Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Party time!

Those of you who read the other blog will know that I have occasional pretensions to being a song parodist. Like many before me I know that I have to bow to the master: Allan Sherman.

As a result of a burglary twenty-one years ago I lost my only recording of the brilliant "It's a most unusual play" and I miss it greatly. It's a track on one of his less well-known LPs "My Name Is Allan" and rarely gets played. A great shame as it's worth the hearing. For those of you below the age of umpty-thump it's a parody of Ray Noble's "Most Unusual Day."

It's a most unusual play;
Feel like throwing my tickets away,
'Cause the boy gets the boy
And the girl gets the girl
And it's way too far off Broadway.

It's a most unusual plot
Which I've either blocked out or forgot;
I don't know what it means
But they all wear blue jeans
And they scratch themselves quite a lot.

There's no scenery, there's no lighting,
There's no costumes; oh, what art!
If there only were no house lights,
I would sneak up the aisle and depart.

There's a most unusual scene
Where this man dates this Xerox machine,
So his girlfriend gets mad
And she murders the cad
To the tune of "Begin the Beguine"
In this most unusual, most unusual, most unusual play.

Oh, the language is a bit loose;
It's decidedly not Mother Goose.
Outside on the marquee
This quotation you'll see:
"I was shocked!" and it's signed Lenny Bruce.

It's a play where something went wrong
'Cause it's five hours, twelve minutes long.
If you sit there, my friend,
From beginning to end
Then your bladder better be strong.

There are people hitting people;
There's a couple in a cage.
There's neurotics, there's narcotics,
And the bathroom is right on the stage!
It's a great big critical smash,
And it's raking in all kinds of cash.
But the theater's appalling
With things that are crawling;
I think I am getting a rash
From this most unusual, most unusual, most unusual play
And to get a taste of the voice, here's the birthday boy singing the Mexican Hat Dance.

Have a good New Year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Nearly there

Christmas is nearly over. Tonight was turkey paprikash (surprisingly nice) and the last of the leftovers will be tomorrow's chili.

Hope you're all suitably Christmas puddinged out.

Editor's note: Normal curmudgeonly service will resume as soon as possible.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Unwelcome return of hoary old chestnut

Dear Santa,

For Christmas I would like a pair of sheer black silk ladies' stockings.

Yours in hope

Kevin, aged 7 and quite a few months

P.S. These are no use to me empty
I wish I hadn't bothered. Have you ever seen a reindeer in suspenders?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

All that stuff

Starting off with a heartfelt Christmas wish from Dora Bryan...

Something suitable from the sublime Paddy Roberts...

...who is worthy of a blog entry of his own someday (unless Chris beats me to it)

And a suitable anodyne...

Merry thingy all of you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

All buses go to Sorry

Another cancelled train, so I go sloping off for an half-hour wait for the next bus in the freezing rain. Sigh. It is an awful journey.

The bus is full to busting with late shoppers and kids coming back from 'Clifford The Big Red Dog on Ice' or whatever it was at the Hippodrome. One child's kicking the window petulantly. He looks over to another passenger and wails: "Mummy! That man's frowning at me!" Clip round the ear that's what the little bugger needs.

A couple of people old enough to know better are listening to music on their 'phones, sharing the tinny blather with an unwilling world. I had a transistor radio in 1974 that had a better tone. My brother keeps saying that I should get an ipod or some such. Perhaps I should. I could amp up the volume, as the teenyboppers say.

"There you are: Carroll Gibbons, you bastards!"

The clincher came a few stops before mine. A couple of ladies dressed as lamb lurched over to the driver.

"Hey! Is this the 159?"

"No, it's the 157."

"It said 159 when I got on."

"No, it's the 157."

I lost count of the number of times she went on telling us all that it said the 159 when she got on, hoping that constant repetition would change reality. One might have thought that she would have noticed half an hour earlier as the 157 takes an entirely different route to the 159. Eventually we are released as they take their leave of the bus and lurch over to the next bus stop.

Stepping off the bus, the cold wait at the bus stop finally takes its effect. A jolting spasm of cramp ran through my calf like a lightning bolt.

Another happy day.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sleeping with the enemy

Advert: Full-size mattress, Royal Tonic 20 year warranty Like new. Slight urine smell. $40

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Saturday singalong

While shepherds...

My small niece, hopelessly miscast as an angel in the nursery Nativity play, told my dad that:

"Ollie's a sheep-carrier."

which is as good a description of a Nativity play shepherd as I've ever heard.

Red cabbage

I did a few jars of red cabbage the other day, preparatory to the coming hostilities. My sister finally sold her old house the other day, which is some senses is a shame as it was very productive: we'd get stones of fruit from the redcurrant bush; the apples and cobnuts I planted for her are starting to be promising; and there's a big old pear tree of the "almost a William" variety that you could buy cheap from the newspapers in the seventies. This last is perplexing: there are thousands of fruit but they only have a day's grace between having the texture of parquet and being a liquefied mess. We found, by a process of scientific guesswork, that there's about a week in which you can chop and freeze the fruit so that you've the basis for a tasty pear puree throughout the winter. This recipe takes advantage of these pears and some of the five pounds of redcurrants I found when I was looking for the beefburgers. Red cabbage should either be snap-in-your-fingers crisp or meltingly soft, anything in between disappoints. This is meltingly soft.

You'll need:

  • A red cabbage. All the finely-tuned weights and measures in this recipe are based around your having a lump of cabbage about the size of one of those spherical plum puddings they always had in the comics. Slice it up finely; if you're to be trusted with a mandolin then go for it.
  • Two cloves of garlic, mashed if you can be bothered, otherwise finely chopped.
  • A pickled onion chopped finely.
  • About a litre of fruit juice: what you don't use you can drink. Apple juice is good. Cranberry juice or pomegranate juice are excellent, if extravagant (if you've some dregs of these left in a carton you could usefully add them to the apple juice). Blackcurrant juice doesn't quite work, the flavours become off-note.
  • Some vinegar. Balsamic vinegar's great for colour but red wine or cider vinegar's fine.
  • Fruit: the equivalent of two roughly-chopped pears; three roughly-chopped large, dark plums, the riper the better (or a dozen ripe damsons).
  • Berries: a large handful of redcurrants works best; cranberries are fine; you can think of better things to do with raspberries (but they work nicely if you want to do it). Blackcurrants don't work. Blackberries give a great colour but don't add anything to the flavour.
  • Spices: half a stick of cinnamon; two dozen turns of the black pepper mill; two cloves and half a teaspoon of Chinese Five Spice Powder (or a couple of Szchewan peppercorns).

If you've got a slow cooker, great. If not, use a big pot and the very lowest heat your hob will allow. Chuck the red cabbage, garlic, onion, fruit and spices into the pot. Add a slug of vinegar (you don't need much: the acid in the fruit juice will keep the colour). Now pour in enough fruit juice to just be visible near the top of the cabbage (you don't want to completely cover it - the liquor will expand when heated). Put it on the lowest available heat and leave it for a few hours. Come back, give it a stir, leave it to cool overnight. Next day, put it on a very low light and leave it for a couple of hours. Now it's ready to pack into sterilised jars. You can eat it straight away but it's nicer after a few days.

