Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Twitter For Gentlefolk : A Unique Postcard From Dominica

My "Gentle Twitter" postcard this week is rather special. Last month, my brother Roger who lives on the Caribbean island of Dominica, needed a replacement battery for his camera. I bought the battery and rather than asking for an international money transfer in payment from him, I simply asked for a postcard. The postcard had to be hand-drawn by him, of course : Roger and I often refer to these arrangements as "Theo Moments" after the way Van Gogh would reward his brother Theo. The reference Roger makes to the BVI stamps refers to that period of his career when he provided the artwork for a series of British Virgin Islands postage stamps. There his more about Roger and his work over on his blog - Sculpture Studio. His card will go into my growing collection and it will be one that can quite truthfully be described as "unique".

Monday, May 30, 2011

How My Curiosity Was Reignited And My Premature Retirement Was Curtailed By A Freemason And A Brewer

It's all very well this retirement lark but after a time it all becomes too much of a muchness. One shop merges into another, one daytime TV series about property development morphs into another about antique collecting. Days line up in uniform columns marking a featureless trail to oblivion. There is nothing to get your teeth into - which is just as well as your teeth probably fell out from lack of use the day before yesterday. I became so busy doing nothing that I hadn't time to blog, and the longer your blog remains silent, the louder that silence becomes. You can't break such a profound silence with something inconsequential, something trivial. You must wait until you solve the mystery of Fermat's Last Theorem or at least the mystery of what makes Nick Clegg tick.

The problem with all this is that if my blogging is about anything it is about trivia : it is a hymn to the inconsequential, a paean to the meaningless. I don't do grand announcements, I do pointless asides. I'm a stream of semi-consciousness blogger. Too much thought can become terminal for me and my kind.

I was vaguely thinking about this earlier this evening - you see what I mean, I have been thinking far too much for my own good - whilst digitally flicking through some photographs I took in Todmorden last week. You know me, I am always drawn to pubs or buildings that used to be pubs, and I had taken a picture of what used to be the Freemason's Arms (some ne're-do-well has now turned it into flats). And there, on the central pediment, was a stone plaque stating in its own ornamental way, BMB Ltd or possibly MBB Ltd. Obviously the name of a brewer, but which? It was not one I was familiar with, and I pride myself with being over-familiar with many a brewer. So I dug and delved, looked up this and looked up that until I eventually solved the mystery. Whilst the original Freemason's Arms dated back to the 1830s, it was eventually sold in 1913 to the Burnley brewing firm of Edward Stocks Massey. They pulled the old pub down and the new building was erected in 1923. It was one of the first brick buildings in Todmorden - stone is the traditional building material in these parts - and for this reason it was always known as the "Red House". When the new building was erected, whilst brick was used for the main fabric, stone was reserved for the two important inscriptions - the name of the pub (The Freemason's Arms) and the sign of the brewers (Massey's Burnley Brewery or MBB). I felt a small wave of satisfaction at solving this little mystery, the kind of satisfaction I would in the past bore all my blogging friends with.

And then I thought, why not? It's time I came back. This retirement lark can be put off until another day. To hell with the important, long live the inconsequential.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Twitter For Gentlefolk : Postcard(s) From Australia

For my Gentle Twitter feature this week I have a nice multiplier effect : one postcard exchange with two people resulting in four cards all tumbling through the letter-box on the same day. Early on in the "Twitter For Gentlefolk" experiment, my good friend Helen ("Baino") from Sydney volunteered to take part in the experiment and my card to her can be found on her ever-delightful Baino's Banter Blog. But in return for my one slightly boring card I received four, all of which were sent during that now famous tour of Australia undertaken by Helen and her visiting American friend - writer, philosopher, soothsayer and iconoclast, Jeffscape (he of Irreverent Irrelevance). I was tempted to publish all four cards but eventually decided to limit it to just one - if you want to see the other three you will have to buy the book.

