Euthanasia: The debate begins

In a couple of weeks we’ll be asked to create a drama for our Japanese speaking class. The theme is Euthanasia.

I’ve not given euthanasia much thought before now. But over the past couple of weeks I’ve come across a few programs on Radio 4  that have touched on the subject, including this morning’s Saturday Live (listen again, interview is about 10 minutes in) which had an interview with the sister of John Close (see the 47 minute video about his life and death here).
Unfortunately I missed last week’s interview with Alison Davis, who had wanted to kill herself for over 10 years as a result of suffering from severe spina bifida, but was prevented from doing so by UK law. She subsequently came to value her life once again following a trip to India to meet two children that she had sponsored, and now campaigns against euthanasia.
It’s a really difficult subject, and I just don’t know how I feel about it.

Norwegian Wood reaches a close

I had a really enjoyable morning today. So enjoyable in fact, that I never really moved on. I’m still there, in this morning, and in Japan.

Anyone who’d seen me wouldn’t have thought I was in Japan. They would have thought I was on my knees in the garden, weeding, covered in mud, getting absolutely drenched by the pouring rain. It was that kind of rain that induces surrender after just a couple of minutes. You’re out there attempting to stay semi-dry, trying to make your jacket reach to your ankles, but it’s no use. You’re getting wetter and wetter, trousers becoming sodden, drips running down your bum, until finally you cast aside the scowl, and burst out laughing, “I couldn’t get any wetter if I tried!”.
I only gave my capitulation a moment’s thought, briefly looking up from the wood-chip path I was clearing and across the yard to the house. I laughed with surprise at the density of the great globules of water that filled the air. A second later, and my eyes were back on the path, my hands, stained red in new leather gloves forced their way under the mat of bark and roots, prizing it from the black plastic strip below.
But as I said, I wasn’t there. My weeding was almost unconscious – I was in Japan. I was in Tokyo, following the fortunes of Toru Watanabe as his partner in Kyoto, Naoko, became increasingly ill. I became emotionally involved as Reiko told the horrendous story of how she came to be hospitalised, and I was delighted and enchanted by Midori Kobayashi, a girl I felt I’d known for a long time. I was shocked when news came through of the death, and had to stop for a moment, squatting there in sadness, lost in the rain.
I don’t think I’ve read more than 5 novels in the past 15 years. Perhaps that goes some way towards explaining why I became so involved in Murakami’s Norwegian Wood . I’ve long shied away from it for the simple somewhat silly reason that it was popular. Now I’ve read it, I feel it has every right to be popular. It’s wonderful.
Another reason I’ve not read it until now is that it’s fiction.

‘I don’t have time for fiction, I only have time for books I can learn from’.

That’s what I used to think, but recently, I’ve been reconsidering. If I think of the few novels that I have read in the past few years, each one takes the form of a vast collection of images, of meanings, of emotions, of relationships. Each one has played an important part in my making sense of certain changes in my life. Given me comfort, offered me advice – just as much as any friend or non-fiction book has done.