This goes well with all the usual stews. For the vegetarians, it's nice with pease pudding. It's also good on a butty with fiercely strong cheese.

If you're wanting a white cabbage recipe, Willow had one the other day.

Just said no

The "No" vote to Manchester's Congestion Charge referendum has been overwhelming. Had you asked me six months ago I would have said that I was voting "yes" and wondered why you bothered to ask. So why did I say "no?"

I'd struggle to tell you what the No Campaign's arguments were. They didn't sway me. I was swayed by the failures of the Yes Campaign.

They started off with a load of adverts showing pictures of various people with the strap line "I won't pay the Congestion Charge." Well, I'm sorry, that sort of beggar-my-neighbour nonsense never sits well with me. The way my love life is these days I'd not be troubled by a Shagging Tax but I'd not be voting for one. Then they started to tell us about all the improvements that would magically come our way...

  • "What would you say to more trains and more carriages?" I'd say: "weren't you promised when they privatised the railways?" When I moved here, just before privatisation bit, we had an hourly train service seven days a week. Now we have a two-hourly service (if it arrives) and nothing on a Sunday. I'm not living in some countryside backwater, we're within the proposed Congestion Charge area.
  • "What would you say to more buses and more bus services?" I'd say: "how would the transport authorities ensure that the buses improved services on routes that are currently under-provided? Most of the congestion in city centre Manchester is caused by the hordes of buses chasing students up and down Oxford Road and Wilmslow Road. Not only do these roads clag up but, when your bus from elsewhere tries to pull into the traffic island that is Piccadilly Gardens Bus Station it can't get in because there are a dozen number 42s queueing up for the same stop and blocking the roads and junctions for all other traffic.
  • When challenged about dealing with private rail and bus operators over whom the authorities have no sway, the response was that: "we don't need services to be re-regulated, we would be working in a new way with the operators." Bollocks. First and Stagecoach run most of the bus and rail services in Greater Manchester and if Mister First and Mister Stagecoach were interested in working in a new way to deliver better services to the poor bloody passenger then they'd have done it by now and we'd have seen a bit of the evidence. As it is, this autumn has seen cuts in rail services; and so many non-arrivals of trains and buses that one can only conclude that they were trying to panic people into a yes vote by demonstrating just how bad public transport can be in this country.
  • "The No Campaign is consorting with unsavoury characters like the UK Independence Party, Peel Holdings and the BNP" said the Yes Campaign, who were consorting with Stagecoach, First and Manchester United.
  • My daily commute is about twenty-two miles across Manchester and the timetables say it should take me about fifty minutes each way. At least twice a week it takes two-and-a-half-hours. Looking at the proposed "improvements" I found that the delays were to become even greater because 'feeder' services were being replaced by trams and additional stations were being added to ensure that trains would be as badly hit by weekday football matches as are the buses now.

I think the clincher was the last desperate poster campaign by the Yes Campaign: an old bloke with the strap line "I want to feel safer on the bus." And how, precisely, were they going to do that? Issue all the OAPs with Kalashnikovs? Great God in the morning, some of them have the manners of pigs at the best of times; what would they be like if they were armed and dangerous?

"When we asked people why they wouldn't vote for it they told us 'we wont vote for it because the transport is so bad'. But our argument was 'if you vote for it, the transport will get better'.”

If the public transport operators can't deliver on the modest promises that are their timetables, why should we trust them to deliver anything even remotely ambitious?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

In memoriam

I was going to do a tribute but the Dotterel's done a better one already.

And Scarlet. Time for bed, Baby Clanger.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

They don't make 'em like that any more

Had a meal with friends last night and repaired to their local for a drink. We reminisced about an old work colleague who was an inveterate old queen, camp as Christmas and always one for a cottage. We were laughing at the memory of the immortal line

"I went in for an honest pee and I stayed there all day!"

when one of their friends pottered over to say hello. Out of politeness we recounted the story to him.

"That reminds me of the time me and a friend went into a public toilet in York, of all places. A camp old queen came in, looks at both of us stood at the urinal and says: 'Hello, loves, would you like a sherry?' So I said yes please, and do you know what? He took a decanter and glasses out of a case he was carrying and asked:

'Dry or sweet?'"

Class act.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Maudlin moment

I should have done this weeks ago.

News in briefs

With the consoling thought that if the morning train hadn't been ten minutes late I wouldn't have seen the jack snipe erupt from the children's football pitch...

Richard Branson is threatening to set up a Virgin Health Centre in Manchester. If the service is anything like Virgin Media's Customer Support Service then we can expect the mortality rates to go back to 1840s levels.

"Yes sir, I appreciate that you've had a heart attack. Our doctor has rung the wrong number twice and you didn't answer, so we closed the call."

According to a poll by Swinton Insurance, drivers think they should be rewarded for keeping within the speed limit. This is a splendid idea and needs to be explored further. Perhaps we could give 'gangstas' fifty quid for not actually killing anybody this week. And the motorists could pass their rewards on to joyriders who haven't stolen their cars.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Film Fun

Launder & Gilliatt's chairsI thought I'd start an occasional series of posts dipping in and out of my movie collection. Not to show off the breadth and depth of my cinematic knowledge, which is questionable, but to have a quick revel in craftsmanship and wit that we are too often too dismissive about.

No multi-million dollar blockbusters, no CGI, and definitely no bollocks about the auteur theory: most of my favourite films may have stars but they're essentially ensemble pieces. Alistair Sim credits

Which brings me to the Belles of St. Trinian's. Cast your eye at the list of the people involved, making sure that you go down as far as "People viewing this page may also be..." This is pure quality. And the film? Oh yes, yes, I know you know all the cliches about teenagers in mini gymslips and stockings and all that. The truth is that the film is much more about the mob animal that is the younger girls and some of the more splendid cynicisms of the 1950s.

I'm just going to chuck a few into the pot to give you a flavour... I'll leave you to guess the contexts. (-:

"Pogo Williams is older than me, and what's more she's married."
"Not officially"

"What a girl! A real chip off the old block."
"Don't say that Benny, don't say that. It makes my blood run cold."

"If only I had the courage to give myself up..."
"You might as well do. The food would be better and so would the company."

"What on earth have you got on your hair?"
"Honey and flowers. Like it?"
"Would you please put your hat back on."

"No, your highness, that one's not on the books. She's an American journalist writing an article on the lure of the harem for the Saturday Post."

the girls

"I sent one of my best men down to the place to inspect it."
"Well, what did he report?"
"He never came back."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Disappeared completely."
"Well what did you do then?"
"I sent another man after him."
"And he brought him back."
"No, he disappeared, too."
"You mean to say that you sent two inspectors and never heard of either of them again?"
"Not a word."
"Well, why didn't you inform the police?"
"It's hardly the sort of thing the ministry wants to draw attention to. Besides, I knew they were all right: they kept drawing their pay. I put a stop to that in the end."

