Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What The Papers Said : Memories Of A Poor Wife And A Bacon Sandwich

Halifax Courier : Saturday 4th April 1868

One cannot help wondering whether Professor Stokes was able to deliver his lecture without notes. He would claim that he could teach his system of memory enhancement in less than three hours and it was all based on his golden rule for memory which was "observe, reflect, link thought with thought and think of the impressions" He would give his students sentences to memorise - here is the one from Exercise 38 : "My memory men may memorise my matchless mouth martyrdomising memory medley". Which reminds me of something I once read in a book .... but unfortunately I have forgotten what it was.

I do know how Mr J G Lee feels. The Good Lady Wife has just set out for the shops in Huddersfield - so I am tempted to issue my own public announcement in a similar vein. However, before we attach too much blame to the poor Mrs Lee we should remember that 1868 was 14 years before the Married Woman's Property Act came into force and at this time married women were not able to own property in their own right. She would have to use Mr Lee's credit card as she was not allowed one herself.

A legal case with a convoluted plot of Morsian complexity. I still can't quite work out who gave who what - but it appears that a watch changed hands in exchange for a pig. The complaint seems to be that the pig died immediately after it was handed over but given the fact that the chap it was given to was a butcher in Sowerby, this is hardly surprising. The judge awarded the plaintiff £1-7-6d in compensation and in return took delivery of some belly pork, a pair of pork chops and a pound of streaky bacon. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Vintage Postcard Path 11 : A Tale Of George Eliot And The Architect

I am taking a walk along the path where history interacts with geography and words rub shoulders with images - the vintage postcard path. The destination doesn't matter and the route is determined by the random selection of old postcards I have bought at an antique fair. Number 11 in the series sees us in the schoolroom of a famous 19th century author.

George Eliot was full of contradictions: a woman using the name of a man, a pillar of the Victorian establishment who lived a life of a bohemian, a girl from the provinces who lived life in the big city. It was a contradiction of my own that first came to mind when I picked this particular postcard from the pile I have accumulated over recent months - for here is an name I know so well but I don't think I have actually read any of her books. That is a contradiction I need to put right in the near future, but for the moment I want to concentrate on the connectivity of time.

George Eliot was born in 1819 and her relatively short life came to an end in December 1880. So when this postcard was sent in 1905, Eliot had only been dead some 25 years and would be more in the realms of a recent celebrity rather than a historical icon. The card was sent to William Edward Crabtree of Elliott Street (different spelling, different Elliott) in Rochdale who, at the time, was a 25 year old architectural assistant. The glorious connectivity of time means that Crabtree was born whilst George Eliot was still alive. The card was sent by Gertrude Hodgson of Denton near Manchester who at the time was a 13 year old girl. It would be nice - in a George Eliot kind of way - to be able to tell you that Gertrude grew up and fell in love with the handsome architect, but alas, that is not the case (she went on to marry a builder called Harrison). William Crabtree married a girl called Fanny and lived in the Rochdale area until his death in 1963. In 1963 I was myself a 15 year old, living just the other side of the Pennines in Halifax - less than 25 miles away from Elliott Street as the Ted Hughesian crow flies. 

So there you have it: a crumpled old postcard linking me to George Eliot. It is amazing where you end up once you take a walk along the Vintage Postcard Path.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Contiguous Images Of A Busy Little Week

Life has been up to its old tricks again - getting in the way of blogging. Monday was shopping in Leeds (although I was allowed to abandon the GLW in the new Trinity Centre and wander off on my own taking photographs). I spent a large chunk of Tuesday at the bank moving relatively small amounts of money from one bank account to another. I am still unclear as to why I did this other than the bank manager said he thought it was a good idea. I was so mentally exhausted by this mindless activity that I could do little for the rest of the day other than scan a few old negatives. One was a picture of Halifax back in the 1960s : a time when shops were not encased in glass and concrete and when bank managers worried that your overdraft was too large rather than too small.

