Sunday, December 19, 2010

Kind Thoughts For Christmas

1908 postcard from my collection
Christmas is almost upon us and it's time to pause News From Nowhere for a few days so that preparations can be made for the Festive Season. Tomorrow I need to try and make my way through the snow and ice to Sheffield to collect The Lad and then there is plenty of Christmas shopping to be undertaken. But I also intend to spend a bit of time giving News From Nowhere a bit of an early spring clean, so don't be surprised if the look of things change even though no new posts appear until after the holidays. I will try and continuing posting on my photo-blog (which I am renaming Alan Burnett's Picture Post) over the coming few days but that also will fall into a brief hibernation over the holidays. Finally, as both Christmas and New Years' Day fall on a Saturday this year, we have decided to hold a Seasonal Open House on Sepia Saturday which will allow people to post and link at their leisure. Normal service in all areas will return in the new year.

All that remains is for me to thank everyone for following News From Nowhere over the last year. Your comments and your support make blogging a pleasure. Have a wonderful Christmas and a peaceful and successful New Year.

Alan, Isobel (GLW), Alexander (The Lad), and Amy (Fat Dog Still Heading For The Big Apple)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sepia Saturday 54 : Season's Greetings To The Empty Chairs

I was looking for something Christmassy for this week's Sepia Saturday but none of the photographic albums passed down by my father or my Uncle Frank contain anything suitable. The reason, I suppose, is that back in the 1930s, except for the keen amateur, photography was a summertime occupation : and the reason for this, of course, was the light. In the days before the rapid-fire electronic flashgun, flash photography was the preserve of the brave - and to an extent, the rich - and therefore natural lighting (a.k.a. daylight) was the order of the day. And whilst it was relatively easy to grab your Box Brownie and tempt people to pose when they were sat on deckchairs enjoying the summer sun in Weston-Super-Mare, it was a greater challenge when the rain, sleet or snow was falling from battleship-grey skies. And so we will just have to imagine what their Christmas Days and their Boxing Days were like, we will have to use our mental Photoshop to paint in Christmas trees and mince pies.

The photograph comes from Uncle Frank's collection and shows (from left to right) : Auntie Miriam, her father and mother in law, and her sister in law (I really must check their details out on Ancestry) The vacant chair on the left no doubt belonged to the photographer, Uncle Frank. So seasons greetings to all, especially to the unsung heroes of Sepia Saturday, those folk of the empty chairs, the photographers.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Commercial Break : Wakey Wakey.

Last year I acquired a job lot of Picture Post magazines from the 1940s and early 1950s and as well as the fascinating pictorial and editorial content, the adverts provide a unique insight into life in Britain sixty years ago. This advert for a modernistic EKCO radio caught my eye for a whole series of reasons. I had always assumed that clock-radios were a relatively recent development but here we have the promise of waking up to music in November 1949 (according to the best-selling music charts of the time it might have been The Inkspots or perhaps Billy Cotton and his Band). The manufacturers name also brought back memories : when our family acquired their first television set three years later than this advert it was also an EKCO.

EKCO was a pioneering British radio and television company established by Eric Kirkham Cole in the 1920s. During the Second World War the firm was heavily involved in the manufacture of radar sets and after the war it switched its production to domestic radios and televisions. ECKO eventually vanished as a trade name in the 1960s.

So, how much would you need to pay for "radio's most ingenious receiver"? The price was 16 guineas (a guinea was an ingenious unit with an ever changing numerical value : two guineas was two pounds and two shillings, sixteen guineas was sixteen pounds and sixteen shillings). So what would the equivalent price be in 2010? It all depends how you do the calculations, of course, but there is an excellent site run by the Economic History Association that incorporates a calculator which will do the maths for you. In terms of inflation, the price of that ECKO radio today would be £442 ($687). But if you take the proportion of your average wage you would need to spend now compared to the proportion back in 1949, the equivalent price is a massive £1,330 ($2,076) Prices like that make waking up to Billy Cotton an expensive luxury.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Commercial Break : By Golly It Does You Good

After all that heavy lecture stuff, it's time for a commercial break. And it's time for a glass of Mackeson's Milk Stout. You can still find tins of this if you search for it, but Mackeson from a tin somehow seems all wrong. It should be served in a bottle, in a dark Snug Bar, in an old back street pub. In the words of Bernard Miles in the old adverts : "It looks good, it tastes good, and by golly it does you good" I suppose such adverts these days would have to be accompanied by a statutory public health warning.

