Saturday, May 19, 2012

Irked. Declivitously so.

If you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything at all. That's what my mama used to tell me.

Warning! What follows is probably unnecessarily revolting. Perhaps you should skip this post.

The following was written by Friedrich Engels (yes, THAT Friedrich Engels) whose mother, apparently, didn't tell him the same thing.

"The south bank of the Irk is here very steep and between fifteen and thirty feet high. On this declivitous hillside there are planted three rows of houses, of which the lowest rise directly out of the river, while the front walls of the highest stand on the crest of the hill in Long Millgate. Among them are mills on the river, in short, the method of construction is as crowded and disorderly here as in the lower part of Long Millgate. Right and left a multitude of covered passages lead from the main street into numerous courts, and he who turns in thither gets into a filth and disgusting grime, the equal of which is not to be found - especially in the courts which lead down to the Irk, and which contain unqualifiedly the most horrible dwellings which I have yet beheld. In one of these courts there stands directly at the entrance, at the end of the covered passage, a privy without a door, so dirty that the inhabitants can pass into and out of the court only by passing through foul pools of stagnant urine and excrement. This is the first court on the Irk above Ducie Bridge - in case any one should care to look into it. Below it on the river there are several tanneries which fill the whole neighbourhood with the stench of animal putrefaction. Below Ducie Bridge the only entrance to most of the houses is by means of narrow, dirty stairs and over heaps of refuse and filth. The first court below Ducie Bridge, known as Allen's Court, was in such a state at the time of the cholera that the sanitary police ordered it evacuated, swept and disinfected with chloride of lime. Dr. Kay gives a terrible description of the state of this court at that time. Since then, it seems to have been partially torn away and rebuilt; at least looking down from Ducie Bridge, the passer-by sees several ruined walls and heaps of debris with some newer houses. The view from this bridge, mercifully concealed from mortals of small stature by a parapet as high as a man, is characteristic for the whole district. At the bottom flows, or rather stagnates, the Irk, a narrow, coal-black, foul-smelling stream, full of debris and refuse, which it deposits on the shallower right bank."

Here's a much more recent photo of the Irk, at its confluence with the Irwell. Doesn't look so bad.
Incidentally, regarding the top picture, I've learned that where there's a weir there's a way. No, no. Where there's a weir there's an electrical generating power plant. I don't see one here, unless that's it on the hill on the left poking out of the bushes. Perhaps the weir is only to regulate the flow. Never mind.

Anyway, just one further irking note from our friends over at Wikipedia, who never lie, say that on August 15, 1953, the front coach of a Manchester to Bury electric train fell from the viaduct over the River Irk after colliding with a local steam train. 10 people were killed (jeez but I hope not drowned!) and 58 injured.

Incidentally, did you know that New York's Hudson River was at one time so polluted that people could walk across it? If they could make it before their shoes were eaten off their feet. Or that Lake Erie used to catch on fire from time to time due to fuel pollution? The former is a lie, the latter is the truth. Lest you think Mancunian filth is superior to American corporate disregard for the environment.
In related news, I was watching an odd TV program not too many months ago in which the world's worst jobs were shown. For example, we were taken along (so to speak) with a sewer diver in Mexico City. His job was to don a wet suit and air tank and dive down through the gelatinous water, through the floating "debris" affectionately known by your local water treatment personnel as "solid waste" and find the major plug that was backing up the whole system. Fouling it up, as it were. Yeah, that would be on my list of world's worst jobs, too.

I'm not sure why this came to mind. There is no comparison to Manchester's pristine Irk and the Mexico City thing.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Roger Whittaker is Still Alive, You Know

This is a meandering post about Durham.

For those of you who don't read Wikipedia celebrity bios as often as I do, here's a brief rundown on Roger Whittaker, gleaned from the aforementioned uber-reliable source.

Roger was from Staffordshire of parents who ran a grocery store. His father had a motorcycle accident so the family moved to Kenya. Well, that makes perfect sense, I guess. His father played the violin and his grandfather sang in clubs. Or was clubbed for singing, it wasn't clear. Roger learned to play the guitar, and then (because he was so bad at the guitar?) was drafted into the Kenyan Regiment. Here I am going to take a wild American guess that Kenya must have once belonged to the U.K. Then it says he was demobilized and decided on a career in medicine. The article didn't say how he was demobilized. If I were left on my own to fill in the Wikipedian gaps, I would guess he was run over by a military motorcycle, following in his dad's footsteps, or perhaps was clubbed for playing his guitar at the wrong place or time.

