Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday's Column - Vincent Price

A Work  by Arnold Meskes
Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that the late actor Vincent Price was an art collector, but I had no idea how far he had taken it.  In 1951 at age 40, he was asked to give a speech  to the East Los Angeles Community College, and afterwards he realized that there were no art museums in this unincorporated part of the city.  He therefore began to donate pieces from his own collection and by 1957 a building was erected to display the works.

His interest in art was very diverse, and there is a collection of early Colombian art, the cataloguing and display of which director Karen Rapp is overseeing.

The Museum has over 9,000 artifacts, although not all of these are on show or belonged to the actor.

Vincent Price died in 1993 at the age of 83 - he was an avid smoker!

I took my grandson, Evan along with me and he enjoyed looking at some of the work of students which is on show.

Considering the lack of other places to view art in this area, a visit to the Vincent Prince Art Museum is well worth the effort.

You can read the entire column at

Music Track - Tom Waits

I played one of Tom Waits songs last year.  I nearly repeated it, but here's another one which you may know.
One critic described his voice as sounding like it had been soaked in a vat of bourbon, put in a smokehouse for a month, then taken outside and run over by a car.  See what you think.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


On an assignment to the San Diego Safari Park last week, we came face to face with a cheetah - literally!  The last exhibit we saw was this magnificent creature running at full speed.  Some facts first: there are three cheetahs at the park and each one has a live-in companion which is a large dog.  The cheetah we met was called Shylee and his companion was an Anatolian Sheepdog called Yeti.

Here, handler Missy, is walking the two of them - Yeti goes everywhere with Shylee, and in fact before the "run," Yeti has to go first to let Shylee know it's safe, then wait at the end to encourage him on.

Shylee weighs 125 pounds and as he exits his cage he hits 40 m.p.h. within four strides.

He chases a fluffy toy down 150 yards of fine green turf, as the toy is pulled on a rope attached to a Ford starter motor.  The toy disappears into the little box you can see here, while Shylee collects his reward - meat of course!

Halfway down the track, Shylee hit his racing stride and went past at
70 m.p.h.  You could hear his paws drumming on the turf.
Afterwards he was brought into a compound to meet people and pose for pictures.

Yeti, the dog stayed close to calm the big cat, and Missy the handler kept him occupied with treats and also a meat flavored popsicle to cool him down.

The Park don't guarantee more than one run, as that's the decision of the handler, but on the day we were there, Shylee seemed up for a repeat and Missy cooled him down in the shade for ten minutes before walking him back for another 70 m.p.h. dash.

In the wild, a cheetah can only charge for up to about 20 seconds, which is normally enough to catch its prey.  The tail is extremely long as at that speed he needs a rudder to help change direction when the prey dodges the charge.  Also unlike other cats, the claws, which are substantial, don't retract.

It was quite a visit to the park and we enjoyed it all.  However, the 6.4 seconds it took Shylee to reach the end of his run were by far the most memorable moments.  I could certainly see that again.

If you'd like to see cheetahs run click on this link:

Thursday, July 28, 2011


A few years back I decided to try and really make a dent in the time I took to bicycle round the lake.  Normally I would take about an hour and ten minutes to do the 15+ miles, but this time I really trained up for it, and on one Sunday I took off with the stopwatch running.  I got back in 55 minutes and have always thought that was pretty good.

On Saturday in the Tour De France, there was a time trial which was won by a German, Tony Martin.  Now to put this all in perspective; if Tony Martin and I set off from my house, we would both get back at about the same time.  The only difference is that he would have gone round TWICE to my going round ONCE!

Excuse me, but I'm off to find some humble pie to have for lunch!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Two Wheels Part III

I rode the FXRS for eight years. and it was a wonderful machine.  I was told that it was the most popular motorcycle among Harley mechanics.  But I yearned for a bigger one. 

Hence the purple Softail that was built here in Big Bear.  I helped build it myself, but I was never 100% sure of it so the time came for a change.
I kept this rather pretty Yamaha 650 up in Big Bear for when I came up for weekends and vacations.  Currently it's under wraps for when I can't lift the Harley.

