Saturday, July 31, 2010

JAPAN Day 5 of 11

We stayed on Michael's boat in Kurihama at the Marina. It was hot! But at 5:40 a.m. we set sail for Shimoda, nine hours away. Halfway across we killed the engines and took advantage of some good wind. We also saw a shark cross our bows, which rather killed the plan of a swim.

Shimoda was the first place Commodore Perry landed when he visited Japan in the middle of the 19th century. His Black Ship was a scary thing to the Japanese who lived in a closed society. This is a replica that is used to amuse visitors to Shimoda. It didn't seem to be operating on the day we arrived.

Perry is also "celebrated" by a little river walk in the town named after him. During our walk around I tried most unsuccessfully to persuade a bar owner to open up an hour early (at 6:00 p.m.) as he was bustling about inside. I spoke fluent English and he replied in fluent Japanese. I did the get the gist of it, however, which I think was roughly "Piss of fool! I don't open until 7 for you or anyone!"

JAPAN - Day four of 11.

We did the baseball match on the last night of our Tokyo visit. "Our" team, the Giants lost. But we found the event a lot of fun. Remember, no applause when your team is not at bat!
On the Friday morning, in spite of rain, we had a look at Shibuya, the world's busiest crosswalk. And it was busy! Evan and I are obsessed with not losing Eiko. She can easily blend in with the crowd and we would be totally lost. It's like being a little child.

In the square of Shibuya is a statue of a famous dog, Hachi. He faithfully waited for his master every day at the station. Sadly he even waited when his master died.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Japan 2nd Day

There was a small problem with my luggage coming over. I have case which has served me well over many years. It has a retractable handle and will fit in any overhead bin. On our first leg of the trip (I had gone cheap so we had to go via Canada) a problem developed. The handle refused to retract and gave the appearance of one of those warnings given out on TV about Viagra. You know, where they warn you about "extensions" lasting longer than four hours! In such an event, you should seek immediate medical assistance. As there was no luggage doctor on board, I was forced to jam the beast into the overhead with it's protuberance taking up all the rest of the bin. I was not popular with my fellow passengers! I have to admit it has been many years since I was faced with the problem of such an uninvited swelling.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Letter from Japan Day 1 of 11

We had a good flight from the USA to Tokyo and arrived a little early. Nonetheless the 1 1/2 hour bus ride to the city seemed even longer than usual. Also it was very hot - about 95 with high humidity. Thank God for beer!
The next challenge is to learn to use Eiko's brand new iPad. This is her birthday present from Michael and so far she hasn't had a chance to use it as Michael has monopolised it, followed by me, and of course Evan.
We've been out and about on this first day, but it's been raining! Also we forgot our cameras - sorry Grandma!
But baseball with the Tokyo Giants tonight.


When I first visited Tokyo in the mid-seventies, I was recommended to the Palace Hotel. "A nice mix of occidental and oriental guests," was the way it was described to me. On my subsequent visits I always stayed there and it's been a kind of hub for me.

Since my son, Michael lives here, I no longer need the facilities. However even with my absense it seems to me there was no need to tear the place down. Rather sad! It is shown here to the extreme right of the photo. Part of the Imperial Palace is on the left. I look forward to seeing what will take it's place.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Movie Going

Mile high movie theater in Big Bear

Recently I went to see Inception. It was an odd film, but because I was determined not to lose the thread of it, I concentrated a little more strongly than I would normally have done. I saw it locally and therefore the experience was entirely about the movie, and not the surroundings.

This week's column is about the experience of moviegoing and how it has changed over the years. No more cigarette smoke for instance - one doesn't even see it on the screen, unless the character is really really bad; like a Republican politician for example.

My first viewings of movies were in huge cinemas with everyone, including the underaged, all puffing away. It's amazing that the projector could break through the fog to the screen.

A couple of weeks ago I went to one of the new megaplexes and was impressed with the quality of seat, sound and picture. The regulars were of course quite used to it by now, and I wonder how they would have got on with our local place and the showing of Inception. You can read the entire article at

Music Track

I've never quite understand why so many people hate ABBA. Perhaps someone could explain it to me. The group were huge in Europe in the 70's and combine the three most important elements in music - melody, harmony and rhythm

The last song they recorded "The Day Before You Came" is particularly poignant considering what happened to the two principle relationships. This video on You Tube is over nine minutes long but has some shots of the individuals - they don't look happy.

The popularity of Mamma Mia on both the stage and the screen has no doubt done a lot to keep the music alive.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Le Tour

I was asked the other day if we fans of the Tour de France enjoy the crashes as much as NASCAR devotees enjoy their spills. Having devoted a period of my old man's mid night insomnia to the question, I have come to the conclusion that the answer is "No."

