another ordinary day

Wake up, get myself dressed, wander into the kitchen, remember the cat isn’t going to be there, make coffee, read the news, get distracted by…something. That last bit? Getting distracted by…something? Story of my life, right there.

I’m not driven by ambition or security or responsibility or success (whatever that means), but I am ridiculously weak to curiosity. I have a compelling need to know stuff. Unfortunately, it’s rarely useful stuff. If you’re looking for somebody who knows how to repair something mechanical or build a cabinet or replace an electrical outlet, I’m completely fucking useless. But if you ever want to know the name of the brother of the last Saxon king of England or the history and etymology of ‘spatula’ or why jamon iberica is the best ham in the world, I’m your huckleberry.

I only know these things because I allow myself to be distracted by something. And following that distraction led to something else, which led me to something else, which ended up with me accumulating still more useless information. And that’s exactly what happened to me this morning.

In an online forum devoted to readers of the historical fiction of Dorothy Dunnett I came across a passing reference to St. Mary’s Loch–the site of a band of mercenaries in Dunnett’s work. Being familiar with the novel, I had a general notion of where the loch was located in Scotland, but (and this where it always starts…with that but) I decided to look at a map to get a more exact location. And I was curious why the loch was named for St. Mary.

The answer to that last question was both obvious and easy to discover. It was named for a church dedicated to St. Mary. That church is gone now, but the graveyard is still there (and since this is about useless information, the difference between a graveyard and a cemetery is that a graveyard is associated with a churchyard, which requires a church; so this grave site is still a graveyard even though the church is gone).

St. Mary’s graveyard.

Information about the burial site led me to somebody’s blog post about St. Mary’s Loch, which included a reference to “the Hamlet of Cappercleuch with its couthy old, corrugated iron village hall.” Multiple sources of distraction here. What the fuck does couthy mean? (Spoiler: it’s a Scots term meaning ‘sociable, friendly, congenial, comfortable, snug.) And who wouldn’t want to see a couthy old, corrugated iron village hall?

That led me to Google Maps and Google Street View of Cappercleuch. It turns out that a corrugated iron village hall is…well, just that. It’s basically a rather ordinary, disappointing metal shed. Not particularly old, and certainly not very couthy.

St. Mary’s Hall at Cappercleuch — neither old nor couthy.

Still, as long as I was noodling about with Google Street View, I figured I may as well spend a few minutes looking at St. Mary’s Loch and seeing what else Cappercleuch had to offer. And within ninety seconds I came across another distraction. This:

What the hell is this?

Reader, now THIS is a serious distraction. Just what the hell IS this? I mean, I can see what it is: a small, cross-gabled, distinctively decorated, phone-box sized structure. But what is its purpose? Why is it located just off the A708 motorway in Cappercleuch? (And if you’re curious enough to look for this on Google Maps, here’s a shortcut for you.)

The first thing I learned was that the A708 was one of the five most dangerous roads in proportion to traffic in all of Scotland. Or at least it was between 2007 and 2009. Not particularly helpful information, unless many of those accidents were because drivers were distracted by this weird boxy structure.

We can assume it’s not a Scots Tardis, but it has that ‘police box’ aura about it. It’s something official, certainly. The carefully crafted logo seems to confirm that. If we look closely, we can sort of see that it has the number 723 on the side. So, of course, the only thing for us to do is Google Box 723 Cappercleuch. And that gives us this:

I’m just going to assume you’ve made the same leap I did. AA stands for Automobile Association. It’s the UK version of AAA. AA boxes were an early form of roadside assistance in the UK. The first AA boxes were introduced in 1911. They were lit by oil lamps at night, and were sometimes referred to as “the lighthouses of the road.” The AA boxes contained maps to help folks who were lost, as well as a fire extinguisher, a lantern, and a telephone available to contact the AA for assistance. Members of the Automobile Association were issued with keys that fit all AA boxes in the UK.

By 1919 the AA had established a well-connected communication and assistance network of over a thousand roadside boxes, many of which were manned by yellow-uniformed ‘sentries’ who were there to offer free assistance.

Improvements in technology eventually made the AA boxes obsolete. By the late 1960s, the AA began to phase them out. In 2002 only 21 call boxes were still standing; AA shut down the entire network and made plans to dispose of the structures. The following year the boxes were listed as historic landmarks, and efforts were made to physically restore them. Apparently nineteen boxes still exist.

There’s a part of me, of course, that wants to use Google Maps to find them all. It shouldn’t be hard to do. There is absolutely NO REASON for me to do that, but at some point I probably will. Because that sort of pointless activity is my wheelhouse.

But it won’t be done today. I’ve learned some minimal self discipline over the years.

I’ve no idea how much of my day is spent giving in to my curiosity. I’m going to guess at least a couple of hours every day. There are folks who’ll consider this an inefficient use of my time.

Ain’t it great?

