Monday, August 31, 2009

Test Card 4 : Take Home Some Books

The last of the Test Card series - for the time being - shows a branch of the booksellers W H Smith in 1940 at the height of the blitz. During night after night of heavy bombing houses had to be "blacked out" so as not to provide navigational indications to passing bombers. And what to do during those blacked-out evenings? Take home some books of course. Normal blogging service will resume tomorrow.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Test Card 3 :

The picture shows Queen Victoria composing her daily post to her blog -

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Test Card 2 : Fireman's Lift

The picture shows members of Sheffield Fire Brigade carrying out a training exercise based on the evacuation of casualties from a block of flats.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Test Card 1 : Coastal Battery

"Gunners of a coastal battery were rehearsing a charity Christmas show when the alarm went. They had to run to man the guns. British authorities censored this picture in 1941"

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Encroaching Reality And A Television Test Card

We are approaching a Bank Holiday weekend here in Britain. We have guests coming for the weekend and a substantial family party planned for Sunday. I am being reminded of my duties : the house is to clean, the lawn is to cut, the bottle store is to be replenished. I fear that I will not have the opportunity to construct any decent posts until the tide of entertainment and jollity subsides. I have forgone the pleasure of participating in Theme Thursday this week and I will postpone the next installment of the "Family Six Pack" series until next week. I will concentrate my efforts on doing the rounds of my favourite blogs and seeing how the world beyond Fixby progresses.
Back in the early days of television, transmissions would be limited to just a few hours each day. In order that television installers could tune TV sets outside these limited hours of transmission, the television companies would broadcast static images known as Test Cards. These came in weird and wonderful forms but they acted as a reminder that although transmission were not currently taking place, the broadcaster lived on. The above example comes from the early British broadcasting experiments undertaken using the Baird system.
So over the next few days I will try and post my own Test Cards - just to let you know that the broadcaster lives on.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Archive Of The Week : MI5

A good dusty archive is one of the great loves of my life. I'm a rooter, a sorter, a browser, and a filer. It's what I enjoy doing and there are worse things for a post-middle-aged man to get up to. For me, there is an attraction to original documentation and archives are where you can find the original sources of the dramas, tragedies, comedies and histories that we call life. I'm not a purist : I don't have to get my fingers around the original, I am prepared to put up with a decent digital copy. This being the case, the Internet is an increasingly happy hunting ground and I regularly go in search of on-line archives. I will try and systematise the results of my explorations - after all I am a rooter, sorter, browser and filer - with a weekly feature which I will excitingly call Archive of the Week. And where better to start than with MI5.
MI5 (it stands For Military Intelligence, Section 5) was established 100 years ago and it is Britain's security and counter-intelligence service. Whilst MI5 deals with internal security (countering spies and nasty plots), external security (running spies and cooking up nasty plots) is handled by MI6. Over recent years MI5 has become much more open about its activities and now boasts a web site where it has adverts for current vacancies and, more than likely, it has its own Facebook Group and Twitter Account ("Following Sergie Oblamov down Strand, Wot U Doing?"). It also has its own archives and has started to make some of the masses of documents it keeps available on the Internet. The source documents which are available are proof once again of how source documents can add a powerful resonance to any story.
Take, for example, the case of Eddie Chapman. His story is fairly well known. A professional safe-breaker and armed robber in the 1930s he found himself in prison in the Channel Islands at the time of the German occupation in 1940. He put together a plan for escaping to mainland Britain by volunteering his services as a spy to the German authorities. They trained him, gave him the obligatory code pads, invisible ink and suicide pills and parachuted him back to Britain. On arrival he contacted MI5 and told his story. The authorities were quite impressed with Eddie and decided to use him as a double agent and - as Agent Zig-Zag - he was one of the most important and successful double agents of the Second World War. The exploits of Eddie Chapman have been recorded in several books and at least one film. But, to my mind, none of that accumulated story-telling can come close to reading the original badly typed statement which was taken down by his MI5 interrogators and can be seen in the MI5 archives. That smudged, torn, brown, fading document has a power that is compulsive. It is the stuff of history.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Things Hanging From A Tree

