Autumn Then & Now


Autumn in Hackness, Yorkshire, 1966

Autumn in Hackness, Yorkshire, 1966

My father took the color transparency above, in Hackness, Yorkshire, during one Autumn in the mid-1960s. It’s a good example of an annual event that we always looked forward to: the “Turning of the Leaves” on deciduous trees. In the photograph, you can see my mother and my brother strolling through “Autumn’s golden gown” on the right.

Growing up in England, the onset of each Autumn brought a variety of both welcome and unwelcome events.

The school year always started in September, and, given that I always hated school, that was definitely not a joyous event. On the other hand, when I was at Primary School, our teachers would often organize some kind of Harvest Festival celebration, which I did enjoy. Given that the North Riding of Yorkshire had a heavily agriculture-dependent economy, harvest time was far from being just a symbolic event.

While out in the countryside admiring the foliage colors, we also quite often stopped to pick wild blackberries (brambles) from roadside hedges, where berries were in abundant free supply. It was also sometimes possible to find and pick bilberries in similar locations. I participated in that, but I must admit that I enjoyed the results much more than the actual task! The traffic levels on country roads in those days were generally light, so it was usually no problem to pull the car over to the side of the road wherever we spotted some fruit, as shown below, where my father had parked our Humber Super Snipe to let my mother sample some likely-looking brambles.

Picking Blackberries in Hackness, 1966

Picking Blackberries in Hackness, 1966

Other autumnal events that I welcomed with glee included Guy Fawkes Night (aka Bonfire Night) each 5th November. At that time, Guy Fawkes was the only regular event in Britain at which fireworks were let off (the tradition of fireworks at New Year didn’t start until much later). Fireworks were sold to the general public because, given the damp climate and the time of year, there was little fire danger.

I also looked forward to the arrival of the Winter Catalogues. In those days there were few large stores in or near Scarborough, so my mother did much of her shopping via mail-order “catalogues”, such as Kays, Grattans or John Moores. There were two editions of each catalogue each year: for Summer and Winter. I eagerly anticipated the arrival of the Winter editions in September or October, because those editions included larger selections of toys, and I had Christmas and a birthday coming up for which to make my choices (or at least to dream about them!).

Excerpt from Grattan Catalogue, 1966

Excerpt from Grattan Catalogue, 1966

The image above is part of a page from the Winter 1966-67 Grattan catalogue. The pre-decimal prices shown are explained in my previous post: Old Money.

Fall in California Wine Country

The seasons in California are less pronounced than in England, but we do have noticeable autumnal changes.

A Laughlin Road Vineyard, Sonoma County

A Laughlin Road Vineyard, Sonoma County

I took the photograph above last weekend of a vineyard at Laughlin Road, Santa Rosa, just near Sonoma County Airport.

Unlike similar species in Britain, California native oaks are “live”, meaning that they do not shed their leaves during the winter (as shown in the photo). Nonetheless, the leaves of the (non-native) vines do change color, and you can just see that process beginning in the photo above.

Once the leaves have changed color, they tend to stay on the trees longer in California than in Britain (probably because California is less windy). The photograph below was taken in Moraga a few years ago, in mid-December. (The photograph is marred only by the bus stop sign in the foreground!)

Autumn Leaves in Moraga

Autumn Leaves in Moraga

I plan to write further posts about Autumn in California, as the season progresses.

Mount Fuji: The Right Place at the Right Moment

Sunset on Mount Fuji, Japan, November 2007

Sunset on Mount Fuji, Japan, November 2007

I took this photograph of the sun setting on Mount Fuji as we were flying towards Osaka, in November 2007.

Looking back on my life, there have been several occasions where something happened to me that was simply the result of being “in the right place at the right time”. These occurrences were not the result of any great skill or prescience on my part. This photograph was one such instance.

As a Flight Attendant, my wife Mary typically worked flights to Japan, and occasionally I was able to accompany her on those flights. For me, it was a short vacation to a fascinating place.

Mary elected to work a flight to Osaka over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2007, and I went with her. We spent an enjoyable few days there and avoided all the travel hassles in the USA.

As we were approaching Osaka to land, the sun was setting. I happened to look out of the airplane window, and saw the view in the photograph above. It was hazy, but the low rays of the sun were just breaking through and catching the top of the volcano. I’ve never seen Mount Fuji like that again!

Toji Temple, Kyoto, 2007

Toji Temple, Kyoto, 2007

During our stay in Osaka on that occasion, we made a special journey to the grounds of Toji Temple, Kyoto, to visit a flea market. Mary wanted to buy a bead from Japanese beadmaker Akiko Isono, who had a regular stall at the market, and that was exactly what she did.


The Ambivalence of Easter


Scarborough from Cumboots Brow, Easter 1977

Scarborough from Cumboots Brow, Easter 1977

Easter occurs this weekend, although the event has almost zero importance for me now that I live in California. On reflection, the decline in its significance seems remarkable, given that Easter was, and still is, a national holiday in Britain, and holds many ambivalent memories for me from the days when I lived there.

The photograph above shows my birth town, Scarborough, on a beautiful day during Easter, 1977. My color slide was taken from the curiously-named Cumboots Brow, and displays a vista over lush farmland to the suburban village of Scalby, then Scarborough Castle headland beyond that, and finally the North Sea on the horizon.

In terms of positive memories of Easter, as a kid, I naturally looked forward to the break from school offered by the Easter vacation, and also to the abundance of Easter eggs, hot cross buns, and similar treats.

On the negative side, the Christian Easter festival, which was supposedly what was being commemorated, brings back memories of its absurd and macabre claims, which teachers at our schools drilled into us. In my case, I had the misfortune to have to attend a Church of England School for a couple of years, where such superstitious nonsense was particularly rife, but in Britain even state schools promoted the religious agenda to a lesser extent.

