Wednesday, January 20, 2010

All My Bags Are Packed ....

"All my bags are packed and I'm ready to go .." Well, not really, but it makes a nice song lyric. We leave tomorrow - not, I hasten to add, on the ill-fated Empress of Britain pictured above - and we will not be back until the weekend of the 6th and 7th February. Internet access is neither easy nor cheap on the high seas so I will not attempt to post to the blog whilst I am away. However, whenever possible, I will try to check into and update my Facebook page, so if you are on Facebook and want to keep in touch, add me as a friend if you haven't already (there is a link to my Facebook page on the sidebar). I look forward to being in contact with everyone again on my return.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Postcard Of The Week : Love And Courtship

I am in the midst of holiday preparations, attempting to squeeze 30kg of books and clothes into a 23kg baggage allowance. The situation is made worse by the fact that the Good Lady Wife refuses to allocate room in her suitcase for some of my books. Such unreasonavle behavior made me think about love and courtship and therefore I present you with two postcards from my collection which feature illustrations from the 1938 book "Real Life Problems And Their Solutions".

You can enlarge the images by clicking on them, but in case you still have difficulty with the homily, the words are as follows.

"Love at first sight" is by no means only the ideal of the novelist. If it is experienced by sane and balanced young people it is the happiest and truest kind of love, and may endure for a lifetime; on the other hand, with unstable people it often proves an illusion".

"To make marriage possible many young wives still continue to work. Under such circumstances they must plan as simple and as restful a domestic routine as they can. Otherwise the double task of running home and office will be too great a strain".

What I particularly love is the way, in the second card, a "simple and restful domestic routine" for the working wife includes bringing her husband his tea whilst he reads the newspaper. Ah well, back to the packing.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Manifesto For Sepia Saturday

Having just visited all the participating blogs in this week's Sepia Saturday, I am delighted by both the wonderful pictures and fascinating stories that the meme has given rise to. I am also gladdened to note how well received the idea has been and how the number of participants is growing each week. When Kat and I came up with the idea we avoided both rules and organisational structures in the firm belief that the former was unnecessary and the latter would emerge as a matter of course. I remain convinced that restrictive rules should be avoided, but I am aware that, as the number of participants increases, we may need to introduce a better organisational structure for the weekly links. As people know, I will be away for the next three Sepia Saturdays (Kat has kindly agreed to host the link lists), but if anyone has any suggestions as to the kind of organisational structure they would prefer (a separate Blog with a MrLinky a la Theme Thursday or whatever) I would be most grateful if they could post them in. I would like to finish with my own thoughts on what, to me, Sepia Saturday is all about. It is my own Manifesto For Sepia Saturday which anyone should feel free to add to or amend.

1. We belong to a favoured generation: the first generation of the digital age. Whilst our ancestors have valiantly attempted to preserve their own unique history in scraps of written narrative and faded and creased photographs, we have the unique ability to fix these memories for ever as our legacy to future generations.
2.  Scanning, blogging and digital storage provide us with the means of preserving the past, but we also have a duty to preserve the stories and images of those that contributed to our society as we know it. Whilst we can leave to academic historians the task of documenting the lives of the rich and famous, we believe that the most remote second-cousin and the most distant of maiden aunts has made a unique contribution to the lives that we lead. Each one of us has a duty to help preserve the stories of these builders of the modern world.
3. Whilst images alone are fascinating documents, images with words - be they simple half-remembered names and dates or gripping narrative histories - are even better. The synthesis of image and words provides the most effective insight into the past.
4. "Sepia" is an alliterative convenience rather than a descriptive criterion. Let our images be in sepia, in black and white or in full colour : what matters is the message and not the medium.
5.  We recognise that we have not only a duty to share our past but also to ensure that it is effectively preserved. Whilst images printed on photographic paper and words written in old notebooks fade with time, they have proved, in most cases, remarkably resilient over time. Perhaps one of the greatest dangers facing the millions of digital images and the endless pages of computerised words we produce today is that they can so easily be lost by the pressing of a wrong button or by the hacking of a troubled soul. We recognise and we accept our responsibility to back-up and securely save.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Sepia Saturday : Wilf and Amy

My Sepia Saturday photograph this week is a wedding photograph of my Auntie Amy and her first husband Wilf Sykes. According to the public records the marriage took place in the third quarter of 1929 and the clothes look about right for this time. Wilf was a wool sorter and they lived in Bradford which was still, in the 1920s, the centre of the British woolen and worsted industry. They had no children and Wilf died at the comparably young age of 59 in the early 1960s. Amy went on to marry two more times and lived well into her nineties. When she died, Amy left me a few hundred pounds as a legacy and it was witrh this money that we bought the dog which is named after her.

