Friends are there…

So today and tomorrow my chum* Chiara is visiting. It’s the first time that she’s been able to visit since we moved up to Scotland, and I have been showing her around a bit and ‘cos we are both photography addicts this has led to some photos…
(*chum, read “best friend”, “bestie” etc.)

Intermission?

I am still not ready to write about Amanda Palmer’s amazing, moving, staggering show “There will be no Intermission”, which I have now seen twice, but here are some photos I managed to get…

Anthem for Doomed Democracy

The British Government, in the person of our current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has taken steps to radically reduce the time and space available for the UK Parliament to act in line with its function to attempt to make it impossible for the UK to crash out of the European Union without some kind of deal, a so-called “Hard Brexit”.

There are those that would argue that the number of procedural days lost through this extended prorogation of Parliament is only four or five, and that is hardly something to get in a tizzie about, but the bald truth is that the House was increasingly likely to vote down the conference season recess in favour of emergency business with regard to Brexit, and Johnson’s request to the Queen has essentially removed Parliament’s agency to put the country before partisan podium bashing.

In other words, Johnson has used Parliamentary procedure in a way that it has never been used in living memory, in order to subvert the sovereignty of Parliament, a concept that was fundamental to the tissue of lies from the Leave campaign only three short years ago.

I like many other people am incensed by his willingness to depart from convention and fair play to further his grubby little agenda of setting the country on fire in order to egregiously increase the wealth of his cronies and paymasters. These are the true “grey men”. They will use their already vast wealth to successfully bet against the UK in the coming months. They will bet against our currency and our industry, profiting to an unimaginable extent from the misery of the working poor and the undefended as our country’s economy goes into free fall as we plummet from the cliff edge of the Hard Brexit that no one seems to believe can now be avoided.

Truly the 28th of August 2019 will go down in history as an analogue to the burning of the Reichstag, as the moment when democracy was wrenched from the heart of the people and replaced with the stark, cold reality that those who believe themselves to be our betters will tell us how our country will be run.

Here are some photographs from the spontaneous demonstration outside the Palace of Westminster and Downing Street on the evening after the announcement came through.

So now I know why brakes are good…

So, I am ok…

The thing is that on the way to Buchlyvie a couple of days ago I came around a corner to be confronted by a slow-moving quad bike and a flock of sheep. This led me to put my foot gently on the brakes and plan to drop down a gear or two, but there was a surprise coming. My brakes did not work.

Literally, my right foot was buried into the floor and my Ranger was not slowing down at all, not even noticeably decelerating from my foot having come off the gas. Now when I learned to drive my instructor covered this eventuality, explaining to me that the gearbox and engine can be used very effectively for braking in case of emergency, and indeed getting me to practice doing it. I am very grateful that I had such a meticulous instructor.

I dropped the car into second and started to hope that I would slow down enough that I would not damage the vehicle or myself when I put it into the hedge to avoid committing mass murder on the sheep, and then fate smiled. To my left (if you are reading this elsewhere than the UK or a handful of other countries please try to remember that we, here drive on the left) there was a small lay-by, rather like the road equivalent of an oxbow lake, and so I threw the vehicle into it and completely missed the flock and their guiding shepherd without having to come to a full stop or use the hedge.

Clearly this was a shock; I had not expected my brakes to simply stop working, but I was a long way from anyone who could be of assistance and almost late to see my doctor, so I dredged up my knowledge of how to drive on the gearbox and engine and thanked my lucky stars that the handbrake was still working perfectly. The trip back from the doctor’s surgery was slow and careful, for one thing I did not want to have to do any emergency stops on the handbrake, but I managed to get back to Aberfoyle and put the Ranger, as directed, on the ramp at Trossachs Motor Services.

It took the guys there about 2 minutes to put some new brake fluid into the system and find the leak. I was explaining to Donald Jr. that I was on leave and did not need the vehicle when he very politely let me know that there was no way he was going to let me drive away in the damn thing any way (not that I wanted to), and we all had a good laugh about that, considering the single track road we live up.

So, the moral of this story?

