Friday, 21 May 2010

In the defence of Socialism, Santa Clara

Yesterday Cuba celebrated Independence Day. Although the country gained independence from Spain in December 1898 following the defeat of the colonial power in the Spanish-American war, the island fell under US occupation. In 1901 Cubans were allowed to draft a constitution and one year later the American troops withdrew from most of the Cuban territory. Independence was officially declared on May 20, 1902 at midday, but in practice the new republic became a US protectorate. Indeed Cuba had been forced to incorporate in its consitution the Platt Amendment (after US senator Orville H. Platt from Connecticut), which gave the US the right to oversee the island's economy, veto international commitments and intervene in domestic politics whenever Washington considered it necessary. It was only with the 'Good Neighbor' policy of Franklin D. Roosevelt that the Platt Amendment was repealed (still the US did not give up its long-term lease of Guantanamo).
Following independence, most cities renamed one of their streets 'Independencia', and it is at the eastern end of Santa Clara's Calle Independencia that today's sign can be found. However it doesn't commemorate that particular event but the fifty-year-old Comités de Defensa de la Revolución (Committees for the Defence of the Revolution).

50 años
con la guardia en alto
defendiendo el socialismo
[50 Years
Keeping One's Guard Up
In the Defence of Socialism]

The CDRs were created immediately after Fidel Castro's speech on September 28, 1960 with a view to defend the new regime against any potential invasion by Cuban exiles and/or by the US, as well as against any internal threat. While Castro addressed the crowd that had gathered in front of the former presidential palace (now the Museo de la Revolución) several bombs exploded in Havana. Thus the CDRs were given the task not only of defending the interests of the Revolution and promoting its achievements, but also of checking on the population for possible counter-revolutionary opinions or activities. This means CDR officials keep files on each individual living within the block they are responsible for and report any suspicious behaviour to the authorities. Obviously what a 'suspicious behaviour' is can be sometimes wide-ranging. Yet as time passed the CDRs were allotted other responsibilities such as cleaning the streets, sorting out rubbish for recycling, enforcing energy saving measures, providing assistance to the disabled and elderly, or looking out for drugs dealers and consumers. Additionally the CDRs have been important relays for the government's education and health campaigns. Finally, as the predominant neighbourhood organisations, the CDRs are often given the task of organizing community projects including festivals and mass rallies.
Nowadays, around 7.6 m Cubans above the age of fourteen (total population: 11.2 m) are affiliated to the 133,000 branches of the CDRs.

Over the past five decades this controversial mass organisation has been behind a large number of political painted signs in Cuba. It has been particularly active lately as its 50th anniversary approaches.
This sign in the capital city of the Villa Clara province, 260 km east of Havana, is still in the making: the horizontal guiding lines are still visible and the red hasn't been applied to the shield on the CDRs' logo and to the shading of some of the letters.

Location: Calle Independencia, Santa Clara / Pictures taken on: 01/04/2010

The picture below shows what a completed logo of the CDR looks like, with the Cuban flag on the shield. The raised arm symbolizes the role of the people as actors and protectors of revolutionary progress.

Location: Avenidad de los Martires, Camaguey / Picture taken on:30/03/2010

O'Meara Camping, Tottenham

At last we are reaching some decent temperatures and camping grounds can certainly expect to be quite full this weekend. I wonder how many campers will have purchased their equipment from O'Meara?

This Irish company has been in business since 1966. With only one shop in Dublin, they seem to rely essentially on mail orders. Did they have at some point more shops, including one at least in London? Or did a shop in Tottenham stock their products? If the ghost sign below was advertising a mail order business, I would have tought more information would have been provided.

Camping Ltd

Actually this sign hides partially another one, for a carpet company (maybe some people would want to lay a carpet inside their tent?):
There may be more digits for the phone number.

Until a few months ago, the extreme right part of this sign was hidden behind a billboard, hence the slight difference of tone on the white paint.

