Friday, June 29, 2007

A Surge Of Blood Through My Varicose Veins

It can't be a long post today, because I have so much to do. Last night I discovered a hole in my support stockings ("State-of-the-art welt and open toe finish for improved comfort. Effective treatment for superficial and early varicose veins, including those during pregnancy"). That means a lengthy visit to the Chemist. I am also running out of hearing aid batteries and with the holiday coming up, one of my greatest fears is to be stuck in some foreign clime and not being able to hear instructions about the safety of the drinking water. As it is necessary to queue up at the Clinic for at least an hour to be issued with a box of batteries, that is the entire afternoon spoken for. I somehow need to get all this completed before rush hour sets in (I really don't like being out in the rush hour traffic any more) and get back in good time so I can keep a careful watch out of the front window for my wife and son to come home.

Frighteningly busy as it is, it could have been so much worse. We were due to go down to visit Janie and Edwin in Oxford this weekend, but on mature reflection we decided to postpone the visit as we feared it might rain. As Janie and I exchanged e-mails about the proposed trip the other day we swapped phrases so as "it is better to be safe than sorry", and "worrying about the weather would cast a cloud over the weekend". We took the sensible decision. The mature decision. The grown-up decision.

When you are sat waiting for new hearing aid batteries to be issued there is not very much to do. Almost by definition, you cannot enter into conversation with the other people who are also waiting. You just sit a lot, smile a lot, and think a lot. And who knows where my thoughts will take me. Maybe setting off with little more than a tent and a page torn out of a school atlas and hitch-hiking through France, Belgium and Holland. Maybe marching through London to Grosvenor Square and dodging the charges by mounted police. Maybe my wife and I returning north with all our possessions in the back of a small van, en-route to Medical School (Isobel) and unemployment (me).
Frightening thoughts these. Enough to send a surge of middle-aged blood through your varicose veins. And who knows where that would lead you? Better to be safe and sensible.
Must go now, the Archers is about to start.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Has Anyone Got A Brown Paper Bag They Can Lend Me?

I have just got back from an early visit to the shop having just bought half a dozen brown eggs. But having just re-read the instructions, I realise that I don't have the necessary brown paper bag. I have a brown manila envelope, but I fear that is not going to be as effective. So has anyone out there got a brown paper bag they can lend me? Perhaps I had better explain. You may recall that yesterday I was troubled by the misfortune that has overtaken me and my family. Yesterday was a good example. Each year my dear wife goes to a two-day course in Sheffield. Yesterday was the first day of this years' course. It was also the the day that brought the heaviest rainfall in Sheffield since records began several thousand years ago. There were floods, evacuations and helicoper rescues from the rooftops. Now you can't tell me that is just a coincidence. You left me yesterday in search of the family dog, having decided that some kind of sacrifice was required in order to assuage the gods. The problem is, I am getting old and Amy (the said family dog) can easily out-run me. She also has an uncanny ability to read my mind. The Lady wasn't for sacrificing. Abandoning that idea, I decided to see if there were any websites that offered remote sacrificing services. You know the kind of thing, choose which type of animal you want sacrificing, type in what you are trying to get (or get rid of), enter your credit card details and hey presto (as they say). The really strange thing is that no such sites currently exist. By chance - or was it a curious kind of reverse fate - I have discovered a gap in the market. If I ever get time, enthusiasm, and a few hundred chicken, I intend to plug the gap and I have purchased the URL in anticipation. Virtual sacrifice services also drew a blank and in these days of increasing awareness of the sanctity of life, this was a little surprising. Ancient beliefs and spiritual practices are all the fashion and if you combine the two trends what do you have? Well what I have is (since I bought that as well). I did find a website that promised to help me solve my problems by making a wish. Perhaps I can quote from the instructions : "If you're worrying about something, why not let luck decide the best course of action? Concentrate on your problem, make a wish, click on our wheel of fortune to choose a good luck charm... and the wheel will give you a message relating to your problem. Sometimes it's good to trust to luck!" I tried it a few times but I always seemed to get a stupid little message which said "It is not necessary to have money to be happy" which is one of the most stupid statements since Craven A cigarettes ran an advertising campaign which said "Craven A .... For Your Throat's Sake". Clearly the kind of problem they had in mind was in a different league to the one I was facing. I did eventually find a link to a site which would provide me with a powerful ancient spell which would "combat the power of evil spells and bad luck". The spell in question was the "Jinx Egg Removing Spell" which goes as follows (and I quote): 1. You must purchase a brown fresh egg before noon of that day. Make sure that you start this when the moon is waning. It is very important that this egg be fresh. Place this egg in a brown bag and tie the neck of the bag with a black cloth string. Place this bag under your bed. 2. Each night before retiring to bed, you must open this bag and take the egg out and rub it all over your body. When done, put the egg back into the bag, take a deep breath and blow three times into the bag. When you are blowing into the bag, you must imagine that all the bad luck is leaving your body, via your breath. When done, place the bag back under your bed. Do this for nine days. At the end of nine days, take the bag with the egg and dispose of it outside your home. 3. Note: Each time that you blow into the bag, you must immediately tie it back up. If by the end of seven days you notice that your bag is moving on it's own. Stop, and dispose of the bag immediately. DO NOT LOOK INTO THE BAG. Make sure that the bag is secure. We are not responsible for any misuse, or actions that may results from the use of this powerful spell. Do not play with this. So far, I have checked in my diary and - as far as I can tell - the moon seems to be waning. I have nipped down to ASDA and bought half a dozen free-range eggs. But now I need the necessary brown bag. As you have probably realised by now, I need help.

