Category Archives: Uncategorized

Back again

I’m going to start tapping away again. Well, maybe. Here are a couple of things I’ve been thinking about recently anyway.

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The fashion and the fight

As a non-aligned sort-of-punk, sort-of-goth of the late 70s, and a football fan firmly stuck in the armchair, the casual movement was a small blip on my radar. There certainly didn’t seem to be any in Doncaster at least, but back at the time Doncaster Rovers had hardly any fans, sharply dressed or not. Those of us who looked up the M1 to Leeds might remember the casual violence of time more from the articles that picked up on the trend in the Face and ID trying to slum it with a working class trend that they tried to turn into a movement.

A photographic exhibition at Temple Works on Saturday remembers the ‘dressers’ of Leeds and charts the changing styles that of the Leeds United supporters of the early 80s, as evolve it did, from the sharp dress of the mod revival to the dope and tracksuits of the early stages of baggy in the space of a few years. This article remembers the time for the clothes, the friendship and the adventure as much as the football and the accompanying battles.

Wish You Were Here, Saturday 19th February 2011, Temple Works, Holbeck 11am – 2pm and after Leeds United v Norwich City at Elland Road.

United, the Leeds Tiger and the return of civic pride

It’s a rainy Sunday afternoon in February. On the other side of the Headrow the main shopping streets of Leeds are busy with winter weekend shoppers, but Millennium Square is also busy with visitors to Leeds City Museum. Occupying the former Mechanics’ Institute building that used to house the Civic Theatre, the museum is a recent addition to the square, but its design and integration has already established it as a landmark in the city.

On this wet afternoon, there are many attractions: on the top floor, the Special Exhibitions room is host to Spiceworld, a retrospective of the Spice Girls, whose late 90s heyday is drifting into cultural history. It’s relevance is of course that Mel B, Scary Spice, is a local daughter, born in Burley. Other parts of the building are, however much busier. The map of the city on the floor of the arena around which the musuem is built, is covered with kids pointing out their homes, picking out places or just sliding around. The back end of the Leeds Collectors Gallery is playing host to a storyteller and a small crowd of enraptured children and their equally entertained parents. Downstairs, the Life on Earth gallery also mills with children and places Leeds and the surrounding area in a context in the evolving world.

Standing guard over the Life on Earth exhibition is the Leeds Tiger, a stuffed Bengal who has been in the city for very nearly 150 years. Its story is the usual one of colonial barbarism, twisted slightly by the charming fact that its first few years in this country were spent as a rug. The tiger has become a touchstone for many in Leeds, not least my wife and I, as it was where we went on our first date two years ago.

Leeds hasn’t had a proper city museum since the mid-1960s, when the former museum located in Park Row closed its doors for the last time. A small part of the collection lived in the municipal buildings on Calverley Street until 1999, and other parts of the collection were distributed across the city’s other properties such as Temple Newsam and the Abbey House at Kirkstall.

Towns need their civic collection though, and a city such as Leeds, if any city can be like any other, with such a lot to be proud of, needs one more than most, and the two and a half years since the new museum opened its doors have also seen a improvement in the city’s view of itself.

For many years Leeds was the London of the north, the capital of Yorkshire, a financial centre in a county known for its canny way with brass, a centre of the legal business, and that mythical 24-hour city where, in the Englishman’s view, it was possible to get a drink at any time of the day. There was a near-victorious football team that almost didn’t have to look back to its last glory days of the mid-1970s.

But these things ignored the city’s civic and industrial history, trusting in the future of service. When I arrived in Leeds from London in 2001 it seemed to be lacking a real identity. The Bank of England had closed, leaving only a junction on the Loop as a mark of its passing, and much of the money had gone with it. Leeds United were in the top half of the Premiership but not far from the collapse that saw them drop to Division One. The city was prospering but at the cost of its past. The idea of Leeds was hollow.

When Leeds United were relegated in the disastrous but not unexpected season of 2003-4, the fans sang’We’re not famous any more’ and ‘We’re going down, but we’ll be back’. In 2011, the club is in the top six of the Championship and on the verge of a return to the Premiership, and the city is rediscovering itself through the museum, projects like the Leeds Owl Trail and a grassroots campaign in support of the city centred around the Culture Vultures blog, alongside cheerleaders on Twitter who have driven the discussion and promoted new businesses and ideas in the city.

Millennium Square has been at the heart of this renaissance and the placing of the City Museum there has served to confirm it as the civic centre of the city. The Leeds Tiger is a fond memory for older generations of the city, and its place in the museum has created continuity with the past. Leeds is a place to be proud of again.

Our visit to the museum today was to see the tiger, and show him that we got married in October. Two years ago I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to be in this city but my wife, the way that the museum celebrates Leeds and the way that it has been a part in creating pride in it has confirmed that it’s where I want to stay.

