Storm Brian and other Brians

We’ve been blustered and blown about by storm Brian; some places have  had damage, trees down, tiles blown off the roofs, problems along coastlines, but it seems as if fortunately no-one lost their lives, as far as I know.

It’s become the custom to name weather events, and there is a reason – it ‘personalises’ these storms and hurricanes so people become more aware of them (for some reason spellcheck wanted to ‘deify these storms’ – in the past they would have been seen as expressions of the gods anger!). It’s then easier for people to follow information about the progress of these events and judge what precautions they may need to take to help avert problems.

We have already had Storm Aileen, and after Brian we have:

  • Caroline
  • Dylan
  • Eleanor
  • Fionn
  • Georgina
  • Hector
  • Iona
  • James
  • Karen
  • Larry
  • Maeve
  • Niall
  • Octavia
  • Paul
  • Rebecca
  • Simon
  • Tali
  • Victor
  • Winifred

This got me thinking about the name Brian; I think it is one of those names which has dropped out of fashion so that few people call their baby boys it – although that may not be so in other countries, of course! Apparently, in the 1930’s it was the fourth most popular name in England and Wales, but that popularity began to wane. I knew adult Brians when I was growing up, but I can only think of a couple of lads my age called Brian, and i can only think of a couple of Brians I taught. It’s been spelt in different ways, can also be a surname, and originally meant noble.

Here are some famous Brians:

  • Brian Blessed – actor
  • Brian Boru – Irish king
  • Brian Clough –football manager
  • Brian Cox – physicist
  • Brian Eno   – musician
  • Brian Epstein –manager of The Beatles
  • Brian Johnston – cricket commentator
  • Brian Jones – The Rolling Stones
  • Brian Lara   – West Indian cricketer
  • Brian May   –  Queen
  • Brian McFadden   –  Westlife
  • Brian Moore – rugby player
  • Brian O’Driscoll   –  rugby player
  • Brian Wilson   – The Beach Boys
  • Brian Griffin – Family Guy
  • Monty Python’s Life of Brian
  • Brian the snail – Magic Roundabout

If you are a fan of the TV series ‘New Tricks’ there is only one Brian… here’s an intro to the whole New tricks team:


Whistle Down the Wind

I was very young when the film ‘Whistle Down the Wind’ was released, and I guess the impact it made on me was because although it was about a group of children it wasn’t completely a children’s film. The story is quite a simple one, a group of children find a run-away prisoner, a murderer, hiding in a remote barn on a remote farm and mistakenly think he is Jesus. They keep him hidden from the police who are searching for him until one of them betrays him.  Seeing it now I’m as much struck by the portrayal of country life in the 1950’s as the actual story.

The film was based on a book by the author Mary Hayley Mills; she was born in 1911 in Shanghai and was an actress and playwrite as well as writing ‘Whistle Down the Wind’; she co-wrote another memorable film (maybe because of its’ memorable title) ‘Sky-West and Crooked’. The star of ‘Whistle Down the Wind’ was Mary Hayley Bell’s daughter Hayley Mills, who is also the daughter of John Mills the esteemed and renowned actor who was married to her mother for sixty-four years (they both died in 2005)The film also starred Alan Bates, a remarkable actor who I was lucky enough to see on stage. The music from the film was very popular; written by Malcolm Arnold it became what’s described as ‘a classic’.

The story was revived three times, by the band Toto, as a stage production for the National Youth Music Theatre, and then as a musical by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Jim Steinman. In his latter production the most popular and famous song was ‘No Matter What’ which became a massive hit for Boyzone.

What has put this into my mind is the fact that we have had really windy weather – we have had Storm Brian, which has certainly been whistling down the wind!

PS The film was shot in Lancashire and rest of the children who appeared were just local from the schools there; I actually know someone who was a child in the film!

I should have checked the reviews…

I went away for the weekend and needed a hotel room for one night. There were various events on in the city and most of the hotels were either full or beyond my price range. I didn’t want anything particularly fancy, clean, en-suite and with parking that was all I needed. Well, I found a hotel – not exactly in the city centre but convenient to where I wanted to be; it sounded modest but looked fine on the images I saw so I booked it.

I used Delilah the satnav, because although I roughly knew the area, the hotel was on a main road and I wasn’t sure I could creep along looking for it with all the traffic. Delilah the satnav told me I had arrived – the hotel was supposed to be on my right as I was driving along, but there was no sign of it. I drove on, turned round and drove back again, but still I couldn’t spot it.

