Wednesday, May 29, 2013

In Search Of A Sepia Pint

There are few things I like better than a good challenge. Who can forget the joy I felt when I started my expedition to discover the source of the River Calder back in 2009 (I would provide a link to the post, but I have forgotten where it is), or my delight at trying to photographs all the lamp-posts in Fixby. Such challenges give a meaning to life, main-line some adrenaline into the prosaic circulation of existence. So it is with considerable pleasure that I announce a new challenge, which has the working title, "In Search Of A Sepia Pint"

The start of my quest was reading, by chance, a stray sentence in a local history pamphlet. It relates to my local town, Brighouse :
"There were 67 licensed premises in the Borough in 1899 and Brighouse was said to be the most drunken town in the West Riding except Wakefield"
I was surprised by the numbers : even its' greatest fans would be pushed to describe Brighouse as anything other than a small town, and 67 public houses would seem generous to even a thirsty man. My first thought was to check how many of the 67 were still open, but that sounded like a depressing odyssey. A more fascinating challenge would be to trace all those 67 pubs, inns, taverns and beerhouses, and discover what had become of them.

My first task was to produce a definitive list of the 67 and that gave rise to my first discovery. It depends, of course, on how you precisely define Brighouse, but even using a conservative definition, I came up with a list of 116 pubs that, at one time or another, had existed in Brighouse and its surrounding district. It was a little like setting out to climb a hill and getting off the bus at the wrong stop to discover you are at the foot of Mount Everest. The master list itself, is a fascinating document. There you will find six horses (one with a jockey); three ships, three suns; three Prince Alberts; two oak trees (one of them is Royal); a couple of Dukes (one of York and one of Edinburgh); two hares; two hounds; a partridge; but sadly not a pear tree.

I invite you to accompany me on my journey of discovery. If we come across a pub that is still open we will call in for a pint, if it is closed we will ruminate on what it once was. We will use them as signposts to life as it used to be, curiosities that might still amuse, or speculations as to what might have been. It might take us some time before we manage to get around them all, but I have few things better to do. 


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Carved Serpents Of Memory

We went to the South Yorkshire village of Cawthorne on Sunday for no other reason than it was a sunny Bank Holiday and I had never been there before. At least, I thought I had never been, but Isobel insisted we had visited the village several times. I looked through my old photographs to see if I could find any of Cawthorne - as far as I am concerned, if I haven't photographed it, I haven't been.
In the centre of the village there is an old stone cross and drinking fountain which is decorated with carved serpents. It looks ancient, but a little research shows it is only about 150 years old. Not everything is as it seems - perhaps that is true of my memory as well.

Monday, May 27, 2013

There's a Fair Old Chance That I Might Be Dead Soon

My 65th birthday is approaching with the speed of a supercharged Zimmer Frame. It is no longer just around the corner, it is down the street, leaning against the lamp-post with a malevolent grin on its face. As some kind of early birthday present from my doctor, I received a letter from the Surgery the other day saying that there was a fair old chance that I would be dead soon. To be precise, a 26.8% chance that cardiovascular disease would strike me down in the next ten years. 

This level of precision results from a new Government initiative to test people over the age of 50 based on something called a QRISK Algorithm. My blood pressure had been tested, my cholesterol had been calculated, my height and mass had been surveyed and my medical history had been recorded - and all that information was fed into a computer and out popped my mortality coefficient (or whatever they want to call it). As it is above 20%, I am invited to make an appointment with my doctor, who will no doubt suggest swallowing Statins for the few months and years I have left, enter a new loving relationship with pulses and organic beans, and avoid alcohol with the fervour of a Salvationist. It is all rather depressing.

After a couple of days of despondency, a thought struck me whilst I was sipping my pea and watercress smoothie (well, it was whilst eating a plate of chips, actually, but don't tell the doctor). The one piece of information missing from the results print-out was what is the average chance of contracting cardiovascular disease for a 65 year old man in Britain. I eventually tracked down the answer to this question in an article in the British Medical Journal ("Predicting cardiovascular risk in England and Wales: prospective derivation and validation of QRISK2", Hippisley-Cox et al. BMJ 2008;336:a332 doi:10.1136/bmj.39609.449676.25), and surprise, surprise, it turns out to be 29.44. 

