Friday, 30 March 2012


Farewell to

"The father of bluegrass banjo"

Yesterday's Guardian put it this way: "[Earl] Scruggs was the most influential banjo player there has ever been: he was banjo's Bach, Beethoven and Bob Dylan all rolled into one. He pioneered the three-finger style of picking responsible for the sound you hear whenever you think of the instrument's fleet-fingered, jangling sound. Until then, banjo players was played in the traditional "claw-hammer style" – Scruggs's use of the third finger allowed him to play the driving arpeggios that we associate with banjo music today.

Here's his most famous composition, 'Foggy Mountain Breakdown' which became widely known through its use in the 1967 film, Bonnie & Clyde, and features (if you can count quickly enough) eleven notes a second!

Probably his other best-remembered recording is the title-song to the 1962 TV show, The Beverley Hillbillies performed with here (and sung by) Lester Flatt...

Friday, 23 March 2012


One of the weirdest thing about moving is that it turns into something of an excavation: you dig into the dark recesses of drawers and cupboards (undisturbed since Pre-Jurassic times) and you find forgotten things – sometimes, things of which have no memory whatsoever!

One such recent discovery for us was this unopened bar of Kendal Mint Cake which David purchased in the Lake District some years ago...

How many years ago? Well, if the last entry on legend of the back of the wrapper listing the expeditions that have taken KMC with them is anything to go by... was probably purchased 33 years ago!

I decided to seek advice as to its edibleness from leading KMC makers, Romney's of Kendal. Their Managing Director, John Barron, quickly and helpfully replied:
Hello Brian,

We are amazed that you have an unopened bar of our Mint Cake from 1979 in your possesion!

If it is one of our George Romney Ltd or Wipers bars, please send it to us and we will gladly replace it with a new one that you can enjoy.
Unfortunately, we couldn't take them up on this offer since (as you can see from pack) David's KMC was not a Romney's product, but was manufactured by one of their rivals, Quiggins. So, I contacted their website and their man, Stuart, responded:
As Mint Cake is nearly all sugar it will be edible. I would not recommend eating it myself and imagine it will be just like rock and therefore good for nothing apart from breaking your teeth!!!

The local antique shop might be the best bet or even eBay!!
Tempting as it is to see if it will (pardon the upcoming pun) make a mint in the second-hand marketplace, we've decided to hang on to it for future emergencies – such as the stresses yet to be undergone during the eventual move back into our old flat!

You can read more about Kendal Mint Cake here.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012


It's United Nation's World Poetry Day, so here is one of my favourite poems written by that under-rated rhymester, Rudyard Kipling.

Published in 1919, 'The Gods of the Copybook Headings' foresaw the decline of the British Empire but – surprisingly (or perhaps not!) –the irritation and anger infusing Kipling's verse still has extraordinary resonance, ninety-three years on.

'The Copybook Headings' of the title were moral and improving maxims printed at the top of the pages of British students' school exercise books, called 'copybooks' and which the children had to copy out by hand.

The Gods of the Copybook Headings

AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

- Rudyard Kipling

Monday, 19 March 2012


Jonathan Swift said: "He was a bold man that first eat an oyster."

I think it may also be the case that it is a bold man who eats his first oyster!

Recently dug up in the Great Move: the shell of the very first oyster I ever ate – aged 42!

David and I were in Whitstable, premier British home of the oyster – and actor Peter Cushing!

In the Royal Native Oyster Stores Restaurant David ordered half a dozen oysters and, for the first time in my life, I plucked up the courage to try one...


It was simply one of the most wonderful sensations I've ever enjoyed: I was like eating the seaside! There's no other way to describe it.

I immediately ordered another half-dozen! I can see them now: on a plate of ice and seaweed. It was an unforgettable experience and I kept that first shell...

As a shell it is the wrong shape for putting up to the ear to hear the sea, but just holding it in my hand – with its craggy back and pearlescent soul – I can perfectly imagine the sound of sea on shingle, the cry of wheeling gulls and the pungent aroma of ozone.

Saturday, 17 March 2012


A small – very small – joke for St Patrick's Day...


Peanuts © Charles Schulz

Tuesday, 13 March 2012


Yes, it is a phone book – but not as we know it, Jim!

I was going to entitle this post, 'Sorry, Wrong Number', but then I thought, maybe BT have, actually, got my number!

Better just punch in those digits and wait for the bell to ring!

Friday, 9 March 2012


According to Miss Mary Poppins:

"Practically perfect people never permit sentiment to muddle their thinking..."

But as one who is very far from perfection, I cannot guarantee the absence of sentiment from my tribute to Bob Sherman on this afternoon's edition of Last Word: BBC Radio 4, 16:00 and thereafter on Listen Again via iPlayer.


There was a surprisingly low submission for our latest caption competition. Possibly this novelty (like the ad that was the subject on this occasion) has passed it Best Before Date; or, maybe (as one of our regular entrants suggests in a couple of his captions) it was down to an absence of scantily-clad young men in the picture. Whatever the reason, there submissions were few but – needless to say – of an excellent calibre!

Here's the picture you were asked to provide some dialogue for...

And here's what folks came up with...



Andy J Latham:

"It's alright Doreen, my husband will clean it up!"


"You always did have a heavy hand with pastry dear,
but your rock cakes have excelled themselves this time!"

(in alphabetical order)

Boll Weavil
"Good heavens! It's a WOMAN on the Sibley blog!

Aunts Maud and Marge have different reactions to being asked to wear gentleman's undergarments – the traditional apparel for models in the caption competition.

