High Summer (August) – part 3

Calendar entries highlighted in yellow

23rd August 2009 – A grand day out

I had a really good day out. Me and my motor neurones spent a day up in London by the River Thames. I took them down to the Embankment and bought them an ice cream each and then left them to it whilst I went off for a walk to get some peace and quiet from their constant bickering! I tell ya, one day those flippin things will be the death of me, you mark my words! 🙂

On a slightly more serious note I had a wonderful day out up in the capital in the company of my brother Jason and his wife Chery, and my friend and carer, Francesca. In the run-up to my birthday tomorrow we thought we’d start the celebrations early and make the most of the good weather. Today was going to be a real test for me as it would be the first time I had made use of public transport with my wheelchair and I was a little apprehensive, wondering what sort of problems we would encounter along the way. We got off to a good start with Basingstoke railway station well prepared for disabled travellers. No sooner had we presented our tickets when we were asked if we would require a ramp and help on to the train. Our railway station also has lifts up to the platforms which I must admit I had never noticed before so access was easy. South West trains also have doors which are clearly labelled with the familiar disabled logo. A platform attendant was on hand to attach the ramp to the carriage and to ensure that we boarded safely. Just before leaving we were asked what our destination was so that they could ring ahead to make sure that someone was on hand to help us get off the train. Inside the carriage there is an area clearly laid out for wheelchair users and some adjacent seats reserved for disabled passengers, much like a bus really. Our train was packed with people taking advantage of the Summer Madness promotion with cheap travel up to London, so I was grateful that I had my wheelchair to sit in. Unfortunately my travelling companions had to stand nearly the whole way.

Once at Waterloo we headed off towards the London Eye although not by the usual ‘disabled-unfriendly’ route with the steep stairs adjacent to the Shell building. We had to leave the station by the main exit and work our way along the footpaths. Once at County Hall there was someone on hand to help us get our tickets and give as priority access. Unfortunately priority access doesn’t mean skipping the entire queue, merely some of it as I had worked out by seeing the number of wheelchair users scattered through the queue. Boarding the capsule was made easy by attendants putting a ramp in place and pausing the wheel. With a clear blue sky we had a fantastic view across London and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. Oh yes forgot to mention, they’ve added something since the last time I visited, a 4D London Eye Experience. Basically it’s a 3-D movie projected onto a large screen that promotes and sets the atmosphere for what is to come. Not particularly long but good fun. Just be prepared to get squirted by water!

From here we headed off to grab a bite to eat at the nearby McDonald’s. Unfortunately the entrance required navigating some steps and the only way to do this was for me to get out of the wheelchair and gingerly climb the steps with Francesca supporting my arm, all the while conscious of the people entering and leaving, and worried that I might get knocked and lose my balance (so easy these days). Once inside there was a lift for wheelchair users that took you to the below street level seating area which on a day like today was packed. With help I was able to transfer to a normal seat (no choice really as all the seats were fixed to the floor adjacent to the tables so I couldn’t squeeze in with the wheelchair even if I wanted to). I felt so weak and my arms were so tired I gratefully accepted Francesca’s offer to feed me. I just didn’t care what nearby people thought.

The London Aquarium was our next port of call. Once again we were treated with priority service and gained concession rates with Francesca being treated as my carer. The aquarium is on several levels but it’s all disabled-friendly with lifts for easy access. Highlight of course must be the multilevel shark tank which you can view from different viewpoints as you move around the floors. At certain times you can see divers going into the tank to feed the sharks. Interestingly it never seems to be the same diver twice which perhaps explains the notice I saw by the admissions desk ‘divers wanted urgently, start immediately’. All I’m saying is the sharks look very healthy 🙂

Hard to believe but already the time was flying by (as it always seems to do when I’m in London). With the sun casting an early evening golden light across the Thames we took a cruise up to Tower Bridge. I would have liked to have taken the extended trip to Greenwich but time was pressing. Boarding the riverboat was less refined than boarding the train i.e. a couple of burly deckhands literally grabbed hold of the wheelchair and lifted it and me on to the boat! Even so we had to let the first boat go as the height of the boat’s deck was not level with the floating dock (by a considerable margin) and was deemed too unsafe to board. What they also failed to tell us was that the boat we were on would be taken out of service for the evening once it arrived at Tower Bridge and that we would need to wait for almost an hour for a return cruise. Still, it gave us a chance to walk over to the Tower of London and get a closer view of Tower Bridge. The return cruise docked on the north bank which meant having to get out of the wheelchair again and climbing the steep stairs up to Westminster Bridge. I was grateful to have Francesca and Chery at my side offering reassurance I was glad when I had reached the top and able to sit back in my wheelchair again.

