Black September

I don’t want to talk about it anymore, but I have to mark the moment here so that years from now when I look back through these pages I’ll know where that lingering feeling started.

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US TOUR ’78

It seems like that was when I last wrote a post. Don’t even know where to begin, so much has been happening.
Most importantly, my band TwoMetresDeep are playing the Glasgow ABC this Friday. I’m going, so should you.

Once that’s done, on with other stuff. I’m scared of it to be honest, too big, gear, mountains, environmental disaster, nudity, guitars, the news of being the new gear editor at WalkHighlands.
It’ll be good to be back.

In the meantime, don’y worry, he’s been watching all the time.

pilot

The Munro Show

Other than the many companions I’ve spent time with in the hills only two people have ever inspired or engaged me when talking about the Scottish Mountains*, one is Tom Weir and the other is Muriel Gray.

I’ve spoken about Tom Weir many times, his books and Weir’s Way TV show are an endless source of joy to me and while Muriel Gray’s contribution to my bubble of mountain consciousness is a smaller body of work it is no less important. It’s also suddenly to the front of my mind with the new 2 x DVD set of the complete Munro Show series from the early 90s which is currently playing on my telly having arrived today ( it pays to pre-order).

I’ve always been outdoors. I was bivying under tree branches and brushing mountain snow off my nylon cagoule in the 70s, but it wasn’t until the mid 80s I really thought about mountains as goals to achieve and it was the early 90s before climbing Munros as a collection seemed like a good idea. That’s when the Munro Show came along.

I’ve always had the VHS tapes and later the DVD releases but they only had a small edited selection from the show so there’s a huge amount of material I haven’t seen for 20 odd years. I’ve watched a few episodes already and it’s an absolute joy which the passage of time and accumulation of experience hasn’t diminished but instead enhanced.
There’s few footsteps she makes that I can’t recall making myself now but there’s a pleasantly tangible reality to it, no filtering, no overly arty framing, the mountains look real in it, I could be standing right there beside her despite the cheap STV video tape it was made on.

The music is of its age and Sorley MacLean is timeless but I love them both. The issues discussed are both historic and relevant, erosion is worse than ever but the No Access signs are gone (mostly and/or forever?). Mountain biking has been the saving of many hill or forest areas and the midges are still clouds of ravenous misery.
So while some of the points of discussion are as historic as the fashions on display, the hills and the words about them from Muriel are timeless. She has a cheeky irreverence which is the perfect contrast to the weighty, sincere, ponderous. thesaurus-fueled prose which did my head in back then just as much as it did now. Smile people, you’re on a mountain.

Outdoor media has changed out of all recognition since The Munro Show was on, readers and viewers are scattered and mobile which makes this old show almost perfect. It’s a snapshot of time, presented as a complete chunk of fun and inspiration that won’t lose readers, have to chase advertising revenue or constantly have to recycle or repeat itself.
Just like Tom Weirs work in fact and that’s why it’s just as important to me.
Plus, it takes me back to when there were still some places I hadn’t been, summits I hadn’t seen and things were a lot bloody simpler.

It’s a joy, buy it. The book too, it fills in some background to the show as well as plenty other good stories.

ms

*I reserve the right to add other sources of joy as they come to mind, Scotland’s Mountains Before the Mountaineers by
Ian R. Mitchell being the obvious one. But modern guidebooks? Don’t start me on that.

Legend of the Jellyfish

Just back from a cracking wee trip where we were enraged by environmental vandalism, eaten by many many flying and crawling insects, had some quality hill time and slept in very clever lightweight sleeping bags that will get launched in Friedrichshafen in a couple of weeks.

Plenty to talk about, so I’ll start with the Legend of the Jellyfish. The Jellyfish was originally a real fish, but with legs, and this is truncated as much as possible, it was tricked by the dragon king in going to the jungle to bring back a monkey so that the dragon queen could eat its liver because she was “sad”.
The monkey wasn’t daft, it got out of the deal and the Jellyfish went home monkeyless. The dragon king was raging and ordered his men to beat the Jelly fish and break every bone in his body, which they did.
The Jellyfish was horribly mutilated, right down to DNA level and that’s where the present jellyfish come from. They gloss over the whole initial breeding partner bit.
The good news was that the dragon queen was much amused by all this and felt much better.

This is from one of my fairytale books which we found at my folks and now terrify Holly with. The tone of the stories are a little different to current versions, possibly due to being written by someone fresh back from a tour in ‘Nam.
The illustrations are brilliant and fit the publishing date of 1969 very well. The whole thing makes current kids stuff look like the beige adventure it really is.

