Assisted Dying

Assisted Dying has been on the news again.  What do you think about it?  Is it wrong, should we let nature take its course.  I think in the world we live in we intervene in most things anyway.  Would we let nature take its course if a pregnant woman was unable to give birth naturally?  No, we wouldn’t, because we are a developed and modern country.  We don’t let animals suffer.  If the Vet said, “look it would be kinder to let them go”, we would usually take that advice.  So why are we comfortable to let our loved ones suffer when there’s another way.  Why should our loved ones have to travel to Dignitas in Switzerland ahead of time because of fear they will be too sick to travel.  It’s a very big debate.

I’ve spoken about this before with some close friends, friends that would choose this because of degenerative disease.  I fully support them in their decision. 

When I was younger, I used to think about my own situation and what route I would take.  This is before I knew about places like Dignitas.  You see, there will probably come a time in my life where I would need a double lung transplant and when I was younger the odds wasn’t that great on you surviving the operation.  I used to think, that’s not for me.  Waiting for a call to get new lungs, living your life waiting, to die on the operating table anyway.  Success rates are a bit better nowadays, but it’s still not great.  50% of people die waiting for a pair of lungs and 50% die afterwards due to complications.

I guess the main difference with my condition and someone that has something like Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is that MS is never going to get better and there’s nothing that can be done to buy time once you are too sick to look after yourself.  This is the point where people want to press the ejection button before it gets too much to bare.  The people making these decisions are fully aware of what is to come.  Otherwise you slowly go downhill and that’s it, to the bitter end.  I think the people that disagree with Assisted Dying have never experienced what its like to be sick every day.  It’s hard going.  You have to fight for every thing.  Basic things that most take for granted.  It’s physically exhausting.  Life doesn’t give you an easy time because you are sick and people still hurt you.

However, Cystic Fibrosis is a different fish.  You may want to push the ejection button, but you need to hang on until the bitter end for a second chance at the controls.  I’m not saying CF sufferers have a harder time, but the rules of the game are different.  Some decide to eject.  It’s a very personal decision, one I think the person should have and be able to action, at home.

What are my personal thoughts, well, I have Daisy to think about now and I will hang on for as long as I can.  And it's not a cure, it just buys some time.  I’m trying to get better with remembering all my treatments and medication but it’s not easy on your own, especially with a life limiting condition like CF.  
If you would like to give people a second chance at the controls, if you feel that some people could be saved, why not think about joining the organ donor register.  You can do your bit, I’m even on it and I didn’t think they’d want anything of mine.  I think my eyes and my skin are the only bits worth having.  

Burlesque - The Graded Unit

Let me explain the Graded Unit. 

First rule about Graded Unit, you don’t talk about graded unit.
It takes over your life. 
It takes over all other classes.

It’s a personal project of your own choosing, that needs to fit into one of six categories, dictated from the college.  Each student gets four, twenty-minute mentoring sessions to discuss their ideas and progress on their project.  Each meeting the student is awarded points on their progress.  It’s a bit like a game show because you need to get the maximum amounts of points as once the meeting is over any points you didn’t achieve are lost.  The points are converted into a percentage and that dictates whether you leave with an A, B or C final grade for the year.  You must juggle this project and its deadlines while still handing in the work for all other classes.

The meetings are held at three-week intervals and when I said you get twenty minutes, I mean there’s a timer ticking away just to add to the anxiety of it.  The whole year had to attend a seminar to get an explanation of the points system.  You were actively encouraged to pay close attention to the marking schedule when planning and producing the work.  One lecturer said, “we know already who won’t pull their socks up”, meaning they knew which students wouldn’t be able to step it up a gear for the graded unit, which is totally self directed.

Students had staggered start dates and I was one of the last group so I had 5 weeks to think of a project and my mind went blank.  I knew I wasn’t going to complete second year and I just wanted to make my life as easy as possible.  I was into week four and still had nothing lined up.

