Thursday, September 30, 2010

This autumn, if my Italian translation is correct, you can travel by train around the whole of Italy for nineteen euro. Now why can’t the rail companies in Britain put out bargains like that? I know the Greek railway company is in dire financial straights (where in Greece isn’t?) but the Italians seem to be able to manage theirs most comfortably. I see also that thanks to Chinese investment, Angolan railways are being restored and updated with brand new trains and stations. It’s a terrible shame but when a country loses its rail system the chances of getting it back are negligible. Kenya I believe is a good example where I am told by those who have visited the country recently, engines and rolling stock have toppled over beside the track and are just left lying there.
Mrs Mary Bale aged 45 of Coventry who dumped a cat in a wheelie bin is being taken to court charged with animal cruelty. I still cannot fathom what could have possessed the woman in that moment of madness.
A CCTV camera in Weymouth caught a man dumping his dog in a car park. The sequence shows them both getting out of the car and walking over to a grassy area to give the dog a run. But then the man hurries back to his car alone, jumps in, slams the door and drives off leaving the dog to watch the car disappear. Call me a bleeding heart if you like but watching this act of cruelty truly saddened me. It doesn’t take much to imagine how that animal felt as it saw the car drive away.
The dog, now named Ginger, is estimated to be about eight years old. Presuming the man had her from a puppy was it so easy just to discard an old friend like that? Dogs are the most devoted loyal faithful creatures; they are emotional and have a mind. Seeing her master driving away without her must have been the cause of great distress, apprehension, fear even. So the question is why would the man behave this way? Is it because of the recession? The feeling that he could no longer afford to keep the dog? In that case wouldn’t it have been kinder to take it to the city pound where they might seek in fact are seeking a new home for it and have had hundreds of calls. At least he didn’t dump it on a busy motorway which has been known to happen. I sincerely hope a new caring loving home is found for Ginger and I also hope the man is traced and prosecuted. Unfortunately the cameras failed to pick up the car’s registration number but there are only a certain amount of cars in Weymouth that make and that shade of blue which narrows the field and surely a neighbour will wonder what has happened to the dog and put two and two together. After all, Mary Bale was recognised on Facebook; hopefully this guy will be as well.
Ex-pats in Greece are continually writing letters to the Athens News decrying the cruelty to animals they come across but a friend who worked with the RSPCA in England told us there is just as much cruelty there but it is not so blatant. The fact is cruelty is prevalent the whole world over. There are thousands of cruelly treated unwanted animals and thousands of cruelly treated unwanted children.
There is a children’s hymn I remember from being a child which goes “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.’ My question then to Almighty God, who Christians would have us believe is all benign and loving, is why doesn’t He take better care of his creatures great and small? And all that guff about consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air and Jesus’ chat about the good shepherd really doesn’t add up to a row of beans.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

So not everyone gave a heartfelt welcome to the Pope. Understandable with the likes of the Rev Ian Paisley and his kind who would shout “No Popery” at the drop of a hat, but on the Pope’s last day it is estimated that 20000 people complete with banners and placards that were anything but complimentary, in fact some quite virulent, marched through the streets of London in protest at his visit. I am still wondering if the church, a fabulously wealthy corporation, put anything towards the twelve million it cost. I use the word corporation deliberately.

Another quaint old religious custom akin to the chickens around the head, this one from England.
The grave of the last known "sin-eater" in England has been restored in a Shropshire village churchyard; that of Richard Munslow, who was buried in Ratlinghope in 1906. Sin-eaters were generally poor people paid to eat bread and drink beer or wine over a corpse, in the belief they would take on the sins of the deceased. Believers thought the sin-eater taking on the sins of a person who died suddenly without confessing their sins would allow the deceased's soul to go to heaven in peace. While most of the sin-eaters were poor people or beggars, Mr. Munslow was a well-established farmer in the area. The Reverend Norman Morris, the vicar of Ratlinghope said: "It was a very odd practice and would not have been approved of by the church but I suspect the vicar often turned a blind eye to it. It died out in the nineteenth century."
A strange aspect of this custom is that it was evidently prevalent in Wales where I am sure chapel goers definitely did not approve. That definitely smacked much too much of Rome.
I’m sure Mister Munslow enjoyed his beer and his vittles but I wonder who was around to eat his sins when he popped his clogs? Maybe he twirled one of his chickens around his head.
Two more little stories from little England - Southern Railways has been branded a "disgrace" by union chiefs after it emerged some of its new fleet will have no toilets on board. The company has opted to forgo the facilities on its latest trains running on the Portsmouth to Brighton service. The Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers' union (RMT) said on a journey of that length it was "unacceptable". The firm said trains would run in areas with short journeys where most people travel for less than half an hour but a journey from Portsmouth to Brighton can take up to an hour-and-a-half.
Independent rail passenger watchdog Passenger Focus said the decision was a blow for passengers who were elderly, had medical conditions and travelled with children. One and a half hours without any toilet facilities on board is unacceptable”
Southern Railways said the trains, which are to be introduced in December, have been designed to create more space for passengers. (ie to make more money). A spokeswoman said the new trains would have a "refreshed interior" including new seats and flooring, a passenger information system and flexible spaces for wheelchairs and cycles. She added other trains in its fleet also did not have toilets on board." Quite a few other operators do not have toilets," she added, which of course makes it all right, dunnit?
The Department for Transport said there were no rules on whether or not toilets should be available on trains.
Well, all I can say is after our Italian trip, returning to Athens by train there didn’t seem to be a toilet on board. (Actually there was but we hadn’t noticed it) so by the time we reached the outskirts of Athens and disembarked at a brand new station built especially for The Olympics only to find there was no toilet on the station. (Actually there was but the station staff refused to open it “Toilet?” they said “What toilet?” ‘The one with WC on the door’ Douglas said. Made no difference. There was no toilet at this station and that was that) I was in a dire state and eventually almost demolished the loo in a nearby restaurant.
Second story - children at a school near Selby have had a play break cancelled and hard ball games banned after neighbours complained to the council about noise. Barlby Community Primary School has also put up a soundproof fence because it fears being served with a noise abatement order. The school said the decisions were "regrettable" but necessary to prevent the chance of a notice being served.
Some parents are unhappy about the move, which was also criticized by the organization Play England. The measures were put in place after some neighbours contacted environmental health officials. The school's afternoon outside break has now been cancelled and other breaks have been staggered so fewer children are in the playground at the same time.
When we lived in Ladbroke Grove the back windows of the flat overlooked a concrete jungle not fifty yards away and the noise during breaks was something alarming but we got used to it and lived with it so the moral of the story is, if you don’t want the sound of airplane engines don’t live under the Heathrow flight path, if you don’t like the sound of trains don’t live near the railways lines and if you object to the noise in a school playground don’t live next to the school. They’re kids for goodness sake. And if you object to litter don’t live next to a bus shelter but that is by the by.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

