Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Theme Thursday : Flight

I've been hanging around the PPRuNe website again. When I start skulking around the various PPRuNe forums it's a sure sign that a holiday is in the offing - a holiday involving flight. If you are not familiar with PPRuNe let me introduce you. Nervous potential passenger this is PPRuNe. PPRuNe this is nervous potential passenger. Oh, and just in case you are wondering, PPRuNe stands for the Professional Pilots Rumour Network.It is a jolly little website where professional pilots and other flight professionals can exchange information and seek the answers to questions. Things like "As anyone else noticed that the tail of the DK24 becomes seriously unstable in a cross-wind?". Or "Another two planes have crash-landed at Wenthorpe Municipal Airport, it's a wonder that any land in one piece". They complain about being overworked and underpaid and repeatedly suggest that the latest roster plans of the airline owners are putting passenger lives at risk. It is a must-visit website for anyone about to take to the skies and one I can heartily recommend to all of you.

It's not that I am a particularly nervous flyer, in fact I would say that I enjoy flying in the same way that a lapsed Son of Temperance (which I am) enjoys a pint (which I do). As I have recounted on these pages before (see, amongst other posts, Into The Void) in the early 1980s I lost most of my hearing. The final loss was associated with a heavy flying schedule involving both commercial jets and light planes. The doctors told me to cease all air travel in order to try and retain the very small amount of hearing I had left. As that residual hearing allowed me to hear myself, I followed their advice. And so I became a non-flyer in a world where more and more distance travelling involved flight. I was doing a lot of work for the European Commission in Brussels and in place of the one hour flight I had been used to, my regular trips to Belgium would involve long railway journeys and overnight ferry crossings. I would try to persuade myself that crossing to the Continent via the night ferry from Harwich was romantic and adventurous, but all too often in was merely frustrating and exhausting. I was determined not to let my inability to fly stop me going to events I felt I should attend and would go to ridiculous lengths to get to out of the way places. I remember going to an afternoon meeting in Stockholm. Everyone else flew in during the morning and home again in the evening. For me the journey took a week!

During those years I missed flying almost as much as I missed hearing. Strangely enough I would still dream about being able to fly (by which I mean get on an airplane) long after I stopped dreaming about being able to hear. After my cochlear implant operation one of the first things I did was to fly again. By then all my natural hearing had gone - there was nothing left to lose. So I might anxiously scan the PPRuNe website to see if Acapulco is safe and the airline is solvent : but, come January, I won't be worrying too much. I will simply be glad that I am able to fly.

The picture at the head of this post is one of the postcards from my collection. It is a modern reproduction of a photograph dating back to 1914 and features some kind of event at Hendon Airfield near London. At the time, Hendon was being used as the base of the Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom. According to their weekly newspaper "Flight" ("The First Aero Weekly In The World"), the 18th July 1914 was the date of the Hendon-Brighton-Hendon Air Race. One can only assume that the postcard features one of the competitors.

To see how other Theme Thursday participants have interpreted this weeks theme follow this LINK

Archive Of The Week :

This is only my second post of the week and it is the second that seems to revolve, one way or another, around beer. But fear not, I am not becoming monogamous (I know that isn't the right word but you know what I mean), it is pure coincidence that my Archive of the Week this week is the rather impressive site

I am not sure who puts together the site - they seem rather coy at giving details about who is responsible for all the hard work which must go into maintaining the online collection of material related to the history of the American brewing industry. And that is the first point that needs to be made about this archive - it relates only to the American brewing industry. But beer enthusiasts have always been the most international of assemblages - they will drink beer from anyway regardless of international borders - and therefore there is something of interest to archive browsers whether they are from Iowa, India, Iraq or Iceland.
The site is divided into four main sections dealing with writing about beer and brewing (Library), pictures and illustrations about beer and brewing (Gallery), collecting (Brewerania) and books about beer and brewing (Bookstore). For those other than die hard brewing enthusiasts, the Gallery pages are perhaps the most interesting to browse through, and there are copious portraits of great brewers (the one above is of Adolph Coors), architectural plans of breweries, and picture postcards and advertising material.

