It really is Easter. Shoreditch High St.
I always thought I was the risk taker in the family. I had a telephone in my tree house. The doctor in casualty told my Dad that I was “a very good customer”. Throughout my life this taste for adventure has taken me far and wide.
I was in the States last week when I called my Dad and got no reply. Nothing unusual there. His hearing was getting bad. It could take a few days to raise him. He lived alone. We asked him to think about moving to sheltered accommodation. We took him to see homes; he would have none of it. The people in these places “are old and past it” he said.
I said to him that as long as he had his marbles then the choice to leave would be his and that I’d never force anything on him. I did get the concession that I could monitor the issue as he headed to a hundred.
So two months ago, on the day of his 91st birthday, I sat with him and a social worker in the living room of his flat. He’d had a couple more falls. One in the living room and a bad one on the escalator in WH Smiths. I asked her if he should stay at home. She asked him a load of questions. He gave a bravura performance of mental and physical agility that made me look stupid.
She can be forgiven for thinking I was trying to offload my Dad into a home. After making some helpful suggestions to aid his independent living, she left stressing that the policy was to keep people in their own homes for as long as possible. He may have been hard of hearing and had a few falls on his ‘creaky knees’, but he was still smug after she’d gone.
We had a heart to heart. I told him I was worried and made him at least promise to hang that bloody bleeper round his neck for him to press in an emergency. He said he would but told me that he knew he was running a risk by staying at home. I pretty much exactly remember what he said: ‘This is my home, I’ve lived here 52 years, I’ve just put in new windows and blinds and damn it, I like it here!” He said he knew he could have an accident, on the stairs, in the house or worse still driving his wee Ford Ka to see Frankie at Arnold Clark’s garage.
I’m just back from seeing Frankie. He and Dad had become good friends over the years. Frankie said “Archie has single handedly recession-proofed Arnold Clark”. Dad couldn’t stand a scratch on his car, and there had been more and more bumps in the last year or so. We all knew it couldn’t go on much longer. None of us wanted to take away his independence.
I told Frankie that Dad had died. He teared up, we all did, it hit me then that my Dad was gone. I’d seen Dad in the morgue this morning but it was telling Frankie that Archie wouldn’t be bringing the car in for repair anymore that really brought it home. No Dad, no best friend, no shadow.
I said to Frankie that Dad had been found dead in the living room by the social workers when his home-help couldn’t get in. That the flat was smoke damaged by a kitchen fire. And that although there would be a post mortem, the best guess right now was that as dad had no burns he’d either had a heart attack or succumbed to fumes at some point on Friday night when his dinner had caught fire.
In the last few years as Dad’s horizon has contracted, I’ve flown further. I’ve lived with cannibals, had an elephant fall on my head and been in an armed stand-off with the Seattle police. But as all this adventuring has been going on, by far the biggest and proudest tale to tell is that of an amazing 91 year old man who had the pride and dignity to face life head on despite the real and lethal risks.
I love you Dad.
My Dad has just died. He was 91. In February I went to Greenock to celebrate his birthday with him in the house where I grew up. The same one he’s just died in.
There had been an ongoing debate in the family about whether he should stay at home or go into sheltered accommodation. The discussion was between everyone else but him. He was having none of it. He was fiercely independent, still driving and just last month he got on a bus and travelled to Inverness to see his close friend Jean.
Everyone I have called is distraught that this good man is gone. I haven’t got a date for the funeral yet but I’ll post more information when I do. It’s hard to come to terms with this. He and I had a rough old time getting used to each other when we were growing up. But as we got older and grew to understand each other we became best friends. Now my best friend is gone and I am in tears. I will write more when I can.
As I head into another intense period of travel and work I took the opportunity to enjoy London in the spring. This was an amazing weekend of friends, family and lots of events. Here’s just a small flavour.
A lone voice with an alternative point of view in Trafalgar Square at the TUC’s anti cuts protest march.
There were over two hundred and fifty thousand marchers on the demonstration. It was good humoured and it felt like people were re-engaging with politics again in a really positive way.
Jenny gets a bargain bunch of roses for just ‘A Fiver’ at Columbia Road flower market.
A busking cellist frames a girl recovering in the Brick Lane spring sun.
On Friday, someone who’d looked up my blog asked me why I stopped being a professional photographer and ended up a television producer. I’ve been asked that question many times and it always seems loaded, like there is a judgment in the question. My offpat answer has always been that I got lonely as a snapper in the Highlands and Islands.
Inspired by the question, I picked these pictures to illustrate the idea of my romantic isolation and then realized that apart from the canal picture, the other two are actually collaborations. The picture of Malcy Maclean on the beach was a joint project with his national Gaelic arts project in the 80’s. We made a series of posters attempting to highlight the perilous state of the Gaelic language at that time in Scotland.
The images of the Burka clad women in Kabul Market was taken for another collaboration. This time with writer Henry Naylor, when we produced a play called ‘Finding Bin Laden‘ (starring Nina Conti and Dave Lamb, now better known as Mr Come Dine With Me) at the Edinburgh Festival to draw attention to the conspiracy between the military and the media in Afghanistan in 2003.
So it seems that even as a photographer I’ve been drawn to working with others to create images and longer-form narratives. Looking back, the move into television – the business, the teams, the way moving images and words come together in scenes, shows and series – was inevitable but there is nagging doubt that I have betrayed a true love.
As a storyteller I’ve talked to many people about how they see the world and what they see as being important. Clanging name-drop coming up: I interviewed David Byrne years ago who said that when he was making music with people from other countries it was cultural confusion and mistakes that added new dimensions.
The Soup: Condensed Soup Dec 17 (from 1.20)
And so it has been that cultural confusion around the concept of a ‘glory hole’ has added a further dimension to ‘Gold Rush Alaska’. In gold mining, a glory hole is a subterranean cache of gold nuggets. The Gold Rush miners spent an entire season desperately trying to uncover an elusive glory hole in Porcupine Creek.
The Soup: Glory Hole Glory Feb 11
Obviously, as worldly-wise producers, we were aware that the phrase glory hole had other connotations, however we didn’t realise using the term would lead to such creative outcomes.
Twitter erupted with every utterance of the phrase, and there were many, often associated with phrases like “I’ll take it wet or dry”. Our show was a gift to The Soup on E!, who clearly couldn’t believe their luck and returned to “Alaska: Gay Edition” no less than three times.
The Soup: Glory Hole “Gold” Feb 25
It also inspired mashups that moved from innuendo into the literal. SFW, but viewer beware.
We’ve just returned from an amazing week’s holiday in Cornwall. Jen and I stayed at a place we’ve returned to again and again. Trelowarren is an old estate on the Lizard that rents out lovely cottages deep in a forest. Besides brilliant woodlands to walk away the stresses of work, they also have an excellent restaurant, pool, spa and tennis court. We always go out of season. Then we have the run of the place for walks and snuggling in front of the wood-burning stove while watching endless episodes of The West Wing or The Sopranos.