Saturday, May 30, 2009

Picture of the Day : Fircroft College

I've been scanning my old negatives again. I took this picture of Fircroft College in Birmingham when I was a student there in 1968. These are the gardens I wrote about in the posting "Take A Seat - It Looks Like Bert Was Right". I have just checked the Fircroft College website and they are offering a special course in gardening for the over 55s. Here's one Old Firker who won't be signing up.

Quiz Night : Who sailed the Gypsy Moth?

As we won the Spitfaire Quiz last week, I had to come up with the questions for the quiz this week. Here they are for your entertainment. If you don't come from around these parts you can miss out the third round. I will try and post the answers as a "comment" to this post tomorrow.
ROUND 1 (1) Who sailed yachts called Gypsy Moth?   (2) What is the maximum number of Friday the 13ths possible in one calendar year, including leap years? (3) Which African city is named from the Greek meaning "three towns"? (4) Hirudo medicinalis is the most common what used by doctors? (5) Latvia has borders with four other countries, name them  (6) Who is the only footballer to have played for Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool & Everton? (7) The best film Oscars of 1990 and 1991 were given to films that contain animals in their title, name them (8) In Greek mythology, which nymph pined away until only her voice remained? (9) What is the name of the flag bearing the arms of the British Sovereign, flown only when he or she is present? : BONUS – on what occasions is it flown at half mast? (10) Which now-deceased Hollywood actor served time on chain gang in Georgia after being arrested for vagrancy? 
ROUND 2 (11) What actor, who starred in 130 Robin Hood adventures on TV, died in June 1982? (12) Who said: "When I'm good, I'm very good, but when I'm bad I'm better"? (13) In which city would you find Logan International Airport?  (14) Who wrote "The Old Man and the Sea"?  (15) Who were Benny the Ball, Spook, The Brain, Fancy Fancy, and Choo Choo? (16) Which is the largest land-locked country in the world? (17) Which two countries have been contesting the world’s oldest international cricket match since 1844? (18) Which famous vessel constructed of balsa wood was named after an Inca sun god? (19) Who claimed that “History is bunk”? (20)  What word can go after “kid” and before “kin”?              
ROUND 3 (21)  Which is furthest north, Halifax Yorkshire or Halifax Nova Scotia? (22) What is the name of the canal which passes through Brighouse? BONUS : Within 20 years either way, when was it built? (23) Which famous mill owner who created a village that is now a World Heritage site lived at Crow Nest Mansion near Hipperholme? (24) One of Yorkshire’s most famous writers was James Herriot who wrote the vet books. What was his real name and in which town did he live? (25) Yorkshire used to have a West Riding, North Riding and East Riding. What does “Riding” mean? (26) What was the name of the Brighouse cinema, built in 1899, which was where the Calder Bar now is? (27)  Who is reputed to be buried in the grounds of Kirklees Hall? (28) According to the sixteenth century Beggar’s Litany from where other than Hell and Halifax was the Good Lord asked to deliver us? BONUS : Why? (29) The oldest building in Elland is the Parish Church. The second oldest is a pub – name it. (30) In terms of population size which is the biggest  : Calderdale, Bradford or Kirklees?   
ROUND 4 (31) If you were sailing through the Panama Canal from the Pacific to the Atlantic in which direction would you be travelling? (32) Which national holiday was first celebrated in England in 1974 with the introduction of a Bank Holiday? (33) What was Fletcher’s first name in Porridge?  (34) What is the capital of Venezuela?    (35) In which fictional county is the fictional village of Ambridge?   (36) What was signed and sealed at Runnymeade?   (37) What is the diameter in inches of a basketball hoop? (1 inch either way)  (38) What are the two main ingredients of kedgeree?(39) In the song which river is “wider than a mile”?    (40) What was the name of the sequel to the book “Winnie The Pooh”?       
ROUND 5 (41) Born in Salford, the actress Jane Leeves first appeared on television as a topless angel in an episode of Monty Python. She went on to be nominated for Emmy and Golden Globe awards for her portrayal of which character? (42) With their victory on Wednesday, Barcelona have now won the European Cup three times. But which team has won most European Cup Finals? (43) What colour is Noddy’s hat? (44) What type of rectangle has four equal sides and angles? (45) What title is given to the Chief Executive of the BBC? (46) How many finger holes are there in a tenpin bowling ball? (47) Which fruit has a variety called Ellison’s orange? (48) What type of newspaper is named after a form of condensed pill? (49) What was the name of the computer in the film 2001 A Space Odyssey? (50) Which were the original six countries which established the European Union in 1958? (Point for each) 
Tie Breaker: In which year was the first section of the London Underground Railway opened? 

JACKPOT QUESTIONS

A   Which bandleader married both Lana Turner and Ava Gardner?

B   In which country is the royal family the House of Bernadotte?

C   Who founded Standard Oil in 1870? 

