Friday, December 21, 2012

Waes Hael

A Message From Mog:
"Good Luck and Good Health For The Coming Year To All My Fans"

Well ship mates - a great and good calm has come over the Goode Shippe FB this week as we prepare for the Festive Season. Far be it for me to sing my own praises, but we do the Season 'proper' on this 'ere shippe.
The lads work hard through the whole year, and at Christmas time they deserve something decent, so when we pulls into port on the Saturday tide, I have arranged for each man-jack to receive a week's extra wage and a small cask o' good Demerera Rum straight from my friend Angus McSporran from Barbados (he be as black as the ace o'spades, but you couldn't want to meet a nicer Scotsman). And then it's a couple of weeks off with nothing to do but talk and make merry.
Oh yes, it is quite something when FB hits port at this time of year. We have crowds of waiting wives and excited children; treats and toys and curiosities and lace and scents from all four corners of the Oceans.
I make sure we arrive in a bluster of excitement and goodness. Others have tried to copy, but I can truly say there's none does it better than your Cap'n.
Even that darn cat gets into the spirit of things, a trippin' along the railings with a sprig o'holly poking out from goodness knows where. Oh yes, he's been known to upstage us all, but I'm all the happier for it.
I'll leave you now with a wee poem from me good mate Lord Byron - a man who has travelled with us many a time. The poem is inscribed on a human skull which has been turned into a drinking pot.
As he said to me "What use be the foul coil of flesh when thy spirit is lighter than air?"  . . . and you know what maties . . he's right.
It's a sobering verse, but true.


Start not, nor deem my spirit fled: 
In me behold the only skull 
From which, unlike a living head, 
Whatever flows is never dull.

I lived, I loved, I quaff'd like thee: 
I died: let earth my bones resign: 
Fill up-thou canst not injure me, 
The worm hath fouler lips than thine.

Better to hold the sparkling grape, 
Than nurse the earthworm's slimy brood; 
And circle in the goblet's shape 
The drink of gods, than reptile's food.

Where once my wit, perchance, hath shone, 
In aid of others let me shine; 
And when, alas! our brains are gone, 
What nobler substitute than wine?

Quaff while thou canst, another race 
When thou and thine, like me, are sped, 
May rescue thee from earth's embrace, 
And rhyme and revel with the dead.


So from me and Mog and the Crew, have a great festive season - be kind to each other.