Monday, June 25, 2007

What Have We Done To Deserve This?

I must confess that when I pulled back the curtains this morning, looked out, and saw the still-pouring rain I said - to nobody in particular - "what have we done to deserve this?". It feels as though it has been raining for almost the entirety of June. Indeed, I suspect I can date the start of this latest cycle of atrocious weather - it coincided with the re-painting of my now-famous yellow balcony and the purchase of a new set of table and chairs. Looking at the balcony today is enough to bring tears to the eyes, but if they did come, the tears would soon be washed away by what appears to be endless rainfall.

Of course I don't really believe that re-painting my balcony somehow brought about twenty-five days of almost constant rain. Nor do I believe - despite my exclamation this morning - that the current spell of persistent rain is a result of something I, or my family have done. The furthest I am prepared to go is to accept that there is likely to be a causal relationship between human activity over the last hundred years and gradual climate change. But that gradual process of climate change has nothing to do with the current lousy weather. My early morning exclamation is nothing more than an example of vestigial vocabulary, a throwback to the days when mankind knew no better, the verbal equivalent of the coccyx.
Although we have become more sophisticated in teasing out the connection ( or lack of it) between cause and effect in some areas, we seem unwilling to do so in other areas. Witness the stream of "research findings" that are little more than barmy. The media is very fond of such items and they frequently find their way into the so-called "news". You know the kind of thing : "A university research project has shown that February 12th (or some such date) is the most dangerous day of the year .." or "Scientists have proved that drinking purple grape juice will reduce your chances of catching Empty Head Syndrome (or some such disease)".
As an antidote to the spate of illogical thinking engendered by my questioning the cause of the rainfall this morning I turned with scientific gratitude to the excellent website of Professor David Colquhoun (Improbable Science). This is the website to access if you are ever tempted to stray into the bizarre ways of quackery. There were attempts recently by the forces of darkness to have the website removed but I am glad to say it is back in all its glory once again. After reading the various postings on the site for half an hour or so I am returned to my normal rational self. The rain is coming down, not because I have transgressed some unwritten law of the Gods, but because high pressure is driving in a prevailing system from the south-west (or some such thing).
I wrote the above piece about two hours ago. Since then, the rain has got even heavier and there are numerous severe weather warnings going out all the time. My wife just phoned to say that she is stuck in Sheffield, all trains to Huddersfield having been cancelled because of floods. I have just returned from the shops having decided it might be wise to start stockpiling food. I have procured a few candles and I am about to set up a little altar in the corner of my room. Perhaps I need a sacrifice. Now where is that pesky dog?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Isn't Creative Writing A Wonderful Hobby?

