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

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Reasons to be Cheerful

It seems plenty of pesky visitors are writing books about how horrible they think the UK is. Yes we all know about the NHS (but at least you get whisked off to hospital when you're about to peg out without having to proffer a credit card, even if you do die of MRSA when you get there), public transport, hoodies and thugs with knives, unlicensed taxi cabs, appalling numbers of drunks, teenage pregnancies, fatties, WAGs, girls in Newcastle wearing mini skirts, fake tan and no coats, and scandalous nursing homes.

But there are also good things. I was trying to think of a few so it was opportune that Robert Crampton in The Times gave an amusing assessment yesterday. Here is my list of Reasons To Be Cheerful:
- we did very well in the Olympics - 47 gold medals - France and Germany, put that in your pipe and smoke it
- beautiful scenery and great regional variances - coastline, woodland, slag heap
- we brought the world Strictly Come Dancing and many other top shows (X Factor, Weakest Link, Dragon's Den etc)
- it's cheap to travel by air
- we know how to have a good laugh, even if it does involve wearing antlers
- We may pay more at the supermarket than the rest of Europe but our supermarkets are far superior to the dreary supermarkets you find elsewhere, with a huge array of choice and continental ranges
- We provide the best baddies in films - most thrillers from the US pay homage to this;
- we say "bring it on" to all the latest social media sites - we're not precious about secrecy and security;
- we don't allow celebrities and royalty to get away with murder - we rely on our tabloids for fearless exposes, unlike other lily livered neighbours where the press is gagged;
- our gardens are beautiful;
- we are the land of The Beatles, Shakespeare, Turner and David Bowie;
- OJ Simpson and Karen Matthews are doing porridge where they belong;
- the Eurovision Song Contest rules are being changed so we might have a better chance of winning next year
- we may have a high number of lardasses but if there was a mutant virus or we were all stranded up Everest, we would last longer.

Any others you can think of?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Nearly that time of year

Christmas is nearly upon us and I'm indebted to Melissa for reminding me about the crackers, which I still haven't bought yet.

I will be scampering off to Marks & Spencer in the dark of night (well it opens at 6am) to get my crackers, turkey crown and some other oddments, then to Sainsbury's for the rest of the stuff (two selection boxes, the pork pie no-one will eat, and more wrapping paper because I fear we will run out and J hasn't even started on my presents yet).

Christmas in my family was always steeped in loony traditions and I am determined to uphold some of them. Viz a viz:
- on Christmas Eve you have to have sausage rolls and baked beans (J not keen on this one, even if the sausage rolls come from Marks & Spencer);
- on Christmas Eve I have to have a whiskey and milk to help me sleep. This one started when I was a kid - it makes you wonder what else used to go in the dummy, apart from rose hip syrup, and how it is I have any teeth at all now;
- on Christmas Day the presents are handed out by me, and preceded by a few chocolate biscuits from a Cadbury's tin;
- paper hats from the crackers must be worn all day. In the photo above, dating from around 1982, I'm competing with my Granddad for the prize. In the photo below, dating from oooh, a long time ago! - we were all doing very well - hats still on at tea-time;
- festive films should ideally include Scrooge with Alastair Sim;
- someone always turns into Victor Meldrew (someone male, I hasten to add). As it is just J and me on Christmas Day, I suspect it will be him. Probably when I decline his invitation to watch Band of Brothers, Hornblower or Hancock - all the dvds I am giving him, creating a rod for my own back, as my mother would say.

When I was a kid, there were other traditions including pillow cases instead of stockings; an enormous tea just hours after the enormous roast capon, and inevitably featuring: trifle and/or a peach gateau on Christmas Day, with the peaches aquaplaning down the Dream Topping; chicken sandwiches; home-made cream slices and meat patties (making use of the bulk quantities of Jus Rol pastry).

So all that remains is to charge your scooners with sherry and let's have a peaceful, happy Christmas!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

It was always Tom's crown

Hurrah, so one of my predictions actually came true for once! Tom Chambers is the new king of Strictly Come Dancing.

I'd suspected that he probably got the biggest vote in last week's debacle and this was shown last night (although of course a mathematical flaw meant that he could never have overtaken Lisa and Rachel on the leaderboard). So put that in your pipe and smoke it, all the n'er do wells on the forums who said Tom should have resigned last week. He would have been saved and Lisa would still have been third.

Credit to Lisa and Brendan for appearing so magnanimous in defeat. She could probably add actress to her growing list of credentials (DJ, TV presenter, model). Their show dance was a bravura effort, but as I said to J, slim though she is, she is probably quite heavy because of her height, so as Anonymous pointed out, it was a challenge for Brendan to lift her although he gamely tried.
Rachel and Vincent's show dance was as I expected, slippery and lifty with quasi romance and lust going on. Zzzzz.

Tom's show dance stole the night and Camilla delivered a superb choreography, as I hoped; capitalising on Tom's charm and character, and playing to his strengths. Only two lifts and they were no more demanding than those of an American Smooth, but who cares?

Camilla's shock and delight was well worth the 3 votes I rang up, much to J's disgust.

I suspect Rachel will be inconsolable, but no doubt we will see her and Vincent dancing together for years to come, perhaps in next year's tour (I see that Cherie, Kenny Logan and Gethin are among those taking part in January) and in the "champion of champions" show at Christmas. Yes I know she's not a champion but nor is Kelly Brook, and she's still featuring in this year's show.

So hurrah for Tom: he was always the public's choice. What a year it's been for him!

Saturday nights will be drab now. No more the weekly refrain "what time is the dancing on?"

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Tom to win (reprise) ?

Well it looks as if we're in for a treat tonight with the final of Strictly Come Dancing. All sorts of shenanigans about the voting. And for those who thought their votes were being carried through to the final, apparently they will have a lot less impact than we were all led to believe last Saturday. There will be seven different calculations to arrive at the winner, and the BBC has taken no chances, using external experts to guide and advise on avoiding any debacles.

In terms of The Winner, I am revisiting an old prediction to say it may well be Tom Chambers.

Before you snort and recount how dire he was last Saturday, let me explain why I think he may come good.

Firstly, he's never been in the dance-off. So that tells you he has more public support than Lisa and Rachel.

Secondly, the show dance could potentially be a winner for him. If Camilla creates a choreography that will capture his exuberance and allow him to tap dance, it will be far better than whatever Lisa does (some variation on a waltz no doubt).

All three couples are doing a foxtrot and again this is an area where Tom is strong.

To my mind he's been a bit lazy: he has all the tools but he doesn't fully apply himself. Maybe the final will give him that extra ooomph. It will be historic to witness the dismay on Rachel's face if she does lose the final. To hear her saying she's shocked to find herself in the final is such a load of rubbish. The whole thing is pivotal to her regaining any sort of solo career!

The refreshing thing about Tom is that he seems to dance because he enjoys it. He's never come across as needy and desperate and determined to win at all costs. And as I've said before, that's what spoils Lisa and Rachel. For all their talk about The Journey and how they're loving it, they're both grimly determined to lift the glitterball at all costs, and their grimaces and facial expressions give it away.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The best Christmas story

It's a well stated fact that the true meaning of Christmas is an adjunct, a PS, to the festival of excess that most of us enjoy with the vast majority giving no thought to why it started and what it's all about.

And that doesn't have to be the traditional story involving a manger, wise men and a virgin either. To me, the meaning of Christmas is the way it encourages us to bond with each other, strangers and friends alike, in a celebration of life.

One of the most heart warming stories is the true account of the Christmas football match armistice of 1914 when British and German soldiers celebrated Christmas together with a game of football in the icy wastes of No Man's Land.

For many years after the war the story was hushed up. When it did emerge, it was downplayed. But chronicling the different accounts of soldiers reveals there were several incidents which happened spontaneously all along the front, and French and Belgian soldiers were also involved.

Regimental Sergeant Major George Beck chronicled the remarkable events in his notebook. His account titled ‘Not a shot fired’ vividly details the events when soldiers of the Kaiser’s army came forward to hand out drinks and cigars to British Tommies and invited them over to a friendly game of soccer.

"Christmas Eve, 1914, and not a shot fired. The Germans ask to play football and hand out drink and cigars. They are eager to swop almost anything for our bully beef," the 34 year old veteran of the Boer War, who spent Christmas in a trench near the Belgian village of St Yves, near Ypres, writes in his diary.

The truce was apparently spearheaded by some German soldiers who planned it in advance and started it off by hurling a chocolate cake over enemy lines with a note asking if a one hour ceasefire might be possible.

To me it's a marvellous story and shows how humanity and hope can triumph. This was a truly dreadful war with millions of men killed, thanks to foolish and inept generals. Yet for a few hours, hostilities were forgotten and the festive spirit overcame the weary cold and sodden soldiers with the true meaning of Christmas.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Strictly Come Dancing votes fiasco continues

I knew it would be controversial and the fiasco over the voting in Saturday's SCD continues. Last night a BBC dude appeared on It Takes Two and explained why it had happened (with the two girls getting the same scores and tying for first place, the public's votes couldn't save Tom). After public pressure, the BBC is going to give refunds to those who voted and want their money back. An interesting one! I did vote, first time this series, and out of interest I will endeavour to get my money back. Apparently the process will be explained on the SCD website next Tuesday. Do you supply bank details? Does the BBC send you a cheque? Most fascinating.

