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Saturday 31 December 2016

Review - Nicholas Crane: The Making of the British Landscape

Nicholas Crane: The Making of the British Landscape
Nicholas Crane
The Making of the British Landscape (2*)

I was so much looking forward to reading this book by the popular television geographer, but I am sorry to say I did not get on very well with it at all. The author makes reference to an enormous number of locations, frequently comparing different parts of the country, yet much of the time he uses archaic or local place names that leave you wondering where they actually are. It might help if there were maps, but there are none, not even of Doggerland, the region now submerged under the North Sea which had so great an influence on the making of what we now know as Britain. On top of this, the prose is difficult to read, some would say turgid, largely in the past passive voice with long lists. The book could have been either lyrical and popular or thorough and academic, but in falling in between it is neither. He is no W. G. Hoskins.

Reviews - Alistair Cooke: Letter From America and America

Alistair Cooke: Letter From America Alistair Cooke: America
Alistair Cooke
Letter From America 1946-2004 (3*)
America (4*)

I used to love Letter from America on Radio 4 at Sunday breakfast, and always said "Good Morning" before Alistair Cooke so it sounded as if he returned the greeting. But despite being intelligent, informative and beautifully phrased, the wordy and soft-focused style belies an intensity of detail. Perhaps these pieces are better heard, or dipped into rather than read all at once. (March 2016)

America is much easier. I acquired this soon after it came out to accompany a BBC television series in 1973, but never got round to reading it. Then someone borrowed and kept it. I now have another copy and what a super book it is. I skipped some of the stuff about the politics of the union, but the story of the explorers, settlers and entrepreneurs is riveting - with some incredible photographs too. (December 2016)

Wednesday 28 December 2016

Hornsea Pottery

I broke my little plate the other night: my treasured Hornsea Pottery Fleur seven-inch side plate. I knocked it off the end of the washing up rack on to the cooker hob. It’s a disaster – so distressing.

Hornsea Pottery Fleur

I once had much more of the same: breakfast bowls, dinner plates, cups and saucers, a milk jug. I bought it all from the pottery shop at Hornsea in the nineteen-seventies but gave it to someone whose set had pieces missing when I moved house a long time ago. Later, I found I still had the little side plate along with a couple of egg cups and storage jars. I have used the plate almost every day since. Only me: it’s my plate.

Hornsea Pottery was based in the out of-the-way Yorkshire seaside town of Hornsea to the north-east of Hull. One of my friends had a family caravan there on the cliff top to the north of the town. We sometimes hitchhiked there for the weekend, or after I learned to drive borrowed my parents’ Hillman Super Minx for the day. We would play football on the sandy beach, hoping the ball would not get blown away by the wind, or walk along searching for fossils in the muddy debris of the rapidly-eroding cliffs. You could find different types from different periods dragged down from the north during the last ice age. And if we got bored there was always the Marine Hotel for an under-age pint.

My friend spent most of his sixth form and university summers at the caravan earning good money as a pottery tour guide. The student guides used to compete to spin the tourists the most outrageous lies. Goodness knows how many tourists went off believing there was a machine called a ‘frigger’ that could turn out fifteen thousand pots per hour.

The pottery expanded to a second site in Lancaster in 1976, and then in 1994 branched out and opened Hornsea Freeport, said to have been the first Retail Outlet Village in the country. Initially the Freeport was very successful but it now struggles to compete with better located outlets such as Junction 32 at Glasshoughton near Castleford. The Freeport survives but the pottery is long gone from both sites. They stopped making the attractive light green Fleur tableware in 1992, and closed for good in 2000. I was last in Hornsea around 2001 when the pottery had become a depressing scene of rusting machinery, discarded clay and sad derelict buildings beyond a high wire fence. It is now a housing estate. Some think the Freeport may sooner or later be heading for the same fate. 

Some things you can’t change, but I can do something about my plate. I have ordered a replacement on ebay. I’ll probably try to kid myself it’s the same one.

An online directory of Hornsea Pottery is at
[link now broken but see instead]

Sunday 11 December 2016

Supermarket Launches New Loyalty Badge Scheme

An off-topic post, exclusive to Tesco Dunham’s Yorkshire Memories

Supermarket Loyalty Badges

A leading supermarket is to launch a new loyalty badge scheme inspired by the post Be Prepared in Tasker Dunham’s Yorkshire Memories, which describes how Wolf Cub proficiency badges promote strong feelings of achievement and loyalty. With this in mind, Tosco are to launch a similar scheme for customers.

Customers will be able to earn discounts by collecting shopping bag badges and car window stickers. Products bought over the Christmas period and throughout the duration of the scheme will be grouped into categories, such as fruit and vegetables, pet food and alcoholic drinks. Once a qualifying amount has been spent in a particular category, customers will be awarded a proficiency badge to show they have earned a 1% discount on all future purchases within that category. Spending twice the qualifying amount earns a 2% discount, and so on, up to 10% until the scheme ends. Customers who purchase a full range of products will therefore be able to earn a whopping 10% discount on the whole of their weekly shop.