Now, I have to admit I'm new to this creative writing business. I've only been at it a little over a week. The stuff I did before - all those turgid articles about the European Union Constitution or Trans-European infrastructure networks - was about as creative as a bobbin ligger going about his trade (my father used to be a bobbin ligger so I know about such things). Even the creativity involved in putting together these random postings is about on par with the creativity of a bus conductor (At one stage in my life I was a bus conductor so I know about such things). But, a week ago, I picked up a leaflet announcing the Calderdale Short Story competition and my life was transformed. I became a creative writer. And isn't it a wonderful hobby. It took me just a few lengths of the swimming pool to come up with an idea (I think such ideas are called a plot, but I'm not sure). And then all I had to do was to write the whole thing up in less than 3,000 words. And this is where the true beauty of the hobby kicked in. On Day Two, rather than starting writing I decided to tidy my office. It was a job I had been meaning to do for some time and I was really pleased about having found the enthusiasm to tackle it. I was going to start writing on Day Three when I remembered that I needed to transfer a collection of old utility bills out of the "current" filing cabinet into the "archives" box. It was a job well-done. Day Four and Day Five were the weekend and I devoted it to "quality time" with my family. My son accused me of following him around the house like a demented puppy and my wife told me in no uncertain terms what to do with myself when I awoke her from her weekend nap for the third time. Still quality time is quality time. On Day Six I decided to re-arrange my collection of single malt whisky - for some time now I have been running out of space on my shelf. This was a big operation and involved dusting and cataloguing each bottle. I managed to create some space by finishing off one or two bottles which only had a finger or two left in them. On Day Seven, I wasn't feeling too well so I decided to do nothing at all. As Day Eight dawned I was determined to start the old creative writing thing, but then discovered that the daisy trees on my balcony needed dead-heading. Not being sure how to approach this task I researched it on the internet and one thing led to another... I would really like to start today, but there is the next part of Fat Dog To The Big Apple to write (mustn't put things off, you know). Tomorrow I have to got to Sheffield, then it's the weekend again and then it's Monday. The diary is free for Monday. On Monday I can start my creative writing. That is, of course, as long as I don't get an invitation from someone to visit their worm farm. Come on, someone out there must have a worm farm. Please.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

My Finger And The Coming Armageddon

About eight weeks ago, following a hectic night at the Rock Tavern discussing Chinese porcelain (or some such thing), I trapped my finger in the bathroom door. It was a simple mistake, one that could have been made by anyone who had just consumed four pints of Tetley Bitter and a couple of malts. I momentarily forgot that my finger was part of the organic mass I know as Me and therefore closed the door on it with as little concern as I would extend - in normal circumstances - to the lintel. The result was a shriek of pain which woke the dog and curdled a bottle of milk in the fridge. The following morning I noticed that a small circular blood blister had formed under the nail as a semi-permanent reminder of the folly of over-indulgence. I say semi-permanent because, on observation (as they say in the scientific world), the blister began to slowly progress towards the top end of my nail. Supposed scientists of my acquaintance have attempted rational explanations for this phenomenon, claiming that the blood blister is attached to the inner surface of the nail and that, as the nail grows, the blister moves. But to me the movement has all the mystery and awe of an Elizabethan Royal Progress. Each morning, the first thing I do when I wake up is to check the progress of the blister. It dominates my thoughts. It's slow progression provides the beat that underpins the music of my life. And the one question which monopolises my normally wide-ranging thought process is "what will happen when it gets to the end of my finger?"

An answer was provided a couple of weeks ago in a vivid dream I had one night. The evening had been unremarkable other than for the fact that I had been culling my malt whisky collection. The dream was vivid, the prophesy was Old Testament clear. When the blister finally emerges from underneath the nail, the world will come to an end. OK, I can hear you scoffing already, but bear with me a minute. The following morning I had a feeling that the prophesy in the dream was spot-on. And I have had such feelings before, lots of times, and I have been right. I remember, forty years ago, having a feeling that England wouldn't win the World Cup in Mexico: and I was right. I remember having a feeling that William Hague was not good Prime Minister material: and I was right. I remember a feeling that Silvestre, our pet rabbit, wouldn't life much longer: RIP Silvestre. So with a track record like this, even the skeptics out there will have to pay attention. OK, you might ask, why should anyone choose to announce Armageddon by the movement of a blood blister on the index finger of my left hand? Why not? Some people believe that you can precisely date the forthcoming Battle of Armageddon by when the branches of a particular fig tree "are tender and putteth forth leaves" (see Armageddon Online for the precise logic of the prophesy and note that their date agrees, more or less, with mine).