Whilst I knew Amy well and I am familiar with the rich detail of her long life, I know very little about her first husband, a man I can just remember from my childhood. I have never done any serious research into this link with the Sykes family (Sykes is a very traditional Yorkshire surname) but it is something I have flagged up to do in the coming months. I will let people know what I discover.

I will not be able to participate in Sepia Saturday for the next three weeks as I will be away on holiday. But Sepia Saturday will continue in my absence and its joint inventor, Kat Mortensen over at Poetikat's Invisible Keepsakes will be looking after the participation list from next week onwards. However, for this week - if you are participating - let me know and I will add you to the following list.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Theme Thursday : Surface

I must confess that I was rather pleased when I saw that the subject for Theme Thursday this week was "Surface", for I have long been of the opinion that surfaces suffer from a bad press. To discover the real essence of something we often say that we need to "scratch away the surface", implying that the surface is somehow vainglorious, ephemeral and false. Serious scholars try to "get beneath the surface" of an issue to discover the true questions and the real controversies. For some reason "surface" has almost a "celebrity" connotation : a bit false, a bit lacking in substance, a bit short on gravitas. Personally, I am a great lover of surfaces and the last thing I want to do with them is scratch them away.

Take, for example, a rice pudding. Has anything finer ever been invented than a rice pudding? Of course not. And what is the very finest part of a good, home made rice pudding? It is the skin, the surface, the bit which has been turned golden-brown by the amorous licking of the oven-flame. Scratch away that surface and what are you left with - nothing more than a milky-rice concoction which is all very nice but nothing much more than that : "nice". Take a slice of toast, what do you find when you dig beneath the surface other than bread : and more often than not, bread which has passed the first bloom of youth. What makes it palatable, what accelerates it out of the realm of the ordinary into the domain of cordon bleu sanctity is the surface - the sun-burnt crispness that results from its almost erotic intimacy with fire embers or electric elements.

I am not suggesting that surfaces are universally marvelous, sometimes surfaces can be challenging and even dangerous. I write this at the end of a day when here in Yorkshire we have witnessed some of the worst black ice in living memory. The untreated surfaces of many side roads became little more than ice rinks during the morning, to such an extent that the good citizens of Huddersfield were reduced to crawling accross roads on their hands and knees. Accident and Emergency Departments have seen a fourfold increase in admissions of people with broken and bruised limbs. People, I have to say, who believed the accepted wisdom that surfaces are not important, it is what lies beneath them that matters. Beneath the surface of the ice this morning was good old familiar road tar, but what caught them out was the surface ice.

Don't be tempted to dig under the surface : take a look at what others have had to say about Theme Thursday this week.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Postcard Of The Week : Life Before Bettys

My vintage postcard this week features a picture of The Grove in Ilkley, Yorkshire. To readers who know this part of England, the street and buildings might be familiar as today it is the site of the Ilkley branch of the famous Bettys Tea Rooms. However the picture featured on the card (which was published by the Ilkley stationer, M A Procter) pre-dates the arrival in England in 1919 of Frederick Belmont, the Swiss founder of the Bettys chain of tea rooms and shops. It is worth clicking on the above picture to enlarge it as there are some wonderful details visible in the photograph which must date back to the early 1900s. Nobody is quite sure why the tea shop (and later the chain of shops) was called Bettys :  there are several fascinating possibilities described on the Bettys website. The website is worth a visit as it contains lots of mouth-watering information. An up-to-date photograph of The Grove shows that whilst the shop frontices may have changed, the basic structure of the buildings remains the same.

