Thursday, March 31, 2011

Waiting For The Gas Man

"Welcome! bright stranger of the sky,
That after many a lingering year,
Again appeared to mortal eye,
As though in thy sublime career,
Swifter than flashing thought can trace,
Roll'st on through endless fields of space.

Since last thou didst thy visit pay,
How chequered has been hist'ry's page!
Millions have hailed the light of day -
Fretted their hour on life's dull stage -
Then, like the storm-drops on the wave,
Have fallen into traceless grave."

Fear not you poets of Blogland, this is not a new star that has risen in the firmament. Fear not lovers of fine literature, this is not me embarking on the life of a jobbing poet. The author of these fine words that can be found in the Preston Chronicle and Lancashire Advertiser of the 17th October 1835 is a certain James Scott Walker who is either long since dead or perhaps living as a semi-recluse in London ever since the Walker Brothers split up. The reason that these wondrous verses are being reprinted here for the first time in 176 years is that I am waiting for the gas man to come and repair my central heating boiler.

Now regular readers of News From Nowhere will know that I have spent a large amount of my adult life waiting for the gas man to come and repair my central heating boiler (he has already been 4 times this year and came at least 12 times last year) and therefore the lines will be delivered, when I greet him at the door, with a liberal splash of irony. As his last visit was only yesterday, even in these days of galloping population growth, it is unlikely that "millions have hailed the light of day" since his last visit.

I didn't go out of my way to find Walkers' remarkably unapposite words, I found them whilst searching for some historic ammunition. I wanted to be able to convey to the gas engineer in question that, given the amount of time gas heating has been around, expecting my boiler to function for more than a week without the aid of spare parts was not unreasonable. And a search through the on-line Newspaper Archives in the British Library collection came up with the following brief paragraph in the Preston Chronicle of 1835

HEATING BY GAS : The novel application of heating by the flame of burning gas is coming very extensively into use. The plan has recently been introduced at Islington Church and St. Michaels Church, Strand, the vestry room at St Sepulchre's, his Majesty's Mint, Westminster Hospital, and several banking houses and other public buildings.
So has the British Gas engineer been popping into the Royal Mint on a weekly basis since 1835, or Islington Church. Or is it just my boiler that seems to be fated.? It was after reading the above paragraph that I noticed the poem which had been conveniently printed on the same page. But excuse me now, I need to go and practice my lines in anticipation of the gas mans' arrival.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Twitter For Gentlefolk : Postcard From Tauranga

You may recall that a couple of weeks ago I introduced the idea of  "Twitter For Gentlefolk", a project to encourage a renaissance in the grand old pastime of exchanging postcards. There is something extremely attractive about the very solidity of a postcard : whilst you can just about imagine that all of your blogger friends and contacts are individual sub-programmes of some Google super-computer, a postcard with real writing and a real stamp attached could never have been created by some airbrushed avatar.  But the digital age does allow us to do something that our Edwardian forebears with their satin padded postcard albums could never do - share the received cards with the wider world. Over the coming weeks I will share with you some of the cards I have received from other bloggers, and I am starting with a postcard from Tauranga in New Zealand.

The card comes from Brett Payne who runs a splendid Blog called Photo-Sleuth. The Blog title is eminently suitable, for what Brett does to perfection is to take old archives and photographs and discover their back-story. His meticulous research reveals tales and stories that are endlessly fascinating and make reading his blog posts a pleasure to be savoured. As he suggests in his message, what he does is a form of digital gold mining.

I will try and feature one of my "Twitter For Gentlefolk" cards each week until the supply runs dry and I will include regular links to occasions when the cards I send, end up on other peoples' blogs. 

My postcard to Brett has arrived and is featured on his Blog HERE.
My postcard to that wittiest of bloggers, the Silver Fox (aka David Lynch), has appeared on his Blog. His to me will appear in this series when it arrives.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Lyric : Part 2 - A Fish, A Frying Pan and A Spot Welder

I am continuing my examination of my favourite ten song lyrics. You can find the first part of this short series by visiting The Lyric : Part 1 - A Rug, A Tattoo and A Performing Seal. The final part, which will contain my final four selections, will be published - hopefully - next week.