There are some aspects of religion that leave me completely baffled (Yes I am back on that hoary old subject, sorry.) Evidently on the eve of Yom Kippur some very orthodox Jews have a ‘wail’ of a time beneath chickens, swinging them around their heads and praying for forgiveness of sins, the chickens thereby taking on those sins! Chickens forsooth! Poor chickens. Some less orthodox Jews are objecting to the practice because of cruelty to the chickens. I would object to it as being plain daft but if there are those who can seriously believe in this sort of magic who am I to gainsay them?
An Imam has come up with a mosque in a box for those who can’t get to the proper thing. Actually all it consists of is three, what in theatre terms are called flats, nicely decorated and leaving the fourth wall open. I don’t reckon though that it is an easy piece to travel with as the unwieldy looking flats are wide and at least seven foot high. Try getting the airlines to take that without a hefty charge.
There should be a law taking to task those parents who give their children stupid names, people like Bob Geldof for example. After all, they aren’t the ones who have to go through life with these monikers attached. The latest is Jamie Oliver, the naked chef who as far I know has never appeared naked and possibly just as well, whose fourth child, a son, has just been born and is named – wait for it – no, seriously folks, wait for it -Buddy Bear! Okay, when you’ve stopped laughing his three daughters are named Poppy Honey, Daisy Boo and Petal Blossom. Terrific. Is this all part of fashionista thinking or the celebrity culture? The birth is recorded on the font page of the Mail complete with photograph. That is headline news? Journalism has sunk to its lowest depths, its nadir. It must be the silly season. Hopefully we’ll come to the end of it soon.
The Pope and the Vatican keep on making people angry. The Pope has equated atheism with Nazism much to the fury of humanists. It don’t bother me none because I take most of what he says with a pinch of salt anyway. The Vatican have put foot in mouth by saying the subject of women priests is a crime equivalent to child abuse or something like that, I can’t actually remember but child abuse is as good as any and they should know.
When I was young I sometimes wondered what it would be like to be old. Now that I am old, in my eightieth year, I sometimes have to remind myself that that is what I am; that I can’t do the things I used to do and that now there is no time to fulfil some of those cherished dreams. That is a cause for some sadness but also for acceptance.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Another seven hour power cut. Why does it always happen on a Blog day?
A short time back Chris bought from Harmers, the stamp auction house, an envelope on which there was a depiction of George Leybourne, Champagne Charlie. It is added to the Jones/Beeching collection of course which, thanks to Chris and no credit to me, has become quite impressive. Now Harmers send me the catalogue for every auction they hold. It is a beautifully produced fully illustrated, publication I suppose you would call it, that gives a wealth of information about stamps. I can’t afford to buy any of them of course (the Ch.Ch. one fortunately didn’t cost an arm and a leg) but maybe one day I might try and sell a few. I do have some quite interesting stamps in my collection. I wouldn’t know though whether they are worth anything. The latest catalogue is titled ‘All World Stamps and Postal History’ from 115 vendors and is truly intriguing consisting not only of stamps but addressed envelopes and postcards to muse over. I always thought that Victorian Penny stamps, black, red or blue were extremely rare but that would not seem to be the case because, apart from twenty or more on correspondence, there are two whole pages mainly of blacks but also some reds and blues.
Some envelopes are really fascinating, maybe only to a philatelist, but how about this? A letter posted in Paris from John Monroe and Company to James H. Davidson, Lemington, Rockridge County, Virginia. It’s difficult to make out the date but the interesting part is the printed ‘Par Steamer Pr les États-Unis and at the top in ink is written ‘Liverpool Cunard Steamer.’ One of the most expensive stamps at £5000 is one from Eritrea but on the back cover is a trio consisting of Penny blue, a black and a Penny red, a snip at £7000. But that is beaten by an envelope addressed to Mr Hill, Nicol Tweedies Esq., 41 West George Street, Glasgow stamped with a penny black and priced at £8500.
Nicol Tweedies sounds really fascinating. Every envelope tells a story.

