Miscellany and detritus, from the writer of Is This Mutton?com

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Her name was Lola

Until recently my only association of the name "Lola" was with two songs: the tranvestite Lola from the song by the Kinks, and the ageing and demented showgirl Lola courtesy of Barry Manilow.

Not now!

I've been so taken with the colourful life of one Lola Montez that I've "scrapped" her (created a scrapbook page) and have ordered a new biography from Amazon.

I first discovered Lola in December when Giz and I, in Munich, went to the Schloss-Nymphenburg palace on a guided tour. We were spell bound by the "Schonheitsgalerie" of King Ludwig 1: basically, a room with dozens of portraits of beautiful women on the walls, all his previous conquests. The guide told us that one of the women, Lola Montez, was unique in that she has two paintings because she didn't like the first one.

Lola was originally born in Ireland and changed her name when she went to Spain, trained as a Spanish dancer, and reinvented herself. She was one of the first celebrity wannabees. After bringing down the throne of Ludwig 1, she emigrated to the US and was the wealthy mistress of several high profile suitors.

Anyway, check out Lola for yourself - I was amazed to see a full page review in the Sunday Times on a new book about her!

She's the latest in a long line of "obsessions" of mine. I hear about an idea, a person, a painting or whatever, and I have to know all about it. It started when I was very young. The internet has been a godsend for helping me to get a quick fix! Over the years I've become quite an expert on such things as the sloth, Cro Magnons v Neanderthals, Imperial Topaz (not the nasty blue ones), Wilheim Reich, Rasputin, Paul Verlaine and Rimbaud and British bats.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

British Airways: fast becoming the world's least favourite airline?

An empty terminal 4 at Heathrow spoke volumes today. British Airways was unexpectedly running a full service, having finally sorted out the industrial dispute with its cabin crew that should have been resolved weeks ago, but the passengers had shown their displeasure by offloading themselves onto other flights.

And predictably BA wasn't going to reimburse people who had to pay for more expensive flights, or cover hire car or hotel cancellations.

This most incompetent and arrogant of airlines will soon be renamed the world's least favourite airline, particularly if its lucrative business passengers discover that actually the other airlines considerably outperform BA.

Both John and myself never choose to fly BA. I'm going to the US later this week on business, and I chose to travel on United. My second choice would have been Virgin.

BA has forgotten what good customer service is about. It still has warehouses full of baggage dating back to November which have little prospect of being returned to their owners. BA claimed at the time it was caused by the fog and breakdowns in the carousels at Heathrow. The truth however was that BA has systematically got rid of baggage handlers over the last few months and doesn't have enough to clear the backlog.

Until BA rediscovers the brand values that won it acccolades over 10 years ago, I'll be continuing to fly with other carriers - and if today is anything to go by, I'm not the only one.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Fuzzy Felt and Loony Links

Fuzzy Felt and Loony Links. They sound like a couple of characters from a Disney film, but those of my vintage will remember them as children's games. What they have in common is that I requested both of them on Christmas lists, years ago, but didn't get either of them.

So this is jokingly brought up, every now and then, along with "and I never got a go on the boating lake in Goodrington."

What a hard done by child!

If that's all I can think of, I'm clearly never going to be reprising "Mommie Dearest," the story of how Joan Crawford used to beat her adopted children with wire coat hangers.

I had a very happy childhood. We weren't very well off and we weren't spoilt with masses of presents or holidays abroad. Life of course was more simple. I had to wear hand-me-down clothes, and occasionally got called "Second hand Rose," but it never bothered me.

At Christmas I usually asked for an arty gift. One year it was Spiromatic, another year it was Spirofoil. These were spin-offs from Spirograph, which I never really liked all that much (too mathematical looking). Spiromatic was more fun: it was a battery controlled wheel with acrylic paints. As the wheel revolved, you squirted paint and the result was a geometric design of sorts. Spirofoil was similar to Spirograph but included sheets of foil so that you produced embossed creations.

I loved those paper cut-out dolls with costumes that had little tabs all round them. Some of the girls' comics included these.

I never had a bike on my own, I always had my brother Andrew's old one. That is, until the day I entered the Cycling Proficiency exam. I must have been about 10 or 11. The police constable officiating said there were a lot of things wrong with my bike, which got me worried because I didn't think I'd be able to take the test.

