Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Empower To The People

WARNING : This blog contains some swearing and the use of literary images which people of a nervous disposition may find upsetting.

As a time-served 1960s revolutionary whose CV includes Grosvenor Square and a couple of University sit-ins, my ears pricked up (OK my cochlear implant pricked up) the other day when, on the radio, I heard someone say "more than any other act this will empower the people". Intrigued to discover which edict could be the source of such revolutionary zeal I listened carefully to the rest of the discussion. The answer : the compulsory labelling of packaging with a traffic light system giving details of the fat, sugar and salt content of the food it contains.

Now you can call me old fashioned if you want, but .... You do not empower people by printing pretty pictographs on cardboard boxes : you empower people by providing food where previously they were starving. Likewise, you do not empower people by giving them a website where they can register their opposition against road pricing or road building : you empower them by putting decision-making in the hands of democratically elected representatives.

I presume that the idea of the empowering impact of food content traffic lights comes from the same stable as the proposal to put warning messages on chocolate wrappers ("more than anything else this will liberate children from the threat of obesity"). We seem to be increasingly surrounded by such behaviour these days. You cannot watch a decent film without dire warnings that "the following film contains infrequent mild references to sexuality" or sit down in front of the six-o-clock news without a seriously-faced announcer saying "the following report may contain scenes that might upset some people". I even now find warnings when I try to download music from Napster (the other day I discovered a "Parental Advisory" warning label on a Tommy Dorsey record from the 1940s - as it was a non-vocal track I assume the warning related the the fact that the tune might be catchy!)

What would really represent a brave step forward in the general direction of civilisation would be if we could ban all such nonsense, and - while we were at it - limit the use of the word "empower" to consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes after the watershed.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Short Treatise on Lamp Posts 3

I have a confession to make. (This is not easy and I ask for a full measure of understanding amongst all of you). The strange case of the intermittent street light was not the first time I have come face to face with paranormal powers around a lamp post. (There, it is out in the open now, I can move towards closure).
Many years ago when I was but a slip of a lad I had a strange and life-changing experience with a lamp-post. (My apologies to my new friends in the international street lighting community for my vagueness on the precise identity of the post in question but I suspect that it might have been a Thorn Alpha 7 Gearless). I was hanging around and up to no good - in the words of that immortal troubadour of the lamp post, George Formby, - leaning on a lamp post on the corner of the street. For reasons unknown to me after the passage of so many years I suddenly stood upright .... and I noticed the lamp post readjust itself to a true vertical position. For perhaps the first time I recognised my power as an adult - I had moved a lamp post. Granted it was less than a millimetre, but the post had moved. Once one has tasted the fruit of adult power it is difficult to put the apple down so I pushed against the lamp post again. Again it moved. I pushed again, this time as hard as I could, and the result was the same : distinct movement.
However, it seemed that I had reached the limits of the possible interaction between human muscle and cast iron. But then I made a discovery : a discovery which I still believe - in the right hands - has the potential to save the human race. If I applied force to the lamp post in a periodic fashion, so that my force coincided with the natural cycle of vibration of the metal, the potential effect was much magnified. Once I had got the vibration moving and the timing of my pushing in perfect synchronicity, the resulting movement was spectacular. Within less than a minute the lamp post was swaying wildly from side to side and I became alarmed when something appeared to break off the upper extremities of the post. The noise must have brought my activities to the attention of a passer-by who shouted something like "Hey lad, what tha' think ye doing?". I let go the lamp post and ran.
I could hardly sleep that night. I told nobody of this new power I had discovered. I was unsure whether this was a power that everyone potentially had available to them, or whether I alone had access to it. I couldn't wait to try it again. An opportunity presented itself the following day. It was a road sign and not a lamp post this time but I reasoned that the theory would be the same. I also thought it would be a better experimental rig as there was less to fall off and draw attention to my experiments. Once again, the process worked like a dream. Within seconds I had recognised the natural vibratory sway of the post and by adding just a little acceleration on each cycle, the street sign was swaying like a sapling in a hurricane. I watched amazed as the sign began to slip its concrete mooring and tear up the surrounding earth. Eventually it began to fall and I started to get very, very scared. I caught a glimpse of what I thought was a police car heading up the road and I began to run. I didn't stop running until I got home.
Later that night I made a vow. Well two vows actually. One I would never make use of my powers again (I eventually added a rider to this vow - "unless the world is in danger" - I was only about twelve and very keen on Superman). The second was that I would tell no one of what had happened. I did not want labelling a freak or to be treated differently to anyone else.
Until today, I have kept these two vows. Now I have broken the second. Perhaps the time is right to break the first as well. There is an Urbis Side Entry ZX1 (Flat Glass) just opposite our house and it's ripe for swaying.
On the advice of my doctors I have to announce that this is the last in the series "A Short Treatise On Lamp Posts"

