Monday, July 30, 2012

The King Of Corsica And A Kettle Of Fish

The King Of Corsica came back today. And Alexander came back yesterday. Alexander (The Lad) returned safely from his two months in Africa. Most of the time he, and his three friends, were working at a hospital in the middle of nowhere but for the last few weeks they have been on holiday : in the Masai Mara and on the island of Zanzibar. They had a fascinating, enjoyable, and occasionally challenging time, and we are just pleased they are back safe and sound. 

The King of Corsica is a slightly different kettle of fish. The King of Corsica was the name of a pub on Berwick Street in Soho, London. Many years ago some twit without any feeling for history or tradition decided to rename it The Endurance (presumably to mark the fact that a name that had existed for several hundred years would endure no longer!) The original name commemorated the German, Theodor von Neuhoff, who became involved in the struggle for Corsican independence from Genoa in the eighteenth century. For a brief period he was crowned King of Corsica but then had to flee the island and he made his way to London where he fell into debt and lived in poverty in Soho. Despite his poverty and exile he had important friends and Horace Walpole, the Earl of Oxford, paid for his funeral and his gravestone when he died in 1756. They also named the local pub after him : that is, until some idiot came along and decided it needed a re-launch.

That will have been during the last forty years because I have just discovered a photograph I must have taken back in the 1970s which features the pub with its original name (but, alas, with a dreadful modern frontage). As my pride and joy, my brand new scanner that can scan my medium format negatives, slowly  picked its way through the 40 year old negative, the King of Corsica came back to life, if only as a memory. Welcome home to both the King and to Prince Alexander.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Sepia Saturday 136 : King Edward's Grandson

Our image prompt for Sepia Saturday 136 provides a composite illustration featuring both cricket and baseball. No doubt the chap who runs Sepia Saturday thought it would be a suitable image to mark the opening of the London Olympic Games despite the fact that neither of the games can be found in the modern Olympic programme. The prompt sent me off to the family photographic archives in search of something sporting but I eventually came to the reluctant conclusion that I am a couch potato descended from a long line of similar vegetables. The family name might just as well be Maris-Piper and my grandfather might just as well have been King Edward (and let me add before anyone else does that his wife should have been called Desiree). 

After a lengthy (and enjoyable) search through the shoe boxes I eventually came up with the above photograph which features a gritty Yorkshire cricket team. My connection to it is the chap in the flat cap on the right - the team manager I assume - who is no other than my great Uncle Fowler. The very same man who collected all those old postcards, the man who was a bowling champion on the crown green, that same man was a cricket team manager. I will dig a little deeper and no doubt discover that he also was a long-stop (or whatever they are) on the baseball field as well. That's a fair amount of digging but it is the kind of exercise I like. Now why don't they make family history research an Olympic event?

Avert your gaze away from all the athletic exertions this weekend by taking a look at the SEPIA SATURDAY BLOG and following the links.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Graveyard Calculating : So Many Beers, So Little Time

Last birthday, or perhaps it was last Christmas, Alexander bought me a book entitled "1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die". So far it has remained uninvestigated on my desk, but the other day I picked it up (as you can imagine it is not a light volume) and flicked through its pages and started to do a little graveyard calculating. Given that average life expectancy for a man in the UK is currently just over 78 years, that means that even if I started now and managed to find, sample and consume one of the selections every week, I would have to arrange for the final 273 bottles to be packed into my coffin with me. Given that I have always fancied donating my body to a Medical School for dissection practice, this would mean that the 273 bottles would fall into the hands of the medical students : and we all know they would probably finish the collection off in about 45 minutes. So it is time to start, it is time to launch a fine symbiotic dual quest : drinking more beer and living longer. It is time to tick off the pages.

We are lucky at the moment because there is such a wide and wonderful range of bottled real beers available, not just in specialty shops but also in local supermarkets. My first bottle (Sierra Nevada Pale Ale) was bought in my local Tesco store and, despite the fact that it had been lovingly brewed and bottled in Chico, California and shipped halfway around the world, cost me less than £2. Whistling the Star Spangled Banner I carefully poured the rich amber liquid into a Portland Microbrew glass (a present from a fellow blogger, thank you Christine) and read the Tasting Notes for the last time.