Another interesting development is that the BBC dude said all the votes on Saturday will be carried forward to the final and we will see the positions of the three finallists. It does mean that one or two of them will (obviously) start at a disadvantage. Now presumably that's all the votes, even those of the disenchanted voters, because they can't start to get their money back until after the final.

Once we have got rid of the third placed finalist, the two finallists start afresh.

According to some of the headlines today, people are threatening to boycott the final. It's all getting a bit out of hand. OK, the BBC blundered and should have anticipated this problem with voting, (surely they brainstorm disaster scenarios?), but give it a rest folks! The final will be better with three couples. It's a drawn-out, flimsy affair with only two. And you never know - maybe Tom can dramatically up level his performance and win, as I predicted last week. That would be a Christmas miracle!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Strictly Come Dancing set-up

I'm in a lather of indignation this morning and it's all to do with last night's Strictly Come Dancing.

For the first time this series I actually voted, in a bid to save Tom and Camilla. His performance was very average compared to Lisa and Rachel's, and they have overtaken him on "The Journey," but nonetheless, I wanted the perverse delight of the public saving Tom, and Rachel and Lisa being forced to go in the dance-off, which might have seen Rachel booted out. Too funny! Plus I wanted Camilla to go further than the semis this time.

Anyway, in the event it all turned out to be in vain, because despite the public being exhorted to vote to save the couples, the results show became embarrassing as voting was hurriedly brushed aside with no dance-off and votes allegedly being carried through to the final.

But this is a scam, surely? If you think you're voting for a particular event and you find out you aren't?

Of course it's all John Sergeant's fault. And no doubt the Tristans at the BBC laboured long and hard about what to do in the last programme when they might only have two finalists. How can you pad that out, even if the professionals or Barry Manilow come on eight times?

But remember it happened twice last year: we lost Tarbuck early on and then Kelly Brook close to the semis.

How about next year we have a "spare" celeb dancer who trains just as rigorously each week, and is shown rehearsing on Claudia's programme so we all know about him or her; who can then step in when a celebrity bails? That way the public wouldn't have to be deceived and it would be even more entertaining, particularly if the ghost celeb snatched victory at the last minute.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Tom looks dodgy: another Strictly Come Dancing preview

Can I change my prediction?! I know I said on Thurs that Tom would win, well I'm now thinking he may go out tonight!

The reasons are twofold. I think Lisa and Rachel are both going to do great Argentine tangos, whereas Camilla went out at this stage with Gethin last year doing the same dance. It's a hard dance for a man to lead and to create the "goucho" character. I'm not sure Tom is up to it. Plue he's also doing the jive, and I very much doubt if he will score as highly as Rachel (Smooth) and Lisa (foxtrot), so that if he's in the bottom two, he's bound to go out.

It would certainly be different this year if two girls were in the final!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Carol's last show in innocent & kind Countdown

Two TV programmes left our screens this week with barely a murmur in the papers, but both are significant in that they represent a dying breed of show: the innocent, kind, whimsical programme that today's cruel and trashy reality TV shows and dumbed-down documentaries cannot hope to emulate.

The last Countdown featuring Carol Vorderman was shown today, preceded by a programme "One Last Consonant" that recounted the 26 years of the show.

Meanwhile, the gentle little series on BBC2, "An Island Parish", came to a close, with a shocking end.

Only the very hard hearted would not have shed a tear along with Carol as she struggled to say goodbye. Looking sensational in a red Roland Mouret dress, today's Carol is far more groomed and attractive than the gauche girl who was the first woman to appear on Channel 4 (pictured).

Now the nitwits at Channel 4 have decided Carol is too expensive for them. I believe the show is continuing, but I can't see it lasting. It was unique, and solely because of the friendly banter and family atmosphere. I don't think the viewing regulars will choose to be insulted by Channel 4 with a new look all cheap show.

"An Island Parish" recounts life on the Isles of Scilly. Nothing much happens: it's big news when someone gets married, or gets a boyfriend, or starts a new business. Sometimes what does happen seems manufactured, like the time Heike the vet decided to go to London to see if she could become a foot model. But it's very gentle, easy entertainment, so it was quite a shock this week when the Methodist Minister who has been the lynchpin of the series, David Easton, was voted out by the locals.

It was such a surprise, not just to him and most of the locals, but also to Nigel Farrell who produces and narrates the programme.

It seems just a tiny handful of the voting Methodists voted against him. I imagine their names are well known now in the Scillies - it's not the sort of place that can keep a secret. It was very moving to see poor David breaking down because he loved the islands and didn't want to leave. Plus he felt, inevitably, hurt and rejected.

I hope those who voted against him had proper reasons for doing this and weren't motivated by jealousy of his TV success, or some past slight that as Christians they should have forgiven.

I wonder what will happen now. Will there be a new series, featuring the new Methodist minister as he / she seeks to be accepted by this complex community? Judging by what happened to Father Guy, the hapless CofE vicar in the last series, maybe it's a poisoned chalice.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tom to win

Another (useless?) Strictly Come Dancing prediction

I wasn't too successful last week in predicting Lisa and Rachel would go head-to-head in the quarter final. At least I was 50% right. So quite a surprise to see the back of Austin, although we (my mum, Anonymous and others) weren't too gutted to see him go. Taking his shirt off was a step too far. I did enjoy his Paso but otherwise there was too much strutting and posing.

Erin seemed beside herself with grief and regret on Claudia'a show, whereas Austin came across as peeved and astonished. But of course Erin did blow it in the final a couple of years ago when she and Colin Jackson missed out because of the ridiculous show dance they did with dummies.

So then - this week's semi finals. And don't forget folks, both shows are on one night, Saturday, so don't forget to set up the Sky+.

I'm predicting that Lisa will go out.

All three are doing the fabulous Argentine tango, plus a dance of their choice. Lisa inevitably is doing some sort of waltz, Rachel is doing the Smooth (foxtrot flavour), and Tom is taking a risk by doing a jive. It wasn't his highest scored dance but after all those schmaltzy waltzes, Camilla is right in thinking it will be a foot tapping crowd pleaser.

I think Tom will win now. Rachel has had better scores so in theory should win, but I somehow think Tom will seize victory. It will be like the year when Darren Gough won. A bit of a surprise, but he pulled it out of the hat. Tom is a performer whereas Rachel is still a bit of an automaton. She will be fine this Saturday because Vincent excels in Argentine tango, whereas Brendan has never done it before.

Do you agree with my bold prediction?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Strictly tip: the boys in the final two

Off you go to the bookmakers - I'm willing to pledge my reputation on the assertion that Tom and Austin will end up as the two finalists!

The reason is: they haven't been in the dance-off. Clearly people are voting for them in droves. And public support seems a bit thin and patchy for Lisa and Rachel. It's often tough for women because of the voting demographic. Some of the previous winners managed to overcome this --- Natasha Kemplinsky (although in the final she was competing against that guy from EastEnders who made John Sergeant look like Mark Ramprakash), Jill Halfpenny and Alesha Dixon had more consistent support throughout the series.

I reckon this coming weekend we will see Lisa and Rachel go head-to-head in the dance off, and the judges will probably save Rachel. She is the best dancer of the four I believe - I would imagine her overall scores verify this. Lisa will do a stellar waltz, I predict, but she may struggle with the jive.

Meanwhile I am with Lucy (previous post's comments) about this series. It hasn't quite delivered in the way that previous series did. Maybe we're getting a bit jaded. The Sergeant Saga spiced things up for a while but quickly got boring. One of the panellists on Claudia's show last night summed it up perfectly. The girls are too earnest. They, and we, know that the vehicle is essential for the continuation of their careers. It's all life and death. Lisa has a frantic smile pasted on her face at all times, and Rachel looks like she's going to snap and burst into tears at any moment. Lighten up ladies and perhaps one of you could make it into the semis. It would be a miss if you didn't.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Christine to go - please!

I was discussing Strictly Come Dancing with Anonymous. Well we discuss it every time we see each other, truth be told. We are united on the Rachel Factor (don't like her). Lisa is perceived as somewhat dull and flashy. Tom is a good egg, and strangely persecuted by the judges because he hasn't had a 10 yet (I was a little put off by Tom initially because his dad wears a bow tie). We don't like Austin. He's too arrogant, and he looks like a neanderthal stomping around. And then there's Christine.

I don't like her, I find her smiles and guile a bit fake. And why is Adrian Chiles always hanging around if they aren't an item? But Anonymous does like her, but, sorry A, she has to go tonight. She has long over stayed her welcome and should, in my view, have gone last week instead of the lovely Jodie. Such a shame to see the back of Ian Waite too.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Stay off the screen, 80s heart throbs

I know there's a big trend at the moment for bands from the 80s to go on tour and make big profits. But it's one trend I'm keen to avoid. I inadvertently recorded a programme about the 80s which I thought was going to be more of a tribute with some history and old footage. I should have thought twice when I saw that shrieky old Denise Van Outen was presenting it. Instead, it was lots of formerly great acts from the 80s belting out their hits, but now in their 40s and 50s.


