Monday, December 21, 2015

Reading Dreams That Have Already Run Their Course


My hand is slowly recovering from the surgery of a fortnight ago, although it is still quite difficult to achieve the careful manipulation which is required for such tasks as typing, writing Christmas cards, driving and washing up! Whilst this means that I have to be driven to all those endless Christmas get-togethers and visits to the pub (at which, I am happy to report, determined physiotherapy has already resulted in my ability to lift a pint glass), it also means that my end-of-year blogging has been, at best sparse, and at worst as fecund as the generosity of spirit of a Daily Mail editorial. For this I apologise and promise to improve my productivity (and my similes) in the New Year.

As always, breaks in routine provide opportunities for allowing my imagination to wander down slightly different byways; and I have become a little obsessed by a small batch of old medium format negatives I recently bought on eBay. I have no idea who they belonged to or where they came from, now have I any clues as to the identity of the subjects: but in restoring some of these old photographs such ignorance can be a kind of bliss.  My guess as to the period most of the negatives were shot is the immediate post-war years, and they were obviously taken by someone who had a significant degree of photographic skills (anyone who went to the trouble of keeping their negatives is likely to have been a keen photographer).


One of the great joys of working with old negatives is that you can bring to them all the digital tools of the Photoshop age, tools that would have been beyond the imagination of the amateur photographer of fifty or seventy-five years ago. As an old negative appears on the scanning screen after probably half a century of dark slumber, you almost feel as if you are bringing something back to life, waking an image up from a lengthy hibernation. You look into faces that have been unlooked at for generations and read dreams that have already run their course. There is something rather magical about it : especially when you are sat at home with a bandaged hand and only a limited supply of real ale for company.

So I would like to leave you with a final image, one which seems to sum up everything I love about old photographs. And with it I would like to wish each and every one of you a most enjoyable Christmas and a happy and peaceful New Year. 


Monday, December 07, 2015

Proposals For The Future Of Halifax


I had to stand precariously in the middle of the road in order to get a modern comparison shot to the one featured in this old Edwardian picture postcard (the things I do for whatever it is I do). The danger was worth it because the two shots provide testament to the skill of generations of Halifax town planners who have managed to preserve much of the Victorian architecture of the town. As a relatively small town wedged in between its bigger city cousins, Halifax is constantly trying to find its way in the post-industrial age. I think the solution is relatively simple - and not outrageously expensive. Demolish any building built after 1930 (the date is somewhat arbitrary but would allow the cinemas to remain); re-lay the tram lines; and market the town as an Edwardian and Victorian retail theme park. Job done.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Concrete Bull In A Monochrome China Shop


In 1968 I went to live in Birmingham for a year. These two photographs were taken during that period and feature what was, at the time, the modern shopping centre at the heart of the city : the Bull Ring Centre. The Centre was all blocks and concrete, passages and steel. overpasses and underpasses. It was a delight for the monochrome photographer - but not for much else.


The old Bull Ring Centre has been demolished now (replaced by another one which has imaginatively been called Bullring) I have not been there yet, but I suspect that it will not provide the same inspiration.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Sepia Saturday 308 : The Lusty Cloth Dressers Of Halifax


Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week features an illustration from a late Victorian edition of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. There are all sorts of directions I could go with this theme. My Great Grandmother, for example, married a chap called J Robinson Thickpenny; but that is another story altogether and best left until after the watershed.

Daniel Defoe himself would be a useful thread to follow, for the man had a considerable affection for Halifax - the little Yorkshire textile town I will always call home. Defoe was a jobbing-writer of the best sort, turning his hand to anything that would put food on the table (if he had been alive now he would probably have published a blog). During his lifetime, other than the famous Robinson Crusoe, his bestselling work was a book entitled "Tour Thro The Whole Island of Great Britain" which was a lengthy Bill Brysonish travelogue in three volumes. During his tour of Yorkshire, he describes Halifax at the dawn of the industrial revolution at some length.

"...and so nearer we came to Halifax, we found the houses thicker and the villages greater...if we knocked at the door of any of the master manufacturers we presently saw a house full of lusty fellows, some at the dye vat, some dressing the cloth, some in the loom. .... those people all full of business; not a beggar, not an idle person to be seen, except here and there an alms-house, where people antient, decrepid, and past labour, might perhaps be found; for it is observable, that the people here, however laborious, generally live to a great age, a certain testimony to the goodness and wholesomness of the country, which is, without doubt, as healthy as any part of England." (Daniel Defoe, 1726).

