Friday, April 30, 2010

Flowers Flowers, Give Me Your Reaction

Since yesterdays' post I have had difficulty getting the tune Daisy (or to give it it's proper title Daisy Bell) out of my mind. Catchy as the tune is, there is a limited number of times those lyrics can circulate around the ring-road of your mind without beginning to sound a little tired. 

"Daisy Daisy,
Give me your answer do!
I'm half crazy,
All for the love of you!
It won't be a stylish marriage,
I can't afford a carriage,
But you'll look sweet on the seat
Of a bicycle built for two !"

Some years ago I invented a silly game to play with popular song lyrics. Those who have hung on my every word for the last four years will remember the August 2007 post "This I Have Done My Route" which was my adaptation of the lyrics to My Way. So yesterday I decided to take the same approach to Daisy Bell. I took the original English lyrics by Harry Dacre, fed them into a machine translation programme and translated them into Norwegian. I then took the resulting Norwegian words and machine translated them into Serbian, and then the Serbian words were subsequently translated into Icelandic. I then switched translating machines from World Lingo to Google Translator, just to add a little extra spice. The Icelandic was translated into Dutch, and finally the Dutch was translated back into English. The resulting song - "Flowers, flowers" - is quite pleasing and I will ask you all to get Friday off to a jolly start by joining me in singing a rousing chorus. All together now :

Flowers flowers
give me your reaction.
I'm half crazy,
love you all!
It will not be a modern marriage,
not hired and carts,
but you see a nice place
bicycle built for two!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Theme Thursday : Bicycle (Made For Two)

I know I have been posting a lot of old photographs lately, but when I saw the subject for Theme Thursday this week, I couldn't resist what is perhaps my favourite photograph of my mother and father.

Back in the 1930s, my parents were keen cyclists and each weekend they would go off on their tandem, touring the roads of northern England. My mother always used to tell the story of how, one particular day, she got a little saddle-sore and, when they stopped at a red traffic light, she dismounted to stretch her legs. The lights turned green and my father, not noticing that half the motive power was absent, peddled off into the distant, leaving my poor mother sobbing on the curbside. My father used to claim that he got at least three miles down the road before he noticed any difference at all.

Some thirty years later my brother bought a tandem and I managed to get a photograph of them both with it : although they never rode anywhere on it. By the late 1930s their tandem had given way to motor-bikes - and at one stage a motor-bike and sidecar. In the 1940s, us children came along and my father was confined to the bus, but in the fifties he worked his way up through a motor scooter, an old van and eventually a car.

All this talk of a bicycle made for two reminds me of one of my favourite film clips of all time. It is towards the end of Stanley Kubrick's 2001, and HAL the computer is nearing the end of his time. But why did he sing "Daisy" in that unforgettable way? I have found a short clip which explains why, so, as I ride off into the distance, I will leave you with that.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I Like Potato Chips, Moonlight And Motor Trips

Those people who know me are aware that there are very few things in life I like better than potato chips. Alright, maybe a glass of decent beer, but even that is all the better when accompanied by a bag of chips. Moonlight I can take and, strangely enough, as I get older, I am becoming quite fond of motor trips of the kind my parents and their generation used to call "a run" : a rather pointless meander along country lanes.

Where on earth is the old fool going to, I can hear you all asking. Well the answer, as anyone who is familiar with the 1941 film "Babes on Broadway" will already know is "New York in June". The word came through this morning that we had managed to secure a place on next years' Arcadia cruise to the east coast of the USA, the high point of which will be two days in New York. In June. So I give fair notice to all my American friends : I will be wanting recommendations on what to see, where to find decent potato chips, and - particularly important - where to get a decent pint. I can't get the singing of Frank Sinatra out of my mind this morning, how about you?

From now onwards I suspect I am going to become a regular visitor to web sites specialising in New York history such as the Gotham Centre For New York City History. Maybe I will find some old sepia shots of the city, which reminds me that the Linky List for Sepia Saturday 21 is now up : sign up and join in.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Postcard Of The Week : The Hasty Angler Loses The Meaning Of The Proverb

My postcard of the Week comes from the collection put together by my mothers' Uncle Fowler and passed down to me through a process of historical osmosis. The card comes from a series of illustrated proverbs published by the Portsmouth firm J Welch and Sons (JWS). The series gives "visually amusing" interpretations of popular proverbs : the one in question being "The hasty angler loses the fish". The card was addressed to Fowler (Mr. F Beanland) and I suspect it comes from his sister Eliza. I love the intriguing message "Received yours, was ill but better, cannot explain" which hints at so much in so few words.

