Monday, 29 September 2014

What Do Horatio Nelson, Silvio Berlusconi, MacKenzie Crook And I All Have In Common?

If you're thinking Bunga Bunga you're on the wrong track although I know that Admiral Nelson and Lady Hamilton had more than a bit of a jiggy thing going on. And if it's rugged good looks then, of course, I will forgive you but you are wide of the mark. And I will forgive you too if you go for intelligence, creativity or writers of great novels but you would still be wrong. No, what each of these fine specimens has in common is today - 29th September - be it 1758, 1936, 1953 or 1971 as we all share the same birthday.

According to the internet we share a friendly fair temperament that aims to be respectful of the opinions of others. Our creative imagination and sharply observant and perceptive minds are likely to have a real appreciation for beauty and the wonders of nature. Cooperative and usually rather good at negotiating we make great and understanding listeners. Intelligent, idealistic and practical we like to stay busy and organised but emotionally we tend to be quite fragile and seem to constantly seek stability. Individuals with a September 29th birthday are just as charismatic and stylish as most of their zodiac group yet ordinarily not as confident.We possess an unselfish caring attitude but can sometimes be intolerant moody or pessimistic too. I think that the words highlighted in red sum up Horatio, Mackenzie and me but I am not too sure about Sylvio who perhaps falls into the blue category. 

But hang on a minute. Young Mackenzie and I share far more than our birth date. We've also got detecting. I go metal detecting and, at ten o'clock on Thursday night, MacKenzie's new comedy series The Detectorists airs on BBC4. It's not only about detecting and starring MacKenzie but it also stars the wonderful Toby Jones who had us spellbound earlier this week in the outstanding Marvellous which was just as good as its title suggests. And the comparisons with my soul brother MacKenzie don't end there or with our handsome looks. Where was The Detectorists shot?

Why, our home town of Framlingham no less. Here's the crew obscuring the Fram Bookshop window during filming (no doubt decimating my book sales for a day).

Happy Birthday MacKenzie. See you in The Crown later? And if you want to make an old man happy on his birthday please download my book or buy a paperback copy on Amazon by clicking here.

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Give Me Your Tomorrow by John Brassey

Give Me Your Tomorrow

by John Brassey

Giveaway ends October 10, 2014.
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Sunday, 28 September 2014

Football And Footlights In Framlingham

I had a great day yesterday. We got up a bit later than usual and headed down to The Lemon Tree for an excellent full English. You'll find me doing the crossword in The Crown or The Dancing Goat over a cup of coffee and a slice of cake most weekdays but on a Saturday it's the Times Jumbo2 crossword and that calls for a more substantial meal. I'm happy to say that we managed to complete it this week which was a good start to the morning.

We then headed to the bookshop to thank Victoria for giving my novel a prominent position in the window in support of my ad in this week's AboutFram email. I'm not sure if anybody has bought a signed copy from the bookshop yet but the ad did bring a good response to the Kindle sales.

After the shopping it was time to head back home to watch Liverpool v Everton on TV. I won't dwell on that but as soon as it finished I walked up the road and settled down to watch table topping Framlingham Town against Ipswich Exiles in the Touchline Suffolk & Ipswich League.

The excellent young Framlingham side were already 2-0 up when I got to my seat and it wasn't long before the score increased to 3-0 sparking a mini riot in front of the home team dug out.

Fortunately Timothy West, taking a day off from his theatrical duties, had a good game and managed the situation well and no doubt with a "methinks he doth protest too much" sent off the Ipswich offender.

Tim In A More Familiar Role

With the opposition down to ten men, the second half became a rout and Danny Smith (at seventeen an outstanding goalscoring prospect- Brendan Rogers take note ) completed a hat trick and could have had more if he hadn't put this one over. Framingham ended 7-1 winners with some attractive attacking football. I was impressed by Bret Bellamy who took his penalty well and subs Issac Robinson and Nathan Vincent both scored within minutes of getting onto the pitch. Olly Goddard attacked well and if he had chosen to pass instead of going for goal on a number of occasions the score could have reached double figures.

After the match we headed up to the college for an hour of outstanding sketch comedy from the Cambridge Footlights (who left the stage before I had time to take a photo so you'll have to make do with these cardboard cut outs). We saw a similar show when we saw Sheeps at the Edinburgh Fringe two years ago but this was even funnier. I particularly enjoyed sketches involving a French conversation using Google translate "Sacred blue!" and "Burnt cream" , a sausage factory demonstration infiltrated by a dog and an introduction to a randy chameleon. It was a non-stop hour of excellent comedy and I am sure that we will be seeing a lot of the five (very) young men in the future. 

