Monday, November 30, 2015

Photographic Flotsam And A Jewel On The Sands

Flotsam is defined as floating debris or wreckage that has not been deliberately abandoned. You may not have come across the concept of photographic flotsam - indeed I would be amazed if you had as I have just invented the term - but it can be defined as images that are accidental byproducts of other images which are worth collecting in their own right. Let me illustrate my point with this seaside image.

It is an image of someone or other, somewhere or other and was taken sometime or other. I cannot be more precise as it comes from an old medium format negative bought as part of a job lot of dark-room sweepings on eBay. A scan of the full negative is reproduced at the top of this post. It is fairly obvious that the photographer was interested in the group of five, and when they printed the negative all those years ago they may well have cropped all extraneous matter off to produce a print rather like the one on the left.

But if they had done so they would have lost the photographic flotsam - and what a treasure it is.

The little girl with the suitcase on the sands. Unknown, undated and probably unprinted. But in her own photographic way - a little jewel.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Exclusive : The News From Nowhere Colouring Book

I was checking the Amazon bestsellers list today (as one does) just to see what position Connections From Nowhere had climbed to (before you ask it is now the 935,957th best selling book in the UK). What really surprised me was that two of the top three books in the bestselling list are colouring books! I am not sure what it says about the state of modern society, but it appears that the best selling book in the UK today (as far as Amazon is concerned at least) is The Harry Potter Colouring Book. And if you tire of that you can always acquire the second best-selling book, The Art Therapy Colouring Book Collection.  Obviously my finely crafted philosophical explorations of contemporary culture have been missing the target as far as the market is concerned. 

But nobody can accuse me of failing to jump on any passing bandwagon, so I would like to share with you an exclusive preview of the soon to be published News From Nowhere Colouring Book. Get out your crayons and your marker pens and try colouring in this image of a young farming family. And before you ask, the young lad poking his father with a bit of straw is none other than the author of colouring book in question.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

On Being A Bit Ambivalent About Development

I can't avoid being a bit ambivalent about development. I am the first person to shout and scream at the developers who tore down so much of the West Yorkshire that I grew up with; spurred on as they were by a cocktail of profit and prophesy. With their anthems declaring that the bright new future demanded bright new roads, shopping centres and apartments they lay waste to whatever was seen as old or quirky or tired. But at the same time I don't want to live in an environment that has been pickled in malt vinegar, unchanging and ridiculously old-fashioned like an email written on vellum.

Such thoughts are spurred by this photograph I took back in 1970 or 1971 when construction of what was to become Burdock Way in Halifax got under way. The route of the road is like a giant scar violating the Yorkshire earth, and I long to see the houses and mills and factories that once inhabited what were to become the concrete fields of Halifax. 

But then I remember that, in the main, they were poky little back-to-back houses with outside toilets and damp bedrooms thrown up by some early nineteenth century developer who was equally spurred on by profit and a belief that the workers of the new Victorian age needed new Victorian housing. 

As I say, I am a bit ambivalent about development.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Shoppers Of The World Unite

It is getting to that time of the year again. It happened last Wednesday and then again on Thursday. It will be happening tomorrow and yet again on Wednesday. You know what I am talking about - shopping. Last Wednesday I had to navigate my way around the Meadowhall Shopping Centre and I am due for a return visit this Wednesday. Whenever I have to step through the plate-glass portals of some retail metropolis I cast a secret curse against the person who invented such instruments of torture and wish I was sat at home, in the peace and quiet of my room, sorting through a pile of miscellaneous ephemera. 

Like my collection of old share certificates and this lovely example from the Arlen Realty And Development Corporation of New York City.  The company was formed in 1959 by Arthur G Cohen, Arthur N Levien and Marshall Rose and quickly began specialising in developing retail shopping centres in the United States. By 1972 Arlen owned over 42 million square feet of American shopping centres and built developments such as Olympic Towers in New York and shopping centres in almost every state in America.

Most of my old share certificates have no value at all - they are certificates in companies long gone, bought for a few pence for their decorative value only (I have a long-term plan to re-paper my office with old share certificates). But as I searched the Arlen Certificate for a cancellation stamp and the business pages for a note of the company closing down, I began to suspect that this certificate may be the exception to the general rule. Perhaps I do own 500 shares in this retail conglomerate. As I walk through the doors of Meadowhall on Wednesday I will sing a little hymn to Mr Cohen and his friends who invented the wonderfully rewarding concept of the modern shopping centre.

