Friday, September 30, 2011

Music Track - Tony Bennett & KD Lang

What sort of romantic music are today's young listening to, I wonder?
I particularly like the trumpet solo in the middle.  KD Lang's voice always surprises me.  And for 85, Tony Bennett is doing rather well, isn't he?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Black Cats

The other day I was returning from a ride and a beautiful black cat ran across my front tire.  He, or of course it could have been a she, narrowly missed being hit.  It was a lovely creature, but was it unlucky?

You see, back in England black cats have always been considered lucky.  I well remember that in my youth, married couples used to arrange to have one let free in front of them as they left the church.  However out here, the reverse is true.
Now as an ex-Englishman living here, do I bring the English custom with me or do I accept the American version of luck and why do they vary.  Does anyone know?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Movie # 9

Movie Number 9 is The Maltese Falcon with Humphrey Bogart, Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorrie.  I'm sorry that I didn't quite appreciate Bogart when he was alive, but over the years and many re-runs, I have come to enjoy his performances, and watch his films many times.  They are easy to watch repeatedly, I think.

In this film, he is buoyed up by the Fat Man and the weaselly Lorre, who try and outsmart him.  If you've never seen it, you really should as it will not disappoint.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Neat Freaks

I rather envy really neat people.  From time to time I try and pull myself together and stop being messy, and over the years after the strenous work by wives, I have gradually stopped being a slob, which I cheerfully was in my youth.  I've even reached the stage where dropped clothing on the floor bothers me.

Last year I made a supreme effort and tidied up my dest - I even wrote a blog on it at the time.  I stopped using little pieces of paper and now use a small notebook.  I think I've achieved about a 90% goal on that one.

Just up the road from us is a fellow who is a confirmed neat freak.  His garden is immaculate and last year he had some trees cut down and the big logs were stacked up pretty well.  But that was not enough as he wanted smaller pieces to burn in his fireplace.

With his daughter, who is even more neat than him he states, he hired a log spliltter and cut up the large pieces.  The above photo shows the result of his work.  Amazing.  Look at how neatly he has stacked up the logs.  I can't imagine how hard it was to do this so neatly.

Monday, September 26, 2011


My father-in-law was fond of saying that once you crossed the channel, those few miles of water made a huge difference when you took a vacation.  He was right and the very first Continental holiday I spent was in Ostend, which is just across the sea from England on the coast of Belgium.
The usual first sight of the resort is from the deck of one of the regular ferries.  They turn around out in the sea and then charge full speed backwards down a narrow channel, until the captain puts it into reverse at the last moment and comes to a stop within inches.  The ramp drops down and the many cars on board depart.

One of the great delights of Ostend is the quantity of seafood available.  There are many small family restaurants along the waterfront and the food is always delicious.  Belgium sometimes gets a bad rap, as it's a country Brits mostly drive through, but it is a great place to visit, and they do make the best "Pommes Frites" in the world (French Fries.)  That is if you like to eat them with mayonnaise!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday's Column - Mormons

The Mormon Battalion Museum in Old Town, San Diego
I have to say I was totally unaware of the Mormon Battalion.  But on a recent trip to San Diego I visited the museum dedicated to it.  Back in 1846 a troop of 500 men with 38 women marched from Ft. Leavenworth to San Diego, a distance of 2000 miles to help with the war against Mexico.  They carried 60 pound muskets which they were told they wouldn't have to use  - as it was against their religion - but they could keep them after they were finished.  They stayed for a long time and when they were told to return to the new settlement in Utah a petition was signed by all the town's residents to ask them to stay.  You can read the entire column at

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Music Track - Bach

Doing a music track every week makes it impossible to go without a little of Old father Bach (1685 - 1750) I always remember his dates for some reason.
Does anyone recall this group

Friday, September 23, 2011


And so we say goodbye to Summer.  Therefore it's time for a layout change.  Nothing too radical as I'm sure, like me, you don't like big changes in things.  A new picture of me and a new "autumnal" theme which we'll keep for the season.  We've had an entire summer at home and I have to say I've enjoyed it very much - not too hot during our hot spell. 