But it is a thread nearer the hearts of Sepians everywhere that I have decided to follow - choosing to feature another icon with a dog on the sands in my main photograph. The icon will need no introduction to committed Sepians - it is Auntie Miriam herself, the pin-up girl of Sepia Saturday. I like to think that the elderly lady standing with her is Athena, the Greek Goddess of digital imaging, and that the dog playfully wandering in the background carries the spirit of my own dear Amydog (this is unlikely as Amy disliked the sand with an intensity that matched her love of boiled ham).

So once again, Sepia Saturday takes me on the kind of ridiculous journey which makes life interesting. Far from being deserted, my island is full of characters : my great grandmother and her husband; the lusty cloth dresssers of Halifax, Amydog picking the sand from her paws and, of course, the iconic Auntie Miriam.

FIND OUT WHO INHABITS THE DESERT ISLANDS OF OTHER SEPIA SATURDAY PARTICIPANTS BY VISITING THE SEPIA SATURDAY BLOG AND FOLLOWING THE LINKS

Monday, November 30, 2015

Photographic Flotsam And A Jewel On The Sands


Flotsam is defined as floating debris or wreckage that has not been deliberately abandoned. You may not have come across the concept of photographic flotsam - indeed I would be amazed if you had as I have just invented the term - but it can be defined as images that are accidental byproducts of other images which are worth collecting in their own right. Let me illustrate my point with this seaside image.

It is an image of someone or other, somewhere or other and was taken sometime or other. I cannot be more precise as it comes from an old medium format negative bought as part of a job lot of dark-room sweepings on eBay. A scan of the full negative is reproduced at the top of this post. It is fairly obvious that the photographer was interested in the group of five, and when they printed the negative all those years ago they may well have cropped all extraneous matter off to produce a print rather like the one on the left.

But if they had done so they would have lost the photographic flotsam - and what a treasure it is.


The little girl with the suitcase on the sands. Unknown, undated and probably unprinted. But in her own photographic way - a little jewel.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Exclusive : The News From Nowhere Colouring Book


I was checking the Amazon bestsellers list today (as one does) just to see what position Connections From Nowhere had climbed to (before you ask it is now the 935,957th best selling book in the UK). What really surprised me was that two of the top three books in the bestselling list are colouring books! I am not sure what it says about the state of modern society, but it appears that the best selling book in the UK today (as far as Amazon is concerned at least) is The Harry Potter Colouring Book. And if you tire of that you can always acquire the second best-selling book, The Art Therapy Colouring Book Collection.  Obviously my finely crafted philosophical explorations of contemporary culture have been missing the target as far as the market is concerned. 

But nobody can accuse me of failing to jump on any passing bandwagon, so I would like to share with you an exclusive preview of the soon to be published News From Nowhere Colouring Book. Get out your crayons and your marker pens and try colouring in this image of a young farming family. And before you ask, the young lad poking his father with a bit of straw is none other than the author of colouring book in question.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

On Being A Bit Ambivalent About Development


I can't avoid being a bit ambivalent about development. I am the first person to shout and scream at the developers who tore down so much of the West Yorkshire that I grew up with; spurred on as they were by a cocktail of profit and prophesy. With their anthems declaring that the bright new future demanded bright new roads, shopping centres and apartments they lay waste to whatever was seen as old or quirky or tired. But at the same time I don't want to live in an environment that has been pickled in malt vinegar, unchanging and ridiculously old-fashioned like an email written on vellum.

Such thoughts are spurred by this photograph I took back in 1970 or 1971 when construction of what was to become Burdock Way in Halifax got under way. The route of the road is like a giant scar violating the Yorkshire earth, and I long to see the houses and mills and factories that once inhabited what were to become the concrete fields of Halifax. 

But then I remember that, in the main, they were poky little back-to-back houses with outside toilets and damp bedrooms thrown up by some early nineteenth century developer who was equally spurred on by profit and a belief that the workers of the new Victorian age needed new Victorian housing. 

As I say, I am a bit ambivalent about development.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Shoppers Of The World Unite


It is getting to that time of the year again. It happened last Wednesday and then again on Thursday. It will be happening tomorrow and yet again on Wednesday. You know what I am talking about - shopping. Last Wednesday I had to navigate my way around the Meadowhall Shopping Centre and I am due for a return visit this Wednesday. Whenever I have to step through the plate-glass portals of some retail metropolis I cast a secret curse against the person who invented such instruments of torture and wish I was sat at home, in the peace and quiet of my room, sorting through a pile of miscellaneous ephemera. 