Giz and Stamps must have mulled this over, because in a very uncharacteristic "out of cycle" happening we went to Halfords and they bought me a brand new bike of my own. I wanted a Chopper but ended up with a Golden Arrow, an elegant little blue bike (fortunately the words "Tri Ang" were very small).

So I entered the cycling proficiency and wobbled my way to a pass - just.

In another out of cycle happening Stamps took me to Smiths and bought me a typewriter. A real one. I'd had a children's typewriter, a Lilliput, for Christmas, but it barely lasted beyond February with the way I typed. All the letters had fallen off. I spent hours creating stories and magazines. So I was overcome with joy when Stamps bought me a real grown-up typewriter, a Smith-Corona.
It lasted about five years until I bought my own replacement when I entered my journalism apprenticeship.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Celebrity Big Brother limps to its boring conclusion

Another fine mess as Channel 4 cancel the voting so far because of an on-screen mistake which said "Save Shilpa" instead of "to evict Shilpa."

It's all a foregone conclusion because I'm sure Shilpa will win, either through the public vote (ideally) or simply through some deft manipulation of the figures by C4.

I don't normally vote but this week I was so determined to see the back of the evil Jo that I voted to evict her. And now my vote doesn't count!

It will be very interesting to see the response of Jo and Danielle when they're evicted and confronted with the foul footage of their bullying. In the case of Jo, she bullied Dirk as much as Shilpa.

I know people sneer at Celebrity BB, but to me it's still an interesting exercise in seeing the unravelling of the celebrities' personalities. Only the 'true' people, those with depth and emotion, come out of this unscathed. The 3-week scrutiny of the cameras never fails to expose the superficial, the selfish, the cowards and the bullies.

So as we limp to the end, we can see that Jermaine has scarcely changed since we first met him. Solid, dependable, dignified. Shilpa has also emerged as strong, consistent and genuine. For the rest, Ian "H" is shown to us as nervy, submissive and needy; Dirk as moody, self-pitying and misogynistic; Cleo as lonely, deluded (she thinks those characters are funny?) but basically well meaning, and Jo and Danielle as dull, boring, empty-headed, poorly educated and coarse. It doesn't always follow that celebrities exposed for negative personality aspects fall from grace. Jan Leeming seems to be doing OK, for example, because although she came across as needy and whiny, she also rose to the challenge of the trials with fortitude. But there's no positive take out for Jo and Danielle. Danielle has already lost her modelling contracts apparently, and been dumped by Teddy. Jo has less to lose and will presumably slip back into the obscurity from whence she came.

Faith in human nature restored

According to the papers today, the young men seen on TV ransacking the possessions of a Swedish family washed ashore from the Napoli (see yesterday's blog)have now apologised and presumably returned the goods, which included a china tea set. Hoorah! This was very big of them - I hope some of the other looters take note and do the same thing.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Change the archaic salvage laws

How heartbreaking for a Swedish family to see their possessions being stolen and ransacked on a Devon beach. Instead, our archaic and ridiculous salvage laws mean that looters and thieves (they are no more than that) drove from miles around to see what they could drag away, some of them taking bags of dog food even though they don't have dogs.

The rules state that as long as you complete a piece of paper issued by Customs & Excise, you can take what you like from a ship wreck; although there may later be a claim against what you've taken (and indeed, as recounted in the film "Whisky Galore," in the case of alcohol, Customs & Excise can seize the whole lot).

Far better in my mind to have had a proper salvage operation to rescue the containers and return them to their rightful owners, and to have had armed police on standby on the beaches.

Then the world will have been spared yet more pictures of the UK acting like animals.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Tales from the terraces

My footballing anecdotes always go down very well at dinner parties, as do my stories of the Eurovision song contest or the minor European royals.

Back in the early eighties, when I was a reporter at BBC Radio Devon, they needed someone to cover Plymouth Argyle. The radio station was based in Exeter and the sports producer was not very inclined to come to Home Park for mid week games, lowly Third Division minnows that they were then.

So I started covering them, which meant going to Home Park every Thursday and getting the team news from the manager (has so-and-so recovered from his groin strain? What do you think of your chances against xxx?) and then providing commentary on the matches.

