Thursday, September 27, 2007

Art For Lines Sake

Following on from my recent campaign against pointless road signs, I have now launched a sister campaign - against pointless lines drawn in the roads, streets and paths of England.


Take, for example, the bit of nonsense above which is to be found at the end of a short footpath down the road from where I live. The total length of the path is no more than twenty yards, but at either end, great brush-fulls of white paint are daubed all over the tarmac. The precise meaning is unclear : something to do with bicycles been limited to one side of the path. The triangular shape on the right seems to suggest that if you wish to push your bike to the left you should pass to the left of the triangle, whereas if you are turning right you should keep to the right. The big concrete post in the middle is designed to knock you off your bike. They must have large, industrial-scale stencils for such creations and the "artists" must be paid on piece rate.

Can such work ever be considered art. I am not sure. But I might just frame the photo I took of the painting spree as it continued into the main road.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Trust



Engineer Alan - he who did all the hard work for our boat conversion - was so impressed I'd built my own VCS electronics for the boat (electronics that makes the generator speed up or slow down to keep it happy and the drive batteries) he handed me this thing hoping I could find out why it wasn't working.

Isn't it pretty? And oh what trust!! I know what it's supposed to do and he gave me a bit of paper also said with just enough technical data to mean I knew what batteries to connect to see what happened....

The thing connects to the radio control receiver for a model boat. The power for the boat's motor is connected on the right - between 2 and 12V (volts) so the black and red wires above on the right are from my 9V battery. The yellow wires on the right are what would go to the motor - in my case, a test meter.

On the left, the germanic coloured wire came with the unit. Red is the plus from the receiver, black the minus, yellow the control signal. I think the wording on the bit of paper says that supply voltage should be between 3.6 and 6V. But the wording might mean the control signal should be in that range. I've no definite idea.

Oh, I know the big white rectangle on the right is a relay that switches the output to reverse the motor. I'm pretty sure the black thing to its left is a power transistor to provide the variable power/voltage for the speed of the motor. Black blob down centre is a simple transistor drives the relay. White thing top left is a quartz crystal so this tiny circuit generates a very high frequency signal - I would have to assume, a reference signal. I can't work out from the lettering the frequency - and haven't yet tried attaching my oscilloscope to see - it's probably around 2 MHz (two million cycles per second.) I have traced the coding on the black "chip" on the left - it's a microprocessor which thereby might do almost anything. It's in my Maplin's catalogue as ideal for radio controlled models' motor speed. Um, yes, so that fits. Haven't been able to find any detail although they did have a diagram with pin connections implied it has a frequency "in" (that fits with the quartz crystal being there).... I suspect very strongly it compares it's local frequency with the input frequency and so generates a voltage output proportional to the difference (which drives the motor)... and also a signal to show if the input is of lower or higher frequency, causing the relay to switch over and reverse the direction of the motor being driven.

Oh, from the actual wiring tracks, I'm pretty sure black blob down centre, which is definitely a simple transistor, (I've got loads of identical!) merely amplifies the output from the microprocessor to drive the relay, just as I'm pretty sure the black thing to the left of the relay merely amplifies the output from the micropocessor to control the speed of the motor. ...

But how to find what's wrong (if anything?) Well, I suppose I could check there is an oscillating signal with my oscilloscope but actually I think it would be more sensible to demand to borrow the input equipment and see what happens and get my oscilloscope out then. Because I suspect there is nothing wrong with this circuit. Why?

Well, for a start, all the solder joins are good - usual reason an electronic circuit fails is a faulty join. Secondly, none of the components look anything but pristine - components that have got too hot show it and even smell of it! Thirdly, for connecting my wires I did a very naughty test... simply disconnected and reconnected the input voltage to find the output sometimes suddenly switched to "full ahead", sometimes switched to "full astern", sometimes switched to "off". The circuit was definitely active and the relay definitely clicking. Alan had thought it might be the problem... but with the best will in the world I don't think Alan has the foggiest idea about frequency-comparison circuits... which I think this thing is supposed to do. No, I don't know for sure but I can't think why else it has an on-board frequency regulator - the quartz crystal. The only other reason it might have one is if the input signal is digitally encoded- perfectly possible.... I've no idea, but I'd think unlikely. Digital encoding takes a microprocessor with more legs on it. I know. As I said, what trust from Alan I might have any idea! Well, I suppose he's right I do have idea... but, goodness me, no instant solutions.

