Thank you, unknown person

Just a short post, to thank someone. I have no idea who that person is, but they have been reading my posts. A lot. All of the Ambulance Stories category has been perused, as have many more normally dormant posts, from some time ago. My viewing figures have remained very high, despite a shortage of visitors. I can only surmise that one person, almost certainly in the UK, has been reading an awful lot of my blog.

So, whoever you are, many thanks. No comments or likes from you, but I hope that you enjoyed your extensive visit to my blog. Feel free to return anytime, and if you ever feel like it, please comment.

Best wishes, Pete.

Holiday time

Today is the 31st of August. It is a Bank Holiday (Public Holiday) in most of the UK too, the last one before Christmas. It is also the end of the school summer holidays, as the kids all have to go back to school later in the week. On top of that, it is the first day of our two-week holiday this year. (Well Julie’s at least, as I am always on holiday, let’s face it…)

So of course, it is raining. It has been raining on and off for twenty four hours, with a short intermission late last night, before returning with a vengeance in the early hours, and continuing as I type this. It is also surprisingly chilly, and it feels unusually cold in the house.

We normally like to take Ollie to the ‘All About Dogs’ show and exhibition at the Norwich Showground on this day. He sees hundreds of other dogs, and we get to browse all the pet accessories, and load up on free samples. That’s not going to happen today. The place would be a miserable washout, and my sympathies go to the exhibitors who have waited all year to entertain us, or to sell us things. Maybe next year, weather permitting.

I face the prospect of a reluctant wet walk with Ollie. As I hopefully scan the skies for the hint of a break in the weather, the TV weatherman dashes my hopes, when I hear the report coming through from the other room, at the end of the news.

Yesterday, we were pleased to attend the wedding of a friend, one of Julie’s work colleagues. It was very close by, only a couple of miles away, in an attractive converted barn. They had worked hard to create a special day for all concerned, and to choose a venue that would do justice to the occasion. Unfortunately, it began to rain as we left our house, and carried on raining until 10 pm. This meant no nice outside photos, no smiling guests milling around in the grounds by the lakes, or relaxing on the uncovered terrace. Undaunted, everyone had a great day. Photos were taken inside, nobody bothered about the weather, and the traditional wedding feast and party went off without a hitch.

Maybe we are just getting used to wet summers.

I might even stop blogging about rain. Who knows?

Film nostalgia (2)

In 1963, I was eleven years old. I had heard about a new concept in cinema, called ‘Cinerama’. I was keen to see this innovation, and read in the London papers that ‘How The West Was Won’ was due to be shown in this format, at the Casino Cinema in Soho, in the heart of London’s West End. The prospect of this had me dizzy with expectation. This was a huge film, with every known Hollywood star of the day, and the new idea of Cinerama also had me frantic with anticipation.

Even though I was only eleven, I had already had extensive experience of cinema going, as I wrote about in this post. https://beetleypete.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/going-to-the-pictures/ I was used to the occasional special trip to cinemas in the West End, as we didn’t live too far away, just south of the River Thames. As soon as I heard that this film was to be premiered, I began to pester my parents to take me to see it.

This film was a western with a difference. It explored the founding of modern America, using a series of unconnected vignettes, spanning the period from the early wagon trains, through the Civil War, to the cattle wars and land grabs that followed. It covered a period of sixty years, in five different episodes, all coming together to make one complete film. I won’t list the whole cast, but this will give you a taste of the talent on show. Gregory Peck, John Wayne, George Peppard, James Stewart, Carroll Baker, Eli Wallach, Lee J. Cobb, Richard Widmark, to name but a few. Who would not have wanted to see a film starring all these luminaries? Let alone in a new concept of projection and filming that even the idea of took my breath away.

My Mum agreed, and got tickets to the film, which ran in this single cinema for no less than 123 weeks, until 1965. The evening was set, and I could hardly contain my excitement. The edited cut was due to run for two hours and forty-five minutes, and would include two intermissions. That was my idea of a night out! We arrived in good time, and I was bought a souvenir brochure on arrival. This included stills from the film, biographies of the stars and directors, (there were three!) as well as a detailed explanation of the Cinerama process. The cinema was comfortable and sophisticated, and everyone was dressed as if for an occasion, including the three of us.

I should explain the Cinerama experience. There were no green screens back then; no computer animation, CGI, or anything remotely resembling the special effects we take for granted now, even on TV. Using a dramatically curved screen, three different 35 MM film images were projected simultaneously, on a series of strips, rather than one screen. The images were expanded to 70 MM, giving an experience very similar to being inside the screen. Though not 3-D, it was almost as close as you could get, without the need for special glasses and dedicated projectors. The curved screen stretched almost 150 degrees, so three times the normal field of human vision. To make the most of this effect, special scenes were filmed. These included a buffalo stampede, logs falling from a derailed train, and horses running directly at the audience. Much of the rest of the film was shot in 70 MM Super Panavision, which did not replicate this effect, but suited the exaggerated widescreen projection.

For early 1960s cinema-goers, the impact of this had to be seen to be believed. Many of the audience members (including me) held their hands to their faces during some scenes, and when the buffalo stampede was shown, we almost ran from the cinema in panic. The whole film was an episodic delight, and the new style of special effects made it all the more memorable. The main drawback was that a cinema had to have a specially adapted screen to show these films, and they were expensive to make. Without a dedicated screen, they didn’t appear the same. In fact, if you see the film on TV today, it appears disjointed, almost un-watchable. But on that night, in that venue, it was a cinematic feast.

In that early spring evening, in 1963, I was enthralled, and held in the rapture of the magic of cinema. Is it any wonder that I love films as much as I do?

The former cinema is now the Prince Edward Theatre, its original name. It is in Old Compton Street.

Here’s the trailer. Unfortunately, you can see the lines!

Significant Songs (88)

Listen

For the second of today’s songs, I return once again to the stage show and film, ‘Dreamgirls.’
I have featured a song from this previously, but offer no apologies for a second, as it is a fine example of vocal talent, a powerful range, and a compelling lyric.

Beyonce Knowles is undoubtedly one of the finest female vocalists of the modern age. Whatever the genre, or style, she can sing it, and add her instantly recognisable tone too. In the late 1990s, the young Knowles came to attention as part of the massively successful all-girl group, Destinys’Child. In 2003, she released the solo album ‘Crazy In Love’ and it was immediately obvious that she was going to be a huge star. When the group split in 2005, she began one of the most successful solo careers of all time, selling millions of records, and acting too, most notably in the film of ‘Dreamgirls’, in 2006, and ‘Cadillac Records’ (2008), where she portrayed Etta James. She has risen so far above her musical roots, that she was proclaimed to be one of the most influential people in the world in 2013, and has recently also been declared to be the the most powerful female singer of 2015. She has become a ‘brand’; with her own fragrance range, clothing styles, and make-up products.

Like her or not, it is impossible to deny her talent. Her voice is just incredible, and as she has grown older, she has easily equalled or surpassed former icons, like Whitney Houston, and Mariah Carey. This track, from 2007, never fails to impress me. I could listen to it every day, and I usually do.

Significant Songs (87)

I’m Goin’ Down

This is the first of two song posts today, both featuring powerful vocals, from equally powerful women.
During this series, I have featured many ‘Torch’ songs, and big ballads. I cannot deny that I have always been attracted to this sort of song, as long as the performance matches the lyrical potential. Perhaps I am just in touch with my feminine side, but with few exceptions, it is generally a female voice that best conveys the emotion in this genre.

Mary Jane Blige, who performs as Mary J. Blige, is somewhat younger than she looks, as she was only born in 1971. She seems to have been around much longer, but her first hit record was as recent as 1992. Taking a familiar route through singing in a church, Blige was notice by Sean Combs, and styled into an R&B and Hip-Hop singer, with the casual street clothes and attitude that went with the image of the time. This was far from my kind of music, and although I could sense the power in her voice, the singles she released did not grab me at all. But her debut album sold in the millions, and she went on to become an established performer.

By the end of 1999, Mary was mixing styles more, and recording mainstream songs from the likes of Carole King, and Aretha Franklin. For me, this was more like it, and it revitalised my interest in her as a recording artist. She still writes and perfoms to this day, and has acted in more than a dozen films and TV shows too. This song is from 1994, and is a cover of the 1976 Rose Royce original, from the film ‘Car Wash.’ I can never resist it.

Swans don’t play

Today was yet another day of heavy rain, with occasional torrential downpours added in for good measure. I am not complaining, you understand. Our two days of excellent weather over the weekend had to be paid for somehow. I had to go out to the car dealership this morning, to get new struts fitted to the tailgate. They did the job in good time, and I waited for them to finish it, in the room provided for customers. As I was paying, the young lady advised me that it was beginning to rain harder. ‘I hope that you don’t get too wet,’ was her cheery farewell.

In the town of Dereham, I stopped off to get some watch batteries installed, and was allowed a fifteen minute respite, as it actually stopped raining for that long. Cars were splashing through the deep kerbside puddles, and pedestrians had to be careful to avoid a soaking from them. Heading out to the village of Swanton Morley, to collect a prescription from the GP, I noticed the narrow country lanes were awash with water running off of the fields, and I had to increase the speed on the windscreen wipers, to keep the screen clear.

