Friday, October 30, 2015

Still Crazy After All These Years

You know what it is like. You've not seen them for ages - it must be all of ten years. The memory has faded like an old photograph left too long in the sun. And then you meet them by chance: kismet, fate ... call it what you will. As Paul Simon said: "we talked about some old times, and we drank ourselves some beers". And before you know it you have fallen head over heels in love again.

I know what you are going to say: it's the usual sad story of a more-than-middle aged man who is trying to recapture his youth. But the story is even sadder than that - it is a computer programme I have once again fallen in love with.

Years ago I produced magazines. For about twenty years (between the early 80s and the turn of the century) I churned out magazine after magazine - rackfuls of them. Don't get me wrong, I am not talking Time or The New Yorker or Playboy; I am referring to titles such as The European Trade Union Information Bulletin, Doncaster Europe Express, and infoBASE Europe Report - titles that didn't so much fly off the shelf but bellyflop into obscurity. For a significant period of my life, however, they helped to keep the wolf from the door and the beer cellar full. They were produced with the aid of what, in the late 1980s and 90s, was the cutting edge of Desk Top Publishing software - Aldus Pagemaker. For two decades, Pagemaker was my constant companion, the salt to my pepper, the carriage to my horse. Pagemaker and I got to know each other in almost intimate detail. We would celebrate milestones: the celebration we had when Pagemaker 3 became Pagemaker 4, and the birthday card Pagemaker produced my 40th birthday party. For a time, it was difficult to imagine what life without Pagemaker could possibly be like. And then ....

It is the old, old story; we just drifted apart. Pagemaker became tired, a little too set in its ways. I let my eye wander and allowed my mind to be attracted by new friends offering a glitzy new lifestyle. Desk Top Publishing became passé as the new super word processing programmes stole its ground. All of a sudden everyone loved Microsoft Word, a programme that boasted that it could do anything DTP programmes could do - with knobs on and on ice. By 2004 poor old Pagemaker had even been abandoned by its parents - Pagemaker 8 was never replaced and left to gather dust in some digital old folks home.

During the last ten or fifteen years I have occasionally thought of Pagemaker with a mixture of nostalgia and longing. It would usually be when I wrestled with Word or Pages, trying to get them to do something that used to be so easy back in the halcyon days of Pagemaker 3. There has even been the odd moment when, I must confess, I have looked Pagemaker up on Google to see if it was still around in any of its manifestations. I would find the occasional link to Adobe InDesign (a much posher and far more expensive cousin) but it was out of my league.

And then, by chance, the other day I met something calling itself Swift Publisher 4: and within minutes of trying it out I knew I had rediscovered a long lost friend. It may not be Pagemaker, but it is as close as I remember Pagemaker to be (and at a fraction of the cost). I can dream of publishing again, knowing that I have an intuitive friend to help me lay things out in an attractive and pleasing way. 

Ever since Swift Publisher and I talked about some old times and drank ourselves some beers, I have been someone with a new spring in my step. I now shave every morning and put a clean vest on once a week. The GLW keeps looking at me with a note of suspicion in her glance. Could it be that the old fool has found himself a new love? No dear, don't worry. It is not a new love, but an old one he has rediscovered.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Three Images And An Exercise In Psychoanalysis

Sigmund Freud would have a field-day with my approach to cataloguing photographs. I hate to think what he would make of my need to allocate a sequential number to each image that crosses my desk. No doubt he would scratch his grizzled beard when observing my obsession with tagging and captioning each photograph. By the time he spotted me allocating copies of many of the photographs to subject and origin-based folders he would be planning a weekend conference in order to launch a thorough analysis of the kind of early childhood I must have endured. Here are three adjacent images from my current sequential folder which share nothing other than their status as neighbours in a database. If any analytical psychoanalysts are reading this, let them do their worst.

IMAGE 1510G-23 : Scan of a glass plate negative I acquired a couple of months ago. Two unknown men stand outside a bell tent in the middle of an unknown field. My best guess is that the negative dates from the around the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century.

IMAGE 1510G-24 : Scan of a 35mm negative showing a grass fire in Northowram, West Yorkshire. I must have taken the photograph from the back of my parent's house and I suspect it will have been sometime in the 1970s. I have no idea what caused the fire or what caused me to photograph it.

