Saturday, 21 February 2009

Alan Bennett's 'Untold Stories' is REALLY funny . . .

I did enjoy immensely reading the Yorkshire playwright Alan Bennett's 'Untold Stories'. It's a sort of auto-biographical rummage through his diaries. It is fabulously hilarious. especially as it has the frisson of indiscretion; in the foreword he says he is penning this work as he has been diagnosed terminally ill, and he may as well tell his personal story, indiscretions and all. He is still with us, and has survived the revelations of his indiscretions . . .

The most poignant part of his diaries, for me, is when he describes his parents. His mother went a bit mental when his parents retired, and was placed in the local mental hospital (loony bin) from time to time. Bennett's Dad visited her every day she was incarcerated, for say twenty years, until his death. She lasted for decades more, as a slightly loony inmate in various old peoples' homes. He writes coherently about her loss of personality, whilst what looks exactly like Mom is still there. His Mom lasted until about age 92, if I remember correctly . . . . terrifically uplifting stuff, Mr Bennett, and I note that it's still in print . . .

D E M E N T I A . . .

It's not really very humorous, dementia.

The easiest way to contract it is to live longer.
At age 85, one in three has symptoms. You can get it at an early age, from a bang on the head, etcetera. but, mostly it happens when you're older. There's a hundred different types of it, and not all medico's agree on its diagnosis and treatment.
One of my very elderly relatives MAY have it. The psychiatrist says 'No' (he reckons that she may have 'delirium', another illness altogether), but the chief medical doc says 'Yes'. She has just gone into hospital. She wants to go home every day we visit. The nurses want her to go into a 'secure' ward (she is hard work, with sometimes bizarre and un-ladylike behaviour) but the doctors cannot agree.

I've spent a few hours every day this week searching the 'Net, reading magazines and books and talking to friends, relatives and strangers who are acquainted with aspects of the disease. Golly, it is terrifying. That's mainly because the person you've known all your life is suddenly a new and unpredictable and sometimes scary and messy person, who really won't remember who you are, and worse, who they are.
A blog is not a good place to cover much about this illness. It is a good place for me to mention it, as it is too scary to keep cooped up inside you.
There's lots of advice and help on the 'Net, and from the medico's. I have found, in a very short time, that you need a whole team of carers to look after someone who is demented or has Alzheimner's.
This treatment can appear brutal (locking up 24/7 in a secure mental ward, forced administration of psychotropic drugs, tying to the bed).

The alternative appears to be much worse. If the dementia sufferer discharges themself, where can they go ? If they go home, they're found wandering around in the street without their proper coat in a rainstorm,. They don't buy food, they don't eat, they don't or can't call anyone, and worse . . .
And, who pays their bills ? We've found Power of Attorney costs £ 1,500 and takes six months to acquire (when the relative is not 'all there'). And, you feel terrible, commuting back and forth every weekend to see them in hospital, waiting for a diagnosis and an offer of a place in a suitable old peoples' home . . .
I don't see how anyone can plan in advance to deal with this sort of thing, although there are 'living wills' and such-like . . . including Dignitas, the Swiss group which will assist you to die, if you have arranged it yourself in advance. . . .
It doesn't apply here, and it may not be applicable to dementia sufferers generally, as all the people whom I can recall who've gone to Dignitas (and thereby made it into the UK news media) have been 'compos mentos' at the time of the assisted suicide . . . .

Good-bye social life and having fun . . . all of us looked ten years older by the end of this week . . . and, we don't think there will be any conclusion for Mom until at least a few weeks into the future. And maybe not even then . . . I'll keep you posted . . .

the 'phone line went, and my life fell apart . . . .

I couldn't believe that the 'phone line was dead, but yes, no dial tone . . . then I thought 'Gosh, no broadband or Internet . . .'

British Telecom, (the landline provider) said 'There's a fault within your property, so that'll be £ 200 to have our engineer visit'.
'No thanks', and we did what we could to isolate the lines and check that it WASN'T a fault at my end. I rang again (from a 'phone box, yes) and they changed their story; nope, the fault was now on the BT part of the line (99.999 % of the link from the telephone exchange). BT could look into the problem by next Monday, maybe . . .

That was four days ago. I rang again today. They would still come, but not before Monday. They would now transfer all the incoming calls to my landline to my mobile, free of charge. Not bad, but not perfect. About an hour later an engineer rang to say he was knocking on my door. LOVELY . . . .

