Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sepia Saturday 85 : It's New Brighton ... And It's Sheet


Moving on to the next photograph in the recently discovered family stash : hopefully it will not give rise to the controversy of last week. I can say with some certainty (based on a penciled annotation on the back) that it shows my mother, Gladys, my brother, Roger, and my father, Albert. Roger was born in 1943 and therefore I assume the photograph was taken in either 1946 or 1947. This would make it at least a year before I was born, which is strange as I can detect my own particular mark of the composition and execution of the photograph.

As far as place is concerned, I suspect it was taken in either Bridlington (on the east coast of England). or New Brighton (on the west coast). For decades the location of the annual family seaside holiday would swing between these two extremes with the regularity of Foucault's Pendulum. It may not be much of a clue, but the car in the background seems to have a registration number of GNC 766 and under the old system of localised registration, NC was one of the registration strings allocated to Manchester. As Manchester is nearer the west than the east I would put my money on New Brighton, but no doubt my brother will write in and say Bridlington.

You may recall that in a comment on my Sepia Saturday post last week, Roger simply said "it was fork" and challenged me to recall a family story. The story relates to an argument between my grandfather, Enoch, and his wife, Harriet Ellen. One night, the story goes, they were looking out of their window at a storm which was passing over Bradford. "That's fork lightening", said Enoch to Harriet. "Nay Enoch, it's sheet lightening", responded his wife. "Now I'm telling thee Harriet, it's fork", countered Enoch. "It's not, it's sheet", she replied. "Well, I'll say no more to thi, let this be an end to it" said Enoch, .... "but it's fork".

You can see many other Sepia Saturday posts by following the links on the Sepia Saturday Blog

Friday, July 29, 2011

Picture Post 1019 : A Round Peg On A Crown Green


The GLW and myself have been taking Crown Green Bowling lessons recently (for which we are eternally grateful to Sue B). After an hour on the green we retire to the Club bar where I take drinking lessons (for which I am eternally grateful to Denis C). But after three or for weeks I still keep getting my finger peg mixed up with my thumb peg. More practice is needed (whether at bowling or drinking I am not sure). The picture was taken on Wednesday and shows my bowl next to the jack. It didn't stay there for long I am afraid.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A McLuhan Kind Of Guy

I have a big box stored under my desk full of nearly-new notebooks. Plain ones, lined ones, leather-bound ones, loose-leaf ones : you name it and I have bought it from a stationers' shop. I have a weakness for new notebooks which probably has its' roots in some deep Freudian malaise ... but it is too early in the morning to examine that kind of thing.

I can't start a new project without acquiring a new notebook : and because I start (and quickly abandon) new projects with the rapidity of a pigeon pecking corn, I have a lot of notebooks with just a few used pages. "Tear out the used pages and re-use the notebook", I can hear you saying (well I can't hear you saying that, not in any real sense, not like I can hear Amy the Dog speaking to me, but you know what I mean), but that never works. It is the newness of the book that attracts rather than the potential of the project. I suppose I am a Marshall McLuhan kind of guy : for me the medium is so often the message.

With the coming of the computer age, little has changed other than the fact that the notebooks have been joined by their digital cousins. I plunge into the world of Facebook, swim a length, pull myself out, dry myself off, and make a bee-line for the Twitter Pool. My new iPad is already full of Apps that can record, systematise, analyse and sanitise almost any thought I may have (indeed, I suspect I have more Apps than thoughts, and as I progress towards serious old age, I will have more Apps than brain-cells).

So when my good Blogging friend John Hayes offered me an invite to sign up for the new Google+ networking system, I jumped at the chance. Who knows, Google+ may be the answer to all my problems, Google+ may help me to speak to the world with a clarity that commands respect. If nothing else, it provides me with an opportunity of getting one up on some chap I might be standing next to at the pub. After he has told me about his prize marrows, or the success of his football team, or the perspicacity of his offspring, I can always turn to him and say, as I gently sip my pint of Black Sheep, "Are you on Google+ yet?"

