‘Where Are We Now?’ – the ‘Starman’ at 66…

9 01 2013


“Time may change me,

But I can’t trace time…”


David Bowie: ‘Changes’ – released January 7th 1972  


a-p_c-fcmaem_ej“A moment of bliss I never thought I’d have again. Listening to new Bowie for the first time.”

Lady GaGa welcomes ‘Where Are We Now?’ – released January 8th 2013 (Twitter)


“Just bought David Bowie’s new single ‘Where Are We Now?’- bloody gorgeous. New Album coming. How happy am I?”

Boy George (Twitter)


David Bowie has always been one for ch-ch-ch changes. Monday, marked 41 years since the master of reinvention released the ‘Changes’ single, his first on the RCA label, a day before his 25th birthday.

David_Bowie-06This time a year ago I wrote at some length about ‘Bus-pass Bowie’ at 65′ – ‘a mortal with potential of a superman’…   

Yesterday, his 66th birthday, the ‘Starman’ released his first single in a decade, into cyberspace. We didn’t even have to ‘try to pick him up on Chanel 2’, ‘Where Are We Now’, materialised from out of the ether, appearing unannounced on iTunes – Bowie as always a master of mystique and perfect timing.    

There is an album to follow, ‘The Next Day’, due out in March and an up-coming major exhibition at the V&A – so clearly timing is everything!

I’ve listened, a few times now, to the new release from an ageing glam-rock icon – a haunting and nostalgic piece harking back to more hedonistic days, living in Berlin with Iggy Pop – something of an Oddity but its melancholic cadences are beginning to grow on me.

I’m not so sure it was deserving of such rich critical acclaim from the media. There were far fewer eulogies from the music buying public. Comments, on Twitter and Facebook, were rather more prosaic and views very mixed. However there did seem to be a general consensus that Bowie, as a music legend, has earned the right to do what he likes in  his twilight years. I wouldn’t want to argue against that.  

2013-where-are-we-_2445781bThe somewhat surreal video, Bowie as part of a two-headed doll (the other an unknown woman who remains silent throughout) while monochrome footage of Berlin landmarks, referred to in the somewhat abstract lyrics, plays out behind, is a pretty essential accompaniment.

Unless you know Berlin particularly well, without the visual prompts Potsdamer Platz (a public square decimated by bombing in World War II) the Dschungel (Club), KaDeWe (department-store) and Bose Brucke (a West Berlin bridge – the site of Checkpoint Charlie) might not resonate so well.

starmanI hope this is his swan song. I’m pretty sure it will be, and that the artist who turned down a personal plea from Danny Boyle to appear at the Olympics opening ceremony is quick enough to know when the race is run – unlike one or two others!

I’ll look forward to the rest of the album, I’m sure it will be fine, perfectly listenable, but that is probably the ultimate insult to a ground-breaking artist with such an outstanding and memorable  back catalogue… 

‘Hunky Dory’, ‘Ziggy’, ‘Aladdin Sane’ … 


‘The Cup of Dreams’ or a grand old lady on her last legs?

8 01 2013

‘The Cup of Dreams’ or a grand old lady on her last legs… it really all depends on your view:


_1634828_eng_fa_cup_lineker_300“Winning the FA Cup in 1991 was undoubtedly the highlight of my playing career.”

Gary Lineker, Match of the Day anchor-man (2001)

“…sad though don’t you think how the grand old lady is undervalued and treated…”

Twitter – @GaryLineker (2013)


motty-book-john-motson“But everybody knows the glamour and the glory of this fantastic competition – the oldest and still the best in the world – does not begin and end with the final. It is the romance of the early rounds that gives the FA Cup its unique flavour.”

John Motson, the BBC’s voice of football – ‘Motson’s FA Cup Odyssey’ (2005)

Danny-Baker-001“When even Cardiff are putting out their 2nd team for the ‘romantic’ FA Cup the whole thing is reduced to little more than It’s A Knockout.”

Twitter – Danny Baker @prodnose – Radio 5 Live DJ (2013)


Just when it seemed that Swansea and Arsenal had taken the remnants of what we like to call the old glory of the FA Cup into some kind of safe-keeping, Luis Suarez popped up with a hand to play…a diabolical act that cast a shadow …”

James Lawton – Chief Sports Writer, ‘The Independent’ (7th Jan 2013)

download (1)“I have enjoyed the day but it feels like it was stolen from us, whether it was deliberate or not…It was not in our favour and we should have had at least a replay. Handballs are obviously de rigueur in this game we play.”

Caroline Radford, Mansfield Town Chief Executive   



FA Cup 3rd Round weekend – well three days as it happens. I’m listening, as I type, to League 2 Cheltenham v Premiership Everton, one of the most romantic ties of the round, being played on a Monday evening! More moans of that sort later…

…But first the history bit. Fifty years ago,  back in the good old days when all fixtures were scheduled for Saturday at 3.00pm,  the fabled big freeze of ‘63 caused 29 ties to be called off. 66 days later and 261 postponements later the round was completed.

Delia-Smith-007Tales abound of groundsmen ingenuity in trying to thaw out their frozen pitches. Flame throwers were used at Carrow Road (no hot air from,‘Let’s be ‘avin’ you!’, Delia in those days) while a toxic cocktail of fertilizer and weed-killer was sprayed on Leicester City’s old Filbert Street ground.

