Night shift

What I think I might do in this post is an old writer’s trick. It involves taking some part written posts and trying to string them all together into a brand new post.
Let’s see if it works out.

The first night shift is, perversely, the easiest one. I say perversely because it should, by rights, be the hardest. To prepare for it I usually have a lie in that morning and prior to getting ready for work I go back to bed for at least an hour, just to get forty winks which, with a little luck, will get me through the night.
It’s a 45 minute drive to work, mostly all motorway driving, and I take a great deal of care in selecting some music to play in my car. My car is heaving with CDs and I’ll choose something interesting, something enjoyable that will last until I drive in through the gates at work.

Last week my first night shift coincided with election night so it was interesting to settle down and watch the results gradually come in. I work in an emergency control room and the wall of our room has various screens where we can highlight CCTV images of the incidents we are dealing with. In the centre is the TV screen currently set to Sky News as for some reason, every other channel comes up blank with the legend ‘no signal available.’
This being an operational control room the TV has no sound and it’s sometimes quite amusing to watch the subtitles appear with the wrong word or sentence. Some of the best I’ve seen include MP Ed Milliband described as the Ed Miller Band and the BBC welcoming viewers to the ‘Chinese new year of the whores!’

Anyway, it was a busy night and when I finally looked up from my desk it was clear that despite being the winner Theresa May was actually the loser, and despite being the loser, Jeremy Corbyn was really a winner, if you see what I mean. Yes, that’s politics for you, despite all the weeks of campaigning the result was essentially a hung parliament until Mrs May decided to do a deal with the DUP and their ten MPs.

Since then I’ve seen the DUP, the small Northern Irish party described as everything but Satan himself. Incredibly, gasp some people, they don’t seem to believe in same-sex marriages, although ten years ago, neither did anyone else! Clearly they haven’t moved with the times or perhaps they just believe in what they believe. After all, we do live in a free society.

This last week I went to my uncle’s funeral and I can’t ever remember going to a funeral that was so, I nearly said happy but that isn’t right, free from tears is probably nearer to the mark. Then again, I often wonder about myself and my own emotions. I’m not a particularly emotional man, in fact, I’m probably rather cold in an emotional sense. My family, reunited for the family funeral, many of whom I had not seen for years are clearly made of similar stuff. Then again, when I spoke to my Mum who is getting rather confused in her old age and did not attend, and told her about the pleasant demeanour of all concerned she thought for a moment and then said ‘don’t worry, the tears come later!’ Clearly, she is not as confused as I had thought.

As a sort of follow up to that, Friday night, Liz and I went to the Number 15 pub in St Annes and a guitar duo were the live band. Sadly I have forgotten their name but they were outstanding. One of the songs they played was a song I have never heard covered before. It was ‘The Ballad of Jack and Diane’ originally sung by John Mellencamp.

In part, the lyrics go like this:

‘Oh yeh, life goes on. Even though the thread of livin’ is gone.’

Quite appropriate under the circumstances.

This week I have spent some time in the garden with my latest toy, a chain saw. I was a little scared of it at first but gradually I got used to it and those tree branches that have been immune to my tame sawing and chopping these last few years have now been firmly removed and chopped neatly into fireplace sized logs. I enjoyed myself that much it’s a wonder I didn’t create a swathe of destruction throughout the local area.

I finally managed to take control and now I just need some cold weather so we can have a nice log fire!

The end of my block of night shifts is really the best moment of all. The morning shift manager comes in and we exchange a few pleasantries. I brief them about any ongoing incidents and they in turn go off to brief their team. I thank my people for their work over the past few nights, the new team come in and take over. We sign off and it is time to leave.

Outside in the car park it’s a lovely warm summer’s morning. There is some cloud but also one clear side to the sky and the sun’s rays bear down and warm all they touch.

The local rabbits scamper about as I search for a new CD. I’m looking forward to my sleep later this morning, because the sleep at the end of my last night shift is the nicest sleep of all. I start the engine and drive away and click play on my CD player. Yes, I fancy some Commodores this morning.

