Thursday, 31 August 2006


Even Count Dracula couldn’t be more irritating of an evening than the attentive mosquitoes of Greece! Bad enough that, when the wind is blowing up or dropping down (or simply in the wrong direction), the common sand flies bite - and draw blood! - but no sooner has the sun set than squadrons of mosquitoes take to the air.

We have candles, and burners and electrical plug-in dissuaders as well as citronella body patches, antihistamine cream, neutralising ammonia pens, and a suction pump for extracting the poison! And still they are not deterred, let alone defeated.

I have, so far, escaped pretty much unscathed, but David has been devoured and consumed to a point where if he escapes any further bites it can only be because the mosquitoes can’t actually find a part of him on which they haven’t already feasted!

Wednesday, 30 August 2006

Tuesday, 29 August 2006


There are so many sounds that say Emporios…

Rex barking a welcome or a warning…

Goat bleats and goat bells… The lazy murmuring of bees, the chooky-chook clucking of hens, the twittering arguments of sparrows and the more refined conversations of the susuratha [wagtails*] that hop about the beach...

The rustle of wind in the tamarisk trees and the relentless, mechanical clicking of cicadas…

The clang of Sunday church bells…

The echoed shouts of children playing (or fighting) on the jetty…

The busy chugging to and fro of small boats…

The irritable whine of tourist scooters grizzling into the village, pausing momentarily and then, as like as not, roaring off in search of Somewhere and Something Else…

George’s guitar in the bar… The chatter of diners and drinkers… The occasional conversations of pots and pans in the kitchen…

And, every night and every morning, falling asleep and waking up in the house above Artistico, to the gently lapping rise and fall of the surf…

[* Greeks also use susuratha to describe a girl who walks with a wiggle - or a wag of her tail!]

Monday, 28 August 2006


Yesterday, being Sunday, day-trippers invaded Emporios - just as they no doubt staged similar invasions on beaches at Brighton, Hastings and Blackpool…

One family arrived in three cars and a boat, bringing with them vast quantities of bags, cold-boxes, li-los, floats, rings, blow-up dinghies and a swarm of kids who commandeered the length of the beach and spent most of the day yelling at one another in high-decibel, ear-splitting screeches and screaming in rage whenever one of their flotilla of rubber-beach toys was purloined or when one of them was not-altogether accidentally hit by a lobbed stone or clobbered by a flailing oar…

There was ghastly universality about their behaviour that seemed all the more extreme because the beach at Emporios is normally a haven of undisturbed peace and quiet!

They eventually departed and those of us who remained - along with the trees and the hills - breathed a sigh of relief!

Sunday, 27 August 2006


What is more perfect than the perfect Greek Salad?

It is a meal that represents a deeply satisfying combination of taste and textures, pleasing, rewarding and gratifying to both eye and palette: the cool crunch of cucumber, the full-bodied fruitiness of tomato, the tangy bite of onion, the zingy sting of olives combined with the subtly-salty, tongue-tingling taste of feta cheese, anointed with oil and blessed with a scattering of herbs…

And, here, for those who want a taste of tradition, there is the Kalymnian salad which uses a hard, rusk-like, bread called koulourg twice-baked - like ship's biscuits - in order to maximise the ‘use-by’ date for the men who used to sail on the sponge-fishing fleets.

Locals and seasoned visitors (though only those in possession of their own teeth) think nothing of chewing on these rock doughnuts in their dry, natural state; but in a salad the bread is soaked in a little water and oil and then mixed with tomato, cucumber and onion - chopped rather than sliced as in a Greek salad - olives, herbs and kopanisti, a locally-made goat’s cheese that is soft, creamy and more delicately flavoured than feta.

This is, frankly, not a salad for the faint-hearted, but if you enjoy tasting dishes that are steeped in cultural history then a Kalymnian salad it must be.

If, on the other hand, your idea of a salad is either a gem lettuce drenched in Thousand Island dressing or rocket and Parmesan drizzled in balsamic vinegar, then maybe you should take another look at the menu…

Saturday, 26 August 2006


ANSWER: Pots of money!

