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Thursday, 14 January 2021

Snowy Pictures - compared to 2013

A short walk near the village this afternoon









And here for comparison is the same road on the 24th March 2013



Saturday, 9 January 2021

Re-reading Teenage Reading: James Bond

Ian Fleming: From Russia with Love (3*)

Continuing with novels I read in the nineteen-sixties, what would I make of James Bond now? Those books had all the glamour, excitement and adventure missing from the written version of The Saint. The library would not let you have them unless you looked old enough. A school friend, Angelo Bernardi, could get away with it even though he was younger. Probably because his dad was Italian.

From Russia With Love parades all the comforts of discerning wealth. Why else would you want to read a whole chapter about Bond getting up and having his breakfast? He puts on his dark blue Sea Island cotton shirt, navy blue tropical worsted trousers and black leather sandals and enters his long, big-windowed sitting room for breakfast. The housekeeper brings him a Queen Anne pot of strong coffee from De Bry of New Oxford Street brewed in an American Chemex, a very fresh, speckled brown egg from French Marans hens, yellow Jersey butter and three glass jars containing Tiptree ‘Little Scarlet’ strawberry jam; Cooper’s Vintage Oxford marmalade and Norwegian Heather Honey from Fortnum’s, to eat with whole-wheat toast on his dark blue and gold Minton china.

Meanwhile, Bond’s assassin-to-be is receiving a naked massage from a naked female masseuse beside a swimming pool in a villa on the Russian Riviera. He has a money clip made of a Mexican fifty-dollar piece holding a substantial wad of banknotes, a gold Dunhill cigarette lighter, a gold Faberg√© cigarette case and a gold Girard-Perregaux wrist watch.

What is it? Product placement? We get detailed descriptions of how rooms are laid out and furnished. There is a long account of Bond’s flight in a British European Airways turboprop Vickers Viscount from London to Istanbul, landing at Rome and Athens. Oh if only I had the money. I’d fly off to the Orient in my black leather sandals for a naked massage.

Fleming invariably manages to slip a few snippets of plot into these passages: that Bond has gone soft while his intended assassin is a fit, strong, asexual psychopath, and there are detailed facial descriptions which helpfully reflect the underlying personalities of all the characters, naughty or nice. And, of course, the female Russian agent sent to seduce Bond has faultless breasts. 

In essence, the book is complete and utter nonsense: entertaining, but total nonsense (please substitute a word that sounds like molluscs if you must), and Fleming must have known it. Was is a struggle to make it sound so straight-faced and grown-up? 

The longer you persist the faster you turn the pages, right up to bloodthirsty fights on the Orient Express and the capture of the ugly Russian neuter, Comrade Colonel Rosa Klebb, in Paris. She looks like a toad and has breasts like badly-packed sandbags. At the end, we are left to wonder whether Bond has survived, although we now know he came back the following year in Dr. No.

Neuters, breasts, asexuality, spanking, casual misogyny, racism and other predilections and prejudices you might or might not be able to imagine, they are all there. Is that why the library would not lend them to children, or was it just that they mentioned sex? Is there any wonder that Englishmen of a certain generation are so often caught out by issues of social justice and inequality? Perhaps the books should have been restricted to the over-seventies. Then I might have had to wait until now to read them. 


Key to star ratings: 5*** wonderful and hope to read again, 5* wonderful, 4* enjoyed it a lot and would recommend, 3* enjoyable/interesting, 2* didn't enjoy, 1* gave up.

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Re-reading Teenage Reading: The Saint

Leslie Charteris: The Brighter Buccaneer (2*)
 
A while ago, I mentioned some of the novels I acquired through a nineteen-sixties paperback books promotion. What would I make of them now, I wondered.  

One was a Saint book by Leslie Charteris. On television, The Saint was unmissable viewing for me and six million other Britons. Episodes were set in Rome, Paris or other exotic locations, and full of humour, adventure and glamour. Roger Moore as Simon Templar was sophistication personified: savoire-faire in an eyebrow. In Belgium, Hugo, my foreign-language-exchange partner, was a big fan, too. We shared the affliction of believing after every episode that we actually were Simon Templar. We were both going to have white Volvo P1800s when old enough. I taught myself to draw the haloed Saint stick-figure, although mine always looked a bit limp-wristed.

The television series led me to Saint books in the local library. They were a comparative disappointment. They still are. Written and set mostly in gloomy nineteen-thirties London, the fifteen short stories in The Brighter Buccaneer are about a Simon Templar who is not in any way a role model for teenage boys. He is an outright criminal. True, he has principles and always outsmarts his adversaries, but he will take jewellery from batty old dowagers and suitcases of banknotes from tricksters. If that was all right then stealing the odd ream of paper and bottle of milk from school must have been fine.