One unique aspect of this innovative scheme is the collection of proficiency badges to display on shopping bags and in cars. As in the Wolf Cubs scheme, badges will be colour-coded according to whether they reflect character, skills, service to others or health. Here are some of the badges that will be available:

Blue Badges for Character

Supermarket Loyalty Badges

Customers will be able to show they possess depth of character through blue badges earned when they buy meat and poultry, tobacco products, and beers, wines and spirits.

Yellow Badges for Skills

Supermarket Loyalty Badges

Customers who buy tools and maintenance products, cookware, kitchen equipment and materials for household cleaning and laundry will be able to display their accomplishments on yellow badges.

Red Badges for Service to Others

Supermarket Loyalty Badges

Caring red badges will be awarded to customers who buy babycare products such as formula milk and disposable nappies, and also to those who buy pet care and first aid items.

Green Badges for Healthy Lifestyle

Supermarket Loyalty Badges

Healthy green badges will be awarded to buyers of fresh fruit and vegetables, wholesome food supplements, vitamin pills, over-the-counter medicines, denture fixative and incontinence pads.

Just as in the Wolf Cubs scheme, the Tosco scheme will also allow customers to qualify for glitzy silver stars to fix to the front of their cars and shopping trolleys. For the first star, customers will have to show they can successfully carry out a set of difficult tasks, including steering a loaded shopping trolley safely through a crowded supermarket while collecting a list of fifteen specified items in less than fifteen minutes, using an automated self-service checkout, packing items efficiently into bags, learning Tosco slogans by heart (e.g. Every Little Helps) and executing the Tosco two-fingered salute.

Wednesday 30 November 2016

Reviews - Alan Bennett: Writing Home and Untold Stories

Alan Bennett: Writing Home and Untold Stories
Alan Bennett
Writing Home (4*)
Untold Stories (4*)

Writing Home is a miscellaneous collection of autobiography, memoir, diaries, book reviews, prefaces to published plays etc., mainly from the nineteen-seventies and -eighties. It includes the original, enjoyable account of the recently filmed 'The Lady in the Van', hilarious memories of Russell Harty and diary extracts from periods during filming. (June 2016)

Untold Stories is similar. It begins with a revealing and fascinating memoir of growing up in Leeds during the nineteen thirties and forties, followed by diary extracts from 1996-2004. The last third is a collection of pieces about the theatre, broadcast media, art and architecture, and three more recent experiences, including his treatment for cancer. Both books interest and entertain throughout. (November 2016)

Key to star ratings: 5*** wonderful and hope to read again, 5* wonderful, 4* enjoyed it a lot and would recommend, 3* enjoyable/interesting, 2* didn't enjoy, 1* gave up.

Monday 21 November 2016

Be Prepared

Akela we’ll do our best
Dyb – dyb – dyb
Dob – dob – dob

I never knew until I looked it up that it was known as the Grand Howl, that we-e-e-e-ll do-o-o-o o-o-o-u-u-r was supposed to sound like howling wolves greeting the Old Wolf Akela, or that dyb stood for ‘do your best’ and dob for ‘do our best’. It was simply what we did. The wolf-cubs were just peculiar: the shouting, the jumping up and down and the two-fingered salute that went with it.

Wolf Cubs Grand Howl and Salute

Geoffrey Bullard talked me into joining. He had been promoted to Seconder and said I could be in his Six. He would teach me the Cub Scout Promise. What he really meant was that he would strut his Seconder’s stripe on his fat arm and act superior.

                I promise to do my best
                To do my Duty to God and the Queen
                To obey the law of the Wolf Cub pack
                And to do a good turn for somebody every day.

I became a Tenderpad and got the uniform: the green jersey, grey flannel shorts, long socks with garter tabs and green peaked cap with yellow piping. On my left sleeve was a coloured felt triangle to show I belonged to the Tawny Six – ‘his’ Six according to Geoffrey Bullard. It all looked pretty smart, especially new: perfect to get lots of jobs during Bob-a-Job Week. We knocked on doors to earn money for cub funds, but as I had gone round with Geoffrey Bullard, he insisted our earnings be recorded on his card, not mine, because I had only recently joined.

Wolf Cubs Job Done

We were in the ‘Yellow Neckers’. We wore yellow neckerchiefs tied with leather woggles. They gave us a sunny countenance. Elsewhere in town were the ‘Red Neckers’. They were from rougher streets. Their neckerchiefs reflected red and angry in their faces. You kept well away from them when you were on your own in uniform.

The ‘Yellow Neckers’ met in a musty room above a hidden-away garage, up a creaky wooden staircase. It’s a wonder the floor never gave way with all the jumping, howling and rough games. We tried to convince Akela and Baloo – the two women who led the pack – that we were worthy of shiny silver stars to fix to our caps, and proficiency badges for our sleeves. They promoted strong feelings of loyalty and achievement. The more you had, the more you belonged. But assessments could be delegated to Sixer Leaders or Seconders. Geoffrey Bullard seemed to make it a point of principle that nothing I did was ever good enough.