Funnily enough, most of my tests and thoughts simply pure logic and not especially electronic. Quartz oscillator, ergo, high frequency being generated. Why? Must be to compare or time signals coming in. Equally, logic, device converts input into speed and direction, therefore there will be an output for speed and another one to reverse direction... trying to work out how much more like solving a crossword puzzle rather than technical electronics - I have this information, what can I work out from it?!

I must get the other bits off Alan... I suspect that if I have a look at the signal the receiver produces with my silly-scope all will be revealed! Oscilloscopes reveal almost anything if suitably connected - not so good about digitally encoded signals because setting them to reveal the pulse sequence is tricky.. get it right, oh, yes, there it is. Huge fun to see it working.

Ah well. I guess I just ask Alan to borrow the other bits without explaining my deductions. I think, actually, the diddy circuit pictured is probably OK and the input was wrong or the connections failed or a battery was flat. You'd be amazed how often little devices fail because nobody realised a battery was flat or a plug not fully in place. "Solid state" electronics, of itself, rarely fails unless it does so immediatly. The bits where humans interface and mechanical things happen - that's usually the problem. I've blown up many devices on that basis.

As a codicil, I'm curious, for this entry, "Return" seems to be producing double-spacing. So I've left out my P codes and wait to see if this spaces OK for being "published."

Take For Example My BVDs

I normally get annoyed by those people who go on about computers and the Internet having spoiled the innocent pleasures of life. All "innocent pleasures" have been touched by technology at some stage : computers are merely the latest suspects in a long, and quite exalted list which includes television, radio, film, newspapers and if you go back far enough printed books. But everyone is entitled to a good grumble every now and then, so I have to say that it is such a shame that computers and the Internet have spoiled the age-old game of lyric-spotting.

Lyric-spotting is where you have what you interpret as the words of a particular song going around in your mind but you can't make sense of them because either you have mis-heard the lyrics or you have heard them correctly but still they don't make sense. The game is played over time - you listen to the song again and again until finally the words or the meaning fall into place. The problem is that the Internet - with its massive databases of song lyrics and its Wikieverybloodything - provides so many short cuts that the challenge evaporates before your eyes.


Therefore, when faced with a new lyric-spotting challenge - I try to avoid the Internet until every other avenue of guesswork and reasoning is used up. Take for example my BVDs. Stacey Kent includes a version of the song "Hard Hearted Hannah" on her latest CD (see my posting of a few weeks ago) and the song includes a line which sounds like :

"An evening spent with Hannah sittin' on your knees,
Is like drivin' through Alaska in your beevygees".

If you Google "beevygees" you get nothing which must be so rare these days as to be almost unique. It makes you want to change your name to Beevygees just to be different. It makes you want to invent a new biscuit just for the pleasure of naming it. "Have you tried one of these new beevygees, they're delicious"

Once I had started down the internet route to check out "beevygees", I couldn't resist checking to find out the true lyric which turns out to be :

"An evening spent with Hannah sittin' on your knees,
Is like drivin' through Alaska in your BVDs".

So go ahead and Google BVD and see what you get. Yes, that's right, what you get is Bovine Virus Diarrhoea which, you must admit, is not very pleasant and must be even worse if you are driving through Alaska soaked to the skin in it. My, that Hannah is a real turn-off.

Further research rescues you from this dreadful image. It turns out that BVD also stands for Bradley, Voorhees & Day, a firm of New York underwear manufacturers whose product was often called simply BVDs. Thus an evening snogging with Hannah is like driving through Alaska in your underpants. I'm glad we've cleared that up (thanks, I must say, to the Internet).

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Career Change


I was talking to Roger the other day, about Rotherham where he grew up, and how he'd be woken by the flash of light, bright enough to read by, when they tipped the vat of molten metal in the nearby steel works. He worked there later, sweeping up the trimmings. I told him how one of the most exciting moments of my life was a tour round a steel works in Scunthorpe.


So what does Roger do, now that such places are things of the past? - He writes medical romances for Mills & Boon.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Memories Of The Cemetery Women

If you look on Google Earth at New Burlington Road, Bridlington you see a long row of Edwardian terraced houses, a seagull's flight away from the grainy sands and the lapping North Sea waves. It is nothing special : like hundreds of other streets in over-tired Northern seaside resorts. And yet, when I was young, our family were drawn back to New Burlington Road, year after year for our annual holiday by the sea. And so were the Cemetery Women.

