Monday, 28 December 2020


I've mentioned my various walking sticks now and then over the years. 

Originally I bought one from a National Trust shop, around 1980, when I was in my late twenties and living in London. A friend who was with me did the same. It was an impulse buy. This first stick - which I discarded years ago, when moving house - was a thin, lightweight affair in ash, and was far more a style accessory than for serious country walking. In any case, I rarely went on any at that time. So it just gathered dust at home.

But in 1989 I left London behind, and moved down to Sussex, which was in the country. Country walking quickly became a regular feature of my weekend life. So I dug out that ash stick. But I found it an unnecessary encumbrance if I kept to easy, well-worn, well-maintained paths. Ash is a lightweight wood with no heft, and this one was hardly more than a cane. It was all right for probing the depth of a muddy patch in the path, but useless for bashing brambles and nettles out of the way. Nor was it any use for intimidating uppity field animals. Rams wanting to assert their ramhood just ignored it. Horses with fangs bared would dismiss it and close in for a good bite. A charging bull, bent on murder, would snort at it and feel even more enraged. 

Something heavier was required. Eventually I lashed out £26.50 on the cherry walking stick you see on the right in the following shots, taken two days ago in my hall. 

I bought that cherry stick on 21st July 1992 (when I was forty) in a specialist walking stick shop in Arundel - a shop long gone, I'm afraid. It was my stick of choice for the next few years. It was a much more impressive piece of country walking equipment than the old ash stick had been, and thoroughly effective on brambles. I was fond of it, and own it to this day. It has however always had two weaknesses. One: in heavy rain, the cherry bark gets soft and can rub away, which erodes its good looks. This can be countered by regular coatings of beeswax or similar, but that makes it a high-maintenance stick. Two: it originally had a metal ferrule at the ground end, and the tip down there is shaped and smoothed for such a thing. If you fit a more sensible rubber ferrule, that tends to slip off. I've lost more than one rubber ferrule in sticky Sussex mud!

So I went on to buy other sticks. The most successful of these, bought later in the 1990s, has been a chestnut stick, as seen in this shot, taken at the tail end of the ancient Uffington White Horse. 

But the chestnut stick was thinner and lighter than the cherry, so less useful. And it was perhaps rather too elegant to look the business on a country walk. A stick for the town rather than the country.

And there was something else. Like the cherry stick, the chestnut stick had a crook for a handle. This made it very convenient to hook over an arm while I did something, such as take a photo. But crooks do tend to catch in things. That's the nature of anything hooked. In any case, a crooked stick is so easy to hang up on a gate, or on a branch, or inside a cafĂ© - and then it gets forgotten. I haven't yet personally lost a stick that way, but it has been a near thing on several occasions. 

So some years back I acquired a hazel stick without a crook. It has instead a shaped knob instead, that I fit my hand around. It isn't obvious, but the clever shaping enables me to grasp it it three different ways, all of them pretty secure. That's the stick on the left in the opening shots. Let's have them again.

I'm not sure when I bought my hazel stick, but I found this photo of it taken in my porch on 10th March 2011, and it certainly wasn't new then. 

My best guess is that I bought it in 2005, the year I retired. And I have an idea I bought it at Exceat, in the Cuckmere valley between Seaford and Eastbourne. If I had bought it using a cheque or a credit card it would have showed up in my expenditure records. As it doesn't, I must have paid cash, and I didn't always used to make a note of smallish cash transactions. It wouldn't have cost very much - not more than £20 - because it's an almost completely natural object, with very little done to it. 

It's made from a length of coppiced hazel: the knob - its 'handle' - would have been the part that sprouted from the base of the hazel tree, and only minimal wood-working has been done to form a smooth and comfortable gripping area. The cost would have been much higher if more smoothing had been done to the grip and shaft, and if it had been prettied-up to make it look super-elegant. Nor has it been straightened - it still has a slight graceful natural bend to it. And the natural look is further enhanced by the retention of those knobbly bits along its length - which just happen to be where the stick balances, if held horizontally (though that's merely a happy coincidence). The rough bark and the retained knobbly bits mean that it doesn't slip out of my hand. I rarely drop it. It's currently my favourite country walking stick. I so love its full-on rustic appearance.  

