Thoughts From A Sun Lounger (Part 14)

It’s still only January and yet here I am writing another ‘Thoughts from a Sun Lounger’ post. I love it! Yes, I’ve left behind the cold and wintery UK for the Spanish island of Lanzarote. It may be just a rock peeping out from the ocean but it’s a warm rock, warm and sunny, well mostly. We’ve had hot and sunny days but we’ve also had some dull and windy ones. OK so we’re not freezing in the snow and ice of the UK but I was hoping for a little more sun that we have had so far.

Travelling here wasn’t so enjoyable. Things weren’t too bad on the aircraft as I had an empty seat next to me which gave me a bit of much needed stretching room but the experience at Manchester Airport was not good. Security, which is inevitable these days was an absolute nightmare. A huge overcrowded busy scrum. I had a lot of gadgets in my hand luggage, my laptop, my iPad and camera. Those had to be x-rayed separately apparently and placed in a plastic tray and then I had to put my wallet and trouser belt in another tray which all went through at different times because of the amount of other people trying to get their things scanned and x rayed too. Our small case was held back because of a suspicious item inside which turned out to be our sandwiches. The security guy tried to hand back the case to me while I had my laptop and my belt in one hand and was holding my trousers up with the other. As it happened he could see my predicament and so a Carry On moment was happily avoided.

Security is important in order to travel safely but it can be a pain. I put the blame squarely on the shoulders of people like Dan Cooper. Dan was one of the first aircraft hijackers and he did what he did not for religious reasons or to further any kind of political cause, he just wanted money. The media have named Dan DB Cooper although there is no evidence to support those initials. Dan hijacked a Boeing 727 in November 1971 after paying cash for a flight from Portland Oregon to Seattle using the name Dan Cooper. He passed the stewardess a note demanding 200,000 dollars and a parachute and threatened to explode a bomb unless he got it. He showed the stewardess the bomb or what appeared to be a bomb inside his briefcase and then sat back chain smoking to await the outcome.

Official FBI artist rendering of Dan Cooper

He released the passengers in Seattle and when the aircraft took off again heading to Mexico, a destination specified by Cooper, he ordered the crew to all go forward then opened the rear exit and jumped out. He was never seen again although in 1980 some of the ransom money was found by a young boy along the banks of the Columbia River. It’s a fascinating story and I’ve read quite a few articles about the affair as well as having watched a couple of TV documentaries. A number of people have been named as being Dan Cooper but so far, no one has been definitively identified. I’ve added a picture of Dan just in case you happen to recognise him although these days, if he is still alive, he will probably be getting a little long in the tooth.

It’s been over a year since we were last in Lanzarote and one thing I have noticed is that in quite a few places, prices have gone up considerably. In the Café Berrugo, one of our favourite places, the meals were looking a little smaller and rather more expensive. When we first came here the staff boasted that this was the only place on the island that didn’t charge for bread with a meal. Nowadays, they charge.

Our local contact who picks us up from the airport, his fees have gone up too and a big problem we encountered on our first trip out was that no one seemed willing to answer the taxi number that we have always used. I checked and yes, the number was correct. We later found out that, just like in the UK, it’s better to use the app. Yes Lanzarote has gone all hi tech and instead of calling the taxi company it’s better and easier to book a taxi using the app.

The villa we wanted to rent wasn’t available and as rental property seems to be snapped up pretty quickly round here, we went for a villa we have rented before. It’s a nice place within easy walking distance of the marina and all our favourite restaurants. It has a nice pool, nice rooms, a nice kitchen and a nice barbecue area. Great you might think but there is a lot missing. There was only one wine glass for instance which was a bit of a pain and we had to go out and buy two matching wine glasses so we could share our evening wine together. In rental properties there are always items left over from previous tenants, a little olive oil, a half used packet of pasta, some salt and pepper and so on.

When we last rented this villa there was nothing, the cupboards were bare. We even had to buy a scourer to use for washing up as well as washing up liquid. Seeing as we have spent quite a few thousand on this place on both of our visits, I do find that a little mean. Once, we rented a place in Portugal. It was an out of season deal and was very cheap compared to the prices at the height of the summer but when we arrived there, waiting for us was a bottle of wine, some milk, a bottle of water and a loaf of bread. There were various left over bits and pieces in the cupboards too and because of that we felt not only welcome but were happy to pass on our left overs to the next people too.

The really big issue for me though is the pool. As lovely and inviting as it looks, the pool is unheated. There is no cover either so any heat gained during the day, evaporates during the night. On our first morning at the villa a lovely warm day opened up before us. We had breakfast out on the patio. We relaxed in the warm sun for a while. Time for a swim. Not a good idea. The pool was not only freezing but incredibly freezing! I did manage to get in and do ten lengths but I came out a shivering, tingling wreck. Later it warmed up a little. It went from incredibly freezing to just freezing.

As I mentioned earlier, the weather has not been all warm and sunny. We had quite a few dull and windy days and even a little rain. The bad weather should be good for a writer like me, you might think. Less sunbathing by the pool and more writing. Yes, I thought that too but so far I’ve been a little slow in opening up my laptop and writing. I love reading and it’s great to settle down with a book by the pool and read. Then of course I’ve got emails that need reading, TikTok videos to watch and unlike this blog, I’ve no deadlines to force me to work on my books and screenplays. I got kind of excited for a while the other day when a producer showed interest in a screenplay of mine, then a few days later he declined to take it further. Pity because I had mentally planned most of my trip to Hollywood by then.

Another of my emails mentioned that I had won a prize on the national lottery. Now that isn’t much to get excited about at all as I’ve had emails like that before. You click on the lottery site and find you have won £6.70 on Thunderball. Even so I might as well check I thought. I clicked onto the lottery web site to find you can’t access the site unless you are in the UK! What the heck, I know its going to be £6.70 again but I did read about that unclaimed million pound win the other day. Nah, it’s £6.70. I know it is. Probably.

Think I might try that freezing cold pool again.


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The Dambusters and The State of The Union

When I say the union, I’m not talking about the United States of America but that other union, the one between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. So, what has happened to the United Kingdom? Why is it in such a state, beset by strikes and unrest?

It’s hard to say but a big factor is the Covid 19 epidemic which led to major lockdowns over the past three years. The nurses of the NHS are striking for better pay yet not long ago we, the British public, were clapping them outside on our streets because they were on the front line, risking infection whilst battling against the pandemic. Now, underpaid and overworked, they want more money. True they have done a great job but to be fair, all of us are in the same boat seeing our income dwindling because of inflation and seeing our utility bills soar as well as food prices going up and up.

Many suffered financially during the lockdown, especially those in the hospitality sector. Pubs and clubs were forced to close their doors, some feeling the financial burden so badly that they were unable to reopen and now they have further problems. Because of Brexit, many foreign workers in the licenced trade have returned home to Poland and other places in Eastern Europe. That means that pubs and restaurants are feeling the pinch because they can’t get the staff. It’s the same in the NHS; nurses and hospital staff are working more and more hours because there is no one to fill the numerous vacancies, and yet there are still 1,382,000 people unemployed in the UK according to the Office of National Statistics.

So why is it that despite all the available jobs going are people still unemployed? Is it that we as a nation think that jobs in bars and restaurants are beneath us? Are cleaning and hospital jobs not good enough? There is a great move in the UK to push more and more people into higher education which is great but it seems that these days everyone and his dog is wanting to go to university, so who is left to do the cleaning and beer pulling? The Poles and the other Eastern Europeans? No because they have all buggered off back home. Of course, there are a shed load of illegal immigrants parked up in various places in ex army camps and hotels that have been taken over by the government but they are too busy being looked after to do any work but perhaps in the future they could be offered work in the NHS and in bars and restaurants.