We were home in time to watch X Factor on Sky Plus so, all in all, a pretty perfect day.

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Give Me Your Tomorrow by John Brassey

Give Me Your Tomorrow

by John Brassey

Giveaway ends October 10, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
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Thursday, 25 September 2014

It's Feelgood Week At The Cinema

With temperatures falling and the evenings drawing in we felt it was the ideal time to get back into our movie going this week and, we've done that with a vengeance. We started with  Frank at Little Lightning here in Framlingham which I wrote about in my last blog and we followed it up with Pride at the Aldeburgh Cinema on Tuesday evening.

It's one of those quintessentially English movies such as Bold As Brass andThe Full Monty which centres on a working community fallen upon hard times (usually due to the wicked Margaret Thatcher) but brought together by a mutual passion (brass band, strip act and now the miner's strike/gay and lesbian rights). It tells the fascinating true story of how a group of LGBT  men and women, tired of being victimised, decided to show solidarity with another victimised group by openly supporting and collecting money for a mining community in Wales during the notorious 1984/5 industrial action. 

The film centres on the prejudice of both those that the gay group is trying to support and the community in general and it is funny and heartwarming even if a little predictable. In a very standard three act formula we open with the Pride march in London, move to Wales and close back in London with the following year's Pride march. In between there is plenty of comedy based mostly upon the open mindedness of elderly Welsh women (Imelda Staunton in particular) and gender confusion within the mining community. For me the highlight was a scene in the working mens' club when the flamboyant Jonathan played by Dominic West takes the audience by storm with an outrageous dance routine that brings the house down. It was good to see Bill Nighy playing against his usual type as an elderly Welsh union official and also good to see George MacKay's career continuing to flourish after his promising roles in Sunshine On Leith and Meg Rosoff's  How I Live Now.

After Aldeburgh on Tuesday it was Woodbridge yesterday afternoon when we went to see The Grand Seduction a gentle Canadian film which reminded me of Local Hero. A young doctor is coerced into staying in Tickle Head, a tiny Newfoundland fishing community which must have a doctor if the inhabitants are to stand any chance of winning the bid to be chosen as the location for a major new factory. Whilst major new factories (especially in the petro-chemical industry) and beautiful coastal communities make strange bedfellows, the fishermen are out of work and on benefits due to quotas and industrialisation of the industry and want alternative jobs to maintain their dignity.

The humour in this film, which is gentler than that in Pride, centres around the community's duplicity, lead by the mayor (Brendan Gleeson), in trying to persuade cricket loving doctor (Taylor Kitsch) that, despite his fiancee thousands of miles away and his city loving ways, Tickle Head is the place of his dreams and to convince the city slickers that their tiny place has over two hundred residents AND a doctor. Although their methods are, to say the least, questionable, the message is that anything goes if it is for the good of the workers. The result is an enjoyable and entertaining 115 minutes of whimsy which, slightly puzzlingly, both opens and closes to the sound of orgasms throughout the harbour side houses and the implication that all is very fine in the world as long as everybody is enjoying conjugal harmony. Which may, I suppose, not be too wide of the mark.

Interesting to see in ITV's I Married The Waiter the other night that no less than three of the women involved in the programme had met their loves on the wonderful Greek island of Symi which is, of course, the loosely fictionalised Symos of my romantic novel.

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Give Me Your Tomorrow by John Brassey

Give Me Your Tomorrow

by John Brassey

Giveaway ends October 10, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
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Tuesday, 23 September 2014

They DID Build It And They Came

If you are not a film lover today's blog heading will leave you a bit puzzled (Google Kevin Costner Field Of Dreams and you'll get it).

I am referring to Chris and Georgie who created Little Lightning, Framlingham's very own art house cinema which, during the summer months opened its doors and showed some great films in the wonderful location of a timber framed barn on a hill overlooking our magnificent castle. It was a tremendously brave venture as, as well as some populist movies like The Thomas Crown Affair and A Good Year, they treated the Framlingham audience to several subtitled features such as Cinema Paradiso, The Lunchbox and Talk To Her. 

To our great disappointment we were unable to get to many of the films in the comfortable barn fitted with sofas and easy chairs although, as you will know if you are a regular reader of this blog, we saw the first offering Cinema Paradiso which was shown with an excellent accompaniment of spaghetti bolognese. After rushing back from William and Sophie's wedding near Stratford-Upon-Avon on Sunday we arrived just in time to catch the finale of the season, the outlandish Frank. 

