Saturday, April 30, 2016

Effie And Agnes Reunited

This is an amalgamation of two separate photographs that were within of batch of unknown old photographs I acquired from somewhere.  The photographs are of a similar age and technique and more than likely they are the outcome of the same visit to a photographers' studio. There is a facial similarity which suggests the two girls are sisters, but that is guesswork on my behalf. To set against all that we don't know, we do know their names because written on the back of each photograph is a dedication.  The girl on the left is Effie ("from Effie with love xxxxx") and the one on the right is Agnes ("With best wishes, Agnes"). As soon as I saw the two postcard prints, I wanted to merge them together, to reunite them. So here they are, after the best part of a century - Effie and Agnes reunited.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Sepia Saturday 328 : The Omnipresent Refugee

Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week shows two refugees fleeing their homes 100 years ago and carrying a family heirloom - an old painting. It dates from an era when refugees wore familiar clothing and came from familiar places. 100 years on and the names and places might be different, but the tragedy of the refugee still exists as does that most terrible of causes - war. At times I wonder whether some of the compassion has drained away from us over the last century: if the two ladies in our theme photo made it to the border today, they no doubt would have been made to hand over the painting.

I have no pictures of refugees to reflect this week's theme image: I have never had to face the horrors of fleeing conflict. I am, however, sharing, two vintage postcards that date from around the same period as our theme image, and reflect the same conflict. The main picture is a stylised version of the "deliverance" that followed invasion and occupation. With its waving caps and happy, well-fed, fully-limbed children, it is somehow in stark contrast to the gritty reality of our theme photograph.

My second postcard seems even further removed from reality, depicting, as it does, a well presented king greeting "peasants at the front". Maybe the two women in this photograph are the same two women as in the theme image, worn down into old age by four years of conflict. Somehow I doubt it.

You can see what others are doing with the theme image for Sepia Saturday 328 by visiting the Sepia Saturday Blog and following the links.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Ten Years A'Blogging 1 : 2006 - Predictive Blogging

This year marks the tenth anniversary of my blog News From Nowhere. To celebrate "Ten Years A'Blogging" I am going to revisit a blog post from each of the last ten years, starting with a post from November 2006 which speculates about the nature of predictive texting.


Cousin Dave called in for a cup of tea this morning. Whilst we were drinking tea and avoiding work he received a text message from his son. Like everyone of a certain age, Dave struggled with his attempts to send a message back - and we got to thinking of the perils of predictive text. What if they had predictive text back in the days of semaphore - a useful way of saving on arm-power. Or what if the early Morse-code operators had predictive Morse. Imagine the conversation between the sinking Titanic and the Steamship California :

TITANIC : S.O. ...
CALIFORNIA : Sorry!, Sorry For what?
TITANIC : S.O. ...
CALIFORNIA : Sob? What are you sobbing about?
TITANIC : S.O. ....
CALIFORNIA : Oh For Heavens' Sake, SOD OFF then.

Whilst my first blog post wasn't until 2006, that was not my first introduction to blogging. Eight years earlier I had been involved in a project with my brother which - although back then the word blogging hadn't been invented - was in all effects an early form of blogging. At the time my brother Roger, a celebrated artist and sculptor, was living just up the Calder Valley and he wanted to produce an on-line diary for some of the projects he was involved in. So each day he would prepare some material and we would use an early digital camera for the photographs. And then I would work late into the night converting the text and images into html coding and load it to a dedicated web site. By the time I started blogging for myself in 2006, things had become much easier as Blogger and similar programmes removed much of the technical hard work, and made blogging simple.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

COMMERCIAL BREAK : Watney, What, No!

This advert is taken from a June 1954 edition of that very best of British magazines - Picture Post. It was a time when adverts were inclined to be plain and simple - both in their design and in their content. And although I can't remember ever having drunk a bottle of Watneys Brown Ale, I suspect that fell into the plain and simple category as well.

Watneys had the kind of reputation amongst lovers of real ale that Genghis Khan had amongst Sunday School teachers. They were at the forefront of the revolution to introduce standardised, pasteurised, keg beers at the expense of local and regional favourites and the Watneys Draft Red Barrel symbol became a despised talisman to ale lovers later in the sixties and seventies.

Many years ago I read a wonderful history of the Watney Mann brewing company ("The Red Barrel" by John Murray) which told a splendid story of the origin of the family name. The first Watney in the family, Daniel Watney who was born at the very beginning of the eighteenth century, is said to have been a foundling who was abandoned on Wimbledon Common by gypsies. A local farmer found the lad and took him home to his wife. For days they tried to discover his origins by repeatedly asking the lad "what name?" until eventually the question was shortened into "watney" and became the lad's name.