In a community where there is only one postal delivery a week and where the nearest shops (apart from Emporios’ lone Mini-Market) are twenty miles away, the door-to-door salesmen are vital part of island life: from the daily visits of the fruit and vegetable seller to the occasional arrival of lorries that bustle into the village - heralded by a strident blare of tannoy announcements - in order to offer their various wares: clothes, shoes, tools, furniture, bric-a-brac and household goods --- even, once in a while (though there were no buyers in Emporios yesterday), Greek urns!

Friday, 25 August 2006


This is Irene Glinatsi: chef, hostess, singer, dancer --- in short, Goddess of Artistico!

After what might be as much as a twelve-hour a day in the kitchen, Irene will still have the staying power and sheer showbiz pizzazz at midnight and beyond, to toss aside her apron and sing to the guitar-accompaniment of her husband, George, or to lead the dancing with energy and stamina that would be envied by someone half her age.

With Greece Orthodoxy as its religion, Kalymnos, like all the Geek islands, is an essentially patriarchal culture. But the very particular history of this place - for centuries the centre of the sponge diving in the Dodecanese - has left it a uniquely matriarch-influenced society. With so many of the able-bodied men away at sea for six months or more at a time, the women of Kalymnos provided strength-giving continuity and stability to the island community…

Now, as then, men provide the figureheads in politics, religion and family life, but there is no doubting that women are still a powerhouse force: the silent (and sometimes not so silent) engine that drives Kalymnian society.

[Image: David Weeks]

Thursday, 24 August 2006


Even in the blissful surroundings of Emporios, thoughts very occasionally turn to home...

So, you'll forgive me if - every now and again - I blog one or two visual memories that come to mind...

Sitting in the sea at 7.00 a.m. this morning, watching the little blue and white boats bobbing in the harbour, I was reminded me of a piece of decorative nonsense which hangs in our bathroom...

We bought it in an arty-crafty shop in The Maltings at Snape in Suffolk and if you tap the fishy pendulum, it swings back and forth a few times causing the boat to rock on the wiry waves.

Our friend Jean gave it a quizzical look when it first went up and asked, pointedly, where it had come from.

We told her: "The Maltings - at Snape..."

"Ah, yes!" she said knowingly, "I should have known! It reeks of Snape!"

And I suppose it does, really...

Wednesday, 23 August 2006


Sitting in Artistico, in her designer-label vest, did she realise the etymological significance of wearing an item of clothing with the ‘Emporio Armani’ logo?

Historically, the Kalymnian village of Emporios was once a port: a place where merchants came to buy and sell and so took its name from the Greek word ‘emporos’, meaning ‘traveller’ or ‘merchant’.

The Romans lifted another word from the same root - ‘emporion’ - and, as ‘emporium’, gave it to the world as alternative (and slightly grandiose) name for a shop or store.

So, an item of clothing from Italy’s Emporio Armani is certainly a perfectly appropriate garment to wear on a visit to Emporios!

Indeed, it's a reminder that - even if we do not always understand each other's languages - we should never forget the extent to which we are indebted to one another for words which we daily use with scarcely a thought to their origin and derivation.

Vocabulary is both the bond that unites and the barrier that divides...

Tuesday, 22 August 2006


Today is the 86th birthday of my dear friend---

Ray Bradbury

And this is his advice for living:

"First you jump off the cliff and you build your wings on the way down."

Check out my Ex Libris blog, where I've written about Ray's novel Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Monday, 21 August 2006


Like all small island communities the world over, Kalymnos understands something most of the rest us have long since forgotten - self-sufficiency.

Late yesterday afternoon, twelve year-old Themelis Glinatsi took his harpoon and went hunting. An hour later, he brought home a scorpion fish which his mother, Irene, cooked for his supper. And that is about as basic as the process of living can get...

As a visitor, you may be forgiven for failing to notice the proximity of Themelis’ fishing expedition to the very primitive instincts that dictated the survival and evolution of Homo sapiens. But you can’t possibly fail to appreciate the pleasure of eating fresh-cooked whitebait that was swimming around the end of Emporios’ little jetty until, half an hour go, when Themelis fished them out and carried them - still flipping and twisting - into the kitchen at Artistico!

There is simply not the ritziest restaurant in London, Paris, Rome or New York that can offer its swankiest patrons with the fattest wallets a dish that is both as simple and yet as rare…

Sunday, 20 August 2006


For many regular visitors to Emporios, the place represents an escape - not just an opportunity to step aside from any personal stresses, but also to leave behind those endless reminders that the world-at-large is relentlessly hurtling towards the abyss.