In an attempt to double check my findings - which turned the message in the letter upside down and now suggested that I could walk off into the sunset of my life with the spring in my step of a lithe teenager - I managed to track down an on-line QRISK calculator. When I fed the various bits of information into this it calculated that my risk of popping my clogs due to cardiovascular disease during the next 10 years was 15.6%, which was once again less than the chances of a typical person of my age, sex and ethnicity. It is all rather satisfying. Now pass me that piece of chocolate cake and that glass of Malt Whisky.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

(D+L) + (G+B) + SUN = SF

The sun has been such a rare visitor over recent months one almost forgets its' ability to transform. Take dark and light, green and blue : and create a sensuous feast.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Sepia Saturday 178 : Three Faces Of Sepia

Our prompt for Sepia Saturday 178 features a face, and this, in many ways, is an easy challenge because the human face must be one of the most photographed subjects of all time. I have chosen a triptych of sepia faces, none of whom are known to me, but all of which feature somewhere or other in my collection of old photographs. They are from different times and different places, but they all have a story to tell if we care to dig below the surface of the photographic emulsion.

The first face comes from an old school photograph which must date back to about 1920. My mother is elsewhere on the photograph, but today I want to focus on just one of the other faces : the girl on the back row on the left. It is a lovely classic face, the kind of face that could equally grace a mill-workers' daughter from Bradford, or a young lady from a country house. There is a determination within her features, a determination which would no doubt lead her somewhere in life. The demographics mean that it is almost certain that her life is now over. One longs to know what kind of life that was.

My second face belongs to a generation later. It appears in a photograph that features my Auntie Miriam (that's her at the left with the dog), but my Uncle Frank's usual obsessive cataloguing has failed to offer a clue as to who the young land might be. I suppose the photograph dates from around 1950, so there is a fair chance that the lad - now a man - is still alive. In place of the determination in the first face, I see an element of introspection and possibly sadness. Perhaps it is my imagination that is running away with itself, perhaps the lad went on to enjoy a happy and prosperous life. Now as I look again, there is a passing resemblance to a young Eric Morecambe, although there is little sunshine in his smile.

For my third face we need to go back to the late Victorian period and this fine old Cabinet Card from the studio of A J Anderson in Luton. Once again, I have no idea who the lady is : I bought the photograph in a second-hand shop. In many ways it is more difficult to read this face : are we seeing pride or modesty, certainty or doubt? We get fewer clues from such studio portraits : it is almost as though the photographer is air-brushing out personality as well as blemishes. You might imagine that the whole concept of air-brushing is an invention of the digital age and the celebrity magazine. However, when I scanned the photograph and dug down deep into the pixels, I discovered evidence that this particular Victorian photographer was more than happy to lighten a shadow under the eyes or lengthen and thicken an eyebrow.

Such things are all part of the story of the face.

To see more aspects of the Sepia face, visit the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the various links you will find there.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Scanning Malt And Bluebells

As many of you already know, I am addicted to scanning. I find it difficult to contemplate life without a scanner and my first thought on encountering any new experience or emotion is to scan it. I once got addicted to scanning my breakfast, but it took me ages to clear the crumbs of toast from my scanner afterwards and I have therefore stopped this eccentric practice.

I have often toyed with the idea of scanning my friends, but I fear that it might prove difficult and I suppose there is the danger of that bright, piercing light doing some kind of irreversible damage. The idea of scanning emotions is a challenge, but one that is worth some effort. Take Saturday night, for example : and if truth be told, well into Sunday morning. We had a house full of friends and we were celebrating either Isobel's birthday or World Whisky Day ... or perhaps we were just celebrating friendship. A good many bottles were opened, and sampled, and discussed, and enjoyed. The scanned bottle of Ladaig was one of my particular favourites. From the scan it looks full, but I can assure you it is not - it is just its horizontal position on the scanning bed. Along with its fellow offerings, it resulted in me having to adopt a similar horizontal position on my own bed for much of Sunday, but the last thing you need on a Monday morning is to see a scan of that.

Let me provide a little balance by sharing a scan of my morning walk with Amy. The bluebells are out at the moment. They only last for a couple of weeks at the most, but whilst they are in bloom they carpet the woods and the hedgerows better than any Axminster or Wilton could do. I know I could show you photographs of them, but scanning helps me to recognise the beauty of the individual : that essential element that can summon up familiarity without any trace of contempt.

The bluebells always come out for Isobel's birthday. Perhaps I really should try and scan the Good Lady Wife.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Sepia Saturday 177 : Him, Her And Her

I have never been very good at facial recognition. That is why I am always looking for a decent bit of facial recognition software : one which doesn't suggest that your mother-in-law is a Norfolk Terrier or your best friend's daughter is a character from the Muppets. Many years ago, when I was a young lad working in the mill, I was hanging out of a window with my mates one lunchtime, shouting mild obscenities at the young ladies walking by. "Hang on", said my mate Joe, "isn't that Isobel, your girlfriend!"

And then there was the time a few years later when I was walking through Halifax and noticed a chap walking towards me with recognition dawning in his eyes. As he threw out his arms in anticipation of a hug for a long-lost friend I mentally flicked through my card index of faces. The more I tried to match features, the more I panicked; and eventually I accepted defeat and threw my arms out in mutual welcome and recognition and decided I would try and wing it. Much to my embarrassment  the man walked straight passed me and hugged a woman who was walking down the street behind me.

