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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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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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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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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Another Moany Whingey Kind of Blog Post

This week there are a few things I need to get off my chest, so what better way than to throw them into a blog post and just get the whole lot out into the open.

Here we go then.

I really do hate the cold which is why Liz and I spend the summer heading to the warmer climes of France in our motorhome and jet off to Lanzarote in January. As winter is coming ever closer I decided to splash out a little cash and buy myself a new winter jacket. It’s a fleece lined jacket with a warm fleecy hood just perfect for keeping the cold out and the warmth in. The problem is that as I write this, which might be a few weeks before it is injected into the cyberworld, the weather here in the northwest of England is pretty mild. So mild that when I first wore the new jacket, I found myself boiling hot. Maybe I should just put it away for the really bad weather. Typical! I’m prepared for the cold weather but things have got warmer. OK, that’s my first moan out of the way.

I do hate this time of year, Hallowe’en especially. Strange people start knocking on my door asking for treats. I don’t mind treating friends or family but strangers? I don’t think so! I found myself this Hallowe’en hoping it would be cold and raining but the day started off really nice and the sun was out and there was me, sweltering in my new fleecy jacket.

Oh well, as soon as Hallowe’en is over then it’s bonfire night where suburbia turns into something resembling a battle zone with bangers and rockets going off at all times of the day and night.

This week I received a message from an old friend of mine, Gary. I’d not spoken to Gary for a long time and to be honest, Gary is more of an acquaintance than a friend. Anyway, Gary sent me a message asking about a claim I could make. What claim? What was he on about? Of course, Gary is a similar age to me and I thought that maybe he’d retired, knew that I was a fellow retiree and just wanted my advice. I answered his message which was a big mistake. It wasn’t Gary but someone who had created a fake Facebook identity in his name. I blocked the fake Gary and reported the scam to Facebook but answering that message had consequences. Almost straight away friends were contacting me to say they had received dubious messages supposedly from me so in those few minutes before I blocked the fake Gary, he had scanned through my page, copied my pictures, produced a fake Steve Higgins site and was trying to scam others.

I wasn’t amused and I wasn’t amused by the response from Facebook. It seems to me that the bigger the organisation involved, the harder it is to contact them. I had a problem over on YouTube a few years ago when they blocked one of my videos saying it was spam. Spam? It wasn’t spam at all, it was a short entertaining little piece lasting about forty seconds explaining the virtues of this very blog. It was a nightmare getting in touch with someone who wasn’t an automated bot at YouTube and in the end, I was getting absolutely nowhere so I gave up, deleted the video and just made a new one.

Photo by FLY:D on Unsplash

Over on Facebook I found that to report a scam like this, it wasn’t possible to actually explain in detail what the issue was; no, you had to tick various boxes and it was a little difficult trying to find a box that exactly fit the situation that I was trying to report. I ticked a box for suspicious content which wasn’t exactly right.  Facebook later pinged into my inbox a short message saying they couldn’t find any issues with the content of Steve Higgins.

OK, stay calm, try again. The next time I seemed to have somehow reported myself rather than the fake but then I came across a button about fake identities. Yes, fake identity reporting. That was it! It would have been nice for a comments box to be available advising the details of the scam but clearly that looks like it was too much to ask for. Anyway, I think I finally managed to get through to Facebook but it wasn’t easy. Later when I did a Facebook search for Steve Higgins the fake account wasn’t there so presumably it had either been deleted or the scammer had given up and was looking at pastures new.

A similar thing happened with my car insurance, As usual the premiums have gone up. You might think as I’m no longer a regular commuter and have a lifetime of collision free driving behind me including a lot of years as a motorway traffic officer, you might think that my premiums might actually be going down. Of course not, so once again I’ve had to search the internet for a cheaper insurance supplier. I chose my deal, sent them the cash and advised my old company that I would no longer be needing their services. I downloaded my no claims certificate ready to upload to my new company. They mentioned when I purchased the insurance that they would contact me and ask for proof of the no claims. Well, they never asked! How could I send them my no claims letter anyway? Well, there is a contact us section on their web site, that leads us to the frequently asked questions page. Are these frequently asked questions what you wanted they ask? No. Click the contact us button and that takes us, yes, you’ve guessed it, back the FAQ page.

