Saturday, December 31, 2011

Voice Recognition

I ordered a nifty little gadget the other day from an ad on TV.  It wasn't very expensive and the ad promised that not only would they provide the item but they would double the order and also include a fee gift - just pay shipping and handling!  Well, I didn't want two of them and they could keep their free gift, so I was prepared to do a small battle with the rep on the phone.  But I didn't get the chance as it was all done with voice recognition.  Not a human involved in the entire transaction!  Credit card number, mailing address, and all the usual details were handled by the system and once that was done I had to listen to some commercials about other stuff they wanted to sell me.  After a bit I just hung up.  I wonder if the goods will arrive?

Friday, December 30, 2011

Music Track - Mannheim Steamroller

As we're still in the Christmas season this is a great piece by Mannheim Steamroller.  They take their name from a phenomenon in the early 18th century.  The orchestra in Mannheim, Germany developed a crescendo which was known to give the audience goosebumps; it was called the "Mannheim Rocket."

Thursday, December 29, 2011

British Food

One of the most noticeable aspects of our British visit was that the food was really excellent.  No more the warmed-over gray goo that was the norm of our youth.  Back then food was not normally available at pubs, but with the closing of so many, the ones to survive do so by providing food.  And this is really good.

Fish and Chips - still a favorite in the UK, but best bought at a fish and chip shop.
Perhaps the changes started slowly with more and more ethnic food merging into standard British fare.  It began with Chinese restaurants in the late fifties, then with Indian becoming popular in the sixties.  Today there are all kinds of ethnic foods available in the cities and also slowly opening in the smaller towns. 
In the eight days we were there we never had a bad experience.  But take plenty of money as it's not cheap!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Movie # 6

Number six on the "also ran" list is The Ipcress File starring Michael Caine as a sort of anti hero/anti spy, Harry Palmer.  Perhaps the opposite of James  Bond's suave sophisticate, Palmer is lower middle class and makes no excuse for it.  His rank is well beneath that of his handlers who are typical officer class with their bowler hats and rolled umbrellas.  One scene I always liked was when he visits one of these bosses, Colonel Ross, who is snipping the heads off roses in his garden in favor of the weeds.  "Protecting the strong against the weak," was his explanation.  You can read about the movie here

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Boxing Day

I've been asked by a number of people: "What exactly is Boxing Day?"
One idea of course is that the Brits, who don't have Thanksgiving, only get together on this once a year holiday at Christmas. The relationships have worn so thin that by the day after they get out the boxing gloves! A fine idea, but not the case. 

More likely, and diarist Samuel Pepys mentions it in his 17th century accounts, is that on the day following Christmas the upper classes would hand out Christmas boxes to their staff.  These boxes would contain small amounts of money and occasionally left over food - Yummy! And who said the upper classes lacked generosity!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Coyotes - repeat

There was a wonderful coyote that just ran across the road outside my window.  Seeing this I thought I should write a post on the event and searched the archives to find this one that I wrote a year ago.
As the traffic for the blog has been buiding up with new readers I thought I should repeat the post as it has some merit.  So here for the second time is a piece on these interesting animals.  I hope you like it... 
...I recently wrote a piece in the Sunday column about a wildlife retreat for animals.  One of the animals I met was a wonderful coyote, called Wylie, of course.  He was rescued several years ago, being the only survivor of his pack that had been struck with a bad virus.  The column caused the owners of the preserve a problem with the bureaucrats who handle such things.  They were concerned that people would think that you could tame coyotes and turn them into pets.  This is not possible as like woves they will always be wild.

This is a wild coyote - the picture was taken some time ago by my friend Ann, who lived across the lake in the village of Fawnskin.  He looks fairly tame and in fact Ann used to put the odd scrap out for him, but make no mistake, like his brothers and sisters this is a completely wild animal.

We see quite a few coyotes up here in the mountains.  They regularly trot past my office window on their business, whatever that might be.  I have even seen one in the middle of Village Drive at midday on a Saturday.  They seem completely fearless.

