Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A-Tisket, a-Tasket...

...a little yellow basket. Isn't it the season to find some nice things to put in a basket to share with someone special?
Here's an award winning picture book based on the nursery rhyme made into a fabulous jazz tune by the likes of the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald herself.
Here she is singing this tune in an old black & white movie called,  Ride 'Em Cowboy (1942) which is also noted for being an Abbott and Costello movie. According to her filmography page at, she sang this song in 6 other movies from 1938 to 1948, so it was obviously a huge hit for her, back in the day. Catchy tune, eh? I particularly like her rendition of it!

So here are some other famous literary baskets (not basket-cases -- I'm sure there are plenty of those!)
Here is my favourite book from childhood, which I read and reread many times, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Yes, I know it's the abridged version! I've been meaning to read the real thing, honestly!
Being from a family of four girls, I could really relate to these sisters and although I felt closest to Jo (the literary one) I was secretly glad that as I was the youngest. I really had more in common with Amy (the artistic one) and the one who ends up with "that Laurence boy" (my first literary crush)!
Where's the basket, you may ask?
Well, I seem to remember they were always packing up a basket for Beth to take to the poor German family (with the sick baby)! Well, I couldn't find an illustration of that particular scene, but here's another one. It's the scene where the mother has to go to Washington to visit her husband, who was wounded fighting for the Union army during the American Civil War. Laurie brings over a basket (from his rich grandfather) and in this scene his tutor is holding it, while talking to Mrs. March and Beth and Meg look on.
This is from the 1994 movie version of Little Women with Winona Ryder as Jo and Susan Sarandon as Mrs. March. Jo is just about to enter the scene to show them her hideous haircut. (She sold her hair so that her Mother could afford to take the train.)
Do you see the lengths to which I will go to get a basket in a picture?

Now here is a charming picture of a basket. Can you guess who is the artist of this watercolour? Here is  a wider shot of the can you guess?

Well, if you said Beatrix Potter, then go to the head of the class! I found this picture on a wonderful blog named BibliOdyssey, and the post was about Beatrix Potter's rarities or lost drawings. This is a painting of one of her animal characters named Appley Dapply and was supposed to be part of a series of greeting cards, but the artwork went missing in 1917 before publication and didn't resurface for 20 years or so, when it was given to a young relative. 
 Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) is best known as the creator of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny. Here are more of her lovely illustrations.

I saw a wonderful biopic about her recently and even bought the DVD. It's called Miss Potter and stars one of my fave actresses -- Renée Zellweger. Here she is with co-star Ewan McGregor. This film really brings the world of a budding author / illustrator to life, and especially shows the struggles against middle class society's expectations that a talented young woman had to endure in order to get her book published.  Luckily she found a willing publisher in the Frederick Warne Company which was willing to try new authors.  It is a very sweet, (sometimes bittersweet), whimsical, and charming movie about a very creative and strong woman who made sure she got what she wanted out of life, and in turn left the world all the better for it.

There are a few similarities in this movie to a previously mentioned miniseries on this blog.  If you noticed the snotty reference to "tradesmen", the train scenes, and the tea sets, some of you will have guessed by now that I am referring to North and South. Luckily for me there are some great basket scenes in it.
In North and South, Margaret Hale, as  the daughter of a vicar, was used to bringing baskets of groceries to the poor in her father's parish. Once they have moved to Milton, in the cold industrial north of England she meets up with some poor mill workers and offers to visit and bring them a basket. Here is the reaction she gets from them.

But being a good hearted girl, Margaret does eventually show up at their door with a basket, for which they are eventually grateful.

But not only Margaret is the bearer of baskets. When Margaret's mother is taken ill, the thoughtful mill owner John Thornton, who carries a flame for Margaret, shows up at her door with a delectable basket of fruit.
Perhaps it even looked something like this:
Claude Monet's Fruit Basket with Apples and Grapes (ca. 1879)

So now we have favourite basket picture! Perhaps you will enjoy it too...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Newsflash! Nat has made me famous!