***



Far be it for me to go all maudling on you, but I suppose Christmas and the New Year is a time when the shades and memories of dead relations and friends crowd in and yearn for some of that warmth they used to experience when they were alive.
And you know what friends, I say this to you - welcome them.
As I have posted before in FB, I am quite an old-fashioned person, and by old-fashioned, I don't just mean 20th Century, nope, wind back further and further and further.
Before the Industrial Revolution, man knew his place within the world, and it was hard.
The grind of finding your daily bread; back-breaking labour; lack of medical care; cold.
Is it any wonder that in modern society the homeless person is the one most likely to die very young?
That is because our physicality to deal with such travails really does only manage to eke itself out till the mid to late 40's. After that, in ancient terms, you are an OLD person.
In prehistoric times you were anathema, or revered.
People lived the full human existence at breakneck speed and were gone before they knew it.
Life was, how shall we say, concentrated.
So is it any wonder that there was a huge importance placed upon alcohol?
I know beer is supposed to have been invented by the Mesopotamians, however really when you think about it, really really think about it, any seed placed in the right circumstances will start to germinate. Beer is just a  stones throw further on (just look into how the mighty Belgians make Kriek, a beer born of the soul of the open countryside **); air-born yeasts are as pretty much as common as oxygen . . it was, and is and always shall be. All the Mesopotamians  did was harness the natural thing.
Think about cider - an apple: over-ripe, acted upon by yeasts. A starving man in the cold. You would eat anything, including rotting fruit. Hmmm, that apple tasted good, really good. What's that feeling?
Do you get my drift?
Those grapes rotting on that vine. They're all shrivelled to hell. Mmmmm - so sweet and tangy and, hmmm, what's that taste?
Alcohol, which is after all a natural product of yeast and fruit-sugars, is as old as mankind itself. No one discovered it. It was just there.
And it was a hugely important part of ancient societies.
I believe probably far more important than psycho-active drugs produced by the likes of mushrooms and toadstools.
Be honest with yourself. You're ancient and starving . . what are you going to eat? Rotten fruit or a toadstool? Mankind is genetically programmed to prefer sweet over foul. I think the answer is obvious.
Yes . . well . . I sort of think the whole thinking about ancient societies was taken over by drug culture around about the early 1990's, as a sort of excuse for use.
Shaman were everywhere.
You couldn't walk down the High Street without tripping over one.
And far from me to dispell such things (as I think there definitely was a place for someone in ancient societies who could commune with spirits) I tend to think it has got out of hand.
Nikolai Tolstoy's book 'In Quest Of Merlin' is a fantastically written and semi-scholarly drawing together of the mythology of Merlin, and as such the impression one gets about the world's second most famous wizard is that he endured extreme rough living and roved the South of Scotland berrating Christians.
Little mention of trips and troves. Probable cause for visions? Hunger and dehydration - both powerful drivers on the mind.
So what of a land awash with all-powerful Shamanic figures striding around with staves and spirits? Well, sorry to quash any notions you might have, but the real power in ancient societies was held by women. I won't keep going on (for the sake of brevity) however Gud-wiffes helped you into the world, and they also helped you shake the mortal coil.
There doesn't seem to have been a whole lot of rattle rattling and ghost whispering and mushroom eating. Just milking and making and mending; foraging and tending and caring.
Anyway, on we go, in the spirit of Ancient Times.
An offering of alcohol or other somesuch thing was made at festival times to ancestors.
I have been known to dowse our doorsteps with a splash of good whisky at the New Year.
I welcome spirits, and, I hope they feel welcomed.
When we first moved into our current house, there was a feeling and a smell. The smell was of dog-rose, and the feeling was a feeling I used to feel in my home when I was very young.
It was a feeling of welcome. It infused the house from the moment we opened the door, but was especially concentrated in what we now call the sitting room, which was, when the house was built in 1888, the kitchen.
At some time, someone, or rather, I believe, some cook (it is a house with the main quarters and servants quarters), absolutely loved their work and took pride in a gathering - their spirit suffused the whole of our downstairs area and I think has remained there in the bricks and stone and wood.
In other words, our house loves a party.
We don't have many, but when we do, you can feel the pride of that spirit coming right out.
Does that sound fanciful?
I know it does, but it is a thing that hasn't been commented on by just us. So, each year, I give thanks to the spirits of the people who worked and built, who tended and cleaned, who imbued their life purpose into stone and mortar and slate and cast iron and wood.
At this time of year it is important to remember who you are and where you came from.
It is also important to remember that you didn't just appear as an autonomous entity.
You are the product of centuries of love (and lust) and careful tending and joy, and negligence and sorrow.
You, 21st Century Man and Woman, are so 'stone-age' you don't even realise it! For all the modern reliance on technology and the apparent feebleness of the modern human, there's some tough cookies in there. The instinct for survival doesn't just lie down and do the dead fly dance, no way. Tenacity and persistence, those are mankind's strengths.
You are as much a part of your ancestors dreams as they are of your genes. And if you start to think like that, why not welcome them in?
Be 'stone-age' if you want.
I am proud of my roots.
I am proud of my genetic makeup.
And I want to give thanks to that. And if I can do that by saying a warm and welcoming Hoots! to the spirits of those who have died then I shall and will. There is nothing wrong with it, and in fact, I think there might well be everything right with it.
I cannot deny who I am, and I am not going to.
I am me, and I am also them.
They are me to a greater and lesser extent and they are you too.
So this festive season (and it doesn't just have to be the Winter's one, make it the others throughout the year too) welcome your ancestors.
Feel free to leave wee offerings.
Give thanks and greetings.
You are not a lump of wood or plastic
You are a human. Flesh and bone and blood and spirit
You should be aware of such things.


