View my previous blog here:

I reply to all comments except spam, no matter how old!

Please ignore any email address displayed here! My email is shamp123 AT

Gmail has persistently ignored my request to change it even though it belongs to a minor.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Vin Mariani

VIN MARIANI was a tonic wine and patent medicine which was made from Bordeaux wine and coca leaves created in 1863 by Angelo Mariani, a French chemist from Corsica. The ethanol in the wine acted as a solvent which extracted the cocaine from the coca leaves thus altering the drink’s effects. It was exported with 7.2mg of cocaine per fluid ounce to compete with the higher cocaine content of similar drinks in the United States. Advertisements for Vin Mariani claimed that it would restore health, strength, energy and vitality.

Vin Mariani was a massive hit. Mariani’s wine and coca tonic took his home city of Paris by storm, and then, the rest of Europe and the U.S. Seizing on the opportunity, Mariani opened offices in London, New York and Montreal. To support demand for his product in the U.S. he opened a second laboratory in New York. Vin Mariani had many competitors and imitators, but a shrewd celebrity-driven marketing campaign    earned him millions of dollars worth of sales. While Mariani’s ads claimed that thousands of doctors endorsed the product, it was the celebrity endorsers who really pushed the elixir. The ads he ran in newspapers and magazines featured countless politicians, actors, writers and religious leaders, all extolling the many virtues of Vin Mariani. Devotees of the drink included Alexander Dumas, Emile Zola, Presidents William McKinley and Ulysses S. Grant, and countless monarchs including Queen Victoria of England. In addition, actress Sarah Bernhardt and Pope Leo XIII, who gave him a Gold Medal, were among the many who actually appeared in advertisements. I think, considering the content’s, it’s no surprise that the product was so popular!

Eventually these kind of drinks were banned which led to the invention of drinks like Coca Cola which originally contained some cocaine.

I'm listening to The Rolling Stones version of Jimmy Reed's Honest I Do from their first album. It's much-recorded song but I think their version stands up well to the others. Listen HERE.

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare

Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare
Let me not to the marriage of true minds   
Admit impediments. Love is not love   
Which alters when it alteration finds,   
Or bends with the remover to remove:   
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark, 
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;   
It is the star to every wandering bark,   
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.   
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks   
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,   
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.   
  If this be error, and upon me prov’d,   
  I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.
This is in the form of an English or Shakespearean sonnet with three four-lined quatrains followed by a couplet. The other major form of sonnet is the Petrarchan which has an eight-line stanza followed by a six-line conclusion and with varying rhyme schemes.
The poet is describing how true love is never-changing and does not change "when it alteration finds". The metaphor of sailing the ocean is strong with "an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests"; in other words the North Star. A "bark" or barque is a three-masted sailing ship.
In the third quatrain Time is personified but although his sickle may alter the course of beauty it cannot change love which  lasts "even to the edge of doom" - until the end of life.
In the final couplet Shakespeare is saying if he is proved wrong in his description then no man ever-loved.
I'm listening to the wonderful and tragic Robert Wyatt singing with his group Matching Mole. The song, O'Caroline has real meaning in his life and is not just a love song. One day I will write a post about Wyatt. Listen HERE.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Painting of the Month (85) Feb 2019: Samuel Peploe.

SAMUEL PEPLOE was a Scottish post-impressionist who worked in Edinburgh and Paris. He was an avid follower of the French painters throughout his career.
Sill Life, Samuel Peploe (1871-1935)
I like this painting for its simple beauty and I am reluctant to over-analyse. I will just say that the influence of Cezanne is strong and obvious. That’s no bad thing as far as I am concerned! He made many still life paintings and also excelled at landscapes and a few portraits. Here's another:
I'm listening to my favourite version of one of my favourite songs: Willie Nelson's Funny How Time Slips Away. You can listen here. There's also a great version by Brook Benton and many others.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Happy Listening (1)

