Peter Alliss

Of the four golfing “majors,” the Open Championship is my favourite. The Masters is right behind, but I favour the Open, as it features a rotation of golf’s most historic courses, including The Old Course at St. Andrews, Royal Troon, Muirfield, Carnoustie, and this year, Royal St. George’s. These are links courses, almost guaranteeing wind to be a factor; with wind at the players’ backs for nine holes, and in their faces for the other nine. Or it may be coming across for all 18. Then there are fescue and gorse, and woe is the golfer who strays from the fairway. Bunkers? Rarely punitive on this side of the pond, but often costing a stroke in the old country. Rain? Just adds to the fun. As Peter Alliss said, “One of the good things about rain in Scotland is that most of it ends up as scotch.”

And that brings me to Peter Alliss, remarkably never knighted. “Sir” Peter Alliss has a much better sound to it than does “Sir” Nick Faldo. The Open Championship is missing Peter Alliss this year, Peter having passed away in December of 2020 at the age of 89.

Regarded by many as the “Voice of Golf,” Peter was first an accomplished golfing professional. Over a 17 year period he won 20 pro tournaments, including three British PGA championships, and had five top ten finishes in the Open. He played on eight Ryder Cup teams; one with his father Percy.

He smoothly transitioned to the broadcasting booth and for more than 50 years provided commentary for major professional tournaments around the world. He was known for his fairness and frankness, occasional political incorrectness, and undeniable wit. Here are some of his broadcasting gems:

• “It’s like turning up to hear Pavarotti sing and finding out he has laryngitis,” commenting on Tiger Woods shooting an 81 during the third round of the 2002 Open Championship.

• “The most skilful players, by far, to have played the game were those who played between 1900 and 1930. You’ve only got to look at the tools they had. The balls weren’t round, the courses weren’t in the best condition, and they were going round championship courses, with bunkers that were never raked and before cylindrical mowers came in, and they were shooting 73 or 74 with hickory-shafted clubs. They were geniuses.”

• “Too many people bugger about and it’s pathetic to watch. I mean, how can you possibly take a minute-and-a-half to line up a putt from 18 inches?”

• “Looks a bit like Jurassic Park in there,” commenting on the rough at the 2003 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s. And it looks just like Jurassic Park this year.

• At the 2001 Open at Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s, while dropping in at the ABC broadcast booth, and with David Duval taking the lead after the sixth hole of the final round, all Peter had to say was “Well done.” (Often in sports commentary, less is better.) And then followed up with, “Twenty-seven times he’s played in a major championship, still looking for his first victory. But his bank manager’s happy.”

• “The game lends itself to fantasies about our abilities.”

• Commenting on the kind of money coming to young professional golfers, “I’m not too sure that they all appreciate it. My old grandmother would have said, ‘They’ve never had to save up to buy a bicycle.”

• As Rory McIlroy came into view down the fairway in the 2011 Open Championship, Peter had this to say: “Just keep playing nicely, gently, m’boy … keep finding the fairways, keep finding the greens … You can’t force this game … some people think you can … some players think they can … but you can’t … Golf is all about patience … Good old-fashioned word ‘patience’ … ask kids today about ‘patience’ and they pull out their iPhones, whatever they are, and say it don’t [sic] say anything here about ‘patience’ but I can tell you the population of Madagascar … ” (I wonder if there are golf courses in Madagascar?)

• Of Bernard Langer: “There’s a famous series of small books you can buy, like ‘Famous Jewish Cricketers,’ and that sort of thing. I think Langer will have a small book on ‘Shots I Have Hit in Haste.’ It would only be half a page, and it might be blank. I’ve never seen him do anything without giving it 100% concentration.”

• In 2012, Peter was inducted into golf’s Hall of Fame. I quote from his acceptance speech: “So it’s time to – I could waffle on for another four or five hours. I just want to say this: I think of it often because I did leave school early. I was quite bright, but I remember my last report which was sent home. We had a headmistress that my modest school … She was a Mrs.Violet Weymouth, and she was a short Welsh woman. She always had a cigarette dangling out of her mouth and the smoke used to trickle up here, and you could see where the smoke went. There was sort of a brown line up there. But she was — you didn’t mess about with Mrs. Weymouth, I can tell you that … I remember the last report she sent back to my parents, and it went something like this: Peter does have a brain, but he’s rather loathe to use it. His only interests appear to be the game of golf and Violet Pretty, a girl I liked. She never knew about Iris Baker, but they were the two that introduced me to some of the ways of the world, for which I’ll be eternally grateful. And although we were very young, I wish to God we could do it today. And Mrs. Weymouth, if you’re there,” pointing to the heavens, he flipped her off.

To finish, here are some tidbits of information about Peter:

• At birth, he weighed 14 pounds, 11 ounces — then a European record.

• He was born just outside of Berlin, Germany, where his father was the golf professional at the Wannsee Golf Club.

• He opposed the opening up of Muirfield Golf Club to female members.