***

What spurred this week's FB was a curious thing.
I was mucking around in my study and knocked a photograph off a shelf. It was a photo taken by my Mum quite a number of years back and there was a message to my son on the back, and, having read it I felt so moved to write this that I did.
You see the message was in her handwriting, and when I really thought about it, what you leave behind in the form of handwriting, is one of the most profound things, because it is a ghost too, but a ghost with curves and angles and dots and sweeping lines; crabbed or sprawling; printed or unreadable.
It is you placed with semi-permanence on paper until fire or water or sunlight or mouse or insect or laissez-faire decides that enough is enough and consigns you to the landfill of sleep.
But until then . . .
I loved finding these words from my Mum - it was such a link to her that I found myself very tearful.
I still really miss her (she died physically about 2 years ago, but Alzhiemers killed her long before that) and yet there she was sitting on a shelf, less than a foot away from my right ear!
And when I started thinking about it, I realised that I also had such tangible links to my Dad (in the form of our address on a Kodak return label!) and my Aunty Jane too, in the form of a typically witty comment on the back of another photo.
Gosh I felt priviledged.
And again the impermanence of the modern digital world really hit home!
Who writes letters on paper and sends them?
Who uses film (albeit consumer film) and gets a photograph printed and writes something wry and amusing on the back?





A Message From The Past




My Father's Handwriting




Typically Aunty Jane. Witty To The Very End.



What will happen to your Facebook wall when Facebook gets taken over and the big corporations move in? Another MySpace or Bebo?
It just says to me that if you are taking digital photographs, for God's sake back them up.
Affix them to something of permanence.
My negatives are stored in archival sleeves after having been processed properly. They will outlast me and you and probably our children and maybe even their children and so on.
They'll go one day, but who is going to remember me in two generations time (if we are still around) - who is going to look at my negatives and think "What the F?"
The small pieces of writing I have been left with are interesting from the point of view that they connect me - more than someone's personal possessions, more than just a photograph. Like a diary or a letter, you get a flavour of how that person was in life and that is the great thing.


***


Moving on ever so quickly (but still linked) I have  another  (final) tale to tell.
It involves a moth-eaten manilla folder and a loft, and is the ultimate version of the writing on the back of a photograph.
Quite a number of years ago now my Mum asked me to get something out of her loft. I don't remember what it was, but I got it, and in being up there I noticed that she had utilised some really decent tea chests to move stuff from Scotland to Lincolnshire (she'd had to give up living in Scotland - rural life for an old woman can be incredibly difficult and she felt that further South would be better and nearer family, as well as being less demanding). Anyway, the tea chests were the same ones we had used when we made the big move from London to Scotland in the 1970's.
I rootled through them and found lots of old fishing tackle, a zither, arrows, Airfix soldiers, tons of other items from my childhood, and the said folder.
When I looked at it, I remembered it distinctly as having sat in a box in our loft in Northolt, and also in Scotland. I had never looked at it as I always thought it was my Dad's apprentice engineering notes and was interested, but left it where it was.
A couple of years passed and I was having a conversation with Steve and mentioned the folder, telling him I thought it was connected with CAV and Dad. He said that would be really interesting to look at because of the work Dad did on fuel injection systems during WWII, so I said next time I was at my Mum's I would look it out and keep it safe.
So, FFWD another year and I found myself in Mum's loft again, but this time with a purpose. The folder was still there - remarkably untouched and pretty unravaged by time considering it would be heading for 60 years old.
I bought it downstairs and dusted it off.
The folder was bound with a parcel-wrap of string - proper old school twine, none of yer plastic stuff - which I undid.
The first thing I saw was a pink ribbon and a large bundle of old paper.
I couldn't quite believe it, but looked closely.
Letters . . . lots of them.
I didn't even need to put two and two together to know that I had uncovered family gold. My Mum and Dad's love letters.
I gave thanks, and I know it seems stupid, but I am sure I could feel the hand of  my Dad in this.
What a priceless thing.


Unopened for nearly 60 years

Treasure



I read the first page, and realised that what I was reading was passionate and loving and personal.
I stopped, then re-read what I had just read, and realised that I couldn't read them.
Not whilst Mum was still alive.
It was too much.
I don't actually think she would have minded, but reading what I had read, and sensing the yearning and love that simply oozed out of the pages from just writing about the everyday, I knew that if I did encounter anything truly intimate I would feel that somehow I had violated their privacy.
I re-sealed the folder but made sure that it was safely tucked up in our luggage when we headed back North.
Mum died two years ago, but I still haven't read them, however now, I feel, maybe the time is right.
I want to find out about them, my parents, in that early glow of a love that lasted them all their lives.
I want to see and feel them through the gift of their handwritten letters.
I always knew that Mum and Dad were incredibly passionate about each other and I think that their love and yearning for each other, imbued into every word, will lift itself free of the delicate wartime paper like a flock of doves released into the light of day and fly around my study on the wings of heaven.
If you have any writing from friends and relatives, living and dead, you should treasure it.
You never know when it will transcend mortality and become a thing of light and ink and feeling.