4. It Ain't Necessarily So : George Gershwin
I have always had a fondness for the almost impossibly clever rhyme. And surely there were few better at this than George Gershwin. It Ain't Necessarily So from Porgy and Bess is full of such ridiculous rhymes that it is a masterpiece of the songwriters art. "Fo' he made his home in / Dat fish's abdomen" is nothing short of brilliant. The YouTube clip is a little long and you need to wait until two minutes in until you get to the song, but believe me, it is worth the wait. The clip is from Sir Trevor Nunn's stunning 1993 production of Porgy and Bess.

"It ain't necessarily so
It ain't necessarily so
The t'ings dat yo' li'ble
To read in de Bible,
It ain't necessarily so.

Oh Jonah, he lived in de whale,
Oh Jonah, he lived in de whale,
Fo' he made his home in
Dat fish's abdomen.
Oh Jonah, he lived in de whale".

5. My Old Man : Joni Mitchell
The difficulty with Joni Mitchell, as it was with Paul Simon and it will be in the next part with Leonard Cohen, is which of a magnificent array of lyrics you include. There are so many great lines, but the one I have chosen is My Old Man. That couple of lines - the bed's too big / the frying pan's too wide - demonstrates so well her economy with words, her ability to sum up such complex emotions in just a few, very well chosen phrases. The video is an early performance of the song by the songwriter herself.

"He’s my sunshine in the morning 
He’s my fireworks at the end of the day 
He’s the warmest chord I ever heard 
Play that warm chord, play and stay baby 
We don’t need no piece of paper 
From the city hall 
Keeping us tied and true 
My old man 
Keeping away my blues 

But when he’s gone 
Me and them lonesome blues collide 
The bed’s too big 
The frying pan’s too wide"

6. The Manchester Rambler : Ewan MacColl
With most of my chosen lyrics, the entire song lyric is masterful, but here is a case where, although the full lyric is workmanlike, it is just two lines that force it into my shortlist of ten. My selection of it may well be as quirky as the song itself, but for me the line - I once loved a maid, a spot welder by trade - is almost Shakespearean. The songwriter was the great campaigner and folk singer Ewan MacColl (husband of Peggy Seeger and father of Kirsty MacColl) and the song was written as a campaign song for the mass trespass movement of the 1930s. It was that movement which won the right of public access to some of the great open spaces of Britain. The clip uses a version of the song by the Irish folk band, the Dubliners.

"I once loved a maid, a spot welder by trade 
She was fair as the Rowan in bloom 
And the bloom of her eye watched the blue Moreland sky 
I wooed her from April to June 
On the day that we should have been married 
I went for a ramble instead 
For sooner than part from the mountains 
I think I would rather be dead"

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sepia Saturday 67 : Trousers Pulled Up To His Party Political Neck

I am not 100% sure about these three. I think the one on the right - the one with his trousers hitched up to his neck - is my father but I can't be sure. There are elements of my fathers' face but that is not his hair. If it is my father it was taken when he was very young - the mid 1920s would be my best guess. But things get strangers when we examine his companions, for isn't that David Cameron, the current British Prime Minister slouching next to him? But the photograph was taken 40 years before he was born. And who is the figure in the background? I seem to know the face, that "look what I've done" grin. Am I being silly or is there a touch, just a little touch, of Ed Miliband (the current Leader of the Opposition) about him? And  if that is the case the third must be Nick Clegg (the Leader of the Liberal Democrats) - but that means I am Nick Clegg's son.

Oh heck, this post is turning into a nightmare! I am off to calm down by looking at some other Sepia Saturday 67 posts by following the links on the Sepia Saturday Blog. Hitch your trousers up and come and join me.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Work, The Budget, And The Price Of Petrol

This image is not some wry comment on the price of petrol following the British Budget announcement which will take place later today. It is, in fact, one of the few photographs I was able to find of me working! Dating from some 45 years ago, when I was working as a petrol pump attendant (and when petrol was 25 pence a gallon), the photograph was taken by my brother Roger after he had just called into the filling station asking for his petrol lighter refilling!

