30 September, 2006

Banbury, Oxfordshire

Banbury Cross, Oxfordshire. This one was erected in 1859,
one hundred years after the famous nursery rhyme (below) was first known.

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a Fyne lady ride on a white horse.
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
She shall have music wherever she goes.

The delightful Oxfordshire Market Town of Banbury is in an area that has been inhabited for well over 2,000 years. In 2002 Iron Age workings dating back to 200BC were discovered but the town was not really developed until the 5th century when the Saxons developed the town. Then, in 913AD, the Vikings ravaged north Oxfordshire, but they were traders and they established a number of market towns and Banbury actually benefited from the Viking 'input'.

Today, it is one of a large number of English towns that are full of history, which is best shown through it's range of buildings. The Tudor property shown above is in superb condition and now houses a modern retail shop. Below, I have shown a Victorian-built public library, which is a typical example of minor public buildings of that era.

29 September, 2006

My Heroes (18) Woody Allen

"My one regret in life is that I am not somebody else"
I adore the films of Woody allen He has been making about one movie per year for the last forty years and his output is probably better received in Europe than in the USA. Some are better than others it’s true but very many of his fims are classics. My personal choices would be Manhattan, Annie Hall, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Small Time Crooks & Bullets Over Broadway.
I love the sequence in Bullets Over Broadway where a gangster is keeping an eye on his boss's talentless moll (who has been shoe-horned into a part in a play) and while he sits in the stalls at rehearsals he gets interested in the play and begins to suggest improvements and eventually takes over the direction to the dismay of the author John Cusack. Another great sequence is in Small Time Crooks; a gang takes over a bakery shop next to a bank. They plan to dig a tunnel over a long period and rob the bank. The robbery fails but the bakery is an enormous success and they become millionaires! Great stuff!
There are several strong distinguishing features and recurring themes in Woody's films. Some are obvious and well-known such as his often repeated portrayal of a nerdy nervous New Yorker who always seems to attract beautiful women and the way he often portrays himself, or his leading man, as a writer or film director. The credits to his films are always white on a black background and non-rolling and he favours the technique of using long and medium shots to film a conversation instead of the more usual chop and edit style cutting from one speaker to another.
The films often have minor characters caught up in a sub-plot where a couple have a very dysfunctional love-life and his technique of turning to the camera and addressing the audience directly was best shown in this sequence from Annie Hall:
MAN: It's the influence of television. Now, now Marshall McLuhan deals with it in terms of it being a, a high-- high intensity, you understand? A hot medium--
WOODY ALLEN: What I wouldn't give for a large sock with horse manure in it.
MAN: -- as opposed to the truth which he [sees as the] media or--
WOODY ALLEN: What can you do when you get stuck on a movie line with a guy like this behind you?
MAN: Now, Marshall McLuhan--
WOODY ALLEN: You don't know anything about Marshall McLuhan's work--
MAN: Really? Really? I happen to teach a class at Columbia called TV, Media and Culture, so I think that my insights into Mr. McLuhan, well, have a great deal of validity.
WOODY ALLEN: Oh, do you?
MAN: Yeah.
WOODY ALLEN: Oh, that's funny, because I happen to have Mr. McLuhan right here. Come over here for a second?
MAN: Oh--
WOODY ALLEN: Tell him.
MARSHALL McLUHAN: -- I heard, I heard what you were saying. You, you know nothing of my work. How you ever got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing.
WOODY ALLEN (To camera):Boy, if life were only like this.
I cannot count the number of times that I would have liked to have my own 'McLuhan' to produce whenever neccessary and I always recall that scene.

25 September, 2006

I've been tagged by Gem!

I've been tagged by my blogger pal Gem with this here book meme: also for today (Tuesday) this blog is awarded Bestest Blog of The Day!
1.One book that changed your life - the hardest question first.
Richard Dawkin’s ‘The Selfish Gene’. It is a book that explains genetics in a way that only religious fundamentalists could object to. (And they do). Dawkins is a virulent and uncompromising atheist but I believe there is still a place for religious belief within evolution and genetic study, although it’s not for me. This book changed the way I percieve the world and I have told the author as much.

2. One book that you've read more than once.
‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This was my introduction to the genre of magical realism and I was knocked out! Fortunately it has a family tree printed on the inside cover because the names of the characters are all so confusing one needs to continually refer to it. The opening sentence of the book is this:
“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” Note the inbuilt contrast between ‘fire’ and ‘ice’. Garcia Marquez is a master and this book has stayed with me for twenty years.

3. One book that you'd want on a desert island.
If there’s a book called ‘The Boy’s Own Annual of Escaping From A Desert Island by Using Coconuts and Seashells’ then that’s the one. However, if not, I would want ‘Palgraves Golden Treasury’ particularly the copy that was awarded to my mother as a school prize, which I already possess.

