Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Roadworks Annoyances and Other Matters Relating

The grid roads within Milton Keynes are currently being re-surfaced. Considering the condition it's a good thing. There are many potholes. For a relatively new town it's not good to have roads in such a state of dis-repair. They are gradually getting the job done and as a result it can cause some inconvenience. We've had plenty of warning, with signs being placed at strategic points around this area. They have stated that the work will take 4 days. The workmen have taken off the surface of some of the road, which means that as you drive around you have to negotiate ramps as the old road surface is at a slightly different level, making it quite difficult, particularly if you were to drive to fast. The surface of the road around the roundabout at what is called 'Four Bridges' has been re-surfaced first. It's around two or three inches in height and if you don't drive carefully, most probably at speed, you're in real danger of damaging your car, most likely the suspension and exhaust system. As a lot of drivers are impatient they tend to drive really up close behind and if you don't get out of their way they attempt to get you to drive faster. There is absolutely no excuse to ignore the fact that there is a lot of roadworks in this area currently because there are large signs to warn you, particularly that there are 'raised ironworks,' most likely in regard to manhole covers and drains as well as the ramps which are between different road surfaces, old and new.

Carol is experiencing a lot of pain due to a trapped nerve. She's been to the doctor's several times. I have to make an appointment for her. It's not easy getting one, as I've mentioned on here before now. You have to ring, after 9.30. It's no good ringing before because the telephone lines aren't open. It's gone 9.38 before I eventually get through to a human. You get a long menu and then 'press 1' to book an appointment. When I eventually get to speak to someone, I have to describe the symptoms and get told 'a doctor will ring back' so as to decide whether the appointment is necessary. Well, it is, otherwise I wouldn't put myself through the ringer in order to get through. I know why they have this, relatively new- system. It's to weed out the time wasters. A doctor does eventually ring back, after 20-30 minutes. I explain what's the matter and that the appointment is not for me. I manage to get an appointment at 3 o'clock that afternoon. I then text Carol to give her the news.

I have to go out to buy salad to go with the cold meat we're having for tonight's meal. Due to the fact that there's roadworks continuing on most of the Grid Roads within the vicinity of Eaglestone, I'm not sure where to go. It would be fairly easy to drive to Waitrose or Asda. I drive out onto Saxon Street, the exit opposite the Academy. I turn left and make for Standing Way. Because of the roadworks, I end up going to Sainsbury's, along Marlborough Street and towards the city centre. Having bought what I wanted in the supermarket, I drive out of Sainsbury's underground carpark and drive a good deal further round Milton Keynes, back towards Standing Way and back onto Saxon Street because the road is closed off just beyond the entrance back into Eaglestone. As a result I have drive around four-five times the distance to avoid the roadworks. As I drive in there is a mini traffic jam, entering and exiting Eaglestone. It seems most drivers are using Eaglestone as a sort of rat-run, or short cut, rather than driving around the city as I've just done.

I go to collect Carol from the Academy at around 2.45. She is waiting just inside the gate. It takes a while for the automated thing to open. Really on it's last legs, if you can so describe an automated gate. Just a lick of paint might freshen things up. It is a rusty old thing. Not that old, come to think of it, as Milton Keynes Academy can't be much more than 6 years old.

We arrive in the carpark at Ashfield Medical Centre in Beanhill. Why do cars have to park in the road outside, when there is a perfectly adequate carpark? We manage to find a space in the carpark at the rear. Not a particularly well designed space to park your car, as it's a really tight space to turn and when you exit you have to make sure that no vehicles are coming in.

We don't have to wait long before Carol is seen. There are that many other people waiting. The appointment was booked for 3 and her name comes up on the digital display very quickly, more or less exactly on 3.00.  She is seen by a nurse, not a doctor.

Carol reappears after about ten minutes with a prescription. As she's diabetic she doesn't have to pay for prescriptions. We take it to Cox and Robinson's chemist, which is only a short walk from the doctor's. Unfortunately I didn't bring my wallet with me, which has the N.H.S. card which you have to show so you don't have to pay prescription charges. We leave the prescription to be made up and say we'll come back to collect it after 5 o'clock. I have to take Carol back to work. She's not over-enthusiastic as it's for some meeting or other which are generally very boring.

I drive out of Eaglestone, having remembered this time to take my wallet complete with the N.H.S. exemption card, with the intention of driving straight over Saxon Street, so as to collect Carol from the Academy . But as I come out onto Saxon Street it appears that the road is back open in both directions. I can't make a safe crossing into the Academy so turn left and decide that, instead of going to collect Carol I might just as well drive to the chemist and collect the prescription and then go back to The Academy. This done, I text Carol to inform her of what I've done. Mission completed, we return home.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Radio Sit-Com

Having discussed sitcom in my last blog post, it's easy to write off one area that sitcoms are really successful. We tend to dismiss radio's contribution to the genre, and think that television is the only place for their production. But if it wasn't for BBC Radio Four (or, up until around 1967, when the stations were re-named) Home Service and Light Programme (which became Radio Two) we would never have had such delights as Hancock's Half-Hour which is considered, by many, to be the grandfather of sitcoms. The early episodes, right through to the much later episodes, are broadcast regularly on the digital station Radio Four Extra (originally called Radio Seven up until a few years ago.) A huge range of shows were, and still are, produced by the BBC. I could name not only 'Hancock's Half Hour' but also, 'The Navy Lark', 'The Men From The Ministry' and those shows which were adaptations of successful television shows such as 'Steptoe and Son' and 'Dad's Army'. Lesser-known, or indeed even remembered, are shows such as 'Marriage Lines' which starred very young actors of the likes of Richard Briars and Prunella Scales. 'Not In Front of The Children' which I seem to recall from the 1960's and which starred Wendy Craig. Some shows work really well on radio, whilst others don't seem to adapt too well. Perhaps if you're familiar with the television version the radio version would work for you. With radio you have to do quite a lot of work yourself as an audience-member. You have to concentrate harder when you have to listen to fairly complicated dialogue and when there's a difficult plot-situation. With radio you do have to LISTEN and CONCENTRATE, with television you don't have to work anywhere near as hard because so much of it is visual. Fairly obvious I suppose, because it has pictures as well as sound. You can have visual gags which, obviously, radio can provide.