Here, SWMBO is sitting pretty on the current ride - a 2003 Harley Davidson Heritage Softail.  It's the ultimate machine for me.
As for the future, well it is a day to day thing.  I have friends who have given up riding, but I still feel quite confident, although long rides with my important and irreplaceable passenger on the back may be a thing of the past.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Au Revoir France

The Tour de France is over.  In the next few days I shall miss the excitment of the daily long races and chases throughout the beautiful country of France.  Hat's off to the champion, Cadel Evans of Australia.  He kept his powder dry all the way through the 2,000 miles race until he climbed up slowly in the ratings, and took the yellow jersey on the penultimate day by winning the time trial.  Congratulations too to Mark Cavendish the "Manx Missile" sprinter.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Quagga Mussels

Big Bear Lake is trying hard to fight a Soviet invasion.  Correctly it is an invasion from the River Dnieper in Ukraine.  In 1989 in Lake Erie some strange zebra striped mussels were discovered.  They were traced to water that had been used as ballast in oceon going ships and then the water was dischaged into the Great Lakes.  The mussels are prolific breeders and one female can produce a million eggs a year.  They filter the water as the eat and then produce a mucous which kills aquatic fauna and flora.
In order to fight this pest every vessel no matter how small has to be inspected before it's launched into the lake.  As far as my own boat is concerned it has never seen any water other than Big Bear Lake, nonetheless before it's launched it is checked for the dreaded quagga.  Moules marinier anyone?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sunday's Column

The High Altar of San Gabriel Mission Church
This week we visited a very old place - San Gabriel Mission.  One of the few things I miss about leaving Europe is the lack of really old places.  We always took them so much for granted over there.  But this place, although not as old as some of the churches we are used to goes back to California's origins.  It was founded in 1771, and is now part of the Claretian Order.  It was number four in a line of 21 missions up the state.

St. Anthony Claret
You can read the entire column at


This is a very sad post this week.
Yesterday, Amy Winehouse was found dead apparently of a drug overdose.  She joins a number of 27 year olds who were unable to balance the weight of fame and fortune with their god given musical talent.  These are Kurt Cobain; Jimi Hendrix; Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin, all dead at 27.  RIP, Amy!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fawnskin Lodge

On a ride around the lake the other day I stopped to take a picture of a rather sad sight.  It's the Fawnskin Lodge Hotel.  Fawnskin is a little satellite village across the lake from the city of Big Bear.  It's extremely small and has about 10 businesses, four or five of which are no longer open.  Even the small park, which was generously donated by the singer Shirley Jones (Carousel) and her husband, is closed.  They live high up above the village.
I've been visiting the area since 1983, and the Fawnskin Lodge has never been open.  I'm not sure when it was closed, and the closure was due to some new building regulation which declared that the structure was too heavy for its foundations.  So it has sat empty for at least 28 years and there is nothing anyone can do.  I guess it will just fall down one of these days, which will add another bit of decrepitude to this otherwise pretty village.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


One of the biggest attractions up here is fishing.  Now I have to say that not only am I a poor fisherman, but I don't like it very much.  I think my previous career caused me to spend long hours on my own in hotels and aircraft, and solitude was not something I particularly sought out.  I'm not sure if I'm a bad fisherman because I have no patience, or perhaps I have no patience because I'm a bad fisherman.  But it bores me dreadfully.
Nonetheless, I fully accept the draw it has, and I enjoy seeing people with all their tackle and the sweet joy of apprehension of the day ahead.
Platform on the north shore of Big Bear Lake

Recently the authorities have installed a number of fishing platforms around the lake to help organize the sport for those who don't have boats.

It costs about $35 a year for a fishing licence and a quarter of that for a daily one.  Woe betide anyone caught fishing without the necessary forms as the fines are extremely high.

There is perhaps one exception to my dislike of fishing and that was when I used to go down to Cornwall - the furthest point Southwest in England.  There would be about six or seven of us, who would drive down and go out with a professional captain for about eight hours, fishing above the many wrecks that the dangerous seas there had claimed.  We use to pull up Ling, Wrasse, Bream, Pollock and the infamous Conger Eels which could be quite big.  They had a lot of teeth and they were not happy to be taken from their watery homes.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Two Wheels Part II