There is of course one other reason why I prefer this crookless hazel stick to the crooked cherry or chestnut sticks. It's to do with image. 

Crooked sticks do seem to shout: 'I'm old and infirm!' or 'It's a zimmer frame next!'. When I bought the cherry stick in 1992 I was of course neither old nor infirm, and it did sometimes bother me that, as a youngish-looking forty year old, I was carrying an 'old person's' item - however useful it might be on a country walk. But thirty-odd years on, and thirty-odd years older, this is not nearly so much of a concern: a crooked stick looks a lot more natural. Even so, I am not infirm, and I don't want to give the impression that I might be. 

In contrast, the hazel stick, with its knobby grip, and no crook, makes no particular statement about my state of health or fitness. I hope it merely says 'I am a well-equipped walker, who enjoys carrying a rustic stick and finds it useful'.

Mind you, my balance isn't all it should be, especially on rough ground, and using the hazel stick - or indeed any stick - as a 'third leg' when traversing slippery, slithery or rutted surfaces is only sensible. It's also a practical aid to keeping upright and sure-footed on seaside shingle and pebbles. And although I don't suffer from bad hips, my knees and toes can twinge if over-flexed on a longish walk. That's just the wear and tear of many decades - I don't yet need a stick to take some weight off and ease the pain! But having one with me on a 'just-in-case' basis has genuinely become a valuable reassurance. And not just for winter use. So I always have one in the car, all the year round.

Does carrying a stout stick discourage a would-be attacker? It probably does. My hazel stick could certainly be used as a credible weapon, of the cudgel sort. On several occasions, I've been glad to have it in my hands in lonely places or when walking back to the car after sunset in the twilight. On only rare occasions has a man been in view, and no doubt they were as wary of me as I was of them. I would in theory be prepared to clobber anyone who came too close, but as it has never yet happened I have no idea what I would in fact do. Fingers crossed that I am never put to the test! 

One fear I have is hitting any attacker too hard and fracturing a skull - that could have unwelcome consequences for both myself (possibly being charged with assault) and the attacker (possibly brain injury). In this respect, a featherweight aluminium telescopic walking pole is safer, as you can't knock anybody out with it. On the other hand, it's no deterrent against misbehaviour. You can't win. 

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Back in business

Isn't that strange? As mysteriously as my 4G signal indoors went, so it has returned. And it's not as if the weather has got much drier. True, there were glimpses of brightness around midday, but by mid-afternoon a fine misty drizzle was back. I am now definitely putting this incident down to the bad weather, rather than to a power-down of one of the local EE masts. The nearest mast to me is at Burgess Hill, and when I went to see it yesterday afternoon I saw no signs of malfunction. There were no engineers around, trying to fix a fault; and I was getting a very powerful 4G signal when sitting nearby in Fiona. Enough to sizzle an egg. So the drop in signal must surely be blamed on the watery atmosphere we've endured hereabouts.

I'm not of course assuming that the 4G signal is back for the rest of the winter. Who knows, it might fizzle out overnight tonight. But for now, I can access Mobile Internet as normal. Which is just as well, as there are a couple of emails I want to send off. I want the recipients to get them before Christmas Day.

This outage was the first significant loss of 4G and Mobile Internet (albeit for only two and a half days) since I stopped using through-the-landline-wire Home Broadband early last September. I suppose that's actually pretty good, certainly better than one might expect in a semi-rural location several miles from the nearest mast. 

I'm now assessing how much it really mattered, not having instant access to Mobile Internet inside my home. It was an inconvenience, to be sure. 

I'd got into the habit of checking a number of websites for fresh content right through the day, such as the BBC News website, and several others to do with tech or photography. It was irksome not to look at them when I wanted, especially in the evening. I didn't fancy getting cold, sitting in the car or caravan, merely to get a viable signal. 

Nor could I listen to, or watch, catch-up radio and TV. This wasn't a very great loss, but being deprived of the option was a niggle. 

