Monday, February 27, 2012

Tea, I Do Not Have To Wait To Go

As most people know, I am no poet. Once or twice I have tried to be poetic, but quickly I have come to the conclusion that poetry is one of those things - like singing, painting, acting, cooking, gardening, ice-skating, and shot-putting - that I was never intended to do. There are so many talented poets out there, my time is much better occupied in reading their works rather than attempting to compete with them. If you live next door to Picasso, don't paint your window sills: that's what I say.

But that doesn't stop me from playing with the words of others, and one of my favourite ways of doing that is via the wonderfully inventive medium of on-line machine translation. This particular game is easy to play. Simply take a well known verse, for example the opening lines of that splendid song, "Danny Boy". Take those lines and feed them into one of the many free, on-line translation sites (for example Google Translate). Translate them from English to Chinese, then from Chinese to Yiddish, from Yiddish to Hindi, Hindi to Japanese, and then finally back from Japanese to English. What you come up with is a kind of psychedelic anthem, a surrealistic ballad, an odd Irish Air.

The original verse goes as follows:-

"Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer's gone, and all the roses falling
'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide".

Repeated machine translation changes it with the subtlety of a fine pencil, infusing it with just enough mystery to make it exotic.

"Oh, Danny Boy pipes, pipes are calling
Downhill side of the valley
Disappears and summer, all rose the drop
Tea, I do not have to wait to go, "Tease" You are".

Oh Google Translate, tease indeed you are.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Family Shoe-Tree Gets A Walk In The Sun

Shoes is the theme over at Sepia Saturday this week so I thought I would illustrate it with a family shoe-tree. And at the heart of any such tree are your two immediate genetic precursors, your father and your mother. Or in the case of a family shoe-tree, your fathers' shoes and your mothers' shoes. So we will start with my father and this splendid pair of two-tone brogues which personify the 1930s like a chorus from Bert Ambrose and his Orchestra. I can't imagine my father wearing shoes like this : that staid disciple of cultural conformity could surely never have been a dedicated follower of fashion. But we have photographic evidence and therefore I will have to amend my preconceptions.

The boot is on the other foot (so to speak) when I come to my mothers' place in the family shoe-tree. Feast your eyes on those tight-laced boots; the very personification of Edwardian severity. But those booted feet belong to a girl who, just a few short years after this photograph was taken, would be wearing a flapper dress and a cloche hat.

I originally intended to follow these two photographs with the full images they were cropped from so that you would see the wider picture. But I don't think I will. Let us leave everything else to the imagination. Shoes are so often an afterthought; an appendage of little consequence. Let this be their day in the spotlight, their brief moment of fame, their walk in the sun.

Walk on over to the Sepia Saturday Blog to see what others are making of this week's theme - SHOES.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sepia Descending Into Madness

Uncle Frank was a great album keeper. He took photographs back in the days when photography involved more of an investment of time and money than    any click of a mobile phone keypad. He had the film processed, the photographs printed and then he pasted them in presentation albums which he labelled with a style and exactitude that shine down the decades. One album is headed "Tours 1939" and it lists the various resorts he and his wife Miriam visited in that apocalyptic year. With the exception of London, all are seaside resorts within easy travelling distance of the mill towns of West Yorkshire where Frank and Miriam lived. As I turn the pages in the album I see a sepia world that is slowly descending into madness, a process that is perfectly illustrated by a photograph of a German bomber silhouetted like a tiny dust speck above the skies of West Lancashire.

The photograph I have chosen for my "Picture Within" feature this week comes from a series that were taken in Blackpool. In an age when amateur photographs were mainly of people, Frank took a good number of pictures of things and places. The one above is labelled simply "on the pier" and, as far as I know, is not supposed to feature any particular person,

It is when we drill down into the detail of the photograph that we discover the most delightful group of people on the extreme right of the original photograph. If I had my brothers' skills of sculpture I would would want to cast this group in bronze and capture forever the lounging knee being transformed by history into the uniformed figures preparing to march out of the picture into the future.