Friday, May 29, 2009

I'll Tell You What's Wrong With This World Steward

One of the great delights about reading old newspapers is that you know how the story ends. Take the above example which comes from the Times of 10th January 1957. Sir Anthony Eden had just resigned as Prime Minister in the wake of the disastrous Suez campaign. He was worn out and ill and the day after he resigned he set sail on a cruise ship to New Zealand in search of a complete rest. As the ship sailed to the antipodes, Eden struck up a friendship with his young cabin steward and they often talked long into the night about politics. Eden eventually recovered from his immediate illness and lived for another 20 years, although he was never again a well man. Nor did he ever return to any political career. Which is more than can be said of the young cabin steward - a lad from Hull called John Prescott. He went on, of course, to become Deputy Prime Minister in the Blaire Government. I will make a point of having a chat with my cabin steward when I get on the boat next week : who knows what he or she might end up becoming.

Picture Of The Day : Brighouse Gut

I took this photograph, I guess it must have been about 45 years ago. But where is it? I've tried all the obvious stuff like enlarging the road sign but there is not enough clarity to get anything useful. The only clue I can make out is the beer wagon in the centre of the picture which is a Toby wagon, so that means that it is more likely to be "up north". I have a gut feeling it might be Brighouse, but I can't find any firm evidence, nor can I recognise any of the buildings.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Boat VCS

JGC said I should photograph this for posterity. So here you are.

You might well ask what it is. Well, a few days ago JGC and I had a lovely day out on our converted (to diesel-electric drive) narrowboat... except for the horrid moment mid-trip the generator didn't speed up after starting like it should. Horrid moment because if it really wouldn't we'd have to turn for home or run out of electricity... not to worry, after a few hairy moments I thought how to make it speed up electro-manually.... BUT... my old VCS had clearly gone AWOL...

VCS being the name for the box of electronics automatically controls the generator speed to normally recharge as fast as possible but with a limit so as not to ruin the batteries... and some other useful effects.

Anyway, time to make a new VCS, hopefully better/more useful than the last (let alone actually working)... and here's a picture of my electronic works, just successfully completed and tested today. Since all this ends up in a shiny metal box hiding what's in this picture it doesn't matter what the bits look like so long as it works... that's my attitude, anyway, as you can see.

This all goes in a shiny metal box except where the green blobs have connectors clip in rather than the test wires you can see going off to the left. The volume control knob (visible mid-left) sticks out the top, as does the white thing top left which flashs red or green (or doesn't) to show what's happening.

JGC was right, I had to photograph this for posterity... nobody'll ever see it again soon. Not even me, I hope.

Picture Of The Day : Stake Bros

Searching through some old books trying to dream up some local questions for tomorrow night's quiz I came across this illustration of an advert for the Brighouse firm of Stake Bros, Pie and Sausage Makers. All you need to do is to replace the central image with a picture of one of the P&O cruise ships and you would have a perfect advert for the fleet.

The 2009 P&O Book Bag Award Short-List

Four days to go and the packing has to be faced up to. The most difficult decision is, of course, the Book Bag. I have limited myself to just eight books : a notable feat of self-sacrifice in order to ensure marital harmony and room for a spare pair of shorts. The chosen eight are all illustrated above and have been selected from a shorter short-list of twelve. I will attempt to get through them all during the next three week and, on my return, will choose a winner of the annual Book Bag Prize. All I need now is someone to sponsor the event - come on P&O, all you need to do is to send me off on a three week cruise once a year and I will do all the reading and short-listing.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Damsel With A Dulcimer In A Video Once I Saw

The other day I was browsing through YouTube when I came across a recording of Joni Mitchell singing "California" which dates back to a BBC recording made in October 1970. Despite the fact that it is frightening to realise that this was almost forty years ago, the clip is well worth watching for two reasons. First the song has always been one of my favourite Joni Mitchell songs and it has the power to be so evocative of both time and place. Perhaps it's because in a few days I will be on a Grecian Isle - where I must make a point of learning the Goat Dance - but for whatever the reason the song just reached out to me.
The second reason to watch the clip is to see Joni Mitchell play the dulcimer. Until I watched this clip I don't think I had ever seen a dulcimer before, although - like all school kids of a certain age - I know of the instrument from having to recite Coleridge's Kubla Khan. Remember the lines and they will transport you back to a world of wooden top desks and exercise books.
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
A little later comes the verse :
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw :
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
I have no idea where Mount Abora is and - if my quick search on Google is anything to go by - neither has anyone else. But I don't really care, it is neither the fabled mount nor the sacred river that I am searching for. Granted, my chosen stimulants - real ale, malt whisky and the occasional Cuban cigar - are less powerful than those that Coleridge was fond of : but I just want a vision of a damsel with a dulcimer singing of California. Come to think of it, all I need is YouTube.