Anyway, all I am trying to say is that time is running out,. As you can see from the above recent picture, the end is nigh. I appreciate that discerning people would like as much notice of the precise timing of the end of the world as possible and therefore I am today launching a unique offer. I have established a new subscription-only Blog "My Finger And The Coming Armageddon" which will contain daily photographs of the progress of the blood-blister. By logging-in daily to this site - the URL of which is available for a small fee - you will be able to fine-tune your end-of-life plans. For your convenience, the one-off subscription fee can be paid via all major credit cards. And the way things are looking with my finger at the moment, you will not even have to pay the first month's interest on the bill.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Transient Faces

My attempt to get fit and lose weight in anticipation of the upcoming holiday takes me four or five times a week down to the swimming pool. In order to get to the pool of choice - which is situated at the Holiday Inn in Brighouse - you have to walk through the hotel lobby which is a pleasure for me as I am fascinated by hotel lobbies. It is not the architecture or design of them (they are usually as common as breeze block), it is the people who sit in them. All inhabitants of hotel lobbies share a certain look, a look you hardly see anywhere else. It doesn't matter whether you are in New York, Hong Kong or down the road in Brighouse, it is the same. Documentary evidence also suggests that it doesn't matter whether you are in the twentyfirst or the twentieth century - the look remains constant. If you take a look at almost any of the paintings of the American artist Edward Hopper, you see the look.

In the first place there is a kind of emptiness, a vacancy which provides the primer over which other emotions are sketched in a minimalist way. Time is always being marked. People are always on the way to somewhere, never there. And there is a loneliness which is unmitigated by company. Such faces make you want to go in search of the back-story. Why are they here, where are they going and why are they going there? The author Arnold Bennett had a lifelong love of hotels and hotel lobbies and he would sit and watch the people for hours and invent their stories.

My attempts to put together an entry for the Calderdale Short Story competition (see the posting of a few days ago) has, after just 214 words, foundered on the rocks of tedium. So, when I make my way to the swimming pool later this morning, I will search those faces with even more care. Searching for inspiration.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Birthday to the Man with the Dog!

Somewhere I have equally old and embarrassing photographs of Mr. Alan Burnett, but since our scanner, like most of the disks, programs and hardware we used with Edwin's old computer, is incompatible with Windows Vista, I'll have to make do with this one, taken on a visit to Bolton Abbey.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Reading With Katie

Last night, my wife and I went along to Halifax Library to hear the novelist Katie Fforde talk about her writing and read from her latest book. We have known Katie, and her husband Desmond, since we were all young, which now seems a very long time ago. Over the years we have kept in touch and we have watched with admiration her increasing success. During my life I have known so many people who have been about to write "the great novel"(and I include myself in this list), but who have never got any further than to jot a few ideas down on the back of an envelope or enter the local short-story writing competition. Therefore I have unlimited admiration for anyone who has the guts, determination and talent to get published and, in the case of Katie, become an enormous success. And success is even sweeter when it sits on the shoulders of someone who is as charming and unpretentious as she is.

After the reading I picked up an entry form to the annual Calderdale Short Story competition, and on the way home I jotted a few ideas down on the back of an envelope. Now all I have to do is to write the story. Alas - as Katie will tell you - that is the difficult part.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Memory Like A .....Em .... A .... Thingy

It is claimed that last Friday night I agreed to re-write Greensleeves. Why would anyone want to re-write Greensleeves you may ask (it is an eminently sensible question, indeed, it is the very question I asked when this strange claim was first reported to me). It would seem that your venerable correspondent was, as is usual on a Friday night, enjoying pitting what remains of his wits against the usual crowd at the Rock Tavern and enjoying a pint or three of the landlord's Best Bitter and in conversation with his devoted cousin several times removed (the one who claims he looks like Blossom Dearie). She reported that she has been retained to serenade - in medieval fashion - the guests at a friends' fiftieth birthday party. A suitable song was required, one which would weave together pertinent facts concerning the celebrants' life. "No problem", it is claimed that I said "I will have something ready by Sunday". When all this was reported to me on Sunday, I denied all knowledge of it. Perhaps I was a little "merry" and I had forgotten the conversation, it was suggested. No, the conversation had never taken place, I insisted. "But you wrote the information down in your little book", countered cousin (who by now I was wishing was even more times removed). "Nonsense" I said opening the book to reveal a couple of pages of information about someone who would shortly be celebrating their fiftieth birthday and who will now be serenaded to the tune of Greensleeves.

