Wednesday, 31 December 2008

2008 - A Review

I’m not one for sending out Round Robins, but after the year I’ve had, it was time I just started to take stock a little: a year of high highs and deep lows really.

The year started with the death of my Mother (well, technically 30th December 2007), but most of January was taken up with the funeral [MINUS] and the rest of the year taken up with clearing out the family house.

O.K., so now, after probate, I get the house [PLUS]…which was then followed, mid-year, by the credit crunch, the general collapse of finances around the world and about a 20% loss of value in the property [MINUS].

In May, in the same week saw the break-up of a (16 month) long-term relationship [MINUS] and my visit to the Doctor when I decided to quit smoking [PLUS]. As Lloyd Bridges said in the movie Airplane: “Looks like I picked I fine week to quit smoking!”

At least I could concentrate my mind by working on updating and expanding my book Teach Yourself Screenwriting (May-August).

The main benefit from quitting the fags was not the health stuff (boring boring) but the money saved, which meant I could replenish my hat collection and buy a couple of new suits [PLUS].

And spurred on by a friend of mine in Los Angeles (born on exactly the same day and year as me) with has his own musical outfit playing 1920s-styled music, I started writing song lyrics again [PLUS] - the last lyrics I wrote were in the early 1980s. So I started venting my spleen in rhyme, sent them over to him to add the music and he acclaimed them as “works of genius”. So I believe he’s about to start recording his group’s second CD.

Then September came the accident [MINUS] and I ended up in hospital, then on crutches and using a walking cane for over three months. At least it did lead to me starting what is now growing into a rather splendid collection of antique walking canes [PLUS]. Having seen the physiotherapist at the local hospital a couple of times, I’ve now started walking without a stick. As he said “a lot of it is down to getting your confidence back in that leg and using it without thinking about it”.

The trouble with leg meant that my plans for everything were put back about ten weeks [MINUS]. Everything was either scrapped or delayed: the intended Christmas in New York, the house clearance (and plans for renting it out).

I never take a great photo, but some of the photographs taken of me at events during the year have been rather splendid and garnered some very positive and pleasing comments, especially the Victorian ones taken at the New Sheridan Club’s Christmas party [PLUS].

And in November the new edition of my long-established best-selling tome Teach Yourself Screenwriting hit the UK book stores [PLUS] - initial Sales figures are very encouraging…at least we got it in the shops in time for Christmas. 2009 sees its release to the rest of the globe (USA in February, I believe…perhaps I should go over there on a promotional tour…).

At least AC/DC managed to keep High School Musical off the top of the album charts.

That’s about it - 2008 in a nutshell. And considering everyone I know across the globe has had a pretty shitty year themselves, for me, on balance, I guess it was: a score-draw.

Conclusion? / Resolution for 2009: Things can only get better.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

I got BANNED from Woolworths - an hour before they shut their doors for good!

This bizarre story starts about three weeks ago, when Woolworths announced they were going into Administration and were selling everything off.

In my local High Street store, on their CD racks, there were four sets of sleevs, each for a 3-CD set called “The Weekend Starts Here” (yes, choc-full of Mod classics from the 60s). On the shelf it was priced at £7. I took the cover to the Woolworths counter and, after much searching (there were at least four sets in the drawer), she scanned it and…it came up as £14.99.

I pointed out that it was £7 on the shelf, so we both trudged up the aisles to the shelf where the display was. She then bent down, took the £7 sticker off the shelf and said “that was last week’s price”. So I refused to pay the higher price and left the store.

Then last Friday, this particular branch was on its last day and now the reductions were 50%, so I was finally going to get what I wanted at the price I wanted.

Or was I?

I went in and took the one remaining CD cover to the counter and said to the rather sullen looking Neanderthal youth behind the counter “You’ll probably find it in that drawer there, listed under W”. He then turned his back on me and proceeded to finger through the DVDs drawer.

I said “Did you hear what I said? It’s a CD set. You’ll probably find it in that drawer…etc”. So he turned and gave me one threatening look. He aimlessly dawdled through the drawer and then said “Can’t find it”. I took him to task and he replied, in a very rude tone: “Well, we ain’t go’ it, ‘ave we?”.

So I left the counter and decided to tackle the Under-Assistant manageress, a tiny lady who for the last three or so years (I’ve observed) has been nurturing increasingly large chips on both shoulders. I explained the situation, particularly about the rudeness of the assistant. - And her witty ripost?: “If we ain’t got it, we ain’t got it, so there“.

I just replied “Well if that’s your idea of good Customer Service, maybe your company deserves to go to the wall and you lose your jobs”.

“Right. Get out of my store”, she commanded.

I just burst out laughing.

Perhaps this offended the little bossy-boots and she threatened to have me escorted off the premises. But I just exited.

As I left the store, a member of staff was on her mobile, trying to find out exactly when that store did close its doors that day. She discovered it was…in an hour.

There’s a triple-irony here:
(i) the very next day I went to the Woolworths in Romford (the nearest large town to us), which was still open, and I got the very CD set I wanted…at £7. So there!

(ii) on the Sunday I happened to be on the radio that morning and mentioned this story. The texts came flooding in, all supporting me.

(iii) since that radio mention, I’ve been stopped three times on my local High Street, with the words “Ray, what’s this about you being banned from Woolworths”. It seems I’ve become a bit of a local hero for everyone in the area who’s ever had a bad experience with the stroppy staff at that Woolworths in Barkingside.

I believe they call it Karma.

(And a Merry Christmas to you!)

Monday, 22 December 2008

It's Christmas!!!!

As we head for the holiday season, I would just like to take this opportunity to wish you all a Very Merry Christmas: to all those who have responded to my blogs, to those who supported me through some difficult times this year (you know who you are), to the handful of truly good friends I have and to those who have bought (and read) the new book. Thank you.

I hope you have a truly fantastic Yuletide, spent with the people around you that matter in this world: family and friends.