• Peter and his partner Dave Thomas designed two of the three courses at the Belfry, (with Thomas designing the third). The Belfry has hosted the Ryder Cup four times. The Alliss-Thomas partnership designed 50 courses in total.

• “Hit it Alice” is an exclamation often used by male golfers when leaving putts short of the hole.  Self-derogatory, but also derogatory to women, don’t you think?  As legend would have it, the correct version is “Hit it Alliss.”  During the 1963 Ryder Cup, Peter left a three foot putt short, causing a member of the gallery to shout, “Nice putt Alliss!”  And it went from there.

• In preparing for his golf game in the movie, “Goldfinger,” Sean Connery sought out Peter for lessons, cementing Sir Sean’s lifelong love for the game. Goldfinger and James Bond in the following, with Oddjob standing by …

Alzheimer’s Dementia and Aducanumab

… For a minute there I almost forgot what I wanted to write about.

To be serious, dementia is a disease that will touch all of us, hopefully not directly, but invariably when family members, friends and neighbours suffer its ravages.

On June 7, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted marketing approval for aducanumab (brand name: Aduhelm™); an approval that has been met with mixed reactions.

The FDA employed its Accelerated Approval pathway, under which an approval may be granted for a drug “for a serious or life-threatening illness that may provide meaningful therapeutic benefit over existing treatments when the drug is shown to have an effect on a surrogate endpoint that is reasonably likely to predict a clinical benefit to patients and there remains some uncertainty about the drug’s clinical benefit.”

In this case the “surrogate endpoint” was the drug’s ability to reduce or remove amyloid plaques in the brain that are thought to be the root cause of Alzheimer’s disease. I will share more about this later.

It is not unusual for the FDA to approve a drug through this mechanism. But the list of “Accelerated Approvals” is dominated by drugs used for the treatment of a multitude of cancers.

To quote from the FDA website, “The late-stage development program for Aduhelm consisted of two phase 3 clinical trials. One study met the primary endpoint, showing reduction in clinical decline. The second trial did not meet the primary endpoint. In all studies in which it was evaluated, however, Aduhelm consistently and very convincingly reduced the level of amyloid plaques in the brain in a dose- and time-dependent fashion. It is expected that the reduction in amyloid plaque will result in a reduction in clinical decline.”

For the FDA, this is a giant leap of faith, for as a rule the agency requires the successful completion of two “pivotal” phase 3 clinical studies to qualify for marketing approval. In reviewing drug approval submissions, the FDA convenes an advisory committee meeting of outside experts (in this case the Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs Advisory Committee) to review the data provided by the sponsor(s), which were the pharmaceutical firms Biogen and Eisai). This advisory committee provided little to no support for the application, yet the FDA (as we read above) granted approval. While the FDA generally follows the recommendations of its expert committees, in this case it did not. Three advisory committee members resigned in protest.

The FDA decision was driven by a number of factors. On the one hand, it has been almost two decades since the last marketing approval was granted for a drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease. Six million Americans suffer from the disease, and that number will rapidly grow as the population ages. This approval marks the first time that a disease modifying drug will enter the market, and to quote the FDA’s director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, “Although the Aduhelm data are complicated with respect to its clinical benefits, FDA has determined that there is substantial evidence that Aduhelm reduces amyloid beta plaques in the brain and that the reduction in these plaques is reasonably likely to predict important benefits to patients.” A reproduction of amyloid beta protein molecule is featured below.

The Amyloid Hypothesis

Scientists have identified hundreds of families globally in which genetic mutations practically guarantee the development of Alzheimer’s. The mutations occur in three genes, each of which is associated with amyloid production. Then there are mice, genetically engineered by scientists to carry these gene mutations, and which develop amyloid plaques. These little guys have trouble finding their way through mazes, together with other symptoms that resemble Alzheimer’s symptoms in humans. And finally there is the presence of amyloid plaques in adults with Down syndrome. Down syndrome patients who live past 65 (of whom there are few) will invariably develop Alzheimer’s.

Opposite of the debate about the importance of amyloid is the belief, held by many in the neuroscience community, that there are other processes at play apart from those involving amyloid. Years ago, when I was working for a company developing a treatment for stroke, one of our consultants, acknowledging the complexities of the brain, commented that each stroke is different, and that, “Once you’ve seen one stroke, you’ve seen one stroke.” The same may well apply to Alzheimer’s and that Aduhelm may not be the silver bullet.

More Debate

The FDA approved Aduhelm for all patients with Alzheimer’s, despite the drug not being studied in patients with moderate to severe disease. And the approval process used by the FDA requires Biogen to conduct post-approval studies to confirm clinical effectiveness. The FDA retains the right to demand withdrawal of the drug from the market, should those studies disappoint.

In the meantime, Aduhelm will be sold with a $56,000 annual price tag — which seems quite a lot for a drug with questionable efficacy. Adding to the cost of treatment is the requirement that patients undergo an MRI twice during the course of a year’s treatment. Plus the drug has to be administered intravenously once a month; bringing access and burden of care issues into the equation.