Each year my mother, father, brother and myself along with Auntie Annie and Uncle Harry would catch the steam train from Bradford to Bridlington. Bridlington Station was the end of the line and the long station forecourt would be crowded with local lads with home-made wooden carts who would pull your luggage to your boarding house for sixpence. For a young boy from the mill-lined streets of Bradford, Brid (it was always Brid never Bridlington) was an exotic place. When you went to Blackpool on the west coast there was always an informal competition to see who could spot the tower first. When we went east to Brid the competition was who could smell the fishdocks first. Here was a place where not only land met sea, but where fish met the filleting knife, where donkeys walked the sands and where the sound of the mill shuttle was replaced by the metallic clink of pennies falling into slot machines.

The boarding house we stayed at in New Burlington Road was indistinguishable from its many neighbours. Each house would accommodate about a dozen guests. "Terms" were usually "half-board" which meant that you got bacon and egg in the morning and then you were expected to vacate the premises until you had your meal in the evening. As a mark of the exotic lifestyle of Brid, this early evening meal was called dinner rather than tea. We went to the same boarding house year after year, most people did. You got to know the landladies (a special breed who deserve a blog to themselves) and they got to know you. And you got to know many of the other guests. In our case we got to know the Cemetery Women.

They were christened thus by Uncle Harry, no doubt after he had been "throwing his money away in the pub" (my mothers' description, not mine). There were three of them : small, dressed as though every day was Sunday, and having the kind of disapproving look etched into their faces which was so common amongst Yorkshire women of a certain age. Each year they would come to Bridlington for a week. Each day they would go to the Cemetery and sit. As far as we could tell, they sat there all day until it was time to come back to New Burlington Road for dinner. After dinner they would go to bed.

Who they were visiting at the Cemetery we never found out. On rainy afternoons whilst gathered in the shelter just opposite the harbour we would weave long and complex stories : dashing young men crushed to death under a runaway luggage cart, elderly uncles who had died and left them a fortune in war bonds. If you tried to engage them in conversation you would be stopped in your tracks by the disapproving look. The only question they would respond to was "where are you going today". The only answer they would ever give was "just up to the cemetery".

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Self image


Although I quite like AB's photo of me on the boat (now on my profile,) it's still not quite how I see myself in the mirror. So I tried photographing myself, holding the camera at arms length, sitting in front of a mirror....

This is the best of several terrible shots. And still doesn't, to my mind, look like what I see when shaving. It literally looks like a different person to me. Goodness, do I really look like that?

But self-image is such a strange thing... I remember when I first played with a tape recorder (my step-uncle's) ... I just couldn't believe my voice actually sounded like that!... terribly posh and precise (I was about 6 years old)... I'd NO idea!...

At the time I was trying to record a "radio play"... some short play I'd been reading... it was a good education because eventually I DID manage to make my voice sound different for the different characters. I also discovered that if you try to do clever editing on a reel-to-reel you can end up with yards of tape jammed in the heads. Everybody was very kind but nobody suggested I might like to play with the machine again after that. I was an awful lot older (about 15) before I jammed tape in my own (second hand) machine and learnt how to disentangle it.

But that uncle had a mechanical arithmetic calculator that had me fascinated for endless hours - you put a pen shaped thing in a slot to slide the numbers down and they added... I couldn't work out how. At the time I was wondering how to make my Meccano set make a mechanical adding machine but they didn't seem to have gears with the right number of teeth. Even if I had owned any gears at the time. Although it can't have been much later I built the steam powered (model) crane that could run one-and-a-half lengths of our main passage before needing re-fuelling...

It did go very slowly because the little Mamod steam engine wasn't very powerful. And needed oiling every two minutes or the friction made it even less powerful. Luckily washing-up detergent had (only just) been invented by then to get the spare oil off the passageway. Even young I appreciated somebody might slip in a puddle of oil... since I had.

I always slightly hoped that step-uncle might leave me his huge lathe when he died. Not that we had anywhere to put it or anything remotely practical. In fact he left his considerable estate to his "housekeeper". Mmmm. He never married? Well, no, he didn't but....