And today, listening to Reiko advising Watanabe on how to deal with his relationship dilemma, it struck me how familiar her words were. Don’t take life so seriously. Trust. Believe in yourself. If you are being true to yourself, you have nothing to fear.
And Watanabe himself – what an amazing person. To have such insight and awareness at such a young age; incredible. A really likeable, genuine and trustworthy guy, one that were I that way inclined I too might well fall in love with. Meeting someone like that is truly inspiring; we need people like him.
Death appears throughout the novel, and this got me thinking again about what it means to me – you may recall that I was ‘studying’ death last time I was here on the Welsh Garden Project. One thing I picked up on was that no matter how expected death is, one cannot stop those intense feelings of sadness that accompany the loss of a loved one. If death occurs suddenly and unexpectedly however, the shock can be devastating, moving way beyond any normal sadness and plunging one into a black pit where everyday life ceases to matter. It’s something I don’t think any amount of thinking can prepare you for.
Sometimes I think about what it will be like when someone close to me dies. I imagine life without that person, and sure enough, the feeling of loss and sadness is all encompassing. I know I’ll get through it, but it will be very hard.
This makes me think even more, it is so important that I am happy today, that I am grateful for all I have, that I make sure that those around me know just how much they mean to me (*Twinkle* alone has been the recipient of over 2200 of my emails since I left Japan last summer, that’s about one every 2.5 hours ever since I sailed from Osaka!).
Initially, I was a bit shocked by the (multiple) graphic sex scenes. I wasn’t expecting them. But then, they were described in such a matter-of-fact tone by the superb narrator, and they were such accurate descriptions of what it really is like to sleep with someone, how people behave, that they ceased to be anything out of the ordinary, and made these relationships all the more real. I didn’t dwell on them though. I miss *twinkle’s* warmth enough as it is.
Norwegian Wood is the second of Murakami’s novels I’ve read, the first being the superb ‘Kafka on the Shore’. I’ve since added ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle‘ to My Next Listen on Audible, so I’ll be able to download that in a couple of weeks. (Check out the author’s official website here. (I’ve just kept it on in the background as I like the music!). 
It’s now bedtime, and although I came in from the garden some ten hours ago, somehow, a part of me in still there, hands tearing at the weeds in the wood-chip path, rain falling all around, and my head lost in Toru’s vivid world so far away.

Second major photo shoot: Simon

I got a call early this morning from my agent asking that I ready my camera for another photo shoot for a major client. This was really exciting, and a major step up from my first assignment in February which saw me focus upon dead fish.

The photos are to appear in next month’s Cosmopolitan magazine as a part of their series on the latest fashions for famous reptiles.

So, this afternoon, close-up lens loaded and batteries fully charged, I made my way to the studio at the end of the garden where none other than Simon the Slow Worm was waiting!

Yes, Simon the Slow Worm! I could scarcely believe that I had been lucky enough to be chosen from amongst the many professional photographers in the area to work with Simon, who is of course well known for his outlandish performance on the BBC’s I’m a Celebrity With No legs!, and his stunning performance at last years Eurovision Song Contest.

Simon, he’s such a tease…

I got through about 10 rolls of film trying to catch that legendary smile of his, but I think I managed it quite well. Oh, and he did his seductive contortion thing, with the tail flick that so famously caused Madonna to swoon during filming of Evita 15 years ago.


For the Simon the Slow Worm fans amongst the DM readership I’ve posted more images from the shoot here.

Tagging and my Photo workflow

This year I’ve started keywording my photos. Until now, I’ve simply renamed them upon import, but you can’t describe all that much with a filename alone. 

This month I finally broke through the 20,000 photo barrier – that’s 20,000 photos that actually mean something to me and are not blurred / underexposed / of nothing in particular. With such a large collection I’ve grown increasingly aware of how important it is to label them as accurately as possible. For example, a shot of *twinkle* may be called ‘twinkle_in_london-1243.jpg’ – but it also fits into categories such as ‘people’ ‘family’ ‘holidays’ ‘2008’. Unless I assign those keywords to it I’ll only ever be able to find it with ‘twinkle’ or ‘London’.

