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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

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Huge thanks Nell. Another corking blog.

See you next time!

Jenny xx

 


End of the Month: Happy New-ish Year

I’m absolutely delighted to welcome Nell Peters back to my place today, for an end of the month blog.

This popular blog series has been having a holiday while Nell and I got on with the serious business of not drowning in work and family life.

As you’ll see, Nell has been far from idle in her absence…

Over to you Nell…

Good morning/whenever, on this fine, final day of January 2019.

You may or may not have noticed I’ve been awol from this hallowed spot since Halloween last year. Jenny took pity on me as I had rather a lot on – as did she – and we agreed upon a two month break. I was about to ask her for January off too, as I didn’t see that I could possibly get through everything I needed to, plus write the blog, when I was struck down with a ghastly and inconvenient virus. So, an enforced few days confined to Norfolk barracks while Samurai warriors sliced at my throat with razor blades, I coughed a graveyard cough etc, instead of being in Twickenham to oversee the final days of clearing my parents’ house for completion of the sale on 18th January.

I am writing this on 15th January and the big Brexit showdown is due this evening. Because of all the house stuff, I have largely missed all the latest proposals/amendments/about-facing/backstabbing/general shenanigans and wheeling and dirty dealing by our elected leaders, and others. I normally refrain from political comment, but will ask, have there ever been so many treacherous weasels gathered in one place, most of whose sole aim seems to be to secure a self-serving solution and sell everyone else down the river? And as for Short Man Syndrome personified, Bercow – how exactly does he still have a job? I am not a huge fan of Teresa May, but I do have a wee bit of sympathy for someone who landed in No. 10 because she was basically the last man standing, and immediately had a poisoned chalice shoved into her hand. No win-no win. However, this is also the person who snatched defeat from the hands of victory at the last General Election, and thereafter entered into an insanely costly alliance with the DUP, in order to pretend she had a majority. Enough, the soap box is being returned to the shed – except, has anyone thought of putting Larry the Downing Street cat in charge? Could hardly do a worse job…

What has happened since we last had a chinwag? Well, Christmas and New Year for a start. The OH and I went to do our mega shop on Sunday, 23rd December, which was our zillionth anniversary. As it was tipping down and freezing cold, Sir Galahad dropped me at the supermarket entrance to source a trolley, and toodled off to park. Shelves stripped of goodies and considerably poorer, we returned to the very large car park to off load our spoils – but where was the car? As we’d taken the small but perfectly-formed, bright red work vehicle, it surely shouldn’t be that hard to find? As OH trawled up and down the rows of parked cars in the rain, shoulders hunched and looking extremely grim, my heart sank further and further toward my soggy boots – until about fifteen minutes later, when little red car was discovered hiding behind a whopping 4×4. Shopping shoved in the boot we headed home, the thought of venturing out again for the anniversary dinner becoming less attractive by the millisecond – and so we cancelled the reservation in favour of pizza delivery, a roaring fire and a rubbish DVD that neither of us could watch through eyes closed in slumber.

Christmas Eve in this house means #4 son’s birthday – his 26th, so into the kitchen I went to prepare a suitable feast. #3 son was on holiday in Bali and Kuala Lumpur  and not due home until 28th, so the gathering was slightly smaller than normal – not that you’d know that from noise levels and general carnage. A quick sleep and it all started again, with even less room to swing a moggy in a kitchen guarded by a giant turkey, which didn’t look best pleased at being plucked. By Boxing Day, I was severely regretting turning down #3’s offer of some of his spare air miles (flash monkey!) to buy a flight to NYC between Christmas and New Year! Just too much stressy stuff on my plate…

While all this was going on, our lovely niece Francesca was worried sick about her friend, Jack, who had gone missing after a night out during the early hours of 23/12. Search parties were formed, social media campaigns shared far and wide, flyers put up locally and the press alerted, plus anything else possible was done to find him, all to no avail. The situation was not helped by the holiday period and businesses with potentially useful CCTV being closed. Tragically, Jack’s body was found in a lake on 3rd Jan – he was just twenty-eight. May he rest in peace. Incidentally, Fran was also twenty-eight, on New Years Eve – I imagine she has had better birthdays.

