Arizona: take three

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

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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…

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

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The Duesenberg’s engine (image: Graham Brown)

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

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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…

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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

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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.

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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!”

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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”).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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;

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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.

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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

Brief impressions of a trip to Glasgow

In late April I made my first proper visit to Glasgow for many years. When I say proper I do not mean previous visits were improper, they were just very short.

I paid a brief visit with my parents as a teenager, and two brief day trips for work when I was at the BBC.

And I have changed planes at Glasgow Airport on several occasions but that does not count – airports are strange islands of people, baggage, cafés, bars, security checks and duty free shops which are pretty much the same wherever you go in the world.

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Loganair Saab aircraft at Kirkwall Airport preparing for departure to Glasgow (image: Graham Brown)

My first impression of the trip was to be impressed at Kirkwall Airport with the recently changed livery on Loganair’s Saab airliners. For many years Loganair planes travelling between Orkney and mainland Scotland have flown under Flybe colours as part of a franchise agreement. But now the planes have a distinctive white and tartan scheme, emphasising it is Scotland’s airline.

Kathie Touin (Mrs Brown) and I stayed in Glasgow at a Premier Inn (speaking of places which are the same wherever you go) but it was conveniently placed and our room had a splendid view of the River Clyde.

The hotel was built as part of the redevelopment of the former shipbuilding area of the Clyde, and we learned something of this when we visited another of the new buildings, the Riverside Museum, a 15-minute walk from our hotel.

The museum has a fascinating collection of classic cars, old buses, trams and trolley buses, railway locomotives and a huge collection of detailed model ships. At one time thousands of the ships sailing around the world were built in Glasgow, as were many of the steam locomotives running on tracks across the world.

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The author and a Hillman Imp (image: Graham Brown)

I had my picture taken with one of the first Hillman Imp cars produced at Linwood, Scotland. I learnt to drive in a Hillman Imp, well, two actually, as both the driving school and my mother had blue examples.

Moored outside the museum and also open to the public is the 19th century Clyde-built sailing ship Glenlee. After a long career sailing the world’s oceans as a cargo ship she became a training vessel for the Spanish navy. Now she is back home and beautifully restored, though I imagine the restoration work never stops.

I would recommend the Riverside Museum as a great day out, even if you are not particularly into vintage transport.

Our hotel was next to BBC Scotland’s Pacific Quay headquarters, opened in 2007. My previous visits to the BBC in Glasgow were to the old premises in Queen Margaret Drive so when two former colleagues offered to show us around we jumped at the chance.

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The author outside BBC Pacific Quay (image: Graham Brown)

Although having something of a box appearance from the outside, once inside the layout is innovative and the atmosphere pleasant. We managed to peek at the sets for the TV comedy Mrs Brown’s Boys and at the live BBC Radio Scotland phone-in with Kaye Adams.

Along the river next to the BBC is the Glasgow Science Centre. This was noisy, because of the large number of schoolchildren visiting, but there are some clever hands-on exhibits – try visiting in the afternoon when it is quieter. The IMAX cinema and planetarium were fun as well.

One evening we travelled with a friend by train from Glasgow Central Station, with its wonderful wood architecture, to the neighbouring town of Paisley for the Paisley Beer Festival, held in the magnificent town hall. I have not been to a beer festival for years (honest) but soon got the idea.

At the entrance you get a souvenir beer glass. You then take this to one of the volunteer bar staff and choose a beer, then another, and another… you get the idea.

The breweries participating, each offering a number of brews, were arranged alphabetically along the long bars, which took up two large rooms. We were pleased to see Orkney’s two brewers – Orkney Brewery and Swannay Brewery – both represented. My favourite beer of the five or six I sampled was Nene Valley’s Egyptian Cream.

For our final day in Glasgow we visited the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum. If you were to visit just one place in Glasgow I would suggest this should be it – and it is free.

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Spitfire inside the Kelvingrove (image: Graham Brown)

The 1901 red sandstone building itself is impressive, even before you enter. Once inside it has a fabulous eclectic collection of paintings, sculpture and objects. My favourites include a Spitfire aircraft hung from the ceiling, The Floating Heads by Sophie Cave (also hanging from the ceiling), Mary Pownall’s startling sculpture The Harpy Celaeno (1902), and paintings by the French Impressionists and the Glasgow Boys.

We paused at lunchtime to listen to the daily recital on the museum’s magnificent pipe organ – what a treat.

