Disconnected thoughts

For the first time in more than three months I am writing a blog entry. I have not written before now for a few reasons: not knowing what to say at this time of pandemic; expecting anything I do say to be overtaken by events almost at once; and, to be honest, not really feeling like writing.

Kathie (Touin, Mrs Brown) and I have not exactly been shielding during the lockdown but we have certainly kept ourselves to ourselves in the main, avoiding in particular big and busy supermarkets. In fact, Kathie avoided shops altogether until venturing into some smaller premises recently.

So while Scotland is easing restrictions more slowly than England, Kathie and I are deliberately taking it more slowly still.

IMG_20200708_181936485

Roscoe our Border Collie on the Brough of Birsay (image: Graham Brown)

We have met one or two friends outside in the last few weeks; visited Happy Valley (a tree plantation), the Brough of Birsay (a tidal island) and the nearby coastline; and this week the piano tuner came to the house – our first outside worker.

We realise we are lucky to live in a rural part of Orkney, where we can get out and about to exercise with our dog without getting into crowds, where we have a little of our own land around us to enjoy sitting, weeding, mowing or just hanging out the washing.

Anyway, in no particular order, here are a few disconnected thoughts about the situation now.

Does petrol go off?

I’m joking, though I guess there might be a limit to how long it lasts before changing composition or losing efficacy? Efficacy, now there’s one of the words that has joined our regular vocabulary in this pandemic year. The reason I mention this is that my car, a red Audi, was reasonably full of fuel when the lockdown happened in March. And, as I write at the end of July, I am still using that same tank of fuel.

Remember money?

On Roscoe’s walk the other day I found a coin on the roadside. I puzzled for a few seconds as to what it was, then realised it was a 5p. I did not recognise it at first because I have handled so little money in the last four months or so.

When visiting big cities in the last year or two I was struck by how most people use contactless cards and credit cards to pay for everything. Now, with people reluctant to handle cash, the same applies to Orkney.

Since March I have spent virtually no actual cash and I have not been to a cashpoint machine. I still have £20 that was in my wallet four months ago.

But here is a potential, if minor, problem… Without spending notes in the shops and getting change how am I going to get the correct money for car parks now that the local council is charging for them again?

More seriously, as with all technology, there will be people left behind who for reasons such as age or poverty do not have access to bank accounts, credit cards and contactless cards.

IMG_20200717_134353349

Kathie and friend walking in Orkney’s Happy Valley (image: Graham Brown)

Is the lockdown saving the environment?

The decrease in traffic and travel has helped our environment but I am not as optimistic about this as I was earlier in the year. I fear our governments will rush back to the old ways to try to get economies moving quickly.

And what about plastic waste? When hair salons re-opened a local hairdresser was interviewed on BBC Radio Orkney. She estimated she would be using more than 700 pieces of PPE (personal protective equipment) a week. I do not blame her, she has a business to run, but creating all this is not great for the environment.

And, as always, a few people are careless so there are already reports of discarded PPE washing up on beaches. BBC News reported that a peregrine falcon had been photographed with its talons caught in a facemask – a possible death sentence for the bird (see below).

Kathie and I, like everyone, have been wearing facemasks for our occasional shop visits. We have been able to buy washable ones and mine has dinosaurs on it (inside every grown man is a ten-year-old child trying to get out).

Like many people I find the mask a bit awkward with my specs but I have noticed something strange which seems to have crept up on me during lockdown. I wear my glasses for long-distance but now I find I can see nearly as well without them as with them – so, I wear my glasses to drive to the shop, then swap them for my facemask after I have parked the car.

When the local optician is open again for non-emergency appointments I will have to see them to find out what is going on. Barnard Castle is a bit far from here for an afternoon drive.

What about Orkney’s economy?

A large part of Orkney’s income, and many of its businesses and jobs, rely on tourism. One survey (see below) predicted that at worst there could be 3,000 jobs lost in Orkney (population approx 22,000) and the amount of money flowing through the economy halved.

Now that lockdown is easing we are seeing more visitors about the place which is great for struggling businesses but does make many of us feel a bit nervous of another outbreak.

A number of people here in Orkney favour the Isle of Man’s approach of closing the border (see two stories below) and thus allowing residents more open use of shops, cafes, restaurants and facilities – though I guess this would not help holiday accommodation providers.

But, even if this was agreed locally to be the right move to make, Orkney Islands Council does not have the same powers as the Manx Government.

I think for most people an even bigger worry is cruise ships. Orkney is a popular destination – more than 150 cruise ship visits in 2019 – but this year apart from one or two in early March we have not seen any. It seems unlikely there will be any calling for the rest of this year though if plans are announced for any visits I suspect there will be an uproar locally.

Isn’t nature wonderful?

As this year goes on more and more dates pass in my diary for events that would have been. The first week of August would have been agricultural show week in Orkney with our local event, the West Mainland or Dounby Show on Thursday 6th – it’s a great social occasion and we will miss it.

But without these events – and TV sporting tournaments such as Wimbledon, the Olympics and the Euro 2020 football – we have been able to spend more time outside in the garden.

IMG_20200720_134146641

California poppies enjoying the Orkney sunshine outside our house (image: Graham Brown)

There is still much to do but we have made more progress this year than in the past.

And there has been more space to appreciate the smaller things, like the caterpillars, and the butterflies, as well as the birds. Incidentally, the swallows have fledged three or four young from their nest in our garage and now have a second brood in another garage nest on the way.

We have been helped in our outside work by generally favourable, even, whisper it, warm, weather. That is, until this week when one day in particular had heavy rain, dark skies and strong winds as if it was November.

Every time we step outside the front door we are greeted by a flock of birds who know we are an easy touch for food. Earlier in the lockdown it was starlings and sparrows, now the starlings are mostly gathering elsewhere and it is nearly all sparrows – plus the occasional lesser black-backed gull.

This and that

  • Kathie and I decided that we should start to catch up with our many DVDs so, once a week, we have a DVD evening. We started with an 11-part 1984 German TV drama called Heimat, written and directed by Edgar Reitz in an intriguing mixture of colour and black-and-white, and originally shown in the UK on BBC Two. It tells the story of a village from 1919 to 1982 and remains one of my favourite TV dramas of all time. If you get a chance please watch it. (NB: there is also a sequel and a prequel which I have yet to see).
  • We spent time clearing out the house. To be honest, there is still much to do. But we have got piles of stuff for the charity shops and, when I get motivated, for eBay. The charity shops are starting to come back to life here in Orkney and we have donated one bag of clothes. Meanwhile, it’s as well we can’t have visitors as the guest room is a bit crowded with more stuff on its way out.
  • If you live outside Orkney you might not have spotted that we had a flying visit from the Prime Minister on 23 July. His visit to Scotland was, partly, in reaction to an increase in support for Scottish independence. Despite his itinerary, and even the fact of his visit, being kept under wraps “for security reasons” there were some protesters who had discovered his plans through social media.
  • Two concerts Kathie and I were due to attend in May – Gretchen Peters in Glasgow, Rumer in Edinburgh – have been postponed to February and March respectively. Right now I am not sure whether they will go ahead even then and, if they do, whether Kathie and I will feel confident about going. I hope we can. But I expect the artists, not to mention their support staff and the theatres concerned, are also worried.

Meanwhile, Kathie and I are not planning to go anywhere outside Orkney anytime soon. I hope that, wherever you are, you are staying safe and healthy.

Graham Brown

To find out more

BBC News: Peregrine falcon talons tangled in discarded face mask…
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-humber-53530961

The Orcadian: Orkney businesses fear ‘massive crash’ in local economy…
https://www.orcadian.co.uk/orkney-businesses-fear-massive-crash-in-local-economy/

BBC News: Coronavirus: Isle of Man border reopens to residents…
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-isle-of-man-53450577

BBC News: Passengers ‘excited’ to travel on Isle of Man-Guernsey air bridge route…
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-isle-of-man-53501183

And to find out more about Orkney…
https://www.orkney.com/

Ten years in Orkney – now what?

Ten years ago Kathie and I moved to Orkney. By coincidence we arrived on 16 April which is St Magnus Day – he is the patron saint of Orkney.

And so each year we go to St Magnus Kirk in Birsay, not far from where we live, for the annual St Magnus service which also serves for us as a marker in our personal journey. But not this year.

Nothing much changed in our first ten years in Orkney and then, last month – everything changed for everyone in Orkney and beyond. Well, yes and no.

If I spend a little time reflecting I realise we have experienced more change since April 2010 than I imagined at first. Most of the change has been gradual, making it harder to notice, with an occasional sudden, often bad, impact.

IMG_20200416_094355110_HDR

View from our house on St Magnus Day 2020 (image: Graham Brown)

We enjoy a wonderful view from the front of our house across the landscape of Orkney’s West Mainland – and now there are a few extra buildings in the view; our “field” (it’s an enclosure, really) next to the house now has a stone wall all the way around it; inside our home we have decorated and improved some rooms; and we have Roscoe, our rescue Border Collie, who joined us in 2012.

Some change has been less welcome – Kathie’s musical inspiration and friend Keith Emerson died suddenly in 2016, and before his funeral was held my father also passed away unexpectedly. Last year we lost my Uncle David and here in Orkney we have mourned people we knew in our community.

On the positive side, Kathie had a major operation in 2018 which massively improved her mobility and fitness, then in late 2019 released her first album of music in ten years, Facing The Falling Sky.

We both became RSPB volunteers soon after moving to Orkney, and I have ended up as a (very) part-time member of staff. I was privileged to help mark the centenary of the loss of HMS Hampshire, which sank in 1916 off Orkney. I am a member of Harray & Sandwick Community Council. And Kathie and I are both managers, ie committee members, at Quoyloo Old School which is our village hall.

IMG_20191008_155442345

Kathie and me during the Sound Of Music coach tour in Austria (image: Graham Brown)

In between we have enjoyed several visits to Scotland’s Central Belt, getting to know Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as visits to Orkney’s beautiful islands, to the in-laws in California and then, after they moved, to Northern Arizona. And Kathie and I spent marvellous holidays in Italy (Bologna) and Austria (Vienna and Salzburg).

All this now seems like another world, before coronavirus, or BC. Already I find myself at home saying something like “do you remember before coronavirus when …?”

Kathie has underlying health issues which mean we mostly avoid the shops. We are lucky that we can get deliveries from our excellent village shop, Isbister Brothers.

We are fortunate in a wider sense because we have my regular pension income. Kathie has managed to carry on teaching her piano students using Skype.

