Monday, March 31, 2008

The Day The Quack Doctor Came To Town

Today I decided to write a short book (what Sherlock Holmes would have referred to as a Monograph) about the history of the inns and taverns of Brighouse and district. As far as I know it has never been done and it certainly needs doing before the last local pubs vanish for ever. It is the kind of scheme even I should be capable of both initiating and bringing to fruition. All it needs is a little application, a fair bit of research and a measure of determination. So down I went to the local library to start the research. And that is where I met my Waterloo.

I was browsing through R Mitchell's 1953 book "Brighouse : Portrait of a Town" looking for references to the origin of various Brighouse pubs when I came across a table entitled "Trades and Occupations in 1822". This shows the various trades followed by the inhabitants of not only Brighouse, but the surrounding villages of Clifton, Lightcliffe, Hipperholme, Rastrick and Southowram.


Now the thing I should have been noting was the comparatively small number of licensed victuallers in Brighouse (4) compared to some of the surrounding villages such as Rastrick (9) and Southowram (10). What I should have been asking myself were the two central questions : which were the four pubs of Brighouse in 1822, and why were there so few in what was the central town of the district? But all I could do was ask myself the question "what on earth is a Quack Doctor"? When I got home, instead of writing up my notes on some of the pubs I researched I went in search of a history of quackery on the web. I always thought of it as a term of abuse for a fraudster without medical qualifications, but here it seems to be used in a less prejudicial sense. I still haven't found a satisfactory explanation for the term being used in an official listing of trades, but I will continue to search until I find an answer or ....

Or, if I am honest, until I find another fascinating but unrelated question to ask myself. Then I will forget the Brighouse Quack and go chasing after some other mirage. Which is why I never managed to write the "Lives Of The Great Brewers" or any of the other wonderful books I have dreamt up. And it is why, most likely, the history of the great inns and taverns of Brighouse and District will forever go unrecorded.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Throwing Myself On The PC Bandwagon

I don't normally join campaigns. Whilst I did lend my support to the campaign to ban plastic carrier bags, I am normally happier to launch my own campaigns rather than join someone else's. Who, for example, can forget my campaign to fit modesty lids on waste bottle boxes, or my bid to get the Staunton and Stanley Ferro-concrete part-clad lamp-post on Bradley Road declared an endangered species. However, every so often a public campaign comes along - a campaign so close to the heart, a campaign so essentially right in every sense - that I can't stop myself leaping onto the band-wagon. And this weekend I have enthusiastically thrown myself onto the PC band-wagon.

It all started with an article by James Meek in yesterday's
Guardian on the glories of the British postcard. "In our age of privacy, the postcard is an endangered, subversive species", declares the title. I am hooked. Here is a philosophy that, in one fell swoop, links my intense dislike of the twenty-first century fad of middle-class privacy with my love of old picture postcards. I have not felt so excited, so motivated, since I read Frederich Engel's "Condition of the Working Class in England. I want to reach for my banner and marching boots, but instead I reach for my pen.

The actual campaign to save the Great British Postcard has been launched by Coast Magazine as a means of supporting the British seaside economy. But in his article, James Meek, rightly identifies a whole series of other reasons to celebrate the "union of card, stamp, pen address, message and postbox". There is a pleasure in seeking out an appropriate picture postcard to suit the recipient, or the intended message, or both. There is a joy in having to take time over the very physical act of sending a card which, compared to an e-mail or a text, represents a major investment of time. There is the satisfaction in knowing that you will give the postman something to read as he pounds the pavements. And there is the possibility that you might have created something which will be left at the back of a dusty drawer or the bottom of old filing cabinet to be re-discovered fifty years later. The postcard is a lasting public statement, a ticking literate time-bomb, a thing of beauty.

I am resolved to send off a postcard immediately. The nearest blank postcard to hand is a picture of Manchester Central Library. Libraries mean books and books, to me, mean my good friend Dave Hornby (the infamous dph of mythology). In future I will send off a postcard each week. It could be to anyone of my acquaintance, so be warned. If anyone is moved to respond in a similar fashion ... be my guest. Together we could start a PC revolution.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Spring Cleaning


If you are wondering why there hasn't been many posts for the last few days, it is because I have been Spring Cleaning. Before the rest of the family gets too excited and imagines that I am - at last - turning my hand to honest housework, let me stress that this is digital spring-cleaning ... to my website. So if you have nothing better to do, pay it a visit and admire its new, sleek, sharp lines. Thrill as you re-read old blog postings. Shudder as you admire the breath-taking images in the on-line galleries. Tremble as you browse the latest selected news items. If you like it, tell a friend. If you don't, don't bother telling me, I'd rather not know.