But mostly we hear them with their distinctive howling - it's quite beautiful but very eerie until you get used to it.  They are very crafty too.  They will bring a female in heat around to a loose dog and then corral it when it leaves its safety.  I have seen skeletal remains after such an event.  So as I wrote in a previous post, if you're visiting the mountains with a dog under about 40 ponds, don't let it run around loose, or it could fall victim.  And also remember like everything else living up here, animals are not to be trusted - and that includes many of the two legged kind!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and a happy New Year.  This Sunday's column is about Christmas up here in the mountains and you can read it at

Saturday, December 24, 2011


I recently spent a wonderful week down in Florida with my friend, Paul, together with his wife, Vivien.  We have known each other for over 40 years so there's always some catching up to do plus the opportunity to put a number of important international affairs to rights.  We solved the deficit problem and also most of the difficulties with the Middle East, so the time was not wasted.
At this time of the year as we enter winter, Florida comes into its own.  It was around 8o degrees and the humidity was up in that region too.  An interesting fact about humidity is that when it is high and the temperature is low, it feels just right.
Here are some of the pictures I took during my stay.  Many of them will be used in an upcoming article about it for The Sun.
Typical 19th century Sanibel house at the museum

One of the nicest pools I've ever swum in

Typical Sanibel fauna - lush and verdant

Seashells all over the beach

Sanibel Lighthouse

I guess we're not in Kansas anymore!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Music Track - Halleluia

There is really little choice for this week's music track bearing in mind the season.  The only difficulty is the choice of rendition.  I was tempted by Andre Reiu's performance but it is a little too fast and also somewhat over the top.  So this is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  It's hard to beat.  The tradition of the audience standing for this goes back to the reign of George II. Now, whether he stood out of respect or to stretch his legs has never been agreed, but the tradition of standing is still marked to this day 200 years later.  For more information on this click on

Thursday, December 22, 2011

New Layout

With the first day of winter, there is a change in the layout, which I hope you like.  The next change could be sooner than spring as I'm looking at a new Website/blog - stay tuned for that.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Movie #7 on the also ran list

Movie number seven on the "Also Ran" list is 1984.  Here is the link to it on Wikipedia  I'm indebted to my good friend Vanessa for the suggestion that I always put in a hot link to these movies.  (I'll try and remember in future, Dear Lady!)  1984 is a disturbing movie as is the book that was written in 1948.  George Orwell simply reversed the last two numbers of that date , believing that it would be far enough away in the future.  There are two actors who have a lock on tortured souls - Jeremy Irons and John Hurt.  The latter is slightly more dissipapated and plays the role of Winston Smith, who is rebelling against the party and its many manifestations, including the Thought Police.  He and Julia try and conduct an affair in an atmosphere where such behavior is severely punished.

I have a particular affinity with this work as I first saw it on BBC TV in about 1954.  It was the most shocking thing I had ever seen in my young life up to that point and I never forgot it.  In our innocence we had no idea that brainwashing and torture could go on in our modern world yet alone way into the future.  It gave me a visceral hatred and fear of totalitarianism which I hold to this day.

The movie itself is not the best, I have to say, and only makes it to this list becuse of its political importance.  I think it's time we did another version.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


I had the most extraordinary coincidence the other day.  I was passing though airport security with all the usual stuff in bins for the conveyor belt - you know, shoes off, belt off, pockets emptied etc, etc.  When we got through to the other side there was the usual rush to put it all back together again, and I crammed my laptop into my carry on and retrieved my other stuff.  It was then that I noticed my belt was in a bin with - my laptop?
Now as you can see there's nothing particularly special about my laptop - it's a Dell Inspiron about five years old - and here it was on the conveyor again after I'd put it back in my carry on.  The fact that my belt was with it led me to realize I might have packed the wrong one.  I asked the lady behind me if that was her laptop and she said "Oh yes, that's mine!"  I then pulled mine back out of the bag and it was a complete match.  We went over to the tables where people can re-pack.  "My battery doesn't work, so if one of them fires up, it's yours," she said.  Sure enough the one I hadn't packed started up, and if it hadn't been for my belt we would have ended up with the wrong computers.  A nasty mistake and how would we ever have contacted each other?

Monday, December 19, 2011


One of the first posts I did on the blog was about the problem we had been experiencing with raccoons on our boat.  The little devils would climb under the covers and get into the very rear compartment.  Unlike a friend of mine whose boat was also targeted, ours was left in pristine condition - they didn't turn it into a party boat, which is really unpleasant.

We solved the difficulty with a new snap-down cover which stopped them dead as the snaps were too hard for their little fingers.

