Tuesday, August 16, 2016

From O. Reader


When we moved into our house it had not been lived in for three and a half years. I suspect it was one of those messy divorce cases where no-one was prepared to sell, so if one side couldn’t have it, they would make real sure the other party didn’t get it either. Several lifetimes earlier when villages were self-sufficient it had been the chemist shop. It was originally a mining cottage, and according to the 1900 census held a family of husband, wife, four strapping children and two adult lodgers. Quite where they put them all I still wonder. Probably night shift and day shift and don’t ask too many questions about the bedding. Anyhow, that’s history - when we came on the scene, it was in really dreadful repair. But we were strapped for cash and I was struggling to learn a whole new career, and it was all we could afford. No financial institution would have considered it for a mortgage, even if we could have afforded one. (And if we could have afforded one, we probably wouldn’t have bought THIS anyway!)  But our initial budget allowed us to replace the roof, get some basic heating in, and we camped for rather a long time upstairs while I struggled with Do It Yourself books from the library to tame the ground floor. Ah me - if only I had known then what I know now...etc.

It is all a long time ago.

One of our first “luxury” purchases was a set of fitted wardrobes to replace the school cabinets from my mother-in-law’s old nursery school that we had used at our previous basement flat. They were wall to wall and in fact, traveled around the walls as well. But they were intended to be installed once for all time.

In fact, over the last thirty years or more they have been taken out twice and rebuilt twice. Once was to add an extra sliver of cupboard to really be wall to wall - and it was a struggle. But then there was the time the ceiling collapsed. The previous owners - idiots all - had a leaking roof and in typical short-term fashion had filled the attic space with dead carpets (rubber backed) to stop the water coming into the bedrooms. They had obviously put a certain amount of thought into this although I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess on their basic I.Q. This was one of the delights we only really discovered AFTER we had purchased, which probably doesn’t say much for our clear thinking at the time either. (As I said earlier, if I had only known then...etc.) Anyhow, we sorted all that out, but did not realise that all the upstairs ceilings were all on their last legs. What I should have done was kick them all through from the attic before we moved in, and replace the lot. What I actually did was to use some plastic sealant and gallons of a mixture of plaster and paint called Artex and patch it up. And then forgot all about it. Which was a BAD IDEA.

Move forward a number of years. I decide to put a decent ladder into the attic and also a floor up there. It requires enlarging the hole for entry quite considerably. I may have told this story before - I have told it somewhere but can’t remember where, and well - if I have done it here, you won’t remember anyway., So I am up a ladder trying to cross-baton the ceiling since the flooring we have in the attic is fixed permanently, and has a few tons of goods on top of it. As always, everything is done in the wrong order. Tap, tap, tap. Suddenly I see a crack appear. As I look, it increases and gains momentum and runs away from me. Struggling to save it by leaning at an impossible angle on top of the step-ladder I crash to the floor with half a ton of black mortar on top of me. Mining cottages were all built with sticky black mortar everywhere, exacerbated by the atmosphere and surroundings. Oh doom and double doom.

Then my daughter arrives home from school. She finds a blackened wreck doing an impersonation of Al Jolson sitting on a pile of debris and hysterically laughing. She laughs too. We both stand and sit in the rubble and laugh together. Then Mrs O arrives home from college. I remember she doesn’t laugh. Her face is a picture. This causes her daughter and husband to cackle manically all the more. It was not a wise move.

Anyhow, to cut a long and painful story short, we had to replace every ceiling in the top of the house - gutting every room and rebuilding the furniture. So our fitted wardrobes come out again, and because veneered chipboard is not too partial to movement, it had to be fitted back with that many screws and brackets and six inch nails (no - I tell a lie - I resisted the temptation to use nails) that it was now permanent. An earthquake could hit our village, an explosion could rip the house apart, but amidst the rubble there would still have been a set of fitted wardrobes leering out at us.