Wednesday was a pleasant Spring day and a fine day to kick off a new project that my mate Steve and I are undertaking. I won't go into detail about the nature of the project now other than to say we made our way to the Wapentake of Agbrigg and Morley to undertake some photographic explorations. Thursday has already faded into a beery blur brought about by a lunchtime meeting of the Old Gits Luncheon Club. One of our members is about to move permanently to France so it was an occasion of fond farewells and endless pints of beer, nonsensical speeches and ...... even more pints of beer.  Which takes us to Friday - more shopping and just enough time to squeeze out this blog post.

As I scan my old 35mm negatives, I see my life in terms of contiguous images which serve to remind me - thirty years down the timeline - that I went to Halifax the day after Auntie Amy got married (or some such thing). The problem with digital images is that they come in individual lumps - each file is sacred and alone like some Paul Simon Rock or Island. So this week I am sewing a few images together within a 35mm framework so that, if I make it to 2040, I will remember this busy little week.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sepia Saturday 271 : The Bitter Draught Of Progress

This week our Sepia Saturday theme image features a group of horses gathered around a stream and enjoying a refreshing drink after the toil of a working day. So many possibilities here for the creative Sepian - horses, streams, work - to mention just a few, but for some reason or another I decided to go for a drink!

So here I am enjoying a pint and what looks like a cigar with the Excellent Lady Wife and her parents, Raymond and Edith Berry. I have no idea where the photograph was taken (it is indeed rare for me to forget a pub) and I can only guess as to when it was taken - and that would be sometime in the mid 1970s. At that time we were living in London so it might have been taken in the beer garden of a southern pub (the beer gardens of northern pubs tend to be full of pigeon lofts and forced rhubarb). 

A second image from my scanned negative archives features a northern pub, the Royal Oak in Skipton. It will have been taken in 1966 or early 1967 when I was still at school. We were on a geography field trip to Skipton and whilst the rest of the class surveyed artesian basins and sketched U shaped valleys, a few of my school mates and I went off to the pub.  As far as I can discover, the pub has now been converted to a guest house - with neither pigeons nor rhubarb in sight.  Such is the bitter draught of progress.

She what other Sepia Saturday contributors are up to this week by calling in at the Sepia Saturday Blog and following the links.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Man Of Almost Perfect Synchronicity

Once I start reading a book I like to read it. So if I am in the middle of Chapter 4 and Amy Dog suddenly demands to go for a walk, Amy will just have to wait. Cross her legs. Wait until the next murder has been committed. Or solved. Amy finds such an arrangement unacceptable; she has even gone as far as accusing me of cruelty. It is not cruelty, I reply (is it normal to have conversations with your dog? - come to think of it, don't bother answering, I suspect I know the answer already), it is just the magnetic attraction of a good read. So I was pleasantly surprised the other day when Amy came up with a potential solution to our little problem (our wee problem as they would say in Scotland) - synchronisation. 

When you buy a Kindle book these days you have the choice, in many cases, to buy an Audio version of the same book. And if you have an Audiobook App on your smartphone you can get your phone to  whisper via the cloud to your Kindle and tell it where you have got to - and vice versa. So I can read my Kindle until Amy gives one of pleading wuffs; walk her through the woods whilst I call upon some professional reader to carry on reading to me, and then return home and my Kindle will automatically know where I have got to.

There is only one problem - the bath. I am rather fond of soaking in a hot bath and reading at the same time. But it is a dangerous environment for Kindles and their electronic ilk - especially if you are in the habit of falling asleep - and therefore you need a good old-fashioned paperback to read in the bath. No problem, just buy one of them as well (I am constantly surprised to discover you can still buy books made of paper), and that I have done. But I can't get the book to whisper to the cloud and tell it which page I have got to. I have asked Amy for help, but she couldn't care less: she hates baths and wants nothing to do with them. Is there anyone out there who has invented a thingy to synchronise my paperback book with my Kindle and my Audiobook Player? I need to know so that I can become a man of perfect synchronicity.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Vintage Postcard Path 10 : To The American Colonies, If Fine

I am taking a walk along the path where history interacts with geography and words rub shoulders with images - the vintage postcard path. The destination doesn't matter and the route is determined by the random selection of old postcards I have bought at an antique fair. Number 10 in the series sees us in the Isle of Man.

