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End of the Month: So long September

I swear time speeds up every month!

It’s time to hand my blog over to the fabulous Nell Peters…Where did September go?

Hello, my sweeties! Here we are already at the end of September – yikes. The children are back at school and there is no end of Christmas tattiness infiltrating every available space in the shops – even worse, antique Slade CDs have been dusted off in preparation for their annual warble. Since around Easter, each time I log on to internet banking, they’ve been advising me to start saving for Christmas – and the Christmas Shop in Selfridges has been open for weeks, for goodness sake. Any minute now the clocks will go back an hour so we will be groping around in the dark from about 3 pm. Depressing stuff.

But not so depressing as 30th September was in 1551 for a certain Japanese gentleman. A coup staged by the military faction of Japan’s Ōuchi clan forced their overlord to commit suicide, and their city was burned. Ouchy indeed.

Seppuku

Seppuku is what we more commonly know as hara-kiri, or harakiri, the Japanese form of ritual suicide, meaning to slice the belly, or abdomen – in short, disembowelment. Mega ouchy. Originating with the samurai, it enabled men to die with honour rather than fall into the hands of their enemies and be tortured, or as a form of capital punishment for those who had committed serious offences. Similarly, it was a culturally acceptable exit for warriors who had somehow brought shame upon themselves, and later practiced by other Japanese folk to restore honour to themselves or their families.

A short blade is stabbed into the belly and drawn from left to right, slicing it open – if the wound is deep enough it will sever the descending aorta (the section of the aorta which runs from chest to abdomen, the aorta being the largest artery in the body), resulting in rapid death through blood loss. Call me squeamish, but I’m pretty sure I could live with any dishonour I’d brought upon myself, given the gory alternative…

But long before the emergence of the bushi (samurai class), Japanese fighters were highly trained to use swords and spears. Women learned to use naginata, kaiken, and the art of tantojutsu in battle and their training ensured protection for communities whose male contingent had toddled off to battle elsewhere. One of these women, Empress Jingū, used her skills to promote economic and social change and was the onna bugeisha (female martial artist) who led a bloodless invasion of Korea in 200 AD, after her husband Emperor Chūai, the fourteenth emperor of Japan, was killed in battle. Her image was the first of a woman to be featured on Japanese banknotes – designed to stop counterfeiting, her picture was printed on oblong paper. Ah, so.

On the family front, we’ve had a couple of birthday weekends away – the first in London for the OH’s on 31st August. #4 son and his family had been to Legoland the day before and met up with us, along with #2, who lives near where we stayed. We didn’t do anything wildly exciting, but it was a good time and went some way to stave off the feelings of impending doom I tend to experience on 31/8, anticipating the slippery slope to cold weather, endless dark and the elongated run up to the dreaded festive shenanigans. Bah humbug!

The ma-in-law celebrated her ninetieth mid-September, for which a sister-in-law flew in from Australia and #3 son from India – the sister-in-law who lives in South Africa was a no-show as she hadn’t renewed her passport. Doh! During the lead up to the great day, there were a few anxious moments concerning the threat of BA pilot strikes, but most of us managed to turn up more or less on time. Sherborne in Dorset, being something of a quiet backwater with a predominately OAP demographic, probably didn’t know what hit it – especially the Italian restaurant we invaded on the Saturday evening.

On 4th September, there was a whopping ‘how on earth did that happen?’ moment, when oldest GD, started senior school. From scary beginnings – premature, low birth weight and weeks spent in SCBU (mum is diabetic, which can cause problems), she’s grown into a tall, very together young lady, who looked super-smart in her kilt-type skirt and blazer, which naturally she hates. She should think herself lucky – in my day, it was ghastly regulation indoor shoes, equally ghastly regulation outdoor shoes, gymslips, wool blazers and velour hats, all in regulation puke brown. Even the blouses were cream, so just looked like distressed white. And don’t get me started on the summer dresses in luminous flame which could be spotted from outer space, worn with a jaunty boater.

In 1977, because of NASA budget cuts and dwindling power reserves, the Apollo programme’s ALSEP experiment packages left on the Moon were shut down on 30th September. Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Packages comprised of a set of scientific instruments placed by the astronauts at the landing site of Apollo missions 12-17 inclusive, while Apollo 11 left a smaller package called the Early Apollo Scientific Experiments Package, or EASEP. The instruments were designed to operate after the astronauts had left and to make long-term studies of the lunar environment. They were positioned around a central station, which supplied power generated by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) to run the instruments, plus communication equipment to relay data to Earth.

This was on the same day that the final assembly stage of the ill-fated Space Shuttle Challenger got underway at Rockwell International’s Space Transportation Systems Division, in Downey, California. The orbiter was launched and landed successfully nine times, before breaking apart seventy-three seconds into its tenth mission STS-51-L off the Florida coast, on January 28th 1986. All seven crew members, including a civilian schoolteacher, (Sharon) Christa McAuliffe, perished.

Christa McAuliffe

She would have been seventy-one on the second of this month – and eighty years ago on 2/9/1939, the state of emergency in Poland was upgraded to a state of war. At 19.44 that evening, PM Neville Chamberlain addressed the House of Commons, ‘His Majesty’s Government will…be bound to take action unless the German forces are withdrawn from Polish territory.’ As we know, no such withdrawal took place.

Barbara Radding Morgan, Christa’s very fortunate first reserve, became a professional astronaut in January 1998, and flew on Space Shuttle mission STS-118 to the International Space Station on August 8th 2007 aboard Endeavour, the orbiter that replaced Challenger.

Sticking with 30/9/77 a wee while longer, Northern Ireland goalkeeper and manager, Roy Eric Carroll was born on that day. He represented NI forty-five times at international level, gaining his first cap aged nineteen, and also played for Olympiacos, where he won the Greek Super League three times and the Greek Cup twice. Sharing his date of birth was American singer-songwriter, guitarist and record producer, Nick Curran. Sadly, his versatile and successful career was cut short in 2012, when he died of oral cancer on October 6, aged just thirty-five.

