Monday, May 11, 2015

Sunset Boulevard


When I first got to Los Angeles the first place I headed for was Sunset Boulevard; I had heard of it and I really needed to see it.

Many years ago we lived in Shropshire and we could receive TV from the Midlands, North West and very faintly Wales.

One night I was channel surfing and a movie came on the Welsh channel; it was very foggy as we were receiving from the back end of our ariel, and even though I had to watch as if I had double cataract eye sight, I was intrigued by the movie.

It was about an ex movie star and William Holden was in it and it was – of course you know – Sunset Boulevard. (above)

It has been one of my favourite films ever since.

In those days there were no VCRs, DVDs, TIVO or anything else – if you didn't catch the TV show there and then, you'd never get another chance till the movie came on again or was shown at some cinema doing a retrospective or something.

So that's why I headed there that day – I went up and down the strip and the first thing I noticed was the state of the road surface – what is called in Britain the Tarmac.

It was full of pot holes and cracks and that's something I got used to in Los Angeles. That and the fact they they called the road the pavement and the pavement the sidewalk!!

I can't remember exactly how long Sunset Blvd is but it must be about 25 miles.

It starts off in down town and is the continuation of Caesar Chavez Blvd. The full title is Sunset Blvd West and I bet Sunset Blvd East was before they named the eastern end after that great union leader.

When Sunset reaches Hollywood it forks off to the left and Hollywood Blvd goes straight ahead starting at about number 3,000 or so. Then when it reaches 7000 it is at La Brea Avenue – known as La Brea – and on Hollywood on the corner of La Brea it's also around number 7000. All the streets down La Brea – Hollywood, Fountain, Sunset, Santa Monica Blvd – have a number near number 7000 on each corner. So you can never get lost in the City of Angels and how could you not love a city with such a name; Los Angeles.

Between 7,000 and 8,000 Sunset is a bit busy with loads of restaurants, hotels who offer 4 hour renting periods (what for, I wonder), recording studios and – oh you name it and Ralphs (which I've mentioned before) is called Rock'n'Roll Ralphs because the supermarket is open 24 hours a day and artists from the studios would go into Ralphs in the middle of the night – I saw Christine Aguilara there once and she didn't tell me how to spell her name!!

From 8,000 it is a very different Sunset, just after The Directors' Guild, and that's where Sunset Strip starts.

There is The House of Blues (where I saw Percy Sledge, one day), The Comedy Store (which was a famous club in the fifties) and where James Dean is supposed to haunt – and not long after that, I'm afraid, it becomes uninteresting.

At around 9,000 is the famous Hamburger Hamlet which the exposé book 'You'll Never Eat Lunch in this Town Again' was written from and about – but that is on the 'odd' side of the street.

At 9000 is a huge building full of the people who run Hollywood – the agents.

There are bigger agents in other parts of LA in Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, but that's the end of the corporate part of Sunset.

A little way further west you will pass the street where Frank Sinatra lived, a bit farther and you'll pass the street where Elvis lived when he was in Hollywood and then when you go even farther west you used to pass a big pink house that belonged to Englebert Humpadink; it was originally built and had a strange shaped swimming pool, by Jane Mansfield. It has now been demolish, by the way.

Then on to Brentwood, where OJ Simpson lived and killed, Pacific Palisades, where Speiberg lives and then on to the end which goes straight on to Pacific Coast Highway which you've all seen with the Pacific in the background and way out to the Neptune Fish'n'chips where the motor bikers hang out.

Not bad fish'n'chips but why would anyone from these islands ever eat fish'n'chips any where else?

As you turn right on to the PCH there is a great fish restaurant called Gladstones, if I'm not mistaken, which is fairly expensive; I was in there one day and asked for fish'n'chips and I asked the waitress what came with the fish'n'chips and she said French Fries!!!!
So there we are – hope all is still good there and there are the same crazy people knocking around – running backwards, dying their hair green, breast transplants bigger than France and glorious weather.

Why do I hanker after such a place?

They've just voted David Cameron back in here, that's why!
Pacific Coast Highway.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

77 Sunset Strip.

There was a TV Series called 77 Sunset Strip; in the 50s or maybe even later, and it starred Efrem Zimbalist Jr and Edd (Kookie) Byrnes, amongst others.
Edd got the nickname Kookie as that was the name of his character and it kind of spread in to his private life.
Edd was also in the movie Grease; he played the famous deejay who came along to judge the dancing contest and he looked the same as he did in 77; hey I called it 77 as if I knew it personally.
He wasn't a great actor, he was kind of a third banana in it as Efrem (my pal – I mean I don't want to type out Zimbalist again, do I) was the main man.
Now Edd hasn't died, or anything, in fact he's 80!!
 