"Oh who is fair as she is fair, a rose of fifty summers' long...." etc.

The point is, I had totally forgotten. The information had fallen through one of the increasing number of holes in my sieve-like memory. And the problem appears to be getting worse.

A good few months ago (actually I can't remember how many) I was at a workshop on "Mental Healthy and the Elderly" (and before you ask, for the life of me I can't remember why I was there). In the small discussion group I was part of the conversation turned to the difference between straight-forward forgetfulness and the early signs of conditions likely to be more problematic. A friend of mine, who was a senior psychiatric nurse, was chairing the discussion. He claimed that it was relatively easy to tell the difference and that we shouldn't worry as it is perfectly normal to get a bit forgetful as we got older. "So when, yesterday, I was driving through Halifax and came to a roundabout and couldn't remember which way round we are supposed to go, that is perfectly normal then?", said I. "Well that's a relief". Only then did I notice that the room had gone quiet and the somewhat serious look on my friends' face. As we left the workshop a couple of hours later, I offered him a lift back into town. He preferred to walk, he said.

Anyway, all this is by way of an introduction to the main point of today's posting. The only problem is that I have completely forgotten what that is. Sorry.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Targeted Links

Targeted links are big business. You can sign on for a service that will analyse the content of your website and place "appropriate" web-link adverts on your site. Each time someone links to the destination site from the link on your page you get rewarded (sometimes by as much as 0.0001p per link!). The only problem is that content analysis is often an automated process which searches for key-words and matches them with appropriate - and sometimes extraordinarily inappropriate - adverts.

There was recently an outcry about an on-line memorial site which was financed by targeted links. Several examples of distasteful and inappropriate links were given. In one case, an online memorial for a boy called Ryan featured an advert for Ryanair. Another, for a woman called Sheila, linked to Sheila's Wheels car insurance. A person called Watts was linked to an ad for light bulbs. A tribute to a boy killed in a motorcycle accident carried an ad for a new motorbike while memorials for babies had promotions for nappies and prams.

Even where the adverts have been chosen by a real person rather than a machine, the choices can often be bizarre. This morning, my son tried to book an appointment to see the doctor. The best they could offer was an appointment at the end of the week but by the time he checked his diary, that had gone so he will now see the doctor a fortnight today. We checked to see if an appointment could be made on-line (it can't) and therefore turned to the practice website. Like everywhere else these days it has targeted advert-links. Call me old-fashioned but for a NHS GP surgery to feature a link to BUPA at the top of their page is somewhat inappropriate. But you have to give the people concerned their due : what the first link achieved in inappropriateness, the second equals in appropriateness. It is a link to a firm of debt management and bankruptcy consultants.

Please note, this posting has benefited from the financial support of the following organisations.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Pipe Smokers Alive - and Well?

When AB was forced to give up his pipe, we'd thought that was it. A sight that used to be universal had finally died out. The Last Pipe Smoker in Britain had gone. It was amusing to discover there were still a few in Germany (see his April post), but obviously it was only going to be a matter of time before the foreigners caught up. But then, yesterday, we were on a boat at Sandford Lock, and realised the lock-keeper was smoking a pipe! What's more, when challenged, he revealed that one of the other Thames lock-keepers is a pipe-smoker as well. There is still a corner of rural England on the backwaters of the Thames where this ancient art continues. We were delighted, but I was too shy to take a photograph for anthropological purposes.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Shaking Blossom's Tree

I can think of many good reasons for going to New York. More than any other city, New York is an icon of the times - a backdrop to the story of the world in the twentieth century. I have never been to the city but it is on the top of the list of the cities I want to see before I fade into dodderihood. I want to see the buildings, walk the streets, smell the smells. I want to look up at the Chrysler Building, stroll in Central Park and wander through Greenwich Village. And I want to see Blossom Dearie.

