There’s more to life than vocational training so here’s some of the other things in life that interest me.  I’ve largely tried to avoid the well known in the hope you’ll be introduced to some things you never knew before.  But there’s lots more out there, so if you have some things you’d like to share please let me know.

    The following links take you to trusted websites, further links are at your own discretion.




TV Box Sets









icon Art

Uffizi Gallery Florence
Christ of Saint John of The Cross, Salvador Dali

Better known for his surrealistic work, this is an extremely striking work of art. It’s well worth the effort to see the original.

Salvidor Dali
Tate Modern, London

I don’t much about art but I know what I don’t like, so I visited in 2007 just to see for myself. My lasting impression is the petrified boredom, of the museum workers, made to spend their days in the presence of such works of art. My favourite exhibit is the emperor’s new clothes.

In an edition of Pointless, the TV quiz programme, all the Turner Prize winners scored less than 10.

Tate Modern
Renee Magritte 1898-1967

When asked to name a famous Belgian, the usual comic answer is Hercules Poirot (joke!) but my first choice would always be Rene Magritte.  A leading surrealist, his work is fascinating and has an uncanny knack of unsettling the mind.

Renee Magritte
John Grimshaw 1836-1893

Undoubtedly the greatest painter of Victorian landscapes who combined representational art with the qualities of impressionism.  He captured the magic of Victorian suburban architecture much of which can still be found in our cities today.

John Grimshaw
Robert Canis

Stunning Wildlife photography

Robert Canis
Alvin Langdon Coburn

A leading innovator of photography from the early twentieth century.

Alvin Coburn


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Latvijas Biblioteka Riga
Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

Set in a post war red brick university, Jim Dixon is a lecturer who needs his temporary contract made more permanent.  To do this, he needs the approval of his odious professor along with his family and friends, who are making ‘Lucky’ Jim’s life a misery.  Never mind, despite the laugh out loud moments, Jim gets the job and the girl in the end.  Can be read again and again – I’ve lost count!

Reviews on Amazon
Ending Up by Kingsley Amis

More famous for his hilarious book, Lucky Jim published in 1954, this book was published much later in 1974.  It shows that the writer has lost none of his touch and this book is wickedly funny.

Reviews on Amazon
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

The classic children’s’ adventure tale of pirates, buried treasure, betrayal along with friendships forged in adversity.  Published in 1883 all children’s stories, since, owe this book an unpayable debt.  PS. Can also be enjoyed by adults!

Reviews on Amazon
1984 by George Orwell

Review in development.

Reviews on Amazon
Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse

This book was ground breaking in its day and went on to be popularly staged and was made into a film in 1963.  A highly enjoyable tale of 1950’s teenage angst.

Reviews on Amazon
Jubb by Keith Waterhouse

Jubb is a social misfit and deservedly so.  A peeping tom and an arsonist whose breath smells we are drawn into his world of deluded self belief.  Yet Jubb struggles to survive in the bleak 1950’s new-town culture he tries to make his home.  A brilliant book, both tragic and hilarious in turns, which flopped despite the previous success of Billy Liar.  This book well deserves to be re-evaluated today.

Reviews on Amazon
The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien

Our protagonist is concerned that he may be turning into a bicycle! So needing help he seeks out a policeman who, because of his remarkable likeness to a bicycle, offers some hope.

Outlandish fantasy and modern physics (hilariously misunderstood) intertwine with Irish whimsy to make this an extremely enjoyable read.  Put your common-sense to one side and enjoy the journey through a world, that turns out be more real than it first seems.

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Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

Following the horrors of  two world wars and the invention of the atom bomb, this book explores the idea that feigning madness could be a good way of escaping so called sanity. Catch 22 is the clause in military regulations which seems to offer a way out of the army but, in reality, it can never be achieved.  Made into a film in 1970, it proved very difficult to reflect the intricate twisted machinations that make up this laugh out loud book.

