Monthly Archives: January 2013

HV Morton on Whisky

Originally distributed to the HV Morton Society as: HVM Society Snippets – No.151

IMG_5061 copy small“The whisky had uplifted them… It had given them wings.”
(from “In Scotland Again” chapter 6, section 9)

Product placement is nothing new. John Mills was sipping his “Ice Cold” Carlsberg in Alexandria a lifetime before James Bond inexplicably started flashing his omega ® watch and nokia ® phone – logos placed strategically for all to see – across the big screen and mysteriously eschewing his traditional vodka Martini (shaken, stirred or otherwise), in favour of the same well known (if somewhat out of character) Scandinavian lager, favoured by Sir John.

Surely, such mundane contrivances would have been beneath Morton. Never the less, it has occured to me, if he wasn’t being sponsored by Talisker then he was missing a trick!

Morton wrote his books in the days when a malt whisky was something very special, to be savoured and enjoyed, as one might a rare work of art. The drinking of a single malt was a mark of distinction; hoi polloi were condemned to make-do, as best they could, with mere blends.

These days, with any number of malts so easily accessible from the shelves of the nearest supermarket, something of the mystique is being lost. Thus it is a wonderful reminder of times gone by to read of Morton’s reverence for what is clearly his favourite whisky – with its hints of peat fires and sea salt and a strangely endearing, almost medicinal, tang.

It is Burns’ night, and many a lover of Scotland – adopted, native or otherwise; at home or abroad – looks forward to raising a glass to celebrate the brief but colourful life of their country’s great national poet, Robert Burns. I thought, on this occasion, a passage from Morton’s “In Search of Scotland” might be appreciated. It is from chapter 10, section 5, after the narrator has offered a lift to a wandering highlander, soaked during a mountain storm, on the road to Crianlarich. As the weather lifts, the sun comes out, a little gold cloud dances over the head of Ben Dorian, and Morton writes:

“I remembered that I had in my bag a bottle of Talisker whisky, that remarkable drink which is made in the Isle of Skye and can be obtained even in its birthplace only with difficulty. This seemed to me an occasion. When my companion saw the bottle of Talisker he ceased to leap about and, becoming solemn, he said:

“’Talisker? Ye don’t mean to open the bottle? It’s a shame to waste it; but, man it’s a grand whisky!’

“We settled down.

“He had a tin mug in his rucksack; I had one of those idiotic so-called drinking cups which you place firmly on a stone with the result that the whole thing telescopes and spills the liquor. We poured the amber-coloured Talisker into our mugs, and descending to an amber coloured burn in the heather we let a little ice cold water into the whisky.

“There is, so it is said, a time for everything, and the time for whisky is after physical fatigue in the open air among great mountains. This Talisker drunk below the great, windy clouds in the shadow of Ben Dorain was different from the whisky which a man drinks in his club as Lachryma Christi drunk in the shadow of Vesuvius differs from the same wine in Soho. This drink filled us with good nature and enthusiasm.

“My friend, perched picturesquely on a stone told me a lot about himself. He was something in a city. He always spent his holidays in his native highlands. He loved to wear the kilt for two to three weeks and to run wild in the heather. As the Talisker burned in him it lit fires of patriotism, and I listened with delight as he spoke of his love for the hills and the glens and the peat-hags and the great winds and the grey mists.”

Talisker

I like to think, just occasionally, the odd bottle of that “amber-coloured Talisker” might have found its way to Morton, sent from a grateful distillery owner across the water, in return for services rendered. Call it part of the angels’ share.

“Freedom, friendship and whisky gang thegither” (Robert Burns).

With grateful thanks to Jim Leggett, of the The Bahamas

With best wishes,
Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
23 January 2013

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HV Morton the Photographer

Originally distributed as: HVM Literary Note – No.116

My Leica and I 150dpi crop small

It isn’t always widely appreciated that HV Morton was a keen photographer, taking many of the photographs which featured in his books himself. This passion was also shared by his second wife, Mary who took many of the photographs included in his works concerning the Middle East.

I received an email on this subject a while ago, in the heady days immediately after the change of coordinatorship – when my mind was suffering information overload from juggling membership lists, email addresses and ideas for future articles – from HVM Society member and professional photographer, David Jago. Having had this for a while on the back burner, so to speak, I thought now would be a good time to put the information out as a bulletins to members.