It apparently did the trick. The Foxes made it all the way to Wembley – only to lose 3-1 to Manchester United.

$(KGrHqEOKm4E1LPm)jCYBNfC06Yh6Q~~_35On the dust jacket (not the sheepskin jacket) of ‘Motson’s FA Cup Odyssey’ we’re told: ‘The FA Cup is greatest and most coveted football trophy in the world. Whether the teams are playing in Manchester or Cardiff, Newcastle or Wembley, come the final each year the competition has a worldwide television audience of billions and is rightly seen as the Holy Grail of the beautiful game.’

If that is the case, why, to paraphrase the Tweeting Gary Lineker, is ‘the old lady’ so undervalued and shabbily treated? And perhaps, more to the point, why are football supporters so short-changed?

Live TV coverage of the FA Cup has been relegated to ITV and the ESPN subscription channel, fronted by some-time  karaoke singer Ray Stubbs, formerly of the Beeb.

Adrian-Chiles1The ITV has come in for a deal of criticism, from viewers, for last weekend’s lack-lustre studio analysis hosted by, lugubrious ‘Baggies’ supporter, Adrian Chiles. The highlights package, in particular, came in for a panning from disgruntled fans staying up late to watch their team – when some games were limited to as little as fifteen seconds of action!

The needs of travelling partisan supporters – the lifeblood of the game – were seemingly  ignored, for the benefit of neutral armchair viewers, with cherry picked ties of the round being shown live as early as 12.30 on Saturday – Brighton v Newcastle – and as late as Monday at 19.45 – Cheltenham v Everton.

Cheltenham_Town_FC_logoCoaches transporting away-day Geordies left Tyneside for the south coast at 01.30, while Toffees lovers from Liverpool would have needed the afternoon off work, to make the trip down to the Georgian Spa-town – more famous for its national hunt racecourse than its Robins’ nest on Whaddon Road (currently masquerading as the Abbey Business Stadium).

evertonpaniniAll credit to Everton for putting out a very strong side, taking nothing for granted against lower league opposition – and a 5-1 final score-line indicates that David Moyes and his Premiership team are clearly taking the competition seriously. But, unfortunately, there are others who are  adopting a more laissez- faire attitude.

Increasingly, Premiership teams have other priorities – qualification for the Champions League, issues of survival, and avoiding getting sucked into the relegation battle, and use FA Cup weekends as a chance for a breather and an opportunity to let second string players stretch their legs. If things don’t go to plan, the big guns can always be summoned from the bench to conjure up a last gasp face-saving winner – or not!

Some teams seem quite happy to sacrifice their place in the competition, in order to ease fixture congestion and avoid injuries to key players who will be needed for ‘more important’ up-coming league fixtures.

In recent years, with the influx of top-tier managers and players from across Europe and around the globe, where their own domestic cup competitions are seen as small beer, we have seen this disdainful type of attitude proliferate.

130px-Thefacup-logoIt is probably the single most significant factor in the recent decline in standing of the FA Cup – a tournament with a gleaming past that , year on year, is becoming increasingly tarnished by neglect and disrespect from those who do not value its history and fail to see its worth.

Do we want a competition infused with so many golden memories to continue – but only as a shadow of its former self? Perhaps the time has come for ‘the grand old lady’ to retire – as a museum piece that no longer warrants inclusion in the modern game, but which can be gazed upon with a warm glow of pride, by all who remember her former glories.

There certainly was a ‘cup of dreams’, but no longer – not in the same way – it is now more a cup of memories.

The very essence of the FA Cup has always been bound up with the aspirational notion that the tiniest minnow in the football ocean might on its day submerge the largest whale. Around such giant killing acts the legend was born – Hereford 2 Newcastle 1 (1972), Colchester 3 Leeds 2 (1973,) Bournemouth 2 Manchester United 0 (1984,) Wrexham 2 Arsenal 1 (1992) …

On each of these memorable occasions the felled giant had taken to the field with its strongest eleven – and been embarrassed in the extreme to be out fought by inferior opposition who had risen to the occasion.

Cardiff CityWhen non-league Macclesfield Town toppled high-flying, top of the Championship, Cardiff City, the Bluebirds manager, Malky McKay, had rested his entire first team – demonstrating apparent contempt for a competition, considered an unwanted distraction from his team’s promotion challenge, and also devaluing the giant-killing status of the opposition.

It is this kind of disreputable behaviour that is killing the FA Cup. Yet it’s only five seasons ago that the Welsh club made it all the way to Wembley, and despite  losing 1-0 to Portsmouth, enjoyed one of the biggest days in its history!  But, then again, we know that for their new owners, who insisted on swapping the team’s historical blue for red (for marketing reasons) tradition doesn’t stand for much!

Finally, a word or two about Mansfield Town…

Mansfield TownI was born and bred but seven miles from the north Nottinghamshire mining town, yet on only one occasion have I passed through the turnstiles at Field Mill. It was back in 1964 and I was taken by a school mate’s Dad. Brighton were the opposition in the old 3rd Division which was the Stags’ habitual level at that time. The score-line
finished 0-0 – disappointing for a team audacious enough to play in Brazil’s colours. There the similarity ended.

downloadThereafter I was kept busy with 1st Division matches at Forest, and occasional forays to Meadow Lane to watch County, the world’s oldest professional club (150 years in 2012) playing in the 4th. Gate prices were such that it was not unusual, in those days, for fans to alternate between the two Nottingham clubs on a weekly basis.