IMAGE 1510G-25 : A screen grab from the televised match between Sheffield Wednesday and Arsenal on Tuesday night (and yes, Wednesday won 3-0!!!) And yes, the smart looking chap in the blue shirt and tie sat just behind the dugout is The Lad (a lifelong Sheffield Wednesday supporter) who was attending the match as one of the doctors on duty.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Lowryesque Brighouse

The second of my local vintage postcards shows Brighouse, the little town at the bottom of the hill. It was taken about 110 years ago and shows the junction of Commercial Street, King Street and Bradford Road. The George Hotel can clearly be seen towards the centre right of the photograph. The George was built in 1815 (this year is its bicentenary) and it originally had a small brew-house to the rear of the building. At the time the photograph was taken, James Dyson is shown as being the owner of the hotel (you can just make out the name under the George Hotel sign). Records show that James Dyson was licensee at the hotel from 1889 to 1915, at which time he moved to the New Inn in Marsden (coincidentally, a pub which is now the regular venue of the Old Gits Luncheon Club). 

My modern photograph shows the George still standing proud along with quite a few of the other buildings. The handcarts have been replaced by shiny new cars, but there are still a fair few Lowryesque figures to animate the scene.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Sepia Saturday 302 : A Unique Moment In The History Of Mankind

Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week shows a young lady playing a harp and gazing into the near distance, caught in some kind of reverie, and dressed as if to suggest Britannia winding down on a Sunday evening after a heavy day spent knocking ten bells out of the Roman invaders. No doubt you are wondering what on earth that has to do with my featured image which shows an early twentieth century high street of little import and less consequence. The answer is, absolutely nothing at all. The important thing about Sepia Saturday is that there is no requirement to try and follow a suggested theme, merely a requirement to give some seemingly insignificant old photographs it's fifteen minutes of worldwide fame, it's moment in the sun. So this weekend, whilst the lady harmlessly strums her harp strings, the sun shines on the Corn Exchange in ...... somewhere or other.

I have dedicated a good few minutes to trying to identify the location of this particular photograph which somehow attached itself to me (old photographs have a habit of getting into the house through half open windows like flies in the summer), but with no success. The bus legend would suggest perhaps "Ewell and Ascot" and therefore - unless it had strayed too far away from home - we are probably dealing with Surrey. Neither Burden's Restaurant nor Tarrant's School Of Motoring seem to be in business any more, but I would guess that the Corn Exchange building and the monument or market cross still grace some southern high street or other. And I would be prepared to bet a pint of Harp Lager than before the weekend is out someone has written in to tell me where they are.

But the sun is probably no longer shining on the little man on the right of the picture: caught forever in mid-movement in this old, not particularly good, slightly out-of-focus, long-forgotten photograph. But think of all the variables that had to come together to create this image: the man standing, the car coming, the bus going. So many variables that it is unique. The scene was never repeated. Let us be grateful that the photographer was passing by in order to record for posterity this unique moment in the history of mankind.

There are more unique moments in the history of man and woman kind over on the Sepia Saturday Blog

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Death Rides A Pale Dray Horse

I am due to go into hospital soon for another small operation on my hand (it is yet another attempt to halt the remorseless desire of my little fingers to curl in on themselves (a.k.a. Dupuytren's Contracture, a.k.a. Viking Disease)) In preparation for the operation I had to attend the hospital last Friday for a pre-operative assessment. Everything was going well until the nurse took my blood pressure and declared that it was too high, I was given a letter to take back to my GP asking him to start me on a course of antihypertensives and send me back to the hospitals when it was under control.  I was reluctant to start taking pills until I was certain that there was a real problem (I am reasonably proud of my pill-free status) so when I got home I started taking my own blood pressure two or three times a day and all readings were well within normal limits. Armed with this evidence I was able to persuade the Practice Nurse to simply re-check my bloods pressure over a three week period before even thinking about antihypertensives. Yesterday she did the first of these three readings and it was well within normal range.

Feeling rather pleased with myself, I came home and found a chap on my doorstep trying to deliver a parcel (later, I couldn't help recalling that he was a tall, dark chap with a swarthy complexion). I signed for the parcel and took it inside only to discover that it was a case of craft beers with the collective title of "The Day Of The Dead Beer Selection". It contained wonderful offerings such as "Death Becomes You" (An ambler American style IPA); "Death Rides A Pale Horse" (A pale blonde beer); and "Hop On Or Die" (A golden hoppy beer). It arrived without any card or note saying who it was from.