I was something of a novelty then - there were no women football reporters. When I first appeared nervously in the Home Park press box, there was an audible groan and negative body language from the male hacks present.

They were ruled by Harley Lawer, the undisputed expert on PAFC and writer for the Sunday Independent. So when Harley kindly gave me some feedback on my first commentary, which had rendered the others silent, they treated that as a signal to be nicer to me and let me share the bag of broken biscuits that appeared at half time.

I was doing quite nicely in my new set-up. When Bobby Moncur resigned as manager, I was the first to get the story, and even though he wouldn't tell me on tape why he was resigning, it made me sound very Jeremy Paxman-like as I kept repeating the question.

Another time, I was on duty in the Exeter newsroom on a Sunday when the call came to interview the new manager of Torquay United, Dave Webb, formerly of Chelsea. I wasn't very pleased about this; it was near the end of my shift and it meant a journey to Torquay. When I got there, Webb kept me waiting for an hour. The first thing he said, when seeing there was a "bird" waiting for him, was: "Do you know much about football, love?" I gave him a steady look, and, mindful of Chelsea and Torquay's positions in the league - both very poor at that time - replied: "Yes, do you?" One of my press box cronies liked the anecdote so much it appeared in the diary column of the Western Morning News with the headline "Gail's pointed question."

Back to Plymouth Argyle and the death of my footballing ambitions. The team was thrust into the spotlight when they found themselves in the semi finals of the FA Cup. They were suddenly giant killers, and their star striker Tommy Tynan started asking for money for interviews (not that Radio Devon had any money). I had reported on their progress in all the matches running up to the semi-final. I'd travelled to West Brom, I'd been to St Mellion to cover the team's training, I'd interviewed some of their wives. But then the powers that be at Radio Devon decided they needed male talent (or otherwise) to cover the semi final, so I was relegated to the supporters' train.

We lost 1-0 to Watford at Villa Park; robbed as it were; and there were many tears on the trains back to Plymouth from Smethwick. I was even more gutted to learn that one of the male reporters who covered the match, David Willis, had missed the goal. He asked his colleague, Allan Urry, what it was like. "Bit scrappy" was the reply. Willis later asked Watford manager Graeme Taylor about the goal. "Bit scrappy I heard," said Willis, and was promptly put in his place by Taylor. "Absolutely ridiculous comment. Absolutely superb corner crossed by Barnes...." etc. The comment made its way to the annual Christmas tape of bloopers.

Back in the studio the following day, I carefully put together a 3 minute package, using "You'll never walk alone," and lots of wailing fan inputs, and put my football career behind me.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Get Jade out

I sincerely hope the UK public will do the right thing tonight and vote out Jade Goody from Celebrity Big Brother.

I always had a soft spot for Jade. She was very funny in the BB series she was in ("am I an escape goat?")and since went on to do quite well. Better than the winners of most of the BB series.

But fame has gone to her head, and her warped sense of morals has come to the fore this week with her bullying of Shilpa.

I don't believe however that Jade is racist: she doesn't fit the demographic at all and is mixed race.

The worst protagonist of the whole sorry business is Danielle. Easily led by Jade, this ridiculous dimwit has made the most appalling statements and has been stirring things up. She deliberately misinterprets the situation to get Jade riled. For example, she told Shilpa that she didn't agree with some of the things she had said to Jade - but also she didn't agree with what Jade told Shilpa. This was repeated back to Jade as "I told her I didn't agree with some of the things she said to you." She also keeps repeating the incorrect statement that Shilpa accused Jade of being famous only for arguing with her. What Shilpa meant was that she was only famous because of a reality TV show. That's true enough.

When asked by BB about one of her outrageous statements, Danielle denied saying it, but then quickly back tracked, so she clearly realised the implications of what she had said as racist.

My assessment is that the three witches and Jack - the evil quartet - are all jealous of Shilpa and intimidated by her. They're all unemployed when all is said and done. Jade might boast about her achievements but lately they have become tarnished. Her beauty salon went bust; her recent fitness video was apparently a sham because she used liposuction, not diet or exercise, to deal with her weight problem, and then there was the London Marathon where she claimed she hadn't done any training.

