Thursday 30 November 2006


“I know I’m sticking my neck out,” said the Young Giraffe, “But those trees, way over there, look to me as if they are covered in really luscious leaves right at the very top.”

What trees?” asked one of his elderly relatives.

“Trust me,” said the Young Giraffe, “with due respect, my eyesight is better than yours.”

So the whole herd followed the Young Giraffe and headed off for the trees, which were, even further away than they had at first supposed.

Although they began their journey almost as a canter, their speed soon dropped to a lope and, by the time they reached the trees, they were going at little more than a dawdle and were exhausted and very hungry.

They were pleased to discover that the trees were indeed covered in the most lip-smackingly luscious leaves at the very top of their branches. But unfortunately however far they stuck their necks out every single bunch of leaves was just beyond their reach.

As can be imagined, they were not best pleased with the Young Giraffe.

A few weeks later, the Young Giraffe coughed politely and said that whilst he was probably sticking his neck out once more, he could smell a waterhole full of fresh, clear drinking water off in the distance beside a large outcrop of rock.

What rock?” asked another of his relatives.

“Trust me,” said the Young Giraffe, “I have a very keen sense of smell.”

Against their better judgement - and only because they were very thirsty - the herd agreed to follow the Young Giraffe to his waterhole.

After another long, tiring trek, they arrived at a muddy puddle at the bottom of a deep hole that was currently occupied by a bad-tempered and overweight warthog.

Even if they had been willing to drink a warthog’s bath water, it would have made no difference for however far they spread their long legs and however far they stuck out their long necks they couldn’t reach the brown, brackish sludge.

For the second time in too short a time, the Young Giraffe was not especially popular with his family.

A week or two passed and, one day when the giraffes were roaming the savannah, the Young Giraffe once again felt compelled to make an announcement.

“I know you are tired of me sticking my neck out,” he began, “but I really think that I can hear a pride of lions creeping up on us through the long grasses.”

SHUT UP!!” shouted the giraffe family as one animal.

So he did

Feeling unbelievably humiliated, tears welled up in his big brown eyes and it was at that moment that the lions sprang!

The first animal to fall was the Young Giraffe, proving that if you keep sticking your neck out, sooner or later, you are going to get your head bitten off…

© Brian Sibley 2006
Read more of my Likely Stories

Wednesday 29 November 2006

10 THINGS (2)

After my recent blog on the subject of LISTS...

This is the second in an occasional series (well, at least there will now be two!) of TEN THINGS that have made my life richer than it might otherwise have been.

And today I’m offering my choice of

Ten Things That Have Made My Life More TASTY...

Roast pork & apple sauce
Salted Popcorn
White truffle
Black pudding
Pepperoni pizza
Toast and marmalade
Battenberg cake (or anything with marzipan)

If it weren't too obviously decadent and self-indulgent, I would have also included more or less any make of ice cream -- but especially everything by Ben & Jerry (top choice: Phish Food!) -- and all sundaes and knickerbocker glories such as this one - aptly named The Matterhorn - which I sampled at the ice-cream parlour in Disneyland...

By the way, I asked my friend Buttons to pose beside this particular confection simply because - with a name like 'The Matterhorn' - a sense of scale and proportion was obviously called for in order to avoid any unnecessary charges of excessive gluttony!

[To find out more about Buttons, visit his web page and his recently-launched blog, a rabbit's ramblings]

Tuesday 28 November 2006


If there's one movie that you should try to cram into the busy weeks leading up to Christmas, it is El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan's Labyrinth), an astonishingly beautiful and genuinely terrifying film that believably intertwines a dark, haunting fantasy - full of Carrollian overtones and Freudian undertones - with a tale of a small community caught up in a miasma of violence and deceit following the Spanish Civil War.

Too scary for the kids - possibly even too scary for you! - Pan's Labyrinth is, without question, one of the great films of the year - and one of the great fantasy films of any year.

The film is a brilliant achievement by Mexican director Guillermo del Toro who, in a Guardian interview following a screening last week at London's National Film Theatre, didn't pull his punches when it came to describing the trials of film-making.

"I must tell you," he said, "that if you think it's hard at the beginning, it never gets better. I say making movies is like eating a sandwich of sh*t. Sometimes you get more bread, sometimes less bread, but you always get sh*t."

Monday 27 November 2006


Mention, yesterday, of the death of lyracist Betty Comden prompts me to moan about something that’s been niggling me for months and which is well overdue for getting off my chest!

It seems impossible nowadays to pick up a box or packet of anything edible without seeing the self-evidently unnecessary disclaimer: SERVING SUGGESTION.

I mean, is there - seriously - anyone in the known universe who is going to open a box of breakfast cereal carrying a picture of a ceramic bowl of the said cereal with milk and a spoon who is going to expect to find in addition to the cereal, a dish, a spoon and a quantity of fresh milk? I don’t really think so…

Now, what's this got to do with the late Ms Comden you ask? Well, the English National Opera’s sell-out 2005 production of the Leonard Bernstein-Betty Comden-Adolph Green musical On the Town ("New York, New York, it's a helluva town!") is slated to return to the ENO in 2007 and, once again, they are advertising the show with a sexy photo of a smiling sailor pointing directly out of the flyers in a cheeky pastiche of the famous ‘Uncle Sam Needs You’ poster.

