Thursday, May 31, 2012

With Anne Lister Down A Ventilation Shaft Looking For The African Queen

I was having a bath with Anne Lister last night when I came across this entry in her diary :
Friday 16 January 1818 (Halifax)
Most boisterous, tempestuous night ... At last, I have brought up the time I lost in York and have got right again my journal as usual. I will never get so behindhand again, I am determined.
It immediately rang a bell in what remains of my mind and, whilst recapturing the escaping bar of coal tar soap with my toes, I made a vocal resolution to bring my long-neglected blog up to date. Let me immediately clear up any misunderstanding by declaring that it wasn't the "boisterous and tempestuous night" that set the bells in motion, nor was it the fact that I had brought up anything I had unwisely drunk in York; it was simply my determination to be a good and regular blogger. Had poor Anne Lister lived today she would have had a blog, I am sure of it, and there would be no need in these enlightened times for all that complicated secret code. I should also explain that the reason why I share my bath with Anne Lister is that her diaries are the only actual "book" (as against Kindle books) I am reading at the moment, and Kindles and lapping bathwater do not sit comfortably with each other.

It is now over a week since my last blog post - a rather hurried report from the Grove Inn, Huddersfield. Several people, in commenting on that last post, have drawn my attention to the circular tower on the right of the photograph and questioned me about its use and origin. As you can see from this second photograph - and, I should point out, that I had to return to the Grove and have another pint of Curious in order to take it  - there are two towers not one in the area adjacent to the pub. They are, in fact, ventilation shafts for the railway tunnel that runs under this piece of land and they date back to the 1850s. Anyone who has traveled by rail through Huddersfield will know that the main trans-Pennine line enters a long tunnel just to the west of the main station. Back in the days when steam trains ruled the world, such ventilation shafts were essential to let the steam escape.

But I have not been dangling down ventilation shafts all of the time - there are other reasons why I have been  scarce in recent days. As usual, it is all the fault of The Lad. Next Monday, when the rest of the country relaxes on the Jubilee Bank Holiday, he flies off to deepest Africa along with three other Medical students. They are heading for a remote hospital on an island on Lake Victoria, and before they leave there are an endless series of jobs to undertake. Once he is safely on a plane to Dar-es-Salaam I can relax and devote a little more time to my blogging activities. The Lad and his colleagues will be away for two months and will, I am sure, see parts of the world I can only dream about. I have always thought of Lake Victoria as being the place where Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn sailed to on the African Queen, but on checking this fact I have discovered it might have been the adjacent Lake Tanganyika. Wherever it was that the old boat steamed to, let us hope that there was always a ventilation shaft to keep it safe. And let us hope that Alexander and his friends are kept equally safe during their time in Tanzania.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Wednesday Pub : The Grove, Huddersfield

The Grove, at the corner of Spring Grove Street, Huddersfield is a comfortable walk from the town centre. Dating from 1853 the pub originally had a small brewery attached. In 1911 it came under the ownership of the Huddersfield brewers, Bentley and Shaw. It continued as a tied house (owned by a succession of breweries and selling their beers) until 2005 when it seemed for a time that it might close down. Luckily it didn't close: instead it became an independent pub specialising in a wide variety of real ales, many of them from local craft breweries.

Not so much a pub, more a temple devoted to the art of the brewer, the Grove is a place of pilgrimage for those who worship beer. I sampled a pint of Curious Original Pale Ale from the Magic Rock Brewery, Huddersfield. It was wonderful stuff, light enough for a lunchtime pint and fruity enough to qualify as one of your five portions of fruit a day. It was all I could do to avoid breaking out into a chorus of hymn-singing - All Things Bright And Beautiful, All Bitters Great And Small.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Sepia Saturday 126 : Group With Caps

Our Sepia Saturday Theme Photograph this week features a group of toffs all wearing hats. There are precious few toffs in our family (my father worked in a toffee factory, does that count?) and the hats are more likely to be flat caps than toppers. My photograph, however, certainly features a group and they seem to be having an even better time than the group in the theme photograph. Some of my group are recognisable: that is my maternal grandfather on the right and my father next to him; and that is my mother with her hands on the young boys' shoulders. Who the rest are, I am not sure, but the chances are that the photograph was taken at some seaside boarding house during a family holiday, and the rest of the group would have been fellow guests. I have a few such photographs in the family collection - it must have been normal practice after cohabiting for a week at the seaside for the various guests to have a photograph taken together.