Fans hear the news of Titus Groan's success.

"You can hardly taste the weedkiller dear!"
"I think they could have demonstrated 'resists stains' in some better way don't you?"
Woman on left to woman on right: "I told you eating more than twelve rum balls would make you tipsy!"
"Oh, my gosh! This blue-screen is dry-clean only!"

Congratulations to the winners
and thanks to everyone who took part!

Tuesday, 6 March 2012


How strange that I should have just been remembering and writing about that Practically Perfect nanny, Mary Poppins, when the news comes of the passing of one-half of the song-writing partnership responsible for scoring Walt Disney's film of her exploits...

Robert B Sherman, who died yesterday aged 86, is pictured, above left, alongside his younger brother, Richard M Sherman, with whom he wrote hundreds of songs that were an integral part of the pop-culture of the 1960's and '70s, including movies, the scores for which provided the accompaniment to the formative years of so many of us post-war baby-boomers.

The words and music for Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Winnie the Pooh, The Sword in the Stone, The Jungle Book, those non-Disney movies Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Slipper and the Rose, plus dozens of 60's teen-love songs (among them, "Tall Paul" covered by Mickey Mouse Club 'Mousketeer', Annette Funicello) and a raft of unforgettably catchy songs and tunes for the Disney TV shows and theme-park attractions are a part of the pop-culture heritage of several generations.

Among those who sung the hits of these tune-smiths (in addition to the couple on the left) were Hayley Mills (in The Parent Trap), Burl Ives (Summer Magic), Maurice Chevalier (In Search of the Castaways), Tommy Steele (The Happiest Millionaire), Angela Lansbury (Bedknobs) Sally Ann Howes (Chitty), Gemma Craven and Richard Chamberlain (Slipper) and Phil Harris and Louis Prima (with their scat-duet, "I Wanna Be Like You" in Jungle Book) not to mention a raft of cover artist recordings from Louis Armstrong to Michael Crawford and Barbara Cook via Ringo Starr's 1974 No 1 hit, "You're Sixteen".

Their years at the Disney Studio saw them write 150 songs for 27 movies, but their upbeat, optimistic compositions appeared in a wide range of film projects from live-action musical adaptations of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (for which they also wrote the screenplays) to animated films such as Charlotte's Web and Snoopy Come Home.

Bob and Dick's two greatest film triumphs, Mary Poppins (which won the Academy Award for Best Score as well as Best Song) and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang were written within four years of one another and, despite being original movie musicals at a time when all the great Broadway shows were being lavishly filmed, excelled to a degree denied many of their stage-derived competitors.

In the 'seventies, the Shermans had enjoyed an original Broadway triumph with Over Here! Set during World War II it starred Patty and Maxene Andrews (of the Andrews Sisters) and launched the careers of, among others, John Travolta and Anne Reinking. Decades later, Poppins and Chitty – by that time treasured screen classics – made the successful transmigration from cinema to both the West End and Broadway stage.

The sons of the successful tin-pan-alley song-writer, Al Sherman, Robert and Richard were a remarkable partnership: despite sharply differing personalities and the ups and downs of various sibling rivalries, they suppressed whatever divided them and combined their talents to collaborate on an unashamedly sentimental songbook that sings the praises of love, hope, belief, aspiration and perseverance; a legacy of numbers that come from (and speak to) the heart and will live on for years.

Two decades after I first fell under the spell of their work for Mary Poppins (what a work of brilliance: an original film score with over a dozen numbers, more than half of which – like 'Let's Go Fly a Kite' and 'A Spoonful of Sugar' – are undisputed standards!) I had the great good fortune to meet Bob and Dick at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank.

This was just the first of many meetings, separately and together, during which I had the opportunity to listen to their stories of the joys and delights of working for Walt and, equally, the trials and tribulations of having to cope with Mary Poppins' creator, P L Travers!

I greatly treasure the friendship I enjoyed with Bob and Dick and was honoured to contribute to the 2009 film profile of their lives, The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story...

Bob was a private rather than a public man; a person of reflective moods, whose many talents included a gift for poetry, painting and sculpture.

He and his brother received many honours including being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and receiving the National Medal for the Arts - the highest honour conferred on artists or patrons of the arts from the United States Government.

My condolences go to Dick and to Bob's family and I can think of no better tribute to their work than Dick Van Dyke (no jokes about the accent, please!) singing the song that won the Sherman Brothers the Oscar for Best Song back in 1964...

And my own favourite song from the film, "Feed the Birds" – as sung by Julie Andrews to Jane and Michael (Karen Dotice and Matthew Garber) – and then as used for a background score (evocatively arranged by Irwin Kostal) to the emotionally-charged scene where, following the run on the bank, the children's father (David Tomlinson) takes a solitary, late-night walk through the misty, wet, deserted parks and streets of London on the way to meet his employers and learn his fate...

Finally, here's the song that Bob and Dick wrote for the Disney designed UNICEF pavilion at the 1964/65 New York World's Fair and which is now featured at all the Disney theme parks and is, literally, playing somewhere in the world 24/7/365!

And if you're stuck with it in your head for the rest of the day, I apologise!

19 December 1925 – 5 March 2012

Monday, 5 March 2012


There is only
one more day
in which to give my blog post about
Mary Poppins
your vote

for being
(if it is)
Most Fascinating...

CLICK HERE and follow the directions!

“I shouldn't wonder if you didn't wonder much too much!”

Sunday, 4 March 2012


I bet his shirt came from Austin Reed!