If you put your vehicle in a ditch don’t just assume it’s ok, get it checked over. Oh yeah, and if you drive “stick” and you don’t know how to brake with your gearbox, get someone to show you – you never know when it might save you anything from a hefty bill to your life. So, get your brakes checked, learn to engine brake and use sunscreen…

Photo by Daniel Salgado on Unsplash

Loch Arklet

Loch Arklet (from the Western end dam, looking East)

I really don’t often show people my attempts at Landscape photography; I am rarely pleased with my efforts. This is an exception to the rule, so I hope that you enjoy it.

Meeting Authors – Part 1 (of a series?)

So, last night I went up to Bedford, from work, to go to an event at the very Rogans’s Books.

For those of you that don’t know – and why would you if you don’t live in Bedford, or attend Children’s Book Festivals (i.e. Booktastic, also run / curated by Rogan’s Books impresario Rachael Rogan, and others – I don’t have names, but I know that their contributions are huge), or indeed simply never have met anyone who has been to the shop. Of course, if you have met someone who has been to the shop, then chances are that sooner rather than later you will also go to the shop and then you’re “in”, forever…

This is Rachael

Portrait of a woman wearing a multi-coloured scarf, standing in front of a display promoting women in STEM.  The woman is Rachael Rogan
This is a portrait of Rachael Rogan in her natural habitat, her own bookshop.

Rachael has started to organise events at the shop, and the inaugural event for adults was last night, Wednesday 20th February 2019, with a visit from Sunday Times Bestselling Author of “The Binding”, Bridget Collins.
This is Bridget:

Portrait of a woman signing copies of a book at a bookshop counter.  The woman is best-selling author, Bridget Collins
Bridget Collins, signing copies of “The Binding” at Rogan’s Books, behind the counter.

The evening began with informal mingling and chatting, as well as nibbles and wine – the most amazing vegan “cheese” straws I have ever tasted – and then was followed by a short reading from “The Binding” given by Bridget herself and then a lively Q&A which offered some really interesting insights into her process as a writer, her career, her inspiration for the book and the way in which it has all come together.

Bridget was really generous with her time, offering entertaining and insightful answers in the Q&A and then really taking time to talk to the attendees while signing copies of her book for us.

It was a real pleasure to meet her and in particular for me that she was kind enough to let me take some photos.

Here are a couple of photos from the Q&A:

A photograph of Bridget Collins and Rachael Rogan sat in front of bookshelves, and before an audience, engaging in a Q&A
Bridget Collins & Rachael Rogan “on stage”
A photograph of Bridget Collins and Rachael Rogan sat in front of bookshelves, and before an audience, engaging in a Q&A - they are both laughing, as are the audience.
Bridget Collins & Rachael Rogan “on stage” – laughter ensued

Rachael informs me that there are going to be more events to come, so keep an eye on the website, or consider following the shop on Facebook, Twitter and / or Instagram.

You wouldn’t want to miss out on meeting someone really interesting and fun, right? And at the same time, what better way to support reading and books than by supporting an independent bookshop, better still an independent bookshop run by a passionate entrepreneur with a deep love of books and bringing reading to life for kids and grown-ups alike.

P.S. I started reading “The Binding” on the train back to London – expect a review, soon.

Saturday walk…

So yesterday we went walking. We were going to go to Loch Achray, but when we got to the top of the Duke’s Pass it was clear that we were not going any further, the road was still deep in snow and untreated.

Instead we went for a wander in the woods at the David Allen Lodge. The kids played with the water course setup and climbed on the deer statues and Lee-Anne and I took photos.

We rounded the afternoon out with a lovely late lunch at The Pier Café at Stronachlachar, and then home to a cosy evening in…

Protected: Shooting with Bree

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Protected: I got to shoot at Scott’s Place…

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Cold Morning at the Station

Casements…

The key grinds in the lock, but I am reassured by the agent, in the email, that I should expect this and that the key will turn. I push a little harder and after more troubling sound effects the barrel turns. I feel the bolt pull back and the door springs inward about an inch, as if it had been held closed under tension.

I step inside, into the gloomy vestibule, immediately dancing over empty tile adhesive buckets and discarded broken tools. There is a layer of dust that seems to be so solid that it is undisturbed by my arrival. I find myself wondering where has it all come from? No one has lived here for nearly a decade, and is it not true that house dust is mostly dead skin? How can there be so much dust? It is barely disturbed as I step in and push the door closed; I wonder if it will ever be cleaned away?