To the select few within my circle of friends on Google+ I apologise for my fumbling efforts with the system so far : things should get better as I discover what I am doing. To the select many who are not part of my circle of friends, please take pity and be-friend me, I am a lonely old man. To those not on Google+ yet I have but one thing to say to you - losers!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mam On Shipley Glen


Today would have been the 100th birthday of my mother, Gladys. To mark the occasion here is a photograph of her taken, I would imagine, some 75 years ago. Penciled on the reverse in what looks like my childhood hand is the phrase "Mam on Shipley Glen". Happy birthday Mam.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Picture Post 1018 : Digital Flora


iPhones might not take perfect photos, but they are darned useful. This was from a series of photographs taken the other week during the course of a walk through Oakwell Country Park, near Gomersall. The GLW had forgotten her wild flower book and therefore I had to keep taking photographs of wild flowers we came across by the side of the path and texting them to our friend Jane for identification. Within minutes, Janie would text back a perfect identification. The wonders of digital technology.

Monday, July 25, 2011

There Was Enough Said At Our Edie's Wedding


The next best thing to a good family is a good family feud. You know the kind of thing : Uncle Frank hasn't spoken to his Cousin Sid since some imagined slight whilst the pair of them were on a day out to Doncaster Races in 1954. That great British comedian, Al Read, managed to sum this particular aspect of Northern working class life up in one memorable phrase : "There was enough said at our Edie's wedding".  The real causes of such familial rifts are often lost in antiquity, the stuff of family speculation and legends. So, in the interests of future generations of the Burnett family, I would like to take this opportunity of putting on record the origins of an emerging feud in the family : the row between myself and my brother Roger.

It all started with my current Sepia Saturday post (Digging Around In The Anderson Shelter) and my carefully argued conclusions that it was a youthful Alan Burnett in the photograph. Everything was going fine and I was being congratulated on my evidential analysis and reasoning : until my brother added his "two-penneth worth", as we used to say in Yorkshire. I was wrong he declared : it wasn't Southmere Drive, it wasn't 1948, and most important of all it wasn't Alan Burnett! It was him : Roger Burnett.

Well, I ask you! Who taught him how to send e-mails, who passed on to him the secrets of blogging? Before I instructed him in the digital arts he was nothing more than a water-colour painter and sculptor. And how does he repay me? By shooting me down : demolishing my credibility on my own blog. All you have to do is to look at the profile pictures above. The elderly gent on the left is my brother, the youthful and vibrant chap on the right is none other than myself. Now I ask you, who looks more like the baby in question. No don't tell me ... there was enough said at our Edie's wedding.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Picture Post 1017: So Much Sea


The last of my selection of holiday photographs for the time being. This was taken from the cabin balcony as we left Ponta Delgada in the Azores. Somehow it sums up the whole experience of sailing the ocean : so much sea, so little obvious life. Picture Post will continue as a feature, bringing a selection of my old and my new photographs.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sepia Saturday 84 : Digging Around In The Anderson Shelter


Moving on to No. 3 in the recently discovered Family Stash, and this one certainly gives us more clues as to dates. That is my father, Albert, on the left, and he is holding ... well he is either holding me or my brother Roger. Now given that my brother was born in 1943 and I was born in 1948, that definitely moves the photographs on to the mid or late 1940s. But which?

"Is that me or our Roger in that photograph?" I asked the GLW last night during a break in the pub quiz (I seem to recall we were mulling over the anagram "rotten batchelors" meaning "famous author" at the time). She said she had no idea and suggested I should try facial recognition on Picasa. "Is that me or our Roger?" I asked Maxine, the Landlady, and she quite logically pointed out that as she had never met my brother she had no idea (It must be said in my defense that I had downed a good few pints of Timothy Taylor by then). In the sober light of this morning, I checked the facial recognition on Picasa, but like everyone else it simply said it had no idea.

So a new approach is necessary. First of all, where are we? The answer I suspect is the back garden of our house at 6, Southmere Drive in Bradford - a location which would be equally supported by either a 1943 or a 1948 date. But look over that fence, what is going on in next door's garden? What did people dig in their gardens in 1940s' England : not potatoes, or cabbages or plunge pools or gazebos. No, they dug Anderson air-raid shelters. Bradford did get bombed during the war, although on nothing like the scale of some other British cities. But, if it is an Anderson Shelter, is it being constructed or destructed, dug-in or dug-out?

