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Ah, a brand spanking new Offenbach album for 2019, featuring Belgian soprano Jodie Devos. She's really good. This year is Offenbach's bicentennial so I hope there will be more new recordings by the end of it. 'Offenbach Colorature' is on Apple Music and the other streaming platforms if you share my niche tastes at all. 
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Somehow that photo I picked up for £2 in 2014 is still generating global interest. The chief curator at the Fowler Museum just asked me if they can use it too.
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New Year party. 1951. (enlarged section)

One of my fave flea-market finds, this one.

I'm off to work night shift now. See you next year!
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 What's the best way to embed video on LJ or DW? I can do it with YouTube but the embed codes from Flickr videos don't work.


18/11/18 17:10
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I feel a little bit sad about Richard Baker dying. Such a modest manner about him. He was almost certainly the first person in the world of non-children's television with which I became familiar, back in the 1970s when I was a small child, kneeling on our rough coir carpeted living room floor, glued to our black and white telly. There were only three channels. I distinctly remember playing at being on TV with my sister and pretending to be Richard Baker. Later as a teen in the 1980s I went to a Proms concert and could hardly believe my eyes when I realised it was Baker clearly visible behind glass up in the commentary box. It was like I was INSIDE a television!

TV doesn't seem quite so important now that there are a million channels and we can carry one in our pocket.
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"No. 10 camels" Imperial camel corps?

As it's the centenary I've been revisiting some of my other old flea market finds. These were mixed up with other batches but I believe were originally part of the same set and mostly feature the machine gun corps in Palestine, at one of the several Battles of Gaza and then posing with natives in occupied Baku in 1919. Click on the photos to view them in Flickr with additional information and comments. 
Read more... )
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Ironic that this microphone portrait of George Orwell is the best known image of him, as no recording of his voice survives. I've not been reading his books but listening to them on Audible, narrated in the strong confident voice of actor Jeremy Northam, who slips with great skill into dialects and accents when Orwell quotes one of the many and varied characters that people his non-fiction account 'Down and Out in Paris and London'. Orwell's real voice is reported to have been flat and monotonous, though it was a miracle he could speak at all with his cigarette habit, tuberculosis (which killed him at 46, my age now) and bullet wound in the throat from the Spanish civil war.

I wonder what motivated Orwell to seek out, experience and vividly document destitution. You could dismiss him as a pretentious posh boy method-acting a pauper, but that's not fair. The physically punishing situations in which he put himself probably caused his early death. This was no game. I think his early life made him a permanent outsider. From a formerly upper class family which lacked the cash to stay in that position, but hung on; he got the elite education but only by scholarships and string-pulling, and could not afford university. He knew what it was to be inescapably downwardly mobile and that must have coloured everything. It must have got him thinking about those at the very bottom, their lives and stories. And he lived in an age when the very bottom was a long way down, grim and a short step from the grave. 

I was drawn to 'Down and Out' because I had unexpectedly enjoyed 'Autobiography of a Supertramp'. I have an inherited copy of Supertramp which belonged to my grandmother's tragic brother Arthur. He has written his name inside the front cover. Arthur was a spirited, rebellious sporty fellow who died when he was 20 of appendicitis before antibiotics were invented. I felt I owed it to him to read it. It is a gripping first-hand account of a rough-sleeping vagrant travelling in both Britain and the USA from the 1890s to the 1900s. It is filled with likeable characters, tales of great luck and generosity and also near-death by accident or murder. The 1920s London section of Orwell's account is familiar to any fan of Supertramp. The boarding houses with their communal cellar kitchens filled with members of the numerous specialised beggar professions had changed little in the interval.

Orwell expounds on the whole business of tramping. The tramp is a fixture of English folklore. He featured in my childhood storybooks. He is to be pitied and feared, solitary, semi-rural, always moving, a race apart but not a gypsy. What was he? Orwell, unromantically explains that the tramp is a product of an English administrative and legal treadmill constructed for the poor, nothing like the free American hobos in Supertramp. In the Paris section of his book Orwell describes an entirely different form of destitution. Working as a near-slave in the kitchens of high-end restaurants, literally starving between jobs in the company of his comical Russian refugee friend Boris, a former Tsarist army officer turned waiter. But it is static poverty, either in filthy rooms or, if necessary, on the streets or under a bridge, but never leaving Paris. Arriving in London after this Orwell finds the streets oddly clean, quiet and free of drunks compared to Paris. But there's a reason for this; static poverty is illegal. Sitting on the street is illegal. Being anywhere without paying to sit down is nearly impossible. And then there was the strange workhouse system. Parish poor could live in these institutions in a prisoner-like but reasonably fed state. Those unattached to a parish could stay for one night only in the 'casual wards' with a starvation ration of food. Repeat staying within a certain period was punishable. Therefore the vagrant army was kept pointlessly moving around the country. A futile endless odyssey. 

What a strange country this was. The workhouses can still be found, sometimes forming a core of old buildings inside what are now NHS hospital complexes. The street homeless are still with us, but inhabiting a very different post-war Britain and increasingly fractured post-post-war consensus. One of them is an Orwell, writing this all down, I hope. 


3/12/17 19:08
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I was working up in the delivery suite today and the midwives came out with an acronym I’d never heard before, FOMO. They were concerned about FOMO and were standing around the nurse station in a huddle drawing up a list of names in response to FOMO, and also collecting cash. They asked if I would like to be included on the list. The fee was £2.75 and I could have either a bacon roll or a sausage roll. They were going to phone in a group order to the hospital kitchen. “But what is FOMO?” I asked.