This picture postcard was sent in 1927, but I suspect that the photograph dates from the end of the nineteenth century. It shows a somewhat precarious pathway over a stream and is entitled "Lhen Coan, Groudle, I of M" The "I o M" part is easy for anyone from the UK to interpret, it is the Isle of Man: that curious outcrop in the middle of the Irish Sea which seems for ever unsure as to whether it is part of Britain or indeed part of the twenty-first century. Mr Wiki Pedia tells me that Lhen Coan is not an elderly Canadian singer of sad but beautiful songs, but the Isle of Man's only natural canyon which is situated in Groudle Glen which is on the east coast of the island. Groudle Glen has a fascinating history and at the time of the postcard it boasted a zoo, a railway, an open-air dance floor and a variety of entertainments. Lhen Coan (which in Manx Gaelic means "Lonely Valley") was a place you could take a quiet walk when you were tired of the bright lights of Groudle Glen, and you could explore the peaceful little valley by means of the rustic pathways. The pathways have now fallen into disrepair and the zoo and the dancing are long gone, so once again Lhen Coan can live up to its name.

When I first read the message on the back of the card I made the assumption that the qualification to the promise "We shall be home tomorrow Saturday sometime towards evening, if fine" was a reference to the hazards of sailing from the Isle of Man in difficult weather conditions but then I discovered that the card was posted in Horncastle which is only twelve miles or so away from Alford where it was being sent.

One final little connection to note is that the card is being sent to Mrs Watson at Virginia House. There are all sorts of ties and connections between this little sleepy part of Lincolnshire and Virginia in the United States. Captain John Smith - the same John Smith who established the Jamestown settlement and was later saved by the love of Pocahontas - grew up in Alford and the great political philosopher Tom Paine - author of The Rights of Man - was briefly an excise officer in the town.

So we have been taken on a journey from Lincolnshire to Virginia, via the Isle of Man thanks to the motive power of nothing more than a dog-eared old picture postcard.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Sepia Saturday 270 : One Is A Donkey

Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week features an air stewardess hugging a cute puppy. Auntie Miriam may have been many things, but she was never an air stewardess, but there again it's a donkey she is hugging and not a puppy. The donkey is undeniably cute however and that look of affection could be a mirror image of the one shared between the stewardess and the puppy. 

The date of the theme image is a little uncertain: sometimes in the 1950s is the best that the Preus Museum (Norway's National Museum of Photography) can come up with.  I can be much more precise about my photograph because it comes from the Frank Fieldhouse Digital Collection and as we all know Frank might not have been an airline pilot, but he was an enthusiastic cataloguer. In his unmistakable hand the page in the album is headed "St Annes" and dated 1941. Uncle Frank could never resist the additional comment, that little extra description that makes the difference between a museum catalogue and a personal scrapbook. Those little notes of affection percolate his albums like dandruff on a Rastafarian; announcing his affection for his wife as clear a any 60 point bold typeface. And below this picture is the unforgettable line - "On the sands .... and one is a donkey"
See what other Sepians are cuddling up to this weekend by visiting the Sepia Saturday Blog and following the links.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

No Stamp, A Bloody Big Box, And Lots Of Delicious Pints

In this strange and wonderful world of blogging nothing is impossible. 

It started with an old postcard, the one featured in my last post entitled "No Stamp, No Box, No Pint" It was an old picture postcard posted 101 years ago and featuring the Bell Hotel in Tewkesbury. At one side of the old pub you can just make out a sign advertising the brewery that was supplying the hotel back in 1914 and it was the Wickwar brewery of Armold Perrett & Co.  The firm is long gone but the internet suggested that the brewery building still existed and a new brewery - the Wickwar Brewery - had moved into the premises. I looked Wickwar up on a map and discovered to my delight that it was just up the road from where one of my oldest blogging friends - the inimitable Chairman Bill - lives. So I asked him to see if he could find it and if so let me have a photograph of it. And for good measure I asked him to send me a pint of Wickwar Gold as well.

Within 24 hours a set of photographs had arrived in my in-box showing the old brewery buildings and evidence of its occupation by the new Wickwar Brewery. Even better, a message arrived to say that a pint of Wickwar Gold was on the way. I cannot deny that I have always had more than my fair share of faith in the positive benefits of the internet, but I had serious doubts about its ability to deliver a decent pint of beer. So I sat back and I waited.