The other day I happened to be watching the film The Dambusters which as you will probably know is about 617 squadron which was formed in World War II specifically to attack the dams of Germany so as to destroy the Nazi industrial capability. Destroying the German dams flooded the Ruhr Valley and dealt a huge blow to the Nazi war effort. The story was more than that though, it was also about Barnes Wallis, the inventor of the bouncing bomb and showed how he developed an idea from the drawing board through to models and finally to the real thing.

At the beginning of the film Barnes’ wife calls the doctor to look at their sick child and also to have a word with Barnes himself as his wife suspected he was working too hard and making himself ill. The doctor was a kindly old chap who came to the house, attended to the child and dispensed advice and wisdom to the hardworking inventor.

That was back in 1940 but try getting a doctor to pop round to your house these days! Not only would that be next to impossible but try to get an actual appointment to see a doctor! At my surgery I thought it might be possible to ask for a routine appointment, something of a non-urgent nature so I could perhaps discuss with the doctor some minor ailments that were causing me a little discomfort. No, I was told, not possible. I have to call in at 8am in the morning and try and get through for one of the appointments for that day which, based on previous experience, will all be booked up by about 8:30. Not only that but the last time I visited my doctor after two days of trying to get through on the phone, he was already writing out a prescription for painkillers before I had even finished telling him about my problem.

It was not easy for Barnes Wallis to develop his idea for the bouncing bomb and it was even harder for him to get Whitehall and the RAF to follow through and actually prepare to attack the German dams. Perhaps what we need in the NHS is someone similar, someone with vision, someone both creative and tenacious that can sort out the whole terrible mess we seem to be in now.

One of the problems of reshowing the Dambusters film on TV these days is that back in the 1940’s, Wing Commander Guy Gibson, the leader of the Dambusters squadron had a black dog and this being the 1940’s he chose, like many others of the time, to call his dog by the N word. I’m sure Gibson chose that name quite innocently but it is a word that has caused untold pain and unhappiness to a great many people with dark skin. Just prior to the famous dam busting raid, Gibson’s dog was killed in a hit and run accident and he asked that his dog should be buried at the same time as he was going into action over Germany. I mention this so you can see it would be pretty hard to delete the entire dog scenario from the film so as not to cause offence with viewers today.

What did happen though was a pretty remarkable editing job in which the dog was renamed ‘Trigger’ via some really outstanding audio dubbing. So outstanding that you can hardly even believe a change had taken place.  In a way it’s a little sad that we worry so much about offending others that we must change historical names that are considered today to be unacceptable. It’s not as if by doing so we can change the past. Anyway, the result was that this story of ingenuity and heroism can still be told and seen by young people without upsetting anyone.

Guy Gibson won the Victoria Cross for commanding the raid on the dams of Nazi Germany. He was later stood down from active flying after completing his 174th mission in 1943. He was asked to join Prime Minister Winston Churchill on a trip to Canada. He also visited the USA for propaganda and publicity reasons. On his return to England, he was asked to write a book about his experiences, again presumably for publicity purposes.

After writing his book, Enemy Coast Ahead, he was posted to RAF Coningsby where he was mostly responsible for planning and liaison which did not suit him at all. He was anxious to go flying again and was concerned that the war would end before he could get back into combat.

On the night of the 19th August 1944 an order came through for a raid on Germany and as senior officer he took control of a Mosquito aircraft for which he had only logged 9 hours and 35 minutes flying time. Returning from the mission Gibson’s aircraft entered into a steep dive over Steenbergen in Holland. The aircraft crashed killing all on board. In 2011 a British film maker made claims that Gibson’s plane had been shot down by a gunner aboard an RAF Lancaster who mistook the Mosquito for a German Junkers 88.

Gibson was buried in the local cemetery in Steenberegen where there are a number of streets dedicated to his memory, Gibsonstraat and Warwickstraat named after his navigator James Warwick.

This week Liz and I have flown to Lanzarote to get away from the cold of the UK. Luckily we weren’t flying last Thursday as Manchester Airport had been closed because of half an inch of snow. I read about that on an English newspaper site so I assume it was accurate, despite Prince Harry having a go at English journalists and blaming them for all his problems.

One of the books I have brought with me to read on holiday was a book by the BBC’s former World Affairs Correspondent, John Simpson. His book is called ‘A Mad World, My Masters’. In his introduction he says this.

I decided to lift the title of this book from the Jacobean playwright Thomas Middleton because I felt it expressed the sense that many people have now, and clearly had 400 years ago too, that things around them have gone mildly crazy. Of course, today’s craziness is tomorrow’s rational order, which becomes disrupted again at some future point and then becomes a new and and perfectly workable basis for society.

That was written in the year 2000 and seems still relevant today over twenty years later. Still, I’m sure the United Kingdom will still be in one piece when we get back. I can just imagine being stranded at Lanzarote airport like Tom Hanks in the film The Terminal. ‘I’m sorry, you cannot fly with a UK passport as the UK no longer exists’ the airport staff tell me.

Oh well, I don’t mind staying in sunny Lanzarote while the UK sorts itself out!


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Technology and a Sort of Personal History

So that’s Christmas and New Year over with, let’s get cracking with 2023. I might as well say, I’m always glad to see the back of Christmas and New Year. Not only that, I’m glad to see the back of December 21st too as the 21st is the shortest day of the year and now, each day gets longer as we gradually move towards the spring and warmer weather.

One other reason to see the back of 2022 was that during a cold snap just before Christmas, our pipes froze and we had three separate burst pipes in the loft. The first two weren’t so bad as we spotted them straight away and our plumber came over quickly and sorted them. The third one was worse. The pipes burst over the spare room which we didn’t notice straight away. It was only as Liz was passing on the way to the bathroom that we became aware of water pouring down into the room. Hats off once again to our plumber who came over straight away and sorted the leak. Sorting the wet carpets might take a little longer though. All that is just another reason to hate the cold.

This year, much later this year I should say, I will be 67 and I start to find myself looking inward, looking at where I have come from as well as wondering about the future.

The future, I have come to feel is about technology. Technology is ever changing and touches even a common individual like me. Once I recorded my television programmes on VHS tapes and now, they can be saved directly to my hard drive at the push of a button. Regular instalments of a show can be recorded automatically and missed shows can be watched on catch up TV. You can even begin to watch a TV show before the recording has finished. I spend a lot of time converting my favourite documentaries onto DVD although by the time I’ve finished, DVD will probably have given way to some newer technology.

The Beano. Picture courtesy Dundee.com

Years ago, I used to read a comic strip called General Jumbo. The general was actually a small boy who had various crime fighting adventures with a unique set of radio-controlled toys or models. I always remembered him controlling the models using something like an iPad although when I researched the General, who appeared in a famous UK comic called The Beano, I see he controlled them with a device that fitted over his wrist. Maybe it was some other comic strip hero that used the iPad like device but either way today’s iPad is one of my favourite devices. I’ve had an iPad for a number of years. I used to edit my blog posts on the iPad and produce and schedule most of my tweets and other social media posts but recently I have not been able to.

My iPad is fully up to date but alas, many apps will not work anymore. Many need an update of 14.5 and my pad, despite being fully updated only updates to 12.5. This is a most disappointing aspect of the iPad but it represents I suppose the ever-changing face of technology. It also represents something of a mean streak in the people at Apple, for they are not content for us to buy their very expensive gadgetry, they want us to buy the same item again, suitably updated and up-priced, several years later.

Fair enough, technology must move on but why at the expense of old technology? Anyway, one most wonderful and unexpected Christmas present I received this year, courtesy I might add of Liz, was a new iPad. Now I can reinstall the apps that I could no longer use on my old iPad. My banking app works again and I can sort out my social media posts with ease.

