Monday, May 23, 2016

The Duke Of Buccleugh's Selfie Stick

This is a carte de visite from the Barrow-in-Furness studios of the Victorian photographer James Hargreaves. I have no idea who the subject is, but she has an intriguing face - the kind of face that approaches intimacy, but then stops short. I rather fancy that she was a schoolmistress: surely she was more than just than the kind of supernumerary Victorian house-wife who organised the servants and kept the keys of the polished wooden tantalus. Beautiful as her portrait is, it pales into insignificance compared to the reverse of the pasteboard card which is an advertisement for the "artist and photographer", J Hargreaves, who was "photographer to his grace the Duke of Buccleugh and Queensbery KG". With its palettes and brushes, glass photographic plates and cameras the size of a tea trunk, this scene speaks eloquently of a time when the smartphone and selfie-stick were the stuff of a photographers nightmare.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Churchill's Manservant Invades Russia With A Cotton Reel Tank

If you are wondering why my blog posts have been as infrequent as common sense emerging from the Brexit campaign, it is because it is coming around to the time when we are off on holiday and I am suffering from my usual attack of pre-departure tension. At such times my mind as an attention span as limited as Donald Trump's analytical prowess,  and as soon as I start to think about a blog post my thoughts are dragged away to contemplating such thorny questions as which shoes I should pack, and is it necessary to take a compass with me in case the ship gets lost. In the absence of anything meaningful, I thought I might share a few random thoughts with you.

Each morning and evening, as I walk Lucy, we listen to the radio (via the quite excellent BBCi Radio Player) and, over the weeks since she has been with us,  we have developed an approach based on mature compromise and mutual respect in terms of the choice of what we listen to. As our walks tend to be about half an hour in length, she chooses what we listen to for the first, outward, fifteen minutes and I choose what we listen to for the return leg of our journey. Whilst my current choice is the reading of Fitzgerald' wonderful Great Gatsby, Lucy - for reasons best known to herself - has chosen the love letters of Winston and Clementine Churchill (I suspect it might have something to do with the way Clemmie calls Winston "her pug").

There was a wonderful line in one of the love letters the other day which somehow spoke volume of the kind of world that existed in England at the start of the twentieth century. It was 1908 and Winston had been staying at a country house weekend party when a fire had raged through the building causing considerable destruction. Clemmie had written to immediately to reassure herself that he was safe. Winston replied that he was, and his various possessions were safe as well as:  "I exercised a marvellous presence of mind and got my manservant to throw them out of the window". I tried to explain to Lucy that this perfectly encapsulated the master-servant relationship:  but she was more interested in a twig she had found.

Part of my forthcoming holiday will take me for the first time to Russia - we call in at St Petersburg for a couple of days. One of the great joys of holidays is planning the composition of the inevitable "holiday book-bag" which has not totally been made redundant by the omniscient Kindle.  I discovered the early twentieth century Russian author, Teffi, the other day (again via an excellent Radio adaptation of some of her stories) and I have ordered another of her collections "Rasputin and Other Ironies" to take with me. Whenever Teffi got into trouble with the Russian authorities 100 years ago, she could always rely on the fact that both the Tsar and Lenin were great fans of her writing. I am not too sure how she is viewed in the current political climate or whether recourse to either of her celebrated fans will be efficacious, so I might make myself a brown paper cover for the book, like we used to have to do with our schoolbooks.

And talking of schooldays, I got into a discussion with a friend over a very pleasant pub dinner last night about those cotton reel tanks we used to make as kids. As we reminisced about their construction and our success in creating Formula 1 winning cotton reel tanks, the competition intensified. And so we decided to put our boasting to the test and have a race-off in a couple of months time once we have designed, built and tested our entries. In the cold light of sober day I worry that my boastfulness may have run a little ahead of my technological expertise and my ability to remember how the wretched things are made. There will no doubt bye a YouTube instructional video, but in the meantime, has anyone got any old fashioned candles?

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sepia Saturday 330 : Albert : Printed, Packaged And Delivered.

When I think of my father, Albert, working, I think of him working at the Halifax factory of the toffee manufacturers, John Mackintosh & Sons. I was only two years old when he started working for them, and he continued in the same job until he retired, twenty-six years later. And therefore my chances of coming up with a family photograph to match a Sepia Saturday theme that features someone clearly working in the printing industry, are, at best, remote.

And then I remembered that, before moving from Bradford to Halifax in order to take up his job with Mackintosh's, he worked for a Bradford company called Field & Sons, and they specialised in printing and packaging for the food and retail industry. And so started a journey in search of my father - or at least a printed and packaged version of my father.

I am not entirely sure when my father started working for Fields, but it must have been before the outbreak of World War II, because he was in a reserved occupation and for the duration of the war much of the production at Field & Sons had been changed over to the manufacture of gun parts, shell and bomb parts, and components for radar. The nature of this work might have contributed to the fact that I was unable to find any work-based photographs from this period, other than the one at the head of this post which shows Albert - seated on the bench at the right - and a group of his workmates at what appears to be the company bowling green.

