Autographs, Murray Walker and Formula One

It’s a while since I’ve produced an F1 blog post so perhaps it’s about time for one. Over in France while we are on holiday we very rarely watch TV. We spend most of our evenings sitting in the porch watching the sun go down, watching the sky and chit chatting.

Last week I broke the no TV rule and watched the Italian Grand Prix. To be fair, Formula One has been pretty exciting this year with some great races and terrific battles. Max Verstappen who won the championship last year in controversial circumstances looks set to make it championship number 2 this year but if he wins, and it’s still not decided yet, he will have won it fairly and squarely and pretty convincingly too. His big challenger has been Charles LeClerc in the Ferrari and although Charles has been fast, his own team, Scuderia Ferrari, have not performed well in the area of strategy. They have cocked up Charles’ pit stops, stayed out when they should have pitted, pitted when they should have stayed out and gone for the wrong tyres at the wrong time.

At the historic race track of Monza, Charles was ready to chase Max for the win but a safety car came out when Daniel Riccardo conked out in a dangerous section of the circuit. The race marshals had problems shifting Daniel’s McLaren and the race ended under the safety car which stopped Charles’ pursuit of Max in its tracks and of course, ruined the race for the fans.

The big surprise this year is that so far, Lewis Hamilton has done pretty badly. Lewis is an all time record holder with more race wins and more pole positions than any other driver ever and is currently tied with Michael Schumacher for the most world championships ever (seven). However, Lewis’s team Mercedes have dropped the ball badly and after years of winning time after time they have produced a car which is not the class of the field.

Why have Mercedes failed in 2022? My personal feeling is that they should never have dubbed this year’s car the W13. Yes, there it is, I’ve said it. I know that’s going to be controversial but no one is ever going to win any kind of championship with a car numbered 13. Just go back some years to the Apollo space programme. All went pretty smoothly, Apollo 8 circled the moon, Apollo 9 tested the lunar module, Apollo 10 was a dress rehearsal for the landing and Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Apollo 12 made another successful moon landing but Apollo 13, well that was where everything went wrong and the crew were lucky to get back to earth alive. NASA should never have named that space craft Apollo 13 and gone straight to Apollo 14.

The same thing happened this year with Mercedes, those guys should also have gone straight to W14 and missed out W13 entirely or perhaps even numbered the car W12B. If they had, I think Lewis might well have won a few races this year.

During the summer break there has been quite a bit of controversy to keep us armchair F1 fans happy. Sebastian Vettel decided to jack everything in and announced his retirement. That caused Fernando Alonso to announce he would be quitting Alpine for Vettel’s vacant seat at Aston Martin for next year. Alpine then announced Oscar Piastri as their new driver. Oscar the current F2 champion announced that wouldn’t be the case. What? A rookie declining an F1 drive? It turned out that Daniel Riccardo was getting the bullet from McLaren and they had engaged Piastri only Daniel hadn’t been informed. The result, after a meeting of the F1 contracts recognition board is that Oscar is in at McLaren but Daniel is on his way out. OK, that’s how the cookie crumbles in modern F1.

Back in the 1970’s Jackie Stewart drove for Ken Tyrell with a handshake agreement. How times change.

Things have changed in F1 in many ways. A few years ago one of my friends came to me saying he had something he knew I would want. What is it? I asked. It turned out that his daughter who has emigrated to Australia had gone to the Australian Grand Prix. She had a paddock pass (very expensive) and had got all the current drivers to sign her programme. What was I offering for it?

Of course I love F1 and I am a bit of a collector. Over the years I’ve picked up various programmes, F1 models, memorabilia and autographs. We threw a few figures back and forth and then I asked to see the merchandise. My friend obliged and produced the programme. What a disappointment! The programme was covered in what looked like a series of scribbles and squiggles, all of which were completely illegible but which were apparently the signatures of the current crop of F1 drivers. Sorry, no sale I said to my disappointed friend who was forced to flog the goods on eBay.

Here’s one of the autographs in my collection. Not the greatest driver of all time but Graham Hill is probably the most outstanding personality of Formula One racing, ever. Not only that, nice signature too Graham.

Graham Hill

On holiday I always grab a few books to take away with me. Reading is one of the great pleasures in life, at least I have always thought so. One book I picked up was the autobiography of Murray Walker. Murray was for many years the voice of F1. Clive James once described him as talking in his quieter moments like someone who has his trousers on fire. Murray always added his supreme enthusiasm and excitement into his broadcasts. He made mistakes, he mixed up drivers and cars but he always, always kept his viewers entertained. He belongs to that golden era of British TV Sporting commentators like Harry Carpenter (boxing) Brian Moore (football) David Coleman (football) Peter O’Sullivan (horse racing) and many others who are just a faded memory now.

Murray’s book ‘Unless I’m Very Much Mistaken’ was, according to the blurb on the back cover, the number 1 best seller. I was looking forward to reading it but sadly it was all a little boring. Many celebrity autobiographies start off well and are very interesting but when the author reaches the point of fame and fortune, they all seem to go down the same path and become lists and lists of films or shows or appearances or meeting other famous people and just become rather boring. Murray doesn’t waste much time, his book starts out with some boring bits and then goes straight into more boring bits.

To be fair, some of the book was interesting, for instance when he talked about working for the BBC when they commenced their regular Grand Prix highlights programme in 1979 and working with James Hunt, his co commentator for many years. Otherwise though, it was a book I found myself mostly skimming through.

Murray was someone who accepted he made many mistakes but even so, did a fabulous job over the years. I remember once watching the start of the Le Mans 24 hour race on BBC TV’s sports show Grandstand. Murray commented for the first hour or so and then the coverage went back to the studio. It was obvious to me that Murray was in France as he was so well informed, he knew what was going on and so on. Back in the studio in the UK the announcer explained how the BBC were clearly not going to be with the race for the full 24 hours and then turned to Murray who was sitting next to him. His commentary had not been from France but from the TV studio in the UK!

Murray did an amazing job but sorry, his book wasn’t the great read it should have been.

This weekend we will have left our rented French house behind with all its creature comforts and will be slowly meandering our way home in our motorhome, visiting family and friends en route. Happily, YouTube will be showing short highlights of this weekend’s race. Hope we’ll be in a spot where the Wi-Fi signal is good!


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A Bit of a Blog or a Blog of Bits (Part 3)

Sometimes, as a writer of blogs, I end up with a few bit and bobs of a blog that I know aren’t going to make it into a full blown blog post. So, what can I do except maybe pull them all in together and give them a title like A Bit of a Blog. See where I’m going here? Of course you do. Let’s crack on then. .

As I write this, I’m in France once again as Liz and I have decided to nip over to the continent. We came over earlier this year and have wanted to return for a while but various appointments and arrangements have been in place, keeping us at home but what the heck we thought, time for another trip in our motorhome.

September isn’t perhaps the best time to visit France. Yes things are quieter, holidays are over and the kids have gone back to school but the summer is largely over too. We had planned a week touring in our motorhome followed by a week in a French gîte which we have rented before followed by another week touring. As it happened, when we booked the gîte, the owner very kindly advised that the property was empty the week prior to us arriving and so if we wished, we could arrive whenever we liked.

As a member of the Order of Northern Tightwads, this of course was music to my ears. Free rental at a French villa with a swimming pool! Ok, no touring for us. We literally raced down to the villa arriving in a matter of 48 hours.

Our first day was wonderful. The sun poured down warmly, we swam in the pool and between dips, relaxed on our sun loungers. Day 2 at the villa was a washout, it rained all day, but happily day three was an improvement. So far, despite the mixed weather, I’ve managed to swim every day which has always been one of my goals on holiday; to relax but also to do a little exercise.

Another important exercise in France is to get out and about and mix with the locals a bit. I’m not much of a lunch person, I kind of like my usual late breakfast but a few times on this holiday we’ve skipped breakfast and headed down to a fairly nearby restaurant, the Restaurant à La Gare, or the Station restaurant to you. It’s about a ten minute drive away from Parçay Les Pins where we are staying and it does a four course lunch (yes, four courses) for a measly 12.50 euros, including wine. Ok, the wine is vin ordinaire, the cheap French wine found in most places in France but to be honest, it’s the kind of wine I like, not strong, fairly tasty and hugely quaffable. I’ll have a glass with my starter which involves a trip to the buffet table for all kinds of salad, cold meats, pâtés and so on. Our basket of bread is routinely filled by the waitress who then brings the next course which is jambon (ham) served with either frites, rice or petis pois. Time for more vin ordinaire and by the way I went for the frites. Top up the wine for the cheese course and then there is the dessert. I fancied a little ice cream but instead I had meringue with cold custard (île flottante). I prefer my custard the English way, warm but what the heck, at 12.50 Euros each I wasn’t likely to complain.

