Thursday, November 29, 2012

Nutmeg In A Dark Room

I had a little nut tree,
Nothing would it bear
But a silver nutmeg,
And a golden pear;

One of the reasons for the new computer was the need for a machine with enough power to run Adobe Lightroom. Over the years I have accumulated thousands of photographs (negatives and digital) and I dream of being able to catalogue the resource. Lightroom promises the digital equivalent of the old photographers' darkroom, and considering that some of my happiest times have been spent in a dark room with acid fixer eating away at my fingertips, as soon as the new computer arrived a copy of Lightroom wasn't far behind. Cataloguing all those images is going to be a major task and I am working backwards, starting with my most recent photographs first. 

This photograph of a nutmeg warehouse and processing factory on the island of Grenada was taken less that a month ago. Already the memory of the trip is beginning to fade, and therefore the catalogue information I am currently adding will prove useful in time.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Blinded By Technology (And A Post-It Note)

I'm back. Well at least I think I am. That looks a bit like me, and it is how the new computer seemingly sees me (it has an eye which, unnervingly, always seems to be looking at me so I have now stuck a Post-It Note on it to cover it up). The new machine was surprisingly easy to set up, but reloading the various bits of software that are an integral part of my life has been slightly more problematic. Things tend not to be in the same place, pressing buttons or moving mice tend not to have exactly the same effect. No doubt I will get used to it soon, but don't be surprised if there are a few teething problems  (如何在地球上發生的呢?). Normal Blogging should return tomorrow.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Sepia Saturday 153 : 3.3GHz, Duel Core, All-In-One Sisters

When I returned from holiday a couple of weeks ago I switched on my somewhat ancient computer and, like an old man climbing a steep hill to collect his pension, it started loading Windows. A day and a half later it succeeded! Well a nod is as good as a wink to a blind donkey and I quickly realised that it was time to go into the marketplace and buy a new machine. For the last week, I have been immersed in that strange world of computer specifications; trying to decide whether I should buy expensive and sleek or cheap and nasty, a Mick or a Mac, a desktop or a black-bottom (you will note how easily I have mastered the language). I will not bore you with what I have bought - other than to say that it leans heavily towards the cheap and nasty end of the scale - but I feel I must warn you that it is due for delivery today and therefore I suspect we might be in for a technological interregnum whilst I battle to discover which wire I plug in the wall socket and which I tie my mouses' tail to. I thought it wise, therefore, to get my Sepia Saturday post up before the change-over period commences.

Our Sepia Saturday prompt this week has a delightful pair of girls who may appear to be sisters but in fact are not (for the full story - or rather for the start of the story, you will have to look at my post on the Sepia Saturday Blog). My response to the prompt is a photograph of two sisters : my mother Gladys (on the left) and her sister Amy (standing). I suspect I may have used this picture before several years ago and for those with a long memory (4Gb on-board and a massive 1Tb hard disk) I do apologise. 

In his introduction to one of my very favourite books, The Old Wives' Tale, Arnold Bennett talks about seeing two old sisters dining in a restaurant in Paris and speculating what their lives must have been like and this speculation became the basis of what is a wonderful novel. My picture is like a telescope viewed from the other end : here you see the two young women and you need to speculate what their lives were like. If you do the experiment with my photograph of Gladys and Amy, you will have to use your imagination. However, if you do the experiment with Lala and Elgie (the two girls in the theme image) you might want to make use of a Google search.

Whatever sepia exercise you want to indulge in, you starting point, as always, is the Sepia Saturday Blog where you can find links to not only all the other Sepia Saturday contributors, but also to the original photograph of LaLa and Elgie.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What Ho Wigton

What Ho!
I imagine this postcard sent in July 1907 to my Great Uncle, Fowler Beanland, is the early 20th century equivalent of a Facebook "poke".  I have never quite understood the concept of "pokes", but I suppose they equate to "hello there", "how's things" or even "what ho". But what are the chances of those electronic pokes lasting 105 years? And what are the chances of some 22nd century blogger using them as the subject of a daily post? They will not open a window to a world of market day carts lined up outside St Mary's Church, Wigton, nor will they send our intrepid blogger searching to find out if the same view exists today. They will simply be a digital reminder that A poked B on the 11th of July. Nothing can be done about it; that's progress I suppose. What Ho!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pigs Ears, Whitchetty Grubs And America

With the best will in the world, when you have been together for a long time you sometimes run out of things to say to each other. When you spend most of your waking hours together you occasionally find that conversation, like some semi-desert rivulet, dries up. During each week, there are a limited number of conversations you can have about the weather, the state of Middle East politics, and the sensory allure of deep fried pigs ears.

And so it is with me and Amy.  I have always thought that the sight of dog and owner walking together in muted misery is a sign of a dysfunctional relationship in training. As the great Mildred Henderson was apt to say, "Families that walk together should talk together".  And consequently, if you happen to spy Amy and I during one of our twice daily walks you are as likely as not to catch us deep in conversation about art, philosophy or the previous night's Bushtucker Trial on I'm A Celebrity ("What is the matter with them," she is prone to say, "whitchetty grubs are full of protein"). 