In some ways, for Kathie and me, and I am not making light of this crisis, life does not seem very different. We typically spend time at the house, Kathie working upstairs in her studio and me in my downstairs office. We live in the countryside so we can take Roscoe for his morning walk without meeting anyone.

But then the awfulness of this pandemic – the deaths, the sick, the brave and tired NHS and frontline workers, the closed businesses – will suddenly dawn on me, or Kathie. The radio, TV and online news, rightly, is full of Covid-19. It is important to be well-informed but we avoid watching the TV news just before bedtime to aid a better night’s sleep.

Her Majesty The Queen made a skilfully worded address to the people of the UK on Sunday 5 April, it was moving and reassuring. Later that evening we heard that the Prime Minister had been admitted to hospital with Covid-19 symptoms, then the next day he was moved to intensive care. It was shocking news whether you voted for him or not.

The virus is in Orkney, of course, and at the time of writing it has led to two deaths. We think of the families and friends who are grieving, and unable to hold the funeral they would wish, whatever the cause of their loved one’s passing.

There is a request show on BBC Radio Orkney each Friday evening, something of a local institution, each week for 50 minutes at 6.10pm. Since the lockdown the programme has expanded to fit in the greater number of requests being submitted, starting at 6.00pm and going on beyond 7.00pm.

And now, sadly, folk have started sending dedications to remember their relatives who have passed away – something I do not remember hearing on the programme before. In the absence of a public funeral it is a way to mark their loved one’s passing.

In comparison to the above it hardly seems to matter but like everyone our travel plans are on hold, particularly disappointing for Kathie who wants to visit her elderly parents.

Big events which many of us were looking forward to watching on TV, such as the Eurovision Song Contest, the Olympics and football’s Euro 2020, will not be there.

On a local scale, our monthly village quiz finished early before its summer break. We are not alone, of course, here in Orkney, like the rest of Scotland, the UK and much of the world, everything is off.

In fact, all the markers of a typical Orkney year are gradually being cancelled, such as Orkney Folk Festival, Orkney Nature Festival (along with all RSPB events), the St Magnus International Festival and Stromness Shopping Week. Who knows whether the Orkney County Show and our other agricultural shows, such as the West Mainland Show near us, will go ahead?

man_dog

One of my favourite pictures: Roscoe and me on the Brough of Birsay (image: Kathie Touin)

When we finally come out of this, whenever that will be, what will be different?

How many Orkney businesses, reliant on tourism, will survive this? There were more than 150 cruise ship visits to Orkney in 2019 – will we ever see so many visiting again? Do we want to?

The environment will have enjoyed some relief from humans, will we build on that to create a greener future? Or will we turbocharge oil, aircraft and cars as we rush to rebuild economies?

What about the NHS? Will it receive greater funding? Or will people – and I’m afraid this is particularly true of some English people – go back to their old ways of wanting great public services along with low taxes. Spoiler alert: you can’t have both.

Will we look again at our UK immigration policies? Seeing the tragic losses of NHS staff it is noticeable how many have backgrounds outside the UK.

Where will Scotland and the UK be politically after this? Will Brexit still seem like a good idea, assuming anyone gets time to organise it? What about Scottish independence? What other unexpected political movements might flow from this?

It is as if the ground is shifting under us, like some giant slow-motion earthquake. The aftershocks will go on for years to come and none of us know what they will throw up and where we will all be at the end of this.

Ten years in Orkney – much has changed. For all of us.

Thank you to everyone working for us at this time, whether in the NHS, the care sector, shops, the postal service, local councils, emergency services, wherever – thank you.

Stay safe if you can.

And let’s keep an eye on the future: let’s see if we can make it better than it might have been.

Graham Brown

To find out more

Covid-19 advice from the Scottish government – https://www.gov.scot/coronavirus-covid-19/

More information from Orkney Islands Council – https://www.orkney.gov.uk/

Please don’t come now but you would be very welcome if you wish to visit Orkney in the future – https://www.orkney.com/

Update (17 April 2020)

A few hours after I published this blog entry it was announced that all six of Orkney’s agricultural shows have been cancelled for 2020. Here is a report from The Orcadian – https://www.orcadian.co.uk/orkneys-six-agricultural-shows-cancelled-for-2020/

2020 vision

So, here we are in 2020. What will this new decade bring? Will it be the Roaring Twenties, as it was 100 years ago? Or another Jazz Age? That would be nice.

More seriously, though it can be foolish to make predictions, I imagine much of the decade will be – or should be – dominated by the climate emergency and mankind’s faltering attempts to tackle it. We are not helped in this by the current fashion for populist political leaders who play fast-and-loose with the truth to suit themselves and their selfish interests.

An aside here for pedants, like myself: I know the First Century began with year one and so the first decade was to year 10, the second decade from 11 to 20, and so on, meaning the new decade does not really start until 2021. But after two thousand years, conventions grow and change – sometimes, not always, it is best to go with the flow (yes, Mr Byrne, that’s you).

To be honest, it was only in the last week or two of 2019 that I realised we were about to enter a new decade. I think this is because decades have not been such a big deal since the turn of the 21st century.

In my lifetime we have had the Fifties, the Sixties, the Seventies, the Eighties, the Nineties and then, err… Did someone say the Noughties? Does anyone really like or use that name? And, as for the 2010-19 decade, I don’t recall ever seeing a name attached to it.

The 20th century was the same: the first decade was known, at least in Britain, as the Edwardian era, and the second decade was so dominated by the Great War that no name seems to have been attached to it.

Besides, the labels for decades are arbitrary and only capture a small part of the time period. For more on this read my blog about the Sixties which, I believe, for most people was nothing like the cliches portrayed in TV documentaries.

2019 sunset

The last sunset of the old decade seen from our house (image: Graham Brown)

Anyway, for Kathie Touin (Mrs Brown) and I the decade just ended was hugely significant because it was when we moved to Orkney, nearly 10 years ago in April 2010 (more about that later this year). Suffice to say we made the right decision and are very happy here – with our Border Collie, Roscoe, who turned 11 in 2019.

And the year just ended? The highlight of 2019 has to be the release of Kathie’s new album of music, Facing The Falling Sky (see my previous blog). Let me say again, it is a super collection of songs produced in a novel way.

Since my last blog it has been included by DJ Steve Conway in his 8Radio show Conway’s Christmas Gifts – 17 albums he loves and would gift to a friend. He selected, among others, Kate Bush, Paul Weller, PJ Harvey – and Kathie!

Travel in 2019 took Kathie and I to Arizona in February to see the in-laws and I made two trips to Edinburgh, one in May on my own to see Gretchen Peters in concert then again in November with Kathie.

I failed to write a blog about the second Edinburgh visit so here’s a summary. The trip was originally planned because Kathie wanted to see guitarist Steve Hackett in concert. After booking tickets we spotted that, two nights later, Mark Lewisohn (an expert on The Beatles) was presenting a show to mark the 50th anniversary of the release of the Abbey Road album. So we booked that as well.

Both shows were great, we even got into the Steve Hackett meet-and-great before the concert.

IMG_20191125_181146416

Kathie & I meeting Steve Hackett, a gentleman (image: Graham Brown’s smartphone)

Mark Lewisohn spoke (with musical and archive clips) for nearly three hours about Abbey Road. You might think this sounds overlong but if, like Kathie and me, you are a fan of The Beatles it was fascinating at every turn.

We kept up The Beatles theme by taking a day trip by train from Edinburgh Haymarket station (opposite our hotel) to Glasgow Queen Street. Then a short bus ride to the wonderful Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum to see an exhibition of Linda McCartney photographs.

Linda McCartney was a fantastic photographer with an eye for detail and an unusual angle or take on a subject. Her subject matter ranged from international superstars to intimate family portraits. The exhibition, Linda McCartney Retrospective, finishes at the Kelvingrove on 14 January but transfers to the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, where it is on display from 25 April to 31 August.

I would highly recommend a visit and allow plenty of time, there are lots of photographs to admire and you will not want to rush past them.

Our big holiday this year was an 11-night stay in Austria, split between Vienna and Salzburg. I should have written a separate blog entry about this but on return from the holiday we went straight into a hectic period preparing for Kathie’s album launch and the blog was never written.

We had a wonderful time – the people were friendly and helpful, the food was excellent, the cities seemed cleaner than those back in the UK and there was evidence of Mozart everywhere (he was born in Salzburg and lived in Vienna).

Highlights of our trip included the wonderful paintings in Vienna’s Albertina and Kunst Historisches Museums; seeing the River Danube and the fairground wheel from the Third Man film; a brief visit (for me) to Austrian broadcaster ORF; the Spanish Riding School (I went once, Kathie went twice); seeing Mozart’s Requiem performed in the beautiful Karlskirche, Vienna; cathedrals in both Vienna and Salzburg; looking down on Salzburg from the castle, Hohensalzburg Fortress; our Salzburg river trip; and our Sound Of Music coach trip. (NB: lots of pictures coming soon – promise – on my Instagram feed).

Ah, yes, the Sound Of Music coach trip. I was not a big fan of the film but before leaving home a friend said we should do this – I think up until then I was not aware of the film having been shot around Salzburg. When we arrived in the city I thought, why not? And we booked the trip.

It was four hours or so of great fun, travelling in and around Salzburg and then out to the beautiful lakes in the mountains which we would not otherwise have seen. Our tour guide was friendly and enthusiastic, without being pushy, and as the coach travelled between stops we all sang along with the soundtrack of the film.

img_20191008_142610959_hdr.jpg

Julie and me – a stop on the Sound Of Music coach tour (image: Graham Brown)

I found myself curiously moved by the music. I have been a fan of musicals since living in London – when my parents came to visit they would inevitably want to go to the West End to see a musical and I also came to love them.

But somehow the Sound Of Music was associated in my mind with seeing the film as a youngster when it seemed very unfashionable compared to the pop music of the day that I was listening to. All that changed on our coach trip, perhaps I was emotional thinking of my late parents on that day, but for whatever reason I was hooked.

Incidentally, on that afternoon out we also spotted a Bristol Lodekka. Most of you will have no idea what that is, I imagine. It is a double-decker bus, of a type that regularly came past our house when I was a child on Eastern Counties’ Peterborough to Cambridge service. Sometimes in the summer holidays Mum and I would take the bus to Cambridge for a day out. The one in Salzburg was being used to transport tourists.

img_20191010_162804551_hdr.jpg

A Bristol Lodekka – in Salzburg (image: Graham Brown)

They were called Lodekkas, I understand, because the lower deck was step free once you were on board. The person to ask all about this would have been my Uncle David, an expert on buses who has had books of his historic bus photographs published.

