Can you remember the days before we were all connected?

John Caudwell, who went on to become a mobile phone billionaire, with one of the early Motorola devices.

North Staffordshire entrepreneur John Caudwell, who went on to become a mobile phone billionaire, with one of the early Motorola devices.

Just put it down for a minute while you read this, will you? Your Facebook account will still be there when you pick it back up again and, no, you absolutely do not have to answer that text message straight away.

That email can wait too. Honestly.

Mobile telephones: Great, aren’t they? One of the many technological advances for which we have the Eighties to thank. Sort of.

Passion-killers. Conversation killers. Movie-interrupters and promoters of ignorance on an epic scale.

OK, maybe that’s taking it a little far, but you take my point?

Unbelievably, it’s actually 30 years since the first mobile telephones went on sale at an eye-watering £2,300.

Motorola’s DynaTAC 8000X, which had been in development for about a decade, was as big as a house brick, weighed more than a kilo and was only seen initially on TV programmes or being lugged around by the ‘City boys’ of London.

However, its arrival sparked a race between manufacturers to produce ever smaller, more lightweight and – crucially – mass marketable phones.

During the 1980s, the growth in popularity of the mobile was largely fuelled by carphones.

Indeed, when I started work as a cub reporter for a local press agency in 1989 my colleagues and I shared a pager – yes, like a doctor would wear – when we were ‘on-call’.

It wasn’t until two years later that we were equipped with a big chunky mobile telephone which I felt hugely self-conscious about using when it first went off one night in a pub up Hanley.

By the end of the Eighties Motorola was ready to follow up its world first with another one – the first ‘flip-phone’.

The MicroTAC had a pop-up aerial but was still nine inches long and weighed just over 12 ounces.

It is worth pointing out that at this point, of course, a mobile telephone was still, well… a mobile telephone.

People weren’t using them to send dozens of text messages every day, they didn’t have built-in cameras and they weren’t connected to the internet because it didn’t exist.

It was a novelty just having a phone in your car, to be able to take to the shops, the pub or a football match.

Most of us were still using red phone boxes or those awful metal BT ones which took cash or cards.

Bear in mind my generation, and all those before, were just about getting used to cordless telephones in the home. The ones which had digits rather than dials.

When we made arrangements to meet someone this was done via a quick call from the home phone.

We would just turn up, as agreed – without feeling the irrational urge to check someone’s estimated time of arrival or to inform the world where we (or they) were at a given moment.

However, there was no stopping the march of progress and over the years mobile phones just kept getting smaller and more powerful – adding that word ‘functionality’ with every new model.

I’ll mention just a couple.

By 1999 the Nokia 3210 was on the market and became the first ‘mobile’ to gain widespread popularity among high school pupils.

Then the Blackberry 6210 was launched, 10 years ago, and that really did put an end to family life as we know it for many who couldn’t resist using their phone to check their emails when they should have been doing something more important.

After that, phones got ‘smart’ – started storing music and getting cosy with internet applications and the rest, as they say, is history.

Like the internet and email, mobile telephones have undoubtedly revolutionised our lives – for good and ill.

I guess the trick is knowing when, and where to switch them off…

Pick up a copy of The Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia.

Why good photographers are still worth their weight in gold

Sentinel photographer Steve Bould with a selection of images taken by Sentinel photographers over the years which were displayed at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in an exhibition entitled 'Dear Happy Ghosts

Sentinel photographer Steve Bould with a selection of images taken by Sentinel photographers over the years which were displayed at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in an exhibition entitled ‘Dear Happy Ghosts’

I’m sure it’s not just me that is still wowed by touch-screen technology and who thinks that cameras on telephones are a novelty.

To the current generation of teenagers who know no different, taking pictures of yourself pouting in the mirror and then uploading said image to Facebook is par for the course.

In contrast there are very few pictures of me or my friends at high school or college because the generation which grew up in the late Eighties didn’t carry cameras around with them. Most of us didn’t have one.

If someone took a photograph there was generally a good reason for it. It was an occasion, an event, a gathering. It had a purpose.

Nowadays every oik with a mobile telephone can take a picture of his or her takeaway tea and display it to the world within seconds.

