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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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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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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Holiday Book Bag 2022

A long time ago I was reading a biography about Richard Burton called ‘Rich’ by Melvyn Bragg. The book used Burton’s own diaries and mentioned, amongst other things, Burton’s love of books. When Burton went on holiday he looked forward with delight to the contents of his ‘book bag’. I know it’s a pretty tenuous link but one thing I have in common with Richard Burton is a love of books and when I go on holiday, one of the delights of lying under a warm sun on my sun bed is a good undisturbed read. I read a lot at home and on my lunch breaks at work but it’s a few minutes here and a few minutes there and whenever I get interrupted it kind of breaks the flow. Some books, as we all know, are just made for a really long, uninterrupted read so here are the books I took on holiday with me recently, all sourced from either the internet or second hand bookshops.

My Life in France by Julia Child.

Sometimes you pick up a book that is just a joy to read and this was one of those books. Julia Child is a US TV chef, maybe one of the first TV chefs ever, although she is little known in England. The book is a memoir of her life in France, her journey as a Cordon Bleu chef and as a cookery book author, a TV star and as a wife and Francophile.

Her husband Paul works for the US foreign service and is posted to France in the late 1940s. The two have an interesting life in post war Paris enjoying French food and the French way of life. Julia is very interested in food and takes on a course as a Cordon Bleu chef. She is fascinated by the French way of cooking and meets many others who feel the same including two French women who have written a book about French cooking but aimed at the American market. The two Frenchwomen need an American point of view so Julia is engaged to assist but soon becomes the primary force in the emerging book. My Life In France mixes the development of her classic French cookery book with her life, her love of food, her favourite recipes and the whole world of French food. An utterly wonderful book, even if you are not familiar with Julia or the recent TV series or the film starring Meryl Streep.

I was travelling through France when I read this book and I was very tempted to divert course and visit some of the places she mentions.

Verdict: A joyous, wonderful read.

The Essential Hemingway by Ernest Hemingway.

During the lockdown I read a blog that was something along the lines of 100 authors you must read before you die. One of those authors was Ernest Hemingway. Not long afterwards I spotted a compilation of his works in a charity shop and I thought to myself, I’d better pick that up and get cracking on those 100 authors. It had been lying unattended on my book shelf for quite a while so I thought I’d throw it into my book bag for our latest trip to France.

The book consists of one complete novel, Fiesta, parts of some other novels and a collection of short stories. I wasn’t in the least interested in reading parts of a book. If I want to read a book, I’ll read the whole lot, not parts of it so I thought I’d get cracking with Fiesta. Now I know Hemingway has a sort of minimalistic style so I was prepared for that. I just couldn’t understand the point of a lot of what he was talking about. It’s like he was showing us stuff that was hardly relevant, almost like a Quentin Tarantino film. There are pages of dialogue and then some fairly introspective stuff and then we were back to dialogue again. Jake Barnes is in love with Brett who I thought at first was a man but is actually a woman, a lady in fact, an actual lady, Lady Ashley, known as Brett to her friends. Jake and Brett and various others all go off from Paris to Spain to see the bull fighting in Pamplona and Brett turns out to be popular with many of the men. Jake is love with her and Michael wants to marry her but she decides she wants a bull fighter who then falls for her and apparently also wants to marry her.

Sorry Ernest if you are reading this from the spirit world but I got a little bit lost and only continued to the end out of a sort of dedication to not having another novel on my conscience that I couldn’t finish. What can I say? I know it’s a classic but sorry, it wasn’t my cup of tea. I tried some of the other short stories in this collection but again even though they are well written I started wondering things like ‘what’s this about? Why are we talking about this? What was the point of that?

Verdict: Interesting but an ultimately disappointing read.

Trace by Patricia Cornwell.

I picked this up a while ago, started to read it and lost interest, not because of the book itself but because it was in my book bag for taking outside and as the UK weather has been so poor, I haven’t done much outdoor reading this year so far. Anyway, I thought I’d throw it in my holiday book bag and give it a read while I was touring France. I’ve always liked the Kay Scarpetta novels and a few years back I started reading the whole sequence of them starting with Post Mortem, the impressive first entry in the series. I thought the books were great, that they looked at crime in a new and different way, showing how crimes could be solved by forensic detection and it was the reality of the novels, their clear connection to modern detection methods that was at the core of their success. After a while though, I felt the books were straying from reality and getting a little silly, a bit like when Roger Moore took over the mantle of James Bond and the 007 films went a little daft.

