Sunday, October 31, 2010

Postcards From The Pond 9

(For some reason images don't seem to be available today - words will have to be sufficient)
Sunday 31 October 2010
Lat 19d 56.13’ North  :  Long  57d 8.81’  West
Nearing the other side

It is a long time since I heard the story of Christopher Columbus. It was possibly in a Junior School history lesson or maybe on the back page of the Eagle comic in one of those “Heroes of History” features. In any case, in was a long time ago and I might be getting the story mixed up with another one. However, I seem to recall that after they had been at sea for weeks on end, the crew were getting restive. It had been months since they’d had a decent cup of tea and their mobile phones had run out of credit. Just as they were about to bundle poor old Chris C over the side and head back home, someone spotted a little bird flying in from the west. Land was near, Chris was reprieved, and he and his crew went on to discover Columbus Ohio (or something like that).

I sense that our own captain is beginning to understand how Chris felt as they were shoving him into an open boat with nothing other than a bottle of Harrogate Spa Water and a banana sandwich. It is many days since we last sighted land and our willingness to be diverted by the sight of a passing floating plastic carrier bag is being stretched to the very edge of endurance. All available members of the crew have been detailed to stare towards the western horizon in the hope that one of them will eventually spot the land we all crave. When this monster of a boat was built just over two years ago it was decided, in line with all modern cruise ships, that it should have a theme, and the curious theme someone in the marketing department came up with was the circus. Consequently, on the very top deck, the 19th deck, they installed a series of trampolines so adventurous children could soar into the sky way above the ocean. It is a sign of our new found collective desperation that the resident team of Russian acrobats now monopolise these trampolines to fly up into the sky clutching a pair of binoculars and scanning the western horizon.

I nearly phoned the captain up last night to inform him of his impending salvation. As I took the evening air on my little balcony I heard a cricket merrily chirping away. But it appears that I had mistranslated merry for desperate in cricket talk and the poor creature had sneaked aboard back in the Canary Islands and had been chirping away in increasing desperation ever since. I keep trying to explain to the poor creature that the West Indies is famous for its love of cricket, but I am not sure if the message is getting through.

If things go according to plan tomorrow morning at 8.00am we will sail into Road Town harbour on the island of Tortola. All my many relatives will be gathered at the dockside waving placards and rejoicing in my deliverance from the cruel sea. A small steel band will play anthems especially written in my honour and a bevy of young ladies will  be hand-rolling cigars against their thighs for my later enjoyment. I think that’s the plan, but there again I may be mixing it up with something I read long ago on the back page of the Eagle comic.

Tomorrow will tell, so until then, AB

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Postcards From The Pond 8

Saturday 30th October 2010
LAT 21 36.20’ North  LONG 48 45.01’ West
A tiny dot amid an ocean of blue

Both the GLW and myself are agreed, Amy would have enjoyed it on this cruise. It’s a pity that P&O’s policy does not extend to welcoming dogs on board (they welcome people with tattoos, after all) as her presence would add a certain something to the experience. She could accompany H on his morning circumnavigations of the boat, and even give E a hand (or maybe a tail) with a little damp dusting. At dinner she could wander from table to linen-clad table, nuzzling her appealing little face up against a satin coated thigh or a regimentally striped leg. She would have been no trouble. But most of all she would have enjoyed sitting on our little balcony and watching the sea. She could have stared for hours at the bobbing of the waves and the ever lengthening ships’ wake, searching for life of any kind.

It is, after all, what we all do. As you walk around the ship you see gatherings of passengers (what, I wonder, is the collective noun for ships’ passengers - a floating of passengers perhaps) in constant search of something to look at. The other day, great excitement was caused by the sight of another ship on the distant horizon. Conversation at dinner that night was especially lively as people who had never spoken to each other before exchanged their thoughts on what colour it might have been, which direction it might have been moving in, and what flag it was flying. Yesterday - and this is the absolute truth - I came across an animated group of men pointing out to sea and training binoculars on a specific spot. The cause of their fascination, I later discovered, was a floating plastic bag (“was it a Tesco bag?. No it will have been American won’t it. It was moving quite fast wasn’t it …..” the conversation continued for much of the morning).

H claims to have seen a flying fish but I wonder if it was some of the waste fried fish from dinner last night been dumped in a mispronounced way from the galley. The big prize goes, of course, to anyone who spots dolphins (80 points) or even a whale (95 points), but as yet the only time I have seen such things is after making my way back from a late night session in the Red Bar. Sightings at such times don’t count I am told. Not that I am wanting to suggest that all this sea scanning means we are bored : we are anything but. It is a life of endless fascination, and a lifestyle I would happily extend given the opportunity.