Picture Of The Day : Notgeld Not Gold

Many years ago I found a small collection of German emergency money in a second-hand shop and paid a few pounds for it. The emergency notes (known as Notgeld) date from the period following the end of World War 1 and they were issued by Local Municipalities and local Savings Banks. They were never legal tender, but they were accepted locally during a period when metal coins were in short supply because of either the war or the post-war economic crisis. They were widely issued in both Germany and Austria and examples can sometimes be found from countries such as France, Spain and Russia. Over the years I have added to my collection and I now must have 200 or so of them. I suspect that if one checked on eBay, they will not be worth a vast amount, but they are interesting and a reminder of previous economic crises. Not a crop of gold, just a crop of Notgeld.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Picture Of The Day : Camogli

Seeing as we are just a week away from the 2009 cruise I thought I would feature one of the pictures taken last year. This was taken in Camogli on the Italian Riviera. Glorious place, glorious day. Let's hope that this year brings the same.

The Google Gods Have Spoken

Many years ago I read a collection of science fiction short stories, one of which, unlikely as it may seem, took as its theme the possible future of the retail sector. It was written long before the introduction of personal computers but it confidently predicted that retail demands would be fed into a form of electronic typewriter and then delivered automatically to your door by android-driven transporters (laugh if you will, but have you ever tried ordering anything from Tesco Direct). The point of the story was that the service managers had incorporated so much technology and automation into the system they were able to deliver goods even before you decided to order them. The story examined the kind of chaos which would result from such a service.
My mind was taken back to this old tale earlier today when I spotted the advert which had appeared - courtesy of those nice people at Google Adsense - at the top of my Blog. Normally there is an identifiable link between the subject of a recent blog posting and the product being sold : when I post about deafness there are adverts for hearing aids, when I delve into the lives of the great brewers there are ads for lager, and when I once waxed lyrical about Erasmic Shaving Cream there was an advert for false teeth! But there at the top of the page was an advert for a firm of solicitors who claim to be experts in the field of legal claims following aviation disasters. I was vaguely wondering what the link might be when I suddenly realised that I was going on holiday next Monday.
But, silly me (I told myself), I am not flying anywhere but sailing on a rather big cruise ship out of Southampton. However, I had been given a sign, and the least I could do was to try and interpret what it might mean. I tried to see if there were any statistics on the number of times that planes crash into ships at sea but apart from a rather steep rise in the curve in the early 1940s in the waters around Japan, these seem to be relatively rare. Could there perhaps have been a slight error in the coding of the prophecy - everything else is subject to error so why not auguries? Perhaps the powers that be had meant to send me the name of a firm of solicitors which specialise in maritime disasters. Whatever the reason, the advert is clearly a warning. Luckily there is still time to re-pack my case, getting rid of all those dinner suits and Bermuda shorts and stashing away an extra lifebuoy or two and a small inflatable raft. Call me silly if you want, but as I am safely pulling away from the wreck in my little lifeboat I will be singing a hymn in praise of those clever people at Google AdSense.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Picture Of The Day : Ein Hundert Mark

Scanning banknotes is not as easy as you might think. Many scanners now have software which detects banknotes and produces a deliberately degraded image. This is annoying if you are either a forger or if you like collecting old banknotes and showing them off. My skills, unfortunately, are limited to the latter rather than the former. This is a German 100 Mark banknote. Whilst it is dated 1908, its' green shield and serial number suggests it was printed in the period between 1918 and 1922, just before the great German hyperinflation.