The sad fact was, none of them had been botox'd, dermabrasioned, "filled" or anything else. So there they were, a horrible reminder of the ageing process and one's own mortality.

Glenn Gregory from Heaven 17, now presumably bald (wearing a cap) with a ferocious set of unnaturally white teeth. Nick Kershaw - bald - and unrecognisable except that the song sounded exactly the same. That Limahl from Kajagoogoo, tragically wearing the same dyed coxscomb and kids' clothes. Paul Young, not ageing too badly but a horrendous shade of orange. And Nick Heywood with a creepy beard and sad looking bleary eyes.

I said it before when Spandau Ballet reunited. Don't do it guys! Trouble is, there's plainly cash to be made from these reunion tours and plainly enough old fogies to turn out and relive their youth. Not for me. I don't mind listening to the gloriously naff old songs on my iPod, but I wouldn't be seen dead doing a staid little jig to the middle-aged groovers now. I prefer to remember them - and me - in my heyday, when Maddie Grigg and I used to polish off a bottle of Concord wine and then go on the bus down to the Cooperage and knock them all dead, dancing to Heaven 17 and ABC.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sergeant was selfish

There was a moment in the John Sergeant Show on Strictly Come Dancing It Takes Two last night when he was revealed in all his brittle, selfish glory.

His partner Kristina Rihanoff started sobbing - she didn't want to go out of the show - and he just ignored her, intently pressing his points about not wanting to be humiliated in the final.

Maybe he didn't want to be upstaged by a Russian starlet. Maybe he thought she was putting it on. But it was very telling.

I am perplexed today by the amount of attention this silly little story is getting. Good God, it shows what perspective the people of Britain have. As businesses crumble every day, as the mighty M&S drops its prices today to try to shore up their retail sales, all we're worried about is a bad dancer leaving a Saturday night TV show.

I agree with James Jordan that Sergeant is selfish. Unlike Kate Garraway last year, he kept exhorting the public to vote for him. "Well the public will save us," he said smugly, after being panned for another appalling dance. And they did, because the voting mugs like to think they're getting one over on the judges. It would be nice if they were "getting one over" on things that matter, but there you go.

So having milked the public, he now decides the support is too great and he might have to drag his humiliated carcass around the floor in the final. I very much doubt he would have got to the final. Even the voting mugs start to appreciate the effort and talents of the good dancers.

He should have carried on until he was disposed of in the dance-off. But it's as if the mighty Sergeant was too good for that.

I'm sorry folks but to me he comes across as bumptious and arrogant. Don't be deceived, a twinkly granddad he is not.

And finally I have to wonder about his contract. Surely it must say a dancer can't leave the show unless they're injured? But no-one seems to have asked about it. Maybe he gave the money back. I very much doubt it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Days of "low cost" airlines numbered

I see that Easyjet's profits fell by 45%, similar to the fall of 47% suffered by Ryanair a couple of weeks ago. With rising fuel and other costs, they're going to have to consider their branding and stop calling themselves low-cost airlines. They will have to start competing equally against the big carriers and that means treating passengers like real people, having proper customer service and not charging people for taking luggage (Ryanair).

At the weekend I booked two flights to Dublin in February for a short break. I was interested to see that Ryanir was offering "free flights" for this period. But, by the time you'd clicked through to the check-out stage, the price for two tickets had shot up to the region of £353. In fact, exactly the same price, down to the looose change, that British Airways were quoting. And in BA's case, they stated the sum upfront with none of this deceitful "fly free or fly for £14" malarkey.

Faced with the choice of Ryanir and BA for the same price, it's a no-brainer. With BA you get an allocated seat (no undignified scramble at the gate); no charge for luggage, a snack and a decent cup of tea, and airmiles. Plus the airport is London City, which is very close to where we live and the friendliest, most efficient airport it's possible to find.

My advice to Stelios and Michael Ryan would be that if they no longer have a price advantage, their business model has gone up in smoke and they'd better consider introducing the frills that they so despise. Otherwise they may follow in the footsteps of Excel and the others.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Strictly Come Dancing inflection point?

I believe we have reached what the management moguls call "a strategic inflection point" in the SCD epoch.

If John Sergeant is kept in this weekend - and the campaign to vote for him seems to have been renewed in the papers - then the judges will have to choose to evict "good" dancers and will be spitting feathers. Which of course is good entertainment.

In fact, I enjoyed the plight of Rachel so much last week (terrible, isn't it!) that I'm half hoping she'll be at the bottom again tomorrow. An article in one of the papers said she is desperate to win because her career has never taken off since she left S Club 7, and she was distraught at being in the bottom two.

I'm also a bit fed up with Cherie and that impecunious tight smile she always gives.

I predict that if Sergeant is "saved," the bottom two will comprise Jodie and Christine, and probably Jodie will go. That's a shame because she's been building in stature and comes across very well. I find Christine a bit too relentlessly saccharine.

Tom and Austin are still going for it but I'm predicting the final will be between Tom and Lisa. I hope so anyway. Who are you tipping?

Friday, November 14, 2008

"Steel Magnolias" a triumph for the Ridgeway Theatre Company

If your perceptions of amateur dramatics are mistimed sound effects, petrified actors forgetting their words and poor comedic timing, then they will be shattered by the very slick and professional production of Robert Harling's Steel Magnolias from the Ridgeway Theatre Group.

Set in a Louisiana beauty salon, this is a challenging script, calling as it does for humour and sadness delivered by a small all-female cast. In the 1989 film, the cast included Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts, Daryl Hannah and Shirley MacLaine. But the Chiseldon cast was more than a match for the big budget movie with each character brought vividly to life in the capable hands of Wendy Pompe, Charlotte Mannion, Kim Waites, Angie MacNaught, Lynda Farrington and Vicki Brown.

The venue could also have been challenging - the pretty church of Holy Cross in Chiseldon, Wilts - but it delivered superb acoustics and the quality of the entertainment on stage was more than enough to offset any discomfort caused by sitting on pews for two hours.

There were sound effects a-plenty in the first act with the sounds of gun shots and telephones but no mistiming. All the period details in the play, which dates from the mid 80's, were carefully observed in trhe costumes and props.

Miraculously the cast managed to largely retain their southern US accents - quite a challenge - and Wendy Pompe as Truvy, the Dolly Parton character in the film, was particularly adept, imbuing her sympathetic character with warmth and radiance. Wendy's hairdressing talent has largely gone unnoticed before now but a career in perming and colouring awaits this talented thespian.

Steel Magnolias by the Ridgeway Theatre Company is showing at Holy Cross Church, Chiseldon, until Saturday 15 November

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Get Sergeant OUT

Strictly Come DancingI'm sorry pop pickers but he has to go! John Sergeant that is. I liked his twinkly gnome-like appeal to start with, but every week he does the same thing, a bit of marching and an arm extended out here, and then another arm out there. Meanwhile his Russian Marilyn lookalike is throwing herself round like a crazed dervish trying to compensate for his lack of dancing.

If Sergeant stays in tonight, then I predict Heather and sadly Jodie will be in the dance-off. Austin was next but I can't see him ending up in the bottom two. Heather's dance was preferred by the judges to Jodie's samba, so we might have to say goodbye to her. Would be a shame as she's really improving.

Unlike Mr Sergeant!

Friday, November 07, 2008

The world's biggest horse

A snippet of news on TV this morning about Duke, the world's largest horse, catapaulted me back to childhood and an unsolved mystery.

Before the developers took over, there was a tiny road opposite our house in Plymouth called Jones' Fairfields. Huge fairground lorries would go there for winter and it was very entertaining to watch the shenanigans as they tried to manoeuvre the trucks down the tiny lane.

One truck in particular caught my eye. "Horatio (or Hercules) - the world's largest horse."

I was fascinated and wanted to catch a glimpse of this mighty equine, but got chased away when I ventured down the path with my friend David.

Ever since I have wondered about that horse. I've looked on the web but no mentions. It doesn't help that I can't really remember its name, except that it began with H. I'm always reminding Giz that if she sees Maurice Jones, she should ask him about the horse. Gawd I hate unsolved mysteries, and that one heads the list along with the mystery of Rebel's Diner and the Marie Celeste.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Strictly Come Yawning

Strictly Come Dancing preview

I'm disappointed. I love SCD and am usually in a fever of excitement every Saturday after eagerly watching It Takes Two during the week. But this year, I'm missing some of those programmes and not bothering to watch the recording. It seems as if SCD has become a little boring.

I think it's this year's celebrities. Goodness they're all so earnest. So dedicated! So self-effacing. Andrew, when dinged over a bad performance, agreed with the judges! Where's the spark? All of them are on wretched "journeys" and there doesn't seem to be any of the usual tension or rivalry. At the start the show tried to manufacture rivalry between Austin Healey and Tom Chambers. But both are too affable. So we don't even have the usual "must-do-well-at-all-costs" aggressive competing from the athletes. Healey seems to do it effortlessly and Mark Foster was as gentle as a lamb.