We don't have a lot of deciduous trees up here which makes the few we have rather nice.
This is just round the corner from us on our walk with the boys most days.
Next week we begin our traveling again.  A week's cruise, then a trip to England with Evan over Thanskgiving, and just before Christmas a run down to Florida to see my friend Paul and his wife, Vivien.  A lot of stuff going on.  I'll report in due course.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mystery Plant

We inherited this plant about 15 years ago when it was about a foot high.  Now look at it!

The only problem is that it's growing so high we think we're going to have to cut its top or it's going to go out through the roof.

The other day we had to re-pot it as it was starting to fall over, so off to the nursery we went - well it's not really a nursery, more of a DIY place.

We bought a monster pot and a bag of mulch to feed the roots, which when we pulled it out, were all balled up.

We can't remember the name of the plant as the lady at the shop had to look in her book, and we've forgotten the name, although we think it began with an "m."

If you know the name please let me know.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Movie - Number 10

Number ten on the list of my favorite movies is RONIN.  It's a 1998 movie starring Robert De Niro, Natascha McElhone and Jean Reno.
Ronin in real life are unattached samurai who have lost their liege lord and have not committed suicide in the accepted fashion, and roam around the countryside - a danger to many people.
In the film a disparate group of spies, hired killers and other odd sorts gather in Paris to carry out a mission.  The mission itself is not very important, but the interaction among the group is fascinating as are the car chases around Paris.
The music is by Elia Cmiral, and adds significantly to the film - it's #10!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


We have reached a most unfortunate time of the year - Oktoberfest!  Now there are three things that I find unpleasant about this festival: a) that nasty "K" in the spelling and not the customary softer Anglican "C." b) then there is the fact that it starts in September and runs for nearly six weeks up here, and finally c) the worst, which is the abundance of normally fine, good hearted Americans dressing up in lederhosen and dirndl dresses and dancing the polka.  Now any one of these I can live with but the overall effect is most distressing.

I had to do an assignment a few years ago where I went along to this nonsense held at the convention center every year; I believe they're in their 44th this year, or close to it.
It was the most revolting spectacle I could ever have imagined.  I thought we'd stamped out that sort of thing back in 1945, but no, and it's going on here in Big Bear and other normally decent places, I believe.  Oom-pah-pahs all over the place and large quantities of hot dogs consumed with gallons of saurkraut.  Quite distressing for anyone with a sensitive nature like me.  I'm surprised it hasn't been stopped or at least taxed to death.  I have an understanding that I shall never be asked to cover the event by The Sun, as I cannot guarantee not losing my normal restraint in any resulting article.

Monday, September 19, 2011


I heard a different type of 9/11 story the other day.  As soon as it became apparent that we were under attack that day, there was no way of knowing how extensive it was, and if there were more planes up there intent on killing people.  The authorities ordered all the planes flying to land immediately.  This sounds simple, but like a juggler who keeps a number of balls in the air, finding somewhere to put them when he stops is not all that easy.

The airport at Gander, Newfoundland was built in the late 40's to handle stopovers for planes that couldn't get across the Atlantic in one go.  Since the 60's its traffic has been cut drastically but the two miles long runway is still intact.  Therefore 38 planes were ordered to land there and await instructions.

The population of Gander is 10,000 and on that day an additional 6,000 people came to visit.  The sheriff and other public servants roused the town to help, and they offloaded all the passengers and catered to them in a local gymnasium and also within peoples houses.  Strong freindships were formed and last to this day.  One lady was so impressed with the way the Canadians handled this business that she created a trust to assist young people looking to go to university.  Today the trust is worth $1.5 million and has helped 350 students.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday's Column - Safari Park part II

I already posted some details of the second part of the day we spent at the Safari Park in San Diego, in particular the fantastic cheetah and his friend the Anatolian Sheepdog, Yeti.

But one of the other delights was feeding the giraffes.  Here, S.W.M.B.O. is giving them some leaves which they seem to really like.  Their tongues are black on the part that sticks out as it protects from the sun's rays - they spend a lot of time with their tongues out!

