Saturday, 19 August 2017

Another waste of money - my still-quite-new Philips lady shaver

After years of using a wet razor on my legs, armpits and other areas - with great success, I might say - in the spring of 2015 something changed, and the wet razor began to chafe my skin and make it feel raw. It was a Gillette Venus ladies' razor. Looking back, it may have been simply that I was pressing the thing too hard onto the skin, in an attempt to get the very best hair-removal possible. But at the time I thought my skin had become thin and easily-damaged. When a friend suggested, while I was in Scotland on holiday, that I buy an electric razor I acted without much hesitation. On 9th June 2015 I bought a Philips Ladyshave rechargeable electric razor from Boots in Dunfermaline. It cost me £22.49.

And it did seem gentler on my skin. It buzzed a lot - what would the other caravanners think? - but it got the job done without creating a rash - or the odd cut - although not noticeably faster than the wet razor. It was nice to think that I wouldn't be spending money on wet razor refills any more, as those weren't exactly cheap to buy. It was a minor bind having to clean the thing with a brush, and recharge it at intervals, but I got into a routine so that it was never clogged up nor out of power.

That Philips Ladyshave razor and myself did well together. Nevertheless, I preserved my wet-shaving stuff - the Venus razor, a box of refills, and a canister of gel (which foamed when spread over wet skin). A wise precaution, as it has turned out!

The honeymoon ended in May this year. One of the fragile-looking shaving heads (which vibrated beneath a perforated foil, to chop off hairs) fell apart. That was it. Game over. I felt disinclined to dig out the wet shaving equipment, so I decided to buy another electric razor.

A good long search on the internet didn't throw up any obvious choices in the women's shaver line. The user reviews weren't consistently terrific for any model. The nicest-looking was another Philips model, more expensive than the one that had just let me down. Remington had one that might be just as good.

I couldn't tell from the various websites which was the better buy. So rather than order online, I went off to a big, well-stocked Boots on the northern outskirts of Worthing, to see the stock and make up my mind there. This was on 10th May this year, about three months ago. They had the Philips razor I was considering at £46.66 - a big discount on the average online price of £70. It seemed a no-brainer. I bought it. At home, it struck me as quieter and gentler than the previous Philips electric razor, and gave a smoother result. It was kind to my skin. I was very pleased. It was no less of a fiddle to brush clean, but the better rechargeable battery lasted a lot longer on one charge. Not that it really mattered, but this new razor was nice to hold and elegantly styled. Here it is:

But it has all gone wrong. The thing has an Achilles' Heel. The two foils in the shaving head are thin - too thin - and damage easily. If you press too much, they might well kink along a line of perforations. Anticipating this, I haven't been pressing too much. But nevertheless in two places adjacent perforations have lost the tiny bridges of foil in between them, and have become a small hole in the foil, so that the vibrating head underneath gets a chance to nick the skin minutely. I began to notice this a few days ago. I got out a magnifying glass and saw clearly what was happening.

The unwanted holes were very small, but big enough to cause discomfort and some localised redness on the skin. And they would only get larger. So I stopped using the razor. What to do next?

Another foil? I went online. No obvious place to buy replacement foils for this particular razor. I sent an email to Philips UK, explaining the problem and asking where I could get new foils from, as they didn't sell them on their own website. A day or so later - this was yesterday now - they came back to me with the precise part number (422203631441) and said that all their accessories were obtainable through a third-party retailer called Olympic. Really? Why weren't you selling them direct? Oh well. I found Olympic's website, popped in the part number, and got this:

What? £20 for a new foil? And in any case, it was OUT OF STOCK. Brilliant. There was no other source. I was completely stymied.

So a second Philips electric ladies' razor had bit the dust. The second in two years.

The shaver itself was still quite new. Over lunch yesterday a friend said 'It'll be under guarantee! In any case, just take it back to Boots. They ought to say sorry, and give you a new one.' Yes, that was certainly an option. Back home, I looked for the purchase receipt. Surely I did keep it? But I couldn't find it. Well, that put paid to invoking the guarantee or making an approach to the retailer! But in any case, getting an exchange model wouldn't address the fatal defect. Even if I came away with a brand-new razor, I'd have a replay of all this three months down the line.

I could of course try another make. Remington, for instance.

Back home, I remembered that I still had my wet-shaving equipment. I dug it out. I found a spot that could do with a shave and gave it a trial, without using any pressure on the skin.

Hmmm. That was a good result. And with only one light pass over the skin - not going over it again and again as you might with an electric razor. And I had plenty of refills, so there was nothing to spend for some time ahead.

So I've gone back to wet shaving, at least for now. It isn't cheap. I shall run out of gel quite quickly, and those refills are a shocking price. But wet shaving, though a bit messy, is reliable. And doesn't assault the ears. And, done with care, can be OK even with sensitive skin.

I certainly haven't saved money in the last two years with my two electric shaver purchases. £63-odd down the drain! I am not amused.