"Fresh grassy, resiny hop nose with orangy undercurrents; also fruity with maybe just a hint of peachiness. In the mouth, it is crisp and dry up front, with a slightly toasty malt character that then blends into a clean and assertive hop bitterness and a long perfumed bitter finish"

I won't pretend to have noticed a tenth of those flavours, perfumes or undercurrents and I will therefore provide a Yorkshireman's assessment of its' overall character : A GRAND GLASS OF BEER.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Rough Night At Whitby

Time for an old postcard and it is an odd little number called "A Rough Night At Whitby". WE, who sent it in 1903, wanted to tell Miss E L Bull of Bignor Place, Newport, Isle of Wight that "absence makes the heart grow fonder". Did it? Did WE board a tramp ship once the Whitby waves had died down and sail south to the Isle of Wight to reclaim his Bullish love? Or did the heart grow less fond and did WE remain in Whitby all his life, gorging on their famous fish and chips and carving trinkets out of funeral jet? I have had a quick look at census records and can't find any mention of Miss Bull, which is perhaps a good thing. Better not to know. Better that the story is lost forever under those stormy North Sea waves.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sepia Saturday 135 : Toffees And Health

Our Sepia Saturday prompt image this week features a group of children being instructed in healthy eating by "the Health Fairy". And what is healthier that a fizzy drink and a plate of iced buns?

This photograph must have been taken in the early 1950s when I was about five years old. That is me in the silly hat with the Mona Lisa enigmatic smile and that is my brother Roger next to me with the kind of label attached to his blazer that would allow him into the Winners' Enclosure at Ascot. I am not sure about the girl sat opposite us, but no doubt she grew up to be a British seaside resort boarding-house landlady (if you have never been acquainted with such institutions, count your blessings and imagine). The occasion would have been one of the annual Christmas Parties organised by the firm my father worked for - the toffee and sweet maker, Mackintosh's. The Health Fairy never put in an appearance at one of their toffee-chewing, chocolate-licking Christmas parties - but you could hardly expect her to.


Friday, July 20, 2012

Connect Me To A Brewery And Leave Me There To Die

It was the Pub Treat on Wednesday and twenty or more of us boarded a charabanc and headed for the Milltown Brewery in Milnsbridge, Huddersfield. I am a veteran of many a brewery trip over the years but this was my first visit around a modern microbrewery. Small, it may have been, but it could easily match its bigger brothers and sisters in terms of both information and refreshment.

Neil Moorhouse - the Director, head brewer and bottle washer - made us all very welcome and soon had us tasting malts, sniffing hops and marveling at the array of stainless steel tanks, tubes, pipes and kegs. But going to a brewery without sampling the product would be a little like visiting New York and never looking up, and therefore by far the most memorable part of the evening was sampling the various brews currently on offer. There was a deliciously dark Maltissimo (5.3% ABV, but who's counting); the fruity golden Orion (a star of a beer if ever there was one); and my old Friday night favourite Slubbers Gold (a well balanced, flavoursome brew you can easily enter a long-term relationship with). Chatting with Neil afterwards, I rather think we might have come up with a new brew : I supplied the name and hopefully he will supply the important element, the brew itself. I will keep you informed of the outcome.

I was saying afterwards to a couple of my friends that I suspect that there has never been a time in history when such a rich and varied selection of real beers has been available to the discerning drinker. The growth of the craft microbrewery movement - both here and in other countries - has revolutionised the market and brought a broad smile of approval to the faces of beer lovers everywhere. Long may brewers like Neil and his colleagues continue to brew, and long may we enjoy their output. We sang songs on the chara' on the way back to our pub. Had I a voice that could master a tune I would have sung that old World War 1 soldiers' song :

"I have no pain, dear mother now,
But oh! I am so dry.
Connect me to a brewery
And leave me there to die".

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Excavations 3 : A Love As Pure As A Single Malt

A Summer series highlighting some of the discoveries made whilst de-cluttering the back passages of my house.

I know, it's cheating. As I reach into the recesses of my back passage I am carefully working my way around a host of cuddly toys and a heap of rotting VHS cassettes in search of books. But I like books. I can pick them up and flick through the fading pages : try doing that with a stuffed Winnie The Pooh or a cassette of Zulu. 

My objet trouve for today is a book that was once very close to my heart. If you had asked me 28 years ago which book I would have taken to the proverbial desert island I would probably have answered Ian Sinclairs "Introducing The BBC Micro" I bought the book months before I bought the computer and with glorious anticipation I read it again and again whilst I tried to gather together enough money to buy the object of my desires. 

It dates from a time when I used to record the date and place of purchase of books on the title page (try doing that with a Kindle edition!) and therefore I can trace the immediate history of the purchase. It was 1984 : Isobel was still a medical student and I was trying to keep things going by working both as a lecturer in South Yorkshire and also moonlighting for the European Commission in Brussels. It was obviously during one of my regular trips to Brussels that I bought the book and it was with money I earned by working for the Commission that I bought the computer itself a few months later.