"Milk Stout" was brewed with the addition of lactose (a sugar derived from milk) which was not converted into alcohol during the fermentation process and thus made the resulting brew both relatively weak and very sweet. It was the brew favoured by elderly ladies and nursing mothers.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Circuitous Route : Slices 7 and 8

Continuing the meaty bits (or the stale bread bits) of my recent talk, "The Circuitous Route : Chance, Information and Geography" .......

Worry not, we are getting near the end. My final two slices today:

Even though I have still not quite finished my Ten Square series, I have already planted a number of seeds that may eventually grow into future projects. A central feature of many of these will undoubtedly be the application of chance to investigating the world around us : and therefore they will probably qualify as experiments in psychogeography. I have already embarked on a tour of Yorkshire pubs guided by nothing more than the letters of the alphabet. Much as I am enjoying the experience the prospect of letter "X" is causing me sleepless nights. I have played with the idea of a feature on "The Lost Parks of Yorkshire" but after an early episode, I have not been able to find any more suitable candidates. And maybe I will take up the new hobby of straight line walking : indeed maybe I will use it to get home this evening - and maybe I will never be heard of again! But before heading off, let me tell you about Square 7 which was Stirley Hill just to the south of Huddersfield.

Let us look back and consider what our first seven squares have shown us. If we were to sum up each of the squares in just one word we would get something like this:

If we  were to sum up these seven words with just one word we would finish up with "variety" and that, in many ways is the essence of West Yorkshire. It is a county that can encompass the wildest moors and the greatest cities, beauty and the beast, mills ancient and modern. Appropriately enough, that very mixture, that great variety, was showcased in the eighth (and, as yet, the latest) of my squares, the little township of Stanley, to the north-west of Wakefield.

So what of nine and ten? Square nine has already been chosen and I am just waiting for the snow to clear before I go and investigate. It is an area I know fairly well, but one which will no doubt reveal more from a careful examination.

Square ten was chosen "live" at the end of my lecture, by the audience shouting out a series of random numbers. Thus the audience became a random number generator and they have sent me to a deserted little wood somewhere to the north of Leeds. I look forward to reporting back on what I discover there.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Circuitous Route : Slices 5 and 6

Continuing the meaty bits (or the stale bread bits) of my recent talk, "The Circuitous Route : Chance, Information and Geography" .......

These two slices are a little on the thin side so I have merged them together:

The idea of a circuitous route might make you think that psychogeographic chance and randomness can only be achieved by going around the houses. This is not necessarily the case. A few weeks ago I was describing my proposed talk to a good friend of mine and he declared that he too must be something of a psychogeorapher. Many years ago he was living in Coventry and got a job in London. He had a little time to spare before he started his new job and decided that he would make his way from Coventry to London using the most direct route possible - a straight line. He was the owner of an old Honda 50cc motorcycle which he used for the journey and which allowed him, where necessary, to cut across fields and along the most inaccessible tracks. He drew a straight line connecting Coventry to London and set off to see what he would discover. His example almost made me change my mission statement to "never go in a straight line when a circuitous route is available, except when the straight line is even more revealing". 

In the spirit of my friend Mike, let us move in a straight line to Square 5 which was between the villages of Skelmanthorpe and Scisset.

Blogging and psychogeography may be strange bedfellows, but they are undoubtedly bedfellows. The wonderful thing about blogging is that you can go anywhere you want to go, and say anything you want to say. There is no grand editor forcing you to stick to the point, no owner making you amass a profit. As a blogger you can - and often I do - start a new project and then abandon it within days because its' tediousness outweighs its' inherent interest. If you are lucky enough to have readers and followers, they read and follow for the pleasure of the journey rather than for the returns to be gained from the destination. Which is, when you consider it, very similar to the mission of the psychogeographer. Because of its' very scope and depth, blogging provides a unique vision of life in the twenty-first century. Blogging is, essentially, the Mass Observation movement of the 21st Century.

My blog-based psychogeography predates my Ten Square project, as my long-running project "Fat Dog To The Big Apple" was an early form of pychogeographical investigation. My decision to take my dog Amy for a walk from Los Angeles to New York City was an attempt to virtually discover America by taking a circuitous route from the west coast to the east coast. When I started the journey in 2007, I estimated that it would take me the best part of five years. But Amy and I are still stuck in Oregon, weighed down by inertia and too many chicken dinners. We have both just agreed an early New Year Resolution, so watch out, Fat Dog will be returning to a blog near you soon.

But before returning to America, Amy and I took a walk in West Yorkshire : a walk to Square 6 and the rather unusual Osset Spa.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Circuitous Route : Slice Four

Continuing the meaty bits (or the stale bread bits) of my recent talk, "The Circuitous Route : Chance, Information and Geography" .......

There is a saying in business circles - "if you come up with a good idea, franchise it". So if we assume for a moment that the application of chance and randomness to exploring the environment is a good idea, how can it be franchised? How can I become the Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Psychogeography? One way would be to simply ratchet the study up : look at West Yorkshire in 20 squares, 50 squares or 100 squares. There must however be a limit before repetition sets in. Alternatively one could switch the geographical focus or widen it. Random Britain would be an interesting idea - an exploration of the country in twenty random square miles. But given my luck each of the twenty squares would finish up at the top of a mountain or in the middle of a deep, dark Scottish Loch.

One could, of course, go all the way and apply the principle to the earth itself. Indeed you can turn this approach into a jolly Christmas game. Go to the opening sequence on Google Earth, the bit where you have a circular globe. With a flick of your mouse you can start the world spinning. Next close your eyes but keep your finger on your mouse button and at a random point, right click. Then zoom in on the point you have chosen. Do this two or three times and see what you get. If your experiment is anything like mine, the first thing you discover is that the world we live in is mostly water. If you assume that one bit of water looks very like another, just follow up the random clicks that give you land. You might then find that what isn't water is mostly desert.

Another game you can play - especially if you live in Britain and are suitably aged - is what I call Pensioners' Poker. If you are over 60 (although the qualifying age is in the process of increasing by stages to 65) you are presented with a pass that allows you to travel on any bus free of charge. My father - who must also have been a psychogeographer - invented Pensioners' Poker. You go to the local bus station and armed with your pass you get on the first bus to leave. After a pre-determined number of stops you get off the bus and explore the area fickle fate has taken you to.

The possibilities are as endless as your imagination. At which point let me direct your imagination to the fourth of my random squares, West Wood near the village of Calverley.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Circuitous Route : Slice Three

Continuing the meaty bits (or the stale bread bits) of my recent talk, "The Circuitous Route : Chance, Information and Geography" .......

It is time to reflect on the question, "how did I become a psychogeographer?". The answer - given what I have said so far - is, of course, "by chance".
Indeed until a few weeks ago I had no idea I was a psychogeographer as I had no idea the movement existed. And then one day I was describing my Ten Square project to a friend and he declared, "What you are doing is psychogeography, there is a whole group of people who meet in Leeds to discuss various aspects of psychogeography, I must tell them about you". I am thus the Grandma Moses of psychogeography : the equivalent of the little old lady happily splashing away with her paint and brushes and in blissful ignorance that what she is producing is what others will call art. My friend told the Leeds Psychogeography Group about this Grandma Moses living out in Huddersfield and you very kindly invited me to come along and tell you about my work. 

Of course the first thing I did was to look "psychogeography" up in Wikipedia. Wiki provides us with two definitions, the first is the classic 1955 definition by Guy Debord : "the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals". The definition might have been a bit heavy, but at least it let me know that psychogeography existed and I wasn't the subject of a complex practical joke, Psychogeography, I discovered, wasn't quite as esoteric as I had imagined : one British newspaper had featured a regular column on psychogeography by the celebrated writer Will Self. But it was the second definition that held my attention : "a whole toy box full of playful, inventive strategies for exploring cities ... just about anything that takes pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape". "Mama", I shouted to myself, "I have come home"

Shortly after I started my News From Nowhere Blog in 2006 I was stood in the Fish and Chip shop one day when I noticed that they had a Mission Statement pinned to the wall. It proclaimed : "It is our aim to serve our customers with the very best freshly-fried and nutritious fish and chips, prepared from locally sourced products and served by attentive, courteous and well-qualified staff". I quickly decided that if a fish and chip shop could have a Mission Statement. a blog should have one as well and soon came up with "Never to go in a straight line when a circuitous route is available". I have tried to remain true to my mission in the four years I have been blogging, avoiding getting to the point with the nimble skill of a Victorian cutpurse. The discovery that what my old school-teacher called "Alan's inability to stick to the point and reach a conclusion" could be the proud badge of a psychogeographer, was a happy discovering indeed.