This last exchange is between Superintendent Sammy Kemp-Bird (Lloyd Lamble, who died earlier this year) and the Man from The Ministry, Manton Bassett (Richard Wattis, superb as ever). This scene typifies what is best of British comedy films of the fifties: two actors who usually played the straight man given a five minute scene jam-packed with one-liners: "a veritable crime wave ...poison pen letters""I'm surprised the little beasts can write."

cartoon: the schoolgirls have run over a mistress with the grounds roller

Most of the diabolical nature of the girls can only be hinted at: "Bessie, you will be careful with that nitroglycerine, won't you?" but the film censorship boards of the time wouldn't have been able to cope with the realities of Ronald Searle's original cartoons. If you get the chance to pick up one of the original collections in a second-hand bookshop, treat yourself. Great fun.
some little girl didn't hear me say unarmed combat

All this wordery and I haven't yet mentioned Alistair Sim. A bravura performance.

And perhaps the best hockey match on the silver screen. With Andree Melly in hockey shorts.

And finally, the music. Malcolm Arnold conducted by Muir Matheson. The lietmotifs work well, the best easily being that for Flash Harry (you can just imagine this music wearing a zoot suit and a dodgy trilby). The school song is superbly lush and was fleshed out into The St. Trinian's Battle Song for Blue Murder at St. Trinina's. Go on, have a sing-song!

Thursday, November 20, 2008


There are adverts all over Manchester for a "New Concept Store" in the Arndale. I am very excited by this.

"Hello, I'd like to buy a concept, please."

"Certainly, sir, what would you want?"

"I'd like something that pulled together metaphysical poetry, the city state model of Renaissance Italy and Superstring Theory."

"Of course, sir. With or without the revolt of Pisa and an overview of the Special Theory of Relativity?"

It turned out to be a clothes shop.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Think of the children!

This chap lives in South Wales. Which is the only explanation I can think of for it all.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thursday jukebox

It will surprise none of you that I've no idea what day it is.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Nature corner

I've been growing peppers on the living room window again this year. I've had a couple off the Chocolate Bell plant this summer, which have been quite nice (they're a deep brown sweet pepper). The odd thing is that there's one fruit left and it's staying bright red with not a hint of brown. I can only think that the autumn sunlight's not intense enough to complete the transformation.

Peppers are good plants for the windowsill but they don't half attract aphids. And, being grown for food, I'm loathe to spray them with anything stronger than washing-up liquid. It comes as quite a relief that the leaves are dying back now. The pepper will overwinter perfectly well as a set of green sticks. And I can have a few months without having to constantly wipe the honeydew from that bit of the sofa. The spiders have been a bit remiss on this score. I think I'll import some tame ladybirds next year.

Coming home each night this past fortnight I've found a woodlouse waiting at the same place on the porch. I check on my way out: it isn't there. On arrival back, there it is. I'm not sure what to make of it. Is it waiting for me faithfully, elated at my return? Or is it acting as lookout for some troupe of arthropod scallywags ("cavie boys! he's back!"). In either case it's not especially demonstrative. Not so much as a grunt, so I can't say that it's adolescent growing pains.

hazel leaves by streetlightFinally, a picture from my own garden. I was taken by the effect of the street light through the leaves on the hazel bush in the front garden and thought I'd have a go at capturing it.

Almost did it (hand-held one second exposure at f5.6 for those who need to know it).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Thursday jukebox

You may want to make sure that there are no dogs in the room. Especially into the third minute, trust me on that.

P.S. I have this record, and it isn't the one in my collection that embarasses me.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Salami di fichi

My tiny niece amuses me once more. Sat at her breakfast table she suddenly announced:

"Oh I am fed up of this. I need something delicious."

Bearing this in mind, and with an eye on Chrimbo, I have been making some salami di fichi. Now's the time to do it if you want them for the forthcoming hostilities. You'll need:
  • Some dried figs
  • Some rice paper
  • A mixer or mincer
  • Soap, water and a towel
  • An air-tight container
  • An absence of small children, unless they are going to be active particpants
  • A complete absence of small, furry animals

You might also want to either leave the front door open or resolve that you're closed to all men until the job's done and dusted. There is a point in the proceedings when you'll be like the tar baby.

  • Chuck the dried figs into the mixer. Chop them to bits until it becomes a fine paste. You might need to stop it every so often to persuade the paste not to hide under the blades.
  • Wash your hands again. You've picked your nose since the last time.
  • Take the figgy past and roll it out into a sausage, same as you did with Plasticene at school. You want it to be about a couple of inches in diameter. If there's lots of figgy paste you may want to make two or more sausages.
  • Wrap each sausage in rice paper.
  • Wash your hands again. You know why.
  • Place them all in the container. Put it somewhere safe for a month or two.

When you retrieve your salami and unwrap each you'll find that you've got a rich, brown, sticky mess that makes you giggle childishly. Don't serve it like this! Cut the sausage into coin-thick slices (you chose which coin). Now eat one. You'll find it tastes rather good: sweet, rich and quite a bit decadent, with the seeds popping in your mouth as you chew.

This is the absolute simplest version of the recipe. If you've got some other dried fruit - apricots, raisins, or whatever - chuck them in. Generally speaking, I'd make sure that at least 60% of the fruit is fig because it makes such a good binding agent. Don't use dried pineapple: that does funny things to the binding. Dried cranberries work surprisingly well and are suitably festive.

You can also add chopped nuts (fresh walnuts are good, toasted hazelnuts are splendid) and orange or lemon peel. Be sure to put them in right at the beginning to make sure they get blended in properly.

I know from experience that these will keep for months. But your tooth might be sweeter than mine!

Hello Hazel

I hadn't realised that Hazel Blears was one of my readers (hello me duck!). It's a nice surprise that amongst the exoticalia that makes up my readership I can now include a North of England fillum star. I'm amused that we have both come to the conclusion that career politicians are a corrosive blight on the body politic.

And gratified that her strictures against political bloggers are not aimed at me: as the member of the government in charge of local government she knows that it is still illegal for the likes of me to voice political opinions anywhere beyond the domestic hearth.

Remembrance Sunday

There went a phase in the seventies and eighties where Remembrance Sundays were regarded as anathemae of The Left as they Glorified War. In this, as in so many things, I was out of step with the comrades who now steal the last pennies from the pockets of the common man. I have always seen Remembrance Sunday as a commemoration of the far-too-many poor ordinary blokes who lost lives, limbs or reason in the awfulness of war. And some type of public consolation to their families and friends.

It is moving and disturbing to see the war memorials in even the smallest of villages, each and every one with long rolls of the names of the local fallen. The breadth and extent of the losses are astonishing. I cannot help wondering what type of world it would have been had they survived.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Indoor fireworks

We got to talking about indoor fireworks the other day. I don't know if they're still available as I don't visit the fly-by-night fireworks shops that pop up in mid-summer to make our lives hell. Between chemistry A-level and early drinking habits I've had enough bangs, crashes and flashes of unearthly lights to do me for a couple more decades yet. But we got talking about them anyway. Yet another of the blighted disappointments of childhood...

All agog with our Tizer we'd toddle over to the house next-door-but-one, drawn by the rumour that "they've got indoor fireworks!" The thrill of anticipation! The gleeful speculation of marvels to come! The excitement mounted!