But finally, as a consequence of making a killing on eBay, I agreed this year to replace the furniture with something “modern”. There is a Scandinavian company called Ikea that has great huge outlets designed to wear you out buying things you don’t need as you follow the yellow brick road (and they really DO have a road with arrows on it) to get out of the place. But they have modern fitted units that go right up to the ceiling - something our old units did not do. Instead the tops were where we would store things like guitars and dust. They have all sorts of useful features in them but give you more floor space by taking up less depth. Originally their stuff was always light wood, and our home needs a lot of oak if it is to be kept to its restored period look, but now they have sensible finishes. Crucially, for only 25% on top of the bill they will come and fit it for you. This really appealed. I have built numerous bookcases and fitted a kitchen or two, and of course these original wardrobes were my handiwork. But I was young then. I would leap out of bed at six and work through the day constructing through until bedtime, whistling a happy tune as I worked. Now I leap out of bed at six and attack in the same fashion and by about breakfast time I’m done for. Mrs O, who wields a mean paint brush, feels the same way. So next week it all comes and they will fit it. I hope I am not writing a post about disaster afterwards...

There was only one snag. We had to clear the room of the old wardrobes, cupboards and contents, bed and massive amounts of belongings. I am really quite sensible with possessions, realising that books first and then CDs and DVDs are the priorities. Mrs O has a weakness for clothes. These last two days we have cleared the room. It is amazing how much stuff Mrs O has... Well, er, we have. We are determined that it won’t all go back when the room is restored. But it is currently filling up other bedrooms and my office and the downstairs living rooms. How we managed to have so much stuff in one room is amazing. And all the other rooms look suspiciously like having the same latent problem.

So over the last couple of days, after having visitors stay for a convention and a bumper day of treating foot conditions to wear me out before we started, I have dismantled the wardrobes and reduced them to suitably sized bits to go to the local dump where they take such things for free. Five carloads it took. And the ironwork, screws and bolts, there are several boxes of those for recycling. To coin a phrase, I ache, therefore I am.

The carpet comes tomorrow to a completely cleared room. We then continue sleeping on camp beds downstairs for a week until the IKEA people come to put up the wardrobes. I hope they don’t postpone it. We camped at folk festivals recently. That was fun. Living room carpet surrounded by cardboard boxes is not quite the same.

Our son in law is an engineer and he checked our measurements. But there are niggling worries - usually at 3 a.m. - I hope it is measured up correctly and that the sizes in the catalog really are what they say they are.

What was that about Murphy’s law..?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Mystery Photos

My best guess is France. They're part of a group taken 1914-1920. Most are from Europe, some South America, two from Burma. Can you identify the place?

Friday, August 12, 2016

Cute Shoes - By Quadratus on Devient Art

Cute shoes on its mate makes a dragon's heart flutter:


By Quadratus. Find his work on Deviant Art http://cuadratus.deviantart.com/gallery/
I'd call this cute shoes in the night.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

If one of my daughters was Alice ...

