Wednesday, April 26, 2017

20 Images : 3. Portrait Of A Lady From Birkenhead

20 Images : 3. Portrait Of A Lady From Birkenhead

In my mind I still have the image of poor deaf Sue communicating with passing ships in order to warn them about the crooks of international notoriety. And the thought of passing ships somehow takes me to Liverpool and the River Mersey and holidays we would take when I was a child at New Brighton where I would watch the ships from Liverpool and Birkenhead pass by. Perhaps this bonnie lass used to watch the ships pass by from her home in Birkenhead - she appeared in a small collection of Victorian and Edwardian Carte de Visites I bought the other day. Whenever I acquire such a photograph which has the photographer's name on it, I immediately go in search of further information about the firm. There is, however, precious little to discover about the Watson Brothers who had a studio at 85, Argyle Street - they are difficult to track down via the usual sources such as census records and trade directories. 

There is, however, one intriguing possibility - there was an artist called Watson living in Birkenhead at the time along with two of his children - Walter and Sydney Watson - who were also listed in the 1901 census as artists. Most studio photographers of the era would credit themselves as being "artists and photographers", so it may be that they two Watson boys set themselves up, for a short time at least, as studio photographers. Their father, William Watson Jnr (1847-1921) was a moderately famous artist whose work still manages to fetch a tidy sum in auction houses. Like his father before him, and like at least three of his children after him (Sydney being one of them), he specialised in pictures of highland cattle and sheep in cloud-shrouded Scottish Glens - the kind of scene that appealed enormously to the Victorian upper middle classes. Could it be that the gaze of the young lady in the portrait had been caught by a herd of passing highland cattle?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

20 Images : 2. Picture Stories Magazine

20 Images : 2. Picture Stories Magazine, September 1914

The advert for the Midland Hair Manufacturing Company appeared in the September 1914 edition of the British periodical, Picture Stories Magazine. Picture Stories was one of a new generation of magazines aimed at the growing cinema audience - magazines that tried to make up for the fact that films were still silent and plots could only be indicated by dramatic movements and the occasional truncated subtitle. Picture Stories would provide the back-story so the watching audience could get the full benefits of the on-screen action. The film featured on the front cover is "The Voice Of Silence", a dramatic crime caper from the Edison Company. A summary of the plot of the film goes as follows: "Sue, a deaf mute, becomes acquainted with a wireless operator at Cliff Island and learns to use the apparatus. Three "crooks" of international notoriety overpower the operator when trying to communicate with the yacht on which they plan to escape, but Sue warns passing ships. They are captured and Sue gets a reward."

Monday, April 24, 2017

20 Images : 1. The Midland Hair Manufacturing Company

It is getting close to holiday time again, and real life is starting to interfere with blogging. It is not so much the being away on holiday which distracts my blogging mind, it is the pre-departure tension I suffer badly from. Instead of musing on the meaning of life I am checking my passport for the tenth time, making sure that all the electricity sockets have their plugs fully withdrawn, and anxiously calculating when will be the optimum time to purchase my handful of Euros. I cannot give these vital issues the full consideration they so obviously require whilst juggling numerous blogs like a third- rate music hall performer. Thus I will close everything down for a week or two with the exception of a single series of image-based posts, which will be called "20 Images". At this stage, I have no idea what these images will be (except, of course for the first one which can be found below) : I will be as interested as anyone in seeing precisely where this project leads me.

20 Images : 1 The Midland Hair Manufacturing Company

This is a scan of an old glass plate negative which, I suspects, dates back to the mid 1920s. From the various clues, the location is fairly easy to pin down - the buildings are on Radford Road in Nottingham. The businesses featured in the photograph provide a good socio-economic feel of the time - and the location. The shop on the left specialises in the sale of sewing machines, whilst next door, there is a stationery and fancy goods shop. I am slightly intrigued by the phrase "High Frequency" which features in the central window - the shop does not appear to sell radios and even if it did would these be described as "high frequency" at the time? The most prominent signage is for the wonderfully named "Midland Hair Manufacturing Company" which had been trading from this address since the 1890s. An advert for the company in a September 1914 issue of Picture Stories Magazine states: "Our transformations, wigs, Empire curls, covered pads, chignons, fringes and switches are famous for their elegance and style ... and are made up in the latest modes from the very finest quality of healthy, human hair."

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Sepia Saturday 364 : The Disappointing Spartan

Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week is a photograph taken at a school sports day in Carshalton back in 1907. The subject instantly rang bells in what is left of my photographic memory - I remember taking a series of photographs at my own school sports day way back in 1966. If I had been a different person, no doubt I would have been kitted out in shorts and running shoes, my lungs gasping for that last breath of oxygen to power me towards the finishing line. But I was not that kind of kid. I far preferred to wander around the sport's field, camera in hand, taking photographs of my school friends and any pretty girl I might pass.