Now the basic problem with raccoons is that they look really cute.  They are like a cross between a dog and a cat, and you'd think they would be fun, but they are very aggressive as anyone who has accosted one knows.

Last night returning from town in the dark, we saw a couple of them near our neighbors; they scurried off and we thought no more about it.  That is until it was time to put the bins out for trash collection.  The raccoons had been there first.  They had turned over a bin and spread the contents all around - lovely!  They left the "green" bin completely alone, of course. Note to self.  Next time make sure the lid is well fitted down.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday's Column - Primm

Halfway to Las Vegas there was always a well-used stop called State Line.  Well, today it's called Primm, after its founder Gary Primm.  I was invited to come out, along with the redoubtable Mrs. S. to do a piece on the place. I have to say that the organisers of this little junket really pushed the boat out for us.  Not only was the room wonderful but the dinner was one of the best I've had since living out here.  I couldn't finish my prime rib and took it home and made two amazing burgers with it.
It was a little chilly when we were there but I could easily imagine relaxing around the pool and in the gardens of the Primm Valley Resort and Casino.  If you tire of the drive to Vegas, make sure you call in here, you won't regret it - particularly GP's restaurant.  To read the entire column go to - provided they've got it up, of course.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


I don't often get a compulsion to buy something - one of the joys, or if you like, disappointments of aging.  However when we were in Bosham, Sussex and S.W.M.B.O. (She Who Must Be Obeyed) was on the way back to the car, I happened to stop and look in a small shop.  In the window was this model boat.  I've never owned one and something about it took my fancy.  I saw the price and it wasn't too much, so I went in leaving Madam to make her way to the parking lot.  It was a matter of only minutes to buy the boat which came in a nicely compact box.  Naturally I was quizzed as to what I had bought and I went vague about it.  As it added considerably to the contents of our one suitcase for the return journey, the item as yet unnamed was mentioned several times.  Once home I erected the boat and I have to say she was rather sporting about it and even suggested a site for its display.  It's been a few weeks now and I still enjoy it.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Hitchens - RIP

It is a great sadness to report the death of Christopher Hitchens.  He was 62 and had been fighting cancer for some two years.  He was a Brit who never lost his accent and although a radical from the 70's he somewhat modified his stance on many things.  He was a frequent traveler to the hot spots of the world where injustice and violence are the every day norm.  He could speak eloquently about such matters and the constant evidence of man's inhumanity to man.  His writing in Slate and Vanity Fair will be sorely missed as will his always stimulating voice on things.  R.I.P. Chris, 1942 to 2011.

Music Track - Scarlatti

For those of you music lovers with a short attention span, this only takes 1:38 minutes.  A young lady mentioned she was putting together a one-minute video on snowboarding, and needed some music.  I immediately thought of Scarlatti.  The performance is wonderful to watch and  made me think of the old joke: I'd give my right arm to play like that!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Riot Act

In 1715, faced with serious riots in London, the government needed a vehicle to disperse the crowds before they felt able to resort to force. With this in mind, parliament passed the Riot Act.  This was to be read to unruly mobs before force was used, and to give the crowds a chance to disburse safely.

One of the more unfortunate results of this act was in the case of angry crowds rioting in the outskirts of the Empire, where some poor soul was sent out to read this incomprehensible law to those who didn't speak English.  Their life expectancy in those cases was rather short.  However there is something amusing at the sight of a red coated officer (junior, of course) in full dress unscrolling the parchment before spear-waving natives worked up into a lather.  But perhaps it was good for the character! So next time the phrase "Reading the Riot Act" comes up, remember its history, and say a quiet thank you to those brave people who were sent out to enact a law, in the most difficult circumstances.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Movie Number Eight

Movie Number Eight on the follow up list is the Shawshank Redemption.  It is a long movie that shows off a great escape plot.  I quite like prison movies and maybe I should have put Cool Hand Luke in here instead, as that too relies upon the hero duping his masters and them getting soft in the process.

