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Friday, 30 September 2016


Sometimes it seems as if we are under some legally binding obligation to revere certain performers, albums, books, films and TV shows, so much so that to offer even the merest whiff of criticism provokes gasps of indignation from diehard fans.

I was reminded of this during The Great British Bake Off hoo-haa, which is still rumbling on in some quarters and how devastated hordes of viewers were/are at the news of channel transfers and some presenters declining offers to move with the programme.  It even made the news! What the fondue is that all about? I have never watched The Great British Bake Off but good luck to those who love it. However, it's only TV, not the end of the world.

News of series three of The Fall got many viewers into squeaky fits of delight but as I watched the first episode last night, all I remembered was the dreary, drippy, oh-so-slow performance of Gillian Anderson, who chooses to whisper in every scene for no reason whatsoever.  It is a sluggish programme that had a great premise in series one, stretched into series two and, now, it looks like series three will be more cat and mouse, a three-legged cat and a comatose mouse. I know what I mean.

I love Bruce Springsteen but he has recorded some duds.

I love Bob Dylan but he has recorded some duds.

I love Van Morrison but he has recorded some duds.

I love The Beatles but they have recorded some duds.

I love John Wayne but he has been in some dud films.

I adore The Rockford Files but there were a few clunkers in that long run.

My point is, love the creators and the stuff they create but you're not compelled to love all of it just because it's them.

Savour and adore the good things but don't be afraid to say it's crap if it's crap.

I'll leave it with you.

Thursday, 29 September 2016


In my lifetime, I have had the pleasure of reading a number of newspaper columnists on a regular basis.  Some more than others have grabbed my attention and I have wonderful memories of bus and train journeys reading the wondrous words of brilliant writers.  Clive James was the main reason to buy The Observer on a Sunday for his groundbreaking TV columns.  That was in the 1970s.  Gail Walker, now, writes every week in the Belfast Telegraph, incisive, fearless, heartfelt, nostalgic. Outstanding.  AA Gill in The Sunday Times writes superbly (if a little flowery at times) about restaurants and all sorts of other "at large" stuff.  Jeremy Clarkson, whatever else he is, writes superb columns. Back in the 1960s, Patrick Riddell was a compelling curmudgeon in the Sunday News.  Amazing.  The 10 below - gifted people who made/make words sing.

I have been educated, entertained, enlightened, enthralled, delighted and, terrible word that I vowed I would never use, gobsmacked by the intelligence, insightfulness and brilliance of these quite exceptional people.

Here are the names without sub-text or palaver.  Look them up yourself. I am in awe........

Patrick Riddell
Miles Kington
Alan Coren
Clive James
Matthew Parris
Jeremy Clarkson
Alf McCreary
John Pepper
Gail Walker
AA Gill

I love them for their style, their penchant for swimming upstream, for their truth and for their microscopic insight into the foibles of humanity.

Every time I have read them or still read them, I learn. I learn. I'm happy with that.

Big salute.


Here's the cover and the blurb of a superb book on the glory days of Fleet Street.  But scroll down for a quite brilliant letter from Hugh Cudlipp to a journalist from First Circle Films requesting an interview about Viscount Rothermere.


They were 'Cudlipp' and 'Mr King' when they met in 1935. At 21, gregarious, extrovert and irreverent Hugh Cudlipp had many years of journalistic experience: at 34, shy, introspective and solemn Cecil Harmsworth King, haunted by the ghost of Uncle Alfred, Lord Northcliffe, the great press magnate, and bitter towards Uncle Harold, Lord Rothermere of the Daily Mail, was fighting his way up in the family business.

Opposites in most respects, they were complementary in talents and had in common a deep concern for the underdog. Cudlipp, the journalistic genius, and King, the formidable intellect, were to become, in Cudlipp's words, 'the Barnum and Bailey' of Fleet Street. Together, on the foundation of the populist Daily Mirror, they created the biggest publishing empire in the world.

Yet their relationship foundered sensationally in 1968, when - as King tried to topple the Prime Minister - Cudlipp toppled King. Through the story of two extraordinary men, Ruth Dudley Edwards gives us a riveting portrait of Fleet Street in its heyday.

The letter -

"Thank you for your letter of 19 May asking me to agree to doing a profile interview about (presumably the First) Viscount Rothermere.

I enjoyed the enormous pleasure of never meeting him, and even greater privilege of never working near him as an editor. In my last few years I honestly cannot be persuaded by a fat cheque or share-option in First Circle Films to waste time working on a TV profile for BBC2 of the lascivious, gluttonous, Hitler-grovelling, penny-pinching, power mad, boring old sod."

Wednesday, 28 September 2016


I'm not a big fan of statues.  In fact, I think pigeons have more fondness for them than I ever will.  I can take or leave politicians and generals on horseback moulded in bronze.  I'm not entirely sure what purpose statues serve.  I am sure families of the enshrined find much joy in seeing their loved ones honoured in this way, but beyond that, who really cares.

Most statues have the name of the honoured one but not much, if any, information on who the person is/was, which just adds to my ho-hum.

However, as with most things in life, there are exceptions.  And one of the exceptions has been announced.  A statue of Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise will be unveiled in Blackpool in October.

Here's the link to the BBC news site for more information: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-37485241 and a glimpse of the statue.

For me, like Dad's Army, Only Fools and Horses and a few others, the mere sight of Morecambe and Wise never fails to make me smile. They warm the heart and, even as I type this, their routines, jokes and brilliant silliness run through my head.  Joy, joy, joy.

