Wednesday, December 23, 2015

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year! Not.

The Legatus hates Christmas, of course.  I opted out of Secret Santa at work, the buffet lunch and drinks and only briefly attended the evening Christmas party.   I lasted ten minutes at the latter as I couldn't hear a single word anyone was saying due to the awful thump, thump music and acoustics of the brick lined nineteenth century warehouse cellar the event took place in.

Of all the aspects of Christmas I hate, Christmas music comes top of the list.  Even including Carols the problem is that the oeuvre of Christmas music is so narrow that we are talking about a few dozen 'classic' songs endlessly dressed up and re-recorded.  It says something about Christmas music when the last 'classic' was Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas is You, twenty one years ago.

Even the traditional songs and carols form quite a small group.  Of the latter Ding dong Merrily on High is my most hated, in that it sums up everything I despise about choirs.  This particular one encouraging choirs into more sub-Dickensian gurning and theatrical forced jollity than any other.  There is always a fat, bald, singer with wire frame glasses who thinks he is Mr Pickwick in every Christmas carol choir.  "We who wiggy-wig below", ho, ho ho, as they seem to be singing to my assaulted ears.

Seasonal favourite Winter Wonderland, for example, has been recorded more than two hundred times.  This song doesn't actually even mention Christmas, with the lyrics being written by an ailing Dick Smith while looking at the snowbound Honesdale Central Park in Pennsylvania.  Written in a sanatorium while suffering from tuberculosis, Smith died less than a year later, a day short of his 34th birthday.  Such should be the fate of all who promote Christmas 'cheer'.

Christmas means that Classic FM becomes unlistenable to, as every other tune is a seasonal one.  So I have to switch it off every five minutes or so rather than just waiting to turn it off when the endless adverts for dental implant specialists (tells you a lot about the average listeners) Dawood & Tanner come on (although, interestingly, they are pioneers in 3D printing of false teeth).

Fortunately, we do not get quite as inundated with Christmas music as in North America, although Tesco is pretty unbearable at the moment.  Waitrose, thank goodness, do not play music and do not let their staff wear Christmas hats.  Guess who gets my Christmas shop?

Some years ago I did a three week tour of  Canada and the US and found Christmas music playing everywhere: airports, hotels, shopping malls and even government buildings.  I had breakfast, lunch and dinner every day to an accompaniment of the same two dozen Christmas 'favourites'.  Even worse the North American appreciation for what makes good Christmas music seemed to be forever stuck in the thirties (Santa Claus is Coming to Town was also written in 1934), forties (White Christmas and The Christmas Song) and fifties (Little Drummer Boy - I hate that one).  There was no leavening by more comparatively recent numbers by the likes of Slade, Wizzard, Jona Lewie, The Pogues or even George Michael.  It was all Bing Crosby, Perry Como and, worst of all, Andy Williams.  I was hearing Andy Williams' It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year at least half a dozen times a day.  It was everywhere, like a sort of aural Black Death. There was no escape.

Claudine Longet. What was it that attracted her to the 5' 6" tall, nearly twice her age multi-millionaire singer?

When I was younger the Andy Williams show was a staple of my family's Saturday evening TV viewing. Apart from the oleaginous Andy it also introduced the world to the Osmonds, for which it can never be forgiven. Also slinking around on the show was Williams' French wife, Claudine Longet.  Longet was a "dancer" at the Las Vegas Folies Bergere who Williams literally picked up at the side of the road when she was 18.  They separated in the mid seventies and she set herself up with a skier, Vladimir Sabich, who was later shot dead by Longet in what she claimed was a tragic accident, while he was showing her how his pistol (!) worked. This despite the fact that the autopsy showed that he was shot in the back from over six feet away. Amazingly, Longet was only found guilty of criminal negligence and served only 30 days in prison on the grounds that she had to look after her three young children.. Williams supported her throughout financially and emotionally but after her short sentence she dumped the children and hopped off to the Caribbean with her defense attorney who she later married. 