Then I went to a Burlesque show with some friends.  I never usually take my camera to events, as it’s so heavy.  It’s also usually really dark and my off camera flash skills wasn’t the greatest.  I arrived a bit early, the dancers came on stage for a rehearsal and I took my camera out just to confirm to myself that yes it was too dark and I wasn’t going to get anything worth keeping.  Just as I put the camera up to my face someone spotted me and starting asking questions.  Did I have permission to take photographs?  I explained I was a student and without a flash I’d get nothing of any interest, which I sort of knew before it left my bag.  Turned out the guy that was chatting to me was the tour manager!  Oops.  He said he tried to get someone to volunteer to take photographs but had no luck.  He said the tour was back next month.  I was trying to dig myself out of my awkward hole and said if he wanted I could put a notice up in the college to see if anyone was interested.  Then he said, "you could come back'.  And, there you have it, that’s how my project was born.

I started doing my research and printed out images from the internet that I wanted to try out.  I was crapping myself about the actual event because I’ve never really learnt anything about using my off camera flash, so I booked a course.  I really thought I’d done so much work and that I would get a fair amount of points.  I was back on IV antibiotics again and my head was a bit up my arse with remembering things and I missed my first mentoring session.  I was not popular. 

I explained the situation and how my medication exhausts me and managed to re arrange my meeting, but this is something they don’t usually do and I felt my card had been marked.  I got four points for my first meeting and was totally deflated.  I needed 51 points just to pass with a C.  I was okay with that, I just wanted a pass but was beginning to think I wouldn’t get there. 

My mentor said I would need to photograph some other shows and not just the Burlesque.  I couldn’t understand at that point why I needed to do more.  He suggested 3-4 other shows and here’s me thinking I was going to make this as easy as possible.  By the next meeting he said do 3-4 other shows.  I was a bit annoyed and said 3-4 you mentioned the first time around or 3-4 plus the 3-4 you said at the first meeting.  He was a bit pissed off with me, but I think there wasn’t really a clear understanding of my situation.  I didn’t get the whole SQA rules (Scottish Qualifications Authority) on how things were marked.

I stressed over the 3 weeks after my second meeting and really thought if I go back for my third meeting and he’s not pleased I may as well give up.  I had barely done anything for my three other classes.  I think I had the attitude that if this graded unit was going nowhere then doing the work for the other classes was pointless.

By my third meeting I’d done so much work.  I’d listened to all the suggestions and I ticked all the boxes.  I pulled my socks up and thought “I’ve got this”!  I also managed to put my project across in a way that fitted the initial brief and he understood how it all fitted together.  He was very impressed and I got a hefty slice of points, which made up for my last two meetings.  By my third meeting I had my C pass in the net.  All I had to do now was complete all other classes, edit all my photos and return to my final meeting with an example of how I was going to present my work.  More points were up for grabs and I really went from strength to strength.  My final meeting was great and he seemed really impressed with how I managed to put everything together.

I eventually walked away with an A for the final year, which I was really proud of.  I know a lot of people probably got an A too, but I felt it was even more important for me as I really got next to no points in those first two meetings.  I really did pull my bloody socks up.  


I hope you all like the photos.  I was utterly exhausted getting these and it was a real struggle I'll tell you, because I basically had to bird watch with my camera and take the shot when the dancers stood in a certain place on the stage when the lighting guy had lit them up well.  This all had to be done at the same time, while they were moving.  I was constantly changing settings on my camera.  Thanks to my lovely tall friend Lisa for making sure I didn't fall off my stool.  I want to thank Burgerking for the best whopper with cheese I ever tasted at 11pm and finally a big congratulations to Betty D'Light who I didn't know at the time was expecting her very own Royal Baby.