I remember Uncle Frank as a bit of a figure of fun in the family. He collected stamps and bus tickets and spent an age in the 1950s recording television adverts on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. Even though he has been dead some forty years, I would like to take this opportunity to issue a public apology. Frank was a genius, a man years ahead of his time, a presser of social history who approached his task with the skill and dedication of any Victorian flower-presser. He left me with not only a galaxy of old photographs, but within each of those galaxies there are hidden endless systems of pictures within.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mashed Liquorice And a Walk In The Park

Chairman Bill in a comment to my last post accuses me of becoming tardy in my blogging activities. He is, of course, quite right (which will come as no surprise to those who follow him, as he is always right) : I plead guilty as charged. I would like to put forward a long list of mitigating circumstances in my defence, but I can think of none. But as I stand here on the steps of the War Memorial in Greenhead Park, I do solemnly declare that in future I will be a better blogger. And as I publicly munch this humble pie of mashed liquorice and  wholesome bran flakes I declare that I will aspire to be a more regular blogger. 

In order to maintain the necessary continuity for my new phase of regular and responsive blogging, here is a quick summary of what has been happening in my life during these recent days of radio silence.
 - The GLW and I yet again won the Friday night quiz at the pub which has led to accusations of cheating;
 - After our victory of a couple of weeks ago, Denis and I lost our last Crown Green Bowling match against the girls by the small margin of 21-4 (which has led to accusations of cheating);
 - My New Year Resolution of becoming a fitter and slimmer person has melted away like a lump of lard in a chip pan;
 - Amazingly, the Great Novelette of the 21st Century is still going strong with over 50,000 words now committed to paper;
  - The clouds vanished yesterday revealing glorious blue skies and perfect weather for a walk in the magnificently restored Greenhead Park, Huddersfield;
 - My attempt to reverse the decline in the Great British Pub continues with my attendance at an Old Gits lunch at the Sportsman Tavern tomorrow.
Regular blogging will return tomorrow - that is, of course, if I am not too hung-over following the monthly gathering of the Worshipful Company of Old Gits.

Friday, February 17, 2012

All Hail The Lord Evicted

I am occasionally tempted to have a theme with a title something like "Britain Is A Very Peculiar Place". Take this sign planted in the garden of the office park down the road. Before the offices were built, the field was occasionally used by Travellers. Maybe it is not surprising that the landlord doesn't want the Travellers returning to spoil his businesslike facility. Maybe it is not surprising that he is prepared to retain a national firm of bailiffs to evict any unwelcome visitors. But you would think that, given the authoritative and legalistic nature of the sign, they would have threatened trespassers with Lord Halsbury rather than some unknown Hailsbury. I am tempted to nip back with a pot of paint and correct it, but they would probably evict me.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Bolt Driven Through A Sheet Metal Plate

Yesterday I got involved in a game of Pub Snap with my friend Jennyfreckles over at Salt & Light and she won by coming up with a pub called the Green Lion in Rainham, Kent. I told her she couldn't get maximum points if she had not been and drunk a pint there. I thought I might counter today with the latest in my monthly theme of Occupational Pubs : the Boltmakers' Arms in Keighley. As this is in Jenny's neck of the woods, she should be able claim points for having visited the pub. As for me, I can claim full points because I have visited the pub and, as the notes I took at the time suggest, thoroughly enjoyed a pint there. The following piece was first published on Great Yorkshire pubs some two and a half years ago. I make no apologies for repeating it here : after all the next best thing to a good pint of bitter is another good pint of bitter.

I was in Keighley tracking down long-dead family and long fragmented churches when I called in at the Boltmakers Arms for a lunchtime pint. The Boltmakers - a Timothy Taylor house within spitting distance of the brewery - is the kind of pub you dream about when you are a long way from home. Small, cozy, warm, welcoming : it is everything that a pub should be with a little bit extra added just to make you happy. You don't feel lost when you go in there nor do you feel compelled to order a three course dinner and a bottle of wine. The pictures on the wall have been chosen by the Landlord because he likes them and not because they fit into a preconceived theme thought up by a Pubco's marketing team. If you want to chat to the guy behind the bar you can, but if you want to sit and read a book in a little haven of peace and tranquility there is nothing to stop you. The architecture is not brilliant and the decor is unspectacular - but on Wednesday lunchtime I had difficulty thinking of anywhere else I would rather be in the whole wide world.
It is a Timothy Taylor house and they had the full range of hand-pull beers available. I tried something called Boltmakers Best Bitter (4% ABV) which, for all I knew, could have been brewed in the upstairs back bedroom. It was fresh and clean and for whatever reason put me in mind of a bolt been driven through a sheet metal plate in one of the long-lost dockyards of the River Clyde. I know it is a daft comparison by by this time I was getting maudlin. How long will such a place stay open? Will it be there fore my son to drink in? Probably. Will it be there for my grandson? Probably not. 
What a shame, what an undiluted crime - this thing that is happening to the traditional British pub. What a loss, what a bloody, stupid waste. It was one of those days. It was one of those pubs. The Landlord looked at me as I drained my pint and left, wondering why I was crying.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Gladys And The Genetic Cord

Another in my "Picture Within" series and this time the focus is a personal one, for that is my mother looking straight at me with an intent gaze and a troubled frown. My portrait is cropped from a larger one which features Gladys with her mother and father and her elder sister Amy.