The thing about blogging is that you get to meet some really interesting people. People who live in exotic places and do fascinating things. People who can take photographs most amateur photographers would die for and write posts which seem to compress a mountain of wisdom on a single blade of grass. People who can make you laugh or make you cry; people who can please you, tease you and freeze you with fear; and people who can grow the most amazing fruit and vegetables. Even after generations of servitude in the urban working class there must be still be something of the rural peasant in me because it is the latter category - the growers and the pruners - whose skills I most covet. Sadly, gardening and I don't mix. I have the capacity to kill most living things - of the plant variety I stress - with nothing more than a glance in their direction. Although we have a small garden I happily pay someone to tidy it up every few weeks. Whatever is at the opposite pole to green in the colour spectrum is where I can be found.
My lack of botanical skills does not mean that I am happy to be seen as being horticulturally challenged. I can spin a line as well as the next man or woman. I can exchange notes on how my apples are growing (indeed I think I have got an apple tree in the garden somewhere but I have forgotten where it is), or I can talk-up the size of my potatoes with the enthusiasm of a life-long lover of chips. But there comes a time when you need a little bit of extra proof.
I was pondering on this problem the other day when I remembered a story about the Professor of Botany at my old University. This was back in the 1960s and in Britain at the time there was a popular radio programme called "Gardeners' Question Time" (it is probably still going on for all I know). Back then one of the star experts of the show was Professor Alan Gemmel who was the Professor of Botany at Keele University. Each week he would entertain his millions of listeners with his vast knowledge of all things botanical and stories about his delightful and ever-fruitful garden. Back then, Keele was a bit of an odd place where all the students and all the staff lived on campus and whilst the staff houses did have gardens, in reality Prof Gemmel wasn't a particularly keen gardener. All went well until one day a coach full of his most devoted female fans turned up at the university intent on a tour of his garden. As luck would have it his next door neighbour - the Professor of Mathematics - was a keen amateur gardener and therefore his garden was borrowed for the day.
I was able to bring my own plan to fruition (if you will excuse the pun) on Sunday when we visited our friends who live in the country and have a garden that is as capacious as it is fertile. I raced around the flower beds and the vegetable plots taking photograph after photograph. I collected enough visual ammunition to keep me going for months. It wasn't until we were well on our way back home that I realised that I had forgotten to find out the names of all the things I had photographed, This, I suspect, slightly devalues my plan. But maybe it is still worth a try.
So, my blogging friends, my first picture today shows some things hanging from a tree (or a bush?) whilst the second picture shows something or other I have just pulled out of the earth. Hope you like them.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ramsey Macdonald and a Bottle of Beer

It's Monday morning and I haven't anything in particular to say and therefore I turn to my faithful old postcard collection for inspiration. It is not a particularly big collection but the two or three hundred postcards dating back to the early years of the twentieth century have the capacity to provide me with endless entertainment. Ah, the simple pleasures of an old man! The majority of the postcards were handed down within the family from my mothers' Uncle Fowler who, like many people in the first decade of the twentieth century, kept an album for the picture postcards sent to him by his friends and family. As they knew he collected postcards they would search out colourful or interesting cards and send them to him for his growing collection. The combination of image and short written message provide a unique view of a world in transition. It doesn't take too much effort to see the strong similarity between exchanging postcards and blogging : what do we call our daily efforts if not "posts"?
The two postcards for this morning do not come from Great Uncle Fowlers' collection but they are cards I have added to the collection over the years. The cards I have added tend to reflect my own interests such as politics and beer and the two examples this morning illustrate this.
The first card shows a group of 29 named gentlemen gathered for a formal picture outside a grand-looking building. Other than the names there are no clues or titles on the reverse of the card although someone, at some stage, has pencilled in "First Socialist Government" If that description were true it would be 1926 and the first minority Labour Government of Ramsey Macdonald. Whilst Ramsey Mac is clearly featured in the photograph it can't be 1926 as it also features the first Labour MP in Britain, Keir Hardie, who died in 1915. The clue as to the date and the event is in the number of people pictured - 29, the number of Labour MPs famously elected at the 1906 General Election. This was seen as the great political breakthrough for the Labour Representation Committee - which within months of this photograph had renamed itself the Labour Party. I am very fond of this postcard, there seems to be so much hope and so much expectation in the faces of those 29 political pioneers. Most, but not all, of the dreams were broken, but that, as they say, is another story.
The second card provides a lighter note. Although dating from the same period (either 1903 or 1904 at a guess) it features full colour printing. It was published by Miller and Lang (one of the largest firms of postcard publishers in Britain at the time) and forms part of their "National Series". My interest in old breweries tempted me to try and trace the origin of the bottles but I decided that would be too scholastic : there comes a time to just sit back and enjoy the image.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Family Six Pack : Part 3 - Harriet Ellen Maxfield