At Christmas I always get myself a present. It’s usually something like a DVD or a book but this year I bought myself a DNA test. It came with three months free on the ancestry.co.uk web site and it was pretty fascinating looking back at the paper fingerprints left behind by my ancestors in marriage documents, census forms and birth certificates. Having said that, researching your family history isn’t easy, especially when your grandfather for instance had the name George Higgins, a pretty unremarkable name in turn of the century Great Britain.

A lot of what I have found on the ancestry web site is nothing new and seems to merely confirm things I have found out by other means. I have my father’s birth certificate which gave some information and my grandfather’s marriage and death certificates which gave me more. My grandfather as I have mentioned was George Higgins. He died in 1954 before I was born. Ancestry linked me to the family tree of a distant relative who seems to claim that George was born in Ireland. Now that contradicts something my father told me many years ago. He told me that his grandfather or great grandfather came from Ireland. The man was a catholic and in order to marry a protestant, he was forced to come to England. That being the case I find it hard to understand how George came to be born in Ireland. Did his forebears return to Ireland or has Ancestry found a different George Higgins? On George’s army documents, he reports both his mother and father as being English, not Irish.

My Grandfather, George Higgins fought in the First World War with the Royal Horse Artillery so my father told me. This is him in this splendid picture with his horse, Prince. My Dad had the picture with him in his wallet when he was in the forces and as time went on it got a little torn and tatty and somewhere, I suppose it must have been in Hong Kong where he was stationed for a while, he found a little photographic shop that specialised in rescuing old pictures. The background of the picture was originally a forest but the rescue work removed them in order to make the picture good.

Over on Ancestry I found that George served with the Royal Army Medical Corps from 1912 to 1921. In 1921 he enlisted in the 52nd East Lancs Corps which was a Territorial Army Unit of Field Artillary.

Both sides of my family, my father’s people and my mother’s, came from the back-to-back terraced houses of Salford. They moved to Wythenshawe in the late 1930’s or early 1940’s. Wythenshawe was known as the ‘garden estate’ because instead of small terraced houses, here were bigger and better houses with front and back gardens. The estate was built on land purchased by Manchester City Council from the Tatton family. It was originally rustic countryside full of farms. My Dad worked on quite a few of them and my Mum tells me stories of getting milk from Potts dairy farm which stood apparently just across from my old junior school. You’d never know because no trace of it remains today, just a row of council houses.

I had hoped to find more about the past but navigating the records that hold the keys to the things that have gone before is not quite as easy as I had thought.

My great grandfather is mentioned on George’s marriage certificate. He was Patrick Henry Higgins and was no longer alive in 1920 when George married my grandmother. What makes the search difficult is that there are a great many Patrick Henry Higgins’s about. One day, during an epic troll of various census records, I found an Annie Higgins in the census of 1901. She was the head of quite a large household. Her husband was no longer around but one of her sons was called George. Was she the widow of Patrick Henry? Perhaps, perhaps not. Perhaps that elusive DNA report might help when it finally arrives. One day I hope to find out.


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If That was 2022, I’ve Had It!

It’s that time again when I like to take a look back to the previous year and review what I have done and what I’ve written. All the links here open up into a new page and will reveal my previous blog posts and open them up for another read.

January

I started off with a post called The Worst Week of My Life. I’m not sure where that subject came from but I’m guessing that it was a blog prompt idea that I’d seen somewhere. Having led a reasonably pleasant life, I’ve not really had many particularly low points, or particularly high points when it comes down to it. I mention fleetingly the time my car engine was ruined when I forgot to put anti freeze in and the time my Kawasaki Z500 was stolen but I mostly focus on the lives of some people in the news at the time. Boris Johnson who was then the Prime Minister wasn’t having a good week and in fact was later forced to resign.

February

The Electric Bill, The Banking App and Me was a post about the difficulties one can get into using modern technology. Banking applications can be pretty handy but they all work by removing people from the equation. When things go wrong it’s not always easy to find people; actual people, bank employees or staff from whatever organisation you are trying to get through to. You’ll get directed to various pages of the company website or even to the Frequently Asked Questions page but getting hold of another human being? That can be hard work.

January and February are my least favourite times of the year and when it’s cold and wet I tend to just clam up in front of the fire and wait for the Spring. One thing I like to do though is eat and I don’t just mean restaurants and pubs, I actually cook things and I look to my small collections of cookery books for inspiration, which I talked about in a post called Cooks and Cookbooks.

March

When I started this blog a few years ago my aim was just to promote my book Floating in Space. After all, writing a book is one thing but getting people to know about it and then actually buy it is another thing altogether. Since then, even though each post finishes with a little plug for my book, I’ve found that I’m actually more interested in the blog posts themselves rather than Floating in Space. That’s why hitting my 500th blog post with The Big 500 was such a special event.

Blogs, Video and a Social Media Marketing Mix was a popular blog post and in it I explored all the things we self published authors have to do in terms of social media to get our message out to the public.

April

2022 was the year Vladimir Putin decided he was going to attack the Ukraine. He wasn’t happy that the Ukrainians were getting too friendly with the west and reports indicating they were considering joining NATO alarmed him so much that he ordered his army to invade. Things however didn’t go too well for the Russians and instead of a quick takeover, the Ukrainians fought back and may even defeat the invaders. What this will mean for Russia and the world it’s difficult to say. Can Putin carry on as leader if the Ukraine repulses his invasion? I think we’d all sleep a little easier if someone less agressive and more democratic took over. I wrote more about Putin and other Russian leaders in Those Pesky Rouskies.

When I’m stuck for a blog idea I sometimes tend to just write about myself. I’ve done it a few times before and now I’m up to part 3 of The Story of My Life.

As you might have guessed if you are a regular reader I really hate the cold and I was so happy to see the arrival of summer. Liz and I dusted off our motorhome, filled up the tank and took off for an extended trip to France. We had a couple of problems but were helped by members of the motorhoming community and I wrote more about that in Returning to France and the Kindness of Strangers.

June

I retired this year and retirement was on my mind when I wrote about The Day I Finally Cracked It. Retiring brought back memories of an old bus colleague whose catchphrase was ‘have you cracked it yet?’.

July

Memory, Memories and Memorabilia was a post about memory and was inspired by a photograph of my late aunt Ada who was killed in a cycling accident before I was born. My mother suffers with dementia but a picture I found of Ada seemed to lift her up and stimulate her memories.

August

2022’s most viewed blog post was Manipulating the Image. It started off when some spam email sent me looking for an internet glamour girl called Olivia Casta. One internet post claimed Olivia was actually a much older woman made to look younger by an imaging app so I spent the rest of the post looking at ways images can be manipulated.

September

Blogging Out Loud was a post about sounds; the sound of my voice which I use in podcasts and video voiceovers and even sounds that conjure up old memories.

October

After a summer spent in our motorhome I decided to write more about A Day in The Life of a Motorhomer and filled readers in about a typical day spent in our small van out in the quiet of the Loire Valley.

I’ve not written much about Formula 1 racing this year, perhaps my interest in the sport is waning a little, despite following the sport since childhood. This year we had a number of world champions competing together; Lewis Hamilton with 7 titles, Sebastian Vettel with 4, Fernando Alonso with 2 and current champion Max Verstappen who added the 2022 crown to his controversial win the previous year. Ferrari started the year on top but their challenge gradually faded and Max took an amazing 15 wins in 2022. None of the champions I have mentioned made any great contributions to the action in 2022, perhaps because this is the era of the car and without a great, or even a good car, champions like Hamilton, Vettel and others are just wasting their time. Of course Perez, Max’s teammate had, supposedly, the same car as Max and although he won a few times he was hardly close enough to challenge for the championship. Even so the times when a driver like Moss or Stewart could manhandle a bad car into the winners’ circle are long gone. An F1 post I wrote this year was about the F1 of the past, Autographs, Murray Walker and F1.