Even the business of John Sergeant being kept in by the public has been remarkably benign. He hasn't yet put the judges in the position of having to get rid of a good dancer, which really made things hot up last year. And he isn't as screamingly bad as Kate Garraway or Fiona Phillips. Sometimes hie scores are faintly respectable.

This week they're all doing a different dance so I can't remember who's doing what except that Tom is doing a paso doble, Cherie is doing a samba and Christine an American Smooth.

I predict that John and Heather will be at the bottom of the table and the dance-off will be between Heather and Andrew.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The trouble with Ross & Brand

I've always found Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand individually very talented and amusing. They're probably not very bothered about the current furore about their lewd phone calls on Radio 2 to the elderly and much loved actor Andrew Sachs. I imagine that Brand in particular is enjoying the notoriety. He thrives on it. Remember his recent comments in the US, where an unknown Brand said the President was a moron?

The problem with Ross & Brand is that the BBC is really too restrictive for them. It's hardly edgy, is it, and they both like to challenge to see how far they can go. Ross is pushing 50 and is well aware that his fate is be the next Terry Wogan. He's probably feeling a bit threatened by Brand. Brand on the other hand is a Walter Mitty, a fantasist, whose arrogant claims about women are partially justified I imagine - any old wannabe slapper from Big Brother will probably sleep with him - but he looked a bit foolish the other day when it turned out he hadn't had his wicked way with Rod Stewart's daughter, despite telling the singer he had. It's all bluster. He's one of those men who may end up being a serial womanizer because he loves the thrill and the capture but can't do the cosy intimacy. No woman could be suitably adoring 24/7.

The wishy wishy Tristans of the BBC will now be climbing the walls having been giving a kicking by the Prime Minister and 10,000 Disgusteds of Tunbridge Wells. And the outcome will probably be that a producer will get sacked. Oh I think it very unlikely they would actually punish the highly paid Ross or the very much up-and-coming Brand.

My advice to the two gents would be that they do a Jim Davidson (they share many traits with him) and go out live on the road. They can be as lewd as they like. They may fall flat on their faces of course, but at least it will stretch and challenge them.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Mark Foster and John Sergeant were appalling, as expected

Strictly Come Dancing

As I predicted on Friday, swimmer Mark Foster made what my mum described as a "pig's ear" of his paso doble last night and now resides at the bottom of the leader board. I suspect the public will leave him there, but will probably save John Sergeant. So Foster will either be joined by Christine Bleakley or Heather Small. They're both in the dangerous mid-table position where it all depends on the public vote.

Ah, dear John Sergeant. He had a beguiling charm at the start but I'm getting a bit bored of him now. His paso was notable for him dragging his poor partner across the floor as if he was a caveman taking her to his lair, and for his endless foot stomping. Time for him to go folks!

Heather did a good job, better than I was expecting. I had anticipated that both Cherie and Christine would suffer with the paso doble and I was right. Christine lacked the dramatic performance and Cherie was thrown off kilter by a stumble at the start.

Jodie is looking doggedly good and Lisa Snowdon did OK, although near enough to keep her tenuous place at the top.

A lot of emphasis was placed on how Tom sacrificed his honeymoon to practice, but for crying out loud, he only practiced for 9.5 hours last week so he was lucky that his Viennese waltz was as polished as it was!

Austin Healey did a proficient job but I find him a bit boring, as I tend to find most of the sportspeople. To them it's just a competitive thing of having to do well. I don't see any love of the actual dancing.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Heather and Mark on borrowed time: Strictly Come Dancing preview

I'm doing well with the old predictions, aren't I! Last week I said swimmer Mark Foster and singer Heather Small would be in the dance-off. I was expecting that John Sergeant, although bottom with the judges, would be rescued from the dance-off by the public, and this indeed came to pass.

I was gutted that Heather won the dance-off and dear Don Warrington went out. He put a lot of energy into it whereas she comes across as disinterested. I learnt on It Takes Two this week that her crippling stage fright means her face becomes frozen like a mask, but nonetheless she still looked fed up in training. The public won't tolerate petulance!

This week they're doing a paso doble or a Viennese waltz. I find the old waltz a bit of a yawn really. It's just people pirouetting round in circles. But I do think it will prolong the SCD career of Andrew Castle because in rehearsals he looked suited to the dance and his posture was much improved.

The paso doble will sound the death knell for Mark Foster in my view: I cannot imagine him stamping his feet and mastering the brooding arrogance needed. Cherie Lunghi too looked as if she was struggling in rehearsals. I think this may be her most challenging dance to date.

John Sergeant's paso doble also looks a treat, but for the wrong reasons. I'm hoping for a side splitting comedy turn like the paso provided by the kid from East Enders in the first series, where he raced around with a cape like a demented bat.

Lisa Snowdon seems to have got a bit above herself since coming top of the leaderboard last week. She asserted on It Takes Two that she hopes to rise to the challenge of staying top of the leader board. I thought "steady on dear!" I'm wondering if it was a fluke, but Lisa will show us one way or the other.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Random thoughts: Kelly Brook, Madonna, The Restaurant

Yesterday: Chingford to Swindon and return, total 5 hours. Dentressangle:0, Bailey's equine horse feeds 0, Wilkinson's, 0 (maybe I wasn't looking hard enough).

Random thoughts a-plenty.

Kelly Brook was on one of the news bulletins having opened in her first west end play, Fat Pig. Now Kelly is a ravishing girl, invariably referred to as "curvy Kelly" in the magazines. But she always strikes me as a girl in search of a talent. Goodness knows she tries hard enough. There's been TV presenting, but she only ever comes across as wooden. I caught a glimpse of her in "Dirty Dancing - Time of their Lives" the other day and was appalled when she referred to two candidates as "them two." Whaaaat!

I saw her in a film where she was some Italian countess or some old nonsense, and again, she gave Westonbirt Arboretum a run for its money.

I haven't seen any reviews of her new role yet but seeing as she wears a bikini on stage, I doubt if her acting ability will matter very much.

She has an old-style glamour about her, reminscent of Sophia Loren, but as soon as she opens her mouth it all goes wrong. She has one of those ordinary twittery little girl voices and keeps saying "and um," and giggling. If I was you Kelly, I would have some voice coaching. And keep up with the acting lessons.

Dear Madonna
I'm sure you're pretty fed up with Guy but it would be nice for Lourdes and the gang if you and he didn't have an acrimonious public divorce. I see that you have both hired top-flight "name" divorce lawyers. I see that you're both saying you want a civilised divorce and yet you're both deploying the unsavoury tactic of getting friends and insiders to do your carping in the press. I know you savour control, Madonna, but try to be big about this. If Guy's "insiders" spill the beans, you don't have to respond. Be dignified. For all our sakes.

I very much enjoyed BBC2's The Restaurant last year and was enthusiastic when the new series started recently. But it should really have been a one-off. Monsieur Blanc is too big for his boots this year. He's choosing candidates purely on whether or not they will dance to his tune and nothing to do with their business capabilities. What put the tin hat on it for me was last week's dismissal of Helen and Stephen. Their marketing concept was the best. I could see that "Conquering Cabbage" would be a PR winner in these times of obese children and too much fast food. Maybe the execution was flawed. But it was far superior to the bland, minimalist book put together by those useless boys James and Alasdair.

Because James was a chef and can clearly cook, and is also suitably subservient, Blanc has kept him in the contest, even though he and his business partner Alasdair have been completely clueless in all respects.

Helen on the other hand, while only an average cook, showed that her food for families concept works. Her restaurant was always packed. But because she's too "controlling," as Raymond sneered, she was booted out. Yet in the previous week, she rose to the challenge of cooking for a private dinner party and did very well, whereas James and Alasdair left everything to the last minute and only narrowly averted disaster. I've lost a lot of interest - and respect - for the show now.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Strictly Come Dancing preview: Foster and Small tipped for dance-off

I haven't seen many of the It Takes Two show this week to give you a detailed assessment of "the form" for tonight's much trumpeted boys v girls show. Presenters and judges are trying to whip up a frenzy of anticipation and excitement, but until recent years when they recruited too many celebrities, we saw boys v girls from the start.

It was interesting to see that on the overall leader board, Cherie is top followed by Austin, Tom and then Rachel.

My friend Anonymous is predicting that Tom will be the outright winner. I think he will soon overtake Austin, whose muscly arms will start to hold him back. Rachel will go far but she's not very likeable, at least not to me or A.

It's fascinating to see the personalities develop as the weeks unfold so that characters like Jodie start to become real and the public start to vote for her; whereas the star of others crashes and burns, like Jessie, who I thought would stay in for a while with public support.

I think the days of swimmer Mark Foster are numbered. He looks great but he's too tall and too self-conscious. He's had an acting lesson this week with the ever present John Barrowman but I'm predicting he will be in the dance-off, along with Heather Small. Heather didn't like being in the dance-off last week and could be seen visibly pouting and fuming. She went back to training with low confidence and I think she's got a bit fed up with it all.