Sadly, David (Burnicle) was one of the folk we lost in 2019. He was always engaging company and lived an inventive, loving and productive life – though, of course, that does not make his passing easy for his family. Here he is as a young man, a photograph taken in the year I was born…

http://www.hhtandn.org/relatedimages/1537/hartlepool-lads

Many, probably most, of us will have suffered loss of some sort in the past year – just in the last days of the year came the unexpected death of Neil Innes, one of Britain’s most talented, funny and modest songwriters. To his family the loss will be greatest. Thankfully, his wonderful music will live on.

Who knows what will happen this year and who will still be standing at the year’s end when the Earth’s cycle has taken us around the Sun one more time?

So in 2020 let us enjoy life whenever we can; celebrate each other’s creativity and foibles; spread love to family, friends and to those we don’t know, in our own country and abroad, of our beliefs and of others; and let us work for a better world.

Graham Brown

P.S. Here’s Kathie’s New Year blog…

https://kathietouin.wordpress.com/2020/01/01/farewell-and-thank-you-to-2019/

To find out more

My (so-called) Instagram account – https://www.instagram.com/grahambrownorkney/

My blog: The Sixties – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/swinging-sixties/

My blog: Kathie’s new album – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2019/12/17/facing-the-falling-sky/

My blog: Arizona February 2019 – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2019/05/02/arizona-take-three/

My blog: Edinburgh Spring 2019 – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2019/06/24/spring-into-summer-via-edinburgh/

Steve Hackett website – http://www.hackettsongs.com/

Mark Lewisohn website – https://www.marklewisohn.net/

Linda McCartney website – https://www.lindamccartney.com/

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelvingrove_Art_Gallery_and_Museum

Walker Art Gallery – https://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/walker/

Vienna – https://www.austria.info/uk/where-to-go/cities/vienna

Salzburg – https://www.austria.info/uk/where-to-go/cities/salzburg

Wikipedia: Bristol Lodekka – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bristol_Lodekka

Neil Innes website – https://neilinnes.media/

A late-night conversation with an old friend in a remote windswept house

FTFS cover_3000

Facing The Falling Sky album cover (image: Kathie Touin)

So, here we are, my first blog for nearly six months. Any excuse? Not really.

Not only that but my headline is stolen – it’s all in a good cause, though.

On 1 November Kathie Touin (that is Mrs Brown) released a new album of her wonderful songs, Facing The Falling Sky. And it is a super creative collection.

As the person who looks after Kathie’s publicity I am supposed to come up with snappy phrases to promote her work but I cannot beat this quote…

DJ Steve Conway says: “It’s truly brilliant. It’s like a late-night conversation with an old friend in a remote windswept house.” Thank you Steve.

Steve is a great supporter of Kathie’s music. He presents a show on Ireland’s 8Radio.com called the A-Z Of Great Tracks and, to date, six of Kathie’s songs have featured – most recently her single, Waiting For The Silence…

Previously Steve was a DJ on Radio Caroline and was one of the crew rescued by RAF helicopter in November 1991 when the station’s radio ship, Ross Revenge, drifted onto the Goodwin Sands. His book ShipRocked: Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline is highly recommended.

It is great for Kathie to get such positive feedback for the album after all the work she has put into it. She wrote the songs, played most of the instruments, did technical wizardry in her own Starling Recording Studio that goes way above my head, mixed and produced the album – oh, and created the artwork.

We held a launch for the album at Orkney Brewery which is situated, conveniently, just beyond the end of the track to our house. In fact, you can see the brewery from our dining room window.

No jokes please – we did manage to organise a launch in a brewery. We invited friends and Kathie, in her Eeyore mode, thought perhaps 10 people might come. In the event there were nearly 60 folk there and the warmth and support feeding back to Kathie meant so much to her.

I was the MC, introducing some tracks played from the CD and some songs played live by Kathie – as well as quizzing Kathie about the songs and the album. Kathie had a string trio join her for one song, Between Heaven And The Sky – thank you Linda Hamilton, cello, and Elizabeth Sullivan and Lesley Macleod, violins, it was beautiful.

cottage close up2

Publicity shot for Facing The Falling Sky (image: Kathie Touin)

Kathie was interviewed by BBC Radio Orkney for their daily breakfast news programme. You can hear this on Kathie’s SoundCloud feed…

She also featured in our weekly newspaper, The Orcadian, and the online Orkney News reported from the launch.

How would I describe the album? Well, herein lies a problem. These days, of course, music is distributed digitally for download and streaming as well as in physical form (CD in the case of this album). And the digital sites like to have the music put into categories.

Here, I admit, Kathie struggles and her publicity person (me) is not much help either. It is not folk, though I see on Google that is how Kathie is labelled. It is not progressive. It is not electronic. But it does have elements of all three, and more. The closest we have come is folktronic, or folktronica. Answers on a postcard please!

The digital world is a two-edged sword for artists. Potentially it gets the music to anyone, anywhere in the world thanks to Kathie’s website and to digital distribution (Apple Music, Spotify, Google Music, Amazon Music and so on).

But the downside is the income, or should I say lack of it, particularly for streams. A single stream on Spotify, to give two examples from Kathie’s previous albums, could pay you $0.00030394 or perhaps $0.00235781. I don’t know why the figures vary, both were songs written and performed by Kathie. Either way, she is not going to get rich that way.

Recently a track from Kathie’s piano music album Soliloquy Deluxe – Valses Poeticos by Granados – was streamed 133 times on Google Music Store resulting in a total payment of $0.68815381. Hey-ho.

Anyway, back to the new album, Facing The Falling Sky. It has received airplay on BBC Radio Scotland, Radio Caroline, Vectis Radio, Deal Radio, Biggles FM and Glastonbury FM and, who knows, elsewhere in the UK and beyond?

I had hoped for airplay on BBC Radio 6 Music but despite sending eight copies to various people we have not achieved that particular breakthrough. Who knows whether anyone there ever got to listen to the album from the hundreds they must receive each week?

Whatever, I think the album is fantastic and well worthy of UK-wide, indeed, worldwide, airplay. To repeat Steve Conway’s quote once more: “It’s truly brilliant. It’s like a late-night conversation with an old friend in a remote windswept house.”

Here is some more feedback Kathie has received…

“I’ve listened to it several times and each time find something else I like… Your vocals are great, a lovely sound, smooth and warm.”

“Really enjoying your CD. How catchy some of the tunes are – Waiting For The Silence is a real ear-worm!”

“Just the answer to the dreich winter weather bringing into your home a warmth and seasonal feel.”

“Such a good album packed full of great tracks.”

So there.

FTFSposterCD

Poster for Kathie Touin’s new album (image: Kathie Touin)

You can buy the album from Kathie’s website – the CD comes with an attractive lyrics booklet – or from shops in Orkney including The Old Library and The Reel in Kirkwall, the Waterfront Gallery and JB Rosey in Stromness, and Castaway Crafts in Dounby.

If you are into downloads or streaming Facing The Falling Sky is on all the regular outlets including Apple Music, Google Music, Amazon Music, Spotify and CD Baby (Kathie’s digital distributor).

Go on, give it a listen. You could even email 6 Music and request a play!

Graham Brown

To find out more

Kathie’s website – http://www.kathietouin.com/

Kathie’s blog – https://kathietouin.wordpress.com/

Steve Conway on Twitter – https://twitter.com/steveconway

8Radio.com – http://8radio.com/

Radio Caroline – http://www.radiocaroline.co.uk/

Orkney Brewery – https://www.orkneybrewery.co.uk/

Spring into summer via Edinburgh

Spring into summer? Well, it’s been more of a stumble.

One of the aspects of life which surprises me about Orkney is the amount of nasty viruses going around the place. You might imagine that with all this fresh air we would be immune to them. Perhaps it is because this is a sociable, friendly place that we share germs more easily.

Either way, in the last two months I have had two nasty viruses, both of which laid me low for a week or so. As a London friend said to me, knowing Orkney’s windy reputation, “You would imagine the germs would all blow away.”

Moreover, the weather has not been all one might have hoped for recently – some days in June have felt more like stormy April days and now we are officially “in the summer” it would be nice to have completely dispensed with hats, coats and using electric lights in the evening.

But there is sunshine as well as rain and so everything in our garden is growing fast, including the weeds. Mrs Brown (Kathie Touin) and I need to spend more time gardening but it is encouraging to see the flowers that Kathie planted blooming colourfully and the trees we have planted since arriving in 2010 becoming tall.

At the beginning of May I spent a three-night weekend in Edinburgh. It is strange how, with time, one’s centre of gravity can change. When I lived in London I was only vaguely aware of Edinburgh. Now, through repeated visits from Orkney, parts of Edinburgh seem as familiar as areas of London I used to frequent such as Ealing and Shepherd’s Bush.

img_20190503_172014.jpg

“In memory of our precious babies, gone but never forgotten.” Sculpture by Andy Scott in Princes Street Gardens (image: Graham Brown)

On this latest visit to Auld Reekie, solo as Kathie stayed at home working, I visited the Scottish National Gallery, Princes Street Gardens, Waverley railway station, St Giles Cathedral, the Royal Mile, as well as some charity – and other – shops.

The gallery has a superb collection and gave me the chance to see again some of my favourite paintings, such as John Singer Sargent’s Lady Agnew of Lochnaw (see previous blog – Carry On In The Central Belt). This time I also bought the fridge magnet!

In Princes Street Gardens, in the hail and sleet, I was taken with a new sculpture of a baby elephant. Next to it a sign says: “In memory of our precious babies, gone but never forgotten.” The sculptor is Andy Scott and it was unveiled in the gardens in February this year.

img_20190503_164236.jpg

Plaque to commemorate Sir Nigel Gresley at Edinburgh Waverley station (image: Graham Brown)

Still on the theme of remembering, I took a walk through Waverley station to soak up the atmosphere and chanced upon a commemorative plaque to Sir Nigel Gresley, one of my late father’s heroes. I had not realised Sir Nigel was born in Edinburgh. He designed some of Britain’s most-famous steam locomotives, including The Flying Scotsman (which Kathie and I saw at Waverley, also in my Carry On In The Central Belt blog) and Mallard, holder of the world speed record for a steam locomotive at 126mph.

In St Giles’ Cathedral I listened to a wonderful organ recital performed by Michael Harris. The music sounds superb in the cathedral’s acoustic and I particularly liked Boellmann’s Suite Gothique. There are regular concerts and recitals at the cathedral, or High Kirk, so do seek them out if you visit Edinburgh.

And, of course, it seems impossible for me to go anywhere these days without visiting charity shops. I came home with 11 CDs – everything from the latest album by Clean Bandit to the soundtrack from Sound Of Music (for more on my CD habit see my blog The Newest (And Most Addictive) Joy Of Charity Shops).