Starting again

I’m going to start writing more, and try and post something every day. It could be about anything. It might sometimes be interesting. Feedback would be welcome. As you were.

Ah, this is probably it. Stop reading this, you’re wasting your time.

Flat roofed pubs

I have spent the last couple of days looking through Flickr groups for pictures of flat roofed pubs. There are very few pictures of them, but most people will know what they are. A better term might be ‘estate pubs’ or ‘local pubs’: built in the 60s and 70s on housing estates or shopping malls in a utilitarian style to support the local drinkers, they are often unlovely and unloved, as are the people in them.

There is an adage about them, that I can’t find a reference for by Googling: ‘never drink in a flat roofed pub, or in a pub under a block of flats’, which is right, oh, 90% of the time. Wetherspoons, many of which would fit the criteria, being converted shops and the like, vary: some are estate pubs and others have transcended their locations to become decent bars. Another  recent trend has been the transformation of estate pubs into real ale pubs, where otherwise ailing businesses have been rescued and in some cases converted into CAMRA award winners either out of economic necessity or because they have been picked up by enthusiasts ho have persuaded the pubcos to give it a go.

In short, it’s a bit of fun, but there might be some hidden gems. Or not.

The lost world of Harold Baim

There are those of you  of a certain frame of mind, or indeed geographical location, who will be aware of the splendid  short film Telly Savalas Looks at Birmingham, in which everyone’s favourite lolly licking detective waxes lyrical about the joys of England’s second city. However, it may come as a surprise to find that the hairless fighter of crime  was unfaithful to the jewel of the West Midlands, and produced similar eulogies to Aberdeen and Portsmouth. They, and many other  ‘quota quickies’ were all made and distributed by one Harold Baim, whose archive represents documentary evidence of a world that is getting further and further away.

Quota quickies were short films made to satisfy the requirements of the 1927 Cinematograph Films Act, which, in response to the growing dominance of the US film industry in British cinemas, required film distributors to provide a percentage of British made films. If you went to the cinema in Britain even up until the 1980s you may have seen one of these films with the main feature, a fifteen or thirty minute short about how sweets are made or a travelogue about some corner of the country. They were even, perhaps predictably, parodied  by Monty Python in ‘Away from it All‘, the supporting film with the theatrical release of ‘Life of Brian’ and Peter Sellers’ ‘Balham, Gateway to the South‘. Articles suggest that the British B movie industry may have grown to benefit from the quota system and that many early classics, and several production studios may have been made in the UK to take advantage of it.

Harold Baim seems to have been responsible for as much as a third of these films between the 1930s and 1960s. His films were distributed by United Artists and in the 1960s supported such blockbusters as theJames Bond franchise and the Beatles’ feature films such ‘A Hard Days Night’ and ‘Help’.

Baim’s films are a valuable contribution to British cinema: he used well known names for their narration, not only Telly Savalas, but Terry Wogan, Nicholas Parsons and Pete Murray. They record things that don’t exist any more: a documentary on Wilson, Keppel and Betty captures the venerable music hall act in their last days, and ‘Jugglers and Acrobats’, the film that supported ‘A Hard Days Night’ shows the last of the variety acts in the dying days of music hall, but was probably overlooked by screaming Beatles fans as they waited for the main feature. Following the film’s theatrical release it was shelved and forgotten, but has now, for all its origins, become an historical document.

The Baim films are being digitised slowly by the Baim Collection but their display is rather patchy at the moment apart from a handful of clips (including Mr Savalas’ contributions) on the website. While they are still private property, they are also a contribution to British history and as such deserve a wider airing.

Tunis? Cake?

My girlfriend and I have been planning Christmas with her sister and parents. When discussing sweet stuff, something that came up was Tunis cake. Being a former lover of things cakey I was rather surprised never to have heard of this addition to the Christmas table. Yet exist it does. This link is the most concise description I’ve found, and sums it up: people either love them or have never heard of them. I obviously fall into the latter category. So where do they come from? My Mum worked for a bakery for years, so I would have expected to see them as well as the usual Christmas cake and (multiple) yule logs, but they obviously never made it to Doncaster.
That made me think that they might be a southern thing, but my girlfriend’s supplier is a colleague at work and they are usually apparently available from one of the big supermarkets, even here in Leeds. A google search finds lots of people asking about them, but few other clues to their origin until a few pages in. This link mentions them in the context of a chain of stores called Kinghams based in the Hertfordshire area, who sold a Tunis cake made by Macfarlane Lang, a Glasgow based company who are now part of the United Biscuits empire. So were they Scottish, like the Empire biscuit? The trail seems to grow cold here. So if you’ve landed here looking for them, they are apparently available at Marks and Spencer this year, and possibly at Sainsbury’s. We’re going to look for one this weekend.
The main criteria of a Tunis cake is apparently the thickness of the chocolate, which is nowhere as good as it used to be, the marzipan ‘fruits’ (ugh) and also the way in which the chocolate is attached to the top of the cake. The Sainsbury or Tesco ones of recent years have had a layer of apricot jam twixt cake and chocolate. A review/reverie will follow.