I expect John Sergeant will also be at the bottom but Sarah Kennedy's radio campaign to keep the old stager in means he'll be around for a few weeks to come, like a twinkling little extra from Snow White & the Seven height challenged assistants.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Completed: the world's top 10 marathons

Not by me, I hasten to add, although I was present at each and every one.
No, the achievement was by my partner J, who on Sunday completed his 18th marathon in Chicago, and the last one on his list of the world's top 10.

Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Stockholm, London, Honolulu, Berlin, Paris, Boston, New York, Chicago.

On the way he scored a personal best in his 17th marathon, joined the local running club, the Orion Harriers, which improved his confidence and ability no end, and amassed a huge selection of marathon merchandise in the form of t-shirts and fleeces.
John's own visual account is here.

I secured a fancy digital camera in the process because he couldn't stand the useless photos I was taking, which I indignantly blamed on my apparatus. I took the three photos in this post, but sadly only one decent photo of John actually running in Chicago!

Chicago was very hot and not at all windy. On marathon day, the alert changed during the course of the race from amber to red, an indication of the gruelling weather conditions. J was on course for a PB but sensibly slowed down in the last hour and still finished only 15 minutes slower than his target time.

I think I was more worn out than he was, trudging across the city by public transport with my balloon and cow bell. I managed to see him three times during the race but only one photo was any good (despite the fancy camera!).It's hard work being a spectator as you have to be careful with the fluids (few and far between "facilities") and it's very tiring craning your neck to see your loved one among thousands of runners.

We were in Chicago for a few days and did some of the tourist activities: boat trip, open top bus tour, visit to Navy Pier. Navy Pier was notable mainly for a very fine stained glass museum.

The hotel we stayed in, the Palmer House Hilton, was in its own words somewhat over-the-top with painted ceilings similar to the Venetian in Las Vegas and elements of baroque and art deco confusingly combined. Like most US hotels it was too dark and gloomy for my taste.

I've never been too keen on the skyscraper kind of architecture, but the enthusiasm of the tour guides for what Chicago had to offer was infectious and I found myself admiring the Wrigley building, the interestingly shaped Prudential extension and the blunt and assertive Sears and Hancock towers.

Back in London today I mused on the fact that most of our great buildings are very old: the Tower of London, Houses of Parliament, St Paul's Cathedral. Our modern architecture is poor. We have dozens of ugly cement low-rise blocks but the Swiss RE Tower is the only masterpiece among lacklustre "skyscrapers." I'm with Prince Charles on the quality of London's modern architecture, in the main. Carbuncles. Yet Chicago shows what can be achieved.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Relief of the Fleece

The postman delivered two identical parcels this week, one for me and one for my partner. As I felt the large soft package, I beamed with relief. The loser's fleece! J applies for the London Marathon ballot every year and it's in early October that you either get the "congratulations you have secured a place" letter, or what we call the loser's fleece.

In a moment of madness back in April, I actually applied for the ballot as well, although my running is very sporadic. I am not a gifted runner and have been told I have a peculiar gait, which doesn't inspire me to be the next Paula Radcliffe although I quite like buying the latest running gear.

Anyway, I know the form by now, so I was pretty relieved when I received the loser's fleece. Phew. I rang J and said "we're both losers," to which he said "oh no, not the fleece." He then tried it on when he got home and declared it a great asset to his wardrobe.

He will still probably be able to run in the London marathon next year as a member of a running club. He's spent countless hours on marshalling duty at races and taking and uploading photos. Next weekend we will both be in Chicago where he will run his 18th marathon, and the last in the world's top 10 that he hasn't done. Honolulu, London, Berlin, Paris, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Boston, Chicago, New York. It's been quite an oddyssey.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Strictly Come Dancing preview

This week the guys have to do a jive or a tango. I haven't seen all of the Claudia programmes this week but from what I have seen, Gary Rhodes is endeavouring to come across more humble, to try to win more votes, and both he and Andrew Castle have been having trouble with the jive. I think Castle is quite a poor dancer really but somehow he blundered through episode 1 without appearing as if he had two left feet.

Don Warrington's acting skills look as if we're in for a treat of a tango, while Austin Healey seems to have perfected a superb jive.

So if I'm being bullish I would predict the judges' lowest scores will go to Rhodes, Castle and Sergeant, and the dance-off will be between Rhodes and Sergeant.

In the women's opener last Saturday, I was disappointed with Lisa Snowdon, as was the graceless Brendan who did one of his storming offs after she got a low score. But that's the trouble with being too confident. Brendan had hyped her as his best partner ever before we saw her dance, and then she came across quite wooden, probably because of nerves.

I think Heather Small has a lot of potential, as does Rachel Stevens. Cherie Lunghie is a trained dancer and judging by her frame probably dances and does Pilates still, but I don't think she's a serious contender because I doubt if the fickle public will vote for an older woman. Jessie Wallace was very nervous too and I think she's capable of much more.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Stop the poisonous Brown haters

The problem is not Gordon Brown but the evil, selfish enemies within his own cabinet who constantly conspire and plot to undermine him.

David Milliband and co, despicable millipedes who slime around the press. They have lost sight of the fact that their party is at risk because they can't wait to oust the PM to further their own pathetic ambitions.

Apparently, the papers tell us today, no sooner had Mr Brown and his magnificent wife Sarah wowed the Labour Conference and the electorate, then his enemies were back in the bars whispering and spreading rumours. Rumours that she was about to be sacked prompted the vile Ruth Kelly, a self-righteous religious extremist and bigot of the worst kind, to promptly resign, selfishly ignoring the message that might send about her views on Mr Brown. Nice one Ruth; very Christian of you to do that purely to save face.

Milliband, always lurking in the background like some creepy horror film character - Renfield, perhaps from Frankinstein - completely blew his chance to convince anyone that he is a suitable candidate for PM with his pathetic speech.

The snivelling creep is forever telling us that he "isn't about to do a Heseltine," and no he won't because he doesn't have the guts. Instead he goes as far as he can to diminish the PM and to position himself. Let's hope we all see through it, even if the government's Brown haters don't.

My message to that lot: pull yourselves together and get a grip. Accept Brown's leadership and work for the good of the country. These are difficult times, not times for novices, and if you don't stop the in-fighting and bitching, the will party implode. None of you is half the man that Brown is: dignified, scholarly, moral and kind.

Here Come the Girls: Strictly Come Dancing preview

Saturday is the big one - the arrival of the women! From what I've seen on Claudia's Take Two show, they look a strong line-up dance-wise. The only one who looks like a potential Kate Garraway is Gillian Taylforth, who, in the group dance and in rehearsals this week, looks like she's being dragged around by the gallant Anton du Beke. Why does Anton always get the no-hopers? I don't think there's a lot of fairness to the way they "give out" the celebrities. To my mind, the newcomers should have had the no hopers.

Back to the girls. The top three look likely to be Rachel Stevens, Lisa Snowdon and Heather Small. I'm not sure about Christine Bleakley. I think she could be pretty average. I don't think she'll do well with the public because of the ("alleged") business of her stealing Adrian Chiles away from his wife.

Jodie Kidd is just too tall and looked awkward in the group dance, although Zoe Ball is tall and she turned out very well. Cherie Lunghi has had dance training but she's in her late 50s, maybe early 60s, so I think she'll make a good run based on her talent but she's not so likely to win the public vote. A bit similar to Jane Seymour in the US version, Dancing with the Stars.

Jessie Wallace looks as if she'll be fairly competent. She strikes me as another Letitia Dean: has potential but little confidence. She could do well with the fickle old public.

I noticed that Vincent was quoted saying that Rachel Stevens, his partner, was not quite as good as he had expected but "she hasn't had any dance training". I note they always try to get that in. Well, Rachel may not have had formal training but she did spend a lot of her time in S Club Seven dancing and probably worked with top choreographers and trainers, so let's not pretend she's a novice, eh, Vince?

Who are you tipping for the first exit, and to win?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Strictly Come Dancing preview; thanks Southern Electric; the mystery of Rebel's Diner

Yippee Strictly Come Dancing is back tonight and the next few weeks leading up to Christmas are suddenly not quite so dark, oppressive and loaded with the spectre of Christmas.

The first show is a bit of a surprise because we haven't had Claudia's preview show to look at "the form" (although the form on the left is not bad, eh girls?). It's the men tonight, which is less interesting to me than the women next week, but, hey, who cares? It's back!

Everyone I meet keeps saying they can't understand why John Sergeant is doing it, so I'm hoping he's going to prove very nimble and at least go a couple of rounds. I would love to see Gary Rhodes fall flat on his face, particularly after he disappeared from training for two weeks but thought it was ok because "he knows how to dance".

I think the swimmer Mark Foster, pictured, will be very good - and nice to see an older man flying the stud muffin flag!

Thanks Southern Electric

Dear Southern Electric,
It was very nice of you to send us two energy saving light bulbs, and so thoughtfully in two different wattages. You also sent us a leaflet about how we could save money if we switched to you. But I'm just a little confused. You sent the package to "The Occupier" at our address, and I thought we knew each other better than that. You and I have been corresponding and exchanging large sums of money for over 10 years. So next time you write, how about you send it to me by name, and instead of the leaflet, maybe a card saying "a little thank you for all the cash?"