I reckon we’re up to moan number 4 now but what the heck, who’s counting? On Monday I popped into Asda for a few items, chief among them a bottle of tawny port. For some reason Asda was packed to the seams. I’m not sure why but the really annoying thing is that, like a lot of supermarkets, Asda seems to have cut down on staff manning their tills and increased the amount of self-service tills. Now I may be an seasoned internet blogger, an experienced iPad and laptop user, an editor of videos both on and offline and even a podcaster but one thing I will never understand is how to check out at a self service till.

Whenever I come close to one, I always get messages about things in the bagging area, things that should be there or shouldn’t be there and I always, always, have to call for assistance. Even if I don’t call for assistance something will go off advising me that assistance is on the way. Every time! It happened on my recent visit and then on the way out the alarms went off. Why? Well on bottles of alcohol, like port, they have this anti-theft thingy attached which one needs to have removed by calling for assistance. Self service supermarket tills, I hate them. Help to till 12 please! I need the device removing from my bottle of port.

Later on back home on Hallowe’en night, I realised that the two digital clocks in the house were showing the wrong time. The hour had gone back that week to Daylight Saving Time and even though my iPad and mobile phone automatically change time, older things like digital clocks, need to be manually updated which in itself is quite annoying. It was dark then by 5:30 and I had the curtains closed and the lights turned down as I was thinking that I wasn’t even going to open the door to Hallowe’en trick or treaters this year. I could eat my tea in the kitchen rather than on a tray while watching TV and soon Hallowe’en would be just a distant memory.

Round about six I heard something outside. Not people knocking on the door, not voices, no! It was a torrential downpour, a complete washout and all those annoying kids asking for treats had gone; they had all rushed home to escape from the rain.

Hey, Hallowe’en wasn’t such a bad day after all!


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The Glade of the Armistice

I never plan anything, never, which is why that it’s so unusual for this blog post to be appearing at such an appropriate time. This weekend, we remember the dead of two World Wars and I thought it might be fitting to tell you about the time I visited the Glade of the Armistice in Compiègne, France.

Earlier this year Liz and I were touring through France in our motorhome. Towards the end of our trip we were naturally moving further north towards Calais and our trip through Eurotunnel and back to the UK. We stopped in a place called Berny Rivière intending to visit another of our favourite restaurants. Sadly, the restaurant was closed and so we found somewhere to park up for the night and as the heavens decided to open up and drop a major rainstorm on top of us, we ate in.

We were parked not far from Compiègne where the armistice which ended the First World War was signed in 1918 so it seemed an opportune moment to visit The Glade of the Armistice.

The Glade is exactly that, a clearing in the middle of a forest. A series of what look to be tram lines curve across the glade to the site of the museum but still visible today, is the location where the armistice was signed, aboard a famous railway carriage in 1918. The railway carriage was designated 2419D and was part of Marshal Foch’s personal train. Foch decided on the spot for the surrender as he wanted to keep the negotiations away from the prying eyes of the press. The negotiations began on November 8th and were finally finished and the document of surrender signed at 5:45am on the 11th November, 1918.

The surrender came into force at 11am and fighting continued until that time with 2,738 men dying on the last day of the First World War.

The railway carriage went back into regular service for a while but was then attached to the French Presidential Train. Afterwards it was put on display in Paris until 1927 when it was returned to the glade at Compiègne.

The Second World War began in 1939 when Hitler and the Nazis invaded Poland. The railway carriage was still in Compiègne on the 22nd June, 1940 when Hitler ordered it to be brought out from its shed and back to the glade and it was there that he and his generals accepted the surrender of the French. Three days later the site was demolished on the orders of the Führer and the railway carriage was taken to Berlin. The statue of Marshal Foch was left standing intentionally, left to stand guard over a scene of devastation, a personal insult from Hitler to the Marshal who had died in 1929.

After the war, the site was restored by German prisoners of war and in 1950, an identical carriage was returned to the site. Carriage number 2439 was built with the same batch as the original and was also part of Marshal Foch’s train in 1918.

The carriage is housed in a small museum and when I entered early one Saturday morning I was the only visitor present. The staff asked me my nationality and when I stepped into the main area a recording began telling the story of the site in English. It was really fascinating and as I walked around, I started up my camera and took numerous pictures and video.