Shoppers of the world unite - you have nothing to lose but your money. And I have nothing to gain but a decent dividend.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Lending A Hand With The Christmas Rush

When I was a lad I used to get confused about religion. It wasn't particularly the belief systems - if truth be told they still confuse me now - it was more the timing of the various religious festivals. You see my father worked in a chocolate and toffee factory and they suffered from accelerated seasons. When the summer sun was high in the sky and other fathers were accompanying their children to the seaside for the day, my father was at work, doing overtime because of the "Christmas Rush". And that didn't mean that work was slack when the festive season approached, the factory also made Easter Eggs and therefore as the December nights drew in my father would be busy servicing the lines of mechanical hens that lay thousands of Easter eggs.

Although I can't match my father's seasonal anticipation, I have been busy enough myself over recent weeks churning out a variety of calendars and books ready for the Christmas market (by which I mean the Christmas stockings of various unsuspecting and unfortunate friends and relatives). It would be nice to say that the rush is now over and a return to more regular blog postings is imminent,  but I had a call from the Hospital the other day to say that I need to go in for another hand operation in a couple of weeks. We will have to see how things progress, but I suspect that the Easter Eggs might be a little late next year.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Perpetual Motion And A Free Electric Fire

I got an email the other day which promised to reveal to me the secrets of perpetual motion and consequently the chance of the free generation of energy. The organisation which sent it to me said they had been closed down by "Big Energy" who were determined that the possibility of an endless supply of free electricity should not become public knowledge. Big Energy has obviously being doing a good job because the email informed me that the secret was discovered some 84 years ago. 

This particular email was referring to something called the "Hendershot Generator" the blueprints of which you can find in endless books and articles. It has all the necessary ingredients of a perpetual motion device : (1) It looks complicated; (2) It sounds simple; and (3) It doesn't work.  If you are tempted to spend your money by sending for the plans and building your own perpetual motion generator - save it and buy a pair of fur-lined gloves instead - they will have a better chance of keeping you warm as winter approaches.

Many years ago I worked in politics and it was my job to meet and greet visitors who were wanting to see the Prime Minister. My position was a lowly one within the organisation and therefore I was allocated the job of dealing with the crackpots who would turn up demanding to see the then PM (Harold Wilson) because they were ambassadors of an alien culture, or they had just escaped from being kidnapped by spacemen, or they were the lawful successors to the British throne. A regular visitor to my office was a somewhat wildly dressed man who carried a brown cardboard suitcase within which were the plans for his perpetual motion machine. On cold winter afternoons when I had nothing better to do I would provide him with a cup of tea and allow him to get his blueprints out on my desk and talk me through his harebrained schemes. He didn't want money for his invention nor a title and a seat in the House of Lords; he merely wanted recognition and his deserved place in posterity.

Perhaps, after all these years, he is still around and now sending out emails. As I read them, I am aware that the rain is once again lashing against my window and the first snow of the season is forecast for later this week. And I wish I had taken more careful note of his blueprints because the prospect of an endlessly free electric fire is quite an attractive one.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Pork Chop And A Stone Of King Edward Potatoes

This 1905 vintage postcard features a photograph of Halifax Borough Market taken from Southgate. Built between 1891 and 1896, the market dates from a time when Victorian civic pride was channeled by local corporations into the construction of ever-more imposing town halls and market halls. The intention of such buildings was not only to provide  a suitable location for conducting municipal business or for selling produce, but also to build something finer, grander and more imposing than that of any neighbouring West Yorkshire town. 

At the time of my old postcard, both the neighbouring communities of Bradford and Huddersfield had fine Victorian indoor markets. Both, however, fell victim to the demolition craze of the 1960s and 70s - only to be replaced with brick and concrete bunkers. Halifax Borough Market remains, still standing proud, still inviting citizens of the town through its doors to buy a pork chop or a stone of King Edward potatoes.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Clouds Over Huddersfield

When the sun is low in the sky and the clouds speed past with turbo-charged intensity, the scenery of the West Riding of Yorkshire is shown off at its best. I took this photograph earlier today, on my way to meet a friend for lunch. The bridge is the Quay Street Bridge in Huddersfield and the canal is the Huddersfield Broad Canal which has been there since 1776. In the distance you can see Castle Hill - the one-time site of an iron age hillfort, a twelfth century castle, a deserted medieval village and now,  a Victorian tower. Whatever is placed on top of Castle Hill, the same turbo-charged clouds speed past en-route from the Atlantic to the Russian steppes.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Sepia Saturday 305 : A Journey To The Meaningless

