On the 16th of January 2021, Ziggy just looked at Kate and said, “a long time ago, when I was coming back to my house from nursery, granny and grandpa came and I was super happy!” Ah, those were the times. Wilfred, Margot and Ziggy have all started proper school.

We’ve not travelled this year. Heather and I have made it as far as Southwold with Jo, Ben, Wilfred and Margot, and Centre Parcs Longleat with Kate, Pedro and Ziggy. We’ve done some day trips to Beaulieu and the New Forest. We have our excuses all lined up, of course. We were in lockdown until June. We were awaiting Jo to have her baby in September. (Hurray for Bertie!) So there just wasn’t much by way of opportunity.

We went to see Christina Jackson in Nottingham for a delicious homemade lunch. We spent an afternoon with Pippa Tarrant. We had dinner with Lindsey Scotney and Tony. Ray and Betsy Eisenberg stayed for a few days. We saw Coryn Thompson at Shoreham on Sea for a great lunch. We had various neighbours, a very few at a time, over during lockdown to share nibbles. Lindy Hamilton-Beazely keeps Heather going to Knit and Stitch. Siobhan Quigley and Martin Rands had special birthdays. We’ve been to Christmas at Kew. We’ve done a few things to keep us busy. And we won a lottery – a meal at Tavolino and tickets to The Book of Dust – thanks to the Orange Tree Theatre.

Next year, we are hoping to see Valentina Lallai, our ex-lodger, in Sardinia, attend a party in Toronto (with side trips in Pennsylvania and southern Ontario), and see Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Fingers crossed! We’d also like to fit in the painting of our exterior and an overhaul of our now rather tired garden.

Asides? In November of 2021, Dancho Tanvez has moved in as our new lodger. We’ve known Dancho for many years and we think he will fit in well. Elmo adores him, always a good sign. Jo, Ben and Pedro are all in the same roles but Kate has a new job – and she likes it. Bennet Kopp spent a month or so at the Royal Hospital School and he might not have recovered from it yet! Ziggy hero-worships Bennet.

There’s been sadness too. I’d met John Flowers Senior at FAO Rome in 1976 – I was in awe of his massive handshake, his Bostonian accent and his brain – and we liked his wife, Pam and two kids. Thanks to John Junior for the last goodbye. Jim Purdy from Toronto is gone – we’d shared many happy years with Anne-Marie Jackson and their children. Jim Hayat and I had drifted apart – but it hit me still when his daughter contacted me. And the saddest of all, my brother Bill lost a child, Cameron, at 21 years old. Words escape me, I cannot imagine.

I’d like to recommend a book by Robert D Kaplan, Good American: The Epic Life of Bob Gersony, the U.S. Government’s Greatest Humanitarian. We know Tony Jackson and Rose-Marie who played leading roles in Bob’s life. I am humbled by all of them.

And, yes, I am still loving my Alfa Romeo Giulia Lusso Ti. 🙂

All the best to you,
Heather Brach and John Samuel
ps we’ll be distributing electronically as much as possible and sending to the money to charities

Margie and dressing up clothes
Margie loves dressing up
Ziggy and Kate make fun of me
Wilfie and his AT-AT
Wilfie builds Star Wars lego
Ziggy and Bennet play ball
Bennet is Ziggy’s hero
Ziggy runs through the casks of Hampton Court Palace
Ziggy is fast, running around the casks in Hampton Court
Jo and Bertie - contentment
Jo contentedly feeding Bertie
Ben sends Wilfie and Margie flying
Pedro looks on at Ziggy racing
Ziggy, always running – with Pedro looking on

Posted on by jsam | 3 Comments

Christmas 2020

This is a letter in two parts, BC and DC. Before and During, but not yet After, Covid-19.

Jens, Emma, Lea, Lennie, Isi, Caroline, Lars, Heahter, Bjorn and Karin
Heather and Clan Kopp, Christmas 2019

Heather and I spent Christmas 2019 in Hamburg for a lovely few days with the ever welcoming extended Kopp family. We did some emergency grandparenting when Jo and Ben were marooned in Copenhagen due to Storm Ciara. We lost our gas supply for a few days at the end of January due to water in Richmond’s natural gas pipes. Ziggy held a tarantula with One World Animals.

So far, so normal, right? Right?

