Friday, 24 August 2007

Fairground Stall Games

Linking with the entry about the Fairground Pierrots, this game is another I remember from Blackpool Pleasure Beach and elsewhere from the 1950s and 1960s.

It was a simple enough idea - the player rolled a number of balls down the gently sloping playfield, either falling into a hole with a corresponding score, or hitting the base board at the bottom and scoring nothing.

Scores were added up by the operator and you won whatever that score merited. Normally "anything off the bottom row" unless you played again, adding your win credits together until you had enough for the covetted teddy bear or whatever off the top row!

Pulling back to view the entire photograph, it can be seen that this was taken of a stall selling old fairground equipment and "penny slots".

I took the photo in November 1995 at the Jukebox Madness Show in Hounslow. Ages since I went to one of those shows. High time we went to another!

The Best Jukebox Ever?

Ladies and Gentlemen...

The Wurlitzer 1015.

I'm still occasionally scanning old negatives and have in front of me a batch from November 1996. We were at Ascot Racecourse which was the home that year of an annual event called the Jukebox Madness Show.

We found these two Wurlitzer 1015s standing together. The white one on the right plays CDs and as such is not worthy of even considering as a purchase. But the one on the left had a mechanism to play 45rpm records.

This jukebox was originally designed to play a stack of 10" 78rpm records of course. It was first released in 1946 (see the 78rpm mechanism in an earlier blog entry) and has remained in production ever since. You can still buy them.

Lots of other manufacturers have brought out very similar versions of their own jukeboxes too, but this is the one that collectors drool over. Me too... My Rowe Ami RI-2 sounds nice but I want one of these!!!

Agh, Sunburn, Ow, Ouch!

Got in the shower.

Hot water hit skin.

Top of head hit ceiling...

Ah... just a tad tanned. I could make a lobster jealous... Always happens after a long daytime gig in glorious weather! I'm either bright red from too much sun or bright green from having overplayed the aloe vera...

But very thankful for the weather yesterday. Today looks more like being overcast and drizzly. It's fine at the moment but it doesn't look very promising!

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Garstang Music Festival

Today found us in Garstang in the same spot as last year, playing on Market Day for the Music Festival.

We had a great day and the paved area in front of us was filled for most of the day with people standing to listen on the street corners nearby.

Thanks to everyone who supported us and who contributed to the charity box. The ladies in the Council Office made very appreciative noises when we handed in a quite heavy box!

Also thanks to the many friends who turned up to support us and to listen and, in the case of Shelagh Cooney, to join us for a couple of songs!

Trafford Centre Shopping

Yesterday we had a trip over to Manchester to meet up with the Metcalfes - that's Uncle D, Auntie B and Cuzzy Kate!

I was really impressed with this place when it first opened; the architecture is fun and the place is visually very good.

Around the eating section there are themed "streets" and the main seating area is like a cruise ship's deck with a huge video screen set in the front of the "bridge" superstructure.

It's the shops that let it down. Fine if you're a female - although how all those clothes shops manage to make a profit is beyond me. When the place first opened there was a section at one end with lots of small shops and stalls. They included one selling musical instruments and a "Last Picture Show" selling movie and comic-related stuff. Now that's been replaced by a huge John Lewis store.

The only real male-oriented shop is an excellent model shop right up at one end near Debenebenebenhams. There is also a Virgin rip-off store, an HMV, a Waterstones, W H Smith, Jessops and that's the male interest bit done with.

There's only so many DVDs and CDs you can look at (I did come away with 6 DVDs...)

Anyway, excellent steak and ale pie in the "Trafford Tavern" - big chunky and appealing! Or was that the waitress...? No! No! No!

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Alex Versus the Monster Trucks

My old schoolmate Alex has a strange relationship with his motors.

Either they, or he, have a habit of collecting collisions in the way other folks collect stamps... His latest sad tale unfolds:
"I was tootling down to Kent last Monday, with a stop off at Elaine's sister's in Long Buckby, when some hare brained carrot crunching twat from Great Yarmouth decided it would be a good idea to smash my car to smithereens with his 39 ton Volvo truck on the M1 intersection with the M6. I was stationary on the roundabout between the two motorways, indicating right to change lanes, when there was an almighty bang and the car just rocketed forwards ten feet.

I tried to drive into the side of the road and a cloud of blue smoke drifted from under the bonnet before I just coasted to a standstill and administered the last rites to a good and faithful servant (the
car - not Elaine).

