Nothing To See Here cover

Nothing To See Here: a Guide to the Hidden Joys of Scotland is one year old today. Its first year has been a good one - the first printing is almost sold out and a second run is on its way. It fits nicely into the Pocket Mountains stable of travel guides and is quietly making inroads into bookshops around the country.

Pocket Mountains book stall

I've been delighted by all the positive comments so far (two five star reviews on Amazon, no less!). It's been an adventure considering it didn't start out as a book. So thanks to everyone who bought it, or spread the word. It's much appreciated. I've had a year off writing but am ready to start again now so hopefully there are more books to come.

So... if anyone is looking for a stocking-filler (it will literally fit in a stocking) it's available from Pocket Mountains, Amazon and independent shops like Monorail Music and All That Is Solid in Glasgow among others.

New book: Sign Painters by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon. Some lovely stuff inside.

There are some truly beautiful pictures in Sign Painters by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon. It features interviews with over 25 US sign painters, young and old, who talk about their methods and inspiration.

The book is available from Amazon and other good bookshops. For more information on the book see the Princeton Architectural Press website. There's a film due out next year - see the Sign Painters website for details.

Nothing To See Here: A Guide To The Hidden Joys of Scotland

Book plug alert. The new Nothing To See Here book: a guide to the hidden joys of Scotland is out just in time for Christmas. Published by great small publisher Pocket Mountains it's a neat volume of 144 pages containing some articles from the website plus some new pieces, all with lots of photos. The list of contents are on Nothing To See Here.

The book will be in bookshops over the next few weeks, but if you'd like one for Christmas please order direct from the Pocket Mountains website. Type NTSH into the discount box to get 20% off. Thanks and happy travels.

Current reading

Here's my reading for the year so far. Past: The Celestial Cafe by Stuart Murdoch. Present: Nileism: The Strange Course of the Blue Nile by Allan Brown. Future: It's Lovely To Be Here: The Touring Diaries of a Scottish Gent by James Yorkston.

Together they're a good Scottish musical trio. The Celestial Cafe collects short pieces of writing previously published on the Belle & Sebastian website in one book. It covers a few years from 2002-06, dipping in and out of different tours and albums, showing life on the road and at home. I absolutely loved it and was sorry when it ended. The writing is lovely, really warm and funny, like someone talking to you. It's good if you're a B&S fan but is more of a love poem to Glasgow than a warts and all rock biog.

The last chapter of The Celestial Cafe is called "Tinseltown In The Rain" which leads nicely into Nileism. The Blue Nile are a huge band in a small way. Also based in Glasgow, they released four albums over twenty years and made few personal appearances but their music was so distinct and atmospheric that they attracted a huge reputation and a devoted following. "A riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a raincoat", as it says in the book.

Only one member of the band was interviewed for the book (the band's singer, Paul Buchanan) so it reads more like a standard rock biography than an intimate memoir. As one of the devoted few I'm looking forward to reading more about them. I'm only a few pages in at the moment so the enigma remains.

Finally, I've sneakily dipped into It's Lovely To Be Here: The Touring Diaries of a Scottish Gent and it seems very good, full of James Yorkston's tales of life on the road (and in Fife) with the Fence Collective. I'm looking forward to reading more as I like these kind of books - a little glimpse into someone else's life, a bonus if it's musical.

If any of you can recommend other music biographies I'd love to add them to my reading list.

Some British birds by Edwyn Collins

I've just finished reading Falling and Laughing: The Restoration of Edwyn Collins by Grace Maxwell (his partner and manager). What an amazing book. I bought it a while ago and forgot about it until we were up north recently and visited Whaligoe Steps, near Wick. This is a set of 365 stone steps (one for every day of the year, although there are a few missing now) built into a steep cliff-face beside a natural harbour. They were built in the 19th century so that local fisherwomen could haul the creels of herring up from the harbour and take them on to market (another few miles walk) in Wick.

They're no longer used for that purpose, but they're a little piece of history and even though they're not signposted a steady stream of people comes to visit. When we were there we were greeted by Davie (or Davey?), the local man who helps to maintain the steps. He was a character, and a blether, and told us all about the famous people who have visited the steps over the years (including Billy Connolly and the Coast team, who both filmed there). He mentioned that Edwyn Collins is a regular visitor from his home in Helmsdale and had even written a song about them. So to cut a long story short (we were there for ages) he also mentioned that there was an exhibition of Edwyn's bird drawings at the Timespan arts centre in Helmsdale. We nipped in on the way back home from Orkney and it was lovely.