And like all good archives there are dusty corners where you find the most surprising of offerings. As a result of my visit, I discovered that George Washington was a great lover of beer and his personal brewing recipe is preserved. In the interest of historical research, I am reproducing it here.

"To Make Small Beer
Take a large Siffer [Sifter] full of Bran Hops to your Taste. -- Boil these 3 hours then strain out 30 Gall[ons] into a cooler put in 3 Gall[ons] Molasses while the Beer is Scalding hot or rather draw the Melasses into the cooler & St[r]ain the Beer on it while boiling Hot. let this stand till it is little more than Blood warm then put in a quart of Yea[s]t if the Weather is very Cold cover it over with a Blank[et] & let it Work in the Cooler 24 hours then put it into the Cask -- leave the bung open till it is almost don[e] Working -- Bottle it that day Week it was Brewed."

I am off in search of some yeast and molasses. Cheers.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Searching For Gravitas In An Emerging Social Milieu

We were at this Royal Medical Benevolent Society "do" the other evening and we were ushered into the room which appeared to have been reserved for the oldies. Everybody there seemed to have retired and there was much chatter about the ways in which those precious retirement years were being filled to the very brim with good works and useful endeavor. Some people were doing degrees in Egyptology whilst others were cultivating new species of hybrid tea roses. I developed an unhealthy interest in the accumulated fluff in my trouser turn-ups in order to avoid the dreaded question : "and how do you occupy your time?". Walking the dog, enjoying a decent pint, and a little harmless blogging doesn't sit well amongst all that service to local charities and research into the etymology of modern Sanskrit.

I was still turning this over in my mind the following morning when I was getting Amy ready for her walk and downloading the latest Guardian Football podcast to my MP3 Player. And there on the iTunes site I saw something called iTunesU. It is a kind of University of the Modern Age where instead of doing boring things like turning up at lectures you can download them to your iPod and learn whilst you are lying in bed ... or in my case whilst you are walking the dog. Participating institutions include respectable institution like Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford and Cornell. It's free, it's easy and it is an instant way to acquire some post-retirement gravitas.

I eventually chose a series of lectures delivered by a certain Dr Beat Kumin (I kid you not) of the University Of Warwick on the role of the 18th century European public house as dynamic multi-functional spacial environments. I downloaded the first episode and set off merrily on my way. By the time I had got to the top of the road my mind was wandering: by the time I got to Bradly Roundabout I was practically asleep. It was like being transported back forty years to one of those pointless, pseudo-academic, jargon-rich exercises in self-abuse that used to pass for university lectures. My search for gravitas had come to an end. I clicked the MP3 Player forward and listened to the Archers instead.

Later I went for a pint at the Sportsman in Huddersfield and wrote the visit up for my Great Yorkshire Pubs Blog. I suppose I could have written about how the pub was no longer fulfilling its central role as an inter-cultural communications space within the emerging social milieu. But I didn't. I wrote about curved mirrors and bitter beer instead. What the hell, if anyone asked what I do with all my retirement time I will simply say "I enjoy it".

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Surreal Sunday 3 : Drawing

In an experiment to determine whether or not surreal art can be produced by someone without any artistic merit or skill, I am currently featuring six works of art. Five of the works featured recently in the British Surrealism in Context Exhibition . The sixth work of art will have been produced by someone without any artistic ability or experience (me) on my kitchen table in less than an hour. Your task is to spot the surreal fraud. You can comment as we progress through the six works or wait until the end to give your verdict.
Entitled simply "Drawing", this piece displays "delicate colour harmonies and a keen sense of the post-cubist importance of flatness and hard edge".

