Thursday, December 31, 2009

Strange Meeting

It was a strange meeting, but not of the Wilfred Owen variety. We didn't escape "down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped through granites which titanic wars had groined". But we did both step through that cobbled passage-way out of the grey-flaked midday cold and into the artificial cheer of a sixteenth century coaching inn. But no enemies were we : no battle killed corpses meeting at the gates of hell. Still, it was a strange meeting. Here was someone I knew fairly well. I had traveled with him to Paris and Italy, sat next to him as we watched Bob Dylan and The Unthanks, shared his memories of his father : and yet we had never met in our lives. We blogged. Tony, like all my other on-line friends was only ever a blog-roll away: but unlike most, in real terms, in the real world, in a non-virtual sense, in the cold light of the realistic day he lived just up the valley from me. And so, some weeks ago we decided to meet and share a pint or two at Christmas. This was the strange meeting.

There was something slightly unreal about it. It was almost like suddenly meeting one of the characters from a favourite book. You have your own idea what Jane Eyre would have sounded like or Mr Micawber would have walked like : how strange it would be to walk into a pub and come face to face with them. Or, in my blog-encrusted world, how strange to walk into the Union Cross Inn and see Poetikat pulling pints, Simpson and Lynch propping up the bar and having an argument in the corner, Betsy and Willow sharing afternoon tea and Abe Lincoln with his lens pressed up to the mullioned window looking for a robin to photograph. And here I was sat enjoying a pint with Tony as we swapped stories and shared our enthusiasm for the art of blogging. And he is just the delightful chap I expected him to be. Just as witty, just as erudite - a true personification of his blog.

And I am sure that every one of my friends out there is the personification of their blogs. They will be interesting. amusing and talented people - because their blogs are interesting, amusing and brimming with talent. That is why I read them

It is New Years' Eve. In a few hours it will be 2010. It is traditionally a time of hopes, wishes and resolutions. I will limit myself to just one hope. It is that at some point during the coming year I can meet up with other blogging friends : whether it be in Canada, the United States, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Australia, France .... or wherever. To you all, whichever part of the world you live in, a very happy and peaceful new year.

Monday, December 21, 2009

We Apologise For The Disruption To Our Services

The Lad is back. He had been skiing in France and got stuck for a time when the ports of Calais and Dover were closed by the snow and cold. We eventually collected him from Sheffield on Sunday morning and just made it back home before the really heavy snow set in. The Lad brought a case of beer back with him and decided to leave it out in the garden last night so the snow could act as a natural cooler. This morning there were a suspicious set of paw prints converging on the beer stash, all I can assume is that Amy must have had some of her friends around for a little party.

With the Lad home, the Christmas tree still to put up, presents to wrap, and parties to attend I am unlikely to be able to post to the blog too often over the next week or ten days. Equally visits to my favourite blogs will be less frequent than normal. As hundreds of announcers are saying over loudspeakers at railways stations, bus stations and airports throughout Europe at the moment, "we apologise for the disruption to our services". Just in case I don't get chance to say this before Christmas, I would like to wish all my friends the very warmest seasonal greetings.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sepia Saturday : Professor Green And A Host Of Admiring Children

I am posting my Sepia Saturday contribution a little early again this week so it acts as a reminder to anyone else who wants to join in. As usual, at the end of the post there is a list of the other Sepia Saturday contributions - if you want your post adding to the list just add a comment and I will update the list throughout the weekend. Before I launch into my sepia post this week, perhaps I should add a few words about the sepia process itself. The term "sepia" was given to a brown pigment used by artists which was derived from the ink sack of the Common European Cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis). When, in the late nineteenth century, a chemical process was developed which converted any remaining metallic silver in photographic prints, to a sulphide - which is much more resistant to breakdown over time and which produced a brown-grey tone - it was called sepia toning. Sepia prints are more resistant to fading and chemical decomposition which is why most of the early prints we can still see are sepia toned ones.

My Sepia Saturday image this week was taken by my Uncle Frank back in the 1930s. It shows a crowd gathered around the tent of a Punch and Judy entertainer on Blackpool sands. The brightly decorated puppeteers' tent proclaims "Established 1880, Prof J Green, Blackpool's Old Original Punch and Judy Entertainer". An article by Robert Leach entitled "Punch and Judy and Oral Tradition" published in the journal "Folklore" (Vol 94:i,1983) tells the story of Professor Green (Punch and Judy puppeteers are traditionally known as Professors). In the early summer of 1880, Jack Green set out to walk from his home in Manchester to Blackpool (some 40 miles in distance) pushing a handcart containing his Punch and Judy booth and puppets. He spent the summer entertaining visitors at the popular seaside resort and settled in the town where he acquired a house and, with his wife, brought up nineteen children. Most of the children followed their father into the Punch and Judy business and, at the time the photograph was taken, there were as many as nine separate Punch and Judy shows being staged by his children at points along Blackpool sands. A third generation of Greens went into the same business and the last Prof Green (a grandson of the original) retired as recently as the 1980s.

One of the most glorious thing about these old sepia prints is the richness of their content. The image above is taken from a scan of a small 3 inch by 2 inch print which was taken at random from one of Uncle Frank's albums. But scanning technology - and the quality of the original print - allows us to delve deeper inside the image and discover new images which have been hiding away for decades. The following image - which is merely an enlargement of just part of the crowd - is a picture in itself, a picture which delightfully captures the excitement and wonder in the faces of the audience. If those children are alive now they will be very old. But their youth was captured forever - in sepia.

