Thursday, January 31, 2008

Nothing But A Lyptechare

I had a strange dream last night. In the dream I was attending some kind of public occasion and I became aware that the chap sitting at the next table was about to make a short speech about me. I half recognised the chap concerned, I had known him slightly about twenty-five years ago when. for a while, we taught the same course. But I had not met him for over quarter of a century and I had no idea why he was about to deliver a speech about me. For some reason I had a copy of the speech and at that point the dream "slipped" (in the way dreams do) and I was going to have to deliver the speech, written by my old acquaintance about me, myself. In quickly reading through it I was initially more concerned with presentation rather than meaning - does this say something very deep about me - and I was anxious to check to make sure there were no words which I might find difficult to pronounce. Near the end I found reference to the word "lyptechare". Searching for context I re-read the short sentence which said "In short, he is nothing but a lyptechare". My focus of attention now shifted from how the word might be pronounced to what it might mean. What was I being accused of by this one-time friend of mine? I immediately sought out a dictionary and looked the word up. When I eventually found the page it was on, Amy jumped on the bed and woke me up.

It was such a powerful dream that I immediately found some paper and wrote the word down. The dream may have been gone for ever but at least I could still investigate the message. What was being said about my character and personality? What critique of my life was contained in that short sentence? I grabbed the dictionary and quickly thumbed through it looking for "lyptechare". Nothing. Perhaps I had wrongly transcribed it. I tried various different spellings .... liptechar, lyptochare, etc. Nothing. I Googled it to see if it might be a foreign word or phrase. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

I am therefore caught in this dreadful dilemma. I know what I am. I know how history will judge me. The one thing you can say about Alan Burnett is that he was nothing but a lyptechare. But what does it mean?

Monday, January 28, 2008

French Me A Fry

I was walking the dog the other morning and listening to Diana Krall singing "Peel Me A Grape". It had been a long time since I had heard the song and I suddenly remembered how spectacularly good the lyrics were. If you are not familiar with the song, here is a snippet :

Pop me a cork, french me a fry
Crack me a nut, bring a bowl full of bon-bons
Chill me some wine, keep standing by
Just entertain me, champagne me
Show me you love me, kid glove me
Best way to cheer me, cashmere me
I'm getting hungry, peel me grape.

I had a feeling that I knew who had written the song just by the feel of the lyrics : the sheer joy of the word-play and the slightly odd-ball direction the song comes from, but as soon as I got home I double-checked. And yes, it is the work of the truly great Dave Frishberg. Frishberg also wrote another of my favourite songs - "My Attorney Bernie" (Blosson Dearie does a splendid version of it) and he also penned the equally brilliant "Quality Time". If you have never discovered his work, check it out.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Flying Monochrome Cycles


There is something about the starkness and the strange idiosyncrasy of the cycle sign that appeals to me in this shot. And it really was as grey and grey as the image suggests. It is just down the road in the Business Park. Where the cycle lane goes to I have no idea.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Still Sober After All These Months


It is now over six months since I embarked on my lonely odyssey to visit, record - and of course, drink at - as many traditional British pubs as I could still find. Conscious of the fact that in an age of smoking bans and cheap supermarket booze, pubs were vanishing faster than Gordon Brown's supporters, I was determined to get around as many as possible before the only choices left were plastic play-pubs and snotty gastro-pubs. Six months on, it is time for an interim report.

The project has changed name and changed objective a good few times during its short lifetime. It started as the "100 P Challenge" (100 pints in 100 different pubs). Soon it morphed into the "100 Px2 Challenge" (100 different pints of beer in 100 different pubs). Then I decided to focus the odyssey on my own county of Yorkshire and it became Great Yorkshire Pubs. Then I got lazy and lost my evangelical fervour. I stopped going out, drank very little, became introspective and grew my toe nails. Sad.

So yesterday I decided to relaunch the project. I dusted down the blog site and set out to blog another Great Yorkshire Pub. I found myself in Bradford so I visited a bar called "Brass". You can get an idea of the place from the photograph above. To find out what I made of it, visit the Great Yorkshire Pubs blogsite.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Swollen But Not Much Stirred

I managed to get down the hill into Brighouse yesterday. The TV news programmes were still doing the "alarm and disaster" thing with stories about people being evacuated from their homes, but it must have been a different Brighouse they were talking about. There was a bit of mud in one of the car parks but that was about it. The river was swollen but well below its retaining banks. It was all a bit disappointing and reminded me a little of Young Albert who was taken to Blackpool by his parents :

"They didn't think much to the ocean;
The waves, they was fiddlin' and small ;
There was no wrecks... nobody drownded';
Fact, nothing to laugh at, at all.