Like my collection of old share certificates and this lovely example from the Arlen Realty And Development Corporation of New York City.  The company was formed in 1959 by Arthur G Cohen, Arthur N Levien and Marshall Rose and quickly began specialising in developing retail shopping centres in the United States. By 1972 Arlen owned over 42 million square feet of American shopping centres and built developments such as Olympic Towers in New York and shopping centres in almost every state in America.

Most of my old share certificates have no value at all - they are certificates in companies long gone, bought for a few pence for their decorative value only (I have a long-term plan to re-paper my office with old share certificates). But as I searched the Arlen Certificate for a cancellation stamp and the business pages for a note of the company closing down, I began to suspect that this certificate may be the exception to the general rule. Perhaps I do own 500 shares in this retail conglomerate. As I walk through the doors of Meadowhall on Wednesday I will sing a little hymn to Mr Cohen and his friends who invented the wonderfully rewarding concept of the modern shopping centre.

Shoppers of the world unite - you have nothing to lose but your money. And I have nothing to gain but a decent dividend.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Lending A Hand With The Christmas Rush


When I was a lad I used to get confused about religion. It wasn't particularly the belief systems - if truth be told they still confuse me now - it was more the timing of the various religious festivals. You see my father worked in a chocolate and toffee factory and they suffered from accelerated seasons. When the summer sun was high in the sky and other fathers were accompanying their children to the seaside for the day, my father was at work, doing overtime because of the "Christmas Rush". And that didn't mean that work was slack when the festive season approached, the factory also made Easter Eggs and therefore as the December nights drew in my father would be busy servicing the lines of mechanical hens that lay thousands of Easter eggs.

Although I can't match my father's seasonal anticipation, I have been busy enough myself over recent weeks churning out a variety of calendars and books ready for the Christmas market (by which I mean the Christmas stockings of various unsuspecting and unfortunate friends and relatives). It would be nice to say that the rush is now over and a return to more regular blog postings is imminent,  but I had a call from the Hospital the other day to say that I need to go in for another hand operation in a couple of weeks. We will have to see how things progress, but I suspect that the Easter Eggs might be a little late next year.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Perpetual Motion And A Free Electric Fire


I got an email the other day which promised to reveal to me the secrets of perpetual motion and consequently the chance of the free generation of energy. The organisation which sent it to me said they had been closed down by "Big Energy" who were determined that the possibility of an endless supply of free electricity should not become public knowledge. Big Energy has obviously being doing a good job because the email informed me that the secret was discovered some 84 years ago. 

This particular email was referring to something called the "Hendershot Generator" the blueprints of which you can find in endless books and articles. It has all the necessary ingredients of a perpetual motion device : (1) It looks complicated; (2) It sounds simple; and (3) It doesn't work.  If you are tempted to spend your money by sending for the plans and building your own perpetual motion generator - save it and buy a pair of fur-lined gloves instead - they will have a better chance of keeping you warm as winter approaches.

Many years ago I worked in politics and it was my job to meet and greet visitors who were wanting to see the Prime Minister. My position was a lowly one within the organisation and therefore I was allocated the job of dealing with the crackpots who would turn up demanding to see the then PM (Harold Wilson) because they were ambassadors of an alien culture, or they had just escaped from being kidnapped by spacemen, or they were the lawful successors to the British throne. A regular visitor to my office was a somewhat wildly dressed man who carried a brown cardboard suitcase within which were the plans for his perpetual motion machine. On cold winter afternoons when I had nothing better to do I would provide him with a cup of tea and allow him to get his blueprints out on my desk and talk me through his harebrained schemes. He didn't want money for his invention nor a title and a seat in the House of Lords; he merely wanted recognition and his deserved place in posterity.

Perhaps, after all these years, he is still around and now sending out emails. As I read them, I am aware that the rain is once again lashing against my window and the first snow of the season is forecast for later this week. And I wish I had taken more careful note of his blueprints because the prospect of an endlessly free electric fire is quite an attractive one.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Pork Chop And A Stone Of King Edward Potatoes


This 1905 vintage postcard features a photograph of Halifax Borough Market taken from Southgate. Built between 1891 and 1896, the market dates from a time when Victorian civic pride was channeled by local corporations into the construction of ever-more imposing town halls and market halls. The intention of such buildings was not only to provide  a suitable location for conducting municipal business or for selling produce, but also to build something finer, grander and more imposing than that of any neighbouring West Yorkshire town. 

At the time of my old postcard, both the neighbouring communities of Bradford and Huddersfield had fine Victorian indoor markets. Both, however, fell victim to the demolition craze of the 1960s and 70s - only to be replaced with brick and concrete bunkers. Halifax Borough Market remains, still standing proud, still inviting citizens of the town through its doors to buy a pork chop or a stone of King Edward potatoes.



