Writing, the Village and Young Higgins

Liz and I will soon be off to France in our motorhome. It’s had an MOT, it’s been taxed and has had a good wash and clean up and it’s pretty much all ready for the trip. As a writer, I try and get ready for the trip too, I like to get ahead with my weekly posts so I have a few all written and ready to be posted, even if I’m in the middle of the outback of the Loire valley. All I have to do is press the post button and I know that I will have met my deadline, my one deadline of 10:00am on a Saturday morning when my new post goes out.

A couple of weeks ago I was feeling pretty pleased with myself, I was actually three blogs in advance, a whole three weeks, all I had to do was keep writing one blog per week and then in the hoped for sunny Loire I could relax, read books, sunbathe and swim and still put out my one blog post every week. Of course, there are some writers, some bloggers whose output is considerably more than that. Even so, my one blog post per week keeps me honest as a writer and of course I do actually write more. I’ve started to recycle my old posts over on Medium.com to hopefully engage more readers and even sell more books. One day, when my royalties build up, I might even have enough to splash out on a pint of lager on our regular Thursday night pub quiz.

It was nice to get back behind the wheel of our motorhome and take it down for its first wash of 2023. I’ve already got a few good books to read packed aboard and it almost seems as though I can already taste the vin rouge and the French bread. Yes, that was a good feeling. A bad feeling though was when I realised that despite being three blogs ahead, it was soon two and then just one and as much as I looked at prompts and old posts, no inspiration seemed to come.

Parked by a lake in France

I did a post a while ago about Ideas, Inspiration and Effort. They, I thought, were the key things to any kind of writing, whether it’s a blog post, a story or a poem. The more I think about it, a better title might be Inspiration, Observation and Effort. Some ideas just come naturally. A writer is inspired, he jots down notes and then writes. Other ideas come just by observing things. A recent idea for a post came from a car journey and observing what happened during the trip and it got me talking about my former job, working as a motorway traffic officer and other ideas from my car stereo and the music I was playing. After that comes the effort, the actual work of putting together a blog or story or book.

This week it’s round about a year since I retired. I’m really still getting used to retirement. It’s nice having a free bus pass and it’s nice not having to go into work all the time. I did think about getting a part time job but I actually don’t need a job. Perhaps if I spend too much on holidays or restaurants then I might have to think about working but so far, I seem to be doing OK. When my father retired, he went out on long walks with his dog. He used to roam about the huge council estate where he lived and take in the farms or what used to be farms where he used to work in his youth. He once showed me an old farmhouse hidden in the estate surrounded by council houses. There was a large green there which he said used to be the farm’s orchard and indeed, there were still many apple and pear trees on the green.

After thinking about my father I thought that I might do a similar thing, have a little walkabout around some places I used to know well and see how they had changed.

Not far from the housing estate is a small village called Gatley and when I was younger I used to go there quite a lot. There was a fabulous model shop there and as a schoolboy I bought many a plastic model kit from there. I used to make models from scratch too using glue and balsa wood which I also bought from that shop. The shop itself was a wooden hut type of affair and walking down there the other day the shop was gone and only bushes and shrubs had taken its place. Right outside the shop was the bus stop for the 45 bus which came from Manchester, turned around in Gatley and then went back to Manchester. Today, the small block which the bus circled in order to turn round has been blocked off so the 45 bus is no more, although there is another bus which carries on through the village.

The Red Lion pub is now a Tesco store. There is still a café on the spot where there was aways a café but despite various visits recently, I have never seen it open. Further down, The Prince of Wales is still there. In that particular pub I had my first ever pint many years ago.

As I walked further into the village the traditional English chip shop I used to frequent is now a Chinese takeaway and the chip shop dining room is another shop entirely. The Tatton cinema was demolished some time ago although the builders kept the façade of the building when they built the new supermarket. Among many other films I remember seeing there was my first James Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in what must have been 1969.

Next door is the Horse and Farrier pub. My mother once worked there at lunchtimes making sandwiches and my father too, he was the pub gardener. Once, when I was 16 and still at school, a couple of friends and I went inside for a pint. We left our briefcases outside with our school jackets and just as we bought our drinks and had our first sips of beer, who came in through the entrance but our physics master, Mr Farragher. The three of us shot out of the back door and into the gardens before going round to grab our jackets and briefcases from the front. Ever afterwards we three referred to the pub as the Horse and Farragher!

Today I often have a drink in that pub. On the outside it looks just the same as it always did and when I’m there I often think of Mr Farragher. That reminds me of Return Journey, the radio broadcast by Dylan Thomas I spoke about in last week’s post. Dylan returns to a pub of his youth looking for his younger self. He asks the barmaid about young Thomas and she in turn asks him what he looked like. He replies like this:

Thick blubber lips and a snub nose, a bit of a shower off: plus fours and no breakfast you know, a bombastic adolescent provincial bohemian with a thick knotted artist’s tie made from his sisters scarf. A gabbing, mock tough pretentious young man . .

How would I describe myself if I was looking for young Higgins I wonder?

A tall thin reserved young man wearing aviator spectacles. He sometimes wore tinted glasses even when it wasn’t so bright. A provincial adolescent wannabe writer and film director who packed in his job in an insurance company to travel through Europe and ended up as a bus conductor.

Such a shame we can’t go back and change things.

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