Number one: The Hissing Cobra.
Strike. Fizz. Fizz Fizz Fizz. Oh look: a dog turd made out of ashes.

Number two: Tutankhamen's Doo-dah.
Strike. Fizz. Fizzzzzzzzzzz. Splut. Oh look: a dog turd made out of ashes.

Number three: The Mighty Python
Strike. Fizz. Fhshpluttttt! Oh look: a dog turd made out of ashes.

You get the drift. The Magic Carpet. The Sorceror's Apprentice. The Poison Cloud. The Olympian Torch. Dog turds made out of ashes, the lot of them.

I know we have to learn life's lessons at some time but couldn't they have been more gentle about it?

Saturday, November 01, 2008


Having a drink and a chat in the Monkey's with Ken Barmy I accidentally knocked over my drink (I was telling him a story that appears in another place). As I tidied up Ken said to the barmaid:

"Please excuse my friend, he thinks he's Ralph Bellamy."

Bastard. I've been saving that quote for a special occasion for twenty years.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Maple leaves

Another shit day on the trains. Ascribed, as per, to leaves on the line and frozen signal points. Amongst the merry throng kicking their heels on the icy planks of out station is a Canadian lady who's been with us for the past year. She breaks into our collective whinge:

"I guess I'm being too hard on your train companies. It's not fair to compare them to ours: we don't have frost and trees like you guys do."

Friday, October 24, 2008

Six Random Things

I've been tagged by Scarlet-Blue, who decided I needed cheering up. To play the game I have to reveal six random things about myself. As somebody who is 'obsessively secretive' I find this a challenge, but here goes...

  1. Back in the old days when I was a Museums Cataloguer I literally found a mummy's hand in a box of candles. It was relict of one of the Flinders Petrie collections that had been swapped around the museums of Metropolitan Lancashire in the inter-war years. A colleague went to see a brown friend off to the sea, heard a clunking in the cistern when he pulled the chain and found a burlap sack full of Napoleonic War bayonets (mostly English). This is one of the reasons why I laugh when Museums Professionals get all Vanessa about their professionalism.

  2. My parents tell me that the first famous person I ever saw was Yuri Gagarin, when he visited Metro-Vics in Trafford Park.

  3. When I was little I really did believe that sterilised milk warded off the lightning. Now that I'm older and, perhaps, wiser I really don't want to know why my granny took so many milk bottles to bed during thunderstorms.

  4. I have been teetotal for twenty-six years, two months, five days and something like sixteen hours. Not that I'm keeping tabs on it, of course.

  5. I'm doing a fairly mediocre job of being responsible for two of the one-mile tetrads in the British Bird Atlas Survey. They're two urban survey areas but even so the breeding birds survey this year was profoundly disappointing.

  6. Looking about my living room at the moment, the set dressings include a digeridoo, a unicycle, a cast-iron winged lion, a smoke machine, a stuffed scorpion, a life-size rubber duck and a chocolate reindeer. All have been presents from family.

Tag rules: Link to the person who tagged you. Post the rules on your blog. Write 6 random things about yourself. Tag 6 people at the end of your post and link to them. Let each person you have tagged know by leaving a comment on their blog. Let the tagger know when your entry is posted...

I shall tag: Mr. Gadjo, Lizzie, Ms. Cow, Papercuts, Lavinia and Fairy Hedgehog.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I don't know when I fell out of love with autumn.

I mean to say, I don't remember waking up one day and thinking to myself "oh dear, autumn's shit isn't it?" or somesuch. I can still appreciate the rich, warm modelling lights that the sun provides us when it bothers to show itself. And I still like the smell of the bright yellow hazel leaves and the crunch of beech mast underfoot. And I'm still chuffed when the bare patch under the rowan trees suddenly becomes a sea of lilac autumn crocuses.

But I've fallen out of love with autumn. All I can think about is the gyppy knee. And the stuffy, damp bus journeys in the dark. And the Woolworths Christmas adverts. It'll soon be slush and sleet and bloody Dickens.

Perhaps it's my age. Perhaps it's my temperment. Perhaps this year's ten long months of October has gotten me down a bit.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ray Lowry

We have lost another of our great cartoonists and artists with the passing of Ray Lowry the other day. Just thought I'd mention it.

Tempus thingy

I don't know why this is but it came as a bit of a surprise the other day to realise that Cyndi Lauper, in concert locally, is 55. I've always seen her as being a good few decades younger than Mad Donna.

Nicholas Parsons was 85 last week, less of a shock but still an eye-opener. He does well for himself.

And being a gentleman I wouldn't care to say how old Joan Bakewell is but I still fancy her something rotten.

Just goes to show: there may still be hope for those of us in our dotage.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Very young children answer questions with a firmness that will brook no further discussion. Take my small niece for example:

Uncle Kevin: "Why on earth is your baby rabbit called Rupert of Hentzau?"

Niece: "Because it is."

Full stop. End of story. Let's move on now.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Old men forget

Talking to friends about the old days we generally drift towards the subject of our student days and inevitably we recall the time that Uncle Sean decided that James Joyce needed a birthday party and made a Guinness jelly and a cake and all the trimmings. And the Arnold Bax memorial headache. And Ingrid...

I lost track of Uncle Sean a few years back. I hope the old lad's tamed his demons and is looking after himself. Or, better still, is being looked after by someone who makes a decent cup of tea and likes draught Stravinsky.

I'm still damned if I can remember why we got into a fist-fight about the music of Georges Martinù though.


I've decided that I need to have a fetish. God knows, I'm old enough and peculiar enough for one and everyone and their dog seems to have one already and I don't see why I should miss out.

Which is great in principle, but more of a problem in practice. A quick sken of the reports in The Lancet and the Sunday red-tops confirm that there are possibiities amongst the solitary vices but I can't say that any of them appeal at all, even remotely.

I'll have to make a research project out of it. Leastways, that'll be my defence when I'm brought up in front of the Watch Committee.


I blame that Mrs. Pouncer. Actually, it's not really her fault but I'm happy to lump some of the responsibility on somebody else. But she did claim that I am of a certain age in the first place.

I went to visit one of my friends a while back. I noticed that she had lots of photos of a pretty young woman dotted all about the house. Given that she'd gone through a messy divorce and was deeply embittered about men I wondered out loud if she'd decided to dip into a different selection box for a change.

"That's my daughter!"

"Should she be wearing skirts that short at her age?"

"She's 21."

This came as a considerable shock. It's very difficult being Peter Pan when your contemporaries insist on having grown-up children.

Things got worse when one of my friends mentioned that his son was coming up to Manchester to study at university.

"He's a bit advanced educationally isn't he?" I asked.

"He's nineteen."

"Bollocks, it was only a couple of years ago he was literally knee-high."

"That was ten years ago. Face it man, you're as old as me and we're nearly fifty."

Nearly fifty? Nonsense. Lies. Not true. I have older siblings who are not yet fifty so I can't possibly be "nearly fifty". No. I am, in fact, a slip of a thing of twenty-five.

