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Sir Bruce Forsyth: A Friend From The Telly

Sir Bruce Forsyth aged 89 sadly passed away on August 18th and for many the news felt like they had lost a dear friend. So much so that my husband and I spent the evening chatting away about him and remembering how ever present he had been in our lives. That was the kind of hold Sir Bruce had on his audience, little wonder considering his career, which began aged 14 as the Boy Bruce the Mighty Atom.

Sir Bruce had a natural affinity with his audience rather like the late Sir Terry Wogan. Although Wogan had a great TV persona, it was all based on his irrepressible “gift of the gab” but knowing when to listen. Forsyth on the other hand could turn a delivery into an act be it a joke, song, musical recital or dance. Seemingly a dab hand at the piano, a first rate tap dancer, with impeccable timing, a good voice and amazing facial expressions, Sir Bruce Forsyth was the ultimate performer. There was far more to him than the game show host tag which he probably became best known for.

In my childhood home soap operas and game/quiz shows were the main sources of TV entertainment, if my Mammy got her way which usually happened. So the Forsyth face and his catchphrases were known to me from a very young age through The Generation Game (good game, didn’t he do well!); Play Your Cards Right (I’m the leader of the pack, Dolly dealers, Brucie bonus) and The Price Is Right. I also religiously watched Come Dancing much to my mother’s bewilderment, and desperately craved to have music and dance lessons, which I never got. But I didn’t hanker after ballroom dancing but tap dancing? I had no exposure to anything in the dance world except through what I saw on TV, and I had wondered over the years why tap had been so appealing. Last night I realised who had influenced that notion Sir Bruce Forsyth, who I recalled being enthralled by as he did a tap routine with Sammy Davis Jnr. (the embodiment of Mr Bojangles to me).

Despite never cracking America during his career, it seemed many top names from US showbiz wanted to work with Forsyth when they came to Britain. They sought him out knowing that he was an equal they could work alongside, a credible voice to showcase their latest work, chat over old times and do improvised (though probably well-rehearsed) routines.

Although Sir Bruce began work at 14 he didn’t really make a name for himself until 1958, when aged 30, he was offered the compere role on Sunday Night at the London Palladium.  It made him a star, but his relentless work ethic undoubtedly took a toll on his private life, and two failed marriages followed over the years. In later life with perhaps a healthier work/life balance he found happiness with his adored wife Wilnelia Merced whom he married in 1983.

In closing Sir Bruce Forsyth was a classic old school vaudeville entertainer whose like will undoubtedly not be seen again. He made everything seem so easy to do, but worked excessively hard practicing his craft to make it look effortless. Jokes aimed at game show contestants were never cruel, and his affable manner made him liked and respected by his entertainment peers and audiences alike. Thanks for the memories Sir Bruce an entertainment legend “it was nice to see you, to see you nice”.

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CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2016 DIARY: DAY 1

Huge crowds gathered for the first day of the Cheltenham Festival where the course Going was officially Good to Soft (soft in places).

Wonderful Cheltenham. Image credit @Channel4Racing
       Wonderful Cheltenham. Image credit @Channel4Racing

1.30 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade1 Class 1): Distance 2m ½ f: 8 Fences: 14R

The front three runners virtually throughout were Charbel, Min and Supasundae with Bellshill holding an early fourth place. Altior was around seventh in the field with six hurdles remaining. Charbel and Min took a two length lead ahead of the field on the back straight. Meanwhile Beveur D’Air had only five horses bunched behind it four from home but began to travel well through the field. On the turn going into the home straight Altior showed a turn of foot to pass Min as Charbel began to fade. Going into the final flight Altior was accelerating past Min as Supasundae faded from any contention. Altior thundered toward the finishing post showing no signs of deceleration to win by seven lengths a 4-1 2F winner. 15-8 favourite Min was second 1 ½ lengths ahead of Beveur D’Air at 10-1.

Altior. Image credit Nicky Henderson
                        Altior. Image credit Nicky Henderson

Altior gave trainer Nicky Hendersen his first Novice Hurdle success since 1992 and Nicky became the first English winning trainer of the race since Donald McCain with Cinders and Ashes in 2012.

