A Slice of my Life

I bumped into one of my friends the other day, someone I hadn’t seen for about a month. After a quick chat he said to me that he was looking forward to reading my next post. ‘Have you written a new one yet?’ he asked.

‘A new one?’ I replied. ‘Don’t you read my tag lines? A new post every Saturday!’

‘Yes,’ he said ‘but you can’t do a post every Saturday can you?’

‘Yes’ was the answer,’ a new post every Saturday!’

‘Every Saturday? But how do you think of things to write about?’

Well, actually I’m not sure. At least I’m not a newspaper columnist, having to write something new every day, that would be hard but now I think of it, writing something for every week is pretty difficult too. Luckily, I’m free to write about almost anything, I’m not limited like someone who writes a cycling blog for instance, who must find a new cycling topic to write about every week. I do tend to stick to books, classic films and tell anecdotes about myself but sometimes I rabbit on about Watergate, Marilyn Monroe, JFK, Formula One racing, the Apollo missions and basically, everything under the sun.

While on holiday earlier this year -did I mention I went to France for five weeks?- I pumped out numerous blog posts but now I’m back home and back into the old routine my stack of draft posts is beginning to dwindle. Anyway, the other day I was reading a post by a fellow blogger, one in which he went from a slice of pizza, to a day in his life, a ‘slice’ of his life, if you will. That was so enjoyable I thought I might try it myself.

Picture courtesy Oliver’s

I’m not a great pizza fan but come to think of it, I did have a pizza the other week. Liz and I went to Oliver’s, a small eatery not far from a pub we drink in so it was nice to start off our night there. Oliver’s is a small place and I can imagine that in a previous life it was just a takeaway but the present owners have added a few tables, some pleasant lighting and decor and a small but tasty menu.

Liz and I always share a pizza for starters. We usually have the Siciliana pizza which comes with olives, capers, onions, cheese and anchovies. Now I don’t care for anchovies so we tend to swap that topping for something else. It’s a really nice pizza and as we are sharing we don’t get too stuffed. The main course is one that most people have as a starter; it’s a sharing board with meatballs, spicy potatoes, olives, cheese, some cold meats, and this really lovely olive oil bread. Wonderful! The other thing about this place is that they don’t have a drinks license so you have to take your own,which brings the bill down considerably and we always decant some wine from our French collection and take it along. (Did I mention we spent five weeks in France during the summer?) The staff at Oliver’s are very friendly too, making our visit there just a lovely experience, and not only that, the place is only a stone’s throw from the Victoria pub where they serve an outstanding pint of lager.

A meal out and a few beers is the perfect way to forget about work and blog posts and relax for a while.

A big headache for me lately is editing the video I shot while in France this year. (Did I mention we went to Fra- oh never mind!) Video editing is very satisfying, especially for a wannabe movie director like me but it is very time-consuming and there is so much you have to keep in your head. You have to hold the big picture up there in your mind while you sort out the bits and pieces that go to make that big picture.

The other day I finished my edit and began the upload to YouTube. The first few tries were a failure as my laptop timed out then went in to a sort of meltdown and had to be re started. Laptops are a little like a woman, fine if you give them the attention they need but if you think you can go in the other room and watch ‘Lost in Space’ -which is currently being re-shown on the freeview Horror channel at the moment- while they are working: Forget it!

After a number of false starts I finally got my upload sorted. My plan of action was to get the video uploaded then add some fine tuning and some music by using You-tube’s built-in video editor. At first I thought an element of brain fade had caused a minor meltdown within me (could do with another night out at Oliver’s perhaps) because for the life of me I couldn’t find the video editor or even how to access it. After some research I found that I couldn’t access it because the YouTube Video Editor is no more! As John Cleese might say, it has ceased to be, it is an ex-video editor, it is pushing up video daisies because, alas, YouTube decided they were going to dispense with the video editor.

Some other evening activity this week involved that great modern British custom, going down to the pub quiz. I do enjoy a good pub quiz and the Lytham and St Annes area there are quite a few quizzes to be found. A lot of them are the highbrow variety where the pub quizzers appear to have been bussed in from surrounding areas. They give you quite a glare if you happen to be manhandling a mobile phone and look like you are looking up the answers. As it happens our ancient mobiles are non smartphones so we are not guilty, although I have to admit I did once text my brother to ask ‘who plays Purdey in the New Avengers?’ (One point if you got Joanna Lumley.)

Questions in these kind of quizzes are on the lines of: Pudong, meaning “east bank”, is the financial district of which city? (One point if you answered Shanghai.) Bonus point if you know the husband and wife star of the movie ‘The lady From Shanghai!’ (One point each for Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth.) We went to one pub quiz a few years back in which the quiz master, a retired schoolteacher, asked to check each quiz paper after each round. He then put the team names on a ladder with current leaders at the top and those bringing up the rear at the bottom. Needless to say, not being well up in the districts of Shanghai, Liz and I, who quiz as The Lovers, were at the bottom of the ladder.

Anyway, this week’s quiz was at the Blossoms pub and the quiz was not of the highbrow variety but more of the fun variety. Lots of familiar film, TV and music stars in the picture round for me and a good cryptic word round which Liz excels at. After liaising with a young couple sitting close by we were able to come through as the winners after a round which alternated disco era music questions with 2012 chart hits. Great quiz and plenty of spot prizes for those who drew out raffle tickets and some great music. In fact they played the sort of tracks that you realise were not only brilliant but you haven’t heard for a while. One particular favourite was ‘Mind Blowing Decisions, by Heatwave, a fabulous track from 1978.

Next mind-blowing decision: Might as well delete that upload then and start the fine tuning of my video on my old laptop. As I wait for it to crank up I start thinking about food. What shall we have for tea tonight? Pizza? Nah, don’t think so. Come to think of it, we haven’t visited the Greek place for a while. Just fancy some Calamari for starters and maybe a little Moussaka with some salad . . OK, put that edit on hold for a while . .


Floating in Space can be ordered from amazon as a Kindle download or as a traditional paperback by clicking here. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Metrics and the Art of Social Media.

You might think having been a blogger for over three years now I’d be an expert in the art of social media? Think so? Really? Forget it!

For the past three years I have concentrated my social media promotions on Twitter. OK, I have a Facebook writer page and a Pinterest account and  Google+ account but it’s Twitter where I have really pushed myself. So much so that I am the proud possessor of over 5,000 followers. Sounds good doesn’t it? If every one of those 5,000 people were fans of my blog and each and every one bought a copy of Floating in Space I’d be quids in. The fact is, out of those 5,000, I’d say only a handful are genuine fans. The rest want to be friends with me for one reason -because I have 5,000 followers and every time someone Tweets one of my Tweets I am honour bound by the unwritten Twitter users code to Tweet them back, Tweet them to my 5,000+ followers.

Yes, I feel good with that power; 5,000 followers. Wow, that’s power. Of course, if you have ever read the Spiderman comics or indeed seen the film you will know that with great power comes great responsibility.