Is Easter Christian or Pagan?

Is Easter a religious festival, or merely a celebration of Spring? Should it or shouldn’t it be an official holiday for everyone?

Most people in Britain seem to take it for granted (as I did before emigrating) that Easter should be a recognized holiday.

Conversely, when I talk to people in California about it, they often seem puzzled that it should be recognized as a secular holiday at all.

People sometimes seem surprised when I remind them that, unlike the USA, Britain has no “separation of church and state”. Indeed, England has an official state religion (Church of England Christianity), the bishops of which still sit unelected in the House of Lords. Few people in Britain seem to see any problem in having a Christian festival as a national holiday, even though the vast majority now practice no religion at all and are de facto atheists, whatever they choose to call themselves.

But what actually is being celebrated? After all, the term “Easter” has a pagan origin, in that it is derived from the name of a goddess named Ēostre. Is it not really just a celebration of the Springtime renewal of life? As I recall, that inconvenient reality seemed to reemerge frequently. For example, at the state school, we were instructed to create Easter cards, but thankfully it was specified that these should feature eggs and chicks, instead of a man nailed to a wooden cross.

At the church school, the priests insisted that, despite its morbid associations, their Easter festival was supposed to be a “victory” over death rather than a wallowing in the gory details. Even as a child, it struck me that their resurrection story made no sense. Those adults insisted that their leader had physically risen from the dead. When we questioned the current whereabouts of this Jesus who had supposedly “conquered death” and thus must obviously still be living somewhere, we were told that we couldn’t meet this immortal individual in the flesh because he had somehow “gone up to heaven”. But we already knew that “going up to heaven” was just a euphemism for dying, so is he supposed to be dead or alive?

Easter in Scarborough: the “Season” Begins

Easter had a more practical significance for me during my schooldays because, in Scarborough, in the 1970s (and perhaps even now), the weekend marked the start of “the Season”, when tourists began arriving for vacations in the town following the winter shutdown. Typically, the major influx of tourists occurred from Easter to September each year.

For a few years during the 1970s, my parents owned the “West Lodge Guest House”, which they opened to guests each Easter. That building is still open as a hotel today. I took the photo below during a visit to Scarborough in 2006.

West Lodge Guest House in 2006

West Lodge Guest House in 2006

Easter: Goodbye to All That

Until I wrote this article, it hadn’t occurred to me that emigrating to California freed me to enjoy the positive aspects of Easter, revolving around the Springtime rebirth of life, without all the baggage of the macabre and primitive religious connotations.

It’s just one more good thing to celebrate…

Location of the Heading Photograph

Due to tree growth since 1977, it seems that it may be difficult to reproduce the view at the head of this article now. Here is the latest Google Streetview image.


The Daily Mash has just weighed in with a report about Easter!

Happy Valentine’s Day

Arrival at the Hotel Château Gütsch

Arrival at the Hotel Château Gütsch

Happy Valentine’s Day, Mary! I’m looking forward to more great times with you, the best friend I’ve ever had! I love you.

The photo above was taken in 1998, when we’d just arrived the Hotel Château Gütsch, in Lucerne, Switzerland. Below is the view of the city from the hotel; truly a spectacular place!

Lucerne from the Hotel Château Gütsch

Lucerne from the Hotel Château Gütsch

Our Twenty-sixth Wedding Anniversary

Cutting the Cake, 1991

Cutting the Cake, 1991

Today was our Twenty-sixth Wedding Anniversary. I feel incredibly lucky to have found Mary, who really has stuck with me through “thick and thin”. Mary changed my life, for the better, in ways that I had never even hoped for. The two of us have many great memories to look back on, and hopefully many more enjoyable years to look forward to!

The photo shows us cutting our cake at Star’s, in San Francisco, on January 9th, 1991. We chose the date because we thought it would be easy to remember, and I don’t think that either of us has ever forgotten it!

Thank you for everything, Mary! I love you.

Happy New Year 2017

Birmingham Town Hall, January 1981

Birmingham Town Hall, January 1981

Happy New to everyone for 2017!

In January, 1981, I visited Birmingham, UK, for an interview at Aston University. The photo above shows Birmingham Town Hall on a frosty and slightly snowy morning. The Town Hall is obviously a neo-classical design, and is based on the temple of Castor & Pollux in Rome.

Aston had in fact already made me an unconditional offer of acceptance, but I asked to attend for an interview anyway, to see what the campus was like. As it turned out, of course, I went to Imperial College, London, rather than Aston. Nonetheless, Aston was the first university to give me a “vote of confidence” at a time when many were shaking their heads about my prospects.

A Seasonal “Throwback”

robin_sharp300_7x5v2cI chose a seasonal theme for today’s “Throwback Thursday” image. This was our Christmas card artwork for 2012.

I took the photograph when I was exploring the remains of the never-completed Brockley Hill Tube Station, in London, in October 2012. The bird was sitting in a bush in what’s now known as the “Arches Field”.

It had never occurred to me before then that robins are popular subjects for Christmas cards only in Britain. When I was a kid, my parents received many cards featuring robins every year, and I even have the remains of one such card (dating from the 1960s) today, because I later “repurposed” it for use in one of my own drawing books.

The American Robin is a different bird species, of course, but you’ll rarely see an American card featuring any kind of robin (cardinals are actually more popular as subjects, although we don’t have those in California).

The British penchant for associating robins with Christmas  had been noticed by the New Scientist magazine, which published an article about it 56 years ago today: Robins for Christmas.

Season’s Greetings to everyone!