Monday, December 31, 2007

The Sweet Smell Of Success

There is nothing like ending the year on a high, and as highs go this one is positively Alpine. Earlier today I checked out the News From Nowhere Blog on the Technorati website and discovered, to my surprise, that this humble little undertaking which is scarcely over a year old is the four million, four hundred and forty six thousand, and nine hundred and seventy-sixth most popular blog in the world.

Now a result like this cannot be achieved without the help and support of a lot of people and I would like to stress my thanks for the support I have received from JGC, EO, and the semi-mythical DPH. The honour of achieving such a ranking is not mine alone, I see it as a recognition of their sterling work. However, we cannot rest on our laurels : we did not get where we are today by sitting back with a complacent grin on our faces. In 2008 we shall do bigger and better things. And I confidently predict that we shall rise even higher in those technorati rankings. To help us achieve this ambition you will note that I have included a handy little thingy at the side of the blog which technorati members can press and make us a favourite. Become part of a winning team : vote for NFN now.

Back To The Workhouse

I used to work with a chap called Jim Seddon. Jim was a great character who could tell a story like few others. I was young and just starting out, Jim was old and approaching retirement. He would tell me about his working life which had taken him from being a nurse to being a Senior Lecturer in Management Studies. However, his first job, he would tell me with great pride, was as an Assistant Taskmaster in a Workhouse. I never knew whether to believe him or not - you could never clearly identify the boundary between truth and invention in his stories : but that was half the delight of them. I always intended to check up on this story when I got the time an opportunity - could anyone have worked in a Workhouse in what would have been the mid 1930s?

This morning, my wife Isobel had a hospital appointment and I went with her. In addition to providing company and moral support, I had a reason for making the journey as the appointment was at St Lukes' Hospital Bradford. This is the hospital where I was born some 59 years ago and - to the best of my knowledge - I hadn't been back since. And just twenty years before I was born there it had been Bradford Workhouse. The building has changed little - the above photograph was taken just a couple of hours ago - and as soon as you enter the hospital gates you know that this was built as a serious institution.

According to the excellent, the Bradford Workhouse in Little Horton Lane was built in 1852 at a cost of £7,000. Designed by a celebrated firm of Workhouse architects it had that severe, institutional look of all such buildings. However, shortly after it was opened it was described as "a spacious, handsome, and admirably arranged building. It has room for about 350 inmates, and attached to it is a spacious infirmary". Within the next thirty years it must have expanded somewhat as, at the time of the 1881 census, there were 725 residents listed. Reading through the 1881 list you get a true feel of the tragedy of such places : women and children living their lives out in poverty and shame. The full list (which can be found on the above mentioned site) also provides a clear indication of why people ended up in such places. It is made up of three main groups : widows or unmarried women with children, the old and the disabled. The census list records the "disability" : the largest group being "inb" (or "imbecile"), but there is also a fair smattering of "deaf" and "blind" as well. Further research reveals that the workhouses themselves came to an end in 1930 when the various Boards of Guardians were abolished by the 1929 Public Health Act. But many of the institutions continued as "Public Assistance Institutions" with few changes right up until the National Health Service was introduced in 1948 (the same year, and indeed the same month, that I was born in St Lukes).

So the answer to that question which has been at the back of my mind for the last thirty years is "yes", Jim could well have started his working life in a "Public Assistance Institution" or workhouse. Indeed, had I have been born a few weeks earlier maybe I would have been born in the workhouse! Looking back at that list of 1881 inmates, looking back at that list of deaf, blind and disabled people, I feel a kind of bond with them. In a way it's part of my roots : a part I am quite proud of.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Another Book, Another House

A few weeks ago I started planning another book. The theme was to be similar to that of A Proper Family Christmas, with an extended family forced together for a holiday, but this time I decided to have them hiring a lodge or a dower house or something attached to a stately home, whose occupants would also be characters in the book. And I wanted the heroine to be lured into spending the holiday with her dreadful ex in-laws because she was attracted by the intriguing architecture of the house they'd be staying in. I planned to do a little research on the internet after Christmas and find somewhere suitable to base it on.

So on Boxing Day, we went for a walk by the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal, which involved driving through the beautiful village of Frampton-on-Severn, with its huge village green. On the way out I admired the houses on one side (like my heroine, I'm a house freak), and on the way back I drooled over the houses on the other side. At that point I shrieked to Desmond 'Stop the car! That's exactly the house I want for my book! I must take a photo.' (see above)

When we got home, I looked Frampton up on the Web, trying to find out what the house was called. There was a village web-site with a similar photo of it, but unfortunately the pictures weren't labelled. However I clicked on 'properties', and that showed that the photographer had called it 'Theorangeryfromthegreen'. I remembered seeing an 'Orangery' page when I was looking up the website for Frampton Court ( so I went back. And there it was:

The house I'd glimpsed the back view of from the road just happens to be 'the prettiest garden building in England', one of the most unusual examples of 'Strawberry Hill' gothic architecture in the country, it belongs to the local stately home, - and they let it out as a holiday cottage! Spooky, or what? I know one thing, I'll have to write the book now.

The Battle Of Aisne And Data Security

The way the media - and in its' wake the public - gets its' collective knickers in a twist over some silly issue or another must say something about the state of our society as 2007 draws to a close. The latest example, of course, is the threats posed by lapses in the security of personal information. The news that some minor Government Department has lost a disk containing a few hundred names is now guaranteed to appear near the top of the news bulletins. The hysteria produced by the fear of lapses in personal data security has now reached such a level that the long-awaited and much needed NHS common clinical information system is under threat. Before too long, some enterprising journalist will discover that a list of the names, addresses and telephone numbers of almost all the adult residents of the country is being made available for sale on the internet - if you don't believe me just check for yourself - and weave a story of Orwellian proportions out of it.

Anyway, I had a phone call from my Aunty Doris over Christmas. Like Isobel's Aunty R, she is an indomitable lady. Now in her late eighties she only stopped working a few years ago : and only then because the Washerama she worked in closed down. She is the widow of my fathers' eldest brother - John Arthur - and the last member of that generation of my family still alive. It must be getting on for forty years ago that my Uncle John died, but I remember him quite well. He was a jolly, good-humoured man with a typical Yorkshire countenance who would occasionally take me to watch Bradford Park Avenue play football. Whether it was the phone call from Aunty Doris, or the memories of Bradford Park Avenue beating Halifax Town, or the fact that I had just gained access to a series of World War I war records, I'm not sure. But for whatever reason, I went in search of what information I could find about his time in the Great War. The family story says that he served in the war, and he obviously survived it, but little else is known.