Cousins copying
Cousins copying, BC

In February we made it to Chile with fellow traveller Coryn and tour leader Jo. In Valparaiso we freestyled it and met Loro Coiron and now have some of his work. We saw the El Tatio geysers at sunrise, the Milky Way in the Atacama Desert and a puma in Patagonia. As we disembarked at Heathrow an abusive drunk was escorted off our plane and I thought that might be the single most disruptive event in our year. Hah. Yeah.

Heather and Jo with a Loro Coiron
Heather and Jo gazing upon a Loro Coiron in Valparaiso

We arrived home to hear Boris say on the 12th of March, “I must level with the British public: many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.” Uh? And still, on the following weekend, we went to Ziggy’s 3rd birthday party with dozens of other people.

And then, lockdown and grim nightly statistics broadcast. Like most, we were a bit in shock, maybe a bit scared and very uncertain. The rhythm of our weeks had included preparing, doing and recovering from grandchild care. Gone. Museums, galleries, theatre. Gone. An Italian ex-colleague succumbed. For us, the worst was knowing our kids were trying to hold down fulltime jobs whilst working from home, with their kids at home – and us unable to help. I’m sure this is familiar to many of you.

Despite the sadness, we resolved not to waste the crisis. Elmo loved us being around. The to-do list shrunk remorselessly: decorating, lighting, plumbing and more. We lent our car to the NHS via Karshare. After years of only reading on aeroplanes I binge read all of Aurelio Zen and have continued reading. Heather has knitted pullovers, kitten blankets and hats and more hats. A university colleague arranged an intercontinental Zoom amongst nearly a dozen of our graduating class, most of whom I’d not seen since 1976. We spent a day with Linda Young, a distant relative. So some good has come out of the pandemic.

Heather had a special 70th birthday conducted over a Facebook Portal. Good as her celebration was, once in that format is enough. Our surprise stay in a country house has turned into not so much of a surprise voucher for next year. We loved Jo and Ben’s grand Fortnum & Mason hamper. And Kate and Pedro pulled together a special 20 minute video with clips from her friends.

Heather celebraing her 70th birhday remotely with the kids and grandkids
Happy 70th birthday, Heather, on the Portal

The lockdown was necessary and tedious but the saving grace was the weather – sunny and warm from late March until well into September. We ate most meals outside, We had our 40th wedding anniversary on the 20th of September. On the day we had pizza and champagne in the garden with Jo, Ben, Wilfie and Margie; followed by a walk around Kew Gardens. The following week, after the weather had broken, we celebrated it by heading off to Battersea Park Childrens Zoo with Kate, Pedro and Ziggy.

We’ve always been central London focussed for our excursions. We used public transport to frequent the attractions of one of the world’s great cities. With the pandemic and the advice to avoid public transport we now head away from the city. We’ve joined the National Trust and English Heritage, as oh so many of our age group do, and get in the car. We’ve already been to Polesden Lacey, Petworth and Stonehenge.

As we’re spending more time driving, we’ve replaced our reliable but boring Honda Jazz with a somewhat spiffier Alfa Romeo Giulia. It makes me smile, a lot, even on a wet Friday rush hour on the North Circular. Worryingly Clarkson agrees.

Loves of my life? I lost one; I lost Dame Diana Rigg. No teenage boy exposed to The Avengers will ever forget her. And whilst not a love, a good friend has left – Valentina Lallai, our Italian tutor lodger, has returned to Oristano after six years with us. The house feels a bit emptier and Elmo has lost a fan. We wish her the very best of luck and hope to visit. And thanks to John Flowers Jr for giving us a last opportunity to speak with his father, Sr, with whom we worked at FAO in Rome in 1976-8.

More positively, we’ve vicariously enjoyed watching Ziggy with his new best friend, Dusty the kitten; we hope to meet him soon. As Ziggy said to his mother, “When I was at nursery I missed you… but I missed Dusty more.” And our Elmo grows ever more affectionate as he greys. No, greying has had not made me more affectionate.

“Lockdown” may be the word of the year, but “that’s not unusual in a person of your age” is my phrase of the year. And I’m not all that keen on it.

We’re ok. Our kids and partners are doing well; their kids are doing well. Here’s hoping you had a good year, under the circumstances. And that your next year is better.

As usual, we’ll try and distribute this as paperlessly as possible and donate the savings to charity.