College - The HNC

College is finished, whoop whoop.  I’m so glad to be able to say that, as at times I thought I’d never get through it.  I don’t remember crying about the course but there have been tears, usually as a result of the cheeky buggers that manage the equipment store, accept the lovely Sean, he was brilliant.  I’m sure they deal with a lot of crap but c’mon.  I certainly recall having the weight of the world on my shoulders; maybe I was just overly sensitive.  I knew on applying for this course that I would be forced to do things I haven’t done before and how it would probably be a little awkward and uncomfortable.  However at the same time I think I thought it would be easy, how wrong was I!  My course was made up of the following subjects this term, Photography Theory, Darkroom and Creative Techniques, Portraiture, Image Editing, Creative Industries, Still Life, Applied Techniques, Social Photography, Corporate Photography, Stock Photography and the dreaded Graded Unit!

I started my course in September and realised by Christmas that I was struggling physically.  I made the decision over the Christmas holidays that I was not going to apply for my second year.  By the time I came to my annual review in February at hospital, my consultant said that my lung function had taken a nose dive since August and that confirmed that me being in close proximity to lots of people on a daily basis doesn’t help me, especially when we were in the basement of college with circulated air ventilation and no windows.  I can feel my CF followers instantly cringe. 

I struggled through that first 18 weeks of the course.  I was hospitalised with a chest infection and missed three weeks of class time.  But, I persevered and was in college full-time the last three weeks just to get through my work.  Luckily my deadlines were extended and I did manage to finish.  On my return after the Christmas break I was faced with a dilemma of, should I finish my course here after getting through that eighteen weeks or should I do it all again to leave with my HNC in Photography and not let all that hard work go to waste.  I’m not someone who gives up easily, but I do get easily over whelmed with mountains of work to get through.  I loved my class and I wanted to continue even though it was making me ill.  I knew that if I wasn’t going to go into second year I could effectively drop a class or two because the way the HNC works is that you need to obtain 12 credits for the group award and 15 to get into second year, which is all classes in first year.  Anyway, I took the decision to strip down my course and ditched my darkroom class, which you all know I can do anyway and stock photography, which I thought would be like watching paint dry to a portrait photographer. 

It’s not been all bad though, I’ve met a really great bunch of friends.  I’m sure we’re all going to keep in touch and I will go in and meet them for lunch now and again, even though the food in college is terrible and over priced.  The things we do for love……ah I feel a song coming on!  There’s so much more I could say.  I’ve laughed so much this past ten months being with these guys every week.  I’ll leave you all with a wee selection of some of the work I’ve done this term.  I will be back soon to tell you all about my Graded Unit and what sealed the deal to my overall grade A for the year.

Twit twoo it's Miss Campbell

The lovely Miss Campbell came to my rescue when I put out a casting call for models to fulfil my college portraiture brief.  This time I needed to do a studio shoot and cross process an image.  So, the triptych set is examples of cross processing, with varying degrees using Photoshop.  In the old days of film photography, cross processing was a deliberate effect and you did it by processing the film in a chemical solution intended for a different type of film. The effect was most likely discovered by mistake in the days of mixing up C-22 and E-4 developer.

We started our morning fairly early sending children off to Aunties and Grannies and then the travelling was next!  We finally got ourselves together around lunchtime and headed into town for a spot of lunch.  I had a bagette with Chicken and Avacado and my friend showed me up by having a tiny little chocolate cake.  She soon confessed that she had stuffed her face in McDonalds with the kids earlier in the morning.  I was instantly jealous and thought,  I just wish I could get up early enough to make a McDonalds breakfast!

We chatted for about an hour, putting the world to rights and moaning about men, the usual girly chit chat.  I was quite excited about doing the photographs because I knew that we could work out between us what needed done.  Miss Campbell has previous experience of Photography having sucessfully ran a business herself, so it was a fun day together where we could discuss what we could do.  

Like any other client excited to get their hands on the pictures, she was saying to me at the station that I had to send them to her as soon as I got home.  They all do it, want the pictures NOW.  I understand, I've been there.  I've said before that many photographers would rather stick needles in their eyes than put out un-edited photographs.  But when it's someone who knows photography etiquette there isnt a problem.  

I sent her the pick of un-edited files later that night so she could edit them herself.  Photography like many other arts is down to personal taste as well as technique.  Everyone has their own way of editing and producing different effects.  Some of the images you see have been edited by Miss C and some have been edited by me.