I did maintain an interest in Mansfield, from a distance – through the Nottingham Football Post – and certainly remember their finest hour, the FA Cup 5th round 1969 – when West Ham came to town.

England World Cup winning heroes Moore, Peters and Hurst all lined up that night, alongside a couple of promising youngsters, Billy Bonds and Trevor Brooking. Oh yes, there was also that chippy young winger, Harry Redknapp, so no not a bad side – but they were hammered!

whu_goal_by_robertsScarf-2-1024x709Mansfield 3 West Ham 0; goals courtesy of Roberts, Keeley and Sharkey, in front of a record crowd of 21,117 – etched in local folklore. It was the pinnacle of success for a club that, in its 77 year football league history, never finished higher than 21st in the old 2nd Division.

In 2008 the Stags slipped into the Blue Square Premier League, and the only thing of note to have happened since, before last weekend, has been the arrival of Caroline Radford (nee Still) as chief executive, attractive, opinionated, a 29 year old, former Durham University graduate, with a masters in law – and, allegedly, a one-time high-class escort.

New-Mansfield-Town-CEO-Ca-007Her appointment prompted some supporters to suggest the STAGS should change their nickname by substituting an L for the T!

She is now married to millionaire owner and chairman, John Radford (47) a local man who made his money out of insurance. They have enjoyed a minor success in winning back the leasehold of Field Mill; complete with an abandoned, unfinished stand, but the club continues to haemorrhage £50,000 a week.

It all seemed worthwhile on Sunday when, five times champions of Europe, Liverpool rolled into town. Mansfield left 96 seats empty as a sign of respect of those who lost their lives at Hillsborough in the FA Cup semi-final of ’89.

Suarez-HandballIt was nice gesture to the visitors that unfortunately went unreciprocated as they were handed an appalling injustice by a certain Uruguayan striker who is never far from controversy – Luis Suarez.

Liverpool were already one up, after a dominant first half, when the smiling assassin controlled the ball with his hand before smashing it into an unguarded net. The referee missed it, the cameras confirmed it, but Suarez, a player universally reviled (outside of Anfield that is) as a ‘cheat’, failed to mend his reputation by fessing up.

Mansfield refused to bow, Matt Green pulled a goal back that he’ll dine out on for years to come, and Liverpool wobbled under a final ten minute onslaught. But all to no avail – they had been dealt a bad hand and will miss out on a lucrative replay.

mansfieldThis cup-tie will no doubt sit in Mansfield folklore, alongside that famous night in ’69. I suppose, even if ‘the grand old lady’ is a pale imitation of her former glory days, she provided an occasion that those present will never forget, but, unfortunately, for the wrong reasons.

These are different times, it’s a different game and not always for the better.

‘Twelfth Night’; or ‘What You Will’ – a whole mess of beanz…

6 01 2013

12night‘Twelfth Night’ – Bard sound-bites:

“Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.”

images (2)

“If music be the food of love, play on,

Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,

The appetite 

may sicken and die.”


Twelfth_cupid_smsp_AW“Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit”


“Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun; it shines everywhere.”



“In nature there’s no blemish but the mind. None can be called deformed but the unkind.”

Shakespeare wrote his play ‘Twelfth Night’, or ‘What You Will’, around 1602 – an entertainment for the close of the festive season. In medieval and Tudor times, Twelfth Night marked the end of the Winter Festival, which began on Halloween.

It was a day of reversals, presided over by a Lord of Misrule, where the world was turned upside down. The King and all those in high office would become peasants and vice versa.

A special cake was baked, containing a bean. Whoever found it assumed the role of bean king and ruled the feast until midnight when the natural order of things was resumed.

7400809-venice-carnivalThere are echoes of this topsy-turvy behaviour in Shakespeare’s play, with Viola – a woman dressed as a man, and Malvolio – a servant who imagines he can become a nobleman.

Twelfth Night also marks the feast of Epiphany, a celebration of the Adoration of the Magi – a big event in countries such as Spain – which ushers in the carnival season, culminating in Mardi Gras.

art-1cHere in ‘the Shire’ (and other cider-producing counties) it also heralds the traditional season of orchard wassailing, an ancient custom of drinking and singing the health of fruit trees, to awaken them and scare away evil spirits – ensuring a good harvest in the following autumn.

Splash_2At ‘Clive’s’, our nearby fruit farm (Upper Hook Rd – WR8OSA) this ceremony will take place on Sunday 20th January – led by the local, Worcester based, Faithful City Morris Men – as part of an annual Wassailing and Frost Fair.


For most of us, however, Twelfth Night is about remembering to take down the Christmas decorations, for fear of tempting fate and causing bad luck to descend upon our homes in the year ahead.

This morning was, therefore, spent clambering up a rickety ladder to stash away glass baubles in the loft, and dispatching our ‘special’ tree, with its crooked top, for recycling.

monkey-christmas-6inch-4There was also an emotional farewell with the PG Christmas Monkey – who only sees the light of day for a couple of weeks each year!

With journalistic Gem already back, hard at it, in the big city, working her notice on ‘Love It’ magazine, before embarking on fresh and exciting challenges at the ‘Sunday Mirror’; and teacher Nicci departing for Oxford, this afternoon, bracing herself for a busy Spring term, the Christmas holiday will soon become a fading memory.

