Friday, 13 November 2009

Thinking of the boys

Let me share, without comment, some recent photos of my sons.

Youngest first

and then the older lad.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

On the Eleventh hour....

As some of you know, my late father was a veteran of World War II, going over to Normandy on D-Day+1 and making his way up through Germany - at one point as one of those who discovered a wooden stockade outside a town called Buchenwald.

I also have a brother who derved in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for all I know (we haven;t spoken for a while) is still out there.

For those sacrficied their lives and their youth, and for those who continue to do so today, to allow us the freedom fo thought and expression that places like this allow, remember them at 11 am today. Here's a song on the subject.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Money, money, money, money...

If you're going to spend, spend wisely, or so they say. Maybe, but last Saturday we spent, or committed to spend, a lot more money than usual...

Item 1 - Doreen accidentally cracked our bath a while back, so we've decided to take the plunge and re-do the entire bathroom. Last Saturday we got and accepted the quote, so with luck by Christmas we'll have a new bathroom fitted and in use.

Item 2 - we've also decided to end our self-imposed technology exile, and ordered a new television. A modest little number, only 32 inches, but HD ready, and freeview built in. We also ordered a new multi-region DVD player - now I can order from Amazon with total confidence, especially those hard-to-find Venture Brothers and Harvey Birdman season sets....

Item 3 - about two weeks ago our computed died on us - no power, zip, bupkiss, nothing. Turned out the motherboard had shorted out, so £100 and three days later I collected it with a new mother board fitted, Vista re-installed and new accounts set up. I then spent most of Sunday afternoon re-installing MS Office, my internet driver, Ad-Aware, the printer, other stuff - and enjoying the fast new speed. The guy who did the work installed AVG at no charge - I never realized just how much Norton slowed things down...

On other news - Doreen started her new job today, as a teaching assistant in the local RC primary school. Apparently, the assembly today was around All Souls Day, so the talk was of Purgatory - one of my favourite debating points with the See of Rome. She enjoyed it - the job that is.

We also bought some new DVDs, and watched the second Veggie Tales movie, The Pirates Who Do Nothing. Good clean fun - really, it was funny, especially the version they do of a B-52's classic at the end. We also went to see Stomp int he West End, and enjoyed it immensely.

Now, back to work!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009


What is the greatest rock/pop concert movie of all time?

It is a question that is worthy of debate. To some, it is Gimme Shelter, where the Rolling Stones strut their stuff. To others, the performance at the end of A Hard Day’s Night takes the biscuit. Another possible contender has to be Tommy, so long as you can forget the image of Ann-Margaret rolling around in soap bubbles, baked beans and chocolate milk.

At least, I hope it was chocolate milk.

The strongest contender of recent years has to be This Is Spinal Tap, especially the Stonehenge number.

For me, however, the finest of all time starts with a man, a guitar and a tape player.

Add in a drummer and another guitarist or two…

Throw in the rest of the band

And you have the recipe for, in my opinion, the greatest concert film of all time. I saw this for the first time in a crowded pub opposite the Tyne Tees studio in Newcastle back in the early days of MTV, and now twenty years later I finally bought a copy of the special edition DVD.

Good times, they are a coming…

Monday, 26 October 2009

For those who may not have realised

For some years now I've been one of the moderating team on the Captain Comics site, originally under the nom de plume of The Culture Vulture, but since we moved the site to a new server under my given name.

Yes, I read comic books, I discuss comic books and I have some historical knowledge of comics. It's not a childish thing - unless you consider, for example, sholarly discussion of the prints of Hogarth a childish thing. They started as comics as well...

Anyway, for those who have never seen this side of me, here are a few blog posst I've made on the sort of things I have read.

Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa

If anyone does care, I apologise for my absence these last few weeks - a combination of work issues, re-discovering the joys of Monopoly and the radio in the mornings, and if I am being honest sheer laziness on one or two occasions.

So, what has been happening while I’ve been away - some random thoughts...

Last week I was speaking at a conference in nice. I've only visited that area once before - for a meeting in Cannes in the middle of December - but it's the South of France, so nice, dry and warm, and don't pack a brolly, right?

Naturally, it rained on the lat day, so I got soaked walking from the conference centre to the hotel both ways. Ah, the joy of warm rain....

While I was doing this, my work was moving my stuff across the city to a new location, and a slightly different work set-up - 100% total hot desking. Still getting used to it, and being in with a larger group as well.

Also last week, Alastair my oldest son was awarded a Maths prize from his old school, so up we troop to support him. It's a strange feeling, watching the lad you remember as a babe in arms standing taller than you on a stage - I suddenly realise how my own father must have felt when we won prizes.

If you have not seen it yet, see Up! It is easily the equal of The Incredibles in the Pixar collection, and Ed Asner is fantastic as the lead voice.

Stuart, my younger son, now plays for an under-11 football team, and his team have won all their league games so far. He definitely gets those genes from Doreen's side of the family - I am easily the world's worst footballer - but I am as proud of him as I am of Alastair.

A thought on the appearance on Nick Griffin last week on Question Time - if you really truly want to show someone for what they are, just let them talk.

Talking of television (I heard the repeat on Radio 5 of Question Time) this week marks the likely end of the Television exile, as we purchase a new HD-ready set and DVD player. I already know which DVD player we'll get - one that can be reset to all zones very easily - but the set? Jury is still out....

We now return you to your regularly scheduled nonsense - with luck, I'll get back into the habit of this now...

Monday, 28 September 2009

Welcome to my old world

We,a s a family, are starting a little experiment today, born out of frustration, a fair modicum of anger and argument, but essentially an attempt to regain control of a few things.