This morning, the captain’s “Did You Know” feature pointed out in some detail that the ship not only carries a sextant but skilled personnel who can use them to pinpoint the ship’s position at sea to within a mile. The sudden appearance of this particular reassurance makes me wonder whether the captain is reading my blog. Just in case he is, I should point out that my enjoyment of this cruise is almost total, constrained only by the fact that I don’t have a suite of rooms and the services of a butler.

Yours in expectation,

Friday, October 29, 2010

Postcards From The Pond 7

Friday 29th October 2010 (Probably)
Lat 23 degrees 18.32’ North, 40 degrees 5.06’ West

There is an old Billie Holiday song called “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” and I have to say that I know how she felt. For the last few days we have been adding an extra hour to our clocks every night (a rather pleasant experience which I can highly recommend) but the result is that ones’ natural sense of time feels somewhat assaulted. The situation is not helped by the fact that every clock on the ship seems to tell a different time. There is a television channel which constantly provides key information such as wind speed, the height of waves and official ship’s time. When I awoke this morning and checked I became convinced that it was an hour fast and I eventually phoned Reception and asked the comparatively simple question “Could you tell me what time it is please”.  My confidence was slightly shaken by the response “Hang on a minute, I’ll ask someone else”, but when he came back he eventually confirmed my interpretation of the time. “You do know that your official ships’ time is an hour out“, I said. “Oh, is it”, he replied with a lack of concern that was either strangely comforting or verging on the terrifying.

I acknowledge that navigational technology had advanced over recent years, but I come from an age where the possession of an accurate chronometer and a knowledge of planetary positions was the essential ingredients of knowing where you were when you were afloat on any body of water larger than Shibden Park Lake. My confidence was momentarily restored when I noticed that today’s programme of lectures included an illustrated talk on the planets of the solar system, but my renewed confidence was once again threatened when I saw that the lecture was being delivered by the hip’s Entertainment Officer, Mr Leon De Ste Croix.

On top of all this, each morning you receive a little informative message from the ship’s captain on your personalised in-cabin TV console thingy. These usually tell you titbits of information such as which side of the ship is port and which way you are facing when you emerge from any lift. This morning’s message extolled the virtues of the ship’s radar system, saying how it could be used to easily recognise land and other nearby ships. It then included the alarming sentence (and I quote in full) “the system, however, will not detect underwater objects such as submarines”!!!!. I think I will phobe reception back and seek further clarification : can it for example detect icebergs?  I suspect I know the response I will get : “Hang on a minute, I’ll ask someone else”

Wherever we are and whenever it may be, we are all well and looking forward to another day of almost uninterrupted eating, drinking, partying and snoozing. Hopefully I will be able to fit an hour or two of writing in there : only three days left before we (hopefully) make landfall in the Virgin Islands, and there will be little time for writing after that.

Ah well, as the Devine Billie used to sing : “I’m wise, and I know what time it is now”

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Postcards From The Pond 6

Thursday 28 October 2010
Lat 24 degrees 45.25’ N  Long 32 degrees 37.14’ W
Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean

Actually I can be more precise about our current location. If you take a map and draw a straight line between the Canary Island in the north and the Cape Verde Islands to the south and then think of this as the hypotenuse from which to construct a right angled triangle. At the point where the right angle is formed, we can be found. Probably. OK, possibly.

Being far from land makes you adopt a geometric approach to life. You can stand at the top of the ship and slowly rotate following the dead straight horizon with your eye (I did this yesterday to considerable comment from a brace of passing waiters). Rotate around far enough and you will get back to the point you started from and all you will have ever seen is the flat sea and the fathomless sky. The horizon seems like the straightest line you could ever conceive of but your 2nd Form Geography tells you that this world is all about curves and circles. It’s a paradox. There again, perhaps its cabin fever.

Despite all this pondering, the party remains well. Each day H and I compare scores : he counts his day in terms of the number of miles he has power-walked around the deck and I count mine in terms of the number of words I have added to my manuscript. “6.4 miles”, he will say to me, “18 hundred words”, I will counter. “625 calories” he will respond. “Elspeth Fromm has been arrested” I say.

Meanwhile the girls will shop or go to demonstrations of ice folding or serviette carving or whatever. When overtaken by a surfeit of courage the GLW and I go for a swim and ponder the enigma of swimming in a pool, encased in steel, floating on a sea of tropical water. Last night at the theatre there was an appearance by “international soul sensation Jimmy James” whom I vaguely recalled from the 1960s when he fronted a group called Jimmy James and the Vagabonds. Maybe so many days at sea makes you more responsive of entertainment of any sort, but he really was sensational. We went to bed last night humming Motown classics to ourselves as we drifted across the Atlantic and flirted with the equator. An enigma floating on an ocean of paradox.