Back soon.

Ray Frensham

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Do Cufflinks come in Different Sizes?

So there I was today in Marks & Spencer (in, browsing the shelves to fill up my knicker-drawer for Christmas, and I get stopped by these two young late-teenage Chav(ish) looking young girls looking rather perplexed.

“Excuse me”, they said, “can we ask you a question ?”

Oh madam, you may ask me anything, but my heart belongs to…Me [I thought]. But I acquiesced.

And then came what was (for me) the Question of the Year, they asked: “Do cufflinks come in different sizes?”.

I was a little taken aback but I managed to stumble a reply “Er…no. They’re all the same size".

It seems these two young charmers were searching for a pair for a solicitor (lawyer). [Please, gentlemen at the back, refrain from suggesting “did he see these two through their first court case?”].

Anyway, I managed to steer them away from their natural inclinations to buy Bling and helped them choose an appropriate pair: a circular silver pair with inlaid faux-mother-of-pearl. At least they didn’t regard the pair as “minging” or “gay” (the unfortunate modern vernacular, I’m afraid).

But we met again at the check-out and they seemed to be very happy with their purchase. I felt I had sent them off with a good parting shot: “A shirt isn’t a proper shirt unless it has cufflinks on it”.

So that was my good deed done for the day. Like showing an old lady across the road.

…Do cufflinks come in different sizes?…….dear oh dear!

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

N.H.S. - A Rant (Aftermath to my accident)

Latest progress on my fall of the 19th September. I'm still using a walking stick but making slow, if steady, progress.

I decided to drop into my Doctor (a splendid chap from Gibraltar) but he was on holiday, so I saw some locum - I could barely understand him, so please don't ask me to spell his name.

I recounted the words of advice from the Hospital "...and if you can afford it, try to see a Physiotherapist". I always thought Physios were available on the NHS (they are) and recent changes have meant that one can self-refer oneself to a Physio by just walking into a Hospital. Well, that's the Theory. In practise, my PCT still requires you to get a Doctor's referral letter.

At least he told me what was wrong with my leg: a torn hamstring muscle behind the left knee.

I asked him if it would need an operation; he said 'No' and referred me to the local Physiotherapy unit (I have to phone them tomorrow).

BUT, I later spoke to my cousin. He has Exactly the same trouble with his knee as I.....and he is due to go into hospital to have it operated on next week.

I think i shall wait until my proper Doctor is back from his hols. In the meantime, let's see what the Physios have to say.....

B.T. - A Rant.....(Apologies for recent silence)

I've been offline for a while as I've been spending a lot of time clearing out my Mother's house (where she lived is a cyber-desert), after her death at the end of 2007.

...and then I came back to the flat to discover BT had cut me off. They said it was for non-payment of a bill.......but I wasn't liable for any bill...Because....

You see (and it's a long story, it would take a separate blog entry to explain) earlier this year, after a long-running dispute with BT, we finally came to an arrangement: from the end of july 2008, BT would give me:
- free line reconnection and
- free line rental for one year and
- free BT Broadband for one year.

And still they tried to bill me...

Anyway, it's taken about a week but I'm back online again (although my landline telephone is still restricted use - I can only take incoming calls - because... the Bill hasn't been paid).

It's stupid, pathetically bureaucratic little things like this that make me despise this country even more.

I shall keep you informed.

And maybe (if the demand is there) I shall tell you exactly the route to take when making an official Complaint against BT: exactly who to go to, the hurdles to jump and how to take it through ADR [Alternative disputes Resolution - that's the one that really gives them the willies].

Thursday, 20 November 2008

6 Months Since I Quit Smoking...

I really should’ve posted this up 11th November to get the dates right but, heck, I’m so busy at present (what with the new edition of the book due any day and the ongoing saga of clearing out Ma’s house) does it matter? …anyway….

Well, now it can be told. I quit smoking and that was six months ago. So my apologies if this blog sounds like some self-righteous muezzin proselytising about how great it’s been and how great I feel.

Let’s first look at how I came to be addicted in the first place. It was 1990 and I was in the middle of doing a long-form journalistic feature (about 18 months)about the City of London’s volunteer Territorial Army regiments. Part of this included my spending a week with them on the cruel and unforgiving terrain of the Brecon Beacons in Wales as part of their annual fortnight camp: you know, yomping and bivouacking and crossing rivers and camouflage and all that stuff - surprisingly, the green and khaki warpaint did Not colour-clash with my eyes.

Anyway, during this week, there were so many longeurs, we ended up mostly sitting round a campfire and…smoking fags. So I think I started partly as an attempt to bond with my subjects. [Well, you know, any man in a uniform…].

The irony is: in the years since those days, all the soldiers I kept in touch with had quit smoking. I as the only one left.

As we moved into the new millennium, Tony Blair’s health police were in power. My attitude had now hardened (somewhat like my arteries, no doubt) into: ‘the more this government tried to restrict my freedom of choice and right to smoke,the more I am determined to carry on smoking’. And so it remained for years.

But I suppose it was the convergence of two things that turned me:

1 - I guess by May of this year, I think I just got a bit bored with smoking.; I know I deeply resented the amount of money it was costing me (average £5.70 for a packet of twenty) even with the occasional ‘off-the-back-of-the-ferry’ cheapos courtesy of Harry my postman. And I thought that maybe the next time I visited my doctor I might ask him “if I wanted to quit, what sort of strategies would he suggest?”. etc.

2 - I’d visited my doctor for one of my regular half-yearly blood tests and the results were in. He said to: “Look, It's not your cholesterol level of 5.6 that worries me. What concerns me is your cardio-vascular risk, which is 24%”.

“OK,” I said, “so what pills do you give me to reduce it?”. And replied: “No pills. You may not believe this, but if you were to quit smoking, you would halve your cardio-vascular risk overnight, just like that”.