Trace is not one of Cornwell’s best books and concerns, to a certain extent, Scarpetta’s niece Lucy who has gone off and become some kind of super secret agent computer geek girl and has somehow made a great deal of money and founded her own super secret spy company. Anyway, in this novel, the death of a young girl who Scarpetta has been consulted about is apparently connected to another case Lucy is also working on. It kept me reading and I liked it but sadly not as much as the earlier more serious and reality based novels.

Verdict. OK but not a great entry into the Scarpetta series.

What Happened by Hillary Clinton.

I picked up this book in a second hand book shop. I’ve always liked Hillary Clinton. She’s not your average First Lady, content to stay in the background and support her husband, the President. Mrs Clinton liked to be part of Bill Clinton’s administration in a way that other first ladies have never been, sometimes for the right reasons, sometimes for the wrong ones.

Her book What Happened? is basically about her failed attempt to become the USA’s very first female president. If she had succeeded, that would have been quite an achievement and for a while it even looked as though it was on the cards. Mrs Clinton mentions many times how she was ahead in the polls and how she beat Trump in their various TV debates so where did her candidacy go wrong?

She had a lot of ideas for the presidency and she reveals many of her plans to engage in the problems facing the USA in this book. Her presidential opponent Donald Trump didn’t seem to have many ideas at all, at least that’s what Hillary seems to think. His campaign was based on attacking and coming up with ideas for building a wall to keep the Mexicans out and of course, wanting to lock Hillary up.

A big problem for Hillary was her emails. She had decided to carry on using her personal email server instead of the government one, something that other government officials have done before, but somehow the press got hold of the story and blew it up out of all proportion. Her emails were leaked to the Wikileaks website and an investigation was made which involved publishing many of her emails, actually 30,000 of them. She mentions that many people seem to think she is hiding something despite her emails being published as well as her tax returns. After many investigations, the Whitewater investigation for instance, she makes the point that everything she has done has been so public, what could she be hiding? Mr Trump of course did not publish his tax returns, or his emails for that matter.

There’s a very hurt tone throughout the book and clearly, she’s not very happy about her defeat, just like any defeated candidate would be. Hillary has had to endure a lot. Mr Obama’s successful quest to become the first black president overshadowed her first try at the presidency and she returned eight years later when it was time for Obama to step down. Her husband is well known for his extra marital affairs but she has stood by him none the less and some of the bad press from those incidents has clung to her like a sort of bad background odour.

The final nail into the coffin of her presidential bid was a last minute announcement by the head of the FBI about the emails and her small points lead dwindled into a loss.

I often wonder why Mrs Clinton seems to be disliked. She is one of those personalities that people either like or hate, there doesn’t seem to be anything inbetween. Over on YouTube when I did a search about her, pretty much everything that came up was negative. There was a former secret service agent talking about an incident in which the former first lady had thrown a vase at the president, well an alleged incident I should say. The thing is, if your husband had been playing away with Monica Lewinsky and Gennifer Flowers, wouldn’t you be tempted to throw the occasional vase at him? I know I would, had I been in Hillary’s shoes.

Over on Quora, someone had already asked my question, what is Mrs Clinton really like? The first answer I saw was a lady who called up Mrs Clinton’s senatorial office about her brother’s problem, it was to do with money or tax or something I can’t remember. She left a message and the next morning Mrs Clinton, yes Mrs Clinton herself, not an assistant but actually Mrs Clinton herself, called up, took more details and sorted out the problem.

I doubt Hillary Clinton will ever go for another run at the presidency but it’s clear she has made her mark on the American political scene as a woman, a candidate, a senator and a First Lady.

Verdict: Not a great book but an enjoyable read all the same.


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Blogs, Video and a Social Media Marketing Mix

The lockdown of last year didn’t really affect me that much. It was a bit of a pain not being able to go out and I did miss the pub quiz night as well as my visits to my favourite restaurants. Essentially though, I’m not an outdoor kind of guy. I like my TV and my laptop and I’m pretty happy sitting outside in the summer reading a good book. This last week I’ve been experiencing a more personal kind of lockdown. Liz has just had a hip replacement and I’ve been off work tending to her every need.

Even people who are close can have their differences. Liz likes to be challenged by word games and I like my challenge in the form of a good documentary film.

‘Not another quiz show’ I usually say when she has got the TV remote.

‘Not another Kennedy documentary’ she tends to say when the remote is over on my side. Oh well, recuperation is important and if she can put up with the occasional JFK documentary I can deal with another Countdown, I suppose.

When I’ve had a brief moment to myself, I’ve been looking at my book, Floating in Space, and wondering what more I could do to promote it. This entire blog is about promoting Floating in Space, at least that was the idea when I started. Every blog post, whether it’s about books, films, my life or any other random subject that comes to mind always ends with a little plug for Floating, right down at the end of the post. It usually comes in the form of a short video with the prime intention of making the viewer wonder if their life is worth living if they haven’t got a copy of my book. Most people and I’m talking a good 90% plus of people who decide to watch decide that life is worth living without a copy of Floating in Space and decline to buy. Pity, especially as I went to a lot of trouble making those videos.