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The Nuts and Bolts of Vocational Training and Assessment by Eric Baker

An unashamed plug for my very accessible guide to all aspects of training.

Reviews on Amazon
Every Day Super Food by Jamie Oliver

I like this book for its tasty and inexpensive food.  What I like even more is the down to earth general advice and the nutritional information given with each recipe.

Reviews on Amazon
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell

The Victorian social reformers are fondly remembered for their simple humanity and down to earth approach to life’s difficulties.  Robert Tressell’s book follows in this tradition using simple examples and illustrations.  In one instance the protagonist, Frank Owen, uses a loaf of bread to explain the “Great money trick” in order to show his fellow workers that their harsh conditions are not naturally caused but are the results of the way society is organised.  The authorities clearly thought the book was on to something as much of the content was abridged between its publication in 1914 until 1955.

Consensus politics seems to waning in acceptance these days so perhaps it’s time to give this book another reading.

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The Autobiography of a Super Tramp by WH Davies

If you are familiar with the lines of the welsh poet ‘what is this life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare’ then this book may come as a surprise to you. Around the beginning of the last century, WH Davies went to the Wild West searching for adventure and found riding the railroad, as a hobo, just what he was looking for.  An exceptional true life adventure and a fascinating glimpse into what made the old west really wild, as WH Davies was to find out to his cost.

Reviews on Amazon


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icon Films

Movie Moments
Casablanca 1942

A classic film noire!  Humphrey Bogart plays the hardened cynic, with a heart of gold, who sacrifices his chance of happiness for the greater good.  Brilliant performances all round, enhanced by the memorable performance of ‘As time Goes By’ from Dooley Wilson as Sam.  If I could only have one film – this would be it!!

Reviews on Amazon
 Play it Again Sam 1972

Its title is a deliberate misquote of a line said to Sam, the pianist, in the film Casablanca.  This is undoubtedly Woody Allen’s funniest film where he pays loving homage to the original film and the character played by Humphrey Bogart.

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  If you’re interested in 1960s London, the following four films work very well together.  The 1960s started with austerity and ended with a pretentious counter culture.

1) That’ll be the Day 1973

Although set in the 1950s this film, starring Ringo Starr and David Essex, heralds the permissive age that what soon to come.  A thought provoking film that accurately reflects the atmosphere of the rock and roll years.

Reviews on Amazon
2) Blow-up 1967

The swinging sixties have arrived and David Hemmings plays the amoral fashion photographer who becomes involved in a murder mystery.  Intriguing as a whodunit, as well as a morality tale, there’s much to take in visually from the 1960’s London locations.

Reviews on Amazon
3) Alfie 1966

A block buster at the time, this film seems to have fallen off the radar.  It was made when the hippy ideas of free love had percolated down and ordinary people were left to deal with the consequences.  A moral yet highly entertaining film, Michael Caine brilliantly made the character of Alfie his own.  The remake of 2004 never stood a chance!

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4) Midnight Cowboy 1969

Joe Buck (John Voight) sets off from small town Texas to seek his fortune in New York working as a male prostitute.  Basically a decent bloke but extremely naive, he is soon taken to the cleaners by the street-smart cynics who are quick to take advantage of him. Down on his luck he strikes up an unlikely friendship with ‘Ratso’ Rizzo, a Fagin-like figure played by Dustin Hoffman, and tired of New York they set off for a better life in sunny Florida.

At the time this film was made, disillusionment with the swinging sixties was setting in and this film accurately portrays how the earlier ideals soon became a tawdry reality.

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The Graduate 1967

Dustin Hoffman went on to make Midnight Cowboy after starring in this very successful film.  From Benjamin Braddock to “Ratso” Rizzo, Dustin demonstrated his wide ranging abilities from comedy to tragedy.  This film is an absolute treat, from beginning to end, and made a star of the Alfa Romeo Spider which is central to a tense but amusing chase.

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Carry on Cowboy 1965

A loving send up of the cowboy genre and one of the two Carry on films that remains funny.