I took time today to gather up presents, still scattered around the house, and spend a few moments appreciating them. We had made a family pact, we would cut back this year, but I still seem to have been the lucky recipient of many thoughtful gifts.

archie_-_tweeting_is_the_new_bleetingFrom number-one daughter, Nicci, a card – but no ordinary card:

“No ifs or butts… this is a great gift – a goat!

Dad, I know they must be missing you in Africa, so now they have a replacement! This guy is just like you … always bleating on about something (just kidding!) Happy Christmas x”


From number-two daughter, Gem:

hd_14a7ba6c6a1a1ffbc90e21f8a1ccf15da signed, Pictogram rock poster by Swedish designer  Viktor Hertz – David Bowie www.victorhertz.com

an ‘On The Road’ travel document case, from the British Library, where we recently saw Jack Kerouac’s original 120 feet long manuscript scroll,

and a Moleskine diary/notebook.

I had my present from Chris back in September – a Tricky Trees season ticket!

dandy_1091434tBut there were still a few surprises under the ‘special’ tree, including the 75th Anniversary ‘Dandy’  Annual and a Heinz Baked Beanz book – with recipes, history, trivia and more…

Funnily enough, that brings us full circle. Apparently, today, 6th January (Twelfth Night) is National Bean Day in the US of A.

So in keeping with the whole bean king/Lord of Misrule role reversal thing, it seemed only right that I should try out an ‘original and best’ Henry J Heinz recipe – chilli bean con carne with cheesy scones…

Serves 4


  • 250g plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 75g butter – diced
  • 50g strong Cheddar – grated
  • 1 egg – beaten
  • 50ml milk


  1. Mix the flour and baking powder in a large bowl
  2. Rub in the butter and add cheese
  3. Make a well in the centre and pour in the egg and milk
  4. Mix the dough until it comes together
  5. Turn out on to a lightly floured surface and roll to a thickness of 5mm
  6. Cut out 8 rounds – 5cm across – & place on a baking sheet
  7. Brush with milk and bake in a preheated oven (200˚C) for 12 mins (or until they sound hollow when tapped)

Chilli con carne

heinz beanz

  • 415g can of (Heinz) baked beanz
  • 2 tablespoons light olive oil
  • 1 onion – finely chopped
  • 2 garlic gloves crushed
  • 500g minced beef
  • 2 tablespoons tomato purée
  • 2 large red chillies – chopped
  • 1 teaspoon hot chilli powder
  • 2 teaspoons dried mixed herbs
  • 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • jalapeño peppers


  1. Heat the oil in a large pan
  2. Add the onion and garlic and cook over a medium heat for 5 mins – until softened
  3. Increase the heat to high and add the mince
  4. Fry for five minutes – until browned all over
  5. Stir in the tomato purée, chillies, chilli powder and mixed herbs
  6. Cook for a further five minutes
  7. Add the tomatoes and beanz
  8. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes – until the beef is tender

034-chillicheeseTop with sour cream. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve with the scones and separate bowls of grated cheese and jalapeño peppers.

Buen Provecho!

Men for all seasons: the late, late CMJ, and AWG – the man in the broad brimmed hat…

5 01 2013

Men for all seasons:

p01384dv“And we don’t need a calculator to tell us that the required run-rate is 4.5454 per over”

“Gul has another ball in his hand and he bowls to Bell who has two” 

“It’s a perfect day here in Australia, glorious blue sunshine”

The late, late Christopher Martin-Jenkins – cricket broadcaster and writer (1945-2013)

STS300104GREIGCUTOU_315429k“I like to think that people are building these West Indians up. I’m not really sure they are as good as everyone thinks they are…if they are down they grovel, and I intend …to make them grovel”  

Tony Greig (1946-2012) England cricket captain (1975-77)

(West Indies went on to win the 1976 series 5-0)

TOny Gteig“In the back of Hughes’ mind must be the thought that he will dance down the piss and mitch one”

“Touch him up before rolling him over”

“That’s straight up in the air… Waugh won’t drop this…oh he’s dropped it! I can’t believe it! What’s going on here?”

“Give your life to cricket and it will take you on the most fantastic journey, a lifetime journey both on and off the field”

Tony Greig, TV commentator.

 David_Lloyd_MainAs commentators they were both AAA+, although at different ends of the spectrum. One was very traditional and old school, while Greigy was one of the vibrant new breed who got things across in his own way.”

“…Christopher, the absent-minded professor.  He’s one of those guys that you couldn’t find anybody in the world with a bad word to say about him. He was such an affectionate chap.He was fantastic raconteur, a wonderful story-teller and he was simply perfect for Test Match Special. He was right up there with McGilvaray, Arlott and Johnson in my view.”

“(Greig) was an outrageous character… he truly was a pioneer for cricketers. He brought the sport out of the dark ages and was a very important figure for our game.”

‘Bumble’ – David Lloyd, Sky Sports cricket commentator

The eagerly awaited 2013 clash for the Ashes will be missing two of its key players – not on the pitch but in the commentary box.

Christopher Martin-Jenkins, universally known in the cricketing world as CMJ, and to his Test Match Special colleagues as ‘the late CMJ’ – due to his chaotic time keeping (one obituary pointed out, sadly, he has now become the late, late CMJ) died on New Year’s Day – aged just  67.

Anthony ‘Tony’ William Greig – or ‘Greigy’ – predominantly of  Australian Network Nine, preceded him by three days, succumbing to a heart attack – aged 66.

Both men had been battling with cancer.