Finally, another American vocalist and guitarist, Mary Ford (born Iris Colleen Summers on 7 July 1924) died on this day in 1977, after eight weeks in a diabetic coma, brought on as a result of alcohol abuse. This was six weeks after Elvis Presley died. Ford was half of the husband and wife musical duo, Les Paul and Mary Ford, who had sixteen top ten hits between 1950 and 1954. In 1951 alone, they sold six million records, but the couple went on to divorce in 1964.

Les and Mary Ford

What/who else can I find in my box of tricks? Step forward suave actor, playwright and novelist, Ian Ogilvy, who will be expecting to blow out seventy-six candles on his cake today. He took over the role of Simon Templar from Roger Moore in the TV series, Return of the Saint (from 1978-9) and there was talk that he might also step into Moore’s James Bond shoes – although this didn’t happen because Moore kept changing his mind about hanging up his 007 credentials, rather like current Bond, Daniel Craig, it seems. Incidentally, Ian’s mother – actress Aileen Raymond – had previously been married to Sir John Mills, and they died within days of each other in 2005. Sharing Ogilvy’s date of birth are English organist and composer, Philip Moore, German-American biochemist, biophysicist and Nobel Prize laureate, Johann Deisenhofer and American singer, Marilyn McCoo (I first read that as McGoo, as in Magoo – which might have been slightly more entertaining).

I was never a huge fan of Mr Quincy Magoo, the fictional cartoon character created at the UPA animation studio in 1949. Voiced by Jim Backus, Mr. Magoo was a wealthy, short, retired gent who got into a series of ludicrous situations as a result of his extreme near-sightedness, compounded by his stubborn refusal to admit to the problem. However, my fondest memory of the oddball was a real life situation when a mate and I were on a Greyhound bus from Ottawa to Montreal – a distance of well over six hundred miles. Sitting behind us was an old guy who didn’t stop talking for the whole journey – and he sounded so much like Mr Magoo it was uncanny. Sadly, we giggled helplessly like idiotic schoolgirls for the whole distance.

Jim and Henny Backus

Staying with the entertainment industry, Pinewood Studios (where the Bond films, amongst many others, are made) were built on the estate of Heatherden Hall, a large Victorian country house in Iver Heath, Bucks. Owned by Dr Drury Lavin in the late 19th Century, who then sold it to the famous cricketer K.S. Ranjitsinhji, it was later owned by Canadian financier and MP for Brentford and Chiswick (how does that work, if he was a Canadian?), Lt Col Grant Morden (1880-1932), who added a ballroom, Turkish bath and indoor squash court – and because of its then off-the-beaten-track location, it was used as a hush-hush meeting place for politicians and diplomats: the agreement to create the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed there.

On Morden’s death, the property was bought at auction by property tycoon, Charles Boot, who turned the mansion into a country club for the rich and famous, although his main aim was always to build film studios. Boot officially renamed Heatherden Hall Pinewood, because, ‘the number of trees which grow there…seemed to suggest something of the American film centre in its second syllable.’ To achieve his ambition, Boot went into business with J. Arthur Rank – a  move that ultimately led to the development of the Rank Organisation, incorporating not only film production and distribution at home and abroad, but also catering, leisure activities and a wide field of manufacturing interests which at its height, employed more than thirty thousand people. The completion of building works at Pinewood was rapid and the studios were opened officially on 30 September 1936 – the day upon which two American politicians were born; Butler Derrick, Democrat for South Carolina from 1974, and James R Sasser, Democrat for Tennessee from 1977.

And now, on this 273rd day of the year, as Brexit staggers back/forth/back/forth and politicians of all flavours continue to behave like recalcitrant toddlers, it’s time for me to say adios – or sayounara (さようなら)as Empress Jingū might say.

Appropriately enough, September 30th is International Translation Day – celebrated on the feast of St Jerome, who translated the Bible and is regarded as the patron saint of all translators.

St Jerome

The day has been observed by the International Federation of Translators (FIT) ever since its inception in 1953. There you go.

Cheers, Jenny and toodles to all. NP

***

Many thanks for another fabulous blog.

See you in November, Nell!!

Happy reading,

Jenny xx


End of the Month:There Goes July!

Surely not? Surely we can’t be saying goodbye to July already?

Yet, Nell Peters is here, so it must be time to see out another month.

Other to you Nell…

Good day, one and all. You may have to bear with me for a while, as I battle with my new- fangled laptop and Windows 10. I say ‘new’ although I have in fact had the cursed machine for roughly a year and hardly opened it, but was shamed into doing so because #3 son (the nomadic one) was due home for a week and I knew he would nag me mercilessly unless I got to grips with the darned thing and all its foibles PDQ. Also, if he saw me hitting this shiny new keyboard with aplomb, I figured he might overlook the snazzy new iPad Pro (new earlier this year) that is languishing somewhere in one of my desk drawers gathering biscuit crumbs. Any suggestions that I am a Luddite are … well, probably true.

Enough of my technical hitches; are you still awake and sitting comfortably? Then let us begin.

Andrew Marr – he of the interesting aural formation – was born in Glasgow on 31st July 1959, and so will need sixty candles for his celebration cake. A journalist, television presenter and political commentator, he started work on The Scotsman after graduating from Cambridge with a First in English, and from then on became a ubiquitous media presence, writing for various newspapers and popping up all over BBC radio and TV.

Politically, he was formerly a Maoist and a member of the Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory group, now known as the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. At Cambridge, Marr admits he was a ‘raving leftie’, and so well known for handing out copies of Mao’s Little Red Book that he was referred to as Red Andy. On BBC TV recently, controversial windbag, George Galloway said, ‘I knew Andrew Marr when he was a Trotskyite, selling …’ (ergo, embracing capitalism?) ‘…Trotskyite newspapers to bewildered railwaymen outside King’s Cross Station.’ Marr now lives in not-very-Trotskyite Primrose Hill, London, with his wife, political journalist Jackie Ashley of The Guardian, and their three nippers.

