Thursday, 29 March 2012

The Censors Are Out: Fanny By Gaslight Or Granny By Flashlight?

Have you ever heard of Joseph Breen or June Johnson? 


I thought not - and the person in the picture below will only confuse matters further. Neither had I until I stumbled across a nice surprise.

I found this scrapbook while I was clearing through my father's stuff. I thought it would be a book about skiing, as a). the picture of the skiier must be someone well known and b). my father had been an avid skiier in the 1950's frequently going to St. Anton-am-Arlberg in Austria.

But no, it had nothing to do with skiing. It was a scrapbook containing cuttings of his first love -  horseracing. It was a stroll down memory lane with the heroic names of that time, 1946 - Gordon Richards, Fred Darling, Cecil Boyd-Rochford, T.Weston, T.Lowery, Maharaja Gaekwar of Baroda and many more. Happy Knight won the 2,000 Guineas, Hypericum, owned by The King, the 1,000. Airborne won the Derby at 50/1 in front of a crowd of 550,000. Worcester races were flooded out, Assault won the Kentucky Derby, there were Racecard rackets running at Hurst Park and Epsom, over 100,000 people went to Chester and starting stalls were trialled in Sydney, Australia.

But that, as interesting as it may be, was not the thing which fascinated me the most. there was a loose cutting from the Daily Mail of the day's runners at Newmarket. On the reverse however were two stories about Joseph Breen and June Johnson.

Joseph Breen was described as 'America's film purity dictator' who vetted all British films before they were screened in the United States. He was in London, visiting British producers to tell them how to save themselves time, trouble and thousands of pounds. The film The Wicked Lady was in danger of being censored and had been held up for six months due to objections to low cut dresses.

Several pictures had been forced to make substantial changes. The Rake's Progress which was renamed The Notorious Gentleman because of a fear that the American audience might expect a gardening movie, was still being held up over the deletion of a bedroom scene.

Henry V with Lawrence Olivier had to be reshot because of American objections to words such as 'damn' and 'bastard'. Fanny By Gaslight was seen as dubious as it had an illegitimate heroine, and showed scenes in an immoral house. Fascinating.

Adjacent was the story about June Johnson, a 17-year-old schoolgirl from Washington, County Durham, who had gone on 'a night ride, clad only in pyjamas and dressing gown on a man's bike' to capture three men who had broken into the Newbottle branch of the Co-operative Stores, staeling articles valued at £45. The judge recommended that she should be rewarded £5 5s.

Times change and they don't change. People are still behaving in the same manner. There are still the odd June Johnson around. There are many more Joseph Breens. The trouble though, is that they all seem to be British and spend the time telling everyone what to do and what not to do.

It is good to see censorship still continues today. Of course The Pope Must Die......t.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Countryside: Industrial Past - Suburban Future

The countryside around where I live resembles Sheep Shit City. Following months of cold when the animals disappeared indoors there is a population explosion, mainly of pregnant ewes standing aimlesly in the fields, waiting for nature to do its bit. For all their lack of activity, they certainly make up with their overactive bowel movements. The place is black.   

This is the nice part of country living. It must have been idyllic before the industrialists came in search of lead. Then the landscape became scarred with buildings. Mines, houses, bridges, slag heaps. Then the industry died and many buildings became ruins.

Now there are two new innovations. The threat of litigation has forced landowners and farmers to put up warning signs everywhere. There are flashes of red and yellow and blue against the country browns and greens.

But even worse, the countryside around us is being suburbanised. Net curtains, brown creosoted fences, laylandii, faux Georgian lamposts, houses being re-named with names such as Hollyhocks and Bali View. It is changing fast. The redistribution of wealth is also a redistribution of taste.

It is only a matter of time ....

Well - if you can't beat them ...join them.

Smash, Crash, Bash - Come In Car Crash Driver Number 17

Rural roads are lethal. They look so innocent, but you are three and a half times more likely to be killed on a country road. There you are, trundling along, enjoying the scenery and then, you are confronted by some hazard or another. Most commonly, it is a car overtaking another car on a blind bend. But it can be a suicidal pheasant. A suicidal deer. A suicidal rabbit, or any other animal as it comes careering towards you. But it is humans who are the top of the list, whether they are suicidal or as in the majority of cases not.

This is an area in which I feel qualified to talk about. You will see that as a short window of relief when you consider the maany other topics I have spouted forth about on this blog. But in this case, I do have first, second and third hand experience of car crashes. You will no doubt have a minimum of third hand, as most people know someone who has had an accident on the roads, whether perpetrator or victim.

My father was the victim of three rural crashes. The first two wounded him. The last killed him. Years ago he had a puncture just over the brow of the hill, at night, when another motorist ploughed into the back of them. It sent mother into the windscreen and I'm not sure what happened to father.

Then several years later, he was tootling along around a bend, when another car came speeding along and rammed him, head on. He lost his kneecap and had to be cut out of the car by the local volunteer firemen. As most of them worked at the same racecourse where he did, it was as friendly and kind experience as something could be.

His final crash, you all know about. It has been widely reported.