I am using the picture to try and explain my comparative absence this week : I am working! Not the kind of work, I hasten to add, that provides you with a fat pay packet at the end of the week or stimulation for your over-addled brain, The kind of work that involves chauffeuring The Lad to and from his current placement at the local hospital, and chauffeuring the GLW to and from the shops during her week off work.

So my apologies for my absence, normal service will, I hope, return very soon. And the way the price of petrol is going at the moment (even before the budget, prices have climbed to about £6 per gallon) it might be that I will have to resign from my role of chauffeur and buy both The Lad and the GLW a bicycle each.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sepia Saturday 66 : Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey

It was a heavy night at the pub last night. It was my turn to do the questions at the pub quiz which meant a lot of talking, indeed a lot of shouting. Ergo : a lot of drinking. So I feel a degree of sympathy with poor Bill Bailey as featured in this postcard which comes from my vintage postcard collection.

I have been dodging the Sepia Saturday theme that is set by whichever idiot chooses these things for weeks now. But given that this week he chose a public house as his archive image, and given my well-known love of public houses, I felt I had to respond. The problem is that I come from a long line of abstainers : my family tree has been watered by nothing stronger that sweet tea and glasses of dandelion and burdock. There was Uncle Harry I suppose, but the less said about that, the better.

I eventually found this card which ticks all the boxes. It features an old photograph, which features a pub. I am not sure where the card came from. I suspect I must have bought it at some stage, I can't imagine Great Uncle Fowler giving it album space amongst the hand-tinted views of Keighley Town Hall and the sweet smiles of Music Hall starlets. It is not particularly easy to interpret the back of the card : it was sent either to a Mr Munford who was a butcher who lived on Newhall Road, Sheffield, or to a Mr Munford Butcher who lived at a similar address. And what is M being told to remember? Let us simply imagine that the sender of the card was feeling a little delicate and intellectually disorientated at the time. A little like I am now.

Who was Bill Bailey, I can hear you all asking. The card was sent in 1904 which was when the song, "Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey" was at the height of its popularity. Written in 1902 by the American songwriter Hughie Cannon, Bill Bailey has been a much recorded song, with covers by such great singers as Ella Fitzgerald, Bobby Darin and, of course, Louis Armstrong. But as for who Bill Bailey was, I have no idea and it would seem that few others have either. But whoever he was, whichever darkened room he is seeking refuge in, let him understand this - I know how he feels.

Raise a glass in celebration of the other participants in this weeks' Sepia Saturday. You can find links to all their posts on the Sepia Saturday Blog.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Twitter For Gentlemen

I have tried getting involved with Twitter about as many times as I have started to read Ulysses : with similar results. I know many find it fascinating, compulsive and life-enhancing, but at my age I wonder whether I have the time to spare. But I remain a keen supporter of that early prototype of Twitter (or Facebook or indeed Blogging) - the humble picture postcard. We should always remember that the great-great-grandfathers and grandmothers of the kids of today who constantly send each other little messages and pictures on their mobile phones and computers spent their time sending each other little messages and pictures through the post. But postcards are a more sedate form of blogging, a more relaxed Facebook experience. They represent Twitter for Gentlemen.

You may recall that a couple of weeks ago, Tess Kincaid and I carried out an experiment by a transatlantic exchange of postcards. There was something so satisfying about the very solidity of the postcard when it fell through my letterbox, so much more than the electronic ping of the new mail message. I was talking to my good friend Mike Lucas about postcards the other day as we sunk a good few pints at an Old Gits Luncheon. He too was a fan of postcards so a couple of days later I sent him a card and yesterday a card from him arrived in return. The front of the card is illustrated above, the reverse is as follows :

Mike is a writer and actor and founder of the Mikron Theatre Company. He is also a member of the famous Old Gits Luncheon Club. The reference in the first sentence is to the England v Scotland rugby match (England won), whilst the hillside he mentions is in the beautiful Pennine village of Marsden.

