Sunday, 25 December 2016

Christmas Greetings 2016

On Christmas Day, let me extend warmest Christmas wishes for a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year 2017 to all my readers. Let me share a memory of my own childhood Christmasses.

In those less technically dominated years in the second half of the 1950s, our Christmas tree would be bought from the greengrocer and carried or dragged home depending on size, always on the very first day of December. Dad would wrap a string of lights around the tree. Not the tiny insignificant things we have today, but bulbs an inch or so long and all different shapes. Some were like Chinese lanterns, others like a moulded Santa's face. Some were like parrots.

But one year he brought home a set of lights with a large plastic base and a glass tube with coloured liquid sticking out. Once the bulb was lit and it had warmed up the liquid, it began to send bubbles up the glass tube!

Whenever Dad bought a set of lights he would always buy a few extra bulb holders and would join them into the string of lights. With all the lights wired in series, if any bulb went out so did all the others and it was a long job sometimes to find out which bulb had blown. Adding more bulbs added to the electrical resistance and stepped down the voltage. The bulbs shone that little bit less brightly. But in the days when people strung paper garlands across the ceiling it made it less likely that a bulb would cause a fire.

Our Christmas trees had movement from the bubbles, long before domestic Christmas lights would flash on and off and change colour. The lights lasted for years and spare bulbs were available right through the 1950s and 60s until the smaller fairy lights came out and the manufacturers thought of changing the fittings slightly every year, forcing people to buy a new set when they ran out of bulbs.

We would visit one set of grandparents on Christmas Day and the other set on Boxing Day. These were our Christmas Parties and there would be more presents for everyone and we would at some point all sit or stand and sing a few Christmas carols, around the sit-up piano in the front room. There would always be a moment where someone would sigh and say "Eeh, our [insert name of a family member who had died during the year] was here last year..." and the grown-ups would all look up and lift their glass of sherry or port. For a while as a child I thought Grandma kept all the dead people upstairs in her bedroom and I used to be terrified of going upstairs to the loo in case they came out wanting a Christmas hug...

Have a wonderful Christmas.

Monday, 19 December 2016

A Morning in York

Following our brilliant night listening to André Rieu in Leeds on Friday, we were extremely sorry to hear that a member of the orchestra had suffered a heart attack. As a result, the rest of the UK dates have been postponed. The musician has not been named but is a male and has been with the orchestra over 20 years, as have many of this close-knit orchestra. As a musician myself I know that you form very close bonds with people with whom you make music and I can understand their decision to postpone. I hope he recovers well and is able to rejoin the orchestra.

* * * * * * *

On Saturday morning we knew nothing of this. We got up lazily and had breakfast then set off eastwards towards York.

We parked near the famous Shambles and walked together for an hour before splitting up - we both had secrets to buy for each other. Well, I had something in mind for Miss Franny anyway - her excuse was that she didn't want to feel rushed because she was dragging me round shops I had no interest in... Me! Me who shows ... ah... er... no interest in shopping whatsoever... Well anyway I had a chance to buy Miss Franny's Christmas present and stagger under its weight back to the car to leave it in the boot, hoping she wouldn't notice how the rear end seemed closer to the ground than usual. My arms will shrink back to normal hopefully...

I had a wander around the city centre. There were several shops where I wasn't averse to having a look in the window and the atmosphere in the city on this last Saturday morning before Christmas Eve was quite wonderful. There were several groups of carollers singing and musicians here and there. A small European Market had been set up and the air was full of smells of pastries and the tang of spice from mulled wine.

I had a mooch along narrow side streets and passed the Minster and under one of the gates of the city which are known as Bars. I came to Kings Manor, now part of the University of York, but once a residence of kings on their travels around the kingdom. King Henry VIII stayed here during his ill-fated progress which would be the undoing of his fifth queen. Catherine Howard. Whatever the facts it must be borne in mind they married (she would have no choice in it) when she was 16 or 17 and the king was 49, huge and with a stinky leg ulcer from a jousting injury. Not a match made in Heaven...

I walked past the Theatre Royal of 1744. It is built on the site of a medieval hospital and a well, thought to be Roman, lies under its stage! The rough brickwork of the building attached to it caught my eye along with an intriguing feature...

This was a small patch of brickwork that was obviously far more modern. I wondered what the reason for this apparent repair was (and still do - no amount of searching seems to have turned anything up). If anyone knows, please leave a comment!

Sunday, 18 December 2016

André Rieu in Leeds, 2016

On Friday we set off over the M62 to Leeds to see the famous violinist from Maastricht, André Rieu perform with his orchestra, The Johann Strauss Orchestra.

We arrived half an hour before the show started and found our seats way up in the gods. A couple were sitting in the seats next to ours and he turned to me with a grin saying "We thought you weren't coming!"
"Yes," I said "we were worried we might miss you!" Hooray! I thought, someone with a sense of humour.