Don’t get me wrong, I am genuinely in awe of the fact that my six and eight-year-olds are able to use a mouse and navigate their way around an iMac screen and use the internet.

I can also, of course, see the huge benefits of hand-held devices which are part computer, part camera and part phone – even if they have killed the art of conversation for many.

Nowhere has the march of technology been more pronounced than with photography.

You used to walk in someone’s house and there would be the obligatory wedding picture in a frame – given pride of place – along with a few pictures of the kids, maybe a shot of grandad’s 70th birthday bash and a recently-departed pet dog.

Nowadays photo frames are electronic devices – winking at you from the mantelpiece or coffee table as they change from Christmas Day to last year’s holiday in Majorca.

Working in the media, of course, image technology has had a huge impact on the way some of my colleagues work.

I started as a cub reporter at Smith Davis Press in 1989 – the same year as Steve Bould began his career as a photographer at The Sentinel.

Now the most senior man on our picture desk, he’s one of the few photographers who recalls the momentous changes that have taken place over the last quarter of a century.

Back in the late Eighties, of course, cameras used rolls of film.

We would take our holiday snaps to a shop to be developed and every media organisation had its own dark room where a kind of a magic happened.

Even though I was a scribe, I spent many happy hours (though not as many as Steve) chatting away to colleagues under the eerie red light as negatives – or ‘negs’ – were developed (‘devved’).

I watched in awe as images materialised on prints in the trays.

It was a time-consuming process whereby the photographer didn’t really know just how successful or otherwise a particular shoot had been until he was able to view his or her negs back in the safety of the dark room.

In those early days I developed a healthy respect for ‘snappers’ (they hate being called that, by the way).

The importance to me of images chronicling everything from major events locally – from job losses, major crimes and football club successes – to the minutiae of people’s lives cannot be overstated.

That’s why I am so in awe of the treasure trove that is The Sentinel’s library and archive – with its row upon row of folders of prints, negatives and cuttings.

If a picture is worth a thousand words then this newspaper’s archive boasts billions.

It was, of course, the advent of digital cameras which ended the dark room’s domination and consigned camera films to the nostalgia pages.

In 1996 The Sentinel’s digital archive began and, to be fair, it’s a terrific, immediate resource.

When I began working as a journalist in the Eighties photographers, the vast majority of whom were men, at newspapers like The Sentinel would travel to just three or four jobs in a day – because they needed the rest of their shift to come back and ‘dev’ their work.

These days, photographers on your average regional daily newspaper will be expected to do six, seven or eight jobs in a day – often uploading the images to a laptop and emailing them back to HQ, thus removing any need for them to return to the office.

They may do more jobs but they also, of course, have the luxury of being able to view images as they take them – re-shooting if they are unhappy with the results.

Steve said: “I guess it’s swings and roundabouts. Photographers will do more jobs these days but the technology at their disposal is far superior to what was available 20-odd years ago.

“The job has changed. Some skills are no longer relevant.

“However, even though most people have devices which can take pictures these days it doesn’t mean the pictures they take are any good.

“Most people don’t have the technical ability to take a decent photograph or lack the courage to ‘get in there’ and get close enough to whatever is happening.

“Simply posing a group of people properly or creating an interesting image from a fairly dull subject matter – that’s a real skill.”

He’s not wrong. That’s why a good photographer is worth his or her weight in gold: Because they know a picture of a takeaway tikka masala isn’t that impressive after all.

Pick up a copy of The Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia.

It’ll be all white. It’s only a bit of snow…

Heavy snow in the Moorlands in January 1987.

Heavy snow in the Moorlands in January 1987.

We are notoriously bad at coping with snow in the UK. Here in North Staffordshire is no different. A mere dusting of the white stuff and roads grind to a halt and schools close. Curtains twitch and people begin checking their stockpiles of Fray Bentos steak and kidney pies.

I’m not sure why we can’t seem to handle proper winter weather.

Perhaps it is because we get so little of it and it is so infrequent.

The truth is snow is a genuine novelty round these parts which is why most of us don’t bother fitting winter tyres to our cars.