Being a bit of an amateur film buff, I always tend to produce plenty of film themed posts and 2022 was no exception. Two particular posts I should mention were ones when I decided to review entire film franchises. This was greatly helped when Film 4 in the UK decided to show the entire Mission Impossible series and a few weeks later ITV3 or 4 did a similar thing with the Rocky films. I sat through both film series with my notebook in hand and jotted down my thoughts.

Another October post was one I wrote about Things I Couldn’t do Without and as I missed out music, I put together a music post titled If Music Be the Food of Love, Play On.

November

One of the places I visited this year was Compiègne in France where the armistice was signed which ended the First World War. Hitler came here in 1940 when Nazi Germany defeated France and forced the French to sign the surrender in the same railway car where the Germans had surrendered in 1918. I shot a short video at the site and wrote a post titled The Glade of the Armistice.

December

As we moved into December things started to get cold and as I mentioned earlier, I really do hate the cold, so much so I’m seriously considering moving to somewhere hot. It’s C C Cold was a post about the cold with a few links to cold themed films thrown in for good measure.

That then was my life, at least my blogging life in 2022. I’m looking forward to 2023 and hoping that I don’t run out of blog post ideas. I hope you had a good 2022. Best wishes for 2023!


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4 Christmas Films

I’ve had a pretty nice Christmas this year. Liz and I went to a Christmas party night in a local hotel with a huge group of friends. We had a family afternoon get together in a nearby pub and we had family over for Christmas dinner. After that it was time to relax, pour a glass of wine, break out the mince pies and settle down for some Christmas TV.

The Railway Children

I’ve always liked The Railway Children. I’ve seen it a number of times but I’ve very rarely seen it all the way through from start to finish. The film’s title sequence involves the teenage Bobbie, played by Jenny Agutter in the lounge of her home. The camera pans over various family photos and in this way the actors and their characters are introduced to us. Bobbie, short for Roberta, is the eldest daughter and has a younger brother and sister and they all live together with their parents. During Christmas their father is taken away and we think he has been arrested for some reason. Without their father, the family fortunes dwindle and they are forced to move to a country house in Yorkshire. There the children spend time watching the steam trains and visiting the railway station meeting various people including the station master played by Bernard Cribbins. They have various adventures and eventually their father is returned to the family. The Railway Children is probably the most delightful and charming film I’ve ever seen. It was written and directed by Lionel Jefferies and released in 1970. According to Wikipedia, Jefferies read the book while returning from the US to the UK en route to film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and liked it so much he bought the film rights.

Amazing Film fact number 1: Sally Thomsett played Bobbie’s younger sister Phyllis aged 11 but in real life actress Sally was actually 20 and older than Jenny Agutter who played ‘older’ sister Bobbie. Sally’s contract forbade her to be seen smoking and drinking during the shoot.

It’s A Wonderful Life

It’s a Wonderful Life is one of those quintessential Christmas films that you can always find showing on TV at some time over the Christmas period. I love that film and come to think of it, I haven’t seen it for quite a few years. It’s about George Bailey played by James Stewart who looks forward to an interesting life of travel but then finds obligations force him to stay in the small town where he has always lived. George is beset by problems and even considers suicide but then his guardian angel -literally- arrives to help him. In order to prevent George committing suicide, the Angel shows George what life would have been like if George had never been born.

The secret of this picture is, I think, the fact that despite the fantasy premise of the film, everyone plays their parts as if they were in a serious drama. The result is that the drama and emotion of the situation rises to the surface and we are left with a vibrant and dramatic piece of cinema. The director, Frank Capra, has long been one of my favourite directors and in fact directed another of my favourite ever films, Lost Horizon.

Amazing Film Fact number 2: It’s A Wonderful Life was a box office failure when it was released in 1946. It only achieved classic status after 1974 when the film’s copyright expired and it was able to be broadcast on television without royalty fees. On TV the film found a new and enthusiastic audience.

The Greatest Story Ever Told

The Greatest Story Ever Told was directed by George Stevens who made such classic films as Shane and James Dean’s last film Giant. Stevens was a director who worked the way I would work if I was a director. He shot a great deal of film then sat back, reviewed everything and put his film together one brushstroke –or film clip- at a time. He chose Max to star as Jesus as he wanted a performer who was unknown to the general public.

Max was in a way an unusual choice to play Jesus; he was pale and blue eyed and had a faint Swedish accent. Even so, he played a good part, so much so that whenever I see another portrayal of Christ, I always mentally compare it to that of Max. As for being pale and blue eyed, I suppose it is inevitable that people everywhere will envisage their religious icons in their own terms.

He might have been better in choosing unknown actors for the other roles too because the many star appearances seem to stop the viewer in his or her tracks as we spot various top actors and actresses in minor roles.

I do have a personal reason for liking this film. Once, many years ago, my school friends and I were taken on a Christmas school trip to watch the film. We walked it as I remember in crocodile fashion from our junior school Crossacres, down Wiggins Hill and into Gatley, a small nearby village that boasted a lovely old cinema. That trip to watch this film did more for me than any teacher or RE lesson had ever done before or since and although I cannot claim to be overtly religious, I am certainly not an atheist and my respect for the person of Jesus has never been greater.

Amazing Film Fact Number 3: As I have mentioned, numerous star actors make guest appearances in the film from Sydney Poiter to Van Heflin, Angela Lansbury to Shelley Winters and many others but there is one I must mention; John Wayne as the Centurion who watches Jesus die on the cross. When Wayne uttered his immortal line, ‘truly this man was the son of God.’ Director George Stevens called ‘cut’ and asked Wayne to do the scene again but this time with more awe.

Wayne duly complied.

‘Action’ called Stevens.

‘Aww, truly this man was the son of God’ declared Wayne.

Blithe Spirit

I looked forward to watching this film with some trepidation. After all, the original version with a screenplay by Noel Coward himself and directed by David Lean was and still is a wonderful film and one of my absolute favourites. Rex Harrison plays the part of author Charles Condomine who invites Madame Arcarti into his home for a séance in order to see some of ‘the tricks of the trade’ that he assumes she will employ so that he can render these into his current novel. When the medium, played beautifully by Margaret Rutherford, conjures up the ghost or shadow of Condomine’s deceased wife neither he nor his current wife are amused. Coward himself adapted his own play for the screen and the witty dialogue presented immaculately in David Lean’s production is nothing short of a cinema gem.

Anyway, this new version starred Judi Dench as Madame Arcarti and did not in any way follow the path of Coward’s original although some of the old dialogue could occasionally be detected. Dan Stevens stars as Charles Condomine and Isla Fisher as his wife. Charles’ late wife, Elvira is played by Leslie Mann. Charles is writing a screenplay and he is suffering with writer’s block. However, on seeing what turns out to be a disastrous stage performance by Madame Arcarti, he invites her to his home where, just like the original, she evokes the spirit of Elvira. It turns out that Elvira wrote most of Charles’ books and the current Mrs Condomine isn’t amused when Elvira decides to help out with his pending screenplay.

The whole thing kept me quiet for a couple of hours but was hardly a patch on the original. For a start when current filmmakers film a story set in the past like this one which was set in the 1930’s, nothing ever looks as if it has been used before. Even though everything I’m sure was authentic; the motor cars, the furniture, the clothes and so on, everything is too good, too perfect, even down to the 30’s style haircuts and the art deco home where most of the action takes place. The other thing about the late 30s and early 1940’s is that the rhythm of the speech back then was quicker and more precise. Listen to actors like Rex Harrison, Constance Cummings and Margaret Rutherford from the original film or others from the period like David Niven, Ronald Colman and many more, their speech and delivery is so perfect and effortless, it is just a joy to listen to.

I don’t have any amazing facts about this film but the review in the Guardian was rather cutting: It can only be described as an un-reinvention, a tired, dated and unfunny period piece that changes the original plot a bit but offers no new perspective, and no new reason to be doing it in the first place.

That was a small slice of my TV viewing over the Christmas period and I can’t think of a Christmas period when my TV recordings have been so few.