A lot of people ask me about the title, Floating in Space. Why is it called that? Is it a sci-fi book? No, it isn’t which makes me wonder whether changing the title would be a good thing. The title comes about because of the way the main character, Stuart Hill, looks at his life. Sometimes it’s a good thing to look at your life not in little segments but as a whole. How could you possibly do that? Well Stuart does it like this.

Updated version of Floating In Space available now from Amazon!

This technique, for want of a better word, is best employed in the summer. Find yourself a quiet outdoor place. Lie down on the grass facing towards the sky. A clear blue sky isn’t much good for this. What you need is a blue sky and a good selection of white fluffy clouds. Now relax. A good way to do that is start at the top of your head and relax your scalp, then go down to your eyebrows and relax them. Then your eyes, nose and so on, all the way down to your toes.

Now, I don’t know if you can remember those visual teasers you used to see in comics years ago. For instance a line drawing of a cube which by an effort of will you could make into a solid box or, again using only your mind, see the box as an open box and look inside. That’s the thing to do now looking up at the sky. See the curve of the sky bending down towards the horizon at the extreme end of your peripheral vision? Well turn that around so instead of looking up at the sky you are looking down. Imagine you are floating in space, seeing the blue, not of the sky, but of the planet Earth and down below is you and your life, going about it’s everyday cycle of work, sleep and relaxation. Down there on the Earth are moments of enjoyment, moments of happiness, moments of sadness and sadly, moments of horror.

Most of my promotions for Floating tend to focus not on the process I’ve described above but on the city of Manchester where the book is set. I’ve only visited my home city once since the pandemic and it’s looking good. New towering skyscrapers seem to be going up with every month that passes by, at least according to the small group of Manchester photographers that I follow on Instagram. Manchester’s nickname is the Rainy City because of course it rains a lot and one of my favourite photographers makes a habit of photographing the puddles of the city, either with the city’s new buildings reflected in the water or low angle pictures with a rainy puddle in the foreground and some Mancunian architectural delight in the background.

When I visited Manchester a few months ago I took my camera along and made a bit of a walkabout video. I had my selfie stick and walked around chatting to the camera. I looked at some of the new hi rise towers and then walked round to the old end of town and took a stroll down the Rochdale canal which was completed in 1804. Instead of writing a narration I just stayed with the video of me chatting to the camera and added a few voice over comments and snippets of info. That video is currently one of my most watched videos so if I had any sense I’d probably make more of the same but it so happens I’m just not that comfortable walking around chatting to my camera. I much prefer my usual videos, many of which have voice-over narrations which originate in many cases from my blog posts. Like a lot of my blogs and videos, I can’t leave them alone, I’m always tinkering with them and here’s a case below, another edit of my favourite Manchester video.

I am of course an old school video producer. I like videos that open up gradually and have titles and an introduction. That technique, I am reliably informed, is very old hat indeed. In the 21st century social media world, videos need to be straight to the point. Quick introductions, a quick statement of your credentials, perhaps a brief exhortation for the viewer to subscribe to my channel and then wham, straight into the subject. That is internet video in a nutshell because there are thousands of other videos out there that are just a click away and can instantly nab your viewer if you fail to grab and keep their attention.

Getting back to blogging, I have probably written more words, in my blogs and tweets and other social media posts promoting my book, than are actually in the book itself. Oh well, that is one of the facts of the self-publishing world: Writing a book is one thing but marketing is an entirely different ball game altogether and of course the competition is fierce with more than 5000 new books released on Kindle every day! Is it worth it you might ask? Why do I do it? Well, quite simply I do it because I like doing it and when the enjoyment has gone, I’ll start thinking about doing something else with my spare time.

Nothing improves and hones your writing skills more than the writing process itself and as a blogger with a deadline of 10am on a Saturday morning I have even started to feel like something of a professional writer. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to log into WordPress and find that someone has liked one of my posts, or better still has left a comment. I’ve always thought that an intrinsic element of the human condition is finding that out that there are others in the world who think the same way as you do and like the things that you like.

I do tinker quite a lot with Floating in Space and some time ago I added a version which hopefully corrected the book’s various grammatical mistakes and I also added a small index to help explain 1977 to my younger readers. So, what else should I do to market my work? Another Tweet? Another Facebook post? Another YouTube video? Perhaps I should go further afield in the social media world and do more on Instagram or sign up for Tik Tok?

Actually I think I might just give marketing a rest for a while. Liz is still in bed so I think I might just relax for a while with Oliver Stone’s new Kennedy documentary.


