Friday, December 07, 2012

The Smithy

We set sail this week without a thought to where we were going, and you know what? We had a smashing time. There were no thought to this that and the other, all we cared about was a wide open vista and some jolly shanties and grog. Not a care was given to the future because, as Cap'n Mosle is s'posed to have said when confronted with a boarding party of the very blackest-hearted pirates he'd ever seen: "Well bugger me. That's an end to my seafaring days!"
Oh yes my dears, I exhort ye. Make the most of today, because tomorrow you could be in Davey Jones' Locker.
I said this (or something like it) to Sheephouse after he'd dropped one of his cameras on deck.
"Sheephouse," I said. "Don't ee worry lad. They made millions of the blasted things. It's not like it was a babee or a cat, or your wife. It's only metal and glass. It's got no soul!"
He looked at me then and I looked at him and then we both looked down at the deck where a small grey spirit was lifting itself free from the dead machine's innards and moving off into the sky.
"Goodbye," sniffed Sheephouse.
"Farewell," said the spirit. "You've been good to me."
And then it dissipated into ether and vapours and was gone.
Neither of us said anything, but I swear to ee mates, I learned this:
A camera (well, an old and mechanical camera) does have a soul.
I was kind to Sheephouse after that.
He's had quite a shock.


***


I suppose I can count myself to have had a very very fortunate childhood.
I was lucky, because whenever we went on holiday I was allowed to experience the heady air of pure freedom.
Freedom is a big word and although it is bandied around a lot these days, I feel that as a society we have lost it.
Think about it - we all sit in our little houses, looking at our screens; some of us go out on great adventures, but most don't; our children are coddled and protected and generally kept padded and protected; our every aspect of living from the casual conversation to the keypad stroke, to the misaligned parking manouevre is watched and listened to and analysed somewhere.
We seem to have less freedom now than we have ever had.
The other night I asked my wife about the most dangerous thing she had ever done. She told me it was cycling down a hill as a small child, towards a main road and literally only braking at the very last minute. Yep, that would count as pretty dangerous, especially if your brakes didn't work!
Mine was foolishly climbing half way up the Grey Mare's Tail waterfall near Moffat in only a pair of plimsouls (and obviously clothes - the plimsouls were Rucanor tennis shoes, easily the most comfortable tennis shoe I ever wore, with superb grip!) The waterfall itself is incredibly beautiful, but you haven't been able to access it properly in years, as it is black mark area and was actually cordoned off quite some time ago after several deaths - it is full of loose scree and slippery rocks.
Anyway, after recounting my hair-raising escape from a very life-threatening situation, I then asked my son what was the most dangerous thing he had done, and he said he hadn't done anything. And I felt really really sad for him, because he is missing out on something which should be part of every human's make-up: controlled exposure to that great big lion called life.
It roams around our camps, waiting to pick off the unwary, but you have to face it, simply have to. Obviously preferably in controlled conditions and not as foolishly as I did - it was fortunate for me that the lion wasn't particularly sure-footed on a slidey mountainside! If he had been a goat, I would have been a gonner!
Anyway, I am determined to turn my son's lack of exposure to danger around soon, even if it is only some hillwalking in inclement conditions. And don't worry FB fans, I am always careful. I've been lost in mist before miles from anywhere and it was a brown trouser moment of the deepest variety!
Anyway, back to childhood.
On family holidays in Scotland we were fortunate enough to be staying in an area which had somehow remained remarkably unchanged. I was there recently and the feel, though definitely more modern than it was (obviously), was little different to the feel I remember from my formative years - in other words it was still lost in the mid-Twentieth Century.
Holidaying in the area (which was completely rural) allowed me a breadth of freedom which was just unheard of to a city child.
I (during normal, boring, non-holiday time) lived on a council estate - densely packed, rough and at times quite scary. A place where sleep could be disturbed by shouts and screams and crashes. Where danger could be lurking around the corner - yet somehow I managed to avoid a lot of it.
Anyway, come holiday times, we headed North and I donned my tartan bonnet and became the young laird! It was fantastic.
I could wander at will. And I did.
Lanes and fields and copses, rivers and burns, ruins and outbuildings.
No one worried about me, as I always found my way home when I was hungry.
I snoozed in hay lofts; befriended young cattle and sat for hours in their sheds listening to their breathing, feeling that soft camaraderie of young bullocks and heifers; I harvested countless eggs (double and triple yolkers too!); watched insects transform themselves from chrysalis to beauty; stood and wondered at swallows nests; dug holes; fished; helped with harvests; picked berries; newsed with ancient farmers; handled ferrets; and basically LIVED the full breadth of nature's pagaent.
In short I was as lucky as any lottery winner, because it was (from my now ancient man viewpoint) a most fortunate way to spend those formative years.
During my wandering I also got to play with small and outdated machinery.
Today, children are kept clear of old ploughs and harvesting material (if indeed they can find any); they definitely wouldn't be allowed to operate the simple handle and massive spinning weight of a vertical sharpening wheel in case they got caught in the machinery.
I would suppose that rather than appearing to be unconcerned, my parents exhibited an almighty naive trust in me.
My father (being an engineer) had shown me the power of machinery early on (metal versus flesh, metal would always win) so I was aware of the dangers, but added to this was that rare thing (well, it seems to be rare nowadays) common sense.
I was careful, very very careful.
The place we stayed was a tiny community of spread out houses. There was the Toll Cottage, which is where Trevor and Olive lived (and which we were helping them renovate), up the road was the Farm (cattle), down the Road was the Mains (more cattle and also arable), there were also a number of Cottages all called the same thing and all spread out.
Next door to us at the Toll, was the Smithy, which belonged to the Hetheringtons, who were a very typical traditional Scots couple.
Mr. was a small, wiry man, and what he didn't know about farming and the country probably wasn't worth knowing - I liked him, though I did find him hard to speak to - his words were few and basic and at times unintelligible.
Mrs. on the other hand was his total opposite, as she was the sort of Scots woman who has become somewhat of an archetype. She was small with white hair, rosy cheeks, and the sweetest smile you could ever want to see. Her kitchen was always open and welcoming to everyone. From there she produced cakes in vast quantities, and made sure I always got some.
With her encouragement, I pretty much had full rein of the farm.
She let me help with milking (oh how I miss that lovely, now long castigated for our own good [!] flavour of unpasteurised milk, the way it was meant to be drunk, warm and heady from a freshly shaken cow).
She let me get the eggs and do all the things a youngster around a farm would be expected to do.
To me it was manna from heaven.
I had my own wellies to deal with the vast amounts of cow muck around the yard and I had a Macintosh (a real one . . made from rubberised cotton) to deal with downpours.
I loved it.
And when I was done, with my playing at chores I would go and play in the Smithy.
This had been (up until the advent of farming machinery) a proper Smithy.
Everything was still there: furnace, hammers and tongs, bellows, piles of rusting iron, numerous rims and wheels and devices I had not the slightest clue about, but it felt homely, strangely homely, almost as if I had partaken of the sweat and labour in an earlier life.
I loved being there - it had that smell. Maybe you know what I mean - you still find it in sheds - you know, sort of wood dust and iron with a hint of cold oil and hardboard. My Dad's tool chests smelled of it too, and even just typing this on a freezing Saturday I can smell it. Nectar!!
The Smithy was positioned right on the road, and seeing as it had at one point in its history been a toll road it is easy to put two and two together and imagine horse-drawn carriages and horses and farmers wending in for a news and a check on horseshoes. Or maybe you just lived over the hill and your scythe had become bent and a bit loose on its haft and needed sorting, or your shovel needed a new handle, so you'd go to the Smithy and talk and get the work done and pay in money or work or goods and off you would go.
Outside stood my favourite thing - an old vertical sharpening stone in a cast-iron cradle. It had a large handle attached and I was always impressed as a young child at being able to get the stone whizzing around at exceptional speed by putting relatively little effort into moving the handle! It was fascinating and I would spend a lot of time just turning the handle to see how fast I could get it to go.
In the Smithy building itself, it didn't look like the furnace had been fired up in many a year and so the large workshop area (away from the furnace area) had become a repository for everything farm-based you could imagine: the remnants of a 1950's tractor and its accoutrements; tyres of every variety; oil and petrol cans; riddles and scythes, hoes and threshers, ancient, rusting ploughs lurking in corners under piles of tattie sacks; bales and bales of wire hanging from hooks, cobwebs beyond imagination, a pile of perished wellington boots; a macintosh worn only at birthing time; swallow and housemartin nests and associated guano; moth and butterfly chrysalis' waiting for the right moment; worm-ridden rafters; mice and spiders; layered piles of roof tiles; scattered nails and staples and screws; the entire detritus of a life lived in a place where improvisation with what you had on hand was a necessity.
I somehow realised even then that encountering such a place in one's life was a privilege.
It felt old, really old and well used. But I knew it couldn't stay like that - modernity was coming, and before too long, it (like the derelict cottages that were finding their way into the hands of outsiders) would be cleaned out and upgraded and probably turned into a huge garage/workshop, so I went in when I could and breathed deeply of its all-encompassing sensuality. Its hearth and heart; imagining the ghostly clatter of horseshoes on cobbles and the snuffling breath of horse and the calming words of the blacksmith as he fitted another shoe.
Having an unlimited and fascinating playground like this was really something - it was a highlight of my holidays.
And then it was gone.
Mr. died and the farm was taken over by his son (though he had married and had his own farm to tend to, so I really wonder how he managed helping his mother).
And then a couple of years later we heard that Mrs. had died too and so the Estate decided that it was no longer useful as a farm and the buildings were sold on, and the land absorbed by two other farms.
The Smithy cottage became a warm family home and the Smithy itself was cleared of my toys and turned into a garage, and then demolished along with all the associated farm buildings.