Just in case there is anyone out there who might recognise themselves - the date was, I think, 1966. The school was the Crossley and Porter School in Halifax and the sports day was being held at the Spring Hall Athletics Ground in Halifax.

It was an inter-house competition - the four houses in the boy's side of the school (Trojans, Vikings, Paladins and Spartans) would compete for points that would contribute to an ornate inter-house trophy. I was a Spartan, and Spartans had a long and fine reputation of being a sporting house. I was a disappointment.

​I seem to recall that the last race of the day was an open long-distance race and houses could enter as many runners as they could muster. A point would be gained for the house for each competitor who made it to the finishing line, irrespective of their finishing positions. Towards the close of proceedings House Masters would patrol the sports field in order to press-gang unwilling entrants. It was at this time that I, along with a coterie of other sporting disappointments, would head for safe hiding havens. Ah, school days - the best years of our life!

To see what others were up to on their school sports days - go to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

George (Of Surrey), It Is Impossible To Do This ...

Back in the "good old days", before people had access to a free National Health Service, before there were dedicated health phone lines to use in order to receive advice, before even there was Google to nervously type your symptoms into, people would turn to the newspaper columns to get medical advice. Newspapers such as "The People - A Weekly Newspaper For All Classes" would have sections entitled "Replies To Readers' Queries" and there would usually be a medical section. These were made even more fascinating to the casual reader by the habit of - in an act of sham confidentiality - not printing the original question but simply the answer. Here are a few examples from the paper of one hundred years ago - the 22nd April 1917.

ALICE (Highbury) - (Rheumatism) : Wear warm woollen stockings and stout soled shoes. Avoid sweets, sugar, and have the feet rubbed every night with some of the following embrocation - Lin terebinth acet (this turns out to be a mixture of turps, camphor and lemon juice).....
FRANGIPANI : Nothing can be done for this except a rather severe operation to cure the fistula. Should be inclined to put up with the discomfort......
INQUIRER : Unsuitable for publication, read rules.
DRUMMER : Wash the child's head once a week with powdered borax and hot water instead of soap .....
TREBLIG : She might try the vaccine treatment and can be no worse after it.....
GEORGE (Surrey) : Impossible to do this ....
GEORGE (Tufnell Park) : A teaspoon of cod liver oil daily during cold weather is very good .... Wear woollen underclothing and get what outdoor exercise you can ....
HUGO : Answer as for George (Surrey) ....
TROUBLED (Portland) : There is no reason to worry; it is nothing unusual at your age.....
STUDENT : There is nothing for this trouble ....
ANXIOUS : As for "Student" ....
THACKER (Giddiness) : Your stomach is clearly out of order and you must have very light meals, no stimulants and plenty of time over your food. Drink hot water on rising and going to bed ....
HAIR : We don't recommend dye, and nothing else could do what you require ....
DIGESTION (Wilts) : Drink a glass of hot water every night at bedtime and eat your food slowly and masticate thoroughly ....

I realise that a whole century has elapsed since the onset of these symptoms, but just in case any of the sufferers are still around I would like to wish them continued good health, Could I just add to both Hugo and George (Surrey) that medical science has advanced a lot in the last hundred years so it might well be possible to do it now! And finally, if Inquirer would care to get in touch with me I will happily publicise his or her problem in this more enlightened era when few things are unsuitable for publication.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

COACH : The George, Stamford

There is something about a coaching inn - the thought of it conjures up the sound of iron horseshoes on granite cobbles, the smell of rain-soaked leather jerkins, the blast of a post horn cutting through a misty morning. Nobody this side of two hundred can effectively claim to have experienced any of these first hand, but our consciousness has soaked the sensations up from Morocco-bound volumes of Pickwick Papers or Fielding's Tom Jones. 

​Surely one of the finest voyages of discovery one can embark upon is an expedition to discover what is left of the great coaching inns of Britain, and, along with some old friends, Isobel and I started such an expedition recently. Our first objective was perhaps one of the finest - and most probably the most luxurious, coaching inns of the old Great North Road - the George at Stamford.

​There has probably been an inn at this location close to the river in Stamford, Lincolnshire for nine hundred years or more, but the current building "only" dates back to the end of the sixteenth century. It is a wonderfully rambling buildings with ancient rooms set at wonderful angles, overlooking gardens and courtyards and the main road that once took travellers from London to the north. King Charles stayed in those rooms as did any eighteenth or nineteenth politician, writer or artist worth his or her salt. If you were travelling north you would wait in the York Room, whilst travellers heading south would congregate in the London Room. If you were wanting an excellent breakfast to see you on your way, and here I speak from experience, you would make your way to the Oak Panelled Restaurant.

