Friday, 26 December 2014

2014 Reading Part 7 - The Final!

Yes, another eight books have gone through the careful scrutiny and inwardly digestive process and just in time to make it to the end of the year. Well to be honest, the book I'm reading now may well turn its final page before the year's end, but I'll carry it over to 2015 if that's ok with you. And whether or not...

I finished the last time with Britt Ekland's autobiography and I followed it with this biography (of sorts) of shopping magnate Harry Selfridge. I say "of sorts" because the book pretty much allows those promotional claims of Selfridge whether true or not, so words like "first", "only" etc. must be taken with a pinch of salt. The cover features actor Jeremy Piven from the TV series and it almost comes as a surprise when the various characters from the shop floor fail to make an appearance in the book. Interesting and enlightening, especially if you follow up reading it with a bit of research to see which bits are accurate.

Having read and loved all the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling, I did wonder whether she could follow them up, moving out of the wizarding world. But this book is a cracker of a read. Right from the start which is dramatic and sets the scene for what follows, this is a really good exploration of various mentalities and a jolt to the sensibilities of those who have managed to keep poverty and the underworld of drug addicts and suppliers at bay. If this had been a concert I would have stood up applauding at the end, Miss Rowling. Bravo.

Our friend Matthew Bartholmew, the physician and fellow of Michaelhouse College at Cambridge this time has to deal with fisticuffs and worse between the different monastic orders at the university. With even his friend and Senior Proctor, Brother Michael coming under suspicion of murder, he must tread warily to solve this one! I always start one of these novels by Susanna Gregory with a sigh of relaxation, knowing I am in for a good time!

Ah yes...! The famous five have all been ill all over Christmas - they might clean it up later, but having been ill it's only natural that their parents kick them all out of the house to go on holiday (sorry, convalescence!) in the snow-covered hills of Wales all on their own. "Come with you?" cries Julian's dad, "Get lost - your Mum and I want to have some grown-up fun with the couple next door!"

A locked and scary quasi haunted mansion, a massive farmer with a foghorn voice, a kidnapping, almost a matricide and the illicit mining of radioactive metals - pah! All in a day's work for the Famous Five! Dick! How childish can you ge... hang on... that's George's handwriting...!

There isn't a new Bill Bryson book so I went for one of his editing efforts, a collection of short articles about English icons by well known people (and a handful I'd never heard of...) The icons vary from post boxes to oak trees to salt marshes to birdsong to King Alfred's burnt cakes. Some good stuff, some not-as-good-stuff!

The History Press are the publishers of my own book, Blackpool Then and Now, and I came across Paul Feeney via his book A 1950s Childhood, which has already featured in an earlier article on this blog. This time he takes us through the 1960s with an easy to read bunch of facts, reminders and lists of stuff we could see, experience, listen to, watch, and do to get us in trouble with adults... Oh yes... and the punishments they were liable to mete out... Well worth a read!

I know this isn't exactly a new book, but although I've read the Wilt books, I'd never read this one. It lifts the lid on the antics of Porterhouse - a (fictional this time) college of Cambridge University. The management and tutors have a long tradition of ignoring more academic pursuits for the delights of a lavishly laden table at the college dining hall, financed by the subtle selection of rich, but not very academically-minded students. Attendance at university costs, especially if the degree one must have is not necessarily earned... With a new Master bent on changing things drastically, things take a farcical turn as the tutors and staff strive for their traditions and a besotted student finds the attentions of his domestic help a little explosive...

The final book for this time takes Philippa Gregory's series about the Wars of the Roses and their aftermath into a new generation as Elizabeth, daughter of King Edward IV, is wed to the victor of Bosworth, King Henry VII, first of the Tudors. A brilliant series this, I've enjoyed every one of the books and they have taught me a lot about a period of history that turns out to be one of the more dramatic of this nation. Whilst not based on absolute known fact, this long tale throughout the books is a very likely possibility woven around gaps in the documented past but without denying that documented past. Particularly clever is the curse, uttered in the first book, that by the time of this book (the fifth in the series) looks like coming true and affecting one of the two people who set it. And for those that know their history, you can work out if it did come true or not... Brilliant books.