O. Reader's Further Adventures

Cambridge 2016

            We have just spent four days at the Cambridge Folk Festival - an annual event that has launched the careers of many. Decades ago Paul Simon appeared in the club tent and was paid 15 GBP for the privilege. Today many wannabe hopefuls have the same sort of ambition.
            So this is a roundup of impressions, written in a trailer in the New Forest, now that I have a keyboard and intermittent internet back.
            One of the biggest problems in camping at festivals like Cambridge is getting all your gear to the campsite. At other festivals like Shrewsbury you can park your wheels next to the tent, but this festival is too big with several thousand tents on site. We were assured that this year the entrance would only be 400 yards from our car park. Great! And this was true - just 400 yards. It was the extra three miles to the end of the queue that was the killer.
            So we staked our place for two hours in the queue before the gates opened, and were just glad that we were no further back as the queue disappeared into the distance both ways. Fortunately we had our folding chairs with us.
            I have to say that Mrs O likes to “be prepared”. The four of us came with four trolleys, purchased from a German discount shop and very good value. Daughter and son-in-law had one trolley, and Mrs O and I had three.
            I tried to explain to Mrs O how I’d once pedal cycled from end to end of Britain, from John O’Groats to Lands End in a week, and how I carried my tent and all essential supplies on my bicycle. I was reminded that when I arrived at one or two contacts’ doorsteps along the route (the other times I generally slept rough) I was greeted with a certain recoil and the suggestion that I might like to take a shower... But I was young and foolish then. And single. I actually cycled back from Lands End to Cardiff at the end of the trip to film a wedding, and two years later I was married to the bridesmaid. All together now - aaah.
            But I digress...
            At least with all our luggage we could rest at the side of the road and watch various souls of various sizes and shapes glumly tramp past in search of the end of the queue. Quite a few had obviously been to the same German discounter for trolleys. Several used wheelbarrows and at least one used a Wheelie Bin. (But I see I’ve done my comic song post on Wheelie Bin Fire some years ago, so you are spared that now.)
            After two hours we finally moved, and after the British experience of dutifully forming a queue, there was a mad scramble to find our pitch once inside. Our daughter wanted us to be under her “special tree”. I’ve come to appreciate that the gentle pitter-patter of bird droppings can be quite soporific.
            Folk festivals in Britain are very respectable. Some of my straight-laced contacts sort of raise an eyebrow when I openly tell them where I am going. “A festival” they repeat? Imagine an impersonation of Lady Bracknell’s line “A handbag?” from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. But these festivals really are not Woodstock. They are very family friendly, hardly ever a policeman in sight for a crowd of well over ten thousand. There are sing-arounds, and kids doing face painting and juggling and careering around on unicycles. And of course there are the clothes. One exhibitionist came as a Native American, and another gentleman came as a tree. I wish I’d taken a photograph. And the older folkies came in traditional dress - earth mothers in Kaftans like tents, and gentlemen of a certain age with bald heads and pony tails for compensation, and this year - hats. Bowler hats (think Laurel and Hardy’s derby hats) and top hats - generally in bright red with feathers attached. I was tempted by a red top hat and Mrs O threatened to put me wearing it on Instagram. Good sense prevailed and I blew all my money on CDs instead.
            The other notable feature of folk festivals in Britain is how very clean they are. Washroom facilities are exceptional under the circumstances, and virtually no litter or trash is dropped. If it is, it gets picked up and put in the right bag - disposable, recycling, etc. - immediately. It goes with the ethos - friends of the earth, save the whale, save the planet, etc. For Britain, which has been dubbed the effluent society, this is good.
            And certain traditions remain. On Sunday morning before the music started and we were all staking our claim to a piece of grass and struggling with the Sunday papers’ crosswords, they played The Archers over the sound system. This is a British radio soap opera that started in 1950 and is still going strong. Billed originally as “an everyday story of country folk” it started life covering animal management, post-war government agricultural quotas, and harvest tips. Now, in good soap opera tradition, it tends to concentrate on incest, domestic violence, and rather frequent murders.
            And what about the music? Oh yes, that’s why we came. Last year’s line-up was as good as it will ever get. This year the one international singer was American Mary Chapin Carpenter, but there were a lot of British “folk royalty” whose names would probably not mean much to readers here. I also caught up with Amy Goddard on a couple of occasions. She got an interview and sang live on a local radio show. And I spent a lot of time in workshops on how to sing (somewhat necessary) and song writing - although my song writing tends to gravitate towards unkind parodies of existing work. There’s probably a word to describe that - an uncomplimentary one no doubt - but hey, I’m of an age where I really don’t care.
            The musical highlight was an American four piece called Darlingside. It was their first visit to Britain to start a minor-league mini-tour and they were on Stage 2. But a headliner was taken ill, and immediately after their one planned performance (which I didn’t see, being wedged in the audience for Stage 1) they were catapulted onto the main stage to do it all again, and extend it to an hour. They were a four part harmony group - imagine barber shop meets the Beach Boys meets Crosby, Stills and Nash - multi-instrumented, who only used one huge old-fashioned mike. Fitting around that and making the sounds harmonize by voice and mike control is an art, and they had it perfect. I know they had only brought 400 copies of their debut CD over for the whole tour, and they all went at Cambridge instantly. And yes dear reader, I queued and got it signed.
            I’ve not heard it yet - my daughter commandeered it and an email tells me it is very good but a tad “over produced”. That’s a common failing of much modern folk/acoustic music in my book.
            I’m being called - I promised Mrs O we would venture out in the rain for a meal in a 2fer - that’s two steak meals for the price of one - so I gotta go. As that famous classicist Bugs Bunny always signed off - that’s all for now, folks...