Happy Holidays,
Heather and John

Fetch! With Elmo and Heather
Heather and Elmo at West Wittering

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Christmas 2019

The summary? We hope you are as blessed as we have been. We’re fine. Our kids are healthy, have homes, like their jobs (some new) and have terrific partners. In turn, their kids, our grandkids, are, for the most part, delights – we have our days with them most weeks. We have friends to stay, stayed with friends and enjoyed a few holidays. And some of it is photographed.

Heather stroking a cheetah

A few visitors have appeared this year. Gabrielle Must; Betsy and Ray Eisenberg; Noa, Ronit and Gadi Wollstein; Isi, Lars, Lea and Lennart Kopp on their Grand Tour of England and Maria Vallai. It’s always a pleasure to open our house to friends and family – mightily helped if they like big dogs as much as we do. We’ve even met new family – welcome, Linda Young.

John driving a Lotus Evora

Holidays have been had. Heather surprised her sister, Caroline, in Hamburg – appearing on Caroline’s doorstep on the day of her 70th. We’d not seen Dave Nyman since we left Rome in 1978; visiting Laura and him in Valencia for Heather’s birthday was simply terrific. It also gave us a chance to catch up with a GE colleague from 20 years ago, Emilio Fernandez-Martos. What a wonderful city too; I’ve bookmarked a local realtor. We’ve had tours of South Africa and the Orient – and finding the jet lag more difficult than ever. We met Baby Knox in our occasional friends and family circuit around the north-east US and southern Ontario – our apologies to Rohini, Beth, Paul and Martha and others for missing them this time around, Our thanks to our many hosts: Barb and Terry, Ronit and Gadi, Anne-Marie and Jim, and Marianne and Bob.

We have lost a friend and neighbour, Tacchi Salama, this year. And we lost Chris Thompson; my alter-ego through whom I met Heather. Both died far too young. We think of them and their surviving partners, Ben and Louise.

Meanwhile, we continue to deliver leaflets, start petitions, attend the odd rally and host the local LibDem Committee Room during elections. We may be swimming against the national tide but our time will come only if we help it along.

As we have done for many years, we will be sending most of our Seasons Greetings electronically and donating the stationery and postage saved to charity. We hope you don’t mind.

Have a great holiday break.
Heather and John

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Christmas 2018

“Granny and Grandpa’s house is better than telly”, said Wilfie to his parents when told he was spending the weekend at our house. That’s how you know you’re making a reasonable fist of grandparenting. We spend most Wednesdays with Ziggy in Tooting and most second Fridays with Margie and Wilfie in Walthamstow. In between we recuperate. All have their delightful personalities. Wilfred has more empathy than most four year old boys and is wonderful with his baby sister. Ziggy loves Bing, balls, dogs, trains, slides, climbing and ‘nacks (snacks). Margie knows her own mind; she is two going on 13, and oh so charming with it.

It’s taken 20 years but we actually have finished our household to-do list. It is much as we’d hoped. We’d started just over three years ago with windows and bathrooms. We finished with pictures hung and the fence painted. There’ve been some detours on the way. In one month our old fridge, a ceiling fan and our hot water all broke down – but everything was fixed. We also had the odd pleasant surprise; our original living room floor, once sanded, turns out to be walnut. The triangular dining room table is fantastic for conversation at dinner parties. It is a very odd sensation, to awake to no tradesman appointments and an empty to-do list. It leaves more time for grandparenting and holidays.

For years we’d been hoping to go to New Zealand with our friends, Barb and Terry Young. They have their own distractions (a Pennsylvania farm and dispersed grandchildren) so we went on our own, via Singapore, in the spring. We left the day before the Beast from the East in the UK, just missed the worst of the cyclones in New Zealand and arrived back to Kew to glorious weather. New Zealand is wonderful – laid back, efficient, varied and beautiful. We fell in love with Napier and Nelson. The itinerary was pretty full on. As our guide said, “You’re not on holiday you’re on tour.” Despite that, Heather managed to squeeze in meeting up with her university friends, Fatima and Fern, out there. We also had stays in Lanzarote with Ziggy, Kate and Pedro, the Dalmation coast, the Baltic states and the Veneto. Yes, we fitted in yet another trip to Italy for yet another of my birthdays.