I fell in love with Blossom Dearie when I was twenty (and she must have been about forty). Forty years on and I am still in love with her and she is still going strong. But now she seems to limit her appearances to concerts in New York. If you have never heard Blossom Dearie sing - and if you had, you would remember it - it is worth going in search of her music. In the age of commercial downloads this is not as difficult as it once was. She has a voice that is instantly recognisable, a voice which initially seems to have been stripped bare of emotion, but later you realise that it has merely been stripped of pretense. If music was high art she would sit with the impressionists and particularly those painters who favoured economy of stroke. She is the Seurat of the jazz divas in a world where Ella Fitzgerald was the Titian. That economy of phrase sits perfectly with Pulitzer Prize lyrics. Lyrics that beg to be sung in classy, sleek sans-serif.

So when you listen to Blossom sing, make sure you catch her interpretation of the songs of writers such as Dave Frishberg (I'm Hip, My Attorney Bernie, Peel Me A Grape etc). For songs which are as sharp as these you need a singer who is equally sharp. Blossom Dearie is so sharp, she should not be on sale to anyone under the age of 18.

In her song, Dearie's Blues there is a memorable line :

"If you don't like my peaches baby, why do you shake my tree?"

So when people now ask me why I would so like to go to New York I add to the well established list "to shake Blossom's tree".

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Changing Nature Of The News

The way a technology like the Internet impacts on the tasks that are a central element of social organisation is an interesting one. Take, for example, the news.

News, in all its forms, has always had an important role in any form of human organisation. The medieval minstrels who sung songs of love and conquest belonged to the same family as the authors of the Victorian penny dreadfuls and the editors of the twentieth century tabloids. As society has become more complex and technological capabilities have advanced, both the demand for, and the supply of, news has increased exponentially. During the twentieth century we had news delivery via the printed page, via the cinema, via radio and via television. By the turn of the century, most of these media existed side-by-side, dedicated to meeting what was an almost unquenchable appetite for wall-to-wall news.

So what happens when you throw into this complex cauldron a new technology - the Internet. From past experience we would expect two distinct stages in the adaptation of news provision to technological change. The first is what we can call the "mimic stage", the second is the "adaptation stage". In the mimic stage, the new technological platform seeks to merely mimic existing provision without attempting to exploit the full potential of the new media form. Thus in the early 1950s, the early attempts at television news were based on nothing more than a newsreader reading the script of what had been on the radio news. With the Internet revolution, this stage can be seen in terms of the digital editions of existing newspapers. The new media is being used to deliver an old product. It's like having a motor car being used between the shafts of a horse-drawn carriage.

In the adaptation stage, the possibility boundaries of the new media are explored and the platform (how things are said) begins to have a direct impact on the message (what is said). Thus, cinema and television news coverage was able to exploit the powerful impact of the moving picture. News coverage changed. And society itself changed (think of the impact of television coverage of the Vietnam War). In terms of the Internet, we are in this adaptation stage at the moment. News presentation is beginning to exploit the four important technological possibilities that are inherent in the new media. These are :

1. The new media is effectively a multi-media. It beings together the all the main media platforms - the printed word, speech, pictures, moving images - and integrates them. Some of the best examples of modern news provision are where the multi-media abilities of new technology are presented in a seamless and complementary package.

2. It provides the possibility of linkages. Hyperlinks are perhaps the most unique elements of new technology : they take static bibliographies and turn them into living elements. One of the most interesting, instructive and enjoyable things you can do on the Internet is to follow a set of links without any set target in mind, letting the living web lead you in unexpected directions, along untrodden paths. The new news media has still not exploited the potential of linkages fully : there is still plenty of opportunity for innovation.

3. It allows self-tailoring. The use of feed-agents (such as NewsGator) allows you to design a stream of news coverage which matches your particular requirements. You can specify that you only want news about politics or no news about politics. You can request news about apples, acrobats or Andalusia (or all three). As the use of feeds and feed-agents increases, self-tailoring means that news provision structures change and the old monopolies begin to be challenges in new ways.