Next Saturday is Christmas and therefore I won't be posting a Sepia Saturday contribution. But there are no rules for Sepia Saturday and therefore others may decide to post sepia images. I will return to Sepia Saturday on the 2nd January.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Theme Thursday : History

The trouble with history is that it is infectious. Contagious. Bloody dangerous (this is not a descent into gratuitous swearing, it is often bloody and frequently dangerous). Like MRSA or Clostridium difficile you can catch history from almost anything. People you meet shed history like dandruff and history leaches out of old stone walls and blackened brickwork by some powerful osmotic force. The Boy In The Bubble had history:  it braved his defenses, by-passed his air-lock and crept into his very soul. It will get us all eventually : history will have me and history will have you.

Only yesterday I was taking a short-cut through the little park next to Huddersfield Parish Church, on my way to buy a rather splendid brown striped suit I had seen in the sale at Greenwoods, when I brushed against a small stone sarcophagus. I paused to take a photograph of the offending object, and in that brief moment I must have been infected. By the time I got home (complete with suit - pure new wool, £200 reduced to just £60) sepsis had set in. Leaving the suit in the bag, I downloaded the photograph and set about transcribing the inscription.

"Sacred to the memory of Hannah, wife of Joseph Kaye, builder of Huddersfield who departed this life Jan 27th 1836 in the 53rd year of her age. Also Joseph Kaye, son of the above named Joseph and Hannah Kaye who died June 8th 1855 aged 37. Also the above named Joseph Kaye, builder, who died March 18th 1858, aged 78 years. Also of William Henry Kaye, son of the above, who was born May 15th 1819 and died in Wiesbaden, Germany, Sep 7th 1862. Also Eliza, relict of the above Joseph Kaye who died October 8th 1871 aged 63 years.

The problem with an inscription like this is that there is enough to keep you blogging for a month. Who was Joseph? What did he build? Why did his son die in Germany? Why is poor Eliza nothing more than a relict? The questions become what the microbiologists call systemic. They take over your being and they dominate your life. Like an intellectual tsunami they wash away all thoughts of your new suit.

I have begun to gather answers. Joseph Kaye was the most celebrated local builder of his day who was responsible for building two iconic buildings - the Railway Station and the George Hotel - in the centre of Huddersfield. He was a canny operator who is said to have undercut his competitors' tenders for building the Hotel by "liberating" stone from the adjacent railway station that he was already building. He built many of the local mills and ended up owning one or two of them. I have not yet tracked down why his son died in a German health spa but the infection is still in its early days. The fever that is history has a long way to go before it burns itself out. In the meantime my suit is unworn, my dog is unwalked, my dinner is uncooked and my next blog post is unwritten. That's what history does to you.

And a final word of warning. If, by any remote chance, you have not yet been infected by the organism, be very careful. Reading the other Theme Thursday Posts on the subject may just leave you open to contamination.

THEME THURSDAY : Take a look at how other people have interpreted this week's theme. And if you don't already take part, why not join in?
HUDDERSFIELD STATION THEN AND NOW :  Take a look at one of Joseph Kaye's finest buildings, the wonderful Huddersfield Railway Station.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Countdown To The Finish

We all have our own way of marking the passage of time. I am not thinking of rings on the tree trunk of life such as double chins or heart by-passes, I am thinking more of counting down to important events. For example, I have relatives I am particularly fond of who live in Spain. The husband recently had to come to England for a week on business and leave his wife behind in Spain. Each evening she would post to Facebook and mark the passage of time before her husbands returned in terms of how many times she would have to groom their two dogs alone. It was quite sweet.

Advent calendars are a kind of institutionalised form of counting down to an anticipated event. Each morning you can open the little cardboard doors and pull out a chocolate treat and mark one day nearer your Christmas celebrations. Other forms of countdown tend to be more prosaic. You can go, for example, to several websites and get an accurate, second-by-second, countdown to the start of the 2012 London Olympic Games (when I checked a minute ago it was 955 days, 8 hours, 47 minutes and 48 seconds in case you are interested). The problem with this form of over-complex approach is that it smothers you with information and it is quite possible for you to get so involved with the mechanics and the precision of the detailed countdown that you miss the event all together.

A good countdown needs to effortlessly combine simplicity with meaning : like dog-brushes or chocolate drops. Or, in my case, dishwasher tablets. Yes, yesterday I bought the last box of dishwasher tablets I will need to acquire before we jet off to our holiday in the sun in January. I can now dust off the suitcases, order my Hawaiian shirt, and buy in a supply of sun protection cream. As the little tablets of concentrated soap powder drop one-by-one into the dishwasher, I can begin to check the weather forecast for the West Indies and not for West Yorkshire. As the dirty coffee cups are kept busy in the pre-rinse cycle I can be kept busy dudein' up my shirt front, puttin' in the shirt studs and polishin' my nails. Today I go for my last injection against whatever dreadful disease the GLW fears I might succumb to in the tropics. In 37 days, 11 hours, 15 minutes and 42 seconds we set off. If truth be told, I am nothing more than a big kid at heart.


