Monday, 29 February 2016

Austin Omnivan 1956

In 1956 British-owned volume vehicle builders were about to enter a long period of turbulent decline that would lead inexorably to their extinction by the end of the century. The captive market in the Commonwealth and allegiance to all things British was on the point of disappearing and competition from other European manufacturers and from Japan was about to put the British industry under severe pressure. This vehicle design borrowed from European competitors (especially VW) for its shape and proportions and with revisions would remain in production for another 11 years. Smoother contours and an undivided windscreen distinguished it visually from its predecessors. The publicity brochure shown here relied upon the skill of the illustrator for its cheery visualisation of a gently idealised post-war world, rendered in a style we might call Ladybird-lite. The professional illustrator would soon be supplanted by the photographer as printing techniques improved but in the late 1950s the hand-drawn image conveyed a sense of immediacy and visual power that could not be easily matched in cheaper photographic reproduction.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Hull Streetlife Museum

Hull is one of those cities that is automatically disparaged even by people who’ve never been there, on the basis that however mediocre your hometown may be, it is demonstrably superior to Hull. It’s a useful rule that any universally despised place is well worth a visit and almost always much more interesting than many more over-valued places. Despite being one of the Luftwaffe’s most favoured and easily accessible targets, Hull still possesses a fine group of Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian buildings, significant medieval churches and a great collection of swing bridges and lifting bridges. There remains a strong sense of local identity and civic pride typical of Northern cities. One of Hull’s many attractions is the Museum of Streetlife – an ambitious title that perhaps promises more than it can deliver. It’s really a collection of vintage transport, imaginatively presented in a series of recreated street tableaux that provide context for the exhibits – at one time it would have been called Transport of Yesteryear.

The museum presentation is a masterpiece of compression in which a signal box, a complete level crossing, and a parade of small shops serve as a backdrop to a collection of road and rail vehicles. The world of manual labour is memorably evoked in a dramatic presentation that includes stacks of hessian bales and heavy wooden crates loaded on to a 1933 Scammell 3-wheeler plus trailer, familiarly known as a Mechanical Horse. My only complaint is the absence of litter and detritus – the odour of stale tobacco and burning coal would have been a bonus. It’s interesting to speculate on what might be included in such a museum in the future. Looking back half a century or more to today’s shopping streets might find a place for Betfred, Greggs, Wonga, a Food Bank and a Charity Shop from the days when charity was still a legal activity. The vintage vehicles might include an Ocado van and a selection of delivery vans from Yodel, Hermes, Interlink, DHL and Fed-Ex. Dioramas could feature a crowd of juvenile inebriates spilling out of a pub on a Friday night or a road rage episode involving a cyclist, a black cab, an Uber driver and a Night Bus.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Napoli Galleria Umberto 1

The Galleria Umberto 1 in Naples was conceived as a riposte to the great Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Milan, twenty years after the latter was built in 1867. It was the centrepiece of a major regeneration project intended to combat the city’s unenviable reputation for squalor and criminality. All this and more is comprehensively explained in the YouTube documentary. The film-makers made the most of privileged access that enabled them to film inside the apartments that occupied the upper floors, the roof top dwellings provided for the maintenance staff and the basement areas that accommodated a theatre, a cinema and a snooker club.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Postcard of the Day No. 81 – Beppu Hot Spring

Today’s card is a distant offshore view of the city of Beppu on the Japanese island of Kyushu – well known for its therapeutic hot springs and for sand-bathing (see a previous post here for more on sand-bathing). Without the right foreground with all its maritime paraphernalia this would be a very dull composition but the sculptural presence of ship’s ventilators and folded canvas awnings resembling mute standing figures offers some visual relief. Included below are more examples of postcard views that employ the deck of a ship as a kind of floating stage. Three of them show mariners going about their on-board duties with varying degrees of sobriety ranging from muscular endeavours at the anvil, via fitness routines to some highly ambiguous dance moves designed to deceive the enemy and convey a false sense of security. For more postcard images of matelots at work and play, please follow this link.