I will try to persevere with Twitter (and, who knows, I might even give Ulysses another try) but it is Twitter for Gentlemen (and of course Gentlewomen) which fascinates me. So if there is anyone else out there who wishes to exchange postcards and share them on our blogs, just let me know. Who know, together we might start a postcard revolution.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Lyric : Part 1 - A Rug, A Tattoo And A Performing Seal

That Great Interpreter Of The Lyric - Ella Fitzgerald
Library of Congress
Lyrics have always been important to me. In the eternal trade-off between words and music, my favouring of words has been based on something more than my inability to carry a tune (even with the support of a heavy-duty wheelbarrow). During my years of deafness I missed music terribly and the only way I could get close to that special joy that only music can bring was to sing lyrics to myself. It was Ersatz coffee music, egg-powder melodies ... but it was kind of musical.

So when I was in want of something to amuse me last night, I started making a list of my 10 favourite song lyrics. Looking at the list, it is an odd and eclectic collection. Some of the words are beautiful, some are clever some are outrageously funny. They are not necessarily married to the best tunes, and neither are they likely to be to others' tastes. But one of the abiding joys of blog-writing is the ability it gives you to bore your readers. And one of the abiding joys of the blog-reader is the ability to stop reading half-way through a post and click forward to the next blog on your blog-roll.

I have divided my list of ten lyrics into three. In each case I have included just an extract from the complete lyric: an extract that somehow represents the crème de la crème. In each case I have added a YouTube clip so you can do more than just imagine the words in your head. The list is in no particular order: here are the first three.

1.  I Do It For Your Love : Paul Simon
One of the most beautiful lyrics I know. "The orange bled the blue" is a phrase I would give my wifes' pension to have written. The video is not very good quality and has had subtitles added, but it is worth it to see Paul Simon sing one of his finest songs.

"Found a rug
In an old junk shop
And I brought it home to you
Along the way the colors ran
The orange bled the blue"

2. Lydia The Tattoed Lady : E.Y. Haburg and Harold Arlen
Unforgettably sung by Groucho Marx in the film "At The Circus", I could have chosen any verse from the song, they are all brilliant. To everyones' embarrassment I can never resist bursting into a rendition of this song when ever I am introduced to anyone called Lydia.

"Oh Lydia, oh Lydia, say, have you met Lydia?
Lydia The Tattooed Lady.
She has eyes that folks adore so,
and a torso even more so.
Lydia, oh Lydia, that encyclo-pidia.
Oh Lydia The Queen of Tattoo.
On her back is The Battle of Waterloo.
Beside it, The Wreck of the Hesperus too.
And proudly above waves the red, white, and blue.
You can learn a lot from Lydia!"

3. I Wish I Were In Love Again : Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers
One of my all-time favourites and I have blogged about it before. "The faint aroma of performing seals" is the kind of phrase that could only be written by a genius - in this case the genius is Lorenz Hart. My YouTube version is new to me and, if nothing else, it has been worth writing this post just to discover Audra McDonald.

"The furtive sigh - the blackened eye
The words: "I love you - 'til the day I die"
The self-deception - that believes the lie
I wish I were in love again

When love congeals - it soon reveals
The faint aroma - of performing seals
The double-crossing - of a pair of heels
I wish I were in love again"

Part Two next week.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Strange Upside Down World Of A Malt Whisky Drinker

Cousin Dave and I have a mirror to hang today. The task must have been on my mind last night as I went to bed. A couple of glasses from a freshly opened bottle of 10 year old Laphroaig meant that I got to sleep without any trouble at all, but I have always found that a good malt does tend to prompt rather vivid dreams.  The dream was vivid but remarkably simple. We drilled the wall, fixed the heavy-duty hook and hung the mirror. We stepped back to admire our workmanship. Something was clearly wrong. "Oh bugger", said Cousin Dave, "we've hung it upside down"