Birthday in Paris

We had a bit of a crazy year with the old birthday celebrations.  Most winters I’m ill and I’m not really in the mood for organising anything.  Then others I’m full of beans and over the top.  This year we had an actual party and we invited all of Daisy’s school class.  Lisa Lollipop joined us to entertain the children.  We tucked into Hot dogs, Popcorn, Slush Puppy and enough sweets to stock a small shop.  One of the mums brought the biggest homemade cheesecake I’ve ever seen and it was all gone by the end of the party.  Truly Scrumptious – cakes by Joanna made the most incredible Birthday cake.  It was so beautiful I didn’t want to cut it up, again it was gone by the end.  People were loading up with boxes of the delicious cake.   My friends and family were as usual, all hands on deck and the party was a roaring success.  I'd like to say thank you to everyone who made the party special and for all gifts Daisy received.  

That would have been enough for one little girl to take in, but as I mentioned, I’m a bit crazy over the top at times.  I thought it would be an idea to go to Disneyland Paris, the very next day!  I only thought about it two or three weeks before the party.  When you are sick, it's not practical to book something miles in advance.  You have to go when you feel well.  The adverts sucked me in and before I knew it, it was booked.  I’ve priced it up before and thought it was a bit expensive, but there seemed to be adverts after adverts all over the TV saying “book now and get this that and the other free”.  You know sometimes these deals are not as great as the make out, but I swear this one was good.  We were staying in a top-notch Disney Hotel, having three course meals everyday, drinks and cakes everyday and practically spent nothing because we had a complimentary voucher for most things.  I couldn't believe our luck.

Daisy loved meeting all the characters, Spiderman, Merida, Woody and Jessie, Mickey, Minnie, the Disney Princesses and of course, no Disney visit would be complete without meeting Anna and Elsa!  There were a few hairy moments at the start, namely a scary roller coaster in disguise.  I've never been so glad to get off a ride.  I swear we though it was a child's train ride, you know quite tame, but Jesus!  It was a super fast roller coaster and believe me I'm no thrill seeker.  We got into our seats, I casually rested my arm behind Daisy and within seconds it became apparent to me that arm was going to move to pin Daisy in like a seat belt.  We saw the funny side of it, while mum and I were telepathically saying all our swear words.  Daisy was shouting at the top of her voice "this is fun", she had the best time. It was a very tiring holiday for the adults however. 

So if you ever forget where you were for your 5th Birthday Daisy  Well, you woke up in a Disney hotel in Paris and had breakfast with Mickey Mouse.  Then we took the train into the centre of Paris and went up the Eiffel Tower.  I even managed to take the photo I would use on our family Christmas card.  Looking forward to our next adventure, whatever it may be.

The little things

CF is really kicking my ass just now.  I've been on this earth for a long time and I wonder when I'm ever going to learn that I can't graze.  I mean grazing as in picking/snacking at food.  Just normal things for a lot of people and something you might take for granted.  I can't do that, well I shouldn't.  I've had a upset tummy recently as well as all the other things. People who suffer from Crohns disease, IBS, Coeliac disease and the countless other digestive disorders that's out there.  I feel your pain.

I've had a sore stomach, bloating, cramping, wind, constipation, diarrhoea, hot and cold sweats and I've been feeling lethargic.  As you know the human body is a finely tuned machine and the symptoms I've described is evidence that the digestive system is experiencing trauma. Something people with Cystic Fibrosis suffer with because another element of the disease is that the digestive system doesn't function properly.  Enzymes need to be taken orally at the same time as food to digest the food.  It's pretty much a manual system.  Let your concentration slip and you will pay.  Like everything else there are varying degrees of severity.  Some people will need to take 1-2 tablets with meals, some like me might take 11-12 with meals.  As the pancreas loses function you can also end up being diabetic, but that's another story.