The main reason for my visit was to see Gretchen Peters in concert, again. I am a great fan of her music and it is always beautifully performed with accompanying musicians including her partner, pianist Barry Walsh. The venue was the intimate Queen’s Hall.

This time the other band members were the excellent guitarist Colm McClean and bass (upright and electric) player Conor McCreanor, both from Northern Ireland.

The second half of the show featured a string quartet which added a superb dimension to already-super songs of Gretchen’s such as The Secret Of Life, Blackbirds, On A Bus To St Cloud and Ghosts.

Two individual members of the quartet also made appearances towards the end of the first half, one of the violinists on the song Matador, and the cellist adding to the two closing songs of the half, Five Minutes and Idlewild, which left me in an emotional heap.

There is a link to all of Gretchen’s videos at the bottom of this blog but, for now, here is Five Minutes (in a live performance by Gretchen and Barry) and Idlewild (as originally recorded)…

I should also add that Gretchen and her partner Barry are friendly and decent people who take time at the end of their concerts to sign and chat. This time the merchandise on offer included something I have never seen at a concert before… tea towels! There is method to this madness, the closing song on the latest album Dancing With The Beast being Love That Makes A Cup Of Tea. Yes, of course, I bought a tea towel (and one for my mother-in-law).

My blogs have, unlike my CD-buying habit, become irregular.

Among the many events between my February Arizona trip (see previous blog, Arizona: Take Three) and my May Edinburgh trip – along with RSPB and Quoyloo Old School volunteering – were attending the unveiling of Orkney’s witchcraft memorial and a wonderful concert by the band Fara in Orkney Theatre. Do go see Fara if they come your way.

img_20190317_142127.jpg

Members of the current RNLI Longhope lifeboat crew prepare to lay wreaths to the men lost with the TGB in 1969 (image: Graham Brown)

I spent a moving day on the island of Hoy on 17 March joining the commemorations for the 50th anniversary of the loss of the Longhope lifeboat, TGB, with all eight men aboard. The islanders made everyone welcome and the events were a testament to the human spirit and man’s love for his fellow man. When individual wreaths were laid to each of those lost by members of the current crew, some of whom are descendants of the eight, it brought tears to the eyes.

And, on 16 April, Kathie and I marked nine years since our move to Orkney by attending the annual St Magnus Day service in St Magnus Kirk, Birsay, not far from where we live. St Magnus is the patron saint of Orkney and, by accident, we moved to Orkney on his saint’s day.

Since Edinburgh events have included what I think might be my first tribute band concert – What The Floyd at Orkney Theatre, the annual Orkney Nature Festival nature cruise organised by the RSPB and Northlink Ferries (always great fun and a great social event, this year we were treated to a pod of passing Risso’s dolphins), an informal gathering at Marwick Head to mark the 103rd anniversary of the loss of HMS Hampshire, and a visit by friends Tania Opland & Mike Freeman, who performed a gig of their unique take on acoustic world music at Stromness Town Hall. Unfortunately, my second lurgy coincided with latter part of their visit.

Memo to self: must blog more often – and avoid catching germs.

Graham Brown

To find out more

Scottish National Gallery website – https://www.nationalgalleries.org/visit/scottish-national-gallery

Wikipedia: Sir Nigel Gresley – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigel_Gresley

St Giles’ Cathedral website – https://stgilescathedral.org.uk/

Gretchen Peters website – https://www.gretchenpeters.com/

Gretchen Peters’ videos on YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/user/gretchenpeters/

Fara website – http://faramusic.co.uk/

Longhope Lifeboat on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/LonghopeLifeboat/

St Magnus Kirk webpage – http://www.birsay.org.uk/heritage.htm#stmagnus

RSPB Orkney on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/RspbOrkney/

Northlink Ferries – https://www.northlinkferries.co.uk/

Wikipedia: Risso’s dolphin – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Risso%27s_dolphin

HMS Hampshire website – http://hmshampshire.org/

Tania Opland & Mike Freeman – http://www.opland-freeman.com/

Arizona: take three

IMG_20190208_121720 (2)

The open road in Arizona driving from Tucson to Phoenix – wide carriageways, big skies, big trucks and big trains (image: Graham Brown)

IMG_20190208_135424

This isn’t Orkney – roadside cactii as we drive from Phoenix to Cottonwood (image: Graham Brown)

By The Time I Get to Phoenix (I will be quite tired)

Earlier this year, before the better weather came to the UK, Mrs Brown (Kathie Touin) and I jetted across the Atlantic for our third visit to Arizona.

Kathie’s family lives in Northern Arizona so that is where we spent most of our February visit, but we also spent a few days in the warmer south of the state in and around Phoenix and Tucson.

This is not a big complaint, I know we are lucky to travel to such an interesting part of the world, but it is a tiring journey – from getting up at 5am to catch an early flight from Orkney’s Kirkwall Airport to Aberdeen, then travelling on to London Heathrow, followed by a third flight to Phoenix, then getting through customs and immigration, finding the mini-bus to the hotel and eating dinner, well in all that’s 24 hours gone.

Mind you, coming back against the seven-hour time difference was worse, particularly as there were stressful delays transferring from Heathrow Terminal 3 to Terminal 5, and more delays at Heathrow passport control – lucky our Heathrow to Edinburgh flight was delayed, otherwise we might have missed it and our connection to Orkney.

It’s not always hot, you know

Some folk have an image of Arizona as entirely made up of blistering desert. Phoenix can certainly get incredibly hot, there have been occasions when airliners could not take off from the city’s Sky Harbor Airport because the warm air was too thin.

However, when we were in Phoenix and Tucson it was pleasantly warm in the daytime, though cool at night.

At Kathie’s parents’ home, in Cottonwood, Northern Arizona – elevation 3,300 feet – it was not so warm. To be fair, it was cooler than expected for the time of year. We experienced a mixture of sun, rain and light snow.

We came across some tourists who had come dressed in shorts thinking Arizona equals very hot. Well, not always, particularly further north in the state.

On the day we were due to leave Arizona we had an evening flight from Phoenix. We planned to drive down from Cottonwood during the afternoon, it is only about 100 miles but… a big snowstorm was forecast.

So it was decided we would have to leave Cottonwood 24 hours early in our rental car (Nissan Sentra, a saloon, or sedan in US terms) and drive south of the predicted snow line. It was a good move.

There is not much between Cottonwood and Phoenix but we found an old-fashioned-style motel in Black Canyon City – the Mountain Breeze Motel – you know, the kind where you drive your car up to your chalet accommodation.

Black Canyon City is said to have a population of more than 2,500 but it did not feel like that, it seemed to be a series of businesses strung along what would have been the main road at one time before it was by-passed.

But we found a friendly local store, an excellent restaurant and – the following morning – a jewellery and souvenir shop where Mrs Brown spent some time (and money).

The “city” is at 2,000 feet but it was out of the way of the heavy snow which duly fell further north overnight, closing roads we had used the day before.

And even further north in Flagstaff (6,900 feet elevation), where Kathie’s niece lives, there was a huge snowfall which completely covered over her parked car so the roof was just a small bump in a snowdrift.

We watched some of the local TV coverage of the storm – on Arizona’s Family 3TV CBS 5 – and, as you might imagine, they were having a field day* with reporters out and about describing the falling snow in excited terms.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles – and musical instruments

We visited some fantastic museums in Arizona. Well, I thought so, though I guess it depends on your interests.

First, the Martin Auto Museum in Phoenix, a collection of beautifully restored cars, including Ford Mustang, Shelby AC Cobra, Ford Model T, Chevrolet Corvette Stingray – and a Duesenberg Boattail previously owned by gangster Jake the Barber, this car cost $25,000 when new in 1930, about $380,000 in today’s money. It is a fabulous collection – a picture is worth a thousand words, so here are some…

img_20190206_122204.jpg

Duesenberg Boattail at Martin Auto Museum (image: Graham Brown)

IMG_20190206_122321

The Duesenberg’s engine (image: Graham Brown)

IMG_20190206_121624

I found a British car in the museum – me and an MGB GT (image: Graham Brown)

IMG_20190206_125840

DeSoto in the Martin Auto Museum (image: Graham Brown)

I could say the same for the Pima Air & Space Museum near Tucson, which boasts 150 historic planes indoors and many more sat outside. They include a selection of Harrier jump-jets, a TWA Lockheed Constellation, a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress (complete with a veteran of bombing runs to Berlin telling his stories), a Douglas Liftmaster used by President Kennedy, a Lockheed Electra (similar to that flown by Amelia Earhart when she disappeared with her navigator Fred Noonan). We were under instructions to take lots of photographs for Kathie’s father, an aircraft enthusiast who flew in B-17s when he was serving his country. So we did, here are a couple…

IMG_20190207_104911

Lockheed Constellation airliner at Pima Air & Space Museum (image: Graham Brown)

IMG_20190207_105138

Kathie Touin with a TWA tractor and trailer – Twa is Kathie’s family name (image: Graham Brown)

IMG_20190207_105646

Me and a Douglas aircraft used by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson (image: Graham Brown)

IMG_20190207_111126

Boeing Superfortress at Pima Air & Space Museum (image: Graham Brown)

IMG_20190207_122301

Consolidated Liberator at Pima Air & Space Museum – donated by the government of India (image: Graham Brown)

IMG_20190207_113500

Boeing Flying Fortress – the man in the red hat is a veteran of bombing runs to Berlin (image: Graham Brown)

Trains? Well, we did not go to a railway museum as such but the strangely-named Clemenceau Museum in Cottonwood has a fantastic model railway.

The museum is named after France’s First World War Prime Minister because of his friendship with James Douglas who founded the company town of Verde, later re-named Clemenceau to avoid confusion with other towns called Verde, and eventually incorporated into Cottonwood.

The museum, in addition to the marvellous model railway, is full of local history in photographs and artefacts.

IMG_20190205_152120

The enormous Musical Instrument Museum – here is the Lesser Antilles display (image: Graham Brown)

Back in Phoenix we explored two other museums, first of all the Musical Instrument Museum. We arrived late one morning expecting to spend a couple of hours before moving on somewhere else. By 5pm we were exhausted and we still had not explored all of this fantastic collection.