The chief reason to grouse was that I couldn't look up things on the Internet, which is something I do constantly. I'm interested in all kinds of stuff, and I regard Wikipedia as a wonderful resource for digging deeper into anything that catches my attention, such as the planet Neptune, the nutritional value of honey, where to buy another hairband, and whatever happened to Pinky and Perky and Lenny the Lion. It was frustrating, being unable to get a quick and full answer. 

I'd been keeping all my many Word documents and Excel spreadsheets in Dropbox, and therefore in the Cloud. No 4G meant no access. I update some of these files several times a day. I could do something about this. While up in Burgess Hill, getting a full blast from the mast, I moved all the most-used files offline. I've done this before, when on holiday in spots where Mobile Internet has yet to penetrate. It has the distinct advantage that the files display in a flash, with no wait at all. And of course they are on my phone, accessible everywhere and anytime. The only downside is that there is no automatic backup to the Cloud. But a manual backup regime is easy to devise, and I can back these vital documents and spreadsheets to the Cloud while visiting a town or city where the 4G is fierce enough to bake bread. 

Only joking about the alleged heat radiation, by the way. I'm sure those mobile phone masts add little to the general background radiation from the sun and other natural sources. 5G? Please, as soon as possible. In fact, I'm thinking I may be able to test the benefits of a 5G connection on the new phone I intend to buy this spring. The men of the village do whisper that 5G is available in central Brighton. So maybe, once I'm innoculated against the virus, it might be safe to go there and experiment. Mind you, I expect the long-abandoned streets will still be full of slavering virus-zombies, staggering around with groping arms. It would be a nuisance if one of them jogged my arm, and made me drop my shiny new phone. Tsk.


The restored signal hasn't dropped away again. A friend who knows about these matters thought that all along it had been an equipment fault, and not the rain - a failure in some interconnected component, not necessarily at my local mast. Well, they must have dealt with it now. I should take some comfort in knowing that modern mobile phone infrastructure should be more easily fixable than ancient landline installations! 

Another friend told me about how someone we both know, who lives at the head of a very rural valley in the Forest of Dean, has recently got rid of her Home Broadband and installed a purely 4G setup, involving a sensitive exterior aerial linked by wire to an internal router, which gives her much better Wi-Fi at home. But an exterior aerial isn't always needed. In my less sequestered location, such a router might pick up the 4G signal perfectly well if merely placed near the right window. It might also be excellent in my caravan (a router like this would be portable, and I could take it on holiday and enjoy my own in-caravan Wi-Fi). I can easily buy my own router.

This could be the way for me to go. I'd need to pay for a data-only SIM for the router - an additional monthly expense - but on the other hand I wouldn't need to buy nearly so much data for the SIM in my phone. The saving on the phone SIM could cover the cost of the router SIM. And I could be a complete tart about choosing separate, keenly-priced SIM deals for router and phone. 

My current phone SIM deal expires on 26th May, so there's plenty of time to consider the whole thing carefully in the next few months. The more I think about it, though, the better it seems.

Sunday, 20 December 2020

Three not so little words

Now and then I am moved to remark on certain words I hear too much of on the radio, generally in news or current affairs programmes where a speaker is commenting on some situation, either carefully defending it, or making some criticism but trying not to be blunt. 

Here are three that I've noticed. They are not new words, nor slang words, just words that are in vogue at the moment. They niggle me a bit, partly because they are ponderous to say and sound pompous; partly because their meaning isn't at all obvious: I'm left guessing what the speaker is really saying. And in some cases, I wonder if he (it is usually a he) does in fact know what the precise meaning of the word is. You can't rely on that, of course. 


My first reaction is: what does 'ingenuous' mean? If I say to you, 'Look, I'm going to be ingenuous' will you know what I mean? Will you think I'm mixing it up with 'ingenious' and that I should have said 'I'm going to be clever and inventive'? 

Well, I do have an authority to turn to. The Concise Oxford Dictionary - albeit the eighth (1990) edition, which of course isn't by any means the latest one. Still, educated speech hasn't changed so very much in the last thirty years. So, let's see...'ingenuous'. Oh! It's a real word all right, meaning (firstly) innocent, artless; and (secondly) open, frank. Well, who would guess that? 