4. One book that made you laugh.
‘The Third Policeman’ by Flann O’Brien. If you don’t know this book or only know it through a strange reference to it in one episode of the TV series ‘Lost’ you will be in for a surprise. Whatever you think it may be – it isn’t! For example, how often have you come across the phenomenon of a man who is slowing exchanging molecules with a bicycle so that he and the bicycle are gradually changing into each other. No, I thought not! The book is surreal, satirical, complex, surprising, very funny and one of a kind.

5. One book that made you cry.
‘Schindler’s Ark’, the book on which the film ‘Schindler’s List’ was based. (It may have been published in the USA as ‘Schindler’s List’). Explanations unnecessary.

6. One book that you wish you had written.
‘Essays’ by Michel de Montaigne. You might think this to be a dull and dry collection but it is far from it. He wrote on every topic with insight, reason and humour and, for me, he represents humanism more than any other writer. Here are some of his quotes that I would have loved to have written: “Marriage is like a cage; one sees the birds outside desperate to get in, and those inside equally desperate to get out.”: “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which never happened.” And finally, the quote that makes me think that he would have been a brilliant blogger: “There is no pleasure to me without communication: there is not so much as a sprightly thought comes into my mind that it does not grieve me to have produced alone, and that I have no one to tell it to.”

7. One book you wish had never been written.
‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ is a rabid anti-semetic forgery that has been conclusively and continually exposed as such, notably by the Times of London in 1921. However, it is constantly reproduced even as recently as 2005 in Syria. Thousands of naïve and innocent minds have been corrupted by its falsehoods.

8. One book that you are reading at the moment.
‘Kalookie Nights’ by Howard Jacobson, almost too brilliant for words. I will be doing a post about it eventually. I’m reading it slowly because I never want it to end.

9. One book that you've been meaning to read.
‘Finnegans Wake’ by James Joyce. Joyce is reputed to have said “This one will take the professors a thousand years to unravel” so I might wait a bit.

10. Five others that you’d like to do this.
I nominate Rob, Serenity, Jim, Slaghammer & Vive42 . If any of the nominees don't want to play, that's fine, no offence will be taken. Also if you would rather I posted your list because it doesn't fit in with your blog's style - that's OK too!

23 September, 2006

My Heroes (17) Richard Condon

Richard Condon's most famous novel, published in 1959
Richard Condon was born in New York in 1915. After working briefly in advertising and publicity, his second novel, The Manchurian Candidate and the first movie of the book, made him famous. His books are hugely enjoyable and very readable. Although entertaining and funny, they have satirical targets and connect subjects such as US politics, the fast-food industry and the Mafia as a part of the same interrelated truth about the madness of the world. Other novels of his have been filmed; these include Winter Kills, transparently based on the Kennedy assassinations, A Talent For Loving which, at one time, was going to be a vehicle for The Beatles and re-titled Eight Arms To Hold You but it never happened. In 1985 a very successful film was made of Prizzi’s Honor with Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner. The recent remake of The Manchurian Candidate with Denzel Washington was, for me, a big disappointment, particularly when compared to the wonderful original with Frank Sinatra, Lawrence Harvey and Angela Landsbury.
Although it was never made into a movie, one of Condon,s best novels was An Infinity Of Mirrors. The action of the story takes place between 1932 and 1944 in Paris and Berlin where a beautiful young French Jewish girl and a Prussian officer meet and fall in love. They marry and move to Berlin just as Hitler is rising to power and their tragic story begins to unfold.
Richard Condon died in Dallas in 1996. Many people consider Thomas Pynchon to be the natural successor of Condon's trailblazing style.

20 September, 2006

RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk, England

I took this photo from about a quarter of a mile away
I'ts a F-15E Strike Eagle from the 492nd Fighter Squadron based at Lakenheath
Royal Air Force Lakenheath is in the English county of Suffolk, about 70 miles north-east of London and is a huge complex that is leased to the US military. Suffolk is the perfect place for an airbase as it (and the whole of East Anglia) is the flattest part of England. To give you an idea the 'East Anglian Mountaineering Club' is an excuse to meet in the pub for a drinking session. There is hardly a hill in East Anglia, let alone a mountain!
Lakenheath is the home of the US air force's 48th Fighter Wing also designated the Statue of Liberty Wing which makes it, uniquely, the only Wing to have both a name and a number. There are around 5,700 military personnel plus 2,000 US and British civilians on the base.
Although I am not usually a militaristic kind of person I found it strangely stirring to be there. The thought that struck me at the time, and the reason I am posting this, is that everything seemed to be so 'open' and non-secretive. I took the above photo from the well-sign-posted visitor's car park and there were no restrictions. Also, all of the factual information in this post comes from the internet. In fact from the US Air Force's own Lakenheath web-site! I believe that is the kind of freedom they represent. Could you imagine any other country being so transparent about it's military?
This photo of a trio of F-15E’s was downloaded from the official website. It was taken last month and if you look closely, just below the nearest aircraft, there is a small circle on the ground. That’s Stonehenge, one of the world’s most mysterious Neolithic structures. Stonehenge is not far from Lakenheath - if you are travelling by jet-fighter.
If there are no posts from me in the next few weeks, it means the military police have come to take me away and I was wrong about all that 'non-secretive' stuff.