IMG_20190205_133350

The piano on which John Lennon wrote Imagine (image: Graham Brown)

It has displays of musical instruments and costumes from every country in the world, pretty much, as well as displays of instruments and clothes belonging to the famous – John Lennon’s piano on which he wrote Imagine, one of Johnny Cash’s black stage suits, one of Hal Blaine’s drum kits, and so on – plus a room in which anyone can try out instruments for themselves. There was also a fascinating temporary exhibition about the history of the electric guitar.

img_20190205_135853.jpg

One of Roy Orbison’s guitars (image: Graham Brown)

Finally, in Phoenix, we went to the Hall of Flame Fire Museum – yes, a museum of fire-fighting. This might not immediately appeal but it was well worth a visit and there was a fantastic display of restored fire engines. The older examples, some originally horse-drawn, more recent ones motorised, were beautifully painted and lined.

Another nice mess

While we were in Arizona we went with Kathie’s mom to the cinema to see Stan & Ollie. It is a funny, moving and nostalgic tale of friendship.

Just in case you do not know of Stan & Ollie, it is about the comedy film actors Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and one of Ollie’s catchphrases was: “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.”

In the film (US: movie) they are played with love and uncanny precision by Steve Coogan and John C Reilly. A word also for Nina Arianda and Shirley Henderson who played their wives beautifully. Here is the US trailer for the film…

Speaking of a nice mess, we ate some pizzas and got gooey fingers in a most unusual restaurant. It is in Phoenix and is called Organ Stop Pizza. But nice as the food is, that is not the main point of being there…

The venue boasts the largest Wurlitzer organ in the world, originally installed in the Denver Theatre in 1927 and much added to over the years. The organ, and the organist, appear through the floor – just like they did in cinemas years ago – and disappear back again at the end of the set.

IMG_20190205_190149

The largest Wurlitzer in the world – with instruments and pipes suspended above and spread from left to right – at Organ Stop Pizza (fuzzy image: Graham Brown)

If you are not familiar with a Wurlitzer organ, it has pipes, something like a church organ, but the organist is also responsible for playing, through the organ’s numerous keys and controls, a wide array of percussion and other instruments – all are live, not electronic.

It was a feelgood venue, in which the audience – many in family groups of all ages – sit with their food on benches at long tables. Kathie and I got into discussion with the guy sat next to us who was visiting with his wife, daughter and grandson.

Wasting – and admiring – the Earth’s resources

The United States is big – I mean, really big – and it is not all alike. The scenery, the people, the attitudes, the beliefs, vary widely – often, but not always, according to geographical location.

We noticed in Arizona that newer ideas about plastic waste are yet to take hold (though I suspect they have done so in neighbouring California). It was almost impossible to shop at a supermarket without being given numerous plastic bags – because the staff usually pack for the customer using plastic bags from a carousel next to their till.

But worse was our breakfast experience staying at Holiday Inn Express in Oro Valley, near Tucson. It was a pleasant hotel with a self-service breakfast area. But all the breakfast cutlery (US: silverware) was plastic, as were all the plates and bowls. It created large bins full of non-recyclable waste every day. And, as Kathie said: “I feel I am back in kindergarten eating with plastic.”

img_20190218_090646.jpg

Our Nissan hire car with a light covering of snow (image: Graham Brown)

Of course, fuel (US: gas) for your car is much cheaper in the States. We filled up our hire car and were amazed to discover it cost less than $25, in other words less than £20. At home to fill up our cars, neither of which is large, costs around £50 for mine and £60 for Kathie’s.

But walking is available. A popular spot on the edge of Cottonwood, where Kathie’s father likes to walk, is the wonderfully-named Dead Horse Ranch, a state park with lakes, walking trails and camping.

A number of the Arizona birds we spotted were seen at Dead Horse including red-tailed hawk, ring-necked duck, great blue heron, American coot and pied-billed grebe.

Our bird list for the whole holiday included the spectacular vermilion flycatcher (in a supermarket car park), white-crowned sparrow, various hummingbirds, and vultures, Brewer’s blackbird, ladder-backed woodpecker, dark-eyed junco, cardinal, (US) robin and – perhaps our favourite – the great-tailed grackle which we saw in large numbers in the Cottonwood Walmart car park, squawking, cackling and generally showing off.

We’re S-H-O-P-P-I-N-G

Ah yes, Walmart. We made a number of visits to this enormous store which sells pretty much everything. Kathie’s parents know someone who likes daily exercise and, if the weather is not good, walks up and down Walmart instead. My purchases included jeans and an MP3 player. And some pants! (Pants is a family joke).

IMG_20190209_133659

We did not buy everything we saw – these are in Food City, a chain selling Mexican food (image: Graham Brown)

Kathie is always on the look-out for Native American and Mexican-style crafts and decorations – as well as Mexican foodstuffs – and there was plenty in our suitcases from various shops when we came home to Orkney.

We made our traditional visit to Larry’s Antiques in Cottonwood, which is full of treasures, at reasonable prices in the main. Good to see the skeleton is still there in the rusty car by the entrance.

And we visited some of Cottonwood’s thrift stores (UK: charity shops). I picked up some CDs (inevitably) and a teddy bear who was looking at us out of the window of one shop as we arrived. We have named him Good Will (the shop is the Goodwill store) and back in Orkney he sits on a small wooden stool at the bottom of our stairs.

Not everything is new

It is easy to dismiss the USA as being short on history as the country is less than 250 years old. But there is older history.

IMG_20190215_144649

Exploring the Sunset Crater lava flow (image: Graham Brown)

With Kathie’s sister and her family we visited two National Monuments – Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcano – north-east of Flagstaff.

Sunset Crater erupted some time between 1040 and 1100. Today it is possible to walk in the strange landscape created by the dried lava flow and the trees that have grown in it.

IMG_20190215_163804

the 12th century Wupatki pueblo village (image: Graham Brown)

And nearby we visited the remains of two pueblo villages – Wukoki and Wupatki – created in stone and mud in the 12th century, around the same time that St Magnus Cathedral was being built in Kirkwall, Orkney. Wupatki had more than 100 rooms in its day and a large ceremonial ball-court. The people grew corn, beans and squash.

Today the uninhabited pueblos are atmospheric and boast great views of the rugged landscape. But the Hopi tribe believe those who lived and died there remain as spiritual guardians. A nice thought.

Back home

When we returned to Orkney after our trip I experienced a strange feeling. Kathie, of course, had to tell her parents back in Arizona that we were home safely. But I realised I did not need to tell anyone. As you may remember, my father died in March 2016 and my mother way back in August 2001.

Since then Kathie and I visited Italy in June 2017 and perhaps I got this feeling at the end of that trip, but I do not remember it.

Do not worry, I am not depressed by this. What happened has happened and I look back on happy memories of my parents. In fact, there was something strangely liberating about this feeling – now I am grown-up (finally) and do not need to tell anyone what I am doing. Except Kathie of course.

“Yes, dear, just coming…”

* Field-day: according to my 1913 edition of “Dictionary of Phrase & Fable”…
Day of business. Thus, a clergyman loosely calls a “kept festival” his field-day. A military term, meaning a day when a regiment is taken to the fields for practice.

Graham Brown

IMG_20190221_140140

One of the beautiful fire engines at the Hall of Flame Fire Museum (image: Graham Brown)

My previous Arizona (and Italy) blogs

https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2016/01/09/its-2016/

https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/arizona/

https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2017/07/30/12-days-in-northern-italy/

To find out more

Cottonwood (Wikipedia) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cottonwood,_Arizona

Black Canyon City (Wikipedia) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Canyon_City,_Arizona

Martin Auto Museum (website) – https://www.martinautomuseum.com/

Jake the Barber (Wikipedia) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Factor

Pima Air & Space Museum (website) – http://www.pimaair.org/

Clemenceau Museum – http://clemenceaumuseum.com/

Hall of Flame (website) – http://www.hallofflame.org/

Organ Stop Pizza (website) – https://www.organstoppizza.com/

Dead Horse Ranch (website) – https://azstateparks.com/dead-horse/

Great-tailed grackle (Wikipedia) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great-tailed_grackle

Wupatki National Monument (website) – https://www.nps.gov/wupa/index.htm

Sunset Crater National Monument (website) – https://www.nps.gov/sucr/index.htm

St Magnus Cathedral, Orkney (Wikipedia) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Magnus_Cathedral

Back to Glasgow for the concert of a lifetime

The latest trip for Mrs Brown (Kathie Touin) and I took us back to Glasgow – for our second visit of 2018 – to see Paul McCartney in concert. Kathie had seen him before, many years ago in the States, but I had never seen Paul, or any of The Beatles.

20181214_203344.jpg

Our view of Paul McCartney’s brilliant Glasgow concert (image: Kathie Touin)

It was a fantastic, brilliant, wonderful, exciting, life-affirming concert. In fact, Kathie thinks it is probably the best gig she has seen. Ever. It must be right up there.

An idea has grown up in the last 20 or 30 years that John Lennon was the most talented songwriter of The Beatles, while Paul McCartney only created silly throwaway songs. It’s an argument that, I believe, is wrong – and it also ignores the claims of George Harrison.

Why has this idea come about? In part, I think, because John Lennon was murdered, at a relatively young age, and so people began to idealise him. To be clear, I’m not denying that Lennon wrote some great songs and that he was a force for good in the world, albeit that he was a flawed character (like the rest of us).

Also, this anti-Paul idea has grown because he has been regularly making music and releasing records for almost 60 years – any artist will produce some duff tracks in that time.

But take a look at this set list from the concert we saw – at the SSE Hydro on Friday 14 December 2018 – a concert that was just shy of three-hours long during which time, apart from the break before the encore, Paul McCartney never left the stage. I wish I had that much energy now, never mind at his age of 76…

Hard Day’s Night
Junior’s Farm
Can’t Buy Me Love
Letting Go
Who Cares
Got To Get You Into My Life
Come On To Me
Let Me Roll It (+ Foxy Lady)
I’ve Got A Feeling
Let ‘Em In
My Valentine
Nineteen-hundred And Eighty Five
Maybe I’m Amazed
We Can Work It Out
In Spite Of All The Danger
From Me To You
Dance Tonight
Love Me Do
Blackbird
Here Today
Queenie Eye
Lady Madonna
Eleanor Rigby
Fuh You
Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite
Something
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
Band On The Run
Back In The USSR
Let It Be
Live And Let Live
Hey Jude

Encore…
Birthday
Wonderful Christmastime
Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Helter Skelter
Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End

Had he chosen, he could have programmed another concert equally as long, with a completely different set list of his own great songs.

Actually, the sharp-eyed among you will notice that two of the songs in the set are not by McCartney – he played John Lennon’s Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite and George Harrison’s Something, starting the latter on ukulele, a favourite instrument of George’s.

