Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sepia Saturday 98 : A Charabanc To The Centenary

Over on Sepia Saturday we are travelling towards the grand celebrations that will mark Sepia Saturday 100 (12 November 2011). The suggested method of transportation this week is by bus, but my mother, Gladys Burnett, seems to have missed the bus and therefore she has climbed on my fathers' motorbike (yes, it is the same one I featured in my last Sepia Saturday post). Whilst she was a frequent passenger, my mother never was a driver : even when my parents had a tandem she was more the rear motive power rather than the forward navigator. If you followed the comments on my post last week, you will know that the bike was a 1946 Excelsior 125cc Model O and not the Talisman Twin I suggested.

Whilst my mother appears to have missed the bus, her father looks as though he caught it (at least I think that is her father, Albert Beanland, but I have no idea who he is sat next to). He and his mystery companion (it looks nothing like his wife, Kate Kellam) appear to be having a grand day out in a charabanc - the precursor to the modern day motor coach. With their fine leather trim and row after row of seats, such things were grand affairs, and I an surprised that nobody has thought of re-introducing them into this twenty-first century world that we inhabit. In the 1920s and early 1930s, they would be used to transport groups to the English seaside resorts and they would frequently stop at wayside pubs for refreshments. That is the way to travel - whether it is to bracing Blackpool, or the Sepia Saturday Centenary Celebrations.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thematic Photograph 168 - Metallica

I have been meaning to join in with Carmi's Thematic Photograph meme for ages : and at long last I have shaken myself into action. The shaking has been accompanied by miscellaneous bangs, clanks and screeches - the sound of metal against metal - as the theme for this week is "Metallica". The photograph I am using is one I took way back in the 1960s and it shows a scrap metal yard and railway line in Halifax, West Yorkshire. It is not exactly the swinging sixties : but the rusty-grey tone seems to sum up the north of England in those days far better than any psychedelic Carnaby Street scene. 
To see how others interpret the theme go over to the Written.Inc Blog

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Cracking Good Story

A few months ago, my good friend Jane Gordon-Cumming let me read the outline to a new book she was planning on the life of her grandfather and grandmother. Having read the opening chapter I was hooked and I was also convinced that she was on to a winner.

Well I was right, because last night Jane's draft for "The American Heiress and the Scottish Rake: The True Story of the Royal Baccarat Scandal" was announced as the winner of the 2011 Tony Lothian Prize of The Biographers' Club. Looking for a picture to illustrate this post I dipped back into my archives for a picture from our youth. This particular shot must have been taken over 40 years ago : but it is the same clever girl who won the prize last night. When the book is eventually published, perhaps she will use this picture on the fly-leaf. 

Reading the words of the judges on the Biographers' Club website, I can only agree with them :-

On behalf of the judges, Valerie Grove said: ‘A famous scandal at the card table, involving the Prince of Wales; an American heiress, one of three sisters who married into the Victorian aristocracy; an opening scene of thrilling drama, as a splendid yacht sinks in a storm. “A cracking good story here,” as Jane Gordon-Cumming confidently told us, and the judges agreed. The American heiress was her grandmother Florence; the Scottish rake her grandfather Sir William Gordon-Cumming – both “flawed, exasperating, eccentric but huge characters”. A sure winner.’

Congratulations Janie.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Old Faithful, Old Tom, Wobble, Black Bee.

We went to the theatre on Saturday evening : to the Marsden Mechanics Hall to see the splendid Mikron Theatre Company present the last night of their musical "Beer Street". It was written by my friend and fellow Old Gits Luncheon Club member, Mike Lucas. Whilst he was updating the play earlier this year I was able to lend my help and support during the necessary research which underpins such a project. This involved visiting public houses and tasting beer, inter-spaced with talking to brewers and landlords about their trade. : onerous tasks, but someone has to do it in the interests of artistic integrity. Saturday's performance was a memorable evening and a triumph for the actors, writers and directors.

It is sometimes difficult to fully appreciate the poetry of beer. To give you a flavour (a little hoppy but not too powerful) perhaps I can quote from the lyrics of one of the numbers from the show. It sings the praises of many of the grand old ales that have now sadly vanished from pubs and bars across the land, beers with wonderfully evocative names. However, it is not merely a nostalgia trip because at the same time it celebrates the birth of new flavours and new names.

"The winds of change have blown
over Joules beers of Stone,
Oldham Bitter and Ely Brown Ale,
Websters Lifeboat Ale
And St Neot's Paine.
But new flavours grow
Among the old ones that remain.