So I just turned to him and said “well, I suppose that’s as good a reason as any to quit then. There you are: I quit. Just like that”.

At which point he went into paroxysms of concern, “No, no, no. You need support. It’s been statistically proven that you’ll have greater success quitting by attending support groups and using patches and having things for your fingers to fiddle with…”.

But I was insistent: Nope! Don’t need nuthin’ like that. I will do this.

And looking back, I’m astonished at how - not ‘easy’ - well, straight-forward it all was. I’d made a decision, I quit and that was it. OK so there was a few days of some twitching in the veins and a couple of hot, sweaty periods in the night but no spasms of arteries erupting and veins throbbing as I had anticipated.

Another thing: once I’d quit I decided to put away the money I would’ve spent on cigarettes into an old teapot (30 snouts a day, that’s almost £7 worth). After a week I’d collected almost £50, and by the end of the month almost £200.

So at the end of the month I went out and bought myself a new Straw Panama hat from James Lock & Co. (and, later, the now-infamous Straw Boater); and the month after that, a suit from Daks’ summer sale. It’s important to congratulate yourself sometimes. [When I look back at all the money I’d spent I’m amazed I didn’t quit sooner].

Admittedly, for the first couple of weeks since quitting I was continually coughing up phlegm - just basically getting all that crap off my lungs (my Doc said it would take about two and a half years for the lungs to fully repair themselves). But it’s true what they say: within just a few days my senses of taste and smell returned, and my lung capacity expanded amazingly.
But 11th May was the date and, like I said, was astounded at simple and straight-forward it all was for me; especially since the week I quit was the same week that saw the final falling-apart of a 16-month long relationship. As Lloyd Bridges said in the movie Airplane: “Looks like I picked a fine week to quit smoking”.

I can honestly say I’ve not had a cigarette since that day. I have bought myself a couple of fine suits and some new hats though (especially those two beloved silk toppers). They all came from the Ex-Fag Fund.

I guess there is always the possibility of my falling off the wagon (I am a naturally addictive personality-type), but if I ever get a craving - which is incredibly rare - I just say to myself: “Look, it IS just a craving, it will pass”. Then I think: “cardio-vascular risk 24 per cent / cardio-vascular risk 12 per cent. Not Contest!”

Sorry if I’ve come over all evangelical and self-righteous. But once you’ve decided (and I mean completely 100% decided - if you have even the slightest tad of a doubt, don‘t even try it), quitting is remarkably straight-forward and do-able. [I never said it was easy].

Friday, 31 October 2008


I think that says it all...

On Blogs and Blogging…

I’ve never been a particular fan of Dylan Jones (the Editor of the UK version of GQ magazine), never quite understood what particular quality he brings to the job, but I came across this a few days ago and must admit he’s put his finger on a button. He writes:-

“The world of blogging had become another way for the metropolitan commentariat to talk to each other, in ever decreasing circles. But if truth be known, most bloggers are actually not that bothered talking to each other, as all they really want to do is get their opinions across. It might be reductive to say so, but most bloggers unemployed journalists, typing furiously into a void in the hope that someone cares enough to read what they write, screaming at the top of their voices. But while it’s certainly true that the internet can give you access anyone in the world, it’s also true that in cyberspace no one can hear you scream.”

Mmm. I don’t know about ’unemployed journalist’, I’ve been paid often enough in the past (and present) for my words; for me, what’s the point of writing something if nobody is going to read it or pay me for it?

This blog started as a spin-off from my ’Public’ profile, the blogspot I created for my screenwriting book [], to cover everything else that wasn’t directly related to the book. (Even the blog’s name came about by accident rather than ego).

Then when the accident happened, it became a convenient way of keeping my friends informed of my progress through the recovery period. It saved me having to go through the same old story over and over again.

Today, I view the blog more like the modern equivalent of the Commonplace Book: a scrapbook of thoughts and ideas, of cuttings and photos I have seen that stimulate or amuse or make one ponder. Hopefully, others might find them of interest too. (I suppose the last great practitioner of this was the late Kenneth Williams].

So there you have it.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

The UK-US “Special Relationship” - an Irony.

I suppose this should be read to the background accompaniment of the song Leaving On A Jet-Plane but….

When I look around at the UK now, I notice that so many of my friends are seriously contemplating buying property abroad (including myself), and many of them for the purpose of permanently relocating away from the UK. The most popular destinations being: Spain, the USA, France, Italy, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

But the closer we get to an American election next week the more I’ve chatted to my American chums to discover that a serious number of them are making plans to leave America, should McCain get voted in. And where do they intend to go?…The U.K.!

OK, so most of them are Obama supporters, but they are very mindful that, almost by default, McCain may still get elected. It’s not so much McCain that scares them (although some are convinced that, should he get in, one of the first things he will do is bring back the military Draft), it’s the prospect of Sarah Palin as V.P. - and possibly future President - that is the nightmare scenario.

[[Freudian typing there: I originally missed out the ‘l’ and typed Sarah Pain]].

And I should add, that not all of my American friends are (by a long stretch) gay.

Even from as far away as the UK, the things that woman is supposed to believe in, let alone some of the thing s she’s already said, is enough to chill anyone’s blood.

I have tried to warn my pals that England is extraordinarily expensive these days and has become a cruel, cynical and very unforgiving country; traits that have only become emphasised since the credit crunch bit home.

So let’s see what happens next week and whether Barry Obama (that was his name at School and University) gets voted in. Now, where’s my iPod Bruce Springsteen shuffle [new song: Foreclosed In The USA?] and that Real Estate brochure for buying in the States?…

P.S.: Current voting on the Moustache seems to be running 3 to 2 in favour of keeping it. (I must admit to being surprised at this).

Monday, 20 October 2008

My new Moustache: Yes or No?

To 'tache or not to 'tache, that is the question I am asking you.