Hanging Out Your Dirty Washing In A Bottle

Amy and I were up early this morning. Up and out. Round the block and down the road. It was a day we had long been looking forward to. It was the day of bottled secrets.

Earlier this year our Council announced new rubbish collection arrangements. The weekly general rubbish collection would, in future, be every fortnight. The recycled bin would also be emptied every fortnight. And once a month the bottle box would be collected : and today's the day. Here was an opportunity to peer into the drinking secrets of my neighbours, a chance to sort out the wine drinking boys from the whisky-sloshing men, a prospect to discover an answer to that age-old question : "Does anyone in their right mind actually drink bottled water?".

I went about the research with an energy and determination my grandfather Enoch - an occasional leader of the Great Horton temperance movement - would have been proud of. Armed with my camera and reporters' notebook, my trusty dog and myself walked up the road, down the avenue and along the drive and examined people's bottle boxes with the attention to detail of a Government Inspector. And what secrets there were waiting to be discovered : lives laid bare, curtains thrown open.

That little old widow lady up on the main road, all prim and proper : as far as I can tell, she is single-handedly keeping Gordon's Gin in business. That young couple who walk their dog each morning and - if the evidence is to be believed - down at least jeroboam of Cabernet Sauvignon each night. That family up the top of the Avenue who must have misunderstood the concept of recommended units of alcohol (let me stress that one unit equals half a pint of beer and NOT half a pint of Old Fettercairn Single Malt). And as for Mrs Whats-her-name up by the Crem, what on earth does she do with all those bottles of vinegar?

At a time when people are concerned about personal information being made widely available, the introduction of open bottle boxes is nothing short of a national scandal. The Government seems determined to shame us into accepting its latest food and drink fetish. Making people hang out their dirty washing in a bottle via these awful plastic bins is yet another attack on our personal liberty. Within the next few days I will be launching a campaign to introduce "modesty curtains" which can be draped over the tops of the bottle boxes to protect our right to privacy. In the meantime, I suggest that people adopt a restrained approach to what bottles they show to the world. As you can see from the picture, I threw all my whisky bottles in the general bin and displayed just a select few continental beer bottles.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Storms Of Merced County

I was browsing through the Metro section of the San Francisco Chronicle - the way one does when it's a Bank Holiday and there are no Jeremy Kyle re-runs on ITV2 - when I came across an article with the catchy title "Foreclosure Prevention Fair Big Draw in Merced". I think it says something quite profound and therefore it is worth sharing.

Merced is a small city in Northern California, part of the San Joaquin Valley which is reputed to be the world's most fertile farm region. And yet, this rich promised land has been left scarred by the on-going sub-prime mortgage crisis which is gripping America. The article starts :

"An overflow crowd piled into the Merced Civic Center, spilling out of the main auditorium, into the halls and down the stairs. Some brought babies, others elderly parents. Everyone brought their paperwork - the sum of their financial lives and wreckage of their American Dream. A foreclosure prevention fair on a brilliant Saturday afternoon was the place of choice for more than 200 people in Merced, a city of 65,000 best known as the gateway to Yosemite National Park".

The scale of the crisis can be seen by what has already happened in the neighbouring city of Los Banos where 5% of the city's 10,000 homes have already been foreclosed (i.e re-possessed by the mortgage company for arrears in mortgage payments) and an additional 5% are expected to foreclose in the coming months. The foreclosures reflect the worsening economic situation in Merced County where the unemployment rate climbed to 13.3% in January and housing prices have fallen by between 30% and 50% during the last year.

The causes of the crisis are, of course, multi-faceted but you can get an idea by the part played by a combination of naive and hapless investors and criminally greedy financial institutions by the following extract from the article.
""We're three payments behind, which they told us here is not that terrible," said Elizabeth Gomez. "If we can't hold on, we're lost." Most families had similar woes. One couple said the same broker who had written their loan in 2005 refused to take their calls. He had promised them he would help them refinance to a 30-year fixed rate when the teaser rate of 2 percent expired. Their mortgage on a $300,000 house mushroomed from about $900 to over $2,000".