So, after walking around for a bit and taking a few photographs, I took my stick with its horse's head handle and went looking for a zoo.

Panoramio

Often whilst Google Earth browsing (there should be a better verb available for this activity, growsing or something like that) I have been impressed by the embedded photographs available via the Panoramio layer. If you are not familiar with Google Earth (shame on you), this layer gives you access to fairly high quality images which are "rooted" to the actual locations via the Google Earth maps. Thus, as you wander down a country lane in County Kerry, you can click on one of the little blue spots and see a splendid image of the Iveragh Peninsula - or some such joy. Obviously there was some review and selection procedure at work : the images are quality images and there is not the usual selection of headless mothers and cute dogs one normally associates with on-line photo albums.

So in need of a distraction to keep me from filling-in my tax self-assessment form, I went in search of Panoramio. It is now part of the Google Empire, but the site was established by two young Spanish software engineers who wanted to develop a means by which you could file and display images from a geographical perspective. It has now become hugely popular and the system can be used to both store your images and display them to the public via Google Earth. Once you have an account - in the best Google traditions, free to set up - you can store any photographs and - if you so choose - submit them for inclusion as Google Earth Panoramio images.

So I have my account - you can access it via this LINK - and I have a few images already there. We will have to wait and see whether they pass the Google Earth selection process.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Flowers In The Rain


Colours, shapes, movement : flowers in the crematorium grounds lashed by wind and rain.

The Yorkshire Floods And A River Of Snot

A streaming, energy-sapping, spirit-crushing cold has kept me largely indoors for the last 48 hours where I have occupied myself by watching BBC News 24. Two stories dominated the news - the crashing stock market and the flooded streets. The streets in question were in West Yorkshire, indeed they were within a mile or two of where I sat. But I live on the top of a hill and all I could do was to sit up here and watch the water flow away. By mid-afternoon, the television was saying that children were being rescued in Brighouse and houses were being evacuated. The newshound in me dragged me out of my sick-bed and, camera in hand, I set out for Brighouse. But a few hundred yards down the road I began to realise the impossibility of the task : traffic was stacked up as roads were grid-locked. I turned the car and headed home for bed. So no photographs, no first hand reports, no tales of wading through flooded streets. Just a very red nose and a river of snot.

Friday, January 18, 2008

American Billionaire To Take Control of the NHS (Hopefully)

When real-estate mogul Sam Zell became Chief Executive of the American media conglomerate Tribune Co. at the end of last year many anxious employees and curious onlookers wondered what changes would befall the company that controls such newspapers as the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune. After all, the blunt-speaking, jeans and cowboy boot wearing billionaire had little or no experience of the newspaper industry and some feared a combination of Murdoch-type editorial control and blatant asset-stripping. But curiously enough, it does not seem to have worked out that way.

One of the first actions of the new regime has been to publish a new Employee Handbook which sets out corporate core values and workplace rules. During a previous life, I would spend long and painful hours ploughing through such documents within the NHS. As Human Resources departments became more powerful such policies would expand in both coverage and complexity like a field of blooming jellyfish. It is therefore with outright joy that I read about the new employee handbook in an article in yesterday's Washington Post.

You can get an idea from the section marked Company Rules which runs as follows:

"Rule 1 : Use your best judgement.
Rule 2 : See Rule 1
That's it. That is the one hard and fast rule. Unless a serious mistake was made when you were hired, you have pretty good judgement"

Other gems include the following:

"Employee Manual
4.1 : Working at Tribune means accepting a creative, quirky, intelligent, odd, humorous, diverse, opinionated and sometimes annoying atmosphere
4.2 : Working at Tribune means accepting that sometimes you might hear a word that you, personally, might not use. You might experience an attitude that you don't share. You might hear a joke that you might not consider funny. That is because a loose, fun, nonlinear atmosphere is important to the creative process.
4.3 : This should be understood, should not be a surprise and is not considered harassment".

