et cetera

  • inside joke
  • wine country wedding -- not
  • thoughts on our 2007 syrah
  • bus blind opens my eyes
  • ok, i'm out
  • walldogs
  • we need a fallible god
  • where the fish are
  • Sonoma's Last Pioneer
  • exactly 3:45 a.m.

inside joke

wine country wedding -- not

A hundred or so people turned up for an engagement party in Sonoma Valley last rainy Sunday and got a fine wedding instead. Ross Cannard married Kate Cherry at a surprise ceremony in their Fowler Creek farmyard.

photos by Tom Whitworth

Uncles, aunts, parents, cousins and lots of friends were milling and mixing, enjoying fine wine and a mountain of splendid cheeses, olives and pate, waiting for the two rosemary stuffed spit-roast sheep to roast. Judging the moment to be about right, best man Nick Rupiper stood on a chair and announced the change from engagement to wedding.

Before the happy crowd could catch their breath, uncle Jack Cannard took over on the chair, took off his hat and announced that what was needed around here was a tractor! From the rear of the audience a voice shouted “and a vacuum”.

Jack stuffed a bunch of bills in his hat and passed it to another uncle. “Let’s get a tractor and a vacuum for Kate and Ross”.

The people cheered, and with this singular move, the momentum soon swung to the wedding nearby, under a kind of multicolored parachute rigged like a circus tent and tensioned between the barn and the fenders of a ’57 Chevy truck.

photos by Tom Whitworth

The ceremony took place in front of the band, assorted livestock, and an audience led by parents who remained in a state of mild shock; Connie and Art Cherry, Ditty Vella and Bob Cannard.

The words and vows chosen by Kate and Ross were beautiful and satisfying to all gathered.

Soon after, everyone was enjoying the barbecue, either under the parachute or in the milking parlor where tables replaced cows, and afterwards, the newlyweds served us all with a selection of six wedding cakes – all baked by the bride, with ice cream sandwiches as an alternative or addition.

photos by Tom Whitworth

It wasn’t the kind of obvious wine country wedding you may have seen in glossy magazines - against a backdrop of a Tuscan tasting room - instead it had the simple yet rich texture of a different but just as real Sonoma. A Sonoma of people who grow and enjoy good food, who tend vines and make wine that has a true ense of place. People who sit at a table for dinner every day. and plan for a life of plenty rather than wealth, of depth rather than height.

What a happy day. Here’s to Ross and Kate, and here are some words from their ceremony.

“At the end of this ceremony, legally you will be husband and wife, but you still must decide each and every day that stretches before you, that you want to be married. Make this decision and keep on making it, for the most important thing in life is to love and be loved.”

photo by Tom Whitworth

 thoughts on our 2007 syrah

cartoon © Tom Whitworth

bus blind opens my eyes

My friend Strange David stopped by to tell me that his reaction to losing a fair portion of his wealth in the recent bankers benefit drive, was to buy a Jag. Black of course. (A couple of years ago he had managed to acquire Sid Barrett's bread bin. I have a feeling his Star Wars action figures will appreciate faster, but a bread bin with connections has a certain je ne sais quoi, and must be a lifesaver when dinner conversation drags.)

Having let me sit in the Jag and make vroom vroom noises (which I thought was my birthday gift) David then presented me with a large cardboard tube which contained . . . . . a bus blind! - an obscure item that at first promised a similar cachet to a bread bin.

But this was not just any old bus blind. It was a Birmingham bus blind, and as I unrolled it, familiar destination names tumbled out in wild profusion. "Bearwood," "Bilston" and "Brierly." "Smethwick," "Sutton Coldfield" and "Not in Service."

Then the gems. "Kings Heath" - where I went to school - "Via Sparkbrook" Sparkbrook, where the Greek owner of the mythically fearful El Sombrero espresso bar had leaped over the counter and cut the throat of a Ted.

"Deritend." The Midland Jazz Club in the old Town Hall, Saturday night, but first two devastating pints of cheap cider in Kelsey's to avoid jazz club beer prices. The immediate effect is your fuzzily thrown dart sticks in the hand of a large Irishman, slow to remove his from the board. You feared the worse, but he pulled out the dart from his huge hand and politely handed it back. Phew.

