Waiting …

I am a born sceptic.  Give me the merest hint of the supernatural and I will go seeking the rational – like father, like son.  This does not stop me enjoying a good ghost story and the hairs on the back of my neck will raise just as easily as the next man.  Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others, is such a good story and so well produced that a part of me wants to believe it is true.  The plot twist which references post-mortem photography, images of deceased loved ones which were a normal part of American and European culture in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, provides a real-world reference which only serves to enhance the story’s plausibility.

I am reading Dan Boothby’s Island of Dreams which contains this remarkable passage from the artist Tom Watson, demonstrating that scientific explanation can be just as wondrous as the imagined:

Hendersen’s Bridge, built in the nineteenth century from the stone remains of croft dwellings and meeting houses on the Hebridean island of Raasay, has for generations been reputed to emit the sounds of human voices and dogs barking; a ghostly bridge. Science has proved, however, that the high iron-ore content in the stones of the bridge structure has, by way of a natural magnetic recording, trapped these sounds within, with no sense of time.  When atmospheric conditions are favourable, these sounds are released, causing this strange phenomenon to occur.

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The photograph shows my great grandfather, on the right, posing with his two brothers. I like to think their voices are somewhere trapped in stone, waiting for the right atmospheric conditions, waiting to be heard again.

Out and about …


This gallery contains 7 photos.

… in Hexham.  It will be September before we start travelling again so the summer months will be based at home: playing golf, putting miles on the motorbikes and keeping up with the endless maintenance tasks that are part and … Continue reading

We must get home …

I enjoy making connections.  The photograph of the Porsche Cars (GB) Ltd Carrera 6, 906-101 was taken at the Oulton Park Tourist Trophy on 29th April 1966 (driven by Peter de Klerk).  The panned image was grabbed at Knickerbrook using a standard lens on a Werra 35mm camera – enlarged by my dad to get closer to the action, this accounts for the ‘artistic’ grain. I was entranced by the lines of this fabulous machine, lines which are much appreciated to this day – the last time this car appeared at Bonham’s, it sold for €579,500 (£483,303).  Picking the right car in the pan can be attributed to the dumb luck of youth.

Porsche 906-101...

I was prompted to find and scan this image because I wanted to find a connection between this and the Porsche 550 Spyder.  Sure enough, both works of automotive art were produced by the one man – Erwin Komenda.   Born in 1904, he died a few months after the Tourist Trophy, on 22nd August 1966 – the Porsche 906 was thus his parting gift to the racing nation, a machine which set the Porsche design language for years to come.

Why the Porsche 550 Spyder?  Because this is the machine, Little Bastard, that James Dean drove to his death in September 1955.  All of this was prompted by watching Life, Anton Corbijn’s film based on the friendship between Life photographer Dennis Stock and James Dean.  This is Dennis Stock telling the story of his relationship with Dean and how he captured one of the most iconic images of the 20th century – Corbijn’s film dramatises this friendship:

We must get home–for we have been away
So long, it seems forever and a day!
And O so very homesick we have grown,
The laughter of the world is like a moan
In our tired hearing, and its song as vain,–
We must get home–we must get home again!

We must get home: All is so quiet there:
The touch of loving hands on brow and hair–
Dim rooms, wherein the sunshine is made mild–
The lost love of the mother and the child
Restored in restful lullabies of rain,–
We must get home–we must get home again!

We must get home again–we must–we must!–
(Our rainy faces pelted in the dust)
Creep back from the vain quest through endless strife
To find not anywhere in all of life
A happier happiness than blest us then …
We must get home–we must get home again!
James Whitcomb Riley

Iron and Air

After a long wet winter, I have been grabbing sunshine and spending much less time at the keyboard.  This can only be a good thing.  My daily images on Blipfoto tell a story of warm weather and escape: on canals, on two wheels, on golf courses – some might say an unlikely combination but the stereotypical biker is a myth.  We are all differently made but we ride for the same reasons.

My good lady recently bought me a digital subscription to Iron and Air, an American bike magazine which combines images and words verging on the poetic. In my usual compulsive manner, I am working my way through every back copy – this from Dave Karlotski, Season of the Bike, in Issue 1:

“At 30 miles an hour and up, smells become uncannily vivid.  All the individual tree-smells and flower-smells flit by like chemical notes in a great plant symphony.  Sometimes the smells evoke memories so strongly that it’s as though the past hangs invisible in the air around me … “

Riding the arrow-straight Military Road that runs parallel to Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland you cross paths with heavily laden lumber lorries carrying timber south from the forests at Keilder.  At 60mph they create a bow wave, an invisible wake of air that unsettles the bike at a combined speed in excess of 100mph.  For a very brief moment in time the air turns warm and heavy with the scent of diesel – it is an oddly intimate and uplifting experience.

... not into temptation. The dark side of Japan - Yamaha MT09 Tracer

“Cars lie to us and tell us we’re safe, powerful and in control.  The air-conditioning fans murmur empty assurances and whisper, “Sleep, sleep.”  Motorcycles tell us a more useful truth:  we are small and exposed and probably moving too fast for our own good, but that’s no reason not to enjoy every minute of the ride.”

Wark ...

This post dedicated to Ian Bell, supplier of this Yamaha.

Wallerscote Island

Trafford Park, Billingham, Wilton, Winnington and Blackley were all part of my father’s lexicon. Each of these places were synonymous with large scale chemical plants which dominated the local landscape.  They may not have been pretty to look at but they had a certain grandeur and each represented massive industrial endeavor which generated wealth and employment on a large scale.  All of the plants were owned and operated by Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), the company my father worked for all his life.