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Cooks and Cookbooks

For this week’s blog, I thought I’d try and combine a love of cooking with my love of books. I suppose most people are taught to cook, or at least pick up the rudiments of cookery from their mothers. I hope I’m not being sexist when I say that, then again perhaps some people picked up their cookery expertise from their fathers, if it was dad who was the cook of the house.

My earliest memory of cooking something for myself is making tomato soup. Well, perhaps not actually making it but warming up the contents of a can anyway. My next culinary adventure was boiling an egg. I still like those two particular meals, boiled eggs and tomato soup. I once decided to make treacle toffee after seeing a recipe in a summer edition of a comic I used to read and then completely cocked it up. My mother, usually a pretty gentle lady went completely up the wall after I wasted a bag of sugar and caused a total mess in her kitchen. No further cooking assistance from her was ever forthcoming. Even in later life she was a little coy about revealing her culinary secrets. I once asked her how she made such lovely roast beef and after some prodding she told me that she started off, just like all the books say by putting her beef into a hot oven. Later she reduced the temperature but added some water which would help the roast cook.

Mum was a great cook but had a limited repertoire and things like curry and chilli con carne were things completely outside her realm of understanding.

When I left home when I was about nineteen, I bought my first cook book and it’s one I still have today. The Epicure’s book of Steak and Beef Dishes by Marguerite Patten. I think I bought it in a cheap remainder book shop and it’s full of additional recipes I have cut out of magazines or newspaper supplements. It’s my go to book whenever I make a chilli or a bolognese or even a roast dinner. It contains all the rudiments for my favourite meals.

Jamie Oliver made his TV debut in 1999. He was spotted by a TV producer making a documentary about the River Cafe where he was working at the time. His TV show The Naked Chef followed soon after and his cookbook from the series was a best seller. I’ve got quite a few of his cookbooks in my collection which I always refer to when I get down to some serious cookery. In particular I like his 30 minute and 15 minute meal series. In many ways Jamie speaks to the modern cook, the one who likes to try and use fresh produce and not to be always warming up ready made food. The one who has to juggle working and bringing up a family. Not only that, his TV shows are fresh and fast moving and I love his enthusiasm for food and cooking. I think I mentioned a while ago that I recently made a pizza using home made pizza dough. Where did I get the recipe? From one of Jamie’s books of course. His books are pretty popular but there always seem to be plenty of them in the various secondhand book shops that I frequent.

A long time ago, probably back in the 1980’s, I got hooked on Ken Hom’s Chinese cookery programmes. I liked the way Chinese cookery worked, in fact I liked the whole process of preparation and stir frying. I got myself a wok, seasoned it according to Ken’s instructions and started stir frying. I do love it when you see the Chinese chefs stir frying at very high temperatures on TV cookery shows like Ken’s but getting those very high temperatures in a home kitchen is pretty much impossible. I made some nice meals but nothing ever seemed to taste the way it does from the Chinese take away. Perhaps it’s time to drag that wok out of the storeroom and have another go.

Another favourite TV chef was Antonio Carluccio who sadly died in 2017. He had a number of shows on the BBC that combined cookery with travel in Italy. I remember one where he stopped a farmhand who was about to open his sandwich box in some field in the Italian countryside. I say box but in fact it was something wrapped in greaseproof paper, some fresh bread, some tomatoes and some Italian cheese. It looked pretty appetising to me. Antonio once explained that one of my favourite meals, spaghetti bolognese, is something that doesn’t exist in Italy but even so, he showed us how to make an Italian ragu with a mix of beef and pork mince. I use pretty much the same recipe for my bolognese these days.

I do love a good curry but I don’t have any curry cookbooks by famous names. Instead I’ve always relied on this slim volume by Naomi Good. It’s straight to the point and using it I’ve always managed to put together a decent curry.  It’s not a curry that falls into any particular category, it’s not a Korma or a Vindaloo, it’s just a basic curry with plenty of spices and usually made with minced beef. Sometimes it comes out pretty hot, sometimes not and I usually finish it off with a good dose of coconut milk. Most of the time I have to confess, I usually return to the basic curry recipe in my very first cookbook.

So what else do I use when I need cooking inspiration? Well, I’ve got a whole lot of bits and pieces of recipes clipped from magazines as I mentioned earlier. Sometimes I just scan through them and have a go at whatever I fancy.

Pages cut from magazines and newspaper supplements

Do you have a favourite cookbook?


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https://youtu.be/JzJA9YIAGls

More Beginnings and Ends

As I approach my 500th blog post, I sometimes wonder if I’m running out of steam. Yes, instead of brand new posts I’m looking back at my old ones and giving them a bit of a rehash or sometimes writing more on the same theme and adding ‘More’ to the title or ‘Part 2’.