Prior to 31/12, I went to Twickenham to continue bogging out the house and meet up with #2 son who was already in residence, plus #3 who had just flown in. He met me at the station, still wearing shorts! Over the next couple of days, the local DEBRA charity shop came to love us, as we loaded them up with figurines (so many they actually had their own display cabinet in store), Denby and Royal Doulton dinner services, glassware, plus all manner of fripperies – and that was before we got to the Saville Row suits, designer handbags and Burberry Macs. Do people still wear those? It’s a large-ish house and we hardly made a dent, before we went off to join the rest of the family at a hotel in Kew for a couple of days.

The Grands loved travelling on trains, buses and the tube – something none of them normally experience with their ever-behind-the-wheel parents, and just after lunch on NYE we clambered up the stairs on a double decker and headed to Richmond Theatre for the panto matinee of Peter Pan. They are brilliant productions that I used to go to as a child, and in turn took the boys when they were younger. This year, Robert Lindsay played a very sinister Captain Hook magnificently – he was formerly known as delusional revolutionary, Wolfie Smith eons ago in the TV series, Citizen Smith. His now ex-wife, Cheryl Hall, took the part of his equally deluded girlfriend, Shirley.

More recently, he played Ben Harper, the father in My Family – one of the best unscripted moments in the panto was when Lindsay was doing his Shakespearean actor thing front of stage, over-dramatically asking where he should go, who did he know, when a quick-witted audience member piped up, ‘What about my family?’ Amused me, anyway. After he’d rallied the audience to sing Auld Lang Syne at the end, we got another bus (single decker only, disappointingly) to the family home to have food and fireworks and raise a toast.

#3 flew back to Mumbai on the second, after some stalwart work sorting and dump-running, leaving #2 and I to our own devices at the house – that was when furniture removal started in earnest, via the likes of Sue Ryder and the Richmond Furniture Scheme. All cupboards and drawers – and they numbered quite a few – were packed with stuff and we came across some real goodies, including utility bills from the 1980s, every letter my parents had ever received neatly filed, and jewellery hidden in the most bizarre places – plus, between them, my parents owned enough pairs of shoes to open their own shop and then some. After some quiet contemplation, I threw away my neatly-folded Brownie and Girl Guide uniforms, confident in the knowledge they’d never fit me again…

I made a couple of brilliant discoveries, though – my Blue Peter Badge (won when I was about seven or eight in a photography contest, and which my mother told me had been lifted from her dressing table during a burglary decades ago), along with a photo signed by all the Beatles. I belonged to their fan club (sadly, never allowed to go to gigs) and all my other paraphernalia had been unceremoniously dumped on a maternal whim during the distant past. It was almost worth the entire emotional and physical trauma involved in the clearance, just to find those two items. Almost.

We were all in Norfolk last weekend – including #3, who flew back for a week – for the delayed 3rd birthday party of the youngest GD. I think it went well, but can’t swear to that, as the germs were by then starting to take hold with a vengeance and I was ga-ga at best. Another big family gathering next Saturday, as it is #3’s last night before he flies back to Mumbai or Bangkok – I’m never quite sure where he’s hanging his hat. All go innit? One thing is for sure – it will be a takeaway or delivery!

Just going to mention one 31/1 birthday – one with the most tenuous of tenuous family connections. Songwriter, musician and record producer, Marcus Mumford, is lead singer with Mumford and Sons, and will need thirty-two candles for his cake. Born in California, where his British parents, John and Eleanor were working as national leaders with the Vineyard Church (UK and Ireland), he moved with them to the UK aged just six months, to grow up in Wimbledon. His wife was a childhood pen pal and they reconnected as adults, marrying in 2012. She is Carey Mulligan, and that is where the connection comes in – her older brother, former army captain/now businessman, Owain, is married to my cousin, Barbara’s daughter, Lorna. Told you it’s a tenuous connection!