So 'disingenuous' must mean the opposite. The COD in fact says it means 'having secret motives, insincere'. Well, the speakers who use this word generally seem to be making a negative comment on the utterances of some politician, especially the current Prime Minister. So it's an accurate use of language, at least from their point of view.

I'll have to get off my high horse. The COD has spoken. It's a proper word with a proper meaning, and one that's bang on where senior politicians are concerned. I will still declare that most of the population - even well-educated types - would not use 'disingenuous' unless they hailed from Euphemism City and had no fear of sounding obscure. A phrase like 'less than fully honest' puts things in a much clearer way. But then I don't suppose a political commentator wants to be too transparent. Words like this fudge things nicely. 


You do wonder whether this word - whose pronunciation (Grammarians! Is the use of 'whose' right here?) isn't at all obvious - has anything to do with 'gregarious', meaning 'liking a lot of company'. What is the COD definiton? Well, well. The COD says it means 'outstandingly bad'. Again, the speakers who use this word generally seem to be making a negative comment on the performance of some politician, especially the current Prime Minister. So once again it's an accurate use of language, at least from their point of view. 

This time I'm much more prepared to stand by my guns and let loose a fusillade. This word is merely a fancy way of saying 'guilty of shockingly poor performance', and it seems even more obviously a word that a political person might hide behind. Poor Boris! I'm sure he would much prefer plain speech, not a weasel word like this. For if challenged the speaker can always say, 'Oh silly me, I meant - of course - gregarious'. Which is also true of our cultured and affable PM. 


The 'nym' part of this word gives away the notion that it's about naming something. Beyond that, I've been clueless until quite recently, when I finally twigged that 'eponymous' meant 'named after a person'. Thus Rubik and his eponymous Cube, Noah and his eponymous Ark, Boyle and his eponymous Law, Churchill and his eponymous Square, and Magellan and his eponymous Strait. Rather than saying, 'Magallan and the Strait named after him'. The COD defines what an 'eponym' is: 'a person (real or imaginary) after whom a discovery, invention, place, institution, etc is named or thought to be named'. Then it lists 'eponymous' as the derived adjective - how you would describe such a discovery, invention, place, institution, etc. 

Lucy Melford and her eponymous Blog? 

When starting work at the office back in 1970, we were all advised to copy the style of Sir Ernest Gowers, who advocated Plain English. And it was severely plain. So no 'Dear Sirs, Thank you for your esteemed epistle of the twenty-ninth inst' at the start, or 'Your obedient civil servant' at the end. It was to be utterly brief and straight to the point: 'Gentlemen, I have your letter.' On the whole, Sir Ernest was absolutely right, although nobody actually went on to correspond with the public, or send a written submission to a Head Office specialist, in quite such terse language. 

Me, I tended towards the picturesque and fragrant in my early tax office letters. There was one letter I wrote to a Southampton accountant, in which I alluded to the 'extreme chagrin' his client might be feeling about a delayed tax repayment that was then (June 1971) being considered by the Chief Inspector (Claims). I still have the letter. I can't remember what he'd claimed for - cat allowance, who knows - but I put that in my letter and cheerfully signed it. But it didn't get past my group leader, who had a quiet word with me with a smile on his face. He explained that the dreaded Management Inspector (his boss - the next person up the chain of command) might think me disingenuous, and the letter thoroughly egregious...could I rewrite it? I obliged with the greatest good humour. But for some time afterwards, Lucy and her eponymous letter was the talk of the office, for nobody knew what 'extreme chagrin' was, and they all thought it must be a very nasty disease indeed. 

I always had them reaching for their dictionaries. It was a bad habit of mine. Modern users of needlessly exotic words, take note. 

Will I crack, and go back?

Do I hear chortles and jeers, and a chorus of 'We told you so!'? For the second day running I've woken up to find that I've no Mobile Internet, or at least only a weak, slow, 3G connection on my smartphone. And of course, I've got rid of my Home Broadband, so I've no alternative to fall back on.  

