Wednesday, June 29, 2011

For some reason or other this time of the year, and only of course for a very short time, my study is alive with butterflies, brown fritillaries with yellow spots. There are other species of butterflies in the garden that don’t come inside. I don’t know which particular fritillary these are as they don’t appear in the British book of butterflies where fritillaries, of which there are quite a few, all have darker spots rather than yellow, so maybe these are native to the Mediterranean. I leave the window wide open so they can escape though of course, large as it is, it seems like most flying insects they can never find it, and physically getting them out is difficult as they are so fragile the slightest wrong handling does irreparable damage. So I just let them be.

I have just finished a new novel; my third (apart from the Thornton King books). No come to think of it it’s the fourth as I forgot to mention ‘The Museum Mysteries’ my attempt at a horror story. That one is more of a novella really so Douglass intends publishing it prefaced with half a dozen short stories to flesh it out. The new novel is called ‘Torque’ and was originally a screenplay called ‘Speed’ as it involves motor racing. It was written in the early seventies so I have kept the novel to the same period. The film was never made so waste not, want not, and is turned it into a book. Of course it had to be that sooner or later a film titled ‘Speed’ did come out. I would have liked to have called the screenplay ‘Torque’ as well but people on hearing it would just think ‘talk’ and that is rather confusing, like Grease and Greece.

The first Thornton King book ‘Dead On Time’ is now on Kindle and the others will shortly follow. For anyone out there unaware of this series they are, in order of appearance as the credits would read, ‘Dead On Time,’ ‘Just In case,’ ‘Dead On Target’ and ‘The Cinelli Vases.’ All a bargain at £2.99. Number five has already been written and waiting to be published. It is set around a film studio in which there are a number of nasty goings on and is to be called ‘Celluloid And Tinsel.’ I don’t think anyone will copy or come up with that title. Too bad if they do. As I’ve said before there is no copyright in titles so repetition of many is inevitable. Take ‘Just In Case’ and ‘Dead On Time’ as prime examples, there are three of more of each, but I didn’t and wouldn’t change them because they are so apt.

There is a very very old lady here in Crete whose originally Scottish family have been associated with the island for generations and she has written their history. It is indeed fascinating stuff especially as it all took place around Souda which isn’t that far away. Unfortunately the writing isn’t all that good but she won’t hear of a single word being changed. She maintains she wrote it simply “for family” so there is a Greek translation. But, if it is confined to family, that would be a great shame as it is a little known and fascinating piece of Scottish/Cretan history that deserves a wider readership. She has called it ‘Ties That Bind.’ I may be wrong but I think a much better title would be ‘Photos In Sepia.’ A number of them illustrate the story and they are mentioned as such quite a few times and I think that title much more intriguing, romantic even, but no, she won’t have that either. ‘Ties That Bind’ it is and ‘Ties That Bind’ it stays.

Monday, June 27, 2011

I should never have started that Blog about superstition! It was Blog 315 for Saturday the 25th and when I came to open and post what I had written I couldn’t find it. So where could I have saved it? We searched everywhere but it had completely disappeared and eventually we gave up and I decided to rewrite it; a shorter version. I know I’m getting terribly absentminded in old age but obviously I didn’t save it in the Blogs folder. Anyway, having rewritten and posted it, I did what I always do, went to the penultimate Blog, that is 314, the one of Thursday the 23rd to see if there were any comments and what do I find? The first paragraph was all that was left of 314 after which there was the original Blog 315 in all its glory superseding it. Now how the hell did that happen because whatever I wrote in 314 has mainly disappeared and there are two 315’s? What a mess! Oh how on earth did I manage to save 315 on top of 314? I have no idea. I have already had one message to tell me I have repeated myself again but this time it was purely accidental and in future I will take great care in saving in the right folder. In the meantime whatever it was I wrote in 314 I have no memory of it whatsoever.

Anyway, there was a comment on the mix-up page. EGL wanted to know how the actors’ superstition regarding the ‘Scottish’; play came about. Nobody really knows but the belief is it harks back to the old actor/managers touring the provinces who, if they had a bad week at the box-office on the last night put on the Scottish play which was sure to bring them in. Then, if the company weren’t too careful the manager skedaddled with the takings and the company were left stranded and unpaid. That’s the story anyway.

