Why I’ve rebranded the blog on this site as AidanBlog

Recently I have been posting less and less frequently to this and my other site aidanorourke.com.

It’s partly because I’ve been very busy but also because after reading many articles on ‘how to blog better’ I felt extrememy discouraged and demotivated.

Many advocate careful use of keywords, writing purely to solve your audience’s problems and pain points, always keeping the scope of the blog tightly focused and most discouraging of all, posting around 2500 words at least one a week and preferably once a day.

The net result of reading these articles was complete lack of motivation on my part, and a stagnating site.

So as part of my new strategy, I intend to post updates more frequently and I am going to do it my way, keeping the following points in mind:

  • The main purpose of the posts is to keep the site updated with some new content and so notify search engines the site is active, which is good for SEO.
  • I also show visitors I am engaged and doing stuff, and I have a reason to highlight my posts and link to my sites from social media.
  • I’m not going to worry about keywords. Over use of keywords makes text read badly and breaks the rule that you should write for people, not machines.
  • I will write about whatever pleases me. If some of what I write is of interest to people then great.
  • As a linguist I cannot keep to one tight subject niche as we linguists are interested in a wide range of subjects. I don’t care if this means I don’t build a band of followers interested in one narrow, tightly focused area. The range of projects and interests I have is what makes me unique and is interesting in itself.
  • I am not going to write 2500 words per post. I am going to write shorter posts, with no minimum, though I’m aware that 300 words is regarded as the minimum. That shouldn’t be a problem. There will be none of the waffle or stuffing you find in many articles, just what I want to say and no more.
  • I intend to use the iPhone to write and post. I will avoid complex layout and over-use of images. I won’t bother posting an image on many posts, such as this one.
  • I am using video presentations as my main medium from 2018 onwards. Blog posts are primarily to support the medium.
  • On aidan.co.uk I will post updates about my travels, creative projects, draw on my photo portfolio and announce new videos on my YouTube channels, and online courses.
  • On my other site aidanorourke.com I will do posts on as well as in foreign languages, especially German and also in English. On the other site I may post a German language version of an article posted on this site.
  • I won’t use featured images for the present and comments will remain disabled.
  • This blog will be branded as AidanBlog as it’s about me and my interesting projects often using photography.
  • The blog on the aidanorourke.com site will be branded as LangBlog as it is about and makes use of language.

That’s all and let’s see if I can regain some momentum and see some positive effects.

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Night time images of Bata Building, Prague

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I took this photograph of the Bata Building in Prague on a visit to the city in 2005. The images is dated 26.10.2005.

I was struck by the lights and colours of the facade, the sihouette of the trees and the people, and the contrast with the rest of the buildings on Wenceslas Square.

This image was selected for inclusion in a new edition Sir Banister Fletcher’s Global History of Architecture.

Here’s an alternative image taken from further back and to one side.

Prague Bata Building side view

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Photo-impressions: Stop Brexit National March Manchester 1 Oct 2017

These are my impressions of the Stop Brexit March in Manchester, 1 October 2017. Thousands of people came to Manchester to show their opposition to Brexit and I was one of them. Given my background, profession, principles and personal experience, it’s impossible for me to do anything but to oppose Brexit and campaign for it to be rejected by the electorate in a referendum on any final deal.

Today’s march was peaceful and good humoured but also noisy and outspoken. Many thousands came – it’s difficult to say how many – and we need to remember that for every person who attended, there are many more who share a similar view of Brexit, but weren’t able to make it.

People from a wide range of backgrounds and political views were present. Speakers included Vince Cable of the Liberal Democrats, lawyer Jolyon Maugham, Mike Galsworthy of Scientists for Europe, Conservative MP Stephen Dorrell and many others.

Terry Christian spoke out eloquently and humorously against Brexit. “Boris Johnson’s conscience” gave a hilarious and lifelike performance. Singer Madeleina Kay, dressed as Superwoman, performed her anti-Brexit songs. Finally Badly Drawn Boy and Tom Hingley spoke with great passion about their views on Brexit and the reactions of their fans.