The message reads as follows :
"Greetings from the Antipodes! Baino and I were just dropping by Old Melbourne Gaol (of which is properly spelled "jail") and checking up on Ned Kelly ... who was apparently in Canberra. All good! JeffScape.
"No worries though we caught not one but four of the Kelly Gang's Armour. Had a fabulous time & visited places I've never been. Sadly, no giant worms.  Helen"

What it all means, I do not know, but that is the joy of these old Gentle Twitter messages. They don't have to mean anything other than the fact that in a land a long way away at some strange time of the day or night some other person thought of you and instead of reaching for a smart phone put pen to card. Worth its' weight in gold, that is.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ten Things I Have Discovered Since The GLW Retired

Ten things I have discovered since the Good Lady Wife (GLW) Retired.

1. There are an awful lot of shops in the world.
2. Few things beat the company of good friends whilst enjoying a good pint.
3. Most shops - other than ones which sell books, old postcards, or electronic gadgets - are excruciatingly boring.
4. Jaume Plensa is one of the most exciting artists I have come across in ages and his current exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (my photograph above was taken there) is well worth a visit no matter where in the world you may live.
5. The Apple iPad is perhaps the greatest contribution to human happiness since the invention of fish and chips.
6. My GLW is really very fond of shopping indeed.
7. There is a great delight in taking a car ride with people who are experts in Victorian architecture.
8. Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta is the real name of Lady Gaga (A question in last weeks' pub quiz)
9. It is actually quite nice having someone in the house with you all the time.
10. A week without blog posting and blog commenting is far too long and it is well worth sacrificing a little of the shopping to accommodate a little more of the blogging.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Goodbye Work Hello Shopping

So it is goodbye then.
Goodbye to getting up at the crack of dawn
In Summer or in Winter
Trudging your way through snow, sleet and rain
To wage the endless war against
C. Diff or MRSA
Goodbye then.

So it is goodbye then.
Goodbye to the calls for urgent help
That come in morning, noon and night
When you are out for the day or at home
In front of a roaring fire
Warm and tired
Goodbye then.

So it is goodbye then.
Goodbye to reading about Staphylococci A
On your days off and on holiday
Goodbye to the policies and the protocols
The journal texts and guidelines all
Free at last ....

......at least until July when you might go back for a couple of sessions a week just to keep your hand in.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Spring Interregnums And Dumb Links

INTERREGNUM : The normal order of things is going to be a little disturbed over the next six weeks or so. Tomorrow, the Good Lady Wife (GLW) retires from work and there then follows a round of parties, visits and celebrations.. In June we are away on holiday for three weeks. Until we go on holiday I will try and post something each day - sometimes to News From Nowhere and sometimes to Alan Burnett's Picture Post. I will try to include links between blogs so you will be able to keep up with where I am. The weekly calls for Sepia Saturday posts will not be interrupted.

So here we go with my Early Summer Interregnum (although if you step outside here in Yorkshire, it feels more like a Late Winter Interregnum). Today's post is over on Alan Burnett's Picture Post and if you would like to see it simply click on the over-sized thumb-nail on the left and it should take you over there. Tomorrow's post should be back here on News From Nowhere and there will be a dumb link on Picture Post. I will turn comments off for dumb links so if you want to say anything you will need to visit the Blog that is active for that day. Ah well, it sounded so simple when I thought it up in bed last night!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Sepia Saturday 74 : Up, Up And Away

It looks like Blogger is back, but for how long - who knows? So before it has chance to fly away, here is my contribution to Sepia Saturday 74

This picture has the look of a posed newspaper picture about it - and that is because it is. The photograph shows my father, me in his arms, and my brother Roger. It must have been taken in 1950 or 1951 and I was told that it appeared in the Yorkshire Post which is our regional newspaper here in Yorkshire. It was taken at Yeadon Airfield which, many decades later, reinvented itself as Leeds Bradford International Airport. There will (hopefully) be people out there who can tell me what kind of plane we are inspecting : some World War II fighter plane no doubt.

The photo is in keeping with the Sepia Theme this week which is, possibly, air travel. It could also be newspapers, contraptions, madness, silly hats or bits of cardboard held together with pieces of string - Sepia Themes are like that. But those early planes managed to fly considerable distances with surprising success, even if they looked so flimsy and accident prone. Let us hope that the same can be said of good old Blogger.

