Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Christmas Card To Gladys and Albert

It's Christmas and I have just delivered a sack full of cards to the postbox. But the best Christmas cards are the ones you can't send. This is a card to my parents, both now dead. Happy Christmas.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Whatever Happened To Robinson Thickpenny?

The picture is of my maternal grandmother, Kate Kellam. All we have ever know about her is that she was a barmaid in Keighley in the early years of the twentieth century when she caught the eye of my grandfather, Albert Beanland. As far as my mother knew she was Welsh and left home in somewhat difficult circumstances and was adopted by a Keighley landlord. Her father died and her mother - my great-gradmother - got married again to someone called Robinson Thickpenny. An unlikely name, I know: like a character out of a Dickens novel. But did he exist, and what was the story behind my grandmothers' flight to asylum in Keighley?
My current project has therefore been to track down the Kellam family and discover how the unlikely sounding Robinson Thickpenny came into the story. So far I have discovered that Kate was born in 1877, the daughter of Albert Kellam and Catherine Moody. Albert was born in Hereford and in 1891 he was living in Penarth, Wales with his wife - who was born in Plymouth, Devon - and his two daughters Mary Ann and Kate (my grandmother). Albert was a grocer and, for our family, must have been quite well off at the time as he is listed as having two servant. Albert and Catherine seem to have moved around the country quite a bit : they were married in Hartlepool (where Mary Ann their eldest daughter was born), whilst Kate was born in Rutland. So my grandmother was not Welsh, but was born in the very smallest of English counties.
The wonderful thing about census records is that they provide a snapshot at a moment in time. Thus the 1891 census provides this snapshot of a classic Victorian lower middle class family : Albert 38, Catherine 36, Mary Ann 16 and Kate 14. But by the end of the year the picture has radically changed. Albert Kellam was dead and the family home seems to have broken up. The next time we catch a glimpse of them is in 1894 when Catherine re-marries in Bramley. West Yorkshire. Her husband was John Robinson Thickpenny. J Robinson Thickpenny was born in Louth, Lincolnshire in 1861. By 1894 he is in West Yorkshire marrying Catherine and in 1901 the pair of them are living in Middlesborough, but without Mary Ann and Kate. He is listed as being a stone mason in the 1901 census (where he is wrongly recorded as being called J. Robinson Thickpeuny). By 1909, he too - like Albert Kellam before him - is dead. His death is recorded in St Marylebone, London.
So what's the story? Why did Catherine move around the country so much and why did she keep losing husbands. Where did J. Robinson Thickpenny come from ... and where did he go to.  I will try and find out the real story. If I can't, I think I just might make one up.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Uncle John

I have written about my Uncle John before (see The Battle of Aisne And Data Security), but finding an old photograph of him I am drawn to return to the subject. This photograph must have been taken sometime in the 1920s (he was born in 1899) and it shows John Arthur Burnett (Uncle John) on the left and an unknown man on the right. I have tried selectively enlarging elements of the photograph to get clues as to the exact date or the location, but with no success
I guess it was taken in Bradford, for that is where John lived for almost all his life. I remember him well, a larger than life, solid Yorkshire man. He once took me to watch Bradford Park Avenue play Halifax Town and fed me with boiled sweets throughout the match. His life and mine - connected by our shared memories - span the centuries in a way that is almost beyond belief. He was born in the nineteenth century, fought in the First World War, drove ancient wagons during the 1920s, fed boiled sweets to his young nephew in the 1950s. And here he is - in the twenty first century - on the web. 

Friday, December 12, 2008

It's 4.3170 In The Morning

As I write this it is 4.3170 according to the new decimal clock I have just installed onto my Google Sidebar. I have always been fond of decimal time and I have never understood why there has never been a more active campaign to get it adopted. The idea of dividing each day up into ten decimal hours each of which is made up of 100 decimal minutes subdivided into 100 decimal seconds is one of the finest ideas to come out of the French Revolution. Why we were so keen to adopt - long after the revolutionary ardour had faded - the ideas for decimal measurements, paper banknotes and all the rest, but leave the idea of decimal time in the coal cellar of history is beyond me. Decimal time is easier to understand, much simpler to calculate and much less confusing (there are no silly AM's and PM's on the decimal clock). It has the advantage that time seems to go at a more leisurely rate and its adoption would almost immediately lead to a slowing in the frenetic pace of modern life. As each decimal minute equates to about 1.5 old style minutes, tea breaks become longer, as does Chopin's Minute Waltz. 
My attempts to construct a decimal clock twenty or thirty years ago got nowhere because of my lack of technical skills (and I am the grandson of a clock-repairer so I should be ashamed of myself). However, now you can download decimal clocks onto your computer display and share the beauties of this most logical system of timekeeping. If you have a Google Sidebar you can attach a decimal clock to it, if you haven't you can view one by visiting the decimal time website
Back in the far distant days of licensing hours, I always used to say that the biggest advantage of decimal time was that it never got passed 10-o-clock and therefore it was never closing time. The Government has removed this advantage by allowing pubs to stay open as long as they want. But decimal time has still got its advantages. It is now 4.4172. It has taken precisely 10.02 decimal minutes to write this posting.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Salle De La Conference

