Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Glimpse of My Bookshelf

A psychiatrist would certainly have a field day with my bookshelf and learn much more about my diseased brain from its slipshod appearance than from the books it contains

Leaving that to one side, here are some of the books taking up a part of one shelf of one of my bookcases.

From the right

  • I am a great fan of Hilary Mantel and have read five of her books with increasing admiration and awe. I have to admit, though, a year or so down the line, that I can hardly remember anything about them. I think she should try to make her writing more compelling...

  • I could never really get into Birdsong, despite its many excellent reviews.

  • The Roman Missal was thrust upon me by my mother for my Confirmation in October 1956. In those days, of course, the mass was all in Latin with the exception of the sermon, which might as well have been in Latin too.
  • In my opinion, The Big Picture, is the best of the Douglas Kennedy books. Unbeatable in its genre.
  • Ava Gardner was an extraordinary and fascinating woman but, for what it's worth, she was not my "type", any more than Marilyn Monroe was. I inclined more towards the likes of Audrey Hepburn or Sarah Miles.
  • Readers of this blog will know all the good I think of Elizabeth Jane Howard, the equal in a very different way to her one-time husband and near-neighbour on my bookshelf, Kingsley Amis. Curiously enough, I am now reading a book with almost the same title: Light Years by James Salter. This is proving to be be an extraordinarily good book, composed rather like a pointillist painting. Salter's first book was called The Hunters. It made a deep impression on me when I read it as an 18-year-old. I think it was one of the first serious works of contemporary fiction that I read.
  • The Jewel in The Crown is another fine novel about a country I know very little about despite the fact that my stepfather spent a considerable part of his life there.

National Geographic

I bow to no-one in my admiration of the National Geographic guide books which manage the difficult feat of being at once comprehensive and attractive; less comprehensive no doubt than Lonely Planet but far more attractive.

If I may be permitted to carp: as an organisation with the best interests of the planet at heart, surely the National Geographic Society should ensure that its publications are printed on ecologically-friendly paper?

If that does in fact turn out to be the case, I shall of course grovel. I'm used to that.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Perfect Recall

My memory is not whatever it used to be but I can still occasionally catch out my children. The other day we were talking about our favourite films and my daughter mentioned This Property is Condemned, saying it was directed by Elia Kazan. I was astounded. Both my daughters are reputed to
have minds like steel traps ® or is it a safe pair of hands ™? Whichever.

Anyway, I pounced. No, I told her, it was directed by Sydney Poldark, the man who went on to make Mrs Doubtfire and Out of Paprika.

That shut her up in a hurry. Mind you, it's very easy to get names mixed up and I plead guilty to confusing Reese Wetherspoons and Renée Zellweger. Wasn't Renée the one who starred with Cary Grant in Bridget Jones: The Hedge of Treason? In which case Reese would have featured in Legal Eye Cherry. And then there's Katy Perry and Tyler Swift. These two are virtually indistinguishable but I think Taylor is the one currently stepping out with heartthrob and sales manager Tom Huddleston?

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Zimmer Holiday

Dans Zimmer Holiday (1963), Cliff et ses très chers amis Les Ombres (Henri, Brice, Jet, Brian et Antoine)) décident à la dernière minute (lastminute.com) de partir en vacances.

Ils ont envie d'aller là où le ciel est bleu (the sky is blue). L'ayant déjà vu au cinéma, ils veulent dorénavant voir si c'est pour de vrai. 

Leur séjour va les amener à plusieurs villes sur la Côte Turquoise, surtout à Bognor Regis.

Sleeve Notes:
Concert Meister: Bert Kaempfert
Orchester: James Last und sein Swing Orchester


  • Muss I Denn (Elvis Presley)
  • Eine Schwarzwaldfahrt (Horst Jankowski)
  • Zimmer Holiday (Norrie Paramour und seinem Gesschätztzn Orchester
  • Fremde in der Nacht (Bert Kaempfert

Sunday, August 07, 2016


As far as I can remember, the first adult newspaper I ever read was The East Anglian Daily Times.That’s about all I can recall now except that I was fiercely loyal to it and proud of its austere and serious appearance and approach, never more so than when returning home from boarding school. It was as though, by the very fact of being born and brought up in Suffolk, I was privy to the best newspaper in the world.

When we crossed the border into Essex in 1960, the paper of reference became The Braintree and Witham Times, a local rather than a regional publication. I eagerly scoured for details of cricket matches giving details of my exploits over the summer season. I also looked forward to reading  the weekly editorials penned by pipe-smoking Les Spurling, the Sage of Beacon Hill. ln those days the sporting of a pipe was synonymous with wisdom, and there were cohorts of such smokers to be seen at university, searching like the rest of us for a sense of identity. Do people still smoke pipes today? My brother and I gleefully scoured Les’s column for his take on current affairs. But, although I never let on to my brother, I was in fact torn between making fun of Les and his small-town smugness and yearning for a peaceful life in the country. As a matter of fact, I very nearly did go down that road; my mother arranged for me to see a Mr Church, a country solicitor who had been a friend of my father's before the war, with a view to pursuing a similar career. In the event, for reasons which need not detain us here, nothing became of this idea. I don't suppose it would have made a blind bit of difference anyway