CMJ, for a number of years chief cricket correspondent at The Times, filed his final copy the day before he died. It was Greigy’s obituary!

119139854_CMJ_370103cPrivately educated at Marlborough, for whom he scored 99 against Rugby School at Lords, an alumnus of Fitzwilliam College Cambridge, leaving with a 2.1 in modern history – as did his ‘Fitz’ contemporary, renowned historian, David Starkey!

CMJ, at various times throughout his cricket broadcasting and writing career, held just about every high office going: chief cricket correspondent at the BBC, The Daily Telegraph and The Times, editor of The Cricketer magazine and President of the MCC. He was also invited to be editor of a certain daffodil coloured almanac, the cricketing Bible, ‘Wisden’.

CMJHe came across the airwaves as an amiable but authoritative head-masterly figure dedicated, solely, to providing a concise but precise description of every
ball delivered and dispatched. There was  neither the poetry of an Arlott or the frivolity of a ‘Johners’, but off air he was a noted for his eccentric behaviour and mimicry, a throwback to student days when he auditioned for the Cambridge Footlights.

In many ways CMJ’s understated commentary style was the glue that held the TMS team together, allowing more colourful characters to play around him. He will be sorely missed, a cricketing traditionalist with an encyclopedic knowledge of the, game always more at home in the Test Match arena than the pyjama game, and one of the last professional commentators in an era where ex-players are beginning to proliferate.

tony-greig-3Tony Greig was, first and foremost, a fine cricketer. South African born, he played for and captained England by virtue of his Scottish parentage. An imposing figure, standing at  6 feet 8 inches, with a shock of blonde hair (in his playing days) He was a totem figure, a swashbuckling  leader who led from the front.

His stats as an England all-rounder, in 58 Tests, averaging 40 with the bat and taking 141 wickets, at 32 runs apiece, with a mixture of medium pace and off-breaks, are second only to those of Sir Ian Botham – and yet he rarely rates a mention when all-time great England players are up for discussion.

He was a flamboyant player, an exhilarating batsman, carving the ball to all parts of the ground, an innovative stroke-smith who frequently, intentionally, slashed the ball up and over the slip cordon or square-cut for six.

Tony GreigBut there are those who will always more readily refer to his infamous faux pas, the insensitive use of the word ‘grovel’, fraught with political undertones, aimed at the West Indies touring team of ’76.

And then, for many more in the cricket establishment, that bounder Greig will remain forever tarred by his central role in 80px-Wsc-logo.svgrecruiting English players for Australian media tycoon Kerry Packer’s 1970s World Series Cricket. It cost him the England captaincy, brought a premature end to a successful Test playing career, and heralded his demise from, one time, golden boy of English cricket to money grabbing South African mercenary.

Packer, owing Greig a debt of gratitude, offered him a job for life, commentating on Network Nine’s cricket coverage, where his forthright, sometimes abrasive, manner behind the microphone was reminiscent of his confrontational playing style, winning a cult following for the man in the broad-brimmed sun hat.

Greigy was famously prone to hyperbole, and his over excitement often led to premature ejaculation, signalling boundaries that never were and catches that did not stick, followed by a disbelieving retraction and apology, in that unmistakable Transvaal drawl.

CMJ and AWG (both adopted sons of Sussex) were worlds apart stylistically, and as personalities, but they were united in their enormous regard for the game from which they earned a living, bringing joy to thousands of cricket lovers around the globe. Both will be greatly missed.

Attenborough’s ‘Africa’ / … all about the aubergines

4 01 2013

Thoughts for the day:

DavidAttenborough460“Our planet, the Earth, is, as far as we know, unique, in the Universe – it contains life.”

“It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.”

Sir-David-Attenborough-001“I mean, it is an extraordinary thing that a large population of your country and my country, of the citizens, never see a wild creature from dawn ‘til dusk, unless it’s a pigeon, which isn’t really wild, which might come and settle near them.”

Sir David Attenborough (British naturalist and broadcaster)

Sir David, he of the ‘Living Planet’, is himself a living legend. Seemingly tireless, after sixty years in the business, of bringing the natural world into our living rooms, on Wednesday night his latest, six part, BBC series, ‘Africa’  swept across our screens in glorious HD.

AfricaIt enjoyed jumbo viewing figures, 6.5 million tuning in for the first instalment – ‘The Kalahari’. I caught up with it last night.

Giraffe_2428794bHighlights included rare black rhinos, getting horny, by moonlight at a waterhole, and a pair of male giraffes knocking spots off each other, in a showdown, over a young female, of spaghetti western proportions. An altogether different take on ‘necking’.

The feet inside my Christmas slippers began to feel increasingly itchy as I slowly began to succumb to the call of the wild – I could feel another African safari coming on…

In an interview with ‘The Sun’ newspaper, the 86-year-old naturalist supposed, “I’m a bit of a fossil. They won’t make TV like this when I go.”  And he’s probably right, he usually is, programmes of this type could become extinct, so enjoy it while you can.      

While on the natural world theme, it is now official, 2011 has been confirmed as the UK’s second wettest year on record, at more than 25% above the annual average rainfall. For England it was actually the wettest year ever, with the south-west hardest hit.

20130101_15According to Met Office, four of the five wettest years on record have occurred this century, i.e. in the last twelve years, and there is a definite trend towards extreme downpours, which last year devastated harvests and resulted in flood damage to more than 8,000 homes and businesses.