Danielle claims to be a model, but she's a former beauty queen who takes her clothes off for Nuts and Zoo. Hardly a model.

Jo O'Meara used to be in a band but hasn't done anything since, and buys all her clothes in Primark.

Jack I believe is a full-time house husband.

So there you have it. Shilpa is beautiful, confident, successful. She is a degree controlling, but in the CBB house somebody needs to take control. It's a big disappointment that the "adults," Jermaine, Cleo and Dirk, have all shirked responsibility for getting the evil quartet in line. Jermaine came up with some pyschobabble about loving everyone, a shade too subtle for the likes of Jade and Danielle. Carole Malone would have sorted it.

I hope there's a rousing cry of "Get Jade Out" tonight, and I hope Danielle is next to go. Shilpa to win!

Oh, and I won't be watching it next year. Well past its sell by.

Happy scrapping

I've been keen on card making for a year now, and recently turned my attention to scrapbooking. Years ago scrapbooking meant sticking receipts, cuttings and photos into scrapbooks bought from WH Smith - and because nothing was known then about the dangerous properties of acids in paper and ink, if you dig out those scrapbooks now you'll find them in a poor condition. Nowadays, scrapbooking refers to mainly using photographs and creating big bold displays, centrepiecing outstanding photos, on acid and lignin free papers and featuring themed flowers, vellum phrases, stickers, brads, buttons and so on.

There's a whole industry devoted to scrapbooking, numerous public exhibitions and local "crops" where scrapbookers meet up and scrap for the day.

When I started scrapbooking I didn't really have the right idea. I was using some of my cardmaking supplies, but they didn't really scale to the 12 x 12 scrapbook format. There was no perspective; the pages didn't look complete or pleasing.

I've been studying Scrapbook Magazine and various websites for inspiration, and have started buying the right accessories, and my latest spreads are much better. I have two scrapbooks which I bought from Lakeland: one which records current activities, and the other which is for "vintage" memories. In the latter, I've just prepared two pages on my old cat Teddy, who died in 2005.

The key thing for scrapbooking, apart from having great photographs, is to identify the subject for your next project and then buy the necessary accessories, co-ordinating them with your paper and cardstock. I'm going to prepare three pages on my dad, so I'm busily gathering photographs of him in uniform from my mum; the Royal Marines insignia on the web, and the right coloured papers, brads, tags and so on, mainly from http://happyscrapper.co.uk and http://lakelandlimited.co.uk

I've also just done a spread on....me, showing the passport booth photos that I used to have taken annually, to document the ageing process!

It's a very absorbing and fulfilling hobby, but very expensive!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Victoria goes to America

It was only a matter of time. The Beckhams have been flouncing round America quite a lot recently; Real Madrid were getting fed up with David and now he's out of the England side, blighty wasn't such an attractive prospect.

Still, VB in LA. The mind boggles. I bet you £10 she'll come back in a few years time looking extremely weird. At least she's the right size (zero) but she hasn't got the prerequisite wind tunnel and surprised look that ladies in LA have to have.

Good luck to them; there's plenty of opportunities to make money out there. We might even see VB as a judge on Pop Idol. If the likes of Cat Deeley, Sheena Easton and the Duchess of York can make a success out of America, you obviously don't need too much talent.

Songs in the key of life

I've now got my dream iPod library. It's taken a long time to compile; transferring songs from CDs and identifying and searching for various tracks, some which were unavailable on iTunes (I got them from Limewire instead).

It's funny how the passing years make you kinder to certain artists and songs you despised in their heyday.

As a teenager, I was passionate for David Bowie, Iggy Pop and new wave music, and despised the pop idols like David Cassidy, David Essex, Donny Osmond, etc. I didn't care much for Tamla Motown, soul, disco or C&W, and loathed heavy metal and heavy rock (still do, as far as the latter are concerned). Yet my dream library has quite a few songs covering most of these artists and genres. And I seem to have a peculiar soft spot for Slade, Wizzard and the Rubettes.

Songs are so evocative. I can listen to a song - for example Peter Frampton's Show Me The Way - and be instantly transported to the Emperor Rosko Radio 1 roadshow on Plymouth Hoe in 1975.

I remember hearing "Dancing Queen" by Abba on the morning we left for a summer caravan holiday in Hayle in 1976. The DJ said he was the first to play it, and I shouted to my mum that it was the new Abba single and it was really different.