My 1993 FXRS - SP

Continuing the two wheel journey, my next step is what happened with a motorcycle.  These machines were generally considered working men's transportation in the 50's and 60's.  They were dangerous and also with such a rainy climate they were not a lot of fun.  By 1992, I had never ridden one and only been on the back three times.  My son, Michael, bought a Harley Davidson Sportster for riding in London and when he came out to me he wanted to visit the local dealer.  During our visit he suggested that this was something that I might enjoy doing.  Naturally I pooh-poohed it, but the idea must have sunk in as I began going there myself and browsing around.  I didn't tell She Who Must Be Obeyed (S.W.M.B.O.) as I assumed she would not approve.  I was correct!  Eventually the secret came out however and we had strong words about it; she didn't like the idea at all.
I continued with my dream and I managed to get her along to the dealer to see which one I looked best on.  She said an FXRS model in black was the one and so it was.
I joined a California Highway Patrol motorcycle riding course and spend a couple of weekends sitting in a classroom and then riding around a parking lot on a Honda 150 c.c. machine.
Nothing prepared me for the shock of actually riding a 1350 c.c. machine off the lot on October 17, 1992 and particularly as I had to ride over the busiest crossroads in LA - Washington and Lincoln, where they were shooting a film that day!
This is the actual picture of me riding off the Bartels HD lot on the morning of October 17th, 1992.  Brand new jacket, boots and gloves - everything squeaked!  The young lady on the left is Molly from whom I bought the machine.
I managed to get the bike home without dropping it, and then it was just a case of practising, which I did; a lot!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dog Act

My friend Chana sent me this rather fun clip from Britain's Got Talent, the TV show with the ubiquitous Simon Cowell.
For your interest the two over-excited young men in the wings and at the very start have Geordie accents - they come from the top north east corner of England, just below Hadrian's Wall.  A land of warm beer and ugly women!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Beach Walker

My friend, Tony, in England sent me this very interesting video of a man in Holland called Theo Jansen.  He builds the most amazing "creatures" out of polyester tubing and lets them go on the beaches of Holland.  As an accompanying note with the link said: "what sort of mind has this fellow got?"

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunday's Column - Post Office Museum

The smallest museum I have visited on my travels is the Post Office Museum in Redlands.  The collection is housed in what was once the postmaster's office in the main Redlands Post Office.  Although small it has a lot to see and read about if you have an interest in this arcane subject.

Redland's Spanish/Moorish 1930's Post Office
I was fascinated by the tribute and story of the blind mailman in Connecticut.  How did he manage to do it?

There is also mention of the famed Pony Express, which had lasted for just a short 18 months when it closed it business in October 1861.

It had been the brainchild of a couple of businessmen who wanted to shorten the time for a letter to go from one side of this huge country to the other.  In the days without aircraft and trains, the quickest route in the mid-nineteenth century was to sail the letter down to Louisiana then transfer to another boat going down to Panama, where it would be taken over land across the isthmus, finally to another boat to complete it's journey up the west coast of the continent.  At it's peak the pony express used 400 horses, with 184 riders, to tear across the land at speeds approaching 25 mph.

Eventually it was technology that caused the express to fold its tent.  The overland railroad was completed and the horse riders were out of a job in two days.  But the image of brave young men tearing across the plains with their satchels remains as part of American folklore

Today it is technology that is no doubt bringing the demise of the post office itself, as when was the last time you wrote a letter; on paper; with ink and then put a stamp on it?  Times have certainly changed.

MUSIC TRACK - Christina Aguilera

Christina Aguilera is nicknamed "The Voice," which is quite a tribute, as the only other singer so noted was Sinatra.  This perhaps is a belated tribute to fathers as it's about her relationship with hers.  Well, it is in the video.  I'm sorry about the ad for 30 seconds at the beginning, but you know where the mute button is, I'm sure.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Heavy Equipment

When I was a little lad, I hated going past pneumatic drills being used to dig up the road.  Even today, like my father as I remember, I don't like really loud noises.  Basically however the repair of roads hasn't changed a great deal, except a lot more heavy equipment is used.
Today a company is laying in new gas lines up the road and by seven thirty this morning, there was enough equipment being readied to frighten anyone.  Strangely there still seem to be several men with shovels digging away in holes even though they have this thing called a Ditch Witch, which is for just that operation.  Back in the day it used to be a couple of Irishmen, and a compressor with a pneumatic drill.  They still have the drill and the compressor, but no Irishmen.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Statue of Liberty

When I was a small boy there was a picture in a book I had of the Statue of Liberty.  What fascinated me was that in a close up you could see people in the torch Liberty held overhead.  I couldn't understand quite how that was possible.

