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Thursday, 25 April 2019

The Wrong Door

At one university where I worked, Diana, the Departmental Secretary, had to put up with men walking into her office in the process of absent-mindedly unzipping their flies. It was down a long corridor of identical green doors. Her office was next door to the men’s loo.

When you’ve done it once, you don’t do it again. 

Friday, 19 April 2019

Easter 1971

When The Police Told My Parents I Went In Pubs

The Green Bottle, Knottingley (c) Betty Longbottom, Creative Commons

My generation was nothing like as open with our parents as our children are with us, at least not in my part of the North of England, or maybe it was just me. I never told my parents I went in pubs. Not even when old enough. The police told them. It was Easter Sunday, 11th April, 1971.

It was the day after I had been with three friends to The Green Bottle in the curiously named Spawd Bone Lane, Knottingley. The pub was packed with noisy, holiday-weekend drinkers, and we took little notice of a short-haired man in a suit sitting alone at a table in the middle of the room until he asked us one by one to go over to have a few words with him. He was a detective investigating a vicious attack on an elderly lady the previous afternoon.*

I can still remember some of what he asked – name, age, address, where I been between 4.30 and 6.30 the previous afternoon, and where I worked. I told him I was a Chartered Accountants’ articled clerk with Goodwill and Ledger in Leeds (actually, I did give their real name), to which he said, “Oh! Do you know Mr. Black?” I said no, there was no Mr. Black where I worked, to which he replied that he worked at the Huddersfield office. It so happened that we did have an office in Huddersfield, and being naïve and trusting, thinking it a genuine question, I said I wasn’t sure but thought I might have seen that name on the letterheads, and that Mr. Black might be a partner at the Huddersfield office. It seemed to arouse the detective’s interest. I had never been grilled by the police before, and found it unsettling, although I tried hard not to show it.

The detective moved on to my friends, one of whom was in the middle of a Fine Art degree, with a bolshy “I’m an art student” attitude, full of the deep and mysterious philosophies to which such beings are prone. He was going through a phase of always answering straight questions with enigmatic answers, that’s if he could be bothered to answer at all. He had once been approached on a train in the Midlands by a woman carrying out a travel survey and told her he was on his way to Johannesburg. No matter who was asking, or how serious the situation, he took the same line. It was also the case, coincidentally, that he had the same surname as me, which drew the obvious follow-up from the detective.

“Oh! Are you related?” the detective asked.

“I suppose we must be,” he answered.

“What does that mean?”

“Are we not all related in some way?”

The detective was suspicious. Did he think I had given him a false name, that of my art student friend? We had a bit of a laugh about it afterwards.

When you consider the gravity of the situation, it was not really funny at all, but we were still at that stage of youthful innocence which takes little seriously. Without actually being part of it (as I said, I was a Chartered Accountants' articled clerk), we liked to imagine we followed the trendy, counterculture of underground bands and magazines such as Oz which was about to face an obscenity trial. You don’t realise now when you see old clips of bands such as Black Sabbath, just how excitingly anti-establishment they seemed, even in name. The police were joked about: you would see “Screw the Pigs” scrawled in four-foot letters on garage doors. This pushing of the limits, I would now say, was only possible because England, on the whole, was a much safer and law-abiding place than it is today, which makes the attack on the old lady all the more shocking.  And of course, we did not yet know the awful details of the incident. 

The following day, Easter Sunday, I was upstairs at home, going through the pointless motions of revising for my accountancy exams, when my dad called me down to the front room where two more short-haired men in suits wanted to see me. “These two gentlemen are police officers,” my dad said, “and would like to ask you some questions.”

Being the sort of person who feels guilty even if not (you know, when the teacher asks who peed on the floor and you go red, terrified she thinks it was you, even though it was someone else), it really scared me. I had to explain about the pub in Knottingley and about being questioned, and the two detectives went off satisfied, but it felt very awkward.

And that’s how my parents found out I went in pubs, although, they probably knew already.

The Green Bottle, Knottingley

There is now no sign The Green Bottle ever existed. It closed for good and was boarded up by 2009, burnt out in 2010, demolished, and the site redeveloped as business units.

*From newspaper archives, I can see that the elderly lady was 88 year-old Mrs. Dorothy Leeman. She had been beaten around the head, bound, gagged and robbed of £80 on Good Friday in her roadside shop at Hilltop, Knottingley, Yorkshire. She never properly recovered and died less than six months later. It was an appalling attack and I don’t believe anyone was ever caught.