The queen and the Pope said nice things to each other when they met and gave each other presents. Did he bow to her? Did she kiss his ring? What would the protocol be in this situation? We haven’t been told. At least I don’t think so. I was mistaken when I said the cost of his visit would be one and a half million. That is the estimated cost for police security. The true cost was ten to twelve million. That’s thirty million a day. Cheap at the price is wot I says. What a brouhaha and gigantic circus the whole thing was.
Fifty prominent figures sent a letter to The Guardian objecting to the Pope’s visit saying he should not be given the honour of a state welcome. Others have objected as well. This is due mainly to the Pope’s stance on homosexuality, abortion, and contraception (remember the 13000000?) etcetera. There are naturally also those who objected on religious grounds, first and foremost of course being the Presbyterians: the Moderator of the church in Scotland but again first and foremost that ranting monster raving so-called Christian bigot to end all bigots, the Rev Ian Paisley who has been made a lord would you believe? Elevated to the peerage! Why? On what grounds? Shows you what a farce the honours system is.
The manufacturers of tat though had a field day with souvenirs of the visit from quite expensive to fairly cheap - £20 down to £3 – baseball caps with Cardinal Newman’s words ‘Heart will speak unto heart’, T-shirts likewise, mugs, rosaries, bracelets, plates, hideous electric candles and so forth and so on and looking at the pictures when I say tat, I do mean tat and there are about eighty different souvenirs in all.
Six Algerians employed in London as street cleaners were arrested as possible terrorists threatening the Pope and then released.
And speaking of tat, non-Catholics are not going to go down without a fight. Europe, well Mallorca anyway, is to receive its first Christian theme park. So, in opposition to the Vatican, Lourdes and Fatima we have Tara Tara! Holy Land. The park will offer visitors everything from the last supper to "live resurrections" in a rolling programme of shows repeated through the day with a promise to recreate scenarios from the old and new testaments. The plan for the Mallorca park is to emulate the success of Christian attractions in the US, (where else?) which include the Holy Land Experience in Orlando, and the Creation Museum near Cincinnati.
Exact details are scant, but the Buenos Aires park offers its re-enactments of the creation of mankind, the birth of Christ, the resurrection and the last supper eight times a day.
With a cast of extras in the costumes of Romans and early Palestinians, the park advertises itself as "a place where everyone can learn about the origins of spirituality".
And how to make a fast buck?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Watched on DVD a performance of Ashton’s ‘The Dream’ given by the American Ballet Company somewhere in California in a theatre the auditorium of which must hold at least ten thousand people! I have never seen an auditorium this big and a stage half the size of a football pitch. The production was fine, staged by Anthony Dowell who knows the ballet inside out having danced Oberon so many times and, watching this, with certain steps one was forcibly reminded of what a superb dancer he was, the image stays in the mind. Not that this handsome Oberon was bad though in this production I was particularly taken with Puck who I thought excellent. Chris didn’t seem too impressed, but then Chris was a dancer himself and knows more about technique than I do. I can only go by gut reaction to what looked like truly twinkling toes.
The only downside was the audience who were quite frankly a pain in the butt. Why oh why do Americans feel they have to continually applaud? Someone performs a pirouette and doesn’t fall over? Wow! Clap hands. Their enthusiasm was all very well but it was so disruptive and really not complimentary to the performers because it makes them look more like performing seals. At the end of course there had to be the ninnies giving the obligatory standing ovation. Gosh, look, she did two pirouettes and didn’t fall over. Well dip me in shit and candy me over!
Reading an article on the American novelist Jonathan Franzen and his latest book ‘Freedom’ I came across this startling statistic – “We are adding thirteen million human beings to the population every month.” Thirteen million? Every month? Not every year but every month? Can that possibly be true I ask in utter amazement? Go forth and multiply was never taken so literally but how long will it be before the earth runs out of resources? A Scottish bishop in advance of the Pope’s visit to the UK and defending the Catholic Church’s attitude to homosexuality says it can’t be right because it doesn’t create. He doesn’t mean art, or literature or music, no none of those things. By create he naturally means babies just babies and more babies. By babies he naturally means more souls for the church and, as contraception is a sin, to hell with the consequences! If it weren’t for various sexual peccadilloes the world would have been over-inhabited and gone down the tubes many a long year ago. The rate the earth’s auditorium, large as it is, is being filled, time is running very short before the final curtain. For old fogies like me who have had a life it really doesn’t matter but I do fear for the next generation and the generation to follow. How long will it be?
So much is being written, said, and argued about the Holy Father’s visit, due to cost £150000, none of which I presume is being paid for by the church itself, it deserves a Blog all of its own, or at least longer than I write here. I’ve bookmarked at least five articles from the news. (By the time this is published he will have been and gorn. I’m a wee bit ahead of myself)
Talking about passing time, seemingly moving ever more speedily with each passing year, the weather here is now really cool and the Greeks are already saying kala xiemona, “good winter.” The Greeks have a “good” for practically everything; good morning, good evening, good night, good week, good month, good spring, good summer good autumn, good winter, even good half day if the morning has already gone. I love it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

So Wayne Rooney’s prick has got him into hot water yet again. Last time it was because he was having it off with a prostitute old enough to be his granny and everyone thought that was totally gross, not that it was any affair of theirs who has it off with whom. This time he was having it off not just with one girl but in a threesome as well and this while his wife was having their baby. Naturally she’s as peeved as all get out and evidently with tears in his eyes he’s promising to be a good boy and to please take him back. I don’t know how the story got out – was it kiss and tell? – but evidently there are already thousands of holier than thou folk on Facebook baying for blood. Rooney earns two and a half million a year from sponsorship and the mob are demanding his sponsors cut him off as he is no role model for the kiddies. One letter writer was complaining bitterly that her grandson had just forked out a small fortune, £95 for a Manchester United shirt and shorts. Guess the kid must have been loaded.
Talking of money, here is a letter I have written to the Film Editor of The Guardian -

Dear Sir,
I was most intrigued by Andrew Roberts’ article in which he mentions the Children’s Film Foundation, The Magnificent 6½ and The Double Deckers so, as the person initially responsible for bringing these to the screen, I thought I would add to it as there is a whole other story here.

The publicity blurb at the time for The Magnificent 6½ credited Henry Geddes as coming up with the idea. Henry had to get a credit somewhere down the line so this was it when, in actual fact, it was I who came up with the idea and this is how it happened. As the screenwriter I was working on the film ‘A King’s Story’ and was seated in the cutting room in Wardour Street with Harry Booth and Roy Simpson when Harry said, ‘The CFF wants us to come up with an idea for a series, any suggestions?’ Oh, how I’ve always wished I had had a tape recorder then because my reply was, ‘Why not do an English version of ‘Our Gang?’ To which they both replied ‘Who was our gang?’ So I gave them a brief description of the gang in the little movies I saw as a child and that is how The Mag6½ was born. Naturally I was then principal writer on the series and followed it up with some ghosting on the second series and then writing for and script editing ‘The Double Deckers,’ and this is where it becomes a whole new story.

