2020 weeknote 22

This week I was mostly tied up with filming and then editing some video for work. This necessitated a trip into the office, which was surreal, and working alongside a colleague for a few hours, which was still pretty surreal, and exhausting.

It was a combination of the weather, the nature of the work, and the act of going to work and working alongside someone for a few hours that was just so totally shattering. The editing part has been no less of a headache, but at least I can do that from home.

I haven’t done any video editing for about a decade, but I have done some before. So that has helped. It’s been tricky even just finding out what software to use, though. And then how to use it.

I had success with Lightworks for the bulk of it, and VideoProc for stabilising the shaky footage.


This Friday evening M and I sat in the nearby park with some beers and I spoke to my mum on the phone. I caught myself saying to M, “so, what shall we do this weekend?” and then laughed out loud, reasoning that it’s impossible to make any plans or do anything interesting at the moment.

Wrong!

Saturday we woke before 5am and cycled to Hampstead Heath to see the sun come up and listen to birdsong. We took a breakfast picnic and spent a couple of hours there before riding home by 7.30.

I then managed to stay awake for the whole day, watching some films, doing some grocery shopping, sitting in the park, and hoovering up half of Jordan Mechner’s brilliant journals from when he was making Prince of Persia. Fantastic.

On Sunday I managed a run, and even squeezed in a socially-distanced ‘hello’ to a couple of friends on the Heath in the sunshine. It was a lovely weekend.

I can’t believe how much sunshine we’re having. Indeed, the Met Office have released figures to show that this has been by far the sunniest Spring on record – more than a hundred hours of sunshine than the previous record, and two hundred more than the average. Amazing.


This week I also tried to capture some of the Starlink satellites as they pass overhead in their uncanny linear orbits. I’ve only recently learned about these (thanks to a mention from Chris) and it’s quite novel to have something new in the night sky to see.

I grew up fascinated by watching stars, planets, meteors and satellites, and when the ISS was added to, boosting its brightness, it all felt new and exciting. Starlink feels a bit like that – they are ‘normal’ satellites in terms of what you see, but they travel in clusters, so once you’ve seen one you will shortly see another, and another, sometimes 10 or more, all travelling in roughly the same orbit in reasonably quick succession.

Anyway I failed to get shots of those, but I did focus my lens on the moon for a bit while setting up, and managed to grab this with a 200mm lens:

PS: Oh, I also moved my website from one host to another this week. If youre reading this, well… It worked. I guess? If you noticed any weirdness – RSS feeds not working or anything at all really, please do give me a shout: paulcapewell then gmail then com

2020 weeknotes 16 and 17 – a load of old bobbins

I was really hoping not to start skipping these weeknotes because, perhaps more than ever, it’s important to take a minute to scribble down what’s going on – and I’ve not even been keeping my diary of late, so this is sort of it.

But I’ve missed a week, and the prospect of sitting down to write 1000+ words is partly what’s been putting me off, so here are some bullet points of the past fortnight:

  • we saw that our local Homebase was giving away dying houseplants, so we took 2-3 home and have rehabilitated them. One might not make it, but the other two look great
  • we also passed a local house which had put out some cuttings of a squash plant, and we decided to bring one home. It’s doing very well so far
  • all our other plants are doing nicely as well, including some cut-and-come-again salad leaves which we’ve had with a few meals so far, and I cut some parsley for the first time today
  • the main entertainment for me during my workdays of late has been the local robin family with its three adolescent children and two anxious parents. The babies are teenagers now, and are almost independent. They still squawk and scrap with their siblings, but they are happily feeding themselves. They still have non-adult plumage, and I wonder if or when we will see them gain their famous red breasts
  • the weather has continued to be warm and bright, and it’s been mostly enjoyable getting out for runs and bike rides. I washed my bike thoroughly this weekend, which was enjoyable in itself, and it rode beautifully afterwards, which was especially nice
  • about two weeks ago I very clumsily went to compress a pile of recycling and sliced into the palm of my hand in such a way that for twenty minutes or so I genuinely thought it might need stitches or at least some form of medical attention. Happily, it healed very quickly and wasn’t as bad as I thought. The prospect of having to go to hospital for doing something stupid and avoidable would have been very embarrassing
  • life just sort of… rumbles on. We continue to eat and drink well, and my daily work routine is fine. I hear from my colleagues often enough, and we all see that we are all putting in the hours and getting the job done. I start to worry that life really will never be the same again, but I guess that’s inevitable in some ways. Work will be the same but different. The idea of being in an office every day is, right now, very strange indeed
  • I have not kept up with a log of things I’ve watched and read – mainly because my consumption of writing, video and audio has – inevitably – increased to such an extent that I simply don’t have the time or energy to essentially liveblog my life. But there have been some especially good bits, so I won’t rule it out.
  • In lieu of more words, here is an assortment of photos from the last couple of weeks that capture some of it, whatever it is