Gormless The Sleepy

When I was young I was frequently accused of being gormless. It was a favourite expression in the West Riding of Yorkshire and could encompass a variety of characteristics from slightly dim to plain stupid. I sometimes wonder whether the origins of the word were - like so many in the Yorkshire dialect - Scandinavian and providing a direct link to the Viking occupation of these lands a thousand years ago. If so, I like to think that the word "gorm" originated from the famous Danish King, Gorm the Sleepy, who strutted his stuff in the early 10th century. Gorm the Sleepy - who was also known as Gorm the Old - was neither particularly ancient nor noticeably lethargic : "sleepy" implied watchful and "old" suggested wisdom. Thus someone who was wise and watchful demonstrated gorm and someone without those essential attributes was gormless.
Regular followers of this blog (good morning to the four of you) will recall that a couple of weeks ago the small plastic clip I use to anchor the wire from my cochlear implant to my MP3 player went missing (A Clip Around The Ear) and they will also have read the suggestions I have been sent for overcoming the problem (Ripped Off By A Clip Joint). One exciting suggestion was that I invest in a Clearsound Bluehook, a device that would convert Bluetooth signals so that they could be picked up by the "T" setting on my implant processor, thus doing away with the need for a connecting wire. I sent off an order and paid out my £50 quicker than you could say "what did you say?"
The contraption arrived yesterday and I have subjected it to a day's intensive field trial. I have to report that the early indications are not wonderful : there are several problems with the system. The match between the behind-the-hear transmitter hook and the "T" setting receiver can be a problem and can depend on head movements. Once you have obtained a decent signal you have to keep your head in a stable and fixed position which is a bit like walking around with your neck in a neck-brace. Secondly, you also pick up all the other interference which is picked up by the "T" receptor and this ranges from overhead power cables to mobile phone signals, and from the loop on our main TV to any passing car engine. Therefore the times when a hands-free Bluetooth connection would be most useful (when driving the car for example) it is least use. Thirdly, the device is fitted with a large flashing blue light which indicates that it is receiving a signal. For some reason the designers have made this exceptionally powerful and it can attract overflying aircraft and has the capacity to frighten the most placid passing horse. Combine these things together and you will see what my neighbours saw as I street-tested the device yesterday : a man walking with a strange gate and holding his head in a mystifyingly fixed position, shouting at passing cars and overhead power cables and with a large, powerful flashing blue light attached to his shirt collar.
It was my own fault for rushing in and giving the device a try (and my son's fault for misplacing the original clip in the first place).  It was a bit daft I suppose, a bit gormless. Talking of which, Gorm the Sleepy had a son, Harold Bluetooth, who became King of a united Scandinavian empire. When the techies at the mobile phone company Nokia where searching for a name for their new wireless protocol that would unite all the different protocols that existed at that time they remembered Harold Bluetooth and named it after him. If they had gone a bit further back they might have named it after Harold's father, which - in my experience - might have been more appropriate.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Picture Of The Day : Wahre Geschichten

This is one of those "does anyone have any idea what this means?" posts.  The picture is taken from a postcard I picked up many years ago and it is by the Swiss (?) photo-journalist, Hans Staub. The title seems to be "Wahre Geschichten un 1930" and that is followed by "Lectrice, vers 1930" But are these two versions of the same title - "The Reader" - or is it taken from a publication called The Reader? There must be some expert in these things out there just itching to tell me the background to all this.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Picture Of The Day : Blidworth Strike Centre

The picture is from a series of postcards I bought in 1984. They show scenes from Blidworth Strike Centre in Nottingham in Autumn 1984 and they were sold in support of the miners' strike. Rediscovering the postcards yesterday I Googled Blidworth Strike Centre. According to the Retford Trader and Guardian it was re-opened in February this year as an air-conditioned gym and sports centre. How the world changes.

Ripped Off By A Clip Joint

My thanks to all those people who have responded to my cri de coeur regarding the small clip which anchors the wire leading from my cochlear implant processor to my MP3 player and mobile phone. Regular readers will know that my son Alexander (a.k.a. Pest) picked the clip up and moved it to somewhere inappropriate. As yet we have been unable to determine which inappropriate place he has moved it to.
Within hours of my appeal the first clips began to arrive and they still continue to materialise. The time has come to report back on some of the more enterprising suggestions. Clip No. 1 (above) came from an unidentified source and is quite functional, if a little on the large size. The problem with it is that it has a set of fairly fearsome alligator-style teeth. Most of the time these anchor the clip to my shirt collar but every so often they slip off and bite into the flesh of my neck.
Clip No 3 is a chunky plastic affair which was provided by who else that Cousin Dave. I did try it out by attaching the wire to the underside of the contraption and attaching the spring-loaded clip to my shirt collar. Unfortunately it was so heavy it ripped the top button off my shirt and has had to be abandoned on health and safety grounds.
Clip No. 2 was sent by my friend Edwin and I eventually took delivery of it today. Edwin posted it over a week ago but nothing happened until this morning when a postcard arrived saying that it had been seized by the Post Office for insufficient postage. According to the newly profitable Post Office it was 8p short on its postage (it was sent with a First Class Stamp and was well within the limits for first class post) so I was charged the 8p plus a £1 "handling fee". Being ripped off by the Post Office aside, it seems a very useful little clip and is under road tests as I write this.
One of the most exciting suggestions arrived this morning by post from my good friend Salim at the Yorkshire Cochlear Implant Service. He had found details of a Bluetooth connector which operated via a ear hook and the "T" setting. If this works it will mean that I no longer have a need for wires and therefore no need for clips. I send off my order this morning and I am waiting for delivery. At a little over £50 let's hope it is not another rip-off.