During the last few weeks I have noticed that conversations around the dinner table and in the public bar have increasingly turned to the state of the UK economy. More and more people are recognising that very difficult times are ahead. But in this country it is still mostly expectation rather than reality. We watch for the first real signs of the coming economic storm in the same way that we watch for weather patterns crossing the Atlantic. In the ever-sunny Merced County, however, the storm has already broken out.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Dreaming Of A Crypto Peerless O'Matic Pie Moulder

There is something vaguely exciting about receiving an e-mail that wasn't intended for you. It appeals to the voyeur in all of us: it is the Internet equivalent of having a good long look through the uncurtained windows of the people up the road. I know that most commercial e-mails always have a paragraph which says something like "This e-mail and its contents are only intended to be read by the person in the address. If you have been sent this e-mail by mistake, do not read it and return it immediately to ....", but seeing as this paragraph is always at the end of the e-mail, I have never been too sure about how to proceed.

Anyway, last night I received an e-mail inviting me to an Auction Sale of the equipment of a commercial bakers which is taking place in Inverurie, Scotland next Wednesday. Minutes later, I received a second e-mail from the same source, sending me a copy of the auction catalogue. As I have never, in my long and varied life, been a baker (although I have got something of a reputation for my Yorkshire Puddings), nor have I ever been known to collect second-hand catering equipment, I assumed that the e-mails had been sent in error. But I couldn't help myself, I just had to print that catalogue and pore over it with all the enthusiasm of a dozen bakers.

Let your imagination loose and join me as I wander through the lots. At the very head of the sale (Lot No. 1) is a boardroom table complete with ten meeting chairs. Is this where the flour-encrusted senior managers sat as they watched their firm descend towards illiquidity? Does Lot 66 (contents of female locker room) give us a clue as to the speed of the eventual collapse of the enterprise? Amy (my Wheaten Terrier) expressed a passing interest in Lot 119 (Rollover hot dog dispenser) whilst I must admit I was intrigued by Lot 124 (Champion Seven Potato Rumbler). Imagine how much your life would be enriched by the possession of Lot 167 (Deighton Spreadmatic Automatic Buttering Machine) whilst you ponder the astrophysical potential of Lot 238 (Hobart AE200 Bench Planetary Mixer). Everything must go in this sale, even Lot 337 (Quantity of fridge doors) and Lot 434 (Syspal four station boot washer). Tears came to my eyes when I read of the disposal of Lot 407 (Butcher Boy, floor standing) : will nobody give the poor lad a job? But the one thing that really caught my fancy, the one thing I am really tempted to head up the motorway to make a bid for, was Lot 293 - Crypto Peerless O'Matic Six Station Pie Moulder.

Oh how I long for one. I could find it space in my room. I could look at it, polish it, talk to it. People would say to me "what's that?" and I could reply with pride that it was a genuine Crypto Peerless O'Matic. Not the cheap - and I have always though somewhat flimsy - two station model but a genuine six station model. The Mona Lisa of the pie-making world.

As I drifted to sleep last night, my thoughts were torn between lusting after the sleek and shiny machine and the practicalities of how I could get it back from Inverurie.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Going Soft ... on the Toilet Paper

It was back in 1973 that I last went to Keele University. That is, until yesterday. 35 years ago I had just finished a degree course at Keele. Leaving behind the university campus that had been my home for the previous four years, I caught a train to London - where I, somewhat bizarrely, took up a job as the Committee Clerk of the London Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE) - and never returned. Until yesterday.

Yesterday, Alexander had the last of his four interviews for Medical School, and it was at Keele. I happily volunteered my services as chauffeur in order to have a good excuse to go back. By ensuring that we got there a good two Alberts before his allocated interview time (I inherited an obsession with pre-punctuality from my father, and the time periods for me arriving in advanced of an appointment are known as "Alberts" in recognition of the fact), I had time to explore my old haunts and reflect on how the life of a student had changed in 35 years.

There are, of course, a number of structural, physical changes. It's bigger than it used to be and now has gleaming glass and concrete "innovation incubators" where sheep used to graze. What isn't given over to the cutting edge of venture capitalism is giving over to car parks so that the venture capitalists have somewhere to park their sports cars. The heart of the old campus, with its Student Union building and University Library, looks a bit like most hearts do after fifty years : tattered and tired. There seems to be less spirit, less sensual joy, less belief that you can change the world : but perhaps that is just me being an old fart. Keele Hall (first picture) used to be a central part of the campus. We would eat meals there, have tutorials there, and, on at least one occasion, occupy there. Now it looks like it is reserved for short external courses and corporate seminars. Nobody seems to have occupied it for many a year.