The Queen

Last week on the 8th September the Queen passed away. I’m not a particular royalist and there is a lot I don’t like about the Royal Family but the Queen is someone I’ve always admired. She had a dignity and elegance never to be found elsewhere in the British political scene. Whenever controversy emerged she rose above it and stayed discreetly silent, whatever criticism arose in the news media.

She has been, I’ve always thought, the glue that holds together the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. As long as I’ve lived, she has been the Queen. I wonder now, how the country will change?

Books

So, what else have I done on this trip? Well I’ve read books, after all reading has always been one of my greatest pleasures. I took it upon myself some time ago to read the entire library of Hamish Macbeth novels. They are not great works of literature but the world of books has everything for everyone and sometimes, I just like an old fashioned, easy going mystery read. Here in France, I’ve just finished Death of a Scriptwriter, the 14th entry into the series which wasn’t actually one of the best. The previous two were very good though, Death of a Macho Man and Death of a Dentist. If you are not familiar with Hamish Macbeth, he is a constable in a Scottish highland village. He likes to apply the rule of law in his own way, taking away the car keys from drink drivers before they leave the pub, giving various minor bootleggers a warning before removing their illegal stills and he’s not averse to poaching the odd salmon. The books are wonderful, quirky murder mysteries which Hamish always solves but tries to give credit to others in case his bosses think of promoting him and moving him away from his beloved village of Lochdubh.

A somewhat different kettle of crimefighting fish is private detective Philip Marlowe and a while back I picked up a Raymond Chandler anthology containing three of his Marlowe books, The Big Sleep, Farewell my Lovely and The Long Goodbye.

I wrote about the first novel, The Big Sleep a while back. It is a brilliant novel, one of my favourite ever reads and I particularly like the opening where he is engaged by General Sternwood to look into an issue of blackmailing.

Book 2, Farewell My Lovely, starts off well. It’s about Moose Malloy, an oversized fellow looking for Velma, an old flame. Marlowe gets in on the hunt as well as looking into another case and later finds both are related. I read the first part of the novel pretty much all in one go and enjoyed it very much. The next quarter was a little confusing. (During the filming of The Big Sleep the director and his stars wondered who killed the character of Owen Taylor, the Sternwood’s chauffeur. They sent a cable to Raymond Chandler asking him. Chandler told a friend later ‘Dammit, I don’t know either!)’ Happily, in Farewell My Lovely, everything finally came together towards the end.

Dilys Powell called Chandler’s writing ‘a peculiar mixture of harshness, sensuality, high polish and backstreet poetry’ and it’s easy to see why. The Long Goodbye has been unputdownable. The mix of fabulous descriptive text and authentic dialogue has got me hooked and I love hearing about the Hollywood Hills, Mulholland Drive where so many film stars lived as well as Romanoff’s, the famous Hollywood restaurant.

Not quite sure how to finish off this blog post so let’s go with the trailer for The Big Sleep, the 1944 version starring Humphrey Bogart.


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Blogging Out Loud

It’s really quite fascinating the way digital publishing is moving ever forward. Although I suppose I’m very much still an amateur writer I publish a blog post every weekend just like this one. I can also be found in various videos over on YouTube and many of my blog posts can be listened to as a podcast. I say many although in fact there are only nine podcasts available at the present time. I could make more I suppose, after all, I’m now retired and I’ve got plenty of time to make them as well as owning that special essential, a top quality microphone. The thing is I’m not really sure how I feel about my podcasts. I’m not a trained actor or public speaker and I’ve never been that keen on my voice. Someone once told me I sounded a lot like Terry Christian. You may not have heard of him but he’s a Manchester DJ and minor TV personality and he sounds a lot like a very northern working-class Mancunian which is pretty much how you might describe me.

A few years ago I wrote a poem about the way I sound over on Writeoutloud. I won’t reproduce it here because it wasn’t that good (although feel free to click that Writeoutloud link) but it did get a lot of comments. In the poem I mentioned that I wanted to sound like Richard Burton. I’ve always admired Burton’s rich speaking voice. He made many films and I listen to him from time to time on my CD recording of Under Milk Wood. Of course, Burton’s voice didn’t come naturally. He was a miner’s son from Wales and was born Richard Jenkins. He spent many years perfecting that wonderful voice under the tuition of his teacher Philip Burton.

To improve my podcasts and voice-overs I have subscribed to a couple of YouTube channels which explain the rudiments of public speaking and voice control but even so, I still reckon I sound pretty much the same.

I’ve mentioned many times that one of my favourite writers is Dylan Thomas. Dylan had a wonderful voice and made many recordings of his poems and plays. In fact quite a lot of his plays were written for the radio. One of the keys to appreciating Dylan’s work is his love of words, particularly the sound of words, which is at the heart of all Dylan’s work, especially his poetry. If you think about it, there must be a connection between the sound of a word and its meaning, a deep organic connection. After all, how did words begin? Imagine some ancient caveman, just wanting to get some concept over to his mate. What are the deepest and strongest feelings for a human being? Well, for a caveman food must be one, and love too. Surely love was present in those primordial days when every caveman went out on Saturday with his club looking for his mate. There must have been a moment when ancient man strived to say something to his mate, tried to express his feeling and a sound that was the precursor to the word love slipped uneasily from his lips.

Terry Christian. Picture courtesy BBC

I make great use in my video voice-overs and podcasts of one particular program on my laptop, my Magix sound mixer. I’m able, to a great extent, to cut out my mumbles and ums and ahs, add some bass and make myself sound just a little bit better than I actually do.

On one of my short videos, I once tried to dub my own voice with a new recording. You’ve probably seen on TV and films how this can be done. There are some amazing over dubs in the Bond films for instance. In Goldfinger, Gert Frobe played the eponymous villain but the actor was German and spoke poor English. His voice was dubbed by an actor called Michael Collins. Many films in the 60’s, particularly European films were made with a fully dubbed soundtrack so how hard could it be?

I got set up with my video, the text of what I was saying and my microphone and off I went. About two weeks later having got about ten seconds of useable video and having come pretty close to smashing my laptop to pieces, I finally realised that audio dubbing wasn’t as easy as I thought it was and made the video in a different way.

Over on Anchor where I produce my podcasts, they have the facility to take one of my blogs and convert it into a podcast by having it spoken by an electronic voice so none of the recording and editing that goes into making a podcast would in theory be necessary. Some of the voices available actually sound pretty real but they all fall down in things like pronunciation of odd words or names or sometimes when I’ve tried to render a particular accent into the text. Yes, I think I’ll stick to my own voice for the time being.

I’ve always found it fascinating how a particular sound can jog our memory. Some time ago I wrote a blog about Mr Todd’s projector. Mr Todd was a teacher from my junior school and every Christmas he set up his projector and screen in the hall and put on a film show for the school. The films were mostly cartoon shorts like Sylvester the cat, Daffy Duck and even some of Disney’s wildlife films. I loved those Christmas film shows and what brought back the memory was that wonderful sound of the projector, that clickety click sound of the film running through the machine.

One year, I think it must have been my last at the school, Mr Todd retired and there was no final Christmas film show. Instead, we were treated to some dreary school choir or something which was such a disappointment. Of course, there had been a final film show. It had been the one the previous year, only at the time, like many things in life, we didn’t know it would be the last.

Here’s one final thing about sound. Music. I do love my music and like most people I associate various songs and music tracks to various times in my life. The very first vinyl singles I ever bought were by Olivia Newton John and since then I’ve amassed quite a collection of records, tapes and CDs. My record collection fills a small corner in the spare room in my mother’s house but these days, youngsters have even bigger collections than mine kept either on a small device or in cyberspace. I have to say I do like to have physical versions of music. I like my record and CD covers. I like the sleeve notes and I like to see the small notes I have made myself on my own records, things like the date of purchase and so on.

Many years ago one of my favourite things to do on a Saturday afternoon was to sift through racks of records in the music shops in Manchester. It’s hard to even find a record shop these days. I was a big music fan and back in the seventies and eighties singles were marked down in price as soon as they dropped out of the charts and vultures like me were there to buy up cheap records. I started buying singles in 1973 and the last one I bought must have been in the late eighties or early nineties. I wish I knew which record it was. In the eighties I started buying picture singles which were singles in clear vinyl with a picture running through. My favourite is probably Alexi Sayle singing ‘Hello John, got a new motor’ which comes in the shape of a Ford Cortina With Alexi Sayle on the bonnet.