If Blogger is still working when you read this, you can find other contributors to Sepia Saturday 74 by flying on over to the Sepia Saturday Blog.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Twitter For Gentlefolk : Postcard From Ottawa

One of the great delights of the Twitter For Gentlefolk project is that very real feeling of "place" you get from a postcard. Whereas Twitter messages arrive in uniform digital keystrokes from some sorting office in cyberspace, postcards come from real places and include real evidence of their journey. Pictures, stamps, postmarks : they all form a fascinating trail that leads to somewhere real, somewhere you can find on a map. And in the case of this weeks' Twitter for Gentlefolk postcard, that real place was Ottawa in Canada.

The postcard comes from the splendid Rosie, who lives in New Brunswick and whose wonderfully eclectic Blog - Ramblin' Rose - covers everything from photographs to family history, public speaking to arts and crafts. Her message to me is as follows:

Hello Alan,  Just dropping you a line to give you greetings from the capital city, Ottawa, Ontario. Having a wonderful visit with my step daughter and family. Rosie

My card to Rosie can be found on her Blog. Thanks to Rosie for taking part in the project : I can now add another line to my large world map on the back of my door : a line from Huddersfield to Ottawa.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Get An Olympia If You Please

The Lad has returned to University and it is likely to be some time before he is home again. In some ways I wonder if he is growing old and sensible as this time there have not been the usual phone calls that follow his departure, listing all the things he has forgotten with instructions to gather them together and take them down to Sheffield. He has a fairly well deserved reputation for being, shall we say, absent-minded, to such an extent that my good friend Chrissy recently bought me an old postcard with Alexander in mind. The front of the postcard has a somewhat uninspiring view of Malham Tarn in North Yorkshire. It is the message on the reverse which is the gem. It is a little unclear as it is written in pencil - here is what it says :

Beck Hall, Malham.
Dear Dad, Can you go to our house and get Jim's shorts from the chair in our room, his belt from the top drawer of the tall boy; and his boots from the shelf in the staircase and send them here by post, and if you need a 1/- stamp get an Olympia if you please. Love Lavinia.
To : Mr H Daykin, Wilcock Street, Windhill, Shipley, Yorks.

The "Olympia" would have been a one shilling commemorative stamp that marked the 1948 Olympic Games which were held in London.  Maybe my own particular Lad has suddenly matured and no longer needs me to run around and find and transport all the things he has forgotten. Maybe - but I hope not.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Borrowers Of The Night

New Year's Eve, Monday, 1832
In the hilltop village of Clifton, New Year's Eve 1832 is fine. As dusk falls, farm labourers, weavers, wire drawers and card setters put aside their tools and, in holiday mood, hurry to the Black Horse. Soon the inn is foggy with the smoke of clay pipes and rowdy with voices that brag, joke and gossip. Pints of beer are gulped down greedily, causing James Pease, the innkeeper, a deep feeling of satisfaction - this will be a profitable night. He cannot know - has not the slightest presentiment - of the horror that the next day will bring to his door."
From : Borrowers of the Night by Anna Best , Bank House Books, 2011
I went to the splendid Black Horse Inn in Clifton last night to the launch of a new book about the 1832 murder of Elizabeth Rayner in Clifton Woods. Anna Best's book, "Borrowers Of The Night" takes contemporary documentary evidence such as newspaper reports, letters, and the Coroners' Court depositions, and her own interpretation of the events and characters and weaves them together to creative a fascinating narrative. I only started reading it last night, but already I am hooked and eagerly anticipating her own suggestions for a solution to what has for 180 years been an unsolved murder. 

I first heard that such a book was in preparation last year when I received an e-mail from Anna asking permission to use one of my photographs of the Anchor Inn, Brighouse in the book she was writing. She was anxious to find a photograph of the inn under its original name (for some reason it is now called the Bridge Inn) and she found my old 1960s photograph whilst doing an internet search. I was more than happy to give her permission to use the photograph and since then I have tried to keep up to date with the project by following her Borrowers Of The Night Blog. A couple of weeks ago I was delighted to receive an invitation to the launch event at the Black Horse, and last night I had the pleasure of meeting Anna in person and hearing her presentation about the book.

