Tag Archives: Stoke-on-Trent

Where should I live?

I’ve just done a test on the BBC website to see where in the UK I should live, based on my personality, and the results were rather interesting. Firstly, here are my personality results:

Screenshot (19)

…I don’t know whether to be happy with those results or not. Here’s how suited I am to Stoke:

Screenshot (17)

The best place locally for me would be:

Screenshot (18)

I can’t complain- Newcastle-under-Lyme is a nice place. Nationally, the worst place would be:

Screenshot (16)

I’ve never been to Carlisle, so I couldn’t possibly comment on this one. However, based on my dubious personality, the best place in the country for me to live in order to be happiest would be (drum-roll please…..)

Screenshot (15)

Can I really complain at that? It’s true!

If you want to have a go at the test, here’s the link:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/z3g487h

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Rob Pointon: A Stoke-on-Trent artist in Oxford

As you may know if you have been reading my blog for any length of time, I originate from Stoke-on-Trent, and have moved back here with my partner and children following three years studying in Oxford (which I now consider to be home). Well, before going to uni, I was aware of a local artist working in Stoke named Rob Pointon, whose artwork I greatly admire for its skill, Impressionist style, and fantastic distortion of images to create effects akin to a fish-eye lens. However, it seems that in these three years, his career has really taken off, with exhibitions being hosted in many cities across the UK and abroad, his artwork being displayed all around Burslem (my hometown within the City of Stoke-on-Trent), and canvases owned by HRH The Prince of Wales and the Her Grace Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire. Well, I recently came across an image that he produced at the top of the Saxon church tower of St. Michael at the North Gate in Oxford, and a few days ago another, painted inside the Divinity School of the Bodleian Library.

View of Cornmarket Street from the tower of St. Michael at the North Gate, Oxford, by Rob Pointon

View of Cornmarket Street from the tower of St. Michael at the North Gate, Oxford, by Rob Pointon

Interior of the Divinity School, Bodleian Library, Oxford, by Rob Pointon

Interior of the Divinity School, Bodleian Library, Oxford, by Rob Pointon

I just thought that I’d share these, because I think they are wonderful images, and blend nicely the two places that have made my family who we are. You can follow Rob’s most recent projects here: www.robpointon.co.uk

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Oxford underwater

Happy 2014! I’ve been pretty quiet on here so far this year- sorry about that. I’ve begun my new job this week, and so haven’t had much time to get anything up. I do hope to get quite a few ‘Thoughts on…’ posts up this coming weekend though. Anyhoo.

Today has been probably the first day since leaving Oxford that I am glad not to be there, as the recent bad weather has hit the city hard. In Stoke, we’ve not had weather that different from normal, but in Oxford, which resides in a valley, it’s been a different story…

Image: Lee Ingram

Image: Lee Ingram/Air Experiences

In the bottom half of that image, you can just about make out the Isis (River Thames), with a row of College boat houses above… and then that large lake is actually Christ Church Meadow, with Christ Church just visible in the top left… Oh dear…

 

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2013- Electric Puppet’s first 5 months in review

2014

Well- it’s New Year’s Eve, and time to reflect on what has gone on over the past year. For my family, this has been a big year, as we left the comfort and splendour of Oxford to return to our home city of Stoke-on-Trent; I graduated from university; I got my first job; we decided where we want to go with our life in the near and more distant future, thanks to an American man and his family on YouTube; I completed my first book of poetry, which had been languishing prior to this summer; I took the plunge and begun this blog, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a while; and have got back in contact with several family members that I haven’t seen for the best part of a decade thanks to Facebook. It has been eventful, and had also been emotional and tiring for all of us. Also, with any luck, next year should be just as eventful- beginning work; trying to get my book published; endeavouring to write the novel and short story collection that I’ve been planning for a month or so; and getting married. Yes: my partner and I are getting married next year!

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In terms of this blog, I will be getting up several ‘Thoughts on…’ posts for the books I have read recently- the first two Adrian Mole books, Penelope Lively’s ‘Heat Wave’, Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’, and Tove Jansson’s ‘Finn Family Moomintroll’- in the new year, and hopefully will get the first few up on New Year’s Day. For now, though, I thought that I would highlight a selection of posts from this blog that have proved popular, may have been overlooked, or are of relative interest for me.

I think that’s enough links to my other posts to be getting on with for now. Anyway- check some of these out if you haven’t already, or have a browse of the blog and see what you come across. Also, you can follow Electric Puppet on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/electricpuppetblog

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Lastly, here are a few fellow bloggers that I’ve come across in the past few months that you may find of interest:

Don’t Bend, Ascend

These Bones of Mine

Bones Don’t Lie

A Corner Of Tenth-Century Europe (written by one of my Anglo-Saxon lecturers from Oxford; he has since moved on to work at Birmingham University)

Museum Postcard

Prehistories

Interesting Literature

I hope you have a very happy New Year, and that 2014 will be good for you.

