Wednesday, 29 June 2011

there and back again

In the last week we have been there and back again twice!  

There first "there" was the Cornerstone Gallery to deliver our prints for the Coast exhibition, which opens this weekend, only to be informed that we needed different fixings.  So back home we went, via Habitat to buy new frames suitable for the gallery's fixing requirements. Instead of making more progress on the spring cleaning, we had to reframe eight pictures and return to the gallery that evening to deliver them.

Our reward for catching up with the spring cleaning the following day was a long weekend in Bilbao, northern Spain. We flew out Saturday afternoon, and by 10 pm that night were getting into the swing of things by sampling beers and "pinchos" (the Basque version of tapas) in several bars in the old town, a downhill walk from the hotel where we were staying.  

Sunday saw us at the Guggenheim Gallery - the most amazing building, both inside and out.  

We spent most of the day there, having lunch out and returned again in the evening after a short siesta to take some photos during the "golden hour" before sunset. 

So carried away were we, that we didn't notice time passing until it was too late.  The metro gates were locked firmly by the time we arrived and the prospect of a long walk back up steep hills wasn't very appealing, so we splashed out on a taxi back to the hotel and fell into bed, exhausted!

We ventured further afield on Monday, out to the dock area to see the Puente Colgante - Bilbao's world heritage transporter bridge.  The high level walkway was closed, but the gondola transporting people and vehicles backwards and forwards across the river like clockwork every 8 minutes was working, so we crossed the waters, suspended by wires from a structure which looks something like Tower Bridge In London.  

That set the theme for the rest of the day, crossing other bridges with increasingly regular stops for food and drinks as the temperature rose steadily to 42 degrees C, before the storm clouds gathered late afternoon and brought some relief. We ended up back in the Old Town in the evening for beers and pinchos, and then reluctantly tore ourselves away to return to the hotel.

The journey back yesterday went smoothly, with only a short delay while the aircraft circled London in a stack - it took much longer to get through passport control once we landed.  However, our bus tickets home were valid for 24 hours after the time booked so no problem getting back to Oxford.

Some nice surprises we waiting for us at home - lots of people had been in touch because they seen my image "hot dogs" which had been featured in the Guardian Weekend magazine on the day we travelled out to Spain - click the link to see the online version!  Guardian Weekend magazine 24 June  There was also an e-mail to say that another image had been selected for the Association of Photographers (AOP) Open Awards, which opens in October.  

But that's looking too far ahead into the future....we have more enjoyable things lined up this coming weekend, with more "there and back again" visits to family and friends. Come back next week to find out what we've been up to!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

away with the cobwebs

For the first six months or so after Steve's mesothelioma diagnosis, we seemed to spend much of our time going backwards and forwards to hospital.  Rarely a week went by between May and December 2009 without at least one trip up to the Churchill. Housework and gardening came somewhere near the bottom of the list of priorities, with only the essential jobs being done on a regular basis. 

As Steve began to recover from the after-effects of chemotherapy during 2010, the emphasis was on enjoying life and getting together with family and friends.  Once again, maintaining the house and garden did not figure high on the "to do" list, bar the occasional blitz when visitors were expected. As Steve's regular assessments came and went with no sign of any deterioration in his health, the top priority was to make the most of life; the impact of neglecting our home was becoming increasingly noticeable.  

So here we are in 2011, still enjoying life to the full! However, this year we needed to set aside just a little bit of time to give the house and garden some tender loving care. And it's this week.  And we've made a start.  

The front hedge is clipped.  In between showers, we've started to clear the overgrown jungle that had overtaken the back garden, cutting back and reducing the height of next door's hedge to let a bit more daylight and sunlight on to our side of the boundary and taking out a few plants that didn't make it through the winter. Work has ground to a halt on that front until we have time to take the green waste to the recycling centre - there's far too much to wait for the fortnightly doorstep collection.  And we'll need to get someone in with the right equipment to tackle the climbing hydrangea which has grown up above eaves height and is now scrambling along the roof, and taking next door's ivy with it.