Whatever happens over the next few years, people who understand the importance of Europe will never stop campaigning in favour of Britain’s continued participation in it. There will be many more marches like this all over the UK and I intend to take part in as many as I can and take photographs.

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Photo-impressions: American urban architecture and street lights

Music and architecture are connected. When I hear some genres of music I think of architecture, cityscapes and streetscapes.

Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin makes me think of New York in the 1920s and 1930s. The opening clarinet rising to a high note conjures up a picture of the Chrysler Building. My viewpoint rises from street level right up to the top of the building, with the 1930s Manhattan skyline visible beyond. I feel I have a connection with the New York of that time as my father lived there from around 1929 to 1931.

A Kind of Blue, the album by Miles Davis, also gives me strong visual associations with Manhattan in the 1950s. The album was recorded in 1959 in New York. When I hear it I can see a yellow cab making its way uptown by mostly empty warehouses.

Does my mental association come from a magical quality of the music to capture the essence of time and place, or is it just that I know it was recorded in New York at around this time? I think it could be a bit of both.

Another group that for me capture the atmosphere of New York is Weather Report. They recorded in the 1970s and 80s and that’s the era I think of. I was in New York in summer 1981, around 50 years after my father was there. When I listen to Weather Report, I can see yellow cabs, the subway, the Twin Towers, the streets and highways.

There is a quality of nostalgia, like the films of Elliott Bristow, with whom I worked when I was in New York. There’s a frustration with taking photos today. The USA of today is quite different from the one we have in our minds from times past.

The Best Of Weather Report album cover

The cover of the album ‘The Best of Weather Report’ has a remarkable photograph that completely echoes the images in my mind. It looks to me like it was taken on the West Side Highway at a traffic intersection. It must be looking west, as it appears to be a dusk sky.

On a visit to New York and Philadelphia, I took photos in a similar style to the Weather Report album cover. I’ve always found street lighting to be an important part of the cityscape and very visually interesting, especially at nightfall when the lights start to glow against the dusk sky.

These photos are not going to win any photography prizes. I don’t take photos to win prizes or to make money. I take photos to capture my mental impressions and make them visible to others.

All photos taken on the Canon 550D digital SLR camera with the Tamron 16-300mm zoom lens.

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Liverpool Albert Dock and Three Graces Walking Tour

If you’re visiting a city and want to get the inside story on its history and attractions, who should you go to? A tour guide of course.

I know Liverpool well but I’m always interested in finding out more. That’s the reason why I went on a tour of The Albert Dock and the Three Graces. I wasn’t disappointed. I discovered many new facts.

For instance, I didn’t know that the Albert Dock is the largest complex of Grade 1 listed buildings in the UK, that it was a state-of-the-art building when first built in 1846. I knew already from a tour with historian Quentin Hughes that it was nearly demolished. That was in the 1970s when the Albert Dock was in a derelict state, the basins were silted up and the entire district was closed off. The proposal was to demolish the buildings, fill in the docks and replace them with a car park. Thankfully the Albert Dock was restored and is now Liverpool’s top tourist attraction. It is a unique place – inside the solid brick warehouses house restaurants, apartments, shops, the Tate Liverpool, the Beatles Experience and the Liverpool Maritime Museum, incorporating the Museum of Slavery. The Albert Dock is a must-see for all visitors to Liverpool and a regular haunt for those of us who live in or not far from the city.

There are many reminders of its past – the Dock Traffic Office with its Roman style portico – actually the pillars are hollow and made of cast iron. It was used as a studio for Granada Television. Round the corner there’s a curious ‘helter-skelter’ chute on the exterior of the building. I’d never even noticed it before. It was used to carry ice cubes from the upper floors to a cart where they would be transported to the homes of Liverpool’s wealthy families. The Pump House – now a restaurant – contained the hydraulic pumps used to open and close the lock gates. The Piermaster’s House has been furnished in the style of World War II, when Liverpool was a major target for bombing. You can imagine the Piermaster and his family listening to the wireless and then hearing the air raid siren echoing over the docks.

