Friday, 26 December 2014

The Greatest bookshop in the world

I did my training in London and after spending five years there as a penniless student, it’s good to go back every so often and visit old haunts with some money in my purse.

One of my trips is always to Foyles, the greatest book shop in the world. I shall arm wrestle to the ground anybody who says otherwise.  It stands at the top of Charing Cross Road and when I first went there with my huge list of medical text books I had to buy, we students were sent down the old rickety rackety wooden stairs to the dark basement where copies of Gray's Anatomy were stacked high into the ceiling, Gangon's Text Book of Medical Physiology (unreadable!) filled the far wall and every variation of clinical methods manuals and anatomical atlases were piled higgledy piddledy at my feet   I remember tip toeing my way down the narrow maze like path between the books, hoping that  I  would find my way out.
Maybe hoping I would not.
The smell was  marvellous.
It has changed a lot now.

It had been an independent bookseller since 1903, and is always just called 'Foyles (founded by brothers William and Gilbert Foyle).  They failed their entrance exam to join the  civil service but being enterprising chappies they sold off their redundant text books – and so a legend was born.
By 1906 they opened the shop at 135 Charing Cross Road and they stayed there until 2014 when they moved to the premises I visited last week. As you will have noticed, it moved along the same street.
Charing Cross Road is famous for book and  bookshops, as seen in the film 84 Charing Cross Road. Denmark Street is off it – famous for  musical instrument shops and sheet music. Charing Cross Road changes its name a few times as it goes up to Euston Station. At the Tottenham Court Road part it was always  full of specialist hi fi shops in the good old days of turntables, speakers, amps, tweeters, woofers, ....fade the list to sepia..... but now it has fallen foul to the advancement of large chain coffee shops ... spit anger teeth gnashing....

In 1930 Christina Foyle, daughter of the founder William, started her famous literary lunches that have included  Margaret Thatcher, Prince Philip, General de Gaulle, General Sikorski and the Emperor Haile Selassie.
In 1945 the control of the business passed to Christina who didn’t seem to share her dad’s golden touch. She fired staff on a whim and refused any modern intervention- such as tills.  I have memories of wandering about being confused about how to pay for my books which weighed a ton as I carried them for A to Z. The payment system was that customers had to queue to collect an invoice for the book, queue to pay the  invoice  at another counter, then  queue again  to collect the books which hopefully were the ones paid for. We Brits are very found of queueing so nobody really cared.
According to come sources, the books on the shelf were arranged via  publisher. Not topic. N author. Not popularity. it was probably a minor miracle that anybody found the book  they went in for, but imagine the delights to be found on the way.
I would happily wandering round for hours, ( free entertainment) reading a bit of this and that while on my way down the wooden staircase.  "Imagine Kafka had gone into the book trade,” was  a famous quote about the shop at the time.  It was famed for these anachronistic practices  and it's rather a shame that the new shop is bright and shiny, well organised and sensible. The staff are still rather eccentric. Nothing  surprises them. As I was being served, the old gentleman at the till was asked if they stocked 'Waiting for Godot.' In Finnish.
'Over at the window, third shelf down.' He didn't blink.Didn't miss a beat.
I think the new shop opened  on 7th June at no.107, just a few doors down from the old shop. The sticky out sign is just the same so you can't miss it. I’m not sure if it still holds the records for its 30 miles of shelf space but it should.  It still has the greatest range of  a books under one roof of any book shop in the UK. It was voted  national book seller of the year in 2013.
The new place has succumbed to the onsite coffee shop trend. But it’s a Foyles and not branded, it does soup and hot rolls. It does tea in a pot with a real leaf dangler. The cafĂ© is high on the fifth floor and if the seating is full you can wander up to the sixth and eat your lunch next to the grand piano. The lift has opening doors at both ends as the floors of the shop are off set. It causes panic in those  occupants that are facing the wrong door as the lift announces 'third floor' and they are staring at a brick wall, presuming the lift had got stuck and they will stay there for eternity. slowly rotting away with a good book to read.