Owain served in Iraq and Afghanistan and through him, Carey became an ambassador for War Child, a non-governmental organisation founded in the UK in 1993, which provides help to children in areas experiencing conflict and the aftermath of conflict. She is also an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society, a disease from which her grandmother suffers, no longer recognising Carey.

I haven’t seen Lorna for a good few years and I’ve never met the others – I have only watched Carey in two things, as far as I remember; the film Suffragette, in which I thought she played a brilliant part and the TV series, Collateral which I didn’t much enjoy, despite an impressive cast. I have to confess to having a soft spot for Marcus though, ever since he was caught on camera yawning during Harry and Meghan’s wedding. Good man.

By the time you read this, I hope the dust will have settled a little so that I can get some of my life back. That’s the plan, anyway – wish me luck!

Thanks for having me, Jen.

Toodles, everyone.

NP

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Huge thank you for writing this fabulous blog- although I’m sorry you had to have a virus so you could find the time!

What a start to 2019! Here’s to calmer times ahead.

Happy reading,

Jenny xx


End of the Month: Spooky October

It’s that time again! Yes- really- it is the end of the month again!

So, let’s hand over to Nell Peters to see what she’s uncovered for us this month.

Over to you Nell…

To paraphrase the late David Frost; hello, good morning/afternoon/evening, and welcome y’all. In case you hadn’t noticed, this is the last day of October, aka the day we glance in the mirror and girly-squeal at the scary Halloween mask reflected, only to realise it’s not a mask after all.

There is a film called 31st October – an Indian Hindi historical action drama, written and produced by Harry Sachdeva and directed by Shivaji Lotan Patil.

Based on fact, it focuses on the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination on 31st October 1984 and stars Vir Das, Bollywood actor and comedian (although the funnies might have been in short supply in this script) and Soha Ali Khan, actress. The film had its official screening at the London Indian Film festival 18-20 July 2015, before going on general release fifteen months later.

Reaching the tender age of eighteen today is Willow Camille Reign Smith, who is professionally known as Willow, an American singer, actress and dancer and the daughter of Willard Carroll Smith Jnr and Jada Pinkett Smith. Her dad is of course better known as Will Smith, star of the TV series, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and numerous award-winning films. In my end-of-September blog for Jenny, I mentioned Hungarian author, Frigyes Karinthy’s 1929 hypothesis that all living things and objects are just six degrees of separation away, so that a ‘friend of a friend’ chain can be made to connect any two in a maximum of six steps. Want to take a wild guess at the title of the film in which Smith played his first major dramatic role? A shiny new goldfish (bring your own bowl) for those who guessed it was Six Degrees of Separation (1993).

Frigyes Karinthy

On the very day that Willow was born, Kazuki Watanabe, Japanese musician, guitarist and lead songwriter of the visual kei rock band, Raphael, died aged just nineteen, from an overdose of sedatives. In case you were wondering (as was I) visual kei is a movement among Japanese musicians, characterised by varying amounts of make-up, elaborate hair styles and flamboyant costumes, similar to glam rock. The group were popular, with all their releases entering the top 40 of the Oricon (holding company of a corporate group that supplies statistics and information on music and the music industry in Japan) charts, but disbanded after Kazuki died.