***


As is often the case with FB, I find a chance to shoehorn in some photography, and I thought the following image rather suited the feeling of this week's writing.



News From Home
News From Home



It is quite unlike any other photo I have taken.
It was a snatched shot on Ilford Delta 400 rated at approximately EI 800.
I have used the film's latitide and just snapped.
Aperture was about f9, and shutter speed was 1/60th of a second. The film was developed in Kodak HC 110 Dilution G, for 18 minutes at 21 Degrees Centigrade.
It could have done with longer actually, but there you go.
I love the way the uncoated Leica lens from 1934 has rendered the shadow detail. A modern coated lens could not have given such a sense of light to the scene without rendering everything a lot more contrasty . . So hip hip hooray! for ancient lenses.
And that's me for this year methinks.
Thank you if you have stuck with FB this year . . more next year.
And if you are just a visitor, well, I shall say what the mighty Dave Allen used to say at the end of his shows. You'll have to imagine I am raising a glass and looking at you though . . .
"Thankyou, Goodnight and may your God go with you."


** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kriek_lambic

Friday, December 14, 2012

FBR51 (Wahoo!)

Mornin' maties. 
Well that was a party to end all parties. 
It had the hallmark of one of those parties that is written about in years to come. 
Everything happened . . . 
And the end of the evening? 
A damn good Keel Haulin' 
Oh yes, perfection.
We left a scattered trail of boats awash with grog and drunken sailors. 
We left islands with natives glad to see the back of us. 
We literally spliced the mainbrace, by order of Her Majesty.


It has given me great pleasure to return with the Duke of Edinburgh to Sheephousecestershire, to witness the International Fleet Review celebrating the Completion Of Fifty FogBlogs. 
FogBlog has confirmed, through the smartness of its writing and insight, and superb execution of the Ideals Of Blogging, the best traditions of service on the seas of ether. I offer to all the officers, men and women of Sheephousecestershire my congratulations. It is particularly pleasing to see the strong bonds forged by hardened drinkers with their ship's cats here today. May all visiting sailors and delegations return safely to their home-ports with fond memories of this historic celebration. I know how greatly the dockyard and other supporting services have contributed to making this Fifty FogBlogs Review an occasion which I shall long remember. 
Sir Herman of Sheephouse can take great pride in his accomplishments of the past, and his ongoing service to Blogging, and their Significant Contribution To Insight on the worlds oceans of improbability. 
Prince Philip and I send our warm good wishes to all of you and look forward to following your important endeavours as you sail to meet the challenges of another Fifty FogBlogs Of Service. 
Splice the mainbrace.
—Elizabeth R


By Royal Approval no less.
God Bless You, your Majesty.
Even Mog had a wee totty o' the hard stuff (double cream)



***




Well this week I am celebrating somewhat of a landmark . . yes, incredibly, last week was my Fiftieth Post!
So, to mark such an auspicious occasion, here's some balloons.



No Expense Spared For My Readers.
Yes, a quick visit to the Card Factory and some helium was all that was needed.
Taken with the 1934 Uncoated Leitz Elmar  (deliciously smooth).
Ilford HP5 - EI 800, developed in HC110 Dilution G


When I started FB all those months ago I hardly dared to believe I would reach this point, but there you go - no one is more surprised than me . . The big question is though - can I take it to 100 posts?
Hmm - have I really got another 49 interesting topics in my broin?
I don't know actually.
You see generally, when writing FB, I often don't have a clue as to what to write from one week to the next. Sometimes it is different and I can get ahead, but mostly this is not the case. I'll wake up, get up, make some tea and just start with a thought and see where it goes from there.
From a creative writing point of view it is the equivalent of that old adage about art: "Drawing is taking a line for a walk!" It really has become like that for me.
From a positive point of view I have allowed myself to indulge in the morass of childhood memory, which is a good thing (for me, but not necessarily for you).
I have vented about all sorts of topics and sounded unfeasibly like Mr.Self-Important. Which I am not, honest; I am really not as half as far up myself as I sound.
Here, Sheephouse does a Harry Hill-style aside to the camera and says:
On the whole I am a fairly quiet unassuming person - this being said, I am far more gregarious these days than I ever was in my latter childhood/teenage/twenties.
Talking of which (which I wasn't), wouldn't you just love to be able to go back and be a best friend to yourself when you were younger!
Sort of like a brother from another time; big and bad, with an attitude that would sort out the naysayers.
If I were to do it, I would wear a futuristic suit like Robin Williamson in Mork and Mindy.