But as soon as I started scanning the larger photograph and examining it in detail, I was drawn to my mother. There is something about the composition which just draws your eye to her face and challenges you to guess her emotions. She is standing there supported by two knees, two parents, and by a kind of grim determination.

That determination allowed her to see out 92 summers, It saw her through two world wars and her fair share of uncertain  times. I look at that face and ask myself whether I can see the older woman who was my mother. I even look at it and ask whether I can see myself in that face, for, to be sure, there is a  genetic umbilical cord that joins any two generations.

I think I can. I hope I can.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Quiz : Every Prime Minister Needs A Cup Of Tea

Following the reference to my success in the weekly Pub Quiz, a number of you asked me to post the questions I set for this week. Here they are - my usual apologies for the local ones which may confuse people from far-flung lands such as the USA, Australia, Canada and Lancashire. I will add the answers in the form of a comment to this post in a couple of days time.

1    Which programme topped the British TV ratings every year between 1979 and 1989?   
2    What is graphology the study of?         
3    In terms of food, Mangetout is a type of what?   
4    Who said "every Prime Minister needs a Willie" and who or what was the Willie being referred to?        
5    Who wrote the lyrics to the hit song "Candle in the Wind"?       
6    Foyles in London sells what?    
7    In which 1990 film did Madonna play the part of Breathless Mahoney?   
8    Aylesbury is the administrative capital of which English county?
9    What were the 49ers searching for in California? 
10   Name the five D-Day Normandy invasion beaches - a point for each.     
11   The nursery rhyme “Ring A Ring Of Roses” is often said to commemorate what historical event?        
12   What is the link between boxing champion James Corbett and the country singer Jim Reeves?   
13   What part of the body shares its name with a punctuation mark? 
14   Which football club played at Anfield before Liverpool FC?       
15   In terms of food, what does the abbreviation UHT stand for?    
16   Which media tycoon established the breakaway World Series Cricket organisation in the 1970s?  
17   Which Prime Minister gave his name to a type of tea?   
18   Who played the title role in the 1950s TV comedy “I Love Lucy”? 
19   What colour is the cross on the Swiss flag?       
20   There are six M-classified motorways that pass through Yorkshire – name them.  
21   In what year did the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II take place?     
22   In which city was Charles Dickens born? 
23   Name the last three Managers of the England Football team?      
24   Who won this years' Super Bowl last Monday night?     
25   How many Great Grandchildren does the Queen currently have? 
26   What was the name of the football club owner who was found not guilty of tax evasion this week? 
27   Under what pseudonym were the first stories written by Dickens published?      
28   What is the name of the Archbishop of York who has been subject to criticism this week following his views on gay marriage?   
29   What is the name of Dickens’s final, unfinished, book    
30   Who are the three longest reigning British monarchs? (Point for each, bonus point for the right order)      
31   What song, said to be the most recognised song in the English language, was written by sisters Patty and Mildred Hill in 1893?       
32   What is the trade name of polytetrafluoroethene?          
33   Which American building is said to be the world’s largest office building with 6.5 million sq feet of space?     
34   In terms of volume, which country produces the most wine?     
35   In terms of Roman numerals, what is M+C-L equal to? (Answers in ordinary numbers, bonus for answer in Roman numerals)   
36   With sales of 37.5 million, what is said to be the best selling car of all time?    
37   Minsk is the capital of which country?   
38   Where, in London, are the Royal Botanic Gardens?     
39   Who designed the lions in London’s Trafalgar Square?  
40   Other than Manchester United. Who are the only other three football teams to have won the Premiership title?    
41   What do baseball players call a complete miss of the ball?      
42   Carrots are rich in which vitamin?       
43   Which singer and actress starred in the title role of the 1953 film Calamity Jane?  
44   Donald Neilson was better known as which notorious 1970s murderer?    
45   Which world famous mathematician, born 100 years ago this year,  is the subject of a current petition to grant him a pardon for his conviction for gross indecency?          
46   In which century was the United States last at war with Great Britain?     
47   In mythology what was left in Pandora’s Box after she had released all the evils of the world from it?      
48   In terms of production, which is the most cultivated crop in the world?     
49   What is the name of the scale used to describe wind speed?   
50   What animals are known as caribou in North America?    

