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Wednesday, 28 December 2011


Jack's pipes - Falcon, L & H and Lovat
I had a reply from a pipe-smoking cybaquaintance in the Highlands on Boxing Day. We got into conversation about my stepfather's inveterate pipes, and a picture I'd posted on Flickr. Jack speaks of the small soldier's pipe, with a Birmingham silver hallmark on its band, a 'Q' for 1915, the maker Lister & Hayden, on an Out of Town broadcast [10.24-11.33 in this programme from 1980]. I was half-minded to try one, though not this, and asked David about tobacco, mentioning Jack's favourite - Gallagher's Honeydew. His empty tins are still around for storing small objects:
As for obtaining Gallahers RD's a bugger to find.  Although someone here in the UK will have some squirrelled away unopened.  The nearest replacement I have found is a dark No 7 flake, which is only just reminiscent of the flavour.  The room note though is said to be nothing like the original.  Me?  I would tend to stay away from modified recipes or "second best" tobaccos, as they can never measure up to the originals.  Many tobacconists say "this blend is suited to the person who enjoyed "Liberty Flake." . It has a similar taste and aroma. Erm, sorry.  SIMILAR?  nah...I'll keep away ta all the same. Gallagher's was taken over by Japan Tobacco International and since then ALL their tobacco brands have gone downhill.  Which is why I will never smoke a JTI brand again.
I shall stick to Imperial tobacco (St. Bruno) and my favourite Digger Flake (also Imperial)
I had a hell of a job tracking down Digger Flake (My Father smoked Digger, but in the shag form). But, the nationwide hunt paid off, and I buy it from way down south from a specialist tobacconist.  How long he can get it for I don't know, but when my pension comes through once a month, I try to save some behind so's I can buy a packet. Although Players (who originally made Digger) sold out to Imperial Tobacco, the Digger Flake is still the same recipe as the original.  That was their claim, and I put it to the test.  I took some to my Father, and asked him to smell this "new tobacco" I had found.  He opened the pack., and instantly said "that's Digger...where the hell did you get that?" He fired it up, and that was it.  He was lost!
As for your good self, and what tobacco should you try?  Hmmm.  I would tend to stick with the milder brands.  Condor (the supermarket packets) seem to be mild and easy to try.  But, I shall let you be the judge, as it is JTI tobacco!  I hope not to offend by saying that if anyone was going to recommend you a pipe tobacco, I would suggest an actual tobacconist who knows his stuff.  (pointless asking the kiosk girl in Tesco).
It's because what I would like, or that I have tried that agreed with me, may not be suited to you.  You may roll about in fits of coughing, and then I get bollocked as I was the one who recommended it! Some of the Kendal blends (Samuel Gawith / Gawith & Hoggarth) have some gentle aromatics that are not heavy on the casings.  I find them a bit "soapy" or floral in the taste, but thankfully, I am not alone in that!  They could be the way to start.  Ask for a small sample of say....3 types, and each sample enough for just ONE bowl. (should come to about a fivers worth)...
...Many thanks for your mail. I hope you had a good day yesterday, and that you received some nice things. Although, what do you buy a man who has everything?  A bigger box to keep it all in perhaps? I can only guess what it's like to have family round to visit on Christmas day, as that's something that never happened when I was growing up. My memories of it are just arguing between my Father and Mother as they tried to be civil to each other for one day of the year.  It never worked, and less than halfway through it, someone would just look the wrong way and all hell broke loose. That was the main reasons why my grandparents never came to see us during the Xmas period.  Or anyone else for that matter. So now, Christmas to me is just another day of the year.  But, we (the pooch and I) did go for a longer walk, and it didn't go according to plan.  He has recurring cysts between the toes, and despite being all bandaged up by the vet (after having 2 more removed), he started limping badly 1/2 way into the walk.  Now, in the middle of nowhere, I had to call out a taxi to meet us at the main road to take us home.  My gawd, what a liberty.  They are running at Christmas rates to ferry the folk back and forth to the pubs (don't get me started on why pubs can't close for ONE day a year) So, needless to say, I had to owe the driver money, as what I had on me was not enough. (and I only had £20 on me, the thieving bar steward!).... (This email came with a picture of an attractive chocolate labrador - the one with the recurring paw cysts)
I replied:
Dear David. Lovely read (he'd apologised for such a long email). There’s a good tobacconist in the centre of Birmingham - Hollingsworth. They’re the only outlet for about the only cigarette I smoke - Tor Oriental. I like these, but that wasn’t really my motive for making them my cigarette of choice. It was to stop my children filching my fags. As it is they don’t now because they dislike them but so does everyone else so I hardly ever share a cigarette. This is, in a way, a shame as the passing round of ciggies is part of smoking - especially in difficult times...
...Yes getting people together can be a prescription for proving that ‘hell is other people’. I guess I’ve been fortunate. My wife and I are now and then minded to murder one another. It seems to be part of our condition as humans - to such an extent that when I come across a couple who’ve 'never exchanged a cross word’ I wonder if perhaps they're androids sent from an alien civilisation to spy on the species and work out whether earth might do for a holiday or even a longer stay.
