In the UK June 1st (for this year anyway because it is always on a Friday) is celebrated as National Fish and Chips Day.
Which brings me back rather neatly to England and especially my home town, the fishing port of Grimsby. They know a thing or two about chips in Grimsby let me tell you and there is a chip shop in every street – sometimes two and people there know best how to cook them and to eat them.
Never mind the fancy restaurant trend for twice or even thrice fried potatoes they just cut them up and sling them in a vat of boiling fat or preferably beef dripping and then serve them piping hot and crispy on the outside with delicate fluffy middles with the only two accompaniments that chips really need – a generous sprinkle of salt and lashings of good vinegar.
Four years earlier the Great Smog of 1952 darkened the streets of London and killed approximately four thousand people in the short time of four days and a further eight thousand died from its effects in the following weeks and months. In 1956 the Clean Air Act introduced smokeless zones in the capital.
Consequently, reduced sulphur dioxide levels made the intense and persistent London smog a thing of the past. It was after this the great clean-up of London began and buildings recovered their original stone façades which, during two centuries, had gradually blackened.
By all accounts the summer of 1956 was truly abysmal: rain, hail, lightning, floods, gales and miserable cold. It was the wettest July in London since records began, and August was one of the coldest and wettest on record across Britain, as barrages of depressions swept the country. But there was a silver lining to this cloud and September was such an improvement it was warmer than August, a very rare occurrence, and the rest of autumn turned into a glorious Indian summer.
In the 1950s, as Europe recovered after the Second-World-War, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) based in Switzerland set up a committee to examine ways of bringing together the countries of the EBU around a ‘light entertainment programme’.
What was needed was something to cheer everyone up. At a committee meeting held in Monaco in January 1955, director general of Swiss television and committee chairman Marcel Bezençon conceived the idea of an international song contest where countries would participate in one television programme to be transmitted simultaneously to all countries of the union. The competition was based upon the existing Sanremo Music Festival held in Italy, and was also seen as a technological experiment in live television as in those days it was a very ambitious project to join many countries together in a wide-area international network.
The concept, then known as “Eurovision Grand Prix”, was approved by the EBU General Assembly in at a meeting held in Rome on 19th October 1955 and it was decided that the first contest would take place in spring 1956 in Lugano, Switzerland.
It was held on 24th May 1956. Seven countries participated, each submitting two songs, for a total of fourteen. This was the only Contest in which more than one song per country was performed as since 1957 all Contests have allowed one entry per country. The 1956 Contest was won by the host nation with a song called ‘Refrain’ sung by Lys Assia.
The United Kingdom first participated at the Eurovision Song Contest in the following year. The BBC had wanted to take part in the first contest but, rather like trying to get into the Common Market, had submitted their entry to the after the deadline had passed. It hasn’t made the same mistake again and the UK has entered every year since apart from 1958, and has won the Contest a total of five times. Its first victory came in 1967 with “Puppet on a String” by Sandie Shaw.
There have been sixty-two contests, with one winner each year except the tied 1969 contest, which had four. Twenty-five different countries have won the contest. The country with the highest number of wins is Ireland, with seven. Portugal is the country with the longest history in the Contest without a win – it made its forty-fourth appearance at the 2010 Contest. The only person to have won more than once as performer is Ireland’s Johnny Logan, who performed “What’s Another Year” in 1980 and “Hold Me Now” in 1987.
Norway is the country which holds the unfortunate distinction of having scored the most ‘nul points’ in Eurovision Song Contest history – four times in all, and that is what I call humiliating. They have also been placed last ten times, which is also a record!
For many years the annual Eurovision Song Contest was a big event in out house usually with a party where everyone would pick their favourite and would dress appropriately to support their chosen nation. In later years no one ever picked the United Kingdom because the only thing that is certain about the competition is that being the unpopular man of Europe we are unlikely to ever win again and every year there is a ritual humiliation with a predictable low scoring result.
The garden fairy likes the sun, I hope she has used a high factor cream!
The Purple Lilac looks good and the scent is divine.
Gardening chores completed for the day…
One of my favourite westerns was the Lone Ranger and there are a couple of things have always intrigued me about Kemo Sabe:
Firstly, why was he called the Lone Ranger when he was never alone? He was accompanied everywhere by his loyal Indian friend Tonto (real name Jay Silverheels). Perhaps native Americans didn’t count in the 1950’s?