The stairs are directly ahead and far more inviting than the dark and dreary corridor leading away towards the dark kitchen at the back of the house. The living room door stands ajar, but even though it is barely half open I can see the stacks of newspapers and magazines that I remember from my childhood. I cannot face the paper-stack maze, yet, I need to open some windows and clear the smell of abandonment out of the place. Similarly I am not enticed by the kitchen the other dark and foreboding rooms on the ground floor, so I mount the staircase instead.

I am amazed that the stairs do not creak as I make my way to the upstairs, not even a low grumble from the bannister as I lean upon it trying to keep my steps on the treads as light as possible, though I have no idea to what end. The smell of emptiness, the musty, yet subtle taint of loneliness and emptiness is not as strong as I reach the first floor, but it is there nonetheless. I stand for a moment at the top of the stairs and close my eyes, remembering a time when these walls were covered in framed photographs and press cuttings, a homespun exhibition of parental pride that has long since been taken down and put who knows where.

I turn the corner and the door to the master bedroom is wide open. Afternoon light is streaming in, diffused by an almost complete blanket of cobwebs strung between the panes of the casement window. Scattered onto the ground there is a broken radiator, some rubble, this is little more than a graveyard for memories. Nothing remains. Gone is the beautiful mahogany wash stand that I used to wonder at, with its large jug and washbowl and its intricate backboard, depicting a coastal scene in the Hebrides. The deep pile carpets, so beloved of his generation and so reviled by my own, are clearly long gone and the floorboards are coated in more of the dust that it now occurs to me may be in part made up of the rotting plaster that is falling from the tops of the walls where they meet the ceiling.

I stand there, transfixed by the neglect and sorrow of a window so bedecked with the trappings of time’s passing. Even the most neglectful householder could never allow such an accumulation of dirt, grime and colonisation of spiders. Simply opening and closing the window every now and again would keep the arachnids at bay, and surely everyone would wash their windows at least once a year?

Stepping into the room, I catch a new smell, the smell of damp and I start to realise why the plaster is rotting. The window frame is rounded at its top by stains on the wall, and I am now sure that the water from the gutter, or perhaps just years of inclement weather with no one in the house to see its effects, has been creeping into the wall above the casement and has been working it destructive magic in the way that only water can.

I am hoping to find some trace of him as I cast my eyes around the room, but there is nothing, not even a discarded letter or trinket, let alone the steamer trunk I was secretly hoping to find. The room seems to me as a skeleton picked clean of the meat that made it his bedroom, all distinguishing features and characters lost to plain floorboards and empty walls, nothing but more rubble and another broken radiator, and just the soft, fractured light from the window.

I retrace my steps onto the landing and realise that I will not be opening any windows, if nothing else I am not certain that it would be a good idea if they are in the process of surrendering to the same rot as the walls. I need to be able to leave the place secure, after all.

I don’t even open the door to the bathroom, something tells me that I don’t want to see it, and I listen to that small voice even though it seems somewhat ridiculous at the same time. Why should I fear the room where he died. It was over a decade ago, surely there is nothing to fear, and yet I cannot steel myself to open it and look inside.

The box room is as empty as the bedroom, and I have almost given up all hope that I will recover any talisman of him from the wreck of his home when I remember the attic. Surely there would be things stored away before the end had come that must lie up there, undisturbed?

I reach into my pocket for the torch that I had been mindful enough to bring, and shine it into the gloom of the box room, looking for the attic door. It is there in the left-hand corner, as I expected, and I shuffle through the dust and plaster rubble and pull it open.

The stairs up into the attic – he would have corrected me and said loft – are not so quiet, creaking and groaning as I place each of my steps on each successive tread. I am not worried that it will give out, but I am puzzled as to how one staircase can be so stalwart and another be so lamenting under the same weight.

The light of my torch is more than enough to find my way to the top of the small flight, and then I am on the boarded platform under the pinnacle of the roof line. I turn my light off for a moment and am plunged into darkness; well at least there are not any large holes in the roof.