Monday, November 16, 2015

Clouds Over Huddersfield


When the sun is low in the sky and the clouds speed past with turbo-charged intensity, the scenery of the West Riding of Yorkshire is shown off at its best. I took this photograph earlier today, on my way to meet a friend for lunch. The bridge is the Quay Street Bridge in Huddersfield and the canal is the Huddersfield Broad Canal which has been there since 1776. In the distance you can see Castle Hill - the one-time site of an iron age hillfort, a twelfth century castle, a deserted medieval village and now,  a Victorian tower. Whatever is placed on top of Castle Hill, the same turbo-charged clouds speed past en-route from the Atlantic to the Russian steppes.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Sepia Saturday 305 : A Journey To The Meaningless

Only other Sepians will know what it is like: that journey you are taken on almost every week. It starts on Monday when you see the weekly prompt image and a series of strange and rusty cogs start turning in that part of the human brain devoted to images and memories. The theme image features a French balloon and you know that somewhere you have an old image that just might fit in. So you search through that database that all lovers of old images carry around in their brain, looking for the match. By Tuesday you have abandoned your mental database and returned to those old suitcases, cardboard boxes, books and albums that contain the real thing, the hard copies. You start with the obvious - those collections you know well, those family albums that are seeped in DNA.  

By Wednesday you have widened your search, flicking through galleries of unknown men and women in the hope that one of them might just be holding a balloon.  By Thursday you are getting desperate. Your nearest and dearest are beginning to notice behavioural changes, you are not sleeping and you tend to jump up in the middle of meals proclaiming an urgent need to revisit Uncle Frank's 1952 photo album.  By Friday you have combed through your collection of old postcards, cigarette cards, banknotes and share certificates - searching for that elusive balloon. As your Sepia Saturday deadline approaches you contemplate the alternatives - you could abandon the theme, play the Google card, or head for the Spanish sun. And then, late, late in the evening, you suddenly remember your old bound copies of Punch Magazine. You open the first volume and look at the first page. And there is Mr Punch, flying high over Paris in a balloon.


So you scan your image and write your words and feel pleased with your choice. But then, before the digital ink is dry and you have pressed the "Post" button, the non-Sepia world turns and the awful realities of the world are brought home to you. Sepia Saturday become meaningless and all your thought are reserved for the people of Paris and the horrendous events that have taken place there. At a time like this; themes, photos, and blogs don't really matter: all that does matter is the solidarity of all those who hate violence of all kinds. Let the image of the Eiffel Tower stand for that.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Eternal Salvation And A Good Night's Sleep All For A Fiver

Looking back through the annals of News From Nowhere I see that the blog is nine years old this month. Over that nine years there have been over 1,600 posts which have collectively attracted over half a million page views. And I am proud to say that throughout this period, News From Nowhere has never been sullied by the stench of raw and untreated commercialism. Never once have we accepted the tainted currency of the advertiser wishing to push his or her products to an unsuspecting public. We have remained free, and proud, and independent ....... until now.

ARE YOU LOOKING FOR AN IDEAL CHRISTMAS GIFT?
DO YOU WANT TO IMPRESS YOUR FELLOW COMMUTERS BY YOUR CHOICE OF READING MATTER?
ARE YOU HAVING TROUBLE GETTING TO SLEEP AT NIGHT?


Yes, now you can access the collected thoughts, musings and complaints of a man who has been described as "one of the greatest living Yorkshireman" (*) This beautifully hand-crafted volume contains all the News From Nowhere posts for 2012 in one easy-to-hold, impossible-to-put-down volume. Maybe you weren't born in 2012, maybe you have forgotten what the old fool wrote back then, maybe you want to get your own back on a distant relative who gave you a cold : there are many reasons to buy this unforgettable book. Just £5 from Amazon (with free postage if you are part of Amazon Prime), think of it not so much as an impulse buy, more as an investment in my future.

Don't come from the UK? Don't worry. Retailers from around the world have come together to ensure that you can get your hands on this number one bestseller whether you live in Kansas or Kurdistan, Vancouver or Venice, Harare or Heckmondwike.


CAN YOU AFFORD NOT TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS NEVER-TO-BE-REPEATED OFFER?
CAN YOU RISK NOT BEING ONE OF THE CHOSEN FEW?
BUY NOW BEFORE STOCKS RUN OUT.
BUY NOW FOR CHRISTMAS.
BUY NOW FOR ETERNAL SALVATION.