There is no plasma screen (nor any sort of TV) in the bar at Artistico and there’s nowhere in this literally end-of-the-road village where you can buy a newspaper. Anyone who cannot bear to be deprived of their daily fix of news needs take the bus along the twenty-mile winding cliff road to the port of Pothia where they will find Greek newspapers and, if you’re lucky, the odd copy of yesterday's Times, Telegraph or Guardian.

These things are 'givens' - as known and predictable as are high and low tide. Thus, for the die-hard Annual Emporian, coming to the village represents - amongst other things - an understanding that there will be an absence of change.

But change is happening --- even here in Paradise. For one thing, 'The Chicken of the Sea' is to be seen no more.

So-named by our friend Sophie, on her first visit to Kalymnos last year, this proud cockerel used to make a twice-daily sprint along the beach, followed - at a respectable, matronly distance - by his hens.

The newspapers (which we don’t have) very probably didn’t report his going, but he is a victim of change, a casualty of the news we cannot read: proximity to Turkey, where there have been cases of bird-flu, has meant that all domestic fowl now have to be penned.

As a result, many of the locals who once kept hens, geese and ducks have either sent them off to pastures new - or, alternatively, given them the chop!

On the positive side of things, this does mean that the dawn chorus of cock-a-doodle-doodling that was prone to disturb one's ouzo-induced slumbers as early as 4.30 in the morning are all but silenced.

Sadly it also means that we are no longer treated to the elegant and entertaining strut-past of the Chicken of the Sea.

There are times when even small, seemingly insignificant, changes feel oddly momentous…

Saturday, 19 August 2006


We are now so used to living and shopping in our super-marketed world where fruit come pre-packaged: selected, washed, graded and nested in plastic or styrofoam boxes, trays and containers that it’s sometimes difficult to remember that that is not how fruit starts out life!

Here, there is in superabundance of fruit - a truck laden with it comes honking into the village once a day - and, frankly, much of it wouldn’t pass muster with the fruit graders at Sainsbury, Tesco, Asda and the rest. No two nectarines are the same size, melons are often scarred and peaches and plums have spots, blemishes and facial flaws that would not even permit them access into the most liberal of open-all-hours corner stores and mini-markets.

But the taste! The fullness of flavour, the so-sweetness and the sheer dribbling-down-the-chin juiciness…

This is how, once upon a time, we all used to eat fruit and, thankfully, it is how they still eat it in those parts of the world where regimentation and uniformity have not been allowed to eclipse all the old-fashioned pleasures…

And long may they do so!

Friday, 18 August 2006


But the danger was past -- they had landed at last,
With their boxes, portmanteaus, and bags:
Yet at first sight the crew were not pleased with the view,
Which consisted to chasms and crags.
So wrote Lewis Carroll in ‘Fit the Second’ of The Hunting of the Snark.

Here, on Kalymnos, we like chasms and crags. There are, doubtless, those who yearn for the green shades and hues of more verdant landscapes, but in a place where there is little else to do but linger and look, the seemingly stark and barren bones of this island daily reveal themselves a backdrop of exquisite and ever-changing subtlety…

The scene is constantly transforming from sunrise to sunset: the first light of dawn kisses the crown of the nearby island of Telendos with a pale roseate light that accentuates the dramatic features of its cliff face and reveals the minute white dot that is, in fact, a tiny chapel perched perilously half-way up its height: the stones of faith symbolically erected in a place of apparent total inaccessibility.

The full glare of the midday sun makes the peaks that rise above Emporios seem harsh - even forbiddingly cruel: the rocky outcrops of pumice grey, pitted and pockmarked with deeper, darker shades of slate blue.

But then, in the final florid flush of the setting sun, those same hills are painted, first, salmon pink and - just before light fails - a rich red gold…

There’s nothing wrong with chasms and crags and, in some of those chasms - who knows - there might even lurk the Greek mythological equivalent of a Snark or, of course (because one can never be entirely sure about such things), possibly a Boojum

Thursday, 17 August 2006


This is Nikola Glinatsi, a huge fan of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, with the gift we brought him from Middle-earth via London: a personally inscribed photograph of Sir Ian McKellan as Gandalf. The look of delight says it all and the Glinatsi family are now ready to offer Kalymnian hospitality to Sir Ian any time he cares to stop by Artistico, their unique taverna at the heart of Emporios.