Buy Two Get Some Drivel Free

1434 by Gavin Menzies (Harper Collins) 2008
I blame Waterstone's and their wretched 3 for 2 offers. You find a book you half fancy and discover it is part of a 3 for 2 offer. You think you might as well see if there is a second book that would help make up the triptych, and - guess what - there is that illustrated history of Mongolian horse brasses that the Observer raved on about last Sunday. So all you need now is a third, and you can be really adventurous about the choice because it is what they call on Match of the Day a "free header". They seem to have a big pile of these chunky red books and they are obviously selling very well and it has diagrams, pictures and footnotes. Well, why not?
It is thus that I acquired a copy of 1421 by Gavin Menzies. It carries the impressive subtitle "The Year A Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed To Italy And Ignited The Renaissance" It is from "the international bestselling author" of "1421 : The Year China Discovered America". It is copiously illustrated and comes with a website-full of supplementary material, thirty pages of chapter notes, and a 15 page bibliography. And it is utter drivel.
You don't need to plough your way through 50 of the 370 pages, as I did, to reach this conclusion : the warning signs are there early on. It is written in a strange style which sets out a collection of loosely associated conjectures all of which are accompanied by reference to some relatively obscure text. It avoids both the development of a logical narrative and the construction of a coherent argument. The author constantly backs up claims about this largely fanciful 15th century Chinese fleet by reference to his own experiences as the captain of a Royal Navy submarine in the 1960s which seems a somewhat tenuous accreditation. It stretches even the wildest imagination by making claims that are more ridiculous than fanciful (the Chinese fleet got to Europe by sailing up an early version of the Suez Canal!). It constantly claims that there is a mass of supporting evidence on the website operated by the author and "his team of researchers".  All in all, it is a waste of time, a waste of space and a waste of a "get one free". I blame Waterstone's : not for their 3 for 2 offers, but for stocking this claptrap.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Picture Of The Day : Margaret Hilda Thatcher

Today's picture is a reminder of when times were simpler and you didn't need time to think before stating your political allegiances. It is from my postcard collection and it was published by the National Portrait Gallery in the mid 1980s. It is, of course, a drawing of Margaret Thatcher by Gerald Scarfe. Oh, if only she was still active now, we would know who to blame for everything.

The Things That Dreams Are Made Of

It must have been thirty years ago. Isobel and I had moved back up north from London and we were living in a room at the top of an old house in Sheffield. Issy had stated her medical course at Sheffield and, after a period without a job, I had managed to get a job as a temporary lecturer at a college on the far side of Doncaster. We were seriously poor - no job, no grant, no house, no car  - so it was a blessing when I was offered a little extra teaching on Friday evenings at Rotherham Technical College. It was to cover someone who was off ill and it was teaching O level Economic History (a subject I had never studied, never mind taught, before). But the extra few pounds it offered would mean that we might be able to go out occasionally and even buy the odd tray of Yorkshire Parkin to keep our spirits up. In the ten days or so between being offered the job and starting I hit the economic history books with a vengeance and decided that practically all of the syllabus could be taught by walking down the canal towpath between Rotherham and Sheffield. My lesson preparation was immaculate and I did the towpath walk on several occasions making notes on the building which I passed : each of which perfectly illustrated some particular aspect of the developing industrial revolution. My chosen perambulatory approach to teaching would have the added advantage that I could finish the lessons increasingly closer to Sheffield and thus save myself considerable time on my journey home.
Things began to go wrong when I was given some extra teaching at Doncaster on Friday afternoon which now meant that I had a very limited time frame to get from Doncaster to Rotherham. I studied the timetables closely and decided the best option was to travel by bus and so, on the first Friday, I sprinted like a madman from College to Doncaster Bus Station in order to make the necessary bus. Alas, my calculations had not taken into account the Friday tea-time traffic and by the time the bus pulled into Rotherham Bus Station it was already twenty minutes after the class should have started. A further complication was that I had concentrated so much on researching the South Yorkshire canal I had neglected to check the location of Rotherham Technical College. I sprinted around the strange town asking for directions and was eventually pointed by some helpful citizen in the direction of Thomas Rotherham College which turned out to be the wrong building entirely. When I eventually found the Tech it was 40 minutes after the class should have started and the students, with commendable enterprise, had all gone home.
In the following few days I was told - politely but firmly - that I need not turn up on the following week : my services were no longer required. I was left with empty pockets, a set of unused teaching notes on economic history and a frightening memory, one which took a long time to fade away. I thought it was long gone, but last night whilst I was asleep, I relived every long minute of that Friday evening journey from Doncaster to Rotherham. And as I sprinted around the final corning and up the steps to the main entrance of the old Tech building, clutching my Roneo hand-outs, I finally woke up. Never to arrive, never to teach economic history.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Here Is The Weather Forecast

Just outside the main door of the Nags Head hung this great stone on an iron chain. Nearby was posted the rubric for its interpretation, which went as follows:
Boynton's Infallible Weather Stone
If rock is wet
it's raining
If rock is white
it's snowing
If rock is moving back and forth
it's windy
If rock is casting a shadow
it's sunny
If rock is hard to see
it's foggy
If rock is warm
it's warm out
If rock is cold
it's cold out
Yorkshiremen are never wrong
Looking at the picture you might have thought that it was brilliant sunshine all weekend. But it was a lucky shot during a break in the rain clouds. Yorkshiremen are never wrong, but they are frequently damp.