Last week I talked about more Essential Englishmen and this week I’m going to return to a post from 2021 so, without further ado, let me see if I can interest you in some more beginnings and ends.

I’m going to start with an end, a personal end.

I wrote about the issues I had paying my electric bill a while ago. Here’s a quick recap. I’d paid my bill but my banking app remembered the account number from when I used to pay my mother’s electric account and used that instead of my own account number. Mum is living in a nursing home at the moment so her electricity account has been closed. I contacted my supplier Eon, who were not at all helpful. They wouldn’t credit my electric account and neither would they return the money to my bank. Contact my bank was their one and only suggestion. My bank tried to sort the issue, they tried to retrieve the payment but contacted me back the other week saying Eon’s bank were not playing ball.

I called Eon again but after waiting over 30 mins in a telephone queue I gave up, put the phone down and wrote a moaning email to Eon. In sharp contrast to last time, their staff member Jim checked the details I gave him, saw immediately an error had occurred and credited the amount into my bank account. Simple, although I’ve had weeks of hassle, hanging onto phone lines and going through various phone menus until I got basically nowhere. Thanks Jim at Eon!

Beginnings

Next I’d like to talk about one of my favourite films written and directed by my favourite director, Woody Allen. Woody is not the most popular guy in Hollywood these days but back in 1979 he made the film Manhattan and the opening sequence is one I’ve always been fond of. In it he’s narrating the opening to a new novel and as he goes along he starts editing and rewriting and starts over again. No, that’s too preachy, he says. That’s too angry, till finally he comes up with some text he really likes –I love this says Woody.

I loved it too, so much that I made a spoof version about Manchester rather than Manhattan.

The Godfather

The Godfather is one of the classics of cinema. It’s based on the book by Mario Puzo which is a classic in its own right. In the film version Marlon Brando plays Don Corleone, the head of the Corleone mafia family. The film opens on the day of his daughter’s wedding which is a day when no Sicilian can refuse a request. In his office that morning is a man whose daughter has been the victim of an attempted rape and he comes to ask the Don for revenge. The Godfather emerges out of the shadows not a happy man. Has he been asked with respect? No. Has he been called Godfather? No. Marlon Brando plays the Don beautifully as a man of honour but also a dangerous man.

Director Francis Ford Coppola always wanted Brando for the role but the executives at Paramount weren’t happy. They made him do a screen test and also put up a bond in case he delayed the film and caused unwarranted expense. The result is a wonderful piece of cinema.

The Truman Show

I’ve not always been a fan of Jim Carrey but I’ve always rather liked The Truman Show. It’s a sort of reality show where Jim Carrey’s character Truman is the star only he isn’t aware of it. Everyone around him knows everything is fake. Secret cameras film everything he does and all those around him, including his mother, his wife and best friend who are all actors in on the secret. The TV show is the brainchild of Christof, a producer/director played by Ed Harris. As the film unfolds we gradually realise that Truman is becoming aware of things that are not right; a spotlight that falls from the sky; people who approach him and want to talk but are hustled away by strange people; an office building where no one is working and his wife who seems to announce the benefits of various products as if she is in a TV advert.

The film is based on an episode of The Twilight Zone. A man getting ready for work finds a camera in his bathroom and realises he is being secretly filmed. It turns out that unknown to him, he is the star of a reality TV show. The producers take him aside and explain what a hit the show is and how much money he could be making. Why not carry on as if he never found out the truth they ask. Keep the show running. No one would ever know.

The man decides to just carry on with his life and allow the filming and the money to continue. In some ways I think that might even be a better storyline than The Truman Show. Either way, this film is a really interesting look at the current reality TV genre and flips the whole concept on its head. Carrey is great in what is really his first dramatic role too. The most telling moment comes at the end when the whole world has been glued to the last episode. When it has finished one of the enthralled TV viewers asks ‘what’s on now?’

The Big Sleep

The book The Big Sleep was written by Raymond Chandler and he had this really fabulous talkative way of writing. You can almost imagine hearing Humphrey Bogart’s voice as you read the book. Here’s a quote from the text, an example of Chandler’s descriptive style:

I sat down on the edge of a deep soft chair and looked at Mrs Regan. She was worth a stare. She was trouble. She was stretched out on a modernistic chaise-longue with her slippers off so I stared at her legs in the sheerest silk stocking. They seemed to be arranged to stare at. They were visible to the knee and one of them well beyond. The knees were dimpled, not bony or sharp. The calves were beautiful, the ankles long and slim with enough melodic line for a tone poem. She was tall and rangy and strong looking. Her head was against an ivory satin cushion. Her hair was black and wiry and parted in the middle and she had the hot black eyes of the portrait in the hall. She had a good mouth and a good chin. There was a sulky droop to her lips and the lower lip was full.

