Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Charge of the Light Brigade

So where did you go over the Bank Holiday weekend? Blackpool for the day? Alton Towers? For a walk in the park? Well I went to the Danish Museum of Electricity, so there! Well, actually, I virtually went there which is not quite the same, but when you are stuck inside updating the Marsden Jazz Festival website you have to make do with whatever you can get. From what I virtually saw it looks like a fun place, the kind of destination that would occupy many a damp Bank Holiday afternoon. And if you don't want to travel to Denmark, the museum's interactive, user-friendly, and information-packed website is almost just as good. When you enter the site (this is the website we are talking about) you are faced with two alternatives. The first is entitled - for reasons probably lost in translation - the energy and fun picnic and is organised according to age group. Thus by clicking on the picture of a young child you get child-friendly exhibits and by clicking on the picture of the old wrinkly you get loads of stuff about the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Quite a clever idea actually.
The second alternative takes you to what is called the "Knowledge Hub" where information is grouped by topic. From here there are links to sections dealing with electricity production, thunder and lightening, nuclear energy, hydrogen fuel cells and many similar topics. You can happily browse your way along the virtual corridors and stop off and look at some of the special exhibitions (I can heartily recommend the "Ignition - Currents of Modernism Around 1900" Exhibition).
Thanks to the Danish Electricity Museum I had an informative and entertaining Bank Holiday day out. For that reason it becomes my digital resource of the week.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Newspaper of the Week : Awoko

The wonderful thing about the Web is - as I have said too many times for my own good - the serendipitous nature of the beast. You rarely get taken from A to B without catching a glimpse of J or K. Take my nomination for Newspaper of the Week this week which is "Awoko" of Sierra Leone (slogan "The enemies of the people are likewise those who keep us in ignorance"). I found Awoko via my interest in breweries: I have a Google Watch setting which alerts me to any newspaper articles containing the word "brewery". The article in Awoko was an odd little thing about some poor chap who found a "foreign object" in his bottle of Maltina non-alcoholic beer and the consequent plea by the Sierra Leone Brewery that they "cherish their customers" and therefore the foreign object was nothing to do with them. Nowhere did anyone reveal what the "foreign object" was but it matters not as - in my opinion - anyone who drinks non-alcoholic beer deserved all they get.

Having been taken to the Awoko website, I decided to have a wander around and was captivated by the quirky collection of stories about everyday happenings in Sierra Leone. Much of my interest in obscure newspapers is the fact that there is no finer window into any society than its newspapers. Moving around the site is a little difficult as all the indexes seem to have stalled back in 2007. The only thing that seems to work for more recent articles is the "search" function and therefore you need to think of a word and input it and see what comes up (I, for some reason tried "kitchen" and the results were fascinating).

It is so easy to sit back in my comfortable retirement home and scoff at the somewhat curious use of the English language to describe the strange goings-on of the local people. As I was scoffing I did a Google search for Awoko and discovered it is more than a little oddball African newspaper. It attempts to provide an independent viewpoint in a country where press freedom is far from secured. According to Reporters Without Frontiers, Sierra Leone was ranked as having the 121st least-free press in the world. And according to an article in Afrol News, "Sierra Leonean police units .... raided the offices of the independent daily 'Awoko' newspaper, assaulting three journalists and confiscating a camera. The 'Awoko' journalists had tried to cover a police operation against illegal street vendors".

So I salute Awoko. It well deserves to be my Newspaper of the Week.