Then it was the turn of the house. Going round inside with my mum's old cobweb brush has got rid of the cobwebs, made some spiders homeless, and disturbed the dust that's settled on the tops of doors, picture rails and frames, light fittings and cupboard tops.  So now it's time to vacuum from top to bottom and into all the nooks and crannies. There's lots more to do on the list - cleaning windows, curtains and blinds; washing down surfaces; going through the bookshelves, wardrobes and drawers to clear out, de-clutter and create more space; sorting out old paperwork to be shredded if necessary before recycling - that alone could take a week!  

Having started, it's clear that there's far to much to tackle in the few days earmarked for the 2011 spring clean, but at least we've got going. As well as starting the spring clean, we've printed, mounted and frames the eight pictures which were selected for the Coast exhibition, ready to deliver to the gallery tomorrow.  Steve is in the process of updating the Oxford Studio website to show our successful Royal Photographic Society Associate panels from last week. We've sorted out a reward for ourselves for making some progress on the spring clean and have started making plans for the rest of the summer, up to Steve's next assessment in mid-September.  Lots to look forward to - but for now, it's back to the spring cleaning......

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Two years since diagnosis and the doctor said....

.......Well, the doctor didn't have to say anything at this morning's hospital assessment.  His smiling face said it all! No noticeable disease progression since the last assessment. Steve's chest sounds good. The cough which he has had on and off over the last couple months has not caused any damage to the pleura which are still firmly stuck together, and there's no sign of any fluid build up.

Because it's now been two years since Steve's diagnosis, Dr T had looked back through all the previous X-rays to see the bigger picture. Comparing today's X-ray with the very first on record, it is evident that there has been a very, very slight progression in the disease over the last 24 months. However, the change is so small as to be imperceptible when looking sequentially at the X-rays taken at three monthly intervals. Because the tumour growth is extremely slow, it is not giving them cause for concern and certainly not something that would trigger a further course of chemo. So, Steve's been signed off for another three months - next assessment in mid-September.

This reminder (as if we needed one) that Steve is living with a time bomb inside him which could go off at any moment, is the trigger to start looking ahead and making plans for the summer. Don't be surprised if we get in touch with you over the next few months to arrange a meet up or a stopover.  

The next week or so is (in theory) to be dedicated to giving the house and garden a bit of TLC. If we don't do the spring cleaning soon, our house will look like Quentin Crisp's apartment in New York which he famously never cleaned, remarking "after four years, you don't notice the dust"  

Thereafter, look out world - we'll on the move again while Leo is still sleeping!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Come together

A few days ago, we decided to spend last night in Bath so we would be there bright and early this morning, ready for our ARPS (Associate of the Royal Photographic Society) assessments.  Having booked a last minute B&B near the RPS headquarters, it then occurred to us that this would be great opportunity to meet up with Geoff and Irene, friends who live relatively close to Bath. The last time we saw them was at Andrew's funeral, so we thought it would be good to get together in less sad circumstances. A couple of phone calls later and it was all sorted out.

Yesterday morning, I checked my e-mails and there was one from another friend, Anne, who lives in Chichester. By one of those amazing coincidences, Anne and Colin would also be in Bath on Tuesday (them to sample the delights of the Spa as a Anne's birthday treat) so more arrangements were put in place to meet up that later that day.

And so it was yesterday evening that instead of sitting in our B&B getting stressed out about today's photography assessment, we were out having a meal out on a roof terrace of a restaurant in Bath with Geoff and Irene, joined later by Anne and Colin after their visit to the Thermae Bath Spa. And an excellent evening out it was too - great to see you all!  

Isn't it wonderful when things come together?

So relaxed were we arriving back at the guest house late last night, I didn't notice that the traveling alarm clock was set on European time rather than BST, following our trip to Venice.  Consequently, it was a bit of a shock this morning to be woken up by Steve saying it's nearly half past eight, when it wasn't quite 7.30 am according to the alarm clock.  I think that must have been the quickest breakfast and pack up in history!  But we weren't the last to arrive at the RPS HQ, a short walk down the road.