Immediate sequel
Well, within a very few hours of writing the post above, I bought another electric razor. Not a Philips! Oh no. I won't be buying from them again. This time it's a Remington Smooth & Silky Cordless Ladyshaver. I just happened to be passing Boots in Uckfield, went in, and there it was. It wasn't on offer - but that might actually be a good sign. Worthwhile things never have to be sold off cheaply. The price was in fact £34.99.

Unpacked at home, I noticed that the build seemed more robust. A quick test established that it trimmed unwanted hairs very well; I could hardly feel it on my skin.

The Philips razor had a lithium-ion battery, which charged fast and lasted ages. This one has a battery of the older type, and will need longer and more frequent charging. The Philips went buzzzzz. The Remington goes BUZZZZZ. It's definitely louder. So I won't be able to hear my music over the drone, and goodness knows what anyone within earshot will make of the noise. On the other hand, if it is a more efficient shaver, it won't have to make a racket for long.

I still have my Gillette Venus wet-shaving equipment on hand as a standby. I'll take both kinds of shaving gear on holiday next month. I see an Armpit Challenge - and a post - coming up.

And this time I've preserved the purchase receipt carefully!

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Probably a complete waste of money

If maps bore you, look away now!

I both use and collect Ordnance Survey maps, the 1:25,000 scale being my favourite. This scale was introduced by the OS after the Second World War, to fill a big gap in scales between the One-inch maps at 1:63,360 (which later became the 1:50,000 Landranger series) and the Six-inch maps at 1:10,560 (which later became 1:10,000).

I have an impressive collection of paper 1:25,000 maps, with examples going back to 1946. The latest version of these is known as the Explorer series. They are perfect for looking at a small area in great detail, with obvious local history applications. They have always been the walker's map as well, for the detail includes such things as field boundaries, and small buildings, and all paths and streams. But this level of detail is also useful for general getting about, not just for ramblers. I like to have 1:25,000 mapping for every area I am likely to visit during the year, plus other areas that interest me for one reason or another.

In recent years I have stopped buying paper maps, preferring to install a digital version on my phone and laptop. Some time ago I discovered the OS's MapFinder application, which let you buy, download, install and view 1:25,000 Explorer mapping. Each map cost only £1.99 - or just £1.49 if a the map included a lot of empty sea. For this modest amount you got a 10km x 10km square of mapping - that's 100 square kilometres - known as a 'tile'. It really was quite painless to buy a few tiles at a time. I started about two years ago, and soon built up a collection that now covers all of South-West, South and South-East England, with the exception of the Thames Valley, London and Kent. I also have a few map tiles for parts of Wales, North-east England and Scotland.

The bulk of my purchases were in 2015 and 2016, but I've added a few more still during 2017.

I now have exactly 500 digital tiles. The total cost of these comes to £935.03. That's only £1.87 per tile on average. I'd have spent less if I'd bought the seventy-odd paper maps for all the areas covered by that £935, then downloaded the free digital version that now comes with every paper map. But that would have two downsides:

1. I haven't the shelf space to store another seventy-odd new paper maps, which I am not likely to look at once I've downloaded the free digital version.
2. Crucially, the free digital version of these paper maps isn't high-definition. Meaning that you can't magnify the map very much on the phone.

The maps bought and viewed with the OS's MapFinder app are high-definition, and you can magnify them as much as you please, and without the detail getting fuzzy. That's such a big advantage. It's the number one reason by far why I've continued to load them onto the phone, despite becoming aware during 2016 that the OS were no longer developing their MapFinder app. I thought that meant only that users wouldn't be able to share marked routes and so forth, which didn't affect my own usage at all. But I now think it means the OS have stopped maintaining the app entirely, effectively abandoning it. If so, it will certainly stop working at some point, maybe when Samsung phones upgrade to Android O later this year. When MapFinder stops working, I won't be able to access my 500 map tiles, and that £935 will become wasted money.

The strange thing is, you can still download and install MapFinder from the Google Play Store. That really does seem odd, if the app is officially a dead duck! It's inviting people to spend money uselessly.

Mind you, it may be that the app is already crippled, so that you can't actually buy maps with it any longer, only view whatever you have installed. I say this, because although I successfully added a batch of maps at the start of August, I can't any longer. Selecting the 'Buy Maps' option just makes the app crash. It seems that I am stuck with the 500 I have managed to install, and can never now add more.

It has crossed my mind that perhaps the original development parameters did not envisage a person ever buying as many as 500 tiles. Only a very few people with particular needs would do so. They were presumably ignored when allocating money for the development of MapFinder, and a 500-tile upper limit was arbitrarily set. Well, if so, I've hit that limit.

For now, I can still view my 500 tiles - and very useful they are, especially in high definition! But for how much longer? I'm already considering alternatives.

The most obvious alternative (as I already have a longstanding account with them) is to look at Memory-Map's offerings. It's tempting to get their All-GB Explorer mapping - the entire country at 1:25,000 as a one-off purchase - which incidentally means that it can be installed onto the microSD card in my phone:

There you are. £275 to get a USB stick through the post, to plug into my laptop and have all of the country at 1:25,000. Then to copy the lot to Tigerlily, and have all of the country on two mobile devices. Oh wow! For just £275! That is such good value for money.