Greetings from the sea, AB

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Postcards From The Pond 5

Wednesday 27 October 2010
Lat 26 42.23’ North  Long 22 25.47’ West
Heading West

There is something about that phrase “heading west” which has a resonance unlike any other. I suppose we all have our visions of the cardinal points of the compass, our own interpretations of what “north”. “south”, “east” and “west” mean to us as individuals with our own personal geographical heritage. For someone from England, “north” is forever associated with cold winds and salted herring, whilst “south” conjures up suspect Europeans and olive oil. “East” means the endless steppes of Eastern Europe, but “west” means nothing really except endless sea and the promise of the unknown. (I will excuse my mate Tony Zimnoch from this interpretation because he lives in Hebden Bridge and to him “west” means the exotic fleshpots of Burnley). 

So here I am at last, sailing due west from the Canary Islands to who knows where. I  now know how Columbus must have felt, I now appreciate that combination of objective believe that the world is in fact round with the worried belief that it really does come to an end in some kind of gigantic waterfall in the middle of the Atlantic. Within the next few days, we will see.

Thanks for all you kind comments which I do read even if I have not the ability to reply. As you can imagine, internet time in the middle of the Atlantic doesn’t come cheap and I limit myself to quickly uploading my daily post and speed-reading the previous days comments. But to answer a number of the common questions let me say that we are on the P&O ship Ventura (and I believe there is a webcam and tracker on the P&O website), we are heading for the West Indies (or a big waterfall at the end of the world) and the LW is still very much a GLW. 

Must go now, I can hear the sound of rushing water. Strange, it sounds almost like a waterfall ……..
Yours until the end of the earth

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Postcards From The Pond 4

Tuesday 26th October 2010
Santa Cruz de Tenerife, The Canary Islands.

There is something rather majestic about travelling by sea. Moving at a constant 20 knots (or whatever it is we move at) gives you a chance to appreciate distance, and gives you a feeling of achievement almost akin to having propelled the vessel yourself. It is necessary to emphasise the word “almost” in the last sentence because the thought of my fellow three thousand or so passengers being lashed to the oars and pulling to the beat of a sweat-encrusted task-master is not an easy thought to conjure with. In the main - and with certain exception of which H is a prime example - we are a sad lot as we hobble or waddle from restaurant to bar supported by a metallic forest of aluminium canes and walking frames. But given the average age of the passengers - an average which makes me feel like I have miraculously entered the first year at junior school again - we represent the victors in some convoluted genetic experiment. We - the grey, the bent, the portly and the slow - represent the winning number in life’s’ lottery : or that is what I tend to declare somewhat noisily after I have downed my last Speckled Hen or Marston’s Pedigree of the night.

The series of strange events that have beset our little party continues apace. Not only has our group portrait gone missing from the photographic studio (bought by a stalker according to H’s expert opinion) but over the last 24 hours our door keys have stopped working with alarming regularity. And this morning, as we pulled away from the port at Santa Cruz on a motor coach bound for a tour of a mountain or a forest or a shop or something, I distinctly spotted someone waving us off from our cabin balcony. E suggests that I should incorporate these various events into the Great Novella but they won’t easily fit in with the plot so the only alternative is to book another cruise so I can write another story.

As I write this, the ship is at anchor and the city of Santa Cruz is just a short walk away. But I miss the feeling of movement I have got used to over the last four or so days. But I need not worry, in an hour or so we will be under way again, faced with five full days at sea. The next land we see will be the Caribbean Islands (or Bognar Regis, depending on the navigational skills of the First Officer). But now I must go, strip off my clothing to the waist and yet again take up those oars in my callused hands. It’s a hard life.
Yours (to the beat of the task-masters drum), AB.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Postcards From The Pond 3

Monday 25 October 2010
Lat 34 22.35’ N  Long 13 56.07’ W
(A couple of hundred miles west of Casablanca)

As we sail south the waves get lower and the temperature gets higher and you begin to think you have discovered a short cut to paradise. Yesterday was another of those relaxing days at sea when you think you have nothing to do in the afternoon and then remember that  uou had promised yourself a small recuperative snooze. The lunchtime glass of beer and the recuperative snooze are rewards for meeting my writing target for the morning. And being able to write sat at your desk in your cabin with the balcony doors thrown wide open to let in the warming breeze that has casually drifted out from the African coast makes it both easy and pleasurable to meet any target you care to set.

Last night was the Captain’s Gala Reception a glittering occasion when everyone dressed up in their best and strutted around the ship (if you imagine the recent Willow Ball set to a gentle rocking motion you will get the idea). To celebrate the occasion H, E the LW and myself had a formal portrait taken and as I walked through the photographic studio this morning I noticed it on display. Later, when I took the rest of the party to look at it, it had mysteriously vanished and we are left wondering who on earth would want to buy a picture of the four of us.