It had been a really enjoyable day out even though it often felt like somebody had pressed the fast forward button and hours were passing like minutes (we never achieved everything we set out to do). As with my day out at Beaulieu the lesson to be learned I think is the more people who come with you the merrier. Having a few extra pairs of hands spread the workload, particularly when it came to pushing me. I’d like to thank everybody who came and made it such a wonderful day and for taking such good care of me, in particular to Francesca who conquered her fear of heights (at least enough to board the wheel with us) and rocking boats, and kept an extra careful eye on me. By the time I arrived home I was feeling very low on energy and because I had sat in a wheelchair all day my legs felt especially weak, so with my brother on hand to make sure I didn’t run into any difficulties I went straight to bed, grateful for the rest. The only disappointment of today? That Francesca had not lived up to her promise of giving me a piggyback around London or wearing me like Jar Jar Binks backpack! 🙂

Here’s a few shots to begin with. I’ll upload a separate gallery shortly.

My brother Jason on the London Eye.

With Francesca on the London Eye.

My brother and his wife Chery on the London Eye.

Francesca and I by the London Eye

With my brother Jason at the London Eye

Brothers! At the London Eye

Chery and I waiting for our Thames cruise. (photo courtesy of Chery)

With Francesca looking towards Tower Bridge.

Oh yes, one last thing or perhaps I should say first thing. Francesca had been extra busy this morning when she arrived to do my care but I wasn’t to find out until I had been washed, dressed and brought downstairs. The dining area had been decked out with balloons and a birthday boy banner… and some presents to open tomorrow. What a nice gesture. I’m so lucky to have such a friend and carer.

24th August 2009 – It’s my birthday!

I’m 49 today! After breakfast Ann and I had a card and present opening session. Well that is to say I sat patiently in my swivel chair whilst Ann opened the cards and held them up for me to read. Thank you to everyone who sent one and also thanks to all of you folks who sent me electronic greetings – a pleasant surprise when switching on my computer this morning. Oh, and a special thank you to Francesca who sent me a hilarious animated e-card, a sample of which you can see below.

A frame grab from the animated eCard that Francesca sent me

I phoned up Liftech this morning to chase up my stair lift as it has been a good two months since the order was placed and at the time I was given a 4 to 6 week delivery quote. I’ve been told that they are still waiting on Holland (where they are manufactured) and that are going to chase them up again. With my legs growing ever weaker I’m really starting to become concerned about my ability to use the stairs for much longer and it’s starting to feel like a race against time. I did explain my situation to them in the hope that it might help expedite things.

By strange coincidence I received a phone call this morning from an electrician working for Liftech who was in the area. ‘Would it be okay if I call round right now and wire up the spur in readiness for when the stairlift arrives?’ He asked. Absolutely, I said, glad that things were starting to move along at last. Within the hour he had arrived, been up into the loft and run a power lead through the ceiling along the edge of the door frame, and fixed a spur by the skirting board. Smashing, now all we need is the stairlift!

To celebrate my birthday we had a meal out at the Longbridge Mill where my closest family and friends gathered for the evening. It was so lovely to see everyone having an enjoyable time together and for once not having to eat by myself. I’d like to thank everybody who came along and made the evening such a joy. I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did. Special thanks to Francesca for helping feed me and to Chery for supplying the delicious birthday cake. Not any cake mind you, an M&S cake!

Here’s a few shots from the happy evening. More to come.

Here she is at last…captured on film! It’s Ann, my lovely, friendly and devoted carer.

With my two lovely, devoted carers…and good friends!

With my two lovely, devoted carers…and good friends!

With the lovely Francesca!

With my Aunt Joan & Uncle Alan and Cousin Suzanne.