We threw out our television and DVD player.

Both were getting old and clunky, and to be fair I'd been thinking of replacing them for a while, but for the next month we will do without any television programs, or the games consoles, and instead try reading, talking, listening to the radio and other family entertainments.

This could get.... interesting.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

It was seventy years ago today

From the BBC History website

Take a moment to remember the last time the world was fully engulfed in conflict - and pray ti never happens again, no matter how close we have come to it in recent years.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Shouting out the praises!!

My oldest son, Alastair, got his exam results today. Please allow me to share them with you.....

IT - unknown. He is down as unclassified, but we need to see if that is because some stuff still needs to be marked.

History - D. Technically a fail, but he can still pursue this at A-level if he wishes to do so. Having seen past papers, this is a nasty little piece of work in the exam hall.

French, Art - C. Art he wishes to pursue, and he can with that grade. He took French on our reccomendation as both Doreen and I feel it is important.

English, English Literature, Citizenship, Physics, Chemistry and Biology - B. Excellent stuff, given the science teaching was not the best, but the surprise is Eng Lit - not his favourite subject.

Mathematics - A*. Top marks :)

He did his best, and I'm proud of him, as combined with last year that makes two A's, seven B's and two C's. His place in post-16 educatuio nis also secured - plus he found out today he gets an extra week's holiday.

Just enough time to complete the pre-course work then.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Justice tempered with Mercy

Oh, this could get me into so much trouble, and I’m a week or so late writing this down, but what’s life or the blogosphere if you cannot say how you feel on the issues of the day.

So let’s have a brief history lesson. On Wednesday 21st December 1988 flight Pan Am 103 took off after a delay from London Heathrow on route to New York with 243 passengers and 16 crew on board. A short while after take off, a bomb exploded in the cargo hold of the plane, blowing the plane apart and killing all on board. Had the flight taken off on time, it would have been over the Atlantic. Instead the debris fell on the border town of Lockerbie, killing 11 people on the ground as it impacted.

Two hundred and seventy deaths – I still remember watching the news that night in my girlfriend’s house in Newcastle and almost being physically sick. It was the worst ever air disaster in British airspace, the biggest ever criminal investigation in Scottish legal history and led by the smallest police force in Scotland. After three years of joint investigation with the FBI, it was determined that Libyan agents were responsible and indictments issued against two people – Lamin Khalifah Fhimah and Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi. After years of sanctions and negotiations, both men were handed over on neutral ground, to face trial under Scottish law. In 2001, al-Megrahi was convicted of murder and sentenced to life to be served in a Scottish prison and Fhimah was acquitted. The convicted man has protested his innocence to this day, lodging several appeals, but last week was released on compassionate grounds after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He was immediately returned to Libya, to what appeared to be a hero’s welcome.

Those are the facts – but the decision to release him has caused worldwide revulsion and a call for Americans to boycott all things Scottish.

Let me deal with that one first – Freedom Liquor instead of Whisky? Besides, as another person posted last week, you do that and you boycott penicillin, rubber tyres, and television – all Scottish inventions.

However, let’s be serious for a moment and consider the position of Ken McConnell, the Scottish Justice Minister. Firstly, bear in mind Scottish law is different from the law in England and Wales, and the power to make these decisions was devolved to the Scottish Assembly – hence the reason people like Jack Straw and Gordon Brown (both Scots) can leave Mr McConnell to take the full flak.

Also, bear in mind that I have no real love for the Scottish National Party, of which Mr McConnell is a member. I grew up in Scotland, and actually went to school with Alex Salmond’s sister – my own older sister went to school with him. I do not agree with many of his politics or positions, but they are the people who made the decision.

Have you ever looked at the statue of Justice on the Old Bailey? She is blindfolded, because justice has to be seen to be impartial. She carries a sword to wield punishment, but also a set of scales, to signify that justice had to be balanced – and mercy has to play a part in that.

That’s the rub – Justice has to be tempered with mercy, because if it is not it’s no longer a sharp instrument but a blunt club that wounds all. Did you hear Mr McConnell’s statement when the release of al-Megrahi was announced? He was very clear that this was a decision based on Scottish law and procedures, despite the fact this was the man forever labelled as the “Lockerbie Bomber.” You have to put labels aside in these situations, and consider this fact – whatever his crime, this man was dying, and justice sometimes means that you allow him to die with dignity despite your own personal feelings about the crime he was convicted of.

Did he do the crime? We may never know – this last appeal was withdrawn (for reasons that seem dubiously linked to his release) – and there is plenty of evidence to suggest Libya were not responsible. Can he ever be forgiven? Not my call – and the reactions of the survivors of those who died show the polarity of that question. Was there political interference? Looks that way, but again we will not know for thirty years.

I also think it was wrong he was welcomed back the way he was, but that’s consistent with the way Libyans and in particular Colonel Gaddafi has worked in the past.

You may also have heard that the Great Train Robber, Ronnie Biggs, has been released to die after a long campaign. That was on the sign-off of the Justice Minister – one Jack Straw, who argued for years that could not happen. Hypocrisy? I’ll let you decide that.

As for Mr al-Megrahi? He will answer to a higher court soon for whatever he did. There is where true justice and retribution is paid, not here on Earth.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Ye gods!

The beginning of July was my last update? Sorry folks - a few family matters got in the way, and then a holiday.

I'll catch up with some thoughts over the next few days, but here's a starter - when are exams not getting easier?