So now I can reveal the strange, bizarre, nay malevolent, transformation that has taken over me these past few weeks…

Rather like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly, during my enforced incarceration at home with the damned leg this past month, I haven’t really bothered to shave that much. So, at some vague point, one day while I was wandering around the flat wondering where to die, I just decided to start… growing a moustache (for the first time in my life - Ever, I should stress)…and it will probably be the last time.

Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: Ray…No! - It’s like you without a bow tie, it’s Just Not Done.

And I must admit at the moment it’s still growing roughly and makes me look more like a Second World War spiv or (on a bad day) Adolf Hitler, rather than what I secretly wish to look like: a World War I gigolo or Stage-Door Johnny.

And, yes, it does make me look much older. And everyone I know, especially the women, tell me how much they absolutely hate it. But don’t you get it?: that’s all the more reason to continue growing it.

Anyway, you decide…
[click on the pictures to get larger, more frightening, versions]

These are from the 11th October...

The reason I am posting this up today (Monday) is that tomorrow (21st) Truefitt & Hill are doing a commemorative day: a Shave for the price of one penny (plus 30% off their 1805 and Trafalgar fragrance lines, including online). Let’s just say, I’ve booked in my shave for 3pm and shall let them attack the ‘tache, see if they can’t bring some shape to it. If not, we’ll decide on a swift post-mortem on the day.

So let’s see what their sculpting skills plus a touch of moustache wax can do for me tomorrow.

and these were taken today (20th),,,

Does my bum look like Hitler in this?...

Don’t worry, it will probably be all over by Christmas.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

The Walking Stick as a Means of Self-Defence by Pierre Vigny (1903)

I reprint the following article from the July 1903 issue of Health and Strength magazine. I have found it to be most useful in my present circumstances.

The fashion in walking-sticks is to have a silver-mounted Malacca cane; everyone uses one. Everyone knows that in choosing a Malacca, it will not only serve the purpose of something to carry in one's hand, but that this beautiful cane, the most up-to-date of all sticks, can render great service as a means of self-defence, for it can become a formidable weapon in the hands of those who have learnt how to use it.

Stick exercise falls essentially under the head of gymnastics, but if it develops muscular strength it must also be borne in mind that it renders limbs supple and gives everyone agility, elegance and grace in their movement. Moreover, referring to my long experience as a professor of physical exercise specially adapted to self-defence, I can confidently assert that the cane is the most perfect weapon of defence, as with it no one can be handicapped by size, weight, or strength, it equalises the chances of two people each armed with sticks…

…With the cane all inferiority disappears, and I assert most emphatically from my long and practical experience that a man armed with a cane, and who has learnt how to use it, does not fear a bigger and stronger man, though similarly armed. I will say even more: if he perfectly understands how to use his stick as a weapon of defence, he can hold his own against several adversaries for whoever is hit by this weapon, which acquires an enormous force in its swinging motions, does not return to the attack again, therefore the cane is the most perfect weapon for self-defence; but in order to make it so, it must possess the necessary qualities, which, expressed in one word, is solidity.

It is for this reason that I have had a cane specially made under my directions which embraces all the necessary qualities. It is a medium-sized Malacca cane, mounted with a thick metal ball, and so firmly riveted to the cane that it cannot come off however roughly it may be used. The metal ball handle is of such a thickness that it will not get dented; but in spite of this the cane is a most handsome and elegant one, and has been so much appreciated since it has been brought out that many people may be seen carrying them. Everyone soon gets to understand that this beautiful cane is in reality the most perfect weapon of defence, which entirely relieves one of the danger of carrying a revolver, and the feeling of disgust of having a dagger about one.

It is hardly necessary to add that as one learns the use of a sword or foil, so one most certainly should learn how to use a stick, which under my system of instruction can be learnt in twelve lessons. The study of my system of self-defence with the cane does not involve hard and irksome work; people take a great pleasure and interest in it from the very first lesson, and thus they also acquire quickness, suppleness, coolness and self-confidence.

There are various ways of using the stick:

1st -- Holding the stick by the grip of the whole hand, the blow is delivered with a swinging hit.

2nd -- The left hand can be used just as well as the right by alternately passing the stick from one hand to the other.

3rd -- The stick may also be held at the ferrule end.

4th -- The stick may also be held in both hands.

The blows are delivered at the head, face, body, on the hands, and at the legs. To deliver a point, the stick is made to glide through the hands. The end of the stick can also be used as a dagger.
For a blow to be effective, you must strike, whilst avoiding the riposte and the contact of the sticks, for if your stick comes into contact with your opponent's stick before striking him, the blow is rendered useless, having lost all its force.

If one is struck, one should return on guard and not try to give another blow. It is allowed to seize your adversary's stick, this being really an excellent thing to do.

Using the stick as a means of self-defence in the street, one can not only fight one man equally well armed, but also several men at the same time equally well armed as one's self, for the stick is made to pass through every possible direction around you with a marvellous rapidity, thus protecting every part of one's body; and at the same time acquires enormous force by its rapid swinging movements for delivering a blow, which no one can possibly stand against.

Friday, 17 October 2008

And in these desperate times...A Joke!

Q: What's the definition of an optimist?

A: An investment banker ironing FIVE shirts on a Sunday night.

Hospital + 4 weeks (Fin?)

It’s been four weeks since the accident (and four weeks since I started this blog strand) and probably the first week I’ve actually started walking like an ordinary person - well, an ordinary person with a walking stick, at least.

The muscles in the leg (especially the thigh) still feel tightly knotted, although not as tense as last week and it’s still a little painful to actually sit down. The left leg still looks noticeably swollen when compared to the right leg (which stays next to it and refuses to go away, shaming it by its mere presence). The toes of my left foot are still numb (no doubt the nerve ends will take a long time to repair themselves). Going upstairs is no problem if I take it at a measured pace, but coming downstairs still has to be done with care. And my hips still ache (especially the left one), having taken such a pounding with the twisted contortions they‘ve been forced into in my attempts to walk this past month..