I meandered through crime looking for a few folk I know, I spotted this. And then this

 and this…

And then I spotted this...

 A book by the Doc Holliday of Scottish writing. You have to witness the coat.  Chris Dolan a multi talented type who I try really hard to dislike but I can't because he's a nice bloke. He’s a screen play writer,  song writer,  tv writer and general all round smart arse who has just produced a crime book.
 He does redeem himself from all this cleverness by admitting that crime writers are a great laugh and much more fun to hang about with than these intellectual, beardy types.

 Being a smart chappie he produced this little montage and he’s singing the song himself. He is a Glaswegian so I invite you to revel in his dulcet tones. He smokes about twenty Woodbine a day and can still do a pretty shifty ten k.
I will get him to guest blog in the future. I did ask him for a quote as to why he has joined the ranks of 'The Happy Writers' and here's what he said.

He says it took him a long time to try his hand at a genre he loves – Crime.
"Despite what people think, Crime is harder than ‘literary; fiction, or political plays. It’s a deep craft… It speaks about the world and morals and life as it’s lived, but it has to be accurately shaped, profoundly considered. The plot, the characters, the created world. I don’t know if I’ve quite got there yet, but I love writing my heroine Maddy, and with luck and hard work the next novel might be better’.

( That's a bit like Picasso saying he'll be a better painter when he learns to stay within the lines.  And yes, his Fiscal heroine Maddy does wear peerie heels.)

The montage is .... well see for yourself. It's all about his book. 
Once watched, I defy you not to start thinking what a montage about your last book would be like....


Friday, 5 December 2014

The Bellagio


Every body should go to Las Vegas once in a lifetime.
Just to affirm that the world is insane. Except 'me.'


Unless you think Vegas is normal.
Then you need help.


I went there ten years ago with a friend who wore a kilt. We walked up and down the strip. It took about three hours as everyone wanted to take his photo. They kept calling him a paper.
(A piper we later worked out)


So we went again, for two days, staying at the Bellagio for a laugh. We did not gamble one single cent - the silliness of it all is enough. It is marvellous in its ridiculousness. With the odd bit of sheer class thrown in.  


The Bellagio is owned by MGM Resorts International and was built on the site of the demolished Dunes hotel and casino. It was inspired by the town of the same name  on the shore of Lake Como- hence the fountain/lake in front of it. And it is huge.
                                         The corridor disappeared into infinity.
                                                     And beyond.

Think of the biggest hotel you've ever got lost in.
Then double it.

The main bit has 3,015 rooms, on 36 floors. The  Spa Tower has 33 floors with 935 rooms.
The ceiling in the hall has over 2,000 hand-blown glass flowers, covers covering 2,000 sq ft . Must be a right awkward one to dust.
Some of the 8000 staff drive around in little cars is it is  very long way to walk.
The rooms are beautiful but everything, (I mean everything, we had to get  torque wrench to the duvet) is nailed down. There are no tea or coffee making facilities as they want you to go out and walk the  40 miles of corridors for coffee ( not cheap). Once you get there you buy a bottle of water and a sat nav to get  back to your room.


The opening ceremony in 1998 cost 88 million dollars. Then it was the  most expensive hotel ever built. It had a 100  million dollar upgrade in 2011. So what was the initial build?
1.8 billion, give or take a penny.

               The view from the back of the Bellagio. It was an extra $50 per night for a lake view.
                                   It was dark so you couldn't see it anyway. So why bother.

The fountains of Bellagio are a vast, choreographed water feature with performances set to light and music. "Time To Say Goodbye", "Proud to be an American", "Your Song", "Viva Las Vegas", "Luck Be a Lady", and "My Heart Will Go On".The latter was fabulous - until the music started.

