Friday, 26 February 2016

Leap Day 29th February 2016

Famous "Leaplings" Rebecca Johnson, Rossini, Sabato Jr, Ja Rule

My niece, composer Rossini, actor Antonio Sabato Jr and rapper Ja Rule are all looking forward to next Monday (Feb 29th)

Rebecca Jade Johnson was born on February 29th, a Leap Day, along with the others in the above picture. “Leapers” or “Leaplings” have an official birthday only every 4 years – what a bummer!! Or, does the rare circumstance give Rebecca a sense of being super-special since her birthday only happens when the calendar has to be disrupted and tamed because astronomical forces are gravitationally stretching the earth’s orbit? Does she sleep on Leap Day’s Eve knowing her birthday has cosmic significance? That it is bending to the will of Julius Caesar from around 2000 years ago when he started to invent the modern Western calendar in order to control the sprawling Roman Empire?


There are 365.242 days in each orbit of the sun. I think primary school children should be taught that number from now on, as well as the fact that Leap Days will be missing from some future years, for example 2100, 2200 and 2300, but not missing from the year 2400 for mathematical reasons that are way too complicated for me to understand.

Marriage Proposals

On Leap Day, of course, there are likely to be marriage proposals from women (unlike any other time because normally it is against the law for women to propose to men!!) Men who say “no” to women who propose on Leap Day suffer dire consequences: in Finland men who turn down women offering them engagement rings on Leap Day have to buy lots of skirt fabric for the disappointed lady; in Scotland men have to offer a present of leather gloves and hand over one pound; in continental Europe the “fine” is 12 pairs of gloves!
Marriage Proposals and Eddie the Eagle taking a LEAP!

To Leap

To Leap Into The Dark, To Take A Leap of Faith, Look Before You Leap. Leap is a useful word for imaginative expressions that all involve making a big jump into a new place, crossing from one place to another place, going where you have never dared before. At New Year we make resolutions for the year ahead. Perhaps on Leap Day we should begin a Four Year Plan. Where will we all be four years from now? Will I still be writing this blog? Watch this space!
A Leap of Faith

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

....just one kind of folks. Folks.

The passing of Nelle Harper Lee

I came to Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird purely as a recommended read by a friend. I was 17 years old. I didn’t study it in school (my secondary school novel for O Level was William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.) I didn’t analyse the style or discuss the themes of Mockingbird. I came to the story of “how Jem broke his arm” as a reader, not a student, and was riveted by the story and the characters. Later I saw the film and chose to teach the novel during my career on about five different occasions. I’ve purchased Go Set A Watchman but haven’t yet opened it, though read a lot about it, including the negative reviews. I was sad to read about the death of Harper Lee but am immensely thankful that she wrote the book for which she is most famous.

Mary Badham as Scout, Gregory Peck as Atticus, Phillip Alford as Jem, Brock Peters as Tom Robinson, Estelle Evans as Calpurnia, and Robert Duvall as Boo Radley in Robert Mulligan's 1962 film of To Kill A Mockingbird

“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for”

Scout’s dual narrative voice (the older Scout narrating the experiences of young Scout) is disarmingly sophisticated so that the novel’s surprises (for example, the rabid dog scene, Mrs Dubose, Dolphus Raymond, the trial verdict, the fate of Tom Robinson, the revelation about who killed Bob Ewell, Heck Tate’s “justice”) all helped me as a teenager begin to understand moral relativity, the complexity of “truth” and the lesson that “you never really understand a person…. until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Up Close and Personal

From the day I finished it (“He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.”) To Kill A Mockingbird has always made my list of Top Ten Reads. Re-reading it as an adult pays dividends each time and it has always been a privilege to hear the views of new readers who argue fresh points from their own perspectives. My American friend, Kerry Madden-Lunsford, was lucky to receive a hug from Harper Lee and she spent time in Monroeville with Ms Lee’s friends and neighbours researching a well-received biography. In the maelstrom of current affairs (in Europe, the US, the Middle East, Eurasia) Scout’s innocent distillation of Jem’s attempts to classify the different social groups in Maycomb is always worth remembering
“I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.”
Kerry Madden and her biography of Harper Lee

Friday, 19 February 2016

Bring Me Sunshine

Morecambe and the Midland Hotel

The late great Eric Morecambe took his stage name from the town of Morecambe and I’m sure there are thousands of people who have posed by Graham Ibbetson’s statue of Eric since the Queen unveiled it in 1999. Last week Sally and I went away for the first time on our own since October 2014 when family illness and then bereavement and subsequent early retirements changed the trajectories of our lives. What better place than Bradford-on-Sea (as Morecambe used to be called because of the holidaymakers who flocked there from the textile mills in Bradford)? Morecambe now seems to be a faded seaside town but with an atmospheric stone jetty and a fantastic promenade which you can walk along to Heysham and visit the weird stone coffins on the cliff top by St Patrick’s Chapel. We got an internet deal and stayed for two nights in the elegant Midland Hotel, a restored Art Deco place which is full of quirks but plenty of treats.
Midland Hotel in Morecambe

Bring me sunshine in your smile
Bring me laughter all the while
In this world where we live
There should be more happiness
So much joy you can give
To each brand new bright tomorrow
Blustery Weather and February Sunsets