Of course, I am well aware that all opera singers aren’t necessarily built like Luciano Pavarotti and this young man certainly isn’t… But then neither is he an opera singer - or indeed even a member of the cast of On the Town

The saucy sailor-lad inviting you to book your seats at the London Coliseum is, in fact, professional model, Mark Kidd, snapped by the talented enetertainment photographer, Jon Stark

So, where are the words SERVING SUGGESTION when you actually need them? Nowhere!

Sunday 26 November 2006


A chapter - or rather a stave - of popular musical history closed with the death, a day or two ago, of Betty Comden at the age of 89.

With her long-time collaborator, the late Adolph Green, she wrote songs, libretti and screenplays for some of the all-time great Broadway and Hollywood musicals…

In a creative partnership that lasted over 60 years, Comden and Green penned the words for a dozen or more enduring classics including ‘That’s Entertainment’ for The Band Wagon; ‘Lonely Town’ and ‘New York, New York’ for Bernstein’s On the Town; ‘The Party’s Over’ and ‘Just in Time’ for Bells Are Ringing.

Having started out as revue performers, Betty Comden and Adolph Green knew what it took to put over a number and their songs - usually lively and witty but sometimes soulful and reflective - were written for and performed by a galaxy of headliners among them Frank Sinatra, Billy Holiday, Fred Astaire, Mary Martin and Rosalind Russell. And, most famously, their screenplay for Singin' in the Rain provided a showcase for the talents of Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Connor and, of course, Gene Kelly unforgettably performing the Arthur Freed & Nacio Herb Brown number that inspired the film.

I'm laughing at clouds,
So dark up above,
The sun's in my heart,
And I'm ready for love,
Let the stormy clouds chase,
Everyone from the place,
Come on with the rain,
I've a smile on my face,
I walk down the lane,
With a happy refrain,
Just singin',
Singin' in the rain...

Until Adolph Green died in 2002, the songwriters got together every single day. “We stare at each other!” Betty Comden told The New York Times in 1977. “We meet whether or not we have a project, just to keep up a continuity of working. There are long periods when nothing happens, and it’s just boring and disheartening. But we have a theory that nothing’s wasted, even those long days of staring at one another. You sort of have to believe that… you had to go through all that to get to the day when something did happen!”

It was a theory borne out by a delightful anecdote revealing how the song ‘Just in Time’ came to be written: “At some point when we were working on Bells Are Ringing, Jule Styne wrote that tune: Dee da dum, da dee da dee da dum… We all agreed it had to be in the show somewhere, but for months we couldn’t find a place for it, or even a title, but Jule was playing it all over town at parties, calling it ‘Dee Da Dum.’ And that became the official title until the point where, rewriting part of the book one day, the situation was there, and we finally wrote the words to fit ‘Dee Da Dum’…”

Just in time
I found you just in time
Before you came my time
Was running low
I was lost
The losing dice were tossed
My bridges all were crossed
Nowhere to go

Now you're here
And now I know just where I'm going
No more doubt or fear
'Cause I found my way
For love came just in time
You found me just in time
And saved my lonely life
That lovely day...

Saturday 25 November 2006


With everything running later than usual in the climate this year, the last rose of summer has turned out to be the last rose of autumn-going- on-winter…

While the leaves stalwartly clung to the branches (whereas in previous years they would have long since have given up the ghost and fluttered to the ground), so the rose has bravely carried on putting forth blossoms as if the annual onslaught of frost, fog and winter winds were permanently postponed.

But now, at long last, things are getting back to the seasonal norm...

So, here is one of the last roses of summer 2006, together with the sober (some might say melancholy) sentiments of 19th Century Irish poet, Thomas Moore, as a reminder that beauty and summer - along with just about everything else in life - is but fleeting…

‘Tis the last rose of summer
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions

Are faded and gone:

No flower of her kindred,

No rose-bud is nigh,

To reflect back her blushes,

Or give sigh for sigh.

I'll not leave thee, thou lone one!
To pine on the stem;
Since the lovely are sleeping,

Go, sleep thou with them.

Thus kindly I scatter

Thy leaves o'er the bed,

Where thy mates of the garden

Lie scentless and dead.

So soon may I follow,

When friendships decay,

And from Love's shining circle

The gems drop away.

When true hearts lie wither'd,

And fond ones are flown,

Oh! who would inhabit

This bleak world alone?

[Image: © David Weeks and/or Brian Sibley: we both took pictures with the same camera, so who knows?]

Friday 24 November 2006


Part of the appeal of multi-character stories or TV shows is that we identify - ourselves and others with specific characters: when we read Winnie-the-Pooh we find ourselves thinking of bouncy Tigger-folk whom we know or gloomy Eeyore-types and when we watch The Muppet Show we... well... that's precisely what you can find out for yourself by taking the Muppet Personality Test.