It has happened so suddenly that I suspect that the local mast has been switched off for maintenance - not for very long, I hope! But it could also be explained by weather damage from gusty winds and some very heavy rain in the last twenty-four hours. There's been a bit of temporary local flooding, though not close to me. Or it could be down to the 'atmospherics': there's never much in the way of winter thunder and lightning in my part of Sussex, but I heard and saw it yesterday afternoon. So maybe some electrical activity was building up. I'm pretty sure that wouldn't be good for mobile phone reception. 

I was however hoping for a change back to normal this morning. It's still dull, but the wind and rain have eased. I do seem to have a smidge more 3G to play with, and fleeting glimpses of 4G, but it's not yet enough for a normal experience. 

Even on holiday - when sitting in my caravan, somewhere in the sticks - I can usually get adequate (or even decent) 4G reception. It might come and go in marginal reception areas, but it's not often that I need to hop in the car and drive to some nearby town in order to get Mobile Internet. But that's what I eventually had to do yesterday, firing up Fiona up at 6.00pm and parking in the Waitrose car park at Burgess Hill, where the 4G is nowadays always superb (it didn't used to be, but they put up a mast). 

There wasn't a lot I needed to accomplish. I wanted to report my continued good health on the Covid-19 Study app. I wanted to sync my Fitbit. And I wanted to and carry out a routine backup of the documents and spreadsheets on Dropbox, which I do every three days. Only the last of those things needed the phone and the laptop tethered together, rather than simply tapping an app icon. Well, given a good 4G signal, these tasks were soon dealt with. Then I drove home. 

That was, as ever, a perfectly good solution for doing routine stuff. And I need not actually drive anywhere. If I simply need to fire up a couple of phone apps, then going for a walk and heading for where the 4G signal will be strong, will do the job - that's generally where the shops are. But I can't walk along with a laptop cradled in my arms, so the shelter and security of Fiona is required for blogging, posting pictures up on Flickr, or for sending emails with photos attached. 

As has become my custom in recent years, I haven't posted any Christmas cards. Instead, I've been sending out Christmas emails. I intend to compose another batch today, as drafts. Then I'll probably return to Burgess Hill and send them off there. It's no big deal, doing that, as a one-off. But it will become a bind if I have to do it every day for the next few days. Hopefully 4G will return in its usual strength.  

It's crossed my mind of course that writing a personalised Christmas email, possibly a long one, and then driving somewhere to despatch it, involves way more personal trouble, effort and cost than just scribbling a short conventional message inside a pre-printed card, popping a stamp on the envelope, and staggering to the letterbox on the nearest corner! But that's my preferred way. 

It's also my preferred way not to waste money on Home Broadband, when most of the time I don't need it. When I last looked, I'd have to pay BT £35 a month for their 'cheap and basic' Fibre 1 Home Broadband option. Well, I'm saving that cost. That makes sense, doesn't it?

What's Home Broadband for, anyway, apart from being an expensive backup for Mobile Internet on the phone? I used to ask myself that many a time, and ask it again now. 

How much of everyday life really requires a Home Broadband connection? My smart meter for electricity and gas doesn't use it. I have no household appliances that need it. TV? The Freeview signal via the satellite dish works fine for live programmes. Ditto the DAB signal on my portable radio. I agree that if I want to stream catch-up radio or TV, then access to the Internet using the BBC iPlayer, or whatever, is a must. But that's only an occasional need. When away from home, in the caravan, I never watch TV, whether live or catch-up. That's partly because there's so little in the listings that appeals to me - and partly because I've got other, better things to do. 

All this said, will I crack, and go back to Home Broadband? I don't think so, but if I do, it won't be with BT unless they reduce their prices. I'll go with somebody else. However, I'd want to avoid signing up with a provider who is likely to mess me around, either because their service is second-rate and unreliable, or because they can't deal efficiently with any customer service issues that may arise. Why pay for aggravation? Even at a rock-bottom price? No thanks.


I've discovered that I can get some sort of 4G signal inside the car or the caravan, both parked outside the house. I assumed I wouldn't, both being metal boxes, albeit with plenty of windows. Well, that's something, although it's a chilly business to do things out there - unless I fire up Fiona's engine, or I connect the caravan up to the household mains and turn the heating on! 

Fingers crossed that normal service is restored soon...