For those puzzled by that remark, last week 17 and 18 year olds in England and Wales got their exam results, and it was proudly announced that on average 25% of those who entered for A-levels got a A grade, the top available.

Now, do not think for one second that I bemoan the work down by these students, or downplay their achievement, but an A is meant to be given for outstanding work. It used to be the case that meant a mark of 90% or greater. So what is the mark for an A now - or despite all the claims, are the exams easier?

It's probably a combination of both, but the downside is that there is little way now to identify outstanding candidates. There are reports of students with 6 A passes being turned down by every university they apply to, because there are "better candidates" out there.

The answer? No simple one, but one needs to be found before these exam passes become about as useful as a Bazooka Joe comic.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Day 3

The heat continues, the lack of sleep continues, and the temper is getting slightly irritable. Right now I'd do anything to eb sitting in my garden at home with a pticher full of ice water and cold bottles of Black Sheep Ale.

Not to be however, so let's have a suitable song which was number one on ym birthday in 1966.

Another nice number one from the week of July 16th would be the one for my fifth birthday in 1968

From a year later is another classic

More tomorrow - if the heat doesn't get to me first. No air conditionign in ym office and sealed windows "For your safety...."

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

We're having a heatwave

a tropical heatwave.....

It's hot in London - the BBC website is showing the temperature now as 31 degrees Celsius (that's about 86 Farenheit for the reat of you)and it's not dropping much below 20 Celsius at nighttime. The end result - not a lot of sleep, tired and grumpy kids, and an hour's commuting hell each day on the wonder that is the London Underground.

Still, could be worse - I could work in the city....

For those who may be owndering, Doreen has been given the all clear from her last operation, and she now has one more day procedure to undergo later in the year. Fingers crossed from now on...

Alastair is nwo in that wonderful limbo state of having officially left school and not started yet at his post-16 centre. They had a leaving do last week for hsi eyar - and he was given a certificate naming him "Biggest Encylopaedia brain". Seems he has learnt something from me after all - now we wait for his results in August.

As for Stuart, he learnt who his year 6 teacher is goign to be - the same man who taught Alastair in year 4 some eigth years ago. I have a meetign with him tonight, where I will offer my sympathies....

As it's my birthday in a few weeks, let's finish off with some number one songs from my birthday down the years through the wonder of Youtube. I've a feeling I did this somewhere last year - may have been here, but I can't remember, and I like music. I'm going to try and get this blog back on a daily schedule, but let's see how it goes.

The earliest I can find is, believe it or not, the number one when I was born - I Like It!

Actually, if I'm being pedantic, I was born in the former West Germany, so the actual number one when and where I was born was this.

More tomorrow, hoepfully....

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Laugh? I nearly had a hit!!

There was a fascinating documentary on BBC 4 last night about the history of the comedy song in the charts - which prompted me to think of comedy songs I really, really liked. Proper songs with lyrics, tunes and melodies - excpet perhaps for this first one, by the men who inspired the Monty Python team...

We also have to acknowledge before going further the master of the satirical song in the fifties and sixties, Professor Tom Lehrer of Harvard fame. This is one of his later songs...

So, setting aside the Monty Python genre, what else can we look at? Well, in the seventies, there were two masters of the comedy song in the UK who regularly charted. The first were The Barron Knights, who did satiricial versions of popular songs of the time - like this one.

THE master of the comedy hit in the 70's however, came from the most unexpected of places - mister Bill Oddie, who with the Goodies has had more top twenty hits then many current bands. Here's a few of their better known numbers.

You can't go wrong with a bit of Goodie Goodie Yum Yum.

In the eighties we had Spitting Image - and while everyone loves The Chicken Song, this to me was their best adn funniest song, if a little dated these days... WARNING - This Song Was Designed To Offend Some People....

Talkign of Rowan Atkinson, the Not The Nine O'Clock New Team also had some fun comedy songs - here's a couple

Finally, let us acknowledge the master od the US parody song - Wierd Al Yankovic. For fun, let's see a couple of videos done with Lego...

Monday, 15 June 2009

Coming up to date

Let us finish off our look at the Eurovision song contest, as we go to Stockholm in 2000 and their neighbours Denmark take the contest with The Olsen Brothers singing Fly On The Wings Of Love....

Now, a feature of the Eurovision contest has always been bloc voting - The Scandanavian countries vote for each other, Greece never voted for Turkey, and so on and so on. By the 2001 contest in Copenhagen the former Soviet Bloc countries were starting to take part, but bloc votign was not the reason Estonia won in 2001 - it's actually a good song....

The following year, however, things got a bit more... interesting, as the winner was the near neighbour Latvia with this number.

Why interesting? Because this was the best song that year by a country mile or ten...

2003, and we move to Latvia. By this point there were 26 countries taking part, with the votign taking half the program, and something had to change. It did the following year, but not before Turkey won with this Shakira-like number...

Istanbul - city of mystery, city of intrigue, and definitely not Constantinople, hosts the competition in 2004 and the title goes to a rousing number from the Ukraine. Was it the best song on the night, or was it the leather outfits? You decide...

By 2005, a semi-final was in place as up to 40 countries wanted to take part, but ALL countries could vote regardless of whether or not they made the final. As a result, the phenomena of block voting (or bloc voting) came into full play, but not just yet, as Greece pulled off a surprise win. Actually, given the song, not that surprising...

From then on, however, the contest started to look like a former Soviet bloc love-in. The contest in Athens in 2006 led to a win for the most unexpected country of all. To introduce this, remember that for some perverse reason Finland is the home of Death Metal, and they like a straneg type of music generally. Witness the glory of Hard Rock Hallelujah....

