

The annual Lymphoma Association Conference was held in Manchester on 16th. This is the third one that I have attended and as always they have proved very interesting. All day sessions, with extremely good presentations by some of the top lymphoma specialists in the country always give you something to think about.

Over lunch, I enquired about the "Buddy Scheme" that the charity run, whereby a member makes him or herself available to speak with other people who would like to talk over the condition with someone else who is suffering with it, and who has been through some of the same emotions or doubts that they are. Having now discussed it with the buddy co-ordinator, I will definitely put my name forward this week and see how we get on.

There are some very interesting new developments in the treatment field as always, and while they are still a long way from a cure for NHL, the management of the disease gets better every year.

My penultimate maintenance session was on Wednesday, with the last one at the end of July. By then, I will have been attending at the hospital either three weekly, or bi-monthly for two and a half years. Since coming off my "watch and wait" period, at the beginning of 2010, I have had pretty much constant regular support from the consultant and the specialist nurses there. What is going to be different and potentially more difficult, is going back onto the "watch and wait" regime in the autumn. Even when you know that this is the right and appropriate course of action, what it actually feels like is "inaction". You really want to feel that "something is being done". However, research shows that there is no benefit at all to either continuing with chemotherapy or indeed maintenance when the disease has settled down and there are no symptoms.

I will need to have a CT scan on completion of the maintenance (mid-August, probably), so that we have a new base-line against which I can be judged, and I will need to attend clinics every three months, so I am not entirely on my own (with regards to professional support), but it will certainly be a change to the routine.

As I have said before, typically, it should be around 3 years from now that I can expect to bumble along before the symptoms return and more chemo is needed. Who knows what the recommended treatment will be then. Zevalin appears to be gaining in "popularity" at the moment. It's a little bit like the Rituximab, in that it has a component that attached to the CD20 markers on the cancerous B-cells, but it then has a radioactive element that damages the DNA of the cell and kills them. The advantage of this kind of treatment is that it only targets the cancerous cells, as they are the only ones with the CD20 marker. On the other hand, it's powerful and dangerous stuff, with some interesting side effects. From the Zevalin website:

"The most common adverse reactions of ZEVALIN are: decreases in blood counts, tiredness, abdominal (stomach) pain, nausea (upset stomach), inflammation of the nose and upper throat, weakness, diarrhea, cough, and fever. Common adverse reactions (≥40%) in clinical trials were: low neutrophil count (a type of white blood cell), decrease in number of white blood cells, decrease in platelets, decrease in red blood cells or hemoglobin, infection, lack of body strength and energy, muscles and bones symptoms, and stomach and intestinal symptoms"

So, that's something to think about :-) But, let's face it, when you are dealing with anti-cancer drugs, none of them are benign and they all tell you that your life could be a misery for a while. Better that than the alternative, though. The CEO of the drug company that makes it said, only yesterday, at a conference in Chicago:

"There is no drug (approved) that is single-dose treatment for cancer," Shrotriya told IBD in an interview Thursday. "The new data from Europe shows that, in fact, Zevalin could be a single-dose treatment for follicular non-Hodgkins lymphoma, without the typical side effects of chemotherapy."

So, that's actually pretty encouraging, really. There are some clever people about, that's for sure.

We picked up the new Fiat 500  couple of weeks ago. The Twin-Air engine really is seriously good and the ride and handling have been greatly improved since the previous one. All in all a great little car.

My Golf has just gone through 70,000 miles today and it's not yet turned its second birthday...

Jubilee Weekend this weekend which is getting everyone very excited. Or not as the case may be, and I have to say that the Olympics really are starting to get on my nerves now. Only two more months to go and they'll be nearly over. Still, Mum's birthday dinner is also this weekend, so it will be good to have everyone together for the first time in ages.

And finally, it's only 3 weeks until it's annual leave time. 

But, let's not wish our lives away just yet. Eh?