There’s been lots of good theatre, exhibitions and cinema. Amadeus was excellent. Hamilton was almost as good as its hype. Pedro and I didn’t come away with any expensive souvenirs from Ferrari. Roger McGough’s poetry reading was unexpectedly, for me, laugh out loud funny. We make a point of going to see pretty well anything at the Orange Tree Theatre; it’s excellent, our front row seats mean we daren’t cross our legs so close are we to the actors and the theatre is a ten minute stroll from the house – what’s not to like? My stand out highlight was Picasso 1932; I was transfixed by many of the images. A photo of his Guernica was my earliest childhood “art” memory but only with this exhibition did I start to appreciate the scope of his work.

Annie and Jim Jackson-Purdy came to visit from Toronto. Ray and Betsy Eisenberg came to visit from Oakland. The Book Club Kate started nearly a decade ago had a reunion. We hosted the Committee Room for the Liberal Democrats in the May council election and we won our ward. As a family we’ve come around to celebrating all the first half of the year birthdays on one weekend and all the second half on another. We have the kids and their kids over and have a chef come in to cook for us all. No one has to worry about cooking or trains and getting back for their babysitters. It’s a great format and we’ve had some fantastic food.

Both Heather and I have had minor health scares. As a result our diet, already pretty healthy, has been transformed. White carbohydrates are a thing of the past. And I no longer add salt to my food. In the scheme of things whilst these seemed dramatic at the time they are actually pretty trivial changes.

On a sadder note I’ve lost some people this year. One of my best bosses, Matt Mulligan of GE in Rockville Maryland, died. One of my finest colleagues, Tom Hammer, of Ventro in Mountain View California, died all too early. Larry Peplowski, my best friend from Park Forest, Illinois has gone. As has Chuck Eggert from British Columbia, a University of Waterloo roommate. I think of them and their families’ loss.

Next year? Well, we have plans. We’re off to South Africa early in the year and China and Japan later. In between we have Adi Wollstein’s wedding in Leesburg. And a trip to Valencia to meet up with Dave Nyman, 40 years after we last met – and Emilio Fernandez-Martos too. That still leaves time for our terrific mutt, Elmo, and the grandkids. And lots of time for visitors too; come, if you’re brave enough.

We try not to dwell on the self-harm of Brexit and its consequences upon our friends and family. Elmo gets his walks and we get our 10,000 steps in every day. In 2019 we’ll have been 40 years in Kew and 20 years in this house; we oft think how privileged we’ve been to live here.

All the best to your and yours for the holidays and beyond.

Heather and John (or Gi and Pa, as Ziggy calls us)

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Christmas 2017

Dear all,

Baby operator's guide

Isaac William Gomes, more commonly known as Ziggy, was born on the 6th of March to Kate and Pedro. He’s alert and determined with a lovely smile for his grandparents. So he’ll do nicely. Heather and I usually spend a day a week with Kate and him. After her year of maternity leave we’ll have him on our own for a day a week.

Jo returned to work in September. At around the same timeCool. So cool. Ben started a new job, working nine days in every fortnight. So, we’re looking after Margot and Wilfred every second Friday. It’s tiring but rewarding all the same. Wilfie is so gentle with his sister. And Margie may be the happiest baby ever.

We’ve had fewer holidays this year with our grandparent duties. We intend to make up for this lack of holidays next year in at least New Zealand, Croatia and the Baltic.

  • We had a couple of weeks in September in Portugal. We spent the first week with Kate, Pedro and Ziggy in Aljezur – joined by their Toronto friends, JJ Martyn and Mike. Heather and I then spent a week in delightful Porto, with a few local tours. Bacalhau à Brás is delicious. And a Fiat Cinquecento is great fun to drive, if a little impractical with luggage.
  • We also spent a week in November celebrating my officially becoming old in one of our favourite cities, Florence. Somehow, I even allowed myself to be convinced by my charming wife that walking from the river Arno uphill to hilltop Fiesole for lunch would be a good idea. The lunch at the top was worth it.

We’ve had a few visitors:

  • In April we had a very grown up grandson, Wilfred, spend a weekend with us. The Science Museum was a big hit.
  • Noa Wollstein and her friend, Anya, spent a week with us in July. We were very impressed by their maturity and independence. Perhaps I was even a bit intimidated.
  • MAK, Bob and EmmaMy sister, Marianne and her husband, Bob and daughter, Emma, stayed in August touring London and Paris. It was great to see them and see them enjoy themselves.
  • Our 12 year old great nephew, Bennet Kopp, came over for a week to improve his English. He now knows how to boss Elmo and Alexa about. It was terrific seeing Bjoern, Karen and Emma with him too. Most recommended visit from his stay – the Wimbledon Museum.Bennet and Wilfie with Elmo