I had expected to find myself a MISS PIGGY (can't think why!) but turned out to be rather more GREEN than PINK!

You Are Kermit

Hi, ho! Lovable and friendly, you get along well with everyone you know.

You're a big thinker, and sometimes you over think life's problems.

Don't worry - everyone know's it's not easy being green.

Just remember, time's fun when you're having flies!

So, have a go and good luck... And, please, don't blame me if you find that you're Gonzo - or even Animal!

More Muppet Madness on today's Window Gazing

Thursday 23 November 2006


For our American Cousins, today is a day for carving the turkey and giving thanks...

Thanksgiving Day (held on the fourth Thursday in November) is a quintessentially American celebration, dating back over 300 years to the days of the first European settlement founded in Plymouth, New England, on December 21, 1620.

Three years after the Pilgrim Fathers began a new life in a new world, the Colony's Governor, William Bradford, proclaimed the community's first day of thanksgiving with these words:
Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as he has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience. Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.
The celebration as it is observed today, dates from a later proclamation issued by President George Washington on the 3 October, 1789:
Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and

Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
Washington also exhorted the people to join in a prayer that seems as timely - for the USA and, indeed for all nations calling themselves civilised democracies - as it did when America’s first President penned the words, 217 years ago…
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.
I wish all my American friends - at home or abroad,
alone or with those whom they love -
A Very Happy and Peaceful Thanksgiving

[Image: Turkey Mosaic by Martin Cheek]

Wednesday 22 November 2006


My recently-published biography of Peter Jackson has just been given a really good review (or "write-up" as my old Dad used to call them) in December's issue of Total Film...

[Click to enlarge]

And already, it seems, there is new material accruing for a 'Revised Edition' now that Middle-earth is waiting with bated breath to discover who will be approached to direct The Hobbit now that Jackson appears to be officially
off the project

Millions of fans of The Lord of the Rings trilogy are wondering whether anyone other than Jackson and his team can hope to succeed in bringing Tolkien's Rings 'prequel' to the screen. Maybe it's all bluff and brinkmanship on the part of New Line Cinema and/or the King of Wellywood, but there's no doubting that any interloper trying to break into Bag End and get the co-operation of Mr Bilbo Baggins is going to have to combine the magic-craft of Gandalf, the wisdom of Elrond, the statesmanship of Aragorn and the courage of Frodo.

Meanwhile, Richard Taylor has revealed that Weta Workshop are not discounting their possible involvement... But then would anyone in Hollywood be daft enough not to ask them? Er... YES! And at least three members of The Lord of the Rings cast - Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving and Ian McKellen must be wondering what the chances are of reprising their roles...

During the writing of the Jackson biography, I had a long conversation with Peter - not in the book - about his possible ideas for The Hobbit which included some intriguing thoughts about characters and casting. It would be a pity if they were to end up as nothing more than a footnote in some future paperback edition of Peter Jackson: A Film-maker's Journey - especially since following Mr Baggins "There and Back Again" would have been an interesting extension of that Journey...

And, of course, I'm also asking myself: "Who's going to be writing the 'Making of...' book?"!

However it all gets sorted - or doesn't - I've got a couple of nice souvenirs of my association with Rings such as this Gandalf Hat given to me by my good friend Ian Smith.

"So what?" You ask. "Lots of collectors have one of those!" Indeed... but not many, I'd guess, have been personalised by Ian McKellen, the wizard himself, with an inscription that runs halfway round the brim before disappearing down into the point!

Tuesday 21 November 2006


There are so many unanswered questions in the universe -- far too many, in fact -- here's film-maker Jamin Winans' attempt at finding an answer.

Supposing there is a God, this may not be quite how He operates, but it's certainly a glimpse of the agonies He could very well go through every second of every day...

a hint, perhaps, of how He'd like to work things out - if it weren't for the rules --- whatever they are....

The film is called...


Monday 20 November 2006


Following yesterday's display of vitriol by Dorothy Parker, I thought I'd share with you a few more cyanide-scented sentiments and arsenic-flavoured accolades from Jennifer Higgie's The Little Book of Venom, worthy of being savoured.

A quite excellent nosegay of nastiness, this innocent-looking little collection is one in which musicians are murdered...

Bernard Levin on the music of Frederick Delius: "The musical equivalent of blancmange"

Oscar Wilde on Richard Wagner: "I like Wagner's music better than any other music. It is so loud that one can talk the whole time without people hearing what one says. That is a great advantage."

...politicians are pulverised...

Benjamin Disraeli on Robert Peel: "His smile is like the silver fittings on a coffin."

Aneurin Bevan on Clement Atlee: "He brings to the fierce struggle of politics the tepid enthusiasm of a lazy summer afternoon at a cricket match."

...historical figures are hammered...

Charles Dickens on Henry VIII: "The plain truth is that he was the most intolerable ruffian, a disgrace to human nature, and a blot of blood and grease upon the history of England."

George Bernard Shaw on Queen Victoria: "Nowadays, a parlour maid as ignorant as Queen Victoria was when she came to the throne would be classed as mentally defective."