It is the caps I am drawn to. As most people know, I am deaf and my hearing is provided by something called a cochlear implant, the most important element of which is a tiny computer and sound processor which sits behind my ear. It doesn't cope well with getting wet and therefore the British climate necessitates a substantial collection of hats. I would quite like to be able to wear a cap - they don't blow off as easily in a wind - but the majority of caps these days have narrow brims. Not so, it would appear, back in the 1930s; and a cap such as the one worn by my Grandfather would be perfect for my needs. All I need to do now is to see if I can find one for sale in the twenty-first century.

Whilst I go off to look for a big cap, why don't you go on over and see what other people are doing for Sepia Saturday this wee. Just follow the links from the Sepia Saturday Blog.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Wednesday Pub : The Village, Queensbury

I continue my lonely campaign to save the British pub by attempting to visit as many different ones as I can. I have decided to chronicle this crusade in what, hopefully, will be a regular series of Wednesday visits to the pub. I will try and get around as many pubs as I can and provide you with a picture and a few words about the pubs in question.

I am starting with a pub called The Village which is in the West Yorkshire village of Queensbury. It is the first in the series because it was whilst I was sat in its near-empty bar a couple of hours ago that I suddenly thought to myself  "I should do a new weekly series on pubs, it will give me a purpose in life". The Village is a relatively new name for a pub that has been around for at least 150 years, and I suspect nearer 200 years. It used to be called The Granby Inn, and it is marked on maps of the village of Queensbury (or Queenshead as it was then called) dating from 1852. The Granby (also The Marquess of Granby) has always been one of the most popular names for pubs in Britain : all were named in honour of John Manners. the Marquess of Granby (1721-1770) who was Commander-in-Chief of British Armed forces in the 1760s and introduced a scheme by which old soldiers could receive help from state funds to buy and operate inns and ale-houses upon their retirement.

As a name, The Granby Inn seems to be more resonant of history than The Village. And there is little history left within the framework of the building itself. It's an alcopop pup, a place of flashing TV screens and fruit machines. It is open, however, and that is a bit of a triumph for pubs these days. But the black lacquer paint and the flashing lights are merely surface manifestations; deep within the fabric of the old building, the Marquess of Granby still probably stalks the corridors.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Renouncing The Prosaic With Commander Flowerday's Watch

I am not sure if I am sold on the idea of extreme blogging. Blogging is something you do from the comfort if your office chair surrounded by a layer of real and virtual curiosities. The fact that I was cold in the crematorium (yes, Michael and Hanne, it was I) or that the Good Lady Wife scrutinises the coffee shop bill with a doggedness that only a Yorkshire woman can muster, is interesting only to those suffering some form of sensory deprivation. I therefore renounce the prosaic and turn instead to the subject of wrist watches

I had need to buy a new watch the other day. It keeps perfect time, has a battery which will probably outlive me, tells me the date, glows in the dark and plays a perfect rendition of Auld Lang Syne every New Years' Eve (all right, I made that last bit up) It cost me £28 including the postage. Whilst sorting through the layers of real curiosities which are preventing dust settle on my desk at the moment, I come across a copy of Picture Post magazine dated July 29th 1939. And there is a wonderful advert for Services Shock Proof Sports Watches which, according to Commander V E Flowerday of British Airways, is "very satisfactory on distant flights". According to the advertising copy, "There is no room for doubt in the air - you may take this Master Pilot's word for DEPENDABLE timekeeping". The next time I have reason to take to the skies I will try to remember that my safety depends on the reliability of a fifteen shilling watch.

Another advantage of desk-based blogging is that you can put yourselves in the capable hands of Commander Flowerday and go for flights of fancy. What a man, what a name! We can search the internet and discover that he made it through the war and then he returned to work as a commercial pilot, eventually retiring in the 1950s. We can calculate that the 15 shilling watch in 1939 is the equivalent to over £100 today. We can learn that the Services Watch Company was a Leicester based company, founded in the 1920s and only going out of business ten years ago.

