Dreams, Trains, Ideas

October 18th, 2012

What can be more conducive to reverie than a good meal, a comfortable seat and a long smooth train journey?

Last Saturday I travelled from Frankfurt am Main to London, changing at Brussels, on the way back from the Frankfurt Book Fair — my 36th. It was a good fair, with plenty of top-level discussions about image licensing and clearances, price agreements and long-term contracts.

It’s been a rough old time in the picture library business but we’re hanging on in there and I am convinced I can see a silver lining here or there amongst the heavy cloud cover. A week at the Buchmesse always boosts my confidence.

There was a lot to think about on the way home. My mind ranged through meetings, proposals, promises, developments, the way forward, new ideas and so on until I fell into a light doze.

Earlier there had been a slight altercation between a Canadian and a German Muslim over seat allocation, and I fell to pondering on national stereotypes. Meanwhile my reading matter for the journey was the account books of C. F. Martin, luthier, based in Nazareth, Pennsylvania in the nineteenth century, not a page-turning thriller by most standards.*

So when I awoke there were three fresh ideas to make me smile.

Firstly, how about a series of picture books on national stereotypes? And before we all rush around tut-tutting and waving our hands in the air at such racism, it’s undeniable that a shared educational experience will produce a population that generally moves in the same direction and accepts the same discomforts. For example, most Americans are keener on owning guns than most Brits. Germans are generally more efficient than Greeks. Italians design prettier cars than the Welsh. And many of these attitudes could be illustrated by photographs — fotoLibra photographs, of course.

I suddenly remembered the pre-war Punch cartoonist Pont, and his series on The British Character. Wonderful, one-frame situation comedies, with captions such as

  • Fondness for cricket
  • Importance of being athletic
  • Absence of enthusiasm for answering letters
  • Preference for driving on the crown of the road
  • Love of travelling alone
  • A tendency to be hearty
  • A fondness of anything French
  • A tendency to learn the piano when young

You can imagine his drawings. So in my spare time I thought I’d rattle off a few observations on the national characteristics of the English, the Americans, the Spanish, the French, the Germans, the Italians and any other nation where I’ve had some experience of the inhabitants, each illustrated by a suitable fotoLibra image. If you have any suggestions for captions — and for images — please let me know. I’m looking for an affectionate and gently ironic tone. But I’m happy to offend, if it’s funny enough.

Then I contemplated Herr Martin, German immigrant to New York in 1834 and his subsequent move to Nazareth, PA, where the company he founded still makes fabulous and sought-after guitars. I discovered that Nazareth was a suburb of Bethlehem, PA and I thought that would have made Mary and Joseph’s life a little easier, having to travel 10 miles instead of 110. But there’s a Nasareth and a Bethlehem in Wales, as well — and they’re the same distance apart as the original Nazareth in Judea and Bethlehem.

There we are! How about a pilgrimage across three continents? A description of three journeys from Nazareth to Bethlehem — one in Israel / Palestine, one in Wales, one in the USA. It would be a road trip, maybe even one short and two long walks, discovering the sights to be seen and the wonders to be shared in three such different environments, all with a common heritage. TV series? Book? Magazine article? I have yet to decide. But an agreeable concept.

And then Mr Martin and his lovely guitars. I am fortunate enough to own one, a 1972 D-35 Dreadnought acoustic, named for the British battleships of the early twentieth century. When I’m away from it, my fingertips get soft and itchy, and it’s not really practical to lug it around. Why couldn’t I rent one while I was in Frankfurt so I could have a quick strum before bedtime?

Eleven years ago I spent three weeks in George, South Africa, rocking on my heels. On the second day, fearing I might go stir crazy, I found a music shop and asked the owner if he would consider renting me a guitar for three weeks. He looked at me as if I was black. Then someone renting my house in Wales asked if there was a local shop which could rent him a guitar for two weeks. There isn’t.

Why not? Don’t be silly, I told myself, there will be a giant corporation which has this sewn up. I just haven’t heard of it yet. RENT-AN-AX dot com probably has depots scattered across the world where tired businesspeople can have a Strat delivered to their hotel room when they check in. Blindingly obvious. Ah well.

I got back home, and looked up rentanax.com. No such website. So I registered it. I am now the proud owner of rentanax.com.

Now what do I do? Anyone want to start a guitar rental company?

Me, I’ve got a picture library to run.

*Fascinating nonetheless: C F Martin & His Guitars: 1796—1873, by Philip F Gura, Centerstream Publishing, Anaheim Hills 2012.











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33 Responses to “Dreams, Trains, Ideas”

  1. Brenda Skinner says:

    Canadian sterotype!
    A tendency to be apologetic

  2. Brenda Skinner says:

    Or perhaps a ‘stereotype’ Sorry about that.

  3. Brenda Skinner says:


  4. pogo says:

    sorry don’t get this at all. so what do you want for photos? trains, stereotypes? I open it because I see trains and just shot steam engines and now I find it is just rambling mutterings and am confused.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      You’re absolutely right, Pogo, this one is just rambling mutterings. Read Jacqui Norman’s Picture Calls instead. She tells you what people are wanting to buy right now. It’s not often steam engines, because most people prefer photographing them to buying photographs of them.