A few minutes walk away and we come to the three magnificent buildings which are the most famous symbol of Liverpool, often referred to as the ‘Three Graces’. They were built on the site of St George’s Dock. Around the turn of the 20th century it was filled in and two streets were extended across it – Brunswick Street and Water Street. dividing it into three rectangles. On each of these three sites, three buildings appeared: The Port of Liverpool building, the Liver Building and the Cunard Building, completed in 1907, 1911 and 1916, respectively.

The Port of Liverpool Building was designed by Sir Arnold Thornley and F.B. Hobbs and is magnificent inside and out. It was the headquarters of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board until 1994. Today the building is used by private companies. I was surprised to discover it is only Grade II* listed. It has many superb architectural features. The dome is similar to St Paul’s Cathedral and Belfast City Hall. Many people are not aware that it’s possible to go inside the lobby and admire the magnificent view up towards the inside of the dome. It is a building with ‘wow’ factor. The exterior made of Portland Stone.

It’s important to note that up until the 1960s the exteriors of all three buildings were blackened by air pollution. I will never forget visiting Liverpool in the late 1960s just after they were cleaned. The Port of Liverpool Building seemed to me like a gigantic wedding cake made of pure white icing sugar. Today, in bright, clear sunlight, the exterior for me has a ‘singing ringing’ effect. There are many parallels between architecture and music, but that’s another story!

Next door to it is the Cunard Building, which is also Grade II* Listed. This was once the terminal for wealthy passengers boarding transatlantic liners. They would complete their paperwork in the grand hall and make their way to the front lobby to await embarkation. Our tour guide painted a vivid picture of the hall, with its elegant interior and perhaps a string quartet playing tasteful music. Today that area is the British Music Experience, a permanent exhibition dedicated to the history of popular British Music. It’s not possible to go to the upper floors of the Cunard Building. This is a working office building, and surely one of the best addresses in Liverpool. The building was designed by William Edward Willink and Philip Coldwell Thicknesse, and was inspired by the Farnese Place in Rome. It was the headquarters of the Cunard Line until the late 1960s. Since 2015 it is owned by Liverpool City Council. The office of the Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson, is in the Cunard Building. One interesting fact: It is slightly wider at the rear and so has the shape of an uneven rectangle. Like the Port of Liverpool building it is faced in Portland Stone.

The Liver Building is the most famous building in Liverpool. It is made of granite and so the exterior colour is rather dull. But due to its unique design and the two clock towers at either end, topped with the world famous Liver birds, it has become a powerful symbol of Liverpool. Local people are very proud of the building, which can be seen from many vantage points in the city and across the Mersey. It is a building of superlatives. It was Europe’s first skyscraper. It was the tallest building in Europe from 1911 to 1932. The clock faces are bigger than those on the Elizabeth Tower of the Houses of Parliament – more commonly known as Big Ben. The Liver Building is inspired by architecture of the USA, reflecting Liverpool’s rich transatlantic connections. It was designed by Walter Aubrey Thomas and is rightly Grade I listed. Two mythical Liver Birds at the top of the building soon became the symbol of Liverpool. They were designed by the German woodcarver Carl Bernard Bartels.

Originally from Stuttgart Carl Bernard Bartels settled in England and became a naturalised British citizen. He won the commission to design the mythical birds which were completed in 1911. Despite having British citizenship he was interned on the Isle of Man during the First World War and was deported in 1918, leaving his wife behind. He returned and spent the rest of his life in the UK.

The interior of Liverpool’s most famous building may surprise many visitors. Unlike the other two buildings, the Liver building has an interior space. After renovations, the lobby is contemporary in style, with some original features visible, including a plaque dedicated to Carl Bernard Bartels. Looking up through the glass roof of the lobby into the inside space, you will see that the interior walls have been covered with a modern style glass cladding. It’s invisible from the outside of course, but in my opinion, it spoils the character of the building. In my opinion the building should at some time in the future be restored to its original state.