Make me happy through the years
Never bring me any tears
Let your arms be as warm
As the sun from up above
Bring me fun, bring me sunshine, bring me love
Pour down thy weather
Taking a February break by the English seaside is of course guaranteed to blow away cobwebs, both literal and metaphorical. But as a nation I think the English are pretty skilled at “wrapping up warm” and, as Shakespeare’s King John points out,
So foul a sky clears not without a storm:
Pour down thy weather!
After the storm comes clearer sky. Weathering a storm is part of life’s fabric. Day follows night. Spring follows Winter. And on the way back from Morecambe we took a detour to gawp at the astonishing Ribblehead Viaduct….
Ribblehead Viaduct

Friday, 12 February 2016

Amsterdam, City of Sin

About to board the Eurostar for Paris, then Amsterdam

Some tourists think….

John Green in the novel The Fault in Our Stars writes “Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.”

City of Sin or City of Surprises?

Back in June 2015 we took the Eurostar and Thalys trains to Amsterdam to stay in an AirBnB apartment. I have been to Amsterdam once before with friends, an occasion that made me appreciate how unseedy the city is. If it is a City of Sin, the sins are not only connected to sex and drugs. The first stock exchange opened in Amsterdam in the early 17th Century and in the 1630s a run on tulips created the first economic bubble and crash – facts that run counter to Amsterdam’s Bohemian reputation. The historic buildings, the picturesque canals and the fascinating museums all sit side by side with the red light district and the marijuana cafes to create an intriguing place catering for all tastes. It is a place of contradictions and surprises.

Freedom for Bikes....

The hundreds – yes, hundreds – of bikes and cyclists are a sight to behold, particularly when you see the swagger and style of the riding. I saw people writing, reading, making phone calls, texting and eating breakfast when cycling along. At first I was 100% sure I would see a regular collision but, no, the freewheeling citizens of Amsterdam – all shapes, ages and types – have made cycling an everyday functional activity. A means of getting from Canal A to Canal B. From Home to Work.

“People are truly good at heart….”

One home that broke my heart and left me aching with both anxiety and hope was the Anne Frank house and annexe. On both occasions I have visited I have not been fully prepared for the house’s impact, despite a basic knowledge of what happened between 1942 and 1945 to the Frank family and friends. The specific sights, smells and sensations conjured by the sensitively-preserved memorial on Prinsengracht are intimidating, astonishing and inspiring in equal measure. I found it an intense experience in such a beautiful city.

“It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” (Anne Frank)

Along the Canals, Behind the Doors....?

The 165 canals in Amsterdam produce a labyrinth of trade and tourism and ambling along canal pathways is both relaxing and thought-provoking. How did people from the past achieve these feats of building and engineering? The higgledy-piggledy houses rearing up at the side of the canals seem to contain elaborately glamorous lives – probably no more glamorous than the houses in any other major city, but somehow the canals and unusually shaped facades lend an air of ambiguous chic. Is that a glimpse of a Thin White Duke or a Youthful Gentleman Prostitute? A Stylish Duchess emerging from that canal-side door, or a Profitable Courtesan? A Plain-clothes Detective or a Sly Murderer? Or simply Dutch families going about their Mundane Business? Or the Allard-Johnsons being tourists?

Friday, 5 February 2016

Stiffed at the Speakeasy

So there was an invitation….

To Scapone Mansion, home of Al Scapone, the Godfather of the infamous Scapone family and master criminal. Ma Scapone was making her succulent pasta dishes. Rick Otta welcomed the accountant Nicky De’Lott and Al’s ditzy niece, Margarita Pizza.

And the guests were welcomed….

Toni Calzone, the muscles of the family, Francesca Pancetta, stunning opera singer and Connie Chiglie, Al Scapone’s girlfriend.

The places were set….

The three young gals always dressed to impress.

Stiffed at the Speakeasy

The trouble was that Al Scapone, the master criminal had been killed, gunned down in his own club!
But see, his face is black and full of blood,
His eye-balls further out than when he lived,
Staring full ghastly like a strangled man;
His hair uprear'd, his nostrils stretched with struggling;
His hands abroad display'd, as one that grasp'd
And tugg'd for life and was by strength subdued:
Look, on the sheets his hair you see, is sticking;
His well-proportion'd beard made rough and rugged,
Like to the summer's corn by tempest lodged.
It cannot be but he was murder'd here;
The least of all these signs were probable.

Despite the frothing bubbly....

Word of the “hit” got out and the whole balance of power in the city was thrown into chaos. Al’s murder needed to be resolved – and fast – to restore the credibility of the family. Luckily, before the end of the night Detective Elliott Mess managed to unmask the murderer but discretion – and a forthcoming trial – means the suspect cannot be named in the media.

Who Murdered Al Scapone?

A Murder Mystery to rival Who Murdered Rick Toad. Lots of fun on New Year’s Eve with the Thompson clan from Badby. Luckily New Year’s Day was spent without murderous incident – or too much by way of hangover.

Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile

So, one month into Slimming World (as announced in the blog here) and I can report losing 1 stone in a month – whilst still eating heartily and enjoying (moderate amounts of) wine and chocolate. I’ll update every now and again when I reach my own personal milestones.