If you enjoyed this post, why not try my book, Floating in Space, set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

The Rain

The stream becomes the river
The river becomes the sea
And the rain that washes over me
Is the rain that will set me free.

For you are my rain,
My river and my stream,
And I am the fisherman
Who loves you in his dreams.

So when I wake I’ll hold you
And take away your pain.
Love can wash the pain away
Like dust in the pouring rain.

The stream becomes the river,
The river becomes the sea.
And all our sins are washed away
When the rain washes over me.

How to Write a Novel

So why do you want to write a novel? For fame, fortune or financial gain? Do you just like writing? Anyway, here are few tips.

Plan your novel. Yes, don’t think you can sit down and just start typing away. Do some planning and research, then start writing.

Start at the beginning! Well, not necessarily. Sometimes the beginning is hard. It’s a sort of slow part of the novel, introducing people and places. Sometimes it’s easier to start right at the heart of the book and then add the beginning on later.

Got stuck already? Again, start writing a different part of the novel. When you have got the old creative juices flowing, then you can come back to the section that was difficult to write.

Editing. Now this is pretty important, especially if you write the way I do, in a pretty disjointed way, moving back and forth within the novel as I’ve outlined above. I’ve always felt that it’s important to keep banging away on my laptop or notebook or whatever and if I’m not banging away (writing) then I need to do something to make me write so that’s when I open my diary and write about last night’s night out, the shift I’ve just had at work and so on. Perhaps that’s why so much of me spills over into my blogs and books. (OK: Book, the one book, the only one book I’ve ever written!)

Where do you get your ideas from? Well, let’s face it, if you haven’t got an idea why do you even want to write a book? (Fame, fortune and financial gain?)

Can you see it through? It’s hard work. Floating was started in the 1980’s although not as a book but as a series of essays. Years later I decided to make it into a novel so I put the essays together which formed the second half of the book then I had to write the first half. I was still writing it when the PC revolution began and I typed it all out onto Microsoft word. I was ready to give up after two computer crashes. I lost the third quarter of the book when my PC crashed so I had to rewrite it and then found the lost quarter on a back up disk! Confusion then reigned until I sat down, deleted lots of multiple versions, re edited the book and added a new ending. That was hard work, believe me.

Enjoy what you are doing. Writing should be enjoyable and satisfying. If it is neither, then you should be questioning why you are doing what you are doing. If you think it’s an easy way to make money, think again!

Find somewhere to write. Find your own space, relax and be comfortable while writing.

Always have something to write with. Even when you are not writing, ideas can still come to you so make sure you have a notebook handy to jot ideas down, no matter where you are. You can even record yourself. I have a dictation machine in my car because ideas always come to me when I’m driving. Whether it’s on a nice pleasant drive or a trip to the supermarket, you never know when a good idea may appear.

How do you write a bestseller? Well, wish I knew. I enjoyed writing my book and I love the fact that numerous people have read it and enjoyed it but it’s far from being a best seller. Every now and then a few pounds are pinged into my bank account courtesy of amazon but I won’t be giving up the day job yet.

What do famous Writers advise? I saw an interesting article by PD James which started off by saying this:

You can’t teach someone to know how to use words effectively and beautifully. You can help people who can write to write more effectively and you can probably teach people a lot of little tips for writing a novel, but I don’t think somebody who cannot write and does not care for words can ever be made into a writer. It just is not possible.

Nobody could make me into a musician. Somebody might be able to teach me how to play the piano reasonably well after a lot of effort, but they can’t make a musician out of me and you cannot make a writer, I do feel that very profoundly.

Interesting. Read the full article here.

Ernest Hemingway thought the key was to write one true sentence. Click here to read this fascinating article on Hemingway.

Charles Dickens was the author of my favourite book, David Copperfield. Click here to read 10 writing tips from Dickens himself.

