Birthdays are not something I look forward to these days. Years ago, when I was a school boy I did look forward to them, at least I think I did. Now I come to think of it, I’m not sure I was that bothered about them even back them. I do remember as a schoolboy being very impressed with the film 2001 A Space Odyssey and I started working out if I stood a chance of being alive in the then distant year of 2001. I was 45 in 2001 which to a young schoolboy must have seemed pretty ancient. Add on another 20 years and that same schoolboy would surely have imagined himself as a decrepit old guy barely alive in 2021. The thing is, despite being 65 I don’t really feel that old, at least, not inside.
Back in 2016 when I was a young whippersnapper of only 60 I wrote a little tongue in cheek piece about my birthday:
At a press conference this past Monday morning at Wetherspoons in Southport Mr Higgins, reputedly now 60 years of age, was asked numerous questions about his advancing years. He was heard to ask “Pint of lager, please mate,” numerous times but did not seem willing to discuss his birthday further.
Although Mr Higgins seemed somewhat reluctant to engage with people, he responded to a question about television in the early years of the second half of the twentieth century.
He confirmed there were, in the 1960’s when he was a child, only two TV channels. There were further gasps from people when he mentioned, almost nonchalantly that he and his family were at one time forced to watch programmes in black and white!
As Mr Higgins moved onto his next pint he enlarged upon his theme. “Yes, in those days there was no colour TV, no internet and no mobile phones.”
“How did people send messages?” one journalist asked.
“Well,” said Mr Higgins. “The only way was to get some paper and a pen or pencil and laboriously write out a message. Afterwards it had to be sealed in an envelope and posted after of course, adding a stamp.”
“What, you mean it wasn’t free?”
“Of course not!” snapped Mr Higgins, rather testily. “Not only that, you had to take it round to the post box and mail it yourself.”
“How long would the process take?” asked another.
“Well, it could be anything from a couple of days to almost a week”
A young lady reporter fainted and was revived by splashing cold water on her face. As she came round, she looked up at Mr Higgins and asked, “How did you carry on, how did you survive?”
“Well,” answered Mr Higgins. “I suppose we were a tough generation. It was hard then. You lot have things so easy!” Returning to the bar, Mr Higgins waved over to the bar staff and commented. “This lager is a bit naff. Have you got any dark beers? What about a pint of mild?”
“Mild?” replied the barmaid, a young Romanian girl of about nineteen. “What iz zat?”
Mr Higgins looked a little frustrated until the bar manager came over and revealed that Theakston’s mild was one of the guest beers that day. Mr Higgins immediately perked up and called for a pint.
“Lovely jubbly.” he commented, “Cracking pint! Now, what else do you lot need to know? I’ve got some serious drinking to do.”
“What about films?” someone asked. “Surely it was just like today; I suppose you could download a movie onto your tablet and watch at your convenience?”
Mr Higgins, now onto his fourth pint seemed to jump on the word tablet and exclaim “Tablet? In my day that was something you took for a headache! If you wanted to see a film, you had to go down to the picture house, pay your money and go in and get your seat and watch the film.”
Someone asked if the term ‘picture house’ could be explained.
“The picture house! Cinema! A big place with a huge screen where they projected the picture!”
“Do you mean you had to sit with other people?”
“Of course you pillock!” replied Mr Higgins. He turned back to the bar just as his all day breakfast arrived. “Right, that’s it now. If you want to learn about the old days, like the seventies, just get yourselves a copy of my book, ‘Floating in Space!’”
Yes that was the 1970’s; no internet, no mobile phones and a pint of bitter was only 25 pence.
As it was my birthday I had arranged a pre birthday date for lunch and drinks with my brother. I was staying at my mother’s house and I fancied a look around Manchester. I had not been to the city centre since 2019, before the pandemic and every time I look at Instagram or the photography page I follow on Facebook, I keep seeing photos of new space age hi rise buildings and I wanted to take a look myself.
I planned on going early into Manchester so I gave my brother a quick call so as to arrange where we could meet. My brother however told me he wasn’t feeling well and was staying in bed. Well, I wasn’t happy but no amount of cajoling could get him to change his mind. As I sat on the tram travelling into town I started to think about making a video. I had my camera with me so I decided to leave the tram at Deansgate where I knew that some new skyscrapers had been built and then just follow wherever my camera or my nose took me.