John Arthur Burnett was born in Great Horton, Bradford in 1899. He enlisted in the Army in May 1917 - one assumes on or around his 18th birthday - and after a short period of training was sent to active duty in the trenches in France. According to his war record he seems to have managed to keep his head down - that is until the battle of Aisne/Chemin Des Dames in May 1918. On the 27th of May, amidst heavy fighting, he was captured by the Germans just outside the village of Pontavert. He was held prisoner in Stuttgart and didn't find his way back to England until 1919. According to the records he was listed as "missing" and it was some time later that it emerged he was a prisoner of war.

The picture at the head of this posting is of those same field outside the village of Pontavert. One can only try to imagine the thoughts of that 19 year old lad on that May morning as he went into battle. One can only imagine the emotions as his parents - my grandfather and grandmother - were later told he was missing in action. And one can imagine these things because the records were kept and later made available. Those records contain a mass of personal information. But my Uncle John - and thousands of others like him - didn't care too much about that. They had more important things to worry about.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bears, Farms and the Winstanley Babe.

And so came Christmas with its round of thoroughly enjoyable parties and its promised interrogation of the surviving Winstanley Babe. Aunty R told me she joined when she was 12 : and as she was born in 1915 that will date it at 1927. She didn't remain with the troupe for long, quickly becoming homesick for her large family (six brothers and five sisters) foand Liverpool home. Before the end of the 1920s she had abandoned the stage and taken a job at the Bear Brand Nylon Stocking factory in Liverpool. But she didn't settle down to a life of suburban comfort. In the 1940s she emigrated to Canada to become a farmers' wife before returning to England to raise her family. The picture - taken on Boxing Day - shows her with those two children - David and Caroline.


I'm not sure what it is about this, but I just like it. I took it whilst out walking on Christmas Eve. It is partly the lettering, partly the early flowers at the top right. The location, of course, is the gates to Huddersfield Crematorium. Getting rid of the first part of the word makes it sound like a retirement home for elderly political leaders of a Daily Mail persuasion.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Mist In The Valley

I suppose it would have been nice to have had a snowy, or at least a frosty, scene for Christmas. But when Amy and I went for our walk this morning, Christmas Eve, all we saw was sunshine and mists. The mists clung to the valley bottoms as though they were almost afraid. The hills seemed to rise out of a calm and cloudy sea. It was a delightful morning.

A Babe Remembers

We are visiting Isobel's Aunty Rhoda who, aged 92, is now resident in a nursing home. For her age she does remarkably well, but she does tend to forget things and gets a bit confused at times. We tell her that her great nephew Alexander has been invited to an interview at Leicester Medical School. This news seems to pass her by, but a few minutes later she says: "I went to Leicester once, but I didn't like it. It was when I was on the stage". We all nod our heads and smile in the way that you do when an old person has said something a little batty. It's one of those "there, there" moments (as in "there, there love, drink your cup of tea") But then Isobel says "that's right Aunty, I remember my mother once telling me that you were on the stage as a young girl". I am amazed. I find it impossible to imagine Aunty R on the stage. She has many talents - few people I have ever met, for example, can deliver an insult like Aunty R - but I had never imagined that singing and dancing on the professional stage were amongst them.

I go into full investigative mode, if there is one thing I love it is what the press nowadays calls a "backstory". It turns out that Aunty R was a member of a troupe called the Winstanley Babes when she was young. They must have been reasonably professional and well-known as she was recalling performing for a week in Leicester which is a fair distance from her native Liverpool. The date - as best we were able to track it down - must have been in the late 1920s or very early 1930s. A little bit of web-based research when I got home revealed that the Winstanley Babes was not a figment of an old lady's imagination but a professional troupe active from the twenties up until the fifties and based in the North West. Jimmy Clitheroe - who went on to find fame on the radio - was an early member of the troupe. And so - it would seem - was Aunty R. I even tracked down an old theatre poster advertising a show featuring the Babes.

Aunty R will be coming for tea on Boxing Day. She might think that she is coming for a rare trip out of the Home and a chance to be with all her family. In fact she is heading for a session of detailed interrogation that would not be out of place in Guantanamo Bay. I want to know more about the Babes and the time they spent on the road. I want to know what she did, what she sang, what she danced. Aunty R will know it all - I doubted her memory once but now I have learnt my lesson. She might not know what day of the week it is or who the Prime Minister is (indeed, I've been having trouble with these two questions recently), but she will know all about the Winstanley Babes. And that's good enough for me.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

I Love To Go A-Wandering

When I was at University and should have been studying something grown-up and important, I would enjoy nothing better than to go to the University Library and browse. It didn't matter what I was browsing : the more esoteric or even pointless the book or the journal, the better. Some days I would investigate sheet metal trade boards in 19th century commerce, other days it would be microscope design in 18th century France. Rarely would it be the interpretation of the production possibility curve (which is what I should have been reading).

Equally, when I was lecturing or working on EU information I would occasionally escape the targeted subject area and wander around : reading novels instead of text books, writing daft stories instead of charting the goings-on of the Employment and Social Affairs Council. I would long for a time when I could wander at will without the need to return to the straight and narrow. But I did have a slight fear. Perhaps when I could wander without restraint, its appeal would be lost.

Having been effectively retired now for almost a year I can announce that it hasn't lost its appeal. The ability to follow a thread - however pointless or aimless - is one of the great delights in my life. And the web replicates (and indeed surpasses) that University Library of my youth in the quantity and diversity of the material available.