I won't do anything just yet. So long as I can use the MapFinder app, I might as well stick with it. If it remains viewable for a couple of years more, then I won't feel so bad about spending that £953, because I'll be getting proper use out of the map tiles I bought. But one day the app will fail. And that'll be well before the maps in question would ever have become seriously out-of-date. At that moment - if not before - I will pop over to the Memory-Map website and get myself a better deal.

Do I feel annoyed with the OS? Yes, I do, although I'm just as annoyed with myself.

In their defence:

# They did announce back in 2016 that MapFinder was being nudged aside in favour of a newer app. The current notice on the relevant webpage (look closely at the opening image) makes it clear what the deal now is.
# I didn't have to install MapFinder, nor did I have to go on buying more and more maps for that app, even if the high-definition feature was in practice irresistible.
# I have in fact used the maps purchased, and to that extent I'm a satisfied customer. (I can't see myself clamouring for a refund or anything like that)

I can absorb the cost of those 500 map tiles. I can shrug my shoulders. Many other people won't be able to. So I say that the OS was very wrong not to withdraw the map-purchasing facility back in 2016. There must be thousands of people around who have a collection of these Explorer map tiles installed, and count on the continued good health of MapFinder. They are going to be very miffed one day soon. I can see this coming up on BBC Radio 4's consumer programme You and Yours. The fallout won't do the OS's reputation any good.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Elvis Presley - Always On My Mind

So, it's the fortieth anniversary today of Elvis Presley's death. I remember the news breaking in 1977. It came as something of a relief, for he seemed to have gone fatally downhill and the news wasn't at all unexpected. Now it was over. We could breathe again. But also a matter for profound regret, as you felt that if only he could have pulled himself together, got fit, and reinvented himself, he would be all set for a new phase in his already long career. For in 1977 he was still only forty-two.

Almost instantly there was a tribute record in the charts, by someone called Danny Mirror - clearly a made-up name! - titled I Remember Elvis Presley. I bought the single. I still have it in my attic. It may be a collector's item now, even though the single caught the mood and sold very well, quickly reaching number 4 in the UK pop charts. But I don't think many copies will have come through the last forty years.

Coincidentally I was playing the mp3 version only yesterday morning on my phone, in the bathroom, while at my ablutions. This is my unfailing daily habit, to play each morning a little of the pop music that has soundtracked my life. I have 1,500-odd tracks installed on my phone, and play them in alphabetical order, not at random, and not bothering with playlists. It takes about two months to work through the song titles from A to Z, and each time it's different, because I will have added a few new tracks, making it impossible to guess what comes next. I'd heard A to H over the last month, and was now part-way through I. It was a pleasurable surprise to hear the Danny Mirror song while cleaning my teeth. And now even more of a surprise, when realising the significance of today.

The Danny Mirror song is unashamedly sentimental about Elvis Presley, but it's well done. It's basically a set of nostalgic lyrics built upon a pastiche of Elvis's earlier songs. The words are these:

Last night I turned the radio on for the midnight news.
Suddenly I thought I died of a broken heart
When I heard the announcer say:


[Singing now]
I remember Elvis Presley,
Lord, how I love to hear him sing!
So I'll adore him just forever,
For he's the one and only King.

I remember Elvis Presley,
And he won't ever set me free.
Like he was singing 'Now Or Never',
He's just a golden memory.

Good luck charm is not forever.
Good luck songs we need 'em ever.
Again, again I'll play your songs,
'Cause in my mind you haven't gone.

Are you lonesome tonight?
Do you miss him tonight?
Tell me, dear, are you lonesome tonight?

I remember Elvis Presley,
Lord, how I love to hear him sing!
So I'll adore him just forever,
For he's the one and only King

I remember Elvis Presley,
And he won't ever set me free,
Like he was singing 'Now Or Never'
He's just a golden memory.

My dear friend, I won't forget you.
When I need you I can hear you.
King, though I don't know where or when,
There'll be a day we'll meet again.

Wise man say
Only fools rush in.
But I can't help falling in love again...

Elvis Presley,
I wanna thank you for all the happiness you gave so many people
All over the world during many, many years.
I remember the DJ was playing 'Jailhouse Rock'
When I had my first date with a beautiful girl,
And since that evening you've been my friend, Elvis.

[Singing again]
I remember Elvis Presley,
Lord, how I love to hear him sing!
So I'll adore him just forever,
He's just a golden memory.

Personally, I think Danny Mirror sings 'Mighty friend...' and not 'My dear friend...' in the seventh verse. Either work well, of course. He mimics Elvis's voice extremely well. It's all utterly commercial, but nevertheless one of the best tribute recordings I have ever heard.