Sunday, 6 May 2012

"Anniversary" weekend

Notwithstanding the previous post, it's hard to believe that it's only three years ago this weekend that I first discovered I had a problem that turned out to be the lymphoma. It feels like much longer than that, so much has happened in the meantime. Trouble is that when first diagnosed, the consultant gives you a "worst case" prognosis, and that sits at the back of your mind. Three years in, typically, I should be looking at maybe another five years, tops. That's not long - and definitely not long enough. But, since I am very young to have got this, I am not typical. Which is good. But also means that it's a bit of an unknown. Which isn't.

As I said, I do feel very lucky that I have been able to receive some of the best treatment available. The team at The Countess of Chester are really excellent. Hardworking, dedicated, friendly, caring. What more could you want. From the first time I went into the unit, I knew that they would look after me to the very best of their ability.

I have a loving family and very supportive friends and colleagues - extremely important when dealing with something like this. I am a lucky man. I am sure I've said this before, but it's worth saying again - "Thank you" to everyone.

Could be a lot worse though. A former colleague of mine died of cancer last weekend and we are going to her funeral on Tuesday. Some of us are very much unlucky - cancer really is a bastard.

Time to stop feeling sorry for myself. Lots to do this year, including the trip to Scotland at the end of next month, Copenhagen and the wedding. All of which are going to be fantastic.

Before all that is the Lymphoma Association AGM, being held in a couple of week's time in Manchester. I am thinking about maybe volunteering as a "buddy" - but need to talk it through with some people first.

The Leica User Book 2012 is still selling - well, it will always be "still selling", as Blurb don't stop selling them until you say so - what I mean is that people are still buying them. Another 24 sold last month, meaning another £240 will be donated to AICR next week when the payment clears in my account. There is also some top-up money to come from the 2010 book, which is great. We are at around about £20k in donations in total now. What a great effort. Sales will inevitably slow down now, but it has definitely been a worthwhile exercise. I will have to think about another book of my own.

Finally, I have been invited to make a presentation to the Shirley Photographic Society in September. "An Evening with Andy Barton", they have called it. I am convinced that they have the wrong Andy Barton, but it does sound as if I am the star turn that night. I am slowly putting together a print collection and will sort out some slides too. Will need to assemble a programme otherwise it might end up as "Five Minutes with Andy Barton". Preparation needs to start now...

Monday, 30 April 2012

Coming to the end of my third year of this

I suppose that I ought to think about a celebration of some sort, because I am actually a very lucky man.

I will have to ponder until the Bank Holiday next week...

The 30 foot high girl

Last weekend there was a 30 foot high girl wandering the streets of Liverpool.

She was part of an outdoor performance event known as "Sea Odyssey", in the city for the Titanic Centenary commemorations. I managed to see her on the Saturday morning, as she went from the Albert Dock around the streets and past the Town Hall, and was fortunate enough to get a really good spot. She paused to kneel in front of the statue of Queen Victoria, right in front of where I was standing. She stayed for about 20 minutes, allowing children to climb onto her forearms.

She was accompanied by her dog and later in the day met up with her uncle, who was, according to the story, trying to find her to deliver a letter from a relative lost on the Titanic. Each "puppet" - the word seems inadequate somehow - was operated by a couple of dozen "Lilliputians" and the whole thing was just brilliant.

Liverpool really do know how to do this kind of thing so well. They have no problem closing the streets of the city centre for hours at a time and anything up to a million people attend.

Great for the city and the visitors.

Monday, 9 April 2012

New light through old windows

The weather has been so dull over the weekend, that I have been going through old photographs on the computer. I was actually looking for some Lake District photos to put into this year's calendar (April? Don't ask...) and came across a few old files that I had dismissed before.

It is surprising what you pass over as being "not worth it" when you look back after a couple of years.

The first one was taken on a walk up St Sunday Crag about four years ago. We'd been up there one weekend in February 2008 and sat on top of Catseye Cam overlooking Helvellyn and Red Tarn. The weather was glorious, especially for February and when it got to Tuesday of the following week and it hadn't broken, on a whim I took the Wednesday off and for the only time ever, went up a mountain on my own.