But then his wife, who was sitting next to me said, "Are you big fans of André Rieu?" She looked a bit surprised when we said yes and said "Oh... I'm not so keen myself - he wanted to come..." She sighed and added "I hope it's not all Oom-Pah music, I don't like Oom-Pah music. If it's all Oom-Pah music I'll probably fall asleep."
"I think you'll be alright," I ventured, "it's fairly infectious..."
"Have you been before?" she asked after a pause. "Oh yes!" we replied and her face took on a shocked expression.
"Oh, really? Well..." she said leaving a lingering impression she thought we must be somehow mentally deficient. I exchanged a sympathetic smile with her husband and proceeded to ignore her. He was already there before me...

You could guess it couldn't you? She sang along to every tune whether vocal or not with a frail, grinding, very high pitched "aaaahh" warble... "Are they always the same guest artists?" she asked as the first soloist left the stage (Frederic Jennignes playing the zither for Tales of Vienna Woods followed by the theme from The Third Man).
"No, we've seen the St Petersburg Trio and The Berlin Comedic Harmonists at different shows..."
"Germans???" Her lips pursed in surprise.
"Yes," I said, "Their finale was to machine gun the back circle..."

We were well away from the snow machine as it dropped a generous amount on the audience below. It's funnier that way...

Another wonderful night with a few surprises and the usual elongated ending, long after André has announced things are coming to an end. This is always a cue for the first punters to stand and shuffle along the rows to get out first to the car park. They miss a good half hour - probably the best half hour of the night... Godzilla was staying put though... "Ahhh, aaaaahhh aah, ahh a-aaaahhhh!"

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Creeping Bentgrass Play A Masonic Dinner

Last night we played for a Masonic Dinner and Social Evening and had a most fabulous evening.

There is a dinner first and we set up and leave the hall before the dinner to sit in the foyer until it is time to go on.

We only drink water during and before a gig so we sat there sipping whilst the ladies were worried by no such reservations...

The dance floor started to fill up with our first song and remained packed for the entire night. This makes for a dream night for entertainers!

Feedback at the end of the night was ecstatic and we felt we had given the best that we could, for an audience that encouraged us all the way.

Thanks for the booking and it was our pleasure!

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Carnforth Steamtown Locomotive Shed, 1981

One for the steam railway enthusiasts. I'm still scanning old photos and in this article we're back to black and white and a day out to the excellent steam railway museum at Carnforth just north of Lancaster and Morecambe. Lots of photos and little text (stop that cheering!) because I'm no expert about railway stuff. The date was Wednesday 25 February 1981. Enjoy, but just as a reminder please read the copyright notice in the left hand column.

There were a number of famous locomotives housed at Carnforth including Sir Nigel Gresley (above), The Flying Sctotsman, Lord Nelson and a locomotive that some twenty years later would be painted red and pull the Hogwarts Express...

On a Wednesday in February there are no engines to be found working. We wandered round the engine sheds, almost without seeing anyone else!

The collection had locomotives in all conditions but not much room to step back to admire them!

A nice reminder of a day over 35 years ago to look at machines from 70 or more years ago!

Thursday, 1 December 2016

A Trip To Bury Market

Yesterday we had a day out to Bury Market. It's a long, long (very long) time since we last went to Bury and the size of the market there takes the occasional or new visitor a bit by surprise. It is huge! There are rows and rows of market stalls selling everything from sweets to food of every kind and from material and sewing thread to gowns and evening wear. If you are looking for cheap entertainment items there are stalls with both new and second hand books and DVDs. Hidden amongst all these rows of delights are small, sometimes tiny cafes with a few tables where people sit cheerfully (or sometimes a little bit morosely...) nursing a mug of coffee or something to eat.

There's a meat and fish market hall that has to be seen to be believed. I had no camera with me of course - I refuse to treat my phone as a camera, it takes bloody awful photos and I hold a camera more steadily if it's jammed against my eye... So I waited until I got home and then looked for a photo on t'internet and got the coloured pencils out.

The meat and fish stalls looked wonderful and there was little smell which tells me that the fish was very fresh and had been properly looked after on stands that were well maintained and cleaned. There were other foodstuffs too that made me think of school days and had my mouth watering.

Manchester tart. Not the sort with high heels and caked-on make-up masking advancing years ("Fancy an 'orrible time, dearie?")... I put this photo on my FaceBook page last night and immediately people were drooling all over their keyboards in the rush to comment. Moya Gleave in New Zealand was the first to describe it for those southerners who had hitherto doubted its very existence. "It's a pie....Almond shortbread with raspberry jam, custard, coconut & cherries."

The cherry should be a little more prominent... We went to do the weekly shop once back in Blackpool and Miss Franny placed it in a bag under what she thought was a bag containing two iced buns. It was actually a cauliflower... Not an iced one...