17 September, 2006

High Flight

John Magee was born in Shanghai, China where his English mother and American father were missionaries. He was educated in England, became a US citizen and learned to fly in Ontario, Canada. He joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and was sent to England before the USA had entered the war. He became a Spitfire pilot and his love of flying is abundantly obvious in this poem which makes me feel as though I were flying when I read it. It was written on the 3rd of September 1941.

High Flight by John Gillespie Magee Jr.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, --and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of --Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew --
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

The poem is derivative of several earlier works by other writers but nevertheless stands up as a masterpiece of a decription of flying. Three months after writing this poem, in December 1941, he was killed in his Supermarine Spitfire in an accident over Lincolnshire, England. He was nineteen years old.

16 September, 2006

Running On Empty

The album Running On Empty by Jackson Browne can genuinely claim to be unique. With two exceptions all of the songs were new and had not been previously recorded but it's not a studio album; every song is a 'live' recording. They were recorded on stage, backstage and even in hotel rooms. One of the songs begins with a backstage recording and seamlessly segues into an on-stage performance. The song 'Rosie' was recorded with all the roadies and stage-hands standing round Browne's piano and that's how it's now performed on stage. The theme of the album is the life of a band on the road.
All of the above, though, is not the most remarkable thing about Running On Empty. What really makes it stand out is that the songs are so very wonderful. My own favourites are 'The Road', 'You Love The Thunder' and, of course, 'Rosie'. You gotta love 'Rosie'. If you love yourself don't let too much more of your life pass by without knowing these songs,

14 September, 2006

Quiz Question (2)

Can you complete this children's rhyme with the 'literary' last line?
(Of course you could Google it, but you wouldn't do that, would you?)

Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,
Apple seed and apple thorn;
Wire, briar, limber lock,
Three geese in a flock.
One flew east,
And one flew west,
And .......?

If you need a clue I have posted one in the comments and will post the answer there in a few days, Bazza.

13 September, 2006

My Heroes: (16 ) William Shakespeare

My 'Heroes' series is not in order of merit. The reason Shakespeare hasn't appeared until now is that I've been working on it and, even if nobody reads it, I don't want to get it wrong! Shakespeare was born, appropriately enough, on St Geoges Day in 1564. (He also died on St George's Day). As I get older my appreciation of his genius still increases and I see him as not merely one of the two or three greatest Englishmen who ever lived but as belonging to all English-speaking peoples, even to the whole world. His abilities, I will try to show, go far beyond simply being a great writer. He had great psychological insight and pre-figured many later Freudian and Jungian findings. He added countless number of words and phrases to the English language; so many, in fact, that our everyday speech is very much shaped by his creativity. The range of his influence is too great to cover here but I will say that Hamlet is probably the greatest piece of written drama the world has ever seen. His work includes tragedies, comedies, histories, the unclassifiable Tempest and the sonnets and poems.
I learned the following sonnet by heart and often recite it to myself. I recommend doing this because the effort will be repaid as many times as you care to recite it.
Sonnet XVIII.
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

12 September, 2006

Stamford, Lincolnshire

Stamford is a beautiful town in eastern England full of lovely buildings with interesting architecture and attractive scenery. In this post I am letting the pictures speak for themseves.

This view is from a bridge in the centre of town.

09 September, 2006

My Heroes: ( 15 ) Maya Angelou

Born: Marguerite Johnson, 1928, St. Louis, Missouri
Dr. Maya Angelou is 'Renaissance Woman', being a poet, playwriter, author, director, producer and Civil Rights activist and my personal suspicion is that America in general, does not give her due recognition. She is, naturally, an icon to the African-American cummunity but she deserves recognition beyond that. She has been bestowed with scores of honourary degrees. My own favourite work is one of several auto-biographies, 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings' and I recommend it as an introduction to her work. She grew up in a rural southern town that was so segregated that she wasn't sure that white people actually existed! The book is an extremely frank account of her early life and can be seen as a useful parallel to 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. A persistent motif throughout the book is that of strong black women who resist rascism in their lives.
Incidentally, she acquired her name Maya from her older brother who could not pronounce Marguerite and called her 'Mya Sister'. As an adult she chose to be called Maya.