Monday, March 14, 2011

Look, Sup And Vanish

During the Second World War my father did his bit for the cause by working as a mechanic during the day and serving in the civil defense forces before and after work. He was a member of the LDV (which officially stood for the Local Defense Volunteers, but was universally known by its members as the "Look, Duck, And Vanish"). He used to tell me that each morning before he went off to work, he would have to patrol the Leeds and Liverpool Canal near his home in Shipley to make sure that German submarines had not sailed up the fifty-mile long canal during the night. Just how German submarines would have managed to get past the eighty-odd locks between Liverpool and Shipley he never fully explained to me : "ingenious buggers, them Germans", he would say knowingly.

I like to think that I carry the wooden rifle of family tradition as I (along with my trusted guard-dog Amy) patrol the local area on a regular basis in search of signs of incursion by the forces of darkness which attempt to rip the heart out of the very traditions that make us proud to be British. I speak, of course, of the curse of pub closures. This morning my monthly patrol was enlivened by both a bright and clear Spring morning and the knowledge that I had just joined a Flickr group called The Dead Pubs Society which gathers together pictures of pubs that have passed on to the other side. If one of the six pubs on my monthly perambulation had gone under, at least I would be able to submit a photograph - a kind of death-mask I suppose - to the group.

But, I am glad to report, all six seem to be alive and well, all six received the tick of good health. Sadly it was too early in the day to call in for a drink in each : I will save the pleasure of such an expedition until The Lad and I have some time for a little father-son bonding. Then we can go round all six, have a quick look inside to check things are OK. a quick drink of ale, and then move onto the next one. "Look, Sup And Vanish" as my father might have said.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sepia Saturday 65 : Taking A Walk Down Adelaide Street

I am in love with images. Although it is a love affair that has been life-long, it is also a love that has grown in intensity as I have grown older. Like a overgrown child I am happiest if curled up in a corner with a picture book and a glass of milk stout. 

Take, for example, today's Sepia Saturday image, plucked almost at random from an album of Uncle Franks' holiday snaps. It was "almost" at random because I was determined to become a semi-themer this week so I was looking for something which might feature a storefront, or a group of men, or - if all else failed - a car.

So here is our photograph : let us now read it. Well first of all we have a date penciled on the reverse which is the 26th May 1931, but we probably didn't need the intervention of words to narrow the time-frame down. The tower is the main clue as far as location is concerned : with a tower like that it has to be either Paris or Blackpool. One of the cars is in motion and driving on the left so it is Blackpool and the "Olympia" is therefore the Olympia Exhibition Hall that is at the rear of the famous Winter Gardens.

The street therefore is Adelaide Street and we can get a final confirmation of the location by comparing the original image with a Google Street Cam image - as you can see little has changed. But one thing that has changed is the dome that can be seen on the left of the photograph. The Blackpool Olympia Hall was built in 1930 and the dome was demolished during World War II and this gives us our time-frame. The car models would give us final confirmation of a date stamp of the early 1930s.

The Blackpool Winter Gardens complex includes a number of different venues including a theatre, an opera house, a ballroom and extensive conference facilities. Parts of the complex date back to 1875 and elements - such as the Olympia Exhibition Hall - were added to the original building in the years up to the outbreak of the Second World War.

The Winter Gardens still exists today and when I was in Blackpool a couple of years ago I took a photograph of the front of the complex. The whole complex has a rich and varied history. During the First World War, for example, the massive Empress Ballroom was requisitioned by the Admiralty for the construction of the gas envelopes of R33 airships. Excess gas has been a common theme over the years as the Winter Gardens has acted as the main venue of the annual conferences of all the major British political parties. The whole complex is now Grade II listed which means that it should be safe from too much redevelopment. As soon as the sun returns to the sky I think I might take a train to Blackpool and take a walk down Adelaide Street.