Tim Robbins does a great job as does Morgan Freeman, who rarely gives a poor performance.  It also mentions a Mexican resort - Zijuateneca - where I've actually been.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Electric Seats

We had owned our current car for about three months before we discovered that it has electric seats.  I mean by that seats that are warmed by electricity.  Now I've never had this before and as a rather warm bodied person, I wouldn't have ordered them as an extra.  But Oh, when that old north wind blows and the car is freezing, what a wonderful invention electric seats are.  If you've never sat in them you don't know what you're missing.  In my motoring career, which spans about 50+ years, I've witnessed a lot of improvements.  Automatic gears, power steering, electric windows, and the fact that cars are so much more reliable than they used to be.  But this latest invention surely promotes the saying: Happiness is a warm bottom!

Monday, December 12, 2011

World's Tiniest

My brother-in-law kindly sent me this video.  It's quite long, about 9.30 minutes, but it's impossible to stop watching.
Engineers can be quite annoying people but you have to admit spending 1220 hours on making this from scratch is one heck of an achievement.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday's Column - Bowling

S.W.M.B.O. has become a bit of a demon at bowling.  She goes along every week to play in a league and is steadily improving  This week's column is about bowling and something of it's history.  Did you know for instance that bowling is the world's oldest sport?  I didn't until I began to do some research on the activity. But an Egyptologist found a grave going back 5,000 years with some bowling equipment in it.  You can read the entire article on once the paper gets the page up on its Web site.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


We had our chimney swept the other day.   Now this is work that has hardly changed in several hundred years.  Maybe we don't put children down the chimney any more, but it's still a case of brushes, and long pieces of screw-in poles.
Living in the mountains with cold nights one of the pleasures is burning logs on an open fire.  We also use those clever paraffin logs for the purpose, they help implement the regular wooden types.  But there's the question of whether or not they leave flammable deposits, which could cause fires in the flu.  So along came the sweep about 12 months after his last visit.  It took about 15 minutes and in spite of his dire warnings, there was only about a cup full of soot to collect after the sweeping.  I therefore shall not be repeating the exercise next year as it seems at $125, a little too expensive an operation to keep on doing.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Music Track - The Ventures

I know my friend Kevin down in the Marina is going to like this one.  He raved at Booker T's Green Onions when I put it up.  Well, this is from the same era and it's perhaps not the most famous of The Ventures music, which was Perfidia.  But this is certainly the second favorite.  When I was stuggling with adulthood in 1960, this would come on the wireless a lot -

Thursday, December 8, 2011


For about two years now London has been experimenting with commuter bikes.  These are rented using a special credit card and can be taken and returned from various racks around the city.

These were parked close to St. Paul's and the lot seemed pretty full.  I wonder what happens if you arrive at a rack and find it full, do you have to cycle off somewhere else to find a vacant slot?

The bikes are very easy to spot with their Barclay's Bank panel on the rear fender, and I believe they are quite heavy.  I lifted up the back wheel and they seemed OK, but that's not a very good test.  The incidence of theft has been extremely small.

I wonder how successful such a scheme would be in Los Angles.  Perhaps you could have them on the outside near Metro stations so that people could drive to the outskirts and then cycle on for the rest of the commute.

It would be an interesting idea for the city.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Movie Number 9

Number nine in the list of follow up movies is Mulholland Falls.  In the top ten, I listed LA Confidential, and that this one is also a great favorite of mine.  I sometimes get confused between the two.

But this stars Nick Nolte and he and his team of hard-nosed LA cops get themselves in a plot of great seriousness.

There is a great performance by John Malkevitch as well.


Well, I'm on the big silver bird again.  This time it's to Florida.  I'm going to see my old friend Paul, who comes out there every year for three months to dodge something of the English winter.  I spent a little time there with him two years ago and I'm really looking forward to my return.
One of the things we like to do is cycle down a little way to a small hotel with a lovely swimming pool, where we can sit and enjoy a drink and some serious conversation.  By the end of a week, we will have sorted out most of the world's major problems.  My destination this time is Sanibel Island which is on the Gulf Coast about halfway up.  Great place.  S.W.M.B.O. says she doesn't much like Florida, so she's going to spend a week with the grandchildren in Reno.  We both fly out of Ontario and arrive back within an hour of each other.  Airlines permitting!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


During our visit to the Tower of London we stopped at Traitor's Gate.  Evan took this picture of me in front of it.
It was originally built by Edward I  in the 13th century to allow the royal family access to the palace from the River Thames. Remember, the roads in those days were very bad and sometimes almost impassable. The river therefore was the great highway.  Later on in the 16th century it was used to bring in prisoners for their incarceration, and also their execution.  On the way they would pass by the mounted heads of other executed people.  It was just this sight that greeted Ann Boleyn when she was brought here in 1536.  I may have deserted the UK 30 years ago and choose now to live in the US, but I don't think it actually makes me a traitor, does it?