Fortunately neither of us was seriously hurt although Elaine still has a bruised and swollen arm and we both had stiff necks the following day. When I opened what was left of the car boot to get our luggage out, the carpet was folded into a neat ruck in the middle because it was about six inches shorter than it was when we set off!

I wouldn't like to have been in that smash in many other cars - the passenger cell was completely intact and the exploding head rests had stuck out to minimise whiplash - I didn't even know they were there!
Doesn't sound the ideal start to a holiday?
"Meeting East Anglia's answer to Mad Max wasn't the only piece of bad luck that we had while we were away. Coming back to the hotel on the Thursday they had a power cut, which of course meant no water, no functioning toilets and worst of all - no, not the bar, there was an Oddbins down the road - even worse than that, no telly! They finally got the water going enough for a cold shower just before we left on Friday."
Blimey! But the holiday?
"Despite all that, we had a great four days in Kent. Dover Castle was very interesting although the town was an abomination.

Canterbury was and is, a fine city with an even finer Cathedral. Not the finest, but dripping in sufficient history to make me wish that I could have spent the night there alone, just to listen to the walls speak in the dark of the night - coincidentally "Becket", the 1964 film with Richard Burton and Plenty O'Toole was on on Saturday night, and very good it was too.

Whitstable stank like the back of a bin wagon and Leeds Castle was beautiful to behold from outside but with a mediocre interior and grounds that were more reminiscent of a municipal park than a country estate.

So a bit of a curate's egg then, but sufficiently interesting to make me want to brave the 7 hour journey home through the appalling traffic and go back some day. I think that the Kent Tourist Board could only agree that that was a fair minded and succinct chronicle of my brief perambulations around the Garden of England, though admittedly not quite as expansive as the
24 pages that you give it on your web site."

Monday, 20 August 2007

Tram Lights and Blackpool Memories

Feedback required for another challenge please!

An email all the way from France poses a question about the Brush tramcars still in use in Blackpool. Ron Wallman says:
"I am thinking of restarting a model of Blackpool tram 626 that I photographed in 1973. I have tried others but nobody has responed to the question; as to whether the slender green glass panels over the saloon windows were originally lit by the saloon lights on the Brush cars?

The result would be a green band at night but possibly not well seen due to the internal glare of the car.

I need someone who knew these cars and loves Blackpool
Now then, I think that Ron is referring to the small panels that I have highlighted on the photograph. My answer would be that I can't remember them ever being lit, but do you know better? Complicating the issue, the Brush cars were not the original or only "railcoaches" as this shape of tramcar is officially known. Brush was the make. The 1934 originals were made by English Electric and then there were Vambac variants also. Add a comment or email me. john[at]

Ron contributes another memory of old Blackpool.
"My uncle was the Punch and Judy man and magician at the Tower for many years calling himself George Wallman. He was there in the sixties and seventies. He caused panic as he normally did a patter trying to wake Punch up and finally went into the booth to push him up. His wife, Betty, was a school teacher so she followed him to the Tower later in the season. George started his patter and to the extreme shock of stage hands Punch answered in his unmistakable voice with George still outside! Betty was in the booth!"
A wonderfully humourous and human story Ron, thanks for sharing it!

A Stroll Across Frank's Bridge

The number of times I've driven through Kirkby Stephen on my way to and from Newcastle and every time I've glanced at the sign for "Frank's Bridge" and thought "I'll visit that some day!"

Today has been "some day"! Frank's Bridge is a pedestrian bridge over the River Eden. Apparently two stones at one end are for resting coffins on... the bridge was on the way from nearby villages to the parish church!

The Eden itself, is clear but dark brown from the peat fields it has worn its way through over the centuries. It doesn't deter the ducks, many of whom were trying to get a little shut-eye as we crossed the bridge and stood above the river bank where they had congregated.

There are other treasures in Kirkby Stephen. Possibly the last signpost measured in miles and furlongs points to nearby villages. I wonder how many people there are left who are able to get a picture in their mind of just how long a furlong is? Just for the record it is ten chains...

What? Still can't get a fix on it? Well a furlong is also 1/8 of a mile.

We decided to try the local chippy - opposite the Sports & Social Club. We had meat and potato pie with chips and mushy peas. If you are hankering after the same, you could do much worse!

Call That A Shelf???

Ok, so it sags a bit in the middle - that's a legacy from the day these planks stood where a radiator now stands!

Dare I say I lifted it and said to Fran "Is it straight?" before drilling for the angle bracket? No I daren't! Who wrote that?

Anyway that's why there was no entry yesterday, we spent the day trying to get back to rights after the central heating being done.