We like the bit when you see and hear all the nozzles wind up to the surface and set themselves- a bit like underwater Tiller Girls having a scratch and fidget before the line up.

Then - a smoke machine type thing started to blow a white cloud across the water-  a solid, crystal haar ( like they get in Aberdeen except this was pretty and no danger to shipping ).  Then the  jets of water started to do a wibbly wobbly watery wave thing. It was heart achingly beautiful.
Then Celine started in her Foghorn Leghorn voice and spoiled it all.
But by the big bit where she shouts loud enough to break up the iceberg by sound waves, the super duper nozzles start to give it malkie and the noise is like a thousand firecrackers. It totally drowns out Celine.
Thank goodness.

But to get to the fountains low down at the front, we had to walk the long road from our room at the back and high up.

                             past the crystal obelisk,  parked under the great glass dome.

a bit of tree....

that was actually a scary face, 
at the back of this was a young lady playing classical harp

Indeed, you can just see her here..
I think she was playing the Flower Duet.

All acorns and autumn flowers- for thanksgiving I presume.
The best bit was watching the gardeners redoing it all first thing in the morning, all dirty nails and hard work, scuttling around trying to be invisible.

these two wee guys moved back and forth
up to no good

Smile face and  flower horsey

This wee guy was moving so fast after his nuts the camera couldn't keep up.
                                  Ok, so the other half had to drag me away from that as 'This time we say                                                   Goodbye' was next up for the fountain treatment..

The fountains are set in a 8-acre man made lake which was originally used to  water  the golf course that stood on the site originally. The hotel is very keen to point of that the fountains use less water than irrigating the golf course ever did. But why would they as I presume the water that shoots out the fountain nozzles just goes back into the lake.
I read there was 1,200 nozzles, more than 4,500 lights and they cost  $40 million to build.

There are four types of nozzles:

Oarsmen – jets with a full range of spherical motion (The waves do the tinkly bit at the start of the Titanic you that went down a storm)
Shooters – shoot water upwards ( the start of each chorus)
Super Shooters – send a water blast as high as 240 ft (73 m) in the air (Celine's shouty bits) .
Extreme Shooters – send a water blast as high as 460 ft (140 m) (added in 2005) (Celine's big finish)

Sing as you go through the next few photos.
It's be nothing like the real thing but you'll get a response from the cat.

Caro Ramsay

Friday, 28 November 2014

The Queen Mary.

As the advert says ,'I should have gone to Iceland'.
But instead I went to San Diego to look at the zoo.
And it took us 50 hours to get home.
The super duper Dreamliner aircraft with its high spec non jet lag cabin pressure, its electric windows ( darkening not opening) and state of the art in flight entertainment system is a fab plane. So new, it sat on the runway in its wrapper.
It is the most fuel efficient plane ever manufactured.
Because it doesn't actually fly.
It sits on the ground and looks pretty.

The plane we eventually got in (three airports later) had a special  turbulence seeking feature.
The luggage is making its way to Scotland by independent means.
Like I said, should have gone to Iceland.
So here is a blog from a free wheeling jet lagged mind, 

I'm from the part of Glasgow right on the Clyde (well all of Glasgow is on the the Clyde but you get my drift)
My Grandad , as a very young man, riveted bits of the Queen Mary together. My mum, years later worked for the computer that made her valves, all the aunts and uncles worked in shipbuilding somewhere. My dad designed some of the cranes that Browns, Kvaerner, Clyde Ship Builders ordered. Most of them are still in operation.
In China.
So this was  my favourite picture of the QM. Still on the Clydeside. If that ship could think, she's ruminating on her retirement, wishing for the good weather of Long Beach! 
See the wee guy in the foreground, umbrella, running to get out the rain.

Fred Astaire was a famous passenger.

Liberace was another

Yip, I had a shot in a Captain Kirk kind of way.
                                                             Full steam ahead Scotty,

Oh No captain, the engines canny take it

Then for some reason there was a picture of David Niven doing a Highland fling.