Now, apart from the way I put on my footwear, I have to admit to having a sneaking respect for this particular superstition. The first time I was made acquainted with the Scottish play was when I was at university in Pietermaritzburg and the play was being produced. On either side of the great hall were two wells open to the elements and extra soldiers waiting to go on to join the battle, being somewhat cold, took to the bottle with the result being mayhem. Lesson – you do not wield a broadsword if you’re seven sheets to the wind or whatever that expression is. Maybe it’s nine sheets. Well, whatever…

But, if someone did quote that play did I ever experience incidences of bad luck while I was still an actor laddie? Well, while at the Citizen’s Theatre in Glasgow the play was jokingly quoted twice, the first time during an Anhouilh play in which there were a number of small girls, one of whom had to be rushed to hospital with a lollipop stuck in her throat. I’m pleased to say she did recover but it was a close call. The second time was during a rehearsal for Hamlet. The rehearsal room was pretty isolated; a room at the top of a building, and after the rehearsal everyone went home but one of the ASMS was found the following morning still in the rehearsal room having developed schizophrenia and was wandering around seeing Jesus in a burning bush. Okay, so okay, the schizophrenia would have developed anyway but what do you make of this? When I was directing at RADA I was going in to lunch one day when I met a member of staff in the corridor who quoted the play, and when I remonstrated with him, laughed the whole thing off. I had my lunch and on my way back to rehearsal the head accosted me and said, ‘I’m sorry, Glyn. You’ve lost your leading man. He’s been taken to hospital having had his eye badly injured in a sword fight.’ Now is that scary or is it not?

So the lesson is, whether you believe the superstition or not, why chance it? Of course producing or being in the play is another matter altogether, it’s only quotes off that bring the bad luck and the antidote (if I can all it that and for those who may not know) is to turn around three times while saying the line from Hamlet, ‘Angels and ministers of grace defend us.’

So there you are.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Superstition - do you have any superstitions? I have one that’s too silly for words. If I am going out, leaving the house that is, I have to put my right shoe on first or I feel decidedly uncomfortable as though some disaster threatens. If not going out it doesn’t

matter which foot goes in first. How and why and when this started I have no idea. But superstition on a wider scale and I am not just talking myth and religion here. Well, yes, I am to a certain extent. Superstition number one – In Israel it is said a group of ultra-orthodox rabbis have sentenced a dog to death by stoning. Why? It entered their bank, I think it was, and refused to leave and one of the rabbis remembered that about twenty years previously one of their number died and his spirit entered the body of a dog. Could this be the very same dog and should the spirit be released? It was even said that they asked children to perform the stoning. Many years ago superstition for some had it that machinery involved in a death had to be destroyed and an animal subjected to sexual assault, through no fault of its own, was also condemned to die. In the case of the dog there have been furious denials but I ask the old question about smoke and fire. Anyway evidently the dog sensed what was good for it and made its exit.

Superstition number two – We know all about the belief that the number 666 is the mark of the devil but in Afghanistan it is believed the number 39 is bad bad bad and to be avoided if at all possible. This is a fairly recent phenomenon and no one knows how this started but it is evidently spreading like wildfire. It is rumoured that the number plate of a pimp’s car contained the number 39 since when no one wants a number plate with that number. According to one driver he has been terribly embarrassed because men shout out to him, “Bring the girls to my place!” This has created quite a quandary for the traffic department because all the number plates at this time contain the number 39 and no one wants them. Car sales have slumped (which can’t be a bad thing except for the dealers) and it is alleged officials in the licensing department for a bribe will issue a plate without the offending number. There’s always someone willing to jump on the bandwagon. They evidently can’t wait for the 39’s to come to an end and the 40’s to start. Mind you, that’s not to say someone might not start a superstitious rumour over the number 40.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Further to my writing about the cricket commentator’s gaff, on the subject of Holding and Willy during Test Match Special the Mail had a whole article about the various utterances that created uncontrollable giggles in the commentary box and not only the nation at large but all across the world wherever cricket lovers are found, but the Holding/Willy story wasn’t one of them. For example though, one from Jonathan Agnew, talking about a player having to replace the rubber grip on the handle of his bat, describing for listeners who might not be in the know how it is done and saying ‘it’s a bit of a procedure.’ He then turned to Michael Vaughan seated beside him and said, ‘It’s not easy putting on a rubber is it?’ To which Vaughan replied, ‘No it’s not. I was never very good at it.’ Cue laughter. This clip evidently has become a huge hit on the internet. On another occasion when Botham was out hitting his own wicket he said it was because ‘he didn’t get his leg over.’ During an England versus India match Tony Greig was bowling and, when he received the ball from a fielder, he rubbed it on his right thigh to try and coax some shine out of it. Then he decided to change it to his left thigh and the commentary went, ‘Greig walks back to his mark, but just to ring the changes, this time he polishes his left ball.’