It seems odd to think that you'd adapt a successful television sitcom for radio, as with 'Dad's Army' and 'Steptoe and Son.' Particularly 'Dad's Army' which had so much visual comedy in it's television version. 'Hancock's Half-Hour' used the idea of Tony Hancock having a sort of 'stage personality' an 'alternative' persona. The pompous, lazy, 'actor' or 'comedian.' It didn't (one presumes) really reflect his 'real' persona. It wasn't until the writers, Galton and Simpson, were rejected by Hancock as writers when he moved to I.T.V. that the B.B.C. allowed them a free hand with creating several 30-minute comedy plays that the eventual series of 'Steptoe' was developed from one particular episode called 'The Offer.' Putting character actors into the main roles meant that there was room for more character-driven plots and far more believable situations than they could write for Hancock.

As for the 'Navy Lark,' there is a certain amount of what can only be described as 'slapstick' in this very amusing show. I know it sounds crazy to describe it in those terms, but having listened to it recently on BBC Radio 4 Extra, there is nearly always some sort of incident when the ship it's set on H.M.S. Troutbridge, ends up crashing into another ship or a harbour wall or something and there's a great deal of noise and commotion as a result. In fact, that's why so much radio comedy work better in some respects than television, the sound effects that are used. I know 'The Goons' can never be classed as a sitcom, more a string of sketches, but it must have been quite revolutionary in it's use of sound effects. Feet running, explosions, clangs, pianos falling, etc etc which are just completely nuts and very funny.

A favourite radio comedy of mine is 'Clare In The Community.' It's based on the comic strip which appears in the Guardian 'society' section. Clare is a social worker who manages to sort out other people's problems but can't deal with her own, more specifically, her relationships. There's a good mix of characters and it works well on radio. I just don't want it to move to television because it will lose it distinctive flavour. Imagining what the characters look like is one of the best reasons for any form of radio drama or comedy. It's a bit like reading a novel and imagining how the characters sound and look. It can be a real disappointment when there's a film or television adaptation of your favourite novel when you see how a particular character is cast and presented, it can be a real let down.

One of the best things about radio, again particularly with comedy but also with drama in general, is that it can really stretch actor's abilities. Thinking in particular with people like Kenneth Williams, who was one of the supporting actors in 'Hancock's Half-Hour.' He had an incredible voice range and could conjure up an almost endless parade of weird and wonderful characters to support Hancock, whether it be an annoying neighbour, policemen, doctors or whatever a particular story required. It's no wonder that Hancock became obsessed with how he was so 'up-staged' by not just Williams but by Sid James and as a result they didn't move to television with him in the early 1960's. 

Friday, June 30, 2017

More About Sitcoms

I'm continuing to watch 'The Good Life.' For something that is well over 40 years old, it stands up remarkably well. I'm more than certain I saw it when it was originally broadcast in 1975. It's the sort of thing I would have watched with my family. I think my mother would have loved it. I know it was on at about the same time that 'Fawlty Towers' was first shown, but she hated that. I can see why, as Basil Fawlty is actually quite an objectionable character. Loud and a real bigot. 

Regarding 'The Good Life.' What makes this show work so well isn't necessarily the central characters of Tom and Barbara Good (Richard Briars and Felicity Kendal in tip-top form) but the secondary characters, particularly the neighbours Margo and Jerry Leadbetter. They make a good contrast with the self-seficiency lifestyle of the Goods. Both are materialistic to a large degree. We see the homes; the Goods house deteriates a good deal the further the Goods get into their way of life while the Leadbetter's house appears very neat and tidy, expensive furniture and fixtures and fittings. What really rounds out the character of Margo in particular is the clever use of what I'd call 'Invisible' characters, those characters which have an 'off-stage' presence. Miss Mountshaft, the doyenne of the choral society of which Margo is a leading light. Although we never meet this woman, we get a great deal of description of what she's really like, and in particular, during the episode where Margo is rehearing 'The Messiah' and turns up on the Good's doorstep in a long white shift dress which she wants Barbara to take up for her and she says that Miss Mountshaft had one set of measurements, her own, so we get the idea that she must be a very large lady. The very name Miss Mountshaft is likely to get a couple of laughs as it's definitely got the potential to raise a titter or two as it's got a sort of double entendre sound to it.

Another sitcom which has an 'invisible character' is 'Keeping Up Appearances.' The Buckets have a son whom we never see, but who has a habit of telephoning and always wants something from his mother or father, usually money. This son, Sheridan, is supposed to be at University (how old is he? If Richard is retired, how old were they when he was born. If he's at university he must be in his 20's. From what we discover, he comes over as incredibly camp. Is he gay? Does Hyacinth realise? Does his father? Again, like Miss Mountshaft, this invisible character helps to round out the characters of Hyacinth and Richard.