So in the knowledge that I am a fully-paid up member of the Chartered Institute of Psychogeographers, let is move on to the third of my ten squares ...

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Circuitous Route : Slice Two

Continuing the meaty bits (or the stale bread bits) of my recent talk, "The Circuitous Route : Chance, Information and Geography".....

The most important change by far to have taken place during my lifetime is the coming of the "Information Age". The ability to store and distribute almost limitless quantities of information has touched every aspect of our economic, social and personal lives. When I was young, my "information dream" was to own and be surrounded by a full set of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and now such a dream sounds childish. The half a million topics covered by the Britannica are dwarfed by the trillions of references instantly available on the Internet. But this state of information plenty comes at a cost as the problems related to a shortage of information are replaced by the problems associated with a surfeit of information. So how can we cope in a world where simply Googling  "Cabbage Soup" brings up 1,690,000 results? I would suggest that there are three possible strategies for coping with information overload.

Let's call the first strategy the "Macro Approach" or the "WikiWorld Approach". In this strategy you cope with information excess by picking out "the best of", or the most relevant, or even the worst of. You boil the raw information liquid and distill out those elements that are seen as the most important or noteworthy. There is nothing wrong with such a strategy, indeed it is an essential approach that can quickly and effectively provide us with an overview of whatever we may want to know. Thus one easy way of understanding West Yorkshire is to actually go to the Wikipedia reference and you will quickly get an overall impression of what the area is like. 

Let us call the second strategy the "Micro Approach". Again this is a more than valid approach to information excess and an approach that has provided us with some of the most important benefits of the "Information Age" In this approach we use a microscope rather than a wide-angle lens and we focus down on detail. Google Street Cam allows us to travel down most of the highways and byways of the developed world and sites like Geograph encourage people to contribute to a growing database of distinctly local information. Blogging has made a significant contribution to this micro approach and there are many excellent blogs which enrich our knowledge and understanding of local areas and issues.

A third strategy, I would suggest, is chance or randomness and it is this approach that particularly interests me. Letting chance be your satnav when navigating the Internet has several advantages. It potentially shows you things you might not see otherwise, it rids you of preconceived assumptions, and it can help you to identify connections that are not otherwise obvious. There used to be a site called "Mystery Google" which is sadly no longer available. The idea was that whatever search term you typed into the search engine you would be presented with the results of someone else's search (if you searched for "cabbage soup" you would get a list of results for a search, for example, for "watering cans"). There is something which instinctively appeals to me about such an approach because in turns the potentially stale process of information gathering into an adventure. 

And it was therefore chance that was to be the main driving force behind my investigation of my native county of West Yorkshire. And with that I was able to move on to the second square my random number generator sent me to : Thimble Stones on the top of Ilkley Moor.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Circuitous Route : Slice One

"There is an old saying, "if you can't fight, wear a big hat". The intellectual equivalent of this is, I suppose, "if you don't know what to say, invent a pretentious title". And that is how I come to stand in front of you today speaking on "The Circuitous Route : Chance, Information and Geography".

Those were the opening words of my presentation at Leeds University to the Leeds Psycho-geography Group  last night. A few months ago when I was explaining my Blog Project "West Yorkshire in Ten Squares" to a friend, he told me that what I was doing was known as psycho-geography. Sometime later he happened to mention my project to the co-ordinator of the Leeds Psycho-geography Group and she invited me along to their December meeting to speak about my work. In the talk I tried to interlink some thoughts about the impact of chance and randomness on the way we see the world with extracts from the Yorkshire in Ten Squares Project. After the talk, a few people asked me if I would make the slides available on the internet, so I thought it might be an idea if I shared them via the blog. Rather than repeat extracts from "West Yorkshire In Ten Squares", I can just provide a link to the individual posts, and this means that I can concentrate on the meaty filling of the sandwich, or maybe the slices of stale bread : it all depends on how you look at it. I will break this up over a few days - into "slices" of the sandwich that was my talk, so it doesn't become too heavy. So here goes .....

