Monthly Archives: January 2021

I Liked Right Well

My home-made desk calendar today features an image from a postcard – sent 110 years ago by my Great Aunt Eliza to her brother, Fowler Beanland. The view is of Fleet Street in Bury. I must admit, I don’t think I have ever been to the town – an omission that I will try to put right once this lockdown in ended – but Google Maps suggests that Fleet Street no longer exists and has been replaced by a shopping mall.

The message on the card is as follows:-
17th April 1911 : Dear Brothers, Just a line to say that I arrived alright, I went to the New Church at Heywood last night and I liked right well. Mrs Land went with me and they were a man and woman sat with us and they gave us an invitation to their house.With love, Eliza.
At the time, Eliza would have been 31 years old and she was living in Rochdale. I suspect, but I am not certain, that she was in domestic service, but I need to gather some more evidence.

Making My Mind Up About AI

I still can’t make my mind up about AI. Artificial intelligence (AI) colourising programmes are all the rage: smart little apps where you can feed a monochrome image in at one end, and a beautifully realistic full-colour rendition emerges from the other end. To be honest, sometimes it is beautiful, sometimes realistic and sometimes it is colourful, but rarely all three. And sometimes it has the look of the kind of thing a three-year old, fed too much chocolate and given too many coloured crayons, would produce. I get to thinking that the old, faded, and bleached-out vision of faces from a bygone era is more lifelike than some daisy-fresh technicolour dream. And then I feed another old Victorian pasteboard photo into the AI machine and see life emerge, and it takes me back to the thrill I used to get when black and white images would slowly emerge from a dish of developer solution. As I say, I can’t make my mind up about AI. I will spend the day with these two colourful Victorian girls and see what they say about artificial intelligence.

Two Girls With A Parasol

My calendar today features a photograph from over ninety years ago of two girls posing in a seaside studio with a parasol. The photograph was taken in Cleethorpes on the stormy east coast of Britain, where parasols tended to be confined to the photographers’ studio. The date of the photograph I estimate as 1929 or there about. The young girl on the right of the picture, as we look at it, is my mother, Gladys. I remember her telling me about the photograph when, as a child, I would leaf through the photograph albums. Was the other girl called Florrie? – I forget. They were two young girls on a day trip to the seaside from their jobs in the woollen mills of Bradford. It was a lifetime ago – and, as I face the prospect of trudging through the snow today, it feels increasingly like two lifetimes ago. But after my trip out to walk the dog, I can come back into my slightly warmer office and look at that smile I remember so well.

Where?

If you ask me where I come from, I will say Halifax: even though I was not born in the town. For the first five years of my life, I lived far away in Bradford, and we only moved across the border when I was five. Even though I wasn’t born in the town, and I have not lived there most of my adult life, Halifax is where I spent my formative years, and therefore my home. My son was born in Sheffield, and even though I managed to get him back to the Halifax area by the time he was five – and keep him here for those self-same formative years – by the age of eighteen he had gravitated back to the steel city. If I ask him where he comes from, he will probably wave his Wednesday scarf in the air and say Sheffield. I will often show him my old photographs and ask him to identify the location. If they are of Halifax, he will shrug his shoulders with the kind of indifference that only a non-native of the town can muster, and ask for pictures of that southern city he calls home. So, today’s calendar picture is for Alexander – where is this? It is somewhere in the city (or it was when I took it forty years ago), but where? I have removed the street signs so as not to give it away. (Note to Sheffield Council: when I say removed, I mean removed via Photoshop rather than a bolt-cutter and crow-bar).

When The Song Thrush Sang

My calendar image today features a view of Throstle Nest Farm in Shepherd’s Thorn Lane, Rastrick, which is only a few minutes walk away from where I live. The farm is long gone, all that remains is part of a vaulted cellar, and therefore this chance to see it as it would have been 100 years ago is a welcome one. The image comes from an old vintage postcard I recently acquired. There is a message on the back, but it has faded into mysterious obscurity.

As I look out of my window, the ground is thick with snow, therefore there will be no walk down Shepherd’s Thorn Lane today. I will content myself with looking at the scene as it was over a century ago, on a sunny summer’s day, when the song thrushes were still singing.