And - joy of my childhood - a wimberry pie! Wimberries are like bilberries but with a much more concentrated taste. They seemed to disappear from shop shelves in the 1970s and then we had to make do with bilberries which came from Poland or Ukraine or somewhere else that was affected by the clouds bearing gifts from Chernobyl. So they disappeared too. I haven't tasted a wimberry pie for four decades, but a few minutes ago I cut into it and...

oh. my. god....... So that's the first of our weekly visits to Bury then...

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Fade To Black And White

A couple of weeks ago I had occasion to move my files of film negatives and, to my dismay, as soon as I picked up a file half of the pages slipped to the floor.

The "pages" were plastic sheets, each holding seven strips of negatives. Whilst these do not get used all that much, they are still the definitive version of my early photographs and for any publication work a fresh scan is needed at high resolution.

The problem was time. Isn't it always...? But in this case it was the effects of time on thin plastic sheets bought around 35 years ago. They had degraded to the point where the punched holes for the file's ring binders just ripped out. Indeed huge chunks of plastic were breaking free at every single touch. So I've had to buy a new supply of sleeves, choosing Kenro paper sleeves this time. Whilst I had the negatives out I thought I might run a few through the scanner again.

Each time I do this I'm amazed at the leap in the quality of reproduction. When I first scanned them onto a computer it was at the size of 320x240 pixels when the entire VDU screen could squeeze no more than 800x600 pixels altogether. Photo screen savers were as yet unknown so I didn't think at the time to try scanning any larger. These days I can scan a 35mm negative up to tens of thousands of pixels. My current screen size is 1680x1050 and for reproduction a scan of over 5000 pixels is required for a sharp image. I'm amazed at people who think they can take a small image off the web and resize it, thinking that the "hidden details" will adjust the sharpness as they go along. Nooooooo!

This image was taken in 1971 from the interior of a cave on the beach outside the harbour wall at Polperro in Cornwall. Not an easy topic for a light meter to cope with...

Moving north into Devon in the same year, here is a shot taken from the top of Clovelly's main street which descends down to the beach at a gradient that taxes the back coming up and the knees going down! This was not a sunny day...!

1972 and that's me on the right on stage with the band Spiral somewhere in Oldham. At the time I was working in a photographic studio and was necessarily in trendy mode...

The year after I was working for myself and the hair had grown a bit again, before it all fell out a few years after... I'd never fit into those dark green velvet trousers these days either...

Also from 1973. Spiral it's fair to say, was not a top-earning band... When we didn't have a gig we would go out for last orders at a pub in Failsworth (between Oldham and Manchester) and as it was on a cul-de-sac, we would park near this house. It was always in darkness, unless the inhabitants only occupied the rear of the place, and we always used to joke it was haunted. We called it Terror Towers or something similarly ridiculous that would appeal to a teenage mind after a pint of Watneys Red...

In 1974 my parents moved to Blackpool to take over a small hotel on Trafalgar Road, which runs between the Promenade and Lytham Road, close to The Manchester pub. I stayed on in Rochdale for a while and came over to Blackpool for free food at weekends... This was the view of the Pleasure Beach from the South Pier in 1974. Not only is this pre-Big One roller coaster and Ocean Boulevard, it's before the Space Tower was built or the Avalanche. The old Aztec frontage to the River Caves can be seen extreme left. In front of the Big Dipper with its old spherical finial is a simple roundabout ride, dating back to the late 50s or early 60s, of space rockets that could be raised or lowered by means of a joystick in each rocket.

Circa 1976-78 this shot from the Central Pier shows Blackpool's previous sea wall and the slade used for vehicle access to the beach. The pedestrian footbridge is very new and Lewis's and Woolworth's stores bookend the Tower. Visitors are enjoying a lively sea and the beach food carts and caravans sit waiting for the tide to go out.

From the pedestrian footbridge we can look along the Promenade roadway, looking north. This was taken on August Bank Holiday Monday, 1978. The Vauxhall car in front of the bus is brand new as the T-registration only came out on the first of that month. The bus is single-decker 571 and on it's way to Manchester Square. There's a healthy crowd of visitors on the Promenade and the roadway has two lanes of traffic in each direction with room for a central refuge for crossing pedestrians.

1976 and Brush tramcar 638 turns off the Promenade to return to the Rigby Road depot along Lytham Road. A car driver is hoping the tram will let him scoot in front once the pedestrians have cleared the way. At this time no other town in England had had street trams for over twenty years and many visiting drivers had sudden panic moments as they realised that Blackpool's trams were not going to swerve away from their antics...

In 1977 riding the Grand National roller coaster meant bouncing out of your seats and holding a handrail on the back of the seat in front of you. Restraints of any kind were not thought necessary. Just to make sure however, as the coaster trains neared the top of the lift hill a recorded voice politely said: "Please... do not stand up..."