The day came, probably sometime in the nineties, when the pop charts became a mystery to me, singers and bands were in there that I’d never heard of with records I had no interest in buying. Just then, almost like a thief in the night, vinyl disappeared and the CD era began.

In the box room at my Mum’s house are four or five boxes of my singles, another box of LP’s and two boxes of 12 inch singles which started out in the eighties as a single but with a longer or different mix or sometimes with an extra track. I like my vinyl records, I like the smoothness of the plastic, the static electricity, the album covers, the sleeve notes (can anyone really read the sleeve notes on CDs written in that tiny writing?) and the inserts. I still have all the booklets that came with Elton John’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy and I so wish I’d written the lyrics to that Cliff Richard song, ‘Wired for Sound’; power from the needle to the plastic.

I’m not much of a downloader but I do have a shedload of CD’s I’ve picked up over the years and I’ve gradually started to use my MP3 player, especially on holiday. I even have fun making up playlists on Spotify just like in the old days when I’d copy my vinyl singles onto cassette tapes.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ve really changed at all from the teenager I used to be.


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Reviewing the Rocky Franchise

I’ve always liked the original Rocky film but something more interesting than the film itself is the story of how it came to be made. In the mid-seventies Sylvester Stallone was a bit part actor with few acting credits to his name. One day in 1975 he watched the Ali v Chuck Wepner fight in which Wepner lost but managed to stay 15 rounds with heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali. Stallone, inspired by the bout, wrote a screenplay about a washed-up fighter called Rocky who manages to stay the distance with the world champion. He passed the screenplay to his agents who took it to various producers. The screenplay was good and many producers were interested but Stallone attached one small condition to the sale, that he himself had to play the part of Rocky.

The producers who finally picked up the screenplay were Winkler-Chartoff productions. They had a contract with United Artists but UA still wanted a big name star in the title role. Burt Reynolds and James Caan were suggested but Stallone hung on and continued to insist that he played Rocky. I have always thought that Stallone was offered a million dollars to let James Caan play Rocky but according to an article I read which quoted Stallone himself, the offer went up to $340,000 and he still said no. Eventually the producers gave in and Sylvester Stallone received just $35,000 for acting and writing the screenplay plus a percentage of the profits. United Artists had a major production in the pipeline at the time, New York, New York, a big budget musical and they felt that the profits from that film would cover any losses on Rocky. In fact, the musical was a flop and those losses were covered by the success of Rocky.

The basic plot of Rocky is that World Champion Apollo Creed, played by Carl Weathers and based loosely on Muhammed Ali, is let down after planning a title bout to be held during the US Bicentennial celebrations. His opponent backs out and no other contender is available. Creed decides to rescue the fight by selecting an unknown boxer for the hugely publicised event. He chooses Rocky Balboa, a part time boxer and debt collector. The problem is, Creed thinks it will just be a demonstration match but Rocky thinks he can win.

The film was a low budget production but is still a great looking film. It was one of the first films to be shot with a Steadicam, a revolutionary camera mounting which absorbs movement. It was used in the fight scenes and the scene in which Rocky runs through the market in Philadelphia. In a sequence filmed at a skating rink, the producers had no money for any extras so they changed the script. Instead of skating with extras, Rocky and his girl Adrian bribe the cleaning staff to let them in when the rink has closed and is empty.

Joe Frazier makes a cameo appearance in the film and in fact some aspects of his life were used on the film as part of Rocky’s training regimen, running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and punching the meat carcass in a freezer.

Rocky was released in 1976 and grossed over $5 million in the first weekend of its national release and a later box office of 225 million dollars worldwide. The film was nominated for various awards and won the Oscar for Best Picture. Stallone’s pay packet has increased with each subsequent instalment of the film franchise but even today he still isn’t happy that the producers, rather than Stallone himself, own the rights to the Rocky character.

Verdict: 10/10

Rocky II

Given the huge success of the original there was really no doubt there would be a sequel. The film starts just where the last one left off except in the original the two fighters agree that there will not be a rematch. In this sequel, Apollo Creed does a quick reversal and is immediately on at Rocky about a rematch. Rocky is not sure what to do with his new found celebrity or with his money. He buys a house and a new car. He tries his hand at TV advertising but when that fails he sinks deeper into debt and begins to consider fighting again. His manager played again by Burgess Meredith is against the idea but when Apollo ups his campaign to get Rocky to fight and publicly insults Rocky, he finally comes on board. Adrian isn’t keen on the idea and Rocky trains in a lacklustre fashion until she gives him her blessing.

The title bout begins and at the end the two fighters knock each other down together but it is Rocky who gets up to claim the win.

Stallone asked to direct the film and when John G Avildsen, the director of the original film was unavailable, he got his chance.

I’ve seen this film before and always thought that in a way it was just a remake of the original. I watched it again for this blog and rather enjoyed it.

Verdict: 7/1

Rocky III

Rocky is doing well as the heavyweight world champion. He is settled with Adrian and has a son. He takes on various contenders but is constantly hassled by Clubber Lang, played by Mr T, for a title shot. Rocky agrees to meet Clubber in the ring but his manager Mickey, played by Burgess Meredith, is not so keen. On the night of the match Mickey dies of a heart attack and Rocky loses to Clubber. Apollo Creed decides to help Rocky and takes over his training for the rematch. After a tough match he wins back his title and the film finishes with Rocky and Apollo getting together in the ring for a friendly and private bout.

Stallone wrote the screenplay and directed the film and the theme song, Eye of the Tiger won an academy award.

I had not seen this before but watched it last week and thought it was pretty good.

Verdict: 7/10

Rocky IV

Can’t say I was totally impressed with this film. Apollo Creed decides to make his comeback with a fight against Russian Boxer Ivan Drago played by Dolph Lundgren. Creed is badly beaten by the Russian and dies from his injuries. Rocky agrees to fight Drago in Russia and takes a predictable win. It was again written and directed by Stallone and he and Lundgren traded real punches in the filming which ended up with Stallone in intensive care. Stallone’s future wife Brigitte Nielson played Drago’s wife, Ludmilla. Bill Conti who wrote the musical score for all the other Rocky films was absent from this one and instead Vince DiCola produced the disappointing music.

In 2021 Stallone released a new version of the film and the re-edited and re-released film was titled Rocky Vs Drago. The new version is only slightly longer but apparently was meant to add more depth to the relationship between Rocky and Apollo Creed as well as cutting some sillier elements like the robot Rocky gives to Paulie as a gift. A review I read in the Guardian felt that Stallone only marginally succeeded.

Verdict 4/10

Rocky V

This is probably the low point in the franchise. Original director John G Avildsen returned to the director’s chair and Stallone intended it to be the last in the Rocky franchise but it’s possible that because it was badly received, he went on to make Rocky Balboa.

Rocky returns from Russia but retires from boxing due to an injury. He then finds that his brother-in-law Paulie has given power of attorney to Rocky’s accountant who has then gone on to squander Rocky’s fortune. Rocky and his wife have to sell their home to pay their debts but Rocky finds purpose in training a young fighter. The relationship later sours and the two engage in a street fight which Rocky wins.

I have to admit that this is one Rocky film that has eluded me so far. Over on Rotten Tomatoes the review went like this: “Rocky V’s attempts to recapture the original’s working-class grit are as transparently phony as each of the thuddingly obvious plot developments in a misguided instalment that sent the franchise flailing into long term limbo.”

Verdict: Rotten Tomatoes gave the film only a 29% approval rating.

Rocky Balboa

I have two of the Rocky films on DVD. One is the original Rocky and the other is this one, Rocky Balboa. It’s a really thoughtful entry into the Rocky franchise. Rocky has retired. His wife has died and he has lost a lot of his money. His income comes from a small Italian restaurant in which many of the patrons come not just for Italian food but also to meet the former heavyweight champion of the world, Rocky Balboa.

The current champion Mason ‘the line’ Dixon has been criticised for fighting easy opponents. To get some positive publicity, he decides to enter into a computer fight with Rocky. It’s a fight reminiscent of the encounter between Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali in the 1970’s. At the time Marciano and Ali were the sport’s only two unbeaten champions. They were filmed sparring for various rounds and the result decided by probability formulas entered into a computer. Two different outcomes were filmed, the version shown in the UK showed Ali winning which my father was not happy about as he loved boxing and was a particular fan of Rocky Marciano.