...playwrights are poleaxed...

H G Wells on George Bernard Shaw: "An idiot child screaming in a hospital."

Queen Victoria on William Shakespeare's King Lear: "A strange, horrible business, but I suppose good enough for Shakespeare's day."

...divas are destroyed...

W B Yeats on Mrs Patrick Campbell: "An ego like a raging tooth."

George Bernard Shaw (again) on Isadora Duncan: "A woman whose face looked as if it had been made of sugar and someone had licked it."

...and authors are assassinated...

Lord Byron on John Keats: "A tadpole of the lakes."

Dame Edith Sitwell on Virginia Woolf: "Virginia Wolf's writings is no more than glamorous knitting. I believe she must have a pattern somewhere."

Finally, here's an all-purpose Arab curse that is seriously worth committing to memory for daily use in any stressful situation: "May your left ear wither and fall into your right pocket."

The Little Book of Venom: A Collection of Historical Insults, compiled by Jennifer Heggie in 1999, is published by Michael O'Mara Books Ltd.

Sunday 19 November 2006


So, the stage musical of Mary Poppins has opened on Broadway to pretty much universal acclaim with a fistful of fairly supercalifragilistic reviews, including this one by Jim Hill.

The Practically Perfect Poppins is now looking set to entice and delight New York theatre audiences as successfully she has been doing for the past two years in London.

By all accounts, the show has transferred from one side of the Atlantic to the other pretty much in tact, much to the surprise of some skeptics and doom-sayers, I don't doubt...

I'm sure, therefore, that on the arrival of Mr Banks' former governess - the formidible Miss Andrew - young Michael still delivers the line: "She looks like something that would eat its young!"

At every performance I saw, this description of the harridan of a nanny, got a HUGE laugh from the audience, but it always struck me as being way too adult, clever and cynical a remark for a little boy to have made and was really allowing us to evesdrop on the authorial voice of the show's witty book-writer, Mr Julian Fellowes.

But it was only today, while leafing through one of my favourite loo-side books, The Little Book of Venom, that I came across the origin of the line and realised just how adult, clever and cynical a remark it truly was, having been coined by New York's mistress of the poisoned pen, Miss Dorothy Parker, who once wrote of the English actress, Edith Evans: "To me, Edith looks like something that would eat its young!"

One can only hope that, during her stay at 17 Cherry Tree Lane, Mary Poppins succeeded in introducing Master Banks to one or two writers whose work was a little more suited to his tender years - such as, perhaps, the books of P L Travers...?

[Poster © Disney/CML, 2006]

Saturday 18 November 2006


Maybe it is something to do with an awareness of the transience of life, but we are as a species, list-makers!

Just think how many folk songs contain iventories: "Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme"; itineries: "There was an old woman who swallowed a fly..."; and much-repeated lists of Things ("This is the cow with the crumpled horn that tossed the dog, that worried the cat, that killed the rat that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built") and/or People:
Tom Pearce, Tom Pearce, lend me your grey mare,
All along, down along, out along lee,
Us wants to go to Widdecombe Fair

Wi' Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer,
Peter Gurney, Peter Davey,
Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawke,
Old Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all,
Old Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all...

My fascination with lists is such that, for some time now, I've been vaguely collecting literary lists and - if one includes Gilbert & Sullivan (and I don’t see why one shouldn’t) - lyrical lists…

I mention G&S because they were always listing things - especially in their infamous "patter songs" such as 'I've Got A little List", the schedule of possible victims-for-the-chop drawn up by Ko Ko (The Lord High Executioner) in their comic opera, The Mikado...

As some day it may happen that a victim must be found,
I've got a little list -- I've got a little list
Of society offenders who might well be underground,
And who never would be missed -- who never would be missed!

There's the banjo serenader, and the others of his race,
And the piano-organist -- I've got him on the list!
And the people who eat peppermint and puff it in your face,
They never would be missed -- they never would be missed!
Then the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone,
All centuries but this, and every country but his own;
And the lady from the provinces, who dresses like a guy,
And who "doesn't think she waltzes, but would rather like to try";
And that singular anomaly, the lady novelist--
I don't think she'd be missed -- I'm sure she'd not he missed!

And in their lesser-known operetta, The Sorcerer, the eponymous character - John Wellington Wells - has a formidable catalogue of services on offer...
Oh, my name is John Wellington Wells
I'm a dealer in magic and spells

In blessings and curses

And ever-filled purses

In prophecies, witches, and knells...

We've a first-class assortment of magic
And for raising a posthumous shade

With effects that are comic or tragic

There's no cheaper house in the trade...

Love-philtre, we've quantities of it

And for knowledge if any one burns

We keep an extremely small prophet,

Who brings us unbounded returns

For he can prophesy with a wink of his eye

Peep with security into futurity

Sum up your history, clear up a mystery

Humour proclivity for a nativity

With mirrors so magical, tetrapods tragical

Bogies spectacular, answers oracular

Facts astronomical, solemn or comical...