Nelson's Revenge,
Pit Stops' Grand Prix,
Old Cockle Warmer, Hogs Back TEA,
Cunning Stunt, Dolly Daydream,
Old Faithful, Old Tom, Wobble, Black Bee ....."

It was wonderful stuff and it was enjoyed, of course, with a pint of ale in my hand. Sadly,  Saturday night marked the end of the 2011 Mikron season and whilst next year they will be touring the country again, it will be with a different set of shows. But, who knows, Beer Street might be revived again in a year or two : and with this in mind I will continue to help Mike keep up to date with his research.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Sepia Saturday 97 : On Excelsior - Nothing Changes

I am a "themer" for this weeks' Sepia Saturday (Sepia Saturday 97) : I have children, I have one of them who is "looking up", and I have a motorbike. All right, if you are into nit-picking and point-scoring, there wasn't a motorbike on the prompt image, but believe me, it was just off-camera (I choose the images, I should know). Anyway, I have my father, Albert Burnett, my brother Roger perched on the back - and that angelic looking fellow at the front is ... well you know who it is. 

The picture must have been taken in about 1950 and it was taken just outside our house in Southmere Drive, Bradford. Looking at the same scene now (with the aid of Google Street Cam), not all that much has changed. The leaded windows have gone and the doors may be a little smarter, but the buildings are the same. But the 60 years has had a greater impact on the three people. My father died almost ten years ago, but the other two are still going strong : Roger in Dominica and the young angelic one still in West Yorkshire.

The Excelsior Motor Company was the first to go : it went out of business in 1965. The company started life in 1874 as Bayliss, Thomas and Co and they were manufacturers of penny-farthing bikes. Later they made and sold ordinary bicycles and by 1914 they were manufacturing motor-bicycles from their base in Tyseley in Birmingham. I am sure there are people out there who will be able to recognise the precise model of bike we are all sat upon : my best guess is that it was a Talisman Twin. If this is the case it must have been brand new in 1949/50 and this, perhaps, explains why my father is showing it off with such pride. My brother is striking a certain attitude whereas I am sitting there quiet and angelic. Nothing changes.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Prince Among Bowlers

I was intending to go out today as the sun is shining, but my back seems to have gone, leaving me walking around like a rusted-up half-opened pen-knife. I can't blame it on my recent indulgence in sporting activity as the crown green bowling season is now over and I am left to send virtual woods thumb-pegging towards imaginary jacks as I contemplate the morning frost on the lawn. But as it is a virtual game I am playing let us imagine that it is on the green on Prince Smith and Sons' Bowling Club in Keighley. One of the men is possibly my Great Uncle Fowler Beanland (the photograph comes from his collection and he was a keen and competent bowler), but as our backs are bad let us limit ourselves to a gentle stroll around the image.

The most obvious thing to note first of all is the location - Prince Smith and Son. Prince Smith and Son (it became Prince Smith and Stells in 1939) was one of the foremost manufacturers of wool-combing, drawing and spinning machines in Europe. In the mid 1920s (perhaps 15 or so years after the photograph was taken) it employed 2,000 workers in the town of Keighley in West Yorkshire. The firm was started in the first half of the 19th century by one Prince Smith, the son of a Keighley clock-maker, William Smith. 

The 19th century idea of using "Prince" as a christian name seems to have died out, but if you are destined for nobility there is nothing like planning for success. Prince Smith's son was duly named Prince Prince-Smith and by 1911 had amassed enough of a fortune to acquire a Baronetcy in the New Years' Honours. At the time a Baronetcy was often a reward for political donations and the recipient were addressed in the style of a Knight - thus Sir Prince Prince-Smith.

Let us leave aside the arcane and somewhat bizarre world of the British aristocracy and return to the photograph and, in particular, to the young lad on the right hand side who seems to be holding some kind of ling stick. I can't imagine what this can be : one is tempted to think it might be some kind of measuring rod, but crown green bowlers measure in 16ths of an inch not in feet and yards. Perhaps it is some kind of broom for sweeping the surface of the green, but I have never heard of such an arrangement. I have a couple of friends who are experts at the game so I must remember to ask them what the implement might be.