In the film Rocky is judged to have won the computer fight and so decides to renew his boxing licence. Mason, not happy about being beaten, challenges Rocky to an exhibition fight which both men want to win. Mason emerges as the winner but Rocky doesn’t seem to mind. His day is over and he receives a standing ovation from the crowd.

This was probably the very best entry into the Rocky series. Rather than just boxing, the film looks at Rocky himself as he gets older, mourns the loss of his wife, and worries about his relationship with his son. He revisits many of the locations in the original Rocky film including his old house and the pet store where he met his wife. The only problem I had with the film was that the actor playing Mason Dixon didn’t look much like a heavyweight boxer to me. Surprise, surprise, then when I found out that actor Antonio Tarver was in fact a former light heavyweight champion! Ah, not a proper heavyweight then.

Rocky Balboa was the last in the Rocky series although a spin off series began in 2015 with Creed in which Rocky mentors boxer Adonis Johnson, the son of Apollo Creed. Although Stallone apparently contributed to the story, he did not write or direct either this or the following films. He isn’t happy about the producers owning the rights to characters he created either and publicly tweeted his unhappiness about a reported spin off film about Drago, the Russian boxer in Rocky IV.

In a lot of ways, the Rocky films parallel Stallone’s own life. He turned down big money offers to let others play what was the role of a lifetime, took it on himself and was propelled to film stardom.


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Making the YouTube Video

One of my friends asked me about my videos the other day. He wanted to know if they were easy to make and how much I planned them in advance. Anyone who knows me will know that I don’t plan anything in advance but I thought it might be interesting to show readers just how I put together a video.

The Idea/Shooting

I did a video a while ago as part of a beta testing programme I was asked to take part in. The testing was for a new update over on Animoto.com which is an online video editing site. The new addition was the facility to add a voice recording to a video which I had actually advocated quite a few times on their Facebook forum page. The video I decided to make stemmed from a blog post about writing poetry and it was called Idea, Inspiration and Effort. Those three things were what I thought was required to produce a poem and to be fair they could be applied to anything, a poem, an essay, a blog post, a novel or indeed, a video.

Everything of course starts with an idea. What shall I write about or what can I make a video about? For me I tend to shoot all sorts of video and then only later start to think about how I can put it together and use it in a finished product. For the video mentioned above over on Animoto I chose a template from their fairly wide range and then it was just a matter of adding in the stock photos or video and then the graphics. Animoto provides stock photos which I do use regularly but if possible, I always try to use photos I have taken myself. For instance, I needed a sunset shot for this video and I knew that I had a shot of a sunset taken in Greece on the island of Kalymnos so I uploaded that.

Of course, for a video like that, not much actual filming was required but normally, filming is the first step in any video. One way to prepare for a shoot is to make story boards. They are used extensively in the cinema and I’ve seen documentaries showing wonderful story boards from films like Citizen Kane to Aliens. They are simply drawings that look like comic strips showing the visual look of each different scene. Good for films using actors but not much use for documentaries or short films, well at least, not in my opinion. I tend to film first and then plan later how to use my recorded video. Others might think story boards a great help.

Reviewing the footage.

A short video like the one above is pretty easy but for my most recent video, a compilation of GoPro video shot mostly through the windscreen of my motorhome, well that was a little harder. I had a rough idea what I wanted so the next step was just to review all my footage. That involved hours and hours of going through a lot of video, a great deal of which was not very inspiring. Many times, I had left my GoPro running when I should have shut it down. Other times I pressed record at some wonderful area of French countryside, only to find that the resulting video wasn’t so wonderful.

A GoPro Hero similar to mine.

The Rough Cut

After reviewing everything, I dropped all the better shots into my video editor and the result was a video lasting well over an hour. My big mistake on a lot of our French trips is not shooting much additional video.  I may have recorded us arriving at a spectacular lake but then I hadn’t taken the camera and shot around the lake. We’d take a trek around a lovely French village and again I didn’t shoot anything in the village. However, having visited France so many times I went back over all my older video looking for interesting things.

In 2020 we parked by the river Seine one day and I had filmed the ferry going across to the other side and a huge ship chugging serenely past. I had not used that footage in previous videos so I added that into the editor. On a number of occasions, I’ve tried to shoot things that motorhomers have to deal with as routine, things like emptying the toilet and the waste water and topping up the drinking water and so on, so I added a number of clips showing all those processes.

In Rouen a few years ago we were following the directions from the Google lady on Google maps when we found ourselves heading into a tunnel which I realised we weren’t going to fit under. Luckily there was an escape road and we were able to exit but when we passed the area again this year, I recorded us travelling past and so I was able to talk about the experience.

The Final Cut

Less is more has always been my video adage so I trimmed out more and more video until I was left with some short story blocks or chapters: Travelling through the channel tunnel, heading on south through France with a quick look at where we stopped in 2020 by the Seine. Going through Rouen and avoiding the low tunnel. Various camping sites. Maintaining the motorhome and emptying the waste. A final stop and a barbecue and then returning to home via the ferry.

Voice Over

The next step was to put together the narration. Sometimes I write a narration and then tweak the video to fit the text. On this occasion I decided to do something I’d done before which was to jot down a few notes and then just narrate the voice-over as I watched the video. I actually did it quite a few times. The first and second versions had a lot of ums and ahs but by the third time I finally felt I had something reasonable. My voice-over was more confident than the first two tries and by then I pretty much knew what to say without my notes.

Sound Effects

Next I add the sound effects. Now you might think there wouldn’t be much need for sound effects on a video like this, however there were a couple. On a sequence where I showed the outdoor laundrettes which abound outside supermarkets in France, I had combined some still shots with video so I added some washing machine sounds to cover that and on another sequence, I had slowed down a wobbly shot of a microlight flying overhead. The soundtrack was distorted at the slow speed so I added the sound of a light aircraft which was similar to the sound of the microlight.

Microlight

Where do I get the sound effects? Well Liz bought me one of those sound effect CDs a few years ago but sometimes I head for a site called Zapsplat to download some free sounds.

Just to finish I think it’s important to watch the final product from beginning to end and just look for things that could be tidied up. I added a sequence showing an antique telephone during a bit on the voice-over where I talk about telephones. There were still some superfluous scenes shot through the windscreen which were either boring or too long so I trimmed those down.

Titles and Credits

The final thing is to add the titles and credits. Now being an old-fashioned film maker, I’ve always liked good intros on films. These days in the world of YouTube and TikTok, those long title sequences are not recommended. While I’m trying to get my video started with a few titles and introductions, the viewer has already clicked on to another video so these days the advice is to make those titles and credits short and sweet.

What sort of video editor do I use?

Well I actually like the professional version of the Microsoft Windows Video Editor. It’s pretty simple to use and I always make my rough cut with it. If I want to play with the soundtrack I then take the video over to Power Director where you can do some more complex edits.

Uploading to Social Media

Once you have made a video you want people to see it so it’s only natural to upload to the internet. YouTube is the obvious choice. How do you get people to watch it though? Tricky question and to be fair, I don’t really know the answer. I upload my videos and link them to various other sites. I have quite a few pages on this site here at WordPress where I showcase my videos or use them directly within a post. I also link them to Reddit, Facebook, Twitter and other places that I feel are appropriate. For instance there is a Manchester community on Reddit so I’ll link my Manchester themed videos there. I link my poetry videos to either the Reddit poetry community or to my Writeoutloud poetry page. Over on Facebook there is an amateur video page where video producers showcase their work and chat about it.

One of my big mistakes is uploading to YouTube too early. Once I’ve finished a project, I’ll continue to fiddle with it and start to wish I had uploaded version 7 rather than version 1. A good video site though less popular than YouTube is Vimeo and the good thing about their site is that it’s possible to replace your video with an updated version without losing your stats and comments. Such a pity that feature isn’t possible on YouTube.

Just as I finished this post, I clicked on a video that came up in my YouTube feed. It was about Ridley Scott and the making of Alien. Scott did something special with Alien, he took what could have been a mediocre monster movie and made it into something special. He brought some great designers and a strong cast into the project, made his case to the producers for a bigger budget and ended up with an outstanding film. Preparation and design was the key to that film and preparation and design are important even in small projects like yours, mine and a thousand others you will see on Youtube.

What will your next video project be?


