... feminist, atheist, autistic academic and historic narrowboater ...
Likes snooker, beer, tea, rivets and solitude, and is strangely fascinated by the cinema organ.
And there might be something about railways.

Thursday 28 November 2013

Bakewell and Birmingham

Ally, the owner of Birmingham, has sent me this photo of Bakewell and Birmingham paired together for Union Canal Carriers in 1979. It was taken by Lin Rose, in Gas Street Basin. Apparently Birmingham was usually paired with Balham, which was at this time assisting with repairs to Braunston tunnel.

I like the way it looks like one of the artful digital creations that Nick posts in his reflections series - but actually its the result of photographing an old Instamatic print with a phone camera.

Thank you very much Ally and Lin.

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Market failure

Another bit of the brave new world has slipped away. Perhaps it is because I am a child of the sixties (literally; born slap bang in the middle) that I have a soft spot for the hopes and ambitions, the wild dreams even, that drove the decade - epitomised by its architecture - no matter how shoddy their (frequently literally) concrete realisation or how misguided they were later (made) to appear.

In 2003/4, as I drove each day to my first proper academic job at Portsmouth, I witnessed the dismantling of the Tricorn Centre (yes, I could find some photos, copy them, check out the copyright, write an appropriate caption, and upload them, but it would be so much easier if you just did a Google image search. But please do.), an Owen Luder brute with a giant marble run attached to it. It haunted my dreams; even though I had never been inside it in reality, my unconscious self desperately sought something in its decaying concrete labrynths.

Through my next job, in Huddersfield, I discovered Queensgate Market, which tapped into my strange attraction to the tatty and tawdry, and allowed me to travel in the amazing time machine of neglect that is the sixties market hall. I was immediately hooked on this northern delicacy; literally cheap and cheerful, a place where you could still buy broken biscuits, along with duck eggs, tripe, sink plungers and other glimpses of the fast-ebbing past.. Queensgate, which opened in 1970, has in fact fared better than most. Listed (against much local opposition) in 2004, it is genuinely unique architecturally, although this didn't stop the council proposing to partially demolish and significantly alter it in 2008.  It was the 20th Century Society's Building of the Month in February 2009, and won the Concrete Society's Certificate of Excellence for a mature structure in 2007 (I am SO glad that the Concrete Society exists, and that it has a Certificate of Excellence). It appears to be thriving with a glitzy website and even (heavens) click-and -collect - and was recently named Market Hall of the Year by the National Association of British Market Authorities (apparently there are 700 to choose from). It's probably been all done up inside since I was last there as well.

As we boated around the Midlands, I  made a point of trying to visit indoor markets where possible - often it wasn't, when they weren't open every day. But Wolverhampton got a look in, and of course Cannock. Particularly poignant was the half empty but oh-so-ambitiously named Agora in Wolverton, although as it was built in 1979 it falls outside the sixties dream, and indeed lacked the requisite pastel tiling.

But there was one market hall above all others that I wanted to see, ever since I read about it on the now sadly abandoned Nothing to See Here blog: the already long-doomed, and thus beautifully preserved through neglect, Castle Market in Sheffield. We never made it to Sheffield by boat, in the end, so my ambition was thwarted for a long time. By the time I did get to Sheffield, Castle Market was enjoying a (very) mini-renaissance, with the city council promoting its use; even though it was in its death throes, they were trying to keep it cheerful and on its feet until its successor was ready to take over. As a result, some of the old signage had already gone. It had the sense of somewhere that was waiting to die, but then they all do; that is part of their attraction. They are anachronisms, far more so than their lovingly restored Victorian predecessors (those that survived, of course, from the days when they themselves were the embarrassing old relics, quietly crumbling, smelling and dribbling in the corner). Huddersfield's Queensgate is unusual in having real architectural merit and interest; for the others the interest is historical, human, and not amenable to preservation orders. There was a wild, anonymous, request to have Castle Market listed in 2010, but it was, unsurprisingly, turned down.

And now Castle Market has gone; closed for the last time on Saturday. I didn't go along to photograph its last day, but others did. Its replacement - a curvy glass box as blandly typical of its time as Castle Market was of its own - is part of an attempt to regenerate the area which was itself in the sixties the retail centre of the city, while plans for the site of Castle Market include excavating and opening up more of the ancient Sheffield Castle remains over which it was built. If you had to get rid of an old building from the sixties, you probably couldn't have picked a better one. But it is, in so many ways, a loss all the same.

Saturday 23 November 2013

Enlightened view

Well, I looked at the view out of my window this morning and something interesting had happened:

New street lamps.

I knew that the council were installing new streetlamps. They flagged it up months ago, when they were resurfacing the road. Then last week there was a letter, telling us they were going to do it now. Then holes appeared in the pavement, and then the posts for the new streetlamps. Instead of being on the kerbside like the old ones, they're on the inside of the pavement, right up against the wall, which is good as it makes parking easier and frees up extra space.