  5. Ron says:

    Hi Gwyn, what do you mean, “He looked at me as if I was black”? Maybe he just thought you were a Brit.

  6. Erik Strodl says:

    You will probably end up with some nutter who hasn’t got a clue of what you are talking about and wanting to rent an axe

    on the subject or importance of being athletic this sprang to mind FOT647412

  7. David Carton says:

    LOL to pogo by the way. He’s obviously not read yu before 🙂

    BTW Rambling Mutterings would make a great stage name next time you’re playing your guitar Gwyn!

  8. Brian Murray says:

    A 1972 D-35 Dreadnought acoustic? Very nice indeed. Rent-an-ax would be a top idea, just bear in mind that you’d probably have to rent a Marshall, too, which could put a dampener on the portability of the guitars. And don’t rent out to your local Hendrix impersonator.

  9. Martyn Osman says:

    I wrongly thought an Axe was a Saxophone. I have a splendid Martin Handcraft (Committee ) Tenor , that I maybe will get buried with me when I go on that final journey. Wish I felt inspired.

  10. Martyn Osman says:

    The term Axe may refer to the tune Yakerty Sax , later becoming the theme tune The Benny Hill Show. (See Wikerpedia)

  11. Ric Morris says:

    Being Welsh, like your good self, Gwyn, I’m faintly disappointed at the Italian/Welsh cars remark. Now I can’t think of many Welsh cars, (except that Gilburn thing in the 70s) so that puts us at an immediate disadvantage. But Fiats, for example, are all pig-ugly in my opinion. Look at the late 80s Punto, for example. Ach-y-fi! And don’t even mention the Tipo, truly a turd designed by committee. There was a more recent people carrier thing that I can’t remember the name of. That looked like a bulgy frog shaped shed on wheels. Disgusting. And what’s with the Alfas putting the numberplates on the offside like that? Just perverse. I don’t count the highly rated (by some) Ferraris, etc as cars at all, because they are not mass market enough to be anything other than rich boy toys and in anycase just look like an old Airfix that’s been melted in the oven. With that limited ground clearance, they’re effectively useless, as I doubt they’d even make it over the hill roads from Llyn Efyrnwy to Bala, let alone down Allt y Badi or Y Gwernant into Llangollen!

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Connaught? They sponsored the Scarlets last year, but I don’t know if they’ve built a car yet. The Gilbern was uglier than any Fiat, honestly. And yes, practicality is a good point — the Maserati will keep grounding on my drive.

  12. Solomon says:

    Sure is a great story Gwyn.Funny how new ideas seem to come from unusual circumstances, time and place. Necessity is pretty much at the forefront of invention and innovations, and you stumbled upon a perfect niche to be filled, if not by you, then certainly by someone who is itching to service a need in this wonderful world of ours. It’s a great idea for sure.

    Best wishes as always.

  13. Erik is right! If I saw your new website mentioned, I’d think it was for axes! What is an AX? I assume it’s an acoustic guitar because of your subject matter, so why not AG?

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Because an ax will be understood by the target market! To be precise (and pedantic again!) an ax is generally a solid-bodied electric guitar.
      Enough about definitions! Who’s going to invest in this biz?

  14. Jamie Waddell says:

    I agree with the stereotypes, to a degree but I think you should delete British and insert English- it’s an English stereotype to assume both are same.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      The English cartoonist Pont called his series The British Character. The book I want to do is simply titled The English. I am Welsh, British, and European, but I am not English.

  15. Richard says:


    You also have a group of images gathering dust under “Follies” that are getting old waiting for your attention.

  16. quinn gale says:

    Hi Gwyn
    I Like the idea of hiring out guitars
    in various far flung places.As an amateur guitarist and a traveller I used to carry mine with me until an airline damaged a Takamini I was using at the time

  17. pete says:

    Love your thought process Gwyn but really worried for the human race with some of the serious comments. We used to all be creative in this world of images and thinking outside the ax was required and now are we all corporate pedants?

  18. Mike Mumford says:

    My Dreams are here today and gone in a flash. They entertain the sleeping brain, to make you feel better when you awake fresh and alert to put your daytime real “dreams” to work. As to our “trains” of thought they have to consent to change and evolve.
    Life’s experiences should make us wiser to fresh ideas, fight against the over exploitation our institutions given to us on a daily basis. Everything that changes “Ideas” knowledge is changing our world at the speed of light, and that’s fast. Education has to be “Key” without the quality of real practical knowledge to combine practical “Ideas” to technology we can then all move forward together in a worthwhile future together.
    Leaving the way we “think” to evolve even more quickly, your source material is now together globally, for good or bad.

  19. David Williams says:

    Gwyn – interesting thoughts and ideas.

    On the idea for a story about travels through 3 environments – great idea, although I recently offered you a TRUE untold story across 5 continents and through many many different environments which you rejected.