Sharing Marr’s date of birth are another English journalist and author, Kim James Newman, and Stanley Jordan, an American jazz guitarist whose playing technique involves tapping his fingers on the fretboard of the guitar with both hands. A frustrated bongo drum player, perhaps? Last but not least, we have the sporty contingent represented by Mike Bielecki, baseball pitcher for the Atlanta Braves, born in Baltimore, Maryland and Australian golfer, Peter Senior, born in Singapore, Malaysia. Happy birthday, y’all.

Speaking of Stanley Jordan and his bongo-style guitar playing – even if it exists only within my fetid imagination – it was also sixty years ago today that the first exhibit of bongos opened at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Fancy that! The zoo now occupies one hundred and eighty-three acres in Ohio and is divided into several areas: Australian Adventure; African Savanna; Northern Wilderness Trek; The Primate, Cat & Aquatics Building; Waterfowl Lake and The Rain Forest, plus the newly added Asian Highlands. The exhibit opened on the same day that Harry Rodger Webb, aka the evergreen Wimbledon-in-the-rain warbler, Cliff Richard, and his backing band, The Shadows (anyone know if their drummer also played the bongos?), had their first No. 1 hit single, Living’ Doll – the biggest British single of 1959.

Fast forward five years to 31 July 1964 when the Rolling Stones played their first ever dates in Ireland – the first in Dublin, and the second on their way home via Belfast International Airport, in Ballymena, although the latter finished early because of violence in the audience. While all this was going on, after six unsuccessful missions the US unmanned Ranger 7 spacecraft was busy snapping the first close-ups of the surface of the Moon, and sending as many pics as possible back to Earth before the craft was destroyed upon impact with the lunar surface.

Wags at NASA referred to the programme as ‘shoot and hope’ – which is pretty much the same way I take photographs.

But unlike my masterpieces, the Ranger 7 images were one thousand times clearer than anything ever seen from earth-based telescopic equipment. Amazing to think it was just five years later, on 20 July 1969, that Apollo 11 astronauts, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong – while Michael Collins stayed in orbit aboard the command module – landed the Eagle without mishap and walked on the Moon. Incidentally, and in keeping with his political moniker, Michael Collins briefly served under Richard Nixon as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. Back to the Apollo programme; on this day in 1971 Apollo 15 astronauts became the first to ride in a lunar rover (aka a Moon buggy), a space exploration vehicle specifically designed to negotiate the tricky terrain.

While the old saying goes that bad things happen in threes, I think #4 might argue that should be four. On the Friday that he attended the funeral of his friend Michael, who died of cancer at a ridiculously young age leaving a young family, an outing was planned to an open air cinema in the evening. The Greatest Showman is our six-year-old middle granddaughter’s favourite film (so far) and she was super-thrilled at the prospect of seeing it again, as was her younger sister. So, after dinner by the coast en route, the family headed off to the magnificent grounds of Holkham Hall in Norfolk, armed with blankets and huge sweaters. #3 was in charge of organising the tickets and obviously got carried away, opting for the VIP package – though they were indeed excellent seats. As the curtain rose, so to speak, there was yet more excitement, at least until the equipment threw a wobbly seconds later – whether a dodgy connection or someone forgetting to put a coin in the meter we’ll never know, just that there was nothing to be done and it was time to leave. Tears, of course, and even the solemn promise to buy the DVD as soon as was humanly possible didn’t console completely – but at least the complimentary first drinks had been consumed.

When he went into work the next morning, #4 was made redundant out of the blue, along with everyone else – they were given a cheque in lieu and shown the door without ceremony. The founder of the business died just after my dad a couple of years ago and apparently his widow decided, practically overnight, to pull the plug. Bit of a shock to all. As he made his way home on foot, two drunks (bearing in mind this was roughly 10.00 am!) tried to mug him. Fortunately, their inebriated state hindered them considerably in their pursuit of extra beer money and his long legs (he’s 6’3”) facilitated his escape, practically unscathed.

The following weekend was rather more successful, when the OH and sons #3 and 4 went on their annual pilgrimage to Goodwood – the Festival of Speed, not horseracing. While there, they torture themselves by ogling the sort of high-end vehicles none of them will ever be able to afford and take a helicopter ride, imagining for just a short while that they are magnificent men in their flying machine. Yeah right. The birds are actually for sale, with zillion quid price tags, and are typically snapped up early on. I am definitely in the wrong job!

Jenny and I are both a year older since we last chewed the fat (gross expression!) We celebrated our birthdays on 13th July, along with Patrick Stewart (Star Trek), Ian Hislop (Private Eye), Ernö Rubik (cube man), Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones), Chris White (Dire Straits) and Julius Caesar (et tu?) – although there is speculation he might have been born on 12/7 and there doesn’t appear to be anyone around still to verify.

Some slebs have chosen the 13th to get married; DH Lawrence (1914), Walt Disney (1925), José Ferrer (1953), Halle Berry (2013) and Jimmy Kimmel (also 2013, the day that Glee star Cory Monteith died of an overdose, and eighteen people were killed, with forty injured when a gravel truck collided with a bus in Podolsk, Russia).

While Jen did a bunk on her hols, for me it was a lovely family BBQ day at home. The early morning rain cleared and the sun came out, so a great time was had by all in the garden. I actually dusted off the iPad and had a Facetime conversation (my first, and possibly last) with #3, who was dodging monsoon conditions in Mumbai. In the latest move in the campaign to drag old fogey Mum into the 21st century, #2 gave me an Amazon Fire TV stick as a gift – more technology angst! We’ve always refused to have Sky, or anything else – much to the boys’ annoyance when they were at home, because ‘everyone else has it!’ We simply don’t watch that much TV, and apart from the OH’s spasmodic grumbles at the absence of Sky Sports when he can’t watch the rugby, we’ve never missed it. At least the remote for this newest gizmo doesn’t appear to have too many confusing options …

As I write this in advance, we don’t yet know who will be the UK’s new PM from 24/7 – just that it will either be Boris Johnson (why would someone whose first name is Alexander, want to call themselves Boris?) or Jeremy Hunt. I know little about Hunt, except that you have to be quite careful how you pronounce his name – to call him a Runt would be very rude after all, but a friend was at Eton with Bojo, David Cameron, George Osborne and I forget who else. He says Johnson has always appeared to be a bit of a buffoon and sometimes plays on it, but in reality he is very savvy – it’s just that his tongue can’t keep up with his stream of consciousness, as it hurtles toward his lips in a bid for freedom. Whoever gets the keys to No 10 and assumes guardianship of Larry the cat, let’s hope they can find the brakes on the handcart that is taking the country to hell.