In an introduction to the Handbook, Zell writes that it is "a reminder not to take ourselves too seriously and to have fun". I have only one thing to say to Mr Zell and it is this : "when you've finished sorting out Tribune Co. do you fancy coming over to the UK to take charge of the NHS?"

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Edie And Mother

I remember saying some time ago, in relation to old picture postcards, that it was often the message on the back which was more interesting - and more instructive - than the picture on the front. Sometimes the same is true of old family photographs.

If anyone has ever undertaken the task of sorting, digitising and cataloguing family photographs (and if you haven't done it yet, you should do it now before it is too late), they will know the importance of those scribbled words on the back of a photograph : they are worth their weight in printing ink (if you have recently bought a new ink cartridge for your printer you will appreciate the scale of this claim). If you are the type of person who adds witty subtitles to your everyday snaps - power to your elbow. In a hundred years time someone will no doubt give thanks for your scrawling. The worry is, of course, that as fewer and fewer digital images are actually printed off, there is no canvass for such historical doodlers to perform on.

Anyway, the little photograph reproduced here was small, tatty, scratched and bent. Such imperfections can easily be overcome with the help of Photoshop. The real treasure, however, was the description on the reverse :

"10/8/47 : Edie and Mother. She wanted to get dressed up but we told her it didn't matter for snaps"

The Edie will be Isobel's mother Edith. The mother will be her mother-in-law, Sarah Shaw. The reporter, no doubt, will be Isobel's father Raymond. Small-scale social history at its best.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Discovering An Acquisitive Yardstick

When I was young I had a dream. We all had them - those recurring day-dreams which somehow composed a picture of perfect happiness. Into such a picture would be transposed all those things we longed for : school-free days, summer weather, friends who wanted to be in your gang ... that kind of thing. For me, the two central images would always be a cart and a dog.
I had always longed for a dog with a degree of longing only those who knew the true meaning of impossibility could experience. To my parents, dogs were smelly, flea-ridden, an encumbrance, a pest, an expense and something people living on Oaklands Avenue just did not have. To me a dog would be a perfect companion, loyal and loving. In the clash of these perspectives I knew I could never win. But I could dream.

A "cart" was something that was vary popular amongst my friends in the 1950s. Invariably home-made, such carts consisted of a central wooden spine to which were attached four old pram wheels. A wider board would be attached to the rear of the central spine for the driver to sit on - or during more sporting occasions - lie flat on. Carts were self-propelled, exciting, adventurous, fun and offered a form of childhood transport that could take you to strange lands such as Shibden, Hipperholme and Shelf. To my parents carts were dangerous, silly, dirty and something people living in Oaklands Avenue just did not have. Once again, in the battle of perspectives, it was no contest. Once again I could dream.

Eventually the dream subsided, to be replaced by other, more complex, teenage dreams. But the degree of longing I invested in that childhood picture has remained with me throughout my life as a kind of acquisitive yardstick. Yes, a flat screen telly would be nice - I tell myself as I walk around Dixons - but do I want one as much as I wanted a dog and a cart.

All this came back to me yesterday as I took my dog Amy a walk in the January rain. We turned a corner and there, in front of me was an old broken cart. The wheels were spreadeagled and the wooden spine was broken. But still it sent a thrill down my old spine. I wanted to patch it up, fix the wheels, oil the axles, hitch Amy up to the front and fly home. Send the flat-screen back, trade in the digital camera, pawn the new computer. The boy had his dog and his cart at last.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Digital Digger



Someone has come along and dug a big hole in the Crematorium. I don't know why they have done this - it would seem like a bit of a contradiction in terms. Anyway, it gives me a rare insight into what I am walking over each day. It's kind of fascinating, all those layers of different coloured earth. All of which must have their meaning. Perhaps I should take a sample and send it to JGC (she is an adept digger after all). But it is wet and muddy, so I walk on and hope that the analysis can be undertaken from photographic records.

Catch The Egg

If you try to watch BBC television at the moment, you are beset by constant and annoying announcements which say something like "Missed this programme? Well never mind because you can watch it on your computer using the BBC iPlayer" (which, if you think about it, is a bit like saying "give me a call if you don't get this letter"). They are annoying for several reasons, the main one being that - try as I might - I cannot get the iPlayer to work on my computer. The help page suggests that the problem is a conflict with my Norton Ant-Virus, but I have followed all the instructions on how to overcome this, none of which have had the slightest effect. In so doing, I have scripted my Norton to allow cookies, pop-ups, and tins of sardines from bbc.co.uk. I have given free rein to everyone from the Director-General to the BBC lift operator to wander around the inner-sanctums of my hard drive. But still all I get is an annoying grey screen.