Picture Of The Day : The Nags Head

Just returned from a most enjoyable weekend away at the Nags Head in Pickhill, North Yorkshire. We went with Dave, Jenny, Rob and Carrie to celebrate a clutch of birthdays, retirements and other memorable events. The Hotel was exceptional, the food was stunning, the beer was first rate, and the company was delightful. Events like this are worth growing old for.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Posh path

Showing the new posh path at the front of our house development on the right - compare, on the left, the 'services' ditch which once lay open below it.... dug rather a long time ago, now.

Not really photographable, but quite exciting, is that inside the house the 'first fix' wiring is all in place for the ground floor flat, all passed by the inspector. And the kerb at the front is now dropped for car access to parking (which will be to the left of the brickwork.)

Just possibly, we'll be done by the end of July!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Picture Of The Day : Excalibur

Don't know why this particular picture of Alexander has surfaced now. It was taken at EuroDisney and it must have been 14 years ago or something like that. Here he is making valiant efforts to extract Excalibur, all to no avail. In just over a week he will have to make similar efforts to get through his First Year exams. Let's hope his efforts are more successful.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A "New World Cruise" And A "Reasonable Cruise"

Feeling fed up with the grey skies and wet weather, I decided to treat myself to a month's subscription to the Times Archive (I always think that a dip into the collected 200 year on-line archive does the body and the spirit more good that a bottle of pills). Believing that it would be fun to read - on a regular basis - the newspaper for exactly 50 years ago I turned to May 1959 but didn't get past the front page. I spotted an advert for a "New World" cruise on board the RMS Andes which, at £278 for 22 days, seemed quite a bargain.
The Andes was built in 1939 for the Royal Mail Line and it was intended to carry both mail and passengers. The intervention of the war meant that it was converted into a troop ship and it did not become a mail and passenger ship until 1947. It was eventually converted to a dedicated cruise ship in 1960, a few months after the cruise being advertised in the 14th May 1959 issue of The Times.  At the time of this "New World" cruise it had still not been converted into a full cruise ship and would have had accommodation for about 300 passengers (after conversion in 1960 the total capacity increased to 500). The Andes kept operating as a cruise ship throughout the sixties and had another refit in 1967. But by then the market had contracted and what demand remained was for the new generation of ships such as the QE2. The grand old ship was eventually sold for scrap in 1971.
£228 for 22 days seemed quite reasonable at first sight. There is a wonderful website called Measuring Worth which will carry out currency conversions to give the current equivalents of historical prices. Feeding the 1959 data into the calculator reveals that the cost of the cruise in today's prices is a mighty £3,819. Suddenly the price of my forthcoming cruise on the Arcadia seems very reasonable indeed.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Picture Of The Day : The Dog And Partridge

Not many pubs have their own MySpace page, but the Dog and Partridge on Trippet Lane, Sheffield has. On their MySpace page you can listen to the band singing a selection of songs and the "band" is defined as anyone who happens to be in the pub on any particular evening. It is an Irish pub rather than an Irish Theme Pub and is reputed to serve the best pint of Guinness outside Dublin. Sadly, when I passed by the other day, I didn't step inside and test the claim out, but next time, next time ...

Listening To ... Music As A Vehicle

One Quiet Night : Pat Metheny (Warner, 2003)
Music can be all sorts of things : it can be exciting, it can be joyous, it can take over your mind or it can relax you almost to the point of unconsciousness. As someone who had to live without music during ten years of deafness I love every facet of it, I love its richness and I love its diversity. Music can also be a vehicle : a means towards the achievement of some other end. Sometimes this might be making a car journey more bearable, other times it might be thinking through a troublesome problem. Just because music is being used as a vehicle doesn't mean that it has to be muzak : not every vehicle has to be a Fiat Panda.
Currently I am listening to Pat Metheny's 2003 CD "One Quiet Night". If it is music as a vehicle, it's a souped-up Bentley. Pat Metheny has been a leading jazz guitarist for more than thirty years and has produced some award-winning and memorable CD's. This particular album sees Metheny on his own with just his guitar and a selection of tunes. It was recorded in his home studio so it's relaxed and informal : like having the man sit in the corner of your room picking out tunes and following his own thoughts. The music provides just enough structure to guide your mind along a chosen path. It transports you but it doesn't take over your life. Now that's what I call music.....

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Picture Of The Day : Stoned

I took this picture in Sheffield on Monday. It is the wall of Sheffield City Hall and, according to the reference books, it is Stancliffe Darley Dale stone. It is mined in North Derbyshire and therefore didn't have to travel far when, in 1932 it was used to build the new City Hall. The same type of stone was used for many municipal buildings including Leeds Town Hall and St George's Hall in Liverpool.

Whatever Happened To Baby Florence?