Checking out the proverb I discover that it is an old Arabian proverb. The website just lists the proverb but doesn't provide a meaning which, in this case, is no great loss : it is not too difficult to appreciate the cack-handedness of the hasty angler. But looking at some of the other proverbs listed on the same page, one is left searching for a meaning. What, for example, can the old French proverb "the have always returns to her form", mean? Or the German "the hasty man was never a traitor"? And what on earth does "the hasty hand catches frogs for fish" imply? Maybe J Welsh and Son covered these proverbs later in the series. Perhaps I should keep an eye out for visually amusing interpretations.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Filling Some Digital Envelope On My Hard Drive

When I was a young lad I remember cutting pictures out of magazines. I would acquire old holiday brochures and cut out pictures of exotic locations (in the 1950s exotic locations were places like Cornwall or North Wales). I would beg old copies of my fathers' "Mechanics Illustrated" and cut out pictures of electric powered cars. I would scissor attack my brothers' copies of "The Eagle" and clip out complex cut-away diagrams of the workings of the Queen Mary. I can't remember what I did with all these pictures, knowing me they will have been filed away in an envelope somewhere. It was the image that was the meaningful thing and it was the acquisition that was important process. Having a picture of St Ives was the next best thing to going there, having an explanatory image of a model racing car was the next best thing to owning one.

We never really change do we? I am still in love with images and I still have this need to acquire them. The paper magazines have been replaced by digital content but I still copy and save. I still file image after image away in some digital envelope somewhere on my hard drive. Thus, when I was browsing eBay the other day and I came across someone offering a disk of "14,000 High Quality Vintage Photos" for £4.99p (post free) I couldn't resist temptation. It has now arrived and I can waste endless hours browsing through the collection of old advertising posters, vintage postcards and pictures of faded film stars. It's cheap and harmless fun and it keeps me from brooding on the meaning of life. It does however tempt me to dig out that box of small cigars I have tucked away somewhere. How fascinating that the suggestive power of advertising can work even 100 years after the advert was first published.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sepia Saturday 20 : Son Of A Bathroom

Son of a gun I may not be, but if this photograph of my mother is anything to go by, it would seem that I am the son of a bathroom! I remember my mother telling me a little of the background to this photograph which must have been taken in the early 1930s : a fancy dress party to which she went dressed as a bathroom. But who would dream of going to a fancy dress party dressed as a bathroom? Certainly not the sensible woman who gave birth to me a decade later. Perhaps it merely emphasises the point that if you want to journey into the unknown all you need to do is to investigate your own heritage. But I like the slightly eccentric inventiveness which created the dress and I admire the audacity which translated a silly idea into what I am sure was an award-winning project. Son of a gun I may not be, but wouldn't it be nice if the slightly eccentric chap who dreamed of taking his dog on a virtual tour of America was the son of a bathroom.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Someone's Got To Be Summonsed

Whilst the skies over Britain are once again open, and there has been no noticeable fall of volcanic ash, we are still enduring the substantial fall-out from the crisis. We may have stopped looking for falling cinders, but we have stepped up our search for someone to blame. This idea that someone must be to blame seems central to the 21st century persona : having mastered nature, mankind can only assume that any inconvenience is the result of someone else's deliberate mistake. And in the words of the famous Stanley Holloway monologue "The Lion and Albert", "someone's got to be summonsed". The airlines are launching multi-billion pound claims against the air traffic regulators, passengers are seeking to sue the undercarriages off airlines, and everyone is convinced that the government is to blame : any government.

