BOOK REViEW: Cowboy Song, Graeme Thomson

I’ve loved Thin Lizzy, and consequently Phil Lynott, ever since I was first introduced to them, somewhere between the ages of 10-12 years old, by a girl I briefly dated. Thanks, Heidi!

A cassette of a greatest hits compilation – The Adventures of Thin Lizzy – was the way I was introduced to this group. Wild One and Whiskey In The Jar were the first to really take root. Within a year or two I was collecting their albums. And now, almost 40 years later, I still love Lizzy and Lynott.

This was my intro’ to all things Lizzy/Lynott.

My sister got me this book for my 50th (thanks, Hannah!), and I’ve just finished reading it. I’m glad Graeme Thomson and I share a view of Lynott that appreciates his broader sweep. The ’rise and dear demise’ of Lynott’s own ‘funky nomadic tribe’ – that’ll be Lizzy – is shockingly brief, and distressingly riddled with patchy fortunes.

Like many biogs on artists in many varied fields, the most enchanting and exciting stuff is kind of front-loaded: childhood, and the ‘getting into it’ being periods full of promise. Thomson covers all this very well.

Lizzy’s debut is terrific.

I don’t agree with all his judgements on Lizzy’s recordings – we’re probably roughly agreed on the naive and varied charms of the first three albums – but I clearly like and rate Nightlife and Fighting rather more highly than Thomson.

I adore this record. One of my early

I’m perhaps a little more aligned with his views on the decline of the group, but not entirely. Bad Reputation is terrific. For me, and despite Gary Moore (and ‘Sarah’), Black Rose is the start of the decline. Chinatown’s not the best. But it’s not so bad.

Given that I’m a bit of a Lizzy nut, I confess I hardly know Renegade; the fact I’ve had it for decades and almost never listen to it says something!

Possibly my favourite Lizzy album?

Even though it arrived when things were already going badly, I actually quite like Thunder And Lightning. Although I have to agree with Thomson, and admit that with Sykes on boards it did all get a bit too ‘eavy metal’. But with Cold Sweat and The Sun Goes Down, it ain’t all bad!

Lynott died the day before I turned 14. I’d really only just discovered him and Thin Lizzy! I was only very dimly aware of it at the time. I was sad, I do remember that much, but I had very little knowledge of his truly grim and tragic decline. And for me he was very much alive, via the music.

Mind you, this is a stone classic!

Reading about this latter part of Lynott’s life is not much fun. It’s such a cliché! So sad to see a man of so much talent and such polyglot tendencies gradually reducing themselves to an unpleasant caricature.

And one always feels a mix of why didn’t folk help more? Along with a realisation that those bent on self destruction might very well be beyond help. So sad!

But, despite the inevitability of the way the story ends, I’d still thoroughly recommend this book, esp’ for the first two-thirds to three-quarters, which are a rollicking good read, documenting an exciting man and the great music he and his chums made.

Lynott and Brian Downey, pre Lizzy!*

Of course I’d also recommend either acquainting yourself with Lynott and Lizzy, if they’re new to you. Or, if you already dig ‘em, revisiting the terrific musical legacy they left us all.

As a footnote, another area where I think I may well differ from Thomson is regarding Lynott’s two solo records. The first, Solo in Soho hasn’t aged particularly well, to my ears. But The Philip Lynott Album? It’s a stone cold underground classic!

A terrifically eclectic album.

A recurrent theme (or sub-text, perhaps?) throughout this book takes note of how Lynott was never really the one-dimensional hard man rocker that a part of his own personal mythology might have folk believe.

Early Thin Lizzy, from their eponymous debut right up to Jailbreak, and perhaps even more so The Philip Lynott Album, show the musical magpie or chameleon that gradually faded away from the Lizzy side of the equation.

Lynott with Frank Murray, who’s quoted frequently in the book.*

Apparently there are about 500 unreleased Thin Lizzy tracks, or demos. I’m not sure if this figure includes the many Lynott side projects and/or misc collab’s? For example at one point it’s noted that he had a bit of a private funk period. I’d love to hear that stuff!

Anyway, in conclusion, an excellent biography of an interesting man, talented artist, and, for better or worse, ‘rock legend’!

* These pics are not in Thomson’s book.

HOME/DiY: Wisteria planters

The planters, wisterias and frame in situ.

Teresa’s been on at me for a good while to make two planters for our two wisteria, and the front door arch she recently got for us.

I’ve been putting it off on account of not having the right timber to hand. We’ve been looking out for free pallets. But failing to find any. So I just went ahead anyway with what was at hand.

The building stage .