Also breathing their last – though aged a slightly more reasonable eighty-five years – on this day in 2000, was American journalist and screenwriter, Ring Lardner Jnr (born Ringgold Wilmer Lardner), who was blacklisted by film studios during the Red Scare of the late 1940s and 1950s. A member of the US communist party since 1937, he moved to Hollywood to be a publicist and script doctor before writing his own material. In 1947 he became one of the highest paid scriptwriters in Hollywood when he signed a contract with 20th Century Fox for $2,000 a week (equivalent to approx $22,000 a week today). A short-lived claim to fame, however, as later that year he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to account for his left-wing views, two days after he was sacked by Fox. Along with nine others, collectively known as the Hollywood Ten, he cited the First Amendment and refused to answer their questions, but the HUAC and appeal court were having none of it; Lardner was sentenced to twelve months in prison and fined $1,000 for contempt.

Nine of the Hollywood Ten

Blacklisted in Hollywood, he moved to England for a time where he wrote under several pseudonyms for TV series, including (and this will interest Jenny, aficionado of all things Lincoln green) The Adventures of Robin Hood. After the blacklist was lifted in 1965, Lardner worked on scripts for some high profile films, including M*A*S*H (1970), which earned him an Academy Award (his second) for Best Adapted Screenplay. Perhaps as some sort of posthumous tribute, an episode of Robin Hood first broadcast by the Beeb in December 2007, was entitled Lardner’s Ring.

Sticking with 31/10/2000; that was the day Soyuz TM-31 became the first Soyuz spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station (ISS). Launched from Russia, it carried the three members of Expedition 1 – Russian cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev, with American William Shepherd – who collectively formed the first long-term ISS crew.

Lowering the tone as usual, I thought you might like to know there are two toilets aboard the ISS, both of Russian design, which have waste and hygiene compartments using fan-driven suction systems. Astronauts first fasten themselves to the toilet seat, which is equipped with spring-loaded restraining bars to ensure a good seal. A lever operates a powerful fan and a suction hole opens to allow the air stream to carry waste away. Solid matter is collected in individual bags, which are deposited in an aluminium container, and stored for disposal when full. Liquid waste is evacuated via a hose connected to the front of the toilet, with anatomically-correct urine funnel adapters attached to the tube, so that men and women can use the same toilet. Urine is collected and channelled to the Water Recovery System, where it is recycled into drinking water. Fancy that. Actually, I’m not sure I do …

On the last day of October 1941, the destroyer USS Reuben James (named after a boatswain’s mate famous for his heroism in the First Barbary War) was torpedoed by a German U-boat off Iceland, killing more than one hundred sailors – the first US Navy vessel sunk by enemy action in WWII. This was on the same day that, after fourteen years of chipping away, Mount Rushmore was completed.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a massive sculpture carved into Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills region of South Dakota. The monument took shape under the direction of Gutzon Borglum and his son Lincoln, the sculpture’s 60’ high granite faces depicting presidents George Washington (1st), Thomas Jefferson (3rd), Theodore Roosevelt (25th) and Abraham Lincoln (16th). The site also features a museum with interactive exhibits.

It was historian Doane Robinson who came up with the idea of carving the likenesses of famous people into the hills to promote tourism. His initial plan was to feature American West heroes like Lewis and Clark (led the first expedition across the western terrain of the US), Red Cloud (one of the most important leaders of Oglala Lakota, part of the Great Sioux Nation), and William Frederick – Buffalo Bill – Cody (scout, bison hunter, and showman), but Borglum decided the sculpture should have a broader appeal and chose the four presidents.

Buffalo Bill

Another mount; the Mountjoy Prison helicopter escape happened forty-five years ago today, when three IRA volunteers flew out of the Dublin jail, aboard a hijacked Alouette II helicopter, which landed in the exercise yard. With IRA Chief of Staff, Seamus Twomey doing a five-stretch and senior republicans, J. B. O’Hagan and Kevin Mallon also being incarcerated in Mountjoy, the command structure was seriously depleted. So, a plan involving explosives that had already been smuggled into the prison (how?!) was hatched; a hole would be blown in a door (anyone else’s thoughts drifting to Michael Caine/The Italian Job? Just me, then) which would give the prisoners access to the exercise yard. From there, they would scale a rope ladder thrown over the exterior wall and bundle into a getaway car, driven by members of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade. Alas (or not!), the plan failed when the prisoners couldn’t gain access to the yard and the rope ladder was spotted.