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People in glass houses

My working day takes me to a lot of old buildings of which many are churches. They’re probably my favourite places to work, quiet, mostly empty and with kitchens full of tea bags and biscuits.
They’re also lovely places to look at, even the post war concrete horrors have their charms because of their quirky designs and all the older elements that creep into them, from a beaten up piano or a carved chair taken from the old demolished or bombed-out original. War is never far from a church.

One of my favourite elements are the windows, stained glass is a wonderful art form and one that still survives. If you think of modern stained glass you might think of the angular, simplified designs that often just seem to be coloured patterns rather than a depiction of a story or an event. That’s down to style and cost, not a lack of talent or that the medium is a lost art.
I’ve seen 40 foot high impossibly intricate 150 year old windows removed to be taken apart and rebuilt with new lead as big windows collapse and stretch over time. clever stuff and very expensive to do.

The glass is indeed stained but it’s painted too and getting up close reveals the details. No doubt the bible-aware will know what it all means but to the neutral observer it’s just a joy to look at. Earnest faces, fantastic creatures and landscapes to inspire, reassure and no doubt remind customers of why they’re there.

This last one earns and  extra grin for the viewer. It has to be the campest walk I’ve ever seen as the figure cuts across the Italian countryside themed fashion show catwalk displaying the next season’s velvet creation for the flamboyant man about town.

 

Taxi

CBS Action have been rerunning Taxi, the classic US sitcom that ran from ’78 to ’83. I’ve been taping the whole lot and watching episodes when I can and while I’m always a bit retro-minded, this has been carrying some unexpected extra resonance.

It’s a brilliant show. The old-school presentation might look dated to younger eyes but beyond that are performances that got better show by show, or in the case of Jeff Conaway his performance became almost bearable. The writing also got better although there was often a misogynistic tone which doesn’t sit so well with the older me, but Elaine Nardo and any other female characters were strongly written and performed, so maybe it’s something of the flavour of the age that rising to the surface.

There’s three standout turns. The first comes from Danny DeVito who makes the cartoon garage adversary Louie De Palma both the meanest and funniest thing in the room. You can tell he relishes playing the character, the energy is high and he can overplay as hard as he wants and it doesn’t matter as he stays in character. He gets all the best lines and it’s a work of genius.

DeVito plays off Andy Kaufman’s foreign mechanic Latka Gravas all the time and the two of them can be seen just holding it together many scenes as they trade lines with each other.
Kaufman’s funny voice and gibberish language should probably grate but they don’t and his character is allowed to progress so the comedy evolves. In the Man in The Moon bio-pic Kaufman was make to look like he hated Taxi but the showrunners recently came out and said that he was issue free and quite happy. Truth is never so interesting as legend is it?

Christopher Lloyd played Reverend Jim ‘Iggy’ Ignatowski as a one-off in season one and was a such a hit they worked him back in as a regular in season two where he steals second place in the best lines competition. The character quickly finds its groove and you wonder how the show worked without it. He’s remembered as the acid casualty with the wacky answers but he also had the heart of the show, often deeper emotional story content was often given to him to deal with as the rest of the cast didn’t have the depth or believability to carry it and show lead Judd Hirsch as Alex Rieger always had the middle ground to hold.

I haven’t seen the show for 30 years but it’s making me laugh again today, some episodes don’t stand so well because of the passage of time and change of attitudes up but most do and it’s a joy to see it again. It’s odd as well though, I can remember every episode like it was yesterday and kinda know what’s coming. I watched Taxi at my grandparents every week during its first run and it’s taking me back there to the younger me, the sounds, the faces and so much more.
The music, Angela by Bob James which is always on my iPod, is gentle jazz, a little melancholy in places and uplifting in others and the credit sequence of the never ending bridge crossing can be seen as a clever bit of editing to fill in the time they needed to run the title or as an allegory of the journey of life.
It was actually the first thing therein reality, but what the hell.

I like when I rediscover things from my past and they neither disappoint nor embarrass. It means that while maybe I’ve never been going in the right direction, I’ve been going in my direction and I went to the right places along the way.

Ibi da indeed.

Taxi

Charley Pride: The Country Way

Was out on another bat survey at the Lang Craigs with fellow ranger Jo. The summer nights mean a late start to try and get some darkness around us so it was about half ten before we started to look for any bats. I say look for bats, I mean stand still and wait for bat voices to pop up on the batatron.
Happy to be at 1000ft under clear skies as you might imagine but the warm windless night soon brought with it the ultimate horror – clouds of ravenous midges. And bastard clegs.