I Came Upon A Child Of God

I came upon a child of God He was walking along the road And I asked him, where are you going And this he told me I'm going on down to Yasgurs farm I'm going to join in a rock n roll band I'm going to camp out on the land I'm going to try an get my soul free No doubt many of you will remember these splendid lyrics to Joni Mitchell's 1969 song "Woodstock" which celebrates to momentous Woodstock Festival of that year. They ran through my mind all yesterday morning. I was sat in my car, halfway around a roundabout on the A6120 just east of Leeds. I had plenty opportunity to remember the lyrics as I had been sat in the same spot for about 40 minutes. My son, Alexander, and two of his friends were also in the car, but I did not involve them in my search for second verse. They are all two young, and anyway they were too full of the excitement of the impending Leeds Festival that they - and about 10,000 other people on the A6120 - were heading for. It was my own fault. Several people much wiser than me had warned me not to attempt to drive them there. The best advice was to put them on a train to Leeds and let them take the Shuttle Bus. But I am an old softy who gets great pleasure from spoiling the lad. And anyway, I know best. If we set off early enough it can't be that bad. So we set off at 06.45 and got to the A6120 without too many problems. And then the traffic stopped. At first I thought that there had been an accident, but soon I noticed that Festival-goers more experienced than me were expecting such delays. Drivers and passengers were getting out of their cars and setting up picnic tables on grass verges. Someone seemed to be erecting a tent at the far exit of the roundabout. I stuck it out for a while longer and then good sense intervened. I managed to turn around and head back to Leeds. I dropped the trio off by the Bus Station and left them to their fortunes with the Shuttle Bus. I later discovered they had managed to get to the Festival in about an hour and a half, which sounded like good going. On the Local News that evening it told of one person who had spent six hours stuck in traffic getting to the Festival site. Was it like this at Woodstock? Of course not. The answer lies in the second verse : Then can I walk beside you I have come here to lose the smog And I feel to be a cog in something turning Well maybe it is just the time of year Or maybe its the time of man I don't know who l am But you know life is for learning Back in the sixties we walked. Mind you, I am not complaining. I should have heeded the warnings. But, as Joni said, life is for the learning.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

It's The Wonder Of Woolworths

"Troubled retailer Woolworths says it has rejected a bid for its network of 815 stores, calling it "unacceptable". Woolworths confirmed reports that the boss of the Iceland frozen food chain, Malcolm Walker, had made an offer to buy its retail division". BBC 17 August 2008.
The headline popped up on my Google Reader screen as I was putting together a short post in my "Digital Resources" series. And the subject of my posting - The Woolworths Virtual Museum. If you are of a particular age (and I am of a particular age) then FW Woolworths will have a place in your psyche : a place that modern retailers such as TESCO and ASDA could never aspire to. The local Woolworths store was our entry to the consumer society, our aspirational warehouse, our shrine to Mammon. Can we ever forget the feeling of the coins in our sweaty palms as we entered through those swing doors and went in search of "Pick and Mix" sweets, plastic pencil sharpeners, Airfix model kits, or the latest 45 records. There was a certain smell, a certain feel, a certain style about Woolworths which was the same whether you were in Halifax or Hampstead, Leeds or Leicester.
You can recapture some of that "feel" at the wonderful Woolworths Virtual Museum which is my digital resource choice for this week. It provides a digital "peep" inside a variety of British Woolworth stores chosen from the last 100 years. You can wander around the galleries and examine photographs and even video clips : based upon either particular decades or particular groups of products. So, for example, you can stroll through a Stationery Department from the early 1960s (my own particular favourite) or a Homewares Department of the 1920s.

I have not set foot in a Woolworths shop for ages, but I am certain they will be well worth a visit. Their virtual museum certainly is. But if the news reports are right, you better get in there quick.

At One With The Earth

There are few feelings that compare to being at one with the earth. To feel the rich black soil on your hands, to know that you have raised something from an insignificant seed to become a full, bountiful, luxuriant offering that could grace any kitchen worktop. How do I know? Because I have been there, done it, and got the muck under my fingernails to prove it.
Those who follow the minutiae of my daily life with fascination (and I know there are several thousand of you out there) will recall that a few months ago three large plastic tubs and nine small seed potatoes were delivered to our house - the offerings of an anonymous admirer. I planted them, watered them and fed them with crumbled Nice biscuits, and three months later I reaped the rewards of my labour. Ah harvest time: never has the phrase had more meaning for me than the autumn of 2008.