Back to the drawing board, Plan B involved the helicopter, with pilot Captain Thompson Boyes flying under threat of having his head blown off by the firearms trained upon him. In the exercise yard prisoners were watching a football match, when shortly after 3:35 pm the helicopter swung in to land, with Kevin Mallon directing the pilot using semaphore. (Seriously? If I wrote that in a book, my editor would throw it out as way too far-fetched!) Prison officers on duty initially took no action because they believed the helicopter carried the Minister for Defence, Paddy Donegan, who presumably was in the habit of dropping in for tea. It was only when prisoners surrounded the eight guards present and fights broke out, that the officers realised an escape was in progress. Twomey, Mallon and O’Hagan boarded the helicopter and it took off – apparently in the confusion one officer shouted ‘Close the gates, close the f***ing gates!’ Doh! The escapees landed at a disused racecourse in Baldoyle, where they transferred to a hijacked taxi and were whisked away to safe houses.

Mallon enjoyed his freedom for the shortest time, as he was recaptured in December 1973, O’Hagan early in 1975 and Twomey in December 1977. In the aftermath, all IRA prisoners were transferred to maximum security Portlaoise Prison, and to discourage any further getaway attempts the perimeter was guarded by troops from the Irish Army. And shutting the stable door etc, wires were erected over the prison yard to prevent helicopters landing in future – so presumably poor Paddy Donegan had to get the bus with the rest of the hoi polloi.

On the home front, the OH and #3 son returned safe and sound from their jolly in South Africa, vowing to go back next year and take #4 with them. Fine by me, as I really enjoyed the peace! On their penultimate night they’d booked an hotel near Cape Town on line and had a long drive through filthy weather/bad visibility/electric storms to get there, relying heavily on sat nav. Arriving very late, son gave his name – Piers – at reception and was told they were expected. Shown to a sumptuous twin, with patio doors opening onto a veranda and the beach, they were much impressed by the value they were getting for their money – until they went to pay the bill next morning and were charged considerably more than they had been quoted. They were in the wrong place and the booking had in fact been made by someone called Pierre who didn’t turn up, his travels presumably thwarted by the weather conditions. What are the chances? I gather OH and #3 weren’t overly worried, as it was such a great room.

#3 has since done a lot of to-ing and fro-ing UK/India/Thailand and it’s even more difficult than normal to keep up with where he’s currently hanging his hat. He has some more leave due early in November and will hopefully be around for our annual combined Halloween/Bonfire Night party, delayed for his attendance in his guise as everyone’s favourite uncle.

Favourite Uncle!

I have sold the family home in Twickenham to my parents’ neighbour, who offered my dad an obscene amount of money many years ago and when refused, bought the house next door. It’s strange to think that it will no longer be ‘our’ house after so long, but now that my mother is in residential care (she’s not been thrown out yet!), it’s impossible to justify paying those whopper fees, plus meet the expenses entailed in keeping a large, empty house going.

I say empty, but of course the place is filled with possessions accrued during sixty-odd years of marriage – including a zillion dust-collecting figurines of varying value, so beloved by my mother. We have taken a few favourite pieces to decorate her room in the home, along with family photographs etc, but that has hardly made a dent. What does one do with so many complete dinner services, tea sets and ornate crystal glasses for any drink you care to name? Some of the furniture will be sold, some given away – it may take a while to clear the place! Then there’s the garages and outbuildings, the garden …

Yikes! Best make a start!

Thanks, Jen and toodles everyone! NP

***

Good luck with all that sorting and moving hun!

Thanks again for a fabulous blog.

Happy reading,

Jenny xx

 

 


End of the Month: 273 days in

Yes- I know- you don’t want me to mention that another month has gone by…However, it must have because Nell Peters is here with another fabulous end of the month round-up.

