Review: The North (and almost everything in it)

The NorthBook: The North (and almost everything in it) by Paul Morley (582 pages)

Published: 2014 (Paperback version)

Genre: Memoir, Historical Non-fiction

Period: Mostly late 1950s to early 1970s Stockport, North West England, but gives a brief history (mostly focusing on Manchester) from roughly the Romans to 1976.

Rating: 6/10

 

The North (and almost everything in it) by Paul Morley is half memoir and half history book about the North of England.  Morley takes his own personal story about growing up in Reddish, less than 5 miles away from Manchester, and interjects it with various social and cultural history of Northern England.  As a northerner, the book intrigued me.  I was curious to read more about the North, however, the book wasn’t as I expected.  Morley focuses heavily on the Manchester area with sprinklings of facts from Yorkshire, Cumbria, County Durham and Northumberland.  This is understandable because to fit the entire history of the North in under 600 pages is a difficult feat but it does mean the title doesn’t quite fit and some may find disappointing.  On the other hand, it’s not a terrible book and is a fairly enjoyable, interesting read.

Morley mostly focuses on the Manchester area because that’s where he spent a majority of his childhood.  It would have been interesting to have a broader scope within the book (and admittedly this was what I was expecting with a title like The North (and almost everything in it). ) Another source of interest in the book is how Morley identifies with and views the North.  Morley calls himself a northerner despite being born in Kent, where he lived for the first five years of his life.  He also moved to London in the mid-seventies and has never left since and still identifies as a northerner.  This showed that everyone has a different view of the north and what it means to be northern and that was interesting to read about.  Morley’s writing is also very nostalgic.  I think people who grew in the Manchester area in the mid-twentieth century would find it to be reminiscent and enjoy reading this book for this reason.

It is clear that Morley, clearly researched the book but my main issue with the book was the north fred perry
that it was very higgledy-piggledy throughout the book.  Morley would start on one topic but then veer off topic and proceed to tell you everything he knew about the new topic and then maybe move on to another topic without a clear link.  Eventually, he would return back to the original, however, because it had been so long, I struggled to remember his original point.  Morley wanted the reader to know everything he knew, unfortunately, it did seem like it was a huge information dump at times.

The photographs used in the book were placed in an illogical order.  It was as if Morley had worn a blindfold and placed the photographs between pages randomly hoping for the best.  For example, on pages 196- 197, Morley wrote about Mrs Elizabeth Raffald (acclaimed creator of the Eccles cake) and her successful cookery book published 1769, but the picture chosen is an image of Fred Perry, who won Wimbledon in 1928. Morley does talk about Fred Perry further in the book but his description starts on page 467.

Morley presented the social and cultural history in a unique way.  Working back from 1976 and finishing in 1515, he presented key dates and events (ranging from births of famous people to inventions and visitations and everything in between).  I really enjoyed this aspect because it meant you could see how things progressed and changed.  It was absolutely fascinating.  However, one thing I found rather confusing to why the dates were chosen and frustrating that he never explains his choice.

Although frustrating to read at times, Morley can write well and has a strangely hypnotic tone.  I found myself repeatedly returning to read the book time and time again.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take away too much away from the book but it was a relaxing read (at times) as it reminded me how complex and exciting the North is.  The book is most suitable for those who are from the Manchester area in the mid-twentieth century, or those who have a vague interest in reading about other people’s lives (if you’re nosey like me).  As a history book, it is not the strongest example but it is a good starting point. Because Morley covers a lot of topics, it can inspire new interests for a whole variety of different people.  All in all, this book is fairly interesting to read and it is quite easy to keep returning back to.  It gains the overall rating of 6/10.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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‘I’m gonna be the big bow-wow’: A Brief History of Crufts

This weekend sees hundreds of thousands of dog-lovers and their precious pooches embark on their own personal pilgrimages to the holiest of all places in the canine world, Crufts, the World’s Largest Dog Show!  Currently in its 126th year, the prestige of Crufts attracts competitors and viewers from all over the world, including royalty.  (Three of Queen Victoria’s dogs won prizes in 1891 when the competition first started!)  With all the hype and excitement to see who will win ‘Best in Show’ on Sunday in the Grand Finale, I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to give a brief history about Crufts, reportedly the greatest place in the world for dog enthusiasts.