Oh well, another mince pie anyone?


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A Few Christmas Memories

I always find it hard to write a Christmas blog post. I’m not sure why but then Christmas isn’t really my favourite time of the year. Anyway, here are a few of my Christmas memories, some of them culled from previous Christmas posts.

I used to like Christmas way back when I was about 12 years old. There were three presents I wanted as a child for Christmas and I didn’t ever get any of them, well not for Christmas anyway. One was a Secret Sam Briefcase which was a toy briefcase based on something James Bond might have had back in the 1960’s. The other was a toy rifle called a Johnny Seven which was very much like the big blockbuster rifle that Ripley wields towards the end of the film Aliens and the final thing was an Action Man. It was apparently too expensive my mother told me.

Secret Sam case. Picture from Pinterest

After Christmas I still had dreams of getting an Action Man and I eventually did. I bought or swapped one from my old schoolfriend Peter. It had a broken foot but I stuck it back together and had many happy hours of fun with it. I built this huge flying car I called a Jet Raft but sadly the co-pilot’s seat went unoccupied for quite a long time. The next Christmas, Action Man must have come down in price substantially as my brother received one as part of his Christmas box.

Many times I borrowed his Action Man to occupy the co-pilot seat in the Jet Raft. If we fell out during our games as we frequently did, he would depart and take his Action Man with him. Later I bought his Action Man off him outright at what was probably, knowing him, a hugely inflated price.

Back then when you bought an Action Man outfit, each outfit came with a number of stars. If you saved up 21 you could get a free Action Man. I only ever bought a couple of outfits as I mostly made my own. My favourite was an Apollo astronaut outfit I made out of cardboard and some white fabric. However, I did cadge the stars off various schoolfriends and eventually saved up the 21. Yes, it was a great day when the Jet Raft was finally fully manned with pilot, co-pilot and navigator!

This is a picture of my old childhood home. It didn’t look like that when we lived there, there was no drive for a start and there was no metal fence, we used to have privet hedges but of course don’t forget the first rule of karma; nothing stays the same.

Christmases back then were cosy affairs. My brother and me lying on the mat in front of the coal fire and Bob, the family dog, trying to push past us for prime position. He used to get as close to the fire as he possibly could. When his nose dried up my mother would shout at him and drag him away as a dog with a dried-up nose is, as we all know, such a terrible thing. Well, mum thought so anyway.

We used to watch a lot of old black and white films back then, in fact many of the films I saw were films that my dad had seen in his younger days at the cinema. Once we watched Angels with Dirty Faces and I could see from my dad’s face that the film must have brought back good memories for him. I won’t tell you the end of the film because it has quite a clever twist but for whatever reason, just as we approached the final reel, dad felt so moved by re-experiencing the film that he had to tell me the ending! Thanks a bunch dad!

Yes, I’ve experienced many Christmases, some good and some bad. Many years ago I lived with my girlfriend, I’ll call her J. (J for Judas.) On Christmas morning J went out early to take her two children to Christmas day mass. While she was away, I charged up my video camera and when they returned, I shot various things, opening presents and having Christmas dinner and so on. It makes me sad to see that video now although I haven’t seen it for years. When the children came back from mass, they were anxious to open their presents but we were still waiting for their mum. Where is she, I asked? Oh, she had to make a phone call they said. Phone call? Why use the call box round the corner when we had a phone. Two phones in fact, one in the hall and one upstairs. When J eventually came home, she told me she had been chatting to a neighbour. A little alarm bell went off in my head at the time but I dismissed it.

Later it turned out that she had used the call box to phone her new boyfriend, the one she eventually left me for.

Another Christmas I remember was when I had bought my first car. I was still at home and we had moved out from Manchester just over the border into Cheshire. It was freezing cold and my radiator was leaking so I topped it up with water from the tap. I drove back into Manchester, went to a party which I ended up walking home from. When I went back the next day, the radiator had frozen and ruined the engine. That was an expensive Christmas and an expensive lesson to learn about motor cars.

My first car, a three wheeled Bond Bug

Here’s one last Christmas memory. One far off Christmas spent with another ex-girlfriend in our small home in Merseyside. I’ll call the girl in question X. I had some time owing me so I had taken a few days off after Christmas. It had not been a great Christmas as it was the first one since X’s mother had died and she had sadly put the previous year’s Christmas card from her mother in pride of place right on the top of the TV.

Anyway, everyone was getting used to going back to work and there was me, who had worked during Christmas, knackered, worn out and ready for a break. I spent one day with my brother having a nice post-Christmas drink in Manchester and the next day I was relaxing, catching up on some TV of the type hated by X, yes, sci fi stuff, Star Trek, black and white films and so on and then a revelation came to me.

What if I took down the decorations, got rid of the tree, and chucked out the rubbish? There were piles of wrapping paper and empty bottles about and so on. I could actually come out of this looking good for once. Anyway, there and then I just got stuck straight in. I took the tree down, packed away all the ornaments and decorations and put the box back in the loft. The tree was chopped up and placed in the correct bin, the green one.

All the papers, wrapping paper and empty chocolate boxes and stuff were all removed and placed in the correct bin, (Don’t want to upset those hard-working bin men by putting stuff in the wrong bins, do we?) Old Christmas cards were removed also and placed into the brown bins.

After that a quick hoover up and a sort out of the furniture, all put back in its proper place.

Well, I think I worked up a bit of a sweat there as I remember. Great! Time now for a well-deserved cuppa, a bacon butty and get that black and white movie I recorded the other day cranked up.

As I sat there watching Ronald Colman, I could hear the sound of the bin men reversing down the avenue. Yes, my trusty van was on the drive, well out of the bin wagon’s way. (I don’t want to cast a slur on the bin wagon driver but accidents had been known to occur. And there was that incident last year when my next-door neighbour had the affrontery to park a huge transit van in the road making access difficult for the bin wagon so, well they just refused to come up the drive and empty our bins.) I had placed all the bins down by the end of the drive just within easy picking up distance for the bin men. (Can’t have them walking all the way up the drive to get the bins can we?)

Just then X came in through the door, I stood there foolishly thinking she would be happy and waiting for the praise that was bound to come my way. I hadn’t spent my day self-indulgently doing ‘my’ stuff. I had cleaned and tidied. I had helped. Hadn’t I?

X took one look at the tidy lounge then looked at me and said in a sort of scary accusatory sort of way: “What have you done?”

Well, I thought it was pretty obvious what had been done but just then the reversing horn of the approaching bin wagon set off a warning bell. What was wrong? The tree was in the correct bin. The plastic stuff and empty bottles in the glass and plastic bin. The paper stuff, the Christmas cards were all in the paper bin. The Christmas cards . .

I legged it outside just in the nick of time to dive into the paper bin just as the binman was about to empty it. Sprawled across the bin I rummaged frantically through the cardboard and wrapping paper and retrieved X’s mother’s card from certain destruction.

‘Afternoon’ I said nonchalantly to the bin men. They just looked at me with that ‘it’s that nutter from number 4’ look on their faces. Back inside X grabbed the card from my hand with a lethal black look and it was then that we became aware of a certain amount of what appeared to be tomato soup that had somehow attached itself to the card. Now, where that had come from, I do not know, I had not even eaten tomato soup that day (although perhaps I did throw a used tin of the stuff in the rubbish.) Oh well, at least my quick thinking had rescued the card!

Not long after, X and I parted company.

Those were a few of my Christmas memories. Hope you have a great Christmas and New Year.


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Favourite Film Directors Part 4: David Lean

The other day I was waiting in for a repairman to come and fix something. He was due sometime between 12 and 6pm so I nipped out early, did my shopping, returned home for a late breakfast and settled down to wait. I flipped on the TV and was pleasantly surprised to see the film Hobson’s Choice about to start. Hobson’s Choice was directed by David Lean and it just so happened that the previous night, sorting out various bits and pieces, I came across a lovely book about David by his widow Sandra so without further ado I thought it must be the perfect time to write a post about another of my favourite directors.