The stars and badges were much the same as they remain today. For the first star you had to be able to perform a list of patriotic and practical tasks: sing God Save The Queen, describe the Union Jack, list the national saints, tie simple knots, walk with a book on your head, throw and catch a ball, perform a forward roll, tell the time, keep yourself clean and tidy, grow a plant and answer questions on the pedestrian’s part of the Highway Code. I could do all of that (and still can) but was never quite patriotic or practical enough for the second star which required swimming, tying knots, climbing trees, using the telephone, lighting fires and treating wounds. A group of us spent one summer evening at a telephone box trying to ring Akela. It was not as easy as you might think. It went beyond knowing how to press Button B in the hope that someone had forgotten their leftover coins. We mumbled self-consciously into the mouthpiece as none of us had a phone at home.

Wolf Cub Badges
Baden-Powell's Original Twelve Proficiency Badges.
By 1960 there were many more.

The proficiency badges were brightly coloured cloth triangles to parade on your right arm: blue, yellow, red or green according to whether they reflected character, handicraft, service or health. They came with matching stickers to save on a progress card. Cyclist (health green), Collector (character blue) and Reader (handicraft yellow) were no problem at all to anyone with a bicycle and stamp album who went to the Grammar School, but others were more challenging. Geoffrey Bullard had two or three rows but I managed no more than half a dozen at most. Never in a million years was I going to get the badges for artist, athlete or entertainer. I managed the sewing badge though. I took it home for my mother to fix to my sleeve.

Wolf Cub Badges

After a year or so I had one star on my cap and a few proficiency badges. Most of the older lads had either left, moved up to the scouts or been expelled for smoking (they might have got away with it had they not told Akela they were practising for their smokers badge). I began to harbour hopes of promotion. Geoffrey Bullard had been made Sixer Leader and there was a vacancy for his Seconder. It was my turn. I had been waiting as long as anyone.

Akela surveyed the raised hands uncertain who to choose. She invited Geoffrey Bullard to make a suggestion. He looked around the pack, then at each member of his Six, then smugly down at his own two stripes. He turned back to me as if about to say my name, but instead, pure evil in his voice, he said:

“Harvey Gelder.”

I didn’t go much after that. I escaped to the scouts while Geoffrey Bullard stayed in the cubs as a three-stripe Senior Sixer.

I came across other bastards like Geoffrey Bullard in later years, usually causing damage in the public sector. They always put self-interest before cooperation. Be prepared. Avoid them if you can.

Saturday 12 November 2016


This will be reposted as a "New Month Old Post" on 1st July 2023.

Sunday 30 October 2016


This was reposted as a New Month Old Post on 2nd April 2024.

Sunday 23 October 2016

One Man’s Week 1974

This was written after reading One Man’s Week in the London Sunday Times. The contributors were always authors, artists, musicians, humourists, television personalities and so on, all of whom led wildly exciting daily lives. As its name suggests, there were never any female correspondents. This particular week the column was by a well-known writer, presenter of television arts programmes and professional Northerner who, frankly, I was sick of seeing and reading about. This was my reaction. Perhaps it exaggerates my lack of direction, hopelessness and want of stimulation at the time, but not by much.

One Man’s Week by Tasker Dunham who works in an office in Leeds


Thank goodness it’s Sunday. Staying with Parents for the weekend, I pick up their Sunday Times and come across One Man’s Week. As usual it is by some irritating celebrity who leads a full and exciting life, has an interesting, creative job and mixes with sparklingly famous and admired people. Why don’t they get someone who does nothing, goes nowhere and knows no one, someone with a boring and hated job, someone like me?

Dreading the impending working week, I sit unoccupied for the rest of the day until it is time to return to my bedsit. Parents wave goodbye from the doorstep and after an hour in my blue Mini I am in my room in Leeds. It is cold, lonely, empty, and the bulb has gone. Must get a new one. I greet my four little fish: they don’t exactly come bounding up to welcome me.

I switch on the television for half an hour before bed time. The picture flickers on. It’s him again: the One Man’s Week columnist. I turn it off and go to bed. Why can’t I have a job like his?


8:15 Eyes open. Radio on. I’ve got to go to work. Must get up. I’ll just have another five minutes.

8:20 Groan! I really ought to get moving, but another five minutes won’t matter.

This continues until 8:45 when a feeble John Timpson joke on the radio gets me up.

At 9.15 I arrive at work. Napoleon, the boss, looks at his watch disapprovingly with raised eyebrows. He says nothing. He is busy working frenetically in his shirtsleeves behind his glass partition. I try to look productive with thoughts miles away. I make a mental note to be on time tomorrow.

Lunchtime arrives. There must be something wrong when the most enjoyable part of the day is going to the shop for a lunchtime sandwich. And they’re so expensive! I must start to make my own.