2020 weeknote 15 – Zoom Meeting with a Jane Eyre on Lockdown (with added robin)

Okay, it’s actually getting hard to remember how many weeks we’ve done this for. And I know we (the lucky, privileged ones who are just sort of doing things differently but are basically fine) are all probably kind of grieving in a small way for our previous lives, work or otherwise. Maybe that’s too strong a word, but there must be something psychological going on when you suddenly stop doing the stuff you normally do, or seeing the people you normally do, or whatnot.

Anyway.

Here’s some stuff that I have been doing.

I had my first functional Zoom meeting with work colleagues, which actually worked once I sorted out the wifi my iPad was using. I had initially run my iPad over wifi to a router in not just a different room but on a different floor. Not ideal for low latency communications.

My top tip for anyone with precisely my own setup is this: if you are near a desktop computer with a wired connection to your router, you can use your desktop machine to share a wifi connection (much like tethering with a mobile phone to share your 4G connection to other wifi devices).

I hadn’t realised this was was possible, much less that you can just enable it in Windows 10’s Settings under Network & Internet > Mobile hotspot. Pretty sure I used to do something similar with my MacBook back in the day as well.

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Neat.

Once I got this set up, my Zoom connection seemed rock solid, and it was a strangely useful/pleasant exercise. It’s not something I want to do permanently, but it’s good to have the option.

TeamViewer has also been rock solid for our entire office for the past few weeks.

Some of our functions can be done through browser access to webmail and so on, but we need access to our shared files and some bespoke software that isn’t available outside our office machines in any easy way.

TeamViewer has made this very easy. I have found the connection very reliable, and as I am using the same OS at work and at home, with TeamViewer in fullscreen it really is just like I’m sat in front of my work machine.


Homewise, we have kept ourselves amused by rearranging the lounge furniture and keeping an eye on the local bird population.

We have a friendly local pair of robins who are either building a nest or feeding and housing young chicks, and they’ve taken to our selection of sunflower seeds and fat balls, visiting the patio (handily, also the view outside my wfh window) scores of times a day to collect food or nesting material. It’s been a real joy.

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I can often be found sat gazing out the window with my dSLR and 70-200mm lens in hand like some sort of Rear Window cosplayer.


We had a power cut on Monday night at almost exactly midnight. I wouldn’t normally notice a power cut until the next day when any old digital clocks might be found blinking 12:00* but we have a noticeably noisy extractor fan near our bedroom for the services in our building. We have naturally gotten used to the low hum it emits constantly 24/7 – so when it stops for whatever reason, it’s really quite noticeable.

* I tried to wrap this in blink tag HTML code but, no dice.**

** Apparently the'code' HTML tag works, though.

In this case, the power was out for about five minutes. Just long enough for me to stagger round to the window to check and see – yep – it had affected other properties in our street, and even the street lights, which I thought was unusual. Pleasingly, this was also the night of the April supermoon, and it was front and centre as I twitched at the curtains to look out into the street.

We basically don’t get power cuts any more. I remember them happening what felt like quite often when I grew up. But in the past decade or more I can’t remember a power cut lasting more than a few minutes, and more often they’re a brief flicker.

Rearranging the furniture seems to be very lockdown from what I’ve seen online. And even on the streets it’s been clear people have been having a clear out from the piles of unwanted stuff on garden walls.

The rearranged lounge has been especially pleasant as we now have a plethora of plants which rejoice in the sunshine that streams in most of the day, and our TV unit is now in a shadowy corner which makes it easier to watch, like vampires, while the aforementioned sunlight pours in, attempting to disturb our lockdown viewing.

