Wednesday, 29 July 2009


If you thought I was going to reveal details of my earliest amours you will be disappointed! Maybe I'll be tempted to chat about that another time but for now I'm talking about my love for music.

I was recently reminded about the very first record I ever bought. I'm talking about a 45 r.p.m. vinyl single! If this sounds like Vulcan to you, you'll just have to turn to your favourite search engine for enlightenment because I don't want this to be any more of a history lesson than it is already!

My first ever music purchase took place in 1957 when I was 11 years old. I would have been on a small amount of pocket money, so for me to spend some of it on a piece of plastic was a major event. Which song was so important to me that I felt the need to own it and replay it so frequently? It was Lonnie Donegan singing 'The Battle of New Orleans' I was so thrilled to find the video on-line and what memories it evoked! This type of music genre was called 'skiffle' and was a revival of music styles from 1920's America which was a sort of fusion of blues and jazz.

Someone coined the phrase that music is 'the soundtrack to our lives'. I think this is a brilliant way to describe it. We can all think back to stages in our lives and how they related to our favourite music of the time. I'm sure I'm not the only person for instance, who having been dumped by a girlfriend, has turned to music for healing. This was usually achieved by playing a sad love track on repeat as the tears flowed and my period of mourning for a lost love slowly passed!

Over the years, I have loved a lot of music, songs and singers. Although I have 'moved on' from one artist to another I can honestly say that every song which ever moved me, still does. I expect this is not so common. Many of you probably hear an old track and say 'Crikey! Did I really used to like that?' In my case I hear it and think 'Oh I'd forgotten that track - I still love it!' This explains why I was foot-tapping immediately as Lonnie Donegan's video started playing.

The modern generation clearly find music as essential as I did - judging by the sales of i-pods. Whatever generation you belong to, I would love to hear which track so moved you that it became the first one you ever spent money on!

Sunday, 26 July 2009


To be honest, I don't tend to see too many robins at Christmas nowadays. I am not talking about our feathered friends you understand. I am talking about 'round-robins'. Those letters copied to many which are disguised as newsletters but which usually are filled with the sender's boasts about their children's successes or worse still, their own.

The reason I get so few round robin letters sent to me is probably because my friends and relatives have cottoned on to the fact that they appeal to me in the same way as skewering my eyeballs in a kebab would. Actually that's not quite true. I can enjoy them as a source of rib-tickling mirth but this is not the way they were intended to be received!

Simon Hoggart clearly shares my view since he has produced several compilations of these letters. I seem to remember one example which went something like - 'Hermione has started her Spanish 'A' level course now and so to help her along, we have employed a Filipino maid.' I would stress that these are actual letters which were sent to friends and family! In addition to the usual bragging, their is often a counter-balance in the content as this extract from the advertising blurb explains:

"Where once the hot news about Tamsin's A levels would be sent in a short note, now it's not unusual to get a letter that includes several pages of misery - emergency operations, dead relatives, sackings, rainy holidays and so forth - decorated with jolly snowmen and smiling Santas".

Now I have a confession to make. Last Christmas, I too sent out a round robin. It was however, in the form of a pre-printed template on which I had deleted as necessary and filled in the blanks. Do feel free to use it yourself putting in you own details! This is a copy:


We do hope you have a Happy Christmas.

We were so sorry / pleased to hear about .....................................

The children continue to do well. Our daughter is on course for her Headship having been promoted yet again. As you know, our son is 'something in the City'. He's not able to tell us much about his work but we do know that he is very highly regarded because he let slip that he has been allocated his own cycle space.

How are your children................................................doing? Is ............. in 'big school' yet?

In these tough financial times, we have had to make a few concessions this year so we confined our holidays to Europe. We've also had to tighten our belts at home. I have cancelled some of my personal trainer sessions and my wife has taken Selfridges off her speed dial. Let's hope the British spirit sees us all through!

Please find attached our annual family newsletter. There is so much to report that we have sent it early this year,

All / Some of our love, etc.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009


My wife and I recently had a weekend break in London and needed to decide which attraction to visit.

