Saturday, June 27, 2009

Lost Up The Amazon

Whilst on holiday I received an e-mail from Lulu (the firm I used to publish and print my book) informing me that "Postcards From Nowhere" had been selected to take part in a special trial whereby - at absolutely no cost to me - it would become available via Amazon. I did what one normally does with e-mails that tell you you have won the Irish Lottery or inherited $4,765,287 from a distant relation who used to work for the Nigerian State Bank : I ignored it. Nevertheless, on my return to dry land, curiosity got the better of me and I did a search of Amazon and found nothing at all (that is not strictly true, I did find a book called "Erotic French Postcards by Philippe Jaenada and Serge Joncour which I have added to my Amazon wish list but that is another story entirely).
For want of nothing better to do last night, I did a wider Google search for my opus and, to my surprise, discovered it in the most unlikely places. My first hit took me to a site called "Poetry Connections" ("we .. showcase quality poetry to literature students and aficionados alike") where large as life and twice as unpoetical as ever is "Postcards From Nowhere". How it ever came to be featured on a poetry website is beyond me as it is notably lacking in rhyming couplets. Perhaps they think it's blank verse. My second hit was a site called "Brooders Beta Book Search" ("a simple, clean search engine for books") which appeared to be a more suitable placement as the book is nothing if it is not clean. Further investigation revealed that none of these strange organisations were offering to post my book to you themselves, all they were offering was a link to Amazon. When I followed the Amazon link I discovered why I had not found the book listed on Amazon.co.uk. The powers that be have decided to launch my book on the American market and not the British one. And there it was on amazon.com, available at the bargain price of only $31.70.
According to the quick currency conversions I have done, buying it from America would seem to be cheaper than buying it from Lulu in the first place which seems a little odd. I am not sure if the postage will be more : as print on demand it should be printed and posted from the same place. Whilst checking all this out on the Lulu site I noticed that the book has now crept up the rankings to 54,514th in their bestsellers' list. I was feeling quite proud of this achievement until I noticed that a book entitled "How To Make A Miniature Gypsy Wagon Out Of Matchsticks" was 29,000 places ahead of me. Perhaps that little book had not got lost up the Amazon. Now that "Postcards" has been found and now that it has gone global, fame and fortune might just be around the corner.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Clayton Cousins

It's Friday and therefore it must be Family History Day. The theme for today is The Clayton Cousins. So let's start with some context : the three cousins who lived in Clayton near Bradford were Ada, Ellen and Clara Beanland and the picture above shows them in about 1904. They were the children of Arthur Beanland (1866-1944) - my mothers' Uncle Arthur - and his second wife, Emma Binns (1861-1929). Arthur B was born in Keighley but at the time of this photograph, he was living in Clayton and, by the time of the 1911 census, the family were living at 9, Pasture Side, Clayton. In 1911, the eldest of the girls (Ada on the right in the picture above) was working as a worsted spinner.
So here we have these three girls born around the turn of the century (Ada in 1897, Ellen in 1899, and Clara in 1901), the daughters of a mill mechanic and his wife, growing up with the century : a century which would see more concentrated social and economic changes than any previous period of human history. The years of their childhood must have been years of massive hope and expectation - the British Empire was at its zenith, Bradford was still the centre of the world's wool industry, the first motor cars were bumping their way along Clayton High Street and the newspapers would have been full of man's early attempts at flight. What future would these girls have in front of them? What adventures, what loves, what lives?
The answer is strangely muted. All three lived into adulthood : Ada was the last to die and that was in the 1970s. She is the only one I remember, the other two sisters died whilst I was still a child. Cousin Ada attended our wedding in 1973 but all I remember was a little old lady with a funny hat and very little to say.
Not one of the three sisters ever married and they lived throughout their lives together in a small terraced house in Clayton. When Ada eventually died I remember going with my mother to the house and discovering plain rooms devoid of any personal effects and the walls of the kitchen and staircase white-washed. I believe all three sisters were members of the Plymouth Brethren sect and regular attenders at their chapel. They had a reputation within the family of plain living and parsimony.
But what was the story of their lives? What led them down the strange path they took? Were there no loves, were there no dreams? They had no children and I suppose that I am the last of the family to remember them. It is therefore unlikely that I will ever know anything more than the bare words on the census forms. If I want to know the story of their lives, it looks like I will have to make it up.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Daily Postcard : Laharna Hotel, Co. Antrim