Research shows that the worst bombing raids over Bradford took place in 1940 and 1941, and it would therefore take an especially slow citizen to start constructing his shelter in 1943, let alone 1948 (this is, after all, Yorkshire and not Lancashire we are talking about). But it would take an over-optimistic citizen to start filling his shelter in as early as 1943, but not perhaps, 1948.

So there we are. Say hello to young Alan Burnett pictured with his Dad.

Start digging through other Sepia Saturday contributions by following the links on the SEPIA SATURDAY BLOG

Friday, July 22, 2011

Picture Post 1016 : The Azores - Fire Lake


I read somewhere that if you measured from top to bottom and ignored the water in-between, the Azores would be among the ten highest mountains in the world. There is something rather majestic about this mountain top that dares to pierce the mid-Atlantic. Fire Lake, the caldera frequently hidden by the clouds, passively awaits the next eruption. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Gentle Twitter : Big Game And Beery Love

It seems a long time since we had an update on the Gentle Twitter project I launched earlier this year. A couple of cards arrived whilst I was away on holiday. Thanks to Karen and to Kate.


The card from Karen of the delightful Border Town Notes Blog is a first for me from Africa : a continent I have been thinking about a lot recently as The Lad is over there. He is in the North-West, in The Gambia, whereas Karen's card comes from Botswana. It looks a spectacularly beautiful country and one I would like to see before I settle down into old age.

If you have a look at Karen's post which features my card to her, you will notice that the "Gentle Twitter" project seems to be expanding all over the place. Wonderful : long may the postcards fly across the seas.


The card from Kate Hanley - of the ever-fascinating "Life With A Cocktail"  Blog - features her home city Philadelphia. It was one of the many, many cities in America that I didn't get time to visit during my recent visit, and another one to put on my growing list of places to go when I return to the USA. That is particularly so  as it seems to host something called "Philly Beer Week" which sounds like the kind of Festival which was invented with me in mind. As far as the Founding Fathers are concerned - any nation established on the dual principles of love and beer sounds alright to me.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Picture Post 1015 : Wall - São Miguel


After visiting Boston we set sail back across the Atlantic. The sea was flat and mostly encased in low cloud. After about four days, a series of small islands emerged from the sea-fret : the Azores. My photograph shows the wall of a typical house on the island of São Miguel. No topical references today : but hang on, doesn't that chap look as though he has had shaving foam thrown in his face!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Could Someone Tell Me How Gladys Is Going On In Ravenna

This Blogging lark is a wonderful thing. I have friends all over the world and I can send messages and news to them all the time. For some particular reason, I seem to have a lot of friends in Ohio, a place I had hardly heard of before I took up my digital pen in 2006. Just think, I can sit here in West Yorkshire and communicate with people in far-off Ohio and exchange wonderfully meaningless little gems of conversation. How lucky I am, that kind of thing could never have happened 100 years ago.


Wanting to relax in preparation for the public execution of the Murdochs later today (a.k.a. their appearance before a Parliamentary Select Committee) I took a random dip into the plastic boxes that contain my Great Uncle Fowlers' vintage postcard collection. At the top of the pile was this picture postcard sent in April 1913 from Ravenna in Ohio to Keighley in West Yorkshire. I suspect that the Mr and Mrs Dawson who it was sent to were neighbours of Fowler and, knowing his postcard-collecting hobby, they passed the card on to him.

The reverse reads as follows:
"Dear Friends,
I guess you would be surprised to hear of me being in the hospital. Well I am glad to say I am home now feeling pretty good, of course I am just sitting up a few hours a day, but have got along fine considering how sick I was. Please don't screw my neck round! With love from Gladys".

Who Gladys was and what on earth was the matter with her neck I cannot imagine. As with all such things we can let our imaginations out on a day-trip and see where they take us.