If anyone in the Blackpool area is thinking of having new central heating installed by the way, I can thoroughly recommend Read and Errington, who were quick, efficient and who managed to install pipes, radiators and a combi-boiler with the minimum of fuss in 3 days flat!

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Arcade Rifle Range

Another in the series of articles about old arcade machines. I'm sure a lot of you will remember these.

One or two may still be on site in arcades around our coast I'm sure.

Coin slot rifle ranges were very popular in the 1950s and 60s and I remember wanting to grow a few inches taller so I could reach high enough to see and have a go. Many operators had a foot stool for young boys (or girls - must be PC these days...though then again I can't remember any young girls playing these at all? Any comeback from this girls?).

Anyway until I grew big enough, using the stool meant the rifle stock felt awkward beside my cheek and I remember having a terrific whack on the jaw once as someone walking past shover the back end of the rifle which hit me fair and square. Or unfair... ...hurt...!

Some had moving targets but most were fixed targets that lit up and a "hit" made the light go out. There was always at least one that didn't go out no matter how accurate you were and you always wasted three or four shots on it!

Heysham Curiosities

One of the many web pages from my website(*) is dedicated to Heysham, a village on the edge of Morecambe Bay.

I came across the packet of negatives of the photos I used on it so I've now rescanned all except one which was a bit damaged (looked like either I'd stood on it or the cats had been at it to be honest...).

The photo used here shows a row of six graves that have been cut out of the bedrock of the headland. They date from Dark Age Britain - before the Norman Conquest of 1066.

The page has photos of many other treasures - a Norse hogsback tomb cover, the ruined chapel of St Patrick who landed here on his way to convert the Scots to Christianity, the church of St Peter, built in 976 (no I didn't miss off a figure 1 from the date!). It was built after the Vikings destroyed the smaller chapel.

Why not have a look at the web page? I get many emails from people who assume I live in Heysham, but I was just there as a day tripper.

The page has been very successful - a search in Google for "John Burke's Heysham" turns up over 100 web sites that have linked to it!

(*) The website mentioned is no longer active

Friday, 17 August 2007

Fairground Pierrots

During the 1950s and 1960s you would see loads of these on any fairground.

Blackpool Pleasure Beach used to have them on the sideshow stalls amongst the darts and the hoop-la stalls. There would be a row of these pierrot figures.

Having paid your 3d or 6d the operator would release half a dozen ping pong balls which came out of the bottom slot and you fed them into the pierrot's mouth. They then came out of the shute below and bounced about, finally settling in one of a row of columns with a number indicating the score. The object was to get a high enough score to get a decent prize.

It was made more exciting as the head of the pierrot (and therefore the shute) turned from side to side so you had to time the release of the ball hoping to get the top score. Easier said than done and it was normally "Any prize off the bottom shelf!" so you walked away with a comb or a small screwdriver or a pencil.

Variations were ducks and clowns.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

The North Pier in 1997

Whilst I'm on the subject of 1997 (see previous entry about Brough Castle) it brought a few highlights and lowlights for the North Pier in Blackpool.

The magnificent two-storey carousel was enclosed in a glass wall to protect it from blown sand and salt spray. The carousel was never as popular as it deserved to be, probably because it was at the far end of the pier.

Tracks had been laid down the pier and a tram ride could be taken from one end to the other. This was popular particularly at showtime as holidaymakers visited the end of the pier theatre.

A year later and storms had destroyed the jetty at the end of the pier, leaving a section of it stranded out to sea.

There had been a lot of muttering from fishermen as the jetty had been labelled unsafe for a while and then a helicopter was operated for a while from the end of the pier, giving rides for a few seconds down the Golden Mile and back.

This was the end of the jetty however and the remaining section was demolished a little while later.

Brough Castle

The other day I mentioned scanning some photos of Brougham Castle in Cumbria and being still in the throes of the central heating work, I've been kept indoors and have been amusing myself by working my way through the old bag of photographic negatives.

The photo was taken in 1997 and is of Brough Castle, also in Cumbria but standing further along the A66 route, which it was obviously built to guard.

Brough is another of the castles that was restored partly by Lady Anne Clifford. Her family, a hundred years earlier, had lived at Brough but then the place caught fire one Christmas, thoroughly cooking their goose, so to speak...

Lady Anne started restorations in 1661 and in 1663 erected a placque to say so. However after her death in 1676 her grandson started to demolish it and the castle was robbed of stone mercilessly for use at Appelby and elsewhere. Even Lady Anne's placque was used in the building of a watermill at Brough.