And this is Nikola’s father, George, who prides himself - it is one of his famous lines - on speaking “Oxford English”. Despite the fact that the temperature is 32 degrees, George sportingly sports the University scarf that we bought for him at his alma mater!

Wednesday, 16 August 2006


Minor stresses on the trip from Athens to Kos: travellers on eight flights simultaneously trying to go through security with all the usual volatile Mediterranean behaviour: queue-jumping, irate objections, raised voices, heated exchanges, semaphore-like waving of the hands and snorts of exasperation.

Security was scarily cursory and a teenage lad in front of me who was travelling with a Swiss Army knife was told he really wasn’t supposed to be carrying it on a flight and was then handed it back…

The small prop-plane was cramped and hot and delayed by half-an-hour while attempts were made to accommodate the CASES which people insisted on carrying as hand-baggage (weight limitations on hold luggage are just 15 kilograms instead of the usual 23 kilos) in tiny over-head lockers and under seats and which were, finally, hauled away to be accommodated somewhere in the tail area of the plane.

At Kos instead of the usual ferry we took the smaller, quicker Dolphin: a little boat that bounced and buffeted its way across the choppy waters (a high wind was whipping up the sea into white-capped waves) with water cascading over the luggage stacked in the back of the boat, inadequately protected by a large sheet of plastic vaguely secured by a medium-sized ROCK!

The one comforting thought for passengers was that if they felt at all bilious their needs had been thoughtfully catered for in the form of a plentiful supply of paper bags stuffed in a containiner on the cabin wall and marked in bold felt-tip pen - ‘EMETOY’!

And so, after a final taxi ride we arrived to a warm welcome from the Glinatisi family in Emporios.

Nikolas, the elder son, said (in his broken English but with his ever-charming smile): “You have come home!”

And, indeed, that is what it feels like…

Tuesday, 15 August 2006


“How you doing, there?” asked the genial young man in a yellow fluorescent tabard at Heathrow Airport. This (after “No problems!”) is one of the great non-phrases of our time. “If only we were THERE,” I wanted to say, “and not HERE!” But I resisted: he meant well, he was doing his bit to help keep up Brit morale in difficult times…

And, as it happened, it wasn’t such an ordeal - certainly not on the level of those who had attempted to travel over the past few days. Keeping everyone corralled outside the terminal until the flights were called made for a luxuriously un-crowded concourse and an amazing swift check-in.

Security was evidently more efficient, experienced or just less punctilious and the only real complication was the announcement this morning that the ban on hand-baggage had been relaxed.

I was amused in watching early morning TV before setting off for the airport to hear a reporter at Heathrow say: “So, see-thru plastic bags for carry-on are a thing of the past…” The past? It had only been in operation for four days!

The authorities were clear that the relaxation of the ban on carry-on bags was ‘partial’, although that seemed to have by-passed many travellers who were turning up as they normally do with enough cabin luggage to reasonably require a sizeable team of native bearers to handle.

‘Partial relaxation’ actually meant the introduction of a new maximum-size for bags that is several inches smaller than the previous one. The crates into which you are supposed to be able to fit your carry-on luggage before attempting to carry-it-on have all been re-lined with a metal box with a smaller slot. This is a fascinating development: clearly permanent, not temporary, and also - if you think about it - clearly nothing whatever to do with security.

Any terrorist worth his salt would not be daunted by the restraints of a smaller piece of hand-baggage in which to carry-on essential explosives. No, this is the airlines seizing the opportunity to limit the amount of in-cabin luggage carried in planes and which is self-evidently the bane of every air-stewardess’ daily life and also - and more crucially, necessitates the use of extra, costly fuel…

Who knows, there may also be some sticky backhanders being passed between the BAA, the airlines and the manufacturers of bags and baggage since we had to purchase a new computer carrying-case as the existing one was 5mm too large!

Anyway, after days of stress and anxiety, we took off and a little less than three hours later landed in Athens at the swanky new airport built for the last Olympic Games.

We are staying overnight at the Sofitel Hotel, which must be one of the few hotels than can legitimately boast: “30 seconds from the airport”! Nice room; superb food; elegant décor --- it’s just a pity, for such a new hotel, that the statuary in the lobby has already been vandalised!

Monday, 14 August 2006


That's Greek for DESTINATION: KALYMNOS --- if we're lucky!

Tomorrow, we're supposed to be flying off to Kalymnos, via Athens, but like everyone attempting to travel just now, we can't be sure...

The daily horror stories about last-minute cancellations and flights being forced to take off without all the passengers on board because of the difficulties involved in getting through security means that we may or may not be headed for Greece this time tomorrow...

If we make it, then for the next month blogs may be a little less frequent (depending on the reliability of dial-up in the Dodecanese!) but - if and when they occur - they'll hopefully introduce you to the idyllic island of Kalymnos and, specifically, to the delightfully idiosyncratic village of Emporios...

If we don't make it, then blogging will be resumed without further delay and you can expect a good deal of ranting! Meanwhile, you can at least read my thoughts about a place that I call Heaven on Earth.

I know they say that it’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive, but frankly I think - when it comes to holidays - that bit of homespun philosophy is probably best described as όρχεις ------ which, basically, is Greek for B - - - - - - - -!!

Sunday, 13 August 2006


There was once a Laughing Hyena who, contrary to his name and the usual inclinations of his breed, never - under any circumstances whatsoever - LAUGHED.

This Hyena flatly refused to see the humorous side of anything and wouldn’t let his funny bone be even gently tickled.

When all the other hyenas were in their element, telling one another the funniest stories with the cleverest punch lines or the raciest double entendres and were rolling on the veldt with side-splitting hilarity, the Hyena who wouldn’t laugh still didn’t crack a smile, but merely wore a straight-faced expression that told the world that he was seriously not amused.

The other hyenas got bored with the Hyena who wouldn’t laugh and did their best to ignore the fact that whenever any of the rest of them told a joke, shared a gag or made a pun, this kill-joy merely shook his head, shrugged his shoulders and sighed heavily.

Then, one day, when the pack was sitting around cracking one another up with their usual funny anecdotes, something spooked a nearby herd of rhino. There were six of them - big, hefty brutes that were generously blessed with bone and brawn, but who had scarcely an atom of brain between them.

One second the rhino were grazing the grassland, mindlessly chewing the cud; the next, they were thundering here, there and everywhere, bellowing and snorting, crashing into one another and trampling anything and anyone in their path.

And in their path were the hapless hyenas, too busy laughing their silly heads off to hear the approaching tornado of hoof and horn.

It took less than a minute to leave the hyena pack limping around with broken legs, dislocated jaws, sprained ankles, strained backs and splitting headaches.

That was when the Hyena who wouldn’t laugh began to chortle and then chuckle, to giggle and then guffaw until he LAUGHED OUT LOUD for the very first time in his life. Tears streaming down his face, he fell on the ground and rolled hysterically about, clutching his sides in an agony of amusement!

One of the other hyenas, who had gained a black eye and lost most of his teeth, hobbled over and stood looking at what was now the only laughing hyena for miles around. “Why are you laughing?” he asked in great irritation. “You have never, ever, laughed at anything before.”

“That,” tittered the Hyena who wouldn’t laugh, with a smirk that widened into the widest of smiles, "is simply because there wasn’t anything worth laughing at before!

© Brian Sibley 2006
Read more of my Likely Stories.

[Image: Clipart Etc]


Interviewing Jackie Collins, some years ago, I asked her about a comment made by one of the characters in her 1988 novel, Rock Star, who had observed:

“Sex is the most important thing in the world - more important even than money…”

“So," I cheekily enquired, wondering if I dared ask the question, "what’s most important to Jackie Collins ---- sex or money?”

Both!” she replied without a second’s pause, “and, preferably, together!”

Saturday, 12 August 2006


With the diagnosis, yesterday, that I am suffering from psoriatic arthritis, came a prescription for new medication and an introductory leaflet containing a lengthy litany of the ills that may befall me once I start the regime. I quote:

The most common unwanted side effects are nausea, stomach pains and soreness of the mouth and lips…

Less common unwanted side effects include vomiting; diarrhoea; loss of appetite; tiredness; drowsiness; feeling weak; dizziness; eye irritation; mood changes; loss of interest in; or ability to have sex; fever, chills; pain in the joints and muscles; acne; boils; vaginal ulcers…

“In a small number of patients, this drug may cause serious unwanted side effects - a numb or tingling feeling, a painful lump in your neck, hair loss, loss of consciousness, tiny red spots on the skin, black or tarry stools, an inability to move, difficulty with speech, fits or confusion and, on rare occasions, death...”