At university, I read The Northern Echo, full of gritty news about about what, if anything, was going on in the North-East. Before and after my years at Durham, I was also and in particular an assiduous reader of the national press, but hardly ever of The Times. I think this was largely because my stepfather was a staunch Daily Telegraph man. The Telegraph was the place to go to if you were interested in sport, in particular cricket, rugby or golf. In every way, I can say that newspapers, even the tabloids, were more serious than they are today in the sense that there was usually a concerted effort to separate fact from opinion. It may come as a surprise for younger readers to learn that probably the best of the lot, combining news with enlightened opinion, was The Daily Mail which enjoyed a golden period in the 1970s and 1980s under its editor David English.

By this time I was living in France and my consumption of English newspapers had dropped drastically as a result. Same-day delivery was virtually unheard of (and hideously expensive), and I was reduced to walking down to the railway station in Lyon on the off-chance that The Sunday Telegraph had arrived. This was the beginning of the Dark Ages which lasted right up to the end of the century and was characterised by almost total loss of contact with British civilisation. I'm afraid I have never got the hang of French newspapers, a pretty tame lot compared to their Anglo-Saxon counterparts. In fairness, and subject to correction, there is probably more hard news in Le Monde than in any other daily in the world, and it is true to say that, despite dire provocation, the French press has never descended to the depths of the British tabloids. Would this be due at least in part to the fact that many newspapers are subsidised by the State and therefore somewhat bland and subservient?

The Renaissance came in the shape of The International Herald Tribune, alone among English-speaking papers to guarantee (more or less) same-day delivery. It took me a bit of time to get used to its obsession with stocks and shares and to its fondness for advertisements for people called “escorts”, but I came to appreciate its team of in-house journalists including Christopher Clarey, Patricia Wells and Sourien Melikian.

I never thought the day would come when I would forsake the printed page for the online world, but that day did come and I jumped at the chance - and saved money in the process. I could have opted for the digital edition of a British newspaper but, having become accustomed to an international take on the news, I was quite happy to continue in that direction.

So that's where I am today.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Straying Off Message

There are many compelling reasons to get up out of your deck chair and stand more at work. But weight control is probably not one of them, according to a new study that precisely measured how many calories people burn during everyday office activities. 
The new study’s results suggest that engaging frequently in one type of activity while at work may help many of us avoid weight gain. But that activity is not standing up [does not stand up?] So far, so good. Most of us sit more than we should, and a majority of our sitting time occurs at work, since, in one of the key findings of the study, we learn that many modern professions are sedentary. Many of us spend six or seven hours tied to our desks each day. "Tied" of course is a figure of speech unless you happen to work for Amazon.
These long, uninterrupted periods of physical lethargy have been linked with increased risks for diabetes, heart disease, premature mortality and, not least, dismissal.

Surprisingly few studies, however, have closely tracked how many additional calories we burn if we stand up or walk around our offices. 
Why should this be so? The difficulty is all to with funding. In these stringent times, sponsors are loath to cough up funds unless they are pretty sure they already know what conclusions the study will come to. So for the new experiment, which was published this month in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, researchers affiliated with the Physical Activity and Waste Management Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh rounded up 74 healthy volunteers. Most were in their mid-20s, of normal weight, with some acquaintance with office life, and of sound body and mind. These volunteers were initially hostile to the idea of being "rounded up" and taking part in a study involving even a minimum amount of physical exercise, but soon changed their tune when they learnt that the funding secured by the Physical Activity and Weight Management Research  Center provided generous compensation for the waste of time incurred.
These volunteers were randomly assigned to four different groups. One group was asked to sit and type at a computer for 15 minutes (what they typed didn't have to make sense) and then stand up for 15 minutes, moving around and fidgeting as little as possible.
Another group also sat for 15 minutes, but watched a television screen and didn’t type. This was known as the "control" group, since this activity most closely mirrored that of actual office life. Afterwards, they immediately if reluctantly moved to a treadmill and walked for 15 minutes at a gentle, strolling pace. 
The third group stood up for 15 minutes and then sat down for 15 minutes, in that order.
And the final group walked on the treadmills for 15 minutes and then sat. 

At this point, a certain amount of unpleasantness crept in. Those assigned to groups 3 and 4 wanted to know why they were not paid more than those in the first two groups. With good will  shown all sides, and after strenuous negotiations, a compromise was eventually reached, and after a late show of peevishness by the researchers themselves, the study could at last get underway.

The results of this study need not concern us here, especially as once again, and as in almost every research project worthy of its salt, the report concludes with the words: FURTHER STUDIES WILL BE REQUIRED IN ORDER TO CONFIRM THE RESULTS OF THIS STUDY.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Pink Camay

Growing up in the austere 1950s, I was a great fan of Fabulous Pink Camay, and found that, on balance, it did indeed make me a little lovelier each day. All members of my family commented on the creamy texture of my skin, and the lads down at the pub were of the same opinion. And the funny thing is that, to this very day, my skin is as creamy as ever.

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