I tried to visit my old room (Lindsay H Block 4) but I couldn't get through the security doors so I had to gaze up at from outside. Did I really spend four years of my life in that small room? The Astronomy block is tatty, the Chancellor's Building is small. It is all a bit sad. Killing time and waiting for Xan to emerge from his interview, I picked up a copy of the Student Union Newspaper. There had just been elections for the new SU President and Vice Presidents. I read their short manifestos. One had promised to have a greater selection of food in the Union Cafe. One wanted GLAB's (whatever they may be) to be more involved in running the Union. One chap had been elected Vice President based only on the promise to try and get the University to have softer toilet paper in the Halls of Residence. As far as I could make out, this statement was presented without even a hint of irony.

But maybe this generation is right. We never managed to change the world. Perhaps they will manage to change the toilet paper.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Times They Are A' Fading

As I think I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I am searching my old negatives to see if I have any pictures of Brighouse Gas Works. I have been approached by someone who is creating a computerised model of Brighouse Canal Basin in the 1920s, and the old gasworks is the missing piece of the jig-saw.

Today I found some negatives of photos I took in Brighouse in the early 1960s and there is one which catches the gasometer, if not the gasworks themselves. But what struck me more than anything, was the poor state of my negatives after 40 years. They are fading and degenerating into mushy obscurity, which is sad. My resolution to press on with the task of digitising them has run up against a problem : my old negative scanner has died the death. It is possible to scan negatives using an ordinary scanner but it is difficult to achieve the quality you need if you are attempting to get a decent-sized positive out of the process.

Even with a bit of re-touching the results still look like something out of an old history book. This is a frightening discovery as they were taken by me, not by some nineteenth century photographer. The above photograph comes from this Brighouse series and is of the Anchor Inn. Whilst the building still exists and is still a pub (or at least it still was last week but things are a bit fluid in the pub business) it has now changed its name to the Bridge. Back in the 60s, the Anchor was a famous jazz venue where I heard some of my first live jazz. Both the venue and the man who made it famous - Rod Marshall - are covered at length in the JazzCat Blog operated by my friend Ben Crosland.

Looking at this scratched and faded old photograph I realise that it is me and my negatives which are getting old. For the negatives, I intend to go out in search of a new negative scanner so I can return them to their former glory. But for me ...... there is little hope.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Match King Snuffed Out

Reading my morning copy of The Daily Perspective (no, I am not being paid by NewspaperArchives.com to advertise this service, but now I mention it, a free subscription would come in handy), I see that 76 years ago today, Ivar Kreuger - the Swedish Match King - shot himself dead in his Paris apartment. This reminded me of a story I had read in Jean Monnet's memoirs, so I went in search of it.

Kreuger was one of the wealthiest international capitalists of the interwar period. He was also - surprise, surprise - a bit of a crook. His fortune was built on matches and his International Match Corporation held a virtual monopoly on the production of matches in Europe. He gained his monopoly in an interesting way - he would make large financial loans to European governments in return for a monopoly on supplying matches in that country. His loans were considerable - they ran into hundreds of millions of pounds - and in several cases they helped save national economies from collapse. His actions were not driven by financial gain alone : he had a genuine belief in European unity and was anxious to foster economic co-operation in the inter-war period. As a celebrated international banker, Jean Monnet - who was later to become the architect of the European Union - was often involved in the negotiations between Kreuger and national governments.

The story I had in mind dates back to 1928 when Monnet was acting on behalf of the near-bankrupt Government of Romania in their negotiations with Kreuger for a loan of $100 million. According to Monnet the negotiations were long and drawn out and Kreuger was playing hard to get. Suddenly Kreuger asks for a 5 minute break, went into a corner of the room and, in full view of the exasperated bankers started scribbling on the stiff white cuff of his shirt. He then returned to the bankers and agreed to lend an additional $30 million, sufficient to seal the deal. Later Monnet asked him what he had been doing. Kreuger replied : "I worked out that if I put one less match in each box, I should make out".