This postcard was sent to Great Uncle Fowler in 1913 by someone who simply identified themselves as G. Curry. It shows the wonderfully Edwardian Laharna Hotel which was the pride of the Northern Ireland holiday coast. The hotel was built in 1903 and replaced an earlier hotel which burned down in 1901. As far as I can discover, the Hotel tottered on until the close of the twentieth century when it was finally demolished and replaced by an instantly forgettable glass and concrete structure. This structure retained the Laharna name but as a business venture it seems to be even less successful than the old hotel. The last report I can find dates back to October last year when the apartments were being disposed of in a clearance sale.

Christmas Rush

I have an abiding memory from my childhood of my father - on his return from the annual summer holiday in Bridlington or New Brighton - shaking his head at the prospect of returning to work and saying "straight into the Christmas Rush now". My father worked as a mechanic maintaining the wrapping machines at Mackintosh's chocolate and toffee factory in Halifax. He would look after the machines that wrapped toffee fingers, green triangles, hazelnut noisettes, and orange creams in the twisted foil and cellophane wrappers. As the main market for Quality Street was the Christmas market, production peaked in the late summer months : therefore for him, summer holidays were immediately followed by the Christmas Rush.
I like to think of myself as following in my fathers' footsteps as I now prepare for my own Christmas Rush, although for me it will not be caramel swirls and coconut eclairs that dominate the weeks of high summer but manhole covers. Yes, once again it is time to start preparing for the preparation and production of that annual Christmas best-seller, that most pre-eminent of seasonal stocking-fillers, my 2010 Manhole Covers Of The World Calendar. Few people have any idea of how much work is involved in producing this festive favourite : there are pictures to be taken, selections to be made, production schedules to be organised, and budgets to be constrained. That most exclusive of pictorial calendars involves many days of back-breaking effort to produce : something which should be remembered by all those relatives of mine who say that I need "a little job" to keep myself out of mischief.
Next week we will be going to Oxford for a few days - my good lady wife is attending a course on bubonic plague or some such thing - and I am hoping to take the opportunity to visit London for the day. London is, of course, a mecca for manhole cover enthusiasts - up there with the greats (or as we in the trade say "the grates") of world manhole covers such as Vancouver, New York and Tokyo. I will take the opportunity to re-stock my image library in preparation for the 2010 calendar. So if you are walking around the capital and notice a tubby gent pointing his camera not at the Houses of Parliament or Buckingham Palace but at the paving stones beneath his feet. tap him on the shoulder and say hello. But don't expect him to stop and talk, he'll be too busy. After all it's his Christmas Rush.
Pre-order your copy of the 2010 Manhole Covers Of The World Calendar now. Simply add a comment to this posting giving an indication of how many copies you will be buying. Heavy discounts available for bulk orders.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Wanting Some Fun In The Buffs