I got eaten alive. My ring finger got multiple bites and it swelled so much back at home it started to turn purple and I had to get my wedding ring off sharpish. That wasn’t easy to do and it now feels bloody strange not wearing it, it’s a part of me and a reminder that I was very lucky 14 years ago.

Bats were found and it was a lovely night to be out with good banter to keep me the right side of insane. The crags looked great under the low sun and the sky was fine and colourful. We also saw one of the deer that’s been eating the new tress and all I had to shoot with was my old camera.
I took lots of photies, mostly on random settings as I stood on the edge of midge induced panic until we finished up at half one under a full moon. Didn’t even know there was a black and white setting on the wee wheel. Nice.

Nice to play at home.

 

The possibility of unperceived existence

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Well Montague in the white vest thinks she head something but since she didn’t see it she’s not sure what to make of it.
Giles didn’t hear a thing, she’s too busy trying to identify the species of ladyburd she’s found on the bracken. There’s no use peering at like that, wear your glasses, there’s no shame it. It happens to the best of us.

Anyway. I’ll take pointless philosophy by it’s smug sideburns and plant some trees in this recently unfrequented vitual forest of random nonsense. After lunch.

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Less is also less. More or less.

It’s been busy one way or another. Where the hell have the last two weeks gone? Some of it was in Glen Affric which was, well, hurried. But I’ll get to that soon. We had an epic day at the Lang Craigs with the final community tree planting day and two family members in hospital. One of whom is still there with a new knee having been applied.

Maybe it’s age that makes time slip away from me, maybe it’s just piss poor application to the tasks in hand.
Still, I’d rather be confused than running under capacity.

This was the first face I saw at work today. Can’t beat a Monday morning smile.

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Ping!

Timing is everything. The sun was shining all through easter and I wasn’t anywhere near being able to take advantage of it which was a bit frustrating given the nice places I have to be going.
But going out to play ’round the back kept me in a good mood. I’m getting used to the old camera again, it feels a bit clunky and it’s way more contrasty than its replacement at the same settings, but I’m happy enough for now.

That’s Jo my fellow ranger below. We did a bit of extra exploring, the Lang Craigs is only a wee part of the Kilpatricks and it’s good to see it in context with a bit of height and distance. We also saw and heard bats, yes heard, via the magical powers of a bat detector which picks up their wee voices and can be used to unnerve the wary and terrify the nervous.

The other good news is that the weather means I’m back in an outdoor shirt rather than a baselayer. Happy, and more on that at some point.

Paper Plane

The last thing I expected to be doing this week was doing a close orbit around the sun to watch for signs of coronal mass ejection. But, when the phone rings, you have to go. Lucky I took my phone to take some photies out of a porthole, no one would believe me otherwise.

The sun followed me all the way home and it’s been glorious. Had to sit and wait for a truck to come and take away the abandoned and unrepaired hearse (rewind two years or so to see what the hell that’s all about) which has lain in the workshop yard for a long time. There was a little breeze and I sat on a wall and swung my feet as I waited. I can’t remember the last time I did that and I felt stress free and relaxed, time just stopped for a little while.
I’m going to have to make sure I remember how to do that, it did me good.

My bubble soon got burst but I was ready and able for it. Maybe the good things in life aren’t there just to be enjoyed, maybe they’re fuel too.
Alright.

 

Reverse Parking

I can’t remember that last time I took a shot of the evening sky oot the windae. Old camera, same view and a new set of colours to delight my weary eyes.

Bloody marvellous. Why does a step backwards feel like the right thing to do?

Friends Reunited

So much for the rummaging and posting old photies. Got a couple of wee jobs in during the weeks that kept me busy and then a phone call from AJ Johnstone, they’d fixed my camera in much appreciated queue jumping style.. This is my old camera of course, now my only camera in fact.

It looks like new apart from all the dents, the scrapes, the worn off printing and lettering and all the silver edges that left the factory covered in black paint. The main thing is the lens, which is now as clear as the day it was forged upon the anvil of, I don’t know, what is the ancient Greek or Roman god of quality glass products? In the absence of one I’ll go for Hathor of Ancient Egyptian fame because she looks like she’s got a big lens on her head. Cool. Sekhmet was my second choice. Head of a lion with a big lens on it. Yes please.

So I’m back on track. Skye is now on as soon as the weather looks good after the kit arrives for it and Glen Affric will be back to back with it, or front, most likely back though.
We’re going to be bivying for some of this, maybe with a tarp as well, been ages since I’ve done that stuff.

Onwards. But there’s still time for a couple of recent B-spec photies to get me in the mood.