It’s just so easy to come out with a blooper when you are speaking off the cuff or even scripted. I remember a recording off an American commercial that was supposed to go ‘The best in bread,’ and came out as ‘The breast in bed.’ And there’s the (I am sure apocryphal) story of a young Victorian actor given his first role who had to run on stage and say his one line which was, ‘Hark, I hear a pistol shot!’ But he was so nervous, his dialogue went, ‘Hark I hear a shostel pit. I mean a shistle pot, oh shit, I’m shot!’ And off the cuff can’t be said of the BBC radio presenter who, innocent lady as she must have been, evidently encouraged children to play with their balls in all manner of means. I wonder if that is also a true story. It’s been going the rounds for years.

Hugh Hefner at 85 years of age is still trying to get his leg over but his 25 year old fiancée, one Crystal Harris has called off their proposed wedding, having had a change of heart. So money doesn’t buy you everything. Miss Harris was evidently Playmate of the Month in the December 2009 issue of the magazine but has now decided she’s going to be a singer and has just released her first single. Will she become another multi-millionaire I wonder? The world these days seems full of tweeny performers, teenage performers and not quite so young performers like Miss Harris who are now worth millions and their fortunes growing by the day. Their combined wealth must be quite staggering, almost enough to pay off the national debt? Most of them, not being a pop fan, I haven’t heard of but I read recently of one, Joss Stone who made her first record at fifteen and is now reputed to be worth about nine million. Evidently two guys were caught outside her house about to rob and it’s alleged murder her.

I hope all this wealth doesn’t spoil the rest of their lives though it shouldn’t I suppose if they’ve got their heads screwed on the right way. But then who’s to say they have? The rosy highway or whatever it is called is a very slippery path and there are others who certainly don’t have their heads screwed on the right way. Amy Whitehouse for one who has just been booed off the stage in the Ukraine for being drunk and incapable and has cancelled her tour.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Life is full of surprises, even little ones as the actress said to the bishop. The other night after dinner Douglas decided he would like an alcofrolic, something that does not happen all that often as he’s not a great one for the liquor, so I said okay, if he was having one would he ‘bring me a glass of port please?’ He came back to the table with two bottles, a Sandemans and…good grief, Charlie Brown… a 1963 vintage Ferreira! How long had that been lurking in the back of the drinks cupboard? I certainly wasn’t aware of its existence. Chris immediately looked it up on the net and discovered its retail value at the moment is £150. A hundred and fifty quid! In a household that never spends more than ten pounds on a bottle of liquor if it can be helped and used to rely on duty free to replenish the cupboard. So the big question is where on earth did it come from? It must have been a gift from someone but who? We have absolutely no idea. I have to say though, if each small glass is worth about fifteen quid, there’s extravagance for you, it is well worth it. I have only tasted one other port this delicious and that was a Napoleonic one that our late friend Andy Moore had and that one came in at about fifteen quid a sip, never mind a glass. I don’t know where Andy got it from or how much he paid for it but he was a real wine buff so it was one of a number of vintage bottles of various sorts that he had.

When I say that we never spend more than ten pounds a bottle I have to admit there was one exception. Back at Hollings Farm a lady appeared at our door one day selling some German wines. She had samples with her which one was allowed to taste and indeed there was one that was superb and I agreed to take a case. There was a reason other than the wine itself and that was old softie Jones felt sorry for the poor saleslady, her feet must have been killing her and she was working on commission, and so sometime later the case duly arrived, at a cost of almost two hundred quid according to Douglas who had a better memory than I. I don’t believe it was that much and if it was it certainly two hundred quid we could ill afford. It worked out at about £30 a bottle. Whew!

I believe the big spenders in the wine market at the moment, and I am talking not of a hundred and fifty quid but multiples of a thousand, are the new Chinese billionaires who are prepared to spend spend spend. Communism obviously does work for some.

There has been a great deal of aerial activity in our skies recently, particularly at night. We are used to the occasional jet fighter screeching over our rooftops as Greek pilots train or exercise but not quite as much as at present. All down to Libya do you suppose?