One move remains difficult to execute: bending down to pick something up off the floor. It all has be done with the right leg bending and taking all the weight, while the left leg sticks straight out behind me like some spastic ballet dancer at the barre.
Consequently, things that have fallen on the floor around the flat (newspapers, notes, CDs, plastic bags, odd bits of packaging) have been left where they fell. It will all get cleared up eventually, of course, but for the present I couldn’t care less. [At least I haven’t dropped any food].

I have put on a few pounds in weight over the weeks (due to restricted - if any! - exercising) but that will be put right with a week of desperate fasting.

I do feel however that, lifestyle-speed and even energy-wise, my life (on advice from my body) has stepped down a gear. That means no more pogo-ing in the mosh pit for me.

I’ve certainly come to the realisation that:-

(a) for the rest of my life, this left leg - however much it recovers - will still be noticeably weaker than the other leg… and…

(b) I shall probably be using a walking stick for the rest of my days. Admittedly, this decision possibly has more to do with fashion and my new-found desire to amass a dazzling collection of walking canes than absolute physical necessity. But it’s always comforting to have that stick there should the left kneecap suddenly throw a wobbly and give out on me as it could do - it’s my Plan B.

(c) …and that favourite pair of scarlet patent shoes will have to go. No more stilettos for me.

So the message going out to future suitors is: Love Me, Love my Leg!

Still, let’s look on the bright side: this will probably be the last blog I write on the subject of my accident. (Do I hear a collective sigh of relief amongst the anonymous huddled masses out there in the darkness?). Even though I am clearly not a well man, I shall soldier on, suffering in silence, as has been my practise throughout this 56-year-long bad-hair-day I call a life. So this is how it ends.

And if you see me on the street with my walking cane, suit and bow tie, please cast your glance at me with a charitable eye and offer up your seat on the bus. (One’s entire life has been made tolerable through the kindness of strangers). And I shall regale you with tales of the astonishing recuperative powers of the human body.

(As if).

…And thus, over time, the body slowly revolts against its wearer.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

A Tale of Two Toppers

What’s that they say about London busses: you wait ages for one to come along, then three arrive in quick succession?

Well, for a very long time now I’ve been searching for my personal Holy Grail: a vintage silk top hat with a tall ‘bell’ shape and in near-perfect condition i.e. with little (if any) signs of wear to the silk. Fine ones like that are extremely rare and can easily go for four figures. (I recently tried on a renovated topper at James Lock & Co.; their price? £850).

So there I was, stuck at home with this bloody leg, aimlessly surfing e-bay and one topper caught my eye. The seller was English, a vintage shop on the South Coast (I won’t disclose their name or location just yet, for obvious reasons - see later). The size was 6 7/8s and the height at the front was an impressive 6 ¼”. But they were asking £150 as a Buy-it; a little straining at the purse for me, sadly, so I let it go. But I noticed by the close of auction no-one had bid on it.

[Technical note: I should point out: my standard hat size is (UK) 6 7/8s. But when considering buying what’s called a “hard shell” hat like a Topper or a Bowler / Coke, very often you should look to go up a size, so I might also be looking for a size 7].

Now, simultaneous to this English hat, I noticed on e-bay a German silk topper (a size 7 with a front height of 5 ½“) and in it’s original carrying box. Interestingly, I noticed that the header-listing read “Silk-Top-Hat” and I thought (hoped?) that those hyphens meant it might slip under the radar for most searches. It had a minimum bid listed of £55. So I put my maximum offer into and set it to snipe three seconds before close of auction, as I usually do.

While I was waiting for the German auction to finish, I e-mailed the UK seller (Lorraine) with a proposal: bearing in mind it’s so difficult to tell if a hat like this would fit me or not, and that the most I could offer at present was about £110-120, what if I transferred the money to her + postage, then she sent it to me “on approval” and if it fit, she keep the money; if it didn’t, I’d send it back to her and she’d just refund my original money.

Well, to my surprise (and relief?), Lorraine agreed, and we settled on a price of £120 + £10 postage.

The German auction finished and my hunch paid off: as it turned out there were only two bidders (including me) and I won it for…£62 (plus £15 postage).

So a few days later, Friday morning, both hats arrived in the post the same time:

- the English hat (6 7/8s with a height of 6 ¼”): a truly beautiful work of craftsmanship, barely any noticeable wear (even under a strong light) - AND with a snug perfect fit, like a bespoke pair of shoes. I love this hat.
- the German hat (size 7 with a height of 5 ½”): again perfect condition, flawless silk. Fits very well and is certainly Not “too big”. I could drop it into James Lock to have it blocked out and fitted properly (when I ask them to rest itch the four inches of inner leather headband). Other than that, it’s all just perfect.

I cannot believe my luck in landing not one, but two superb vintage silk top hats.

But what exactly is the object of this story, Ray?

Well, the next day I received an e-mail from Lorraine, the English seller: “Having read your blog and knowing that you take an interest in these sorts of things, you might like to know the exact provenance of your top hat…”.

One careful owner: it turns out that it comes from the estate of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman - a name from my childhood history lessons that suddenly came echoing down the years. [Campbell-Bannerman was born 1836, became Prime Minister of Great Britain, December 1905 until April 1908, where (I think) he died in office]. - And if it is Not C-B’s directly, it certainly belonged to his son-in-law, Major Devas.

It seems the family home (Hunton Court, near Maidstone - below) has just been sold: C-B’s uniforms had gone to a museum in Belgium and Lorraine (and her retro shop) are now handling the contents.

…Well, I’ve just given her my ‘Wants’ list and let her get on with it! (Now perhaps you’ll appreciate why I’m not telling you the name or location of this place just yet). Then Lorraine told me she’s also got C-B’s bowler hat from Mortlock & Co……[I’m sure we shall come to some arrangement].