Facts and Stats

  • The ‘Best in Show’ category was introduced in 1928.  The first winner was a Greyhound called Primely Spectre.
  • Countess Lorna Howe was the first female owner of the ‘Best in Show’ winner.  She won with a Golden Retriever called Bramshaw Bob.
  • The most successful owner was Mr Herbert Summers Lloyd (known as H. S. Lloyd) with 6 wins to his title.
  • With 79 best in show winners, English Cocker Spaniels has been the most successful breed to win ‘Best in Show’ 7 times (6 of which were owned by H. S. Lloyd).  Irish Setters, Standard Poodles and Welsh Terriers are next with 4 wins.  English Setters, German Shepards, Greyhounds, Labrador Retrievers, West Highland White Terriers and Wirefox Terriers come in 3rd with 3 wins.
  • Gundogs have been the most successful group with 23 wins.  Terriers have a very close second with 22 wins.  The hound group comes in third with 12 wins.

Charles Cruft

Charles Cruft famously created ‘Cruft’s Dog Show’ in 1891. Cruft was born in 1852 in Hunter Street, Brunswick Square in Bloomsbury, England and was a son of a goldsmith.  At the age of 14, Cruft became a travelling salesman for Spratt’s Meal Fibrine Dog Cakes.  He excelled at the role.  At 26, Cruft became wholly in charge of sales and office department for Spratt, who at this point, liked to solely focus on the manufacturing. In 1878, French breeders invited Cruft to promote the dog part of the Paris Exhibition. Cruft saw that dog shows were an excellent way to sell the dog cakes.  Dog shows excited the public’s imagination thus making the dog cakes desirable.  This meant profits all around for Cruft and Spratt.

In 1878 (a busy year for him), Cruft became secretary of the Toy Spaniel Clubs.  In later years he became the Secretary of the Pug Dog Club and was involved with Borzois, Setters and St Bernards.  He used this experience to his full advantage and started running shows for the Allied Terrier Club in 1886 by himself.  The idea for the terrier show was reportedly suggested by the Duchess of Newcastle.  Between 1886 and 1890, Cruft ran 6 terrier shows until setting up Cruft’s, a dog show for all breeds in 1891.

In 1903, Cruft designed special carriages on trains for the comfort of dogs and worked with the rail companies to negotiated special rail fares for those travelling to Cruft’s Dog Show. Furthermore, local hotels and businesses gained profit from the dog show by offering special deals and packages for those visiting and competing at Cruft’s.

The Show Must Go On!

Crufts celebrated its 125th anniversary last year, but it was not smooth sailing for parts of it’s run.  The World Wars disrupted the shows between 1918-1920 and 1940-1947. Interestingly enough for a majority of the First World War, Charles Cruft continued to run the show with usually a financial loss for him.  This was partly because the venue for the show, the Agricultural Hall in Islington, was viewed as a potential risk for Zeppelin bombing raids.  The Agricultural Hall was a large building with a glass roof.  Because of the risk, people were reluctant to visit thus there was an incredibly low turnout.  There were further problems for Cruft in 1917.  Parliment debated whether keeping non-working dogs as pets were an extravagance, especially during times of food shortages.  Rail travel was restricted, mostly reserved for military use, and fares were 50% more expensive.  There was a further shortage of labour and trade stands at the show which meant the show couldn’t run as smoothly has it had in previous years.  In 1918, the Agricultural Hall was requisitioned as a storage depot for the military, who did not return the hall until 1921.

Charles Cruft eventually died in 1938.  His widow, Emma, ran the show in 1939, however, in 1942 she decided to sell the show to the Kennel Club as she felt she could no longer cope.  This deal sold everything including the cash boxes, the staff’s brown coats and boards for the walls.  The Kennel Club had no idea whether Cruft’s Dog Show would return after the war, and thus it was deemed a risky venture.  This was not the case and Crufts was as popular as ever.  This lead to the show first being broadcast on television via the BBC in 1950.

Apart from the war years, Crufts has been cancelled one further time but close to being cancelled 3 times.  George VI’s death in 1952 nearly cancelled the show as organisers thought to cancel the show as a sign of respect for the royal family.  The enforcement of the three-day working week for miner’s in 1972 nearly cancelled the show, but the lighting was subdued to prevent any power outages during the contest.  Finally, in 2009, the BBC dropped coverage of the competition because it disagreed with the Kennel Club placing breed and judging standards and breeding practices over the health of pure breeds. Crufts was only available to watch via YouTube in 2009 but Channel Four bought the coverage rights.  Crufts was only cancelled in 1954 and this was because of the General Electrician’s Strike.  Without electricians, there was simply no show.