Enjoy many other old images by going to the Sepia Saturday Blog and visiting the other participants in Sepia Saturday 65.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Day In The Life : Thursday 10 March 2011

Sorry for not being around much in the last few days, but life has been busy. Yesterday morning when I awoke at 7.15, I suddenly decided - for no particular reason - to take a photograph of whatever I was seeing every hour throughout the day. The results are above. Here is a brief interpretation of my day.

07.15 Still in bed, reach for camera and take view towards bedroom window.
08.15 In car ploughing through heavy traffic in Huddersfield heading for Sheffield.
09.15 Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield, dropping The Lad off for a meeting at the Medical School.
10.15 Nearly home, still ploughing through traffic, now in Brighouse.
11.15 OK, a few minutes earlier, Huddersfield Station, rushing to catch train.
12.15 Meeting of the Old Gits Lunch Club, Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar.
13.15 Mike Lucas returning some books on beer whilst drinking beer, Stalybridge Buffet Bar
14.15 Old Gits Lunch Club still drinking beer (Dobbin Brewery Real Ale) Stalybridge Buffet Bar.
15.15 Back in Huddersfield, swaying gently as I head for the bus home.
16.15 Home and the one chance I get to quickly check the computer for e-mails.
17.15 Taking Amy the Dog for a walk.
18.15 Cousins Carrie and Rob arrive to stay for the night - waiting for our dinner to cook.
19.15 Dinner gone, wine gone, cup of tea almost gone.
20.15 A chance to relax at last : aided by a small glass of malt.
21.15 Malt gone, papers read, doing what the youth of today call "chilling".
22.15 A chance to catch up with the news (yes, those are my feet).
23.15 In bed - and that is Amy curled up at the bottom.

It was a busy day. Only after doing this analysis did I realise how much of it centred around alcohol : but what the heck. As an experiment it was quite entertaining : if you have enjoyed looking at my day, why not try such a photographic analysis yourself.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

An Experiment In Transatlantic Synchronicity

That finest of bloggers, Tess Kincaid, and I have always thought that there was an element of synchronicity about our blogging activities. We share a love of dusty old books and tattered old photographs and I can so often relate to the sentiments she expresses so magnificently in her wonderful poetry. But a couple of weeks ago when I posted a piece entitled "Swaying His Legs Like A Pair Of Woolen-Coated Pendulums", and Tess quite independently posted a poem which included the lines "but sleeps rolled / in a ball, a pendulum steeped-quick / and pulled-out, like a teabag", it seemed to be stretching chance a little too far. So we decided on a little experiment. We agreed that the following weekend we would both buy a picture postcard which somehow represented our thoughts at that particular time and mail the cards to each other. We agreed to post (on our blogs) the received cards and let others decide the exact balance between sheer chance and synchronicity. So here is the card that arrived through my postbox in a remarkable three days.

In order to properly judge the results of the experiment you will need to see my card which, hopefully, Tess will be posting on her blog later today. You can make you own judgments but it is interesting that whilst Tess posted a card which seemed to tell of an American girl going to France, I posted a book cover which told the story of an American girl (Lee Miller) who went to France. Perhaps, if you dig deep enough, you will always find connections, especially when people share the same interests. But maybe, on that cold February weekend, those thought patterns somehow managed to span the wide Atlantic. Irrespective of the degree of synchronicity, the experiment was enormous fun and gave birth to a new hybrid form of blogging ("blog-carding", perhaps) which incorporates the satisfying solidity of pen, ink, card and stamp with the ability to share the results with many people. I look forward to repeating the exercise with other of my blogger friends in the near future.

Ali The Old Fool

This is a picture of me painted by my brother in 1972. It hangs in my hallway and the other day Roger asked me to take a photograph of it because he wanted to use it on his Blog (Roger Burnett's Sculpture Studio). It is not a very good photograph of what is a very good painting (Yes, I did look like that in 1972) and the poor quality of the photograph is down to a combination of me and reflections from the glass which covers the original watercolour. There have been one or two changes in the last 39 years : the beard, for example, went a year after the picture was painted as a condition for the GLW agreeing to marry me.