I don't suppose I'll ever know the truth about what was going on..... the other day we had a card for my sister remembering her birthday (slightly wrongly) from the one ancient surviving member of that branch of the family. I winced because there in classic Alzheimer's style poor old Dorothy had tried to write the card. Still enough like her hand to be "Aunt Dorothy." Stunning she'd clearly looked up my sister's address but muddled it with mine, stunning she'd still got mine....

She was at our wedding, looking very frail. But compos..... we hardly ever saw her during my childhood but she always sent me book tokens for my birthday ... which I used and I always wrote a dutiful thank-you letter extolling whichever book I'd bought... which always had a reply she was so delighted to hear from me.

Elegant conventions people these days tend not to do. It's a pity. Claire from our boat trip, as expected, carefully delivered a thank-you card... as I knew she would.

It's frightening how many of those people were on that path to the crematorium and have now gone through it. I must confess, I really don't want to know my number in the queue.

As a technical thing, I posted this and then realised I'd forgotton the paragraph-break codes - leave them out, everything runs together.

Sign Language

I read in the newspaper over the weekend that the German town of Bohmte has decided to initiate a bold experiment designed to improve road safety : they have taken away all the road signs and traffic lights. The experiment is designed to test out the "shared space" traffic management theory which states that it is better and safer to make road users negotiate with each other via eye contact and hand signals rather than having rules forced upon them by signage. It all sounds a little like what you would get if you elected an anarchist government and I am not ready to hand over my safety when negotiating the main road to the fortuitous coincidence of commuters' eye movements. However, it is difficult not to feel a bit of sympathy for the anti-sign movement.


It is clear that at some stage some Government Department has attempted to list every circumstance when a road sign should be used and some Local Government Department has decided to take them at their word. Thus, there has been a crop of completely superfluous signs all telling you things you just do not want to know. My particular favourite can be found just a few hundred yards from where I live. A little footpath leads down behind the back of a business park towards some woods. It would be difficult to negotiate a bike down this footpath it is so narrow. After about thirty yards there is a gap in the fence to one side of the path. It would be difficult to negotiate a penny-farthing through the said gap. Nevertheless, some dim sod has erected a great big sign saying that this is unsuitable for motor vehicles.

Where Bohmte goes today, perhaps Huddersfield should follow tomorrow. That is, of course, if we can find the way.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Who would have thought...


It looks innocent enough. My car key.....

On Saturday we had another trip on the boat. Visitors Suki and Tony and Claire came along, delighted and impressed by the silent drive. AND it was a glorious day....

We had tea with Jane's home-made scones and butter and jams and some bought ginger cake, moored a bit up the river from King's lock at a spot fortuitously free where somebody has cleared the reeds and even put in a scaff pole to moor-to...

Came safely home to our mooring, down the river and then back up the canal. People kindly waited whilst Jane and I cleared the boat, I felt in my jacket pocket to open the car to drive us all home...

No car key. Not a problem at that moment, Jane had hers.... but, oh goodness, where had mine gone?... I had to return to the boat about 40 mins later that evening to turn off its generator, searched the boat where my jacket had been... not a sign.....

Debated with Jane where on earth the key could be... could I swear I'd put it in my jacket, had I just stuffed it in my trousers... had it dropped out from them during the trip?....

I didn't really think either, but with no sign of it in my jacket pockets, or on the bed on the boat where my jacket had been during the trip, what else could have happened?...

We discussed so many possibilities... I couldn't visualise any moment I'd felt vague (for once) and might have done something totally absent-minded with it (the key.) If it had been in my trouser pocket, only time I could think of that I was moving much was when setting up the tea party and buttering scones....

I talked it through with Jane, we talked it through with Caroline when she came to deliver beans from the allotment and have a cup of tea... not because the subject was so thrilling but because quite often if one talks something through you suddenly get an idea or remember something...

Worst thing was, I couldn't really think of anything new. I was still pretty sure I'd put in my jacket. But it wasn't there... and, yes, I looked in the pockets again.. and again...

Jane said my trouble was I insisted things didn't simply disappear. When she knew they sometimes did. I said, oh yes, like your mother's cutting out scissors we found behind her desk when we moved it some years later? Well, I didn't say that, but it makes a better story, Barbara would have approved, she always said not to let the exact truth get in the way of a good story...

