Monday, 31 December 2012

Christmas Party

Our last gig of the year was a house party where the night started with an apology from the hosts. This is where we did the summer garden party when the dreaded midges struck! It wasn't the fault of the hosts of course. It was that over-excited singer I hang about with, who refused to listen when I said I was being bitten and just said "One more!", meaning half a dozen more...

This time there were no midges. We were indoors. And Miss Franny was keeping a close eye to make sure I got no little nibbles anyway... spoil-sport!

We played to a full house, literally! Thanks once again Christine and Brian! We got some great comments and there were lots of people singing and tapping feet!

Sunday, 30 December 2012

2012 Reading Part 8

I suspect this may be the final book entry for 2012!

Another eight books have been perused, inwardly digested and enjoyed.

To date the final of the Crowner John series. There is another still to read, but it deals with John's adventures in the crusades, a prequel to the rest of the series. This one has yet more life-changing consequences for Sir John de Wolfe, leaving readers to wonder whether there will be any more books about Exeter's first coroner.

A re-read of this collection of short stories about super heroes. Well... heroes... well... Britain's super-powered citizens must register with a special Government department who can call upon their services as and when required. However whilst there may be some genuine super powers amongst them there are also the woefully dismally powered. For instance Captain Croak, whose power is the ability to transform himself into a frog. Still weighing twelve stones... Still unable to swim... hilarious!

The second in a trilogy written by Bernard Cornwell under a pseudonym. They were originally published as written by Susannah Kells. Despite having a touch more of the romantic about them, this one also has some quite sadistic and bloodthirsty planning and deeds committed by the characters and keeps the reader guessing right to the end. Enjoyed it far more than I expected to.

Another re-read as I work my way towards the found sequel to Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy. This is the second of the trilogy and deals with Merlin's arrangements for the upbringing of the boy Arthur and his own search for a magical sword for the boy king to wave at those rascally Saxons. If you like Arthurian legend and haven't read this series then I can't recommend it enough.

In fact I think all the rest are re-reads. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World is an excellent yarn with far fewer dinosaurs than most film versions but no less a good read for that. I found this free download for the Kindle and a full set of Sherlock Holmes to boot, none of which I have ever read, so an experience to come!

The second of the Gregory Sallust WWII spy series sees Gregory realise who the mysterious blonde was who he came across in The Scarlet Imposter. He makes his way back to find her, involving her, himself, and the unfortunate pilot who was supposed to be flying him home in a few life or death struggles through Finland and Russia along the way. Ages since I read these and I'm enjoying them all over again!

Oops! I went out of sequence here, inadvertently skipping over Five Get Into Trouble which I'll have to backtrack to read. But this marks the first appearance of gypsy girl Jo - yet another of Enid Blyton's gender-rejecting female heroines who gets slogged by Dick and promptly falls in (very innocent) love with him! Tsk! Wouldn't be allowed today!

If you've been following my blog you might have predicted this. This is my own newly published book which dropped through the post a few days ago. Whilst a brand new book it is still technically a re-read seeing as I suppose I "read" it whilst writing it and anyway read the proofs in order to approve them! And it really is ok if you like that sort of thing!

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

364 Days to Christmas

Never mind - it's only 364 days to Christmas...

A couple of days ago Miss Franny disappeared into the kitchen, muttering something about "I may be some time...". The result was a pile of mince pies too big to shake a stick at! (I nearly wrote "mice pies" - I would have been in trouble then!!!)

Whilst my tum started to make appreciative noises even in advance of eating, she announced that the majority were destined for other homes and families and started to tick off the lucky recipients on her fingers. I was beginning to wonder if there would be a finger left for me but, phew, there was! They are a bit yummy are Miss Franny's mince pies!

Then on the shortest day (has anyone noticed the nights getting lighter?) the Mayan long calendar came to an end.

Now there may be several explanations for the somewhat total lack of world destruction that went on.

  1. 21 Dec 2012 just happened to be the point at which the chunk of stone got filled up. "You fool! I told you to carve smaller!"
  2. The humongous Mayan calendar got lost somewhere around 13 April 1461...
  3. The tiny, seemingly insignificant, act that occurred deep within the bowels of the earth will lead eventually, as the Mayans knew only too well, to the inevitable blow-out...

I can't help thinking that it would have been far more sinister if half of the Mayan calendar stone had been left blank...

And so Christmas Day arrived!