When it does snow, my perception is that the majority of people over the age of 60 refuse to leave the house until the great thaw sets in.

This isn’t what happens overseas, I can assure you.

Our attitude is mad, really. Even after nine months of fairly incessant rain which made for a washout of a summer, many people fail to appreciate the beauty of the season of frost, snow and ice.

Thank goodness for children and their love of snowmen and sledges is all I can say.

In early December I flew to France for a festive weekend away with my mates Will and Rob.

It was a new alternative to the annual pub crawl around Newcastle – the idea being that we would sit in front of a log fire drinking vino, watching telly and playing games.

We landed at Geneva airport to be confronted by a white blanket covering the countryside.

The lady handing over the keys to our hire car – a very modest Vauxhall Meriva – asked Will if he wanted snow chains fitting to the tyres. She genuinely couldn’t advise whether we’d need them or not.

“Nah,” he responded after a few seconds’ thought. “I think we’ll be owrate.”

Two hours later it was squeaky bum time as the ill-equipped people carrier quite literally inched its way up Le Crêt de la Neige – the highest peak in the Jura mountains – in the worst blizzard I’ve ever seen.

To his eternal credit, Will fought with the steering wheel and gear stick for all he was worth to coax every ounce of life from the engine and find some traction in the deepening snow as darkness fell.

It was quite simply an epic journey and it was the snow that made it so.

Had it been simply overcast or raining the four hour journey to Will’s place in France would have been eminently forgettable.

As it was, that journey and the sight of the beautiful, snow-covered mountains and fir trees made the holiday so memorable.

You’ll have guessed by now that I’m a big fan of the white stuff.

Sadly, for me, we get precious little of it round these parts and, when we do, it never lasts for very long.

Indeed, properly disruptive snowstorms in the UK as a whole during the last decade or so can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Fortunately, that wasn’t the case when I was growing up in Sneyd Green during the 1980s. Back then heavy snowfalls appeared with far more regularity and I think we coped a little bit better with them.

Football certainly carried on thanks to that genius invention, the high-vis orange ball. Remember them?

Trawling through The Sentinel’s archives I unearthed some wonderfully evocative pictures – highlighting the particularly snowy winters of 1981/2, 1987 and 1989.

The Christmas of 1981, for example, was a white one for the people of the Potteries and I was able to build a snowman with my brother on Christmas Eve.

Earlier that month, on December 13, snow blitzed the south of the country and even the Queen became stranded for several hours in a Cotswold pub.

Two ships foundered in the English Channel and some homes in Somerset were without electricity for five days.

Three weeks later, in the January of 1982, it was particularly cold.

On January 8 and 9 heavy snow and gale force winds saw severe blizzards across the Midlands, Wales, Ireland and southern England. Transport services were thrown into chaos and millions of commuters failed to get to work in London for two days running.

Sadly, in 30 years, we seem to have become worse at coping with the snow when it does arrive.

Perhaps the next time we get an inch or two in our neck of the woods we should try to appreciate the fleeting beauty of it and realise that it isn’t the end of the world. Honest.

Anyway, I’d better be off now. I think it’s starting to snow and I wouldn’t want to get stuck at work.

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel for 12 pages of nostalgia

How The Stone Roses transported me back to that glorious summer of 1989

It was one for my personal ‘bucket-list’. An ambition realised seemingly against all the odds. As the light faded over Manchester four stars came out to shine.

Like many others, I never thought I’d see the day: The Stone Roses were back on stage together again and it was simply glorious.

It didn’t matter that summer showers had reduced much of Heaton Park to a Glastonbury-esque mudbath.

It didn’t matter that a fair proportion of the 70,000-strong crowd were wasted on drink or drugs. Or perhaps both.

It didn’t matter that 30 feet to the left of us a man was randomly urinating as he danced about – a JD Sports carrier bag full of alcohol slung over his shoulder as he twirled around.

Not pleasant, granted, but it didn’t bother us overly.

When the first strains of I Wanna Be Adored swept across the expectant hordes there was an audible gasp.

The disparate elements of an Eighties musical phenomenon had been reunited and the resulting chemistry was irresistible.

