13 Annoying Elements of 21st Century Life

I have to admit, this isn’t a totally new post. It’s one I’ve used before but this version has had a major update. OK, don’t start giving me stick. Week after week I produce new content, all of it reasonably interesting I think, well at least to me. So I think I’m entitled to a week off and an easy blog post. After all, I’m a busy guy, I’ve got stuff to do that involves things like drinking, dining out, meeting friends in the pub, cycling and things like that. Occasionally, and I do mean occasionally, I might have to update an old post because I don’t have the time to make a new one.  Anyway, I read a blog a while ago about ‘curated’ content. Ever heard of it? Basically it’s about copying some else’s post but then linking your post to their original one. It’s sort of like stealing someone else’s work but saying, here’s the original so I didn’t really steal it! In this case the original was my work anyway so I’m doubly in the clear!
Interesting idea. Anyway, here’s my updated post.

    1. Irritating Internet Blogs. Not long ago, a blogger I follow published a post that was short and to the point It went pretty much like this:  My favourite Elton John track has to be ‘Tiny Dancer’. (I think it’s only fair to say at this point that names have been changed to protect the innocent. In this case, the name of the pop star!) Now you might think there would have been a photo included. No, there were no pictures. The writer could have done a search on google, clicked the box for images and ticked the ‘labelled for reuse’ tag and something copyright free would have appeared. No, he didn’t do that, no images. He could have also searched for a video of Elton performing Tiny Dancer and linked the video into his post. No, no such luck, just ‘my favourite Elton John track has to be Tiny Dancer.’ The thing is, last time I looked he had over twenty four likes and a shedload of views for something that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Facebook status post! Now, that gives me an idea for my next post: My favourite Kate Bush track is . . Whoa, wait a minute, don’t want to give my full post away before publishing!
    2. Annoying Websites. Here’s an example. The other day I clicked on a link which said ‘You’ll never guess what Victoria Principal looks like now!’ Victoria Principal was once one of the stars of Dallas back in the seventies or eighties, whenever it used to be on TV. She wasn’t my type but she was clearly a pretty and attractive young lady. Well, I wondered, what does she look like now? Anyway, I clicked on the link and was taken to a new page which took forever to load up and with my very fast iPad I wasn’t expecting that at all. After a while I was presented with a picture of a young girl from an American 70’s TV show looking about 15 in picture 1 and looking about 60 ish in picture 2. No sign of Victoria Principal but after scrolling through a shed load of advertising I was finally presented with a ‘next’ button. I clicked this and veerrryyyy slowwwwly another page loaded this time showing a seventies movie star in picture 1 and her somewhat older and chubbier 2017 self in picture 2. After battling through the interminable advertising to get to picture 3 I couldn’t stand the web page any longer so I exited the site. What is even more annoying though is this; I keep wondering what does Victoria Principal really look like now?
    3. Watching TV. Now this is more of a man thing than anything because women cannot multi task when it comes to TV watching. The art and science of TV watching is and always will be a purely man thing. Picture this: A man arrives home from a busy late shift, pours himself either (A) a beer (B) a glass of wine or (C) a glass of whisky, brandy or any other spirit.  He then combines this with either (D) a call to the local fast food delivery place or (E) whacks a slice of bread into the toaster. After settling down he might come across a James Bond film which he has seen approximately 35 times but He continues to watch it thinking, ‘this will keep me going until the adverts then I’ll flick through the channels to see if anything better is on’. Now here’s where the problem comes, you turn over in the adverts and unless you’ve turned to BBC 1 or 2, there are also adverts on the other channels! Why can’t the other channels schedule their ads at different times so there is always something for the channel hopper to watch? Is that so hard?
    4. david-essex-rock-on-cbsListening to the radio. Now I do like music and in years gone by I was a big singles man. I spent a lot of time in record stores flipping through racks of singles and I still have my record collection intact stored in big boxes. Not so long ago I got myself one of those turntables that you can connect to your pc so you can digitise your records. Technology: it’s just amazing. Of course I still hear records on the radio that I really like, just like the good old days but why is it that 21st century DJ’s don’t seem to bother telling us WHAT THAT RECORD ACTUALLY IS? As it is we will probably never hear that track again, so how can we actually buy or download it! Where do they get these DJ’s nowadays!
    5. Why is it that after an episode of your favourite soap on TV they then show you a clip of what’s going to happen next week! Don’t do that! We don’t want to know until next week when we are actually watching the show!
    6. This is yet another TV gripe: Why do they show part 1 of something then neglect to advise the viewing public when we can see part 2? Once upon a time if something was on a Thursday night at nine o’clock then it would be pretty much a certainty that part 2 would be on the following week at nine o’clock on a Thursday night. Is this the case in the 21st century? NO! I started to watch a cracking documentary on BBC4 the other day about O J Simpson. Excellent and informative. I expected to tune in the next week for part 2 but found out a couple of days later that the following parts were shown on subsequent days! People at the BBC -I am Not happy!
    7. Reality TV. What the heck is reality TV, who thought it up and how can I contact the mafia to put out a contract on them?
    8. Now I’m not really a grammar nut, at least not to the extent that I’ve joined the grammar police but there are people who put things on Facebook like ‘Wish I could of done that!’ It’s could HAVE done that you numpties!
    9. Telephone menus. Not so long ago I wanted to ask my mobile phone people a relatively simple question, so I dialled the number and I got through to a menu: Press 1 for accounts, 2 for phone problems, or 3 for network problems. Well it wasn’t any of those so I pressed 1 then got another menu. A two minute phone call escalated into half an hour of my life! If in doubt on any menu press the hash button, you usually get to speak with a real person. You can also try http://www.pleasepress1.com a website started by frustrated phone user Nigel Clarke with hints and tips for bypassing menus. Thinking of telephone menus, it reminded me of this joke: The psychiatrist’s answering machine that plays this message to callers: “We are very busy at the moment. If you are obsessive-compulsive, press 1 repeatedly. If you are co-dependent, please ask someone to press 2 for you. If you have multiple personalities, press 3, 4, 5 and 6. If you are paranoid, we know who you are and what you want. Stay on the line so we can trace your call!” The oldies really are the best!
    10. Don’t you just hate those ‘what’s on next’ banners that come on your TV screen in the last few minutes of your programme? I don’t need banners! I’ve got a TV guide! There’s an on screen TV guide too!
    11. Why is it whenever it’s raining and I’m driving home from work on the motorway there is always one plonker hurtling down the outside lane with only one headlight working or worse still, one very bright headlight and another dim one! Get your lights sorted and don’t hog the outside lane you Plonker!
    12. MobileJunk phone calls. It’s bad enough getting junk mail but phone calls from people trying to sell you something just get on my wick, especially if you are forced to answer the call. For instance if you’re waiting for a call back from your bank or insurance company or something or even the guy who’s coming to fix your boiler. You see that unknown number on your phone screen, decide to take it, and surprise –it’s someone calling you about PPI refunds! Take a look at this blog on the subject.
    13. A pint of Mild. As I begin to approach the mature years of my life I find myself drawn to towards the darker beers that life’s brewery have to offer. I have been through my younger years with an array of ciders and refreshing amber lagers but these days I tend to fancy a Guinness, a stout, even a porter but where are these exotic beers to be found? Guinness is available in most pubs but what about the humble pint of mild? How many more times must I suffer the stunned look of the teenage barman when I ask ‘do you serve mild?’ I can only answer by saying thank heavens for the Number Fifteen pub in St Annes which serves the rather lovely Theakston’s mild!