At the end of Deansgate on the far edge of the city the builders had created a whole new complex of hi-rise buildings called Deansgate Square. There was an interesting mural there with a short history of Manchester from the first Roman fort in AD79 to the industrial age and right through to the present. After shooting a lot of video I wandered back towards the station and decided to drop down to the canal. The canal runs right through the middle of the city centre largely unseen, hidden by the large buildings and in some places disappearing into tunnels. I came across a canal barge navigating one of the locks and got chatting to the occupants. The barge was a hire boat and came from Middlewich but the crew were surprisingly from Washington in the USA. They showed me how to navigate through the canal lock, opening and closing the lock gates and opening the water valves to raise the boat up to the next level.
Later I walked down Oxford Road and found myself drawn to the old Refuge Assurance building. When I started my working life at the tender age of 16 my first job was as a clerk in the Estates department of the Refuge. Construction on the building began in 1891 with a final extension completed in 1932. It’s a grade 2 listed building finished in red brick which today is known as the Kimpton Clocktower Hotel. I entered through the side entrance, the one I last used in 1977 and walked through the tiled entrance hall into what used to be the main office. It was still pretty quiet and various people were sat in the luxurious lounge eating and drinking. I ordered a pint of lager and found myself a comfy seat where I sat and drank and let my mind wander back to 1973 when I first started there.
In the Estates department my job was to collect the rents we were owed for numerous properties in the city centre, enter them in a ledger and bank the money. Another job was to allocate a proportion of the fire insurance to our tenants, based on the floor size they rented. One incident that sprang to mind was something I’ve written about before but is worth telling again. I came into work one day to find that there was the hum of excitement in the office and my colleagues and I were advised of the imminent arrival of a million pound cheque. As I was only a mere teenage accounts clerk, I was running low on the pecking order to see this cheque, although it was actually my job to process it as I did with all the other cheques that came into the department. In due course, one of the very senior managers came down with the cheque and with great reverence it was handed to my boss Mr Ross. Mr Ross perused the cheque for a while along with a small clique of other managers and then conveyed it to the senior clerk, Mr Elliott. After marvelling at this great artefact for a few moments, he then passed the cheque to me. Numerous staff members from our and neighbouring departments also came to take a peek at this financial wonder which I believe, was the result of the company either selling off our sister company, Federated Assurance, or doing some fabulous property deal.
Anyway I did my job and duly entered the cheque into the ledger then put it in the safe ready to go down to banking prior to 3pm, as in those days, banks closed at 3pm. ‘Good heavens!’ declared one of my managers, ‘we can’t just leave the cheque there, think about the interest!’ So I was despatched on a special journey to the bank for this very special cheque. Actually that suited me quite well. After paying the cheque into the local bank I sauntered round the corner to the sandwich shop, ordered sausage on toast and made my way quietly back to work. Just as I arrived back in the office I realised that the senior management staff were still there, waiting for news. Were there any problems? What had happened? They seemed rather disappointed when I told them that no cataclysm had occurred, the bank had not come to a standstill but the million pound cheque had been routinely deposited. Thinking back, I’m not sure I liked the way they were looking at me, perhaps they knew all along I’d been to the sarnie shop!
I finished my drink and walked back up towards St Peter’s Square. Back in the late seventies I used to spend my dinner break there on warm summer lunchtimes, eating my sandwiches and reading whatever book I was hooked on at the time. Things have changed in the square too, the seating area has gone and most of the area has been taken over by the trams.
The trams run every few minutes and I saw one approaching and so I ran up the steps and jumped aboard. I had shot quite a lot of video that day and already I was thinking of how I could put it all together and so I spent the next day glued to my laptop doing one of the things I love the most, editing video. I normally write a narration for my videos but this time I thought I’d put together one off the cuff. That is I made some notes and then switched on the microphone and started talking. The result was a verbatim commentary rather than a pre written narration. It’s not quite as fluid as I would have liked but it seems to work.
When the actual day of my birthday dawned I was feeling a little miserable. Perhaps it was the sudden onset of the cold wet weather or it might have been one of the symptoms of getting old. Anyway, I cheered up after opening my cards and presents and later Liz treated me to a meal at a lovely Italian restaurant. Yes, some garlic bread, pasta and red wine can go a long way towards cheering up an old codger like me and let me leave you with what I thought was a particularly interesting way of looking at the big 65 . .