Home Tech Apple Twelve pictures chronicle a year of misery and recovery

Twelve pictures chronicle a year of misery and recovery


It seems a lifetime ago, but in fact it was barely 18 months back in July 2020, that I part exchanged my Leica Q for a Q2. The Q had served me very well and I had enjoyed using it for almost four years.

I certainly did not need a new camera but a few weeks earlier my lovely wife, Val, had been diagnosed with cancer and the prognosis was poor — very poor. She was not expected to live beyond year-end. In shock and distress, I sought a diversion from taking Val on the seemingly endless round of consultations and tests by buying a new toy.

Sadly, having bought the Q2 I hardly used it for over eight months. And the metadata shows that I took just a few photos with it in the remaining five months of 2020. The first picture, I am pleased to say, was of Val smiling bravely. By October she was in an acute care ward in the local hospital and then in palliative care in a specialist facility. My gruelling routine of twice-daily visits meant I almost forgot that I owned any camera let alone an expensive new one which I had hardly used.

This leads me into 2021, truly my personal annus horribilis. Val defied the original prognosis and fought on into the New Year until April. It was the saddest and most stressful of times, but at least I had time to say a long goodbye and to think about my future life without my companion of 51 years.

I had the idea of doing a road trip and a lovely friend convinced me that I should not stay in my large, empty house grieving but that I should leave as soon as possible after Val’s memorial service. Which is exactly what I did. Two days after the service, I was on the road heading into the country. I travelled for three weeks and covered 2500 kilometres in my new Mini Cooper S.

The trip proved cathartic and somewhat restorative and I surprised myself by the photos I took. Sadly, that excursion was the high point of my year. There were many low points after I returned home.

Within weeks New South Wales went into a four-month-long Covid lockdown which was a real struggle for me; I was unable to travel to visit my children and grandchildren at a time when I most needed the support of family.

With luck, lockdowns are now behind us, although as I type this the omicron variant is spreading like a bushfire here in Australia and I fear that it may well be a case of “here we go again”.

Every year for the past decade I have pulled together a selection of my personal favourite photos of the year. As Val and I have travelled so extensively, particularly since I retired in 2008, choosing the favourites was often not easy as I was spoilt for choice.

This year it has been a very different story. No photo library smorgasbord to choose from this time around. Yet surprisingly, from the few I did manage to take, I have pulled together a set that evokes strong memories and emotions for me. I would like to share them with you.

1. Phoebe


This first image was taken using the Q2 in early January and shows my Himalayan cat, Phoebe, basking in the sun on a typical Aussie summer’s day. Phoebe was 21 at the time, a ripe old age for a purebred cat. She had a sister, Zoe, who died in 2019.

Phoebe was an absolute trooper. She was beautiful, placid and smart. She had visited Val in the acute care ward at Gosford Hospital a number of times and also in her palliative care facility.

She bought a big smile to Val’s face even in those dark days and she was an absolute favourite with the nurses. Phoebe was doing really well until early March when her health deteriorated suddenly and she died three weeks before my wife. Very sad. I treasure this photo because, although it is not the best I have taken of her, it is the last photo of my beautiful feline friend.

2. Otto and the cockatiel


Here is one of my grandsons, Otto, with his pet cockatiel and was taken with the Q2 just a few day’s after my wife’s death and shortly before her memorial service. For me, it’s special because it depicts a delightful innocence and it cheered me up immensely.

The first stop on my road trip was an old friend’s farm in Stockinbingal neat Cootamundra, deep in New South Wales. It was early April and the nights were cold, the days warm. As is my lifelong habit, I went for an early morning walk and snapped this shot on the first morning’s walk which I can remember so well. It was cold under a blue sky and totally peaceful.

I had packed my Q2 with my X1 as a backup for the trip. The X1 resided in its usual hiking sock alongside the Q2 in the bottom of a small backpack.

