Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Put A Tiger In Your Tank

Aha! See! Some people are reading this!

James Burdon writes:
I can't find any photos of garage forecourt attendants, but you might like the attached scans of an old advert and an Esso petrol pump. It's a long time since they looked like this!

I worked in a petrol station aged 16 and it reminded me of it when I saw your reference to Red-Ex!
(on my Nostalgia web site - John) I found your blog and enjoyed it. People take themselves too seriously these days.

Keep up the good work.
James Burdon
I'll try, James! Thanks a bundle for the pix, I remember Esso Blobs too - heads like oil droplets, and after the Tiger In Your Tank campaign came out they started selling "tiger tails" you could hang round your petrol filler cap so it looked like it was coming out of the tank!

Class Reunion

Ah, I'm full of well-being today. We've arranged a bit of a school reunion. Only a bit as there's likely only to be three of us but we may perchance admit a bit of table space if any other old geezers of the old gang want to join in! Leave a comment here or email me if anyone does happen to see this drivel...er...blog...

Jackie, Alex and I are meeting up in Rochdale next week on Wednesday (Boss, if you're reading this I will put in a request for leave, honest...)

All the rest of the crowd are a bit far-flung. Jan's fairly close but is going hiking up and down mountains - sheesh, if you just want to prove to yourself that you're as old as the rest of us then it's easier to sit and natter and realise how much has changed since 1971!

So, anyway, Alex having agreed a time sent an email mentioning "High Noon" and it got me thinking about something or other, which came more-or-less to a focus when reading an article about chess in the movies (huh? no I don't know either - it's the way my brain works these days...)

They show chess as it's the only way to show a character is brainy apparently. What a load of cods - I used to just thrash in with a bit trying to annihilate the pieces of my opponent. Preferably by lifting mine to shoulder height and then swooping it down making an aeroplane noise...

The other strategy game we used to play (yes, I knew if I wrote for long enough there'd be a link!) was Risk, which was an army game about conquering the world. In the early 1970s the entire family would gather to play and Alex would join in if we happened to be at my house.

There were some strange rules I remember - whoever was knocked out first was labelled the punkah-waller and had to go and brew up for everyone else. Much better game than chess - at least there was writing on the board so you could tell if it was the right way up...

Workers in Uniform

Well, no one seems to have been able to find any photos of workers in uniform from the 40s-60s as yet (see Treasure Hunt Update) and I must admit I'm scarce in that department also!

However the North Pier still had attendants in uniform in the early 1980s as can be seen here, in a photo of an attendant keeping visitors happy simply by passing the time.

There has to be some photos out there - what have you got? Factory workers, lift attendants, doormen, hotel pageboys, petrol station attendants (remember when they used to put petrol in for you???)

Monday, 30 July 2007

Windows Vista

I've just had a new computer delivered at work and it's got the new Windows Vista operating system.

It feels very different from Windows XP although I haven't as yet found anything that actually improves the functionality. My Pictures and My Videos are now on the same level as My Documents instead of being sub-folders. Is that an advantage or not? This is a bit of a problem with Microsoft as they force users to upgrade and just think of new stuff that's "pretty" but doesn't actually add much of value.

Case in point is the new button for switching between open windows. It gives a 3D view of all the open windows and you can then click the desired one. Thankfully though, they have left the option to use Alt-Tab which though less visually exciting does the job far quicker...

Now if they could just restore the interface from the previous version of Media Player...

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Garden Party

Sounds like a Rick Nelson song...

No, what I really mean was that we've done a garden party this afternoon and early evening for our good friends Chris and Brian Chappell.

I call it a garden, but it's really more like a wonderland of terraces, fish pond, lawns, pathways and chicken coops. We had a bit of competition from the rooster but everyone seemed to have a good time!

There was a lone line dancer... David wondered whether that made her a "dot" dancer...???

Thanks Chris and Brian for your wonderful hospitality as always (did I mention the food?) I will now be on a diet for the forseeable future! And not before time...

Bob's in France on holiday - you're missing out, mate!

Rachel and Dan Marshall

The Friday night before last we were at the wedding reception of Rachel and Dan Marshall. It's certainly been a year of weddings for us!

Somehow I managed to forget the camera so we had to wait until Jeannie had her films developed.

We weren't able to get to the actual wedding as it was on a weekday and I had made appointments to speak to people for work, but I've chosen a photo from the wedding itself, which was at the glorious Ashton Memorial in Lancaster.

This shows the main wedding party. Ian and Vicky (on the left) were married last year and we played a most memorable gig with the band at their reception. Will and my little flower, Gemma (on the right) were also married last year.

All our best wishes go to Rachel and Dan for a long and happy married life.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

More from Margot

Margot Carey, the lady who started off the Great Telescope Treasure Hunt, has sent me some fascinating photos and I'm going to add a couple more here.

Margot is, I think, the young lady to the left of this photo with two lion cubs and the family are remarkably relaxed and composed about posing with them! Ah, wait, the filename of the photo reveals there was a sheet of glass between the lions and the family!

The photograph was apparently taken in the Olympia building. Margot, I think we need to know more about this one!

The next one shows Margot as a young girl, sitting on Santa's knee in the RHO Hills store. It was taken around 1947.