In the event of any of the aforementioned, the patient is advised to "consult your doctor immediately", although, in the event of the last-named side effect (to wit, kicking the bucket), that would seem a tad difficult!

Anyway, it has left me asking myself, if those are the UNwanted side effects - what, for pity's sake, are the WANTED side effects?!

[Image: Gimpy Mumpy. Check out this great site, enjoy Mumpy's cartoons and support CWD (Crip World Domination)]

Friday, 11 August 2006


Every now and again, a new saying gets minted that is obviously so aposite to the times in which we live that - like a bright, new penny - it goes swiftly into circulation and becomes common currency...

Maybe that's why I keep stumbling across the following phrase in strap-lines to webs 'n' blogs and on e-mail 'signatures':
"It's not that I think stupidity should be punishable by death. I just think we should take the warning labels off everything and let the problem take care of itself."
Search for the source and you'll be told that it's the work of 'Author Unknown', but whoever wrote or said it first knew that we live in an intolerant age where everyone is pretty much stupid - apart from You and I, of course ---- and frankly, I've even got doubts about You!

So, I guess we'll just have to do away with all those WARNINGS and see what happens...

[Image: Notice on glass doors from This is Broken, a treasure-chest of insane signage. Visit and bookmark --- you'd be stupid not to!]

Thursday, 10 August 2006


From the moment I first read James Thurber's stories, essays, fables and fairy-tales, I fell in love with a writer who possessed a rapier wit capable of unerringly striking its mark despite - or, perhaps, because of - his wildly lopsided view of life, men, women and dogs...

From the moment I saw my first cartoon by James Thurber - drawn with the visual equivalent of his literary mental squint - I have been slavishly devoted to his deliciously dotty doodles. And of all his many zany jokes, this remains my all-time favourite:

"Perhaps this will refresh your memory"

In the days when I used to lecture on 'creative writing' (which was in the days when I probably thought creativity could be taught!), I would show this cartoon to my class and invite students to extemporise a back-story that might have led to this moment of confrontation in what is, presumably, a kangaroo court!

Today, I recognise that it needs no explanation to make it funny and that, in fact, it is the very absence of any explanation - indeed, of all logic and sense - that elevates this joke to a work of pure, uninhibited genius!

Wednesday, 9 August 2006


Today is the 107th anniversary of the birth of Helen Lyndon Goff who was born on 9th August 1899 in Maryborough, Queensland, Australia, and who - under the pen name P L Travers - wrote the series of books that introduced the world to Mary Poppins the magical nanny who, in 1964, became the heroine of the very different - but utterly charming and much-loved - Disney film of the same name…

A defining quality of the books which the film - despite the cumulative talents that helped create it - never entirely succeeded in capturing is a breathtaking sense of the mystical, accompanied by a slightly disturbing feeling that Destiny is following close upon the heels of Mary Poppins' sensible shoes when she arrives - out of the blue - on the front doorstep of 17 Cherry Tree Lane and that, as a result, life for the children, Jane and Michael, will never be quite the same again...
“How did you come?” Jane asked. “It looked just as if the wind blew you here.”

“It did.” Said Mary Poppins briefly. And she proceeded to unwind her muffler from her neck and to take off her hat, which she hung on one of the bedposts…
For Jane and Michael - and the reader - the magic is just beginning…

Visit my ‘Ex Libris’ blog to read more about Miss Poppins and reminiscences of various encounters with her creator, Pamela Travers.

Tuesday, 8 August 2006


As you start getting older, it becomes increasingly clear that there's a time and a place for essential questions to be asked --- at least if you want to be sure crucial moments of opportunity don't slip by...

I always remember an elderly bishop saying to me:

"I've reached that point in life when, if I ever have to re-tie my shoe-laces, I stop and ask myself whether there's anything else I need to do while I'm down there!"