The maddening thing is that the BBC has been concentrating on the development of their blasted iPlayer at the expense of almost everything else. Their podcasts are still disappointingly few and far between - although now you can catch up with what is happening in Ambridge whilst you walk the concrete urban sidewalks. They also seem to have adopted a path-of-least resistance in relation to the copyright problems that surround the new media. Why, for example, can't you "listed again" to Desert Island Disks - "for rights reasons" - whilst you can "listen again" to any number of Radio 2 programmes? And what is the point in turning a programme like Jazz Library into a podcast when you limit yourself to playing a 30 second bite (more like a sound bit) from each of the records discussed? It's like the audio equivalent of a prick-teaser.

Most annoying of all, why does the BBC limit the availability of its back-catalogue of radio programmes to just 7 days? If I can turn on my Cable TV station and access "television on demand" why can't I access "radio on demand"? It can't be storage - you could store a weeks' radio broadcasts in the space it takes to store one Eastenders episode. I apologise for starting the week with a moan but there are good reasons. The current BBC "Book At Bedtime" is a ten-part serialisation of a book by Betty Macdonald called "The Egg and I". I was not familiar with the book and came across it by chance whilst paging through the BBC website. I will not waste time summarising the plot - suffice it to say it is very funny and extremely well written. Go to the BBC website straight away and catch-up with the episodes you might have missed. It started last Monday, so the daft BBC seven-day rule means that you have until this evening to listen to the first episode. Catch it quick - it's worth it.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Over The Top


Amy and I took our walk this morning down by the edge of the woods. There was a freezing fog clinging to the scrub. All of a sudden it put me in mind of what it must have been like in the trenches of the Great War - the half-finished excavations looking for all the world like shell-holes. Luckily, Amy tugged on the lead and brought me back to the twenty-first century.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Curious Case Of The Milliners' Wedding

Irrespective of anything else, this is just a gorgeous photograph. Again it came out of one of those boxes of old photographs which are handed down. There are no firm details as to who the subjects of the photograph are other than a scribbled note in pencil on the back which states "Harry's Father". I must confess that the handwriting looks suspiciously like mine and therefore it appears that at some stage, I half identified the happy couple and then abandoned them to a fate of dust and scratches at the bottom of a old cardboard box. For this I feel guilty and I am therefore determined to make some amends. I need to track down the details and release them to the waiting world. It will be like one of those wedding reports you see in the local paper. The difference will be that it will be a little late in appearing (as it turns out, 108 years late).

The Harry was the clue, for as regular readers of the Blog will know, I had an Uncle Harry. He was married to my fathers' sister and was therefore not a direct blood relative of mine. Luckily, amongst the various documents I have accumulated over the years, I have a copy of his birth certificate. He was born in 1903 and his parents were Abraham Moore and Alice Moore (formally Rotheray). So the chances are that this could be a photograph of Abraham and Alices' wedding. The one problem with this is that they all look a little too affluent . Abraham is listed on the birth certificate as being a "Piece Taker In" which sounds as though it is a run-of-the-mill textile process. Could a Piece Taker In have afforded those magnificent hats or attracted a girl from a family that could. The census records suggest that Alice's father was a "Butter Factor" : once again not likely to be able to afford all those ribbons and bows.

The crowning piece of evidence was in the 1891 census records. By now Alice is 16 and her occupation is listed as being a "Milliner Apprentice". We therefore have a possible solution - the hats were stock in trade, borrowed for the big day from the brides' workplace. Whatever the explanation, it does seem likely that it was the wedding of Abraham and Alice which took place in the Spring of 1900. So, a little late in the day, we can finally publish the picture, and the report :

"The wedding took place on Saturday 23rd April 1900 of Abraham, son of Smith and Margaret Moore of Percy Street, Horton, Bradford and Alice, eldest daughter of Thomas and Lydia Rotheray of Smiddles Lane Bowling, Bradford. The bride wore a dress of starched white silk ....."