Attack on Mrs Dorothy Leeman, 1971

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Lonely Brown Hair


Was it for that wild man of the mountains look, the Chris Bonington, or that you were too lazy to get shaved in the morning?

Then came the snow: the unwanted single white ones, thicker and longer, waving out from the middle, to be summarily snipped out with the pointy scissors from the dissecting kit you nicked from school.

Later, there were more, too many more, giving that distinguished, salt and pepper, silver fox look, or so you liked to think. It was a glorious dappled thing, turning gradually, except for a couple of mucky patches near your ears.

Now it’s complete. Except, just now and again, just here and there, a few solitary warm brown strands poke out, fuelling vanity, cruelly taunting you about what it used to look like all over.

Does Chris Bonington get them too?



An earlier post about Sir Chris Bonington

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Adsense Revisited

Old Blogger+Adsense screen
Old Blogger + Adsense Screen, 2014

By far the most visited and commented-upon post on this blog is one of the earliest: Adsense, Blogger and YouTube from November 2014. It’s one of several off-topic, technical pieces written out of an interest in how the web works behind the scenes, using some of the skills I learned writing user manuals for a software company around nineteen-ninety. 

The post describes a way of setting up Adsense ads on both Blogger and YouTube together, something Google used to make difficult. It was easy enough easy to have ads either on one or the other, but not both. From the comments, it appears some found the post helpful, although, from a technical point of view, the original post is now redundant. It became so some time ago when Google changed the criteria for YouTube ads. It also never applied to WordPress where you have no choice: with a free WordPress blog, you get ads, like it or lump it.

To test things out at the time, I set up ads on this blog where they still appear on the right and below (unless your browser blocks them). I set them up as a demonstration, not to make money – I would need to produce far more interesting content and get thousands more hits and clicks to make it financially worthwhile. In the month just ended, it generated the exhilarating sum of 10p, which is typical. Often it’s less, but just occasionally, it will be more if someone shows interest in an ad. In the unlikely event of me still being here if and when it reaches the £60 payout threshold, I’ll donate it to a worthy cause, perhaps by asking long-suffering readers for nominations. 

Unfortunately for me, some readers detest blogs that carry ads and shun them. Some have actually said so as if I’m unclean. It’s a pity because many of them write rather interesting blogs.

Actually, I quite like the attractive blocks of colour that, by means of some impenetrable algorithm, Adsense places on the page. I wonder about them. I can see why the original post about Adsense attracts ads from computing businesses, and why posts about stamps and coins pull in ads for philately or numismatics, and why posts about school and college get ads for educational services. I feel miffed that some posts are apparently unworthy of ads. I’m disappointed when a post gets one of those ads that crop up indiscriminately almost anywhere, such as the ones for genealogy or PDF converters. And sometimes, there is the delight of an absurdly misplaced ad – the ones Private Eye call “malgorithms”.

I can’t match Private Eye’s quality of malgorithms: e.g. reports of overseas terrorist incidents accompanied by ads for holidays in those countries, or articles about paedophiles attracting ads claiming child models have never been so much in demand, but the other day I did notice that one of my posts about hi-fi stereo was adorned by an ad for hearing aids. Or was I just targeted because of my age?

Ads may be putting off some readers, but I am going to keep them, at least for now. It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Living Memory

My father used to say he once knew someone who remembered a man who fought against the French at the Battle of Waterloo.

How could this be? I doubted it at first, but, considering it more carefully, it is easily possible. It would have been a memory from around 1940. Those who fought at Waterloo in 1815 would have been born not much later than 1795. If they had survived into their eighties we come to around 1880. And someone born in the eighteen-sixties could have met them and still have been around in 1940.

Deaths of the last Waterloo veterans

In fact, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that even my generation, born around 1950, could have known someone who remembered someone who fought at Waterloo. The last British veteran died in Canada in 1892, and one French veteran lived until 1898. I knew people born in the eighteen-seventies who could have met them had their paths crossed.

Projecting this forward, I used to know people who fought in the First World War, such as my grandfather who was in the Hull Pals. If I said that to someone young today, they might still remember it in 2100. In fact, those who cared for Harry Patch, the last surviving First World War veteran, who died aged one hundred and eleven in 2009, could still themselves be alive in 2080. So, conceivably, there might be people born around 2070 who in 2160 will be able to say they once knew someone who remembered a man who fought in the First World War.

Second and third order living memory is astonishly long; sometimes as much as two hundred and fifty years.