Outside in the Glade, the statue of Marshal Foch is still there and looks down on a beautiful clearing. It was a calm and peaceful place and it was strange to stand on the spot where Hitler and his Nazi cronies once stood.

Hitler can be seen on photographs and film footage from the time. He must have been overjoyed. He and his generals had done in 1940 what the Kaiser and his generals could not do in 1918 and defeated the Allied Armies. His joy only lasted a few short years. In 1945 he shot himself surrounded by the debris of a ruined Berlin.


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JFK in Film and TV

It’s always interesting to see how film makers present historical figures to their audience. John Kennedy a was good looking and charismatic American leader and after watching the TV mini series Kennedy I thought I’d take a closer look at how JFK has been portrayed in film and TV.

Kennedy

Strolling through St Annes not long ago I dropped Liz off at the hairdressers and wandered into a nearby shop that sells secondhand books, DVDs and CDs. It was there I spotted the DVD of a mini series from the 80’s called simply Kennedy with Martin Sheen playing the part of John F Kennedy. The DVD box set had been on my shelf for a while until one cold and wet evening when I thought it was time to pour a small port and settle down to watch it.

The first episode opens on election day revealing the Kennedys at their compound in Massachusetts with Bobby and Ted and their volunteers manning the phones trying to get the latest info in from the election count. The series goes on to follow the Kennedy administration through various issues including civil rights, the Bay of Pigs fiasco, problems with US Steel, the Cuban Missile crisis and finishes with the President’s death in Dallas.

Sheen captures the president’s clipped Boston accent pretty well and Blair Brown who plays Jackie has an uncanny likeness to Jackie herself, especially when she dons the First Lady’s pink suit for the trip to Dallas. Nothing controversial is included although the film does show how J Edgar Hoover kept close tabs on Kennedy’s private life and how Bobby apparently made many efforts to keep the President from compromising himself.

This series had me hooked from the beginning and I could feel the excitement the Kennedy team felt themselves when they knew that JFK had won the election.

Martin Sheen was much shorter than the real JFK and that brought to mind the closing lines from William Manchester’s book Death of a President. One of the Dallas doctors who fought to save Kennedy looked at his lifeless body and thought what a big man the President was, bigger than he had previously thought. Yes, says Manchester, the President was indeed a big man.

JFK

After watching the mini-series over a couple of days I thought that I’d settle down to watch the Oliver Stone movie JFK. Oliver Stone’s film focuses on Kennedy’s death rather than his life. It follows the investigation of New Orleans DA Jim Garrison and his attempt to investigate the assassination. Kevin Costner plays Garrison and the film opens with the shooting in Dallas and Garrison watching the events unfold on TV. Stone uses the Garrison investigation as a framework on which to hang various theories, the main one being that the ‘military industrial complex’ was responsible. The film is well put together and expertly combines archive film with new footage as well as different film types, 16mm and 35mm, black and white and colour as well as square and wide screen film.

The centre of the Garrison investigation is New Orleans where Oswald visited and the various contacts he had there including David Ferrie, a strange individual active in the anti-Castro community who had lost his hair and wore a wig and Guy Bannister, an ex-FBI agent who ran a private investigation business. Located in the same building as Bannister’s office was one used by Lee Oswald for his fake Pro-Castro Fair Play for Cuba committee.

Jim Garrison himself has a small role as Earl Warren, the chairman of the Warren Commission which investigated the murder at the behest of President Johnson.

The finale of the film involves the showing of the 16mm film of the assassination, shot by Abraham Zapruder, to the jury. Garrison tried to show that local businessman Clay Shaw was part of the conspiracy but failed.

I’ve always found the film totally engrossing but it proved to be controversial, however the film did lead to the JFK Assassinations Records Act which enabled the release of the remaining assassination documents held by the US government.

Even if you don’t have a conspiracy theory or even a viewpoint about the death of JFK this is a powerful and interesting film and well worth watching.