In 'One Foot In The Grave' we hear about the Meldrew's son, who died at an early age. Although not actually an invisible character, mention of this deceased child helps to give us more information about the back story of the Meldrew's. Although Victor is generally a somewhat irritating and annoying character, giving the background of their child does give them a bit more believability and makes Victor a good deal more three-dimensional and less of a comudgeon.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Sound of Thunder

Around about 8 this morning there was an almighty clap of thunder. Thankfully it's a good deal cooler today, after the scorching hot weather of the past few days. Alfie didn't know what to make of it. He charged off into the garden and began to bark madly. I don't think he had the least idea what for. If Poppy had been around she would have most likely hidden herself under our bed as she was terrified of thunder. Around Guy Fawkes Night she wasn't keen when fireworks were being let off. There was a downpour of rain which at least relieved the hot and clammy atmosphere. It's been quite difficult to sleep the last couple of nights because of the heat. Carol came home at 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon as it was far too hot in the Academy building. She had been in The Hub, the top-most area of the building which has large windows and she said the air conditioning broke down so it was like a green house. Amazing that when it's at it's hottest, and apparently yesterday was supposed to have been the hottest June day since 1976 when there was a drought, the machinery which is supposed to keep things cool has to malfunction. I went into Sainsbury's this morning and wanted to buy some ice-cream of some sort. I couldn't believe that a whole section of refrigerated display units which are supposed to be full of various ice cream delights were completely empty. I have no idea what was wrong with them or why they were empty. Presumably a technical fault but I think Sainsbury's will have lost a large amount of custom as a result of this problem.

No sooner had Carol returned home at around 4 yesterday afternoon we drove to Nuffield Health. It was really great to be able to cool down in the pool. Only problem was that everyone else had the same idea and the pool became very crowded. As usual, one individual was taking over things and swimming up and down making a lot of noise in the process. Just can't believe that some people have to behave in this selfish manner. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Possible Walk-On Job next week

I've just had an email from one of the many agencies I'm signed up to for television and film walk-on and extra work (actually 'extra' is not the word to use. I've never merely been an 'extra' or supernumerary on anything I've done. Whatever I've done I've almost always been directed by someone or other, even if it's an A.D. (Assistant Director) or even the actual director on a shoot.) It's to be a gardener in something shooting near Chipping Norton. I have a hunch if might well be for the BBC television series 'Father Brown' which is filmed in that area. We drive through that area regularly as we go to different National Trust properties out towards Cheltenham and Stratford-Upon-Avon, or towards Worcester which is where Chloe and Steve live. It shouldn't be much more than an hour's drive and not too difficult to find the location as we have a SatNav.

Television Comedy: Watching 'The Good Life'

I've just been watching the first episode of 'The Good Life.' One of the great advantages of having Sky for me is the fact that there is so much classic television available to watch on catch-up or download (will someone explain what the difference is? Surely they are one and the same.) This has to be one of the finest television sitcoms produced in this country. I know when polls are held to come up with a list of the top ten or even a hundred television comedies this one often comes close to the top of the list, alongside Blackadder, Fawlty Towers and Dad's Army. From my viewing today this particular one stands up particularly well. It has hardly dated, except perhaps for fashions in clothes and the car Gerry drives (a large yellow Volvo which must have been heavy on petrol consumption.)  I know very well how the show develops, I'm fully aware that Barbara and Tom Good set up their own smallholding in their garden in Surbiton, and all the problems they encounter, in least the fact that it's in suburbia and not in rural Sussex or somewhere else in the countryside. It's the fact that they're going against the grain that makes this comedy work so well. We can all identify with Tom, wanting to escape the rat race. He starts out at the beginning of the episode working as a draughtsman in a company which makes plastic toys which are put into breakfast cereal packets. When his boss tells him the next project is to design and create a giraffe Tom can hardly keep a straight face. And who can blame him. The style of production would be typical of the way sitcoms were made for television in the 1970's, with the bulk of the action recorded on multi-camera in a studio with a 'live' audience and the exteriors shot (in advance) on location with film cameras. One imagines if it was produced today (most unlikely) they would make it on video and all on location and the audience would watch a sort of 'playback' to give the laughter track. But, let's be honest, isn't television comedy of this sort best done when there isn't a studio audience? By comparison, I'm thinking of the Peter Kay's series 'Car Share' which has no studio audience. Also, it couldn't have been made 40 years ago, as 'The Good Life' was made, basically because there wouldn't have been the technical ability to shoot it within a moving car because there weren't the small-scale cameras available as there are today. My only complaint about that show is, why were so episodes made? Why only around 4 per series, and just two series? Again, it it because the commissioners didn't have the faith in this show to allow more episodes to be made? It surely can't be the cost because it can't have been particularly expensive to make as there are only two actors in it.

What I want to know is, why were there so many excellent sitcoms produced when this was first transmitted, in 1975? Dad's Army had been running since around 1967 and by the time this came out we also had Fawlty Towers. Perhaps it was the fact that there were only three television channels in the mid 1970's. Channel 4 didn't open until 1982 and multi-channel television didn't make an appearance until at least the mid 1980's or early '90's. Television companies were presumably more likely to take a risk on a new show such as this. A series would only have been around 6-8, so if it didn't succeed in the ratings it wasn't such a disaster. It starred to consummate professionals, Richard Briers and Felicity Kendal. I think I saw Richard Briars in one of Alan Ayckbourn's plays, possibly 'The Norman Conquests' or 'Absurd Person Singular.' 'The Good Life' does rather have the feel of an Ayckbourn play. It has similar middle class characters, it pokes a finger at life in a suburban setting and has a deeper message under the comedy exterior. Even the fact that there's a sitting room with French windows and a sofa makes it similar. I think today's television commissioners are far too concerned with ratings. Also, they don't allow a show enough time to build an audience. It takes at least two seasons (series in Britain) to allow the actors a chance to develop their characters and allow the writers time to develop not just the situations but their characters. ITV had a wealth of sitcoms of it's on. They've never quite had the success with this form of television as the BBC. Perhaps because with a commercial broadcaster you have to factor in the commercial break. For a thirty-minute slot you'll have to have a running time of no more than 23-25 minutes, to allow for the commercial break and then have a sort of 'act break' in the middle to take the commercials, so your writers will have to build up the situation to then have a sort of 'curtain' as you'd have in a stage play and the, after the break, keep the situation going and just hope the audience had remained and not changed channels. Although, it has to be said, having a commercial break can have it's advantages, for example, allowing viewers to go to the toilet or go for a snack or make a cup of tea. Of course, with modern technology you can always skip the adverts when you record the programme. ITV had such shows as 'Rising Damp' which starred Leonard Rossiter and ran for a couple of series. Based on a stage play called 'The Banana Box' and originally produced at the Phoenix Theatre in Leicester and starring Wilfred Brambell in the Rigsby role as played by Rossiter in the television sitcom. (this character was originally called Rooksby in the play. I have no idea why they changed his name to Rigsby for the television sitcom.) Rossiter was to go on to play the central character in another sitcom of this period 'The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin' written by David Hobbs and adapted from his novels. It was revived more recently with Martin Clunes in the title role, but for me it didn't quite have the same impact as the original. Not always a good idea to revive old sitcoms, although when ITV revived 'Birds of A Feather' it was a ratings success and has gone on to have several more series.