I loved that computer with a love as pure, and as brazen, as single malt whisky. I would work on it late into the night and dream of it when I eventually went to sleep. And as with so many old girlfriends - for sure, it was a girl - I wonder what ever became of it. I can't remember ever having got rid of it so perhaps it is waiting for me at the end of a rainbow; or, more likely, at the end of my back passage.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

History Through A Pint Glass : 1. Steamy Huddersfield

It's time to introduce the second of my special summer series which will run alongside "Excavations Up My Back Passage" for the next couple of months. This one combines two great loves of mine : local history and beer and it seeks to examine historical events from the perspective of the bar stool. "History Through A Pint Glass" will allow readers to enter the public bar, the snug, or the tap room; enjoy a pint of real ale; and get an insight into some of the more interesting episodes in British history.

We start by going back 150 years to the time of railway mania as we visit what Sir John Betjeman once called "the most splendid station facade in England" - as we visit the King's Head and the Head of Steam at Huddersfield Station.

Let us start in the King's Head which is the bar located in the right hand pavilion of the main station building. Settle down with a pint of one of the many real ales on offer and consider what it must have been like to live in a thriving, confident industrial town which was in danger of being by-passed by the high-speed broadband of its day - the rapidly expanding railway network. It is 1841, only 16 years since the Stockton and Darlington Railway opened, and the rapidly expanding railway network has already linked Leeds to Manchester. The first trans-Pennine line has gone a few miles to the north of Huddersfield via the Calder Valley, leaving the town isolated, and dependent on horses and carts in the age of steam and power. The people of Huddersfield started planning and petitioning for the railway to come to the town and within a few years it had attracted not one, but two railway companies : the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company and the Huddersfield and Manchester Railway and Canal Company.  Huddersfield might have been left with two mediocre stations, but good sense prevailed and the two companies decided to share the same building and one, magnificent, majestic, station was built. Each company had its own booking hall situated in the two pavilions at the edges of the main building. It is these two pavilions which are now the two bars of Huddersfield Station and as you buy your second pint (try the Magic Rock Brewery Curious if it is still available) you can examine in detail what was the booking hall of the Huddersfield and Manchester Railway and Canal Company. 

As you drain your glass and prepare for your taxing walk from one side of the station to the other, you might want to read the report in the Leeds Mercury (4th August 1849) of the first day of operation of the new line through Huddersfield :
"On Wednesday, the 1st inst., the Huddersfield and Manchester section of the London and North Western Railway was opened for passenger traffic. During the day the trains were nearly all behind time in consequence of the large influx of parties anxious to obtain a ride on the first day of the opening, and the great number of passengers that passed over the line to and from the agricultural show at Leeds. The last train to Manchester in the evening was due at Huddersfield at 8.32, but did not arrive until 10.15. A slight accident happened at the Marsden end of the Standedge tunnel, but luckily without  further damage than the delay it occasioned to the down train from Manchester due at Huddersfield at 9.55."

By now you should have reached the second of our two bars, the Head of Steam, which is located in what once was the booking hall of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company. When the station was at the height of its grandeur in the High Victorian age, the hospitality was provided by the Station Hotel which was situated in the centre of the building in what is now the main booking hall. The two bars in the pavilions are comparatively recent inhabitants of the fine old building, but you can buy yourself a pint of one of the many real ales available at the Head of Steam and pay homage to both the architect and the builder of this fine listed structure. The architect was J P Pritchett, a York based architect who was responsible for the design of many famous buildings in the County. The builder was the famous Huddersfield builder Joseph Kaye who was responsible for so many of the glories of Victorian Huddersfield.

What better way to finish our investigations into the railway history of Huddersfield that to buy yourself a final pint and perhaps take it through to the dining room for a spot of lunch. History through four pint glasses and a decently cooked steak.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Couples, Clumps And Clouds

We were away for the weekend. On Saturday we went to a wedding celebration which was combined with a 40th wedding anniversary party. I took the wedding photographs 40 years ago and I took them again this time. When Guy and Anastasia celebrate their 40th anniversary I hope I will be invited once again to take the photographs. I shall do my best to stick around on this mortal coil just in case.