The George has set the bar high as far as judging the standards of coaching inns we are yet to visit is concerned. But what fun we will have discovering whether or not they meet it.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Come Friendly Bombs And Fall On The Third Largest Lake in England : The Rock Tavern Quiz

As a Easter holiday treat, here is a shortened version of Friday's Rock Tavern Quiz. You can find the answers by looking at the comments on the original blog post. The usual prize of a pint of best beer to the highest score (for which you will need to personally turn up to the Rock Tavern in order to claim it from me)

1. Who wrote a poem opening: “Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough; It isn’t fit for humans now”?
2. Where would you find the Sea of Death and the Lake of Cleverness?
3. Which toy takes its name for the Danish for “play well”?
4. Catherine Earnshaw is a central character in which novel?
5. Which are the three largest lakes (by surface area) in England? Point for each and a bonus for getting them in the right order.

6. In the USA, what was prohibited by the 18th amendment? Note: a factually accurate answer is required! 
7. Who played the female lead in the film Breakfast At Tiffany’s and for a bonus what was the name of her character?
8. Which famous fashion chain went into administration earlier this week?
9. How should a piece of music marked “adagio” be played?
10. Which are the three longest rivers wholly or partly in England? Point for each and a bonus for getting them in the right order.

11. Which two sets of fathers and sons have won the Formula 1 Drivers World Championships? Point for each pair.
12. Which Rugby League team are nicknamed the Vikings and also are known as the Chemics?
13. The city of Portsmouth saw the birth in 1812 of which famous writer and in 1912 which Prime Minister? - point for each
14. Who broke records earlier this year with 16 songs in the top 20 at the same time?
15. Which three football clubs have won the most Premier League champions titles? Point for each and a bonus for the right order.

16. Who was the first and who was the last 20th century Prime Minister of the United Kingdom? Point for each.
17. How many sides has the new £1 coin?
18. How many stomachs has a cow?
19. Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie is the real name of which singer, who has had hits in every decade since the 1960s?

20. Which are the three longest seaside piers in England? Point for each and a bonus for the right order.
21. The Simplon railway tunnel is located in which two countries? Point for each
22. What was the name of the park where Yogi Bear lived?
23. In which city do the main sessions of the European Parliament take place?
24. Who was the captain of HMS Bounty?

25. Which are the world’s three most populated islands? A point for each and a bonus for the right order.
26. What cricket score is nicknamed “Nelson”?
27. In which year was the Cuban Missile Crisis?
28. Where in London would you find the Strangers Gallery?
29. Which snooker player won the first 15 annual World Professional Snooker Championships before retiring undefeated in 1946?
30. Which was the biggest grossing film in terms of worldwide sales in 2016?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Picture Books : The Second World War In Photographs

I have a set of rules when it comes to books, some of which I have set myself whilst others have been imposed by my Good Lady Wife. Given my gas-like ability to expand my bookshelves into whatever space might be available she has imposed a "one in, one out rule" which requires the disposal of a volume before another can cross the threshold. The second rule I have imposed on myself, and that is that I will now only buy physical books which have as much space dedicated to pictures as to words. It is not that I am boycotting "word books", it is just that they have a home on my eBook Reader, a home that does not take up precious shelf-space.

If you look through a list of book genres, you will be hard pressed to find one entitled "picture books", but it is a genre I have become more and more fascinated by as I have got older. Theoretically, "picture books" can stray into the province of any of the traditional genres (see William Boyd's Sweet Caress as an example of a novel that makes excellent use of pictures), but they are best represented in the field of non-fiction, particularly history and travel. By providing occasional reviews of some of the picture books that make it into my collection, I get an excuse for sharing some of the images themselves (by definition a review of a picture book should be based just as much on images as on words).

Richard Holmes' "The Second World War In Photographs" is a splendidly weighty tome that is brim-full of archive images from the collection of the Imperial War Museum. These images provide a fascinating window into the life of both ordinary citizens and members of the armed forces during those tumultuous years of world war. The vast majority of the images are in monochrome, which somehow suits the spirit of the times (the occasional colour photograph appears almost unreal). The photographs not only tell the story of the conflict, but also the human story of millions of people whose lives were changed forever. It is the kind of book which clearly demonstrates that picture books can make a real contribution to the study of social history.

"The Second World War In Photographs" by Richard Holmes. Andre Deutche (2000)

Monday, April 10, 2017

Six From .... Burghley House


We seem to have been out and about a lot over the last week or two and I have a pocket-full of SD cards with photographs of many of the places we have visited. One of the problems, of course, of modern digital photography is that we take far too many photographs and save far too few. Most of mine go into a ubiquitous file with the apt name of "Dump", and remain there until either the computer - or possibly myself - fades into dust. At times I would happily swap the convenience of unlimited instant images for the lasting physicality of a strip of acetate film. At least I can pretend that my photographs are still joined together at the hip and present them as collectively and at the same time provide a link to my Flickr account where they can be viewed individually.