As we’ve been at home more this has unintentionally turned into a year of house renovation. Floors have been sanded, rooms painted, the olive tree has been repotted, Elmo has new couches to snooze upon, ceiling fans have been installed, taps and mattresses replaced. Fences, gates and brickwork have been repaired. Our insulation and draughtproofing has been upgraded. LED lights have been installed in most of the house. A dozen years after we ripped out the old carpet on the stairs and landing we finally got around to having new carpet laid. Perhaps most unnecessarily, we had our front path relaid using the same pattern as the original Victorian 125 year old pattern on our front step – the merger of old and new is fascinating. We have just the dining and living rooms to finish off.

Heather continues reading for Doorstep Library and madly knitting for her grandchildren.

We’ve had our disappointments. Our candidate lost in the May General Election by 45 votes. John had a bout of pneumonia. Heather has a black and blue backside from falling downstairs. As of this writing we both have foul colds. But we’re well. Our kids are well. Their partners and kids are well. And Elmo keeps us fit. So, on balance, we’re more than ok.

Much as last Christmas, we’ll spend this Christmas at home. A happy holiday to all,

Heather and John

  • ps1 – We’ve kept all our Christmas letters since 1993. Heather found our very first round robin letter from 1987. We weren’t much older than Kate or Ben are now.
  • ps2 – Our annual photo album is here.


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Split toning – here’s one I made earlier

Split toning, shading the highlights in one colour and the shadows in another, is an old technique – and very easy to do in Lightroom. I started fiddling around with it just because it was there, in Lightroom, in the Develop module. I Googled around and found a very few interesting articles. I thought I could do with a different look to my photographs and maybe, just maybe this was it.

My wife and I went to visit our bridesmaid and best man in Bristol. We spend an at times bright and blustery autumn afternoon in Clevedon. There weren’t all that many people about, especially at the end of the pier, so I took a shot. I liked all the lines. It felt a little melancholic.

Clevedon Pier

This image had something, but wasn’t nearly as interesting right out of the camera as I’d hoped. The clouds are a bit dull. The underside of the stand was lacking in detail. I remembered the lamps as brighter and the wood as richer. The telescope was a bit too dark. And the colour was incidental. So, why not try split toning?

Clevedon Pier

Well, I like the result anyway.

The shot itself was a jpeg, not raw. I’ve come to wanting to simplify my photography. My camera, a Fujifilm X100T, has lots of facilities for jpegs that it does not have for raw, such as film simulations and wireless transfer to mobile phones. The jpegs are much smaller. And I don’t spend much time post-processing. Although maybe this image is the exception that proves the rule.

What did I do?

  1. Used Transform | Auto to make the photograph as rectilinear as possible. I think it adds to the melancholy.
  2. Knocked the Basic | Exposure down an eighth of a stop to, again, add to the melancholy.
  3. Raised Basic | Shadows to bring out the detail on the deck.
  4. Used a gradient filter to darken the clouds by about a stop and a half.
    • Erased brush on lamps and right hand flag.
    • (Note – in later revisions I decided a grad plus erasing was too much like hard work. I used an adjustment brush to darken the sky.)
  5. Used a radial brush to brighten the two lamps and the two flags by about a stop.
    • Note that holding shift turns the ellipse into a circle.
  6. Used an adjustment brush on the underside of the observation deck to brighten just under two stops to bring out detail.
    • Applying the gradient filter had made things worse.
    • (Note – in later revisions I have given up on the gradient and just painted in one stop lower exposure – ever so much more effective and simpler.)
  7. Used an adjustment brush on the telescope and two foreground left hand support to brighten them by just under two stops to bring out detail.
  8. In Effects applied Post Crop Vignetting Amount of -12.
  9. Went into B&W in HSL/Color/B&W:
    • In Black & White Mix dragged up the lamps for more brightness.
    • In Black & White Mix dragged down the sky for more darkness.
  10. In Split Toning set
    • Highlights Hue to 220 (blue) and Saturation to 20.
    • Shadows Hue 40 (brown) and Saturation to 20.

The images were uploaded to WordPress.com using its Lightroom plug-in. The images are on a canvass with a fine border and annotated by LR/Mogrify 2.

I thought of split toning as a monochrome technique. I have made it a preset and have been using it pretty consistently for a couple of months. But it can also be used on colour images.