To wind up, an update of sorts on the Apollo 11 Moon landing. James Burke covered the momentous event for the BBC in 1969, as their science correspondent, but when interviewed this month he said, ‘Fifty years on: was it worth it? Not for the new science and technology. Not even for the view of a vulnerable planet Earth from space …

However, the project was a part of the weapons race that would eventually bankrupt the USSR. And Apollo certainly advanced the art of management and organisation … for the majority of the population it’s only history. Been there, done that. As is, to an extent, everything ‘space’ since. Talk of interplanetary derring-do remains back-burner material, given our present focus on earthly matters such as pollution, climate change, starvation and resource depletion.’

Strange sentiments from someone who devised and presented the excellent TV programme, Tomorrow’s World and who was once described by The Washington Post as ‘one of the most intriguing minds in the Western world’. Without the Apollo series and other exploratory missions, we might not have the ISS hovering above us and met its most popular inhabitant, Tim Peake, who engaged young and old alike with his antics and inclusivity – there wasn’t much ‘been there, done that’ when he ran the London Marathon in real time on a treadmill, for instance. But perhaps I missed Burke’s point entirely as sadly, I don’t have an intriguing mind. In any event, I prefer to believe that the success of Apollo 11 was indeed ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’

I am now clambering down from my soap box to say Toodles. Thanks, as always, to Jenny for having me. Hopefully see you in September.

NP

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Check out one of Nell’s novel’s- A Hostile Witness-  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hostile-Witness-Nell-Peters-ebook/dp/B0191NJIMC/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Nell+Peters&qid=1563820679&s=digital-text&sr=1-1 

A huge pleasure as ever Nell. I hope you enjoyed your birthday as much as I enjoyed mine.

Happy reading everyone,

Jenny xx


End of the Month Blog: Day 151…

Hang on a minute- wasn’t it February just now? 

I’m delighted to welcome Nell Peters back with her regular (now bi-monthly) blog round up of the last 31 days.

Over to you Anne…

By ‘eck! Time flies, doesn’t it? Here we are at the end of May already – the one hundred and fifty-first day of the year, no less. That means there’s just another two hundred and fourteen to go until the end of 2019.

Irish actor, Colin James Farrell, was born in Castleknock, Dublin forty-three years ago today. His father, Eamon, ran a health food shop and played footie for the delightfully named, Shamrock Rovers FC – as did his uncle, Tommy. While he was still at senior school – Gormanston College in County Meath – Colin unsuccessfully auditioned for the group, Boyzone, after which he enrolled in Drama College, inspired by Henry Thomas’ performance as Elliot in the movie ET.

When #4 son was born on Christmas Eve, 1992, we hadn’t decided upon a name for either girl or boy, but we had a short list for both, including Elliot for a boy (obviously!) On Christmas morning, I declined the invitation to venture downstairs to take part in the traditional TV broadcast of carols from Queen Charlotte’s Hospital, London, as I eagerly awaited our carriage – or beaten up BMW, if I remember correctly – to whisk us to Twickenham, where everyone and their dog was gathered at my parents’ house. Nothing to do with the new baby just the normal extended family Christmas bash.

One of the questions everyone asks when checking out a new arrival is what they are to be called – and lo, the after-dinner entertainment that year became I Can Name That Child in Eighty-Five Ghastly Suggestions. Fortunately, the more seasonal offerings like Gabriel (with apologies to any Gabriel/Gabrielles who may be lurking hereabouts), found little favour amongst those gathered – and when someone said that the baby’s wrinkly neck looked like ET’s, I mentioned that Elliot was on our list, which immediately got the thumbs up all round. So, we called #4 John – just kidding!

Where was I? Oh yes, Colin Farrell was studying drama – he didn’t stay the course, however, as he was offered the part of Danny Byrne in the BBC series, Ballykissangel in 1996, aged nineteen.

He was pretty lucky to have the opportunity, after being arrested for attempted murder in Sydney, Australia the previous year. The police sketch of their suspect looked uncannily like him and he had admitted to remembering nothing of the evening in question – but fortunately for him, his friend had kept a journal which crucially described the two of them partying across town that night, taking MDMA (Ecstasy). Who remembers enough to keep a journal of when they are high as a kite?

Despite an impressive award-winning career, not everything has run smoothly for the poor chap. In December 2005, Farrell checked into rehab for addiction to recreational drugs and painkillers. He later described the effects of the drugs thus; ‘An energy that was created, a character that was created, that no doubt benefited me. And then there was a stage where it all began to crumble around me.’ He also picked up a stalker along the way and an ex-girlfriend threatened to publicise a sex tape unless he paid her $5M. Yikes. Let’s hope his birthday passes without incident.

Since I was last here, there has been a lot of family stuff going on, starting 2nd April, which would have been my dad’s ninety-fourth birthday. He shared his date of birth (1925) with George MacDonald Fraser, British poet, author (Flashman) and scriptwriter (Octopussy, The Four Musketeers), who was born in Carlisle, UK, as well as Hard Boiled Haggerty (whose rather more boring real name was Don Stansauk), American professional wrestler and actor (The Incredible Hulk), who filled his first diaper in Los Angeles, California.

They died in 2008 and 2004 respectively, while my dad made it to 2017 and can therefore claim the prize for longevity. 2nd April 1925 was also the day upon which lawyer and future Nazi war criminal/Hitler’s personal legal advisor, Hans Frank, aged twenty-four, married secretary, Brigitte Herbst, aged twenty-nine, in Munich, Germany. In 2019, it was the day of my ex-husband’s funeral – he dropped dead from cardiac arrest in March, a few days after his sixtieth birthday.

