Monday, 26 December 2016

2016 Reading Part Five

Phew! With a week of 2016 to go I have managed to finish another six books. This, without a doubt, will be the final showcase of books for this year!

I started this batch with the next in Dennis Wheatley's Roger Brook series. In this, the fifth in the series, Roger leaves the world of the French Revolution and is made Governor of one of the Caribbean islands. Travelling with his wife, his long-term lover and her husband and a young ward who has the hots for him (Wheatley hardly ever disappoints his readers - and certainly does not cause his heroes to lack for the odd spot of nookie!) the ship they travel in is taken by pirates including a pirate queen who has the hots for him (sheesh!) This relationship proves somewhat stormy to say the least... After escaping the pirates he gets caught in the middle of an uprising, is recalled back to France and comes back in contact with the pirate queen who now has the frosts for him... 'Pon my soul...

Wow - you should read this, folks... If this isn't tending towards the prophetic, then I'll eat my hat. Western governments should read this and quake... We are starting to lose all faith in you!

I bought this quite a while ago in a large second-hand book store. The third of John Robb's excellent books for children featuring the trail scout and gun whiz, Catsfoot, this has him reluctantly fighting American indians whilst sympathising with their cause in a way most rare for the time in which this book was written. There's a band of outlaw brothers to deal with also and, naturally, a whole heap of common folks in need of protection.

I jumped out of Simon Scarrow's excellent Roman series featuring Cato and Macro to read this awesome fictionalised account of the Ottoman siege of the fortress of Malta in 1565. Malta was defended by the Knights of St John, already displaced through history from Jerusalem and then Rhodes. Had they not triumphed in this most bloody of sieges, the world would be a very different place today. I can't recommend this too highly.

My Name Is Trouble is a book of five short stories about American Private Eye detectives (you'd never guess from the crude unimaginative cover would you?) The short story format suits this genre and the pace is never short of frenetic as Raymond Chandler's various heroes are hired, stalked or simply dragged into danger, flying fists, hard-nosed dames and gunfights.

Whilst we are talking about fast-paced stories... Alistair MacLean wouldn't know how to write a slow-moving drama and why on earth would we want him to? This tale deals with Nazi S.S. nasties, stolen gold, revenge and a location set deep within the cannibal and head-hunting tribes of the Amazonian jungle. A lost city, a hovercraft falling down waterfalls and a hero in the typical MacLean mould; ruthless, crack shot, arrogant and playing a secret close to his chest. More to come in 2017...

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Christmas Greetings 2016

On Christmas Day, let me extend warmest Christmas wishes for a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year 2017 to all my readers. Let me share a memory of my own childhood Christmasses.

In those less technically dominated years in the second half of the 1950s, our Christmas tree would be bought from the greengrocer and carried or dragged home depending on size, always on the very first day of December. Dad would wrap a string of lights around the tree. Not the tiny insignificant things we have today, but bulbs an inch or so long and all different shapes. Some were like Chinese lanterns, others like a moulded Santa's face. Some were like parrots.

But one year he brought home a set of lights with a large plastic base and a glass tube with coloured liquid sticking out. Once the bulb was lit and it had warmed up the liquid, it began to send bubbles up the glass tube!

Whenever Dad bought a set of lights he would always buy a few extra bulb holders and would join them into the string of lights. With all the lights wired in series, if any bulb went out so did all the others and it was a long job sometimes to find out which bulb had blown. Adding more bulbs added to the electrical resistance and stepped down the voltage. The bulbs shone that little bit less brightly. But in the days when people strung paper garlands across the ceiling it made it less likely that a bulb would cause a fire.

Our Christmas trees had movement from the bubbles, long before domestic Christmas lights would flash on and off and change colour. The lights lasted for years and spare bulbs were available right through the 1950s and 60s until the smaller fairy lights came out and the manufacturers thought of changing the fittings slightly every year, forcing people to buy a new set when they ran out of bulbs.

We would visit one set of grandparents on Christmas Day and the other set on Boxing Day. These were our Christmas Parties and there would be more presents for everyone and we would at some point all sit or stand and sing a few Christmas carols, around the sit-up piano in the front room. There would always be a moment where someone would sigh and say "Eeh, our [insert name of a family member who had died during the year] was here last year..." and the grown-ups would all look up and lift their glass of sherry or port. For a while as a child I thought Grandma kept all the dead people upstairs in her bedroom and I used to be terrified of going upstairs to the loo in case they came out wanting a Christmas hug...

Have a wonderful Christmas.

