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.
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.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) colouring programmes are all the rage at the moment, and can be quite successful when it comes to adding yellow sands and blue skies to an old snap of Blackpool, or even a bit of colour to the cheeks of your Great Aunt Maude. The real test, however, is asking the AI wizard to colourise something a little more gritty, and a little less likely to feature in the coded algorithms of blue dresses and green leaves. As a test – and for want of something better to do whilst being half bored to death by a tedious goal-less FA Cup tie on the telly – I subjected one of my old photographs of Dean Clough to Deep Blue and his/her mates. The result is some mucky looking steam, enough browns to kit out a small army, and a few greys with smiley faces. On the whole, not bad! (Update: there were two goals in the last five minutes of extra time).
I am a man of simple tastes. As far as food is concerned, all I ask for is a fried egg and a plate of chips. In the drinks department, you can cast me adrift with a crate of pale ale and a bottle or two of single malt whisky, and I would complain to nobody. My friends and relatives are aware of my uncomplicated requirements, and for Christmas I managed to acquire three bottles of malt, two crates of beer and a 10kg bag of Maris Pipers. Only yesterday, I finished the first crate of beer and went in search of the second; only to find it contentedly waiting for me under the Christmas Tree. I shouldn’t have worried, except earlier in the day I had been reading a copy of the Halifax Courier from January 1922 (papers are so boring these days, full of the same old stuff), and found an advert for Whitakers Brewery – one of the holy Trinity of former Halifax breweries. In the advert, Doc Shire comes across a crate of beer that has evidently fallen off the back of a wagon, and declared: “There’s somebody short of a Happy New Year“. I was so pleased that somebody wasn’t me, I adopted the advert as my daily calendar image – and even added a touch of colour for good measure.
I was lying in bed last night thinking, the way one does, about neural pathways. I can’t be sure that is the correct name for the strange threads that connect memories together, but if it isn’t, it will do until a better one comes along. Like country pathways, they tend to avoid straight lines, and cannot resist going from A to B via J, Q and G. What started this thought journey off was the random choice for my daily calendar for today which is a photograph I took at the Halifax Labour Party Flower, Fruit and Vegetable Show some fifty-three or fifty-four years ago. Leaving behind the somewhat quaint vision of these fathers and mothers of modern socialism with their entries for best dressed dahlias and presentation plates of soft fruit, my memory was quickly striding off down every neural pathway in sight. Yes, that is the then Halifax MP, Shirley Summerskill, anxiously awaiting the presentation of prizes. The hall is, I think, the one that used to be below the Halifax Labour Party rooms in St James Street: my memory of the internal layout of the building is less than perfect, although I can remember those stage curtains and back wallpaper as if it was yesterday. From that hall, the neural pathways lead to all manner of people and places, and with the photograph on my desk for this coming day of twenty-first century lockdown, it will provide me with endless opportunities to go rambling in my mind.
There is nothing like the 1st of January appearing on the calendar to start a rush of New Year Resolutions. I suspect I have now lived long enough to realise that – if you are going to turn over a new leaf, or set out on a new and better trajectory through life – it would be better to start it on a cold Thursday afternoon in the middle of March. Nevertheless, I can’t seem to shake the habit of wanting to start a new diary on the 1st of January: it is a resolution that lasts, on average, about eight to ten days. When my descendants gather my papers together to examine my strange existence, they will be intrigued by the fact that I did so much during the first eight days of the year and then went into wordless hibernation for the remaining 357 days. This year I am limiting myself to the promise to keep my picture calendar going …. until the 8th of January at least.
Had I been tempted to start the more traditional type of diary I could have done worse than take up the offer made by the Halifax stationery and printing company, E Mortiner Ltd, in an advert in the Halifax Evening Courier exactly 100 years ago today. From their shop at the corner of Silver Street and Commercial Street you could buy, for just a half crown (twelve and a half pence to those of a shorter life-span), a Foolscap Diary – three days to a page – and they would throw in a free insurance policy for £1,000 for the coming year.
What with Covid, economic meltdown, social and political crisis and all the other problems we are likely to face in the year ahead, that is an offer I doubt that we will see repeated for 2021.
A wet day in Brighouse, fifty-four years ago. Full of memories – donkey jackets, mini cars and Timothy Whites chemist. More resonant in these difficult times, memories of crowded pavements and social interaction.
A welcome Christmas present from the British Newspaper Archives – they have finally got around to making a start on digitising back copies of the Brighouse and Rastrick Gazette. Three full years are already available – 1881,1882 and 1889 – so there is plenty to keep my occupied during the coming Merry Little Christmas. Perhaps I will go and get myself a new set of artificial teeth to celebrate.
A stone wall somewhere in Yorkshire – it was 40 years ago and I can’t remember exactly where. It probably was somewhere around Halifax, where there is stone enough to spare. There is something appealing about the slight curve: whether subsidence or intent, it gives it a sinuous feeling.