Which brings me to my Sepia Saturday picture. The theme image features kids swinging and hanging upside down. My chosen photograph features a charming little chap (chappess) swinging on a park swing. It might be me, who knows. The woman might be my mother or might be Isobel's Grandmother. The young girl might be my wife or it might be - well who knows. No doubt, I will do what I normally do, which is print the photograph off and take it to the pub tonight. After a good few pints I will pass it around and ask if anyone recognises anyone. I will let you know what I discover.

Whilst you are waiting the outcome of my investigations you can swing on over to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the other links you will find there.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Feast And Famine And The Age Of Social Sterility

The world of beer and brewing is going through odd times : times. on the one hand, of feast, and on the other, of famine. I am mainly talking about Britain, but I wouldn't be surprised if the changes don't extend to a number of other beer drinking countries as well.

First we have the feast : and the feast currently on offer to the discerning beer drinker is the sheer number of different ales and lagers available to them. The last ten years has seen an explosion in the number of microbreweries producing and supplying a glittering selection of real ales - on draught and in bottles - to thirsty drinkers. Not since the seventeenth century, when each individual pub would brew its own beer, has there been such a bewildering selection available : pale ales, golden ales, bright beers, dark beers, hoppy and mellow, light ales and heavy ales. The variety - and in the vast majority of cases - the high quality of these products make sampling a delight and raises beer drinking well above the status of thirst quenching.

But then we have the famine : and that is the developing famine of pleasant places to drink this golden array of brewed delicacies. Yes, yet again, I am moaning on about the decline of the British pub. During a depressing drive from Hebden Bridge to Halifax the other week I think I counted more closed pubs en route (and by closed I mean permanently closed) than open ones. 

It would appear that if we are entering a new age of the super-abundance of different types of real beer we are also entering an age in which we will drink them in the social sterility of our own homes. Which, to me, is a great shame.

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Matter Of Balance

I remember when I was a kid, going for a walk through some fields with my parents and coming across a piece of old wood balanced on top of a small stone. I stood on the wood and swayed from side to side, flapping my arms around like counterweights, trying to keep my balance. It was a great game but it was suddenly brought to a stop by a shout : "stop doing that or you'll fall and hurt yourself".

Isobel (the GLW) has recently taken up Yoga in order to try and preserve her "core body strength" (whatever that might be) and returned home from one of her classes the other day with a plastic disk balanced upon an inverted circular plastic dome. It is used to help preserve balance, she explained, and you should spend a few minutes each day trying to balance on it. "Do it", she said, "or you'll fall and hurt yourself". It is strange : what comes around goes around, and so often the sins of our youth become the virtues of old age. It is all a matter of balance I suppose.

I seem to be having trouble with Blog balance at the moment. Sometimes it feels as if outside events have entered into an unholy conspiracy with lethargy in order to keep me from Blogger. Things will settle down soon hopefully; after all, it is all a matter of balance.

Friday, May 10, 2013

We're All Going On A Random Holiday

We are back from our short holiday. We were lucky enough to have had the best weather of the year so far, and we made the best of it with visits to both Surrey and Norfolk. It was really Amy's holiday and all those walks with the sun on her wooly back seemed to have worked their magic because she is back on top form again. If you want to get a flavour of what we got up to you can examine the collage above. The photographs were randomly selected and arranged by Picasa so I have no idea why there seems to be several pictures of pints of beer.

It will take me a few days to catch up with things so I may not be around as much as usual until things get back to normal.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Sepia Saturday 175 : A Ciggie And A Breakdown In North Norfolk

Our Sepia Saturday theme this week features an archive image of a rather alarming vending machine which dispensed lit cigarettes! I can think of few things more frightening - other than making running repairs over a motorbike petrol tank with a ciggie hanging from your mouth.

There is a degree of serendipity about my choice of photograph for Sepia Saturday 175. That's my father there with the oily hands and that's .... errr ... someone else with the dangerously drooping dog-end. The description written on the back of the photograph is simply "King's Lynn" and therefore what we have is a ciggy and a breakdown in North Norfolk. My post is going up early because we are going away this weekend : first of all down to South London and then, on our way back north, we are spending a couple of days in North Norfolk. There will be no ciggies (the only dog-end will be dear Amy) and - hopefully - no breakdowns. There will, however, be some photographs which The Lad, when he is old and grey, can feature on Sepia Saturday 1798.

If you can't be bothered to wait until 2054, take a look at what everyone else is featuring for Sepia Saturday 175 by going to the Sepia Saturday Blog and following the links.

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...