There was a hit song called Kookie, Kookie! Lend me your Comb he was featured in with Connie Stephens and if my memory serves me well it's a kind of rap as Edd couldn't sing – oh here it is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MT9QZBGyXjU
Edd was in the pilot of 77 where he played a serial killer who combed his hair all the time.
The detectives caught him, sent him to jail and he was executed but . . . .
He was so popular with the girls that they brought him back as a regular in the show.
The first thing I did when I arrived there on Sunset Blvd, was to look for number 77 Sunset Strip and Sunset Strip is on Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood.
At the end of the strip is a coffee shop called Dukes where I had breakfast from time to time and that I suppose is about as far west as the strip goes which is number 8909; Dukes is right next door to the Whiskey-a-go-go where bands like The Doors got their start and when I went there it was too see a group called The Super Chunks and I discovered America humour when I asked the man on the door if they had pineapple testicles – yes it got the same laugh then.
The Laugh Factory is on the odd side of Sunset at 7901 (which is the north side), and the strip starts west of Crescent Heights which is 100 yards west so, shall we say, at 8,000 Sunset Blvd and ends at around Duke's Coffee Shop at 8909 Sunset but . . . and this is something I am only just finding out as I looked the street address up . . . . . it has closed down.
That's really bad news and kind of changes this post!!
Duke's was a place where all the rock'n'roll greats ate; they would arrive bleary eyed after a gig next door and is (or was) really a part of rock'n'roll history and like everything else it's bitten the dust.
The Sunset Bar and Grill, further east on Sunset (yes the same place as the Joe Walsh song) has been beautified just like everywhere else.
I mean look:
 

 










How can a place like that close down?
A moments silence!!
 So when I looked for 77, I found that there was no such number – the place they used for the series was owned by Dean Martin and was at 8532 and when I got there it was The Tiffany Theatre.
That has interesting history if you want to look it up but it's the place where Eddie Izzard got a break when he came to LA.
His pal, Eric Idle, bought every seat in the house for Eddie's show (no I don't know him but I'll still call him Eddie) so he was a success.
Now I see The Tiffany Theatre has gone too – it's made place for re-development.
Everything is re-development isn't it?
One of the greatest cities in the world is about to be beautified too – London.
They are ruining Soho – I'll be there on Tuesday getting my haircut – and a lot of craftsmen from Burlington Arcade, Mayfair, are being turfed out to make place for, as they call them, flag ship companies. You know who they are without me typing their names.
The phrase is everywhere in the west end – coming soon: flag ship companies.
I have great memories of those great places and if those photos of Duke's doesn't make you feel a little sad – a little sad for the memories you won't be able to revisit or a sadness that you never will have that great experience – you are welcome to your nut cutlets and muesli.
More about the strip next time.



Sunday, April 12, 2015

Horace and Ada.


I've written on here before about Horace and Ada; when am I going to write the novel? Who knows – they may be part of a novel. They came in to my mind earlier this week.
It was the centenary of Billie Holiday and when I went in to the bedroom – the radio is always on in there - I heard someone mention it on Woman's Hour. In fact I went in at the end of a song by her, and the song was followed by 'I bet people are clapping all over the country, after that.'
Do people sit at home and clap at the end of songs?
What about when watching television when someone finishes a song?
Really?
No they don't – they can't unless they've gone mad.
You're saying they do – they sit there and clap; well that means you do.
You're mad!
Must be.
As my dad used to say, when we tried it as children 'they can't hear you.'
And he was right.
When I went to the movies in Los Angeles people would applaud at the end.
I always put this down to the fact that people from the film industry, who might be in the film– actors technicians etc – would be in the audience. In fact they were and I would see people like Jeff Goldblume but you know – I wouldn't put it passed the people of the rest of America; the fact that they clap.
But what has this to do with Horace and Ada?
When we were little kids we lived in a very small house – two up and two down and one of those down was a small kitchen which my mother managed to squeeze everything into – fridge, washing machine and any gadget she saw at the Ideal Home Exhibition each year.
If anything like that ever got delivered, by the way, the people delivering would have a long walk as you couldn't get a vehicle near the house and we were about 50 yards (child yards) from the road.
South View Terrace (remember from before?) but there was no view as a factory called Locomotors blocked it. The view would have been of Moseley Road and maybe, Moseley Road Swimming Baths which I wrote about on here a few years ago and that post still gets quite a few hits – not as much as My Teenage Love Story – but I digress.
So back to the small house – well a cottage, really, with a 20 yard (child yard) front garden.
So the man with the delivery would have to walk down the lane, till he reached a wall and after the wall he would only have about – put it this way - he wouldn't be able to spread both arms out as there wouldn't be room.
Unless he was Mickey Rooney – but as far as I know he didn't come.
When our parents went out, they would ask Horace and Ada to come around and sit with us as baby sitters. They liked this as they didn't have a television; they had a radio, which we could always hear, as Horace was very deaf. He had some hearing but had to wear a big hearing aid into both ears. The poor fella was also blind and carried a white stick; in fact he had one fifth of his sight in one eye.
So when they came around to watch the television, Horace would have to sit two or three inches from the screen if he was to see anything at all. I suppose he just saw a flickering light. He would sit slightly to the side so as not to block our view and we would sit on the sofa with Ada.
There seemed to be lots of variety shows on in those days and every time a singer stopped singing, Horace and Ada would clap and cheer. I didn't want to say what my dad would say 'oy! They can't hear you' so we would clap as well.
The other thing we would do was put the lights out so we could only see each other from the television glow and that of the fire.
I have no idea how old Horace and Ada were but to us, and my parents, they were an old man and an old lady. I think their name was Melia but we called them Mealey, and Ada called Horace 'lol. These days he would be called Laugh Out Loud, wouldn't he. He never did, though; laugh out loud, that is.
He must have really loved Ada as she shouted and swore at him from morning till night about the burnt toast he took to her in bed each morning after he'd lit the fire for her. We would hear all this from next door – the shouting and the swearing; maybe that's where the expression fucking Ada came from?
Billie Holiday
 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

d'lection!!


