Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Overheard On A Huddersfield Bus

Scene: On a bus to town sat just behind two elderly ladies who are watching a young girl who is sat further down the bus and who is busy using her mobile phone.

Elderly Lady 1 (EL1) : Look at her. Tessing, or whatever they call it.
Elderly Lady 2 (EL2) : Texting, that's what it is, I think. Our Debbie does it all the time.
EL1 : What do they jabber on about? Why can't they write proper letters like we used to do?
EL2 : Our Arthur, he used to write me lovely letters.
EL1 : It's like that twerping. What's that all about?
EL2 : Twitting. Debbie does that an' all.
EL1 : If you have some'at to say, write it properly. Sentences, things that make sense. Like we did. Like our parents did.
EL2 : I can't imagine our Arthur twitting.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

No News From Nowhere Is Good News From Nowhere

Isobel and I received an e-mail from my brother yesterday checking up on our recovery from the various ailments that have beset us over the last few months. Even though we live on other sides of the world we tend to keep up with each others' lives by reading the others' blog - Roger's excellent blog is Sculpture Studio - and referring to the absence of posts on my blog over the last couple of months he wrote, "I assume that no News From Nowhere is good News From Nowhere". And, generally speaking, he is right. Isobel continues to recover from her emergency surgery and is doing remarkably well considering the scale of the operation. The date by which she can resume a little light housework seems to be continuously pushed back, and the amount of shopping therapy she has to undertake seems to increase in inverse proportion, but other than that she is doing very well. In a few weeks she should be able to drive again which means that my services as a retail chauffeur will no longer be needed, and I will have to find some other way of spending my time. 

My eye was recovering very well but over the last few days it has flared up again so it looks like a further course of poking, prodding, dropping, cleaning and waiting will be called for. We did, however, manage to get away on holiday and we had a splendid time with calm seas, good company, fine food, and soothing drink. My picture was taken as we sailed past some of the lovely little islands off the coast of Montenegro.I will use my "Picture Post" blog to feature some of my other recent photographs over the next few months.

With the holiday over and things return to some kind of Autumnal normality, it is time to return to my usual pattern of blogging. It is time to set aside blog posts which are little more that health bulletins or bleating essays in studied self-pity. News from Nowhere can now return to being obsessed with the inconsequential and, as far as my personal well being is concerned, please assume that no news of it is good news of it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Light Rather Than Dark, Compositions Not Constitutions

Railway Viaduct, Milnsbridge, Huddersfield. September 2014
I went out and took some photographs today. It is the first time in over a month: the first time since my eyes got infected and Isobel's gut got twisted. It was nowhere special; just Milnsbridge on the far side of Huddersfield (which is special, I suppose, if you come from Milnsbridge). The little expedition was, however, a sign that things are getting back to normal, a sign that I can allow myself the luxury of doing insubstantial things: worrying about light rather than dark, compositions rather than constitutions. Things are on the mend and what they need now is a little push in the right direction. It's time for that holiday, It's time to catch the sun. Off to the seaside, back soon (now where have I heard those words before!)

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Back From Another Place

Looking back on my last post, it is entitled "Off To The Seaside" and it simply says "Off to the seaside, back soon". As it happened, little of this turned out to be true. Compressing down what feels like one of the longest couple of weeks of my life, the facts are as follows. A couple of days before we were due to go to Cornwall I had a hospital appointment about the nasty eye infection I had been suffering from for five or six weeks. They warned me that it was more serious than we thought and that I needed an intensive period of antibiotic and steroid treatment and appointments with further specialists. On their advice, we cancelled the holiday. A few days later, my wife, Isobel, returned from a short shopping trip with severe abdominal pains. Within an hour she was rushed to hospital and she finished up having emergency surgery in the middle of the night. She was on Intensive Care for a few days, but then gradually recovered and finally came out of hospital yesterday. In between visiting the hospital to see her, I saw various other specialists and I am glad to report that my eye problem is equally responding to treatment. Alexander was given the week off work to help look after us and his care and support, and that of his new wife Heather, have been something we will never forget. Hopefully things will continue to improve over the next couple of weeks and I can return to my regular blogging schedule, but until then posts to my various blogs might be few and far between.