My first "slice" attempted to give some background to the "West Yorkshire In Ten Squares" project and I went on to explain how the project came about as a response to four questions. The first was a question that has frequently been posed by you, the readers of my blog, and it is "What is your part of the world really like?". One could, of course, turn to something like Wikipedia which will provide a potted description of West Yorkshire along with photographs of iconic buildings. But somehow that didn't seem to capture the essence of the West Yorkshire I know and therefore I was determined to find an alternative approach.

My second question might seem a strange one, but it is, I think, relevant. Think back to all those 1950s and 1960s science fiction films which feature invaders from outer space. These flying saucers have supposedly hurtled light years through space and hit upon earth. So why is it that they always seem to hover over London, or New York or Moscow? Surely chance would dictate that they would be as likely to land in the middle of Siberia, or in Todmorden. As far as raw chance is concerned the square mile that is Thorne Waste is just as important as the square mile that is the City of London. I wanted a way of reflecting this in my Ten Squares project.

My third question is one which is often heard inside the Burnett family car as we drive through West Yorkshire :  "didn't we once look at a house up there?". When we bought our current house 18 years ago we must have looked at about twenty or thirty in total, spread around West Yorkshire. When you are house hunting it is one of the few occasions in your life when you will go to out of the way places driven by nothing more than a random postcode on an estate agent's brochure. But that short experience of house hunting introduced me to more out-of-the-way parts of my native county than any other experience. What I wanted was to go house hunting without having to suffer the stress of buying a house.

Initially I had just those three questions : and an answer. I would choose ten points in West Yorkshire at random and see what was there. Whatever it was would, almost by definition, be typical of West Yorkshire. I started the process but by the time I got to point two I hit on a problem : the point was slap bang on the central reservation of the M62 motorway. So I changed the nature of the game from West Yorkshire in Ten Points to West Yorkshire in Ten Squares, making use of the 9,600 500 m by 500m squares that make up the West Yorkshire Road Atlas. A  square would give me chance to explore a little and the chance to avoid being run over by a bus.

And that is how it started. An internet-based random number generator would choose my ten squares and I would explore them and report on them. And so I headed off to my first square which was the Little Germany area of Bradford.

At this point I took a look at that first square - the meat in the first part of my multiple sandwich. If you haven't  seen Square One I have added a link to it. I will return tomorrow with the second slice of my talk.

Monday, December 06, 2010

It Seemed Like Such A Good Idea At The Time

It seemed like such a good idea at the time. There I was attending a virtual reality gathering which was supposedly taking place in the Scottish Highlands and Islands. I'd made my virtual way there by virtually visiting a large number of distilleries en route. Now that I was logged-on to Mr Toast's blog, I was chatting to people from all over the world : chatting about Scotland and whisky and having a good time. So why not carry out a unique experiment, an expedition to the hinterland that undoubtedly exists somewhere between fantasy and reality. Instead of virtually drinking each of the single malt whiskies, I would actually drink them. For real. In real time. Oh it all went well last night. As each successive glass of Jura or Cardhu or Glen Ord was downed, I became more eloquent and took on a writing style somewhere between Hemingway and William Faulkner. I became best friends with people I had never met before and even took to the dance-floor with the ever-gracious Betsy. But in the cold light of morning a price has to be paid. As I stumble into my room and find the half-empty bottles I begin to wonder just what I did and said last night. So I would like to issue an unlimited and universal apology to anyone I may have upset.

If I am quiet for the next couple of days don't assume it is the results of a hang-over. During a previous period of over-indulgence I agreed to give a talk to the Leeds Psychogeography Group entitled "The Circuitous Route : Chance, Information and Geography". All I have to do before Wednesday is to try and remember what I meant by this rather bizarre title. Let me leave you with wise words from William Faulkner :

“There is no such thing as bad whiskey. Some whiskeys just happen to be better than others. But a man shouldn't fool with booze until he's fifty; then he's a damn fool if he doesn't.” 

