Of Interest To Photographers

My friend Antony sent me a link to a short (16 minute) film on You Tube.

Two photographers travel to London to experience the city when it is almost deserted during lockdown.

They video themselves, and explain the ideas and the process, also the camera settings and equipment used.

Some of the resulting stills are shown alongside the original video footage.

For me, it was fascinating to see this area of Central London almost empty of people. Soho, Seven Dials, and Covent Garden, places where I worked and walked every day for the last twelve years I spent in that city. Even if you have no interest in cameras or photography, you might enjoy seeing the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown on the capital city of England.

(There are some short advertisements dring the video, but they can be skipped.)

Bringing Granddad Home

My maternal grandfather died quite young. He was only around 65 years old. I heard the news of course, and despite being only 12 years old myself, I took it quite well, without getting too upset. As was tradition, he was ‘laid out’ in a coffin in the parlour of the house, and every member of the family was taken to see him. It was the first time I had seen a dead body, and to me he seemed to just be sleeping. He had a short funeral, followed by a burial in Nunhead Cemetery, South London.

Many years later, quite recently in fact, I learned the true circumstances of his death, and how the family ‘brought granddad home’.

He died in Essex, at a place called Heybridge, near the town of Maldon. It was just over fifty miles from his home in the London district of Bermondsey. He and my nan had been enjoying a short holiday in a caravan they had bought some years earlier, to enjoy their retirement weekends and summer breaks. My nan had woken up that morning to find him dead beside her. He was cold, and very white. She had seen enough dead people to know nothing could be done. For many years, he had been receiving treatment for Angina, so it seemed likely a heart attack had taken him during the night.

Back then (1965) it wasn’t usual to ring for an ambulance when someone died. But a death did have to be officially confirmed, usually by the family doctor. It then had to be reported to the Police too. But my nan was fifty miles away from home, so she did something different. She walked to a nearby telephone box, and rang her eldest daughter, my aunt Edie. Edie in turn rang my mum, and then the younger sister, Betty. All three were married, and it was decided that the brothers-in-law would be enlisted to deal with the situation.

Edie’s husband was called Albert, and he had the biggest car. He picked up my dad, and then went to get Betty’s husband, Benjamin. They drove the fifty miles to the caravan through heavy Sunday traffic in east London and the Essex suburbs. When they arrived, they packed up my grandparents’ things, and dressed my dead granddad in his overcoat, to cover his pyjamas. Then they propped him up in the back seat of the car, his head against the window. My dad and Benjamin sat in the back with him, to make sure he stayed upright, and didn’t slip down. With my nan in the front, and Albert driving, they set off for the house in Bermondsey.

Despite encountering some heavy traffic on the return journey, nobody outside the car appeared to notice that anything was amiss. Once back at my nan’s house, they quickly carried granddad inside, then put him into bed in his pyjamas as my nan was telephoning for the doctor. The doctor arrived, and immediately pronounced my granddad dead, knowing nothing of the fiasco surrounding his return from Essex. He was prepared to issue a death certificate with Angina as the cause, and he also notified the Police. Undertakers were called to bring a coffin, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

It seems my nan was afraid that if she rang for help in Essex, granddad’s body would be taken to the mortuary at Colchester Hospital. That might involve a post-mortem examination too. Instead, she relied on her family to do the right thing, and get her husband back home.

It’s one of those, ‘you couldn’t make it up’, stories, and is now a source of great amusement to many of our family members.

Times were different then. They certainly were.

Christmas In An Ambulance

As you probably know, I spent a third of my life as an EMT in Central London. Anyone who worked in that job will tell you that the two busiest days of the year are New Year’s Eve, and Christmas Day.

But why Christmas Day? The shops are closed, and most people are at home opening presents, wearing bad taste jumpers, and anticipating a day of eating, drinking, and watching TV.