If you liked this post, why not try my book, Floating in Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information or here to go to my amazon page!

Burton, Taylor, and the Nature of Love.

I’m always recording films and TV shows to watch and the other day I scanned through my hard drive to find that some time ago I had recorded a movie called Burton and Taylor. It’s a made for TV movie, first shown on BBC Four. I found it on the drama channel and it’s about, as if you hadn’t already guessed, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

Back in 1983 when this film is set, Burton and Taylor were probably the most famous celebrity couple in the world. The only other couple of a similar status that I can think of are Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, a couple from a completely different era. Let me see who else comes to mind; Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, Posh and Becks. Hardly in the same class are they?

Back in the 1920’s, nearly a hundred years ago, silent movies travelled the world, unhampered by the constraints of language. Stars like Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks were as famous in Moscow and Tokyo as they were in London and New York .

Fairbanks and Pickford in a postcard from the 1920’s

Mary Pickford was known as America’s Sweetheart in part due to her work during the first World War selling Liberty Bonds. She had a Canadian background but she became a US citizen when she married Fairbanks. Douglas Fairbanks made a series of swashbuckling films like Robin Hood, The Three Musketeers and The Thief of Baghdad. The couple bought an estate on Summit Drive in Hollywood which the press dubbed ‘Pickfair’. The house became the focal point of social life in the movie capital and the Fairbanks’ invited many famous people there. As well as the film stars of the day, HG Wells visited as did F Scott Fitzgerald, Amelia Earhart, Lord Mountbatten, Noel Coward and many others.

Along with Charlie Chaplin and the silent movie director D W Griffith, the couple founded the film company United Artists, but as actors they did not fare well when talking pictures came along and they retired from the screen. In retirement, Fairbanks wanted to enjoy his love of foreign travel but Pickford hated travelling, so on many occasions Douglas travelled alone. On one trip he met an English socialite, Lady Ashley and began an affair that ultimately led to the end of his marriage . Douglas and Mary were eventually divorced in 1936.

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Image courtesy Wikipedia Creative Commons.

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor met on the set of the film Cleopatra in 1961, a movie that went down in history as one of the most expensive ever made. Taylor didn’t want to make the picture so decided to ask for a ridiculous amount of money, confident that 20th Century Fox would never pay it. However, pay it they did and the troubled movie went into production. The Burton/Taylor TV film however focusses on the later years of the pair when they decided to star in a stage revival of Noel Coward’s witty play, Private Lives.

In the film, Taylor is played by Helena Bonham-Carter and Burton by Dominic West. West doesn’t really look much like Burton but captures his voice and persona well. Bonham-Carter as Liz Taylor does look surprisingly like the original and together they make a good reproduction of the famous couple.

The writer seems to believe, and whether it is true or not I don’t claim to know, that Liz Taylor engineered the theatre production of Private Lives as a way of bringing her and Burton back together again. They had already been married and divorced twice and the movie reveals that Liz clearly still had feelings towards Burton. On the first day of rehearsals she is surprised that Burton will not be lunching with her but spending time with his new girlfriend, Sally. Burton in turn is shocked that on the first read through it is clear that Taylor has not previously read the play. Burton of course knows it off by heart. He is the consummate professional actor and Taylor the consummate professional movie star. During the run when Taylor calls in sick, the production is halted rather than carry on with an understudy, as it becomes clear from the public reaction that the audience are not interested in the play without superstar Liz.

Helena Bonham-Carter and Dominic West (image courtesy BBC)

Burton and Taylor were clearly in love but love must have been difficult in the face of their superstar status, just as it was for Fairbanks and Pickford. I can imagine Burton’s upbringing in a mining community and Taylor, having been a star since childhood, were not personalities that could bend much for the other.

The film is interesting, enjoyable and gives the viewer a fascinating peek into the private lives of these two superstars of the past.

In one sequence where the pair sit down and reminisce together, Burton considers the nature of love and ponders about love’s important ingredients: Is it passion? Is it sex? I’m not even sure of the answers myself. Both sex and passion are important but so are respect, humour and understanding.

William Shakespeare was a man who knew a thing or two about love and one of his most famous sonnets, Sonnet 116 provides a quintessential definition of love. Love, according to this sonnet, does not change or fade; it has no flaws and even outlasts death.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

My favourite though, has to be this one;

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

I particularly like the two last lines. They tell us how the subject lives again in every reading of the sonnet which is a very wonderful thing that applies not only to this but to all other literary evocations of the past. Was the subject of this sonnet a real person or was it just an ode to wonderful women in general? It was a real woman, I suspect, although I am no Shakespeare expert but whoever she was, she lives again in this work, just as the author wished.

When I began writing this post about love, I was inspired by a distant memory, a quote, a distant few lines that seemed just out of reach in the back of my mind. When I finally brought those words into focus and tracked them down, I realised I must have read them in the Bond novel Goldfinger.

Some love is fire, some love is rust. But the finest, cleanest love is lust.” Wikipedia claims that when Ian Fleming used that line he was quoting from ‘The Wild Party’, a book length poem by Joseph Moncare March. Fleming changed the quote slightly in Goldfinger but I liked it so much myself, it inspired my own poem, Some Love.

If you enjoyed this post then why not try my book, Floating in Space? It is written in a talkative, colloquial style just like my blog posts. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Cycling, Action Cams and Making the Video!

One thing that concerns me in my new semi retirement is my health. I really am not an active person so I am always looking to stay healthy which is one reason why I have dug out my old bike from the depths of the garage. A quick hosing down and a spray on the vital points with WD40 and the bike doesn’t look so bad. I last used it regularly over twenty years ago when I had an early start in Warrington and I used to cycle from Newton Le Willows.