How many comedies have neighbours who add to the 'mix' of comedy situations? I remember 'Sykes' which starred the amazing Eric Sykes along with Hatty Jacques (as unlikely twins. How did they get away with it?) They had a neighbour, played by Richard Watts, who kept popping in and out and he represented the sort of interfering busy-body type, voice of the minority. Then, in 'The Good Life' we have Margo Leadbetter, middle-class, classic snob, married to Gerry, long-suffering husband who brings in enough money from his executive post to be able to allow Margo to have the sort of life she dreams of, plenty of gadgetry in the kitchen, decent car every couple of years and so on. This counter-points the life the Goods have created for themselves, digging up their garden to grow fruit and veg, even importing a goat and some pigs, much to Margo and Gerry's disgust. 

In 'Birds of A Feather' we also come across a neighbour who pops in and out in the shape of Dorien, played with absolute conviction by Lesley Josephs.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Grass-Cutting

I've put it off for as long as possible. I wasn't over-keen on attempting it, but I couldn't really avoid the job much longer. It has been very hot over the past few days. I'd even go as far as calling it a heatwave. The weather forecast has it that it's going to be even warmer over the next few days, so it wasn't such a good idea to put it off any longer. What do I refer to? As if you hadn't already guessed, getting out the lawnmower and using it to cut the grass at the front of the house. I cut the rear patch of grass a week ago today (which looks as if it will need doing within days. What with so much sun and the occasional rain, the grass is bound to grow at a faster rate, unfortunately.) When I eventually got on with cutting the grass, I found it a good deal more difficult than I'd imagined. It took a lot longer than anticipated, even though it's a not particularly large piece. It took a good deal longer than it would to do the grass at the rear of the house. Considering it's a lot flatter and would have been easier. How wrong could I be? A lot of weeds, more like hacking through the jungle with a machete, a lot of tough plants with thick stems. Having to unravel the cable and plug it into the socket within the hall of the house as well as having to bring the mower through the house, a lot of work to do a relatively simple task.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Some Like It Hot

We're currently having a bit of a heatwave. Although I like the weather to be bright and sunny, I'm not over-keen to have the temperature so high it make it difficult to manage your day-to-day things such as merely living, going shopping or whatever. Alfie hasn't been able to settle anywhere in the house and has wandered around in an attempt to find the coolest place to lie. He spent yesterday in and out of the house. The patio door has been open so he can get into the garden, then he was in his bed in the kitchen and then out in the hallway, at the foot of the stairs and eventually settled on the sofa, laying on his back. Poor little dog. He just doesn't know how to deal with extremes of temperature. Having had a heart attack I have to be careful myself when it comes to high temperatures. I was told that I could keep out of the sun and wear a hat when it was hot when I did a coronary rehab course after I had my heart attack in 2006 it was around this time of the year and it was probably just as hot. We did a lot of exercises in the heat and on one particular session I almost collapsed on the floor. The staff where very supportive and helped me recover. I think it was the shock of not only having such a traumatic 'event' (the original heart attack) but the fact that the heat had caused me to feel so unwell. It was then that I was advised to purchase a sun hat and, wherever possible, to keep out of the direct sun. Yesterday I had to drive to Waitrose to buy some things for our evening meal and the car, which had been standing in the sun all morning, was very hot.

We had planned to go to Nuffield Health for a swim yesterday evening. Someone who works with Carol at the Academy had a disaster. She came home to find her house had been burnt in a fire. I'm not entirely sure what happened but I think one of her children had set fire to the kitchen. A great deal of damage so they have to live in a hotel until the insurance company can come up with the cash to repair and replace things. Carol said to this lady, called Gladys, that she would give her some food to give her children (she has four children, apparently) and they are currently living in a hotel which is extremely expensive and she can barely afford food. So we went to Aldi at Westcroft after Carol finished work so we could buy them some basic items. When I think what we went through a few years ago, it only seems right that we do something to help. It was very hot when we got to Westcroft and parked the car. In Aldi I said I was thirsty, due mostly because of the heat, and then Carol said I should go and get some ice-cold drinks from Costa who have a branch near Morrison's. It sounded a good idea so I walked there and ordered iced coffee and caramel drinks. Really nice and cooling and something that I think I'll have again whenever the need arises. Probably not too long if the weather keeps up as it is at the moment.