Now this is not because bicycle fans are nicer people or less bloodthirsty - you only have to look at the fans along the top of the hill climbs to know that's not true. What is it with these people? What drives them to dress in crazy outfits and run alongside panting racers screaming at them? Altogether far too much time on their hands, I think.

The reason we T d F fans don't relish crashes is because they are far too painful. Nearly all of us ride or have done in the past, and we've all come off as well - it's a nasty experience. When we see a spectacular crash in motor racing we rarely see the human enclosed in the flying machine. But when there's a pile up in bicycling, we all feel the road rash and the scars. Not an enjoyable experience for any of us -riders and fans alike.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


I met up with a very interesting lady yesterday. Grace McKean has been riding a 1947 Harley Davidson since she bought it in 1948. She's 76 next month and lives in Running Springs.
"I was sent out here to Catholic School from Illinois," she said. "But I realised this was riding country. So I left school a year early to get a job so I could earn some money to buy a bike."
She is also a member of the Motor Maids group and looked the part in her uniform of white leather jacket and black leather pants and boots.
She came up to meet with Big Bear Choppers who are weathering the economic storm by selling their bikes overseas.
As well as the '47, McKean also rides a Sportster, a couple of Indians and a Kawasaki Drifter.



I am shortly taking off for Japan. I've been lucky in my life to have visited this far away country many times. I went there first in the mid seventies on business and over the last ten years, I've been back most years. My eldest son, Michael is in the financial markets there, hence the reason for my current visits.

This trip is a little different as I'm taking my grandson Evan (15) with me. It will be quite an experience for both of us. A first for him, and it will be an interesting take on a place I know quite well but this time through very different eyes.

We will stay in Tokyo for three or four days then move down to Yokohama and thence on to Michael's big catamaran, Milestone, when we shall do some sailing out into the Pacific. Michael's wife, Eiko has volunteered to stay at home with the dog. S.W.M.B.O. has decided that the boat, although very comfortable, is about 100,000 tons too small to really enjoy.

I will report as we progress, provided we have all the technologies in place. The photo is of the Temple Bell at Zodoji Shrine in Tokyo

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Little Tokyo

This week's column covers Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles. It's a very small area and has been in existence since 1977, when it was developed by a group of local Japanese businessmen. It's only about two square blocks and the central shopping area is even smaller.
As it happens I am going to Japan at the end of the month and so it was somewhat prescient that I was in the area doing other assignments. Lunch loomed and there was absolutely no reason not to go along for some of my favorite Tempura Noodles.

There are a couple of good Japanese restaurants there and coming in from the realistic decor outside you almost feel that you are in modern Japan. The customary shout from the sushi chefs, as you duck under the cloth front door covers, completes the experience.

As expected the noodles were first rate and the broth was so hot it had to be made with steam. It made me look forward to my upcoming trip. You can read the entire column at

Got Milk?

The other day I was talking to a friend about home deliveries. They occured a long time ago and although I have lived in the US for 28 years, I don't remember seeing any here. Maybe Express Dairies in the UK still roll along in those little electric "floats" in the blue and white regalia. I don't know. Perhaps you can tell me.

I remember growing up just after the war, we had a milkman who delivered pints and half pints of milk to the doorstep every day. He had a horse and cart. Should the horse make his own delivery while in the vicinity, we would quickly find a shovel and the offering would be dug into the garden as soon as possible. There was no charge from the milkman for this additional service.

When I used to visit my grandparents in Sussex in the 40's and early 50's the same service was provided but this time by a "Milk Maid." She delivered the milk in churns and used a measure to fill up a jug we gave her at the back door. "Milk Maid's here!" Would be the cry when she appeared - and also on Saturday when she came around for the money. She wore a blue uniform and a mop cap. It all seems very quaint now looking back.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I put off getting an iPod for ages. "Delayed gratification" I believe the experts call that. In fact at my advanced age it was plain stupid. Now it's one of my most important possessions. Soon I shall be going on a long trip with lots of aircraft time. I shall board the plane with my iPod and my Kindle (another wonderful boon) and be absolutely set fair.

I first heard recorded music when I was about 7, I think. It was on an old Victrola with a horn coming out of it and of course, a wind up handle. I can remember the music too. It was a selection of National Anthems - all very stirring particularly to the nations involved. The records themselves which spun at 78 R.P.M. were quite brittle, and the way we played them was with a steel needle placed in the head that came down on the surface of the disc.

Needles were expensive and furthermore used to wear out the record. So we used to put in pine needles which were good for about one play. From that we advanced technically to LP's, which spun at 33 1/3 R.P.M. and allowed entire symphonies to be played on a disc - both sides usually for the long works. Pop music was generally sold on the smaller 45's and contained one song on each side.