 25th August 2009 – Care package review

I had a meeting with Rachel, my social care manager, to discuss the latest situation with my care package. Over the past few months a few issues had surfaced that were causing concern and needed action. The most pressing was the inconsistency and variability of the evening calls that had sprung up. The agency were struggling to find suitable carers, or indeed carers with sufficient availability, and this coupled with hardly ever receiving a weekly care plan any more meant that I often had no idea who would turn up at my door or even when. Something that Rachel had proposed a little while ago was moving to a dual agency and it was supposed to be one of the topics of conversation for today. I was therefore a little surprised to be told that things have moved on a little since then and that the agency were basically saying that they could no longer provide consistency for the evening calls for the foreseeable future and that they were terminating that part of their contract which apparently they could do. However, after a conversation with them on the phone this afternoon they seem to have backpedalled a little bit on that and I’m now going to have a meeting with the Home Care manager later this week to discuss possible suitable carers and their availability. What this might mean unfortunately is an increased amount of carers which moves away from what I originally had wanted. If however we cannot find a solution I will be forced into dealing with two care agencies which is going to get even more complicated.

Another long-term gripe I have with the agency which I have highlighted on numerous occasions is the fact that my care plan is woefully out of date. It was written out when I first needed care back in October last year and has never been reviewed since. With a progressive disease like MND it should be reviewed and where necessary adjusted on a much more regular basis, say every three months, instead of the usual 12 monthly cycle which is fine if your disability or needs are static. My needs have changed considerably; for instance the care plan makes no mention whatsoever of all the personal care I now require each morning. Consequently whenever a new carer arrives at the house and looks in the care plan folder I feel obliged to apologise and tell them not to go by that and so I end up having to explain everything.

27th August 2009 – A meeting with the Home Care manager

Debbie, the Home Care manager for the care agency I’m with called round this afternoon primarily to rewrite the care plan but also to talk about available carers for my evenings. As I’ve previously mentioned my care plan bears little resemblance to the stage that I’m currently at so we sat down together and totally rewrote it. I went through it step-by-step explaining everything that happens from the moment the carer arrives in the morning through to leaving in the evening and breaking the tasks down into the three main calls. The document is going to be stored on their computer system with a three monthly review day as I requested. They are going to supply me with an electronic copy so that if anything changes I can review it against the document and notify the care agency to issue an updated care plan. We also talked at some length about the problems I’m facing with my evening calls. Debbie is going to go away and discuss with some of the carers I’ve highlighted what availability is and what they are prepared to commit to to ensure that I have consistency.

28th August 2009 – Seating trials / Editing with ease

Ann and I have been experimenting this morning with the perching stool I’ve had gathering dust in the main bedroom. This was something that Chris, one of my OT’s had brought round in the early days after the diagnosis, and which at the time I felt was premature as my legs showed no symptoms. I’d never been very keen on it and viewed it as a very basic model with its tubular metal armrests and back support offering no comfort. Now with my legs progressively weakening I’m having to look at all options to enable me to continue living as normally as possible. In recent months we’ve been using an old wooden chair for me to sit on in the bathroom whilst having my shave. However the seat height is only 17 inches and just recently I’ve started to need help standing up from it. The perching stool (which is height adjustable) raises the seat height a further 6 inches and makes it so much easier for me to stand up by myself. To overcome the tubular metal back support digging into my back we’ve wrapped a towel around it. So for now, problem solved. Something else were going to be looking at after discussion with my OT is getting another glideabout chair similar to the one I have in the dining room but with a higher seat height. The one I already have has a 20 inch seat height but apparently you can get 23 inch models to. The intention is to keep one upstairs as apparently it is the preferred choice for first floors when space doesn’t permit a wheelchair.

I must say that the foot mouse and switches I recently received from AbilityNet have made a world of difference to my ability to edit digital photos. It is so much easier now to use my left foot to activate one of the switches (which simulates the left mouse button) whilst using the fingers of my right hand to move across the trackpad. Thus I am now able to perform cropping actions with ease. For the last few days I’ve been busy preparing photos taken over my birthday ready for my blog. Without these new tools I would have struggled really badly. Thank goodness that there is technology out there that enables us to continue to do the things that we enjoy for a little longer.

Mark

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An evening with Katherine Jenkins

If only… 😀

Last night I had the opportunity to see Katherine Jenkins, one of my two favourite classical crossover artists (the other being Hayley Westenra) perform live at the Royal Albert Hall – and what a wonderful treat it was too! It’s been a good couple of years since I last had a chance to catch her singing live but it was so worth the wait.