I could go on at length about the shift from a society in which people took responsibility for each other to a society where someone else is always seen as responsible for negative events, but I won't because it would depress me and it would probably depress you as well (and then you could sue me for getting depressed after reading my blog). So instead I will stick with The Lion and Albert. As a philosophical work I reckon it ranks up there with Spinoza and John Stuart Mill. The monologue was written by the poet and comedian, Marriott Edgar who came from a family of theatrical performers embedded in the traditions of the music hall and the seaside pier shows. His half brother was the famous playwright and novelist, Edgar Wallace. It is thought that Marriott chose the name of the lion in the story - Wallace - as a tribute to his famous half-brother who he did not meet until they were both in middle age. The fact that they spent half a lifetime apart was just one of those things. As far as I know, they didn't try to sue anyone for it.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Theme Thursday : Draft

I was about to sit down and compose a Theme Thursday post last night when I was unexpectedly invited out for a pint by The Lad and his girlfriend. Anything in a contest with a trip to the pub is always going to come off second-best in my book, so I abandoned my plan to do a Theme Thursday post and decided to embrace serendipity and put together a post for my "Pint of Best" blog instead. The pub in question was The Slubbers' Arms in Huddersfield and from what I knew  of the place it was a prime candidate for my Great Yorkshire Pubs series. Theme Thursdays' loss would be Great Yorkshire Pubs' gain. So off we went : met some very nice people, visited a very distinctive pub, drank some very decent beer - and I came home determined to  put a beer-stained post together. But the beer began to work its' magic : tiredness supplanted creativity and all I managed to produce was a rough draft of a post.

In the cold and sober light of a Theme Thursday morning I looked at the notes scribbled on a blank file card. I looked at the subject of the weeks' theme Thursday which just happens to be "draft". I remembered with fondness the smooth power of the draught Timothy Taylor Landlord I consumed last night (for my American readers that is draft Timothy Taylor Landlord). And everything just seemed to fit together. As the wise man once said : if you are lucky enough to meet Serendipity on the road to Huddersfield, embrace her.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Shaking The Metaphoric Volcanic Ash Out Of The Recesses Of My Brian

It would be tempting to claim that I have not been able to post for the last four days because of the extraordinary transport disruption caused by exploding Icelandic volcanoes. But, as yet, the volcanic ash has not impacted on the ability of the 363 bus to chug its way up from Brighouse to the top of the hill where we live. It would be equally tempting to claim that this particular horrid little middle class stereotype had embarked on some awful contrived adventure, but there has been nothing particularly adventurous about the last few days.

No, the truth is far more prosaic. This and that have interfered in my plans to post. This and that have caused the creative juices to congeal into the sludge of everyday existence. This has meant that my epic poem on the loss of innocence through the decline in cask conditioned ale has had to be postponed. That has meant that my novel based upon the attempted assassination of Putzi Hanfstaengl aboard the SS Europa in 1933 has, yet again, had to be put on hold.

But tonight, as I pour myself a pleasing glass of Old Fettercairn, I make a resolution. I will set the alarm clock early for tomorrow. I will get out of bed with renewed vigor and shake the metaphoric volcanic ash out of the recesses of my brain. I will be renewed. I will post again.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sepia Saturday 19 : Mirth, Enjoyment And Something Else

One of the great things about old photographs is the opportunity they provide for micro-analysis. My Sepia Saturday photograph this week is a picture of my Uncle Frank and Auntie Miriam (the couple on the left just in front of the "Mirth" sign) in Weston-Super-Mare. The picture must have been taken in the early or mid 1930s and it features the entrance to the Grand Pier at Weston. Who the shirt-sleeved chap on the right is, I have no idea. It is one of those photographs you can examine for ever. Look at the clothes, look at the hats, look at the posters. A number of the posters advertise an exhibition featuring "the fastest car in the world", Bluebird. This will be the car with which Sir Malcolm Campbell held the world land speed record at various times between 1927 (when the record stood at 206 mph) and 1937 (by which time he had nudged it up to 301mph).

The old pier kept going right into the 21st century but was very badly damaged by fire in 2008. It is currently being rebuilt and is scheduled to re-open later this summer. With the wonders of the internet you can read the story of the death and rebirth of the pier on the pier website and even view construction work via the pier webcam. But the one question that the website can't seem to answer is about that very prominent banner that features in my photograph. It promises visitors mirth, it promises visitors enjoyment ... and it promises visitors something else : but what? The word obviously includes the letters SS but what was it? There is a prize of an old British penny (to use in the slot machines once the pier reopens) to anyone who can solve the mystery.

Note :  Over the weekend I will try and track down the glitch that is making News From Nowhere slow to load in Internet Explorer. This might mean that, at times, the blog has a strange look about it. These will be temporary changes and we should return to a more settled look before too long.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Blue Sky Thinking

There are two things missing from the photograph of the morning sky I have just taken from my garden. The first is the familiar trails of airplanes criss-crossing the sky (as we are located just south of Leeds/Bradford International and just east of Manchester International the sky normally resembles a doodling pad). The reason is that practically all planes in Northern Europe have been grounded for the last 24 hours and look likely to remain grounded for the next 24.