Little Face by Sophie Hannah (Hodder) 2006
After 110 rather tiresome pages I have decided to abandon Sophie Hannah's "psychological crime thriller", Little Face. According to the reviews it was supposed to be "high-quality stuff" (Literary Review) which was "fascinating and original" and "beautifully written" (Spectator). I found it as pedestrian as a walk through an Arndale Centre. The plot was one-dimensional and the characters were as complex as tissue paper. But, for me, the biggest failure was that there was no sense of place. It was set in the fictional town of Spilling and you were left with the impression that the place was about as realistic as the foul-mouthed police Sargent who had a degree in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic languages, the computer game programmer who lives in a technology-free world and the police constable who writes his reports like a Mills and Boon novelist. By abandoning the book after 110 pages I recognise that I will never discover what happened to baby Florence. So what?

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Clip Around The Ear

I came very close to giving my son a clip around the ear last night. I didn't because, in the first place, I have never been very good at violence, and secondly, he is bigger, fitter and stronger than me.  If we were boxers, he would be a fairly handy middleweight whilst I would be an over-the-hill sack-of-potatoes-weight. The reason I was driven to thoughts of violence was because I had been the victim of one of his annoying little habits : he moves things. This isn't moving things to create space, nor is it moving things to improve one's feng shui : it is picking things up carrying them around and then putting them down in some entirely different place without any pre-conceived plan and without any knowledge of it having taken place. When you are the victim of one of his moving episodes you are likely to find some of your possessions in the most unusual places : your toothbrush in the fridge, your car keys in the bath, your wallet in the dog basket. And that's if you are lucky : if you are unlucky you might not be reacquainted with some vital aspect of your day-to-day existence for months or years. If you challenge the little bugger he may be able to recall having picked something up but he will have no idea where he put the said object down.
Last night he picked up the little clip which I use to attach the wire which runs from my cochlear implant processor to my MP3 player. Without the small spring-loaded plastic clip the wire pulls down on the implant : so when I turn my head I am in danger of either pulling the wire from the processor or pulling the processor from behind my ear. Simple as the little clips are they are almost impossible to source : I originally had two : the first one came off my coat collar and fell over a bridge onto the M62, and the second went .... who knows. The wonderful folks at the Yorkshire Cochlear Implant Centre have none and it seems that the implant manufacturers, Cochlear, don't supply them anymore. I am lost. You might just as well have taken away my crutch and melted it down for scrap, or had my guide dog turned into sausage. 
The focus of my life is now trying to find a replacement clip. My first idea was to try one of those ubiquitous shops that sell mobile phone accessories. My idea was that a similar type of clip is sometimes used to anchor hands-free kits to a suitable collar. In almost every town there are now numerous little shops which sell dangly things to tie onto mobile phones or replacement pink flowery battery covers. I have never actually been in one of these shops but they always appear full of little plastic things and I was definitely searching for a little plastic thing. Unfortunately I was in Sheffield today and being unfamiliar with the city I had difficulty finding the ubiquitous shop in question. Eventually I remembered that such shops - for reasons unknown to me - seem to have a symbiotic relationship with tattoo parlours. I fairly quickly tracked down a tattoo parlour and sure enough, next door was a mobile phone accessory emporium.
As well as stocking 250 different replacement mobile phone covers and 50 types of lanyard, such shops also seem to provide a useful public service in providing employment for people who have failed their Stage 1 City and Guilds exams in customer relations. Explaining my search parameters to the chap behind the counter he managed to adopt a look which implied that I had just stepped off the stage at the wrong stop. The wrong stop in the wrong country in the wrong century. I abandoned my attempt to find an easy solution to my search : finding a replacement clip would not be that simple. When Alexander sets me a challenge, it generally turns out to be a good one. Tomorrow I intend to start trawling the entire Internet for a source of tiny spring-loaded plastic clips. If, by any chance, you happen to be a manufacturer of such a product, why not get in touch and save me a lot of trouble. And save Alexander from a virtual clip around the ear.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Picture Of The Day : Albert and Kate

The picture shows my grandfather (Albert Beanland) and my grandmother (Kate Beanland née Kellam). Albert died in the year of my birth, but Kate lived until 1956 and I can just about remember her. She was born in Rutland in 1877 the second daughter of Albert Kellam and Catherine Moody. Kate's father - a grocer living in South Wales - died when she was just 14 and her mother quickly married again to a certain John Robinson Thickpenny (whom, I am sure, I have written about before). Kate didn't get on with her step-father and she left home and became a waitress. It was whilst working as a barmaid at, I believe, the Bottomley's Arms in Keighley that she met my grandfather, Albert. Just thought it would be nice to put a story to a couple of faces.
This, by the way, is the 500th post to the News From Nowhere Blog. Happy anniversary.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Bloody Awards .... Oh! Hang On A Minute