Finally, here are 20 writing tips by author Stephen King. I’ll quote my favourite one to end this post. “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”

So settle down, open your laptop or notebook, and write.


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.

TV News, Mystery Diners and Steve McQueen’s Car!

The Election.

The other day I watched the debate with Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn on channel 4 and one of the most shocking things was the outrageously rude interview technique of Jeremy Paxman. In fact, this wasn’t an interview but more of an interrogation. He harped on at Jeremy because of various things not in the labour manifesto yet are known to be things that he favours, like getting rid of the monarchy for instance. Mr Corbyn’s perfectly reasonable answer was that the manifesto was a document arrived at by democratic means and not he himself trying to dictate his ideas to the Labour Party but nevertheless, Mr Paxman continued to harp rudely on about it.

Mrs May also suffered because she was in the Leave camp prior to the EU Referendum and has ended up leading the country into Brexit. The Prime Minister went on to explain that Brexit was the result of the referendum so clearly she must follow the will of the people. Having said that, Brexiteer Boris Johnson would probably be the Prime Minister now had he not been stabbed in the back by the traitorous Michael Gove.

Mr Paxman’s attitude was nothing short of downright rude and reminded me of a conversation I had in a pub years ago when some drunken hooligan accosted me and demanded to know which team I supported? Jeremy Paxman, you have just gone right down in my estimation!

The Ford Cougar.

I mentioned last week that my lovely convertible had been damaged by a council van reversing into it. The council accepted blame and my car was promptly whisked away for repairs. In the meantime they offered me a hire car which I initially declined but then had to later accept because of the slow pace of my car repairs. I received a call from the hire company telling me the insurance company had asked them to provide me with a car and when did I want it dropping off?

Well, nice service I thought. We sorted out the details and then I asked what sort of a car would it be?

‘A Cougar,’ they replied.

‘A Cougar?’

‘Yes a Ford Cougar.’

Nice.

Now, I don’t know about you but I was under the mistaken impression that the car Steve McQueen drove in the movie Bullitt was a ford Cougar so for a few moments I had visions of myself bumping up and down the hilly streets of San Francisco, perhaps even cavorting with Jaqueline Bisset but no, things didn’t turn out that way. McQueen drove a Ford Mustang in Bullitt, a hunky looking car with a superb throaty roar. I do love those 60s/70s American motors!

Anyway, my car duly arrived and it was not a Cougar but a Kuga, one of the latest Ford models fitted with so many gadgets it made my rather lovely 2006 Renault look a little dated.

It was rather comfy and nice to drive and as I began the long journey to work I felt the faint idea for a blog post coming on. I worked it over in my mind a few times then thought it was time to jot it down somewhere. Not so easy when you’re driving but luckily I had my hand-held tape recorder. I reached over into the door shelf but couldn’t feel anything then I remembered. This was my hire car. The tape recorder was in my own car!

The News.

When you want to know what is going on in the world you probably do what I do: change to the news channel of your choice. I usually go to BBC news. I’ve always thought BBC news was pretty impartial and generally I think it is but when you did a little deeper I’m not so sure. Fracking for instance gets very little coverage. In Lancashire the County Council voted against having fracking in the county but then the Government overruled them, deciding it was OK. Numerous protests are going on in Lancashire against fracking which the evidence shows is not good for the environment but the BBC seems to have largely ignored that issue. Still, it’s the news media themselves that decide what is important and if you want to find out more about things outside of mainstream news, then we are lucky to have the internet as a secondary resource.

On a less serious note, I have a theory about news channels. Unless some really serious news breaks during the day the whole news programme for the day is decided pretty early on. For instance, if the news bosses decide that an upcoming speech by the Prime Minister is going to be pretty important, then early newscasts will make a point of mentioning the planned speech due at, for instance, eleven o’clock. At eleven o’clock the planned speech will be usually shown live and all subsequent news casts will highlight the speech.