Monday, 19 December 2016

A Morning in York

Following our brilliant night listening to André Rieu in Leeds on Friday, we were extremely sorry to hear that a member of the orchestra had suffered a heart attack. As a result, the rest of the UK dates have been postponed. The musician has not been named but is a male and has been with the orchestra over 20 years, as have many of this close-knit orchestra. As a musician myself I know that you form very close bonds with people with whom you make music and I can understand their decision to postpone. I hope he recovers well and is able to rejoin the orchestra.

* * * * * * *

On Saturday morning we knew nothing of this. We got up lazily and had breakfast then set off eastwards towards York.

We parked near the famous Shambles and walked together for an hour before splitting up - we both had secrets to buy for each other. Well, I had something in mind for Miss Franny anyway - her excuse was that she didn't want to feel rushed because she was dragging me round shops I had no interest in... Me! Me who shows ... ah... er... no interest in shopping whatsoever... Well anyway I had a chance to buy Miss Franny's Christmas present and stagger under its weight back to the car to leave it in the boot, hoping she wouldn't notice how the rear end seemed closer to the ground than usual. My arms will shrink back to normal hopefully...

I had a wander around the city centre. There were several shops where I wasn't averse to having a look in the window and the atmosphere in the city on this last Saturday morning before Christmas Eve was quite wonderful. There were several groups of carollers singing and musicians here and there. A small European Market had been set up and the air was full of smells of pastries and the tang of spice from mulled wine.

I had a mooch along narrow side streets and passed the Minster and under one of the gates of the city which are known as Bars. I came to Kings Manor, now part of the University of York, but once a residence of kings on their travels around the kingdom. King Henry VIII stayed here during his ill-fated progress which would be the undoing of his fifth queen. Catherine Howard. Whatever the facts it must be borne in mind they married (she would have no choice in it) when she was 16 or 17 and the king was 49, huge and with a stinky leg ulcer from a jousting injury. Not a match made in Heaven...

I walked past the Theatre Royal of 1744. It is built on the site of a medieval hospital and a well, thought to be Roman, lies under its stage! The rough brickwork of the building attached to it caught my eye along with an intriguing feature...

This was a small patch of brickwork that was obviously far more modern. I wondered what the reason for this apparent repair was (and still do - no amount of searching seems to have turned anything up). If anyone knows, please leave a comment!

Sunday, 18 December 2016

André Rieu in Leeds, 2016

On Friday we set off over the M62 to Leeds to see the famous violinist from Maastricht, André Rieu perform with his orchestra, The Johann Strauss Orchestra.

We arrived half an hour before the show started and found our seats way up in the gods. A couple were sitting in the seats next to ours and he turned to me with a grin saying "We thought you weren't coming!"
"Yes," I said "we were worried we might miss you!" Hooray! I thought, someone with a sense of humour.

But then his wife, who was sitting next to me said, "Are you big fans of André Rieu?" She looked a bit surprised when we said yes and said "Oh... I'm not so keen myself - he wanted to come..." She sighed and added "I hope it's not all Oom-Pah music, I don't like Oom-Pah music. If it's all Oom-Pah music I'll probably fall asleep."
"I think you'll be alright," I ventured, "it's fairly infectious..."
"Have you been before?" she asked after a pause. "Oh yes!" we replied and her face took on a shocked expression.
"Oh, really? Well..." she said leaving a lingering impression she thought we must be somehow mentally deficient. I exchanged a sympathetic smile with her husband and proceeded to ignore her. He was already there before me...

You could guess it couldn't you? She sang along to every tune whether vocal or not with a frail, grinding, very high pitched "aaaahh" warble... "Are they always the same guest artists?" she asked as the first soloist left the stage (Frederic Jennignes playing the zither for Tales of Vienna Woods followed by the theme from The Third Man).
"No, we've seen the St Petersburg Trio and The Berlin Comedic Harmonists at different shows..."
"Germans???" Her lips pursed in surprise.
"Yes," I said, "Their finale was to machine gun the back circle..."

We were well away from the snow machine as it dropped a generous amount on the audience below. It's funnier that way...

Another wonderful night with a few surprises and the usual elongated ending, long after André has announced things are coming to an end. This is always a cue for the first punters to stand and shuffle along the rows to get out first to the car park. They miss a good half hour - probably the best half hour of the night... Godzilla was staying put though... "Ahhh, aaaaahhh aah, ahh a-aaaahhhh!"

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Creeping Bentgrass Play A Masonic Dinner

Last night we played for a Masonic Dinner and Social Evening and had a most fabulous evening.

There is a dinner first and we set up and leave the hall before the dinner to sit in the foyer until it is time to go on.

We only drink water during and before a gig so we sat there sipping whilst the ladies were worried by no such reservations...