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

My one novel was set in this forest

From Amy!

Musings on driving, parking and life's direction

          I have just got back from the nearby shopping mall, feeling somewhat frazzled. I am an anxious driver and although it is only a few miles away I have never driven there before. I needed to go to Debenhams (the department store) for a certain item of clothing it turns out I need to go with my dress for a concert. This is what happens when you have a bias cut silk dress and healthy eating hasn't been top of your list for the last few months. I had a most interesting discussion with my singing coach about this. Apparently it is completely normal to need special stage items. Then came the discussion about silhouette vs actually being able to breathe (always handy when you're singing). It appeared Debenhams would have the answer. So I psyched myself up and went.
          Parking is always a problem for me. If the space isn't three times the size of the car you can forget it. I thought a weekday morning would probably be ok in a multi-storey so I looked online for the closest one. The Fareham indoor shopping centre page was most helpful, detailed directions and a postcode for the sat nav. I only had one mishap on the way there, I turned left just before the car-park instead of into it. That resulted in a 16-point-turn in the taxi pickup point but I was reassured by the fact that I could at least SEE the car-park. I eventually got inside and drove around until I found a very easy space to navigate. I took careful note of the level I was parked on. I've been known to be so relieved to have managed to park I completely forget to make a mental note of this trivial detail and spent the rest of the day searching for the car.
          With the help of the floor plans in the mall I find Debenhams and think/hope I have what I need. I gather a few other bits of shopping and head back to the car-park which is helpfully signposted inside the centre. I find my ticket, pay the fee and head up the stairs feeling virtuous about not using the lift. Level 1 doesn't look the same from this end so I walk around a bit. It really doesn't look the same at all. I'm sure those concrete pillars were painted purple and on the wall is a large 'This way to the shops' sign. I don't remember there being anything as helpful as this when I got out of the car. Hmmm... It begins to dawn on me that I'm in the wrong car-park, but hang on a minute... the machine took my parking card, and my money!! Maybe all the car-parks use the same universal system. Oh NO!! I've paid for my parking and I'm now on a time limit to get my car out of the car-park! Only I'm in the wrong car-park and I don't know where the right one is!!
          I head back down the stairs and look at Google maps on my phone. A stupid thing to do, whoever heard of a sat nav finding your car when you don't know where you left it! I find the floor plan again and find (or course) there are two car-parks adjoining the centre. I must be in Osborne Road car-park... I do HOPE I'm in Osborne Road car-park! So the ever-so-helpful website sent me to the car-park for this centre that is not called 'Shopping Centre Car-Park'. I silently curse Fareham Borough Council as I dash past the shops trying to retain the directions out of here in my head. I eventually make it back to the correct car-park and much to my relief the machine accepts my ticket and lets me out.
          I think I'll stick to writing songs! Shame it doesn't pay enough to take a taxi everywhere.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