The story is probably about as true as the claim made in the old Watney advertising song : "What's the beer that's always best / Watneys draft red barrel", but truth and advertising were never intended to be close friends.

A quick check shows that a half pint bottle of Watneys Brown Ale cost about 9d in 1954. Believing that beer has become ridiculously cheap in the modern age - which is the cause of everything from the breakdown of civil society to the death of the bumble bee - I did a quick calculation to discover the equivalent today - which would be about £1-83 for a pint. Which, interestingly enough, is just about the price you could pick up a pint bottle of brown ale in a supermarket today.

Let me finish, however, with the simple question posed in this simple 1954 advert - have I tried it yet? What, no.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

POSTCARDS FROM HOME : A Mystery Wrapped Up In An Enigmatic PC

Another of those lovely old postcards that seem to inhabit a hinterland somewhere between a photograph and a pen and ink drawing. Despite the rather crude hand colouring, the scene is instantly recognisable to anyone who is familiar with Halifax 110 years later. The Lodge is now a popular fish and chip restaurant and the wide sweep of Savile Park still provides a welcome break from the closely packed houses around its fringes.

The card was sent to Master Joe Turner by his mother in August 1905 and the message is as follows:-

Dear Joe, Thank you for the post card. I went up to school to tell Mr Haigh and he said you would break up on Friday for a month. We all send our love to you and hope you are a good boy. From Mother.

As usual, the message is an mystery wrapped up in an enigmatic picture postcard. What was Master Joe doing in the seaside resort of Rhyl rather than at school where plainly he should have been until Friday. I strongly suspect that the Mr Gaukroger he was with will have been a friend or relative from the Halifax area - Gaukroger is such a common name in this part of the Calder Valley and comparatively rare elsewhere. At best, the situation is about as unclear as the three children sitting on the bench in front of the Lodge. Whatever the story might have been, let us hope that Joe had been a good boy.

Monday, April 18, 2016

VIEWS FROM NOWHERE : A Good Time Composition

Another old, crumpled, out-of-focus photograph from an unwanted collection that found its way to me via eBay. Despite the technical imperfections of the photograph, nobody could possibly fault the composition. The figures conduct the eye on a joyous roller-coaster of a ride - Michelangelo would have been proud of it. A good time composition indeed.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

FAMILY ALBUM : Annie Elizabeth Burnett

February 1903 - March 1980

This image is based on a rather grainy and somewhat over-vibrant colour slide taken by myself in the early 1970s. Somehow the loud wallpaper in the background drowned out all the facial character and it was a photograph begging to be simplified. The delight of modern digital techniques is that you can travel back in time and retake the photo you wish you had taken forty or so years ago.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Sepia Saturday 326 : Thirty Shades Of Gladys

Our Sepia Saturday 326 theme image features a Polyfoto from the 1930s. Polyfoto studios were a precursor to the photo booths that became popular thirty or so years later and provided a large selection of similar poses for the sitter to choose from. I don't have an example of a Polyfoto in my family photograph collection, and therefore I have had to create one. Who would be a better subject for a Polyfoto than my mother, Gladys, here photographed in about 1918. A little bit of trickery with digital processing and we are able to have a unique Polyfoto featuring thirty shades of Gladys.

To see what what foto Poly has added to Sepia Saturday this week, go to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links

Lucy In The Sky With John Lennon

Several people have asked for an update on Lucy who has now been with us for ten weeks. And what a ten weeks it has been! Sometimes I feel as though I have aged ten years as my waking hours are constantly interacting with her dashing around the house, kidnapping every sock in sight, clinging to my leg, and mopping up her little accidents. But in addition to the stimulation she provides by just being around and refusing me the opportunity of growing old, I was reminded of her benefits this morning when I checked the record of my daily exercise on my phone. Whilst Lucy arrived at the beginning of February, she was not allowed out into the wide world until the beginning of March which is when you can see the spike in my daily activity. Whenever I moan about the constant cleaning and repetitive throwing of her pet squeaky pig, The Lad - fresh off the cardio-vascular wards - points to the exercise chart. 