I think the postcard (which has not been postally used) comes from my own collection rather than that of Uncle Fowler, but by now the two are inseparably blended : like a good Yorkshire tea.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Five Things I Have Discovered During The Ice Age

1. Weather forecasting is an imperfect art. I should have been suspicious when the forecasters suddenly downgraded their severe weather warning last night and suggested that the threatened heavy snow might not materialise. If anything is guaranteed to bring thick snow, that is. And it did. Four or five inches fell overnight and once again I had to dig the car out this morning.
2. Snow shoveling can be a therapeutic activity. I seem to have spent days shoveling snow over the last three weeks, but actually it is quite therapeutic. I get a degree of satisfaction from stacking the snow up in piles, like frozen castles in some ice-carved chess set. I even get pleasure from the physical effort, and the knowledge that it might work off a few of those extra pounds I seem to have put on over Christmas.

3. Animals are wonderfully inventive. I watched the sheep in the snow-covered field down the road as they cleared the snow away with their hooves so that they could reach the grass. How clever : these poor sheep have probably never seen snow before but they had worked out a way of coping with it. It puts us pathetic, wittering humans to shame.
4. There is nothing like a bit of cold to make you want a bit of heat. I now start each day by logging on to the weather forecasts for Acapulco. When we arrive there next week it should be in the low 30's centigrade. However, I suspect that after a couple of weeks of tropical sun I will be longing for the cold chill of winter again. There is probably nothing like a bit of heat to make you want a bit of cold.

5. Animals do not always appreciate the irony of song lyrics. As Amy and I walked out this fine winter morning I serenaded her by singing "My Favourite Things" When I got to the bit about one of my favourite things being "snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes", Amy gave me a look which said "you ought to give it a try pal".

The forecasters have now said we can expect more snow tomorrow so there is a good chance that the thaw is about to begin.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Any Other Business : White Tree Faces

Sometimes, posts don't have a theme: they are nothing more than a collection of bits and pieces. After what seems like a lifetime attending meetings, such collections always remind me of that section at the end of the agenda - Any Other Business. So, every so often, I will feature my own Any Other Business collection : nothing important, nothing too deep, ephemera at its' best.
***** *** *****

There is nothing ephemeral about Evelyn Yvonne Theriault's bi-monthly Festival of Postcards. The latest edition is based around the theme "White" and once again I have been delighted to contribute (my contribution was posted on the 4th December). Evelyn has also let her readers know about our current Sepia Saturday project so hopefully this might encourage even more participants in the future. Do take a look at the White Edition of A Festival of Postcards, there are links to some wonderful and inventive postcard blogs.
***** *** *****

We are still blanketted in snow in this part of the world and and the presence of snow and ice on all but the main roads for the last few weeks has led to a disruption in local services. Our local scout group offer a service where they will collect old Christmas Trees for recycling : you just leave them in the front garden along with a donation to scout funds.  I left our old tree on our snow-covered lawn on Saturday morning with little hope that they would be able to collect it given the conditions (after all, the Local Authority has not been able to collect our refuse for nearly three weeks). By Saturday afternoon the tree had been removed. Well done the Scouts - how about taking on the refuse collection contract.
***** *** *****

I came across a website that promises to make use of facial recognition software to identify which celebrity you look like. You simply upload a picture of your face and the software makes use of its celebrity database of over 4,000 faces to tell you whether you look like George Clooney or  Angelina Jolie, George Bernard Shaw or Queen Victoria. I entered my profile picture into the system and sat back to wait for the results. After scanning and scouring for what seemed like an eternity it eventually came back with the message "Sorry, no similar faces were detected". Perhaps I should take comfort from the fact that I am unique.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Sepia Saturday : My Longtown Sweethearts

Two Sepia Saturday pictures for the price of one today. Both come from the collection of my very late Uncle Fowler (he died over fifty years ago) and date back to the time he spent in Longtown, Cumbria in the early years of the twentieth century. Uncle F (actually he was my mothers' Uncle, but he was always known as Uncle Fowler by everyone in the family) was a textile mechanic by trade and for a time he moved away from his native West Yorkshire to live and work near the Scottish borders. He was the person responsible for the bulk of my vintage postcard collection - although I have added to it - but he also passed on a number of photographs which were printed - as was the fashion at the time - with "postcard" backs. The two photographs show girls posing with bicycles, indeed, the two poses are so similar for a time I thought they might be the same girl.