Location: St Loy's Road / Picture taken on: 17/02/2010

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Hygienic Bakeries Ltd, Richmond

Here is strangely located sign. It is painted at the back of a building, facing a small residential street, which certainly never witnessed much traffic (even more so now that it has been turned into a dead-end road). Had it been on the side or the front of the building it would have been seen by hundreds of people, but there, only locals would have noticed it. In my case, it's been a common sight for years simply because it is on our way to Kew Gardens.


An online search did not provide much information about Hygienic Bakeries Ltd, a firm with branches in Richmond, Twickenham, Chiswick, and Gunnersbury. In the Richmond area, they had several bakeries including one on Hill Street, the original shop of the celebrated Richmond tarts the 'Maids of Honour', which they took over in 1921 and closed in 1957. Another was located on North Road, near Kew Gardens station. As for the one where today's sign can be seen, it stood roughly half-way between the two, on Lower Mortlake Road.

Self-proclaimed 'hygienic bakeries' seem to have flourished across the kingdom (and in other English speaking countries) from the last quarter of the nineteenth century onward. Many traces of and testimonies about 'hygienic bakeries' can be found from Glynde in East Sussex to Oakham in Rutland and Stone in Staffordshire, or closer to London from West Norwood to Wimbledon and Knighstbridge, to mention but a few. But what makes a bakery 'hygienic'? To be honest, I don't really know but I suspect the adjective relates to the use of new machinery and in particular of a cleaner baking oven as the example of the bakery in Glynde would suggest.
Access to the bakery is obtained from the engine-room. First, however, we find ourselves in the old bakehouse, built about the same time as the mill. Here is the old furnace oven which is now almost disused, having to give place to the new hygienic oven installed in a spacious new bakehouse by Geen and Sons of Lewisham. Of this Messrs Cooper and Aylwin speak in high praise, combining as it does economy of fuel, time and labour, with absolute cleanliness. It is built of the best hard burnt bricks from Capt Brand's estate, and the furnace door is constructed at the back in a separate department, so that all fuel is kept out of the bakehouse proper, the flues running round the top, bottom, and sides, and not into the oven itself. This is a decided improvement on the old system, as there is no danger of the fumes entering the baking chamber, and it gives a pleasing air of cleanliness and order to the place. The front of the oven is finished in red bricks, with pyrometer for gauging the heat, oven and flue damper, hot water tank (built in the side), and large 'prover' for small goods. Everything works very smoothly indeed, and Messrs Cooper and Aylwin have the satisfaction of knowing that in the first six months that the oven has been built, their trade in bread and small goods increased quite three sacks per week.
From The Sussex Express, Saturday 18 April, 1896.
Did such ovens improve the final quality of the product? They certainly reduced the risk of impurities getting into the bread both before and during the baking process, and eliminated the strong smokey taste some loaves could have. Given that at least until the first decades of the twentieth century bread was in quite a few cases of more than dubious quality, the introduction of such ovens must have been a clear progress and those bakers who invested in one would have wanted to capitalize on it by proclaiming their 'hygienic' status loud and clear.

Location: Pagoda Avenue / Pictures taken on: 01/02/2010

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Barnard's University Bookshop, Uxbridge

If I did't post anything for some days, it isn't because of some post-electoral trauma but because I've been devouring several books I simply couldn't put down. I must admit that none came from the bookshop below. By the time I saw the sign it was already past closing time...

Books New and Old
Telephone Uxbridge 32751

Location: Windsor Road / Picture taken on: 19/07/2008

Thursday, 6 May 2010

The Britannia Commercial Hotel, Lymington

If you fancy a few days out by the sea or near the New Forest, why not try this B&B located opposite Lymington railway station? Opened in 1865, it still welcomes guests. Their website includes a late nineteenth or early twentieth century picture of the premises with a prominent sign above the main entrance.

Unfortunately half of the sign was obliterated when the chimney conduct was rebuilt.

