Monthly Archives: January 2018

Marlene decides it’s her life – and she’ll live it her way.

On the strength of the international success of The Blue Angel’s that we saw last week, Marlene was given a chance for a crack in Hollywood. Her first film there was Morocco, a 1930’s romantic drama that she shared with Gary Cooper and Adolphe Menjou – an individual who had served as a captain in the US Army ambulance service during the war.  Morocco was nominated for four Academy Awards and won the National Board of Review ‘Top Ten Films’ award while Marlene was nominated but did not win the Best Actress award. In 1992, Morocco was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

With Paramount’s Josef von Sternberg at the helm Marlene starred in six more films between 1930 and 1935.  Their last two films – ‘The Scarlet Empress’ in 1934 and ‘The Devil is a Woman’ in 1935 – were the most stylized of their works together but also the lowest grossing films.  Later in her life Marlene was to remark that she had been her most beautiful in ‘The Devil is a Woman’.

Sternberg had welcomed her with many gifts – including a green Rolls-Royce Phantom II that appeared in ‘Morocco’ as well as acting as her own transport!  Behind all of this Marlene was also living a life of her own – and was also beginning to select her own lovers – with von Sternberg probably being the first!

It is said that Marlene juggled her lovers with the skill of a practical joker. At dawn her ‘visitor’ would sneak out of whatever rented Hollywood mansion she was living in at the time and then go back and ring the front doorbell as a polite visitor and sit down with Marlene to a breakfast of Scrambled Eggs!

Another journey into space is planned

It seems an age ago now but, in the 1960s, the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in a “space race” that ultimately saw the Americans land the first humans on the moon in 1969.

The Soviet Union’s earlier robotic missions had attracted a lot of international attention with a number of ‘first past the winning post’ successes.  It was in 1957 that they had sent their first satellite into space and in 1959 their Luna 3 rocket had flown past the moon – and even took pictures of the moon’s far side, which had never been glimpsed by humans before.

Flying by was difficult enough, but landing was another thing entirely. There were, in fact, a small number of experts who wondered if the lunar surface could even support a landing – suggesting that any spacecraft that landed on the moon would sink down into a pile of dust, and have difficulty emerging again. Both countries had certainly crash-landed probes on to the surface before, in some cases deliberately, but landing successfully required precision with something to cushion the spacecraft from a hard fall.  That probe also had to have a way of transmitting the information reliably back to Earth!

They kept trying and, on Monday 31st January 1966, their Luna 9 spacecraft was successfully launched by a Molniya-M rocket from Site 31/6 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakh SSR.

As had been planned before – its destination was the surface of the moon!

Will it succeed?  We’ll have to wait a few days to find out that answer!

Robert Burns – the Scottish Poet

‘Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, first saw the light on this day, the 25th January 1759, in a small cottage by the wayside near the Bridge of Doon, two miles from Ayr.  A wonderful destiny was that of the peasant’s babe born that day – a life of toil, imprudence, poverty, closed in early death, but to be followed by an afflatus of popular admiration and sympathy such as never before nor since attended a literary name in any country.  The strains of Burns touch all hearts.  He has put words together, as scarcely any writer ever did before him.  His name has become a stenograph for a whole system of nation feeling and predilections.’

So wrote the original Chambers Book of Days in 1864.  What can we add to this?  Perhaps the descriptions in the 2004 publications will serve us:-

‘The birthday of Robert Burns (1759-96) on 25 January is celebrated by people of Scottish descent all over the world.  The central attraction of the Burns Night festivities is a traditional Burns Supper of haggis – a dish made of the heart, lungs and liver of a sheep or calf, chopped up with suet, onions and oatmeal – and traditionally boiled in a sheep’s stomach-bag.  It is then served with tatties and neeps – potatoes and mashed swede.

The meal begins with the ‘Selkirk Grace’ and a short rhyme of an unknown author:  Some hae meat and canna eat; And some wad eat that want it; But we hae meat and we can eat`, And sae the Lord be thank it.

The company then stand to ‘receive the haggis’ as it is ceremoniously piped into the room and set down in front of the chief guest, who the recites Burn’s poem of 1786 –    ‘To a Haggis’:-  Fair fa’ your honest, consie face, Great Chieftain o’ the Puddin-race!  Aboon them a’ ye tak your place, Painch, tripe, or thairm: Weel are ye wordy of a grace as lang’s my arm.