It must be terrible to work in London where the journey to work might take two hours. In Leeds I can do it in ten minutes, yet I still can’t make it on time. I set off at nine and arrive ten minutes late. Napoleon looks at his watch disapprovingly with raised eyebrows. He is still working frenetically in his shirtsleeves behind his glass partition. Has he been home at all? I genuinely resolve to arrive on time tomorrow.

At lunchtime I return a pile of books to the library, all unread, and have to pay twenty pence in fines. It’s quite reasonable really. Browsing round the shelves I spot a name on a row of novels. Hell! It’s him again: One Man’s Week. Not only television programmes; he writes novels as well. I borrow them all hoping to find the secret of his success.

In the evening I don’t get round to reading them. I am too exhausted after work and have not yet replaced the light bulb. There must be something wrong with me. I’m always tired, I have lots of headaches, I never feel well. I need to visit the doctor.


Today I am not going to be late for work. I spring out of bed at 6.15. I spring back in at 6.20.

I wake up again at 9.30. That can’t be right. Oh dear! 9.30. It is right. I walk to the phone box and tell Napoleon I will be in late on account of having run over a dog on the way to work. I arrive sheepishly at 10.30. Napoleon calls me in and I bleat out my excuse once more, with embellishments. I look disapprovingly at my watch with raised eyebrows.

“Must get on,” I say, retreating.

When lunchtime arrives I reflect that I am still not making my own sandwiches. At least I remember to buy a new light bulb. It gives me a deep sense of accomplishment. 

Back home the fish regard my presence with less enthusiasm than ever. Their tank probably needs cleaning out. Indeed, it smells a bit and there seem only to be three of them now. The other appears to have turned into a transparent husk glistening at the bottom with a kind of wriggling, leechy thing attached. I make a mental note to deal with it.

I pick up one of that man’s books but reading is difficult because the new bulb is too dim. I become lost in thoughts about changing vocation. I decide I am definitely in the wrong job. I will go for occupational guidance to see what they say. Blast! I forgot to make an appointment to see the doctor.


8.30 Why should I have to do this job? Why should I, a person of my considerable intelligence and ability, have to carry out such mind-numbing, menial tasks? Why do I put up with work so beneath my capabilities? I’m not going in. I am definitely not going in. That’s that. I will phone and say I’m ill.

I feel so guilty I remain bedbound until 2.00 as if authentically ill. I stay in bed so long that hunger and headache make me feel truly ill.


I arrive at work five minutes early but Napoleon has gone to a meeting in London for the day. People ask after my state of health. I explain that I had migraine and stomach ache and was unable to phone in. Well, it’s true. I really was ill.

Conscientious people like me enjoy their jobs. If on a particular day they cannot face work, there must be something wrong: they must be ill. Staying home is the sensible course of action.

I am still not making my own sandwiches. It does not matter today as Friday is liquid lunch day, the end of the firm’s unofficial four and a half day week.

The car sounds a bit rough but I drive back to Parents, to cooked meals, clean rooms and country air. Not for the first time I am told I ought to pull myself together, find a wife and be properly looked after. There might be something in that.

Tomorrow I will read one of that man’s books, service the car, get a brighter bulb, buy food for next week....


Instead I stay in bed all morning and then watch wrestling on television. I must make an effort to get things done.

Right! Starting from next week I will make my own sandwiches, read that man’s books, sort out the fish, get a brighter bulb, tidy my room, service the car, go to the doctors, arrive at work on time, seek occupational guidance.....

Thank heavens it’s the weekend.

Thursday 6 October 2016

The Man With The Hebrew Bible

Hebrew Bible

My father was always puzzled by a strange teenage memory. In 1937 he went with his parents to visit distant relatives at Boston in Lincolnshire. In one house, an elderly Jew was sitting at a high desk in skull cap and prayer shawl reading a Hebrew bible, his finger tracing the curious lettering right to left across the page. Who could this have been? My father was never aware of any Jewish relatives. He began to wonder whether he had imagined the whole thing. The truth, when it emerged, is like a tale from Dickens.

Years later, after his parents were gone and there was no one left to ask, the image kept returning to bother him like a recurring dream. He wished he had paid more attention, except you don’t when you are sixteen, or even when you are thirty-three or forty, his ages when his mother and father died. He struggled to reconstruct the event: the one-day railway excursion from Goole; meeting his mother’s cousin, Lucy Mann, who gave them dinner (i.e. lunch); climbing the three hundred and sixty five steps to the top of Boston Stump with his father (i.e. Boston St. Botolph, the tallest church tower in England). But the man with the Hebrew bible remained a mystery.

LNER Rail Excursions 1937
The Hull Daily Mail, 1937
Much of the story made sense. Railway excursions were very popular in the nineteen-thirties before the days of mass car ownership. They ran to destinations far and wide from every major town and city. The London and North Eastern Railway advertised numerous trips from Hull and Goole in 1937, including several to Boston. One such excursion, for a fare of four shillings and nine pence (24p in new money), left Goole at 10.50 a.m. on Sunday 7th November and would have arrived in Boston before one in the afternoon. Presumably they spent the afternoon there and returned that evening.