Friday, February 10, 2012

Sepia Saturday 112 : Life Between Two Marble Bookends

I never imagined that it would be so difficult to come up with something to fit this weeks' Sepia Saturday theme - Books. Over the last few days I must have searched through almost every old family photograph I have, looking for elusive volumes, only to find that they are as rare as hens in a dental surgery. 

If I spread my net a little wider and go outside my own family I can find a scattering of books, but even these tend to be used as props. This picture from the studios of J C Gray in Paddington, London shows what looks like a father and two sons. The father, who seems to  want to be seen in profile, appears to have a long body and short arms and the two volumes seem just the thing for keeping him evenly balanced; like a folded envelope shoved under a short table leg. What the volumes are, I have no idea : but a book is a book in the land of the photographically illiterate.

If I look back to my own youth, there were some books in the house: but precious few. My mother had a Mrs Beeton's Cookbook and my father had two Daily Mail pictorial volumes on the history of the world wars. There was a gazetteer entitled "Romantic Britain" and a curious book entitled "Everybody's Book Of Fate And Fortune" These volumes were proudly displayed on the top of a cupboard between two marble bookends.

I am sure that my childhood home was no different to hundreds of other northern working class homes. Form books would be more prevalent than great books and stories were what you listened to on the radio rather than read about in a book. But that doesn't stop me fantasising of a youth enriched by literature and learning, of a young lad who would save his tuppence spending money, don his best sailor suit and go off to the second-hand bookshop to buy a new supply of precious books.

We are a lucky generation: one way or another we have access to an almost limitless supply of books, whether they be printed on musty old paper or a bright computer screen. We are also the first generation to have the time and the means available to write our own histories. And fantasies can be turned into historical fact with a little help from Uncle Photoshop.


Wednesday, February 08, 2012

A Cack-Handed Photographer Preserved In Negative Aspic

My second February theme is "The Picture Within" and this week I feature one of my oldest negatives which dates back to the early 1960s. I am fairly sure that it was taken at the Halifax Gala in Manor Heath Park but other than that, I can remember nothing about it.

Two things captured my attention when I scanned the negative and examined it in detail. The first was the photographer on the right of the shot and the strange contraption he has hanging over his shoulder. It took me some time to realise that he wasn't a cack-handed snapper caught in the process of dropping his prized camera, but a film-maker, because that seems to be a fairly primitive 8mm movie camera that he is holding. Given that it is a movie camera and that he appears to be filming a band, we can assume that over his shoulder is an early tape recorder. But I am still not sure what the box is that he is holding in his left hand. Some questions are best left unanswered.

My second focus of attention was on the band itself which provides a great platform for a game of guess the date. There is a slight Beatle-ish feel to the band and the hair style of the singer would suggest the very early 1960s. 

Who the group were, I know not. What happened to them, I have no idea. But they are preserved forever in  negative aspic, peacefully hibernating until their story can be told.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Unpretentious As Lard And As Solid As A Bag Of Bricks

Back to my February theme : occupational pubs. The Engineers is a delightful old pub in Sowerby Bridge, as unpretentious as lard and as solid as a bag of bricks. There were a number of engineering works in Sowerby Bridge and most West Yorkshire towns would have a pub with a similar name during the first half of the twentieth century. Often they would have acquired their name because they were the meeting place of the powerful Amalgamated Engineering Union. I can still remember my father, who was no great frequenter of pubs, going to "the Engineers" to pay his union dues, although, in his case, it would have been the Engineers' Club in Halifax rather than the eponymous pub in Sowerby Bridge.