The following video was made by Nat from Richard Armitage Fan Blog based on my second place finish in a Stick figure Richard Storyline contest.  If you haven't already seen Spooks (otherwise known as) MI-5 season 8, this probably won't mean much to you, but I am over the moon about it!!!

To be immortalized on the small screen of Youtube along with the likes of Stick figure Richard is the stuff of dreams!
Okay...I'm done bragging now. Back to our regular scheduled programming....

Friday, March 26, 2010

I Spy with my little eye...

...and I see something...(Name a colour!) Most of us have played this game in childhood. It's great for passing the time on car trips, or anytime you are stranded somewhere with nothing better to do. The I SPY series of books by Walter Wick and Jean Marzollo are very popular with children of all ages--or anyone who loves picture puzzles.

Another popular book on a spying theme for older children is Eric Walters' Camp X. This is World War II historical fiction for the middle school set. What I find most appealing about it is that its setting is the real life training school for spies, located in the small town of Whitby, Ontario Canada.
Rather than attempt to review it myself, here is a great review from Canadian Review of Materials, the online journal of the Manitoba Library Association, published by the University of Manitoba.
(In case this link doesn't work, just copy and paste it in the address bar.)

The real life spy master Sir William Stephenson even has a small role in the book! The reason this book is a fave of mine is that I love historical fiction and any attempt to bring Canadian heroes to the attention of young, impressionable minds is a great thing.

So who was William Stephenson? The answer to this question has filled several books and countless web pages, so I will attempt to fill you in as briefly as possible!
Formerly a Canadian hero from World War One, later a businessman, Stephenson made his fortune from his invention which could transmit photographs by wireless, (a forerunner of the present day fax machine). His trips into Germany in the 1930's alerted him to Europe's danger from Hitler and he made a point of warning Winston Churchill, (then only a British member of Parliament) of his misgivings. Churchill rewarded him later when he became Prime Minister by making him responsible for wartime intelligence in North America. Stephenson became one of the main leaders of the organization that would later morph into the CIA. As head of Camp X, he oversaw around 2,000 trainees in covert operations from Britain, Canada, and the U.S. graduate from 1941 to 1945. Once of these graduates was Ian Fleming (the author of the James Bond series of books). Fleming is quoted as saying: "James Bond is a highly romanticized version of a true spy. The real thing is ... William Stephenson."

Ian Fleming in his study with a copy of For Your Eyes Only (April 1960). (Photo by Evening Standard / Getty Images) 

Now, before I go on with the obvious and get into all that marvelous Bond stuff...I need to mention some other favourite fictional spies.

Firstly, in the television realm there were several spy shows which came out in the Cold War era. I was too young to remember I SPY, but my older sisters fondly remember it. And I mention it only because one of its stars is one of my fave comedians/actors -- Bill Cosby! It came out in 1965 and lasted 3 seasons in each of which Cosby won an Emmy award as best dramatic actor! This series made American television history as the first time an African-American had co-starred in a series. His co-star was Robert Culp.

 One series I do remember watching was The Man From U.N.C.L.E. This series starred Robert Vaughn and the British heartthrob David McCallum. He must have been my first crush...and I was too young for that! He had the most astounding character name Ilya Kuryakin. I used to love to say it. It sounded so foreign and mysterious! The show lasted from 1964-1968, but I must have watched it in re-runs because we didn't have a TV until around 1965 and the CBC network didn't pick up all the American shows when they first came out anyway. (That's all I had folks -- one channel!)

I watched this one in re-runs too. Who can forget Sam Steed and Emma Peel as The Avengers?
It was a very classy show with a witty sparkle.  Dianna Rigg went on to even greater fame but not before being one of the Bond girls.