Unfortunately at Elstree Studios where we were filming a crooked accountant was employed who stole some money. It was hardly a vast sum but it was the beginning of 20th Century Fox’s intransigence. ‘The Double Deckers’ was made literally for peanuts. If I remember correctly £25000 an episode and has been shown not only in the UK a number of times and syndicated in the states but released all over the world and has been a great success. Currently there are pirated DVD’s advertised on the internet that we keep on having to put a stop to as there is no official DVD as is usually claimed..

I know how well the series has done because I have four songs in it and consequently have received some royalties from Performing Rights whenever and wherever it was aired but have any of us involved, despite contracts, received one penny in royalties from 20th Century Fox? The answer is a resounding ‘no.’ And why? Because Fox maintains the show has never gone into profit.

Roy Simpson, the English producer went over to America to have a face to face and left with egg all over his when the executive he was questioning said, and these were his exact words or so Roy told us, ‘Roy, why don’t you take a beating and f… off?’ Great diplomacy from a major corporation.

A few years back I received a small cheque from France but this had nothing to do with Fox. The Writers’ Guild both here and in the states got nowhere with them.

So surely if you think at least we would make some money out of the songs again you would be wrong. Cherry Records have recently released a CD of the music but are paying no royalties whatsoever. When questioned they replied they bought the rights outright from the previous owners who bought them from the previous owner who bought them from the previous owners, 20th Century Music, who said they didn’t keep records going back more than twenty years!

So the poor writers and actors get nothing while others make money out of their work. And now as I approach my eightieth birthday I could do with some of it. So much for international copyright.

Three pages of my autobiography ‘No Official Umbrella’ are devoted to this story.

Yours faithfully,

(Since then we have news of another company putting the show out on DVD due for release in November. Shit!)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The world is full of bigotry and hypocrisy. There has been a furore about Catholic priests and sexual abuse as though it is something new but which I imagine has been going on for a very long time but at least and at last it has been brought into the light of day. I apologise for bringing this subject up once again but an article by Rustam Qobil of the BBC World Service has really set the teeth on edge. We’ve been into the plight of women in Islam but, considering homosexuality is forbidden by Islam, despite the homoerotic works of the early Persian poets, and can lead to torture and death, here is something equally as distressing that in a more civilised part of the world would be regarded as paedophilia, as child abuse. I am not confusing the two as so many straights tend to do but making both points. Here is a truncated slightly altered version of the article.
“In Afghanistan women are not allowed to dance in public, but boys can be made to dance in women's clothing - and they are often sexually abused.”
At a wedding party in a remote village in northern Afghanistan where only men are present, everyone's attention is focused on a 15-year-old boy. He's dancing for the crowd in a long and shiny woman's dress, his face covered by a red scarf. He is wearing fake breasts and bells around his ankles.
This is an ancient tradition. People call it bachabaze which literally means "playing with boys".
The most disturbing thing is what happens after the parties. Often the boys are taken to hotels and sexually abused.
The men behind the practice are often wealthy and powerful. Some of them keep several bachas (boys) and use them as status symbols - a display of their riches. The boys, who can be as young as 12, are usually orphans or from very poor families.
Qobil evidently spent months trying to find a bacha who was willing to talk about his experience.
Omid (not his real name) is 15 years old. His father died in the fields, when he stepped on a landmine. As the eldest son, it's his job to look after his mother - who begs on the streets - and two younger brothers.
"I started dancing at wedding parties when I was 10, when my father died," he says. "We were hungry, I had no choice. Sometimes we go to bed on empty stomachs. When I dance at parties I earn about $2 or some pilau rice."
Qobil asked him what happens when people take him to hotels. He bows his head and pauses for a long time before answering. He said he is paid about $2 for the night. Sometimes he is gang raped. He was asked why he didn't go to the police for help.
"They are powerful and rich men. The police can't do anything against them."
There have been very few attempts by the authorities to clamp down on the bachabaze tradition.
Muhammad Ibrahim, deputy Police Chief of Jowzjan province, denies that the practice continues but according to Abdulkhabir Uchqun, an MP from northern Afghanistan, the tradition is not just alive, but steadily growing. "Unfortunately it is on the increase in almost every region of Afghanistan. I asked local authorities to act to stop this practice but they don't do anything," he says. "Our officials are too ashamed to admit that it even exists."
Afghanistan is a country where Islamic values are cherished so Qobil asked a Grand Mullah for his views on bachabaze. "Bachabaze is in no way acceptable in Islam. Actually, it's child abuse. It's happening because our justice system doesn't work. This country has been lawless for many years and responsible bodies and people can't protect children," he explains.