Harriet Ellen Maxfield 1870 - 1955
I have not been looking forward to writing this section of my exploration of the 1917 family photograph, for the simple reason that I seem to know so little about Harriet, my grandmother. Although she was still alive when I was small and I have a vague memory of meeting her on a few occasions, those memories are so fleeting and so inexact, I sometimes wonder whether I have made them up to fill an inconvenient gap. I have no memory of meeting her husband, Enoch, but for him there are a store of family stories and anecdotes. My brother and I, when we were younger, would compete to see who could be most like our image of Enoch : adventurous, daring, unconventional (my brother always won). There were no competitions to see who could be most like Harriet for we had no idea what Harriet was like, and I'm not sure that we cared.
There are, of course, ways of getting close to Harriet, not least of all the genealogist's touchstone, census records. Most of those records tell us little more than dates and places. She was born in 1870 in the Little Horton area of Bradford, the youngest of six girls. Her father had started life as a mill labourer but eventually became a woolcomber. His six girls would all eventually follow him into the ever-expanding nineteenth century Bradford textile trade. She married Enoch in 1898 when he was 20 and she was 28. Four children followed : John Arthur in 1899, Miriam in 1901, Annie in 1903, and my father, Albert, in 1911. Census records are long on dates, but sadly short on stories.
The story doesn't end there however. The 1911 census records have just been published in Britain and they provide more facts and the beginnings of the story. The 1911 census differed from previous census exercises in a number of ways. For the first time the census returns will filled in by the subjects of the survey rather than third party enumerators. When you look at the written records you are looking at the handwriting of your ancestors. There is also additional information about the size of the property being inhabited : we know, for example, that in 1911 Enoch and Harriet and their three children and the soon-to-arrive Albert were living in just two rooms in Town End in Great Horton, Bradford. But the beginnings of the story is provided by a further "new" question in the survey which asks the head of the family to state how many children had been born from the marriage and how many were alive at the time of the census return. Enoch had written that there were six children born alive, of which three (John, Miriam, and Annie) were alive in 1911.
So the years between Annie and Albert were years of loss. Why did almost half of their children die in childhood at a time when infant mortality - even amongst the industrial working class - was nearer 10% than 50%? By one of those strange coincidences, as I pondered this question last night I watched the latest episode of the TV documentary "Who Do You Think You Are?". For those unfamiliar with the show it traces the family background of a "celebrity" and provides an entertaining and informative introduction to family history research. This week the actor, Martin Freeman, went in search of his great grandfather and grandmother and came up against a situation where half of the children of the marriage had died in infancy. The explanation, it turned out, was that the family was infected with syphilis, something that was remarkably common in the late Victorian period (10% of all families was the figure that was quoted) and which led to high rates of infant mortality. I am not suggesting that this was the cause of the loss in Enoch and Harriet's family but it has made me determined to intensify my research into this aspect of the family history.
But at this time I have little real information about Harriet. I have the dates and the names. And I have two photographs. But there comes a time when you have to leave the facts behind and simply look at those photographic images and get a feel for the person concerned. Look at the photograph of Harriet standing at the doorway to the family home in Great Horton in the 1920s. Yes she looks worn-down by work and care but she also looks strong and resolute. In ancient times it was usual to give descriptive names to family members : Pipin the Brave, Ethelred the Unready, that kind of thing. I'd like to revive the tradition for this is Harriet the Resolute. I hope I can be just a little like her.
You can read previous posts in this mini series at :

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Theme Thursday - Shadow

When I first heard Joni Mitchell sing Shadows and Light some thirty years ago I had an instant series of images in my mind as I listened to the compulsive chant-like lyrics. The images were made up of the photographs of Bill Brandt - in my mind the finest British photographer of the twentieth century. I realise that the song isn't about photography nor is it about the the themes that were such a central feature of Brandt's work, but that connection between the song and that set of images stuck. Since then every time I have heard it my mind has been full of images of back streets, bravely smiling schoolchildren, extraordinarily sculptured figures and the soot-covered faces of coalminers.
Until now this has been a personal connection : a connection that instantly jumped out at me when I first saw the subject of this week's Theme Thursday. As I searched the Internet for a way of illustrating it I realised that I could illustrate the song or the photographs but not both. So that is why this week I preview my first ever YouTube video. It's a first attempt and therefore can be improved but hopefully what it will do is to illustrate that magical confluence between music and images that has been haunting my mind for thirty years.
To see how other people have approached the theme this week follow these links.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Battle Between The Brewing Smiths

