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.

Alan

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".

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sepia Saturday 240 : Semi-Detached Pretence


With the Sepia Saturday theme photograph being a picture of an apprehended criminal, one needs to be a little careful in one's choice of subject for Sepia Saturday 240. I am not entirely certain who this couple are, but I suspect that they may be Abraham and Alice Moore, the parents of my Uncle Harry. If the faces look familiar, it is not because you have seen them in countless issues of the Police Gazette or featured on endless "Wanted" posters : they are not the Bonny and Clyde of Bradford. The source of the familiarity is probably much closer to our Sepia home.

Take a closer look at our familiar Sepia Saturday header - the photograph which for 240 weeks now has headed our Sepia Saturday challenge. Take a look at the young couple dressed in their finery ready to start out life together.  And then move forward forty or so years and move them into semi-detached suburbia. 

They seem a quiet couple : bordering on comfortable. They didn't achieve their rise from the terraced streets of Bradford to the semi-detached roads of Bradford by either robbing banks nor robbing people on behalf of banks. It was work. Not the kind of work that sent them hewing coal down the mines or doffing threads on a loom - office work, shop work, quiet work, steady work : but work none the less. Perhaps the black trilby hat and the white soot-defying coat suggest a little pretence. But they earned it. It's not false pretence, more semi-detached pretence.

Visit the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links to see other takes on the theme this week.


Friday, August 08, 2014

Round The Walls

The Good Lady Wife went to York yesterday to meet her cousin and lay siege to the shops. I travelled with her, but rather than the shops, I lay siege to the old city walls. A complete circumference is just over two miles - but it felt much longer. Here are a few of the photographs I took.

York Minster and Lendal Bridge
River Ouse From Skeldergate Bridge, York
Clifford's Tower, York
Churchyard, St Denys Church, Walmgate, York
Self Portrait With Walls And Office Building, York





Thursday, August 07, 2014

The Day The Music Died : Halifax in August 1914


From The Halifax Courier : Saturday 8 August 1914


Finally, war came to Halifax, just as it came to the rest of the country, on the 4th August 1914. It had sneaked up on the country, until now the papers had been full of summer holidays, society weddings and the dangers posed by the suffragettes. But the Halifax Courier of the 8th August was different - war had now moved centre stage, it dominated every aspect of life. And it would do for a further four years.


I have been unable to discover how many people from Halifax died in the Great War; how many of those who marched off never came back again. But numbers are not real : you can't aggregate grief. The loss of one husband, one son, one brother is a uniquely tragic event that defies records and ledgers and tallies.


Published in the first week of the war, this dialect poem by Willie Horner of Walt Royd Farm, Halifax, demonstrates remarkable prescience. If war ever had any romance, the "gurt destructive guns" of the Western Front were shortly to blow it away for ever.


Homing pigeons were indeed widely used during the war to carry military messages. Under the Defence of the Realm Act, shooting a homing pigeon became an offence punishable by up to six months in prison.


At the outbreak of War German residents in the United Kingdom were gathered together by the authorities. Eventually, men of fighting age - normally between the ages of 18 and 50 - were interred in camps around the country, particularly camps in the Isle of man.


During those early weeks of war, rumours were widespread (the original stories about Russian troops with snow on their boots, date from the first World War). At the time of this article, no navel battle had taken place in the North Sea, although later in the month the Battle of Heligoland Bight took place during which 35 British sailors lost their lives. A financial panic did follow the outbreak of war and the financial crisis was only averted by the closure of banks during a special four day Bank Holiday and the suspension of the London Stock Exchange. The Stock Exchange remained closed for five months.

Perhaps the most poignant comment of all on the coming of war was the announcement that military band performances had been suspended. Not only did the lights go out all over Europe, the band stands also went quiet.