More Una from O. Reader

More Una
            I recently wrote a post called Una, about someone I knew in my religious work a lifetime ago in London. Alas, my words did not persuade her, but I like to think we had a good rapport, and a life-long interest in the film industry meant that quite often our discussions got “off the point”. Well, off my “point” anyway.
            Una lived on Ealing Green, very close to the Ealing Film Studios, which by then had been sold to the BBC. (The same street housed both my “church” and my school.) Many years later as an old lady she had been interviewed as part of a British Film Institute history project, and by chance I came across a reference to over two hours worth of interview that was languishing on cassette in some archive.
            So, I applied and sweet-talked, and badgered and NAGGED (something the pixie may have experienced from me in the past) and eventually they agreed to digitize the tapes. It took a while. The tapes had to be found, people were always going on vacation and would do it “later” and when finally I got the file, they had made a mess of it, duplicating part and omitting other parts. But finally I got the file, and with the help of my daughter it was transferred to my trusty iPod.
            It was interesting hearing Una’s voice down through the ages. She was, as I remembered her, very “London”, but educated “London”. I had not realized or remembered that she had specifically worked in the music department at the studios - starting in 1943 for six GBP a week for four hours a day, and ending up on a basically the same money eighteen years later from morning to fall over time. But she loved the work, keeping classical composers like Vaughan Williams happy, organizing orchestrations, scrounging a stop watch during the war - they apparently wrote their music without directly seeing the film but timed by stopwatch - and on occasion writing music herself, including a comic song that ended up in a Tommy Trinder film. (You would really have to be a British “anorak” to remember him - Americans would have no chance.)
            And it is funny how attitudes change with years. In her interviews she was scathing about her one acting role in a film, the infant prodigy in Cavalcanti’s version of Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby - “miscast, dreadful, the director was very disappointed and so he should have been, etc. etc.” But when I knew her she remembered the experience quite positively. Years later I bought the DVD on the strength of it, only to find her part had been cut down to just a few seconds. Maybe the director agreed after all.
            The one thing that was a revelation was her family background. Her brother, Hal Mason, was a film producer - I knew that - but her parents had been circus performers, working all over the world, including America (where her brother was born) and Australia - where they had a longer stay than anticipated due to the first World War. Her father had been a trapeze artist with his own company and her mother before marriage had been a trick cyclist in a famous troupe. When age caught up with them, they went into running hotels and putting up “theatricals” who would remember them from their mutual time “on the boards”.  That is where Una learned to play the piano and sing - apparently she could reach such high notes that she is heard - uncredited - in several ancient films while someone else mimes obligingly for the camera.
            But the revelation about her mother got me to thinking. I remember her mother. She was a little old lady - well, not so little - and after Una and I had more or less gone our separate ways, I used to see her taking the sun on a bench on Ealing Green and sit down and pass the time of day with her. I would never have dreamed in a million years that she had once earned her living wobbling around on top of a unicycle. You never can tell.
            So now I have taken to looking at people I meet, and just wondering...

Coffee and Comfort - Uncertain Artist

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Russians, Koreans and other Morons.


Never Peeve a Pixie

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

National Unity. Germany 1919

Post World War I National Assembly
Post Card New to My Stamp Collection.

Airmail Cancellation on Unaddressed Card.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Pixie Warrior Color Page

Knock yourself out. Post your finished page somewhere and send me the link!


Friday, July 01, 2016

From O. Reader


Last year at the Cambridge Folk Festival the main headliner was Joan Baez. In her heyday in the early 60s I wasn’t too fussed. For me her voice was pure, mannered and irritating. She used to give what I would call a “custard pie” performance. Imagine an old Buster Keaton or Fatty Arbuckle movie. Someone putting on airs appears, and a custard pie would sail out of the wings. Splat! Right in the kisser. So, so satisfying.

But as Joan got older and her voice got more “lived in” she improved drastically in my estimation. Her performance at Cambridge won me over, and when I saw they were issuing a live concert recording - 2 CDs and 1 DVD - of her 75th birthday bash, I bought it. A host of ageing folkish luminaries appeared with her, Emmylou Harris, Judy Collins (a big rival in the 60s), Paul Simon without his cap for once, Jackson Browne, Mary Chapin Carpenter (who we will be seeing at Cambridge this year) but I’ll desist, because the reader will either have never heard of them, or if they have, will probably know all about the album anyway.