Burghley House and Gardens cling to the southern extremities of the county of Lincolnshire. The house was built by William Cecil, the Lord High Treasurer and Chief Minister to Queen Elizabeth 1st. The extensive parkland surrounding the Elizabethan mansion consists of formal gardens, sculpture parks, woods and meadows - the park is the home of the internationally famous annual horse trials. Cecil is remembered as one of the most powerful men of Elizabethan times, a consummate political animal who once said of himself  that "he was sprung from the willow rather than the oak, and he was not the man to suffer for convictions". Cecil, it appeared, had a great interest in heraldry and genealogy, and was anxious to establish a new English aristocracy from the ruins of the old Catholic order.  His success can perhaps be judged by the fact that one of his direct descendants still lives in Burghley House today.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

A Tribute To A Fine Photographer

No Interflora, No Taxis : By Geoffrey K Beaumont, October 1999

I attended the funeral yesterday of my daughter-in-law's grandfather; a man of considerable charm and boundless good humour, a man who went out of his way to welcome Isobel, Alexander and I into his wonderful extended family. At the Service of Thanksgiving, the church was packed, as befitted a man who was at the very centre of his community and his family. Geoff, however, was not just a respected member of his local community, Geoff was also a passionate photographer, and his family had brought down to the church a large collection of his mounted prints, where they were displayed on the walls. After the service we were each invited to select a few of the prints and take them away with us as a lasting memorial to a fine gentleman.

Geoff was not just a great photographer, he was also a gifted print-maker and I therefore confess that I helped myself to what was probably more than my fair share. The one I have chosen to share is one he took of King Street in Huddersfield some eighteen years ago. It is a photograph I wish I had taken, a photograph which drips with history and social comment.

The idea of distributing some of his many fine prints to family and friends is a wonderful one, but sadly one which will not be able to be repeated too often for future photographers in this new age when digital images exist for only as long as a pixilated screen is lit. Geoff's print now resides in my office and every time I look at it I think, "I wish I'd have taken that". There is no finer tribute to a photographer than that.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Sepia Saturday 361 : The Three Burnett Boys

Our Sepia Saturday theme image for this Saturday - April Fool's Day - shows two brothers having some fun with an optical illusion on the beach. We sometimes forget how lucky we are these days; with Photoshop and the like we can remove heads from shoulders with a flick of a mouse's tail. Back in the bad old days in order to achieve a similar effect you had to bury one brother deep in the sands and get the other to bend his young head back at an unnatural angle. You'd be locked up for it today. To match the theme I can offer you two brothers having some fun with an optical illusion on the beach - although the illusion was much easier to achieve. And yes, in case you need to ask, those are the Burnett brothers again.

There were, at one time, three Burnett brothers, but for the life of me I can't remember what my other brother was called. In case you think this is a heartless and cruel confession, I should quickly point out that the third brother was merely a fictional convenience. At about the same time as this photograph must have been taken - the early 1960s, I guess - both Roger and I were voracious readers and dependent on the excellent stock of books then held by the local library. However, Halifax Public Library had a policy of issuing only three readers' tickets per member, which, we felt, placed unnecessary restrictions on our thirst for knowledge. We therefore invented the third brother and enrolled him as a member and shared his three tickets between the two of us.

For a time things worked well, but this was back in the days when library staff would take a genuine interest in their readers, and before too long they started wondering why brother Kenneth (I suspect that was his name) never went to the library himself, but sent his brothers to collect his books. We invented some chronic illness to explain the circumstances, but things soon got out of hand. The problems we had were twofold: Roger and I tended to visit the library at different times, and there was an element of competitive mischievousness between the two of us. Thus Roger would visit the Library on a Tuesday and embroider some tale about Kenneth and his sad existence, but fail to update me on the story before my Thursday visit. I would be met with questions about a brother that didn't exist suffering from an illness I knew nothing about; and would respond by notching the strangeness of the story up a peg or two without warning my brother before his regular Tuesday visit. This went on for some time and the life of Kenneth Burnett became an exercise in surrealist fantasy, until we both decided it was time for poor Kenneth to find lasting peace.

I don't recall whether during his short and bizarre life Kenneth ever had his head chopped off whilst on the beach, but - if my memory of those far off days serves me well - that would have been the least of his problems.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Calling The Shots In The Devil's Cauldron

This short strip of three old negatives floated to the top of my scan pile last night. They date back fifty years to a time when my brother and I were planning a photographic essay which had the wonderful working title: "Halifax - Devil's Cauldron Or Cradle Of The Arts". The photograph on the left shows Godley Cutting, whilst the one on the bottom right is of the old Halifax Gas Works and North Bridge sidings. The third photograph shows the joint authors of this essay that never saw completion. I think we were on one of the hills overlooking the Shibden Valley and hidden somewhere in the grass is a shutter cable-release. No doubt before the sun has set over Dominica, my brother will add a comment to point out that the photographs were taken in Cleethorpes whilst we were selling sea-shells. But, my dear boy, as someone once probably said, "he who writes history gets to call the shots".