"You weren't twenty-five when you were that age," he tells me.

It's true. Some mornings I wipe the blood off my face and wonder who the old man is who's looking out of the shaving mirror. In some lights my hair looks almost grey and a day's shaving stubble makes it look like I've fallen victim to some fungal disease.

And what have I done with all that time and opportunity?

What an utter waste.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Snow joke

I noticed that HMV were displaying "Scott of the Antarctic" amongst the comedy DVDs on the grounds that it was an Ealing film. I'd just done that touch-think-to-move-it-and-change-your-mind thing when a chap next to me asked:

"Is it any good?"

"You will soil yourself with laughter," I replied.

He asked me for more so I gave him a brief plot synopsis.

"You sick bastard!" he said.

"But it's a classic!" I protested.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Lost weekend

I'm told it's been a nice weekend; I wouldn't know. I've finally replaced the video facilities chez Musgrove. Which has prompted a few hours' rummaging about in the study, rooting out old tapes for a re-showing. The Captain Pugwash-athon was delerious; I've seen all the Inspector Hornleighs and I'm halfway through a mixed bag of Falcons, Lone Wolves and Saints - Tom Conway doing the debonair amateur sleuth by numbers. Oh, and a couple of Mister Motos. And some Warren William Perry Masons. And...

I've come up for air and a sanity check: I was just so far from embarking on a four-hour orgy of Magic Roundabout episodes. I shall save it for Friday night: I'll need all the Eric Thompson I can get by the end of this working week!

Monday, September 22, 2008

a reference to a friend

Sunday, September 21, 2008

My wings are like a ring of steel

Commuting across Manchester has been a nightmare this past week and is set to be worse this coming. And for why? The politicians have come to town. In this case it's what's left of the Labour Party but it could just be New Dave or The Dwellers In Foggy Bottom. It doesn't matter, all that matters is that the gentry of the Westminster Village be protected from the realities of their playthings. Cocooned from the real world they make decisions based on ignorance and imagine that we don't notice the cosy sinecures and media deals they're brokering for their retirement years. For instance, we're seeing post offices closing left, right and centre for 'commercial purposes' (since when was the infrastructure of the nation a profitable venture? Oh yes, that's right, and that's been such a successful model of sustainability). There are more post offices in the Palace of Westminster than there is in Manchester City Centre.

Which brings us back to the point. Since last Saturday, a week before the conference, the centre of Manchester has been a gated community with armed police and concrete road blocks. Monday morning I noticed a gaggle of neatly-clad youths in blazers. Closer inspection showed them actually to be middle-aged Gurkhas, each with the trademark self-effacing 'don't mess with me matey' body language of the breed. (Note to overseas readers: by all accounts, including my grandfathers' after two years with them in Burma, the Gurkhas are very nice, very polite people who you treat with respect if you have even half the sense that you're born with). Since then they've only been in evidence as solitary sentinals in odd doorways and potential flashpoints.

Traffic flow in the city centre is pretty dire at the best of times, in these circumstances it's catastrophic. On Thursday night it took forty minutes for my bus to travel all of two blocks down Portland Street. Unfortunately, it's not been possible to schedule a few days' working from home this week so I've more of the same to look forward to. Bastards.

I think one of the problems with our cloistered politicians these days, and a large contributing factor to their being almost universally despised by the public these days, is that they've never actually done anything. In the old days they'd have had years down t'pit, or run a factory, or made a million selling collar studs before entering parliament and they could bring that experience to the job. These days, they go to university and do student politics; then they get a job as a party gofer or a 'political researcher' or a lobbyist; then they go into parliament and pontificate about 'The Real World' to those of who have to endure it. I doubt that many of these First Class Brains would get junior positions under MacMillan or Attlee. I'm not sure they'd even have got to be junior whips under Lord North.

One slight consolation of the world's financial woes is that it might curtail a few of the cosy retirement packages for these bastard.

Ack! Fuck the lot of 'em.

How wrong can you be?

Your Blog Should Be Yellow

You're a cheerful, upbeat blogger who tends to make everyone laugh.

You are a great storyteller, and the first to post the latest funny link.

You're also friendly and welcoming to everyone who comments on your blog.

You Are Oscar the Grouch

Grumpy and grouchy, you aren't just pessimistic. You revel in your pessimism.

You are usually feeling: Unhappy. Unless it's rainy outside, and even then you know the foul weather won't last.

You are famous for: Being mean yet lovable. And you hate the lovable part.

How you life your life: As a slob. But it's not repelling as many people as you'd like!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ladies' bottoms

All the papers had pictures of one of this year's winners of the 'Rear of the year award,' awarded by some or other group of bottom-worshippers since time immemorial. True to form, the papers only showed pictures of the lady winner, which is quite right too as it doesn't do for any chap to get too vain about his bottom. And also true to form she stood in the standard A-frame tilted forward at forty-five degrees pose. And very nice too. I won't link to the news reports because you'll already have seen them.

One of my friends used to have an exceptionally nice bottom. She may still do, I've not checked it out recently but given the amount of Killer Attack Yoga she does I can't imagine it will have gone very much to seed. She held onto gawky teenager for an indecently-long time, well into her late thirties. Which, coupled with her habit of wearing leggings to work, could be very distracting. In the old days girls were instructed that ladies bend from the knee, but these days it seems anything goes.

There's a lady on the train I get each morning who has been gifted with a delightful bottom. I'm not sure how old she is: her neck says late forties, her eyes say early fifties (though that could be too much sun and cigarettes). However old she actually is, her bottom is considerably younger. I'm still undecided as to whether this is all down to providence or artfully-selected trouser suits; decency prevents my making a thorough investigation. One of the laments of this modern age is that I feel so damned ungrateful. In a sane and just world I should be able to thank her for making the morning commuter hell a brighter place without her having to worry that I might want to act upon designs on her body (a lad can dream but ambition needs to be grounded in reason). As it is, it's the ingratitude that's so shaming.

The queen's coinage

50p coinI've sort-of gotten used to some of the oddly abstract designs you see on the back of fifty pence pieces these days. I liked the D-Day design, the public libraries one was OK and I thought the Victoria Cross one was nicely-done. Today, though, I was puzzled. I had a 50p in my hand and could not for the life of me think what the picture was, nor even if the coin was genuine. The coin, as depicted, was a tad worn, but still had enough detail to be mind-boggling as it appeared to be depicting two members of the Village People in an act of sexual congress back-lit by disco lights.

I didn't proffer this to the young girls on the coffee stall: they're at an impressionable age. Besides, I recalled the episode of 'Bottom' with the pornographic counterfeit notes and didn't want to be duffed up by some unfeasibly-named ruffian.

It turns out that I needn't have worried. I think. According to The Royal Mint, this is a variant cover of the Victoria Cross coin, depicting "a soldier carrying a wounded comrade with an outline of the Victoria Cross surrounded by a sunburst effect in the background." It's so obvious once they say it.

Still don't think I'd have used it at the coffee stall, though.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Uncle Kevin's Film Festival: fit the third

Third and final round. The theme's pretty simple this time: the rules are that there are no rules.