"Heartlands Hospital" - my mother had been rushed there after her stroke and I rushed there a few days later from the USA. I was going through my rebellious stage a bit late (51 I think), and my hair was trying to be like Sam Elliot's in Roadhouse, but at least it hid the ear ring. Ed Zak thought I looked like an ugly old woman, but the elderly patient by the door of Mom's ward in the smoking alcove recognized me. "You're Mrs Whitworth's son aren't yer. From America. Well get yer bleedin' hair cut or you'll give 'er another stroke."

The memories went on for another fifty feet. "Now that's art," I said.

And it is.

The wall to the left of where I work is eighteen feet high. The bus blind now hangs from the top in a vast loop that I can turn - and change my destination.

photo by Tom Whitworth

ok, i'm out


I've tended to keep my skepticism about supreme beings quiet because I think in the United States untheism is considered to be a bit like having herpes.

When I got tired of being on my mother-in-law's email prayer chain, I was reluctantly forced into the open, telling her I was an atheist who didn't like to proselytize - which seemed to do the trick.

I always mean to be ready with a glib reply when I inevitably get the famous accusation "Well what do you believe in then?" (This is usually delivered like it's the denouement in a Perry Mason trial tinged with melodramatic pity.)

"Everything but god" generally doesn't work too well as a response.

How about this fantastic earth? How about the intricacies and scale of its natural systems. How about its spectacular geography, its mindbending beauty. The incredible diversity of animals and plants. How about its history, its geology. How about its trees alone? Literature? How about a sunrise, seasons, growth, travel, architecture, science, theater, art, people, cats - anniversaries & inventions. Galaxies, time and space travel, new worlds, quantum mechanics, nostalgia, love and families. My wife. My dog. Curiosity, wonder, excitement, ingenuity, professional baseball.

Not enough?

Well, the big advantage of being an untheist is you can get on with all religions and sects because they all put you in the same box. Untheists share 99.9% of their genes with human beings as well as chimpanzees.

Some creationist rascals try to blame us for keeping prayers and dotty intelligent design out of schools, and copies of the ten commandments out of post bellum civic buildings. This is not the case, but I'd willingly take the kudos.

Also we don't worry about whether god or man accelerated global warming, so it's been easier to accept.

When we are forced to give our full attention to an environmental evolution that we've kicked into overdrive, humans may revitalize their links to the natural world and take a greater emotional stake in it. We will need to work with those intricate and huge natural systems and prove ourselves adaptable to them.

If we don't, and it turns out to be Armageddon, you can all say I told you so . . .

. . . as I evolve into cosmic rays on their way to Alpha Centauri.


mason jar sketch © Tom Whitworth

Walldogs painted the sides of buildings with giant advertisements way back a hundred years ago when advertising on the sides of buildings was big.

I’ll bet they never ran out of space.

Which is what I keep doing in my sketchbook.

wine bottle sketch © Tom Whitworth

Maybe it’s a comment on life itself – you know – like never having enough time to finish the story. That sounds like a good thing. I can’t imagine ever scratching out a few lines and titling it “last drawing.”

It’s a message of sorts. When you fit it on the page perfectly it’s commercial art. When you don’t, it’s just art.

now that's art cartoon © Tom Whitworth

we need a fallible god

I'm always overwhelmed at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

When I was young in smoky old Brum, the cream and navy double-decker buses at the end of Stockfield Road stopped at precisely two minutes to eleven on Remembrance Day. People stood still and silent in the streets. Two minutes is a long time when you're six or seven. At eleven the factory sirens wailed and the church bells rang. It was OK to move again.

If you moved before, a man in a black double breasted suit and gaunt face would reprimand you. Once he took out his glass eye with a mangled hand and tried to explain. At the time it was frightening, so you joked about it later.

On our street Mr. Plenderleith darned his own socks, neatly folded his own laundry. My mother told me "he was in submarines. He had to do everything for himself." Mr. Plenderleith rarely spoke.