I like this image of ancient Matera and a newish Fiat.

Old Matera, new Fiat

My memory of its stone was far browner. My memory of the Fiat parked below was far bluer, the blue of the sky. A radial filter over the car to raise the exposure and cool the temperature helps bring out the car. Split toning recreates my memory.

Old Matera, new Fiat

If the highlight colours are one hue and the shadows are complementary split toning is very effective. I use much stronger split toning saturation values with colour images. I have seen interesting floral examples on line – have a wander.

My projected digital images and panel of prints  at this year’s Richmond and Twickenham Photographic Society are all split toned.


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Christmas 2016

This time last year Heather and I were preparing to spend Christmas and New Year in India. Ben and Jo were spending time with her parents in Blighty. Kate and Pedro were on honeymoon in South America. Heather and I gazed into each other’s 24200105556_c553ffee63eyes and considered spending the shortest days of the year in each other’s company, walking Elmo and enjoying quiet nights in. Bog that. We went on a tour of the Golden Triangle instead: Shimla, Delhi, the Taj, Jaipur… We both enjoyed the tour; the sounds, sights and colours are amazing, of course – and we have the photos to prove it. But the poverty is overwhelming and the disparity between our lucky lives and theirs is jarring.

That was last Christmas. This year we are staying home. 29671250333_4619f332fe_hJo, Pedro, Ben and Kate will be with us – as will our wonderful two year old grandson, Wilfie and his new sister, the serene Maggie and Kate’s yet to be born grandchild (due March). There are babies and children to be enjoyed and looked after and spoilt. So we won’t be doing much long haul for a while. The only trip we have in our diaries is a few weeks in Portugal next September.

27677070072_a8c4325cd2We have managed to squeeze in a trip to Puglia. The sights were terrific. Matera is jaw-dropping. The tour director was excellent, a gifted natural comedian. That said, we’ll try and avoid 50 person guided tours. And the supplied meals were mediocre; we should have ditched them and eaten locally and better.

In July it was off to Fil and Eric’s daughter’s, Meaghan’s, marriage to Adam at James29117484241_03423de632_h Naismith’s (he of basketball invention fame) homestead. It was great to see much of my family there. We spent a few days with Annie and Jim in their new place in the Beach in Toronto, squeezing in a lunch with my sister, Beth, and dinner with uni friend Chris and Louise. We polished that off with a few days with Barb and Terry in Chalfont and their menageries of family, friends and animals. Rupa (ex-Herbies) and Ram came along to their farm to amuse us with their delightful children.

Given a choice Heather will always choose somewhere new to visit over revisiting an old haunt. But30213043024_34aea8e068 this year, for my birthday, she organised a few days for us in Rome. We lived there 40 years ago and had been back with our kids 20 years ago. Many warned us that Rome wasn’t like it was in the ’70s. And they were right; Rome is much improved. Grim, almost “no go”, areas have been transformed. The once ever constant threat of handbag theft seems no more. We revisited our first flat in Trastevere – as lovely now as it was then. We ate in the Pollarolla, our then favourite restaurant, although our grumpy waiter retired a couple of years ago. And we found a new favourite. I could go back to Rome again tomorrow.

Closer to home, we had met Nancy and Jim in Kew whilst they made the odd foray south to look after their daughter’s dog. So we went up to visit Scarborough and see them. And my inappropriate gift of choice for them was a couple of bottles of plonk…which look very nice beside their two large dedicated wine fridges filled with vintage wine. 😦

We met the lovely Jenny and the almost as lovely Kevin on our tour of India; they’ve visited us and we’ve been to see them in Teignmouth. I continued my tradition of inappropriate gifts. I created a book with my photographs of India for them only to discover they too had made a book – a bigger book, with better photographs. 😦29536838281_101d163c0a_m

Anne and Cecil were our bridesmaid and groom in 1980. They were in great form.We joined them for a weekend in a much rejuvenated Bristol, a city well worth a longer stay some day.

Domestically we’ve had the outside gloss painted and all the bathrooms redone. One year we will attack the bare floorboards upstairs.We’ve had a go at organising our kid’s storage from the time they left home. Maybe this is the year we will empty the loft. Then again, maybe not.