Ravenna is easier to track down, as is the "modern business block" which features in the 1913 picture postcard. With the aid of Google Streetview I can visit Ravenna a lot easier  than I could have done back in 1913. But StreetView has its limitations : whilst it can show me how the building is going on, it can tell me little of how poor old Glad is fairing. Luckily, as I say, I have friends in Ohio. Perhaps one of them could nip down to (or possibly up to) Ravenna and check out how Gladys is keeping. Thanks.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Being Made To Endure, Public Wrath In A Sewer

Many of you might recall that wonderful song from the Gilbert and Sullivan opera, the Mikado, the chorus of which goes as follows:

"My object all sublime
I shall achieve in time
To let the punishment fit the crime
The punishment fit the crime;
And make each prisoner pent
Unwillingly represent
A source of innocent merriment
Of innocent merriment"

The verses give delightful examples of how this system of retributive justice would work. For example:

"All prosy dull society sinners,
Who chatter and bleat and bore,
Are sent to hear sermons
From mystical Germans
Who preach from ten till four.
The amateur tenor, whose vocal villainies
All desire to shirk,
Shall during off-hours,
Exhibit his powers
To Madame Tussaud's waxwork"

I am not sure whether people from outside the United Kingdom appreciate the political storm which is sweeping through this country at the moment. We are seeing media moguls fall, once-powerful editors being arrested and leading public figures resign with astonishing rapidity. Each morning, most people in this country turn on their radio or television, not to check the weather or the traffic jams, but to see who has fallen overnight. With this in mind, I have decided to write a new verse to the Mikado's song. It goes as follows:

"The newspaper owners and editors too,
Who have hacked off the public for years
Are made to endure,
Public wrath in a sewer,
Whilst hanging from the roof by their ears.
The slimy politicians who cower and beg,
At their feet to get a good press,
All have to stand,
With cap in hand,
Whilst their sins they have to confess"

All together now .... "My object all sublime, I shall achieve in time, to let the punishment fit the crime, the punishment fit the crime ......."

UPDATE
One of the best things about blogging is that it becomes an interactive experience, where the blog-post is merely the opening statement in what, with luck, becomes a fascinating conversation. There can be few better examples of this than my post for Sepia Saturday about my Uncle Wilf at the seaside. Within hours of the post going up, the image had been examined, investigated and interpreted by people from throughout the world. I had been told that Wilf was a part-time bookmaker, that Frank Randle was possibly appearing at the concert on the pier in the background, that Amy's skirt was probably post-war, and that - based upon the number of studs on the wheel of the truck - it was definitely pre-1960. Thanks to everyone for joining in and for making this form of collective analysis so thoroughly enjoyable,

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Picture Post 1014 : Reflections On A Boston Church


Trinity Church, Boston seen in reflection in the windows of John Hancock Tower. I have even managed to get JFK into the shot. Boston is definitely on my list of places I intend to return to.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sepia Saturday 83 : Googling 'Andles


The second photograph from my recently discovered family stash, and the eagle-eyed might have already spotted it last week when it was at the top of the photographed stash. If this is the case, perhaps the eagle-eyed would stay with me a few moments and help me out with a couple of issues : date and place. Let us start with what we know : the photograph shows my mothers' sister Amy along with her first husband, Wilf Sykes. Amy was born in July 1904, the same year as her husband, and they were married in 1929.

So much we know - now step forward the eagle-eyed. My first guess on finding the photographic stash was that the photographs dated from the 1930s, but I am beginning to question this assumption. Whilst the settings and styles say the 1930s, Wilf looks a lot older than the thirty-odd years that would make him. I think we might need to advance the clock by ten years and recognise post-war austerity when we see it. Mind you, Wilf was never a well man as far as I remember. A woolsorter by trade, I can just about remember him from my childhood. I do recall all the female members of the family gathering together at family parties, and shaking their heads as they discussed his health. He died in 1963, whilst still in his fifties, so I guess those old maids could spot bodily decay with the precision of a CAT-scanner.

Let us move onto place. Obviously we have the seaside (that is a pier in the background), but which seaside. They lived in Bradford and therefore the obvious choice would be Blackpool, Scarborough or Morecambe, but I am not sure : they had a bit of a reputation of travelling the world - well at least as far as Torquay. The only clue I can make out is half a word near the entrance to the pier - N - - - ANDLE, but what that is a clue to I can't imagine.

I have a week before I uncover the next photograph in the stash, so excuse me whilst I start Googling 'andles.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Picture Post 1013 : Marble Mausoleum


William Kissam Vanderbilt's Marble House in Newport, Rhode Island. It was built between 1888 and 1892 at an estimated cost of $11 million (the equivalent of $260 million in todays' prices). For a considerable period the house was used for little more than a clothes store. Now it is a very well-run museum, but it still has the feel of a mausoleum.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Slavery, Lions, And Public Humiliation In The Press

The way things are with News International in this country, I suspect that you can get a lot more truth by reading old newspapers than by reading new ones. So let us take another dip into the past by looking at the Leeds Mercury of July 13th 1811 - exactly 200 years ago today. The three short items I have chosen appeared next to each other on page 3 of the issue. I have provided the best transcription I can of what were rather faded scans.


