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Friday, 30 September 2016


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

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

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

I love Bruce Springsteen but he has recorded some duds.

I love Bob Dylan but he has recorded some duds.

I love Van Morrison but he has recorded some duds.

I love The Beatles but they have recorded some duds.

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

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

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

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

I'll leave it with you.

Thursday, 29 September 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

Big salute.


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


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

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

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

The letter -

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

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

Tuesday, 27 September 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 25 September 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 24 September 2016


I read a news item today suggesting that the late entertainer Paul Daniels left an estate net worth circa £500,000 and the tone was one of "how come" when he was such a successful man. Well, who really cares, apart from his family, who might be missing the man rather than anything else? In his TV heyday, he was a massive draw, very popular and rightly so. He was brilliant at his job as a superb magician. He was ridiculed by clever-arse comedians who will never achieve anything like his success. We are so obsessed about money, celebrity gossip, who's up, who's down but we can easily forget that famous people are people too just like us. They are trying to earn a living, they have loved ones who mourn their passing and whatever they leave in their last wills and testaments, well, in the end, it's got damn all to do with us.


I went into a Timpson's shoe repair shop today and the guy was as charmless, cold, personality-free and lacking in courtesy as a boulder. It got me thinking about how, gradually, like erosion of the coastlines, we are losing good manners. On the same day, old-fashioned gentleman as I am, I held doors open in a several shops for people of all genders and not one, not one, said 'thank you'. I thought....well, you can guess. The letter F featured, silently in my head. In the car park, I let a guy out. Not a jot of acknowledgement. I tried again. I let a lady out. Nada. I thought....yeah, the letter F featured, in my angry skull. What is the matter with people? What has happened to manners and courtesy? Who gives a flyer anymore? Well, I do. And I will continue to be courteous and gentlemanly and respectful and as nice as I can be in this world of who gives an F-word? But, people, there is hope. I also noticed quite a few, young and old, being naturally nice. Naturally nice. How do people become naturally nice? Upbringing? Something in the womb on the journey to birth? The atmosphere of home life to a baby, toddler and beyond? I worked in shops for 35+ years with the general public - sympathy cards welcome - and the good, the bad and the ugly were always lurking. I have more to say but I'll stop there. Manners and respect need to be taught, encouraged, influenced. Or else, well, there's the F-word again....


The notion of freedom of speech used to be such a noble ambition. Now, whoever and whatever is to blame, freedom of speech needs courage above and beyond the slings and arrows of political correctness. It is so easy to offend, upset and insult people now that free speech is consigned to the dustbin. It has been replaced by "Whoa, hold on there, Hoss, speech" and I'm certain many a tweet has not been tweeted and many a Facebook post hasn't been posted and many a word has not been uttered for fear of some shit hitting various fans. We live in stupid, frightening, angst-ridden times (a lot of which is whipped up out of all proportion) but we still have the option of calm, reasoned, rational thought. Sadly, the next and the next and the one beyond that "gadget generation" will not have a clue about compassion, respect, emotion or humanity. 

Friday, 23 September 2016


This is a bit of a ramble about luck.

Luck.  Here's the Chambers definition:

luck noun 1. chance, especially as it is perceived as influencing someone's life at specific points in time. 2. good fortune. 3. events in life which cannot be controlled and seem to happen by chance...........

"You make your own luck" is one of those glib expressions that work colleagues and bosses have said occasionally over the years.  I have never believed that.  How can you make something happen with certainty that is down to the roll of the proverbial dice?  You can have a go, make a bet, buy a lottery ticket, enter a competition, apply for a job, etc, etc but you can't make those things a certainty for you unless you cheat or enter into some criminal activity, but then even that kind of chicanery is not a guarantee of success. 

You can prepare for things to the nth degree for what you believe is a sure thing, but it is still a game of chance. I heard someone say "you make your own luck" recently on the radio and it got me thinking about the sheer amount of meaningless claptrap that permeates business life, sports punditry, social networking and life in general.

God knows, we only have to spend a few minutes on Twitter to read all kinds of pseudo-sage advice. I'm as guilty as anybody. I add my tuppence on a regular basis.  But if you really can make your own luck, it can be either good luck or bad luck, can't it?  Either way, you're not in the driving seat. Depend on the rabbit's foot if you like but remember it didn't work for the rabbit. In the Sunday Times Rich List, for example, there are winners of huge lottery jackpots in the ranks.  Did they make their own luck or did they just buy a ticket that happened to coincide with the big money balls?  

I am a competitions junkie.  If I see a prize worth going for, I enter.  In recent years I have won:

a Mini car (that's a real car, not a toy!)
a £4,500 holiday to Alberta, Canada
a £500 cosmetics/perfumes hamper
a TV
an X Box
a bench top tool system/saw set
a weekend in Cornwall
a few National Lottery tenners
a few Premium Bond £25s
an outdoor jacket
a selection of computer accessories
a lot of books
a lot of DVDs
a lot of CDs
several gift cards

I didn't make those things happen. I entered competitions and left it to chance. I got lucky. I did not force the luck. It's fun on the basis of the old pools slogan: "If you're not in, you can't win".

Having a go at something, an ambition, a career move, a competition or whatever is much more important that not bothering.  

Luck is luck, you can't make it or force it, and lethargy rulezzzzz.

Have a go. Have a nice day and, er, good luck.