 

Dear Aspiring Artist:

I was flicking through HR Giger’s website and came across the following set of suggestions to aspiring artists in the FAQ section.
I don’t necessarily agree with all of it, but I’m not too far away from a lot of it.

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Dear Aspiring Artist:

Here is my advice. Think of it as a five-year plan:

Take whatever courses you find the most interesting.

Study closely the work of the Old Masters.

Stop making art that originates only from your own imagination.

Stay with one technique until you perfect it.

On any given day, always be in the middle of reading a book. When you finish one, start the next. Fiction, nonfiction, biographies, autobiographies, history, science, psychology, or how to build a kite. Anything but go easy on the comic books.

Buy and read the first 6 pages of newspaper every day and also the editorial commentaries. Skip the entertainment section. Su Doku is fine. Do the crossword puzzle.

Fill up a sketchbook every month with pen or pencil drawings of the world around you, not from your imagination.

Buy a book on figure drawing. It’s the only art book you will ever need.

Until you can draw an accurate portrait of someone, you don’t know how to draw.

Stay away from the airbrush. You’ll never master it, hardly anyone ever has.

Visit every museum in your city. Often, until you have seen everything in it. Every kind of museum. Not only the art museums but, of course, those as well.

Forget about contemporary art by living artists, at least for the next few years.

Stay away from most art galleries. Go to art auctions. That’s where the real action is.

Learn to play chess.

Take a business course.

Talk to you mother or father at least once a week.

Stop going to the movies until you have rented and seen every film on this list.

Do not watch television unless it’s the news or documentaries.

Do not use an Ipod.

No video games, either.

Learn a foreign language.

Learn to cook.

Spend 8 hours in a hospital emergency room.

Save up money so you can travel to a foreign country within the next five years.

Do not litter.

Avoid politically correct people.

Vote in every election or never dare to utter a political opinion. You are not entitled to one.

Buy a digital camera and take photos every day.
If you see nothing interesting to photograph, you will never be a good artist. Keep only one photo of every ten you take. Delete the rest. It will force you to learn how to edit the garbage from your life, to make choices, to recognize what has real value and what is superficial.

Visit an old age home.

Listen to classical music and jazz. If you are unable to appreciate it at least as much as contemporary music, you lack the sensitivity to develop into an artist of any real depth.

Go to the ballet. Classical or Modern, it doesn’t matter. It will teach you to appreciate physical grace and the relationship between sound and movement.

Wake up every morning no later than 8 AM, regardless of what time you went to sleep.

Learn to play a musical instrument.

Learn to swim.

Keep your word.

Never explain your art. People who ask you to do so are idiots.

Never explain yourself. Better yet, never do anything that will, later, require you to explain yourself or to say you’re sorry.

Always use spell check.

Stop aspiring and start doing.

This will keep you very busy but it can’t be helped.
In my opinion, this is how you might, possibly, have a shot at becoming a good artist.

Hope this helps,

Les Barany

Curse of the Black Spot

I have no camera. The LX5 is a paperweight and the LX3 is in the repair shop getting the black spot taken off its lens. It’s in almost every shot from the Torridon trip in the top right of the frame, I’d hoped it was dust on the sensor, but after a play at home I knew it was the horror of mold inside the lens. Maybe because it was lying in a drawer so long and it’s er, lived a life anyway.
On the LX3 this means a complete strip down, which I’d researched first and was prepared for. Might take a couple of weeks, they’ll do their best.
So, I have no camera. I have one set of photies already done for a review that I can write up and that’s it. I’m looking at something new, but that won’t be til some customers pay me first.

The LX3 was my first digital and first proper camera, so I’m glad it’s coming back, but it feels odd right now not having a camera at all. I’ve got used to all the good stuff it brought with it.
Sigh.

Oscar Marzaroli

Just watched a cracking programme about Oscar Marzaroli on BBC2. His photies are iconic and famous for capturing real life moments in Scotland, I suppose Glasgow in particular, but as the same time elevating the subjects in intangible ways.
OM1Children playing in the street in become a voice for their generation telling tales on life long gone, grinning shipyard welders show relaxed pride and confidence in what they’re doing in an era that’s long since had luxury flats built across it.

His Highland work does what only non-mountain folk can do – show the mountains in a different way. I love that, but all of his work speaks to me in some way. I remember some of what he captured when it was still there, plenty more I remember as stories from parents or grandparents.

Times were hard, aren’t they always, but seeing the community spirit, defiance even in the face of the sweeping changes imposed upon it by successive short sighted local authorities is something to marvel at, admire and maybe wish it was still here before modern town planning destroyed it and the virtual online community moved in to replace it.

It’s good to see the world in black in white sometimes.