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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.

Wednesday 20 July 2016

Developing, Printing and a Trip to London

All the palaver of pre-digital photography: it seems as much of the past as typewriters and tape recorders – the business of loading the camera, rewinding, posting off the film, waiting for the prints or slides to come back hoping they will ‘come out’ all right, rationing your few remaining shots to avoid having to buy a new film, ordering extra copies for Grandma, and cluttering up drawers with boxes of colour slides, photograph albums and packets of negatives, and lofts with the slide projector, carousels and the glass-beaded screen.

And then there were those of us who took things a stage further: home processing. For that you needed another whole cupboard-full of esoteric paraphernalia.

It was Terry Hardy across the road who got me started. His dad developed his own photographs and had given him a packet of out of date contact papers. They darkened in light, so objects such as leaves or your fingers would leave a white silhouette. You could even print crude photographs from negatives in the same way. The problem was that the contact papers would continue to darken until they were completely black all over. Your silhouette or image lasted only five minutes at most.

Paterson contact printer
Well, one thing led to another, and before long I was making proper prints from negatives. I turned the yellow shed into a dark room, got a device a bit like a flatbed scanner for exposing photographic paper and negatives to light for just a few seconds, and began to spend my pocket money at the local chemists on packets of contact papers and bottles of photographic chemicals: developer to bring out the images and fixer to make the prints light-proof.

With the idea of taking photographs of London, we went down on the train to stay with Terry’s grandma in Hounslow for a few days, where turboprop aeroplanes rumbled low overhead smelling of paraffin, and we had to be up early so her night-shift lodger could use the same bed. We freely roamed the Underground on our Rail Rovers (would you let two fourteen year-olds do this now?), went to the Science Museum, saw the Houses of Parliament and The Monument, howled with laughter at The Road to Hong Kong in which Bob Hope and Bing Crosby get fired into space in a capsule designed for monkeys, and got free tickets for the live Friday lunchtime broadcast of The Joe Loss Pop Show with guests The Barron Knights and regular singer Ross McManus – Elvis Costello’s dad. Actually it was a bit disappointing to find the guests were only The Barron Knights whose act basically consisted of making fun of other groups. A few weeks earlier they’d had The Rolling Stones and The Searchers.

London Airport (Heathrow) 1966
London Airport, 1964 (renamed Heathrow in 1966)

I took my new Kodak Brownie Starmite camera (12 images of 4x4 cm on rolls of 46mm 127 sized film), but none of the photographs were any good except for one of London Airport (not yet called Heathrow): the last frame on a colour film left over from our family holidays.

Kodak Brownie Starmite camera with flashbulb I used the Brownie camera for the next ten years but always with black and white film because colour was so expensive. I could occasionally afford the flash bulbs though: disposable one-use plastic coated bulbs filled with magnesium and oxygen, sparked off by a battery. They melted when fired, leaving ash-filled knobbly glass inside the protective plastic coating.

Black and white film was easy to develop at home if you had a light-proof developing tank, and one conveniently materialised at Christmas. The most difficult part was getting the film into the tank. You had to separate it from its light-proof backing paper and feed it into a plastic spiral which went inside the tank, but you had to do it completely in the dark. The yellow shed was just about dark enough for contact printing – you could do that in the dim orange glow from the contact printer – but film was ultra-sensitive and had to be handled in pitch-black. You had to wait for night time, and then found yourself with head and arms beneath thick bedclothes, trying not to breathe on the film, getting hotter and hotter and gasping for oxygen. You really had to get a move on.

Paterson Major II Developing Tank

Once the film was safely in the tank the lid stayed on and you could work in daylight. It was essentially the same process as developing contact prints. You filled the tank with Johnson Universal Developer for a fixed amount of time, emptied it and replaced the developer with Johnson Acid Hypo Fixer for around a further thirty minutes, rinsed everything thoroughly with lukewarm water, took the film out of the tank and just like in Blow Up hung it to dry weighted by a bulldog clip to prevent curling. After that the negative images on the developed film could be contact printed.

It was always exciting to take the shimmering wet film out of the tank to see the dark negatives for the first time and try to make sense of what they were. You could easily have forgotten because the earlier images on the film would often be several months old. When you then printed the photographs it was fascinating to watch the images emerge under the surface of the developing fluid, trying in the dim light to judge when they were ready. 

