Month: October 2017

Connections: It’s a record!

As I said in a post awhile ago, “connections” is all about how things connect to form a link between one action and a result. It can be fascinating to work your way through a series and to tie it all together. I have been looking for a nice set of connections and today I found one. I call it “It’s a Record” and it is about gramophones, records and popular music.

This morning I was discussing something with the one manager and somehow we ended up talking about gramophones,  and he mentioned that he had a record from 1908 that he can play on his vintage gramophone but was not too sure about what it was about,  but he could make out something about “bells bells bells”. When I returned to my desk my brain would not let this go because in my music collection there is also a song about bells. Could it be a newer iteration of an old theme? Unfortunately the track I was after is not on my MP3 player but I know enough to be able to tie this into that most famous of poets Edgar Allan Poe.

I have read some Poe, and always found it somewhat dark and dreary to ponder this long forgotten pile of ancient lore, but I also have on my MP3 player an LP by one of my favourite groups: The Alan Parsons Project. The Project released a studio album in 1976 entitled “Tales of Mystery and Imagination”. To quoth the blurb at Wikipedia “The lyrical and musical themes of the album, are retellings of horror stories and poetry by Edgar Allan Poe.  The title of the album is taken from the title of a collection of Poe’s macabre stories of the same name, Tales of Mystery & Imagination, first published in 1908″.  This date is important, keep it in mind.

Now I have been listening to Parsons since 1981 after I was introduced to the music by some of the guys in our infantry company and I was hooked, and over the years bought the LP’s as they came out. But then the CD came into being and the record stopped being the dominant way to own music, and the CD took centre stage. I never liked how they foisted the CD onto us so I stopped buying music, instead I would listen to my old LP’s on my hifi until that was stolen in a series of burglaries in 1999.

I rediscovered The Alan Parsons Project in 2004 and found out that they had a whole wodge of stuff I had never heard before and I gradually acquired it all on MP3 and occasionally CD. Something however was missing from the official releases that I knew about and here my information is a bit uncertain. One of the original members of APP was Eric Woolfson,  who was executive producer, pianist, and co-creator of the Project. He was an accomplished musician in his own right, and somewhere along the line I heard about a project that he was involved in called “Poe: More Tales of Mystery and Imagination“. I heard snippets of it and started to hunt down a copy, but alas trying to find something as obscure in South Africa was incredibly difficult due to monopolies in the retail music trade, the exchange rate and the lack of suppliers. I eventually managed to pick up one track at a time from various sources, and some were totally amazing (“Tiny Star”, “Immortal” and “Wings of Eagles” comes to mind almost immediately), others were strictly of the “listen to once, never again” class of music. One of the tracks on this LP that did not exist was called “The Bells” (see where we are going yet?).

When I heard those words this morning I thought of this piece of music, it is not one of my favourites because it is so strange, however, the LP is about the works of Edgar Allan Poe, could this be the same one? A quick Google and voila! The mystery is solved. 

It turns out that our 1908 recording of “The Bells” is a reading of the poem by Canon Fleming of London, who seems to have been quite a regular performer of poetry readings that ended up on those new fangled gramophone records like the original 1908 record in the image below.  It is very possible that this was released to tie in with the first publication of Tales of Mystery & Imagination in 1908!  

Unfortunately we do not have a handy gramophone at work, but a quick look found renditions of it available on Youtube. And, I rate it on the same scale of strangeness as hearing “Be British” sung by by Stanley Kirkby in 1912 following the sinking of the Titanic. These are really voices from the past of people long gone and an era that is very different from the one that we live in now.

Canon Fleming died in 1908, but his voice still exists on that round disk with a hole in the centre, and while his rendition of “The Bells” is somewhat melodramatic it really has to be taken in the context of the media that it was on. Families owned gramophones and would spend an evening listening to music or poetry readings on the gramophones (while their Fox Terriers listened at the bell end). I am currently reading Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, penned by the war poet Siegfried Sassoon and in it he describes how they used to listen to the gramophone in their dugout, and how they had a stash of records that were played over and over. We did a similar thing when I was doing my national service, only our gramophone was now a tape recorder or a portable radio. We certainly did have much more variety than those who rode out their time underground in the bunkers of WW1, and of course modern soldiers probably carry MP3 players or their music on their cellphones. The enjoyment of recorded media is common to us all. 

So, where did this all tie in together? It was really the remembering of that obscure piece on “More Takes of Mystery and Imagination” that rang the bells in my head, and of course had I not read Poe I would not have made the connection to the Alan Parsons Project, which I started to explore while in the army, listening to music to break the monotony, much like soldiers did in the trenches of battle. There you have it, another nice set of connections. 

As an aside  I really want to explore the portable music theme by finally posting images of two of the record players I have spotted locally in the one charity shop where I live. 

These are standalone record players that were used without a hifi or an amplifier. They usually had their own speaker attached, and most of the time that was in the detachable lid. 