RHO Hills, I think, was opposite the back of the Tower, where Waterstones is now and I have a feeling it burned down? I'm sure someone will tell me if I'm wrong! Margot, I've added your name in the labels below - clicking your name there will open all the entries you are mentioned in! I have a feeling we may hear from you again! I certainly hope so!

Treasure Hunt - My Entry

Seeing as I was down there... oh, alright - this is why I was down there!

If you don't know what the treasure is try reading here, then here, and make sure you read the comments so you don't miss anything!

Armed with the information from Margot about the second hut on the right and the box being to the left of it I found it quite easily. A box with the front missing. Not much to see but a bit of Blackpool's heritage none-the-less. I've added a ghostly brass telscope to show how it might have been stored.

It would be nice to have something on the side of the hut, perhaps with Margot's photo of her Dad to remind folks that some things were done much better in the past. I can't remember the last time I saw anyone looking through a coin-slot telescope from Blackpool Promenade and that's probably because apart from the Tower and lots of sea, they wouldn't know what to look for.

As can be seen from this new photo sent by Margot of her father, he used to point the telescope at points of interest. She says:

On the board my Dad would chalk which views he was showing depending on the weather. Sometimes it would even be Barrow shipyards also showing the Isle of Man steamers and he had photos of them all to identify them.

The blackboard, tripod and telescope all went in the case under the seat. On this particular picture he is showing the Lune Tower Light ship, whereby someone might be able to date the picture, as I was informed by a historian who wrote a history of the North Pier that the Lune Tower Light Ship burned out
A Google search has failed to provide any information about the lightship - anyone out there with any knowledge of this? Margot, I suppose I should really ask if this is indeed the box?!?

Blackpool Promenade Widening

The work on the Promenade is creeping north towards the North Pier.

I went down to have a look this morning - for once it isn't throwing it down - and was again struck by just how much more land there will be on the Promenade.

On the radio yesterday they were saying the council have applied for lottery money to build some sort of attractions on the huge expanse of concrete or tarmac they are about to create.

I hope they do something worth doing!

Heroes - Ooh, Look What I Can Do!

It's been a busy old week and I haven't got round to reviewing the new BBC drama "Heroes".

It's an American show really, having been made by NBC and is very definitely American in look and feel. But hey! it's about super powers and as a life-long fan of Marvel Comics, I just had to have a look. Anyway, David has been raving about it for weeks, as he's been watching it on Sky!

It starts off with a nubile cheerleader (ah yes, Americans and their obsessive fantasies...) being video filmed by her school chum as she dives off a high scaffold, refusing to die in the process. We gather she's a bit indestructable!

Next we see a single "Mom" stripping for a web cam audience (ah yes, Americans and their obsessive fantasies...) whose mirror image moves independantly of her own movements and then turns the place into a bloodbath when Mommy is visited by the loan sharks.

There's a tortured artist who can draw scenes from the future when he's high on drugs (ah yes - no, stop that!). There's an Indian genetics professor (just being a lecturer isn't good enough) whose father (also a professor natch) is killed and who then goes charging off to America to carry on his father's research into - yes! Super-powered humans!

My favourite (and the only one I can remember the name of) is Hiro, the somewhat childish Japanese 30-something-year-old who pulls extra-ordinary faces (no that's not his special power) whilst stopping time and teleporting himself about. He is of course a Star Trek fan (ah yes - no, seriously - stop that!)

It was ok, but it says something about it if I can watch two episodes back to back and still only remember the name of one character... "Rome" it ain't, but I'll watch it again this week. The characters may be overshadowed by their powers, but the plot is intruiging and there's obviously some huge event about to strike!

New Flickr Album

I've just uploaded 128 photos and 3 sketches from our 2004 holiday to Lake Garda in Italy.

I've decided now that with all the new Web2 applications (like Flickr, Blogger, MySpace etc.) that there isn't really any need for me to write full blown web pages any more.

My account at Flickr allows me to create albums of photos, put long descriptions against each photo if I need to and (use it! use it!) allows you to add your own comments either to an individual photo or to an album.

You can view the photos larger by clicking on the thumbnail in the album (and then you can look at them extra large by clicking the "all sizes" link) or you can view them as a slide show. You can choose whether or not to read the descriptions in the slideshow.

Have a look and tell me what you think!

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Southport Not Being Left Out

Remember way back in April I mentioned the work being done on Blackpool's sea defences and how the council was reclaiming land back from the sea?

Southport - where the sea is so far away it can only be seen from the end of the pier with a pair of binoculars - is not being left out.

They are reclaiming land back from the Marine Lake...

More Treasure Hunting

After all the hunting going on in Blackpool for Margot's telescope box remains - which I haven't had chance to look for yet - I had a treasure hunt of my own today.

On the way back from our visit to Liverpool, I called off to search for the Godstone.

This small carved stone can be found - ahhh, well I'll give a cryptic clue later! You wouldn't want me to take all the fun out of it would you?

Legend has it, that the locals in pre-Christian days, used to carry their dead around the stone three times following the direction of the sun. When missionaries visited Britain to convert the island to Christianity, they carved the stone with some steps, a cross and a circle in an attempt to show that the way to Heaven lies through the Cross.

The stone can still be found, standing close to the edge of a churchyard.

In a Lancashire village named not quite like the make of Fran's new grill, find the thatched cottage and then turn towards the sea. It's a long drive to the end of the road then turn right and find the church of a gospel writer.

If that is too cryptic for you, then you can find the answer much more clearly on my Curiosities web site.