BBC Better Photography 1965
I was never more than an occasional snapshot photographer, but my uncle gave me his old enlarger for making prints bigger than the negatives and I avidly watched the BBC series Better Photography on Saturday mornings through the autumn of 1965. The Brownie Starmite was superseded by a Zenith E, a fairly basic Russian-made 35mm single lens reflex camera for which I bought extra lenses, an electronic flash gun and extension tubes for close-ups. I later tried the much more complex process of colour developing and printing but tended to have difficulty with the colour balance (see Colours I see with). Eventually I moved on to colour slides, and home processing came to an end.

Now, of course, everything is digital and so another of those experiential manual skills has been lost to the electronic world: the exercise of judgement, the physical manipulation of the materials, the strange saliva-inducing smell of the chemicals, the satisfying darkroom perfectionism ... all gone! Instead we compile our digital albums, Photoshop our images, blog about what fun things used to be and exercise our vainglorious self-expression in all kinds of other undemanding, pretentious, posey ways.

- Maurice Fisher’s web site Photographic Memorabilia is a real treasure trove of images and information about photographic film processing and equipment.
- The images of the Kodak Brownie Starmite camera and AG1 flash bulb are by Adamantios and Gotanero on Wikimedia Creative Commons. The image of the Paterson contact printer is in the Paterson developing tank instruction booklet. Inclusion of the cover of Better Photography is believed to be fair use. The other images are my own.

- My developing tank was a Paterson Major II but strangely, as shown in the photograph, the instruction booklet supplied was for the earlier Universal II model. The difference was not significant.

Sunday 10 July 2016

The Airship in the Shed

Nevil Shute
Nevil Shute and the R100

In his autobiography Slide Rule, the author Nevil Shute (1899-1960), a man of his time with attitudes to go with it, remembers serving as an engineer building the R100 airship at Howden in the nineteen-twenties. Much of the workforce consisted of local lads and girls from the farms trained to carry out riveting and other tasks high up in the ribs and spines of the airship skeleton. Of them he writes:
The lads were what one would expect, straight from the plough, but the girls were an eye-opener. They were brutish and uncouth, filthy in appearance and in habits ... these girls straight off the farms were the lowest types that I have ever seen in England, and incredibly foul-mouthed ... we had to employ a welfare worker to look after them because promiscuous intercourse was going on merrily in every dark corner ... as the job approached completion ... we were able to get rid of the most jungly types.
Whoa there Nevil! Better check your privilege. You are talking about my grandmother and her friends and cousins. They never had chance to go to preparatory school to become Old Salopians and Balliol graduates. While you spent your evenings and weekends dancing, playing badminton, flying aeroplanes and writing novels, they would be toiling away tending crops and animals in their damp and dingy dwellings. And while we are at it, why is it all right for the lads to be straight-from-the-plough, salt-of-the-earth, vital rustic types while their sisters are jungly beyond vulgarity? Too rough for you were they? You weren’t so aloof in the army:
The language of the men was no novelty to me, of course, and I could out-swear most of them, but their attitude to women was shocking to me in my immature state.
Quite! What class of degree was it you got?

R100 Airship under construction
The R100 in its construction shed at Howden, and later from below as my dad must have seen it.

One personal legacy of the R100 was a thin semi-cylindrical piece of silver metal, possibly aluminium, around an inch and a half long (4cm), flat on one side, curved like an airship with a round nose and tail fins on the other. My maternal grandma gave me it as a toy and it became an imaginary submarine. I think she said it was cast as part of an airship brooch but at the end of production there was insufficient metal to complete it.

My dad also had a childhood memory of the R100 when in 1929 he was taken by his dad to the construction shed at Howden. They drove there in my grandad’s Model T van across the newly opened Boothferry Bridge, the rivers swollen by floodwater. When they entered the shed and looked up my dad had no idea what they were supposed to be looking at. At 700 feet long (220m) and 130 feet in diameter (40m), the airship was as big as a street with houses and front gardens on both sides. It was so huge he was unable to see it. He thought it was the roof.

The phrase “the elephant in the room” is often used to refer to something so obvious and difficult that no one wants to talk about it. Perhaps we should use “the airship in the shed” to mean something so enormous that some people cannot see it at all, like snobbery and misogyny.

The photograph of Nevil Shute is in the public domain. The photographs of the airship under construction are from a set of postcards believed to be now out of copyright, as is the following article from 16th December, 1929.

R100 Airship