Not bad eh? Dilys Powell called his writing ‘a peculiar mixture of harshness, sensuality, high polish and backstreet poetry’ and it’s easy to see why. Anyway, the book was made into a film starring Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe and the film and the book open with Marlowe’s visit to see General Sternwood. I was calling on a million dollars says the famous detective in the opening monologue. Sternwood is an elderly man who spends his time in a stiflingly hot conservatory where he offers Marlowe brandy while he explains just what he wants Marlowe to do.

The Story in Your Eyes

In my original blog post I stuck to film, TV and books but for this version I thought I’d throw in some music, just for the hell of it. Despite being a great music fan I was pushed to think of something with a really outstanding opening but I think the guitar riff on this track from the Moody Blues really fits the bill.

The Cut

Before I cut to the ‘ends’, I thought this might be just the point to show what we video editors call a cut. Here is what has been described as the most epic cut in film history.

Ends: The Fugitive

Another old show repeated currently on the CBS justice channel is The Fugitive starring David Janssen as Dr Richard Kimble, falsely accused of the murder of his wife. The show ran for four seasons but as viewer ratings began to fall, the series was cancelled. It was then that the producers hit on what at the time was an unusual idea. Instead of the show just ending, they decided to make an actual finale. Yes, they would wrap up the story of Kimble’s wife’s murder. Kimble had been searching for the supposed one-armed man he had seen leaving the murder scene for the past four seasons, now he would finally find him!

Back in the 1960’s, TV was not very highly thought of even by the TV networks themselves. So what if Kimble never finds the murderer. So what? It’s only a TV show. Of course, the viewers would disagree. They had kept faith with the series for four long years, they deserved a proper ending.

The final episode aired on August 29th 1967 and in the USA the viewing figures were a sensation: 72% of US TV viewers were watching that final episode and the show held the most watched record until November 1980 when someone shot JR in Dallas.

Citizen Kane

The cinematography was by Gregg Toland, one of the film industry’s top photographers. Toland had asked to work on the film and director and star Orson Welles replied ‘Why? I don’t know anything about making films.’ Toland countered that was exactly why he wanted to work on the film because a film by a newcomer, Kane was actually Welles’ first film, would produce something new and original.

There are some fascinating elements to Citizen Kane, especially in the special effects department. A famous one is where the camera flies through a rooftop sign and then drops down through a skylight into a restaurant. That was done with a sign that came apart as the camera approached and then a fade from a model shot into the restaurant set disguised in a flash of lightning. I could go on and mention plenty of elements like that but if you haven’t seen Citizen Kane let me just explain what it’s all about. The film opens with the death of Kane, a millionaire newspaper magnate. His last words were ‘Rosebud’. The makers of a cinema newsreel decide to find out what or who Rosebud was.

To do so they research Kane’s life; his inheritance of a huge fortune, his takeover of a newspaper, his great wealth, his power and influence, his marriage and divorce and ultimately his death. The reporters never find the answers to their questions but we, the cinema audience, have the secret revealed to us right at the end of the picture. The end is what makes the film really and Welles admitted that Rosebud, and the idea behind it, was the idea of his co-writer Herman Mankiewicz. The final scene takes place in a huge storage area, packed with crates containing all the numerous items the acquisitive Kane bought, packaged and hoarded during his lifetime. Some of the stuff is scheduled for the furnace and as one labourer throws in an old sledge, we see the flames begin to consume the wooden frame. The top coat of paint is burned off and we see revealed underneath the name ‘Rosebud’.

One Final End.

I’m due to get my state pension in October which as regular readers will know is my least favourite time of the year. I thought it might be nicer to retire in the spring which is actually one of my favourite times of the year, the days are getting warmer and longer and the summer is on its way. A nice time to tootle off in our little motorhome perhaps so I sent in my early retirement request letter to my boss. That is in fact one really big end. I’ve been working since I was 16, starting my working life in Manchester city centre in the world of insurance back in 1973. Apart from a break in the early 1990’s when I decided I wanted to be a film maker and went on a video production course in Manchester I’ve worked all my life so understandably I was a little nervous when I pressed the send button on that particular email. I didn’t get to be a film maker, well, not a professional one anyway. Still, I’m not dead yet so there’s still time for a new beginning . .


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Christmas Day and Charles Dickens

Happy Christmas and I hope you are having a good one wherever you are. It’s not every year that my scheduled regular post ends up going out on Christmas day so should I make the most of it and deliver a sensational blog post or should I just recognise that today people have other things on their minds than reading a blog post?