The humble gramophone is a very nice collectable, and having a selection of records to go with it, whether they are tinplate, shellac or vinyl makes it a wonderful conversation piece, because most of us can relate to it from our past. Those odd crackly clicks and hisses from the speaker or horn gave those records an additional richness that is lacking in the digital reproductions of today. I know amongst my MP3 collection I had an MP3 that had been created from an audio recording of a vinyl record, complete with the attendant snaps and crackles from the original. There is something about that first touch of a stylus on a record that is missing from the MP3’s of today, not to mention that short burst of static that was a precursor to the actual music.  

Canon Fleming is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery in London which ties into my own visits to the cemetery in 2013 and 2016, although I was unaware of him at the time (writes note to self to find grave next time). As for “Be British”; many years back when I was still interested in the Titanic I bought a set of items from the UK (and it was one heck of a rigmarole to do), and part of it was an audio tape that had some of the period tie ins to the disaster. “Be British” really stood out because it personified the arrogance of those who decided that a ship was unsinkable, and would only carry enough boats for its size and not for the amount of people it carried. 

And that more or less concludes this post about connections. I hope to find more in the future because they are always around us if we only just stop and join the dots. 

© DRW 2017-2018. Created 30/10/2017


Real writing

Yesterday I was working on allatsea and in particular I was adding to a page about my childhood in SA, and it was all about writing. By writing I mean the physical act of forming words using a pen or pencil (or a quill or even a hammer and chisel). I learnt how to “write” in my third year of primary school (Std 1 for those who come from my generation), at least I learnt how to do what they called “real writing”, or, as it is better known “cursive script“.

I knew more or less how to write (print) by the time I hit school anyway, but this new fangled skill was one that was taught way back then to almost every child in the country, doing real writing set you apart from your fellows in the junior classes and meant that there was one more thing for teachers to nit pick and to warm the rear end/knuckles/legs or wherever they preferred to use the wooden spoon or ruler. We had specially ruled exercise books with the normal lines and an extra line above and below it. It looked similar to the pic below; the green lines being the extra lines.  

Technically these spaces were where the ascenders and descenders would go so that they were all the same size. Heaven help you if those ascenders and descenders were not of the same height or depth, you would have to do it again until you caught the hint. Of course all slopes had to be at the same angle too, and I think we would have initially practised individual letters until we had more or less got the hang of our P’s and Q’s. Remember that there are upper and lower case versions of each letter of the alphabet and they all had to join up somehow.

All of this new fangled stuff was crammed into our heads and we had to stop using printing and start using cursive or else! (slitting of throat motion with finger).

I was one of those thousands of school children all over the world that had an awful handwriting, even I admit that I cannot read it, although the scrawl I use today bears little resemblance to the scrawl I had way back in the late 1960’s.  I am not quite sure who decided to make school children miserable by imposing the restrictions of cursive script in our lives, it was not as if we had a gazillion other things to worry about. Cursive is supposed to speed up your handwriting by eliminating the constant pen raising that printing imposes, although I was always much quicker printing than writing cursive. In fact today I use a mix of both, joining 2 or 3 letters into one and printing others, although my handwriting has really developed and changed as I became more or a keyboard user. Everybody does agree that only pharmacists can read what I write and it usually will result in a box of green pills, a cough mixture and a very large spiked suppository.

Lucida Handwriting font

Back in school we would labour over our exercises all under the watchful gaze of Mrs Shirmer who seemingly created perfect letters on the board which looked nothing like the labourious creations that we struggled with. As far as we were concerned she was never satisfied, and a glare from Miss Shirmer could  chase a lion away. 

As the years passed so we got better at it, considering how much practise we had, although every one of us had a different style of writing, some were neater than others (girls mostly) and some looked like drunken spiders had done a waltz down the page. 

When we hit high school we were introduced to a new subject called “Technical Drawing” and our first week or so was spent relearning how to print! Mr Van Der Merwe would tell us to fill a page with A’s or B’s or C’s depending on his mood and how bad we were unlearning cursive. In technical drawing everything is printed, cursive is not used! neatness was imperative and stencils were not allowed. I think tech drawing was one subject I really found interesting because it gave me a whole new world to explore, and while I was not brilliant at it I was that interested in it that after I had left school I bought a drawing board, and used to draw isometric and perspective drawings of ships and aircraft.   I probably still use the skills I learnt in that class today, and while I can’t remember how to draw an ellipse I at least know what an ellipse is. 

Back at the normal school desk we were now much faster at taking notes, and often had to translate from Afrikaans to English on the fly while scribbling at a rate of knots and naturally I drew comments about my scrawl.  

Not much has changed except that nowadays I do not need to use cursive anymore, In fact while thinking about this blogpost I tried my hand at writing the alphabet in cursive, and it was not good! However, there is no teacher leaning over me and making suggestive motions with the cane or wooden spoon. I can write as untidy as I want to and nobody can tell me otherwise. There appears to be a movement afoot to stop the teaching of cursive script in schools and I am ambivalent about that, I do think that it is a skill to acquire although not much use in a modern world where keyboards dominate and most teens can do things with their thumbs and cellphones that I won’t even attempt. It would really be a shame to scrap the skill because it is considered archaic and of no real use, if anything it should be taught because sometimes you just need to sit down and write a decent letter to the bank manager or your sweetheart. Alas  nobody writes letters anymore and that personal touch is gone.  