At the rear of the castle the corner of the keep has collapsed at some point and two substantially huge lumps of masonry, one with the crenellations from the very top of the tower, can be seen in the moat.

The best view of the castle is from the top of the slip road coming off the A66 westbound carriageway.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Arcade Racing Machines

Here's another of the arcade machines I remember from seaside arcades in the 1950s and 60s.

It's one of several variations of a race game for two players. In this instance turning the handles causes the horses to move. The faster you turned the handle, the faster the corresponding horse moved.

The same cabinet and mechanism housed bicycle riders, cars, babies drinking from bottles (you won if your baby drank its milk before the other) and monkeys climbing trees.

Ouch! My Car!!!

We were sitting in the living room, recovering after the workmen who were doing the central heating had left.

The cats were settling down after going a little berserk at the burning smell from the soldering of copper piping.

Then; BANG! I looked up to see the car which was parked outside the house judder. Someone had misjudged the corner (though only by a lot...) and driven into it.

I did my cool, calm, collected bit - it had happened, no point in making any fuss. And the driver was quite shocked anyway - must have thought he'd pass through it or something...

Ah well... his insurance seemed quite ok. Am I allowed a little grrrrrr! though?

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Brougham Castle, Cumbria

I've found a huge bag stuffed full of photograph negatives from years back and have been itching to have a go at scanning them.

Most of the photos have been scanned before from the prints, but I've found that you can get far better quality from scanning the negatives on my PrimeFilm 35mm film scanner.

This is from 1997 and a visit to Brougham Castle, Eamont Bridge near Penrith in Cumbria. There are still traces of plaster clinging to the walls there and it has a classic castle view from the bridge over the river. Well worth a visit, there is a tiny chapel high up in the keep and the square of a Roman fort very close nearby. That's me getting excited about things that others dismiss as a "fold of the land" again...

I've added this and another couple of photos to my Curiosities collection at Flickr and there's a few more to add over the next couple of days!

The castle was one of several owned by Lady Anne Clifford, the Countess of Pembroke. She was a bit of an eccentric and loved the thought of the Medieval way of life. During the English Civil War she held her castles for the King and spent much time and money restoring them. Skipton, Brougham, Appelby, Brough - the legacy she left us is outstanding. She died at Brougham in 1676.

New Central Heating

The work on our central heating has started this week.

Radiators have appeared on walls and a new combi-boiler is taking shape in the outhouse.

What on earth all those pipes are for I've no idea - one for gas, one for water - what do all the others do???

The cats were very subdued yesterday at the sounds of drilling, hammering and floorboards creaking as they were lifted. They spent much of the day behind the sofa and part of me hopes they'll do the same today as the work carries on.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Early Pinballs

I thought I had a photo somewhere that showed some of the features I mentioned in yesterday's Pinball Memories entry.

The pinball bits shown here were found in an antiques warehouse and I think it's safe to say will never see action again!

On the left is the back box (known as a backflash) for a flight-themed game and it shows the series of scores for different amounts that would light up. 1000s and 10,000s in rows at the sides whilst 100s go across the screen.

The playfield on the right belongs to an earlier machine and shows the metal coils around a central post. This was the most elemental type of electric scoring. Before this balls simply fell into depressions that were numbered and the player did the maths!

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Pinball Memories

I've mentioned One-Armed Bandits and other arcade machines but the machines I always used to make a beeline for in seaside arcades were the pinball machines.

When I was a boy there were still a few older machines without flippers. They had a coil around a central nail and the ball would press the coil on the nail and complete the ciruit to score points. The ball simply fell from the top of the table to the bottom and that would be the end of the ball.

Pinballs with flippers were a vast improvement. You had a chance to keep the ball in play longer, although early flippers were very weak. Some machines had three sets of flippers, top middle and bottom so you could try to relay the ball from one set to another higher set.

1950s machines had wooden rails at the side. Flippers were short 3-inch stubby things and often were miles apart with a huge gap for the ball to "drain" between them. Scores were shown by having different amounts shown in the backglass - a row of numbers showing hundreds of thousands, a row for tens of thousands and a row for thousands. One figure in each row would be lit and you added them to get your score.

Later machines had score reels that clicked round, each movement accompanied by sound - machines had a bell or a chime bar that was hit by a solenoid. By the early 1970s they had up to 3 chime-bars sounding different notes for 10s, 100s and 1000s. Yes, with the score reels scores were more modest than the 1950s machines.

From the mid 1960s features such as zipper-flippers appeared - hitting a target on Bally machines caused the flippers to move closer, closing off the gap between them until another target caused them to open apart again.