Yes, that won - so we go to Helsinki in 2007. Just across the Baltic Sea from Finland is, yes, you guessed it - Estonia and the other Soviet Bloc countries. Two semi-finals, and one contest later, the winner is not a former Soviet Bloc country!!

It's Serbia, only just allowed back into the contest with this song...

When in 2008 Russia wins, with what is a good entry, the bloc voting had got to the stage that Western countries were standing no chance. Only the UK, France, Spain, Germany and the host country are gauranteed entries, and many of the others were falling at the semi-final stage, with even Ireland not makign the final. Sir Terry Wogan, while commentating on the voting, essentially handed in his resignation, so disgusted was he with what was happening.

Thsi does not detract from the quality of the winner, however....

The 2009 voting system changed, with a combination of phone-in and jury votes, to try and reduce the bloc voting issue. As a result, the UK, which for the previosu few years had finished in the bottom of the table (and no points on one occassion) came fourth. The winner, however, was little Norway again with this fiddle and dance number.

A subtle return to Eurovision style of song, a catchy tune, and a deserving winner - maybe there is hope for the future of this contest after all....

Monday, 8 June 2009

The show that raided Ireland....

Yeah, I know, the contest was weeks ago, but work has go tin the way so much I never finished my look back, so today I'll look at Eurovision in the 1990's and then bring it up to date with the silliest decade of all.

So, 1990, and Yugoslavia having won the previous year host the competiton. Remember this was the year afetr the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall fell, so a song callign for the people of Europe to join together was an almost shoo-in to win - ask Toto Cotugno from Italy...

Such a pity that a few short years later Yugoslavia disintegrated into ethnic hatred...

So, to 1991 and Rome. For the secodn time in Eurovision history, there is a tie for the winning song - France and Sweden receivign the same number of points. Thsi time, however, rules are in place, and on countback this was the winning song.

So we go forward a year, and it's off to Malmo where a fine contest is held. In the end, however, it's a songstress from Ireland who wins called Linda Martin and a song called Why Me? Said song was written by one Johnny Logan....

And we start a tale of the dark side of Eurovision. The contest went back to Ireland, to Millstreet, with Sonia representing the UK - but the contest was won by the home entrant, Niamh Kavanagh...

So it's off to Dublin, and the show that unleashed misery on RTE, the Irish broadcasters. They decide to put two old song maestros up with a youtful reminisce of their music - Rock and Roll Kids - and wouldn't you know it it won again...

The real shock and surprise of this year, however, was the interval entertainment that took place while voting was considered. RTE had constructed a special stage in the harbour in Dublin, and asked a well known choreographer to come up with a short piece to celebrate Ireland. This was the result.

So Ireland digs deep, puts on the 1995 sontest, and hopes to the Almighty they don't win again. While it did give us the classic Eurovision episode of Father Ted, ridign to teh rescue of RTE comes one of the most beautiful winning songs of all time - Nocturne by Secret Garden from Norway.

So the Norwegians get to host the cotnest, but dammit - the Irish can;t stop winning this show!! Here's Eimear Quinn with The Voice.

So back to Ireland, and this time salvation comes from over the Irish Sea, as the UK takes a page from Switzerland's book and hire an American singer who had a massive hit ten years earlier with Walking on Sunshine. This is their last win to date - which says something...

Birmingham, 1998, and excitement is in the air. Something special is brewing - and it turns out that something special is a transsexual singer from Israel. This entry almost go tbanned by the Israeli government, and the Irish weren't too happy either as Dana International took the stage.

This was the sign that Eurovision was entering a new era, where anythign would and coudl go - but first we need to stop off in Israel for the 1999 contest, and a last gasp for the classic Eurovision style of song with Charlotte Neilsen and Take Me To Your Heaven...

Come back in a day or two for the final part - the Russians (and friends) are coming...

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Eurovision: The Yuppie years

So, where were we? Oh yeah, we had got to the end of the 1970's and Isreal had won twice. Wisely deciding the cost of hosting the competition twice in a row was too prohibitive, they asked the Dutch to host the 1980 contest, where after ten years Ireland scores another win with this ctachy little number...

So the Irish get to host the contest again, and the British decide to do a nice, quiet, contemplative little number that wins for the fourth time.

So back to Blighty, and they hold the contest in the cultural capital of the country - Harrogate. Now consider the world at this time - the attrition between the US and Russia was the worst it had been since Kennedy, and people wnated the tension to end. Who would have thought Germany would provide the winning song along those lines?

What should be obvious by now is that, unlike the seventies, the contest in the eighties was throwing up some very interesting surprises. So in 1983, the contest comes to pre-unification Hamburg. As this was the era of the power ballad in the charts, it was probably time for another one to win, and lo and behold Luxembourg provide one for us.

So off to the principality we go in 1984. Ten years previously Sweden had surprised everyone with Abba, and this eyar they surprised everyone again with a boy band singing about the joys of their golden pixie boots.


so we're back in the Nordic countries in 1985. A few years earlier, Norway had the ignomy to become the first country to score nil points in the voting, so how do you bounce back from that? You do it by winning is how...

Ah, that Eurovision beat, how we've missed it.

The following year Oslo put on a show, and another country that had never won before picks up the title with another first - the youngest ever entry at the time at 13 years old. this is Sandra Kim from Belgium.

By 1987, the show was still going strong, but the biggest surprise of all was when, for only the second time, a past winner came back to win the contest again for their country.

We will hear more from Mister Logan later....