3. Crossing the track

Rail crossing
Rail crossing

This image of a rail crossing on the freight line which passes through the farm was taken with the X1 and it is a straight-from-the-camera jpeg. The X1 may well be considered vintage nowadays and its specification is totally outdated but it’s impossible to deny that it still acquits itself with honours.

4. Farm vista

Farm vista
Farm vista

This picture — also a jpeg — was taken with the Leica X1 during that first morning’s walk and it shows the view from a hill on the eastern boundary of the farm. The farm buildings are behind the trees surrounding the dam (lake) which is just visible in the centre-left of the photo.

It was about a 30-minute walk to the top of that hill from the farmhouse and when I reached the top I sat and took in the beautiful vista and counted my good fortune to live in such a beautiful country. Then I had a really good cry. This is truly a photo full of memories.

5. The Coptic priests

Coptic priests
Coptic priests

The next photo is a much more jolly memory and was taken with the Q2. In fact, all the remaining shots except one from my road trip were taken with the Q2 as the X1 ‘failed to proceed’ after the first few days.

The motherboard was kaput, as it later transpired. The particular X1 was not my original faithful companion, but a low-mileage model which I had purchased from an Australian eBay seller early in 2020. All I can say is caveat emptor. It was intended to act as backup for the day when my original X1 expires through overwork. Ironic: The old trooper backed up the backup in the end.

This shot was taken at the wonderful Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo. The wide-open spaces of the zoo are not where you would normally expect to find elderly men of the cloth, so I was very surprised to find these two Coptic Christian priests on a church outing and had a delightful chat with them. They were only too pleased to let me take their photo and this is the result.

6. Abandoned

Abandoned farm buildings
Abandoned farm buildings

This photo of abandoned farm buildings may be considered a cliche by many but I had to take it. They are beside the road south of Walgett, deep inside New South Wales about 700km from my home. It was a beautiful day. I was enjoying the driving and the road was empty, but I needed to answer a call of nature and stretch my legs so I took advantage of the photo opportunity. Unless you live in Australia, it’s difficult to appreciate the vast distances between habitation once you are away from the major cities. It’s a very empty country away from the coastal fringe.

I parked just off the road and I laughed at myself for locking the car as a matter of habit as I had not seen a vehicle travelling in either direction for the past half hour. No danger of car thieves out there, but also not a place you want to experience a breakdown. It’s a very long walk into town.

7. The opal miner

Opal miner
Opal miner

This guy is an opal miner and I photographed him at the Club in the Scrub on the Grawin Opal Field, 50km west of the opal mining centre of Lightning Ridge. The Club in the Scrub is an outback pub. It is built from corrugated iron and local timber and looks like something from a Mad Max movie. But it is one hundred per cent opal-field authentic, as are most of the people who socialise there. However, tourists such as me have also put it on the map.

The Club is not easy to reach — no tarmac roads out there — and in summer the heat is suffocating. I used the Q2 for this shot and marvel at how easy it is to use, particularly in a situation such as this.

For 20 years I used an M6 and did not switch to a digital M only because I found that my eyesight was no longer up to the rangefinder. I am now so glad I did not make the switch as the Q and now the Q2 are more than adequate substitutes in my opinion.

I converted this image to monochrome and entered it in the prestigious Australian/NZ Monochrome Awards in August and was really surprised that it was awarded a Highly Commended in the portrait class. Despite that, I still prefer the original colour version shown here.

8. Mini and the mud

Mini on wet road
Mini on a wet road

This one is a personal favourite. Was I slightly crazy — an old man in a small car with very little ground clearance — going up very wet dirt tracks in the outback? Probably the answer is yes. I did take some precautions. Those 18” wheels are shod with very low profile run-flat tyres.

Run-flats are fine if you get a puncture through the main tread, but it’s a different story if a sharp object, usually a rock, pierces the sidewall. As the Mini has no spare wheel or storage space for a spare wheel I purchased a wheel and tyre — a snip at A$1,400 — and carried it, restrained, on the backseat for the trip. Of course, it was never used.