References

Crufts, ‘Best in Show Winners’,  http://www.crufts.org.uk/content/whats-on/best-in-show-winners/

Crufts, ‘History of Crufts’, http://www.crufts.org.uk/content/show-information/history-of-crufts/

Great Dogs, ‘All about the History of Crufts’,  http://www.greatdogs.co.uk/historyofcrufts.html 

The Telegraph, ’10 things you didn’t know about Crufts’, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/tv/0/10-things-you-didnt-know-about-crufts/

Vet Medic, ‘A History of Crufts’, http://www.vet-medic.com/a-history-of-crufts-i390

Review: The Man Behind the Bayeux Tapestry

odo-bookBook: The Man Behind the Bayeux Tapestry: Odo, William the Conqueror’s Half Brother by Trevor Rowley (192 pages)

Published: 2013

Genre: Historical Non-Fiction

Period: The Normans

Rating: 9/10

The Man Behind the Bayeux Tapestry: Odo, William the Conqueror’s Half Brother by Trevor Rowley covers the life and times of Bishop Odo, William the Conqueror’s half-brother (as the title suggests).  Odo became the youngest Bishop of Bayeux, was England’s first Chief of Justice and acted as the King’s Regent whilst William the Conqueror was away in Normandy.  Currently, it is thought that Odo commissioned the epic Bayeux Tapestry in 1070.  However, it wasn’t a walk in the park for Odo.  He was imprisoned in 1082 for planning a military expedition to Italy.  Odo was released but got himself into trouble again in 1088 when he supported William’s eldest son, Robert’s, claim to the throne instead of William II, William’s second eldest son.  After the failure of the 1088 rebellion, Odo was banished from England and moved back to Normandy.  Odo died in 1097, whilst travelling to Jerusalem to participate in the first crusade.

The book is a fantastic introduction to the Norman period and does not require any previous knowledge to understand the book.  Rowley explains concepts clearly and does not skimp information.  Despite the fact the book is mostly a biography for Odo, Rowley explains the origins of the Normans, the course of 1066 and the Battle of Hastings, the Bayeux Tapestry and even the First Crusade.  It is also good for those who have some knowledge as it offers new facts and concepts to consider.  By focusing on Odo, this gives a different insight to Norman nobility and churchmen.  There is simply something for everyone provided in this book.

It was fascinating learning about Odo.  He is a very grey character, especially because there is very little textual evidence about Odo, so we are very reliant upon historical perspective which can lead to major bias.  Rowley treats the subject well and removes as much bias as possible by presenting both views and leaving the reader to come to their own judgement. I found that quite refreshing, sometimes authors have a tendency to aggressively push their interpretation often ignoring other viewpoints.  It was also interesting reading about such a powerful Norman who wasn’t a king.  Admittedly, I did not know much about Odo prior to reading the book so I found it fascinating.

At 192 pages long, it’s a short and easy to read history book.  It is easy to dip in and out of but it could also be read in one sitting as well, taking roughly a few hours to read.  I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who wanted to know more about the Norman period.

Beth

The Negatives of Re-enactment as a Hobby

I adore being a re-enactor.  It’s part of my identity and it’s something I will proudly tell every new person about (admittedly it’s a little self-inducting because part of me enjoys the utter look of confusion and bafflement it causes.  I am 5 ft 3, have a resting worry face and typically wear tee shirts proclaiming my love for various cartoon characters.  I do not look like your stereotypical re-enactor).  However, there are negatives to re-enactment and as a way to practice what I preach, this post is a way to remove any bias.  I hope you enjoy the list!

BETH’S LIST OF FIVE NEGATIVES OF RE-ENACTMENT

  1. Hella Expensive

p1000174I’m not gonna lie but re-enactment is an expensive hobby.  For each training session you attend (with my re-enactment group at least) there is no cost.  However, it’s quite an investment buying all the kit, getting to shows and yearly membership fees.  Prices vary hugely between period, rank and gender.  For example, because I participate in both fighting and living history, I have to portray two genders (because women weren’t allowed to fight) so have twice the kit.  I also have ranked up a couple of tiers in the past 3 years so have had to make my kit match.  It should be pointed out that I am quite stingy (I have the bare minimum kit) and others jump ranks much quickly and to higher ranks.  Below is a breakdown of all the costs I have spent over the past 3 years. It excludes all travel costs.