I have been into town today and on returning home I discovered a very large cardboard box which had been delivered by a van driver whilst I was out. I cut through the outer cardboard packaging with a degree of enthusiasm only to discover an inner box containing an enormous quantity of what the label described as Wickwar Gold (4.5% ABV). There must be at least 20 pints of the stuff in there, constituting a bounty of beer of almost unimaginable proportions. There can only be one person responsible for this - the very same Chairman Bill. 

So this unique 100 year journey has taken us from an old postcard of Tewkesbury to a feast of Gloucestershire real ale which will be thoroughly enjoyed in West Yorkshire. All thanks to the wonders of blogging. But as I raise a glass, not just to Chairman Bill but to all my blogging friends, I have to stress that the circle is not yet quite complete. It will only be so when my parcel of Yorkshire goods is finally dispatched down to Gloucestershire. I will let you all know when I have decided what will go in there. But for now, cheers!

Monday, March 09, 2015

A Dozen Dollops Of History - 9 : No Stamp, No Box, No Pint

My ninth found dollop of history (£1.50 pence from the second hand shop) features a 1914 vintage postcard from Tewkesbury.

I can never resist a postcard of a pub and I will dip deeper into my wallet than normal to buy one. This is a lovely old card featuring the Bell Hotel in Tewkesbury which is notable for two reasons: first the wonderfully preserved seventeenth century construction, and second, it is a pub I have never visited! I don't think I have ever been to Tewkesbury, but we are planning a trip down to Gloucestershire later in the year so I will make sure we call in there and I can cross the pub off my bucket list (if you are going to have a bucket list, have one for pubs).  

From what I can discover the inn was originally called The Angel before becoming The Bell and then the Ring Of Bells, then the Eight Bells, before finally reverting back to the Bell again in the 1820s. If you look carefully you can see that the landlord was a certain H. Charles (Harry Charles in fact) and if you look even more carefully you can see that the inn was served by Arnold, Perrett & Co, Brewers of Wickwar in Gloucestershire.  Arnold, Perrett & Co was taken over by the Cheltenham Original Brewery in 1924 and brewing ceased in Wickwar, but the building remained, and ten or so years ago brewing recommenced in the building courtesy of  the Wickwar Brewing Company. Checking on the map, I see that Wickwar is just up the road from where my blogging mate Chairman Bill lives, so hopefully he might be able to send us a photograph of the brewery and, even better, a pint of Wickwar Gold.

The message on the back of the card is delightfully brief : "No stamps, no box, no muffin" I wouldn't want to start to investigate possible interpretations of this brief message so I think we will stick with the fine proportions of the Bell Hotel and contemplate that tempting pint of Wickwar Gold.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Sepia Saturday 269 : A Song, A Smoke And A Sepia Post

It's music week this week on Sepia Saturday and the theme image is some old sheet music for some little piece of whimsy called The Violet Polka. I do have a small collection of sheet music I inherited from my Uncle Harry (or "poor Uncle Harry" as he was always referred to in the family but that is another story best left until after the watershed) and I dipped into that to find something suitably uplifting.

In amongst his music is a small volume entitled "The Music Lovers' Portfolio Of The World's Best Music" which was published as a part series in England in the 1920s by Georg Newnes Ltd. I only seem to have Part 1, so perhaps Uncle Harry ran out of money after the first week or maybe the selection wasn't to his liking.

The selection in Part 1 is certainly, as they say these days, "aspirational". There is  some Rachmaninoff, some Mendelssohn and even the 1st Movement of Beethoven's Fifth. But I needed something even more culturally weighty to stand up against the Violet Polka, so I give you, from towards the end of the portfolio, "Love's Cigarette" by H Fraser-Simson , Harry Graham and Adrian Ross.

I am probably in breach of some copyright law by reproducing this piece of music here, but I will defend myself at the bar of public opinion by stating that this is a work that should be more widely known. In case you can't quite pick out the words from the tobacco stained paper, let me quote you the lyrics of the first chorus.