Left:Mindy                                       Right:Mork
Imagine if you could time travel and meet yourself
without all the time travel problematicals of
doppelgangers


I somehow think that if you had walked around in the mid to late 1970's with a companion like that then people wouldn't have been half so dismissive.
And I mean Mork . . not Mindy.
If you'd walked around with Mindy you would have been followed by a mob.
Can you imagine though the you as you are now, going back in a suit like that to key times in your life and just being there for yourself . . it's an incredible thought isn't it.
Curiously the One Show on BBC1, ran a similar theme last night with their presenters. Fortunately for me, NONE of them elected to return in a red space suit and helmet.
I would have been the dog's bahookies in the '70's . . oh yes!
So, digression aside, 50 posts old, and still going. So what am I going to write about in this one that could possibly be of interest?
Will it be a diatribe on the wonders of blogging and how to do this that and the other?
Will it be a rant about how FB is too good for the world?
Will it be a discourse on the usual shite subjects I always write about?
Well no. Actually dear reader (if indeed you are one) it is about you!
You see, the beauty of using Blogger is that you get 'stats', so, for instance, I can analyse everything to the nth degree and get all excited or not.
FB has sort of gone from something where it seemed like the only visitors were web bots, spam bots and bot-bots (closely related to the African antelope the dik-dik and the Scots creature the nickety-nackety-noo-the-noo) to something where I actually seem to have people reading pages.

Too-too. Tooty-too-too-too!


Hark? Wot's that sound?
Yes, by jove, you're right - it is!
The sound of a man blowing his own trumpet!


At the time of writing this, FB is now up to a tickle over 3182 page hits, which isn't bad for pages of nonsense!
I know I have regular visitors - Hi Dave and Bob and Bruce and Mike and Wayne . . but it would be nice to hear from other readers . . so if you are a regular, don't be shy, say 'Hello Sheephouse' - send me an email.
I won't bite and promise to send a nice email back. You might even get a free teabag if I can work out how to transmit matter easily and non-messily.
I hope dear reader, that you (yes, that's you . . .the one with the bushy eyebrows and the jowls) have found things of interest . . certainly someone seems to have found something interesting.
If you scroll down to the bottom of this page, you will find a list of the most popular posts, sorted in order, and it always surprises me to see that these change sometimes on a weekly basis.
If you scroll down even further, you can see my map - well it isn't mine, but you know what I mean.
It is fascinating, because it has really grown from being just me in Scotland, to Maniacs in Canada and Nutters in the South of England, to Fruit Loops in America and Blutwursts in Germany, and now beyond. Greetings to all of you!
My Clustr map, because it gives you all this wondrous information and is a telling and revealing of page hits and reads.


Can you see yourself yet?



See those little triangles?
I can click on them and get the approximate  location of the querying IP

