What’s up dog?

What’s up dog?

Dogs, they have an interior life. Who knew? I haven’t had a dog living in the house since I was a kid and just assumed that dogs were simple creatures; if you took them for walks and gave them bones they were happy and if they were hungry or not well looked after they were unhappy. Perhaps I was thinking of men not dogs. Anyway, it turns out it’s a little more complicated than that.

While we were sunning ourselves in Florida, the Mighty Bucket, AKA Rusty, AKA Battersea Bucket was being looked after by a local dog sitter. On our return we were told that Bucket had not behaved well, had peed everywhere, had not got on with the other dogs and would not be invited back. Oh dear.

Despite being pleased to see us, she was not the happy Bucket we had left behind. The tail was almost permanently down, she wasn’t excited about walks and didn’t even chase squirrels – unheard of. It took her around three days to be restored to storm force Rusty. So, what is going on in that little head of hers?

Every time we pass Battersea Dogs & Cats she gets excited, pulls to go in and quite clearly has fond memories of the place.

I tie her up outside the local Sainsbury’s when I’m shopping. The other day another dog was leashed outside. Was she thinking: ‘Poor dog, wonder how long the owner will be inside and what the hell do they get up to in these places anyway?’

I let Rusty off the lead on walks and only put her on when we are near a main road. Does she think:

A: ‘Why the hell do I need to be put on a lead?’

B: ‘Yeah well fair enough, I am a little nuts and will probably go play in the traffic.’

I know this is all anthropomorphic nonsense, but If anybody knows what they’re thinking, do let me know.

The Unwelcome Guest: Going private

The Unwelcome Guest: Going private

Heading out to see a specialist I recalled the phrase: Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died. For the first time I was seeing a private doctor and forsaking the NHS. Would I find a better class of houseplant?

When I mentioned that I’d been diagnosed with prostate cancer, an old friend got in touch to say that he too was in the same unlovely boat. Like myself, he was prescribed hormone therapy, followed by radiotherapy. The hormone jabs didn’t agree with him and he started to investigate other treatments, but by that I don’t mean the snake oil brigade. What he found was a procedure with a snappy acronym, HIFU which stands for High Intensity Focused Ultrasound. It uses high frequency soundwaves to heat and destroy cancer cells.

It is a relatively new treatment so doesn’t have years of statistics to back up its efficacy in the way of the more conventional treatments. But it seems to have dispatched my friend’s cancer, with the huge proviso that it can always come back, so it seemed sensible to pay his doctor, Professor Mark Emberton, a call. He is Professor of Interventional Oncology at UCL and a leading light in new forms of prostate cancer treatment. He does work with the NHS, but appointments are limited, so as I have private health insurance provided by my employer I booked a slot with the eminent Prof.

I had always been told never to go to Harley Street as the docs there are often out of touch with the latest medical trends and live in glorious, slightly backward, isolation. Of course, you get the personal service and don’t have to mix with the hoi polloi.

Arriving at 8am, mine was the first appointment of the day. The usual crash and bash of the NHS was markedly absent as my wife and I were shown in to a wood panelled reception area with overstuffed chairs and copious magazines and newspapers. Two elderly orthodox Jewish gentlemen, dressed in black garb and with fulsome beards, were the only others present. They seemed very distracted and couldn’t sit still, but hey, cancer can do that to you.

A few minutes later, the professor comes into the waiting room looking for me and we are ushered into his large and surprisingly cold consulting room. Prior to the appointment all my NHS tests, including the pictures from my MRI scan, had been forwarded to Emberton and for the princely sum of £250, his minions had taken a look at my insides so as to bring the Prof up to speed.

I have one major tumour of around two centimetres located at the bottom left of my prostate. Apparently, I moved during the MRI scan so the little bastard is a bit blurry, but this does little to hide its inherent ugliness. This is a picture I’ve seen before and when people say a picture paints a thousand words, in this case that would mostly be words that end with off. Sod-off, fuck-off, bugger-off and piss-off come to mind. Can’t get to love this unwelcome guest.

The urbane doctor takes me through my test results and pictures. Prior to this consultation I had told my NHS doctors about this proposed visit, they knew of both Emberton and his treatment, and had said it would not be suitable for me. Prof Emberton did not demur and agreed my current treatment was for the best. A second opinion is valuable but can be problematic if it doesn’t endorse the first opinion. So thankfully, no tricky decisions.

I’m at a bit of a hiatus right now, hormone therapy underway, side-effects not too bad with the prospect of radiotherapy to follow in September. To begin with my cancer diagnosis was constantly front and centre in my mind, now while I can’t say it’s entirely out of my mind it can bloody well take a back seat. I plan to enjoy this Spring and Summer to the full and take the Autumn as it comes.

Oh, and yes of course the office plants were magnificent.

