Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Perfect Storm

If you live in the mountains, you have to get used to storms coming in.  As we live in Southern California these are not very life threatening, but they can be severe at times.  A trip to the grocery store before one hits will show you that people are getting ready to keep their heads down with fresh supplies.  It's usually packed.  The later in the season the storm comes usually the more benign it is, and over last weekend we had what can only be described as The Perfect Storm.

A storm exits eastwards over Metcalf Bay - it's going off towards Arizona, the East Coast and maybe even England!

We had plenty of warning with this one and it hit us about 2:00p.m. on Sunday with a little rain, then sleet then eventually snow at about 3:30p.m.  As we're near the end of March this was not a freezing storm and so we knew that things would not be too difficult for us.  As it happened, it was all over by early morning the next day and we were greeted with a cloudless sky on awakening, and six inches of fresh snow.  By mid morning, the driveway was cleared with the plough and also the deck.  The sun was warm and we enjoyed one of those perfect days after a storm has passed through - it makes mountain living very worthwhile!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Music Track - Sinatra Maybe it's time for a piece by the "voice," which is what Sinatra was called in his hey day.  This is one of his finest tracks.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Favorite Book Number Six

Book number six is Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.  I'm quite proud of the fact that I've read most of Dickens and also most of the other classics.  They take a bit of getting into these days, as our lives are a lot faster paced than back when people were only too happy to spend hours reading to pass the time.
Nonetheless of all Dickens' books this is the one with the most drama in it, I think.

Pip's first meeting with the convict, Magwich is still a scene that haunts me.  Yet his eventual manifestation as Pip's benefactor is still surprising, and sad in many ways.

People who have not read these books often fall into the trap of thinking that time back then is irrelevant to our period in history, but that is not the case.  People's emotions and thoughts have not changed that much and we can still learn from the past and enjoy these great works of litereature.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wonders of the World - Big Bear

About four years ago I was asked to do a series of videos and columns on my favorite places to visit in the Inland Empire, as San Bernardino is known around Southern California.  I did it in reverse order and ended up with my favorite which also makes it to this list of my personal wonders of the world.  All the "wonders" so far have been a mixture of nature and man's "improvements" of it, and Big Bear is no different.

Before the settlers came and put their mark on it there was no lake and the local Indians called it Yahaviat, which means "pine place."

To meet the needs of the growing citrus industry down in the Redlands area, in 1895 a dam was constructed and at the time it was considered to be the eighth wonder of the world.

Unfortunately the trees were left in place and became stumps which made boating impossible until some serious work was done to remove them.

Today Big Bear Lake is one of Southern California's premier resorts with skiing in the winter, and fishing, hiking, boating and camping in the summer.  Some of us residents often wish it wasn't quite so popular as our 17,000 population swells to three times that in peak periods.

I first came to Big Bear over Christmas in 1982, the first year we lived in America, and it was just a drive-through to show the children some snow.  I came back the following year and it's been a favorite destination ever since.  We bought a house up here in 1989 and retired here in 1999, so now I'm considered to be a true resident, although I still fail to speak with the local accent! 

The winters can be quite hard and next year we're considering taking a house down in San Diego for six weeks to avoid the peak period.  But other than that this is the perfect place to live and we consider ourselves most fortunate to live in one of the wonders of the world.

If you would like to read the column that I wrote about Big Bear four years ago you can see it at

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Locks - not the Yale kind!

One of my earliest memories is of being taken on a boat - I'm assuming it was on the Thames - when I was about three or four.  We came to a lock, and I was rather frightened as the boat began to go down into the dark depths with slimy green walls pressing in on us.  My father's explanation of water finding its own level didn't assuage my sense of panic as we went lower and lower.

Cassiobury Lock on the Grand Union Canal
This fear obviously subsided as the years went by and one of the family treats when I was about seven was to walk the mile or so on a Sunday afternoon to watch the barges passing through Cassiobury Lock.  It was one of the many steps in the Grand Union Canal which had been built about 200 years earlier.  Canals in the UK had a brief fling until the railways rather made them obsolete.  However by act of parliament The Cross as it is known is made to stay open, and back in the forties, coal was still transported this way on "narrow  boats," just narrow enough to allow two to fit into each lock like the one here.  The Grand Union now is used for leisure activities although not here as it's mid-winter.