Monday, February 26, 2007

A Short Treatise On Lamp Posts 2

My attempts to research the phenomenon of the intermittent street light led me to the shadowy world of the lamp post enthusiast. Like Queen Victoria and lesbians, I know some of you will refuse to acknowledge the existence of this strange sub-culture, but let me assure you : exist it does. A good starting point to survey this exotic milieu is Street Lights Online - a site which will get the real lamp post enthusiast salivating within seconds. I was particularly impressed with the specialist pages on local side-entry lanterns, and the selection of photographs of damaged lanterns brought a lump to my throat. I would really like to let you share some of the delights of this site but it would appear that enthusiasts are as vigilant of their intellectual property as they are loving of their Atlas Alpha 8 twin mercury lamps. Most of the websites which cater for this most esoteric of passions carry multiple copyright notices and dire warning of the fate that will befall anyone who attempts to cut and paste their content (their lights will be well and truly extinguished). I would therefore point out that the illustrations which accompany this short piece are taken from my own extensive collection. They are not copyright protected - I give them to the world.

The links page on the above site took me to Phil Macbeans fascinating "Lighting Pictures- Here and There" which is a must for the serious devotee of this consuming hobby. Only the other evening I sat wide-eyed and enthralled as I watched the four minute video of a Philips HPL-R 240V 125W reflector, ES (medium) base warming up. In his detailed commentary Phil points out that the most interesting sections of the film are when the light is switched on and again when it is switched off. Here I beg to differ. I found the two minute central section when nothing seems to happen other than the incandescent glow of the central element spellbinding. If anything deserves an award at the ISLA's this is surely it.
Interesting as they are these sites were not providing me with the information I craved : why do streetlights go out when I - and I alone - walk under them. What I needed was the advice and assistance of experts and therefore I headed for the specialist discussion groups that were listed on the Street Lights On-Line site. There are seven listed : Street Lighting UK; Street Lights International; Street Lantern; Street Lighting; Street Light; Lamps and Lighting; and the UK Street Lighting Forum. True to the furtive nature of the enthusiasm I had been drawn into, these were all closed groups and therefore before I could pose my question I would need to join. The first part of this process was comparatively easy - I needed an Yahoo identity. Behold "Lampmanlit! now stands before you (I can be contacted at I thought it would now be easy to subscribe to the Forum (I had decided on Street Lantern because it sounded the nicest) but I had forgotten the world within which the lamp post enthusiast plies his lonely addiction. I had to fill in an application form which contained a section where I had up to 100 words to explain why I wanted access to the discussion group. I chose my words carefully - "to seek information and further my interest in the fascinating world of street lighting"

Now I must wait. I have received an acknowledgement saying that my membership application has been submitted to the group and I will be contacted again when a decision has been made. All I can do now is wait and see. And perhaps I can make this heart-felt plea. If any of you out there, know a member of the group - an elderly uncle perhaps or the milkman's older brother who has not been out of the farm for the last fifteen years - please intercede on my behalf. I need answers. I need to know. I need light to enter the dark recesses of my soul.

A Short Treatise On Lamp Posts 1

A strange thing happened to me the other evening. I was taking Amy for her late night walk. It was dark and we headed down the main road searching for a suitable spot to do whatever needed to be done. There was little traffic on the road, but the street lights cast their amber glow through what was a cold and still February evening. Street lights are one of the background forces of modern living : like the constant rumble of traffic you tend not to notice their presence. The thing which drew my attention to the street light the other evening was that as I approached it, it dimmed and went out. I may have thought for a moment or two about the mechanics of the process, whether or not the malfunction could be remotely detected at Streetlight HQ, but such thoughts quickly passed and Amy and I headed on down the road. A change to the intensity of our shadow drew my attention back to the street light which had now come on again. Perhaps it was a self-repairing street light! Who knows what technical miracles can now be performed. Marching onwards my thoughts quickly turned to other things. The offending street light was now well behind us and we approached the next one of the set. And just as we did .... it started to dim too.
We walked on. Amy's sniffing and my day-dreaming had been abandoned. Our thoughts - and our eyes - were now focused on the second malfunctioning street light. Sure enough, as we left its immediate locality and headed further down the road, if flickered back to life again. We had now reached a section of the road where the street lights were on the other side of the road and thus there was no further opportunity to test what appeared to be my new supernatural powers. Somewhat nervously, dog and owner turned back towards home and once again entered into the sphere of influence on one of the oscillating street lights. And yet again, as we approached, it dimmed and darkened. By now we were both seriously spooked and almost running panic-stricken up the road. As we approached the next street light I was genuinely quite frightened. As we came closer I just stared at the lamp, willing it to stay lit, breathing erratically, fear in my eyes. It stayed lit and an enormous feeling of relief engulfed me. As the next light was passed - and stayed fully functioning - the fear began to fall away and I started to laugh at myself. "Silly old fool, they will be locking you up soon".
But I still haven't forgotten those few minutes when I was convinced that I was emitting some kind of force which was causing the very street lights to fail. I still search for explanations : I wear a cochlear implant which emits a radio signal - could this be causing the street lights to fail? I wonder whether I should mention this phenomenon the next time I go for my regular appointment to the Cochlear Implant Centre but decide against it. It still only needs one doctor and a social worker to commit someone, so I need to be careful. But the whole episode has left a lasting impression on me. I still cannot comfortably walk out at night without glancing up at the street lights as I pass by - just to check.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Remaining Twenty