Over to you Nell…

Hello, my sweeties – I trust all is well with you on this 273rd day of the year? That means there are just ninety-two to go before we get to sing Robert Burns’ Auld Lang Syne again. Tempus certainly does fugit.

Celebrating her Ruby Wedding anniversary today is Mary Louise (better known as Meryl) Streep, who married sculptor Don Gummer in 1978, having been in a relationship with fellow actor, John Cazale (The Deer Hunter, amongst others) until March of that year, when he died of lung cancer. Mother-of-four Streep’s versatility as an actor apparently knows no bounds, and she has won multiple awards, including eight wins out of a huge thirty-one Golden Globe nominations. She even somehow managed to pull off her British-accented roles as Maggie Thatcher in The Iron Lady (2011), Emmeline Pankhurst in Suffragette (2015) and sing a passable Abba in Mamma Mia! (2008) although she apparently only appears in flashback in the current sequel. And now I have the song rattling around my head, making a nuisance of itself.

Emmeline Pankhurst

On the same day that Meryl and Don were cutting cake and dodging confetti, American actor, comedian and ventriloquist Edgar Bergen (originally the Swedish Berrgren, meaning mountain branch) died – sadly, he was three days into his two week Farewell to Show Business retirement tour. While still in high school aged eleven, he studied a booklet called The Wizard’s Manual – nothing to do with Harry Potter, but a basic lesson in ventriloquism, and he then paid a carpenter $35 to carve the head of his first dummy, Charlie McCarthy, in the likeness of a red-headed Irish newspaper boy he knew. Bergen created the body himself, using a nine-inch length of broomstick for the backbone, with rubber bands and cord to control the lower jaw mechanism of the mouth. Gottle o geer, anyone?

Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy

Edgar and his wife, fashion model Frances, had two children – Kris, a film and TV editor, and the actress Candice. Her debut role was in the 1966 film The Group and this year she can be seen as Sharon in Book Club – with a whole lot of other TV and film roles in between. At one time, Bergen and her then boyfriend, Terry Melcher, lived at 10050 Cielo Drive in Los Angeles, which was later the home of Sharon Tate and her husband, Roman Polanski. This was where Tate and four others were murdered in August 1969, by disciples of Charles Manson. On September 27 1980, Candice married French film director Louis Malle and they had one child, Chloe Françoise, in 1985. Malle died from cancer a decade later and she went on to marry New York real estate magnate and philanthropist, Marshall Rose, in 2000.

Another American actress, Angeline (Angie) Dickinson, will need eighty-seven candles for her cake today – that’s going to take an awful lot of puffing and blowing. Born in 1931 to Fredericka (née Hehr) and Leo Henry Brown, she shared her date of birth with Teresa Ellen Gorman (née Moore), British Conservative MP for Billericay 1987 to 2001, who died in 2015. Angie became Dickinson when she married Gene, a former football player in 1952, and kept the name when they divorced eight years later. Although she’d had affairs with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and John F Kennedy (quite a line-up!) she married composer, songwriter, record producer, pianist, and singer, Burt Bacharach in 1965.

Burt Bacharach and Angie Dickinson

An American, Bacharach nonetheless studied partly at McGill University in Montreal – a little (actually, a lot!) before my time. While I was there, I vaguely remember chilling out by watching a so-so US TV series called Police Woman, which ran for ninety-one episodes from 1974 to 1978 and starred … drum roll … Angie Dickinson. Based on an original screenplay by Lincoln C. Hilburn, the police procedural featured Sergeant Pepper Anderson (our Angie), as an undercover police officer working for the Criminal Conspiracy Unit of the LAPD. She would typically masquerade as a prostitute, nurse, teacher, flight attendant, prison inmate, dancer, waitress, or similar, to get close to the suspects and gain incriminating evidence that would lead to their arrest. As I recall, Pepper – like the Canadian Mounties – would always get her man (or indeed woman), but Sherlock it wasn’t.