As I browse through the old magazine which was published on the eve of the Second World War, I cannot read any of the copy without seeing a watermark of the coming conflict etched into the very paper it is printed on. The photograph (left) comes complete with the following caption : "Main road traffic is held up while workers from the Bristol Aeroplane Co's factory pour out on bicycles, line up for trams. About 20,000 workers employed by this company. Bristol aeroplane factories play a vital part in Britain's air rearmament programme. They are kept working day and night to produce engines and aircraft for the RAF". There is something strangely hypnotic about the patterns in the picture, something rather disturbing about the people queuing to enter the unknown. I check my £28 watch : it is time for lunch, time to leave the past behind.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Live From The Crematorium

My experiments in extreme blogging continue as I experiment with the idea of outside blogcasting. This mornings post is coming live from Huddersfield Crematorium and is ( hopefully) being created and delivered by my mobile phone. As I sit here a gentle but serious breeze blows through the Memorial Gardens, stirring the wind chimes into life so that they provide a melodic accompaniment to the chorus of birds in the woods. Amy sits at my feet, taking a mid-walk rest and all is fine with the world. Which is an odd thing to say in a crematorium. The wind turns a degree or so colder, Amy stands and looks around apprehensively. It is time to move on before we become permanent features.

The experiment continues later in the day (can mobile blog posts be amended?) when I have left the cool calm confines of the crematorium for the busy and noisy environment of the local shops. We have stopped for coffee, but it is merely a break - more torture is to follow.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sepia Saturday 125 : Gladys In A Happy Place

I am comparatively late in posting my Sepia Saturday entry this week and this means that I am posting this after reading many of the other entries that were prompted by the theme picture of the kitchens at Windsor Castle. Two things stand out. The first is that unless we happen to be of the royal blood, few of us have very old photographs of kitchens. Before the coming of flash photography and fast film, photography and dark indoor kitchens inhabited different worlds. The second common feature of so many posts is that they feature our mothers and our grandmothers, proudly posing in what was their domain. It didn't have to be Windsor Castle : just a few cupboards and a cherished pan or two. It was the place where the family came together, where news was exchanged, plans were made, jokes were shared. In the main, it was a happy room.

Here is my mother, Gladys, in her happy room. The stainless steel taps were the height of fashion and the tea-cozy was hand-made. If I could open those cupboard doors I could probably give you a full inventory of everything they contained. Somehow, I suspect that King Edward VII didn't have similar memories of the kitchens at Windsor Castle.

Take a tour of the other kitchens that are featured on Sepia Saturday this week by following the links on the Sepia Saturday Blog,

Friday, May 11, 2012

Diversifying My Portfolio With Clara and Elspeth

Having derived a deal of satisfaction - although, as yet, not a great deal of revenue - from my recent acquisition of the copyright of Regent Street, I have decided to diversify my portfolio to encompass the trade in human beings. The two ladies pictured above appeared in an old wedding photograph I bought as part of a job-lot of old photographs in an antique market last year. To the best of my knowledge the two ladies - let us call them Clara and Elspeth - are dead and, having purchased this photograph, I would now like to proclaim my worldwide rights to their image.

Having failed to profit from from my earlier acquisition of Regents Street, I have decided to immediately market my latest acquisition with a whole range of products. The range includes a line of T shirts and some environmentally-friendly carrier bags. I am taking orders for any of these products here on News From Nowhere (please enclose cash with your orders).

Thursday, May 10, 2012

High Hopes : An Exercise In Experimentation

Remember that silly old ram, the one who thought he could punch a hole in a dam? If you recall, nobody could make that ram scram, he kept buttin that dam. Life forever teaches us that we need to experiment and when we fail we need to try again and, in the words of Samuel Beckett, "fail better". 

Take, for example, Samuel Pierpont Langley, the American aviation pioneer and inventor. He not only experimented with early manned aircraft but also designed a unique launch pad for them. Somewhat confusingly the aircraft was called the Aerodrome whilst the aerodrome was little more than a houseboat with a roof on it. If you look at the picture now you will probably laugh, but it should remind us that in the run-up to a successful product there are likely to be a multitude of rediculously failures.

