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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Goodbye RAW, hello JPEG?


I treated myself to a new camera, a Fujifilm X100T, before we set off on holiday.

I’ve always shot in RAW format, allowing myself the most flexibility in post-processing. I’m modestly adept in Adobe Lightroom. But I kept reading how good the JPEGs are from the X100T. So, for our trip, I invested in a very large, 128 GB, SD card and shot RAW+JPEG Fine – belt and braces. In a few extreme very low light cases I shot JPEG only and boosted the ISO. The expected result was that my post-processing RAW should be better than the SOOC JPEG.

I returned home with about 1700 images, using about half my card and started the process of weeding out, post-processing and publishing. It took a few days.

Surprise. I have more keepers from the JPEGs than the RAWs. And many are my favourites. Ok, I do some post-processing – correcting horizons, cropping and lightening faces – but maybe a tenth of what I used to do.

The camera seems to do at least as good a job in camera as I do in post-processing. Less space is used on the SD cards and on disk. I do less work. And the camera supports the transfer of JPEGs, not RAW, to smartphones.

I think I’m sold. I think I’ll shoot JPEG by default.

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Do not buy Mahabis slippers as gifts

We’re an organised family, perhaps overly so. I start thinking about Christmas gifts for my family from Boxing Day. I order goods as experience has taught me that delay oft leads to disappointment.

So, when darling daughter Kate raved about her Mahabis slippers I thought about my darling wife’s retirement padding about the house and thought “Great!”. Expensive, maybe – but comfortable and en point – a win. I know Heather’s shoe size, 38. As per their FAQ I ordered a bit smaller, 37. I hesitated a bit, but Kate had found smaller was better.

That was in September.

Modern retailers have long cottoned on that they want the Christmas gift market – and so have accepted that gift exchanges for months ago purchased items are inevitable if you want the sale. A trendy, web-oriented, North London retailer – I didn’t give it a second thought.

I should’ve given it that second thought.

Come Christmas, Heather opened her present – and laughed at me a bit for falling for a fashion. (There is nothing unusual in that.) But she tried them on and they were too small. I contacted Mahabis only to be told their standard return terms were 14 days with the extended term of one month leading up to Christmas. It’s all on their website, of course, so I could have known. Even better, had I been slightly more cautions, I’d have looked at Mahabis’ appalling customer service reviews before the purchase and backed away.

I have thanked Mahabis for teaching me a vital lesson in shopping. As a service to their prospective clients I thought I could help by sharing.

Anyone want “1x Larvik Dark Grey Mahabis Classic Bundle (+FREE soles) – 37 / gotland green“? They don’t fit me either. (Update: now sold.)

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Christmas 2014

It’s late November and Granny, aka Heather, has already spent nigh on three days wrapping presents. We’ve ordered our Christmas bird (partridge in pheasant in duck in turkey) for the Christmas family gathering. A few new ornaments have been purchased to augment our classic late 1970s baubles. The late November days are grey and misty. So it must be time for our annual Christmas letter – our 22nd.

Did I say “Granny”? Yes, Jo gave birth to Wilfred Jack Samuel on May 4th. He’s a very happy, very engaged little chap. Jo and Ben are terrific parents. They had a busy spring. In addition to Wilf they moved house within Walthamstow just a few weeks earlier. And Ben turned 30. The Metzler piano Heather’s mother, Alice, bought for us is now nestled in their dining room. Wilf shall not escape practice. We spend the odd day over there to see the lad and his parents.

Kate and Pedro are engaged. The marriage date has yet to be determined. If they manage to buy a new house they may delay the ceremony due to cash flow. Or not. Kate has joined Hiller and Knowlton after a multi-year mutual stalking. They’ve been on the Garden tour of South Africa and are off to Lapland. Heather and I went to Lisbon with them and met Pedro’s family. Pedro also corrected our initial, not so good, impressions of Portuguese food.

Heather retired at the end of July. She loved working with the children. She liked her colleagues. She grew tired of the NHS’ increasing demands to demonstrate her value. When the expectation is that one spends more time on planning, reporting and following up than actually performing the role life becomes frustrating. Now she has time to walk the dog, knit and have the odd lunch out with friends or even me.

I met Heather through Chris Thompson, a university colleague, in 1973. He and I shared flats a couple of times. Whilst I may not have been the greatest flatmate ever Chris probably has more similar attitudes to mine than anyone I’ve ever met. We reconnected on Facebook a few years back and still got along. Heather and I were very pleasantly surprised to be invited to his wedding to Louise Florent in September. I think he was surprised, hopefully pleasantly, that we’d come to Bronte Harbour, near Toronto, for the ceremony. Louise and he offered us a room to stay – and Chris then asked me to be Best Man. I got to stand up front with a silly grin planted on my face as the very happy couple married over a very nice meal indeed. I’d never made a Best Man’s speech so decided short and not too humourous was the safest course of action. Mark Hauser’s official photographs are here and mine are here.

Anne-Marie, the friend Heather originally emigrated to Canada with, and Jim were also invited to the wedding. We spent a few days afterwards with Annie, Jim, Mia and baby Aria. It’s always good to see them.

After Toronto we set off to Chalfont, outside Philadelphia, ostensibly to farm sit for our American ex-Richmond friends Barb and Terry. In the end they left us alone for only about 18 hours while we got ten days room, board and local tours. (We did manage to introduce them to ex-Herbert Smith, now Bucks County Rupa (Rohini), Ram and little girl Jia. They seemed to enjoy each others’ company so maybe they’ll keep it up.)

Then, just a few weeks later, we returned to Chalfont for the wedding of their daughter, Whitney Young, to Terry Fitzgibbons. It was fun to have a reception set in a barn and catered with street food. We bolted on a few days in Philadelphia, a city we’d never been to before. We liked it – a very pleasant mid-size city.

I’d already blogged about our 2013 Malaysian Christmas. We also had a long weekend in Guernsey. Next year we know we’re off to Vietnam, Cambodia and the Mekong Delta. Who is to say what else will take our fancy?

Work in the house this year has been dedicated to clearing Kate’s and Ben’s rooms. Oxfam was delighted to receive a score of boxes of books. Next year we’ll put secondary glazing on our lovely, but cold, Victorian windows, update our bathroom to a wet room and, finally, cover the upstairs floorboards. We’d ripped up all the carpet in the house when we had two long haired dogs and never quite got around to finishing the job. 2015 for sure.

As for Elmo, he continues to delight us every day. This year he has learned how to fetch with the help of homemade liver cake.

For those, admittedly few, who look forward to reading what theatre we have seen try this.

We hope all our family and friends enjoy a pleasant holiday season and a happy 2015.

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