Sometimes it seems as if you spend the first two thirds of your life acquiring things and the last third sorting through them and disposing of them. If this is the case, I suspect I have just crossed over the threshold of the Third Stage. I remember my parents, towards the end of their lives, seemed to be driven by a need to rid themselves of practically all material possessions, driven not by a desire to prepare their spirits for life ever-after but by a good, old-fashioned Yorkshire desire not to leave a mess for their children to clear up. I am pleased to say that I have not, as yet, progressed that far. I am still at the stage where I wish to leave a collection of neatly labelled filing cabinets to the Young Lad when my time comes.
Anyway, yesterday I was continuing the "Big Tidy" when I came across a group of three old postcards I must have bought thirty or forty years ago. One of them in particular caught my attention and it is reproduced above. It is headed "Conference of Locarno, 5-16th October 1925" and the main photograph shows the conference delegates seated around the table. Down the left-hand side is a list of the most important participants including the Foreign Secretaries of Britain, France and Germany: Austin Chamberlain, Aristide Briande, and Gustav Stresemann. There is no message on the back of the postcard, it is simply stamped "Salle De La Conference". What is perhaps most interesting about the postcard is that it contains what appears to be the autographs of all the participants.
Now I am sure that these are not the actual original autographs - such a document would be worth a small fortune - merely a print of an autographed photograph - but still it would appear to be quite rare. I have done a search of a number of vintage postcard sites and found no other copy of the card. The Locarno Conference itself is comprehensively covered (see, for example the UN's 75th Anniversary Exhibition) as it represented an important stage in inter-war European political developments. In 1925 Europe was at a crossroads, the Treaty of Versailles had failed to deliver a peaceful continent but men like Briande and Stresemann were a powerful symbol of hope for the future. The various treaties signed in October 1925 in Locarno just might lead towards a peaceful path for the continent, that must have been the feeling of a majority of those men sat around the conference table as they smiled into the camera. The majority, but, I suspect, no all. Look carefully and you will spot Benito Mussolini representing a growing band of people who had a very different future for Europe in mind.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Great Expectations

As someone who once was a Senior Lecturer in Management Studies I have to confess that I have always had grave doubts about the intellectual foundations of the subject. This is even more the case when an adjective is added to the term "management". More recently, I was - for a time - a member of a Risk Management Committee and this experience merely underlined my belief that when you see the term "management" you should reach for your AK47. 
I was therefore intrigued to discover, in a recent American Radio News broadcast, the latest field of management studies: Expectation Management. Expectation Management is a field which - according to last night's MSNBC News - the Obama Transition Team are studying very carefully. They are anxious to ensure that people don't have too many expectations of the in-coming Obama Presidential team (this is quite a turn-around from their recent job of ensuring that people had too many expectations of the team). I am still trying to understand what the "science" of Expectation Management involves (the above diagram comes from one of the on-line guides) but I have hopes of a great future for it. 
FOOTNOTE : The Festive Season is just around the corner and thus there will be many calls on my precious time and it may not be possible to post as many entries to this Blog as people have become used to. Also it may be that the postings are not as entertaining or informative as readers have come to expect. Obviously we will try our best but we are faced with very severe conditions, the like of which have not been witnessed for almost eighty years. 

A Postcard From Alexandria

I always thought that Alexandria was in Egypt and therefore it came as a bit of a surprise when I discovered an old postcard from the collection of my Great Uncle Fowler. The subject of the photograph is quite clearly, the Fountain in Alexandria. Equally, the clear evidence is that the postcard was sent in 1907 and is postmarked "Alexandria". However the message is far more in tune with 21st century travel arrangements. "Enjoying myself immensely here for a weekend", JW writes. "Only fault is it is of too short duration". Could people really jet off to Alexandria for the weekend in 1907? 
The trusty Web provides the answer : Alexandria isn't in Egypt, it is in Dunbartonshire. Not only does the excellent Vale Of Leven website provide me with a very readable history of the settlement, it heads this up with a copy of the very photograph which appears on Uncle F's postcard. Situated a few miles south of Loch Lomand, Alexandria is a far more suitable weekend destination for the Edwardian traveller. And what a wonderful destination it must be. According to another internet source, it is the location of a great library (one of the finest in the ancient world) and also a spectacular lighthouse (which, I assume, is rooted in Loch Lomand itself). All this excellent knowledge comes from the internet. What a magnificent thing it is.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Case For Self-Restraint