Secondly, the most baffling thing about the Lone Ranger was that he wasn’t the sort of guy you would miss easily in a crowd. He wore a powder blue skintight costume and a broad brimmed white Stetson, wore a black mask to conceal his face, had a deep baritone voice and rode in a black buckled saddle on a magnificent white stallion called Silver.
Tonto’s horse was called Scout by-the-way.
It was surprising therefore that no one could ever recognise him! Now I’d have thought that word would have got out about someone as characteristic as that. Interestingly the only thing that gave him away usually came at the end of the show and when asked who he was by a cerebrally challenged lawman he would pass the inquirer a silver bullet and then the penny would finally drop. “That was the Lone Ranger,” they would announce as the masked stranger and Tonto galloped off at an impossibly high-speed to the sound of Rossini’s William Tell overture.
I chanced upon this fine old door on a short bike ride yesterday…
The last two weeks of March are an anxious time for the spaghetti farmer. There is always the chance of a late frost which, while not entirely ruining the crop, generally impairs the flavour and makes it difficult for him to obtain top prices in world markets. But now these dangers are over and the spaghetti harvest goes forward.
“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”
The Apollo 11 space flight seemingly fulfilled US President John F. Kennedy’s aspiration of reaching the Moon before the Soviet Union by the end of the 1960s, which he had expressed during a 1961 speech before the United States Congress.
But not everyone was convinced and almost immediately some theorists began to produce evidence that disputed the Moon landings claim.
Different Moon landing conspiracy theories claim that some or all elements of the Apollo Project and the Moon landings were falsifications staged by NASA and that the landings were faked in some giant hoax. Some of the more notable of these various claims include allegations that the Apollo astronauts did not set foot on the Moon at all but instead NASA and others intentionally deceived the public into believing the landings did occur by manufacturing, destroying, or tampering with evidence, including photos, telemetry tapes, transmissions, and rock samples.
The most predominant theory is that the entire human landing program was a complete hoax from start to finish. Some claim that the technology to send men to the Moon was insufficient or that the Van Allen radiation belts, solar flares, solar wind, coronal mass ejections and cosmic rays made such a trip impossible with a success rate calculated at only 0.017%. Others argue that because The United States could not allow itself to be seen to fail to achieve Kennedy’s aspiration, the obsession with beating the USSR and the huge sums of money involved (US$ 30 billion) had to be justified, that the hoax was unavoidable.
As the theories gathered momentum it seemed that rather than being filmed on the Moon all of the action actually took place on a film lot and in the middle of the Nevada desert.
For a while I must confess to having been taken in by these conspiracy theories but when I think about it the size and complexity of the alleged conspiracy theory scenarios makes it wholly unlikely. The most compelling reason of all is the fact that more than four hundred thousand people worked on the Apollo project for nearly ten years and all of these people, including astronauts, scientists, engineers, technicians, and skilled labourers, would have had to keep the secret ever since and that, I suggest, would be completely impossible.
In the final year of the 1960s other things were changing as well; pop music for example. At a Rolling Stones concert in Altamont, California, a fan was stabbed to death by Hells Angels, a biker gang that had been hired to provide security for the event and in retrospect, some commentators have concluded that the violence signaled the end of the ‘hippie’ movement, which espoused an ethos of free love and peace.
In 1969 the Beatles began the process of an acrimonious split and it was a shock to discover that Lennon and McCartney were not best buddies at all and John was preparing to leave the band. First he released his own solo single ‘Give Peace a Chance’, staged his ‘bed-in’ with Yoko and at the end of the year returned his MBE in protest at the British Government’s support for the United States in the Vietnam war. Even rock stars weren’t what they were previously thought to be and John Lennon was evidently going mad!
In between misbehaving at school I used to hang about with a gang of pals making a nuisance of ourselves in a way that would be called anti-social behaviour these days and when we weren’t hanging around shop fronts or on street corners frightening the old folk we had an old barn to meet in. It was in David Newman’s back garden next to the canal and we decorated it, filled it with old furniture, hung posters on the walls and listened to loud rock music on an old record player while drinking cider and puffing on Woodbine cigarettes that David had stolen from his dad. We called it the ‘Doski’ because it was half disco and half doss house and I spent most of my evenings and weekends there but even this was about to change.
