Monday, 21 July 2014

Island in the Sun

It's a good few years no since Harry Belafonte and his calypso songs were popular, but I still like them.

For the last several days - and, if the forecast is correct - the next several days as well,the has been an island in the sun.  We do occasionally have good weather even though many people in other countries seem to have the impression that England is always wet and foggy.

With the warm, sunny days, thoughts turn, unsurprisingly, to holidays.  As a child, and while my own children were young, holidays involved beaches, preferably sandy ones, and the sea.  But once the Old Bat and I were off again on our ownsome, we seemed to gravitate to islands.  We visited Madeira, Malta, Guernsey, Jersey - all of them islands considerably smaller then Great Britain.  Beaches weren't our thing.  We much preferred to do the tourist sights, interspersed with country walks.  Of course, many a time the two were one and the same thing, as we walked through countryside to reach a tourist trap.  That was especially true on Jersey which, along with Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and Herm, is part of the Channel Islands group just off the coast of France.

Although the Channel Islands are essentially British (I think they are termed Crown Dependencies) they have there own governments and tax rules etc.  They are a delightful mix of English and French.  Many of the English chain stores are represented in the towns but street and place names appear to be French.  The language spoken, however, is English.

We enjoyed those holidays, every one of them.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

One-hit wonder

When one thinks of composers of classical music one usually thinks of the likes of Beethoven or Mozart, composers with numerous works to their names, many of which are played regularly today.  But there are a number of composers who are known principally for one piece, one-hit wonders.  Perhaps I am rather overstating it when I describe Pietro Mascagni as a one-hit wonder.  He was born in Livorno, Italy, in 1863 and died in Rome in 1945.  During his lifetime he composed no fewer than 15 operas as well as a selection of other works.  However, it is for his first opera that he is best known - and, indeed, for one piece from that opera.  Cavalleria Rusticana is that opera - it was an immediate hit when it was first performed in 1890 - and the Intermezzo is the tune from it.  The music was used as the main theme in the 1980 film, Raging Bull.  I have never seen the film but I find it quite hard to see the gentle, haunting strains of the Intermezzo with the violence of the film.

Personally, I think that if I had managed to compose a piece of music as near to perfection as this, I would never have written another note.  And so, without further ado, here it is, played by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Herbert von Karajan.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Is that all there is to it?

(To quote the song recorded by Peggy Lee - which perhaps gives an indication of my age.)

Those were my thoughts - is that all etc - on first coming face to face with the Mona Lisa.

I had decided to try to stop smoking and had been saving up the money I was no longer spending on the weed.  After about six months I had enough put by so I took the Old Bat off for a romantic weekend in Paris.  Well, scrub the romantic - we were a bit long in the tooth for that - but we went to Paris.  It was the first time for the OB and I had been only once before, as a schoolboy staying in a hostel for one night on a school trip to Switzerland.  The OB and I did all the usual sights - the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomph, Sacre Couer, Notre Dame - and, of course, the Louvre.

After walking along several miles of corridors, we found ourselves at the back of a crowd of people, all craning to see over those in front of them.  By standing on tiptoe I just managed to catch a glimpse of a postage stamp fixed to the wall behind a thick pane of bullet-proof glass.  This, I was informed, was the world famous Mona Lisa of the enigmatic smile.  I really could not be bothered to wait until we were able to get close enough to confirm the fact, but I can at least say that I have seen the painting - even if I did think, "Is that all there is to it?"

All this came to mind yesterday evening as I was chatting to a man I met in the bar of a hotel in Brighton.  If that all sounds a bit Graham Greene, let me assure you that I had met the gentleman before - in the bar of a hotel in Detroit!  he and I are members of our respective Lions Clubs, we were in Detroit for the Lions international convention and we have kept in touch since then.  Joe is in England for a few days taking a tour round the country with his daughter and son-in-law and his granddaughter.  He had promised Emily that he would take her to Paris when she graduated and they are "doing" England en route.  I can't remember just when they arrived in London - it was just a few days ago - but they have been on the road pretty much ever since, visiting Stratford-on-Avon, Oxford, Broadway (a small town in the Cotswolds) and Bath.  They left Bath yesterday morning, saw Stonehenge, had 45 minutes to see Salisbury cathedral and arrived in Brighton at about 4.30.  They left Brighton again this morning at 8.30 to travel back to London and tomorrow they move on to Paris.

That's not the kind of holiday I would want, travelling all the time on a coach with a crowd of 40 or so others.  And just about all they see of England is through the window of the coach.  But it's their holiday and it's up to them how to spend it.  They will, after all, be able to see that they have seen Stonehenge etc etc.  But Peggy Lee's words come back to me!

Joe did list some of the things they want to see in Paris (Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomph, Louvre, that place where all the artists are) and I did suggest to him that if they had time, especially if the day is sunny, they should try to see the Sainte Chapelle, one of the lesser-known highlights of Paris and where one can see possibly the most magnificent medieval stained glass anywhere in the world.