The book and exhibition both explain how important drawing was to Edwyn's recovery from two brain haemorrhages in 2005, and how important birds have been to him since from childhood. The exhibition has been updated to include some colour drawings, and shows how much his drawing has progressed as his recovery goes on. It's a heavy story at times but the determination of everyone involved is truly amazing. The book is a very funny, heartwarming read and I was sad when it ended. This is old news really but I'd avoided reading or watching too much about Edwyn Collins until now, as I thought it might be too harrowing (I'm not good with illness). Instead it was life-affirming and a real joy to read.

The Glasgow Cookery Book

The Glasgow Cookery Book has just been reissued, hooray. With over 1,000 recipes, it has fed families in Glasgow and beyond for almost 100 years, becoming a traditional present for newlyweds and those leaving home.

There are 25 chapters going from Appetisers and Soups, through Meat and Offal, Poultry and Game to Hot Puddings, Ices, Baking and Confectionery plus other useful things like Sauces, Preserves and even Winemaking. Alongside the main recipes there are reference guides like a cookery glossary, a chart showing different cuts of meat, and handy measures. It really is invaluable.

It was originally produced as a cookery textbook by The Glasgow & West of Scotland College of Domestic Science which became Queen's College, Glasgow, now part of Glasgow Caledonian University. So legions of Scottish homemakers have learnt from it. Most Scots would have been raised on this sort of fare, but cookery has changed so much that the recipes are now quite hard to find. There's nothing fancy in it at all, but it's all good food.

First published in 1910, the last edition was in 1975 and has been out of print ever since. I worked at Glasgow Caledonian University from 1994-2003 and spent part of that time working with colleagues to try and get it back into print. It was a great job as I got to sit with the cookery lecturers and work through revisions to the book. I learnt so much about food and loved listening to them talk.

Even 10 years ago there was a real demand for it, as people wanted to eat the food their granny used to make - steak pie, Scotch broth, pancakes - that sort of thing. For various reasons it didn't get published at that time and it's great to see it in the flesh at last. The new edition, by Waverley Books, who also publish Maw Broon's Cook Book, is a real triumph. It has been a labour of love for GCU staff (especially my old boss John Powles and the Research Collections team) and former students of 'The Dough School' who made sure that the recipes still suit modern tastes and modern kitchens.

I'm going to christen mine by making a chocolate cake just like the one my gran used to make. One lick of chocolate butter icing can send me back 30 years. Yum. On sale at Amazon and other good bookshops.

The English Sunrise by Brian Rice and Tony Evans

I've got dustysevens to thank for introducing me to The English Sunrise, a delightful book by Brian Rice and Tony Evans. Published in 1973 by Flash Books, as the name suggests it collects photos of sunrise motifs as they appear in all sorts of places - window decorations, garden gates, packaging and pub signs mostly from the south of England. Anything but a real sunrise.

The English Sunrise by Brian Rice and Tony Evans

Running to 76 pages, it's thicker than you might expect. I thought it might wear thin but no, it just becomes lovelier as it goes on and the sunrises pop up in ever more unexpected places. I did hope that this was part of a series and lo and behold, from an obituary of Anthony Mathews:

In 1970, Mathews formed a specialist publishing company with the magazine designer Peter Dunbar and the art dealer Barry Miller. The first book produced by Mathews Miller Dunbar was its most successful. The English Sunrise (1972) by Brian Rice and Tony Evans was a photographic exploration of the sunrise motif in middle England – in suburban stained glass, on garden railings, in trademarks and elsewhere. Mathews issued several more in the same format, all containing illustrations reproduced in a uniform postcard size – including Afghan Trucks by Jean-Charles Blanc (1976; exuberant personalised livery), Façade by Peter and Tony Mackertich (1976; art deco architecture), Lost Glory by Ian Logan (1977; US railroad logos) and Classy Chassy by Ian Logan and Henry Nield (1977; pin-ups on American war planes).

He also went on to publish Ed Ruscha's Nine Swimming Pools and a Small Fire, Twenty-six Gasoline Stations and Every Building on Sunset Boulevard. It made me think again of Peter Ashley and other niche titles like The Doorbells of Florence. Is this long tail stuff over? I can't tell. It feels like the way forward to me but I don't exactly have my finger on the pulse.

There are copies on Amazon for mere pennies if you fancy snapping one up.

Peter Ashley: Built for Britain On Roads: A Hidden History by Joe Moran
Two new books:

'Birdwatchers' at Cape Canaveral

I did a bit of work on another one of my other sites This is M. Sasek earlier this year. It had fallen into disrepair so I've cleaned it up and added a news blog and a Twitter feed. There’s still a bit of work to do but it’s definitely easier to follow.

There's already been a fair bit of action this year with This is Greece out in February and This is the Way to the Moon (which was This is Cape Canaveral originally, then This is Cape Kennedy) out on 1 June in the UK - a must for Cold War kids everywhere.