Jim Preen Soul Set: Short notice gig at the Bonnington Centre, Vauxhall

Jim Preen Soul Set: Short notice gig at the Bonnington Centre, Vauxhall

My band the Soul Set are playing the Bonnington Centre in Vauxhall this coming Friday 23rd February.

It’s a great little venue that’s a short walk from Vauxhall Cross, which is liberally sprinkled with busses and tubes (Victoria line). We will be dispensing great bucket loads of boogie, soul and blues from 8.30. Entry is free.

Let the winter blues give way to some summer grooves.

Bonnington Centre, 11, Vauxhall Grove, Vauxhall SW8 1TD

It’s out of this world as Londoner beats the odds

It’s out of this world as Londoner beats the odds

We are just back from grabbing some summer sun in Florida. And if you’re thinking it’s all very well for some, but what on earth does this have to do with London? Then bear with me.

Our hotel, located on the ‘Space Coast’ was a forty-five-minute drive from the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral. I could tell you what a fantastic museum it is, about how you can see the space shuttle, the Apollo rockets, the moon buggy, get to touch moon rock, but that stuff you can find on Trip Advisor.

Walking by one of the Saturn rockets that sent Armstrong and Aldrin hurtling towards the moon there are a series of front pages capturing the excitement of the moment. A Saturn rocket may be an awe-inspiring sight, but a splash about the moon shot, for an old news hound such as myself, is impossible to resist.

Working through the headlines: “First footprints on alien world” –  “Everything ‘Go’ Astronauts walk in lunar dust” – “Moon is magnificent desolation” –  “Old Glory hoisted by first moon men” my eye was caught by the headline: “Briton gets $24,000. Landing Pays off.” It was a short article at the foot of the Tulsa Daily Herald from 21st July 1969 and tells the story of David Thelfall who, in 1964, placed a bet of £10, that a man would set foot on the moon before 1971. At the time £10 was twice the weekly wage.

Threlfall later said: “In 1963 I heard President Kennedy make a speech in which he said there would be an American on the moon by the end of the decade. I thought if a bookmaker was prepared to offer reasonable odds it would be a common sense bet.”

Threlfall contacted William Hill and was duly offered the odds of a thousand to one. When Neil Armstrong took his ‘giant leap for mankind’ and the bet was won, the bookmaker presented Threlfall with a cheque for £10,000 live on TV from a London studio. In today’s money that’s around £150,000.

William Hill never revealed who their representative was who offered such absurd odds and as for Threlfall, he went out and bought an E-type Jag.

Dog talk: Bone of contention

Dog talk: Bone of contention

“From a dog’s point of view his master is an elongated and abnormally cunning dog” says Mabel Robinson, but I’m not so sure. When some canny (canine?) entrepreneur started selling videos that taught how to test your dog’s IQ, Jay Leno remarked: “Here’s how it works: if you spend $15 on the video, your dog is smarter than you.”

Cunning or not, Rusty came to us from Battersea Dogs and Cats five months ago and an unexpected bonus is that strangers, who would normally run from talking to a tall, middle-aged man like me are now more than happy to chat.

Having a dog is like having a baby, they render the owner, that’s how I like to think about my daughter, harmless. Obviously having a cute dog makes this easier. If you own a devil-dog that’s covered in tattoos, then people may not be quite so chatty. Bucket and I look at the dog first and if we’re not sure we look at the owner.

Last weekend Rusty and I were walking down our street just as a family (mum, dad and two kids) were knocking on a neighbour’s door. Bucket clearly thought they looked interesting, latched on to them and when the door was opened shot into house. Bucket is a four pawed, self-styled ice breaker. We didn’t know these neighbours before, we do now.

Out walking, I’m on first name terms with Max, Fat Otto and Scampi (in your basket) what their owners are called I have no idea. It’s like a Freemasonry of dogs but without the weird handshakes. Someone once raised the reasonable question: Do other dogs think poodles are part of a weird religious cult?

I find it strangely liberating and desperately un-British that people will start petting your dog without permission. I should say that Bucket is entirely promiscuous and is happy to be petted by anyone.

Apparently, the polite way to go about talking with other dog owners is to praise their mutt’s look, and general loveliness. To stir the pot a little I recommend saying: Blimey, that’s a great hairy thing you’ve got there. It usually gets results.

Thick fog smothers Tate Britain

Thick fog smothers Tate Britain

Peeking out from behind swathes of mist and murk great paintings emerge at Tate Britain’s ‘Impressionists in London’ exhibition, but you have to wade through some dreadful muck to get there.

I know you won’t take a blind bit of notice of what I say, but if you plan to visit this exhibition,  do wear trainers. You’ll want to go at quite a lick.

Room 1: With the Prussians beating the bejesus out of Paris in1871, French artists, including Camille Pissarro, Charles-Francois Daubigny and a young Claude Monet decamped to London in many cases to paint pictures of Sydenham. I mean I have nothing against Sydenham, but with your home city in flames, doesn’t London have a bit more to offer? Nothing to see here, keep moving.