For emergency ambulance crews, the day starts with the leftovers of the previous shift. Christmas Eve parties, drunken revellers who had fallen over, some in virtual comas from excessive alcohol consumption. Head injuries, cuts and bruises from fights, maybe broken ankles if the streets were icy. Calls to the Police Station to examine injured prisoners, and all this on top of the everyday medical emergencies that don’t go away just because it is the 25th of December.

Once the presents are open, there are the accidents involving children. Rushing off to try out new rollerblades, skateboards, and cycles, many have sustained injuries not long after breakfast. For some, that will mean a few hours spent in the emergency department of the local hospital, awaiting stitches and Tetanus injections. For the unlucky few, it will result in being on life support in the Intensive Care Unit; worried parents sitting by the bed.

Many people start drinking much earlier on Christmas day. Few of those would usually have alcohol just after breakfast, so by midday they are feeling the effects. As the food comes out of the oven, the calls change to burns, scalds, and deep cuts from carving knives. For those that escape kitchen accidents and settle down for the afternoon, the greater than usual consumption of food becomes the problem.

Wind can be incredibly painful. Though it is not life-threatening, to a family the worse for drink and stress, that sharp pain may be indicative of something more sinister, like a blocked bowel, or perhaps a heart attack. So they call 999, and then get stressed out even more by having to wait longer than usual because we are so busy. For some unfortunates, the combination of alcohol, stress, and over-eating does actually cause a heart attack. Also Diabetic Coma, exacerbation of existing breathing problems like Asthma, or the rupture of an Aortic Aneurysm.

By early afternoon, it is not unusual to be trying to resuscitate people who have literally dropped dead in front of the Christmas Tree. This is usually going on in front of a number of distraught family members, some still holding unopened presents.

The early evening brings its own problems. Calls to people who cannot be roused because they have had so much to drink. Babies and small children put down to rest, then found in situations of medical emergency, like high temperatures or even cot death. Following those dramas, people start to leave for home. This now involves car accidents where the drivers are over the limit from ‘just a couple of drinks’. Their relative insisted they have something before they leave, and that might have been a whole tumbler full of brandy, on top of that ‘couple of glasses’ with dinner. They might be unfamiliar with the area, go the wrong way up a one-way street, or not notice that person who was walking over a pedestrian crossing.

In some cases, the victims are also drunk; sometimes wandering around in the hope of finding a shop open, or deciding to cycle home after having been drinking all day.

For most of you this year, it will be a happy and trouble free day. But when you hear a siren in the distance, or see the blue lights of an ambulance pass your window, now you will now why.

Christmas Past

I didn’t always dislike Christmas.

As a child, I would ask to go to bed early on the 24th, so I could wake up and get all my presents when it was still dark. I am an only child, and though not spoiled, I was never short of a pile of presents from my mum and dad, as well as my extended family of uncles and aunts.

By the time my parents were awake, I had already read my Christmas Annuals books, and all of my toys and other gifts would have been opened and examined. Like most kids then, I dreaded receiving ‘sensible presents’, like clothing. But I will never complain about my childhood Christmases, as I can still remember the thrill of them. And I appreciated every gift, however small.

Then it was off to my maternal grandmother’s house, for a massive family Christmas lunch at 2 pm. Everyone would be there, and trestles would have been set up for a huge table top to rest on. Then every chair in the house, mismatched or not, would be crowded around so that everyone had a seat at the table. Before that happened, all the men would set off for the lunchtime drinking session in the nearby pub, while the women and older girls took on the mammoth task of preparing all the vegetables, and laying the table.

And all of this cooked in a single small gas oven, with a three-ring hob above.

The men would return just in time to sit and eat, still merry from too much beer and whisky. Then in the afternoon, they slept off the booze, while the exhausted women washed up and cleared away, ready to serve up the ‘Christmas Tea’. Assorted shellfish, bread and butter, lots of cakes, and anything sweet.