Take, for example, today. I came across a site where you could look up the passenger lists of emigration ships of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. I tested it out with one of Isobel's uncles (Samuel Usher) who we knew had emigrated to Canada as a young man. I eventually tracked him down, on board the White Star Liner "Doric" bound for Montreal, Canada from Liverpool in August 1923. Then - in the best traditions of a good wanderer - my focus of interest shifted to the ship itself. I managed to find a postcard depicting the ship and it looks quite magnificent. Furthermore, I discovered that when Uncle Sam travelled on it, it was only a few months old - its maiden voyage was June 1923. Even the history of the ship is fascinating. Here I am quoting from a wonderful site called

Built by: Harland & Wolffe
Year Built: 1923
Length: 576 Ft
Width: 68 Ft
Displacement: 16,484 Gr Tons
Propulsion: Steam Turbines - Twin Screw
Passenger Capacity: 2,300 600 Cabin Class 1700 Third Class

Oil-burning single-reduction-geared turbines geared to twin screws gave Doric a top speed of 15 knots, making her rather slow. Following the drop in passenger travel during the Depression years of the early 30's, Doric was refit for cruising in 1932. In September 1935 while returning from a Mediterranean cruise, she collided off the Atlantic coast of Portugal with the French cargo ship Formigny and was severely damaged below the waterline. Passengers were offloaded onto the P&O liners Orion and Viceroy of India. Doric's crew managed to get her to Vigo where temporary repairs were made. She then sailed for Tilbury where it was determined she was worth more as scrap, as the cost of repairing her was exorbitant. So ended her life at sea.

Now, you must admit, that's far more interesting than wrapping Christmas presents.

Friday, December 21, 2007


An impressionist view of the front of our Christmas-decorated house (OK, OK, it was impossible to keep the camera still enough) as to be seen by passing neighbours or carol singers .... as we were last night.

As a result(?) JGC can scarcely speak - (although it's probably an unrelated bug) - two carols at every lampost makes a lot of singing on a cold night.

"We wish you a merry christmas, we wish you a merry....."

Roofs in Abingdon

AB introduced me to photography, as to so many other things (boxing, football, pubs), and it was feeling his influence behind me that I took this, when we were supposed to be Christmas shopping. I liked the mixture of shapes and colours.

We Are Building The New Britain

As someone who pokes fun at a selection of the world's press, it is only fair to turn the spotlight on some of my own journalistic efforts. Whilst sorting through an old box file the other day I can across a rare copy of the first - and as far as I recall the only - issue of the magazine Proletariate which I founded and edited some forty years ago. It was the magazine of the Halifax Labour Party Young Socialists and - as you can see from the picture of the front cover - it attracted some celebrity guest contributors. Re-reading the articles is fascinating and I will return to some of the themes covered in days to come. However, let us start with the editorial which appears under the heading "Proletarians Speak". Here is the piece in full :

"A socialist press is now, as always, an integral part of the struggle for democratic socialism, and it is in this spirit that we launch to the public our humble efforts. Limited as we are by scarce finances and the cruel realities of the capitalist system, we hope, in the coming years, to raise our voice - sometimes in protest, sometimes in praise, but always in the interests of true socialism. The task we have set ourselves is a simple one : to make you think and, wherever possible, to stir you into action. We amplify the words of Karl Marx - educate, agitate and organise. Only by organised action can we oppose and finally destroy all those who, through motives of self-interest, oppose the progression of civilisation to a society based on freedom, peace and sanity.

"We are, by necessity, a local magazine. As a local Journal part of our policy must be to spotlight local affairs and to make a stand for those with just grievances against, what is at times, faceless authority. We mean to give just praise to all those who work selflessly in the interests of humanity, not only on an international level, but in our own geographical back garden. We intend to be ruthless in our opposition to all those who suppress and exploit the individual, whether they be local shopkeepers or military dictators.

"It is with all these things in mind that we present to you our first issue for your criticism, perhaps even for your praise. Harold Wilson has said it, countless generations of socialists have said it, Proletariate echo's the sentiments of the Prime Ministers' words : "We are building the new Britain. We do not claim to have built it yet, but in all we have done, whatever the difficulties, whatever the bottlenecks we have had, we have kept our eyes on the great design of the structure we are seeking to build"
The Editorial Committee (Comrade Linda Grant, Comrade Stuart Blaylock, Comrade Darrel Oldfield, Comrade Alan Burnett)

Looking back at what we wrote forty years ago it is all too easy to cringe with embarrassment at our youthful fervour. But if you get rid of a few of the daft words and distill it down to its raw spirit, I could happily still sign up for the majority of it. The truth is, I feel a lot more comfortable in defending the Labour Party of the mid sixties that the New Labour Party of the 21st century. Call me an old, unrepentant, unreconstituted socialist if you will. I think I might be proud.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Touch Of Frost

These frosty mornings provide an endless supply of patterns and textures. Here is frost on top of a good old-fashioned Yorkshire stone wall.

I'm Dreaming Of A White Christmas

Looking back, we've not had a cartoon for ages. This one I found in today's Ottawa Citizen. I bought the paper to read about the exceptional snowfalls they are having over there at the moment. On Sunday, in Ottawa 37 cm of snow fell - a record for a single day. But the paper has good news for the citizens of the beleaguered city which is currently buried under 75 cm of snow. The storm is moving west towards the Atlantic.

But hang on a minute, give it a week to work its way across the Atlantic and .... and .... and "I'm Dreaming Of A White Christmas"

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Mine Is Bigger Than Yours

Having booked our 2008 holiday aboard the yet-to-be-launched P&O super-liner, Ventura, we turn to the Virtual Ventura website to read about the ship we will call home for two weeks during the coming summer. The ship is still undergoing sea trials, but the site can provide you with a computer-generated virtual tour of all the attractions available on the 19 decks. The descriptions are, of course, full of superlatives. And so they should be - it is a truly stunning ship. But as you read about the designer restaurants, the marble fittings and the sweeping staircases, you cannot help but think back to that other super-liner which was launched 97 years before the Ventura. There are no comparisons between the Ventura and the Titanic provided on the P&O website : understandable, I suppose. It would be bad form. So I have had to compile my own list, which is as follows:
The dry statistics tell only half the tale so here, on the News From Nowhere Blog, I can present, exclusively, for the first time ever, the only picture of the two ships, side by side, in true scale.

As you can clearly see, the great Titanic looks like a stick-insect compared to the Ventura's mighty elephant. Whilst much of the Titanic's height is taken up with those four great funnels, on the Ventura that space is given over to jazz bars, swimming pools and cigar lounges. Keen followers of the Blog will be glad to know that we are not booked on the maiden voyage and the cruise we are going on shouldn't take us anywhere near icebergs. But with climate change the way it is, who knows.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Frozen Memories

My daily walk takes me through the grounds of Huddersfield Crematorium. Often you find flowers and other memorials left behind after a service. These flowers were left on a bench and frozen solid by the overnight frost.