But all too often, by the time that we reach the Crematorium Gates (this is a geographical reference rather than some Miltonian aphorism), our conversational banks are in need of quantitative easing, and that is the time that we switch on whatever Podcast fate (and iTunes) has decided to download for us. There are, of course, our regulars, The Archers, Guardian Football Weekly, What The Papers Say: the staple diet that keep us going come rain or shine, feast or famine. And there are the Epicurean delights, those auditory morsels that make life worth living, walks worth walking.

And so it is with the BBC archives of the late Alistair Cooke's Letter From America. As if to prove that it doesn't always get things wrong, the BBC have decided to make available over 900 programmes from it's substantial archives of weekly broadcasts by the journalist Alistair Cooke, which cover the period 1946 to 2004. You can listen to them on-line, download the Podcasts, and in some cases read the actual scripts at the BBC Letter From America webpage. I am not sure how familiar people in the USA are with Cooke's work, but the truth is that most people in the UK, and many other parts of the world, saw America through his eyes for much of the second half of the Twentieth century. And even though the events he writes about and talks about have now long sunk under the dust of history, his words still retain the lyrical architecture and crafted economy of a great writer. Like so many of my favourite writers - Pepys, Dickens, Arnold Bennett - you get the feeling that Cooke would have been an enthusiastic blogger had the technology been available at the time. Whether you have a dog that needs walking or not, I would recommend that you give him a listen.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Just Like You, My Truffle

I have a box full of cameras of all shapes and sizes (note to my wife - I haven't really dear, I am just using this phrase for literary embellishment), but so often I finish up taking photographs with my mobile phone. My mobile is always with me, always reliable, and always ready for whatever life may throw at it (note to wife - just like you my dear). So this is the first of a short weekly series of pictures taken on my iPhone.

This was taken last Monday tea-time in Church Lane, Brighouse. The road is still laid with stone cobbles; a remarkably effective road surface in terms of durability. The pavement is covered with the detritus of Autumn and once you add the street lights you are left with a soothing golden glow. It is enough to warm your heart on these cold November evenings (note to wife - just like you my truffle).

Friday, November 16, 2012

Sepia Saturday 152 : Children Reading Photograph

For Sepia Saturday 152, the theme image shows a group of school children intent of reading their library books. I wanted to use one of my old postcards this week so I started searching through them looking for children reading. The closest I could find was the above photographs which has children and it has books, but there is a certain passivity : they are posing for the camera rather than reading their books. I rather suspect that the children in the theme photograph were posing as well, the teacher having just told them "now, make it look as though you are reading your books".

My children (and I have no idea who they are or where they are or, indeed, when they were) may be passive in relation to their schoolbooks, but there is nothing passive about their faces. My selective enlargement focuses on just six of them, but you could repeat the process again and again and come up with energetic face after energetic face. You could look for happiness and sadness, hopes and fears, triumphs and disasters, and find examples of each. Each of the thirty faces is a life about to be led, a story about to be told, a drama about to be enacted. Who needs books when there is a photograph to be read?

You can read more old photographs by going over to the Sepia Saturday Blog and following the links

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Heading For Cold Storage

I have made a start on giving News From Nowhere a bit of a Spring Clean and  you will see that there is a new Header. Some new elements will appear on the Sidebar over the coming days as well. I have decided that trying to keep two blogs going and finish the novel by next June is a trifle over-ambitious, so I have decided to put Alan Burnett's Picture Post on ice for the time being and concentrate my blogging energies on News From Nowhere. The series of scans of old negatives will not cease, however, but will merely be incorporated into the NfN schedule. The picture used in the new Header is one such scan of a picture I took some 30 or 40 years ago in either Cleethorpes or Skegness, I forget which. And here is another photograph from the same day out.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Cast Iron And Molasses

It is Monday morning and it looks frosty outside. Earlier, I sent Amy out into the garden in the hope that she would report back on the ambient temperature, but she is still not talking to me after being incarcerated in kennels for the best part of a month. But it certainly looks cold and therefore time for a couple more of the photographs I took on holiday. The first was taken from Shirley Heights on Antigua and is looking down towards English Harbour. If you strain your eyes enough, you will just be able to make out the buildings that form the historic Nelson's Dockyard, and that is the subject of my second photograph. The combination of the palm trees, the tropical vegetation, the clear blue skies and the rather English cast iron street light seems to sun up what was a magical place.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pattern Within Pattern

The Intermediate View
Back in the days when computers were as big as a suitcase and as slow as a corporate giant's tax return, there used to be a little programme you could buy which would generate Mandelbrot Sets. These were a kind of infinite pattern, where you could keep on zooming in and revealing patterns within patterns, detail within detail. They had an almost natural feel to them; like coastlines pictured from space or the growth of bark on a pine tree. I was reminded of all this yesterday as Amy and I were walking through the Crematorium and I picked up a leaf from the ground. Like a Mandelbrot Set something as simple as a half-chewed leaf can, with the aid of a half-decent scanner, allow you to seek patterns within patterns, detail within detail.