Since then I picked up a rather nice mountain bike, which was a joy to ride and served me well during my infrequent ‘get fit’ spells for years until one day last year when it fell prey to some light-fingered scoundrel who took a like to it and whisked it away.

Talking about bikes and cycling makes me think about the bikes I had as a teenager when cycling was pretty much my only means of transport. Me and my friends used to cycle all over, even ending up in the peak district on a few occasions, a fair old haul from our council estate in Manchester. My teenage cycling days came to an end one day in the 1970’s when I traded my bike to my brother in a swap.

My brother couldn’t actually ride a bike but that didn’t stop us from swapping. He might have wanted a particular record or something that I had so we would swap that for my bike and some weeks later usually swap back or I would pay him the cash equivalent. Now that’s where I felt I really had one over on Colin, my brother, because he couldn’t, and still can’t ride a bike! Yes, I was on to a winner there because I’d swap my bike for a record or book of his that I wanted and I had full use of the item while he couldn’t use the bike because he couldn’t ride it! After weeks of his moaning I usually had to pay him a cash sum or give him the item in question back.

One time he really got one over on me. I had swapped my bike for one of his records or something or other; I can’t really remember what. Anyway, one day I went to go out on my bike -OK, his bike- opened the shed and it was gone. What had happened? Had it been stolen, where was it?

‘The bike?’ he answered blithely; he had sold it to his friend because he wanted money to buy a new LP!

My Mother facilitated the removal of my hands from his throat with a firm whack to the back of my head and asked what was going on?

He sold my bike!’ I yelled.

‘Your bike?’ she replied. ‘Didn’t you swap it with him? Isn’t it his bike?’

Yes but, yes but,’ was all I could say.

Anyway, back to the present day and another reason to start cycling is that a while ago when I was in the midst of a mad eBay buying session, I picked up, fairly cheaply, one of those action cams you have probably seen advertised. The same style of action cam that is responsible for so many videos of stunt cycles, skiing, surfing and so on that are featured regularly on Facebook and other social media sites.

My rather old bike looking good after a quick sprucing up!

The big problem with these kind of cameras, at least for me is this: Not only are they small, the buttons are small too, and the screen is small, and the indications on the screen -which mode you are in, battery time, record, play and so on, are even smaller, so setting things up is pretty hard especially for a man who uses reading glasses. As for setting the date and time -forget about it! Another thing is that when you switch on your camera and then set off biking, you, well me anyway, are not always sure if I pressed the right mode, if the two clicks for standby and then one for record actually registered so when I come back after a ride I sometimes get

  1. Nothing.
  2. A short video of me messing about with the camera and then it switching off just as I ride off.

The video of today is very much a tool of social media. Attention spans are short so documentaries are out and very much in is a short, straight to the point video. In fact, videos today have a lot in common with music videos which started life in the 1980’s when the idea of a short film or video to promote a music single evolved. Since then, a whole generation of MTV style cable and satellite channels have emerged showing nothing but music videos. No intros, titles or credits, just straight in with the song.

Michael Jackson’s video Thriller was a highlight of the music video genre. It won an award for best short film if I remember but my favourite video was the one where each paving stone lights up as Jackson, doing his wholly personal trademark style of dancing, steps on each one. Billie Jean, I do love that song.

Despite doing some video training in Manchester, some years before everything went digital, I have never worked in film or TV but that has not stopped me pestering TV and film companies with scripts and TV ideas. I still have hopes of one day having a movie made from one of my scripts. My favourite movie story is that of Sylvester Stallone who wrote the screenplay to the movie Rocky. The film studios snapped up the screenplay but there was a catch, Stallone wanted to play Rocky himself. The studios thought for a moment and made Stallone a counter offer. James Caan was a highly bankable and famous star and the producers preferred him to the unknown Sylvester Stallone. They offered him A million dollars if he would let Caan play the part. Stallone declined the offer, played the part himself, and the rest, as they say, is film history.

Anyway, back to my action cam. To be honest, I’m not even sure why I’m filming myself, although I did have a vague idea of trying yet another VLOG, this time one related to cycling. Actually, if I’m truthful, I just like messing about with cameras and video and pretending to be the film director I always wanted to be. Anyway, after two laps of the estate and about three mins of camera video, it was time for a cuppa. Then it was time to spend days, weeks even, fiddling about on Windows Movie Maker, cutting and splicing and so on until the program refused to make any more cuts. Perhaps there is a maximum movie length  or I don’t have enough mega bytes or whatever. (You can see clearly that although I pretend to be pretty tech savvy, I’m not really.)

Video edit one therefore was something of a disappointment but undeterred I started another one. This time I had another array of video footage all taken on a local bike ride. I did one trip using the camera mounted on my handle bars facing forward and then on the next run facing backwards showing me peddling away. Then I experimented with various camera positions. My action cam came with numerous items of kit for attaching cameras and one was a velcro band which I attached to my wrist which produced some dynamic shots of gear changing and braking, all of which add to the thrust of the finished edit.

Editing can be a slow process but as long as you have a clear result in mind it can be very satisfying. The main rule of editing for me, is always have a shot ready to cut to. On TV interviews they used to call this the ‘noddy’ shot. Interviews were filmed with only one camera so after the VIP had left the studio the interviewer would face the camera and repeat some of his questions and do some serious nodding so that in the final edit, when something was cut from the interviewee, the editor could always cut back to the noddy shot! My noddy shot was one from the camera mounted on my bike handlebars.

One big disappointment in making this video was than no matter which microphone I used, or no matter what tweaks I made on my computer, the recording volume seemed very low when I tried to narrate over my video. Eventually I did something really techy. I pulled my narration off my video, fed it into my Magix audio recorder, boosted the volume and put it back on the video. I have to admit I felt very pleased afterwards. Had I been a smoker I might have relaxed back in my chair and lit a big cigar feeling a little like David Lean, that master director and editor.

Actually, the sound still feels a little cranky but what the heck. A few captions and the addition of some royalty free music courtesy YouTube and all is looking much better. One day I might get a better microphone, a new computer, more megabytes and then, who knows what wonders I might bring to YouTube and the world of video?

Until then, click the video below for a quick trip around the block!

Marketing, Social Media and the 1970’s.

I read a lot about promotions and marketing, all in pursuit of selling my book, Floating in Space, to the unsuspecting public. Many marketeers recommend giving away free copies as a way of driving sales forward. Other marketeers are not so certain. A book is a product of many long hours, even years of hard work and for some, giving it away for free is not an option. For a registered tight wad like me that is something I go along with wholeheartedly.

Another reason is that at the moment I only have one book to sell. It’s not like having a trilogy or a series of books, where giving the first one of the series away will drive sales of the other books. Having said all this, I did run a giveaway lasting for three days in the hope that some new reviews might drive sales up but sales seemed to just run at their normal rate.

