Friday, December 21, 2012

Waes Hael

A Message From Mog:
"Good Luck and Good Health For The Coming Year To All My Fans"

Well ship mates - a great and good calm has come over the Goode Shippe FB this week as we prepare for the Festive Season. Far be it for me to sing my own praises, but we do the Season 'proper' on this 'ere shippe.
The lads work hard through the whole year, and at Christmas time they deserve something decent, so when we pulls into port on the Saturday tide, I have arranged for each man-jack to receive a week's extra wage and a small cask o' good Demerera Rum straight from my friend Angus McSporran from Barbados (he be as black as the ace o'spades, but you couldn't want to meet a nicer Scotsman). And then it's a couple of weeks off with nothing to do but talk and make merry.
Oh yes, it is quite something when FB hits port at this time of year. We have crowds of waiting wives and excited children; treats and toys and curiosities and lace and scents from all four corners of the Oceans.
I make sure we arrive in a bluster of excitement and goodness. Others have tried to copy, but I can truly say there's none does it better than your Cap'n.
Even that darn cat gets into the spirit of things, a trippin' along the railings with a sprig o'holly poking out from goodness knows where. Oh yes, he's been known to upstage us all, but I'm all the happier for it.
I'll leave you now with a wee poem from me good mate Lord Byron - a man who has travelled with us many a time. The poem is inscribed on a human skull which has been turned into a drinking pot.
As he said to me "What use be the foul coil of flesh when thy spirit is lighter than air?"  . . . and you know what maties . . he's right.
It's a sobering verse, but true.

Start not, nor deem my spirit fled: 
In me behold the only skull 
From which, unlike a living head, 
Whatever flows is never dull.

I lived, I loved, I quaff'd like thee: 
I died: let earth my bones resign: 
Fill up-thou canst not injure me, 
The worm hath fouler lips than thine.

Better to hold the sparkling grape, 
Than nurse the earthworm's slimy brood; 
And circle in the goblet's shape 
The drink of gods, than reptile's food.

Where once my wit, perchance, hath shone, 
In aid of others let me shine; 
And when, alas! our brains are gone, 
What nobler substitute than wine?

Quaff while thou canst, another race 
When thou and thine, like me, are sped, 
May rescue thee from earth's embrace, 
And rhyme and revel with the dead.

So from me and Mog and the Crew, have a great festive season - be kind to each other.