IRREVERENT IRRELEVANCE : Whenever I read Jeffscape's posts I am reminded of Churchill's phrase about a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. He writes as well as anyone I have come across, and his blog will always be on my "must read" list.
EXTRACT FROM A SHIP'S LOG :  What I got up to on my last cruise.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Hardly Magnificent And Somewhat Pedestrian Seven

Over the last couple of weeks two fellow bloggers - my good friends Poetikat and AngelMay - have been kind enough to ask me to participate in the "Seven Things" meme which is currently doing the rounds. I usually try to keep my head down in the face of such revelatory entreaties, but it's Monday morning, it's raining outside, and the only real alternative is to write and address even more Christmas cards. So here goes : seven vaguely interesting things you may not know about me.

1. My first ever job was as a trainee press photographer for the local Halifax Evening Courier. Having been offered the job some six months before I finished school I used to go into the newspaper offices during the holidays to get myself familiar with the routine. Three weeks before I was due to start work I received a letter from the Editor saying that they had to withdraw the job offer due to "financial pressures".

2. I met my life-long best friend when I was 18 and she was 15. I was the Chairman of the local Young Socialists and I persuaded her to become a member ..... and to go out with me. We were married six years later and she is still my good, lady wife 43 years later.

3. During the early years of my life I had a wide variety of jobs. These included being a bus conductor, operating the rain machine on a film set, planning for the evacuation of London schoolchildren in the event of the flooding of the River Thames, and answering letters from the public on behalf of the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson.

4. During the 1980s I acted as a consultant and "expert" for the European Commission in Brussels. I wrote and edited their regular publication for European trade unionists and traveled on a fairly regular basis between Yorkshire and Belgium. This coincided with the time of my deafness when the doctors wouldn't let me fly and therefore I made the journey by train and boat.

5. Many years ago I started to write a book - on the back of a postcard. It was a political thriller set in the world of European Union politics. I sent the postcard containing the first installment (written in rather small letters) to my good friend and chess partner Martin. Over the following year or so I sent him a further couple of hundred postcards with  further installments of the story. Then I ran out of either postcards, stamps or inspiration, and the project was never finished.

6. Throughout my life I have had a fairly bizarre diet which has excluded all vegetable (other than potatoes) and which is based on very plain and simple food. This is nothing more than a complicated food fad - but it has left me with a cholesterol level that is the envy of all my friends.

7. I am currently addicted to computer-based jigsaw puzzles. I relax at the end of each day by converting a work of art into a computer-based jigsaw and slowly reconstructing it whilst listening to whatever music happens to be my current favourite. (I am currently, for example, reconstructing John Constable's Salisbury Cathedral From The Meadows to the sound of Nigel Kennedy's Blue Note Sessions).

And that is about as much revelation as anyone can take. As we are now towards the end of this particular meme I will excuse myself and not pass it on to seven other bloggers : I suspect everyone has either had a go at the task or successfully kept their heads down

Amy continues her virtual coast-to-coast walk, getting involved in an argument about the westernmost point in the USA and finding herself in the midst of a Jules Verne novel. The latest installment of Fat Dog To The Big Apple - Postcard From Cape Blanco - is now available.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sepia Saturday : Who Was Johnny Wyatt And Where Did He Get His Hat?

My Sepia Saturday post this week is a bit of a mystery. I found it in the large box which is labelled "Old Family Photographs" and which is filled with photographs passed down within the family. There is a scribbled note on the back of this one which states "Johnny Wyatt - Used To Live With Gladys". The Gladys in question must have been my mother and all I can assume is that the "used to live" is a literal statement referring to the habit of families taking in lodgers to earn extra money. But if he was simply a lodger living at my grandparent's house - it can't have been my parent's house because I know for a fact they never took in lodgers - why did my mother have his photograph? And why has the bottom left-hand corner of the photograph been torn off? What could possibly have been written there which had to be destroyed?

But the real mystery is, of course, where did Johnny get his hats from. I love that hat, I crave it, I lust after it. It is a hat of distinction and wearing a hat like that a man would be infused with charm and savoir-faire. So if you are out there Johnny, surfing the internet even though you must be well over 100 years old, send me an e-mail and let me know where you got it from. And whilst you are at it, how did you know my mother?

If we decide to keep Sepia Saturday going we will invest in a Mr Linky and all such things. But for the time being just let me know if you are featuring a Sepia Saturday post and I will add it to this list. I will keep the list updated over the weekend. The following blogs are participating in Sepia Saturday this week (let me know if you want adding to the list)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Theme Thursday : Snow

We have an ambivalent attitude towards snow in our household. A bit like Joni Mitchell and her clouds, we tend to view snow from both sides now - depending who is doing the viewing. At one extreme we have The Lad who has a love of snow that could rival Miss Smilla's. Ever since he was small he has welcomed the coming of snow with an excitement that was truly infectious. As he has grown older his obsession with all things wintry does not seem to have abated : a couple of days ago he was playing ice hokey for the University team and in a couple of days time he is off to France for a week's skiing.

I would probably come next on the snow loving scale. Whilst I admit that snow is cold, uncomfortable and disruptive, I have a great visual attraction to it. I love the way it coats things and transforms things, like nature's own highlighting pen. So when the snow falls there is nothing I like more than getting out with my camera and discovering what new insights are to be discovered. Who knows, the recycling bottle box may just be transformed into something you can hang on your wall.

Next on the snow approval scale comes Amy the dog who is often forced to accompany me on my wintry perambulations. She does not accompany me willingly as she is not particularly fond of snow. It disturbs her sense of scent, she tells me, and makes it difficult to chase squirrels. In addition, snow deposits tend to accumulate around her extremely furry paws and quickly build up with the veracity of a giant snowball being rolled down a hill. In the past it has occasionally got so bad that The Lad and I have had to carry her home as the weight of her snow-coated feet has been to great for her to lift.