Prince Alan That Never Was

My thanks to Anonymous (whoever he or she may be) for their suggestion that the gates in the photograph of my mother with a tandem are the famous Norwich Gates at Sandringham House. I have tracked down a contemporary photograph of the gates and you might just be right.

But if this is the case it simply raises another problem. Why were my parents there? Who had invited them? At a guess, the photograph must have been taken about 1936 - the time of the abdication. Were my parents somehow involved in that? Were they being considered for the succession. Were we close to getting King Albert and Queen Gladys. And what about Prince Alan? What a different future we would have been mapping out for the old country if that chain of events came about. But for some reason it didn't. And my mother and father took a quick snap, hopped back on their tandem and cycled all the way back to Bradford.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Searching For 224C Differences On Haplogroup K

When I last dipped my toe into the fascinating hobby of genealogy the Internet was the new kid on the block, the latest research tool which would make searching for those long-lost relatives a piece of cake. To a large extent, it delivered on its promises : the message-boards and surname sites which are now an integral part of the web allowed me to contact Beanlands in Australia and Ushers in Canada. Returning to the fray after a couple of years I discover that science has moved things on. Whereas, in the past the essential tools of those searching for their family history were a large sheet of paper, a pencil, a rubber and a good deal of spare time, now the requirements are slightly more sophisticated and centre on DNA sequence analysis. It would seem that these days, if you want to know who your great uncle Fred gave birth to, you stick a needle in your arm and smear some blood on a microscope plate (Dave Hornby, if you are reading this, be aware that I hold you largely to blame).

So my search for the real father of my wife's Aunty Mary must now take on the guise of a scientific expedition. I need to exhume the grave of the dear departed lady, get hold of some of her DNA and determine whether or not it contains any of the typical Berry DNA markers. As far as I can make out from the Berry DNA Blog (indeed, such a thing exists) I need to look for "haplogroup K with CRS differences in HVR1 at 093C, 224C, 249C, 311C and 519C and in HVR2 at 73G, 195C, 263G, 309.1C, 315.1C, 497T, 524.1C and 524.2A". Questioning my wife about where her late Aunty Mary was buried or whether - by any strange chance - she might still have one of her old hair brushes has resulted in nothing but odd looks and those whispered telephone conversations with her cousin Carrie which normally involve the phrase "he's gone funny again".

I know she died about 25 years ago and the home she had been confined to for most of her life was somewhere near Chesterfield. I assume that there must be records of where they buried the residents - all that is needed is good, old-fashioned research ..... and a decent spade ..... and a dark moonless night.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Bicycle Made For Two

Whilst searching for the picture of Sunny Vale Gardens (see the next posting) I came across this picture of my mother and a tandem. By a simple process of deduction and elimination we can assume that the photograph was taken by my father. The location is more of a problem. I know that in the 1930s they would cycle all over Yorkshire and Lancashire and therefore it could have been any one of a hundred different parks or gardens. The rather ornate gates and the wide clear path means that it certainly wasn't Sunny Vale.

Sunny Bunces

I need to get my affairs in order (as they say). This particular thought was prompted by a one hour search through boxes of old photographs for a picture I once took of Sunny Vale Pleasure Gardens. And the search was prompted by picking up a copy of a new book by local author Chris Helme entitled "Sunny Vale Pleasure Gardens - A Postcard From Sunny Bunces".

Sunny Vale Pleasure Gardens - known by one and all as "Sunny Bunces" after the founder of the gardens, Joseph Bunces - was located in a valley just outside Lightcliffe, midway between Halifax and Brighouse. It was one of those "inland resorts" which blossomed all over the north of England in late Victorian and Edwardian times. With the coming of charabancs and trams and half-day holidays from the mills, such "pleasure gardens" became the destination of hundreds of Sunday School Treats and Friendly Society Trips. And Sunny Vale liked to think of itself as the finest of them all, it liked to market itself as "the playground of the north".

The book is a pleasure to read. It is in not "heavy" in any way. It does not attempt to tell a chronological story or provide a sociological analysis of the rise and fall of Pleasure Gardens. It is nothing more than a collection of photographs and reminiscences strung together with a light text : a series of amusements and diversions, a bit like Sunny Vale itself.

Sunny Vale just managed to survive the Second World War but even in the thirties it was spinning into decline, replaced in people's affections by Blackpool and Bridlington. In 1947 the park was sold and in the mid-fifties the various rides and attractions were auctioned off. By the early sixties it had become a site for go-kart racing and stock car racing but that didn't last long either. By the late 1960s much of the grounds were overgrown and forgotten. It was at this time that I took my photograph. It was of what remained of the smaller of the two lakes - the Victoria Lake - strewn with rubbish. I would show it to you but, as I say, I can't find it. Somewhere in my garage or attic it lies lost and forgotten. A bit like Sunny Bunces.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Tale Of Two Granddaughters

I am still a little obsessed by all this family history. Today, in amongst sending the Christmas cards and helping to prepare for Xan's Christmas Dinner, I have been taking another look at the Berry's. If you investigate family history from the perspective of your child, there are four significant quadrants of investigation - your fathers' family, your mothers' family, your spouse's fathers' family and their mothers' family. In terms of Alexander that means the Burnetts, the Beanlands, the Ushers and the Berrys. Having four quite separate lines of investigation is quite useful - when you get bogged down with one you can turn to another.

Isobels' father was Raymond Holroyd Berry (many of us will remember him with great fondness) who was born in Elland, West Yorkshire in 1917. He was the only son of Kaye Holroyd Berry, a chimney sweep, also of Elland who was born in 1882. In 1905, when he was 23, Kaye married Sarah Ann Shaw who had been born in Soyland (near Halifax) in 1878. They had two children : Florence, and Raymond (Isobels' father). However, Isobel also had an Aunty Mary who was Raymonds' half sister. Few details of where Aunty Mary fitted into the family tree were ever available, she was a sad figure who spent all her adult life institutionalised. If she had been born 30 or 40 years later than she was she would have been one of those people who the much-maligned move to "care in the community" could have helped. There was also talk of another half-sister who nobody ever knew anything about.