Cigarette, cigarette,
You are warmer and truer
Than any fond wooer
I've met
And you're rapture
Ought to kindle and capture
The coldest Coquette
And the whirls
Of your curls
They have taken my heart in a net
It's a pleasure divine
When your lip is on mine
And I'm kissing my own Cigarette

I am aware that a post about music which contains only words and images is a bit like a fine Cuban cigar without a match to light it, so I have searched YouTube to find a rendition of this wonderful tune I could share with you. The best I could find was the following piano roll which appears to be by the same writers and share the same title, but whether it is the precise tune in the sheet music is a question which will have to be answered by those with a greater musical sense than me.

Whilst you whistle away to this catchy - I could even say addictive - tune, why not dance on over to the Sepia Saturday Blog to see what other Sepians are singing about this week.

Friday, March 06, 2015

The Popular Author Of Self-Help Books On Constipation

It was one of those half silly, half embarrassing conversation most bloggers have had at one time or another. 
"So what do you do with your time these days" (the final phrase "now that you are waiting to die" was implied rather than said)?
"Well, I do a little writing".
"Oh, what type of thing do you write?"
I longed to say something daft such as "the instructions on the back of seed catalogues", "self-help books on constipation", or "epic poems in Gaelic", but settled for the old stand-by.
"This and that"
By now my conversational partner is clearly wishing that she had initiated a conversation about something more interesting such as the weather or the price of a pint of milk. I could see her, trawling her conversational fish-stocks, looking for the next sentence with all the ardour of T S Elliot in mid-stanza.
"What's the most read thing you have ever written?"
For a moment I struggle with the interpretation of the word "read", wondering whether it is an inquiry into the political foundations of my writing, but decide that it is merely an awkward sentence. I feel confident in my diagnosis as I am a bit of an expert in awkward sentences.
"I'm not sure, I will have to check"
She seems happy to allow the conversation to die a natural death at this point and turns her attentions to something more interesting such as clinically inspecting the possible content of the sandwiches. But, as an annoying know-it-all, I dislike being asked questions I don't think I know the answer to, so I prod my iPhone until I reach the Blogger statistics page and go in search of the one post in all the thousands I have published in the last nine years which has received the most page views.

The answer surprises me. It is a ridiculous little post I did back in February 2012 about winning the Pub Quiz which was accompanied by a scan of the Score Sheet. What few words there are are not particularly well-chosen and the subject matter is on the same level as paint drying in terms of capturing people's attention. Nevertheless, the piece - which is entitled Ant Hills Surrounding Everest - has had 5,947 page views which is probably more that any of the plays of Shakespeare had during his lifetime.

I go in search of my inquisitor in order to provide her with the knowledge she was so clearly seeking. She is talking to someone else, but I interrupt as I am older than the person she is talking to and with less time left on this earth.
"It's a piece about Mount Everest", I say, "and about winning the pub quiz"
She looks at me with an odd mixture of alarm and pity and then widens her view to see if she can spot a carer who should be looking after me.

I really must stay in more often.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

A Dozen Dollops Of History 8 : Maudie's Better For The Rest

My eighth found dollop of history (50 pence from the second hand shop) features a 1917 vintage postcard from Dover.

Most vintage postcards date from the first decade of the twentieth century - the age of the postcard collecting boom when hundreds of thousands of cards were sent, received, and carefully added to postcard albums. Many cards were still sent during the next two decades, but by then the collecting hobby had subsided and consequently far fewer of them have survived. My eighth chance purchase at an antique fair is one of these later cards having been posted in 1917. Having said that, the photograph of Pier Head Dover must be from fifteen or twenty years earlier, depicting a calmer, more peaceful Edwardian era. By the time this card was sent, the pier had been taken over by the Admiralty and heavily fortified. 

The message on the card reads as follows:

31 August 1917
My Dear Maudie,
Thanks so much for the PC. So pleased to hear you are enjoying a much needed rest. I have not managed to write to you as we have had a friend staying with us for a week and we have been out and about so much. Hope to hear your mother and self are much the better for the change.
From CF

CF paints a peaceful enough scene. Friends have been to stay and they have been out and about. Maudie and her mother have also had a bit of a rest and, it would appear from the amended and forwarded address, they had been moving around Scotland. The card was posted on the 1st but wasn't redirected until the 4th of September so we can assume that Maudie didn't receive it until the 5th at the earliest. By that time there had been one of the heaviest night air raids of the First World War over Kent and over 150 people had been killed in the bombing. With luck, poor Maudie and her mother were safe and sound in Scotland, otherwise they wouldn't have been any better for the rest.