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Manipulating The Image

The other day I was having a quick scan through my email junk folder. It’s always interesting what can be found there even if it’s just scammers pretending to be a pretty girl who is in love with me. Oh well, poor girls, can’t blame them really.

One email that caught my eye before hitting the permanently delete button was one asking me to follow a girl called Olivia Casta. Looking at her picture she seemed to be a very pretty girl but even so, I wasn’t going to click the link on the email, after all, that’s what the scammers want you to do; click on a phony link. I did a search for her on google and she came up as a popular model and influencer on Instagram.

I am on Instagram although not knowing that much about it I rarely post anything there apart from the occasional graphic trying as usual to bring in more readers to my blog. Come to think of it, I don’t even look at Instagram that much at all.

Olivia Casta

I did a quick search for Olivia on Instagram and there were various people associated with that name, most of whom seemed to be posting pretty much the same pictures of the same pretty girl dressed in various skimpy outfits.

Going back to Google I was about to search for something else but looking down the list there was another hit on Olivia. This one at a site called caveman.com claimed that Olivia Casta really wasn’t Olivia Casta.

That looked kind of interesting so I clicked on it and it claimed that Olivia Casta was really another lady called Maria Tretjakova. There was even a picture of this other lady in the same pose as a picture of Olivia. Whoa, this was really odd! It seemed that this author claimed that Maria was using a face app teen filter to make herself look younger, the giveaway was apparently that each picture of Olivia Casta has the same sweet smile, in fact exactly the same sweet smile.

Well I decided to take a look and see if I could find the Face app. I looked on my iPad and the app was available in my app list. I tried to download it but like a lot of apps I try to download these days, a message came up asking me to upgrade my software to version 14.0. Now that is a problem because my iPad says I’m on 12.5 but it also says that I am fully updated. In order to update my iPad I would actually need to go out and buy a newer model which is really just not acceptable because I spent a lot of money on my current iPad only a few years ago. Oh well, I won’t be exchanging my blog profile photo for a faceapped one of me looking considerably younger any time soon.

After this little excursion into face imaging it got me thinking about Lee Harvey Oswald. I’m sure you will know that Lee Oswald is the man accused of the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. Lee worked in the Texas School Book Depository and three shots from the 6th floor were fired at the President on the 22nd November 1963. One shot hit Kennedy in the back of the head causing a wound from which he could not possibly have survived.

A rifle was found at the scene, a rifle that had been ordered by a man called Alex Hidell and Lee Oswald, when later arrested at the Texas theatre was carrying an identity card in that exact name.

image courtesy wikipedia

Oswald turned to the TV cameras and asked for ‘someone to come forward’ presumably to help him but no one ever did. Oswald himself was in turn later murdered by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner right in the underground car park of the police headquarters and people have been asking ever since, was Oswald guilty? Did he shoot the President? Did Ruby shoot Oswald to silence him?

Well one of the things that looked pretty bad for Oswald was a photo of him holding a Mannlicher Carcarno rifle, the same rifle apparently that fired the fatal shot. The thing is, Oswald said that the photo was a fake, a manipulated photo designed to frame him. So was it?

There is quite a nice scene in the film JFK where Kevin Costner as Jim Garrison is explaining things to his team, that they have to look at things like the CIA and that black is white and white is black. As he does so, on the screen is a montage of someone manipulating an image, taking a picture of Oswald and fixing it to a picture of someone holding the rifle.

Now despite all this controversy over the photo and Lee Oswald claiming it was a fake, Lee’s Russian wife Marina, claimed she took the picture. It was actually taken at 214 West Neely street in Dallas, a rooming house where Lee was living at the time of the assassination. Was Oswald lying or was it Marina? Marina was taken into protective custody by the FBI after the assassination so was she telling the truth or just going along with what the FBI had told her to say?

These days, images are so easy to manipulate. Somewhere on my hard drive, I’ve got a version of this picture with my face in place of Lee’s but for the life of me, I couldn’t find it.

Changing your image digitally is one thing but there are those that want to change themselves physically. One way of doing that is to get plastic surgery but there can be pitfalls if you go down that road. Marilyn Monroe was rumoured to have had some surgery done to the tip of her nose and her chin but clearly if the rumours are true, the surgery was minimal and turned out pretty well. Others have not been so lucky.

Leslie Ash was one of stars of the TV comedy Men Behaving Badly. I’ve always thought she was rather pretty but it looks like she wasn’t happy with her looks and had filler injected into her lips giving her what the newspapers called a ‘trout pout’. I don’t think I’ve seen her on TV since.

Meg Ryan was another pretty lady who perhaps was worried about her advancing years, she was born in November 1961 making her 61 later this year. Searching through the internet there are claims Meg has had her cheeks filled, some work on her nose, botox on her forehead and volume in her lips. She claims she left Hollywood for personal reasons but perhaps Hollywood didn’t want her anymore when she started to look a bit odd.

Of course, the way we look is important to all of us in some way, however small. Even someone like me, I’m not immune to wanting to look my best. The profile picture of me that accompanies this blog was one taken by Liz back in 2006, 16 years ago. I could argue that I keep it for the sake of continuity rather than wanting to look younger but if I’m honest, I’d have to admit I just like the way I look as my slightly younger self.

Not only do we aspire to look our best and present ourselves at our best to the public at large, whether we are going for a night out or going to the shops (or pinning a profile picture to our blog posts) but we also look up to others who look good and who we find attractive.

When I was a teenager up on my bedroom wall alongside pictures of various racing drivers was a poster of my first crush, Olivia Newton John. In fact, the very first vinyl singles I ever bought were records by Olivia; The banks of the Ohio and What is life? A chart single at the time in 1973 cost about 48p and as those two singles had dropped out of the charts they were half price. To this day one of the few songs I can correctly recite the lyrics to is one of her other songs, Country Roads. I bought many of her albums and followed her career with interest. It was sad to hear of her death last week.

A few years ago, I did a blog post about my own internet presence. I googled myself and talked about what I found. I didn’t feature on Google until page 3 of the results but now in 2022 I come up on page 1. Steve Higgins an American TV personality came up number one just as he did a few years back, then there was Professor Steve Higgins of Durham university and various other Steve Higgins’ until I slotted in at number 7 with my YouTube page which is apparently more popular than this blog which was down there at number 10. I was pretty pleased with 7 but I’m still not happy that my YouTube page rated higher than my blog. After all, I do put the effort in here, writing a new post every week. I don’t post regular videos, just the odd one every now and then.

Not only that, how did Professor Steve Higgins of Durham University get ranked ahead of me?


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Reviewing the Mission Impossible Franchise

It was a cold afternoon in Manchester and I mumbled something to myself about the supposed heatwave and zipped my jacket up to my neck. At the left luggage office I took out the key that had been given to me earlier and when I opened the compartment I found a small package inside. I took the package and walked the short distance to the square. I sat down on the hard wooden bench and opened it up. Inside was a small tape player and a set of earphones. I put on the earphones and pressed play. There was a short burst of static and then a voice spoke.

‘Good afternoon, Mr Higgins. In the 1970’s a television show called Mission Impossible was produced that became a minor cult TV classic. Many years later the franchise was revived with a series of feature films starring Tom Cruise. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to review the TV series and the subsequent films, look at the background to the films, try to understand why they have been successful and put together a blog post revealing your findings. The blog post must be ready for publication by Saturday at 10am.

This tape will self-destruct in 5 seconds.’

I put down the earphones and placed them and the tape player back in the package, moments later the package disintegrated and I dropped the remains into a rubbish bin and walked away.

The TV series 1966 to 1973

The TV show was created by producer Bruce Geller and concerned a team of special agents known as the Impossible Missions Force. They are a US government agency which takes on hostile foreign governments, South American dictatorships and criminal organisations.

In the first series the team is led by Dan Briggs played by Steven Hill but he was replaced for season 2 by Peter Graves in the part of Jim Phelps. Other regular team members were Leonard Nimoy, Martin Laudau and his wife Barbara Bain, Greg Morris and Lesley Anne Warren. Each played a team member with a particular skill, for instance Laudau and Nimoy played agents with a talent for impersonation and disguise, Greg Morris played an electronics expert and so on.

Mission Impossible ran for 7 seasons and was cancelled because, according to Wikipedia, the producers at Paramount found they could make more money by syndicating the existing series rather than making new ones.

A revival series was made in the 1980’s also starring Peter Graves. To save money the series was not filmed in Hollywood but in Australia but it only lasted two seasons and was largely unsuccessful.