The Leaf
Leaf Texture

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sepia Saturday 151 : Telephone Exchange

Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week shows an old telephone exchange. Dozens of young women plug wires into boards connecting people from opposite ends of the earth. It is a bit like an old-fashioned Internet when you think about it, a pre-digital web spun out of twisted wires rather than fibre optics. I say this, however, from the standpoint of someone who has never really quite understood how the internet actually works : for all I know there is some freshly-permed lass who has just plugged a wire into a socket and connected your computer to mine so that you can read this post.

But, I digress and I am in danger of getting my wires crossed. The theme image immediately sent me searching among my collection of old prints and negatives for photographs featuring telephones. And to my surprise, I found precious few, and none at all dating from more than about 30 years ago. I am not sure why I was so surprised; although telephones are so ubiquitous these days, it was well into the 1970s before we had a telephone at home. All the time The Lad had been at University, I have been able to contact him on an almost daily basis via telephone, to hear of his triumphs and disasters, to receive his requests for food and cash, and to reassure myself that the chap is still safe and well.

My photograph dates back to 1968 and shows my desk at Fircroft College in Birmingham. I have always been fond of photographs like this; ones you can have a good old nosey about in, see what people are reading, writing, drinking and - if the box of Swan Vestas is anything to go by - smoking. If you look, you will find my beloved old typewriter, my precious old dictionary, even my ever-faithful hole punch; but you will not find a telephone. Although there were public call boxes in the building, neither my parents nor my then girlfriend (then girlfriend, now wife) back in Yorkshire has access to phones. We would communicate by letter or by postcard, scribbled messages on bits of paper and card. I am tempted to say that we were better for it, but no, that isn't the case. I would have gladly exchanged my Parker pen for a telephone. There was many a lonely night when I would have liked nothing better than for someone to have plugged a wire into a socket and brought me a little closer to those I loved.

You can get connected to other fascinating old photographs by going on over to our digital image exchange, Sepia Saturday, and following the links.

Friday, November 09, 2012

The Land Of Mists And Mildew Fruitfulness

Whilst we were away, I kept getting messages from home telling me how miserable the weather was. There is a great deal of satisfaction to be gained from the knowledge that whilst you are soaking up the Caribbean sun your nearest and dearest are dripping in the land of mists and mildew fruitfulness. Since we have been back, however, the weather here in Yorkshire has been absolutely delightful, combining a sun that doesn't burn with a Autumnal sharpness that re-awakens the spring in your step. It was such a pleasant day yesterday that I walked from Elland to Brighouse along the canal towpath and, along the way, I took this photograph of an old canal-side mill. Like the face of an old man or woman, the building has the lines and furrows, scabs and wrinkles that depict its passage through time. It is almost a complete Economic and Social History book in a single image. Oh, the palm-fringed white sands of the Caribbean were wonderful - but this is home. 

Thursday, November 08, 2012

You Can Fly Away, In The Sky Away

We were half way up a mountain in Grenada. We had stopped for some refreshments on the edge of a national park and whilst we drank rum punch a Calypso band entertained us. They were singing an endless version of "Yellow Bird". Perhaps it was the only song they knew, but what does it matter : it was perfect for the time and the place. I was tempted to include a YouTube clip of the song, but decided against it. Everybody knows the tune, it is part of our shared heritage. Far better that the haunting melody should spontaneously emerge from your deep subconscious and then perform gentle acrobatics in your mind for the rest of the day.

Yellow bird, up high in banana tree.
Yellow bird, you sit all alone like me.
Did your lady friend leave the nest again?
That is very bad, Makes me feel so sad.
You can fly away, In the sky away
You more lucky than me.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Out And Then Back - A Visual Hot Water Bottle

I'm back. OK, the cases have still to be put away, the washing has still to be done, the thick winter vests have still to be got out of storage : but, I'm back. I am glad to report that our ship managed to avoid all the bad weather and delivered us more or less three and a half weeks of wall to wall sunshine. The two long Atlantic crossings provided plenty of time to relax, eat and drink (Oh, definitely drink). It also provided plenty of opportunities to write - it is amazing what you are driven to do when you have no Internet link and an in-cabin television choice which was limited to Sky News and re-runs of Cash In The Attic. And so I managed to get a further 22,000 words of the novel chalked up which takes me up to the end of Part 1, which is effectively two-thirds of the way through. If I can keep my focus (and maybe throw in two or three more trans-Atlantic crossings) I might just meet my target of getting the whole thing finished in time for my 65th birthday next June.

I have lots of new ideas for the Blog as well and over the next week or two you can expect to see some changes. For the next few days, however, I just want to share a few of the images from the recent trip' starting with this view of the beach in Barbados. The footsteps are my own - out and then back - and that gorgeous white stuff on the ground is sand and not snow. It is an image which will provide me with a visual hot-water bottle during the winter months to come.

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...