(*) Quote from News From Nowhere, November 2015

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Victorian Photographer And A Sixties Folk Trio


The other day I received a copy of "The Victorian" magazine through the post along with a short note from a very old friend of ours asking me to look at page 33. The Victorian is the magazine of the Victorian Society - an organisation that campaigns for the preservation of Victorian and Edwardian architecture - and the friend, Peter Howell, has been an active member of the society for the last fifty years. The magazine was doing a short news item on Peter's half century of active involvement and needed a picture from those far off days to illustrate the piece. And that is how a picture I took almost half a century ago at some student party (no it wasn't really a meeting of the Buildings Committee) found its way into The Victorian.

I am inclined to think that I can now class myself as a Victorian photographer - a status that many of my younger friends will be prepared to accept without any trace of irony. So perhaps this old Victorian photographer can match the published shot by another which probably came from the same roll of film. It shows the same Peter Howell along with two of the same acolytes (one of which you may recognise as the GLW). No doubt The Victorian would suggest that this was taken on a field trip of the Buildings Committee, although I have always thought of it as a perfect record cover for some 1960s folk trio.


Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Burying Random Moments Of My Life In A Jamjar

If you want to get a real flavour of what things were like in the past you need to concentrate on the ordinary and not the extraordinary. Look at the subject of any photo from eighty or a hundred years ago and you get an impression of what your grandfather or your great Aunt Maude may have looked like. But look at the background to the photo, that collection of people, places and objects which were also captured by chance by the camera lens and you get an impression of what life was like. Life wasn't the grand drawing rooms of stately homes, life was the cottage parlour with Uncle John's underwear drying on the creel. Life wasn't the once-a-year trip to the seaside, life was the daily early morning walk to the mill or the factory. 

That insightful group of social researchers - the Mass Observation Movement - understood this. They sent their amateur reporters not to record great speeches or practiced sermons, but into the back street pubs to carefully copy down random conversations (their 1943 book The Pub And The People remains one of the most telling books of the twentieth century in my eyes).

In this modern digital age you might think that the ordinary was being recorded more than ever before. Most of the population walk around with powerful cameras in their pockets and Facebook and Twitter appear to record in detail the minutiae of modern life. But as we scroll past the sixth selfie of Cassie on Facebook this week, we need to remember that, however boringly ordinary it may appear to us, it has been recorded and shared because it is special, because it is untypical of Cassie's life. Add to this the fact that such memories are merely transitory and will be lost when Facebook eventually collapses or you change your mobile phone, or your computer is upgraded, and you begin to realise that, as a generation, we may be leaving less of our ordinary lives behind than any other since the birth of photography.

What we need is a modern, digital equivalent of the old Mass Observation project, and I was delighted to discover, a few days ago, that such an initiative exists. It is called Jamjar Stories and its aim is to "use modern technology to continue the founder's - (of Mass Observation) -project to make 'an anthropology of ourselves". I got an email from the organisation last week asking me if I would be interested in participating and I was delighted to join the growing number of people who are together building a repository of the ordinary by means of short video clips.


My own particular contribution is, in the first place, a series of seven random minutes of my life this week. I have used a random number generator to pick the seven minutes (one for each day somewhere between eight in the morning and midnight) and I am recording what I am doing during that minute and posting to the Jamjar Stories website. Above you can see my video for today when the random minute (10.57am) coincided with me feeding the birds.

Anyone can join the Jamjar Stories initiatives: all you need is a half decent mobile phone and a life that is ordinary. Most of us have that.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Facts Being Converted Into Nostalgia

It is the 1st of November. It is looking a little damp outside and there is nothing good on the telly. So let's go back in time.

For no particular reason, let us travel back sixty years to the 1st of November 1955. The big news of the day was the decision by Princess Margaret to give up the man she claimed to have loved - war hero Group Captain Peter Townsend - because he was divorced. Re-reading this story sixty years after the events you marvel at the inappropriateness of the social mores of the time. For a certain section of society it was perfectly acceptable to have affairs, but quite unacceptable to marry then person you loved if that person had been divorced. And just as hypocritical as the actions of the various parties in the affair are the responses of the media and political and religious leaders. The newspapers of the day are full of praise for the "brave decision" of the Princess to give up the man she claims to have loved for the sake of something which is never quite explained. The 1950s really was the height of the age of hypocrisy.

On a more personal note, I was seven and a bit years old in November 1955. I don't have an exact date for this photograph, but it seems to have been from around this period. It shows me in the garden of our house in Northowram, a house we had moved into from Bradford two years earlier. There I lived with my mother and father and my brother Roger. Roger was attending Secondary School in Halifax, whilst I was at the local Primary School in the village.