Holidays are a great time for the re-evaluation of personal goals. You have space to sift through the trunk-full of plans, dreams and desires, dust-off a few of the more respectable ones, and say to yourself "as soon as I get home I am going to ....." The great joy about undertaking this task whilst you are on a steaming ship in the middle of the Mediterranean is that you can't immediately follow through. You don't have to actually do anything, just plan : and as a unreconstructed Brownite (that is George Brown, the 1960s Labour Party Deputy Leader, not the current twit) I have always had a love of planning. So during my recent holiday I promoted a number of plans from the rusty back-burners of my mind, injected them with a double-dose of commitment, and promised to do something about them when I got home. The problem is that when you get home you begin to see the possible drawbacks. Thus the plan to shed myself of two stone before January seemingly means that I will have to stop eating and drinking anything other than tap water. The plan to rejoin the Labour Party and single-handedly bring about a realignment of left-wing politics means I will have to fork out £19 a year and attend meetings. And my plan to become a Grand Primo in the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes means that I will somehow have to get invited to join the Order in the first place.
I have always wanted to be a Buff. It's the fact that they don't take themselves as seriously as the Masons, that they meet in pubs and taverns rather than in stone-built lodges, and - if the Elland Lodge of my youth was anything to go by - the fact that they would finish their meetings with a stripper rather than a loyal toast. So with the buffs you get all the wonderful titles, the ribbons, the enamel badges, the regalia ... and you get a bit of fun as well. It's the poor-man's Masons, the dissipated-man's Rotary ... in other words, just the place for me.
I accept that this view of the RAOB is more than likely erroneous : I am sure it is full of sober-minded men dedicated to the welfare of their fellow-members. I also accept that my misrepresentation of the fine Order has probably lost me any chance I ever had of being invited to join. But if there is anyone out there who is a Brother, a Primo or even a Knight of Merit why not see me as a challenge rather than an enemy : put my name forward, invite me along, teach me the creed. I need some help here : the alternatives are either starving myself to death or taking to the streets in defence of Gordan Brown.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Book Bag Awards : The Winner

Here are the results of the 2009 P&O Cruises Book Bag Awards. I only managed to get through six of the shortlisted books during the cruise and that means that two of the eight - Donna Leon's "Girl of His Dreams" and Paul Mason's "Meltdown" - will have to be held over until the 2010 awards which will take place next January. As for the remaining six, here are my conclusions:
Val McDermid "A Darker Domain" : A fairly annoying little book which uses the 1984 Miners' Strike as a backdrop to murder and mystery. As far as the background was concerned, it was not the miners' strike that I remember. As far as the mystery was concerned it was too full of stock characters and silly coincidences.
P. D. James "The Private Patient" : It was like taking a trip down a familiar highway and that is because - other than the institutional setting - all P D James' books seem to be the same. The same daft names, the same unbelievable protagonists, the same multiple motivations for murder. Perhaps the kind of puzzle books that she writes were fresh and interesting forty years ago but now they seem as tired as a well-thumbed Sudoku magazine. It wasn't that I couldn't work out who-done-it, it was just that I didn't care.
Alexander Frater "The Balloon Factory" : It is sub-titled "the story of the men who built Britain's first flying machines" and it does what is says on the tin. It is more a series of related newspaper articles than a book and there isn't a clear, coherent structure to it. Like those early flying machines, it's a bit light and skips about all over the place. But those early Sopwith Camels and De Havilland Flying Boats were quite fun, and so is this book.
Dominic Sandbrook "Never Had It So Good" : This massive 800 page history of the late 1950s starts so well : the early chapters on Suez and Macmillan are beautifully written and endlessly revealing. But a third of the way through it seems that the author has decided to write a thick and chunky book and the pace slackens and the plot is lost. All those hundreds of pages of political history, social history, economic history and cultural history begin to overwhelm you and you finish up with yet another history book you know you will never finish.
Henning Mankell "The Pyramid" : This is a collection of short stories all featuring Kurt Wallander and all set in the period before the first novel in the series. They tell us something about the development of the Wallander character but even with this additional material, the Inspector remains a wonderfully complex and multi-layered creation. The stories - some long, some short - are intelligent and beautifully crafted. Sheer joy.
But the winner of the 2009 P&O Cruises Book Bag Awards is .......
Sara Paretsky "Bleeding Kansas" : Surprising, engrossing, different and delightful. One is tempted to say that with this book, Sara Paretsky grows up, but that is unfair as her VI Warshawski books have always been a cut above the usual crime thrillers. One of the great joys about Bleeding Kansas is the way she plays with time : if it wasn't for the ipods and the mobile phones you might be back in the 1930s or the 1860s. Like all good books it takes you places you had never thought of going. Perfect holiday reading.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Holiday Photographs

As promised here are three more of the photographs I took during our recent holiday.
Marbella
Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Extract From The Ship's Log 1