The lovely Katherine Jenkins

I first saw the lovely Katherine back in April 2004 down at the Pavilion in Bournemouth when she was the supporting artist for Hayley Westenra on the UK leg of her ‘Pure’ tour. Back then of course she (Katherine) wasn’t very well known but it was immediately obvious from her performance that she was about to go places. She had that ‘star quality’ about her. Around about the same time she released her first album Premier which was a commercial success from the word go. A few months later I took a gamble and bought a copy myself – and was immediately hooked! Amazingly she was able to release a second album Second Nature towards the end of the same year and since then has remained a very prolific artist releasing a new album to critical and commercial success every year culminating very recently with her sixth, Sacred Arias.

In March the following year I went up to London to see her perform live in her own concert show at the Criterion Theatre. It was a wonderful evening; she came across as such a warm and friendly person with a sparkling personality and one of those lovely welsh sing-song voices – the sort of girl you’d love to take home to meet your parents. She was note perfect and made every song sound effortless and I knew then that I would want to see her again. And so I did late that year at the Barbican and again the following spring at the Royal Albert Hall where I was quick off the mark in booking a ticket and so managed to get a seat close to the front and dead centre. What a lovely view :-).

After 2006 the live concert tours dried up as Katherine joined forces with Prima ballerina Darcey Bussell for the very ambitious music and dance extravaganza Viva la Diva. For some reason I missed out on this although by all the accounts I’ve read it was spectacular. Oh well, there is always the DVD which has just been released…

The cover for the Winter Tour 2008 concert programme

So the winter 2008 tour is the first time in two years that Katherine Jenkins has been on tour and when the tickets went on sale earlier in the year I had to take a gamble. Would I be well enough to travel? How far would the disease have progressed? Would walking the streets of London and navigating around the underground system be practical or should I use taxis? Well I certainly wasn’t going to let the disease ruin everything for me so I booked my ticket online and just hoped for the best.

These days thanks to the Internet there is a wealth of information available to travellers so it is no longer necessary to travel ‘blind’. Consequently I was able to check for weather conditions, train departure times, journey times, see if there was any track maintenance or schedule alterations, pick the best routes on the London Underground and confirm when the last trains ran as well as orientate myself with the streets between the tube station and the Royal Albert Hall, and all from the comfort of my study.

So yesterday late afternoon I set off, grateful of the dry weather (my arms are so weak that I can no longer open or hold an umbrella) and made my way to the local railway station. I caught a fast train to London Waterloo then joined the throng of people on the underground. I’ve done this sort of thing a number of times now so I’m fairly familiar with it but being disabled this time did make me feel somewhat vulnerable. For instance I no longer feel comfortable standing up in a moving tube train because I cannot raise my arms to hold onto the overhead hand holds and traversing the steep escalators makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. I was also a bit apprehensive of getting through the ticket barriers but fortunately there were transport officials on hand to assist as well as a special disability walk through. Of course I could have caught a taxi at Waterloo but like a child at the funfair wanting jut one more ride I wanted to use the underground on my own one last time. Perhaps it would have been wiser not to though as early evening in London is of course the commuter rush hour. As I stepped off the train at Waterloo all I could see was a huge crowd of people. I had actually arrived early so had quite a bit of time to kill so I decided to take a walk over to the embankment to see the London Eye illuminated and to see what festive lights were on show. I soon abandoned that idea though when half way there the bitter cold became too much for me.

To get to the Royal Albert Hall means catching a couple of tube trains. The first one to the Embankment on the Northern Line was okay but changing to the District Line for the second and heading westbound until you reach South Kensington was a bit worrying because of the sheer weight of people trying to cram into the carriages. Inevitably I ended up standing and wrapping my arm around a support pillar as best I could whilst at the same time bracing my legs. I didn’t feel very secure and was glad to be on solid ground again. From South Kensington there is a long underground tunnel that leads out to Exhibition road and then it’s just a matter of turning left into Prince Consort Road and right into Kensington Gore. So fortunately not too much walking although still enough to make me feel tired and grateful of being able to sit down and rest.