Returning to the heatwave; when I worked as a Support Worker at the house in Everton, there was an elderly lady living there who, even when it was boiling hot outside, insisted on wearing her thickest, heaviest overcoat.  She was in her late 80's and she was extremely short sighted.We used to often take the residents out and about during the summer months. I think it's what made the job interesting and worth while. We went up to London (I think I might have mentioned this in an earlier blog post) when we visited Westminster Abbey and then London Zoo. We had to make sure the client group were well protected from the sun, and this lady whom I have just mentioned, must have sweltered in her thick winter coat. We not only had to make sure everyone wore hats but we had to provide sun cream. Not so easy when not everyone wanted it applied. You could never persuade  this lady that she would be more comfortable in something thinner or to dispense with the coat all together when it was so hot. Never mind. I suppose it was a sort of 'comfort blanket' which was why she didn't want to go out without it on. Actually persuading her to leave the house in the first place was a real problem, but just mention the magic words 'tea and cake' and she'd be out the door in a flash. I'm not saying she could move fast, because she couldn't poor old love, but any mention of a bun with icing and a cherry on top and she'd relent and go out for the afternoon.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

More Politically In-Correct Books and Films

Continuing on the theme begun in my last blog post, what about all those other works of literature, usually aimed at children, as well as films? Just think of a series of books that I read avidly as a child, beginning with "Swallows and Amazons" which were written by Arthur Ransome. They were about a group of children who seem to spend their lives perpetually on holiday in either the Lake District, Norfolk or Essex. The children are John, Susan, Titty and Roger Walker. I don't think, in all honesty, you could have a character called Titty in a book nowadays. Sorry, but the name just causes (sorry for the pun) a titter. You would have to re-name the character for a modern audience. I think it's the fact that they sail their boats on one of the Lake District lakes (I think it must be Windermere, but I'm not sure.) and there's no attempt to them wearing life jackets of any sort. When I was growing up, my father was an avid sailor, and had several yachts, some of which were sailed on the River Ouse near where we lived, mostly at Cardington Mill. We were never allowed in these boats unless we either wore a life jacket (generally a very bright orange or yellow) or we could swim proficiently (about the only decent thing I ever got from going to Rushmoor School was the fact that I learnt to swim). The stories of the Walker children continue in several other books, Pigeon Post, Swallowdale, Peter Duck, Winter Holiday, We Didn't Mean To Go To See. I think he later books might have been set in and around the Essex coast. As we used to go on holiday each year to Frinton-On-Sea, and the inlets in and around Walton-On-Naze, which was a little bit further up the coast from Frinton, this gave the stories a good deal more interest to me because I could picture the places in the books. But I think it's the fact that there's no hint of 'Health and Safety' and neither the fact that they wander around the Lakes and surrounding countryside free from any sort of adult interference. When you consider things like 'Child Protection' today, and the unfortunate stories that have come out recently about child abuse, it makes these stories, although written in the 1930's, even more intriguing. It's sad that today's children don't get the freedom to roam about as the children do in those books. Even when I was growing up in the 1960's there was no such thing as 'Health and Safety' or 'Child Protection.' Infact, when I consider the fact that living on a farm alone had many dangers and perils that would make the place a possible death-trap. We built hideouts in amongst the hay and straw bales, never once thinking that they might collapse on us and suffocate us or even catch fire. I used to make tree-houses, fairly high up in some oaks trees in the garden at Malting Farm. Thinking about it now, I could have easily fallen out of the tree and broken a leg, arm or whatever. You didn't think things like that were in the least bit dangerous in those days, but I suppose children never see the dangers in anything.

Returning to Swallows and Amazons. In the mid-1970's they made a cinema film of the book. It was, by coincidence, at the time I was an A.S.M., working at Century Theatre in Keswick. We did a series of four plays, running in repertoire, and changing every two days. Hard work, to say the least. When they began filming (no doubt on Derwent Water, on which Keswick is near). When we were out looking for props in the town for the plays we were staging, we often got asked whether we were from the film unit. It was also a coincidence that this film had a screenplay written by David Wood    who was in a play that I worked on at Greenwich Theatre called "A Voyage Round My Father" by John Mortimer. The director of the film was Claude Watham who also directed the Mortimer play, as he had done when it was originally done as a 'Play For Today' on BBC Television.

Back on books and films. Just think of Harry Potter. Why didn't the Dursleys, who had young Harry as a lodger (where they actually related? Were they really Harry's aunt and uncle?) Nevertheless, they had Harry under their care, so why did the poor boy end up living under the stairs? Why were they never prosecuted for child abuse? Expecting the child to live in such confined conditions is surely abuse of some sort? Why didn't the authorities intervene?

Then think of Oliver Twist, in particular the musical version, on stage and screen. What are they teaching children if they watch Oliver! That crime seems to pay, perhaps? Teaching youngsters to PICK POCKETS! Really terrible.

I seem to have veered off course about unsuitable or politically un-correct films for children, but never mind. I'll get back on the them in another blog post. It was good to reminisce on various things. The whole point of these blog posts I suppose.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Politically In-Correct Children's Books and Films and other matters

Has anyone thought how so many children's books and films have things in them that contravene all sorts of things like health and safety, child protection and a lot of other things society throws at us? Would you, in all honesty, employ a nanny who flies on an umbrella and carries things around in a hold-all that is bottomless and she keeps things like a lamp-stand and then takes the children she's in charge of to see a crazy uncle who eats his tea FLOATING ON THE CEILING? Also, encouraging those two children, Jane and Michael to slide up or down the bannisters in the Banks' home?  Did Mr and Mrs Banks do a Criminal Records Bureau check on Mary Poppins or even ask for any references from past employees? Then, she has a male friend called Bert who has a predilection for dancing all over the rooftops of London with a weird gang of chimney sweeps? And, how dangerous is it to be up on the roof in the first place? What health and safety concerns did either Bert or Mary have for those children? First, falling off the roof, then, climbing all the way up a STAIRCASE made out of SMOKE? Did they consider the health-hazards of breathing in all that smoke and soot? Then, when they go through the chalk drawings that Bert has scrawled all over the pavements (did he have a licence to do this? Was he allowed to do graffiti in such a callous and unseemly manner in Edwardian London? I think not.) When they get into the animated land, did they consider they were thrown into a world of fox-hunting (banned by law in Great Britain now. Tush! Not P.C. to do so.) Then, gallivanting all over the countryside and eventually getting involved in horse-racing and allowing, no doubt, for those minors to BET on the outcome of the race? No moral responsibility at all. 