RUN-A-WAY APPRENTICE
Whereas George Shaw, apprentice to Joseph Bottomly of Farnley Tyas, Clothier, did on the latter end of May, abscond from the service of his said Master, this is to give  notice that whoever harbours or employs the said apprentice will be prosecuted as the law dictates. He is about 14 years of age, near five feet high, dark complexion, with light brown hair. Had on a drap mixture coat, corbeau waistcoat and leather breeches.

What can be said, other than that this particular piece appeared in a British newspaper in 1811, some 76 years after that stirring anthem Rule Britannia was first sung. You may recall the chorus : "Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves, Britons never, never, never, shall be slaves"

POSITIVELY TO CLOSE THIS DAY
Under the patronage of their Majesties, The Royal Menagerie, from Exeter 'Change, London.  S....io begs leave to inform the Ladies and Gentlemen and the public of this town and its environs, that he will avail himself of this opportunity of offering his Grand Exhibition of Living Curiosities for the last day in this town, the largest menagerie that ever traveled this Kingdom. Admittance to see the whole of the Grand Menagerie - Ladies and Gentleman 1 Shilling, Children half price. Feeding hours from eight to nine o'clock in the evening; 2s.

The Royal Menagerie was founded by King John at the end of the 12th century and was normally based at the Tower of London. It was eventually closed down by the then Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington, in 1835 and the remaining animals were transferred to form the basis of the London Zoo. Lions and bears were known to feature prominently in the Royal Menagerie collection and in 2005 two lion skulls were unearthed during excavations in the grounds of the Tower of London.

PARDON ASKED
We, the undersigned, did on Tuesday morning, July 2nd 1811, willfully break the windows of Thomas Barnard of Hunslet, in the Parish of Leeds, and break down the wall etc of John Good of Hunslet in the parish aforesaid, for which they have threatened a prosecution against us, but on consideration of us asking them pardon, and promising not to offend in like manner, paying the expenses already incurred, and inserting this our Pardon once in the Leeds Mercury, they have agreed to stay all further proceedings against us. Now we do therefore hereby ask pardon of the said Thomas Barnard and John Good and thank them for their lenity towards us. As witness our hands this 8th day of July 1811.
JOHN BOOTH, Sowlane-Head., ABRAHAM KEIGHLEY, Bell Isle., JAMES TINSDILL, His Mark, Hunslet Carr, WILLIAM HIRST, His Mark, Sowlane-Head, JAMES BOOTH, His Mark, ROBERT FOSTARD, His Mark, Bell Isle, JOHN HALL, His Mark. ......?

An interesting way of delivering justice without the cost of trials, investigations and prison sentences. One has to think that there might be many a good argument for reintroducing this kind of arrangement for dealing with what we now term anti-social behavior. Above and beyond anything else, the payment for such adverts would provide a useful source of revenue to a press that is under financial pressure. But how would we deal with the situation when it was the newspaper itself that was asking our pardon - and for offences far more serious than breaking a window

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Picture Post 1012 : Where Apes Swing And Angels Sing


I took this picture from the top of the Empire State Building late one evening. Looking up, the radio mast from which King Kong swung punctured a night-shrouded cloud.  Looking north you could just make out the lights of Harlem and I swore I could hear Billie Holiday gently singing "Autumn In New York".

Monday, July 11, 2011

That Seashore Of The Senses


If there is one thing that I like, it is an image. Painting or drawing, full colour photograph or monochrome scan : it doesn't really matter. It is the image that counts : the image that leads you on, plays with your senses, takes you for a day out. For me, "image" and "imagination" are close bed-fellows that share more than a random collection of letters. This love of the interplay between words and images is at the root of my love of blogging, for blogging is the true descendant of the great photo-journalistic traditions of the first part of the twentieth century. At that point where words and images come together - that seashore of the senses - that is the place where I want to be.