Monday, March 02, 2015

A Decisive Moment Outside The British Museum

It was the great French photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, that described photography in terms of the "decisive moment": the ability of the camera (especially of the new lightweight cameras of the 1930s and 40s) to capture a precise moment in time and demonstrate that, in one way or another, all moments are decisive. I know that I tend to complain a lot about the modern trend of the ubiquitous lens - the grafting of digital cameras onto everything from mobile phone to false teeth - but it has to be recognised that the phone-camera is a perfect vehicle for the decisive moment approach. Had Cartier-Bresson been alive today, he would no doubt be skipping around with an iPhone in his hand.

But good, old fashioned gelatin film of a certain age had an advantage over the digital image in that, once developed, it was cut into strips. And if you are lucky and the negatives were kept, the strips still remain and individual shots are tied to their neighbours with a solidity that even Christian Grey would have approved of. Thus, if you look at a negative strip rather than an individual photograph, you have something more that a decisive moment, you have a passage of time.

The above strip of negatives dates back to the 1970s when we were living in London. For whatever reason, I was out with my camera and this particular sequence starts with me down by Tower Bridge taking a photograph of what was a favourite subject forty years ago and remains so to this day - a brewery. The brewery in question, for those interested by such things, is the old Courage Anchor Brewery which has since been converted into a complex of disgustingly over-priced apartments. For the second shot I have simply turned ninety degrees to the right and looked up river, incorporating the bridge and the River Thames.

There must have been a fair amount of walking before the final shot was taken because it features a crowd outside the British Museum in Bloomsbury. I can't recall if I went in the museum or just grabbed a decisive moment outside, but the negatives together help me recall a day rather than just a fraction of a second.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Lighting A Fire Under The Bath Water Of Technological History

What are you going to be getting up to this evening? I don't know about you but I might phone up The Lad in Sheffield and see what type of weekend he has had, FaceTime my mate Denis in Spain, fire a few e-mails off to friends near and far, check-out a few of my favourite blogs from around the world, take a nice hot bath and then settle down to watch Match of the Day 2.  But there again, if all the electric and battery power suddenly disappeared, I suppose I would just go to bed and feel miserable. Or perhaps I would pop along to the fascinating lecture at the St George' Hall in Bradford on "The Electric Telegraph, What It Is And What It Does"

Sadly, I can't make it to the lecture as I seem to have missed it by the small margin of 155 years; the confusion can be put down to my habit of reading old newspapers. As I get older I find I get more and more depressed by so much of what is happening in the news and even more depressed by popular reactions to it. I find I can't even walk past a brace of popular daily newspapers on a newsstand without my blood pressure climbing to dangerous heights and I am in receipt of a lifetime banning order - issued by the Good Lady Wife - stopping me watching Question Time and the Politics Show on television. I thus take refuge in old newspapers : it is difficult to get too worked up about mistakes that have already been made and at least you know how the story ends.

And that is how I came across the above notice from the Bradford Observer, advertising a lecture by Mr E Graves of the Electric Telegraph Company. Reading the list of marvels to be demonstrated, I can't help thinking that it must have been a fascinating time to have been alive (given the proviso that you were also fortunate enough to be able to afford a carriage to collect you at 10.00pm and buy enough food to stop you from starving). Technological innovations were queuing up to with all the enthusiasm of bargain hunters at a Boxing Day Sale. Telegraphs, electricity, lights, printing, not forgetting my beloved photography; they were all falling headlong into common usage and transforming society in a way that is reminiscent of the digital revolution over the last thirty years. Like any list of things that will transform the world, they don't all make it - I am not sure whether to be pleased or disappointed that the Mystery of Spirit Rapping never made it past the design stage.

But tonight, as I watch my TV, Facebook my friends and relax in a warm bath I will not be able to avoid thinking of that lecture I have missed and how fascinating it would have been to have shared the wonder and the marvel at the demonstrations of Mr Graves and his colleagues. Perhaps I will light a small fire beneath the bath water to celebrate.

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...