A Young Porker Contemplates His Next Victim.
Made on our family 127 Brownie in about 1967/68., in the garden of the Toll Cottage.
The Smithy was literally 15 yards from my feet.
My father seemed to have an unerring eye for the candid portrait.


What you see behind me is a hay loft (where I used to snooze a lot) and the pile of rubble is the remnants of an outside cludgie which I helped to demolish with a hatchet (honest).
Surprisingly, although time has swept all this away, my sharpening stone survives!
I have passed the buildings and it was still there in the front garden of the cottage.


Still there after all these years.
Carefully disguised behind some paving slabs, my sharpening stone.



And the proof - captured in perpetuity on Google Maps.
Maybe too heavy to move?
Or maybe, just maybe, held in place by the Ghosts of Auld Farmers unwilling to let this potent symbol of their power over the land be taken away.
I like to think it is the latter.


***


This being FB I had to get some more photography in there . . I racked my brains to see if I had anything suitably 'vegetabley' that I could add, and finally came up with the following which I rather like.


Originality - One Of Your 5-A-Day



It was made on the Leica IIIf with the 1934 Elmar. I have had to boost the contrast a bit, but it works. The film was Ilford HP5 at EI320, developed for 20 minutes in Kodak HC110 Dilution G for 20 minutes. It is a very nice combo. You know the further I move on with this old lens, the more I realise that it somehow prefers old style films like Tri-X and HP5 and FP4 to newer formulations like TMax and Delta - weird eh? Must be to do with contrast and micro-contrast.
The grafitti was on some abandoned buildings and was all positive! I found it inspiring.
As usual, thanks for reading and God Bless.

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