A Special Centenary

My Mum has appeared by proxy in several of my Tuesday Tunes posts, as I have referred to her musical tastes and how they differed from mine, yet occasionally coincided. Mum passed on 15th May 2008, at the age of 87, but if she had lived today would have been her 100th birthday. Although nearly thirteen years have gone by I think about her often, and my series of Tuesday posts on the music of the Sixties and Seventies brought back many memories for me. So I thought I’d do something to mark the date, with a few snippets about Mum and some of the other events of that year apart from her birth, to show what life was like back then.

This is Mum, probably in her late 30s (which places it around 1960ish):

Also in the photo are my Dad – still with us, and going strong at 93 – my cousin Sheila (top left), me, and my little sister, Heather. The photo was taken at a family gathering, though I’ve cropped a lot of others out. Those were the days when the gents still wore a suit to family events that weren’t weddings, christenings or funerals!

1921 was three years after the end of WW1, and a lot of the political events of the year were to do with the rebuilding from that, along with the settlement of reparations from Germany: this took place on 5th May, and required the payment of 132 billion gold marks, in annual instalments of 2.5 billion. That sounds a lot, even now! A couple of months later, on 2nd July, US President Warren Harding signed a Congressional order declaring an end to hostilities with Germany, Austria and Hungary: I’ve no idea why it took nearly three years, but, as that was the start of their habit of being late to join world wars I guess they were just keeping in character.

A look at the significant dates of 1921 reveals many which were related to wars and conflicts. There were a number involving the Soviet Union and neighbouring states, and also China. Here in the UK we had been fighting the Irish Republican Army (IRA) until a truce was signed on 9th July, paving the way for the official creation of the Irish Free State in December. Students of history will know that the ‘Irish problem’ wasn’t resolved by this, with the renewal of hostilities in Northern Ireland in the 1960s, which were only finally put to rest by the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. It is to be hoped that the aftermath of Brexit doesn’t screw this agreement. My point in mentioning these conflicts is that there is nothing new, and we seem to be doomed to continue making the same mistakes rather than learning from them. One of the scariest 1921 dates for me, which is almost lost in the mix, is 4th November: after a speech by Adolf Hitler in the Hofbräuhaus (the Bavarian State Brewery) in Munich, members of the Sturmabteilung (“brownshirts”) physically assaulted his opposition. Given the number of occasions that journalists and political opponents have been physically assaulted at Trump rallies, and the events of 6 January at the Capitol, there are some frightening similarities here.

There were numerous other acts of political violence and assassination that year, including in Spain, Portugal and Persia (as it was then) but I don’t want to dwell on the less pleasant events of 1921. They were different times in many ways, from those that we are accustomed to in our days of widespread social media and access to global news on an instant basis. It was five years before John Logie Baird gave what is now regarded as the first public demonstration of what became ‘television,’ and a full thirty years before the medium became widely available, albeit often in grainy monochrome images. So, apart from creating large families, what did the good people of 1921 do for entertainment?  These were the early days of commercial movie theatres, when silent monochrome films were the height of sophistication. In this year, the Charlie Chaplin film The Kid was released. Here is a brief sample:

That is charming, but it isn’t exactly what would encourage us to swarm to the cinema these days if we were allowed to, is it? But if that has whetted your appetite, the whole movie can be found on YouTube here – it is just over an hour long,  a little short by modern day standards!

Another famous movie star of that era also released a new one in 1921 – Rudolph Valentino, in The Sheik. Again, the full movie is on YouTube here but this brief clip will give you a feel for it:

At 1 hr 26 mins that is a little longer, almost up to the length of shorter movies today. I love that clip, and I imagine there was much fun to be had in the captioning room with lines that had to be deleted, especially in response to Agnes Ayres’ “why have you brought me here?” question. Tragically, Valentino died just five years later of peritonitis, at the age of 31, causing mass hysteria amongst his fans: the ‘Latin Lover’ was no more, but his early death sealed his status as an icon of the cinema, in much the same way that later happened for James Dean.