Friday, September 25, 2009

Facing Up To Things

Today I was supposed to post the last of my Family Six Pack mini series. But I never got round to it and it is all the fault of those people at Google. The subject of the last in the family history series was my Auntie Miriam and I knew I had a photograph of her somewhere. I had scanned it many years ago and it was somewhere amongst the two and a half thousand images that are tucked away in files on my hard-drive. I would like to be the kind of person who labels and tags each image when it is added to the collection, but I have never been that organised. The only way to find my errant Aunt was to search through each folder manually and even using the multi-image display format on Picasa, this is still a lengthy undertaking.
As I opened Picasa I noticed that there was a new version now available Picasa 3.5 and I downloaded it to see if there were any major improvements. To my surprise I discovered that there had been a significant development - facial recognition had been added to the programme. This is a magnificent gizmo : you simply identify a face by giving it a name tag and the programme will then search through all your image files and using facial recognition software - doing clever things like measuring the critical distances between eyes, nose and mouth - it will present you with a list of all other images containing the same face. Most it can spot without much doubt but where there is a doubt it will give you the option of either accepting the match or rejecting it.
What is really very clever about the system is its ability to recognise faces over considerable periods of time. Once I identified the GLW in a recent picture of her it managed to rightly match this up with images of her when she was just 17 and 18 years old. It is not a particularly fast system : it has taken about six or seven hours to work its way through my collection of images, but it is quite fascinating to watch it as it works its way through. Occasionally it will do sweet things like matching father with son or mother with daughter which can bring a lump to the throat. And at the end of the day you are presented with a stack of images which - as in the example above - can be a bit overwhelming.
I have spent the day fascinated watching it trawl through my life sorting people out into neat piles. All thoughts of the piece on Auntie Miriam have had to be put off until next week. But when I do get around to writing it up, I will not be short of images to illustrate it with.
If you haven't already got Picasa you can download the programme - free of charge - from the Google website.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Theme Thursday - Wild

Haiku 78 : Wild
Wild as a crazed dog
The wind cleaves down from the tops
Stripping my sorrow.
To see the work of other Theme Thursday participants, follow this LINK.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


I clipped the following out of the Guardian twelve years ago. I am probably infringing a dozen copyright laws by reprinting it here, but what the hell. I love the poem and I adore the drawing and together they seem to sum up my native county better than anything else I have ever seen.
Tony Harrison and David Hockney, arguably England's greatest poet and painter, were born ten miles apart in Yorkshire 60 years ago. They have been friends for the past 20 years, but it was only last summer in Bridlington that they finally worked together. Hockney produced this picture of Harrison who wrote the following poem.
by Tony Harrison
Him drawing those lines, me composing these,
our breathing inside louder than the sea's
Yorkssshhhire .... ssshhh, Yorkssshhhire .... ssshhh they say
the whispering waves on this last day of May.
Pebbles skimmed by two school-skiving kids
bounce on bulky waves that dawdle into Brid's
bare beaches where a man shouts, "Stay!"
to his disobedient dog who runs away,
the studio clock with its metallic tick
the craftblade scratching on the charcoal stick,
the gulls' cries and the crows' dry caws,
as I compose, stock-still, and David draws,
and Brid's grey ocean, lisping and then lush
shuffles into one long silent ssshhh!
May 31 1996

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Archive Of The Week : British Pathé

Once you hear that cock crow, hear that rising sweep of orchestral music, hear those clipped tones of the announcer - who sounds like a condescending bank manager - you are immediately transported back fifty years. You are sat in a dark and cavernous cinema. The B film has run its low budget course. The projectionist is spooling up the main feature while the usherettes serve tasteless ice-cream bars. On the screen is the newsreel from British Pathé.
I should thank Gerald Gee and his splendid Blog for a recent link which reminded me of the existence of the British Pathé film archive which is my Archive of the Week this week. British Pathé was one of four or five major providers of newsreels for British cinema audiences during much of the twentieth century (amongst the others were Gaumont British News and British Movietone News). Pathé started providing news footage for cinemas in the 1890s and continued right through until the 1970s. Their film archives - over 3,500 hours of film footage - eventually came under the supervision of the television company ITN and they have re-scanned all the original 35mm film and made it available via an on-line archive. If you are putting together a documentary and want full quality copies of the material you, quite rightly, need to pay. But if you want to view the material on-line, in what is called preview mode, access is free and there is an excellent search feature which allows you to find the material you are looking for in a variety of ways.
But like all good archives, the real joy is just to browse and to skip from one subject to another. Here is Ramsey Macdonald visiting America in the early 1930s, there is news of the Titanic disaster being received in London, and over there are the Beatles returning from one of their overseas visits. The archive is a joy to behold and well worth a visit. I have just calculated that if I limit myself to just watching an hour a day, five days a week, I can keep going through the archives for the next thirteen years without seeing the same piece of film twice.
Must go now, here comes the lady with my Choc-Ice.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Congratulations Fatty