PT 109

PT 109 is an account of John Kennedy’s time as commander of a Patrol Torpedo Boat in World War II.  The young Kennedy was enrolled in the US Navy and was sent to the Solomon Islands to take over his command. He had suffered for a long time with a bad back and had to get his father Joe to use his influence to get him into the war. Kennedy completed his training in 1942 and after a short period as an instructor, he was finally assigned to PT Boat 109.

While on patrol one night PT 109 was hit by a Japanese destroyer which cut the torpedo boat in two. Two crew members were killed but Kennedy led his remaining crew, including one severely burned man, on a long swim to Plum Pudding Island. It took the crew four hours to swim the 3.5 miles to the island and Kennedy himself had to tow the injured man by clenching a strap in his teeth.

Later when help had still not arrived, JFK had to take his crew on second swim to another island where they met a native who took a message carved on a coconut shell to the Allied forces and they were eventually rescued.

Kennedy was played by Cliff Robertson whose casting was personally approved by President Kennedy and the film was released in the summer of 1963. I saw the film on TV a few years ago and I’d have to agree with those who weren’t overly impressed by it.

In real life the Kennedy brothers were highly competitive and Joe Kennedy junior, after hearing of his younger brother’s exploits in PT Boats, volunteered for a dangerous mission which led to his death in England flying an aircraft filled with explosives.

Thirteen Days

Thirteen Days was a 2000 film about the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and stars Bruce Greenwood as John F Kennedy. In 1962 U2 flights over Cuba doing photo reconnaissance, spotted the build up of missiles sent to the area by the Soviet Union. Kennedy created an executive committee to deal with the emergency and the meetings were recorded. The film was based on the 1997 book, The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis, by Ernest R. May and Philip D. Zelikow so it was therefore pretty accurate. The odd thing about the film is that the star is not the JFK character played by Greenwood but Kennedy’s assistant Ken O’Donnell played by Kevin Costner and the film seems to be saying that it was O’Donnell who motivated the President and saved the day and not the President himself, which was clearly not the case.

Many in the military wanted a full-scale invasion of Cuba but Kennedy himself hung on for a diplomatic solution.

Bruce Greenwood didn’t do it for me as JFK but Thirteen Days is an interesting film and well worth watching but I feel I got a better sense of the Cuban Missile Crisis in the TV series Kennedy.

Documentary

Having watched all this about John F Kennedy, I thought it might be time to take a look at the real JFK. In my VHS collection I have quite a few documentaries about him, some date back to the 1960’s and on the 25th anniversary of his death in 1987, many of these films were shown on television and I recorded a lot of them on my very expensive video recorder. One was called Crisis which looked at how the President handled the civil rights issue in the USA. Another was about the election of 1960 including Kennedy’s selection as the Democratic candidate. He competed in the primaries against Hubert Humphrey and when Kennedy utilised his entire family, brothers, sister and his mother, Humphrey complained that he wasn’t just fighting one man but an entire family. The film shows Kennedy at an election meeting with his family all shaking hands and smiling to the public.

One last film I watched was in Channel Four’s Secret Lives season. This episode from 1997 was written and directed by Mark Obenhaus and based, I think, on research by Seymour Hersh who afterwards published The Dark Side of Camelot. It showed former secret service agents talking about Kennedy’s affairs and numerous liaisons with prostitutes. The agents were forced to explain away the women as ‘secretaries’ to those around them who were not in the know. They also talked about Kennedy’s meetings with a man they nicknamed Doctor Feelgood, Max Jacobson, who was apparently treating JFK with amphetamines. In later years after the death of JFK, Jacobson lost his license.

Of course, in this short blog post I cannot hope to get close to the real character of JFK. To journalist Hugh Sidey he talked about the aristocrats of Victorian England who defended the principles of law and democracy on a weekday but retired to their country mansions at the weekend for wife swapping parties and other hedonistic diversions. Sidey explained that after Kennedy told him that, he felt he finally understood the real character of the President.

Whatever he did in his private life, as president, John Kennedy averted a nuclear war and spoke what I think were some of the most memorable phrases ever spoken by any politician. Let me leave you then with these words, delivered at the American University in 1963, a matter of months before his death. Talking about the Soviet Union he said:

So, let us not be blind to our differences but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.


As usual I’ve tried to find video links that do not start with an advertisement although it isn’t always possible.