But the prize for the great snow-hater in our household goes to the Good Lady Wife. She hates snow with a passion that borders on the fanatical. From November onwards she will each morning peep out of the curtained windows to see if her dreaded enemy has arrived. The cupboard next to the door is filled with an array of weapons to fight the beast : dozens of bottles of de-icer, boxes of scrapers, shovels, sheets, heavy-duty gloves and fur hats. It isn't as though we live above the snow-line - at most we might get a week or ten days of snow each year. It is simply that she hates it so much and - in a philosophy of mutual destruction borrowed from the Cold War - believes that a powerful arsenal keeps trouble at bay.

So there we are : finely balanced. We are a hung parliament in our attitude to snow with no floating voter in sight. But who knows, next year things might be different. My nieces' son might be coming to England to University and there is a good chance that he won't be too far away from us. Hopefully he will be able to spend some time with us next winter. He has spent his entire life living in the British Virgin Islands and, as far as I know, has never witnessed snow in his life. It will be interesting to see which side of the great divide he comes down on.

THEME THURSDAY : See how other Bloggers have approached this week's theme.
WARNING OF SEVERE WEATHER WARNING : From the NfN archives - the British obsession with the weather.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Postcard Of The Week : St Luke's Hospital, Halifax

This is a postcard I have just added to my collection and it shows St Luke's Hospital, Halifax. Whilst the name might not be familiar to Halifax residents, the building will be, for it still stands today and is now incorporated into the new Calderdale Royal Hospital. Nevertheless, it stated life in 1897 as The Halifax Union St. Like's Hospital. The "Union" concerned was the "Poor Law Union" and the hospital was built to accomodate the bed-ridden cases from the local workhouses. The foundation stone reads as follows:

Halifax Union
St. Luke's Hospital 

This foundation stone of St. Luke's Hospital, being an Infirmary for the sick poor in Halifax Poor Law Union, comprising the townships and parishes of Barkisland, Brighouse, Clifton, Elland and Fixby, Greetland, Halifax, Hartshead, Hipperholme, Luddenden Foot, Midgley, Norland, Northowram, Norwood Green and Coley, Queensbury, Rastrick, Rishworth, Shelf, Skircoat, Southowram, Sowerby, Sowerby Bridge, Soyland, Stainland with old Lindley, Upper Greetland and Warley, was laid on the 9th day of October 1897, by the Rev. C. E. Aspinall, M.A., J.Ponly, Chairman of the Halifax Board of Guardians

During the Great War the hospital became a military hospital (St Luke's Military Hospital) which treated soldiers sent back from the trenches in Flanders and other theatres of war. With the final abolition of the old Poor Laws in the 1920s the hospital was eventually transferred to the local Council and after the formation of the National Health Service in 1948 it became Halifax General Hospital. It was as Halifax General Hospital that I best remember it and even in the 1960s it did not look very different from the building pictured on the above postcard. Everything changed in 2004 when the large, new Calderdale Royal Hospital was built alongside the old building which now forms an administrative wing to the new hospital. However, if you stood in the right place and managed to avoid the endless stream of traffic, you could probably still recognise the distinctive shape of the old buildings.

I have two connections to the hospital. The first is that it is one of the two major hospital at which the GLW still works. The second is that my brother created the sculpture that stands in the grounds. The piece is called "The Dancing Girls" and portrays two of my nieces. It was to be the first of a series of three pieces which were commissioned for the opening of the new hospital in 2004. The other two never got cast for reasons which I will save for another post.

SQUARE SUNSHINE : Described as "the thoughts and observations of a grandfather", the blog provides an ever-changing collection of images, thoughts and memories.
WEBSITE & FAMILY RESEMBLANCES : From the NfN Archives - more about my sculpting brother.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The Word Factory

According to the Oxford English Dictionary there are between 2,500 and 3,000 new words added to the English language each year. Have you ever stopped to wonder where on earth they come from? Who designs and manufactures them: where is the word factory? Whilst heavily engaged in the activity of shopping this weekend I had plenty of opportunity to let my mind wander, and I think I may have come up with the answer to this important question. The mine from which most of these new words are hewed is none other than our old friend the Blogger Word Verification system.

Just think about it. You decide to leave comments on a fellow-bloggers' page, carefully compose a paragraph of almost Shakespearian quality and then it is lost to posterity because you type in "brutlok" instead of "brutlik". How many of those verification words have you ever seen before? Precisely. None. They are fresh off the production line. Google has reached an agreement whereby it gets these new words for word verification purposes before the are allocated meanings and sent out into general circulation.

Armed with this insight, I have invented a new game - indeed a new meme (and if ever a word graduating from the Google Word Verification factory it is "meme"). The next three times you visit a blog which uses word verification, make a note of the word. Then invent a meaning for the word and show its use in a sample sentence. Here is my entry based on word verifications I have encountered this morning.

1. slyma : a small dribble of saliva (often secreted from tthe corner of the mouth)
"Robinson Thickpenny threw off his heavy coat and wiped the slyma from his grizzled chin"

2. kersim : a minute part of a larger object (mainly used in relation to food)
"Whilst in the past Margery would settle down for the evening with a large pie she now contents herself with just a kersim of pastry"

3. deriesse : the final statement in a long and contracted argument
"With a look of fury Bernard spit out a perfect deriesse as he walked out of the door"

Play along if you want but I am afraid you will not find any word verifications on my blog. You will need to go somewhere else. With that deriesse I will leave you for today.