There has been an unparalleled demand for the remaining twenty questions, so here they are. Questions 11 to 20 are local (Yorkshire) questions so apologies to our worldwide readership. Answers to all next week. Questions About Yorkshire 11. What was the hero of the song doing on “Ilkley Moor Bah’t At”? 12. There are seven cities in what used to be the County of Yorkshire. Can you name all of them? (Point for each) 13. Where is Robin Hood supposedly buried? 14. Robert Thompson of Kilburn in Yorkshire was a famous Woodcarver and furniture maker. How did he “sign” his creations? 15. Name the creator of the Mr Men Books who was born in Cleckheaton in 1935? 16. Name any of the three previous names of York (Point for each) 17. What is the subject of the famous statue in the centre of Sowerby Bridge? 18. Which Hull woman made the first solo flight from England to Australia? 19. Cooper Kitchen is now a hardware shop in Elland. But Cooper Kitchen was a famous inventor and manufacturer of what? 20. What was the name of the first Speaker of the House of Commons and former Tiller Girl who was born in Dewsbury? * * * * * * * * 41. Which three Labour Party leaders lost four successive elections between 1979 and 1992? (Point for each) 42. What was the name of Hitler’s campaign to invade the Soviet Union? 43. From which film does the Oscar-nominated tune “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” come from? 44. Which pioneering US aviator suffered the kidnapping and murder of his child? 45. Who played Steptoe and Son (2 points) 46. By what name is Robert Alan Zimmerman better known? 47. Which two cities are linked by the M8? 48. Which major American river flows out into New York Bay? 49. Which popular comedy show was set on Craggy Island? 50. In which city is O’Hare International Airport?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Between A Rock And A Question

Thanks mainly to the efforts of my quiz team partner, last week we won the Rock Tavern Quiz. The prize is the dubious honour of setting the questions for the following week. The following are a selection from the fifty questions which make up the quiz. To make it interesting, I will not supply the answers until next week. 1. What does the “C” stand for in the BBC? 2. What type of elm disease swept through Britain in the 1970s? 3. What is the real name of the singer Sting? (2 points) 4. In which sport was Willie Wood a world champion? 5. What is the name of the Presidential candidate who narrowly lost to George W Bush in the elections of November 2000 and who is now famous for his campaigning against global warming and climate change? 6. What did Ho Chi Minh City used to be called? 7. What is the Pacific terminus of the Trans-Siberian railway? 8. In which country are the world’s tallest buildings, the Petronas Towers? 9. Who wrote the thriller novel “The Day Of The Jackal”? 10. In which European city is the Atomium?

21. On what day does the New Orleans Festival of Mardi Gras take place? 22. Who was the Director of the classic western film “Stagecoach”? 23. Which designer created the fashion called “the New Look”? 24. Into which ocean does the Zambesi River flow? 25. Which English town has a tall church tower called a “stump”? 26. Which Surrey town gives its name to the common form of hydrated magnesium sulphate? 27. Which mountains extend from West Virginia to Georgia and were immortalised in a Laurel and Hardy song? 28. The name of which capital city means “black pool”? 29. In which year did India achieve its independence from Britain? 30. Who won the first five European Cup Finals?

Decide whether the following statements are TRUE or FALSE:

31. A crocodile can run faster than a racehorse 32 More calories are burned in eating a stick of celery than are gained in the process. 33. You can’t fold a piece of paper in half more than 7 times. 34. You can be fined £30 for having an italic number plate. 35. Coca-Cola used to contain cocaine. 36. Florence Nightingale died of syphilis 37. There are no trees in Iceland 38. The Canary Islands are named after a dog. 39. Marilyn Monroe had six toes on her left foot. 40. The entire population of Liechtenstein could fit into Old Trafford twice.