2.10 Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase (Novices Grade 1): Distance 2m: 13 Fences: 7R

Going into the third flight Sizing John, Douvan and Fox Norton held the front three spots in the field. With seven to jump Douvan had the edge over Sizing John with Vaniteux in third place just nudging ahead of Fox Norton. The Game Changer and Baltimore Rock followed the front four with Aso as the back marker with three jumps remaining. From here Vaniteux tried to accelerate on the outside of the front runners but fell on landing at the second last flight along with Baltimore Rock. Douvan remained untroubled by the fallers and won easily as the 1-4 race favourite by seven lengths ahead of 9-1 Sizing John in second 3 ¾ lengths in front of 33-1 Fox Norton in third place.

Douvan & RubyWalsh. Image credit @Channel4Racing
         Douvan & RubyWalsh. Image credit @Channel4Racing

2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3): Distance 3m 1f: 20 Fences: 23R NR Indian Castle

Winner: Un Temps Pour Tout 11-1 seven lengths ahead of Second: Holywell at 8-1 2F odds. Nine lengths behind in Third: The Young Master 14-1 just a length in front of Fourth: Morning Assembly at 10-1.

Un Temps Pour Tout & Tom Scudamore. Image credit @Channel4Racing
Un Temps Pour Tout & Tom Scudamore. Image credit      @Channel4Racing

All the jockeys in this race were subsequently given a one day ban for anticipating the start.

3.30 Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1): Distance 2m ½ f: 8 Fences: 12R NR Old Guard

From the start Annie Power looked incredibly poised out front and never really came under any threat from the rest of the field. With three flights to go and about five furlongs out My Tent Or Yours was second followed by The New One and Nichols Canyon running in the slipstream of Annie Power. Going into the final hurdle Annie Power had a clear three length advantage over My Tent Or Yours and Nichols Canyon both battling for the minor placings. At the finish Annie Power the 5-2 race favourite took victory by 4 ½ lengths over 10-1 My Tent Or Yours just a head in front of Nichols Canyon at 15-2. Annie Power became only the fourth mare to win this race and the first since the Flakey Dove success of 1994. Annie Power had tasted defeat in her previous two attempts in this race having suffered a fall at the final flight last year. Great credit must also go to the second placed My Tent Or Yours running again after 702 days off the track.

Annie Power flanked by trainer Wullie Mullins, groom & owner Rich Ricci. Image credit @Channel4Racing
Annie Power flanked by trainer Willie Mullins, groom & owner Rich Ricci. Image credit @Channel4Racing

4.10 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Registered as the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle) (Grade 1): Distance 2m 4f: 10 Fences: 19R NR Flementime

Desert Queen, Aurore D’Estruval and Melbourne Lady took the initiative at the race start with Vroum Vroum Mag travelling in the middle of the field. With seven to go Stephanie Frances was the back marker and around five lengths separated the front two runners. Desert Queen kept a small advantage at the back straight whilst Vroum Vroum Mag stayed about twelve lengths off the pace. However the horse was jumping well despite an anxious moment when Vroum Vroum Mag was sandwiched between Pass the Time and Aurore D’Estruval, and jockey Ruby Walsh looked unsteady in the saddle. Between the second last and final flight The Governess was allowed to let rip by the jockey and showed a quickening pace whilst Vroum Vroum Mag comfortably eased along in contention. Unfortunately The Governess took a heavy fall at the final jump which proved to be fatal. Vroum Vroum Mag at 4-6 F odds won by 2 ¾ lengths ahead of Rock On The Moor at 66-1. Just a half length behind 40-1 Legacy Gold took third with a length advantage over 80-1 Pass The Time.

Vroum Vroum Mag eases over the final flight. Image credit @Channel4Racing
Vroum Vroum Mag eases over the final flight. Image credit @Channel4Racing

4.50: 146th Year Of The National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup (Listed Amateur Riders Novices’ Chase): Distance 4m: Fences unknown: 20R

Winner: Minella Rocco 8-1 by 1 ¼ lengths ahead of Second: Native River 7-1 2F. Six lengths behind in Third: Measureofmydreams 9-1 and five lengths further back Fourth: Southfield Royale 5-1F.

5.30 Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase (Listed): Distance 2m 4f 78y: Fences unknown: 20R

Winner: Ballyalton 12-1 with a half length win over Second: Bouvreuil 14-1. Four and a half lengths behind Third: Double Shuffle 8-1 J2F with a 2 ½ length advantage over Fourth: Bridgets Pet 33-1

Off The Beaten Track 3

May 2014 was a good month for quirky bits of news coming my way about cultural, language, sports and women’s issues.