Anxiously, last week, I gathered my crop : and what a crop. In just a few months nine small seed potatoes had been magically transformed into 62 slightly larger potatoes. From the photograph you can clearly see the pride of the farmer, the God-like glow of the rustic swain. I am at one with the earth.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Lad Did Well

If you really want to annoy an 18 year old you just wait until "A" Level results day and then you repeat one of those endless stories about how much easier exams are these days compared to when you were a lad. When they display their list of Grade A modules and gold-embossed certificates you casually point out that "A" levels are given out with Big Macs as a special promotional offer. You then press home your advantage by informing them that when you were young Aristotle just scraped a low "B" in his "A" Level philosophy exam and John Logie Baird flunked his Television and Media Studies test.
As a short cut to getting a thump on the nose it works a treat. And I have to say that I have every sympathy for the young thugs concerned : there can be few things more annoying than being told that your success is due to falling standards rather than rising effort. A few things are clear. The exams in themselves are not getting easier. The increased popularity of so-called "soft subjects" are not the reason for increased pass rates (the highest percentage of "A" grades are to be found amongst "hard subjects" such as maths and chemistry). The reason behind the increased success rate at "A" level is, I believe, down to three factors.
First, and most importantly, the kids of today are probably brighter than we were 40 or so years ago. Second, there is a substantially increased focus on achieving high grades, to the extent that on this day each year, "A Level" pass rates will always push a second-rate war off the front pages. And third, changes to the way in which exams are marked means that marks are based upon a structured marking scheme rather than a vague and subjective "feel" on the part of the marker.

So congratulations to my own "A Level" student. Alexander came away with a full set of A grades and confirmation of his place at Sheffield Medical School in September. All those nights when he stayed at home and worked rather than going out and sniffing glue or stealing a car have paid off. His deserved success - and that of his fellow students - was down to their own hard work and efforts - and don't let anybody tell us any different.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Blind and Mellow

I had a bit of an accident the other day : I walked into a lamp-post. The cause was not my renowned passion for lamp-post spotting, nor was it a surfeit of alcohol. The fault lay fair and square with the divine Billie Holiday. As I have mentioned many times before, when I walk Amy the Dog, I listen to my MP3 player, normally to one of a selection of regular podcasts (and before you ask my Podcast of the Month Awards will be returning later this month). I acquired a new MP3 player for my birthday and discovered that it had the ability to replay video clips. I decided to experiment and quickly found a fabulous clip of Billie Holiday singing "Fine and Mellow" on YouTube. Filmed back in 1957, the 6 minute clip features not only Billie Holiday, but also a host of jazz legends.

This is how the clip is described on the New Musical Express website: "Reunited after many years with tenor saxophonist Lester Young, Billie's visual reaction to his moving solo remains as eloquent as anything she ever sang; a touching finale to their historic musical partnership. Introduced by Robert Herridge (producer/host of CBS' "The Sound of Jazz"), this is perhaps the single most famous "live jazz" performance in TV history. Other members of the all-star band seen here: Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Gerry Mulligan, Roy Eldridge, Doc Cheatham, Vic Dickenson, Danny Barker, Milt Hinton, Mal Waldron..."We shall not see their likes again."

It doesn't take much effort to guess what happened when I started to watch the performance as I walked Amy down Bradley Road. I became totally mesmerised and as Roy Eldridge was hitting notes so high they almost hurt, I walked straight into a lamp-post. Luckily the damage was only minor and the resulting blindness was temporary. I am incorporating the clip for you to judge for yourself. Turn the volume up high, sit back and get prepared to be carried away. But be warned : do not watch it on your ipod as you walk.

Monday, August 11, 2008

All That Jazz

It's that time of the year again - the countdown to the Marsden Jazz Festival. What is strange is the way in which a regular involvement in an annual event comes to establish seasonal markers which co-exist with the more normal markers such as Christmas, Easter and Holiday-time. Thus, July normally means sending out the Festival leaflets (we are a little late this year), August means starting to sell tickets, September means getting the final publications together and October means ... the Festival (this year it is the weekend of the 10th to 12th October.

And so the other evening, a handful of us gathered together to stuff leaflets in envelopes at the Annual Stuffing Evening. The leaflet this year maintains the sheep theme, although we move away from the usual swinging sheep and feature a photograph of jazz saxophonist, Rod Mason, wearing a sheep's outfit on the moors above Marsden. When I took the photographs a few weeks ago, the vision of a very substantial, bearded, jazz musician, holding a soprano sax, and dressed in a sheep's outfit, stood alongside the main A62 road nearly caused one of two accidents.