My most-likely-to-lead-to-disaster present... I once shook a bottle of tomato sauce without checking that the lid had been screwed on properly. The resulting red streak came down one wall, crossed the freezer top and front, led across the floor with a gap where my front got in the way and then up the cooker and wall on the opposite side. Unfortunately one of our cats had been sitting on the freezer top and was so appreciative of his new red coat that he sped off, scraping against the living room door, his sister and then the curtains in the front room before we managed to get to him with warm water and cloths...

So the family have never let me forget that little episode. Thanks to other members of my family (who live at a safe distance) for this chance to repeat this event...

But call me a big softy or whatever - my best Christmas present was when my darling Grace came with her Mum and Dad to share the day with us. Gangan loves you Sweetheart!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Andre Rieu in Newcastle

I can't believe this is a whole week since! But it is... Last Saturday we went over to Newcastle to see violinist Andre Rieu with his fabulous Johann Strauss Orchestra.

We really only came across him a year ago when there was a Christmas concert on TV and we enjoyed the mix of classical and easy listening music and the humour that is displayed throughout.

Then Sky Arts has shown a whole series of concerts during the year and we have supplemented them with a few DVDs and almost every week now seems to include an Andre night!

I think it was somewhere around September by the time I realised he was doing a UK tour and by then most tickets had long gone. It was a toss up between heading over to Newcastle or down to Birmingham, but I managed to get two tickets facing the stage but up in the gods, on the third tier right at the back of Newcastle's Metro Radio Arena, but they were on the front row of the tier.

The above photo gives some idea of how far back we were, but I've included it also for a lovely bit of humour that it shows. Whilst the orchestra were playing White Christmas, way above the second block on the main floor a snow machine is at work, dumping an inch or two of snow on top of the audience in that block. TV cameras picked out some of the more hilarious reactions onto the big screens at each side of the stage and at the end of the song the machine let fall an absolute avalanche!

It was the orchestra's twenty fifth anniversary Andre explained and he had brought with him some guests that we have seen on the DVD and Sky concerts. Frédéric Jenniges was there with his zither to play the Tales from Vienna Woods and of course the theme from The Third Man and to entertain us by puffing and blowing with boredom whilst waiting for the orchestra to get round to his bit! Hilarious!

There was also the St Petersburg Trio, a threesome of Russian musicians with a mandolin, accordion and the biggest bass balalaika you've ever seen!

But on the photo above I've chosen one of the regular soloists, the gorgeously scrumptious Carmen Monarcha. Andre jokes that wherever the orchestra go she leaves a trail of devastation amongst the hearts of men! I can well understand it!

And so I'll include another photo of her with the other regular soloists, Kimmi Skota and Carla Maffioletti with the Platin Tenors. The Platins are always a high spot when watching an Andre Rieu concert though it may seem an unlikely combination of Hungarian, Australian and German singers. For me Thomas Greuel, the German singer, has the best tenor voice but together they project such power and jollity into their music that my face must light up whenever they walk on stage!

We had a fabulous night and, I've no doubt, will have many Andre Rieu nights to come in 2013!

Large versions of the photos: All the photos we took are in this set at Flickr.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Blackpool Then And Now

Well it wasn't due out until the first of January, but the printers must have made special efforts because I received several copies of my new book this week through the post and today a friend has commented on my Facebook account that they have seen it in our local Waterstones.

This is a pictorial book contrasting old postcards of Blackpool with modern shots taken last year from as near the same spot as I could get.

Given that many old postcards were taken from low flying biplanes and they don't allow you to do that sort of thing any more; and given that the shape of Blackpool's seafront has changed considerably over the last few years, this gave me a few challenges during the making of the book!

This is just one book in a series of Then and Now books published by The History Press.

Whilst it is to be found in the bookshops in the Blackpool district, it is also available to order in other places and is available online either direct from the publishers using the above link or from online book sellers.

For anyone in the Blackpool region, I will be doing a book signing between 12:00 noon and 3:00pm on Saturday 2 February 2013 in Blackpool Waterstones on Bank Hey Street.

Poulton Gig for Car Club

Saturday 8 December saw us out at Poulton Golf Club to play for the Christmas "do" of a local car club.

It was a superb night, the audience were cracking jokes with us and we got a lot of good feedback at the end of the night and afterwards. Miss Jeannie reached down to the bottom of the costume box to find the old Mexican sombreros we used to wear when playing "Dance the Night Away". So they made a reappearance!

Another surprise was bumping into an old friend from school! Janet Astley was one of the bunch of close friends from sixth form days. There was even a song or two she remembered from the old days when I was in a band called "Anacreon" and before that in the rather less nattily named "Heywood Senior High School Folk Group"...

David took this one of Jan and I behind Miss Franny and Miss Jeannie before we started playing. ...er... that is before the band started playing... Just so there's no confusion...!

