Author Archives: Alan Burnett

For Me Alone

If, during my lifetime, I had accumulated paper money with the same skill and dexterity that I have accumulated paper ephemera, I would be a rich old man. As it is, I am an old man surrounded by plastic boxes full of old papers of every description, united only in my ability to find a justification for not consigning them to the paper bin. During one for my regular sweeps through my archives of detritus the other day, I came across a copy of the sheet music for the song “For You Alone“. I don’t play the piano, nor the violin. There is a United Nations Resolution on file somewhere that has banned me from singing within 100 metres of another living person. And even if I had the voice of an angel and the instrumental skills of a Paganini, I would not choose to perform “For You Alone“. Its tune is forgettable and its lyrics are best forgotten. The best that could happen to it is to – and here I quote the lyrics – “let it flame before thy shrine“.

And yet I keep it, for what it lacks in musicality it makes up for in memories. The song was made famous by Signor Caruso (you can hear him sing it on YouTube, but its hardly worth the WiFi time). More importantly the music was signed by my uncle, Harry Moore. I can have a photo of Uncle Harry at the piano if I want to, but today I choose some of his sheet music. For me, alone.

Sea, Salt And Sparks

There is something about seaside funfairs – something about the noise and energy of them, and the way ¬†that gets mixed with the smell of fish and chips and seasoned with gusts of salty North Sea spray. The dodgem cars add an extra sensory perception – that spark of raw electricity that leaks from the overhead contact points. The time is forty years ago, the place is on the sea front at Bridlington. The signs that caution “No Bumping” are about as meaningful as a Trumpian promise.¬†

A Fire In Halifax

I can’t be certain, but it must have been around 1967. I had been to the Central Library – which, at the time, was perversely located about a mile from the centre of Halifax – and I was walking back to the bus station, down Hanson Lane. I had my camera with me (which was more of a creative investment back in those days when cameras were bulky, heavy, far from smart, and unable to make the simplest of phone calls), and I was anxious to capture something of interest. The fire engines, hosepipes and watching crowds provided me with just the opportunity I needed: a fire in Halifax.

The original shot was in black and white, but I couldn’t resist adding a touch of colour to brighten up my daily calendar on a very damp and monochrome day.

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.

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