Imagine going to a party.  Oh you're gonna be one party animal if you have a condition that relies on you being sober and alert!  Let's think of a scenario. Would you be able to relax knowing you had to make a mental calculation of each mouthful of food you had from a buffet or bowl of crisps that were on your table?   Then, make a quick calculation, type of food+volume of food=number of tablets. Did I mention you can't just swallow them all at the start or at the end? Gets trickier does it.  What I've learnt over the years is that I have to avoid the bowl of crisps on the table and wait until the buffet is served.  I then go get a full plate of food. Full plate of buffet food x what type of food = amount of tablets.  Eat the food and and take the tablets during the meal; job done.  You want some more food.  Well you just repeat the steps.

Yes it's not very social but that's life as I know it.  At times though I fall off the waggon.  Usually when I get sick, I am even more forgetful.  I forget I can't graze like everyone else.  The trade off is getting an upset tummy and farting lots, sometimes for days. What I have to do now in this position is fast, not eat, maybe for 2 days.  Clear my system out and start again.  Hoping I will learn from my mistakes and not do it again anytime soon.

There's lots of things in life we take for granted.  Sometimes it's a way of life.  Sometimes it's people.  Appreciate the little things.  

Another blog brought to you from the bath tub.

My Love My Life 10/12 - Conquer Fear

© Ian Pettigrew

College have been speaking about the importance of personal projects recently.  Personal projects can turn out to be your best and most fulfilling work, because for whatever reason, you have specifically chosen to do it.  I recently stumbled upon a Canadian photographer, later found out he's half Scottish!  Well, he is currently working his way through a personal project called Just Breathe, where he's photographing adults who are living with Cystic Fibrosis (CF).  

Media coverage surrounding CF is sparse.  Since the birth of social media, I'm connected to a lot of people who have CF.  There's always somebody who knows a person who has died recently.  It can get really upsetting reading things like that.  It's not high profile like Cancer, but it's equally devastating.  It will kill you; it just drags the process out a bit.  Adults living with CF can often feel like it's a battle to stay alive, that's why they are often referred to as Warriors within the CF community.  Treatment regimes are physically and mentally demanding for patients.  Like many other long term chronic conditions, it may not be widely understood that family members can also endure years of emotional trauma as a direct result of caring for and/or living with the sick person.  
After being diagnosed later in life himself, Ian wanted to spread the message that this is no longer a children's disease and the best way to do that as a Photographer, is by taking pictures.  Lots of pictures! 

Ian started his career in advertising and got the photography bug by working alongside photographers for many years.  He used to think photographers had a glamorous life.  He admits he was wrong.  Just like I used to think the ladies behind the make-up counters in department stores were glamorous, before I did my school work experience.  Someone once asked him why he would want to be in a job that made him poor, but money isn't everything.  

As well as Ian's standard portrait head shots for his Just Breathe Project,  I found another one called Salty Girls - The Women of Cystic Fibrosis  Here he photographs CF women.  But, what does the name mean?  Well, the salt in CF patients bodies travel differently through the tissues to that of non-CF people.  Patients secrete higher volumes of salt through their sweat.  There was an old saying around the 1700s which went like this, "woe is the child who tastes salty from a kiss on the brow, for he is cursed and soon must die".  They used to believe CF children were bewitched. In this project Ian captures how CF can ravage your physical appearance.  I'm well aware of how the effects of CF have changed my appearance and body image.  I've always been a little self conscious.  It's healthier for me to weigh more, but society wants you to be thin.  I think it's very brave of the ladies to expose themselves like this.  It takes real courage, which I'm sure they have truck loads of.  

Ian wants his images made into a photobook.  If he can get enough financial support or even better a sponsor, he could make this a reality sooner.  If you are in a position to be a sponsor of this book, great.  If not, well you could always join the organ donor register in your county instead.  I'll leave you with some of Ian's images and one of me, which is my contribution to Salty Girls - The Women of Cystic Fibrosis.  Photo credit to the lovely Nicola Grimshaw and her team at My Boudoir - Make-Over Boudoir Photography.
© Ian Pettigrew

© Ian Pettigrew

                                                           © Nicola Grimshaw
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