Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Eyeing Up Scottish Independence

I have always steered clear of pills and potions, boasting that I could play pill poker with most people of my age and win. But over the last few days I have been popping antibiotics like an addict - after developing a nasty eye infection. Eye drops and eye sprays worked for a while, but then the infection came back again with a vengeance. For days on end it felt like I had a half a plank - or a double six domino - stuck in my eye which was swollen, bloodshot and rather nasty. Eventually the medics called in the antibiotic cavalry and today, for the first time, it feels a little better. Hopefully, the tide has turned.

The postcard comes from Great Uncle Fowler Beanland's collection and, for him, is a comparatively late one having been sent in 1947. It was sent by my Auntie Amy and Uncle Wilf and is postmarked "Fleetwood" which is a fishing town on the Lancashire coast, a few miles north of Blackpool. For some reason, there is a quote from Robert Burns printed on the card:
"Be Britain still to Britain true,
Amongst ourselves united"

The surprising thing is that the card would appear to provide proof of the early start made by the "No" campaign in the upcoming Scottish independence referendum. Using Burns as a weapon in the arguments over Scottish independence is just one example of the exotic arguments being used in the final weeks of the campaign. It was suggested this morning by the ex Director-General of the BBC that, if Scotland did decide to become an independent country, it would no longer be able to receive transmissions of "Strictly Come Dancing". Now that is a low blow if ever there was one.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Khaki Dawn Over Blackpool : Halifax in August 1914

From The Halifax Courier : Saturday 15 August 1914

It is often said that "the truth is the first casualty of war", and in the days following the outbreak of war between the great powers of Europe, rumour often replaced accuracy in the columns of the British press. After ignoring the coming storm in Europe for months, the news agencies and the reporters were anxious to print any story they could find about the continental crisis. In the week following the outbreak of war, the papers were full of headlines proclaiming "French successes" and "German reverses". 

One little snippet of news hidden in the columns of the Courier seems to capture this near-hysteria. Whilst the recently-completed widening of the Kiel Canal had always been seen as a vital element in Germany's preparation for war - in 1911, Admiral Fisher, the First Sea Lord, had predicted that World War would break out within weeks of the completion of the work - I have not been able to find any records of anyone being bayoneted for looking out of the window. 

Reporting from closer to home tended to be more accurate - the first casualty of war was, in fact, economic stability. Britain was a world trading nation and world trade was inevitably going to be severely disrupted by the conflict. If you would not be able to sell the goods, there was no point in producing them, was the feeling amongst many local manufacturers.

But when one mill door closes, another one may open, and whilst the sun might set on the market for cotton dresses and linen bedsheets, a new dawn of khaki uniforms, gun cotton, and patriotic bunting was rising.

Panic was sweeping through the seaside resorts of England as bookings declined in the face of war fever, price inflation and economic chaos. Blackpool Corporation placed adverts in local newspapers throughout the north reassuring visitors that "conditions in Blackpool are JUST AS USUAL".

And generally speaking, during those first few weeks of war, life went on more or less, as usual. Holidays were taken, people were born, people got married and, inevitably, people died. But, as yet, it was not the grim war machine that was cutting down the best of a new generation - it was something far more prosaic. 

And for a little time longer, our murderous intentions could be focused on the perils, not of the Bosch, but of bugs and beetles, moths and fleas.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

To Liverpool With Mr Punch In A Morris and a Bentley

Spent a delightful day in Liverpool yesterday with an old friend. Thirty years ago when we both lived in Sheffield we would tour the second-hand bookshops together and then retire to a decent pub, to browse through our purchases and set the world to rights. He is now based mainly in Liverpool and therefore it was the bookshops of that city that we went in search of yesterday. There are still a few half-decent bookshops and a good number of fully decent pubs, so it was a grand day. I bought a bound copy of Punch Magazine dating from 1889 for the ridiculous sum of £2 (a little over $3) The above cartoon comes from it - the humour is still as fresh as a Morecambe Bay shrimp.

I couldn't visit Liverpool without a visit to the excellent News From Nowhere bookshop and I couldn't visit my namesake without a commemorative photograph. We both take our names from the classic book by William Morris which was published just a year after my bound copy of Punch.

And finally, in this Tuesday Morning Miscellany, my article on the life of the Halifax novelist Phyllis Bentley has now been published on the Halifax People website. If you would like to read it you can find it by following this LINK.  I will finish with a short extract from an article she wrote in the 1960s about her love for her native Halifax. She captures my home town well.

“I was a Yorkshire girl and proud of it. I loved the hills rolling away into the distance, springing out of each other in complex folds which, as it were, smiled sardonically at my efforts to find a word to describe them. I loved the purple heather and the dark rock, the russet bracken, the tumbling streams, the tough pale grass, the rough mortarless walls. Above all I loved the strong west winds, driving the great grey clouds relentlessly across the sky".