One thing that I think happens is that at say eight AM, the news people will re-show the seven AM newscast, recorded earlier, while everyone heads off to the BBC canteen for breakfast. I can sort of imagine that in the canteen the top news readers and bosses will perhaps get waiter service at special tables while the others, the cameramen and sound guys will have to get a tray and queue up. After breakfast they will all have to be back at nine ready to take over from the video that we all think is live but really isn’t.

Mystery diners.

Maybe you’ve seen Mystery Diners on the Food Network channel on late night TV. I sometimes pop it on when I come in from a night shift and I get the impression that on American TV there are numerous advertising breaks. There must be unless Americans have a really low attention span because every few minutes the presenter will review the whole show. In case you haven’t seen it Charles Stiles, the owner of a company called Mystery Diners will, at your request, visit your restaurant to sort out your problems. He doesn’t do it like the foul-mouthed Gordon Ramsey, by shouting and swearing and insulting everyone (is he a relation of Jeremy Paxman at all?) but by installing hidden cameras in the restaurant and sending in undercover diners and fake new staff members to find out the root of the problem. After five minutes he will give us the first review: Joe Smith has invited us into his Chicago diner to find out why takings have suddenly slumped . . OK, then we will be shown a few furtive shots of the suspect staff member, some secret camera shots from the kitchen and then Charles will click on to his radio and ask his undercover diner to go in and order the New York Deli Burger with the secret ingredient tomato sauce. Cue Charles to give us another review: Joe Smith has invited us into his Chicago diner to find out why takings have suddenly slumped  . . The mystery diner asks the waiter for the specials then mentions something that was seen on a hidden camera, a kebab that was not on the menu but was enhanced with the secret ingredient tomato sauce!

‘Could I have one of those?’ asks the diner. ‘Yes,’ says the waiter but the kebab is off menu and cash only.  The waiter furtively speaks with the chef and hey presto, the new kebab is served. Time for an update from Charles: Joe Smith has invited us into his Chicago diner to find out why takings have suddenly slumped !

Eventually the cash only kebab dealers are invited into the Mystery Diners’ control room and confronted with the video evidence. They are sacked and the restaurant is saved! The programme lasts less than 30 minutes on UK TV but I can imagine that in America it goes on for at least an hour. Chop out all the rehashing and you are probably left with about fifteen minutes!

Still, back in the UK I noticed a similar thing on shows like A Place in the Sun: Joe and Jennifer Smith are looking for a holiday home in sunny Spain. After a couple of possible homes the presenter reminds us that Joe and Jennifer Smith are looking for a holiday home in sunny Spain! Did she think we weren’t paying attention? Or was it that we were likely to forget this gripping scenario in the last 10 minutes? Who knows? Come to think of it, I did wonder what the Smiths were doing in Spain! Maybe they were looking for a holiday home!


If you enjoyed this post, why not try my book Floating in Space? Set in Manchester 1977 it is available from amazon as a kindle download or traditional paperback.

Bikes, Continuity, and Stomu Yamashta!

This is probably my favourite time of the year, spring going in to summer. The weather is getting better and the days are growing longer. In fact on the first of this week’s night shifts I drove to work in the daylight and drove home on a lovely sunny morning. There is something intrinsically good about blue skies and sunshine. It sets off the feel good factor inside and it warms the inner soul.

How has your week been? Mine has been ok, mostly. One upset this week was that my beloved convertible (ok it’s only a Renault Megane but it’s still a convertible) was hit by a council wagon backing up in the car park where I had left my car. The council guy drove off but happily one of the neighbours over the road saw everything and jotted down the offending vehicle’s details. Happily, Manchester City Council admitted it was their fault and as you read this my lovely car has been towed away for the fitting of a new bumper. It’s great to have a convertible at this time of the year. Who needs air-con? Just take the roof off!

Just lately I’ve been doing a lot of bike riding on my rather old and rusty bike and it made me start to think about getting a newer model. Not a brand spanking new one but something just a little newer and nicer to ride. Numerous attempts to buy one on eBay failed miserably so I was forced to enlist Liz, a much more expert eBay buyer than me. She found me a nice second hand bike with 18 gears and pounced at the last minute to bring home the goods!