For instance, I hope I didn't scare my two (early on) mid-Pacific readers with my Blog about sea-borne plastic, but their little dots appeared on the map the week that was published, so you see, doing stuff like this, can maybe have a tiny impact somewhere. And I've since had a few hits from Hawaii, so Aloha to you!
And with regard to the plastic thing (oh no, not again) if I have even highlighted the problem to just one person then that is something.
Change never occurs quickly - it can be like the giant snowballs my Dad and I used to make. We started off at the top of a fairly steep field with a tiny pea-sized piece of snow, and started rolling (he was trying to tell me something I think) anyway, before you knew it, that pea had become head-sized and then torso-sized and then gravity took over and it started rolling downhill of its own accord and before it crashed into the river it was about the size of a very large fat man!
So, in the words of Dr.Strange Records, you can (by planting seeds of thought, just possibly) "Destroy Society One Mind At A Time".
The posts that seem to have been most popular are evenly mixed with the usual photographic nonsense and the reminiscences about my childhood.
I can tell you from the beauty of stats that for two weeks running, Russia and Russians really seemed to like the picture of me, Steve and the parrot, and I can only assume that is because I described Steve as looking like he has just breezed in from the Kremlin (his jacket was pure Cold War Class!).
My ode to the humble Olympus Trip 35 is my most popular post, but it could well be overtaken. Larry Burrows and his epic war photographs appear as a referring query every single week, though strangely the one image that seems to be looked at the most is the dead SS guard taken by Lee Miller.
eden ahbez and his life are also queried on a regular basis, so this is good.
Gonks, incredibly, are also queried on a weekly basis - initially exclusively from Australia, but now from all over, so this says to me that somewhere, my doodling with a keyboard is maybe making connections with some like-minded brains . . or not.
Whatever, I hope you are entertained by my writing, and most importantly, that it raises a laugh in the face of a world going belly-up.
I make nothing from this - it is a entirely a free creative exercise, and in the spirit of all creative endevours it is done for pleasure.
Of course (natch) should someone wish to employ my modest writing skills, I would be very happy to oblige . . but it isn't going to happen (who am I trying to kid?) . . so I shall just keep typing and thinking until I get bored. And then one day I shall grind to a halt, drool over my desk and say 'Done' and that will be it.
I shall be like the priceless heirloom mentioned in a Rambling Syd Rumpo preface "passed down from Father to Son 'til the handle dropped off" (or not, but who knows).
Being as cagey as possible I shall say We Shall See, and leave it at that.
So, 50 runs and not out - we'll see where it goes from here.
Take care and as usual thanks for reading - God bless.
Have to go now as I have some remnants of the yummy 50th birthday cake the Cap'n made me with the remains of his Ramen disaster of a few weeks back.
It's super-delicious chicken/prawn/beef/kimchi/bilge flavour - yum yum pig's bum.


Friday, December 07, 2012

The Smithy

We set sail this week without a thought to where we were going, and you know what? We had a smashing time. There were no thought to this that and the other, all we cared about was a wide open vista and some jolly shanties and grog. Not a care was given to the future because, as Cap'n Mosle is s'posed to have said when confronted with a boarding party of the very blackest-hearted pirates he'd ever seen: "Well bugger me. That's an end to my seafaring days!"
Oh yes my dears, I exhort ye. Make the most of today, because tomorrow you could be in Davey Jones' Locker.
I said this (or something like it) to Sheephouse after he'd dropped one of his cameras on deck.
"Sheephouse," I said. "Don't ee worry lad. They made millions of the blasted things. It's not like it was a babee or a cat, or your wife. It's only metal and glass. It's got no soul!"
He looked at me then and I looked at him and then we both looked down at the deck where a small grey spirit was lifting itself free from the dead machine's innards and moving off into the sky.
"Goodbye," sniffed Sheephouse.
"Farewell," said the spirit. "You've been good to me."
And then it dissipated into ether and vapours and was gone.
Neither of us said anything, but I swear to ee mates, I learned this:
A camera (well, an old and mechanical camera) does have a soul.
I was kind to Sheephouse after that.
He's had quite a shock.