Then, we go to other books and films. Who would trust a weird man who runs a chocolate factory with the care of your children (I refer to Willy Wonka. Don't go into the name which has all sorts of peculiar connotations which I won't go into on this post.) Also, ENCOURAGING CHILDREN TO EAT SWEETS!! it's definitely a no, no. Just get them to eat sensibly, five pieces of fruit and veg a day for a start.

Peter Pan. A bit of an odd-ball, to say the least. Flies in through the bedroom window. I don't expect he had a C.R.B. check. Left alone with those children. THEN he expected them to believe in Never-Never land (connotations with things like 'payments in instalments' for example, but that's another matter.) What about getting them to FLY? Well, all very clever, how ever it was done, but did Mr Pan have any health and safety procedures in place? I doubt it (come to that, did Mary Poppins, with her umbrella? What happened if she was to crash-land? How many attempts did she make before she got her flying licence?)

It's interesting, on a different subject, how many children's books and films feature a character or something that flies or at least has the ability to fly. Not just Mary Poppins and Peter Pan, but how about Dumbo (featured in the classic Disney animated cartoon) or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I seem to remember that Disney also made another film in the '60's about a mad professor who invents a substance which makes things gravity-free, called flubber I think, and is put on the tyres of a car which then flies. I think it might have been remade and called 'Flubber.' The original was called the 'Absent-Minded Professor, I think. Have to check it out on I.M.D.B.  Of course, there's Mary Poppins, who needs the aid of her umbrella to fly. I am wondering, though, how long she could stay aloft, with her hand holding onto the handle of that umbrella (which, if I remember correctly, is shaped like a parrot WHICH TALKS? does it actually LIVE, this parrot? Weird and wonderful.) I'm also reminded of what a teacher said when I was at school, at about the time Mary Poppins was released, regarding being able to see Mary's underwear as she flew. I won't make any further allusions to this, but I think you'll get what I mean about this if you think about it. Sorry to bring this up, but on reflection it's fairly obvious. 

I shall continue with this discussion as and when I have more to add, so keep an eye-out for further instalments.

Stating The Obvious- Take 2

So, I come across a couple more of those totally obvious signs or things that are written on the packaging of food products or other items on sale. We had barbecued chicken for our evening meal and within the cooking instructions, in the section on 'ingredients' it said 'may contain bones.' Well, there's a thing! Chicken-pieces that have bones in them! About as obvious as saying about eggs 'will break if dropped,' or on a cup of coffee, 'contains hot liquid,' or the one that makes me laugh when we go to Nuffield Health and go into the swimming pool, where they invariably have those yellow  cones when they're cleaning the floor but usually near the pool with the lovely message 'wet floor.' Well, if it's a swimming pool, there's every likelihood that there might possibly be water, so, with people walking around with wet feet, there's a chance of the floor being- well, wet.

Carol bought a packet of Radox bath salts the other day. (I didn't realise you could still get this product. I was surprised to find it in Morrisons. I thought that Radox was only available in liquid form.) The instructions on how to use was patronising. It tells you to be careful after you've put it in your bath-water, because you might slip getting in. Really? Can't we think for ourselves? As if an idiot wouldn't realise that a bath could be slippery when you stepped in? Who writes this stuff? Are they so obsessed with the idea that you'll sue them that they need to put this sort of stuff on a packet of bath salts? Crazy world we live in.

Another case of stating the obvious. We've bought a new armchair from IKEA. We get it home in a  very large cardboard box which barely fits in the back of the car. It's not too complicated to assemble. I wasn't actually expecting to have to assemble it. I assumed it would be already assembled, but never mind. On unpacking it, there is a very nice label attached to the seat. It reads: 'Carelessness causes fires.' Another case of being blatantly obvious. What percentage of fires are caused by carelessness? Possibility of dropping a lighted match on a piece of furniture must be quite high. Would be classed as carelessness? I'm not sure about that, but why do we need a nice label to inform us of that fact? Keeping someone or other printing these labels and someone else busy attaching them to the odd bit of furniture.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Sunday Sunshine

We woke this morning to more news of a terrorist attack in London. Only a few weeks ago another similar attack happened at a concert in Manchester. It makes the heart sink. Our immediate response was to text our children to see whether they were alright. None of them were anywhere near London at the time of the incidents. Just needed reassurance that they were fine. It's getting to the point that you don't really want to switch on the television news as the BBC and other television companies seem to insist on blanket coverage of such incidents.

The day began bright and sunny. Then we had the merry sound of hammering next door. I can't imagine what on earth they're doing. Laying a patio or something and there's a large pile of tiles or bricks for the purpose of patio-laying. On Friday we came back from shopping in town and found a large flat-bed H.G.V. parked opposite the house next door with rolls of turf on the back. I'm not sure if it was intended for 'next door' or not. It's not just the hammering and banging we have to contend with, it's the added music which we have to endure. People can't seem to work without pop music blasting. Well, it's not exactly blasting. As Nöel Coward so succinctly put it 'strange how potent cheap music is.' From his brilliant play, "Private Lives," and actually about his own composition 'Some Day I'll Find You" which was supposed to be playing in the distance, so it was a sort of side-swipe at himself in a way. Irony. Never mind. I digress.