So, back to Ireland in 1988, and another little surprise is waiting. The Eurovision has a fine tradition of bringing in singers from elsewhere to represent them, so when the Swiss asked a little known Canadian singer to sing a power ballad for them no-one batted an eyelid.

So, you know who to blame now, don't you?

Finally, in 1989, the winner came from a country in the Adriatic that, just a few short years later, would tear itself apart.

A sign of things to come with the contest? Not yet, but things were changing, and the Irish still had a part to play in that...

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Singing the praises of the 70's

The 1970's was the decade when Eurovision really took on the character it has today. Let's review..

1970 saw the first ever win by an act from Ireland - a foretaste of things to come, but who knew then that this sweet little convent girl would create a behemoth that might bankrupt a television company?

So Ireland hosts the contest the following year, and we start to see the developmetns of that particular 1970's style with the Uk entry from Clodagh Rogers.

The winners, however, were tiny Monaco with this little ditty.

So it's off to the principality in 1972, where the winner is someone we saw in an earlier post - Vicky Leandros, who wins with a recognisable song we know as "Come What May"

So on to 1973, and Luxembourg win with this little number.

Here's the song that came second...

1974 comes all too quickly, and we go to Brighton for some reason where a little known Swedish group make a surprise hit...

The following year the winner is the song, that rather than Abba, to me epitomises the essence of Eurovision in this period. Enjoy the deep meaningful lyrics sung by Teach-In...

So we're off to Holland in 1976, the wackiest stage set ever, and the second clear win for the UK. If you can, track down the Kernickie version of this number...

So it's back to Blighty in 1977. I had started studying French as an exam subject in this year, so this song was drummed into my head at the time.

Here's a trivia question - what was the first non-European country to win Eurovision? Here's a hint from 1978...

This, by the way, is one of the great misheard lyrics of all time. All together now, "I wanna be a polar bear...."

Finally, in 1979 Israel decided they liked hosting the contest they won again with this ditty to peace.

They would go on to win in future years, but there was a behemoth waiting in the wings - a behemoth that is known now as Mister Eurovision. More on him tomorrow, but in the meantime enjoy THE performance from 1979 - the German entry...

That was unexpected.....

I hadn't planned to be away from the blogosphere for quite as long as that. My apologies if anyone was wodnering where I was?

You were wondering, right?

Doreen came through her operation just fine, although she's still a bit sore some five weeks later. She had to stay in overnight, and she had a little trouble with discomfort for a while, but she's getting there and hopes to go back to work next week.

I've also been in the US for two weeks, and while I did intend to blog from there I ended up doing 12 hour days every day for the two weeks, except for the Sunday if the middle weekend when I had brunch with a friend and slept. Well, I am only human, after all.

Sadly, I'm not going to be able to complete the Eurovision project before it takes place on Friday, but I'll do a second post today with winenrs from the 1970's to show how the show - evolved.....

As for my boys, Alastair has started to sit his GCSEs, thirty years after I did my equivalent, and I don't think the full panic has hit him yet.


More later...

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Trumpeting in the Distance

Apologies for my absence again - the elephant has been blowing its trunk in the distance.

For those who are late comers - my wife had a mastectomy last year ofr a pre-cancerous growth. Today she went back into hospital for reconstructive surgery - replacing the temporaryimplant with the final one, doing soem work on the other side to "match up" and a little tattoing work.

The problem? We don't know how long she will be in. First it was a day case, then a three day stay, then she had to report to the day surgery unit, and then today we found out she's been sent to a ward after the surgery.

So we have a slight problem - I'll post later when I know what is happening.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Deep and meaningful lyrics

So, the United Kingdom finally wins Eurovision, and it's off to the Royal ALbert Hall for the 1968 contest. The BBC decides to pull out all the stops, and hire the hot male singer in the UK to sing their entry that year - one Harry Webb, aka Cliff Richard.

Gotta love that Carnaby Street suit - but he didn't win. Oh no, this was not the most popular song of the night. Nor was it the Irish entry, one Pat McGeegan with Chance of A Lifetime.

Or even the lovely Kristina Hautula from Finland with Kun Hello Kay

No, my friends, this was the first year that the winning song started to follow the patented Eurovision winner style - bright, bouncy tune, lyrics that don't seem to mean a lot and a delivery of vigour and vim. This was the year of the wiining song called La La La - which, contrary to popular belief, were not the only lyrics. It was also recently revealed that Generalissimo Fransisco Franco himself took steps to ensure this was the winning song.

Here's Massiel from Spain with her winning performance.

Tomorrow - how do you decide the winner in a Eurovision Song Contest? Not this way....

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Back to Eurovision

Let's skip a few years - partly because of a lack of goos clips, and partly because I need cheering up - to 1967 and Vienna, Austria. After been the runner-up for most years up to that time, the United Kingdom finally get their first winner with the original Posh Spice and Essex Girl, Sandie Shaw with Puppet On A String!

So what others delights did the Barefoot Princess beat that year? Well.....

Here's the entry from little Monaco - Minouche Barelli with Boum-DabaBoum.

And meanwhile, here's Sean Dunphy of Ireland with If I Could Choose

From Holland, we have Thereze Steinmetz with Ringe Dinge

And finally,filling the "Famous Singer/Song you may have heard of elsewhere" slot, we have young Vicki representing Luxembourg with L'Amour Est Bleu. You might just recognise this song, as well as the singer - her surname is Leandros...

What we see here is the start of the Eurovision style of lyrics with an onomatopeotic quality - but it would be a few years before this ran riot. Join me tomorrow as we go into 1968, and the fresh faced UK Prince of Pop takes his first stab at the contest...