Oh I do like my two toppers, especially the English one: it’s extraordinary to hold this near-perfect piece of work in your hands and realise it must be at last one hundred years old, and still in beautiful condition. And for all the apparent vanity that appears to come across in blogs, I’ve never really liked looking at myself in the mirror; but even I must admit, looking at my reflection wearing that topper, even I fall in love with myself all over again…

- Besides, with all that I’ve been through these last few weeks with this leg, I reckon I deserve to spoil myself!

P.S.: On Saturday - my first serious venture into town since the accident - I dropped the German hat into James Lock & Co.: they agreed it was perfect except for the 4” of sweatband that needed rest itching (they‘re charging me a bank-breaking £20 to fix it). They also agreed to block and fit it properly when I go in to collect it. And they suggested they raise the sides of the brim up just a little, to give the curved swoop down to the front and back just a little more emphasis. Oh yes, the chaps (and chapesses) of Lock definitely have ‘the eye‘.

I also bought myself a velvet pad from them (£19) for fine-brushing the silk nap - I already have a beautiful antique horse-hair brush for the first-stage brushing. [In passing, they mentioned that they actually source a lot of their old Silk Toppers from Germany: “perhaps German people these days just don’t feel they are of much use anymore“]. So, thank you, James Lock ‘Krew’: Sue and, in absentia, Patrick (day off) and Andrew (on holiday). I look forward to returning soon.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Hospital + 3 weeks

Precisely three weeks (to the day) after my accident and a week that has seen me getting better in impressive clichés (sorry: leaps and bounds), and I must admit even I am rather pleased with my progress.

Even though all the muscles in the left leg have felt all tightly twisted and knotted and painful (they still do, to a lesser extent), going up and down a flight of stairs has become a little more bearable. I can now walk around the flat unaided and - having finally ditched the cushion - sitting down is tolerable now and almost pain-free. [From here, I can look back with a slight smile of amusement at the pain of attempting to sit down on a hard wooden toilet seat AND trying to do your business… - Stop it, dear reader; it is Not funny!].

At last the rag-roll of bruising to the back of my left leg has started to dissipate, moving slowly from dark purple to a kind of rare-meat pink; parts of the limb have even started to itch (a good sign in the recovery process, my Mother always told me).

As I mentioned last week, although I’ve started getting my energy back - and on Tuesday managed to venture beyond my High Street boundaries to venture into Whitechapel, East London for (as it turned out) a completely wasted and pointless visit to the Dental Hospital - I find I do still tire very easily.

One interesting observation: when out on the street, you do start to notice just how many other people are using walking sticks and canes, and some even crutches - not all of them old people. There’s a kind of shared empathetic glance that passes between you, rather like that eye-contact exchange of two fellow bow tie wearers, that acknowledgement that says “ah, you can tie one too, good for you, my dear chap”.

Anyway, by Thursday I felt confident enough to ditch the crutch and transfer to a walking cane. I have so many sticks to choose from (another time-consuming dilemma for me to wrestle with before I face each day): “Mmm, now which cane captures my mood AND coordinates with the suit I’m wearing today? Decisions, decisions - And, do I have a hat to match?” Oh, the agonies…and they say Beau Brummell took over two hours just to tie a cravat…move over Beau.

Still, I’ve been bold and arranged to meet a friend next Thursday at Covent Garden. We usually meet up at the Albion Emporium for afternoon tea and cakes, and hope to discover whether recent gossip of it’s apparent demise is, hopefully, unfounded.

[The one bit of fantastically good news concerns a couple of silk top hats, but I shall hold that over till a later blog, probably in the week ahead…]

And so it’s ho-hum, onwards and upwards - although, when out walking, I still have to make sure that the left knee goes forward and not inward. Next week I hope to be able to sleep at night without the pyramid of pillows propping up my kneecap. Such is progress, I suppose.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Some Ramblings from Café Society........ (more like sweepings-up from the Café floor)…

Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m a bit of a cappuccino connoisseur - even my Doctor who, eighteen months ago, restricted me to no more than two (maybe three) coffees a day because of the kidney damage that appeared to be indicated in blood tests…

Anyway, this week a new coffee shop opened up in Barkingside High Street, just opposite my lounge window (and replacing the old Dodo Lounge, a somewhat appropriately named enterprise, as it turned out).

Called Delicieuse, it’s Italian (yes, I know…don’t go on). Well, Italian coffee and various French patisseries, all very reasonably priced. It’s the nearest thing I’ve found to a favourite Soho haunt of mine, Maison Bertaux in Greek Street.

It’s fantastic. So, goodbye Cheesecake Shop (your coffee and topping started getting very bitter) and hello Delicieuse. And it opens at, not that I know what seven o’clock in the morning looks like, but at least the option is there.

So Maureen (my regular coffee morning friend - one of many companions of my Café Society) and I have a new place to sup. [Note to cousins: she’s happily married, with a family and slightly older than me, OK?]. I must bring my own spoon, though: they’ve only got these little wooden stirrer thingies and I do like scooping up my froth.

In fact, being somewhat of a cappuccino expert, I’ve even devised my own version: the Campuccino.

What is it? Well, it’s just like an ordinary cappuccino but with more froth, and it’s sprinkled on top with hundreds-and-thousands instead of chocolate.

- Have to go now, In The Night Garden... is just starting and they are all new episodes. (For the uninitiated may I recommend the Facebook group "The Cult of Igglepiggle"

...yes, I am a member).

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Hospital + 2 weeks

Nothing earth-shattering to report really: slow, if steady, progress. The worst being most of the week (having to carry a cushion around with me, hanging from the crutch, so that I can sit down anywhere - such is the now-extensive bruising to my left thigh…even the lower half of the leg and parts of the foot have started to turn purple; and the left leg, when compared to the right, remains very noticeably swollen).