I flick the small light back on and start to look around, searching for “boxes of treasure”, as he would have called them. On the edge of the boarded area my light plays across a box with “McCain” printed across the side, faded as if stamped there long ago. Closer inspection shows the words “memories and things” scrawled across the side in his familiar script, and I reach out for the box and pull it across the boards to the space by the top of the stairs where I have the most room to manoeuvre.

The box is old and dry and brittle, the way that cardboard eventually gets to be, and so I am cautious and gentle as I lever the flaps open and point the torch light inside.

The box contains a few of the photographs, in their frames, that I had missed as I climbed the stairs, all of them were pictures of my father as a young man. Some of them in uniform, some in running kit, one in mess kit. If all the rest had been lost or given away, then these were the ones that he could not bear to part with, even if they were in a box above his head, rather than on display. An old diary, a Ronson petrol lighter, an old cigarette tin, Capstan “Full Strength” – though sadly there are none inside. There alongside this ephemera is a bundle of letters, tied with a silver ribbon. I recognise the hand, they were letters from his wife, his first wife, who had sent me cards long after she had otherwise left our lives all those years ago. I wonder if his widow knew that he had kept these at all?

I decide to take the box with me, that this is enough, this is what I was looking for, but then as I am closing up the box my torch plays across a small metal box, almost hidden behind a beam. I cannot unsee it, I am compelled to investigate.

I pull it gently from the shadows and set it on the ground next to the box of memories. It is not heavy, about sixteen inches by nine by five, so an odd shape, but not completely strange. Stamped on the top, on either side of a keyhole and between it and a small handle are his initials, “M N”, in faded gold paint.

The box is plainly locked, so I turn my attention back to the box of knick knacks to see if there is a key amongst the treasures therein. It is not hard to find, it is on a string, looped around an ebony letter opener. I take it out and open the box, which unlike the front door opens smoothly and silently, the lock in perfect working condition, as if it were in regular use.

Inside there are three items that surprise and delight me in equal measure. A Webley service revolver that he must have kept from his time in the Army, during the War. He never spoke of it in life, that I know of, so it must have been a very private keepsake. Alongside it is a small box of ammunition, and a leather-bound notebook. The gun feels heavy, suddenly, in my hand, and while I was not completely comfortable to be holding it, I feel pleased to have this illicit item of his now in my possession. I place it back into the box and lift out the notebook. It is wrapped closed with a leather thong, which I half expect to be brittle with age, but as I untwist and then unwind it I marvel at the way in which it feels supple and warm, like it is new and recently handled. The pages are crowded with his distinctive and almost completely illegible hand, and I realise that I will need better light and perhaps some coffee before I can truly digest the contents. I turn it over my hands as I move to close it, and a playing card falls from between the pages and lands face up on my foot. It is not a playing card, it is a Tarot card; The Magus. The edge of the card is picked out in gold leaf, and the face of the card is inhabited by a hooded figure, energy crackling around one hand, a strange sigil held in the other. Unexpected, to say the least.

I am filled with a desire to leave, and the sure, concurrent knowledge that I cannot leave these things here. I hurriedly return the card to its place between the leaves of the notebook, wrap it closed and place it back into the lock box. I lock it up, place it inside the memory box and put the key around my neck and tuck it inside my shirt, hiding it from view. Then I close up the flaps and lift the box up in my hands and carefully pick my way back down the attic stairs.

I glance, quickly, into the bedroom as I pass, but the afternoon light has been diminished, perhaps by a passing cloud, and the odd character of the place is reduced to a sad, empty room. The window is no longer captivating, more simply ordinary and uninspiring. How telling that light holds the key to so much of that which commands my attention. I wonder if I have somehow removed the last of him, or indeed any character from the place, but I push that thought aside and head down the main stairs to the door.

As I emerge onto the front path with the box of memories tucked under my arm I breathe deeply of the fresh, outside air and feel an unexpected sense of relief to be out of his house. I close and lock the door, and head to my car, keen to retreat to my own, living, vibrant sanctuary that is my apartment so that I can investigate his notebook more completely. That and consider what I should do with the gun.

(This story was inspired by an Instagram post, which you can see here -> joannafurniss )