Thursday, November 20, 2014

Most Of The Last Sixty Odd Years


We went to York yesterday : the GLW to meet up with her cousin for some recreational shopping, and myself for the ride. We had what the weather forecasters call "sunny intervals" which meant that I was able to wander around the old city taking photographs. It may not sound particularly thrilling, but it is what I enjoy - and have done for most of the last sixty odd years.

It is the kind of activity that is best done alone. There is an awful lot of just wandering up and down back streets, looking for the right angle, seeking the right composition. It is a type of mind-game in which your eye - and its extension, the camera lens - battles against the ever changing lines of buildings and people until it thinks it has found something pleasing, something which - when it is transposed onto printing paper or computer screen - will be meaningful. That strange branch of humanity who call themselves photographers will know what I mean.

And when the sun had one of its intervals, there were other things to occupy my time. Sitting in a quiet pub, enjoying a rather nice pint of beer. It may not sound particularly thrilling, but it is what I enjoy - and have done for most of the last sixty odd years.

For those who are interested in such minutia, the pub in question was Ye Olde Starre Inne - which despite its silly name is really rather old - and the pint was the deliciously malty Naylor's Aire Valley Bitter.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Mr Punch, Mr Gladstone And The Scarcity Of Second Hand Bookshops


I was in Liverpool a couple of months ago and happily browsing around that rarest of creatures, an old second-hand bookshop (the kind where books are stacked like firebricks and filed according to some long-forgotten system) when I found a half-bound copy of Punch Magazine dating from 1889. It was half-bound because one of the covers had taken its own, quite separate,  road through life a hundred years or so ago, but its boundless energy resulted in a bargain price of £2 - less than the price of a half-decent pint.

Some times, when the rain is falling and the fog is drifting in, I will dip into my old Punch annual and try to make sense of a political cartoon which is so far past its sell-by date that the joke has turned sepia. This cartoon featuring William Ewart Gladstone is a great example.

In June 1889 Gladstone was Leader of the Opposition and a tireless political campaigner despite having reached the age of 79.  Where others would take long summer holidays, Gladstone would fill his time delivering political speeches in all parts of the country and the cartoon shows Gladstone on a train heading for the West Country and another round of political meetings. At this time in his life, he was becoming more and more radical in his views, flirting almost with an early version of democratic socialism.

One is tempted to look back across the political years and conclude that little has changed. People were making fun of politicians back then, and many of the events of 1889 - aristocrats involved in sex scandals, people demanding a decent living wage, Sheffield Wednesday losing at football - have a degree of familiarity.  Some things do change, however; and not necessarily for the better. A politician prepared to face the people - without a carefully selected audience and a carefully placed autocue - would today be as rare as an empty railway carriage. A Leader of the Opposition who was entering his eighties and still destined to serve a further term as Prime Minister, would today be as unthinkable as a self-penned speech. And a politician who was getting more radical as he got older would today be as hard to find as a decent second-hand bookshop.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Sepia Saturday 254 : Life Over My Shoulders


The theme image for Sepia Saturday 254 features a man carrying a woman over a river. My dip into the archives this week has a man, a woman and a river; but it is Waterloo Bridge in London that is doing the carrying. The man is myself, the woman is the GLW (Good Lady Wife) and the date must be somewhere around 1970 or 1971. 

At the time I was at university up in Keele in Staffordshire whilst Isobel was at university in London. Although we spent the week apart, we would get together each weekend : our meetings being based on a three week cycle - one weekend she would travel up to Staffordshire, the next I would travel down to London, and the third we would both return to our homes in Halifax.  The weekend of the photograph was obviously a London weekend and you can clearly see the Houses of Parliament in the background and the Royal Festival Hall to the left of the photograph.

Within two or three years of the photograph being taken, we had married and I had moved down to London and started working for the Inner London Education Authority at County Hall; the building that you can just make out over my right shoulder. A year later I had moved on and I was working as an early version of what is now known as a "spin doctor" for the Labour Party at their Smith Square headquarters which was adjacent to Parliament and therefore just above my left shoulder in the photograph.

