Monday 30 April 2012

Britain is a country where old men have a National Trust checklist of things to help their grandchildren to master before they are 11¾

One of my posts in April this year :

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Britain is a country where old men are asked to get their grandchildren out to nature

It was based on a report by Stephen Moss, a naturalist and broadcaster working for the Trust, who had compiled a report calling on parents and particularly grandparents to pass on their experience of the outdoors – before the traditional childhood is relegated to the history books.

The National Trust has now published its list of '50 things to do before you're 11¾'

So these are the things that old men who are granddads can help their grand kids to do :

How many of the things on the list have you done?

So Old Men of Britain get ready to teach those grand kids by example. Have a bit of practise and following the National Trust advice, get yourself :

1. Up a tree
* Make sure there is nothing under the tree which could hurt you in the event of a fall
* Don't climb on windy or wet day
15. On a sledge
* Make sure there is nothing around to run over, into or fall off
19. On a rope
42 . In wild water 
43. On a raft
* Keep cuts and wounds covered with waterproof plasters
48. Down a rock face 

And while you're at it, why not throw in 'skydiving' at 51 ?

Sunday 29 April 2012

Britain is a country where old judges in the Supreme Court who 'can' retire at 75 rule that other old men 'can be forced' to retire at 65

Saturday 28 April 2012

Britain says "Happy birthday" to a brave old fantasy writer with alzheimer's disease called Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett, novelist best known for his popular and long-running 'Discworld Series' of comic fantasy novels, who has sold over 65 million books worldwide in thirty-seven languages, is 64 years old today.

What you possibly didn't know about Terry, that he :
 was born in 1948 in Beaconsfield , Buckinghamshire, went to grammar school where he was, in his own words, a "non-descript student", had an early interest in astronomy and like me collected 'Brook Bond Tea' cards about space, owned a telescope, wanted to be an astronomer and read British and American science fiction. 

* at age 15, published his first short story 'The Hades Business',  left school at 17 to start writing for the 'Bucks Free Press'  under the name 'Uncle Jim' and found success with his novel, 'The Dark Side of the Sun', in 1976.

*  in 1980 became Press Officer for the 'Central Electricity Board'  in an area with three nuclear power stations and later joked that he had demonstrated "impeccable timing" by making this career change so soon after the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the USA and said that he would "write a book about my experiences, if I thought anyone would believe it".

* published his first 'Discworld' novel, 'The Colour of Magic' in 1983,  gave up working for the CEGB and by 1996 was the top-selling and highest earning British author.
Talking about his books and said of his books :

* in  2007,  'posted online' that he had been diagnosed with a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer's disease, in which areas at the back of the brain begin to shrink and shrivel and described it as an 'embuggerance' in a radio interview.
* in 2008, donated $1,000,000 to the Alzheimer's Research Trust, saying that he had spoken to at least three brain tumour survivors, yet had spoken to no survivors of Alzheimer's disease and that he was shocked "to find out that funding for Alzheimer's research is just 3% of that to find cancer cures."

* in 2011,  presented a BBC documentary entitled : 'Terry Pratchett : Choosing to Die' on the subject of assisted death and  won the 'Best Documentary'  award at the Scottish BAFTAs and said :

* has an observatory in his garden, an asteroid named after him, is an avid video game player and he has collaborated in the creation of a number of game adaptations of his books, has a fossil sea turtle from the Eocene epoch of New Zealand  named in his honour Psephophorus Terrypratchehetti,  is a trustee for the Orangutan Foundation UK and had one of his most popular fictional characters, the Librarian of the Unseen University and a wizard, transformed into an orangutan in a magical accident.

My earlier posting about Terry :
Jume 2011
Britain is still a country for an old fantasy writer called Terry Pratchett but only as long as he wants it to be

Friday 27 April 2012

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Goodbye" to Leila Berg whose stories old men read and heard on 'Listen with Mother' when they were little boys

The little chap in the photo is me at about the age of about 1 and 3, about the time the BBC radio programme, ' Listen with Mother', was first broadcast in 1950. It was 15 minutes long and consisted of stories, songs and nursery rhymes for kids like me under the age of 5 and,of couse, their mums sitting with them and there were a million of us. Looking back now, that lost 'listening' and 'reading' pre-television world was so different to the one we live in today.

Each programme began at 1.45pm each weekday and began with the familiar, and now iconic, phrase: 
Presenters and story readers included Daphne Oxenford and Dorothy Smith, who each contributed to the programme for more than 20 years, before it ended in 1982.

When I'm building a programme, I always have in mind just a child or a couple of children in the intimate setting of the home, with or without mother, although we call the programme Listen with Mother.

We find still that children believe that the storyteller is inside the box in some way, that this disembodied voice creates a very concrete and vivid image in the minds of the children.

What about the piano? That must be rather a problem to accommodate that in the radio as well?
Well, indeed. One child we heard of walked round and round the box and did express great surprise that, not only was the speaker there, but the piano there too, but didn't question it, didn't query this. And children very often go to the set and stroke it and touch it and press their ears close up to it, treating it very much as they would treat a visible storyteller.
Do they seem to have a sense that the stories are being told just for them individually?
Indeed yes, they believe that the storyteller sees them. They believe that she hears their replies. We heard of one little girl, who talked to her little boyfriend next door, and who said, my lady played Humpty Dumpty today, and the little boy's reply was, so did mine. They didn't at all think that this was the same programme. They still thought it was an individual programme each for her or for him.

One of the writers of a story I must have heard, was Leila Berg, who was born in 1917 and has died at the age of 94.

What I, and possibly you, didn't know about this remarkable woman was that she :

* was born into a Jewish family in Salford,  Manchester, wanted to be a writer from the age of six, when her first poem was published in a comic,  had a painful 'non-relationship' with her 'doctor' father, who refused to speak to her because she wasn'tt a boy and only began to communicate with her when he and her mother split up, just as she was leaving school.

* at the age of 17, was influenced by the work of the educational psychologist Susan Isaacs, on the right, on the social development of children at a nursery school in Cambridge where children were given free rein to read, learn and explore and began to form her own anti-authoritarian and progressive views on children, education and society.

* in 1937,  agreed to go to teacher-training college "for one term only" but having joined the 'Youth Front against War and Fascism' and then the 'Young Communist League' spent her time writing and organising aid to Spain during its Civil War where two of her lovers, in the International Brigades, fought and were killed.

* left college before she could be expelled, went to King's College London to study for a 'Diploma in Journalism', graduated and then started work on the 'Daily Worker' newspaper and during the Second World War, married and heavily pregnant, narrowly escaped death with her husband when their house in London, was bombed, an experience she described  as like becoming a 'refugee' in her own country.
Leila Berg's Little Pete Stories

* after the War, began to write children's books based on her own experiences and shaped by a desire to show children as they really were : active, argumentative and thinking, as in her 'Little Pete Stories' in the 1950's.

* had the unique distinction of being, after her first story, thrown out of the new infants' radio programme Listen With Mother, because seven listeners protested that they were shocking and anarchic :'he goes downstairs backwards!' and they 'didn't pay their licence fee for her to 'corrupt children'. 

*   she, when the review magazine, 'Junior Bookshop' kept talking about her 'The Little Pete Stories' as being 'the best thing that came out of Listen With Mother', wrote to them and said, 'Yes, they did, fast!'

*   in the 1960s, wrote the 'Nippers' series which moved away from the comfortable middle class world of 'Janet and John' and showed a world where houses had no internal water and children played on dumps.  

Leila Berg invited like-minded progressive writers to contribute to her series of children's books* came into contact with Michael Duane, the head of Risinghill Comprehensive School in Islington and, in her book about its closure, 'Risinghill : Death of a Comprehensive' in 1969, argued that its very fame and success were threatening to the educational establishment and wrote : 'Once you believe, or say you believe, that all children are of equal value whatever their intellectual attainments, you are changing the whole concept of school.'
*  received the Eleanor Farjeon Award for 'services to children's literature' in 1974, spent her later years in Wivenhoe, Essex and was delighted to discover that the 'Children's Legal Centre',(in whose creation she had been instrumental in its early days, was then housed at the nearby Essex University.

Little Pete Stories


'Pete stopped and stared. He liked flowers.
One of the flowers, a big nodding comfy-looking one, was looking right into Pete's face. Very carefully he put out one finger and touched it.

At that very second someone slammed up a window in the house with a big crash, and someone shouted: "Leave those flowers alone!"
Pete had a terrible fright. He snatched back his finger. Then he stood stock still, not moving at all. He thought he was going to cry.'

P.S. I wonder if, in creating Pete, Leila was creating the boy her father had always wanted ?

P.P.S. My friend D.B. has reminded me that the writer of 'Cider with Rosie', Laurie Lee, also fought, like Leila's two lovers, in the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Britain is a country where old academics in an old university in Oxford debate whether, as a country, it could or should be one for very old men tomorrow ?

The Oxford University Scientific Society is hosting a debate tonight in the Sheldonian
Theatre, in which Dr.Aubrey de Grey will propose the motion that :'This house wants to defeat ageing entirely.'
Professor Colin Blakemore will be opposing and the debate will be chaired and moderated by the 69 year old Professor Sir Richard Peto.

It will address whether it is feasible and appropriate to consider ageing as a target of decisive medical intervention, raising the possibility of substantial extension of human lifespan.

Aubrey, who is 49 years old and proposing the motion, is currently Chief Science Officer of SENS  Foundation, which :

 * is a 'biomedical research charity' that aims to develop, promote, and ensure widespread access to 'rejuvenation biotechnologies' which address the diseases and disabilities of ageing.

* has a research agenda which consists of the application of regenerative medicine to ageing - not merely slowing the ageing clock, but resetting it to early adulthood.

Aubrey's opponent, Colin, who will explain why he thinks the concept isn't :

* the 68 year old Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Oxford Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, an expert in vision, development of the brain and neurodegenerative disease and former Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council, Britain's largest public funder of biomedical research.

* in opposing the motion, representing the first time that a fellow of the British biomedical establishment,  has risen to the challenge of describing publicly, why intervention against ageing is not in fact medicine's most pressing priority - an area of debate in which Britain lags behind the USA.

For those readers around the world who might read this post, you might be excused if you think :
'What kind of country is it, already one which is no place for old men today, spends time debating whether it could or should be one for even older old men tomorrow ?'

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Britain is still a country for and says "Happy Birthday" to its old, adopted Australian classical guitarist called John Williams

'Grammy Award' winning Australian classical guitarist, and long-term resident of Britain, is 71 today. I remember him for his hauntingly beautiful 'Cavatina' which was used for the music in the 1978 film,'The Deerhunter':

Things you possibly didn't know about John, that he :

* was born in Melbourne, to an English father and later founder of the 'London Guitar School' and an Australian-Chinese mother who was the daughter of well known barrister.

* came to England in 1952, went to Grammar School in London and from the age of 11 attended summer courses with Andrés Segovia at the 'Academia Musicale Chigiana' in Siena, Italy.

* attended the 'Royal College of Music' in London from 1956 to '59, studying piano because the school did not have a guitar department at the time.

* had his first professional performance a classical guitarist in 1958 and since then has performed around the world, made regular appearances on radio and TV and recorded almost the entire repertoire for the guitar.

* was instrumental in bringing the works of Augustin Barrios back to popularity :

* created a classical-rock fusion duet with Pete Townshend of 'The Who' for the 1979 Amnesty International benefit show 'The Secret Policeman's Ball' :

* is knowledgeable on the origin of the guitar :

* has played the 'Enfield Dances' with Richard Harvey :

* attended the 'Guitar Fair' at Paracho in Mexico for the documentary : 'The Guitar is Their Song' :

* is a 'Visiting Professor and Honorary Member' of the Royal Academy of Music in London.

* in 2011 undertook a world tour multi-instrumentalist Richard Harvey, taking in over 20 cities – including Shanghai, Tokyo, Taipei, Singapore, Luxembourg and Dublin..