Sunday, 13 December 2020

All done

It's done. My Great Slide Scanning Project. In three weeks.

And what an undertaking. Even after some pretty ruthless weeding last May, I still had an estimated 1,200 slides. This was way too large a number to tackle casually, just whenever I might had an odd moment. It needed an extended effort, undistracted by a normal social life. But one of the silver linings of a lockdown (and the near-lockdown conditions in Tier 2 that have followed) is that the opportunity is created for getting on with really big tasks. So finally on 21st November I set to, firing up my scanner on most days until I'd digitised all of these slides. The last was scanned yesterday evening. Here it is. 

All my slides have now been digitised, processed, captioned and popped into various folders in my Photo Archive, with the best ones added to the collections on my phone and laptop for quick and easy viewing. It's so good that they are no longer trapped on those fiddly little squares of cardboard or plastic. Now I can view them in all their glory on a computer screen. And I can search them - and share them.  

My initial estimate of 1,200 slides wasn't far off. In the end, 1,273 slides were scanned. Most of them (about 1,050) related to the 1980s, with 225-odd datable to the 1960s and 1970s.

It's a fair question to ask why I bothered! It's obviously good to have extra shots of holiday places, and of family and friends. But all these shots were taken at least thirty years ago, and in some cases as much as fifty-five years ago. What possible relevance can they have today? In particular, why do I want to have pictures of myself in my married days (which ended unhappily in divorce), or of my routine life in London (a place I never liked)? It's not so easy to reply. 

I can assert that the historian in me demands that photographic evidence - if it exists - needs to be preserved and made accessible - and then studied with a discerning eye. Relevance to my present life doesn't really come into it. Any historic shot is potentially valuable, even if apparently mundane, such as pictures of suburban scenes, and past domestic endeavours like making a fish pond in the back garden of my London home. I have shots of shopping parades; they may not be exciting, but they do conjure up an everyday world long gone. I have shots of the clothes I wore - those 1980s styles were rather good - and cars I used to drive (not so good!). But I'm sure that any social historian would find something significant in these shots. I'm glad I didn't throw them away, and have now added them to the Archive.

Of course, the scans have also sharpened up hazy personal memories, and corrected any skew that may have developed from incomplete recollection. For I had forgotten a lot of the detail. It was a welcome exercise in precise rediscovery. I was surprised to find that many pictures from my 1983 honeymoon had survived, and at this remove, when all of that has long passed into history, I'm now pleased that they weren't thrown away - especially as I don't have any of the official wedding photos. Anything that records some aspect of my life is to be cherished. Photographs can bring it back.

There are many shots of the homes I had, providing useful evidence for the age of many a current possession, such as a book or a vase. It's also amusing to see what some of the 'old tech' looked like: the kitchen equipment, the TV in the lounge, the VHS video recorder, the rows of VHS tapes on bookshelves, some bought, some home-produced. This was all before home computers, and streaming from the Internet. And the film cameras! Those little 110 cameras, and everyone using flash indoors - although you had to, with the slow slide or print film of the time. 

Of course, the people in these pictures are naturally the main focus. I've disinterred many a great shot of the people I used to know. Sadly, some of the older ones have passed away, and even the younger faces will now be getting middle-aged. It's fascinating to view them now on my laptop. As I scanned these pictures, I couldn't help growing wistful - the photos, vivid in many cases, had rekindled the old fondness for my former sisters in law, and others, and had brought to mind many a celebration. I lost much when the marriage shipwrecked. 

But that was then. The present reality - thirty, thirty-five, forty years on - might be distressingly different. We all gradually change as we get older, our outlook as much as our appearance. I can't take it for granted that some cheerful, lively, fun-loving person I once knew would still be the same. They might have become soured and embittered by their later experiences, and maimed with bad health.   

Nor do I know how I would be remembered. I do believe that I was well-regarded and adequately loved back in the 1980s. The scans surely say so. But I can't assume that I would be joyfully received now, in 2020, by a person I last saw decades ago. I suspect that they might, if older than me, have caustic things to say - resentful of my good health, lack of dependents, and freedom to do as I please. Above all, for not being in touch sooner. And why get in touch at all, they might say? What's my motive? Why stir up dusty old memories?