Four Minute Mile

The 60th anniversary of Roger Bannister’s sub four minute mile occurred on the 6th of May. I was listening to a BBC Radio 4 program called “More or Less” on Sunday the 8th and was intrigued to hear a report that suggested a four minute mile MAY have been run in 1770!!! Professor of Sports Science Peter Radford (former Olympic Bronze medallist runner) is fascinated by pre-20th century athletic endeavours, and has correlated old “documented evidence” of athletic prowess over the years. Using statistical analysis to weed out the more ridiculous claims Peter determined that some of the written evidence may carry some credence, and that an average time of four minutes to four minutes 13 seconds may have been possible times for the mile distance run in past centuries.

So we come to costermonger James Parrott (seller of fruit/vegetables and fish) who was challenged in 1770 to run a mile in less than four and a half minutes. The wager was 15 Guineas a substantial amount to James of probably around 3-4 months wages. The measured mile went from the Charterhouse Wall in Goswell Street in London to the gates of Shoreditch Church. Both the contender James and his challenger would have had independent umpires with watches, which would be locked in a box once started. The box would have been driven by horse and carriage to ensure arriving at the finishing line before the contender. When James Parrott crossed the line on a cool May 9th 1770 the time attributed to his efforts was four minutes exactly. He had won his bet, and a report in the Sporting Magazine was made (although some years after the event).

Peter Radford (like myself) is not so ready to dismiss this athletic endeavour as “fantasy”, as watches/ time keeping and other means of measurement had advanced enough by 1770 to be reasonably reliable. And with a lot of money being at stake the event would have been run scrupulously. But there does seem a tendency to rubbish claims from say before the modern day Olympics began in 1896. At the end of the report I was incredibly disappointed to hear Sir Roger Bannister say that Parrott’s achievement was “inconceivable and not at all credible”. Sir Roger’s sub four minute mile fame wasn’t in anyway being taken away from him, and I think he could have been a little more charitable. After all, if you think about it, today’s builders/architects still look back in wonder at the pyramids of Ancient Egypt. So who knows what else man could have achieved before the “modern age” of athletics?

Divergent Language

The divergence of the Korean language since war split the country was reported on Al Jazeera. A short report highlighted how the political divide had created not only social and economic differences but language ones too. With North Korea being somewhat suspicious of the outside modern world, their attitude to foreign words and western influences are markedly different to that of South Korea. As a result an academic study found that about 52% of words in general were not the same but this variation increased to 66% when used in professional terms. It’s clear that this “schism” in the Korean language is a direct cause of the people having two opposing government ideologies influencing their lives. It’s no surprise to find that the modern day westernised South Korea has words and terms probably not used in the more traditional and isolated North Korea. What I find fascinating though is just how much the language has changed in such a relatively short space of time. Variations in English are to be expected as it’s spoken in many parts of the world involving many people/countries/cultures. But Korean is a much rarer language spoken by relatively few. South Korea has been exposed to influences from around the world whilst the North remains much the same as it was before the war. So I wonder if the North Koreans speak a “purer” form of the language or if they themselves have altered it unwittingly as a direct result of the political clout of one family?

West Bank Bus Driver

I was delighted to see a BBC news report (this weekend) on Najaa Asia who has become the first woman bus driver in the town of Tulkarm in the West Bank. Najaa decided to turn her passion for driving into a career and earned her licence to carry bus passengers in April. Since then she has taken to the roads as the ONLY woman bus driver and is flying the flag for women and equality in an intensely male-dominated region. Well done!!!!

Japanese Sumo Wrestling

It seems that the traditional sport/art form of Sumo in Japan may face an inevitable decline. At the weekend an Al Jazeera report highlighted how the Japanese no longer particularly aspire to become involved in the sport. Many foreigners now form the core stables of participants especially those from Mongolia and Russia. The regime demanded by Sumo is also very taxing, particularly eating high calorie foods to maintain weight. This in itself could pose major health risks to the individual and combined with an almost “monastic” type lifestyle of training, is decidedly unappealing to Japanese men. With attendances declining and revenue falling, this manly Japanese tradition could one day be confined to the history books.