[Image: 'Shoes' (1888) by Vincent van Gogh from Artcyclopedia]

Monday, 7 August 2006


I am currently watching an organization to which I belong tear itself apart during the lead-up to its (always acrimonious) AGM - negative electioneering, smear-campaigns, anger, fear and suspicion - and, as a result, I sometimes find myself in need of a good exit line in order to walk away from those with whom I am diametrically opposed...

This parting quip from Master Will Shakespeare seems as good a farewell as any...

Thou art so leaky, that we must leave thee to thy sinking...
- Antony and Cleopatra

Check out my 'Ex Libris' blog for more from The Bard's Guide to Abuses and Affronts.

Sunday, 6 August 2006


Prompted by my earlier posting, the Diva of Deception has listed her Top Ten Reads --- and has included Mary Poppins, which immediately made me ask why she isn't on MY list! She certainly SHOULD be!

True, I didn't read Miss Poppins' exploits until I was in my twenties (some time after seeing the Disney film), but it resulted in a long friendship with the author and took me to Hollywood to write a sequel - albeit never filmed - to that famous movie. Why, I even wrote the 'Afterword' to an edition of the book (above) that is now sitting on a pile of books near the desk, looking accusingly at me and saying - with a Mary Poppins-type sniff - "Ha, Moby-Dick, indeed!"

And now a copy of Winnie-the-Pooh wants to know how come someone who's written one book (and edited two others), a radio play and two documentaries about the Bear of Very Little Brain and his creator chose Animal Farm instead!

Eeyore observes that there is a donkey in Orwell's book, and Piglet adds that it has quite a few pigs, as well; but Pooh maintains that is "Not the point!" And he's probably right...

So, maybe, what I really need is a Top Twenty list...

Or, maybe it just goes to show the true value of all lists!

PS: And now there's Cafrine's top-ten-totally-trippy-uh-books to be considered and she lists, on the one hand, all those Harry Potter and... books, to which I've still got to knuckle down; and, on the other hand, Douglas Adams' TOTALLY WONDERFUL The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, which I first fell in love with when it was a BBC radio series back in 1978 and which made me want to write for radio...

PPS: And now, another impressive list of (fifteen choices - with synopses, no less!) has been compiled by Anna and will be found filed under precious pages. Check them out, my precious - even though Gollum didn't manage to squeeze into this list!

PPPS: Must STOP re-writing existing blogs! No more 'PS's!


Following my recent rant about Penguin’s list of 100 Greatest Books, Cafrine of the wonky comma commented:
I'd be interested to hear, Brian, what, say, your top ten greatest books of all time would be. We'll even let you pick books from every publisher and not limit you to simply Penguin Books!
As I remarked in reply, any listing by me of 'The Ten Greatest Books of All Time' would be totally meaningless, since I know that there are a very many (very probably GREAT) books that I've still not read - and which, looking at the up-coming schedule of life, I will probably never will get around to reading...

But, yes, I decided, I would submit my personal 'Top Ten Tomes', on the strict understanding that Somebody Out There joins in and puts forward their Top Ten -- and that includes you, Cafrine!

The criteria (for me): books that have seized and held my imagination and - in some cases - changed my life or at least the way I look at it…

So here they are (in alphabetical order):

A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

Animal Farm - George Orwell

Moby-Dick - Herman Melville

Something Wicked This Way Comes - Ray Bradbury

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - C S Lewis

The Lord of the Rings - J R R Tolkien

The Sword in the Stone - T H White

The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame

Titus Groan - Mervyn Peake

And what do you know? They’re all fantasies, fables or fairy-tales!

How revealing is that?!

Saturday, 5 August 2006


I've been busy preparing to give my Entertainment Review on tomorrow’s edition of Michael Parkinson’s Sunday Supplement (BBC Radio 2, 88-91 FM) 11.30 am...

This week's offerings include the DVD of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, re-released in a stunningly-restored, two-disc version with the now-obligatory ‘extras’: commentaries, documentaries, ‘cut scenes’, trailers and so forth…

Made in 1975, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is as compelling as I remember it from the last time I saw it - twenty or more years ago.

Based on Ken Kesey’s novel - which just happens to be one of those Penguin '100 Greatest Books', the story was adapted first for the stage as a vehicle for Kirk Douglas who had bought the rights in the novel on publication.

Douglas spent several years trying to get a film made without success until 1975 when it finally went into production with Kirk's son, Michael Douglas, as producer and a screenplay by Bo Goldman, who would go on to write The Rose, Scent of a Woman and Meet Joe Black.