“Fear of missing out”
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Attention! If you live outside the UK, love surreal British comedy and haven't heard of Toast of London then you've REALLY been missing out. It's literally the only television programme I have bothered to watch in years. I don't even own a TV! Netflix are now offering Toast internationally. 
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Anonymous woman and child.

I've been so busy with other things that I'd almost forgotten how, for years, I was totally consumed by old photos from flea markets. I would spend hours online collaborating with other enthusiasts to identify places and sometimes even individuals in them. I became so familiar with the vanished townscapes, fashions and social habits they revealed that I began to feel as if I'd visited the minds of those dead people. I have most of them, still, stuffed into a shoebox. Have a look at the Tumblr I made out of them if you fancy.

This one remains a firm favourite. It is the one photo I will never sell. An unnamed mother and child in the 1890s. There is something profound and hopeful in their smudged expressions. Such a vivid image and, because the glass negatives were so large, great detail is revealed under computerised magnification. For some reason I always loved that hat on the grass most of all.

See enlarged sections here.... )
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Three men posing with a tiger skin. India or Burma?

Our Prime Minster's new soundbite 'global Britain' sounds like some utter bollocks generated by one of those humorous online joke slogan generators, but there's more to it than that I fear. 

It is a calculated pandering to the English nationalist myth of oppressed smallness. The subtext is "we are small but brave and clever; just free us from the yoke of the corrupt foreigners and we will show the world just how great we are." Substitute 'foreigner' for 'Jews' or 'immigrants' and see it for what it is.

At the heart of this is the deeply held English nationalist belief that Britain isn't global currently and, more astonishingly, never has been. Yes, history-buffs, you read that correctly. In order to make this seem true the entire British Empire period has been blanked out. This may be difficult for readers outside the UK to believe, but this monumental piece of 19th century world history does not feature at all in our populist nationalist narrative. You have to understand that it never happened. Okay? History started in 1914. Everything before this was merely a series of costumed theme parks. This is precisely how my daughter is taught history at primary school. A bit of the costume stuff, dressing up as Victorians and Tudors, then two whole years studying life in the trenches in WW1, followed by an entire year of WW2. And when I say WW1 and WW2 I mean specifically Britain fighting Germany during those wars, forget Japan or any other participant. The defining feature of our nation's history is that it fought two wars with Germany in western Europe during the 20th century. Nothing else. That's our government-approved state history syllabus for our children, preparing them for the big wide world.

Politicians (and presumably that crucial voting demographic of baby-boomers) in recent decades have been very keen on this 'British history' as they call it. There's no room in it for India or Australia or West and South Africa, let alone colonial America. Ireland isn't in it either. If it didn't happen right here, or nearby, or happen directly to white British passport-holding people, it isn't British history. Possibly the only exception to this in living memory has been the Falklands War, and in order for that to become a national event history had to be re-written, making the Falkland Islanders into British citizens before the conflict (fiction) rather than afterwards (reality). In the same period Britain agreed to hand several million non-white Hong Kong citizens, all holding the same passport as the Falkland Islanders, over to communist China as a kind of human gift. That wasn't British history though, so it didn't matter.

What is at the base of this psychosis? It seems tied to the end of the British empire as a formal entity. Right up until the 1950s (when the baby-boomers were children) British people were fed the most extraordinary fictional racist propaganda concerning the empire. It was the greatest thing that had ever existed. Wonderful, civilised, beloved, and at the core of it was a quintessential English superiority; English exceptionalism. What's painful to the English nationalist is not that the empire ended but that it simply carried on without the English. That it didn't even need the English. The English nationalist cannot tolerate this. The English nationalist does not want to know that hundreds of millions of Indians live in a democracy and speak English. The nationalist does not want to know that vast London-based multinationals are carrying on business as usual in Hong Kong and Singapore. The English nationalist is not even interested that the British government continues to support extractive neo-colonial agendas in the former empire. If he were to know these things then he, personally, would cease to be exceptional and, worse still, the last 200 years of British history would have to be re-written as global and involving billions of non-white non-English overseas British. And that would be too much to bear. 

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The first story in the current Interzone magazine is about a bizarre American apocalypse in which women inexplicably start giving birth to cute little bunny rabbits which then swamp the whole country and end human civilisation. Hmm. 

The second one is about downtrodden people surviving in an authoritarian dystopia in which Orwellian wall screens shout motivational crap at them all time and they are forced to attend futile job interviews. More believable than the rabbit story. 

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Cancelled a shift today in order to travel by a train, which was cancelled, as was the train after it, to a job interview in Hertfordshire which was consequently cancelled. 

I was halfway there too. Have taken the train back to Haywards Heath now and am walking along writing this on my phone and listening to Offenbach operettas. Think I'll go and get a Turkish haircut to make myself feel better. 
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Child appeared at our bedside last night.
Child: I can't sleep because I keep thinking about asteroids. 
Me: what about zombies?
Child: I have never seen any films about them, so I don't really think about them. 
Long pause.
Child: Plus, they move really slowly.
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 A great new miserable documentary from Adam Curtis here. Bang up-to-date in examining Trump and Putin's strategic abandonment of reality, but it's the historical material about Assad senior and Gaddafi that I found most intriguing. The manner in which US and UK politicians continually spun an imaginary narrative of the intellectually limited narcissist Gaddafi as a global terror super-brain while evidence for the Lockerbie bombing pointed directly at Syria. If you like this then watch 'Bitter Lake' too. 
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I have a running thread on my Facebook page. It consists of snippets of funny conversations that I've had with my nine-year-old daughter, such as:

Child: Nobody has head lice at school anymore, apart from the small children in reception class.
Me: Why do the reception kids have lice?
Child: Because they are savage. 


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