Off The Beaten Track 2

Liverpool this week was filled with the excitement of horse-racing fans enjoying the Aintree Festival (3rd-5th April), culminating with the Grand National race. You can read my blogs on Aintree at http://www.letstalksport.org.uk/aintree-festival-diary in the horse racing section. The city however hosted another sporting event the week before, that was little reported other than on specialist websites.

BRITISH GYMNASTICS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS

These were held in the Liverpool Echo Arena and had the cream of British gymnasts taking part, including Louis Smith (Olympic Silver Pommel Horse) who has recently returned to competitive training. The senior overall championship titles were hard fought competitions, and the spread of medal winners makes interesting reading. The British gymnasts, who competed in Liverpool, will be dispersed into smaller nation status gymnasts during the Commonwealth Games. Of course they will be up against the might of Australia and Canada, so will the partition of Team GB in Glasgow 2014 be a hindrance or a help in winning medals? Only time will tell, but the overall championship senior winners were as follows:

ALL ROUND MEN’S CHAMPION: MAX WHITLOCK, Silver: Dan Purvis, Bronze: Dan Keatings.

ALL ROUND WOMEN’S CHAMPION: REBECCA TUNNEY, Silver: Becky Downie, Bronze: Claudia Fragapane

Champions Rebecca & Max. Image credit British Gymnastics website
Champions Rebecca & Max. Image credit British Gymnastics website

WORLD FIGURE SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS

Around the same time as the gymnastics in Liverpool, the final competition in the figure-skating calendar took place in Saitama Japan. The final awards for brilliance on the ice were as follows:

MEN’S                                                                     WOMEN’S
Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) 282.59                     Mao Asada (JPN) 216.69
Tatsuki Machida (JPN) 282.26                Julia Lipnitskaia (RUS) 207.50
Javier Fernandez (SPA) 275.93               Carolina Kostner (ITA) 203.83

PAIR’S                                                                     ICE DANCE
Savchenko & Szolkowy (GER)                  Cappellini & Lanotte (ITA) 224.88                                                                    175.43
Stolbova & Klimov (RUS) 215.92           Weaver & Poje (CAN) 175.41
Duhamel & Radford (CAN)                        Pechalat & Bourzat (FRA) 210.84                                                                    175.37

FOOTBALL LEAGUE GIRLS CUP

This is the eighth season that this competition has run for girls under 13 playing six-aside football. Two teams representing AFC Bournemouth and Shrewsbury Town contested the final at Wembley on Mother’s Day (March 30th), prior to the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final between Peterborough and Chesterfield (3-1).

Broadstone Middle School qualified to represent Bournemouth whilst Thomas Telford School won the right to represent Shrewsbury Town. Each school girl team competed in several rounds to reach the hallowed turf of Wembley. On the big day itself, the final was closely fought with neither team giving much away, during the 14 minutes of play. But a winning goal from Bournemouth captain Molly Pike in the second half, gave victory to Broadstone Middle School.

Bournemouth Captain Receives Cup. Image credit Bournemouth Echo
Bournemouth Captain Receives Cup. Image credit Bournemouth Echo

The Kid’s Cup an under-11 football competition will see teams compete in finals prior to the League Play-offs weekend.

STREET CHILD WORLD CUP

A short news item on Aljazeera brought to my attention the Street Child World Cup being held in Brazil. I was not aware of this organisation until now, but its aims are to give children who have lived on the streets a chance to know something better through sport. These kids have known terrible depravation, and yet the sheer joy for life that they exude is humbling. Their motto is “I Am Somebody” to remind those more fortunate that every child matters and should have the same chances of opportunity, regardless of wealth or status.

The Street Child World Cup Finals took place at the Fluminense Football Club on April 6th. The play-off for third place went to Team Pakistan (Boys) and Team El Salvador (Girls). I managed to watch some superb footage of both the finals posted on the Facebook site of the organisation (www.facebook.com/streetchildworldcup). It is on You Tube described as FINALS- Street Child World Cup, and well worth a look.

Boys Street Champions 2014: Burundi 1 TANZANIA 3 (h-t 0-2).

Girls Street Champions 2014: BRAZIL 1 Philippines 0 (h-t 1-0)

All these children have been amazing ambassadors for change and children’s rights, and they have done themselves and their countries proud. WELL DONE.