This week I will be concentrating on getting all the various gigs up on the Festival website. For full details of who is appearing where and when go to (but leave it until later in the week so I can get all the latest news uploaded).

Friday, August 08, 2008

Making Light Of Madness

Fight as I might against the desire to repeat endless "health and safety madness" stories, I cannot resist it and I have set up a new Delicious tag ("madness") to file them under. My first gut instinct on coming across another example of some ridiculous new ruling is to see it as an attack on health and safety culture in general. I was a firm supporter of the 1978 Health and Safety at Work Act and spent many years teaching courses about the Act and the changes it would (and did) bring in British industry. But to equate the recent trend which wants to see cups of tea given a "Caution -Hot Drink" warning label or insists on signs in public parks warning of the danger of falling trees in high winds, is to do a disservice to the serious problems the 1978 Act was introduced to combat. The Act always had at its core the concept of "reasonableness", a concept many of today's petty rule-makers have clearly never come across.
Today's madness story illustrates that such nonsense is not just a British failing. According to a piece in the Guardian, the German Parliament is proposing that Kinder Surprise eggs constitute a danger to children in that the kids might mistake the little toys they contain for something they should be eating! A member of the Commission which has come up with the ruling stated that "children are unable to differentiate between toys and nutritional items". And just in case the little fellows can differentiate, the Commission states that the toys should be banned anyway as they act as a reward for potentially poor nutrition. In another ruling, the same Commission is calling for lighter paper to be used in all German school exercise books in order to combat the health risk of heavy school bags. Classics.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Arresting News .... As It Happens

I have just had the somewhat unsettling experience of listening to the BBC News Channel only to hear an item of "Breaking News" announced which said that "Alan Burnett is to be arrested and charged with offences by the Office of Fair Trading in relation to alleged price fixing". I think this is just another example of there being too many Alan Burnett's around, but in these days of instant 24 hour news, you can never be too sure. Must go now as there is someone knocking at the door....

Scrap Book

I have always liked cutting out pictures and sticking them in books. One of my earliest memories is of being taken into travel agents by my parents to collect travel brochures advertising holidays in exotic parts of the world. The purpose of this exercise was not to research possible holiday destinations, but to obtain a free supply of pictures which I could then cut and paste in albums. In later life I would keep extensive press cutting collections and scrap books full of pictures clipped from newspapers and magazines.

In terms of my clipping activities, the transition from actual to digital has been a long and complex one. But at long last I am now happy with my digital press cutting system (Delicious - which can be accessed via the link in the sidebar) which underwent a new systems update at the beginning of this month which has improved the functionality immeasurably). So I am now free to experiment with my picture-clipping system and for that I am currently using a public Google Notebook album which can be accessed by following this link. Into it goes all those third party images which seem to either say something or are just nice to look at.

Newspaper Of The Week : Pravda

This is the first in what will be an occasional series which looks at some of the more interesting on-line world newspaper resources. And where better to start than with that paragon of heavy journalism - Pravda : a paragon which appears to have fallen on hard times.

The Russian word "pravda" means "the truth" : and makes a suitably Orwellian title for what was the official organ of the Soviet Communist Party between 1912 and 1991. In August 1991, President Boris Yeltsin issued a decree shutting down the Communist Party and seizing all of its property. For a short period a number of ex-Pravda journalists continued to run the paper until the name and familiar Order of Lenin medals trademark were sold to a family of Greek entrepreneurs. There followed a series of splits and splinters which the original Russian Communist Party members would have been proud of, until the present time when Pravda exists in two quite separate manifestations.

First there is Pravda the traditional newspaper which continues as a voice of the Communist left in Russia. It looks not too dissimilar to what it looked like in the Soviet era (see the illustration above) and if you are desperate to read it, you can obtain a full digital copy via (but beware, at just four pages, it is an expensive buy) although you will need a decent knowledge of Russian as a translation is not available.