The terrorist responsible for this disruption in world transport is a volcano in the Eyjafjallajoekull area of Iceland which is spewing out volcanic ash which can turn modern jet engines into useless pieces of scrap metal. The second thing missing from the photograph is any sign of the ash itself, although we are assured that it is up there waiting to strike the first 747 that dares to take it on. It is all very strange, like the beginning of a science fiction book. Indeed, both the Good Lady Wife and I were so reminded of the opening of John Wyndam's "Day Of The Triffids" last night that when The Lad invited us out to view the sunset, we both refused.

If we still exist as a species tomorrow I will be back with a Sepia Saturday post. In the meantime thank you for your feedback about blog load-speeds : the problem seems to be limited to Internet Explorer which many people shun anyway. I will try a few experiments to see if I can improve things : time for a little blue sky thinking.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Postcard Of The Week : Speed And The Soul

This postcard of Bradford Cathedral came through my postbox this morning. It had been posted in Shipley, Yorkshire in July 1959. However before people start citing this as yet another example of the inefficiency of the British postal service (which, by-the-way, I consider to be most efficient), let me explain that the card has passed through a good number of hands since a certain E Taylor posted it. Initially it was delivered - well within the target for the delivery of second class mail I am sure - to Miss R Williamson of Bridlington. Miss Williamson probably kept it until she died and then some distant relative decided to dispose of her belongings and it passed into the hands of a postcard dealer. From the pencil markings on the back of the card it appears to have been sold more than once and it eventually came into the hands of a collector in Liverpool who put it up for sale on eBay. I put up the winning bid (a princely 99 pence) and this morning the card finished up just a few miles away from where it was posted 51 years ago.

The main feature of the photograph is the massively squat and solid stone structure of Bradford Cathedral. If you look at the Bradford Cathedral website they have managed to create a composite picture which makes it look as though the Cathedral is set between rich parkland and rolling Dales countryside. As my postcard shows, this is not the case - the Cathedral is where it should be : in the middle of the warehouses, mills and terraced houses of the city centre. Why they should want to transpose it, I cannot imagine. I am no expert on these matters but I would imagine that there are more souls in need of comfort in the modern day city than in the peaceful surrounding hills.

The thing I love about such real photographic cards is the level of detail. You can take almost any part of the card, enlarge it, and find a fascinating level of detail which would allow you to successfully bore people about for at least a week. My example comes from the bottom left portion of the card and shows a collection of old wagons and cars trundling along. And if you look carefully you will be able to spot one of the old Bradford Trolleybuses and the power cables strung across the road. I remember such vehicles with fondness : they may not have been particularly fast but they were astonishingly energy efficient.

I started with speed and I will finish with speed. It has been pointed out that the new News from Nowhere blog template is very slow to load when using Internet Explorer. I tend to use Google Chrome and there are no such problems on that platform, but I have tried loading it with IE8 and it does seem to take its time. I would be interested to know whether other people are experiencing slow page loading of the blog when using Internet Explorer and whether this is just a problem with my new template design or whether it extents to all new Blogger templates. Once I have an idea of the extent of the problem I can set about finding a solution. Until then I would ask you to be patient. And remember, patience is good for the soul.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Head-to-Head, Stern-to-Stern, Pint-to-Pint.

In 1848, the British Admiralty came up with a practical experiment to determine, once and for all, the most efficient method of propelling a steamship. For some time the exponents of the new screw propeller had sung its praises against the more traditional paddle wheels. Paddle wheelers thought propeller supporters nothing short of screwy. So the Admiralty arranged for a paddle steamer, HMS Alecto, to go head-to-head (or rather stern-to-stern) with a prop driven boat, HMS Rattler. A cable was thrown between the two ships and the captains were ordered to sail away from each other at full steam. Rattler won. towing Alecto astern at 2.5 knots, and from that moment on the days of the paddle steamer were numbered.