The Mystery of Rebel's Diner
I always know I'm nearly home when I leave the M25 at junction 26 and see the Rebel's Diner snack van in the layby with several articulated lorries jostling for space. It's as vital a part of my journey as the Dentressangle, Wilkinson and Bailey's Equine Horse Feeds lorries. But the diner has been conspicuous by its absence for several weeks. At first I thought they were taking a well earned holiday, but now it's mid September and still no snack van. Rebel Rebel wherefore art thou?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Why can't kids be competitive?

I heard in the news today that newspapers can no longer give the results of football matches played by children under the age of eight year old because it apparently makes them competitive.


This is the sort of thing that makes me splutter and come over all disgusted of Tunbridge Wells.

And the edict has not come from some looney council but from the Football Association.
As a result of the crackdown, stunned managers of under-seven and under-eight teams in the Hunts Mini-Soccer League in Cambridgeshire have been banned from giving scores to the press. The league website lists the weekend scores for teams at older age groups, but simply states 'played' for the younger ages.

We really are going too far with all this nonsense about children competing against each other. My heart swelled with pride yesterday when I saw that the humble UK came second in the medals table at the Paralympics. Second, ahead of the US and Russia. Amazing. But with ridiculous mandates like the FA's, we might as well not bother. Do they have some sort of deathwish as far as footballing success goes? Are they committed to us never being in the World Cup again? Would seem like it, if they don't want youngsters to learn about the thrill and challenges of competing.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Back from my sojourn

The less than fragrant caravan

I've been spending a few days in Torbay with my mother, Giz.

The promised heatwave only partially materialised: Sunday was beautifully hot, a perfect day, and I regret not having a dip in the sea even though I carried my "bathing togs" around all day.

We stayed in a caravan at Beverley Park to reprise a holiday there over 30 years ago. The wagon was new this season (allegedly) but although it delivered on space (three bedrooms and two bathrooms) it was a little smelly, particularly the smaller bathroom. Yeurghhhh!

Why I wanted to stay in a caravan has baffled everyone, but I like the capsule nature of the caravan, this mini house, and I'm always staying in hotels. But next time, to be sure, it will be a hotel.

In its favour the caravan park was very peaceful: you would have thought it empty if the car parks hadn't been full. And the shower was impressively powerful.

Three main higlights of the trip. On Friday night we saw Jane McDonald. The Princess Theatre was full and I was probably the youngest there, to give you an idea of demographics. We enjoyed the show: she had a seven piece band, three backing singers and a magnificent voice, better than I remembered. But we did get a bit weary of the relentless plugging of her new album and being urged by Lady Jane to stand for her encore. I don't mind giving a standing ovation if it's of my own volition, but I resent being told to do it. So I stayed seated.

The next highlight was Sunday lunch at the Corbyn Head Hotel in Torquay. This is like stepping back into yesteryear. Three course lunch: dining room filled to capacity with smart old ladies, and smiling staff who seemed to be happy in their work. All that was needed was a dessert trolley and maybe a malodorous cheese board to complete the journey to the 70s.

Final highlight was the Sunday weather and a perfect stroll around the prom at Goodrington with the steam train chugging by and a large clotted cream cornet.

After all the gastronomic delights, suffice to say I am "now back on Nutracheck"although the website appears to be down and I am anxious lest they have done a Lehman on us.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Get ready for the heatwave!

The Indian summer will hit us on Saturday, folks, so get the picnic hampers ready for one last outing!

I've been confident the weather will turn good for the last few months, ever since I booked a caravan holiday in Torquay for me and my mum back in March.

Spookily we're going to Beverley Park, where we last stayed in 1975 and my dad had his swimming trunks stolen from the washing line.

It's a sobering thought to think of 30+ years elapsing. It goes by so quickly.

As a child I used to faithfully document every minute of our holidays: what we ate and when, what we did and which shows we saw.

Here'a are some extracts from the book I put together on Bournemouth, which was our 1974 holiday and the first time we'd ever stayed in a hotel as a family.

Some highlights:
- The intrepid party set off at 8.45. The journey (from Plymouth) took six and three quarter hours and included pushing the car which broke down.
- Once in Bournemouth, the party couldn't find the hotel and there was half an hour of arguing.
- the carpet in my bedroom, shared with my brother, was pink and mauve and the wallpaper green. There were pink candlewick bedspreads and the beds were "a bit hard."
Sunday: went on yellow open top bus around Bournemouth, Went on the beach but it rained. Went to see the Three Musketeers at the Gaumont.
Monday: went shopping. Dad went to watch the cricket. Mum took us to Tuckton pleasure gardens. Had a shandy and crisps outside a pub. In the evening went to the Mike Yarwood show.

He did impressions of Harold Wilson, Twiggy (he held up a microphone), Steptoe & Son, Brian Clough, Max Bygraves and Ken Dodd.
Tuesday: went to Poole and Compton Acres. On the way back the bus broke down outside Marks & Spencer so we went in and Mum liked a trouser suit but couldn't buy it because her cheque book was at the hotel. So we went back to get it, and she bought me a denim skirt and blue jumper too.
Wednesday: went to Corfe Castle and the model village. Then went to see the tanks at Bovington. Didn't like that very much. In the evening we saw "Move over Mrs Markham" at the Pier Theatre. It was rubbish.
Thursday: listened to the band at Pine Walk in the park. Had lunch in BHS. I went to the shell house on my own and came back and suffered the Lifeguards again.

Friday: went to the beach. I was the only one in the sea. Had hot dogs for lunch. Went to the Lulu show (sadly without David Bowie, although here they are pictured in 1974).

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Death knell for another pier

Just weeks after the historic pier at Weston-super-Mare was destroyed by fire, we lose another one, Fleetwood Pier in Lancashire.
I am a great admirer of the historic pleasure piers. It's very sad how some of them have been allowed to fall into disrepair and virtually left to rot, while others have been turned into nothing more than an amusement arcade.
I was lucky enough to be one of the last visitors to have a walk down Brighton's west pier a few years ago. It was closed except to organised groups, and in a poor state of repair. This was Britain's only grade 1 listed pier. Sadly it was destroyed by fire amid rumours and claims of rivalry and competitiveness with Brighton's other pier, the lairy and commercialised pier formerly known as the Palace Pier, and now known as "Brighton Pier".
Why oh why can't lottery funding be extended to preserve any of the few remaining piers which need to be restored and reinstated?
The reason they are so important is linked to our fairly recent history when thousands of day trippers would swarm down the piers on their rare days off from work (the original bank holidays), and when the wealthy would parade up and down in their finery.
Along with the marvellous art deco pools, these are a hark back to a different time and equally important as some of the stately homes and other listed buildings.
To read about the old west pier in Brighton check out this site
If you want to learn more about the historic piers join the National Piers Society.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Strictly Come Dancing line-up

It's a true harbinger of autumn along with conkers and Christmas cards appearing in the shops: the announcement of the Strictly Come Dancing line-up.

For the benefit of my US visitors, this is the show that led to all the other SCD versions across the globe and "Dancing with the Stars" in America. It's really big in the UK and has single handedly rescued the career of Bruce Forsyth (who really should be knighted soon, Queen, if you're reading).

So here's my assessment of the line-up announced today and their ideal partner (my selections):
"Bubbly Birds"
Rachel Stevens -- bit of a has-been now and looking to rejuvenate her career. Brown hair in the BBC picture. Makes her look a bit ordinary. Partnered with Anton du Beke because he always gets an old bird with no chance of winning.
Jodie Kodd - looking to revitalise her career after an alleged drugs scandal. Tall skinny ex-model. She'll have to have the lovely Ian Waite because she's so tall.
Heather Small - I remember an amazing voice - "Proud." Maybe Matthew Cutler.

Older Birds
There's always one or two from EastEnders. This time there are two, Jessie Wallace and Gillian Taylforth. For Jessie I would say Vincent and for Gillian, tee hee, the awful Brendan.
Lisa Snowden who went out with George Clooney and makes a clown of herself on Britain's Next Top Model. (She would expect to be in Bubbly Birds category. I'll pair her with Darren Bennett.)

Older Blokes
Chef Gary Rhodes will no doubt be showing off his muscles (I've written about him before, and it wasn't flattering). For him, Karen Hardy.
John Sergeant, 64, is my tip for the first exit. I thought he was fabulous when he stood in on Have I Got News For You? Maybe the lovely Flavia?
Don Warrington with the rich honied tones (ex Rising Damp). Partnered with Erin Boag.

Sports people

The boring and hugely competitive inevitable sportspeople are: Mark Foster, the swimmer who carried our Olympic flag (no medals though) and a rugby player called Austin Healey. For Mark I would recommend Camilla Dallerup and for Austin, Nicole Cutler.