I have nine of Elvis's own songs on my phone - my 'Elvis Credentials' as it were:

Heartbreak Hotel (1956)
Love Me Tender (1956)
It's Now Or Never (1960)
Are You Lonesome Tonight? (1960)
If I Can Dream (1968)
In The Ghetto (1969)
Suspicious Minds (1969)
The Wonder Of You (1970)
Always On My Mind (1972)

To put this in personal context, I was only four in 1956, and still only eighteen in 1970. I was vaguely aware of Elvis by 1960, but his early songs really passed over my head. I was too young for Rock ' Roll, and too young for the first part of Elvis's singing career. By the late 1960s, he had already become a legend, though not entirely for the right reasons, as there were personal and career problems galore, and as ever the media bit into him like sharks. Another thing was that his dip into the film world hadn't done him any favours. A series of lightweight films with bubblegum plots had turned him into a cardboard figure. They made him seem ridiculous. I never saw any of them, not wishing to tarnish my personal respect for his singing talent. But the person I married back in 1983 was an admirer of his 1961 film Blue Hawaii, and once made a point of staying at the very hotel (the Coco Palms) that was used for the filming. It was all true: I saw the photos.

The later films did less well for his image. It became acceptable to poke fun at him. I remember listening to the Kenny Everett Show on BBC Radio 1 in 1969, and how Kenny mocked the ending of Suspicious Minds - a pretty good song, in my own estimation - because it faded, then returned again before a final fade. He thought that odd, and worth making a joke about. 'Well, there he goes...goodbye and good riddance, Elvis...oh no! He hasn't gone...he's coming back!' Clearly Kenny Everett did not revere the King. But then he was disrespectful of many a recording artist, calling Bobby Gentry 'Old Trouser-Suits' for instance.

It was good to see Elvis gain credibility again with a string of big hits in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This is my favourite era for him. He seemed to have matured, and the songs dealt with some difficult relationship and societal issues. This was however a last flowering of his talent. The self-destruct button had already been pressed.

As he passed into his 'White Suit' phase - the white stage costume that all Elvis imitators and tribute performers now wear - he seemed like a man who was trying to burn himself out, reputedly fuelled by drugs. He wasn't so handsome when he died in 1977. He really was puffy and bloated, though this physical state surely wasn't irretrievable. A spot of rehab, a relaunch: it might have gone well. I can believe that millions were genuinely shocked by the awful news, even if deep down they had all seen it coming. I can also believe that many cried: the men who had (like Danny Mirror) admired and copied his smooth-faced but raunchy image when young, curled lipped smile included; and the women who had fallen for his smooth-faced but raunchy charms, curled lipped smile included, whether it was a contrived persona or not.

In the years that followed, his life was examined. It was already public knowledge that his manager, Colonel Parker, had over-controlled his career and had largely been responsible for how Elvis's public image had developed. His domestic troubles were also well-known. Rumours of other things were heard, such as Elvis's burning desire to be an agent for the FBI, odd things that might or might not be true. You got the impression of an uncomplicated man, a idealistic patriot who placed a simple but unwarranted trust in many people and institutions, but was still in the end killed off by the enormous stresses of his profession.

The legend, forty years on, must be fading somewhat. I don't see how modern young people can relate to Elvis, nor find anything in his career that would be relevant to their lives. Even the songs, as good as they are, probably can't strike a chord. You have to be old enough to have known him as a living performer to 'get' Elvis now. Unless you were actually around at the time, it's impossible to know what it was like when a new Elvis song entered the charts, or a new rumour about him gained currency. Certainly you can't recall the trauma of his death in 1977.

He is among that pantheon of artists who are famous as much for dying as for what they did while alive. People such as Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix and Michael Jackson. It's strange that the myth of his survival persists - that his 1977 death was faked - which suggests that something else is going on. This myth is generally treated nowadays as rather a joke, but not entirely in some quarters. You can indeed imagine someone famous beyond expectations or endurance wanting to quit, to drop out, to disappear, and live the second half of their life secretly - well away from show-biz and the demanding crowds. But Elvis? No, I don't think so. In any case, he'd be a frail eighty-two now, even if still alive. He won't have been in suspended animation, to emerge some day as he was in his prime, still raunchy and curled-lipped.

The songs, and therefore the distinctive voice, remain. Hmm. If I linger a long time in the bathroom today (yes, yes, it's nearly 10.00am, and I'm still sitting here in my nightie) I might get to hear If I Can Dream and In The Ghetto...

Monday, 14 August 2017

Strategic numbering

I'm no mathematician, but I do notice numbers, especially when driving around. I once had a car with a registration F807 FGT. Even though in holiday mode, something about my brain allowed me to glimpse and recognise the number plate F808 FGT when driving along the seafront at Woolacombe in Devon. I screeched to a halt and took some photos. Here they are:

That was on 10th May 1995. It seemed a remarkable feat, to have spotted the next number in the registration sequence. But I could probably do the same now, twenty-two years later. One's powers of recognition can be truly amazing.

You could of course say that it was more a case of spotting a pattern, rather than any particular sensitivity to number-symbols. But in my travels I do often encounter roads with numbers that get me wondering why did they give this road that number? What was the thinking, or scheme, behind it?