And then there is the two small pictures that seem to have been pinned up on the outside wall of the Club House. Maybe they are indeed Edwardian pin-ups and one is left to curse the limits of a scanners' ability to improve detail. The lower of the two pictures seems to be a somewhat boring picture of someone quite grand : perhaps it is Prince Smith himself (father of Sir Prince Prince Smith) as he was highly thought of in the town and had a clock-tower erected in his memory. The two figures in the top picture look far more interesting. Perhaps they were Music Hall beauties of their time : possibly the Lady GaGa's of the Edwardian world. But these were gentle times, an age of respect and reverence : so perhaps it is simply a picture of Dame Ann Prince-Smith and her sister. By now I know never to be surprised by the ingenuity of my fellow lovers of old images and I confidently expect a copy of the original image to appear in my in-box within the next few hours.

Perhaps I can bring this virtual game of bowls to a close by offering irrefutable proof of my own participation in this particular match. Look to the left of the fine bowler-hatted gent who is keeping the score. There you will see a half-hidden bowl which is in the channel or gutter. As those who have ever been involved in a game of bowls with me will know this is proof-positive of my presence. Whilst other bowlers have to try and identify their woods by their discreet colour patches, I never have such a problem : I simply head straight for the channel and pick mine out. Of course the channel is that little bit deeper and I need to bend down that little bit more to retrieve my woods. Which, of course, is why my back has gone.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Robin Hood in Rock And Forest

Life seems to have got in the way of blogging these last few days - and, of course, life has its ups and downs. The "ups" was undoubtedly the gorgeous weekend we spent in Sherwood Forest with The Lad and his delightful girlfriend. It was perfect Autumn weather and we avoided the strong winds and lashing rain that now seems to have moved in from the Atlantic. We did lot of swimming, a little bit of walking and a deal of relaxation. British readers will immediately recognise the location as one of the Center Parc villages : for those unfamiliar with such places they are set in forests and incorporate substantial swimming areas, lakes and sporting facilities of all kinds. I am glad to report they also feature a variety of excellent bars and restaurants. The photograph shows our accommodation amidst the trees of Sherwood. Quite what Robin Hood would have made of it, I can't imagine, but I suspect he might have been tempted to have a go at the field archery.

We returned to a bit of a crisis for close family friends which meant that we spent a fair amount of yesterday either waiting for doctors or ambulances. At the end of a day like that it was such a relief to go to the Rock for a quiet drink with D&S : talking over good times against the background noise of the gentle clicking of the pub domino team playing in the other room. Quite what Robin Hood would have made of it, I can't imagine, but I suspect he would have bought himself a pint of Landlord Bitter and joined us at our table.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Carriage Full Of Brontes

Oh, it all started so well. You will recall that I had accepted the kind invitation from Tess Kincaid to attend the 4th Annual Willow Manor Ball and, over the weekend, I had walked across the valley to the small West Yorkshire village of Haworth to invite a special girl to be my date. The Willow Manor Ball is, of course, a virtual event and therefore you are allowed to invite any companion you want - whether or not they are still drawing regular breaths on this mortal coil is neither here nor there nor anywhere else. Not wanting to intrude - and being of a shy and retiring nature - when I got to the parsonage I just dropped a note through the letterbox. Here is what it said :

"My Dear Miss Bronte, I have long been an admirer of your work and it would give me enormous pleasure if you would agree to accompany me to the Willow Manor Ball being organised by my friend Tess Kincaid on the 12th October.  If you agree, I will have a carriage ready to collect you on Wednesday evening at 7.30 in the evening.  With the greatest of respect and affection, your humble servant, Alan Burnett".

I thought the words captured the tone of the event and I sat back and awaited a reply. I did not have to wait long, and on Monday morning the following note was pushed through my door:

"Respected Sir, Thank you for you kind note. I am so glad that you find some satisfaction in my humble writing and that you wish for my company at the ball being held by the American Lady. I would be delighted to attend and I look forward to your carriage arriving at the parsonage on Wednesday. Your friend, Charlotte Bronte"

I was of course, delighted that my invitation had been accepted and stayed up all night re-reading "Jane Eyre" just so that I would have something to talk about on the long carriage ride to Ohio. 

You can therefore imagine my shock and surprise when on Tuesday morning I found the following note behind my door. "Gallant Sir, Thank you so much for your kind note, I am both delighted and a little overawed that you have read my book and like my work. I would be overjoyed to accept your kind offer to take me to the Ball and I will be looking out of my window in anticipation of your arrival on Wednesday evening. Thank you once again for thinking of me kind sir, your soul-mate, Emily Bronte".

I have to confess a crude expletive passed my lips when I read this message and realised the mistake which must have been made. One sister had left my note lying around and the other had mistakenly thought it was for her. But what can't be mended must be endured so I immediately took to my library and started to read "Wuthering Heights".