Well here I am still kicking – I left things a bit late writing this as I had the flu and – would you believe – fell out of bed in the middle of the night, hit my head on the bedside cabinet and hurt my eye. Blood all over the place; making me look as if I had been 12 rounds with Mike Tyson.

But all is clear now and what has happened?

For a start the election campaign has started here; this is the first time the country – this country - has had a fixed term election; beforehand the Prime Minister would just call an election for three weeks after the announcement, but because we (they for some of the time) have had a coalition for the past five years the first thing they did was change the law. The reason being is the government has to win more seats in parliament than the rest of the parties put together. This is so that every policy, change of law, election pledge and the rest of it can be voted through. If one of them is ever NOT voted through the leader of the opposition can put forward a vote of no confidence in the government and another election has to be called – at any time.

That's what it's been like forever but now it's changed and the election is on May 7th – always a Thursday.

When I was a little boy at school, there was to be a general election – it was imminent, it was the old days – it had to be I was a little boy.

I was the little immigrant kid and the teacher was telling the class that there was to be an election and said 'nobody knows when it is likely to be.'

Of course I put my hand up and said 'I know when it is, Miss.'

And the teacher shouted 'Nobody knows when the election is, Christopher; get outside till I call you back in.'

So I had to go and stand outside; I was too timid to say that it was going to be on a Thursday as all elections are on Thursdays here, but I have to say that a little fella, maybe not even nine years of age, to notice that General Elections (and others) are on Thursdays was quite brilliant for one so young.

But the teacher was having none of it, she sent me outside and my career as the number one political analyst in the world crashed to the floor at that particular moment.

Since Christmas we have been bombarded with the pretend election; a bit like in America where they have fixed terms. Fixed terms mean long campaigns and in America they are anything up to two years. The next Presidential election there is 2016 and you will see the campaigns starting pretty soon. Not pretend ones like over here but the long long process of selecting a candidate from each party.

There is a system there in some states, where people gather together and elect their candidate without voting – or without a secret ballot – and I think one of the states that do this is New Hampshire and it's called the state caucus; people get together and discuss, with the candidate, if they will vote for them or not and then they have to commit. No secret ballot – so when people openly vote for, say, Obama, he can see who's voting for him (how do you think he was voted in) and he can choose these people as delegates to go to the convention with him and vote for him and his veep.

But not here.

Oh no.

In America the two – or three – people who are standing for President will debate on tv.

But not here.

Oh no.

It's not a Presidential election here – it could be possible, that the Prime Minister's party could win the election but he (Cameron) might not regain his seat; quite possible.

In the sixties when Super Mac was the PM he resigned because of health reasons – not his own, maybe Christine Keeler's – and Lord Home was selected by the men in great suits to be PM.

LORD Home.

As if that was bad enough his name was pronounced Hume!!

So he had to drop his peerage and look for a seat – one was found of course but it just goes to demonstrate what could happen.

This time the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tory Boy Clegg, will probably lose his seat; he says he won't but he will!!

What will happen there I don't know.

As I say there are no debates here – but they had one the last time; Gordon Brown (the PM) – the man who saved the world; David Cameron – the man who wanted to save the world; and Tory Boy Clegg – the man the world saved.

They got together on TV after a lot of hooing and haaing and farting about and Clegg won. Tory Boy Clegg was all set to be the most powerful man in Britain – next to Jeremy Clarkson – but what happened? The people didn't vote for him; they hardly voted for his party but the few seats he did win gave the Tories a majority as he (Clegg) chose to support them in the house; for a price.

The price?

To have a few members of the Liberal Democrats in the cabinet and make Clegg Deputy Prime Minister; a post invented by Tony Blair to keep John Prescott quiet. It was a bad thing to have Prescott against you – as a right hook during the campaign proves – so they invented a job for him.

And what does all this have to do with the price of a hill of beans?

They are all – all of them – all the leaders of the parties standing in this election are having a debate tonight. Plaid Cymru, The Green Party, The Labour Party, The Conservative Party, The Liberal Democrats, The Scottish National Party and UKIP.
 
All of them with hardly a format - it'll be like a fish'n'chip shop on a Friday night!

UKIP???

Yes, ladies and gentlemen of America; just like the Tea Party of America; an extreme right wing party who are more like wolves in sheep's clothing. I can't believe that people are being hoodwinked and they are being hoodwinked just like the people who voted for The Tea Party in America because of their ignorance and they can somehow see an easy way out.