Friday, June 17, 2011

I have been reading ‘I Claudius’ by Robert Graves and what a totally absorbing page turner it is. It’s another book that’s been on the shelf since the year dot and I only got around to reading it now because Douglas left it lying on the breakfast room table and I casually picked it up, but am so glad I did. I remember what fans we were of the television series and I remember so much of it, reading the book now. All the performances were spot on and memorable images keep coming to mind. One doesn’t say that too often about television programmes. In fact would like to see the series again having now read the book. Will also have to get the sequel ‘Claudius The God.’
George Leybourne, aka Champagne Charlie about whom Chris has written a biography, ‘The heaviest of Swells,’ sang a song called ‘It’s the same thing Over again,’ or ‘There’s nothing new under the sun,’ and I am about once more to indulge in a breach of copyright by quoting an interesting piece from Mister Graves’ book. Here it is -
“The informers about this time began to accuse wealthy men of charging more than the legal interest on loans one and a half percent was all they were allowed to charge. A deputation went to him (Tiberius) and pleaded that everybody should be allowed a year and a half to adjust his private finances to conform with the letter of the law. Tiberius as a great favour granted the request. The result was that all debts were at once called in and this caused a great shortage of current coin. Tiberius’ great idle hoards of gold and silver in the Treasury had been responsible for forcing up the rate of interest in the first place, and now there was a financial panic and land values fell to nothing. Tiberius was eventually forced to relieve the situation by lending the bankers 1000000 gold pieces of public money, without interest, to pay out to borrowers in exchange for securities in land.”
What do you make of that? History repeats itself and we never learn. Of all the deadly sins, sheer unadulterated greed as shown for example by today’s bankers must surely be the most destructive.
I think I will have to go back now and read Colleen McCullough’s epic work on the Caesars which I enjoyed so much first time round.
From the Romans to the Greeks – The Olympic torch has been to Apokoronas but not to Vamos. When I read that I immediately sent off an e-mail asking why (not that I was particularly interested in seeing it but the signs were ominous) and was informed that the decision was not made by our new council but by the Olympic Committee to keep to towns on the Ethnic Highway which of course Vamos is not. So the torch stopped off at Vrysses, Georgopoli and Kalyves, each visit followed in usual Greek fashion with music, dancing, eating and drinking. I suppose if one was really that interested one of the towns might have been worth a visit but, as it is, we passed.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Continuing the story of King John. There is no denying when he came to the throne he inherited big trouble. It’s a bit like poor Papandreou of Greece today inheriting a nightmare situation of debt.

Richard spent only six months of his life in England; the rest was spent in France or with the crusades on the return from one of which in 1192 he was captured by Duke Leopold of Austria who handed him over the German emperor Henry V who demanded a ransom of 150000 marks for his release, an enormous sum raised by British taxes and this, together with the taxes already raised by Richard to pay for his wars, left poor John literally poor John. History’s judgment of him is that he was a cruel tyrant, a belief reinforced by all the televisions and movies from the 1938 Errol Flynn, Claude Rains ‘Robin Hood’ (one of my favourite movies believe it or not) to the present. I don’t know what his character was like but the general consensus of opinion is that he had an unpleasant personality and was not liked. Being unpopular does not help and, because he tried to seize the throne while Richard was still alive, he was never trusted. Feared maybe, but never trusted and his seventeen year reign was dotted with disaster. As a king he could hardly be called a success. He was blamed for the murder of his nephew. He lost a large amount of inherited possessions, in particular lands in France, like Normandy and Anjou. He managed to cross swords with the pope and have himself excommunicated and he ended up facing a huge baronial rebellion followed by a civil war and a war with France. He died from food poisoning in 1216. Maybe what started it all, as is so often the case, was his growing up in a truly dysfunctional family. Although he was the youngest and favourite son of Henry ll, when he was five three of his brothers tried to seize the thrown enlisting the aid of the French king and with their own mother, Eleanor Aquitaine in the plot. He may not have been the cruel tyrant history suggests, (and how many medieval kings weren’t?) but there seems no doubt at all that he simply wasn’t good enough as a king.

The jam cupboards are packed. Douglas has been having a field day with an absolute glut of apricots: apricot jam, apricot marmalade (I’m told there is a difference) apricot and pineapple jam, apricot chutney, stewed apricots, apricot rum topf something called apricot leather, a sort of toffee, and apricot ice cream. There are more apricots in the fridge and still more on the tree.

Tourism in Greece is down 21 percent in the first quarter of the year and visitors to museums and archaeological sites are naturally down as well with the consequent loss of revenue. Last season was bad enough but it looks like this season is going the same way. A friend who works in the tourist trade tells us they have not had a single booking from Americans this year. Now why would that be do you suppose? Greece has got too expensive? Afraid of strikes and demonstrations? Or is it because Crete is only a few minutes flying time from Libya?

Monday, June 13, 2011

So the legendary King Arthur is once more in the news. Channel 4 is putting out a big budget drama called ‘Camelot.’ It is only the latest in a long long line of King Arthur movies and TV series; there has even been a musical, and all of them, thanks to Geoffrey of Monmouth for a start, pure fiction. One film got closer to the truth in placing him in Roman Britain but even that was a hundred years out of date.