I am pleased to announce that I am now officially overweight. Although it has been my ambition to be overweight for some time now - I first wrote about this almost two years ago - I did not start taking real steps towards my goal until after our recent holiday when a tripartite agreement to lose two stone each was sealed over post-dinner cocktails and beers one balmy night whilst we were sailing across - what my friend Mark calls - the Bay Of Biscuits.
In case anyone imagines that my struggle has been with anorexia I should point out that my journey towards my overweight status has been from the position the medical textbooks classify as either "extremely overweight" or "obese". But I have now lost sufficient pounds for my Body Mass Index to fall below the critical dividing line which is why this particular overweight person is walking around with a spring in his step and a smile on his face.
So will I be marching on towards ever-greater feats of weight loss? Much as I would love to I am slightly constrained by the research I quoted in my last post on this subject which indicated that the mortality rates for the overweight were lower than those for both the "normal" and "underweight" categories. The study in question found that although "overweight" people had a higher chance of dying from cardio-vascular disease than people of normal weight, the situation was more than reversed when diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, infections and lung diseases were taken into account.
I cannot abandon my diet just yet however : I have still some way to go before my two stone target is achieved. And before I get too carried away with medical statistics, perhaps I ought to remember the story of Tom Castle, the young lad who appears in the postcard at the top of this post. He worked for the local Sugden's Brighouse Flour Mill and featured in many of their advertising posters in the early years of the twentieth century. "Age 15 years, Weight 15 stone .... the result of eating Sugden's Flour" the postcard proclaims. Sadly, by the time he was 30, Tom was dead : uncomforted by any mortality statistics. Perhaps I will give the celebratory chocolate biscuit a miss.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Surreal Sunday 2 : Sluice Gates Of The Mind

In an experiment to determine whether or not surreal art can be produced by someone without any artistic merit or skill, I am currently featuring six works of art. Five of the works featured recently in the British Surrealism in Context Exhibition . The sixth work of art will have been produced by someone without any artistic ability or experience (me) on my kitchen table in less than an hour. Your task is to spot the surreal fraud. You can comment as we progress through the six works or wait until the end to give your verdict.
In this piece the artist goes in search of the unconscious mind and attempts to bring traumatic memories to the surface.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Family Six Pack : Part 5 - Albert Burnett