Image: The Telegraph

Image: The Telegraph

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Stoke-on-Trent: The city that died

While talking to people at the graduation, I realised that many of them didn’t really know much about the place I come from, and so I thought that as most of my followers and visitors on here are not from the UK, you probably know even less about it. As I said in my post Life Update #1, both myself and my partner come from Stoke-on-Trent, which is a city in the Midlands. The place is most famous for its ceramics industry that made the city known across the world as ‘The Potteries’, with the likes of Wedgwood, Spode, Minton, Royal Doulton (despite originating in London), Moorcroft, Clarice Cliff and Steelite all being based here. During the city’s peak, there were several thousand pottery companies producing wares, of varying size, production capacity and renown. However, this image off the ‘Telegraph’ website sums up the state of the pottery industry in the city now…

SoT from Telegraph

Behind that mound of rubble can be seen the tops of two structures known in Stoke as ‘bottle ovens’, and these are (or were) the defining features of the region’s skyline. These kilns were once part of pottery factories (or ‘pot banks’), being the actual ovens in which the ceramics were fired, and in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, came to dominate the city.

An 1898 OS map showing a small area of Middleport, Stoke-on-Trent, with bottle ovens marked in red.

An 1898 OS map showing a small area of Middleport, Stoke-on-Trent, with bottle ovens marked in red.

Several images of the Stoke-on-Trent skyline in the 19th century.

Several images of the Stoke-on-Trent skyline in the 19th century.

With the decline of the pottery industry due to cheap foreign produce and the increasing appeal of sending manufacture to the Far East, many of these kilns have been demolished, leaving the handful that are left as Listed structures and important symbols of the region’s past, as well as emblems that the place can use to define itself.

Indeed, the City of Stoke-on-Trent is an interesting one that is not easy to define. From 1910 until 1925, it was a borough, made up of the ‘Six Towns’ of differing administrative and district status: Burslem, Hanley, Stoke (or Stoke-upon-Trent), Tunstall, Fenton and Longton, and numerous smaller settlements and areas. Then, in 1925 it gained City status, with Hanley becoming the main commercial centre of the city. Stoke retained the administrative and religious focus, but the former is now also being moved to Hanley, with the latter being pretty much all that is in Stoke itself besides a railway station. Stoke (the town- the city is confusingly refered to as simply ‘Stoke’ too) was where the first church was built in the region in the 7th century, with the name ‘Stoke’ or ‘stoc’ referring to a ‘place’. This has been interpreted as being a holy place, but may have also been a farm, or a crossing place where two roads meet. However, there are remains of a Saxon church and stone cross in Stoke town, near the site of the present Minster Church of St. Peter ad Vincula.

Out of all the towns, Burslem was the most prolific for ceramic production, becoming known as the ‘Mother Town’ of the Potteries, and it is here that the earliest evidence for pottery production in the city has been found, dating back to the medieval period. This was found by Channel 4’s ‘Time Team’ when they came to excavate on the site of Josiah Wedgwood’s first factory, the Ivy House Works, in Burslem town centre in 1998, and I’m on the end of the programme in the crowd, madly waving!

These images are incredibly naff, but are about all I can find on the web from the 'Time Team' dig in Burslem. I have my own images from the tiem, but can't put my hand on them at present. Note the late great Prof. Mick Aston in stripey fleece.

These images are incredibly naff, but are about all I can find on the web from the ‘Time Team’ dig in Burslem. I have my own images from the time, but can’t put my hand on them at present. Note the late great Prof. Mick Aston in stripey fleece, and the building in the top right, which is the only extant part of Wedgwood’s Ivy House works.

As well as ceramics, Stoke-on-Trent has provided the world with several other people and things, too. It was here that William Clowes and John Bourne (both born in Burslem) founded Primitive Methodism at the turn of the 19th century, and in the city that Reginald Mitchell, the designer of the Spitfire, was born. Also, the author Arnold Bennett (the Potteries answer to Charles Dickens) immortalised the towns in his works such as ‘Anna of the Five Towns’, ‘The Card’ (made into a 1952 film starring Alec Guinness and filmed largely in Burslem), ‘Clayhanger’ and ‘The Old Wives’ Tale’. He was friends with H. G. Wells, who stayed in Stoke with Bennett in 1888 and later wrote the short story ‘The Cone’ about the Shelton Bar Iron and Steelworks in the city. Here we also come to a further industry that once powered the city- steel production. Similarly, the region was also well-known for coal mining, but this died when the rest of the mines went bust under Thatcher.

More recently, the city has become known for its football in the form of Stoke City and the less-successful Port Vale, but the latter is perhaps better known for its most famous supporter Robbie Williams, who was born in Tunstall and raised above a pub (The Red Lion) in Burslem. Incidently, the pub is next door to the building shown on the top right of the ‘Time Team’ image.