Thursday, March 30, 2017

News From Yesterday : Beer, Chips And Elastic Bands

News From Yesterday
Huddersfield Daily Examiner 30 March 1917

They did awful things with beer supply during the First World War. They introduced licensing hours to control when people could drink it, they nationalised a brewery to control how it was produced; and when all else failed, they doubled the price of it so people couldn't afford it.

Doubling the price of beer may sound like a bad dream, but doubling beer prices whilst there is a severe shortage of potatoes is the stuff of nightmares. Cauliflowers and Swedes I can well live without - indeed I have done so with no harmful effects for almost seventy years - but potatoes, in the form of chips and crisps, are essential, to not only my life, but the life of any sane human being.

The Omnibus Man-Catcher must count as one of the great missed opportunities of modern times. Forget inflatable bags and strengthened steel cages, a large elastic band stretched in front of vehicles to gently catapult them out of danger on busy roads is an ideal solution to the challenges of road safety. In this age of driverless vehicles, perhaps it is time to return to this idea.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

An Open Letter To Mrs Marshall

Dear Mrs Marshall,

You may not remember me. My Auntie Annie and Uncle Harry used to live next door to you when you lived in the village of Northowram a long, long time ago. It was the summer of 1966. Wild Thing by The Troggs was top of the hit parade and we were all queueing up at the cinema to see Michael Caine in Alfie. It was the summer of love and peace, the summer we marched to Grosvenor Square chanting anti-Vietnam War slogans. It was the summer that Sheffield Wednesday gave away a two goal lead in the FA Cup Final at Wembley. A long, long time ago.

It was the summer before I left school and my course in life was already charted. I was going to become a press photographer for the local newspaper and the Picture Editor had suggested that I get in some practice by taking photographs at local events. Your granddaughter (or was it your grandson) was going to appear in the local village fete and you commissioned me to take photographs of the event. I seem to remember that the fee for the job was going to be half a crown.

I went along to the field behind the church where the event was taking place and took loads of photograph because, if truth be told, I could not work out which was the child in question. I developed the film in my little home darkroom in the cellar under my parent's house. There were some nice photographs which, I thought, captured the spirit of the event.

But then something intervened. Perhaps it was politics. Perhaps it was a girl. Perhaps it was the discovery of beer. I never delivered on my promise. I never printed the negatives. And before I knew it the world had changed. The local newspaper closed down. I became redundant before I started work. My interests shifted elsewhere - to politics, to girls, to beer. The strip of negatives got filed away and forgotten about. Until last night when I was scanning for memories.

So here they are, the photographs I promised you. I am well aware that the grandchild in question will probably be a grandparent themselves by now. But, as they say, better late than never.


P.S. Do I still get the half a crown?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Sad Tale (And The Even Sadder Tail) Of The Hartlepool Monkey

"Do you know about the Hartlepool Monkey?",  Jack asked me in the pub the other evening. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, there was some kind of memory - didn't the people of Hartlepool elect a monkey as mayor several years ago? - so I said yes and was handed an old postcard which set out the ancient, and rather brutal, legend of the monkey that was hung by the fishermen of Hartlepool because they thought it might be a French spy during the Napoleonic Wars. At the height of the wars, when there was a great fear of a French invasion, it appears that a French ship was wrecked in a storm off the Hartlepool coast. The only survivor of the wreck was the ship's pet monkey which had been dressed in a military style uniform. The fishermen became convinced that the monkey was a spy and held a trial on the beach and the poor creature was sentenced to be hung.

Two verses of the longer ballad about the affair of the Hartlepool monkey are printed on the card. Here is the first verse - which isn't on the card - and which provides some context for this infamous miscarriage of justice. I should point out - in the manner of a TV announcer - that readers may find some of this material distressing.

"In former times, when war and strife ,
The French invasion threaten’d life
An’ all was armed to the knife
The Fisherman hung the monkey O !

The Fishermen with courage high,
Siezed on the monkey for a French spy;
“Hang him !” says one; “he’s to die”
They did and they hung the monkey Oh!
They tried every means to make him speak
And tortured the monkey till loud he did speak;
Says yen “thats french” says another “its Greek”
For the fishermen had got druncky oh!

The story is, of course, nothing but a myth (albeit a powerful myth; the good folk of Hartlepool did indeed elect a man dressed as a monkey their Mayor some years ago) and I am glad to say that no monkeys were hurt in the production of the original card nor in my retelling of the story here.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Hieroglyphics Of A Publishing Revolution

For the last couple of weeks I seem to have been here, there and everywhere and had little time for catching my thoughts. Wielding my cognitive butterfly net this morning has produced the following specimens for sharing.