As I mentioned, mass tv broadcasting was still a long way off, but radio was in its infancy in 1921. The US had a plethora of locally based broadcasters, with no control, whilst the UK looked on sniffily and declared that it didn’t want to recreate the ‘chaos’ of radio in the US. As a result, it wasn’t until 1922 that the BBC (British Broadcasting Company) was established, becoming the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1927 to mark its independence from either government or commercial management. This little clip gives some of the background to that US chaos:

There is mention in that of the radio broadcasting of baseball. Radio and, later, tv have been instrumental in bringing us huge volumes of sports coverage. In these pandemic times, when mass gatherings aren’t allowed, the television has been vital for those of us wanting our ‘fix.’ But, back in 1921, if you wanted to follow a game you had to be there. It was on 7th May that the lowest ever paying crowd for a game in the English Football League was assembled: all 13 of them, for the fixture between Stockport County and Leicester City, in what was then Division Two. The match was played at Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United, as Stockport’s ground was officially closed after some crowd trouble – yes, really, it happened back then too! The official attendance of 13 was the number of spectators who paid for entrance after Man Utd’s earlier game against Derby County had finished, but it is believed that around 2,000 stayed on after the first match to get their money’s worth. I’m not sure that they did, though, as Stockport vs Leicester was a 0-0 draw. But as far as I can tell there were no reports of crowd disturbances.

I’ve always thought of fashion as being one of the most vacuous of industries, but it seems like it was going strong back then too:

They took it seriously: no dresses made of meat or bras like traffic cones for them. I’m not sure those clothes would be too well received by most people today, though, given the use of animal fur as decoration. I wonder if it was a status symbol to boast that your clothes were trimmed with bits of monkeys?

As you may have noticed through my posts, I am interested in folk music and the traditions that go with it. This one is still going today, albeit after the occasional hiatus:

If you have come across that before it may well be by the better known name of the Floral Dance. The Helston event is the best known, though there are others. As you can imagine, it now bears little resemblance to earlier versions like this one. It takes place on 8th May each year, and is a celebration of the passing of winter and the arrival of spring. The folk song Hal-An-Tow is associated with the day – it mangles together bits of celebration from English history.

All reviews of bygone years make reference to those who were born and died. Births in 1921, as well as my Mum, included several from the entertainment world, among them Humphrey Lyttleton, Diana Barrymore, Peter Sallis, Dirk Bogarde, Peter Ustinov, Lana Turner, Jane Russell, and quite  a few sportspeople, including Stan Mortensen, Sugar Ray Robinson and Jack Kramer. The big sporting event of the year has to be this, though:

I accept that there *might* be an element of bias in sharing that one.

Among those who departed in 1921 were Bat Masterson, the US gunfighter, army scout, professional gambler, lawman and journalist; Engelbert Humperdinck, the German composer (not the Release Me guy – though Mum loved that one); the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns; and the microbiologist Julius Richard Petri, who invented a dish.

That’s just about it for 1921, but as this is her day it wouldn’t be right to finish this piece without including a couple of songs that my Mum liked. This is one that she bought, saving me the need to do so:

And this is her absolute favourite song by her absolute favourite singer:

That says it all, really. Happy celestial 100th, Mum.

Birthday Celebrations

I ran my most recent piece last Wednesday, to mark my birthday. In it,  I referenced a previous post which described the grand day out my two lovely daughters gave me to celebrate my 60th birthday. I thought it might be good to share again an edited version of that piece, as it was a lovely day and I doubt many of you will have seen it before. I’ve also updated it to this year.

I first posted the piece on my birthday in 2016. On that day I awoke – or more precisely, was awoken by,  a thunderstorm and torrential rain – to the thought that I was then 63. I’d never been that old before! But we are told that ‘age is just a number’ so who’s counting? Just as well, really, as I’ve now added another four to the score! Seven years ago I retired from a lifetime of work, on my 60th birthday, and to celebrate that milestone my two wonderful daughters arranged a special day out for me in London. I had commuted into the capital to work for more than 35 years, and this marked the beginning of my re-acquaintance with London as a place to enjoy, rather than somewhere I was happy to escape from on a daily basis. During a comments ‘chat’ with a fellow blogger a few weeks prior to the original I realised that I had never written about that day out. I would have laid odds that I had, but when I checked I found several photographs in my Facebook and Instagram feeds, but no blog posts. I decided that I would write something about it, and as it is one of my favourite posts I thought I’d give it another airing.