On the way home, my grandfather, amused by what they had seen, began to tease my grandmother about her distant relative. It was still unusual for people from a small Yorkshire town to encounter other religions or ethnicities, even for those who had seen service abroad during the First World War. It was cause enough for suspicion to be Roman Catholic, or sometimes Methodist. “Well, you kept quiet about that all these years, didn’t you!” he mocked. “I didn’t realise I’d married a Hebrew!”

My grandmother’s cousin, Lucy Mann, is also no mystery. The two cousins had spent the First World War together in service as shop assistants at Southport in Lancashire. They had a common bond: the childhood loss of a parent. Lucy’s father had died of heart disease in 1893 when she was two, and my grandmother’s mother of kidney disease in 1910 when she was fourteen. Lucy can be found in my grandparents’ wedding photographs in 1919. They remained in touch for the rest of their lives.  

But who was the man with the Hebrew bible? My father gradually came round to thinking he could have been married to one of his mother’s aunts. We looked for clues in the snippets of family history I traced, but to no avail. None of the twelve aunts we found fitted the bill.

The truth came to light only after my father had died. It was the result of a set of events that would never occur today – like a nineteenth century Dickensian tale, convoluted as a Catherine Cookson saga.

It begins in the eighteen-fifties. My grandmother’s maternal family lived in a hamlet called Amber Hill in the Boston fens: an expanse of low lying farmland to the west of The Wash in South Lincolnshire. It is a bleak, wet landscape of isolated villages surrounded by field after field of crops. But for a network of deep drains and pumping stations originally powered by windmills, it would quickly turn back into marshland. You could imagine it as Holland; in fact one fen is actually named Holland Fen. Families were large, and the children went on to have large families themselves. Work on the land was hard and death came early and often.

My grandmother’s mother was one of at least twelve siblings. The two eldest, both girls, married the same man, the elder sister having died at the age of twenty. Between them they had fourteen children with the surname Sellars. One, Thomas Sellars, moved north to the town of Goole, then a booming port in Yorkshire. It promised a kinder life than on the land, with plentiful work on the docks, on the railway, and in the industries springing up around the town. Thomas found work as a coal porter, married and quickly had four children, but one died soon after birth, and then his wife died. It was May, 1906. Thomas was left alone with three children: Albert aged four, Beatrice, three, and Edmund, one.

Other siblings and cousins had moved to Goole too, including my grandmother’s parents. It would not have been entirely alien to them because, like the Boston fens, the land is flat and artificially drained. The families remained close, some lodging with or living next door to each other. They would have rallied round straight away to help Thomas with the children. A working man at that time could not have looked after them alone. 

Soon, however, Thomas was on his own again. He remained in Goole, but the 1911 census shows him living alone in lodgings. Albert is back with Thomas’s parents in the Lincolnshire Fens. Edmund, the youngest child, had died in 1908. Beatrice is nowhere to be found. It seemed that she had disappeared from the records.

It is not unusual to have loose ends in family history research. Sometimes they are never resolved. My grandmother had at least fifty first cousins just on her mother’s side of the family, some of whom also seem untraceable.

Thomas died three years later in 1914. He is buried with his wife and children in a pair of forgotten and neglected plots in Goole cemetery. My grandmother would certainly have remembered her cousin Thomas and his family, being only a little older than his children. 

This sad tale was all we could find for many years. We knew most of it before my father died. At that time it seemed to have absolutely no connection to the man with the Hebrew bible. It never occurred to either of us there might be one.

But the great thing about internet genealogy is that not only does it provide untold resources for tracing your family history, it also facilitates communication between distant relatives and others researching the same families. One day, out of the blue, I received a message from Beatrice’s grandson, actually my third cousin once removed, and the rest of the story fell into place. The man with the Hebrew bible acquired a name.

He was Samuel Isaac Niman, born in 1867 at Plock in central Poland. When he was two his family moved to England and settled in Leeds where he grew up. He trained as a tailor and at some point during the eighteen-nineties emigrated to Melbourne, Australia, to set up in business as a gentleman’s outfitter.

S I Niman, Melbourne, Australia 1901
The Melbourne Advocate, 1901

One of Thomas Sellers’ sisters, Mary Ann Sellars, had also moved to Melbourne. When, how and why remains unknown. She had been in domestic service in the 1891 census, but had then become another of those loose ends that disappeared from the family tree. It transpired that she had married Samuel Isaac Niman in Melbourne in 1900.

News of the death of Thomas’s wife would have been slow to reach them in 1906. One imagines letters sent back and forth by sea with an interval of six or seven weeks between dispatch and delivery. They would have touched upon the uncertain future of Thomas’s children. Exactly how the dialogue then developed one can only guess, but it seems the Nimans were unable to have children of their own and it was agreed they should take one of Thomas’s to live with them in Australia. In March, 1907, Mary Ann sailed from Melbourne, arriving in London in mid-May. Then on the 26th September she sailed back from Liverpool accompanied by five-year old Beatrice, and Beatrice Sellars became known as Beatrice Niman. One wonders what the little girl thought, sailing off to a new life on the other side of the world with an aunt she had known for just four months.