Flippers became longer - 4-inches rather than 3-inches became the norm as on this 1976 "Spanish Eyes". Then in the late 1970s electronics replaced the electro-mechanical pinballs and they started to make electronic noises. At first bell and beep noises, imitating the chime bars. Then sound effects more like video games appeared until in 1979, "Gorgar Speaks!"

More pinball memories to come - can't wait? Try my Pinball Web Page

Birthday Garden Party

This afternoon, once the rain stopped and the sun came out, the two flowerpot men shook off their flowerpots and rocked around the little weed...

It was a birthday garden party but we started out indoors as the rain bounced down and then back up again! It's the third year we have been invited to play at this one and we felt very much part of the family as we were greeted enthusiastically by the guests.

"You look younger this year!" said one discerning lady of excellent taste and 20/20 vision. Not sure why Fran and Jeannie collapsed in giggles at that moment but anyway, moving right along...

The rain stopped after we had sampled our hosts' delicious food - ahhh, that trifle! So it was unplug, decamp and we met up with the biggest sunflower in the garden!

For the past two years we've been promising to learn Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" for Gran so this year we were almost as good as our word - which means we hadn't learned it but we did it anyway! "Sounded really good," Fran and Jeannie decided, "you should keep it in!"

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Pennystone Rock and Drowned Villages

An email came in today from John Hitchon:

"Hi John.
As a sandgrown'n myself I have found your website very interesting, thinking about it there is a lot more to Blackpool than meets the eye, it's history for instance.

I have lived here now for over 47 years and I too have seen many changes in the surrounding areas of the Fylde coast.

When I was as school which was many moons ago, we had to choose a subject of interest to which I chose the history of Blackpool. The only thing was I would have loved to find out more about the history of Singleton Thorpe and that of Pennystone Rock, but as having made searches through numerous libraries I failed to find anything about it really.

So what I would like to ask you is if you can shine any light on the history of them ?
There's not a great deal of hard fact known about Singleton Thorpe I think - here's what I've read in various books, web sites and so on. Some of it may be true, some of it may be a bit suspect but it makes a good story anyway!

Singleton Thorpe was one of several villages overcome in the great flood of 1555 when the sea surged inland, almost to the line of the M6 motorway, so one version has it.

It was the end of the Forest of Amounderness, as the sea snapped oaks like twigs and farmers still turn them up in fields sometimes. The sea never retreated as far as it had started from and from then on (probably from before then) erosions steadily took parts of the Fylde coast every year.

Singletone Thorpe was supposed to be about a mile and a bit further out from Thornton Cleveleys, although I've also seen it that it was off Bispham a mile from Pennystone Rock out to sea.

Catherine Rothwell's web page has an account of an expedition looking for the remains of the village in 1893. They found a solitary cottage, which may suggest they were looking in the wrong place.

At the time the cliffs at Bispham were concreted over to protect them they were falling at the rate of tens of feet per year. Just what shape England may have been in 1555 is likely to remain a mystery!

Pennystone Rock was supposed to be close by a public house and had an iron ring fastened to it for horses to be hitched to whilst their owners had a drink. This is mentioned in "The Story of Blackpool", though the authors of that book couldn't confirm the existence of the ring.

I've never managed to reach Pennystone Rock, though due to the rise and fall of the sands, I do have a photo of it with Bispham, well...Norbreck, in the background (shown above), and yet I still couldn't get to it because of a deeper channel of water.

I freely admit to being less than an expert on this (who wants to be an expert anyway - an 'ex' is a has-been and a 'spurt' is a drip under pressure!) so if anyone knows any more, drop me an email or add a comment to this blog entry!

Old Arcade Machines

Whilst I'm on the subject of arcade machines, here's another two that I remember from the 1950s/1960s arcades.

Conveyor had a ballbearing running down a ramp to the large wheels. The wheels had long rods making up a kind of cog and between them was either empty space, that would carry the ball up to the next level but allow it to drop into a lose hole ending the game, or a short rod that the ball would rest on, passing over the lose hole and onto a higher ramp leading to the next wheel.

The game had a single knob that when turned lifted an obstruction on the ramp so that the player could time the release of the ballbearing to slip into a slot with a short rod. Not easy! Getting the ballbearing right to the top and into the win hole gave you your money back and a free go.

Bullion was a simple game of chance with five slots each corresponding to a different prize amount and a pointer that whizzed round, until it was stopped with a distinctive clunk. If the pointer was pointing to the same prize amount you had bet on you won that amount of coins. Obviously the lower amounts had better odds of winning!