It was a tense morning, watching as panels of photos were displayed and assessed by the judges, not knowing whether one of ours would be up next.  We were still on tenterhooks at lunchtime.  By then, 13 panels had been assessed and only four recommended for ARPS.  The first two panels after lunch failed.  Mine was the 16th. The wait seemed like an eternity, but the first judge to speak  after looking at the pictures thought it was a lovely set that ticked all the boxes, and everyone else thought likewise. So that was me - done! Then we had to wait for Steve's to be brought into the gallery and put on display.  Set 17 failed.  Set 18 was recommended for ARPS, set 19 failed as did set 20. Set 21 was a pass, on balance. The set after that was Steve's.

If you have seen Steve's recent artworks, you won't be surprised to know that he has created a very individual style - the end result is a cross between photography and silkscreen.  What would the panel make of it?  

The first judge to speak started by saying he didn't know whether he liked the images or not, the treatment was so different to anything else he had seen. However, the more he looked at them, the more he appreciated them, and if he were locked in a room with them for any length of time, he thought he would end up liking them.  

The second judge who spoke was very positive - he liked Steve's images very much, thought they were a great set and wanted to know how Steve had achieved his effects. Then, to our dismay, judge No 3 said the panel didn't work for him - not keen on the technique used to create the images.  He was swiftly counteracted by judge No 4, who said in no uncertain terms that the panel DID work - the processing technique added a certain something and was very original.  She thought the body of work showed skilled image design and that they should focus on the end result, not the technique of how it was achieved. Judge No 5 was equally supportive - he thought the technique used added to rather than detracted from the images.

After the discussion, each judge had to decide whether or not to support the submission by showing a red or green card to the chairman. We couldn't see what was going on, so again, it seemed like an eternity as the chair of the panel looked along then line of assessors......And then our hearts lifted as his face broke into a smile to announce that Steve would also be recommended for RPS Associateship!

By the end of the day, 23 panels of images had been assessed, but only 8 were recommended for the ARPS distinction, including both of ours!

Even the rush hour traffic in Bath couldn't wipe the smiles off our faces on the way home.  We bought a bottle of Prosecco and a fish and chip supper on the way home and we are still grinning like the cats who got the proverbial cream.  

Let's hope this is a good omen for the hospital assessment tomorrow - exactly two years after Steve was diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

photography and more photography to distract us

It's less than a week until we have our photographs assessed at the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) HQ in Bath to find whether the Visual Art Panel thinks we're good enough to be made up to Associates.  Easier said than done, as we know from experience.  As with all things where subjectivity plays a large part in the outcome, it's a bit of a lottery. 

We've been selecting, printing, in some cases re-printing, and mounting photographs for the last few days, but will probably be tinkering about with the panels right up to the last minute. It's feels just like being a student again, getting ready for a project "crit" - quite nerve racking trying to second guess how someone else will react to the fruits of our labours.  

However, the photography spirit has been lifted by two bits of good news.  We've both had work accepted for a exhibition in a local gallery on the theme Coast which opens on 1 July and runs right through until the middle of August.  

One of the images which will be shown in the Coast exhibition is currently on tour in the RPS Members Exhibition and was used the local press under to promote the exhibition opening in Watford under the banner headline Prestigious_exhibition_comes_to_Watford  (click to read the article) What a nice surprise - especially as the Kite Fliers forms part of my RPS panel which is going to be assessed in Bath next week!  

All this photography stuff is a distraction from the BIG event of next week - Steve's hospital assessment on 16 June, exactly two years after he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. As always, it's a worrying time not knowing what they will find when they look inside his body. He's still feeling good.  We're hoping that the coughing episodes he's had on and off since the last assessment in March have been related to hay fever, rather than a sign of Leo the meso stirring.  Keep your fingers crossed.  