Such viewing has this week included:

  • National Theatre Live’s Jane Eyre which was a very enjoyable and inventive production with real heart. It took me about half an hour to get over my initial feelings of not being able to fully get into it until I realised I was able to enjoy the production for what it was and how it made use of the set etc., and the story could come second. Unsure if this is how theatre is meant to be enjoyed, but sort of don’t care.
  • Jesus Christ, Superstar (which I spent the preceding days confusing with Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat – but apparently that was streamed the week earlier, so perhaps it wasn’t entirely my fault) – this was a weird one – a huge, vast, arena-sized production which mostly worked and made use of the giant stage, and benefitted massively from some good cameo performances and Tim Minchin absolutely bossing it as Judas.
  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which I was *delighted* to see was added to Mubi this week (it’s on Mubi in the UK for the next few weeks – if you need a code for a free trial, why not use mine?), especially having missed it in the cinema not so long ago. It was as beautifully shot as I’d hoped, and I loved it. About two thirds of the way through I noticed how weird it was – sorry – how there hadn’t been a single man in the cast. This made it no less enjoyable. Actually probably made it even more enjoyable.
  • Race Across the World on BBC iPlayer, which I hadn’t seen before, but seems like a cross between maybe The Apprentice and Channel 4’s Hunted except with more realistic restrictions, and has been great fun. Watching people romp around South America while we’re stuck inside has definitely increased our wanderlust.

In non-viewing, I was delighted that Radio 3 re-broadcast the live performance of Max Richter’s Sleep from a few years ago at the Wellcome Collection. Sleep is an eight-hour(!) piece of music designed, as you might guess, to fall asleep to.

It was broadcast from 11pm to 7am, and I found myself stirring – as I often do during the night – and quickly finding the constant musical companion pleasant, before nodding off again. Really wonderful. That’s available on the BBC Sounds app/website for the next few weeks too – I really encourage anyone to stick it on at bedtime and give it a whirl.

It reminded me that I used to fall asleep to a pretty ace playlist consisting of Stars of the Lid, Jonsi & Alex, some Peter Broderick stuff… It was a good playlist.

In fact, Stars of the Lid’s And Their Refinement of the Decline is something I stick on in times of anxietal need, including sleeplessness and on flights.

Finally, Easter was… weird. But, well, we made nice food and drank nice wine, and even ate and drank some of it sat outside on the patio – so it was a pretty great Easter, actually. We didn’t have much chocolate as, when we’ve been able to get out to the shops recently, it felt frivolous to stock up on essentials as well as the least efficient way to store and carry chocolate.

This isn’t just lockdown fever: in previous Easters I have been much happier buying a few Chocolate Oranges (by far the cheapest/best value chocolate by weight) and some bars of decent choccy rather than wanting any actual eggs.

Instead of chocolate eggs we drank nice red wine, and I ordered one of those home deliveries of craft beer that doesn’t work out very economical apart from the first box, and I liked a fair few of them. I’m not a craft beer lover, but it’s nice to try a few different ones selected by someone else from time to time.

I’ve also been managing to get out for a ride or run every 2-3 days which is keeping me sane. Most other days I get out for a stroll, and it’s been nice walking nearby roads I don’t know, remarking at some really quite interesting residential architecture.

On Good Friday I rode my bike down to the river and it was… Weird. Pleasant – what with the roads being clear enough – but eerie, what with the city being basically empty.

2020 weeknote 14 – which week was this again?

Oh boy.

The hardest thing about writing these weeknotes in the absence of what we used to call weeks is knowing where to draw a line. It’s a cliche but I genuinely sometimes need to check what day it is.

Michael Palin, in a recent, brief, video, referred to this as ‘weekend-itis’, and of course there’s the great and poetic terms like perpetual Sundays and my own coined term, the longest bank holiday weekend of our lives.


Working from home, I am still resolutely sticking to my 9-5 hours as before. This is largely because we all are – if a colleague needs me for something, it’s fair to assume I should be contactable during this time. And, actually, a handful of the things my colleagues have needed me for are because, at 8.58am, they try and connect and have some sort of issue. So I need to be around for first thing particularly.