You can spend too long sat inside reading old newspapers and cataloguing old postcards. There comes a time in the affairs of man when he should .... well when he should find a good pub and have a decent pint of beer. The weather was fine, my time was my own, and my Great Yorkshire Pubs blog was in need of updating : so off I went to Tadcaster. I am not sure why I went to Tadcaster, I didn't set out with the intention of going there but I was drawn by the powerful aroma of hops and malted barley. Tadcaster - which is a few miles west of York - is a brewery town. The pub I visited was the wonderful Angel and White Horse and if you want more information about it you can find it on my updated GYP Blog. But before having my pint I walked around town looking at two of the remaining three breweries : Samuel Smith's Old Brewery and John Smith's New Brewery. The story behind these two breweries with similar names is worthy of re-telling.
The oldest of the breweries was, appropriately enough, the Old Brewery which was built in 1758 and by the 1840s it had come into the ownership of a certain John Smith. John Smith built up the business, expanded the trade, modernised the plant and equipment and thrived. He was joined in the business by his brother William and by the two sons of his sister Sarah Riley. When John died in 1879 he left equal shares in the business to his brother William and another brother, Samuel, who had a tannery business in Leeds. On their death, the will stipulated, the business should pass to their heirs. There were three problems : the first was that William had never married and therefore had no heirs, the second was that Samuel Smith - or his heirs who were set to inherit the business - had never been involved in the running of the brewery, and the third was that no mention was made of the nephews Frank and Henry Riley.
A plan was hatched between William Smith and his nephews. And plot of land within a quarter of a mile of the old brewery site was obtained, a new purpose-built brewery was constructed and the trade, the fixtures, the fittings and the acquired expertise were craftily and rapidly moved there. As this new building didn't figure in John Smith's will it passed to Frank and Henry Riley on his death (the brothers rather cheekily had changed their name to Riley-Smith in the meantime). When Samuel Smith and his son (another Sam) arrived to take control of their legacy all they found was an empty building and a marked absence of trade.
Samuel Smith rebuilt the business trading from the old brewery and his company became Samuel Smith's. The Riley-Smiths had the advantage of the new large brewery and they traded under the name of John Smith's.
There was no love lost between the two firms and one can almost imagine raiding parties being sent out from one to make mischief at the other. Who won the battle between the Brewing Smith's? In some ways it is difficult to call. John Smith's grew faster and eventually became a powerful national brand. But then it got caught up in the wave of twentieth century mergers and acquisitions, first becoming part of the Courage Group and now part of the international Heineken Group. Samuel Smith remained comparatively small, trading locally but achieving an international reputation for its quality beers. In some ways the battle was one between traditions and technology. At my local pub they have both Sam Smith's and John Smith's available. I always have a pint of Sam's. For me tradition wins.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Breaking Films Up For Scrap

I watched the 2006 film Poseidon the other night on the television. I shouldn't have done this : not because I spend a good deal of my spare time on cruise ships and it might prove upsetting, but because it was a lousy film. It is a long time since I last saw the original 1972 Poseidon Adventure film but my memory is that it was far superior to this cardboard-scripted remake.
I was sent upstairs to watch the film alone in my room : Isobel was at a loss to know how I could watch such things given that I will be back on a cruise ship in a few months time. The possible confluence of fictional interpretation and real fear has never been a particular problem for me. I remember the first time I ever went on a cruise I took along Walter Lord's splendid book "A Night To Remember" to read and I didn't spend all the holiday fearfully searching for icebergs.
By some strange coincidence the morning after my disappointing adventure with Poseidon I was flicking through a collection of photographs from the 1930s and came across this picture of the German battleship Prinz-Regent Luitpold which was taken in 1933. The ship saw action in the Battle of Jutland in World War I and in 1919 was scuttled with the rest of the German fleet in Scapa Flow. However she suffered a greater indignity fourteen years later when she was raised from the seabed and towed in this very unladylike fashion to Rosyth dockyard where she was broken up for scrap. Perhaps the re-made Poseidon should suffer the same fate.