And after we emerged from the side entrance of the Liver building, our tour came to an end. Our Blue Badge guide Tony Boner really entertained and informed us with his deep local knowledge and Liverpudlian sense of humour.

My advice to anyone, anywhere: Even if you’re a local, book a guided tour with a knowledgeable guide. You’ll learn many new things!

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Review of the Queer Noise exhibition, Pump House Museum, Manchester

Queer Noise is an exhibition at Manchester’s Pump House Museum about the development of the LGBT+ club and music scene mainly from the seventies and eighties. It’s just a small exhibition but it is very concentrated and presents a wealth of fascinating photos, artifacts, articles, posters as well as audio and video recordings.

One of the themes is the crossover between the mid-70s punk scene and what we now call LGBT. In those days members of that community remained mostly hidden. There were just a few places in Manchester city centre where they could be amongst themselves and enjoy a night out without the fear of ‘queer bashing’ or worse.

One of those places was the Ranch, a tiny basement club on Dale St set up by the prominent Manchester drag artist Foo Foo Lamarr. I went to the Ranch around 1977. A friend of mine was fascinated with the unbelievable costumes and make-up the girls were wearing and he took me along to see them. There I was confronted with punk rock in all its defiant and often nihilistic energy. This was a club where the motto was ‘anything goes’ but there was also an air of violence. Going up the stairs I to the exit, I was punched in the face. I think it might have been outsiders drawn into the club to witness the spectacle and indulge in a bit of ‘bashing’.

The Ranch is featured in the exhibition, and there is a remarkable photo of members of the Buzzcocks staggering out the front entrance. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the photographer, in fact I wasn’t taking photos at that time. If I had been I might have a prime collection today, but now is not the time for regrets! There some excellent black and white prints by Linder Sterling, Kevin Cummins and Dave Kendrick, Jon Shard and Al Baker.

The exhibition is also about artifacts and I should mention that it is based on a collection of items from the Manchester Digital Music Archive, of which I’m a trustee, though I had no involvement in putting together the exhibition. That honour goes to fellow MDMA person Abigail Ward, who has tirelessly worked to document all aspects of Manchester’s music scene, presented in the MDMArchive.co.uk website.

The exhibition takes up a small footprint as part of the exhibits on the second floor but is packed with interesting material. I love to hear recordings of people and I listened to a fascinating description of the club scene by a speaker who came over from Ireland. In her very appealing Irish accent, she talked about the pub on Princess Street, the Union, later known as the New Union and other venues where people from the LGBT community gathered.

I was also interested to hear an interview with Pete Shelley, whom I interviewed myself at the Russell Club in 1979. Sadly I lost my notes, scribbled on paper and my interview was never published. My lack of success of documenting those times is one of the reasons why I appreciate exhibitions like this.

When you’re off out for a wild night on the town, most people don’t bother to bring a pen and notepaper to jot down the venues they go to, the people they meet, the music they listen to and the antics they get up to, though today’s technology can record what is happening and may be valued in the future as a record of present times.

My memories of the seventies are mostly a haze, though a few key events stand out in my mind including my visits to the chaotic Ranch club.

Reading the articles, watching the video footage, interspersed with snippets of music, I felt a sense of nostalgia and wanting to go back. We can’t go back but at least we can build a picture of what it was like in a time when there were very different attitudes and social conventions to today. The advances made by the LGBT community in asserting their identity and rights has led to the much more relaxed and tolerant atmosphere we have today and perhaps take for granted.

Queer Noise gives us a great insight into different times, but I understand that it’s just a pilot for what could be a much bigger and more comprehensive exhibition. I can’t wait to see it.

The Manchester Digital Music Archive was extensively redesigned and modernised in 2017, making it device-responsive and vastly improving its functionality and visual appeal. It contains an astonishing collection of artifacts related to popular music in the Manchester area. The screenshot on the right shows just a part of the Queer Noise online exhibition. Some of these items are on display at the Queer Noise exhibition at the Pump House Museum. Click on the image to go to the Queer Noise online exhibition.

Screenshot Queer Noise exhibition 2017