The impressive venue - the Royal Albert Hall

The Royal Albert Hall is a spectacular venue which is even more impressive on the inside. In its time many of the world’s top performers have appeared there. I was lucky, I had managed to get a seat in row 7 of the Arena and fairly central too so I had a good close-up and unrestricted view of the stage. As I glanced around the huge auditorium which seemed packed to capacity, a testament to Katherine’s popularity, I felt dwarfed by the sheer scale. The upper balconies seemingly reaching towards the sky although I wondered what sort of view of the stage they would offer – probably like looking at ants.

At 7:30pm the show commenced with a medley of orchestral pieces performed by the National Symphony Orchestra (Katherine’s ‘regular’ orchestra when touring in the UK) under the baton of Anthony Inglis. Katherine then stepped out onto the stage to a large round of applause and opened with I Could Have Danced All Night wearing the first of her now trademark costume changes. She loves her dresses does our Katherine (or frocks as she calls them) and during the performance she changed four times, each one dazzling in its own right and each one generating much appreciation and comment judging by the voices around me. Even Katherine herself commented on her last dress after the gasps it drew from the audience by saying “this is what I got with my 2.5% off (a reference to the recent VAT reduction for those unaware). I saw it in Primark and just had to have it!”

I sat there mesmerised, enjoying the moment and letting the power of her voice wash over me. Something very special happens when beauty and talent collide. There is no doubt at least in my mind that she is both incredibly gifted and very beautiful. She is a marketing department’s dream. Her enthusiasm and love for music is infectious and there is always a great atmosphere at her concerts. But despite all the fame and success that her talent has brought her it is so lovely to see that it has not spoilt her. And I think it is that as much as her singing ability that makes her so popular.

It was indeed a very special evening not just for hearing all the beautiful songs that Katherine was singing but also for the range and quality of special guests that she had. From the Classical Brit award winning Blake and the very promising Faryl Smith (who’s voice seemed so much more mature then her 13 years) to the young American Pianist William Joseph who’s compositions really impressed me. Each of her guests in their own way were superb and blessed with so much talent. One thing I like about going to a Katherine Jenkins concert is that she is very generous with the limelight and gives each of her guests plenty of time to showcase their talents.

This was the first concert of hers that I been to that was so close to Christmas, and so perhaps inevitably there were a selection of Christmas carols and songs, some of which feature on her latest album like the beautiful Hallelujah. It was lovely also to hear her sing one of my favourites O Holy Night although I am still very fond too of the Celine Dion version. Inevitably with all good things time passed so quickly and before long it was 10pm and the show was over. I felt very frustrated that I was unable to clap my hands after each song to show my appreciation. I think if there is a next time I’ll have to get a pair of sprung loaded rubber hands, hehe.

Oh, and Kim, it was great to see a friendly face in the crowd. Thanks for coming over to chat. I hope you enjoyed the show as much as I did. I’m sure your husband did ;-).

Oh, I remember this one. That was the day she called round my house for tea. That’s my house in the background! I said ‘just stand there Kath while I quickly take a picture. No, don’t worry about the makeup; you look great as you are. In any case I’m good with PhotoShop 😀

Sitting on the train headed back home I felt exhausted but also very glad that I had been able to make it and glad that it had all gone smoothly thanks to my advanced planning. With arms that are so weak and respond only when they feel like it I knew it was going to be a bit of a struggle but somehow I had managed. But I also knew that it would be the last time I would be able to venture out like this on my own. My legs are not so strong anymore and I don’t feel quite as steady these days. Large groups of tightly packed people in close proximity to me are starting to be of concern (because of their unpredictability). Having said that I would hate to think that this was the last time I would go to a concert. But realistically if I were to go anywhere in future then I would need either a member of the family, a friend or even a carer – just someone who could be my hands and arms and be there if I needed them.

It had been a really wonderful evening and I had enjoyed once again the thrill of hearing music performed live and so well and in such a magnificent venue. Thank you, Katherine.

Mark

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Keep on snapping! – A day in London

Back at the beginning of the week I had an opportunity to spend a day up in the Capital with a fellow ex-Lilly employee. Robin and I had discussed the idea a few weeks back at Bill’s retirement get-together and were both keen to spend some time devoted just to the pleasure of taking some pictures. I’d not spent any time purely on taking photographs since last August when I visited RHS Wisley and so with the weather generally improving each week I welcomed the idea. Indeed any opportunity to get away from the house these days now that I am unable to drive myself is to be grabbed with both hands so a date was set.