Far be it for me to go all maudling on you, but I suppose Christmas and the New Year is a time when the shades and memories of dead relations and friends crowd in and yearn for some of that warmth they used to experience when they were alive.
And you know what friends, I say this to you - welcome them.
As I have posted before in FB, I am quite an old-fashioned person, and by old-fashioned, I don't just mean 20th Century, nope, wind back further and further and further.
Before the Industrial Revolution, man knew his place within the world, and it was hard.
The grind of finding your daily bread; back-breaking labour; lack of medical care; cold.
Is it any wonder that in modern society the homeless person is the one most likely to die very young?
That is because our physicality to deal with such travails really does only manage to eke itself out till the mid to late 40's. After that, in ancient terms, you are an OLD person.
In prehistoric times you were anathema, or revered.
People lived the full human existence at breakneck speed and were gone before they knew it.
Life was, how shall we say, concentrated.
So is it any wonder that there was a huge importance placed upon alcohol?
I know beer is supposed to have been invented by the Mesopotamians, however really when you think about it, really really think about it, any seed placed in the right circumstances will start to germinate. Beer is just a  stones throw further on (just look into how the mighty Belgians make Kriek, a beer born of the soul of the open countryside **); air-born yeasts are as pretty much as common as oxygen . . it was, and is and always shall be. All the Mesopotamians  did was harness the natural thing.
Think about cider - an apple: over-ripe, acted upon by yeasts. A starving man in the cold. You would eat anything, including rotting fruit. Hmmm, that apple tasted good, really good. What's that feeling?
Do you get my drift?
Those grapes rotting on that vine. They're all shrivelled to hell. Mmmmm - so sweet and tangy and, hmmm, what's that taste?
Alcohol, which is after all a natural product of yeast and fruit-sugars, is as old as mankind itself. No one discovered it. It was just there.
And it was a hugely important part of ancient societies.
I believe probably far more important than psycho-active drugs produced by the likes of mushrooms and toadstools.
Be honest with yourself. You're ancient and starving . . what are you going to eat? Rotten fruit or a toadstool? Mankind is genetically programmed to prefer sweet over foul. I think the answer is obvious.
Yes . . well . . I sort of think the whole thinking about ancient societies was taken over by drug culture around about the early 1990's, as a sort of excuse for use.
Shaman were everywhere.
You couldn't walk down the High Street without tripping over one.
And far from me to dispell such things (as I think there definitely was a place for someone in ancient societies who could commune with spirits) I tend to think it has got out of hand.
Nikolai Tolstoy's book 'In Quest Of Merlin' is a fantastically written and semi-scholarly drawing together of the mythology of Merlin, and as such the impression one gets about the world's second most famous wizard is that he endured extreme rough living and roved the South of Scotland berrating Christians.
Little mention of trips and troves. Probable cause for visions? Hunger and dehydration - both powerful drivers on the mind.
So what of a land awash with all-powerful Shamanic figures striding around with staves and spirits? Well, sorry to quash any notions you might have, but the real power in ancient societies was held by women. I won't keep going on (for the sake of brevity) however Gud-wiffes helped you into the world, and they also helped you shake the mortal coil.
There doesn't seem to have been a whole lot of rattle rattling and ghost whispering and mushroom eating. Just milking and making and mending; foraging and tending and caring.
Anyway, on we go, in the spirit of Ancient Times.
An offering of alcohol or other somesuch thing was made at festival times to ancestors.
I have been known to dowse our doorsteps with a splash of good whisky at the New Year.
I welcome spirits, and, I hope they feel welcomed.
When we first moved into our current house, there was a feeling and a smell. The smell was of dog-rose, and the feeling was a feeling I used to feel in my home when I was very young.
It was a feeling of welcome. It infused the house from the moment we opened the door, but was especially concentrated in what we now call the sitting room, which was, when the house was built in 1888, the kitchen.
At some time, someone, or rather, I believe, some cook (it is a house with the main quarters and servants quarters), absolutely loved their work and took pride in a gathering - their spirit suffused the whole of our downstairs area and I think has remained there in the bricks and stone and wood.
In other words, our house loves a party.
We don't have many, but when we do, you can feel the pride of that spirit coming right out.
Does that sound fanciful?
I know it does, but it is a thing that hasn't been commented on by just us. So, each year, I give thanks to the spirits of the people who worked and built, who tended and cleaned, who imbued their life purpose into stone and mortar and slate and cast iron and wood.
At this time of year it is important to remember who you are and where you came from.
It is also important to remember that you didn't just appear as an autonomous entity.
You are the product of centuries of love (and lust) and careful tending and joy, and negligence and sorrow.
You, 21st Century Man and Woman, are so 'stone-age' you don't even realise it! For all the modern reliance on technology and the apparent feebleness of the modern human, there's some tough cookies in there. The instinct for survival doesn't just lie down and do the dead fly dance, no way. Tenacity and persistence, those are mankind's strengths.
You are as much a part of your ancestors dreams as they are of your genes. And if you start to think like that, why not welcome them in?
Be 'stone-age' if you want.
I am proud of my roots.
I am proud of my genetic makeup.
And I want to give thanks to that. And if I can do that by saying a warm and welcoming Hoots! to the spirits of those who have died then I shall and will. There is nothing wrong with it, and in fact, I think there might well be everything right with it.
I cannot deny who I am, and I am not going to.
I am me, and I am also them.
They are me to a greater and lesser extent and they are you too.
So this festive season (and it doesn't just have to be the Winter's one, make it the others throughout the year too) welcome your ancestors.
Feel free to leave wee offerings.
Give thanks and greetings.
You are not a lump of wood or plastic
You are a human. Flesh and bone and blood and spirit
You should be aware of such things.


What spurred this week's FB was a curious thing.
I was mucking around in my study and knocked a photograph off a shelf. It was a photo taken by my Mum quite a number of years back and there was a message to my son on the back, and, having read it I felt so moved to write this that I did.
You see the message was in her handwriting, and when I really thought about it, what you leave behind in the form of handwriting, is one of the most profound things, because it is a ghost too, but a ghost with curves and angles and dots and sweeping lines; crabbed or sprawling; printed or unreadable.
It is you placed with semi-permanence on paper until fire or water or sunlight or mouse or insect or laissez-faire decides that enough is enough and consigns you to the landfill of sleep.
But until then . . .
I loved finding these words from my Mum - it was such a link to her that I found myself very tearful.
I still really miss her (she died physically about 2 years ago, but Alzhiemers killed her long before that) and yet there she was sitting on a shelf, less than a foot away from my right ear!
And when I started thinking about it, I realised that I also had such tangible links to my Dad (in the form of our address on a Kodak return label!) and my Aunty Jane too, in the form of a typically witty comment on the back of another photo.
Gosh I felt priviledged.
And again the impermanence of the modern digital world really hit home!
Who writes letters on paper and sends them?
Who uses film (albeit consumer film) and gets a photograph printed and writes something wry and amusing on the back?

A Message From The Past

My Father's Handwriting

Typically Aunty Jane. Witty To The Very End.