The photograph at the head of this post is a rare one of her sitting still. My second image of Lucy was drawn by the grandchildren of good friends of ours when we visited them last week. Thank you, Isla and Gracie, for such a lovely picture - and thank you for making me look so young, slim, and a little like a youthful John Lennon.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

POSTCARDS FROM HOME : Tea For Two And A Good Cigar

This early twentieth century postcard shows Princess Street and the splendid Halifax Town Hall. Like all good real photographic postcards, it also provides us with a fair amount of collateral history in terms of the shops and businesses captured by the camera lens.

The shop at the corner of Princess Street and Crown Street is the Halifax branch of the tobacconists, Salmon and Gluckstein. Founded in 1873, by the end of the nineteenth century the firm had become the largest retail tobacconist in the country with over 140 stores. It is interesting to note that Montague Gluckstein, the son of one of the founders of the company, was keen to diversify into catering, but the rest of the family didn't want the family name "tainted" by being linked to the catering trade. Montague was therefore forced to take a cousin into the business - a certain J Lyons - and the resulting company adopted his name ... and subsequently developed into one of the largest food and catering firms in Britain.

On the other side of Princess Street you can just make out the premises of Skue's Cafe, above Lipton's grocers shop. Skue's was a Halifax institution, with cafes here and in Wade Street. As I walk around Halifax today, I sometimes think that it is made up of nothing other than cafes and electronic cigarette shops. 

Perhaps things don't change that much after all.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Pulp To Pulp In Three Generations

There's an old Yorkshire saying : "nowt t' nowt in three generations", which is a kind of shorthand form of the Hegelian dialectic and suggests that what comes around goes around. Now my grandfather was a window cleaner with his own donkey and cart, but I am not suggesting for a second that I am about to take up the shammy leather - nor am I intending adopting a donkey. In noting the itsy bitsy spider climbing up the water spout I am merely reflecting on my own approach to writing (or whatever this thing that I do is called).

For some time now I have been exploring the margins: both the margins between words and images and the margins between traditional print media and digital media. For most of my early life the word digital was a reference to your fingers and toes and my publishing efforts were directed into paper presentations - everything from cyclostyled leaflets to specialist printed newsletters. In most cases these were full of words and in most cases, of necessity,  the words were pretty boring.

And then, ten years ago, I stopped working and started blogging, and the digital format gave me an opportunity to indulge my love of images. I was happy to cast aside the yoke of paper and ink (and the associated costs of each) and worship at the digital altar of free expression. And so I blogged .... and blogged and blogged.

Now blogging is wonderful - I'll never have a word said against it - but its one shortcoming is presentation. This is a necessary shortcoming, the thing about digital media is that it has to be capable  of being displayed in a variety of formats: anything from a smart phone to an oversized desktop, a tablet to a laptop. You might achieve a layout that is perfect for your own computer of choice but once that is viewed on another machine the formatting collapses into a near meaningless jumble.

And so, as printing technology and publishing started to undergo its great leap forward, I began to return to paper - first with books and more recently with magazines. For the last eighteen months I have been experimenting with formats and publishers but now I think I have arrived at where I wanted to go. And consequently I would like to introduce the first issue - Spring 2016 - of News From Nowhere Quarterly. 

This quarterly full-colour magazine is not a replacement for the News From Nowhere Blog, it is merely another way of experiencing it, presented as I would like it to be presented rather than as dictated by a computer screen. The Spring issue has 80 pages packed with words and images that will be familiar to all readers of the News From Nowhere Blog (familiar because they are exactly what you have been reading since the beginning of the year!). If you were so inclined you can buy a copy from the Blurb Bookshop (just £10 or $14.42), or you can even download a digital edition from the iBook shop free of charge).

Although it costs a bit more, I must confess I do like the paper magazine format - it has a nice chunky feel about it and you can wrap your chips up in it after you have read it. I suspect that the future lies in a combination of large-scale digital distribution and small scale paper distribution of the same product. If nothing else, I am enjoying my experimentation in the margins - it is nice to get back to pulp and paper again after all these years.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Farms, Forms And Bristles

We had a day out at Cannon Hall near Barnsley which hosts both a gem of a museum and a farm attraction. Both gave plenty of opportunities for photography - both in terms of the farm and its inhabitants and also the shapes and forms that seemed to cling to the old Georgian House. Here are just five of the hundred or so photographs I took.