Until now it’s not really been an issue; I’d either search by filename or simply remember which directory it was in, but as I start to do more with my photos so finding what I’m looking for becomes more difficult – thus my adoption of photo libraries (Lightroom for RAW images, iPhoto for JPEGS) and the adoption of keywording / tagging. 
It was only last autumn that I switched from shooting in JPEG to shooting in RAW, and this of course necessitated a new workflow. It took quite a bit of fine-tuning but I’ve got it sorted now. It goes like this:
1) Download RAW files from camera using Image Capture. These are kept in their own directory separate from all JPEGS.
2) Rename all RAW files with the excellent Renamer4Mac: I use search and replace, replacing ‘DSC’ with a name that describes each batch (this means that every photo maintains its original unique number whilst having a descriptive name)
3) Import in batches into Adobe Lightroom. This is the stage at which I assign keywords.
4) Adjust levels etc in Lightroom
5) Export full size JPEGS to iPhoto library
6) Export small JPEGS with watermark for upload to website via FTP, and to Flickr using the amazing Photonic
I really enjoy this process. I love organising, and I love adjusting the levels in Lightroom, (something that any camera that shoots in JPEG does on your behalf).
I’ve also discovered that when uploading to Flickr, Photonic will automatically convert your keywords into Flickr tags – very handy (except when you inadvertently assign some cat photos the keyword catering). Not only that, but Coppermine (the photo-album database that I use for this website) can also read those tags …and of course, iPhoto picks them up too. 
I then back up my photos to two external drives and an FTP server (talk about anal…), before formatting the memory card in the camera (not the computer); this helps prevent corruption of future photo files.
This evening when musing over photo tagging, I started to think about how I’m finding it increasingly difficult to find blog posts. With about 750 mumbles in the blogger database, the only tool I have is Google – and that’s a bit hit-and-miss. Thus, I’ve finally decided to start using Blogger’s built-in-labels. I’ve not used them before now as they are not so user friendly when you’re publishing on your own FTP server (each label becomes a unique html file which has to be republished every time you use that label, thus one blog could result in (for example) 10 files being published).
So far I’ve only had time to label this month’s mumbles, and I may not bother do the other 700. We’ll see.
Oh, and I’ve re-admitted non-registered commenters to the fold – a review of past comments has showed that the vast majority of anonymous commenters have actually left a lot of very helpful comments, rather than just banging on about how boring the mumble is. 
:-p
Anyway, I’d best be off to bed. It’s been a long day.

After 14 years they rose again


Anne Tame the artist, at work

I’m back on the Welsh garden Project site today. It’s good being here and doing some physical work. My hands smell of cow skin, and I have a delicious feeling of knackeredness. Thought I’d take advantage of the lack of rain and get the chainsaw out; spent an hour or so doing a circuit of the garden, dealing with the trees that were felled by the recent gales. With a new chain it makes for satisfying work, quickly cutting through broken boughs and branches to relieve the burden being felt by surrounding trees. It appeals to the tidyman in me too. I like natural-looking gardens, but I especially like tidy natural looking gardens. 
Opening the garage for the first time in a while, I smelt death. It was a strong smell, no mistaking it. It was rising from the corpse of a large rabbit that must have been chased in there by Taize the cat some time ago.
Coming back in at lunchtime I found that same cat sleeping with my pet penguin, Pepe.

What you lookin at?


The morning-after shot: The powerful Tom has had his way; Pepe is left with conflicting feelings regarding his own sexual orientation. 


After lunch, it was back out to clear up the polytunnel. 
But I wasn’t really in the polytunnel emptying out last year’s tomato plant pots. Instead, I was in that sanatorium in Japan with Naoko and Reiko, as described in Murakami’s Norwegian Wood which I’m continuing to listen to, and liking very much. I love being read to. 
(I’ve just come across a source for free audiobooks at http://librivox.org. I’ll give them a whizz as it’s a while before I can get any more on subscription from Audible).
I’m pretty good at multi-tasking. As well as listening to a book and clearing up a polytunnel, I was wearing my ‘new’ patchwork trousers.

I found them under the bed the other night. They aren’t really ‘new’, as I’ve already worn them for a couple of years, from early 1994 to 1995. I  got them when I was about 16, and had them coat my legs almost everyday during my year at sixth form college. I think they were supposed to attract girls as they have home-installed zips running almost the entire length of each leg. Unfortunately they didn’t really work, and in the end I had to leave the country to lose my virginity.
Anyway, they still fit me, both in terms of waistline and length, so I think I’ll give them another spin.
Righty ho, on with ‘stuff’.
[edit] it has been pointed out that the cat has had his testicles removed, and thus it is unlikely that he was actually having sexual intercourse with Pepe, which is a bit of a relief as if they had become too close Taize may have taken advantage of his being a cat and eaten him.