That being said, there have been times during the work day when the phone has just rung out, or a Whatsapp message or email has gone unanswered for an hour or so. It’s fine. We are all working out this working from home thing, and it’s mostly, well, working.

Mainly, I feel it’s good to keep to a routine of being up and dressed and ‘working’ from 9am. Anything less than that would see my day quickly fall apart.

It’s hard for me to remember specifics about this particular week, but on Friday morning I woke to find my computer wouldn’t boot.

I then found that my Windows/backup recovery boot USB for such purposes wouldn’t boot.

Then, having rebuilt a new recovery environment boot USB on another machine, I discovered that the drive that holds my daily backups was failing. Readable, but not enough to restore from a backup.

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I had a bad morning.

🙁

To get round this, in the end I just created a new Windows 10 installation USB, started from scratch, and this at least got me up and running and back into my work system by lunchtime.

What made my Friday afternoon a bit more stressful for work reasons was that, with Monday 6 April being the start of the 2020/2021 financial year, I had a shit-ton of stuff to do by the end of Friday in time for the end of the financial year. I could have allotted some of that stuff to do over the weekend, but I didn’t.

Anyway, I got it all done in time.


What I did spend some of the weekend doing was rebuilding my new Windows installation, and trying to recover files from my backup. The drive that houses my backups just seems basically dead. It reads, but there are clear issues with it, and I tried running a sector scan on it and I saw lots of red icons. It is, I fear, an ex-hard drive.

When I got down to it, I hadn’t lost a huge amount in those backups. The main thing I lost was the ability to simply restore my Windows setup to what it had been a day before. Most of my stuff is semi-online anyway, and my actual files and media are stored on other drives – I mainly just run Windows and applications off a 250GB SSD for speed, and don’t store much else on it. What I do store on the SSD, and until now did not back up remotely, was my Lightroom library.

Lightroom is what I use for cataloguing and editing my photographs, and the application is intelligent in that the raw image files live wherever (an external drive), and Lightroom creates a database so that when I edit those photos, it doesn’t actually change the images, it just saves the edits into its own database. So that database, although it contains no actual photos, contains all the edits I’ve made to my photos. Without the database, the images just load as they did when they were first taken.

Lightroom is also smart in that about once a week it checks the integrity of its own database, and makes a backup. Unfortunately for me, the library and its backups all live in the same folder on the SSD – the SSD which was being backed up daily, sure, but only to one drive, and that’s the drive that seems to be failing. So no Lightroom backups for me.

And the biggest problem with my backups (I had been using EaseUS Todo Backup Free)? It creates one single backup file which is effectively a virtual disk. Trying to recover one, single, 160GB-or-so file from a failing hard drive is much harder than, say, trying to recover a bunch of random, small files from a file system spread evenly across a failing disk.

So that’s been my big lesson over the weekend. I’m now trying to work out a backup solution that works going forward. Which isn’t easy as I had thought I already had a backup solution that worked. But, of course, I neglected to actually test it until it was too late. Which is basically rule number two of having backups in the first place.

What do people even do for backups? Windows 10 has some built-in stuff which surely must Just Work for most people. But I thought I was being super clever running my own backup strategy – and it’s a system I’ve had to rely on before and that worked. So I guess it’s just a shame that this time it didn’t. Do I continue with the same setup, but regularly checking the backups are working? A lot to think about.

This weekend I also picked up a new computer monitor from Argos (praise be to our local Sainsbury’s having a working Argos collection point). This replaces a 19″ Samsung TV/monitor I have been using for about eight years, and which had a maximum/native resolution of 1440×900, which was quite small, and actually caused a few headaches due to its oddness. I now have a cheap but fine 21.5″ screen with a native resolution of 1920×1080, and am enjoying having the extra screen real estate.

This also helped with putting the finishing touches to a photo book of our recent trip to Bruges. (See Lightroom woes, above.) I managed to get this assembled and submitted to Blurb and can’t wait to see it.

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I make about 1-2 photo books a year and they’re always so nice to hold and as a way to relive past trips. In this current situation, these sorts of tangible records of a freer and easier time are extra special.