I parked up and walked back to where it should be, following the property numbers. There was a strange-looking restaurant and then I spotted a board, the hotel!! But the board was attached to a wall so it was only visible if I was going in that direction. There was no sign of the hotel. I wondered if it was behind the wall the board was attached to – no that was a nursery. I wondered if I accessed it through the dodgy looking restaurant; I went up the concrete steps, but there was nothing to tell me that this was anything to do with the hotel.

Between the restaurant and the wall with the board was a narrow alley, about the width of a car. I walked down it, past some absolutely reeking dustbins. There was an area at the end with a few cars parked, and a building which might possibly be the hotel although there was no name and nothing which said ‘reception’ or anything similar. The door was locked but a stuck on piece of paper directed me back to the restaurant.

Back to the restaurant and I went in and there was a small hatch; two people were there, a young woman on the phone and a man. Eventually he rather timidly asked if he could help, and then signed me in and gave me a key. He led me through the restaurant out the back and down some rickety wooden stairs to a yard full of broken furniture and rubbish which led round to the locked door of the building at the back.

I put in the code and opened the door, and as I went up the stairs, past several notices warning me not to smoke, that smoking was forbidden. Two men came down he stair and greeted me pleasantly enough but they were what you might call dodgy geezers. I opened the door into the corridor, a door plastered with more no smoking notices, and walked into a cloud of smoke… Repulsive! I came across a cleaner and she directed me to my room. To be fair, it was clean, the bedding looked new and the towels were soft, fluffy and spotless.

I spent the afternoon and evening with a friend and returned to the hotel. I had particularly wanted a parking place but, typical of this place, they were all full so I managed to find some street parking just down the road. I walked back to the hotel and noticed there was a big illuminated sign, flickering on and off ‘HOTEL’ in red – when I had been trying to find it during the day the sign had been switched off… The flickering sign was like something from a third-rate thriller movie! I returned to my room and watched TV – which worked perfectly, had a couple of cups of tea (kettle worked perfectly) then, weary after my early start and long drive, settled down for the night.

I slept well; I woke early because I wanted to pick up my car, not sure whether I had left it in a parking area, and not wanting to get a ticket. I watched a bit more TV, had a cup of tea, went to have a shower… and the shower didn’t work… so much for having lovely fluffy towels!

As I got dressed an enormous foul-mouthed row erupted right outside my door as a woman, a fellow guest presumably berated hr boyfriend/partner/husband for something or another. I gathered my things and left. I wanted to complain about the shower but the restaurant was closed and there was a box to post keys back. as I walked away I noticed that the sign board attached to the wall hadn’t even written the name of the place correctly…

Oh well, it was an experience… when you read about one of my characters visiting a dodgy hotel in one of my stories you will know what it was based on!

When I got home, my daughter asked if I’d looked up any reviews of the hotel… well… no, I hadn’t… she looked at me… I’ll let hr sort out my accommodation next time!!

This is definitely not a third-rate thriller… but I did keep thinking about it!

Here’s a link to my books…

There’s a haunted hotel in this one:


Touch wood

Many people who are not superstitious actually say things which are superstitious when wishing people well – ‘cross fingers’, ‘best of luck/good luck’ and ‘touch wood’. Cross fingers i guess comes from a religious origin – but is touching wood or knocking on wood a left-over from touching relics, or having religious relics such as a splinter from the cross, or a fragment of a ‘holy’ person’s coffin? Some people argue that it is much older than the Christian religion and goes back to pagan times when some trees were considered sacred, so touching them, or having a bit of wood with you as an amulet would keep you safe. Other people argue that the tree thing is just something made up nineteenth century romantics – and touching wood comes from reaching and touching the door into a place of safety.

There are hundreds of different explanations, from lumberjacks to cattle auctions, coal miners to sailors… here is a link to a selection:,5753,-22199,00.html

.. and here is something from the Danny Kaye film, ‘Knock on Wood’




Going to the theatre

This afternoon I went to the theatre in Bath with three friends – actually two of them I had never met before but by the time we arrived back home I was delighted to think of them as friends. We went to the Theatre Royal Bath where I had never been before, and which is absolutely delightful, and we went to see an Alan Ayckbourn play, How The Other Half Loves.  It debuted in 1969  in Scarborough, but this production has transferred from London where it was a hit last year. It’s a farce about three couples; the wife of the boss has an affair with one of the male members of the office; the story in the play is about how suspicions are roused and in trying to divert attention, the wife of the other couple is supposed to be the one being adulterous….