The 1901 Census has by far the best on-line resources and this provided a good starting point for investigating the Berry-Shaw connections. In 1901 - four years before his marriage to Sarah Ann - Kaye Holroyd is listed as living with his parents (William and Martha Berry) in Elland. Aged 19 when the census returns were completed, he was listed as being a chimney sweep. There are a host of brothers and sisters and one granddaughter listed at the same address. I will return to the granddaughter in a little while. A few streets away,Sarah Ann Shaw was living with her family. Her father, Henry Shaw, a stonemason's labourer, is listed as the head of the family. He was born in 1849 and his wife Emma was born in 1852. There are five children listed, William (born 1975), Sarah Ann (born1878), Fred (born 1886), Edith (born 1899) and Mary (born 1901). The curious thing, of course, is the spacing of the birth of the children and the age of the mother at the birth of these last two. To have two children in quick succession, after a gap of fourteen year, and at the age of 47 and 49 is stretching believe a little too far. The obvious explanation is that Mary (listed as a daughter of Henry and Emma and therefore sister of Sarah Ann) is, in fact, Sarah Ann's illegitimate daughter. And it would appear that the second illegitimate daughter (Edith) was also passed off in the 1901 census as a legitimate daughter of Henry Shaw rather than an illegitimately granddaughter.

But this is a tale of two granddaughters. Kaye Berry's father, William Berry, is also listed as having a granddaughter living with him in 1901. But this time the child - Isabella Crossley - would appear to have been quite legitimate (after all, she has the surname Crossley rather than Berry). The explanation this time would appear to be equally tragic, her mother - Sarah Berry born in 1880 - must have died in childbirth leaving her young child with her parents.
As Isobel and I sat around the fire this evening pondering on these half-forgotten stories, it suddenly occurred to me that the two granddaughters could theoretically lived until recently, How strange that is. They could have been born with the new century and they could have died when it was in its final years. What a tale they would have had to tell. Maybe it can still be prised out of the cold official records.

From Wetherby To The Isle Of Man

"What a wonderful way to spend a Wednesday", I said to my friend Arthur as we, along with our wives, left the Scotts Arms in Wetherby after a rather fine lunch. We had been dining there at his suggestion - a possible entry for my Great Yorkshire Pubs Blog, he said. It made the grade without even raising a sweat and is now firmly recorded - and graded - for posterity.

Over lunch and a pint Arthur and I talked about the kind of things old friends talk about and the subject came around to our desire to - and indeed our duty to - leave something behind for our grandchildren. We are in a unique position. Most of us have some form of family memory which can reach back a couple of generations and we have access to information sources which can take it back even further. We are in a position of being able to put together the story of our families over the last 150 years - the period during which more has changed than at any other time in history.

Fired up with enthusiasm from our talk, on my return home I turned to the Box File of family history papers. I had promised to print something off concerning Isobels' mothers' family (the Liverpool Ushers) and I went in search of where I had got to the last time I had a spurt of enthusiasm. Where I had got to was to Henry Usher, Isobels' great, great grandfather. I had a vague date of birth - around 1820 - and some suggestion that he was not born in Liverpool. Without any real effort and thanks to the mass of on-line census information now available, this evening I tracked him down in the 1861 census returns. And there it was in the "where born" column - "the Isle Of Man".

I have always wanted to go to the Isle of Man, but until now I have not had a reasonable excuse. But my discovery settled things. Once Christmas is over I am off to the Isle of Man in search of Charles Usher. When the time comes, I will report back.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Crouching Tiger, Jumping Frog

Today's photograph comes from this mornings' walk through the woods. Amy drew my attention to it. She suggested a crouching tiger, I was put more in mind of a jumping frog.

Picture A Crisis

The financial crisis that has swept in following the collapse of the US sub-prime mortgage market is no great surprise. For some time it has been as inevitable as the 1929 stock market crash. The same unrealistic belief that speculative prices travel in only one direction must have existed in the months leading up to the Wall Street Crash, the same wide-eyed surprise when fortunes built on borrowed promises began to unravel was surely just as much a part of the world after Black Tuesday. The crises are not identical - at least, let us hope they are not identical - the downturn is not as sharp and, hopefully, we have learnt something about economic management over the last seventy-five years.

However, this is not a posting about economic theory : rather one about images. I often think that you could put together a decent history of the last fifty years based on nothing but images. Part of the story of 2007 will inevitably be the financial crisis resulting from unrealistic mortgage sales. Until yesterday the image I would have selected to illustrate this little bit of UK economic history would have been the well-known one of queues outside the beleaguered Northern Rock Building Society. However, yesterday I was reading a copy of Arkansas Democrat and Gazette (PressDisplay is a wonderful service) and was intrigued to see several pages at the back of the newspaper filled with columns of tightly packed legal notices. On investigation these turn out to be official foreclosure notices, announcing that poor devil after poor devil has defaulted on their mortgage agreement and the property will now be auctioned.

The legal wording could almost be a poem.Take for example just one example, an extract from the foreclosure notice of Tabitha and John Richards.

"Now notice is hereby given,
That at the front door of Sevier County Courthouse,
On the 11th January 2008 at 1.15pm,
The following property will be auctioned.

Part of NW1/4 of NE1/4 of Section 24,
Township 8 South Range 32 West, Sevier County,
Beginning at the NW corner of said NW1/4,
Thence south 0 degrees 19 minutes 33 seconds,
East along the forty line 410.24 feet,
Thence north and west back to the point of beginning.

Otherwise known as 146, Glasgow Lane
Otherwise known as home"

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Friday, December 07, 2007

Pols Interfere Yet Again

It never ceases to amaze me that pols have time to propose silly legislation to keep people from going onto a roof or spanking their children while spending $15 billion to construct a tunnel where the ceiling won't stay up. No wonder nothing gets done.

Kenneth L Bowers, Wolfeboro, NH.

The letter is from this mornings' Boston Herald which I have been reading as a sociological exercise. If you want to know what Middle-England thinks it is no use reading the Guardian or even the Daily Mirror. You need to read the Daily Mail. Equally, if you want to know what your average Joe in America thinks you need to avoid the New York Times or Washington Post and search out for something tabloid size with large banner headlines. And so I found the Boston Herald.