The Information Is Out There

The Street Kids World Cup made the news on Aljazeera which I happened to catch, and the World Figure Skating Championships were televised on British Eurosport. But the other events I happened to discover were taking place quite by accident. I wasn’t aware of any of these events getting much TV coverage or exposure at all. As I don’t have subscription TV I couldn’t watch the ice-skating, and I don’t have a permanent connection to the internet at home either. So my web browsing is mainly done on my mobile phone, although with intermittent signals for that too, my search for information can be thwarted at times. So I’m just pleased to have finally got the facts I wanted for this edition of Off The Beaten Track.

And Finally

Sometimes you come across the most unexpected things whilst going about your everyday tasks. Whilst in the local Potteries Shopping Arcade I spotted these beautifully sculpted elephants in the Elephants Parade tour, created to highlight the plight of Asian elephants in the wild. More information on this can be found at http://www.intuelephantparade.co.uk, in collaboration with The Asian Elephant Foundation.org.

Unforgettable Journey on Elephant Parade
Unforgettable Journey on Elephant Parade
Love Story, Flower Impression & Spirit on Elephant Parade
Love Story, Flower Impression & Spirit on Elephant Parade
The Butterfly Effect on Elephant Parade
The Butterfly Effect on Elephant Parade

PHILOMENA: A Mother’s Love Quest

Radio 2’s Good Morning Sunday program broadcast on Mother’s Day, contained an amazing interview by Clare Balding. She was speaking to Philomena Lee, an 80 year old Irish lady whose story of loss was turned into an award winning film, simply called “Philomena”. I watched that movie a few months ago in the cinema, and remember how incensed I was at this woman’s treatment at the hands of Irish nuns. Her “crime” was that of committing a “mortal sin” by having a child out of wedlock in 1950’s Ireland.

Philomena lost her son Anthony at the age of three, when she was forced by the nuns to put her son out for adoption. Philomena never forgot the little boy, and returned many times to the convent where she was confined with Anthony, seeking information about his whereabouts. Unbeknownst to Philomena, Anthony now named Michael Hess also returned to the place of his birth, seeking his mother. Neither of them gained the reconciliation they desperately wanted, because the nuns deliberately withheld information from them.

Irish Law to this day does not allow Irish adoptees to access their records, and so Michael (Anthony) was prevented from knowing anything about his early years. He was reliant on the nuns’ compassion over-ruling the law but that never happened, causing undoubted heartache for Michael (Anthony) and his birth mother. His dying wish was to be buried in his birth-place, just in case his natural mother was looking for him. Mercifully the nuns’ did grant Michael (Anthony) this courtesy but never told Philomena about it. It was by chance she discovered her long-lost son’s final resting place.

In the interview Philomena spoke movingly about her early life and the ordeal that scarred her forever. Her daughter Jane Libberton spoke of The Philomena Project, which has been set up to try and get Irish Law changed to allow adoptees access to their personal records. This project is Philomena’s love quest in memory of her son.

Michael (Anthony) was brought up in the USA, worked in Republican politics and was gay. In the film I got the distinct impression he was dying of an AIDS related condition. So I was surprised though relieved that his final wish was granted. I could easily imagine what the nun’s might have thought about Michael’s lifestyle choice!!

The film scene that got me so angry happened toward the end of the movie. An elderly nun when confronted with the “complicity of silence” allegation uttered the Catholic mantra I was expecting. The Sister’s face full of conviction condemned Philomena and her kind as “fallen women full of sin” who deserved to be eternally condemned, more or less. I was absolutely disgusted but not surprised. And I was reminded of the Sister’s complete belief that marriage and children are intertwined, the day before Philomena’s radio interview broadcast.

On Saturday March 29th 2014 Great Britain allowed gay marriage to become lawful. During news broadcasts reporting this event, I heard the idea that marriage is to allow people to have children without “any help from others”, and the notion that love didn’t come into it at all. Try telling that to anyone having gone through IVF, or those who can’t or decide not to have children. Are their marriages any less valid? The words love one another with a pure heart springs to mind. God created us from love, and however that love is expressed is a marriage between those who love and God.

The Philomena Project is testament to the memory of a child and a parent’s never ending love. Philomena has a purity of heart I’m sure will find God’s pleasure when she comes to be re-united with her Anthony.  AMEN.

Philomena meets Pope Francis to highlight The Philomena Project. Image credit Kate Bowe
Philomena meets Pope Francis to highlight The Philomena Project. Image credit Kate Bowe