Thursday, 29 May 2014

2014 Reading Part 4

Time for a book update! Which means I've read another eight books of course. Once again there's a mixture of first reads and books that I've previously enjoyed. Somehow I never get round to reading books I've previously hated...

The first one this time is another compilation of pulp fiction from the creator of Conan the Barbarian, Robert E. Howard. This deals with King Kull, a descendant of the doomed people of Atlantis who becomes King of Valusia. Set a thousand years before the time of Conan he is never-the-less cast firmly in the same mould and deals with similar magical foes in a somewhat similar way - whoops: there goes someone else's head...

From one warrior to a whole set of 'em! George and Anne go off on their own with Timmy the dog whilst the boys are on holiday in France with their school. An adventure starts just in time for the boys to come back and join them and the Famous Five are back in the thick of it - being very thick indeed failing to spot that a pair of twins are two separate people, when even the youngest of readers would spot it in an instant.

A dastardly gang, stolen blueprints, a secret tunnel and some amazing behaviour by adults... Dick!!! Did you buy those postcards in France??? You'll go blind!!!

The very first Sudden book to be written eventually became number eight in a series of nine. He's been chasing two men who he thought had robbed his adoptive father and the old man's dying wish is realised in this book as Sudden catches up with them only to find that one of them is not what he has thought all of these years. Ropin' and ridin' and lots o' gunplay and missing last letters off words makes this a rootin' tootin' shootin' rea' sorry... "read".

And talking of bringing series to an end, even of they have another book tagged on... Dennis Wheatley's Second World War spy Gregory Sallust comes to the end of his war with a strange alliance with a practitioner of Black Magic. Once Wheatley's Black Magic books started to sell it was almost inevitable that each of his best known heroes would meet up with one. In this epic volume, Gregory is forced by circumstances into joining forces with the dastardly Malacou and together they infiltrate Hitler's bunker in Berlin. Gregory manages to convince the F├╝hrer to trust him and pushes him to commit suicide by telling him he is destined to be reborn to lead a Martian army to conquer Earth. All is going well until Gregory's great enemy, SS Gruppenf├╝hrer Grauber, makes an appearance at Berlin Headquarters and things come to a perilous close. This is a great series of books, one of the inspirations for Ian Fleming to invent his own spy, James Bond.

Another in the series of Tom Holt books dealing with the magical firm of J.W. Wells and Co. And boy have I read these in a disjointed order! This is the second of the seven books and I have only the fifth - A Better Mousetrap - to read now. They all work as a stand-alone book anyway, though there are references I would have understood better had I read them in the proper order! This has Paul Carpenter, supposedly normal human, realising that there may be more to his family background than he realised and as he does a tour of the company's departments he realises that not only does "pest control" have more to do with dragons than mice, but that he is engaged in a war against the Queen of the Fey!

The latest of S.J.Parris's series about the real-life Italian philosopher and heretic Dr Giordano Bruno. Here he is involved by his friend Sir Phillip Sidney in an attempt to join Sir Francis Drake's expedition as privateer. However a suspicious death aboard Drake's ship means that the fleet cannot sail until a complicated mystery has been solved and Bruno finds himself desperately seeking the truth and avoiding treachery of a most foul nature. A brilliant read - Parris presents a totally believable background of 16th century Plymouth. I've looked up information about the real Bruno - ooh... more perils to come...

And whilst in the mood I slipped back a further few centuries to rejoin Dr Matthew Bartholomew, physician and master at Michaelhouse College, Cambridge University. In this, the fifth of the series, a party travels from Cambridge to Suffolk to accept the deed to a "living" - the permanently enduring post of village priest from a local nobleman. With the central tale and many characters based on reality, this turns into a quagmire for Matthew involving murder, treasure hunting, alchemy and a spectral hound.

And the final book for this time is a TV tie-in. This series about turning the High Street of Saffron Waldon back in time to Victorian and Edwardian times, the 1940s and 50s and the 60s to the 70s was aired in 2010 and, my Grandad being a 1950s and 60s small shop grocer we found it compulsive viewing. The book came from a new cheap book shop in Blackpool. A real bargain at just £1.99 and a great read too.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Bing Crosby, The Legend

You can't collect 78 rpm records without coming across those of Bing Crosby. There are hundreds of them to collect and many thousands of copies still out there to find. In fact his biography on reckons he had half a billion recordings floating about!

Born Harry Lillis Crosby on 3 May 1903, he became known as "Bing" from a nickname given him by a neighbour, "Bingo from Bingville" after a cartoon strip.

He was married twice. His first wife, Dixie Lee was a singer with Fox and was far more famous than Bing when they married in 1930. Indeed one headline quoted: "Well Known Fox Star Marries Bing Croveny"... Basically a shy person though, she hated singing in public or working with strangers in films. She turned into a recluse, inadvertently aided by Bing's unavoidable professional absences and died of cancer in 1952. They had four sons.