S I Niman, Boston, Lincolnshire 1933
The Lincolnshire Standard and Boston Guardian, 1933

The Nimans remained in Melbourne for a further six years until, in July 1913, they returned to England and settled in Boston. Samuel started another business there, apparently with Mary Ann and Beatrice, eventually opening a ladies clothing shop at 55 West Street. They lived on the premises, which is where my father and his parents would have visited them in 1937. Beatrice by then was married with children of her own, but she still lived in Boston and may also have been present. We no longer know how well Mary Ann knew my grandmother or whether Beatrice remembered her. She would have remembered very little about her time in Goole with her own parents, but might have visited on returning from Melbourne in 1913 because her father, Thomas Sellars, was still alive. One can only wonder. The more you find about family history, the more questions you have.

So my father had not imagined the whole thing. The man with the Hebrew bible was real. He was Samuel Isaac Niman, the husband of one of my father’s mother’s cousins. Beatrice’s son remembered him as very religious. As a child he would sit on his knee at the high desk as he read the Hebrew bible.

Sadly, my father died six or seven years before I was able to tell him.

S I Niman, Boston, Lincolnshire

After Samuel's death, Mary Ann went to live with Beatrice and her family who had moved to Muswell Hill, London. She died there aged 84 in 1956.

Friday 30 September 2016

Reviews - Owen Jones: The Establishment and Chavs

Owen Jones: The Establishment and how they get away with it; and Chavs
Owen Jones 
The Establishment And how they get away with it (4*)
Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (4*)

The Establishment explains how the powerful are able to ignore the electorate and manipulate things for their own benefit. You'll never watch the news in the same way again. Essential for anyone pissed off with how the wealth is being fracked out of society leaving only the shafted bedrock behind. It leaves little hope so long as things continue as they are. (February 2016)

Chavs is Jones's earlier book. If you only suspect that successive governments have gravely failed to look after the ordinary population as they should, this will confirm it. As someone from an ordinary background who prospered despite a false career start, I doubt I would be able to do the same again now that things are so stacked against those without the advantages of wealth and class. Even truer for Alan Johnson, as reviewed previously. (September 2016)

Key to star ratings: 5*** wonderful and hope to read again, 5* wonderful, 4* enjoyed it a lot and would recommend, 3* enjoyable/interesting, 2* didn't enjoy, 1* gave up.

Previous book reviews 

Monday 26 September 2016

Keith Richards' Lost Weekend

Keith Richards' Lost Weekend

What a treat on BBC Four television this weekend when Keith Richards’ “pirate broadcast” took over the channel from dusk to dawn for three nights, replacing the usual schedule with his own selection from the past, such as Tony Hancock’s Twelve Angry Men, Captain Pugwash, and Hitchcock’s 1935 version of The Thirty Nine Steps, all billed as Keith Richards’ Lost Weekend. I didn’t stay up all night with Keef but the bits I did see were great. 

One particular clip had me in hysterics: Spike Milligan’s Raspberry Song from 1977. I’d never seen it before.* I squirmed in agony until my family decided it had to be switched off – “before he wets himself” was the phrase used.

They turned over to the other channel for Would I Lie To You in which two teams of metropolitan smart alecs compete to make viewers feel witty and sophisticated. Next to Milligan they are no different from any of those pompous, pedestrian panellists of the past, like Frank Muir, Robert Robertson and Robin Ray. Raspberries to them all.

* For the lyrics see

Friday 9 September 2016

Help ... my courgette looks like a duck!

duck-shaped courgette

It’s like something out of That’s Life – a 1973-1994 BBC Television magazine-style consumer affairs and entertainment programme presented by Esther Rantzen and a panel of male co-presenters. During its Sunday evening run in the mid nineteen-seventies it made for a relaxing and usually mindless end to the weekend. Among the serious and often worthwhile consumer rights campaigns, the show contained numerous items that were just plain silly: there were “Odd Odes”; stooges would burst into song in supermarkets; there was a dog that could growl the word “sausages”; and viewers would send in unusually shaped vegetables such as intertwined carrots, teddy-bear shaped potatoes and parsnips that looked like legs with male genitalia.

Well here Esther, around forty years too late, is my contribution – a courgette that looks like a duck. Pareidolia.

It was hiding in the vegetable patch. It must have twisted round to grow against its stalk. Concealed beneath the leaves at the back of the plant, it surreptitiously became this three and three-quarter pound (1700g) monster.

duck-shaped courgette

Wednesday 31 August 2016

Reviews - Bill Bryson: One Summer and The Road to Little Dribbling

Bill Bryson: One Summer
Bill Bryson
One Summer: America 1927 (4*)
The Road to Little Dribbling (4*)

One Summer is an account of a summer when rather a lot happened, much of historical significance. You have to admire Bill Bryson for organising so much material in such a readable and entertaining way, but as an English reader I might have liked less about baseball. As noted previously, it is interesting to compare Bill Bryson with Gervase Phinn. (May 2015)

Bill Bryson: The Road to Little Dribbliing
The Road to Little Dribbling is a follow up to Notes From a Small Island published twenty years earlier, both based on travels around his "adopted country" of Britain. He has the ability to rant about all kinds of ridiculous and scandalous things in the most amusing way while revealing things about your own country you never knew, even about places you thought you did know. (August 2016)

Key to star ratings: 5*** wonderful and hope to read again, 5* wonderful, 4* enjoyed it a lot and would recommend, 3* enjoyable/interesting, 2* didn't enjoy, 1* gave up.