Despite its constituency, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), seems less than enamoured with the approval; and puts the cost issue into a different perspective. AARP estimates that the annual cost to Medicare with 500,000 of its beneficiaries on the drug will run to $29 billion. Ouch!

In the meantime, I will continue to do my memory exercises — doing the weekly crossword, recording accurate scores on the golf course, and reading as much as possible. If I could only find my glasses.

Corned Beef Chowder

I’ll say yes to corned beef done in so many different ways, whether as corned beef on rye, or in hash, or in a chowder. It happens that this chowder recipe is a true winner. It takes a little time, but very little effort. It can be done over the course of a day, but I do it over two days.

Our local market packages chunks of corned beef with a pickling brine. I have also seen the same packaging at other markets. I bought a piece that was just shy of two pounds, and emptied the contents into my slow cooker, along with 6 cups of water. I then stirred in two heaping tablespoons of “Better Than Bouillon” — the veggie version. (Or you can use 6 cups of packaged veggie bouillon.)

This is about noon on day one, with the cooker set to high. After a good six hours, I removed the corned beef, and put it a covered bowl to refrigerate. I strained the liquid, moving it to a covered bowl and put it in the fridge overnight as well. Cooling the liquid will cause any fat to rise to the surface.

Early on day two I skimmed fat from the strained liquid, then put it back in the slow cooker, adding the following:

  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 half small cabbage, chopped
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 4 tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried tarragon leaves

After about three hours on high heat, I blended the mixture, adding salt and pepper to taste (little salt needed as the brine gives off great flavour).

And finally, to finish the chowder, I added the corned beef, having chopped it into 1/2 inch pieces, the other half of the small cabbage, again chopped, before opening two cans of cream potato soup (yes, seems to be cheating, but whatever works). Stir it all together, and at low heat, slow cook for another 2 to 3 hours. It should come out creamy in the end, but be prepared to add 2 tablespoons of corn starch (mixed to a paste in water) to get the consistency you want.

Kiwis

Not particularly cute, but lovable all the same; the kiwi is a New Zealand national icon, and is virtually sightless, and definitely flightless. The kiwi is a ratite related to the emu and the ostrich, and to the elephant bird of Madagascar, long extinct. The elephant bird, as its name and the image below indicate, was huge, its weight often exceeding 1000 pounds. By comparison, the kiwi is about the size of a plump roasting chicken.

I was able to catch a “Species” podcast on CBC Radio. Here are some facts about the kiwi as noted in the podcast, together with some gems sourced elsewhere.

  •  The kiwi is so named by New Zealand’s Māoris, who likened “kiwi” to the sound the bird makes.
  • There are five types of kiwi, with the brown kiwi the most common, numbering about 35,000 (out of a total kiwi population of 68,000 or so). Plus there are great spotted kiwis, little spotted kiwis, tokoeka, and rowi kiwis. The rowi is the rarest type of kiwi, with only 450 in existence.
  • Kiwis are an endangered species, and there are kiwi sanctuaries (some 20 or more) and breeding programs throughout New Zealand. Consider that the only mammals native to New Zealand are bats. What came next, compliments of humans, were dogs, cats, stoats (the greatest predatory threat to kiwis) and more. Thus only 5% of kiwi chicks survive to adulthood; with 2% of the kiwi population dying each week. A stoat pictured in the following.

It was during the late nineteenth century that rabbits were introduced into New Zealand, as game to be hunted and a source of food. Rabbits tend to proliferate and before long New Zealand had a rabbit problem. Stoats were then introduced to control the rabbit population, and of course, following the law of unintended consequences, the stoats became a more serious problem, especially their impact on birds, and kiwis in particular.

  • The female kiwi lays large eggs — about 20% of her body size. To put this into some kind of perspective; to match that a woman would have to give birth to a baby of 40 pounds.
  • The kiwi has been called an “honorary” mammal by the New Yorker magazine, and for good reason. Its beak, unlike other birds, has nostrils at the tip, and its feathers resemble hair, while airborne birds have feathers with hollow shafts. Kiwis have a remarkable sense of smell and whiskers — not very bird-like — which enable them to seek food, as they forage at night. Daylight hours are spent in their burrows.
  • Kiwis are monogamous, and that can mean long and loving relationships, as they may live for 50 years. I say loving because they may mate as many as three times daily during the breeding period, and they will go at it for weeks until an egg is produced. I don’t know of any 50 year olds having sex three times a day; but I may ask around.
  • The brown kiwi will leave the burrow after just a month, presumably to make room for the next egg, if not to give the parents some time to  themselves to resume their mating ritual.

It was three years ago, on a golf holiday to New Zealand, that great friend Kim, new friend Maureen and I were able to play at the Wairakei Golf + Sanctuary (above). It is stunning, just a short distance from Lake Taupo. The golf course is the 8th ranked course on New Zealand’s North Island, and is owned by Gary Lane, a prominent Auckland businessman.