As the morning progressed, we had another load of banging and hammering. Not immediately from next door. Carol said that someone was dismantling a shed a few doors further down. Things can't get any worse, we thought to ourselves. Carol suggested packing things up, a few rugs, cushions, food, books and so on, and de-camping to a secluded spot, possibly in a field, away from the hustle and bustle of the town, in the country somewhere. In other words, somewhere as far from all this noise and annoyance. I suggested Campbell Park. Carol, not too keen. Then we decided to go to Nuffield Health. 

It was a great idea to just swim up and down the pool at Nuffield. Not too many people there, fortunately. I have to say it's a far more friendly environment than D.W. Fitness, which we used to be members of. No children are allowed to this branch at Kent's Hill. You get a towel as you enter. There's no loud booming pop music. The jacuzzi and other facilities are always in good order. Unfortunately, at D.W., the two jacuzzis (spa pools) were invariably out of order or at least one was closed off for some reason. The place was beginning to look tatty, even though it was a fairly new building. At Nuffield there's a spa pool, a steam room and a sauna (D.W. didn't have one).  Anyway, the outing to Nuffield was a good idea. At least we got away from the noise for a while. The shed-dismantling was complete but unfortunately the other sounds continue.

I attempted to read my book. I'm currently reading the fourth book in Peter Ackroyd's series "The History of England." It's called "Revolution" and covers what is called the 'Glorious Revolution' and covers such things as the foundation of the Bank Of England, the beginning os coffee houses, invention of the novel as a form of literature and many other things. But I found it quite difficult concentrating with the constant noise from next door.



Saturday, June 03, 2017

Blenheim Palace Outing

Thursday was a really hot day. We had planned to have at least one day out, visiting somewhere interesting. We have a lot of choice, as members of the National Trust and H.H.A. (Historic Houses Association.) Carol has said she wants to visit Chatsworth in Derbyshire, so we had a look at their website. This house isn't included in the H.H.A. handbook as having free entry to their members so it seemed that Blenheim Palace would be a better choice. Not only with free entry, but nowhere near as far to drive as it's just outside Oxford and perhaps around an hour's journey. We have been there before, but it was probably six-seven years ago. As H.H.A. members you are only supposed to visit a property once a year as I imagine it would reduce their income. A single entry to Blenheim is around £25 so that would be a £50 layout for the two of us.


Entrance to Blenheim Palace

We discovered on the Blenheim Palace website that there was going to be a triathlon in the park and that, as a result, some areas of the park and the Palace itself, would be restricted. No problem, we thought. On arrival we had to park in a somewhat inappropriate grass field, serving as temporary parking, but never mind. We then had to walk a considerable distance to the Palace, somewhere in the region of half a mile or more. Again, no problem as we needed the exercise. The last time we visited we did the guided tour of the house. I recall it was extremely well done, with a very knowledgeable guide who gave a lot of information about the Palace's history, which included the building of it and quite a bit on Sir Winston Churchill, who was born and raised there. Coincidentally, I am reading Peter Ackroyd's book, "Revolution," which is the fourth book in his series on the history of England and covers the 'Glorious Revolution' and the Battle of Blenheim which is where the Duke of Marlborough scored a mighty victory over the French and was then given Blenheim as a reward by Queen Anne. So, it was quite interesting to have the background so well recorded in this book and to then see the actual place in all it's magnificence. As we'd already seen the interior of Blenheim before, regardless of it's amazing scale, design and size, we decided against it. We didn't see much of the park, so this time we decided to discover what there was beyond the confines of the main building. We'd seen the Italianate gardens on our previous visit, but on this occasion we walked down towards the lake and began our tour of the grounds.


One of a number of classical-style statues in the Great 
Court at Blenheim

It was a really pleasant amble along the side of the lake. Looking back, you could just see the tower of the main palace building and a small boat house on the edge of the lake. It was quite a steep incline down and there was work going on to repair and restore the path. There was a warning sign set up warning those in wheelchairs or pushing children in buggies that it was dangerous to use this path. I can see why, because if you were pushing a child in a pram or buggy or someone was in a wheelchair there was a danger of it running away and landing up in the lake. We walked on, and at several places along the lake we stopped to take photographs of not only the view but a whole variety of flora. We eventually arrived at what is called the Grand Cascade. I knew there was a cascade at Blenheim, but I imagined it to be quite a gentle slope. This was more like a fairly active and fast-flowing torrent and amazingly there were a couple of ducks in the flowing water. It was a wonder they didn't get washed down into the river below.


The Grand Cascade, although from this shot you get no 
idea of it's size and scale


We continued on our walk, and eventually came to a small garden which was designed as a memorial to Winston Churchill, who was born at Blenheim Palace. In the centre there was a large and very impressive bust of the great man.


Bust of Winston Churchill

By this time we'd walked a considerable distance. A good two miles by my reckoning. We had a look around the shop, which was part of the new development along with the restaurant. I bought a guidebook, to add to my by now considerable collection of similar guidebooks, bought at other properties we've visited. We took a few more photographs as we walked to the exit and the amble back to the car in the field and to drive home towards Milton Keynes.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Morrison's Cafe, Terrible Service

Carol and I went swimming at Nuffield Health early this morning. Well, when I say 'early,' I mean just after 9 o'clock. Why make one's life too difficult when it's half-term? It wasn't too busy and I did around 30 lengths of the pool. Not in one session, I might add. I went in the sauna for ten minutes and then the steam room and returned to the pool for a further few lengths.  Why is there's always someone making things look harder than they really are by swimming up and down making a lot of noise and splashing around?  Also, those individuals who go running around the countryside, in the latest gear, shorts, trainers, etc etc. Usually with a miserable expression on their face. We came across a man on the road the other day, appeared from nowhere, off the grass verge, almost into our path in the car. It's a wonder he didn't get run over. Seemed to have no road sense whatsoever. Was he blind or something?  Anyway, back to swimmers:why do people do this? There's always someone out there that has to make more noise than they need to. A bit like people who have big, flashy cars with lots of lights on, rows and rows of things that flash and glow, bull-bars, chromium-plating etc etc. Those cars that are higher up than the average vehicle and probably have darkened windows so you can't see inside. They have to hog the road, take over the central lane on the motorway and come up behind you when you're driving just to make you drive faster. Or, more likely, just to get you to move out of the way so they can have the road to themselves. In the case of these swimmers, it's a real case of 'look at me!' Real narcissistic behaviour. No doubt he'd be the sort of person who has to post about it on Facebook and Twitter. Anyway, I digress.