We both have a long-standing fascination with World War 2 because it was such a huge event in our parents' lives (Dad helped build Lancaster bombers and my father-in-law was a tank gunner). On a previous visit we had been to the Imperial war museum and were spellbound by the Holocaust exhibition. This time we decided to visit the Cabinet war rooms. These were the offices from which Churchill and his Chiefs of Staff directed our war effort.

Naturally, these rooms were situated underground. In fact they were in the basement storage rooms of the Office of Works in Whitehall. However they were anything but secure! The idea that this complex was Churchill's bunker has been de-bunked (good stuff this!). A letter displayed on the wall shows Churchill's displeasure on learning that this suite of rooms were not bomb-proof. This may explain why rather than risk being buried alive, Churchill was often to be found on the roof during air raids watching the Luftwaffe in action. In fact he only used his basement bedroom to sleep in on three occasions during the entire war.

As we toured the various small offices, bedrooms, kitchen and other facilities, I became full of admiration for the officers and especially for their support staff who usually worked 14 hour shifts down there. They saw the surface so rarely that notices were displayed to tell them what the weather was like overhead. Many of them also had to use sun lamps to keep their health up.

Working in those cramped underground conditions must have been appalling. I have nothing but admiration for them all.

I would thoroughly recommend you visit these rooms which will give you a feeling for the bravery of those individuals who supported Churchill's wartime leadership in very dismal and dangerous conditions. Admission also includes the adjacent Churchill museum which is equally fascinating.

Sunday, 19 July 2009


I am often asked to describe Twitter by people who say they don't understand it. So here goes.

Twitter can be used to tell people what is going on in your life and put up photos of you doing it, in effect like an online diary, but if that's all you want to do you're better off with Facebook. Twitter is much more about finding people who you find interesting and then linking with them ('following'). So rather than linking to your existing friends, you link to complete strangers from all over the world.

You 'follow' people who strike you as being of interest. Some of the time you read what the people you follow are saying and might decide to respond to them.

If people find what you say interesting, they may decide to 'follow' you, in other words, they want to keep an eye on what you are saying.

People use Twitter in different ways and sadly, some of them just want to try to sell you something so there are lots of 'spammers' on Twitter. The good news though, is that they are easy to recognise and then block so that they never trouble you again. The same is true of anyone who annoys you or is rude to you.

In my own case, I try to be interesting, and, almost as if I were writing a magazine for general consumption, I try to appeal to a wide audience. I will put up links to news items which I find interesting and which my followers might not have seen. I put up an occasional photo which might be of interest. I will 'tweet' funny quotes or jokes. I play music tracks (via which I think people might like. Also, like many others, I will sometimes repeat something good which someone else has said. Most of all though, I respond and chat to people. There's nothing better than the personal touch!

This approach has introduced me to lots of new friends worldwide and listening to them has helped me to get a good feel for what it is like to live in their part of the world. It has also allowed me to interract with a range of people from different age groups. This has given me an insight into what people in their 20's, 30's or 40's are doing and thinking. I find this aspect fascinating. Think of it this way, it's like people-watching but taken to a whole new level.

It's no exaggeration to say that Twitter has changed my life. I think I would be devastated if it ever ceased to be. The only problem with it, is that it's easy to become addicted to it!

Wednesday, 15 July 2009


Have you ever felt in awe of a performer and wished that you could emulate them? To act like Humphrey Bogart or Lauren Bacall maybe? To sing like Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald. Perhaps you have more modern singers and actors who you would hold up as icons?

For me its dancing. I sometimes find myself watching dancing programmes on TV and find myself green with envy and wishing I could dance like that. As for films, who wouldn't love to dance like Fred & Ginger, or Gene Kelly singing in the rain, or maybe as part of the Jets in West Side Story?

Surely most of would love to dance like the couple in 'Dirty Dancing'. Actually I know this is true from the vast numbers of newly weds who choose this as their first dance track!