David was born in 1908 and spent his early life in Croydon (actually 38 Blenheim Crescent, Croydon) until his parents divorced. His father moved out and left the family in 1923 which must have been an upsetting moment in Lean’s young life. Another perhaps more significant moment was when an uncle gave him a camera when David was aged 10 and then Lean began to develop and print his own photographs.

In her book, David Lean: An Intimate Portrait, by Sandra Lean, his widow tells us that David was considered a ‘dud’ at school and his headmistress wondered whether he would even be able to read and write.

When he left school he began work as an apprentice at his father’s accountancy firm and at night spent his spare time at the cinema. The Gaumont film studios were nearby and Lean managed to get himself employment there starting out as a tea boy. He later became a clapperboy and gradually rose up to become a newsreel editor.

Later Lean moved on to editing feature films and was asked to work with Noel Coward on In Which We Serve. David asked to be credited as a co director on the film and Coward wasn’t too keen at first but eventually gave way. According to an interview with Lean I saw many years ago, Noel Coward soon became bored with the process of directing the film and mostly left the job to David.

Lean directed other adaptations of Coward’s plays including Blithe Spirit, filmed in colour and the highly regarded Brief Encounter, the latter winning grand prix honours at the 1946 Cannes film festival. The atmospheric exterior shots of Brief Encounter were filmed at Carnforth Railway Station in Lancashire which still exists today.

Lean married six times and three of his films featured his third wife Anne Todd. The last of the films with Todd was The Sound Barrier made in 1952 which has a screenplay by the playwright Terence Rattigan.

Hobson’s Choice, the film I mentioned earlier, is a film that shows a different side to David Lean. It’s a character driven comedy made in 1954 with excellent performances from Charles Laughton and Brenda De Banzie and a world away from the epics that David Lean later became famous for. It was hugely enjoyable to watch and one tends to forget that in his earlier years Lean made many films of a similar nature. His reputation though, at least in part, stems from a series of epics the director made starting with The Bridge on the River Kwai and including Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, Ryan’s Daughter and his final film which he directed, edited and wrote the screenplay for, A Passage to India.

His great collaborators were Robert Bolt who wrote and rewrote many of the screenplays used in Lean’s films, John Box his art director and production designer and Maurice Jarre who wrote the musical score for all Lean’s films from Lawrence of Arabia to his final film A Passage to India.

Sandra Lean muses that perhaps because of his parents’ divorce, David lived mostly in a series of hotels and a few rarely visited houses. He declared that ‘I have four shirts, two suitcases and the Rolls. I need no other possessions or a home’. In his later life he bought a warehouse property named Sun Wharf, situated on the banks of the river Thames at Limehouse in the east end of London. Architects, builders and decorators were brought in and the property was transformed by David, almost as if he were building a set for a new film. A similar thing happened to a property he and Sandra bought in France.

In 1970 he made Ryan’s Daughter. It’s personally not one of my favourite films and it’s hard to see why David Lean was so interested in the story. It is set in Ireland during the time of the First World War and tells the story of a married Irish woman played by Sarah Miles, (who was actually the wife of the screen writer, Robert Bolt) who has an affair with a British officer. Robert Mitchum played her husband but the only really outstanding performance was that of Sarah Miles. Many critics felt that the small scale romantic story did not fit with the film’s massive visual scale and long running time.

The film did however win two Oscars for cinematographer Freddie Young and supporting actor John Mills. The poor reception of the film prompted David to meet with the New York critics at the city’s Algonquin Hotel. I’m not sure if David wanted to reason with them or just find out why they didn’t like the film but they spent two hours attacking his production. David came away devastated and would not make a film again until A Passage to India in 1984.

He did try to make another film prior to A Passage to India. He was very interested in the story of Fletcher Christian and Captain Bligh and the mutiny on board the Bounty. He spent a few years living in Tahiti researching and making preparations for the film which included overseeing the construction of a replica of the Bounty but when Robert Bolt suffered a stroke and was unable to continue working on the script David backed out of the project. Producer Dino De Laurentis had ploughed a lot of money into the production and he agreed that a new director, Roger Donaldson, a friend of star Mel Gibson, could continue in David’s place. The film was later released as The Bounty.

In the late 1980’s David began to work on his last film, Nostromo, an adaptation of the novel by Joseph Conrad. Various scripts were produced including one by Robert Bolt. Sets were built and a budget of 46 million dollars was allocated but sadly, David Lean succumbed to throat cancer in 1991 and the production collapsed.

His work, in particular his sweeping visual style, inspired a new generation of film makers including Steven Spielberg who took over another unfinished project of David’s, Empire of the Sun.

In Sandra Lean’s book she tries hard to get at David Lean’s inner self; his actual character. He was apparently a man who accepted that some people would go out of his life and that would be that; they would be gone just like a cut in a piece of film. Once people were cut out, like his previous wives, he would never look back but whatever he was like, he was someone committed to motion pictures and Sandra quotes a speech given by Celia Johnson from In Which We Serve, in which she thinks if we substitute ships for film, we might get a true understanding of the man.

In 1987 Lawrence of Arabia was restored by film restoration expert Robert A Harris. David heard about the project and rushed to assist. Producer Don Siegel had cut elements out of the film to reduce its running time and Lean felt that now was the time to restore them. The producers could hardly say no to David Lean.

It just so happens that I have that restored version on DVD so as I’m feeling rather chilly on this December afternoon writing this, I might just dig out my copy, make a cup of tea and give it a viewing, or should I go for Blithe Spirit, the wonderfully witty play filmed by David Lean in 1945?

Which David Lean film would you watch?


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Almost But Not Quite (Part 3)

This is the third post in an occasional series about actors who almost got the role of a lifetime, and in some cases did, but then they didn’t. I’m getting the feeling I’m not explaining it all very well so let’s kick off with the first of four case studies . .

Frank Sinatra and Die Hard.

The Detective was a novel written by American author Roderick Thorp, and was first published in 1966. It was made into a film in 1968 also called The Detective and starred Frank Sinatra, as Detective Joe Leland. Billed as “an adult look at police life”, The Detective went on to become one of the highest-grossing films of 1968 and a great box office hit for Sinatra.

A sequel to the novel, Nothing Lasts Forever, was published in 1979 and in 1987 screen writer Jeb Stuart was asked to work on a screen adaptation of the book. The essential idea for the film according to Wikipedia was that of ‘Rambo in an office building’.

The producers were contractually obliged to offer Frank Sinatra the role although Sinatra, being 70 at the time, was hardly in a position to say yes. Various actors were considered for the role of the detective, now renamed John McLane, including Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood and many others. Bruce Willis was originally forced to turn down the role because of commitments to the TV series Moonlighting but then co-star Cybil Shepard became pregnant and filming on the show was shut down for eleven weeks leaving Willis free to star in the film, the new title of which was Die Hard.

Willis was a controversial choice for the role. He was still only a TV actor and at the time it was proving difficult for TV stars to make the transition to film. Willis himself felt he wanted to distance his character from the larger than life characters played by Schwarzenegger and Stallone in similar action films and he played McLane as an ordinary guy thrust into an out of the ordinary situation.

The film was shot at the Fox Plaza in Century City, Los Angeles which was then still under construction. It was released in 1988 and was one of the year’s top films as well as being a break out film for Bruce Willis. It’s a film I’ve always enjoyed but I still can’t see Sinatra ever playing John McLane.