And now, for my most favourite television show, possibly of all time...Get Smart! No, not the movie, although of any working actors today Steve Carrell does come the closest to imitating Don Adams's madcap humour. With Barbara Feldon, Don Adams and a slew of other zany characters, Get Smart! was a spoof of spy films and shows, that you really have to see to appreciate.
I found another wonderful video on Youtube, with some great clips from the show to the tune of "Secret Agent Man". I like the Get Smart theme too, but as I was going to use the other song anyway, I am attempting some multitasking here. Unfortunately I can't embed it on my blog, so please click here to see it: Get Smart Tribute

Here is one last television show that I fondly remember from the 1970s. It was about a group of friends who had fought together for the Resistance in World War II and are reunited years later to fight crime in the scenic French Riveria. They each had a code name of an animal, hence the title The Zoo Gang. It was based on a book by Paul Gallico. Besides the awesome cast of Brian Keith, Lilli Palmer, John Mills, and Barry Morse, it was further distinguished by having its theme music written and performed by Paul McCartney (and Wings).

John  LeCarré was another author of spy novels, many of which were made into movies. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was written in 1963 and was made into a movie with the great Richard Burton and Claire Bloom in 1965. I love both of these actors, but Burton really does give one of the best  performances of his life in this film.

Another television show I never had the pleasure of watching (but my sister did) was The Saint starring Roger Moore. (later of James Bond fame).
I did however, see the movie version of this starring Val Kilmer and Elisabeth Shue. Although it didn't get rated very highly on (perhaps from people who prefer the original series), I really enjoyed watching it -- more than once! The hero hides his identity by taking the name of different Christian saints, and he is a master of disguise, so he always eludes his enemies.
 The two stars have a lot of romantic chemistry and it is very exciting both as a romance and an action flick. One of the most unforgettable scenes for me has the heroine running from the bad guy Russian towards the American embassy. He almost catches her before the gate is slammed in his face by a stalwart American soldier while she gasps for breath just inches away from him but a world apart. Maybe it's hokey -- but it's great entertainment!

Now, I may lose all credibility here, but I need to admit that one of my guilty pleasures and what I believe to be one of the best movies that Hollywood-style movie making has to offer is...(duhn duhn duhnnnn)...True Lies (1994) with Arnold Swartzeneger! I know! I can hardly believe it myself! Especially when I tell you that Tom Arnold is absolutely hilarious in the movie! And I mustn't forget Jamie Lee Curtis. Her transformation from dowdy, boring wife, mother and 9 to 5 secretary to sexy call-girl spy maven is nothing short of miraculous! In short, this movie has it all...comedy, romance, mystery, and more action than you would believe could fit in one movie! It's a roller coaster ride of thrills and fun! I have watched this movie many times, and it just doesn't get old!

Well, I've avoided it long's time to mention all those James Bond movies, because who can talk about spies without mentioning Bond...James Bond. Can you admit to being a bit "shaken" or "not stirred" by at least one of his personas? (Don't forget to vote in the poll at the side of the page for your favourite Bond actor).
What I'd like to mention about Bond movies are the theme songs! Haven't there been some great ones? Here are some of my faves!
Sheena Easton singing For Your Eyes Only:
 Carly Simon sings "Nobody Does it Better" 
from The Spy Who Loved Me
And since I do like Paul McCartney, 
here's his "Live and Let Die"

Now, perhaps it's because the '70s was my era that I picked all 3 songs from Roger Moore films. So here's a tribute 
to Sean Connery's films:

And just for a little screen trivia, do you know in which Bond film the lovely Dianna Rigg (of The Avengers fame) appeared?
It's On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Bond is played for the only time by George Lazenby in this movie. It's also the only movie where Bond falls in love and proposes to his co-star in this scene! Now can't you just guess what happens to her before the end? Well, if you can't -- I'm not going to tell. Big hint though-- in the rest of the movies he's a bachelor!
I'm not necessarily a fan of this actor, but for interest sake alone, this movie is worth watching.