4. It enables participation. Blogging, cell-phone cameras, the widespread availability of digital photography and the development of sites such as YouTube all mean that almost anyone can now be involved in news gathering and news delivery. The potential involved in this development is enormous and we are only just beginning to scrape the surface in terms of its impact on society.

If you want to begin to put together your own muti-media news gathering machine, a good starting point is a feed-agent which will help you manage RSS (really simple syndication) feeds. NewsGator - and its more sophisticated cousin Feed Demon - is a good starting point. Give it a try.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Memories Of New Brighton

As Amy and I passed through Santa Cruz a few days ago on our virtual walking tour which is taking us from Los Angeles to New York (see Fat Dog To The Big Apple) we passed New Brighton State Beach. Just seeing the name on a map transported me back fifty years and a good few thousand miles to childhood holidays at, what was then, the seaside resort of New Brighton on the tip of the Wirral Peninsula. New Brighton in Santa Cruz County, California and New Brighton, Merseyside share but one thing in common : they were both named after the fashionable Sussex resort of Brighton. New Brighton Beach in California takes its name from the now demolished New Brighton Hotel which was built a few miles outside Santa Cruz in the 1870s by one Thomas Fallon. He was hoping that the Hotel would become the centre of a thriving resort and chose its name in the hope that it might give the impression of genuine Victorian glamour. As an exercise in spin, it didn't work. The Hotel failed and was later demolished. Part of the grounds were converted into the small State Beach which now bears the name.

New Brighton on the Wirral Peninsular was also an exercise in reflective glory. Like its Californian cousin, it was named after what was seen as the most elegant resort of Regency Britain. But New Brighton - which is only a few miles away from the City of Liverpool - never did elegance. Instead it became one of the most popular seaside destinations for train-loads of working class families on their annual holidays from the northern industrial towns. Reaching its peak of popularity in the inter-war period, New Brighton fell into decline in the sixties and seventies. The last time I visited the area - about twenty years ago - there was little left of the crowded pleasure gardens, sandy beaches, ice-cream stalls and fish and chip shops that I remembered as a child.

Like thousands of other northern families in the 1950s we would head off for a week's holiday each summer. My mother favoured Bridlington on the North Sea coast for these annual excursions, my father preferred New Brighton at the mouth of the River Mersey. Long before I appeared on the scene, a compromise of sorts was reached which meant that one year we would catch the train east to Bridlington and the following year it would be a train journey to the west to New Brighton. In some ways you would have been hard pressed to tell the difference - certainly as far as the accommodation was concerned. This was the age of the boarding house : dreadful brick terraced affairs which smelt of steamed vegetables and which you were thrown out of each morning and not allowed back into until tea-time. My most vivid memories of family holidays during this period were of sitting in municipal shelters watching the rain drip down and waiting to be allowed back into the warmth of our lodgings.

There were differences between Brid (it was always called Brid) and New Brighton. Brid had a harbour and fishing boats, long amusement arcades that seemed to go on for furlongs, and a Spa Theatre. New Brighton had a fort, an outdoor swimming pool, and ferries. The fort still exists : the outdoor swimming pool and the ferries are long gone. Built in the 1820s to guard the entry to the River Mersey, Perch Rock Battery (to give it its official title) only ever saw its guns fired on two occasions. The first time was on the outbreak of World War I in 1914 when a Norwegian ship - unaware that war had broken out - failed to acknowledge a signal from the Fort which at the time was under the command of a local dentist. He ordered a warning shot to be fired across the bows of the Norwegian ship. The guns were wildly inaccurate and the shell landed on the sand dunes at Crosby on the other side of the River Mersey. The shell was taken to the mess of the Seaforth Battery where it was put on display with the message "A Present From New Brighton". The second time the guns were fired in anger was at the outbreak of World War II when again a warning shot was sent across the bows of a local fishing boat which was entering a closed channel. The owners of the fishing boat were later made to pay for the cost of the two shells which had been fired.

I remember sitting on the sands at New Brighton - it must have stopped raining. I remember looking up at the massive fort and wondering what great tales of courage and conflict it could tell of. Little did I know.

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...