Archive for March, 2009


Recently I read, one Saturday morning, in the Glasgow Herald, about a plant in the Glasgow Botanic Gardens which only flowered once every twenty years or so and whose flowers only lasted for a couple of weeks. I thought to myself, I think I’ll take a trip to Glasgow tomorrow and take my camera. The following day it was a horrid day! Driving rain hammering against the window panes. I could tell it was cold, damp and miserable outside. A trip today? A photographic trip? Was I mad? Could I be bothered? Right, I told myself, get yourself ready and take the car (not many trains or buses to Glasgow on a Sunday I’m afraid!). Driving through I ended up in long queues of slow moving traffic. Was everyone going to see this plant? (well, no, it turned out there was a big football match on in Glasgow and I guess most other people were going shopping….) Finally I got to near the Botanic Gardens, and got parked in a single space right opposite the back gates. In fact, I couldn’t see another parking space even remotely close, so the fact this space was here felt auspicious. There wasn’t much point trying to use an umbrella. It would’ve been destroyed within minutes, so I tucked my camera under my jacket, zipped up to my chin, got my head down and ploughed through the rain into the gardens. It was at this point I realised I hadn’t a clue where the plant I wanted to see was growing. The first glass house I came to was the Kibble Palace, a beautiful old glasshouse totally refurbished in recent years. I wandered around in the nice dry, bright atmosphere, taking photos of some very interesting looking plants, but no sign of the one I had especially come to photograph. At the front door I looked up the path and saw the more modern glasshouses at the top of the hill. The first one I walked round wasn’t the one with the elusive plant either, and neither was the second one, but the third one! Wow! Look what I saw!
puya alpestris
puya alpestris
puya alpestris

Have you ever seen a plant like this? Have you ever seen petals this colour?

And here’s the interesting final thought……it’s pretty likely I’ll never have an opportunity to see this plant in flower again in my lifetime.

Seize the day.

PS the name of the plant? Puya alpestris.

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sun rising over pillar

Standing waiting for the train the other morning I turned and noticed the sun had risen to the point where it was shining directly over the end of the footbridge they are building over the railway line. Just at that very moment it looked like the sun was at the top of a pole and was shining like the brightest street light you could ever imagine.
I’ve learned that if I keep a camera in my pocket (not in my bag!) at ALL times, then when I see a moment like this I can seize it.

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I’m reading The Discoverer, by Jan Kjaerstad (ISBN 978-1905147366) just now and a few pages back he mentioned something called a “studiolo”. This was a secret room hidden deep within a palace (usually not even on the architect’s drawings, and often windowless), in which a Prince would keep a private collection. The key to the collection was anything which induced a sense of wonder. Now, there’s a VERY appealing idea. I’ve written before about how wonder, amazement, or, “emerveillement“, can bring a very special quality to everyday life, so the idea of having a collection which would stimulate such an attitude is really very interesting. As The Discoverer is a novel, I wasn’t sure if the author had made the idea up, or if such rooms ever really existed. Well, guess what? They did!

Wikipedia has an entry about such rooms. They were also known by the German word “Wunderkammer”, or from the French “cabinet” as a “cabinet of curiosities”, or “cabinet of miracles”. Some people have misinterpreted the “cabinet” as an item of furniture, but it was actually a room. A particularly spectacular version was the Studiolo of Francesco I de Medici, in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence. Sadly, all the objects in that one are long since gone, but the room itself looks stunning. The contents, we are told, would be natural objects, shells, crystals, horns and so on, and art objects such as paintings and sculptures. What held the collection together was the collector. Whatever he, or she, (usually he!) found made him wonder was a worthwhile item for inclusion.

These rooms were probably precursors of museums as well as being laboratories of discovery and sources of inspiration. They were catalysts to the imagination, to creativity and to understanding.

I love this concept, and was therefore intruiged by the description of some contemporary manifestations of “cabinets of curiosity”, or “wonder rooms”.

The Museum of Jurassic Technology in LA, uses this idea.

There’s an Italian cultural organisation dedicated to the concept.

And a quarterly Arts magazine called “Cabinet“.

Interestingly, there’s a mention in the wikipedia article of some bloggers describing their blogs as “wonder rooms”. Well, I haven’t exactly made my blog that way, but it’s not far off it, is it? Quite often, I browse through my old posts at some of the photos, references, or reviews and they stimulate my “emerveillement”. I hope browsing through them might do the same for you. But I’m inspired now. Maybe there’s a photobook project in this? Maybe there’s a website project? Maybe I could start a physical collection somewhere in my home! Does this idea inspire you? If you come across such rooms (physical or virtual) please let me know!