Reviews are important to an author. Quite a few readers have given me good reviews on Facebook but where I need them are on my amazon page where the buyers go to look directly at my book.  I suppose not being the pushy type works against me but I have recently added my book to Goodreads where readers with a Facebook profile can log on there and add a review. There are links on my Goodreads author page straight to amazon.

Dear me, bet Charles Dickens never had this trouble!

One of the nice aspects of Floating in Space is that because it has been born out of my past, as well as my imagination, reading it is a rather nice nostalgic experience for me, drawn back into the world of my youth, Manchester in the late 1970’s. Reading the book I can once again soak up the atmosphere of Manchester City Centre and remember those late afternoons and early evenings drinking in pubs like the Salisbury after a day in the office, or evenings playing snooker and pool after a shift going up and down the roads of Manchester as a bus conductor. Sometimes I can almost feel the polished wood of the bar in the working men’s club I used to frequent and even smell the cigarette smoke of the smokers, now a long gone sensation in British pubs. The past is inside all of us and I’m sure many people could do what I have done and take their past life, mix it up with a dash of imagination and some humour and write it all into a book.

So how easy is it to write a book like this? Well, not that easy, I can tell you. However, my book started life as a series of essays about my life in the late seventies. I started to compare the worlds of insurance and accounting and the world of passenger transport. Accounting wasn’t that easy in the seventies. Everything was added up by hand and entered into huge ledgers. There was the rough ledger where all the rough entries and working out and cash balancing was done and then it was all entered neatly into the big blue main ledger.

I am sure that today it’s a much easier process with software that does all the additions and calculations for you. One job that really used to tax me was arranging fire insurance for the offices rented by our tenants. They paid a percentage based on their office space. So for instance, if they rented 50% of the available space, they paid 50% of the insurance. There again, there were other tenants who rented a small office on the ground floor that measured 12 by 8. Now, try converting that into a percentage!

Coming back to the present day, here’s another set of maths questions. If I have 4,619 followers on Twitter, (correct at the time of writing although according to Twitter analytics, I get an average of 4 new followers per day so please make the necessary adjustments when you read this) why then don’t I get that figure following my blog? After all, all my Twitter posts lead, directly or indirectly, to this website. I recently had my Twitter page analysed by one of those writers’ sites that offer stuff like that. This is what they said.

Followers are generally people who just want you to follow them back. There’s no love there or loyalty.
Put it this way. 
Say you had a coffee shop and 2 people walked in:
person a) who is an ardent coffee fan and
person b) who came in basically to get out of the rain.
Who are you most likely to get a sale out of and be able to convince to join your email list to send them more coffee ideas?
Clearly person a) – they already love coffee right?
Person b) – harder work to convince them to do anything. Not impossible but definitely more work.
You need a bunch of person a)’s Steve.
The 2nd thing you may be doing ‘wrong’ is HOW you are going about trying to funnel those blog views. Let me give you some generic advice.
With all due respect nobody is interested in you. 
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that nobody is interested in any of us (so don’t take it personally!)  : )
People are interested in what YOU can do for THEM.

I have to admit, that’s a pretty shrewd assessment of Twitter. Everyone who is on there, with the exception of those who just want to Tweet to their friends about their social life, is out there to sell something, just, as my Twitter reviewer pointed out, as I am. I want people to read my blog and then perhaps think, “hey, this isn’t bad, wonder if its worth buying Steve’s book?” Bingo!

Just one last thought. There was no social media in 1977, the year in which Floating in Space is set but imagine if we tried to do the sort of things then that we do now on Facebook?  Suppose we went for a meal and wanted to share the experience with friends. We had to take a big bulky camera, take a picture of our meal, take the film to Boots or Max Spielmann or wherever, have the film developed, have the prints made and then get copies and send them out in the mail to your friends. By mail of course I mean mail, the Royal Mail, put the picture in an envelope, get a stamp and actually send it after adding a brief message for your followers -I mean friends- such as ‘this looks yummy!’

Social media was hard work in the 1970’s!

If you liked this post, why not try my book, Floating in Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

My Dad, Fletcher Christian and John Lennon

My Dad.

I can’t remember which year my Dad retired from Manchester Corporation. He died in 2000 and he was 72 so I suppose it must have been 1993 or earlier.

Every day prior to that he rose for work. He had porridge for breakfast, mounted his battered old bike and taking his shoulder bag with his box of sandwiches my mother had made for him and his brew can, he left for the ride to work. He did that every day of his working life and, come rain, snow or sunshine, he rode his bike work. In the mid seventies we moved to a new Manchester overspill estate and the result was a much longer journey for him.

He was a fit man, much fitter than me but sadly he and I wasted such a lot of time when we were younger, not getting on together. One day something tragic happened to me. Perhaps tragic is not the right word although it seemed so at the time. Anyway, I knew I would have to tell Mum and Dad. I couldn’t face Mum so I told Dad. Instead of getting the negative response I expected, my Dad was full of support and from that day on our friendship never looked back.

When he died, those wasted years always seemed to haunt me, but then, we were people from such different generations. Young people and their parents are so much closer these days in terms of cultural identity but for me and my Dad things were not like that. He came from a background where he was given an apple and an orange for Christmas whereas my brother and I, who received a sackful of presents on Christmas Day, were part of a new youth culture involving music, television and film that he struggled to understand.

Dad had served in the South Staffordshire regiment and I remember once my brother did some research and found the regiment had been merged with the North Staffordshire regiment in 1959 and later with other regiments to become the Mercian regiment. He told me that when he had called the regiment to enquire what kind of records were kept, they had asked him various questions. When my brother replied that Dad had done his national service as a private they said rather coldly that records of enlisted men were not kept!

Perhaps then it is only officers that matter to the record keepers of the army. I don’t know why but whenever I think of that phrase ‘enlisted men’, I tend to think of that old film with Clark Gable, Mutiny on the Bounty’ where press gangs roamed Portsmouth to press unwitting men into service with Her Majesty’s Navy.

DadHowever they were enlisted, they served and did their duty, just like my dad who was proud of his army service. He served in Northern Ireland, Germany and Hong Kong, and told me many stories about his army life. In fact not long ago when I posted a picture of him at work for the council highways department, one of his old work mates replied mentioning the stories he used to tell his workmates about his army sergeant major.

Fletcher Christian.