Sunday was also a nice day - although very windy and wouldn't've done at all for boating, gusts carry a narrowboat around virtually completely outside one's control almost more than currents. But suitable to have a walk. So we decided to look up where we could park the car nearest (using Jane's key) to walk to our Saturday tea-time spot. In case I had somehow dropped my key there.

By chance neighbour Mary fancied a walk and was suggesting we all went for one, so we admitted we were going to see if I'd dropped... yes, well, by now you've got the idea....

We inspected the map and "Live Earth" aerial photos to check we'd got the nearest point to park the car......

The paths on the map nearly didn't exist, when it came to it, except, thank goodness, the promised FB (foot bridge) over a stream/drain. The natural meadow had medium length grasses and plants of no-doubt exciting detail... but it did mean walking toward were we thought we'd moored was quite a tough walk... you had to lift your feet for each step or by grabbed by the grasses...

And very strange to approach from this completely different direction. Quite impossible to be sure one was heading for the right spot on the bank until one got close.... but I did realise I started heading for wrong spot (hopefully, it was nearer!) for thinking a boat was moored on it until I got close enough to realise that boat was the other side the river... and close enough to start to recognise which bit of the bank I was approaching... started to recognise the look of the bank ... which I knew extremely well from a river/boat perspective, but it looked totally different from the meadow perspective..... very interesting how utterly disorientated one could be until you got close enough...

As for any official path on the map, apart from the FB, and tracks nearby, we could only deduce the rest were animal tracks and nobody actually used the FP. Leaving us to have to high-step through "virgin" meadow. I went well ahead so Mary and Jane hopefully didn't walk too far in any wrong directions....

At, one point I lost sight of them... tracked back until I could just see them... waved my sun-cap hoping they'd see me. I gather they didn't but had worked out to come my way anyway. Where I had found where we'd had tea the day before....

I did see they'd just got up from a rest. Mary's shoes had filled with the burr-ey things in the meadow and Jane had been exhausted because "high-stepping" not to catch in the grasses was all very well for me with longer legs, for Mary it was medium problem, for Jane it was like a gym excercise we used to do at school. "Get your thighs parallel to the floor" the teacher used-to call. I gather people do this in expensive gyms with trainers (human and shoes) to this day, paying for both. You could just do running on the spot if you felt the urge. For free. Or not bother and go for a pint instead. Not for free.

Sadly, as they came to meet me, I'd become as sure as could be the blessed key was NOT on the site. And I could even see where the grass was slightly flattened where we'd put a rug to have tea on. And so work out exactly where I might have been when I was kneeling and getting up and down and so just possibly might have dropped the key. IF it had been in my trouser pocket. As opposed to the jacket pocket (where the jacket never left the boat throughout)... I still couldn't understand I really thought I'd put it in my jacket....

Ages ago I deduced I lost a £10 note overboard for having a streaming something - maybe a cold or maybe just reaction to winds and sun... so every since I've been pretty careful to unload keys and notes from trousers into jacket because if you grab a hanky to wipe your eyes because you can't see, every chance you whip out other things in trouser pockets.

But I'd looked and looked, key not in the jacket. Ah well, we drove on for Jane to have a nostalgia trip about Eynsham because Mary hadn't known about her living there.. and Caroline had along the way wanted sloes if we saw them for sloe gin... and we spotted some and collected them for her. It was a nice walk and drive...

Jane suggested I tried to have a "lucid dream" about where the key might be last night (Sunday.) No, I didn't. But as I walked to the shop this morning my mind still said I was SO sure I'd put the key in my jacket. All along. Perhaps my brain had worked that out whilst I slept. So I felt in all my pockets yet again and even checked for holes.. and then remembered my neat white suit we'd bought for Jane's posh RNA lunch last year had had an unexpected pocket down left on the inside, zipped..... had this jacket got similar pocket but no zip... or I certainly would have known all along.

Dang me. It had. Not zipped. Perhaps designed for muggers not to realise you'd put your credit cards in there. Or, even, a car key. As I found in it with amazing satisfaction I'd always been SO sure I'd put the key in my jacket. I had..... also amazing relief we needn't go through the whole rigmarole of getting another new key...

And I do understand why I hadn't known - I didn't even know that pocket existed until this morning! And I'd always admitted I'd been slightly flustered in getting our guests aboard and thereby might have decided to put the key in my trousers, since it wasn't (apparently) in any of the jacket pockets...