Location: Mill Lane, Lymington, Hampshire / Pictures taken on: 17/10/2009

La Rusquella, Havana

Calle Obispo has traditionally been one of Havana's main shopping streets and at the height of Cuba's economic boom, the best products from around the world could be found in its numerous shops. Culture was not forgotten, with eight bookshops and publishers, including the famous La Moderna Poesía in a towering 1935 building at the corner with Calle Bernaza. The street's fortunes declined following the triumph of the Revolution but over the past fifteen years or so, Obispo has begun to recover thanks to the influx of tourists and hard currency. However the street's bookshops haven't. Very few books are on offer and quality isn't necessarily very high. There are some excellent Cuban writers but their books are more easily found abroad than at home. Still I managed to find a novel by Daniel Chavarría, a Uruguayan living in Cuba, at La Moderna Poesía (if you haven't read by him El rojo en la pluma del loro, available in English as Tango for a Murderer, I would strongly recommend it). Across the road at the Cervantes I got one by Argentine author Mempo Giardinelli, and finally next door at La Internacional I bought one by Colombian writer Jorge Franco.
It was in the latter that I also found this unusual 1940s doorstep mosaic, which predated the Librería La Internacional: a woman wearing something out of Batman's costume, wrapped in a cloak, her head protected by a winged-helmet, and holding a caduceus.

Bueno sí, caro no [Good Yes, Expensive No]
Compre en Obispo [Buy in Obispo Street]

Even though the upper corner of the mosaic designed by Luis Mion has been damaged and part of the name is missing, there was a big clue by the main entrance to the premises...

Intrigued, I aksed a member of staff if she knew what "La Rusquella" was. Her answer was a tie shop! That was confirmed by a line in a short article about bygone shops in Havana. Needless to say, looking at that mosaic, I would never have guessed!

Location: Calle Obispo, Havana / Pictures taken on: 05/04/2010

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

British Petroleum, King's Cross

Sadly the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico isn't the first and won't be the last major environmental disaster caused by extracting industries. As a major player in that field, BP has had its fair share of catastrophes and has lots to answer for.
Still, let's move away from the current controversies to the post-First World War years, a time when BP was just a trade mark of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (the name was changed to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1935 and to the British Petroleum Company in 1954. In 1998 it became BP Amoco and finally BP in 2000. The new name doesn't mean anything). Indeed the slogan "BP The British Petrol" seems to appear on adverts printed between 1924 and 1928 only. Consequently it is reasonable to assume the painted sign below date from the mid-1920s. By then the company's logo, with the boxy 'B' and 'P', with wings on their edges, was relatively new. It had been designed by company employee A R Saunders in 1920.

Once more we've got several ads painted on this wall. The most obvious one is of course
The British Petrol

Of the other ones, only a couple of words are still legible but one may well have been for some breakfast cereals.
B...ey [Barley]
... [Breakfast?] Food

Something else was written in red and there was the drawing of a box on the left. What they were for may remain a mystery.

Location: King's Cross Road / Picture taken on: 19/03/2008

Saturday, 1 May 2010

International Workers' Day, Cienfuegos

So today is International Workers' Day, held in remembrance of the workers who died during the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago. Throughout most of the world, with the noticeable exception of some Anglo-Saxon countries such as Britain, Canada and the US, millions of working people participate in street demonstrations and marches often organized by labour unions. In Communist countries (at least in the few left) May Day is one of the most important celebrations of the year, marked by parades and mass rallies. In Cuba the largest gathering takes place in Havana on Plaza de la Revolución but rallies are also held throughout the island, including in Cienfuegos, a lovely city known since colonial times as The Pearl of the South.

Viva el 1o de Mayo
Unidos, producitvos y eficientes
[Long Live May 1st
United, Productive and Efficient]

Meanwhile in Shanghai, crowds may be more tempted this year to rush to the World Expo than to attend the military parade and official speeches. Inaugurated yesterday by Chinese president Hu Jintao in the presence of twenty heads of state, including 'Chouchou', it opens to the public today.

Location: Calle 29, Cienfuegos / Picture taken on: 24/03/2010