Not so long ago I made a video, a spoof of Woody Allen’s opening to the movie Manhattan. It was good, I thought. I made the video over on Animoto and exported the result to everywhere I could think of: YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, Twitter and so on. Then I sat back and waited for the results to come in. Next day I had four views on YouTube. Yes, I have to admit I was kind of disappointed. The thing is, everything I have ever written, particularly on WordPress, that I personally thought was really good has never had such a great reaction. Conversely also, those things I have just knocked out quickly because my Saturday deadline was looming have actually done pretty well with lots of hits and comments.

Anyway, not to be daunted I added the video to one of my WordPress posts and hoped I might get more hits that way. A few days later I checked YouTube again. 17 hits. Not bad I suppose. So, next move: check my Twitter analytics. I took a look and saw this:

Yes right in the middle there as you can see, there is a big spike. What was it? Well it was a Tweet created by Vimeo, a sort of automatic Tweet that is created when you post something there. The Tweet had over 12,000 impressions and 411 engagements, which is people actually clicking on the video and watching it. It looks like, in this case at least, that despite Vimeo being the poor cousin to YouTube, or so I thought, it was actually Vimeo that was performing for me!
Why?
How should I know? I’m still just an amateur!

Anyway, over on YouTube I not only have numerous videos encouraging the world to buy my book or subscribe to my web page, I also have various other non-marketing videos available.

My top watched video is this one below with, at the time of writing, over 30,899 views. You might be thinking hey, bet he makes a tidy little sum out of that video. However, if you did you’d be wrong because that video, which I made back in 1986 or 1987 is enhanced by an Elton John album track and all the royalties goes to Elton’s music company, despite my hours and weeks of filming and editing.

The video was one of my early video efforts, filmed using a JVC VHS-Compact camera, similar to the one Marty McFly uses in Back to the Future. One day I must get around to deleting Elton and adding some royalty free music.

Next in my video chart is this one about Manchester Airport;

Manchester Airport 1986 was such a long video I had to split it into two parts to upload it and strangely, part one has 6,839 views while poor old Part Two only has 4,762! Once again no royalties are forthcoming from either video as I used music from the pop charts of 1986.

Anyway, time to take another look at my Twitter account and schedule some tweets for this weekend. Should I do the usual stuff plugging my videos and blog posts or perhaps I should Tweet something a little more thoughtful to my 5,000 plus followers? Something about saving the environment or some heartwarming stuff about love and relationships?

After all, with great power comes great responsibility!


Now the nights are drawing in, why not settle down with a good book? Floating in Space is available from amazon as a paperback or Kindle download! Click here to buy!

Charlie Chaplin: Autobiography versus Biography

Earlier this year again, Liz and I packed up the motor and headed off to France. One of the first things I did in preparation was to sort out my holiday book bag. I usually have a stack of unread books to take along but I always like to take along a banker, yes that’s a book I can bank on, rely on to be a good read, usually one I have read before.

I was sorely tempted to bring my favourite read of all time along, Dickens’ David Copperfield or another favourite holiday read ‘A year in Provence‘, that much maligned gentle read about an Englishman living in France, however, one book I chose was so interesting I re-read a great deal of it at home before I left so I didn’t bother to bring it. The book in question was My Autobiography by Charles Chaplin, Charlie, to you and me.

My Autobiography by Charles Chaplin.

Charlie was born in 1889 in Walworth, London and spent his early life in the London suburb of Kennington. His parents were both music hall performers but separated when Charlie was about two years old. His mother was poor and the small family, Charlie, his mother and older brother Sydney, were admitted to the workhouse on two separate occasions.

In 1903, Charlie’s mother was committed to Cane Hill mental asylum and Charlie lived on the streets alone until his brother Sydney, who had joined the navy, returned from sea.

With his father’s connections Charlie secured a place in a clog dancing troupe called the Eight Lancashire Lads and so began his career as a performer. After appearing in some minor roles in the theatre he developed a comic routine and, with help from Sydney, was signed by Fred Karno, the famous music hall impresario, for his comedy company in 1908.

Chaplin became one of Fred Karno’s top comedians and Karno sent him with a troupe of other comedians on a tour of vaudeville theatres in the USA. One of the others was Stan Laurel, later to find fame with the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy.

By  far the most interesting part of Charlie’s autobiography is where he talks about the beginning of his movie career. On a second tour of America in 1913, Chaplin was asked to join the Mack Sennett studios as a performer in silent films for the fee of $150 per week. He wasn’t initially keen but liked the idea of starting something new.

His first film for Sennett was called Making a Living, released in 1914. Chaplin himself wasn’t so keen on the film and for his second appearance selected a new costume. After searching through the costume department Chaplin chose a bowler hat, a jacket that was too small, baggy trousers, shoes that were too large and a cane. It almost seems as though the clothes made him become the character of the tramp which was to make him famous. The film was Mabel’s Strange Predicament although another tramp film made afterwards, Kid Auto races at Venice, was released to the public first.

Chaplin clashed frequently with his directors when his ideas or suggestions were dismissed but after exhibitors asked Sennett for more Chaplin films he was allowed to direct his own. When his contract expired in 1914 Chaplin asked for 1000 dollars per week. Mack Sennett complained that that figure was more than he was getting and refused. Another film company Essanay, offered him $1200 per week and a signing fee and Chaplin signed. He wasn’t initially happy with Essanay and didn’t like their studios in Chicago, preferring to work in California.

Chaplin was also unhappy after he finished his contract at Essaney because they continued to make lucrative Chaplin comedies by utilising his out-takes. Chaplin was however an astute businessman. In his new contracts the negative and film rights reverted to Chaplin after a certain amount of time. This was in the days when a movie had a life of months, if not weeks.

Chaplin seems strangely perturbed by his fame and fortune. He writes about an incident between contracts where he takes the train to meet his brother in, I think, New York but word has got out to the public he is travelling and everywhere the train stops, masses of people were waiting. Eventually it dawns on him that it is he they were waiting for. Many times the narrative describes meals and walks taken alone giving the impression of a solitary, lonely man.

The thing to remember about reading this book is that Chaplin tells the reader only what he wants them to know, nothing more. His various marriages are only skimmed over although when he is making the Kid, probably his most important picture, he explains how he thought the negative may have be taken by lawyers acting for his estranged wife so he takes the film and edits it while almost ‘on the run’ in various hideaways and hotel rooms.

Chaplin was known for being attracted to young girls and one of his conquests, a girl called Joan Barry was arrested twice for her obsessive behaviour after he ended their relationship. She became pregnant and claimed he was the father and began a paternity suit against him. J Edgar Hoover who believed Chaplin to be a communist, engineered negative publicity against him and public opinion began to turn against Charlie. He was ordered to pay child support to Barry’s baby despite blood test evidence which showed he could not be the father. The blood test evidence was ruled inadmissible.

The earlier part of the book is by far the most interesting but the later part, where Chaplin is famous the world over, it becomes an excuse for name dropping, despite there being a clear absence of any notable anecdotes involving the famous names. Even his best friend Douglas Fairbanks, makes few appearances within the pages.

A fascinating read none the less.

Charlie Chaplin by Peter Ackroyd.