So what songs have stood out for me from first hearing? One was a belting version of House of the Rising Sun. This was made world famous by the Animals back in the days of yesteryear, who pinched their arrangement from Bob Dylan’s first solo album. However, it is actually a woman’s song. Of a woman gone wrong. In the usual way. A lament. Let ‘em have it, Joan. She did.

Paul Simon joined her to sing the Boxer, with Richard Thompson playing back-up guitar. They slipped in an extra verse that brought the house down.

Now the years are rolling by me
They are rocking easily,
And I am older than I once was
And younger than I’ll be
- But that’s not unusual...
Nor is it strange,
After changes, all the changes
We are more or less the same;
After changes
We are more or less the same.

My daughter grew up as a Simon and Garfunkel fan. We used to call them Simon and 
Garbage-Uncle and wind her up something rotten, as parents sort of do. Well, these parents anyway. In her teens she wrote an arrangement for her school choir of The Only Living Boy in New York. She probably got her love of S and G from her mother, rather than me, but I did enjoy Simon’s first solo album recorded in the UK before he hit the big time. Yup - and Here’s To You too, Mrs Robinson... And don’t get me started on Anne Bancroft in the Graduate...

There was a merciless parody of S and G by a British double act Hale and Pace, which you can catch on You Tube if you have a mind to. Fortunately my daughter laughed too...

Joan’s patter had a dig at Bob Dylan claiming to write a traditional folk song, with quite a nice vocal impersonation, but of course he and Joan had been an item for a while. She was the megastar, he was just the harmonica player for Caroline Hester who pinched an old folk tune No More Auction Block and turned it into Blowing in the Wind. But Bob latched onto Joan’s star and to some degree eclipsed her. And then, because folk was just a vehicle, and at heart he probably wanted to be rock star, he went electric, to the dismay of his original core audience. This was completely irrational, because blues players had been electric for years. Anyhow, back to the show - Joan did Dylan’s bitchiest of “get lost” songs Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright, which rumor has it was originally written with her in mind. Ah me - the trivial things we used to take so seriously all those years ago...

She did Freight Train, which I first bought on a 78rpm shellac disc back in the Precambrian era. It was written by Elizabeth Cotten, who had been a maid for the Seeger family. (Yes, the extended Pete Seeger family, who had been quite well-to-do. Pete of course “dropped out” as all good radical folk singers do, but he did drop out of Harvard). The Seegers heard Elizabeth sing her own song and supported her on her way as a folk singer. There is some footage of her on YouTube as an old lady singing Freight Train and playing a guitar left-handedly. But not re-strung, just played upside down. It gave new meaning to the expression “cotton picking”. So Joan belted that one out.

Some of her biggest hits over the decades of course appeared - There But For a Fortune (written by Phil Ochs), Diamonds and Rust, Gracias a La Vida, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, and - very appropriate to finish on - Forever Young.

There are lots of folk performers from the 60s who still sing, and frankly shouldn’t. Knowing when to stop is a judgment that many fail to make in all walks of life, and singing is a prime example. Not just folk singers - anyone remember Pavarotti’s last appearances? And rock singers. I saw Little Richard in his heyday - fantastic” - but also well into his 70s - hilarious - but for all the wrong reasons.

But Joan really did well. There was no need to make any concessions or allowances.

Play it again, Sam.

Friday, June 24, 2016

From Devient Art

My title for this would be: You Can't Fool Me ...

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Westwood, Lassen County, Mill Fire - 1916

Three photos taken by Glenn Snook from my Westwood collection.

 A note on the back says this one was taken at 2 AM.