By now you will have realised what awaited me when I got to the door this morning! Yes, you guessed right. "My Dear Sir, Thank you so much for your note. You can not understand what a delight it was for me to receive it as I often think that I hide away in the shadow of my two successful sisters. But you, kind sir, have invited me to the Ball and I ecstatically accept. See you on Wednesday my dear sir, Your Anne Bronte".

Well, what can I say. Well I am not going to say it because quite frankly I am exhausted from lack of sleep. Last night I had to stay up all night reading "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" and I can assure you that is no walk in the park. So here I am, in Haworth with a carriage full of Brontes. The female members of the party are all scowling at me and I can see from their eyes that as soon as they get me alone they will demand an explanation. But worst of all, I have also got their brother Branwell in the carriage with me. "He is a little melancholic and must come with us", said Charlotte. Melancholic! He is as drunk as a judge and singing rude songs in the back of the carriage. How on earth I am going to explain this disaster to Tess when we all arrive I can't imagine.

The only way for you to find out is for you to go on over to the Willow Manor Blog and follow the events live, as they happen. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Rendezvous With Our Youth

Congratulations to those who managed to get the answers to yesterday's questions. I have a lot of sympathy for those who guessed Amelia Earhart because that was my response when I was shown the figure by my friend Denis and asked to identify what it was. But it was not Amelia, it was - as Chairman Bill rightly identified - "Speed - The Modern Mercury" by Herbert J. Rowse and Edmund C. Thompson and it graces the magnificent Georges Dock Ventilation Tower of the Mersey Tunnel. The first Mersey road tunnel - more properly known as the Queensway Tunnel - was opened in 1934 and the Georges' Dock control building and ventilation shaft is a monument to art decor design. The statue of "Speed - The Modern Mercury" depicts a young girl riding a motorcycle and wonderfully pulls together the Egyptian influences and the thrust of modernity that influenced art and design at the time. If you are ever in Liverpool the Tunnel Control Centre is worth looking at, it is both a beautiful building and an ingenious ventilation shaft. It is just behind the Port of Liverpool Building on the Pier Head. And it is the Port of Liverpool Building, seen in the reflection of one of the new office buildings, that features in my main photograph today.

And our night out last night? Both Kim and the Silver Fox got the right answer - I took the GLW to see Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler at the MEN Arena in Manchester. Knopfler was magnificent and Dylan was - well what can you say other than he was Dylan. He no longer sings but barks out familiar lyrics to somewhat unfamiliar tunes. But the man is a legend so we forgive him anything. A night to remember - a rendezvous with our youth.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Blowing In The Wind

It is a miserable day today : the wind is blowing and the rain is lashing down. So let me look back at last week's delightful visit to Liverpool and let me pose a couple of questions. The questions relate to the above image : what is it and where is it? The answers, my friend, are no doubt blowing in the wind. As for me, I will be braving that wind later this afternoon as I and the GLW make our way to the MEN Arena in Manchester. It is a little additional retirement present for the GLW : I am sure you can guess who we are going to see.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Sepia Saturday 95 : Whatever Happened To Monkey Matthews

This is one of those rare pictures with an inscription on the reverse. The inscription must be authentic because it is in my rather childish handwriting - "Them Were The Days - At Camp : Left to Right - Grandad Burnett. Monkey Matthews, Auntie Miriam, Dad". So we thus have the dramatis personae, we have a location, which is probably a West Yorkshire field, and we have a date which must have been the late 1920s. By then, Enoch "Grandad" Burnett would have been around 50 years old, Miriam would have been in her late 20s and Albert, my father, would have been in his late teens. As for Monkey Matthews, I have no idea!

Like all old images it is full of scratches, thumbprints, blotches and tears. And like all old images it is full of questions. Who on earth was Monkey Matthews? Why has my father got what looks like a fairly serious bandage around his head? What is that strange triangular shaped object just in front of the tree on the left of the picture? Why was Auntie Miriam, in her sensible shoes and no-nonsense hat, part of this somewhat muddy group?

My mind plays with the idea of Auntie Miriam eloping with Monkey Matthews who takes her to live in a tent in a field (complete with hot and cold running bucket). Enoch, accompanied by my father, goes in search of the love-lost pair, riding through the rural streets of West Yorkshire in his window cleaners' donkey and cart. Once found my father challenges Monkey Matthews to a fight in defense of his sisters' honour, but cuts his head when he trips over a guy rope. Things get worse when the donkey drops dead and the back wheels fall off Enoch's cart. But Miriam makes everyone a cup of tea and they all line up for a celebratory snapshot. Mystery solved. Questions answered.