But the interesting point is the name given to the painting - Ali.Names are odd things aren't they? Whilst most of you know me as Alan, most of my family know me by the name of Ali. Where this name came from I am not quite sure, I suspect it is a shortened form of Aloisius, which, I must point out, is not my name either. Many years ago my father and brother started calling me Aloisius for reasons best known to themselves and that eventually got shortened to Ali. I have always made an effort to avoid the same thing happening to my own son by calling him by a different name each month (it is Percival this month). If I ever forget his name for the month I always use the default name of "Thingy", and this practice often cause consternation amongst his friends. His name for me varies little : it is usually revolves around the phrase "you old fool". For us it is a genuine term of endearment. Odd things names, aren't they.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Back Down By The Italian Gardens

As we walked down the steep path, turned a corner and spotted the Italian Gardens through the trees I knew that nothing had changed. Maybe the group that stood near the pond had grown old and departed, but the couple on the bench had merely moved to a bench higher up the hill. Council cut-back had meant that the flower beds had been replaced by utilitarian grass, but otherwise this strange hidden grotto was almost unchanged. Luckily I had a local guide, otherwise I would have never found it, hidden away as it is half way up a cliff side. Mercury still reigns supreme : he's hardly moved in ninety years, which given the icy winds that blow straight in from the North Sea, is quite an achievement.

Scarborough, these days, is Pension Town, and wherever you go you see old people slowly walking along half-forgotten promenades being buffeted by a prevailing wind which last saw land-fall in Scandinavia or the Baltic States. But these are hardy folk, Yorkshire folk who refuse to die until their money is spent. My Auntie Amy used to live not half a mile from where the Italian Gardens are situated. She married a widow-man who owned a little flat, near enough to the sea to hear the seagulls scream. She was 82 when she married, he was ten years older. They enjoyed a good eight years together before he finally died. If you can stand up against that North Sea wind you can stand up against most things. As I say, hardy folk.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Sepia Saturday 64 : Down By The Italian Gardens

We are away again this weekend and therefore it is another rushed Sepia Saturday contribution. My chosen postcard shows the Italian Gardens in Scarborough, Yorkshire, which is appropriate as we are heading for Scarborough for the weekend. I suppose what I should do is to volunteer to repeat the exercise of last week and try and recreate the old photograph, but I am not sure I will get chance. If you look closely at the photograph you can spot the group of people standing next to the pond and the statue of Mercury, and you can also spot the rather crude hand-tinting that has taken place and upgraded a monochrome photograph into a full-colour card.

The Italian Gardens were set out in 1911 and designed by Henry W Smith. Scarborough is proudly part of Yorkshire, and Yorkshire folk have always been noted for being careful with their brass (money). When the Town Council realised that they would have to pay for a sculpture of Mercury, they very sensibly asked for a couple of copies to be run off and placed the other in nearby Peasholm Gardens. 

I am not entirely sure of the date on the postmark - it could either be 1924 or perhaps 1929. The one penny stamp doesn't offer too much help. Postage rates for postcards increased from a half-penny to a penny in June 1918 and then went up to a penny-ha'penny in June 1921. However, it was eventually reduced back to one penny in May 1924 and remained at that level for the rest of the decade. So we know it is unlikely the card was sent between 1921 and May 1924. But there again it was from a Yorkshire person to another Yorkshire person, so they would have probably used old stamps to save an ha'penny.

You can save far more than an ha'penny by indulging in some free entertainment and edification by viewing the work of other Sepia Saturday contributors by visiting the Sepia Saturday Blog.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Back Over Halifax (Pack Horse Over Halifax)

It is always tricky trying to locate the site of old photographs forty years after they were taken. With the picture of Janie and Isobel I featured last week, I had a vague memory of where I had taken it from but as Amy and I walked those streets this morning so much had changed. The cooling towers had long gone and wire fences and car parks seem to have taken over the landscape. But if you look carefully you can still make out the proud statement of the Town Hall spire in the middle distance.