If you visit, please remember it is a churchyard. Please show respect and do not walk over graves - it is an old churchyard and some are a little overgrown but it is clear how to walk between them.

Wi've Bin Up The 'Pool

We've had a day out. First one I think since we went up to Cumbria for Fran's birthday in March. It's been a busy year!

Anyway a bit of a pilgrimage; we went to Albert Dock in Liverpool and went to see the statue of Billy Fury on the waterfront just by Albert Dock.

It's a shame so many people seem to glance at it and say "Oh, look - a statue of Elvis..." without wondering why a place with such a great musical heritage would have a statue of an American singer. The place is not without it's musical greats. Billy was certainly one of those.

Then a trog around the Albert Dock itself. There's a few empty plots but that's usual in such places - sometimes I think the only people making money these days are councils from the Council Tax and landlords from extortionate rents.

Happily there are lots of cafes there. Unhappily we chose one staffed by two teenage girls who seemed to have no idea and who didn't care that they had no idea and who had a steady stream of customers bringing food back for one reason or another. Ours was ok, but I drank the coffee down in one go as soon as it came. I was thirsty - but had I left it any longer it would have been too cold!

A nice old sailing ship in the corner of the dock, flanked by several tugs and other boats.

Despite a stint as Registrar at Fleetwood's Nautical College in 1985/86, I'm no expert on types of ships I'm afraid - although, did you know that the word starboard for the right hand side of a ship as seen from the back, is so called because the Norsemen had their tiller or steorbord on their Viking ships on that side? Hey! Full of useless information, me!

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Treasure Hunt Update

News on the treasure hunt that started with an email from Margot Carey on Saturday.

Les Cotton left a comment on the original post but it doesn't accept enough html to let you link photos.

Not to be outdone, he's emailed me with the photo above and says:

I was nearby to North Pier today, so had a stroll down there (first time in 30 years !! HaHa). Couldn't see the mystery box, but took (a) pic of a kiosk with a box under the seats to the right.

give us a clue...where exactly is it ??
Well the box under the seats turned out to be an electrical junction box, but this other photo of Les's I suspect may be the actual thing?

I've not seen it myself - however, Margot wrote again to say:

I have another picture of my Dad with the telescope on N pier when I locate it I will forward it. I had a look at the link you sent.

The framework for the telescope box is on the right going down the pier and at the left hand side of one of the Indian looking huts. I think it is the second hut down the pier
Meanwhile, here's another photo from Les which I think is a bit of wishful thinking here, Les my old fruit!

I somehow rather think I'd prefer a shining brass telescope with a uniformed attendant than the modern equivalent!

So - perhaps Margot will confirm whether Les's first photo is of the correct article? And now, here's the next challenge - this one might have you rummaging through those old photos! Let's have a few photos of 1940s-1960s workers in uniform. They can be lift attendants, petrol pump attendants in overalls, shopworkers or factory workers - what have you got?

Email photos no bigger than 800x600 pixels please to john[at]bispham2.freeserve.co.uk and to help me weed out potential viruses, please give your email a subject "uniform photos". Otherwise you run the risk of me deleting the message without reading!

Sending photos will be taken as giving me permission to publish them (but not make money from them) either on this blog or on my nostalgia web site. Over to you!

A Train-ing Event

Well, I had a wonderful day on Monday as the JISC infoNet team ran a training workshop - on a train!

We hired the Tanfield Railway for the day with 4 carriages and as the train chuffed its way up and down the track, delegates got to grips with some Scenario Planning, looking at a different scenario in each carriage. I was facilitating discussions in what I'm sure was the noisiest carriage - but then my boss commented that at least we had the noisiest presenter in the carriage so it evened things up... I have no idea what she meant...

With the initial journey set aside for looking at the scenery we softened the delegates up a little - they had a very intensive time ahead of them for the rest of the day.

Feedback is still coming in, but they certainly seemed to enjoy the day!

Sunday, 22 July 2007

I Think We Might Stay In...

The Red Arrows are appearing in Blackpool again today.

I caught a glimpse of them yesterday as they did the first of two displays in Blackpool at their usual tea time slot. Not sure why they time it for then - mostly people have got fed up at watching a single aircraft flying up and down that the council seem to think constitutes a display. Not too bad if it was something interesting like a Spitfire (two of these do make an appearance apparently) but the prospect of watching a single Hawk jet scream past when you are waiting to see nine of the very same aircraft doing formation flying is just an annoyance unless you're an anorak.

Anyway today the Red Arrows and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight are at the better time of midday and I was quite fancying going down to the Prom to see them until I looked outside and saw the weather.

By gad! It's raining! Not just rain, it's more like having a row of people standing along the edge of the roof and pouring buckets of water over...

I think I'm starting to develop webbed feet...

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Nasal Hair - Bane of Men

I was reading somewhere the other day, someone bemoaning the fact that at the tender age of far-too-little he was starting to grow nasal hair.

Yes, it's the bane of men everywhere. I mean what good is it? What function does it provide? How do you get rid of it without pain?

My wife (I just have to assume she was joking) suggested pulling it out with tweezers! Ha ha! Get real!

The least little pain in the nose causes the eyes to water to the extent that could cause some homes to flood and, believe me, pulling at all - never mind that hard - blooming well hurts!

Do those little round special-shaped battery shavers work?