And there was a dash of Jimi Hendrix’s Foxy Lady at the end of Let Me Roll It. Paul told stories and paid tributes during the concert to The Beatles and producer George Martin, but interestingly Hendrix was the only non-Beatle referred to.

Paul McCartney has a fantastic band to accompany him and one that he has now played with for 15 years – longer than The Beatles were together, though admittedly their time was more concentrated.

The band are Brian Ray (guitars and, when Paul is playing other instruments, bass), Rusty Anderson (guitars), Paul Wickens (keyboards and other instruments) and Abe Laboriel Jr (drums). Paul plays bass, as well as acoustic and electric guitars, ukulele, grand piano and upright piano. For some songs there was also a three-part brass section which first appeared in the middle of the audience before going on to the stage.

The sound was loud, of course, but crystal clear and perhaps for this reason I did not leave with ringing ears. The lights and big-screen projections were amazing, everything from photographs of The Beatles to an animated Sgt Pepper’s album cover.

Kathie – I must get her to write her own blog about the evening – thought it had a slight feeling of a farewell tour though it has not been billed as such and there are more Freshen Up tour gigs to come in 2019 in the United States.

Well, whatever, we will not get too many more chances to see the great man in action. So thank you, Sir Paul, for a wonderful evening – and for the great songs.

Some other highlights and happenings from our Glasgow trip…

Our flight to Glasgow was the first time, I believe, that I had flown out of Orkney in the dark – previous departures have all been in the daylight.

Orkney has wonderful wildlife but we are missing some of the more common sights from mainland Britain. So we loved spotting long-tailed tits in a Glasgow park, and magpies poking about in the street. Incidentally, a bird-expert friend of mine believes it will not be too many years before magpies are nesting in Orkney.

img_20181214_110155

HMS Graham – now the Army Reserve Centre – Glasgow (image: Graham Brown)

On a walk one morning we passed HMS Graham – a building, not a ship, which the plaque tells us was the headquarters of the Clyde Division of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and the Royal Naval Reserve from 1906 to 1993.

A little farther along our walk, and very close to Rangers’ ground Ibrox Park, we passed the Louden Tavern – clearly from its blue-and-white paint a Rangers pub but with heavy-duty doors and no glass or windows. Scary. I think I will stay away from Rangers v Celtic games.

img_20181214_111922.jpg

About to ride the Glasgow Subway for the first time (image: Graham Brown)

Just round the corner we came to Ibrox station and so my first ride on the Glasgow subway – a much simpler and quieter affair than the London tube. Instead of a maze of lines going in all directions there is an oval and you travel clockwise or anti-clockwise or, as it is described at the stations, on the inner or the outer circle. And the short trains are bright orange.

img_20181217_133003

War memorial in Glasgow Cathedral (image: Graham Brown)

Sight-seeing on our visit included Glasgow Cathedral, dedicated to St Kentigern, otherwise known as St Mungo, described as the most complete medieval cathedral on the Scottish mainland. As you might expect it is full of fascinating history, including an early King James Bible which went missing from the cathedral for many years before being found in an attic and put on display in time for the visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Next to the cathedral is St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art which I have been recommended by a friend – “even if you are not religious” – but it was closed on the day we were there so is on the list for a return trip to Glasgow.

img_20181217_153106

One of the memorials in Glasgow Necropolis (image: Graham Brown)

Then, just up the hill from the Cathedral, is the Necropolis, a Victorian cemetery full of impressive, today we might even say vulgar or over-the-top, memorials. This is another on the list for a return trip so we can get a guided tour. But it is fascinating just to wander around, particularly in the atmospheric gathering gloom of a late December afternoon.

img_20181217_150857

Korean War Memorial on the approach to Glasgow Necropolis (image: Graham Brown)

On the way into the Necropolis there are some more recent, modest memorials including, unusually, one commemorating the men from Glasgow who were lost in the Korean War.

img_20181217_154947

Mural of St Mungo (image: Graham Brown)

The walk to the Cathedral from our hotel took us past some of Glasgow’s splendid murals including a wonderful, and enormous, representation of St Mungo. We spent time with our friends discussing how you would even begin to create something so enormous. There is a Glasgow murals trail, another idea for a future visit particularly as we did not see the Billy Connolly mural.

Our trip to Glasgow also included visits to the eclectic Hunterian Collection and the wonderful Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum – for more on my previous visit to Kelvingrove see my blog “Brief impressions of a trip to Glasgow”.

On this shorter Kelvingrove visit Kathie and I were lucky enough to catch a recital of Christmas music on the 1901 pipe organ. I made sure I visited Mary Pownall’s The Harpy Celaeno (1902), one of my favourite sculptures.

img_20181217_130458

One of Glasgow’s many splendid murals (image: Graham Brown)

And I found time to look at the temporary, and large, exhibition “Brushes With War” – drawings and paintings by men, and women, serving in the Great War, or First World War. It was a moving, at times sobering, insight into their experiences as they saw them, not how the authorities or official war artists saw them.

Naturally we tried some restaurants in Glasgow and all were good – Di Maggio (Italian), Bombay Blues (Indian), Hanoi Bike Shop (Vietnamese) and Mezzidakia (east Mediterranean). I would say the last two were particularly memorable, because they were a little out of the ordinary, the food was yummy and the staff were attentive.

And, of course, it would not be a visit to a big city without trying out the charity shops. Thank you to our friend who told us to visit Byres Road where we lost count of the charity shops we visited (see two previous blogs, “Mysterious books” and “The newest (and most addictive) joy of charity shops”, for more on this obsession).

So I was able to come home to Orkney with a dozen new (to me) CDs and a book. Ah, yes, a book.

I took with me to read on the trip a book of short stories by Joseph Conrad – I was set Conrad to read at school and did not get on with it. But he is considered a great author so I thought, “I must read him again.” Frankly it was hard work (I’m sure the fault is mine, not Conrad’s).

9780712357159-cornish-coast-murder

A charity shop find – The Cornish Coast Murder, an excellent read (image: British Library)

So then I thought, “Life is too short, why not read books I enjoy?”. In one of the Byres Road charity shops I found “The Cornish Coast Murder” by John Bude, originally published in 1935, this was a 2014 edition published (for the first time since the 1930s) by the British Library. And jolly good fun it was too, something in the style of Agatha Christie, set in a Cornish village, as you might imagine, and with the vicar playing a key role.

So, that was our latest visit to Glasgow – lots to see and enjoy around the city, perhaps the best concert ever, and a signpost to future reading enjoyment.

Finally in this blog, may I wish you a peaceful New Year as we enter an uncertain year.

Graham Brown

To find out more

Paul McCartney’s Freshen Up Tour – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freshen_Up_(tour)

Paul McCartney’s Egypt Station album – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egypt_Station

And a track from Egypt Station, Come On To Me…


Glasgow Subway – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glasgow_Subway

Glasgow Necropolis – https://www.glasgownecropolis.org/

Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum – https://www.glasgowlife.org.uk/museums/venues/kelvingrove-art-gallery-and-museum

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelvingrove_Art_Gallery_and_Museum

Previous blogs

Our previous Glasgow Trip – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2018/05/17/brief-impressions-of-a-trip-to-glasgow/

Charity shop books – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2018/08/27/mysterious-books/

Charity shop CDs – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2018/10/09/addictive-joy-of-charity-shops/

The newest (and most addictive) joy of charity shops

img_20180819_101208.jpg

Some of the charity shop CDs pile up on my office couch (image: Graham Brown)

If you are a regular reader of this blog you may have spotted that Mrs Brown (Kathie Touin) and I are habitual visitors to charity shops. In fact, my previous blog entry “Mysterious books” was about charity finds.

But in the past year or two there has been a sinister development. I find charity shops are beckoning me through their doors with shameless and tempting displays… of CDs.

I love music and I have a large collection of CDs. Hang on, I will make a rough count. Mmm, might need to take my shoes and socks off, where’s the calculator? Now, of course, you understand that Kathie’s CDs are mixed in with mine so it’s hard to give an accurate figure. Well, ok, between us it must be more than 2,500.

In the past few years the sales of CDs has gone down considerably. In April The Guardian reported: “Streaming music revenues surpassed income from the sale of traditional formats for the first time last year, as [their] booming popularity… puts the survival of the CD at risk.

“Revenue from music fans paying for services such as Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music surged more than 41% to $6.6bn (£4.7bn), accounting for more than 38% of the total global market for recorded music. The sale of physical formats, primarily CDs, fell 5.4% to $5.2bn to account for 30%.

“It marks a tipping point for the music industry, which has depended on income from CDs to fill record labels’ coffers and artists’ pockets since the 1980s.”

It certainly feels like a tipping point but it’s a poor shower of rain that doesn’t benefit anyone. My impression is that as people are moving to streaming and downloads they are not only buying fewer CDs, often they are actively disposing of their collections – hence the large numbers on display in charity shops.

Musicians look away now, but this is an opportunity to pick up some excellent albums for perhaps 50p or 75p each, sometimes, whisper it, five albums for £1. Prices vary – they are particularly low here in Orkney, a little higher I noticed in Aberdeen and more so in Edinburgh.

Not only is this a chance to fill gaps in my collection, but at these prices there is no worry about trying an unknown CD or artist just because the cover looks interesting – though, to be fair, this is something I have also done at full price in music shops over the years.

So what is the worse that can happen? I have made a donation to charity and I have a CD to enjoy, or re-donate if I don’t like it.

The only potential problem is faulty CDs – at such low prices one can hardly go back to complain. But so far, despite some of the CDs looking as if the previous owner drove their pick-up truck backwards and forwards over them, I have only come across the odd track that skips, and usually only on certain more sensitive players.

So, I hear you ask, what have I been buying? Ah, well, that reminds me, there is another problem – storing all these treasures, because I have rather a lot of these charity shop bargains. With that in mind, we only have time for me to tell you about a few of my many charity shop purchases.

But they include compilations by:

The Ink Spots, songs such as Whispering Grass, a style of singing you never hear these days;

The Shangri-Las, I already have a collection of their tracks but I can never get enough of their gloriously melodramatic songs, gothic even, the best known perhaps being Leader Of The Pack, great production by George “Shadow” Morton, a bit like Phil Spector but less saturated and more listenable, and my new CD has two tracks not on my other Shangri-Las compilation;

Nat King Cole, it seems strange to say this about one of the greatest artists of the 20th century but I think he is under-rated, his singing and his piano playing are beautiful;

Ray Charles, three different collections, two of them double CDs, from a man who influenced all who came after him;

Louis Armstrong, a double CD of Satchmo magic, this cost me a whole 99p in Aberdeen;

Michael Nesmith, perhaps the most musically talented of The Monkees, an early purveyor of country rock;

Johnny Cash, I have many original Cash albums and compilations, but Ring Of Fire The Legend of Johnny Cash is an unusual collection, spanning songs from his early days to the end of his career, from Ring Of Fire to Hurt, always happy to hear these again on any album;

Julie London, I probably have most of the tracks already, as with some of the other compilations I have bought, but it’s always good to hear them again with a few surprises;

Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, what a distinctive label sound Tamla Motown created;

Anne Shelton, a Forces sweetheart from the Second World War, not as well known as Vera Lynn but excellent, songs such as Coming In On A Wing And A Prayer and You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To.