There are roads in this country that carry the same number for an extraordinary distance, without any obvious reason for it. They link places with no obvious connection. I don't mean the long radial roads that start in London, like the A1. I mean cross-country roads like the A34, which for some reason links Winchester in Hampshire with Manchester in the North. Yet these towns have nothing in common. Or the A38, which links Bodmin in Cornwall with Mansfield in Nottinghamshire. Again, chalk and cheese, nothing in common.

Whatever the original reason for giving the same number to such a length of road, it has been completely superseded by building the motorway system, and introducing the alternative modern notion of Primary Routes. But many of these old long-distance numberings persist. It's strange to be in the Midlands, and come across a road one normally associates with the West of England.

I won't make too much of all this, but it is striking how a clutch of East Coast seaside resorts are all on the end of very long numbered roads that begin far away. Here are three of the longest:

A46 Bath to Cleethorpes
A47 Nuneaton to Great Yarmouth
A52 Stoke-on-Trent to Skegness and Mablethorpe

Not quite so long are:

A64 Leeds to Scarborough
A614 Blyth to Bridlington

Curiously, the West Coast seaside resorts don't get this treatment. The A49 does not go all the way from Ross-on-Wye to Blackpool, for instance - although the A49 does actually get into Lancashire, petering out just south of Preston. Nor does a long-distance route reach the South Coast. You can't get on the A61 and go all the way from Thirsk to Bournemouth: it stops short at Derby.

Why is it just those particular East Coast resorts?

Perhaps there was once a Secret Government Committee that decided to create a network of long-distance road routes that would channel Northern holidaymakers towards an East Coast destination - and not elsewhere. In other words, divert all those rough Northerners away from the genteel resorts of the South. 'What, Wakes Week workers at Eastbourne! Or Torquay? Good Lord, no! Let them all go to Mablethorpe!' True or not, it would have been an example of Strategic Planning. You can imagine the posters. 'Sunny Skegness for fun and frolics! The best sands on the East Coast! Just pick up the A52 and follow it! That's all you have to do. No maps required.' That sort of thinking. I wonder if it ever worked.

Decades later, these long-distance Holiday Routes are still there, their original convenience (if they ever were convenient, that is) long forgotten, because other roads - motorways especially - will get you there much faster. To follow the bucolic serpent-windings of these old routes is to savour a motoring experience from another age. Some do have sections upgraded to near motorway-standard, but mostly they are two-lane, and quiet, and only for those who have plenty of leisure time. Such as older men with pipes, who drive cherished old roadsters, and wear cravats.

It doesn't have to be one of the roads already mentioned above. Why not try the A361 instead? It starts at Ilfracombe in North Devon and finishes in the Midlands south-east of Rugby, traversing some very nice countryside. Allow for an overnight stop, though.

If you want to be really, really nerdy about road numbers, and the fascinating history of road numbering, the website of SABRE is just what you need. See I urge you to check out their Wiki section.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

A nice evening drive in the Lake District

The Lake District contains - arguably - England's finest mountain and lake scenery. Certainly Alfred Wainwright devoted his whole adult life to walking it, sketching it, and producing a series of classic pictorial fell-walking guidebooks that are surely, in their own way, part of the canon of English literature. But of course, poets and painters and photographers have also been inspired by the high crags, deep valleys and mirror-waters of this post-glacial landscape.

It's not only fine walking country (for the fit!). The keen driver can have satisfaction here too. There are for instance several high passes that involve some exciting driving - one or two of them strictly for cars with good, trusted powerplants under the bonnet and brakes in tip-top condition.

In this post, I am going to describe a nice little drive I discovered on my last holiday. At least, I discovered the outward half. The return section, though very driveable, wasn't new to me. It begins and ends at Keswick. It goes west on a minor road over a steep pass to Buttermere, then back on the B5289 via the slightly easier and less steep Honister Pass.

This is the first map section, to help explain the route:

Actually, I set out from the Troutbeck Head Caravan and Motorhome Club site, some miles to the east of Keswick, and turned off the A66 just beyond Keswick, starting my journey proper at Portinscale. The route then heads generally south-west via Swinside, Stair and Birkrigg. It's up and down and bendy, but nothing to what lies ahead.

But first I'd better set the scene. I'd arrived at Troutbeck Head that very afternoon from Scotland, and after a rest had devoured this steak meal:

With that inside me, I was fortified for an evening out in the mountains. The weather was dry but somewhat overcast. I might, or might not, see a good sunset. The thing is, if you want to see a Lake District sunset to its best advantage, you've got to make the effort, and get out into the hills. After a long drive from Fife, another same-day session behind the wheel felt like 'making the effort'!

But as I left Stair and the narrow road began to climb, I felt amply rewarded. Great scenery came into view. Not the most spectacular the Lake District can show, but good enough to stop and admire.

As you can see, there was a breeze, but it wasn't yet uncomfortably cool. Here's the route over the pass and down to Buttermere village:

Note the steepness of the road either side of the pass. I haven't yet 'done' the infamous Hardknott Pass further south, but I'm sure this one must be much the same challenge to a small-engined car. Even Fiona had to work a bit. I gave her a rest when just over the summit.