Tuesday 2 June 2009
Somewhere in the Bay of Biscay

I am sat on what is known as the Promenade Deck - a wide track that runs the entire perimeter of the ship and which, my friend Harry tells me, is a third of a mile in circumference. Harry knows because he has walked it many times this morning and he is not alone. As I sit here, a whole procession of the frail and elderly walk, limp, stumble and occasionally wheel their way by, making me feel outlandishly lazy and outrageously young. P&O must be glad to have us on board as I strongly suspect that the four of us have brought the cruise APA (average passenger age) down to about 82. We don’t mind the pronounced skew on the overall age profile : Harry can get his choice of machines in the gym at any time without competition, I find the wifi spots are deserted, and if other people are in the queue for the best seats in the theatre in front of us, we just kick their walking sticks from under them.

Looking out from my deck-side seat there is nothing but an almost endless vista of blue waves. But just as I write this there is an announcement over the ships’ loudspeakers that a passing pod of whales can be seen from the starboard bow. I catch a quick glimpse of a spurt of water shooting into the sky and then the deck is over-run with passengers hobbling out from the various coffee rooms and bridge classes. The combined weight of this mass of passengers puts the ships’ stabilisers under considerable pressure. The whales pass and the perambulators resume their perambulations, the bridge players return to their trumping and I nervously check my watch to see if it time for my first drink of the day.

Later:

My watch says 11.15 and I know we put the clocks forward last night so I persuade myself that it is legitimate drinking time and settle down in a Piano Bar with a Grolsch. I am lucky to get this as the young waitress initially misunderstands my request and thinks I have ordered a “lunch”. It is only when she returns with a menu amd place setting from the adjacent dining room that the mistake is noticed and - as with all problems on P&O ships - quickly rectified. The pianist - a large gent with vaguely Greek looks - is doing a passable impression of Bill Evans but with extra flowery bits added. Perhaps he has sinus problems because every so often he presses the bridge of his nose with one hand whilst breathing out energetically. This, it must be said, he achieves whilst continuing to play the melody with the other hand, providing his watching audience (me and an elderly couple in the corner), with a polished example of multi-tasking. They are quite strong on multi-tasking on board : you are quite likely to see your evening dining room waiter serving drinks at the pool bar in the morning and the chap who plays the trombone in the theatre orchestra varnishing the lifebelt lockers on the Promenade Deck.

Must go now because I suspect that the waitress is about to return to tell me that my lunch is ready!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Back

Home at last after seventeen glorious days. We visited some wonderful places - the picture above was taken in Venice - and we were lucky enough to have near-perfect weather. I will try and feature some of the more interesting photographs during the rest of the month and eventually put a collection on-line.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Essential

Whilst AB is still on his way back from Gibralter, I thought I'd sneak this in. Loo "1" in our development house, not yet fixed to the floor or with a seat, but plumbed-in in the sense it flushes and the waste goes to the sewer. Or... not. Builder Alan mobiled me shortly after I took this triumphal picture to say he'd suddenly discovered he'd left a test "bung" blocking the output of the sewer-trap, which had conseqently filled to over-flowing for testing the flush. (Only that, so only water!)

Note that the floor actually has its final laminate on it, but there's no wainscote, yet. Nor paint on the new plaster on the walls. (The plaster looks wet because first test the water coupling on the left fell off when I went to tighten it. These teething troubles....)

But the photo represents more. The loo is in an internal bathroom... it's lit by low voltage shower-proof lights. And although you can't hear it, the extractor fan is going. It also represents that the upstairs flat is not that far short of getting its (identical) loo fitted soon, as well!

The kitchen units (both flats) are arriving tomorrow, as are the final radiators. The ground floor flat is all-but fully plastered. For that flat, a few licks of paint, an orgy of switches and sockets actually wired (the wires are waiting), a few trivia such as internal doors and floor covering (and actually building the kitchen and finishing the bathroom) and it's ready for sale. Only a month or so. Upstairs flat not far behind....