Peter wrote an excellent book about one of my writing heroes, Charles Dickens and I felt that this book was going to be in the same sort of mould. Long, intense and full of detail. Actually it’s a pretty slim volume and not the intense scrutiny of Chaplin that I was expecting. However, on the credit side, it’s a thoughtful and detailed look at Chaplin, his movies and his personal life and a cracking read it is too.

One hundred years ago Chaplin was the most famous man in the world. I’m not sure who would qualify for that title today as despite global communications and the Internet age, the world is separated by many different languages and cultures. A hundred years ago there was no language barrier for Chaplin, and his silent films with their universal language of comedy, went all the way round the globe and he was as famous in countries such as Russia or Africa as he was in Europe or the USA.

Hollywood in the early part of the twentieth century must have been a fascinating place and this book is a great starting point to find out about Chaplin and his work and the beginning of the film industry. Definitely a book well worth reading.


Floating in Space can be ordered from amazon as a Kindle download or as a traditional paperback by clicking here. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Running With the Stars.

Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

I am back once again in the UK after my five weeks in France. Yes, all things must come to an end and of course, so do holidays. It’s probably only fair to mention that after an inordinately long time spent lying on a French sun lounger, I do have, as you can imagine, a fair old plethora of French thoughts and ramblings in my notebook, all of which I feel duty bound to share with you, my readers.

Please bear with me, after all, in a few weeks time I will be fully reintegrated back into the UK and I’ll be writing the usual stuff about things like old black and white films and old TV programmes newly discovered by strange and sometimes fleeting new freeview TV channels. However, until then:

One of the really satisfying things about staying in a large house in the French countryside, is the lack of interference from the outside world. I mentioned in another post about silence, that simple commodity that is a cornerstone of relaxation but is difficult to find in an urban metropolis like Manchester. Another simple quality here in rural France is the lack of light pollution. In the city things such as street lighting, neon lights and illuminated advertising hoardings all contribute an abundance of light but here in the country, darkness is something different; a deep, sensuous blackness that almost overwhelms the senses.

Lying back on your chair or lounger in the soft, warm evening and looking up at the sky is a wonderful sensation. Without the interference of ambient light, the sky at night is a whole new world. An enigmatic velvet vista opens up to the naked eye with myriads of stars, some the merest pinpricks, others great beacons in the sky.

Peering into the night sky I noticed one particular star, much brighter than the others. It was then I remembered that on my iPad I have an app that can tell you which stars are in the sky. The star in question was not the pole star as I had surmised but Vega. Vega is the brightest star in the constellation of Lyra, the fifth brightest star in the night sky, and the second brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere, after Arcturus. It is relatively close at only 25 light years away from us, here on Earth.

A screenshot from my iPad.

It is really humbling looking up at this great vista and realising that this is what creation looks like and that you too are a tiny part of it. It might even be the case too on that some distant place, millions of light years away, some other person, some distant inhabitant of a distant star is thinking the same thing, looking up at a star that might be our sun, the same sun that warms the earth.

One book that I have particularly enjoyed on this holiday was a book about the thoughts and ideas of Marcus Aurelius, a long dead Roman emperor and philosopher.

This is one of the things he said . .

Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them. - Marcus Aurelius

Another book which I read on holiday was a little disappointing; Lion by Seroo Brierley. The film version was an absolute wonder of documentary style realism and full on emotion. In the book though, Seroo talks about the events that took him away from India to Australia and then years later, reunited him with his lost family in a rather detached and matter of fact way. He hints at a hidden guiding hand in the universe but then denies that he is religious. What was the hidden guiding hand then? Fate? Electricity?

Strange how something that would make one man turn to religion makes another turn away. Sometimes, religion itself can trigger a negative response. It has always surprised me that someone in the public eye like Cliff Richard for instance, who is a devout Christian and used to make a full on Christian song his Christmas hit has always had his faith used against him. It used to be a regular thing in the 1990’s to slag off Cliff because he was a Christian and yet Madonna, who belongs to a strange sect called Kabbalah, has not had similar treatment. She for some reason, was the acceptable face of the religious pop star.

In a few months time, around Christmas in the UK, yet another town will cancel the Christmas lights because it is offensive to non Christians and rename them ‘holiday lights.’ It’s Christmas, it’s actually a Christian festival for pity’s sake. Still, it will happen and it will be reported in the Daily Mail, I’m sure.

What you probably won’t see reported in the Daily Mail will be that in Afghanistan, Ramadan has been renamed ‘holiday week’ so as not to offend westerners. Perhaps here in the UK we are somehow ashamed of faith, perhaps we don’t need it any more, we are too advanced, too technological, or something. Perhaps technology explains too many things, the origin of the universe, the big bang. Pity it doesn’t explain the reason for living, the actual point of life.

Some years ago I started using some audio tapes by Paul McKenna to build my confidence and help with job interviews. On one of the tapes he mentions that there is no fixed purpose in life except the one you give it. Could he be right?

On one of my last evenings in rural France gazing at the night sky, I found myself thinking of the last sequence in the movie ‘The History of Mr Polly.‘ You must have seen the film on TV, the one with John Mills as Mr Polly. Polly finds himself in a very dull job with a very dull wife and resolves to commit suicide. Anyway, events unfold and instead of committing suicide, Polly accidentally starts a fire which threatens the whole street and he then mounts a brave rescue of an old lady. Instead of dying, Mr Polly becomes a hero and when the insurance money comes in, he leaves his wife, nicely settled with the insurance money, takes a little for himself and departs for pastures new. He sends some money to a post office in another village and gradually meanders in that direction, sleeping in fields and hedges, getting himself a tan. Working occasionally when he wants and sleeping when the mood takes him at other times.

He comes across the Potwell Inn and asks for work and right away finds himself at home.

Right at the very end of the film Polly, played by Mills and the Inn landlady, played by that old British film actress Megs Jenkins are sitting in the garden, contentedly watching the sun go down and Mills wonders aloud ‘what have we done to deserve a sunset like this?’

The fact is, sunsets are a part of nature and they will come and go whether we deserve to see them or not. As long as this world goes round the sun, the sun will rise and the sun will set somewhere on the globe. Even so, sunsets are lovely.

So are the stars and now and again it’s nice to imagine yourself running with them.


Floating in Space can be ordered from amazon as a Kindle download or as a traditional paperback by clicking here. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Return Journey

All holidays end, and eventually, no matter how wonderful a time you have had, you have to return home and go back to work. It’s sad to think that when I’m back at my desk, some other lucky fellow will be in my villa, sipping wine on my patio, and relaxing. At least he won’t be using my glass, because I bought my glass at a vide grenier and brought it home to the UK so, to the guy relaxing on my patio -get yer own glass mate!

Liz and I finished our holiday in France by motoring from the Cher department to the much lovelier Loire region and stayed for a few days in one of our favourite french towns, Doué la Fontaine.

It was nice to see our old friends again. We visited Julie, the landlady of a small bar in Doué. The bar is rarely busy and Julie runs the place herself. On the day we visited, she wasn’t feeling too well but what can she do she asks; she must work as there is no one else to open up. I have to say, I did consider eating there but earlier, as we walked around the market, we found a small bar offering a 13 Euro three course menu, including wine, so we sauntered round there to find a hidden gem of a bar that we had not noticed on any of our numerous previous trips to the town.