W S Gilbert's contemporary, Lewis Carroll, also went in for lists and none of his books have more of them than The Hunting of the Snark, of which this is one of the shorter ones - albeit repeated several times!

They sought it with thimbles, they sought it with care;
They pursued it with forks and hope;
They threatened its life with a railway-share;
They charmed it with smiles and soap.

Of course, we’re all very familiar with the process of making lists ("Milk, eggs, bread, low-fat- low-salt-low-taste spread…" etc), but when I talk about lists I’m talking about inventories of sheer, stunning inventiveness!

For eample, how can any humble shopping-list for Tesco’s hope to compete with Ratty’s luncheon basket in (sorry to mention this book yet again) The Wind in the Willows:
"What’s inside it?” asked the Mole, wriggling with curiosity.

"There’s cold chicken inside it,” replied the Rat briefly; “cold chickencoldtonguecoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrenchrollscress sandwichespottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater…”’

And here, to conclude, is another list, this time from that incomparable nabob of nonsense, Mr Edward Lear, and his account of the travels of ‘The Jumblies’...

Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

They sailed to the Western Sea, they did,
To a land all covered with trees,
And they bought an Owl, and a useful Cart,
And a pound of Rice, and a Cranberry Tart,
And a hive of silvery Bees.
And they bought a Pig, and some green Jack-daws,
And a lovely Monkey with lollipop paws,
And forty bottles of Ring-Bo-Ree,
And no end of Stilton Cheese.

Now that is what I call a serious shopping expedition!

[Images: Widdecombe Fair-goers by Alan Young Pottery; Stephen Quint as Ko Ko (photograph: Michael Nemeth) in the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players' production of The Mikado; illustrations to The Hunting of the Snark by Henry Holiday, The Wind in the Willows by E H Shepard and The Jumblies by Ian Beck]

Friday 17 November 2006


There was once a Rabbit who refused to breed, declining absolutely and without any apparent remorse, to indulge in the business of procreation that so occupied all the other rabbits in the warren.

The Bachelor Rabbit maintained that his decision was a moral stand against the threat of over-population. However, others were soon putting around the story that his abstinence was, in truth, a clear indication of moral corruption and sexual deviancy.

Concerned that their young might be at risk from his unnatural perversions, the community ostracised the Bachelor Rabbit and avoided all contact with him. The single Rabbit, nevertheless, remained surprisingly cheerful and resolutely refused to be rushed into the mating game merely in order to save his reputation.

One day a Polecat caught and was about to eat one of the warren’s most prolific breeders, a rabbit who had already fathered several dozen young and whose sexual prowess showed no sign of flagging.

The Bachelor Rabbit, seeing the Father Rabbit’s plight, hopped swiftly over and pleaded with the Polecat on his behalf. “Please,” he begged, “this rabbit has a huge family to support, I have none. Eat me instead.”

The Polecat who had already breakfasted on two starlings and a baby ferret and was, therefore, not hungry enough to eat both rabbits agreed without hesitation, gobbled up the Bachelor Rabbit and allowed the Father Rabbit to go free.

Later, passing the warren, the Polecat heard the rabbits discussing the incident and praising the Polecat's generosity and thoughtfulness in ridding the rabbit community of a perverted and morally bankrupt misfit.

The Polecat smiled to himself. “How strange!” he thought, “It was merely an economic decision: given a choice, why would I eat a rabbit who still has many years left in which to provide me with new generations of breakfasts, lunches and dinners?”

© Brian Sibley 2006
Read more of my Likely Stories

Thursday 16 November 2006


Driver announcement on a London Underground Piccadilly Line train which had been standing in Charing Cross station for some five or six minutes:

"We apologise to customers for the fact that we will be delayed for a few moments longer --- this is in order to improve the regularity of the service..."

Still, it gave me an opportunity to enjoy David Gentleman's superb mural without any annoying travellers getting in the way!

Wednesday 15 November 2006


With the publication, last week, of Peter Jackson: A Film-maker’s Journey, my authorised biography of New Zealand’s cinematic Lord of the Rings, I fell to thinking how I once got very near --- or, possibly, nowhere near at all --- working with the entertainment industry’s Other Jackson

Of course, it all happened a long time ago: almost twenty years ago, to be precise, in 1987...

For several years, I'd been friends with P L Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins books and, over tea one Sunday afternoon, we were discussing the latest in a long line of requests from Disney that they be allowed to make a sequel to their hugely successful, multi-Oscar winning movie starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.

This particular proposal was for a film in which the magical nanny would make a return visit, this time to help the children of either the grown-up Jane or Michael Banks. It was a clever idea, reminiscent of J M Barrie’s idea of having Peter Pan come back to London in order to take Wendy’s daughter - another ‘Jane’ - off to Never Land.

For Pamela Travers, however, it was totally unacceptable, since she resolutely maintained that all she knew about her heroine was whatever was to be found in the published stories. It was pointless asking Pamela who Mary Poppins was or where she went and what she did when she left the Banks family. Her answer was always the same: “I don’t know! I didn’t invent Mary Poppins, I discovered her!”