If you want the rest you will have to turn up at the Rock!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

When The Oenny Dropped

I had an e-mail this morning from my friend Mike Lucas who handles the booking of the acts for the annual Marsden Jazz Festival. The purpose of the e-mail was to confirm the line-up for the 2007 Festival so that I can now go ahead and finalise the Newsletter for Friends and Sponsors. After listing the headline artists, Mike wrote "A oretty good line-up, I think you'll agree". Now he is a man of letters, Mike is - he's written plays and books and probably (although I've never confirmed this with him) epic poems. Thus when he uses a word I am not familiar with I reach for my dictionaries. Here is a chance to learn. Readers Digest used to have a feature called "It Pays To Increase Your Word Power" (they may still have, I haven't checked for 25 years). In a similar search for wealth-enhancing skills I turned first to the "Pocket Oxford Colour Dictionary", then to my "Compact Oxford English Dictionary", then - on still not finding mention of the word - to my two-volume "Shorter Oxford English Dictionary". I was just reaching for my "Complete Oxford English Dictionary" (a massive two volume affair which came complete with magnifying glass because the text has been reduced to something like 2 point) when the penny dropped. Or rather when the oenny dropped. I double checked with Google just to confirm my suspicions. "Oretty" was well represented in the Google listings. There was an article headed "What Makes Julia Roberts A Oretty Woman?", an article on water heaters which started "If the anode is oretty much gone in say 4 years", and the lyrics of a song (called for reasons I didn't investigate "The Taste of Vinegar") which contains the line "Make me oretty on the outside". According to those nice people (or rather oeoole) from Google there are well over 12,000 references to "oretty" on the web : and so there should be. It's a lovely word. Thank you Mike for introducing me to it. Anyway, one should never miss an opportunity to publicise the wonderful acts we have already booked for the 2007 Festival (12th to 14th of October) and these are : Friday 8pm Chris Barber & his band Sat 2pm The Richard Galliano Quartet Sat 8pm Liane Carroll Sat 12 midnight George Washingmachine Quartet Sun 4pm Dennis Rollins & Badbone An oretty good line-up I think you will agree.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Still Not Sure : Part 3

At the time of the 1891 census, John Burnett was 36 and his wife Phoebe was just a year older. They had five children, ranging from the eldest, Ruth-Annie who at the time was 17 to Miriam, the baby of the family at just one year old. The census also lists a boarder living in the house – one William Northrop who is listed as a “farming man”. Whilst fifty years earlier the village of Horton was surrounded by open fields, it is unlikely that this was still the situation in the 1890s, and therefore it is more likely that Northrop was one of the band of agricultural workers who had recently migrated to the city in search of work in the booming textile industry.

Ruth-Annie, the eldest of the children of John and Phoebe was born in 1874. In the 1891 census she is listed as a worsted and cotton weaver. Whether or not she was working in the same mill as her father – or indeed which mill that was – is unknown. Indeed little is known about Ruth-Annie herself, although I can recall both my father and his sister, Annie, both talking about their Aunt Ruth-Annie. She later married a man called Jim Firth who – according to family legend was a drunkard and a wastrel – and they continued to live in the Little Horton area. They had no children. With the exception of Enoch, the entire family seems unusually lacking in offspring : neither Israel nor Miriam ever married and Albert only has an adopted daughter. Ruth-Annie had, however, a considerable reputation as a fortune-teller, and as a young child I can still remember talk of visits being made to an elderly relative living near St. Luke's Hospital in order to read the tea-leaves.

Map of Little Horton in the 1890s showing the Bradford Union Workhouse which later became St Luke's Hospital.

John Burnett’s second child was christened Israel. It appears that the name had been in the family for some time, and it is likely – but not certain – that John Burnett’s father had also been called Israel. In 1891 young Israel Burnett was 14 years old and was a butchers’ apprentice. We can perhaps assume that the family had, by now, achieved an element of financial security which allowed the male children to be apprenticed into a trade. By 1906, the Bradford Post Office Directory, lists Israel Burnett as owning a butchers’ shop at 250 Bowling Old Lane and he was still at the same address in 1936 by which time he would have been nearing retirement age. According to my father, his Uncle Israel never married although there was somewhat veiled reference made to a “housekeeper”.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Living Longer In A Sea Of Red Hot Pawn