George Peppard and Dynasty

I can’t really say I was ever a fan of Dynasty. I watched a few episodes but I much preferred the rival show, Dallas. Dynasty was a 1980’s TV soap opera about a wealthy family, the Carringtons, living in Denver, Colorado. John Forsythe starred as the head of the family, Blake Carrington, with Linda Evans as his wife Krystle and Joan Collins as his former wife Alexis. In the pilot episode however, George Peppard played Blake Carrington but the actor didn’t like the script and clashed frequently with the producers. Peppard felt that his role was too similar to that of Jock Ewing, the family patriarch in Dallas. Before the pilot was completed, Peppard was fired and John Forsythe took over the role and all scenes involving Peppard had to be re-shot.

Screenshot from Quora.com

The first season of the series wasn’t too good but the arrival of Joan Collins for series two seemed to bump up the audience figures. George himself wasn’t too bothered about being sacked. He got the part of Hannibal Smith in the A Team.

In his personal life Peppard battled alcoholism and cancer. He died in 1994.

Dennis Hopper and The Truman Show

Dennis Hopper was a great fan of James Dean and he appeared with Dean in two films, Rebel Without a Cause and Giant. Later he was part of Easy Rider, a film which supposedly kick started the American new wave of filming in the late 60s and early 70s. Hopper directed and co-wrote the film although I remember watching a TV documentary in the 1980s in which Hopper, Peter Fonda and others all claimed credit for the film. In later life Hopper appeared as a film villain in films like Speed.

In 1997 he signed on to play the part of Christof in the film The Truman Show. Christof is the TV producer of The Truman Show, a TV reality show in which the star, Truman, played by Jim Carrey, doesn’t realise he is on TV. The show is filmed using hidden cameras and actors and is funded by product placements. Hopper was fired after only two days on the shoot as the producers weren’t happy with his performance. Ed Harris, who plays the role in the finished film was a last minute replacement.

Dennis Hopper died at his home in Los Angeles in 2010. He was 74 years old.

Elvis Presley and A Star is Born

A Star is Born is a film that has had numerous remakes. The original was released in 1937 starring Janet Gaynor and Frederic March. It had a screenplay by Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell and Robert Carson and is about a young girl who wants to get into the movies. Janet Gaynor plays Esther Blodget who meets film star Norman Maine. Maine gets Esther into the film world and Esther falls for him but Maine is an alcoholic and his star is rapidly fading while Esther’s is on the rise.

Sid Luft asked director George Cukor to take the helm of a new musical version in 1952 starring his then wife Judy Garland. Cukor wasn’t keen at first but changed his mind when he found the film would be shot in technicolour and he wanted to be part of this new process. Cukor chose Cary Grant to take on the role of Norman Maine but Grant declined. Various others were in the frame for the part including Frank Sinatra. Stewart Granger was a favourite for a while but he didn’t like the way Cukor worked and finally the role went to James Mason.

In the mid seventies, Barbara Streisand and her then husband decided to produce a new musical version of the story based on the music industry rather than Hollywood. Streisand wanted Elvis Presley for the Norman Maine role and even met with Elvis to discuss the film. Elvis who was a great film fan wanted to revive his film career but the big problem was his manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Parker apparently wanted top billing for Elvis and a substantial pay packet. He was also concerned that Elvis would be playing a singer whose career is on the way out thinking that might harm the King of Rock n Roll’s actual career. Eventually Elvis backed out and Kris Kristofferson played the part.

I’ve always thought that Elvis was actually a pretty good actor. OK I know a lot of his later films were dreadful but Presley was bored with the kind of films that Colonel Parker had him making. Presley was a great fan of James Dean and knew all the dialogue from Dean’s films. I reckon he would have been outstanding in A Star is Born but sadly, it wasn’t to be.

Yes, I would have loved to have seen Presley in A Star is Born. Also, I wouldn’t have minded seeing Cary Grant in the Judy Garland version either!

Elvis died in 1977. He was 42 years old. His last acting role in a film was Change of Habit, made in 1969.

A Star is Born was remade yet again in 2018 starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga.


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It’s C-C-Cold

This has got to be my least favourite time of the year. I hate the cold. Yes, actually hate it. It’s not a case of disliking it or preferring it to be warm or not being happy about it. Yes, I hate the cold.

I suppose, looking on the bright side, at least I can say I’m not living in Norway or Greenland or even Iceland but then again, it’s only a matter of 849 miles from the UK to Iceland. No wonder I’m cold. It would be nice if I could hibernate like a hedgehog. Have a good feed and then curl up in some nice, cosy spot and wake up in the Spring. I can just imagine waking up having slept through the winter. I’d have a long hot shower and then have breakfast out in the garden, perhaps cook some bacon and eggs and then just sit back and check my emails and see what has been happening while I’ve been away.

Anyway, back to reality and I’ll just pop the fan heater on for a few minutes while I go and load up the coal scuttle so I can light the fire.

We are off to Lanzarote in January and just thinking about it brings on a quick daydream: I’m over in Lanzarote and the temperature is a nice 70F. The pool is perhaps a little chilly but I jump in and after a few lengths I get out, slump into my deckchair and relax while the sun dries my body. I’ve got a book not far away for when I’m ready to read and I’m looking forward to some fresh salad and a barbecue later. Of course, we might even be walking down to the marina and our favourite tapas bar and partaking of a glass or two of red wine.

Back to reality again and excuse me while I pop out and chop some more wood for the fire. I put the kettle on and switch on the TV. I’m in the mood for an old black and white classic British film and what does BBC2 have to offer?  Scott of the Antarctic!

Captain Scott planned to make an expedition to the north pole but then changed his mind and went for the south pole. At pretty much the same time Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian explorer, decided he also wanted to make the trip so a kind of race began. Who would get to the pole first? Amundsen decided to travel in classic fashion with teams of dogs pulling sledges. Scott decided he would use new mechanical devices, vehicles with caterpillar tracks, all of which broke down in the cold. Scott also used ponies but they were not acclimatised to the cold and fared poorly. Amundsen’s dogs turned out to be the best choice.

Why either of them would want to go to the pole is completely beyond me. All that they found there was a shed load of snow and ice which most people could have predicted anyway.

As we all know, Scott got beaten to the pole by Amundsen. The gallant British explorers then had to face the task of getting back to civilisation, however the weather worsened and the men froze to death in their tent.

Scott of The Antarctic is a sad film although John Mills plays a good part as usual and James Robertson Justice plays a serious role for a change, that of Captain Oates who disappears into the snow after telling his friends that he ‘might be some time.’ Oates perished like his friends but his courageous actions have never been forgotten.

While I’m on the subject of Antarctica, here’s an interesting story. In 1513 an Ottoman Admiral and cartographer called Piri Reis compiled a map of the world. According to Wikipedia the map, not all of which has survived, depicts the western coasts of Europe and north Africa and Brazil with reasonable accuracy. The Canary Islands are also shown as well as Antarctica. Eric Von Daniken mentions the map in his book Chariots of the Gods and claims that extra-terrestrials may have supplied the information for earlier maps on which the Piri Reis’ map was based. Why you might ask? Well, the northern coast of Antarctica was perfectly detailed in the map but how could Reis know this when the coastline of the area is buried under snow and ice?

Anyway, enough of the Antarctic. Time for a quick scan through my emails. What’s this one:

I have to say, I’ve always rather fancied skiing. It looks pretty exciting and I can imagine it might even be a lot of fun. The big problem is that it involves paying money to travel somewhere that is cold and I have to say, straight out, that going to places that are not only cold but colder than where I live is not only wrong, it really must be either illegal or immoral or probably both. Quick on the spot reappraisal: Skiing? I don’t think so!

Right, kettle on and another steaming hot cup of tea coming up. I needed something to warm me up. I had the fire lit and as I settled down with my hot tea I was actually beginning to feel, not completely warm but a bit of a thaw at least. I flipped through the TV channels like the dedicated couch potato I am and what did I find?

Ice Station Zebra.