I love connections, and on re-reading David’s piece in preparation, I found there was a little bell ringing at the back of my mind. This in turn, after a bit of thought, led me to look even further back, to a much earlier email from then the coordinator, Peter Devenish, following a remark I had made about a cover of one of Morton’s books on the home page of the web-site:

Dear Niall,

I’m sure you know [I didn’t! – NT] that one of your favourite jacket designs, namely that for several editions of  “Middle East”, was taken at Aleppo by HVM. I agree, it is a superb design.

Cover Middle East

Did you know, though [I didn’t! – NT], that HVM’s photo was first published in an article he wrote for Leica News and Technique, No.26, March-April 1937; published by E. Leitz, London. The article was entitled Travel with the Leica.  Interestingly, the illustration on the dust-jacket of the book is the reverse image of the photograph printed in Leica News and Technique.

Aleppo 1

All the very best,

Peter

And this brings me to the later email from David:

Hello Niall,

Just a note concerning HVM. I am an agency photographer and mainly use a Leica camera.  Recently I discovered in a bookshop a second hand publication titled “My Leica and I”. Published in English and printed in Germany in 1937, it contains stories by well known people together with photographs taken by them in a variety of countries. The first article, and there are 18 in total, is by HVM describing how useful he finds his Leica camera on his travels, together with details of the apertures and speeds used.

Prior to finding this book I had rather assumed that he obtained photographs for his books from press agencies but it now seems that this was not always the case.

Best regards,

David

I wrote back, thanking David and congratulating him on his wonderful find. That has got to be every book-lover’s dream, surely – to find a copy of an obscure and sought-after volume by sheer luck, whilst browsing the shelves of the local bookshop (I have a slightly singed copy of “A Stranger in Spain” which has always been special to me for that very reason).

David kindly sent me copies of the cover of this publication (as seen above) – featuring a very arty, bohemian type squinting earnestly through his viewfinder – and of Morton’s article, which it contained. Thus I discovered the title of the article was also Travel with the Leica.

That’s when the little “connections” bell started ringing in my head and I thought first, of Peter’s earlier communication (above) and second, of a previous HVM society bulletin – Literary Note No.22 to be precise – also by Peter, about this same publication where a transcription of the text of Morton’s article, and both the photos by HVM (The Gorge at Delphi and Bedouin Girl), can be found.

So it appears that the article, which, according to Peter, originally appeared in Leica News and Technique, No.26, March-April 1937, was, later that same year, also included in the hardback volume discovered by David in his local bookshop – the full title of which is “My Leica and I – Leica Amateurs show their Pictures”.

I was so intrigued by this little known example of Morton’s works that I have since (more by luck than judgement) managed to acquire a copy for myself. The publication is a well presented hardback, featuring articles by a variety of authors on diverse aspects of how best to use the Leica; including at the theatre, at the zoo, with the family and, amazingly, while skiing, and climbing in the Himalayas. A section at the back is given over to 152 pages of photographs by the authors, including Morton’s two contributions (the townscape from Aleppo is, unfortunately, not included in the work).

The photographs are all wonderful, but of particular note is the one on page 50 which features an aerial view of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella, North Spain, by Hans von Schiller. When I first looked at it, I thought it was somewhat spoiled by a massive shadow occupying most of its centre until I realised, from the shape, that this view had been taken from the gondola of an airship  – what a piece of history!

Other pictures have been taken all across the globe and feature landscapes as well as candid portraits of people at work, wild animals, people at sport and play; and some beautiful close-up work including studies of insects and snow-flakes – all giving an insight in everyday life in the 1930’s. My personal favourite is this one, entitled “Curiosity“, from the article entitled “The Leica in Family Life“, by Swiss photographer Dr Walter Weber:

Curiosity colour - mod

So, there we have it, another piece of the jigsaw of HV Morton’s life and works, and a side of him which gets little attention, even though photography seems to have been an important part of his life. In fact, according to Literary Note No.22, Morton once confided, in a letter to a friend, that he would have preferred to have been a photographer than a writer. Thankfully for us, he refrained from developing this idea further.

There are many more examples of Morton’s photographic works to be found though, if one looks carefully; and in part two, Stan White gives us a further insight into HV Morton, the Photographer.

With grateful thanks to David Jago of England, and Peter Devenish of Australia.

Best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
January 2013

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