All this took place in 1928 of course. A year later came the Great Crash and Kreuger's empire - based on some over-ambitious financial leverage - began to suffer. He managed to avoid a collapse for a time by issuing some dodgy debentures, but these eventually started to come home to roost and Kreuger shot himself. In many ways, Kreuger was built from the same mould as so many other international capitalists - the story of Robert Maxwell springs to mind. But in other ways, Kreuger was a more restrained, more thoughtful character, driven to destruction by his mindless pursuit of an ideal rather than by personal gain. A journalist once asked him the secret behind his success in business. "Silence, more silence, and even more silence", he replied.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

All Blogged Up

It is one of those rare occasions that all my blogs have been recently updated. This may not sound like much to you, but believe me it is a considerable achievement. So, if you are really bored and if you are fed up with watching re-runs of the Jeremy Kyle Show, here are the various links :
DAILY PHOTO BLOG : The blog is currently working its way through photographs taken during my day out in Dewsbury and Wakefield last week. (GO THERE)
GREAT YORKSHIRE PUBS : Read all about Henry Boons in Wakefield. (GO THERE)
FAT DOG TO THE BIG APPLE : Amy and I have just walked from Dutchman's Flat in Northern California (where there are a lot of trees) to Richardson Grove in Northern California (where there are a lot of trees). (GO THERE)

Drunks, Bugs, and Rain : So What's New?

With nothing better to do than to watch BBC News 24, I begin to wonder how far the advent of 24 hour news channels has affected what we see as "news". The question emerges from the dominant news item of the day - the threat of a nasty storm. Endless weather forecasters pore over endless weather maps as clouds are tracked like incoming waves of enemy aircraft. I, like most other people, scan the horizon, with all the obsessive attention of a racing-pigeon owner, looking for the first black, ugly cloud (as you can see from the image, at 11.45 this morning, it still had not arrived). But isn't this merely climatic naval-gazing? Have we always been so obsessed by the daily vagaries of the weather?

The way to test out the theory is to look back at what was seen as news in the days when it was delivered almost exclusively via newsprint. My favourite site of the moment - NewspaperARCHIVE.com - provides a way of carrying out the experiment. I chose the Fitchburg Sentinel of the 11th March 1955 for the purposes of this experiment. This wasn't exactly a random choice - it was merely that I could get free access to the front page via their "Today in History" feature.

In examining the news items which populated the front page of the paper we are not so much interested in the content of the story as in the type of story. My thesis is back in 1955, news was real news and not the mamby-pamby stuff which is churned out by the news channels nowadays. My thesis also states that there will be little mention of the bloody weather, hospital infections, or binge drinking. Well, here is my analysis of the front page:
Story : "Local Protesting Delegation Requests Depot Spa Probe At License Hearing" So with the main article my thesis takes a direct hit as a group of church ministers attempt to tighten the licensing laws and condemn the presence of "drunks in doorways"
Story : "Sir Alexander Fleming, 73, Discoverer Of Penicillin, Dies; Called Achievement 'Luck'" Another mortal blow comes with the second story which is concerned with the fight against hospital infections. The one thing that can be said is that back in 1955 we thought we had infection beat. If only we had known.
Story : "Pittsburgh District Lashed By Winds : N.E. May Be Hard Hit" The thesis looks terminal by now. The article talks about the unusually "viscous storm" and whilst they don't use the phrase "global warming" you can almost get the impression that they are about to invent the concept.
Story : "Ohio River To Crest 9 feet Above Flood Stage" By now I have not only abandoned my thesis but also decided, in future, to leave such speculation to university dons.

So, perhaps things have not changed all that much after all. Plus ca change ... and all that. Having abandoned my academic research I settle down and read the rest of the Fitchburg Sentinel. There's a very interesting article about the dangers of an over-inflated, speculation-driven stock market and warning that America is heading towards financial troubles. Now, where have I heard that before?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Getting Out More



People keep telling me I should get out more. So on Friday I took one of my spare West Yorkshire Day Rover tickets (travel anywhere in West Yorkshire by bus for just £4) and got on the first bus out of Huddersfield Bus Station. It took me to Dewsbury by a route which must have been designed by an overwrought SatNav device. But this is the beauty of this type of travel : you just sit on the top deck of the bus, listen to some good music and look out of the window. It took the bus about an hour to make the seven mile journey, but I saw places I'd never seen before. When I arrived in Dewsbury I took the opportunity to take some photographs (there is a selection on my Daily Photo Blog), and then it was back to Dewsbury Bus Station to repeat the experiment. This time a bus took me to Wakefield and the opportunity to have another good wander around and bag a decent pub for my Great Yorkshire Pub Blog. I took a few more photographs - including the one at the top of this blog of a wondrous door to nowhere which can be found under the bridge which takes the main railway line through the city.