Due to their work commitments the girls arranged the day out for the weekend, Saturday 14th to be precise. This had the bonus of there being lighter usage of public transport than on a weekday, which made it easier to get into London and get around while we were there. They knew that I had a longstanding desire to take a ride – or ‘flight’, as it is officially known – on the London Eye, so to be honest I wasn’t surprised to be taken to the Southbank Centre, adjacent to the Eye. And yes, that was where my grand day out was beginning, with a flight in one of these:


img_2696And in case you haven’t seen it before, that pod is part of a much bigger structure (see left). I don’t have a head for heights, but didn’t at any time have a problem. The Eye moves very slowly, and the only real sense of movement that you have is the changing scenery around you, as the ground disappears further into the distance!

London has centuries of history and many famous landmarks, most of which are visible from the Eye. Here as an example is the Shard, one of the more modern buildings:


And this is Elizabeth Tower, previously known as St Stephen’s Tower, until it was renamed in 2012 to mark QE2’s Diamond Jubilee:img_2691

Before anyone corrects me, Big Ben is the name by which the clock goes, not the tower itself. A common misconception, which the pedant in me (I am, after all, a Virgo) takes delight in correcting! The ‘guide book’ to your flight is an iPad, suitably encased in a stand to prevent theft, which is programmed to show you where all the landmarks are as the flight progresses. I thought that was a nice touch. After the flight we also took in the exhibition attached to the Eye, which by total coincidence led us into the gift shop…

Having had a wonderful time, we then went into a nearby bar for a light lunch, before the next part of my treat. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting any more but shortly afterwards we were climbing onto one of these:


Spot the operative word: ‘amphibious.’ Believe it or not, this little bus worked both on land and water. Apparently they were originally designed and built in the Second World War for troop movements, and the actual bus that we travelled in was 70 years old. After a trip around some of the landmarks by road, with a knowledgeable guide covering quite a lot of London’s history, we were driven to the side of the headquarters of MI6 – appropriate, I thought, for an air  of mystery – and down a ramp. Moments later, we were in the Thames:

We've fallen in the water!

We’ve fallen in the water!

We then went for a ‘boat trip’ along part of the Thames, which was quite an experience. To prove it, here’s a shot of the Parliament buildings – the Palace of Westminster – as seen from the river. As it was a weekend nothing was happening inside, but I’m reliably informed that on a working day you can see the hot air rising from here:

We all bowed in reverence, of course :-)

We all bowed in reverence, of course 🙂

Until that day I’d not been aware of this service, and it really was an unusual experience, which I felt very lucky to have enjoyed. Doubly so a few weeks later when one of the vehicles caught fire while on the river, causing a suspension of the rides until thorough safety checks had been undertaken on the entire fleet! There but for the Grace of God…

After all of that excitement, we ended the day in a lovely restaurant tucked out of the way in Camden, where to my further surprise I was treated after our meal to a cake, and a candlelit rendition of Happy Birthday To You from staff and customers. Truly, a lovely day and a perfect celebration I’ll always remember, made special for me by these two beautiful young women:



Seven years on from that milestone we are, as you may have noticed, in strange times. Celebrations like this, or some of the others the girls have arranged for me, were definitely out this year, even if my health would have allowed it. Their work commitments – and busy lives in general – also militate against it, but we still found time for a partial get together. Yesterday my elder daughter came for a socially distanced visit, along with a little person who wasn’t around when I retired. Presents were given, and we had a lovely time. This is my favourite present:

And this was my favourite birthday card:


Both presented by our family’s little star:

You can see from that how we managed it: guests in the garden area outside my flat, while I took a chair out onto the balcony. Strange times indeed, but at least we still have ways to keep in touch – until the next lockdown, that is. Thinking back to seven years ago and to yesterday, I realise what is important in our lives. Without the love of our family, what do we have? I know I’m much luckier than some, and I’m grateful for it every day, even when we’re apart. Every time I drink from that mug I will treasure my thoughts of my granddaughter and my daughters – that’s a nice warm feeling to have, isn’t it?