One of the places high up on the "there" list was a visit to Oxford and to the wonderful Ashmolean Museum. We decided to adopt the "top ten must see" approach to a task that otherwise could take weeks, and progressed from gallery to gallery in search of the rising stars of art and archeology. I well remember pausing at the nested coffins of Djeddjehutyiuefankh (as one does) and thinking about the clear similarities between ancient hieroglyphics and  modern emojis. There was a translation of some of the sarcophagus symbols next to the exhibit, and a very pleasant and knowledgeable guide who spoke about them at length; but at the end of the day they boiled down to something like "when I get to the after-life I am looking forward to a pint of beer and a bacon sandwich".  In modern terms this sentiment would look something like this:

and I am determined to leave instructions to have it imprinted on the side of my coffin when the time comes.

Still in Oxford, we visited one of my favourite bookshops in the world, Blackwell's. The link between images and words has dominated my thoughts a lot during the last few years and I was wanting to see how this relationship was reflected in the vast stock of books throughout the store. I suspect that traditional physical books full of words are rapidly becoming, like vinyl records, a niche market, in this age of the far more convenient electronic e-readers. Kindles - and their like - can conveniently deliver a library of books to your back pocket, but they have the formatting skills of a garden slug. They can cope with the complete works of Shakespeare with ease, but if you want a picture of Macbeth's wife they start to panic. At best the picture will be grainy, monochrome and in the wrong place. For frolicking along the shoreline where text and image combine to produce something which is a pleasure to look at as well as read, you can't beat a physical book.  I was keen to see how such trends were reflected in the books available in Blackwell's, and it didn't take me long to discover a perfect example of what I mean in the form of a "book" called Revolution by Philip Parker. The book itself contains no more than sixty pages and more than half of those are occupied by well chosen, and well-reproduced, illustrations. But that is only the start of things: the book also contains three bags, or folders, full of carefully reproduced source documents. Thus whilst reading of Russian Revolution and looking at some fine reproductions of contemporary photographs, you can handle a perfect facsimile of Tsar Nicholas's abdication proclamation. Try doing that with you Kindle!

Perhaps those old Egyptian kings and queens had the right idea after all. Why limit yourself to words when you can bring words and pictures together in perfect harmony.

Monday, March 20, 2017

It's Not Over Until The Fattish Lady Signs Her Autograph

I'm fat - I won't deny it. I'm not particularly proud of it, but I acknowledge that if you were describing my physical appearance to a third party who hadn't met me, the term "fat" might be a useful addition to your descriptive vocabulary. If push came to shove, I suspect I would prefer the term "fattish" as that conveys a spectrum upon which I stand (or more likely, upon which I sit and eat a bag of crisps), but if you were to fall back on fat, I confess I would be bang to rights.

All this means that I think I am well within my rights to describe the lady who is the subject of this Victorian Cabinet Card as being fat. I could be wrong - it's been known - and it may be that the Victorian dress she is wearing might cover - in yards and yards of black crepe and countless undergarments of unimaginable description - a figure that is as skinny as a lettuce leaf between two slices of rye bread. Let us just agree that she is towards the fattish end of the spectrum.

The photograph is the work of the Victorian photographer, Walter George Lewis. Lewis had his studio at 1 and 2 Seymour Street in the ancient city of Bath and seems to have been active in the profession from the early days of the studio photography boom in the late 1860s through until the first decade of the twentieth century. It would appear that he made a good living as a photographer; by the time of the 1911 census he was retired and living in Norfolk Crescent - one of the most desirable Georgian crescents in the city. It is unclear as to where his skills as a "photographic artist" came from; his father was charmingly listed as being a "turn cock to Bath Water Works" in the 1851 census.

At first I was a little intrigued by the unusual reverse of the Cabinet Card with what appears to be a folded piece of paper covering most of the traditional arts and crafts design that photographic studios at this time were so fond of. Once scanned and enlarged, however, I noticed the explanation - "space for Autograph" which is a lovely touch. Sadly the fattish lady didn't add her autograph, and so we are left not knowing who she was and whether, like me, she had a voracious appetite for potato crisps.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Run In The Rain With Elizabeth Taylor

Most northern towns and cities have a municipal park a little like the one illustrated in this old picture postcard of Hull. Grand gates, parallel paths, fine prospects of a municipal drinking fountain - all are key elements of any corporation park. Interesting as the view is, it is the message on the reverse which intrigues me.

The card is addressed to Miss E Taylor at a Children's Outfitter shop in Crook, County Durham. The date appears to be the 8th June 1910, but the only E Taylor I can find at that address at the time is a five year old girl called Elizabeth. The message is as follows:-

We arrived safely after a very wet journey- rain all the way to York. Please to say we are no worse for the experience and trust that you did not take cold. We hope the next run you have will be much pleasanter. We also hope Mrs W is still improving and that all the rest of you are keeping well. Kind love to all. AK

One phrase stood out when I first read the message - "we hope the next run you have will be much pleasanter".  Even when I was young, trips out in a motor car would be referred to as "a run". And given that the journey from Durham down to Hull had left the writer "very wet", we can only assume it was undertaken in an open-top motor car. Let us hope the trip out in the rain didn't put young Miss Taylor off motor travel for the rest of her life.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Sepia Saturday 358 : Radio Waves

Photography is always celebrated for its ability to "capture memories", but there is a problem for those of us involved in the memory apprehension business - memories, by definition, develop after the event, whilst photographs have to be taken whilst the event is in progress. One way around this would be the development of a "retrospective memory camera" capable of going back in time and capturing a decent large format jpeg image of something that occurred long ago; but whilst such cameras are no doubt in development in some recess of Silicon Valley, it will be well after the lifetime of my memory when they become available on Amazon Prime.  This means that we photographers are stuck with having to try and guess what might be memories in the future and capture and store them now - just in case. 