I walked from Glenridding car park, over St Sunday Crag and back - a decent walk - but must have seen no more than a dozen people all day. If I'd fallen and broken an ankle, I'd have been in big trouble, but I didn't, so I wasn't. The weather was fantastic, as you can see from this panorama of Patterdale and Ullswater, taken on the way up.

This shot was printed to a canvas soon after I took it and is currently hanging on the wall.

However, it was the following shot that I'd passed over at the time and it's taken me over 4 years to spot some potential. I really like the way that the distant mountains recede in the mist and the lone figure, walking towards me. I have no idea why I didn't see this one before.

Still, I am glad I did. Now I will need to print that one too...

The second shot that passed me by, but more recently, is this one. 

Again, not sure why I didn't bother with it before, but I like it in a simple, pastoral sort of way. I tried this one in black and white too, but much preferred the colour version - I think it almost has a slide-like quality to the colours, I can't quite put my finger on it.

This one will make it to the calendar.

A great place to live

We were walking the dog this morning along The Parade, a street which used to be a quayside  of a small fishing port, but is now just a road alongside a huge expanse of marshland. The village is Parkgate, on The Wirral, in Cheshire

In the 1700s, it was the main embarkation point for people wanting to travel from England to Dublin. Trans-Irish Sea ships would moor in the main cut of the river, and small lighters would be rowed to the quayside that you can see here. Handel did his final tweaks to "The Messiah" here, prior to its debut in Dublin and Emma Hamilton, Lord Nelson's mistress, used to take the waters here.

In the 1730s, part of the river was canalised, which diverted the main flow to the other side of the estuary, leading to a gradual silting up on the English side. This, together with the opening up of Liverpool as a commercial dock and the pushing through of the turnpike road to Holyhead, meant that the village's trade with Ireland came to an end.

Just before the Second World War, grass was planted further upstream to stabilise a firing range - within 30 odd years it had taken over the whole of the estuary. Today, for the most part, the estuary is an odd mixture of marsh grass and inlets - "the remains" as my young daughter called them - trapped ponds being "the remains" of the River Dee. The marsh is now a nature reserve, administered by the RSPB and the local authority.

A couple of times a year, with the spring tides, the water is high enough to reach the quayside once again. I have known this place 20 years, and I have seen it breach the wall when the tide is exceptionally high. Today's is only 10m, but there was an 11m tide a few years ago. If the wind blows up the estuary, that can add another 1m to the level.

The real beauty of living here is that from our house, in 5 minutes, we can be watching any number of wading birds on the marsh. Anything from various gulls, oystercatchers, herons, egrets, a couple of spoonbills are now resident too. We get short-eared owls patrolling the marsh of an evening and a hen harrier is a regular visitor.

What a privilege.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Guest Blogger at Leica Camera

Leica's continuing support for the Leica Forum Charity Book means that I was invited to contribute a Guest Posting on their corporate blog. There were several entries there a couple of years ago, and this one is a more personal follow-up to those, based around this year's book.

You can read the blog entry here

Announcing the Leica User Forum Book 2012

There is also a very interesting one a few further down about Harris Tweed, which I will make a note to read more thoroughly before our trip there in June.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

New York, Treatment 10 and Charitable Works

In one respect, no news is good news when it comes to this treatment regime. It will be three years since I was diagnosed, next month and it's over two years since I started my treatment.

It's all very much a matter of routine, now, of course, but it still takes about 3 1/2 hours start to finish to deliver one 250ml bag of saline and Rituximab. There is a limit to how fast they can let it run into the vein and even though I am well used to it, I still need to have the paracetamol, Piriton and steroid pre-treatment too.