***


I suppose I can count myself to have had a very very fortunate childhood.
I was lucky, because whenever we went on holiday I was allowed to experience the heady air of pure freedom.
Freedom is a big word and although it is bandied around a lot these days, I feel that as a society we have lost it.
Think about it - we all sit in our little houses, looking at our screens; some of us go out on great adventures, but most don't; our children are coddled and protected and generally kept padded and protected; our every aspect of living from the casual conversation to the keypad stroke, to the misaligned parking manouevre is watched and listened to and analysed somewhere.
We seem to have less freedom now than we have ever had.
The other night I asked my wife about the most dangerous thing she had ever done. She told me it was cycling down a hill as a small child, towards a main road and literally only braking at the very last minute. Yep, that would count as pretty dangerous, especially if your brakes didn't work!
Mine was foolishly climbing half way up the Grey Mare's Tail waterfall near Moffat in only a pair of plimsouls (and obviously clothes - the plimsouls were Rucanor tennis shoes, easily the most comfortable tennis shoe I ever wore, with superb grip!) The waterfall itself is incredibly beautiful, but you haven't been able to access it properly in years, as it is black mark area and was actually cordoned off quite some time ago after several deaths - it is full of loose scree and slippery rocks.
Anyway, after recounting my hair-raising escape from a very life-threatening situation, I then asked my son what was the most dangerous thing he had done, and he said he hadn't done anything. And I felt really really sad for him, because he is missing out on something which should be part of every human's make-up: controlled exposure to that great big lion called life.
It roams around our camps, waiting to pick off the unwary, but you have to face it, simply have to. Obviously preferably in controlled conditions and not as foolishly as I did - it was fortunate for me that the lion wasn't particularly sure-footed on a slidey mountainside! If he had been a goat, I would have been a gonner!
Anyway, I am determined to turn my son's lack of exposure to danger around soon, even if it is only some hillwalking in inclement conditions. And don't worry FB fans, I am always careful. I've been lost in mist before miles from anywhere and it was a brown trouser moment of the deepest variety!
Anyway, back to childhood.
On family holidays in Scotland we were fortunate enough to be staying in an area which had somehow remained remarkably unchanged. I was there recently and the feel, though definitely more modern than it was (obviously), was little different to the feel I remember from my formative years - in other words it was still lost in the mid-Twentieth Century.
Holidaying in the area (which was completely rural) allowed me a breadth of freedom which was just unheard of to a city child.
I (during normal, boring, non-holiday time) lived on a council estate - densely packed, rough and at times quite scary. A place where sleep could be disturbed by shouts and screams and crashes. Where danger could be lurking around the corner - yet somehow I managed to avoid a lot of it.
Anyway, come holiday times, we headed North and I donned my tartan bonnet and became the young laird! It was fantastic.
I could wander at will. And I did.
Lanes and fields and copses, rivers and burns, ruins and outbuildings.
No one worried about me, as I always found my way home when I was hungry.
I snoozed in hay lofts; befriended young cattle and sat for hours in their sheds listening to their breathing, feeling that soft camaraderie of young bullocks and heifers; I harvested countless eggs (double and triple yolkers too!); watched insects transform themselves from chrysalis to beauty; stood and wondered at swallows nests; dug holes; fished; helped with harvests; picked berries; newsed with ancient farmers; handled ferrets; and basically LIVED the full breadth of nature's pagaent.
In short I was as lucky as any lottery winner, because it was (from my now ancient man viewpoint) a most fortunate way to spend those formative years.
During my wandering I also got to play with small and outdated machinery.
Today, children are kept clear of old ploughs and harvesting material (if indeed they can find any); they definitely wouldn't be allowed to operate the simple handle and massive spinning weight of a vertical sharpening wheel in case they got caught in the machinery.
I would suppose that rather than appearing to be unconcerned, my parents exhibited an almighty naive trust in me.
My father (being an engineer) had shown me the power of machinery early on (metal versus flesh, metal would always win) so I was aware of the dangers, but added to this was that rare thing (well, it seems to be rare nowadays) common sense.
I was careful, very very careful.
The place we stayed was a tiny community of spread out houses. There was the Toll Cottage, which is where Trevor and Olive lived (and which we were helping them renovate), up the road was the Farm (cattle), down the Road was the Mains (more cattle and also arable), there were also a number of Cottages all called the same thing and all spread out.
Next door to us at the Toll, was the Smithy, which belonged to the Hetheringtons, who were a very typical traditional Scots couple.
Mr. was a small, wiry man, and what he didn't know about farming and the country probably wasn't worth knowing - I liked him, though I did find him hard to speak to - his words were few and basic and at times unintelligible.
Mrs. on the other hand was his total opposite, as she was the sort of Scots woman who has become somewhat of an archetype. She was small with white hair, rosy cheeks, and the sweetest smile you could ever want to see. Her kitchen was always open and welcoming to everyone. From there she produced cakes in vast quantities, and made sure I always got some.
With her encouragement, I pretty much had full rein of the farm.
She let me help with milking (oh how I miss that lovely, now long castigated for our own good [!] flavour of unpasteurised milk, the way it was meant to be drunk, warm and heady from a freshly shaken cow).
She let me get the eggs and do all the things a youngster around a farm would be expected to do.
To me it was manna from heaven.
I had my own wellies to deal with the vast amounts of cow muck around the yard and I had a Macintosh (a real one . . made from rubberised cotton) to deal with downpours.
I loved it.
And when I was done, with my playing at chores I would go and play in the Smithy.
This had been (up until the advent of farming machinery) a proper Smithy.
Everything was still there: furnace, hammers and tongs, bellows, piles of rusting iron, numerous rims and wheels and devices I had not the slightest clue about, but it felt homely, strangely homely, almost as if I had partaken of the sweat and labour in an earlier life.
I loved being there - it had that smell. Maybe you know what I mean - you still find it in sheds - you know, sort of wood dust and iron with a hint of cold oil and hardboard. My Dad's tool chests smelled of it too, and even just typing this on a freezing Saturday I can smell it. Nectar!!
The Smithy was positioned right on the road, and seeing as it had at one point in its history been a toll road it is easy to put two and two together and imagine horse-drawn carriages and horses and farmers wending in for a news and a check on horseshoes. Or maybe you just lived over the hill and your scythe had become bent and a bit loose on its haft and needed sorting, or your shovel needed a new handle, so you'd go to the Smithy and talk and get the work done and pay in money or work or goods and off you would go.
Outside stood my favourite thing - an old vertical sharpening stone in a cast-iron cradle. It had a large handle attached and I was always impressed as a young child at being able to get the stone whizzing around at exceptional speed by putting relatively little effort into moving the handle! It was fascinating and I would spend a lot of time just turning the handle to see how fast I could get it to go.
In the Smithy building itself, it didn't look like the furnace had been fired up in many a year and so the large workshop area (away from the furnace area) had become a repository for everything farm-based you could imagine: the remnants of a 1950's tractor and its accoutrements; tyres of every variety; oil and petrol cans; riddles and scythes, hoes and threshers, ancient, rusting ploughs lurking in corners under piles of tattie sacks; bales and bales of wire hanging from hooks, cobwebs beyond imagination, a pile of perished wellington boots; a macintosh worn only at birthing time; swallow and housemartin nests and associated guano; moth and butterfly chrysalis' waiting for the right moment; worm-ridden rafters; mice and spiders; layered piles of roof tiles; scattered nails and staples and screws; the entire detritus of a life lived in a place where improvisation with what you had on hand was a necessity.
I somehow realised even then that encountering such a place in one's life was a privilege.
It felt old, really old and well used. But I knew it couldn't stay like that - modernity was coming, and before too long, it (like the derelict cottages that were finding their way into the hands of outsiders) would be cleaned out and upgraded and probably turned into a huge garage/workshop, so I went in when I could and breathed deeply of its all-encompassing sensuality. Its hearth and heart; imagining the ghostly clatter of horseshoes on cobbles and the snuffling breath of horse and the calming words of the blacksmith as he fitted another shoe.
Having an unlimited and fascinating playground like this was really something - it was a highlight of my holidays.
And then it was gone.
Mr. died and the farm was taken over by his son (though he had married and had his own farm to tend to, so I really wonder how he managed helping his mother).
And then a couple of years later we heard that Mrs. had died too and so the Estate decided that it was no longer useful as a farm and the buildings were sold on, and the land absorbed by two other farms.
The Smithy cottage became a warm family home and the Smithy itself was cleared of my toys and turned into a garage, and then demolished along with all the associated farm buildings.