I was reminded of the beauty of this experiment the other day when I considered two new Apps I had acquired for my gleaming new iPhone. The first was "The Mobile Good Beer Guide" from the Campaign For Real Ale (CAMRA). This little beauty uses the iPhones GPS facility to (a) calculate where you are; (b) work out the closest CAMRA listed pubs selling real hand-pulled ale to your current location; and (c) provide you with detailed instructions on how to stagger to the pub. The search facility provides you with a list of Good Beer listed pubs in order of their distance from your current location.

Up against the CAMRA App is one from the software firm Skycoders called Cask Finder. This uses the brewing industry supported Cask Marque listing of over 4,000 pubs which have met minimum standards for keeping and serving real, cask-conditioned, beer. It uses your current GPS determined location to provide you with a map of all Cask Marque pubs in your locality. On the surface of things, the Cask Finder App seems to have a lot going for it : it is free (compared to £5 for the CAMRA App) and it provides other information such as lists of Beer Festivals and the location of breweries. But, of course, the only way to really determine the winner of this particular contest is to organise a trial. So within the next few days I am hoping to persuade the Good Lady Wife to drive me to some random unknown location. I will then sample the nearest recommended Cask Finder pub and the nearest Good Beer Guide recommended pub. The contest will be decided head-to-head, or rather pint-to-pint. It will not be easy, but someone has got to do it. For research. For posterity. Think of it as my contribution to modern technology.


Monday, April 12, 2010

A Strange Man

"You're a strange man", my son said to me the other day. He said it with a practiced delivery which made me think it was a phrase he had used about me often, particularly when talking to his friends. "What about your father, Alex, what's he like?". "He's a strange man". That kind of thing. Alexander is at home at the moment, revising for his Year 2 exams and as he reads through his lecture notes on neuropathology and the like I can see him giving me sidelong glances which makes me wonder whether I might represent his first successful diagnosis. Perhaps he will write me up as a case study "Alan Burnett : A Strange Man".

The thing that brought about his comment the other day was a simple and well-intentioned invitation. It was a pleasant Spring day and I thought he might have spent too long indoors pouring over his text books so I invited him to join me in a little trip out. "Where are you going?", he said. "To a graveyard", I replied. "Why?" he asked with considerable emphasis". "Just to look at the gravestones", I replied with measured logic. "Whose gravestone?" his question was now flavoured with exasperation. "Nobody in particular, just looking to see what turns up", said I. "You're a strange man", said he bringing the conversation to an end and returning to his books.

It is all the fault of the delightful JamaGenie over at the Saturdays' Child blog : she's the one who got me interested in gravestone watching. She does this wonderful Tombstone Tuesday thing where she will focus on a gravestone and the story of the person or persons therein. There is a randomness about it which I like - almost like opening a book at any page and beginning to read. The gravestone I chose last week was the one illustrated above. The inscription is as follows:

In Affectionate Remembrance of Hannah, the beloved wife of Sam Wood of Brighouse, who departed this life April 5th 1869, aged 34 years. Her end was peace. Also Mary, daughter of the above who died April 28th 1869, aged 7 years and 11 months. She bloom'd like a flower, then faded away". Also of the above named Sam Wood who died January 6th 1872, aged 36 years.

So what story have we here?  What brought about the death of mother and daughter within a few weeks of each other. As I walked around the graveyard I came across quite a few graves of people who had died in the Spring of 1869 so one can imagine that there was an outbreak of disease, although I have yet to discover what. From the census records it is clear that Sam married again shortly after Hannah's death, and his second wife was also called Hannah. A daughter from his marriage to Hannah I survived (Amelia) and a son (David Neil) from his marriage to Hannah II seems to have survived and later been adopted by a family in Halifax. But the precise story is unclear and further investigation is called for.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the graveyard. Like the gravestone of Sam Wood, it was dark and mysterious. And - call me strange if you must - but I quite like dark and mysterious.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sepia Saturday 18 : Sepia And Yellow

According to a scribbled note on the reverse of this photograph it is my Uncle Harry. He is about three years old in this picture and, as he was born in 1903, that dates the picture at about 1906 which sounds about right. Regular readers of my Sepia Saturday postings will already be familiar with Uncle Harry : he was one of the co-stars of my Sepia Saturday 13 : Walking Snaps, and it is his parents whose wedding features in my "Curious Case Of The Milliners' Wedding" and serves as the header for our Sepia Saturday blog

I have already written fairy extensively about Harry Moore. At various stages of his life he was a professional musician, but he led a troubled - and I guess fairly tortured - life. Today I want to focus on just one of my memories of him. It must have been the late 1950s and I was on holiday with him and his wife (my fathers' sister Annie). We were staying at a caravan park at Hornsea, south of Bridlington on the Yorkshire coast. Harry and his drummer Geoff had picked up a week's work at the Social Club which was part of the Caravan Park complex. Each night they would entertain the holiday-makers and back any visiting singers that might be appearing. 