I have plans to make a few historic photo books too – particularly one covering our traverse of the Isle of Wight coastal path back in 2016.

And I’d like to see what Blurb’s magazine printing service is like – I have an idea of doing a selection of live music photography covering about a decade.


Aside from IT-related fun, Thursday evening was rather nice. We cooked a nice meal, sat at the dinner table, opened a bottle of red wine we’d been saving, and then watched the National Theatre’s ‘live’ YouTube performance of One Man, Two Guvnors, which we really enjoyed. We even paused the stream at 8pm to clap for our carers (something our road has done pretty well the last two occasions), and it made for a really nice evening that felt more like staying home for New Year’s Eve or something, rather than Just Another Thursday On Lockdown.

We can’t afford the time/health/expense of drinking nice booze with a good meal and a theatre performance every night, but it feels like a decent thing to do about once a week. This week we have Jane Eyre or Jesus Christ Superstar to choose from. NZ band The Beths are also doing a live show this evening which would be another good option.

It’s been interesting to me from reading other people’s blogs, tweets and weeknotes (write more weeknotes, friends!) that some people have had to make big adjustments to cooking most/all of their own meals.

This came as a surprise to me as we already do that, but I get that a lot of folks regularly just buy their lunch at work, or order in deliveries in the evenings. For us, a bought lunch is usually as a result of misjudged meal planning/timing, and a takeaway/delivery is probably a 2-3 times a month treat. Weekends we probably eat out more often, but during the week, it’s rare for us to eat a meal we haven’t prepared ourselves.

So I guess this approach to cooking, grocery shopping and meal planning has helped us transition into this new scenario with little real disruption, for which I remain very thankful on a daily basis.

I continue to try and get some decent exercise in about once every three days. I should step this up to include a home-based 7-minute workout or something every other day (ironically, much as I already was before lockdown).

This week’s run and bike rides have been enjoyable, especially thanks to the weather, but I can’t help feeling that sharing the pavements with other folks trying to get out for their daily walks/runs isn’t something that’s sustainable in a busy north London suburb. I plan to just re-assess this situation based on current trends – as well as my gut, metaphorically and literally – every day or two.

2020 weeknote 13 – gotta keep moving

It would be week thirteen that I took a while getting around to, even though there doesn’t feel like much to say. There is, of course. We all have loads to say about the current situation. All the changes that are taking place to our jobs and our daily lives. The different sounds outside.

One thing to be immensely grateful for is how the spring weather has been so pleasant. Cold, with northerly winds swooping down, but bright. And the days get ever long, with the promise of changing the clocks making things feel like they’re really shaking.

Of course the bright weather might have encouraged people out when they should stay home. But for those of us trying to stick to the guidance – one or two days this week I just didn’t feel the need to leave the flat – the pleasant weather has made it all the nicer once I did get outside.

I’ve tried to mix up my government-mandated daily exercise. Some days I walked, one day I ran, and another day I went for an extended bike ride. All had their individual merits.

The walk around neighbourhood streets revealed an eerie aural soundscape of… Well, peace, I suppose. I wished I’d had my Tascam recorded, because the sound was so uncanny. In reality, of course, it wouldn’t have made for an interesting sound recording as it was the absence of sound that was so interesting. And, really, this is the sound of quiet suburban streets up and down the country normally. It’s just unusual in north London streets.

On another occasion I found a walk actually quite dispiriting. No actual moment was unpleasant, it was just a slow slog around the local blocks with no goals other than being outside. I decided not to listen to anything and I suppose having an hour to contemplate what’s going on not just in my admittedly fairly privileged version of this situation but also the situation for those less fortunate… It just didn’t help my mood. It did remind that I am immensely lucky at this time, though. So there’s that.

The run and the bike ride were both much better for my mental health, and presumably my physical health too. The endorphins pumped and I came home feeling glad I got out. Running and trying to avoid others is slightly tricky, but not too bad now the roads are quieter. I’m still not running with headphones as I want to keep my awareness high. And the bike ride was pretty great – and made it much easier to distance myself from others. When cycling, the only needs I have to clean myself when I get home are from touching any communal doors to my building, and I never encounter anyone once I’m out. Naturally the roads being quieter makes cycling that much more pleasant, too.