Mother was the same. She had her fair share of crashes. But she also had her fair share of bad luck. It was bad luck that she did a U-turn on a busy dual carriageway. Not because the manoevre was executed safely, but bad luck because there was a police car sitting in the lay-by where she turned and did not notice.

'Now then, Madam,' said the Policeman, ever so slowly as he poked his head through the window. 'What do you think you were doing?'

'Oh Officer, I'm so sorry I was late for seeing a friend,' she replied. The Policeman was so flabbergasted that he let her go.

And I? Well I not only follow in the family tradition, but exceed it eightfold. I've had seventeen car crashes. In sixteen I was a passenger. Now I seem to have developed a sixth sense, before a driver has turned the key, as to how competent he or she is. If they are not, I cannot face making a scene and say nothing. I just suffer a white knuckle ride, gripping onto the seat handles. It is the English side of me I cannot abide. Stiff upper lip. Don't make a scene and all that, when any sane person would have unbuckled their belt, leapt out the car and started walking along the pavement.

But the biscuit was taken by a relative who was a notoriously bad driver. At three o'clock in the morning in London, stone cold sober, he had a vicious accident. There were only him and the other car on the road, but at a set of traffic lights he misjudged the speed of the oncoming car and tried to cut across in front of the other car. He hit the car with such force and catapulted it into the railings, which were demolished and sent crashing through the basement flat window.

Miraculously no one was hurt. The person who owned the flat came upstairs in his pyjamas to see what had happened.

'I'm very sorry about your railings and window,' said my relative as cheerfully as he could muster.

'No problem, mate,' he replied. 'Just a pity me wife wasn't in there. She sleeps in the back.'

Every cloud has a ....

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Train Travel Leaves You Foaming At The Mouth

'I love trains', you hear people say.


If you are 6' 6" they are an insult to your dignity. At this moment I am having to wrap my feet around my backside whilst the fat industrialist, who is sitting opposite, finds a space for his empty laptop case. In addition to the discomfort, he has obviously had several pints before getting on the train as this is the third time he has staggered to the lavatory. Whilst he is gone, I try to rearrange myself and grab those precious extra centimetres.

The lady on my left has reclaimed the armrest, as trying to rearrange my legs, I had let go of the barrier between us. Rule Number 1 in life: Never give up an armrest. Her mixed glare of triumph and determination forced me to bring in my elbows, cross my arms and rest my chin on my clenched fists.

Train travel brings out the anarchist in me. Though age has calmed down the angry man and I no longer carry a briefcase containing only a napkin, a raw onion and a knife. Fellow passengers looked horrified, after seeing seeing there next door neighbour theatrically tuck the napkin into my shirt collar, take out the knife and onion and proceed to peel it. More often than not, there was never any need to have to eat a piece, as they hoofed it into the next carriage.

In Australia I was taught the fastest way to get a seat on an overcrowded train. Working with a friend who brought along a walking stick, just before boarding the train, I would put an Alka-Seltzer into my mouth. As the train pulled out of the station, I began frothing at the mouth. With some appaling acting and trying to encapsulate the gravitas of King Kong and only succeeding in looking like something out of the Muppet Show, it none the less always had the desired effect. Mystery followed by amusement followed by a disturbed feeling when my friend raised his walking stick, manoevering me towards the middle of the carriage and firmly saying: 'Get Down. I said Get Down'.

We not only had a seat. We had a choice of seats. A choice of any seat we so desired in the carriage.

A colleague went even further many years ago. He never liked paying for train tickets. So he would wait until a passenger went into the lavatory. Then he would check the coast was clear and bang forcibly on the door, saying:

'Tickets. Tickets please. Get your tickets ready for inspection. Tickets. Tickets.'

9 times out of 10, the ticket would be pushed under the door. He would pick up the ticket and walk off into another carriage. The nerve.

So, as you have gathered, I do not hold an affection for trains. The food has gone downhill. So badly downhill that I rather hanker after a British Rail pork pie, which was the butt of all jokes. You can't open the doors or windows. They ramp up the air conditioning in winter and it breaks in summer. It is designed for the vertically challenged and people of a nervous disposition, because it is strange how the same people seem to walk up and down the aisles. It's smelly, expensive and turgid.

But it gets you from A to B.

There's no need to complain. There's always the bus ............

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

A Tale Of Two Toilets

I go to my favourite Chinese restaurant for many reasons.

The food is good. They will cook off-menu, something traditional and authentic if you give them advanced warning rather than the American-Chinese Chow Mein or Chop Suey, which according to one school of thought might be a mis-pronounciation of  'chopped sewage'.

The people are friendly and nothing is too much trouble.

The ambience is amusing, verging sometimes on a Chinese version of Fawlty Towers. The telephone rings while the waitress dashes between the kitchen and tables. Often she failds to get to the phone and a loud answerphone voice booms across the restaurant:


There is a vintage brass bell on the counter, with a hand written note in English and Chinese sellotaped to the wood:


But the best, the very best bit is the loo. You follow the signs ... through one door...  

through another door with another sign ...

... and hey presto - SURPRISE!