At dinner last night I easily won my lie detection challenge. Over coffer and a cognac I entertained my companions by recounting a vivid dream I had experienced the night before in which I had been invited to do a presentation to the senior management team at Marks and Spencers. The high point of the presentation was the unveiling of a Bee Chart which clearly illustrated M&S’s organisational challenges within a competitive retail environment. When it came to that point in the presentation I suddenly realised I had no idea what a Bee Chart was (I still haven’t in fact I suspect I invented the concept) and, even worse, I couldn’t find a bit of paper to draw one on. The dream ended as I ran up and down the underwear aisles looking for something white to draw my diagram on.

Everyone identified this as the big lie of the night which, of course, it wasn’t. I had dreamt just such a dream the night before (feel free to analyse it if you wish) : the big lie was my statement at the beginning of dinner that I had not eaten anything during the day following my over-generous breakfast. I suspect I may have a future in international crime after all. Time to return to my cabin now and continue the story of Alice Longstaffe and Putzi Hanfstaengl (ah, wouldn’t you just like to know). Tomorrow we should make landfall in the Canary Islands, I will let you know if we do.
Yours, as always AB

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Postcards From The Pond 2

Sunday 24 October 2010
Lat : 41 16.24” N Long : 11 13.65” W  (Off the coast of Portugal)

We are beginning to get used to this monolithic vessel that will be our home for the next few weeks, finding our way through the various public rooms, restaurants, bars and theatres, and - with the help of a pint or two of Moorland’s Speckled Hen - finding our way back to our cabin at night. The days are beginning to take on a routine which sees the GLW and myself waking up at about 8.30 and meeting H and E for breakfast about an hour later. For H and E the meal would be more appropriately called Brunch, for H will have already been speed-walking around the promenade deck for an hour or more followed by a visit to the gym. E will have been dusting her cabin or undertaking some recreational ironing.

After breakfast E and the GLW hit the shops or go to some cookery demonstration (I left them this morning heading for a talk by the chef Marco Pierre White) whilst H patrols the boat looking for malefactors (it’s the ex policeman in him). I head for my cabin and try and churn out my target of a 1,000 words a day. By early afternoon targets have either been hit or missed and I can concentrate on the serious business of drinking, snoozing and watching the world float by.

Last night at dinner we got around to talking about lying and ones’ ability to spot a lie when it is told. In order to test out H’s professional ability I told him that during our next days’ dinner conversation I would introduce at some stage an outright lie and it is his challenge to spot it. I will report back on the success of the experiment when I next write - if I am not locked up in the on-board prison cell, that is.

Enough chit-chat for now, I have my 1,000 word target to meet. Until my next postcard from the pond, warmest regards to all.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Postcards From The Pond 1

Saturday 23 October 2010
Lat. 50 degrees 56.60 mins north, Long. 1 degree 23.96 mins west

It is Saturday morning and we are somewhere near the northern edge of what my friend Mark called “The Bay Of Biscuits” (AKA The Bay of Biscay). Just had my usual early voyage quest to find somewhere quiet to sit and write. The first corner of a public room I identified turned out to be a Line Dancing Class, whilst the peace and quiet of my second location was quickly disturbed by the roar of lions and the eerie cry of the jackal (I later discovered that I had unknowingly joined a public lecture on big game hunting in Africa). I am now sat in what looks like a Spanish restaurant, but the waiter has quickly learnt to give me a wide berth.

We sailed out of Southampton at 4.00pm yesterday. I was able to tell my travelling companions (Harry (H), Elaine (E), and the Good Lady Wife (GLW)) that we were departing from the very same terminal that the Titanic left from 99 years ago, but the news wasn’t greeted with universal joy. H countered with selected stories of suicides he had investigated in his years as a police officer which cheered the party up no end. As we sailed away from Southampton a military band played Rule Britannia and I scanned the horizon in search of Mayflower Park, from the vantage point of which, blogger Martin H had promised to wave me a fond farewell. I waved with great energy but later discovered that my friendly adieu was directed at nothing more than the Southampton Container Terminal and Cold Storage depot.

A slight cloud was cast over proceedings on the first night when the GLW ate far too much at dinner and had to take to an early bed. The rest of us didn’t let this spoil our enjoyment and I attempted to counteract the GLW’s over-eating by over-drinking. The result was a long and restful sleep during which my bed was gently rocked by a bevy of dusky mermaids. I woke this morning to what the captain describes as a “fresh breeze” and tiny wavelets of no more than six foot high. But the GLW is on her feet again and, along with H and E, has gone to a lecture on nautical knots or some such things. I need to make a serious start on Chapter 2 of the Great Novella of the Twenty First Century (GNTFC) and will do so as soon as I can avoid the waiter who is now approaching me with a dish of paella.