It's a grumpy old man day today. To misquote an old Ian Dury song "reasons to be miserable are 1,2,3,4" First, it is a miserable day outside. It is flat: just like someone has spilt a tin of bile-duct grey paint over everything so that you can't see where the grey trees end and the grey sky starts. It thinks it might rain but hasn't the energy to decide. On days like today I normally retreat into my fantasy life but a quick glance at my Google Weather Chart tells me that the weather in Ventura, California (where Amy and I have got to on our walk from Los Angeles to New York) is wet and unseasonably cold. Second, I have come to the realisation that I have been removed from the gene-pool of corporate DNA. Until this weekend I simply believed that I had been ditched from the public sector body I served on as part of the natural turn-over of talent. But I was at a meeting in London last week and I heard a senior civil servant refer to the need to keep some people within organisations undergoing radical change as "the need to retain some corporate DNA". I was very impressed with the phrase (I wrote in down on one of those anonymous pieces of paper they always put out at meetings). But on the train back up north I started thinking about it and realised that I was not part of the corporate DNA which is being preserved. How sad can you get? Third, I was happy last week because I discovered a newspaper article which claimed - as far as I can remember - that the life expectancy of males in the UK increases by 4 hours 50 minutes per day. This was a revealing statistic and one which sent me rushing for my pocket calculator. If things go according to plan - and if I have pressed the right buttons on the calculator - this means that I should live until at least the age of 108. For days this made me feel better until I was telling someone about it this weekend and they asked to see the newspaper article in question. I then discovered I had lost it. Without proof I began to think that I had imagined the whole thing and this was like having 8 years of your life pulled out from under your zimmer frame. And four - there is the pawn. A visiting friend recommended I try a web-site for chess players. Her husband is a great fan (but there again they live in the middle of nowhere) and the site is called "Red Hot Pawn". I signed-up and ever since I have been bombarded with e-mails headed "Red Hot Pawn Challenge" from strange sounding people challenging me to a game of chess. I feel self-conscious about all of this. Every time someone comes near my computer I feel duty-bound to explain "errr it is a chess game ... pawn ... err p. a. w. ...". By now whoever it might be is looking at me as though I am a madman. Eventually I discovered a setting I can use to stop this obscene tide of challenges. It is the "on vacation" button which seemingly tells other players that you are not about at the moment. So from now on I will be on permanent vacation. Fellow chess players will look at my listing and envy my life which will appear to be one long holiday. But in reality I will be sat in the greyness of my home, nursing my redundant DNA, and mourning my lost years. Now that is sad.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

A Previously Undiscovered Roman Villa?

Playing God again, I've been scanning aerial photographs of Oxfordshire, courtesy of Live Search. There's a fascinating soil mark just south of Northbrook, Kirtlington, which appears to show the outlines of two buildings. - A Roman villa, surely!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Still Not Sure : Part 2

By the eighteen fifties and sixties, a new generation of mill owner was beginning to dominate the textile industry in Bradford. Samuel Lister, Titus Salt, John Foster and others were building mills on a massive scale. They were also beginning to provide improved housing for their workers, churches, chapels and elementary schools. Self-improvement was in the air and it is likely that John Burnett wanted to take advantage of the opportunities that were available.

The self-improvement obviously paid off and by the time of the 1891 census we find John Burnett listed as a Weaving Overlooker. Whilst the standard dictionary definition of an “overlooker” is “an overseer or foreman”, a word of caution is necessary, especially in relation to the use of the term in the nineteenth century in the West Riding of Yorkshire. The census records include a large number of “weaving overlookers”: in some cases almost every other house has a weaving overlooker as an occupant. Equally, some of these are comparatively young – in their early twenties – and in some cases they are female. These facts do not easily fit in with the modern concept of a “foreman” as a junior management position. A more likely explanation is that at the end of the nineteenth century in the West Yorkshire woollen and worsted industry, the term was used for the activity of “overlooking a loom” – a position somewhat similar to that which in the Lancashire cotton trades was known as a “tackler”. Each individual loom or group of looms would have been serviced by a small group of workers, the role of the overlooker would be to set-up the looms and supervise this small group.

St Oswald’s Buildings, Southfield Lane, Bradford. The site of the house of John Burnett in 1891.In 1891, John Burnett and his family were living at 3, Southfield Lane, Little Horton, Bradford. The house no longer exists: on the site there is a group of shops known as St. Oswald’s Buildings which were erected in 1900. It would appear that the previous dwellings were demolished in order to facilitate the widening of Little Horton Lane. We tend to think of road widening as a recent curse on the urban landscape. One possible explanation is that it was the extension of the Bradford tram system which was the cause of the loss of the property. A contemporary picture of Little Horton Lane just before the road widening is available and this gives us an idea of the area John Burnett was living in.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Halifax - City of Love

I was half-listening to a news download this morning when my attention was caught by the phrase "Halifax - City of Love". Granted, this is St Valentine's Day : but even if you have OD'd on red roses, chilled champagne and fluffy bunnies, I still can't quite see Halifax as the city of love. This is not the Halifax I have lived in most of my life. The Halifax of smoking chimneys, crumbling mills, greyscale drizzle and sullen faces. Not the Halifax of endless dissatisfaction and binge-fed alienation. Of course it isn't. I had not walked many yards before I realised that I was listening to some Canadian radio programme and the Halifax being referred to was Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Now the description may be just as out of place when used in relation to our Canadian-cousin of a city, but that is not where I am going this morning. No, this is a rambling discourse about the nature of cyber-space. I recall many years ago, in the very early days of the web, one of the computer magazines gave away a large colour "map" of cyberspace. Even back then - when web content could still be counted on the toes of a millipede - this was unrealistic. Cyberspace is not a place - it is the very antithesis of a place. Time, distance, location - none of these exist. Thus my Uncle Harry - now long dead - can exist side by side with Edwin and his electric boat and I can walk the dog along the California highway and get back each night in time to watch Coronation Street.
The first time I realised all this was some years ago when I was doing a search for material about transport in Halifax to help my son with a school project. I eventually found a long article and was feeling well pleased with myself until - on reading it more carefully - I discovered that it was about a new ferry service direct from Halifax to New York! Yes, you've worked it out ... yet again it was Halifax NS. To me that appeared silly, but once you take time and space out of the equation it was all quite logical. So maybe if you take time and space out of the equation Halifax can really be the City of Love. .