About thirty-five miles to the east of where we live in Norfolk, is the market town of Holt, its name taken from the Anglo Saxon for woodland. Almost all of the town’s original medieval buildings were destroyed by fire in 1708, which explains the abundance of Georgian buildings that now dominate the small, picturesque town. (I’m reminded here of a chap who worked for my dad years ago, who chronically mispronounced words – for example, picturesque was picture-squeak and chaos, choss.)

Back to the plot: Holt is also home to prestigious public school, Gresham’s, opened in 1555 by Sir John Gresham as a free grammar for forty local boys, following Henry VIII’s dissolution of the Augustinian priory at nearby Beeston Regis. Over the years, buildings were added and the footprint expanded, but in the early 1900s there were still less than fifty pupils – until ambitious headmaster, George Howson, arrived on the scene. On this day in 1903, The New School was opened by Field Marshall Sir Evelyn Wood.

Nowadays, Gresham’s is co-ed, having admitted girls from the early 1970s, and is one of the top thirty International Baccalaureate schools in the UK, as you would hope from an institution which charges fees well in excess of £30K a year (what ever happened to free?) for boarders – on a par with Eton. There are approximately eight hundred pupils, but needless to say, we didn’t send the four boys there – my last royalty cheque for 45p wouldn’t make much of a dent in £120K+ … Luckily for Old Greshamians, Sir Nigel Foulkes (Chairman of BAA), Sir Cecil Graves (Director General of the BBC), Lord (Benjamin) Britten of Aldeburgh (Composer), Sir Christopher Cockerell (inventor of the hovercraft),  poets Wystan Hugh (WH) Auden and Sir Stephen Spender, Olivia (first name actually Sarah) Colman (actress), Sir James Dyson (inventor and entrepreneur), and last and possibly least, Jeremy Bamber (convicted murderer) – plus many, many more – their parents weren’t such skinflints.

In 1929, Hungarian author, Frigyes Karinthy, suggested that all living things and objects are six degrees of separation away from each other, so that a ‘friend of a friend’ chain can be made to connect any two in a maximum of six steps. Putting that theory to the test, I have previously mentioned that when Super Blogger, Anne Williams, went to an all-girls grammar in Bangor, she and her fellow pupils would be invited to school discos at what years later became my two older sons’ alma mater, over the Menai Strait in Llanfair PG. The headmaster in post when our sons were at the small, all-boys boarding school on Anglesey had a brother who was also in teaching – their subjects were mathematics and history respectively – oh, and the brother was a deputy head at Gresham’s.

The OH’s solicitor is an Old Greshamian and in turn sent his own nippers there – he was on the Board of Governors, at one time along with aforesaid deputy head. The solicitor’s practice partner is my solicitor, who recently told me her family had increased by one; take a bow, Roxie, super-cute pedigree cocker spaniel. ‘How strange,’ I remarked, ‘our weekend neighbours have just got two cocker spaniel puppies, Hugo and Leo.’ (I am bitterly disappointed that Leo isn’t called Victor!) It turns out that the three wee dogs are from the same litter, Roxie and Hugo being almost identical.

Historically, On 30 September 1791, the French National Constituent Assembly was dissolved and the people of Paris declared lawyer and politician Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre one of two incorruptible patriots, honouring their purity of principles, modest way of living, and refusal to take bribes – in November, he became the public prosecutor of Paris. He was a big fan of the writing of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, especially The Social Contract, and the ethos of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. (Incidentally, Jacques Necker, French finance minister to Louis XVI, whose fiscal decisions contributed to the outbreak of the French Revolution, was born in Geneva, Switzerland on 30 September 1732.) In June 1792, Robespierre proposed an end to the monarchy, and in September the First Republic (officially The French Republic) was founded – after that, it was always going to end badly for Louis and he lost his head on 21 January 1793. One degree of separation, perhaps? So sorry!

