Sunday, 3 November 2013

You Shouldn't Laugh... Should You?

My family has decided that my mum has to live in a care home.

Dementia has finally caught up with her, after a twelve year chase. She doesn't talk much these days, when she does, it is often just to repeat the last words of a sentence that we've said to her. Although she understands what we say to her, often chuckles when we say or do something funny.

She's always had a tremendous sense of humour, which is a benefit, coming from her family. There is a huge catalogue of amusing stories, which still get reeled out at family occasions.

Stories like that of her father, Henry, running off to Scotland with a woman because he was convinced that he was Scottish and she was wealthy. Both turned out to be untrue, although there are photographs of Henry dressed in full kilt and regalia alongside me as a baby. No one can remember the name of the lady in question, she will be forever referred to as "that woman".

Another time her sister, Gladys, rode her bicycle along the M25 against the flow of traffic, in the dark because she had go confused riding home from visiting her husband in hospital. When the police picked her up and asked her why she hadn't turned around after realising her mistake, she replied that as far as she was aware it was illegal to do a U-turn on the motorway.

Mum, herself, is no stranger to the odd amusing incident, having helped in the removal of Georgie Cockle's finger whilst chopping fire wood. Or sitting in a crematorium chapel through the funeral of a stranger because she had arrived too early (uncharacteristically) and only realising that she didn't recognise anyone after she had sat down and the mourners had all arrived.

Although there has been so much laughter, there has been a fair share of tragedy. Losing her mother when she was just eleven years old and caring for her father as she grew up, when she should have been enjoying her youth must have been a struggle. As must have been bringing up two young children after the untimely death of her husband after just ten years of marriage. Remarriage and the combination of two young families was also not without pain.

But she powered through it all, keeping the family together as only she could have done. She had her Christian faith to lean on, but in many ways this added to her workload as she spent much of her time caring for elderly and vulnerable people that came her way through various organisations. In fact she had cared for one very disabled lady, still doing her weekly shopping when her own mind was in quite significant decay.

So I can't look upon her being in a home now as a tragedy. More as payment in kind to a lady who has touched, amused and lightened the lives of so many people. 

Therefore I feel justified in seeing amusement in finding my mum wearing two pairs of glasses because she has picked up someone elses. Or finding myself sitting on her lap in her wheelchair because we have overbalanced as I was trying to sit her down.

She'll never stop making me smile.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Making a Difference

It was a Friday afternoon, the end of a mentally tough week. I don't know why it had been so difficult, nothing particularly unusual had come my way. My head was just full of unwelcome thoughts, mainly centering around a very tragic tale of a student who had taken his own life after getting poor exam results.

I cannot begin to understand what drives a young person to such desperate measures. Moreover as a parent myself, I can't even start to imagine what this poor young man's parents must have gone through. Life is tough, life is unfair and yet we still heap pressure upon ourselves and our friends and family. It's an old adage, but no parent should ever bury their children.

So with a mind in turmoil, I left work a couple of hours early. I had my camera in my car and wanted to take advantage of the late afternoon sun. I decided to head out to Windsor Great Park, it's always been a favourite spot of mine, a vast area of carefully managed parkland on the very edge of London. Once part of a huge Norman hunting forest, it now covers an area of nearly 5,000 acres. A small corner of this parkland is enclosed again as a deer park, and it was to here that I went.

Passing through the gate into the deer park felt like I was leaving the world and all of it's trials and tribulations temporarily behind. The road on which I walked was deserted, it seemed that aside from a few young stags lying in the long grass, I was alone... completely alone.

My mind, started to wander. I looked at the thick banks of trees, wondering. If someone were to decide that here was the place to commit a final act, how long would it be until they were found? What were the chances of being disturbed? How easy would it be?

These thoughts and others came to me in rapid succession, flying in and out of my head darting and shouting as vividly as the parakeets that flew in and out of the trees around me.

On top of Snow Hill is a statue of King George III mounted on a charger. It is at the top of a straight road which leads down to Windsor Castle just over 2.5 miles away. From this vantage point one can clearly see the skyscrapers of London's financial district. Closer in Wembley Stadium and Heathrow Airport.
I sat on the rocks at the base of the statue and looked over the city. Watching as aeroplanes spewed out of the airport, taking hundreds of unseen people to all corners of the planet. Far away there were 6.5 million people bustling around, not one of them with the slightest idea that someone was sitting, watching, wondering about them.