But who took the photograph? And whatever happened to Monkey Matthews?

You will find many other questions based on many other old images by following the links on the Sepia Saturday Blog.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Rigs, Balls And Death

It was fascinating to read the comments which followed my post of yesterday as two old sea-dogs argued as to whether the ship featured in the photograph was a schooner or a brig, square rigged or gaff rigged. There can be few better examples of the delights of this strange new digital world in which we inhabit : a world where you can throw out a question, sit back and wait for it to be taken up by people from throughout the world. The internet has a lot going for it : it is wonderfully comprehensive, enormously large, breathtakingly fast - but there have been big books and fast newspapers before : the true wonder of this internet of ours is its' interactivity.

And let us not forget its' creativity. And let us not be ashamed of the semi-virtual world we sometimes inhabit. Each year I always look forward to turning up at Tess Kincaid's matchless Willow Manor Ball. You may recall that last year my guest was the delightful Dorothy Parker, and on our way to the virtual gathering she gave me a short lecture on the historical precedents for virtual reality. Dorothy will not be my guest this year - she can be moody and she is in one of her moods at the moment. But I have invited this girl from across the valley. I popped over there yesterday and dropped a note through her letter-box, but I have yet to get an answer (I popped in for a pint at the Black Bull afterwards in the hope that I might see her brother there but he was indisposed unfortunately). Being a gentleman I will not reveal her name until I have confirmation that she will be joining me at the Ball, but you can join us and all the stars of the cyber world by following the instructions on the Willow Manor Blog.

I switched on my iPad this morning and immediately turned to my favourite app - Flipboard. Flipboard gathers chosen news and RSS feeds and turns them into a made-to-measure magazine. Each section of the magazine is previewed on the opening pages by a current image. My front page has feeds from The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, Twitter, Facebook and a variety of other sources. What I saw was image after image of Steve Jobs as each media source reported the news of his passing. Somehow it was strangely appropriate, but equally it was strangely appropriate that by the time I decided to incorporate a screen-clip into my blog, many of the images had changed. The world has this habit of moving on : Steve Jobs, I fancy, would have recognised this and rejoiced in it. The one front-page feed that didn't feature Steve Jobs was the News From Nowhere feed. Hopefully, when I next turn my iPad on, this omission will be rectified.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Salty Rigging And The Three Graces

It is hard for a Yorkshireman to say this, but - Liverpool is a very attractive city (I have carefully timed this confession so that it only appears after my friend Denis has crossed the Atlantic). The photograph shows a clipper (I think its a clipper, but no doubt one of my nautical friends will correct me if I am wrong) moving from the Canning Dock to the Albert Dock. The spectacular architecture of the famous "three graces" - the Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Liverpool Dock Board - can be seen in the background. If I look at the picture long enough I can almost hear the wind in the rigging and taste the salt in the air.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Three Cathedrals And A Gypsy Jazz Trio

The Roman Catholic and Anglican Cathedrals of Liverpool
I know I have not been around for a few days - but I have my excuses. First of all it was the Consultant's Ball on Friday - a grand affair which I would have happily incorporated into the title of this post had it not been for the fact that I didn't manage to take any photographs. This was due to a medical condition - a severe tremor brought on by  an excess of malt whisky. 

The three cathedrals in the post title were all found in Liverpool yesterday. We spent an excellent day there with friends, being expertly guided by Denis, a native of that fair city - indeed after our day out I have to say, our that very fair city. And before the pedants rush into print to point out that Liverpool only has two cathedrals, let me say that the majestic Philharmonic Dining Room and Bar must surely have the status of a cathedral any any secular person's mind.

The magnificent ceiling of the Philharmonic Dining Room and Bar, Liverpool
The gypsy jazz trio was the wonderful Trio Gitan which the GLW and myself had the pleasure of going to see at the Victoria Hall, Halifax on Saturday night. It was a particular pleasure, of course, because the Trio features that excellent blogger Dominic Rivron on double bass. Meeting fellow bloggers in real life is always a pleasure : when they are as entertaining and talented as Dominic and his colleagues it is a special event. If you are unfortunate enough not to live in the north of England you can always check out the trio on their Blog - Trio Gitan Radio.

Trio Gitan at Halifax
So it is thank you to Dominic for the music, thank you to Denis and Sue for the most splendid day out .... and thank you to my friends at the Ball for the Lagavulin!

Not Seeing The Moores For The Trees

This family photograph from the 1930s perfectly captures a marriage of style and elegance. It also captures a marriage between two people, b...