Outside, countess. As long as they've got sidewalks you've got a job.

aerial shot of the By A Waterfall scene Having established the pattern in the last session, let's transition gently into "Footlight Parade." We couldn't possibly explore the disruption of The Natural Order Of Things without having mad majesty of a Busby Berkeley musical.

And by jingo! we won't.

Why this one when there's 'The Gold Diggers of 1935' with its maniacally-massed piano number, or 'Dames' wherein a crowd of girls turn into a portrait of Ruby Keeler to the tune of 'I Only Have Eyes For You'? Well, in this film the choreography for "By A Waterfall" alone beggars belief, with hundreds of beautiful girls; dreamily arbitary shifts of perspective; and unreality piled onto unreality, ending with the girls stacked high on a three-story tall fountain. And that's just one of the numbers. (A realistic note for those of us who use public transport: The girls change into their bathing suits on a crowded bus speeding through Times Square, with all its lights on. Happens every day in Tadcaster.)

It's an acid trip in monochrome with Jimmy Cagney, Joan Blondell and Ruby Keeler. Who cares about the plot?

film poster: Hellzapoppin
I though they'd burnt that...

Next along is "Hellzapoppin" a rambling mess of a film wherein Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson are making a film but have problems getting it sorted whilst also helping their friends put on a musical revue in the garden and love's in the air and common sense isn't and Mischa Auer is a Russian count and Martha Raye isn't and Elisha Cook Jr. is the writer who's going to write this film and... well the plot falls to pieces somewhere in the first ten minutes and after that you just have to go with the flow, wherever it's going. It's a wildfire gagfest, many of which miss entirely, some of which are hilarious.

The musical interludes include some excellent stuff, too, and some pretty damned impressive dancing, including an absolutely brilliant Lindy Hop.

I've chosen this film because it neatly breaks a lot of the usual boundaries: the third wall's broken by characters' talking directly to the audience and there's a pile of movie in-jokes to enjoy (the quote above is from Johnson as he picks up a sledge labelled 'Rosebud').

Oh, and Stinky Miller: go home your mum wants you.

Thirdly, a silent. The world divides into people who love Chaplin and people who love Keaton. I enjoy Chaplin's Essanay films and I do like 'The Gold Rush' but most of his work I find too maudlin for my tastes. I once read a biography of Abbot & Costello which referred to Lou Costello's fatal decline caused by 'Chaplin's Disease' leading him to search for pathos in his work and finding only bathos.

We are lost! He is sending for the world's greatest detective!Buster Keaton about to climb into the cinema screen

As you might guess, I'm a Keaton fan.

"Sherlock Jr." is another breathless canter across (and through!) the silver screen, with Keaton as a lovelorn projectionist dreaming of becoming a great detective and getting his chance when he climbs into the film and becomes one of the characters.

The billiard game is a treat (the baddy's included an exploding ball, just to make things interesting). And there's a wonderful motorbike ride without the benefit of a driver. (Silent films, like cartoons, work on the basis that you're safe from harm until you realise that you're not safe from harm, then things happen).

Finally, we come to "The Black Cat." Yes, I know I said no horror films, but I also said that there were no rules.

film poster: The Black Cat
And what of me? Did we not both die here in Marmorus 15 years ago?

"The Black Cat" is one of my favourites from Universal's thirties horror films. "Suggested by the story by Edgar Allan Poe," it bears no resemblance to that story save the title. It stands on its own two feet well enough: this is a powerful story told as much by restraint as by anything else. The plot? Honeymoon couple travelling in Hungary get caught in the crossfire between Hjalmar Poelzig and Dr. Vitus Werdegast, men with dark history between them. Oh, and Poelzig's a satanist who's taken Werdegast's wife and daughter (both senses of the word) while the latter was languishing in a military prison.

Boris Karloff is another actor who tends to be judged by his films rather than his performance. In "Frankenstein" he was brilliant. In "The Black Cat" he not only delivers a performance of utterly-repressed violence he brings out the actor in Bela Lugosi who, stripped of his penchant for melodrama, turns in a surprisingly moving and powerful performance and actually succeeds in becoming the strongest character in the film.

The sets and the lighting are what you would expect from Universal at the time: heavily influenced by European emigrés and full of Futurist and Deco detailing. Darkly beautiful, as is the finale where Werdegast tries to save the young girl by playing a chess 'game of death.'

We understand each other too well. We know too much of life.

As is traditional, I must pass the baton on. I'm inviting the following to give us their lists of films:

  • Library Lizzie (to take her mind off yet another library exhibition);
  • Can Bass 1 (to take his mind off BBC choir contests);
  • The Webrarian (another habitué of the gaslit end of the reserve shelf stacks); and
  • The Topiary Cow (who's just back from holiday and needs to be distracted from the hurricanes)

Have fun all, I look forward to seeing your lists posted on your blogs.

God that was fun. Can we do it again some day?

Thoughts from abroad

Just killing time while my hosts do things a guest shouldn't be privy to...

It's a funny thing, the thing that's irritating me most about the two-people-divided-by-a-common-language thing is this keyboard. Why " and @ are swapped around between the UK and US keyboards I do not know but it annoys the hell out of me when I'm touch-typing.

It won't surprise you that being in the States requires a lot of car journeys. It does surprise me just how much roadkill there is on the verges compared to English roads. I suppose it's noticeable because they've still got some animals bigger than a rabbit that aren't fenced in by farmers. Today I've spotted badger, raccoon and a couple of armadillos. The armadillos are particularly noteworthy because they look very, very rude: for one thing they're naked, for another they're fleshy pink, and for a last they're ribbed for added pleasure.

As we were driving back to Fort Baxter I noticed a truck pull into the verge (these trucks are about the size of a terrace of houses). A burly trucker got out and gently lifted out two small pug dogs which then wandered off for a natural break.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Uncle Kevin's Film Festival: part the second

Back again. This time we're going to explore the corridor of uncertainty created when you can't be sure whose side anybody's on because the reds and the greens have buried the hatchet in pursuit of a common foe, even if the enemy is themselves.

Three movies picked themselves but I had trouble with the fourth because I'm trying to avoid including any spy movies, which meant that my first choice -- the Robert Donat version of "The 39 Steps" -- couldn't be included. I almost included it anyway as the idea of being handcuffed to the young Madeline Carroll for the night isn't unpleasing. Then I realised that one of the candidates for the last of the triptych could act as the second act closer.

When you think of Ealing Comedies, what do you think of? Usually the term's meant to convey the idea of a rather twee, old-fashioned, almost complacent, gentle English humour. And boy are they wrong! The Ealing Comedies canon includes some of the most gloriously black of English comedies (you might want to do the body count in 'Kind Hearts and Coronets'). 'The Titchfield Thunderbolt' is the only one that really deserves the twee label (I suspect it's down to Stanley Holloway: 'Meet Mr. Lucifer' isn't much to write home about and there are times when 'Passport To Pimlico' gets a bit close to the bar).

film poster: The Man In The White Suit

What about my bit of washing when there's no washing to do?

