NEWS FROM NOWHERE
The Sweet Caress Of A Buffalo Chewing Puppy Dog
It’s always the same with January: in like a lion of good intentions and out like a lamb of distractions. From the giddy heights of the first day of 2016, I surveyed a carefully crafted campaign of meaningful blogposts – as regimented as a Brigade of Guards and as regular as a packet of Pomfret Cakes. And within a few short weeks, I find myself once again having to pen an apology for blogging absence. On this occasion the culprit is obvious – it is a small chocolate-coloured bouncy parcel that is beginning to answer to the name of Lucy.
She operates according to a remarkably manic timetable, dashing around the world at high speed, driven by an obsession to chew at anything that crosses her path. And then, without any real warning she will crash into a deep sleep, that offers you, her guardian, the hope of grabbing a few moments of normality – the chance to make a pot of tea, put your trousers on or plan a blog post – before all such hopes are buried under a renewed mountain of puppy-chews, half-digested copies of the Guardian, and other things too gruesome to relate.
On the few occasions I have managed to find a puppy-free moment I have been lost in a good book, which – ever since the onset of the digital age when you have an almost unlimited supply of literature at your downloadable finger-tips – seems to be an increasingly rare pleasure (there is an inverse square law waiting to be written here).
The book in question is the wonderful “Sweet Caress” by William Boyd which relates the life of a fictional twentieth century photographer called Amory Clay. Interspersed with a excellent story-line are both photographs that supposedly come from her camera, and descriptions of the nature of the photographic process that will resonate with anyone who has ever picked up a half-serious camera.
Any book that can overpower the demands of an eight week old puppy must be a compelling read – Sweet Caress is a book I can heartily recommend.
That might sound like an advertisement, but it is not. This, however, is. Lucy is not fed on Spratt’s Dog Cake – in line with any self-respecting twenty-first century mollycoddled pooch she is fed a scientific-formulated, veterinary-planned, vitamin and mineral enriched kibble. I am tempted, however, to see if I can still acquire a bag of Spratt’s, which in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century always claimed that it was produced with the extract of American Buffalo meat.
I have managed to occupy the few minutes that Lucy has been asleep by reading a brief history of Spratt’s Dog Foods, and whilst not quite of Boydian dimensions, it is a fascinating story. Did you know, for example, that they were the fist company to erect a billboard in London, or that during the course of World War 1 they produced 1,256,976,708 dog biscuits for the British Army?
But the Lusitania now stirs, demanding exercise, distraction, play and something to chew on. Do you fancy a little bit of baked buffalo meat Lucy?
A Tale Of Ripe Beer And A Neighbourly Alderman
The Shibden Mill Inn is a delightful pub, set in glorious West Yorkshire countryside. It is a place where you can get a splendid meal, but it is also somewhere where they are just as happy to serve you a pint of real ale and a bag of peanuts. Most hours of the day and night, 365 days a year, rain or shine, you will find a welcome at the foot of Blake Hill. And so it has been for over three hundred years…..
This intriguing story comes from the local Halifax Courier and Guardian of 77 years ago and illustrates how the laws on drinking have changed over the last half century. It is a report of a police prosecution of the landlord of the Shibden Mill Inn, Jonathan Whitworth, for serving alcohol outside licensing hours, and of a customer, Harry Rawson, for consuming a glass of beer a few minutes after closing time on Christmas Eve 1938.
You can read the story and marvel at the degree of fuss which is made about such a minor incident. You can ponder on the motives of the two policemen who obviously had nothing better to do than to stand in a pub yard at quarter to midnight on Christmas Eve in the hope of trapping some recalcitrant imbiber with beer froth stuck to his upper lip. You can marvel at the evidence – presented with all the seriousness of a murder trial – whether the handle of the beer glass was turned in the direction of the customer or the landlord, and whether the ripeness of the beer was the cause of the lasting head. You can sit back and enjoy the defence put forward by Harry Rawson: the fact that he had witnesses prepared to swear that he had not touched the demon drink for months and his wonderful doctors’ note saying that he “was not to touch beer at certain times of the year”.
Ridiculous as the case undoubtedly was, I was glad to see the outcome of the trial that was heard in front of Alderman Leach and Alderman Stirk. They dismissed both cases with Alderman Leach commenting – no doubt with a twinkle in his eye – that he thought it was foolish of the Landlord to leave glasses lying around. When I was young, the same Alderman Leach lived next door but one to me. By then he was very old, but he was a splendid chap who retained that very same twinkle in his eye.