So, I was right, things don't simply vanish. Of course it was daft of me not to realise which bit of the jacket I'd put it in... but, to be honest, my sight isn't fabulous these days without thinking or changing glasses and I mostly felt to put it in "a" pocket, not realising it wasn't one I knew about.

Ah well, met Mary by chance today to admit our tiring walk hadn't been necessary - mind you, we'd always admitted it would probably be fruitless. Or not, if you count the Sloes. She kindly admitted she'd utterly lost a credit card once in her handbag for putting it in a sub-pocket she hadn't realised existed. Was on the point of phoning people when she suddenly found it for more careful search... kind of her to indicate I wasn't alone for making such a mistake...

But perhaps my conversation with Jane before falling asleep may have failed to cause a lucid dream but did make my subconscious all the more sure the key was actually in the jacket. Or maybe it was just chance her next RNA "big" lunch has got to advertised stage so I thought about the last and so that white suit... and so the down-left zipped pocket in that jacket...

But why would jackets have such obscure pockets? Unless they were made for members of the Magic Circle? As a student at UCL I worked backstage for two Magic Circle shows and although I never really found out how they did some of their stunning tricks, I was aware quite a lot turned on hidden pockets in apparently normal jackets. Although far more turned on the fact you didn't realise the glamerous assistant had just quietly handed the person the thing(s) he suddenly produced... I could see when I was flying the scenery that year!

Ah well, I found my key. It had been there all along. In my jacket, exactly where I couldn't understand it hadn't been in the first place. Because I'd put it, not realising, in a pocket I hadn't realised existed! My detective step was merely- whilst off to the shop this morning - to remember my white coat had this pocket, perhaps this coat had and I'd never realised....

Good thought. There was the the pictured key. I completely admit I felt terribly stupid, but at the same time excused myself that I'd been right I'd put the key in the jacket. That I knew I wasn't absolutely sure what happened putting it away because I'd been busy thing about setting off for the trip. That I'd been right to be terribly startled it wasn't in any pocket I knew about at the end of the trip. And not stupid (but ignorant) I'd no idea this jacket HAD this extra pocket...
And should I have realised I knew I'd put the key in it? Well, no, I didn't know the pocket existed, I was wearing distance glasses putting it away, slightly faffed, just put the key in A pocket in my jacket assuming it was one I knew about.

Perhaps encouraged by the nice walk and my dry remarks, Mary wondered if I could sort out her cooker lights. It's always tricky with neighbours, they know I can probably sort out almost anything for normal household problems, but at what point is it an imposition to ask me? - they're very good to realise I'm happy to do an instant trivial fix but if it becomes a serious job... well, I'm not actually a plumber or electrician or builder and have no wish to work as one. Unless for ourselves saving us cash.

This is quite awkard, madly enough. I think the answer is that I'm happy to have a look and see if it's something trivial. Mary's problem today was - she hoped she'd replaced a relevant fuse and only because I have a meter could I instantly detect her replacement fuse was already blown. Heavens, not at all silly, unless one is terribly careful blown fuses get mixed in with new ones. Cartridge fuses don't LOOK blown. And you have to be terribly careful to throw away blown to be sure not to mix them up - I liken it to shelling peas where I can't count the number of times I've put the peas in the shell pot and the shell in the pea pot. If distracted or just momentarily absent-minded. Unlike the pea situation, you can't tell if easily you haven't a test meter. But I do.

All this for one lost key.

Mad, I know. But why I can make things work, and I do! Finding the key is nothing compared to me agonising how to make the charge meter work on the boat. Because in that case the answer would never be exact, just a useful indicator. It is.

Connect Me To A Brewery














When I was very young and impressionable I met this old woman - the grandmother of a girlfriend I seem to recall. She was sat in the corner of the room and said very little, but she had a beatific smile on her face. The only time she entered into a conversation was when she was questioned on the state of her health. Then her smile widened further, she chuckled, and replied "I feel a little better now, but I think I'm rather dry, connect me to a brewery, and leave me there to die". I was always impressed by this response, to me it sounded like the height of adult sophistication. Perhaps my love of breweries dates from this early age. Perhaps my early teenage mind somehow mixed up breweries and cathedrals. Who knows. But whereas other people, on finding themselves in a strange city, will go in search of the local cathedral, I have always been drawn to the local brewery. As a young man trying to find his way through the moral maze that was Britain in the sixties and seventies I turned to Alfred Barnard's monumental book "A Tour Of The Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, 1889-91" when my peers reached for their Kerouac or their Ginsberg.