By Thursday things started to calm down a little and by Friday (yesterday) I was able to ditch that blasted cushion, sit down without too much pain and actually started to walk short distances at home without the crutch.

In fact, this morning (Saturday) is the first day since the fall that I’ve actually felt any sense of energy returning. Only now can I appreciate just how much this thing has knocked me back. (Am I getting old?).

I still haven’t travelled beyond the environs of the High Street where I live but next Tuesday I have my (re-booked) Dental appointment in Whitechapel (East London). So I’m hoping I shall at least be able to get on a tube train and travel a bit.

Whether, after that, I shall be in a fit state to travel further into town (well, I deserve to pamper myself…perhaps I should buy a new hat, a brown fedora or black homburg perhaps) remains to be seen.

Onwards and upwards. “What doesn’t kill us makes stronger” (I wish I could believe that just at the moment).

Friday, 3 October 2008

Buying my Straw Boater

I’m posting this up because, since I bought my Boater a few months ago, I’ve been asked a few times (once by a friend of mine in the USA) exactly where I bought it and where could They get one? I got a little tired of recounting the long, convoluted, sometimes funny, story so I thought I’d lay it down here. Here goes…

It was early June, coming on Summer; I’d quit the cigarettes a month ago and realised I was saving almost £50 a week (that’s almost £200 a month) and decided to commemorate and buy myself a new Boater.

Let’s start with a little-known fact: every Straw Boater manufactured in the UK is made by a company called Olney Headwear of Luton (01582 731512) - I found this out some fifteen years ago when I was researching/writing/presenting a series of TV shorts called “The A-Z of the Well-Dressed Gentleman” for London Weekend Television.

Trouble is, Olney’s do Not retail their hats, they only wholesale to other retailers (boaters for about £35-40, I’d estimate). So I looked at some retailers:

My first port of call on most headwear matters: James Lock & Co. of St. James’s Street (020 7930 8874). Their retail price for a boater was £109; OK, so this includes a free hat box worth £30, so the hat sort-of worked out at £79.

I went round the corner into Jermyn Street, to Bates - a strangely thin and long shop bathed in semi-darkness. Out of the darkness emerged this strange Dickensian figure. I suddenly had visions of the UK comedy programme The League of Gentlemen and half-expected to hear the words “this is a local shop for local people”. But I gathered my courage and asked for a Boater (price £62, minus hatbox, which would have cost an extra £19; Total £81.00). Great! I was ready to buy.

So I told him my hat size [UK 6 7/8s; 56 cms.; 22 inches, for the record, should anybody wish to send me a present] which, apparently, is a little smaller than average. He disappeared into the back of the shop…

There was a pause. From the darkness I heard an “Ah…”. He came back into the half-light of the shop, empty handed and said “I’m afraid we don’t have your size, sir”. (Odd, I thought, but hey-ho, it happens).

“So when will you have them back in stock?”, I enquired: expectant, optimistic. And then came the reply: “Not till next year”.

Back out on the street I was torn between thinking “what a way to run a business” and “typical bloody Britain…if this’d been America…” and “well, what do I do now?”.

And so I fled to the internet and I finally came across a place called Ascot Tophats ( in, guess where?: Ascot. It’s an impressive website. So I duly telephoned them (08709 192820) and eventually the call was answered by what sounded like a sweet little old granny - well, it was a Saturday.

We had a somewhat odd conversation, including the immortal line “could you phone us again later…after 6pm…when someone will be here”. Eventually we agreed that they would phone me back. What could I say but agree!

I began to wonder what I’d got myself into, and started to have visions of this so-called company with the impressive website being some kind of part-time “back bedroom” operation.

So when the call was returned, it was the little old lady again. She confirmed they had my size in stock, confirmed a price of £49.95 + £10 postage (guaranteed next day delivery / mailing out on Monday). I asked them for a hatbox too - their website claimed they could sell you a Christys' hatbox, but then she said, "We haven’t got any in that size in stock at the moment”.

I felt this was becoming an increasingly uphill struggle, but I persevered. By now I just didn’t care; as long as my boater arrived in pristine condition, the rest I could fix somehow. And so we entered the next phase…

Have you ever tried to give your card details over the phone to a sweet, little old lady with (it was becoming increasing clear) failing hearing? I shall skip over that, but you can imagine…

Anyway, Monday morning, a younger chap from Ascot Tophats phoned me up, enthusiastic, helpful, and confirmed all the details. He also mentioned it was an Olney boater (with the distinctive black silk band) and that it would be with me tomorrow.

Tuesday, and a delivery from Parcelforce. My boater: well-packaged and sturdily-boxed, in pristine condition and a perfect fit. Believe me, the brim is so rigid and sharp it’ll poke someone’s eyes out - exactly as it should be. Total cost £59.95.

And I’ve been wearing it ever since throughout (what passes for) a British Summer. But it was all rather a bizarre tale of trial-and-error. I later bought a hatbox from James Lock & Co. (£30) …….I guess Bates are still waiting for next year’s delivery.

[For what it’s worth I did track down an American website that supplies Boaters (also called Skimmers in the States) for $49.95: - I may be wrong, but those ones look to me to be of a much softer construction, like a Panama straw hat. Or you might try which, for $95, has a firmer straw boater (it looks like to me). Both Boaters / Skimmers come with a red and black hatband (rather spiffing actually). Sorry, I could not grab pics from their sites.

Also note that US hat sizes are one size up from the UK; hence, a UK 6 7/8s size will be a US 7]].

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Hospital + 1 week

Saturday 27th September: So it’s a week since my fall. A week on crutches, walking (if you can call it that) at a snail’s pace, my entire radius of activity restricted to a few hundred yards of my front door.

At least the work I’ve been doing this past week has been sedentary , correcting the proofs of the book. My deadline was yesterday (Friday 26th) and the original plan, naturally, was for me to hand-deliver them to Harry Scoble - my editor at Hodder & Stoughton - on the Friday. As it turned out, I managed to complete them and get them in the post by Thursday 25th.