I used reclaimed Victorian floorboards we got free (Freecycle!) many years back, for the base. And the sides are made from cladding from one of our pal Ken’s outbuildings. I didn’t really want to use the latter wood. But needs must!

The cross-members over the top of the front planter, in the photo above, help keep things square whilst I add side panelling to the corner braces.

Painting the planters.

They’ve been given a double coat of outdoor paint, had drainage holes drilled (and painted, to hopefully stop or slow ingress of water!), and are lined with weed suppressing fabric, with a bit of gravel for drainage/ballast at the bottom.

We’re hoping the fabric will extend the life of the planters whilst allowing water to flow fairly freely. We’re also hoping that moving the wisteria from their pots into these planters won’t traumatise them. They appear to be growing very well!

Part way through the job of ‘installing’ stuff.

MEDiA: Grisly Dolls Houses?

An innocent enough looking scene, at first glance.

I stumbled upon Frances Glessner Lee yesterday. What an intriguing character!

Not sure what the magazine is… great cover tho’!

Often called the ‘mother’ of American forensics, amongst her other accomplishments she created a series of 1:12 models, beautifully realised dioramas, but very unlike your typical dolls’ house.

The attention to detail is astonishing.

Most of the images in this post were harvested via a visit here. That link takes you to a Smithsonian Institute webpage about an exhibition of Lee’s ‘Nutshell Dioramas’, which includes a short film, some 360° panoramic photos you can explore (for five of the 20 extant ‘nutshells’), a little essay on Lee’s life and works, and a photo gallery of the dioramas.

This scene is in a garage (alongside another room).

I won’t tell the stories that each of these scenarios depict. Some are murder scenes, some suicides, some ‘cause of death unknown’. You can visit other sites for that info.

I love these for how bizarre they are, combining a fascination with death/crime, and miniature modelling. They were, so the story goes, designed to help teach forensics, by giving the eye scenes to work over.

The rather dowdy creator at her amazing work.

As the photo of Lee at work shows, she built these herself. I believe she also had help from some others. For example her carpenter helped with the manufacture of certain wooden components.

Gramaphone, fire-dogs, rocking chair, doll, lamp, letters…

The detail is, as I hope my selection of images shows, pretty extraordinary. Once again, these recreations of actual historical scenarios differ from the chintzy fantasies of the more normal dolls’ house in that they depict real life, or rather death, in genuine domestic environments.

A messy scene in a shack.

The detritus of everyday lives is often to be seen littering scenes: empty booze bottles, scattered paperwork, clothes and furnishings not curated for display, but in a more private disarray.

Note all the empty bottles by the bed.

But even the stuff not associated with the demise of the bodies – and all these scenes include the dead, despite my focus on other aspects of the scenes – is lovingly rendered in terrific detail. We can see specific books, newspapers and magazines, and the interior scenes range from a rough ‘n’ ready log cabin, or a wooden shack, to a pretty large and swanky garage; from flophouses to middle class lounges.

A Sherlock Holmes novel, matches, and a Buddha.

I love models and model making. I always have. And I have a definite soft spot for oddball or artsy takes on the making of miniature worlds. France Glessner Lee’s Nutshell’s definitely meet these criteria!

I’d like to get/read this, at some point.

There are one or two books on her, and these fascinating works of hers specifically, which, in the fullness of time and funds allowing, etc, I’d love to check out.

Here’s a full list of her mad little models:

• Attic (24 December 1946)

• Barn (15 July 1939)

Barn – Rather macabre!

• Blue Bedroom (3 November 1943)

• Burned Cabin (15 August 1943)

• Dark Bathroom (November 1896)

• Garage (7 January 1946)

• Kitchen (12 April 1944)

• Living Room (22 May 1941)

• Log Cabin (22 October 1942)

• Parsonage Parlor (23 August 1946)

Parsonage Parlor – the prim gentility of this lobby…
… doesn’t quite prepare one for this scene!

• Pink Bathroom (31 March 1942)

• Red Bedroom (29 June 1944)

• Saloon & Jail (12 November 1944)

• Sitting Room & Woodshed (25 October 1947; thought lost and rediscovered in 2003[11])[6]

• Striped Bedroom (29 April 1940)

• Three-Room Dwelling (1 November 1937)

Three Room Dwelling – One of the bloodier scenes.

• Two Rooms (damaged or destroyed in the 1960s)[12]

• Two-Story Porch (5 April 1948)

• Unpapered Bedroom (4 June 1949)

• Woodman’s Shack (8 February 1945)

HOME/DiY: New Letterbox Flaps

Ta-dah! As I find myself saying these days…

Amazon Vine have provided us with a free letterbox set. Which is great, as our old one broke years ago. And I haven’t, until now, felt like replacing it.