I will write again soon,

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Postcards From The Pond

After almost a week of frantic packing I seem to be no closer to being ready to embark on my holiday. But on Friday, whether the bags are perfectly packed or not, we set out : first to Southampton to join our ship and then across the wide Atlantic to the Caribbean Sea. In total it will take us nine days to cross (although there will be a one day stop in Tenerife in the Canary Islands) and I have given considerable thought as to how to occupy myself during those long days at sea when there is nothing to do but sip a cold beer and watch the sea from our cabin balcony. When we were last on holiday in January I managed to get the first chapter of the GNTFC (the Great Novella of the Twenty First Century) written and during the last couple of weeks I have managed to return to that, tear it up, start again and get the first draft of the re-written first chapter completed. If all goes according to plan I hope to get at least another chapter finished by the time we reach the Caribbean Sea. As the story is set on a liner crossing the Atlantic to New York in 1934, it would seem like a suitable way of occupying those long balmy days at sea..

But hopefully I will not be ignoring my blog altogether and I plan to send a series of "postcards" from the journey across the "pond". Whether or not I will be able to publish these on a regular basis will depend on the strength of the satellite signal, but if necessary I will group them together and send them when there is a functioning Internet connection. Please don't worry about leaving comments on these posts : the cost of using the service from on board ship is high and therefore I will not be able to reply to comments or return visits during the next couple of weeks. Just think of these posts as "postcards to friends", which is exactly what they are.

Our home during the next two and a half weeks will be the P&O cruise ship Ventura. We first went on the Ventura a couple of years ago just after it was launched. At the time I put together a comparative picture of the new ship in order to give people an impression of its size. For the sake of comparison (and with the help of a little cut and paste technology) I showed the Ventura to scale sailing alongside the Titanic. That comparison didn't bring me any bad luck on that occasion, so I will use it again now.

So that's it. Anchors away. Wish me luck with the GNTFC. See you all on my return.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

There Is A Tide In The Affairs Of Men When They Need Their HB7's

I am quite a good traveler. Once I get on my way I can normally relax and soak up the atmosphere. Whether it be Cockermouth or Copacabana, I can usually blend into the tourist ethos and let my cares gently evaporate into the ozone layer. As I say, I am quire a good traveler. But catch me a week before I set off and I am not a pleasant person to know. I am subject to pre-departure panic (PDP) as I contemplated the inverse relationship between the length of my "To Do" list and the time remaining before departure. How many pairs of socks do you think I should pack? Minor details take on the form colossal blockades that are destined to prevent any prospect of a "bon voyage". Will my dinner suit still fit me, especially after those fish and chips I had last night? My normal train of thought is scuppered by the equivalent of leaves on the line or a signal failure at Clapham Junction. Will we need those annoying adaptors of will standard British three-pin plugs work on the boat? 

I regret to say that you find me, with just seven days to go before our holiday departure, at the height of my current bout of PDP. Have you seen my HB7* or am I going to have to ask Harry for another copy of it? It will, I suspect, be a good few weeks before normal service resumes here on News From Nowhere. Do you think I need to take my flat cap, you know how chilly it can get on the Atlantic in October? I am doing a countdown to the holiday over on the Daily Photo Blog and I will put a post up on NfN next week explaining my holiday project. What the hell is the bloody combination for the suitcase? In the meantime I will try and get around and visit all my blogging friends at least one more time before we set sail, but if you don't hear from me for a while, don't worry, it is only a temporary hiatus.

I will try and rise above my mundane anxiety. I will take to heart the words of Brutus in Julius Caesar :

"There is a tide in the affairs of men
When, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures".

If that doesn't work, perhaps I should remember the words of the great W C Fields : "There comes a time in the affairs of man when he must take the bull by the tail and face the situation"

* HB7 : An HB7 is a list - invented by my good friend and travelling companion Harry Buxton - of all the essential items you need to take on a holiday at sea. Being Harry, it includes things such as implements to extract stones from horses' hooves and, of course, belt, braces and string.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

An Exercise In Putting Off Having To Send An E-mail To Cousin George

You know the feeling. It is the start of the day and the computer has just been re-awakened after its overnight sleep (I don't know about you, but I have a fear of turning mine off all together in case it never starts up again). Anyway, there is work to be done : letters to write, bills to be paid, blogs to be written. All the things that count as life here in the fast track of the digital speedway circuit. But before you launch yourself into the data stream, you seek a few moments of serenity. You seek peace, reflection, contemplation and a reminder that we are individually little more than an unimportant byte in a terabyte world. Some, I dare say, might reach for religious iconography or Good Books (capital G, capital B). If it was later in the day I would probably reach for a bottle of 18 year old Lagavoulin. But at this time of the day I crave peace rather than stimulation and therefore I seek out The Commons on Flickr. The Commons is where the image archiving and display site, Flickr, exhibit images from some of the great on-line digital archives. Working in co-operation with museums and galleries from around the world they not only increase knowledge of these magnificent publicly accessible archive collections, but also invite people to add to the information available about individual images. 