At any rate, due to his demobilization (I surmise) he decided to study medicine, so he enrolled in the University of Cape Town in South Africa. For my mapless readers, that is a fur piece (hell of a long way) from Kenya. However, it is possible that it was another place the U.K. owned at that time, I suppose. My own knowledge of the history of the region is somewhat worse than murky, but I had thought the Dutch had outlasted the British there. Apparently not, as Roger was not an Afrikaans kind of guy, as far as I had ever known. Then again, he later gave concerts in German and apparently spoke it well. The folks in South Africa will tell you that Afrikaans is different than German, but it isn't. The only word I know in Africaans (that I can pull out of my mind right now) is "kak." Someone once told me that meant "thank you."

I'll admit I stopped reading before I found out whether he finished med school or not. The article was considerably longer and more detailed than I had wanted to learn about Roger's background, frankly, and I was starting to get suspicious it may have been written by his grandchildren, anyway. Right about then, I was also starting to think that "demobilized" might have meant that he was simply let out of the Army. Because that is how you people talk. To an American, demobilized means immobilized, hence the clubbing speculation. If he just got discharged from the army for -- what do you guys call it? Redundantated? Something like that? -- then I apologize for my earlier sickness or maimed assumption. But in that case I have NO idea why he decided to pursue a career in medicine if he wasn't doing research to heal himself.

I know for a fact that Roger was a professional singer all his life, so I feel certain he didn't become a medical doctor on the side. Anyway, in 1962 he was in Northern Ireland. Goodbye Cape Town, for whatever reason. I encourage you to read the entire Wikipedia article if you want to know. Speaking for myself, I don't. So just keep your wikiLearnings to yourself if you do happen to go read the article, if you would. Or you can just put your deeper learnings in a comment to this post and no harm will be done either way. I stopped reading about the time it said Roger had appeared on an Ulster television program called "This and That." I've never heard of that show, big as it might have been, and, frankly, I am still not even absolutely sure what part of NI Ulster is located in, though I have been told many times by a great friend and follower of this blog who is Irish. Dublin, not Ulster, though. But she knows. Oh, she knows. My personal theory is that Americans can only remember just so much information about the United Kingdom, especially Ireland, especially Northern Ireland, Especially Ulster, due to a set allotment of brain cells dedicated to the British experience and condition that God created in the average American brain. And, believe me, I am average.

Moving on.

Roger did have a couple of hits on both sides of the Atlantic. Maybe more, but I only liked a couple of them. One of them was titled Durham Town, about a kid from Durham, who left home. (So it was subtitled "The Leavin'.") I'm sure you all know the song by heart, so I won't sing it for you here. I don't remember all the words now anyway; just that the kid's father went off to war and got killed and the kid spent his TIME sittin' on the banks of the River TYNE, watchin' the ships goin' down the LINE. Then his mother died. Then he himself left "Old Durham Town". See, they all LEFT. That's where the subtitle of the song came from. I'm sure you understand that now, those of you who are still reading this.

Bottom line of this post, though, is there used to be a nice lady who followed this blog a long time ago who became a good friend, and she was from Durham. Not Durham TOWN, but the county at least. She LEFT home a few years back, like the boy in Roger Whittaker's song, like so many folks from Durham. She now lives in Oregon, a bit west of Durham, but I know she still has a piece of England in her heart. So this post is for this displaced Geordie girl, in case she happens to still read this blog from time to time, to tell her she is missed. Missed here, missed in a special town in Durham.

Listen to Roger Whittaker's "Durham Town (The Leavin')" Sorry, can't embed it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

British Sarcasm

Though he mostly lived in Florida, Davy never lost his sarcastic British humour.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Bye Bye Birdie

Bye Bye Birdie was a 1963 movie. I'm pretty sure it was a Broadway play before that. This post is not about that movie/play.

22 January, 1901. Osborne House, Isle of Wight. The family is gathered. The German Kaiser has just said his goodbyes to his loved Grandmama in private. For once he is subdued, behaving himself, sitting quietly and causing no trouble.

Ever since the death of her husband, she had been in mourning, dressed in black. Something I didn't know though, was that the she still had "them" lay out his clothes every morning, just as if he were still alive. Of course, being who I am, that made me wonder if they kept laying out the same suit of clothes each day, or if she selected his pretend wardrobe and let them know what to lay out. Further, I wondered if she still bought him new clothes so the latest fashions could be laid out for him. But that's just me. You may not think it is important. Nevertheless, it was probably good to have the wherewithal to be able to hire someone to do stuff like that.

There are several versions of what the last words the old queen uttered before she expired. The concensus is, "Bertie! Bertie!"

Well, she was looking into his eyes and perhaps holding his hand, so one assumes she was talking to her son during her final seconds. Bertie being the only name she had ever called him. She never had called her husband by that name, Bertie, by all accounts. So.

Others swear she said, "O! That peace might come. Bertie!" That sounds like royal PR for the press release. I will go with just, "Bertie! Bertie!"

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The bottle stands forlorn, a symbol of the dawn

The company was gay, we'd turn night into day


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