Image result for listening to music
I don't really know if many readers of this Blog (actually there aren't many anyway!) ever listen to the music I refer to at the end of most of my posts. So, here's a second chance to listen, or listen again, to my first selection of them. Just click on the song title to hear it:
1) Madeleine Peyroux singing Careless Love

2) Bobby Charles singing Small Town Talk

3) Richard and Linda Thompson singing I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight 

4) Jake Thackray singing (live) Lah Di Dah

5) John Williams playing Antonio Lauro's Valse Creolo (aka Vals Criollo)

6) Wibert Harrison's original recording of Let's Stick Together

7) The cast of Hair singing What a Piece of Work is Man based on a speech in Hamlet

8) Steve Goodman singing The Dutchman

9) Kiki Dee singing Amoureuse

10) Jerry Jeff Walker's original recording of his song Mr Bojangles

Friday, 18 January 2019

Light & Dark

The BBC showed an interesting two-part documentary recently called Light & Dark. I always enjoy Professor Jim Al-Khalili’s excellent science programmes on TV and radio. 
learned one especially interesting scientific fact when I watched the second part last night. We know that light travels in straight lines, right? (If you didn’t know that – you do now!). We also know that there are about 10 billion galaxies in the universe and that there are around 100 billion stars in the average galaxy. That gives us a total of about 1 trillion billion stars. So: every point of the sky should be lit up and the sky ought not to be dark. Obviously the photo shown here was taken by a very powerful telescope and has about, what, 5% of the sky lit up. It was once thought that dust clouds in space were obscuring our view of the others but we now know that that isn’t the case.
The reason is that a mere 200 million years after the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago, the first stars began to form – and the light hasn’t reached us yet! I find that astounding and it makes me feel very small and insignificant...
I’m listening to Chris Bell’s 1973 song 
You and Your Sister. It’s just the kind of plaintive pop song I go for. Listen HERE.
Although Chris was killed in his sports car in 1978, at the age of 27, he was very influential on later musicians.

Monday, 31 December 2018

Happy New Year

This includes Facebook and Blogger friends 
as well of course!
I hope that 2019 brings you whatever you may wish for.

Friday, 21 December 2018

Season's Greetings

Who'd have thought The Beatles would be fans of 
West Ham United?

Sunday, 16 December 2018

The World of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Kurt Vonnegut fought in the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive of World War II. His unit was inexperienced and sent to what was considered a “relatively quiet” area. He and many others were captured and sent by train to Dresden. The train was bombed by the British Royal Air Force and many were killed but he survived and became a prisoner of war, working in a factory by day and living in a “warehouse”. Dresden was not of any strategic importance and had little in the way of defence or air-raid shelters so when the controversial three-day blanket-bombing by Allied forces began, he hid in a cellar during that time, which was full of “hanging cadavers”. When he emerged Dresden was mostly gone - flattened by the carpet-bombing.
It has often been remarked that war leads to the production of great art and literature. In Vonnegut’s case his experiences led to the creation of his greatest and most successful work: Slaughterhouse Five. The building he had been living in was an abattoir or ‘slaughter house’.
He expounds his philosophy through this crazy, original, thought-provoking book whose protagonist is Billy Pilgrim. There are multiple themes in the book; I would say that the major ones include: the folly of war, free will (or rather, the lack of it) and time. Not only is the time sequence not linear, it’s not just flashbacks either – it’s all over the place!
Also appearing in Slaughterhouse Five is Kilgore Trout, a character used at various times by Vonnegut in several books, (at least his name is) said by critics to be at least partly an autobiographical creation. Trout is a poverty-stricken struggling science-fiction writer. In this book he acts as a catalyst for the main character, Billy Pilgrim.
If science-fiction is not your thing, I would still commend this book to you as it is one of the most important American novels of the 20th century and Vonnegut one the vital writers.
Here are some quotes from Slaughterhouse Five:
“Among the things Billy Pilgrim could not change were the past, present, and future.” 
“They were adored by the Germans, who thought they were exactly what Englishmen ought to be. They made war look stylish and reasonable, and fun...
They were dressed half for battle, half for tennis or croquet.”

“Billy licked his lips, thought a while, inquired at last: "Why me?" 
"That is a very Earthling question to ask, Mr. Pilgrim. Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is. Have you ever seen bugs trapped in amber?"
"Yes." Billy, in fact had a paperweight in his office which was a blob of polished amber with three lady-bugs embedded in it. 
"Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.” 

And the most famous one of all:
"...and so it goes..."

I'm listening to the late J.J.Cale singing City Girls. You can listen HERE.

Friday, 7 December 2018

The Poet Roger McGough

This is a re-post from four years ago:
I went recently, with my younger daughter, Laura, to hear the Liverpool poet Roger McGough reading works from his long career. In the 1960's he used to be in the band Scaffold with Paul McCartney's brother, Mike McGear.
It was in our local library with a small audience and it was a very entertaining evening, both funny and moving by turns. I bought a few books and told him that the last one of his that I bought was as a teenager - many years ago. He looked at me over the top of his glasses with mock horror! He still has an element of that Liverpool wit, long associated with The Beatles.
Roger McGough today

And in the 1960s, left, with the group Scaffold.
Paul McCartney's brother, Mike McGear is in the centre.
Here are a few of his poems to enjoy:

God bless all policemen
and fighters of crime,
May thieves go to jail 
for a very long time. 
They've had a hard day
helping clean up the town,
Now they hang from the mantelpiece
both upside down. 
A glass of warm blood
and then straight up the stairs,
Batman and Robin
are saying their prayers. 
* * *
They've locked all the doors
and they've put out the bat,
Put on their batjamas
(They like doing that) 
They've filled their batwater-bottles
made their batbeds,
With two springy battresses
for sleepy batheads. 
They're closing red eyes
and they're counting black sheep,
Batman and Robin
are falling asleep.
We're the Mafia cats
Bugsy, Franco and Toni
We're crazy for pizza
With hot pepperoni
We run all the rackets
From gambling to vice
On St Valentine's Day
We massacre mice
We always wear shades
To show that we're meanies
Big hats and sharp suits
And drive Lamborghinis
We're the Mafia cats
Bugsy, Franco and Toni
Love Sicilian wine
And cheese macaroni
But we have a secret
(And if you dare tell
You'll end up with the kitten 
At the bottom of the well
Or covered in concrete
And thrown into the deep
For this is one secret
You really must keep.)
We're the Cosa Nostra
Run the scams and the fiddles
But at home we are
Mopsy, Ginger and Tiddles
Lastly, to show that there can be depth as well as humour.....
I explain quietly. You
hear me shouting. You
try a new tack. I
feel old wounds reopen.

You see both sides. I
see your blinkers. I
am placatory. You
sense a new selfishness.

I am a dove. You
recognize the hawk. You
offer an olive branch. I
feel the thorns.

You bleed. I
see crocodile tears. I
withdraw. You
reel from the impact. 
I am listening to Dissatisfied Blues by 
Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee. Listen HERE!

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Eric Bogle & June Tabor

One of my favourite songwriters is the Scottish-Australian folk singer Eric Bogle. I especially like the interpretation of his work by the British singer June Tabor.  The three songs here are particularly poignant at this time because they are about the First World War. I have provided a link to each song performed by both June and Eric.
I don’t believe that any other medium has described the futility of war in a way that hits home like these songs do.
And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

No Man's Land 
(also known as The Green Fields of France)

Now I'm Easy
By the way, a 'cocky' is Australian slang for a farmer 
(originally a cockatoo farmer).

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Talent Show Contestant

This lovely sketch from The Mitchell & Webb Show beautifully expresses my feelings about 'talent' show contestants! If you like this there are plenty of their clips from the shows on You Tube.
I'm listening to a track from The Times They Are A-Changin'. Restless farewell is here.
Like many of Dylan's lyrics these stand up well on their own - especially the final verse:
Oh, a false clock tries to tick out my time
To disgrace, distract, and bother me 
And the dirt of gossip blows into my face 
And the dust of rumours covers me 
But if the arrow is straight 
And the point is slick 
It can pierce through dust no matter how thick 
So I'll make my stand 
And remain as I am 
And bid farewell and not give a damn

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Painting of the Month (84) Oct 2018: Mont St Victoire

Have you ever wondered why artists continued to paint after the invention of the camera? After all, the camera would have depicted scenes like the one below with great accuracy. It 'never lies', does it?
Photograph of Mont Saint Victoire overlooking Aix-en-Provence, France

However, the camera cannot easily capture mood, atmosphere, feeling or imagination. The French artist, Paul Cezanne returned many times throughout his career to re-paint this view over and again and he found something new to say about it almost every time. I don't want to say anymore now because I want the visual to be dominant in this post. Just luxuriate in the beauty of the paintings below here...

I'm listening to the original version of Rivers of Babylon by the Jamaican reggae group The Melodians. 
You can listen here. I like it loud!

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Don't Take A Fence

'Don’t Take A Fence' by Paul Curtis.

Don’t Take A Fence

My uncle John the fence died

When I heard I felt quite sorry

It was poetic justice though

As he fell off the back of a lorry
Copyright © Paul Curtis. All Rights Reserved

This is a lovely little poem which may need some explaining for non-English readers. In Wales 'John the fence' would be a man who erected fences; in England and elsewhere it would be a man who received stolen goods.
And in British English (I'm not sure about elsewhere - please let me know), something that 'fell off the back of lorry' means it was stolen so I can sell it to you cheaply!
I'm listening to the wonderful John Prine singing his own song, the achingly sad, Hello in There. He was past his best in this live recording but still has the power to convey a moving story. You can listen here.
There are also good versions by Bette Midler and Joan Baez.

Friday, 31 August 2018

A Bit of Fun (2)

For the umpteenth time I have been listening to a fabulous recording by The Everly Brothers and The Beach Boys together singing Don't Worry Baby. Listen to it HERE

Thursday, 23 August 2018

A Bit of Fun (1)

I am a moderator on a Facebook group that has 72,000 members. I offer here a sample of some of the things I have posted over the past few months:

I'm listening to Brinsley Schwarz, led by Nick Lowe, singing Happy Doing What We're Doing. Listen here.

Monday, 20 August 2018

Painting of the month (83) August 2018: Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman is a photographer who specialises in female portraits emulating various iconic images of women. Her most famous work, Untitled Film Stills (1978-1980) is a set of 69 monochrome portraits based on Hollywood movie stills intended to subvert the role of women in the film world. Some of her other work includes fashion shoots, album covers and a few short films.
Image result for cindy sherman untitled film stills
Image result for cindy sherman untitled film stills
Image result for cindy sherman colour
She has also produced images parodying historical portraits, centre-folds and publicity shots. They are deliberately clich├ęd. She is a true artist in the sense that she creates images which reflect the society we live in and holds up a mirror for us to examine our values.Image result for cindy sherman colour

Image result for cindy sherman untitled film stills
In case you had not realised every one of these photos is a self-portrait of the artist!

Saturday, 4 August 2018

REPOST: How Beer Saved the World

I am enjoying trawling through some of my favourite posts and publishing them again - I think it's better than posting nothing at the moment, (which would be the alternative)!

How Beer Saved The World

I'm here to defend the good name of beer and to tell you how it saved the world. Really.
Many scientists and anthropologists now believe that it was not the desire for bread that kick-started the agricultural revolution that ended hunter-gathering 9,000 years ago; it was the yearning for barley to make beer. This led to inventions such as the plough, the wheel, irrigation, mathematics and even led to writing! This cascade of world-changing innovations was brought about by the desire for beer.
In ancient Eygypt workers were paid in beer so we could say that we wouldn't have had the Pyramids without beer. There are those who claim it is one of the major food groups because of it's nutritional content.
In modern times it played an important role in refrigeration, the discovery of germ theory and modern medicine. 
However, in Medieval times when water was too dirty to drink, possibly it's most important function was to support the population. Beer was safe to drink and men, women and children drank it morning to night, certainly in England.
That possibly is still the case in some parts! Cheers.