The Andy Williams Christmas Album was released in 1963 and it's standout hit, It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year was, comparatively, a slow burner.  Santa Claus is Coming to Town, for example, sold over 30,000 copies within 24 hours of its release in November 1934.  It wasn't even the single released to promote Williams' album; that was White Christmas.  But over the ensuing years its popularity, boosted by Williams TV show, grew like toadstools in a rotting tree stump.

Now, I have to confess to actually owning a copy of The Andy Williams Christmas Album because, having moaned about its North American ubiquity after my business trip, my 'friend' bought it for me for Christmas 'as a joke" thereby injecting it, like a virulent bio-agent, into my household.  "Oh goodie!  Christmas tunes," said my daughter who wears a Christmas hat for the entire ten day period that now makes up Christmas in Britain.  So I had no choice but to endure it again and again that year as she happily span it on my CD player. Actually, having this abomination played all the way through made me realise that It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year is a positive highlight compared with much of the teeth-rottingly syrupy, candy-coated, sugar-frosted dross of the rest of the album. Silver Bells possibly taking the Smartie covered biscuit as the most musically inept and annoying song on there. It's as if someone had said, "Let's write a Christmas standard!" and then totally failed.

The Legatus plays only one Christmas album and then only late at night on Christmas Eve when I will indulge in a glass or two of Port and the spare, elegant tones of A Dave Brubeck Christmas to celebrate the fact that the whole ghastly season will shortly be over.

I will return after Christmas with my annual wargaming and non-wargaming highlights of the year. Until then, I wish all my readers a better time than I will be having!  Bah!  Humbug!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Come Fly with Me - The Lockheed Constellation for Frank Sinatra's centenary

One of the great album covers of all time

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Mr Francis Albert Sinatra, one of the very few male singers I listen to.  I have been enjoying Sinatra’s wonderful 1958 album Come Fly with Me.  Apart from the class of Mr Sinatra and the Billy May Orchestra, in supremely glossy form, I am very taken with the wonderful cover for this album, which comes from a time when air travel was still a glamorous adventure.

A grinning Sinatra indicates to a, no doubt, lovely young lady that she should hop on with him to the TWA Lockheed Super Constellation in the background. The blue sky, the shiny airliners and the waiting stewardess all promise a brightly coloured and supremely glamorous international fifties adventure.

However, all is not quite as happy and optimistic as it might appear. Beatles producer George Martin was in the studio with Sinatra when he was shown the artwork for the cover. Apparently, he was furious at seeing the illustration, saying it looked like a TWA advertisement. Whatever he thought, the cover went out and the fact that Capitol records gave an acknowledgement to TWA on the reverse of the cover does make you wonder if there wasn’t some early product placement going on.

The second issue faced by the record company was that the family of Rudyard Kipling objected to Sinatra’s performance of On the Road to Mandalay and, as a result, on all copies of the record issued in the British Empire the track was replaced by Chicago.

Although, looking back at it today, the Lockheed Constellation looks like the epitome of fifties travel, in fact, by this time it was already becoming obsolete. It was the last gasp of a way of flying that was to disappear with mass jet flight. The De Havilland Comet had already become the first jet airliner and the first production Boeing 707 flew the same year that Come Fly with Me was recorded, 1957. The first Douglas DC8 flew the year the album was released, in 1958. These intercontinental jet airliners killed the Constellation dead for anything other than local flights.

The original version of the Constellation


In 1937 Lockheed had been working on a four engine pressurised airliner to be called the Excalibur. However, this planned plane was cancelled when Trans World Airlines, encouraged by shareholder Howard Hughes, requested a plane that could carry forty passengers 3,500 miles, way beyond what the Excalibur could have managed. So Lockheed developed the Constellation instead and the first one flew in January 1943. During World War 2 they were used as long range troop transports. Post war they at last were able to fulfill their original purpose as airliners with the first one being delivered to TWA in October 1945. They launched their first regular transatlantic flight with it in 1946. A Lockheed Constellation still holds the record for the longest non-stop passenger flight as on TWA’s inaugural flight from London to San Francisco in October 1957 the plane stayed in the air for 23 hours and 19 minutes.