Friday, April 08, 2016

The Walkley Hoard

I have just bought another batch of old negatives dating back to the 1940s and 50s. All I know is that many of the photographs were taken in and around the Walkley district of Sheffield - an area I know all too well as I lived there myself for many years and my son lives there now. This first scan can't be Walkley - the hills of Walkley would make any canal and engineering impossibility. It could be the South Yorkshire Navigation, but if it is I don't recognise the stretch which appears to be far too rural. Wherever it is, it is a fine old image and a splendid start to my exploration of the Walkley Hoard.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Pre-Pixel Model

When I was 16 or 17 I undertook an evening course in photography at the local technical college. Much of what we did is a lifetime away - a technological lifetime as well as a human lifetime. Apertures and shutter speeds, ASA ratings and range finders - it's all the stuff of museums today. We also did a number of sessions on lighting - a subjects that is just as relevant in the days of digital images and pixels as it was in the roll film days of old. A model was employed by the college and this is one of the shots I took fifty or more years ago. I doubt whether I have taken a better portrait since.

Monday, April 04, 2016

I Think This Is The Mill - No It's Not

An old picture postcard of the River Calder at Brighouse - a little bit of history captured in an image. But look behind the photograph and there is another little bit of history recorded. The postcard was send in October 1903 and the message on the reverse reads as follows: "We have just been witnessing an enormous fire, a cotton mill burnt to the ground. It was a sight never to be forgotten. Tell Das it was the one on the right of the canal bank on the way to the station, I remember showing her it. A fireman broke his neck, damage to mill, is estimated at £60,000. How funny Daisy should have seen a fire too, isn't it?" On the front of the card is written "I think this is the mill".

The great fire at the Ormerod Brother' Alexandra Mills started on the 26th October 1903 (the day my postcard was sent). Six fire brigades sent engines to try and control the fire but it completely gutted the building and the flames could be seen from miles around. One of the firemen, Alexander Carmichael, lost his life when he fell of one of the fire engines rushing to tackle the blaze..

The mill in the picture is that of Mssrs Sugdens - and not the one which was burnt down. Alexandra Mill stood behind Sugden's Mill - the chimney can just be seen in the photograph.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Sepia Saturday 324 : A Walk Down The Cobbled Streets Of Clovelly

Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week features a public house. Now as all my friends know, I am not particularly fond of public houses - didn't my parents enrol me in the "Sons Of Temperance before my fifth birthday! - and therefore I must pass the New Inn by and concentrate my sepia imagination on its location, the village of Clovelly in Devon. Clovelly is one of those places that the word "quaint" seems to have been invented for - lovely old cottages, narrow cobbled streets, picturesque donkeys: not to mention sun, sea and little fishing boats. It was a "photo opportunity" before photo opportunities were thought of, and a fair proportion of the population of Great Britain will have a picture of Clovelly somewhere within their family albums.

The first of my pictures dates back to the mid 1930s and was taken by my father during one of their "touring" holidays of the south-west. The touring was undertaken on a motorbike and sidecar with stops at bed and breakfast establishments throughout Devon and Cornwall.

My other two photographs date from two decades later - at a guess they probably were taken in or around 1960 when I was twelve years old. One shows me and my mother posing next to one of Clovelly's iconic donkeys, and they other is a smashing shot of my mother with the same laconic donkey. Looking at the photograph now - some 55 years after it was taken - it makes me long for those youthful days when the sun always shone and expectations could always outnumber realisations. Such thoughts are in danger of pushing me towards the maudlin : it's time to go to the pub! I wonder if the New Inn is still serving?

After you have enjoyed a drink at the New Inn why not pop over to the Sepia Saturday Blog to see what other Sepians are up to.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Electric Memories Of Loch Leven

One of the great delights of old negatives is that they come in strips of five or six and thereby provide immediate contextualisation. You may not immediately remember where a particular photograph was taken half a century ago, but once you see it next to another picture on a negative strip, memories come flooding back: it was the time you took Aunt Ethel to Hastings (look, there she is), you remember, the time the dog was sick in the cathedral (there’s a picture of it).

The strip of five negatives dating back over fifty years which I scanned this morning had no sickly dogs nor any cathedrals, but it did include a series of images of Loch Leven in Scotland. The village of Kinlochleven at the head of the lock was famous for being the first village where ever house was powered by electricity - an achievement that was a by-product of the hydroelectric power station that was built to power the aluminium plant (the last of my five photographs shows the water cascading down from the hydro plant). That is not Aunt Ethel, but my mother - with the calm waters of the loch and the majestic Grampian Mountains in the background.

The aluminium plant has long gone, but this strip of negatives remains, fixing the memories of all those years ago.

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...