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Coming Face To Face With Victor Grayson

Last night I saw Victor Grayson. It was in the upstairs room at Marsden Socialist Club. I was killing a few moments during the Beer Break of the Marsden Jazz Festival Committee Meeting. Victor was doing nothing other than smiling at me from an old photograph on the wall. I'm not sure how our meeting affected him, but for me it made me go home and re-read the very strange and very mysterious story of British socialism's lost leader.

Grayson was born in Liverpool, the son of a carpenter, in 1881. Like many great orators, he had a bad stammer as a child, but overcame this and became active in the nineteenth century trade union and socialist movement. In January 1907 the Colne Valley Branch of the Independent Labour Party - more than likely meeting in the very room in Marsden where his picture now hangs - adopted him as their candidate for the forthcoming elections. The leadership of the Labour Party tried to pressure the local ILP branch to drop their support for his candidacy (there was an informal electoral pact with the Liberal Party) but they refused and against all the odds, Grayson was elected. Politically, he stood on the extreme left wing of the Party and openly preached the need for revolution and the overthrow of capitalism. Angry at their opposition to his candidacy, Grayson refused to join the official Labour Group in Parliament, and sat as an independent socialist. He quickly fell foul of the rules and conventions of Parliament and was removed from the House on several occasions.

However, just as frequently, he removed himself from the House. He attended few debates, preferring to concentrate on lecture tours and increasingly frequent bouts of heavy drinking. Stories of his drunkenness and luxurious lifestyle quickly spread and in the 1910 election he lost his parliamentary seat. In the years that followed, there were episodes of heavy drinking and several attempts to re-launch his political career, all of which failed. He surprised many of his socialist supporters by becoming a ardent supporter of the First World War. In 1915 he left Britain to go to New Zealand, but immediately joined the New Zealand army and returned to the Western Front where, in 1917, he was badly wounded.

After the war he returned to Britain where he became involved in a bitter campaign against the then Prime Minister, David Lloyd George. He claimed to have proof that Lloyd George was involved in selling political honours and the involvement of an MI5 agent, Arthur Maundy Gregory, in this corrupt practice. In September 1920, Grayson was beaten up in The Strand. He claimed that it was an attempt to silence him and stop him naming the "monocled dandy" (Gregory) as a key player in the sale of honours. A few days later he received a telephone call whilst out drinking with friends. He told his friends that he would be back shortly and left them. Later that evening he was seen entering a house down by the River Thames. After that, he was never seen again.

No body was ever discovered, no trial ever took place. But there were rumours and sightings and theories and speculation. Many claim that he was murdered to silence him. Some claim he fled the country and lived under an assumed name in Australia. Nobody knows. What is known, however, is that Gregory continued to have a somewhat shady involvement in British politics (he was one of the people behind the forged Zinoviev Letter that helped defeat the Labour Party in the 1924 election) before finally being imprisoned in 1932 for attempting to sell political honours.

So many aspects of the story have a contemporary feel about them. I would have happily sat down with Grayson for an hour or two and attempted to find out what he knew and why he vanished. But Victor Grayson wasn't talking. He was just looking at me from his spot on the wall in the upstairs committee room. Smiling knowingly.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Let Shape Rule Supreme


I love it when the strong winter sun produces dramatic patches of intense burnt-out white. Colour becomes meaningless and shape rules supreme. This was our walk today.

Monday, January 07, 2008

That's How The Story Ends

Still trying to keep to my challenge of reading a different newspaper every day, today I try a variation on the theme. To test the validity of the claim that "nothing ever changes" I decide to limit myself to a newspaper published on the 7th January 1908 - just 100 hundred years ago. Access to the newspaper is easy thanks to the magnificent Library of Congress "Chronicling America" project which aims to make good quality digital images of newspaper archives available. But, be warned, only follow the link if you are prepared to get sidetracked from what you are supposed to be doing for a day or two.

Limiting myself to just the front page, here is a quick analysis of the stories that made the headlines in the San Francisco Call of the 7th January 1908:

* The start of the second trial of wealthy coal and railroad heir Harry K Thaw for the murder of the New York architect Stanford White. The article contains a sensational description of the opening of the trial - at which Thaw pleads insanity - and the part played by his wife, Evelyn Nesbit. The illustration is of the good lady herself who - it is said - testified on behalf of her husband in return for a divorce and a $1 million settlement.