LARRY'S PHOTO A DAY :  Larry Burgess has a couple of blogs, both of which express his creativity, and both of which are well worth a visit.
AN IMPORTANT DISCOVERY : From the NfN Archives - where does Leonard Cohen get his lyrics from?

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Sepia Saturday : Gladys and Amy Part 2

Kat and I spoke during the week and decided that the best thing to do with the Sepia Saturday concept was to let it develop in its own way and at its own pace. If, after Christmas,  people are still finding it useful and amusing we can decide whether it needs any more formal organisation injecting into it. But in the meantime let us just see what happens. I will append a list of people who I know are taking part in Sepia Saturday at the end of my post - just let me know if you are participating and I will add a link to your blog. I will update this post over the weekend with any additional links that I discover. Since last week I have been asked a number of technical questions about sepia prints and I will return to these during the coming week (I promise). 

My picture this week shows - from the left - my mother (Gladys), her sister (Amy) and a third unknown person on a day-trip to Cleethorpes. Cleethorpes is on the North Sea coast of England about fifty miles from Bradford where they lived. It must have been taken in the 1920s - at a guess I would imagine about 1927 - and it is a joyous shot of three mill girls enjoying a sunny day at the seaside. 

Let me know if you have a Sepia Saturday Post and I will add you to this list

Friday, December 04, 2009

A Festival Of Postcards - White

The theme for the December Issue of the Blog Carnival "A Festival of Postcards" - which is splendidly edited by the Canadian genealogists and postcard collector, Evelyn Yvonne Theriault - is White. I suppose I could have gone for a festive snow-scene but I decided to concentrate on the amount of white you find on many old postcards. Once the December issue of the Festival is published I will provide a link so that you can explore the many other fascinating interpretations of the theme.

La Seine Au Pont-Neuf

Let me first of all say that although there isn't much white in the above postcard, there once was : it can be forgiven for fading a little in the hundred or so years since it was published. But it wasn't just this early postcard which displayed a lot of white - it was true of all early postcards before the introduction of the "divided back". The pictures - normally black and white photographs - were limited to a small section of the obverse side of the card whilst the remaining white space was used for the message or greeting. The entire reverse of the card - again originally white - was reserved for the address. Thus it was not unusual to find - as is the case in my card above - that the message was ingeniously squeezed into the available space whilst the address could be written with lavish style.

It was the introduction and legitimisation of the divided-back which helped bring about the golden age of postcard collection. The picture could now become dominant on the obverse side whilst there was plenty of space for the message on half of the reverse side. The British postal authorities were the first to approve divided backs (in 1902) and they were followed by France in 1904, Germany in 1905 and the USA in 1907.

The card illustrated above was sent from France in February 1901 to May Chambers who lived in Burngreave Road, Sheffield. I managed to buy a small collection of cards from Miss Chambers' collection about 25 years ago in from a little second-hand shop in Rotherham. According to the 1901 census, May Chambers was a 27 year old school teacher, who lived with her widowed mother and her younger brothers and sisters. Further research - the confluence of postcards and genealogy is a truly fascinating study - suggested that her father was a senior mining engineer in the Yorkshire coalfield. So you have all the ingredients for a perfect postcard mix : you have the black of the coal and the white of the postcard spaces, you have the black of the ink and the pale white of the complexion of the face of young Miss Chambers.

A FESTIVAL OF POSTCARDS : Take a look at the Festival of Postcards site and perhaps submit your own entry for the December issue.
MY DEAREST MAY : From the NfN archives - more postcards to May Chambers.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Theme Thursday : Friend

The topic this Theme Thursday is "Friend" which is always a difficult subject because you are bound to upset someone. Write about your best friend Bert and your best friend John is bound to take offence. Single out your oldest friend Mike and your even older friend Paul is likely to go into a sulk. And if you single out any friend above and beyond your dearly beloved, domestic bliss and happiness is likely to be as scarce as it is at the end of Tiger Woods' drive. Faced with this conundrum, I believe that I have hit on a rather clever solution thanks to Mr Google and his rather clever Picasa software. I have mentioned before on these pages, the ability of the new version of Picasa to use facial recognition software to gather photographs of friends and sort them into folders. A second ability of Picasa 3 is to produce a collage of such faces : either one based upon merged images or a mosaic type of collage. For my illustration of this week's theme I have chosen the merged-image option and I therefore present you with a picture of my "friend". It is built up of the faces of every friend that is stored on my rather large digital image collection. It is made up of men and women, most races under the sun, and even a dog thrown in for good measure. You may think it is rather an anodyne affair, lacking in individuality or strength. But to me it has the strength of many and symbolises the power of friends united in solidarity.

As Wednesday turns into Theme Thursday I look at the picture and I can almost recognise each of the 50 or 60 faces that make it up. Look carefully at the picture, there is a good chance that your face forms part of it. I raise my glass of Czech Budveiser Budvar and drink to your collective health. To "Friends".

