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.


  1. Hello Alan:
    The ventilation shafts are, indeed, most intriguing and could so easily be taken for the kinds of chimneys regularly seen in The Potteries.

    Blogging is, as most of us know, a very demanding activity if it is to be carried out well. Keeping up is a constant battle and one which we often wonder for how long it is possible to keep going?!!

    How splendid that Alexander's studies are taking him to Africa. We wish him well and a safe return.

  2. Interesting... I'd never heard of Anne Lister before. And your ventilation shafts almost look like smelters.

    Good luck to The Lad in Africa!

  3. I'd never thought of ventilation chimneys for railroad tunnels. We had many railroad tunnels during the age of steam in this country, but I've never been aware of such shafts. I'll have to investigate, but I suspect crews and passengers all got to choke on the smoke without them.

  4. See, Alan, now you've made Roy want to take a bath with Anne, too! hahaha. I'm thinking her blog would be called A Most Boisterous and Tempestuous Night. It just makes you want to read it, doesn't it? :)

  5. Anonymous2:16 PM

    It is interesting how one's mind works when the body is immersed with coal tar soap.

  6. Best wishes and prayers for Alexander and his buddies in Africa.
    I actually shoved my Kindle in a drawer and drove to the library the other day, where I checked out 6 real books. I didn't realize how much I missed holding one in my hands and turning the pages. Ahhhh!

  7. Wow Alan, you are full of news. I will keep my eyes open for the book; now I know about round ventilation towers and will be thinking about your son and his group as they have an exciting adventure and help others far away from home.

    Kathy M.

  8. Interesting that these old ventilation shafts are still thee. Or are trains still running through the tunnel?

  9. I've been reading 'The Snowman' by Jo Nesbo, for an age. I am a slow reader, but I may have dropped another gear just to savour the turning of real pages. I wish The Lad well in Tanzania. A friend went there to build libraries, and fell in love with the place.

  10. I wish safe travel for your is good he keeps you busy:)
    I like to read in the tub too..but I don't take my kindle there.
    So how were the festivities for the Jubilee?:)


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