Not often one hears of a golf course AND sanctuary. Perhaps there should be more. Mr. Lane decided to have a 5.5 km, 2 metre high fence erected around the course to keep out predators and pests that could find their way in by climbing and burrowing. Game wardens patrol the perimeter to ensure the varmints stay out. The course is a haven for kiwi birds.

One final word or two about the kiwi. The Royal New Zealand Air Force has chosen to include the kiwi as part of its logo: yes, a flightless, almost sightless bird. Ironic?

TE TAUAARANGI O AOTEAROA? Māori for “New Zealand Warriors of the Sky.”

Bad Hair

There will be a time, hopefully coming soon, when you will feel comfortable going to the mall again. And when you do go, after reading this, you may look at people differently.

The inspiration for a “blogue” sometimes comes from what might seem like the least of inspirational sources. In this case the source is Boris Johnson, a former mayor of London and now the prime minister of the United Kingdom.

I am led to believe that this is Boris as a child, and in this photo, not a happy little fellow, perhaps with the haircut to blame. It may be that Boris, given this unhappy start in life, decided to forgo the use of comb and hairbrush, with the result seen in the following: just one example of his disdain for coiffure.

But let’s move to seamier stuff.

It seems that Boris is a bit of a chick magnet. In 1987 he married his first wife, Allegra Mostyn-Owen. They divorced, but not before Boris had impregnated Marina Wheeler. He and Marina married in 1993 and eventually had four children together. BoJo, as he is known in the British tabloids, was not done. According to The Sun newspaper, while married to Marina, he strayed into the arms of writer Petronella Wyatt, and then “overlapped” that dalliance with Anna Fazackerley, a journalist. And in 2009, he is alleged to have fathered a “lovechild” with arts consultant Helen Macintyre, and yes, while still married to Ms. Wheeler. Also according to The Sun, source of all truths among British newspapers, a friend said that Ms. Wheeler puts up with Boris’s philandering because, “She sees it as a childish side of his personality which one day he’ll grow out of.” Marina and Boris separated in 2018 and divorced in November of 2020; in the nick of time apparently, as Carrie Symonds in April of 2020 gave birth to little Wilfred Johnson.

In the meantime, BoJo did find the time, somehow, to manage the UK through Brexit and to fumble his way through the early days of the pandemic. He even ended up in hospital with Covid-19. No telling where he caught it.

Don King

Don King will turn 90 during 2021 and has long been famous, and infamous, as a boxing promoter. He put together some of the biggest boxing matches in history, including the “Thrilla in Manila,” (Joe Frazier vs. Muhammad Ali) and the “Rumble in the Jungle,” (with George Forman fighting Ali). Ali won both fights.

King promoted many of the most prominent names in boxing, including Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, as well as Ali, Foreman and Frazier. As a side note, it was King who promoted the rematch between Tyson and Holyfield in which the former bit off part of the latter’s ear, with the former being disqualified.

As if boxing weren’t seamy enough, Don King was sued for fraud, by pretty much every boxer who signed on with him, as he apparently neglected to pass along proceeds from the matches he promoted.  He subsequently settled out-of-court, often for millions. To put a cherry on top of this, he also killed two people; one a thief he shot in the back (justifiable homicide); the other a man he stomped to death (for which he was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and went to prison for 4 years). Then there is the crime of the hair: voluntary poor taste.

David Beckham

In his day, quite a footballer (soccer player to us North Americans), and famous on several other levels. He married one the Spice Girls (Cayenne? Whatever.), as the Spice Girls shot to fame as a forgettable 1990s pop group. But David truly was talented on the pitch, having played for Manchester United, Paris Saint Germain, Real Madrid and other premier level football clubs.

“Becks” is sought after as a model, and has lucrative contracts with fragrance companies and fashion designers, and his ball striking ability was immortalized in the movie, “Bend It Like Beckham.”

David is a pretty good looking guy, but for some reason he can’t stop messing with his hair. Apparently he suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder and perhaps this is one manifestation.

Valentina Petrenko

I was looking for a balance; a politician who might serve as a female counterpart to Boris Johnson. And here she is. And yes, that is her everyday hair. Ms. Petrenko is a Russian politician, serving as a senator from the Russian Federation of Khakassia, which is located in the southwestern part of Siberia. Ms. Petrenko has been a senator for some 20 years, speaks several languages, Russian, Polish and English among them, and has earned her PhD in biology. Perhaps a little off the top, wouldn’t you agree?

Bill Gates

It’s not that Bill Gates has bad hair, it’s that he has never spent more than 7 bucks on a haircut, and it remains boring. Despite being one of the wealthiest persons on earth — when last I looked he had amassed a fortune of about $140 billion — it is also galling that the man lives in a 66,000 square foot mansion (slightly larger than a football field), and may need to maintain a 2,000 square foot closet just to accommodate his V-neck sweaters.

