Thursday, April 30, 2015

Familiar Fare Behind Three Closed Doors

We are home after a relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable ten days in Spain. Spain is the land where the sun shines, where the wine is cheap, and where the food is good (I enjoyed what must have been one of the best steaks I have ever had at the Albir Restaurante in Mojacar). Despite all that, when our plane flew back over the Channel and I looked down on those green fields and neat towns, I couldn't help thinking that I was lucky enough to live in the most beautiful country in the world. 

Nevertheless, nobody does doors better than Spain. The three featured above come from the three different regions we visited and perfectly illustrate the range of styles and cultures you find in that country. They range from the functionally distressed of Pinoso, through the piped icing extreme of Lorca to the perfectly proportioned of the Alhambra in Granada.

I shall continue to feature some of the photographs I took during our stay in Spain on my Picture Post Blog over the next few days, but here on News From Nowhere I will return to more familiar fare. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

We're Pea Hay Sea Kaying

I am currently reading "A Spy Among Friends", Ben Macintyre's fascinating account of the friendship between Kim Philly, Nicholas Elliott and James Jesus Angleton. It is a book which makes me want to return to my bookshelves and re-classify all my John le Carré books from the fiction to the non-fiction shelves. Reading this account of western and soviet spies in the 1940s. 50s and 60s, you discover that all those le Carré staples - tradecraft, Moscow Centre, moles and the rest - were not the product of the inventive mind of a novelist, but part of the real and often bizarre world of postwar espionage.

Not that I should be too surprised: even I have drifted close to this perilous world on a couple of occasions. As a left-leaning youth in the 1960s I was friends with a chap who turned out to be a long-standing  MI5 agent, and when I worked at the Labour Party HQ in the 1970s, both my work and home phones were regularly bugged. I never used to believe this - despite, on occasions, the buggers (in the nicest possible meaning of the word) interrupting conversations I was having on the phone. Many years later the ex MI5 agent, Peter Wright, wrote in his memoirs how one of his jobs was regularly intercepting the telephone calls of Labour Party staff.

I would be of little use as an undercover agent and this is more than adequately demonstrated by the strange performance taking place at our house at the moment. I don't need to photograph the plans of a laser-guided peanut shooter with a miniature camera, nor do i need to hide from the enemy that I am converting spent reactor fuel into porridge oats: I simply have to hide from Amy the Dog that were are packing the suitcases.

Amy is suspicious by default. She can sniff out an upcoming holiday with the precision of a gas chromatography machine. And whilst she has difficulty associating the word "drop" with the action of letting go, she knows as sure as eggs are eggs, that holidays for us mean k-e-n-n-e-l-s for her. And so we have taken to hiding the suitcases and smuggling clothes into a rarely used bedroom in the hope of fooling her. She watches this strange behaviour with a sage expression and a knowing look that speaks of betrayal in a far more forceful way than any activity of Philby, Burgess and McLean. 

But off we are going and if little appears on this blog over the next couple of weeks it is because either we are enjoying life under the Spanish sun or Amy has locked us in the bedroom along with our pea hay sea kaying.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Lurid Confessions Of The Plastic Box Man

My name is Alan Burnett and I am an hoarder. There I have said it and I feel better now. It took a lot of doing, making that confession: indeed I wrote some notes on a large post-it pad in order to find the right words. Now if you will excuse me a moment I just need to go off and file those notes.

That's better. There is always a sense of satisfaction in getting something tidily filed away - especially when you have managed to invent a new sub-folder to file it under (News From Nowhere Blog Notes, DDS, 201504). In this particular case it is a digital file - I scanned the post-it note, uploaded it to my Evernote Account, started a new sub-folder, tagged it until it was top-heavy and finally laid it to rest.

You see I am twice cursed: not only do I suffer from  compulsive hoarding syndrome (or Diogenes Syndrome as it is sometimes called) but I also suffer from the modern offshoot of the classic syndrome - which is defined by a desire to scan everything and digitally file it on some cloud somewhere) which I have christened Digital Diogenes Syndrome of DDS.

The two conditions feed off each other and attempt to compartmentalise my life. During this technological transitional stage there is even a temptation to get Diogenes to wear a belt and braces by not only digitising every aspect of my life, but also physically filing them away just in case the cloud should burst some day. Now if you will excuse me a moment I just need to go off and find a suitable plastic box.

That's better. My room is full to the brim with plastic boxes: if ever the place caught fire I suspect I would eventually be discovered sealed in a melted plastic block like some prehistoric bug in amber. Plastic boxes are both a boon and a curse for us Diogenes sufferers - they provide a cheap filing fix with endless opportunities to label and sub-divide. But even seasoned sub-dividers such as myself occasionally have to find recourse to that cheapest of tricks, the box marked "Bits And Pieces". And it was whilst searching through several of these "Bits and Pieces" boxes this morning that I finally decided to make my public confession.