At that time the second television channel (Independent Television) had just started in Britain and in Yorkshire there was an evening local news programme called Calendar (it is still running, fifty-odd years later). Each week they would feature local musicians who were given a slot at the end of the programme. This particular week they were featuring Harry and his partner Geoff and the piece was being filmed in the Caravan Park Social Club. I must have been about 10 years old, and I can distinctly remember being allowed to sit at the back of the Club and watch the recording take place. But the thing I remember most was the bright yellow shirts that both my Uncle Harry and his partner were wearing. They were told to wear these by the production staff because the lights being used and the monochrome television cameras would make the shirts appear white.

I remember Uncle Harry being very impressed by this. His belief that his bright yellow shirt would be his passport to fame could have illuminated the set on its own. But it was not to be. Fame never came. His memory is now kept alive, not by recording contracts and archive film, but by this little photograph of him in his youth, dreaming perhaps of the fame and fortune to come. Maybe he would have been better wearing a sepia shirt.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Theme Thursday : Head Count

Isn't it strange how two unrelated things can come together - two thoughts, two ideas, two memories - and set off a chain reaction that leads to .... well to who knows where? In the case of the Large Hadron Collider some people think it might be to oblivion. In the case of the two wood pigeons that are currently making a dreadful noise in my garden it might be a nest full of eggs. But in the case I am more immediately concerned with, it is a severed head dripping with blood.

The first ingredient in my somewhat gory recipe is politics, and to be more specific, general elections. It is fairly difficult to escape the upcoming General Election here in Britain : the media are full of it and there has been an outbreak of pointless posters on bill-boards that can rival the veracity of Swine Flu. The second ingredient is a much more welcome one : Theme Thursday. This week the theme is box, and for me it reacted with the all-pervading political milieu and quickly led me to a ballot box. A heavy-duty infusion of reminiscence took me back to the second election of 1974 (the political analysts amongst us may want to recall that this was the last time we had a hung parliament here in the UK and draw suitable conclusions). 

I was young, I was enthusiastic, and I was living and working in London. I was employed at the headquarters of the Labour Party and my job was to try and get Harold Wilson returned as Prime Minister and this time - unlike the first election of 1974 - with a working majority. It was my first General Election since I started working at Transport House (the Labour Party headquarters) and the excitement of it was intense. The building was crammed with senior politicians and celebrities and those representatives of the world media who were not camped inside, were camped outside. The phones rang constantly, there was an endless list of tasks to be undertaken and normal working hours had been abandoned for the duration. The flurry of activity swept you forward like an adrenaline induced tidal wave, and then dumped you, becalmed, adrift, unnecessary on election day. Then there is nothing more you can do. Campaigning is over. You just sit and wait for the results.

So there I was, on Thursday 10th October 1974, twiddling my thumbs and chatting to another Labour Party employee. Our conversation took a depressing turn as we speculated what might happen if we lost the election. So we went to the pub across the road. To stave off depression we drank beer and made plans for our post-political careers. In a semi-drunken stupor we decided to become thriller writers and there and then plotted our first book. It would be a crime thriller with a political twist. It would start on the day of a general election. One of the first things to occur on election day is that the ballot boxes are sealed and this takes place in the presence of representatives of the political parties and, often, the candidates themselves. The ballot boxes then have a police guard throughout the day before been taken to the count which usually takes place in the local Town Hall. There the ballot boxes are handed over to the Returning Officer, the seal is broken, the boxes up-ended and the resulting pile of ballot papers are counted.