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sepia Saturday 240 : Semi-Detached Pretence

With the Sepia Saturday theme photograph being a picture of an apprehended criminal, one needs to be a little careful in one's choice of subject for Sepia Saturday 240. I am not entirely certain who this couple are, but I suspect that they may be Abraham and Alice Moore, the parents of my Uncle Harry. If the faces look familiar, it is not because you have seen them in countless issues of the Police Gazette or featured on endless "Wanted" posters : they are not the Bonny and Clyde of Bradford. The source of the familiarity is probably much closer to our Sepia home.

Take a closer look at our familiar Sepia Saturday header - the photograph which for 240 weeks now has headed our Sepia Saturday challenge. Take a look at the young couple dressed in their finery ready to start out life together.  And then move forward forty or so years and move them into semi-detached suburbia. 

They seem a quiet couple : bordering on comfortable. They didn't achieve their rise from the terraced streets of Bradford to the semi-detached roads of Bradford by either robbing banks nor robbing people on behalf of banks. It was work. Not the kind of work that sent them hewing coal down the mines or doffing threads on a loom - office work, shop work, quiet work, steady work : but work none the less. Perhaps the black trilby hat and the white soot-defying coat suggest a little pretence. But they earned it. It's not false pretence, more semi-detached pretence.

Visit the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links to see other takes on the theme this week.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Round The Walls

The Good Lady Wife went to York yesterday to meet her cousin and lay siege to the shops. I travelled with her, but rather than the shops, I lay siege to the old city walls. A complete circumference is just over two miles - but it felt much longer. Here are a few of the photographs I took.

York Minster and Lendal Bridge
River Ouse From Skeldergate Bridge, York
Clifford's Tower, York
Churchyard, St Denys Church, Walmgate, York
Self Portrait With Walls And Office Building, York

Thursday, August 07, 2014

The Day The Music Died : Halifax in August 1914

From The Halifax Courier : Saturday 8 August 1914

Finally, war came to Halifax, just as it came to the rest of the country, on the 4th August 1914. It had sneaked up on the country, until now the papers had been full of summer holidays, society weddings and the dangers posed by the suffragettes. But the Halifax Courier of the 8th August was different - war had now moved centre stage, it dominated every aspect of life. And it would do for a further four years.

I have been unable to discover how many people from Halifax died in the Great War; how many of those who marched off never came back again. But numbers are not real : you can't aggregate grief. The loss of one husband, one son, one brother is a uniquely tragic event that defies records and ledgers and tallies.

Published in the first week of the war, this dialect poem by Willie Horner of Walt Royd Farm, Halifax, demonstrates remarkable prescience. If war ever had any romance, the "gurt destructive guns" of the Western Front were shortly to blow it away for ever.

Homing pigeons were indeed widely used during the war to carry military messages. Under the Defence of the Realm Act, shooting a homing pigeon became an offence punishable by up to six months in prison.

At the outbreak of War German residents in the United Kingdom were gathered together by the authorities. Eventually, men of fighting age - normally between the ages of 18 and 50 - were interred in camps around the country, particularly camps in the Isle of man.

During those early weeks of war, rumours were widespread (the original stories about Russian troops with snow on their boots, date from the first World War). At the time of this article, no navel battle had taken place in the North Sea, although later in the month the Battle of Heligoland Bight took place during which 35 British sailors lost their lives. A financial panic did follow the outbreak of war and the financial crisis was only averted by the closure of banks during a special four day Bank Holiday and the suspension of the London Stock Exchange. The Stock Exchange remained closed for five months.

Perhaps the most poignant comment of all on the coming of war was the announcement that military band performances had been suspended. Not only did the lights go out all over Europe, the band stands also went quiet.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

A Pointless Retirement

The Author At Rest On Some Pointless Beach
I have been thinking recently about retirement. Perhaps I had better rephrase that - I have been thinking recently about the subject of retirement (after all, you can't really retire from retirement, but let's not get caught up in that tautological whirlpool). My thoughts were stimulated by some recent research carried out on behalf of Skipton Building Society. To those unfamiliar with this country, Skipton is a rather pleasant market town in North Yorkshire and a Building Society is a rather pleasant mutual association owned by its members. Researchers asked some 2,000 Britons what they thought about retirement and which words they most frequently associated with retirement. Most people looked on retirement as a positive experience and the most frequently associated words included "care-free", "relaxing", "holidays", "fun" and "stress-free". 