Only other Sepians will know what it is like: that journey you are taken on almost every week. It starts on Monday when you see the weekly prompt image and a series of strange and rusty cogs start turning in that part of the human brain devoted to images and memories. The theme image features a French balloon and you know that somewhere you have an old image that just might fit in. So you search through that database that all lovers of old images carry around in their brain, looking for the match. By Tuesday you have abandoned your mental database and returned to those old suitcases, cardboard boxes, books and albums that contain the real thing, the hard copies. You start with the obvious - those collections you know well, those family albums that are seeped in DNA.  

By Wednesday you have widened your search, flicking through galleries of unknown men and women in the hope that one of them might just be holding a balloon.  By Thursday you are getting desperate. Your nearest and dearest are beginning to notice behavioural changes, you are not sleeping and you tend to jump up in the middle of meals proclaiming an urgent need to revisit Uncle Frank's 1952 photo album.  By Friday you have combed through your collection of old postcards, cigarette cards, banknotes and share certificates - searching for that elusive balloon. As your Sepia Saturday deadline approaches you contemplate the alternatives - you could abandon the theme, play the Google card, or head for the Spanish sun. And then, late, late in the evening, you suddenly remember your old bound copies of Punch Magazine. You open the first volume and look at the first page. And there is Mr Punch, flying high over Paris in a balloon.

So you scan your image and write your words and feel pleased with your choice. But then, before the digital ink is dry and you have pressed the "Post" button, the non-Sepia world turns and the awful realities of the world are brought home to you. Sepia Saturday become meaningless and all your thought are reserved for the people of Paris and the horrendous events that have taken place there. At a time like this; themes, photos, and blogs don't really matter: all that does matter is the solidarity of all those who hate violence of all kinds. Let the image of the Eiffel Tower stand for that.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Eternal Salvation And A Good Night's Sleep All For A Fiver

Looking back through the annals of News From Nowhere I see that the blog is nine years old this month. Over that nine years there have been over 1,600 posts which have collectively attracted over half a million page views. And I am proud to say that throughout this period, News From Nowhere has never been sullied by the stench of raw and untreated commercialism. Never once have we accepted the tainted currency of the advertiser wishing to push his or her products to an unsuspecting public. We have remained free, and proud, and independent ....... until now.


Yes, now you can access the collected thoughts, musings and complaints of a man who has been described as "one of the greatest living Yorkshireman" (*) This beautifully hand-crafted volume contains all the News From Nowhere posts for 2012 in one easy-to-hold, impossible-to-put-down volume. Maybe you weren't born in 2012, maybe you have forgotten what the old fool wrote back then, maybe you want to get your own back on a distant relative who gave you a cold : there are many reasons to buy this unforgettable book. Just £5 from Amazon (with free postage if you are part of Amazon Prime), think of it not so much as an impulse buy, more as an investment in my future.

Don't come from the UK? Don't worry. Retailers from around the world have come together to ensure that you can get your hands on this number one bestseller whether you live in Kansas or Kurdistan, Vancouver or Venice, Harare or Heckmondwike.


(*) Quote from News From Nowhere, November 2015

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Victorian Photographer And A Sixties Folk Trio

The other day I received a copy of "The Victorian" magazine through the post along with a short note from a very old friend of ours asking me to look at page 33. The Victorian is the magazine of the Victorian Society - an organisation that campaigns for the preservation of Victorian and Edwardian architecture - and the friend, Peter Howell, has been an active member of the society for the last fifty years. The magazine was doing a short news item on Peter's half century of active involvement and needed a picture from those far off days to illustrate the piece. And that is how a picture I took almost half a century ago at some student party (no it wasn't really a meeting of the Buildings Committee) found its way into The Victorian.