I visited New York many times over the years and on the one occasion I had the time to visit the statue, it was closed for maintenance; so I've never made the trip let alone gone up into the torch.
The other day I saw printed in the paper the poem that is written on the base - a little old fashioned but moving sentiments nonetheless.  It was written by Emma Lazarus in 1883:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame
With conquering limbs astride from land to land
Here at our sea-washed gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles.  From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome, her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" Cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Two Wheels Part I

My friend, Paul, in England asked me the other day to do a piece on my Harley and why I ride one.  Well, it's a little complicated, and as he also asked me about my bicycle I thought I would post a three-part piece on the entire two-wheel thing.
I was about 7 when I learned to ride a bike.  In post-war-ravaged Britain however, new bikes were not bought for boys outside of the really rich ones.  So like everyone else I had a heavy black job with rod brakes and a dodgy chain; but I loved it.  By the time I hit 13, my father was able to pony up the necessary funds to buy me a new one.  It was gunmetal blue, had a three-speed Sturmey Archer gear system and cable brakes.  It also had touring handlebars, as for some reason my father didn't like drop-down racing bars.
Due to the rigors of marriage and childrearing and chasing a career, the bike left my mind and also my increasingly cluttered garage.  However after arriving here in California, I had to give up running, and along with arthroscopic surgery I acquired a new bike - it was to be the first of four.
Eventually I decided to buy a really good one and did a survey of all the bike shops in LA.  I ended up with the above, a Klein.  It was a slightly larger model, hence the lowered price, and I have put about 25,000 miles on it since I bought it in 1991.  I try to ride about three or four times a week and that means throughout the winter; as long as the pavement is dry, and I have all the right clothes to avoid hypothermia.  I would thoroughly recommend it as a form of exercise, both mental and physical.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


My friend Gene in Northern California sent me some wonderful shots of the Keukenhof in Holland.  I used to commute to Holland for about four years and loved the country, although not the climate!  Nearly everybody in Holland speaks English but I did learn to speak one important phrase in Dutch: "No nutmuskart!"  They had a habit of sprinkling nutmeg on vegetables, which I disliked intensely.  This 3 minute clip shows the wonderful flowers that are on display at the Keukenhof, which means kitchen garden, at this time of the year.  The music is Tchaikovsky's Dance of the Flowers, of course.

Monday, July 11, 2011


I heard a talk radio show host talking the other day about happiness. He considers it to be of supreme importance.  He's even written a book about it it - Happiness is a Serious Business.  He believes it to be our duty to be happy, and he opines that happy people don't cause problems for the rest of  the world, which is an interesting theory.  I'm sure Hitler, Stalin, and Mao were not happy, so maybe he's right.
He had a psychologist on, who added that in his opinion it is not the big things that make us happy, but the small things.  I'd never thought about it before, but I think he's right.
We all strive so hard for big houses, cars, jobs and wealth, but really it's the small things like a smile, or a tune or a view that gives us true happiness.  I was riding the Harley the other day after a rain storm, I caught the unexpected smell of lavender in the air; it was delicious.  A truly happy moment.
What do you think?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Music Track - Green Onions

Something from 1962 - Green Onions by Booker T and the MG's.  Good stuff still, I think.

Sunday's Column - Bassetts

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting up with a group who rescues Bassett Hounds.  Now these are quite funny chaps, and a particular favorite of She Who Must Be Obeyed (S.W.M.B.O.)  In fact when SWMBO agreed to marry me she said she was very fond of them and had owned two.  I think they're OK but they're too slobbery for me.
Now this is Socrates and you have to admit he's very dignified.  I took the two poodles along with me as I didn't want to be persuaded that I needed another dog, and it was as well that I did as SWMBO, who came with me on the visit, did take a strong likeing to one dog there.  A lucky escape.
You can read the entire column at

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Le Tour De France

These fellows almost certainly aren't in Le Tour, but they're truly racing.
Once again The Tour de France is underway.  Once again I shall be compelled to watch the 198 riders from all over the world compete in what has to be the most arduous athletic race in the world.  This year they started in the Brittany region which is predominantly flat.  But soon they will be struggling up the Cap d' Huez with screaming fans closing in on them from both sides of the roadway.
Lance Armstrong will not be there this year, but there are some other non-Europeans - George Hinkape, Levi Leipheimer, and Tyler Farrar from this side of the Atlantic.  There are some very competent Brits too with David Millar, Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas.  Also the explosive sprinting from the Manxman, Mark Cavendish, and also the Australian Cadel Evans.  Alberto Contador from Spain has the cloud of drug-taking hanging over him and even if he should win he won't be allowed to take the crown until his hearing in August.  So far on Day Four he is 1 minute 42 seconds back from the leader which is a huge amount to make up.  But it's a very long race and they have three weeks and 2000 miles to do it in.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Here on Earth!

