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).
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.
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:
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?