Update: It was a success. Out of the box, it is a madeira sponge with a thick layer of chocolate on top. Inspired by the McVities pic in this article, Catherine pimped it up with pink and yellow icing so it looked more like the thing of memory:

Pimped tunis cake
Eating it is an, ahem, individual experience because the chocolate is solid. A heated knife would probably be useful for actually getting through it and eating it. The cake was good, but the chocolate is definitely cooking chocolate although a bit nicer than eating it out of the packet. Tesco still have them, or at least the big one in Bradford does, so see for yourself.

Keywords, not experience, make the man

I had a chat with a recruitment agency today, the first useful one that I’ve had since I became unemployed. It was remarkably helpful, but also rather depressing. It was clear that she wasn’t actually looking at my CV, just searching for keywords and then expanding on them. The job was Unix system analyst. I have been a Solaris system administrator by trade for 15 years, and have worked with Linux for much of that time, but not so much professionally. My current CV has been trimmed for brevity: years as a contractor have seen to that as I have taken short jobs to fulfill functions and which means there’s nothing much to say about them. My actual paid Linux experience is ten years past and of course Linux has changed enormously since then.
It was clear that only Linux experience would do: 15 years of working in enterprise Solaris environments, including ones that matched the requirement, wasn’t enough. No doubt the client’s recruitment manager would look for the same keywords and make a decision in the same way. There was no suggestion that there would be any technical input before it presumably got to the Technical Manager.
The spec for this job was loose and didn’t really specify any skills different to any other Unix system administration role.
This is why I believe that the recruitment process doesn’t scale. When faced with 30 CVs for a post, an agent, who might be working from a vague requirement, can’t really do anything but grep keywords, so there’s no understanding of a candidate’s skills, just a bunch of boxes to tick. The client’s HR probably also doesn’t wholly understand the requirement, and applies the same criteria before presenting the filtered CVs to the person within the company who is making the final decision.
If every recruitment agency does that, then it comes as no surprise that those of us who might not have formal qualifications (a computing degree is easy to find), or with transferable skills that don’t include keywords that are exactly the same as what the agency is looking for, are struggling to get work. If I show my CV to technically oriented people they are impressed by my range of experience, but at the moment such people need cheap, and I can understand that, but it seems wrong that the process that I have made a living from in the good times fails in bad times. In my line of business that would be called a point of failure in a mission critical system. Recruitment agents would complain if their email systems failed, but their own system has failed and it’s affecting their candidates and clients.

The death of the recruitment agency

I’ve been technically unemployed for almost a year. I finished my last contract in December 2008 and haven’t been able to get a job since. This isn’t to say that I’ve spent the last year watching Jeremy Kyle in my pants, but that no-one seems to want to pay me for the work that I am, and let’s not mince words here, pretty bloody good at doing.
For a while I wanted to chart my own course, and try and find ways of doing things that don’t involve working for the man but circumstances changed very much for the better, and while they confirmed what I had been trying to do for a year or so, to at least stay in the same place and settle down, I’ve run up against something of a brick wall in regard to finding a job.
In fat times, the recruitment agent is your best mate. There were times when I could put my CV on Jobserve and then spend a few days fielding offers ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime. When I moved from London to Leeds in 2001, I secured a job within a month of making the decision to move.
Moving to contracting after a few years, when I got itchy feet, was easy enough too, but to cut a long story short, despite living in reach of two of the biggest (if not necessarily the most prosperous) cities in the country, the global financial collapse and the recession has put paid to much of the IT business in the area. I am, for the first time in fifteen years, signing on, and even considering retraining.
At this time the recruitment consultant isn’t your friend. He stops returning your calls. When he does call it’s for jobs that have no relevance to your experience or are 200 miles away. Even the jobs that are posted to the big job boards are untrustworthy, scraped from company websites, incoherently copied and pasted, poached from other agencies and just plain made up to harvest CVs to meet quotas. When it has been the only method of looking for work that one has known for most of your working career, it becomes difficult to change. However, the alternatives don’t seem to work, as employers seem not to have got that either.
So, if anyone out there is looking for an aging, yet very competent sysadmin somewhere along the M62, get in touch. Stop paying agencies to top slice the first five CVs they get before going back to playing Call of Duty. Post your own ads on the job boards and make your own decisions. You might be less disappointed.