He most definitely was not a fifth or sixth century Romano-Celtic warrior resisting Anglo-Saxon settlement; he was a Welsh chieftain by the name of Arivagu, or ‘The Great bear,’ son of Cunobelinis, (Cymbeline) grandson of King Llyr, (Lear) Roman name – Caractacus. His bother was Togodumnus. Uther Pendragon as his father is, like the sword in the stone, the lady in the lake, Camelot, the round table and Avalon, romantic myth. Scroll through any list of the kings of England and you will find no Arthur.

Google and the internet are truly amazing. Bits and pieces of my autobiography ‘No Official Umbrella’ keep popping up all over in the most unexpected places. I was no longer sure if I was spelling Arivagu right so I looked it up on Google and what did I find? An extract from the book so,if you’re really interested in finding out who I believe was the real King Arthur look up Arivagu on Google and you will read the extract from ‘No Official Umbrella.’ Alternatively I said all this I find in my Blog of October 1, 2008, also on Google.

Another king who has a hold on the British imagination, a real one this time, King John, and not for being a hero but ostensibly for being a died in the wool villain. (All down to Shakespeare?) A new film about King John further underlines history's judgment of the medieval English monarch as a cruel tyrant. But among the dozens of bad kings and despots, why is John always the pantomime villain? Depictions on television, stage and big screen, particularly in Robin Hood films, usually present a man who is treacherous and weak.

King John’s reign has been characterized by disaster and his reputation languishes among the lowest for all the kings and queens of England. Born in Oxford, in 1166 he was the youngest of the four sons of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, nicknamed Lackland because he had no obvious inheritance. His brother Richard, known as the Lionheart, became king and named his nephew Arthur as his heir. John tried unsuccessfully while Richard was still alive to seize the throne and on Richard’s death he did become king. An interesting sideline here: it was during the siege of the castle of Chalus in France that the king received an arrow in the neck that also penetrated his chest and he died of gangrene at the age of 41 but, before he died, he had the archer brought to his bedside, gave him a hundred shillings and set him free. The archer’s name was Betran and despite the king’s pardon he was flayed alive before being hanged. Interesting times.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The weather really doesn’t know what it wants to do. Here we are into the second week of June and nothing but completely overcast skies although there doesn’t give any indication of rain. The first apricots are dropping so I went into the garden and picked a carrier bag full. There’s masses still on the tree that were difficult for me to reach for the simple reason that picking the first lot nearly did for me. These apricots are smallish, tasty, but quite hard with hardly any juice whereas the second tree, a different variety, fruits in late summer early autumn, the fruit being much bigger and simply running with juice.

Depression depression, depression, I have to face up to the fact that age has caught up with me and I can no longer do anything in the garden except maybe potter about. It took me thirteen years of hard work lovingly undertaken to get the garden from a barren piece of land with huge rocks, boulders even, and under the walnut trees a positive forest of a certain kind of lily that took me three years or more to eradicate, into something giving the semblance of a real garden and it has all gone to pot in one season. Because of ill-health I’ve not been able to tackle it and the others have had much too much on their plates to expect them to do it (Chris has finally finished his sixteen stained glass windows, they are in situ and look ravishing) so it is no one’s fault but the weeds are rampant and everything is overgrown and needs to be cut right back. It is very colourful at the moment because all the shrubs, including roses, the bougainvillea and the oleander, red, pink and cream are in full bloom but that is little compensation for the mess. Trees have literally doubled in height and breadth and the fruit trees, mulberry, grape, fig, quince, guava, lemon, orange, prickly pear, all desperately need pruning. Even the walnut trees need cutting back. The avocado has grown considerably over the winter but disappointingly is not bearing any fruit this year and the nut peach, my favourite, has no more than half a dozen fruits. The nectarine has to be got rid of entirely. We have tried every year to eradicate the peach curl with spray and even completely denuding the tree of foliage but it keeps coming back so the only thing left is to get rid of the tree. We have never had fruit off it anyway.

An ancient pine tree right at the end of the garden has died, from old age I reckon, so that also has to go and will provide a fair amount of wood for the winter, that and all the other branches lying around from previous pruning. It is not a job we want to tackle as the tree is about forty foot high and really requires someone with expertise to take it down; once down Douglas can get busy with the chain saw to cut it into usable logs. There is also one fig tree that has grown out of all proportion to what it used to be only a year ago and it is covered in fruit but unfortunately as Douglas has discovered it is a male and the fruit inedible and will come to nothing.