Open the Boston Herald and you feel you are in familiar, if slightly depressing, territory. The country is under attack from a demonic coalition of illegal immigrants, mamby-pamby do-gooders, gays and - worst of all - pols. It took me a while to work out the "pol" thing, simply because the word doesn't seem to have spread across the Atlantic yet (although as sure as eggs are bird flu it will be on its way). Pols are, of course, politicians.

If you read papers like the Boston Herald or the Daily Mail or any of the other 27,000 newspapers like them in the world, you can appreciate how much they first of all construct, and then feed off, a hatred of "pols". "They" are out to interfere, to stop us or make us, to tax us and bleed us. It is almost as if the philosophical principles of nineteenth century anarchism have been adopted by the global middle classes of the twenty-first century. The global nature of the threat posed by "pols" is neatly illustrated on page 7 where an article claims that the world gathering of "pols" to talk about climate change will produce as much greenhouse gas as 20,000 honest American citizens going about their lawful business in their SUV's for a year. But is this truly an anarchist creed? I doubt it. I suspect the bottom line will be down with the government and up with the residents' committee. And a good old Daily Mail / Boston Herald reading residents' committee at that.

Towards the end of their lives, my parents moved into an Old Peoples' Development of small flats: a little retirement community. It was populated by dozens of little, old, Daily Mail reading, lower middle class grumps. It was ruled by a Residents Committee made up of little, old, Daily Mail reading, lower middle class grumps. If my parents had lived in Boston it would have been made up of little, old, Boston Herald reading, lower middle class grumps. The Brighouse chapter of this clan were pretty typical. They had a loathing for change. The change my brother and I - on behalf of my wheelchair-bound father - were attempting to introduce was to have a ramp built so he could get his wheelchair up the one step into his ground-floor flat. This was opposed rigorously by the committee (at one point the actually said it would make the place look like an Old Peoples' Home!). At the end of the day, my brother settled the matter by turning up one day with a concrete mixer and building the ramp himself. The committee weren't pleased.

When it comes down to it give me the pols every day. No decent pol pretends to be sanctimonious anymore. No decent pol reads the Daily Mail or the Boston Herald. If one particular half-decent pol (Hillary Clinton) does happen to read today's' Boston Herald she will find the following charming cartoon which can be my submission in the cartoon of the day category.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Lumps Of Colour

Today's picture is taken from the motorway bridge which is about a quarter of a mile from our house. The wagons make nice lumps of colour against the dark surface of the road. The filtering just helps to emphasise the lumps.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Poker Face

This photograph was taken early on Saturday morning after collecting Alexander from his all-night poker game! The slight smile suggests he might have won.


If you are lucky enough to be a member of the victorious team at the celebrated Rock Tavern Friday Quiz you win a free drink. You also win the dubious honour of setting the quiz questions for the following week. Last Friday I was amongst the victorious, which means that today I have been trying to think up suitable questions for this Friday night. The easy way, of course, is to turn to one of the many compendiums of quiz questions. And - if truth be told - this is what I do for the majority of questions. But I always like to throw a few of my own in amongst the longest rivers in Africa or the wives of Henry VIII. Who can forget the inventions of Cooper Kitchen or the precise location of Halifax Zoo? The truth is that most of the regulars at the Rock can, and when reminded of these somewhat obscure facts, they tend to throw things at me.

Today, my search for something a little different, a little more exotic, took me into the fascinating area of phobias. Whilst questions relating to the fear of heights (altophobia) and the fear of spiders (arachnophobia) are common enough, some phobias can give rise to more interesting questions. The chief amongst them, it must be admitted, are "who on earth invents these phobias?" and "what have the poor devils who suffer from them done to deserve it?".

Take, for example, the case of the person who suffers from barophobia (fear of gravity) or maybe chronophobia (fear of time). Imagine that you suffered from hadeophobia (fear of hell) and whilst trying to find salvation you came up against your hagiophobia (fear of saints) or even your hierophobia (fear of priests and sacred objects). I must confess I have a mild case of syngenesophobia (fear of relatives - have you met my Cousin Dave?), a fairly well-developed nosophobia (fear of becoming ill) and a pretty severe case of thanatophobia (fear of dying).

The best fears are the rare ones. Take aibohphobia (fear of palindromes - think about it) for example. Or aulophobia (fear of flutes). Or even deipnophobia (fear of dinner conversations). Come to think of it, I suspect I suffer from that last one.

At the end of the day I didn't include any questions about phobias. I don't like them very much. In fact I am a bit frightened of them. I must have phobophobia.

Fat Dog To The Big Apple : Week 34 Manchester To Albion

"Amy and I left the small township of Manchester behind us and set forth in search of Albion". I realise that this sounds like the opening sentence of some early Victorian social reformers' account of his quest for the soul of the nation, but bear with me. The Manchester in question is the small township of Manchester in Mendocino County, California. Albion is a town some 25 miles further north up the coast. And Amy is my six year old soft-coated wheaten terrier. Together we are 34 weeks into a five and a half year virtual walk from Los Angeles to New York. Together we are sampling some of the delights of rural America without leaving the discomfort of our own cold, grey home.

One of the things about walking along this stretch of the Northern California coast is that there aren't many choices to make. There is only one decent road - Highway 1 - which heads north in one direction and south in the other. As long as you keep the sea to your left you can't go far wrong. It can get a bit boring at times but there is always something interesting to distract your attention.

Take, for example, the proceedings of the Irish Beach Architectural Design Committee. Irish Beach is a "second home and rental development" located about four miles north of Manchester (remember, this is Manchester California, we're not talking about Salford here). Such developments are springing up all over coastal California as city-dwellers go in search of idyllic country retreats. Government planning laws in the States are nothing like as strict as they are in the UK, but this does not mean that you can build what you want. In place of the Local Planning Department sits the Architectural Design Committees - collections of local citizens who decide what you can build, where you can build it, and - in some cases - what colour you can paint your front door. So the next time you get fed up with your local bureaucracy, have a read of the Committee Minutes and the extended discussions about the design, size and location of the sign outside the office of William Moore and be thankful that you are not a resident of this particular piece of the Land Of The Free.