Albert Burnett 1911 - 2002
I suppose I have been putting this off. The fifth member of the family group I have been writing about for the last few weeks is the youngest of the group - Albert Burnett : my father. It is now seven years since he died and although he had a long and happy life I still miss him. I miss his quiet assurance and I miss the way that he could interact with life with the minimum of friction. He was an amiable man, a pleasant man, a good man. He was a nice man. He could be annoying - he could worry for England and he would insist on getting places at least three hours early. My brother and I once created an international unit of waiting time called "The Albert" which was flexible and depended upon the event being undertaken but the basic law said that you always had to be where you were going 2 Alberts before you were due there. When I do something to mildly annoy my family like worry if they are five minutes late or fuss to make sure they have got their keys and phones they will say "You get more like your father every day". I argue and complain, but secretly I take this as a tremendous compliment.
Albert was born on the 25th June 1911 and therefore he was just six years old when the family photograph was taken. He must have had some artistic talent when he was young because my grandfather managed to get him taken on as an apprentice to a sign-writer. But this was 1925 and the new Education Act was being rigorously enforced and a School Inspector came and took him out of work and sent him back to school for the final three weeks until his 14th birthday. By the time his birthday came around the sign-writers job had gone so Albert was taken on as an apprentice fitter and spent his entire working life as a maker and mender of machines. For the last thirty years of his working life he maintained and repaired the machines that wrapped Mackintosh's Quality Street sweets in their coloured cellophane wrappers. The photograph shows Albert proudly sitting in front of a splendid machine that looks as though it could have flown to the moon but in fact could merely wrap a chocolate toffee finger in its gold wrapper.
Albert met Gladys, my mother, on a day-trip to Cleethorpes in the late 1920s. They discovered that they were both from the same part of Bradford so when they returned home they started seeing each other. This was the age of long courtships, an age where you had to try and save a bit of money before you thought of getting married and so it was 1936 before they finally got married. They were together for 66 years : a marriage which was happier than most and which eventually brought them two children - my brother Roger in 1943 and me in 1948.
I suppose the family became the centre of their lives - I cannot remember many friends who were not part of the wider family. They rarely went out in the evening and their lives centred around their house, their television, and trips out into the countryside in a whole succession of vehicles. When they first married they would go off every weekend on their tandem, exploring the countryside around Bradford where they lived. Later the graduated to motorbikes and their territory expanded to the entire country. By the early 1960s my father had got his first car and I can remember endless holidays touring from campsite to campsite in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
Even towards the end of his life my father managed to get hold of a "mobility scooter" and would go for tours around the little estate they lived on. According to my records, I took the final photograph in 2001 when my father was 90. I can still remember the day as though it was yesterday. By then he couldn't walk very well at all and I had to help him out of his flat and onto his scooter. It was a cold day and I was worried that he might catch a chill or that he would get stuck and not be able to get home. I was determined to run behind him and make sure he was OK. By the time I had locked the flat door and turned around I spotted him in the distance. Still travelling on. Still doing things his own way with a minimum of fuss. Still wanting to get wherever he was going 2 Alberts early.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

That Bill Brandt Must Have Been A Tall Chap

The first part of yesterday was spent taking the Lad back to University in Sheffield. The rest of the day was spent in bringing the Lad back to collect the things he had forgotten and taking him back to Sheffield again. From now until Christmas, the house will be that little bit quieter, that little bit tidier and that little bit lonelier. I will miss him dreadfully and I will have to think of endless excuses to drive over to Sheffield so I can take him out for a pint.
On Tuesday, as a final treat, we went for a nostalgic walk around Halifax. I was anxious to go back to the site of perhaps one of the most famous images of the twentieth century : Bill Brandt's majestic "Snicket in Halifax". Brandt was a photojournalist and one of the most celebrated photographers of the twentieth century and the Halifax pictures were taken in 1937 when he was undertaking a commission for Lilliput Magazine. From previous expeditions I knew where the site of the snicket photo was but I was keen to return as I wanted to try and track down the exact angle Brandt had used to get his famous image. As this meant that I needed someone to hold a copy of the original Brandt image why I scrambled up walls and hung from vegetation I needed an assistant : hence the need for the Lad to come with me. If you have a matchbox-full of insight you will have already guessed that this was simply an excuse for getting a day out with the Lad before he returned to Uni.
After a fair amount of messing about I think I found almost the right spot, the spot where Brandt must have stood 72 years ago. The famous hand-rail is wobbly now (aren't we all?) but the mill is still there (although some idiot has cleaned it) and the cobbles are just about intact. However hard I tried I could not get the exact angle : that Bill Brandt must have been a tall chap. But it didn't matter, it was all an excuse.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Archive Of The Week : Sail Away