Monday, June 20, 2016


When Gramma died, I inherited four of her Lladro porcelain sculptures. I'd love to have more, but they're way too expensive. Here are some of those I like:

Forest Nymph by Paul Wagner

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Mystery Photo

Marked Kendall Children, age 5, 2.
I have no clue, but I like the photo.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

From O. Reader


I am a great fan of British B pictures - those “quota quickies” that the British film industry was obliged to make in the 1940s through to the early 1960s as support for the big picture - which often came from America. They were cheaply and very quickly produced and many directors and actors cut their teeth on them. Watching them today - in glorious grainy black and white - it is great fun to see famous thespians of later years playing the cinematic equivalent of Shakespeare’s third murderer in Macbeth.

One series we are currently enjoying all over again on DVD was called “Scotland Yard”. These were three reelers, designed to last half an hour when the big picture was a bit long (and a total performance was rarely allowed to exceed three hours). Nearly 40 were made, and they were all crime investigations, and all were introduced by the solemn faced and sonorous toned Edgar Lustgarten who also acted as narrator.

Lustgarten (we always used to call him Edgar Last-Gasper) was a lawyer, writer and broadcaster, and a fixture on British radio for several decades. And I would always listen to him in his various radio series of famous crimes, trials, and scandals, with him often playing all the parts.

One of the best, which I quite often revisit, was about William Joyce, “Lord Haw-Haw”, the radio propagandist for the Nazi regime, who was hanged by the British as a traitor in 1946.

Joyce was a familiar voice over the airwaves throughout the war; broadcasts that many Brits found amusing. Lustgarten was involved in propaganda broadcasts back to Germany, using the pseudonym Brent Wood to hide his Jewish background, and the two men reportedly indulged in oblique verbal sparring at times. However, for the public, the dialog was somewhat one-way. Listening to Haw-Haw in Britain was a popular entertainment; listening to British broadcasts in Germany could be punishable by death.

But Lustgarten did this radio documentary about Joyce, and got the voice impersonation off (as the Brits would say) “to a T”. (As an aside, had Joyce been captured a few years after the war, he would have probably served a token sentence, and then written his memoirs. Unfortunately for him he was captured in the full flood of post-war retribution, and was convicted of treason. Since technically he was never a British citizen, but Irish-American, his conviction and execution has caused legal misgivings since. And his wife, who also broadcast propaganda and certainly WAS British, was never charged. But as one authority put it - in the climate of the times, better men were executed for less. Americans who broadcast for the enemy like “Tokyo Rose” and “Axis Sally” got away far lighter in comparison.)

Anyhow, we were talking about Edgar Lustgarten. Actually, we were talking about British B pictures in which he appeared. I really must keep to the point. Whatever that is.

These little films started with the dramatic tones of - “SCOTLAND YARD”. Americans should imagine a token rip-off from the introduction to “The FBI” or “Dragnet”. We would go through doors into the secret rooms of Scotland Yard where about three men in a small room would be using state of the art technology - maps on tables, magnifying glasses, that sort of thing - and then we would home in on a file that said “The Driscoll Case” or similar. Cut to Last-Gasper, I mean Lustgarten, who would introduce the story.

They were all filmed at Merton Park Studios, home of another long running B series based, loosely, on the work of Edgar Wallace. The studio was tiny. So we would have the police in their headquarters, the size of small closet. The villain had maybe escaped to somewhere exotic - say, Morocco. Cut to stock footage of airplane in the sky, then stock footage of Morocco, and then police headquarters in Morocco - the same closet now decked with slightly different furniture and British character actors with unconvincing make-up and even more unconvincing accents. By the end of thirty minutes the crime was solved, and Lustgarten would pontificate over the end credits.

It was great fun. It never failed.

And the sheer limitations of the form gave the whole series a new lease of life when TV took over. That reliance on close ups and few characters - created by threadbare budgetary considerations - actually made them ideal for the small screens of early TV and they all had new lease of life.

Modern films with their emphasis on CGI and action and bloated lengths and surround sound quite often leave me cold. But creaky old movies with creaky old plots and ghosts from the past in the casts - I can enjoy them time and again.