My memories of that time seem to coalesce around school. I will have been in the third year, one of the two classes that were taught in the outbuildings at the back of the main school. The school has a tarmac playground with a couple of shelters for when it was raining (one for boys and one for girls). It also had a large field which we could play in and within the field was an old air raid shelter which had been covered in soil and turf; an idea location for playing games such as "I'm The King Of The Castle". 

Each day I would walk to school from our house which was on the other side of the village. It was a walk that I can still remember to this day: the little stone houses, the village shops, the bus taking folk into town. And at the top of the street would be the school building; a proud monument to the nineteenth century belief in universal education. The building is still there although it has now been converted into apartments. The memories are still there although the facts have probably already been converted into nostalgia.


Friday, October 30, 2015

Still Crazy After All These Years


You know what it is like. You've not seen them for ages - it must be all of ten years. The memory has faded like an old photograph left too long in the sun. And then you meet them by chance: kismet, fate ... call it what you will. As Paul Simon said: "we talked about some old times, and we drank ourselves some beers". And before you know it you have fallen head over heels in love again.


I know what you are going to say: it's the usual sad story of a more-than-middle aged man who is trying to recapture his youth. But the story is even sadder than that - it is a computer programme I have once again fallen in love with.

Years ago I produced magazines. For about twenty years (between the early 80s and the turn of the century) I churned out magazine after magazine - rackfuls of them. Don't get me wrong, I am not talking Time or The New Yorker or Playboy; I am referring to titles such as The European Trade Union Information Bulletin, Doncaster Europe Express, and infoBASE Europe Report - titles that didn't so much fly off the shelf but bellyflop into obscurity. For a significant period of my life, however, they helped to keep the wolf from the door and the beer cellar full. They were produced with the aid of what, in the late 1980s and 90s, was the cutting edge of Desk Top Publishing software - Aldus Pagemaker. For two decades, Pagemaker was my constant companion, the salt to my pepper, the carriage to my horse. Pagemaker and I got to know each other in almost intimate detail. We would celebrate milestones: the celebration we had when Pagemaker 3 became Pagemaker 4, and the birthday card Pagemaker produced my 40th birthday party. For a time, it was difficult to imagine what life without Pagemaker could possibly be like. And then ....

It is the old, old story; we just drifted apart. Pagemaker became tired, a little too set in its ways. I let my eye wander and allowed my mind to be attracted by new friends offering a glitzy new lifestyle. Desk Top Publishing became passé as the new super word processing programmes stole its ground. All of a sudden everyone loved Microsoft Word, a programme that boasted that it could do anything DTP programmes could do - with knobs on and on ice. By 2004 poor old Pagemaker had even been abandoned by its parents - Pagemaker 8 was never replaced and left to gather dust in some digital old folks home.

During the last ten or fifteen years I have occasionally thought of Pagemaker with a mixture of nostalgia and longing. It would usually be when I wrestled with Word or Pages, trying to get them to do something that used to be so easy back in the halcyon days of Pagemaker 3. There has even been the odd moment when, I must confess, I have looked Pagemaker up on Google to see if it was still around in any of its manifestations. I would find the occasional link to Adobe InDesign (a much posher and far more expensive cousin) but it was out of my league.

And then, by chance, the other day I met something calling itself Swift Publisher 4: and within minutes of trying it out I knew I had rediscovered a long lost friend. It may not be Pagemaker, but it is as close as I remember Pagemaker to be (and at a fraction of the cost). I can dream of publishing again, knowing that I have an intuitive friend to help me lay things out in an attractive and pleasing way. 

Ever since Swift Publisher and I talked about some old times and drank ourselves some beers, I have been someone with a new spring in my step. I now shave every morning and put a clean vest on once a week. The GLW keeps looking at me with a note of suspicion in her glance. Could it be that the old fool has found himself a new love? No dear, don't worry. It is not a new love, but an old one he has rediscovered.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Three Images And An Exercise In Psychoanalysis

Sigmund Freud would have a field-day with my approach to cataloguing photographs. I hate to think what he would make of my need to allocate a sequential number to each image that crosses my desk. No doubt he would scratch his grizzled beard when observing my obsession with tagging and captioning each photograph. By the time he spotted me allocating copies of many of the photographs to subject and origin-based folders he would be planning a weekend conference in order to launch a thorough analysis of the kind of early childhood I must have endured. Here are three adjacent images from my current sequential folder which share nothing other than their status as neighbours in a database. If any analytical psychoanalysts are reading this, let them do their worst.