This was the view straight ahead, towards Buttermere village (and you can just make out the south-eastern end of Crummock Water):

And this was the view sideways from the driver's seat, a few yards further on. The craggy fell in the distance is Wandope.

And so down to Buttermere village, which lies on the neck of land between Buttermere lake and Crummock Water. Sheep take priority on the road, and this ewe and her lamb resolutely refused to yield, and I could only follow slowly them till the passing whims of a sheep's brain led them off the road:

I first saw the Lake District (in person, that is) only in 2006, only eleven years ago, and I haven't yet been to all of it by any means, the chief omissions being the western, south-western and southern parts. It follows then that I haven't seen all of the main lakes. Here's a list of what's in the bag so far, in order of first sight (in the manner of stout Cortez, with wild surmise, silent upon a peak in Darien):

Ullswater 2006
Derwent Water 2006
Buttermere 2006
Crummock Water 2006
Windermere 2013
Thirlmere 2015
Bassenthwaite Lake 2017

Which leaves these remaining big lakes. It will doubtless require elephants, and pith helmets, and harpoons, and machetes, to hack a way through the jungle to them:

Ennerdale Water
Wast Water
Coniston Water

And having ticked all those off, there remain most of the smaller lakes to see, although I can claim credit for seeking out little gems like Blea Tarn. Here it is, as taken in 2013, with the Langdale Pikes on the skyline.

I'm definitely a lake woman rather than a mountain woman (sorry, Mr Wainwright), but there's no denying that mountains enhance a lake's beauty. Which lakes in the Lake District do I presently like the best? With no hesitation, I can say Ullswater, Buttermere and Crummock Water, all of them northern lakes, and all the first ever seen. Ullswater has a vast mysterious stillness, which I hope I've captured in these shots from 2006 and 2013:

More of Crummock Water and Buttermere in a moment. Here's another map, to show the lie of the land from Buttermere village.

I now intended to drive on to Crummock Water and park at its southern end, at the 'B' of B5289 on the map, halfway between Hause Point and Wood House. This is a popular though unofficial place to pull off the road. It's probably hopeless to try parking there during the day, especially in the summer, but in the evening the prospects are better, and I had no trouble on this occasion. I wanted to get out of the car and walk a bit, to a spot last visited in 2006, in another life. 

The evening was advancing, and it was growing distinctly dusky. But I felt safe enough. There was a group of people enjoying an open-air barbecue on the immediate shoreline. This was their boat. 

They would surely come to my aid if a mad axeman chose to attack! So I walked on confidently. It was still overcast. My photos wouldn't be all that good. I knew that some of them would have to be worked on. Here are two that had their colours changed. Some people like this kind of thing, some don't. I got the effect I wanted, but don't claim it's art.

My objective was a small lakeside wood full of slender, twisted willow branches, and the lonely shore beyond that. The willows were just as I saw them in 2006. They were just as contorted. Then:

And now:

In my mind's eye I could picture such willows on a Chinese or Japanese vase. Why not turn one of the shots into a blue-and-white willow pattern?

VoilĂ ! All done with a smartphone shot and a few tweaks using a Curves tool. Simple peasant folk have been doing this for centuries.

In 2006 there was a short stone jetty on the shore beyond the wood. It was soothing to walk out onto it, and take in the gently lapping water, and the view north-west towards Mellbreak:

Eleven years on, the water was still gently-lapping. I went out onto the jetty. By now it was getting late, and a bit chilly. The new cardigan bought in Pitlochry kept me warm. Looking down, I saw a lake god reflected in the ripples.

There was potentially more to see, and if really keen one could have embarked on an extended walk out to the west. In 2006, with something of a blue afternoon sky, views like this were available:

The glaciers departed a hundred thousand years ago, but the scrape marks are still there. That was 2006. In 2017 it was starting to get a little more than dusky. Time to get back to the car.

The barbecue fire on the foreshore was now a glowing red flicker in the fading light. Nobody looked up as I passed. Perhaps they couldn't see me. Just as well I encountered no lurking axemen, then. Turning Fiona around, I drove back through Buttermere village and along the north shore of Buttermere lake. Impressive mountains, including Red Pike, High Stile, High Crag and Haystacks were in view across the lake, off to my right.

Haystacks was of course Alfred Wainwright's favourite mountain, in his view possessing the perfect combination of features (including a particular little unnamed tarn) and wide views from the top, even though it isn't by any means the highest fell in the Lake District. When he died, his ashes were scattered on the top of Haystacks, in accordance with his longstanding wish. It's no coincidence, I feel, that Haystacks and its mountainous neighbours are reserved for Book Seven, the last book, in his famous fell-walking series that took thirteen years to complete. In the handwritten notes written at Christmas 1965, at the end of Book Seven, The Western Fells (I have my own copy, found in a Worthing second-hand bookshop in 2007), he pulls it all together and reveals his opinion on such things as what is the 'best fell' - not an easy thing to do. In the main part of the Book he had much to say about the summit of Haystacks:

...for sheer beauty, variety and interesting detail, for sheer fascination and unique individuality, the summit-area of Haystacks is supreme. This is in fact the best fell-top of all - a place of great charm and fairyland attractiveness. Seen from a distance, these qualities are not suspected; indeed, on the contrary, the appearance of Haystacks is almost repellent when viewed from the higher surrounding peaks: black are its bones and black is its flesh. With its thick covering of heather it is dark and sombre even when the sun sparkles the waters of its many tarns, gloomy and mysterious even under a blue sky. There are fierce crags and rough screes and outcrops that will be grittier still when the author's ashes are scattered here.