For anyone not familiar with M. (for Miroslav) Sasek there's a lot more detail on the website. If you haven’t seen the This is... books it’s worth seeking them out. There are 18 in the series and they're all delightful in one way or another. Sasek's style has been hugely influential and he's often namechecked by big names in illustration and animation. It's easy to spot echoes of his work all over the place which makes his books feel classic rather than dated.

Update: buying the books

In case it's not obvious there are links to Amazon US and UK on the page for each title. Alternatively, the This is M. Sasek US and the UK bookstores have all the books for sale under one roof. They're also for sale in a lot of good book shops but I'm not sure how many places carry the whole range. Amazon usually do good deals if you buy a few titles together.

The very hungry Google logo

Best Google logo ever. To celebrate the first day of spring, 80 years of Eric Carle and 40 years of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. There was also a good interview with Eric Carle in the Guardian at the weekend. He looks exactly like a children's author should look.

A felt penguin, by Lupin

There's a lot of talk about paper at the moment. It's the new technology, or summat. So, I'm very excited to be going to bookcamp this weekend. It's an event organised by Penguin (and James and Russell) to look at the future of the book, publishing, reading and anything else in that sort of bookish arena. Papercamp is going to be running alongside, for discussions and creations of a papery nature. The agendas for both are shaping up nicely.

It's full up now so I'm not here to gloat, just to say that I'm going and that if you're going too it would be nice to meet you. I haven't been to a -camp before (except a holiday camp, har har) so amn't quite sure what to expect. But I expect it will be good.

Bespoke Penguin by Lupin. Sadly not available in bookshops.


This Is Where We Live from 4th Estate on Vimeo.

This has been well blogged already, for good reason, but if you haven't seen it, This is where we live is a lovely little film made entirely from books. It celebrates the 25th birthday of 4th Estate, so even better, they're all 4th Estate books. There's more about the making of it on the website, beautifully put together by Apt.

Visual aid

I got sent a great book, Visual Aid: Stuff You've Forgotten, Things You Never Thought You Knew and Lessons You Didn't Quite Get Around to Learning by Draught Associates (Black Dog). It's full of lovely diagrams and informatics on all kinds of subjects, exactly as the title says. Flicking through it I learnt some useful things about hats, poker hands, planets and the relative size of fictional spaceships. It's broad enough for kids but smart enough for adults. Useful as a last-minute present for the design-conscious or the hard to please.

Let's get through Wednesday by Reginald Bosanquet

I picked up Reginald Bosanquet's autobiography on Swanage Pier because it has such a great title. Sound advice really. For younger viewers, Reggie used to read the News at Ten in the days when there was only one news at 10. I haven't read it yet but it's clearly going to be a stormer. On page two, not even out of the foreword yet there's a great story from his co-anchor Andrew Gardner:

Two or three seconds before the start of News at Ten, Reggie would always turn to me and, pressing an imaginary pedal underneath his desk, he'd say just two words: 'Vroom! Vroom!' It became a comforting little ritual.

I think everyone should try this out tomorrow, to see if it speeds up the working week. Vroom! Vroom!

Little People in the City

Little People have been delighting the internet for some time so it's good so see them in a London exhibition. I had a look last week. It's fab. The book is also a little treasure.

George Square, Glasgow

More postcards, more George Square. Nothing To Write Home About is a collection of John Hinde postcards, put together by Susan Beale and Michelle Abadie. The messages on the back are included, so it's like dawdlr from 40 years ago. Designed as "a photographic album, a social record, an historical document, humorous tourism, a celebration of Britain, a trip down memory lane, it celebrates the exquistness of the everyday". Part of the proceeds go to Carers UK and there's a celebrity postcard auction at the start of December. Available from Amazon and other good bookshops.

Princeton Architectural Press sent me a lovely pile of books. I get asked to write about things now and then, but not many freebies. It was nice in this case to get the goods, and feel like the batch was tailor made. So I'm happy to give them a plug:

They didn't send this but it looks good:

Books, Chiropody, Fancy goods

Open Week Day 3: Books. I've got a bit of a problem with my reading habits. Since a couple of years ago I can't read fiction. Don't really know what happened, but I can't follow a story. So I stick to non-fiction, mostly biographies, diaries or books that are just about interesting stuff. I'm currently reading Head On/Repossessed by Julian Cope and next up I've got Nothing by Paul Morley to look forward to. The best books I've read lately are 45 by Bill Drummond, The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton, How To Be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson, Lost Cosmonaut by Daniel Kalder and A Year With Swollen Appendices by Brian Eno. There have already been some interesting suggestions for books. Anyone got any more?