Much of ‘the Shire’ has been under water since well before Christmas but there were signs today, as I took a back-roads detour to Malvern, that the floods are beginning to recede –  but just a little.

20130101_33Upton has enjoyed its annual five seconds of fame this week, with local publican Grahame Bunn, formerly of the riverside ‘King’s Head’ pub but now the new owner of the ‘The Anchor Inn’, a mere hundred yards up the road, extolling the virtues of our wonderful new flood defence, on Radio Five Live. The encroaching waters of the Severn have been kept at bay, enabling businesses, that in previous years would have been submerged, to continue trading. Most of them happen to be pubs – perversely, happy to remain ‘dry’ on this occasion!

On New Year’s Day, the defensive wall, a permanent feature topped with glass – so as not to obscure the views, proved quite an attraction, as promenading visitors marvelled at its construction and effectiveness.

NCI_03Today’s circuitous route to Malvern ‘Waitrose’ was all about the aubergines – an exotic delicacy conspicuous by its absence from Upton Spar or Co-op. In a moment of weakness I’d volunteered to cook the evening meal and was promptly handed Antonio Carluccio’s ‘Collection’. That’s what comes of giving your nearest and dearest a useful present, such as a cookery book, for Christmas!

carluccioI opted for a version of Caponata Siciliana – a Sicilian stew, which ‘the greedy Italian’ describes as ‘versatile, delicious, and easy to make… probably Sicily’s best known dish … hints of the French ratatouille… some Arabic influences too.’        

To feed 4 people you will need:

  • 800g aubergine – cut into 3cm chunks
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic – finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 red pepper – deseeded & chopped
  • 1 stick of celery – chopped
  • 1 tbsp salted capers
  • 20 or so pitted black olives – sliced
  • 1tbsp raisins
  • 1tbsp pine kernels
  • A handful of fresh basil – roughly torn
  • Salt and pepper

And this is what you do – well what I did…

  1. the-collectionFry the onion, in olive oil, in a large pan – for a few minutes, to soften
  2. Add the aubergine and fry until soft – about 10/15 minutes
  3. Add the remaining ingredients, except the pine kernels and basil, and simmer gently for about 30 minutes until everything is melted together
  4. Stir in the pine kernels and scatter torn basil on the top.
  5. Serve in bowls with chunks of rustic bread.

Buon Appetito!

A nice glass of red would have been the perfect accompaniment – 27 days to go and counting…

28 days and counting…

3 01 2013

A thought for 2013:

charles dickens

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all year. I will live in the Past, the Present and the Future. The spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”  

           Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol)

jamesbondDanielCraigIt began on New Year’s Day, with Great Expectations for 2012’ and fizzled out, on October 30th, with ‘Skyfall- shaken and stirred’.

Surprisingly, despite having not posted for the final quarter of the year the year, the annual Crunchy numbers summary from Word Press indicates that in 2012 ‘Pipedreams…’ had 54,000 views (from 174 countries) – which is more than twice the number of hits for 2011.

BB_logoI embarked upon my blogging career with ‘Out of Africa 2010’, in March of that year. It coincided with early retirement and time spent abroad, doing charity work, in Zambia (The Bookbus Project) and Rwanda (VSO). Despite having added no further posts since my return to the UK in December 2010, amazingly, it still continues to attract visitors – 170,347 since its inception, with 52,890 of those last year!

I had resolved that after nearly three years, on and off, and 307 posts, enough was enough and it was time to draw a veil across my journalist efforts. But as we know, all too well, resolutions are there to be broken.

Speaking of which, my performance, against a far too ambitious 2012 list of resolutions, was patchy to say the least

Bradley Wiggins: New Year's knighthood "a great honour" — video

  • Pedalled 1800km on the exercise bike by the end of August – and then hit a wall (metaphorically speaking) and nothing since. Sir Bradley, newly crowned BBC Sports Personality of the Year, has nothing to worry about 🙂
  • The beginners’ guitar and the Spanish Foundation course started well enough but petered out by the end of March – manana 😦
  • The ‘daily blog’ became a chore at times – and I haven’t written since October 30th. Nevertheless, I added 67 new posts and the blog had 54,000 views – an average of 150 hits per day 🙂
  • Successfully cut out chocolate until Easter and pretty much for the rest of the year 🙂
  • The caffeine habit proved harder to crack, as did cutting back on my alcohol intake 😦
  • Chris and I did visit a few new places in and around ‘the Shire’ – but nowhere near approaching the over ambitious target of one per fortnight!images
  • Our Highlights of Indochina trip through Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia enabled us to tick off a few more must see sights from our ‘bucket list’ – including Halong Bay and Angkor Wat 🙂
  • An early burst of enthusiasm in the kitchen flattered to deceive and culinary inspiration came and went in fits and starts, with a twice a week commitment to knock up an evening meal proving unsustainable. Thank goodness for jacket potatoes and baked beans! 😦
  • We managed seven outings to the cinema and, as recently as last week, went to see Ang Lee’s 3D adaptation of ‘The Life of Pi’ – a cinematic delight 🙂
  • Pleased to say I did read 30 plus books this year; funnily enough, starting the year with Yann Martell’s ‘Life of Pi’  and finishing it, aptly enough in his 200th birthday year, with Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ 🙂

According to psychologists if you want to keep New Year’s resolutions they should be clear, realistic and brief.  So this year there are but two:

  • A dry January – no alcohol until February
  • No coffee for the same period

I’m not sure which will prove the most challenging – 28 days to go and counting…

‘Skyfall’ – shaken and stirred…

30 10 2012

Q: ‘I’m your new quartermaster’

Bond: ‘You must be joking. You still have spots.’ 