The Arts Tower Is Long, Life Is Short

My calendar today shows a scene I am very familiar with as it was taken from the front window of the house I lived in forty years ago. Some of the Photoshopping may be new, but the photograph, the moodiness, the compelling shapeliness of the scene, all date back to my time living in Oxford Street, Sheffield. The magnificent building is the Grade II listed University of Sheffield Arts Tower (1965) which used to dominate the view from the small terraced house where we lived. Some times the sun would reflect off its glass panels, sometimes it would fade into the Sheffield mist; always it was there. I sometimes imagined the great Gods of the Arts, residing in the upper floors, like some twentieth century equivalent of Mount Olympus. My life has moved on over the last forty years, but the Arts Tower remains. The inevitable little aches and pains that are such a part of one’s seventies, serve only to remind me of the carved aphorism on the wall of the Medical School which was just behind the Arts Tower, “Ars longa, vita brevis

On Discovering Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman In My Freezer

I found Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman at the bottom of my chest freezer the other day. Not, I hasten to add, the late and somewhat lamented Liberal Prime Minister (1836-1908), but the frozen carton of pie and peas named after him. Now who, in their right mind, would name a dish of pie and peas after a somewhat obscure nineteenth and early twentieth century Prime Minister, I can hear you ask? The answer is, of course, me and my friend (and in-law), Ian. Some time ago, back in the good old days when pubs were still open, we would frequent a pub quiz, where, along with fifty questions, you were given a free dish of pie and peas. Not wanting to interrupt an evenings’ drinking with unnecessary eating these would occasionally be taken home to be consumed later and, in some cases, were consigned to the deep freeze. I cannot remember exactly which one of us started the habit of naming these dishes after former Prime Ministers, but it is a habit that stuck, and at one time or another, the likes of David Lloyd-George and the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham could be found in freezers around Huddersfield.

By chance, I acquired a rather nice vintage postcard featuring Sir Henry, a couple of weeks ago. It dates from 1905, a time when Sir Henry – known to one and all simply as CB – was in power. His pie and peas were, sadly, well beyond their consume-by date and had to be disposed of. However, to make up for it, CB can share my desktop today.

A Waste Of Time

Throughout my life I have experimented with psychogeography (the non-structured exploration of urban environments by chance). As a child, some 65 years ago, my father and I would often go to Halifax Bus Station and catch the first bus that was leaving to “see where it took us”. Ten or more years ago, I embarked on an exploration of West Yorkshire by visiting 500 metre squares chosen by a random number generator. Such exercises in psychogeography are activities for sunnier months – and months when we are not locked down at home. In winter months, therefore, I restrict myself to psychogeography’s first cousin – psychohistory. And by that I mean, the random exploration of history, driven by chance and a delightful lack of purpose. So let us jump on any old newspaper and see where it takes us.

For my exercise today I have not used a random number generator, but simply gone back 100 years to the 11 January 1921. My newspaper of choice is the Daily Mirror, for no other reason than it had an attractive front page, which is useful if I have to live with it on my desktop for the rest of the day. And, as expected, my pointless exploration of the byways of history had fascinating results.

100 years ago today, the Hereford by-election took place and the front page of the Daily Mirror (then a ultra-conservative, right-wing paper controlled by the Harmsworth family) was full of photographs of their favoured candidate in the election, Alderman Ernest Langford. “Alderman Langford, a local man, liked by all who know him, smiles in anticipation of victory” runs one of the captions. Langford was the anti-waste candidate, and the Mirror was a big supporter of the Anti-Waste League (a political party established in 1921), indeed the Mirror owners’ son was the leader of the party.¬†

You can forget your twenty-first century interpretation of the name of the campaign – this had nothing to do with pollution and the environment. The “waste” they were against was the waste of public expenditure on such things as benefits for the poor, house-building or any kind of state social provision. They wanted a small state and an even smaller rate of income tax. Given their media backers, they were remarkably successful, and soon had the ruling Conservative party fearing an electoral rout: so it quickly took the policies of the League on board and began to push, what we would now call “austerity” in a bid way. They appointed a commission under Sir Eric Geddes to look into public expenditure, and the Committee eventually recommended sweeping cuts in spending on education, health, housing and pensions – the so-called “Geddes Axe”. ¬†Most people now agree that the impact of this was to seriously exacerbate the economic crisis that dominated the 1920s and 1930s.

Who says you can’t learn anything from history!

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