The bargees were known for their colorful language and they used to live on their boats while chugging up and down the country; they often had little dogs with them and all their washing was hung out on lines.  We would always wave to them but be watchful not to upset them for fear of their tempers.

Passing through the last lock, passengers wave back at spectators.

Recently, traversing the Panama Canal, which I've shown here a week or so back, we came to the last lock before entering the Pacific Ocean.  It is the Miraflores Lock and is the closest to Panama City.  As we went through we were met by shouting and cheering crowds on bleachers.  Like my family, they were out on a Sunday to watch the traffic.  There were about 2,000 passengers on our ship and several hundred in the stands.  A bit more impressive than all those years ago in Watford.  But the Grand Union is still in my heart. And the technology is much the same, although the Panama's is much larger.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday's Column - Burlington Arcade

This week's column is devoted to two Burlington Arcades.  One in London, and surprisingly, one in Pasadena, Southern California.  I had no idea there was this duplicate out here and made an effort to go along and see what it was like.  I'm very fond of the original back home, so I was fascinated to see what the local one could be like.  Surely no beadles to enforce the rules?
Burlington Arcade, Pasadena, CA.

Well, I was pleasantly surprised that it is in fact rather nice.
A little smaller than the original with only 12 shops rather then the 40 over there.

Being so much shorter, there is no need for the Victorian beadle to be on hand, and there is background music playing which would be a no no in Piccadilly.

They also have an old fashioned red phone box, but with no instrument inside, well who needs public phone boxes these days with everyone on 4G!

One shopkeeper told me that there were some problems recently with the name as the London owners don't like the US using the name.  Sounds to me like the place must have been bought by foreigners as no self-respecting Brit would mind, I am certain.  You can read the entire column at

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Herman the German

Now who says war isn't good for anyone?  It's panned out pretty well for the Panama Canal Company as they are now using Herman the German, a crane built by Hitler in 1941 and taken as war booty by the US.

It was reputed to be able to lift 750 tons but only now manages 350 metric tons.  Age can do that to a fellow!  There were three of these monsters built.  One was taken by the Russians, but nobody knows where it is now, and one was towed by the Brits across the channel but it got lost in a storm and sank.  This is the remainding one and it spent 50 years in Long Beach before ending up here working to lift the massive doors to the locks when they need repairing.  In the words of John Lennon: "Let's give war a chance!"  Or have I got that wrong?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Music Track - Winehouse

This came up in conversation the other evening with my friends Richard and Rosie and so here is the track that was the last one Amy did before she died.
Tony Bennet said she was the best jazz singer he had recorded with in many years.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Wonders of the World - Number Six

As this is a personal Wonders of the World, my choice for the sixth spot is Cruise Ships.  I think I was hooked when I was in the old port of San Juan, Puerto Rico and one of these majestic ships came into the dock where we were.  It was huge and it had a certain grace to it.  I had a similar experience when I was waiting for a friend at LAX once and the 747 came right up to the window where I was standing, and stopped just a few feet away.  There was something about such a huge piece of engineeering travelling so far and coming to rest at my feet.  Cruise ships are wonderful inventions and contain everything that anyone could possibly want for a vacation - with the possible exception of a billiard table!  They are luxurious and comfortable and even if you just want to do nothing they provide a place in which to do it in great style.
These two ships are the Coral Princess on the right and Cunard's Queen Victoria tied up at Puntarenas in Costa Rica, where it was just a short walk to the beach along the pier.
Next week is the last of the series - Number Seven.  I wonder if you can guess what it is?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Favorite Book Number Seven

Learning of the evils of the Soviet system was in many cases a slow process.  After all, like today there were many proponents of it (And they should have been ashamed of themselves as well!)  For the rest of us, we only had a few reports that were leaked out and of course, the novels and historical perspectives of Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

I remember being absolutely transfixed while reading One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch in the mid-sixties.  It is an account of life in the frozen Gulag where so many innocent people suffered under this cruel regime, but it is also a wonderful account of man's spirit.  A film was made of it in 1970 starring Tom Courtenay.  I read pretty much everything Solzhenitsyn wrote and in particular The Gulag Archipeligo, which is much like Denisovitch, but without the happy ending!  One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch is Number Seven on my list of favorite books.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

New Layout

Today is the first day of spring, and so there is a change in the layout as usual for a season change.  I hope you like it.
Conincidentally, two days before this official change, we had the biggest snowfall of the entire winter.  At our end of the Valley, which always gets the most precipitation, we had over two feet of snow, and I had to plough the drive three times.  Bummer!  But at this end of the season we have strong sunshine and longer days so snow is never as much of a problem as in early December.  I hope you all enjoy the new season.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Cello

Last week's Music Track featured Jacqueline Du Pre playing the cello.  It's a mournful instrument and also one that can be most effective.  It's hard to imagine a jocular piece of music played on it.