Sunday, December 05, 2010

You Take The High Road, But I Took The Low Road

One of the most anticipated events of the Blogging Calendar is, of course, Mr. Toast's Annual Christmas Tea, and following the rather unfortunate events of last year (the Swedish police are still wanting to speak to me in order to clarify some of the events that took place in that hotel in Lerum) I was determined to get to the right venue this year. Mr Toast himself has helped me avoid a repeat of last years' embarrassment by organising the event this year in Scotland, which - although not a part of Yorkshire - is not that far away. The event will be held at Torosay Castle on the Isle of Mull, and, despite the recent dreadful weather, I had managed to make it almost all the way there without mishaps. Until I got to Lochgilphead, that is, where I unfortunately took the low road to Kennacraig rather than the high road to Oban. And that was the start of a rather unfortunate series of events.

On arrival at Kennacraig, I realised my rather unfortunate mistake, but I discovered I could get a ferry from there to Port Ellen on the lovely Scottish island of Islay which, according to the map on the back page of my diary, was in approximately the right direction. Rather than having to retrace my virtual steps and head north to Oban and the main ferry service to Mull, I decided to hop over to Islay. Knowledge of Mr Toast's Christmas Tea must be widespread, all I needed to do was to ask a few friendly locals directions and all my problems would evaporate like a finely distilled malt whisky. Ah, dear reader, how right I was. Indeed, how right I was.

I arrived in the lovely little village of Port Ellen, but discovered few people on the street so I asked a passer-by whether it was early closing day. "It closed in 1983", was the somewhat strange reply, "but they still have a few bottles of the old stuff at the White Hart Hotel". My friend pointed me in the direction of a rather cozy looking hostelry and when I got inside I asked if they had any of "the old stuff" and was handed a small glass of a pale gold coloured liquid which, it appeared, I was supposed to drink rather than send to a laboratory for testing. It tasted like distilled seaweed laced with salt and pepper but it had a kick with it which must have made it a contender for a fuel source for the Apollo rocket programme. Whilst the strange liquid might have improved my motive power it seemed to interfere with my ability to pronounce words. I did manage to mumble something about looking for a party and I was sent up the road to a little settlement called Ardbeg.

"I'm looking for a party", I said to an old chap I saw leaning against a gate. At first I was a little reluctant to question him for, if truth be told, I was a little surprised to see a bearded cross-dresser in such a rural part of the community. But I'm a broad minded chap and his skirt seemed to have such a colourful pattern, I pressed ahead with my inquiry. He simply pointed me in the direction of a shed-like building and as soon as I entered someone gave me a glass of an amber-looking liquid which, according to the chap I found myself sat next to at a little trestle table "skips sweetly along at first, then becomes mean and moody in the lengthy middle of the encounter". Assuming the poor chap had been eating some less than ripe mushrooms I quickly left the place and headed down the coast for a mile or two until encountering a mill in a hollow.

"Lagavulin", said yet another cross-dressing local in answer to my unasked question. "What on earth does that mean", I asked. "A mill in a hollow", he replied giving every indication that he was addressing the kind of idiot who didn't understand the Gaelic. On discovering that I really didn't understand the local language his mood changed and he kindly invited me into the mill for a glass of the kind of amber precipitate that I was beginning to get used to. As I rolled the peaty liquor with charming hints of sherry around my mouth I expressed my appreciation at the charming but slightly unusual taste. "Unusual", he declared, "unusual: nay laddie ye need to go to Laphroaig" I tried to explain that I was really looking for an eccentric gathering of people unlike no others I had ever met. "Aye, that will be Laphroaig you'll be looking for", he said.

When I got to Laphroaig - which was only a short distance from Lagavulin - I was immediately invited into what I had now begun to recognise as a distillery. Seeing that I was beginning to look a little tired and emotionally worse for wear, someone handed me a glass of the most extraordinary tasting liquid I have ever sampled in my life. What can I say? Think of your old school nurse, and mix together a few drops of all the strange potions that she would dispense whenever you had a head cold, or head lice, or a head ache. Add a few drops of Castrol engine oil. Then bury in a peat-bed and surround it with slimy sea-weed. After leaving it to distill for a decade or two serve it in a glass and down it in one whilst proclaiming "Slainte Mhath!" The really odd thing was that by now I was getting used to the taste. I mumbled something about "Mr Toast" and my new friends immediately cried  "Slainte Mhath!" again and another glass was drunk.