Here's my vote for best-looking Bond. He's also been a big crush of mine since he appeared in Remington Steele in the '80s. Who is that, you might ask? None other than Pierce Brosnan! Yes, he was a very good Bond, but I still have a soft spot for Sean Connery (must be the accent).
 I wasn't too crazy about Timothy Dalton as Bond, and while Daniel Craig was very good in his first Bond film, the second film was so bad, I found it unwatchable. Not the fault of Craig's acting though. I'd put it down to a bad script.
So who might be the next James Bond, if indeed they continue the franchise?
Well, I have a little secret. Right now he is acting in a spy series on the BBC called Spooks in Britain and MI-5 in North America.  Well, he's not really a secret, at least to his fans, but very few people on this side of the pond seem to have heard of him.
Here is Richard Armitage as Lucas North, a modern day spy who came in from the cold.

In case that doesn't convince you, here is a video of him in Season 7 of Spooks to the tune of From Russia With Love made by fanvidder extraordinaire Spikesbint.

Please click on the title part of the video to watch in full screen on Youtube. This video cannot be displayed properly on this Blog and you shouldn't miss a millimeter of it!

Friday, March 19, 2010

I Think I Can, I Think I Can...

 Like the Little Engine that Could, I THINK I can start a blog!
It seems like a huge venture, when I don't really know what I'm doing, but like any new adventure you just start out with some sort of planned destination, and hope that at some point, you will actually arrive there!
This book is a classic of children's literature and is still as popular today as it was when first published. As I have just learned since researching this blog, there is some controversy over exactly when it was first published as a story and even a mystery as to who is the original author!

This reminds me of one of my favourite records I used to listen to as a child, Sparky's Magic Piano and on the flipside was Sparky's Talking Train. I so enjoyed this little record that I was disappointed when our family moved, my mother made me give it up, so I lent it to my little niece and nephew (thinking naively that someday I might have it back!) Well, long story short...the little charmers destroyed it! --A fact that I never let my poor sister (their mother) forget! Fast forward years later, when I have my own little ones and I receive a Christmas package in the mail from my sister...I open it and discover the very same recording I had been lamenting losing all those years ago, but in cassette form now! It brought tears to my eyes, and was in fact, one of the best Christmas presents of my adult life. Unfortunately, my own children were slightly beyond the age of appreciating it, nevertheless it certainly brought me great pleasure to hear it again.
You can hear it too, if you are a child at heart or if you have a child you want to play it for:
Note: If this link doesn't work, try copying it and pasting it into your browser. Alternatively, it also can be found as a clip on Youtube.

You might ask, what besides a children's record would make you so fond of trains?
Well, train travel has been called romantic, but in my case the train really did help my romantic life!
My husband and Iway of the rail started dating in High School, but then I moved quite far away. We stayed in touch with letters and phone calls, but because part of my family remained in town I had a good reason to travel back for any extended holiday to see him, and as the train was the cheapest mode of travel, that was the way to go!

Even when he moved much closer to me, one of us was always taking the train to see the other, and we got to joking that "our song" was the little musical noise which always preceded the announcement of the coming train. "Wah-WAH-wah-wah-waaaahh! VIA Rail on route to....(and ending in the French) ...entre la gare".

Here's a great video of train clips to the music of "I'm a Train" by Albert Hammond, (a great '70s tune). The video is by MysticVideo.

Railroads played an important role in the history of the world, but nowhere more so than in North America, where it opened up the frontier to immigrants from other lands and changed forever the way of life of the native tribes of the interior plains. Much blood was spilled over control of the land that would provide the pathway for the long tracks that plowed their way across the continent A Mari Usque Ad Mare (From Sea to Sea).

Gordon Lightfoot's song "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" is such a classic it deserves a Blogpost all of its own, but as it is certainly one of my faves, I had to include it here.

This video is courtesy of anippygirl whose Youtube channel includes other train videos as well as great Canadian music. Also, she has Lightfoot's Steel Rail Blues, another fave train song!

There are lots of songs about trains, but I have to mention another one of my all-time faves: "Peace Train" by Cat Stevens. Regardless of anyone's opinion of him now, he still wrote a great hit song with a lovely optimistic sentiment:
Now I've been smiling lately,
thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be,
something good has begun

And lest you think my musical tastes stopped developing in the 1970s, here is a more current great band whose name just happens to be TRAIN!