Nipping forward, there were the Easter hols and the traditional Easter Egg Hunt for the Grands in our garden. A little different to most years, however, as the loot had to be placed in shaded areas so that chocolate didn’t melt in the heat – and the children were running around in their swimming cosies, diving in the pool to cool off. Bizarre, but brilliant.

We don’t like to give the children too much chocolate, and so the hunt typically includes toys and craft stuff plus this time, named dinosaur t-shirts for the younger ones. At eleven, I didn’t think the oldest GD would appreciate a dinosaur splashed across her chest and so got her an apron, as worn by sleb contestants on the Stand up to Cancer Bake Off programme – I’ve never seen it but she’s a big fan and loves to cook, especially cakes. She so doesn’t take after me! The (pretty hideous) pinny was designed by Ted Baker (who else?)

It was a lot cooler just one week later, when our middle GD celebrated her 6th birthday with a ten pin bowling party – an action replay of last year – joined by a host of school friends, including one little boy who wasn’t even invited! Being terribly British, none of the adults said a word, or even batted an eyelid. Everything was well organised by the venue staff, who supervised the little dears, did the catering and even cut up the cake provided by the parents.

Then it was back to our house for present opening and a Harry Potter-themed dinner, overseen by a huge unicorn balloon, which had nearly launched me into outer space the previous (very windy) day when I was carrying it through town. GD cannot decide between unicorns and Harry P, so we hedged our bets.

On the day she was born (26 April 2013), thirty people were killed when a bus crashed following a Taliban attack in southern Afghanistan. Over in the good ol’ US of A, country musician, George Jones aged eighty-one, (Golden Rings, Oh Lonesome Me), died from hypoxic respiratory failure. That’s when the usual exchange between oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs fails and as a result, not enough oxygen can reach the heart, brain, etc. Curtains. Sharing his date of death aged eighty-two, was film, stage and TV actress, Jacqueline Brookes. Amongst many other roles, she played Beatrice Gordon in US TV soap, Another World – although not for the entirety of its thirty-five year run.

This was also the day upon which my friend, Simon – fellow uni student when I read for my last degree – finally made an honest woman of his beautiful, long-suffering partner, Lydia. She got a smattering of revenge by leaving him waiting at the altar for almost an hour (it was a Friday, so presumably not too many happy couples lining up to tie the knot), during which time he was ‘bricking it’, to use his quaint expression.

Returning to the other side of the pond, Canadian actor and musician, Cory Monteith (Glee), emerged from a drug rehabilitation facility on that day, no doubt full of hope for the future. Tragically, he died of an overdose just weeks later in Vancouver on 13th July – the day upon which both Jenny and I get to blow out our birthday candles.

A dear friend was sixty at the beginning of May and her husband/family arranged a surprise party for her. On the day she was born – 1st May 1959 – West Germany introduced a five day working week and Floyd Patterson scored an eleventh round KO of Englishman Brian London in Indianapolis. This was the fourth time Floyd had successfully defended his World Heavyweight Boxing title.

Back to the party – the birthday girl had been told she was going to someone else’s party and so was somewhat surprised to see the OH and I scrape through the door of the venue just ahead of them (our taxi was late), as we don’t know that other person. It was a fab night and lovely to catch up with some people we hadn’t seen for far too long. Of course, a party meant I had to smarten up from my usual tramp gear of skinny jeans and hoodie – it was from the very shallow pocket of a jacket that my phone plunged into the loo, after we got home. Pre-use of the facilities, I hasten to add.

#2 son was staying and immediately tried resuscitation via the rice trick, but after a good few hours it became obvious that the situation was terminal. Damn; it was but a few months old. I am obviously a slow learner, as this was the same jacket I wore to my dad’s funeral, when another phone tried to swim. We were about to leave the house and so I was closing windows, including the upstairs loo – reached over the bowl … join own dots. #3 son was drying it with a hairdryer, as everyone else piled into cars on the drive. On that occasion, the phone lived to ring another day.

The day my new phone arrived, so did #3 from Bangkok – he hadn’t been back for five months. He spent a day sorting out his Thai work visa and then six of us flew to Dublin for a couple of nights to celebrate his thirtieth birthday, a few days early.

#4 son and his OH had never been to Dublin – or indeed anywhere in Ireland – and so we did the touristy things like boarding an open-topped bus to be blown to bits and buying a drink in the Temple Bar pub in Temple Bar, for which you need to take out a second mortgage. I also scoured the many souvenir shops for sparkly shamrock head boppers, as seen being worn by several hen parties about town.

Mission not accomplished, I gave up and decided to order from Amazon when home. While the rest of us returned to the humdrum of everyday routine, #3 flew off to Antigua for ten days to spend his birthday proper in style, lucky thing. I can’t actually remember what I did for my thirtieth, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t compare too favourably with his jolly.

OK, this is 31st May, so let me stop rambling and we’ll have a look at what has happened historically on this day. The Battle of Jutland in 1916 was the last major battle fought mainly by battleships and the most important naval battle of World War I, with the British navy blockading the German fleet in the North Sea off Denmark. Over the course of the battle, thousands of lives and many ships were lost, but despite British losses far outnumbering those of the Germans, their commander, Reinhard Scheer realised their fleet had been contained. Drat. The Germans never put to sea in ships again during WWI and turned instead to submarine warfare – one of the primary reasons that the United States entered the war in April 1917.

So, what do we think of the name given to their son by the D&D of Sussex? Unlike when #4 was born, I suspect they didn’t have all their relatives and friends sitting around making dodgy suggestions. My lips are sealed, except to mention that on this day in 1943, the comic strip, Archie, was first broadcast on radio in the US.

The character Archibald ‘Archie’ Andrews was originally created as a syndicated comic strip in 1941 by publisher John L Goldwater and artist Bob Montana, in collaboration with writer Vic Bloom. He was the main character featured in the Archie Comics franchise, which evolved to include the long-running radio series.

Finally, who remembers what substance Colin Farrell and his mate were taking in Sydney? A sticky bun for anyone who answered MDMA, or to give it its proper handle, Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (no wonder it’s known as Ecstasy for short!) On this day in 1985 the DEA (US Drug Enforcement Agency) declared an emergency ban on MDMA, placing it on the list of Schedule I drugs – substances with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. MDMA has remained a Schedule I substance since then, with the exception of a brief period between 1987 and 1988. Bad Colin.