The evening would see a huge Christmas party. Crates of beer lined up in my grandmother’s parlour, the ‘good rug’ rolled up and stored away, and my aunt Edie exercising her skill on the piano as my dad and my uncle sang popular songs of the day, as well as wartime melodies. Everyone over the age of sixteen smoked, so the blue haze in the room would sting my young eyes as I sat enjoying the seasonal show.

When it got too late for me, I would sneak into my grandmother’s bedroom, and creep under the pile of coats laid on her bed. They included ancient furs that smelled of mothballs, and huge wool overcoats that had the aroma of tobacco.

I never really remembered my dad lifting me up to take me out to the car.

But I always woke up in my own bed on Boxing Day.

An Alphabet Of things I Like: Z

This is the last in my current alphabet series. You may have noticed that ‘Q’ did not feature. That was deliberate, as I could not find anything I really like beginning with that letter.

Zoos.

As soon as I was old enough to make my own decisions, I realised I actually hated Zoos. I felt so sad to see large animals pacing in small cages, and the sight of chimpanzees being made to entertain crowds by having tea parties really offended me. Marine animals kept in shallow, dirty ponds, distressed bears shaking their heads from side to side. It was heartbreaking.

For a long time, I actively campaigned against all zoos. I signed petitions about the treatment of animals, and joined organisations that demanded they stop bringing animals captured in the wild to be displayed. Many were not only housed in unsuitable conditions, but forced to share compounds with other animals they would not usually encounter in the wild. The aquariums and insect houses were often dirty and cramped, little more than relics of the Victorian Era.

You only had to spend a few hours in any zoo in the world to see animals displaying all kinds of mental health problems; from severe depression, to outright rage at being imprisoned. The backlash against zoos was increasing in many western countries. Visitor numbers were declining, and the traditional zoo trip was slowly being replaced by the desire to visit the new exciting funfairs and theme parks.

There was also a growing trend for ‘wildlife parks’, where animals were free to roam around large estates while visitors stayed in their cars as they drove through. Most people no longer wanted to gawp at poor creatures staring back from behind iron bars.

By the 1980s, things were changing. Zoos were becoming involved in conservation of species that were disappearing fast in the wild. In some cases, the only remaining animals of some species were to be found in zoos, as they no longer existed in the wild. Then the zoos began to return animals to their natural habitat, attempting to increase the numbers in the countries where they had diminshed. One famous example of this was the Giant Panda breeding programme, started in Beijing Zoo.

London Zoo underwent a complete overhaul, providing better conditions for the animals, and focusing on scientific study and breeding programmes. In America, San Diego Zoo earned a reputation for excellence, with its care for the animals kept there.

In 2000, I went to live in Camden, within sight of London Zoo. I joined as an annual member, making quite a few trips into the zoo to see the changes. I had to admit, I was now thinking differently about zoos.

Then in 2002, during a trip to Singapore, I was happy to visit the Singapore Zoo. I don’t think I have ever seen a better zoo, or one where animals were kept in conditions as close to their natural habitat as possible. Though even there, they still had elephant rides, and photo opportunites with placid Orang-Utans.

So I have decided that I like zoos now.

But only ‘good’ ones.

Film Review: Disobedience (2017)

I am usually attracted to any film starring Rachel Weisz. Not only is she very nice to look at, she can act too. The second thing that appealed to me about this film is its North London setting, in the Jewish Orthodox area that I know quite well from my life in London.

Weisz plays Ronit, the daughter of a much-loved Rabbi. She has left England, and is working as a successful photographer in New York, when she recieves the message that her father has died suddenly. A return to the rather drab semi-surburban streets of her youth soon reveals the reason why she left.

She had a lesbian relationship with one of her best friends, Etsi. (Rachel McAdams) Caught ‘in flagrante’ by her deeply religious father, she left suddenly, and under a cloud of suspicion. She has not been back since, but felt drawn to attend her father’s funeral celebrations. She goes to visit another old friend, Dovid, (Alessandro Nivola) and he insists that she stay there with him and his wife. Shocked to discover that he is married to her old lover, Etsi, tensions begin between the three of them, and the strict religious community that surrounds them.