M. Sasek - This is Cape Canaveral

I got a question through one of my other sites This is M. Sasek, asking what type face or font is used in Sasek's This is books. Can anyone identify it from the picture above (full size)? This picture is from This is Cape Canaveral scanned in by Ward Jenkins for his great Retro Kid flickr group. There are a few more Sasek's in there plus some other gems so it's well worth a look.

For anyone thinking "Who?" M. Sasek was an artist and illustrator of children's books, the most famous being the This is series of travel books. Born 1916 in Prague he left in 1948 and settled in Munich working for a spell at Radio Free Europe. He died in 1980. There are 18 titles in the This is series, each one describing a city or country, published between 1959 and 1974. He has a remarkable style, evocative of its time but somehow timeless and although the locations have changed over the years the books don't date. I did a page about him when I like started, and when it got a lot of interest decided to move it to a separate site. 3 years on it steadily attracts interest, not in huge quantities but generally from really cool people - lots of illustrators, animators and designers. I neglected it a bit last year but am trying to get back to it now. If you'd like an introduction there is a little slideshow. Some of the books have been reissued - details on This is M. Sasek. You'll like them, you really will.

I like: library catalogue cards

I couldn't resist a shot of the library catalogue card generator (via The Morning News). How lovely. Being an ex-librarian a call number sprang to mind (I classified books for years and know parts of the Dewey Decimal System off by heart) which turned out to be the number for Research. I guess that's quite appropriate for I like.

Classification systems are pretty fascinating if you like that kind of thing. Any attempt to organise knowledge shouldn't be sniffed at and reading through the Dewey classes is intriguing. There are romantic subjects like Celestial mechanics, Incunabula, Dreams & Mysteries, Salvation & Grace and lots of words to look up in the dictionary like Syllogisms, Theodicy and Eschatology.

Old Melvil Dewey himself was a bit of a character. Having successfully organised everything in the world he turned his passions to spelling reform. He insisted that his name should be spelt Melvil Dui and the American spelling of catalog is all his fault. A quote from his Wikipedia entry:

His theories of spelling reform found some local success at Lake Placid: there is an "Adirondac Loj" in the area, and dinner menus of the Lake Placid Club featured his spelling reform. A September 1927 menu is headed "Simpler spelin" and features dishes like Hadok, Poted beef with noodls, Parsli or Masht potato, Butr, Steamd rys, Letis, and Ys cream. It also advises guests that "All shud see the butiful after-glo on mountains to the east just befor sunset. Fyn vu from Golfhous porch."

Wise cream? The great big fool. Vaguely related: The epic 1995 film Party Girl with Parker Posey as a New York raver who turns into a dedicated librarian, AceJet 170 on flight ticket nostalgia and a whole raft of Flickr library groups including Library postcards.

This week I've been learning all about John Betjeman. It's the centenary of his birth this year so there's a series of programmes on BBC Four. For all that he's one of Britain's most famous poets, I couldn't have told you anything about him apart from the "Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough" line. So, if you're a Betjeman fan, you can imagine that I'm beside myself with glee because he liked so many things that I like - seaside, suburbia, trains, travel (especially the Shell guides), preserving old architecture (with The Victorian Society) and his poems weren't bad either. In the second Betjeman and Me programme Stephen Fry said something about him creating a sort of nostalgia for the modern and Griff Rhys-Jones talked about him making the ordinary extraordinary. All good stuff. Considering I used to read a lot of poetry I can't quite figure out how I missed him. Anyway, I'm looking forward to Metroland on Monday and to reading his books. Where should I start?

Betjeman links:

Following on from yesterday's post. Alasdair Gray (Scottish writer and artist) has a blog. Exciting. On the new Art Galleries:

The curator, Mark O’Neill, told me these arrangements were better than the old ones where natural history exhibits, human artefacts and paintings were displayed separately – better because more democratic, since people would have to find their own connections between such very different things, instead of having the connections made clear. I regard this as a Post-modern idea. I am an old-fashioned chap who insists on being just modern.

Alain de Botton has a new series on architecture starting tonight - The Perfect Home (More 4 Mon-Wed, Channel 4 Thu-Sat). There is a book that goes with it The Architecture of Happiness, which I've bought but not read yet. I have however just read his book On Seeing and Noticing, a slim Penguin 70 which covers boring places, sadness and Little Chefs ("ugly places full of bad food that are nevertheless resonant with poetry"). And his book The Art of Travel is one of my favourite books ever. One of these books where I savoured every single word. But back to houses: 1. Does anyone know how I can get hold of The Dilapidated Dwelling, Patrick Keiller's film about housing? 2. My new house: a Flickr set.

Recommended reading

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