This strange bird is called the shoe bill for obvious reasons, and he spent his lunchtime looking at us while we sat looking at him.  They do have some wonderful sights at the Safari Park, and we both enjoyed our visit there very much.  Can't wait to go back!  You can read the column at

Saturday, September 17, 2011


My friend John in England sent me this amazing video.  It's quite long (9:14) but after the video is set up you can fast forward to about 5 minutes to escape the German commentary, and you can easily see what the heck these guys are doing.  It gets pretty boring in Germany in the winter, and you have to invent things to do, but nonetheless, this is unbelievable.  And the local guy is standing underneath.  Quite a tribute to German engineering.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Music Track - Abba

I heard this the other day and realised how much I miss ABBA.  Not the most trendy comment, for a heterosexual male but the fact is they produced some of the very best pop music in the short decade they were with us.  Once they broke up they were never to perform again.  Sad.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


My very first business trip "abroad" was to Ireland.  I had to visit a large newspaper there and I confirmed my visit some days before, as it entailed aircraft and other means of transport.  On the day I arrived I checked into a really nice hotel which I now believe has gone.  And the very next morning at 8:30 sharp a taxi took me off to meet my prospective customer.  Imagine my surprise when the receptionist told me she thought that the man was not in that day.  She checked with his secretary and was told he had gone to England and wouldn't be back until the morning!

For all that, Ireland is an interesting place and particularly Dublin.  Above is one of the thousands of colored doors in the city, and is very typical.  It is a Georgian city and has a certain elegance about it.  Unfortunately the same cannot be said of its climate!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


My friend Paul, in England suggested to me that I might list over the next ten weeks, my favorite movies.  So starting next week, I'll list them in order from number ten to my favorite one of all time.

So you'll recognise the post with this little sign.  In the meantime however, we have recently been to see a couple of films which were not bad at all, although they don't make the top ten list.

As usual, when we go to the cinema, we get quite a few trailers ahead of the feature and they can mostly be divided up into three types: a) films designed for ten-year olds and which are mostly cartoons, b) films designed for 19 year-old youths who have just discovered sex, and c) movies starring creatures covered in slime.

None of these categories appeal to us so our jaunts to the movie theater are fairly limited.  We did however go to see Woody Allen's latest, Midnight in Paris and although it was rather fanciful, it was an entertaining movie and if you happen to like Paris, it has a lot of great cinematography.

The second film we saw was last weekend.  It was The Debt, and starred Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson.  It was an adult film, but not in the pornographic sense.  The plot was clever and the action kept you glued to the screen, which is not that easy to say these days.  Next week, number ten on the list.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I heard a commentator the other day suggesting that the time had come for an additional tax on things we buy.  Surprisingly, this is a normally quite conservative fellow and I think he is very much misinformed on the matter.
A great number of countries have now introduced a Value Added Tax into their systems, and I did a little checking on the history in England of such a beast.  It began in April 1973 at a lowly 10%, I actually remember it quite well.  Not surprisingly, the government at the time was socialist as those boys really do like to tax the heck out of as many people as they can!
I'm going over there in November, and recently I checked on hotels in London - always a lot of sticker shock for a place where I used to live.  Apart from the overall cost, one now has to add on an additional 20% for VAT.  So, Mr. Commentator, be careful what you wish for, or start adding 20% onto everything you  buy.  As you know, taxes once levied are virtually never removed and only go up.  Out here, I'm sure such a tax would begin quite modestly, say 1% or 2%, but how long before it reaches European levels?  FYI in Greece, it's 23% - that should give Ms. Pelosi chills of pleasurable expectation!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Human Time Clock

This was sent to me by my friend Stan in England the other day.  It's a fascinating little clock - both digital and analog.  You click on the center to change the type.  It was suggested that the time was in British Summer Time but it worked for me out here on the Left Coast.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sunday's Column

This week is the first of two articles about our day trip to San Diego's Wildlife Safari Park.  We spent all day there and there was so much to see that the piece had to be split in two.