"What is the old fool going on about this time?", I can hear you asking. All this is by way of explanation that this is simply a test post to see if I can put a blogpost together on my iPad. If it turns out upside down, inside out or attempting to imitate a drunken pigeon sat on the top of a houseboat, it will be back to the drawing board. I still have a few weeks before I go on holiday and need to perfect the technique. In the meantime think of this as simply my attempts to punch a hole in that dam.

My photograph shows nothing more than the view out of the bedroom window this morning. Yet again it is dull and wet. The rain has been coming down for weeks now. Who on earth, in their right mind, would want to punch a hole in a dam?

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Brought To You By The Man Who Owns Regents Street

Have you ever had the experience of walking across a cow-field in the dark, never quite sure of where you are about to put your foot? Copyright is a bit like that, especially the copyright that may or may not exist on old images. My thoughts turned to this messy subject after reading a report about someone in Florida who decided to scan some old family photographs of long departed relatives in the local Wal-Mart store. Even though the photographs were over 80 years old and the subjects were all long-dead, the Wal-Mart employee refused to allow the scanning because it would be an infringement of copyright. 

Copyright law is a bit like a box of matches : the matches can be quite legitimately used to light a fire to keep you warm, or light a fine Havana cigar to keep you sane; but they can also be used to burn down an art gallery. Copyright law can provide protection for those who have created something of value, but it can also be used as a nonsensical cash-cow. All we need to remember is that every time we sing "Happy Birthday To You" we are supposed to pay some corporation somewhere because the tune is still under copyright.

This week on Sepia Saturday I have used a photograph of the kitchens at Windsor Castle which was taken in 1878. Whilst in the process of cutting and pasting the image I was a little surprised to discover that my old friend, HM the Queen, is claiming copyright on the image. Recent reports suggest that the dear lady has a personal fortune of some $500 million which makes her claim of copyright on the kitchen photograph a little over the top.

I have chosen to illustrate this little moan with a picture of Regent Street in 1923. It is a scan of a photograph in an old book I bought in a junk shop several years ago. The book itself was over 70 years old and the photograph must be nearly 80 years old. The question is, of course, can I reproduce the image here? Some would say that when I scanned the image I created a new work which I now have copyright on. This puts me in the remarkable position of owning the copyright on Regents Street, a street which, I understand, HM travels down frequently in her coach and horses on the way to some state occasion or other. So I will finish with a personal offer to my monarch : if you let me use your kitchen, I will let you trot down Regents Street. You can't say fairer than that.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Collaborative Poetry And International Mahjong

You will recall that yesterday I decided to echo the sentiments found on an old postcard as my Facebook status, in order to see what responses it brought forth. Would the social networkers of the 21st century be as creative, as literate, and as imaginative as those Edwardian postcard writers of 100 years ago? I should have had no doubts - with Facebook friends like mine not only have we wonderful responses but we have invented a complete new genre - collaborative poetry. Thank you Marilyn and Vicki.

Last night we established the Rock Tavern mahjong team which will be ready by the start of next season to participate in the pub mahjong league. The only slight problem is that the only other pub teams I have been able to find are in the USA! Perhaps we need to abandon the idea of a weekly match and think more in terms of an American tour. I would welcome responses from any other pub mahjong teams with a view to establishing an international league.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Marshall McLuhan And Gladness Anew

There is nothing new about social networking, nothing modern about text messages, nothing fresh about e-mails. This early twenty-first century craze for short and rapid communications between a widespread group of friends was almost perfectly mirrored by the great postcard craze of the early twentieth century. This postcard comes from the collection put together by my mothers' Uncle Fowler (whose name was always pronounced "Uncle Fooler" within the family) and shows North Street in his home town of Keighley in West Yorkshire.