The dance floor started to fill up with our first song and remained packed for the entire night. This makes for a dream night for entertainers!

Feedback at the end of the night was ecstatic and we felt we had given the best that we could, for an audience that encouraged us all the way.

Thanks for the booking and it was our pleasure!

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Carnforth Steamtown Locomotive Shed, 1981

One for the steam railway enthusiasts. I'm still scanning old photos and in this article we're back to black and white and a day out to the excellent steam railway museum at Carnforth just north of Lancaster and Morecambe. Lots of photos and little text (stop that cheering!) because I'm no expert about railway stuff. The date was Wednesday 25 February 1981. Enjoy, but just as a reminder please read the copyright notice in the left hand column.

There were a number of famous locomotives housed at Carnforth including Sir Nigel Gresley (above), The Flying Sctotsman, Lord Nelson and a locomotive that some twenty years later would be painted red and pull the Hogwarts Express...

On a Wednesday in February there are no engines to be found working. We wandered round the engine sheds, almost without seeing anyone else!

The collection had locomotives in all conditions but not much room to step back to admire them!

A nice reminder of a day over 35 years ago to look at machines from 70 or more years ago!

Monday, 5 December 2016

Attic Foray No.3

I did think of calling this Attic Foray No.2 Part 2, but a bit pedantic, even if the majority of stuff in this article came from my previous incursion into the dark and slightly dusty hole that is my attic. There has been another incursion though, as Miss Franny raised an eyebrow at me and mentioned it was now December and could I bring "the tree" down... The tree and boxes of adornments was duly brought down with a couple of other bits which will be included below. Then I spent a day on Sunday playing 78 rpm records before moving the record player to make way for said tree, which turns out to be too big to sit on top of the table that the record player sat on so now I'm tasked with buying a new tree...

I did mention last time that I'd brought down a folder or two containing cuttings from magazines such as TV and photography magazines. These would have been destined for pasting into scrapbooks, but they obviously never made it that far. Which is good because some of the pages had interesting things on what I obviously thought of at the time as the reverse side. Here's Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny as agents Mulder and Scully from the excellent The X-Files TV series of the 1990s.

One of the reverse side lucky finds - how many remember the witty goldfish adverts of the satellite channel Bravo?

Friends was another of those TV series that we watched pretty much from the beginning right through its full ten-year stretch. A remarkable achievement made possible by some very witty scripts and one or two rather attractive main players... Bits I still can remember now, not having watched it for ages, are Joey and Chandler's duck and chicken, Ross and Monica's occasional throwbacks to their childhood antics - Monica banging her wrists together twice to the obvious enragement of Ross was a brilliant moment - and Rachel's... er... Rachel's... well alright... Jennifer Aniston...!

This was a reminder of a somewhat obscure series - Models Inc. which was a glossy 90210-style look at the lives of photographic models, photographers and make-up artists who worked for the agency known as Models Inc. Linda Gray, fairly fresh from playing Sue-Ellen in Dallas was the agency's boss lady.

Xena Warrior Princess. To this day I've not watched a single episode. It was on the back of another pic.

He was one of TV's most loved comics and yet, such is the fickle way of time, there will now be people who watched him avidly who will look at this photo and say "I never liked him, he was creepy..." Benny Hill was a brilliant comedian in an era before political correctness.

Very occasionally and well before 3D TVs came along, the BBC would show a 3D film and would give away red and green tinted cardboard spectacles with the week's Radio Times. This shows an American audience reacting to the 3D effect of something flying at them out of the screen.

Amongst the forgotten things lying in my attic were the three volumes of J.R.R. Tolkein's ground-breaking novel Lord of The Rings. This is the 1979 paperback edition from Unwin. Ages since I read them, but the films of Peter Jackson were so good, that a re-watch might suffice! I still have tons of reading material that has not been previously read!

Far too many of my collection of photography magazines from the 1980s and 90s have been chucked away. All I have managed to find are one or two books and a few assorted pages torn from them, either photos I liked or articles that were interesting enough to read again or refer to for techniques. I was a professional photographer for a few years at the start of my working life and spent much of the 1980s freelancing to various magazines both in the UK and abroad.

Whilst topless shots did feature in photography magazines from time to time, their glamour supplements or issues had far more of this type of image than anything more blatant. Ah, the days of studio lighting and backdrops... Though the closest I ever got to exotic locations was doing an advertising shoot for the local Odeon who were showing a retro 1950s sci-fi programme. The location was the exterior of the said Odeon...

And I found a box of half a dozen VHS tapes... I don't believe I'll bother finding a player to watch them on...

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