As I mentioned in my last weblog entry I have recently reached the half-year milestone. As a way of celebrating the occasion (and because I like treating myself occasionally and will use any excuse!) I decided to take advantage of a bank holiday special offer in my local photographic store and bought a new camera! Well I figured that just because I have a terminal illness doesn’t mean I should stop living :-). Anyway it was good timing really because Canon had just released the 450D (click here for a tour), a new entry-level digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera that was a fourth generation successor to the 300D I had bought a couple of months prior to a holiday in Florida back in 2003. Now as we all know a lot can happen in the world of consumer electronics in just a few years and digital photography is no exception. But because of my growing disability I now find myself looking at a camera’s specification list from a different angle. So for instance the doubling of pixels (from 6 to 12 million in my case) will to some extent obviate the need to carry long telephoto lenses around as I’ll be able to selectively crop the image afterwards whilst still ending up with enough pixels should I wish to make a print. This is an over simplification and any serious photographers reading this may shake their head but for my needs it will have to suffice. Anyway by minimizing the need to carry long telephoto lenses around immediately gives me three important advantages: one is a reduction in the overall weight I have to carry around on my shoulder all day; the second is the combined camera body/lens weight becomes more manageable for my weakened arms; thirdly by reducing the number of lens changes out in the field I reduce the chances of actually dropping an expensive piece of glass!

Several other features that lend themselves to physical disabilities also had a strong influence on the purchasing decision: The camera body is extremely light (475g) and compact and quite nicely balanced. The 3 inch LCD monitor screen is now large enough to see a lot more detail without squinting – very useful if your eyesight is starting to deteriorate like mine. The standard zoom lens supplied is also very light and compact and has an image stabilisation feature built in which is invaluable if you cannot hold a camera steady for long.

So a 450D it was then and with my local camera store offering a nice price reduction plus a free camera bag that offered plenty of room for expansion it made it a hard offer to refuse. In fact it became even more enticing when I was able to use the vouchers I had been given as a leaving gift from Eli Lilly. So it became my present to myself, and a very nice one too! I think the salesperson was amazed at how quickly he’d made a sale. I mean basically I just asked if they had any left in stock and said okay I’ll have one! Normally people ponder over these things at the counter as they push every button and turn every dial but I tend to do all my research well in advance so by the time I get to a shop I already know what I want. Besides I’ve been using Canon equipment for something like 30 years.

Armed with a new camera Robin and I caught a 10am fast train to London on Monday which was packed with commuters. I sat there thinking how modern times had changed even a simple journey like this. Back when I was younger (and not so many years ago) people would sit quietly and perhaps just read a newspaper or paperback. Today however it is a bit like sitting in a busy office. Laptop computers are perched on the tables whilst people participate in online conferences, mobile phones are everywhere as people are engaged in group discussions, others are marking up reports whilst the ubiquitous iPods seem to be all part of the commuter dress code these days. Yes’ technology is changing us into an ‘online’ and ‘always on’ society. I wonder what it will be like in a few more decades?

Well I didn’t get too long to ponder the question as we arrived in London in less then an hour. Waterloo station is ideally placed to take advantage of a number of attractions almost straight away. So after leaving the station it was only a short walk to the London Eye situated on the very edge of the River Thames right next to County Hall. Out came the cameras and like a couple of dogs let off the lead we were off and running! Well I would have been except that my arms are becoming so weak and limited in their movement that it was a struggle just to get the camera out of it’s protective bag and place the strap around my neck (there was no way I was going to trust my hands to just hold a new camera, I wanted a safety net). Eventually after much struggling and some help I was good to go. So off we both went trying to acquire shots that probably just about everyone else had already captured since the day the London Eye was erected. I sometimes wonder how many millions of duplicate shots of the world’s tourist attractions there are and if they were laid out on a (very) large table would we be able to recognise our own? Why do we even bother attempting that which has already been achieved? Perhaps it is just a desire to say ‘I did it’ and to have our own personal memory. Of course if the shot includes family, friends or a loved one then the photo is already unique. But our shots (or at least mine) were pretty much standard fare but it still felt good to be out in the open and away from the confining walls of the house enjoying the fresh air and experiencing the moment.