We did have a nice Christmas day. It’s always been a magical time for me. I suspect this is because I pass the whole day (and days before and after) in a cocoon of remembered childhood Christmas’s. Dylan Thomas, probably in the cups that killed him, made up his: 'Years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the colour of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlours, and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse, when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed…'
It’s like the Christmas cards of horses and coaches axle deep in snow the top-hatted passenger wading beside their coach helping the horses through a morass, an inn with a roaring fire twinkling invitingly in the distance. It was in fact quite odd to have two snowy Decembers. and one actual white Christmas, last year and the year before. This year my daughter and my son-in-law, dog Oscar and their two dogs went for a walk in Handsworth Park. 
With Richard, Amy and Guy and the dogs in Handsworth Park
It was near shirtsleeve weather. Not right for Christmas yet my cocoon remained, and with it the old magic. Now I like a sip of two of malt whisky, then some fizzy white wine - Cava or even Champagne with the main meal, turkey, goose fat roast spuds, roast pork with crackling, sprouts, parsnips, bread sauce, apple sauce, stuffing, sausages wrapped in bacon, crackers with silly jokes, party poppers, a jug of steaming gravy. In the room next door is a tall tree covered in lights and decorations surrounded with present still being wrapped in the early hours. No telly. No radio. Just eating and talking, me responsible for topping people’s glasses. So I wonder how it will be next year? Perhaps we’ll be a four generation family. Amy’s tummy’s too large for her to pull up to the table. ...After a while having benefited from all the work done by Linda I collect plates - putting down the gravy ones for the dogs to lick, careful to remove the bones. I start on washing up. Then I’m sitting again waiting for the room lights to go off and the Christmas pudding to be drenched in brandy and set alight - blue flames in semi-darkness. The pudding rich with dried fruit and walnuts, made a year ago, has been steeped a fortnight in brandy. Now it comes with helpings of advocaat, brandy butter, amaretto cream and brandy cream mingling in our bowls.
We sit around replete some having tea and coffee, even some Bailey’s and more brandy in globe glasses and cigarettes for those who smoke. Poor Amy being pregnant is teetotal and non-smoking for the duration - and so can drive Guy her husband home later.
So next door where there’s a log fire burning a mix of wood and smokeless coal. In this weather it’s rather too warm in there. Present unwrapping begins…lots of simple inexpensive stuff - socks, handkerchiefs, long johns, but also chocolates, books and small gadgets, Phone calls to and from distant relatives, a skype to New Zealand where they’re just getting up on Boxing Day….
I hope the dog stops getting those cysts. it really messes up a good walk. I guess I could carry Oscar. I’d have to as round here few taxi-drivers will carry a dog as, being Muslim - the driver that is - a dog will make their cab seriously unclean, as well as leaving hairs on the upholstery. I’ve little time for fear of dogs having lived with them all my life. It was Konrad Lorenz who said it was so cruel they live such short lives compared to us. Have you come across his book? King Solomon’s Ring. A ring that gave Solomon the same talent as Dr Doolittle. I read that as a child, passed on by Jack. Little illustrations in the margins. Not just dogs but geese and jackdaws - my favourite bird. Lorenz didn’t get to speak a different language but he did see how sound and movement and other behaviours in animals communicated meanings easily missed.
Jackdaws 'The Perennial Retainers'
A page from King Solomon's Ring
I appreciate the advice on pipes, and tobacco for them. Perhaps I’ll try one of those pipes in the picture - two of them still unused; part of J’s reserves at the time of his death. I’ve been putting roofing felt on the veranda I’ve added to my allotment shed, painting black treacle to stick it on the plywood. I had to clamber on the shed roof to get at some of the surface to be prepared. It’s then I think of daft accidents “He broke his neck falling off the roof of his shed” Do I want that in the Christmas memories of my descendants? So extra careful. That said Lin and kids would get a hell of a good pay-off in accident insurance. No i’m enjoying life too much to be so altruistic and it would be such an idiotic accident the assessor would get suspicious. I take your point about trying out a pipe under the veranda. 
I added a veranda to our shed
Chocolate lab is a handsome beast. Digger’s a good name. The Australians have some good words. I like 'fair dinkum' for a good bloke which is itself Oz in origin. What about ‘flash as a rat with a gold tooth’? I like ‘chook’ for ‘chicken' too. But it’d be tricky to beat ’thick as a pound of mince’.  Is that Scots? My father-in-law from Cannock, ex-miner (I married deep into the working classes despite one of the best private educations my parents and their parents could buy me. so’s to have a chance of surviving the next revolution) has a fine line in phrases. Have you come across “It’s a bit black over Bill’s mother’s”? Another way of suggesting it’d make sense to get the washing in. Also “What day is it?” “Wednesday - all day”.
Your praise and flattery…"I watched the development of the allotments - right back to your telly interview and programme starting your fight to save them.  I shall buy whatever potion you use, as you haven't changed a bit since that was made.” Well yes and no. My knees are creaky. My teeth are a disgrace. I get a bad back now and then. My mum - did I mention it before - said “getting old isn’t for the young.”  She’s 95 in February.
On Thursday I’m taking the train, as I often do, to the Highlands with Oscar to stay with her for 10 days. Much as I love my family here I so like being in the Highlands, noting the slowing of the train as it climbs to Drumochter, past the Sow of Atholl and Boar of Badenoch. It’ll be dark by the time I’m there but I’ll see them on the way south, where the rivers run north then, in a hundred yards, are running south.