The Super Constellation


In 1951 a lengthened version, with capacity for 109 passenegers, first flew. It is instantly recognisable by its square windows as seen on the cover of Come Fly with Me.

This is how air travel should be!


The plane’s elegant profile came from the fact that no two bulkheads were the same shape. Unfortunately, this made the plane expensive to build and less able to cope with pressure variations and all subsequent airliners used the cheaper but less interesting tube shape. The last scheduled Constellation flew on a passenger route in 1967.  856 Constellations were built and just 19 civilian and 8 military versions survive.

Although the Constellation would be instrumental in making flying much more attainable for ordinary people it was a very luxurious flying experience in its intercontinental days. Proper beds were made up for sleeping and passengers sat in large armchairs eating real food and drinking drinks served on silver trays.

Coffee, tea or me?

Of course, partly, all of this luxury was because people really needed to be induced to fly in the days when planes fell out the sky rather more than they do today. However, it was also because flights were expensive and rich people tend to be fussy about such things!

Come fly with me!


So today we can only dream of boarding a Constellation accompanied by a lovely woman dressed in the fashions of 1958.  It would not just be your travelling companion either, as you would have been able to look forward to being pampered by beautiful stewardesses.  In those days they had to be young, slim, well educated and single as this TWA recruitment advertisement from the fifties shows.

Today is also my sister's birthday and she is shortly off to San Franciso for Christmas which means I will miss out on one of her superb Christmas lunches.  At least these days it won't take her nearly 24 hours to fly there!

It’s nice to go trav’ling. Or it was.

Monday, December 07, 2015

What's going, a big car and wargames worries

Steve Barber tree under way

My blog posts have been as scarce as my painting time of late.  I am really struggling with this dark weather and just cannot paint under artificial light, even with daylight bulbs.  Increasing numbers of evening events mean that I have had to miss trips to Shed Wars too, disappointingly.  I have done a little bit of painting on my Neanderthals and have four close to completion now.  Thinking that the problem is in painting figures I have just started work on a tree which will hold the Golden Fleece for next year's planned Jason and the Argonauts campaign at the Shed.  Over Christmas I am going to put together some scenario ideas for Eric to work his gaming magic on.  The only problem is that I can't find the Golden Fleece itself but it must be somewhere on my desk.  I need to search for it...

At weekends I seem to have spent a lot of time out and about.  The Old Bat is working in a trendy dress shop during much of the week so she doesn't have time to do food shopping, which means that I have to do it at the weekend.  This is better, time wasted apart, as the bill is always about 30% less if I do it as we don't end up with piles of expensive and unnecessary fruit, (fruit is for monkeys), chocolate ice cream, Nutella and Cadbury's drinking chocolate etc.  Still, what with other weekend journeys for various things (like driving my son about) by the time I have finished my trips the light has gone.  

At least the Old Bat's parents have promised to buy Guy a car when he passes his test, although given his driving style is entirely informed by watching episodes of Top Gear I really don't think the prospect of having him let loose on the road is a good one.  At least Guy knows the car he wants (guess what, yours will cost less than a Forge World Smaug, matey) as we went over to the parents in law this weekend  (more painting time lost) to clear their garage so my father-in-law could get his new car in it.  Guy was very taken with it and took it for a short whizz up the drive, much to our terror.

Now, of course, many people change cars to something more practical as they get older.  My father-in-law (who is 87) has no truck with this and instead has got rid of his Subaru in favour of this handy little runabout.  We took it out for a spin and it is quite the scariest car I have ever been in, on account of the fact that it weighs two and a half tons but can do 0-60 in 5.2 seconds.  Guy likes it a lot.  Fortunately he can't be insured to drive it until he is 23!  It did, however, take four of us to guide it into the garage and he needed four spaces at Sainsbury's in which to park it.  Practical it is not. It's not like he doesn't even have another Bentley.