His second wife was actress Kathryn Grant. Familiar to any Ray Harryhausen fan, she played the princess in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. In fact, after several cancelled wedding dates, Bing wrote to her in Spain as she was filming this movie, offering to marry her at any time at any place of her choosing. They had three children, one of whom, Mary, would go on infamously to shoot J.R. Ewing in the TV show Dallas.

I have around forty 78s featuring Bing. A few feature him with The Andrews Sisters, one with his son, Gary, (Sam's Song); one with Grace Kelly (True Love) and one with Bill Bendix and Sir Cecil Hardwicke (Busy Doing Nothing). There are some great songs including some wonderful cowboy songs from early on in his career.

He is best known today for this song, from the film of the same name: White Christmas. Almost amazingly, it was a B side at the time of its first release, after it was featured in an earlier film, Holiday Inn. His series of "Road" films with Bob Hope were hilarious - I can't understand why they don't turn up on TV more often these days.

But it is for his music that he is most remembered. In the 1940s it was reckoned that one record out of every ten on jukeboxes was a Bing Crosby record. He was though an astute businessman. His interest in wanting to pre-record radio shows rather than do them "live" led to his involvement with the development of recording tape and tape recorders and he was involved with Ampex, giving an early machine to his friend Les Paul, who went on to invent multi-track recording.

There's a lot more to Bing Crosby than snow and a Christmas Tree...!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Farewell to the Thomson Celebration

Well, farewell hopefully just until the next time! It's Friday 10 April 2014 and we have to be out of the cabins by 8:00am so that the crew have a chance to get them back to pristine order in time for today's embarking passengers.

Last night we had our final night in the Horizons Bar with Tomas and Maris. We have become good friends over the years since we first met them. I hope we get to meet up again.

We are out of the cabin a bit early and head up to the Lido Deck for a first mug of coffee before breakfast. It's not properly light yet and we seem to be pretty much the only ones out and about on the deck. The port lights of Tenerife's Santa Cruz are still burning, though it won't be long before they sky grows light enough for them to be turned out.

Behind our ship the Delphin is already disembarking passengers into a waiting coach and containers of provisions wait to be unloaded. A Fred Olsen Express catamaran ferry glides slowly into her berth.

We finish our coffee and head down to Deck 4 to the Meridian Restaurant for breakfast. Then before long it is time to head off the ship to find our luggage for the coach journey to the airport.

It's fully daylight by the time we leave the ship. We find it has been nosed in up to the end of the dock and this gives me the opportunity to take a photo of the Thomson Celebration as it would be seen by the hapless occupants of a soon-to-be-destroyed row boat...

One of our suitcases is patterned so as to be immediately found. Miss Franny takes a seat so as to better direct me on my search for the other... The trip back to Blighty is uneventful and on time and a long and happy (I hope!) retirement looms before me. Our next cruise will be on Thomson Majesty in a few months and we are planning a short break in South Devon once the English weather turns a bit warmer.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Leisure in Lanzarote

Thursday 10 April 2014. The last day of our cruise around the Canaries is a day on Lanzarote. We awake in the port of Arrecife and after breakfast we bounce down the gangway and onto a coach as we have an excursion booked.

This will be a morning tour and sets off with a trip to a shop... Just about every sort of souvenir you can think of and of course this includes fridge magnets. There's a free "glass of wine" that's a small plastic beaker with an eighth of an inch of liquid in it. At 9:30 in the morning it's still more wine than I want to drink...

The first real attraction is at the Mirador del Rio with a viewpoint that looks across the Straits of Rio to a small island, La Graciosa, on which an incident occurred that inspired Robert Louis Stevenson's book Treasure Island.

The fall of the cliff face is spectacular, plunging down to the sea in a sweep of barren rock. The viewpoint itself is fairly spectacular as well, being burrowed into the cliff face.

Designed by the artist Cesar Manrique, it is a delight, with a whitewashed interior with almost no sharp edges anywhere and a feeling of light, space and peace about the place. No mean feat when several coach loads of eager tourists turn up at once...

Little artifact collections decorate the place. Stones, plants, earthenware pots. It's just a touch misty which makes the view across the straits a little subdued. Never mind, we're being herded back to the coach for the ride to our next stop.

This turns out to be an aloe vera plantation. That's not an aloe vera plant above, it's a cactus with a flower, the desert rose, about to blossom. This was one of those stops that seemed to be a half-desperate "please spend money here". There was an extremely boring talk about aloe vera. It may well be someone's idea of heaven to travel to far-flung places and learn about household products, but sadly it left me cold... Aloe vera is edible apparently and after using a huge knife to strip and divide small bars of the leaves for us to nibble on, the company owner and living partner of our coach guide passed them round. It was a bit like nibbling a small bar of hotel soap, though with a nastier aftertaste... and... spit!

Final stop is at Jameos del Agua, another natural feature enhanced by the skill and artistry of Cesar Manrique. In this case it's a tunnel formed by a lava flow that at this point blew out and formed a hole which we descend by way of steps.

