Small Delights

The morning brought a bright and unseasonably warm sunshine so Anna and I set out on our walk at 11.00am. With the younger members of the population back at work and school, the world was quieter and I could enjoy my mental accompaniment of the Louis Jordan number, “Is you is or is you ain’t my baby?”

It seemed that the drivers of every other car waved a greeting to us and even Duncan, the giant black Labrador at the Port-na-Craig Inn, stood against his garden fence and barked a welcome. Our normal Duncan conversation over, we paused on the Port-na-Craig suspension bridge to admire the sight of the water charging across the top of Pitlochry Dam into the swirling waters of the River Tummel until the bridge’s bounce announced the arrival of other walkers: an elderly couple nervous about their crossing until I commented admiringly on their long-haired Jack Russell’s coat and their faces lit up.

Home at 12.15 to a cup of a coffee, an M&S Bakewell tart (for Anna, a canine Christmas pie) and an unusually swift conclusion to the Times Fiendish Sudoku, all still accompanied by my mental Louis Jordan and his appropriate rhythm .

The walk had been a joy from start to finish. No trip to New York or large lottery win could compete with the small delights of this smiling morning.


‘Shovelling white steam over her shoulder’

If you recognise the title quote you may well be interested in an event planned for Pitlochry at the end of July.

W H Auden’s 1936 poem, Night Mail, celebrated the sorting and delivery office that travelled each night on the train from London to Glasgow. Its description of the speeding train contains the couplet: “Past cotton-grass and moorland boulder / Shovelling white steam over her shoulder.”

The poeloco1m was the most obvious response to my recent discovery of this book cover (left) at the top of a shakey stack of volumes.

The Locospotters’ Annual from 1957 originally sold at six shillings (30p would be the modern equivalent) and is still in excellent condition. The editor’s name, G. Freeman Allen, is suitably 1950s and inside is a train enthusiast’s delight of articles about Britain’s railways in the mid-twentieth century. Titles include, “The Diesels are coming,” “The race up from Plymouth” and “Spotting from a signal box.”

The partner volume, the annual from 1958, even includes, an article on the problems of the Queen Street tunnel in Glasgow which brings us right up to date with the same tunnel problems having temporarily closed Queen Street station. Some things never change.

The Locospotters’ Annual is only one of 300 volumes on railways which have been presented by a kind donor to us at Pitlochry Station Bookshop. The books cover Britain and many other countries; some are nostalgic and others quite technical.

In the hope of maximising our good fortune, we are planning a grand sale of railway books to be held on Sunday 31st July 2016 in that most attractive venue, Pitlochry Festival Theatre. As always, all our income will be donated to our six charities.

Watch this space for more details, including a catalogue of the 300 titles.

In the meantime, you could always look up Auden’s “Night Mail” or, better still, find John Greirson’s 1936 film of the poem with accompanying music by the young Benjamin Britten. Here’s a link: Night Mail

Chubby sentences

His sentences are chubby with the lard of his self regard.

From a review by Craig Brown of “Distilling the Frenzy” by (Lord) Peter Hennessy in which he castigates Hennessy, one of Britain’s best-selling historians, on the number of times he reminds his readers that he is now a member of the House of Lords and accuses him of padding out his book with sloppy writing.

I gasped when I read the sentence. What a put-down. Is it possible that there is bad blood between Brown and Hennessy?

School Sports Day

Now that it’s the season of school sports days, I thought I’d include the above photo which is in my book ‘Mr. Mackay’s Legacy’. There is very little I know about it, except that it was taken at a sports day at St. John’s School, Perth, Scotland in 1968 or 1969 nor do I know the name of the photographer.

The event was held on Perth’s North Inch which is a large parkland on the bank of the River Tay and, at that time, was the school’s back garden.

What I like most are the expressions on the boys’ faces as each couple tries to cross the line first in the ‘wheelbarrow’ race. It’s a life-or-death lunge for glory and the boy at top left seems to be intent on bundling his partner across the line. No doubt, the following seconds were occupied by the protests of the couple awarded second place about the unfairness of it all.

In the background, the umbrellas and raincoats tells us that it’s typical Scottish sports day weather:  dull with drizzly patches. Sensible schools don’t cancel in conditions like this. They know it could be the best weather they’ll get.

Pitlochry views, a century apart

The top photograph shows Atholl Road, Pitlochry’s main street, as it looked in 1912. The photo was also issued as a postcard. One hundred years later, I photographed Atholl Road from the same position.

Apart from the mode of transport and people’s dress, little has changed over the century, which surprised me. I even resorted to counting chimney pots to find differences. The photos certainly back up Pitlochry’s claim to be a Victorian/Edwardian town.

At present there is controversy about a proposal to build  a Travelodge in Pitlochry but surely this photo supports the opposition.

I have one regret about the modern photo – I didn’t find three boys to occupy centre stage and stand on the road amongst modern traffic.

The carved heads of Cairn o’ Mohr

Cairn o’ mohr heads

Yesterday, while driving along the A90 Perth to Dundee road we stopped at a favourite place, the Cairn o’ Mohr winery near Errol. Superb coffee and scones, friendly and attentive staff and a highly quirky and attractive atmosphere. Best of all, the ever changing display of carved tree-trunk heads.

The story of ‘Windows in the West’

Windows in the West’ is a painting by Scottish artist Avril Paton. It depicts the people and activities behind the windows of a Glasgow tenement (apartment) block after a winter snowfall.

The work is regularly voted at or near the top in polls of Scotland‘s favourite paintings. It attracts many visitors to its site in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Museum where it is the second most visited exhibit after Salvador Dali‘s “Christ of St. John of the Cross.” Even the print which hangs in our living room attracts my attention more than any other in the house. There’s so much going on throughout the building and outside, the snow cover and late afternoon sky suggest warmth and cosiness. It’s a happy world.

Recently, I stumbled upon this video of Avril Paton explaining to a group of schoolchildren how she came to paint ‘Windows in the West’. Look at it yourself. It will repay a few minutes of your time and you will find the answer to questions such as: Does the building actually exist? How long did the painting take? Was there an easel large enough for it and what’s the story of the cat?

There’s also an interview with Avril Paton conducted by an unknown writer on the website West End People.

Best of all, go and see the original.