It took a good few days (about five) for the bruising to come-out; and now it manifests its “full colours”. Not pretty; the entire back upper half of my left leg, from behind the kneecap right up to the buttock is a tapestry of purple/black blotches and broken veins. It looks like someone has rag-rolled my thigh…badly. It’s not nice at all. And the toes remain numb, albeit moving freely.

Of course, now that the bruises have surfaced, it’s near-impossible to actually sit down comfortably, especially on any kind of hard chair. Consequently, I now have dangling from my crutch a plastic carrier bag with an old cushion in it, and I use that to sit on, especially in my local coffee shop (I’m still not sacrificing my cappuccinos).

I still feel like I’ve had somewhat of the stuffing knocked out of me. This will be a long, slow recovery, I fear; taking it day-by-day, week-on-week, making sure I don’t try things I am not yet physically ready for yet. And making sure that every time I put my left leg forward the kneecap is going forward too, and not backwards (few tendons, see?).

One thing this incident has brought home to me is: just how isolated I am. I’m an only child, both parents now dead, I have no one to ‘come home’ to (auditions being held…well, er, all the time!)…and, I must admit, somewhat grudgingly, just how much I’ve relied on the NHS [National Health Service] in this matter.

What meetings I have lined up, well, for the present they will have to come to me out here in Redbridge [N.E. Greater London]. And any plans of mine I had to go into town (London) will have to be postponed. So, that waistcoat (6-button, double breasted with a vast sweeping shawl collar in salmon pink shantung silk) I was planning to have made up shall have to wait a while. Damn! I need cheering up…

Friday, 19 September 2008

How I ended up in Hopital

While I’m still searching for the Constructive Apathy piece to kick-off this blogspot with, little did I think this following piece was going to be the one that actually started it:

So I was in town today (Friday 19th), collecting the Proofs of the new book [3rd edition of Teach Yourself Screenwriting] from my publisher - Hodder & Stoughton - so that I may proof-read and correct them next week, delivering them back to Hodders next Friday (26th).

Proofs collected, a few more bits of shopping done - and just as I was heading for the station home - I decided to pop into a shopping mall called The Plaza in Oxford Street. It is notorious for it’s shiny and slippery polished marble floors.

6.35pm: Anyway, I took a tumble, my left leg shot out in front of me at 180 degrees and I fell on it/on my arse (ass) - heavily.

No bones broken but, oh boy, did I feel those tendons snap: behind the knee and especially at the top of the thigh. Well, I sat down and almost passed out a couple of times with the shock. Paramedics came along (about 7 pm) and took me to the local hospital at 7.20pm.

In the ambulance one of the paramedics told me he worked on the construction of The Plaza about 17 years ago and even then he told them he thought the floor tiles were dangerously treacherous.

A few hours in A&E (ER) of University College Hospital (ironically, situated opposite my publisher's building). They told me I was lucky it was a slow period - the busiest periods for them being August and February (student accidents/Freshers' week).

Basically all they could do for me was dose me up on painkillers and tell me to rest and pack it with bags of ice cubes (tendons supposedly heal themselves, the doctor said) and they said - wait for this "if you can afford it, try to see an physiotherapist" [don't the NHS have any physiotherapists themselves?]. They told me I’d be looking at rest for the next 6-ish weeks.

10.30pm As I made my way to the local tube station nearest to the hospital slowly, slowly half-limping, I got to the station. Inside the station, and on the way to the platform, the left leg gave out again - twice. Just shot out in front of me at 180 degrees and I went down on my ass again, twice. (No tendons behind the knee, see). Bugger me, it hurt.

I finally made it to the platform, to the line home, and managed to get a seat straight away (almost passing out twice on the journey home with the shock of it all).

At least when I got out at the other end I managed to get a cab to my flat (apartment). Now I’m back home (where I at least have a pair of crutches stored under the stairs).

[Fact: did you know it costs the NHS more to sterilise a returned pair of crutches than it does to issue a brand new pair?].

Luckily I was wearing a slightly baggy suit that moulded itself to my bizarre body shapes when I went down, and there are no tears or splits (that’s a relief - it’s a particularly nice Prince of Wales lightweight check with sky blue overlaid tramlines!).

So the original plan was for me to go back into town next Friday, 26th (to return the corrected proofs to Hodder).

I am intending to do that Friday visit (even if I do it on crutches). If I can’t make that on Friday - I shall decide next Thursday - I’ll put the proofs in the post, Registered Post].

My lifestyle philosophy at present is: Let’s just take things one day at a time.

What’s that line of John Lennon’s?: Real life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans?

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Welcome! - things to come....

Welcome to my life!

[Some people call it Planet Ray].

Here's your parachute, you may bail-out NOW.

I would dearly love to start posting a few things up here, but I wanted to start with a piece I wrote a number of years ago about my own self-created lifestyle philosophy: Constructive Apathy (the science of watching life pass you by). I've been practising it for almost 20 years now (even the BBC were once interested in doing a piece on it) - and this was long before that Idler chappie started up.

I know the article is around here somewhere - I saw the folder about a month ago. I just can't find it at present....anyway.

Once I've posted that up I was thinking about a piece on The O.C. - no, not "The O.C." on tv but being an O.C. (Only Child - which I am) - when I've discussed these things with them, a lot of similar O.C.s have come back to me and said "hey, I recognise that in myself - I thought I was the only one".

Another blog it has just occurred to me is: Buying my new Straw Boater. (Admit it, you Love the pic at the head of this page!) [Think it was taken by Nik Bartram? ].

I needed to renew my old one earlier this year and a number of friends (especially from the USA) have said they want one as well. The story was long, a little convoluted and quite funny at the end of the day.

I just need to find that piece on Constructive Apathy first.....