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Wednesday, 30 January 2019


Here's a poster gallery in honour of the excellent Gene Hackman who turned 89 on 30 January, 2019.

Screen career - 1961 - 2004:

Academy Awards - 2 wins; 5 nominations
BAFTA Awards - 2 wins; 7 nominations
Golden Globe Awards - 4 wins; 9 nominations
Screen Actors Guild Awards - 1 win; 2 nominations



I watch a lot of films. Most of them, entertaining as they are, are instantly forgettable, especially the wham-bam-boom action movies that I love. But, every now and again, a film arrives and is so powerful in terms of production or performances, or both, that it stays with me for a long, long time.

Off the top of my head, I am very fond of Casablanca, The Searchers, The Quiet Man, All The President's Men, Die Hard, True Grit and many more.

But I went to the cinema yesterday to watch Stan & Ollie, the story of Laurel and Hardy on their UK and Ireland theatre tour in the 1950s. This period was way past their peak as film comedy geniuses, but they still had the gifts and talents for glorious entertainment and, after a shaky start to the tour with patchy audience numbers, they began to attract attention through all kinds of promotional work and, as a result, theatres filled up with appreciative crowds.

They worked their way through the stresses and strains of touring, falling out and falling back in with each other. I laughed, I smiled and I shed the odd tear. It is that kind of film. Funny and emotional.

When I first read that a biopic of Stan and Ollie was on the cards, to star Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly, my heart sank. Really? I anticipated disaster and an insult. Laurel and Hardy stand on the highest of high pedestals and woe betide anyone who messes with their legendary status.

But, I am relieved and more that happy to report that the film is wonderful. It is shot beautifully, the attention to detail is perfect, the script merges some of the funniest routines ever seen replicated superbly by Coogan and Reilly and we get a real sense of the tension and love inherent in a long-established show business partnership.

Steve Coogan is magnificent as Stan Laurel and John C. Reilly is equally so as Oliver Hardy. They do not over-impersonate. (I wonder if they were tempted to over-egg it.) They are pitch perfect. It is only January, but it could well be my film of the year.

And, referring to the first lines of this post, I am writing this the day after seeing the film and I know it will stay with me for a long time, possibly forever. I will watch it again, maybe several times.



I love movie trivia and often refer to the IMDB site. I was interested in the locations used in the film.

Black Country Museum, Dudley
Great Central Railway, Loughborough
The Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham
Bristol Hippodrome
Lido, Worthing
Broadway Theatre, Catford
Fortune Theatre, Covent Garden
Lyceum Theatre, Covent Garden
Hackney Empire
Savoy Hotel, London
Sheraton Hotel, London
New Wimbledon Theatre
Pinewood Studios

Saturday, 26 January 2019


I was talking to some people the other day and one of the crowd, an acquaintance rather than a close friend, started moaning about January being the most depressing month of the year.  I chipped in that I was having the best January in years. He recoiled.

I turned 65. Nothing frightening about that, in fact I am quite enjoying it. But self-same chap said something along the lines of: "It's no comfort getting old." I have no idea what he meant. In this day and age, he may have "issues" and I must respect that notion.

In financial terms, a few pension things kicked in and that's nice and comforting, after nearly fifty years of sometimes frustrating and sometimes rewarding work. I think I can relax enough to say I paid my dues and most things have turned out okay.

But it's my new persona that I want to pursue now. Writer. After about fifteen years of getting things published - features, reviews, some poetry, some fiction, a few (mostly self-published) books - it has become my "old age" passion.

I have several projects on simmer, and one very important one with a professional editor. I have other non-writing events to look forward to - Japan, New York - but much more importantly, I am on course to become a Granda for the first time. (By the way, Granda is not a typing error re Grandad. Granda is a traditional title in my family's history, so I'm proud to carry it on.)

January, 2019, depressing? Here I am off and running on a new phase of life. I couldn't be more inspired, enthused and excited.


Wednesday, 23 January 2019


Recently, I turned 65. Without explanation, here are 65 first lines from poems that have been and maybe still are important to my life. I have enjoyed poetry very much and continue to do so. I have had a crack at writing poems. It's not that easy. There are more than 65 first lines, of course, but 65 is the number of the moment.