I have tried to work out why I love dancing so much. I know that part of it is the vibrant feeling you get when you move in time to a good strong music beat. The element of creativity as you anticipate what's coming and decide how you are going to respond is great fun. Mainly though, in my case, its showing off! I love having an audience. It gives you such a buzz! I did have a few lessons in my youth. I remember learning jive and rock. This must have helped but I think that a lot of it just comes from within me. My memories are probably embellished with time, but I seem to recall attracting a number of girlfriends from my performances on the dance floor as a teenager!

Most people when dancing just shuffle around the floor. Many give the impression that they hope they won't be noticed; as if they've been caught in an embarrassing situation. Of course I am the opposite! With me its more a case of 'Hey - check this out!' Luckily for me, my wife enjoys dancing too and does a great job of letting me fling and twirl her around on the dance floor. Hopefully, we look a little better than the couple in the statuette above, which sits on a shelf in my study.

Sunday, 12 July 2009


Between 1904 and 1907, my paternal grandfather trained as a schoolmaster at St. Paul's College, Cheltenham. During that time he acquired the nickname of 'Pierrot'. As you may know, Pierrot is a white faced clown as shown in the picture on the cover of 'Pierrot's album' which is a sort of college yearbook containing anecdotes, drawings and poems written by my Grandpa and his college friends. He continued to add his thoughts in the book, throughout his life.

There is an inscription inside the front cover which reads 'For Anthony some day'. In fact I didn't receive the book until 1963, eight years after Pierrot's death. My Grandpa and his book have inspired me through the years and I shall return to it in future posts. For now though, I want to share with you a poem which he wrote in the album. It is called:

When I die
What a nuisance then will be, all that shall remain of me!
Shelves of books I've often read, piles of notes undocketed,
Shaving brushes, razors, strops; bottles that have lost their tops,
Boxes full of odds and ends, letters from departed friends.
Faded ties and broken braces, tucked away in secret places.
Baggy trousers, ragged coats, stacks of ancient lesson notes -
and that ghostliest of shows - boots and shoes in horrid rows.

Though they are of cheerful mind, my family whom I leave behind,
when they find these in my stead will be sorry I am dead.

Burn the papers, sell the books! Clear out all the pestered nooks...
And when you have done away with all that is of yesterday -
if you feel a thrill of pain - master it and start again.

and here's my response written in February 1963 when I was first given the book:

Dear Grandpa - it was as you said, for not long after you were dead,
The papers were burned, the books were sold, and gone was all the dust of old.
Forgive us - but forget not too, that this was nothing, you are you.
It's you we want to meet above, it isn't boots or shoes we love!

Wednesday, 8 July 2009


I was born just after the war in 1946 which makes me a fully qualified 'baby boomer'. Many couples understandably felt it best to delay starting a family until after hostilities had finished so the maternity wards were pretty crowded when I came along. This made me part of a population bulge which has caused a few problems decade by decade with a need to increase facilities and resources to cater for this 'people bubble'.

This was the case in most countries which had been involved in the war of course and in America, Russell Baker of the New York Times Magazine said in 1974: 'All very well for the bulge group, you may say. It will continue to dominate society as it passes through the decades like a pig through a python.' As a result, 'the pig in the python' has become a graphic phrase to describe the impact which we boomers have had on our different nations.

In Britain, first there was a shortage of schools and school places to educate the extra children. Then there were shortages in University places. Following this came a lack of jobs and later still came a shortage in housing as baby boomers reached home buying age. Now of course, we are all reaching the stage of drawing our pensions and the future prospects presumably, are for a greater demand on the Health services as baby boomers become elderly and because of improvements in living standards, live longer than our forebears. This will mean a greater need for hip replacements, retirement homes, heart bypass surgery, home carers and medicines generally.

I would agree with those who suggest that we Baby Boomers feel as if we belong to a club. We identify as a group and in the 1960's we rebelled against the lifestyles and music of our parents and sought our own styles and identity. For me, the epitome of this feeling of newness and rebellion is expressed by The Who in their 1965 song 'My Generation', but there are many other songs which contain the same sentiments.