Watch this space!!



Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Superman - Birdman

When I was a little boy I had one hero – one hero, that is, before Roger Bannister ran the sub 4 minute mile – and that hero was Superman.
As soon as I set eyes on the serial my little boy's life changed.
I got all the comics and remember him going back and meeting Helen of Troy and not believing her when she said she came from the fifth century before Christ by asking how she would know about Christ if she died before Christ was born; loads of other stuff I learned which I have forgotten about now, but I was such a young little lad that I didn't realise that Lois and Clark's names were based on - Lewis and Clark, the pioneers that discovered America by land and claimed the North West for the United States – or something like that. 
 
In fact, who knows, Lois and Clark might not have been based on the great 19th Century explorers at all, but I didn't care; I became Superman and I told my brothers.
They didn't believe me till one of them asked where my cloak was and I told them; under the bed, of course.
I showed it to them; there was a dark thing under there and they might have believed me. Our bedroom window was over a bay window so I could get out quite easily, walk along the ledge and shimmy down before they made it to the window to see where I'd gone.
I never actually tried to run along the garden and fly; that surprises me now thinking back on it but maybe in my heart of hearts I knew I wasn't really Superman at all and didn't want to face up to reality.
When he was old enough I took my son to see Superman at the movies and when I took him up to bed each night after that I would hold him out so he could fly up the stairs with his fist clenched like Christopher Reeve; his son likes Superman too and flies to bed each night in the same way, I should think.
But I dreamed of flying; I dreamt loads of times about it and I still do; I don't fly like Superman I lift up from the ground and I can travel but . . . I always have a problem landing.
When I saw Birdman – the film – the other day, it all came back to me.
He lifted up and flew at one point. 
And I wondered how he was going to land!! 
Now this is strange because the film appeared to be shot in one long continuous take – it wasn't, I know, but it appeared to be; at the beginning of the film he is sitting in his dressing room (Michael Keaton brilliantly plays an actor in a play) levitating.
It is a film about the production of a play – when he leaves the dressing room to rehearse a scene, he says to his assistant (played by the brilliant Zach Galifianakis) 'try and stop so and so acting' which is one thing the Americans always try to do as they don't like overacting.
There was also a lot of script improvising in their play – why say three lines when you've already said it in one – theories about art: what it is and isn't etc.
A terrible woman, wonderfully played by Lindsay Duncan is the critic of the New York Times who can, and threatens, to close the play.
"I'll kill your play" she says.
A lot of it's fantasy mixed with reality but I would recommend it to everybody especially actors so when I got home and went to bed and slept I . .

. . .  didn't dream about flying at all; not yet in any case.
Someone once told me that if you fly in your dreams you have illusions of grandeur – well maybe I do; I mean why else am I an actor? Sometimes I do wonder.
If I am doing my one man show – either of them – I just go on and do it, but when I'm not doing it, like now, I wonder where I get the audacity from; I have been doing solo performances for fifteen years and each time I get involved I still wonder if it will come off; maybe it has something to do with my flying dreams where I fly like Birdman. Not like Superman who goes head forward; maybe I'll fly like Superman in my dreams one day.
Sometimes when I can't get to sleep I think about a tall building in North Acton; I worked there plenty of times for the BBC years ago, and the canteen was on the top floor.
If it was sunny people would sit outside to eat and looking over the wall we could see, through the mist, Greater London.
I lie in bed sometimes and think of that building; walking over to the door of the veranda, getting on to the wall and floating across London. 
I can feel the wind in my face as I fly like Superman; I can see the tube train below, the A40 road before it became a motorway and I head west over green grass and winding traffic.
But I don't go very far as Superman; I doze off and go into another world; another world where I no longer fly like Superman but like Michal Keaton in Birdman.
 Up right and proper wearing an overcoat.



Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A day in the life . . .

There I am – above – that was in the BBC Shakespeare series As You Like It with Helen Mirren – no I'm not fighting Helen Mirren!!
That thing in my right hand is my sword – it seems to be angled right at the camera so you can't see it properly.
It's not my hair, of course, and that thing at the top of my legs is a small cod piece.
The other fella, by the way, seems to be tied up in knots and believe me if he'd known the photo was being taken he would have bent his head around. The photo was taken by one of the ace guys who take the tennis photos at Wimbledon each summer.
The photo below is going back even farther – or further - I am on the right and the play we were in was called The Alchemist by Ben Johnson – not the runner, the 17th century playwright.