There are some slick plot devices, such as when, at a ball, about to be caught red-handed with the diamond from the hostess’s necklace, the Saint kisses a girl who speaks up for him, who then walks off with the diamond in her mouth. But, too often, I found Charteris’s long-winded, ironic style, rather irritating. Here is one of the shorter examples:
It is a notable fact, which might be made the subject of a profound philosophical discourse by anyone with time to spare for these recreations, that the characteristics which go to make a successful buccaneer are almost the same as those required by the detective whose job it is to catch him. (p19)

He is a good writer, but no Jane Austen. The above leads to a lengthy description of the required characteristics: infinite wit and resource, unlimited memory for every out-of-the-way fact, inductive speculation, infinite sympathy, an unstinted gift for weird and wonderful friendships, the list goes on. Simon Templar has them, of course. He must have been a Yorkshireman.

Charteris wrote Saint stories from 1928 to 1963. Later books were by others in his name. Perhaps, instead of a nineteen-thirties collection, I should have looked for one from the –fifties or early-sixties, some of which formed the basis of television episodes. This one does not encourage me much.


Key to star ratings: 5*** wonderful and hope to read again, 5* wonderful, 4* enjoyed it a lot and would recommend, 3* enjoyable/interesting, 2* didn't enjoy, 1* gave up.

Friday, 1 January 2021

New Month Old Post: Posters on the Wall

Guinness, Smirnoff, Accountancy and Monty Python

(First posted 17th October, 2015. 1,040 words)

Athena tennis girl poster
There was a time when no self-respecting, young person’s bedsit would be complete without an iconic Athena poster. Along with the thousands of other young persons who had exactly the same one, it was a statement of your individuality. Full-blooded young males could have a sexy French lingerie model or the knickerless tennis girl absent-mindedly rubbing her naked bottom (gratuitously included here). The more emancipated might have the muscular man cradling a baby. For the rebellious it would be Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix surrounded by psychedelic swirls. The arty could choose a fine reproduction print, perhaps a Salvador Dali to indicate their leanings towards the avante garde. For the revolutionary Marxist it had to be Che Guevara. For those of a philosophical bent it might be seagulls in mid-flight, quoting Virgil: “They can because they think they can.”

Athena outlets sprang up in most large towns and cities, and for a couple of decades they made good profits. Not out of cheapskates like me though. My walls were adorned with a scruffy and eclectic mix of images acquired entirely free of charge. Here are some of them in my attic bedroom in our dingy shared house in Leeds in 1972, next to some colourful ink blots on blotting paper, the product of an idle, unsupervised afternoon at work.

One was a Guinness poster to show that independence and resilience were important parts of my individuality. You had to be pretty independent and resilient to drink the stuff. No one else I knew liked its burnt and heavy flavour. I’m not even sure that I did.

I had sent Guinness a sycophantic letter admiring one of their newspaper adverts: ‘How to Make Guinness’. Back came a roughly A2-sized poster in a cardboard tube.* It caricatured the process from harvesting the barley through to delivery by road tanker, and gave sound advice on how to avoid common errors such as brewing it upside down with the head underneath the body.  

Smirnoff poster: accountancy was my life
Then there was the Smirnoff poster: “Accountancy was my life until I discovered Smirnoff.” Well, it was true, accountancy was my life, and I dearly wished it wasn’t. Oh that something so simple as learning to handle a bottle of vodka could instantaneously transform it from the humdrum into one of glamour and excitement! But, from the other adverts in the series, I would rather have been the camel train trekker who used to take the caravan to Southend but now traversed the desert, or the mainstay of the Public Library who had escaped to carefree rural reverie, rather than the suited, cigar-smoking, nineteen-thirties City of Westminster gangster in the wide-brimmed Panama hat.

Anyone would have thought that accountancy was boring. Well, thanks to John Cleese and Monty Python, that is exactly what most of my contemporaries did think. Most damaging was the ‘Vocational Guidance Counsellor’ sketch about an insignificant little man whose careers advisor declared without doubt that the ideal job for him was chartered accountancy. “But I am a chartered accountant,” he protested. He wanted a new job, “something exciting that will let me live.” He wanted to be a lion tamer. Chartered accountancy was “dull, dull, dull ...”,  a career in which it was a positive advantage to be “unimaginative, timid, lacking in initiative, spineless, easily dominated, no sense of humour, tedious company and irrepressibly drab.” The sketch ends by asking for donations to The League for Fighting Chartered Accountancy: “this terrible debilitating social disease.” I am certain it influenced my subsequent rejection of the career. So much for independence and resilience.

The senior partner where I worked found the sketch so offensive it became practically a dismissable offence to admit you watched the programme. John Cleese, however, discovered that his own accountant was not offended in any way at all. When asked why, he explained it was because the sketch was about chartered accountancy, whereas he himself was a certified accountant.

But a fervent Monty Python fan I was, one of those who could recite ‘The Piranha Brothers’ and ‘Room for an Argument’ off by heart. We even used to audio-tape and transcribe the television shows so we could act them out ourselves in our shared house. My brother used the school’s photographic equipment to make a poster from the Whizzo Quality Assortment page of Monty Python’s Big Red Book. This showed a box of chocolates containing such delights as Crunchy Frog, made using only the finest baby frogs, dew picked and flown from Iraq. “Do you take the bones out?” “No, it wouldn’t be crunchy if we did.” That poster went on my wall too.