I am not religious, but know something of the Orthodox Jewish faith, and its restrictions on women. There is almost no association with others outside that faith, and traditions are upheld with little allowance for the free spirit of the returned Ronit.

As Etsi and Ronit rediscover their past relationship whilst Davod is preparing to take over as the new rabbi, things build to a satisfying climax that doesn’t settle for the ending you might expect.

Weisz is as excellent as always, and ably served by the two co-stars, as well as a teriffic supporting cast. Locations are completely authentic, as are the sets, and the feel of the script. Despite sex scenes between husband and wife, and the two female lovers, it never feels salacious or gratuitious. The sense of claustrophobia in an almost closed community is ever-apparent, and the spark of rebellion that Ronit brings back from America feels set to ignite a powder keg inside it.

A serious adult drama, and highly recommended.

Charles Dickens: Geographical Connections

Regular readers will know that I am a great fan of the writing of Charles Dickens. The Victorian author was a master at portraying characters, and telling the stories of the unfortunates of the era. This article gives an insight into his own background and personal life, up until the time of his death. It connects him and his writing to sites in and around London too, some of which can still be seen today.

9 Sites on the River Thames That Tell the Story of Charles Dickens

7/7: In Memoriam

Fifteen years ago today, on the 7th of July 2005, domestic Islamist terrorists carried out a series of suicide bombing attacks in London.

Three bombs were detonated on underground trains, and a fourth on the top deck of a London bus.

52 people were killed, and 700 injured. The bombers also died in their own explosions.

Those killed were from 19 different countries, including Britain. Three of the bombers were British-born sons of Pakistani immigrants, one was a convert born in Jamaica.

At the time, I was living less than a 10-minute walk from where the bus was blown up. I had been on night duty, working for the Metropolitan Police, and was sleeping. I didn’t hear any of the explosions, but did hear the sirens of the emergency vehicles. Such sounds were so common in London, I paid them no attention, and went back to sleep.

Mason & Painter Vintage

On behalf of a great blogger and writer, Felicity Harley, I am featuring a shop belonging to one of her relatives.

The shop is in London, and this is their introduction.

Mason & Painter Vintage
Welcome to Mason & Painter vintage store, established in 2013 and located on Columbia Road, east London, home to the famous Sunday Flower Market.

The shop forms part of an old upholstery workshop – once part of the booming furniture trade in Shoreditch, dating back to around 1880. Our carefully curated selection of stock mixes French vintage café furniture, homewares, mirrors, paintings and prints with industrial salvage, ceramics and plants.

As well as the premises mentioned, they also have an online shop, and a WordPress blog.

https://masonandpainter.wordpress.com/
https://masonandpainter.wordpress.com/shop/

If you would like to contact them about anything, here are the details.
https://masonandpainter.wordpress.com/contact/

I don’t usually post such features, but Felicity is one of the most supportive bloggers I know, so I am happy to help on this occasion.

New London ‘Death Camp’ will be ready soon

Reblogging this from my other political blog because I think it is important for more people to see it.

REDFLAGFLYING

Much has been made of the fact that the government is rushing to convert an existing conference and entertainment venue into a new ‘Hospital’. They are working hard in East London’s Excel Centre to create two ‘wards’ that will each accommodate 2,000 people. They have even given it a nice name, ‘The Nightingale Hospital’.

Does that sound good to you? Well it doesn’t to me.

I would like to know how they expect to treat 4,000 people lined up together in a massive space that is one kilometre long. How will they keep them apart at a safe distance? Will there be respirators for those needing life support? (Unlikely) Where will they find the doctors and nursing staff to treat them? (Answer, The Military)

So what we have here is a place where those who are expected to die are going to be sent to, to do just that. In…

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