Monday, 30 March 2009

Belated Berlin Blogging finale

The best laid plans o' mice and men may aft times gang aglay, as the poet Burns once said. I got back Wednesday night, and it;s taken me until now to wind down and sort myself out.

Part of that is the fun and frustration of Tegel airport. The airport is on a continental style - so that once you check in you have to make your way straight through to the gate. Fair enough, except (a) the check-in and bag drop does not open until an hour before the flight, and (b) there was only one person taking bags onto the carriers, so there was a back up at the bag drop and I had to wait about an hour.

To make things even more fun, the shopping is on one side of a large circle, and the only big cafe/restaurant is up an escalator hidden down a side passage, where a large party of Japanese students were queuing to get through customs.

Still, at least I avoided the news - which is just as well, as the recent passing of Jade Goody has upset me a bit. Not that I knew the woman - one of the great creations of Reality television in the UK, I was one of those who made fun of her some years ago, a fact I bitterly regret now. Nor do I blame her for wanting to ensure the financial security of the children she has. I just feel upset at the "In Remembrance and solemn mourning" stand of some of the magazines that have covered her story.

I lost my oldest niece to cervical cancer when she was about the same age as Ms Goody. So maybe I'm more sensitive than most, but it just makes me sick.

Hopefully more interesting stuff tomorrow.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Berlin Calling Part 2

The problem with agreeing to blog from a trip is that you find yourself too busy to update as you intended to. So my apologies that this is part 2 of 3, rather than 3 of 4 - life is like that sometimes.

For those who wondered - jive dancing is jitterbugging, which is what they did a lot of in West Berlin in the fifties, and was the theme of the Conference Networking event in the restaurant next to the ICC in Berlin. This is part of what was the World´s Fair site, and is an imposing building. Having said that, while the dancing was excellent, the food was a little too fattening, so I made my excuses, left early and crashed out at the hotel.

Since then - non stop meetings and talks, but I have managed to see a little of this intriguing city. Sadly, not as much as when I last visited in 2001. In particular, I wasn´t able to visit the Wall or Checkpoint Charlie. These days, if you visit you will see from the West side a picture of a young man in American military uniform. If you view from the East, a young man in Russian uniform. It takes a few minutes for you to realise it´s the same young man - a poignant reminder of the troubled past of this city, twenty years after the fall of the Wall.

I´ve also spent some of the evenings wondering around the area near my hotel, which includes the main cathedral of Berlin. This was virtually flattened in the war, but a new cathedral of glass and metal was built up through and around the ruins. You also realise just how much influence the Americans had in the rebuilding of the city - advertising everywhere on buildings and walls.

There´s also reminders of the other side of the past of Berlin. Just down from the train station is the Museum of Erotica - exactly what you think it will be.

And so on to the final day, and the flight back. I´ll share my thoughts on airports, or rather Tegel, tomorrow.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Berlin Cailling Part 1

Good evening from room 905 of the Pullman Hotel Schwiezerhof in beautiful downtown Berlin. As some of you know, in my day job I work as a medical statistician for a certain large pharmaceutical company known by a three letter acronym, and I'm here to attend a major European conference as well as give a presentation.

It's been eight years since I was last in Berlin, that time for a medical congress, but by a pure coincidence I have ended up in the same hotel, across the road from the Zoo here in what was once West Berlin. Having got in earlier this evening, I took a stroll down the street and not a lot has changed.

Many of the shops are the same, the street hasn't changed much, and the wonderful Berlin sewage system still leaves its delicate aroma in the street. Last time I was here it was June, warm and stinking. This time it's March, colder and not quite as bad - yet.

So, I sit here typing before retiring - a busy day ahead tomorrow. Forgive the brevity, but hopefully I can report back on jive dancing and German food tomorrow...

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

On trials and tribulations

The trial is underway of Josef Frtizl, the Austrian accused of holding his own daughter captive for 25 years and fathering at least seven children by her. The following link has the most recent report.

The BBC Report

Here's the thought - the claim of the prosecution yesterday was that he raped his daughter 3000 times. Under Austrian Law, however, unless they can make the charges of slavery and murder against him - the only two he denies, incidentally - into a successful prosecution, he will get a maximum sentence of about ten years. The number of counts he admits is irrelevant - the sentences for each one run concurrently, unlike the US.

Now, I believe in forgiveness, but when a man admits to what eh has done that forgiveness has to come with him paying an appropriate price - and ten years just does not seem enough. He claims he was made this way by his upbringing, and he was trying to protect his daughter.

As Robin Williams once put it, Bovine Excrement.

Can they win the case for the other two charges? That's the thing - it may not happen. Justice may not be seen to be done here, and that saddens me.

ACH - we need a cheer up, so how about looking at the Eurovision Song Contest in the year I was born - 1963.

The winner that year was a Danish couple called Grethe and Jorgen Ingmann with a song called Dansevise. This may sound familiar to some of you.

The UK entrant was the same as the previous year - Ronnie Carroll, with Say Wonderful Things.

Finally, this year saw the first famous example of a singer being brought in to represent another country - Luxembourg in this case, with a singer from Greece now better known as one of their leading politicians - Nana Mouskouri

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Eurobleech 1960 - 1962

Ready to enter the chamber of song again? Trust me - they're not that bad this time....

The contest in 1960 was held in London, with the prize going to Jacqueline Boyer of France with Tom Pillibi....

While in second place for the UK was our singing Scotsman, Bryan Johnson, who seems to have lost someone. There's a Jeeves and Wooster story where a character belts out a hunting song - makes me think of this every time...