Then I was no longer alone. There was another man there, with a camera, shooting the scene down to the castle as the shadows from the trees lining The Long Walk gently stretched their fingers out across the manicured grass. We got chatting as we both took photographs. We spoke about the city and the life within, the beauty and ugliness that made is interesting. It transpired that my companion lives there. Not far from the most recently opened skyscraper, The Shard.This lead onto a discussion about our favourite and least favourite buildings in the city.

As we sat, two strangers with a common interest a young lady walked up to near where we sat with a German Shepherd dog. They sat a little distance from us, both looking out at the view. It struck me that the dog sat upright and alert, looking out as if to protect it's mistress from harm. The low sun shone through it's groomed coat creating a light around it, almost like a halo. I had to leave, but as I stood, I called out to the girl to ask her if she wouldn't mind if I took a photograph of her and the dog, explaining that the light from behind and the alertness of the dog made a good shot. She said she was happy for me to and turned to me with a smile. I fired off a couple of shots and then lowered my camera to thank her. At that moment, she let her guard down and gave the dog a hug, laughing, "Hey, Max, we're going to be famous." I took another shot.
Thanking the girl and saying goodbye to my unknown companion, I headed down the hill, back the way I had come.

Walking back to my car, I realised that I was in a very different frame of mind to the one that I had arrived in. It was due simply to those two people. One who shared a bit of himself with me, who gave me an insight into his life, who took me at face value. The other, who happily responded to an unusual request, but appeared flattered and amused to do so.

It's not the greatest photo I've ever taken, but it is one of my favourites. Why..? Because it's the moment that I made a difference.

Sunday, 8 September 2013


Ghosts by Paul_M_Harris
Ghosts, a photo by Paul_M_Harris on Flickr.

The slow shutter speed gives this shot an eerie quality that I like.

Saturday, 7 September 2013


Hello, it really has been a very long time hasn’t it?

I’ve been off doing things with a camera you see, , but like all things it has to co-exist with life and responsibilities. It’s a fun distraction and challenges me to find new and interesting things. Sometimes inspiration is in short supply, other times inspiration is available in buckets full and time is unavailable.

We have to juggle so much in our lives that so often something has to give. Sometimes we get so hung up on our careers, family, friends etc that we miss what’s right under our noses. We have to take time to stop and take a look around. Find the Ferris Bueller within...
Well OK, we can’t really do all of that, because that was Hollywood and more than a little bit silly. But who at some time hasn’t wished that they could just take time out and do something just for themselves.

I used to work with a guy who a couple of times a year would take himself off for a couple of days, telling his family that he was travelling for work. Actually he would be in a bed and breakfast on the coast and spend the days sitting on the beach, drinking coffee, reading the paper or having a quiet beer. Terribly dishonest, but I can see why he did it.

For many years now, I’ve lived with depression. I don’t hide it, but it does tend to be a conversation killer, so I don’t mention it much. It is referred to as a black dog, a faithful constant companion. Over the years it has given me cause to stop and have a look at myself on many occasions. I recognise the need to take time out for myself, have a “me” day. But I have found that it doesn’t always mean having to take a day out.
We can all afford a few minutes each day to stop and have a look around. If we take just those few moments to be with ourselves and think about what we are doing and where we are going, perhaps we’ll get a clear picture.

We don’t need to run around wrecking our best mate’s dad’s Ferrari or dancing in a parade in Manhattan...

...but it would be fun, wouldn’t it?

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Brief Sunshine

Photo0264 Woking has had it’s fair share of famous residents over the years. George Bernard Shaw lived in the town for a short time as did H.G. Wells who wrote War of the Worlds at his house on Maybury Hill. Several local landmarks are mentioned in the story.

Not to mention musical legends the likes of Paul Weller, Rick Parfitt and Petula Clarke!

Perhaps, though, Woking’s most famous, or infamous resident was King Henry VIII. His original residence, alongside the River Wey has long since succumbed to decay and neglect. However the palace built as a replacement on the bank of the nearby Hoe Stream remains intact and in use as a preparatory school. On the hill opposite the palace a beacon was built to serve as a landmark so that travellers to the palace could find it with ease.

This beacon stood, albeit in various states of repair or decay, until a storm demolished it in the early 19th century. Now, at the site of this octagonal tower is a health club and “pay and play” golf course. The road to the club house runs parallel to the original road known as Monument Hill, which linked the palace with Pyrford Place a couple of miles away.

As I drove Angela down Monument Hill towards the old palace I realised that the view I was enjoying was one not so very different from the one that The King and his courtiers would have seen as they returned home hundreds of years ago.