So we are now a group of ageing rebels and have to accept that as such, we are an easy target for what I hope is affectionate humour! If you haven't already seen it, please enjoy this cartoon which sums our situation up. It is called, 'Baby Boomers begin collecting their social security....'

My favourite line from the cartoon is 'we tripped on acid, now we have acid reflux'. Like all good humour, there is a lot of truth in there. (I take daily medication for acid reflux!).

Sunday, 5 July 2009


Wimbledon is a superb spectacle. The setting is so wonderfully English with the intimate feeling that the show courts give, the strawberries, officials and those in the royal box dressed in their finery, the purple and green livery and the amazing views across the wonderful city of London. Even non-tennis fans can enjoy the atmosphere, especially on a sun-soaked day during a perfect English summer.

Now it is even better with the addition of a roof over the Centre court to allow play to continue on the all too frequent wet days and the lighting allows for late finishes which is good for the crowd and for players who do not relish having to restart a match the next day.

Most of the players regard it as the one to win - a special event. It seems to bring out the best in players and we are treated to superb matches. I am not alone in thinking that tennis players are tested for stamina to a much greater degree that most other sports players. Footballers for instance, play for only 90 minutes whereas a tennis match can last for 3 or 4 hours. In addition, players are constantly engaged during the play of a tennis match while footballers spend a lot of time strolling round the pitch waiting for the ball to come near. Cricketers too, spend a great deal of time waiting in the field or off the pitch for their moment to arrive.

So tennis is a great test of courage, skill, stamina and agility. The players are tremendous athletes and offer themselves as wonderful role models to youngsters. The Wimbledon officials provide competitions for young players in the form of the girls and boys events and also for those past their prime who may still compete in veterans events.

I would urge you though to look beyond these competitions to the wheelchair tennis. Many people, you may be among them, have no idea that during the Wimbledon fortnight, wheelchair tennis is played to the full. Along with Para-Olympics, this is an amazing spectacle as the players not only have to wield their racquets skillfully to win their matches, but have to use their arms to propel themselves around the court. It is incredible to watch and leaves the observer speechless with admiration at the human qualities displayed by these talented and brave people. Indeed it makes you feel proud to belong.

Thursday, 2 July 2009


Soon after I first met my second wife (come on, keep up!), she made it clear that if our relationship was to continue, changes would have to be made. In particular, two items which I frequently used were to be banished forever.

The first of these were my cardigans, especially the one which had leather patches on the elbows. Quite what these useful and comfortable garments had done to offend the new lady of my dreams I have no idea, but out they went. (They later crept back into my wardrobe under the new name of fleeces).

The second item which had to be consigned to history were my belt bags. I had a black one and a brown one to blend with whatever colours I was wearing. They were larger than 'bum bags' - more the size and shape of a thick paperback book and they were made in a rather fetching faux glossy leather-look material. They were of course, extremely useful and as the name implies, were worn hanging from my belt. However, out they went leaving me with a storage problem. The things we do for love!

As a result of this arrangement, two things happened. Firstly, we got married. Secondly, I spent almost 19 years with a hard lump impressed into my right buttock (the wallet in my back pocket), and had two large protrusions on my hips caused by my bulging pockets. However, things have taken a turn for the better!

On a recent visit to London, my wife saw me struggling with a large grip bag over my shoulder which contained a variety of books, puzzles and other items to amuse me on the train journey. 'You look quite ridiculous with that great big bag slung round you - why don't you buy yourself a man bag?' she asked. 'You know, the type with a strap across your body - they are all the rage'. I could have kissed her! Within nano seconds of hitting the shops, I had a man bag slung across me and a new streamlined silhouette with no bulges and lumps about my person.

Now I have two bags (so far) which are my pride and joy. They have 'organiser' pockets all over the place and it is likely that any item that might possibly be needed, for virtually any purpose, lurks within. My only slight query is 'WHY THE HELL COULDN'T SHE HAVE SAID THAT 19 YEARS AGO!'