08 September, 2006

Old Amersham, Buckinghamshire

The King's Arms, Old Amersham
The outside of this pub was used to depict 'The Jolly Boatman' in the film 'Four Weddings and a Funeral'. It is now an up-market hotel and conference venue.
Known as 'The King's Arms', it was built in the 14th century as a coaching inn. Pub names like 'The King's Arm's', 'The Queen's Head' or 'The Crown' were given to demonstrate allegiance to the monarch of the time. Although the inside of this place still has lots of original features such as old timbers and beams, the hotel is very modern. Old Amersham is only about 20 miles from Heathrow airport.
Another pub courtyard in Old Amersham
Old Amersham is in the low-lying Chiltern Hills to the north-west of London. It is a charming place with lots of good restaurants and quaint shops. There is a 17th century market hall and many old and interesting buildings. The community was mentioned in the Domesday Book, nine hundred years ago.

07 September, 2006

Secret Nuclear Bunker, Kelvedon Hatch, UK

This sign is about ten miles from my home and although it gives everyone a great laugh it is, of course, meant to do just that. It is a genuine bunker just outside london that, apparently, the government could evacuate to during war-time. It could hold 600 personel who, supposedly, would have taken control after a nuclear war. It is now a museum and you could even hire it for functions. (I posted this specially for Jim!)

04 September, 2006

London Bridge

The present London Bridge
Here's an interesting fact:
If you search for 'London Bridge' in Google images you get lots of pictures of Tower Bridge
! It's a common misconception that Tower Bridge is London Bridge. It ain't!
But there is a fascinating story about this misconception. Firstly some brief but interesting history. The so-called Old London Bridge was opened in the year 1209 on the site of a previous bridge that had been destroyed. It remained the only bridge across the Thames until the mid-eighteenth century. 'New' London Bridge was built alongside the old one and opened in 1831 when the old one was dismantled after more than 600 years of service!. 'Modern' London Bridge was opened by Queen Elizabeth in 1973.
Robert P. McCulloch of McCulloch Oil paid nearly $2.4 million for the previous bridge and shipped it, brick by brick, to Lake Havasu City, Arizona where it is now Arizona's second largest tourist attraction after the Grand Canyon. The rumours, which have always been strongly denied, are that McCulloch thought he was buying Tower Bridge but you would be hard-pressed to find anyone in London to believe him!
London Bridge, Lake Havasu City, Arizona
Anyway, Lake Havasu has had the last laugh. There is an enormously successful 'English Village' there with mock-Tudor buildings and charming shops creating an atmosphere of medieval England, although I don't think radio station KBBC was around in those days!

02 September, 2006

My Heroes: (14) Fiona Pitt-Kethley

Who? Well she's a feminist poet whose work I used to buy in the 80's and who, now, like so many poets, can't get published even though her books sold in large quantities and were well publicised at that time. Doesn't sound promising does it? Her first successful collections were Sky Ray Lolly (1986) and Private parts (1987) and I have reproduced one of her poems below. She writes novels now, I think, and has gone to live in Spain. She managed to be funny, incisive and serious, sometimes all at the same time.
Men are the ones that have the headaches now.
Back in my mother's day, when girls said no
most of the time, they were after it -
or so they said - in pain with their erections.
But now we call their bluff by answering yes -
the truth is out - they want it less than us.
Most of my female friends are on the pill,
willing, good-looking too. What do we get?
Men who can't quite make up their tiny minds.
The bastards are all Marvell's-mistress-coy,*
perhaps insane, certainly undersexed.
What can the problem be? Are they afraid
of pregnancy or rape? Or is it just
that men fear sex is like a driving test
where they must get every bit right or fail?
Two men fell laughing through our chemist's door.
One said he'd like some pills, something to give
his friend. 'What's wrong?' the chemist asked the man.
'He hasn't had a girl at all for weeks.'
'That's normal, sir!' Too right it is, I thought.
From 'Private Parts' Chatto, 1987

01 September, 2006

American vs. British English (Part One)

Since I started blogging I have been reminded, several times, of the quotation used by Churchill but originated by George Bernard Shaw, that "America and Britain are two nations divided by a common language". I keep finding myself wanting to explain, in paranthesis, that, for example, in the UK humour is spelt/spelled thusly. I wonder, is this necessary? I suppose/guess that I don't want to appear to be illiterate.
The bigger problem arises when different words and phrases are in use and I often need to refer to this dictionary. Because of the dominance of American culture I think most British readers would be familiar with Americanisms but not the otherway round. Elsewhere I have commented that when my cousin was living in the US he discovered that "Keep your pecker up" and "I want to bum a fag" have very different meanings in the States!
I invite readers to comment with any funny or interesting differences they have encountered/come across (Blimey!)