Ice Station Zebra was not only one of my favourite films but it was also a favourite of billionaire Howard Hughes. He would watch it regularly in his rooms high above Las Vegas and many times when it had finished, he would ask his aides to rewind the film on his projector and show it again.

Rock Hudson stars as the skipper of a submarine sent on a rescue mission to the north pole. Also on board the ship are a mysterious spy duo played by Ernest Borgnine and Patrick McGoohan. When the film was shot, McGoohan was in the middle of filming the TV series The Prisoner and while he was away from the set of the TV show an episode had to be shot without him so the writers dreamed up an installment in which his character Number 6 finds himself in the body of someone else, that of actor Nigel Stock. All of this was engineered for Patrick to star in the film without affecting the production of the TV series.

Ice Station Zebra was based on the novel by Alastair MacLean and it’s a film I’ve always enjoyed despite the cold location.

I piled more coal on the fire but I was still not feeling particularly warm. In fact I was quickly developing various symptoms that were all too familiar: runny nose, feeling cold, slight sore throat, high temperature, clearly a major cold, possibly even serious influenza was on the way. Might as well get out and enjoy myself I thought before being consigned to coughing, spluttering and sneezing, sipping hot lemon and whisky and not wanting to emerge from under the covers. Liz and I decided to visit our local Indian restaurant and join a few of our friends dining there. Obviously, it was going to be cold so I wrapped up well. Shirt, woolly jumper and thick new fleecy coat.

We settled down in the restaurant where I was pleasantly surprised to find the heating was going full blast. Off went the jumper, off went the coat. Poppadoms, onion bhaji and chicken bhuna with pilau rice? Yes, don’t mind if I do.

After some spicy food I finally warmed up. Well, for a little while anyway.


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If Music be The Food of Love, Play On

A few weeks back I wrote a post about things I couldn’t do without. It was pretty light hearted and I wrote it after reading a similar post in which the things that the writer couldn’t do without actually turned out to be things that not only could I fully do without but in fact, didn’t even care about at all.

One particular thing that I didn’t mention in my post was music.

It was a little like the time I worked out my top 10 favourite films of all time and then later, realised I missed out one of my absolute favourites. It was a momentary error, a quick brain fade but something that needs redress. So here it is, a post about music and just to make it more interesting, I think I’ll throw a few links in to some of my favourite tracks.

This isn’t the first music post I’ve written. I did one a few years back called The Soundtrack to My Life. It was all about my favourite singles and then I followed it up with one about my favourite albums and as I wasn’t feeling particularly creative that day, I called it The Soundtrack to My Life Part 2.

Way back in 1972 when everything was black and white and the internet hadn’t even been invented and wireless was an old-fashioned word for the radio, on Christmas Day that year my brother and I received a joint Christmas present. It was a stereo record player. It was a compact model and the twin speakers clipped onto the top and there was a carry handle making it easily portable.

Another present was a record to go with our record player. I can’t remember if it was another joint present but the record was The Persuaders. It was an album of TV and film themes by John Barry who wrote much of the music for the James Bond films as well as the theme from The Persuaders. I still have that album today so it was either my personal present or I have just managed to keep it away from my brother for the past fifty years. (Fifty years! I can hardly believe it’s been that long. He kept the record player by the way so I think I can count the record as mine.)

The following year, 1973, I was keen on expanding my record collection and I began to purchase a lot of similar TV and film themed albums. Then I discovered Radio One and I moved on to the pop music of the time. Back then the new Top 20 was released every Tuesday and the Radio One DJ Johnnie Walker did a show counting down through the new chart, finishing with that week’s number one. Later on Thursday, the BBC show Top of The Pops did a similar thing on TV.

The first single I ever bought was by Olivia Newton John, my teenage heart throb and in fact it was two singles, Banks of the Ohio and What is Life and as they were no longer in the charts, I managed to get them for half price which initiated a lifelong passion for flipping through half price vinyl singles in record shops. I say lifelong passion but then again, these days in 2022, finding a record shop isn’t easy and even if I could find one, I doubt if there would be many 7-inch singles on sale. Having said that, I keep reading that vinyl is making a comeback so maybe it’s not impossible after all.

Back in 1973 I started a record collection that just grew and grew and today occupies a great deal of space upstairs in my back room. I’m not sure what was the very last vinyl single I ever bought. I guess it was sometime in the 1980’s but one day I’m going to go through those records and find out what the heck it was. One day I started buying CDs and today I must have two or three boxes of them although only a few are CD singles. I used to spend a lot of time in places like Woolworths flipping through CD collections in the reduced section. One of my best buys was a compilation that I bought just for one track which was A Horse With No Name by America. I love that track but another track on the album I was surprised to find was Desiderata by Les Crane, a musical version of the poem by Max Ehrmann, a track I love which I hadn’t heard for years.

I’ve got a lot of Beatles CDs, in fact for a while I decided I was going to buy, one by one, all the Beatles albums on CD. What I found though, and I’m guessing this might be a bit controversial, was that a lot of their album tracks just weren’t that good. Their hits are of course, absolute classics but a lot of their other album tracks really weren’t my cup of tea so after a few disappointing buys I gave up on that particular project.

A similar thing happened with Elton John. I stopped buying Elton’s albums in the 1980’s after all, people get older and tastes change. Later I started buying his albums on CD, not all of them, just the ones I particularly liked which were mostly his pre-1980’s albums. One later album I did like very much was Elton’s Made in England. I’d seen Songs From the West Coast get some great reviews and picked it up in my favourite music shop HMV. As I was about to pay, I saw Made in England in the reduced section and picked it up. Songs from the West Coast wasn’t that good so I never played Made in England which was a pity because when I finally picked it up months later, I thought it was outstanding.

Nowadays, even CDs seem to be on the way out. The usual way to purchase music today is to either download it or stream it. I have downloaded a few albums even though I mostly burn them to a CD and play them in my car. If I want to listen to music at home, it’s so easy just to click on the Spotify app on my iPad and slip on my earphones. In fact, I’ve got so used to Spotify I wish there was a way I could perhaps link my phone or my iPad to my car radio and play the stuff I listen to at home while I’m driving.

A few years back I decided to compile my personal top twenty. I did it years ago back in the 70’s and in fact my old friend Steve and I made a short audio tape in which we interviewed each other and talked about our favourite music Desert Island Discs style. When I went to do it once again a few years ago I found it was pretty hard to do, in fact I ended up making a list not of my top 20 but my top 100. I even made it into a spreadsheet so I could sort it by artist or year of issue. Later I made it into a Spotify playlist. Technology, isn’t it wonderful?

I like all kinds of music although opera and rap really don’t do it for me at all. I’m not a great classical music fan but there quite a few classical pieces I enjoy and interestingly most of those have come to me through my love of the cinema. Things like The Blue Danube by Strauss from 2001 A Space Odyssey and March of Pomp and Circumstance from Young Winston.

Just recently I saw a short video on TikTok. It was a young lady playing the cello in a wood and as she played, animals from the wood cautiously came forward seemingly to listen to the music. I loved that music so much I had to get it on a CD. It was Bach’s suite number 1 for cello.

A lot of the music I listen to these days is chilled electronic music and one of my favourite artists on Spotify is Nora Van Elken. Now I’ve never seen a CD on sale by Nora. Not only that I have no idea what she looks like or even if Nora Van Elken is a group rather than a person.

Having said that I thought I’d do a quick search on the internet. The answer from cyberspace is that she is an American producer and DJ. I couldn’t find much else about her but does that mean she doesn’t write songs but just produces them? Basically, I don’t know so I might as well plug my earphones in and just carry on listening.

My Top 100 singles can be downloaded as a spreadsheet. https://commendatoreblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/100besttracks.xls

Listen to my Top 100 on Spotify! https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3QSNCQYaOpE6W49AdWN3RY?si=ZD41K1M1S7C7TA3GeFpnQw


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