The other day I was contacted by the people at the Blog of the Day Awards to say that I had been nominated for a Blog Of The Day Award. In itself, it was not particularly surprising as I had nominated myself. The formal announcement would be made, I was told, today, so I have been watching their website in anticipation. And nothing has appeared.  But I don't care. Such awards are nothing more than a form of digital self-abuse, an excuse to bask in self-satisfied false glory as one preens oneself in front of a bored audience. Have we not all felt the bile of loathing rise in our throats as we have watched some overpaid, under talented starlet step up to receive some meaningless award? A plague on all their houses I say.
A Little Later .....
I have just checked the Blog of the Day website again and I am delighted to say that I have won the prestigious award for the News From Nowhere Blog. I feel humble as I write this but I would like to thank those wonderful people at Blog of the Day for their faith in me and my work. As the citation says, "the accolades and praise heaped upon winners of these prestigious awards can be best described as fabulous and the stuff of legends". I would like to thank all those who have made this award possible including Amy the Dog, my late Mother and Father, Janie and Edwin, the infamous DPH, Jane who dusts my room, Isobel and Alexander, Mark and all the Dogs, ............
Even Later .....
I am sorry I had to stop writing as I became overcome with emotion.

I Liked Right Well

The postcard is from Uncle Fowler's collection and shows Fleet Street in Bury, Lancashire. It is from Eliza Beanland, Fowler's sister, who was working in Lancashire during the Great War (Fowler and Eliza's brother, Albert, was my Grandfather). As far as I can make out Fleet Street no longer exists - I don't know Bury very well - but if I am wrong I am sure someone will point out my error. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the card is the message on the reverse in my Great Aunt Eliza's spidery hand. It reads as follows:
Dear Brother, Just a line to say I arrived allright. I went to the New Church at Haywood last night and I liked right well, Mrs Land went with me, and they were a man and woman sat with us and they gave us an invitation to their house. With love, Eliza.
In its own way this message is just as fascinating as the messages from the Venetian Ambassador I wrote about yesterday. It tells not of the death of powerful monarchs but the day-to-day lives of ordinary people. Wonderful stuff.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Picture Of The Day : Arcadia

This morning the tickets for our forthcoming holiday arrived so there can only be one subject for the Picture of the Day. It is the P&O Cruise ship Arcadia and in four weeks time I will be sat on one of those upper decks, watching the world go by. The tickets have arrived, the excursions are booked. All I need to do is to pack my shorts and Panama Hat and off I go.

Hunting Down History

I suppose there is something of the hunter-gatherer in all of us. Some people like to hunt foxes, with others it's truffles. With me, it's digital archives. The pleasure that the stag hunter probably gets when he sights a  mature hart in the cross-hairs, I get when I find a new digital archive. And the adrenaline coursed through my clerkish veins this morning when I discovered British History Online. To quote the website : "British History Online is the digital library containing some of the core printed primary and secondary sources for the medieval and modern history of the British Isles. Created by the Institute of Historical Research and the History of Parliament Trust, we aim to support academic and personal users around the world in their learning, teaching and research". If that sounds boring take a look at some of the titles which have been added recently : things like the complete series of the Calendar of Treasury Books and Papers and  the complete series of the Calendar of Spanish State Papers. But pick a collection at random, pick a volume at random and pick a date at random and dip in : absolutely fascinating.
My dip took me into the digital collection of the State Papers of Venice for the period 1202 to 1675. The 38 volumes cover relations between the Venetian State and England and they are, I am glad to say, available in English translation. In the main they cover official reports and letters from Venetian diplomats and these provide a wonderful sidelight on English and European history. Here are a couple of illustrations from the records of 1649. They are taken from the texts of diplomatic reports which have been sent to the Venetian Doge and Senate: 
Alvise Contarini, Venetian Ambassador to the Congress of Munster, to the Doge and Senate : 19th February, 1649.
The king of England has on three different days been taken before the judges appointed by the military for his trial. They omitted to read a letter presented by the French ambassador, and both his guards and judges treated him throughout as a private individual, never taking off their hats or paying him any kind of mark of homage or respect. He took exception to the judges as having no authority over their sovereign, without whom and still less without the concurrence of the House of Lords they could not pretend to any form of parliament ; nor did he make any other reply to the charges which were read to him. They took four days for consultation, in order to pass sentence without admitting further defence.....
Alvise Contarini, Venetian Ambassador at Munster, to the Doge and Senate : 26 February 1649
The poor king of England has at last lost both crown and life by the hand of the executioner, like a common criminal, in London, before all the people, without any one speaking in his favour and by the judicial sentence of his own subjects. The accompanying narrative gives the particulars. History affords no example of the like. It is a shame to all contemporary sovereigns, who for the sake of revenge against each other about trifles have allowed themselves to be confronted by so imposing a spectacle, of the worst possible example. ....
Wonderful stuff. Hunting at its very best. And without any cruelty to animals. Now Kings, that's another matter.