Membership (Since September 2013 including group and university costs)- £39

Weaponry (shield, spear, knives, Spear haft replacements) £118

Armour (helmet, arming cap, gambeson, maille, gloves) £245

Women’s kit (dress, underwear and stockings, wimple, wimple pins, shoes, belt) £128

Men’s kit (tunic, under tunic, hood) £55

Linen sack for kit £5

TOTAL COST: £590

It is possible to keep costs down a little by buying second-hand kit and selling on old kit but it still may be more expensive than other hobbies.  I certainly chose to become a re-enactor at the wrong time, student budgets don’t easily stretch to accommodate expensive hobbies.  However, my parents were very pleased that I wasn’t getting stupidly drunk every night because I simply didn’t have any money to do so.

2.  Hella Dangerous

p1000154Re-enactment is not the safest of hobbies.  You are going to get hurt fighting others in line battles whether you like it or not.  Yes, the weapons are blunt but they are still made out of thick steel and wood.  You will normally get hundreds of bruises from a single session (my only quibble with the bruises I get is that I get most of them on my upper thighs and cannot show off my battle wounds without getting arrested for indecent exposure).  However, because it’s a dangerous hobby more serious injuries can occur- usually accidents nobody goes out to inflict actual harm.  Examples which have happened at the sessions and shows I have attended include knee dislocations, spines been trampled on, concussion and little fingers being sliced off.  These accidents have been extremely rare but they can happen so it is worth being aware of the dangers.

3.  Extreme Heat Differences at Shows

p1000160Shows usually take place between April and October and because the shows take place across the United Kingdom the weather changes a lot.  This means that the temperature can vary a lot, even within the same show.  There was a weekend show I attended last year where I awoke to ice on the tents and by midday, I was melting because it got so much warmer during the day.  It also does not help that a lot of my kit involves being wool so wearing wool in the summer is nobody’s idea of fun.  (It’s also not fun if, like me, you have eczema which flares up when if you wear a lot of woollen clothes).  Wool is only so waterproof as well, so if you’re at a show where it constantly rains you are going to get cold very quickly especially if it’s blowing a gale because the water slowly soaks through your clothes and doesn’t dry.  Some people are ok with this factor but I don’t really cope well with being too cold or being too warm.

4.  Being a Female Re-enactor

p1000322This is another personal reason.  I find it personally very annoying having to take two sets of kit to shows because I just have so much more stuff to take in comparison to male re-enactors.  It also means where I could take a blanket or two for camping, the space in your bag is taken up by re-enactment clothes so you have to make the choice of being warm at night or fighting in the line battle at the show.  If you do decide to not fight in the show, things get super boring.  There’s only so much women can do at shows.  They can either cook, do chores, or braid, embroider or weave if they are the right tier.  As someone who has to do something and lacks a lot of drapery skills (my cloth making skills are very well known in the group, so much so people are scared whenever I cut cloth out) I often rush about collecting water or do the washing up every five minutes until I get told off because I’m doing all the chores and somebody else has to do them because people don’t understand that I need to have something to keep me busy.  Also, as a female re-enactor, it is inevitable you will experience a show whilst it’s that time of the month (which is not fun, believe me!)

And Finally…   5.  Saying Goodbye

It’s true when they say saying goodbye is hard and I absolutely hate it.  Because I joined re-enactment when I was at university it meant that there was a large student turnover as third years leave and are so replaced by freshers (*starts singing* IT’S THE CIRCLE OF LIIIIFFFFEEEE!)  You spend a year, two years, even three fighting with people who share similar interests and a sense of humour.  They become your closest friends pretty quickly. I always say that my re-enactment group were my university family, a home from home. One by one, people leave because jobs are in the cities and people’s degrees end.  Goodbyes must be said sooner or later and one day it is your turn to leave.  I have joined another re-enactment group since and I still see my friends when visiting or at shows however, goodbyes are still hard and they don’t get any easier.p1000295