Now I’m out of here. Thanks to Jenny for having me over and to anyone else who has taken the time to read this – appreciated.

Toodles.

NP

***

Huge thanks to Nell as ever for another fabulous blog!

See you in July, Nell!

Happy reading everyone.

Jenny xx

 

 

 

 


End of the Month: March to the past!

Here we are again then!

Another month has whizzed past at breakneck speed. I think we’ve all deserved a rest. Let’s hand over to the fabulous Nell Peters for a while to march through Marchs’ of the past.

Over to you Nell…

There you are – I was wondering when you’d show up!

If you fancy it (and why wouldn’t you?), grab a drink and a comfy chair and settle down with me for a few moments, while we see – intermingled with other random jottings – what has happened on 31st March in years gone by. Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin – with one of those random jottings …

In 1924, two men – one American, the other British – were born, both of whom earned themselves catchy nicknames in adult life, courtesy the paths they followed. Felice Leonardo Buscaglia was born in Los Angeles, the youngest of four children of Italian immigrants. Though he spent his early childhood in Aosta, Italy, he returned to the US for his education, and graduated from high school before serving with the US Navy during World War II. The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, also known as the GI Bill, was a law that offered opportunities as a thank you for the service of returning World War II veterans – more commonly called GIs. Taking advantage of the legislation, Buscaglia enrolled at the University of Southern California, where he read for three degrees; a BA (1950); MA (1954) and PhD (1963), before joining the faculty.

Buscaglia – by then known as Leo – was teaching in the Department of Special Education at the university in the late 1960s when one of his female students committed suicide. Deeply affected by this tragedy, he was inspired to hold a weekly non-credit class combining psychology and sociology, entitled Love 1A – about (unsurprisingly) love and the meaning of life. There were no grades, but the class led to more formal lectures, then TV exposure and eventually a book called Love was published, based on what was shared in his classes. He became known as Dr Love, or Dr Hug, because – possibly influenced by his emotionally demonstrative Italian background – he hugged every one of his students at the end of lectures.

Leo died of a heart attack in June 1998, at his home in Glenbrook, Nevada, aged seventy-four, but had he still been around, I wonder what he would have thought about the fate this month of the founder, director and former chief executive of clothing chain, Ted Baker. After a period of suspension, Ray Kelvin was forced to resign for ‘inappropriate behaviour’, including ‘enforced hugging’. Well there you go…

Sharing Dr Hug’s date of birth that long-ago Monday was Henry Edward Cubitt, 4th Lord Ashcombe, known latterly as Mad Harry. Eton educated, he served in the RAF during WWII and thereafter became chairman of Holland, Hannen and Cubitt, the family construction firm.

He was also the London-based Consul General for Monaco from 1961 to 1968 – I rather think I’d have insisted on being Monaco-based. Between wives after his first divorce, Harry nipped over to his Barbados estate and hosted a Caribbean house party for the summer – amongst the guests (including Jackie Onassis) was his niece/goddaughter, who was invited to bring a friend. She chose her lucky flat mate, the Hon Virginia Carrington, daughter of Peter Alexander Rupert Carrington, the sixth Lord Carrington and Tory MP who was Defence Secretary from 1970 to 1974, Foreign Secretary from 1979 to 1982, chairman of GEC from 1983 to 1984, and Secretary General of NATO from 1984 to 1988.

Harry was instantly smitten and aged forty-seven pursued twenty-five year old Virginia amongst the palm trees – they were married on New Year’s Day the following year, 1973, and it was for this folly that he became known as Mad Harry amongst family and friends. Upon her marriage, Virginia effectively became her flat mate’s step-aunt, at least while the marriage lasted (six years). You might recognise the name of said flat mate, Camilla Shand? She became Parker Bowles and is now the Duchess of Cornwall, married to Prince Charles. Mad Harry died childless aged eighty-nine in 2013, having given marriage one more unsuccessful try along the way.

Also on 31 March 1924, a strike called by London Transport personnel ended (plus ça change etc) – on the same day that Britain’s first national airline, Imperial Airways, began operations at Croydon Airport. Croydon was also known as the London Terminal Aerodrome or simply London Airport, and was emerging as the UK’s major international airport between the wars. Imperial Airways was the British Government’s cunning plan to develop connections for trade and personnel with the UK’s extensive commonwealth and overseas interests, and so it was from Croydon that in addition to European flights, long haul routes to India, Africa, the Middle and Far East, Asia, Africa and Australia (in conjunction with Qantas) were established. #3 son spends a very great deal of time on flights between Heathrow and Mumbai and Bangkok – he’s in the air for eight and thirteen hours respectively. Goodness knows how long those Imperial Airways flights would have taken – and there would be no getting it over with in one hit.

As I tap, I am also talking to aforementioned nomadic son online, while he is stuck in Kuala Lumpur airport en route for Hong Kong. Because this is a vacation and he is paying for his own flights, he opted for a cheaper non-direct route out of Bangkok – but sadly didn’t notice that the sim card in his phone wasn’t working and therefore hadn’t updated the time, a situation exacerbated by KL being a silent airport with no announcements. Ergo, he missed his connecting flight; a six hour lay-over turned into thirty and of course he had to buy another ticket – so much for economy – plus he’s lost a day of his holiday, silly Billy. In between wearing a hole in the lounge sofas, he’s eaten enough water melon to sink the Titanic, along with the iceberg, and taken five showers – for the last two he invested some Malaysian Ringgit in deodorant, as his was in his checked luggage. Rookie mistake for such a seasoned traveller, I should have thought? And I do hope it’s not an omen that last time he was in Hong Kong in September, he was stranded because of a typhoon …

March 31st 1855 was a sad day for Rev Arthur Bell Nicholls, when his wife, author Charlotte Brontë, and his unborn child died as a result of a traumatic pregnancy. And so, her father Patrick, also a clergyman, outlived his wife and all six of their children.