You know what it is like when you are certain that you are going to hate something just as soon as someone first suggests it. I was like that with cruising. The idea of being shut away with a couple of thousand stuffed shirts aimlessly drifting over leaden-grey waves and eating your way through enough food to build an edible battleship just did not appeal. But this was twelve or so years ago, it was our 25th anniversary and the GLW (Good Lady Wife) quite fancied the idea and so off we went aboard the old P&O Arcadia around the Mediterranean. You know how some times you can be wrong. I was wrong. I fell in love with a type of holiday that allowed me to laze in the sun working my way through a mini-library of books whilst having endless cold beers delivered to my reclining deck chair. I fell in love with the pace-less days and the stress-less nights. And in consequence, I now find it difficult to survive much more than six or eight months without jumping on a ship and sailing off somewhere warm.
It is still four months until our next cruise but we had the first meeting of the little party who will be holidaying together over the weekend and we discussed things like anti-malaria pills, mosquito repellent and available supplies of tropical shirts. And with the anticipatory taste of salty sea-spray still caressing my lips I went in search of my Archive of the Week. And I found a little gem.
The Gjenvick-Gjønvik Archives are one of the largest private archives of historical steamship and ocean liner documents, photographs, and passenger lists. Even if your tastes are more inclined to family history rather than family holidays the site is still worth a visit as they maintain many passenger lists from the days of the great trans-Atlantic liners and these are freely available. As well as passenger lists there are collections of steamship tickets and illustrated brochures. There are menus and recipes and guidance on what to wear for the fashion-conscious travelling of 100 years ago. You can happily browse for hours and pretend that you are far from land on the high seas.
I will provide you with just one little sample here and that is the breakfast menu from the Cunard Line R.M.S. Berengaria from Friday, 9 August 1927 on an Eastbound Voyage from New York to Southampton. Enjoy!
Grape Fruit
California Figs in Syrup
Compote of Prunes
Baked Apples with Cream
Oatmeal Porridge -- Cream of Wheat -- Fresh Milk
Force Whole Wheat (Flakes)
Puffed Rice
Breakfast Bran
Post Toasties
Corn Flakes
Post's Bran Flakes
Grape Nuts
Shredded Wheat
Boneless Codfish—Cream Sauce
Fried Lemon Sole
Kippered Herring
Eggs Fried, Turned and Boiled
Poached Eggs on Toast
Shirred Eggs—Portugaise
Scrambled Eggs on Toast
Omelettes Various
Calf's Liver - Piquante Sauce
Chicken Hash
Smoked Beef in Cream
American and Wiltshire Smoked and Pale Bacon
Cumberland Ham
Cambridge Sausage
Mutton Chops
Devilled Beef Bones
Potatoes— Mashed, French Fried, Steamed Jacket
Cold Meats Assorted
Spring Onions
Tomatoes Cucumber Radishes
Griddle and Buckwheat Cakes—Maple Syrup
White and Graham Rolls
Hovis Bread
French Toast
Cottage Loaves
Vienna Bread
Pulled Bread
Toasted Muffins
Scotch Oat Cake
Corn Bread
Currant Buns
Sally Lunns
Swedish Bread
Parkerhouse Rolls
Soda Scones
French Crescents
Tea—Ceylon, China and Blended
Malted Milk

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Surreal Sunday 1 : Vorticist Composition

In an experiment to determine whether or not surreal art can be produced by someone without any artistic merit or skill, over the coming six weeks I will be featuring art from the British Surrealism in Context Exhibition. Five of the works featured will be genuine reproductions taken from the exhibition catalogue. The sixth work of art will have been produced by someone without any artistic ability or experience (me) on my kitchen table in less than an hour. Your task is to spot the surreal fraud. You can comment as we progress through the six works or wait until the end to give your verdict.
No 1. Vorticist Composition
In this composition the artist uses the shape of two picture easels to mimic human positions and produces a clear indication of a man striding out of the painting.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Ludwig Wittgenstein Gets Some Hearing Aid Batteries