Friday, 10 August 2007

One-Armed Bandits

When I was a nipper and we lived in Rochdale, a trip to the seaside meant these things as much as it meant going on the beach or paddling in the sea.

Arcades in the 1950s were full of the sounds of mechanical cogs clicking, ticking and grinding away.

The Copper Sega on the left was a slightly later model than the wood-cased Beromat. Each had their own distinctive sounds.

The Sega's reels came to an abrupt stop. The Beromat's reels were slowed by what sounded like a ratchet until they stopped.

The machines required no electricity and could be sited anywhere. There were no features such as hold or nudge. All the player could do to try to influence the game was either pull the handle with a sharp yank, or pull it slowly and steadily. It probably made no difference whatsoever, but whichever method you preferred, you tried the other after a steady spell of losing...

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Calling Big Band Experts

Margot's wondering if any readers can help with this one?

Another search someone might be able to help with.

I was discussing with my other half the big bands that used to come to the tower and Winter gardens and one of them was "Ted Heath's band" who were wonderful but there was another band I used to like better with a fantastic drummer.

Any of your's members help on that one? The name Ken seems to come to mind.
Regards Margot
This could be a bit before my time - the only big band I can remember at the Tower is Eric Delaney (pictured) who was a drummer and had a small band who re-created the big band sound.

It's possible that "Ken" wasn't the drummer though - I have a few 78rpm records of Ken Mackintosh, the saxophonist, and he had a band from the late 1940s onwards, recording several early TV themes and backing singers such as Anne Shelton, Alma Cogan and Frankie Vaughan. He toured extensively between 1953 and 1963; does anyone remember him coming to Blackpool?

He died in 2005, The Independant newspaper published an obituary which can be read online.

Site of the Big Wheel

Margot was having problems placing the Big Wheel where I suggested, so I hope this helps.

This is the same photo as before except I've drawn round the outline of the Horsehoe Pavilion in the Winter Gardens.

Then I've highlighted a feature in both this and the photo below which I believe to be the same glass arched roof, which is now over the Coronation Street entrance to the Winter Gardens, but which cannot be seen from inside the building.

In fact the two photographs look to have been taken from pretty much the same spot, with Coronation Street running off to the left and Adelaide Street running off at the junction up the side of the site.

Oh and wonderful! She's got another challenge for us, folks - see the entry above (give me a few moments to write it!)

School Pals Reunion

I met up with Alex and Jackie again yesterday for lunch in the Peacock Room at the Crimble, Rochdale.

I didn't take any photos I'm afraid so you'll have to make do with one of the restaurant from their website.

Anyway it was an excellent jolly affair as was last year's get together. We've agreed to make it an annual event and also discussed widening it out. I do normally contact Jan and Bev but probably we leave it until too late to arrange for everyone so we thought we might go for an extra event next May Day Bank Holiday and are looking for others, Brigid, Sheila, Colin Wise (anyone know where he is???) to join us.

I'll email the ones I'm in touch with and see if wider networks can get hold of the others.

Jackie had her diaries to hand from 1970 through to 1972. Unfortunately she went a bit coy about letting us read them (!) but quoted a few bits. We were both mentioned in dispatches on birthdays - though whilst I got a card, Alex got a card and forty fags!!! Is that fair??? Can grudges be started after 37 years? Perhaps not!

Lots of food memories - was "pie and peas" worthy of writing down? Must have been a slow news day... And an entry:
"Went up to Hollingworth Lake with Jan, John and Alex. Spent afternoon in pub watching others watching us - hilarious!"
My God, what were we up to??? Grown-ups can pretend all they want but teenagers have always been teenagers and we were no different to today's.

I can heartily recommend the Peacock Room at the Crimble too. Unhurried yet attentive service and excellent food, really worthy of Jackie's diarist leanings!

Felt full; drove home; watched Fran eat her tea without even a twinge of envy...

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

First Guitar

A lot of people ask me how long I've been playing guitar and I can nail it down to the day.

This is Christmas Day 1965. I was 11 and am on the right of the photograph with my parents and brother Frank on the left.

The electric guitar was made by my Dad from scratch. The accoustic guitar had been rescued from someone's coal bunker and Dad measured it to provide the details to build the electric guitar. Consequently it has all the parts of an accoustic and the neck is shorter than an electric should be but to our eyes at that time, it was wonderful!

The frets were actually made from Hornby Dublo model railway lines and instead of a standard jack socket it had a television aerial socket but these were the two guitars I learned to play on. Explains a lot... (just thought I'd get it in first...)