There have been so many versions of Mutiny on the Bounty but the one my Dad and I loved was the Clark Gable version. He saw it first time round at the cinema and I saw it on television. If you haven’t seen it, and I can’t for  moment believe you haven’t, it is the supposedly true story of Captain Bligh who so ill-treated his crew that they mutinied and set Bligh adrift on the high seas in a long-boat. They took the ship back to Tahiti, together with some natives and came across Pitcairn island. The island had been marked incorrectly on the British naval maps of the time so they decided to settle there. The ship, the HMS Bounty, was stripped of everything possible and then burned, stranding the mutineers on the island.

The settlement descended into conflict and jealousy with disputes between the mutineers and the natives. The natives resented being treated like slaves and there were further arguments involving the small group of women on the island. Fletcher Christian was reportedly murdered but there were constant rumours he had somehow returned to England.

Whether events happened as they have been portrayed in films is anyone’s guess. Was Bligh’s conduct of his men so poor that they were compelled to mutiny? Or was the truth that the pleasures shown to them on the Pacific island of Tahiti were too good to leave? I have to say that if I had been one of the mutineers, the thought of spending my days on a distant deserted island would have not appealed to me and the burning of the Bounty would have been a disaster, stranding the mutineers on Pitcairn. Fletcher Christian came from Cockermouth in Cumbria and thoughts of returning there must have plagued him or at least arisen in times of quiet consideration.

Sometimes, now I have reached the status of the semi retired, I have wondered about living abroad. France appeals to me greatly. I like the relaxed lifestyle, the wine, the approach to food and restaurants and the cheap property prices. However, my French is very much the French of my schooldays and I often wonder whether I would pine for a pint of Guinness or a Wetherspoons meal on curry night. Similar thoughts arise when I have considered Spain or Lanzarote. My Spanish consists of a few phrases, Buenos dios and la cuenta, por favor (may I have the bill please.) On the flip side many brits live happily in foreign climes and in some places, especially Spain and Lanzarote, English is freely spoken.

John Lennon.

One man who chose to leave his home and live abroad was John Lennon. Lennon, suffocated by the incredible fame of the Beatles, decided to relocate to New York. New Yorkers were not overwhelmed by his celebrity status and he found himself a large apartment in the impressive Dakota Building on the corner of Central Park West and 72nd Street. Lennon lived there from 1973 to 1980 when he was shot to death by a disturbed fan called Mark Chapman. Lennon lived with his wife Yoko Ono and son Sean and retired from public life during his son’s early years. His comeback album Double Fantasy was released in 1980 and Lennon even autographed a copy for his would be assassin just hours before Chapman shot him.

The last vinyl album I ever bought, and the last one that John Lennon made. Double Fantasy. £2.99, what a bargain.

I can imagine Lennon in his room in the Dakota, looking down on New York and reflecting how far he had come. Did he ever think of his home in Liverpool? I am sure he did. He corresponded regularly with his Aunt Mimi who brought him up at their home, Mendips, in Liverpool.

Years ago when I used to work in Liverpool I visited his childhood home. I had always imagined Lennon came from a rough council house background but his former home is in Woolton, a pleasant leafy suburb of Liverpool with semi detached private houses and some rather nice pubs and shops. Not quite what I had expected.

One of the reasons that John Lennon came to mind for the end of this post is that over on Twitter where I spend a lot of time plugging this blog and my book, I’ve been running out of ideas for Tweets. Then I started tweeting a lot of ‘quote’ Tweets, you know the sort of thing I mean, a picture of some celebrity alongside a famous quote from them. I started with writers and various famous people like Einstein and Churchill, then I moved onto musicians like Bob Dylan and eventually John Lennon. Lennon appeared to be a popular choice and his quotes got a high percentage of likes and retweets bringing the words of John Lennon (and my web page) to new readers. My favourite was this one, one I hadn’t even heard of before but I liked it so much I’m thinking of having it as my motto.

Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.


If you liked this post, why not try my book, Floating in Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Writer’s block, Russian Women, and my In-box.

It’s great to have lots of extra time to myself now I’m semi-retired and for me as a writer, well, amateur writer I suppose, (and blogger) I tend to use a lot of that time for writing. The crazy thing is, when you get a nice quiet day, all your jobs done, they’re the jobs Liz arranged for me before she went out to work, it’s great to fire up the laptop and get cracking. The big problem though is this, what do I write? Yes usually ideas seem to just flow for me, especially when I’m at work and it’s all getting pretty busy.

Now I’m not at work and I’m not really busy, the ideas aren’t coming. I could tell you about my TV viewing but I did that last week. Then there’s dealing with semi-retirement but I did that one the week before. I have actually got twelve posts in my draft box but none of those seem to be calling to me, not one of the twelve is saying “finish me!”

One of the problems of writing on a laptop is that eventually, even if you are beavering frantically away on a new post, the internet will eventually beckon. What has been quite amusing this week is how a shocking and outrageous event on a United Airlines flight has spawned an increasing number of spoofs using footage from the movie Airplane. If you’ve been away holidaying in the jungles of Borneo and have been without wi-fi then you won’t know that on an overbooked United Airlines flight, the staff simply picked a passenger at random and ejected him from the aeroplane! Smartphone video footage of the incident has gone ‘viral’ as they say. How the airline will recover from this PR disaster is anyone’s guess but the poor fellow in question, hauled off a flight because they were short of a seat for the staff, must certainly be considering legal action and American lawyers will probably be queueing up to take on the job. Fame and fortune and an easy legal victory must surely await the man who takes that one into the courtroom!

Anyway, Internet surfing done, next is a ‘quick’ look at my emails. I see I have one from the National Westminster Bank saying there is a problem with my account and I need to click on a link and enter my password to get it sorted. As it happens, I don’t have a Nat West account so whoever you are with your beady eyes on my hard earned cash, this scam didn’t work but people are falling for these scams in increasing numbers. Never click on emails asking for your passwords and if you are not happy with any type of mail you receive, call your bank but don’t use any links or numbers in the suspect e-mail.

This Russian lady is probably an Internet Scammer!

Also in my inbox is yet another e-mail from a Russian lady wanting a relationship with me! Poor girl! I have been targeted lately by numerous Russian ladies and not long ago I e-mailed one of these women back and said, look, I think you have fallen for a scam. I’m not on any dating sites and I’m not interested in you. The lady in question, her name was Kristina and she even enclosed a photograph, wrote back a very long letter telling me about her life in a small Russian village, how she was orphaned as a youngster and how she loved my picture and longed to be with me.

Sometimes, when the light gets me in a certain way and I’m wearing my leather ‘pulling jacket’ I tend to think I look quite good, hardly in the Bruce Willis class but acceptable though hardly deserving of anyone’s longing. Not only that, my picture, as far as I am aware, is not on any dating site, Russian or otherwise. Anyway, I wrote back again, told the lady her dating site was a scam and not to pay them a penny, or a ruble more. She wrote quickly back that luckily she had come into a small amount of money and was ready to fly over to the USA to spend some time with me and although she would be low on funds she was desperate to see me.