Half Time Scores : Still Open And Serving 2, Closed And Forgotten 2
I am still in the pub – but a different pub in a different place at a different time. I was scanning some old negatives today – as one does on a cold rainy day – and I came across this strip of five monochrome negatives I must have shot in the mid 1970s (1975 is my best guess). Our friend Jane had just moved to Eynsham in Oxfordshire and we were visiting for the weekend and the first thing to do on visiting a new village is to walk around taking pictures of all the pubs (40 years and I have not changed at all). I suspect that there is a companion strip of negatives to this somewhere as there were more than five pubs in the village – but the five represented here provide a good overview of what has happened to village pubs over the last forty years.
As far as I can discover, the Jolly Sportsman and the Swan are still going strong – providing real ale and decent food for villagers and visitors alike. The Evenlode is still open but now it is a restaurant and carvery that mainly caters for the passing trade. The Railway Inn closed shortly after this photograph was taken – the victim of a bad fire caused by a hay wagon that caught fire. The Star is also gone, converted into a housing redevelopment six years ago.
So the score so far is two all (we will ignore the Evenlode for the moment – to the half serious drinker, restaurants don’t count) as far as open and closed is concerned. We will call in a half-time score in case I find the second negative strip which records the other pubs of the village.
On A Charabanc Trip To Obscurity
This is another of Rock Tavern Jack’s photographs which we have both examined in great detail in order to find a clue as to its location – but with no success. It is obviously a loaded charabanc about to set off an an outing to the seaside or a race meeting or some such venue. The date is probably the first two – or at a push three – decades of the twentieth century. It is almost certainly a pub trip, and that is the pub just behind the “chara” : but the pub signage is too indistinct to read. The chances are that the pub will have been somewhere in the Halifax area as that is where Jack’s family come from.
I am reproducing the image here for a couple of reasons. First of all it might be that somebody can possibly identify the scene. I have checked through Stephen Gee’s excellent two volume history of Halifax Pubs to see if I can recognise the building but I can’t. The last time I featured one of Jack’s photos, Stephen was able to provide background information and we may be lucky again.
The second reason is just that it is a magnificent photograph. Look at that line of Yorkshire faces – as iconic and as memorable as anything you would find on Mount Rushmore. And look at that charabanc – the Suffolk Punch of motorised transport. It is eighty or ninety years since charabancs were seen on English roads. Their demise is rather sad: the modern-day hen-night stretch limo could not hold candle to these magnificent motorised beasts. It would appear that their journey to obscurity has reached the terminus – in 2011 Collins Dictionary finally removed “charabanc” from its lists.
1426 : ‘Twixt Crumpets And Crampons
Another picture of the grain silos in Brighouse, this one taken ten years ago. At the time, the silos were stuck between their past as part of a flour mill and their future as part of a climbing gym: ‘twixt crumpets and crampons.
1427 : Cast Iron Feathers
Some years ago they tidied-up the canal towpath in Brighouse, planted a couple of benches so you could sit down when you ate your fish and chips, painted a mural on the wall and invited the Prince Of Wales to come and declare it open. So they painted the cast iron bollards a royal blue and picked out the Prince of Wales feathers in gold paint. It’s what passes for civic pride these days.
1428 : Footprints In The Earth
There is a moment of wonder and excitement when they discover a new set of fossilised dinosaur footprints. That moment when your imagination tries to imagine what kind of creature could possibly have made such a lasting impression on the earth. Imagine what they will think when they dig this up in a couple of hundred thousand years!
1429 : Never Saw The Sun Shining So Bright
BLUE SKIES, BROWN TREES : Alan Burnett (2006) Ref: 160204-24
Smiling at me
Nothing but blue skies
Do I see
1430 : Lucy On The Floor With Carpet
“Newspaper taxis appear on the shore
Waiting to take you away
Climb in the back with your head in the clouds
And you’re gone”
THE DAILY SCAN
Negative Scan : Elland Mills And A Hub-Cap Tree
A scanned strip of six monochrome negatives which dates back to the early 1970s. That is Isobel in the kitchen of her old house and most of the other shots on the strip are mill properties in or around Elland. The exception is the photograph of the workshop over the River Hebble in Halifax.
Enoch And The Concert Party
A church concert party from the 1930s. The church was in Great Horton, Bradford and I can definitely recognise two people in the group. That is my grandfather, Enoch Burnett, second from right on the back row. Heaven knows what character he is supposed to be playing, but I would have paid a small fortune to have been in the audience. And that is his daughter, Miriam Burnett (my Auntie Miriam) sat in the centre of the front row.
I have a provisional ID for five others in the photograph, although this is based on some scribbled pencil notes on the back of the photo. Who knows, perhaps they will come back from the grave and identify themselves.