There was a bloke at work once - not the work where I am now, where everyone seems impeccably groomed, but a former place of less sartorial elegance - anyway there was this bloke there whose nasal hair was long enough to suck! By that, I mean long enough for him to suck - I wasn't suggesting anyone else could, or indeed should. That's sort of lost any social acceptability it may have once had - even if it once had...

It looks bloody awful, let's face it. And if it's that long then it looks even worse than moustaches and beards once food gets stuck to it. Yeowch, I hope he's seen the light now and cut it - well that was years ago, so if he hasn't by now he'd be sucking it involuntarily!!!

There's got to be some sort of implement better suited than the stuff that's available. Anything's got to be better than this... Sheesh and you women think you have it bad just having babies...!

Treasure Hunt - Open to All!

Aha!!! My regular readers will know I love Curiosities (more here).

Well, thanks to Margot, the young lady in the photo, we can now all go in search of one I'd never heard of before.

She writes:
Hello John
Here is a picture taken in about 1953 with my Dad on the North pier where he had the telescope at the time. When I visit Blackpool and the N pier there is still the framework remaining of the lock up box under a seat next to one of the huts and when I look at it I always think not many people would know that.

I like looking at your site as I was born in Blackpool and went to school there in the 40-50's .

Kindest Regards
Margot *******

Many thanks for the email Margot, well there we go folks - I'm on record for getting excited at "hills" that used to be called "defences" so how about a framework that used to be a lock-up box for a telescope? First one to find it and send me a photo gets a mention!

Wherever I May Rome

I'm going to miss Rome!

The series finishes in a grand finale (well it must, mustn't it?) on Sunday night and I have to admit I'm looking forward to it.

Several years passed during Wednesday night's episode. Years that saw Lucius, son of Vorenus-in-Blue-Jeans grow several inches, but his two daughters not at all. Vorenus himself had spent those years in Egypt throwing ball with Cleopatra's son, who thinks he is the son of Julius Caeser, but is in fact Pullo-ver's.

Pullo-ver as seen here, has been looking after Vorenus's children and has been happily shacked up (I very nearly wrote something else that looks and sounds similar and is probably just as accurate...) with Gaia who unknown to him killed his wife and unborn child last week.

Blimus!!! Do none of them know anything???

Well Pullo does by the end of the programme as Gaia gets stabbed by Memmio (who? - that whole bit of gang war was confusing) and confesses as she lies dying. Pullo-ver, a touch sad at the thought of losing his second partner, is shocked and then enraged and helps her to the happy hunting grounds and dumps her body in a puddle.

Up-and-Atia is publicly humiliated by Markus Spencerus Anthony much to Octavian's joy as he can now have the Newsreader, who has hot-footed it from Doc Martin's Cornwall to turn the "plebs" against Anthony and set the scene for Sunday.

All clear? Don't miss it!

I have to admit I'm looking forward to "Heroes"... It may even take over as No.3 TV programme. For the past couple of years all I've watched is Dr Who and Rome!

Friday, 20 July 2007

Prison Notice

Yesterday at work there was a poster displayed in the college library.

It was about a visit to the local prison library. Certain information was needed because of security (the notice said).

Then in a few lines after things like name, shoe size, proficiency in weapons it said...

Place of Work
Place of Birth
Places limited

Ah well - I know prisons are crowded, but they just want to visit - you don't have to put them up overnight!

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Junior School Prom

Do you want to know what real fear is?

We played Croxteth one year when 12,000 came through the gates, but that was nothing!

Real fear is the build up to a Junior School Prom! Knowing that there will be a room full of hyper 11-year-olds expecting the equivalent of the Pussycat Dolls or McFly and getting two guys old enough to be their grandads!

But the truth is, those worries were all for nothing and what a brilliant night we had. And we were home for 10 o'clock!

The main thing is that both the prom-goers and the teaching staff thought it a good night! It was hot, it was lively, they were indeed hyper! It was absolutely great!

We also bumped into two friends from way back whose daughter was at the prom. We last saw her when she was knee high to a grasshopper! Tracey and Bill it was good to see you again - keep in touch!

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Horse Droppings!

I'm not sure what it is with the horsey lot... The room my company rents for me to work in is on a site where facilities are rented out to the horsey brigade at weekends.

Now, it's very rare, I admit, that I have ever set foot in a stables or hacking yard or whatever they call them. I do honestly seem to remember, though, when my nephew was young and foolishly decided he wanted to sit on one of those strangely-shaped horse things, that their yards and so on were fairly clean places. At least there was sufficient space to walk in between the piles of stuff that falls out of the back end of the afore-mentioned strangely-shaped horse things.

Here, on most Monday mornings, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is because they issue an edict that "no strangely-shaped horse thing will let anything fall from its back end until ordered to do so..." Once upon our premises and out of the horse boxes, I can only surmise that the grooms and groomesses line them up and then at the opportune moment someone shouts "Now!!!"

From the state of the car park I deduce that what happens next is that hammer-wielding horsey people climb aboard and they play polo with the resulting "balls" until all balls have fallen apart or become flattened and are spread all over the extent of the car park.

I can see that it would be a job and a half trying to pick up through a carrier bag as you quite hilariously see dog owners do. The picking up should be reasonably feasible but I think it would come unstuck - if that's the right phrase - when it comes to the "folding over and tucking in pocket" bit.