Oh don't you just dread the phrase "We don't want to tell people how to live their lives, but ...". You know, as sure as bean sprouts are bean sprouts, that somebody is going to tell you how to live your life before the end of the sentence. Today, it is Waltham Forest Council, who have received massive public backing for their plan to stop the opening of fast food shops within 400 metres of educational establishments (See BBC Website : Ban on takeaways 'backed by 93%). Whilst one may welcome the Council's foray into the realms of direct democracy, one has to question the logic behind such a call. According to the Council Leader - the relatively chunky gent who came out with the "we don't want to tell people how to live their lives, but" statement - the reason for the ban is that "residents simply don't have enough choice because of the amount of fast food takeaways." This is an intriguing argument which suggests that the way to provide increased choice is not to provide more options, but to limit the available ones. The reason behind the ban is, of course, to encourage people to live more healthy lifestyles and, whilst one would not want to argue against people being healthy, the logic of the argument is once again, somewhat limited in its application. Excessive consumption of alcohol causes severe health risks, therefore should we ban the sale of alcohol within 400 metres of a domestic house. Winter skiing holidays involve considerable health risks therefore should we perhaps ban travel agents selling them. Of course there is a powerful argument for limiting the availability of some things within our society - weapons, dangerous drugs, off-road SUV's - but elsewhere what is required is a teeny bit of self-restraint. We need a population of citizens who are capable of occasionally walking past a kebab shop without feeling the need to fill their faces. And that will never be achieved by hiding the kebab shop around a corner.

Friday, December 05, 2008

'A Proper Family Christmas' hits Germany

I was amazed when a publisher called Der Club Bertelsmann bought the German rights to A Proper Family Christmas last year. Fancy paying someone to get the whole book translated! Yesterday my author copies of Schone Bescherung arrived. My knowledge of the language is restricted to a couple of 'German for Academics' classes at University because we had a crush on the teacher, so not being sure exactly what the title meant, I asked Google to 'translate this page', and it came up with the rather surprising 'War on Business'. However other friends have suggested something more like 'Pleasant time for Christmas Gift-Giving' , or even 'Here's a how to do' or 'Another fine mess'. The German language is obviously very adaptable.
Meanwhile I've had two lovely reviews for the English version, which AB has given me permission to boast about. Michelle of The Book Club Forum said: "Jane has created a great mix of personalities...There’s a wonderful, warm humour running through, with plenty of lines that brought a smile to my face. It’s a story that can be enjoyed at any time of the year, but is just perfect in the approach to Christmas." While Karen of the Cornflower Blog said: "I haven't met Jane, but from her writing I would judge that she is a very warm and funny person, and someone who is jolly good to know. That's what her book is like - it's cosy and comfy (in the nicest sense), it exudes good humour, it makes you laugh, and I can see it dramatised as a Brian Rix farce type of thing because it's great light entertainment. " As you can imagine, I was absolutely thrilled by both of these, though being a 'glass half full' person, my first thought was "Help, I can never do it again!"

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Let's All Bookmark

Bookmarking is such fun! Isn't it? For months now I have been a keen user of Delicious to bookmark my press cuttings (you can check out my bookmarks on my Delicious page) and now I have found a similar service for bookmarking photographs. Called vi.sualize.us, it works in a similar way to Delicious and allows you to bookmark both your own photographs and third-party photographs you happen to like (again, you can check out my bookmarks on my Visualize page). Of course, the critical problem with all this bookmarking is that it is unlikely that anyone else would be remotely interested in what you are reading or what photographs you are looking at. But if you follow this argument through to its logical conclusion, why should anyone else be interested in your thoughts. And therefore why blog? Why, indeed.

Warning Of Severe Weather Warning

We are becoming obsessed with the weather (or rather, even more obsessed with the weather). For the last 24 hours the television has contained little else than Severe Weather Warning after Severe Weather Warning. It appears that we were due for some wintry weather, which is not all that surprising seeing that it is winter. Dozens of local schools have closed their doors in anticipation of the snowdrifts and people have taken the day of work ... just in case. One forecast went as far as to say that the snow could be "up to 2 cms thick"! In fact, this forecast was quite accurate. In the hour or so that it snowed overnight, it must have built up to just about 2 cms, before the rain came and washed it all away.
It is not that the forecasts are wrong, it is the interpretation of them and the over-use of "Severe Weather Warnings". I suspect that the BBC and the Met Office came in for such criticism during some recent climate crisis (they failed to accurately predict the floods or some such thing) that they have called in the risk managers to supervise their issuing of warnings. This brings into play the inherent risks of the so-called science of risk-management : basically it is simply nonsense. Normally two factors are taken - likelihood and potential impact - and a simple numerical score given to each. These two numbers are multiplied together to give a final score and if this is above a certain level a warning is issued.  In the current case, heavy snow falls could cause massive problems (scores high) and it might just happen if a whole series of factors fall into place and the obligatory butterfly flaps its wings in China (score it medium). Hay Presto, let's issue a warning.
So schools close, shops shut their doors, my wife fills her car with spades and pickaxes, and Amy the dog goes in search of some Wellington boots. And what do we get? We get something akin to a dusting of icing sugar on a cheap supermarket cake. Call that snow!  Now when I was young ....