I just go there to browse, to flick through the wonderful old images and delay just a little bit more having to write that cheery e-mail to Cousin George. Sometimes I will find pictures of far and distant lands, other times pictures of the opening of a motor cycle garage in Oswestry. It matters not. Whatever image I find there, it will always be one of my favourite places.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Pub, A Pint And A Post-It Note : 3. Mass Observation


The Richard Oastler, Bethel Street, Brighouse West Yorkshire HD6 1JN
Busy, town-centre Wetherspoon pub located in a former Victorian chapel


Camfell Flame
Rich Ruby Ale ABV 4.4%


Back in the 1930s a group called Mass-Observation made use of hundreds of volunteers to document the most minute detail of life in Britain. In a series of projects they dissected various aspects of everyday life, charting what people did and what people said with the precision of scientists. One of their most famous projects was a detailed study of people and pubs in a typical northern working class town (they called it Worktown but it was, in fact, Bolton in Lancashire). Here is an excerpt from the report of one of their volunteers.

"Room empty when observer enters. Landlady sitting by herself at table near bar. She is 50-60, with red face, dark red jumper, dark blue dress, black hair. Waiter-on comes (from other room) to serving hatch, calling out the order before he gets there, puts down his tray and some empty glasses. Landlady takes glass, holds it under nozzle of beer engine, gives two pulls at handle. the first short and sharp, the second longer and slower. Puts full glass on tray. Waiter-on goes off, comes back, switches on lights".

The various reports were gathered together and published in a book called "The Pub And The People" and it was this book that I was reading whilst enjoying a pint in the Richard Oastler in Brighouse. And this prompted the thought : what would the observer see if they were to return to a pub 70 years later? And this prompted my Post-It Note, my own attempt to replicate a little of the The Pub And The People experiment in 2010.

If you want to read my observations you can click on the Post-It note and attempt to decipher my handwriting. But after carefully reading the various reports from the 1930s and comparing them with my observations last week, two thoughts came to my mind.  The first is that the pace of work of the average bar worker has increased considerably. Back in the 1930s the reports were full of descriptions of bar staff, reading papers, filing their nails or staring into space in thought. Today, the staff seem to be constantly moving, serving, clearing glasses or restocking shelves. Tea breaks are taken on the move: activity is constant. The second observation is perhaps a result of the first, and it is that interaction between staff and customers has been reduced to the very minimum. Customers limit their conversation to stating their orders, staff limit theirs to calling the price. The gossip, jokes, banter and half-bored soliloquies of the 1930s seem long gone.

Of course this was not a scientific experiment and the results may be unrepresentative (but somehow I doubt it). It was merely a way of passing a half hour in a pub, with a pint and a ubiquitous Post-It note.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Sepia Saturday : The Gaiety Girl And The Sixpenny Signature

My picture this week is of the musical comedy actress Marie Studholme who was born in 1872 a few miles away from here in Bradford. She was educated at the Salt Grammar School in Saltaire (see Jennyfreckles' splendid Saltaire Daily Photo Blog for more information about this fascinating World Heritage Site) but eventually moved to London were she went on the stage in 1891. She was signed up by the theatre manager George Edwardes to become one of his "Gaiety Girls" and quickly rose through the ranks of the chorus to take the lead in the 1894 show "A Gaiety Girl" at Daly's Theatre in London. Later she starred in a host of West End stage shows and also worked on Broadway and toured throughout the United States. One of the final performances of her stage career came in 1914 when she returned to her native Bradford in triumph and appeared at the opening of the new Alhambra Theatre. She eventually retired from the stage in 1915 but lived an active retirement until her death in 1930.

Her fame coincided with the height of the picture postcard craze of the first decade of the twentieth century and she became one of the most photographed women of her time. My image of her comes from a postcard which was in the collection of Fowler Beanland. Throughout her life, Marie Studholme was a lover of animals and a keen supporter of animal charities. It is said that she would charge sixpence to sign picture postcards of herself and give the money to a variety of animal charities. As you can see, Great Uncle Fowler was a Yorkshire man through and through, and must have demurred at the thought of paying sixpence for such a signature so got someone with the initials CH (or possibly CN) to sign it instead. But remember, Marie was born and raised in Bradford, so she would have been used to such parsimony.