Q: ‘I can do more damage on my laptop in my pyjamas than you can do in a year in the field.’

Bond: ‘Then what do you need me for?’

Q: ‘Every now and then a trigger has to be pulled.’

Bond: ‘Or not pulled. It’s hard to know which in your pyjamas…Q’ 

Q: ‘The Walther PPK/S nine-millimetre short. It’s been coded to your palm-print so only you can fire it. Less of a random killing machine more of a personal statement.’

Bond: ‘A gun and radio. Hardly Christmas is it?’

Q: ‘Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that anymore.’  

(An ageing 007 – Daniel Craig – meets, a 20 something, Q – Ben Whishaw – in the 50th Anniversary Bond movie –  ‘Skyfall’) 

For fifty years there has only ever been one Bond… James Bond’. Sean Connery, the original and best – that was until Daniel Craig’s performance in the latest, 23rd Bond movie, ‘Skyfall.’    

I was there at the beginning – 1962, aged nine, in the front stalls of the Byron Cinema licking my ‘choc-ice’, eyes like saucers. Riveted, from that first opening, signature gun barrel sequence, 007 striding into shot, turning and firing directly into the eye of the camera, blood oozing across the silver screen – cue the ‘James Bond Theme’…

The charms of Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) the first Bond-girl, surfacing from the ocean in that white bikini, complete with sheathed knife accessory, clutching two conch shells (to become one of the most iconic moments in British cinematic history) may have been lost on me at the time. But I was hugely impressed by the way double-0 seven survived the death threat of a giant tarantula (clubbing it into oblivion with the heel of his shoe) and subsequently disposed of the megalomaniac Dr Julius No – the first Bond movie villain – dumping him, articulated metal hands and all, ignominiously into the cooling vat of his nuclear reactor, where he boiled to death.

Bond with his licence to kill and thrill was cool. He would be back and so would I…

And I was, a year later, for Connery’s  second installment, ‘From Russia With Love’, still considered by many to be the most authentic Bond movie of them all and closer in spirit to Ian Fleming’s written word than anything that would follow.

I always remember this as the one with the poisoned spike shoes, as modelled by the butch Russian counter-intelligence agent Rosa Klebb – a new look school uniform accessory adopted by ‘Fossy’ and ‘Wassy’, two 1st form secondary mates, pushing drawing pins through the instep of their regulation black lace-ups.

By the time, Welsh diva, Shirley Bassey got to  warbling her way through the ‘Goldfinger’(1964) theme song, the release of the third Bond movie was considered a big enough deal for me to quit the Byron (where my Mum, an usherette, guided by torchlight and lugged around an ice-cream laden tray during the intermission) for the Nottingham Odeon with its ultra widescreen and stereo sound system.

For years I clung on to the souvenir programme with its promotional photograph of actress Shirley Eaton (the Jill Masterson character) suffering from ‘the Midas touch’, sprayed head to toe with gold paint – an image that made the cover of Life magazine giving an early indication of how James Bond 007 mania was taking off.

Although I was, by this time beginning to sit up and take a bit more notice of the Bond girls, the double-entendre of Honour Blackman’s ‘Pussy Galore’ character passed me by for a number of years.

‘Goldfinger’ will always remain a favourite, the gold standard for the Bond franchise: smiling Korean henchman, Oddjob, frisbeeing his steel-rimmed bowler hat, before being neatly electrocuted, Bond receiving early laser treatment, and the Oscar award-winning Aston Martin DB5 with its fabled gadgetry and weaponry (brought out of cobwebs – to a ripple of applause around the Worcester Vue audience – for its cameo performance in ‘Skyfall’).      

There followed for Connery’s Bond: ‘Thunderball’ (’65) –  based on the first Fleming novel I tried to read (an alluring paperback version with bullet holes shot through the cover), heavy on scuba diving, peckish piranha fish, and menacing barracuda sharks – and ‘You Only Live Twice’ (’67) – nifty Japanese ninjas and a first face to face with Bond’s SPECTRE nemesis Blofeld (Donald Pleasance), bald-headed, scarred, stroking a fluffy white pussy cat.      

When Connery began to lose interest and parted company with the Bond role, I walked away with him. His boots, were impossibly big to fill.

So it proved for ‘Big Fry’, George Lazenby who got first shot at the role, pretty much as a result of toting a giant-sized bar of Fry’s Chocolate Cream in a popular TV advert of the day. Many 007 aficionados judge it unfair to dub him a ‘one (Bond) movie wonder’ claiming his performance ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ (’69) warranted at least another outing. He might have done it for Queen and country – but not for me.   

Connery was lured back for a lacklustre final encore in ‘Diamonds Are For Ever’ (’71), a performance largely devoid of sparkle and lacking a cutting  edge. This was a disinterested 007, going through the motions. Shirley Bassey, recalled for her second Bond movie theme song, reinforced the adage, all that glitters is not gold! 

Two years later, Roger Moore made his 007 debut in ‘Live and Let Die’ (’73). The longest-serving Bond to date, he was to make seven outings in total – seven too many in my book! 