Charlotte’s most famous novel, initially titled Jane Eyre: An Autobiography and written under the pseudonym, Currer Bell, was immediately successful when published in 1847 – one critic described it as ‘the best novel of the season’ and people began to speculate who Currer Bell could be. However, some reviewers were more critical and described it as ‘coarse’, and even ‘anti-Christian’. It is, nonetheless, still on the shelves more than one hundred and seventy years later.

In 1849, Brontë’s second novel, Shirley, featuring eponymous heiress, Shirley Keeldar, was released. Until then, the name Shirley was generally uncommon and almost exclusively a boy’s name – in the book, Mr and Mrs Keeldar had been hoping for a son and named their daughter accordingly. But after publication, the name Shirley started to gain in popularity for girls, helped many decades later by American child actor Shirley Temple.

I have had multiple dealings with a ‘lady’ called Shirley Sergeant over the last few months – she’s not the type who would appreciate any ‘evening all/allo, allo, allo’ jokes. Shirley worked in the stone masonry department of the funeral directors who handled my dad’s arrangements in August ’17. When the year for settling of the grave was up, #2 son and I did a tour of the cemetery and picked a design we liked, then went to see about ordering something similar. Shirley pounced – we had decided upon white marble, with grey inscription, but she had other ideas. While I know that marble is a porous stone and will therefore deteriorate over the years, I don’t have a problem with the passage of time being evident – in fact, I quite like the idea. But Our Shirl insisted we’d be better off with more robust white granite. The sample she showed us was a speckled white and quite shiny/sparkly and I hated it. Ms S was not about to give in gracefully. Anxious to escape her lair before it was my turn to climb into a coffin, I agreed that she should send quotes for both, plus a CAD illustration of what our design might look like. She was kind enough to point out that although marble is white, the CAD illustration would appear grey. Face-palm. Did she think I’m as silly as I look? Don’t answer that.

The quotes didn’t arrive in a few days as promised, but three weeks later, with another sample of granite – grey (speckled with black), as white granite was no longer available. Seriously? I emailed to say the (more expensive) grey was not to my liking and we’d go with white marble – oh, and where was the CAD illustration as promised? After another month, she replied – my email had disappeared into her junk folder, she said. And so it went on. Bottom line, Shirley has now retired (yay!) and someone else is handling our order – after more than seven frustrating months, my dad’s memorial should be in place for his birthday in April. This year, I hope. Just slightly concerned that their confirmatory email referred to him as Derek P Thompson, when his name was in fact Peter Derek …

On this day in 1770, Prussian/German philosopher Immanuel Kant was made Professor of Logic and Metaphysics at the University of Königsberg. He published works on ethics, religion, law, aesthetics, astronomy, and history and more – but since I had enough of him and his Enlightenment buddies when I had to study them, we’ll leave him there, being logical and metaphysical. I believe I’ve mentioned before that another philosopher – the ‘Father of Modern Philosophy’, no less – Frenchman René Descartes, was born on the last day of March in 1596, so I won’t repeat myself. I think; therefore I am.

Hard to believe comedian, actor, writer and broadcaster, Ronald Balfour (Ronnie) Corbett died three years ago today, aged eighty-five. This was on the same day as German politician, Hans-Dietrich Gensher (born 1927); Iraqi-born English architect and academic, Zaha Hadid (born 1950); Hungarian author and Nobel Prize laureate,  Imre Kertész (born 1929) and Denise Robertson, British writer, television broadcaster and agony aunt (born 1932).

Enough now, it’s Mothering Sunday/Mother’s Day in the UK, so off you go and have a great day if you qualify. If you don’t, have a brilliant Sunday anyway and take care.

I hope to see you at the end of May, not April, as I am changing the frequency of my guest blogs for Jenny to bi-monthly, because I really need to get back to some serious writing – all the time-consuming family stuff I’ve been immersed in has meant I’ve not produced anything on the fiction front for well over two years, and I need to put that right, assuming I can still remember how!

Toodles all, and thanks Jen.

NP

***

Huge thanks once again Nell!

Looking forward to “seeing” you in May

Jenny xx

 

 

 

 


End of the Month: From Harry Corbett to MASH via David Nivan

I’m never sure why, seeing as it’s only two or three days shorter than the other months of the year, but February goes to fast. It always feels at least a week shorter than all the other months.

The plus side of this, is that Nell Peters is back already with her latest End of the Month blog.

Over to you Nell…

Hello, and top of the morning to y’all. Come on in out of the cold and grab a hot beverage to warm your cockles, so to speak.

The actor, Harry Corbett was born in Burma on this day in 1925, the youngest of seven children. His father, George, was serving with the British army as part of the Colonial defence forces, but the boy was sent back to England aged just eighteen months to be brought up by his aunt, after his mother died of dysentery. As an adult, Corbett enlisted in the Royal Marines during World War II, serving on the heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire. Is there such a thing as a light cruiser, I wonder? In 1945, he was posted to the Far East, and reportedly killed two Japanese soldiers while engaged in hand-to-hand fighting. Yikes.

Back in Blighty, after a spot of desertion, he trained as a radiographer before moving into acting, initially in repertory – it was then he added the middle initial H to his name, to avoid confusion with the guy who found fame with his hand stuck up Sooty’s bottom. If asked, he would claim that the H stood for ‘hennyfink’. What a wag. Although acknowledged as an accomplished Shakespearean actor, Corbett was best known for his role as Harold Steptoe, a rag and bone man who lived with his irascible father, Albert (played by Wilfrid Brambell, who was actually only thirteen years older than Harry) in a dilapidated house, attached to their junkyard and stabling for the cart horse, Hercules. The series ran from 1962 until the Christmas special in 1974.

Must have been interesting on set, as Corbett smoked sixty fags a day (until his first heart attack in 1979, when he cut down to twenty), and Brambell was an alcoholic and gay – at a time when homosexual acts were against the law (decriminalised 1967). It was a second heart attack that killed Harry H in March 1982, aged fifty-seven – he was survived by his second wife, a son and daughter, Susannah, who played Ellie, Peter Pascoe’s wife in Dalziel and Pascoe. Outliving Corbett by almost three years, Brambell died of cancer aged seventy-two, in January 1985.