Yes, the combination of features, of tarn and tor, of cliff and cove, the labyrinth of corners and recesses, the maze of old sheepwalks and paths, form a design, or lack of design, of singular appeal and absorbing interest. One can forget even a raging toothache on Haystacks. 

Elsewhere - I can't find it, but it's somewhere in his books - he asks that after he has gone, future visitors take care when treading around the summit of Haystacks, and not be irritated by any grit that may get into their boots while up there, 'because it may be me'.

That was High Stile (right) and High Crag (left) in my shot above, with Buttermere lake at the bottom. The forbidding black mountain in the centre of the next shot was Haystacks:

Dropping the eyes to the lake itself, this was its south-eastern end. I really liked the fringe of trees on the shoreline here. They had great character.

From here, Fiona faced the winding climb on the B5289 up a valley strewn with boulders moved about then abandoned by the retreating local glacier. It was getting too dark for an effective shot, but I can show this one from 2006:

And so on, up and over the Honister Pass and then down to the villages of Seatoller and Rosthwaite. Another map:

From here, the B5289 was not so adventurous, but it did pass through the bosky woods of Borrowdale and along the shore of pretty Derwent Water. Mind you, the Derwent Water section was frustrating. Lake views were masked by the woods, and there were not many car parks to pull into. And then, suddenly, it was Keswick again and the busy A66.

But something was happening with the sky. The dullness was being pierced by light. I was going to see a sunset after all! On a hunch, I took Fiona up a minor road just to the north of Keswick, and stopped a bit short of Ormathwaite. In the shadow of mighty Skiddaw, so to speak. I shot this:

It looked exactly as if a fire were raging on the foothills of Skiddaw. An odd sunset indeed! But it bore out my assertion that making an effort will bring its reward. I couldn't have seen this from Troutbeck Head.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Pitlochry - Tartan City

I'm probably exaggerating, but from what I've seen Pitlochry in the Scottish Highlands has a fair claim to be called Tartan City. This is a tourist town that sells the Highlands to you big time. That's not a criticism: I went there last June and liked the place, and wished that I'd had more time to look around it. And I dare say there are many other places that live off tourists, and plug clans and tartans and all the traditional regalia of Scotland for all they are worth. Good luck to them.

I went to Pitlochry rather on the spur of the moment. After seven years, the Xenon light bulb in Fiona's nearside headlight had finally blown. The handbook warned against a do-it-yourself fix. This was high-voltage stuff, apparently, and a skilled hand was needed. That meant a big bill, of course, but I shrugged my shoulders and looked up where the most convenient Volvo dealer might be. Ah, Perth. The dealer was called Strathmore. Right, I'd go there and see what they could do. If they had such a bulb in stock, and if I were lucky, I might get it dealt with while I waited.

It didn't turn out to be quite a while-you-wait experience, but it was same-day. I was fitted in. I arrived mid-morning. They'd order a bulb. It would be with them around 3.00pm. If I came back then, they would have it all done within the hour. Fair enough. The price? Oh, it might be £180. Dear me, rather more than I'd thought. But then, all high-grade technology is expensive. These Xenon bulbs incidentally have that very white, piercingly bright, light that dazzles other road users at night but illuminates the road ahead wonderfully well. On Fiona they swivel as one steers through bends, a complication that suggests a delicate set-up. It really was best to leave it to the dealer. I imagined a technician in a white, zip-up suit, wearing a helmet and breathing-apparatus, carefully inserting the new bulb with cotton gloves. Because naturally you mustn't get greasy finger-marks on bulbs like this, or even breathe on them!

While they were on the phone, ordering the new bulb, I chatted to a man in the customer waiting area. I had four hours to kill. Where could I go to have some lunch and pass the time? Was it worth driving north-west up the A9 to (say) Pitlochry?

Oh yes, he said. Definitely. He knew the place well, as he lived further on, near Aviemore, and frequently stopped at Pitlochry. It was rather a coach-destination, a stop on the Highland Trail so to speak, but then because of that it had plenty of choice in the way of places to eat, and of places to shop. That settled it. I'd have lunch there. And a mooch around the shops. And there might be time to drive into the nearby mountains on the way back to Perth.

Strathmore were located in the northern part of Perth, in Muirton, towards the outskirts of the city, and so I was soon in the countryside and heading towards the hills on the A9. I hadn't been in this part of Scotland much before. One of my friends in Scotland, Coline, took me to Aberfeldy and Dunkeld in 2015, but that was it. So I was keen to see more. Some famous names appeared on road signs. I saw mention of Birnam Wood, surely the same place referred to in Shakespeare's play MacBeth? As the A9 skirted the south edge of Dunkeld, there was suddenly a traditional Scottish Highlands railway station, Dunkeld & Birnam. I just had to stop and take a look.