The obligatory GMTV presenter is Andrew Castle, the ex tennis player, who will no doubt be ferociously competitive and wanting to do better than Fiona Phillips and Kate Garraway. And that won't be hard, will it? I was hoping for LK.
Some woman from The One Show, Christine Bleakley.
Tom Chambers from Holby City. Don't watch it now (not since Mr Mayer left) so don't know who he is, but would suspect he must be the obligatory young stud muffin when you look at the rest of the men!
For these three, I would recommend the three new professional dancers (wonder who's not taking part this year?).

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The obesity epidemic

The Conservatives today said they wouldn't inflict a "nanny state" by intervening to stop the obesity epidemic. This sparked an interesting debate on the Jeremy Vine show, which normally I avoid like the plague. Anne Diamond, the former broadcaster who had her stomach stapled or a gastric band or whatever, is now some sort of obesity spokeswoman, and she sparked off some new thinking for me by highlighting that obesity is also a major problem in countries like Australia and Japan.

Previously I had blamed the obesity problem on previous governments selling off school playing fields; on schools stopping domestic science, so that nobody knows how to cook nowadays, and the fact that nasty old junk food is actually addictive, as proven in "Supersize Me" where the guy's mouth would start salivating every time he went near MacDonald's.

There's obviously some wider social issues at play and it's gratifying to know it's not just Britain that is becoming a nation of lardasses.

Predictably, several listeners rang up to say that fat people should simply eat less, but when food is used as an emotional crutch, it's much harder to say no. I speak from experience as I used to be a bit of a lardass myself but in the last four years have more or less eaten sensibly and exercised. Occasionally half a stone creeps back on, because food is damned enjoyable and I enjoy eating my way round the nation's restaurants, but then I have to rein myself in and go back on the Gillian McKeith regime.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Hall Marks - a new type of award!

You may have heard of the Blackwell awards where some unknown American lambasts celebrities for their frock horrors each year.

Well, I'm now launching the Hall Mark Awards, a list of people I find interesting - and a list of people I would avoid like the plague.

I can see this becoming a big property on Living TV and I'm quite happy to be styled and loaned some rocks and Manolos.

So without further ado, here is my list of The Most Interesting. I wouldn't invite them to a dinner party at the same time because there would be too much competitive preening and bitching. But on a one-to-one basis, I'd quite happily share my picnic with any of these.
In no particular order:

1) Carol McGiffin: the mouthy one on Loose Women and ex-wife of Chris Evans (see entry 9). We seem to share the same robust views on a number of topics and both belong to the "get a grip" school of, well, getting a grip.
2) Jane McDonald: hmmm there's a Loose Women thread developing here. And do you know, I am actually seeing Lady Jane in Torquay soon with my mum! Love her deadpan northern humour.
3) Sarah and Gordon Brown: I would much prefer to have dinner with the Browns than dinner with the Camerons (see my Really Boring List). I imagine dinner would be simple and unpretentious, Gordon is probably very erudite and well read, and they wouldn't subject their guests to a lot of emperor's new clothes type nonsense.
4) Russell Brand: to start with, I thought he was a mouthy big haired loon, but I now "get" him. Love his word play and cruel personality.
5) AA Gill (Sunday Times critic). Another one with an interesting way with words. His nemesis Giles Coren is on my other list.

6) Jerry Hall: a woman ageing gracefully without using botox or other nasties.
7) Dame Vivienne Westwood: complete class act and as mad as a hatter.
8) Dame Helen Mirren (a dame thread is now developing). For showing what a 62 year old can look like, without making us feel bad about it (see other list entry #10, Madonna).
9) Chris Evans: I didn't use to like him but I get so affronted when he's on holiday and we're lumbered with Richard what's his name (Allison?) that I won't listen.
10) Cynthia Nixon: my favourite from Sex & The City.

The Hall Mark List of Really Boring Tedious People
1) The Camerons: achingly "trendy" Boden clad smoothies who no doubtdrone on about the provenance of their food, which schools are the best, which cars are the most fuel efficient and how they're listening to the Ting Tings (when really they're listening to Shirley Bassey).
2) Gordon Ramsay: so over!
3) Sienna Miller: file under "slapper"
4) June Sarpong: smug

5) Mylene Klass: smug and ubiquitous. Someone stop her from appearing in everything on TV! Fully expecting to see her looming up in Strictly Come Dancing and Countdown.
6) Kate Spicer: hang dog looking journalist and alpha woman, always moaning on about eating disorders and hating fat people (needs to see a shrink if you ask me)

7) Giles Coren: as we saw from "Super size", the man has had a personality bypass. All he seemed to do was frantically chew whatever it was he was given, testicles etc.
8) Jennifer Aniston: needy.
9) Angelina Jolie: pious and smug.
10 Madonna: I admire her for showing that 50 year old women do not become invisible. But she's so controlling and disciplined I long for the couch just thinking about her.

Monday, August 18, 2008

It's not rocket science

Apparently the authorities in Zakynthos and Malia (Crete) are in an uproar about the behaviour of drunken, promiscuous and aggressive young British tourists. Even the British ambassador has been called over to account for himself ("Good lord!").

I'd like to offer some free advice to the Greeks.

If you want to appeal to families and stop the rot of marauding teenagers and 20- somethings, then get your bar owners and restrauteurs to a) close at midnight and b) stop serving cheap alcohol in gold fish bowls.


That's what they did in Ayia Napa, Cyprus, and the place is now largely cleansed of these appalling people.

I don't blame the kids themselves. After after working the longest hours in Europe, eating the worst diet and getting no exercise, it's not surprising they feel like letting off steam. The problem is the avaricious bar and restaurant owners who can retire for the winter after a good summer intoxicating the youths of Britain. Close the bars early and hike up the price of alcohol and you'll soon see those parasites, the likes of Club 18-30, seeking a new destination to spoil.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tears for Paula

I doubt if there was a dry eye in the land as the nation awoke to discover that Paula Radcliffe had another disasterous marathon at the Olympics. Paula was very brave to finish and actually came 23rd so not a terrible performance. Brendan Foster seemed to be suggesting that maybe she shouldn't have run at all, knowing that she wasn't fully prepared for the race. It was very sad nonetheless to see such a great runner failing to add an Olympic medal to her tally of trophies.

This Olympics seems to have been more of a tear jerker than it normally is. Somehow you don't feel like crying for Michael Phelps as he ruthlessly snatches yet another victory, like some sort of automaton. But it's very emotional when the old British flag goes up, particularly when, yesterday, Brits in the velodrome actually started singing the words.

We have done very well this time. People will always sigh about our medal performance but if you compare us to nations with the same size population (eg Turkey, Spain, Poland) we're streets ahead. It all augers well for 2012.

Now, onto 2012. I'm fed up with all the moaning about "we won't be able to top the Chinese opening ceremony." Tosh! Few other countries have the heritage, history and cultural diversity that we enjoy. I'm sure we can pull off an amazingly colourful and entertaining opening ceremony. It doesn't have to have all the hugely expensive computer generated trickery or perfect looking people. I see it including Scottish pipers, Welsh male voice choirs, Irish dancing, ballet, ballroom dancing, scenes from Shakespeare and Dickens....and ending with "All you need is love" performed by Paul & Ringo with the sons of George and John. How about that!

All I hope is that we throw enough money at the 2012 Olympics to make it work like a dream and run like clockwork. I don't want any meltdowns or issues with public transport. We don't want another Terminal 5 type debacle. If we run the Olympics like we run the royal pageants, it should be flawless. Can't wait!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Some random thoughts and not a lorry in sight

Britain's answer to Paris Hilton, Peaches Geldof, has just embarked on her first marriage. I say "first" because I know with doom laden certainty that this sudden Las Vegas coupling isn't for keeps. It seems to be some sort of promotional push for her new husband's band. Ironic, seeing as in an interview recently in one of the "quality" papers she lamented the way she is always being compared to her mother. This after she was rushed to hospital after an alleged drugs overdose.

It seems Peaches cannot exist without the oxygen of press coverage, mostly negative. She seems doomed to travel on the roller coaster of Z list celebritydom and to live out one failed marriage after the next.

Wrong? Hope she proves me wrong. But somehow I doubt it.

Meanwhile the city where I was born, Plymouth, has been in a lather of excitement thanks to 14 year old sychronised diver Tom Daley. (My brother Robert was apoplectic at the Radio Times crediting Portsmouth for this prodigy - a most unfortunate error, given that bloody Portsmouth has been preferred over Devonport and the dockyard there is now doomed to closure).
Unusually for a 14 year old, Tom is confident and lucid, and quickly became over-hyped by the press both in the UK and in China. The fact that his 26 year old diving partner then criticised him when they came bottom didn't surprise me in the least. The poor guy was barely mentioned in the run-up to the Olympics, even though it takes two to do synchronised diving. He was bound to be secretly seething, and by the next Olympics will probably be over the hill.

Let's hope Tom comes good in the individual diving event near the end of the Olympics. Otherwise four words "Eddie The Eagle Edwards" spring to mind.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Picnic Panic

One of the hazards of a UK summer is that you're doomed to being cautiously optimistic, but then having your hopes dashed. If only we could rely on constantly good weather, like we had a couple of years ago!