And, three hours later, he has found the fault (a teeny connector loop in a cabinet full of thousands of connectors) down the road somewhere. He replaced the loop, came back to my house, and some fancy fingerwork later (about fifty keys in succcession, on the telephone keypad) I have a dial tone.

So, here's the blog done ten minutes later, and he's off to create harmony elsewhere (up to Archway, he said. That's about a mile away).

A story with a happy ending. I knew I missed the Internet, but I didn't know I missed it quite that much. Carrier pigeon is not the same.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

I sold three snow photos . . .

The restaurant next door, last Monday morning. No-one sat out there, all day . . .

This was the day when absolutely none of the 12,000 London buses left their garages. So with all the cars parked up, did anyone get to work on Monday ?

This was the one I liked best, with the small zone of focus. The squeezed-up distance shows far too many, all identical, cars. it looks like a sepia image, except for the blue scaffolding in the distance.

This, of course, is my road in central london, after the heaviest snowfall since 1991. Back then, I took 35 mm. film shots with a Minolta compact camera. And I walked to work in the West End, about three miles through the snow; no chance I was getting on my bike that week.
These shots were taken with a Canon 350 DSLR, using the 24-105 mm. f4 lens. My customer wanted them printed A-3. They look just fine, mounted on plain card and stuck on his wall.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Will Self says literature is like JAWS . . .

Just when I didn't expect a frisson of literary awareness,, there it was. Mr Will Self reads voraciously, and one of the authors was WG Sebald.

No, I'd not heard of him either. But, as most of us do, Mr Self mixed up bits of various of Sebald's books, and had a muddled understanding of what Sebald was saying. Apparently. This is the lead article in the London Guardian's Review section today, easily found at

Will Self walks us through several of Sebald's plots, especially the walking for 25 miles of Suffolk coastline. And Mr Self was to try this himself, just to check whether the same thoughts and events happened to him. because Self knew that coastline very well. I was struck by his comparison of reading to film-watching, comparing a literary moment to that Jaws moment when the film zooms up on the shark in the surf, whilst simultaneously tracking the lens wider to reveal the landscape.

Hitchcock did the same trick in Vertigo. Apparently.

Reading this review has reminded me of the higher bits of life's experience, the abstract thought process. This was entirely lacking in my week. Instead we had the deluge of snow all over the country, followed by the failed public transport and the cancelled work. At no point during this week did anyone mention a single solitary abstract thought. So, here you are.

Cancer when you're young

The WebLink is
This made the local TV news last evening.

Yep, he died a few months ago, but he started the blog at
when he realised there was very ittle support for young people diagnosed with cancer.

Our buddy Dave died in Birmingham a few years ago of pancreatic cancer. He was devastated to have the disease, all the more so because he had no idea, until he fell down one day and couldn't get back up, that there was anything wrong. He was just 50.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

The eco-system is wobbling . . . ask a bee . . .

Yes, it is snowing outside and there are no bees about at present. But, without them the entire eco-system (the part pollinated by bees, anyhow) would grind to a halt. This article by Richard Girling in the Sunday Times at

explains all. The printed magazine has fab photos and diagrams, so 10 out of 10 for making it look sexy as well.

Monday, 2 February 2009

It isn't cheap, running your own colour printer . . .

The difference between these two photos is easy to spot. This is one big reason why I went for the hp 8750 printer. It was also because it was less expensive than the Epson and Canon alternatives at the time, both in terms of initial price and running costs.
The printer is still going well after what must be 50, 000 A-4 sheets, mainly colour and often photo-quality (and some A-3 and A-3+ (13" x 19 ") sheets).
I'm just recovering from re-ordering the genuine hp inkjet cartridges and Premium-plus photo paper. About six month's worth of paper and ink is costing about £ 542, with a discount and lowered VAT. That will give me about 300 proper photo's A-4, a bunch of A-3+ and thousands of normal b+w and colour prints. All these items are made outside the UK, and the pound sterling has collapsed against the Euro, the Dollar, the Ringit . . .
This is what the reviews said it would cost, and it's not cheap, The quality is excellent, about as good as you can get without using a printing profile, I would think.