A great feature of the series was the opening title sequence which involved a match being struck and then lighting a fuse shown over quick clips of the upcoming episode to the sound of the iconic theme tune written by Lalo Schifrin. Next would be Jim Phelps listening to his tape recorded instructions which after being played would then self-destruct. Phelps would then look through his agents’ files complete with photos and choose who he wanted for the mission. Sometimes a guest star would play one of the agents who would be introduced by Jim checking out his dossier. A team briefing would then take place and the mission would get under way.

The IMF used a great deal of gadgets to accomplish their missions, secret listening devices and other electronic hardware as well as incredible masks and make up to impersonate people. One particular episode that I remember was when the team had to retrieve some stolen gold from a South American dictator’s safe. They did it by drilling a small hole in the safe, heating it until the gold melted and ran out down the small hole then a little gadget sprayed the interior of the empty safe to cover the hole. Mission Impossible was staple viewing in our household in the late 1960’s.

Mission Impossible 1996

Paramount Studios had plans to make a movie version of the series but the plans never seemed to come to fruition until Tom Cruise expressed an interest. He had been a fan of the TV series and hoped to make the film version the first project for his own production company, Cruise/Wagner Productions. The project began with Sydney Pollack as director but Cruise later decided he wanted Brian De Palma. De Palma designed most of the action sequences in the film and the final script was written around these. It just so happens that recently Channel 4 in the UK decided to run all the Mission Impossible films on consecutive nights so that came in pretty handy to refresh my memory on these films.

I enjoyed Mission Impossible much more on this recent viewing than when I had first seen it. The film uses the fabulous TV theme and opens in a similar way to the TV series.

Cruise plays agent Ethan Hunt with John Voight playing Jim Phelps. Hunt is sent to stop the theft of a list of agents kept inside the American Embassy in Prague. The mission fails and Jim Phelps, the agent in charge, is wounded and all of his team are killed except for Ethan Hunt. There is clearly a double agent or mole at work and various things happen until we find out the mole was Jim Phelps which was just a little bit sneaky because all of us who watched the 1960’s TV series knew that Jim Phelps was a character in that show and therefore could not possibly be the mole. The fact that he was made me feel a little cheated by this film because they used my nerdy TV knowledge against me.

I read recently that Peter Graves was asked to play Phelps in the film but declined after seeing his character was the traitor. Other stars from the TV series weren’t happy either.

Mission Impossible II 2000

This second instalment of the franchise was directed by John Woo. It’s about a biological weapon called Chimera. Rogue agent Sean Ambrose steals the virus from its inventor by impersonating Ethan Hunt. He destroys the aircraft on which the inventor is travelling and parachutes to safety. Hunt was played once again by Tom Cruise and his mission is to regain the virus. The opening sequence sees Cruise doing some daring rock climbing which the studio wasn’t happy about. Cruise didn’t have a safety net but did apparently wear a harness. I didn’t like the heavy metal style version of the classic theme and as a matter of fact, I lost interest in the film early on.

Mission Impossible III 2006

This third instalment was directed by JJ Abrams and for the first time the writers decided to show a little of the background to the Ethan Hunt character. He has retired from the IMF and has become a trainer for new agents but is asked to take on a new mission. He is about to get married but his fiancée knows nothing of his espionage work. The IMF team kidnap villain Owen Davian who escapes but decides to take revenge on Ethan. The film is filled with high powered action sequences and although a little implausible, I kind of liked it.

Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol 2011

The IMF are tasked to stop a man only known as ‘Cobalt’ who is trying to initiate a war between the USA and Russia. Tom Cruise as Ethan, infiltrates a Moscow prison to get to a man who has links to Cobalt. Things go wrong and the IMF is closed down by the US government when Cobalt blows up the Kremlin. The IMF team however stay on the hunt for Cobalt and follow him to various parts of the world including Dubai, where Tom Cruise has to climb up the outside of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. Cruise does all his own stunts but for a long time I just assumed that all the stuff on the outside of the Khalifa was done in a studio with a green screen and the background digitally inserted. Nope, Cruise actually swung on hidden cables outside the skyscraper. Why he should choose to risk his life in that fashion is beyond me but there it is. A good film full of action and adventure with numerous shootings and explosions.

Mission Impossible Rogue Nation 2015

This next instalment of Mission Impossible is pretty similar to the previous one. The CIA director (Alex Baldwin) asks a government committee to close down the IMF and incorporate them into the CIA which they decide to do. Ethan Hunt escapes from a criminal organisation known as the Syndicate with the help of British double agent Ilse Faust. Various exciting adventures ensue including a highly dangerous motorcycle chase and a deep underwater dive without oxygen. The IMF manage to capture the head of the Syndicate in the end. A government committee decide it would be best to reform the IMF. It’s all a little fantastic but not bad for a Saturday night on TV with a couple of beers and a pizza.

Mission Impossible Fallout 2018

After a week of watching the Mission Impossible films I’m sorry to say I missed this one which is a pity because according to the reviews it’s the best in the series. Still, sometimes it’s important to move one’s lazy behind off the couch, switch off the TV and go out and enjoy oneself. Pity there weren’t a few Mission Impossible questions in the pub quiz that night. After all this research I think I might have done pretty well.

Update

It just so happened that my brother has Fallout on DVD so he brought it round and we gave it a watch. The plot is something about plutonium and atomic bombs and the IMF guys have to swap the captured head of the Syndicate for the plutonium. The plutonium gets put into 2 atomic bombs which cannot be defused but after some highly implausible action-packed chases including a helicopter chase with both helicopters crashing, rolling down a cliff and being suspended on the edge, things finally get sorted. I reckon this would have been a good one to watch in the cinema.

Conclusion

It’s not easy to reboot a successful TV series whether it’s for the small screen or the big one but the producers of the Mission Impossible films have actually done a pretty good job. The films do have something of a link to the old TV series. They have different characters and different actors but the films have kept that opening element from the TV show with the match lighting the fuse.  They have also kept that fabulous theme tune. Then again, could they have really made Mission Impossible without the Mission Impossible theme? I don’t think so.

I did read that some of the TV actors from the original series weren’t happy with the films. Greg Morris apparently walked out of a screening when it was revealed that Jim Phelps was the traitor which was exactly why Peter Graves, the original Jim Phelps declined to reprise his old role as I mentioned earlier.

Personally, with the exception of MI2 I’ve enjoyed all the films and I look forward to the next instalment in the franchise which I believe has already been filmed.

Please step away from this blog post. It will self-destruct in 5 seconds . . .


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Birds, Barbecues and Big Steve

I had a few ideas for the title of this post. I had A Piece of My Life on the brain for a long time and then substituted A Pizza My Life (A piece of my life, geddit?) I even had a graphic sorted showing a slice of pizza. The thing with that I thought is that even though it ranges from funny to faintly humorous, I reckoned I would be giving people the wrong idea and that readers might have been expecting a post about, well pizza. Just lately I’m trying to optimise my titles for SEO (search engine optimisation) and at the same time also trying to give the impression that I know something about it. Some time ago I did a few posts titled A Slice of My Life so perhaps I should be adding part 3 or part 4 and just going with that? Nah, time for something new.  Anyway, cue new title and blog post graphic and here we go . . .

I wrote a few weeks ago about the UK heatwave. Temperatures hit record highs although the hot weather here in the northwest only lasted for two days. The day after the hottest day, it was dull and wet once again. The summer has generally been like that, a few hot and sunny days followed by more dull and wet ones. Liz and I like our barbecues so when the skies clear we tend to defrost some meat from the freezer and crank up the barbecue. A regular visitor to our barbecues is a large seabird which we have christened CBS. Nothing to do with the American TV channel but that bird is one heck of a Cheeky Bastard Seagull.

He usually arrives on our garden wall and struts around in the manner of an avian Mussolini. If he gets no response from us, he will tend to have a bit of a stretch before going into a major squawking session. Now he has made his presence felt we can expect some more strutting about until we put some bits of sausage or fat from our steak on the wall. He’ll gobble that up with the occasional foray into the sky to fend off any other birds who might be after a nibble before beginning his ritual again. When the gas goes off and he knows no more food will be forthcoming, CBS will usually have a final strut, give us a last squawk and be off into the sky.

These last few weeks however, CBS has not appeared. We’ve saved him some bits and pieces but our familiar feathered friend has not made an appearance. I’ve often wondered what has happened to him. Has he emigrated somewhere? No, surely it’s not the time of the year for birds to migrate? Has he passed away? It’s hard to tell if he was a young or an old bird. Has he been hit by a car trying to peck at some stray leftover sandwich accidentally dropped in the road?