During the war, she was painted grey, and became known as the 'Grey Ghost'. The exhibition at her current Loch Beach site naturally emphasises the heroism and the gallantry of  sailings where  16500 men crammed onto a boat built to hold 2000 passengers and 1000 crew. I've been told since that there were many fatalities from overcrowding, some from of crush injury  due to so many being in such a confined space.  That might be anecdotal, the actual reports still seem to be classified.. 

This report of a soldier on board talks about being more afraid of the Scottish weather than the enemy submarines.  The QM was rigged with a degaussing coil to prevent magnetic mines. She zigged zagged her way to make her difficult to track and her sheer speed made her difficult to pursue.

One night, off the coast of Scotland, she was hit by a rogue wave
That was December 1942, She had 16,082 American soldiers on board. which still stands as a record for most passengers transported on one vessel.
She had sailed 700 miles of the New York to GB trip when the wave hit.. It was 28 metres high, and went onto her broad side. The ship rolled 52 degrees. Three more and she would have been over.
A writer chappie called Paul Gallico  read about it many years later and wrote a book inspired by it.
The Poseidon Adventure

This does bring tears to the eye. After all that horror of war, the QM sailing into New York in the darkness. Grey painted, you can imagine her almost invisible in the night air - then they see the Statue of Liberty  lights flashing 'Welcome home' in Morse code.

But this was my favourite story. A young boy, a third class passenger, got into a bit of trouble in the swimming pool and was rescued by - Johnny Weissmuller!

Second class cabin

First class

Third class

Enjoying the sun in her retirement.
When these boats were launched the bow wave caused havoc down the Clyde into Renfrew and beyond. It  flooded everywhere. Kids ( of all ages - my grandparents included ) used to climb on high things on the day. They  leaned out of windows of upstairs neighbours in the tenements and enjoyed every minute of the chaos. Much of the old cine film of these launches is on U tube and worth viewing.
I've read that 18 drag chains acted as the breaks in the QM  and they had to widen the river to give her more of a diagonal to cross on at her launch - otherwise they feared she would ram the riverside further down.

All ship shape captain.

The radio room with radio sets from different eras.

All that wood was covered in leather to protect it while she was 'grey'

Many more crew died than passengers on board. Their cause of death is well documented and listed.
The ghosts that are aboard now don't correlate with any incidents as they are listed.

I found this plaque naming the engineering works where my mum worked the comptometer machine. Weird!

Clark Cable.

First class dining.

Some facts -  'born'  3 April 1929,  Build: John Brown and Company, Clydebank, Scotland
Her hull number was 534. Launched  26 September 1934. Maiden voyage: 27 May 1936
She captured the Blue Riband in August 1936, lost it in 1937, recaptured it in 1938 and retained it until 1952 when the SS United States came along. She was chugging along at about 35 miles per hour.

It's a sign of the times that she was the first ocean liner with a Jewish Prayer room,  It was a policy to show there was no religious issue - any body of any faith could travel.

Of course, in any conflict, people have to make difficult decisions. On 2 October 1942, the QM  sliced through one of her escort ships, HMS Curacoa off the Irish coast. 239 lives were lost. But the QM was carrying thousands of Americans of the 29th Infantry Division to join the Allied forces in Europe and was under strict orders not to stop for any reason as the risk of U-boat attack was too high, The QM had been damaged in the collision but managed to sail on.

At the time it was claimed  she sailed on, regardless but later it was claimed that the Cpt sent one escort boat back to pick up survivors from the stricken Curacoa. Even later, a published memoir reports more than one escort boat went back, saving over 90 of the Curacoa crew.
 Queen Mary was retired after her 1,000th crossing of the North Atlantic.
Her last captain had a geat name; Captain John Treasure Jones. I wonder if he was known as Davie Jones.
My favourite fact, the Whistle on the QM can be heard ten miles away!