Onwards and upwards - and in 1961 tiny little Luxembourg win qith Jean Claude Pascal singing about his loves...

In second place again, the United Kingdom, this time represented by The Allisons with a typical Brit Pop sound from the pre-beatles days...

In 1962 - a singer from France won with a song about love. Is there a theme developing here....

And in second place - not the UK. Ronnie Carroll came fourth with this song about a girl that seems to ring his bell.

Remember this man - we will meet him again next time....

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Comic Relief - the songs

Friday 13th March is Comic Relief day in the UK. For our American cousins, this was the inspiration for American Idol Gives Back, but here it happens every two years - complete with obligatory singles. Let's look at some examples.

One of the first, and still one of the best, is Cliff Richards and The Young Ones.

More recenlty, boy bands such as Westlife have done songs, but one of the best is an original - this one by McFly.

More recently, it has been the comedy cover that has won through, starting with Mister Peter Kay's take on a Tony Christie classic in 2005.

He followed this up in 2007 with a cover alongside Matt Lucas, as two wheelchair bound men do a Proclaimers number with a little help from some friends.

Much, much better than the official single - a version of Run DMC and Aerosmith...

So what are the songs this year? Well, from the comedy front we have two characters from Barry Island mixing it up in Vegas...

While a girl band try and out-do Depeche Mode....

Who is best? You decide....

Thursday, 26 February 2009

To unite Europe in Song.....

It seems a long way away now, bu tin the middle of May the 54th Eurovision Song Contest will be held in Moscow. These days it's become nothign more than an excuse (allegedly) for the former Warsaw PAct and Russian states to show their firends they are still friends, but back in the day ti was legendary for the peculiarity of the voting, never mind the songs.

So, every so often 'twixt now and then we're going to take a look at the winners, and the UK entires if the two are not the same, for this unique cultural event. Hold on to yoru hats - this could get bumby.....

We start with the first contest in 1956, which was won by Lys Assia for Switzerland with Refrain - Lys?

There is a tradition now with this contest (the first was held in Italy) that the winner hosts the following year, but that wasn't the case then. The UK didn't take part in the first contest - the entry was late - so in 1957 they met again, where the UK entry was All, sung by Patricia Belden

They didn't win - that was the honour of Corrie Breckon from Holland, with a little ditty called Net als toen

We didn't take part again in 1958 - that contest was won by a man called Andre Claveau for France with Dans, Mon Amour.

Trivia note - the 1958 Italian entry was a little ditty called Volare, which Dean Martin later had a hit with.

Finally for the 50's, in 1959 the winner came from Holland again - Teddy Scholten singing N Beetje

The UK took part again that year, with the first of a strign of legendary Eurovision entries - Sing Little Birdie, sung by Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson.

At this stage, it still resembled a proper singing contest, but that would change. Join us again next time for singing scotsmen and more songsters in monochrome.....

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Things that make me wonder (part 2)

I have a picture to show you of a young lady.

Lovely looking girl, isn't she? Her name is Cerrie Burnell, and she is a presenter on CBeebies, a channel run by the BBC aimed at under 8's. By all accounts, she is good, polite and does an excellent job. So why are some parents callign for her to be taken off the air and claiming they are scaring her kids?

Let's have a look at Cerrie again, shall we.

As you can see, she was born with only half of her right arm, and it is this that some viewers claim is scaring their children. In this article, we have the following lovely quote.

"Is it just me, or does anyone else think the new woman presenter on Cbeebies (Cerrie Burnell) may scare the kids because of her disability?

"I didn't want to let my children watch the filler bits on the bedtime hour last night because I know it would have played on my eldest daughter's mind and possibly caused sleep problems... and yes, this is a serious post."

I love it when our prejudices show through. Firstly, this is not the girl's fault - she was born with this disability, and it hasn't stopped her making a career and a life for herself. Secondly, this smacks of the "different is bad" mindset - better our children are shown this in a way that encourages them to accept than to hide from it.

Thirdly, however, it shows we haven't learnt anything in forty eight years, since the Thalidomide babies were born. We should never, ever judge on appearance, but on what the person does and says - and for that reason alone, I think this is knuckle headed thinking at the worst level.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Where the hell was I?

Locked in a padded room. Well, almost....

Sorry I haven't been around here recently, but things just got hectic for a while there. As some who read this know, I'm a moderator on the Captain Comics community, and I was doing a series of articles there on the favourite limited series for the members of that community. Towards th eend, that and a couple of other things were bringing me close to burn-out, so I took a break from blogging.

I've also been writing presentations and courses for a couple of trips I have coming up. So, be warned - in March I'll be blogging from Berlin for a few days, and in April from the USofA for two weeks. Who knows what I may find to say then.

For now, however, some random thoughts....

The Oscars? We called it a few weeks back at the British Academy Awards - except for Sean Penn instead of Mickey Rourke. Elsewhere, I also call Kate Winslet as this years "Butterfield 8" winner, named in honour of the Oscar Elisabeth Taylor got for that film the year after she SHOULD have got it for Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. Kate Winslet should have got the award years ago, so good for her she finally got it.

On films - Watchmen gets an 18 certificate in the UK, so I cannot keep my promise to my older son to take him to see it. I understand why they've done it, but it's still a pity.

The papers report a twelve year old boy has fathered a child to a fifteen year old girl. If I remember the UK law correctly, if that boy had been over 18 he would have been charged with having sex with a minor - but as he's a minor himself, the parents get the blame. Wrong - we all have to take partial blame for having a society where this as an accepted, if unusual norm.