From there we changed to eight track players, although I never went that route. Then to cassettes, of which I had hundreds - mostly self recorded. And now we have MP3 players with enormous storage. I have about 3,500 tracks on mine and I've hardly started to fill it up. I wonder what the next development will be?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Geffen

The second incursion into the world of contemporary art in Sunday's column is to the ultimate museum for it. It is in downtown Los Angeles at The Geffen. This used to be the original MOCA until that worthy institution moved to the upper part of the downtown area about a mile away.

The Geffen houses works of art from 1980 to the present day. It's close to Little Tokyo and we'll be popping in there for some lunch later on.

The museum has some very weird stuff as you might imagine. A friend told me that he can't take it seriously, but the number of security guards inside the galleries indicate that someone considers the collection highly valuable.

Now of course, it's no good trying to be judgemental at a place like this, although I do so enjoy that lofty position. "Leave your prejudice at the door" could be the motto as you enter. However I do wonder if elephant dung is really necessary as a painting medium. It also can't be that easy to obtain as it's not exactly lying around the streets of LA.

To read the entire column visit

Alternative Tracks

I've been asked to put a short selection of places to visit for the upcoming weekend. It's headed Alternative Tracks, and you can find it at the very end of the blog just before the last photo. I will try and insert a hot link to get to the sites, but if it's not possible or there is no Web site, then go to and look on the right hand side of the page to get a complete listing of columns.

Also each week the last picture on the blog will have a hot link to it if you move your cursor over the photo and click - it should take you straight to the site.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Music Track

This week's track is a real rock and roller! Brian Setzer in Tokyo with "Mystery Train." Takes me back to the start of it all in the early fifties. If you're going to do it, do it right, and this guy does! He even has the clothes too.

As usual you can get it on You Tube or paste this link - into your browser. There could well be a 10 second "commercial" before the You Tube track comes up.

Missionary Work

Recently our small peninsular has been invaded by missionaries. They arrive stealthily by cars which they park quite close to us. They then wander up and down our roads searching for occupants. Obviously, their intel is not up to speed as most of the houses are in fact second homes and have few residents, but they don't ever seem to be in a hurry.

They other day I returned sweaty and grumpy from a bike ride. It was not the fault of the ride that I was grumpy however, as it's a state I often enjoy.

S.W.M.B.O. (She who must be obeyed) was in conversation with two well-dressed fellows at the doorstep. They seemed anxious to leave but, my wife immediately introduced me. "They want to know if we've read the bible," she said.

I explained that we had both been to schools where studying of the bible was mandatory, so we did in fact know the plot. I pointed out the we had even read the Apocrypha, which might be considered to be taking it all a little too far.

I've always enjoyed the chance to talk to such people as they generally seem to be very happy, if not a little smug. They pressed me on my religious beliefs and I explained that we were in fact commited Deists, which caused some confusion. The elder of the two seemed to know the term, but the younger was floored. I suggested that he read up a bit on the competition before he launched himself on a cold calling session of any neighborhood.

I have seen several of these teams walking about since, but none of them has approached our house. Do you think the first two have put some sort of secret mark on our house?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Music Track

This week's track is totally different. It's Stabat Mater by Pergolesi. The recording is by Andreas Scholl and Barbara Bonney. Pergolesi died when he was very young at 26 in 1736. Here the music is piercingly beautiful; see if you can always tell if it's the woman or the man singing. Paste this into your browser. There is a one minute lead in before the voices on this track, which takes 4 minutes.

Counter tenors, or as they are sometimes called, male sopranos, have been around for a long time. Usually to produce a voice of such purity and height a nasty little operation was required. The last "Castrati" to sing in public was around 1904 and there is an actual recording of him.

The operation has not been performed on Mr. Scholl, as his ex-wife and his daughter I am sure will attest.

Other well known such singers are the late Alfred Deller and currently Michael Maniaci.

You can search for all of them and the Stabat Mater on You Tube.

Monday, July 5, 2010


We're at that time of year when I'm visited by an annual addiction. I've tried to ease off, but it's no good. I'm hopeless at avoiding the temptation. I refer of course, to "Tour de France-itis." It's had a serious hold of me now for about a decade, and for the next three weeks, I shall be glued to the TV to watch the 175+ cyclists fight their way around the route.

I've seen Lance Armstrong win his seven titles and also the sad business of champions disqualified due to drugs. There's always drama outside the actual business of turning the pedals.

It's not just the race, it's also the scenery that draws me. France is indeed a beautiful country and the race goes through some of the best of it. The section in the Alps is probably the finest, but there are never bad days as far as TV coverage is concerned.

The start of this year's race was not without incident. The Prologue was in Rotterdam, and then for Stage One the bikers rode some 130 miles down through Belgium to end the day in Brussels. Once again I was attracted to the scenery of two countries I had grown fond of. There were four terrible crashes, which downed several cyclists. But fortunately Armstrong - in his final Tour appearance - Leipheimer, Hincapie, Horsovd, McEwan, Cavendish, and the other stars survived.