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Mary Pownall’s The Harpy Celaeno (1902) at the Kelvingrove (image: Graham Brown)

Unfortunately we missed Salvador Dali’s famous painting Christ of Saint John of the Cross, normally on display at the Kelvingrove, which was away at another exhibition. But, never mind, it will be a good excuse to go back another time to see it.

Earlier in our stay we spent an afternoon visiting Glasgow’s city centre shopping area, mainly because Kathie needed to visit the Marks & Spencer lingerie department (we do not have M&S in Orkney). While Kathie was doing that I called into WH Smith – their shops look tired and old-fashioned these days – and TK Maxx, where I bought some colourful socks and a brown leather belt.

I also bought a Glasgow Evening Times from a vendor outside M&S, I believe in supporting local and regional newspapers, now very much under threat. And, sadly, I noticed several homeless people in the doorways of shops.

Throughout the trip I made good use of my new over-60 bus pass, so there are some benefits to getting older, but I did not need it on the evening we went to the SSE Hydro, just a short walk across the Clyde from our hotel via the Bell’s Bridge.

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Our view of Noel Gallagher at the SSE Arena (image: Graham Brown)

This was, in fact, the original point of our Glasgow trip, Kathie booked tickets to see Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds in concert. It was my first arena gig in many years and I was struck by people’s behaviour during the headline act – using phones, constantly going out to the bars for drinks – and by the deluge of plastic glasses left behind at the end.

But the music was LOUD and good, the band excellent, and the big-screen projection, showing the musicians on stage but frequently overlaid with stylish animation, was impressive. I even recognised some of the songs.

We certainly packed a lot into our four-night stay in Glasgow and, better still, came away with a long list of things to do next time. This month we are making a return trip to Edinburgh – more of that in a future blog.

Graham Brown

To find out more

Loganair – https://www.loganair.co.uk/

Riverside Museum – https://www.glasgowlife.org.uk/museums/venues/riverside-museum

Wikipedia: Hillman Imp – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hillman_Imp

Tours of BBC Pacific Quay – http://www.bbc.co.uk/showsandtours/tours/pacificquay

BBC Radio Scotland – https://www.bbc.co.uk/radioscotland

Wikipedia: Kaye Adams – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaye_Adams

Glasgow Science Centre – https://www.glasgowsciencecentre.org/

Paisley Beer Festival – https://www.paisleybeerfestival.co.uk/

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

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – https://www.noelgallagher.com/

The first seven weeks…

Bird tracks in the snow outside our house (image: Graham Brown)

Bird tracks in the snow outside our house (image: Graham Brown)

So, how is 2018 for you so far? Some small triumphs? Some big positives? And, for some, of course, there will have been loss and sadness. Sorry.

The world rolls round, our nervousness about the Korean peninsular slightly eased by the Winter Olympics; Brexit continuing to breed uncertainty and division, in the UK, Ireland and elsewhere; we’ve had more dangerous nonsense from the United States President; more cases of the abuse of children and women coming to light; disturbing news about Oxfam; and another horrific mass shooting in the States.

For Mrs Brown (Kathie Touin) and I the year had a very quiet start. We had stayed at home over the Christmas period while our Border collie Roscoe recovered from an operation (he is doing very well, thank you for asking). Our first notable outing was our village Hogmanay event in Quoyloo Old School which must be, I think where it happened…

On 3 January Kathie and I both crashed with the flu. And I mean crashed. Within a few hours of feeling unwell we were both in bed, hardly able to move, not wanting to eat. I have had “flu-like colds” before but not the flu – this was wicked.

For several days we alternated between bed and short, exhausting periods in front of the TV. We had to ask a friend in our village to go shopping for essential supplies for us, making sure she left them in the porch and did not come into the plague house.

In the past I have thought an illness would be a great opportunity to catch-up with my reading but, when it came to it, I did not have the energy. Thankfully the programmes I had saved on the BBC iPlayer Radio app provided some entertainment and brain stimulation.

We got to day ten of the illness before I felt well enough to take Roscoe for a walk.

After nearly a fortnight I felt well enough to go into the RSPB Scotland office in Stromness, where I had been asked to provide cover for a colleague.

Roscoe in the snow (image: Graham Brown)

Roscoe in the snow (image: Graham Brown)

Since the end of December we have experienced an unusual amount of snow in Orkney – never enough to cause drifting but enough to make some of my journeys to work a little tricky. And, this is the exciting part, enough for Roscoe to roll around in.

We had really heavy snow the first winter we lived in Orkney (December 2010) but that was before Roscoe came to live with us. Then it became so bad that only very large tractors were able to drive down the track past our house and they left a channel so deep that when I walked in it the surrounding snow came up to my waist.