I have a separate pair of shoes for "office days"...

D-I-Y - Destroy It Yourself

I've been reluctantly forced into a spot of D-I-Y.

My motto is normally D-D-I-Y and for very good reasons but in this case it was more a case of destruction than doing...

Ever since we moved in here, the hallway has been somewhat hideously cladded with wooden panelling of the cheapi-board variety. It's meant we never had to bother decorating the hall and stairs and landing apart from painting the door frames but now, with a new central heating system about to come in I needed to clear the walls so radiators could go in.

There will need to be a spot of restoration work now to fill holes in the plaster where wall plugs have held the battens for the boarding.

In the photo, boarding is still on the left and may yet stay - it covers the space under the stairs where there is too much junk to have it on show... The new uncovered wall is on the right.

It's just Tigger's sense of humour that she is looking at the boarding trying to make you think that that is the new bit...

Monday, 16 July 2007

Beyond the Thunder Rome

It doesn't get any lighter does it?

This is Gaia, a slave who has been looking after the whorehouse for Vorenus-in-Blue-Jeans. Spurned by Vorenus, she has turned her attentions to Pullo-ver, buying concoctions from the local herb woman to make his wife lose her unborn baby and her life.

Meanwhile Vorenus loses a shipment of gold, betrayed by his daughter and stumps off in a huff, joining his old boss Mark Spencer Anthony on his banishment from Rome. He heads straight for Cleo in Egypt, where she's waiting with bated breath and not much else covering her charms...

Up-and-Atia meanwhile is banished to her house for not letting a little thing like her daughter's marriage to Mark Anthony keep her from his bed. Octavia doesn't mind - whilst Anthony's away Agrippa can play.

Octavian too has his mind on love and gets his mate to pick him a suitable candidate. "Fancy being my wife?" is his first question to her. After securing her agreement he adds, "I shall beat you every now and then - with my hand or a light whip. Don't be upset... it just gives me sexual pleasure so it's nothing to be upset about. Methinks she's having second thoughts...

Pullo-ver sets out to wage war on the gold snatchers, closely followed by an axe-wielding Gaia who doesn't let being a member of the gentle sex dissuade her from sinking it into the guts of any who cross her path. Ha! Pullo may just have found another soul mate!

Puppet on a Chain

The BBC screened this 1971 film in the early hours of Saturday morning.

I watched it a good few hours later, I have to admit, it was our Saturday night viewing!

I remember going to see this at the cinema on its first release and it is an excellent film. Based on the Alistair MacLean book (he also wrote the screenplay) and directed by Geoffrey Reeve, who also directed MacLean's "Caravan to Vaccares", it is set in Amsterdam where a US agent turns up to break a heroin smuggling outfit who are importing drugs into the US.

The hero Paul Sherman is played by Sven Bertil-Taube, who hardly appeared in any other mainstream US or English films, though he had the part of a guard in "Where Eagles Dare" and (bizarrely) appeared as Torkel Kraft in an episode of - wait for it - "Upstairs, Downstairs"!

He is ably supported by the excellent and wistfully pretty Barbara Parkins as Maggie, doomed to death by hanging at the hands of Bond villain, Kronsteen - actor Vladek Sheybal.

English stiff upper lip type, Patrick Allen is the Dutch cop liaising with Sherman, although at the time this film was made he was best known as the advertising face of Barratts Houses - turning up at a new housing sites in a helicopter on almost every break on ITV. Not quite sure why an actor with such a distinctive English accent should be cast as a Dutch cop - unless American audiences lump all european accents together...?

I'm sure there was at least one cut in the film - I seem to remember one of the female characters being killed off by a group of Zuider Zee dancers, surrounding the unfortunate woman and then raising pitchforks... I'm not sure why the scene was cut unless purely for timing, as it made their second appearance (as Maggie rather rashly enters the castle in Huyler) all the more sinister. This was totally lost on Saturday.

An excellent film, spoiled only by the above cut and the BBC being obviously unable for some reason to find a widescreen print of the film. Having bought a widescreen TV I now find it annoying when films are screened in 4:3 format.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Rainy Gig in Croxteth

Rain did not stop play until 4:15 but it was a dryer day for us than it was for the audience.

Our 6th year at Croxteth Park Open Day was the quietest so far as the weather kept people indoors.

A hardy few came out to play - we were never without an audience and sometimes it got into double figures... Compare that with the 12,000 who turned up one year and it certainly was a quiet one!

The fairground hadn't set up due to the wet ground so we were without any real competition for the noise stakes and you could hear us quite a way away.

Look at that marquee! Croxteth were certainly making sure we were kept dry and the weather kept changing its mind about what to do but by 4:15 it seemed to have set in to rain hard for a while and the marquee was starting to drip so we called it a day.

My old school chum Jackie turned up with a few props - her school beret and the old school tie plus the now infamous french dictionary whose frontspiece we ripped out in the 6th form to make a fag from dog ends when we had all run out of fags. It was ghastly... It wasn't even in english of course!

She even brought a photo of Larry the Lamb... ahh...

What do you mean; you haven't a clue what I'm going on about? Check out my nostalgia pages - most of these reference are on the readers memories page.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

The Most Dangerous Game

Also known as "The Hounds of Zaroff", this little-known gem is the sister-film to the original (and best) "King Kong".