On the left, looking very elegant and proud is Julian Fellowes (now Lord Fellowes) of Gosford Park and Downton Abbey fame, and in that photo you can see something similar at the top of my legs – yes a cod piece. 
The other fella, nearer Julian, is the (now) famous wine expert Oz Clarke but the fella with his hand out is now a mystery to me. 
Rather a large one – I got these two photos from the Internet but I'm sure I have originals somewhere.
I did The Alchemist at The Royal Theatre, Northampton and we stayed on in Northampton to live for some years. That's where we brought the children up in a small village about six or seven miles east and it would take over an hour to get in to London on a good day.
A year or two after that photo was taken I was walking through the market square in Northampton when I stocky young fella with long hair and a beard came up to me. He seemed to be dressed in many colours and he said – 'hello boy; you that fella with the cord pace; ent that right?'
Yes, I said.
'I remember that cord pace in that play.'
I asked him if he went to the theatre much and he said no that he only came that once.
He was with a girl and I could see he had a few drinks on him. Tom, his name was, and it turned out that he was quite famous as a singer of folk songs and led a folk band. We talked for a while and went for a drink in, I think, Shipman's bar just off the market square.
I bumped in to him lots of times after that and sometimes we would have a drink and maybe end up at his place. I can't remember where it was but he had loads of musical instruments around the place and I was never sure if it was his place. Those were hazy days and one time I bumped into him London near Ward's Irish House in Piccadilly and whilst we were there an old friend of mine walked in with his dog.
I can't remember what kind of a dog it was but Tom looked at the dog very carefully and said to my pal 'I think his trousers are too short.'
What Tom was doing in Piccadilly that day I don't know but my pal wanted to know if I could do a West Indian accent 'course he can' said Tom 'he can do any accent you like. I saw him doing Walsh and carckney – you name it.'
'I thought you didn't go to the theatre?' I said.
'Oh I snuck in once or twice' he said.
So my pal said his friend wanted someone who could do a West Indian accent to go to his flat to read his play.
'You go and do that' said Tom.
'He's a white West Indian' said my pal ' says he Irish.'
'He'll be from Barbados' said Tom 'you heard the saying “Hell or Barbados?”'
So Tom wandered off and I went up to Muswell Hill to my pal's friend's flat.
When we got there he sure was a white West Indian and he'd written a play 'I need to hear this' the guy said and he poured a large whiskey for me.
We sat down and read it and my pal read the other English part.
My accent wasn't that good – more Jamaican – but the whiskey flowed and we had a few laughs reading the play.
When we finished the play we played darts – with an air pistol.
We were shooting tiny coloured darts at an ordinary dart board and there was a lot of cheering and shouting if we hit the bull and the playwright's wife went out to fetch more whiskey. When it came back it flowed again till it was time to go.
I got to Euston Station just in time to catch the last train to Northampton which was ten minutes past midnight.
As I walked along the platform a loud voice shouted and there was Tom carrying a small bottle of whiskey.
We walked up through the carriages and there sitting on one of the seats I met someone else I knew. An actor called Raynor Burton and he was with his pal who was strumming on a guitar.
Tom passed the whiskey around and we sipped from the bottle as we travelled up to Northampton. Raynor and his pal were going all the way to Birmingham and as we travelled, sipped and laughed, Raynor's pal went into one of my favourite Bob Dylan songs Lay Lady Lay; it was beautiful.
You would think we were a nuisance, singing and drinking and laughing, but no. 
I could see people were smiling and we sang a couple of folk songs with Tom to the fore and then the guitarist starting singing 'Where do you go to my lovely?/When you're alone in your bed' and the whole carriage joined in.
Not too many people as it was the middle of the night and when we finished we had reached Northampton.
Tom left the whiskey with the boys as they continued the other half of their journey to Birmingham and we wandered off in to the night.
I never saw any of them again but when I looked Tom up on the Internet just now I saw that his name was Tom Hall and he played with a band called The Barback Riders and he died twelve years ago.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Chowder of Cats, a Murder of Crows and a Tent.

I noticed the other day – or I realised the other day – that I lived in Los Angeles longer than I had lived anywhere. I moved there in January 1995 and came away in July 2011.
I lived in other places, of course, and the other long residence was in Northamptonshire where we were for another fifteen years. We had three addresses there (three in LA too) and ended up in a village about six miles or so from the town of Northampton itself.
It might have been like the TV series I wrote about last time Father Brown with a drunken vicar, the headmaster of the school having a ding dong with one of the teachers, a few village idiots (one having a dubious relationship with sheep), gentlemen farmers and a certain amount of small mindedness.
We had a very warm kitchen where we would sit around the table for meals each day and I seem to remember having to buy quite a few water jugs, which were placed in the middle of the table at meals, as they were always being broken.
I would brew my own beer and wine and make bread and pizza and I seemed to be very productive writing bad poetry, mediocre songs and a fairly good play.
I also made comic tapes for the children, which made them laugh when they came in from school, and there are still copies of the 'daft daddy' tapes knocking about.
We had three dogs (not altogether) and loads of cats; a lot of them died which broke all our hearts.
We had a female cat called Alex and one called Tibbles. They both had kittens and were killed not long after on the main road. Tibbles' kitten was called Flossie and was pure white.
One day she was shot somewhere near the thigh; she came home, climbed on top of my stereo music centre and slept for 24 hours. When she woke up she was fine – she was shot because she was white and must have stood out luminously at night when the village boys with their shot-guns were prowling.
She was killed too on the main road and then one day a young cat came into the house; she was tortoiseshell, we called her Biddie and she decided to stay.
Sometimes we would call her Auntie Biddie.
She had loads of kittens, which we gave away, but kept four of them and they lasted till they died of natural causes – so there we were with five cats (a chowder of cats) and when I went to live in Los Angeles I left 3 of them behind and the dog – Whiskey.
It sounds like an idyllic life, doesn't it, and in fact it was; when I got to Los Angeles I was there by myself for 18 months (or as the Americans say 'a year and a half') and we went back to the start of our marriage when my wife came.
Our children were grown up, property owning and independent; it was as if mummy and daddy had died and gone to heaven but they could still contact us. In fact our biggest expense when we lived there was the telephone bill.
That and the trips back to London and the children came to us too – so United Airlines were the winners. We thought the children might have wanted to join us but it wasn't to be so that's the reason we came back – children and grandchildren.
We had 2 cats in Los Angeles; 2 American cats who liked to bite and didn't like human food, fresh chicken, fish or milk. It had to be cat food from the Supermarket.
One was called the Big 'ne the other the Little one – they had other names for the vet - and we kept them till they died naturally.
The Big One came back to London with us but because of the British Law had to go into Quarantine for a while – not for that long as he'd had a rabies jab and a passport – and when he moved in to our house here, he lasted nearly 4 months and died.
So I buried him in the garden and it was very sad – here he is smiling.