It is interesting that, what started with an attempt to match a Sepia Saturday theme image, has turned into a chapter of an autobiography I have yet to write. If I ever do so, I am tempted to call the chapter dealing with the 1970s - "Life Over My Shoulders".

When you have finished looking over my shoulder you can see what other Sepia Saturday contributors are looking at this week by visiting the SEPIA SATURDAY Blog and following the various links.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Angles That Were Right Not Wrong

The nineteenth century did not do curves very well. With the rigidity of a Victorian patriarch, architects preferred horizontals and verticals, angles that were right not wrong. Get rid of the stylistic curves of the cars and the vaguely carnal line of the flyover and you are left with the solidity in stone that is nineteenth century Halifax.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

At The Snap Of A Digital Finger

Buried deep within an old family photograph is this busy beach scene. It is likely to be the Yorkshire coast, probably Scarborough or Bridlington, and the styles and shapes all point to the 1930s. Nobody took this photograph - it is a by-product of a snap of sleeping Uncle Harry. But the watchers and the deckchair sitters and even the hefty horse have been waiting around for eighty or so years, waiting to be rediscovered, ready to be re-awakened at the snap of a digital finger.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Dressing Properly In Yorkshire

People don't dress properly like they used to: thank goodness. We seem to have outgrown the need for men to wear a noose-like tie around their necks and women to wear a sober skirt for them to be taken seriously. Most restaurants no longer feel the need to keep a spare tie behind the reception desk in order to maintain customer standards and signs in pubs limiting customers in work clothes to certain bars would now be treated with the disrespect they deserve. The tendency to make judgements based upon styles of dress is, hopefully, in retreat, but it still exists and occasionally we all still need reminding to avoid such sartorial snobbery.

It is possible to visit many of the towns and cities of West Yorkshire with their large populations of citizens who come from an Asian background and spot styles of dress that might appear "foreign". The sight of women wearing the hijab - or headscarf - is now relatively common in these parts, but any lingering thoughts of cultural separateness are driven away by their rich Yorkshire accents. And their headscarves are not all that foreign to these stone-flagged Yorkshire streets. I remember seeing a clip from an early short film which was shot outside the gates of a Yorkshire mill in the early years of the twentieth century, just as the mill girls were leaving for the day. Almost every one of them was wrapped in a full headscarf. I was reminded of this only yesterday when I found this old photograph of my grandmother, Harriet Ellen Burnett, taken, I would guess, some time in the 1950s. She is wearing the same headscarf that she wore throughout her life in line with, what to her, was a grand old Yorkshire tradition.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Sepia Saturday 253 : Gone Fishing With The King


Our Sepia Saturday theme this week shows a group of Canadian miners on a fishing trip. I trawled my various family photographic archives for fish and the closest I could find was a picture of Auntie Miriam outside a fish and chip shop. I decided to keep this particular treat for our annual Auntie Miriam Day in January, and therefore the best I could come up with was a cigarette card from the W.D. & H.O. Wills 1937 series "Our King and Queen".  Card No. 29 is headed "Deep Sea Fishing, New Zealand, 1927. Somehow I have acquired the full set of 50 cigarette cards, inherited probably from my father. Produced long before the days when cigarettes were hidden behind closed cupboard doors, such cards were given away in packets of cigarettes and designed to appeal to adults and children alike.

The King and Queen in question are, of course, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The King, we are told, was a keen fisherman and his "bag" on this particular fishing trip included a shark. Our Canadian miners probably didn't manage to "bag" a shark, but they were taking a few precious hours away from a life of toil hewing coal. His Majesty, by comparison, will have been carefully shepherded to the best fishing grounds and, no doubt, he didn't have to fillet the shark himself.

The little card - hardly larger than 1 inch by 2 inch - is packed with history. It tells of times when companies where "imperial", when tobacco was a harmless treat, and when happy citizens pasted pictures of their favourite kings and queens into little books.  Times have changed.


You can take a look at what others are doing for Sepia Saturday 253 by going over to the Sepia Saturday Blog and following the links. There again, you could go fishing instead.


Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Mindful Thoughts On The Victoria Theatre In Halifax

I was flipping through one of those free local magazines that these days drop through the letter box like 1960s pop stars falling from grace, when I came across a page full of horrendous banalities of the kind that seem to be the twenty first century equivalent of the cry of the snake oil salesman. "You can become mindful at any time you like just by paying attention to your immediate experience and situation", it would appear. "Research", it seems although the precise nature of the research is left to the imagination, "indicates that living in the moment can make people happier, because most negative thoughts concern the past of the future". The entire saccharine-fest is topped off with the following little jingle:

I do apologise if anyone has had to read that having just consumed their breakfast, the words are enough to make anyone feel a little nauseous. I have obviously been living my life all wrong for the past sixty-odd years (and some of those years were very odd), believing that we have a duty to learn from the past and plan for the future. But no, the past and the future are seeped in negativity - let us all live for today and to hell with the consequences.

My picture was taken way back in 1966 during a parade for the annual Halifax Gala. The building in the background is the Victoria Theatre which still stands, I am glad to say. Whether it will be standing tomorrow is a different question - but, who cares? Such thoughts are not mindful.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Naked On A Canadian Headland, Filling In Potholes On Google

People sometimes imagine that the information superhighway is flawless: as smooth as it is broad, with a perfect surface that could put a bowling green to shame. But it isn't: there are imperfections, there are gaps in its coverage, there are potholes on Google. And when we discover such a pothole, we all have a responsibility to fill it in, because the WWW has always been a do-it-yourself kind of enterprise; there are no state tar macadam machines filling potholes for our convenience, nor would any sane person want such things.

Which brings me to a conversation my old mate Arthur and I had on Saturday night.  We were out having a meal at a pub and catching up on over forty years of shared history. Our wives swapped stories of friends and relatives whilst Arthur and I engaged in one of those "remember that bloke who ..." types of conversation so loved by old men. The conversation snaked its way to an organisation we both belonged to back in the late 1960s and early 1970s which was called the Halifax 68 Club. The club met every Thursday night in a local pub and provided an opportunity for people of the left to get together and exchange ideas and enthusiasms. It was not confined to any one political party - some were Labour Party members, some were Communists, some were Anarchists and the odd Liberal would occasionally poke his or her head through the door. Nor was it confined just to politics: I remember discussions on music, art, literature, philosophy and science. It was an asteroid of an organisation - burning brightly in the cultural skies of Halifax for a few years and then fading into obscurity.

The discussion between Arthur and myself on Saturday night had none of the heady gravitas of those discussions of forty-five years ago: it was confined to trying to remember the name of the pub in King Cross where we would meet.  As we sipped out pints and salted our chips, we racked our brains; we recited an alphabet of pub names, we listed monarchs and we conjugated mythical creatures. Eventually I said "Not to worry, I will Google "Halifax 68 Club". And so I did, only to discover that the only match the all-powerful indexing monster could come up with was the address of a nudist club in Halifax, Nova Scotia! The thought of all those long gone revolutionaries being mistaken for a group of Canadian naturists was too much to bare, and salt tears dripped into a couple of beer glasses. We had discovered a pothole on Google. I promised Arthur that I would attempt to fill it in on my first opportunity and that is the purpose of this post. If, ever again, two old men try to remember anything about the Halifax 68 Club, Google should point them to this post rather than leaving them naked and cold on a Canadian headland.

Perhaps I should add, for the sake of completeness and for future searchers of information, that the name of the pub where we met was The Wellington. Looking through my old photographs, I don't seem to have any pictures taken during a meeting, but the one at the head of this post dates from the same period and features the inimitable Tim Enright, who was the moving spirit behind the creation of the 68 Club, delivering a speech to commemorate a Chartist march over the Yorkshire moors.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Pass The Port Please

As part of the great migration to the Mac, I am re-cataloguing some of my older digital photographs using the new version of Lightroom. In some ways the task is time-consuming, but it helps stimulate some of the memory synapses in my brain and I have little better to do with my time. I took this picture in June 2000 whilst I was attending a European Council meeting in Porto, Portugal as a press representative. At such gatherings, I usually managed to steal an hour or two away from the fascinating discussions of the Common Agricultural Policy or the European Regional Development Fund, to go in search of interesting photographs. Porto was a wonderful city through which port wine flowed like water. Indeed the memory is so strong it is making my thirsty. Pass the port please.