Two years ago, the Olympic Games were held in London and the film director Danny Boyle was given the task of putting together an opening ceremony which would somehow showcase the achievements of the host nation. In a move of genius, he decided to base the main part of the ceremony around a celebration of what the programme described as "the institution that more than any other, unites our nation - the National Health Service". In a fortnight in which that same NHS and its dedicated staff have saved my wifes' life and helped save my sight, I cannot do other than express my sincere thanks to it and rededicate myself to help ensuring its continued survival as a free and first class service available to all.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Sepia Saturday 242 : Is This The Face That Launched A Thousand Skips?

For Sepia Saturday this week we are given faces and fans with a hint of hidden meaning. I have stripped things down to a minimum and concentrated on the face. And when you get rid of all the extra bits you realise what strange things faces - that concentration of sensory organs, that data input terminal of the human consciousness - are.

I am not sure who my featured face belongs to. It comes from my collection of family photographs and therefore it is someone within - or close to - the various family trees that inhabit this house. When I show the photograph to people who live in these trees, they all tend to claim it as their own - "it was a friend of my mothers"; "she worked with Uncle Harry"; "didn't she marry Dick Hudson?" - without being able to provide any reliable prevenance. I did an experimental Google Image Search and, reliable as ever, that suggested it was George Washington.

I searched through all my other family photos hoping to find a match which would help to pin her down to Edith or Harry or Dick, but to no avail. By the end of the day, the mysterious lady remained mysterious, and my room was a mess. Papers were everywhere, plastic storage boxes - that scourge and boon of the modern hoarder - were thrown all over the place. It is time for a Spring Clean (I work to an antipodean timetable ever since I bumped my head as a schoolboy). It is time to order another rubbish skip. Or maybe two.

Visit the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links to become fans of more faces.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Only English Blood And That Of A Brace Of Grouse : Halifax in August 1914

From The Halifax Courier : Saturday 22 August 1914

By the third week of the war, a pattern was beginning to develop in terms of the reports appearing in the local newspapers in Great Britain. On the Western Front the allies were still enjoying "brilliant successes" and many still saw the war as a short-term escapade. It would be another four, murderous years before the Germans actually were retreating on the Rhine.

The most visible signs of the war for most people were the price increases, short-time working in the local mills, and the long list of donations to the War Relief Funds. As yet, the long lists of casualties had not become a feature of local newspapers.

Government representatives were touring the country requisitioning horses, transport vehicles and all types of equipment that could possibly be pressed into war service. Anti-German feelings were widespread and suspicions turned on not only those people of German origin who had been long-term British citizens, but even those who had slightly unusual names.

The Chesswas family were long-standing residents of the area, and even today the name is well known in the Lower Calder Valley. It is an indication of the zealotry that existed in some quarters that such a letter ever had to be written.

But even in those early days of the war, calmer, more measured voices could be heard. John Henry Whitley MP represented Halifax in the House of Commons from 1900 until 1928. During the war he chaired the Committee on Labour Relations which gave rise to the establishment of "Whitley Councils" which were responsible for determining wages in certain industries. In 1921, Whitley became Speaker of the House of Commons.

And despite the war, life went on. It was still possible to buy a block of ten cottages for £1,000 or a seven room house with a bath, a long garden and a greenhouse, for £250.  And it was still possible for Lord Savile to take to the moors and shoot the local wildlife. Given the slaughter that was just around the corner, it was a relatively harmless vice.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Eyeing Up Scottish Independence

I have always steered clear of pills and potions, boasting that I could play pill poker with most people of my age and win. But over the last few days I have been popping antibiotics like an addict - after developing a nasty eye infection. Eye drops and eye sprays worked for a while, but then the infection came back again with a vengeance. For days on end it felt like I had a half a plank - or a double six domino - stuck in my eye which was swollen, bloodshot and rather nasty. Eventually the medics called in the antibiotic cavalry and today, for the first time, it feels a little better. Hopefully, the tide has turned.