So we’re well, ignoring dentistry and feet. Our kids and their partners are well, with houses and jobs and kids of their own, either here or en-route. Jo and Ben have extended their Walthamstow kitchen whilst Pedro and Kate have a moved into a newly renovated house in Tooting. We’ve seen lots of good theatre, been to a few art shows and photo exhibitions. Elmo is a terrific dog and keeps us fit.

Without delving too deeply into our politics, Heather and I have found our values of openness, tolerance and decency challenged this year. We believed our small-l liberalism was pervasive; we were complacent. Now we know those values need to be worked for. We were thrilled to find our delivering thousands of leaflets, putting up activists to stay and opening the house as the local party headquarters for the day of the Richmond Park by-election helped result in a victory. The nicelash starts here.

A happy holiday to all.

Heather and John (and Elmo)

ps Thanks Fil and Barb. I still haven’t lost the 2 kilo I put on in North America. J 🙂




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Synchronisation and “Lightroom encountered an error when reading from its preview cache and needs to quit”

29 August 2016 – I have updated this article – read right through to the end.

A few weeks back the hard drive in my laptop started to play up. Web pages took a minute to open. Booting up took 15 minutes. Disk diagnostics did not want to run. Fortunately I store no data on my laptop’s drive. And I  had a spare three year old SSD in my drawer. I swapped the duff drive for the SSD and did a clean install of Windows 10, connected to Google Drive and whoosh. What a difference an SSD makes. Everything is snappier. I will never go back to a spinning disk again.

As it was a clean installation of the opsys I reconsidered each application I had. I dropped over half of them. I’m down from about 15 to 6. That’s easier to control. Were it not for Adobe Lightroom I wouldn’t need a PC at all. With the exception of my photo processing everything else runs in the cloud. But I kind of understand Windows, 10 is very good and with the SSD even my luggable commodity laptop is quick, has lots of ports and is flexible. I do keep a Chromebook for the days when the I just need a second device but the laptop is what I use most.

Anyhow…there I am with a whizzy, reborn laptop. And Google Drive. So I rethought my Lightroom configuration. I decided to put my Lightroom catalog in Google Drive. Heck, why not? The catalog is the key database – without it all I have is thousands of photographs with no organisation. There’d be a copy on my PC and a copy in the Google Cloud. And I’m good about backing up my Google Cloud – overnight copies by CloudAlly, weekly copies to my Synology NAS and annual archives to Amazon Glacier.

I did it. I started Lightroom. I was editing some photos. And then:

Lightroom encountered an error when reading from its preview cache and needs to quit

Bugger. And quit it did. I reopened LR – and it quit again and again. I scoured the interweb. I was told to delete the Preiews.lrdata file. It wouldn’t delete. I rebooted and then the deletion worked. I restarted Lightroom – and got the same error – and Lightroom closed. This time I used my Windows 10 Admin account to delete the file. And, again, I repeated the cycle. And so did Lightroom. Bugger.

I scoured the interwubz even more. Lots of people were getting this message from Lightroom. There were lots of suggestions as to what to do – but they did not work.

Knowing that I’d just moved to Google Drive, and suspecting that there as an interplay between Google’s synchronising and Lightroom updating the previews, I paused the Google Drive app on my laptop. Peace reigned. I resumed the app and the error reappeared. This isn’t proof of course, but it convinced me.

I did consider using my Synology NAS and its own synchronisation, Cloud Station. By default Lightroom likes to put catalogs in the Pictures library anyway. And I already synchronise that with my NAS. But…but…I don’t currently backup Pictures to any cloud provider. I only use that Library for slide shows on the house’s televisions. So I would lose my backups in depth without yet more changes. And, the killer, looking at the Synology forums Cloud Station’s synchronisation causes the same error, “Lightroom encountered an error when reading from its preview cache and needs to quit”. Bugger.

Yes, that’s right. I suspect all sync providers upset LIghtroom’s previews. OneDrive. Dropbox, the lot. Don’t do it. Don’t try and sync your catalogs.

So, what should I do? The obvious options are:

  • Make my workflow pause Google Drive, run Lightroom, resume Google Drive. There appears to be no means of automating pause and resume. Am I disciplined enough? I know this works. I’m doing it now.
  • Move the Lightroom catalog outside of the scope of any synchronisation. I’d simply use Lightroom’s built in backup mechanism – and target Google Drive. That’d work. It’s just a teensy bit messy. By default Lightroom stores the backups within a Backup folder within the catalog’s folder. I’d have to change that – and remember that I’d tweaked another default. (I dislike changing defaults, I often miss the tweaks during upgrades.) I know this would work. It’s old skool.