Sir Denys Henderson, who died on May 21st this year aged 83, was an Aberdonian solicitor who rose to be chairman of ICI and presided over the de-merger which ended the company’s ascendancy as a great industrial conglomerate. I don’t think my dad would have held him in high regard – he was deeply saddened when the origins of his pension changed from  Imperial Chemical Industries to meaningless AstraZeneca.

Sir Denys was possibly a gifted man but he was a lawyer well versed in winning an argument.  In my experience, the problem with lawyers operating outside the legal profession is that the argument is their entire focus, never mind its financial, ethical or technical merits.  With hindsight, it is evident that deconstructing ICI was not a noble endeavor nor a proud epitaph.  The evidence is everywhere.  Our recent canal trip, which started from Anderton, overlooks the original ICI Winnington and Wallerscote Island soda ash plants.

At Wallerscote, limestone from the Peak District arrived by train, brine was pumped up from beneath the Cheshire subsoil and the manufactured soda ash was exported on ships which came up the river Weaver via the the Mersey.  At it’s peak, the site employed 6000 people and now it is being demolished, like so much that has fallen into the hands of TATA The plan is to replace it with 3000 homes.  Given the ongoing demise of the local heavy industry, it begs the question, what will everyone be doing.

Eve of destruction ... Eve of destruction ... Eve of destruction ... Eve of destruction ...Eve of destruction ...

Northern Exposure

Much has been written of Askernish Golf Club, an Old Tom Morris course that was only recently rediscovered and resurrected from the dunes.  Knowing its history, this was a pilgrimage that had to be taken.  My preference is for 9-hole courses in wild places and while this is 18, it certainly conforms to the latter preference – golf gets no wilder than this.

We arrived on an April afternoon of ever-changing but forbidding skies and strong westerlies, conditions less than ideal for the golfer, even less for the unenthusiastic ‘caddy’.  A conversation in the clubhouse confirmed I was alone in my madness – the course was all mine – ‘play as much or as little as you like for £15’.  Celtic were playing Rangers in the Scottish Cup that same afternoon which might also have accounted for the empty fairways – I am not usually entirely alone in my madness.

With due consideration for the reluctant lady I was advised to drive across the course to the dunes adjacent to the sixth green and play seven through eighteen – ‘this is the best of Askernish and the dunes will provide some weather protection for your wife’.  All bases were covered – playing the best of the course while showing due consideration for my better half, what more could be asked.  The new clubhouse is about a half mile from the coast and the route across the course was not obvious but with a determination known only to mad golfers, we negotiated the boggier parts of the track to park on the high dunes.

Golf is a game of millimeters.  When the wind is such that standing still on the tee is a challenge, an element of chance is introduced into the game which can work for or against the amateur.  On this day chance was on my side – starting at Cabinet Minister, the seventh, and finishing at Slainte Mhath, the eighteenth, I used the same Callaway Warbird throughout (for non-golfers – it’s a simple golf ball dressed up as something poetic by arty marketeers with beards and too-tight jeans – believe me, not losing it verges on the miraculous).

Finding the ball was also aided by the agricultural.  All of the greens in winter are protected by electric fencing to keep the sheep off the hallowed turf.  This is crofting land and the reinstatement of the course was met by strong opposition from some locals – at least they were not dealing with The Donald and there has been no change to the landscape, either in Old Tom’s time, nor in modern times.

... Askernish Golf Club, South Uist

The sheep and the rabbits keep the grass short  throughout winter so a small white ball is easier to find than in summer, no matter how far you stray from the fairway.  Standing on the ninth tee, Brochan, the other reason for the trampled rough became obvious – a herd of cattle, maybe forty strong.  On the left, the bull, to the right his cows and their calves.  My drive landed no more than ten yards in front of the big man – surely he is friendly, surely he wouldn’t be on the course if he was not … or could this be the crofters’ revenge.

The seventh ...This is golf, every shot must be played.  It was at this point, the ball rested in a hoof mark, I adopted preferred lies in the rough.  My good lady, dressed in bright red and nervous of cattle at any time, was advancing at a pace up the fairway.  The bull was still there over my left shoulder or so I assumed – this shot had to count.  The crisp seven iron shot flew high over the caddy, the bull remained contentedly in place, I lifted my bag and made a swift exit – this was real Golf in the Wild, golf in the raw.

... in the world - Askernish Golf Club, South Uist

It was a relief to realise that the cattle had confined themselves to the ninth and the remaining holes could be played out in the company of sheep and rabbits.

The rain came and went and the wind swirled but nothing could detract from the glories of Askernish – the testing par 3, Barra Slight, over a deep gully and the 582 yard par 5, Piobarachd, at the extreme south of the course will linger long in the memory.  God must be a golfer – this is nature designed for golf, long before the age of course designers, men with too many dollars and heavy earth moving equipment.

Only at the testing sixteenth, Old Tom’s Pulpit, did common sense and consideration prevail – to the left was the ninth and the herd of cattle, to the right uninviting bog.  We took the high road among the dunes, skipped the hole and played the par 3 seventeenth, Corncrake, where I was rewarded with a par for being such a kind and considerate person.

Needless to say, I will have to return to play one through six and the sixteenth, by which time, maybe the cattle will have moved on.

A superb in-depth post by David Owen can be found here: Back – Roads Scotland: Askernish.

This is the last post from the Outer Hebrides at least until we return.  It is, however, not the last goodbye: