Well we’re safely back home after our “eventful” trip to Tenerife – which included an unscheduled night (actually it was four hours) in a Manchester hotel. It’s a long story, but one I intend to tell to someone high up in Thomas Cook…
First things first and one of those “oh no, here he goes again” blogs. Notwithstanding how events unfolded, this holiday was always going to be important for us. As the work restructure that has been hanging over us for two years finally gathers pace, the likelihood of my role actually existing in six months time would appear remote. What has happened so far has been a real shock and much as I love my job – one that I believe I do very well – I have to be realistic and look to the future: the next chapter of my life with Elaine.
The relief she/we felt when getting the all-clear following a recent health scare put so many things into instant perspective. I turn fifty next year and much as we think we’re immortal, the fact is that time is always going to catch up with us in the end. Like everyone, I have unfulfilled dreams and ambitions, but I suppose I lack the courage (if bravery can be measured in pounds, shillings and pence) to take a step so big, it would amount to a leap of faith.
But maybe now is the time to start having some faith – in myself?
When I reached forty, my life was in disarray. I had so wanted to have the stability that, outwardly at least, every other family enjoyed, but what should have been a milestone to celebrate, arguably set the wheels in motion for a protracted period of emotional change and self-discovery that might be deemed empowering in hindsight, but in reality was tough beyond any words I possess.
I have learned lessons – many “the hard way”, but the end result is a faith in the truly important aspects of my life that can no longer be belied by those dark moments. Elaine and I fought so hard to be together and being able to share her life is wonderful on a daily basis, and whilst I may not have numerous close friends and family, those closest to me have made such a difference – I consider myself very lucky.
Past and recent events have therefore given me the desire and determination to make changes to my life in the remaining months before I reach my half century. They may range from the readily achievable (such as losing weight), to the daunting (that change of career perhaps?), but whilst the outcome(s)cannot be guaranteed, that’s absolutely no reason for me not to try…
Today’s most random of offerings goes back to the 1960s, when our television screens broadcast quite a number of foreign children’s programmes that had been dubbed into English—here are but three. . .
First up is Belle et Sébastien, a French production based on a novel by Cécile Aubry about a six year-old boy(Sébastien) and his Pyrenean Mountain dog (fairly obviously, Belle) who lived in a small village in the Alps, just inside the French border. The black and white show was broadcast in France between 1965 and 1970 and the dubbed version first appeared on British screens in 1967.
It was important to anglicise the title for the British audience and after hours of deliberation, the BBC’s translation department came up with Belle and Sebastian; presumably they were given the afternoon off work to recover from the mental exertion.
Cécile Aubry (born Anne-José Madeleine Henriette Bénard in Paris during 1928) was also an actress and director as well as a writer. She married Si Brahim El Glaoui, a Moroccan prince and their son Mehdi played the part of Sébastien —something you’ve always wanted to know. . . .
Another French production during that decade was The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe—the dubbed version of which was first shown in Britain during 1965. The lead character was played by actor Robert Hoffman (and dubbed by Lee Payant), but whilst I can’t readily recall much of the programme itself, the haunting melody of the theme tune certainly sticks in the mind.
The same is also true of The White Horses, a series co-produced in Germany and the former Yugoslavia. The series was called Počitnice v Lipici in Slovenian and Ferien in Lipizza in German. The literal translation is “Holidays in Lipica”—which is a Slovenian village situated close to the Italian border—and follows a teenage girl Julia (played by Helga Anders) who leaves her home in Belgrade to spend a holiday on a stud farm run by her uncle.
I would have thought that many of my generation would recognise the theme and maybe even be able to sing some of the words—although not necessarily in tune: “Where the clouds are made of candy floss, as the day is born; when the stars are gone, we’ll race to meet the dawn.
“On white horses, snow white horses let me ride away. . . ."
The title song White Horses was credited to “Jacky” and was performed by Jackie Lee. The record reached the top ten in 1968 and three years later, she charted again with Rupert, the theme tune to The Adventures of Rupert Bear.
Things didn’t pan out quite so well for Helga Anders though; she suffered problems with drink and drugs and died from
heart failure in 1986, aged just 38.
That’s just about it for now, except to leave you with the mother of all questions relating to a dubbed 1960s cartoon. The programme was called 海底少年マリン in the series’ mother tongue: but what was it known as in English?
In the 1937 They Won’t Forget, Mary Clay, a pretty young schoolgirl, was brutally raped and murdered on Confederate Decoration Day in America’s Deep South. The movie was an adaptation of Ward Greene’s novel Death in the Deep South which was in itself a fictionalisation of the real life murder of Mary Phagan by Leo Frank in 1913.
Mary Phagan was aged just thirteen and worked in a pencil factory in Atlanta; a factory that Frank managed. On 26th April 1913, Mary had gone to collect her wages, but she never returned home; her dead body was found the following day, covered in sawdust in the basement of the factory.
Frank was the last person to see the girl alive and although hisousekeeper provided an alibi for the presumed time of death, and there were inconsistent statements from another suspect, factory janitor Jim Conley, the jury chose to believe the prosecution’s allegations that Frank was a sexual pervert—allegations which were questionable to say the least—but this was a rare occasion when a white man was convicted on the evidence of a Southern black man.
Leo Frank, who was Jewish by religion, was sentenced to death, but this was commuted to life imprisonment on review.
However Frank was hospitalised after having his throat cut by a prison inmate before, on 17th August 1915, being kidnapped by a twenty-five-strong lynch mob and driven to Mary’s home town of Marietta, Georgia, where he was hanged from a tree. Not only were there some fairly prominent citizens within the mob—a son of a senator, a former governor, a former judge, a Methodist minister, the Cobb County sheriff and his deputies, as well as Mary Phagan’s uncle D. R. Benton—but many photographs were taken and sold with residents proudly posing in front of the dead body.
In 1986, Leo Frank was granted a posthumous pardon in recognition of the state’s failure to protect the businessman or bring his killers to justice; however, the pardon did not address Frank’s guilt or innocence of the crime for which he was convicted.
Back to They Won’t Forget, the young actress chosen to portray Mary Clay was the unknown teenager Julia Turner, who had recently assumed the stage name Lana.
In the movie, suspicion for Mary Clay’s murder initially fell on negro janitor Tump Redwine (played by Clinton Rosemond), but it was one of Mary’s teachers Robert Hale (Edward Norris) who ultimately became the focal point of the murder investigation, and the film followed the pattern of the true story as, despite nothing more than circumstantial evidence, Hale was convicted before dying at the hands of a lynch mob, which was led by Mary’s three brothers.
Lana’s appearance was brief, but memorable and her iconic fifteen-second walk dressed in a tight skirt and even tighter sweater earned her not only national attention, but the nickname of “The Sweater Girl”—a label she hated.
Many years later, in her autobiography The Lady, the Legend, the Truth, Lana revealed just how she felt when she visited the cinema with her mother and watched herself on screen for the first time: “When the lights went down, I slumped in my seat and grabbed my mother’s hand. The sound track’s jazzy, earthy beat magnified the image on the screen. It was a young girl—was it me?—but, my God, the way she walked!
“The audience began to stir as the camera angle shifted. That walk was more than teasing - it was seductive. Her breasts and backside were not that full, but when she walked they bounced. From behind me came an audible growl, and a chorus of wolf whistles filled the hall.
“’Who’s the girl?’ I heard someone ask, but I had tears in my eyes. I slipped down farther in my seat until I was resting on my spine. Only the brim of my new hat stopped me from sliding to the floor.
“At the end of the reel, when the credits rolled up, my name was listed sixth. Lana Turner—the first time it had ever appeared on screen. ‘Let’s get out of here,’ I urged my mother, who seemed to be in a daze. A production assistant swept us out before the lights came on.
“As we hurried to a waiting car, I clutched the young man’s sleeve. ‘Listen,’ I said. ‘Tell me. I don’t really look like that.’
“He cut me off with a slight smile. ‘Fortunately,’ he said, ‘you do!"
It’s difficult to imagine any one athlete upstaging Usain Bolt, but Yelena Isinbayeva did just that yesterday, winning the World Championship pole vault competition in front of an ecstatic full house in Moscow’s Luzhniki’s Stadium.
In truth, attendances at the current championships had been poor, with some of the planet’s finest athletes performing in front of row upon row of empty seats. It was a different story last night though, as the 31 year-old Isinbayeva (with whom I share a birthday—the date and not the year, I hasten to add) turned back the clock to claim gold and spark some wonderful celebrations.
It is no secret that my favourite female athlete is Steffi Graf, but this 5’9” Russian jumping machine is certainly my first lady of track and field. Yelena Isinbayeva—or Елена Исинбаева as I like to call her— has won pretty much every world title in her chosen event (many on more than one occasion) and her extraordinary popularity—albeit in front of an adoring home crowd—was glaringly obvious to the watching world.
You can only milk such a crowd if you are very good at what you do, and although the days of invincibility are arguably over, Yelena was still more than good enough to see off the challenge of London 2012 gold medallist Jenn Suhr as well as the best other vaulters the world has to offer.
Her winning clearance of 4.89m is some way below her current world record of 5.06m—it’s also lower than the 5.01m she cleared in August 2005, sometime after which I received this signed photo from her Monaco home. To be honest though, the height was irrelevant. What mattered was winning and Yelena’s performance drew the kind of reaction that most athletes could only dream of.
Great scenes . . . remarkable athlete.
Today is officially—or apparently—International Left-Handers Day and, as one of the chosen few, I feel I must join in the celebrations (such as they are…).
Although sources differ, it seems that around ten per cent of the population is left-handed—and the reward is to supposedly be better than right-handers at maths, language, music, competitive sports, as well as being more likely to suffer from schizophrenia (er… no we’re not) and have an average life span of nine years less than right-handed people. You pay a heavy price for talent.
Obviously, most of these “facts” are, to a greater or lesser extent “generalisations”, but I agree we’re better at maths—ten per cent of the
world can’t be wrong, even if the other ninety-five per cent disagree.
And here is some more curious lefty-related trivia: most left-handers draw figures facing to the right, there is a high tendency in twins for one to be left-handed (viz. Mary-Kate Olsen, pictured), left-handers adjust better to seeing underwater (although I suppose having decent eyesight is just as important) and one in four of the Apollo astronauts was left-handed—including Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell.
Stuttering and dyslexia seemingly occur more often in left-handers—King George VI is a notable example of the former. His wife, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was also left-handed, as was Queen Victoria and, of the modern Royals, Prince William is very much part of our gang.
I’ve had a look at a website that is dedicated to all things sinister—as in the Latin—to see who is on the list of famous people who were (or still are) left-handed. Their list—ie not mine, in case of any errors—randomly includes: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, both Everly Brothers, Churchill, Einstein, Pelé, Barack Obama, Hitchcock favourites Tippi Hedren and Kim Novak and, best of all, Kermit the Frog (whose creator Jim Henson was another leftie).
So to all my left-handed readers—and if the proportion remains at one in ten, I reckon that should be about two of
you—I send cordial greetings and I hope that you enjoy (and celebrate with copious amounts of wine) our special day.
As I mentioned on Facebook (other social networking sites are available etc etc...), yesterday was my parents’ Golden Wedding anniversary.
Despite instructions to the contrary, Elaine and I had organised a couple of small surprises—well, we just couldn’t let such a special day pass, especially given the love and support my parents have given to both of us.
Mum and Dad married in the small Leicestershire village of Croft, at the end of a week that had witnessed the Great Train Robbery, the birth of Whitney Houston and, on the eve of their wedding, the first episode of the BBC music show Ready Steady Go!. I doubt that either of them tuned in to hear Burl Ives and Brian Poole and The Tremeloes each perform a couple of songs, but Mum and Dad both made it “to the church on time”, were duly married, and headed off for the reception at the Village Hall.
Croft’s main claim to fame is a huge quarry (you wouldn’t want to fall in) and, apparently back in the 1960s, there was a regular blast from the quarry that would actually make the nearby houses shake. There was one such blast on 10th August—which knocked Mum and Dad’s wedding cake from its stand and into slightly more pieces than they’d ideally have wanted!
Significant rebuilding work was required, but ultimately all was well and so began the fifty years of marriage that we were able to celebrate yesterday. The achievement is all the more notable because forty-nine of those years have passed with me as their son, but I will end this short offering with a then and now picture of the happy couple—sadly no record exists of the blast-damaged cake!
Congratulation to you both, and thanks for everything xx
Svetlana Savitskaya was born in Moscow on 8th August 1948. She was the daughter of a decorated Russian World War II air ace, and Svetlana followed in her father’s footsteps by graduating to become a test pilot.
In July 1980, she was selected for Cosmonaut training and completed what were undeniably hard training programmes for both the Soyuz spacecraft, and also the Salyut Space Station. Just over two years later, Svetlana was a member of the Soyuz T-7 crew (the 45th Soyuz mission) and in taking off from Baikonur in August 1982, she became only the second woman to fly in space—the first was fellow Russian Valentina Tereshkova in 1963 and Svetlana preceded the first female American astronaut, Sally Ride, by seven months.
During the flight, Svetlana carried out a number of scientific experiments and returned to earth just under eight days after launch as a national hero.
On 17th July 1984, Svetlana became the first woman to fly a second space mission when Soyuz T-12 launched a mission to conduct maintenance on Salyut 7. During the mission Svetlana conducted more experiments and completed external repairs to the space station—becoming the first (and to-date only) woman to complete a spacewalk in so doing.
In 1993, she retired from the Cosmonaut Corps and the Russian Air Force—in which she had reached the rank of Major—and Svetlana (who is married with one child) has subsequently become a high-ranking official in the Russian Federation Communist Party.
In Britain, Svetlana Savitskaya would today be eligible for free bus travel, but instead, we are wishing С днём рождения to a pioneer of an altogether different form of transport.
On 6th August 1945 at just after quarter past eight in the morning Japanese time, the first atomic bomb was dropped over the city of Hiroshima. The 9,000lb uranium-235 bomb was nicknamed Little Boy and was released from a modified American B-29 bomber named Enola Gay (after the mother of the plane’s pilot Col. Paul Tibbetts).
The testing of the atomic weapon—albeit the plutonium 239 version— had taken place in New Mexico as recently as 16th July [the bomb dropped on Nagasaki on 9th August contained the plutonium-239 isotope]. By the time of the test, Germany had already surrendered to the Allies, but the conflict in the Far East continued as Japan vowed to fight until the bitter end—in fact, America had sustained significant casualties in the Pacific between April and July 1945.
Japan refused a American demand to surrender, which was detailed in the Potsdam Declaration and although senior military leaders preferred the idea of a more conventional approach to fighting the Japanese, a high loss of American life was likely, and despite the ethical and moral issues, US President Harry S. Truman decided that the use of an atomic weapon was the way to elicit a surrender and bring hostilities to a swift conclusion.
Enola Gay took off from the Pacific island of Tinian and five and a half hours later, the bomb was dropped by parachute over the industrial city of Hiroshima, which was situated some five hundred miles from Tokyo. Little Boy exploded roughly two thousand feet above Hiroshima, and its devastating blast obliterated some five square miles of the city, killing 80,000 and injuring 35,000. One third of the buildings in the city were destroyed, and a further 60,000 would perish over the next few months due to effects from the fallout of the explosion.
Despite the truly awful devastation and the massive loss of innocent lives, the Japanese did not surrender and it wasn’t until three days later—when the second bomb (nicknamed Fat Man) was dropped on Nagasaki—that the white flag was belatedly waved.
The photographs and video footage of the bombing of Hiroshima and the aftermath can surely only offer the smallest clue as to the sheer horror of what happened all those years ago. Many would have been killed in a split second, totally—and perhaps thankfully—unaware of the events that were unfolding, but what about those who survived, those who were injured? How can you even begin to come to terms with the fact that one moment you’re simply going about your day-to-day life, and the next. . . .
Did the end justify the means? I honestly don’t know, but right or wrong, I have to say that I admire the courage of President Truman to be decisive in the midst of what was a pretty much impossible ethical dilemma. The loss of any innocent life is obviously an emotive subject, but carnage on such an unprecedented scale is almost as hard to comprehend as the intransigence, perhaps even unshakeable pride, of those Japanese commanders who simply refused to accept the inevitable—and presumably had the consequences on their conscience for the rest of their lives.
Today’s blog isn’t about winning or losing a war though; nor is it about what losses were sustained by any nation, nor how those losses were inflicted; today’s blog is a chance to stop for a brief moment and remember those tens of thousands of people who were simply wiped from the face of the earth on this very date sixty-eight years ago. . . .
I suppose the worst thing you can do when faced with comments made by someone blatantly intent on courting publicity is to draw attention to the person in question—I therefore apologise in advance.
By way of background, the lady on whom this blog will focus is forty-five years of age and is known for quitting The Apprentice in 2007, being the second person to be voted out of the jungle in that year’s I’m a Celebrity, and polling 0.6% of votes when she stood as a potential MEP. That’s not the kind of CV you’d associate with a credible journalist, but in fairness, what do I know.
If you hadn’t guessed, the lady is Katie Hopkins, who has a well publicised dislike for names such as Chardonnay and Tyler, as well as children with geographical location names—and yes, she has a daughter called India!
Sadly, I’m in no real position to scoff, because in Turner County, Georgia lies the extremely small town of Rebecca (population <300). Who knew?!
In yesterday’s edition of The Sun, Ms Hopkins chose to compare the recent Anniversary Games with last year’s Olympics, the former apparently bei“like sucking a lemon at a funeral.” Moreover, our athletes “just don’t try as hard when the world isn’t watching”—well, that is about as inane as you can get.
According to our supremely knowledgeable correspondent, Jessica Ennis-Hill was “about as useful as Eric the Eel”. For the record, the first of those is the arguably finest all-round female athlete of our generation. Jessica not only managed to train for SEVEN separate events, managing to peak at exactly the right time, she also had to cope with the pressure of being the proverbial “face of the Games”.
She is a fantastic athlete, yet possesses a humility that is remarkable given her talent.
As for Eric the Eel—Eric Moussambani—well, the swimmer from Equatorial Guinea may well have recorded a time for the 100m freestyle that was slower than the 200m world record at the 2000 Sydney Olympics; but Katie Hopkins might want to bear in mind the following: Eric’s time was actually a personal best, and perhaps more relevantly, even though he was never going to be a champion, he still did not quit.
If those achievements make you a figure of fun to someone with Katie Hopkins’ proven abilities (irony. . .), then more fool me for not only reading her column, but also bothering to write this blog. That said, as my views are of no more worth than hers: I would urge The Sun to give Ms Hopkins the boot and employ me immediately!
My maternal grandmother (my Nannie) would have been one hundred today.
Her name was Mary and she was the eldest of six children born to William and Ann Hands. Although she was born in Scotland, Mary spent a number of her formative years in Wales, but any relief I felt at realising the letter “L” was missing from the name of her village swiftly disappeared when I tried to pronounce Tanygrisiau (an area of Blaenau Ffestiniog)!
William worked in the stone/granite industry and was accustomed to moving to find work, but the family eventually settled in the small Leicestershire village of Croft, where there was – and still is – a large quarry.
Nannie married my grandfather Leslie Herbert on 4th December 1937 in Coventry Cathedral - the same cathedral that was razed to the ground during the Blitz less than three years later. Nannie returned to Croft during the war and was later rejoined by Grandad and they would spend the rest of their married life at no.1 Kendall’s Avenue.
A couple of days ago, and quite by accident, I noticed that their old house was up for sale. Despite the photos revealing a lot of modernisation, the sight of the bare rooms in which I had enjoyed so many happy times hit me really hard – I felt a strange mixture of sadness and comfort at seeing the inside of the house for the first time in thirteen years. I clearly remembered how the rooms looked way back when, and I only have good memories of my trips to Croft.
Nannie was wonderful: I remember her singing songs with her sister (Auntie) Florence – often in Welsh– but collapsing in fits of giggles before finishing them. I’m led to believe that there was alcohol involved! She also loved to play cards and dominoes and the more you lost, the funnier she found it.
The memories are so strong that even now, small things like the smell of grilled toast or the distant sound of a train (a
freight line was situated close to their house and you would always hear the gentle rumble of trains during the night) take me straight back to the innocence and magic of childhood.
Time finally caught up with Nannie at the end of 2000 (Grandad had passed away the previous year). I miss her and think about her often – as I do all my grandparents – and on this special day, I will be raising a glass to a very special person. Happy birthday Nannie. Love you xxx