IMAGE 1510G-23 : Scan of a glass plate negative I acquired a couple of months ago. Two unknown men stand outside a bell tent in the middle of an unknown field. My best guess is that the negative dates from the around the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century.


IMAGE 1510G-24 : Scan of a 35mm negative showing a grass fire in Northowram, West Yorkshire. I must have taken the photograph from the back of my parent's house and I suspect it will have been sometime in the 1970s. I have no idea what caused the fire or what caused me to photograph it.


IMAGE 1510G-25 : A screen grab from the televised match between Sheffield Wednesday and Arsenal on Tuesday night (and yes, Wednesday won 3-0!!!) And yes, the smart looking chap in the blue shirt and tie sat just behind the dugout is The Lad (a lifelong Sheffield Wednesday supporter) who was attending the match as one of the doctors on duty.


Monday, October 26, 2015

Lowryesque Brighouse


The second of my local vintage postcards shows Brighouse, the little town at the bottom of the hill. It was taken about 110 years ago and shows the junction of Commercial Street, King Street and Bradford Road. The George Hotel can clearly be seen towards the centre right of the photograph. The George was built in 1815 (this year is its bicentenary) and it originally had a small brew-house to the rear of the building. At the time the photograph was taken, James Dyson is shown as being the owner of the hotel (you can just make out the name under the George Hotel sign). Records show that James Dyson was licensee at the hotel from 1889 to 1915, at which time he moved to the New Inn in Marsden (coincidentally, a pub which is now the regular venue of the Old Gits Luncheon Club). 


My modern photograph shows the George still standing proud along with quite a few of the other buildings. The handcarts have been replaced by shiny new cars, but there are still a fair few Lowryesque figures to animate the scene.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Sepia Saturday 302 : A Unique Moment In The History Of Mankind



Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week shows a young lady playing a harp and gazing into the near distance, caught in some kind of reverie, and dressed as if to suggest Britannia winding down on a Sunday evening after a heavy day spent knocking ten bells out of the Roman invaders. No doubt you are wondering what on earth that has to do with my featured image which shows an early twentieth century high street of little import and less consequence. The answer is, absolutely nothing at all. The important thing about Sepia Saturday is that there is no requirement to try and follow a suggested theme, merely a requirement to give some seemingly insignificant old photographs it's fifteen minutes of worldwide fame, it's moment in the sun. So this weekend, whilst the lady harmlessly strums her harp strings, the sun shines on the Corn Exchange in ...... somewhere or other.

I have dedicated a good few minutes to trying to identify the location of this particular photograph which somehow attached itself to me (old photographs have a habit of getting into the house through half open windows like flies in the summer), but with no success. The bus legend would suggest perhaps "Ewell and Ascot" and therefore - unless it had strayed too far away from home - we are probably dealing with Surrey. Neither Burden's Restaurant nor Tarrant's School Of Motoring seem to be in business any more, but I would guess that the Corn Exchange building and the monument or market cross still grace some southern high street or other. And I would be prepared to bet a pint of Harp Lager than before the weekend is out someone has written in to tell me where they are.

But the sun is probably no longer shining on the little man on the right of the picture: caught forever in mid-movement in this old, not particularly good, slightly out-of-focus, long-forgotten photograph. But think of all the variables that had to come together to create this image: the man standing, the car coming, the bus going. So many variables that it is unique. The scene was never repeated. Let us be grateful that the photographer was passing by in order to record for posterity this unique moment in the history of mankind.

There are more unique moments in the history of man and woman kind over on the Sepia Saturday Blog


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Death Rides A Pale Dray Horse


I am due to go into hospital soon for another small operation on my hand (it is yet another attempt to halt the remorseless desire of my little fingers to curl in on themselves (a.k.a. Dupuytren's Contracture, a.k.a. Viking Disease)) In preparation for the operation I had to attend the hospital last Friday for a pre-operative assessment. Everything was going well until the nurse took my blood pressure and declared that it was too high, I was given a letter to take back to my GP asking him to start me on a course of antihypertensives and send me back to the hospitals when it was under control.  I was reluctant to start taking pills until I was certain that there was a real problem (I am reasonably proud of my pill-free status) so when I got home I started taking my own blood pressure two or three times a day and all readings were well within normal limits. Armed with this evidence I was able to persuade the Practice Nurse to simply re-check my bloods pressure over a three week period before even thinking about antihypertensives. Yesterday she did the first of these three readings and it was well within normal range.