Room 2: By now you really want to be building up a good head of steam, perhaps whip out a skateboard and marvel, as you glide by, at the awfulness of the Quality disporting themselves in paintings by James Tissot of well, the Quality disporting themselves. These paintings are why photography was invented so nobody has to do this stuff anymore.

I’m also not sure what any of this has to do with impressionism, looks more like expressionism to me.

On! On! past Alphonse Legros doing his worst and as quick as you like through the room dedicated to the ‘celebrated’ sculptor Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux. I don’t know about you, but I only notice sculpture when I’m backing up to get a good look at a painting and then bash into it.

By the time you reach Room 5 you’ll have reached optimum velocity, but hold up is that a painting worth looking at? Yes, it is and it’s Monet’s ‘Leicester Square at night’, great splodges of greasy reds and blues. Perhaps not Monet in mid-season form, but certainly worth a glance.

It’s funny I’m sure I used to like Pissarro, I remember enjoying a couple of his paintings at the Ashmoleum in Oxford years ago, but now they look incredibly trite, almost chocolate-box, paint by numbers kitsch.

By the time you enter Room 6 you may be losing the will to live, but help is at hand in the form of three paintings or nocturnes by the American artist James McNeill Whistler. They are simple washes of grey blue, with lonely stick figures haunting the canvas, but taken together are magnificent. They are owned by the Tate but don’t often get a run out. Oscar Wilde commenting on his friend Whistler’s work in typical Oscar style said: ‘There may have been fogs for centuries in London. I dare say there were. But no one saw them, and so we know nothing about them. They did not exist until art had invented them.’

This exhibition really ought to carry a weather warning as the dense fog leaks from Room 6 and blankets the next room. It’s a regular pea-souper in Room 7, which holds Monet’s celebrated pictures of the House of Commons and Big Ben. You can hardly see the nose in front of your face.

Monet, in his sixties, came to London for three consecutive winters saying he wished ‘to sum up…impressions and sensations of the past’ and there is a melancholy, retrospective quality to the pictures. Staying at The Savoy, one room for sleeping and one for painting, he would venture out into the gloom at about 4 o’clock to capture the sun going down. Surely, these must be some of the greatest pictures of London. Fog swathes Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster as the fading sun hits the Thames; they make London look as beautiful as Venice.

Here’s the question: when these pictures were complete and put on sale how many were sold in London? Not one, nada, zip. We don’t want that weird, modern, foreign rubbish round here thank you very much.

The ‘Impressionists in London’ exhibition is 60% dreadful, 20% mildly interesting and a further 20% utterly magnificent. It costs £19.70 to get in, you do the maths. For me the three Whistler paintings alone are worth the price of admission.

Open until 7th May 2018

On my way out I spotted a fantastic exhibition by Bernard Cohen, an artist new to me. It’s free and definitely worth a look. Here’s one now.

Secret London: Postman’s Park

Secret London: Postman’s Park

The City of London, financial capital of the world, home to The Gherkin, the Walkie Talkie, the Cheese Grater and other towering monuments to the power of capitalism. As is well known its streets are paved with bitcoin. All of which is rather in danger of overpowering a little splash of green located at its heart known as Postman’s Park.

To be honest at first glance it doesn’t look up too much. It’s just a tiny garden, a former graveyard, (honestly, I don’t spend all my downtime in cemeteries) that’s located close to where the General Post Office building once stood, hence the name.

It has the usual London Plane trees, some uninspiring Hosta shrubs and a few sad banana trees that cut a forlorn sight on a cold winter’s day.

The reason you go, is to look at Watt’s Memorial, a strange and melancholy  piece of Victoriana that commemorates deeds of heroic self-sacrifice, often by children. A rather rickety shelter is home to 62 plaques that document the death of an individual who died trying to save another.

  • ‘David Selves supported his drowning playfellow and sank with him clasped in his arms.’
  • ‘William Donald aged 19 drowned in the Lea trying to save a lad from a dangerous entanglement of weed.’
  • ‘Sarah Smith, a pantomime artist, who died of terrible injuries received when attempting in her inflammable dress to extinguish the flames which had enveloped her companion.’

All of them touching stories that George Frederick Watts made it his life’s work to commemorate. Watts, a minor Victorian painter, suggested the idea in a letter to The Times to mark Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. He had been collecting newspaper cuttings of heroic self-sacrifice and from these the names were chosen.

The memorial opened in 1900, just four years before Watts died. In 2007 another name, Leigh Pitt, was added. He drowned saving a nine-year-old boy who had fallen into a canal. It has been decided that no further names will be added.

If you want to know more about the individual stories, then visit this website.

If you want to see for yourself, jump on a tube to St Paul’s and take a two-minute walk up St Martin’s Le Grand. Go on a summer’s day – you’ll be glad you did and thanks to the reader who suggested I check out their little bit of Secret London.

Random thought: A writer should base a short story on each plaque.