This is, of course, just a touch of the whole event but – unless you have the right credentials – I’m afraid that I cannot tell you anymore!


It was January 1966 when the future of the Monte Carlo rally was put in doubt.

It was in 1909 that, at the ‘request’ of Prince Albert of Monaco, the Automobile Club de Monaco started planning a car rally.  The participants would start at points all over Europe and converge on Monte Carlo and – in January 1911 – 23 cars set out from 11 different locations.  The rally comprised both driving and then somewhat arbitrary judging based on the elegance of the car, passenger comfort and the condition in which it arrived in the principality. There was an outcry of scandal when the results were published and Henri Rougier, who was among the nine who left Paris to cover their 1,020 kilometres (634 mile) route, was proclaimed the first winner.

Let’s now roll forward to January 1966 and the first four cars to cross the finishing line were Timo Makinen (Finland) driving a British Motor Corporation Mini-Cooper, followed by Roger Clark in a Ford Lotus Cortina and Rauno Aaltonen and Paddy Hopkirk, both also driving BMC Minis. However they were all ruled out of the prizes – with six other British cars – for alleged infringements of complex regulations about the way their headlights dipped.

The official winner was announced as Pauli Toivonen, a Finn who lived in Paris and drove a France made Citroen.

The Monte Carlo rally had ended in uproar over the disqualification of the British cars.  BMC and Ford lodged protests and the rally had been severely dented.  A British official said: “This will be the end of the Monte Carlo rally. Britain is certain to withdraw” and ‘winner’ Timo Makinen said: “None of us dreamed that the stewards would turn the results upside down – and for such a stupid reason.”

So what was it all about?

The British cars had been disqualified because they used non-dipping single filament quartz iodine bulbs in their headlamps, in place of the standard double filament dipping glass bulbs, which were fitted to the series production version of each model sold to the public.

According to new rules introduced at the end of 1965, any car entering the rally must come off a standard production line, with at least 5,000 cars being built to a similar specification. The British cars were equipped with standard headlamps – but the only way of dipping them was to switch to non-standard fog lamps.

Richard Shepherd, from the BMC, said: “There is nothing new about the lights at all. They have been used in our rallies, on rally cars, including the Monte for two years now and we’ve had no trouble at all in the past.”

It transpired that the confusion had arisen because the rally organisers had initially said the race would be run under the old rules – and only announced the switch after entries had been accepted!  The BMC said that it had spent £10,000 on preparing for the Monte Carlo rally – and is now considering withdrawing from next year’s race.

The British teams’ protest to the race organisers was rejected and boycotted the official farewell dinner held at the International Sporting Club. Prince Rainier of Monaco also showed his anger at the disqualifications by leaving the rally before attending the prize-giving which he had always done in previous years.

Just to make it worse when, on 13th October 1966, the supreme motor racing and rally tribunal upheld the disqualifications.  The Federation Internationale de l’Automobile in Paris said the iodine quartz headlights fitted on the British cars were not standard and the Citroen was declared the official winner.

Just to take it a step further – the Citroen had similar lamps fitted but was approved because the bulbs were fitted as standard on some of their models!

This year’s rally is from January 22nd to 28th  2018

A husband and a daughter – and the beginning of Fame

Last time we left Marlene, in 1922, being sacked four weeks after getting a job playing the violin in a pit orchestra for silent films at a Berlin cinema!

In 1923 Marlene met Rudolf Sieber, a film professional who helped her land a part in the German 1923 silent film Tragedy of Love where she took the role of the judge’s mistress. The couple married on 17th May 1923 and welcomed their only child, Maria Elisabeth Sieber, on 13th December 1924. Marlene and Rudolf only lived together for 5 years but remained a married couple until Rudolf’s death on 24th June 1976.

Marlene continued to work on stage throughout the 1920s with roles from Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw and in musicals and revues. By the late 1920 she was also playing sizable parts on screen and it was in 1929 that she landed a breakthrough role – the role of Lola Lola, a cabaret singer who caused the downfall of a hitherto respectable schoolmaster, in the UFA-Paramount co-production of ‘The Blue Angel’.  Josef von Sternberg directed the film and thereafter took credit for having “discovered” Marlene Dietrich!  For many the film was/is most noteworthy for having introduced Marlene’s signature song “Falling in Love Again”.