You can order copies of "Borrowers Of The Night" on the Bank House Books website or you can get it from Amazon in the UK (not sure about outside the UK yet, I will report back when I have further information).

Thursday, May 05, 2011

FPTP, AV And A Hanging Sword

We are having a referendum in the United Kingdom today, which is all jolly exciting as it is only the second national referendum we have ever had. The referendum gives us an opportunity to change the voting system used in Parliamentary elections (is it the old Cromwellian in me which believes that if God and the Queen are entitled to capital letters, so is Parliament?). The two systems on offer are the current first past the post (FPTP) method or the alternative vote (AV) method. I have to confess that my vote has been largely determined not by the stated advantages of either system but by the ridiculous arguments put forward by the "No" campaign. To be told by the main party that is behind the "No" campaign that nobody in their right mind uses the AV system when they use just such as system to elect their own leader seems a little hypocritical to me. The current forecasts are that the "No" campaign will win the day which simply goes to show what an antipathy to change we have over here. This is the country, after all, where new Members of Parliament - however they be elected - upon taking office are provided with a metal locker, a coat hanger and a red silk ribbon to hang their sword from.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Bank Holiday Bluebells

It's Spring and the sun is shining. Monday was a public holiday (or Bank Holiday) here in the UK (as was the previous Friday, as was the previous Monday, as was the previous Friday - who says we don't know how to enjoy ourselves). A perfect day for a walk in Shibden Park, Halifax. When I grew up, I lived a mile or so away from the park and it formed part of the playground of my youth. It looks much grander these days and in a strange reversal of what is normal, it feels much larger than it used to do. The beautiful Elizabethan Shibden Hall (home of the notorious Anne Lister) is the main feature of the park, but there are also glorious woodland walks and a fine ornamental boating lake.

The bluebells were at their height, the scenery was breathtaking, and on that sunny day you could not have wanted to be anywhere else in the world.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Twitter For Gentlefolk : Postcard From Cleveland

Twitter For Gentlefolks (or Gentle Twitter) seems to have well and truly taken off and I keep seeing postcards sent between bloggers appearing on many of the blogs I regularly follow. It has reached a stage now where it has become too complex to maintain a list of links to all the TfG posts, but I will be maintaining my own weekly feature which focuses on the postcards that fall through my letterbox. This week it was a postcard from Cleveland Ohio, sent by my good friend Mouse (aka Kimy). My thanks to the Mouse, and to all those other people participating in this most enjoyable project.

I must confess that I had to get the big atlas out and look up exactly where Cleveland and "the north coast" were. Sadly my fleeting (and floating) visit to the States next month is limited to a handful of cities on the east coast, but that trip will be just a "taster" for a longer journey during which I intent to explore the States in full. And high on my list for that exploration will be Cleveland.

Monday, May 02, 2011

History In A Pint Glass

So here I sit, in the Union Cross Hotel, Halifax. On one wall, an over-intrusive television pipes silent images of extreme wresting to a deserted tap-room. Flashes of film, as long as an adolescent's attention span, show flesh bruising flesh in over-full colour. The window is dressed for the Royal Wedding : two dummies sit in mock supplication before the passing Saturday shoppers. He wears a black coat and charity store top hat, she wears a white wedding dress, the enterprising offspring of a table cloth and a bed sheet. They meet hesitatingly, coming together over a bouquet of plastic flowers.

On another wall hangs a Union Flag and I try to decide whether it is right way up or not. In some ways it is a fitting wall hanging for the Union Cross Hotel, but then I recall that such a name is a recent innovation, dating back no further than 1745. The pub was originally known as the Crosse Inn and dates back to the early sixteenth century making it the oldest inn in Halifax. In 1745, in the midst of the Jacobite Rebellion, some Georgian spin-doctor decided that the Inn should be renamed in support of the Union between England and Scotland which, at the time, was coming under some pressure from a certain Bonnie Prince Charlie. I drink up and nod in greeting to the wedding couple in the window. History in a pint glass.

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...