The photograph was taken from half-way up Beacon Hill which watches over the town of Halifax with a kind of half-stated malevolence. It was on this hill where the beacon fire would be lit to warn the town of danger, and it was on this hill that convicts would be occasionally hung to teach their fellow citizens a lesson. The cobbled road you can see in the earlier picture is part of the old Halifax to Wakefield pack-horse route which was known as the Magna Via (or some insist that it was actually called the Alta Via and mis-transcribed from ancient documents). Whatever it was called it still climbs up the hillside with a gradient that makes you pity the life of pack-horses.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Pointless Life Of An Odd Fellow

One of the great joys about leading an aimless and pointless life is that the mind is free to go where it wants. You can walk the dog down a village street, pass a pub and become fixated with its name. You can abandon your plans to dig the garden, iron The Lad's trousers and/or write another page of the Great Novel Of The Twenty-first Century, and spend the day reading about the Oddfellows.

I am not sure whether they have Oddfellows in the States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Old Sodbury, or any of the other strange places my Blog is followed, but they are an old Friendly Society (or Mutual Society) which was particularly active in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. In the days before the Welfare State or trade unions, ordinary workers would pay weekly sums into such organisations and receive help at times of sickness or unemployment. If nothing else they would provide a small sum for a decent burial when your time came and this avoided that most feared of events - a paupers' funeral.

During the Middle Ages, master craftsmen in the various trades - Drapers, Masons, Dyers, Brewers etc - set up Guilds to protect their interests, but membership was restricted to the relatively wealthy and ordinary workers tended to be excluded. Such workers would set up rival Guilds, not of Masters but of Fellows, and they would meet in the large towns and cities. But in the smaller towns and villages there were not enough dyers or drapers or whatever to justify a series of separate guilds of fellows so joint guilds of "oddfellows" were established. In was these local organisations that developed into the Friendly Societies of the eighteenth and nineteenth century that took the name "Oddfellows". And the pub were they tended to meet would often take on the name of the society itself - The Oddfellows.

I have written in the past of how throughout my life I have waited - in vain - to be asked to become a member of that other Victorian Friendly Society, the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes. I have now come to the conclusion that I am perhaps more suited to the Oddfellows and I am awaiting the call to be inducted. And if the call doesn't come, at least I can nip down to the Oddfellows for a pint.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

In Memory Of Lady Hermione And A Dark Red Automobile

Some of you might remember my Great Uncle Fowler (or rather reading about him). In the first decade of the twentieth century he left his native West Yorkshire and went to work in Longtown in Cumbria. He was an avid postcard collector and his postcard collection was handed down to his niece, my mother, and eventually to me. He never married but there are many references in his postcards to his various sweethearts. He was also a bit of a poet and on the reverse of one of the cards he has penned a new version of Walter Scott's poem "Lochinvar".

As I dipped into the collection today I pulled out an early colour photograph of Netherby Hall, and it was no surprise to discover that the Hall - the seat of the Graham family - was close to Longtown. The card had not been sent through the post, but on the reverse someone - I assume Fowler - had written "In memory of Lady Hermione Graham" Lady Jane Hermione Graham (1832 - 1909) was the eldest daughter of the famous Whig politician, Edward Seymour, the 12th Duke of Somerset, who married Sir Frederick Ulric Graham of Netherby in Cumbria in October 1852. 

Now it might be that Fowler, at the time in his mid-thirties, just wanted to record the passing of a local celebrity. Or was he perhaps thinking of that poem he penned a few years earlier, that updated version of Scott's Lochinvar. In the original version, dashing Young Lochinvar ran off with the fair bride of Netherby Hall. By the time Fowler penned his version the Lady of Netherby Hall was no longer young or fair or a bride, but perhaps, with the aid of a new automobile that was "painted dark red, and it brilliantly shone", the deed could still be accomplished.

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...