Monday, August 17, 2009

I Fear That It Isn't So

I am not entirely sure how it happened but a few weeks ago The Times gave me a free two month subscription to their Archives. The Times Archives is a wonderful dusty old digital place where you can happily waste endless hours flicking through a collection which includes every copy of The Times (The London Times that is) from 1785 until 1985. The free subscription is about to run out but I have been trying to make the best of it by reading The Times each day from exactly 100 years ago. So my post today briefly looks at a few stories which appeared in The Times on the 17th August 09 (1909 that is)
Unemployment was in the news. The sophisticated statistics we have today were not available but one article attempted to give an estimate of unemployment by using statistics provided by trade unions. The article reports :
"As compared with a year ago there was some slight decline in employment in the engineering and shipbuilding trades, but in most of the other industries there was an improvement. In the 416 trade unions, with a net membership of 693,848, making returns, 64,877 (or 7.9 per cent.) were reported as unemployed. at the end of July, 1909, or the same percentage as at the end of June, 1909, and July, 1908".
We may have more sophisticated statistics these days but we are no better in combating unemployment. Just a few days ago the Office of National Statistics reported that unemployment had increased by 220,000 in the three months to June 2009. And the best estimate of unemployment in the UK at the moment - 7.8%!
Some things have changed however. Back in 1909 the frequency of motor car accidents was such that they tended to warrant detailed coverage in the national newspapers. Here's a report, again from the 17th August 1909 :
"An accident to a motor-car and party occurred on Sunday evening, shortly before 8 o'clock, at the foot of George Hill, Morden. Mr. Ovenell, of Lewisham, Mrs. Ovenell, and their two daughters were returning to Lewisham from an afternoon trip to Sutton and Dorking. Mr. Ovenell was sitting by the side of the driver, while the ladies were in the car. Suddenly at the foot of the hill the steering gear went wrong, with the result that the two front wheels ran into a ditch at the side of the road, and the car turned completely over. The driver and Mr. Ovencll were thrown into the roadway, Mr. Ovenell sustaining serious injuries. Mrs. Ovenell and the Misses Ovenell were not thrown out of the car, but were badly shaken and severely bruised. Another motor-car, which was passing at the time, came to the assistance of the party, and conveyed Mr. Ovenell to Merton, where his injuries were attended to. He was afterwards accompanied home by his wife. The car was badly damaged"

You might notice that whilst the fate of the Ovenell family is arefully reported upon there is no mention about what happened to the poor driver.

My final extract comes from a report of a Parliamentary debate. These are the words of Arthur Balfour MP as they are reported under the somewhat dubious heading "The Principles of Democracy" :
"All men are from some points of view equal, but to suppose that the races of Africa are in any sense the equals of men of European descent, so far as government, as society, as the higher interests of civilization are concerned, is really I think an absurdity, which every man who seriously looks at this most difficult problem must put out of his mind if he is to solve the problem at all".
In case you might think that the views of Mr Balfour were the views of some extreme individual, it should be pointed out that he was the ex Prime Minister and, at the time of this speech, Leader of the Opposition. It would be nice to think that the intervening 100 years had swept away all such prejudice and ignorance. But sometimes, on a Monday morning, when the days are getting shorter, and when I am feeling depressed, I fear that it isn't so.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Family Six Pack : Part 2 Enoch Burnett

