Monday, 8 May 2017

Sitting in a backstreet in Florence ......... thinking of WLS radio station, Chicago

Florence, 2012
Now if you belong to that generation which was born just after the last world war, who grew up with the sound of Buddy Holly, and the Beatles, and trembled during the Missile Crisis of 1962 I expect Radio Luxemburg will stir memories.

In the absence of a dedicated British pop music radio station this was all there was till the “Pirates” arrived.

Of course it wasn’t perfect, it faded and returned and you had to put up with Horace Bachelor but it was still magic.

And I was reminded of all that when my friend Susan from Canada told me of how “on clear nights throughout the 1960's, from my upstairs bedroom, close to the Manitoba/Ontario border, I could actually get WLS radio station in Chicago, almost a thousand miles away. They played songs I never heard anywhere else.”

Now my little transistor set bought for twenty-one shillings in Whitechapel hardly compared with Susan’s “purple and gold bakelite radio” but what they offered was something new, exciting and worlds away from our kitchen in Well Hall Road.
On the Highway Canada, 2011

All of which stirred the pot and made me begin to think of many things, but uppermost it was that idea of listening across the open lands of Canada to a radio station in Chicago and not for the first time I pondered on the vastness of Canada.

My cousins who live in Ontario will think nothing of a journey by car which will take them from their home to the small log cabin they built one summer.

It is a distance which if I replicated it here would pretty much take me from Manchester down across Europe to Vienna and would present me with a shed full of different European languages, histories and until recently even currencies.

The gas station, 2011
But for my cousin the journey would all be under a Canadian sun, with English spoken along the way and the sure knowledge that the petrol bought in Ingersol would come out of the same money as the payment for  the burger at the stop over half way and the groceries at the tiny supermarket close to their destination.

And if I push the idea, had my great uncle who was migrated to Canada by the Middlemore Homes acting for the Derby Union taken the Trans Canada Highway from St John’s in Newfoundland to Victoria in British Columbia he would have travelled 4,859 miles.

By comparison if I had continued on from Vienna to Istanbul I would only have clocked 2,108 miles from the suburbs of south Manchester to the Bosporus and the end of Europe.

That for me brings home the sheer size of Canada and of course also its southern neighbour but it also reinforces my fascination for my own Continent which offers tremendous diversity but also a sense of unity.

Rome, 2009
We may speak different languages, and some at least of us still carry our own national currency in our pockets instead of the Euro but there is much we have in common.

Sitting in a backstreet restaurant in Florence or in down town Naples with heaps of history and culture everywhere I am reminded that 2000 years ago my journey would have been one made across one empire with a single currency, and just two official languages and bits of the small town of Manchester would have been replicated in the grand cities of Rome and Byzantium.

Added to which much that followed the fall of the Roman Empire from the Middle Ages through to the Renaissance and the Age Enlightenment owed much to the Romans.

That said while sitting at that tiny restaurant in Florence the background music on the small portable CD player veered from a selection by the Three Tenors to that Harry Chapin song with the refrain “I am the morning D.J at W.O.L.D. .......... playing all the hits for you where ever you maybe...”

On the farm, 2011
And that is pretty much  where we came in, leaving me only to share the contrasting images from three of my favourite Italian cities with the stunning photographs of rural Canada by my friend Lori Oschefski and perhaps giving a plug to that endearing radio series on Lake Wobegon by Garrison Keillor "where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average."

Now Lake Wobegon may have been an imaginary town set in the USA but it pretty much sums up what I think a small Canadian town out somewhere in the west of Alberta might be like and as such is miles away from those small Italian cities I know.

Alghero, 2013
The huge open landscape which just seems to go on forever runs counter to the close confines of those towns and cities where at the end of every street there is a piazza and  around every corner an ancient ruin.

That said there are plenty of ugly places where poor planning, low investment and shoddy development have created sink suburbs, dispiriting to live in and unremarkable to the eye.

Not so bits of Alghero which has it all, and may even have its own radio station dedicated to the music of the 60s.

Pictures; Florence 2012, Rome, 2009, and Alghero, Sardinia, 2013 from the collection of Andrew Simpson and the Canadian heartlands, 2011, Lori Oschefski

** Horace Cyril Bachelor was as an advertiser on Radio Luxembourg. He advertised a way to win money by predicting the results of football matches, sponsoring programmes on Radio Luxembourg.

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