20 thoughts on “another ordinary day

  1. I absolutely LOVE this post. While I am not given to spending hours pursuing various and sundry things… I often go down a rabbit hole after searching for one thing and getting distracted by another that I also need to know about in order to understand the original thing I googled. It seems I MIGHT have a bit more discipline than you about not going too far down a rabbit hole… but I thoroughly enjoyed your tale of following various other distractions after searching the “one thing” you about which you wanted to know more.

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    • Curiosity is good. Unfettered curiosity is risky. I’m lucky in that I’ve always had jobs/careers that 1) rewarded a wide and varied fund of knowledge and 2) didn’t require strict regular working hours. So I’ve been able to be disciplined when it was necessary and still be able give in entirely to curiosity at other times.

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  2. The perfect antidote to being immersed in politics and culture for about the same amount of time each day. A freewheeling curiosity search a day keeps the psychiatrist away. You may need another cat, though.

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    • That cat was such a gift. She kept me grounded in so many ways. It didn’t matter if Congress was imploding, she still needed to be fed and her litter box needed to be cleaned. Even now, every morning her absence reminds me that life is temporary and every day deserves to be appreciated.

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  3. Ooh, I love huckleberries! I even love the tart, red ones, that are half seeds. They are a harbinger of spring. It is rumored that bears like them, too.
    The couthy-ness of the village hall was probably opinion, based on the English-language adjective order that I recently came across. If adjective are put into the wrong order it sounds wrong to English-speaking ears (you know what I mean) and some English language classes provide a list for their students to memorize. (if you must know, that order is Opinion, Size, Age, Shape, Color, Origin, Material, Purpose)
    Also, thanks for explaining where the term “uncouth” is derived.
    Oh, yeah, and I am quite glad to learn I am not the only one who does this. Sometimes it seems I am, but I don’t get out much to compare notes.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Brilliant post. I laughed from the first glimpse of the box. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an AA box. But they went in on a share with the RAC and I do know where to find one of those. On Exmoor, on my way to Lynmouth in North Devon. Britain was littered with these boxes, and police boxes, for years.

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      • OK. It’s in a nice spot.

        But I am shocked. I looked it up. I am wrong. It’s AA after all. I would have put money on it being RAC. This is a lovely little blog about it.

        And then, when you have looked at the blog, Google Porlock Hill and Porlock Harbour. Lovely places. I still take a deep breath as I steer my 4×4 car up and around the impossible hairpin of Porlock Hill on the way to Lynmouth.

        Then, as you like random excursions into interesting things, google the story of the launch of the Lynmouth lifeboat from Porlock to save a floundering ship in a storm.

        I know those places well. I’ve driven those moorland roads many times and know the story well too. And I still can’t believe they actually managed to do that launch. The roads were not tarmac then and Countisbury Hill is huge.

        (See, I’m also bossy. But it is a beautiful area that Dave and I love and it would be nice to share those little bits with you.)

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  5. If I could find out how to retrieve my Wikipedia search history to share with you you’d see that I too sometimes get curious about the most, well, curious things. Thanks for taking us down this particular rabbit hole. I’m resisting the urge (today anyway) to pick up on that casual mention of “huckleberry” (is it really a berry? Perhaps I’ll never investigate.)

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    • Paul, this is for you. I grew up with visits to huckleberry country almost every weekend. Also, apologies if this is too much. I just really like huckleberries.
      A huckleberry, IS a berry, or two kinds of berries. At least two kinds, but I know of two.
      They look like they are related to blueberries, same sort of bush.
      Red huckleberry is one of the first berries to ripen in the spring, so if you’re near bear country you do need to watch yourself. It’s like crocuses – if you see red huckleberries, Spring is here! But I hear that those bears wake up hungry.
      The berries have bright green leaves, in the neighborhood of 2AF F00, AND not shiny. If there are evergreen stumps in the woods, or fallen trees, they probably support a red huckleberry bush. They are not generally popular. Too many seeds, really hard, big seeds. Their flowers look like little round white globes and the berries
      Black huckleberries ripen later. They are even tastier, sweeter, and they ripen up to nearly black. Their leaves are darker green and shiny. Their color and shine is kind of like a holly leaf, but their shape is a simple oblong, folded in the middle along the central vein of the leaf. They are sweeter and less seedy then the reds. They are a small berry, but, if you go picking these huckleberries, you might want to pick them individually. They have a whole bunch of berries on each stem and they always seem to have a range of ripeness, either from green through red and into black or from reddish to over ripe.
      I’ve only seen them growing wild in Pacific Northwest forests. I don’t know what other regions they grow in, but Idaho has, at least, the black ones. My cousin recently sent me some huckleberry honey from the panhandle of Idaho. so if you want to take the easy route to trying them you could check out huckleberry jams for sale. I’m pretty sure you’ll find only black huckleberries commercially.
      And now, thanks to doing a bit of googling on your behalf, I have learned you can obtain red huckleberries from a nursery. Too bad I can’t grow anything around here, because that would have been great, my own huckleberry bush. (also, that nursery says the red ones ARE a PNW plant)

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