William John Owen Rowbotham MBE

Once in a generation a particular individual leaves his mark on the world. One such man was William John Owen Rowbotham MBE, or to use his stage name, Bill Owen.
Bill was born on the 14th of March 1914 in London, England. He was an accomplished actor and songwriter.
He made his first film appearance in 1944, but didn’t inhabit this nation’s hearts until the 1970’s when he took on the role of Compo Simmonite in the longest running comedy series “Last of the Summer Wine” alongside Michael Bates, Brian Wilde, Michael Aldridge, Frank Thornton and the brilliant Peter Sallis who played Clegg.
Sallis’ voice will be familiar to anyone who has watched the Wallace and Grommit television series, along with the accompanying film “The Curse of the Were-rabbit”, in which Sallis lends his voice to the character of Wallace.
Compo(Owen), Clegg(Sallis) and Foggy(Wilde) still remain the favourite threesome throughout the thirty plus years, “Last of the Summer Wine” ran for. 
For those of you not residing in the United Kingdom, the show was about three old age pensioners who had reverted back to their childhood days and were always getting into scrapes of one form or another. Usually Compo was on the receiving end of some hare-brained scheme or other dreamt up by Foggy.
The love of Compo’s life was his next door neighbour Nora Batty, played brilliantly by Cathie Staff. While she terrorised most men, especially Clegg, with her battle-ax exterior and her trademark wrinkled stockings, Compo only ever saw the unobtainable object of his dreams and desires.
Compo is easily distinguished from the other two by his dress. Clad in a woollen hat, old torn jacket and trousers full of holes, held up with a tie tied around his middle and, not forgetting his trademark Wellington boots.
During the 1960’s Owen had a successful second career as a songwriter, including the song Marianne, sung by Cliff Richard. Bill also appeared in the highly successful Carry On films.
Bill carried on working until his death from pancreatic cancer on the 12th of July 1999. He is buried in the churchyard of St John’s Parish Church, Upperthong, in the much loved town of Holmfirth, the home of “The Last of the Summer Wine”.
Rest in peace Bill, you are, and always will be, missed by the thousands of us whose hearts you touched in your long running role as the lovable scruff Compo Simmonite.
The Last of the Summer Wine first series is currently being repeated on the British television channel Yesterday at 2pm daily.

Have times really changed for mankind?

Out of discontent comes war

While we may be living in the early years of the twenty-first century, to an outsider visiting our planet, you could forgive them for thinking that nothing has really changed for humanity.

Countless millions are out of work. Disease is rife, civil unrest is on the rise. Wars and hunger kills millions daily. But despite all this, the financially greedy and power hungry still remain in charge.
Our world was plunged into chaos by greedy investment bankers. How many have been prosecuted? Instead of punishing them, the various governments of the world punish their own citizens instead.
We hear that by the end of this century the world’s population will exceed 15 billion. As I write, it is inexorably approaching 7 billion.
The great experiment that is the European Union and its single currency, the Euro, is failing dismally. Last night the financial brains of Europe voted to increase the amount of money set up in a contingency bail-out fund. They also called for all banks to write off fifty per cent of debt owed to them by those countries fast becoming insolvent like Greece, Italy and Portugal. All this is designed to assist those country’s within the EU that cannot settle their national debt. But despite this financial sticking plaster, nothing will really change for the ordinary man or woman.
What will the bank’s response be? Simple – they will merely pass on that debt to their ordinary customers like you and I, who don’t count in their eyes, except as cash cows to be milked till we bleed.
We are only half a step away from reverting back to the life of our ancestors, one or two hundred years in the past, where the rich grew richer while the vast majority starved.
Oh no wait a minute, thinking about it, we’re already there.
How much longer will it be before we all finally cease to tolerate the way the rich and power hungry totally ignore common decency and the wishes of the general population? What will it take to bring sanity, and wellbeing back I wonder, another world war perhaps? Don’t forget that through starvation and humiliation fascism rose in the 1930’s.
Nothing really changes for mankind does it, only time itself.

Goblin Tales For Adults – A close encounter of the feathered kind

This morning (2.30am) when Glob returned to dictate the next part of his latest story, he was not alone. The following is an interview I conducted with Bejuss the one eyed lisping raven with the twisted beak.
Jack.      Good morning sir.
Bejuss.   Rarrk – juth call me Bejuthth, everyone elthe doeth.
J.            I beg your pardon. I was wondering if I might ask you a few questions.
B.           Go ahead.
J.            How is it you are still alive Bejuss? By my reckoning you must be the oldest raven in 
               existence; at least twelve thousand years old.
B.           Rarrk – that’th eathy. If yer ith hatched in Goblindom likes me n Glob yer live forever.
J.            If you don’t mind my asking, how did you get your twisted beak?
B.           Rarrk – me mum trod on me when me wath breakin free from me egg. 
              One time thhe puthed me brother’th egg out of the netht by mithtake. 
              He never wath the thame after that. He flew upthide down from then on. 
              Probably thtill doeth.
J.            So is that why you have your vocal impediment?
B.           Pardon?
J.            Is that why you lisp, because of your mother treading on you while you were pecking
              your way out of your egg.
B.           No. That happened when me lotht me eye. 
              Me wath buthy huntin beeth ter eat when one on them thtung me tongue. 
              It hurt tho much that me poked me eye out on a twig when me wath tryin ter get away.
J.           Well thank you for answering my questions Bejuss. I see Glob wants to
              return to the woods. I hope we will meet again soon – goodbye.
B.           Rarrk – nice ter have met yer.
At that point the two departed into the night, heading back to the woods and I returned to bed.