One is perhaps tempted to wonder how far - in the words of the philosopher Marshall McLuhan - "the medium is the message". Was it perhaps the postcards, or the text messages, or the e-mail, that told us more about the people that sent them, than the content of the message itself. Was Edwardian England a pasteboard society compared to the electronic village we now live in? Let us take, for example, that message : "May each tomorrow bring gladness anew" : is that the stuff of a society which was still coated in Victorian sentimentality? Could you imagine such a message as a Facebook status update today? What responses would it bring? In the interests of philosophical speculation. I have just made it my Facebook status. I will let you know about any responses I get. But one thing is for sure - nobody will cut it out, paste it in an album and then circulate it to the world in 100 years time.

For those of an inquiring mind, the two buildings on the left of the street still remain : one is still the library, the other is now a Wetherspoon's bar. The fine building on the right of the original postcard picture is the old Mechanics Institute, and as you can see from the recent photograph, it is long gone. Each tomorrow may not bring gladness anew, but it often brings buildings anew.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Sepia Saturday 124 : Brief Encounter In Weston

Sepia Saturday has gone back to using images as theme prompts rather than words and it is a change I welcome. I am always more comfortable with images rather than words : for some reason I find it easier to skim visual ideas off the surface of my consciousness rather than solid words which seem to sink to the depths. This is why I am not a poet. This is why I am attracted to blogging. Blogging allows you to stitch images together with a fine thread of words. So my thoughts skim off the theme image of a miniature train and come to land in Weston-Super-Mare in Somerset. It is a classic sepia snap taken by my Uncle Frank back in the 1930s. In his Frankish way he has titled the photograph "The Devonian Express coming into Weston Station".

I am sure that there are people out there who will tell me what type of engine it is and will be able to pin-point the precise date by the number of bogie wheels on the coal tender. But my thoughts do not land on the train, but on the waiting passengers. My enlarged image provides a perfect example of the advantages of the lack of quality and definition you got with cheap cameras eighty years ago. You are left with nothing but light and dark to stimulate your imagination : what is he reading, where is she going, will they meet, will they love?

No doubt they will simply climb aboard the 2.45 to Paddington without ever knowing of their brief encounter. Without ever knowing of their starring role in a blog post seventy-five years down the line. Who knows.

If you have a little time to spare whilst waiting for whatever type of train you are waiting for, step on over to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links. 

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Azura Letters

The MS Azura passes Titanic in Southampton Sound
I came across a new audio podcast series this morning and downloaded it so I could replay some of the episodes during my morning walk with Amy. It is called "Titanic Letters" and has been produced by BBC Radio Ulster to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. The format is delightfully simple : each short programme (two or three minutes on average) features a reading of a letter sent by someone on the maiden voyage of the Titanic or someone associated with the ship. Following each reading we are told the fate of the writer. It is podcasting at its best and all 43 short episodes can be accessed on the BBC website - you don't need an MP3 player, you can listen to them via your computer if you wish.

Returning from my walk, with the words of the ill-fated passengers still in my mind, I met the postman who handed me an envelope containing the tickets and joining instructions for my holiday in June. It is on the MS Azura, one of the latest ships in the P&O fleet. Like the Titanic, it will take us out of Southampton Harbour but we will head south and through the Mediterranean rather than across the Atlantic. And with all the publicity about the Titanic anniversary and the reports into the recent sinking of the Costa Concordia still fresh in my mind,, am I worried? Not a bit of it. Driving down to Southampton will be by far the most dangerous element of the holiday.

It is a shame that blogging, texts and Facebook updates were not around in 1912; it would have been fascinating to read what the Titanic passengers had to say about their journey. Perhaps I will send a series of letters - or blog-posts - from on board Azura. It will give me something to do as I lie back and slowly steam towards the sun. And, just in case, if the worst comes to the worst, the BBC will be able to make a series of podcasts based on them in 100 years time.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Soon, Soon.

Jacques Raczej-Podr√≥bka  : Conspiracy Series - Green 43 (1956)
I am being held hostage by a conspiracy of events of dubious and minor significance. In themselves, none of them are worth a speck of dust in a junk shop, but together they form a debilitating blanket of sloth and indolence. From the outside, it may look as though I have given in, laid down my arms, and accepted my fate as a prisoner of war with equanimity; but be assured that deep within me beats a rebellious pulse that will soon rise again and smash asunder these shackles of lethargy. Soon, soon.

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...