Dancing boys are picked out at a young age by men who cruise the streets looking for effeminate boys among the poor and vulnerable. They offer them money and food. The Independent Human Rights Commission in Kabul is one of the few organisations that has attempted to address the bachabaze practice. The group's head, Musa Mahmudi, says while it is common in many parts of Afghanistan there have been no studies to determine how many children are abused across the country. The streets of Afghanistan are full of working children. They polish shoes, they beg, they gather plastic bottles to resell. They will take on any job which will earn them some money, he says.
Every Afghan he spoke to knew about bachabaze. Many tried to convince him that it exists only in remote areas. But at a party late at night in the old quarter of Kabul, less than a mile from the government's headquarters he met a 40-year-old man who was proud to have three dancing boys, the youngest 15, the oldest 18. He says he has never slept with his boys, though he admits he hugs and kisses them.
When Qobil told him that many people think this practice is wrong.
"Some people like dog fighting, some practice cockfighting. Everyone has their hobby, for me, it's bachabaze," he said.
There are many people who support this tradition across Afghanistan and many of them are very influential.
The Afghan government is unable and some say unwilling to tackle the problem. The justice system is weak, poverty is widespread, and there are thousands of children on the streets trying to make a living.
So bachabaze will continue.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I would have thought the internet scam informing people that they are suddenly worth a great deal of money and, if they want it to send so much for administration charges or give their bank details, would have died a death by now but evidently it’s still going on. We’ve had any number over the past few weeks including the Nigerian scammers who need assistance in getting a certain amount of money out of the country, a couple of big lottery wins in lotteries we’ve never even heard of let alone been a part of, The Standard Bank is a good one for telling us we’ve come into an inheritance (which Standard Bank might that be?) and HBSC sometimes comes into the picture with an offer you can’t refuse. All of them have been for fairly reasonable amounts, not offering the earth, but the latest one from someone called Michael Baker is so absurd it leaves one gasping. This one informs me my account (what account may I ask? With the Standard Bank maybe) has been credited with $28000000! Twenty eight million dollars! Now seriously, folks, would anyone be likely to be taken in by that? Perhaps there is someone in this great wide world who would be so blinded by greed and so gullible they would fall for it though it is difficult to believe.
Three interesting items from that benighted little island I lived in so happily for so long but hopefully never again. A school in Essex has to stump up £2000 per annum because it has been deemed by the powers that be that the community police are not qualified to see children across the road and therefore the school has to employ two regular policemen. What happened to lollypop ladies or has it been decided they haven’t had enough training either?
Second story – a man and his mother took bread to the park to feed the ducks and were pounced upon by a jobsworthy park attendant who accused them of dropping litter and threatened them with an £80 fine. Can you believe this or does the mind boggle? By the time they had finished arguing the ducks had eaten all the bread so there being no evidence he was content to take name and address “for next time”. Poor ducks, go hungry you bastards! There have always been signs on zoo cages requesting you not to feed the animals (though many can’t resist of course) but ducks in the park?
Three – A couple taking a train journey decided to get off one stop ahead of the station to which they were booked and were each fined £57 for doing so. What on earth can the reasoning be behind this? Once upon a time in the dear dead days beyond recall you bought a train ticket, single or return and you made your journey. Now it is so complicated nobody knows what the hell is going on. Go on the wrong train at the wrong time of day and your journey could cost you twice as much as it did yesterday and woe betide you, evidently, if you don’t finish it but decide to get off before you reach your destination.
The mind has stopped boggling; it’s gone into hyper space. What is happening to England and can it ever be put right? I’m not optimistic enough to think so.
The latest set of stamps from Royal Mail are “Great British Railways.” Maybe the word great isn’t applicable anymore.
That Vicky Lind is a positive tigress when it comes to scrabble and our Douglas isn’t far behind. So far in our nightly competition I have won only one game and that by the skin of m’ teeth. Last night I had all the S’s and both blanks and she still beat me by 54 points. Not fair! Not fair! Somehow I just can’t seem to get it together.
Two things I forgot to mention talking about memories of the war: the British naval vessels and troopships docking in Durban and our parents offering hospitality to a succession of airmen, soldiers and sailors on a few days furlough, and the ‘Lady In White’ who stood on the dockside singing ’Wish me luck’ to the departing troops. Very moving.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