Years ago, when I frequented the IMDb boards, we made fun of Big Brother 3, and especially Jade Goody. I apologise now for all I said about her - she is showing true courage in the face of her own death, and I applaud her for that.

Enough for now - more tomorrow, and even in a coherent manner, I promise.

Well, I'll try anyway.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

25 random facts about me

It seems to eb doing the rounds at the moment - so here, after seeing it on other blogs, are my 25 random facts.

1. I was actually born in Weiberg, West Germany, but only lived there for about four months before my father was posted back to the UK. So, if you go by birthplace, I'm German, but I'm not.

2. In my first year at school, I played one of the seven dwarves in a school panto - and my older brother was one of the prince's attendants.

3. The first song I ever learned to sing was "Morningtown Ride" by The Seekers.

4. I also sang in school and church choirs, but when my voice borke it broke in spectacular style.

5. I have a fear o fdogs, mainly because when I was eight I was attacked by one when I was walking along a wall near my home. Broken Arm, mangled ear and lacerations - but I still made it to the shop where I was going to buy some things.

6. Since childhood, I have been able to eat almost anything - except shellfish and ox toungue.

7. I turned down the chance to be a steward on the route for the wedding of Charles and Diana.

8. I actually gained the Queen's Badge in the Boys' Brigade, and trained to be an officer in the organisation.

9. I and two friends won a business competition in our last year at school - despite none of us studying Economics or Accounting.

10. There have been two serious relationships in my life - and I married the second of those.

11. The most embarresing thing I did at University was to ask the DJ at a party I wa sat to play a song because I thought we all needed to chill out. The song was "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

12. As a child, I actually appeared in a couple of schools programs for BBC Scotland.

13. I applied to four universities to attend. One was Edinburgh, which rejected me without an interview - mainly because I put it below Stirling University in my order of preference.

14. My father was in the company that discovered Belsen.

15. I have cooked dinner for James Fox and his family - but it was twenty years ago when he was a worker at a Christian university group.

16. When I first submitted my Doctorate thesis and went through the examination, I failed - not because of the content of the work, but because the standard of the English was not good enough.

17. The first computer I ever used was a BBC Micro - with a 12" disk drive.

18. I have a ferret sticking up my nose.

19. My wife, Doreen, got better grades in mathematics at school than I did - and I'm the one working as a statistician!

20. I proposed to Doreen in the second carriage of a train from Newcastle to Kilmarnock, via Carlisle, in May 1989.

21. In a previous job, when redundancies were announced I went to my boss and offered to jump if my name was in the frame, which I knew it would be. He said not to do so and wit it out. My name was picked - and I ended up with an extra eight weeks redundancy money as a result.

22. My favourite books are "To Kill A Mockingbird", "Les Miserables", the complete stories of Jeeves and Wooster and the Complete Sherlock Holmes stories.

23. The stupidest thing I ever did for charity was a twelve hour sponsored bin sit - in the middle of winter. I was ill for two weeks afterwards.

24. I have run a half marathon in one hour fifty minutes, and some day I may do it in under two hours again.

25. I enjoy writing, even if I'm not very good at it.

Friday, 30 January 2009


Sorry I haven't been around for a while - if you read my first post of the month, you'll realise I've had a few things to work out. That, and feeling as if I'm back in 1979 all over again.

Economic woes, the country going to hell in a hand basket, strikes against perceived inequalities that threaten "jobs for Brits" - I swear if it wasn't for the receding and greying hairline, I'd feel as if it was 1979 all over again.

Mind you, it is also obvious some things are different. Take the closure of car plants and the loss of jobs - in the seventies we would have "Red Robbo", Ken Robinson barracking the assembled work force outside the Linwood car plant. Now we get people resigned to losing part of their income.

Ironically, some people are recruiting - Asda, Subway and other food providers. IT goes to show that when there is a recession - and yes this is one finally, as everyone has believed for the last year - people want to eat.

Why are we so resigned when this sor tof horror is happening? I lived in Newcastle in 1983 during the Miner's Strike - I remember the hardship then, but that seems to have been the one that broke the back of the unions.

I'm not sure what I'm trying to say here, but this might be it - people are hurting, so let's do what we can to help them. Apologies are only words - let's be practical as we can be.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Free at last

It was sad to hear yesterday of the passing of Patrick McGoohan at the age of eighty. For almost everyone of my geenration, he will be remembered as Number 6, The Prisoner, although who and what was holding him as a prosioner was half the fun of the series. Before I begin, here's the opening credits.

McGoohan was known as a pef4ectionist, who only took parts he felt he could do something with. Take, for example, the earliest film I remember seeing him in - Hell Drivers. Here's a clip - and look out for for some guy called Connery in there too....

elevision, the precursor to The Prisoner was Danger Man/Secret Agent Man, depending on where in the world you are, and although he emphatically denied John Drake was Number 6 the question was always out there.

It was about this time he did a film for Disney that has been a cult favourite - Doctor Syn: The Scarecrow. About to eb released on DVD, here's a clip.

Even after The Prisoner, he picked his television roles with care - winning two Emmys for two of his four duels with Columbo, for example. In this clip, we see some of those series, includign a quirky series called Rafferty - a precursor of House.

Finally in this inadequate tribute, we have his last major film role - Edward Longshanks in Braveheart.

McGoohan was fiercly proud of his work, and protective in particular of The Prisoner, only allowing one sequel (a graphic novel issued by DC comics) and recently an update by ABC Television with Sir Ian McKellen as Number Two. Sadly, we'll never see his views on this series.

Requiscat in Pace, Patrick - Be Seeing You.