For the full text of JFK’s American University speech, click here.


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Any Old Port in a Storm

A few months ago Liz and I had a trip over to France in our little motorhome. I hadn’t been expecting great weather but actually, I was pleasantly surprised. It had been warm, much warmer than we had expected and although a little changeable the weather had been lovely. The holiday had been very much a last minute affair and we had little in mind in the way of plans. However, there were two things I wanted during this trip. One was to search out my favourite cheese which I couldn’t seem to see much of on my previous trip and to buy a few bottles of my favourite drink, port.

My favourite cheese is called Rondelé Bleu. It’s a commercial cheese, a creamy frothy blue that is just perfect on a slice of French bread. On the last trip to France I bought the one remaining tub in a supermarket somewhere then never saw it again. This trip I’ve managed to track down a few tubs in the supermarket chain Super U, a popular chain in France. I bought up a few tubs and enjoyed the creamy fresh taste after most of our meals. Now you might be thinking Rondelé Bleu? What about Comté, Camembert, Époisses and even Brie? Yes, all good in their ways but Rondelé Bleu just really does it for me.

Actually, Rondelé did it for me. Did, being the operative word. Did as in past tense. While in France on this trip I discovered my new favourite cheese. It is Tomme de Savoie. Yes, Steve must be a pretty changeable guy you must be thinking. Oh well, I don’t like to be stuck in the past. Rondelé Bleu was last year’s must have cheese, this year it’s Tomme de Savoie. It’s got a fabulous taste, obviously! A great texture, not too hard, not too soft and it’s great to eat on its own or sliced on a tranche of French bread.

Port of course is readily available in the UK. The most popular is perhaps the ruby port although I prefer the tawny. What is port you might be asking? Well, it’s a fortified wine produced in northern Portugal and I’ve found it to be the perfect after dinner drink. Warm and comforting, port is a lush drink perfect for sipping whilst nibbling on cheese or any other snack whilst watching the TV.

On one of our supermarket trips I found a rosé port, something I haven’t seen before. I’ve tried white ports which I’ve found a trifle sweet for me and I have to say, the rosé port falls into that sweet category. Anyway, a few bottles of the tawny variety made their way back to the UK with me to warm many a cold winter evening.

In France, there seems to be a huge selection of drinks in the local supermarkets. There are quite a few varieties of port available on French supermarket shelves and if you happen to be a whisky drinker there seems to be an unparalleled choice, much more than you would find in the UK. Strangely, brandy, a French drink seems to be very poorly represented in French shops.

The other thing I tend to search for in France are telephones. Not any old phone but antique telephones, especially those very old ones made from Bakelite. Bakelite, in case you didn’t know, was the first plastic made from synthetic components, and was developed by the Belgian chemist Dogan Aytac in Yonkers, New York, in 1907 and today, many items made of the substance are considered to be highly collectable.

A vintage bakelite telephone bought in France

I do love a vide grenier, a French loft or car boot sale. Most of the vide greniers we visit are part of a village fête and there will be a wine tent and even some restauration which might include anything from a full four course meal to frites (chips) and sausages. This year I haven’t seen any interesting telephones. Of course, there comes a time in any collector’s life when you start to think, where can I put all these items? What shall I do with all these telephones? Do I really want more telephones?

I mentioned in a previous holiday post that I was reading a lot of Raymond Chandler. When I say a lot, I brought along to France a three book collection of his. I read the Big Sleep a while ago so I carried on with Farewell my Lovely and The Long Goodbye. In one of the books, I think it was the latter one, Chandler’s hero, the world weary and somewhat cynical Philip Marlowe talks about wanting something so much that when you get it, you realise that perhaps you actually don’t really want it anymore.

Yes, I think that’s enough Rondelé Bleu and old telephones for now.

Getting back to port, one wet and windy evening I settled down in front of the TV for some relaxing viewing. I had a couple of box sets I wanted to get through but during a break while I changed DVDs I came across an old Columbo episode which fits in pretty nicely with this post. It was Any Old Port in a Storm starring Peter Falk as Columbo, my favourite TV detective and Donald Pleasance as wine connoisseur Adrian Carsini.