Sunday 31 July 2016

Review - Gervaise Phinn: Road to the Dales

Gervase Phinn: Road to the Dales
Gervase Phinn
Road to the Dales (4*)

Gervaise Phinn’s entertaining books about life as a Yorkshire teacher and schools' inspector are best sellers. Here he no less amusingly remembers his early life in Rotherham. Some chapters about his relatives drag a bit, but the tales of his childhood in the nineteen-fifties have countless laugh-out loud moments and vivid contemporary memories.

It is edifying to see how someone so accomplished handles this kind of material, and interesting to compare Gervase Phinn with Bill Bryson. Both are among Amazon's best selling authors, but apart from the difference that one writes mainly memoir and the other travel, both produce a similar kind of light humour. For me Phinn is much the better writer. He really is a fantastic story teller and describer of people, with a truly original gift for language - e.g. he describes taking a girl to see a scary film, throughout which she clung to him "like a Whitby limpet." The trouble is that if you Google it you'll find he has used the same expression in other tales too, which is self-plagiarism. Still, it gave me the idea for the cricket ball which "whistled like the wings of a Pontefract pigeon." Is that plagiarism?

Phinn sells fewer books than Bryson, probably because Bryson paints on a broad canvas whereas Phinn is much more parochial.

Key to star ratings: 5*** wonderful and hope to read again, 5* wonderful, 4* enjoyed it a lot and would recommend, 3* enjoyable/interesting, 2* didn't enjoy, 1* gave up.

Previous book reviews 

Monday 25 July 2016

My Picture Book of Ships

On the bottom shelf of my dad’s bookcase were some of his childhood books. He was nearly as daft as me for keeping things. There might have been many more treasures but for mum’s propensity for throwing things away, although the bookcase was sacrosanct, even to her.

I always knew he had them, of course, but never took the time for anything more than a superficial glance at the pictures. He must have treasured them greatly. All have his name and address inside and some also the date.

My Picture Book of Ships

The earliest and most dilapidated is My Picture Book of Ships which he got in 1926 at the age of five. To a child at that time the cover must have looked thrilling: the vast bulk of the ocean liner soaring proud above the waterline, the towering hull and funnels, the dense spray from the bow-wave hinting at the rumbling power of the great engines and propellers, the huge anchor tight against the ship’s side. People yearned to travel in the luxury of these floating palaces. They were the dream machines of their day: the supersonic jets, the Lamborghinis, the spaceliners, the high speed trains, the earth moving machines, the ice road truckers. Even their names implied substance and opulence: Majestic, Britannic, Olympic, Leviathon, Edinburgh Castle.  

My Picture Book of Ships White Star Line Majestic at Boston Dry Dock

We used to look at it together when I was little. We studied the sixty two illustrations but never read it. The text tells of two children, Tom and Betty, who ceaselessly ask Father question about ships. They also play at ships: Tom is Captain and Father the pilot, while Chief Officer Mother sleeps “on watch” below and poor Petty Officer Betty gets ordered around.

Father of course answers all their questions patiently, knowledgeably and at length. He tells them about how the voyage of an ocean liner is organized, how sailors are trained, shipbuilding, shipwrecks, coal and oil power, sail, cargo vessels, lifeboats, light houses and light ships, paddle steamers and ferries. How he knew all this stuff is not clear. He just did. Perhaps he was a seaman himself, or maybe like my own dad his grandfather had been a Captain and his cousin was at sea. Oh yes, all dads knew everything there was to know about ships; especially when they had grown up in a Yorkshire port.

London Docks 1920s Harwich-Zeebrugge Train Ferry 1920s

Dads could describe and explain all the pictures: cargo being unloaded at London docks, the Harwich-Zeebrugge railway ferry with wagons on board, a big ship under construction inside a massive gantry, and boys lining a high mast at a sailors’ training school. I certainly would not have wanted to have been the baby thrown through the air to a lifeboat in a rescue at sea. My dad used to pick me up and pretend to act it out.

Harland and Wolff Shipyard 1920s Sea Training School Rescue at Sea

But that is not what used to frighten me most. I was terrified of the strange double-page cartoons inside the front and back covers. Why a factual book about ships should contain such irreverent drawings is a mystery. They are not even proper ships. They show traumatised people in canoes, punts and rowing boats on an overcrowded river, being attacked by pigs, cows and swans, knocked overboard by clumsy oarsmen or tormented by badly controlled fishing lines. They all have ugly ears, gaping mouths and grotesque faces. I could never bear to look. It is still difficult now.