* A developing row between the US President - Theodore Roosevelt - and the head of the Navy personnel department, Rear Admiral Willard Herbert Brownson. Brownson resigned following the decision by the President to appoint medical officers to be in charge of hospital ships, which was seen as an insult to the US Navy. The headline - "President Puts Navy In Uproar Over Brownson" - has a nice contemporary feel about it.

* The report of an "incident" in which a noted San Francisco capitalist - George Whittell - is accused of pushing the son of the President of Guatemala down a flight of stairs. The dictators' son - D Cabrera - bruised his bottom and his pride and demanded $50,000 in compensation. The incident occurred after Cabrera had been out on the town with Whittell's son and, it would appear - led him into bad ways.

* Other choice bits include a report of how the Navy has decided to encourage its sailors to take exercise and has therefore agreed to pay the bill for a Navy rating's broken jaw which he received in a football game. The re-arrest of a businessman who faces charges or perjury and corruption with regard to the purchase of public land. It appears that he was sentenced to 24 hours in jail but was released at tea-time, his sentence having been halved for "good behaviour"! A competition in which you can win yourself $5 by writing a witty and original answer to the question "why do women kiss when they meet?"

So, there we have it. A political scandel including the President, a sensational murder trial, a society scandel resulting from a drunken night out on the town, a corrupt businessman getting a few hours in jail; ..... very little has changed in 100 years,

One of the great advantages of reading newspapers which are 100 years old is that you know how the story ends. Thaw was convicted or murder and found insane. He spent some time in an asylum but his money bought him a degree of freedom and he went on to commit further crimes before dying, aged 76, in 1947. His partly-fictionalised story forms the basis of the current best-seller "An Interpretation of Murder". Roosevelt survived his row with Rear Admiral Brownson and went on to have a century of stuffed bears named after him. Brownson had two battleships named after him. I have been unable to discover whether Whittell ever paid Cabrera's son the $50,000 in compensation. Cabrera senior - a nasty piece of work by all accounts - went on to rule Guatemala until 1920 when he was forced out of office. Something of an eccentric he tried to get the cult of Minerva adopted as the official religion of Guatemala and built several Temples to Minerva.

It would be quite nice if we knew how the various stories that populate the newspapers of the 7th January 2008 ended. But there again, perhaps we are better off not knowing.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Could Eunice and Leslie Please Contact Me

I got this new Family Tree software package for Christmas. It is all very swish and organised and allows you to attach images to the various records. Thus, in addition to knowing that your Great Aunt Ruth Annie was born in September 1874, you can gaze into her sepia eyes (or you could if you had a photograph of her). Searching for such a photograph I dipped into one of those old cardboard boxes that are a part of most of our households. I couldn't find anything which could possibly have been Ruth Annie, but I did find two photographs of Eunice and Leslie. I know it is Eunice and Leslie because each photograph is signed on the back. One is dedicated to Peggy and the other to Eddy. My problem is that I haven't the slightest idea who Eunice and Leslie are.

From the cut of their jib they look far too posh for my immediate family. Those round eyeglasses give an almost intellectual appearance to Leslie and you can also tell that he is a man used to wearing a tie. As for Eunice, she looks like someone who is unfamiliar with the daily grind of housework. That suspicious cast to her lower face makes me mindful of a Librarian. The "Peggy" of the dedication is most likely my Aunty Annie (always known as Peggy) and I believe that her husband (Harry) had a brother called Eddy. The picture was taken by the Jerome Company of Manchester, if that helps.

So do me a favour Eunice and Leslie if you are out there. Drop me an e-mail and let me know who you are and how come we know you. I can file you away in the correct data set then.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Tale Of A Confiding Young Wife

It is a wet, cold, dark Thursday afternoon and there are a dozen jobs that need doing. But yet I find myself browsing through the on-line archives of the Liverpool Daily Post and, at random, reading the edition for Saturday August 7th 1897. I was always of the opinion that the best way to teach history is to give someone an old newspaper. A good newspaper reflects not only the great and the good of the history books but also the daily triumphs and disasters of ordinary people. I don't know why the following article appealed to me, it was just interesting. And for that reason I reproduce it here.