But what a surprise to look out this morning and see the new lamp, in all its retro-Victoriana glory. The sort of thing you might expect in a twee new development, or a tourist hot spot, or a museum... But not in a little cul-de-sac side street off the A57. I wonder how well it will stand up to the weather compared to the previous ones.

For anyone who would like to look at more pictures of street lamps, there are plenty here.

Street lights are interesting to economists because they represent a non-excludable public good. It's impossible to limit the enjoyment of them to the people who paid for them. Once someone has paid, everyone benefits whether they've contributed or not. This means that in a classic free market, they are unlikely to be provided. Everyone will want everyone else to pay, and no one will want to fork out for something that others will enjoy for free, at their expense. So non-excludable public goods provide a good argument for taxation to provide services. You can make it a social contract argument - everyone would be happy to pay their share, as long as they could be sure that everyone else was also paying their share, so they would willingly agree to taxation in order to ensure that everyone pays, and everyone benefits.

Monday 18 November 2013

Folky fun and furry friend

A couple of weeks ago, Sebastian and Izzi finally came to visit me in Sheffield, and become the latest guests to test out my £40-from-Oxfam and extremely heavy and therefore obviously good sofa bed. They pronounced it very comfortable and I can vouch for the fact that it is very convenient.

The pretext for them coming at this particular juncture was to attend the Full English concert at Firth Hall (part of the University). The Full English project involves creating a searchable digital archive of a vast number of previously scattered English (and beyond) folk music manuscript collections, freely available on the web for anyone to access. Part funded by a heritage lottery grant, it was coordinated by University of Sheffield academic Fay Hield, who is also a singer (whose records I like a lot).

The Full English band comprised (let me see if I can remember) Fay Hield, Martin Simpson, Nancy Kerr, Seth Lakeman, Sam Sweeney,  Rob Halbron and Ben Nicholls. That's a lot of folk fame in one small hall. The music was great, and enhanced by brief descriptions of some of the collectors (Apparently Percy Grainger loved his mum so much that he took a bunch of birch twigs with him on his honeymoon so that he could beat himself for having diverted his affections elsewhere.) and video screens showing archive photos and facsimiles of the manuscripts. At one point some cine footage of Maud and Helen Karpeles wearing oversized gymslips along with a male collector whose name eludes me but who was universally acknowledged not to be a natural, demonstrating some traditional dances. With handkerchiefs. There must have been 200 people in Firth Hall, and not a single one of them dared laugh.

The following day I took Sebastian for a special treat. As a child he was a great collector of polar bears - cuddly ones, model ones, books, pictures, ornaments, sculptures - you name it, if it was a polar bear, he collected it. But I don't believe he'd ever seen a real one. So I took him to Weston Park Museum to see the famous Snowy. Well, a real live one might have been asking a bit much, but a real dead stuffed one's the next best thing, and a lot more amenable to posing for photos.

Sunday 17 November 2013

Today I...

Inspired by James Ward who likes boring things, and DG's uneventful day yesterday... Today I went to Wilkinsons and bought some wrapping paper, also some slightly trendy looking raffia ribbon (although obviously no longer trendy if you can get it in Wilkos).

I then came home and wrapped the presents that I already have or have already bought. Here is a very poor photo of the presents I have wrapped so far. It is a poor photo because this is an iPad 2, I left it too lated to do in daylight, and Blogpress makes it look even worse than it is. I must get Bloggsy, Herbie looks far better than this.

My gift tags are made of old Christmas cards cut up with pinking shears. Obviously, I could afford to buy the Wilkinsons' gift tags that match the paper, but this is a family tradition. Many years ago, possibly before I was even born, my mother noticed some similar tags on sale at a local fete (I must have been born and at school, otherwise why would she have been at such an event). She thought 'I'm not paying for them, I could do that' and so a tradition was born. I am in fact now the posessor of the family pinking shears and take great pleasure each year in seeing how many tags I can produce from each card. Usually the cards I cut up are from at least one, and up to many, years previously, as when we were a family we received far more cards than we ever needed tags (at least when you apply the tag: card ratio which I reckon averages around 3:1).

I haven't actually been out and deliberately bought any Christmas presents yet this year (no, I tell a lie, there is one very deliberately purchased one here, but other than that) these are all things I've picked up over the course of the year. I won't say who they're for as they might start trying to guess already.

I was thinking of buying a tree. Having been for years one of those austere 'tree doesn't go up any earlier than the day before Christmas eve if I can help it' types I thought a bit of extended festive spirit wouldn't go amiss this year. However, the artificial trees in Wilko's and in B&M bargains were all exceedingly cheap and nasty looking, so I didn't get one. I might get a real one, they smell nice, but they do make a mess. Maybe just some holly from the garden if no one will notice me taking it. Holly doesn't last very well though, even if you put it in water. I tried that in 2011.