The postcard comes from Great Uncle Fowler Beanland's collection and, for him, is a comparatively late one having been sent in 1947. It was sent by my Auntie Amy and Uncle Wilf and is postmarked "Fleetwood" which is a fishing town on the Lancashire coast, a few miles north of Blackpool. For some reason, there is a quote from Robert Burns printed on the card:
"Be Britain still to Britain true,
Amongst ourselves united"

The surprising thing is that the card would appear to provide proof of the early start made by the "No" campaign in the upcoming Scottish independence referendum. Using Burns as a weapon in the arguments over Scottish independence is just one example of the exotic arguments being used in the final weeks of the campaign. It was suggested this morning by the ex Director-General of the BBC that, if Scotland did decide to become an independent country, it would no longer be able to receive transmissions of "Strictly Come Dancing". Now that is a low blow if ever there was one.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Khaki Dawn Over Blackpool : Halifax in August 1914

From The Halifax Courier : Saturday 15 August 1914

It is often said that "the truth is the first casualty of war", and in the days following the outbreak of war between the great powers of Europe, rumour often replaced accuracy in the columns of the British press. After ignoring the coming storm in Europe for months, the news agencies and the reporters were anxious to print any story they could find about the continental crisis. In the week following the outbreak of war, the papers were full of headlines proclaiming "French successes" and "German reverses". 

One little snippet of news hidden in the columns of the Courier seems to capture this near-hysteria. Whilst the recently-completed widening of the Kiel Canal had always been seen as a vital element in Germany's preparation for war - in 1911, Admiral Fisher, the First Sea Lord, had predicted that World War would break out within weeks of the completion of the work - I have not been able to find any records of anyone being bayoneted for looking out of the window. 

Reporting from closer to home tended to be more accurate - the first casualty of war was, in fact, economic stability. Britain was a world trading nation and world trade was inevitably going to be severely disrupted by the conflict. If you would not be able to sell the goods, there was no point in producing them, was the feeling amongst many local manufacturers.

But when one mill door closes, another one may open, and whilst the sun might set on the market for cotton dresses and linen bedsheets, a new dawn of khaki uniforms, gun cotton, and patriotic bunting was rising.

Panic was sweeping through the seaside resorts of England as bookings declined in the face of war fever, price inflation and economic chaos. Blackpool Corporation placed adverts in local newspapers throughout the north reassuring visitors that "conditions in Blackpool are JUST AS USUAL".

And generally speaking, during those first few weeks of war, life went on more or less, as usual. Holidays were taken, people were born, people got married and, inevitably, people died. But, as yet, it was not the grim war machine that was cutting down the best of a new generation - it was something far more prosaic. 

And for a little time longer, our murderous intentions could be focused on the perils, not of the Bosch, but of bugs and beetles, moths and fleas.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

To Liverpool With Mr Punch In A Morris and a Bentley

Spent a delightful day in Liverpool yesterday with an old friend. Thirty years ago when we both lived in Sheffield we would tour the second-hand bookshops together and then retire to a decent pub, to browse through our purchases and set the world to rights. He is now based mainly in Liverpool and therefore it was the bookshops of that city that we went in search of yesterday. There are still a few half-decent bookshops and a good number of fully decent pubs, so it was a grand day. I bought a bound copy of Punch Magazine dating from 1889 for the ridiculous sum of £2 (a little over $3) The above cartoon comes from it - the humour is still as fresh as a Morecambe Bay shrimp.

I couldn't visit Liverpool without a visit to the excellent News From Nowhere bookshop and I couldn't visit my namesake without a commemorative photograph. We both take our names from the classic book by William Morris which was published just a year after my bound copy of Punch.

And finally, in this Tuesday Morning Miscellany, my article on the life of the Halifax novelist Phyllis Bentley has now been published on the Halifax People website. If you would like to read it you can find it by following this LINK.  I will finish with a short extract from an article she wrote in the 1960s about her love for her native Halifax. She captures my home town well.

“I was a Yorkshire girl and proud of it. I loved the hills rolling away into the distance, springing out of each other in complex folds which, as it were, smiled sardonically at my efforts to find a word to describe them. I loved the purple heather and the dark rock, the russet bracken, the tumbling streams, the tough pale grass, the rough mortarless walls. Above all I loved the strong west winds, driving the great grey clouds relentlessly across the sky".