I remember when they added another steam engine at Perth for the climb to the pass on the single track through Pitlochry, Blair Atholl, Dalwhinnie, Kingussie, Newtonmore, Aviemore, Carrbridge, over Slochd Summit…after which Oscar sensing train speeding downhill starts yapping and whimpering, realising he’ll soon be with his girlfriends (mum’s two Border terriers) in Strathnairn
I’ve never been to Banff. My Scottish orbit is thirty miles around Inverness - Findhorn, Alvie (where our daughter was wed May before last), Cromarty, Beauly, Strathpeffer, Drumnadrochit. I know and love so many special places around there.  A few years back Amy and I cycled from Aberdeen along that coast but we hit the sea at Buckie. Rain rain rain and lots of seals. Happy New Year. Best wishes and thanks for your long letter. Simon
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Before Lin took her parents home to Cannock this afternoon they came to visit the allotment.
Arthur, Dorothy, Oscar and Simon on Plot 14

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I've just been shown this:
Hi all, I am delighted to reveal the fruits of Kaleidoscope's annual Raiders of the Lost Archives initiative. It's a PDF so please follow the link to see all the gems recovered this past 12 months by Kal along with the BBC, ITV, BFI and missing episodes enthusiasts...
Search the PDF file linked for 'Out of Town' and see under the section 'MATERIAL CATALOGUED AND RE-LOCATED AFTER BEING BELIEVED WIPED'

1 comment:

  1. Readers might not be aware of the Tsaloumas collection published by Shoestring Press (UK).
    It's called "Stoneland Harvest". John Lucas, who started Shoestring Press, has strong links with Greece and Australia.
    He has also published collections by Glyn Hughes- as well as by some less well known Greek poets.
    Thanks, Jim


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