So I finally get around to Tone’s tome, all seven hundred pages of it that’s turning out to be the fastest selling autobiography of all time received, as far as I can gather, with disbelief and hoots of derision, and in which I for one have no interest and therefore have no intention of joining the millions who are buying it. I might be doing the Blairs an injustice having never met them but I have never taken to either of them, in fact I find them actually distasteful, and if I were to say what I really think it would more than likely be libellous. Let me just say that if I was one of their kids I would be embarrassed out of my mind to have them as parents.
At his signing in Dublin our ex-prime minister was pelted with eggs, shoes, and bottles so his London signings have been cancelled as it is highly probable the same thing would happen again. Instead he is sending the bookshop a pile of signed copies. Signings are to promote a book anyway and advance its sales and in this case there would appear to be absolutely no need.
So what is it about his writing that has been met with so much disbelief? Mac in the Mail, a brilliant cartoonist who can always bring a smile to my face if not happy laughter, more or less sums it up with his latest – The Blairs are in bed fast asleep and Tone with a big smile on his face is dreaming. He dreams of a giant billboard in which he is pictured standing in a long robe and sandals, a toothy grin on his face, clutching his book and with a halo around his head. The writing is as follows – Steven Spielberg presents:- A story of lust, greed, power and untold wealth! ‘A JOURNEY’ starring TONY BLAIR. Written and co-directed by ‘TONY BLAIR’ With Angelina Jolie as Cherie, Mike Tyson as Gordon Brown, Julian Clary as Peter Mandelson, and a cast of thousands of adoring fans.
A smaller cartoon by Pugh in the same paper shows a copy of the book in a bookshop window with ‘free travel sick pills’ advertised.
From the extracts I have read, Blair has gone way over the top. Talk about melodrama! It was his decision to take the UK into Iraq which has caused the greatest anger and over the Iraq war he has been accused of shedding crocodile tears. “The anguish remains. The principal part of that is not selfish. Some of it is to be sure. Do they really suppose I don’t care, don’t feel, don’t regret with every fibre of my being the loss of those who died?” You could almost set it to music – grand opera yet. Note that wonderful cliché “with every fibre of my being.” He evidently has to go on at some length with this which is hardly surprising, in fact it is quoted at length in the paper and there is a double page spread inside the paper dealing not only with Iraq but moving on to his relationship with Gordon Brown and various other subjects. One article is headed “He still can’t see the scale of his crimes.” Wow! That’s being a bit harsh isn’t it? Or is it? I don’t know about sickness pills but maybe the sick bag would be more appropriate and in fact Littlejohn in his column says just that. Quote – “I like to have time and comfort in the loo.” What a riveting piece of information and “I needed that love Cherie gave me. I devoured it to give me strength. I was an animal following my instinct” Oh boy!
For the American edition he has evidently written a special preface which can only be described as brown nosing to the ultimate degree. In it evidently he makes out that Clinton and Bush are two of the greatest men who ever lived.
Oh dear! Pass the sick bag indeed.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Here’s a new twist to religious thinking, not Christianity this time, but Muslim. There have been times throughout history when various people have put the blame for disastrous natural phenomena; earthquakes, floods, droughts, etcetera, on homosexuality. Homosexuality has without any doubt been the cause, or so the thinking went. But here we have a decided twist with an Iranian cleric saying, women who wear revealing clothing and behave promiscuously are to blame for earthquakes. Hojjat ol-eslam Kazem Sediqi, the acting Friday prayer leader in Tehran, said women should stick to strict codes of modesty to protect themselves. "Many women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray and spread adultery in society which increases earthquakes," he explained. Tens of thousands of people have died in Iran earthquakes in the last decade. Mr Sediqi was delivering a televised sermon at the Tehran University campus mosque last Friday on the need for a "general repentance" by Iranians when he warned of a "prevalence of degeneracy". "What can we do to avoid being buried under the rubble? There is no other solution but to take refuge in religion and to adapt our lives to Islam's moral codes," he said. “Correspondents say many young Iranians sometimes push the boundaries of how they can dress, showing hair under their headscarves or wearing tight-fitting clothes.” Mr Sediqi also described the violence following last year's disputed presidential election - the result of which prompted thousands of people to hold mass protests - as a "political earthquake". "Now if a natural earthquake hits Tehran, no one will be able to confront such a calamity but God's power, only God's power. So lets not disappoint God." Professor Lennox, perhaps you would like to explain the rationality of such outlandish religious beliefs.
I know I said I was going to come to Tone’s tome today but some other items of interest in the news caught my eye. Gordon Brown’s latest book has sold only 32 copies in four months so that obviously hasn’t aroused a great deal of interest whereas Tone’s is flying off the shelves and out of Amazon as if there were no tomorrow.
The government is worrying about the influx of foreign students saying the numbers are unsustainable so why do so many British universities advertise on Greek TV and presumably the television stations of other countries? The universities depend on foreign students’ fees to boost their finance I suppose.
Are CCTV cameras and the internet a boon or a blessing or a bit of both? Three stories at the moment with this in mind. First of all the cat lady. For those of you who have not come across this story, a woman in Coventry behaved in a most bizarre manner. She stopped in front of a house and stroked a cat on the wall. Then she looked around to make sure no one was watching, lifted the lid of a wheelie bin, picked the cat up by the scruff of its neck and dropped it in, closing the lid. Then she scuttled away. What on earth caused her to do this? I doubt even she knows ,but the upshot of this incident was her being caught on camera, the film was shown on Facebook, she was immediately identified and within minutes her house was surrounded by angry animal lovers and she was even getting death threats. Her life will never be the same again. The cat was discovered and rescued fifteen hours later but must have been a traumatized animal.
Second story - A police sergeant in Wiltshire was caught on camera dragging a struggling woman (she must have been a real pain in the arse) to the cells. As she was obviously being that pain in the arse he might have got away with it but unfortunately he was caught by another camera, this one in the actual cell, which showed him literally throwing the woman to the floor. For that moment of lost temper he has been suspended and has been charged with assault and sentenced to six months.