Yes, I’ve always wanted to visit the USA but hopefully when it happens I won’t be bumping into Kristina from the Russian City of Izhevsk. Of course she could also be after another Steve Higgins, or even the Steven Higgins from Ventura California, who I am constantly advised by the My Life Backgound Monitor Company Dot Com, that important personal details of mine are freely available on the Internet! No they are not and my name is not Steven and the only person who calls me Stephen is my Mum and even then it’s Stephen and not Steven!

Of course some are my details are freely available, for instance my novel set in 1970’s Manchester! Click the links at the top of the page to find out more. Now, back to this week’s post, what can I write about?

Adventures with a Hard Drive TV Recorder

You may have read in a previous post about the numerous advantages, especially to a couch potato like me, of a hard drive TV recorder. Sometimes, I record things and completely forget about them until the day comes when I am free to sit down with a large cup of tea (mandatory for serious TV watching) a cheese sandwich, a chocolate digestive biscuit and see what television delights await me. Here are some recent highlights!

Rising Damp Forever

I do love a good documentary, especially ones about the making of a movie or TV programme. This last week I’ve watched a two-part programme about the TV sitcom Rising Damp. The documentary followed the story of how a play by Eric Chappell was seen by TV producers who then urged Chappell to make it into a TV series. The result was a sitcom that ran for four seasons and was one of the funniest things on TV in the late seventies. Leonard Rossiter’s performance as landlord Rigsby is nothing short of brilliant; a wonderful comic creation. Frances De La Tour played the spinsterish Miss Jones and the late Richard Beckinsale was a virginal long-haired student who shared a room with an African chieftain’s son played by Don Warrington.

A preview of the show billed the programme as a reunion of the cast members, however, if you know anything about Rising Damp, you will know that of its quartet of stars, Leonard Rossiter and Richard Beckinsale are no longer with us. Frances De La Tour is still alive as far as I know but did not appear in the documentary leaving Don Warrington to mostly chat with himself. The reunion appeared to involve Don, former directors, the former floor manager, a production assistant and the writer, Eric Chappell.

To be fair, the documentary was pretty interesting because I love anything like this, the back room story to a successful film or TV show, especially when we get to see the writer talking about his creation. Also appearing were some former guest stars, as well as Christopher Strauli who played the Richard Beckinsale part in the film version. When he first met Leonard Rossiter, the undoubted star of the show, Rossiter told him ‘We know this works as a TV show so if the film is a failure it’ll be your fault!’ No pressure then!

Among other things the programme revealed that De La Tour and Rossiter were poles apart in real life and did not get on well. Richard Beckinsale had just finished filming Porridge and had short hair so was forced to wear a long wig and the writer, Eric Chappell, based the show on a newspaper article about a bedsit tenant who pretended to be the son of an African chief in real life!

Beckinsale left the cast because he felt he was not being taken seriously as an actor and wanted to pursue more dramatic roles. Sadly, he died of an undiagnosed heart condition not long afterwards when he was only 31. Leonard Rossiter went on to star in the equally wonderful the Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin but died during a stage performance of Joe Orton’s black comedy Loot.

Yes, remind me to dig out my box set of Rising Damp for my next rainy afternoon off.

The Secret life of Bob Monkhouse.

I have seen this documentary before and last week’s showing on BBC Four was a repeat but a very welcome one. Bob Monkhouse was a comedian who seemed to collect everything and the full extent of his collecting compulsion was only revealed after his death in 2003. He kept all his old scripts, all his old notes, even for things like The Golden Shot. He would make up small cards about the contestants with notes about their backgrounds. Then he would go through his joke notebooks which were indexed for subject and if the contestant was for instance a plumber, he would go down the list, look up plumber jokes and use it during the broadcast.

The other thing about Monkhouse was that he was a serial TV recorder. He bought one of the very first home video recorders when the cost was similar to that of a family car, and he set about recording anything and everything. During the 1980’s he apparently had six video recorders in his home and many of his recordings are the only remaining recordings of various TV shows. He had recorded episodes of the Golden Shot thought to be missing and also the only known recording of Lenny Henry’s TV debut. All in all, Monkhouse amassed 50,000 video tapes and numerous other film and audio recordings, all of which were kept in a temperature controlled unit he had built in his garden which he called the ‘Boardroom’.

Despite a career as a TV star, Monkhouse had a hard life. He was married three times, had a disabled son and another who died from a drugs overdose. He worked hard on the TV show The Golden Shot and was then fired for supposedly plugging a brand name on the show. When Norman Vaughn and later Charlie Williams seemed to struggle with the pressure of the live broadcast, Monkhouse was asked to return and he hosted the Golden Shot until the end of its TV run before moving on to Celebrity Squares.

After his death Bob’s daughter donated his huge video and film collection to Kaleidoscope, a television archive company, dedicated to finding and rescuing ‘lost’ TV shows which were routinely wiped or not recorded at all prior to the 1980’s. Pity Bob wasn’t a Doctor Who fan!

The Magic Box

This is one of those movies rarely, if ever, seen on terrestrial TV. Made in 1951 for the Festival of Britain it starred the Manchester born actor Robert Donat with a whole host of stars playing minor and supporting roles. The technicolor photography by cinematographer Jack Cardiff is excellent and the story of British cinema pioneer William Friese-Green is told in flashback by director John Boulting.

Friese-Green thought his troubles were over when he finally produced a working movie camera but his obsession with the project led to a serious neglect of his photography business which collapsed into debt and bankruptcy. When he died he had only the price of a cinema ticket in his pocket. The Magic Box is something of a sad film but well made and a feast for classic movie fans. Even the portraits on the walls of Friese-Green’s studio were of famous British film stars.

The Persuaders.

Roger Moore and Tony Curtis star in this seventies action and adventure series.  Tony Curtis plays  New York entrepreneur Danny Wilde who teams up with Roger Moore as Lord Brett Sinclair to fight crime. Moore is perfect in the part. Pity he was so poor as James Bond! 

In my favourite episode, Danny and Lord Brett go camping and we see Danny getting up the next morning, emerging from his small one man tent. Lord Sinclair’s tent however, just across the way, is a massive tent worthy of an Arab prince. Danny wanders in to find Lord Brett in a huge fully fitted kitchen. He turns to Danny and remarks, ‘I’ve really enjoyed roughing it for once, Daniel!’

The Invaders.