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Working from home has been going pretty well, all things considered. This has been my first week of actual lockdown after a dress rehearsal the week before. We got ourselves into a position where we were all able to at the very least access emails from home, but in reality, almost all of us have had full access to our systems from home,and we’ve even had the benefit of one or two members of staff who live locally visiting the office almost daily at their own risk, which has meant we’ve been able to request some documents to be scanned.

The hardest thing is the meta-work. What tasks can I complete, how, and to what extent? For me, I can do most of my usual tasks about 90% of the way. The missing bits are just hangovers from the fact our office relies heavily on paper filing systems. I expect that many offices with habits such as ours will emerge on the other side of this quite differently. It’s not just procedures that will change but actual attitudes.

A year ago if you’d asked me if I thought we could set ourselves up to work from home, the prospect would have caused me great anxiety. But we’ve managed it.

The other big change is, of course, having to call or Zoom rather than just talking to a colleague. This cuts down on some of the niceties of an office like ours – but it’s also enabled slightly more private backchannel communication, which has come in handy once or twice of late as some very strange decision have been made at board level with, seemingly, little regard for the humans those decisions affect.

We take each day as they come. Megan is also working from home most days, with her school operating a rota to ensure those pupils who need to come to school to allow their parents to do key worker jobs, or those in vulnerable environments. This, too, seems to be working well.

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Days have simply assumed a slightly different routine. We were already very good at planning our meals for the week, and cooking for two makes things easy to scale up for leftovers. We watch the six o’clock news every day now, just to get the latest updates. I try to avoid the news the rest of the day, but there is an inevitable drip-drip-drip when using social media – I check Twitter and Instagram several times a day, and it’s mostly a positive experience, though some stuff gets through.

We’ve also been caught by surprise by Jamie Oliver’s Keep Cooking and Carry On which I was surprised to learn was being prepared almost instantaneously in response to this situation we’re all facing. There’s something incredibly calming and reassuring in his delivery, and the tips are really handy. Like I say, I’d say we are pretty decent at keeping well stocked with staples and planning meals, but his show has given us a few tips and ideas as well as just being a pleasant diversion (despite being, necessarily, about the incident itself).

Speaking of keeping well stocked, as things were starting to go south, I found myself buying one or two extra items that I knew would last, and that we tend to use anyway. Tinned tomatoes, bread flour, that sort of thing. Then we all experienced that bizarre period of time where things were simply vanishing from the shelves. The shops are starting to recover, but only through some fairly severe restrictions on access to stores.

But it’s working. Visiting a large supermarket is now a very calm experience. I write this on the 1st April and a visit to a big Sainsbury’s this afternoon revealed shelves well stocked with most items. Pasta is returning to the shelves, and although eggs and flour were still scarce, I did manged to get half a dozen eggs. Everything else I needed was just… there. As were the staff.

I am so glad that the supermarket horror show of stockpiling was a relatively short-lived episode. It lasted long enough to cause real panic, and I suppose if there’s anything to be gained from that, it’s made me more grateful that I am so able to take grocery shopping for granted 99.9% of the time.

Meanwhile I’ve been tinkering with my Raspberry Pi Zero. I managed to, I think, nuke a micro SD card. I’m still not 100% sure what I did. It was either burning a corrupt image to it, or removing it while it was burning an image. But the card seems physically corrupt, rather than being able to be formatted and used again. It’s odd. But I started again with another and have been re-learning (or learning anew) lots in the process: operating it ‘headless’ where it’s just on and connected to my network, but I am able to SSH into it from my Windows machine. That felt pretty magical.

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I’m having trouble getting my RTL SDR dongle playing nicely with it, but I think I’m using software (GQRX) that is too CPU-intensive for the Pi Zero. Will try some command line based stuff. Mainly I just want to decode RDS from FM broadcasts on it. I think I can manage that.

Finally, here’s a sound recording taken from Hampstead Cemetery of a Scots Pine (I think), postively popping and clicking in the warm spring sunshine as hundreds (thousands?) of pine cones open up:

https://soundcloud.com/paulcapewell/clicking-and-popping-of-scots-pine-cones-in-the-spring-sunshine-at-hampstead-cemetery