My Mini-Elf (not to be confused with the upcoming M-Elf) as it is named for obvious reasons — drew some very strange looks out west but it managed the puddle jumping without drama. Nonetheless, there were a just few times when I questioned my own sanity. As you can see it was very wet while I was there. In fact, the area experienced three months’ rain in a few days and the wind was cold, but after years of drought, the rain was very welcome if not by me.

9. Surf sunrise

Surf beach sunrise
Surf beach sunrise

The final picture from the road trip was taken in the coastal town of Port Macquarie on the home leg of my journey: On my iPhone on my early morning walk. It shows surfers rushing to catch a wave at the southern end of Town Beach. This photo convinced me to abandon my prejudice against mobile phone photography.

10. Harbour view

Harbour view
Harbour view

This is also an iPhone photo and was taken on an unforgettable June day a few weeks after I had returned from my long excursion. A friend and I drove the 80 km down to Sydney early on a Sunday morning and parked right near the centre. Then we walked 14 km past the Opera House and over the Harbour Bridge and back. It was magical because the city was so quiet.

The international and interstate borders were shut. There were no tourists. It was as I remembered Sydney from the 1970s. We stopped and had lunch by the Opera House, right beside the harbour. The chances of getting a table there on such a beautiful winter’s day in normal times would be less than nil.

The photo shows my friend looking out over the very quiet Harbour. Memorable? Definitely. Priceless? Most definitely. Little did we know that within two weeks we would be plunged into an awful four-month-long lockdown.

11. North Avoca

Sea on rocks N Avoca
Sea on rocks N Avoca

Here is a reminder of that awful lockdown. Macfilos contributor and Central Coast local, Wayne Gerlach, and I regularly meet on a Tuesday morning for coffee. During the lockdown, we walked up the steep hill behind my house, down the other side to a small cafe at beautiful North Avoca.

This particular August morning the sea was running high and I decided that an iPhone photo would not do the scene justice. So after Wayne and I had walked back and parted company, I drove the short distance back over to North Avoca and shot the scene with my Q2. I think that the ‘panorama’ crop suits the subject.

12. Marvel


Finally, another cat photo! We’ve come full circle. Again, this is taken with the Q2. A most important photo as it shows Marvel. She’s a three-year-old domestic short hair, an RSPCA rescue cat, who I adopted in early July.

After the death of my lovely Phoebe, back in March, I made the decision not to have another cat for six to nine months. However, being alone in the large house during the lockdown quickly wore me down. I needed feline company so one of my granddaughters, Ellie, went online and found little Marvel for me.

She was at a PetBarn shop in nearby West Gosford. PetBarn has an arrangement with the RSPCA where rescue animals up for adoption are displayed in their stores. There were two cats in the store and Marvel was my first choice, but I would have taken either. I did ask if I could take both but the other one was waiting to be picked up by its new owner. So it was just Marvel.

According to the RSPCA shelter’s notes, Marvel was found by a member of the public as a very skinny stray. She is certainly not skinny today. She has really fitted into my life well. She is playful and affectionate and she is really cute. She may have had a sad history, but she’s certainly a happy cat now. She probably thinks she’s won the lottery. Good news at the end of a horrible year.

So that’s my 2021 in twelve memorable pictures. My earnest hope now is that my 2022 is better in every way than my 2021. I think I have the right building blocks in place to make that happen.

Read more from John Shingleton

Follow John on his blog, The Rolling Road


  1. What a wonderful and emotional rollercoaster series of images, John. Thank you for sharing with us. I have not taken enough this year to generate a calendar of any kind.

    Here’s hoping 2022 is a better year for everyone here at Macfilos.

    Kudos for rescuing Marvel too, he looks like fun. A couple of years back I rescued a two year old black rabbit who has been rehomed twice before. She was nervous and laden with anxiety. Today she is ageing well, and is bonded to our large male Vienna lop. She has had a good life, runs free across the house, and has a lifestyle many pets don’t get, and is a star of Instagram courtesy of my daughter.