I think I’ll put one on the player right now.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Five Plus One

My daughters and baby half-sister, as I see them:

Amy and the Old Guy

From Occasional Reader

The last couple of days

Mrs O and I must be the epitome of aging groupies. We have taken an interest in the singing of Amy Goddard for some years. There is a family connection. But it means that over these last couple of days we have travelled around 400 miles to attend a concert launching her second album.

I don’t do “out and back” in a day now - and anyhow, the gig ended somewhat late. In fact, by the time we helped dismantle everything it was very late indeed. So we stayed with relatives.

Usually when I stay in other people’s homes there is something that goes awry. About the only thing that happened on this flying visit was the shower. No - I didn’t break it - but I clambered in without my spectacles and looking closely about found that all my soaps and stuff were somewhere else. So, assuming that the household would not mind me borrowing, I peered myopically at various tubes, and it appears I then elected to wash my hair with someone’s Super Exfoliating Facial Scrub...

Amy’s second album is nearly all self-penned, and for this show she had a guitarist I’ve known for years, a back-up singer and percussionist, a hammer dulcimer player (a bit like a piano with bits missing that goes out of tune at the slightest change in temperature), a flute/whistle player, plus her own collection of guitars, in various tunings. Apparently you soon run out of linking jokes if you try and tune between numbers (“it was in tune when I bought it”...“I always wondered what these twirly things were for...”) so each instrument had its own tuning, and Amy’s husband was back-stage tuning up and doing the roadie bit. The venue was full, and at least three radio D J’s from specialist programmes (one linked to Canada, America and Australia) were there, which bodes well for future plays.

Making real money from performing folk music can be problematic unless you are early Bob Dylan. (Joke: how do you become a folk singer with a small fortune? Answer: start off with a large fortune). In these days of streaming even megastars often sell few albums, so CD sales aren’t the way. You can wear yourself out traveling around the country doing gigs, which is not Amy’s choice of life style. Or you can get played on radio, and there are a surprisingly large number of stations in Britain alone, let alone world-wide that have a need for this kind of product. Codes built into the CDs send information on plays to a central source, and the artist and songwriter gets royalties. A number of plays plus at least four really good reviews on specialist sites so far bodes well for the new album which has only been out for less than a week officially. Of course, if a megastar hears Amy’s work and decides to record something she’s written, I suspect she is not going to complain. But writers rarely write for the money. There are far easier ways to earn it. They write because - well, it’s part of them. But if it sells, no-one in their right mind is going to be churlish and grumble.

And - in the, “it’s a small world sometimes”, category - long-suffering readers of my stuff may vaguely remember how I carry on about a late American singer-songwriter, John Stewart. At Amy’s show, in my own guest slot, I did one of his numbers. At the interval I was immediately waylaid by an old guy (which probably means ten years younger than me) who had met Stewart, knew his wife, had been interviewed on radio about the man, and - and - yes, had actually been to - Bolinas. Huh? That will mean absolutely nothing to readers here. Only because I am what we can in the UK “an anorak” could I trade reminiscences and hold up my end of the conversation. Amy too could wade into the debate of minutia because she had to contact the Stewart family for permission to do one of his numbers on her first album and arrange royalties.

So a good time was had by all. We paid for cover to look after my mother while we were away. She will be 97 in June. She’s now outlived her first husband, my father, who was a fitness freak. She’s managed that age after her parents were told she’d not survive beyond five, and has spent a life time of eating the wrong foods and talking about, but not actually, taking exercise. (Her idea of slimming was always eating large unhealthy meals followed by two token low-fat biscuits afterwards). Anyhow, the last time we went away my daughter visited to hold the fort with her husband, and then she was taken ill and they had to stay with her for three days - kindly not telling us until we got back from vacation. This time all that has happened is that the carers have broken one of the sides of her bed. She can’t fall out, although it doesn’t look too safe. So that is a job to get sorted on Monday when the place that supplied the bed re-opens. So now it’s a takeaway meal, glass or two of red, and crash out, while hoping to make a killing selling obscurities on eBay.

So that’s our last couple of days. How were yours?