Take the painting above. Painted by the not very well known English artist, John Holland, in 1869, it shows the Calder Valley at Lower Ewood, between Halifax and Hebden Bridge. The landscape depicted is so typical of this part of the world : the moors giving way to the hills and valleys, the raw industry leaching into the rural heartland. The scene would not be radically different today as it was when Holland took out his paints and canvass some 150 years ago. But the interesting thing to my mind, is that the painting is part of a collection owned by Calderdale Council and, to the best of my knowledge, has not been on public display for many a year, if at any time at all.

We are seeing it now thanks to a unique project which is being undertaken by a joint initiative between the BBC, the Public Catalogue Foundation (a registered charity) and participating collections and museums from across the UK. Entitled "Your Paintings" the initiative aims to make available scans of all 200,000 oil paintings that form part of public collections in the United Kingdom. You can search the Your Paintings Website by artist, place tags, collection and examine good-quality scans of the 63,000 paintings already added to the on-line collection.

Whatever your interests, the on-line collection provides a fascinating diversion from whatever boring task you are supposed to be undertaking. If, like me, you are an habitual rambler along the seashore of the senses, it is an essential destination.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Picture Post 1011 : New York, New York


Our ship moored in mid-town Manhattan, about a twenty minute walk from Time Square. And the best way to get a feel of that magnificent city was to walk : block after block, skyscraper after skyscraper. For many of the sights colour didn't matter, colour simply interfered with the stunning impact of the shapes.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Sepia Saturday 82 : An Exercise In Measured Randomness


The other day I came across a small bundle of photographs which I inherited from my parents. I must have acquired this stash several years ago and it has gathered dust in a forgotten box for many a decade. Bundled with an elastic band the prints are small - the largest are just two inches by three inches - and seem to date back to the 1930s. All lovers of old family photographs will understand the joy and sense of anticipation you feel when you discover such a stash - your first reaction is to examine them in detail and see what treasures you might have uncovered.

Something stopped me from doing this : something made me want to stretch the pleasure of discovery as far as I could, as far as that old elastic band would stand. So I decided on an exercise in measured randomness - to uncover the photographs week by week, to individually scan, enlarge and explore them.. I always find with old photographs - especially small prints like these - it is that process of exploration that is the most fascinating aspect.

So what have we in the first of the prints? It clearly shows a group of eight working men, mechanics or machine-men by the look of the overalls. And one face is instantly recognisable to me : the chap sitting on the right hand end of the seat is my father, Albert. The photograph looks as though it was taken in a park or garden, and the workers look as though they may have been on a break from work. I would guess it was taken in the mid or late  1930s - by which time my father would have been in his mid to late 20s. There are so many other things to note - their clothes, the fact that so many of them are smoking, the individual expressions on their faces. But attempting to describe what you can see on such a random old photograph is a bit like reading second-hand travel books : interesting, but not half as interesting as going out exploring yourself. So excuse me whilst I go and explore : I have a week until the second print is uncovered.

To explore more fascinating old photographs just visit the Sepia Saturday Blog.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Picture Post : Bon Voyage Atlantis


Here is my attempt at a topical picture. It was taken four weeks ago and shows the Space Shuttle Atlantis already on its launch pad. If the Florida weather clears, it will launch later on today and a whole chapter in space flight will come to an end. When we were at the Space Centre, there was a feeling of sadness about the place as it prepares for its future as a superior theme park rather than as an active scientific facility. Within the next couple of days, the rocket and its' boosters will be gone - the metal shed and the simulator rides will remain. Bon Voyage, Atlantis.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Brain Juice And Family Hair Looms

Brain-juice started leaking from my head the other day. Not a lot, but sufficient  for me to consult the GLW and commission a cursory head examination. The problem, she informed me, was that I had managed to get the top of my head sun-burnt and a blister had developed which had subsequently burst (if you are reading this over your breakfast fry-up I do apologise). "How could this be!", I declared indignantly, "my head never gets sun-burnt  it is protected by my fine head of hair". "Sit down, dear husband, I need to tell you something", the GLW responded, her voice infused with almost forty years of matrimonial fondness.