Creeping Bentgrass Album Work

Bob came round last night to Burke Studios, to record bass onto a number of the album tracks.

It was a good night and we managed to finish Picture of You, My Life, Dirty Old Town, You're My Best Friend, The Rose, and Constantly.

He brought the old mahogany red mandolin with him to add some mandolin sounds to Dirty Old Town and I commented I hadn't seen that particular instrument for a while.

Apparently he was going to have it re-fretted but the workshop have instead taken a sliver off the frets with a file and Bob has also been sanding down the bridge to get a better action (the distance between the strings and the fretboard). It sounded absolutely terrific and you should be able to hear the results within a few weeks. In fact I'll try to get a bit of that track out in the next few days on the web site as a sample.

There's another 6 tracks to put bass on, so another session is booked for Thursday night. I know there's a lot of interest out there and folks waiting for this, which will be our first album since 2004.

I think we can honestly say we've stepped the sound up a notch or two!

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

When The Circus Came To Town

I've had to do a fair bit of restoration on this one!

The photo shows the arrival of the circus in York sometime around 1910 and was sent in by Dilys Wainwright who says;
I found the photo in an old tin box after my mother passed on. The man on horseback matches your request for photos of workers in uniform and I thought you might like to see it.
Well yes, I like it very much, Dilys! Thanks for sending it on.

I once, as a boy, went down to Rochdale Station to watch Billy Smart's Circus arrive by train and it was a thrill to watch the elephants form up and then walk off, each grasping the tail of the one in front with their trunks. They loaded the lions into the backs of wagons and I didn't get to see them but the elephants walked up to Cronkyshaw Common where the circus had its showground. It must have been around 1958-59 I suppose.

So thanks again Dilys, a great photo and a rekindled memory!

Monday, 6 August 2007

Rochdale or Wolverhampton?

Well, yes I know - it could be anywhere couldn't it?

This is another of the uncaptioned photos from Fran's side of the family. We think it could well be from her Dad's family. Robert Walton Perks, Bob to most, came from Wolverhampton. We never saw much of his family though so couldn't even try at guessing who these people are.

It is, of course, possible that this is a Rochdale family, although Fran feels if it was her Mum's side we'd have been able to recognise someone from other photos.

What I do love is the gleefully grinning face peering through the curtains from inside the house! What was life like for these people - where did they end up and what did they do for a living? We don't even have a date for the photo but we think it likely that this was taken in the 1930s or 40s - possibly during the war as there are no menfolk in sight.

Anybody recognise a face?

Foot and Mouth Precautions

This is tragic.

This was the scene that greeted me this morning as I drove into Myerscough College's campus.

The college is a land-based (agriculture & horticulture) college and what you are seeing is a disinfectant mat of straw laid down over the roadway that all vehicles coming in or going out must drive over. Just about every farm and agricultural college in the country will have similar mats down, costing money daily in disinfectant and straw.

It is one of the precautions against foot and mouth disease. Back in 2001 similar mats were in place for months on end. Everyone should hope and pray for a swift end to this crisis. I hope it can be contained down in Surrey. Farmers suffered enough the last time.

Anyone who thinks of this disease only in terms of animals should read this BBC News article A Slaughterman's Story, written by Gordon Nixon.

I must stress that the mats are a precaution only. Foot and mouth disease at the present time according to Defra is confined to Surrey - a long way from Myerscough, up in Lancashire.

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Do The Jukebox Jive

I admit it. I'm a sucker for all sorts of coin-operated amusements and have had collections of stuff in my time - motto: "You can never have too much stuff"...

Jukeboxes have all but died out anywhere except pubs and even there they are down in the cellar with just one or more remote control selection boxes on view.

To my mind you can't beat an old jukebox that has all the workings on show. When I was a youngster they were in almost every cafe and amusement arcade. They started to disappear in the late 1970s when amusement arcade machines started making sounds of their own. The video game industry has a lot to answer for...

The jukebox shown is a classic Wurlitzer 1015, the jukebox with bubble tubes and panels changing colour. It has featured in countless movies and the homes of numerous movie stars! First made in 1945 (and therefore playing 78 rpm records) it has remained in production almost every since. You can still buy these machines to play either 45 rpm records or CDs.

Jukeboxes for me, have to play records. I have a couple of CD jukeboxes but they just look like a rather oversized CD player without the drawer. They have a player that takes CDs from a carousel tray and they are purely functional rather than decorative. With the advent of mp3s I hardly ever use them now.