Our neighbour across the road (really!)

Another reason the Old Bat isn't getting on with the shopping is that she is faffing about talking to builders about getting the drive widened.  To do this we need a lot of bricks to go in as foundation.  Fortunately, the lady across the road is having a vast extension done to her house and has let us have the required bricks, which are now piled up on the front lawn, looking messy.   The Old Bat is also worrying about painting the hallway a controversial new colour, using a pot of paint we had that she rejected for the extension. Every time I object to some shade I get told I don't like change.

This is true, of course, and I am conscious that I am getting worse but I don't care.  Lately, even more than over the last year, everyone keeps telling me to get apps (the first thing I did when I got my mobile phone was delete all the apps) for this that and the other.  Even my Kindle is nagging me when I log on to Yahoo mail and it tells me to get the Yahoo app. The truth is I don't understand apps.  I don't even like the word (I don't like sloppy abbreviations) and even if I successfully download one I can either never find it or get it to work (like Blackberry messenger - it's on my work phone somewhere but who knows where or what it does).  My friend Bill is Mr iPad and had one way before anyone else.  He is always showing me the latest app.  There is one where he takes a picture of the label of a bottle of wine and then it is supposed to tell you all about it.  Except, of course, it never works!  None of these apps ever work.  Someone at work downloaded a bus route finder one for my phone.  "It's brilliant!" he said.  No it isn't because I can't work out how to use it.  I have this theory that 99.9% of apps are a total waste of time and have no use whatsoever.  They are just time wasters for people who cannot read. I was having dinner this week at the local pub with my friend (Mr iPad) and the waitress had a mini tablet to take the orders.  I asked what the soup of the day was and of course her tablet froze at that point.  She had to go and look it up on the blackboard! Excellent!

Strange corners of my 'playroom': As a pre-I'm a Celebrity... Jorgie Porter looks down from the 2014 FHM calendar on some random dinosaurs and a Zulu Wars meerkat

I don't want to read things on my phone or "other mobile device" because I can't; even with glasses. I can't abide squinting at some tiny little screen in an attempt to look at stuff.  Recently the publisher of FHM in the UK has announced they will be ceasing publication of the print magazine because “men’s media habits have continually moved towards mobile and social”.  Well, mine haven't (not that I read FHM) but the monthly circulation of FHM had dropped to less than double that of Miniature Wargames and the circulation of Nuts, which has also ceased print publication, was less than MW per issue.  The real issue is that young people can't read or, at least, not much more than a few paragraphs and only if the text is broken up with pictures.  They have the attention span of gnats and, of course, this is exacerbated by the constant interruptions they get from their pinging mobile devices.  They have to stop what they are doing to read some inane posting on Facebook.  The only reason I will miss FHM is that the  Old Bat used to get me the calendar issue every year for Christmas, as she knows that pictures of skinny, under-dressed women cheer me up.

I look at emails on my mobile phone only so that I know I have been sent something, so that I can then look at it on my 25" screen at home.  This increasing move to mobile delivery is ageist!  Wait until all these twenty five year olds get to my age and realise that they can't see!  Last week, we had a training course on using social media at work.  I thought that having a blog and Facebook would make me up to date but I had no idea what they were banging on about regarding hash tags and WhatsApp.  Why would I want to be connected to other people all the time, anyway?  I spend most of my time avoiding communicating with other people!  Grr!