What we need now more than anything is a gardener but in our current state of precarious finances that is mere wishful thinking.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

I am reading Laurence Olivier’s autobiography, ‘Confessions of an Actor’ and fascinating stuff it is. Originally published in 1982 I can’t understand why I never read it sooner. It’s been on the shelf a goodly while. I have always maintained, and I might have mention this before, that two people sitting side by side watching a play together do not actually see the very same play. Well I didn’t see the Zeffirelli production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ at the Old Vic on the same night as Lord Olivier (at least I don’t think so) but what a different reaction we each had. Regarding Romeo this is what he writes – ‘…for the ideal of boyish passionate intensity I find it hard to believe that John Stride in Zeffirelli’s splendid production can ever have been bettered.’ Wow! There’s praise indeed. So what was my reaction to Mister Stride’s performance? I remember thinking at the time – ‘how can jumping up and down like a puppet on a string betoken passion?’ Obviously Lord Olivier and I must have seen it on different nights. I really did think he was dreadful. On the other hand, and Olivier doesn’t mention this, I saw to my mind the definitive Juliet, a once in a lifetime performance by the young Judy Dench, never to be equalled. Juliet is such a difficult part, a mature actress playing a thirteen year old, even if at thirteen a girl at that period was of marriageable age.

Olivier’s writing, though easy enough to read. is not a great advertisement for the acting profession and reading it one can see why snide journalists refer to actors as luvvies. So many best beloved wonderful fabulous friends, so much adoration, so many Johns who become Johnnies; Johnnie Gielgud, Johnnie Dexter etcetera. Even Noel Coward at one point is referred to as Noelie, Frederic March becomes Freddie and Ronald Pickup becomes Ronnie. Kenneth Tynan becomes Kenny and the girls don’t escape, little wifey becomes Joanie and Geraldine McEwen becomes Gerry, and there are many more. It’s as though he is desperate to assure us how intimate he was with all these people.

It’s interesting to read how he was torn apart by critics and what he has to say about them especially as he was reputed to be the greatest actor of his age. I met him only once, at an audition, and found him charming and so polite, unlike one or two lesser men who were rudeness personified. It’s a shame that in his latter years he suffered so much from various horrid illnesses.

England's Italian football manager Fabio Capello claims he can manage his players with just 100 words of English. So how far could you get with a vocabulary of that size? Despite his sometimes colourful language, communicating with Wayne Rooney does not require a Shakespearean command of English.

His comment raises an interesting question - how far could such a limited knowledge of English take you?

Not very far, says Peter Howarth, deputy director of Leeds University's language centre.

"It's a ridiculously small number, you could learn 100 words in a couple of days, particularly when you're in the country surrounded by the language," he says.

"People do say that from a learner's point of view, English is relatively easy to use without too much grammar... but Fabio Capello needs a range, presumably, and to communicate emotions and a bit of nuance."

A grasp of 1,500 words is needed to communicate at an intermediate level with "some range", he suggests.

Estimates for the average size of a person's vocabulary vary, but TV lexicographer and dictionary expert Susie Dent says it's about 20,000 active words and 40,000 passive ones.

She says it's important to distinguish between the active words we know and use and those we might know but don't use. Part of the problem when learning a language is understanding the context in which words should be used, she adds. It's about learning how and when to use the vocabulary, which is why learner dictionaries are very useful."

I wonder how many words I know in Greek. More than a hundred but less than 1500 I am sure.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

We watched the final episode of ‘The Island’ and were all vaguely disappointed. I can’t quite figure out why. After twenty wonderful riveting beautiful episodes why should this last one have been a disappointment? Was it because there were too many loose ends to tie up? It did seem to be even wordier than usual and that, for Greece, is saying something. Or did Theo lose his masterly touch in that final episode. Maybe he was very tired which would hardly be surprising after such a long shoot. The final scene was tedious, went on far too long and the music didn’t help. Well, it was a wonderful piece of television; beautifully directed, beautifully photographed, beautifully performed – except for that last episode which for the first time produced at least one bad performance. Well, it’s all over so we will have to find an alternative for Monday night viewing. It would be really great if the series was dubbed into English. Maybe an enterprising company will pick it up.

There is still so little worth watching on Greek television, except for the government channel that broadcasts interesting documentaries, ballets, operas, we have been filling our evenings with watching ‘Our Mutual Friend’ again and two episodes of ‘Ugly Betty’ a night. We’re still on the third series so have number four to look forward to.

Smokers around the world are really coming under fire, if I can use that expression. China joins Europe in instigating a ban in enclosed paces and Argentina has now been added to the list, bringing in some quite draconian anti-tobacco measures. I don’t know how the ban is being observed in Greece but evidently the Spaniards are resisting for all they’re worth; and talking of draconian methods New York has now even banned smoking in some open spaces like parks for instance. I’m so glad I am no longer a smoker.