Julie’s bar in Doué La Fontaine

The lunch was lovely, if a little too big for someone who has never taken lunch seriously. A sandwich is my usual lunchtime fare but this lovely lunch kept me going for the rest of the day.

After a few days we had to say goodbye to Doué and set off for our rendezvous with the ferry at Caen. We did some serene motoring travelling north but as I was worried about time we jumped onto the autoroute to make better headway. After a good run we stopped at the services for some refreshments. French services, Aires as they call them, are much, much nicer than the packed UK versions. French Aires are like quiet restful picnic areas, some have petrol and all the other facilities of UK services but others are just small picnic areas. The one we stopped at was unusually busy. Rarely have I ever seen more than a few cars and wagons at the services but at these there must have been fifteen to twenty cars.

At the toilets themselves, one of the cubicles was closed for repairs and the other was engaged so I had to use the urinals. French men clearly do not need privacy because many urinals are open to the gaze of passersby, sometimes with a small modesty screen, other times not. Both urinals were in use but as I approached, one became free and as I opened up my trousers the one to my left became free also. Happy days I thought because for some reason, I always find it difficult having a communal wee. Just as I was ready to release my waters, someone stood at the free urinal to my left and my hoped for flow was stemmed before it had even started. ‘Come on’ I said to myself, ‘have a wee and get it over with!’ The more I tried the harder it seemed to be. My fellow urinal user was also having the same problem as I had not heard the tell-tale sound of his waters flowing either. He must have been trying hard because after a few moments he issued a loud and unexpected fart!. He was obviously flustered and mumbled a hasty ‘sorry about that.’ I detected a southern english accent and mumbled OK in what I thought was a french accent, not wanting him to think I was english as I felt that if he thought I was French he might be less embarrassed. (Yes, I don’t understand that either but that was my thought process.) Just then, the happy trickle of my waters finally began to flow.

A typical French aire. Looks busy doesn’t it?

We were early for our appointment with the ferry but what with passport checks and the inevitable stopping and starting the time passed quickly.

One nice way to travel on a ferry is to take the night crossing so you can freshen up, have a nice meal and perhaps the odd glass of wine and then sleep during the crossing, waking up in Portsmouth ready for the long trip up north. I’ve always rather liked that coming the other way, England towards France. It’s nice to wake up in France of a morning, all fresh and ready to drive through the Gallic countryside. Waking up in Portsmouth ready to face the morning rush hour is not always a good thing. On this trip we arrived in the UK at nine thirty in the evening. The weather kept mostly dry and we had a good run until the A34 we were travelling on was unexpectedly closed before we met with the M40. Ah, the nightmare of night-time road works!

The diversion took us back partly along the way we had had already travelled and on to the M40 from a different direction. Later as we ventured further up north we encountered signs for ‘DELAYS J15 – J16 M6’. Delays, at one in the morning? Surely not? Surely yes because after a while, when our three lanes became only one due to road works’ closures, we joined a sad and slow-moving convoy creeping forward in first gear. Oh well, good job it wasn’t a night journey in the other direction, hoping to pick up a night ferry to France. I could just imagine us sitting on the quayside having missed the boat!

C’est la vie!


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information!

Past and Future: Some F1 Thoughts and Reflections

Back in the 1970’s I subscribed to a magazine called Motor Sport. The magazine was, and still is, a monthly motor sporting glossy and I kept each copy as my reference guide and revered it as my motor sporting bible. The F1 races were always fully covered in detail and there was also an interesting reflections column written by a journalist who signed himself DSJ.

DSJ was Dennis Jenkinson. Jenkinson served in the RAF where he met Bill Boddy the editor of Motor Sport and it was through Boddy that Jenkinson became the continental correspondent of Motor Sport. According to his Wikipedia page, Jenkinson or ‘Jenks’ as he was known, lived a wonderful life, well, wonderful for a bachelor motor sporting fan. He lived at a succession of digs in the UK in winter and spent the summer touring the continent watching motor sport and writing about it for the magazine. (Why can’t I get a job like that?) He famously partnered Stirling Moss in the Mille Miglia in the 1950’s and perfected a style of pace notes which later became the norm in rallying. The co-driver reads notes out to the driver about what is coming up; ‘fast left’, tight right turn’ and so on.

I always rather liked his Grand Prix reports, especially the interesting reflections he wrote which concerned motor sporting chit-chat and background stuff that he picked up in the paddock. The 1970’s era disappointed Jenks and it began to show in his writings. Jackie Stewart, who fought so hard for improved safety in F1 after seeing his friends die driving racing cars was someone who Jenks clearly loathed. To him the greats were people like Jo Siffert and Pedro Rodriguez who were willing to race whatever the weather and didn’t care if the medical facilities were available or not. Both those drivers, I might add, were killed in motor races. Another hero of his, Stirling Moss, was lucky not to lose his life too.

In one issue, his reflections concerned a ‘jamboree’ that took place at Silverstone. He spoke at great length about the John Player Special cars, the Marlboro motor home and so on. At the end of this report he mentioned that in the midst of the ‘jamboree’ an F1 race had taken place and he listed the results. That was his Grand Prix report. It was, I suppose, a protest item. The sport he loved had become something else, actually it had become the sport I loved. I never read the magazine again and cancelled my subscription. The F1 of the 70’s was my world and the racing world pre 1970 was dark and gloomy. Sponsorship and aerodynamics gave formula one a look and feel that I have always loved and Stewart was and always will be to me, one of the great drivers of motor sport.

In the early days of the sport, cars were painted according to their home colours. The UK was British racing green, Silver for Germany, red for Italy, blue for France and so on. Italy was rather lucky, I think, to get red when the colours were given out and of course Ferraris are painted red to this day. Ferrari are the oldest and most historic team in the sport and something that has enhanced their image and prestige as much as the red colours is the prancing horse symbol. I’ve always liked the story of how Ferrari came to use the horse symbol, in fact I first read it in a comic strip in the Valiant or the Hotspur. The prancing horse was the symbol of an Italian first world war fighter ace, Francesco Baracca, who claimed 34 kills in action. He himself was shot down and killed in 1918 but in 1923 Baracca’s parents visited a motor race won by the young Enzo Ferrari. They were impressed by Ferrari and asked him to use the prancing horse on his cars, thinking it might bring him luck. Ferrari added a yellow background, the colours of his home city of Modena and the symbol has been on Ferrari cars ever since.

Today a new F1 team might employ a graphic designer to create a logo for their car or team. Such a designer, having studied art and design would surely come up with a good logo but, could he capture the history or the allure of the prancing horse? I doubt it.

The Singapore Grand Prix last weekend was the background to some interesting news, although some of it was not only expected but something of an open secret. Mclaren announced that they were ending their fruitless partnership with Honda in favour of becoming a customer of the Renault F1 engine. I had read rumours about this in the F1 press for weeks but in Singapore the move was finally confirmed. McLaren have arrived at a crossroads with two choices: One, carry on ahead with Honda, Two, turn sharp right with Renault. Clearly they have chosen the right turn option.