A shadow of its former self

Of course, in my favourite wine bar you often can't get a phone signal at all because it is built under the railway arches on the South Bank.  I went there for lunch recently with a Canadian lady friend.  I usually go in the evening but it was quite crowded, unusually, at lunch time.  This is because of the horror of Christmas office lunches.  I hate Christmas with all it's forced bonhomie, conspicuous consumption and trashy decorations.  Unfortunately, I have several lunches and dinners out this week and no doubt will have to put up with ghastly Christmas revellers sat next to us.  Even worse there is an office Christmas party.   Something I have not had to endure for many years.  I am now working in an office that has over seventy people in it.  It has been made clear that I am expected to attend.  The question will be how quickly I can escape as there is dancing scheduled.  Horrors!  I also know for a fact I won't be able to hear what anyone is saying either!  Anyway, speaking of everything getting worse I had, for lunch, the sad shadow of what the Archduke wine bar used to call the Archduke Trio.  This used to be three interesting, different, sausages made by a local butcher near Waterloo station.  You even got a napkin with some bars of the Archduke Trio printed on it. Today, you just get three indifferent Lincolnshire sausages which are far too soft and cheap tasting.

Fortunately, lunch was saved by a really good Carignan from Languedoc. This was very yummy indeed, although the Archduke's wine prices are usurious.  Fortunately, my friend insisted on paying.

Wine at lunchtime work functions in the City these days is very, very rare. So I was surprised at what was served after a recent morning seminar by a large accountancy firm.  Then, of course, I realised that it was a shipping event and the maritime organisers, rather than the accountancy hosts, had insisted on the wine.  The shipping industry still holds by lots of wine at lunchtime.  The Pouilly Fume, not a wine I habitually drink, was rather good.

Back on technology, my daughter wants a new iPod Touch for Christmas as hers has packed up and in researching this I have had a nasty scare about my iPod.  I have just discovered that Apple have withdrawn classic iPods but haven't replaced them with anything equivalent.  The iPod Touch (which is all that is available) does not have anything like the memory of my iPod classic and is twice the price.  Since I learnt this last week I am now dreading the time my iPod packs up (I am on my fourth).  I now look on my iPod (which I love more than my wife) like having an ageing relative or a goldfish. You dread discovering that one day the thing will have packed up and will be metaphorically floating upside down in a fish bowl.  New ones are still available for £450 (more than double the old list price), which shows how much everyone realises they are better than the iPod Touch (which you can't control without looking at, either).  It's all about Apple not wanting you to keep your own purchased material at home but forcing you to keep it on the Cloud, it seems.  This is like streaming films and music.  I've paid for something and I want to access it whenever I like, not rely on some rubbish internet/phone connection to access it.  I have the best fibreoptic internet connection I can get from my provider and it still is really slow quite often.  Streaming doesn't work!

The only box of plastic figures I have ever completed!

A similar concern to the vanishing iPod concerns the fact that it seems Games Workshop's Middle Earth licence runs out early next year and the fear is that they will just pull everything from sale.  If they can do it with Warhammer they can do it for Lord of the Rings. This will send prices rocketing on eBay.  I have a lot of unpainted LotR stuff but you can bet that I will be short of one vital box when finishing an army.  Maybe the trick is to keep the figures from the armies I like and sell off the unloved ones when the prices on eBay go up.

LtoR: North star Prussian, Dane and Austrian

More wargames stress has been caused by someone observing that the North Star Prussians and Austrians don't match the new 1864 Danes for size.  I hate it when companies do this (yes, Warlord Games).  It seems that the Prussians are a bit bigger but the Austrians are ludicrously large.  I will have to see!  A very helpful chap posted this comparison shot today at the Schleswig wars group, however ,which offers some hope for the Prussians at least.

Now, linked to this is a scenery issue (and of course I always have scenery issues).  Is there anyone (is it even possible in this scale?) who makes bare, branched model deciduous trees?  Firs and spruce aren't right for Denmark in 1864 so what do I do about winter trees?  I can't recall ever seeing a leafless tree in a wargame.

I have based a few  figures for my first Frostgrave band but the North Star metals are quite small.   I haven't tried assembling a plastic figure yet.  Eric the Shed has been dissecting the rules but his analysis is just making me think that the game will be too complicated for me.  I really am not very good at playing games!  I mostly like painting figures and now I can't see to do that.  Perhaps it's time to take up model railways instead!