What I was actually looking for was one of the little plastic bricks from my childhood Bayko Construction set. Bayko was a wonderfully sophisticated construction system - a fine claret of a building system compared to the beaujolais nouveau of Lego - which probably hasn't been manufactured for fifty years. The bricks were coloured a somewhat lurid red, green and cream and slotted into steel scaffolding poles that would be enough to turn the stomach of a modern day safety advisor. Some time ago I found an old brick and, true to my calling, I filed it away in a box marked "Bits And Pieces": hence my search.  And what started the whole thing off was passing a house the other day which suddenly reminded me of the 1930 suburban villas I used to design and build with my Bayko kit.

My confessions over, I can return to my search for the toy building brick. Just as soon as I have filed this blog post away on a suitable digital cloud.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

The Vintage Postcard Path 12 : On The Ephemeral Nature Of Fame

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 antique fairs and auctions. Number 12 in the series sees us return to a familiar recipient and an unfamiliar park.

Given the length and complexity of the journey of a typical vintage postcard I am always surprised by their ability to stay in close proximity to their deltiologocal cousins. I am not particularly thinking about those original journeys undertaken 100 or more years ago, but their subsequent ramblings from shop to shop, fair to fair, sellers' tray to sellers' tray. You may recognise the recipient of this card which was posted almost 100 years ago from an earlier post in this series ("To The American Colonies, If Fine"). One can only assume that Mrs Watson's collection of old postcards was sold as a job lot and, despite the chance pickings of illogical collectors such as myself, some at least have managed to stick together.

Whilst the recipient is familiar, the location of the illustration is not, which is something of a surprise as it is not all that far away from where I live. Womersley Hall is a seventeenth century house near Pontefract in West Yorkshire which, according to the snippets of news I can find about it on-line, has drifted slowly into dilapidation over the last couple of hundred years. Some hand - I like to think it might have been Mrs Watson as an elderly lady - has appended the postcard "Home of Lord Snowdon", and indeed the hall was the childhood home of Anthony Armstrong Jones who went on to marry Princess Margaret and became Lord Snowdon. He became quite a celebrity in the early sixties - he had a job which was so rare for a member of the Royal Family that it attracted considerable comment - and I suspect the information about Womersley being his family home was added to the card then.

And now, 50 years later, Lord Snowdon has become a footnote in history and Womersley Park is as famous for being the subject matter of one of Mrs Watson's cards as for being his home. Well almost.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Sepia Saturday 273 : A Lagavulin Smile

The theme image for Sepia Saturday 273 features a couple of Edwardian ladies riding their bicycles through Battersea Park in London. My best efforts at a match involves half the ladies, half the bikes and a park of unknown origins. The photograph itself comes from the ubiquitous suitcase of old family photographs and measures just three inches by two. But so much life, so many memories, so much history is distilled into that small space, it has a rare and fine distinction - a vintage single malt whisky of a photograph.

The photograph features my mother, Gladys Burnett, and must have been taken in the early to mid 1930s. At the time my father and mother had a tandem and their holidays would involve tours around Britain. Later my father graduated to a motorbike and sidecar, a graduation my mother welcomed because - given that the predominant climatic conditions were wet and the predominant topography was hilly - she was happier under the protection of a canvas awning and the motive power of an internal combustion engine.

Looking at the photograph now - eleven years after my mother died - I can still recognise the smile; a lovely warm rich smile, a Lagavulin smile (lovers of malt whisky will know what I mean).

See what the others are doing for Sepia Saturday 273 by going to the SEPIA SATURDAY BLOG and following the links

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Here's Where It's Made

I must have taken this photograph of Bank Bottom, Halifax almost fifty years ago. On the right of the picture is part of the old Halifax Gas Works and on the left is the mill of Riding Hall Carpets. The railway viaduct in the mid-distance carries the line that ran from Halifax via Queensbury to Bradford. The church spire is that of Square Church - the church itself was later destroyed by fire although the spire was saved.

Around 1969 I worked for a time at the carpet mill on the left of the photograph as a warehouse labourer. The mill was built up against Beacon Hill and the road climbed around the building like a slide on a shelter-skelter ride. I may have taken this photograph whilst I was working at the mill, but I suspect it is a year or two earlier.

Other than the spire of Square Church, most of the buildings that can be seen in my original photograph have now long gone. Trees have recolonised some of the site and a Matalan hypermarket stands where my carpet mill used to be. In addition to the change in the actual buildings themselves, the whole scale of the scene seems to have changed. Then such space at the industrial heart of a busy manufacturing town was precious - space to be used, space to be built upon. Today it is almost an afterthought - too hilly for a car-park, too bleak for a call centre.

I must not fall into the trap of blinkered nostalgia: life even fifty years ago was dirty, boring and often short. But the towns looked better, looked more purposeful: there was a sooty pride about them which seemed to say - "here's where it's made".

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...