At the time, they could only afford to sign one ‘name’for the picture: Jack Nicholson, star of, among other films, Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces and Chinatown, giving what is arguably the finest performance of his career as Randle P McMurphy, a violent criminal sent for assessment to a mental institution that is the nest of ‘cuckoos’ of the title.

“I must be crazy to be in a loony bin like this,” says McMurphy, but is he? While the staff attempts to find out, he is raising hell and creating mayhem among the other inmates: providing a catalyst for change among a group of men who have lost the will to think or act for themselves.

Shot on a shoe-string budget in the claustrophobic, pale-sun-lit wards and corridors of a real hospital in Oregon - with the intuition’s director playing the head 'head-doctor' who shares some extraordinary improvised scenes with Nicholson - the film is directed by Milos Forman (later to direct Amadeus) and is centered on a story told almost exclusively through character rather than incident.

The tedium of institutional life is captured in long pauses, pregnant silences and relentless close-ups: not just of Nicholson - wild-eyed and insanely grinning (before he turned that look into pastiche in The Shining) - but also of the rest of the extraordinary ensemble cast.

For, although Nicholson is the unquestioned star, the rest of the players - including then 'unknowns' Christopher Lloyd, Danny DeVito and Brad Dourif and a half-a-dozen other compelling character actors - turn in startling performances as the resident “crazies”; while icy, softly-spoken Louise Fletcher plays Nurse Ratched, the women whose scary control-freak level of management initiates many of the funniest confrontations in the film as well as the ultimately tragic dénouement.

“Which one of you nuts has got any guts?” McMurphy asks the other patients, shortly after his arrival. Through him they discover that they have the guts not just to imagine themselves doing things they didn’t think they could ever do but then, for better or worse, actually doing them

Funny, devastating, deeply moving and - despite the mounting catastrophes of the finale - richly life-affirming, this five Oscar-winner was, and remains, a masterpiece.

I think I may be ready to read the book now...

Friday, 4 August 2006


It's the 60th anniversary of Penguin Books and that is rightly the cause for much jubilation and celebration: especially for those of us who (when young and with limited resources) owed much of our entertainment and education to the irrepressible march of the penguins, puffins, pelicans, peacocks and ptarmigans…

It pains me, therefore, to have a bit of a rant at the headlined story in yesterday’s edition of The Times

I turned to the article - sorry, Lead Story - that took up four pages of the paper and went through the list in order to check off just how many of this essential 100 I’d actually read. I was determined to be completely honest and not to count Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep because I’d watched the movie version or Damon Runyon’s Guys and Dolls because I went and saw the musical…

My score?

A very modest 35 out of 100. Not even 50%!!


I was, however, pleased to have read all five of 'The Best Spine-Tinglers' and four out of five of ‘The Best Laughs’, although I admit I did considerably less well on the categories of ‘Best Sex’, ‘Minxes’, ‘Adultery’ and ‘Debauchery’: which shows what a sad life I’ve lived - even when it comes to my reading habits!

But then I started worrying…

How can there possibly be a category called ‘Best Journeys’ that does not include J R R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings or one designated ‘Best Science Fiction’ that doesn’t list Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. And, come to that, how did Steerpike - from Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan and Gormenghast - get passed over when the ‘Best Villains’ list was being drawn up?

The answer is simple: Rings and F451 are published in paperback by HarperCollins and the Peake novels by the Overlook Press --- NOT, you will notice, by PENGUIN

So this list of THE 100 GREATEST BOOKS is really only an inventory of the THE 100 GREATEST PENGUIN BOOKS… And then possibly only maybe, since there are quite a few (some would have said) King Penguins missing from the flock including these two...

Oh, yes, and anything by Shakespeare!

As a result, now I don’t feel quite so bad about my score because I’ve read a great many more than 35 Penguin books in my life and I could probably rustle up as many again that could reasonably be called Great Books from the catalogues of other publishers.

So, my only remaining question is did Penguin pay for this premium coverage as in The Times or did the editor genuinely think this was a 'Lead Story' when - paid for or unpaid - it is, quite obviously nothing more than a puff piece for Penguin…

It’s possible - as others are doing - to visit TIMES ONLINE and ‘Have Your Say’ or you could just get on with reading a good book!