On Sunday we went for a lovely walk in the Vale of the White Horse. We climbed Wittenham Clumps and walked around the site of the ancient hill fort. The trees tried to scrape rain from the laden clouds, but couldn't quite manage it. And now it is back to rain-soaked Yorkshire where the mill chimneys have none of the same problems.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Sepia Saturday 134 : Being Left With A Memory

Our Sepia Saturday prompt this week features a very elegant  and, I would imagine, an equally elegant baby. The pram featured in my photograph is not quite as elegant, but the baby is - I have to say that because it is none other than the Good Lady Wife. That is Isobel and, in the background, her mother Edith. The picture was taken just down the road from where we live now, indeed, our local pub, is just visible near the top of the road.  

I had a few old family photographs featuring prams to choose from, but I decided on this one in order to give it a good Spring clean. I was able to get rid of most of the stains, creases and blotches with a little help from Photoshop: although the process can be a little time-consuming, there is something rather therapeutic about it. Once you remove all the imperfections you are left with a memory, and that is what Sepia Saturday is all about.

Wheel your pram over to the Sepia Saturday Blog in order to see all the other contributors to Sepia Saturday 134.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Excavations 2 : Jean Monnet And An Old Mac

A Summer series highlighting some of the discoveries made whilst de-cluttering the back passages of my house.

Following my post the other day, it was my friend Jennyfreckles who asked the key question : "is the diary a Keep or a Throw?". The answer, of course, is that it is a Maybe. As I have mentioned before we are part of a special generation, the first generation of digital curators. We have the possibility of not only saving and storing contemporary objects, but also saving some of the vanishing objects of the past from obliteration and ensuring that they leave behind a timeless digital memory. Before explaining my decision in relation to the diary, let me move on to the object that was immediately below the diary : an eleven minute VHS Video entitled "Jean Monnet, Father of Europe (1888-1979)"

I remember acquiring this tape when I used to do work for the European Commission twenty or so years ago. It was one of the many give-aways produced by the Information Directorate of the Commission. There were rooms in the Berlaymont Building in Brussels stuffed with such things and I would often help myself to a few when I was there in order to give to objectionable cousins as Christmas presents. I no longer possess a VHS video player and therefore the tape is of little use to me and I have checked on-line and discovered that a couple of copies of the film still survive in academic libraries in Europe and America. I therefore feel completely justified in dropping the tape into the "Throw" box (cue sound effect of tape falling into rubbish bin). A similar search based on the Halifax and Calder Valley Diary 1971 reveals that the only on-line mention of such a volume links back to my post of a couple of days ago. If I throw it, it will be lost forever and a research opportunity for all future generations will follow it into land-fill. What I should do is to digitise it, but I fear that such a course of action might delay my de-cluttering timetable. The diary, therefore rests in the "Maybe" box.

I have no such problems with the photograph I found lodged between the diary and the video, I have scanned it and I hereby make it available (copyright free) to the rest of the world. Not that the copyright is mine to renounce as it is that strangest of animals in my collection - a picture which features me. Where it was taken I have no idea but I would guess it was about 25 years ago. That is my friend Chrissy on the left, I think that is my friend Jane next to her (note to Janie if you are reading this, could you confirm this identification), the Good Lady Wife, and myself. I have carefully examined the rather strange raincoat I seem to be wearing and I must confess to only have a vague recollection of ever having owned such a garment. I wonder what happened to it? Hang on a minute : what is that lodged behind the exercise ball in my infamous back passage?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Left Hand Down A Bit

Another of the photographs from my recent holiday. We were just leaving Gibraltar Harbour and, as far as I could make out, the entire ship was been steered from the bridge by a guy with a Sony Playstation controller. Whatever he used, it worked well and there were no Costa Concordia moments during the entire cruise.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Excavations 1 : A Pint Of Pennine Bitter With Champion Jack Dupree

A Summer series highlighting some of the discoveries made whilst de-cluttering the back passages of my house.

My progress into the fabled back passage is currently blocked by a large inflatable exercise ball which I was persuaded to buy a couple of years ago. I had been informed that all I needed to do was to sit on this contraption whilst I watched Coronation Street and the micro-balancing involved would cause me to lose three pounds in weight per week. I never got the chance to prove the theory as on the first day I fell off the bloody thing and seriously damaged my shoulder and I instantly consigned the ball to the dusty extremities of my storage room. Not having the courage to extricate the blockage at this early stage I managed to reach around it in order to produce my first find - a Halifax and Calder Valley Diary dating from some forty years ago.

I am not sure how I acquired this rather plush diary - it had clearly been produced for Councillors on Halifax Town Council and it contains long lists of Council meeting dates, Committee Chairmen and the like. But acquire it I did, and it is full of jottings and appointments in my own handwriting.