I still have plenty of episodes saved on my hard drive, ready for viewing, of the 1960’s sci-fi series, the Invaders! Roy Thinnes plays architect David Vincent who becomes aware of an imminent alien invasion. As the narrator said in the opening titles:

The Invaders, alien beings from a dying planet. Their destination: the Earth. Their purpose: to make it their world. David Vincent has seen them. For him, it began one lost night on a lonely country road, looking for a shortcut that he never found. It began with a closed deserted diner, and a man too long without sleep to continue his journey. It began with the landing of a craft from another galaxy. Now David Vincent knows that the Invaders are here, that they have taken human form. Somehow he must convince a disbelieving world that the nightmare has already begun!

The Man From Uncle

Time to open channel D because over on the True Entertainment channel, free view 61, they are showing my school boy 1960’s favourite The Man from Uncle. Yes, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum are back in action fighting the agents of the criminal organisation, Thrush. The last episode I caught was called Discotheque and involved a disco, quite unlike any I have ever visited – everyone wore a shirt and tie and there were mini skirted dancing girls in cages. Secret Agent Napoleon Solo’s oxy-acetylene torch-cum cigarette lighter put James Bond’s gadgets to shame and the lady strapped to a moving channel heading towards a cylindrical saw, provided a great finale. Eventually, super smooth agent Solo, helped ably by colleague Illya Kuryakin, foiled a plot to spy on head of Uncle, Mr Waverley, or was it to obtain secret Thrush files? I forget now but I loved it all anyway.

Love those opening titles with that fabulous theme by Jerry Goldsmith!

Press that pause button, time for another cuppa!


If you liked this post, why not try my novel, Floating in Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

A Monkey, A French Canal Barge and A Million Pound Cheque.

The French Canal Barge.

Money, as they say, makes the world go round. We work day after day to bring home the money so we can pay for our home, our cars, and all the essentials we need and hopefully have something left over for a little luxury. A night out in the pub or a meal at a restaurant. A holiday, a new TV, or even a bigger and better home.

Just lately, I feel fairly flush in the financial department because I’ve joined the ranks of the semi-retired and the lump sum from my pension is starting to burn a hole in my pocket. The problem with coming into money is that for someone like me, I don’t really know how to spend it. I don’t want to waste it and I certainly don’t want to fritter it away. I could do with a new car but a few years down the road my investment will surely have reduced in price, just like all cars do. My present motor, my lovely Renault Megane convertible cost a considerable sum a few years back but now . . . The other day I typed all my car details into the website webuyanycar.com only to be confronted with the measly offer of £398!

Well, thanks for the offer but I think you can keep your £398 and I’ll hang on to my car for a while longer. In fact I fully intend to keep driving it until the scrapyard beckons.

I often wonder what I would do if I won the lottery. Not long ago I received an e-mail from the lottery people heralding good news and urging me to check my ticket. Good job I did because the £3.20 winnings came in pretty handy that weekend enabling me to buy almost a full round of drinks. So what would I do with a really big win? Well, a new car would be nice. Another convertible perhaps or something more in the way of a 4X4? I’ve always fancied one of those Nissan Navara pick-up style motors. I’ve always thought it would be handy for travelling through France – plenty of room to whip a few wine boxes in the back ready for supping back in the UK. I did think of test driving one a while ago but when I climbed into the seat the driving position was not for me, not to my taste at all but I’m confident I could find an appropriate motor, given time.

Next on my purchase list would be a nice house and perhaps a holiday home in France, somewhere towards the south of the country because I really don’t like the cold. Perhaps one of those large French canal barges might suit. I could spend the summer in the lush Loire then chug serenely south when the weather cooled keeping an eye out for suitable bars and bistros along the way. A change of blog might be in order. Letters from an Unknown Diner sounds pretty good!

A million pounds would be a nice tidy sum but just thinking about that figure reminds of a time many years ago when I came into close contact with that very sum.

The Million Pound Cheque.

A long time ago when I was a teenager one of my very first jobs was as an accounts clerk. One day there was the hum of excitement in the office and my colleagues and I were advised of the imminent arrival of a £1 million 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 three PM, as in those days, banks closed at three PM. ‘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!

Anyway, getting back to the cheque, it was actually not really that impressive. It was not printed but hand written in a very scrawling, looping, and altogether unreadable hand and it occurred to me that the payee, Refuge Assurance Company limited, could quite easily be changed to Stephen Higgins Esquire had there been some  tippex handy. As this was an accounts department you might think we had a great deal of tippex, however tippex was completely Verboten.  Yes tippex was never used, and in the event of a mistake being made, the procedure was to strike a line through the incorrect number, sign your name, date it and then add the correct figure.

The Monkey.

One summer we employed a young lad called Jonathan, fresh from university who had a degree in accounting under his belt and was rumoured by all and sundry to be a candidate for future management. Our boss, Mr Ross, was highly impressed by him and seemed to take every opportunity to praise his achievements to me, the proud possessor of four O’ levels. Personally I thought Jonathon was a bit of a, how can I put this? Plonker, is probably the word I am searching for. Yes, Jonathan was something of a plonker who appeared to me to be easily bored.

One day Mr Ross approached me and asked, after showing me the ledger, was this my handwriting? I replied no, it wasn’t. Mr Ross then asked me what I made of some figures at the bottom of the page. I replied that I wasn’t sure although a clear figure was apparent and by figure I don’t mean a numerical figure but something more artistic.  Jonathan our new clerk was then asked about the figures. He took a rather long glance at the ledger, thought about it for a while, and then told Mr Ross that the figure in question was in fact a monkey.

A monkey? replied Mr Ross. I say replied, although this is really a quite inadequate word. It would have been more appropriate to say Mr Ross screeched or howled and the phrase ‘a monkey’ came out in a very distorted, even agonised way. Anyway, after some further thought, Jonathan confirmed he was responsible for the monkey. It was actually quite a good representation of a monkey and it looked quite at home among the accounting and various totals and sub totals. It turned out that in a rather quiet moment in the office Jonathan had idly decided to draw a monkey on the ledger for some reason. I too, in quieter moments sometimes used to do drawings or write poetry and stories. I tended to use scrap paper or a notebook and perhaps that is why I managed to hang onto to my job somewhat longer than Jonathan hung on to his, despite me not being a university graduate.

That, as you can easily imagine, turned out to be Jonathan’s last day on the job and he was never seen again, although any time I happen to be looking at art and come across something to do with monkeys, I always wonder whether he made his mark in accounting or the art world.


If you enjoyed this post, why not try my book Floating in Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Things to do when you’re Semi-Retired

Reading.

Yes, I don’t know about you but I have quite a lot of books and quite a few of them are big heavy hardback volumes, totally unsuited to popping in your bag to read at work or taking on holiday. Semi retirement means this is the chance for me to get stuck into William L. Shirer’s History of the Third Reich or the Life and Art of Charlie Chaplin by David Robinson. Yes, all those big chunky hardback books I’ve collected over the years and never read, I can now get stuck into.