Thirdly: rumours on the internet have accused William Hague of being gay – ha ha ha! Why? On what foundation did these rumours start? Because he shared a double room at the Tory conference with his aide. Oh, come on! Do you have to go through life treading on eggshells in case some vindictive person broadcasts on the internet a completely unfounded rumour about you? Who cares if William Hague is gay or isn’t gay but he has been forced to categorically deny it and in doing so has been criticized for that? A no win situation. Mud sticks.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Bloody mozzies! Actually they haven’t been as bad as usual this summer but a few days ago I received a bite on the third toe of my left foot and the bugger is still itching four or five days later on and off. It will invariably start itching the minute I lie down to sleep and all the many unguents I put on of which I have a few: Sudocrem, Jaguar (that’s from South Africa of course), Germoline, Eurax, T.C.P. they have little or no effect for at least an hour. Last night they seemed to have no effect at all and the itch was driving me crazy so eventually I had to take an anti-histamine pill which did seem to work. I fell asleep anyway and the itch didn’t bother me again. How I got bitten on a toe I really don’t know. I don’t walk around with bare feet but maybe it was getting up during the night for a pee when they would have been bare and at risk. (Why put on slippers to walk to the bathroom? Maybe in future I will). Maybe toes are an ultra sensitive part of the body. I’ve certainly found that mosquito bites on the hands seem to itch more than those elsewhere. Why Noah had to take the wretched things on the ark with him I really don’t know but then, having been ordered by God, to take two of everything I suppose he couldn’t go against the Lord’s wishes. If he had maybe God, being the sometimes curmudgeon he obviously is, would have taken umbrage and said, ‘Right, that’s it!’ and sent forth a bolt of lightning to sink the ark on the spot.
Another of God’s critters that should have been left behind is the bedbug. Evidently the US and Britain are suffering an infestation of the little beasts. It’s been put down to international travel; stowing away in people’s luggage. I remember when I was a kid in South Africa we had an infestation and it wasn’t through lack of hygiene. I remember the beds were all stripped and the frames liberally doused with paraffin. Presumably that got rid of them. These days, so the news tells us, like so many other pests, they have become immune to pesticides.
And talking of God, the God/no God debate has reared its head once more and all because of a new Steven Hawking book pooh-poohing His existence and putting creation all down to the laws of physics! There had to be an immediate response of course, a counter attack as it were, and it came from a mathematics professor in Oxford by the name of John Lennox, an avowed Christian who therefore has to believe in the existence of God or his faith is meaningless. He picks at the flaws in Hawking’s arguments without realising there are flaws in his own. For example ‘One of the fundamental themes of Christianity is that the universe was built according to a rational intelligent design.’ Interesting, when you consider some of the oddest manifestations of nature, there doesn’t seem to be much rational design to a lot of it. But that is something a Christian has to believe.
‘Just as strong is the obvious reality that we are moral beings, capable of understanding the difference between right and wrong. There is no scientific route to such ethics.’ Maybe not but could there not be a humanitarian route without the necessity of believing in and being kept in line by some divine creator? And is it consistently true that we can tell right from wrong? If this is the case how do you explain the holocaust? How do you explain the purges in communist Russia? How do you explain ethnic cleansing? How do you explain brain-washed suicide bombers, how do you explain religious bigots constantly at each others throat, Catholic versus protestant, Shia versus Sunni. Hindu versus Muslim? How do you explain all the barbarism and cruelty man is capable of? And don’t put it down to that mythical old figure, Lucifer because you can come down to individual statistics – how do you explain mental disorders, schizophrenia for example where a schizophrenic not knowing right from wrong commits murder? Sorry, Professor Lennox, faith might have uplifted you and your family and I am very pleased for you but you have not convinced me that there is a divine creator, and the more the universe is explored the less likelihood there is of a personal god existing, Jesus Chris notwithstanding. As for the Bible you mention, much of it is a book of horrors that has little relevance to life on earth as it is today.
And talking of books, Tone’s 700 page autobiography ‘A Journey’ is out but more of that next time!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I’ve got to the stage now where I have to stop and wonder if I am repeating myself in my Blogs, though if I don’t remember I’m sure no one else will either, so maybe I worry unduly but suddenly I notice on Google that this Blog is number 402! That’s a whole lot of Blogging. The first 230 I lost when my computer crashed.
Vicky has arrived for her annual holiday and was off to the beach first thing. She’ll spend most of her time there. She brought with her a CD with the title of ‘Give Me A Smile’: Songs and Music of World War ll. I haven’t had a chance to sit down and listen to it yet but on reading the list of numbers I was immediately taken back in memory to the tour of Sweden many years ago with a show devised and produced by Dudley Stevens of blessed memory called ‘When The Lights Go On Again.’ The tour which naturally started in the capital then went on to play twenty six towns and the reception everywhere was rapturous. I’ve written all about this in my autobiography so I really am repeating myself but there is so much nostalgia connected with songs such as ‘When The Lights Go On Again’, ‘I’m Gonna Get Lit up’, ‘When They Sound The Last All Clear’, ‘Bless Em All’, ‘London Pride’, etcetera.
Of course during the war itself I was only a schoolboy in South Africa and was hardly touched by it. There was a certain amount of rationing, nothing that really created any great hardship, and blackouts at night in case the Japanese descended on us. There was no white bread available (oh what rapture when it finally reappeared) and my sister tells me she remembers it was illegal to sift flour but our mother wasn’t going to have her scones spoiled with whole wheat flour and secretly sieved away in the kitchen. Other memories? Well I remember my parents sending crateloads of avocado pears to an aunt in Wales (what did she do with them all?) and I remember my mother’s concert party, all the ladies in their patriotic costumes of red, white, and blue giving of their best for the war effort. I still have a photograph of them, all dead many a long year now. The hall called ‘The Shellhole’ in a district of Durban called Umbilo where we lived at the time was where they performed and I do believe it is still in existence all these years later. I remember it was more or less a tin shack and around the walls were memorabilia from the First World War. It was also used for dances where we indulged in the conga and The Lambeth Walk and, the last thing played every time, The Anniversary Waltz.
Of course, apart from the diehard Afrikaners who were against South Africa’s involvement from the very start, the atmosphere was pretty jingoistic and General Smuts a hero. Dad was too young for the first world war and too old for the second so wasn’t called up but I remember my Jewish schoolboy friend Peter Lasker losing his father with the Eighth Army in North Africa and I believe a boy who was at primary school with me (but obviously older), one Wiggy Moore, was also killed. Otherwise fatalities never touched me, and my final remembrance was sitting in a cinema watching the films just released of the liberation of Belsen and other concentration camps and finding it almost impossible to take in the horror of what was going on.
My last memory of Peter Lasker was his saying to me as he, his brother, and his mother were preparing to move to Zimbabwe, then Southern Rhodesia, ‘That’s the country of the future.’ I wonder, if he is still alive and if he is still there, what he thinks of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe now.