On the strength of the film’s international success, and with encouragement and promotion from Sternberg who was already established in Hollywood, Marlene moved to the USA under contract to Paramount Pictures where the studio set about marketing Marlene Dietrich as a German answer to the Swedish sensation, Greta Garbo!

PS: Not recorded above but performed by Marlene we can add: on-stage performance involvement in: Frank Wedekind’s ‘Pandora’s Box’; performances of Shakespeare’s ‘Taming of the Shrew’ and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Back to Methuselah’ and ‘Misalliance’.  She was also involved in musicals and reviews.

We’ll leave this as is now – and come back next week with some answers and some ‘challenges’.

A story of a Star begins

It was on the first day of this year – 1st January 2018 – that I wrote that it was on Friday 27th December 1901 in Schoneberg, a suburb of Berlin, that one Marie Magdalene Dietrich was born – the product of a privileged and conservative family – and a fact that she seemingly failed to acknowledge throughout her life.  One indication of this starts early as her name ‘changes’ – it will now be Marlene Dietrich.

Over the years, details of her personal life would appear and change with virtually every biography written about her; every studio press release and every word she spoke.  She was creating a legend, and the errors that abounded about her only served to deepen the mystery and to encourage and expand the enigma.  Film director Billy Wilder would describe Marlene as ‘A strange combination of the femme fatale, the German Hausfrau and Florence Nightingale’.

When all aspects are considered, she has been described as a ‘quintessentially the embodiment of erotic sophistication, cosmopolitan glamour and warm, maternal sexuality’.

So – what is my view on the Marlene Dietrich story?  That is a very good question that has taken some quite large thought and research over the past couple of weeks and will – I am sure – take a few more in the months to come so let’s start from the beginning …..

She was born on 27th December 1901in Berlin and was given the name Maria Magdalene Dietrich – the second daughter of police lieutenant Louis Erich Otto Dietrich and Wilhelmina Elisabeth Josephine Dietrich nee Felsing.  Louis died – some say in 1907, others say 1910 and others 1911 – and, in 1916, his fried Eduard von Losch married his widow Wilhelmina – only to die himself of war-time injuries that same year!

Reading between the lines Marlene had set about going her own ways before this anyway. She had begun school in 1907 and, in 1918, graduated from the Victoria-Luise-Schule.  During this time she had become interested in poetry and the theatre.  She also studied the violin but a wrist injury put a stop to her dream of becoming a concert violinist.  Non-the-less, in 1922 she did get a job playing the violin in a pit orchestra for silent films at a Berlin cinema – she was fired four weeks later!  But all was not lost and, by the end of 1922, the future began looking positive.

Watch out next week for the next part of Marlene’s life.

In England and fancy a day out this Saturday, 6th January 2018?

It is Haxey Hood day – the day when a part of the Isle of Axholme goes a bit crazy for the afternoon to mark one of England’s oldest traditions.  Where is it? It’s in North Lincolnshire – the only part of Lincolnshire west of the River Trent – and between the three towns of Doncaster, Scunthorpe and Gainsborough.

There in the Isle of Axholme goes one of England’s oldest traditions. Regulars from four pubs will be going head to head in a marathon battle to get the famed Hood into their favoured watering hole in the latest staging of the traditional contest which has been running for more than 700 years.

The official story is that in the 14th century, Lady de Mowbray, wife of Isle landowner, John De Mowbray, was out riding towards Westwoodside on the hill that separates it from Haxey. As she went over the hill her silk riding hood was blown away by the wind. Thirteen farm workers in the field rushed to help and chased the hood all over the field. It was finally caught by one of the farm workers, but being too shy to hand it back to the lady, he gave it to one of the others to hand back to her. She thanked the farm worker who had returned the hood and said that he had acted like a Lord, whereas the worker who had actually caught the hood was a Fool. So amused was she by this act of chivalry and the resulting chase, that she donated 13 acres of land on condition that the chase for the hood would be re-enacted each year.

If you can get there this year, or want plan for a visit next year, or want to arrange a similar event for your community, here’s 21 things you might like to know about the Haxey Hood!