Knowing that I would be incapable of changing the author’s mind about the Disney offer, I merely observed that there were a great many people who loved the original film and would be incredibly pleased to see Mary Poppins fly back into the cinema one more…

“Well,” said Pamela whose prickly views of the Disney film of her books were widely known, “I would only agree if I was to be completely involved in the process of making the film and if I could work with someone whom I could trust…” Then, after a lengthy pause, she looked at me and said, “But if you want to suggest to Disney that you and I might work on a film story for them, then go ahead and see what they say…”

So I did! I didn't believe for a moment that it would actually happen but I wrote to Walt’s nephew, Roy E Disney whom I had met and interviewed several times, and got an instant, excited response. Within a matter of weeks, Pamela Travers and I were working on a treatment, following which we went on to write developed outline.

By sometime in the middle of 1988, to my enormous astonishment, I found myself in Los Angeles writing a Hollywood screenplay for a film to be called (after the second book in the series) Mary Poppins Comes Back!

The story was to take place a little while after Mary Poppins' first visit. Mrs Banks had now given birth to twins, called (as in Travers’ books) John and Barbara, and during her pregnancy, had given up the cause of women's suffrage - an embellishment in the original film which Pamela had hated.

Mrs B was, nevertheless, as dizzy as ever, and not coping with her enlarged family; while Mr B was very wrapped up in his new position at the Bank and gravely concerned over problems resulting from various imprudent investments that had brought the bank to near ruin.

The children, predictably, were being fractious and troublesome...

One day, in the Park, Jane and Michael were having difficulty with their fly-away kite until - helped by Barney the Ice-Cream-Man - they finally managed to reel it in only to discover that holding on to the other end of the kite-string is the supercalifragilistic Miss Poppins!

Disney were hopeful that Julie Andrews might agree to reprise the title role - and, indeed, at that time she could easily have done that - but there were question-marks over the rest of the cast who were either grown up, too old or - er - dead!

When we began working on the project, P L Travers and I were expecting Bert to remain an important character - although Pamela was adamant that the romantic implications of the first film should not be repeated. However, in an early round of discussions with the Studio they suggested we look for an alternative character to act as "a pointer to Mary Poppins", which was PLT's phrase to describe Bert's function in the story.

We eventually decided to use the Ice-Cream Man, a minor character in the books, named him Barney and made him Bert's younger brother adding, by way of explanation, that Bert had gone on to "'igher things" and was now "sweepin' the chimblies of the rich and famous!"

Every now and again, there were stray conversations about who might play Barney - one of which was quintessentially ‘Hollywood’, by which I mean that it was so typical of Moviedom that it may easily have betokened a genuine cast-iron idea or nothing more than a wild and passing whim...

Anyway, this is what happened...

One day, I'm taken to lunch by a studio executive at a ritzy restaurant on Rodeo Drive and, during the meal, am suddenly confronted with a totally unexpected question:

“So," begins the executive, "is it essential for Barney to be ‘Caucasian’?”

I look blank…

“I mean, does he have to be white?” he translates.

My failure to instantly respond is, of course, not because I don’t know the meaning of the word 'Caucasian', but simply because I can’t imagine why I am being asked…

For one thing, black people in Edwardian London were far and few between and whilst it was just possible, perhaps, to find a black footman serving in some big household, encountering a black ice-cream seller in a London park would have been an extremely unlikely occurrence.

And - apart from anything else - Barney was supposed to pass for Dick Van Dyke's younger brother!

So, I ask, why do they want to know...?

"Well,” comes the reply, “it just so happens that Michael is very keen to work with the Studio on a project..."

I interrupt: “Michael…?

"Yes!" replies the executive, as if dealing with a complete idiot, "Michael JACKSON! Having made Captain Eo for Disneyland, he's now a part of the Disney family..."

I can't help it: I laugh...

The executive is not amused. He becomes emphatic: "Look! He sings! He dances! He'd be PERFECT!"

I stop laughing: he's in earnest!

What's more, he's still enthusing: "Listen! Just think of the marquee-billing: JULIE ANDREWS -- MICHAEL JACKSON -- MARY POPPINS! It’s a BRILLIANT line-up --- AND a hands-down BOX-OFFICE CERT!"


As it turned out, Mary Poppins never did come back - at least not on film - but if she had, then it's anyone's guess whether we might also we have seen Captain Eo selling strawberry ices in Cherry Tree Lane…

Tuesday 14 November 2006


R Hood Esq of Nottingham was, I notice, recently back on the box in a new drama series… I didn’t watch. In fact, I couldn’t have brought myself to do so, having allegiance, as I do the 1955-59 independent TV series that was one of my favourite childhood programmes.

At the time I had still to see both Errol Flynn’s 1938 movie, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and Richard Todd in Walt Disney’s 1952 film version, The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men. As a result Robin of Locksley was - and always will be - Richard Greene leaping through the perils of life in Sherwood Forest with sword and long bow for no fewer than 143 swashbuckling episodes in company with his outlaw chums, including Archie Duncan as Little John, Alexander Gauge as Friar Tuck and Paul Eddington as Will Scarlett.