From Nuffield we drove to Morrison's at Elder Gate. Their newer store. Bigger than the one they have at Westcroft. Before we started our actual shopping we decided we needed a bit of refreshment. Well, after all that splashing about in the pool, it was necessary to recharge and Carol's blood-sugar level was low. We went in the café in Morrison's. Thinking about it now, perhaps it wasn't such a good idea. We stood in the queue for several minutes as it moved exceedingly slowly along. People came to join us from behind, including a mother with a little girl who was deciding what she wanted to eat. We picked up a cereal bar and a chocolate-coated biscuit thing and we picked up to mugs as we wanted lattes which you serve yourself from a machine. Then I arrived at the till. The woman operator had no idea what she was doing, or so it seemed. It couldn't have been too hard to key in our items into the computerised till. She just couldn't do it, for whatever reason. Carol had gone to find a table and sit down and waited for me to pay. I stood patiently while the operator again attempted to operate the till. She just couldn't do it. I almost felt like doing it for her. It was obvious that she didn't know what she was going and I then almost said couldn't she find someone who could? My patience was at a low point but it seemed wrong to say anything and those who were queueing behind me were fidgeting and if it had been myself I think I would have given up and walked out. Anyway, after around ten minutes (!!!) she did managed to complete the transaction and I paid using my Debit card and left with the tray as Carol and already made us lattes on the self-service machine. Not impressed by the whole thing and I think next time we won't  bother with Morrison's café again when we shop there.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Lax Vax Max Cracks, Packs, Sacks!

I know it's a rather boring topic, but some boring things make interesting material for writers, surprisingly. A lot of what Alan Bennet writes about is just mundane. But it's brilliant mundane.  Drama is generally about life, but as Alfred Hitchock said about drama that it was life 'with the boring bits taken out.' And he knew one of two things about drama, considering he wrote and directed some of the best ever film thrillers. So, I'm going to mention that we've been having problems with our vacuum cleaner. But it doesn't mean I am going to now use it as the basis for a play or a short story. Although, on second thoughts, it could become the basis for something or other.

We were in the middle of Spring cleaning the house. Carol has been on Half Term this week and we wanted to vacuum the lounge. Over the past week or two I'd had problems with this Vax machine and couldn't get it to pick up even the smallest bits of fluff from the carpet. I'd cleaned out the various filters and emptied the dust compartment (it is one of those machines that doesn't have a separate bag. It has a clear plastic tube where the dust and rubbish collects.) Cleared everything, the brushes were working, the tubes were clear of fluff. Not a pleasant job, but it had to be done. I explained all this to Carol and she couldn't get it to work properly either. I wasn't sure how long ago we'd bought the thing. It was bought from Very, an on-line retailer and we've bought several things from them, so I decided to go on-line and look at the list of items and find out when it was bought. Important if you want to make a claim if the thing is still under guarantee. It turned out we'd bought it in July last year, so it would still be under guarantee. Then I decided to ring the helpline, whose telephone is conveniently displayed on a nice little sticker on the machine. I got a lovely female voice tell me that there was a 'technical fault' and that the phone lines wouldn't be available for at least another two hours. I decided that I wasn't going to wait until later to phone again. I'd give it another go in the morning. The label on the machine told me that the help line was open from '8.30 a.m. until 5.p.m.' So, this morning I rang at precisely 8.30- to THEN be told that they had changed the opening hours from '9 a.m to 5 p.m.' Really irritating me by now, as you can imagine. So, I attempted to ring a little after 9. I just got an endless menu of the what's and why for's and things this and that. I wasn't going to get to get through in a month of Sundays. So, I thought, it's obvious that Vax isn't interested in it's customers, and between us we eventually decided to buy a new machine. After all, if we'd had to send the thing back, even if it was still under guarantee, we'd have to pack it up and post it off and it would cost a fortune in postage, so it was probably going to be a good deal cheaper to buy a new one. You can spend good money buying an extended warranty or guarantee (I never knew what the difference was anyway and to be honest I don't think I'm too keen to find out, thanks all the same.) when it's probably a lot cheaper to just throw the old heap of rubbish in a skip and buy a new model which is, frankly, going to be a lot more efficient than the old model. These extended things are just a rip-off anyway and just a way of extracting more hard-earned cash out of your bank account. Some stores try and sell you these 'extras' when you buy certain things, for example, Curry's or Dixon's (which is all part of the same conglomerate, which also includes Carphone Warehouse). As I said earlier, it's just a way to make more profit and no doubt, extra commission for their staff.

So it was that, when we visited Sainsbury's a little later in the morning, we had a look in their electrical department and browsed the vacuum cleaners they had on display and decided to purchase a Russell Hobbs cyclinder vacuum cleaner, priced at a little over £50.  On  eventually getting it home and assembling it (not particularly complicated as it turned out.) it proved to be a good deal more efficient and easy to use than the Vax machine which it now replaces. A small machine which takes up far less space and probably far more efficient. I'm just annoyed that the Vax machine has barely lasted in a working state for less than a year and that it's so difficult to contact the manufacturer due to the incompetence of their telephone helpline or call centre or whatever you want to call it.