So maybe it’s not the hair, but the resistance to change. At least branch out into cardigans! Recently it was announced that Bill and his wife Melinda have decided to divorce; an event that will shave his net worth to about $70 billion. Rumours abound as to the reason for the split, but could this long haired blond have come between them?

That’s Bill and Melinda above, in a happier moment; Bill in a nice V-neck.

I could go on at length on the subject of “Bad Hair.” Truly interesting, as it seems that men (i.e., famous men) are apt to have bad hair more often out of benign neglect rather than any real motive (“Becks” being a exception). As for women, what I might perceive to be a case of bad hair, is more likely to be considered, “fashionable” hair, and you would have someone like Miley Cyrus sporting a new “do” every week.

So I will conclude with three gents and little comment. Here is the actor Mickey Rourke, with age and other things taking their toll: Mickey on the left, then; and on the right, now.

Johnny Depp

Not to spend much time here, but Johnny appears to be in the “Becks” category that requires change. In Johnny’s case change may not necessarily be a good thing.

And finally, Phil Spector

Phil Spector recently passed away … in prison; where he had been since 2009, having been convicted of the murder in his home of actress Lana Clarkson. He had been serving a 19 year sentence when he died of complications due to Covid-19.

Phil Spector was a prominent music producer and songwriter, having produced singles and albums for the Beatles, the Righteous Brothers, Leonard Cohen and many others; and writing or co-writing such hits as “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” and “Spanish Harlem.”

He was also famous for his bad hair. The photo on the upper left taken in prison, and on the lower right, at his murder trial.

10 More …

It is late April and we remain Covid-19 restricted. Travel discouraged if not outright prohibited (for example, with few exceptions, travel off Vancouver Island is verboten), social interaction limited, social distancing encouraged, and masks mandatory (indoors). We may have asked ourselves: “What are we missing most?” Family visits, of course. Travel? Absolutely. A houseful of neighbours? You bet. But we have persevered.

As I have written before, we have plenty of planned distractions. At first I thought about providing 20 more movie favourites. But then it occurred to me that a different approach was warranted; to provide a list of actors/actresses; many of whom might not have appeared in Oscar-worthy flicks, but in flicks nonetheless that are worth viewing. And “10 More” might lead to many more than 20 movie suggestions.  I will lead off with Steve McQueen.

It was more than 20 years ago that I was flying east from Los Angeles to Philadelphia, with a planned stop at Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) airport. I boarded the plane, taking a window seat in first class, when the actress Ali MacGraw planted herself in the aisle seat next to me. Ms. MacGraw barely acknowledged me, not impolitely, and almost immediately immersed herself in a sort of Zen State, which I assumed to be what actors did. As our plane approached DFW, Ms. MacGraw came to life and we proceeded to talk. It was very pleasant. I complimented her on her acting abilities, and without hesitation, I asked her about Steve McQueen, to whom she was married for 5 years. She said he was a “dude.” Hard to dispute, considering his Hollywood moniker was “The King of Cool.” “The Thomas Crown Affair” was directed by the Canadian Norman Jewison, and released in 1968. The movie has a timeless quality (and much better than the 1999 re-make starring Pierce Brosnan). By now, most of you will know the story line about a wealthy man robbing a bank, somewhat ingeniously. And you will know that he robbed the bank (followed by a second robbery), because he was bored. Aren’t we all?

As for Ms. MacGraw, she departed my plane at DFW in order to catch a flight to Central America. As she left her seat, she passed along her copy of “People” magazine, which she graciously autographed. I passed along the magazine to my golf buddy, Walter, who professed to be a big fan of Ms. MacGraw.

This is a lot more lengthy than I intended, mainly because of Ms. MacGraw and my one brush with celebrity, but take the time to watch Steve McQueen in “Bullitt,” “The Great Escape,” “The Cincinnati Kid,” and “The Sand Pebbles.”

Walter Matthau

Probably the least likely to be cast as a leading man, but he often was. Walter Matthau had a face seemingly made of plasticine, with the emphasis on “plastic.” The image above is a little extreme, but makes my point.

Walter was at his best in comedies. To name several: “House Calls” with Glenda Jackson; “Hopscotch,” again with Glenda Jackson; “The Odd Couple” and “The Fortune Cookie,” both with Jack Lemmon. All worth viewing one more time. And there are so many more, including “A New Leaf,” with Elaine May, and on the more dramatic side, “Charley Varrick” and “Charade.”
Walter is one of a handful to win an Oscar (for “The Fortune Cookie”), a Tony award (for the play “A Shot in the Dark”), a BAFTA award (for “Charlie Varrick), and a Golden Globe (for “The Sunshine Boys.”)

Frances McDormand

Frances McDormand is not given to ego. Not a Hollywood beauty, but not one to really care. She invariably will show up at acting awards ceremonies with hair done by blow-dryer, make-up, if any, done without the benefit of a mirror, and gowns by JC Penney. Frances is one of a few to receive awards for the “Triple Crown of Acting,” (awards for an Oscar, a Tony and an Emmy). That’s Frances, above, in a scene from  the movie, “Fargo.” (subsequently winning the Oscar for best actress).