I have been unable to find out very much about the history of the Sowerby Bridge Engineers. It looks like a fairly typical post-1830 Beerhouse Act establishment, but obviously more research is required. As always, I will rededicate myself to its completion.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Ant Hills Surrounding Everest

Now I have never been one to boast. As far as I am concerned, if you have to blow your own trumpet you might as well sit in silence. I am such a believer in the precept that what is important is the taking-part rather than the winning, that I have shunned the victory rostrum throughout my life. I have spiked my prize marrows, be-headed my dahlias, over-fed my whippet, and - for heavens sake - supported Sheffield Wednesday Football Club. So you can understand how difficult it is to make - strictly in the interests of public information - the following announcement :


In the interest of archival substantiation, I have taken the unusual step of reproducing the final score-sheet. For the sake of clarity, I have highlighted our winning score (you can't imagine how difficult it is to generate a gold-coloured highlight using Photoshop). You may care to note how far behind some of the regular Friday night "big-hitters" of the quiz scene lagged. The phrase "ant-hills surrounding Everest" comes to mind. The prize for our achievement isn't exactly substantial - we get a free drink and the job of setting the quiz next week - but one doesn't do these things for worldly gain or worldwide approbation. It is the quiet knowledge that you have taken part that is important.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Sepia Saturday : Enoch And The Pin-Sharp Ratter

Dogs are the theme over on Sepia Saturday this week and the theme took me straight to this photograph of my grandfather, Enoch Burnett, and his dog. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind something is telling me that the dog was called Betty, but I can't be entirely sure of that.

I can be more certain about the date the photograph was taken because a date stamp has been applied to the reverse of the print : 18 November 1928. This was standard procedure at Jerome Studios which had "branches everywhere" in the UK. Enoch would have been 50 at the time the picture was taken and one can only wonder what caused him to take his dog along to the Jerome's branch in Bradford and have the portrait taken. He was not a great lover of studio portraits and I can find few of him other than this one and the one taken during the Great War which features all of the family. The strange thing is that he looks younger in this photograph than the one which was taken ten or eleven years earlier. Perhaps the dog had won prizes - she has the look of a great litter ratter - or perhaps there was a bond of affection there which drove the pair of them to have their likeness's captured in sepia forever. It is quite a nice idea - perhaps I will try and recreate the photograph using my own canine pal, Amy. All I need to know is how the photographers at Jerome's managed to keep her so still and looking into the camera. I will carry out experiments over the coming days and report back.

For more old photographs of long gone people and long gone dogs go the the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Mona Lisa Of The Bingo Hall

My second theme for February could live in a plastic box labelled "The Picture Within". The idea is this: take an old negative that is so uninspiring that, the first time around, you probably never even bothered printing it. Then scan it, enlarge it, and search within it for an image that is crying out to be created.

My first submission is based on a photograph I must have taken some time back in the 1970s. It was in a Bingo Hall in, I think, Bridlington. I pointed the camera into the arcade and took a photograph in the hope that something interesting might emerge when I developed the film. Nothing must have emerged because, as far as I can remember, I never made a print from the negative. But now, when I scan it, I see a woman who has turned away from her bingo game to see what kind of person wastes good film on such a scene. And there is something about her stance, something about her look, something about her enigmatic eyes which makes me want to take her out of her context and discover her anew. It's a silly game, I know, but it keeps me amused during the cold winter months.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Feeling Themey And Supping At Ye Olde Blogger

Well maybe it's the time of year or maybe it's the time of man .... but I am feeling themey. Themes are like filaments along which worthwhile thoughts can form. Think about a candy floss machine (that's cotton candy to our American cousins): I know about the mechanics of making candy floss because my friend Edwin bought me a candy floss machine for my birthday a couple of years ago. You start with a bit of sugar in the centre of a centrifuge and as it spins sugary filaments form. These filaments then become the sweet superstructure of the finished delicacy. What I am trying to say is that themes can become the superstructure of finished thoughts - or, there again, perhaps I am just demonstrating that candy-floss thoughts can be made out of practically nothing.

Anyway, I thought that I would make one of my February themes, pub names. Pub names are interesting in the way that book covers are interesting; they encourage you to seek within, to imbibe. There is probably a word for people who collect pub names - it will be something like a wastrel or a toomuchtimeonhishandsoligist. Whatever it is, I am one. It is the same with whatever it is that I collect, be it banknotes or old postcards, I am driven to categorise them, file them, store them away in a plastic box. And so my first plastic box has a label on it marked "occupational pubs".

The Old Bookbinders is in the Jericho district of Oxford, not far from the headquarters of the Oxford University Press. It's a fine old pub full of wooden tables, dusty old books and overflowing pints of beer. I have a feeling that I would have quite liked to be a bookbinder, there would be something satisfying about packaging knowledge and thoughts and stories. Perhaps the modern equivalent is a blogger - the bookbinder of the digital age. Now there's a pub I would be attracted to : "Ye Olde Blogger"

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...