News from the Pipemaking Workshop with the Funk.
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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Among the Pipemen

It isn't often that we get reported on in the mainstream press, much less positively, so I have to thank Linwood Hines of CORPS for sharing this link with me, and in turn I wanted to share it with all my blog readers.

Among the Pipemen

An amusing excerpt:

Since the ban on smoking in public places, the pipe smokers that I used to see inside pubs are now outside pubs, often standing in the rain. But such is the sanguine nature of the pipe smoker that their feathers seem to have been only slightly ruffled and they appear to be keeping up with the times. I saw one dandyish figure outside the Swan hotel in Southwold, Suffolk, who was puffing on a great saxophone of a pipe (a Sherlock Holmes) while frowning over his BlackBerry. He was only in his thirties, too, so new blood is apparently coming through.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Take what you need, then divide by two

Moving is a pain, no doubt, and moving internationally is an experience I can't begin to describe, but there is one aspect of it that can be very enjoyable - It has a remarkable ability to pare your life down to the bare essentials, and it is a heartening feeling to know that for just one brief month in your life, your "stuff" consists entirely of what you are carrying on your body and in one tote bag.

Right now we are overwhelmed with things to do, all needing attention immediately (I am sitting down to write this for ten minutes just to have a break from crisis planning). I drew myself a two page flowchart just to help keep the various sequences of essential events straight in my head, so we could follow the next steps as quickly and efficiently as possible. It's quite a rat's nest of coordination between banks, notaires, customs, US accountants, French accountants, US business setup, French business shutdown, mover arrangements, shipping notes, packing notes, flight booking, cat shipping, and organized searches for all essential electrics stateside (The NC place will be a mountain of borrowed gear).

It is strange to think that within a month, all of this chaos will be boiled down to just a few items that I carry with me. Our personal goods will arrive six weeks behind us, so we'll have a long period of time when we will live very simply, off paper plates and cups, in the same few sets of clothes, with a few favorite paperbacks between us. This is not a bad thing. Moreover, the things we take are the things that will get set into memory, welded down as part of the story of our trip. When I think of our arrival over here, amidst all the hell that composed our first year, some of my best memories are of sitting alone late at night, feet up in plastic lawn chairs in the living room, reading old Edgar Rice Burroughs books off our Palm Pilot. Or of the brief interludes of fun I had in the evenings, before there was any television, relaxing with a pipe, the laptop, and a bit of gaming in Baldur's Gate. My companions through all this were a set of eight IMP Meerschaums, chosen for their smokability, their durability, and their meerschaum advantage of being able to be smoked repeatedly without souring like briar would.

I haven't picked my travel pipes yet, but the "moving tobaccos" are already open:

Tragically, I ran out of my favorite, 1792 Flake, some days ago and don't want to bother ordering more till we're moved, so these will have to do. And the funny thing is, I know in future years I'll have fond memories of every one of them - Few things hold memory like scents, and these pipe tobaccos will be forever fused into my memory as reminders of Big Move #2.

How do they stack up as tobaccos? Peterson's Sherlock Holmes has long been a favorite aromatic of mine - It has a distinctive flavor, it's always good, and it's (fairly) easy to find. Penzance is excellent. Some years back (late 90's, IIRC), there was an internet rage over Penzance as the "Flavor of the Month", and everybody had to have it. It was damned annoying, because it was always sold out and I couldn't get any, being unwilling to pay the extortionist prices of tobacco scalpers on ebay. I'm much happier today - The tobacco remains as exceptional as always, but the hype has died down and I'm actually able to buy the stuff again. One of the all-time greats, IMO, for anyone who likes a rich and smokey English flake.

Two GLP's are in the mix, Abingdon and Maltese Falcon. This is my first experience with both. Abingdon has yet to register much of an impact on me, though Maltese Falcon is quite good. Like the Abingdon, the Ferndown Yellow and Brown is good stuff but doesn't give me a particular sense of individual identity, per se - My favorite tobaccos all have very strong and very distinct personalities, and so far it's simply an affable and enjoyable blend.

Then there is McClelland Blackwoods Flake from 2000. Exceptionally nice. I've had a difficult time with McC blends in the past, and have found a lot of them bitey, so some years back I secured a few to put away for long-term aging and this is one. I was fond of Blackwoods Flake new, but aged, it is splendid! It still carries that sweet, sharp, pungent flavor (raisin, to me) that seems a McC trademark, but any acidity has mellowed out of it and left only goodness.

The last tin is a mystery! I picked it up at the Rheinbach pipe show in 2007, and it's simply tagged "Latakia Flake". The brand name logo is so small that I cannot read it! It is "K&K-something". I'll have to solve it, though, because it's delicious stuff and I want more.