I am inclined to think that I can now class myself as a Victorian photographer - a status that many of my younger friends will be prepared to accept without any trace of irony. So perhaps this old Victorian photographer can match the published shot by another which probably came from the same roll of film. It shows the same Peter Howell along with two of the same acolytes (one of which you may recognise as the GLW). No doubt The Victorian would suggest that this was taken on a field trip of the Buildings Committee, although I have always thought of it as a perfect record cover for some 1960s folk trio.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Burying Random Moments Of My Life In A Jamjar

If you want to get a real flavour of what things were like in the past you need to concentrate on the ordinary and not the extraordinary. Look at the subject of any photo from eighty or a hundred years ago and you get an impression of what your grandfather or your great Aunt Maude may have looked like. But look at the background to the photo, that collection of people, places and objects which were also captured by chance by the camera lens and you get an impression of what life was like. Life wasn't the grand drawing rooms of stately homes, life was the cottage parlour with Uncle John's underwear drying on the creel. Life wasn't the once-a-year trip to the seaside, life was the daily early morning walk to the mill or the factory. 

That insightful group of social researchers - the Mass Observation Movement - understood this. They sent their amateur reporters not to record great speeches or practiced sermons, but into the back street pubs to carefully copy down random conversations (their 1943 book The Pub And The People remains one of the most telling books of the twentieth century in my eyes).

In this modern digital age you might think that the ordinary was being recorded more than ever before. Most of the population walk around with powerful cameras in their pockets and Facebook and Twitter appear to record in detail the minutiae of modern life. But as we scroll past the sixth selfie of Cassie on Facebook this week, we need to remember that, however boringly ordinary it may appear to us, it has been recorded and shared because it is special, because it is untypical of Cassie's life. Add to this the fact that such memories are merely transitory and will be lost when Facebook eventually collapses or you change your mobile phone, or your computer is upgraded, and you begin to realise that, as a generation, we may be leaving less of our ordinary lives behind than any other since the birth of photography.

What we need is a modern, digital equivalent of the old Mass Observation project, and I was delighted to discover, a few days ago, that such an initiative exists. It is called Jamjar Stories and its aim is to "use modern technology to continue the founder's - (of Mass Observation) -project to make 'an anthropology of ourselves". I got an email from the organisation last week asking me if I would be interested in participating and I was delighted to join the growing number of people who are together building a repository of the ordinary by means of short video clips.

My own particular contribution is, in the first place, a series of seven random minutes of my life this week. I have used a random number generator to pick the seven minutes (one for each day somewhere between eight in the morning and midnight) and I am recording what I am doing during that minute and posting to the Jamjar Stories website. Above you can see my video for today when the random minute (10.57am) coincided with me feeding the birds.

Anyone can join the Jamjar Stories initiatives: all you need is a half decent mobile phone and a life that is ordinary. Most of us have that.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Facts Being Converted Into Nostalgia

It is the 1st of November. It is looking a little damp outside and there is nothing good on the telly. So let's go back in time.

For no particular reason, let us travel back sixty years to the 1st of November 1955. The big news of the day was the decision by Princess Margaret to give up the man she claimed to have loved - war hero Group Captain Peter Townsend - because he was divorced. Re-reading this story sixty years after the events you marvel at the inappropriateness of the social mores of the time. For a certain section of society it was perfectly acceptable to have affairs, but quite unacceptable to marry then person you loved if that person had been divorced. And just as hypocritical as the actions of the various parties in the affair are the responses of the media and political and religious leaders. The newspapers of the day are full of praise for the "brave decision" of the Princess to give up the man she claims to have loved for the sake of something which is never quite explained. The 1950s really was the height of the age of hypocrisy.

On a more personal note, I was seven and a bit years old in November 1955. I don't have an exact date for this photograph, but it seems to have been from around this period. It shows me in the garden of our house in Northowram, a house we had moved into from Bradford two years earlier. There I lived with my mother and father and my brother Roger. Roger was attending Secondary School in Halifax, whilst I was at the local Primary School in the village.

My memories of that time seem to coalesce around school. I will have been in the third year, one of the two classes that were taught in the outbuildings at the back of the main school. The school has a tarmac playground with a couple of shelters for when it was raining (one for boys and one for girls). It also had a large field which we could play in and within the field was an old air raid shelter which had been covered in soil and turf; an idea location for playing games such as "I'm The King Of The Castle". 

Each day I would walk to school from our house which was on the other side of the village. It was a walk that I can still remember to this day: the little stone houses, the village shops, the bus taking folk into town. And at the top of the street would be the school building; a proud monument to the nineteenth century belief in universal education. The building is still there although it has now been converted into apartments. The memories are still there although the facts have probably already been converted into nostalgia.

A Lot Of Gas And Some Empty Chairs

  You can decide which jet of nostalgia is turned on by this advert which I found in my copy of the 1931 Souvenir Book of the Historical Pag...