Each time I get the treatment, the haematologist examines the lymph nodes for any signs of recurrence and, fortunately, hasn't found any to date. Only two more sessions to go now, then they will leave me alone until I get symptomatic again, which, if I'm lucky, will be around 3 or maybe 4 years away. He wants to see me every three months, going forward. Let's just hope that he can get some assistance with his surgeries, as the last time I had to see him outside of a treatment session, he was an hour and a half behind with his patients. More and more people are benefiting from the haematology services, and Rituximab is being used for conditions other than lymphoma, too, so poor old Ward 60 is very busy indeed.

My specialist nurse, the one who got married on the day that we flew to NY, seems to have had a fantastic wedding and honeymoon if her photographs are anything to go by. If she told me once, she told me six times that she can't believe that she is married. That'll wear off!

So, we have been back from NY for about three weeks now. We had a terrific, if tiring time there, having seen most of the sights and walked most of Manhattan over the five days we were there. It was great to meet "the cousins" for the first time. As I posted below, what a really nice bunch of people, with whom we had a great day on Ellis Island.

What an interesting place that is - echoes of the flip-side of Auschwitz, in a way. Places where the intended purposes are polar opposites, of course, but both needing highly efficient systems for processing thousands of people per day. I am glad we went and learned more about what people had to endure on their way to the United States. Our little delay in Immigration was quickly put into perspective.

Highlights of NY apart from meeting the family? Meeting folks from the Leica forum for the first time and joining them up the Empire State Building as the sun went down and the lights of Manhattan came on. The whole city seems to come into focus as dusk settles. Whereas during the day, you are overwhelmed by the scale of all the buildings below you, stretching over the whole island, at dusk and as it gets dark, the lights in windows and cars seem to make the city get closer andy more defined. It was a terrific experience.

The museums are wonderful, of course, and we had a fantastic evening at Warhorse, just off Broadway. Incredible puppetry. The horses really were "alive", even if the Devonian accents left a lot to be desired! Didn't spoil the amazing theatre, though. Pity about the $50 for two glasses of wine...

So, now, it's back into the normal routine, and keeping an eye on the sales of the Leica User Forum Charity Book 2012. So far, we have sold 83 copies, raising £830 for AICR, on top of the £3,850 we have already raised this year. Great stuff.

Following on from this success, I fear that Ward 60 might need some help over the next couple of years to pay for another extension, so I will volunteer my services to the team there, should they need me. It's always good to pay something back if you can.

So, now it's Easter and my Mum's 75th birthday to look forward to, followed by two weeks doing nothing in Scotland in June. Brilliant!

Monday, 5 March 2012

The family

We met up with some "long lost" but not so distant cousins while going to Ellis Island yesterday. What a treat. We had a really lovely day.

Ellis Island

Just a brief post about Ellis Island. I have been to a place where millions of people were processed before, and the similarity was striking. Only this is the absolute polar opposite. While Auschvitz's purpose was death, Ellis Island was full of hope and promise. It was the three doors at the end of the Great Hall that brought things home most strongly. Being sent to the left door, and you were off to the mainland of America. The right door, and they sent you to New York itself. But the middle door, and you were on our way to deportation to the place and life you were trying to escape. Fortunately, only 2% were sent back. Something like 1/3 of the whole population of the US have a connection with the left or right door. Amazing place.

Saturday, 3 March 2012


I am 36,000 feet above the Labrador Sea, two-thirds of the way to New York. I am looking out of the window and I can see the shadow of our own vapour trail on the surface of the ocean. And I can see ice. In fact I can see lots of ice. How cool is that?

I have never seen the Arctic before. It's pretty much the southern extent of it and I don't really know why I am surprised, but it's really quite weird. I was convinced that I'd seen it in the sea earlier in the flight, but dismissed it as just waves, but we are far too high to see waves in such detail. It is absolutely beautiful. It is flowing across the sea like a brilliant white paint being mixed into a Wedgewood blue base. The currents and the wind have not been able to mix it into a consistent colour, so the white stands out against the blue grey background.