The action in our plot centred on the constituency of an up-and-coming Conservative MP who was destined for high office if they won the election. After observing the sealing of the ballot boxes in the morning he had mysteriously gone missing during the course of election day. His Party officials put it down to the exhausting campaign and felt confident that he would re-emerge in time for the counting of votes that evening. The count started but the candidate was nowhere to be seen, but his absence was overshadowed by the excitement of the count. Ballot box after ballot box was carried in, the seal broken and the ballot papers tipped out. Everyones' eyes were focussed on the lines of stacked and sorted ballot papers, trying to pick up a clue as to the result. The last ballot box was opened and the votes tipped out. There was something seriously wrong with the voting papers, they were blood-red and stuck together in a gelatinous mass. The counting staff gave a final tip to the box, and out rolled the severed head of the Conservative candidate. The key problem we faced in writing this obvious best-seller was "how was it done" : how did the severed head get into a ballot box which had been under constant guard. As day merged into evening and pints merged into whisky's my companion suddenly declared "I've got it, I know how it was done". Alas, at that point they called us back to work as the election results were coming in

In the real election, there were no severed heads and the Labour Party managed a small overall majority. Harold Wilson would remained in power and we kept our jobs. A career change wasn't necessary. We decided to put off writing the novel until we had more time. I lost touch with the other chap years and years ago and he never did tell me his proposal for a solution to the mystery. I would have forgotten about our draft plot (perhaps that should be our daft plot) years and years ago if it hadn't have been for a strange confluence of politics and boxes. Maybe the time has come at last to take the project on. Let's wait and see what happens in the election first. And let's wait and see if I can manage to work out how the head got into the bloody box in the first place.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Spholi Tears

I was making a comment on someone's blog earlier today, complementing them on their poetry and saying that I always wanted to be a creative type of chap but never quite managed it. I am the kind of person, I wrote, who would probably pen a passable poem - if only he could find the words.  I then filled in the word verification and pressed "Post Comment". And then it hit me, like a thunderbolt coming out of a grandmothers' sewing box. What I had been searching for was right in front of me.

Today, therefore, sees the launch of my new persona. The artistic me, the creative me, the musing me. My first offering is a short poem entitled "Spholi Tears" which is built upon the various blogger verification words I encountered during my blog trawl this morning. In case you are unable to disentangle the verification words from my normal rambling style, I have highlighted them in each line.

Spholi Tears

Stepping up to the vingic fire,
Fear owses against a darkened sky.
Istic voices smooth the wire,
And spholi tears repeat the lie.
Together we seek mumine mystification,
Whilst typing "sovesshl" into the word verification.

I am not sure whether Blogger has a Poet in Residence, but if they have I might just apply for the job.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Step Outside Posh Boy

I'm back after being out of circulation for the best part of a week. It has not just been the traditional holiday activities of  drinking ale and watching too much football on television : as you should be able to see I have been busy making changes to my various blogs. After flighting with the idea of consolidating all my blogging activities into just one super-blog, I have decided, for various tedious reasons, to opt for the federalist approach and maintain four separate blogs within a common News From Nowhere framework. The changes are still not complete and there will be an element of fine tuning taking place over the rest of the week : but what you now see is a fair representation of what you will eventually get. I will try to incorporate links in my posts to the new pages available on the other three blogs : and this should mean that you can limit your "following" to the main News from Nowhere blog alone if you choose to do so.

Whilst I have been dabbling with my blog headers, the British political scene has entered a period of flux. This morning, Gordon Brown went for a cup of tea with the Queen and asked her to call a General Election on May 6th. This isn't a political blog and therefore the political campaign will not dominate my postings over the next three weeks, but I dare say that the issues, the personalities, the excitement and the fatuity of it all will be reflected in some of the things I will find myself saying. I start the process off today with what started as an April Fool's Day joke in The Guardian. The piece in question showed a new series of posters the Labour Party were supposed to be about to launch which featured an angry looking Gordon Brown and the statement "Step Outside Posh Boy". The slogan, according to the hoax report, had the double advantage of emphasising the strong, no-nonsense, ordinary nature of the Prime Minister compared to the ex-Eton top-hat wearing toff who was the Leader of the Opposition. Within hours the fake poster had gained a huge following and it looks set to become the basis for the election t-shirt everyone must have.

I was going to finish by apologising for not having been visiting and commenting on all my favourite blogs. But what the heck, I have been infused with the spirit of the British General Election. So I will defend my record to date and state without fear of contradiction that, in the circumstances, I have done the best that I could. If you decide to turn your back on this blog and follow someone else you are getting an unknown quantity, you are risking all the progress we have made over the years. If that is what you decide, so be it. But don't be surprised if I invite you to step outside, posh boy.

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...