There are scribbled notes on the back of both photos. On the first (the studio shot) is written "Miss M Spiers, Chamber Maid, (see the other)". On the second (the outdoor shot) is written "Miss E Pearson, Cook at Mr James Grangham, Longtown". So here we have it : Fowler, at the time just over 30 years old, single and living away from home, with pictures of two charming young ladies. He never married, so his Longtown love - whether Miss E or Miss M - must have been left behind in Cumbria when he returned to West Yorkshire, But which one was it? There is normally an unsolved mystery in these Sepia Saturday posts of mine : but not in this case. On the reverse of the photograph of the outdoor Miss E, in the spidery hand of an old man, is written "She was my Longtown Sweetheart". I like to think of Uncle Fowler, as an old man living in Keighley, thumbing through his photograph collection and finally making his decision.

Let me know if you have a Sepia Saturday post and I will add you to the following list.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Theme Thursday : Polka Dots And Moonbeams

Do you remember the first record you really knew. Not necessarily the first record you remembered (I half remember a pile of dusty 78s my parents owned) nor the first record you bought (that had to wait until I had money). But the first record I really knew - knew so well that all the tracks were engraved into my subconscious like grooves in polymer - was one of my brothers' LPs. It was called Buddy Greco at Mr Kelly's and it was a recording of a live performance by the great lounge and jazz singer at Mr Kelly's Club in Chicago. After all these years I could still probably sing all the words of all the songs from the moment when Greco says "Welcome To Mr Kelly's" right through to the last verse of the last song ("Give Me The Simple Life", I seem to recall). It is part of my musical heritage and that means track four of side one (younger readers please note, records used to have sides) is part of my lyrical bedrock. Track 4 on side 1 was Jimmy Van Heusen's song, "Polka Dots And Moonbeams".

It's an odd little song, not your usual love, dove, moon, June affair. It conjures up all sorts of odd images. A country dance for some strange reason is being held in a garden! The singers' beloved is described as "a pug-nosed dream" (the song was written in 1940 in the days before nose-jobs existed). But it is a charming simple song which has the power to transport me back 50 years. As soon as I saw the theme for this Thursday I was mentally playing the song in my mind, listening to Buddy Greco's smooth tones. The lyrics are as follows - if you know the tune you can sing along.

POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS (Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke)
A country dance was being held in a garden
I felt a bump and heard an "Oh, beg your pardon"
Suddenly I saw polka dots and moonbeams
All around a pug-nosed dream

The music started and was I the perplexed one
I held my breath and said "May I have the next one?"
In my frightened arms, polka dots and moonbeams
Sparkled on a pug-nosed dream

There were questions in the eyes of other dancers
As we floated over the floor
There were questions but my heart knew all the answers
And perhaps a few things more

Now in a cottage built of lilacs and laughter
I know the meaning of the words "Ever after"
And I'll always see polka dots and moonbeams
When I kiss the pug-nosed dream.

I tried to find a YouTube video of Greco singing the song but I couldn't. There were several YouTube recordings of the song but none of them came within a mile of Greco's way with the words. So instead, I will leave you with a video of another Greco song, one which featured on that same Mr Kelly's LP. It is perhaps his most famous recording and it is "The Lady Is A Tramp". The video is of historical importance as it is a Scopitone movie (Scopitone was a very early form of video juke box which made use of 16mm film) and therefore represents an early antecedent of modern day music videos.

See how other Bloggers faced up to the Theme Thursday Polka Dot challenge by visiting the Theme Thursday site.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Postcard of the Week : Chateau d'Esches

If there is one thing that I love it is serendipity. Faced with a file box full of vintage postcards I plunge my hand in and pull one out at random. It is a postcard which was used in 1905 and sent to a certain Wallis Cross who lived on St Leonard's Street in London. It shows a picture of a chateau in the village of Esches which is twenty or thirty miles north of Paris. The message is limited to the picture side of the card and it notes that this is the house where the writers' sister is staying in the country. The writer - as far as I can make out Millie - stayed there for her Christmas holidays and an "x" on the card marks her bedroom.