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Why’s the moon lying on it’s back?
I’m sure there’s a simple explanation for this but I’m so used to seeing the crescent phases of the moon looking like a “C” (or an inverted “C”) that it really struck me as odd when I saw it sitting up there like a smile!

moon and venus

(taken in Provence on February 27th)

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I recently attended a two day “medical update symposium” for doctors at BMA House in London. I was impressed. The methods used and the organisation demonstrated were superb. One of the things we were encouraged to do after each session was to write down in the comprehensive handout three “take home” messages. A couple of days on from the event, as I think back over it, here are my three overall “take home messages” –

1. Continuity of Care. Both the respiratory physician and the dermatologist made pleas for continuity of care. The former showed a short video of a patient with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) whose main point was how important it was for patients with chronic diseases to be able to see the same health carers over time, and the dermatologist commented how he came under pressure to discharge patients from his clinic and not follow up people with lifetime chronic skin disorders for life. So there are two aspects to continuity of care raised here – seeing the same carer and not having a chronic problem dealt with episodically. A third dimension was frequently referred to and that was the dis-integration of health care which is escalating on the back of the biomedical model (nobody used that term) which divides a person into their various diseases and disorders and attempts to deal with each of them in isolation (in the UK this is driven harder by what is called “QOF” – a system of paying GPs for reaching over a hundred different defined targets)

2. The non-linear relationship between disease and dysfunction (again, nobody actually used that language). The respiratory physician showed very clearly how a whole range of recommended and even mandatory lung function tests did NOT correlate with “breathlessness” as experienced by patients, so doctors could attain their targets, get paid, but the patient might still be complaining their life had not improved. The neurologist showed eight MRI scans of peoples’ brains and asked us to identify which one of the eight had any symptoms. ALL showed identifiable lesions. ALL but one were picked up incidentally while screening of looking for something else. That was one of the clearest demonstrations I’ve ever seen of the non-linear relationship between pathology and ill-health.

3. My third take home message was about prevention of cardiovascular disease – a subject repeatedly hammered home over the two days. Two flies in the ointment briefly appeared – in one session the presenter jokingly said that if the figures were extrapolated we’d have immortality within a few years (because stopping smoking, reducing cholesterol etc would “save so many lives”). A nonsense of course, but an important point. Exactly what are all the people who aren’t going to die from cardiovascular disease going to die from instead? Given that life has still stubbornly stuck with a 100% mortality rate.

The neurologist when discussing differential diagnoses of certain chronic neurological diseases, mentioned a particularly nasty, completely untreatable, progressive, degenerative disease and, again in a throw away remark, said you could hope the poor patient might be released by a heart attack or something before it got to this stage. I’m not arguing that preventing heart disease is a bad thing, just that it’s not an informed choice to make if you don’t consider what alternatives might then be your more likely future. (that would take me off down my hobby horse about the stupidity of basing health care on death avoidance, but I’ve done that elsewhere!)

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The BMJ “views and reviews” section often contains the journal’s most thought-provoking and interesting content. This last week included a review of John Wesley’s 1747 text called  “Primitive Physic: Or, an Easy and Natural Method of Curing most Diseases”.
You might know of Wesley as the founder of the Methodist Church and a prolific hymn writer, but I’m guessing that, like me, you didn’t know he’d written anything on health. I was struck by two features. First of all, in recommending particular drugs or treatments he says this –

I have purposely set down (in most cases) several remedies for each disorder; not only because all are not equally easy to be procured at all times, and in all places: But likewise the medicine that cures one man, will not always cure another of the same distemper. Nor will it cure the same man at all times. Therefore it was necessary to have a variety. However, I have subjoined the letter (I) to those medicines some think to be infallible

You’d be surprised how many people haven’t quite sussed out this wisdom! In this current regime of “Evidence Based Medicine” and Clinical Guidelines the strong impression is often conveyed that there are two kinds of medicines – those that work and those that don’t. In fact, if Wesley’s methodology were to be followed the authors of “evidence based guidelines” would be sorely tempted to mark all their recommended drugs with a “l” for “infallible”! When it comes to health care and available treatments we would do well to heed Wesley’s “ Therefore it was necessary to have a variety”.

The second feature was a scan through his “rules” for healthy living – read them in more detail here

Pretty much what he’s saying is take exercise (in fresh air), drink plenty of water, eat enough to feel well but no more, have a mixed diet with a ratio of meat:veg of about 2:3, and avoid processed food as much as possible (OK, for him processed was seasoned, spiced, pickled etc – but the point was still to eat as much unprocessed food as possible). Finally, abstain from alcohol, (tea and coffee if you have bad “nerves”), go to bed early, get up early and have a regular rhythm to your sleep habit. Sound familiar?
I was just at a Medical Update seminar in BMA House in London and lecturer after lecturer advised – stop smoking, drink more water, take regular exercise and don’t eat till you get obese as the key ways to reduce risks of a huge range of diseases. Indeed, in the very same issue of the BMJ is an article about trying to persuade women to adopt healthier lifestyles pre-conception and how the vast majority don’t change their behaviour after such “education”. We don’t get it do we?
Who doesn’t know that to smoke, drink alcohol to excess, avoid all exercise and eat till you’re obese might not be good for your health? It’s over 260 years since Wesley preached his message (and I bet you can find plenty of older writings preaching exactly the same things). It doesn’t work. It’s not that the lifestyle doesn’t work. It’s the preaching the lifestyle that doesn’t work. People don’t choose to smoke, to get drunk, to eat till they get fat to get diseases. And they’re not going to choose not to smoke, not to get drunk or to change their eating habits for some statistical possibility of future health.
Throughout history the greatest health benefits have never stemmed from a targeting of individuals, they’ve come from social, economic and political interventions. Isn’t it time we started to apply a bit more effort and resources to housing, town planning, public transport, the industrialisation of the food supply, and socio-economic inequality? You never know – might just have a greater impact than preaching healthy lifestyles.

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All within the context of the daily reality, finding much to marvel at, to be amazed by, to be in awe of, in the present, in the here and the now

I think the French words “emerveillement” and “quotidien” say so much about how to live.

I capture the amazing in the everyday with my cameras.

Here’s a set of a just a few of my favourites


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