THEME THURSDAY : Have a look how other bloggers have interpreted this week's theme.
FACING UP TO THINGS : From The NfN Archives - More about the delights of Picasa

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Strange Goings-On In Aspen, Sweden

Like so many other of my fellow bloggers I am today writing to you from Aspen where I have come to attend Mr. Toast's first annual Christmas Tea. I arrived here a couple of hours ago and I must confess I am finding it a little strange for a number of reasons. In the first place it is rather an odd location for a Christmas Tea Party. I am sure that, to its inhabitants, it is a perfectly nice spot, the kind of spot that they are proud to call home. But with the best will in the world, it is nothing other than a rather bleak lake with a railway station, convenience store and filling station just off the main E20 road from Göteborg to Stockholm. As I traveled in a taxi from Landvetter Airport which is only about ten miles away, I did wonder whether I had been sent to the wrong destination by some mischievous blogging cabal, but when I spotted the signs proclaiming "Aspen" just outside the village I knew I was in the right place. I have now checked into the very reasonable - if somewhat underwhelming - Ibis Hotel and fully explored all the delights Aspen has to offer.

This did not take long as "all the delights Aspen has to offer" comprise of a walk by the lake, an exploration of the railway station, a trip to the convenience store and a tour of the filling station. When I eventually meet up with all my blogging friends I think I might suggest a trip into the nearby town of Lerum tonight because they have a Thai Take-Away Restaurant. And there's another thing, meeting up with all my blogging friends is proving harder than I imagined. Logic suggests that they must be staying here at the Ibis - they don't do rooms at either the convenience store or the filling station, I have already checked - but I am having real difficulty recognising them. Of course this is always the problem when you know people via their on-line personas : in the cold light of reality they do not always look like you imagined they would. Earlier, in the hotel bar, I spotted two delightful ladies chatting to each other and for some reason I assumed it was Willow and Betsy. I approached the first and said "You might be willow", only to be struck rather sharply across my face. "Perhaps you're betsy", I said to the second, and this led to a second blow about my person. Later, a gentleman entered the hotel dressed in a reindeer-skin coat and wearing what looked like a raccoon-skin cap. I immediately assumed that this was the famous Skip Simpson and I approached him and gave him a hug in a spirit of bonhomie and international friendship. I didn't catch all that he said, but from what words I did catch I can only say that in real life he is nothing like what he appears to be in his blog. And he has a thick Swedish accent. It makes you wonder why that Gretchen stays with him. And only a few minutes ago, I spotted a chap in the reception area making notes in a book so I immediate guessed that it must be Brian Miller. Well, I can let you into a little secret - English is obviously not his first language. Indeed he didn't seem to speak any English at all. How on earth can he manage to write those wonderful posts when he doesn't seem to understand the language? I suspect that he has a ghost writer.

And where is the host? Where is Mr Toast? When I asked at the Reception Desk they looked at me as though I was not quite all there and kept repeating "breakfast" in a very loud, heavily accented English. And where are e, Val, Dot-Com, Ronda and Poetikat? There doesn't seem to be that many people in the region, never mind in Aspen itself. And what about my band? I sent the Temperance Seven ahead and I haven't seen them once since I arrived. If that is them I can hear in the background, why are they playing the greatest hits of ABBA?

Ah well, I am sure things will work out for the best. I will go now because a fine looking lady has just walked into the bar swinging a tin and wearing a dainty little bonnet. That must be Baino, I must go and have a word with her.

MR TOAST'S FIRST ANNUAL CHRISTMAS TEA : The only place to be today.
SHIBDEN HALL : Between the rain storms we go for a walk in Shibden Park

Monday, November 30, 2009

Everybody Loves My Baby (in Aspen)

A number of weeks ago I received an invitation to Mr Toast's First Annual Christmas Tea which is being held tomorrow (1st December) in Aspen, which I believe, is some distance away from my native Huddersfield. Having left things rather late in the day, I am now in a panic as I try to undertake last minute travel arrangements and collect my dinner suit from the dry cleaners. However one thing I have managed to arrange in advance is a little musical celebration which I feel will be in the finest traditions of transatlantic harmony - a thoroughly British ensemble performing a thoroughly American song. "Everybody Loves My Baby" was written by the New Orleans jazz musician and composer, Spencer Williams, in 1924. I have arranged for it to be played by the remarkable Temperance Seven whom I have had the pleasure of seeing at the Marsden Jazz Festival on a number of occasions. I have arranged for the band to make its own way to Aspen, so just in case they are delayed in tansit, here is a little preview of their performance.

You May Also Like ......
HOT TOAST AND JAM : The host blog for Mr Toast's First Annual Christmas Tea.
PROBLEMS WITH CANINE PRONUNCIATION :  The latest adventures of the Fat Dog on her way to the Big Apple

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sepia Saturday : Gladys and Amy

Like all good things, Sepia Saturday started as a joke. In writing a Theme Thursday post a while ago, I needed something cuddle up - in an alliterative sense - with Wordless Wednesday and Fun Friday, so I invented Sepia Saturday. My Blogging friend Kat (Poetikat) asked me whether there really was a Sepia Saturday and I had to confess to my invention. We both agreed that even if such a celebration didn't exist, it should do and therefore resolved to introduce it without further delay. The rules of Sepia Saturday are quite simple - post some kind of sepia picture on a Saturday! In the best traditions of such things we will make any other rules up as we go along. Anyone can take part and the pictures can be either old sepia pictures or newly-created sepia-toned images. So let sepia reign supreme in all its tonal glory.

My entry for this week is a picture of my mother (Gladys, on the left of the picture) and my Auntie Amy (on the right, standing). It is one of my favourite family photographs and I cannot look at these two lovely young girls without remembering them some 80 years after the picture was taken. Amy was living in a Nursing Home in Scarborough and in her nineties and I had taken my mother - herself in her late eighties - to see her. Seeing these two old sisters together suddenly brought back memories of the picture which had been taken eighty years ago. A picture which is somehow improved by its sepia glow.