Fortune-Telling At Knowsley
A Confiding Young Wife
At Woolton Petty Sessions yesterday, before Mssrs James Marsh and Holbrook Gaskell, an interesting case of fortune-telling was heard. Mary Boswell, a typical daughter of the picturesque Romany race, was charged with having told fortunes at Knowsley on July 19th.
Marion Jane Airey, a young married woman living in Knowsley, said that the prisoner called at her home on the date named and on two other occasions, and asked her to purchase articles of lace or fancy work. The prisoner also offered to tell witness her fortune and the latter gave her altogether 3s 6d. While in the house the prisoner picked up a dress skirt, several antimacassars, and some chinaware, which she coolly appropriated. She also asked if witness had any gold, saying that her palm should really be crossed with that precious metal in order to tell her destiny properly. Witness, however, had no gold and consequently gave none.
Mr. Riley, who appeared for the prisoner, cross-examined Mrs Airey at considerable length with a view to showing that she gave the Gypsy the articles mentioned voluntarily. Witness admitted that she did not really believe prisoner's power to tell her fortune and she gave the money because she asked for it. It was not true that she took prisoner into her confidence about her troubles, though she offered her a cup of tea. It was understood that the things which the prisoner took were to be returned. She has since got some of them back, but not all.
The Chairman : She is not summoned for taking these things but for fortune-telling. (To witness : Did she tell you her fortune?)
Witness : Yes.
Mr Holbrook Gaskell : She evidently didn't know her own fortune (laughter).
Mr Riley : She advised you not to get into debt without your husband's knowledge?
Witness : Yes, of course.
Mr Riley : And gave you much good advice, I dare say?
For the defence, Mr Riley said the prisoner belonged to one of the principal Gypsy tribes, and had never before been prosecuted. She went to Mrs Airey's house simply in order to sell her wares, and it was at witnesses own request that she told her fortune. The things which prisoner took had been returned and he asked that she might be dealt with under the First Offenders Act.
The magistrates, after retiring to consider their decision, sentenced the prisoner to fourteen days' imprisonment, declining to entertain the suggestion that the punishment should be a pecuniary one."

You could teach an entire term's social history course based on that press cutting alone. At least, you can avoid a little bit of work by reading it.

A Pint Of Beer And A Chickpea Salad

Determined to start the year with a good news story I trawled the Internet until I netted this little beauty from a splendid publication called Earthtimes.org. It relates to a German study undertaken by the Technical University of Munich which indicates that xanthohumol - a a natural constituent of hops - can help to kill breast, colon, ovarian and prostate cancer. Tempted as I am to put pen to digital paper and send off a request to the Chief Medical Officer calling on him to replace current alcohol guidelines, I hesitate. I should know by now, official health advice is fad and fancy driven rather than research driven. Take for example junk food.

On the 1st January 2008 new rules came into force in the UK banning the advertising of so-called "junk food" during television programmes likely to be watched by children under the age of 16. There are several problems with this nonsensical rule. First, the definition of "junk food" is based on the breathtakingly complex, but scientifically unproven, Food Standards Agency Nutrient Profiling Model. According to this model, cheese is classified as a "junk food". Indeed, if you apply the models' principles to breast milk it must also be classified as junk food. Secondly, the belief that the problem of obesity can be countered by pretending that fish and chips and bacon sandwiches don't exist, would seem to be replacing free and informed choice with a kind of Orwellian smokescreen. "Don't mention the waffle" will become the order of the day.

One almost longs for the idiots in charge of such initiatives to have the courage of their strange convictions and go all the way and ban those things they do not like. At least that would have a kind of puritanical honesty about it. Fish and chip shops could be closed by law. Burger bars could be limited to the half-lit back streets of foreign cities. The carrot would be king and we could all pretend we were happy. Would I be allowed to still sip my cancer-busting pint of best bitter whilst a nibbled a chickpea salad? I doubt it.

I am afraid that my attempts to start the new year in an optimistic way have failed. In case it helps I will leave you with the "nutritional advisory label" from a splendid chocolate pudding that was enjoyed in this household over Christmas. But don't tell the food police.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

In With The New

All New Years' Eve parties should involve friends and family. So we started at a family party which meant that we were amongst friends as well as family. And then - as midnight approached - we moved on to the Rock Tavern to see the New Year in with our friends there (and they also included a good number of family members as well). The first picture shows a curious game in progress, the rules of which I am still unsure about.

The second picture was taken this morning as I came back from collecting Xan from some all-night party or another. The mist was still clinging to the sides of the valley. But the Calder Valley line - at the cutting above Salterhebble Hill - cuts through all that mellowness.