Enoch Burnett 1878 - 1950
The second figure from the left in the old family photograph has a somewhat ghostly countenance, looking as though he was not a part of the solid world of those around him. The reason for this is quite simply that he wasn't. When the photograph was taken in 1917 Enoch was away at the front. As was common at the time, a space in the family group was left for him and his image was later "burnt-in" from a pre-existing photograph. During the height of that most deadly of wars such techniques were necessary to preserve the illusion of family unity.
Enoch was born in Bradford in 1878, the second son of John Burnett, a weaving overlooker who worked in the Bradford woollen mills. An "overlooker" in the textile industry is a less grand designation than in many other trades (he "overlooked" a group of machines rather than a group of workers), but nevertheless young Enoch's upbringing was probably free of the grinding poverty that afflicted so many of his working-class neighbours. And the Burnett family seemed to be a family on the "up" : Enoch's father was an overlooker, his eldest brother was a butcher and his younger brother was destined to become a mechanic. But it appears that Enoch was the wild spirit in this most proper Victorian working class family. Tradition says that when he was 14 he ran away from home and joined a travelling circus. If this is true, his time on the road was short-lived for by the time he was 20 he was back in Bradford, married and with a child on the way.
His roaming youth did not succeed in robbing him of a trade. Whilst in the early years of his marriage he is listed as a "mason's labourer", later records record him as being a "window cleaner", then a "Master window cleaner" and then a "Master Window Cleaner / Watch and Clock Repairer". This latter somewhat strange combination of trades was always explained as a seasonal arrangements : Enoch didn't mind cleaning windows in the summer but preferred the inside of a clock in the inside of his house during winter months.
One of the best photographs I have of Enoch shows him with his donkey and cart and his set of ladders. The picture must have been taken in about 1907 but with a typical Burnett love of historical tradition the cart proudly proclaims "Established 1906"! Enoch was a character, what the Victorians and Edwardians used to call a bit of a "card". The story of the donkey in the photograph has long been handed down through the family. Enoch noticed that its days seemed numbered and shrewdly sold it to a chap from Little Horton. Holding the money tightly in his hand, Enoch watched as the man led the donkey away. When they got to the corner of Town End, the donkey promptly fell down dead.
Despite his lack of formal training, Enoch had a mechanical aptitude. He would take in clocks and watches from his window cleaning customers and repair them (his window cleaning activities no doubt gave him an advantage over his competitors when it came to spotting whether a clock was working or not). I remember going to my grandmothers house long after Enoch had died and finding the room (there was generally only one room in those days) crowded out with clocks in various stages of disrepair. He was the type of person who enjoyed the process of mechanical dissection : when presented with something new there was nothing he liked more than to pull it to pieces to see how it worked. And occasionally he would put things back together again. My father used to tell the story of being sent, when he was a young boy, to get some cigarettes for his father from an early prototype of a mechanical vending machine which stood outside the Fish Shop at the bottom of Arctic Parade. My father fed his two pennies into the slot but nothing came out and he returned home to my grandfather in tears. Enoch picked up his tool bag, and proceeded to take down the machine from its position outside the shop. With the help of a couple of passers-by he lugged the great heavy machine home and proceeded to take it to pieces. He discovered how it worked, extracted the packet of cigarettes he was owed, repaired it, oiled it, reassembled it. and by the following morning it was back in its position outside the Fish Shop again.
Enoch died in 1950, two years after I was born. I am sure I must have met him but I can't remember. But I somehow know him better than many of the others in that old photograph. The stories, the anecdotes, the memories all inject a life force into what otherwise would be a collection of dates and census records. But I also know Enoch through my father and my brother, both of whom inherited his technical and mechanical abilities (they did not pass through my line of the family : I still need to check in a book to know which way to turn a screwdriver). I would have liked to have finished with a final picture of Enoch but at this late stage I am not sure how I can position it this far down the post. Now if Enoch had been here he would have known. And if he didn't he would have taken the computer to pieces until he discovered how it was done.
To read previous installments of this mini-series see :

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Theme Thursday - Our Festival

Last night I spent a couple of hours in a rather dismal upstairs room of a Working Man's Club discussing plastic coffee cups. And road closures. And whether we should invest in 50 stuffed sheep toys as prizes for the tombola stall. Such evenings take place about every four weeks. When not discussing T-shirt designs, litter collections or the logistics of seat arrangements, this little band of volunteers of whom I am proud to be a member will be trying to persuade local businesses to take out an advert, local Councillors to provide us with a few pounds in funding, or local residents that one weekend of communal fun is worth the sacrifice of a tiny bit of temporary disruption. For this is Marsden, set high on the moors where Yorkshire blends into Lancashire. Marsden with its stone mills, its narrow canal, and its rows of terraced houses. Marsden : the home of the annual Marsden Jazz Festival.
I have served on the organising committee of the Marsden Jazz Festival for eight years or so. Marsden is not the biggest festival on the circuit and it certainly isn't the richest. We limp along from year to year with the help of a little sponsorship from local businesses, a few grants from the Council and other public bodies, and a massive infusion of help, support and enthusiasm of a band of volunteers. Volunteers who take the tickets, make the teas, sweep the floors, and move the chairs. Volunteers who are equally driven by their love of the music and by the pleasure of being part of a Festival that gives pleasure to countless visitors each year.
This years' Festival will take place over the weekend of the 9th/10th/11th of October. We have headline acts such as Georgie Fame and Ian Shaw. But we are equally as proud of the fact that we will once again provide a venue for countless school and college jazz bands and a platform for some new bands who continue to push back the boundaries of jazz. If you are around these parts in early October why not drop in and see us. If not, spare us a thought and hope for a rain-free weekend.
As the Festival weekend approaches preparations get more and more frantic. There are leaflets to write, exhibitions to organise, rotas to draw up. It will be hard work. But come October, when the sound of a band is drifting down the valley from one of the stages it will all be worth it. After all, it is not any festival : it is our festival.
See other Theme Thursday posts by following these links.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Postcard To Miss Chambers

Somebody started this thing about doing a post in our own handwriting so I thought I would follow up on yesterday's post with a postcard to Miss Chambers. Hopefully, if you click on the written side the image should enlarge (if not I will add the text as the first comment).