Perhaps even better than “best,” watch her in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri,” (won the Oscar), “Burn After Reading,” (a personal favourite), and “Nomadland,” (for which she just won another Oscar). Frances has done much more of course, and she is married to Joel Coen of the Coen Brothers, of “Fargo,” “Raising Arizona,” and “Burn After Reading,” fame, probably with a guarantee that she will not lack for additional acting opportunities.

Billy Wilder

Okay; not an actor, but surely one of the greatest movie directors. What I find fascinating about Mr. Wilder is how he adapted to American culture, and subsequently, how he adapted American film culture. He was equally comfortable directing dramas or comedies. Consider these classics: “Some Like It Hot,” “Sunset Boulevard,” “Witness for the Prosecution,” “Double Indemnity,” and “The Apartment.” Of the aforementioned, he also wrote (or co-wrote) the screenplays. All of these and so much more from Wilder, born in what is now Poland, and who came to America at the age of 27. His mother and other members of his family, were murdered during the Holocaust.

That’s Billy, pictured below, with Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn on the set of “Sabrina.” And while worth viewing, not among my favourite Wilder films. It is difficult to accept Bogey as Audrey’s love interest.

Audrey Hepburn

But at least that brings me to Audrey Hepburn. Apart from “Sabrina,” there are “Roman Holiday,” (for which Audrey won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA award), “Charade,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s, “How to Steal a Million,” “Wait Until Dark.” and “My Fair Lady.” Ms. Hepburn was the epitome of elegance and class, and if you are so inclined, catch the documentary, “Audrey” now available on Netflix. Ms. Hepburn, to her credit, leveraged her movie fame to become an ambassador for UNICEF.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

In a quote attributed to the producer/director Joel Schumacher, “The bad news is that Philip won’t be a $25-million star. The good news is that he’ll work for the rest of his life.” He could have worked forever, but sadly, that life ended after just 46 years, of an apparent drug overdose.

Not a leading man, as Mr. Schumacher made plain, but Philip chose wisely, invariably featured in good flicks and he always acquitted himself well, often with hilarity and sometimes with seriousness. Check out “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Cold Mountain,” “Along Came Polly,” and “Boogie Nights.” Philip above, pictured with his Oscar for best actor in “Capote.”

Robert Downey Jr.

I am not a big fan of the whole “Super Hero” genre. Simply put, if it is not believable, I don’t believe it. But there are a few exceptions, among them “Iron Man.” I loved and still love this movie. Gwyneth Paltrow was a bonus, as was Jeff Bridges. But I thought casting Downey as Iron Man was brilliant, as he seems to belong to that laid back “I don’t give a sh*t” school of acting. That being written, also view “Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang,” (if you hadn’t read it here, you wouldn’t know about it, and it is good), “Restoration,” and “Sherlock Holmes,” (yes, another Sherlock Holmes movie, and quite entertaining).

Matt Damon

Early success can be difficult for some; but not for Matt Damon. He and Ben Affleck shared an Oscar in 1998 (Matt was then 28) for the screenplay for “Good Will Hunting,” Both went on to much more, with Matt featured in the “Bourne” series, especially “The Bourne Identity,” “The Bourne Supremacy,” and “The Bourne Ultimatum.” Occasionally he plays against type, as they say, as in “The Departed” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” Then there are “Saving Private Ryan” and “Ocean’s 11,” in which Matt takes on a comedic role. Matt above, as Private Ryan.

Christian Bale

He is a chameleon. Pictured in the following are Bale (on the left) as Dick Cheney in “Vice,” and Dick Cheney as Dick Cheney (on the right).

Some of you will remember Christian starring as a young English boy (he was 13 at the time) confined to a Japanese internment camp in China in the World War II drama, “Empire of the Sun.” He is known to do whatever it takes to assume his character’s identity, as he did in “Vice,” but also losing more than 60 pounds to play the title role in “The Machinist,” then gaining 100 pounds soon after to play Batman in “Batman Begins.” He reprised his Batman role in “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Night Rises,” with the second in the Batman series my pick of the three.

Christian won his best supporting actor Oscar for “The Fighter,” but I more enjoyed “3:10 to Yuma,” (an American Western starring Bale, a Wales-born Brit, and Russell Crowe, born a Kiwi), “American Hustle,” and “The Big Short,” with Bale at his quirky best in the latter two.

Christian below, and emaciated, as “The Machinist.”  Not on my list of recommendations.


To show him in a better image perspective, this is the real Christian.

His stepmother, by the way, is Gloria Steinem.