I'm listening to Billy Joel's 
Say Goodbye to Hollywood

Monday, 23 July 2018

REPOST: E. Annie Proulx

E. Annie Proulx (pronounced 'Proo') is a writer of wonderful fiction. Her densely written, observational style is packed with lots of detail and a very strong sense of place, such as the unfashionable parts of Newfoundland, Wyoming and Texas. Her descriptive writing always reminds me of John Steinbeck's work due to her obvious affection for the places and kinds of people who are not usually the heroes of modern fiction. She has a Dickensian knack of naming her characters in an outlandish way that very soon seems to be perfectly natural.
For example “That Old Ace in The Hole” (2002) features, among others, Jerky Baum, Pecan Flagg, Blowy Cluck, Coolbroth Fronk, and Waldo Beautyrooms. It’s the story of Bob Dollar, hired by Global Pork Rind to buy up small farms, in the Texas panhandle town of Woolybucket, so that they can be turned into hog farms under the guise of buying land for luxury housing. The book touches on the larger issue of pollution and depletion of the water table as a background. The story is fairly thin on plot but rich in character and anecdote.
“Accordion Crimes” (1996) lovingly tells the story of a succession of owners of an accordion. Annie Proulx is a dispassionate observer of life but she does not shy away from unpleasant scenes and can be brutally honest in her depiction of those who are the losers in life’s lottery.
“The Shipping News” (1993) is a magnificent novel that demands a lot from the reader, whose attentiveness will be richly rewarded. At the start of each chapter a picture of a different type of knot is shown and this turns out to have a metaphorical reference to the content of that chapter. It was turned into a successful movie with Kevin Spacey in 2001. In a similar way “Postcards”(1992) showed a drawing of a postcard at the start of each chapter with a message that was sometimes directly relevant to the story and sometimes just added background colour. In 1997 she wrote a short story which was published in a collection of her work called "Close Range: Wyoming Stories" (1999) which was filmed in 2005. That was the very successful "Brokeback Mountain", in which she typically tackled a subject that had hitherto been taboo in mainstream literature.

Since I first wrote this (1996) and updated it on this Blog (2013) Annie Proulx has continued to publish and is still among my favourite writers. At the age of 82, she is still working!
I am continuing to repost earlier efforts due to a lack of time. Back to normal with some new stuff soon..... I think. .

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

REPOST: Little known facts!

All of these facts must be true because I got them from the Internet - except for the one that I made up! Can you spot my one?
Can you spot the made up fact?
  • Japanese research has concluded that moderate drinking can boost IQ levels.
  • The fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth is called Arachibutyrophobia.
  • Macadamia nuts are not sold in their shells because it takes 300 pounds per square inch of pressure to break the shell.
  • Florida: An elephant tied to a parking meter must pay the regular parking fee.
  • In Samoa, it is illegal to forget your wife's birthday.
  • In Alabama it is illegal to stab yourself to gain someone's pity.
  • In the UK it is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament.
  • Peanuts are one of the ingredients of dynamite.
  • London taxis (black cabs) must carry a bale of hay and a sack of oats.
  • Descendants of Sweeney Todd, the cannibalistic barber, founded a sausage factory in Somerset, England after the First World War.
  • The word "queue" is the only word in the English language that is still pronounced the same way when the last four letters are removed.
  • Queen Elizabeth I regarded herself as a paragon of cleanliness. She declared that she bathed once every three months, whether she needed it or not.
  • An ostrich's eye is bigger than its brain

Answer is now in the comments section!

I'm listening to Candy Says by The Velvet Underground with the late Lou Reed on vocals. Listen HERE. It's a very sad song about Candy Darling who was the person he sung about in Walk on The Wild Side.