With Frank we were welcomed with a delicious glass of this Sussex cider made using the champagne method (and just as nice as champagne) and then enjoyed an excellent dish of sausages and mash with a mustard sauce followed by Bakewell tart and cream before settling down for the film.

I honestly didn't think that Frank, a film about an avant garde band Soronprfbs whose lead singer and front man Frank never takes off his enormous Frank Sidebottom head, would find an audience here but a good crowd showed up and it was well received. John, a budding songwriter and keyboard player somehow finds himself in the band and travelling to a remote cabin complex in Eire where they spend months perfecting and eventually recording an album. Apart from John, who has a degree of normality, his colleagues are an odd mix and include Maggie Gyllenhaal as a tempestuous quasi musician on a very short fuse. Although the big head stays on throughout all of this, Michael Fassbender in the lead role creates a complex and sympathetic Frank - quite a challenge beneath that mask. 

John's more mainstream approach to the world of music brings unwanted pressures to the group and gives rise to a memorable climax as he attempts to get them a break in the USA. The film is very funny with a touch of sadness as it explores the darker side of depression and mental illness. And, dare I say it, I quite liked the manic music. 

I'll finish today with an enormous thank you to Chris and Georgie for giving us the opportunity to watch great films in Framlingham in a wonderful and cosy setting. And for those of you who haven't seen Frank yet, here's his most likeable song ever.

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Give Me Your Tomorrow by John Brassey

Give Me Your Tomorrow

by John Brassey

Giveaway ends October 10, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
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Sunday, 21 September 2014

A Wonderful Wedding In The Midlands

We had a great couple of days last week in Rochester looking after our lovely little granddaughter. On Thursday we took her to the National Trust's fabulous Sissinghurst Castle in Kent.

She's showing a keen interest in flowers. Perhaps she'll take after Marion and share her love of gardening when she grows up.

We had to return to Framlingham in the early evening on Thursday to get ready for our biggest social event of the year to date - the wedding of our dear friends David and Janet Wareing's son William to his lovely bride Sophie. I met Dave when we were both eleven and we've now been friends for fifty years.

The wedding was held in Sophie's neighbourhood church in Four Oaks with a reception at the grand and magnificent Ettington Park hotel near Stratford Upon Avon.

After a super informal meal at a nearby pub on Friday night we were whisked away to the church on Saturday morning in this fully restored old Leyland bus. It was a totally authentic bus ride complete with a uniformed bus conductor and his vintage ticket machine

William And Sophie Leave The Church

The charming ceremony conducted by an Evertonian vicar included a beautiful poem about togetherness by A A Milne called Us Two. We used to read Milne to our children when they were small but I was not to familiar with this one and can strongly recommend it (see full text at the end of this blog post)- it was perfect for a wedding and was read brilliantly by Sophie's sister.

After the ceremony it was time to jump back on the bus for the ninety minute return journey to the hotel.

While the newly weds were involved with their photographer we guests enjoyed champagne and canap├ęs on the terrace outside the hotel. The weather stayed dry and it was the perfect opportunity to catch up with old friends and David and Janet's family.

Dave And Janet Looking Immaculate As Always

We Were (Unintentionally) Colour Co-Ordinated In Pink And Grey 

The Groom's Uncle Tony And His Lovely Daughter Rachel

Friends Richard And Diana

Here is William with his fabulous sister Lizzie who brought tears to the congregation's eyes and a round of rapturous applause for her amazing rendition of a Welsh hymn.

Further applause followed during the reception when to everyone (including the happy couple's) surprise the waiters began to argue amongst themselves before putting on a hilarious act including some outstanding tenor singing of several famous arias to the delight of the diners. 

They turned out to be "The Three Waiters" - hilarious as well as tremendous singers - check them out on Google. 

More entertainment followed with some great speeches before a disco and another surprise when tribute act The Cavern Beatles wowed the guests with two perfect sets of Beatles' songs that had us all on our feet.

The hotel is reputed to be the most haunted in the country but the only spooky figures I spotted were these three including Dave's old friend David Sykes who we were delighted to catch up with after missing seeing him for years.

We didn't manage to make it to the end of the disco as we needed an early start to head back to Framlingham in time for the closing show this season of our excellent pop up cinema Little Lightning. I'll tell you more about it in the next blog but, after a huge thank you to the bride's parents Derek and Denise for inviting us to their memorable event and the very best wishes to Will and Sophie, I'll leave you today with that moving Milne poem.  