At our last barbecue a large seabird appeared on our wall. At first, we thought it was CBS but there was no strutting or squawking and the bird did seem a little timid. He wouldn’t come close to collect his titbits on the wall. Was he a doppelganger trying to muscle in on CBS’s patch knowing the real CBS has passed away? We’ll never know.

I do love my books and when the weather is warm and sunny it’s a delight to lie outside on my sun lounger and have a good read. I’ve got quite a few books needing my attention and the first one was another book from a second-hand shop, Bette and Joan by Shaun Considine. It’s about a feud between classic film stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. After reading it I’m not even sure there was a feud between the two stars but either way, it’s a nice excuse to talk about these two screen gems and compare their personal lives as well as their screen stardom.

The book takes us back to the days of classic cinema and the big-league movie studios when stars were stars and the studio manufactured every level of their image; magazine interviews, acting lessons, publicity shots and in some cases even their personal relationships. Rock Hudson was a big star but also a closet homosexual and the studios manufactured a marriage for him to make sure he had a clean-cut Hollywood image. Not that that ever stopped Joan Crawford from bedding Rock, which according to the book, she did. Crawford had numerous affairs and also had a penchant for cleanliness. She lived the film star life to the full with big houses, cars and servants with her career starting in silent films in 1925.

Bette Davis always claimed to be an actress rather than a film star. Her career began later than Crawford’s and her first film role was in 1931. On the film Dangerous, she fell in love with co-star Franchot Tone but Crawford stole him from under her, seducing and later marrying him. That might well have been the beginning of their feud. The two only worked together once which was on the film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane. The two despised each other, didn’t get on at all and their mutual hatred was evident on the screen.

I do love my showbiz biographies and autobiographies and one I picked up a while back was an autobiography by Dora Bryan, According to Dora. I love Dora from her many appearances in British films but my favourite film is probably A Taste of Honey. The screenplay was by Shelagh Delaney and director Tony Richardson, adapted from Delaney’s own play which she famously wrote when she was only 18.

Dora Bryan gives an outstanding performance at times comic but always supremely natural. She grew up on an Oldham housing estate. Dora was a great performer as a child and so her mother took her to dancing school and further encouraged by her mother joined Oldham Repertory before moving to London to develop her stage career. She had a great career on the stage as well as on film and TV and appeared in many successful West End productions. The first part of the book is very interesting but then, like a lot of autobiographies, the latter part of the book seems to wander off into lists of productions and theatre and TV personalities. Even so, it was a lovely read.

We went to a birthday celebration this week and after a meal in a restaurant we went over to the Trawl Boat pub. Inside the talk turned to a fellow called Malcolm. He was an old chap and presided over the main table in the pub. He knew everyone and everything and his table was always referred to as the ‘Captain’s table’. Even the staff looked up to Malcolm. If you ordered a round, they would ask ‘is that for the Captain’s table?’ Yes. ‘OK we’ll bring it over’. We’ve never had service like that before or since. Malcolm was a character but he passed away a few years ago.

Another of the guys we used to chat to in there was a fella we called Big Steve. I’m six-foot and Big Steve towered above me, he must have been six-foot six, easy. He was a pretty fit guy having been a former drayman, one of those people who lug big beer barrels about for a living and he was a really easy fellow to get on with. We always used to sit with Steve and have a drink and a natter and when he was due to leave he would pull his jacket on, say his goodbyes and then always say to us; “Nice to see you both again, as always.” And then he would be off.

A few years ago, we saw Big Steve sometime in December and as usual at the end of the evening we said our goodbyes, wished each other a happy Christmas in case we didn’t see each other before the holidays and Steve said his usual “Nice to see you both, as always” and left.

We didn’t see Big Steve over Christmas, nor through the New Year period and one day we both said together in the Trawl Boat, ‘wonder where Steve is?’ Anyway, we thought nothing of it and assumed we’d catch up with him soon.

Later, Liz was chatting to some of the regulars and one mentioned to her that he had been to a funeral the previous day. Liz asked idly who the deceased was and the man answered that it was someone they didn’t think Liz or I knew. It was a guy called Big Steve who used to be a drayman! Well, the words leapt up and hit Liz and I like a slap. Big Steve was gone and we’d hadn’t even had a chance to pay our respects at his funeral. I can’t tell you how sad we both felt.

Liz, being the amateur Sherlock Holmes she is, tracked down the widow and we went to see her to pass on our condolences. It turned out that Steve had died quietly in his sleep and his wife went into his room one morning to find him dead. Not very nice for her but a peaceful passing at least for Steve.

I’ve not thought about Big Steve for a long time. Funny how that cheeky bird should bring back the memory of him.  Wherever Cheeky Bastard Seagull is, and I prefer to believe he has emigrated rather than been hit by a car, I hope the locals are looking after him.


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https://youtu.be/JzJA9YIAGls

Memory, Memories and Memorabilia

I got to thinking about memory the other day, after all memories are important. Our whole past experience is made up of memories so in effect, everything that has passed, everything that has gone before, exists only in memory.

My mother who suffers with dementia will be 93 later this year. Sometimes when I visit her she is talkative and chatty, other times not. A sad moment a few months ago was when her only words were please help me, intoned over and over like a ritual or a prayer. I left her feeling extremely saddened and upset that day but when I visited a few weeks later she was the complete reverse, bright, happy, talkative and chatty. She couldn’t remember her address, except for her childhood address, the one she left behind many years ago but still, she was bright and asked about her home and her garden and what about the rent? Was I keeping up to date with the rent?

The Auntie I never met.

I brought her a photo I had found of her sister Ada. Ada was a keen cyclist who was sadly killed in 1948 in a traffic accident on her bike. I showed her the picture and she knew Ada immediately telling me about her many achievements in cycling and also winning a place at the Manchester Central Grammar School for Girls.

The photo, as I had hoped, stimulated her memory and we talked for a while about the past and her long-lost sister.

Sometimes I wonder about my own memory. I forget names quite frequently and sometimes when Liz and I go to the pub quiz and try to identify celebrities in the picture round I end up saying things to Liz like ‘It’s the woman who was Mrs Peel in the Avengers on TV’ (one point for Diana Rigg.) Or ‘It’s the woman from the film Titanic’ (another point for Kate Winslet.) Or even ‘the guy who used to be on the breakfast show on Channel 4 with that woman who’s on Celebrity Gogglebox’. (Outstanding if you got Johnny Vaughn!)

The other day I was sorting out some of my old CDs. There wasn’t much on the TV so I popped one in the player. It was by Elton John called simply ‘Elton John’ and contains the hit single ‘Your Song’ and various other tracks. As Elton tinkled the ivories and began to sing, I realised I knew all the words despite not having listened to that album for many years. I’ve also got it on vinyl and when I was in my early twenties and discovered Elton, I played and played his records until my parents yelled up the stairs telling me to pack it in.

Memory is important too in today’s electronic devices. I mentioned in a previous post about how a shoot for one of my videos was curtailed because the camera’s memory card was full. I usually have a spare but on that particular day I hadn’t popped one into my camera bag. Result disaster! Well, almost disaster as I still had my spare camera. When I came to edit that particular video which was about Manchester Airport I also had a lot of unused video from previous visits as well as some video from the VHS days shot in the late 1980s so I was able to change direction a little bit and also to look at how the area has changed in recent years.

Going back further to the 1960s and 70s, my schoolfriends and I used to visit the airport regularly and go on to the viewing terraces to watch the aircraft land and take off. My old schoolfriend Steve used to be a real aircraft expert and when we made a video about the airport in 1986, he would comment on my photos saying things like ‘that was a 747 just arrived from Heathrow’ or ‘that was a Lufthansa 757 off to Munich’.

My mother too was pretty knowledgeable about aircraft, well, World War II aircraft anyway. Manchester was bombed in the war and mum’s suburban home of Wythenshawe was frequently hit as it was just up the road from the airport, a particular target of the Nazi bombers. The famous WWII pilot Guy Gibson did some of his training at Manchester airport, then called Ringway and mentions it in his autobiography, Enemy Coast Ahead. My mother says she could tell if the aircraft were British or German by the sound of their engines. The German bombers had a deep droning sound apparently.