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The start of the future....

This may look confusing. But it's the engine space at the stern of our narrowboat - which is being converted to electric drive, with an onboard diesel generator. The (electric) drive motor is the coppery cylinder to the left (a friend said it looked just like a big torch battery,) the lump in the middle is the generator (with heaps of cables and a rope on top!) Far left, you can just see the bright colours of the terminals on the motor's electronic speed/direction controller. Not in place at all yet are the six storage batteries - the generator charges these and then they drive the motor.

The main object is an almost-silent boat - electric drive is all-but silent and even if the generator is running it is highly silenced (to military grade.) The system should also be considerably "greener" compared to conventional diesel drive - for one of our favourite day-long 8 hour trips I have worked out the generator should only have to run for about 40 minutes to replace the charge used in the whole day.

How do I work this out? Well, not from complex tables of hull drag, propellor grip and other complex tables of figures I don't really understand and anyway don't know how to apply to our particular boat... but I don't need them!

For one thing I know the propellor grips the water very effectively because when I made a mistake (previously, with conventional engine in place) and left the propellor in gear at low revs I couldn't hold the boat against that force and took half the skin off my hand trying - luckily Jane was able to get on the boat at the other end to cut the motor! Luckily, also, we had suitable wound dressings on board.

For another, Jane and I have several times had to haul the boat by hand. But I know roughly how hard we can possibly pull, I know we got it up to walking pace (canal speed) in reasonable time and distance and then I can apply basic physics ... and hey presto what we actually did matches amazingly closely a totally theoretical sum of how much energy it takes to get the boat to walking pace in about the same distance and time.....

This is very good news, by the way, or the physics I have taught off and on all my life would be flawed!.....

Leaving out further details and the actual calculations, the fascinating thing is that my figures also show that we need an average power a bit under half a horse-power... in other words, the boat should ideally be hauled by a smallish, lazy horse. Odd that. Theoretical physics shows history is true!! Or... since James Watt worked out his value for 1 horse power from observing real horses, it shows that physics correctly predicts reality. Which is all it can do, and only if the theory is correct, but few people realise that.

So, the start of the future... for our to-be-electric narrowboat. About to generate and use exactly the same power as those horses did. So, is it the future or really just the same?

Not Sure What To Call This Part 1

My father, Albert Burnett, was born in Bradford on the 25th June 1911. He was named after his Uncle Albert, who – as the owner of a small coachbuilders’ business – was the most successful member of his working class family. His father, my grandfather, Enoch, was one of five children. Other than Albert, their names reflect the powerful biblical roots of nineteenth century working class culture: Miriam, Ruth, Israel and Enoch.

By the turn of the twentieth century, the Burnett family had lived in and around Bradford for several generations. John Burnett, my fathers’ grandfather, had been born in the village of Low Moor on the southern outskirts of, what was then, the town of Bradford in 1855, the son of a blacksmith. At the time, Low Moor was dominated by its famous ironworks and it appears that several members of the Burnett family were employed in the industry. The young John Burnett chose however to enter the booming textile industry which by the eighteen fifties was propelling Bradford to international prominence.

Bradford’s rise to world dominance during the nineteenth century was due to the application of modern machinery to the production of woollen yarns. There was a close symbiotic relationship between the engineering and the textile industries: the vast machines that drove the new generation of super-mills were powered by steam engines built at Low Moor Ironworks. The relationship between engines, machines and textiles was a theme that was reflected in the working lives of the Burnett family right down to my fathers’ generation.

At the time of his marriage to Phebe Broadbent in 1873, John Burnett was recorded as working as a twister – someone who operated a machine that twisted yarns together. Phebe also worked in the industry as a weaver. By the 1870s, the woollen textile industry was become more settled and more organised. In 1842 Bradford had exported £4 million worth of yarns and worsted cloth: by the time of John’s marriage the trade had grown to £27 million. Increasing trade and prosperity was beginning to blunt the edge of deprivation and extreme poverty. In the 1840s, Bradford is said to have resembled a lawless frontier boom town: complete with beer shops, brothels and filthy slum housing. Average life expectancy was just over 18 years, average pay was less that £1 per week. In 1844, a visiting health inspector described it as the filthiest town he had ever visited.