There are two different plot-lines running on the stage simultaneous, the most complicated and difficult to act, and perhaps most successful to watch is the scene where the innocent couple are invited on successive nights to dinner with each of the other two couples all shown on the stage at the same time. All six actors are there, sitting round a dining table, with two different dinner parties happening before our eyes.

The cast of six were actors well-known for their TV work, Robert Daws, Caroline Langrishe, Matthew Cottle, Sara Crowe, Charlie Brooks and Leon Ockenden. To me the outstanding performance was from Matthew Cottle as the innocent husband, but I thought Robert Daws and Sara Crowe were also excellent. I really enjoyed the trip, however the play seemed very dated to me – well, obviously, it’s nearly fifty years old! it wasn’t so much the humour, the visual gags, or the farcical element, it was some of the attitudes of the characters were really no longer funny (if they ever were); the implied violence towards women (‘what would you do if your wife was unfaithful? ‘I would hit her’) the sexism, the paternalistic attitude,  the idea that women were almost chattels of the male characters, just jarred. I couldn’t find those aspects of the play the least bit funny, but the way the characters tied themselves in knots of deceit and misunderstanding was fairly amusing. However it was really, really interesting!!

Alan Ayckbourn, now a CBE, was born in 1939;  he has written and produced more than seventy full-length plays in Scarborough and London and from 1972 to 2009, he was the artistic director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough.  Amazingly, he is still writing and directing!

Do you remember ‘Fox’?

There are some TV series which make such an impact on you, that even though they might not be classed as a ‘great’ on any list they do seem to be of a quality and class above others which are.  One such was the 1966 version of David Copperfield…

  • Ian McKellen (David)
  • Christopher Guard (David as a boy)
  • Lila Kaye (Peggoty
  • Flora Robson (Betsey Trotwood)
  • George Benson (Mr Dick)
  • Bill Fraser (Mr Micawber)
  • Colin Jeavons (Uriah Heep)
  • Noël Johnson (Mr Wickfield)
  • Hannah Gordon (Agnes)
  • Barry Justice (James Steerforth)
  • Suzanne Togni (Little Emily)

What a stellar cast – I had forgotten that Ian McKellen and Christopher Guard played David, but I remember Barry Justice and Colin Jeavons as Steerforth and Uriah Heap – they made such an impression on me. To my delight, Colin Jeavons, the great actor is still alive, aged eighty-seven! I didn’t know that he played the part of Herbert Pocket in an early version of Great Expectations – you can’t imagine two more dissimilar characters! Sadly, Barry Justice died very young, aged only forty.

Back to the Fox family… Fox was a  marvellous ITV drama series from 1980. It had thirteen parts and was based around the Fox family, who lived in Clapham, in South London. It was one of the first TV series which had gangs and criminals as the main characters, and followed their lives. It was written by Trevor Preston, produced by Verity Lambert and directed by Jim Goddard. I remember watching it and being utterly gripped, and yet quite shocked that the people who were the ‘heroes’ were actually villains. Once again, not only was it brilliantly scripted, produced and directed, but it had a wonderful cast who went on to be ‘greats’ in many other TV programmes and films:

  • Billy Fox – Peter Vaughan
  • Connie Fox– Elizabeth Spriggs
  • Kenny Fox – Ray Winstone
  • Joey Fox– Larry Lamb
  • Vin Fox – Bernard Hill
  • Ray Fox – Derrick O’Connor
  • Phil Fox– Eamon Boland
  • Renie Fox – Rosemary Martin
  • Andy Fox– Richard Weinbaum
  • Nan Fox– Cindy O’Callaghan
  • Jenny Fox– Gail Shaw
  • Frank Fox– Sidney Livingstone

Other people who were in it, almost as bit parts…

  • Maggie Steed
  • Karl Howman
  • Alexis Walker
  • Dilys Laye
  • Graeme Crowther
  • Bill Nighy
  • Jim Carter
  • David Calder
  • Andy Secombe
  • Gretchen Franklin

It is actually available on DVD… should I?