Take, for example, the radio: which is a topic I turned my attention to after a radio made an appearance in this week's Sepia Saturday prompt. Having lived most of my life in the twentieth century, radios have always been an important part of my life. I dare say that I could make a decent stab at a short autobiography entitled "My Life In Twenty Radios", because different radios have punctuated my life like a series of AM/FM punctuation marks. The only problem I would have with such an undertaking would be to find a suitable picture for the front cover.

Radios may have been central to my life, but they always tend to be peripheral to my photographs. I can think back to the first radio I became familiar with - an enormous wooden "radiogram" that could still play 78rpm records and had long-wave stations like Velthem, Munchen and Stavanger - but unfortunately my thoughts cannot rely on a supporting image.

When I became a teenager, my parents bought be a Japanese transistor radio and for many years it was my prize possession.  I would walk with it, eat with it and sleep with it: we were inseparable - whilst I fought the ravages of teenage acne, it valiantly attempting to connect with the waves emanating from Radio Luxembourg. But whilst I have endless photographs of my first girlfriends, my fathers' cars, and even the neighbours cat - I have no surviving photograph of that beloved transistor radio.

I recall later radios - wood and plastic affairs with chunky push buttons and circular dials - but if these survive in the photographic record, it is merely because they sneaked their way into a photograph by virtue of a lens that was a little too wide-angled. 

Most of all, I remember a wonderful old Bakelite radio that I bought for ten bob in a junk shop and became my constant companion whilst I was away at College and University. I was convinced that I had a photograph of that somewhere - to such an extent that I spent a couple of hours this morning going through my entire negative archives in search of it. I couldn't find it because I doubt that it exists - it is merely a photograph that, in retrospect, I wish I had taken. To see it you will have to be patient and await the development of the Retrospective Memory Camera.

To see more captured memories based on this weeks theme image go to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

The Joy Of Tripe Dressing

A man makes his way across the tap room of a crowded pub and surreptitiously slips you a little package containing a dirty postcard. You glance at it, not wanting to draw attention to the exchange, and give a brief nod of understanding and thanks. You carefully place it in your inside pocket, longing for the time to pass until you can make your way to the privacy of your own home and examine the picture in detail. There you can let your eye explore the lines and the curves, the meaning and the promise of that glorious image. There you can feast on the whole and consume each individual part as though it was the rarest of rare beasts. There you can let the joy of that unforgettable phrase - etched in glass high above a window - echo through the various levels of your consciousness : "J. A Binns - Wholesale And Retail Tripe Dresser".  Thanks Jack.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Let's Hear It For My New Ear

This may not seem like a particularly important photograph to you. It is simply an old man with white hair and a bit of a silly grin on his face. But look closely, and what do you see? Nothing! Precisely,  For the first time in thirty-odd years there is nothing lodged behind his ear; no wires dangling here and there, no visible signs of his undoubted disability. It is the new me with my new hidden speech processor.

The first speech processor I had some twenty years ago was a plastic box of batteries, computers and wires that attached to my belt and which was inked by wire to a microphone lodged behind my ear. Over the years the speech processors have got smaller and smaller and the software programmes within them have got cleverer and cleverer. My latest processor is just a little larger than a 50 pence piece and sits under my hair on the side of my head. It has programmes within it that constantly monitor the sound around me, decide what is background noise and reduce it in volume thus allowing me to concentrate on important stuff like listening to the latest episode of The Archers.

Since I was given the new processor last Thursday I have been slowly getting used to it. It is difficult to explain how a completely new sensory devise shifts everything a little: things sound a tiny bit different, your hearing works in a marginally different way, and there are new buttons and switches and programmes to get used to. Here are just a few things I have discovered in the few days since I received my Cochlear Nucleus Kanso processor.

- The biggest fear with a device so small which is only attached to you by a magnet, is that it will fall off at some inappropriate moment such as when you are walking past a drain or when the dog is feeling particularly hungry. I could get a stronger magnet, but the danger with that is that over time it will wear through the skin and my brains will leak out.

- If I shake my head too vigorously the implant has a tendency to fly off, therefore I am trying to avoid situations where I need to express indignant disagreement. All statements about how wonderful life outside the European Union is bound to be for Britain are now met by me with a pitying scowl.