As Nick Ross used to say: “Don’t have nightmares. Do sleep well.”

My Picture Book of Ships
My Picture Book of Ships

My Picture Book of Ships published by Ward Lock & Co. (c1922) is believed to be out of copyright.

Sunday 24 July 2016

Side By Side Images in Blogger

(An off-topic post)

This post shows how to change the default layout of multiple photographs or other images in Google Blogger so that they appear side by side on the page instead of sequentially underneath each other. It works for two, three or more images. It can also be used for videos.

There are different ways to do this. Some people suggest using HTML tables, others using an image editor to combine several images into one. I have used both these techniques elsewhere in my blog, but the following is simpler. As well as being simple it has the advantage of keeping the images separate so that if desired any one could be changed later.

First upload your images in the normal way by means of the Insert Image button on the toolbar. Let us assume for now that you have just two images. By default, Blogger displays them consecutively on the page, one above the other as shown below. The issue with this is that readers might have to scroll quite a long way down before they come to the next piece of text.

First Image

Second Image

To put the images side by side, go to the HTML part of the editor. At the top left click the HTML tab as indicated and you will see the underlying code for the page, like this:

Image code in Blogger

You now need to find the code for the images. The file names for mine are Image01.jpg and Image02.jpg and you can see these names each inside the middle of some complicated looking chunks of code. But in between these chunks you can see the following which begins at the end of one line and continues on two more lines (as highlighted above):

           <br />
           <div class="separator" style="clear">; both; text-align: center;">

All you then need to do is to delete this section of code. Be aware that, depending on how you have uploaded your images, the <br /> line might appear more than once or might be completely absent. If there is more than one then delete them all. If it is absent then don't worry. Basically you should just delete everything from </div> to .... center;">.

Be very careful not to delete anything else. Do not delete anything other than </div> at the end of the first line. You might want to make a copy* of your blog post first so you can recover if you make a mistake.

After deleting the code, your images will be positioned like this:

First Image Second Image

Technically, what this achieves is to place both images inside the same <div> section of the page, rather than in separate divisions as occurs by default. 

You might have problems if your images are too wide for the page layout you are using. You will have to resize them. For example, my images are portrait orientation and set to the Blogger Medium size, but if they were in landscape orientation then they would not fit across the page. The second image would overflow to the next line so they would still appear one above the other. I could get round this by using the default Blogger Small size instead of Medium. 

You can use this technique to place three or more images side by side by deleting the two lots of intervening code. For three images I do need to resize them to Small to get them side by side across the page as shown. This works when viewed on a computer. It might not always work when viewed on smaller-screen devices such as phones and tablets.

First Image Second Image Third Image

To display a greater number of images side by side, even the default Blogger Small size might overflow to the next line. I can get round this by specifying the size of the displayed images directly, but this requires more detailed editing of the HTML code which needs greater care.

The code for each image will look something like the following. It specifies the image size, in this case height="200" and width="133".

<img border="0" height="200" src="" width="133" />

If I reduce these dimensions by a scale of 0.7 so that height="140" and width="93" then it is possible to place more images across the page.

First Image Second Image Third Image Fourth Image Fifth Image

Readers can always click on the images to look at them full size.

In the above I have also removed the code style="margin-left: 1em; margin-right: 1em;" associated with each image (i.e I have had to remove five instances of this) to reduce the margin spacing and pack them closer together.

The remaining frames and shadows around the images are defined at a higher level - the css level - and will appear on all images on all posts on your blog. It is possible to remove these too, but to do so for a single image is beyond the scope of this post. However, if you want to remove the frames (but not the shadows) from all images on a single page, then insert the following code in the HTML editor at the very beginning of the blog post.

     <style type="text/css">
     .post-body img, .post-body .tr-caption-container, .Profile img, .Image img,
     .BlogList .item-thumbnail img {padding: 0; border: none; background: none;}

Be very careful when editing HTML. It is so easy to wreck the whole page or lose it irrecoverably. When you have a lot of content it is usually best to play safe and make a backup copy.*

To see another example, I have used this technique for the cigarette card album at the end of my post Cartophilic Concerns. However, the first composite image in that post was put together using an image editor.

Finally, you can also use these techniques to place videos side by side. In the following, the video thumbnail images have been resized and placed within a single division rather than the default two. Again, this has the proviso that it works when viewed on a computer but not necessarily on phones or tablets, or in email feeds.


* One way to make an exact copy of a blog post is to go into the HTML code editor, place your cursor anywhere within the content, press CONTROL-A to select all the content, then CONTROL-C to take a copy. Close the window (do not save if prompted), begin a new blog post and give it a name such as 'Backup', go into the HTML editor and place your cursor in the empty window, press CONTROL-V to retrieve the copied content. Save but do not publish the post, then close the window. If you then make a mess of editing the original blog post you can always delete it and rename the Backup with the name of the original.