The indoor before.

The old one was ‘brass effect’. This new one is a silvery aluminium type colour. It’s also bigger than the one it replaces. So I had to drill and cut out a slightly wider aperture, to accommodate it.

The outdoor before, sans flap!

I was able to reuse the self-tapping screws – 10 in all – from the previous installation. it was a learning experience. As I e never done ‘owt like this before. And though I loathe it, as a material – aesthetically, primarily – the UPVC was, thankfully, easy to work with.

New one is bigger than old one…
Necessitating drillage and cuttage…
UPVC, hideous perhaps, but very workable.

The door itself is, to my mind/eyes, hideous. And it’s old and tatty. But at least it’s a little less tatty looking now! I guess I should give it a quick wash. Later, perhaps?

How she’s looking from inside now…
… and a closer outside view.

Well, I’m happy enough with this little job. Teresa’s been off this week, but is in Cambridge today doing a half day of training at her workplace. Bummer! But it does mean I can do one or two things like the letter-flaps.

Time for a well earned cup of tea now, and a few more pages or chapters of Cowboy Song, the really rather excellent Phil Lynott biog’ I’m currently reading.

FiLM REViEW: A Bridge Too Far, 1977

This period poster draws on the star studded cast’s appeal!

Described by American film critic Roger Ebert as ‘the longest B-grade war movie ever made’, this film is clearly intended to be on a par with another Cornelius Ryan adaptation, The Longest Day.

And in some respects it is. It’s certainly an epic production. But when Ebert’s critic buddy Siskel describes it as not much more than ‘a parade of famous faces’, we can be fairly sure that some who saw this weren’t too impressed.

Attenborough directs Redford’s river crossing.

Directed by Dickie Attenborough, I can see why some folk find it less than 100% satisfying. It’s length – and it is very, very, very long – could be a strength. But for those who don’t like it, it might feel like an interminable drag. Although I very much do like it, and have watched it many times, I have nonetheless often found myself drifting off at points.

They didn’t stint on the matériel aspect…
… in the air or on the ground.

Having started with quite a critical over view, let’s get into what’s good about it. For starters there’s the sheer scale of the production. In a pre CGI works, such epic productions really are a special thing, to be treasured.

Yes, ‘rivet counter’ type buffs will carp at the wrong or badly faked materiel. But, frankly, this isn’t the worst offender in terms of WWII movies. Nowadays it’s become easier to either fake real vehicles, or use CGI. But ‘back in the day’ it wasn’t necessarily so easy, or – in truth – always deemed important enough.

It’s clear that efforts were made. But not enough satisfy those who know their SdKfz’s from their PzKpfw’s! I’m a WWII military history nut/buff, but I’m prepared to hold the pedantry beast in abeyance and give older movies more leeway.

This was the edition of this book I had/read as a kid.

Whilst The Longest Day was shot in black and white, A Bridge Too Far is in colour. But they share not just epic proportions and Cornelius Ryan books as their basis, but also great stirring scores, terrific star-studded casts, and a desire for accuracy that includes having the right languages spoken, with subtitles.

Maximilian Schell as Waffen SS Gen. Bittrich.

Feldmarschal Model is portrayed as a self-important buffoon, with some of his subordinates chafing under his pompous complacency. How accurate this is I have no idea. Amongst the English brass there’s a preponderance of whiskers and clipped toff accents. The Yanks are, predictably, sceptical of Monty’s plans, and, for the most part, gruff no-nonsense ‘balls out’ tough guys!

This can reach almost comically cartoonish dimensions, as with Elliot Gould’s fun but faintly irritating cigar-chomping Col. Stout, based on Col. Sink, of Band of Brothers fame!

James Caan delivers a strong performance as Sgt. Dohun.*

Most of the actors acquit themselves admirably. The only real clangers, for me, are the aforementioned Gould, and Gene Hackman’s Polish Maj. Gen. Sosabowksi, whose accent is bizarre, coming off more Brooklyn than Bialystok!

Making a war film of this type is, I suspect, much much harder than most would imagine. Trying to balance a grand overview with the nitty gritty details, weighing historical accuracy against dramatic and entertainment considerations, and so on.

This scene is rather beautifully shot!

War is – according to many testimonies – largely boredom punctuated by brief but intense moments of terror. And the need for exposition can make ‘leadership scenarios’ seem rather leaden.

And then there’s the logistical stuff, both that required to make the movie, and the stuff depicted, such as the Bailey bridge building scene, and the build up to Maj. Cook’s crossing of the Waal, to take the Nijmegen bridge.