As somebody that dabbles in history it is inevitable that I will encounter documents from an era when cursive was extensively used, and trying to decipher that writing can be really difficult, so maybe being able to write cursive does make sense.

The example above I found in an archive and it was a petition to Paul Kruger for a pardon, although it was very legible in spite of it being over 100 years old. 

I used to have a number of penfriends over the years, and we used to scrawl our way back and forth on a regular basis, and of course when we were in the army letter writing was a regular occupation. Somehow sending an email home just lacks that touch that a much thumbed letter holds. Letters were things to keep and reread when it got quiet and you longed for home, and of course many soldiers would lovingly sniff the pink pages that their girlfriends would send them, and that would cause them to perform many pushups. A printed love letter just does not cut it!  

So pick up your pen and relearn cursive, it may come in handy one day!

Yours sincerely,

DRW ©  2017-2020.  


Losing a pet

Yesterday when I got home I had a message from my brother telling me that one of his dogs had passed away. This dog that went by the moniker “Ladybird”, was one of two that he got from the local SPCA many years ago and they were both probably about 4-5 years old at the time, although I always suspected that she was a bit older. She certainly had that grey look that an old dog has, and suffered from fits and was partly deaf, but that did not prevent her from squirming her way into his affections, just like the dog he had before, and the one before. And, when each one passed away he was left devastated. Such is the love that an owner has for their pets.

I never really bonded with her, although when I was looking after the house when he was in hospital I was her best friend because I wielded the tin opener, and I ended up having to deal with her fits. There isn’t much that you can do except make sure she doesn’t fall off the couch or injure herself as the fit happens. It was not a pleasant thing to experience, and I am sure that it was even worse for her. My brother did not use that as an excuse to have her put down, instead he kept her safe as she would have her fits and then made sure she had come out it properly. They were very attached and he will miss her terribly. Like so many dogs she would follow him around, and in spite of her deafness could sense the opening of a tin or the slight rustle of a packet from a mile away. She was not a picky eater and would gobble her food as well as the other dogs food and then still wander around looking hungry. I remember when he got her how thin she was, and after a few months she had definitely become more rotund around the midriff. When I saw her earlier this year she had taken to wandering around the kitchen in circles, in one door, out the other. She was however looking her age, which was over 10 years, possibly closer to 15.

Ladybird (L) and Teddy Bear (R)

They say that your pets wait for you at the place where you go when you die, in fact most people bank on that and I know it will be disappointing if it does not happen, because whether we like it or not pets give us a glimpse of unconditional love unlike many human relationships.

The other dog remaining is somewhat of a loner, he preferred corners or being underneath items of furniture, and it often made us speculate on his former owners treatment of him. But, he loved a good scratch, sleep and fart and was not that obsessed with food, instead he tended to nibble, but his partner would gulp it all down while he chewed thoughtfully. Unfortunately he is partly blind now, and I expect he will miss his companion, even though they were never really close. I hate to say this but think his time is not that far away either. (Teddy Bear had to be put down in August 2018 as he was no longer well)

I have never had a dog of my own, although I was very attached to our first dog from when I was very young. That dog was the one that cured my phobia for dogs, and when he was killed I was devastated. I have however enjoyed the company of other people’s dogs and cats and most have left my life just that little bit richer, and sadder when they left after a long and fruitful life.

Ladybird may not have been a beacon of light in the world, but she was my brothers beacon of light and he will miss her terribly, This is the third dog that he has seen leave him, and each parting has been difficult. But, she will live on in his memories and in mine, just like Nelson and Skipper do, and she will not be forgotten.

Update. 25/11/2017

This morning I saw one of the locals that lived in my area walking up the road, usually she doesn’t go anywhere without her little King Charles spaniel and will walk it many times during the day. I asked her about her little dog and she tearfully told me that she had to have him put down as he was suffering from what sounded like dementia and was unable to function. She was devastated, and I could see that she did not want to talk because of the anguish she was going through. I asked her whether she would get another dog and she replied, “I am old, there was only the two of us”. Her life has literally been turned upside down, and I felt very sad to see this woman in this state. The loss of that dog was traumatic for her, it gave her a reason to get out of the house in all weather and multiple times of the day. That reason no longer exists for her. Her life has become empty without her pet and I sincerely hope that one day I will bump into her walking another dog,

I enjoy seeing all the dogs in my area, and watching them chase balls in the field, they enrich our lives, and when they pass on they leave a large hole in our hearts; ask anybody that lost their pet, and they will agree completely. Dogs may be animals, but I would rather know some dogs than some people.  

© DRW 2017-2018. Created 18/10/2017