Well, the slides are finished, and a Humungous Print Scanning Project now awaits. But first I'm going to give myself a decent break. I might not do any further scanning until the New Year, or even until late in 2021 - a task for next winter. It all depends on how things go post-Christmas. If there are more lockdowns, then I have a ready-made project to get on with, this time covering the 1990s. But it will take a lot more than three weeks to complete, as there are 5,000-odd prints to scan. I'll have to be ruthless again, and ditch a lot of them before firing up the scanner at all. 

Meanwhile, I've been pitching the slides into a waste-paper bin after captioning the scan. Every one. I've discarded even the slides from my very first film in 1965, which you'd expect me to feel sentimental about. 

But it's the image that deserves the sentiment, not the slide, and I'd much rather have the digital version of a treasured picture. That way I can carry it around with me, and summon it up instantly on my phone or my laptop, rather than search for it in a slide box that has to be stored at home, and only there. And besides, a digital file can be backed up on external drives, and in the Cloud, so that it need never be lost. So much better than handling a small dusty slide that could so easily get damaged, and will fade in time. 

It's pointless holding onto an original slide, once it's scanned. It can be safely junked. Here's picture of that waste-paper bin, full of discarded slides for tomorrow's landfill collection. It makes a good picture in itself. 

And here are some other pictures taken from May onwards, showing the various stages of the Great Slide Scanning Project.

I've only the empty wooden boxes now. Eight of them, lined in red velvet. All ready for loading, but nothing left to put into the slots. End of a personal photo era. 

Tuesday, 8 December 2020

Gimme Some Truth - 40 years after John Lennon was shot on a New York street

I couldn't let the day pass without writing a post on John Lennon. He was shot and killed outside The Dakota building in New York on 8th December 1980. 

His murderer wanted to go down in history as the Man Who Shot John Lennon. Well, I won't name him. It was a cruel and selfish act, and made so very easily possible by the stupidly lax American attitude to carrying guns. This is what you get when almost anyone can have retail access to a lethal weapon. Mind you, I don't know why I bother to complain. Nothing will ever change over there. If I ever travel to the States, I shall walk around in fear of casual assassination, of being a collateral casualty in some shoot-out. It seems that no particular reason is required to shoot a person, although people - like John Lennon - who become 'public property' are obviously prime targets. So it will help to go there as a nonentity. And not stay for too long.

John Lennon was twelve years older than me, and would now have been aged eighty. I can't help thinking he would still be campaigning against something. He was very quick to see the absurdities and dishonesties of life, and to pounce on the attitudes and lies that did harm. He would have become an acidic old guru, unassailable, a thorn in the side of all politicians of whatever colour. Musically he would have outlasted and outshone all the other Beatles, and would have stood above Bowie and Dylan. Most importantly, he would still have Yoko Ono as his fount of inspiration. 

I do not mean to be as worshipful as I sound. Back in the 1960s and 1970s I thought John Lennon was rude and irritating. I couldn't relate to his 'Working Class Hero' image, however ironic the autobiographical lyrics in the song of that title (never think it's a blithe anthem that hails the Noble Proletariat). And the in-your-face nudity was off-putting. Nor did I cry when he died, though I was immediately sad for Yoko and little boy Sean, and felt that part of my growing-up background had been deleted forever. 

But I now see more. 

In 1980 John Lennon was just emerging from a voluntary five-year break from the music machine. And from being the global celebrity. Yoko had given birth to their son, and John was determined to put family life first. In any case, the world had moved on. The revolution had petered out. Musically speaking, Glam Rock, Disco, Punk and New Wave had taken over from the primal screams, the love songs to Yoko, and the peace chants characteristic of his output in the early 1970s. In fact, when John and Yoko returned to the recording studio in 1980 - with Geffen Records, not Apple - their new album Double Fantasy, though it was well produced, and included some memorable songs, sounded a little passĂ©. I suspect it was a toe in the water, a pause for breath, an explanation for the last five years, and a prelude to fresh stuff to come - the new revolution to be unleashed. But the shooting in December 1980 stopped all of that in its tracks.  