All this is brought to the forefront of my mind by a large Manila envelope that landed on my doormat the other morning. As anyone sad enough to be a regular reader of this blog will know, for the last nine month or so I have been searching for a new identity (what my wife calls "a nice little hobby in your retirement"). Coming across the website of the Brewery History Society, I decided to join. The envelope contained my membership pack and what a delight it is. There's a learned journal (containing a series of wonderful articles with titles such as "The Sword and the Armour : Science and Practice in the Brewing Industry, 1837-1914"), a copy of the Rules and Constitution, even a laminated Membership Card.

At my time of life I need to start preparing for the afterlife. As I move ever-closer to the rusted gates of the Elysian Fields I am drawn to a quiet life of thought and careful contemplation. Has anyone got a copy of Barnards "Tour of the Noted Breweries" they don't want?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Taking My Time

I was walking Amy this morning when we came upon a little old lady making her way slowly down the main road. She looked frail and she was walking, with some difficulty, using a cane. Conscious of Amy's addiction to coming face-to-face (or rather tongue to face) with anyone she meets, I carefully steered her into the grass verge to let the old lady pass by : but she stopped and bent to give Amy a pat on the head. Glancing in the direction of the main road down to Brighouse she said "Am I alright for the back door of the Crematorium?" My deafness has taught me to pause for a moment before answering a question just to mentally double-check I had heard things properly. Thus I worked out she was probably asking for directions and there is indeed a footpath that leads to the Crematorium about a quarter of a mile down the road. I explained the distances involved and the somewhat uneven state of the path. "Look", I said, "I live just around the corner and I have my car there, why don't I give you a lift?" She looked at me kindly. "No thanks", she replied. "It's a bit before I need to be there and I am in no hurry. I'll just take my time". We parted and I thought about this strange conversation. Had I, in fact, interpreted her question correctly? Why was this elderly woman making her way so slowly and with such difficulty to the Crematorium. At the corner of the road I glanced back to the main road. I realise that a perfect ending to this little story would be that the lady had vanished. The odd thing, the really odd thing, was that she had. I have been feeling a bit fed up these last few days. Not depressed or anything like that, just a bit down. The reason why is probably not hard to work out. A friend and a colleague from Marsden Jazz Festival died last week after a very short illness. He is the second member of our small Committee to have died in less than a year. Such things just remind you of mortality and all such things. He will be cremated on Monday at the Crematorium : and I will go. But if I see the little old lady there I will give her the knowing look of a visitor who is just passing by. I too, am taking my time.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Treat Yourself To A Cinnamon Pancake

I have been in love with Stacey Kent for years. The affair - which I must stress is entirely platonic and entirely one-way - started in 1998 when I suddenly got my hearing back after ten or so years of deafness. The first singer I seriously listened to was a young jazz singer who had just released her first CD to critical acclaim. It was Stacey Kent. In the years that followed my "hearing" went from strength to strength and so did her career : it was a kind of bond between us. I first saw her perform live at Wakefield Jazz Club and I was smitten. Some time after that she performed at our annual Marsden Jazz Festival. On the afternoon before she was due to go on stage I spent hours carefully adjusting the seats in the Mechanics Hall in the hope I might meet up with her. I did : and she was just as delightful, witty and intelligent as I had hoped she would be.

Stacey made her reputation out of her effortless interpretations of material from the so-called "Great American Songbook". She is the kind of singer who has a masterful way with a lyric : providing the kind of value-added that most singers can only dream about. The problem is : there is only a certain distance you can go with the Great American Songbook before you begin to cover material which is at best well-trodden and at worst hackneyed. The question many of Stacey's fans have been asking for the last year or two is "where does she go next?". Her signing for the legendary Blue Note label provided a perfect opportunity for a change in direction. But which direction?
The answer is provided by her new CD which has just been released and which is called "Breakfast On The Morning Tram". The album title comes from one of the four tunes on the CD which has been specially written for her by Booker prize-winning author, Kazuo Ishiguro. Ishiguro's lyrics have been matched with tunes especially composed by Stacey's husband, the saxophonist Jim Tomlinson. The result of the collaboration - and the rest of the material on the album - is the perfect solution to the "where to go next" conundrum. It is different, it is fresh and it is stimulating. Stacey handles the somewhat challenging lyrics in a way few others could. She can manage to sing "Treat yourself to a cinnamon pancake, Pretty soon you'll forget your heartache" without it sounding contrived or over-clever. It might take a few hearings to appreciate the full joy of some of the material, but it is no effort - it's like finding level after level of first-rate material all in the same song.