A Young Porker Contemplates His Next Victim.
Made on our family 127 Brownie in about 1967/68., in the garden of the Toll Cottage.
The Smithy was literally 15 yards from my feet.
My father seemed to have an unerring eye for the candid portrait.


What you see behind me is a hay loft (where I used to snooze a lot) and the pile of rubble is the remnants of an outside cludgie which I helped to demolish with a hatchet (honest).
Surprisingly, although time has swept all this away, my sharpening stone survives!
I have passed the buildings and it was still there in the front garden of the cottage.


Still there after all these years.
Carefully disguised behind some paving slabs, my sharpening stone.



And the proof - captured in perpetuity on Google Maps.
Maybe too heavy to move?
Or maybe, just maybe, held in place by the Ghosts of Auld Farmers unwilling to let this potent symbol of their power over the land be taken away.
I like to think it is the latter.


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This being FB I had to get some more photography in there . . I racked my brains to see if I had anything suitably 'vegetabley' that I could add, and finally came up with the following which I rather like.


Originality - One Of Your 5-A-Day



It was made on the Leica IIIf with the 1934 Elmar. I have had to boost the contrast a bit, but it works. The film was Ilford HP5 at EI320, developed for 20 minutes in Kodak HC110 Dilution G for 20 minutes. It is a very nice combo. You know the further I move on with this old lens, the more I realise that it somehow prefers old style films like Tri-X and HP5 and FP4 to newer formulations like TMax and Delta - weird eh? Must be to do with contrast and micro-contrast.
The grafitti was on some abandoned buildings and was all positive! I found it inspiring.
As usual, thanks for reading and God Bless.