In 1973, I went with a group of mates to the Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House in New Briggate to see Monty Python on tour. Many of the sketches, such as ‘The Parrot Sketch’, and the animations projected on to a screen, were straight from the television series, but there was some new material too. In one sketch a group of bowler-hatted city gents were sitting on stools reading newspapers in a cocktail bar. It got its first laugh simply by using language you would not then have expected in a theatre, not even in Monty Python: “I see Nixon’s had an arsehole transplant.” The punchline brought the house down: “It says here the arsehole rejected him.”

The programme for the show was in the form of a huge poster. Many of them ended up gliding gracefully across the vast auditorium in the form of paper aeroplanes, but with my bare walls in mind, I carefully rolled mine up and took it home. Here it is, well just the lower edge of it, at the other end of my attic room above a messy desk of reel-to-reel tapes, guitar music and the camera case. I still have it today in the Guinness cardboard tube, much faded, its corners damaged by drawing-pins and blue-tack.

Cluttered desk

Monty Python's Farewell Tour Official Programme


* With it came a smaller poster, ‘How to economise on Guinness’, which suggests mixing it half and half with champagne to make ‘black velvet’. This can be seen to the right of the ‘How to make Guinness’ poster.

I have now found a coloured copy of the ‘How to make on Guinness’ poster:

Monday, 28 December 2020

The Yorkshire Story of the Creation

Yesterday, blogger Yorkshire Pudding complained about a scurrilous postcard purporting to epitomise the character of Yorkshire people. This moves me to set the record straight with this account disclosed by a work colleague some years ago.

The Yorkshire Story of the Creation

Recently, the Bishop of Oxford denounced attacks by creationists on the teaching in schools of the scientific facts about the evolution of life on Earth. He says that the attackers are bringing religion into disrepute by pretending that the theory of evolution is a ‘faith position’ on an equal footing to the biblical story of the creation.

Traditionally, the Anglican Church has relied on Archbishops and Synods to demarcate the boundaries of science and religion, especially the Archbishop of York. The latter is, however, keeping a dignified silence. You may be puzzled by this, but to those of us who know how the county of York was really created there is no puzzle at all. The Archbishop is simply being diplomatic and discreet. He knows exactly how Yorkshire was created.

It came about during a particularly dull February when God himself was overcome by existential ennui. God went missing for six days, but on the seventh day the Archangel Gabriel found him resting contentedly.

“Where have you been, Lord, and what have you been doing?” asked the worried angel.

“I have created a planet called Earth, a place of wonderful contrast and balance,” declared God with a serene smile.

“Contrast and balance?” queried the bemused Gabriel. So God explained.

“That part there in the North of America is very wealthy, and in the South, there, I established great poverty. Over there, I have put a continent of white earthlings, while down there is a continent of black folks…” God described all the continents and peoples to Gabriel, showing him which parts were hot, which were covered in ice, where it was flat and where it was mountainous. Gabriel was almightily impressed. Pointing to a particularly attractive area of England he asked “And what’s that?”

“Ah,” said God. “That is my own county of Yorkshire, the most glorious place on Earth. There I made beautiful lakes, streams, rivers and hills. Its people make great music, fine architecture, ingenious products. I made them at once modest, intelligent, witty and giants of sport. They are forever kind and hard-working, and wonderfully articulate. They are known throughout the earth as diplomats, peace-makers, and captains of industry, finance and commerce.”

Gabriel, gasping in admiration, was nevertheless puzzled. “But what about the balance, Lord? You said that your Earth is a place of contrast and balance!”

“Indeed,” said God, smiling and nodding sagely. He wiped his brow on his sleeve and pulled Gabriel gently to face the West. “Now let me tell you about Lancashire …”

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

EQUAL RIGHTS FOR TOES!

About thirty years ago, a John Phillips pointed out in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine  (1991, vol. 324, no. 7, p.497) that while the fingers all have Latinate names, no such distinction had been given to the toes except for the big toe or hallux. The others were simply numbered.

To remind you, the names of the digits of the hand are:

  • Thumb - digitus pollicis
  • Index Finger - digitus indicis
  • Middle Finger - digitus medius 
  • Ring Finger - digitus annularis
  • Little Finger - digitus minimus

To rectify this, and to preclude anatomical ambiguity in clinical situations, he proposed the toes be given the following names:

  • Big Toe or Hallux - porcellus fori
  • Second Toe - porcellus domi
  • Third Toe - porcellus carnivorus
  • Fourth Toe - porcellus non voratus
  • Fifth Toe - porcellus plorans domum

 Quod conservis callidus.

Saturday, 19 December 2020

Don’t They Know It’s Christmas Time?









If you are not seeing the YouTube video after the 7 photographs of flowers blooming unseasonally in our garden, here is the link: https://youtu.be/xjG_VB-la7o