Uncle Bill rarely spoke (he wasn't really my uncle, but you had lots of those kinds of uncles in those days.) He would sit for hours in his garden shed next to his RAF uniform hanging neatly on the wall. He did hundreds of ops over Germany as a tail gunner in Lancaster bombers. He told me about white hot tracers spiralling up towards you. It sounded exciting but I don't think it was.

My dad stayed home but stood on ladders raking white hot incendiary bombs off the roof of the munitions factory where he worked. He was payed in something called "post war credits" - worthless by the time they were redeemable. I recently discovered his enemy aircraft recognition charts in a box of black and white photos but they crumbled when I touched them.

"In Flanders fields the poppies blow between the crosses row on row"

Remember the end of the movie "Oh what a lovely war?" The camera pulls back from a small group of women and children at a picnic in the country to reveal crosses stretching away in every direction as far as the eye can see.

There were picnics at Gettysburg. There were children on the hills of Gaza this week watching the smoke of the tanks.

I always have difficulty imagining what large numbers of war dead look like. So I think of the Oakland coliseum filled to the brim with A's fans. Sixty, seventy thousand maybe.

How many coliseums for the Great War? WWII? Korea, Vietnam, Suez, Kosovo, Congo, Algeria, the Falklands, Malaya, Lebanon, Cambodia. Ruanda, Darfur, Iraq?

And those are just a few of the hot wars. What about the cold? What about labor camps, refugee camps, death camps, Srebenica?

I used to think we would get better. That progress wouldn't just be scientific and material - it would be social and international. That we would all end up in the same tribe.

Until we do, we can only say thank you to dad and uncle Bill and Mr. Plenderleith and the man in the black double-breasted suit who took his glass eye out with a mangled hand on Remembrance Day.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will try to remember you.

photo: from The Shall Not Grow Old (film directed and produced by Peter Jackson)

where the fish are

trout illustration © Tom Whitworth

Art directors in ad agencies think fly fishermen are higher up on the socio economic totem pole than bait fishermen. So if they want to flog anything pricey or lofty, they show guys fly fishing in TV ads. Trouble is, the green art directors think fly fishing is fishing for flies, so they show Orvis-festooned models waving their arms and fishing lines in the air, rather than dropping the fly in the water where the fish are.

The point about fly fishing is it gets you into the water. Water is the best exchange medium between us and the rest of the natural world - with which we have such an on-again off-again relationship. In the water you can feel the moist collision of intellect and instinct. And just as the fish takes the fly you feel a liquid pull and it's the tug of your evolutionary umbilical cord. What a moment. Fly fishermen will beat the water with their lines until sky and river become the same in the dark, just on the off chance of a repeat.

I would buy anything the art directors were flogging if they could capture that.

Sonoma's Last Pioneer

Sonoma's Last Pioneer by Tom Whitworth

In 2005, Whitworth and I and the Sonoma Valley Historical Society co-published Sonoma's Last Pioneer, a memoir of Robert H. Cannard, Sr., one of Sonoma Valley's most iconic personalities.

I spent many (many) hours with Bob collecting stories and memorabilia. I then wrote SLP and created its illustrations, layout and cover design.

Sonoma's Last Pioneer was awarded the Sonoma County Historical Society's Editor's Award for historical scholarship in 2007.


from the book's description:

An illustrated memoir of Robert H. Cannard, one of Sonoma Valley's most colorful and flamboyant residents - one who has taught its horticultural students, funded and run its business associations and institutions, helped build its wine industry, served in elected and appointed offices, and acted as informal watchdog to the excesses of people not as dedicated as he to guardianship of the natural resources inherited by all.

Bob made generous contributions to the celebration of its cultural heritage - and invented some of it himself. His heroes were the rugged pioneers who pushed westward a century before he journeyed west from Pennsylvania with his family. Since his arrival in Sonoma Valley, he fought against different kinds of odds to emulate their spirit.

exactly 3:45 a.m.

Quite a few years ago now, I combined my love for fly fishing and angst over the life of a 'suit' in an eccentrically illustrated personal essay the was published in Zyzzyva literary magazine.

illustration and essay © Tom Whitworth