 

Ingrid Bergman

Her movies include “Casablanca,” of course; also “Gaslight,” “Anastasia,” and “Notorious.” She won best actress Oscars for “Gaslight” and “Anastasia and a best supporting actress Oscar for “Murder on the Orient Express,” (the 1974 version with Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot). Remarkably, Ms. Bergman was not even nominated for her role as Ilsa Lund in “Casablanca,” in which she is pictured above. Apparently she preferred to be photographed with the left side of her face dominant. Obviously stunning from any angle.

Ms. Bergman passed away from breast cancer at only 67, and in her last acting role, for which she won an Emmy (awarded posthumously), she portrayed Golda Meir, in the television miniseries, “A Woman Called Golda.”

A final note. The term “gaslighting,” of which we often hear today, did not originate with the Bergman/Boyer film “Gaslight,” but rather with the play “Gas Light.” The play morphed into a 1940 British movie, “Gaslight,” with Ms. Bergman’s Oscar-winning role coming four years later in a remake.

 

Indian Hills, Colorado

Indian Hills is a small town (pop. about 1300) in Colorado, about 30 minutes by car from Denver.

In 2013, with time on his hands, Vince Rozmiarek (above), a father of three grown sons, and a volunteer at the Indian Hills Community Center, took over managing the roadside sign for the Center. On April 1, 2013 (of course, April Fool’s Day) he took his sense of humour from home to highway. The result: puns and Dad jokes – usually two a week – that entertain travelers and some 100,000 Facebook followers around the world. His favourite pun? “Cows have hooves because they lactose.”

And for your viewing pleasure, here are just several more of the hundreds that Vince has posted.  The last one is my personal favourite. The Indian Hills puns don’t stop with Mr. Rozmiarek. To take in some of the local color while visiting Indian Hills, just head on down to the Sit N Bull Saloon.

Sir David Attenborough

Perhaps too often I have dwelt on those who have parted this earth, but not without reason, as many have contributed so much. I have written about Sir Winston Churchill, George Mallory, Sir Nicholas Winton, Albert Finney, Nancy Wake, among others, and rightly so. Then there are Harry and Meghan, Elmyr de Hory and the Ecclestones, who may or not be with us, but who serve to create a bit of a balance to those more worthy. After all, what do Harry and Meghan really have to offer, other than tabloid fodder?

Then I arrive at David Attenborough. I just now watched the Netflix documentary, “David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet” and was truly struck by its content, and not the least by its narrator. Sir David paints a grim picture, detailing, albeit with glorious photography, the damage humankind has done to planet earth, just in his lifetime. No part of the planet is immune – the plains, the forests (especially the rainforests), the oceans, the ice shelves of the Arctic and Antarctica.

In its review of the documentary, the New York Times said this in part: “The most devastating sequence finds Attenborough charting the disasters we face in future decades — global crises that he, as a man now in his 90s, will not experience. Yet he finds hope by extrapolating small successes. Sustainable farming in the Netherlands has made the country one of the worldwide leaders in food exports. Fishing restrictions around the Pacific archipelago nation of Palau enabled marine life to rebound. The film’s grand achievement is that it positions its subject as a mediator between humans and the natural world. Life cycles on, and if we make the right choices, ruin can become regrowth.”

The population of the world in 1937 was 2.3 billion. Today it is 7.8 billion, and according to Sir David, by the end of this century there will be 11 billion people on the planet, which would strain the supply of food resources and further add to the stress on natural resources and indirectly accelerate global warming. Two thirds of this documentary provided alarming commentary. Throughout the remaining one third Sir David offers some hope. I cannot do this film its due here, except to write that it is well worth viewing, especially by our children and grandchildren.

But I can give Sir David his due, if for no other reason that a soon-to-be 95 year old cares about his planet, and his passion has been there for all of us to see for eight decades. Sir David starting working with BBC TV in the 1950s, despite not owning a television himself. I took stock of his productivity in producing, writing and presenting documentaries and stopped at 127. It seems that he is even busier now than ever before. Some Attenborough facts:

  • Sir David was knighted in 1985.
  • He does not drive a car, having not passed the driver’s exam.
  • He has had more than a dozen animal species and plants named for him, but he does not like rats.
  • For one documentary, “The Life of Birds,” he traveled more than 250,000 miles – a distance equal to circumnavigating the globe 10 times (think of the Frequent Flyer miles!).
  • During the Second World War, his parents adopted two refugee Jewish girls from Europe.

Sir David is the younger brother of Richard Attenborough (Baron Attenborough, no less); a two time Oscar winner (best picture and directing Oscars for “Gandhi”), four time BAFTA winner, and forever remembered for “The Great Escape” and “Jurassic Park.” In the following: David and Richard enjoying a light moment. The two of them seemed to have a lot of these moments before Richard passed on in 2014.

Koalas

“Koala rescued after causing five-car pileup on Australian freeway …”
OK, when I saw this headline and the accompanying photograph (below), my immediate reaction was WTH! (“What The Heck,” as I am aware QBBlogue has younger readers) — as I was certain this little gaffer couldn’t possibly reach the gas pedal.