A few miles further north is the Inn At Victorian Gardens, a very select little establishment which caters for the type of guest who likes good food, fine wines, tasteful furniture, spectacular coastal views and a generous dollop of American eccentricity. If you have a few minutes to spare, take a look at their website and, in particular, the Flash Presentation. It's a mixture of soft-focus, grainy art-photos and verse. For example, describing the overall ethos of the Inn, the poem states : "Time is taken / from the hands of an antique clock / and shaken out like fine linen / to remove its kinks". By the time you have read it all you are not sure whether it is rather good or just plain tacky. Fearing that she may have been "shaken out like fine linen", Amy was not keen to stay, she we kept on walking.

The next little town we came to was a small town of some 200 inhabitants and the wonderful name of Elk. Originally it had been called Greenwood, but then someone discovered another place with the same name somewhere else in the State, so they changed the name to Elk. Elk was a lumber town, its fortunes were built on the destruction of the great Redwood forests to the east of the coastal strip. The timber was cut at the steam-driven sawmill in Elk and then shipped out from the wharf. When the redwood ran out, Elk went into decline and by the 1930s had become a ghost town. It only began to slowly come back to life in the 1960s and 70s when this part of the coast was beginning to open itself up to recreational use. Now it has a generous collection of small hotels, inns and - for some unknown reason - massage parlours.

Our final destination for the week - the small town of Albion - was also a lumber town. The town was founded in 1853 when a retired English sea captain, William Richardson, built a saw mill there, the first saw mill on the Redwood Coast. Like most of its neighbours, the town has now lost its timber trade, but a lasting reminder to the power of wood in this part of California can be found in the wonderful wooden bridge that carries the coast highway over the Albion River. The bridge was built in 1944 when steel and concrete were in short supply. It is the last remaining wooden bridge on the coastal highway and has now become a tourist destination in its own right.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Don't Fence Me Out

Today is one of those cold, sharp winter's days when everything is contrast. The regularity of the fence and the irregularity of the branches made a nice contrast.

Women, Lichen And Change

Continuing the theme of change. Change is a process which is easy to identify in retrospect, tricky to bring into clear focus concurrently, and almost impossible to predict in the future. For proof of this theory all you need to do is to read a science fiction book.

BBC Radio 7 recently did a series of readings from the 1960 John Wyndham book "Trouble With Lichen". Over the last few days I have been playing these whilst Amy and I have taken our daily walk. As a writer Wyndham had some great strengths. He was brilliant at spotting a scientific possibility and then asking the question "what if ...?" What if a radical planetary change favoured a new species ("The Day Of The Triffids"), what if a genetic mutation brought about an altered form of humans ("The Midwich Cuckoos). In the case of "Trouble With Lichen", the question is "what if a way was discovered to prolong human lifespan to say 200 or 300 years?".

It's a brilliant starting point, but Wyndham is often criticised for failing to exploit the idea to the full. Somehow, the novel gets stuck on the role of women in society. Even worse, it seems to fixate on the problems faced by middle-class, middle-aged, twin-set and pearls women of the 1950s. The central premise is that if women were provided with a longer life-span they would be able, and willing, to escape the family-centred, subservient role that was common in the first half of the twentieth century.

The change that Wyndham didn't spot when writing the book at the beginning of the 1960s was that the main precursor of such a change would not be the mysterious life-enhancing properties of a rare Chinese lichen, but the oral contraceptive pill. As Wyndham's new book hit the shelves of the booksellers in 1961, the first oral contraceptive pills hit the shelves of the chemist shops.

But irrespective of the motive force behind the change, the process of change itself brought about a radically different society. Didn't it? Well not according to an article by Karen Murphy in today's issue of the Australian newspaper "The Age". According to the article, the feminist revolution has not only ended, it has come full circle. "More and more Australian women", she writes, "are marching with eyes wide open back into slavery, holding up their slender arms to receive the shackles that some of us tried to remove, and taking their daughters with them". Who knows, perhaps things would have been different if that lichen had really existed after all.

Yes, I've Been Messing About Again

I suspect that I have always had a spiritual affinity to the idea of change. Whereas others see "change for changes sake" as somehow negative, I see it as exciting and a reflection of that force which is life. Although it is perhaps going too far to say that I would have felt at home in China during the Cultural Revolution, I can at least understand the thought set of those students who demanded continual change.

I am the kind of person who changes the layout of my desk on a weekly basis. I will start new projects on a daily basis. Since the start of this year I have introduced at least five major new ways of filing my collection of MP3 tracks. So why should the blog be sacrosanct? Blogger tells me that they have introduced many new formatting elements. There are numerous new sidebars and add-ons. All I needed to do was to change to the new set of templates. Say no more, it is music to the ears of a change-freak like me.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Going For A Record

Another potential area for consolidation would be to consolidate my "Cartoon Of The Day" Blog into News From Nowhere. Problem is, I don't have a "Cartoon Of The Day" Blog. But I might start one just to have the thrill of consolidating it. Or is that pointless? The real reason for this posting is because I have never attempted three postings in one day before. Now that's pointless. (and, before you ask, the above cartoon is from today's' Los Angeles Times. After reading the entire 64 pages of today's edition it is the only vaguely interesting bit I could find.

Consolidation Consultation

I am thinking about consolidation (a man's got to think about something now that "I'm A Celebrity" has come to an end). Over the year the number of blogs I am responsible for seems to have multiplied and they confuse me, never mind anybody else. As with all undertakings, a time eventually comes for re-evaluation, change and - possibly - consolidation. The first potential change is to consolidate the "Daily Photo Blog" into the "News From Nowhere" blog. Why not?

In keeping with modern thinking I am putting this proposed change out to a statutory seven-day period of cyber-consultation. If any interested party has nothing better to do than to give me their views, please feel free. In the meantime, today's photo shows the Calder Valley early on Saturday morning. Other parts of the country were getting snow. Here we got wonderfully bright weather.

A Renaissance Man Struggles With Erectile Dysfunction

I would need to find my well-thumbed copy of Bronowski's Accent Of Man to be sure, but I think the argument goes something like this. Any idiot can build a tower. People had been building towers for centuries. Give a child a set of Lego bricks and they will build a tower. But a dome, that is a different proposition. It takes a developed, thinking, analytical mind to build a dome. Domes require planning, they require a thorough understanding of the principle of mechanics, they require fine measurement, they require precision and they require more than a dash of genius. This helps to explain why domes didn't come along until the Renaissance. Why they are almost a symbol of that great intellectual leap forward. If the seven ages of mankind were engaged in a galactic game of Monopoly and each age had its own little metal symbol to push around the board, Renaissance Man would have a dome.