Back at home, it carried on raining without let-up, and I advised Ollie that there might be a delay with his afternoon walk. I was hoping to wait out the worst of it. No such luck. By 2.10 pm, he was becoming fractious, and I had no alternative but to gird my loins, and face the inevitable. After a few soakings last week, I decided that it was time to dust off the wellington boots, dig out some long trousers, and don my heavy parka. Even though it was still August, and not cold at 18 degrees, I had to return to my normal winter clothing, like it or not.

Wrapped up in the aforementioned attire, I headed off under my umbrella, with Ollie raring to go. After ten minutes on The Meadows, I was uncomfortably hot. After twenty minutes, I had to sit down for a rest, on a very wet bench. Ollie was still full of get up and go, so headed off to the river. I watched him until he got past a large clump of nettles, and then heard an almighty splash, followed by lots of flapping sounds. I went to investigate, and found Ollie in a canine version of a Mexican Standoff, ten feet or so from a pair of very grumpy-looking swans, up to his chin in the water. The large male and his mate had gone a little way, then turned to face my hapless hound. He was looking at me, wondering why they wouldn’t play with him. He meant them no harm, but the large male wasn’t to know that of course. I made Ollie leave them in peace, and he trotted off to sniff around some bushes.

A little further on, I stopped again, becoming weary as I was feeling hot. Standing still by the riverbank, I noticed the large grey heron. Ollie had spotted it too, but for some reason, decided not to try to catch it. We watched the bird for a while, and it suddenly plunged its head under the water, returning with a decent sized fish in its beak. It took off immediately, presumably to eat its catch undisturbed, in a better location. That was a nice moment, that even Ollie seemed to appreciate.

We continued our normal circuit, with me sadly lacking in enthusiasm. My normal brisk pace was reduced to a begrudging shuffle, heavy boots sliding on wet grass and mud. By now, the rain was getting through the parka, at least around the shoulders and back. I lowered the umbrella, to make sure it was still raining, as it was hard to tell, with all the drops coming off the trees. But it was, and still as heavy as ever. Ollie wanted to venture into the woods, to check for squirrels, but one look at the muddy ground in there brought a refusal from me. I managed to stand it for a good while longer, as Ollie really seemed to be enjoying himself, despite the complete absence of playmates. On the last turn around the bend in the river, he spotted the swans again, in deeper water. This time, he left them alone. It seems that he had learned a valuable lesson this afternoon.

Swans don’t play.

Holkham Hall: A grand day out

As promised, we headed out early to Holkham Hall. My cousins had to leave in the afternoon, so we wanted to allow enough time to see something of the extensive grounds, lake, and deer park. I will add a link later, but for information, Holkham Hall is the home of Viscount Coke, son of the 7th Earl of Leicester. It is still privately owned and maintained, and considered to be one of the finest homes in the Palladian style still existing in Britain. The family are undoubtedly wealthy, as they own not only this huge property and its grounds, but also Holkham Beach, Holkham Village, and the entire town of Wells-Next-The-Sea, one mile east.

For the small fee of £2.50, you can park close to the Hall, and enjoy all the grounds and facilities, free of charge. Entry to the house, or a boat trip on the large lake, are available at additional cost. We knew that we would not have time to tour the house, which is very grand inside, but we could make the most of the grounds, with the benefit of excellent weather, once again. There is a nice cafe, a well-stocked gift shop, and all the usual toilet facilities. These are in the grounds, so accessible to all. The following photos are all large files, and can be clicked on, for detail.

The house in its setting. You can see what good condition it is in.

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The original builder of the house, Thomas Coke, was a member of parliament, and a champion of modern methods of farming. When he died, his friends and colleagues raised the money to have this memorial column erected in the grounds, in his memory.

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The main frontage of the house is huge, and surrounded by a brick balustrade. This was as close as I could get.

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The family was wealthy enough to have an Ice House built in the grounds. Ice was imported from as far away as North America, and packed in snow, brought from Scotland and Switzerland.

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We spent a very pleasant few hours there, and will go again, to see the interior. They are currently building a wedding venue, and the Hall is also the venue for popular events every year, including a food fair, and open-air concerts. Cycle hire is available, and there is a play area for children, as well as walled gardens to explore, for a small charge. If you are ever in this area, I really recommend that you visit this delightful slice of British history. If you would like to see and read more about it, including some better professional photographs, here is a link to the Hall’s website.
http://www.holkham.co.uk/