If there is another thing that I love it is the internet. You can go online and search for the chateau. You can download photographs of it as it looks now, 105 years on from the postcard. You can walk down the village street using Google Street View. You can read detailed descriptions of life on St Leonard's Street, Victoria, South West London in the notebooks of the famous social investigator and philanthropist, Charles Booth. You can even track down the family history of Wallis Cross using on-line genealogical databases.

Blend serendipity and the internet and you have as good a reason as you ever could require for not going out on a snowy, cold, January day.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Sing Me A Song I'm The Gadget Man

I have always been a bit of a gadget man. I can read of an electronic gadget about to be launched and the salivation process starts. I will research it, track it down, look at it, think about it, and then, eventually - as sure as pods are i-pods - I will buy it. I had a Psion when Psions were red-hot. I had a Palm when most people thought they were a kind of topical tree. My first digital camera was so rare that there was only one shop in England selling them. I have a collection of decommissioned MP3 players which, if laid end to end, would be almost as long as the groove on an old 78 rpm record. (Because I am the kind of person who will no doubt get distracted on my way to my own funeral and because Wikipedia did not seem to know what the total length of the groove of a 78 rpm record would be, I have just calculated and it works out, on average, at a needle short of 500 feet!).

I must confess I have been rather late in the day at jumping on the i-touch bandwagon. Like all good gadget people, I tend to get upset if I am not amongst the first wave to acquire a particular gadget. I think of reasons why I did not launch the bandwagon and stick to my principles with a concrete-like rigidity. When my Spanish relatives Jamie and Bev got i-touches a couple of years ago, I wrote them off as nothing more than toys (the i-touches, not J and B I hasten to add). When my Chess Buddy Martin got one I quickly concluded that it was the kind of thing a bishop-sliding, shoot-em-up chess player would own. When The Lad got one for his birthday I have to confess that I had a little prod and poke under the guise of "setting it up". By the time my Cruise Buddy Harry got one  and my Blog Buddy John told me about his I had reached a state of nervous collapse. With all the pent-up eagerness of a reformed teetotaler crossing the threshold of the Horse and Jockey for the first time, I begged the GLW to intercede with Santa Claus and see if one could be acquired for Christmas.

Santa was - as ever - kind. He pretended never to have heard my denunciation of the shiny-backed, over-priced toy calculator. He turned a snow filled ear to my oft-proclaimed declaration never to give house-room to anything made by Apple-Mac. And he delivered a wonderful, new, clever, imaginative, well-designed ipod-touch on Christmas morning. And I have to confess that I am very impressed with it. When a new gadget is actually acquired I tend to lose interest in it after a few days, but my enthusiasm for the i-touch and its family of little apps goes from strength to strength. I have apps which allow me to access newspapers throughout the world, apps that tell me what is worth watching on television and apps that tell me where to find a decent pint of real ale.

The only two shortcomings I have discovered so far are that it loses its potency when it is out of wi-fi range and it prevents me from being able to hear my mobile phone ring because I am listening to my record collection all the time. Now, of course, both these problems would disappear if I were to upgrade to an i-phone. A shiny new, technologically advanced, sleek and sumptuous i-phone. Sorry, I will have to end the post now - I need to look something up on Google.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Sepia Saturday : Gladys and A Royal Enfield

My first sepia offering of 2010 is another photograph of my mother, Gladys. This picture must have been taken in the 1930s when my mother and father would regularly tour England on their motorcycle. Although the photograph shows my mother at the controls of the bike, she was exclusively a pillion rider : my father - who I assume took the photograph - was the one in charge of the controls. I have a feeling that the photograph was taken in the West Country - in Devon or Cornwall - and the scene in the background would seem to fit in with this. It is a happy picture, a picture infused with adventure and excitement. It is a nice picture to start 2010 with.

Here is a list of those people participating in Sepia Saturday this week. If you would like to be added to the list, just let me know and I will add a link to your blog.







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...