I am all in a tizzy today, behind with all my jobs and unable to either present my promised post in the Family Six Pack series or get around to all the other Theme Thursday participants and view their interpretations of rhythm. It is partly that we have decorators in and the house is in chaos. It is partly that I ran out of the batteries that power my cochlear implant and had to get some more. And it is partly the fault of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Many years ago I used to do some guest lecturing on a University of London course called "Education in England". Another of the guest lecturers hired for a three week stint in the middle of the summer was a retired philosophy professor from Belfast called William McClure. Bill was a wonderful old chap with a store of tales to fit every occasion. Whilst our students were off enjoying a taste of the cultural sites and sounds of London in the evening, Bill and I used to retire to the pub and get slowly and satisfyingly drunk. One evening I was delayed for my meeting with Bill in the Public Bar of the pub opposite the Institute of Education and when I eventually arrived I apologised for keeping him waiting for almost an hour. His reply - in a soft and rolling Irish accent - was "Sure, it doesn't take me long to wait an hour". Over a pint or four he told me how he had heard an old farmer use this expression in a village in the Mourne Mountains when he turned up at the post office one morning a good hour before it opened. Bill went on to explain how the phrase perfectly summed up the theory of time as postulated by Ludwig Wittgenstein. I have to confess that the detailed philosophical explanation got lost in clouds of Fullers Best Bitter, but I remember the phrase well.
So this afternoon as I queued up at the hearing aid clinic to get a new supply of batteries (all free on our splendid NHS will all my American friends note) and the technician came out to apologise for the long wait, I simply put on my Bill McClure smile and even a bit of a Bill McClure accent and said "Sure, it won't take me long to wait an hour". The technician smiles and went off to write something in my notes. I sat there thinking vaguely philosophical thoughts. The clock moved on. I eventually got my batteries but it was too late to post my Family Six Pack piece. If you want to complain, direct your complaints to old Ludwig Wittgenstein ... wherever he may be.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Theme Thursday - Rhythm

Although sound may come to an end, the need for rhythm does not. As many of you already know, some 25 years ago my hearing began to fail. Over a period of many years I lost my ability to hear - and therefore comprehend - at first complex sounds like music, and then human voices and eventually even my own voice. One of the very last things to go was rhythm and, the need for rhythm never went at all. You don't have to hear rhythm, you can feel it. Even though you may not get any audible feedback, tapping your fingers or your feet to some internal rhythm is still a satisfying activity. During those years of deafness I would sometimes twitch and jerk my body to the sound of some unknown melody like a gauche teenager, desperate to feel the rhythm - any rhythm - even though I could never hear it.
But the particular memory of rhythm I would like to share with you this Theme Thursday comes from a few years before the total deafness set in. It was during the years of declining hearing and illustrates my desperation to cling on to rhythm as long as I possibly could. When my ability to follow complex music declined I discovered that I could still appreciate relatively simple rhythm. Simple drum solos would work but I also found was that I was able to lap up the rhythm from a decent tap-dancing solo like a thirsty kitten lapping up cream. Not knowing any tap dancers I went in search of a collection of tap dancing solos on record, which - understandably I suppose since tap dancing is partly a visual art form - was difficult to source. I eventually found a compilation of Fred Astaire hits which contained a good few of his tap dancing routines. For months they kept me happy. I would drive to work each day with the record in the car stereo, pounding out the sound of Fred's feet. Perhaps my feet would occasionally tap in unison to the pulsating rhythm. Which is why, if you happened to drive on the M18 regularly in the 1990s, you might have seen a car jerkily make its progress eastwards as the drivers feet tapped out the rhythm on the brake and accelerator.
To see how other people interpret this weeks' theme, visit these LINKS.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Underlining A Ford Focus With A Smudgy Biro

Another lucky dip into the vintage postcard collection put together by my mother's Uncle Fowler brings up an unused card dating back 90 or 100 years showing two engines of the Caledonian Railway Company. The earliest engine, we are told, was built by George Stephenson himself whilst the latest was "now running on 2pm Corridor Train from Glasgow Central to London Euston". Whenever I pick these cards at random I am always tempted to turn them into exam questions for unsuspecting students of economic and social history - "using the above picture as your source discuss trends in inter-city transport in Britain over the last 100 years". It is the kind of exam I would quite enjoy sitting : indeed I suppose that this blog is, at times, nothing more than am expansive answer-book to such an exam.
I am not very good on trains. Like all boys of my age I served an apprenticeship as a train-spotter, stood on windy railway bridge underlining engine numbers with a smudgy Biro in my Ian Allan Trainspotters Guide. But it was more out of tribal loyalty than a collector's enthusiasm. But what red-blooded human does not feel a thrill course through his or her veins when a real steam train passes close?
But I am getting sentimental and maudlin. Too many dusty old postcards. Time to look forward rather than back. Was that a Ford Focus that just drove past? Must go and mark it up in my car spotter's guide. .... Not the same feel to it, has it?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Meaning Of Life In A Waste Paper Bin

