And so this was Christmas…
December 29, 2010

And so this was Christmas …

The festive season began with a blanket of snow and the mercury dipping as low as -12˚C over the Christmas weekend. There had been concerns that the weather might cause problems for those travelling to the Shire but thankfully not so.

During the last two days the Wintersmith has released his icy grip and overnight rain has all but erased the Christmas card backdrop against which the Yuletide festivities have been acted out.  

December 2010 may turn out to be the coldest since records began but comparisons with the long hard winters of ’46-’47 and ’62-’63 may have been a trifle premature – all will be revealed over the next few weeks.   

As always, I was pleased to find that Santa had left me a couple of books beneath the Christmas tree:

The Shadow of the Sun, by Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski, has been hailed the greatest modern work on Africa and a dazzling literary masterpiece. It contains the correspondent’s work covering a forty-year period, following his first visit to the Dark Continent in 1957, and was first published in English in 2001.

I have already dipped into it. The author has the easy style of an accomplished story-teller coupled with a reporter’s eye for detail.  His evocative writing will resonate with anybody who has spent time in Africa.            

For obvious reasons I was immediately drawn to the piece entitled A Lecture on Rwanda. In seventeen pages Kapuscinski manages to distil the historical complexities of the Rwandan crisis, leading up to and including the genocide, in an account that provides greater clarity than any I have previously read.     

Duncan Hamilton was a Nottingham sports journalist. Last Christmas I received his first book, Provided You Don’t Kiss Me: 20 Years with Brian Clough, an honest, sensitive and extremely personal biography of the great man.

This year I was delighted to get a copy of Hamilton’s authorised biography of another Nottinghamshire legend, and the world’s fastest bowler, Harold Larwood.

I’m already well into it and the author clearly deserved to pick up the 2009 William Hill Sports Book of the Year  award for his moving portrayal of the Nottinghamshire miner who later became synonymous with the controversial Bodyline bowling tactics used by England to nullify Donald Bradman and his Australian team mates in the 1932-3 Ashes series.  

England won the series 4-1 amidst a huge diplomatic row that threatened Anglo-Australian relations. Larwood, a working class national hero who had merely bowled in line with captain Douglas Jardine’s orders, was made the scapegoat. When requested,  by the MCC, to apologise he refused effectively bringing his international career to an end.

Ironically, Larwood later emigrated to Australia where he was welcomed, respected and held in high esteem for the rest of his days.         

I didn’t watch a great deal of TV over the holiday period but couldn’t miss the annual Christmas Day helping from the Royle Family. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with Christmas Specials, material that would have made a good thirty minute show was over stretched to fill an hour slot, compromising its overall quality.

Along with 10 million viewers nationwide, I also tuned in to the latest offering from Mat Lucas and David Walliams, Come Fly With Me. I found this spoof documentary, set in an airport, mildly amusing but probably less so than the antics portrayed in the Airport series about actual day-to-day life at Heathrow.

Lucas and Walliams have been criticised in the media for their use of racial stereotypes. The blacked up faces and accents were certainly a throw back to 1970’s comic offerings such as It Ain’t Half Hot Mum and Mind Your Language.  However I didn’t consider the humour racist, simply a little dated, and I certainly don’t think it warrants a six part series.   

Another Christmas TV highlight had to be the business minister, Vince Cable, temporarily putting his and the coalition government’s problems to one side for a moment, and taking time out to show some nifty footwork dancing a lively Foxtrot with  the lovely Erin Boag, in the Christmas celebrity edition of Strictly Come Dancing.  Well you have to get your priorities right!    

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I crawled out of bed on Boxing Day morning to catch the latter stages of the first day’s play in the 4th Ashes Test in Melbourne.  Australia had been dismissed for a meagre 98 and England were already fifty or so ahead, without loss, in their first innings.

I had been expecting a buoyant Australia, after their recent victory in Perth, to push England really hard for the rest of the series but they have fallen apart. England are now so firmly in the ascendancy again, barring an act of God, they should wrap up a four-day innings victory, and retain the Ashes, some time in the early hours of  tomorrow.   

Jonathon Trott seems to love playing the old enemy, having followed up his match winning century, on debut, at the Oval in 2009 with two more in this series. But, at the highest level, there are fine margins between success and failure.

Trott threw himself full length to avoid being run out, by Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting, when he had scored only 46 of his eventual 168 not out. Another wicket at that stage might have brought Australia right back into the game.

‘Punter’ of course, is having a nightmare series with the bat and is about to become the first ever Aussie captain to lead his side to three Ashes series defeats.

He has been a great player and competitor throughout his career and his current frustration is understandable but his behaviour towards the on field umpires, following an unsuccessful referral, was totally out of order. He was extremely lucky not to receive a ban from the next Test, in Sydney. But then again it’s quite likely to be his final game in the Baggy Green!

Finally, I would like to announce the arrival, at Orchard House, of Christmas Monkey.  He emerged from a seasonal package of PG tea bags  on Christmas morning  and we are now a two monkey family. 

A Monkey is not just for Christmas!

I am the egg man…..I am the walrus goo goo g’joob!
July 10, 2010

I had been tempted to use: “I am the egg man…..” to head yesterday’s ‘Prezza’ posting but saved it for today: the 3rd annual Beatles Day.

This year it’s going global with cities around the world joining Liverpool in celebrating the legacy of the Beatles. Simultaneous events will be taking place in Hamburg, New York, Shanghai, Sydney and Moscow.    

The 10th July was chosen as it was the date of the group’s triumphant return to Liverpool from the States and the premiere of their Hard Day’s Night film in 1964. The Liverpool hotel of the same name will be staging a balcony concert with tribute band the Backbeat Beatles re-enacting the famous rooftop concert at the Abbey Road studios in 1969.  

All proceeds from today’s events go to the Beatles Day Foundation. Last year 20,000 mop-tops were worn and cheques amounting to £45,000 presented to the Imagine Appeal for Alder Hey Children’s Hospital and Liverpool Unites, by charity patron Ricky Tomlinson aka Jim Royle.

I count myself fortunate to have been a child of the 50’s and a teen of the 60’s, a period of huge social and cultural change.

The ‘four frenzied Little Lord Fauntleroys who are earning £5,000 per week’ (Donald Zec in the Daily Mirror September 10th 1963) were central to the popular music revolution of that time and arguably the most influential band of all time.

In 1963, as a 10-year-old at Hucknall, Spring Street Juniors, I was bowled over by the fab four and saved pocket money to buy my first ever piece of 12 inch vinyl, ‘Please Please Me’, in mono. It’s still up in the loft – a collector’s item!

Like Rob, the main character and owner of the Championship Vinyl  shop in Nick Hornby’s Hi-Fidelity, I’m a sucker for Top 5 lists of any description. Of course every Beatles fan will have their own favourite albums, album tracks and single releases, and committing myself in writing may prove not only contentious but embarrassing .       

Having spent a while thinking this through, it’s an almost impossible task because the Beatles’ back catalogue surpasses anything ever produced by any other artists, embracing a range of genres and jammed pack  full of ground breaking classics and more under stated hidden gems.  Anyway, without further pre-amble or any attempt to justify my selections – here goes:

Top 5 Albums:

  1. Abbey Road(1969)
  2. Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
  3. Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
  4. Rubber Soul (1965)
  5. Revolver (1966)

Top 5 Singles:

  1. Get Back (1969)
  2. Strawberry Fields Forever (1967)
  3. Hey Jude (1968)
  4. Lady Madonna (1968)
  5. All You Need is Love (1967)

 Top 5 Album tracks (not released as singles):

1. Here Comes the Sun (Abbey Road)

2. I am the Walrus (Magical Mystery Tour)

3. Penny Lane (Magical Mystery Tour)

4. Revolution (The Beatles – White Album)

5. Norwegian Wood (Rubber Soul)