  1. The contest is always held on the Twelfth Day of Christmas – January 6, unless the date falls on Sunday when it’s held on January 5.
  2. The rugby style scrum is officially called The Sway.
  3. The hood is actually a cylindrical piece of leather.
  4. Four pubs compete – The Loco, Duke William and the King’s Arms in Haxey and the Carpenters Arms in Westwoodside.
  5. The nobles mentioned in the story did exist. Records show that John De Mowbray (29 November 1310 – 4 October 1361), the 3rd Baron Mowbray of Axholme, would be the most likely candidate for the husband of the lady. {If you can’t get one of these I’m sure someone will improvise}
  6. The Hood is thought to date from about 1359. {I’m sure someone could make a hood to suit.}
  7. It has similarities to other village combats, such as Ashbourne’s Royal Shrovetide Football, the Shrove Tuesday Football Games in Sedgefield, Durham and Alnwick, Northumberland and the Hallaton Bottle Kicking contest in Leicestershire. {Gives you a valid excuse to do your own event.}
  8. There is speculation regarding the hood having originally been the head or penis of a sacrificial animal used in a fertility ritual is just that. {I guess that it could be replicated.}
  9. The songs sung ahead of the contest in the pubs are well-known folk songs including ‘John Barleycorn’, ‘Cannons (Drink England Dry)’ and ‘The Farmer’s Boy’.
  10. The red-coated overseer of proceedings is the Lord of The Hood. He is assisted by the Chief Boggin, ten other Boggins and the Fool.
  11. The Fool leads the procession between pubs and has the right to kiss any woman on the way.
  12. Once at the green in front of the Parish Church, the Fool makes his traditional speech of welcome at around 2.30pm standing on an old mounting block in front of the church known as the Mowbray Stone.
  13. During this speech a fire is lit with damp straw behind him. The smoke rises up and around him and this is known as ‘Smoking the Fool’.
  14. This is a watered-down version of the earlier custom in which a more substantial fire was lit with damp straw beneath a tree. The Fool was then suspended over the fire and swung back and forth until he was almost suffocated before being cut down and dropped into the fire, where he had to make his escape as best he could.
  15. At the end of the speech, the Fool finishes with the traditional words that the crowd chant along with him. They are: “hoose agen hoose, toon agen toon, if a man meets a man knock ‘im doon, but doan’t ‘ot ‘im,” which translates as: “house against house, town against town, if a man meets a man, knock him down but don’t hurt him.”
  16. The Lord also carries his wand of office. This is a staff made from twelve willow wands with one more upside down in the centre. These are bound thirteen times with willow twigs and a red ribbon at the top. The thirteen willow wands are supposed to represent the twelve apostles and the upside down one represents Judas.
  17. Proceedings start at 3pm with the throwing of twelve Sack Hoods. These are rolled hessian sacks, a prequel to the main game, mainly for children.
  18. The Hood, which cannot be thrown or run with, is moved slowly by ‘swaying’, that is pushing and pulling the Hood and people within the ‘Sway’ toward the direction of their pub.
  19. Nobody parks on the roads where the Sway may go, and for good reason. In 2002, a couple of drivers parked opposite the Duke William. The Sway headed right for them and pushed one of the cars 10 feet down the road and into the other.
  20. The game ends when the Hood arrives at one of the pubs and is touched by the landlord from his front step. The landlord then takes charge of the Hood for the year, and is supposed to give everyone a free drink. The winning pub pours beer over the Hood and then hangs it behind the bar (each pub has two hooks especially for this purpose).
  21. Last year’s winner was the King’s Arms, the first time the pub had won since 2014.

Let me know if you go and enjoy or if set about replicating it in your community,  I’m happily post the fact! 

Not in the UK and our history?  No problem – I’m sure that there are similar opportunities to put on a similar event.  If you do have a go I’m happy to post the fact!

Now would you say this?

As the New Year begins we look forward to 2018 but also look back to the year just gone.  Sometimes we also look back further to years and individuals gone by who made statements that we could and should fine helpful in this coming year.

One I found – with no recorded source – says: “Why do managers need Leadership?”  The answer given by this un-named individual is:  ‘…because, if you are just managing people, you are not doing yourself justice.  With a little insight into the way people thing, feel, and react, you could be rousing your people into breaking production levels, motivating them to do their best, encouraging their cooperation, infusing a sense of loyalty, inspiring them to meet lofty goals, and earning their respect and gratitude as well!    