PS: Douglas has designed me a fantastic new website. If you’re interested you can find it on

Monday, September 6, 2010

Two very interesting pieces in the Athens News: first of all huge headlines on the front page; Greek government trying yet again to bring in a ban on smoking in enclosed places. This evidently is the fourth attempt in eight years. Smokers could be fined 500euro and restaurant and bar owners up to 10,000 with the added possibility of losing their licence. Will it work this time? Who knows? Greeks are such stubborn buggers and when they dig in their heels they really dig them in. ‘Let them make their laws,’ is the reaction, ‘why should we take any notice?’ There isn’t enough manpower to police the rules.
Visiting IKA’s vast main ‘non-smoking’ building in Souda for my monthly appointment with the lung specialist I see people do take notice of the no-smoking signs but there are plenty of semi-exterior places like balconies and roofed walkways where they can smoke and they certainly do. According to statistics in the paper, 63% of Greek men smoke, 39% of women. How do they arrive at these figures? However, one only has to live in Greece to realize they must be pretty accurate, maybe even on the conservative side. In the 16-25 age bracket 45% are smokers.
I must say the Italians seem to have taken to the no-smoking ban without trauma, not noticeably anyway. Cyprus brought in a law that took effect from January. Anyone caught breaking the law is liable to a fine of 2000euro. So far 2,521 people have been charged with smoking offences, mainly in bars. Presumably since the paper came out there have been a few more.
The second interesting piece was not an article but a letter to the editor from someone in Oslo. Putting it bluntly it was headed ‘No wonder Greeks behave as they do’ and was a plea for sympathy and better understanding the Greek workman after this current wave of strikes. Agreeing that they have been disastrous for the county the letter goes on to ask, ‘why do you expect Greek workers, unions, pensioners, teachers, farmers, truck drivers to show a high degree of responsibility when the country has for decades been run, controlled by and functioned under corrupt politicians from parliament down. (But what’s new there? Where are politicians not corrupt? The recent Labour government in Britain and some Tories with the expenses scandal haven’t exactly come out pre-election smelling of roses.) Some of the judiciary and the church also come in for criticism. Favoritism, nepotism, are the bugbears of Greek society and those in the higher echelons who misbehave invariably get away with it. The scandal dies down, eventually disappears and no one is prosecuted. Bearing all this in mind the Greek workman is expected to simply accept higher taxes, a cut in wages and pensions and a rise in inflation that has made everything that more expensive. As the writer concludes, ‘No wonder Greeks on “lower levels” behave as they do. I see absolutely no reason to expect a higher degree of responsibility and morality from these segments of society.’
I think he definitely has a point there.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Today’s Blog delayed by a seven hour power cut. Is that what in America is known as an outage?
Been reading a book by Jonathan Kellerman called ‘The Murder Book.’ The title tells you what kind of book it is and it is one of the many that visitors leave behind when their holiday ends. Set in L.A. and Hollywood, a great read, though I did find the subplot of our hero’s love troubles a wee bit tedious in the end and a good many pages could be cut without loss if the author didn’t go into so much detail as to what each character looked like, facially, bodily, and with descriptions of entire outfits; male and female. Also place descriptions, rooms for example, just a tad too much. Interesting that he made his co-hero, a detective with the LAPD, a gay man and the reaction to him of others in the force. He did finish up with the possibility of our hero (not the gay one) starting a new love-life which is interesting. I wonder if in a new book he carried that through.
Going back to the computerised brain, our friend Helen Papadoyianni tells me that Daphne du Maurier wrote a short story ‘The Breakthrough’ written in 1966 which is about this very subject. I would love to read it.
Still talking about books, the proofs of Chris’s biography of George Leybourne titled ‘The Heaviest of Swells’ have arrived and swell it certainly looks, terrific in fact. Hardback with a beautifully designed cover, evidently Lightningsource in England were unable to print it because of the colour illustrations of which there are quite a few and it had to be printed in the states. An expensive book to produce it is not going to sell cheap.
Ellis Ashton, then president of the Music Hall Society back in 1981 or 2, or whenever didn’t know what he was going to start when he casually mentioned that whenever he saw Chris perform he thought of George Leybourne.
George Leybourne? Who he?
He be Champagne Charlie, the man said and that is how it started; firstly the one man show and then twenty odd years of more research and a great deal of hard writing and finally the book, well the first half. It is so detailed it is in two volumes.
And so to Moris Farhi’s last book, “A Designated Man.” Billed as a fable it is set in a mythical Mediterranean island off the Baltic coast and he must have written it with the not too distant mainland wars and ethnic cleansing very much in mind. It is a book that should be read by every power hungry, power drunk megalomaniac, religious or secular, despot or Ayatollah who causes death and destruction and who makes life a misery for millions before their golden statue, like that of Turkmenistan’s late strong man, Saparmurat Niyazov, comes tumbling down.
It is a great read and a fascinating book revealing all of Moris’ humanitarian sentiments. If I were to place it on a shelf alongside which books would I place it? George Orwell’s “1984” and his “Animal Farm”, Huxley’s “Brave New World”, H.G.Well’s “Time Machine.”
In style it could possibly be compared to the best of Truman Capote; not “In Cold Blood” or “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” but perhaps “Other Voices, Other Rooms.” A really terrific achievement and very moving.

PS: In the early hours the other morning, ten to one to be exact, I was lying in bed reading this book when there came what I thought was a heavy hammering on my bedroom door. ‘Yes?’ I called out thinking it was either Chris or Douglas but there being no reply I got up and opened the door to survey the kitchen. Nothing there. Evidently Merrill woke up barking like fury just at that time so what could it have been? Both of us with our hackles well and truly up. Very much an Edgar Allan Poe moment.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Talking of image and appearances, I get sent various odds and bobs people think I would be interested in or amused by. They’re mainly from my sister, but also from our Greek friend Xanthippi, and from others now and again, like Willy Kenton for example. One my sister sent me she titled ‘Only In America’ and it is a collection of photographs of the most bizarre looking people you could ever imagine. Put them on the stage, as the saying goes, and no one would believe them. Shot in California I reckon considering the paucity of clothing or should that be paucity of costume? Skinny queens wearing next to nothing and black ladies of such immense proportions with thighs bigger than my chest measurement and that is saying something, and bums that I think could spread across three chairs. I wonder they can even get out of bed let alone lace up their boots. What do they do flying wise? I don’t think there’s an aeroplane seat could accommodate them. So I should worry about being a stone or two overweight. But there is one odd photograph and that is of a man wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with, ‘You won’t get into my pants if you don’t love Jesus.’ Love of Jesus notwithstanding the awful thing is the guy is so plain (coyote ugly even) anyone, male or female, wanting to get into his pants has to be pretty desperate. Similarly a photograph of a group of Victorian females, (I use the word advisedly) a group of hatchet faced harridans who inform us that, ‘Lips that touch alcohol will never touch ours.’ I should think alcohol the better choice even if you started life as a teetotaller. Was it Robbie Burns who said something along the lines of God gie’ us the grace to see ourselves as others see us? I’m not sure that that is a good thing; it could lead to, depression, despair and desperation, especially if you spend your life hoping to meet someone who loves Jesus enough to get into your pants and you know it’s never going to happen.
Looking at all these many shapes and sizes I ask again the question that has often bothered me – if God fashioned man in his own image, what did he use as a mirror and what went wrong along the way?
When the very first James Bond film was about to be produced and an actor was wanted for the lead role, naturally together with twenty thousand other young hopefuls I sent in my application together with my Marlon Brando photograph, sulky as hell, but never heard a thing. Just as well probably. Though Sean Connery’s body was not up to Muscle Mary standards with the obligatory rippling six-pack, in fact I seem to remember it was a bit on the geeky side, he was wonderful in the role, perfect damn it, whereas I know full well with my constant overweight problem and with not even half his charm I would have been pretty shitty. Probably fired after the first day’s shooting. Ah well, I wouldn’t have been able to keep up the pace anyway.