Before I get too much criticism for defrauding the Local Authority by misusing Council property, I should point out that such mock-leather bound goodies were paid for by local businesses who advertised in them. And looking back from four decades in the future, it is not the scribbled appointments that are the most intriguing, but some of the adverts for businesses that have long since faded and died. Samuel Websters' Fountain Head Brewery is now a housing development and the northern thirst must forever go unslaked. Would I have been drinking a pint of Pennine Bitter after attending a lecture on January 20th on "What is Economic Rent?" or listening to Champion Jack Dupree sing on Friday the 22nd? In case you are wondering why I was listening to that great New Orleans blues player in 1971, I must point out that, at the time, he was living in a council house at the bottom of Ovenden Way in Halifax. He would often claim that he came to Halifax by accident when his luggage and possessions were sent to Halifax, Yorkshire by mistake instead of Halifax NS where he was supposed to be doing a gig. Whatever the reason, he remained with us for about ten years and provided a generation of Yorkshire people with a unique insight into the music of the deep south.

Another advert from that 1971 diary advises us to "consult Pratt Burnerd for all problems of workholding and chucking". Now I strongly suspect that both "workholding" and "chucking" are something to do with machines or engineering or something oily and noisy like that (I say this in order to stop my brother writing in to point such things out and yet again highlight my ignorance of all things practical, wholesome and constructive). 

The diary dates from my time at University and I see on the 3rd of February I was introducing a seminar on the subject "what is the working class?" Whatever I may have said it was, it still existed in the Calder Valley. It made chucks and lathes, it wove rugs and covers, it brewed beer and it made toffees. 40 years later there is little industry left. There are call centres and offices where the machines used to be and there are supermarkets and retail parks where the mills once reigned supreme.

But I need to avoid becoming maudlin or I will never progress in my excavations. Time for a pint of Pennine Bitter and some Champion Jack Dupree.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Excavations Up My Back Passage - An Introduction

I developed a pronounced desire to de-clutter whilst I was away on holiday, to such an extent that one of my first actions on returning home was to order a large skip. Perhaps it is a response to living in a small ship's cabin surrounded by only those objects I could fit into a suitcase, perhaps I have lost patience with a house that is almost bursting at the seams with the detritus of modern living. Whatever the reason, I am anxious to start a new phase in my life: a leaner, cleaner, meaner phase. Where better to start than with the small passage that runs down the side of the house where the roof plunges down towards ground level like Icarus with melted wings. This back passage can only be navigated by adopting a strange, Quasimodo-like gait, and therefore has become a dumping ground for all those things one no longer uses or needs but can't bring oneself to throw away. However, there is a tide in the affairs of man which taken at the flood leads on to a de-cluttered house. That tide is now. 

Before going away on holiday I set my digital TV recorder to record an episode of the archaeological programme Time Team (for those who don't know it, each episode features a group of enthusiastic experts digging up an old Roman villa or Anglo-Saxon long-house, or such like). Unfortunately I must have pressed the wrong button for I have now discovered the hard  disk contains 47 hour long episodes (they are constantly repeating various series on a variety of digital channels). Not liking waste, I am determined to sit through all 47 hours of excavations rather than just press the delete button, and this has engendered an enthusiasm for all things archaeological. The discipline of carefully removing layer after layer and painstakingly recording finds, however seemingly insignificant, has become part of my very nature, and it is a discipline I intent to make full use of over the coming weeks.

We are therefore proud to announce that the summer season here at News From Nowhere will feature a new twice-weekly series which has been provisionally titled "Excavations Up My Back Passage". The first episode will appear tomorrow : I bet you can hardly wait.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Digital Victualling

We are back although it will take a day or two until I can settle back into any kind of routine. The holiday was a splendid smörgåsbord of food, drink, relaxation, sun, sea and more drink. One thing missing from the feast was a decent Internet link and therefore I had to try and get used to life off-line and this wasn't easy at all : "I have seen the past and it sucks", as someone might have said. I am therefore in the process of digital victualling. I am proud to say that I have just Googled "digital victualling" only to discover not one single hit: I can therefore claim to have invented the phrase, which I will define as follows:
DIGITAL VICTUALLING : The process of restocking and resupplying digital information flows following a period of prolonged off-line activity in order to provide sustenance to the digital traveler.
Whilst I rediscover what has been happening in the world and what all my blogging friends have been up to I will feature one or two of the pictures I took whilst I was away, Today's was taken in Gibraltar and shows, appropriately enough, the wonderfully ancient street sign for Victualling Office Lane.

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...