Certain records bring jukeboxes to mind immediately and they are the ones we used to hear time and time again during holidays in Blackpool, Bridlington or Great Yarmouth. The Beatles "Yellow Submarine" is one. The Shadows "Atlantis" is another. Bizarrely, Sheena Easton's "9 To 5" is another - because in that case we found a late model jukebox in a cafe in Great Yarmouth when Gill was a toddler and she loved that song!

I have a 1979 Ami R1-2 jukebox filled with 1960s 45 rpm records. It gets played every now and then and it is pure nostalgia. I must save up for one with a visible mechanism!

Street Photography

Along similar lines to the last post, except this is an example of street photography from Rochdale, which in the time of the photograph, was a thriving mill town in Lancashire.

Photographers would go round offering to photograph everybody in the street. They didn't spend as much on film or time spent going and hoped to sell a good number of prints from the same negative.

In this photo, again from Fran's collection, her great uncle Clifford is standing just to the right and slightly in front of the tall chap. To the right and behind is Wilson Perks, Fran's grandfather, and then standing next to Clifford is his wife, Edith, with her sister, Ellen next to her.

There's a lot of photos in Fran's collection but as with many such family collections there are no dates or names and the only people we know are the ones in living memory.

Bygone Blackpool

Here's a photo from our own family collection of a Blackpool guest house with all its visitors from 14 August 1958.

In those days photographers used to visit the hotels but then got everyone to congregate at the front of the hotel and took just the one photograph so you could remember who you liked, got on with and hated from the week!

Here is my wife, Fran (with the hand pointing at her) held by her mother Peggy and with brother Bob standing next to her. Her father, also Bob, is in the centre of the back row in the very dark pullover.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

More Curiosity or Treasure Photographs

I've uploaded a number of photos of curiosities to my Flickr account.

The photos can be of anything with a story. Something old, something forgotten, something with a history, or something fallen out of use and soon to disappear.

Many of the curious things I have photographed in the past have now vanished altogether. A great shame in some cases. There used to be a set of stocks that were set on wheels in the churchyard at Colne. They were taken to various towns on market days in days gone past, but presumably no one wanted them once they started rusting or rotting away and so they have disappeared forever.

There are over 100 photos at the Flickr collection.

Long QT Syndrome

I can't be alone in never having heard of this.

My close friend Marlene sent news of a friend from South Africa. She wrote:
This is a syndrome that not many people know about, but my friend in SA and her little girl were diagnosed 2 years ago. It is literally a time bomb in your chest. Just a little while ago, a nurse in her 30s, somewhere in the UK, died from shock when her alarm clock went off - Long QT was only diagnosed afterwards.

Fiona (my friend) sent through a link this morning about a documentary made about the syndrome, by a young man who suffers from it and who lost his father at age 39, and an aunt who was then only 13.

I read the movie description, then commented on the fact mentioned that this little-known syndrome (often wrongly diagnosed as epilepsy) is currently attributed to killing more than 1000 people per year in the USA. She wrote back: "Oh yes. The death rate is higher that those who die of leukemia."

Can you believe it?? She was in a state after the diagnosis; still is. She's on beta blockers now, and her little girl was 7 when she had to start them as well
Here's a link to the article on the documentary Marlene mentions.

It's not been a good time for the Ladies Over The Water recently. Amanda's son Edwill had a fall from a balcony that will have long-lasting consequences and Evy has been diagnosed with problems with the levels of calcium in her bones. Instead of bathing in milk, she now has to drink three bathtubs of milk an hour...

Blackpool Olympia Funfair

After the photo Margot sent in of the two lion cubs in the Olympia building she wrote:

I dont know what more I can tell you about the Olympia building other than it was all entertainments, like I recall a roundabout in there and side stalls and slot machines. I also recall the Ideal Home exhibition being held there every year.
Yes I remember going in there to play slot machines during the 1960s and then in the late 1970s and early 1980s there was a full funfair in there.

My photo from 1981 shows a late version of it but by then it was usually quite deserted and the funfair disappeared not long afterwards. At one time I remember a big wheel in there that took you right up into the roof!

After the funfair disappeared the space was used for big exhibitions like the Ideal Homes and Travel/Holiday exhibitions and for a while it became a children's adventure playground.

Before the Olympia was built, the site was occupied by the Ferris Wheel or "Big Wheel" that was as famous a sight as the Tower in the 1920s.

With the success of the London Eye, the local paper has reported that there are plans to build a similar wheel on the new widened Promenade.

That's the thing with wheels, you see - they go round in circles...!