Being as the London Eye is quite a tourist magnet it is therefore no surprise to see street entertainers congregate along the Embankment, some of which are quite entertaining and colourful. But I have no idea how some can pretend to be statues for so long. I couldn’t stand still for five minutes. I’m a fidget! Well one good thing I suppose is that you don’t need a fast shutter speed to capture them :-). Anyway we next headed off towards Westminster Bridge where I found it impossible to resist the clichéd shot of a London bus and Parliament in the background. Now I wonder how many times that one’s been done, hehe. Over on the other side of the Thames we grabbed some shots of Big Ben before making our way to a local supermarket to buy some food and drink and then sitting down on a stone wall over looking Parliament whilst we had our lunch. Again I struggled a bit here as I found it almost impossible to lift the bottle of drink to my lips without assistance. My arms are becoming so weak that even such tasks are starting to slip away from me. At home I wouldn’t have this problem as I can drink out of a smaller mug. I made a mental note to myself to always carry a drinking straw in future!

After lunch we took a walk over to Westminster Cathedral for a few outside shots before catching a tube train to Tower Hill where we spent an enjoyable time photographing Tower Bridge before walking across it and taking shots of some of the more recent buildings of architectural interest as well as the wonderful Hay’s Galleria. Time sure passes quickly in London and already it was late in the afternoon when we arrived at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Another tube train back to Westminster and we finished off the day taking photos of County Hall bathed in evening light. As I looked all around there were people in large numbers making the most of the lovely evening, happy children riding piggyback on their dad’s shoulders, passenger ferries doing a brisk trade along the Thames, pigeons in large flocks congregating around bins eager to gain any scraps. It was a lovely way to end the day. In fact we’d been blessed throughout the day with beautiful sunny weather and I was glad that I had decided to dress light in just a short sleeve shirt and shorts plus a cap to keep the sun off my face as I tend to burn easily. I suppose if I was being super critical I would say that we could have done with some nice fluffy white clouds to add interest to what was a blank featureless blue sky. But I was just grateful for a nice warm day.

A quick stroll back to Waterloo station and we were shortly on our way home again with flash cards full of pictures. I’d been up on my feet practically all day without any noticeable problems. My arms might be steadily getting worse but so far (touch wood) my legs still seem strong – surely a good sign.

As enjoyable as it was taking photographs I would also have to admit that it was far from easy. Just putting the strap over my head would often require help as I cannot lift my arms up very high. Hoisting the camera up to my eye required me to fall back on the tricks I’d learnt around the home by throwing or swinging my arms and using momentum and then bracing my arms against my chest for added support. Even when I did have the camera against my eye I would not be able to keep my arms upright for very long so didn’t have the luxury of spending long on compositions for fear of dropping the camera – and if it wasn’t for the strap I would have done on several occasions. And as for vertical photos, well I just couldn’t manage to get my arms to work holding the camera like that so all my photos are in the horizontal format. So in a place like London which is full of tall structures I really struggled to get the tops of the buildings in the frame and when my arms would run out of lifting ability I would end up bending backwards as far as I could without toppling over. The effect of this was that by the end of the day my lower spine was aching. One way to overcome all this bending backwards is to use something called an angle finder which is attached to the camera’s rear (optical) viewfinder and which bends the light path through 90 degrees. They’re often used in close up work where it is difficult to get your eye close to the ground. Maybe this is what I need.

So how did my new toy perform? Marvellous actually. For a camera that is at the bottom of the range it sure has a lot of features, most of which have yet to be explored – and I will have fun doing so. Two features really stand out for me and make me glad I bought it. The first is the excellent image stabilisation feature built into the lens which made it possible for me to obtain sharp pictures despite my unsteady hands at times. The second impressive feature is the lovely 3 inch view screen which made it so much easier to evaluate pictures without waiting to get home.

I have no idea how long I will be able to continue to take photos or how much use I’ll actually get out of this investment but the way I see it you cannot put a price on happiness and even if I only get a few months of joy it will still be more then I would have got without it.

So before I sign off let me just say thank you, Robin, for your companionship and for all your help throughout the day. I really appreciate it and hope that you enjoyed it as much as I did and hope that we can do something else before too long. My new photo-buddy :-).

And just like that the day was over. Sure, I ended up with a lot of shots very little different to every other tourist I suppose, but I still had an enjoyable day and that I think is the most important thing. But perhaps even more important than that is…keep on snapping!

I’ll upload a companion gallery of photos fairly soon.

Mark

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