There were - and this was a tad confusing - two Maid Marians: Bernadette O’Farrell who, after almost 50 programmes, suddenly turned into Patricia Driscoll who, before moving to Nottingham, had been the presenter on the ‘Watch with Mother’ kiddy-winky's show, Picture Book.

There were also any number of famous (or soon-to-be-famous) guest stars among them Donald Pleasence, Leslie Phillips, Jane Asher, Leo McKern, Nigel Davenport, William Mervyn, Hubert Gregg (reprising his role from of Prince John from the Disney film), James Hayter (Disney’s Friar Tuck, now Tom the Miller), Geoffrey Bayldon (subsequently Catweazle),Wilfred Brambell and Harry H Corbett (later Steptoe & Son) as well as Patrick (Dr Who) Troughton and many others - including John Schlesinger (before he took up directing movies) as Alan-a-Dale!

I had the annuals, collected the sweet-cigarette cards and the plastic figures in Kellog's Corn Flakes packets - oh, but where are they now?! - and, of course, was word-perfect on the theme-song which followed the ever-thrilling whizzzzz! of an arrow and the satisfying THUNK! as it buried itself in the trunk of Ye Olde English Oak!

All together now...

Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen,
Robin Hood, Robin Hood, with his band of men,
Feared by the bad, loved by the good,
Robin Hood, Robin Hood, Robin Hood…

He called the greatest archers to a tavern on the green.
They vowed to help the people of the king.
They handled all the trouble on the English country scene,
And still found plenty of time to sing.

Robin Hood, Robin Hood etc etc.
Even more popular than the obligatory childhood games of Cowboys and Indians, my schoolmates and myself played at being Robin Hood and his Outlaw Gang. Being lucky enough to go to a school the playground for which was a large swathe of Chislehurst Common, our break-time deeds of derring-do had an amazing woodland backdrop that would been the envy of many a TV and film director of the time!

And in these games, you ask, did I play Robin Hood, you ask…?

Most certainly NOT!

Oh, no! My infatuation was not with Mr Greene in his Lincoln green, but with his co-star Alan Wheatley, who played the cruelly sinister, yet archly mannered Sheriff of Nottingham.

Wheatley was an incomparable nemesis for Robin and a true successor, had I but known it at the time, to Basil Rathbone’s Sir Guy of Gisbourne in the Flynn movie. And, like Rathbone before him, Alan Wheatley infused his unforgettable portrayal with the true essence of high camp villainy.

So it was that every lunch hour my school-chums and I swished through another improvised adventure with me brandishing a tree-branch sword, wearing my blue school mackintosh as a cloak with the top button done up under my chin and always remembering to drink from my pretend goblet, when such a moment occurred, with my little finger delicately crooked!

And, since I also devised and directed these games, I’m not in the least ashamed to report that the Sheriff of Nottingham inevitably came off much better (and more often) than he ever did in the TV series!

[Images from the Robin Hood Spotlight]

Monday 13 November 2006


My Blog is a bouncing six-months old, today!

Here's how it started...
SATURDAY, May 13th, 2006


This is the first blog of a Reluctant Blogger who will either never be heard from again or will soon be cluttering up cyberspace with his rantings and ravings...
Hmmm! Yes, well....

The result of half-a-year of daily - sometimes twice-daily - blogging is a total of 248 posts - plus another 99 on my four other bogspots...

All of which amounts to rather a lot of words and quite a lot of pictures. Admittedly, most of my postings have been of no particular worth other than as a means to keep myself thinking and writing during a time with no professional work but for that, at least, I am most grateful...

So, "Thank you, Blog!" and "Many Happy Returns!"

[Cartoon by The Cincinnati Enquirer's incomparable Jim Borgman].

Sunday 12 November 2006


In connection with a possible publishing project - and possibility seems to be becoming increasingly vague! - I've recently been pondering the challenges implicit in retelling stories from The Good Book for a contemporary readership.

Irish filmmaker, Cathal Gaffney, tackled just this issue in the 2001 Oscar nominated animated short, Give Up Yer Aul Sins.

Enjoy... And, of course, heed the lesson!

Give Up Yer Aul Sins
Voice - Maria McDermot Roe (Teacher)
Music - Darren Hendley
Animation - Alan Shannon & Brian Gilmore
Editor - Darragh O'Connell
Producer - Darragh O'Connell
Director - Cathal Gaffney

Saturday 11 November 2006


Remembrance Day…

On this day, in 1918, the First World War finally came to an end....

On the very last day of hostilities, no less than 863 men and women lost their lives…

The total death-toll for WWI - from the British Empire alone - numbered 947,000…

Millions more would die in the Second World War and in every war since - to the present day…

Take a moment to visit the BBC’s Debt of Honour Memorial

[The Poppy Field image comes from George Ledger Photography and is the copyright of the photographer.]

Friday 10 November 2006


When Winnie-the-Pooh told Piglet that he'd heard from Rabbit who'd heard from Owl that he (that is Pooh) was now an icon, Piglet thought he'd said haycorn and got terribly confused...