Monday, February 12, 2007


Today, for a change, Amy and I decided on some drama for our walk instead of our usual diet of podcast news. I therefore searched the BBC site for something to record and listed to and - in the context of what must be a slow week for radio drama - hit on the first five episodes of a dramatisation of The Observations by Jane Richards. Whilst reading a book takes a conscious effort and requires time to be set aside for the task, listening to a dramatisation is perfect for multi-tasking and therefore you can be more adventurous with your choice of subject. As a book I probably wouldn't have chosen "The Observations", as a dramatisation in 10 15 minute episodes it seemed worth a try.

And here is where I should say what a wonderful find it was and how I should foster my adventurous spirit. The book seems to have all the right qualifications - it received glowing reviews and became a substantial publishing hit even before it saw the light of day (This may sound like a curious contradiction but it is not in the context of the current publishing industry where a handful of publishers and supermarket buyers decide which books will be mega-hits even before the printers ink is dry).

My observations on The Observations are that it was shallow, formulaic, trite and astonishingly boring. I suppose you could say it is the dramatisation which has spoilt it, but so many of the problems are with the basic story. It's of the "add a dash of childhood prostitution, a sliver of ghosts, a taste of class consciousness and mix together with a couple of pounds of historical colour" variety. Luckily I only recorded the first five episodes, It is back to Channel 4 news tomorrow.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Relentless March Of The Cult Of Celebrity

Something strange happened to my downloaded podcasts this morning. My podcast client (Juice) is set up to download half a dozen news programmes from around the world so I can listen to these whilst I walk Amy the dog. One regular download is the NBC5 morning news programme from Chicago (I find it very good for the weather forecasts but more of that in a later posting). However, today I discovered that the normal 15 minute news podcast had been replaced by a recording of a telephone conversation between a reporter and a fireman in Florida. It emerged from the course of this conversation that the fireman's colleague (another fireman) had responded to an emergency call from a hotel to find a women dead. The woman is seemingly famous for being an ex strip-club dancer who married a man sixty years older than herself. The 15 minute telephone conversation was full of questions such as "what would you normally do when you find someone not breathing?". It was banal, trivial, boring - the kind of thing they edit out of Big Brother Live. My first reaction was to assume that the tapes had been switched in error. Instead of uploading the morning news file some hapless technician had uploaded an internal file of some journalist. I decided to do my civic duty and report this error to the station concerned. Going to their website to get some kind of contact address I discovered that this was no mistake : the normal news programme had been replaced by this "mega breaking story". It is yet another example of the relentless march of the cult of celebrity. As a society we have become obsessed with the lives and deaths of people whose only claim to fame is that we are obsessed with their lives and their deaths. It is strange, but as news has become more global it has become more parochial. Oh, and thanks to all those people who have been asking, Amy's paw is much better and the antibiotics have done their trick. I will be posting an updated picture of her scar on my daily photo blog site.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Snow in Oxford

Dear me, I did that wrongly... the picture above was meant to come later on... over-size snowmen on Port Meadow... really quite spooky and Easter-Island-ish. I think - no, I know - I suffer mild iconophobia. In fact the one on the left was quite carefully sculpted when we got closer - lady with bosom and bustle, definitely a period figure. One suspects the creators were quite serious artists... maybe sculptors, even. Anything is possible in Oxford.

First time in absolute years we've had such deep snow! We went for a walk on nearby Port Meadow... little wind, so hushed, so still, so like walking inside a picture. Even if some of the logs did make me think of the pictures accompanying Christmas recipes I'd been idly reading whilst waiting for an appointment (of course the magazine was out of date as they always are in waiting rooms.)

And yes, there were fluffed up Robins looking just like the ones on Christmas cards...

Virtual reality? I think it's a bit sad when one looks at real things and finds one is only describing them by relating them to virtual things. I'm very bad at this. For example, many years ago I did a lot of student theatre lighting and for the one show I was very proud of creating lighting to look just like a particular type of dawn. Now when I see a dawn of that kind, I remember that lighting effect and think "Oh, it's just like that lighting effect I did." . Uh? Surely that's the wrong way around?

I feel the photo above looks like some famous work of art, but I can't remember which. I'm not an Art Historian. But why do I want to relate it to a work of art?

Perhaps the power of reality is too much for me and I can only cope if I can relate to a book I can close or something. Or a TV I can turn off. Who knows, (who cares?)

Sad thing is, all this alternative landscape is due to vanish tomorrow morning. How many years before we see the like again? The mad thing is, the snow experience is clearly a major influence in one's life. In fact I can probably count the total number of really reasonably deep-snow years in the whole of my life on my fingers, and not all of them. Perhaps it's all those snow-scene Christmas cards and the association of pleasant ideas... in other words, deep down we live in virtual reality anyway....