Made in 1932 at the same time as it's more illustrious sibling, The Most Dangerous Game has the same makers, Schoedsack and Cooper and mostly the same cast (Robert Armstrong, Fay Wray, Noble Johnson and a few others) as Kong but Joel McCrea takes the male lead, ably backed up by Leslie Banks, with a rather OTT russian accent as Count Zaroff. The same jungle sets were employed also - it's hard not to cheer as McCrea's character, Rainsford, leads Wray's Eve Trowbridge across the fallen log bridge that Kong rocks and tosses into the ravine along with several sailors.

The story has Banks as a deranged hunter of men - the "most dangerous game" of the title. Thinking he has a worthy opponent in Rainsford who is a renowned hunter himself, Zaroff sportingly gives him a knife, then sends him off into the jungle where he hunts him with bow and arrow, rifle and hounds.

The dogs belonged to film star Harold Lloyd who was reportedly a bit narked that the film company dyed them to look more menacing than a great dane... Besides; "One of those bloody dogs bit my bum!" Banks is reported to have complained.

Not quite sure how it got past the censors of the time - Zaroff makes it quite obvious that he intends to rape Eve Trowbridge after killing Rainsford.

I won't spoil the ending for you - suffice it to say that a bunch of hounds are no match for a 16 foot ape...

At only just over an hour (counting the titles) this is a fast moving film and also has quite a realistic fist fight for the period - lots of unco-ordinated falling over and general scrapping rather than the more usual single blow that knocks someone out!

Yep, enjoyed that - and Fay Wray looks equally gorgeous with her own natural hair colour!

A 1950s View of Home Computing

I like this!

This is a company's mock-up in 1954 of how a home computer might look in 2004.

What on earth those huge chrome wheels were going to do I've no idea but whilst the scientists at Rand Corporation admitted that such a computer would need technology not then invented, they thought the computer, using the FORTRAN language would be easy to use - though "not economically viable for most households..."

Predicting the future is fraught with pitfalls. In 1943 the chairman of IBM famously said "I think there will be a world market for maybe 5 computers".

As recently as 1999 his successor chair of IBM said "Picture a day when a billion people will interact with a million businesses via a trillion interconnected devices!" Oh... that didn't take long then...

And even the man himself, Bill Gates, once said in a quote that has been repeated so many times I just thought it was my turn... "640K (of RAM memory) ought to be enough for anybody."

Anyone care to give their view of technology in 2057?

Thursday, 12 July 2007

A Drowning at Blackpool

We had the unfortunate news in our local paper earlier this week that a man had died after jumping into the sea to save his two dogs that had gone into the water.

People don't realise just how powerful the sea is. Water is heavy. You can easily try for yourself lifting an empty bucket and then filling it and lifting it again. Then think how many buckets are in the wave shown above.

Also people think of Blackpool as having a gently sloping beach and don't always realise that there is a strong undercurrent.

But whether or not the sea looks ferocious or not, people are understandably anxious if a dog looks like being swept out. Tonight's paper confirms that the Coastguard Service will answer an emergency call to rescue a dog.

The sad alternative is that it is so easy to get into difficulties if someone tries to jump in to save one.

There were two deaths a couple of years ago due to the same reason and I still remember the awful day in 1983 when not only did a dog owner drown, but three police officers who were trying to save him.

It's a simple message - call 999. Don't jump into the water yourself.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Caerleon, Roman Isca

I just couldn't resist it! Having had a twice weekly fix of the HBO/BBC version of Rome, I found myself within spitting distance of Caerleon in Wales on my way to Caerphilly (where I am now).

I have a Change Management workshop tomorrow in the college at the somewhat evocatively named Ystrad Mynach.

So I did a short detour and spent an hour looking around the roman baths - superbly helpful staff, thank you so much - and the remains of the amphitheatre as seen in the photograph.

It is Britain's most complete and fully excavated amphitheatre and backs onto the old roman fortress wall.

Caerleon was Roman Isca - a name half remembered in the name of the river Usk.

There was a large military fort here with a well-developed bath house which had both indoor and outdoor pools. The presence of an amphitheatre is another indicator of Caerleon's importance.

I found it totally absorbing. I am one of those people who can infuriate others by extolling the virtues of what they see as "a hill", but I'm afraid old stone circles, hillforts and henges are just one of my enthusiasms!

I had the place to myself and started by approaching as a viewing customer may have done. I went down a series of steps towards the arena, gaining a tantalising glance through a gateway and was then directed by a slave (imaginary of course) through an archway which led to another series of steps climbing up. At the top and turning to my right I found myself on the front row above the arena and with a climb up the terraces to my seat.

A smaller arena than the others I have visited - Deva (Chester) and the mighty arena at Verona in northern Italy. But hey! I'm nearer the action!

Back in the 21st century I left the terraces and half-circled the arena, entering through one of the two processional tunnel entrances. Horns are blowing, people standing and cheering, petals are thrown and float down. I turn to face the official in whose honour the games are being held and salute - whoops, darn, there's a bloke with a dog wondering what the hell I'm doing... Thankfully the bloke hasn't noticed...

You should never lose the child within!

Monday, 9 July 2007

Roman in the Gloamin'...

I spoke too soon in my last missive about Rome.

Agrippa's now got agrippa Octavia - to be honest, who could blame him? T'lad's off t'war.