I have a suspicion who might have sent it and in that case its arrival during my blood pressure crisis was a complete coincidence. But I can't help wondering whether it is the Grim Reaper sending me a none too subtle message; the thought of which is enough to send my blood pressure sky-high.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Like A Bradford Lad In Alicante

During my weeks away in the sun this summer I have often found myself homesick for my own, grey, stone-sooty West Riding of Yorkshire. The palm-tree lined Mediterranean promenades are all very well, but sometimes you just want cobbled stones under your feet. The sun can easily enough warm your body, but it takes a particular drizzle-fed wind sweeping down from the Pennines to warm your soul.

At times when the sickness was bad I would dose myself by going on eBay and bidding for selected vintage postcards featuring views of the streets and moors I have loved throughout my life. Occasionally I would win and for a pound or two (a dollar or three) I would be rewarded by a little slice of history - six inches by four inches. Now that the sun and the sangria are just memories, and I cuddle close to my two-bar electric fire, I have the opportunity to share some of these remarkable old photographs.

The first is a view of North Bridge in Halifax which must have been taken in the first decade of the twentieth century. The building on the left of the photograph is still there but the one on the right, the old Grand Theatre, is long gone.

The theatre was built in 1889 on the site of the earlier Gaiety Theatre which burnt down in 1888. At the time my main photograph was taken in was a popular venue for Variety Theatre and the kind of melodramas the Edwardians had a particular passion for. The show that was advertised when my old photograph was taken was "Bootle's Baby", the synopsis of which was as follows: "A captain's secret wife plants a baby on a friend and he weds her when the captain is killed!"

The theatre and its melodramas may be long gone, but the old bridge is still there, although a more modern flyover takes most of the traffic, thus sparing its old cast iron bones. The mill chimneys have also gone and the soot encrustation has been scraped from the walls of the remaining buildings. It looks more open now, and somehow a little lost and out of place. Like a Bradford lad in Alicante.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Sepia Saturday 300 : Let Us Remember Them

We are away at the moment but I could not let Sepia Saturday 300 pass without a quick post. This is a scan of a photograph which was part of a job lot of old photos, bought from eBay for a few pounds. It shares a number of elements with our theme image. Hopefully, by buying the box full of old photos I have saved them from, at best obscurity, and at worst the dustbin. Thus it has been saved. I have no idea who the people in the photograph  are; they are not my relatives, they may be yours, they certainly are someones. Thus it is unknown. And judging by the clothing and the styles and the uniform of the young man on the left, it must have been taken during World War 1. Given the unlimited carnage of that conflict the chances are that at least one of the subjects may have been dead before the photographic emulsion had dried.

So whoever they were, wherever they were from, whenever the lived and why ever they died : let us remember them. That, after all is what Sepia Saturday has been all about for the last 300 weeks. 

Happy Birthday Sepians everywhere.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Sepia Saturday 299 : The Days Of Wine And Wampoles

This photograph must have been taken in 1949 when I was about a year old. That is, of course, me in the pram being watched over by my mother and my brother. The photograph was taken at the seaside, but forget the background, forget the watchers - just focus on that smiling little face. Now take a look at the smiling face of the child advertising Wampole's Preparation on the image prompt for Sepia Saturday 299. It's uncanny isn't it : the same smile, the same happy countenance, the same look of contentment. There can be only one conclusion - I must have been spoon-fed Wampole's as a child.

This conclusion inspired me to undertake further research into the nature of Wampole's - what did it contain, what was I drip-fed along with my mothers' milk? I eventually discovered this image of Wampole's on the website of the National Museum of American History. And suddenly everything became clear : Alcohol 12%! That is equivalent to the strongest beer you can find, the same as a glass of wine, not too far off a whisky with plenty of ice.

At the same time my father was signing me up as a member of The Sons Of Temperance (this is not a lie), my mother was spooning pints of Hardcore IPA down my gullet. No wonder I have turned out like I am . . . .  happy, smiling and very, very content.

Check out what other Sepians think of Wampole's Preparation 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...