So, as it turns out, people are right : I needed to get out more.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Wandering Around In History.


If you can't find me, if I don't seem to be around, the chances are that once again I am lost in some old newspaper. I know that I have written before about my passion for old newspapers. The chances are that you don't share it, in which case you can skip to the end of this post. Do something interesting and useful like watching TV or playing Space Invaders. But, just in case you are a fellow newspaperphile (there must be a better term for "lover and collector of old newspapers"), then let me share a recently discovered site with you. It is American and it is called NewspaperARCHIVE.com and it does seem to be more than just devoted to high-priced, novel, birthday presents. It is a commercial site and therefore you do need to subscribe if you want access to the full collection of some 2,700 titles and 77 million pages. But there are several free areas and you can subscribe to a free daily newsletter called "The Daily Perspective". This provides a marvelous insight into the historical background to both modern-day events and also important news stories which have hit the headlines on that particular day in previous years. Links to these individual newspaper pages are also free and therefore provide endless scope for just wandering around in history.

As far as I have been able to discover, there is nothing similar covering the UK. There is the British Library Newspaper Collection which is supposed to be moving towards a digital collection but that is so inaccessible it is hardly worth bothering with. There are probably reasons why the British Library see it as their duty to restrict access to the national collection of newspapers, but whatever they are they are not good reasons. There are the numerous websites with names like famousdayinhistory.com which will sell you a fancy photocopy of a newspaper from your birthdate at an inflated price. And there are some individual newspapers which are making their archives available to subscribers, but such projects are still in their early stages.

So until something better is available in this country I spend my spare moments - let's be honest, my spare hours, sometimes entire days - searching through old newspapers with marvelous names like the Fayetteville Democrat and the Appleton Post-Crescent. Some people are only happy when kitted out in hiking boots climbing over the hills and moors of the countryside. Me, I like my slippers and a good glass of beer, a pile of old newspapers and an aimless journey through history.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Thanks For The Dance, Anjani and Leonard

So where have you been, people ask me. A whole week without postings to the blog. My brother contacted me after months of silence, thinking that I was dead. Some have suggested exotic trips abroad, others have diagnosed the long-expected waning of interest in all things blogging. It is, of course, none of these. I've just been busy. But, for the life of me, I can't remember what I have been busy doing.

If pressed I can probably list loads of little things: an exacting client demanding endless changes to the draft of a party invitation, more shopping trips than are either necessary or seemly, a brace of lunch appointments .... but that is hardly a week's worth of spare time. The most likely explanation is the onset of a sudden and extended bout of amnesia. It is not that I have been doing nothing in my usual pig-lazy fashion, it's just that I can't remember what great deeds I have done. I check out the world news sites looking for the most important developments over the last seven days. Was I somehow responsible for these, like some ageing super-hero.

Who turned the polls around for Hilary? It was SuperAl. Who got eight out of ten eleven year olds into the secondary school of their choice? You got it, SuperAl. Who achieved a Parliamentary majority for the Lisbon Treaty? Tell Gordon it was SuperAl.

At least I can account for one day of the missing seven. It was Monday, I think. As I walked Amy in the morning I was listening to a recording of a radio programme on songwriters which was broadcast last week. The particular episode in question dealt with Leonard Cohen. Drawn as I am to anything which deals with the life and work of the Sainted Leonard, I listened avidly to what the Great Man had to say. But it was a disappointing affair : the interviewer was anodyne and the Sainted One was less than engaged in the process. But, the programme did contain a track from the latest project he has been involved in - an album by Anjani Thomas called Blue Alert. I was mesmerised by the track and immediately acquired the rest of it via my Napster subscription. For the rest of the day I did little else other than listed to it : again and again, track by track. It is years since I have done that and there was a kind of pleasure in being carried away by something which was so beautifully balanced and exhilaratingly presented. The lyrics to all ten tracks are by the Sainted One, the music by Anjani. The two go back a long-time : it was Anjani who sang the backing on his 1980s Various Positions album. The songs are unmistakably Leonard's, even the pace of delivery is Cohenesque. The piano is Anjani (who has also quite a reputation as a jazz singer and pianist) and her voice is like distilled spring-water.

One of the great things about the Internet is that you no longer have to just take the word of an old fool like me. You can go to the Sony Music website and watch and listed to two of the tracks from the album (for free). Watch "Thanks for the Dance" and you will probably go out and buy the album. Once you've done that, you will probably lose a day in your life as well.