The other night I had a dream – I was back in the house where he died and I came down the stairs and when I looked through the window, in the moonlight I saw his tent. I didn't see him but knew somehow that it was his; the tent was the size of a small dogs' kennel and at the head of it were two or three large very black crows; on each side of the tent three or four more and at the other end, another two or three others.
A Murder of Crows.
They seemed to be sniffing out the Big One; El Grande.
My one fear, when he died, was that I might not bury him deep enough as I was nervous about the foxes and crows eating him.
So maybe that was somewhere in my subconscious as I looked through the window; I carefully went out into the garden and who would be at the far end of the tent?
Biddie; the tortoiseshell cat and the mother of them all!








Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Father Brown.

I've been confined to barracks of late; old sweats – old soldiers - will know what I'm talking about as I've been laid up. I can still go into my office as it's just off the hall, in our flat, between the bathroom and the kitchen. 
So I am very comfortable in the relative luxury of our apartment and the cold weather outside. I suppose the heating bill will be high next time but it's always high.
So after I have been in here working out ideas, doing my taxes and looking after the running of our lives, I break for coffee at around 2:00 pm and sometimes switch on the television.
Not a lot on in the afternoon really, but I could always watch 'On Demand' which is most of the stuff that's been on TV over the past week. I rarely watch any of the commercial channels that way as I can't skip the commercials - you have to sit there and let them run. 
When watching one of the commercial channels live I usually pause the programme for about ten or fifteen minutes so I can skip through when watching.
One of the programmes, apart from all the quiz shows, is a kind of detective series but the PI is a catholic priest, and it's on BBC, Father Brown
He's a very famous detective in fiction created by GK Chesterton; he wrote many Father Brown stories and at the end of it he converted to Catholicism.
The acting is quite good and the relationships between the leading characters is amusing. It takes place in a village in the countryside and, even though it's supposed to be a small village, there is a murder every week.
I accept that it's a bit like Agatha Christie but it's a bit funny - and safe.
I have seen about 10 or so episodes but I have yet to see a black or non-white face – until today. 
Today there was a Hindu playing a wise man who was an assistant to the victim.
In fact there may be an episode somewhere with a non-white face – I don't know - but in 10 episodes I haven't seen one.
People argue that there were very few blacks in Britain in the fifties and I have to say that where I went to school I didn't see a black man, or non-white, till a Pakistani came to our school. His name was Shamshad Khan and he was from Lahore; but so what?
Here's is the school choir and you will see what I mean:
 There we are aged about 14 - I am the little fella with the greasy hair 3rd from the right at the back. Shamshad who was my friend, and told me all about the fair in Lahore, is at the front on the right.
But there were plenty of black people living here in conurbations and there are plenty today. 
There are loads of complaints about not enough variety in casting and if I was black I would be very angry and if the answer is that there are not many blacks living in small villages in Britain and even fewer in the fifties set it somewhere else.
It's shot near Birmingham which is very cosmopolitan and even though it (Father Brown) is well done it has no edge. 
Rather like the British films in last week's BAFTA presentations.
I don't expect it to be full of bad language as it's on in the afternoons but let's let it reflect the population here – now!