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Carry on Spying 1964

A loving send up of the spy film genre and the other one of the two Carry on films that remains funny.

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The Sting 1973

Surely the best caper film ever made.  Set in 1936, two grafters pull off the ‘big con’ in an intricate series of scams that will have you riveted to your seat.  Shot with lovingly created period detail, including the ragtime soundtrack of Scott Joplin, no wonder this film spawned so many copies! If you’ve not seen it, you’re in for an absolute treat.

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  The following three films work very well as a trilogy.

True Grit 1969

1) Although there is a very creditable remake (2010) I regard the original released in 1969 as the better version.  Mattie Ross hires the grizzled Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne) to avenge the killing of her father.  A classic western made all the more remarkable by Kim Darby’s top notch performance as the fourteen year old Mattie.

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2) The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance 1962

Cowboy films are often thought of as being purely bangs, bangs.  John Wayne, James Stewart and Lee Marvin lead in this intelligent film that explores the taming of the wild west.

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3) The Shootist 1976

John Wayne plays a gunfighter who in 1901 returns to Carson City, Nevada and learns that he is shortly to die of cancer.  He knows also that his old way of life is over and that he must give way to the forces of law and order.  However, there is a man in a black hat flagrantly manipulating the system and John Wayne’s parting gift to the future is settling matters, his way, at the end of a gun.  A very effective recounting of that stage in America’s history also starring Lauren Bacall and James Stewart.

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Dial M for Murder 1954

Alfred Hitchcock is famous for directing Psycho along with many other films.  This film is one of my favourites being wordy, almost wholly set in one room and so much better for that.

Reviews on Amazon
School for Scoundrels 1960

The original version, based on Stephen Potters books, is a now an overlooked comic masterpiece.  A work of social observation that’s archly drawn and although now very definitely dated, which only adds to its charm.  The once loved Terry Thomas along with an outstanding cast of comic actors makes this a film that can be watched time and time again.

Reviews on Amazon
The Wrong Box 1966

Based on a story by Robert Louis Stephenson, this darkly comic film is a typical example of a 1960s bit of fun.  Featuring many comic actors of the day, among them Peter Sellers is seen having a thriving career before he became Inspector Clouseau!

Reviews on Amazon
My Summer of Love 2004

Please don’t be put off by the on-line trailer this is not a clichéd tale of love.  A very unusual and fascinating story, improved by the cast, with Emily Blunt, Natalie Press and Paddy Considine giving it their best.

Reviews on Amazon
Eyes Wide Shut 1999

Any film directed by Stanley Kubrick is worthy of watching but I’ve no idea of what this one’s all about.  All I can say is that is both very absorbing and very memorable.

Reviews on Amazon
Bedazzled 1967

A brilliant reworking of the legend of Faust, it describes the hapless Stanley Moon (our Dud) being given seven wishes in exchange for his soul.  Each wish is played out through a series of hilarious sketches but, as you may guess, things don’t exactly go to plan.  Along with the humour there are some thoughtful observations and although the film did not do well on its release, it is now recognised as a classic.

Reviews on Amazon
Deliverance 1972

A vivid drama concerning four “city boys” who decide to take a canoe trip along the fictional Cahulawassee River.  However they are unprepared for the wilderness of North America or for the hostility of the people who live there.  Notable for the surprise hit tune ‘Dueling Banjos’ and the fact of , despite having no gratuitous violence, you are unlikely to be able to watch it without turning your head away at some of the scenes.  It is no surprise that this film has been selected for preservation by the United States National Film Registry.

Reviews on Amazon
Lolita 1997

Taken from the book of the same name by Vladimir Nabokov, this 1997 remake fully lives up to expectations.  Originally released as a film in1962 this story of the love of a middle-aged man for a girl of fourteen years, may well have turned out to be sordid and tacky.  Instead we have an intelligent and sensitive treatment of a love that from the very start, is admitted to be wrong.  Not the least bit salacious only a very sad and thought provoking story.