I'm indebted to my friend Tony in England for this little ditty.  Cut and paste this into your browser.

The credits at the end say it was done by Eric Idle, one of the Monty Python fellows.
It puts a lot into perspective.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


I'm currently reading a book about Mexico.  It's an amusing account of a couple who decided to have a house built down in the Baja a few miles south of Ensenada.  It takes place in the mid-seventies when the pace of life was a little slower, but things Mexican still had a sense of madness about them.
The principal problem with buying a house in Mexico and particularly one that is reasonable close to the sea, is that as an outsider you can't ever own the land.  You can only lease it for an agreed number of years.  Nonetheless, it was the dream of many "gringos" to have their own little casa south of the border.
But today, those dreams are fast disappearing.  Mexico is becoming a failed state.  Some say the drug violence and reversion to bandito life is the fault of the US for buying all the drugs shipped here.  But frankly there are some serious faults with the way the country is governed.  It is corrupt from top to bottom.
Some time back we talked to a man who's friend owned a car body repair shop in the Southland.  He began his business in Mexico, but before very long he was approached by one of the establishment explaining that for him to continue he had to hand over ownership of the business, and take a percentage that would no longer be under his control.  He decided there and then to escape north and began again up here, where he has become very successful.
Perhaps as we are beginning to bring our troops home we should rest them up a little and then make an assault on Mexico as if we let it continue its current downward path we'll have a war on the border - some say it's even begun already.  Such a shame!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


I was due for my monthly visit to the barber this week.  As I sat in the chair I pondered that things had change little since my first memories of the experience.  Back then my father would take me to Charles, located a short walk away.  It was always a Saturday morning as that was when boys could be done for half price.
It was an unpleasant experience but didn't last too long.  "Short back and sides," was the general order, and if one of Mr. Charles' assistants received any other instructions I'm sure he wouldn't have known what to do.
Basically, the barber would run a pair of clippers up the back and then the sides and there would be some snipping with scissors to the top, then a squirt from a rubber bottle of talcum powder and you were done.  The barber would flip the cloth away from your chest and accept the sixpence from my father.  It was a shilling for him.  I doubt the entire experience took longer than three minutes.
One procedure that has completely disappeared is the use of a lighted spill.  This was to singe the hair after it was cut.  Normally it was only the better off who could afford this elaborate operation.
One change today of which my father would certainly not approve is that my decreasing hair is cut by a very attractive young lady by the name of Kelly.  I'm sure he would find that most unacceptable.  But I like her.

Monday, July 4, 2011

July 4th

I have been asked many times by Americans what the British do on July 4th.  I have not been able to come up with a good reply to that one.  However, perhaps the Brits could celebrate some independence days.  After all there was independence from the Romans; the marauding hoards of various Goths who chanced upon the shores during the next few hundred years; the Vikings (Danes); Saxons, and then unfortunately we gave up the fight when the Normans took over in 1066.  That was the last time.  But we could have a celebration every quarter at least.  I wonder how that would play!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sunday's Column - Skydiving

This Sunday's column was about the sport of skydiving.  I went down to Perris which is quite a center for it and although the manager there told me it was a quiet day, there was a lot going on.
They have three Otter aircraft and there seems to be one going up or coming down all the time.  Here you can see skydivers loading up.

I did five jumps myself about 15 years ago out in California City near Edwards airforce base.  The type of skydiving has changed since then as the first four jumps I did was with a static line.  This is where you are hooked to a line attached to the aircraft and the rip cord is pulled as you exit the plane.

It's a scary business waiting in the aricraft and trying not to look down.  Today the only way you can go is either being linked to an instructor who jumps with you, or you can take an accelerated course that takes about six hours and then two instructors accompany you down, but not linked to you.  Maybe I'll do it again one day.  You can read the entire column at

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Music Track - Farewell

Now this is a story of old "Papa" Haydn,  His Symphony No. 45 in F-sharp minor, is known as the "Farewell" Symphony and was composed in 1772.

It was written for Haydn's patron, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, while he, Haydn and the court orchestra were at the Prince's summer palace in Eszterhaza. The stay there had been longer than expected, and most of the musicians had been forced to leave their wives back at home in Eisenstadt, so in the last movement of the symphony, Haydn subtly hinted to his patron that perhaps he might like to allow the musicians to return home.  You will see his hint beginning at 2:51. Esterházy seems to have understood the message as the court returned to Eisenstadt the day following the performance.

It lasts just over eight minutes.