    Happy New Year 🍷

  2. What a wonderful, thoughtful and joyous recovery from some very sad times for you. The photographs of course are lovely and Marvel is a happy start to a new set of stories. Let’s all hope for a better 2022!

  3. John, a very moving and poignant story. My condolences and congratulations on turning the corner towards recovery. Val will continue to be forever with you, often having subtle influences on your future life. But you already know this.

    Did you explore the possible repair of your standby Leica X1? You might have read my anecdote here: https://www.davidaskham.com/leica-x1-suddenly-had-a
    I was amazed and delighted that my X1 could be fixed, using spare parts I thought would have long disappeared. If not, it might be worth enquiring. It is such a capable little camera, the size of the pioneering early Leica film cameras.
    I wish you a happier and more fulfilling 2022. I think Marvel will make sure you do.

    • David, thank you.The X1 has already been repaired by the authorised Australian Leica repairer, Camera Clinic, in Melbourne. The replacement mother board had to come from Germany but to my surprise it was still available and the cost was surprisingly reasonable.

      • I like the fact that you are so attached to your X1 and good to hear that it still can be repaired. I am not sure why Leica abandoned the X-line of cameras. It seems there was and still is a market for it though the market for the Q2 is probably bigger and with a higher profit margin, still I wish they had kept them around. They provide a much lower entry point into the Leica world.

  4. Dear John,
    thank you very much for sharing these pictures and even more for letting us be part of this difficult year. I remember very well the day when I got the sad news of your loss, and I still have in mind the picture of Val in front of the Mini in late 1960s England. I do hope you can look with some confidence into the next year. Maybe, Macfilos is a small window into the world for you as much as you opened a window for us into your life in 2021.
    All the best, Jörg-Peter

  5. Thank you John for this wonderful and emotional article. Ginger-colored cats are the most affectionate ones. We had an eponimous Ginger who was.
    Happy new year

  6. Hi John, thank you for sharing your personal journey over the year. I can’t imagine the pain you’ve been through with passing away of Phoebe and then your wife and living through the lockdown.
    I’m glad that you’ve still persisted in your photographic adventure and got Marvel to keep company. Wish you a happy new year in advance and I’m sure we will see more from you..

  7. Thanks for sharing your personal loss and journey through 2021 and for documenting this through a beautiful set of carefully selected pictures. Hopefully 2022 will be a much beter year.

  8. Thank you for sharing your journey John; a superb image set. I especially enjoyed the ‘Surf Beach Sunrise’ iPhone image … and the Opal Miner. My X1 needs a replacement internal battery and I’m wondering if Leica Duke Street can arrange this ‘in house’ to avoid sending the camera to Wetzlar? Meantime the date and time require resetting whenever the main batteries are refitted after charging. Wishing you and all Macfilos enthusiasts a Very Happy & Successful New Year … and look forward to seeing more of your photo essays in 2022.

  9. A very emotional read, a fitting close to 2021. A year to which to say good riddance.

    Wishing you all the best in 2022.

  10. I have just read your very generous and moving article here on New Year’s Day, John. I am also amazed how you seem to be able to use your wide-angle Q2 for everything from close-ups to spacious wide vistas. I learn a lot about composition from just looking. (Just as I learned to use my X2 by looking at your X1 images.) With best wishes for 2022.

  11. John,

    Firstly, sincere and simple condolences . I have , to a large extent, been away from photography for a while, only intermittently dropping in on Macfilos, and to my regret missed the very sad news of Val’s passing.

    Secondly,. a simply beautiful and heartfelt article. Thank you for taking up the pen to, err, pen it. And your images never fail to invoke in me a sense of both the unique, and yet also quintessential , look of this country.

    Wishing you, yours and all of the Macfilos community a safe and much brighter 2022.


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