- Whilst a hat remains an implant wearers best friend, extra care has to be taken when putting them on and taking them off to avoid casting your ear into space. The best solution I have discovered is a significant bowing of the head before taking your hat off so if the processor falls off it will fall off into the waiting hat. This makes it look as though I have just met a member of the royal family and I am undertaking a particularly obsequious bow.

- The bluetooth connectivity means that I can now walk the dog and have music streamed straight to my brain. Whilst we are used to meeting walkers and joggers seemingly singing and talking to themselves as they pound the streets, we can usually check their sanity by searching for the tell-tale speaker buds in their ears and cables to their smart phones. No such evidence is available in my case and therefore people are left to draw their own conclusions about my sanity.

- One clever attachment (the phone clip) allows me to voice dial on my mobile phone, but the sensitivity of the necessary command takes a bit of getting used to.  Yesterday whilst out walking I sneezed and phoned a friend.

I am sure I will quickly get used to all aspects of my new ear and start to take it for granted. What I will never take for granted is the brilliance of the scientists who designed and developed the technology, the skill and dedication of the medical team that fitted and maintains my implant, and the fabulous National Health Service that made it all possible for me. Let's hear it for all of them.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Anxiously Awaiting My New Viking Head

I am due to get a new head on Thursday. Well, maybe not the entire head - but a very important part of it because I am due to have my cochlear implant speech processor upgraded.  This will be the third upgrade in the almost twenty years I have enjoyed the extraordinary benefits of being able to hear again. The implant works by linking an external sound processor, which converts sounds into electrical impulses, to an internal receiver which conducts the impulses to the auditory nerve in the cochlear: together, by some miraculous process, these produce the sensation of sound. You will be pleased to know (well, at least I am pleased to know) that it is merely the external bits which are to be replaced - they will not go digging around inside my head on this occasion.

The new processor has two major advantages over the one I have had for the last six years. First, it is smaller, and will hopefully just snap snuggly against my skull. My current processor hangs behind my ear and is attached by a cable to the transmitter on my skull. This may sound cumbersome but that was a massive advantage over Mark 1, which was attached to my belt and connected by wires all over the place! As my ears don't work at all, there is no need for the processor to hang around with them, in the past my ear has been nothing more than a convenient hook to hang the equipment from.

The second advantage is that the new system should be bluetooth enabled, so it should mean the end of wires altogether. I should be able to get a bluetooth signal direct from my iPhone straight to my brain. I know that this might sound like hell warmed up to people who crave blissful silence, but to them I would suggest trying to manage without any sound other than the tinnitus squeaking of their own brain for a month or two, and I am sure that they would be happy to have Paul Simon's Greatest Hits transmitted straight to their subconscious. Bluetooth was famously named after Harald Bluetooth, the tenth century King of Denmark, so as of Thursday I will be wandering around with a bit of Viking in my head.

As anyone who has upgraded a computer will know, such things rarely go smoothly. New systems take time to get used to. New technologies often, at first, seem inferior to what is old and familiar. I am, however, looking forward to my new Viking head, and I am sure that I will get used to it within a day or two, and - before you know it - I will be leading a raiding party to pillage the Northumberland coastline. I will report back on progress.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Sepia Saturday 356 : Painting The Town Stone Yellow

Our Sepia Saturday prompt this week features a 1945 photograph of a painting class in Sarasota, Florida.  My own photograph is one I took in, I think, the early 1970s in my brothers' studio in, as far as I can recall, Ireland. 

(Computer manufacturers should manufacture a special keyboard for older users which had special F Keys permanently linked to phrases such as "I seem to remember", "to the best of my recollection", and "I decided to go to bed early last night").

Over the years my brother Roger has had studios all over the world (his current studio is on the island of Dominica), but other than the work in progress, some things rarely change.

(I suspect that if you walked into his studio today you would find the same functional tables, and, as likely as not, the same typewriter pounding out letters to the editor of whichever newspaper who lives within the boundaries of).

Whilst the studio setting might remain the same, the style of the output has undergone changes over the years. You can get a flavour of his current style by visiting his BLOG which regularly features his work in progress. As an example of his approach, here is a painting he did twenty or more years ago of our home town, Halifax. Whilst his current work captures the vibrancy and colour of the Caribbean, his paintings of the West Riding equally reflect the warmth and elegant pride of industrial Yorkshire.

To see what others are doing with our Sepia Saturday theme this week, go to the SEPIA SATURDAY BLOG and follow the links.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Henry Bown - Artist And Photographer

This is a small collection of three Victorian carte de visites all of which come from the London studios of the photographer Henry Bown. It appears that Henry started his working life as a picture framer, but turned to photography during the great studio photography boom of the 1870s. Like so many of his contemporaries, he described himself as an "artist and photographer", and by the turn of the century he had expanded his business to three studios in south London - in the New Kent Road and Jamaica Road and Spa Road in Bermondsey. Following the First World War, the business was taken over by his son, Charles, and Henry eventually died in 1921 at the age of 79.