Older Orcadians tell us that in their youth it was much more common to get snow here and archive black-and-white photographs of Orkney seem to bear this out.

Snow, snow! Throw the ball! (image: Graham Brown)

Snow, snow! Throw the ball! (image: Graham Brown)

My latest stint working at the RSPB was, essentially, the second half of January. One aspect I enjoy about going to work is the chance to listen to CDs in the car (not that I don’t enjoy Kathie’s conversation when she is in the car). The Audi A1 which I inherited from my father has a very good sound system.

So it was that I found myself, for the first time in some years, listening to my double Les Misérables CD (Original London cast) all the way through.

To go back some years…

I was not particularly interested in musicals though both of my parents enjoyed them. I remember as a child my father would burst into extracts from Oklahoma as he walked around the house – “There’s a bright, golden haze on the meadow…”

Then in the 1980s I have a memory of my mother talking enthusiastically about a moving song (which turned out to be Send Him Home) from a new musical (which turned out to be Les Mis) which she had heard on the radio.

In 1986 I moved to London and so began a series of visits from my parents. Inevitably, they wanted to go to the West End theatres and, in particular, musicals. The first one they chose was Les Misérables . It was not the first musical I ever saw but the first that really hooked me – since then I have seen the show about half-a-dozen times. It ranks as my favourite musical, along with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. I challenge you to sit through a decent stage production of either without regular need of a hankie to wipe your eyes.

One of the Les Misérables productions I have seen was by Orkney’s Kirkwall Amateur Operatic Society (KAOS) in 2015 – the first time an amateur group in the UK had performed the show. I admit I was slightly dubious about going to see this production but the local cast did it proud. Well done all.

Listening to my CD while driving between our home in Quoyloo and the office in Stromness (it took a few trips before I finished, it’s only a nine-mile journey) I was reminded again what a stupendous work Les Misérables is – a tale of love, loss and redemption, with some great soaring tunes, and a timely reminder of what it is to be at the bottom of the heap in society.

Theatrical history tells that Les Mis got very poor reviews when it began and it is remarkable how, in an age before social media, the audience’s love for the show and word-of-mouth overcame this early setback.

The original French version, based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, was written by Claude-Michel Schönberg (music) and Alain Boublil (most lyrics). The majority of the English words were written by Herbert Kretzmer, a South African who had a long career in Britain as a journalist and a lyricist. When I first worked at the BBC he was one of the national newspaper TV reviewers who regularly called into the press office.

Les Misérables logo

Les Misérables logo

If you get a chance to see Les Mis on stage, or listen to the CD, please do. But remember your hankie. Incidentally, I have yet to watch the film (movie) version as I am nervous as to what they have done with it.

This first six weeks of 2018 have seen completion of two projects at our house: the guest room en suite, delayed for months by a mystery leak which turned out to be water seeping through the actual porcelain of the toilet, and a new stone wall at the front of the house, designed to cover the drab concrete blocks and to prevent anyone falling off our frontage.

This past weekend Kathie and I did some tidying outside, filling the new “lower flower border” – oh yes, we have an upper border as well – with compost, much of it from our own bin. And Kathie constructed a stone bench from pieces of stone we have about the place – the sun even shone allowing us to try it out.

Kathie Touin tries out her new stone bench (image: Graham Brown)

Kathie Touin tries out her new stone bench (image: Graham Brown)

Back in early February Quoyloo Old School – of which Kathie and I are “Managers”, ie committee members – was hosting a dangerous goods course for lorry drivers or, if you are American, truck drivers. Thankfully this did not involve dangerous goods in the school, but it did involve the Managers providing the lunchtime catering.

Two of the Managers, John and I, donned aprons in order to serve the soup. Our Chair, Edith, thought this rather funny and she asked if, in a previous life, we had ever thought we would find ourselves in a remote old school, dressed in pinnies, serving soup to lorry drivers. Answer, no.

Anyway, it was a manly apron from the Kent & East Sussex Railway, not a pinny.

Graham Brown

P.S. Kathie and I went to see The Darkest Hour last night. A great performance by Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill. And, I must admit, hearing again some of Churchill’s speeches has made me feel my English language skills are a little inadequate.

To find out more

BBC Radio – http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio

Wikipedia on Les Misérables – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Mis%C3%A9rables_(musical)

The Orcadian on Orkney production of Les Miserables – https://www.orcadian.co.uk/first-for-orkney-production-of-les-miserables/

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

Kent & East Sussex Railway – https://www.kesr.org.uk/

And the trailer for The Darkest Hour…