Our first tour was aboard some Segways, about which I've written before.  But it gave us a good chance to see around the perimeter of the park and learn about the various animals from our Segway guide, Laurel La.  The picture here is of a herd of Gaur Cattle from India.  They look pretty relaxed sitting out on the grass, but unlike most cattle, they are extremely dangerous.  You wouldn't want to just wander into their territory.  You can read the entire column at

Saturday, September 10, 2011


As with hearing about the death of JFK, everyone remembers where they were on 9/11.  In my case I was staying with my youngest son, Simon, in Los Angeles.  Evan was quite a small boy then, and used to eat his breakfast watching cartoons until he left for school at about 7:10 a.m.  As soon as he left we turned the TV channel to ABC, and immediately I knew that something was wrong as the late Peter Jennings was broadcasting.  They only used him at that time for serious stuff instead of the normal Good Morning America crew.  Within moments we saw the second plane crash into the buildings.  I knew we were under attack.
I had an appointment to visit Griffith Park Observatory high above the city that morning, but having seen what had occurred I thought it was best to get out of Dodge as soon as possible and, we hightailed it to the mountains.  My fear was that LA would also be on the target list, as we had no idea how big this would be.  I was quite certain that Big Bear was not on that list!
That evening we repaired to our local, and eventually things returned to normal, although none of us would ever be quite the same.
A week ago the date was September 3rd, the day that in 1939 Chamberlain declared war on Germany.  I was two weeks old, and I have to say that I am so very tired of war and all its horror.
At the bottom is a picture taken from Griffith Park when I eventually went there - it was about five years later.


We have very poor soil here; no doubt living in the mountains on granite is the reason.  However we have put upgraded earth on some of the beds and we have a nice range of flowers that come up every summer.

That is with the exception of the hollyhocks.  All over the area, hollyhocks grow in great profusion and often reach up to five feet high.

But not with us.  And it's not like we neglect the little beasts.  We water them and cosset them, but after six years of effort this is the best we have managed so far.  A poor stunted little thing but at least it has managed it's first flower this year.

She Who Must Be Obeyed is constantly aggravated by the sight of a group of them just up the road growing healthily with absolutely no care at all.  Go figure!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Music Track - Big Band

In a couple of weeks, S.W.M.B.O. and I are going off an a small cruise.  It's an interesting week and I'll report on the itinerary later on.  But one of the things we will certainly do while on board is to have the occasional dance.  As I've reported before, I consider our civilisation began its decline when people stopped dancing together - a point I'm quite happy to debate at any time!
Like most of our generation we were taught to dance in our teens, and the lessons mostly stuck with us over all these years.  So at some time we will find ourselves in front of a band like this and will happily do a few turns of the floor.  This is a foxtrot for those of you keeping score.  I have no idea who any of these people are, but they sound pretty good to me.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


We're coming down to the end of the baseball season.  We still have the playoffs to look forward to, although our team the LA Dodgers are well away from any glory this year.  They have not played particularly well although they have two wonderful players in the pitcher, Kershaw, and the center fielder, Kemp.  Someone said the other day that both of them were much too good to be Dodgers!  Rather a harsh comment, but true.

This is Wrigley Field in Chicago, I think.  Home of the Cubs.
 There have been few problems with the team this year.  Manny has long gone, and the new manager, Don Mattingly seems to know what he's doing.  The problems all have come from the unfortunate divorce proceedings of the owners, the McCourts.

These two overly rich people have milked the coffers of the team and although I don't know the entire story, Major League Baseball has had to come in and rescue the team, even though these two remain the owners.  It's been a nasty business, but someone has to pay for Mrs. McCourt's $5,000 haircuts.  And their many homes and private jets!  The fans have been staying away and the gate is down about 30%.

One great thing however, is that the broadcaster, Vin Scully, has agreed to stay on for yet another season.  He is 84 this year and has been calling the Dodgers for over sixty years.  Remarkable!  He brings an elegance to the game and a knowledge that is not just statistically driven.  He no longer goes beyond Denver to do his work and lets the other ones do it.  But they need two and they never stop gabbling.  Vin knows how to leave a little silence from time to time.  He is irreplaceable.

For my British friends with long memories he is the equivalent of John Arlott.  Irreplaceable!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


I was on a long drive the other day and had to opportunity to listen to some radio.  On one program the host posed the question: Is the aging process tougher for men or women?  He began by saying that he thought that although there were many variables, he felt that women suffered the most, because of the looks aspect of their lives.

Over the course of an hour, several listeners called in with their views and slowly the host admitted that his opinion was beginning to change.  By the end of the hour, he said that he now felt that men suffered the most.  Of course, people are all very different as are their circumstances, but what do you think?