Sunday, 5 June 2011

and another first for us

One of the joys of not having work commitments is that we can take decisions about what to do on the spur of the moment (the downside being that any preparation necessary has to be fitted in at the last minute!)  And so it was that last Thursday morning, we decided to go out for a day at the races - a new experience for us.  And not just any old horse race, but to see the Derby at Epsom Downs on Saturday! We were literally just in time to book grandstand tickets online before the noon deadline. 

In between doing the weekly food shop, collecting prints from the Artspool exhibition on Friday morning and going to the private view of the horti-CULTURE exhibition Friday evening, we managed to get ourselves scrubbed up and sorted out our glad rags, ready for the big day.

Although our arrival at the racecourse was delayed by traffic congestion, once we parked up and got out of the car, the excitement in the air was palpable. People all dressed up and lots of laughter lifted the spirits as we made our way into the grandstand enclosure from where we could look out over the downs, the lines of open-topped busses and fun fair on the hill, and crowds and crowds of people enjoying themselves in the sunshine.  

The grandstand overlooks the last half furlong of the racetrack, rising up to the finishing post with good views of the big screens to see the distant action on the far side of the course.  

We'd had our lunch and had moved on to a Pimms by the time the Royal party arrived and disgorged into the Queens Stand next door and the races were ready to begin. 

The roar of the crowd was almost deafening as the riders approached the finishing line, culminating in the cheers and squeals from those whose horses had won or been placed. 

We left the vantage point of the grandstand and went off the explore, looking in at the parade ring and ending up right next to the rails to watch the next race. Steve fancied one of the horses, placed a bet at the last minute and to our delight the chosen horse came up trumps. Time for another Pimms to celebrate!

No such such luck on the Derby itself, or the other race we had a bet on, but we still ended up taking a whole £10 from the bookies overall. 

We finished off the afternoon with tea and strawberry tarts before heading back to the car, tired but happy!  Our fears of getting caught in horrendous traffic jams proved unfounded, and we had a good journey home arriving back just in time for a rendezvous with Dr Who.  What a good day!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

"What remains of us is love"

The title of today's blog is taken from the Order of Service at Andrew's funeral yesterday. And there was much love shared as we remembered and celebrated Andrew's life, and shed tears for our lost friend. He will be sorely missed but I think he would have been touched to see so many family and friends present - standing room only inside the cemetery building and the overflow spilling outside, peering in through the porch to listen to the tributes and take part in the moments of contemplation.  

The mood lightened a little as we gathered in a nearby pub after the interment to swap stories and reminisce, catch up with each other's news and admire the amazing cake made by Andrew's daughter Susie - a model of a skip, adorned with Andrew's name and overflowing with bits and pieces that would have brought out the magpie instinct in Andrew, had he been there in person to see it. But the brilliantly apt work of art was not to last long - it was carved up and served alongside other cakes and tea (and prosecco for those not driving) back at the house, where close friends lingered till late, still numbed by the unexpected loss of our contemporary.

For Andrew

I said in an earlier blog that given Steve's diagnosis, I thought I would be the first to be widowed in our circle of friends and that Andrew would be there at Steve's funeral. We are still finding it difficult to come to terms with the events of the last fortnight.  Our hearts go out to Jan his wife, Susie and Charlie his children, Katie his sister and Edna, his amazing 92 year old mum. You were all so brave and so dignified. I only hope that I can follow your example when I stand in your shoes. 

Andrew's unexpected and untimely death reinforces the unpredictability and fragility of life. All we can hope to do is leave the world a better place when we're gone and make the most of life while we can. The first bit is not easy, but we do our best to make our small contribution. We are getting better at the second bit - living life to the full.  We've just arranged another first time experience for us this weekend.  Drop back next week if you want to find out what we've been up to!  

In the meantime, if you are in or close to Oxford tomorrow evening, please join us at the private view of the horti-CULTURE exhibition at the 03 Gallery, Oxford Castle!