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The Election 1999

Even if you’re not into high school romcoms this film is well worth a visit.  Quirky and high original this brilliant film puts its moral (or is that ethical – watch the film!) story across in a hilarious way.

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The Thirty Nine Steps 1978

This famous story, first published in 1915, was filmed in 1935 and again in 1959.  All who have seen the film have their favourite version and 1978 is mine.  A Great boy’s own style cracking yarn, with lots of humour along the way.

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The Lady Killers 1955

Unlike the remake of 2004, this film has a very entertaining light touch involving the robbery of a security van at Kings Cross railway station.  We all know that crime cannot pay but our villains did not expect to be foiled by a lovely old lady!  A classic Ealing comedy.

Reviews on Amazon
Follow a Star 1959

Norman Wisdom remains popular to this day even with a young audience.  This is one of his lesser known films and in many ways one of the funniest.  The plot device of using a tape recorder to ‘steal’ someone’s voice is extremely dated but only adds to the period charm.  The comically awful duet song along with Hattie Jacques is timeless.

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The Man Who Wasn’t There 2001

Set in 1940s small town America, and shot in black and white, this is a loving homage to film noire.  A complicated tale of discontent, blackmail and revenge that can only end in disaster.

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Educating Rita 1983

A nice twist on the inspirational teacher theme when Julie Walters, as a mature student, meets Michael Caine’s disillusioned professor and it’s her that inspires him.  A very enjoyable and intelligent film.

Reviews on Amazon
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie 1969

Some of us have benefitted from inspirational teaching and yet this film shows that influence wielded in the classroom, however well intentioned, can lead to unintended consequences.

Reviews on Amazon


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icon Food

Good Grub
Cafe Spice Namaste.  Whitechapel, London

Incredible genuine Indian cuisine, in sumptuous surroundings, along with the chance of meeting the legendary chef Cyrus Todiwala!

Cafe Namaste
Anokaa.  60 Fisherton Street, Salisbury

If you’re in Salisbury and looking for an authentic Indian meal this is the place to go.  A modern Indian menu served in very pleasant surroundings.  If you’re in there at lunchtime, my advice is not to choose from the buffet but to order from the menu.

Sweet Centre Restaurant.  Lumb Road, Bradford

A great restaurant with a fascinating history, reflected in its name.  You’ll find all your Indian restaurant favourites but prepared with the authenticity not normally found in your local curry house.

Sweet Centre
M. Manze.  87 Tower Bridge Road, London

Unless you are familiar with the working class districts of inner London, you’ll probably have no idea of what real pie and mash is.  So what is real pie and mash?  Well it’s a meat pie, that you won’t find in a supermarket, the mash potato has not been spoilt by mixing with butter and cream (it’s simply crushed) and the liquor (gravy) is made from parsley and stewed eel juice.  You can get away easily for less than a fiver and in ‘Manzies’ (sic) you’ll also enjoy genuine Victorian surroundings.

Truffle Oil

I’m new to truffle oil and want to pass on what a fantastic product it is!  Although it’s expensive, you don’t need to use much and the taste is truly amazing.

Reviews on Amazon
WWI National Kitchen

Another imaginative way of making good use of food that otherwise will go to waste.

View on line




icon Music

His Master’s Voice


The Fastest Milkman in the West, Benny Hill

Back in the day when Benny Hill was still funny, a comedy record could make it into the charts!  Although released in 1971, this one still works today.  Old school good fun!

Benny Hill
Trio, Mike Taylor

For anyone interested in the career of Jack Bruce (Cream) this album is an absolute must.  Mike Taylor used jazz standards and eastern influences to create highly individual and beautiful piano art.  Hear Jack Bruce play music he is not usually known for, including bowing an electric bass, and John Hiseman’s drum playing is an added bonus.  Mike died an early death but this album is a lasting example of the music that was really going on in the sixties – away from the hit parade!