Cleo Laine and John and 'He Was So Beautiful' set to 'Cavatina' :

All you ever wanted to know about John :

Britain is a country with Bootle which is no town for old men and Hinton St George, a village which is

An article in 'The Telegraph' today was entitled :

Welcome to the village of long-life

Hinton St George, a village in Somerset, has been named as the best place for a long retirement with men living past 88 years old.

Appaently the retired men outside the village shop can expect to live a full four years longer than those at the memorial service in Bootle, Merseyside, which ranked bottom in a survey of life expectancy.
The study of 1.5 million pension records has shown that men retiring at 65 in Hinton St George were likely to live, on average, to 88.7 years and those in Bootle to 84.9 years,

Hinton St George has a population of just 400 and is partly protected by a Conservation Area. It  has a sub-postmaster called Keith Hurse who has said :
 "The strange thing is, about 80% of the people here come from the south east of England. Many of the retired are former barristers, school teachers and former members of the clergy. It is a lovely place to live, there is a society for everything. A group of us here took over the village shop and Post Office last July. It is a very busy community but there is not the stress and pollution here – it is a very stress-free environment."
Hinton St.George: The study was based on mortality rates among 1.5 million retired people
Idyllic: Hinton St. George nestles, hidden in the Somerset countryside

Urban decay: A number of abandoned buildings litter the streets of Bootle




Monday 23 April 2012

Britain is a country which says "Goodbye" to Bert Weedon and old guitarists say "Thanks" to the 'Wizard' who taught them to play

Last week the 'Gaurdian' obituary page carried :

Bert Weedon, guitar teacher to a generation, dies at 91

Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney were among the stars who learned their skills using musician's 'Play in a Day' books
Bert Weedon
Inspiration: Weedon's first Play In A Day book was published in 1957 and the books have since sold in their millions
Bert was the creator of the popular 'Play in a Day' guitar tuition books and  accomplished player in his own right who accompanied stars such as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Nat King Cole during a long career in music.. 

What you possibly didn't know about Bert, that he :

* taught Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney and Brian May of Queen how to pluck at the strings of their guitars using his books, which sold in their millions.

* was born in East London in 1920, persuaded his father to buy him his first 75p guitar in London's Petticoat Lane market when he was 12 years old and initially learned classical guitar.

* in his teens during the 1930's,  led groups such as the 'Blue Cumberland Rhythm Boys' and 'Bert Weedon and His Harlem Hotshots', before making his first solo appearance at East Ham Town Hall in 1939.

* worked with leading performers including Stephane Grappelli and George Shearing and performed with  big bands and orchestras, including those of Ted Heath and Mantovani.

* started a solo career which saw him sell millions of records and score a top ten hit with 'Guitar Boogie Shuffle' in 1959 then  with the birth of rock'n'roll,  regularly played on record hits by stars including Tommy Steele, Adam Faith and Billy Fury.

* first published his first 'Play in a Day' book in 1957 and  was a major influence on Brian May, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, John Lennon, Keith Richards, Pete Townshend and Jimmy Page.

* was a stalwart member of the show business charity. the 'Grand Order of Water Rats', and awarded an OBE in the 2001 Queen's birthday honours list for 'Services to Music'.

Had the musicians say of him  :

Tim Burgess, frontman of 'The Charlatans : "Practice hard, all the time – Bert Weedon might be gone but his advice should never be forgotten."

Brian May of 'Queen' :  that he was the first major British electric guitarist and "It is hard to imagine what life was like in those days. There was hardly any British rock music or even pop music, and there was hardly anyone in England that knew about the electric guitar. Everyone from Eric Clapton to Jimmy Page, they would all say the same thing – that Bert was the first and we all loved the man. There were no secrets, he had lots of techniques that he could have kept to himself but he shared them."

* Paul McCartney : "George and I went through the Bert Weedon books and learned D and A together."

* Eric Clapton : “I wouldn’t have felt the urge to press on without the tips and encouragement Bert’s book gives you. I’ve never met a player of any consequence that doesn’t say the same thing.”

ert on stage :

Playing 'Albatross' :