Cherished item 001

I know the photo omits the spit and polish of a Vogue magazine cover shot, thats because this is a work-a-day tool that had ‘some work done’. Its a Dualit Combi 2+1 toaster which I bought in 1997 for a very very princely sum. I’m embarrased at the amount I spent on a toaster. I could have bought ten, yes ten fertile acres of the panet Mars which we now know can produce enough potatos to feed a working martian biologist.

What makes this special is the quality of toast and critically, it is repairable. I grew-up in the 70’s when petrol was scarce and TV’s were rented on account of their high price. Back then we repaired electrical items when they broke which happened more often than today. I hear people say “They don’t make them like they used to” which is the same trope as “the sun always shone on my childhood summer holidays.” Its not that design or manufacturing standards were woeful in the 70s, but plastics, product testing and high reliability know-how was. Bakelite (an early plastic) was used everywhere and became brittle then failed. You were crossing fingers every morning for a 70s British car to start although the reasons for it failing include poor design, manufacturability, management, training, materials…

Back to the toaster, my beloved chrome toasting box. It toasts bread every single day from two to twenty slices a day (if the house is full) – perfectly. I’m talking Rolls Royce toast ready in a jiffy. It has manual levers to lower and raise the bread/toast, a rotary mechanical timer that ticks like a roadrunner time bomb, a clam basket for making toasties, a toasting light and crumb tray. Its a bugger to clean and keep clean so has accumulated years of perma-grime.

Recently one of its four heating elements failed which meant the backup £6 Asda was deployed until old faithful was repaired. This is why I like this toaster. The maker, Dualit sells spares online or over the phone. So after a short call and three days the postie delivered the new element. Dismantling the toaster is not tab A into slot B easy and requires some tools however it is repairable in 30m.

This is why its cherished. Our expensive workhorse performing one simple duty perfectly every day of the year, ready for its next 20 year stretch. Repairing it is a pleasure and rewarding. Pity we have gone through six kettles in the same period. Embarrassingly expensive to buy, cheap-as-chips as it stretches into toaster teens.


Decline of Political Media

Don’t worry, I’m keeping my voting intention private. Tomorrow the United Kingdom votes representatives who create a new House of Commons in the Palace of Westminster, City of Westminster within the City of London. I’ve heard that Politics is ‘show business for ugly people’ and dislike the unflattery, but acting? Every 4-5 years they lose their job, cease being Members of Parliament and downgrade to “candidates” jostling for your vote and a constituency seat. During this time they visit your house, invade the news, visit our factories, are plastered on billboards, buses and now infect social media. An Election is Oscar season for Politicians with 650 baubles handed out after the votes are counted from 10:52pm tomorrow evening.

These MP’s carry heavy responsibility from our shoulders to make decisions and laws on how the country is governed. So you think it would cause a great stirring among the population? I have always enjoyed elections since being a nosey teenager. The best test of an opinion is thorough argument, examined from all sides, questioned and rationalised to the ground. This is what I recall used to happen repeatedly through elections in my youth. Not in this decline of political media.

John_Lamont_Blethering_Skite-210415_5586Beyond the media froth and excitement of early morning results, the public is becalmed. The Polls have shown each UK party flatline like an ex-parrott and the media is befuddled why. They offer many reasons:

  • Voters made their voting decision six months ago
  • The Polls might be “wrong” (as in 1992)
  • Policies are not engaging the electorate

What is never explored is responsible media exposure of the Political class. As an occasional news/political junkie I look to the longer form interviews to shed light. Study Paxman, Boulton, Neil, Marr, Murnaghan (notice all men!), Question Time, TV Leaders debates etc and they often fail to bring heat nevemind light. Why? As a youngster you would regularly see a Politician in a head to head with Brian Walden  or Robin Day lasting 40-50 minutes. Today Paxman gets 25m to do the same. Impossibly short. It is beyond the 25m mark that the sugar rush and ‘lines’ fade and the real person comes into focus. It is from this point on you begin to get a feel for the person and their character. By now fly-by-nights wither and fail, the capable survive, political Darwinism on screen.

So the media ties itself in knots, spouting more froth why things are the way they are and NEVER questions itself, its processes, its objectives or how it conducts itself. Perhaps the greatest turn-off for those watching Political debates with me is talking over one another. Not just the Politicians, but the interviewers cutting-in prematurely across someone else talking. Often deteriorating into a shouting match. Tick-tock, deliver your lines and get out quick is the Adviser’s mantra.

This Election has also shown a distinct skewing by the Parties towards presidential focus of one or two personalities (leader plus would be chancellor). Where are former Ministers and Shadow Ministers? The next leaders? For the past six or seven years Question Time has been on a cycle of lower rank wannabes spouting the approved lines without the capacity or intelligence to engage real people’s questions. Oh and the Chair looses control of the Panel easily and often. The Yorkshire audience in the final leaders TV debate was the most demanding interrogator of any leader throughout this election. An election twice as long as it needed to be. Twice the number of shallow encounters. How on earth does America ‘work’ with 18m Presidential elections…

What little that has become clear is which leader has confidence and convincing in what they are saying. Nicola Sturgeon, Nigel Farage and Ruth Davidson are conviction Politicians. Its almost tactile between the fingers. I like a leader to have this “honesty”..hang on this is Politics….”authenticity” is a better word. “Authentic” is not how I would describe David Cameron, Ed Miliband or Nick Clegg. Media trained to anonymity, over thinking, over talking and hell yeah over acting, they just fade to grey. Inside this not-listening media show business.