The wedding that I had just finished hadn’t been particularly different to many others, a brief jaunt from Woking to Weybridge  registry office and then on to The Hoebridge Golf Club. Rhonda was accompanied by her two grown up daughters to the ceremony to marry Paul.

To be fair the weather had not been kind to her, but as we arrived at the reception the sun finally broke through the clouds.

It was those last couple of minutes that made it special, in a vintage Rolls Royce with the sun shining, looking at the English countryside.

Maybe I take too much for granted…

Monday, 22 March 2010

Living for Now

We don’t have a future, we don’t have a past. All we really have is this very moment.

I had lunch yesterday with friends who’s life has been turned upside down. A year or so ago Sid was told that he had an inoperable brain tumour. He and his wife have two young daughters who are a delight to be with and an absolute credit to them. All four of them are living with the certainty that one day everything will change.

Nine years ago, Sid found himself out of work and after trying to find new employment, he settled into the life of house-husband. Without doubt a tough time for him to cope with. Yet I don’t think that I can remember him ever complaining. He made the absolute best of the cards that he had been dealt. Throwing himself into domestic chores, childcare and decorating the family home.

He became a dinner “lady” at his daughters’ school, much to the delight and amusement of the whole family.

Quite an inspiration…


Now, sadly, he’s not at all well. Family roles have had to reverse once more. Carer becomes cared for. But he’s still there, there are sparks of his humour that even his disabilities cannot contain. He has trouble communicating, and yet his determination makes sure that he gets his message across.

I’m quite sure that they have all, at sometime or another wondered “why us” and quite rightly so. Yet they tackle their problems with dignity and honesty. They speak openly about the trials that they have faced and the times that they know are to come.

Still an inspiration…


So, to explain the opening line. When you started reading this, there were no guarantees that you would reach the end. Only the expectation. But you are reading these words right now. This is truly all we have, right now.

Sure we can and should make plans for the future, and we should learn from the past. But we have to live in the present. Why worry about what might happen, when we don’t know when that will be? Why become hung up on what has happened, when we can’t change anything?

When it did happen, that was now. When it does happen, that will be now also.


I take my hat off, not only to Sid, but to Vic and Keith too.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

History, Heroes and Hats

Farnham, a small town on the border of Surrey and Hampshire is a place steeped in history. It is an old market town on the A31 Winchester - Guildford Road. There is a delightful mix of architecture both ancient and modern. Above the town sits the 12th Century Farnham Castle Keep, with magnificent views across the North Downs. In the town itself a plethora of pubs and streets names stand as testament to it's brewing past.

Farnham was also home to Mike Hawthorn who in 1958 became the first British Formula One World Champion. Sadly in the winter of the following year he died when he crashed his Jaguar on the Guildford by-pass. One of the first on the scene was his friend, race team owner, Rob Walker. (
There are many homages to Mike in and around Farnham, including a street named after him and a car sales garage bearing his name.

I had a wedding there last week. First I had to take the Bride Groom and his two best men to the church. The place in question is located behind a supermarket, at the back of a large public car park. Having dropped them off, I had to high tail it to the other side of the town to collect the bridesmaids before returning to the same house to collect the bride.

There's something very special about driving a vintage Rolls Royce through the streets of such an historic town, particularly one with such motoring heritage. Certainly we turned many heads on our six trips along the high street over the course of the day.

As I dropped the bride at the church, I was informed by the photographer that after the ceremony there would be a wait of around an hour so that a small reception could be held for those not moving on to the Wedding Breakfast. Turning this to my advantage, I took some time to stroll through the lanes and explore this beautiful town.

To my delight I happened upon an outdoor pursuits clothing shop, and spent a while in there trying on all manner of hats. While I was looking at my reflection in a mirror wearing a Panama Fedora at a jaunty angle a sales man appeared, which startled me somewhat. To his credit he just checked with me that I had all I wanted and disappeared upstairs to his customer who was busy trying out all manner of fly-fishing gear.

After returning to the Royce I whiled away a little more time watching the Formula One Qualifying sessions from Germany on my laptop. Something of a juxstaposition in a 1934 car. In fact when someone stuck their head in the window and asked if wireless networking was an option in that model of car, I was briefly floored.

Finally we left for the reception at The Farnham House Hotel. I could have driven a short route, but elected instead to go through the town one last time. The sun shone, people waved and clapped at the happy couple. I hope it made a special moment for them.

On my way home I drove along the Guildford by-pass. As often happens when I drive that section of road my mind wandered to the events of 22nd January 1959. Mike Hawthorn died eight years before I was born, but, thanks to the people of Farnham and old racers his story and reputation will live on.