Monday, September 5, 2011


I heard a teacher talking on the radio the other day.  She was talking about the "wimpification" of her young boy charges.  I've been aware of this going on for several years and I don't think it's doing anyone any good.
Some years back I read a book called Iron John.  It talked about how we were one of the few societies that did not give their young men a chance of earning their manhood by performing some small act of bravery.
In my generation it was conscription, and although I didn't go into National Service, I was well affected by being surrounded by so many that did.
Today, young men join gangs to get that rite, or earn it on the sports field.  No matter how much "progressive" thinkers try to stop scoring, the kids know who won and by how much.  You can't stop the natural competitiveness of boys.
You may be wondering what the picture above has to do with this subject, but the teacher on the air used a phrase that I had not heard of before.  She said one of the problems she faced was that boys are not allowed to show their spirit, because many of their parents are "helicopter" parents.  They are hovering around the boys lives all the time.  I don't think it's a good trend to be texting their kids all the time, but that is what it seems to be happening.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sunday's Column - Rte 66

Some of the exhibits at the Route 66 Museum in Barstow are quite funny.  However you view America's Mother Road however, it is always a fun trip to go in and have a look around there.  I've been several times and always enjoy my visits.
There is a constant stream of visitors to the museum and many of the come from abroad.  There is something about the road that draws people to it even though it's been closed for many years as an official highway.  Tourists still drive from one end to the other.  I stopped one day a few miles to the east and a crowd of Harley riders stopped as well.  Nothing unusual about that except they were all German and were riding the 2000 miles as a group.  You can read the entire column at

Saturday, September 3, 2011


One of my favorite cities is Amsterdam, in Holland.  I was fortunate to spend quite a bit of time there in the 70's and the 80's.  This view is about as typical as you can get of the water, the bridges and the buildings.

The city is build around three semicircular canals and it's one of the most confusing places to drive a car.  Everywhere you look there is a canal, a church and a bridge.  It makes navigating pretty hard.

The city is crammed with little eateries, pubs and museums.  You can spend days and days going around the galleries of art, and they even have a red light district!

Just writing about it I'm thinking I could go a coffee in the American Hotel right now.
A few weeks ago on August 4th, it was the sad anniversary of the arrest of Anne Frank in 1944.  She was 15 and died eight months later in Bergen Belson concentration camp.  She and her family had been in hiding for two years in a secret annex above an office in Westerkerk, Amsterdam.  Like most visitors I have visited her museum and found it chilling to imagine her life locked away before they were all betrayed.  Her crime?  Being a Jew!

These houses are typical and the posts sticking out from the tops are for hauling up furniture as the stairs inside are usually very steep and narrow.  You could not build these types of houses these days as they would certainly not be up to code.
If I could get used once again to rainy gray weather, and wanted to live in a city, then Amsterdam would have to be near the top of the list.  I've got the bicycle which is the best form of transportation.

But I don't think I could go back to that weather, as I would miss the mountains so much.  And there are no mountains in Holland!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Touch Pad

This is not a Touch Pad but its main rival the iPad.
The perspicacious Mrs. Summons was on the phone the other day to Hewlett Packard to purchase some cartridges for our small printer. The rep offered her one of their now defunct Touch Pads for $99 (including shipping overnight).  At that price, she could not resist the offer, and I have to say it's a fine piece of kit.  We keep it on our coffee table and use it for looking up things on the 'Net.
Lots of people have bought, and are delighted with its main rival the iPad, and so far I can't see much of a difference, having used them both.  The Touch Pad has some odd procedures however that take some getting used to.
But there has to be someone at HP looking for a job.  How could you bring a product like this to market, go through the entire manufacturing process, advertise it on TV (no cheap deal) and then withdraw it after only 48 days?
I noticed the Touch Pad when it was advertised, and wondered if it might be a less expensive alternative to the iPad as I could see the use for it.  But it was priced about the same and also for some models a little higher.  This was not good marketing on the part of the firm.  My experience of American companies is that they are dynamite at getting all the sums right for this type of product.  What could possibly have gone wrong?  I would not be happy if I was a shareholder.
Now I'm no genius at this type of thing, but let's imagine that as they are selling off their entire stock for $99, why not start off selling a few thousand at that price as an introductory offer, then increase the price once you have got some market share.  They would have been no worse off and they'd not have to slink off with their heads hanging in shame.  You can be sure that some people there are changing their resumes to exclude any reference to the Touch Pad!