However, Sir Thomas Beecham the renowned 1950's and 1960's symphonic conductor and known for his irascibility, did once make a memorable remark to a lady cellist who was making a bit of a fist of a particular piece.  "Madam, you have between your legs, something that can give pleasure to thousands.  Don't just sit there and scratch it!"

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sunday's Column

Bit of a mix up with the Sunday Column and it's not the Sun's fault, it's mine! Last week I said here that my column was a piece on the San Antonio Winery.  Well in fact that piece is published today.  Last week's column was about Kirby's Custom Carvings here in Big Bear.
Here is Kirby Craig with one of his carvings, Indian in an Eagle Headress which sits outside his business on the boulevard.  It's a fascinating sight to see these carvers working with chain saws and producing such work.  You can read about it and also today's column at

Saturday, March 17, 2012


Now I don't want to alarm anybody, but I think we're experiencing something like an invasion.  While Big Sis of the Homeland Security Outfit is keeping her sleepy eyes on the border and all our airports, there is something else going on.
I go down and through the Coachella Valley about once a year, and I have noticed on the last two occasions that the wind turbines there are multiplying with frightening speed.  I know they have always had them in that valley to catch the wind, but this is getting ridiculous.  Is anybody actually counting them?  There are thousands.  I fear that the impossible might be happening.  They must be performing some vile behavior under cover of darkness.  They are reproducing themselves!  Oh the horror!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Music Track - Du Pre

This is one of Mendelsohns Songs without Words.  Here it is played by Jacqueline Du Pre accompanied by her mother.  Jacqueline was taken from us very early in life with cancer.  It was a great tragedy and an enormous loss to the world of music. It makes this piece more sad under the circumstances

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Greatest Books - Number Eight

Finally we come to my favorite book number eight.  Sorry about the delay with this category but the cruise must have upset my internal compass!
Number eight is by John Le Carre.  Like many authors at the time he must have had a few regretful thoughts when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.  Basically his genre was also brought down with it, as his greatest works in my opinion were about the spies in the Cold War.
If you've been reading the blog for some time then you know that his The Spy Who Came in from the Cold featured high up on my ten favorite films, and in fact it might have appeared here as well in book form.  But le Carre has written two dozen books and most of them are absolutely wonderful.  I thnk he's "gone off" since the happy days of our benign fights with the Soviets and he's strayed into the liberal mindset of blaming business for the world's ills, which is not nearly so satisfying.  Of all his books my favorite has to be Smiley's People.  It is a complex study of the two masterminds of the secret service on each side of the Iron Curtain.  It also shows the infighting that used to be a regular part of life in The Circus, which was the term fot MI5 back in those dark, but a lot more understandable days.  Number eight on the list of my best books - Smiley's People, by John le Carre.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wonders of the World - Golden Gate

I took this picture about three years ago as we sailed out of San Francisco on our way to Alaska.  Perhaps the only disappointing thing about the Golden Gate Bridge is that it is not golden but rather a rust color.  It's official color is International Orange.  It is the bay that is called the Golden Gate and not the bridge.  Apart from that there is little else to say except that it is truly a wonder of engineering and it is the span and the dimensions that make it so.  There are some intriguing statistics about it being the number one site in the world for suicides (about two per week) which rather fly in the face of its beauty.
You can read all about the bridge on this site -

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


I was down the hill the other day to do a couple of stories.  I was driving along the 210 when the traffic began to slow alarmingly, it almost certainly meant an accident up ahead.  Well, I was in no particular hurry with no set appointments, so I sat back and listened to the rants of talk radio - always an education.
Eventually I realized I was much closer to the scene than I thought and made my way over to the exit coming up.  Thinking myself rather clever, I left the freeway, drove across the traffic light at the top of the ramp and then went down to the empty part of the freeway beyond.  Ha, Ha!
Not so fast!  The  large Sheriff standing there would not let me go any further.  A huge police helicopter was going to land and he didn't want it to do so on me!  So we watched the maneuver which was a first for me in 30 years of driving these concrete canyons.