II love the way in which the Chinese are economical in everything they do. In everything there is so much choice. The only one missing is the squat toilet. But two out of three ain't bad.

The Name Of The Rose? No, Just A Thorny Topic In The North East

How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished! (2 Samuel 1:27 for those of us who always thought it was an original post match from John Motson's post-match analysis, rather than something more profound from the Bible.)

Driving through various dormitory towns around Newcastle, Sunderland and Durham yesterday, it was a surprise to come across these two signs. I guessed that they were named after the original Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher and David Beckham or were puns or jokes thereof.

How amazing, I thought to find these names in any form whatsoever in the North East of England. Amazing and ironic. They were, in different ways the enemies of the region. Margaret Thatcher was seen as the destroyer of the coal and shipping industries and divider of communities. David Beckham was seen as the scourge of Newcastle United and Sunderland, by scoring such devastating goals that often led to crushing defeats by Manchester United.

I feel the William Wallace Bar or the Bonny Prince Charlie Hairdressing Salon will coming soon. And, who knows, but in years to come will we see the Mourinho Bar or a pub called the Sir Alex Ferguson?

Don't hold your breath - that might be just one step too far. And as they say down the Bigg Market, after a few pints on a Saturday night:- 

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

Friday, 2 March 2012

A Tale Of Stale Socks And Purple Y Fronts

Going to France this year?

The French are experts of loading up your car, truck or bus with objects which you must by law carry with you. Already you have to take fluorescent jackets, fire extinguishers and warning triangles. All eminently sensible. Carrying spare bulbs used to be sensible, but these days more and more car designs make it impossible for the average person to change a bulb. It requires the expertise of a mechanic, so there is little point in carrying the bulbs anymore, unless you have a vintage vehicle.

The law changed in France in January with regard to devices which are capable of detecting speed cameras. Before it just referred to specific snooper type radar detectors, but now it is being extended to cover Sat Navs. That's fine if you have a portable Sat Nav, as it is possible to disable the camera alerts. If it is built in to the car, then it becomes more complicated and might need the manufacturer's input.

Now there is going to be a new requirement from July (if the law is passed - and the start date is by no means definite) to carry breathaliser kits. There is not much to say about that. Maybe it is a good idea, maybe it isn't. What I found amusing was the fast way in which some companies spotted an opportunity which will be lucrative. Take Irish Ferries. Though the law has not been introduced yet, they whizzed off a press release entitled: 'Irish Ferries  Says New French Breathaliser Law A Positive Measure'. They concluded that they will be on sale on their boats to France ahead of the proposed start date of the legislation. Good for them. The marketing department will get a bonus this year.

In Spain, if you wear glasses, you are required to keep a spare pare in the vehicle. Other countries have different rules. It is complicated. For once it would be great if there was one pan-European regulation.

Driving a bus on the continent is brilliant and awful. Brilliant because the traffic is less and it is a more pleasurable place to drive than the M25. Awful because of the often long distances you have to drive, mainly along boring Autoroutes and mainly at night.

Before the recent crash in France, there was already in existance a petition against coach drivers having to share rooms during their rest periods. It was something which has been common practise for years throughout the industry, a). because it saved the bus companies money shoving all the drivers into one room and b). it became part of the enforced cameraderie of driving, though sometimes there had been a differing of opinions of certain drivers, who, fuelled by alcohol, wanted to punch each others lights out. Even on a ferry or when you got to the destination, the drivers had to share a room.

I can't remember how many dreadful places I have spent the night. Once it was in a tent. I used to dread arriving at a hotel room, knowing that it had been occupied by numerous other drivers before and that it was unlikely  that the sheets had been changed. The aroma of bus drivers who had been on the road for twenty hours was not a pleasant one. There were full bins, cups with used teabags in the bottom, wet towels slung everywhere, a sweat shadow on the sheets and a beer and aftershave smell on the pillows. Often the hotels would demand extra payment if they knew there was a turnover of drivers, so the bus companies wouldn't tell them and therefore the rooms wouldn't be cleaned.

But I didn't really care. After a day and a night's driving through the centre of France, I would arrive at the hotel feeling knackered.  A quick shower, search for the cleanest part of the bed, turn of the pillow andd you were off into the lan of Nod. It was when you woke up that the stale smell of old socks and eau de bus driver hit.

The trouble with the bus industry is that it has spiralled down into the bargain basement mode of travel. It is ever decreasing circles.  People want to travel for next to nothing, which means the companies the companies have to keep their costs at rock bottom. The poor old British coach driver will never be on the same level as their continental colleagues, except in a few cases.

All in all, the safety is pretty well regulated. Though there are the odd accidents, given the amount of bus trips, it is a remarkably safe form of travel. Maybe eradicating the smell of old socks, having to share a room with an elderly driver who insisted in prancing around only in his purple y-fronts and giving the drivers some extra peace and dignity may make it even safer.

Then again, last year there was a report by scientists in Kenya who suggested that the smell of socks could help in the fight against malaria - if they are left in a trap outside. You never know what kind of bugs are lurking in any hotel bed.

I'm not going to be changing my socks so often in future.