After going to see the film ‘Helga’ and with hormones in overdrive we voted to allow girls into the Doski and naturally enough we started to pair off. My ‘girlfriend’, in the loosest sense of the term, was Elizabeth and one night in November she suggested that we leave early and go back to her place because her parents were out for the evening at a bonfire night party. I took some persuading because I liked being with my pals and couldn’t understand why she would want to leave. Eventually however we left and about half an hour later in Elizabeth’s front room I said goodbye for ever to my age of innocence.
I don’t know how well the bonfire party went but in Elizabeth’s front room it was as just though someone had dropped a match in a box of fireworks and they had all gone off together at the same time! This bought a whole new meaning to ‘light up the sky with Standard Fireworks, and I never went to the Doski again but I did spend every available weekend at Elizabeth’s house every time her parents went out drinking to the Working Men’s Club in Deerings Road and from then I had to allocate some of my paper round money for contraceptives.
At some point in our young lives the ‘Age of Innocence’ must end and for me this was 1969 as I slipped into my sixteenth year and with raging puberty and a testosterone fuelled curiosity abandoned bike rides and picnics as I discovered a new murky world of sex and rock ‘n’ roll (but no drugs).
Prior to 1969 going to the cinema meant Saturday morning pictures, Walt Disney or Cliff Richard in Summer Holiday but this was the year that I managed to trick my way into the Granada Cinema to see an X rated film. This was by no means easy because I always looked younger than my age and at only fifteen it was only possible to deceive the cashier by getting someone else to buy my ticket while I kept out of sight. Well, it worked because I got away with it (or perhaps she just didn’t care?) and my first adult film was ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ which included a scene where a an undressed girl was posing for an artist and which set my pulse racing towards danger levels.
In film censorship the original X certificate was issued between 1951 and 1982 by the British Board of Film Censors in the United Kingdom. From 1951 to 1970, it meant “Suitable for those aged sixteen and over’ and from 1970 to 1982 as films became more explicit and violent this was raised to eighteen and over.
Censorship was a bit more vigorous in the 1960s than it is now and Lord Harlech and his Board would slap an X certificate on anything considered remotely unsuitable. Miss Jean Brodie certainly wouldn’t get an X certificate forty years on and neither would the second X film that I managed to sneak into see which was ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ where there were no undressed ladies, no swear words and not much violence either. I really liked that film and it remains one of my all time favourites but my final X film was ‘Midnight Cowboy’ and I really didn’t really understand it all and I don’t think I even stayed until the end. Despite my critical dismissal of it, ‘Midnight Cowboy’ went on to become the only X-rated film ever to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Another cinema experience in 1969 was a school trip to see the sex education film ‘Helga’ which was designed to make up for the fact that our parents and school teachers were all too embarrassed to tackle the subject head on so we were all bussed to the Granada Cinema to watch a German government sponsored film about sex, pregnancy and giving birth. Even though it didn’t have an X rating this was certainly more explicit than any of the adult films that I had deceived my way in to see and it had ladies without any clothes on and far from putting me off I left the cinema thinking about how much I’d like a bit of that!
Before 1969 everything was ‘Enid Blyton’ with Sunday School, Boy Scouts and weekends playing football with chums but this was the year when suddenly things were not really so simple.
Some of this is retrospective of course because when Richard Nixon became the thirty-seventh President of the United States no one could predict that five years later he would resign the office in shame rather than be dismissed by impeachment for being guilty of Federal crimes as a consequence of the Watergate Affair.
The term Watergate has come to describe a sequence of illegal activities undertaken by members of the Nixon administration. The activities came to light when five men were caught breaking into Democratic party headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. on 17th June 1972. The Washington Post uncovered the story and discovered a series of dirty tricks involving the Committee to Re-Elect the President.
Nixon’s alleged role in ordering a cover-up came to light in July 1973 when a White House aide testified that Nixon had a secret taping system that recorded his conversations and phone calls in the Oval Office. The tapes were subpoenaed but The White House refused to release them. A deal was reached in which the White House would provide written summaries of the tapes but when they turned up there was an unexplained eighteen minute gap. The first deleted section of about five minutes has been attributed to human error by the President’s personal secretary, who admitted accidentally wiping the section while transcribing the tape. A likely story!
So politics was corrupt and here was the evidence and then people stared to cast doubt on boy’s stuff and heroes and it became possible that people could cheat, or be accused of cheating, at almost anything because on 20th July man landed on the moon. Or did he?