Tough call.

Still, when people have finished opening their presents and have had their fill of Christmas dinner, pudding, drinks and nibbles, perhaps there might be a small opening for readers to open up their computers or tablets and have a read of my blog. Let’s give it a shot, anyway.

I caught the end of a documentary on TV the other day about Charles Dickens and how he apparently is the man who invented the modern Christmas just by publishing a short story about Christmas called A Christmas Carol. That sounded pretty interesting to me so as I had missed most of it, I thought I’d do a little internet research.

Charles Dickens was born in 1812 and in 1836 he published his first book, The Pickwick Papers. The Pickwick Papers became a publishing phenomenon by introducing serial publication; the book was published in serial form and it kept the readers wanting to find out what would happen next. In the TV show I watched they had someone on from Eastenders who claimed that if Dickens lived today, he would be working in TV, responsible for the cliff hangers that today’s soaps end with.

A Christmas Carol was published in 1843 and sold 6000 copies in just six days. It was not initially a great financial success for Dickens as he had decided to publish an edition with colour pictures. No colour printing was possible at the time and so the colour pictures were hand coloured by teams of people, all of which added to the expense of publication.

Dickens_by_Watkins_1858

Dickens himself was very fond of Christmas and the description in the book of the party at Scrooge’s nephew’s house was similar to the celebrations at Dickens’ own home. The piano was played, there was dancing, Christmas trees had become popular and Christmas carols were sung. The phrase ‘Merry Christmas’ became popular because of its use in ‘A Christmas Carol’.

The tradition of having a turkey dinner for Christmas began with Henry VIII but became popular in Victorian times. Prior to that a typical Christmas dinner involved goose. In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge buys a huge turkey for Bob Cratchit and his family and again that only increased the popularity of a Christmas turkey.

Another company produced an unauthorised edition of the book and Dickens sued, only for the rogue publisher to declare themselves bankrupt, leaving the author to pay for his costs despite winning his case.

Dickens was in need of money and he began a series of readings of his works which were lucrative and incredibly popular. These readings occupied most of his time in the last ten years of his life. He divorced his wife which was highly unusual for the time. He had met a young actress called Ellen Ternan who was 27 years younger than him and he remained passionate about her for the rest of his life. In 1860 he started a huge bonfire at his house, Gads Hill Place in Kent, in which he burned all his correspondence. Ellen too destroyed all her letters from Dickens so the full details of their relationship has never been known. Were they lovers? Possibly, but we can never know for sure.

On June 8th 1870, Dickens had a stroke after working on his last book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. He died the next day without regaining consciousness. Some have speculated that he died at Ellen Ternan’s house, and she had him taken back to Gads Hill to prevent a scandal.

He was laid to rest in Poets Corner at Westminster Abbey and A Christmas Carol remains one of his best-known works and the name of his main character, Scrooge has entered into the English language as meaning a miserly person. To this day, the book has never been out of print and a first edition copy would set you back about 10 to 15 thousand pounds.

More film versions have been made of A Christmas Carol than any other of Dicken’s works but the one that is head and shoulders above the others is the Alastair Sim version made in 1951. It just so happens that if you live in the UK you can watch it today at 12:45 on Talking Pictures.

Have a great Christmas.


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Dylan Thomas

The 27th of October was the birthday of one of my favourite writers. I love lots of writers but probably my all-time favourite is Dylan Thomas. I love the outstanding power of his writing, his incredible imagery, and the wonderful pictures he creates with his words.

Dylan also is the sort of writer I’ve always wanted to be: A bohemian, pub crawling, boozing writer who fought with himself as he laboured to paint his word pictures. Whether that was really the case I don’t know but Dylan did like his pubs and he did enjoy a drink.

The fact of the matter is that I’m nothing like Dylan, except we both share a love of words, particularly the sound of words, which is the key to the richness of 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.

If you have read any of Dylan’s poems and are yet to understand his magic, let me give you a tiny bit of advice: Listen to Dylan’s voice. Yes, Dylan, like many poets wrote for his own voice and if you click on to any Dylan Thomas page or search anywhere on the internet you are bound to come across some old recording of his voice. Don’t make do with lesser voices, even when we are talking about great actors like Richard Burton or Anthony Hopkins. Search out Dylan himself and you will be won over, like me, by the power of his voice.

It’s not just his poems that are rich with the power of words. Dylan wrote and performed a good many radio plays and broadcasts and my very favourite is ‘Return Journey.’ It’s about Dylan himself returning to Swansea in search of his former self ‘Young Thomas’. He visits young Thomas’ old haunts and meets with people who knew him fleetingly; the barmaid who used to serve him, journalists who worked with him and even the park keeper where Dylan and his young friends would play in the park. It’s a lovely piece where fantasy merges with reality and we slip in and out of the two as the story progresses.