You don't need to be parsimonious with your Sepia Saturday reading, there are no charges involved. Just pop on over to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Hullabalooloo Let's Try Lulu

The other day, over on my Daily Photo Blog I mentioned that I intended to gather together a dozen of the old black and white photographs of Halifax and Brighouse I had been featuring on the Blog and send them off to Lulu in order to create a 2011 calendar. A couple of people asked me what Lulu was, so rather than explain to them individually, I thought I would put a short post together to explain the very basics of self-publishing via Lulu or similar services (those already familiar with Lulu and the like can miss out the next 73 paragraphs). This is not meant to be a serious guide to self-publishing : if you want a more detailed explanation of the self-publishing process, I would strongly recommend John Hayes new blog The Spring Ghazals.

I first used Lulu two or three years ago to publish a selection of my Blog posts from 2007. Since then I have used it for a few projects and I have to say that I find in both relatively easy to use and relatively cheap and convenient. There are other self-publishing services out there : if you are interested you can take a look at what they offer and make your own decisions. There are all sorts of reasons you might want to make use of a self-publishing service. The calendar I produced this morning provides me with a way of conveniently bringing together some of my old photographs of Halifax and also gives me a suitable Christmas present for people I am not that keen on. I also try to regularly pull together many of my blog posts into annual collections and publish them via Lulu, simply to ensure that they don't one day vanish down a Blogger vacuum. This is self-publishing as a way of archiving material : if my Sepia Saturday project has taught me anything it is that the physical photograph or book will probably outlive their digital counterpart. The third reason, of course, is to try to sell your work and make money out of it. If you really are out to make money you might be better using an alternative self-publishing service : something which might require a larger initial investment but provide a cheaper unit price.

Lulu has the enormous advantage of being free. You can set up your book or calendar using the various templates they provide, convert it to the files they need for their printing machines, and feature it in your own Lulu shop : all at no cost. You pay, of course, if you buy a copy of your book but you have the ability to set a price whereby you can make a little money if someone else decides to buy it. You can make the book available to anyone or available just to you. You can start out with a trial version and revise it until you are satisfied with the finished product. Indeed, you can do most things. If you want scary grown-up things like ISBN numbers or professionally designed covers you can buy all these services in, but in the first place I would encourage you to experiment. The final price of the product will depend on a number of factors such as size, binding, use of colour, and quality of paper, but the prices are, I think, quite reasonable. My calendar project (large size, good quality glossy paper) works out at £12.74 per copy.

Another advantage of international companies like Lulu is that they use printers throughout the world. If you were daft enough to order my calendar and you lived in England you would probably find it was printed and dispatched from either England or Spain. If you ordered it from America, the same product would be printed and dispatched from the States or Mexico. And even if you use the no-frills, no-publicity, free service - as I did with my blog-post compendium - you will discover that your work has the habit of appearing for sale in on-line booksellers all around the world (I just did a quick check via Google and discovered that "Postcards From Nowhere" can be bought from at least three retailers on-line including

My one message to anyone who hasn't tried self-publishing is to start out with a free service such as the basic Lulu one and experiment with it. Don't be afraid. Before the days of the large commercial publishers, a writer who had something he wanted printing and circulating would simply take it to his local printers. Lulu, and the like, once again allow us to take control.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Do Pigeons Fly Faster When Fed On Brown Bread And Butter?

Most people did very well with my little quiz of a couple of days ago, but the two questions that caused most problems were the ones relating to the sporting animal and the Oslo diet.. The first question asked you to name the sporting animal which could be traced back to a Smerle, a Horseman and a Dragoon. The answer of course - he writes with a clarity that is 50% due to hindsight and 50% due to double-checking the hindsight on Wikipedia - is a racing pigeon. The modern racing pigeon is a result of the selective cross-breeding of a number of pigeon breeds, principally the Smerle, the Horseman and the Dragoon.

And how do you get pigeons to fly so fast? The answer is to feed them a good diet, but perhaps not the Oslo diet which was the basis of the second question that gave most people - including myself - some difficulty. The so-called "Oslo Diet" or "Oslo Meal" was introduced in Britain during World War II as a means of improving the health of children during wartime rationing and food shortages. It's four components were : salad, cheese, brown bread and butter and a glass of milk. It was described as being easily prepared and rich in essential vitamins, and is widely reported as resulting in a significant improvement in the health of the children concerned.

Of course there should always be a health warning printed on any diet. There are few areas of life that attract so much pseudo-science and unsubstantiated gibberish as the potential impact of what we eat on our physical and mental well-being. The improvement in health of wartime children that is usually associated with the Oslo diet is more likely to be associated with the fact that the state took on responsibility for feeding children in an era when many young children were seriously under-nourished. Modern nutritionists would probably look at the components of the Oslo diet and protest at the strong reliance on saturated fats, but what do modern nutritionists with their fixation with "junk food" know about anything. What is needed, of course is a robust controlled experiment. Take two groups of racing pigeons, feed one salad, cheese and brown bread and butter and feed the other with a Big Mac and fries. Then see who can fly faster. And whilst we wait for the results, I will stick with my well-tried and tested BBC diet.