So Pooh had to explain that - according Rabbit (or possibly Owl) - an icon was one of those things that people sometimes decide that you are... And if you are, then you have to go around being 'iconic'... Or was it ironic...? Or, possibly, laconic...? Well, anyway, one thing was certain, you had to be Very Serious about Being It --- whatever it was...

In case you are now as confused as Piglet, let me elucidate...

And to do that, I have to introduce you to------

According to the ICONS web-site:
Some people argue there is no such thing as a shared English culture. They say all those invasions by the Normans and Romans simply left us with a ‘hotch potch’ of other people’s cultures. Paradoxically, this melting pot is what makes England unique. And today’s multicultural communities make this mix even more vibrant and interesting.

ICONS will be a rich resource of material about our lives and cultural heritage. Teachers will use it to stimulate classroom learning. Inspiring content will spark visits to arts venues and events. It will whet the appetites of tourists and provide valuable reference material for students...
So, that's what they try to do, and the ICONS already selected range from Stonehenge to the White Cliffs of Dover, Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding to Fish and Chips, from Alice in Wonderland to Dr Who and Robin Hood to Sherlock Holmes, from the Mini to the mini-skirt, not to mention Cricket and the Crown Jewels, the F A Cup and a Cup of Tea, The Archers and 'Jerusalem'...

Anyway, a brand new batch of ICONS for ENGLAND has just been announced today, including Rolls-Royce and the Red Phone Box, Wimbledon and Westminster Abbey, Mrs Beeton, Sergeant Pepper and Winnie-the-Pooh!

On ICONS endlessly diverting web-site you can now read all about A A Milne's celebrated Bear of Very Little Brain. There are features on how Pooh became (in Christopher Robin's words) The Best Bear in the Whole World; the man who drew Pooh, E H Shepard ; and a tour of the real-life Sussex location for Pooh's 100 Aker Wood, Ashdown Forest.

There is also an interview with - guess who? - "author and broadcaster" with "a life-long love of Winnie-the-Pooh", Brian Sibley --- or, as David Weeks' photo (below) was briefly captioned: Brian SELBY!

That mistake has been corrected, but such things can easily happen... After all, as Pooh himself remarked: "My spelling is Wobbly. It's good spelling, but it Wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places..."

As well as looking in at Pooh Corner, take a few moments to browse through some of those ICONS: in no time, you'll find yourself smiling, frowning, agreeing and disagreeing... You might even find yourself voting for the Nominations - or even suggesting some of your own!

One thing is certain - though, of course, I'm biased - it would have been impossible to have drawn up any list of English Icons without Pooh...
Pooh went into a corner of the room and said proudly to himself, "Impossible without Me! That sort of Bear!"

Thursday 9 November 2006


There’s really no limit to what people will get snobby about, is there?

If someone enquires how you are and you just happen to mention how many pills you take in a day, you’ll pretty soon discover that they are taking MORE!

The competitiveness is astonishing! One would think we’d all be glad to be taking FEWER than other people and would be utterly jubilant if we didn’t have to take any at all! But no, we immediately start comparing tallies and - if you’re not very careful - daily strengths in milligrams, too!

Anyway, having got very fed up with my personal pill per diem - which irritatingly varies according to which day of the week it happens to be - I decided to try and think of my medication as a FRIEND and put together a little smiley Pill-Person to remind myself that he is (supposedly, at least) looking after me…

Neverthless, there are days when the famous “unwanted side-effects” are troublesome and then he obviously wears a slightly different expression --- as, indeed, do I!

Wednesday 8 November 2006


The mid-term election polls may be closed in the USA; but, in Middle-earth, election-fever is still running high - including (if Russell Arch and YouTube are to be believed) some pretty strong TV electioneering!


It would be interesting now to see any commercials from Legolas' Green Party whose campaign has consistently drawn attention to the fact that Frodo Baggins was almost single-handedly responsible for the eruption of Mount Doom with the consequential dire effects on global warming...

Tuesday 7 November 2006


As much as I love taking photographs, I seldom succeed in getting the shots I see in the split second before I raise the camera to my eye! Which is why I so admire the photography of others - from the work of past masters to many of those who, thanks to the wonders of the web, are instantly able to share their images with the rest of the world.

I enjoy looking at a lot of people’s flickr albums (By the way, why is the ‘e’ missing? Anyone know?) and every now and again see work that seems to me to be something special.

My blogger-friend Catherine Doherty from Oz (‘Cafrine’ of the always entertaining the wonky comma) has an amazing eye and I find her photographs - which include landscapes, plant and animal studies as well as some extremely cool abstracts - consistently engaging and often surprising...

What I like most about Catherine's pictures is that she repeatedly eschews the obvious, choosing instead to focus on some aspect of detail or richness of texture that enables the viewer see objects in a new light and - sometimes literally - from a different angle…

You can visit Catherine’s flickr selection here; and I have blogged another of her photos on today’s Window Gazing.

[Images: © Catherine Doherty]