Wherever I am, there's always Pooh, 
There's always Pooh and Me. 
Whatever I do, he wants to do, 
"Where are you going today?" says Pooh: 
"Well, that's very odd 'cos I was too. 
Let's go together," says Pooh, says he. 
"Let's go together," says Pooh. 

"What's twice eleven?" I said to Pooh. 
("Twice what?" said Pooh to Me.) 
"I think it ought to be twenty-two." 
"Just what I think myself," said Pooh. 
"It wasn't an easy sum to do, 
But that's what it is," said Pooh, said he. 
"That's what it is," said Pooh. 

"Let's look for dragons," I said to Pooh. 
"Yes, let's," said Pooh to Me. 
We crossed the river and found a few- 
"Yes, those are dragons all right," said Pooh. 
"As soon as I saw their beaks I knew. 
That's what they are," said Pooh, said he. 
"That's what they are," said Pooh. 

"Let's frighten the dragons," I said to Pooh. 
"That's right," said Pooh to Me. 
"I'm not afraid," I said to Pooh, 
And I held his paw and I shouted "Shoo! 
Silly old dragons!"- and off they flew. 
"I wasn't afraid," said Pooh, said he, 
"I'm never afraid with you." 

So wherever I am, there's always Pooh, 
There's always Pooh and Me. 
"What would I do?" I said to Pooh, 
"If it wasn't for you," 
and Pooh said: "True, 
It isn't much fun for One, but Two, 
Can stick together, says Pooh, says he. 
"That's how it is," says Pooh.

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Give Me Your Tomorrow by John Brassey

Give Me Your Tomorrow

by John Brassey

Giveaway ends October 10, 2014.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

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Friday, 19 September 2014

I Am Thrilled By The Result

I am delighted to have woken up this morning to find the United Kingdom intact and our Scottish family still part of Great Britain.

And, whilst it is a disappointment that 38% of those eligible to vote, voted for independence, that still leaves a fairly hefty 62% who chose not to do so.

Which means that, hopefully, for the remainder of my days, our beautiful little Scottish grandchildren Rose and Melody will share our nationality. I want them to feel totally Scottish and to be part of that wonderful country but also to feel part of a United Kingdom and be able to share the culture and heritage of each and every one of the individual nations that make it so unique.

I feel a bit sorry for Alec Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon. In all honesty they ran their campaign brilliantly and quietly without shouting until suddenly they found themselves in the surprise position of a YES vote becoming a real possibility. It was an exemplary example of how to run a political campaign and they managed to keep their dogs of war on a very tight leash until the polls showed the narrowest of gaps between the parties.

And then somehow, suddenly and inexplicably Jim Sillars and Tommy Sheridan slipped that leash and were all over the press spouting their opinions in the way that Salmond and Sturgeon had studiously spent two years trying to avoid. I imagine that Sillars appearance on BBC's Today Programme last week gave the NO campaign its biggest single boost in the last six months and slammed the brakes onto what was looking like an unstoppable Independence Bandwagon. The BBC was accused of bias. Had they shown Sillars and Sheridan on a 24 hour loop they could not have done the independence campaign more harm.

Once the firebrand fringe had shown its true colours with this sort of thing, the bandwagon came off the rails and I honestly believe that without this sort of negativity from the YES side, the outcome would have been much closer - a spectacular, but for me welcome, own goal.

As for Andy Murray and his now infamous tweet? Let's give the lad a break. He shared the view of almost two fifths of his compatriots. What's wrong with that? He wasn't aggressive in his opinion and, like all those who campaigned in a civilised manner on both sides of the argument, he should be congratulated on getting involved. Now that it's all over I will certainly continue to back him whenever he is playing and I hope that the rest of the UK gets behind him too. Anyone booing him on court should be swiftly shown the exit.

Now that it's all over and my worries of the last few weeks have subsided I feel certain that the referendum will prove to have been a good thing and have real beneficial effects for both Scotland and the UK as a whole.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Don't Leave Us Fair Alba Revisited

On 11th January 2012 I posted the following on this blog (all the stuff in italics) under the heading "Don't Leave Us Fair Alba"

It's been a second home to us since we bought the caravan in St Andrews and I hate to think of Scotland breaking away from the United Kingdom and going all independent. I haven't had time to listen to Alex Salmond's arguments in favour of the break. He was on all the screens at the gym last night but I had forgotten my headphones and couldn't hear what he had to say; I entertained myself on the exercise bike playing Words With Friends on the iPhone and watching his face inspired me to SMUG (42 points with a double letter and triple word) - thanks Alex.