The infamous Reign of Terror ensued, during which at least 300,000 suspects were arrested, 17,000 were officially executed, and as many as 10,000 died in prison with or without trial. Scary stuff. Opposition to Robespierre quickly festered on all sides and his influence was challenged within the Committee of Public Safety, resulting in him being declared an outlaw. He severely wounded himself with a bullet to the jaw at the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall), throwing his few remaining supporters a curveball, and was later arrested there, prior to being  guillotined on July 28 1794 – ironically in front of a cheering mob on the Place de la Révolution (now Place de la Concorde).

On a lighter note, the last day of September in 737 saw the Battle of the Baggage. That’s not two good-time gals fighting over cocktails during Happy Hour, but when Turkic Turgesh tribes drove back an Umayyad invasion of Khuttal, followed them south of the Oxus and captured their baggage train. Nowadays, lost luggage is generally down to the shenanigans of airport baggage handlers.

Henry IV, also known as Henry Bolingbroke, was proclaimed King of England and Lord of Ireland from this day in 1399 and held onto the throne until 1413, asserting the claim of his grandfather, Edward III, to the Kingdom of France along the way.

More recently, this was a day of hope in 1938, when The League of Nations (founded on 10 January 1920, as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended WWI – the first international organisation whose principal mission was to maintain world peace) unanimously outlawed ‘intentional bombing of civilian populations’. That’s on the same day that Britain, France and Italy signed the Munich Agreement, allowing Germany to occupy the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. With the benefit of hindsight, neither of those undertakings really went to plan, did they?

Before you read this, I will have spent a long weekend in London with some of the family. #3 son is flying in from Thailand so that he and #4 can go to the Anthony Joshua v Alexander Povetkin boxing match at Wembley on Saturday 22nd. I’ve no idea what the pugilistic appeal is – I personally think it’s a wholly uncivilised ‘sport’ – but they went to watch Joshua fight last year and so obviously weren’t put off. Next day, the OH and #3 are flying to Johannesburg for a few days and then on to Cape Town as their base for two weeks. The OH spent his formative years in SA and that’s where #3 spent his gap year, so they both have an attachment to the country – plus the ma-in-law will be in J’burg for those first few days and the OH’s youngest sister is working on a film in Cape Town. Don’t feel too sorry for me – I turned down the chance to go. Of course, all this is assuming #3 manages to fly out of Hong Kong, where – as I type – he is stranded because of the typhoon. It’s OK though – he’s found the bar in his hotel …

Someone who also isn’t going anywhere is my mother, who now has a permanent room in the care home where she spent a respite period. Yay! I say permanent, but she can still be thrown out (according to the twenty-one page contract I signed) for conduct unbecoming. Not sure what you’d have to do for that action to be taken – certainly the lady who steals serviettes from the restaurant and hoards them, the one who removes greeting cards and trinkets from residents’ rooms and redistributes them à la ageing Robin Hood, nor the one who periodically rushes up and down the corridors like an octogenarian Jenson Button (Zimmer frame substituted for racing car), squawking for everyone to get out of her way because her taxi has been ordered and she doesn’t want to miss it, have been expelled. Neither has the lady who caused the whole place to go into lock-down one time when I was visiting, because she was trying to escape. She thought she’d spotted a relative in the car park and wanted to go out and see them, but because of the necessary security she couldn’t get through the main doors, so proceeded to try and kick her way out, setting off all sorts of alarms – she was certainly giving it some welly! Once they managed to calm her down, a carer took her outside to show her there was nobody there that she knew, and peace once more prevailed.

Now I need to escape – and I know the security codes!

Thanks, Jenny.

Toodles.

NP

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Thanks Nell – another corking blog.

See you next month, when we’ll all probably have the heating on and scarves and gloves at the ready!

Happy reading,

Jenny xx


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