McLaren have waited nearly three years for their partnership with Honda to bear fruit and it looks as though time has finally run out. Personally, I would have given things another year but the added problem for McLaren is that the ace they hold in their other hand -star driver Fernando Alonso- is in danger of jumping ship if the team stay with Honda, so it seems to me that this move to Renault means Alonso is more important to the team than Honda. Ron Dennis, the former Mclaren boss who arranged the deal with Honda, felt that to succeed in modern F1 a partnership with a major engine manufacturer was vital. If that is true then Torro Rosso, who will run with Honda engines next year, could well find themselves a major player in the sport with Honda backing, assuming of course, that Honda finally get their engines to work properly. As Torro Rosso are the junior team to Red Bull, it might even be possible that a fully sorted Honda engine could be powering a Red Bull in the next few years, especially as the Red Bull/Renault relationship has soured recently. Renault are here for two main reasons, as are all the other car companies involved in F1. One, to tag their brand image with racing, hi-technology and success and two, in doing so, sell more motor cars. Once the Red Bull management started slagging off Renault and putting those ideals in jeopardy, that relationship was clearly on the way out.

Fernando Alonso. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Fernando Alonso is one of the great F1 drivers, up there in terms of talent with Lewis Hamilton but clearly Hamilton has made far better team moves than his rival. He must have looked at Mercedes from the McLaren motor home, skimmed over the past poor seasons when Schumacher drove for the team, considered the money Mercedes was spending and saw the talent, managerial and technical that they were attracting and made his move, an inspired move as it turned out. Alonso’s move, in retrospect, was perhaps not such a good one. Following the talent is always a good idea.

Some years back I was surprised to see Mark Webber move from Williams to Red Bull. What on earth was he doing I thought at the time? Webber could see first hand that the glory days at Williams were over and decided to follow that top design talent, Adrian Newey to Red Bull. Top notch move, Mark.

Another interesting item from the paddock in Singapore was that Valterri Bottas was signed up for another year at Mercedes. I was always of the feeling that when Mercedes signed him up to a one year deal in 2016, they had plans for someone else the year after. Did they have their eyes on Alonso, perhaps?

Alonso brings a lot to a team, his immense driving talent for sure but he also brings with him a hefty price tag. Honda footed his $40 million salary but next year, McLaren must cough up that cash themselves. If Alonso brings success back to the McLaren team then the big name sponsors will return and everyone will be happy. Personally, I think the winners here might ultimately be the Red Bull team . .

Undercover Boss

Photo by Redd Angelo on Unsplash

Relax, sit down, time for some TV. Switch on, flip through the channels. What’s this? Undercover Boss? Let’s take a look . .

ANNOUNCER: this week on Undercover Boss, Steve Higgins, CEO of Stevehigginslive.com goes undercover to find out what life is like at Stevehigginslive.com!

Cut to Steve Higgins. CU

STEVE: I’m a Manchester man, originally from Wythenshawe, a council estate to the south of the city and since creating Stevehigginslive.com I’ve never looked back. Yes, I’m looking forward to doing this.

ANNOUNCER: For this ‘sting’ Steve will be disguised by our team of top stylists so he will be completely unrecognisable.

DAY 1: INTERIOR: STEVE HIGGINS TOWER.

STEVE:: Hi, I’m Ste -I mean Joe. I’m meant to be meeting Gaynor. I’ll be working with her today.

MIKE: She’s probably running late. She usually is. Why don’t you make a brew while you are waiting?

STEVE: OK

TEN MINUTES LATER:

GAYNOR: Oh my God, I’m so late. I can’t believe it. Traffic was so bad today and parking is a nightmare. Some companies provide free parking but not this one. Hey what’s with the TV cameras?

STEVE: It’s a documentary about social media. Just ignore them. I’m the new guy, Joe. So what are we doing today?

GAYNOR: Well, I work in the blog titling and numbering department. Mr Higgins writes his blog posts and he probably thinks that’s that! But anyway, here in Blog Titling we have to give it a title and a number.

STEVE: Yes, Mike was telling me about the incident the other week when one of the blogs was numbered incorrectly.

GAYNOR: Oh he did, did he? Well blog titling isn’t so easy, as Mike will find out if he ever gets a promotion and gets the chance to work in this department!

STEVE: What was the problem with that post? Don’t you just give it a number?

GAYNOR: Sounds so easy doesn’t it? Well what with the old software we use its hard work believe me! Not only that, we’ve got Thoughts from a Sun Lounger, we’ve got Sun Lounger Thoughts and we’ve got Sun Lounger French Thoughts and  so answer me this: You get another Sun Lounger Thoughts post, is that Sun Lounger 4, or 5, or is it Thoughts from a Sun Lounger 3? Is it Thoughts from a French Sun Lounger? Are they different or are they the same? How do we know how many sun loungers have gone before?

STEVE: Can’t you just check WordPress?

GAYNOR: Check WordPress he says! So easy. What if you have been locked out and haven’t got a password?

STEVE: Don’t you just press the I forgot my password button and they send you a re-set link to your e-mail?

GAYNOR: You’re so smart Joe but what if you’ve been locked out of your emails? Answer me that Joe? Anyway, don’t bother. It’s time for a tea break.

STEVE: But haven’t we just got started?

GAYNOR Listen Joe, you need to chill a little. Here at Stevehigginslive.com it’s a high pressure environment. A girl needs a break!

STEVE: Yes but . .

GAYNOR: Don’t ‘yes but’ me dude! Did you have to get up early, drop the kids off at school, drop off the eldest at university, check that your elderly mama is OK then get here to work? All in a knackered old Ford Fiesta and God only knows how I’m going to pay those uni fees for my boy!

STEVE: Wow, that must be hard.

GAYNOR: Don’t get me wrong, I love this job. Being part of Stevehigginslive is great but I have to look out for my family, especially as my husband left me last year for a younger version!

Steve: Hey that’s terrible. Can I give you a hug. I’m really empathising with you now.

DAY 2:

ROGER: Hi, I’m Roger.

STEVE: Hi I’m Ste- I mean Joe.

ROGER: Welcome to the team.

STEVE: OK, what are we doing today?

ROGER: OK, we work in the imaging and visual department. The blogs come down to us direct from Mr Higgins and he says Roger, get some images pasted into that blog. ‘Get some Images!’ Can you believe that? Like it’s so easy?

STEVE: So, it’s not easy?

ROGER: Its hard work man! First of all, Steve, Mr Higgins, wants us to use all his own pictures. Well that’s OK up to a point but sometimes I’ve got to be creative.

STEVE How do you mean?

ROGER: OK, take the other week. There was a video about Manchester and in the narration, Steve says something about beautiful women and we’re supposed to find a picture to go with it.

STEVE: Right . .

ROGER: So what I did was this. A few weeks back we had a post about these Russian women who send out e-mails wanting love and relationships and all that. They’re actually scammers but they try to entice men into their scam by sending pictures of sexy women, supposedly themselves. So I had to use one of those. What else could I have done?

STEVE: You could have used a photo stock company something like Shutterstock or Unsplash.

ROGER: Maybe, maybe. What would be good here at Steve Higgins Tower is to have a whole photography studio with cameras, lighting and so on and Steve could call up and say ‘Roger my man’ -he calls me that sometimes- ‘Roger, sort out some top models and do me a photo session with some gorgeous girls.’ Now wouldn’t that be easier?