Walking.

Exercise is important as we all know and a great way to burn off those extra calories is to just walk. Here in lovely St Annes in Lancashire it’s so nice to walk down to the beach and enjoy the sea and the breeze. Yesterday after walking for about thirty minutes my right knee became sore, clearly not used to this unexpected workout. Happily, on the seafront there are plenty of seats for those old people, like me, who sit and watch the sea. I always thought those old guys who sit and watch the sea were bored. Of course not, they just stopped to rest their sore knees!

TV.

Hey don’t discount the television. Yes there is loads of tripe on TV these days, especially since the advent of reality TV. Someone, somewhere must be watching things like The Only Way is Essex although personally I think the producers are just using new technology to screw with the viewing figures so that the BBC will keep renewing the series! Anyway, with all these extra channels the dedicated couch potato can always find something worth watching. Take full advantage of your hard drive recorder and get those classic movies and TV series from the 60’s and 70’s recorded so when you are faced with a barrage of the Jeremy Kyle Show, The Real Housewives of Orange County, Judge Rinder, Made in Chelsea and other TV delicacies, rebel and crank up The Persuaders, The Prisoner, The Saint or a good old Carry On film! It’s well worth reviewing the movie output for the coming TV week because all manner of hidden gems can pop up unexpectedly on all sorts of oddball channels. I recently recorded the splendid and not often seen movie The Magic Box starring Robert Donat as William Freize-Greene, one of the early cinema pioneers. Not something you will find on Film Four at prime viewing time.

Nights out.

Yes but what about work the following day? What the heck, now I’ve got six days off I can easily go for nights out during the week. I can even spend an afternoon in Wetherspoons drinking and putting the world to rights with some other old guys, many of whom are well versed in the arts of afternoon boozing!

Writing that next novel.

Yes, writing that next novel. Might have to take a back seat for a while. What with all this walking, reading, and boozing, I’m finding myself a little short of time!

Make yet another Video about Floating in Space.

Hey, there’s always time for another Floating in Space video!

 

If you enjoyed this post why not try my book Floating in Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information!

Writing, Elvis Presley, and the Year 1977!

This has been an interesting week for me because it has been my first week as a partially retired worker! Yes, instead of the grind of six days on, three days off I have completely reversed the equation. Now I work three days on and six days off, a much more agreeable working pattern as you can imagine.

This should leave me with more time to relax, more time to drink beer, see old friends, drink beer, have meals out, drink beer and, well, you get the picture! It should also leave me more time to indulge in my favourite pastime; to write. I still have my blogs to produce and one day I hope to actually get round to finishing the sequel to Floating in Space.

The problem which arises there is that I have two favourite places for writing, well, not actually favourite places but places where I seem to be most creative, where ideas seem to flow. One is my car. I settle down in my motor, slip something relaxing in the CD player and after a while something will come to me and I either remember it, or if it’s a little bit more complicated I switch on my hand-held tape recorder and start blabbing away into it. (Just a minute, hand held device in the car, is that still legal?)

The other place is my work desk. As soon as I sit down and start to do some work, ideas start coming to me. Just lately we have had an internet ban at work so I tend to email myself at home with an idea or start off a word document and add to it as the day goes on. Now, as my hours at work have been reduced and correspondingly, my time in my car, I can see my output reducing.

Another issue is that at home, my laptop is at the centre of my universe. I use it for writing, for creating my videos and graphics and for editing my photographs. Now I put that sort of activity down as ‘creative work’. I’m sure you can see where I’m coming from but Liz on the other hand marks it down as ‘twatting about on my laptop.’ Now, you can see how a difference of opinion could occur.

Last week as I mentioned in my previous blog post, my brother and I went into Manchester to chat, have a meal, drink beer, and shoot some video. Now I did have something of a plan for the shoot. Floating in Space is set in 1977 and I wanted to evoke the feel of that particular year by mentioning some of the year’s events and characters. I had not brought my notes with me and relying on my memory was not a great idea. Later I realised I had forgotten to mention the most shocking event of 1977. The death of Elvis, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll!

Elvis Presley was once one of the most famous people on the planet. The man who almost single-handedly started off the modern pop music phenomenon and yet by 1977 he could only really be considered as a sort of easy listening musician. His days at the cutting edge of the music business were long gone. Elvis was a religious man who hated drugs but at the same time was a drug addict, only he was addicted to prescription drugs. In his mind, drugs prescribed by a doctor were something different to illegal drugs. In some ways you can see where he was coming from but he would ask a doctor for a prescription of some pill and the doctor might only prescribe two boxes of the drug. Elvis would then go to another doctor and they, flattered by the situation of having Elvis as a patient, would happily write out another prescription.

Elvis had long lived in a sort of twilight world. He slept all day and was awake all night. A big problem for him was insomnia and he used numerous drugs to help him sleep. Being so famous meant that normal life was  hard for him. If he popped  to the local store he would cause a riot so he did everything at night. If he wanted to see the latest movie, he would pay the manager to open up the cinema during the night. On the day of his death he even paid a visit to his dentist at night, after all, everyone would bend over to help the King and to be on his payroll. Elvis took pills to help him go to sleep and pills to help him wake up.

Elvis’ gifts of cars to friends, family, employees and even fans was legendary. What I think is sad is that when the local car dealers knew Elvis was on a spending spree, they would hike up the prices of the cars to make an even bigger killing. Elvis and his stepbrothers, who worked for him as bodyguards and assistants had a favourite saying, ‘taking care of business’, but it was Elvis himself who took care of business for all his extended family, however, in 1977 his business affairs were looking a little rocky. His records were not selling as well as they used to and he was particularly poorly served by his manager, Colonel Tom Parker who took not ten percent, not twenty percent, but a whopping fifty percent of Elvis’ earnings.

Elvis was beset by numerous health problems and on the night of 16th August, 1977, they finally overcame him. He was only 42 and I remember being very shocked by the news. When told by a reporter about Presley’s death John Lennon could only comment dismissively ‘Elvis? He died years ago.’ Liz was in France at the time and Elvis only warranted a small inch high column in the inside pages of the newspaper. When she mentioned it to the owner of the newspaper he asked ‘who is Elvis?’ Perhaps even his considerable fame had not penetrated to the South of France.

Perhaps I should have talked more about Elvis in my video or more about the other events and characters of that year. Still, if you want to find out more about life in 1977, you could always buy my book!

Anyway, I’ll have to be off now, I need to do some writing  -sorry, some twatting about on my laptop!