In stark contrast to the seriously heavy Pravda newspaper there is Pravda online ( which is a very different kettle of fish. With a content and style which makes an English tabloid look staid and restrained, is the face of modern, brash, cheap and cheerful Russia. Today's headlines included such gems as "Man who decapitated and ate his fellow traveler in packed passenger bus due in court" and "Nude blond visits petrol station creating public disturbance (PHOTOS)" (their upper case emphasis, not mine). Lenin would have blushed, but you might want to pay it a visit.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Development or Devastation?

There it was, a pefectly good 1936 house, and now (left) the back-addition kitchen is gone, the upstairs has no partition walls (centre) and it's all the work of builder Alan (right.)

The house also now has new water supplies (two because there are going to be two flats,) new electric supplies and the beginnings of new gas supplies. There are huge inspected trenches at the rear (below centre) awaiting concrete for the foundations of the new back (large) extensions. The huge muddy trench shown in an earlier posting is filled in (new service pipes etc. below,) and now there are no ceilings (below left) or partition walls nearly anywhere.
Huge steel girders lurk in the garden, waiting to be fitted to hold the house together properly again and support the chimney above the demolished fireplaces..... the garden is full of a mountain of rubble and mud (below right.)
Ah well, this is progress... should look nice eventually!
(Help, I can't get the photos in quite the right places..!)

No Mission, Just Pointless Wanderlust.

"So, what is the point of your Blog?", someone asked me recently. I have been asked this question a few times over the years and I never know how to answer. I normally come out with phrases like "it's Sudoku for the innumerate" or "it's better than dying", but this time I was tempted to be honest. "There is no point", I replied, "It's pointless, and that is its true beauty". Later I thought about having a Mission Statement and incorporating it into the new Header, but I am not on a mission. A mission implies that you know where you are going, that you are travelling in order to get somewhere. If my Blog travels, it travels for the sheer joy of travelling. It has a serious case of wanderlust : pointless wanderlust. And that is how I found "Pencils of Light". As I have said all too often, one of the great joys of being around at the moment is that more and more digital content is becoming available. For the digital wanderers amongst us, the sun is always shining and the fields are always green. Like the traveller of old who would send back postcards telling of the exotic and wondrous places they had visited, these Postcards From Nowhere can occasionally tell of some of the fascinating digital destinations waiting to be discovered. The "Pencils of Light" website is hosted by the National Library of Scotland and Edinburgh Library and consists of a digital reproduction of two albums of the Edinburgh Calotype Club, the first photographic club in the world. As such, they are among the earliest photograph albums ever assembled. They contain over 300 images by a group of pioneering Scottish photographers working in Edinburgh and St. Andrews. The photographs, taken in the 1840s, provide a marvellous insight into life 165 years ago. It is not a vast resource, nor is it the kind of thing that will keep you absorbed for days. But, for a gentle browse on a quiet, grey, Wednesday morning, it is ideal.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

In Cannes Last Week

Returning from holiday is a bit like starting a new year - if you will excuse the twisted metaphor - it's time for Spring Cleaning. So over the coming days I will be trying to re-organise, restructure and reconstitute my many blogs. A spirit of consolidation is in the air. I will illustrate the process with this picture of three heads taken - as far as I remember - last week in Cannes. The reason I am using this image is simply that I have always wanted to type the phrase "taken - as far as I remember - last week in Cannes". What a supreme phrase this is : illustrating that I am a fully-fledged international playboy whilst at the same time suggesting that continental travel is such a normal part of my lifestyle that I can't really remember whether I took it in Cannes or Florence, or Portofino, or ... Actually it might have been in Brighouse.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Five Went Mad In The Mediterranean

Back safe and sound, a little bit more relaxed and a little bit more sunburned, from our Mediterranean cruise on board the wonderful Ventura. An excellent time was had by all five of us as we sailed from sun-soaked resort to sun-soaked resort via some of the greatest buildings in Europe. My pictures from the trip are available on-line in a Picasa Web Album : just follow this link and choose "slideshow". The shots should also be streaming in the mini-slideshow in the side-panel. There are other photos from the trip and I might add some of these to the blog over the coming days.

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...