For your amusement here are two Father Browns of the past; Kenneth More and Alec Guinness:

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Eccentric Mr Turner

I have not been been here for a while as life has a funny way of getting in the way of writing, but I did find to time to go to Stratford on Avon over the weekend to see a late night screening of a film – The Eccentric Mr Turner.
Yes a film about England's greatest landscape painter; if not the world's greatest.
The film is a short one and deals with the last part of the great man's life and features a virtuoso performance in the title role by Gary Taylor. With a few flourishes and flicks of the wrist, a nod and a wink here and there and a look in the eye that makes you think, look and wonder, Taylor introduces us to an aspect in the life on JMW Turner that the recent big budget bio-pic missed.
Why the eccentric and why the mister?
When he first started to stay with his eventual last lover, Mrs Booth, he was known, in her guest house, as Mr Booth - and the eccentricity?
The first thing we see in the film is a painting and we hear Turner admonishing someone; the someone in question has made some kind of mistake and made a mess of something – another fine mess you got me into – and we find out that that someone being lectured to, is a horse; his horse!
And the horse's name?
Hercules!
We learn from Mrs Booth, ably played by Tina Parry, that Turner had fallen asleep and Hercules had to find his own way home.
And then he turns his attention to his two cats – Wellington and Napoleon, would you believe – and they are still out and will be disciplined upon their return.
As he wanders around his studio giving instructions to Mrs Booth, he is starting another painting - the painting turns out to be his most famous and notorious Slave Ship which he had completed many years before.
It soon becomes clear that his life is flashing before his eyes as Turner paints and goes through his experiences meeting again his father, to whom he was very close and misses so much: Charles Dickens, The Prince of Wales and George Stephenson.
There he is (above) with the inventor of Stephenson's Rocket looking at the train roaring and snorting away from them.
He also meets two of the crew of the Slave Ship; he learns that the human cargo are treated wretchedly and if any are sick they are thrown overboard.
Just like that – no nursing needed just a chuck over one of the sides.
One of the crew, he meets again, struck up a relationship with one of the women who had been thrown into the ocean and the moving scene thrusts Turner on to the Slave Ship painting, and as we have been watching the film the famous painting slowly but suddenly appears before our eyes.
This has and is a one man stage show and Gary Taylor would paint The Slave Ship at each venue – he must have painted it many times but in this film he had but one chance as the film was shot in one long take.
No edits or cuts just one long take, in pristine black and white shot beautifully by Michael Booth who also directs.
I would like to think that this lovely little film would go on from here – it's low budget but doesn't look it – here is a link to the trailer: 
The Slave Ship is below and here is an excerpt from Turner's "Fallacies of Hope" (1812):
"Aloft all hands, strike the top-masts and belay;
Yon angry setting sun and fierce-edged clouds
Declare the Typhon's coming.
Before it sweeps your decks, throw overboard
The dead and dying - ne'er heed their chains
Hope, Hope, fallacious Hope!
Where is thy market now?" 
 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Writer.




Do you know it's not really a good week to write about anything. 
People often ask (they don't ask me; why would they?) what a writer is. 
Well a writer is someone who writes – not someone who gets paid for it, or 'sells' it or gets published – a writer is someone who writes; and says something.
A lot of writers write and they get paid for it and what they write doesn't amount to a hill of beans.
Here is the last part of the only poem I ever wrote; it's all I have to say:

But the writer was always the little fella;  
The little fella who had to meet the big bad bullies
When he was at school; the big bad bullies
That made him take part
In their big bad bumpy games,
Which would frighten the poor little fella,
At that very early and tender age
When all the boys had to learn to head the greasy orb
Which they called a football;
Had to go into that big bad world
Which they called a school;
Had to find out that most of the bullies
Were the teachers: teachers who took great pleasure
And unnatural delight
In striking many a young child across the backside
With their canes and slippers;
But the little writer would get his own back
On the big bad bullies for he would write about them.
Sometimes, but not often, the big bad bully
Would read what the little writer had written
And knock the be Jesus out of him;
Break his glasses,
Knock the pen out of the little fella’s hand
And burn his books:
At four hundred and fifty one degrees Fahrenheit.

But there was always somebody
To pick up that pen and look up,
Up towards the stars in the heaven
Where they would seek the same stimulation;
And the man with the pen would look down and give it.


Interpret it as you wish and if you wish to hear the full text with picture it's here:

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Hogmanay

Happy Hogmanay to you.
I have many happy memories of it at new year's eve parties and watching it on TV – letting the new year in. I had black hair so I did a lot of 'first footing' – that is going out with a lump of coal and knocking the door as soon as I heard the midnight bells. My brudder did it too as his hair was blacker than mine.
It means that the first one over the threshold has to be a stranger (I think) with black hair bringing fuel – that was all for luck even though I wasn't a stranger. I did it for others too and I was always welcomed with a kiss and a whiskey! My brudder too with his blacker hair and deeper thirst for the whiskey and the kisses.
Let me digress here, I'll come back to hogmanay later but I mention this as most of the New Year parties I went to over the years had the TV on so we would know when Big Ben struck twelve so we could sing Auld Lang Syne but:
do you place your television (if you have one) in the corner of the room?
Why?
Don't you find you get a crick in the neck after a while?
We used to have ours in the corner, with the back towards the window.
I suppose this was very handy when something boring came on and we could avert our eyes up a little and see what was going on outside. Most of the time this would be something like a lamp post or a parked car. Later in the day a curtain as it was usually dark out there and in any case as it was a sin to watch TV in the day time.
I suppose the problem being that many rooms have a fireplace in the middle so think of this:
what if there wasn't a fireplace there and you could sit back and watch the TV sitting on your sofa straight ahead.
I would often do this and think 'wouldn't it be great if the TV was there? Or maybe a little higher and a little bigger just like the movies?'
I really did think those things but I didn't think it for very long.
Eventually I moved the television to a point in front of the sofa so I could view it straight on – it's at eye level and about eight feet away so I can see the detail of the picture. It's not in anybody's way with its back to the wall between two sets of book cases.
Here we are:
Our sitting room is about twenty five feet long – nearly the whole nine yards!! - and I cannot imagine trying to be involved in anything on television from that distance.
I have heard people saying that they don't want the television to dominate the room; why not? They watch it all the time – I don't; I sit in here and type crazy posts for the blog – but that's another story.
But when I do watch it I watch it.
Whilst I am at it - we didn't have a telephone when I was a child in fact we didn't get one till we were married and when we got one we put it in the sitting room – everybody else put the bloody thing in the hall, usually in the cold, but in any case people I knew with small babies couldn't have a conversation in the hall as their voices would carry up the stairs and wake up the babies.
You'd ring them and they'd tell you off for waking the kids – well MOVE it then!!
Move it move it move it!
These days, of course, people use their cell phones more and in any case their land lines (ha ha, land lines!! As if that is what they are) are usually cordless.
But what happened?
Why were they put out there in the first place and why was the TV in the corner?
Who started these crazy rules?
Now that Christmas is out of the way for another year this week we expect Hogmanay, which is celebrated in Scotland. This year a lot of people were expecting it to be the first Hogmanay of an Independent Scotland but not to be (for a while, anyway) – so that is a current meaning of the phrase to be or not to be!
Hogmanay is held by a lot of Scots to be the most important holiday in Scotland – and for the Scottish diaspora – so if you are Scottish and are reading this let me wish a very sincere and happy Hogmanay.
One of the reasons it holds so much importance in Scotland is that Christmas was considered too papist by the Church (Presbyterian) of Scotland so they banned it.
It wasn't even a public holiday till 1958.
In Scotland it is customary to serve a steak pie with mashed tatties, mashed neeps and carrots on Hogmanay which is actually December 31st.
For the uninitiated tatties are potatoes (pronounced bedadaters in Ireland!!) and neeps are – well what are they? I like to think they are parsnips but fear they are probably turnips.
I heard last week about a woman living down here with her Scottish husband and that she could not match his mother's cooking of the steak pie so she called her husband's mother to ask what the secret ingredient was and was told it was sausages!!!
We would always watch TV at Hogmanay and if I never get to spend it in Scotland I will go my grave disappointed – just as my dad did because he never went to the Grand National.
I took him the The Derby though even though we had a fight on the way back.
What about?
He said Peter Shilton was England's best goalkeeper and I said it was Ray Clemence – or was it the other way around?
Who cares we soon got over it.
We would watch Andy Stewart on TV; he would say words of welcome, something like 'nice to see you' then finish the show with:
Haste ye back, we loue you dearly,
Call again you're welcome here.
May your days be free from sorrow,
And your friends be ever near.

May the paths o'er which you wander,
Be to you a joy each day.
Haste ye back we loue you dearly
,

Haste ye back on friendship's way

To be pedantic – that word loue is an obsolete typography of the word love – but I used it in any case.
During the show Duncan MacRae would recite the poem A Wee Cock Sparrow
Many years ago when I first met my wife, I was invited to meet the parents on New Year's eve – Hogmanay – and I went around there with my brudder.
We sat on the sofa and recited this poem. They looked at us as if we were drunk – we were!– here it is:
A wee cock sparra sat on a tree,
A wee cock sparra sat on a tree,
A wee cock sparra sat on a tree
Chirpin awa as blithe as could be.

Alang came a boy wi'a bow and an arra,
Alang came a boy wi'a bow and an arra,
Alang came a boy wi'a bow and an arra
And he said: 'I'll get ye, ye wee cock sparra.'

The boy wi' the arra let fly at the sparra,
The boy wi' the arra let fly at the sparra,
The boy wi' the arra let fly at the sparra,
And he hit a man that was hurlin' a barra.

The man wi' the barra cam owre wi' the arra,
The man wi' the barra cam owre wi' the arra,
The man wi' the barra cam owre wi' the arra,
And said: 'Ye take me for a wee cock sparra?'

The man hit the boy, tho he wasne his farra,
The man hit the boy, tho he wasne his farra,
The man hit the boy, tho he wasne his farra
And the boy stood and glowered; he was hurt tae the marra.

And a' this time the wee cock sparra,
And a' this time the wee cock sparra,
And a' this time the wee cock sparra
Was chirpin awa on the shank o' the barra.
meaning of unusual words: (but you knew them didn't you?)
arra=arrow
sparra=sparrow
barra=barrow
farra=father
marra=marrow
shank=leg
That makes sense now doesn't it??


Well this should and you should know the translation:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne! 


For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.
 
Sláinte (health)