Many years ago I visited Dylan Thomas’ house in Wales. The house is in the village of Laugharne and is not far from one of his famous watering holes, the Brown’s Hotel which I’m pretty sure was bought by one of the comedians from TV’s Men Behaving Badly.

The boathouse was bought by a trust some years ago which saved the property from collapsing into the sea. It’s a lovely place and on the day I visited, we had to leave early although I can’t remember why. I came back the next day and the staff remembered I had left early previously and let me in for free. I wandered about Dylan’s old house and sucked in the atmosphere before buying various books and pamphlets about Dylan and his works.

In another old TV documentary I tend to watch now and again, the presenter, a poet himself, visited the house and ventured that he thought he could imagine the conversations of Dylan and his wife, the chit chatting, the arguing and the making up later, or so he supposed.

I took a primitive digital camera with me and took a few shots of the house and Dylan’s famous writing shed. I read somewhere recently that the shed has now been removed and taken to a museum with a duplicate shed now occupying the site.

I enjoyed my visit and Dylan’s own poem always makes me think of it:

In the mustardseed sun,
By full tilt river and switchback sea
Where the cormorants scud,
In his house on stilts high among beaks
And palavers of birds . . .

As you might have guessed from reading these posts, I really do love my books. One particular book pictured here, about the last days of poet Dylan Thomas is one I’ve had a long time but have not got around to reading until more recently. I do endlessly peruse our local secondhand shops for books but I have a feeling I bought this one from one of two online bookshops, either Abebooks or Awesome books, both of which I use especially when there is a particular book that I am after.

This book is a rather slow one but it details Dylan’s last days and ultimately his death in New York in the USA.

Dylan was a slow worker when it came to writing and there was always something, usually a pub, to draw him away from his work. In his latter days he was concerned that his talent or his inspiration had gone and that all his best work was perhaps behind him. He was short of money as usual and that is what drove him to accept an offer to go to the USA on a poetry tour by Canadian poet John Brinnin. Brinnin was the director of a poetry centre in New York and the trips Dylan undertook there were very lucrative for the always hard up poet. Thomas had a number of wealthy patrons, in fact his famous house in Laugharne was bought by for him by an admirer but money went through Dylan’s hands quickly.

He had travelled there before and on his penultimate visit had become romantically involved with a lady called Liz Reitel who worked for Brinnin at the poetry centre. When Dylan arrived for his last visit Reital was shocked to see the poet looking poorly and ‘not his usual robust self’. Dylan was in an odd mood and related a strange story of an encounter on the aircraft with a priest. Over the next few days his mood alternated between being tired and poorly and getting drunk with some moments of normality. I get the impression from the book that Dylan liked attention, he liked admirers and although he was in the middle of an affair with Liz Reitel, he was not averse to enjoying the attention he received from other women.

At the poetry centre, preparations were under way for a recital of the newly finished Under Milk Wood for which Dylan had produced some new edits and updates. Towards the end of the book Liz mentions that she was disappointed that these revisions were not included in the published versions of the play despite the fact that she personally typed them up and passed them on to Dylan’s publishers.

The recital went well and was in fact tape recorded by someone at the time with Dylan taking the part of the narrator.

The book goes on to detail Dylan’s various moods and the symptoms of whatever was ailing him.

Liz called a doctor when Dylan became unwell again and the doctor gave Dylan an injection of morphine sulphate which may or may not have helped him.

After a night of drinking at the White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village, Dylan returned to the Chelsea hotel claiming famously that he had downed ‘eighteen straight whiskies. I think that’s the record!’

Dylan’s breathing became difficult later in the evening and an ambulance was summoned. Thomas slipped into a coma from which he never awoke and later died on the 9th of November, 1953. He was only 53 years old and died with assets of only £100.

I was always under the impression that Dylan had drunk himself to death but that may not be the case. The autopsy did not find any evidence of liver cirrhosis and his death may have been due to pneumonia and bronchitis as well as the injections he had received from the doctor. It was later thought that the morphine may have inhibited Dylan’s breathing rather than easing his pain.

This was a good read although the author’s style was not completely to my liking. One interesting thing about it was that in my copy, it was a second hand book remember, there was an inscription on the first page. The book was clearly a gift. Did the owner pass away? Did his family send for the house clearance man and clear away his belongings? Who was Kate, the lady who signed the book in 1992?

Who was the person she loved and thought the world of?

In a way it is almost like Under Milk Wood itself, where the dead come alive again at night as time passes . .


This post was compiled from my previous posts about Dylan Thomas


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