There has been some degree of speculation over recent weeks - both on my blog and on others such as Chairman Bill's - on the meaning of life. It reminded me of a project I started a couple of years ago entitled : "The Meaning Of Life And Other Intractable Problems ... in Diagrams". It was part of a submission to a publisher who was looking for an idea for one of those books people keep in their toilets for browsing when there is little else to do. I submitted three projects - none of which I have to say were selected. Because I had been yet again ignored by the great outside world I lost interest in the project and never got past the first page. However, it was quite a first page and revealed the meaning of life in a single diagram.I reproduce it here because it might amuse you, it might interest you, it might annoy you - and too much work went into it for it to stay at the bottom of a publishers' waste bin for ever. Unless you have magnifying eyes you will probably have to click on the image to read it. (Note : It seems that the picture is reluctant to click-and-enlarge and therefore I have added this LINK to an on-line version)

Monday, September 07, 2009

A Gangrenous Thumb And A Surrealist Umbrella

Some weeks ago in his splendid blog, Tony mentioned visiting the British Surrealism in Context exhibition in Leeds. Always eager to take a trip into the surreal I organised an outing, and so last Friday the Lad, our good friend Tim, and his friend Lizzie met up in Leeds to sample what the American writer Susan Sontag once called "the contents of a meagerly stocked dream world: a few witty fantasies, mostly wet dreams and agoraphobic nightmares".
The exhibition is based on the collection of the Leeds collectors Ruth and Jeffrey Sherwin and represents one of the largest collections of British surrealism in the UK. In his blog, Tony commented on incongruity of a surrealist exhibition in Yorkshire and posed the question as to whether Yorkshire people were the least surrealistic of any race. One could almost pose the same question about the general concept of "British Surrealism" but there is probably a point at which eccentricity and surrealism merge and it is at that point that you will find the British contingent have established their camp.
I will not attempt to describe the exhibition in detail - it is at Leeds Art Gallery until 1 November 2009 so you can always see it yourself - but I was left with a few impressions at the end of the day. The first was that although wandering through a surrealism exhibition to me is a bit like trekking through the Amazonian jungle with a street map of Birmingham as a guide, it was still possible to recognise works I liked and ones I didn't. The second thing was the frames many of the works were displayed in : these were obviously the original frames dating back to the 1930s and 40s, but they looked so out of place (indeed almost surreal in themselves). If you buy the exhibition catalogue you see the same works without the embellishment of fake plaster cornices and I have to say that I prefer them in their embellished state.
Finally one is always left with the question : is this art or is it a rather elaborate con-trick (or is it both)? There is, of course, a strong theme of mockery which runs throughout the surrealist movement so one can imagine that the surrealists themselves would welcome mockery. Could anyone produce such strange shapes and twisted images? To try and find an answer to this question I have decided to instigate the "Surreal Sunday" project. For the next six Sundays I will present a series of surrealistic images. Five of them will come from the exhibition catalogue and therefore will represent the very best of British surrealism. The sixth - in whichever order it appears - I will concoct on the kitchen table. I suspect (and hope) that the fake will stand out like a gangrenous thumb - but we will see. When the images start appearing feel free to comment as to whether it is a genuine image or a fake.
After the exhibition we gathered at the splendid Victoria Family and Commercial Hotel for lunch and a pint. We talked about madness, life and death as all good surrealists should. By the time we were ready to return to the station it had started to rain. Luckily I had packed my surrealist umbrella, so - as you can see - the party was able to remain perfectly dry.

Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...