Moore, suave and sophisticated as Simon Templar, in the small screen adaptation of the Leslie Charteris ‘Saint’ novels, let his halo well and truly slip – over indulging the trademark arched eyebrow and corny one-liners, demeaning the role by playing it largely for laughs. 

His ageing, slightly overweight Bond (Moore was 58 when he filmed ‘View to A Kill’) an international playboy with bouffant hairstyle and a penchant for bubbly, left me feeling distinctly flat.  

In fairness, ‘The Man with The Golden Gun’ recently acknowledged his shortcomings: ‘I played Bond as a lover. Daniel does it as a killer. He has the best physique of any of us 007s, and he’s the best actor, too. I used to think that Sean Connery was the most obvious choice, but Daniel is better than any of us, and I hope he will reign for many more Bond movies to come.’

I wouldn’t disagree in the slightest.

Timothy Dalton was next in the line of succession, for two movies only  – ‘The Living Daylights’ (’87) and ‘License to Kill (’89). During the Moore era, storylines had become increasingly unbelievable, all froth and no substance, over reliant on gimmicks and special effects. Dalton, a thespian, tried to reinstate a greater degree of realism to Bond. His was an altogether darker, brooding presence – more Hamlet, Prince of MI6. Criticised by some media critics, as devoid of humour – alas, poor Dalton, his mission was short-lived. It’s a pity he didn’t he wasn’t crowned 007 earlier.

After a six-year hiatus Pierce Brosnan was unveiled, the first product placement Bond, with a twinkling Omega watch to match his dazzling smile. Too smooth by half, he might have stepped straight out of the ‘70s Milk Tray advert. He certainly looked the part but was something of a compromise Bond endeavouring to marry the best bits of Connery and Moore. His eagerly awaited first  movie, ‘Goldeneye’ (’95), may have grossed a 007 record $350 million worldwide, but ultimately his star began to wane as he was let down by a series of fantastical screenplays bordering on the ridiculous.

Only the other night I flicked over to Sky’s dedicated 007 channel for a re-run of Brosnan’s final Bond movie, ‘Die Another Day’ (’02), and nearly died laughing, there and then. Mama Mia, it was more Monty Python (or even Harry Potter) than James Bond. Just as well really, with John Cleese playing Q – in the one with the invisible car. Its only saving grace Halle Berry, under cover CIA agent Jinx, emerging cool as a mojito from from Havana Bay, making a splash in her reprise of the Ursula Andress ‘Dr No’ sequence.                             

Enter Daniel Craig in ‘Casino Royale’ (’06), controversially fair-haired, intense steely blue eyes, the first actor to play Bond, born after the film series was underway and following the death of Ian Fleming – author of the novels. Craig’s stated aim was to bring more emotional depth to a character with an under explored dark side. He openly acknowledged Sean Connery as his preferred previous Bond and ‘From Russia with Love’ his favourite 007 film.

First in ‘Casino Royale’, then in ‘Quantum of Solace’(’08) and now in ‘Skyfall’ Craig’s back to basics philosophy has been aided by a welcome return to realism from scriptwriters and film directors. It has resulted in the portrayal of a more complex, fully rounded special agent, sympathetic to Fleming’s original, than we have seen since the very early days.                  

Indeed, I would argue that, liberated by Sam Mendes’ thoughtful direction, in ‘Skyfall’ Daniel Craig has become the first Bond to successfully emerge from the long shadow cast by Connery. It is certainly the best 007 movie since ‘Goldfinger’. I think it might be the best ever!     

I’d hate to be a spoiler, so from here on I’ll tread carefully. 

‘Skyfall’ certainly lived up to the pre-release hype and teasing trailers. All the essential Bond movie ingredients are present, in just the right proportions. From the high-speed, action packed, opening through to the explosive ending, a well-paced, thrilling storyline, full of intrigue, is populated by interesting, three-dimensional characters.  

Location, location, location! From the rooftops, minarets and Grand Bazaar of old Istanbul, via the dramatic night skyline of high-rise Shanghai, a menacing Macau gambling den (littered with Chinese heavies and Komodo dragons) by way of a bustling London underground, to the brooding highlands of Scotland –  ever changing, atmospheric backdrops, complement the dramatic urgency.   

Central to the plot is M, imperiously played by Dame Judi Dench for a seventh time, under threat from a mysterious enemy with a score to settle.   

Javier Bardem has created a memorable Bond villain in Raoul Silva, a peroxide blond eccentric, sexually ambiguous, disturbingly malicious (shades of Heath Ledger’s Joker meets Eddie Izzard) orchestrating a personal vendetta born out of a bitter sense of betrayal. 

Quality supporting roles are provided by: Ralph Fiennes – Gareth Mallory, an enigmatic government agent; Ben Whishaw – new Q, a young, gawky, naïve, computer nerd (see above); Naomie Harris – Eve, Bond’s attractive agent in the field, sidekick and love interest; Bérénice Marlohe – Sévérine, the obligatory femme fatale (‘Only a certain kind of woman wears a backless dress with a Beretta strapped to her thigh’) and Albert Finney – Kincade, faithful old gamekeeper on the ‘Skyfall’ estate.    

The single weak link?  Adele’s ‘Skyfall’ theme song – bland and eminently forgettable!       

But ‘Skyfall’ the movie certainly is not. It lives up to its billing. This is the classic Bond cocktail, with a big kick and a sting in the tail, which left me both shaken and stirred.