We let the rest of the tour go ahead and stop for a drink in the bar. Before us is a short length of the lava tunnel which now holds a pond in which resides a species of small white blind crab, unique to this site. They like deeper water, so it's lucky the water in the pool is crystal clear. Even so, they are so far beneath the surface they could be white blobs of paint most of the time until all of a sudden you see through a relatively ripple-free bit of water and make out just for a second that they are actually crabs! Being blind, they don't wave back or react in anyway to the curious tourist. They just huddle together saying in crab talk, "I feel like I'm being watched..." "Watched? What's that?"

Drink finished, we make our way through the tunnel and come out to climb out the other side where we arrive in a landscaped garden complete with a blue pool. A choice of steps lead up from this second hole in the tunnel up to a terrace and shop.

Snatched from the coach window as we drove back into Arrecife, this is the wreck of the Telamon, which started life in the UK in 1954 as the Temple Hall and was wrecked here in 1981, proving to be beyond salvage.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Creeping Bentgrass at Witton Park, Blackburn

Yesterday we spent the afternoon at Witton Park, Blackburn, playing in the courtyard from the doorway of one of the stable units. The weather was kind to us this year but in the past we have found it necessary to have somewhere we can nip back into to shelter equipment from rain!

Slightly smaller audience than in past years. We weren't sure whether people hadn't heard about the event or whether it was that the cafe that used to occupy the corner building has now gone. Though others said it was quieter throughout the park than usual on that day.

The Glee Club over at the mobility scooter stable were in fine form though!

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Eight Inch Record

Yesterday we had a run up to Lancaster to GB Antiques and I came across a couple of 78 rpm records to add to the collection.

These were a little unique to my collection as they were not the usual 10 inch record. Nor were they the longer-playing 12 inch record used for most classical music and some dance music.

They were eight inches in diameter. Labelled "Long Playing" because the centre label on the disc is much smaller than usual allowing the playing track to go closer to the middle of the record, the example pictured is on the Edison Bell record label and is a 1930 recording of The Plaza Band playing the popular tune The Cuckoo Waltz with the B side being Come On, Baby. And what a bonus! It had its original brown paper sleeve!

Monday, 5 May 2014

Birthday Party in Chapeltown

Last night Creeping Bentgrass played for a 70th birthday party at the Chetham Arms in Chapeltown.

We once wore red shirts to our first gig at this pub and they were the exact shade of the wallpaper. We just blended in and the audience were treated to two floating heads... We thought we might be safe with these shirts!

It was a good night and when we started a few of the pub's regulars were looking in at the door to the function room. I like to think they were impressed by the music rather than them going "What on Earth...?"

Driving through the Lancashire countryside late at night, I was dying for a bag of chips... No chippies open at that time of night and skinny ex-frozen french fries from an all-night papier mache burger bar just don't hold any attraction. Nipped out this morning for a walk along Fleetwood prom and had my supper for lunch! Result!!!

Friday, 2 May 2014

Wild Hairy Scots With Big Bent Swords

I spent a day up in Edinburgh this week, doing one of the occasional training session I still do for Jisc infoNet. I travelled up the night before and whilst walking up the Royal Mile I had a sudden flashback to a former life as a longbowman at the Battle of Bannockburn with a huge hairy Scot coming at me, waving a sword!

Then I realised it wasn't June 1314, but the last day of April 2014! I blinked. Again... No, there was definitely a huge hairy Scot waving a sword! Only one thing to do in fact.

Say hello, have a chat, take a selfie! Nice guy! Always gets a seat on the bus...

Foggy In Morocco

Wednesday 9th April. 4:00am. Around two hours after we got to bed. The Thomson Celebration is on her way to the port of Agadir in Morocco. We have spent a day at sea and spent the night in the Horizons bar with Tomas and Maris providing the entertainment. After they finished we started nattering for a while and so it was a late night.

Now it's four o'clock in the morning. I know this because some huge monster just surfaced and roared at us! There it goes again!!! No... wait... and again... no it's the ship's hooter! It's pitch dark. I get out of bed and inch a curtain aside. The ship's lights show a blank wall of yellowy grey through the window. We've run into fog! A ship's hooter is not a quiet thing and - as ships' hooters go - that of the Thomson Celebration is an outstanding example! It goes off once a minute for several seconds. This lasts perhaps half an hour (or it might just have seemed like that...)

Once it stopped we managed to get back to sleep for a good ten minutes until it started again...

Again it didn't last all that long and we woke up refreshed and ... well we woke up... to find that Agadir was a bit grey and murky that morning! We weren't planning on leaving the ship anyway. I have an aversion to shopkeepers dragging me bodily into their shops and a finger in the eye often offends. Safer to stay on board. Once when we were here one shopkeeper told me I had a nice smile. For all their love of bartering he didn't seem inclined to want to enter into negotiations for me to produce it again...

So we spent the day reading and eating. I did consider running up to the gym to laugh at the people in there, but it seemed like too much effort. At lunchtime we looked through the restaurant window and saw the coast at the side of the ship quite clearly. But once back up on Deck 8 it was still foggy! There'll be more to write about tomorrow...!

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