Personally the more I see this film, the better I think it is. Sure, it’s not perfect. Very little is. But it is epic, exciting, sometimes funny, sometimes moving. Definitely a film worth watching.

Hackman, O’Neal, Caine, Fox and Bogarde. Just five of the many featured stars.

* Interestingly this rather colourful episode is allegedly based on real events. Although the exact details aren’t altogether the same in real life as they are in the film, it makes cracking good film entertainment! For the real story, try this link.

Here’s another interesting link, with some nice production photos. And this one is very detailed, with plenty of pics and lots of info’, inc. a link to a comparison of actors with the characters they portray.

HOME: Fishtank/aquarium stuff…

Ta-dah! (No fish as yet.)

I drove to Fulbourn, Cambs, today, to collect a free aquarium. The weather was sublime. So I drove top down. Gorgeous! Sometimes it feels great just to be alive.

The guy giving away the aquarium, via Freecycle, was a thoroughly decent chap. Dave gave us not only the aquarium itself (a 70l capacity job) but also a bag of gravel, a thermometer, a spare bulb, and – oh frabjous day – it came with an integral filter/pump system.

A ‘before’ type cleaning shot.

I spent about an hour or two cleaning the tank, the lid/pump, etc, and even washing the gravel (three times!). I then put the gravel in, followed by the water.

An ‘after’ shot.

Time and energy allowing, we’d like to visit an aquatics shop later, to have a gander at potential stock. We’re thinking two goldfish. We’ll also need to learn a bit about maintaining the right conditions, and generally looking after wee little fishies!

Ah, me, what fun!

Lid down, all cleaned!

After doing/writing all of the above, we did indeed get out, to Maidenhead Aquatics, on the edge of Peterborough. We asked a few questions, and bought five real plants (plastic ones are very dear!). Once home these went into the tank, along with a few rocks and a couple of knotty root type bits of wood.

We hope the plants will last a decent while? The rocks are fine, obviously. The wood? Well, it’s currently a-floating, as wood does. Maidenhead Aquatics advised that we let the water stand a full week afore introducing fish.

Patience is hard!

FiLM REViEW: Frankenstein Created Woman, 1967

Love the title font!

Teresa chose this from her Hammer box tonight. What fun it was! Completely ludicrous, as you’d expect from Hammer. But a rather wonderful and nostalgic form of batsh*t crazy!

The face of Hammer horror!

Peter Cushing is solid and reliable as the gaunt bony-cheeked Baron, and Dietlinde Ortrun Zechner, better known to history as Susan Denberg is bodacious as Christina Kleve.

This would be the former Playboy centrefold’s most challenging acting role; starting out as a physically disfigured barmaid, before the Baron ultimately reanimates her, post-mortem, as a psychotic sex kitten with a split personality!

Christina Kleve mit ein cleaver!

The plots of films like these are hardly worth the effort of synopsising, as they are so formulaic and silly. It’s all good clean sex’n’horror-sploitation fun!

But I suppose aorta at least have a stab (groans). The film starts with young Hans seeing his papa guillotined. Later in life Hans is working for Doc Hertz and Baron Frankincense.

Like many Hammer movies, it’s set in some German locale.

At a local tavern, Kleve, the patron, his daughter Christina, and Hans, become embroiled in troubles with three toff oiks, the upshot being Kleve’s demise, for which Hans is blamed.

Hans is guillotined, like his ol’ dad, this time with Christina as witness. She tops herself, alowing Baron Frankenfurter and doc Hertz to put Hans’ soul in Christina’s body.

Hans goes the way of his farter…

And to add some spice to the sauce, the diabolical duo perfect the formerly flawed Christina. Physically, at any rate. Alas, the dual residency of Hans’ and Christina’s tortured souls doesn’t pan out so well.

Denberg mit Spock!

There are many familiar faces (I recognised Denberg from Star Trek!), such as Peter Thorley as Doc Hertz (who looks like the perfect Geppetto to me!), and the trio of toff villains, Anton, Johann and Karl (Peter Bythe, Derek Fowlds and Barry Warren).

A nice photo taken during a break from filming.

In a bizarre ‘crisp of fate’, given the plot of this movie, in real life, apparently, actor Barry Warren would later change and live out last five years of his life as a woman!

Doing some mad blasphemous science!

I’m not sure why these silly old movies are such nostalgic fun. But they really are. They’re kind of awful in many ways. But I love them. The technicolour, the hammy acting, the formulaic clichés – from characters to scenarios – and yet they’re just so much fun!