Kathie has listened to some of the new purchases with me. We spent a happy Sunday morning, while Kathie was baking for a charity event and I was pottering about, listening to a compilation by Nancy Sinatra and another by the 1920s-style Temperance Seven.

This charity shop CD mania that I have contracted also allows me to buy CDs which, in normal circumstances, I would not buy – which might be a bit, well embarrassing, to splash out for.

Firmly in this category is Meatloaf’s Bat Out Of Hell II (Back Into Hell) – you know, the one with I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That). Meatloaf, or producer and songwriter Jim Steinman, certainly liked their brackets (for some reason). Anyway, it sounds great played loud in the car (it really does).

What else have I found?

David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs, one of the few Bowie CDs from that era not in my collection; Ry Cooder’s Chicken Skin Music, I defy you to sit still while listening to this; the musicals Evita (original studio recording), Fiddler On The Roof (film soundtrack) and Porgy And Bess; Renee Fleming’s album The Beautiful Voice, you need confidence or an over-eager record company to give your album this title, but she gets away with it, among the tracks are Canteloube’s Bailero, one of my favourite pieces; and Dawn Upshaw’s I Wish It So, not the first of her albums I own, this one featuring some of the lesser known songs by the likes of Sondheim and Bernstein.

Folk is represented by, among others, the Wild Welsh Women (yes, really); Mad Dogs And Englishmen’s Going Down With Alice; and Fred Neil’s Bleecker & MacDougal which, according to its Wikipedia entry, had “a significant influence on the folk rock movement” and seems to be a Japanese release which could be of some monetary value (as well as artistic).

Then we have some of Paul Mealor’s beautiful choral music; Ysgol Glanaethwy, a Welsh choir; An Affair To Remember by Hal Mooney & His Orchestra, originally released in 1959 when, the sleeve notes tell us, “the big band is on the way back”, which it wasn’t but it is a super collection of great music beautifully arranged. And so on.

Oh, there is also the pile of CDs I have yet to listen to, which includes Alan Bennett reading Edward Lear poetry; two albums by Doctor John; Cheap Thrills by Big Brother & The Holding Company (the only gap in my Janis Joplin collection); an album of vintage US TV ads; a double CD by someone called David Frye of the albums I Am The President and Radio Free Nixon (no, I have no idea either); a Stan Freberg collection (remember Day-O? – “Too loud man” – then you are older than you look); the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s Cast Your Fate To The Wind; and many more.

I think this blog entry is a bit like my CD collection – a bit rambling and muddled. Sorry about that.

Now, what to listen to next?

Graham Brown

To find out more

Slipping discs: music streaming revenues of $6.6bn surpass CD sales (Guardian) – https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/apr/24/music-streaming-revenues-overtake-cds-to-hit-66bn

Mysterious books

I love books. I buy many, perhaps too many. And I don’t read enough. A few pages at bedtime and in no time I am nodding off. I need to find a better time of day to spend reading.

Most of the books I buy come from charity shops and second-hand sales, and the fun is not just in the printed words. Each individual book comes with a history of its own, mostly unknowable, but, occasionally, some of its past shines through to the present day.

I can give you two splendid examples from recent purchases.

First, a book I bought at a book sale held in Quoyloo Old School, where Mrs Brown (Kathie Touin) and I are two of the Managers, ie committee members.

IMG_20180823_135936

My copy of Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot (image: Graham Brown)

It was a 1968 Faber paperback edition of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, not in particularly good condition, some stains here and there, possibly coffee spills in places.

The book was clearly given as a gift because inside, handwritten in pen, are the words:

To Adrian, with love
and thanks for
Colonsay, February-March 1972

Veronica

Underneath someone, presumably Veronica, has placed a circular sticker of a white dove carrying an olive branch flying across a rainbow. I assume this is a Christian symbol, and that Colonsay refers to the island of that name in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides.

When I found the book and the inscription at the Old School sale I showed it to a colleague – our esteemed village quizmaster John – who remarked: “We’ll always have Colonsay!”

IMG_20180823_135935

The mysterious inscription inside Four Quartets (image: Graham Brown)

So, what did happen in Colonsay in February and March 1972, who are Veronica and Adrian, are they still alive, still together, regretting they ever parted? Perhaps it was not a relationship in that sense. Perhaps the Four Quartets – a meditation on time – provide a clue. Who knows? Well, Adrian and Veronica do, or did.

The other book I want to tell you about was bought from the charity Cats Protection. They have a shop in Stromness – the Red Cross also have a charity shop in the town, and I am frequently found inside one or the other.

Each year Cats Protection’s volunteers take a stand at the annual West Mainland Show here in Orkney. They bring along a large amount of books which, I assume, come from storage in a bid to move them on to new owners, make space – and raise funds of course.

Experience shows it is a good stand to visit on the way back to the car because you can find yourself with a heavy load to carry. One year Kathie bought a complete five-volume set of Grove’s  Dictionary Of Music And Musicians in splendid condition.

IMG_20180823_140003

My copy of All Trivia by Logan Pearsall Smith (image: Graham Brown)

This year I bought just one book, a fascinating volume called All Trivia, by Logan Pearsall Smith, published by Constable. It is a 1942 edition of the book which brought together four of the author’s previous publications, originally issued between 1918 and 1933.

My interest was sparked when I read this piece entitled The Author at the beginning of the book: “These pieces of moral prose have been written, dear Reader, by a large Carnivorous Mammal, belonging to that sub-order of the Animal Kingdom which includes also the Orang-outang, the tusked Gorilla, the Baboon with his bright blue and scarlet bottom, and the gentle Chimpanzee.”

And to give you a flavour of the quirky, thought-provoking contents, here are two examples…

EDIFICATION

‘I must really improve my mind,’ I tell myself, and once more begin to patch and repair that crazy structure. So I toil and toil on at the vain task of edification, though the wind tears off the tiles, the floors give way, the ceilings fall, strange birds build untidy nests in the rafters, and owls hoot and laugh in the tumbling chimneys.

AT THE BANK

Entering the bank in a composed manner, I drew a cheque and handed it to the cashier through the grating. Then I eyed him narrowly. Would not that astute official see that I was posing as a Real Person? No; he calmly opened a little drawer, took out some real sovereigns, counted them carefully, and handed them to me in a brass shovel. I went away feeling I had perpetrated a delightful fraud. I had got some of the gold of the actual world!

Yet now and then, at the sight of my name on a visiting card, or of my face photographed in a group among other faces, or when I see a letter addressed in my hand, or catch the sound of my own voice, I grow shy in the presence of a mysterious Person who is myself, is known by my name, and who apparently does exist. Can it be possible that I am as real as any one, and that all of us – the cashier and banker at the Bank, the King on his throne – all feel ourselves ghosts and goblins in this authentic world?

==========

I have been enjoying the book for a couple of weeks, picking it up now and again, and then I made an unexpected discovery. A piece of folded paper between pages 84 and 85 fell out.

IMG_20180823_140146

The mysterious note that fell out of my book All Trivia (image: Graham Brown)

On the paper, written with a fountain pen in a rather old-fashioned, elegant style of handwriting you don’t see so much these days, it said:

To Sir Archie & Lady Rowlands from Betty with love & best Christmas wishes, & best thanks for Sir Archie’s action in the matter of Daddy’s fine. 22nd December 1942

Wow, what a story this could be. Who was Betty? Who was Daddy? What did Daddy do to be fined? A crime, a traffic offence, fiddling his ration cards? I am guessing that Sir Archie paid his fine but I could be wrong.

Due to the power of the internet we can find out something about Sir Archie…

According to Wikipedia he was a British civil servant who held high office during the Second World War. At the time he was gifted what is now my book he was Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Air Production. This presumably means he was working closely with, among others, Winston Churchill – at the time he was given the book now sitting on my desk!

The Wikipedia article refers to Sir Archibald, not Archie. Does this imply the writer of our note knew him well, to call him “Sir Archie”? Presumably so if he was involved “in the matter of Daddy’s fine”.

IMG_20180823_140021

Inscription in my copy of All Trivia (image: Graham Brown)

Sir Archibald died in 1953. He and Lady Rowlands (Constance May) had no children so there will be no direct descendants. However, further clues may, or may not, be provided by an inscription written in the front of the book, but in different handwriting to the note about Daddy’s fine. Is anyone out there good at deciphering code?

J.L.H..d.d.E.S L-G.
2 : vj : 70

“O Trivia, goddess, leave these low abodes..”

Finally, a question arises about both books – how did they come to be in Orkney, donated to Quoyloo Old School and Cats Protection respectively? Did they come direct from Adrian and Sir Archie? Did they take a circuitous route through a number of owners? Left by holiday makers? Brought to Orkney by new owners?

Who knows? I find it fascinating to speculate. Meanwhile, I must read more of those books I have.

Graham Brown

PS I have just re-read this blog entry prior to posting and I realise that, coincidentally, both of the books I have written about are in four parts, originally published separately. Perhaps four is the magic number?

To find out more

Facebook: Quoyloo Old School – https://en-gb.facebook.com/Old-School-Quoyloo-462982410411472/

Wikipedia: Four Quartets – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Quartets

Colonsay website – http://www.colonsay.org.uk/

Wikipedia: Colonsay – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonsay

Cats Protection, Orkney – https://www.cats.org.uk/orkney

Wikipedia: Logan Pearsall Smith – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logan_Pearsall_Smith

Wikipedia: Archibald Rowlands – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archibald_Rowlands

Carry On in the Central Belt

“Listen, listen. Ooh – aah – titter ye not. Ooh no missus… Settle down now, settle down,” as Frankie Howerd might have said.

First of all, my apologies, for the cheeky title to this blog – well, we all need to promote ourselves a little.

Second, some explanations, for those not born in the UK and for younger readers. Frankie Howerd was a very funny comedian who appeared in some of the many Carry On films produced from the late 1950s through to the late 1970s. Carry On films were known for their cheeky and vulgar humour – a bit like the heading on this blog.