There are films I can watch over and over again and enjoy them every time.  Same thing with the Morecambe and Wise/Andre Previn sketch. Pure comedy gold.

So, away with your generals and politicians on plinths, bring me more of this kind of sunshine, and give our cities, towns and villages something to look at that encourages a few more smiles.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016


I used to be a good-looking guy way back when.  Actually, I have no real proof of that except a vague memory that someone once slurred in my ear at a party: "Hey, you're a good-looking guy."  I've held on to that compliment for years.  I was in my early 20s at the time, so fresh-faced and youthful I might have been.  I had dark hair, a great fringe and decent sideburns.  Now, here I am at 62 and past caring, to a point.  I haven't heard anyone say to me recently: "You do the best you can with what you've got."  I am what I am, as the song goes, at a time in my life when mirrors and lights can be both friends and enemies.  I have less hair but it has morphed into a veteran silver.  Kindly folks say it looks distinguished.  They're not helping.  I have a bald spot but I feel in reasonable condition.   I try to dress according to the occasion, casual in a workaday way but smart to formal on social occasions.  Appearance is important but it doesn't have to become an obsession. So, what's brought this on.

I browse style magazines from time to time and I noticed a number of things that even a man of my years should at least consider.  The beard.  Not a beard. The beard now seems to be the most popular male accessory, at least among the younger age group.  Once the territory of grizzled old-timers in pubs, merchant seamen and maiden aunts, whiskers are now in and, I read, beard transplants are part of a growing industry.  I suppose stitching in facial hair saves all that time actually growing a beard. Sigh. But, it seems a fairly natural step from hair transplants and maybe even travelling further down the torso to transplant......nah, I'm not going there.

Then, there is a notion that male varnish is cool, guys painting their fingernails to jazz up an outfit or underline an identity or personality. On to cleansing, polishing and scrubbing skin with lotions, potions, foams and sprays, and even charcoal.  There was a time when the absolute luxury in suds was Camay soap for whatever gender. Now, soap is going the way of salt and sugar, bad things to avoid.

Back on the hair front,  I've heard of the merm, a male perm of curls, dyed to whatever the final look might be - anything from cool surfer to Harpo Marx.  Curly bops used to be fashionable back in the 1980s, some celebrities even opting for the permed wig once their natural hair flew the coop.  It suited some but not others.  Some men are just naturally cool-looking and they can do whatever they want to themselves and they will maintain their coolness.  Others look, well, freaky because they have not got all the other ingredients necessary to carry off easy style.

Next up, wrinkles and cragginess and all the massages and fillers and injections to smooth out the face.  Once, it seemed okay to look rough, tough and dangerous to know. But the trend now seems to be a quest for baby-bum smoothness at all times, beards notwithstanding.  Where once men would roll out of bed and be at work within fifteen minutes, alarm clocks are now set a good couple of hours early to allow time for shaving or trimming, moisturising, daubing, dabbing and whatever else is in the routine.

Once everything is sorted, there is the final action before venturing out in public.  It is essential, say the "experts", for the man-about-town to practice "the look".  Posing in front of a mirror used to be what daft teenagers would get up to as they mimed pop songs into a hairbrush microphone.  Now, it's a De Niro thing: "You lookin' at me", rehearsing the moves, the glides, quick-response-turns, the smiles, the smirks, eyebrows raised and lowered, etc, etc. "You're worth it."  And I haven't even got around to gleaming white teeth!

Maybe I really was a good-looking guy but if I was, it was all natural darling, beauty with minimum effort.

Monday, 26 September 2016


Marty Robbins was born today in 1925 (died 1982).  Of all the music I have loved over the years, all the LPs I've played, two stick out for pretty much the same reason.  The two albums that ended up with ragged, tattered and torn sleeves were Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (the record most-borrowed by friends) and Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs by Marty Robbins (played to within an inch of its life by me, a sucker for westerns).

The album, recorded in 1959, is 35 minutes 25 seconds long and contains 12 tracks, one of which, El Paso is a beautifully written and performed 4-minute western story.  I was thrilled the first time I heard it and every time since it lights up my imagination.  I can watch The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance forever and listen to El Paso for the same length of time.  Quite simply, 
Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs is one of the greatest albums ever made.

I watched the movies,
I watched TV,
I read the books
Played this LP. 
I posed in the mirror
Lost in the grooves,
Mimed all the songs
With cowboy moves.

Side One:
Big Iron (written by Marty Robbins)
Cool Water
Billy The Kid
A Hundred And Sixty Acres
They’re Hanging Me Tonight
The Strawberry Roan

Side Two:
El Paso (written by Marty Robbins)
In The Valley (written by Marty Robbins)
The Master’s Call (written by Marty Robbins)
Running Gun
The Little Green Valley
Utah Carol

Marty Robbins had plenty of other hit records but this collection of western songs is his masterpiece. It never lets me down. 

Sunday, 25 September 2016


Christmas is coming,
and do you know how I know,
celeb books are being flogged
on every blah and blether show.

All the starry listers,
from A right through to Zed
hope we'll spend our cash and hang
on every word we've read.

Some reinvent their childhoods
to get the sympathy buy,
some fill 300 pages
with a mix of truth and lie.

Some get confused assuming
that we really give a toss
about shallow lives and woe-is-me
amid glittery showbiz gloss.

Amongst the crud and crappy books,
a few seem worth a read
but only when the price is right
will I pay them any heed.

Here's my plan to be selective,
with the kiss and tell and quirks,
I'll wait for the bargain season,
in January at The Works*.

*The Works is a bargain bookstore. Other bargain bookstores are available.