And this brings me to my Yorkshire Puddings. If you recall - admit it, you have been thinking of little else since my last post - I had been having problems getting my Yorkshire Puddings to rise. The dinner party was on Saturday and I had promised the kind of Yorkshire Puddings any red-blooded man would be proud of. But time after time they had failed me. So what happened?

What happened, was that I cheated. My normal Yorkshire Pudding trays are a good five inches in diameter. I won't get into the fluid mechanics of it in too great a detail, but - believe me - to get something with such a large surface area to rise satisfactorily requires a powerful (and well-blended) mixture. Only the very best Yorkshire Pudding mixture can do it. That kind of surface area really does separate the men from the Walter Softies. As Saturday evening drew nearer I got more and more nervous - and we all know what effect that has. Would the first course be stunning Yorkshire Puddings or public humiliation?

I bottled it. I nipped down to Asda and bought a couple of new Yorkshire Pudding trays. Two inch diameter. The Nursery Slopes of Yorkshire Pudding making. So, the guests were served on Saturday night, not a magnificent St Peters' or St Pauls'. They got a Leaning Tower of Pisa. I avoided humiliation. Everyone went "wow", and "how magnificent". But I knew. I knew I had run away. Those large Yorkshire Pudding trays sit in the kitchen cupboard, always ready to remind me of my failing. I am less of a man now than I was before. Sad, isn't it.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Problems Of A Somewhat Personal Nature

I know I have not posted to the blog for days and days. I've had a lot on my mind. Sometimes you have to get things in proportion. After all, it's only a silly blog. Nobody reads it. At best its nothing more than a kind of sudoku for the innumerate : at worst an exercise in self-aggrandisement. It's a bit pathetic actually. Anyway, I've been having problems. It's the kind of thing that happens to everyone at some time or another. It's nothing unusual. Nothing to snigger about. It's personal. Not the kind of thing you want to discuss in public. A little embarrassing really. Oh, alright then, I'll tell you, but you must promise not to laugh.

Last weekend my dear wife reminded me that we had people coming to dinner on Saturday. She also reminded me - as oft is her want - that I am the only husband in our immediate circle of friends who does not cook. This is a kind of twenty first century equivalent of a husband who didn't erect shelving or fashion mortise and tenon joints fifty years ago (mind you, I didn't do that either). When the discussion turned to what we would have for starters I declared "I will do Yorkshire Pudding" (I must explain to any foreigners reading this that, here in Yorkshire, Yorkshire Pudding is traditionally served as a starter).

I might not be much of a cook, but I can conjure up a prize Yorkshire Pudding (it always has capital letters, a bit like God). But seeing as I hadn't prepared any for some time I decided to have a dry run, so to speak. So on the Sunday night, the eggs, milk, flour and salt went into the blender and the fat went in the trays and thirty minutes later out of the piping hot oven came ..... the most miserable shrunken concoctions you have ever seen in your life. They looked like, and had the consistency of, an open flesh wound. They tasted worse.

My family were quick to comfort me. "It must happen to everyone at some time". "It doesn't mean you're less of a man". All the usual stuff. I couldn't sleep at night. I had to track down where I had gone wrong. By morning I had decided it was the oven temperature. Not hot enough. Try again. Monday night saw another dry run. This time the oven was hot enough to fire porcelain. Eggs, milk, flour etc etc. And out of the oven came what can only be described as pancakes (as in "as flat as a pancake"). By now I was nearly in tears. My family tried to remain loyal but I caught my wife on the phone to her cousin Carrie whispering "something terrible has happened).

By Wednesday I had thrown out all the flour, milk, eggs, and fat and bought new. Just in case. Wednesday night they were as flat as Holland. On Thursday I binned the blender and bought a new one. Thursday night as flat as Twiggy. I have only one day to go before the guests arrive. My life is in total upheaval. I don't know where to turn. My family say they still love me but I found my wife looking out a recipe for Tomato Soup. In and amongst all this I just haven't had time to write silly blogs.

Tomorrow night will tell. Can I overcome this problem and once again find the prize of my manhood - my Yorkshire Puddings.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Deep Sea Fishermen Of Shipley

Many, many years ago I found myself working for the then Department Of Employment and Productivity in Bradford, Yorkshire. I was a humble clerk in the Labour Exchange and my main tasks revolved around the "signing-on" of unemployed people and the payment of their weekly benefits. Occasionally we were given other tasks to complete and sometimes these involved the collection and collation of statistical returns for the Department of Employment nationally. Back then - in the 1960s - the Department published an Annual Census of Employment which showed how many people were engaged in each area of employment in each area of the country. One year I was given the task of transferring the totals from the local office records to the official return which had to be sent to the Department in London. It was a complicated document with subdivisions of both the occupational categories and the local areas. I was young and bored and no doubt my mind was elsewhere. This is not meant as an excuse, but as an explanation. An explanation of why according to the official British records there was a sudden emergence of the deep sea fishing industry in the small town of Shipley which, unfortunately, was a good 50 miles away from any kind of sea - deep or shallow. In 1967 there were some 135 deep sea fishermen employed in Shipley according to the Census. One can only assume that they were split between the Leeds Liverpool Canal and the Shipley Glen boating lake. Or perhaps, just perhaps, some hapless junior clerk copied out a total into the wrong column.

I am reminded of this somewhat embarrassing episode by a report in the paper today that a BBC investigation has discovered that a recent major government report which claimed that the cost of obesity to the UK would amount to half of the NHS budget by 2050, somehow got the figures slightly wrong. Wrong by £23 billion in fact! It seems that in a critical calculation the predicted costs were multiplied by 7 in stead of 3.5. A simple enough error. I have every sympathy for the poor clerk involved. I remember when my mistake was eventually discovered - far too late to stop the publication of the figures - I asked whether it would help if I put on a sou'wester and moved to Shipley. Perhaps the current culprit could volunteer to scoff a cream-cake or two.

Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...