That said, I am not a big fan of Carry On films but find Frankie Howerd very funny. I particularly enjoyed the BBC television series Up Pompeii!, first broadcast in 1970, in which Howerd played the lead character, a Roman slave. Various aspects of the programme would not pass the political correctness test now, but Howerd’s performances, and the way he talked to the audience in the studio and at home, are a masterclass.

There are many examples of the programme online, probably from someone’s home video recordings, this is Nymphia featuring another Carry On regular, Barbara Windsor (no relation to Her Majesty The Queen)…

Anyway, rather like Frankie Howerd, I digress. I am, in fact, writing about the Central Belt of Scotland, the country’s area of greatest population which includes its two largest cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

If you picture a map of Scotland, and think of it as a body, the central belt would be where the waist is, albeit that the body has short legs. Err, like me.

Mrs Brown (Kathie Touin) and I visited Edinburgh in both 2015 and 2016 (my blogs “Reflections on Edinburgh…” and “Auld Reekie”) and Glasgow in April this year (my blog “Brief impressions of a trip to Glasgow”).

edinburgh2

View of Edinburgh from the roof of the Camera Obscura building (image: Graham Brown)

In May it was the turn of Edinburgh, again. We stayed in the same conveniently-placed hotel, next to the transport interchange between trams, buses and trains at Haymarket, albeit now changed from a Tune Hotel (in which you paid for all extras) to the Haymarket Hub Hotel (in which everything is included). Visiting Edinburgh two months later in the year than our 2016 visit it was noticeable how busy the city was with tourists – and how expensive our hotel was as a result.

I feel going back to a city for a second visit relaxes the mind – there is not the urgency to get around all the essentials, rather Kathie and I could concentrate on whatever took our fancy.

So it was that on our first full day we made a late start, after a late evening/early morning at a friend’s house, and wandered from the hotel along the nearby Dalry Road to visit the series of charity shops on either side. Prices, not surprisingly, were higher than in Orkney’s charity shops but we found a few bargains including a CD of Hanna-Barbera cartoon music – ever since we got home I have been annoying Kathie, and our dog Roscoe, with the theme tune to Top Cat, less than a minute long, brilliant, concise writing, snappily arranged and played…

On another day we took time for a relaxed stroll in the sunshine through Princes Street Gardens, running alongside but below Edinburgh’s principal shopping street and with great views of Edinburgh Castle.

edinburgh5

Scottish American Memorial in Princes Street Gardens (image: Graham Brown)

We enjoyed the sculptures on display, and were particularly impressed with the Scottish American Memorial, given by Scottish-Americans – I know there are many of you out there – to honour Scots who served in the Great War, or First World War as we now know it. We thought Roscoe would have appreciated the shepherd on the frieze with his Border collie. The memorial was designed by R. Tait McKenzie and erected in 1927.

edinburgh4

Kathie Touin poses with Wojtek and his polished nose (image: Graham Brown)

But I think everyone’s favourite sculpture is Wojtek the bear, by Alan Heriot (2015). Wojtek was adopted by Polish troops in the Second World War, served alongside them, and enjoyed beer and cigarettes. After the war he was retired to Edinburgh Zoo. Like many tourists, we posed with Wojtek and noticed they had rubbed his nose to a bright shine.

The Ross Fountain in Princes Street Gardens was cordoned off for restoration but, my goodness, we could tell by peeking through the hoardings that it will be spectacular and colourful when it is unveiled. Produced in France, it was shown at the Great Exhibition of 1862 in London, bought by gunmaker Daniel Ross for £2,000, transported in 122 pieces and placed in the gardens in 1872.

Just along Princes Street from the gardens is Edinburgh Waverley station. We walked through there one evening and caught a glimpse of something very special. So, after some online checking about the next appearance, we returned at nine the next morning – an early start for us on holiday.

The excitement for us, and others, mounted as we stood on the platform, there was even a policeman on duty to ensure good order, and then, yes, here she comes…

The steam locomotive Flying Scotsman, one of the most famous in the world, arrived, looking resplendent. She was in Edinburgh to haul a series of excursions across the Forth Rail Bridge.

edinburgh3

Flying Scotsman in Edinburgh Waverley station (image: Graham Brown)

 

Kathie and I were thrilled – yes, we both were. Kathie had not seen the Flying Scotsman in steam before, if at all, and I had to cast my mind back to remember when I had last seen this venerable locomotive, built in 1923, running.

I think it was about 1968 when I went with my father to watch the locomotive run along the main railway line south of Peterborough. It occurred to me that the Flying Scotsman was about 45 years old then, but now has more than doubled in aged to 95 – a sign of my age!

My late father, Clive Brown, always took a great interest in railways. His father, my grandfather, worked for LNER, the company which operated the Flying Scotsman before the railways were nationalised in 1948.

I remember also that my father rode on the footplate of the Flying Scotsman and wrote an article about his experience when the locomotive was visiting the Nene Valley Railway at Peterborough. There is a framed photo of my father and the driver standing in front of the loco here in my office.

Other outings during our Edinburgh trip included…

the beautiful Royal Botanic Garden – we only got part way round, so will need to return on another visit, but we did walk through all of the glasshouses;

75242

John Singer Sargent’s Lady Agnew of Lochnaw (image: National Galleries Scotland)

the Scottish National Gallery, a return visit, where my favourite paintings were John Singer Sargent’s Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, Thomas Warrender’s Still-Life (a curious mix of ancient objects in an apparently modern setting) and, new to public display, Valentin Serov’s Alexandrvitch, Tsar of All the Russias;

the Mexican food store Lupe Pintos, in Leven Street, a must for Kathie to get her Mexican cooking supplies (they also have a shop in Great Western Road, Glasgow);

and Camera Obscura, a fun half-day for children of all ages. It is in a narrow building with steep stairs over several levels so it is not for all. But there are super views of the city from the roof terrace, the wonders of the Camera Obscura itself, and then a series of fun, interactive (two words that would normally put me off) illusions as you walk back down through the various floors.

Naturally we ate out at several restaurants, I would say my favourite for food, atmosphere and decor was Viva Mexico in Edinburgh’s Old Town, where we have eaten before. It might look busy from the outside but there is a cosy basement so do check if there is a table. If you have only ever visited Mexican chain restaurants in the UK (they were once fashionable in London) you should try an authentic experience.

However, the original reason we were in Edinburgh at this particular time was for music. We booked the trip in order to see the wonderful Gretchen Peters again, then discovered that during the same short visit we could also see the musical Wicked and the phenomenal guitarist Nils Lofgren.

Nils was brilliant, performing a show at the Queen’s Hall as part of a tour to mark his 50 years on the road. What a great guitarist he is and, though this can be overlooked, an expressive singer and handy songwriter. For those who do not know Nils’ work, he has spent many years playing in bands for the likes of Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. He appeared with multi-instrumentalist Greg Varlotta, who was fabulous.

We saw Wicked many years ago when we lived in London though for some reason – my tired and stressed life in London, perhaps? – I did not have a great recall of the show. But I know Kathie, like her Mom, is a big fan of The Wizard Of Oz, so when I discovered the back-story Wicked would be playing in Edinburgh at the Playhouse Theatre I jumped at the chance to book tickets.

edinburgh1

Leaving Edinburgh Playhouse after Wicked (image: Graham Brown)

It was an impressive production, great movement and costumes (we were only sat a few rows from the front), and the two women taking the lead roles – Amy Ross and Helen Woolf – were fabulous singers with great presence. As Kathie said, they had some really big numbers to nail, and they did. It was super as well to hear a live band coming from the orchestra pit. And the Playhouse is a superbly ornate theatre, originally a cinema modelled on the Roxy Cinema in New York.

And our final Edinburgh show was due to be Gretchen Peters, touring the UK with her keyboard player (and husband and all-round good egg) Barry Walsh to mark the release of her new album. She brought a band with her, and support artist and accompanying singer Kim Richey.

Unfortunately I saw none of this – on the night of the concert at the Queen’s Hall I was sick in my hotel room, and very fed up. If I’m honest, I am still not over this disappointment but I try to remember what my mother (and probably yours) would say on occasions like this….

“Worse things happen at sea…”

“There are many people in the world worse off than you…”

And so on. And she would be right. So I must get over it.

Having met Gretchen and Barry on previous tours I did drop them a line on social media to say I could not attend and it was very sweet of both of them, and Kim, to send me get well messages at what would be a busy time for them. Thank you all.

Gretchen’s new album, Dancing With The Beast, produced by Doug Lancio, Gretchen and Barry, is the follow-up to the 2015 Blackbirds. Gretchen’s songs tackle some difficult themes such as the state of the so-called United States, abuse, the ageing process and loss – “50 minutes of exquisite-sounding emotional devastation, depression, murder and heartbreak” according to The Tennessean – but there is compassion and hope in there too.

The song Love That Makes A Cup Of Tea will become a firm fan favourite, like Five Minutes on her Hello Cruel World album. In fact, here is Gretchen singing the song at the end of the Queen’s Hall concert (dammit)…

I’m no critic and I’m not good at describing the music I like in words. Really, you need to buy Dancing With The Beast, and Blackbirds, and, while you are about it, the previous album Hello Cruel World. There is also an excellent double album, The Essential Gretchen Peters. I could go on…

Graham Brown

To find out more

Wikipedia: Frankie Howerd – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankie_Howerd

Wikipedia: Up Pompeii! – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Up_Pompeii!

My blog: Reflections on Edinburgh – and back to a busy Orkney – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2015/04/30/reflections-on-edinburgh-and-back-to-a-busy-orkney/

My blog: Auld Reekie – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2016/03/01/auld-reekie/

My blog: Brief impressions of a trip to Glasgow – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2018/05/17/brief-impressions-of-a-trip-to-glasgow/

Wikipedia: Hanna-Barbera – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanna-Barbera

Wikipedia: Scottish American Memorial – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottish_American_Memorial

Wikipedia: Flying Scotsman – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LNER_Class_A3_4472_Flying_Scotsman

Royal Botanic Garden – http://www.rbge.org.uk/the-gardens/home

National Galleries Scotland – https://www.nationalgalleries.org/

Lupe Pintos – http://www.lupepintos.com/

Camera Obscura – https://www.camera-obscura.co.uk/

Viva Mexico – http://www.viva-mexico.co.uk/

Nils Lofgren – http://www.nilslofgren.com/

Wicked – http://www.wickedthemusical.co.uk/

Edinburgh Playhouse – https://www.playhousetheatre.com/

Gretchen Peters – http://www.gretchenpeters.com/

Gretchen’s videos – https://www.youtube.com/user/gretchenpeters/videos