A lot of my photographs are routinely backed up on Google Photos but recently they advised me about the new limits of their online backup service. From June 1st 2021, instead of free back up, that now only extends to 15 GB, after that we will have to purchase a plan with Google to continue our image storage. All my laptop images are backed up at Flickr.com but again, that isn’t a free service, I pay a yearly fee. Of course, I could just cancel but then how could I access my images? Well, it just so happens that all my images and videos are backed up on my three hard drives but Google is so much easier to use. If I want a picture for a blog post I tend to just search my Google photos rather than search around the house for my drives and then plug them in. When I went to back up my 2021 photos and videos the other day, I realised I didn’t have enough memory on my current drive so now I’ll have to get another one.

Loss of memory is a regular theme in the film world. The Bourne Identity and its sequels were about an intelligence agent who wakes and does not know who he is. Matt Damon plays the lead character who is picked up by a fishing boat near to death suffering from bullet wounds and total amnesia. The Bourne films are a series I’ve always wanted to watch but I never seen them. (Note to self- set the TV recorder next time The Bourne Identity appears on the TV guide.)

Hitchcock made an amnesia themed film in Spellbound starring Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman. A doctor, played by Gregory Peck, arrives at a mental hospital to replace the outgoing hospital director but Ingrid Bergman discovers Peck is an imposter. Peck’s character fears he may have killed the former director but cannot recall anything. Not my favourite Hitchcock film but it’s an interesting one with dream sequences designed by surrealist artist Salvador Dali.

Finally, here’s my favourite amnesiac film, Random Harvest starring Ronald Colman and Greer Garson. It’s a film not often seen on TV and now and again I’ll get out my old VHS copy if I want to watch it. Based on the book by one of my favourite authors, James Hilton, the film concerns a shell-shocked war veteran, played by Colman, recovering in a sanatorium during the latter days of WWI. The man cannot remember his past but makes a new life with Greer Garson. After they are married the man now known as Smithy, journeys to Liverpool to see a newspaper editor about a story he has written. In the city Smithy is hit by a cab and knocked unconscious. When he awakes all memory of Smithy has vanished but his true identity returns.

He returns home to his lost family but what was he doing in Liverpool. Where has he been in the years since his wounding in the trenches of the Great War?

At times a little sentimental, I’ve always loved this film. Colman is wonderful as the man who rejuvenates his family’s business, becomes a respected MP but cannot find happiness until he knows what happened to him in those few lost years.

Here’s a last thought on the subject of memory. When you are at the pub quiz and are struggling to recall the name of the guy who played Jason King in TV’s ‘Department S’, never say to yourself ‘I can’t remember’. According to Paul McKenna, the guy who produced all those books and tapes about confidence boosting which I used to use when preparing for job interviews, you are sending a message to your subconscious saying ‘don’t remember’. What you should say to yourself is ‘I’m not sure at the moment but the answer WILL come to me soon.’ That way, you’re sending a positive message to your subconscious telling it to get working on that long-forgotten name.

Now, who did play Jason King? Peter Wyngarde! Told you it would work!


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We’re Having A Heatwave

I don’t usually write about anything topical but a big thing in the UK at the moment is the current red warning about the heat. Yes, the heat. According to the media there is a heatwave due for this coming week, (this week as you read this) warning us to stay under cover, drink plenty of water and to visit cool places that have air con like the local library. I’m not sure our local library even has air conditioning so no point in going there, unless you want to borrow one of their books.

The Red Extreme heat national severe weather warning will cover Monday and Tuesday (18th and 19th July) for parts of central, northern, eastern and south eastern England. An Amber Extreme heat warning, has been in place for much of England and Wales for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday (17th – 19thJuly) since earlier this week. Today the amber areas are also being extended to cover Cornwall, west Wales and parts of southern Scotland.

OK so let me get this right, the extreme heat warning is for just two days, not the whole of the summer. The expected heat is going to reach temperatures of 40 degrees C, which works out at 104 degrees Fahrenheit, which is pretty much the temperatures we Brits are looking for when we jet off to Spain for our summer holidays. Is it worth getting excited about? Well, for a month of 100 plus degrees yes but for two days, I don’t think so.

Come to think of it, when we were in France a few weeks ago the weather was really hot. The temperatures hit 100F then but the French didn’t get their knickers in a twist, they just came down to the lake where we were staying and went for a swim.

What precautions have I taken so far? Well, I’ve put a few bottles of water in the fridge. I’ve got some t-shirts and shorts ready. Liz bought a big tray of meat for barbecuing from the butchers. She also filled up her pool. It’s not a big pool, it’s about 8 foot by 5 and it took us a while to put it together, connecting various steel tubes which click together to make the framework that holds the main water tank. I have to say I didn’t expect to be using it but I have slipped into it on a couple of occasions, just to cool myself down.

Anyway, let’s look at the days prior to the heatwave.

Saturday.

Started off a little dull but warmed up later. Spent the day reading and had a barbecue later. I thought it went a little chilly that evening and popped my fleece on. Liz told me I was ‘nesh’.

Sunday.

Quite warm. Spent the day reading in the garden. Numerous dips in the pool. Had a barbecue later. A mild, warm evening.

Monday. (Red Alert Day)

It was a warm night but hardly roasting. I woke early at about 7am. I stayed in bed and went through my emails and checked my weekend blog stats. I washed and shaved and made a cup of tea. I checked for mail, the proper mail that comes to the post box. Nothing so far. I was expecting a pair of shoes I had bought on eBay and wanted to intercept them before Liz arose and threw the usual Imelda Marcos cracks at me that I usually throw at her. While I was having my tea Liz came in and checked the mail. A parcel was there for me. It was the expected shoes: cue the expected Imelda Marcos gags.

I parked myself on my sun lounger ready for a good read but things went a little dull and then it started to rain. The quick shower was soon over with and then the sky cleared and the sun came out.

Things got pretty hot especially when we cranked up the barbecue once again. Being sunny the wine was at the perfect temperature and the food, some chicken kebabs, a little steak, some sausages and some small burgers went down a treat. Liz’s salad starter was pretty outstanding too. On the TV news later, we were advised that numerous trains had been cancelled and British Rail was advising travellers not to travel and to stay at home. Apparently, it was so hot the rails were buckling in many places and the trains were running at slower speeds to avoid any potential accidents. Funny how the trains in hot places like Spain, Greece, the South of France, Africa and other hot spots never seem to be affected by buckling rails. Do those pesky foreigners use some sort of special steel for their rails?

The highest ever temperatures were recorded in places like Suffolk (38.1C) which fell just short of a new UK high according to the BBC website. They also said that now Tuesday is going to be even hotter!

Tuesday.

Tuesday started out very warm. Too warm in fact for any unnecessary cooking heating up the house so we had boiled eggs for breakfast. I got myself settled in the garden but then everything clouded over and we even had a brief rain shower. After that it did get pretty warm. A strong wind started up but soon died out. According to the news the projected temperature of 42 degrees C didn’t happen but 40.3C recorded down south somewhere is apparently a new UK temperature record.

The London fire service recorded their busiest day since WWII and on the news there was the sad story of a fire that enveloped an entire row of houses. Luckily, no one was injured.

Back in the north west I was lying idly on my sun lounger and I started to think about film clips that I might use in this post. Lawrence of Arabia was one that first came to mind but then I remembered that excellent British Film, Ice Cold in Alex. John Mills plays Captain Anson, an officer in charge of an ambulance unit in Tobruk in the Second World War. Anson must get his crew across the desert to the British lines and escape the advancing German troops. Anson is suffering with battle fatigue and alcoholism and is determined not to drink until he can buy his crew a cold lager in Alexandria. They face various struggles in the desert but finally get to have that ice cold beer.

In the 1980’s, the moment when the crew get their beer was used in a popular TV beer commercial. Looks good doesn’t it but that barman could use a little extra training on how to pour a glass of beer.

Wednesday.

Wednesday was windy, dull and considerably cooler, that was it I suppose for the so called heatwave. It has of course been a pretty hot week for UK politics. Boris Johnson has been forced to resign as Prime Minister (his last words to parliament were apparently ‘hasta la vista, baby’) and the Conservative party are busy electing a new leader. The two candidates remaining after the Conservative MP’s whittled the candidates down to two are Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, neither of whom I’d be interested in voting for but as I’m not a member of the Conservative party, I won’t even get a chance.

Yes, the heatwave was pretty nice while it lasted, certainly for me but then I really do hate the cold and of course, I haven’t had to go to work. It gave me a chance to work on my tan and I’ve really enjoyed our barbecue meals. Not sure if it might be just a little too chilly to have another one tonight though.

By the way, where did I leave that fleece?


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