Over in the Soviet Union, it was on 28th February 1953 that Joseph Stalin had a pow-wow with Beria, Bulganin, Khrushchev & Malenkov – it must have been quite a knees-up because the very next day Stalin suffered a massive stroke, which killed him four days later. Perhaps they were celebrating the births of American wrestler Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat, (real name Richard Blood); Ingo Hoffmann, Brazilian racing driver; and Paul Krugman, American economist and New York Times columnist, who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2008?

Mention deoxyribonucleic acid – the molecule that contains the genetic blueprint for cell reproduction – more commonly known as DNA, and most of us could excavate the names Watson and Crick from the memory bank. Officially, it was on this day in Cambridge, also in 1953, that the two scientists were credited with the discovery of the chemical structure of DNA. However, it was at King’s College London, that Rosalind Franklin obtained an image of DNA using X-ray crystallography (the science of determining the arrangement of atoms in crystalline solids), an idea first broached by Maurice Wilkins.

Franklin’s image, known as Photograph 51, was taken by Raymond Gosling in May 1952, when he was working as a PhD student under her supervision. It provided critical evidence in identifying the structure of DNA and was thus a vital contribution to James Watson and Francis Crick’s creation of their famous two-strand, or double-helix, model. There is some doubt that Franklin gave her permission for the image to be used. Of the four main players – Watson, Crick, Wilkins and Rosalind herself, she was the only one with a background in chemistry, and the only one who did not share the Nobel Prize (Physiology/Medicine) in 1962. She died far too young of ovarian cancer on 16th April 1958 – my sister’s first birthday.

Raymond Massey

Had he not died in 1995, Sir Stephen Harold Spender CBE would be loading his birthday cake with a whopping one hundred and ten candles today. He was an English poet, novelist, critic and essayist who highlighted themes of social injustice and the class struggle in his work, which came to prominence during the 1930s. He was big pals with WH Auden and Cecil Day-Lewis – they met as Oxford undergraduates, even though Auden and Spender had both been pupils at Gresham’s School in Norfolk – and along with Christopher Isherwood and Louis MacNeice, they were sometimes referred to as the Oxford Poets. Right now, I am getting nowhere fast with this and I can relate to a line in one of Spender’s poems: As I sit staring out of my window…

Who can remember the coronation ceremony of Liu Bang as Emperor Gaozu of Han on the last day of Feb 202BC, which initiated four centuries of the Han Dynasty’s rule over China? No takers? OK, what about the first boat load of gold rush prospectors arriving in San Francisco from the east coast in 1849 – the very same day that jockey Tom Cunningham won the eleventh Grand National riding a horse called Peter Simple? Still no? I’ll make it easy-peasy then – we all know that when he was sworn in, in 1952 (Charles) Vincent Massey became the first Canadian-born person to serve as Canada’s Governor General since the Canadian Confederation, eight days after his sixty-fifth birthday. We do, don’t we? He was the eighteenth GG, by the way.

Vincent’s younger brother, Raymond Hart Massey, also briefly dabbled on the sidelines of politics when he appeared in a 1964 television advertisement in support of Republican presidential nominee, Barry Goldwater. Massey denounced incumbent US President Lyndon B Johnson’s strategies during the Vietnam War, suggesting that Goldwater had the nous to win the war quickly. Johnson won a landslide victory and the war trundled on until 30th April 1975, when Saigon fell. Taking the hint, perhaps, Raymond went into acting, becoming a US citizen along the way. His film appearances were many and varied and he was no stranger to the TV screen during the 1950s and 60s, most notably playing Dr Gillespie to Richard Chamberlain’s eponymous role as Dr Kildare.

Massey married three times. His high-profile estrangement and divorce from second wife, actress Adrianne Allen, was the inspiration for Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin’s script for the film Adam’s Rib (1949), starring Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. In a You Couldn’t Make It Up scenario, Massey went on to marry the lawyer who represented him in court, Dorothy Whitney, while his by then former wife, Allen, married the opposing lawyer, William Dwight Whitney. But before they fell out, Massey and Allen produced two children, actors Anna and Daniel Massey.

Like his father, Daniel married three times – first, actress Adrienne Corri (only slightly spooky to pick someone almost sharing his mother’s name); second, actress Penelope Wilton (Calendar Girls (2003), Shaun of the Dead (2004), Pride & Prejudice (2005), The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012), The BFG (2016) and all six series of Downton Abbey – to name but a few); and third wife, Linda Wilton, who is one of Penelope’s two sisters. I’m not saying a word.

Incidentally, Raymond Massey died of pneumonia in Los Angeles, California on July 29th 1983, just shy of his eighty-seventh birthday and on the same day as David Niven, with whom he had co-starred in The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) and A Matter of Life and Death (1946). Niven would have been one hundred and nine years old tomorrow.

On the home front, the sale of the family house completed on time – never thought #2 and I would manage it, but it was handed over duly stripped of all furniture etc and decades of accumulated ‘stuff’. There was so much paperwork to go through, I had to ship quite a lot back to Norfolk, as it was far too time consuming to do it all on site with the deadline looming. Luckily, we have a few spare bedrooms here and I have been able to stash it out of sight for the time being – can’t put it off forever, though.

However, sorting out utility bills and cancelling the many, many insurances – any eventuality/act of God was covered, sometimes in duplicate or triplicate I suspect – had to take precedence. As usual, a Power of Attorney complicates matters and there are extra hoops to jump through before anyone will actually deign to talk to you, but I think I can see the teeniest chink of light at the end of the very long tunnel now. The biggest relief was waking up on the Monday morning following completion, and realising I didn’t have to whiz off to the station to embark upon the four hour journey to Twickenham, where I would stay until Friday.

On 28th February 1983, the final (2.5 hour, 256th) episode of M*A*S*H aired in the US. It was entitled, Goodbye, Farewell and Amen – I think I’ll borrow that and add a cheeky Toodles.

Thanks, Jenny – maybe see you in March?

NP

***

Huge thanks Nell. Another corking blog.

See you next time!

Jenny xx

 


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