So what worthy memorials exist in 2020? 

There is The Dakota itself. This remains an iconic residential building, full of very expensive apartments. It lies on the west side of Central Park in New York, facing the park. Here are two maps from Google Maps, and some Street View shots, to show the building and its vicinity. A very pleasant place to live, I'd say.

Slightly Gothic in design, I'd say. It isn't the only residential building on Central Park West that looks a bit spooky from some angles. Only five blocks to the south, the monumental building at number 55 Central Park West was used in the 1984 film Ghostbusters. 

How nice to have Central Park just across from the entrance to their home in The Dakota! A good choice if bringing children up in the city.

Not far away, in Central Park, is New York's memorial - a mosaic on the ground, in the design of a wheel around the word 'Imagine'. These are not my shots, of course - the actual photographers are identified at the top. 

Other memorials exist. One I personally visited in 2019 was at Durness, in the far north-west of Scotland, where John Lennon spent time on holiday as a youngster. Here are my pictures of the rather spartan collection of stones and beach objects that constitute this particular memorial. 

I found it underwhelming. On the other hand, I was the only person there, and I had a chance to reflect in peace on John Lennon's life and music. That wouldn't have been possible in Central Park.  

Of course, there are the records. I have four LPs in my vinyl collection. Yesterday I got up into my attic and fetched them down. They had been in a big box with the rest, untouched since they went up there fifteen years ago, in 2005, when I sold a previous home and Mum and Dad let me store some things in their loft. Here, for instance, is my copy of the Imagine album, complete with poster. Amazing to see that the little Leica has picked up the grooves of the record so clearly.

This was an oddity on sale in 1976, when John Lennon had retreated into home life, an album called Shaved Fish - effectively a 'Best of Lennon' collection. They must have written him off as a mere Golden Oldie.

This is that 1980 first flowering, Double Fantasy. Sweet, mature, wistful, mellow, with just a hint of the old anguish and pain. I bought it on 1st December 1980. A week later John Lennon was shot dead. 

Surely they are standing outside The Dakota? Was that a mistake?

What is my favourite John Lennon song? Well, actually, it's Woman Is The Nigger Of The World. It was a track on the 1972 album Some Time in New York City. Even then, in 1972, the N word was very, very provocative. But John Lennon explained that it was deliberately intended, to draw a shocking comparison. The song is a defence of all women and castigates their brainwashing and ill-treatment by men. I think it's just as relevant to hear now, in 2020. For very little has changed. The kind of men who took women for granted and treated them as second-class people, or sex toys, in 1972 are still around, often in powerful positions - naming no names. Here are the words that go with the massed sax intro, the howling guitars, the strident strings, and John Lennon's accusing voice. 

Woman is the nigger of the world
Yes she is...think about it
Woman is the nigger of the world
Think about something about it

We make her paint her face and dance
If she won't be a slave we say that she don't love us
If she's real, we say she's trying to be a man
While putting her down we pretend that she's above us

Woman is the nigger of the world...yes she is
If you don't believe me, take a look at the one you're with
Woman is the slave of the slaves
Ah yeah...better scream about it

We make her bear and raise our children
And then we leave her flat for being a fat old mother hen
We tell her home is the only place she should be 
Then we complain that she's too unworldly to be our friend

Woman is the nigger of the world...yes she is
If you don't believe me, take a look at the one you're with
Woman is the slave to the slaves
Yeah, think about it

We insult her every day on TV
And wonder why she has no guts or confidence
When she's young we kill her will to be free
While telling her not to be so smart we put her down for being so dumb

Woman is the nigger of the world...yes she is
If you don't believe me, take a look at the one you're with
Woman is the slave to the slaves
Yes she is...if you believe me, you better scream about it

We make her paint her face and dance
We make her paint her face and dance 
We make her paint her face and dance
(And repeat to fade)

Wow, that still strikes a chord! Maybe women are more independent nowadays, and not inevitably housebound, but they still get groped by predatory men if the said men think they can get away with it. It's still easy to undermine a woman and make her feel unsure and unsafe. And somehow all the freedoms we have in 2020 still feel rather brittle and illusory.

Classic Lennon, though.