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Gas Man's Leg

I am having to wait in for the Gas Man to come and fix the boiler and therefore I occupy myself by continuing to sort through the junk in my room. This is a slow process because as soon as I pick one box up in order to file it away in some logical place, I give into temptation, open it, and browse. This morning was a box of old picture postcards and I will limit myself to the three which were at the front of the box.
The first is a cartoon card which, according to the postmark, was used in 1907. The phrase "My word if you're not off, I'll saw your leg off" is a curious one to modern ears but - according to what I found out via a quick Google search - it comes from a Music Hall song and was a popular saying in the first decade of the twentieth century. It appears to mean "I rather think it is time for you to be thinking about leaving". Alexander is due to go back to University in a few weeks time. As much as I love him I am getting tired of picking clothes off the floor and finding knives and forks pushed down the back of my armchair. I think I might send him a postcard.
The second card is a curious thing. It is a postcard made from a real photograph : again this type of thing was popular in the early twentieth century. It was sent to a distant relative of mine in either 1915 or 1919 (the postmark is unclear). On the back it says "To my dear Mum and Dad with lots of love from Joe" As far as I can make out the photograph shows four women, but who are they? At first I thought that the relative might have had a daughter called Johanna, but I have checked through the census records and that is not the case. I am almost sure they are women but perhaps I am getting too old to tell. Who are they? What is the uniform they are wearing? Who the hell is Joe? Experience has taught me that if you chuck such questions as these out into cyberspace an answer may just come back.
For the third and final postcard I am concentrating on the back rather than the picture. This one is very old : one of the early "Gruss aus" cards of the late nineteenth century. This one was sent in 1899 to Miss May Chambers. But it is the handwriting which is so spectacular : what penmanship, what care, what beauty. It makes our modern, computer-written blogs seem lifeless and dull. Fellow blogger Brian Miller recently did a hand-written post which I thought was a wonderful idea. I resolve to do the same myself : a handwritten post, a postcard from the twenty first century. Now I just need to find a decent pen.
The Gas Man has just left. The problem was that there was something wrong with the thermostat controlling the radiators upstairs. I was unable to turn them off. I was tempted to say to the man "If they're not off, I'll saw your leg off", but I didn't. Anyway, they are off now - and his leg is safe.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Lies, Damned Lies And A 100 Franc Note

It was the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli who is reputed to have said "there are lies, damned lies and statistics" Statisticians, I believe, loath this little maxim, believing that it should state "there are lies, damned lies, and the misinterpretation of statistics" I have to confess that I have a good deal of sympathy for the statisticians point of view, especially after I have just listened to one of my favourite radio programmes "More Or Less". The programme is a kind of mathematical CSI which sets out to investigate the truth behind what is all too often the misinterpretation of statistics by the media, politicians, and the general public. It has just returned to BBC Radio 4 for a summer series and kicked off with an analysis of a YouTube video which is doing the rounds called "Muslim Demographics". This particularly nasty video is packed full of alarming claims such as most European countries will become Islamic states during the next few decades due to the falling birthrate of the indigenous population (by which they probably mean white Christians) and the astounding fertility of Muslim immigrants. What the radio programme does, with the type of dignified impartiality only the BBC can achieve, is cut through claim after alarmist claim showing that the thesis of the original video has the statistical significance of a spent mothball. Hopefully I will manage to embed the BBC YouTube video. If you want the original YouTube video you will have to find it yourself.
When not listening to the radio I have been trying to sort out the mess in my room. Whilst re-stacking some files on a shelf I came across one of my old banknote albums and, once again, was struck by the beauty of old banknotes. As we go down to the supermarket and hand over our bit of plastic we have lost for ever the joy of handling what, in many cases, were small works of art. The example below is from my collection and is a French 100 Franc note dating from 1938. Now imagine handing that beauty over when you were paying for you loaf of bread and packet of Jammy Dodgers.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The End Of The World And A Raised Straw Hat