Never do anything in anger, but this needs impetus. After the Iraq wars we await its election-delayed report from the Chilcot enquiry. After the death of a British biological warfare expert we had the Hutton enquiry. Recently after MP expenses scandal and the prosecutable tabloid phone hacking, bribery and corruption scandal produced the Levison enquiry. Yet one scandal with political and establishment figures at its centre simmers without forthright political will to root-out, expose, prosecute wrong-doers and begin the healing of the victims of the ‘VIP’ child abuse scandal in Westminster. Radio Four’s World at One is investigating this scandal through this week and is not an easy listen. This scandal offends me, that such people live freely without trial or have died without their truth being exposed incinerates any trust I have of Westminster establishments to do what is right and just. Despicable. Where is the Political capital, will power, air cover, determination, authenticity to tackle this? Apparently you won’t find it in the Palaces of Westminster. I used to trust Politicians.

Footnote. Thank you to the people of Galasheils who gave me such a welcome with extraordinarily personalised signs as I wandered across the Lammermuir Hills. How kind.


Eclipse emotion


There is a well-known behaviour people exhibit when experiencing a sense of wonder. We all do it, almost instinctively. But this is not an animal instinct, it is too modern.

View of Witches Crag from Logie Cemetery
View of Witches Crag from Logie Cemetery

What i’m talking about is when people visit an impressive vista or famous landmark and instantly reach for their camera or smartphone to grab a shot (grabshot). This happens often climbing a mountain, cross a bridge high-above a gorge or visit a public artwork in a city centre square. What you see is predictable. Upon arriving at the scene, people will whip out their smartphone, grab a shot, stow the camera, drop their head and off they trot to the next click stop. Like trophy hunting or a dog marking its territory then wandering off to the next marking post.

Why do we do this? What did people do before they carried cameras? Sketch I suppose. Yet sketching or painting is very different. To do it well you need to observe the scene. Think about what composition and colours to record. How does light play over the scene. A landscape photographer has the same concentrated study prior to gear setup. Its often described as being ‘in the moment’ and can be a very thoughtful, deep, often slow and considered process. Another description I like is flow.

Poppy selfie
Poppy selfie

The theory goes like this. To create a visual record of a scene you must first watch it, like the painter. Upon arrival I will stop and watch. Seeing everything from texture, lines, curves, colour, depth, movement, shadow, light and more. Move around to change perspectives and wait. If you understand a scene by being part of it, feeling it more than passing it then something magical can happen. It can be emotional. Its feels like an alternative being takes over and guides you with opportunity to create your own frame of the scene based on that deeper insight. This frame often renders a better study than any grabshot can, but not always! Light can change faster than the photographer can. There are no formulae to great photography, which is why it is challenging and thus rewarding.

This was this choice I faced this morning as a solar eclipse swept across Scotland. Unlike the last total eclipse in 1999, this time the moon would leave her kimono raised slightly exposing only the most anorexic of crescent sun behind. Being aware of the risk of retinal damage while gazing meant I was nervous about exposing my camera sensor to the same fate.

View from Witches Crag
Logie Cemetery in foreground with Wallace Monument, Stirling Castle and City of Stirling in background

Instead of being the ‘Wedding Photographer’ of moon and sun sky-marriage, I chose to experience it. With my faithful muse – Poppy. The fact that it was the birthday of someone special who died seven weeks ago today added to my emotions. I chose to take no camera equipment and to be “in the moment”. To be open, heart racing as celestial events wash over.

So today I was an observer listening with every sense, as the moon cast its shade, cold and quiet.

Then I wept.



  1. I chose a perch on Witches Crag, near Yellowcraig Wood on the Ochil Hills to hopefully see the moon’s shadow move across the plains of the river Forth as it transits across the sun. Alas there is a big difference in eclipse light between 95% and totality.
  2. As peak shade approached, it did darken slightly and got colder by 1 DegC (Thanks StirlingWeather).
  3. The chatter of the birds in the nearby forest did quiet as it darkened, but not silently.
  4. Poppy was restless. She was often seeking assurance, wee mutt!
  5. As light levels dipped, the night lights of nearby businesses lit up. (Sterling Warehouse, something in Dollar and Diageo).
  6. Despite the moon covering 95% of the Sun, I was astounded how much light lit the landscape.
  7. I can grabshot & grab-a-selfie like anyone (smartphone photographs and video straight from the device – Android OnePlus One).
  8. Sometimes man needs to be humbled by the scale of celestial events. Restore our place in the world of worlds to have perspective. Be humble.

UPDATE November 2016: I have rewritten this slightly to remove poor spelling, dumb word choice and over extended phrasing.

See Stirling in Winters Grip