The episode opens as Carsini is having a wine tasting with a few friends. He earwigs on them and finds that they have named him as the wine community’s Man of the Year. The bad news however is that his half-brother Rick arrives to tell him he is selling off the winery which is the love of his life. In a rage Adrian whacks Rick over the head with a bottle. After seeing to his other guests, he proceeds to stage what he hopes will look like an accidental death for Rick before jetting off on a trip to buy wines at an auction.

Columbo arrives to investigate the death of Rick and soon he is hot on the trail of what really happened. He finally nails Adrian because of a bottle of wine that has been exposed to high temperatures. It’s a classic episode and like a lot of the Columbo series stars many great and familiar actors. Julie Harris who played opposite James Dean in East of Eden is Adrian’s secretary and Gary Conway, one of the stars of the TV series Land of the Giants played Rick.

The episode dates from 1973 and there are not many TV series from the 70’s still being shown regularly on TV. What makes Columbo so popular? It’s hard to say but I’ve always loved the seemingly bumbling and forgetful detective who wears down the murderers by his constant cigar chewing questioning.

Time for another glass of port? Don’t mind if I do.


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10 Things I Can’t Live Without

Thanks for tuning in once again and if you’re not a regular reader, thanks for giving me a try. In case regular readers are getting fed up of blogs about motorhomes and travelling in France, swimming in lakes, eating fabulous food, drinking red wine and all that stuff, this week I thought I’d have a change of pace and write about something a little less serious so this week’s blog post is a homage to a similar post I saw out there in cyberspace. It had a similar title, 10 Things I Couldn’t Do Without but those 10 things were so uninteresting I just had to think of 10 of my own ideas. Anyway, let’s get cracking. I found that a lot of my 10 items I had written about before so I’ve added the relevant links to those posts. Feel free to click on them and I definitely won’t mention anything about motorhomes or holidaying in France.

Bacon.
There is nothing that could be more perfect for breakfast than bacon. Throw in a poached egg, a sausage, maybe some black pudding or a hash brown and some tomatoes, a couple of rashers of bacon and there you have it, a wonderful breakfast. If you are perhaps not so hungry or maybe in a rush or on the move, you can still enjoy a bacon sandwich, throw a fried egg on top to make it extra tasty and get yourself a fresh cup of tea. Lovely! On holiday a while ago in France (did I say I wasn’t going to mention our 4 weeks in France? Sorry!) cooking can be a little difficult on our small three burner stove so Liz made us a bacon and egg omelette which was really nice served with French bread, lovely!

TV

I’ve got TV on the list and believe me I love my TV. Just cast your eye over the many TV posts on this blog and you will realise I am a big fan of the old gogglebox so much so that my Dad, may he rest in peace, used to call me square eyes. For younger readers, TV sets tended to be square back in the old black and white days. Having said that on our holidays -like the 4 weeks we’ve just had in France– I didn’t miss TV at all and in fact, only watched it once and that was for the Italian Grand Prix.

F1

Ayrton Senna

That brings me nicely to my next subject, F1 racing. I’ve followed F1 since 1970 and back then I used to read Motor Sport and Autosport and Motoring News. I had a chart on my wall which I used to fill in with the points scored by the drivers and look forward to each new race. These days some 52 years later, I’m perhaps not as keen. I don’t subscribe to the Sky F1 channel though I still look forward to the Channel 4 highlights show on terrestrial TV. I don’t buy F1 magazines anymore but I do subscribe to various F1 fan pages on the internet, all of which I have to mute on a Sunday so I don’t see the race results before I watch the highlights. Hamilton, Verstappen, LeClerc and Alonso don’t quite measure up to the Stewarts and the Mansells and the Sennas of the past but anytime I say to myself that’s it, I’m not watching Formula One anymore, I always find myself reneging on that particular promise.

Books


My well thumbed copy of David Copperfield

I really couldn’t ever give up reading. A consistent pleasure for me that I’ve enjoyed since childhood is relaxing with a good book. I read all sorts from the classics of literature like David Copperfield and the Great Gatsby (two of my all time favourite reads) to modern fiction. On holiday I found John Grisham’s The Rainmaker highly enjoyable and the great thing about a holiday read is that you have time, the time to savour a really good long read.