STEVE: I still think maybe a photo stock website would be easier.

ROGER: Just imagine this, a full studio set up. Steve wants some pictures of naked girls-

STEVE: Naked girls? Would he ask for naked girls?

ROGER: Well, he could do. He might do, not perhaps totally naked but you know, lingerie shots, that sort of thing . .

STEVE: I don’t think he would want that. It’s not that sort of blog, just stuff about books and it’s generally funny, humorous stuff.

ROGER: Hey, there are some serious issues in Steve’s blogs you know, like the naked Russian girls.

STEVE: Naked Russian girls? You know, I read that post and it wasn’t about naked Russian girls.

ROGER: Joe, you are never going to get on here. Know why? cause you’ve got no imagination!

DAY 3: STEVE FINALLY REVEALS HIS REAL IDENTITY.

ANNOUNCER: CEO Steve Higgins is about to reveal to two employees who have no idea who he is, his real identity as their boss.

GAYNOR: Hi

STEVE: Recognise me, Gaynor?

Gaynor: I’m not sure. You voice sounds familiar, are you Joe? Oh No. My God! It’s Steve Higgins!

STEVE: That’s right it’s me. So tell me, how did Joe do?

GAYNOR: Well, he was OK, I mean you were OK. I just don’t think he, I mean you, have any idea of how hard we work here. Creating blog titles and numbers is hard work and the equipment, well the software just isn’t up to it!

STEVE: Gaynor, I could see that and from now on I’m going to get you a WordPress password and make sure your e-mail system is unlocked and not only that . .

GAYNOR: What?

STEVE: I can’t have you doing that journey every morning dropping off the kids and your eldest in that old banger car of yours. I’m going to get you a new Mitsubishi 4×4 to make that journey easier!

GAYNOR; Oh my God!

STEVE: Not only that, I’m going to pay for all your son’s university fees and give you £5,ooo to take your family on holiday!

GAYNOR: Oh my God! I can’t believe it! I’m so happy. I can’t wait to tell my children! Are you serious?

STEVE: Actually, I’m joking. Being serious though, Gaynor, I think you needed to raise your game a little if you want to stay with Stevehigginslive.com!

GAYNOR: What?

CUT TO ROGER.

STEVE: Any idea who I am?

ROGER: Steve Higgins?

STEVE: You guessed?

ROGER: No, I just heard Gaynor screeching on her way out. You really had me fooled man.

STEVE: Roger, I really appreciate all the work you do for me so I’m getting you a brand new digital camera to help with some imaging and I’m going to get you unlimited access to adobe Photoshop.

ROGER: OK . .

STEVE: How do you feel about that?

ROGER: Well a studio and some beautiful girls would be nice . .

STEVE: What if got you access to a stock photo company?

ROGER: Steve, just think what we could do with a studio and some beautiful naked girls. We wouldn’t need a stock photo company!

STEVE: Did you say naked girls?

ROGER: Well, not necessarily naked, well not fully naked.

STEVE: Roger, I just don’t think you get the overall profile of Stevehigginslive.com, it’s books, films, humour, not naked women.

ROGER: Right, look Steve, I’ve seen Undercover Boss and the boss usually gives the employees £5000 and a new car or a free holiday to Barbados. Now, you’re offering me Photoshop access? Is that fair to you Steve? Tell you what, stuff your job, I quit and guess what?

STEVE: What?

ROGER: Your blog stinks!

ANNOUNCER: Well Steve. How did things go for you? Was working for SteveHigginslive.com all you though it would be?

STEVE: Well, you know I’m not sure it was. I’m starting to wonder, maybe I could add the pictures myself, and add the blog titles and stuff. I think I need to go back to basics. Get rid of this whole corporate thing, the Tower, the big cars, the Ferraris. Get rid of the whole lot, get my Renault Megane back and go back to sitting in the spare room at home and doing it all myself on my laptop.

ANNOUNCER: What are we talking then Steve? Full closure? Redundancy packages?

STEVE: Yes, of course! Actually, no. I’m just closing the place down!

GAYNOR: What about my Mitsubishi?

STEVE: Forget it! You couldn’t even add a title to Sun Lounger Thoughts part 5? How hard was that!

GAYNOR: Bastard!


Floating in Space is a novel set in 1970’s Manchester. Buy the book today by clicking here!

Holiday Book Bag (4)

As you will probably have gathered if you have read more than a few of my posts, I really do love books. There is nothing better than curling up with a good book anywhere, on a bus or train, in a chair, on a sun lounger, anywhere in fact. Books are a tonic for the brain. An education and a cerebral treat, both at the same time. Books enable the reader to travel not only geographically but in time too. Take one of my interests for instance. Classic cinema. Books like David Niven’s Bring on the Empty Horses has taken me on a journey to Hollywood and back to the golden years of classic cinema, the 1930s and 40s. Niven has told me about the Brown Derby, Romanov’s, Schwab’s drug store and Summit drive and a hundred other places I have never visited. But lets not stop there, let’s go even further. Marcus Aurelius’ book Meditations was written by a great emperor of Rome who died in the year 180AD, so his book is at least 1837 years old. Just imagine, the thoughts of a man who lived nearly 2000 years ago, travelling intact to me, the reader, in the year 2017.

Such is the power of books.

The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans.

I’m not even sure why I picked this book; it’s not anything I would normally be interested in. I bought it for a few pence at a church table top sale and I think I bought it one, because I wanted to give something, a few pence to the church fund and two, I faintly remembered the book had been made into a film with Robert Redford, although I have never seen it. The reviews on the back of the book said things like ‘a page turner’ and ‘the hottest book of the year’. Anyway, I bought it, ages ago, and on a whim threw it into my book bag. I really hate having a book and not reading it.

From the beginning the book was a page turner giving a hint that something exciting and interesting was coming. I liked the idea of a horse whisperer, someone who could train a horse without hurt or pain, merely by whispering. I envisaged a native American Indian perhaps or some mystic horse guru. The fact is the story of the horse is nothing but the background to a love story, involving a New York magazine editor and a Montana cowboy. Written in a sort of matter of fact magazine style, it turns out that writer Nicholas Evans is a screen writer and much of the novel reads rather like that, a screenplay and each character comes with extensive background notes like the writer’s character notes on a screenplay. At the half way point this novel lost steam for me. I read it to the end but the ending was so contrived I just was glad to have finished it. Somewhat disappointing. Wonder what the movie is like?

More or Less by Kenneth More.

I do love a good autobiography, especially one from a cinema background. Kenneth More was a big movie star on the British screen in the post war years, particularly the 1950’s. He came from a privileged background but his father, who came into a lot of money, squandered two successive inheritances and the book only really gets going, for me at any rate, when a young Kenneth More wanders the streets of London with no money, no job and no prospects and sees that an old friend of his late father runs the Windmill theatre in London. The Windmill, as you may know, was a theatre that specialised in a review composed of naked ladies. There was a catch however, the ladies were obliged to stand completely still to comply with the law of the land at the time and any movement would infringe the theatre’s licence. More started as a stage hand rising to stage manager and learning all about the theatre business from the ground up. He also began helping the comedians who came on stage in between the naked women and found himself doing walk on parts and acting as a straight man to feed gags to the comics. When he started the job the manager told him not to get the acting bug and try to become an actor but as we all know, that is exactly what Kenneth More did. Not the most brilliant movie book I have ever read but it gives a good idea of life in the theatre in the 1950s but the author tells us little about film-making or cinema. It’s a very self focussed book, and More tells an interesting story.