I am sure there have been many artists throughout the last century or so that have painted scenes of trains or railroads, but it just so happens that one of my favourite artists, the Impressionist painter Claude Monet, has painted quite a few train scenes.

These pictures are entitled Top to Bottom: Train in the Snow, the Bridge, and St. Lazare Station, Paris. The last picture is only one of a series of this train station. I have picked, I think, the most vibrant version of the scene. (More about Monet another time, as he is definitely worthy of another post!)

Railroads and trains have been the inspiration for quite a few great movies and books.

One of my faves was a television series in the 1970's that was inspired by the books by Pierre Berton called "The National Dream" and "The Last Spike"
Pierre Berton / First Impressions / Toronto Arts Foundation / Sites / eZ Publish - Toronto Arts Foundation
Pierre Berton himself, is one of Canada's iconic personalities and also deserving of his own Blogpage!

Here are some other of my favourite movies with a "train theme":

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
A great western with Charles Bronson and Henry Fonda and a killer soundtrack! This movie gets into the dark side of the American mythology about the West with the Robber Barons of the railroad playing havoc with the good folk of the town, and the mysterious stranger antihero who stands up for the powerless.

Silver Streak (1976)
I saw this movie a very long time ago, so I hope it is still as funny as I remember it. It was the first movie pairing of Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor and they went on to make several other comedies together. This movie not only has almost all the action taking place on a train, but it ends with a spectacular train wreck...but don't worry -- it's a happy ending!
Part romantic comedy, part murder mystery, part thriller, it has a lot of witty dialogue and is certainly worth watching if it ever shows up on television. But you don't have to take my word for it, why not read some reviews from

Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

One of Dame Christie's most adapted literary works, but my favourite version (so far) was the Sidney Lumet version with Albert Finney. However, as I really prefer David Suchet as Hercule Poirot, I was delighted to learn that a remake of this movie has been done starring none other than my fave Poirot!
According to (Internet Movie Database) ITV has made a new season of the Hercule Poirot series and this one is episode 4. Has anyone seen it yet? Has it even aired yet? I am very excited!

There are only 2 more books/miniseries I am going to mention and they are both by my new favourite author, Elizabeth Gaskell. She is a new discovery of mine....(where HAD she been hiding all these years?) even though she was a contemporary of Charles Dickens! I find her writing much more accessible than his though. Enough said for now, the reason I mention her at all is that she definitely has a train theme running throughout two of her books.

Cranford, a series of short stories written for Dicken's literary magazine was published in book form in 1853. Adapted for television in 2007 and starring the magnificent Dame Judi Dench, this series and perhaps more so it's sequel Return to Cranford, paint a picture of a small British Victorian town before industrialization and the railroad intruded upon it, changing it forever. It is really very humourous, as well as quite touching.
When the matriarchs of Cranford (who are so against having the railway line cut through their little haven) are finally treated to a little jaunt in a passenger car, they decide to alter their opinions of Railway travel for the better.

And I have saved the best for last, so I hope there are still some readers left! Elizabeth Gaskell's masterpiece (in my opinion) and my most favourite adaptation in mini-series of any period drama that I have ever seen before!...North and South.

You may wonder, what this wonderful BBC production has to do with trains?
Well, let's see...only that it starts and ends on a train! The railway is used as an image to tie together the two disparate parts of England: the gentile, pastoral and cultured south and the energetic, industrial and independent north. It's about the clash of cultures, the rise of the working class, and the coming of age of a young, opinionated and slightly snobbish girl (played by Daniella Denby-Ashe) who learns to love the harsher ways of the north along with a certain cotton mill owner (played by Richard Armitage).
Many bloggers have had a lot to say about this movie, so rather than me repeat it all, here are a couple of links to their great reviews:
Click on the picture to make it bigger.
There now, I have nothing left to say. I'm just going to stare at this picture for awhile. Quite awhile!