Hammer did a sexy promo photo shoot…

… but this ‘scene’ was never actually part of the film. ‘Twas always just a saucy means of getting the film noticed. Methinks it works!

Christina about to serve up revenge to Karl.
The Baron gets hands on with his creation.

With rather hilarious irony, Wikipedia describes this movie thus:

‘Where Hammer’s previous Frankenstein films were concerned with the physical aspects of the Baron’s work, the interest here is in the metaphysical dimensions of life, such as the question of the soul and its relationship to the body.’

Denberg’s Playboy shoot brought her to Hammer’s attention.

Technically speaking this is of course true. But of course the very alluring physicality of Denberg as Christina also has a compelling part to play in this movie’s charms.

DAYS iN: Home & Garden – Trellii and Kitchen Hangings

A not too great pano’pic of the trellis panels.

Today’s two tasks were to put up four trellis panels along a certain portion of our garden fence. I also had to replace a fence post, as one of them was rotten and the whole fence was sagging in that section.

The near end of the new panels.

Removing and replacing a fence post from ‘twixt two fence panels, with the additional complication of a well established honeysuckle growing in that area, and weatherboards as well as the panels themselves, was tricky. But we managed it pretty well in the end!

A view along the whole length.

The other job I did was finishing, sort of, a hanging rack for the kitchen. Our kitchen is so pathetically tiny we have no space for even half of what ought to be in there (fridge and freezer currently reside in the lounge!).

This rack means we can have stuff hanging from the ceiling instead of cluttering up drawers or taking up real estate on the already crowded surfaces.

Viewed from the living space end.

I’ll most likely paint the rack and then re-hang/re-stock it. It’s not ideal. It ought to have been wider. But I had to work with the materials I had to hand. And this was the outcome.

Viewed from the bathroom end.

At some point I want to totally gut and rebuild the kitchen. But that’s a ways off. Hopefully this’ll sort us out a bit for the time being?

MiSC: Lunch II – Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the kitchen…

Beans on cheesy toast wi’ coffee.

More hot ‘rate my plate’ action!

In a second instalment of what I like to call my ‘oat cuisine’ series – humble, like porridge – here’s the lunch I cooked today. In preference to dining out. Through force of circumcision, if I’m honest!

Beans on toast one, coffee nil.

As Tom Waits quips in a piece during his sublime Nighthawks at the Diner performance, ‘the coffee just wasn’t strong enough to defend itself’! Actually the coffee was fine. Hunger trumped in the face of heat, so to speak.

And in case these exciting posts aren’t enough, coming soon… adventures in the littlest room. Nah, I’ll spare y’all that!

MiSC: Lunch! Oh, and more digging, etc.

Today’s home-cooked lunch.

I was talking to a long term pal I haven’t seen in way too long last night – hi Tim! – who mentioned that his son was getting into fine dining. I’ve seen some of Sam’s posts on FB, on foodie stuff. And the food, indeed, the whole experience, looks great!

Mmm… that was tasty!

Tragically, as things currently stand, we have neither the funds nor the connections – for starters March, where we live, is not known for its epicurean eateries – to mange in that manner. At least not at present.

A darn thick root!

But I have been indulging in eating out more than my wallet can really stretch to, as a reward to myself for the labouring work I’ve been doing in house and garden. Or is it just out of laziness!?

Excavated and hacked out wi’ an axe.

Plans for the current Easter break include putting in the form-work for the concrete shed base (aka drum bunker ceiling/roof). And that in turn entailed finishing the excavation I’d already mostly got done out in the ‘back yard’, as our former colonial cousins have it.

Dismembered and earth filled back in.

At this stage that mostly involves removing a large thick tree root, and levelling the earth as best I can. I did both today. Hacking the root out with a tiny ace was hard work! I had a larger axe. But leaving that out in all weathers has proven unwise; the head came orff recently, in an alarming manner.

Raked, sifted for stones/roots, and levelled.

With the big root gone, I used a large spirit levels to see how flat the whole thing is. To my great surprise and happiness, it’s a lot better than I thought it’d be. It’s definitely not calm lagoon flat. But it’s probably not too far off workable.

But back to matters edible… I was tempted to go to the local pub for an all day breakfast, or – as Count Arthur would be pleased to hear – what they’ve taken to calling all day brunch. But I resisted this beckoning, and instead cooked up what you see at the top of this post.

My lunch time companion.

I’m pretty sure supermarket bacon suppliers put water in their bacon. Which I find really irksome. it changes how it cooks. Anyway, butter was employed liberally, and everything cooked together – introduced at timely moments, natch’ – and came out proper tasty.

So, please feel free to rate my plate. Washed down with a coffee, I was mighty pleased with myself!