"Amateur Hour" by Sparks reminds me of our holiday in Bournemouth two years earlier where we stayed in a hotel for the first time ever. That was the single I bought while we were there.

"My Sharona" by The Knack takes me back to the sausage factory where I had to spend the summer after finishing my A Levels. I'd cheerfully gone to the dole office thinking I'd have an easy time of it, and was sent to Bowyers where quite a few of my schoolfriends were already slaving over the hogs puddings. The radio was always on but it was difficult to hear above the noise of the machinery.

The first concert I saw, when I was 15, was Andy Fairweather-Low (who?) at the Fiesta Suite in Plymouth. He came on quite late so I only saw him sing two songs because I had to catch the last bus. But I have "Reggae Tune" and his biggest hit as a solo artist, "Wide eyed and legless," to remind me of what I missed. (I wasn't wide eyed and legless - I only had my pocket money so I probably had a Britvic Orange and made it last all night).

Jump forward to punk, and I was one of only three people at Plympton Grammar School who liked punk. We would take our punk records to Mr Glyn's record club every Friday, and he would dutifully play Devo, Wire, Iggy Pop and Stiff Little Fingers etc among the Rush, Led Zeppelin and Supertramp that dominated proceedings. We would duly get heckled for our selections.

Occasionally I'd go to Devonport on two buses to the Metro club to see a live gig.The first time I went, it was a bank holiday and on the bus I saw the two other punk admirers. I didn't actually know them then (Dave and Gary), but I remember scampering up to them and asking if I could walk with them to the Metro, as I guessed that's where they were going.

I saw UK Subs (I was nearly flattened against the stage) and X Ray Spex at the Metro to name two. Before the acts, the DJ played a wide variety of music: mostly punk but sometimes a song he particularly liked. "Never Let Her Slip Away" by Andrew Gold was one of them.

Mind you, it's not all oldies on my play list. There's nothing cutting edge but I do have some modern stuff from the likes of the Kaiser Chiefs, John Legend, Amy Winehouse, the Ordinary Boys, Keane, Coldplay.

Some songs remind me of other people. Recently, a shuffle sequence brought me two in a row which brought a lump to my throat: "The folks who live on the hill" by Peggy Lee, much loved by my dad, and "White Christmas" by Bing Crosby, my grandma's favourite Christmas record. I also have a few Andy Williams' tracks. He was one of my mum's favourites back in the 70s.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Those darned resolutions

I made a resolution to myself that there wouldn't be any resolutions this year, but somehow a few random thoughts were committed to a Word document, and before I knew it, I had a full page including "measured by" and "due date." Talk about making life hard for yourself!

The fist resolution, which I'm sure applies to most of us, is losing the Christmas ballast. Linked to that is being seen more than once a week at the gym (I sternly suggested at least twice a week), and only having crisps once a week, as a treat (and not after gym visits).

The next was to cut down on magazine expenditure. John accused me of spending £150 a month on magazines, which I pooh-poohed at the time, but it might be too close to the mark. I wrote in an earlier post about my magazine obsession, and how it's now extended to card & craft making titles (there are LOTS). So what I've decided to do is stop some of the women's monthlies and only have one weekly gossip rag; and select five of the best papercraft magazines.

Now on Tuesday, three of my chosen publications all came out on the same day, and I resolved to buy them individually on separate days, not all at once which is what I normally do. It was a bit like going cold turkey: I had to force myself to select one title, and when I went today to collect the second, I was terrified they may have sold out (they hadn't).

Then I have some resolutions around boring things like calendaring certain chores on a monthly basis. Cleaning the lean-to, for example, which is a chore that gets postponed until it's like dealing with Miss Havisham's house. I can't say I will relish the reminder when it pops up on a Friday to tell me that the lean-to tidying is scheduled for the next day.

Anyway, let's hope 2007 is a peaceful and prosperous New Year with plenty of challenges and lots of fun. I've already booked our June holiday (Cyprus) and John has organised four days in Boston for the marathon in April. I now want to book one of those "Strictly Come Dancing" weekends I've seen advertised, where you learn four ball room dances. So plenty to look forward to - and maybe even a new cat!
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