What will happen to your Facebook wall when Facebook gets taken over and the big corporations move in? Another MySpace or Bebo?
It just says to me that if you are taking digital photographs, for God's sake back them up.
Affix them to something of permanence.
My negatives are stored in archival sleeves after having been processed properly. They will outlast me and you and probably our children and maybe even their children and so on.
They'll go one day, but who is going to remember me in two generations time (if we are still around) - who is going to look at my negatives and think "What the F?"
The small pieces of writing I have been left with are interesting from the point of view that they connect me - more than someone's personal possessions, more than just a photograph. Like a diary or a letter, you get a flavour of how that person was in life and that is the great thing.


Moving on ever so quickly (but still linked) I have  another  (final) tale to tell.
It involves a moth-eaten manilla folder and a loft, and is the ultimate version of the writing on the back of a photograph.
Quite a number of years ago now my Mum asked me to get something out of her loft. I don't remember what it was, but I got it, and in being up there I noticed that she had utilised some really decent tea chests to move stuff from Scotland to Lincolnshire (she'd had to give up living in Scotland - rural life for an old woman can be incredibly difficult and she felt that further South would be better and nearer family, as well as being less demanding). Anyway, the tea chests were the same ones we had used when we made the big move from London to Scotland in the 1970's.
I rootled through them and found lots of old fishing tackle, a zither, arrows, Airfix soldiers, tons of other items from my childhood, and the said folder.
When I looked at it, I remembered it distinctly as having sat in a box in our loft in Northolt, and also in Scotland. I had never looked at it as I always thought it was my Dad's apprentice engineering notes and was interested, but left it where it was.
A couple of years passed and I was having a conversation with Steve and mentioned the folder, telling him I thought it was connected with CAV and Dad. He said that would be really interesting to look at because of the work Dad did on fuel injection systems during WWII, so I said next time I was at my Mum's I would look it out and keep it safe.
So, FFWD another year and I found myself in Mum's loft again, but this time with a purpose. The folder was still there - remarkably untouched and pretty unravaged by time considering it would be heading for 60 years old.
I bought it downstairs and dusted it off.
The folder was bound with a parcel-wrap of string - proper old school twine, none of yer plastic stuff - which I undid.
The first thing I saw was a pink ribbon and a large bundle of old paper.
I couldn't quite believe it, but looked closely.
Letters . . . lots of them.
I didn't even need to put two and two together to know that I had uncovered family gold. My Mum and Dad's love letters.
I gave thanks, and I know it seems stupid, but I am sure I could feel the hand of  my Dad in this.
What a priceless thing.

Unopened for nearly 60 years


I read the first page, and realised that what I was reading was passionate and loving and personal.
I stopped, then re-read what I had just read, and realised that I couldn't read them.
Not whilst Mum was still alive.
It was too much.
I don't actually think she would have minded, but reading what I had read, and sensing the yearning and love that simply oozed out of the pages from just writing about the everyday, I knew that if I did encounter anything truly intimate I would feel that somehow I had violated their privacy.
I re-sealed the folder but made sure that it was safely tucked up in our luggage when we headed back North.
Mum died two years ago, but I still haven't read them, however now, I feel, maybe the time is right.
I want to find out about them, my parents, in that early glow of a love that lasted them all their lives.
I want to see and feel them through the gift of their handwritten letters.
I always knew that Mum and Dad were incredibly passionate about each other and I think that their love and yearning for each other, imbued into every word, will lift itself free of the delicate wartime paper like a flock of doves released into the light of day and fly around my study on the wings of heaven.
If you have any writing from friends and relatives, living and dead, you should treasure it.
You never know when it will transcend mortality and become a thing of light and ink and feeling.


As is often the case with FB, I find a chance to shoehorn in some photography, and I thought the following image rather suited the feeling of this week's writing.

News From Home
News From Home

It is quite unlike any other photo I have taken.
It was a snatched shot on Ilford Delta 400 rated at approximately EI 800.
I have used the film's latitide and just snapped.
Aperture was about f9, and shutter speed was 1/60th of a second. The film was developed in Kodak HC 110 Dilution G, for 18 minutes at 21 Degrees Centigrade.
It could have done with longer actually, but there you go.
I love the way the uncoated Leica lens from 1934 has rendered the shadow detail. A modern coated lens could not have given such a sense of light to the scene without rendering everything a lot more contrasty . . So hip hip hooray! for ancient lenses.
And that's me for this year methinks.
Thank you if you have stuck with FB this year . . more next year.
And if you are just a visitor, well, I shall say what the mighty Dave Allen used to say at the end of his shows. You'll have to imagine I am raising a glass and looking at you though . . .
"Thankyou, Goodnight and may your God go with you."



  1. Love that last shot, Phil. I wonder if a digital camera would have captured the highlight tones even with the Leica lens in front of it? The high ceiling gives it a sort of "monumental" impact. Wouldn't fancy having to heat your house, though...

  2. Thanks Bruce - it can get a tad cold at times!
    The Elmar seems to be pretty versatile actually - I am enjoying it very much - it does seem to like film, especially 'old-style' film. Haven't gone the whole hog and used Stoekler's developer yet, but I think it could be on the cards.