Or, we really all were dreaming of a White Christmas. Never mind it arrived on February the 8th. this year and the only year in yonks!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Now We Are Three

I always remember being deeply disturbed by a book I read when I was still in my early teens. Called "The Crowthers of Bankdam" and written by Thomas Armstrong it was a West Riding family saga of the "trouble at' mill" type. The main character - Jos Oldroyd, the head of the family business - had smoked a pipe all his life. One morning, when he was in his sixties, he woke up and left his pipe unlit on his desk. He never touched it again. Within three weeks he was dead. Beware sudden changes in behaviour was the clear lesson, especially as you approach what we optimistically call "middle age". When people have encouraged me to change behaviour patterns with phrases such as "why not change the habits of a lifetime?" I have usually replied, "because you die within a couple of weeks just like old Jos Oldroyd". It was the negative role model of old Jos that kept me smoking my pipe for years after I finally accepted on an intellectual level that smoking might be bad for my general health. When I eventually put my pipe to rest just over two years ago I kept a careful watch for other behavioural changes. The other day I started wearing pyjamas again after a gap of about forty years. For most people this can be interpreted as a normal reaction to the cold nights, or the fact that the central heating is playing up, or just plain old age. But in my heightened state of watchfulness it becomes a sign of impending mortality. It depresses me. "Never mind", I tell myself, "at least you are managing to keep your blog going". But I have never managed to keep anything going: it is the fatal flaw in my character which has stopped me being Prime Minister or Chief Executive of Walkers' Crisps. Although I start a diary every year I have never managed to get past January 8th. And now this blog is in its fourth month......! It is a paradox : I started blogging to guarantee my immortality and by keeping blogging I hasten my mortality. So how on earth did I get on to this in a posting entitled "Now We Are Three". This is supposed to be about my third blog I have just started "Fat Dog To The Big Apple" which charts my virtual walk with Amy the dog from Los Angeles to New York. My trouble is that I can't stick to the bloody point. Never have been able to. No change there then. .... Thank Goodness.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Signposts, Filters and Aardvarks.

"If, in the future, a computer will give me access to the entire resources of the Encyclopædia Britannica, I think I will die a happy man" I said that, I remember it distinctly. It must have been twenty years ago. Prestel (it was a pre-web information system that worked a bit like teletext) was just coming in and late one memorable night I managed to download a story from that days' New York Times. I felt tremendously proud, at the vanguard of a new information age. When that age came it proved to be on a scale I could never have dreamt of. And it would also have consequences I could never have dreamt of. In reality the new age did not give everyone access to the Encyclopædia Britannica, it destroyed the Encyclopædia Britannica. It is in the process of destroying the music industry as we know it. Newspapers and magazines - at least in their present form - will not be far behind. This is not a complaint. There was nothing wonderful about the pre-download music industry and I am not sorry to see it go the way of tallow candles. All I am saying is that the so-called "information society" is in fact an "information revolution", which - like most revolutions - is beyond the day-to-day control of mankind. So what brought me to these thoughts? Three things. First, over the weekend there was much talk amongst the people I was with about information overload. e-mail inboxes that take half a day to get through, the routine circulation of reports to everyone in your address book ... this kind of thing. I have some sympathy with such moans : the information super-highway has become as clogged up as the M62 which I can see from my window. However, there is a positive side to this. For reasons best known to myself I am currently taking the dog (Amy) on a virtual walking tour of the USA. Each day we measure our mileage and plot it on Microsoft Live Search maps. Yesterday we were passing the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles which I had always fancied seeing. Now - thanks to the much maligned information super-highway - I could read about them (, look at them, listen to them, and I suspect smell them if I had followed enough links. I even managed to get a wonderful tour of the museum courtesy of a video made by a member of YouTube ( The third element is my current period of reflection about the future of my European news service. When I started it 25 years ago - information was paper-based and in relatively short supply. The value added I could provide was to summarise and point people in the right direction. Now information is abundant and the need - if a need exists - is for a signposting service. In a way this is still summarising and pointing - but of a very different nature. So, where have I got to? Information overload ? Probably. Solution - signs and filters. I am not sure at the moment whether I have the energy any more to help design the solution. Alternatively I could probably buy myself an old paper-based copy of Britannica and start out with the Aardvark.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

My Dearest May : The Back-Story Part 1

June 3 1897, Hotel Saint Quentin, Paris
My Dearest May,
We arrived last night after a long and tiresome crossing. Aunt B. has complained of sickness ever since setting foot in France and insists all water must be thoroughly boiled before we drink it. I, however, am captivated by Paris and want to explore and see everything. Aunt B says I must not go anywhere without Mr. Copthorne, but he is old and slow and limps like a lobster. There are wonderful shops to visit and mysterious people to meet and I am stuck here inside the Hotel looking out through the window. Mme Ladoux called this morning and promised to take me to the theatre on Friday. Do write dear May with all your news. Have you heard from George? And what news of the little German man? We will be in Paris for at least a fortnight so plenty of time for your PCs to reach me. I will write again soon.
Your dearest friend, Adele.

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...