As we get closer to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, the ice is getting denser and more consistent, but the edges of the sheets are exactly like a really heavy frost on a windscreen. I wonder how thick it is and how long it will last. Millions of people will have seen this sight before, many of them will have seen it hundreds of times. Do they still look out of the window looking at it with such pleasure?

I can see what looks like the edge of the real ice sheet itself. A huge cliff of ice is stretching on the horizon rising above the grey frozen water. It's probably a snow-covered cliff above the sea on one of the outlying islands, but it's impressive nonetheless.

We are approaching landfall now. Gander airport, that old Neville Shute favourite is to the south. The cloud is thickening below us and it's getting a bit choppy up here, but the ice I can see through breaks in the cloud is now in huge chunks. Impossible to tell how large they are as there is no point of reference, but they must be of considerable size to be so visible from this height. What a treat. Worth coming on the trip just to see this. It makes you want to go to this part of the world and see it for yourself close at hand.

The cloud cover is complete and the show is over. It is 1,012 miles to our destination. Thought. Overnight flight on the way back. Arctic. Winter. North. Lights. On-line later to see if I can move our seats to the port side of the plane in the way back.

At Heathrow, waiting to fly to New York

I can feel a good week coming on. Just the flight to suffer first... :-) And, hoping that the sun shines on Jenny and Mike for their wedding this afternoon.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

I'm still here...

I don't think I have ever left it so long between writing something on this blog, so I will endeavour to be more prolific in future.

Since last time, obviously Christmas and the New Year have long gone and we are looking forward to the spring and summer. It's going to be a busy year, this year, both at work and at home.

At work, something I have been working on for nearly 6 years is now coming to fruition, but it's a struggle just to get it all "over the line". One, or rather, several big efforts required and it will be there.

On a personal front, the year gets better and better as it goes on. We are off to New York in a couple of weeks, having fortunately spent the last of the AirMiles before the changed. (I have written about this before). There are some interesting developments happening on that trip, not least of which is that we have set up a meeting with some of Ann's long lost cousins, unknown to us until about four months ago. It's going to be a very interesting day on Ellis Island with them and we are both really looking forward to it.

There has also been a very interesting email from one of my friends who lives in NY - if a proposal comes off, it will be terrific. I will write about it after the event, just in case it puts a hex on it...

In June we have rented a cottage on the edge of Europe on the island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Really looking forward to being out there. We saw the islands a couple of years ago when we were on Skye, but this will be the first time out that far. They are on the same latitude as the top end of Nova Scotia and the southern shore of Alaska, but fortunately, much warmer than either. Looking forward to some great sun-rises; will just mean very early starts given that we are there more or less at the longest day. Ha ha.

In October, the Leica Challenge roadshow hits Copenhagen on "Kulturnatten" weekend. On the Friday night the city is awash with cultural activities all night, so it should be very interesting. We have booked a restaurant for the gang already and will have 30 people there for supper. I'm sure there will be more there for the Challenge, but finding space for everyone on that weekend is very difficult.

Finally, the year culminates in Ed and Nicki's wedding at the end of November. How exciting is that?! More about that nearer the time, no doubt.

So, maintenance Nr 9 of 12 has been and gone and by the end of July, that will be the end of them. It's almost exactly two years since I started my chemotherapy and I have been going back there no more than two-monthly ever since. I am seriously going to miss the sessions there in what must seem a perverse kind of way. The good thing, apart from the wonderful people there, is that you know that some one will check you over every other month. I don't know what the "Watch and Wait" regime will be after the summer, but I'm sure it won't be more than once a quarter, if that.Maybe I don't need to return until I become symptomatic again. We will see.

This maintenance should, in theory, have added 30 months or so to the remission period after the first treatment, which means that with a fair wind, it might be another 3 or 4 years before I need to have a second round. The haematologist said that he can probably get another 10 or maybe 15 years out of me on current technology, so that's not so bad. There are plenty of people around who don't make it that far.

Chin up!