Later I was reflecting on the strange realisation that I might be going "thin on top", and reviewing the evidence. My father had a good head of hair until he was in his 90s, and so did most other members of the family. My brother might be a little sparse (he cunningly wears a hat in his profile picture) but I have always put this down to his spending too many years in the tropics. I turned to my collection of old family photographs to find further evidence of the Burnett's hirsute traditions, and, whilst most family members have the look of unkempt forest gibbons, I did come across this photograph of a gent with a dangerously exposed pate. According to the reverse of the picture, the suggestion is that it is a certain Mr Burnett of Westow, near York, but I suspect that he may belong to another branch of the Burnett family altogether.


So this post is, in fact, an appeal to anyone out there who has a Mr and Mrs Burnett of Westow, Kirkham Abbey, York, in their family tree. It is the reverse of the normal appeal you get from genealogists - in this case, please get in touch as I hope we are not related.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

An Announcement And Some Wooden Houses

All that talk of constipation yesterday has brought the importance of keeping regular to the forefront of my mind. Given the far more complex nature of my life following the retirement of the GLW, I have decided that it is better to have one blog that is regularly updated rather than two that are not. Therefore, in future, my Picture Post feature will be moving from its own dedicated Blog to News From Nowhere making things easier for me, easier for you, and easier for mankind in general. "Picture Post" posts - the defining feature of which will remain more image than words - will be inter-spaced with the normal News From Nowhere offerings.


I took this picture a couple of weeks ago in Charleston, South Carolina. As I was clinging to the back of a mule-driven cart at the time I like to think that it represents a triumph of modern photographic technique. What it does show is that Americans do wooden houses really well. According to something I read the other day, some 80% of Americans live in wood-frame houses : given the look of these houses, you can see why.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

A Marchioness, A Good Book, And Intercourse.


I do like to read a good newspaper and increasingly I like to read them on-line. But whilst we were on the high seas, hard-copy newspapers were impossible to obtain and digital versions were prohibitively expensive to download. I therefore decided before we went on holiday that, if I was going to have to read old news, I might as well read really old news. I therefore downloaded onto my iPad a whole raft of 19th century newspapers in order to keep my occupied on the Atlantic crossing.

And that is how I came to be acquainted with the poor Marchioness de Brehan and her upset tummy.Back in the 1890s newspapers were obsessed with patent medicines and quack remedies. Adverts for pills, potions, infusions and tonics of every kind dominated the columns of local and national newspapers promising to rid the reader of everything from coughs to constipation, sallow skin to torpid liver. Prominent among the products advertised was "Du Barry's Revalenta Arabica", which, it appears, was a kind of unappetising lentil mash. Unappetising it may have been, efficacious it certainly wasn't, but with the power of the new science of advertising, almost anything could be sold. Du Barry's used to push their own particular short-cut to "perfect health to stomach, lungs, nerves, liver, blood, brain and breath" by printing extracts from the 10,000 annual cures they claim to have received notification of. Mr Spadara of Alexandria in Egypt was cured of "nine years of constipation" (a frightening thought in every sense) whilst a certain Miss De Montlouis of Paris managed to get rest after two years of sleeplessness only after taking an infusion of Du Barry's Revalenta Arabica. As for the dear old Marchioness, she had suffered from "seven years of liver complaint, sleeplessness, palpitation and the most intense nervous agitation and debility" which rendered her "unfit for either reading or social intercourse". After a cup or two of lentil broth, the dear Marchioness was once again reading and participating in intercourse like a spring chicken.

But who was this rather unfortunate - and later, one supposes, rather fortunate - Marchioness de Brehan, and who was the life-saving Du Barry? The latter question is easier to answer as it appears that the medicine was named after Jeanne Bécu, comtesse du Barry (1743 – 1793) who , when not serving as the last mistress of King Louis XV, liked to cook up recipes involving lentils and cauliflowers. Her elixir of life didn't work in her own case as she had her head chopped off in the French Revolution. The Marchioness is more difficult to track down, but it could just possibly be the same Machioness de Brehan who was a friend of George Washington and who was responsible for one of the most famous early paintings of the President. If it is indeed the same lady, she must have been getting on a bit by the time that she wrote her letter of recommendation for Revalenta Arabica. But, whatever age she may have been, let us raise a glass - of Revalenta Arabica or Bass Pale Ale (whichever is closer to hand) - in praise of the cure that allowed her to pick up her book again and do whatever else she felt up to.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Harry's Final Warning