I shall post this in the hope that it might help some other poor unsuspecting sod. And, who knows, maybe Adobe will notice and change how previews are done.

ps a camera club colleague uses Microsoft OneDrive and has not had this problem. Maybe OneDrive works better. Maybe it is something to do with the way my rig does previews. Maybe he’s just lucky and I’m not. Your mileage may vary.

Update 29 August 2016. So, what did I ultimately do? I ceased performing unnatural acts. My Lightroom catalogue resides on my C: drive, as God intended. At the closing of Lightroom a backup is taken every single time – and this backup is kept on Google Drive – so I have an immediate offsite backup. Once a month I delete all but the last three backups. So I avoid the synchronisation problem altogether. 

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Christmas 2015

Most years our Christmas letter has an obvious highlight; this year we are spoilt for choice. At the pinnacle stands both Kate’s wedding to Pedro and our day a week caring for our grandson, Jo and Ben’s son, Wilfred. We are truly lucky to have such great daughter-in-law and son-in-law in Jo and Pedro.

Family in Kew

Heather, Jo, Ben, Wilfie, Kate and Pedro in Kew Gardens

Kate and Pedro wed in Kew Gardens, late on a perfect autumn Friday afternoon; Kew Gardens was our back yard as the kids were young so nowhere was more apt for Kate.  The sun was setting behind the Nash Conservatory, forming a path of light as they strode into the ceremony.

KandP wedding

Pedro and Kate in the Nash Conservatory

There were toddlers aplenty, all allowed to run free. The reception was champagne filled fun, the Indian dinner was excellent and the company delightful. The following day all the out-of-towners came around for pizza and Lambrusco. As a note to self, having a prepared wedding speech is all well and fine – but finding yourself being unable to read 11 point print anymore obviates the preparation.

Probably even before Wilfred was born Heather and I had discussed whether or not we’d be asked to help care for him.

Wilfie cuddles

Wilfie and Granny

So when Jo and Ben ever so tentatively asked if we’d be interested in a day a week we had to bite our tongues and let them finish the question. Leaving vegetables aside, as he does, he’s a joy: alert, interested in everything, giggly, humorous and chatty. Jo and Ben are terrific parents. It may be a long day for Heather and me but it is very worthwhile.

Our holidays have always been self-directed affairs; planned and executed on our own. This year we experimented. We went on an escorted  train tour of Vietnam and Cambodia. We had a terrific time. We saw more because it was time-tabled. I wasn’t worrying if we were on the right train or not. Our bags would disappear and reappear without a care. Our fellow travellers were good fun – we could tell all our old stories without boring them. We’ve made friends with the Todmans. It was so good we’re going to try India with the same company and Puglia with another. We’ve also been to Bologna for a few days; a new contender for my favourite city.

We manage a couple of dog free days a week – one for Wilfie and one for us to wander about. Elmo has four hours of walking each day. But we have London on our doorstep. The dog free days allow us to see plays, movies, museums and use our new friend, the ArtFund pass.

In the house we had planned to replace a bathroom and, finally, cover the bare worn floorboards upstairs (a result of ripping out the dog hair adhering carpets a decade ago). But, first, we needed a couple of months to install noise reducing secondary double glazing throughout. A couple of months? Try 15 months. Maybe we’ll do the upstairs floors and the bathroom next year. Or the year after.

In the meantime Heather is in a Fitbit steps competition with my sister, Marianne, and our friend Ray Eisenberg; knitting for England (mostly Wilfie but I bagged a terrific jumper too) and improving her conversational German.

Timetabling means I’ve had to cutback on evening events the local camera club.


xkcd: Duty Calls

And I have to remind myself not to engage nutters on the internet. That should leave me enough free time to book our next holidays. Will it be Canada’s Atlantic provinces, Patagonia, Costa Rica or New Zealand?

To all a Happy Holiday season and our best wishes for the New Year.

Heather and John and Elmo

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Temperature Data Update

Open Mind

Since last year was the hottest on record, many people have trained a keen eye on this year’s temperature data so see how it will compare with last year’s record-breaker.

So far, it’s a hot one indeed. How hot? NASA has just released the global temperature data for April, and although we only have four months of data for the year so far, some of the folks at home are wondering how this-year-so-far compares to previous years’ temperatures. Here you are:


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