POETIKAT'S INVISIBLE KEEPSAKES : Take a look at the other Sepia Saturday post at Kat's wonderful Blog.
THE CLAYTON COUSINS : From the News From Nowhere Archives - the story of Amy and Gladys' cousins.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Greeting, A Challange And A Piece Of Advice

First the greeting - and that is to all my blogging friends in the United States : Happy Thanksgiving Day. One of the most enjoyable elements of blogging is being part of an international community : a United Nations of the keyboard. There is something rather pleasing about discovering the people, places, holidays and cultures of countries outside our immediate knowledge. Ah, if only blogging had have been around in 1914.

The challenge comes from the blog of Gerald Gee (and he lives down in the south of England which more than illustrates my previous point). Last night, in addition to posting one of his cartoons (and they are the type of cartoon which illustrate that the internet slang "LOL" can have a literal meaning) he threw out a challenge - to reveal our current computer desktops. My current background image (I change it about once a week) is a picture I took from the bottom of the drive to my niece's house in Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. It was early one morning when The Lad and I had got up early to beat the heat.

And finally let me leave you with a piece of advice. Yesterday the GLW and I were booked in at the doctors to get our various inoculations in advance of our January holiday. My advice is - never go to get your holiday injections accompanied by a Consultant in Infectious Diseases. The GLW and the Practice Nurse had a detailed discussion based upon our intended itinary and the likelihood of us cutting ourselves on a cactus bush, finishing up in a jungle hospital or kissing a rabid dog and it was decided - with the minimum of input from me - that she just needed a tetanus booster whilst I needed an armful of almost every vaccine currently doing the rounds. "Oh I think there was a case of dengue fever a couple of years ago in St Lucia", "Oh was there, you had better give him that", "and there is always the every-present danger of Chagas disease", "Absolutely, better to be safe than sorry" ... the 20 minute consultation went something like that. This morning I can hardly move my arms they are so painful and swollen.

And thus, to my friends in America, I say that I would like to help you celebrate Thanksgiving Day by raising a glass and toasting your continued health and well-being. I would like to, but unfortunately my arm aches too much.

GERALDGEE : A great painter, a great cartoonist, a great photographer and a great blogger.
MAN AND INSTRUMENT IN PERFECT HARMONY : From the News From Nowhere archives - for no other reason than when I searched for Tortola it came up with this.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Father Christmas, The Guardian And Samak Sundaravej

I have asked Father Christmas for an  Apple iPod Touch for Christmas. My good friend Martin raved about his when I last saw him (and I suspect he is getting chess hints from it somehow, how else does he keep beating me!). We bought a friend one for his 50th birthday and I looked on with envy as he fell in love with it. We bought The Lad one for his birthday and I got to briefly play with it before I handed it over (I was "setting it up for him", or at least that was my excuse). When my friend Harry saw Alexander's, he managed to acquire one for his birthday. Now I am determined that it is my turn.

In hopeful anticipation that the Good Lady Wife (GLW) will read this post (I will print it off and leave it on her side of the bed just in case) and act accordingly I have started browsing the App Store on iTunes and it was there that I discovered that one of my favourite on-line services - - has just released a version of its software for the iPhone and the iTouch. This may mean that when we go on holiday in January I will be able to solve one of the biggest problems associated with leaving these shores - how to acquire a copy of The Guardian. I have lost count of the amount of time I have wasted trawling the shopping streets of distant cities in the hope of being able to source a dated copy of the Guardian. Normally you look in vain. If you are lucky you might find a dog-eared copy of The Times. If you are unlucky you will find a copy of the Daily Mail with all its pages intact. But with Press Display for the iTouch I will be able to find a convenient WiFi hotspot press a couple of buttons and a full PDF version of the Guardian will be in front of my eyes. Harry, who when we are on cruising holidays normally accompanies me on my newspaper seeking activities looking for his fix of the Daily Telegraph, will be able to download that to his iTouch. Speaking to Harry's wife, Elaine, on the phone last night I suggested that whenever we landed in a foreign port, Harry and I could go in search of Wifi hotspots. "Is that something like a lap-dancing club" asked the GLW who was listening in to the conversation.

Press Display is a smashing service and gives you access to over 1,000 newspapers from over 80 countries on a daily basis (for a price, I must add). As I have signed up in anticipation of my seasonal iTouch I can browse the world's press and - it would appear - blog selected stories. I am still experimenting with this and if it works there should appear a link to today's Bangkok Post at the end of this post. It will be interesting to see if it works. But as long as it delivers my daily Guardian in Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama, I don't care too much.

ABE LINCOLN BLOGS : Abe Lincoln must be the elder statement of international blogging. A distant cousin of the more famous Abe Lincoln, our Abe entertains and informs thousands of readers each day.
THE TITANIC, A LOST SUITCASE AND CHAMPION JACK DUPREE : From the News From Nowhere archives - the fun of delving into old newspapers.

