Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Bumpers All! To Peace And Goodwill!

All my good intentions to devote some time to my blogging activities before Christmas have been buried under a pyroclastic flow of wrapping paper, greetings cards, and miscellaneous seasonal duties. Good intentions have now been postponed until the new year. All that remains is for me to find a glass of something suitably refreshing and raise it, as I wish you all the very best seasonal greetings. As Mr Punch so eloquently put it; "Bumpers All! To Peace And Goodwill"

Friday, December 16, 2016

Drinking Blackberry Tea With Toby Twirl And Friends

I received a Christmas card from my brother yesterday. This is an event worthy of note in that I have never received a Christmas card from him before. Indeed, in the email accompanying the card (if truth be told it was a digital card), he freely confesses that this is the first Christmas card he has ever sent to anyone in all of his 74 years! He went on to consider the wisdom of sending me a card featuring one of his paintings, but given that his work usually features the naked human body (you can get an idea by visiting his blog), he decided on a rather decorative book cover for the card.

As soon as I saw it, childhood memories were released like corks out of a bottle of vintage champagne. I had this book when I was a child and in the intervening six hundred years I had forgotten all about Toby Twirl (think of him as the poor man's Rupert Bear) and his pals Ely the Elephant and Pete the Penguin. I was just thinking to myself of his serendipitous discovery of an image of a book that I used to own, when I noticed a second image of the inside page.

Quite clearly, the book had been purloined and re-assigned to Trina, one of his lovely daughters. But this is Christmas, and I forgive everyone their sins (although I might make a few exceptions in the political sphere). The stories were always written in rhyming couplets and my brother tells me that he has added one to the final page.

“Oh yes!” said Uncle Ali, and hugged her hard.
“Well, come along,” said she.
“It’s getting late, so let’s go home
And have a blackberry tea.”

This seems a most appropriate addition to the text. Happy Christmas to all my family in Dominica, the Virgin Islands, and the UK.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

The Coincidence Of Stone Sets

These two back street came together by chance. They are more years than miles apart - I took the first in Bradford back in the 1960s and the second in Batley last week. The first one is a rescan of an old negative which, by chance, came to the top of my pile of old negatives to revisit. The second was going to be my submission for today's Picture Post. The coincidence of stone sets connected them, so who am I to break them apart?

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The Stone Faces Of Batley

It would seem that the burghers of Batley couldn't design a building without appending a stone face to it. They would work their way through the Kings and Queens, the angels and the goddesses; decorating every pediment with a stone likeness. Once the human face-pool had been exhausted, they would turn their attention to the animal kingdom. Cats and monkeys, imps and griffins would all find themselves captured by the stonemasons' chisel. At one time they would look down the fashionable streets and smile knowingly as the shoddy merchants gathered their rags and lined their pockets. Over time the black soot coated the sandstone at about the same rate as the profits accumulated. The buildings have been cleaned, but most of them have lost their purpose along with their grime. Shoddy has become a description of the town rather than its' industry. The smiles of the stone faces are slowly morphing into frowns.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Postcards From Home : Pixie On The Rocks

To : Miss 'Pixie' Piggall,
Stalham, Station Road, Fratford, Herts.
16 January 1906
I missed your letter dear, but hope by now you are quite well and able to write anything, even lessons. What a jolly Xmas you gave the Uncles. Love from Auntie Annie.

What on earth Pixie did in order to give everyone such a jolly Christmas will have to be left to the imagination. Let us, instead, concentrate on the scene on the front of this 1906 vintage postcard which shows the famous Halifax landmark called "The Rocks".

"The Rocks" are a large outcrop of millstone grit which provide wonderful views over the Calder valley and are situated a couple of miles from the centre of Halifax. Such natural spectacles became popular in Victorian times, as people from the towns began to rediscover the natural wonders that could be found if they ventured out into the countryside. During the latter part of the nineteenth century, a series of paths were laid through the woods that clung to the valley side below the rocks and a formal promenade was laid out at the top of the valley above the rocks. This, of course, was named Albert Promenade after the late Prince Albert. Victorian and Edwardian families would take walks above and below the rocks and thrill at their scale and beauty, and Victorian and Edwardian children would attempt to climb up the rocks as far as they could before being called back by anxious parents.

I knew this part of Halifax well, because my school was close by (just off the right hand side of this picture). It was one of those schools that took a delight in making the boys play rugby - a game I have always taken a distinct dislike to. A few more boys and myself would manage to avoid the weekly game by not being picked for either of the two competing teams - the blues and the wasps. In order to avoid being picked you had to carefully nurture a reputation for being particularly bad at the game - a challenge which I took to like a duck to warm water. The handful of kids who were not picked for either team would be sent for a cross country run that was supposed to take them down through the rocks, along the valley bottom, up the other side and then down and back up again.

At half time during the blues v the wasps rugby match the sports teacher would walk to the top of the rocks with a pair of binoculars and attempt to follow our progress up and down the valley side. He was never very successful in this as we were normally huddled up in a cave just under the rock upon which he stood, enjoying an illicit cigarette. Perhaps Pixie Piggall had bought he uncles a box of Havana cigars and they had gone to the self same cave for a Boxing Day smoke. Who knows?

Friday, December 02, 2016

Sepia Saturday 346 : Happy Christmas Roger

The wonderful thing about the theme image for Sepia Saturday 346 is that it is so full of potential prompts: you can find a link to almost anything within it. To test the theory out, I closed my eyes and dipped into the un-scanned family photo box to see what came out. 

And what came out was a photograph of my brother Roger and myself which must, I suspect have been taken in the early 1950s.  It looks as though we were at the seaside, and if that is the case it will have either been New Brighton or Bridlington (for some reason my parents swapped their allegiances between the east coast and the west coast on an annual basis). My best bet would be that it was New Brighton (although I wouldn't be surprised if my brother writes it to tell me I have got the wrong time and the wrong place).

Returning to my challenge, there would appear to be several of the advent pictures I could pair my holiday snap up with, but - since this is the season of goodwill - I am going to go with the one which appears to feature a group of little angels with a town in the background. I am not sure which potentially stretches the bounds of credulity the furthest: the depiction of my brother and myself as little angels or the idea that New Brighton would make a suitable location for such a festive scene.

For many years now, Roger has lived on the other side of the world and we have never been into sending Christmas cards to each other. This year I am happy to make an exception - and this, therefore, is my Christmas card to him. Happy Christmas Rog.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Six Monasteries Hourly Are Saying A Mass

There is an old Flanders and Swan song called "Bed".  Compared to most of their songs, it is relatively unknown - I can find neither a YouTube video nor the lyrics of it - but it is one of my favourites. In it, Flanders sings of the multiple delights of "bed", and there is a short verse than goes (as far as I remember) like this:

"Six monastery's hourly are saying a mass,
For a distant relation, now dead.
Who left me a blanket, electric no less,
No an integral part of my bed"

The other day, a delivery man knocked on my door and handed me a very large, and very heavy, parcel. It came not from a distant relation, but from a close friend, who certainly isn't dead, and it contained something far more useful than an electric blanket. It was nothing less than an advent calendar, but a rather special one as can be imagined by the greeting on the box - "Hoppy Christmas"

The box contains twenty-five bottles of real ale, one for each day up until Christmas Day. I look forward to the coming month with more anticipation than I have since being a Father-Christmas believing child. Cheers Mark: I have requested a thanksgiving mass to be said in at least six monasteries.

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...