Eventually, a stretcher was pushed along to deliver a casualty to the interior of the chopper and off it lifted allowing us to continue.  Two things of note; I'd hate to be the injured man when he gets the bill for all this technology as he will definitely get one.  And one last thing; if a helicopter lands on the freeway next to you, don't leave the window down to take a picture - The rotors will push all dirt on the road right into your car!  And there's a lot of it!!!!!!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Cabo San Lucas

Los Arcos in Cabo San Lucas
We’re on the final leg now – up to L.A.  We spent half a day yesterday in Cabo San Lucas.  Everybody regrets that we can never spend longer there as it’s the most civilized part of any cruise that goes to Mexico’s west coast.  Unfortunately physics is physics and in order to reach L.A. by on the last day, they have to leave at a day and a half earlier.  However Cabo is a great place and it’s changed quite a bit in the last 25 years, which is when I first began going there.  Lots of gringos wandering around and many of them live there and on their boats in the marina.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sunday's Column - San Antonio

This Sunday’s column is about a local winery in San Bernardino – the San Antonio Winery.  It lies just next to the crossing of the 15 and the 60 Freeways, and doesn’t look as if it yields very many grapes.  In fact the manager told me that the soil there is not too good and any grapes that they produce are used mostly as fillers.  To read the entire article go to

Saturday, March 10, 2012


There is little that separates the two sexes as much as make up.  Most men have really no idea what all that stuff is that women put on their faces.  Maybe lipstick and mascara that we've seen applied when we're out with them, but as for the rest, it's a total mystery.  From the very first time I was aware of this stuff, I know that it has promised that it will make the wearers younger, or at least slow the aging process.  Now can we just accept that this is nonsense.  If it were true, women would look much younger then their husbands, and if you even it all out, I don't see that as happening. I'm sure that deep in their hearts women know that this is the case, and yet they continue to pour money into the bank accounts of these modern day alchemists.  There must be a reason.  Oh, I have to break off now and apply some Ageless Male Hormone Replacement.  I hope it doesn't make my rear end look big!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Music Track - Por Una Cabeza
On board the Coral Princess, a very nice trio was playing this tune, which I'm sure everybody knows well.  But I didn't know the name of it so I asked.  The next day I found this on U Tube with Al Pacino dancing it as the retired blind soldier in The Scent of a Woman.  It's fantastic.  The bit around .45 seconds gives me goose bumps.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


I'm not much of a poetry buff, but every so often a piece of poetry comes along that is so touching that even a Philistine like me can appreciate it.  Sadly the hero of this Australian ditty is named Trevor, but we'll let that pass.  The emotion of the event so captured is enough to bring tears to your eyes!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Greatest Books

For the more observant of you, you might have noticed that there has been no greatest books for two weeks.  It's not that I have only about three of them, but that I left my list at home together with the artwork, so this weekly post will continue once I get back to the mountains.

Wonders of the World

As we’ve just gone through the Panama Canal, it’s an ideal time to put this on the list of my person wonders of the world.  It’s not a hard call, as it is truly is an amazing place and feat of engineering.  Called the Path between the Seas, it cost a lot of money and also lives to make it possible.  Some 25,000 people died and that is not a final count as many people were not logged on or off!
Of course, back in 1907, when Teddy Roosevelt took up the challenge after the project had almost bankrupted France and as a result caused them to drop their tools and go back home, things were slightly different.

Exiting the final Gatun lock with a container ship about to enter it.  Note the double gates closing behind us.
I doubt however, that such a project could be undertaken today.  Too many regulations, and too many environmentalists to stop it.  For instance Dr. Gorgas found that the reason so many people were dying from Yellow Fever and malaria, was the mosquito.  He therefore sprayed everything and killed most of the little pests.  Oh the horrors!
It takes about eight to ten hours to transverse the canal, which has three locks into Lake Gatun, one lock 2/3 rds further along the lake and then the two Miraflores to drop a ship down to the Pacific.
During the passage of the canal, the pilots on board take full control of the ship and outrank the captain.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Cartagena - Saturday

There are three parts of this interesting place.  The very old town and fort, the modern side and then the ultra modern bit across the bay, where no one seems to go.  In the old part it is a wonderful explosion of color and history.