Going back a bit to some words from Britain’s great leader through – and after – the Second World War, Sir Winston Churchill we have these words:  “The human story does not always unfold like a mathematical calculation on the principle that two and two make four.  Sometime in life, they make five or minus three; and sometimes the blackboard topples down to the middle of the sum and leaves the class in disorder and the pedagogue with a black eye.”   

To close, these are a few comments/statements that, perhaps, would have been better not being said:

The former French President Charles De Gaulle tells us that: “China is a big country, inhabited by many Chinese.”

In the US former vice-president Dan Quale told America that: “It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment.  It’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.”

And to end to this little list we have a US General – I’m not saying which one – telling us that: “Without censorship, things can get terribly confused in the public mind.”


A New Year begins

Hello all – I hope you have had a good Christmas and that 2018 will deliver everything you wish for – well, quite a lot of what you wish for, we mustn’t be too greedy!

Today is the first day of a New Year – a year that will, one hopes, deliver new work; new challenges – and that long standing beliefs will become truths. As far as my life is concerned many of these beliefs go back to happenings long ago.  Over the past few weeks I have been recalling the past and looking forward to the future.  Often these thoughts caused me to think – ‘was that a real happenings or am I just remembering things?‘

I have always lived and worked in England so – did I really go to Detroit and then on to Toronto in the 1970s at my boss’s request – and money?  Did a different company & boss take me to Las Vegas and San Francisco – and what about my 8 day in Japan for yet another company?  My life has had so many events and changes.

At this time of the year in Britain there are many things that I wish I had done but never have – and never will.  A friend of mine enjoyed one of these wishes and who knows – you may have the chance.   This is the story he told to me:

‘I walked along the High Street at Stonehaven in Scotland at Midnight on New Year Night to watch the Ancient Fireballs Ceremony. I had been told that, for over 150 years, at the stroke of midnight, the High Street would be lit up as sixty or so local fireball-swingers make their way through their town, swinging their fireballs above their heads.

It looked dangerous but the fireballs were, I was told, very safely packed in wire cages and attached to strong, five-foot-long wire ropes. The balls are made of combustible and oily waste matter, (rags, twigs, cones, bits of coal), soaked in paraffin and are held together in a case of wire mesh. The ‘balls’ are made as heavy as each ‘swinger’ feels they can handle – anything from 5 to 15 pounds. Some balls can be 3 feet in diameter and, in the past, have been recorded to burn for 2 hours but now they only last for 20 minutes maximum: – Health & Safety rules must be followed you know!

For the parade, the swingers, all of whom must reside in the Burgh, marched down the High Street to the accompaniment of Pipes and Drums from the Mercat Cross to the Police Station, swinging the flaming balls around their heads. After the ‘fireball swingers’ have proceeded through the town they go down to the harbour where the balls are then thrown into the sea.

I was told that the ceremony dates from a fishermen’s festival in the 19th century but that the torch processions go back to before Christianity arrived in Scotland and that there is a number of theories about the significance of the festival.  Some say that it coincides with the winter solstice and the swinging fireballs relate to the recall of the sun but others follow the pre-Christian theory in that the fireballs are to purify the world by consuming evil and warding off witches and evil spirits.

Telling stories is not always fictional

Five days ago, in December 1901 in a Berlin suburb, a girl named Marie was born

It was on Friday 27th December 1901 in Schoneberg, a suburb of Berlin, that one Marie Magdalene Dietrich was born – the product of a privileged and conservative family, and a fact that she seemingly failed to acknowledge throughout her life.

One indication of this starts early as her name ‘changes.

It is now Marlene Dietrich.

Over the years details of her personal life appear to change with every biography written about her; every studio press release and; every word she spoke.  Marlene was creating a legend, and the errors that abounded about her only served to deepen the mystery and to encourage and expand the enigma.  It has been said that far less is actually known for certain about Marlene than is known about her far more reclusive contemporary Greta Garbo, the Swedish-born American film actress during the 1920s and 1930s.

Film director Billy Wilder described Marlene as ‘A strange combination of the femme fatale, the German Hausfrau and Florence Nightingale’.

When all aspects are considered, she has been described as a ‘quintessentially the embodiment of erotic sophistication, cosmopolitan glamour and warm, maternal sexuality’.

So – what is my view on the Marlene Dietrich story?  That’s a very good question and – if all goes well – it may take us the whole of 2018 to discover it!