Perhaps next year I will take the cure and resist it, but I doubt it.

Music Track

I've often been asked if I miss England, and I have to say that really I haven't missed it too much - apart from the pubs, of course. But I do miss Europe. My job used to take me across the channel on many occasions and it was always exciting. So many different cultures all up against each other.

This week's music track is from Italy; it's "Vivo Per Lei" by Andrea Boccelli and Giorgia. You can find it on U-Tube.

Obviously because it's sung in Italian it makes it different. But also it has the distinctive sound that floods the beaches of the northern Mediterranean where Europe takes its vacations - you can almost smell the suntan lotion!

As for the music there is a coarseness in the woman's voice that counters the purity of the tenor. It has been very popular across the pond.

Modern Art

This Sunday's column was about a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. It is the first of two as MOCA has a second museum called The Geffen about a mile away. It's a difficult subject to write about as art in any form is a very personal business - and particularly of the modern kind.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in viewing modern art is the need to disconnect the thought "What does it mean?" In fact it probably doesn't mean anything. It's there because the artist liked the idea and was attracted to it. The artist hopes you like it too, but that's not really important.

As you line up at the MOCA box office to buy your ticket you are dwarfed by a huge statue. It looks like it's made out of old airplane parts - and it is! In fact the piece by Nancy Rubins has a long title and the words "airplane parts" are included in it.

Inside the museum you will see art that comes from the time of WWII through 1980 - the pieces from 1980 to date are on show at The Geffen.

So at MOCA, the art has been around for some time and has acquired a certain respectability with exposure. Some of it is still pretty odd though. Any enthusiasts out there for Jackson Pollock or Jasper Johns? You can read the whole article at

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fourth of July

Once again we come around to celebrating the Fourth of July. I'm almost used to it now having been here for 28 years. It did feel funny however when we first arrived and almost treasonous for us to aknowledge it. But we're over that now.

The summer too is also a nice time to celebrate with fireworks.

The English have their fireworks at a unpleasant time of the year - November the 5th. Now this celebration is far more modest as it commemorates the occurence of a rather nasty event in British history - the Gunpowder Plot. On November the fifth, 1605, one Guido Fawkus (Guy Fawkes) was found sitting on a pile of gunpowder beneath the House of Lords. He was arrested and interrogated. I believe the method used was the rack. I bet old Guido would have opted for a good waterboarding if he'd been given the chance.

Anyway, the truth was stretched out of him and he and his five pals were executed for plotting to overthrow the government. Guido evaded the hanging, drawing and quartering he was due to receive by leaping from the scaffold and breaking his neck.

So 495 years later this event is still widely celebrated in the UK with lots of fires and fireworks. A generally happy time is had by all. And you thought we Brits were a genteel lot!

For all that, Happy Birthday, America!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Global Warming

OK, I'm prepared to admit that we might be warming up. Of course, we received a huge amount of snow in the winter months and we'd had about enough of the damned white stuff come March. It was nice to get the lake filled up again though, and also to see everything greening up.

But there are also problems associated with over watering. For instance we have had to endure some allergies up here at 6,750 feet above sea level. Normally these are burned off pretty soon into the season, but this year with all the grass we've actually had some hay fever around.

But the biggest problem has been mosquitoes. Nasty little buggers! Usually they don't appear with the cooling each evening; but at dusk - their favorite feeding time - it's become a chancy thing to go outdoors with the relaxing glass of something nice to watch the approaching darkness.

So, maybe we are warming up. But here's the real bone of contention. Is it man made or is it old Mother Nature playing us tricks? Before you answer that question too quickly, just remember we are being advised by the same scientists who 40 years ago told us we were all going to freeze. Did you ever read the Doomsday Book back then? Scared the living daylights out of us all.

I refer of course, not to the Doomsday Book commissioned by William the Conqueror, in the 11th Century but the book that came out in the late sixties.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


I was talking with a young man last night about technology. He was rather amused at my tale of my first pager about 1973. It was about the size of a stick of butter. If the office wanted me when I was out, they would call a number and it would be "patched" through to the device, which would beep. And I knew I had to call them - from a public call box naturally. If anyone else wanted me they had to call the office, which is what they would do anyway, and the message would be sent out.

Further back in 1964, I had a very early ATM card. This was a miniature punched card about 2" by 1." You would insert it into a slot at the bank's ATM station, and it would be swallowed. You punched in your number and a packet with ten pounds would be posted back to you through another slot. The card would be sent back to you in the mail.

Then there was LEO III. This was one of the original computers built by Lyons Company in the late 40's to handle accounting. I used to see it regularly when I visited a customer who shared premises with this huge 100 foot long beast. It needed a lot of air conditioning to deal with all the heat from the valves. Also it couldn't do half the stuff that a modern calculator would do. Ah, those were the days!