Goblin Tales For Adults – Tale No: 27 – "Thicker Than Water".

Limberespan Van der Graff
Escaped convict

The twenty-seventh tale begins. Glob spent nearly four hours last night telling me the story of his cousin Lim (see above picture) who was on the run after escaping a convict work gang, overseen by a fierce mountain goblin named Grizweavil Bragsbill, a thoroughly nasty character.

More later…

Nothing is new, only rediscovered

There was a time when I used to write several thousand words per day. In fact I subscribed to the idea that unless I wrote at least five thousand words a day, I wasn’t really writing, merely dawdling. Oh how wrong I was. These days I barely write two hundred words per day.
Simple – I spend the rest of the day and the one after, even the one after that, endlessly checking each word, often substituting a far better one. I lengthen or shorten sentences, move them around in the paragraph before me, until the end product flows.
I was watching the fifth in Steven Fry’s latest series “Fry’s Planet Word” on the subject of the written word last night. He was discussing James Joyce’s work with an aficionado in Dublin.
Imagine my total surprise when it came out that Joyce approached his then current work in progress in exactly the same way as myself. Some days he would write a chapter, some days a paragraph. But more often than not he would only write a sentence, spending hours poring over it to make sure that each word was the best possible choice to use, and that it was in just the right place within the sentence.
Now I’m not claiming by any means to be the 21st century version of people like James Joyce, or George Orwell, or even my literary fantasy hero J.R.R Tolkien, who all used this method. But when I learn from programmes like Steven Fry’s that I have unwittingly adopted and employed the same techniques of my literary hero’s, all of a sudden I don’t feel alone anymore. More to the point I no longer think, or believe, that my daily word count is the be all and end all.
My current work in progress is a fantasy anthology of thirty sequential short stories set in a mythical land about the lives and adventures of five wood goblins. While the concept is a simple one, my characters are anything but simple, with one exception who is a simpleminded soul. They engage with all of the other beings living within their mythical land of Goblindom in their daily struggle for life.
I finally finished writing the twenty-sixth tale two days ago. Instead of what had become the norm (four days) to complete each tale, this one took nearly two weeks. I agonised over each word, each sentence, and each paragraph until I was happy.
The acid test of all that agonising will be when my editor gets his hands on the manuscript and whips out his red pen…

Rugby World Cup 2011

New Zealand – Simply the Best
New Zealand 8 – France 7
Within the world of rugby, there is only one competition that truly brings out national pride, and that is the Rugby World Cup.
While the New Zealand All Blacks are arguably the premier team, they had only won it once before back in 1987. Who would have thought they would be playing France, a team who are hardly consistent, in the final. I would have put my money on them playing either Australia, or South Africa.
The game of rugby may have been born in England, but it has become the property of the tough sons of pioneers who now inhabit the Southern Hemisphere, dominated by New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.
Unlike that other game soccer, rugby is a hard physical game, played by fifteen players on each team. While being an aggressive game, like those of us who follow it in the stands or at home watching on television, rugby does not generate violence and hatred off the pitch like soccer does.
In short rugby is by far the most noble of sports, inhabited by gentlemen, unlike the overpaid morons who play, and the hooligans in the stands, which soccer breeds.

Goblin Tales For Adults

Mountain Goblin Archer
With the second part of “Beware of Crellan’s Mine” now completed. I fully expect another visit from my old friend Globular Van der Graff at 2.30 am tomorrow (Sunday). 
He mentioned a tale about a distant cousin of his being on the run, hunted by a mountain goblin archer, bent on revenge. For what, I know not – yet.
More later…

Goblin Tales For Adults – another update on tale No:26

It would appear that Crellan and his plans, have for the moment been forgotten. The battle has begun. The unsuspecting mine guards won’t know what’s hit them when Glob and Mica, assisted by Lox and her elven archers, lead their army determined to save the slaves and close down the mine. 
But what of Crellan himself? What has happened to him? What role will Bejuss take?
More later…