Monday, December 5, 2011


I always enjoy my visit to Heathrow on the return leg of trips to the UK.  Perhaps it's because I know I'm going home.  On this occasion, I was accompanied by S.W.M.B.O. (She Who Must Be Obeyed!) and Evan, my grandson, who is 16.  He like all teenagers was hungry and so he ordered a "Farmhouse," which is three of everything.  My school reports always said I was easily led, so I had the same.
That's three eggs; three rashers of proper English bacon; three sausages; baked beans; fried potatoes and a mushroom.  And of course, toast! The more observant of you will note the glass half full above the plate.  I was given that special look that wives reserve for their husbands when found drinking beer before 10 in the morning!  I passed when the stewardess offered me lunch on board.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sunday's Column - Hoover Band

Sunday's column was about my trip to see the Glendale Hoover Marching Band.  It was a first for me and I have to say that I was very impressed with the entire show.  I had expected a bunch of unwilling teenagers murdering Sousa, but instead I saw eight bands execute difficult pieces with tremendous discipline.  The event was very well done and the bands came and went with military precision.  I think some of the music chosen was more to impress the music teachers' peers, but in all it was a great first for me.You can read the entire column at  It may take a day or two for the paper to get the piece up on the site.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


On our trip to England we went along to Fishbourne Palace.  This place was discovered in 1960 by a developer, preparing the ground for a large housing estate.  He uncovered Roman remains that date back to the year 100 A.D or if you prefer it C.E. (common era.)
I visited the museum in the 70's and wandered around not really understanding what I was looking at, but this time we talked to one of the docents there.  He showed us some of the details of the floors which I had completely missed on my first visit there all those years ago.
This floor for instance is made to have several optical illusions that play with perspectives.  You have to look at it for quite a while to see the designs.

This floor was designed for a rich man.  It's susbsidence is due to an iron age rubbish tip underneath.  They lifted the floor and found another underneath, then replaced the one you see here.  The different stones were brought from the Mediterranean except for the gray ones that were quarried locally.

Friday, December 2, 2011

New Sponsor

Today we welcome a new sponsor to the blog - CLUB BOMBAY.  This wonderful new bar has opened up in the village under the ownership of Bob Curtis and his lovely daughter Heather.  It is next to the Himalayan Restaurant on Pine Knot.
Bob, who is also the designer and oftentimes the craftsman of this new, relaxing watering hole has taken as his theme the 1920's era English/South Asian life and also coupled that with live music many nights of the week.  He is also a musician.  If you are in the area, Club Bombay is the place to visit.

Music Track - Barry  I'm compiling another list of Movies.  These are the ones that didn't make the top ten but came damned close (To badly quote the Duke of Wellington!)  One of them is The Ipcress File made in 1965 with Michael Caine.  The music was written by John Barry who died this year at 78.  He wrote so much wonderful music to go along with films and this is typical.  It takes about a minute to get into the main theme.  I wonder if you remember it.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


We stayed in Sussex for most of our trip to England.  Many thanks to brother and sister-in-law Tony and Jean for their wonderful hospitality.  Sussex lies immediately south of London and backs onto the English Channel. It is a lovely county and has a lot of rural charm.  We visited a number of places including a museum devoted to old houses.  Some of them going back to the early middle ages.
Tudor House

It was very interesting to walk around these dwellings that have been brought from all over the South of England.  Of course the houses were mostly the properties of well to do people, as the lower orders lived in wattle and daub shacks.  That's willows woven and then plastered with mud, dirt, and yes, even manure.  They didn't always last through storms.

Open fires were burning in some of the houses and after an hour or two we all smelt of the embers.

But we did sample some bread straight from the oven made by one of the docents there.  It was OK, but a little tasteless.

It was also nice to see livestock wandering around in a natural state.  I particularly liked the sheep; their coats were extremely oily.

Saxon church in Singleton - over 1000 years old

Weald and Downland Museum

Chichester Cathedral - 900 years old