Susan Morrison: JR Hartley let his fingers do the walking

JR Hartley's quest for a copy of Fly Fishing was so convincing that many viewers believed he was a real person
JR Hartley's quest for a copy of Fly Fishing was so convincing that many viewers believed he was a real person
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Ah, goodbye Yellow Pages. Actually, I was slightly surprised to hear it was still among us. The last time a directory came through our letter box it looked like Yellow Lite, a sort of low-calorie version of the orginal. All of the original colour, none of the original content.

It got yellower when our old cat Sul relieved himself all over it, his usual reaction to anything that came through the letter box and lay uncollected for any longer than 15 minutes.

The Yellow Pages book is no more. Picture: Julie Bull

The Yellow Pages book is no more. Picture: Julie Bull

This mere leaflet was not the monument to trades, shops and suppliers of wallpaper and paint I recalled. There was a time when you let your fingers do the walking, and trust me, your digits got a good workout.

The Yellow Pages was a blockbuster of a publication, and no home was without one. In fact, these days it would be big enough to be a home, well, if you call it student housing.

It was also the bane of my life when I worked for BT. Delivery season for Ol’ Yella heralded an onslaught of complaints about bulk dumping of directories, the wrong entries in the wrong pages and dead people.

In fact, both yellow and white directories read at times like a spiritualist’s contact list with the number of deceased we managed to include. To be fair, we weren’t high on the list for people to contact in the event of bereavement, but it was remarkable how many dead people we tried to bill every year.

The directory was a monster of a thing, and spawned a monster. JR Hartley had to write a guide to fly fishing, even though he didn’t exist, and neither did the original book. It was ghost-written by a bloke called Michael Russell, but people endlessly called asking if they could book Mr Hartley for Burns Suppers and Rotary Club Dinners. Perhaps they thought he would bring his own fish.

Eventually we fell back on the old “oh he’s already booked” excuse rather than go through the story, yet again. We couldn’t really bring ourselves to tell the truth. It would have been like telling toddlers about Santa.

Today Mr Hartley wouldn’t waste his time drifting from shop to shop in wearisome pursuit of his book. Nor would he need to rifle through his trusty Yellow Pages. These days, he, or some young scion of his house, would hit the interwebby thing and within seconds, a copy of Fly Fishing by JR Hartley would be run to ground faster than my old cat peeing on an unguarded party-political leaflet on the mat.

There’s no app for that

You can say what you like about modern technology, but can a smartphone be of any use against a spider? No it cannot.

All it ever took for the might Yellow Wall of Death was one blow to bring arachnid oblivion.

Let’s see the clever new iPhone get an app for that, shall we?

Let them eat breakfast cake

The Yorkshire husband had been reading the Sunday glossy. You know, one of those magazines where they have top tips for the autumn wardrobe, including this must-have suede jacket for £450. Anyway, he was having a bit of a read, because he likes the bits about cars we can only look at.

Suddenly he read about a cake. It was a recipe. Now, he likes cooking. His chilli cannot be beat and his curry cures colds. But cake? This was new. It was a hollow ring Italian number involving ricotta and olive oil, and was baked in a special tin.

For reasons I cannot fathom, this giant Italian doughnut fired the imagination of a Yorkshireman. Its major selling point appeared to be “they eat it for breakfast in Italy”.

If Isambard Kingdom Brunel baked cakes, this is how it would be done. The correct ingredients must be sourced, from impeccable providers. The lemons must be unwaxed, the ricotta fresh, but most of all, the cake tin must be procured.

This made the quest for The Grail look like a quick hoof around Poundland.

For shame, Lidl. What a let-down, Tesco. Asda, thou false friend. At last, the trusty John Lewis.

I figure that between the cost of the petrol, organic cheese and wax-free citrus fruit, this Italian breakfast cake cost about £25. It was nice though. And it did go well with the sort of rocket fuel coffee I like.

Truly wonderful

Happy 70th birthday Golden Wonder, another great food from Edinburgh, right up there with digestive biscuits, Bovril and Roses Lime Juice. Haven’t seen any recipes in the glossies involving crisps. Can’t think why not.

Here in Scotland, students regard them as an acceptable breakfast food, above round Italian cakes.

And let us be honest, who among us has not thrilled to the crunch of an entire packet of smoky bacon slammed and crushed between two slices of white bread? Food of the gods.