Monday, 17 December 2012

Dodging the Waves at Blackpool

1977, the year of the Queen's Silver Jubilee. We had moved to live in Blackpool the previous year and were getting used to living at the seaside.

This photo was taken one morning after a couple of high tides and the sea wall had taken a bit of a battering from waves such as the one shown. In the photo you can clearly see bricks and chunks of stone and concrete torn from the Promenade, tramway and sea wall.

I was unfortunate enough to be standing where one of these huge waves crashed over. It was like standing under a waterfall for a full five seconds. The weight almost knocked me off my feet. I realised then just how easy it would be for the sea to drag someone off their feet and through the railings that, at that time, lined the seafront from the South Pier all the way to the North Pier and a little way beyond.

From that day playing dodge the waves ceased to be fun for me. Water is heavy. In the thirty five years since I moved to Blackpool there have been far too many drownings. Treat the sea with respect. It will show you none...

Friday, 7 December 2012

Cardington Hangars

I've been out and about on my travels this week. Yesterday I started with a trip over to Leeds where I ran an online conference session with the help of the wonderful Kathy Boyer of JISC Regional Support Centre for the Yorkshire and Humber region.

Then a somewhat fractured train journey down to Bedford with one out of three trains cancelled, but an alternative only eight minutes later. Enough to miss my connection though!

Then this morning a taxi ride through the beautiful countryside between Bedford and Biggleswade to get me to the Shuttleworth campus of Bedford College where I spent the day as part of the steering group of a large project led by Bedford College involving partners from colleges all over the UK.

From the taxi I caught sight of a couple of strange buildings. At first I took them for aircraft hangars, but as we got closer I realised that these were of huge size. Fully five storeys tall.

All was revealed as we passed them later in the day as Bedford's Roy Currie very kindly drove me back to the station at Bedford.

"In a moment we'll be passing the famous Cardington Hangars," he said as a familiar shape appeared over the fields before us.

But Roy was able to tell me what the taxi driver hadn't! These were Britain's airship base. Built during World War One, No.1 Shed (to the rear) was 700 feet long and the R-31 and R-32 airships were built there in answer to the German Zeppelins.

Between 1924 and 1926 the hangar was extended by another 120 feet with 35 feet extra height prior to the building of the R-101 airship. At the time it was the world's largest airship until the Hindenburg came along. Sadly both airships suffered the same ultimate fate.

The R-101 crashed on its maiden voyage in France on October 4th, 1930 with a loss of life greater than the Hindenburg disaster that was to follow. It was the end of the British airship industry.

The two hangars (No.2 shed had been built elsewhere and then moved here later) were used to build barrage balloons during World War Two and ceased to be an RAF site in the late 1940s.

Hangar No.2 Shed has been used for fire fighting training and experiments whilst Hangar No.1 has been used for stage construction and rehearsal space for several A-list bands and solo artists as well as being used as a film set.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Old Blackpool Postcards

I was in town this morning as the ladies of the Little Egg Graft Company - Fran and daughter Gill - are doing a craft fair at the Winter Gardens.

I was drafted in to convey them and their goods to the Winter Gardens where they are sharing a stand with Jeannie who is selling her hand-made greetings cards. David and I went off to Quilligan's for some breakfast and then took back bacon and sausage barms for the ladies.

Then I mooched around the Dealers' Den stalls for a bit and found a few old postcards to share.

This one caught my eye first - Blackpool from an aeroplane. It shows the Tower with the Alhambra next door to the north and the Big Wheel at the Winter Gardens. The Big Wheel was demolished in 1928 but this is an earlier view - the card was posted in July 1922, postage costing one old penny.

The second shows the wrecked ship of the line HMS Foudroyant which was displayed off Blackpool's seafront as part of a fund-raising tour. Blackpool's weather did it no good at all. On 16 June 1897 a cable parted in hurricane strong winds and she dragged her remaining anchor, clipped the North Pier and beached herself to the north of the pier opposite Cocker Square.

She had acted as flagship to a number of admirals including Nelson, whose captain for a while was Thomas Hardy, destined to be Nelson's captain later on HMS Victory.

She remained on the beach for several months and was finally broken up at the end of 1897.

Regular readers will know I love these little fantasy "night" shots. Taken in broad daylight - as witness all the people on the beach - and darkened at the photographic printing stage with lights and windows painted in and a sky with a full moon - probably a coin placed on the photographic paper that became the master - added at the printing stage. For a while the Tower really did have a very strong searchlight which played over the sands and the Promenade, but the moon has never been seen so far north... Indeed the only message written on the postcard is "? moon in north"

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