When you think of Ealing you might not think about a biting satire about the impact of unthinking technological progress on the socio-economic machine. "The Man In The White Suit" is such a thing. A brilliant chemist discovers a textile that is not only resistant to wear and tear but actively repels dirt. So what happens? Pretty much the urban myth about the everlasting lightbulb. The author was against the casting of Alec Guinness as the protagonist as he didn't feel that he could bring over the ruthless single-mindedness of the character. What a good job he wasn't the casting director: Guinness captures the blinkered naivete of the worst type of research scientist perfectly (I've lived and worked with the buggers and once had aspirations to be one myself). You know the type: "I only invented the gas that melts people's lungs in trench warfare, I don't have any say in what people do with it."

An indestructible, self-cleaning textile is a good thing, right? Well, yes, so long as you factor in the social consequences of unemployment in the textile, chemical and laundry trades and the economic consequences therefrom. Capital (including Cecil Parker, always a treat, and Ernest Thesinger nearly as barmy as in 'Bride of Frankenstein') and labour join forces to try to destroy the new invention. It all leads up to a long chase through the darkened streets of the northern town, scientist Sidney constantly betrayed by his bright white suit's glowing in the dark. Nothing cosy about this: the hunt is on, the mob is baying like foxhounds and surely a lynching is in the offing? Not quite, but something almost worse.

It's one of those unpleasant ironies of history that all the vested interests would be thwarted in time. Thirty years later, the industry, the mills, and the bit of washing, were already history. And we still don't have that textile, even though it pops up as an occasional promise in the news in briefs.

It's me, pursuing myself! I want to escape, to escape from myself!
But it's impossible. I can't escape

scene from the film M: a shadow falls over a reward poster

Having softened you up with a jolly bit of Englishness, lets have a look at something German. It's inevitable that something by Fritz Lang should appear in this list somewhere. His films generally have disturbing edges and his use of crowds as almost-unthinking engines of destruction in 'Metropolis' and 'Fury' is superb. Which is one reason for choosing "M" as my next film: in this case the unthinking mob becomes a dangerously rational animal. "M" is a film about a child murderer terrorising Berlin in the early thirties. It's surprising just how many modern resonances there are in the terror and paranoia (the typeface may be Franken and the pages broadsheet but the shock-horror is pure tabloid). The time comes when the hysteria starts to impede police and underworld both and the hunt is on, leading to a quasi-judicial trial of the murderer by the underworld.

This film is a joy: it was a very early German talkie so there's lots of reliance on light and shadow to create mood and it really is possible to make complete sense of nearly all of it with the sound off (you'll want the sound on for the final scene, even if, like me, you have to read the English subtitles!) Echoes of Expressionism give the whole film an edgy feel. The acting is superb: we tend to forget just how good an actor Peter Lorre really was. The supporting cast is good, too, especially Otto Wernicke as the cynical and world-weary Inspector Lohmann.

Siggy Schmoltz and his drill find themselves made redundant by Scotland Yard Our third film continues the blurring of the legal and illegal establishments. "The Wrong Arm of the Law" is one of the treasures from the last black-and-white flowerings of English film comedy. Written by Galton and Simpson. Starring Peter Sellers, Lionel Jeffries and Bernard Cribbens, and with a stellar cast of supporting comic actors including Davy Kaye, Bill Kerr, John Junkin and John Le Mesurier. Nanette Newman does glamour without doing the washing up (well, except for the shower scene). Talking about supporting casts: am I the only one who perks up when he sees Mario Fabrizi and Johnny Vyvvyan in a film? (Johnny Vyvvyan used to be able to make Des O'Connor corpse just by looking at him)

Give me me watch back, you thieving nit!

The plot's pretty simple: a gang of Australian crooks impersonate policemen so as to steal from Pearly Gates' gang. The ensuing confusion disrupts the usual rules of conduct between police and underworld and they join forces to foil the "IPO" mob. One of my friends had just written a paper on the jurispridence of "M" when we watched this together. Until then I hadn't realised the parallels between the council of war in this film and that in "M." Don't get too bogged down, though, just enjoy the ride, which includes one of my favourite scenes in cinema: a petty crook, unable to cope with the new uncertainties, bursts into tears and has to be comforted by Nosey Parker.

And, of course, Siggy Schmoltz continues the German theme.

Finally tonight another slice of Ealing. I'd intended to have this in the next session but it fits in here just fine, with its dark comedy, high body count and ambiguous moralities. Yes, it's "The Ladykillers." The real one, not the Tom Hanks thing. This is the one with Alec Guinness and his outrageous twitch.

group photo of Mrs Wilberforce and the string quintet

What can I say that wouldn't be redundant? Not seen it? Hunt it, buy it, watch it with the lights out and no distractions.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Uncle Kevin's Film Festival: part the first

Every festival needs a theme so, after next to no thought whatsoever, I thought it might be interesting to use a few movies to explore the disruption of The Natural Order Of Things. This theme's commonly enough explored or exploited in horror, science-fiction and spy movies — these are all dependent on the paranoia lurking in our souls to work, after all — so I thought I'd approach it from a more typically-mainstream point of view, just to demonstrate that the world is a more uncertain place than we hope.

The first four films I've chosen sort-of explore the nature of identity, personal and/or social, but I'm not going to belabour the idea.

And naturally enough, I'll start my exploration of the disruption of The Natural Order Of Things with "The Philadelphia Story," a movie which you might justifiably think of as a celebration of the status quo...

Title credit: The Philadelphia Story

This is the Voice of Doom calling.
Your days are numbered, to the seventh son of the seventh son

I won't reprise the plot: it's a classic film; it's on TCM often enough; you can go to your local library and look it up in Halliwell's and it's readily available on DVD at reasonable prices. If you haven't seen it, I envy you the treat of first experience. It's stylish, smart, lovingly-tooled, lavishly set and has a wonderful soundtrack. The script is matched by the cast and choosing only one choice moment is like deciding which is your favourite child. All this and Katherine Hepburn in a wet swimming costume.

Just as much as this is a story about Tracy Lord 'beginning to find out the truth about herself,' it's the story of Macaulay ("Mike") Connor's finding that some blue-bloods have some good in the after all. Which would sort of fit with the theme. But the clincher is the film itself: by 1940 the format of the screwball comedy had been pretty much well-established: random variable enters complacent environment and, after much upset and tumult, the new order emergeth. The random variable was generally either "the little guy" or else some lovely but dizzy female who pitches some lifelong batchelor on his ear*. If Mike got the girl in the end then this would be an example of a good screwball comedy. If the "working man made good" got the girl then it would be a typical Hollywood social comedy. But neither do.

The screwball comedy pattern is subverted: a third random element enters the complacent environment and, after much upset and tumult, the old order emergeth. A turn-up for the books.

poster: After The Thin ManAre you packing?
Yes dear, I'm putting away this liquor

Our next treat is "After The Thin Man," wherein Nick and Nora again solve a series of murders whilst sinking enough alcohol to give George Best and Oliver Reed pause. The Thin Man series is a joy (even the embarassingly hip "Song of the Thin Man" has much to commend it). "The Thin Man" is the better film, "Son of the Thin Man" is enormous fun, but "After the Thin Man" fits our theme best and is a good watch, too. You'll notice that Nora's more comfortable with Nick's lowlife friends than Nick is with Nora's family (but then again, you can choose your friends).