In case you missed them, the answers to the other questions were : 
1. Which star of Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music celebrates her 75th birthday today? (Dame Julie Andrews)
2. The origins of which sporting animal can be traced back to a Smerle, a Dragoon, and a Horseman? (A Racing Pigeon)
3. How many standard bottles of champagne are the equivalent of a Jeroboam? (4)
4. Which two NATO phonetic letters can be combined to give the title of a Shakespeare play? R (Romeo) and J (Juliette)
5. In advertising what were made "to make your mouth water"? (Opel Fruits)
6. Where is the 2010 Ryder Cup being held? (Celtic Manor, Wales)
7. Which sculptor was responsible for the Angel of the North statue? (Anthony Gormley)
8. Which cheese shares its name with a gorge? (Cheddar)
9. What were the four components of the wartime OSLO diet for children? (Salad, Brown bread and butter, Cheese, and Milk)
10. What is the main ingredient of Borscht? Beetroot
11. Who wrote the book "The Road To Wigan Pier"? (George Orwell)
12. On this day in which year did the first ever Ford Model T go on sale? (1908)
13. Which lake forms part of the border between Peru and Bolivia? (Lake Titicaca)

And as for my BBC Diet : Bread, Beer and Chips of course.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Play Misty For Me

Misty Morning : Huddersfield Crematorium, 3 October 2010

Yesterday morning was one of those gloriously misty Autumn affairs in which the light does strange things to colour, somehow creating a half-world between monochrome a Dulux Paint Chart. My morning walk usually takes Amy and I through the Crematorium, and somehow it is perfect lighting for such a place. I don't need to say any more, in this case the image can speak with much greater clarity than I can.

Monday, October 04, 2010

A Pub, A Pint And A Post-It Note : 2 - The Quiz


The Rock Tavern, Upper Edge Elland, West Yorkshire
This photograph is from a couple of years ago, I am glad to say that the pub is no longer "For Sale"


If truth be told, not one pint, but several of them (which probably accounts for the state of the writing on the Post-It Note).


Friday 1st October 2010 : The weekly Rock Tavern Pub Quiz. In the cold and sober light of a new day, even I have difficulty in interpreting my scribbled notes, but there are a number of the questions that featured in the quiz in there somewhere. The ones I can interpret include the following?

- Which star of Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music celebrates her 75th birthday today?
- The origins of which sporting animal can be traced back to a Smerle, a Dragoon, and a Horseman?
- How many standard bottles of champagne are the equivalent of a Jeroboam?
- Which two NATO phonetic letters can be combined to give the title of a Shakespeare play?
- In advertising what were made "to make your mouth water"?
- Where is the 2010 Ryder Cup being held?
- Which sculptor was responsible for the Angel of the North statue?
- Which cheese shares its name with a gorge?
- What were the four components of the wartime OSLO diet for children?
- What is the main ingredient of Borscht?
- Who wrote the book "The Road To Wigan Pier"?
- On this day in which year did the first ever Ford Model T go on sale?
- Which lake forms part of the border between Peru and Bolivia?

If anyone wants to have a crack at any of these questions I will publish the answers (as far as I can remember them) in a comment in a few days time (one or two of the answers are scrawled on the note if you care to search for them). You will also find a note saying that after four rounds our team (the Good Lady Wife and myself) were in last position. After the full five rounds, I have to say, that position hadn't changed.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Sepia Saturday 43 : Imagine The Moment

Imagine the moment. A young man - sturdy, proud, but perhaps a little wary of the camera - poses with his bicycle. A new century recently dawned : a century in which bicycles are likely to be just the beginning of the technological advancements which will propel young John Grindley and his friends into a new world, the economic and social architecture of which will be quite unlike anything his parents or grandparents could imagine. He may get to ride in motor cars or see foreign countries, he may prosper and leave his native Cumberland behind. But he will always have his friends : friends like Fowler Beanland. He takes a pen and adds a short greeting to the photograph : "To my old friend, from John". The task finished he takes his bicycle and wheels it out towards his rendezvous with the future.

The photograph was in the collection of my Great Uncle Fowler. I know nothing of John other than his name and this old sepia photograph. I don't know what future he had a rendezvous with : maybe it was a long and prosperous life, maybe it ended in the mud-field of Flanders. All we have is this moment in time. And our imagination.

You can imagine many other moments in time by visiting the other people who are taking part in this Sepia Saturday. There are links to all their posts at the Sepia Saturday Blog.

A Lot Of Gas And Some Empty Chairs

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