The Scots have always had a reputation for being dour and my experience of some Scots (or to be honest one particular Scot) in England backed this up. But perhaps this perceived dourness has been due to their being fish out of water and away from their homeland as, in Scotland, I have never found the people to be anything but cheerful  and friendly. I'm not saying that in a patronising way it's just that, even in a big supermarket, you are a hundred times more likely to strike up a conversation with a fellow shopper than you are in England (in Southport at least - unless it's your best friend - and even then you might just nod); and the conversation does not end the minute they hear your English accent.

The other type of Scot, the stereotypical beer swilling, whisky drinking, deep fried Mars bar munching lard arse is certainly not in evidence in St Andrews. Okay so St Andrews in not exactly typical but the same goes for all the towns we've visited including Dundee and the wonderful Edinburgh which, London apart, has to be Britain's most exciting city; I'm pretty sure that he's a figment of some lazy journalist who has never been north of Watford's imagination.

There is certainly a strong sense of pride and national identity in the country and it's good to see the traditions and local costume - long may they continue. I know that we English have got a lot to apologise for but Culloden was almost three hundred years ago now and we've been quite a united kingdom for the last hundred years. I'm not going into all the political or economic arguments about the referendum here. I'm sure that there are strong arguments both for and against but, however eloquently the politicians express them, I very much doubt that the vote will be won on those arguments. I'm sure that it will be won on how much Scotland feels wanted by the rest of the UK. So now and for the next 1,000 days it's time for us English, Welsh and Irish to let the Scottish people know that we really want them to stay.

I wrote that over two years ago but it's a position that has only been gaining support  and sympathy here in England for the last couple of weeks since the Sunday Times published its infamous YouGov poll that showed the Yes camp in the ascendency. Most English people have been complaisant in the sure belief that Scotland would not dream of breaking away from the strong and happy union that we all enjoy and have enjoyed for as long as we can all remember.

But, having been in Scotland for the last two weeks and having extremely close connections with the country (two Scottish grandchildren) I am no longer convinced that we are seen by the Scots in the way that we thought we were and in the way that we have always seen them - true partners, countrymen and fellow Brits. 

I saw a fair amount of canvassing and publicity in the two week stay and must say that I felt the YES camp was aggressively hostile in its stance. I saw scores of NO posters defaced with either a simple YES or, quite often, something far more unpleasant. I saw no YES publicity defaced in any way. The YES campaigners had a nasty tone to their arguments (at least the vociferous ones did) and, after years of feeling welcome in the country and enjoying staying in our caravan there, for once, I felt uncomfortable and was unsure that we were as popular as we had previously been made to feel.

I still want to see a NO vote tomorrow. I don't want to be visiting my daughter and grandkids in a foreign country and I strongly believe that my family will be better off in a United Kingdom. But, whatever the vote, the referendum has damaged my relationship with Scotland and love for the country. Lets hope it's just a temporary spat and that when a NO is announced at breakfast on Friday, we can start to build bridges and mend that damage but if you really want to leave us fair Alba let's hope you get everything you deserve.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Another Year Vanishes

I can't believe that over a year has passed since Duncan rushed Sarah to Dundee on a Saturday teatime and arrived with ten minutes to spare before this little girl arrived on the scene. But yesterday was her first birthday and twelve months have passed in the blink of an eye.

We joined the family along with Duncan's parents Jack and Muriel and his sister Katriona and nephew Blake yesterday at the grand Fairmont St Andrews hotel for afternoon tea to celebrate Melody's birthday. We had a surfeit of cakes which left us more than full for the long drive back to Suffolk at the end of the afternoon.

Sarah is the busiest of busy mums with her Yoga instructing, maths tutoring, and parenting but she still found time to bake this lovely building block cake for Melody.

Melody is growing into quite a little character and it was good to get to know her a little better during our two weeks in Scotland.

And big sister Rose who had  great time at The Fairmont playing with her cousin Blake is really starting to enjoy her company. I suspect that the two are going to be great friends when they grow up.

I'll finish today with a photo for Rose to prove that we genuinely couldn't see her when she was hiding in the ball pool.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Give Me Your Tomorrow by John Brassey

Give Me Your Tomorrow

by John Brassey

Giveaway ends October 10, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win