A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Friday, 12 December 2014

Hooptedoodle #156 – Holidays with Clues

Themed Holidays - for loonies?
I was in Edinburgh this morning – I had a hospital appointment, so had to be on the 09:26 from our local station. Left my car at my mother’s house (private superstition – just in case the hospital keeps me in overnight – you know how it is…) and walked through a light snowstorm to the station. Blooming freezing, I can tell you.

When I got to Edinburgh it was still very cold, but the sun was shining, and Princes Street was looking as good as it can these days – very attractive, if you like mobile phone shops. Saw the famous tram – not so shiny-new now, but still exciting – I must go on it sometime soon – maybe out to the airport and back.

I had just a little time to kill, and as I walked along Rose Street I passed the rear of British Home Stores, and was very surprised to be reminded they have a restaurant – well, a “caff”, really. I haven’t been in, nor thought about, a BHS restaurant for maybe 25 years – in a moment of nostalgic perversity, I went in and ordered a cup of coffee – perverse only in the sense that I recall that BHS used to serve the worst coffee I ever tasted. I read my book for a little while in there – it was warm, the place was almost empty, and it was entertaining to watch the staff not quite managing to put up a big Christmas tree. Lots of shouted instructions and things falling. The coffee was undrinkable; it is reassuring in these days of uncertainty and slipping standards to know that some traditions, at least, are kept safe for us.

The hospital visit was trivial in the end – they took me early, as soon as I arrived, a quick X-Ray and I was out again. On the way back up to the station, my No. 29 bus was stuck in traffic, and a sign in a shop window in Stockbridge caught my eye. It was obviously a travel agency, but I couldn’t quite make out this sign. Eventually the bus reached the window, and I confirmed that the sign did, in fact, say “Painting and Pilates Holidays in Italy”, which I had previously discounted as meaningless – or at least unlikely. Painting and Pilates? Very strange – I can think of a whole pile of things I would like to do in Italy – especially on a cold Scottish morning – but wouldn’t have thought of pilates. Hmmm.

“Wandering Around Gawping at Tourist Sites in Paris”? That would work.

“Getting Drunk and Falling Over in Spain”? Not for me, certainly, but there appears to be a big demand for it.

I recall that, years ago, a widowed friend of my first wife went on a very expensive Cookery Holiday in Provence. A party of comfortably-off British women of a certain age all went on a conducted bus tour of Provence, watched local chefs in action and had a go themselves. Like the old school domestic science cookery lessons, they had to pay extra for the ingredients, and I understand that the holiday turned out to be more about the tastes and opinions of the English gauleiterin who organised and led the tour than it was about food in Provence. It was, in short, an exercise in rather shrill discipline and control, conducted in a foreign country at considerable cost to the attendees. Maybe we could have predicted this – I don’t know.

In truth, some of my own holidays over the years have been less than perfect – it might have helped if we had been given more clues up front – “Playing Boardgames in a Rain-Sodden Tent in Brittany for 2 Weeks” – “Trying to Get a Replacement Alternator for a Very Old Ford Cortina in the Jura Mountains” – these and a few others would have been useful, but it isn’t really like that in the world of holidays.

What this subject really reminded me about was James Last Holidays [what?]. Ages ago, a friend of mine at work, and his wife, were passionate about the James Last Orchestra, and used to spend a lot of money going to see them whenever they came to Edinburgh. If you are unfamiliar with the JLO then you have my congratulations – well done. I understand that James (real name Hansi) is still alive and going strong, aged 85. In his field, he was almost uniquely successful – for many years he ran a big touring orchestra, with all the top instrumental and vocal soloists he could get his hands on, added rows and rows of very attractive girl violinists dressed in low-cut lace blouses, and charged an absolute fortune for tickets. Old Hansi had completely cornered the market in exquisite bad taste – everything they played was faultless, arranged and engineered to perfection, and it stank to heaven. If you liked over-the-top big-band versions of Presley hits, or excerpts from Mozart’s horn concerto with bass guitar and castanets, or grindingly sickly romantic ballads, the JLO was for you. It was, absolutely, a product of its age; a number of really top-quality dance-bands came out of Germany in the 1950s and 1960s – Bert Kaempfert’s was another – and what they specialised in was superbly engineered LP recordings of covers of other people’s hit songs – particularly on the German Polydor label. Elderly audiophiles who had a little money to spend (i.e. who owned a “stereogram” – remember those? – they were the ones you could hear from next door) bought their LPs by the lorry-load. Hansi made a great many people happy – especially his bank manager and the West German economy – so good luck to him.

Yeah - right...
Anyway – back to my story. My work colleague talked me into paying some obscene amount for two tickets, and my wife and I joined him and his wife at a JLO concert at the Playhouse. Unspeakable. Couldn’t be faulted in any way except that it made me feel physically unwell. Somehow we got mugged into going to two further concerts on subsequent tours – each dearer than the previous one, and all the old ladies in the audience used to call out to the singers, who blew kisses and so on, while Herr Last posed and minced and almost conducted, and played to the ancient gallery like a true old showbiz ham. We couldn’t turn down the offer of tickets because – well, because we didn’t want to offend anyone. How much evil in the world is carried on because someone didn’t want to cause offence? After two further helpings I eventually found some unbeatable reason not to attend the next one, and then we were, mercifully, off the roller.

The audiences at these shows were something to behold – all dressed to the nines, and all loving it, blue rinses and all. The relevance to my story about holidays is that you could actually go on a James Last holiday – if you were a registered fan. The programmes were full of adverts. You could go on a cruise from Bremen (Last’s birthplace), and there would be music playing all day, every day (guess whose?), and there would be dances at night featuring JLO tribute bands who had once received a pay-cheque from Hansi himself, and during the days there would be walking tours of Bremen, to visit sites associated with Hansi’s childhood etc, where you could buy signed souvenirs, and there would even be some gigantic organised swapmeets, where you could buy and sell your rare JLO albums and memorabilia. After all these years, I still cannot think of a better working definition of Hades.

Of course, Father Time catches up with all of us in the end, but the thought of what those James Last Holidays might have been like still chills me to the marrow. For me, the man is best revered for his starring role in a famous musician’s joke:

Q – What is the difference between the James Last Orchestra and a buffalo?

A – A buffalo has the horns at the front and the arse at the back.


  1. Don't even get me started on Andre Rieu.... :o)

  2. Once had to go to a Daniel O'Donnell concert - still wake up screaming !

  3. People are still prepared to pay for their concept of "perfection", it sounds good to their mates before they go, gives them something to put of BookFace and makes themselves feel they are something more than just another vulgar tourist. Unless they go drinking themselves senseless in Spain when you can ignore the last point...