Since then I’ve had a few trial rides on my new bike and have even attached my trusty action cam but my new video projects have been crushed by that old movie issue –continuity! Yes, I had tried to update and improve on an earlier project by matching some older shots riding my old and rusty blue bike with shots of my new gold bike and shots wearing a blue top with shots of me wearing a hi vis vest. Oh well, back to the editing desk for that video!

The other day Liz and I went to a garage sale at a house round the corner and what was quite interesting was that the owner, a fellow of a similar age to me, had a large number of CD’s that I also have including one of my all-time favourite albums, Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds. Looking at the items for sale, quite a few of which I bought, were all sorts of things that I either like or also have. He and I seemed to have similar likes and interests. I bought a couple of his videos and he also had for sale the very same action cam that I use frequently as I have mentioned above, strapped to various parts of my bike.

I bought that one for a few pounds thinking that now, instead of doing separate runs for each new camera position, I can set up two action cams filming simultaneously! Steven Speilberg, eat your heart out!

Looking back, bumping into someone with similar likes to me wasn’t so strange at all. I mean, if people didn’t have similarities and shared ideas and experiences, human beings would have no connection to each other at all.

Some years ago I used to work with a fellow called Andy who became a great friend of mine. One dull night shift I decided to compile a list of my top 20 favourite singles but it expanded and expanded until it became my top 100. I showed it to Andy and he began compiling his own version. We compared notes and there was so much shared music that our compilations overlapped on. True, there were some areas of music that Andy liked but didn’t appeal to me but there was much more that we had in common. I was desperate for something that would be new to him and racked my brains for something he would never have heard of. I reached out for something obscure and from right in the back of my mind I remembered an artist Andy would never have heard of in a month of Sundays.’ Andy,’ I told him. ‘I’ve got one record that I really don’t think you’ll know. It’s by a Japanese percussionist.’

Andy thought for a moment and said ‘you don’t mean Stomu Yamashta!

image courtesy eil.com

Andy and I both roared with laughter. It’s not totally inconceivable that two middle aged men with similar likes should both have bought albums by the same obscure artist decades ago but the idea filled us both with a merriment so extreme we just howled with laughter. I remember one of our team mates coming over and asking what the joke was. When we had recovered sufficiently to tell her she looked back at us blankly and went back to her desk. Clearly she thought we were both bonkers.

No, we weren’t bonkers, just two middle aged men rejoicing in personal connections and a shared love of music. Wonder if Andy goes cycling with an action cam attached to his bike?


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 click here for my amazon page.

Manchester

It was shocking to watch the events in Manchester unfold the other night. I was on a night shift and I looked up from my desk in the control room where I work, glanced at our large TV screen and saw Sky News revealing the dreadful news. I hoped as the night wore on that it would all turn out to be something and nothing, some minor incident inflated by social media but sadly it was much more serious.

One of my Mum’s favourite sayings is ‘nobody wants war’ but I have to disagree. War happens because some people want it. Hitler wanted it badly because it was a medium for him to realise his dreams of revenge, domination and murder. War also took a different turn in World War 2 because Hitler had the means to take war to innocent people, raining down bombs on England in the Blitz with bombing raids, V1s, and later V2 rockets.

In the 21st century war has taken another turn and now those consumed by hatred feel they must bring death and murder to peaceful places like a music stadium in Manchester where young people throng to see their musical heroes.

This is a sad day for my home town and for people all over the world because in this age the world is truly a global community. Terrorists will never succeed but they do leave nothing but pain and sadness in their wake. Let us hope that this incident will not sow the seeds of more hatred but will instead fan the flames of love and compassion so much so that one day hatred will have nowhere to show its face.

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!

If you liked that video, have a gander at another edit, this one done using the online editing site http://www.animoto.com
They do say that no work of art is ever finished, only abandoned!

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.