Quite how I came to the village of Bowmore I will never know. I remember saying something about having an appointment on the Isle of Mull and someone indicating that it was somewhere in the north. A couple of my new friends agreed to walk north with me and we eventually came to the village of Bowmore and we stopped off at another distillery to restock on essential supplies. These supplies consisted almost exclusively of glasses of greeny-gold liquid that had the unmistakable taste of a garden spade. By now I had got to the point where the more bizarre the whisky tasted, the more I liked it. I was also beginning to hallucinate. These people who wandered aimlessly from distillery to distillery with me, where they new friends or strangers. Or were they old blogging friends who I had failed to recognise in the alcoholic haze of dusk on a remote Scottish island?

Was that Willow and Betsy I shared a dram with in the distillery at Port Askaig? Was that Baino behind the bar happily dispensing glasses of malt, and could that be Brian Miller in the corner penning another telling rhyme?  Was that Jayne H-H painting a mysterious mural on the wall of the bar at the Caol Isla distillery and could that be Jeffscape sat in the corner writing Chapter 47 of the Great Novel of The Third Millennium? That must be John Hayes playing banjo near the bar and I would recognise Kat Mortensen anywhere. When we got to the end of the road in Bunnahabhain, there was Kim Yanoshik and Roy Hilbinger capturing the event on film and my great friends Martin Hodges and Tony Zimnoch ready with a reviving glass or three of malt.

The only person I didn't see was Mr Toast himself and every time I asked someone about him I was handed yet another glass and made to drink it down in something of a hurry. However, I have found another ferry terminal and I think I have discovered my escape route. With luck I will see you all soon at Torosay Castle, just as soon as I have made my way across the Isle of Jura!

"Slainte Mhath!" 

Friday, December 03, 2010

Sepia Saturday 52 : Blue Anchor

First of all, my apologies for being unusually quiet these last few days : put it down to my cold (what many of you have charmingly called "man-flu"), the foot deep snow and sub-zero temperatures, and the fact that the Lad has been stranded at home revising for his exams and monopolising my desk. I have another task demanding my attention - more of that next week - but I am pleased to be squeezing in a Sepia Saturday post and, on Sunday, making time to call in on Mr Toast's Second Annual Christmas Tea which this year will be taking place at Torosay Castle on the Isle of Mull. But first I need to travel south to Somerset and to my Sepia Saturday post :

Without intending to do so, I seem to have set off on the virtual trail of my mother and father and their 1930s motorcycling tour of the South-West of England. This week's photograph shows my mother (and I think that is Charlie Pitts again) and is marked as being taken in "Blue Anchor". This will almost certainly be the West Somerset village of Blue Anchor, which, like all good villages, is named after the local 17th century pub.

I know that those of a suspicious nature might raise a virtual eyebrow at the frequency of photographs featuring my mother and Charlie Pitts. But these were the days before time delays on camera shutters and my father was usually the one behind the camera. There must be something genetic about this willingness (indeed, enthusiasm) to take the photographs rather than appear in them : when my future decedents come to post my pictures on Sepia Saturday 2681 there may be some comment as to why the Good Lady Wife is always featured with other people and never with me.

As far as I am aware, I have never been to Blue Anchor. Once the GLW decides to edge her way in the direction of retirement we plan to try and visit parts of the country we are less familiar with. I will make Blue Anchor a priority destination, the sound of that pub is just too attractive to ignore.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

No Spade Is Turned

This picture is from my bedroom window this morning. The predominant scene of grey and white is broken only by the bright orange of a snow shovel. But this is a spade unturned, as I shiver indoors nursing a dripping, running, sniffling cold. I tell the Good Lady Wife, that ,at my time of life, this combination of illness and inclement weather could easily carry me off, and she tells me not to be such a wimp and to start shoveling the snow. I tell her that there is no point as further heavy snow is forecast, and she gives me the kind of look that could, in itself, freeze the North Sea. I sneeze and cough. She turns over and goes back to sleep. And still no spade is turned.

Latest Update : 11.00am It's getting worse. Just about to take Amy out for a walk. I might be quite some time.

Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...