RHMS Ellenis

It’s funny how during your lifetime you are positively affected by a moment, an individual, a place or an event. In my case it is a combination of all these things aboard a wonderful old passenger ship.
Back in 1970 I had not long since become a civilian again after doing military service in South East Asia. I was in my early twenties and the world was my oyster. And so I decided to cross the world by sea from south to north aboard an old liner, RHMS Ellenis, the flagship of the Greek owned Chandris Line.
Ellenis started her life in 1931 when her keel was laid in the Fore River shipyard of the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation in the United States. She was launched on the 12 of July 1932 and christened SS Lurline, taking her place in the ranks of ships operating under the Matson Navigation Companies house flag on her maiden voyage on the 12 of January 1933.
Under her last name RHMS Ellenis, she was finally scrapped in Taiwan in 1987.
She was 632 feet in length, with a beam of 79 feet. She weighed in at 18,163tons and was efficiently run by a crew of 359. Her maximum speed was 22 knots. Originally she had accommodation for 715 passengers, divided up into 475 first class cabins and 240 for tourist class.
Lurline, or Ellenis as I knew her, was built for the Hawaii to Australasia run from the west coast of the United States. Her sister ships were the SS Malolo, SS Mariposa and SS Monteray. As the USAT Lurline, she served as a troopship during World War II.
She was half-way from Honolulu to San Francisco on 7 December 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour. She made her destination safely travelling at maximum speed, and soon returned to Hawaii with her Matson Line sister ships Mariposa and Monterey in a convoy laden with troops and supplies.
She was bought in 1963 by Chandris Lines to replace the SS Brittany, wrecked by fire. She sailed under her new name Ellenis from California to North East England for repairs in the dockyards of North Shields and was refitted with increased accommodation for 1,668 passengers, this time in one class.
Ellenis fast became one of the most important luxury cruise ships on the Australian and New Zealand services. She operated successfully in Oceania until 1980.
In April 1974 while cruising to Japan, she developed major problems in one engine. Fortunately a surplus engine from her sister ship Homeric (formerly the Mariposa) which was being broken up in Taiwan at the time was available.
When I knew her, Ellenis was in the autumn of her seagoing life. In 1970 she took me north via the Panama Canal and on to New York, before negotiating the Atlantic and the English Channel, eventually docking at Southampton.
The following year on the journey back south to New Zealand, an hour after leaving Southampton, she temporarily ran aground on the western side of the Isle of White. When we woke up the next morning we were in the Bay of Biscay heading south to Las Palmas.
Unfortunately Las Palmas was closed as it was a Sunday. 
The run down Africa’s west coast to Capetown largely went without a hitch. Back then South Africa was in the iron grip of apartheid. It was while climbing up the slopes of Table Mountain that I had a close encounter of the venomous snake kind.
My companions mentioned the incident to our taxi driver when he was delivering us back to the docks. I remember his face turning a funny colour when he asked what it looked like.
Apparently I had trodden on the second most venomous snake in all of Africa. Thank goodness for the early hour of the day, the lack of warmth making the snake sluggish, stout leather boots and sheer ignorance. I had actually picked it up, after standing on it, to look at it. A few minutes earlier I had picked up a Scarab-like beetle.
The journey across the Southern Indian Ocean to Perth was awe inspiring. Ellenis climbed mountainous waves taller than her superstructure in a howling gale. When she was temporarily perched on top of one of the massive walls of water, the old lady shook as her propellers sliced through air instead of water.
The passage to Melbourne and Sydney was largely uneventful. But the crossing of the Tasman Sea back to New Zealand was definitely rough, simply because of its relative shallowness.
The abiding memories of my time aboard Ellenis are the great times, the parties and the girls I met and fell in lust with. It’s true what they say about shipboard romances.
Beside all of the former memories there is one more thing which will always stay with me, the Greek bar waiter who looked after us on the voyage south, who we all took a shine to.
Because he had a permanent grin on his face and he had six perfectly functioning fingers on each hand. Never once in bad weather did he loose the trays of drinks his large hands supported, nor was a drop ever spilt by him. We, on the other hand…
When I walked ashore back in Wellington, I had a grin on my face a mile wide and £10 in my pocket. In short I had had the time of my life. Sadly you simply don’t get that degree of pleasure these days when travelling by air.

Man Booker Prize for Literature

If there is one literary prize which persists in upholding snobbery within literature it is the Man Booker Prize. Read here

I was watching an interview on the BBC last night with a former publisher, turned literary agent and the boss of England’s largest book selling chain Waterstones.

As far as they were both concerned, whether a book was readable was irrelevant. What a thing to say. What mattered to them was who actually wrote the book that won, rather than whether or not it would be readable and therefore popular.

As it turned out this year’s winner is Julian Barnes a sixty five year old with his novella “The Sense of an Ending”. The snobbish literary critics complained bitterly that this years short list was too ‘low brow’. Well done Julian say I.

To quote Julian – “Most great books are readable. I don’t say I’ve written a great book but when you have read the great canon there are very few until you get to Finnegan’s Wake that you would call unreadable.”