Lion by Seroo Brierley

I read this book sometime after seeing the movie and surprisingly, the movie was much better. The movie is an exceptional piece of film-making while the book is good, in fact incredible even, given what the author’s story is, but it is surprisingly unemotional, especially when the strength of the film is its intense emotion. In case you don’t know, Seru is a small Indian boy, aged about five who travels with his brother to a local railway station in India. While the brother is away working, the young boy waiting on a platform gets bored, strays onto a waiting train, falls asleep and ends up in Calcutta, now known as Kolkata. Lost and lonely, the boy ends up in a home for lost and orphaned children, is adopted by an Australian couple and begins a new life in Hobart. Later, using his childhood memories and google earth, he tracks down his long-lost home and family.

Well worth a read but if you see the movie on DVD, make sure you get a copy!

The Hilliker Curse by James Ellroy.

I ordered this book after reading My Dark Places by the same author and enjoying it so much. My Dark Places is about the murder of Ellroy’s mother when he was only ten years old. He works with a private detective to try to solve the murder and along the way examines himself and gives us some flashes of his personal life too. The Hilliker Curse goes a step further, it’s an autobiography but not like anything you will have read before. The author explores deep inside himself and tells us about his mother (her maiden name was Hilliker) and his love of women. In fact it’s more about the women in his life than his life. It’s written in a fast-moving LA jive speak that is difficult to get the hang of but gets easier as you read on. Ellroy could easily have turned out to be a petty criminal of some sort except for his love of words and his desire to write. The book left me gasping for more and sorry that I didn’t bring The Black Dahlia, which I ordered at the same time, on holiday with me.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne.

As I am on holiday in France it seems only fitting I should take a French book with me, and a classic at that. This is apparently a ‘new’ translation by William Butcher and my first impression is that it doesn’t read like a nineteenth century book at all; it has a very modern feel to the language, but whether that is due to the translator rather than the author, I cannot say. The author does dwell a little too much on the statistics of the incredible submarine the Nautilus and its measurements, its displacements, atmospheric pressure and other technical bits and pieces. However, it is still a wonderful classic adventure story.

The Spiritual Teachings of Marcus Aurelius by Mark Forstater.

Here’s the problem with ordering second-hand books online. My first attempt at buying the Meditations by Marcus Aurelius resulted in the Chinese version. Helpful if you are learning Chinese perhaps but not so good for me. I returned the book and ordered this one. Not as it turned out, Marcus’ original Meditations but a new interpretation by Mark Forstater. Actually, not a bad book. The author introduces Marcus and his background then goes on to introduce the Greek philosophers and some Zen Buddhist ones. Actually a great introduction to Marcus Aurelius’ actual ideas. It is still hard to get over, the thoughts of a man who died in the year 180AD, coming to me in 2017 and not only that but having a true relevance to me, a British guy living nearly 2000 years after Marcus wrote these ideas down. Wonderful.

Ulysses by James Joyce.

Now, I have always wanted to read this book. Every list of classic books or ‘read before you die’ lists has this book on its listings. So, I ordered it online and added it to my book bag. Let me introduce the book by telling you a story. Bear with me, please.

Many years ago at my comprehensive school, English was my top subject. Yes, in English, I was the man. One year, I think it was second or third form, we had a new English teacher, a lady and for the life of me I cannot remember her name. I do so wish I could. We had her as our teacher for one term and then she left. Maybe she was a student teacher, I don’t know, I can’t remember. Anyway, this one time we had read The Pearl by John Steinbeck and had to review it and I was feeling very giddy and flippant for some reason and, disappointed with the book, I wrote a review subtitled ‘How to Commit Suicide by Boredom.’ Feeling very pleased with myself I submitted my review.

Next English lesson I happened to be the book monitor and it was my job to hand out our exercise books. I handed them out but soon realised my book was missing. ‘Please Miss,’ I said. ‘My book isn’t here.’ ‘Sit Down’ said the teacher. ‘But Miss,’ I beseeched her, ‘My book isn’t here.’ Just then I looked down and saw she had my book in her hands. ‘Sit down Stephen’ she said firmly. Then she changed her mind. ‘No’ she said, ‘Stay here. Just stay there, where you are.’

I was stood at the head of the class, just by the teacher’s desk. Then she opened my book and began to read out my review to the whole class. She admonished everyone to keep quiet, then began.

‘How to commit suicide by reading,’ she said. The class howled with laughter and I stood just by her, red with embarrassment. When she had finished she laid into me with a vengeance. Then, just prior to releasing me from total humiliation, she said this. ‘What is so sad Stephen, is that you have so much talent. If you wanted to, you could be a really great writer. Now take your book and sit down.’

The room went quiet and I was devastated. yes, I had just suffered the slagging off of a lifetime but then, just when I was really finished, just at the apogee of my torment she had given me the most wonderful compliment. I had talent, she had said. That was my lowest moment in that English class, and yet, at the same time, my best. The class was stunned into silence as I walked the walk of shame back to my desk.

OK, bear with me. We are getting to Ulysses, I assure you. Later, I wrote another review of The Pearl. A much more studied and thoughtful review. This time the theme was however wonderful a classic book might be, or supposed to be, there will always be some who just couldn’t get it. That my friends is Ulysses for me. I know it is brilliant. I know it is one of the most influential novels ever, but I just couldn’t get going with it. Maybe it just isn’t a poolside read.

I think I’ll put it down for another day.

As usual, you can watch the video version of this blog below:


One final book to mention, Floating in Space is available from amazon. Click the links at the top of the page for more information or watch the video below.

 

Icarus, the Pool and Five Weeks in France.

Book Bag 2017.

If things had gone to plan, today you would have been looking at Holiday Book bag 4 (or should that be 5?) However, an urgent issue has been spotted by staff at Steve Higgins Tower, the home of SteveHigginsLive.com. Yes, the photography department has cocked up and I have been advised that the imaging for the post, that had duly been checked and sent on to the graphics department for blog titling to be added, had, shockingly, one of the seven books that make up this year’s Book Bag missing. Two major gaffes in as many weeks! Can this blog post recover? I can see as manager and CEO I will have no choice upon my return to the UK but to implement a new and drastic management review, perhaps even convene a Departmental Review Board! Ha! That will show my staff I mean business.

Five Weeks in France.

Five weeks in France? Wow! you’re probably thinking. Yes, five weeks is a hefty chunk of time to spend in France. Probably longer than the average holiday (wonder if I could claim a tax break? Probably not!) But all in all a nice stretch of time doing not much except, relax, swim, drink wine, eat cheese, swim, drink wine, eat cheese and so on.