A little more on-line research brought to light a fascinating history of the firm that was published in their centenary year, 1950 : when my father would have still been working for them. Amongst other things it illustrates the range of processes that took place at the Bradford factory, from design and printing right the way through to the production of cardboard boxes and other forms of packaging material. Back in the 1950s, everything from a packet of Capstan Full Strength, through to a tube of Colgate toothpaste or a Chivers' Jelly was probably packed in a box manufactured by Fields.

My father was a wrapping mechanic - when he moved to Mackintosh's he maintained the machines that wrapped up Quality Street chocolates - and therefore the obvious place to search for my father was in the Engineering Department.  And within the centenary book there is a short section on the Engineering Department and there is a photograph.

And there, on the extreme left of the photograph, is Albert, bent over some machine part - a machine that would stamp, punch, bend and print him into history.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Negative Thoughts About Next Door Neighbours

35mm film once developed has a special quality. Once processed, printed and filed away, the individual negatives don't go their own way in life, never to see their siblings again: they stay attached, live next to each other in the same street and provide a fascinating stream of memories. Individual walks can be recreated forty years on, faces - and places - that are long gone can be brought back to life. It might not be the high energy rapid movement of 35mm cine film, but rather a slower and more sedate elderly relative. But the slower pace provides even more opportunity to stop and look around and appreciate the detail.

Here is a record of a walk I took through the streets of Brighouse almost forty years ago. The cars and the fashions and the adverts have all changed, but many of those streets remain the same. I suppose I could repeat the walk today, but the individual images would spread in all directions, like May blossom in a Spring breeze.

Monday, May 09, 2016

POSTCARDS FROM HOME : Discontinuing The Exchange With Halifax Infirmary

This is a picture postcard from the very beginning of the twentieth century featuring a photograph of the Royal Infirmary, Halifax. When this photograph was taken the building will have only been a few years old (it was opened in 1896), and the building remained largely unchanged until it eventually closed in 2001. One of the last departments to leave was the Pathology Department and my wife was a doctor there at the time. By then the building was full of ghosts and creaking timbers and I suspect you could still hear the trams rattling past, even though the lines had been ripped up sixty years before that. Some of the buildings you can see in this photograph still remain, although they have now been converted into houses and apartments. Now the site looks domesticated, but at its height, the whole complex radiated disinfectant and invalid broth.

The reverse of the card reveals that it was sent by Lucy Ineson to "Harrold Colton" at the remarkably truncated address of "Currie Street, South Australia". I suspect that the Lucy Ineson concerned was the then 13 year old daughter of Thomas Ineson a florist and fruiterer of Hammond Street in Halifax. The recipient of this rather brief message is far more intriguing because it turns out that the "Harold Coltron" is not some misspelled beau, but a rather famous hardware shop in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia. As with all found postcards, you long to know the back-story. I have some thoughts of my own, but as Lucy said all those years ago, "sorry to say I cannot continue to exchange"


Friday, May 06, 2016

Post Election Nightmares

It is the morning after a day of local and regional elections here in the UK

I was walking the dog this morning - actually she was walking me but that is another story - when I came across a sign advertising a polling station in the middle of the road. A polling station nobody could get to without daring to cross the busy highway. A polling station which did nothing but tell you to slow down in your quest to achieve a fairer, more equitable society. A polling station nobody ever bothered to visit. It was like a strange dream - a mild nightmare. And I came home and went on-line to check if any of the Council results were in yet for Kirklees or Calderdale. And I found this diagram. It was like a strange dream - an awful nightmare.

An Open Letter To My Brother In Foreign Parts

This post is merely an open letter to my brother. Whilst it appears easily within the capabilities of modern technology for a group of junior school kids on the far side of Bradford to have a face-to-face question and answer session with Tim Peake who is hurtling around the earth in the Space Station, I am still finding it difficult to send an image to my brother who is a few thousand miles away in Dominica. So given that he can easily get my blog posts, I thought the best thing to do was to use the blog to send him the letter I meant to send him. As this will be of little interest to anyone else you can skip the rest of this post - although on mature reflection I suspect that a lot of what I write here is of little interest to anyone else, but - at the same time - who can resist picking up and reading a letter they find dropped in the gutter?

Dear Roger,
Hope you are well and have not been eaten by snakes or fallen down a ravine or succumbed to any of the other dangers that clearly confront anyone silly enough to travel further west than Todmorden. We are all fine here, although I become increasingly sure that my legs are going the way Uncle Wilf's went just before he had his funny turn. I was scanning some old negatives the other day and I came across this one of your good self and I was curious to find out whether you could recognise the location (and/or the date)? Have you noticed how my photographs and your image seems to have turned sepia with the passing of the years?
As ever, your brother,

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...