When the Stone Roses’s seminal first album was released in April 1989 it seemed to perfectly capture that moment in time.

They had produced arguably the perfect debut album. There’s not a single duff track which is why it sounds as good today as it did when Eastern Europe was in revolution and Maggie’s Poll Tax was being inflicted on Scotland.

The Stone Roses were in the vanguard of a renaissance for British guitar bands.

Without the Roses there would arguably have been no Brit pop. There would certainly have been no Oasis.

That’s why everyone from the Gallagher brothers to artist Damien Hirst and even Hollywood icons like Brad Pitt have lined up to pay homage to four northern lads who gave music a good kick in the you-know-whats just when it needed it.

In 1989 yours truly was 17 and a student at Sixth Form College, Fenton.

I had a Saturday job at the Brittain Adams fireplace and bathroom showroom in Tunstall which paid me a tenner.

That was enough to pay for student night at Ritzy’s in Newcastle where indie kids like me could jig about to everything from the Happy Mondays and the Inspiral Carpets to The Wonder Stuff and Carter USM.

But the Stone Roses towered above all other bands of that era. They were simply a class apart.

Their music. Their look. Their attitude. It was all brilliantly distinctive.

The Roses’s debut album was the most played cassette tape in my mate Rob’s blue Ford Orion. He was the only one of us who had a car, you see.

Long before Manchester United’s multi-million pound heroes were running out on to the Hallowed turf at Old Trafford with This Is The One ringing in their ears, it was the euphoric warm-up track for our pool team at the now-defunct Duke of Wellington pub at Norton.

On Sunday night in Manchester it was, for me, the high-point of a two-hour gig which transported me back to my days of long(ish) hair, baggy jeans and no responsibilities.

The classics flowed, along with the beer, as Fools Gold, Sally Cinnamon, Sugar Spun Sister, Made Of Stone and I Am The Resurrection brought the memories flooding back.

Square and safe as we were, my mates and I never did drugs and so seeing the ‘popper’ sellers on the streets and spaced-out people falling over in the mud was something of a shock. I guess we just forgot how strange and brave things were as the Eighties came to a close.

Will Ian, John, Mani and Reni manage to stick together to complete this tour?

Will we ever see a third album and will it be any good?

Who knows.

But for a brief moment at least the Mancunian band’s brilliance has been reignited for a new generation – as well as old gits like me and my mate Rob for whom the memory of last Sunday will forever be special.

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

This Is The One I’ve waited for…

Music has that incredible ability to burn itself into your soul. To remind you of a place, a time – even a state of mind.

We associate certain tracks or certain bands with memories which keep us forever young.

It was 1989 when I first heard the Stone Roses. I’d like to say I was with them from the start but I wasn’t.

I caught the wave like most people during that unfeasibly hot summer when anything seemed possible to a 17-year-old at Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College.

For the next five years or so The Roses provided much of the soundtrack to my youth.

I couldn’t articulate it but, of all the indie bands I liked back then – from Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and Carter USM to the Inspiral Carpets and the Happy Mondays, The Roses reigned supreme.

They had tapped into something within that generation and what is remarkable is that their seminal first album is as brilliant now as it was back then.

No, Ian Brown’s vocals weren’t the strongest but strangely that has never mattered to me and I guess many other people.

What matters is the barn-storming tunes, the wonderfully evocative lyrics and the ‘couldn’t give a fuck’ attitude from a band which thinks it can save the world.

And who would bet against them?

Long before Manchester United’s stars ran out to This Is The One at Old Trafford our pool team at the Duke of Wellington pub in Norton used to put it on the jukebox as our warm-up song.

When the Stone Roses reformed last year I was over the moon. When I go to see them at Heaton Park, Manchester, on Sunday it will be me realising an ambition I thought would go unfulfilled.

I’m not bothered about the support bands. The Roses don’t need support bands.

When Sally Cinnamon, Sugar Spun Sister, She Bangs The Drums, Made Of Stone, I Am The Resurrection and the rest weave their magic over 80,000 people I will be back in the early 1990s having the time of my life.

This concert is for the lads of the pool team at the Duke which no longer exists. This gig is for absent friends. This Is The One I’ve waited for…