One of the great qualities of this part of the world, Germigny  l’Exempt in the Cher region of France is the quiet. Almost everywhere in the UK, particularly in big cities like Manchester, silence is hard to find. Here in the country as I lie on my sun lounger I can feel a faint breeze and all I can hear is the hum of the pool’s machinery, some occasional birdsong and the distant drone of a car or motor bike. Wonderful.

Don’t think for a moment though we have forsaken the pleasures of the UK. At great expense we have had driven over, especially from the UK, a large supply of UK tea bags, Cheddar cheese, English Marmalade, English bacon and of course, who could do without English sausages? The result is a couple who eat like the English at breakfast and dine like the French at tea time.

Of course, everything is not all that rosy in our garden. We have forsworn TV for the duration of the holiday which means missing out on the Belgian and Italian Grands Prix. I have however duly downloaded the BBC F1 podcasts but sadly after sitting on my earphones the other day they have been rendered hors de combat as we natural French speakers say. Cue for this weekend’s brocantes and vide greniers:  Look for earphones!

The summer, even a long, hot one like the one here in France, does not last for ever. One thing I have noticed about the end of the seasons here is that it is usually abrupt. A few days ago, Liz and I were sitting in the garden, drinking wine and eating cheese, which of course is compulsory in France. Those lovely creamy French cheeses had softened in the heat and spread easily on some fresh French bread. Sweat was pouring down my face and we were slurping iced water in between vin rouge like it was going out of fashion. I was wearing a vest in the best Bruce Willis tradition and even though it was hot it was just wonderful to feel a gentle warm breeze on my shoulders. In the UK we just don’t have warm breezes! The next night something happened that I have experienced every year for the last ten years that I have been visiting France. There was a thunderstorm and a huge downpour and the next day things had cooled considerably.

Summer I fear, has departed.

The Pool.

This next section is a little heavier, some serious writing for a change. OK, it’s about the pool and a sun lounger, the focus of my holiday life but, way too heavy for a sun lounger thoughts post, I think . . .

As I sit reading, perspiration pours from my head and into my eyes. The sun is burning me alive and it is time to swim. From the first splash of my body into the pool, the warm water is all around and it comforts rather than cools me. Either way, it’s cooler than out on the sun lounger.

The pool is my father confessor. If I have sacrificed myself to the gods of the sun, here, in this pool, the waters give me redemption. The thermometer, floating in the water, says the temperature is ninety degrees Fahrenheit. Outside these waters it must be what? One hundred, one hundred and ten degrees perhaps.

As I slip forward all my mind is focussed on swimming and my thoughts of home and work vanish as the waters part to let me through. The effect it has on me is like a cleansing. The waters clean the outer body, sweat and moisture are washed away. Inside the effect is the same. Worries and negative vibes are cleansed.

As my body slips through the water, all my thoughts coalesce, thoughts mesh and words tumble together. I take them and store them away in a room in my mind until I can get to my notebook and set them down.

The best part, the part where it seems I commune with nature is when I leave the pool. I lie down on the sun lounger and the water drips away from my body in tiny streams of water, then all my worries drip away too. Any final drops of moisture are warmed by the sun and slip silently upwards into the atmosphere, changed for a short while into something lighter than air, drifting ever upwards and inside, inside my mind, I almost feel that with a little effort, I too could drift upwards, floating on the currents of air, warmed by the sun, until like Icarus I slip closer and closer to the sun.

The heat eventually melts my wings and I plummet towards the earth, once again in need of the rejuvenation of the pool. I step up from the sun lounger, slip easily into the pool, and at once the warm waters embrace me.


Floating in Space is a novel set in 1977. Find out more by clicking the links at the top of the page or click here to go to amazon.

Some Random Sun lounger Thoughts (part ?)

As I  have probably mentioned, Liz and I are on holiday for five lovely weeks in France and the other day it was with some trepidation that I heard the bat phone ring. Yes, the bat phone, that urgent direct line back to the UK and stevehigginslive.com tower, the hub of the stevehigginslive.com empire.

I answered and at the other end of the phone was one of my deputy managers advising me that an issue had occurred with last week’s Thoughts from a Sun Lounger post. As my usual readers will know, this is part of a regular series in which I expound on the often random thoughts that occur to me in that chilled, relaxed and generally other worldly state that I enter when lying on a sun lounger, fresh from a bout of gentle swimming in the pool.

‘What was the problem?’ I asked.

Turns out there was a mistake in last week’s Sun Lounger Thoughts part 4, despite extensive checks by the blog titling and numbering department. Perhaps they were getting a little lax up there in stevehigginslive.com tower while the boss was away but for whatever reason, Sun Lounger Thoughts part 4 had been inexplicably named Sun Lounger Thoughts part 4 when there was already a Sun Lounger Thoughts part 4 in existence!

Mon Dieu was all I could say, as after a few weeks in France, I was fully immersed in the French idiom, culture and customs as well as the gallic language. How many waiters could have guessed that Monsieur, the suave homme who deftly requested ‘une table pour deux‘ or ‘une bouteille de vin rouge au restaurant’ was in fact an English tourist? I know the baseball cap with ‘Team GB’ emblazoned on the top gave the game away a little but what the heck.

Anyway, I fired off a hot email to the blog titling department and began a full review and overhaul of the current blog titling and numbering procedures and now, after a full investigation, I can confirm that Sun Lounger Thoughts part 4 has been fully amended to Sun Lounger Thoughts part 5.

Woody Allen

This year I have not brought along my trusty Nikon DSLR to France but have concentrated on my video cameras. Filming, as you may know, is pretty easy in this digital day and age but the tricky stuff comes with video editing. The other day I finally finished off a short project that has consumed me for a while. It’s a short spoof on Woody Allen’s movie Manhattan, not the entire movie but the opening section where Woody is narrating the beginning of his novel.

I thought it would be a great idea to do something similar but about Manchester, my home town and also the location of the action in my book, Floating in Space.

I re-wrote Woody’s monologue with Manchester, rather than New York in mind and recorded it on my laptop. Next, using my Magix audio cleaning lab, I cut out all the bad bits, mumbles and murmurs, mixed in some royalty free music and added it to one of my old videos about Manchester. Next came a little juggling of some of the visuals, the addition of some more relevant stuff and after quite a few weeks of editing and re-editing I finally got something that was halfway towards what I wanted.

Just in case you have never seen Manhattan, here’s Woody’s original and much better opening.

Action Cam

Finally, I must tell you about my action cam. I shot a short film about cycling a while ago but I wanted to go a step further with the camera. I had it attached to the window all the way down here from the UK to the Cher region of central France. That edit however, must wait for another day, because as the camera has an underwater housing I thought it would be great to make an underwater film!

Now, I can see you, the reader, thinking: What is he going to do? Some underwater shots of the Loire? No. Some scuba diving perhaps off the coast of the Vendee? Nah! What I did was this, I took the camera into the swimming pool with me! Swimming pool? Yes, I know it’s not exactly coral reefs and exotic fish but photography can be a lot of fun especially if you are 60 going on  . . .15 . . .

Well, I enjoyed it anyway!

Floating in Space is available from Amazon as a Kindle download or a traditional paperback. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.