Reviews on Amazon
 John Mayall’s Blues Breakers.  (The Beano Album)

John Mayall has nurtured many musicians who have achieved great fame, and none is more well-known than Eric Clapton.This whole album is a game-changer but ‘Have You Heard’ is of outstanding merit.  Eric’s grumbling guitar forebodes what is to come, from its menacing start to the final jarring chord.  The guitar break, is fist-tight, staggeringly oblivious of consequences and is delivered like a punch in the face!  If you’re into Chicago Blues this album is an absolute must.

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Fresh Cream

Following his success with John Mayall’s blues breakers, Eric Clapton along with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker went on to form the group Cream.  They had a chart hit with ‘I Feel Free’ but the album is most notable for the for the fantastic traditional blues interpretations brought bang up to date by this group of outstanding musicians.  Most memorable is ‘Spoonful by Willie Dixon’ with Eric’s soaring, relentless guitar demonstrating what a great blues guitarist Eric once was.

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Disraeli Gears, Cream

Cream’s second album shows them progressing from electric blues into progressive rock.  All brilliant music with a surprise twist at the end – a traditional music hall song sang archipelago.  I’ve no idea why, maybe because Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker grew up in London and they were having a friendly dig at Jack Bruce from Scotland.

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Wheels on Fire, Cream

A best selling double album, one album recorded in the studio the other recorded live.  The studio album is memorable for ‘White Room’ written in 5/4 time.

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Songs for a Taylor, Jack Bruce

Jack Bruce went back to his musical routes along with his long-time colleague Pete Brown, in order to create this highly individual album.  Eclectic and difficult to define there are a variety of song styles to choose from.  My favourite is ‘Theme from an Imaginary Western’.  Given how well known Jack was at the time this album was not well received, which is a shame.

Reviews on Amazon

  America, between the 1920s and the 1950s, was an incredible place for popular music and jazz.  The songs from those times were both lyrically and musically clever and are now rightly known as standards.  The following four songwriters are among my favourites:

1) Hoagy Carmichael

Hoagy wrote lots of memorable songs and my favourite is ‘Stardust’.

View Online
2) George Gershwin

As well as writing standards George became interested in mixing classical music with blues.  ‘Summertime’ and ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ are just two examples of his brilliance.

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3) Jerome Kern

‘All The Things You Are’ is a beautiful song that is rarely performed because of its technical difficulties.  See Mike Taylor (above) for a lovely modern jazz interpretation.

Reviews on Amazon
4) Cole Porter

I don’t know enough music theory to properly describe ‘Night and Day’ – let’s just say that it’s brilliant!

Reviews on Amazon
Aaron Copeland

Famous for crossing classical with American folk music Appalachian Spring is both evocative and beautiful.

Reviews on Amazon
Roy Buchanan

A wonderful and creative electric guitarist.  His versions of ‘Sweet Dreams’ and ‘Hey Joe’ are not simply covers they bring something totally original to the table.

Reviews on Amazon
Southend Salvation Army Band

Almost everyone loves to hear a Salvation Army band and here is one of the best.

Salvation Army Band


Nigel Kennedy and Doug Boyle

The Wind Cries Mary.  Nigel Kennedy meets Jimi Hendrix must be worth a listen!

Nigel Kennedy

  During the late sixties folk music took on a new lease of life when it adopted electric instruments.  I have never enjoyed traditional folk music but the following three bands instantly converted me to the then contemporary form of folk-rock.

Liege and Leif

Fairport Convention recorded this, their third album, in 1969.  Traditional folk is brought bang up to date by these brilliant musicians.  It is unfair to single out any one of them but the voice of Sandy Denny deserves a special mention.

Reviews on Amazon
Basket of Light

Around the same time as Fairport Convention, Pentangle were similarly bringing new life to traditional folk music.  This album has been their greatest success and it noted for the popular song ‘Light Flight’ used the television programme ‘Take Three Girls’ the first colour BBC series.

