Words, Images And Memories From The Writer And Blogger, Alan Burnett
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Is it just age that makes you far more susceptible to time travel? Sometimes it can be a word like advocaat, sometimes a pattern like the geometric madness of 1960s wallpapers; most times it is an image.
These two photographs were taken at a Christmas Party at my parent’s house, sometime around 1965. They are full of memories, and by themselves could provide a rich itinerary for a week’s worth of time travel. The table with the Christmas drinks – it was always a bottle of advocaat, a small bottle of Babycham, and a bottle of sweet sherry. There may have been some port left over from a previous Christmas, but I can’t recall there ever having been beer, and wine was unheard of. There is that wallpaper which is guilty of assault and battery on the senses, and the posed expressions on the faces of my aunts and uncles. There was a dish of biscuits – maybe even a chocolate one – an artificial tree and a warm sausage roll or two. It was a moment or two in time, captured within the cardboard confines of a colour slide. Now it is a rich vein of memories.
A photograph of mine of Halifax in the early 1960s. The Town Hall was still soot-encrusted, the cars parked outside the White Swan Hotel had an over-abundance of chrome, and Pohlmann’s still sold pianos.
Sheffield is built on hills and therefore back yards are often more like back cliff faces. This was the back yard of the house we lived in forty years ago: big enough for a dustbin and a pushbike. Washing hung like kites, getting ready to launch once a decent breeze got up, destined for the skies over distant Rotherham.
It seems so strange to see a Latin gravestone. Perhaps in Westminster Abbey or some don-filled university necropolis; but in the churchyard at Coley, within soot-falling distance of an old mill. And so beautifully carved; as though the beauty of the carving could somehow disguise the horror of a death too early. Moss now grows in the crevices, taking the edge off tragedy.
When you add colour to an old photograph – or rather when some artificial intelligence source sat high in cyberspace adds colour to an old photograph – you tend to notice things more. This is an old photo of my mother and my grandfather which must date from either the 1930s or the 1940s – but which? The addition of colour makes her dress quite distinctive, and potentially more useful in dating the photograph. My wife – who knows about such things – tells me it is 1950s, but that can’t be the case, unless the same artificial intelligence has brought my grandfather back from the dead. Before seeing the colourised version of the photo, I had assumed that it was the early 1930s, but now I am beginning to think that was too early. The logical conclusion is the period around World War 2, but I tend to think of the clothing of that period as somewhat drab and uncolourful. Could the photographer – possibly my father – have captured a moment towards the end of the decade when the colours were about to go out all over Europe?
For 130 years it has looked down on Southgate, Halifax from above where the Boars Head Hotel used to be. I remember it smiling down from above the then Berni Inn: stone features set like well roasted crackling. These days it greets folk coming to mobile phone shops and greeting card emporiums – or it did until the lockdown came. Who knows what it has made of the quiet streets and the masked pedestrians, but next week it can begin to welcome people back to shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants. Slowly at first, just a few, outside and fully masked: but before too long, as many as are in the feast.
We took a walk down by Elland Bridge yesterday and saw the strangest thing. The old Halifax Zoo used to be just up the hill from here, and stories abound of escaped animals wandering through Elland Woods. We all know of the famous meandering bear …. but a dinosaur!!
Well, there you go – doesn’t three months go quickly when you have nothing better to do than produce your own daily calendar. When I started the project, I thought it might last a week or two – a month at the most, but now I am surrounded by calendar pages, and I have posted one to my blog every day since the beginning of the year. But now the sky is blue, the lockdown is easing and life pops its head around the corner to remind you its there. I will keep on producing the daily calendars, for the next week or two at least, but I will abandon the daily posts and get a life.
My room is packed from floor to ceiling with boxes full of old photos, old newspapers, old writings and old memories. Occasionally I randomly dip into a box and scan what emerges. Today it is a copy of the New Penny Magazine from – as far as I can make out – about 1898. It contains an article entitled “Little Housewives” which could form the basis of a PhD thesis on gender stereotyping at the turn of the twentieth century. Here is but a short extract:-
LITTLE HOUSEWIVES : A Visit To A Housewifery Centre. The frying-pan rules the world, or rather those who wield that powerful weapon do so; or to put it in a more matter-of-fact way, the happiness of man depends in great part upon the skill or otherwise of those who manage the household; or to come really to the point, a good housewife is a boon and a blessing to the man who is lucky enough to win her for his mate. Bearing this weighty fact in mind, I turned my steps one afternoon towards Walworth, S.E. or, to be precise, I went down there by train, and found myself first in Beresford Street, then in a school-yard, full of merry maidens of immature age, who looked on me, I have no doubt, as a strange thing strayed from another world, for what business had a man there? Before me stood a small house, at whose door I timidly knocked, I entered to find myself in a neat kitchen, on the left I saw an equally neat scullery, on the right a cool-looking tidy sitting room. I was in the “housewifery centre”, which I had come to see, where I had heard that girls were initiated into the mysteries of house-keeping. COOKERY AND DOMESTIC ECONOMYLESSON IX : Theory – (a) Eggs; their chief constituents. (b) How to test and preserve them. Demonstration – Poaching an egg. Custard pudding. Boiled batter pudding. Class Practice – In above and boiling an egg. Principle Taught – Dietary value of eggs, various methods of using and cooking them. DOMESTIC ECONOMY AND LAUNRY WORKLESSON IV : Theory – The process of washing, rinsing and blueing clothes. Blue and whence obtained. Demonstration – Washing “fine things”, rinsing and blueing.
It will form a suitable calendar photo for today, and perhaps remind me, not only how to boil an egg, but of the importance of social change.