Samak’s death drains a little colour from Thai politics
Bangkok Post
25 Nov 2009

Politicians from all parties have mourned the passing of former prime minister Samak Sundaravej who died of liver cancer yesterday. He was 74. "I have to express my sorrow to his family and supporters. This is a loss for (Thai) politics,’’ more...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Postcard Of The Week : Balfour And Protectionism

I always think it is a pity that they don't have political postcards any more. Back in the early days of the twentieth century, if you wanted to make a political point to your Uncle Fred, you could seek out an appropriate postcard, pen a suitable curt message on the back and consign it to the post. One hundred years ago, there were a whole range of postcards representing a whole range of political viewpoints : you just plucked your argument off the display stand, stamped it and sent it. Over the decades, the practice fell out of fashion (although in the 1960s I do recall a particularly eccentric Professor of Philosophy who would send me postcards with his latest counter-arguments to my perfectly rational radical views). I suppose the modern equivalent is to post a YouTube video, but it just doesn't seem the same to me.

The postcard featured above comes from my collection and was postally used in 1904. It relates to the argument which, at the time, was destroying the Conservative Government led by Arthur Balfour. The Conservative Party was being torn apart by the clash between free trade and tariff reform. Balfour tried to be clever by allowing the chief proponent of tariff reform in his Cabinet, Joseph Chamberlain, to tour the country speaking in favour of protectionism whilst he and the rest of the Cabinet sat on the fence and waited to see what the electoral response would be (is there nothing new in politics?). The postcard shows Chamberlain in the water whilst Balfour and the rest look on undecided.

Balfour's attempt to stand back whilst others tested the political water ended in one of the biggest ever landslide victories for the Liberals in the 1906 election. Perhaps the moral of the story is it is better to be decisive and loose than to vacillate and be routed. Now, are you listening Gordon?

THE THOUGHTS OF CHAIRMAN BILL : Vacillation is not part of the vocabulary of my blogging friend Chairman Bill. 100 years ago he would be sending postcards out every day, his twenty first century equivalent is a blog well worth visiting.
RAMSEY MACDONALD AND A BOTTLE OF BEER : From the News From Nowhere Archives - more adventures in the land of the political postcard.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Halifax : Fading Into History

I was sorting through some books and papers today and I came across a collection of photographs of Old Yorkshire. One caught my eye - it was a view looking over Halifax taken in 1958 and there is a copy of it above. It was a familiar view for me, I would see it every day as I sat on the upstairs front seat of the bus taking me from my home in the village of Northowram and into Halifax and my school. As the bus swept out from Godley cuttings, Halifax would be spread out before me. The smoke would belch out of the cooling towers and mill chimneys, the soot-black stone chimneys silhouetted against the smoke-swept sky.

I took the second photograph a few years ago from the same hillside (although a few hundred yards further south). It shows a very different Halifax, 50 years on from the first view. Most of the mills - and the mill chimneys - have long gone and the steam and smoke is a thing of the distant past. The modern building that dominates the centre of the photograph is the headquarters of the Halifax Building Society, or at least it was when the photograph was taken. And then it merged with the Bank of Scotland to become HBOS and then, after the great collapse, it was taken over by Lloyds Bank. With the current uncertainty in the financial sector one is forced to wonder how long it will be before it fades into history, just like those mills and factories of fifty years earlier.

SALTAIRE DAILY PHOTO : A daily photograph from the West Yorkshire mill village of Saltaire. Try it and discover some wonderful photographs.
AMY CLIMBS HUMBUG MOUNTAIN : The latest postcard from the Fat Dog walking to the Big Apple tells of the discovery of Humbug Mountain in Oregon.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Triumphal Celebration of Nostalgia

I was in the process of commenting on a post the other day when I went in search of a YouTube clip to illustrate the point I was making (a somewhat spurious contention about the direction of growth of various types of plants and vines). Having found the clip I wanted, I rewarded myself with a rummage in the "Related Items" collection and found an excellent interpretation of one of my very favourite Flanders and Swann songs, "Slow Train". Michael Flanders and Donald Swann wrote and performed the song back in the 1960s and although the events it recorded (the closure of almost 50% of the small railway stations in Britain following the Beeching Report on the future of the railway network) are now long gone, the song remains as a triumphal celebration of nostalgia. To illustrate the cultural loss resulting from the Beeching Axe, Flanders and Swann merely strung together a list of the names of just a few of the 3,000 small stations and halts that were closed during the 1960s. The result is musical poetry at its best.

The Beeching cuts hit all parts of the country. Both rural and urban lines were decimated and by the end of the decade a quarter of the railway millage and a half of all stations had been cleaved from the system. Here in West Yorkshire, many of the small stations and desultory branch lines of my youth vanished almost overnight. One of the more bizarre cases was the fate of the station at Cleckheaton, just down the valley from where I live. It was stolen. Following the closures, British Rail issued contracts for the demolition of the buildings, the clearance of the sites, and the sale of the recovered material. When the appointed contractor turned up at Cleckheaton Station he found the entire station - every stone, wooden fence, metal frame, and tin signpost - had already been dismantled and removed. Eventually the person who had dismantled the station was apprehended and taken to trial (the only case in British legal history concerning the theft of a railway station). They were later acquitted as the court accepted their defense that they had been following the orders of what they thought was the legally appointed contractor. The company that masterminded the plan was never identified, and the station was never recovered.

You might want to bear this story in mind as you watch the video, or you may want to just look at the lovely old photographs of steam trains and sooty cuttings. In either case, I hope you enjoy it.

THE MACHINIST'S WIFE : Take a look at the entertaining and original blog that prompted the comment that resulted in the post.
LIVERPOOL OVERHEAD RAILWAY : From the News From Nowhere Archives, a brief trip to the Liverpool Overhead Railway.

Daffodil On The Water

When I was young, back in the early 1950s, our family’s annual seaside holiday would alternate between Bridlington on the east coast and New...