If ever proof was needed of the fact of global warming it could have been found in Halifax, Yorkshire on Saturday. It could have been found in the near cloudless sky, in the preponderance of sun hats, in the absence of mud, and on the smiles of the thousands who turned out for the annual Halifax Agricultural Show. Tradition has it locally that it always rains for the Show. Fate dictates it, manufacturers of umbrellas and Wellington boots plan for it. Cumulonimbus clouds are held in a holding pattern over the Atlantic for days ahead in order to adequately prepare for it. Occasionally there will be a pretence of fine weather - just enough to make you leave your galoshes and trench coat at home - a pretence that will be flushed into the watercourse by a sudden sharp shower. But on Saturday the sun shone. On Saturday the rain stayed away. As I walked around the showground in my shirt sleeves I couldn't help wondering whether the world was about to come to an end.
Global warming aside, it was a memorable day. There were marquees full of show hens, stalls full of sheep and cows and parade rings full of horses. There were birds of prey, antique tractors, llamas, and dogs, dogs and more dogs. There were kids sat on their fathers' shoulders to get a better view, old farmers casting a critical eye over a neighbours' prize cow, and pensioners testing out the grip on a new walking stick. Perhaps my favourite memory of the day was in the sheep judging ring. The judge and all the people showing their prize sheep were dressed in immaculate white coats. The judge, wearing a splendid straw hat, cast an expert eye over all the entrants. When he eventually made his decision and handed the prize cards out he raised his straw hat to each of the contestants. I don't know why, but there was something about the gesture which summed up the whole day to me. There was tradition and there was a certain solidity. Perhaps the world isn't going to come to an end just yet.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

A Family Six Pack : Part 1 - Auntie Annie

Annie Elizabeth Burnett 1903 - 1978
You may recall that I am working my way through this family portrait, taken in 1917, trying to tell the stories of the six lives it captured. We start on the extreme left with my Auntie Annie.
Annie Elizabeth was born in February 1903, the second daughter of my grandparents Enoch and Harriet Burnett. Like all young working class girls born in Bradford at the start of the twentieth century she was destined for the mill - Bradford was regarded as the world centre of the worsted industry - and by the time this photograph was taken she would have been 14 and already working. On her marriage certificate she is listed as a "worsted warper" and I remember her telling me that during the 1920s she worked at Ickringill's Mill on Legrams Lane, Bradford. The mill had been established in the late nineteenth century by Ira Ickringill, the nephew of a famous Yorkshire Chartist leader, and it was noted for its progressive attitude towards its workers. Annie worked until she was married in 1933 and by all accounts was an outgoing vivacious girl and something of a local beauty. She sang well and had a infectious sense of humour and was a hit in the many amateur concert parties and theatre groups that existed in Bradford at the time. It was in one such group that she no doubt met her future husband, Harry Moore.
Harry was more than a talented amateur, he was such a successful pianist and vocalist that, for a time in the early thirties, he was able to earn a living as a touring professional entertainer. He worked in a series of travelling professional concert parties, leaving his fiancee Annie Elizabeth back in Bradford whilst he took to the road. But in 1933 they married and Harry abandoned the life of a travelling entertainer and settled down to a job as a clerk in a local coal merchant's office.
Annie and Harry were married until Annie died in the late 1970s. They never had children and the marriage was continually under the strain of Harry's weekend work as a pianist in a variety of Bradford Working Men's Clubs and Annie's deteriorating mental health. Annie suffered from depression and found it difficult to be at home alone. Harry worked in the clubs every weekend and was away from his home for long periods of time. As a young teenager I became, for a time in the late 1950s and early 1960s, part of the solution to this problem as I would move in and live with Auntie Annie each weekend. Annie got a companion, I got spoilt. And I got told a host of wonderful stories about her childhood and youth.
There were times though when Auntie Annie was suddenly not around - this was the 1950s and 1960s, a time when it was believed that most mental problems could be cured by a brief spell of electroconvulsive therapy in a mental hospital. I was young and I wasn't aware of what was happening. Nor was I aware of the stories that circulated in the family, accusing Harry of being gay and of abandoning her for weekends of drunken debauchery. By the time I left home and went off to University, Harry was getting old and finding it harder to find work as a pianist. He gave into family pressure and stayed at home. But Annie's physical health rapidly deteriorated and she spent the final few years of her life in a wheelchair.
In many ways in sounds such a sad life : a life cheated of the promise and excitement you can see in the eyes of that fourteen year old girl. But once we die what remains are memories. And I have such wonderful memories of Annie. Of the times she made me laugh until I cried. Of the nights we sat up late together and watched television shows. Of the joy she felt - a joy that was almost palpable - in the company of me and my friends. When I look back, I see her near the end of her life : a life that had been rather dark and unfulfilled. But I still see that spark in her eyes and that half hidden smile : just as she was on that day in 1917.

A Lot Of Gas And Some Empty Chairs

  You can decide which jet of nostalgia is turned on by this advert which I found in my copy of the 1931 Souvenir Book of the Historical Pag...