Feeling rather pleased with myself, I came home and found a chap on my doorstep trying to deliver a parcel (later, I couldn't help recalling that he was a tall, dark chap with a swarthy complexion). I signed for the parcel and took it inside only to discover that it was a case of craft beers with the collective title of "The Day Of The Dead Beer Selection". It contained wonderful offerings such as "Death Becomes You" (An ambler American style IPA); "Death Rides A Pale Horse" (A pale blonde beer); and "Hop On Or Die" (A golden hoppy beer). It arrived without any card or note saying who it was from.

I have a suspicion who might have sent it and in that case its arrival during my blood pressure crisis was a complete coincidence. But I can't help wondering whether it is the Grim Reaper sending me a none too subtle message; the thought of which is enough to send my blood pressure sky-high.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Like A Bradford Lad In Alicante


During my weeks away in the sun this summer I have often found myself homesick for my own, grey, stone-sooty West Riding of Yorkshire. The palm-tree lined Mediterranean promenades are all very well, but sometimes you just want cobbled stones under your feet. The sun can easily enough warm your body, but it takes a particular drizzle-fed wind sweeping down from the Pennines to warm your soul.

At times when the sickness was bad I would dose myself by going on eBay and bidding for selected vintage postcards featuring views of the streets and moors I have loved throughout my life. Occasionally I would win and for a pound or two (a dollar or three) I would be rewarded by a little slice of history - six inches by four inches. Now that the sun and the sangria are just memories, and I cuddle close to my two-bar electric fire, I have the opportunity to share some of these remarkable old photographs.

The first is a view of North Bridge in Halifax which must have been taken in the first decade of the twentieth century. The building on the left of the photograph is still there but the one on the right, the old Grand Theatre, is long gone.


The theatre was built in 1889 on the site of the earlier Gaiety Theatre which burnt down in 1888. At the time my main photograph was taken in was a popular venue for Variety Theatre and the kind of melodramas the Edwardians had a particular passion for. The show that was advertised when my old photograph was taken was "Bootle's Baby", the synopsis of which was as follows: "A captain's secret wife plants a baby on a friend and he weds her when the captain is killed!"

The theatre and its melodramas may be long gone, but the old bridge is still there, although a more modern flyover takes most of the traffic, thus sparing its old cast iron bones. The mill chimneys have also gone and the soot encrustation has been scraped from the walls of the remaining buildings. It looks more open now, and somehow a little lost and out of place. Like a Bradford lad in Alicante.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Sepia Saturday 300 : Let Us Remember Them



We are away at the moment but I could not let Sepia Saturday 300 pass without a quick post. This is a scan of a photograph which was part of a job lot of old photos, bought from eBay for a few pounds. It shares a number of elements with our theme image. Hopefully, by buying the box full of old photos I have saved them from, at best obscurity, and at worst the dustbin. Thus it has been saved. I have no idea who the people in the photograph  are; they are not my relatives, they may be yours, they certainly are someones. Thus it is unknown. And judging by the clothing and the styles and the uniform of the young man on the left, it must have been taken during World War 1. Given the unlimited carnage of that conflict the chances are that at least one of the subjects may have been dead before the photographic emulsion had dried.

So whoever they were, wherever they were from, whenever the lived and why ever they died : let us remember them. That, after all is what Sepia Saturday has been all about for the last 300 weeks. 

Happy Birthday Sepians everywhere.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Sepia Saturday 299 : The Days Of Wine And Wampoles


This photograph must have been taken in 1949 when I was about a year old. That is, of course, me in the pram being watched over by my mother and my brother. The photograph was taken at the seaside, but forget the background, forget the watchers - just focus on that smiling little face. Now take a look at the smiling face of the child advertising Wampole's Preparation on the image prompt for Sepia Saturday 299. It's uncanny isn't it : the same smile, the same happy countenance, the same look of contentment. There can be only one conclusion - I must have been spoon-fed Wampole's as a child.

This conclusion inspired me to undertake further research into the nature of Wampole's - what did it contain, what was I drip-fed along with my mothers' milk? I eventually discovered this image of Wampole's on the website of the National Museum of American History. And suddenly everything became clear : Alcohol 12%! That is equivalent to the strongest beer you can find, the same as a glass of wine, not too far off a whisky with plenty of ice.

At the same time my father was signing me up as a member of The Sons Of Temperance (this is not a lie), my mother was spooning pints of Hardcore IPA down my gullet. No wonder I have turned out like I am . . . .  happy, smiling and very, very content.

Check out what other Sepians think of Wampole's Preparation by going to the Sepia Saturday Blog and following the links.