As I write, it's raining, and I'm hoping that tomorrow will be one of those rare perfect sunny days, as we're off to the Innocent village fete at Regent's Park. It sounds right up my street - I love fetes, but nowadays they're mostly glorified car boot sales.

My mum always has great expectations for Christmas but for me it's all about halycon summers. I'm always living in hope of wonderful picnics, BBQs and garden parties with those little lantern fairy lights threaded on trees. I want tartan picnic rugs, I want chilled Pimms, I want little savoury eggs, lots of laughter and no wasps.

What I invariably get is "light showers" (necessitating umbrellas and unflattering plastic capes as well as the cool box and sun cream), gloomy companions and a sense of "we've had the picnic, can we go now?"

When I was a kid I don't recall many picnics, except for the packed lunches we'd have at Tinside pool. There was always greaseproof paper and a hard boiled egg, and if Grandma was around, a wet flannel (she was ahead of her times, predicting the rise of the Wet Wipe).

What we did do, nearly every Sunday, was go out for a drive after the roast. My dad Stamps was a somewhat irascible character at the best of times and on many occasions he would drive us angrily to somewhere like Tavistock and then say "I've brought you here so enjoy yourselves." Once he got so mad on the way to Newquay (before the Indian Queens bypass) that when we got there, he decided we would go straight home.

But the funniest thing about those trips was the car coats. Do you remember them? What a strange concept - funny anorak type coats that were sold to wear in the car!

I can still picture my nose pressed against the glass of our saluki bronze Cortina, wearing my green car coat, and hoping for laughter and savoury eggs at Tavistock or wherever it was we were headed.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Barry George freed

I wrote a few months ago about the miscarriage of justice that resulted in Barry George languishing in prison for the murder of Jill Dando, a former colleague of mine, whom I did not believe he was capable of killing.

Today he was freed.

Embarrassing for the police who now have to reopen the case. I can't help thinking it's all too convenient for the police to accuse people like Barry George, Stefan Kiszko and Derek Bentley who are easy targets. In a high profile case like Jill's, a decisive result was needed fast. The local "nutter" who idolised several TV celebrities was an ideal candidate. He probably caved in very quickly under questioning because his grasp of reality is apparently very limited.

Goodness knows what his defence case was like in the case that sent him to prison because anyone could blast a thousand holes in it. His "army experience" was a couple of days in the TA (they got rid of him). The evidence against him was purely circumstantial.

He's spent eight years in jail but he's of the lucky ones. Derek Bentley was hanged, (later given a posthumous pardon) Stefan Kiszko was freed after 16 years and died a year later aged 44.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Privacy laws? Good idea

The Daily Mail and the News of the World are unlikely bedfellows but today, following the hearing in which Max Mosley won his privacy case against the News of the World, the Mail and the other papers are screeching about how it might pave the way for draconian privacy laws.


Now this wouldn't have been my stance a few years ago. As a trained journalist, I was all for freedom of the press and proud of the press we had in the UK.

But now? Well, the papers didn't even seem repentant last week when Robert Murat won half a million pounds because they made up stories about him in connection with the Madeleine McCann case. Yes, made up stories. Unheard of a few years ago except in papers like the Sunday Sport.

The truth is that Britain's press has become entirely inconsequential. How many papers honestly have world exclusives these days? How many genuinely reveal stories that are in the public's interest (rather than providing titillation, in the case of the NOTW, and the Mail in its salacious repeating of the story today)?

Answers on a postcard.

Recently I mentioned to a French colleague how our papers, including the broadsheets who are frankly just as bad, swoon over Carla Bruni's every move. She gave a shrug and said the French weren't bothered about Madame Sarkozy. Nor were they bothered when President Mitterand's mistress turned up at his funeral. They didn't care that he had a mistress, if they knew at all. Imagine what would happen here. I do remember in fact "Paddy Pantsdown" as the memorable headline which ended the career in UK politics of Paddy Ashdown.

A few privacy laws might do us all some good. It might free celebrities and royalty from paraparazzi everywhere they go, and put an end to the cruelty of pictures appearing in national papers pointing out celebrity cellulite or "curves."

Maybe with less trivia in the papers they would have to go back to being proper journalists, stop rehashing stories from their competitors (on Mondays the Daily Mail serves up everything that was in the Sunday Times) and stop trying people before their cases have been heard in court (let me suggest a couple of names: Robert Murat, Colin Stagg).

Finally, I heard the NOTW's lawyer bleating yesterday that Mosley wasn't fit to shake the hands of royalty around the world and lead the F1 gravy train. Oh yes? And I'm sure that the overpaid pampered men who live and work in the F1 world, with access to dozens of eager groupies, are all squeaky clean! Next joke please.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A quintessentially English experience

Last night we went to a Picnic in the Park at Kenwood House in leafy Hampstead.

It was an experience as English as you can possibly get: hundreds of people shaking out their picnic rugs and unloading luscious picnics, mainly from M&S and Waitrose (I was picnic spotting). No youths bearing knives, except possibly plastic ones. Recession what recession - I saw numerous bottles of champagne and other fine wines. No bottles of Mateus Rose in Hampstead, that's for sure.

We collected our picnic having ordered it in advance from Carluccio's. Last time we went to Kenwood for a Picnic in the Park (two years ago) the hamper supplier was Marks & Spencer. I have to say that the Carluccio's hamper, at £45, was not good value. It was not very carefully packed and one of the bottles of water had leaked so the two paper plates were sodden. The contents were a bit hit and miss too. Too much rocket for my liking and everything seemed to be swimming in a patina of olive oil.

I've resolved to take my own picnic next year so we can have our favourite yummies. For me, quiche, kettle chips, Scotch egg and an egg custard tart. J is a man of simple tastes and would probably be satisfied with a ham and coleslaw roll and maybe a chicken breast to gnaw on (he is not a leg man).

Anyway the concert was superb - Summer Proms with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Lots of favourites: Sousa's Semperfidelis (the theme tune for Plymouth Argyle FC), Elgar's Nimrod (which always chokes me up, as it reminds me of my dad) and finally the 1812 Overture, regrettably without fireworks. A very enjoyable evening. I am trying to persuade J that we should go to Last Night of the Proms at Kenwood on August 23, but I fear that the deckchair and the cold has put him off until next year.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Flying with the shysters

We're back from our annual summer sojourn, and this year it was to the Greek island of Rhodes.
A splendid holiday was enjoyed. The hotel - Rodos Park Hotel - was superb; its location, near Old Town, was excellent, and we were blown away by the architecture. I hadn't expected Rhodes to have such stunning examples of medieval roads, not to mention the fortresses and castles from more recent (but still distant) times.

Only a couple of black spots. The first was the unrelenting commercialism of some of the restaurants in Old Town. We found three that were delightful, Fotis (the best fresh fish), Archodiko (very exuberant host and home cooking) and Odyssey (a superb oaky chardonnay was discovered). But there was one restaurant that defied belief. We had noticed some really tall buildings with rooftop diners and several levels of dining. We decided to try one, but once ushered into the building found we had to trudge up the steps in a very shabby staircase, and once at rooftop level, found there was no escape.
The tables were very close together, the other diners were looking round crossly (looking for the waiters we subsequently discovered) and there was a general atmosphere of discontent.
The three waiters were harried and stressed. The meal itself was dreadful. I wanted moussaka but it only came as a starter (which baffled me, because most restaurants would simply offer to provide a bigger portion as a main course), so I quickly opted for kleftico which I normally love. But it was inedible, and cost an amazing 34 euros! My starter was given to the wrong table; the water only came in small bottles. Everyone seemed to be challenging their bills and calling for the waiters.

So that was one bad experience. The other was the return flight with Easyjet. When I booked the holiday originally, the carrier was BA, but unfortunately the route was later sold to Easyjet. I don't usually mind them too much as long as you buy speedy boarding so that you can bypass the awful stampede. But they really surpassed themselves on the flight home.
It was due to leave at 11pm. We were all herded into the gate area (although the screens at Rhodes were not working so no-one knew which gate it was). 11pm came and went. No announcements, no staff to ask. Eventually there was an announcement from Easyjet to claim refreshments for the delayed flight. A stampede ensued for a flattened cheese sandwich and bottle of water. Another announcement wrongly said boarding was about to commence, but we couldn't see a plane. Nonethless there was another stampede. About an hour and a half later we did board (huge stampede this time because it was a different gate) and the captain gave the usual sob story about defective planes, planes flying from Heraklion etc etc, and then added that this was a brand new plane about to make its first commercial flight, and he had had problems with it earlier in the day. Too much information! I am an easy flier but I found myself gripping the seat as we took off, and familiarising myself with the emergency exit which we were sitting next to (having purchased, judiciously, speedy boarding).
My elder bruder and I always used to refer to Easyjet as the shysters, and it does suit them. If only they had made some sort of announcement or apology at the airport instead of leaving us stewing. We finally landed at 4.30am instead of the promised 1.00am and were home by 6am on Sunday.
Would we go there again? Well we might. But J seems to have a long haul hankering and I'd like to go somewhere more unspoilt - perhaps Croatia? So we'll see.
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