So there we were on a coach, speeding down a ten-lane highway from Miami Airport to our overnight hotel in Fort Lauderdale. We were all fascinated by the coach-driver who seemed to just about manage to steer the coach, conduct a heated debate with several other parties over a walkie-talkie radio, and wrestle with a severe astigmatism all at the same time. This, I was thinking, was yet another example of the positive benefits of experience - he must have been nearer 80 than 70 - when the coach caught fire. His first reaction was to ignore this event. At the time we put this down to a John Wayne like American bravado, but later we realised that his cataracts prevented him seeing the dense smoke wafting through the coach. Eventually, in a rather British way, someone said "Excuse me, don't you think you should stop the coach"

Stop it he did and we all clambered out whilst the driver and a passing break-down truck driver attempted to tackle the blaze with fire extinguishers. Unfortunately it was the brakes that had caught fire and therefore, even once the fire had been put out, we were going nowhere. At this point the driver became suddenly concerned for our welfare and ordered us to move well away from the coach. Most did : my good friend Harry was far more reluctant to do so. All our luggage and belongings were on that coach and Harry is a retired police sergeant - there was no way he was going to abandon the scene. As the driver became more and more insistent that Harry moved away, the more Harry (an ex- guardsman as well as an ex-cop) stayed rooted to the spot. Eventually the driver proclaimed "this is your final warning if you don't move I will ...." At this point he realised that his intended threat - "if you don't move I will make you get off the bus" - had somehow lost its efficacy. Harry stayed on guard until a replacement coach arrived.

Within a couple of hours we were sat in a magnificent hotel bar, drinking beer and eating delicious American burgers and fries, and laughing over Harry's final warning.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Sepia Saturday 81 : Albert (A Welcome Destination)


I am still finding my metaphorical feet following my prolonged absence, and this Sepia Saturday submission reflects this. It was going to be my submission for Sepia Saturday 80 as that took place on the 25th June 2011 which was exactly 100 years after my father, Albert Burnett, was born. You may recall that the archive image last week showed a complicated piece of machinery, just the kind of thing my father, a mechanic, would have been at home with. But with all the things happening last week - such as getting The Lad ready for his African exploits - I never got round to posting the image. I did, however, remember to raise a glass in his memory.

Albert would not have been too surprised by this late submission as he always felt that I left things to the last minute and could never arrive places on time. And Albert would have approved of my priorities as he would always put his children first. This photograph must have been taken in the 1970s when he was probably about the same age as I am now. I feel myself growing into my father as the years go by (The Lad always leaves things until the last minute and can never arrive on time!) - a destination I am proud to travel to.

Albert has been dead just over eight years now and I still miss his calm good sense, his cheerful good humour and his love. He was a good man, a nice man. He was my father.

To see the other contributions to Sepia Saturday 81 go to the SEPIA SATURDAY BLOG

Friday, July 01, 2011

Some Random Thoughts On A Visit To The United States


1.  The United States is a wonderful place : not merely because of the scale or wealth of the country but because of its diverse, friendly and fascinating inhabitants.
2.  There is a breakfast waiter at the Sheraton Hotel, Fort Lauderdale who deserves a US Tourist Board prize for welcoming people to his country and for serving probably the finest breakfast I have ever eaten.
3. There is a strange sadness hanging over the magnificent Kennedy Space Centre as the balance tilts from it being an active scientific facility to becoming a passive tourist resort.
4. Mule-drawn carts could provide a solution to many of the urban transport problems facing modern cities. If it works in Charleston there is no reason it shouldn't work in Chesterfield.
5. I could happily live in New York and survive merely by soaking up the excitement and energy through my skin by a process of osmosis.
6. The view from the top of the Empire State Building at night takes a lot - a very lot - of beating.
7. Newport, Rhode Island is a magical place and its Historical Society have some of the best audio guides I have ever come across. But it would have been even better had I been able to meet up with a certain "old hippie, amateur photographer, musician, poet, and essayist" for a pint there.
8. If you take a bus tour through Boston, try to avoid a bus with advertising slogans across the windows (somebody owes me the cost of a return trip to Boston).
9. A week is a very short time.
10. I want to go back and explore properly.