In no particular order:

All the world's a stage..... (William Shakespeare)
In Manchester there are a thousand puddles..... (Adrian Mitchell)
Old age is not my problem. Bad health, yes. (Clive James)
He thought he saw an elephant..... (Lewis Carroll)
My father played the melodeon..... (Patrick Kavanagh)
Macavity's a Mystery Cat: he's called the Hidden Paw..... (T. S. Eliot)
Black lake, black boat, two black, cut-paper people..... (Sylvia Plath)
As I walked out one evening....... (W. H. Auden)
There was a boy whose name was Jim..... (Hillaire Belloc)
My father's in my fingers but my mother's in my palms..... (Sinead Morrissey)

Half a league, half a league, half a league onward..... (Alfred, Lord Tennyson)
When I see birches bend to left and right..... (Robert Frost)
Before I knocked and flash let enter..... (Dylan Thomas)
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright..... (William Blake)
Glory be to God for dappled things..... Gerard Manley Hopkins
I wandered lonely as a cloud..... (William Wordsworth)
Earth has not anything to show more fair..... (William Wordsworth)
It is an ancient Mariner..... (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)
The lords of life the lords of life..... (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
When I put my finger to the hole they've cut for a dimmer switch..... (Paul Muldoon)

The mountain sheep are sweeter..... (Thomas Love Peacock)
The King sits in Dunfermline town...... (Anon, I think)
The old priest Peter Gilligan was weary night and day..... (William Butler Yeats)
I sat all morning in the college sick bay..... (Seamus Heaney)
Tell me, O Octopus, I begs..... (Ogden Nash)
It's awf'lly bad luck on Diana..... (John Betjeman)
Stasis in darkness..... (Sylvia Plath)
Midway upon the journey of our life..... (Edgar Allan Poe)
If you can keep your head when all about you..... (Rudyard Kipling)
Much have I travelled in the realms of gold..... (John Keats)

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan..... (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways..... (Elizabeth Barrett Browning)
Do not go gentle into that good night..... (Dylan Thomas)
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? ..... (William Shakespeare)
She walks in beauty, like the night..... (Lord Byron)
The free bird leaps on the back of the wind..... (Maya Angelou)
I will arise and go now, and go to Inishfree..... (William Butler Yeats)
The curfew tolls the knell of parting day..... (Thomas Grey)
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone..... (W. H. Auden)
Hail to thee blithe spirit..... (Percy Bysshe Shelley)

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness..... (Allen Ginsberg)
Between my finger and thumb the squat pen rests..... (Seamus Heaney)
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks..... (Wilfrid Owen)
Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode..... (G. K. Chesterton)
Therefore he no more troubled the pool of silence..... (George Mackay Brown)
Don't talk to me of love. I've had an earful..... (James Fenton)
How far? How far is it to Carcassone? ..... (John Fuller)
My mother's car is parked in the gravel..... (Leontia Flynn)
Some painters leave shadow out. The Master hunts it..... (U. A. Fanthorpe)
These two hands that never did a day's work..... (Damian Smyth)

When I was a child I sat an exam..... (Brian Patten)
Since the primary school is next door..... (D. J. Enright)
Remember me when I am gone away..... Christina Rossetti
The lough will claim a victim every year..... (Seamus Heaney)
After the battle of the Incriminating Loveletter..... (Roger McGough)
There's a feather on my pillow...... (Max Porter)
One wet, early evening in the sheep-shearing season..... (Hugh MacDiarmid)
If I was dead and my bones adrift..... (Carol Ann Duffy)
Your Daddy is a soldier son..... (Kate Tempest)
I have been thinking about the music for my funeral..... (Michael Longley)

Long live the child..... (Adrian Mitchell)
I love all films that start with rain..... (Don Paterson)
The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees..... (Alfred Noyes)
From time to time our love is like a sail..... (Alice Oswald)
A small piece of white paper, coarse-cut..... (Joe Cushnan - well?)

Another surface barely scratched!

(See previous two posts for 65 films and 65 musical choices)

Tuesday, 22 January 2019


Recently, I turned 65. Without explanation, here are 65 films that have been and maybe still are important to my life. I have watched and enjoyed quite a few dozens of times.There are more than 65, of course, but 65 is the number of the moment.

In no particular order:

The Searchers
The Informer
Citizen Kane
The Third Man
It's A Wonderful Life
The Maltese Falcon
The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre
White Heat

The Big Sleep
The Ox-Bow Incident
Rear Window
North By Northwest
Singin' In The Rain
Strangers On A Train
My Darling Clementine
High Noon
Touch Of Evil
The Night Of The Hunter

Some Like It Hot
The African Queen
The Quiet Man
Witness For The Prosecution
Dr Strangelove
The Apartment
The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
The Wild Bunch

In The Heat Of The Night
Mary Poppins
Bonnie And Clyde
Midnight Cowboy
Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid
The Great Escape
The Dirty Dozen
Cool Hand Luke
Once Upon A time In The West

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
To Kill A Mocking Bird
The Guns Of Navarone
The Godfather
Taxi Driver
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
The French Connection

All The President's Men
The Sting
The Deer Hunter
Die Hard
The Terminator
True Grit
Pulp Fiction
Toy Story

The Departed

A surface has barely been scratched! 