Classic Films

I am a bit of a film buff, well, a classic film buff anyway. Anything with stars like Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, James Stewart, Ronald Colman or John Wayne will do it for me. Of course I like modern films too. I love the Bond films as well as the Rocky series and directors like Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen.

My iPad

One indispensable item of modern technology has to be the iPad. On our trip to France (did I mention we just had 4 weeks in France?) one big disaster was just before leaving home I took out my iPad to check something and then put it down on the chair rather than back in the bag. The bag went into the motorhome, the iPad didn’t. Quelle horreur! OK I could check my emails with my phone as well as my social media and stuff but my iPad has all the various apps I use, in particular one that I use with my foreign currency card. Luckily Liz took her spare iPad with her and very kindly lent it to me for the duration of the holiday, so I was able to use that for the sites that I could remember the passwords for. Most of my blog posts I start off on my laptop but tend to fine tune them on the iPad but anyway, I managed to write and publish three blog posts while I was away. I did miss that iPad though.,

My laptop.

That leads me nicely to my laptop. My entire life as a writer is on my laptop. All my original blog posts are there as well as my draft posts, stories, unfinished screenplays and two part finished novels. All my videos are made on my laptop and the great thing about my video editing programs is that when I want to update a video, I can just go back in to the edit file and add new video clips and take out old ones and even add new voiceovers or different music. I do back up my files but even so, if the house was on fire, my laptop would be the one thing I would have to save before jumping out of the window.

My trusty laptop, shown here in audio editing mode.

My Hair Trimmers

There are some things in life which are essential but don’t rate too highly in terms of enjoyment. One of those, for me anyway, is getting my hair cut. I’ve always hated going to the barber and coming out afterwards feeling itchy with bits of hair down my neck knowing that the same scissors the guy has used on me have been used on the heads of all sorts of other people before me. When I do actually go to the barber (perhaps I should say hair stylist) I always look inside to see if anyone is waiting because I never ever sit and queue to get my hair done. The thing is, it takes about five to ten minutes to trim my hair. I don’t have a lot of it but even so it needs tidying up and it is so annoying to see the guy in front having his hair cut soooo slooowwly and this little bit done and then this bit and then that bit and then the hair dryer comes out. I finally get in the barber’s chair and it’s a quick number 2, square up the neck, trim the sideburns and we’re off, ten minutes max and usually the barber hasn’t even had time to say stuff like ‘have you been anywhere nice for your holidays?’ (Actually I’ve had 4 weeks in France but I’m not going into that right now). Now that entire sorry experience has been almost wiped from my existence. Is there a queue in the barbers? Oh well, off back home, plug in my electric hair trimmers, trim the sideburns, clip on the comb, a quick all over the head, change comb and take all the fuzz off the top and before you can say ‘Nicky Clarke’, the job has been done. Hair trimmers, I love ‘em!

Mobile Phone

What can I say about mobile phones? They are just the perfect companion in this high tech 21st century world. You can call who you want and in fact, you don’t even need to remember phone numbers, your phone will do it for you. If you want to call your favourite restaurant to book a table and don’t know the number, your phone will look it up. You can message your friends, check social media and ‘check in’ on Facebook when you go somewhere special, even if it’s not that special at all. You can book a hotel or a flight. You can even play a game or listen to music if you’re stuck in a queue at the doctor’s surgery or at the hairdresser’s.

Bread

OK, here’s one final item I can’t do without. I started with food so I’ll finish with food too: Bread. What is so special about bread you might ask. Well bread is on this list because I just love bread. Every meal in France comes with a basket of bread (I should know because we’ve just spent 4 weeks there) It’s perfect to mop up that lovely oil or gravy. It’s great for a snack (ham, cheese and coleslaw on granary bread; my favourite sandwich) and it’s really quite satisfying to make; mixing the dough, kneading it, letting it prove and then slipping it into the oven and waiting while that lovely aroma fills the house. It’s also great toasted, just a slice with some butter or margarine is great. Add some marmalade and it’s even better. If you’re having an Italian meal chop some tomatoes and onions, add some olive oil. Brush a slice of granary bread with oil and either pop it in the toaster or on your George Foreman grill then slap it on a plate and top with the tomato and onion mixture. Wonderful.

So what ten things can you not do without?


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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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