Brutus and Cassius realise they have a somewhat bigger army in front of them than they thought and in a line worthy of Carry On Cleo, Cassius gets a nasty prod from the pointy end of a sword, gazes his last on Brutus and says those immortal last lines "Hell of a birthday..."

Pullo-ver has been sent by Vorenus-in-Blue-Jeans to cut down Cicero but has been warned to "show respect". Thus he asks permission of Cicero to pull a few peaches off the tree before dispatching him with a quick sword thrust into the neck.

It got a bit confusing on Sunday night - the Jews were fighting amongst themselves and I've lost that bit of the plot and there's trickery afoot with someone trying to win over Vorenus's eldest daughter. But that must wait for another episode!

Until then; Umbrellae carotae, effluvia - don't let the rain rot your veggies!

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Film Review - Notting Hill

I was messing about on the computer last night so Fran decided she was going to watch Notting Hill with Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant.

We've seen it before but in the end I decided I was spending so much time screwing my head over my shoulder I might as well sit down on the sofa and watch it with her.

Writer Richard Curtis lived in Notting Hill and thought it "an extraordinary mixture of cultures. It is rich and poor and Portuguese and Jamaican and English, and it seemed like a proper and realistic place where two people from different worlds could actually meet and co-exist."

Unfortunately for reality the film ignored the cultural makeup of the place, but there's not too many more criticisms. The acting is superb, the supporting characters are believable and add much to the story, there are plenty of witty and poignant moments and a dig at papparazzi in a film made shortly after their image plummetted following Princess Diana's death.

I have friends who would have had the same reaction as Spike... "I went out in my underwear too!"

Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts play their parts to perfection, she shows vulnerability in her scene in the book shop, "I'm just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her" and he champions every male who has ever had a female dare to do what he didn't, then knowing he has to follow, in the scene where she climbs over the gate into the garden.

And of course, today I can't get Elvis Costello's wonderful version of "She" out of my head...

Saturday, 7 July 2007

The George Formby Grill

Couldn't resist this...

Fran's been fancying one of those "healthy" grill gadgets promoted by ex boxer George Foreman.

What she actually said was, "I'd like one of those George Formby grills..."

You can just picture the Wigan Warbler pulling a steak out of the grill and saying "Eeh! Turned out nice again!"

No George... oven gloves, not boxing gloves...

A Series of Myth Adventures

I like my fantasy, sword and sorcery books. But I'm not too serious about it. I've never been able to get into Terry Pratchett but this series of books by Robert Asprin had me grinning from ear to ear during the 1980s.

Starting with "Another Fine Myth", the books follow apprentice magician Skeeve, his mentor, Aahz who has lost his own magical powers, his pet dragon Gleep, which he had to buy because he had fed it - well to be fair, it ate his sleeve, but that formed a bond between them, and a whole host of other hilarious characters.

With so many clever puns and word-play that you have to stay wide awake to get them all, the books are short, but very funny.

They are based on the premise that there are many dimensions and that a dimension traveller is a demon. A devil comes from the dimension Deva and an Imp from the Imper dimension. Get the idea?

There are so many of these dimensions that there is an almost never-ending stream of hilarious characters, some of whom can work "magic" and some who need magical implements to work magic. My favourite dimension has to be Trollia - where the men are all Trolls and the women are Trollops!

Aahz has trouble mingling in with the locals on Skeeve's world due to the fact that as a Pervect, he is green, scaly and has a mouthful of very sharp teeth. Having lost his magical powers he is forced to teach Skeeve, who bumbles his way to triumph over triumph, turning enemies into allies along the way.

If you like comedy and fantasy then you could do a lot worse than this series.

5-Blade Shaving - if the first one don't get you...

Remember back in May we got a free sample Gillette Fusion razor through the post?

I've been trying it out. Fran's told me to enjoy it whilst I can because the cost of the blade cartridge is causing a national divide - those who can afford >3 blades and those who can only afford <4 blades.

I remember being perfectly happy with a single, though double-edged, blade which had to be slid from it's plastic box, removed from paper envelope and slotted onto the razor, the top protective guard then being screwed back on.

But surely shaving with 5 blades means a closer better shave - perhaps less passes with the razor? Er... that would be a "no" then... But I'll bet if you measured any remaining stubble with a microscope it would be shorter...

Check the Gillette Fusion website here, then pass me that strop please...

Friday, 6 July 2007

Film Review - The Golden Voyage of Sinbad

Despite of of today's excellent CGI effects, there's still something magical about a Ray Harryhausen stop motion - whoops, sorry - Dynamation film!

Especially when the heroine is one of my all-time favourite actresses, Caroline Munro.

She plays slave girl Margiana, who has a strange eye symbol tattooed on her palm.

Sinbad, played by John Phillip Law, knows a good thing when he sees one - yep, the tattoo has been haunting his dreams and so he drags our heroine off on adventure with him. "You are free now," he tells the slave girl, "Go get me a drink and clean my boots and see if my clothes are finished in the tumble dryer!"

Playing the bad guy, Koura, is Tom Baker. I've heard it said this film performance bagged him the Dr Who stint. But there are really two main reasons for watching this film!

No no no - Caroline is only one of them (oh, ok, it's close!) The other is/are the special effects creatures, particularly the 6-armed statue goddess Kali, who rather sportingly tries her best only to use one arm at once against Sinbad in a spectacular sword fight.

