Category Archives: News From Nowhere

It’s Only Nineteen And A Quarter Miles To Rochdale

So why would anyone place a milepost on an obscure back road in Rastrick telling people that it was only nineteen and a quarter miles to Rochdale? Who would want to know that? You might want to know how many miles it was to Elland, but that piece of information has worn away. Further research shows that this was the end of the Rastrick Branch of the Huddersfield and New Hey Turnpike Trust which was established by Act of Parliament in 1806. And where exactly is New Hey? It’s an equally obscure little suburb of Rochdale, exactly nineteen and a quarter miles away.

Harry Moore At The Piano

Uncle Harry was the nearest you could get to a celebrity in our family. For a time in the early 1930s he “trod the boards“, being part of a concert party that did the rounds of the seaside pier halls of Britain. He was never top of the bill, his job was to provide piano accompaniment to true stars like Miss Dorothy Woodhill, “the charming soprano” and Will Kimber, “the well-known Yorkshire baritone“. His name just about lives on in the form of a brief review of the Silhouettes Concert Party in the Bognar Regis Observer of the 17th June 1931. You can find it on page 4, just next to the advert for grey flannel trousers at 14/11 a pair.

He was not understood in working class Bradford in the late 1920s and early 1930s for either his desire to become an entertainer, or, I suspect, for his sexuality. After a couple of years touring the minor concert halls of Britain, he was constrained into a job as a clerk in a coal merchant’s office, and marriage to my father’s sister, Annie-Elizabeth. If J.B. Priestley had been writing their story it would have no doubt finished with a jolly sing-song around a piano; but, in reality, it was more like an Alan Bennet Talking Heads monologue. Bennet would have made much play of that advert for grey flannel trousers, and Miss Dorothy Woodhall, the charming soprano.

Where The Art Is

The French writer, Andre Gide, once said, “art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better.” (well Google says he said it).  Gide died in 1951 and therefore he missed out on smart phone apps. If he had lived on and managed to download a handful of camera apps for his iPhone, he might have considered amending his little homily to, “art is a collaboration between Apps and the artist, and the less the artist does the better“. 

My recent experimentation with smartphone apps leads me to question much of the accepted narrative of art history. Were the likes of Gauguin, Van Gogh, and Monet artistic geniuses way ahead of their time, or did they have access to a Beta version of Adobe’s new Photoshop Camera App? There are enough conspiracy theories going the rounds at the moment and I am reluctant to add to them – but I think we are due an explanation.

Street In Queensbury
Honeysuckle
Shepherds Thorn Lane

Temporal Adrenalin

Most of us respond positively to a challenge. I don’t mean serious, grown-up challenges such as dry rot in your floorboards or your wife running off with the milkman, but life-enhancing challenges such as climbing a mountain or collecting matchbox labels. For some people it is pedalling a bike backwards up a very steep hill (good morning, Martin), for others it is skiing blindfolded down a precipice (how are you today, Ian); but for me it has always been dating old photographs.

For some reason, for the last shot on this particular strip of negatives, my attention was caught by a row of posters. The photograph may be of limited artistic interest, but what it lacks in creativity it more than makes up for with temporal significance. What us date-spotters love more than anything is a watershed, and what better watersheds have there been in the modern era than decimalisation. Back in February 1971 the world changed, and that transition from 12/6 to 62.5p provides nerds like me with endless pleasure. We therefore know that the photograph predates decimalisation. 

There are dates on the posters, but no years, but dates themselves can be a useful tool in pinning down the exact year. The wrestling poster features a contest between Mick McManus and Mick McMichael, which, in itself, isn’t much use, as they seem to have fought each other on a weekly basis for more than a decade. But if they wrestled on Wednesday 13th August it must have been either in 1963, 1969 or 1975. The first of those dates is too early for most of my photographic activity, the last is after the introduction of decimal currency, and therefore we are left with August 1969.
The qualifying round of the British Speedway Northern Riders Championship at the Halifax Stadium on the 9th August is the clincher, the detailed records held on the Official Website of British Speedway confirm that the event took place that night in Halifax in 1969 (Eric Boocock was the winner, by the by).

So, there we have it. I took this photograph in July or August 1969. Now that is settled, where’s my bungee jumping cord?

Strange Lockdown Hobbies No. 257 : A Tumbling We Will Go

My dear wife bought me a rock tumbler for my birthday. It’s not just any rock tumbler, it’s a National Geographic Variable Speed Professional Rock Tumbler! It is designed to stimulate my curiosity, occupy my stagnant mind, fill the empty hours of lockdown, and open my eyes to a world of beauty I had never known was there. Having watched my fill of box-sets and scanned my way through a lifetime of old photos, this new hobby – “a fascinating hobby for all the family” – is designed to keep me out of mischief. 

If you are thinking of taking up rock tumbling as a way of coping with the trials and tribulations of modern living, there are a couple of things you need to be aware of before you embark on this enthralling hobby. First, it is by no means a fast-track to instant gratification. As soon as I took the machine out of the box, I got a warning of what might lie ahead. There are two dials on it, one to adjust the speed and the other to adjust the time of the tumbling cycle. The latter dial deals only in days! Further investigation suggests that a normal cycle would be about five days tumbling with Grit #1, followed by 8 days with Grit #2 …. etc, so by the time all the various grades of grinding grit have been used you are talking about weeks if not months of constant tumbling. That may not be a problem for everyone, but if, like me, you are advancing in years, you need to ask yourself whether you or the rocks will be ground down the first.