Reviews on Amazon
All Around My Hat

This YouTube clip is a great example of Steeleye Span’s music.  Highly competent and performed with real verve, the singing harmonies have to be heard to be believed.  An interesting side note is that the lead singer Maddy Prior’s dad was famous as the writer of the popular Z Cars and Softly, Softly.

View on line
Haigh Hall Music Festival Wigan

Forget well known festivals, there’s a far better occasion to be had in Wigan on the 17th of June.  Far better music and no commercialised hype.

Haigh Hall


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icon Television Box Sets

Square Eyes


The Charles Dickens Collection Volumes 1 and 2.

The fifteen novels of Charles Dickens were filmed for television around the turn of the century and these productions are a must see, if you find the stories fascination but find reading Dickens a bit of a slog.  Featuring a cast of many well known actors, many in roles that may come as a pleasant surprise, this box-set will be a lasting treasure.  My favourites are Bleak House and Martin Chuzzlewit, which while not among his most well known, I can enjoy time and time again.

Reviews on Amazon
 The League of Gentlemen 1999

If you’re into Hammer Horror added to Monty Python stirred with a touch of madness, then you’ll love this inspired work of comic genius.  Taking their collective name from the film of 1960, the league of gentleman are Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith and Jeremy Dyson who were unknown at the time but have since gone on to achieve television fame.  Roysten Vasey is an apparently ordinary town that has lots of strange goings on. The people are strange, from the sinister Papa Lazarou to the creepy Tubbs and Edward who run the ‘local’ shop and no visitor to the town has ever found their way home.  Welcome to Roysten Vasey, you’ll never leave.

Reviews on Amazon
Couplings 2000

A situation comedy concerning the dating and other adventures of three women and three men, in their late twenties and thirties, has been likened to Friends and Seinfeld.  Not normally my cup of tea, I found Couplings very funny and extremely well written.  Way above the other two mentioned!

Reviews on Amazon




icon Websites




Agent Zigzag

Eddie Chapman was probably the most amazing spy there’s been.  A safe breaker turned double-agent during WW2; he was awarded the Iron Cross by Germany and ignored by Britain despite his heroic war effort.  A must see documentary.

Eddie Chapman
Transforming Lives

Examples of further education bringing benefits to individuals

Transforming Lives
FE News

The home of all aspects of further education.

FE News
Ann Gravells Ltd

Reading lists, blogs and lots of useful information for teachers and trainers.

Ann Gravells
HSE Myths

To ridicule health and safety at work is like being a turkey voting for Christmas.  Here are the top ten most amusing examples of ridiculous ‘elf and safety claims that help bring the law into disrepute.

HSE Myths
Susan Bassnett

An interesting take on the PGCE.

Susan Bassnett
While I do not agree with glamorising murder, it must be admitted that the identity of Jack the Ripper has kept us guessing for quite some time.  Former tabloid editor, Kelvin Mackenzie, has a fascinating theory as to why Jack the Ripper has never been found. Jack the Ripper
Disgruntled ex-press journalist Richard Peppiatt examines the role of the tabloids in our lives. Richard Peppiatt
I recently visited Highgate Cemetery in North London, famous for the tomb of Karl Marx.  There are lots of other interesting graves to see and I was surprised to learn of the death of Bert Jansch, a hero of the contemporary folk music scene in the sixties he will be sorely missed.Bert Jansch Highgate Cemetery
If all adverts were as informative and entertaining as this one, I wouldn’t need the skip button on my television remote control!  View this short amusing clip on YouTube. Dollar Shave Club
The Mausoleum Club

A series of comic horror stories in the Victorian style made for the BBC in the 1980s.  Great stories, a great cast and great fun. Downloadable MP3s.

Mausoleum Club
The Netherlands speaks to Donald Trump in his own language!

A delightful plea and a delicious send up.

President Trump
Here’s an interesting new website.  Legacy Stories is where you can record your life story or where you can see the life story of others.  My Uncle Stan’s memoirs make fascinating reading and this link will take you there. Legacy Stories


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