It turns out that the little guy was wandering across the freeway, and, as Aussies are acutely aware that koalas are a protected species, drivers swerved to avoid him, and five cars piled into one another.

Fortunately, no serious injuries were reported, and a motorist carefully picked up the koala and put him in the trunk of her SUV. He then made his way to the front seat and took over the steering wheel. He was eventually turned over to wildlife officials.

The accident was reported over the Valentine’s Day weekend, remarkably coincident with my own musings about getting a pet. I love dogs, and am especially fond of dachshunds, schnauzers and cockapoos, if only because these breeds belong to friends, and each breed has character and is cute, something I judge to be important in a dog. And as we are working our way through the Covid-19 pandemic, I thought that owning a dog would fill several voids: for example, getting out in the fresh air, meeting friends walking their dogs and without doubt comparing their less appealing dogs to mine; or playing “fetch” with a ball that only occasionally is returned, and when returned, is drenched in mucous; or taking money that might otherwise be spent traveling south and re-purposing it to pay vet bills.

Then it occurred to me earlier this morning, “I should look into getting a koala as a pet.” How cool would it be to take my koala out for a walk, amidst the crowds of dogs and dog walkers. There are some real pluses to the idea. Koalas are cute (think, “chick magnet,” which might have been relevant five decades ago), koalas don’t bark, and they have to climb a tree to pee and poop, so no need to carry a bag.

Perhaps I might share some background on koalas. The name “koala” is of Australian aboriginal origin, and means “no drink.” It seems that koalas are able to obtain water from eucalyptus leaves, their main source of food.

Koala bears are not bears of course, but marsupials; mammals with pouches to accommodate newborns. Depending on location in Australia, koalas weigh between 10 to 14, to as much as 25 pounds. They may live for 20 years. Koalas are related to wombats, kangaroos, Tasmanian devils, and to opossums, which are the only marsupials found in North America. The following is a photo of a Virginia opossum. Nowhere near as cuddly as a koala.

According to the Australian Koala Foundation, between 47,000 and 85,000 koalas exist in the wild. Those numbers, while seemingly impressive, are concerning, as koala habitat (including eucalyptus trees) are under pressure from human encroachment, and during the last several years, from the destruction caused by wildfires. A real concern among wildlife authorities and scientists is infection in koalas caused by chlamydia. Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted infection in humans, and while koalas are often infected by a different strain of chlamydia, the consequences may be serious, including blindness, infertility and bladder dysfunction.

Cute and cuddly, yes, but contact with humans causes stress in koalas. Better to be left to their habitat. In Australia it is forbidden to have koalas as pets, and they are left alone, save for the relative few in zoos. Koalas are herbivores, but they will attack humans with sharp claws and teeth, especially when shielding their young.

Koalas sleep for 18 to 22 hours a day, so taking a koala for a walk may prove fruitless when he wants stop every few yards for a nap. Plus koalas need eucalyptus leaves to survive, at least a pound or two a day. I went on the PetSmart website and searched “eucalyptus leaves” only to find “Dog Urine Destroyer – Eucalyptus and Rosemary Scent.” Not helpful.

And so, in the time it has taken to write this, the idea of having a pet koala has vaporized. What with chlamydia; cuteness and cuddliness that disguises potential viciousness; the penchant for sleeping for all but a couple of hours a day; and the fact that it is illegal to have a pet koala, I am done … although not quite done with this blogue entry.

It seems that the Royal Family has this thing about photo ops with koalas. Harry and Meghan have done them, as have William and Kate. And here are Charles and Camilla, possibly with Camilla just informed that koalas carry chlamydia.

The Queen, on the other hand, in this image, perhaps wisely, has chosen to ignore the cute little things.

Cake Salé

This is a wonderful French recipe, and quite easy.  The cake (really bread) is perfect in so many settings.  Great on its own with butter, or as toast, or as a side to soup or dip.

For the dough:

  •     3 eggs
  •     Pepper (a pinch)
  •     50 grams grated parmesan cheese
  •     50 grams grated cheddar
  •     70 ml olive oil
  •     70 ml milk
  •     1 teaspoon salt
  •     150 grams all-purpose flour
  •     1 tablespoon baking powder

In s large bowl blend together the eggs, pepper, salt and cheeses.  Add the olive oil and milk and mix well.  Sift the flour and baking powder into the mix and stir until smooth.

A kitchen scale is a godsend, especially for this sort of recipe, where the measures are largely metric.  I used onion and peppers for the cake filling, although sautéed ham slices may be added for a bit of smokiness.  Here are the veggie ingredients:

  •     50 grams onion, diced
  •     50 grams red bell pepper, diced
  •     50 grams yellow bell pepper, diced
  •     50 grams orange bell pepper, diced
  •     1 tablespoon olive oil

Sauté the onions and peppers in the olive oil, and once softened, fold into the cake filling.

Line an 8 inch loaf pan with parchment paper and heat your oven to 375°F.  Pour the mixture into your loaf pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes.  Voilà!