Here is a part of the 16th century fort with modern Cartagena in the background.  It was also very hot while we were traipsing around the castle.  It was about 32C or 90F.  Phew!  Apparently in August it goes up a bit and also gets humid.
Before tackling the walk around in the sun, I was forced to play S.W.M.B.O. at chess on the top deck.  It was very hot up there too.  I was white and was doing pretty well - you can see all the captured pieces at the back.  Somehow she managed to win - and I'm sure it was a cheat.  But you can see she looks pretty pleased with herself.  It seems that she has also been practising with the grandchildren in Reno while I was drinking with my friend in Florida.  Hardly fair, I think!


We came here four years ago and on a walking tour of the old town, I took this picture of a wonderful blue house.

Unfortunately, there was a boy standing on a corner and a motorbike parked along the street.

Our taxi driver, Valentin, offered to drive us around the city and I mentioned the blue house.  He knew it exactly and offered to take me by.  Hey Presto, he certainly knew his city.  I was able to take another picture.

This time no boy or Motorcycle and I didn't need to use photo shop.  Lots of the houses in Cartagena are painted in such bright colors.  I would love to do mine the same but I don't think it would look quite right in an alpine setting!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Jokes - or rather the lack of them!

A Southern Baptist preacher said, "Anyone with 'special needs' who wants to be
prayed over, please come forward to the front by the altar."

With that, Tyrone got in line.  When it was his turn, the Preacher asked, "Tyrone,
what do you want me to pray about for you?"

Tyrone replied, "Preacher, I need you to pray for help with my hearing." The preacher
put one finger of one hand in Tyrone's ear, placed his other hand on top of Tyrone's
head, and then prayed and prayed and prayed.  He prayed a "blue streak" for Tyrone,
and the whole congregation joined in with great enthusiasm.

After a few minutes, the preacher removed his hands, stood back and asked,
"Tyrone, how is your hearing now?"
Tyrone answered, "I don't know, Man. It ain't 'til next week."

One of my fellow writers on  The Sun wrote an article the other day that no one tells jokes any more.  Oh yes, we get them on email and often forward them on, but the actual telling seems to have left us - another downgrade of the human condition, I guess.  Anyway shortly after reading this I heard this one which I though I would tell you all.  Oh, and I don't care if someone is offended out there.  The Constitution does not offer protection for being offended.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Although I'm not a gambling man, I can still appreciate the atmosphere of a race track. It's full of fun and lots of hope and enthusiasm.  Also if it's Santa Anita, then you have some of the finest views of any race track in the world.  Sunday's column is about this great place which is open every day of the year, although there is not always racing there.
You can read the column at  There are also some pictures there, which I don't have with me at the moment - sorry about that.

Saturday, March 3, 2012


We docked in Aruba at 7:00 a.m. and we left again at 1:00 p.m.  Frankly it's quite enough as although a pleasant place it's small and has the usual tourist stuff on sale everywhere.
Before we can walk to the main street, however, we have to run the gauntlet of "hawkers" offering amazing deals to see the island, take a glass bottom boat, meet their sister etc.  Always an exhausting business.

The Coral Princess in Aruba

Friday, March 2, 2012

Music Track - Ella

If there was any doubt that Cole Porter was the absolute master of both music and lyrics then listen to this.  Also Ella Fitzgerald's diction allows you to hear every syllable.  Like most old men, I wonder about society and also what on earth young people listen to these days, and more importantly what they'll be listening to in fifty years!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Wonders of the World - Segovia

This truly is a wonder of engineering, considering that it's been working for nearly 1800 years.  It has had some renovations in the intervening years but basically it is the same as when the Romans built it.  It's the aquaduct in Segovia, Spain and it was built to carry water to the town.  There is no concrete in it, only the weight of the huge granite blocks keeps it upright.  Considering that for the last 100 years or so, it has had modern traffic rumbling through it's great arches, it stands firm and remains one of the great wonders of the world in my book.  You can read more about it at