Stolen image

Friday, 18 July 2014


"We're having a heat wave, a tropical heat wave.
The temp'rature's rising..."
Irving Berlin
The temperature here in Brighton, as registered by the thermometer in my car, hit 29 degrees yesterday.  That's 29 degrees Celsius (When did centigrade become Celsius?  And, for that matter, why?) which is equivalent to about 82 Fahrenheit.  Hardly life threatening, I would have thought.  And yet my newspaper headline yesterday morning screamed, 
Heatwave advice: stay indoors
It went on to provide what it called "official guidance on staying safe".  Public Health England (presumably a government quango but not one I've heard of before) warned us to close our curtains (to stop rays of sun getting through), not to turn on lights, not to leave computers and printers in stand-by mode (televisions and DVD recorders were not mentioned), to wear a hat, but above all, on no account to go outside between 11am and 3pm 'cos that nasty sun would be waiting to zap us!

What a pity nobody told Edward Payne, whose mortal remains now lie in Stanmer churchyard.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to lie down quietly in a darkened room.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Bingo trivia

We didn't call it bingo when I was but a wee lad, we called it housey-housey although some called it lotto and, I believe, some even called it tombola.  My father used to play it - or run the sessions as the caller, I'm not sure which - on board ship and he had a set which we used at home.  There were cards with the random numbers printed on them and we had small squares of card cut from corn flakes packets and the like to cover the numbers when they were called.  None of these special marker pens for us.  They probably weren't available anyway.  In fact, I'm certain they weren't.  In any case, we couldn't mark the cards as we wanted them for future games!

Nowadays there can be very few towns in England without a large building devoted to the game, often a converted cinema.  Personally, I find it hard to imagine a more boring way of passing an evening but apparently playing bingo is good for us oldies, or so the "experts" tell us.  Something to do with getting out of the house and socialising, I expect.  I'd much prefer to do my socialising at the pub!

It was in 2000 that Brighton Lions Club started running bingo sessions as a service activity.  Lions operating in pairs visited three Council-run old people’s homes, each home receiving two visits a month, to run bingo sessions for the residents. The residents were charged 50p for a book of five bingo cards and prizes of £2 for a line and £4 for a full house were paid from club funds. The money paid by the residents was used as prize money for a sixth game for which the players were not charged.  We have increased the value of the prizes since then and now pay the magnificent sum of £3 for a line and - wait for it! - £6 for a full house!  What the commercial operators charge - or pay as prizes - I have no idea and, quite frankly, no interest either.  But mention of commercial operators brings me to the real trivia.

Which organisation can claim to have introduced bingo to England as a commercial concern?  I am willing to bet that very few people know that it was Brighton Lions Club.

It was in 1957 the club started bingo sessions as a fund-raiser, believed to be the first such operation in England. Bingo evenings were held on Fridays in what had been the Territorial Army drill hall and the club worked a rota system with each member being allocated to one of four teams. Records show that the average attendance in 1959 was 550 with an average spend of 4s 7¾d, up from 4s 2d the previous year. The most popular prize was a tea set, chosen by fourteen per cent of the winners.

Who'd 'a thought it?

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Morcambe and Wise

Especially for the No 1 Nana!  But also because I think they are hilarious.

Eric Morcambe and Ernie Wise were a British comedy duo appearing first in working men's clubs and music halls and, during the 1970s and 1980s, on television.  Many celebrities appeared on their shows, only to have the mickey taken out of them mercilessly.  This is possibly the most popular of their items, featuring the world-famous conductor, AndrĂ© Previn, from their 1971 Christmas show.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014


I know that many people have a thing about bats,the creatures that are a sort of halfway thing between mammals and birds.  They don't bother me, but I can well understand why people cringe and shrink away from them as they seem to flutter perislously close to one's head.  The fact that they are out and about at night and one can neither see nor hear them approach only makes matters worse.  As I say, they don't bother me, but my cousin-in-law Julian (he's married to my real cousin) has a thing about them.  Only his 'thing' is that he's keen on the critters.

There's a bat roost in an old, large house just up the lane from Julian's farm - greater horseshoe bats, I believe.  Now what many people don't realise is that bats have a very strict routine.  When they leave the roost in the late dusk, they don't simply scatter to hunt insects.  They all follow a predetermined route to reach their preferred hunting ground.  The Brockley bats enter Julian's garden at one end and fly along the path between the hawthorn hedge and the magnolia trees before crossing in front of the house and dispersing across the fields.

Julian, bat-lover that he is, has bought a gizmo that captures the calls of the bats and alters the frequency to one audible to the human ear.  On a number of occasions I have been in the grden with him to listen to the bats as they pass through on their way to the hunting grounds.  More recently, he has acquired the photographic equipment to take the pictures posted here today.  Quite amazing, aren't they?