The small Himalayan country of Bhutan has banned smoking and a Buddhist monk is likely to face five years in prison for violating its strict anti-smoking laws. Police have not named the monk but said he is 24 years old and was caught with 72 packets of chewing tobacco. Bhutan says it is determined to become the world's first smoking-free nation. It banned the sale of tobacco in 2005. But authorities admit that booming contraband traffic from neighboring India has largely undermined the ban. Of course, what else could be expected? Think of America in the prohibition years. Critics say the flow of illegal cigarettes is so strong that the ban has failed to make much of an impact. A law passed in 2005 gives police sweeping powers to enter homes and search for tobacco products. In addition it gives them power to jail shopkeepers for selling tobacco and arrest smokers if they fail to provide customs receipts for imported cigarettes - which are only permitted in very small quantities. Smokers can legally import only up to 200 cigarettes or 150 grams of other tobacco products a month. They must provide a customs receipt when challenged by police. The monk maintains he didn’t know about that which is why he couldn’t produce a custom’s receipt. He was charged with smuggling controlled material, which is a fourth degree felony, according to an official of the Bhutanese Narcotic Drug and Law Enforcement. A fourth degree felony carries a sentence of five years.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

No matter how intrusive the Elf and Safety Executive is into people’s lives it simply cannot stop accidents from happening. They happen because they are unforeseen no matter how many rules and regulations there are. Recently eight children have been injured, five playing on an inflatable slide that tipped over and three on a bouncy castle that slipped its moorings. The first five suffered only minor injuries but unfortunately the three playing on the castle were severely injured with broken bones and all are in hospital.

As everyone and his or her mother seem to be writing a book it is amazing how many self-publishing houses have spring up in order, for a price, to give assistance and to publish said book. Believe me for what value they give they can be very expensive and even if your book is published there are no guarantees of sales. A good few years ago I sent a manuscript to one of these firms, this was when there were only a couple of them who offered to publish with my share of the cost being £3000 and that was when three thousand pounds was a great deal of money. Naturally (never having that much in the bank at any one time) I declined their offer. In those days books were published by the run and even mumbers of those published by mainstream houses ended up on the remainder table. With the advent of print on demand it is a whole other ball game and one is not left with hundreds of unwanted books mouldering in the attic as it were.

It’s surprising how many famous writers started out by being self-published. Evidently J.M. Barrie, the author of ‘Peter Pan’ and who once had no fewer than five plays running in London was one who started off that way. I learnt this from a book I forgot to mention in my last Blog – ‘Cock-A-Doodle-Do’ by Charles B. Cochrane, or Cocky as he was known, a fascinating biography from a man who late nineteenth century up to the second world war was an entrepreneur and the producer of plays, spectacular revues and pantomimes; an English version of the American Florenz Ziegfeld. Everybody who was anybody in the theatre at that period worked some time or other for Cochrane. Talk about name dropping! How’s this for half a page worth?

“Perhaps the most popular item of the evening was when a double file of women dressed in the garb of an Edwardian musical comedy chorus, and men dressed in scarlet dress suits, marched down a long joy-plank and gravely performed the banal steps of an old-fashioned musical comedy ensemble. There were Gorge Robey and Diana Wynyard, Noel Coward and Dorothy Dickson, Douglas Fairbanks Junior with Gladys Cooper, Owen Nares with Ivy St Helier, Ivor Novello with Yvonne Arnaud, Ronald Squire with Adrienne Allen, Raymond Massey with Vivien Leigh, John Gielgud with Fay Compton and Clifford Mollison with Adèle Dixon. The audience rocked themselves into a delirium of applause.”

There are a couple of names there I don’t recognise but otherwise what an ensemble of theatre notables, a once in a lifetime.

Friday, June 3, 2011

To continue with the books recently read; another ‘show business’ one, ‘Back Stages’ by Michael Kilgarriff. He and I are contempories and have both been in the theatre a good many years but our paths never crossed. Hardly surprising as he was more into musical theatre, Music Hall, and pantomime whereas I was legit as it’s called. Consequently only a few names in his book cross over as it were. Trish Michaels, now married and living in Canada, and Nola with whom she shared a house in Hackney where we were living at the time. We are still in touch with Trish but lost contact with Nola a long time ago when she upped stakes and moved to New York. I believe she was a very good film editor and she most likely thought America would provide more opportunities. John Dalby is mentioned and we know John well. We both performed in a lunchtime theatre for him in a club in Leicester Square, a short farce by Feydeau, and he was also our singing teacher. Simon Merrick is mentioned and I worked with this actor in a dreadful play called ‘Who Goes Bare?’ twice nightly one summer season in Bournemouth. I swore I would never do twice nightly again and thank god I never did. Then there was John Inman, later to find fame in the television series ‘Are You Being Served’ who I worked with in rep in Weston Super-mare. This was for that good old-fashioned actor-manager Charlie Vance. I’m surprised Michael didn’t work for him; nearly everyone else did at that period. I was also in the company for a season at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge and toured in ‘A Man For All Seasons’ for Charlie doubling Cardinal Wolsey and Henry Vlll. Charles played Sir Thomas Moore.