Thanks to the wonders of digital technology you don't have to take my word for it. If you go to Stacey's website there are a couple of videos you can play in which she and Jim Tomlinson discuss the new album and sing extracts from it. Do yourself a favour and follow the link and treat yourself to a cinnamon pancake of a musical experience.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Going Soft On Marsden


I think I must be going soft. Or getting old. Or both. A year ago I would happily sit up half the night putting together the infoBASE Europe bulletins. After a few hours sleep I would head off to a cycle of meetings and conferences. During any spare moments I would mow the lawn whilst reading a history of modern Europe and composing a sonnet or two.

After eleven short months of so-called retirement here I sit at 1.30 am, exhausted after spending a day updating the Marsden Jazz Festival website. It is not a taxing activity - more finicky (does such a word exist) than mentally demanding. I have just finished and I feel like Alexander the Great having reached the Indian sub-continent. And tomorrow, instead of marching against the hordes of Asia Minor, or even mowing the back lawn, I will probably rest all day. Pathetic, isn't it?

Anyway, the least you can do is check out the updated website at marsdenjazzfestival.com.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Searching For Kate

Finding myself in Keighley today I decided to add a couple more pubs to my collection and also to go in search of Kate Kellem. Kate Kellem was born in South Wales in 1877 and was brought to Keighley as a young girl by her adopted father who was the landlord of a Keighley hotel. She became a barmaid and eventually fell in love with, and married, a local Mill Mechanic, Albert Beanland. They had two daughters, Amy born in 1904 and Gladys born in 1911. Gladys Beanland was my mother.

It is unclear how Kate came to be adopted and I am not sure which hotel she worked at. I remember my mother telling me it was somewhere in the centre of Keighley and that it was then (some thirty or forty years ago) still standing. The name of the hotel, as far as I could remember, had some kind of royal connotations. Not much information I admit, but enough to launch an entertaining search.

If there is a Royal Hotel I didn't find it. There was a Victoria Hotel but it seemed to be at the wrong side of town. So a process of elimination brought me to the wonderful Albert Hotel. This fit perfectly: not only was it of the right age and with a suitably regal title, the idea of young Kate falling in love with Albert in the bar of the Albert Hotel somehow seemed appropriate.

The hotel itself was a glorious building, the kind of place that should be set in aspic for posterity. Victorian down to its marble fireplace and mahogany bar I had no difficulty in visualising Kate behind the bar. Albert, on his way home from the mill, would call in for a pint and stay close to the bar in order to catch a word with the young girl who still had the lilt of the Welsh Valleys in her voice. He would tell her the story of his life and she would tell him of how she came to be so far away from home. But what was that story? How I long to know.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Quizzes, Boats and Pubs

We have just got back from a weekend in Oxford which was a kind of mini News From Nowhere gathering as everyone was there other than the mythical DPH. And what a time was had by all.

Friday night saw what must be one of the first experiments in remote pub quiz playing. Despite being 150 miles away from the pub, two additional teams took part in the Rock Tavern Friday Night Pub Quiz with the final scores being sent to the question master by SMS text. It would have been nice to record a victory for the Oxford Chapter of the Rock Tavern Quiz, but alas it was not to be.

The high spot of the weekend was undoubtedly the demonstration of the radical Osborn Silent Battery Driven Boat Engine. The demonstration involved a leisurely cruise along the Oxford Canal and the River Thames. The party of visiting dignitaries who made the journey can all attest to the fact that (1) the engine indeed works; (2) it delivers a plentiful amount of power; and (3) it is as silent as a church mouse. The photograph shows the proud inventor listening to nothing more than the lap of the bow-wave and the scurrying of a disturbed water rat.


Saturday also provided an opportunity to add two more pubs to 100p Challenge. These have now been added to the section of my website dealing with the challenge. Research for this project is turning out to be a considerable pleasure and I would welcome suggestions of other pubs to add to the list of those I need to visit.
As I said, a most pleasurable weekend.