Monday, 21 January 2019


Recently, I turned 65. Without explanation, here are 65 songs/pieces of music that have been and maybe still are important to my life. Quite a few would be played often in our Belfast home. There are more than 65, of course, but 65 is the number of the moment.

In not much order:

Theme from Bonanza (TV)
Faith of Our Fathers (Hymn)
Hound Dog by Elvis Presley
Theme from The Magnificent Seven (Film)
Buck's Polka by the Miami Showband, featuring Clem Quinn
Forty Shades of Green by Johnny Cash
Rocky Road to Dublin by The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem
In My Life by The Beatles
If You Could Read My Mind by Gordon Lightfoot
Story Of A Life by Harry Chapin

It's All Over Now by The Rolling Stones
The Twist by Chubby Checker
Bird on the Wire by Leonard Cohen
The House of the Rising Sun by The Animals
The Days Of Pearly Spencer by David McWilliams
The Sound of Silence by The Bachelors
The Hucklebuck by Brendan Bowyer and the Royal Showband
Unchained Melody by Joe Dolan and the Drifters
What A Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong
Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival

These Boots Are Made for Walking by Nancy Sinatra
Galveston by Glen Campbell
Reach Out, I'll Be There by The Four Tops
Up Went Nelson by The Go-Lucky Four
I'm A Believer by The Monkees
I Only Want To Be With You by Dusty Springfield
God Only Knows by The Beach Boys
Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way by Waylon Jennings
Theme from The Rockford Files (TV)
The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me by Gladys Knight and the Pips

Dedicated Follower Of Fashion by The Kinks
Tequila Sunrise by The Eagles
The Streets of London by Ralph McTell
Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty
Oliver's Army by Elvis Costello
Whiskey On A Sunday by Danny Doyle
He'll Have To Go by Jim Reeves
Your Song by Elton John
Dock Of The Bay by Otis Redding
Lovely Day by Bill Withers

Apache by The Shadows
Dancing Queen by ABBA
Sylvia's Mother by Dr Hook & the Medicine Show
Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick by Ian Dury & the Blockheads
Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen
Band On The Run by Wings
Piano Man by Billy Joel
Albatross by Fleetwood Mac
The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face by Roberta Flack
Rio by Michael Nesmith

Telstar by The Tornados
The Young Ones by Cliff Richard
From A Jack To A King by Ned Miller
I Like It by Gerry & The Pacemakers
Here Comes My Baby by The Tremeloes
When You Walk In The Room by The Searchers
Mr Tambourine Man by The Byrds
Pied Piper by Crispian St Peters
Home Thoughts From Abroad by Clifford T Ward
Rex Bob Lowenstein by Mark Germino

Theme from The Big Country (Film)
A Mother's Love's A Blessing by Bridie Gallagher
Lily The Pink by The Scaffold
That's The Way God Planned It by Billy Preston
It's Not Unusual by Tom Jones

That's 65 off the top of my head and from memories. Hundreds, if not thousands more. But there we are.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019


Today, I prepared the goulash from a recipe in this fine book to eat tomorrow (the food, not the book) on an 'important number' birthday. It looks and smells amazing (the food, not the birthday).

Rest in peace, Anthony Bourdain. I don't know what troubled you but I continue to have fond memories of your books and television shows.


Monday, 7 January 2019


The Diary of a Bookseller
Shaun Bythell

The Bookshop
17 North Main Street
Tel: 01988 402499

I have never worked in a book shop but I did spend nearly forty years in and around supermarket retailing, so I fully understand the arc of customer types from the genuinely nice to the quite rude to the completely bonkers. I wrote about the latter in my career retrospective, Retail Confidential. They are the most fun to write about but a drag to deal with.

The Diary of a Bookseller gives the full flavour of frustrations and fluctuations of life as a second-hand shop owner and Shaun Bythell hits us with a brilliant combination of criticisms, complaints, wry observations, eye-rolling notes about customers who should not be allowed out in public and no-holds-barred comments about his employees. Perceptive comments, sarcasm and much humour inhabit the pages of an excellent book that I recommend highly.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019


RIP the tremendously funny Bob Einstein, multi-talented but forever Marty Funkhouser in Curb Your Enthusiasm.

IMDB link

Bob Einstein - 20 November 1942 - 2 January 2019.