So there they are, traveling companions of the moment. At least a couple of them may be exhausted by the time of the flight, others will be replaced after, but forever onwards, to me they will always be the pipe tobaccos of the move.
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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

New Bloggy Buttons

One more note - I've just added a small new widget to this blog, to make it more convenient for readers to share anything that particularly interests them. Over in the left-side column, there are two new buttons - a "Subscribe" button that will easily allow readers to add the blog feed to their Google home pages, Yahoo home pages, RSS readers, etc, and a "Share" button that will allow readers to easily share the blog on Facebook, Twitter, Google, via email, etc. Each individual post is also followed by a "Share" button for easy sharing of specific posts or articles. The Talbert Pipe Blog gradually crawls into the 20th century! Here is an example of what it can look like if one clicks the "Subscribe" button to add the blog's articles to a Google home page, to be sure of not missing any posts:

Long-time readers may also note that post comments are now displayed under each post, rather than on a separate page. I thought this might make for interesting reading since the blog is likely to see more activity over coming months as we move back to the states.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Note on Forums

A quick follow-up note on that last post's Big News - I have posted the story around to some of the various larger pipe forums on the net, and will try to follow up replies for a few days at least, but I expect that the time crunch and circumstances here will quickly consume all my time and leave none for further forum chat. The only pipe forum I was unable to post the news to was P&T Foundations - I've been so busy lately that my membership there expired without my even noticing it, and I don't want to try and renew it till we're back in the states, since we'll undoubtedly be changing bank cards and all that too, for billing purposes. If anyone in Foundations has any major questions about this, please address them to me by email since I won't be seeing them in the forum, at least not for a while. Merci!

Friday, March 20, 2009

There and Back Again

Biz News - Fans of the more unusual Talbert Briars might want to take a look at this Ebay auction, on an odd piece done a couple years back for a special order. No new pipes from me, though, for reasons that are about to be obvious....

It seems like it has been a terribly long time since I have updated this blog, especially since the days when I could manage new posts each week, sometimes even every couple of days. Not so in 2008 - For us, like so many others, it has been a very difficult year and I have been too busy simply trying to stay fed and sheltered to keep up with my online writing. This may change soon, though, for today's picture is the harbinger of major news -

My wife and I are moving back to the United States!

We've lived nearly seven years in France. It's time. There are a multitude of reasons for the move - some expectedly angry and unpleasant, others fortuitous and perfectly timed. I may tell some harrowing stories in the future, but I don't want to dwell on specifics for the moment. Suffice to say that in one bright swoop, circumstances lined up ideally to enable us to make another transatlantic hop on our shoestring (nay, non-existent!) budget, and we chose to grab the opportunity. I write this sitting amidst packed boxes of books and clothes, and if all goes well, we should be leaving Brittany to return to North Carolina sometime in late April or May.

I depart France with the same jumble of extreme feelings I've had through all my time here. The people are wonderful, the bureacracy is a nightmare. The scenery is stunning, the communication is an eternal struggle. For every incredible vista of ruined castle overlooking rocky seaside cliffs, there are a dozen entreaties to government offices and business administration officials. It's nation where complete strangers will fly halfway across the country to bring you a bottle of their favorite wine, yet you have to literally scream and threaten violence just to get a fonctionnaire to acknowledge a fax. Living here has been like life with a beautiful trophy wife - lovely to look at, yet terribly difficult to maintain. But I know I will miss the place terribly, despite all the hassles, as we settle back into the relaxed, insular, Shire-like rythym of life in North Carolina. I can't help but think of Frodo Baggins, and wonder if I, too, will feel as though I'm "going back to sleep".

One aspect that I'm certain won't go back to sleep is my pipemaking - Talbert Briars will continue and carry on as always, and I look forward to once again being able to compete with the ranks of American pipemakers on an even footing, unhampered by the horrible dollar-to-euro currency imbalance that has dogged so much of our time here. It's also going to be a wonder to really be able to focus on my work again, without the pressures and immense weights of worry we have suffered for so long. All pipemaking will be shut down for the next several months, and our workshop is now closed in France. Some of the French machinery may be sold, some is definitely going with me, but it will take a long time to design and build our new workshop in the US, and until then there will be no new pipes (For those who may be interested, we have exactly two pipes remaining in stock for sale - one Ligne Bretagne and one Talbert Morta. Contact us soon if you're interested in either, before they get packed!)

I know the pipe community will probably have questions for us, but I'd ask that they be either posted here as comments, or held back until I can assemble a FAQ for this move, which will answer some of the obvious inquiries like, "Will Mortas and Ligne Bretagnes continue?", "Are you selling any of your stock and tools?", "Will your stamping change?", "Will your pricing change?", and so on. I have enough to do with the move, I'd as soon not have to type replies to the same questions many times over! And some questions have no answers as yet... The Ligne Bretagne stummels and hardware are going with me, for example, but I have not yet decided if they will change name. Morta pipes may continue if I can secure a reliable source of high quality blocks, but the material is hard to come by, and I am not interested in producing a substandard product. Time will tell...

In the very near future, the website will go offline except for a front page linking to this blog and our "Life in France" blog, where I hope to chart the progress of our move and our reactions to re-immersion in the American lifestyle and culture (Things I look forward to - KFC, good Mexican food, easy talking, and being able to get things accomplished without fifteen notarized attestations from the mairie and the préfecture plus stamped copies of every utility bill we've ever had and our marriage license. Things I do not look forward to - Loud, belligerent people, US non-health care, and Paris Hilton... though I think we have managed to foist her off on the Brits now). People interested in this social stuff may want to add us back to their Favorites for a bit, because the blogs are likely to be more active soon.

And speaking of, I'm currently looking for a good title for the "Life in France" blog if anyone has any ideas, since "An American Pipemaker in Brittany" won't work anymore. I'm going to miss sights like this being outside my front door...

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