I followed up ‘Back Stages’ with a quite delightful book, also written by an actor, Michael Simkins, every actor seems to be writing a book these days. It’s called ‘Fatty Batter’ a memoir all about a fat child growing up to become a cricket fanatic. If you don’t like the game of cricket or don’t know anything about it I doubt the book would appeal to you in the same way. Or maybe it would, I don’t know. It is very funny but he missed out on one legendary cricket story, I don’t know whether or not it’s apochryphal but a commentator during an England versus the West Indies match was reputed to have said ‘The bowler’s Holding the batsman’s Willy.’

And finally one of the books I truly love, another perfect charmer in the Number 1 ladies detective series by Alexander McCall Smith, ‘The Double Comfort Safari Club.’ A ray of comfort indeed in this crazy world.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I had never before come across this word “raptured” that Harold Camping used for the blessed ascending with Jesus into heaven when he predicted the end of the world but I have discovered it is not new. One learns something every day. In Antonia Fraser’s book ‘The Weaker Vessel’ about seventeenth century women (yes, I have picked it up again after a lengthy hiatus. Informative and fascinating though it be it is still quite a weighty tome and I find I can only read a few pages at a time. Densely packed on every page her research is quite extraordinary) and I am admonished as always that ‘All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright holder.’ So sue me because I am going to ignore the admonition. After the Restoration small religious sects seemed to spring up all over the place, each with its own sometimes most peculiar view of established churches, Christ and Christianity, the Fifth Monarchists for example. Yes, I had to look that one up – truly weird. There were also a number of women who were regarded as prophetesses, amongst whom was a lady named Anna Trapnel who had a ‘moment of revelation on Christmas Day 1642 which happened to be a Sunday. Listening to the Baptist minister in St Botolph’s church in Aldgate. Suddenly Anna found herself saying “Lord, I have the spirit.” Then what joy she felt. “Oh what triumphing and songs of Hallelujah were in my spirit.” Anna felt a clothing of glory over her and saw angels, a clear flame without smoke and other “christal” appearances. Thereafter there were still moments when Anna felt buffeted by Satan as when she learnt of her mother’s death. Yet many “raptures” followed.’ So there we are. It’s not a newly coined expression after all.

Have been catching up with a lot of reading (apart from Miss Fraser’s book that I am only half way through – I told you it is a heavy tome and not exactly light reading but well worth the effort.) Well to start with there is Sal Mineo’s biography. I’ve mentioned this to a couple of people maybe fifteen or twenty years younger than myself and received blank stares in exchange. To mention the film ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ elicits some sign of recognition and ‘Oh, yes, James Dean’ is the usual reply. Well, of the three leads in that movie, Sal aged sixteen was one, and looking at clips of it now, bloody good he was too. Unfortunately he had that enormous hurdle to overcome moving on from child actor to adult. Not many make it and fall by the wayside. Twice nominated for an Academy award he did appear in other movies- Exodus, The Gene Krupa Story, Giant, The Longest Day so his career did continue but, despite appearing in these major pictures, was never the same again. I have learnt so much from reading this book and realise what an ignoramus I was at the time, especially about the film industry and all its machinations. We knew Sal (the reason for reading the book) and his then lover Courtney Burr lll with whom we are still in touch, and I remember the shock we felt when we learnt of his murder. We are mentioned a couple of times in the book, becoming friends when I worked with him on a screenplay for Robin Maugham’s novel ‘The Wrong People.’ He never did make it. But there you are; how fame spreads! Phht! According to the book I wrote a number of gay plays that were produced in London. I should cocoa. Firstly, though homosexuality may feature in my plays, I have never actually written a gay play let alone had it performed in London. A good many years ago I submitted a two-hander to the Hampstead Theatre Club as it then was and the response was that if I turned the woman into a boy they would do it. Maybe I should have done it but I didn’t see the point. Little did I realise there would soon be a rash of gay plays mainstream. Silly me. I could have been the first.