I hadn't intended to have a Jimmy Stewart leitmotif going on in here but here he is. And he's important to the theme. And I'm not going to spoil the film by telling you how.

What sort of sailor doesn't know his starboard from his portside?

Alistair Sim and Gordon HarkerAnd so to "Inspector Hornleigh On Holiday." What? Who? Inspector Hornleigh was the star of a radio series in the 1930s, translated to the silver screen thrice in the form of the great Gordon Harker. These films are better than "quota quickies" but aren't really the big-deal British Feature Film. And like many other films in this grey area they have much to commend them: a good cast of light character actors, an economy of plot and script and unobstrusively good camera work. They have no more intention than to provide and hour-and-a-half's entertainment, which is nice.
Gordon Harker can usually be seen cast in supporting rôles as surly, but generally comic, low-life burglars, pickpockets and the like. Casting him as the keenly-intelligent star detective is a great move, especially as he's teamed up with the wonderful Alistair Sim as bumbling Sergeant Bingham. The interplay between them is superb, especially in the opening scenes which is all too evocative of the traditional English seaside boarding house (with use of cruet extra).

Yes, of course the plot's implausible. Yes of course the whole thing's unrealistic. That's the whole point, God damn it: it's not bloody Tolstoy.

Finally, as a change of pace and a lead-up to the next session, a chase movie, "Bimbo's Initiation".

Wanna be a member?

Bimbo terrorised by initiatesBimbo's the strange dog-like figure who featured in Fleischer Studio cartoons, displacing Koko the clown (star of the "Out of the Inkwell" series) and destined to be displaced himself by Betty Boop. This is a terrifying cartoon as Bimbo desperately tries to escape the clutches of a sinsiter gang of bizzarely-dressed ruffians. The perspective shifts, the instability of situations; nothing can be trusted, not even your shadow. All you can do is run...

Luckily this is the session with the happy endings.

* Note to lovely but dizzy females: I am on the market. Not very marketable, mind, but I can cook a bit.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Uncle Kevin's Film Festival: preface and apology

That gentleman and scholar Gadjo Dilo has nominated me to present a list of 12 films. Before I do anything else I should suggest that you have a look at his list and then follow the meme back via No Good Boyo et al. Even if you don't agree with their choices it's an interesting mix.

I'll begin with the apology: I won't be posting the festival till mid-next week due to pressures of gadding about.

I'll also not be presenting my favourite 12 movies. The underlying theme I want to play with precludes my choosing favourites like "King Kong" (the real one, with Fay Wray), "Casablanca" or "The Maltese Falcon." There's no place for "The Third Man" or "Citizen Kane" (they'd fit but not as well, I think). No Tex Avery cartoons, nor yet the Tom and Jerry cartoon with the seal (freeze-frame Tom's reaction to the dancing fish and tell me that's not genius). And probably no Laurel & Hardy, or at least definitely not my favourites.

So what will there be?

I'll let you know.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

If you want to get ahead...

It's a strange thing, but if I go out wearing a hat people stand in the street and stare. I don't wear anything outlandish, they're purely functional items to protect my pate from the elements. I may wear the black fedora, or the brown trilby, or the Panama hat. I have never once worn the Austrian Peculiar Coneheaded Dancers' hat out of doors (or indoors in this house, come to that). It's pouring down, I put on a coat and hat, walk down the road and the young people comment. I wouldn't mind but they all walk around dressed like extras from Mad Max or Pirates of the Caribbean.

"Hey mister! That's a funny hat!"

Shouted one specimen with his crotch round his ankles and a baseball cap on sideways. His mate, sporting two limp strands of hairy spagetthi hanging from his three-quarter crop shorts, laughed appreciatively.

It's good that three-quarters of my Poll Tax goes towards educating these idiots.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Quintessence of Parochialism

There was a lot of sound and fury the other day about a report from one of the million or so fuckwit think-tanks that pass for constructive activity in London these days. I can't say I'm surprised: not a day goes by without some half-chewed drivel from "an influential think-tank" filling the spaces in the Westminster Village Parish News. This one just reinforces my long-held opinion that there's nothing so very, very parochial as your Professional Londoner. Even Parisians are more cosmopolitan.

I did get annoyed by the Today Programme's Olympics coverage the day after the opening ceremony. At half-eight the sports bulletin came on as usual. After a couple of minute's raving about the ceremony and a cursory discussion of the day to come the rest of the bulletin was devoted entirely to Tessa Jowell blathering on about how good the London Olympics are going to be. Now, regardless of your views of this metropolitan hand job*, I can't see that this was a good use of the time. It was Friday, we'd had an exciting first day of the final cricket test against South Africa; the championship football season was starting the next day, with the Charity Shield being played on Sunday; and the rugby league was building to an interesting weekend. If the Olympics couldn't fill this slot then any one of the others could have done, far better than the blatherings of "The Minister For The Olympics" (note for foreign readers: we don't have a Minister For The Care of Elderly People).

When Birmingham and Manchester submitted their bids for Olympic glory in the nineties you couldn't move for patronising drivel from the London press. Or, indeed, from the Westminster Village. "The Olympics can only be held in a capital city," they said. Like Sydney. Or Barcelona. Or Munich. Or Atlanta.

Similarly, when it was proposed that the new national football stadium should be outside London. I remember with hilarity one particular moment: the new football stadium was being discussed in The House of Commons and London MPs were decrying the proposal that the stadium should be built just outside Birmingham. The proposed site would have been next to Birmingham Airport and the National Exhibition Centre, both of which are excellently served by train services and motorways and have a selection of hotels on site. Glenda Jackson stood up and said that this would be a ridiculous idea because

"Wembley is so much more easily accessible."

Most Englishmen would surely agree. Not.

I was once at a conference in Cambridge, attended by people from all over Britain and Ireland (from Plymouth to Aberdeen, from Cork to Lowestoft), with guests from the States, Germany, Sweden and Australia. At the end of the conference, feedback forms were given out. Nearly all the delegates from London wrote:

"Too far to travel, could next year's venue be more central?"

*The project, not the politician.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Warm summer days

Were it not for the muggy nights I'd be easily convinced that I'd overslept and it was mid-October. The garden's been looking like late summer for more than a month and the crocosmias and verbenas are looking tired.

This is actually an over-simplification: round our way the garden plants have been as confused as hell all year. I've had sweet williams flowering since January; July was the one month in the year I didn't have roses in bloom; my neighbour's garden looked splendid in April with a mixture of parrot tulips and spray chrysanthemums; all the magnolias are flowering for the third time; and my dad's been picking apples for a month.
waiting for a bus on the Pardendale Road
I used to not mind, or even quite like, rainy summer's days. I used to scoff at friends who became depressed at a cloudburst: "what are you doing in the damp bit of North-West Europe if you can't stand a bit of rain?"

Ah me. It must be an age thing. Splashing about in puddles doesn't have the appeal it used to.