It was on the main line north to Inverness. The train service wasn't super-frequent. Pitlochry (the next stop) got twelve trains a day, this station, Dunkeld & Birnam, got only nine. A bit sparse by Sussex standards. I wasn't surprised that I had the station to myself. 

Pitlochry was some miles further on, but I was soon there. The A9 has a reputation for silly speed limits and bad drivers, but I'd enjoyed using it on a sunny day like this. Turning off, I entered Pitlochry expecting to experience coaches galore, and a sea of tourists. It was certainly busy, but not overwhelmed by visitors and much less tacky than I'd anticipated. Where to park? I made for the station (always a good bet), and easily found a spot on the side of the station approach road. 

It was worth taking a look at the station itself. It was a more imposing place than Dunkeld & Birnam, just as well-maintained, and possessed a bookshop (not the only bookshop in town, incidentally). 

Immaculate! How nice to see this. This was the bookshop.

And this was the attractive Victorian iron fountain, featuring a carefully-painted heron.

Mind you, other 'beautifying' features of the station were less distinguished.

But who am I to pass comment? The next objective after parking was a spot of lunch. The chap I spoke to at Strathmores had been right. There were plenty of inviting eating-places. I selected Mortons, got a window table, and had a yummy chili con carne, washed down by coffee in a turquoise cup and saucer. I'd lunch here again.

I couldn't stay overlong in the town, because while lunching I'd studied the map and had worked out a route back to Perth that began with the A924 and took me through the local mountains to the east. But I got a flavour of the place.

One shop above all others drew me - an establishment called Macnaughtons. It was a big smart shop devoted to Highland (or at least Scottish) clothing. Its offerings were clearly fashionable and upmarket. And doubtless expensive, I thought. But I just had to go in and take a look around. You know how it is.

Gosh. Tartan designs everywhere. Truly, this was Tartan City.

Look at this - a cute micro-mini for a teenage girl (and definitely not for me!):

There was stuff for the men, too. Plenty of it. What about a tartan tie for the man in your life?

Or shoes with tartan uppers?

It wasn't all Strictly Tartan. There were other kinds of design, too.

I love shops like this. Or indeed any kind of emporium that sells a good range of appealing goods. Macnaughtons was a most attractive place.

Of course they had some Highland props to create the right atmosphere, such as this reproduction of an early nineteenth-century painting called The Macnab by Sir Henry Raeburn. This is the original I saw in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow in 2010:

And here's me at Macnaughtons in Pitlochry with the reproduction:

Such things do get you into a buying mood. Despite facing a bill for £180 on Fiona later that afternoon, I had become eager to get myself a souvenir of Pitlochry. I cast around for something I might really want.

Ah, what was this now? Cardigans. All wool, all British, cream with flecks, cable knit, with traditional 'half-football' buttons. The Aran way of knitting was Irish in origin, but nevertheless I felt that these cardigans looked satisfyingly 'Scottish' and would make a perfect souvenir of a pleasant day out in the Highlands. But how much? Oh, only £55! Well, let's try one on! Large or Medium? I settled on Large. It was taking a risk that, with time, the cardigan would look baggy and shapeless; but on the other hand the sleeves on Medium didn't look quite right on me. I considered the matter at length in front of the mirror, taking reference pictures as I did so. (All these shots show the Large size)

Convinced, I made the purchase. Now it was time to go, if I were serious about about my mountain tour. I felt I'd not seen all that Pitlochry had to show, but I had to get back to the Volvo dealer on time. So it was eastwards up the hilly A924, over the pass, down into Glen Brerachan, then along Strathardle, joining the A93 north of Blairgowrie, and then following the A93 south west to Perth. I arrived at the dealer's precisely at 3.00pm.

Pleasingly, the bill was only £139.84. £40 less than than the estimate. Well, that mostly paid for my new cardigan!

Back at the caravan that evening, I emptied the bag and examined the cardigan in detail.

Hmm. Definitely the genuine article, but no clue at all where it was made, although there had been a card in the shop that stated 'Made in UK'.

Presumably that meant in a factory somewhere in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. I hoped it had been Scotland, and from a Highland sheep called Angus or Morag. It may have had only vague provenance, but one thing the cardigan did indisputably possess was a faint but lovely smell of lanolin. This seemed to connect me to the sheep who had provided the wool. I liked that very much.

The cardigan was very comfortable indeed. Some people can't wear wool, finding it unbearably scratchy. I'm pretty tolerant of that, and in the ensuing days I wore my new cardigan often. And now, even weeks later, my love of it hasn't abated. It's cool enough for sunshine, warm enough to fend off chilly breezes. I wear it unbuttoned mostly, but as autumn advances that will change.

This style of cardigan has never gone out of fashion. Like all woollen garments, it can hug the body, and can be flattering. Well, I thought it looked good in this shot, typical of many, of myself wearing it:

£55 well-spent, I'd say.

As for Pitlochry, I'll be back.