Although I would agree with most of the sentiments expressed by such happy retirees, there was one word missing from the list, one word which I associate with retirement more than most others : "pointless". Before you start writing me off as some work-obsessed saddo, hear me out, for I do not use the word "pointless" in any negative way, to me pointlessness is a glorious philosophy of life. What we do for the vast majority of our lives has a point and if you were unfortunate enough to work in any environment infected with any degree of the science of management, it not only had a point but it had aims, objectives, targets, and self-fulfilling conclusions as well. Work had a point to it and you had to be lucky if that point was not just earning enough money to put food on your table and money in your pension pot. Life was a process of moving from point to point with little or no time for that most wondrous of feelings - pointlessness; aimlessness; irrelevance.

Now that I am retired I worship the irrelevant with religious-like ferocity. I waste my time with all the passion and energy of a stock trader. I wander down intellectual side-streets in search of whatever may come my way. I take instructions from nobody and report back to no one. To me, that is the point of retirement - it is pointless.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Fading Resolutions And An Unfinished Sentence

I spent some time in the local archives last week looking through the papers of the author Phyllis Bentley who will be the subject of my next "People of Halifax" article (I will put up a link to it once it is finished). There is something rather disconcerting about poring over the private diaries and letters of someone else, something slightly voyeuristic, something you feel you have to apologise for after the event. Nevertheless, it gives you an amazing feeling of closeness to the person concerned, and as I read her letters to her mother from 1934 when she was on a lecture tour of America, or her private diaries from 1919 when she was just embarking on her literary career, I felt I knew her just a little. One of the papers in the archive was a couple of pages torn from a notebook, undated, and headed "Resolutions". As I attempted to interpret the fading pencil script, I nodded my head, united with her in that universal brotherhood and sisterhood of people who make resolutions. Here are resolutions 1 to 6 : after that they fade into a faint glow of leaded good-intentions.

1  To get up early and work for an hour (or more) before breakfast.
2. To write something original (i.e. not a review) every day.
3. To finish D as soon as possible in spite of all feelings of discouragement unless some definite idea for altering her comes to mind.
4. To take warning by examples around me as regards speech and to speak in a clear, firm, though quiet tone. To speak good English, not using Yorkshire inflections and shunning slang. To speak with precision, to think before I begin a sentence, and never to leave a sentence unfinished. To speak with moderation and never sharply.
5. To be cheerful but dignified in manner, not constantly making jokes and trying to be amusing at the expense of my real self. To think and speak of less trivial things and let my serious interests appear.
6. To go more into society.

I am not entirely sure what "D" was - perhaps the working title if one of her novels. I have now been up for a couple of hours and haven't had breakfast yet. The majority if what is written above (other than the resolutions) is original. I am not sure I can get rid of my Yorkshire inflections. I rather like speaking of trivial things, and as far as leaving sentences unfinished is concerned ....

Sunday, August 03, 2014

If Heaven Has A Street Plan

I took this photograph some forty or fifty years ago. It shows the main road (Bradford Road) in Northowram, the West Yorkshire village in which I grew up. The prominent building in the centre of the photograph was originally the Crown Brewery which was opened by John Eastwood in 1876. Its working life as a brewery was short lived, and during much of my youth it served as a factory making asbestos garages and sheds (a frightening thought in these enlightened days, but back then asbestos was still thought of as being a wonder material). The Crown Brewery building has long been demolished although the old Northowram Tannery building which was behind it is still there. I used to work at the BP petrol station that can be seen on the right of the picture, but that too has now been replaced by a housing development. I can squeeze one final memory from this photograph and that is of the fish and chip shop that, for a short time, existed within the old brewery building (just behind where the Rover car is in this photograph). It was run by the art teacher from my school, which was an odd combination of jobs. But the idea of a fish and chip shop within a brewery yard is a splendid one. If heaven has a street plan, that is what it will be like.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

PSC : 26 Funeral Teas In Great Horton

PSC Ref : 2014/E/Q4/16847/abtt
Another contribution to the on-line archives of the People's Scanning Collective (PSC). This time it is a receipt for 26 teas which were provided by the Great Horton Industrial Society to my late uncle, Frank Fieldhouse. If you think that £4.19.6 (four pounds nineteen shillings and sixpence) was a lot of money for 26 cups of tea, I suspect what we are talking about here is "high tea" or more specifically a funeral tea. We can perhaps assume that three of the guests decided to have the cheaper menu, although - given the wartime date - I suspect that decent food was hard to come by whatever the price. The Great Horton Industrial Society was the local Co-operative retail society which was situated in the Great Horton suburb of Bradford, Yorkshire. A fine historical detail is how the receipt has been signed by the cafe manager over a twopenny stamp : a procedure which I can still remember taking place when I was young.