I very rarely buy magazines these days, but I bought this on a whim, having in the past on this blog and elsewhere scribbled enough of my own contribution to nostalgia.

For this though, my only excuse is that we were staying overnight somewhere and it was the best of what the shop had to offer. Bits are quite hilarious though - how to make a story out of nothing. Someone leaving the table to talk on a phone in a restaurant becomes a meal turned nasty... But hey, other diners saw her looking bored with the conversation beforehand... It could be true!

Meanwhile over Christmas I chopped into my finger with a knife whilst cutting a melon. A doctor (who doesn't know me and hasn't treated me) confirmed that septicaemia often starts with such an injury and can lead to gangrene and even death...

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

90th Birthday Party

Last Saturday we played for one of our own. Miss Jeannie's mum, Joan, was 90 years old and we gathered family and friends together at our favourite Blackpool venue, Coast Riders under the care and catering of our good friends Pete and Janet.

There was a fabulous buffet laid on and I have to mention the Southport bikers' club members who turned up with a huge bouquet of flowers for Joan. She didn't seem to want to take up the offer of a ride on the back of a motorbike, but I'd swear it was declined with a twinkle in her eye...!

Here's the birthday girl with Peter and Miss Jeannie, her son and daughter on the two sides and Elaine, her son-in-law's sister and Miss Franny adding their congratulations.

We tried out a couple of the new songs, knowing we were amongst friends, but "Happy Together", "Keep On Running" and "I Like It" sounded so right that I'm sure audiences in 2015 will get a chance to hear them!

And just in case you think that at the grand age of ninety the birthday girl would stay off the dance floor - think again!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Andre Rieu Concert, December 2014

On Saturday we drove over to Leeds as we were booked (since last February!) to see Andre Rieu and the Johann Strauss Orchestra perform at the Leeds Arena.

I was wondering who would be performing as soloist this year - Carla Maffioletti had left to work in opera. I was hoping, but no, Carmen Monarcha was sadly absent.

The Platin Tenors, Gary, Bela and Thomas were there though - unthinkable not to have them really!

Before the show started we saw a rather familiar face in a red dress take her place in the audience and sure enough the dramatic music of Espana Cani signals the arrival of a pantomime bull which subsequently chases her out of the arena! There's a fabulous postscript to this bit of comedy that I have never seen featured in Andre's videos. I shan't give the game away but it was very very funny!

With neither Carla nor Carmen on the bill, one of the soloist parts was filled by Anna Reker, usually to be found in the small line of the choir at the rear of the stage. Anna, originally from Ukraine, was joined on stage by the Trio St Petersburg and sang a rousing version of the Russian folk song that we are more familiar with in this country as Mary Hopkin's Those Were The Days. This had everyone singing or at least "La-laa-ing" to and she received a huge round of applause for it. The Trio St Petersburg were back a little later with their breakneck speed playing of Zorba The Greek.

Familiar again from some of the videos we've seen, the Berlin Comedian Harmonists came on. This close harmony group have some fabulous voices and I like the touches of humour again and the rollicking final song with the ladies of the choir miming the rowing of boats at the rear!

Mirusia Louwerse was the most familiar of the female soloists and got a great reception from the audience.

Laura Engel, the Dutch-Chilean soprano, made up the third of the female soloists for the concert. She gave us a good performance of Besame Mucho early on in the evening.

We found ourselves sitting under the snow machine. So by the time the Christmas tunes had finished playing we were covered in the stuff! Everybody around us seemed to be throwing handfuls over each other, so we joined in! It doesn't half stick to you... Even having done our best before coats went on at the end, we got back to our hotel room after the show and soon the floor looked a mess! We tidied up as best we could... A brilliant night, I'll be waiting for next year's tickets to go on sale!

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