Newer printers give more economical prints, but this workhorse 8750 is still for sale (Google and it's there).
I buy most all of my ink and photo paper from a long-time supplier here in north London, whose details I will list out just as soon as they get back to me.
I know that if I needed a replacement printer and I had the money, I'd get an Epson Stylus Photo R2880 printer, at
The reviews for that Epson are pretty darn good. Do let me know if you have incisive comments of your own, about the care and feeding of photo-quality printers

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Snow joke, but more fun than watching the telly . . .

Yep, staring out the window at this makes me think I had better leave a bit earlier for work, in the morning . . .

It does look lovely, don't you think ? This is central london, where the snow settles only once every five or ten years or so. I believe that our current weather has come from Siberia. It's the same up north, but it is too windy for their snow to settle yet.

Photo exhibitions in London this month . . .

There's the Wildlife Photographer of the Year at

Then there's the Cirque de Soleil at

The Deutsch Borse prize and exhibition is at

There's the newly-refurbished Photographers' Gallery at

There's the AOP student awards, noted at

Sophie's done a great job of rounding up London's gallery shows at

There's a gallery I've just seen on the 'Net at

The V & A has an exhibition of photography books at

There may be a few shows on at the Royal Photographic Society, on the 'Web at

There's a zillion more listings for February 2009, but I must get on . . .

Phase IV Cardiac referral goes full-tilt ahead . . .

Before we run through Rehab, I'd like to say that my favourite heart health WebSite is at
They are seriously good with FRIENDLY advice.

This is what Phase III Cardiac rehab looks like; I was on it from September through November last year. It is about gentle aerobics, gentle warm-up's and warm down's, meditation, you get the picture, don't you ?
Nor everyone is old, some are in their twenties or thirties. It''s not all down to fags and beer either; some have congenitial defects, or industrial injuries . . . you always have two physio's or trainers with you, in case you need a bit of guidance . . .

I am on Phase IV and it looks like this, using lots of gym machines (Cross-trainer, Treadmill, Recumbent Cycle, Chest press, etcetera). Nearly all the machines have monitoring panels, so you can see how your heart rate is getting on, as you incline the treadmill up past seven degrees (hard, I can tell you, especially when you push the speed up to a big seven (fast walking pace, nearly running.)) You spend max. ten minutes on any one thing, and alternate between cardio stuff (cycling and treadmill) and resistance stuff (Leg press, chest press, etc).
There's a physio dedicated for your cardiac team, but as it takes place in a normal gym where ordinary people go and pay good money for exercise, there's the usual trainers there looking after them, and they give us Cardiac Rehab guys advice, as well . . .

This is real life. Getting your Phase V exercise out there with the rest of the 'normal' folks who've not yet experienced medical intervention to the heart and lungs.
I cycle to the shops for the weekly supermarket run, and will one day soon cycle all the way to Paddington for college. I still use the bus and train, but I keep saying it is because where I work is twelve miles away, and I put in long hours. Do you buy that ?

Obama is Jimmy Carter ?

Sarah Baxter, reporting from Washington for the London Sunday Times, has again given us an incisive look at the differences between "Dubya" Bush's autocratic (near-dictatorial ?) style and Obama's more consenus-driven style. Read it all at

the British are very good at talking about the weather, aren't they ?

What more can I say . . . snow in central London tomorrow. This is pretty rare, but we had it briefly last month . . . I posted this blog as it is snowing (and alternating with a spot of sun) outside the window as I type at mdday . . . find out more at

How bad does learning have to be, before . . .

I am a teacher who has been doing agency work for a few years. Reading this article by Chris Woodhead (former chief inspector of schools in England) at
rang a few bells with my experiences.
NOT ALL the schools I've worked in have been as depicted. Some have been far worse. When you are there for the day you just do the work, get your time sheet signed and leave.
The striking thing which both the protagonist in the film of this school and Mr Woodhead say is "Why keep them at school to 17 or 18 when there is nothing there for them ?" The film also raise the question of why humiliate the children, when they are so ill-equipped to cope with academic life.
No one person can provide any answers to real-life teaching problems.

The film is called 'the Class', and won the Palme d'Or award last year. See more at

Better food in schools helps improve behaviour and learning . . .

Jamie Oliver's campaign to improve the quality of food in schools has apparently paid off.

Studies and anecdotal evidence are showing that by spending MORE MONEY on MORE NUTRITIOUS school dinners, children are better able to learn. and they behave better, too.

Read about it in today's paper at