Martin Shaw (was he Bodie or Doyle?) tries to help but gets a swipe across the gizzards for his pains. Sinbad topples Kali off a rock and smashes her to bits whereupon she loses interest in the fight.

But Margiana has now to contend with a one eyed centaur who has taken a fancy to her. Will she survive? Will Koura regenerate? Will Sinbad need rescuing more than Margiana?

It has to be said that Caroline has a reputation for playing somewhat feisty women. She was extolling Lambs Navy Rum for ten years in scanty clothes but generally waving knives about and she didn't exactly handle Bond with kid gloves in The Spy Who Loved Me.

But in real life she's a real sweetie and still utterly, utterly gorgeous! She'll be on this blog again at some point!

Thursday, 5 July 2007

There's No Place Like Rome

Blimus! They're a rum lot in ancient Rome.

Mark Anthony beats up young Octavian, so badly he needs so much plasticus surgery he ends up looking totally unlike himself. Not to be outdone, Mark Anthony er... grows a beard...

Grouchy old Vorenus-in-Blue-Jeans has turned his children (stolen in infancy by pirates - oh, sorry that was another film) totally against him until they try to run off. Can't understand that, the ungrateful wretches. All he did was to introduce them to his mates, saying "This is my daughter, she was prostituted by the slavers, and this is my son, fathered on my wife by another man - but you will respect them!"

Pullo-ver, his ferocious, though strangely likeable, best mate, is tutting over him like a mother hen until his missus accuses him of loving Vorenus more than her.
"If you and he were both drowning, I'd rescue you first," Pullo assures her, adding tenderly, "you weigh less..."

Meanwhile Up-and-Atia is torturing her rival Servilia just to liven the place up but when her chief torturer has a change of heart, she's off to see what's lurking under Mark Anthony's beard. ...about two and a bit feet under Mark Anthony's beard actually...

Octavian has a new mate called Agrippa ("I'm Agrippa" "Well I know a few moves myself..." - whoops no that's Carry On Cleo and I haven't reviewed that one yet!) He fancies Octavian's sister, Octavia, who is prone to overdose on hemp and has previously been bonking her brother. She's not showing signs of falling into Agrippa's agrippas just yet!

Tune in next week for more severed limbs and coupling by the legion...

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Remembering Polperro

I was looking through an old album and found this - a sketch I did on holiday in Polperro, Cornwall in 1992.

I don't do a lot of sketching but every now and then when the mood takes me I can enjoy sitting - or standing - with a pad and a pencil. I didn't much like art at school because, to be blunt, our teacher was crap. He put me off trying for almost twenty years, but then in 1990 I started having a go again.

It can be quite therapeutic, setting the camera aside for a change and watching an image build up bit by bit. Fascinates other people though. It used to bother me until I got confident enough to know I wasn't going to make a complete fool of myself. Now I quite enjoy chatting to folks whilst I sketch.

I don't kid myself that I'm an expert, or that the sketches I produce will ever be worth anything. I have a few hanging in other folk's houses and that's a good feeling, because no one is forced to do that!

I only do a handful a year, mostly when I'm on holiday and even then not always.

That year in Polperro I was on crutches, having fallen downstairs and ripped all the tendons in the back of my leg. I spent a lot of time sitting on harbour walls and people watching, whilst doodling a bit. It's always an HB pencil - I've only ever done 3 or 4 watercolours and would certainly not attempt that out in the great outdoors! A pencil is fine for me! Something like this takes about half an hour on an A5 pad.

There's a few more on this page. I don't do enough of them...

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Film Review - A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

If I was banished to a desert island (to the pleasure of a few people I'm sure!) and was allowed to take just one DVD with me it would have to be this one.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, released in 1966, directed by Richard Lester, starring so many huge stars it would be a job to mention them all. But let's give a mention to some superlatives:

Zero Mostel - a rubber face guaranteed to get you rooting for his character, Pseudolus; "Go to your room and wait - that's what virgins are supposed to do best..."

Jack Gilford as Hysterium - put upon slave in chief; "Never mind who she is - who is she???"

Leon Greene as Roman Captain, Miles Gloriosus; "Stand aside everyone... I take large steps!"

Phil Silvers as a seller of courtesans. On hearing a purse clink; "I know that sound... and I love it!"

But topping them all is Shakespearean and star of many serious British war films, Michael Hordern as Senex; "Son, if you are as happy as your mother and I... my heart bleeds for you..."

With so many superb one-line gags, visual gags, songs and chases, you have to watch it at least three times to see everything! And almost unrecogniseable in a black wig during the orgy scene, an uncredited Ingrid Pitt, early on in her career! Towards the end of his long and illustrious career, Buster Keaton plays Erronius, who has been travelling for twenty years in search of his children, stolen in infancy by pirates.

I first saw this film in the 1970s when Mum and Dad had a hotel in Blackpool. We hired it on 16mm film stock and projected it onto an 8-foot screen from one end of the dining room to the other one Christmas. Even on TV, the film remains larger than life!

More Floods...

I was upstairs, putting all the musical instruments etc away after last night's gig when I heard a sudden anguished cry for help.

Tigger had decided she liked the smell of a vase of flowers enough to eat them. The flowers, not wanting to be eaten, stubbornly refused to rip apart and so the vase fell over, washing the kitchen worksurfaces, then the cupboard doors, and finally the floor.

So a quick reminder of what she and her brother, Jess, have got up to in the past 5 years...

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