The second potential problem results from the grinding process itself. The rocks, along with the grit and the water, sit in a robber sealed container which is constantly turning. Now I am deaf, but even I am aware that it makes a considerable amount of noise. It is currently sat at the other end of my desk, tumbling away, making so much noise that my desk is vibrating. Lucy the Dog can hear the noise and has now abandoned my study. Neighbours from up the street are beginning to gather – observing appropriate social distancing measures, we are, after all, a law abiding neighbourhood – and discuss the possible source of the noise coming from the bottom end of the street. Birds have abandoned our garden, and cows in the fields further down the main road are lying down in the field in the middle of the day.

I am sure it will all be worth it, when, in a month or three, the results of my first experiment in rock tumbling emerge from the tumbling tank. The instruction book warns me not to be impatient, after all, it cheerily tells me, it takes oceans and rivers millions of years to achieve the results I will be able to see in as little as a year or two. Beautifully polished stones that are as stunning as gemstones. We shall see! I will keep you posted about the outcome.

Halifax Found

Those of a certain age will remember the final scene in the original 1960s film Planet of the Apes. Charlton Heston is riding a horse across a post-apocalyptic planet when he finds a crumbling relic, and suddenly realises it is the remains of the Statue of Liberty. This strange new world is none other that the earth some time in the future, after some awful calamitous event.

A similar thing happened to me yesterday as I was walking the dog down an old footpath in Rastrick. I looked down at the stones making up the rough path …. and there I saw it.

Sounds Familiar

BRIGHOUSE NEWS : SATURDAY JUNE 26 1880

With nothing much to do other than read old newspapers, I found this article in a copy of the local Brighouse News from exactly 140 years ago. It was a report by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Britton, on efforts being taken to combat the outbreak of scarlet fever (Scarlatina) in the town. Reading through the list of measures – social distancing, quarantining, closing schools, limiting funeral ceremonies, even gratuitous disinfectants – you are suddenly reminded that little is new in this world. Granted, we have yet to see the reintroduction of “Nuisance Inspectors”, but it is probably just a matter of time. All I need to do now is to find a copy of the newspaper from a year later to see whether things will ever return to normal.

Precautions Adopted:  I now come to a very important part of this report, viz. – the precautions already adopted to put a stop to, and limit the spread of, the disease. I may say that everything has been done by your authority, and by your officers, with one exception, and that is “isolation”, to which I shall refer later on. Bills of “Precautions” have been twice distributed from house to house, and have also been posted in the district. The masters and mistresses of the various schools have been visited, and requested to exercise the greatest caution not to admit children from infected houses. All cases of which we have had any information, and also all suspected cases, have been regularly and systematically visited by your nuisance inspector, in many cases daily, and by myself at intervals of a few days. Not only have the cases been visited themselves, but careful inquiries have been made in the immediate neighbourhood of any cases, in order to ascertain if any more could be heard of. This has been done both at the inspector’s daily rounds, and also at my occasional visits. At these visits to infected houses, the occupants have been cautioned about admitting friends into their houses, and especially children; if they have had any children who remained well, they have been requested to keep them away from school, and not to allow them to mix with other children. They have been supplied with disinfectants gratuitously, and shown how to use them; they have been instructed to use every care in disposing of the slops and secreta from the houses; to observe thorough cleanliness, and to admit as much fresh air as possible into their houses. In cases of death, they have been requested to bury early, to avoid funeral teas, and not to allow children and friends in, to see the corpse; to make a thorough cleansing of house and contents afterwards, as well as after every case of recovery. This is a thing. I am happy to say, that the public generally do.

Kids These Days

Kids these days! They’re surgically attached to their mobile phones. Never off them. You can’t have a good old fashioned conversation with them any more, because they are glued to their phones. Now, when I was a lad ……

I received through the post today, a copy of Lilliput Magazine from October 1947 (has anyone else noted that postal deliveries are slower than normal these days!). Within it, is this wonderful cartoon that sums the telephone situation up perfectly.

Consider The Journey

Consider the journey, if you will. This beautiful photograph of a young woman was taken at the studios of P & H Koch in the city of Crefeld (now Krefeld), just north of Dusseldorf in Germany. The reverse of the Carte de Visite makes reference to the Koch studio having won medals at a photographic exhibition in Dusseldorf in 1896, so that probably dates this portrait to around the turn of the twentieth century. How did this young lady get from pre-Great War Germany to a box at the end of my desk?

Did she dance at balls in Rhineland-Westphalia and shop on the elegant boulevards of Dusseldorf? Did she lose a lover or a son in the mud-caked trenches of the Great War? Did she scrape for food during the Great Inflation and the depression years that followed? Did she hide in the shadows, or cheer in the streets, during the rise and fall of Hitler? Did she survive to see hope and prosperity again?

Her secrets are hidden deep within the pasteboard, at rest – and at peace – in the box at the end of my desk.

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