From left to right: Arnold Bennett (1867-1931); a Spitfire; Robbie Williams; the angel wethervane on the clocktower of Burslem Town Hall, which is believed by some to have inspired Robbie's hit 'Angels'

From left to right: Arnold Bennett (1867-1931); a Spitfire; Robbie Williams; the angel weathervane on the clocktower of Burslem Town Hall, which is believed by some to have inspired Robbie’s hit ‘Angels’

I don’t suppose that Stoke is that bad when I write about it like this- it has had a fascinating and quite important past, and has given the world quite a few things. Did I mention Henry Faulds (1843-1930), who developed the technique of fingerprinting? He lived out his years and is buried in the city. And Anthea Turner? …yeah. Perhaps I’ll leave that last one…

No- I don’t hate Stoke. I just feel that now the place lacks ambition and drive, and where I want to get with my life, I can’t do it here. I hope, however, that you have learnt something, and now will know where I am talking about when I mention Stoke!

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Life update #1

I haven’t really written anything on this blog so far about me or my life, other than my interests and reading updates, and so I thought that it is perhaps time that I put a bit of a ‘Life Update’ up. My partner, our two children and myself have recently moved back to our home city after a three-year stint at university, and are taking a bit of time now to reassess our life and what we both want for our family. However, this is thwarted somewhat by the fact that where we are living is just so damn depressing. I’ll illustrate. We’ve gone from spending almost everyday for the past three years amongst this…

oxford

…to suddenly return to this…

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

That latter paradise (…) is Stoke-on-Trent, a once-great producer of ceramics known across the world, but now a decrepit, soul-less and polluted stain of its former industrious and ruggedly handsome self. It may be both mine and my partner’s home city, but it doesn’t mean that we love it. Sure, it has its good points, but the majority of these are in its past, and if it wasn’t for our lack of money and familial ties, we would most certainly cut and run. To be fair, the second photo above doesn’t make Stoke look too bad, and from where we live, we have a rather impressive view across almost the entire city from the window, but- the place just lacks ambition. The people here lack any sort of desire or hope, and seem in general to be content with a life that has gone and will go no-where. For us, though, that isn’t enough. Three years amongst the Dreaming Spires of Oxford have changed us for the better into the rounded, mature and aspiring people that we both now are, and it is there that now feels like home, and the place where we can reach our potential. It is the place where our children can be inspired and strive for greatness, as the makings of them and the cultivation that they need is all around them, and the place where our family really came together. It is in Oxford that our children have spent their whole lives, and in Oxford that they have become who they are. With any luck, we hope to be able to move back here within the next few years to work and continue to study, and where we can break away from this phase of our lives that is very quickly dragging us down a slippery slope towards mediocrity.

it also doesn’t help matters that there are family dramas unfolding in relation to my bloodline, which make the whole experience of being back all the more painful, drawn out and despondent. This comes down mainly to the fact that three years away have opened mine and my partner’s eyes to a number of issues, and has also matured us to the point where we have outgrown the trivialities of our families. However, being able to draw a line under issues and finding closure is made infinitely more difficult when those who have not matured and grown up in wisdom or tact decide to blinker themselves and hinder our process of healing and answering questions. They will learn- but I really dunno when.

However, we have also resolved while we are here to make the best of our present, and to plan to make the best of our future. This in part has come from a desire to give our children the best, and also through watching an inspirational man on YouTube whom I mentioned several weeks back in relation to an upcoming documentary film named ‘Vlogumentary’, named Shay Carl Butler. There are many self-help guides and motivational speakers out there, but this bloke is not one of them; rather, he is a normal bloke from California who decided to lose weight and concurrently improve his life to accentuate the positives and make the most of his time one Earth. We now strive to make our life as positive as possible, and aim to make our lives and our life together as wonderful, productive, and as simply amazing as we possible can- as long as we get out of Stoke…

Being a Christian (High-church Anglican [CofE]), it is also easy to see your life as being simply as it is, and I was in danger of falling into the trap of thinking that as a Christian, I should perhaps be happy with this life, as I am meant to strive not for this one, but for the next. However, I am now thinking that it is surely possible to do both- to embrace and live this life to the full whilst also anticipating the next. We don’t believe that Heaven will be like this life (as it was for example for the ancient Egyptians), and therefore there is surely no problem in making the most of this life and getting all we can from it t the same time as praising God and wanting to also reach that life which is before us. besides, I constantly waver in my views on the afterlife, and hypochondria often creeps up on me in a big way when I reach stressful patches, and so it is logical to experience and do as much as we can humanly manage. For example, my partner would love to travel to the USA (even though I am petrified of flying and really don’t want to ever get into a plane), and I would love to carry out the Coast-to-Coast walk across the north of England, as planned out by Alfred Wainwright. I want to get my current book of poetry (which is almost completed in first draft form) published, along with many more volumes and several novels. I would love to travel across America too (see previous comment regarding flying) to experience the America that is seen in those road trip films, down Route 66 and to see the Grand Canyon. I want to see the Northern Lights. And why should we not do any of these things (except: see previous comments regarding flying)? I’m sick of the defeatist, uninspired and unambitious views given out by Stoke and its people, and hope to make something of ourselves that will suggest three years at Oxford were not for nothing, and that can make our children proud in the years to come.

I’m sorry to go on for a bit, but just felt that I need to get some of this out to make myself feel better for one, as well as giving me something to look back on to remind me of our ambitions and our hopes.  Please forgive this life update, as you probably aren’t that bothered about where I’m headed and all that, but- normal service will resume with the next post!

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