Holiday Book Bag 2022

A long time ago I was reading a biography about Richard Burton called ‘Rich’ by Melvyn Bragg. The book used Burton’s own diaries and mentioned, amongst other things, Burton’s love of books. When Burton went on holiday he looked forward with delight to the contents of his ‘book bag’. I know it’s a pretty tenuous link but one thing I have in common with Richard Burton is a love of books and when I go on holiday, one of the delights of lying under a warm sun on my sun bed is a good undisturbed read. I read a lot at home and on my lunch breaks at work but it’s a few minutes here and a few minutes there and whenever I get interrupted it kind of breaks the flow. Some books, as we all know, are just made for a really long, uninterrupted read so here are the books I took on holiday with me recently, all sourced from either the internet or second hand bookshops.

My Life in France by Julia Child.

Sometimes you pick up a book that is just a joy to read and this was one of those books. Julia Child is a US TV chef, maybe one of the first TV chefs ever, although she is little known in England. The book is a memoir of her life in France, her journey as a Cordon Bleu chef and as a cookery book author, a TV star and as a wife and Francophile.

Her husband Paul works for the US foreign service and is posted to France in the late 1940s. The two have an interesting life in post war Paris enjoying French food and the French way of life. Julia is very interested in food and takes on a course as a Cordon Bleu chef. She is fascinated by the French way of cooking and meets many others who feel the same including two French women who have written a book about French cooking but aimed at the American market. The two Frenchwomen need an American point of view so Julia is engaged to assist but soon becomes the primary force in the emerging book. My Life In France mixes the development of her classic French cookery book with her life, her love of food, her favourite recipes and the whole world of French food. An utterly wonderful book, even if you are not familiar with Julia or the recent TV series or the film starring Meryl Streep.

I was travelling through France when I read this book and I was very tempted to divert course and visit some of the places she mentions.

Verdict: A joyous, wonderful read.

The Essential Hemingway by Ernest Hemingway.

During the lockdown I read a blog that was something along the lines of 100 authors you must read before you die. One of those authors was Ernest Hemingway. Not long afterwards I spotted a compilation of his works in a charity shop and I thought to myself, I’d better pick that up and get cracking on those 100 authors. It had been lying unattended on my book shelf for quite a while so I thought I’d throw it into my book bag for our latest trip to France.

The book consists of one complete novel, Fiesta, parts of some other novels and a collection of short stories. I wasn’t in the least interested in reading parts of a book. If I want to read a book, I’ll read the whole lot, not parts of it so I thought I’d get cracking with Fiesta. Now I know Hemingway has a sort of minimalistic style so I was prepared for that. I just couldn’t understand the point of a lot of what he was talking about. It’s like he was showing us stuff that was hardly relevant, almost like a Quentin Tarantino film. There are pages of dialogue and then some fairly introspective stuff and then we were back to dialogue again. Jake Barnes is in love with Brett who I thought at first was a man but is actually a woman, a lady in fact, an actual lady, Lady Ashley, known as Brett to her friends. Jake and Brett and various others all go off from Paris to Spain to see the bull fighting in Pamplona and Brett turns out to be popular with many of the men. Jake is love with her and Michael wants to marry her but she decides she wants a bull fighter who then falls for her and apparently also wants to marry her.

Sorry Ernest if you are reading this from the spirit world but I got a little bit lost and only continued to the end out of a sort of dedication to not having another novel on my conscience that I couldn’t finish. What can I say? I know it’s a classic but sorry, it wasn’t my cup of tea. I tried some of the other short stories in this collection but again even though they are well written I started wondering things like ‘what’s this about? Why are we talking about this? What was the point of that?

Verdict: Interesting but an ultimately disappointing read.

Trace by Patricia Cornwell.

I picked this up a while ago, started to read it and lost interest, not because of the book itself but because it was in my book bag for taking outside and as the UK weather has been so poor, I haven’t done much outdoor reading this year so far. Anyway, I thought I’d throw it in my holiday book bag and give it a read while I was touring France. I’ve always liked the Kay Scarpetta novels and a few years back I started reading the whole sequence of them starting with Post Mortem, the impressive first entry in the series. I thought the books were great, that they looked at crime in a new and different way, showing how crimes could be solved by forensic detection and it was the reality of the novels, their clear connection to modern detection methods that was at the core of their success. After a while though, I felt the books were straying from reality and getting a little silly, a bit like when Roger Moore took over the mantle of James Bond and the 007 films went a little daft.

Trace is not one of Cornwell’s best books and concerns, to a certain extent, Scarpetta’s niece Lucy who has gone off and become some kind of super secret agent computer geek girl and has somehow made a great deal of money and founded her own super secret spy company. Anyway, in this novel, the death of a young girl who Scarpetta has been consulted about is apparently connected to another case Lucy is also working on. It kept me reading and I liked it but sadly not as much as the earlier more serious and reality based novels.

Verdict. OK but not a great entry into the Scarpetta series.

What Happened by Hillary Clinton.

I picked up this book in a second hand book shop. I’ve always liked Hillary Clinton. She’s not your average First Lady, content to stay in the background and support her husband, the President. Mrs Clinton liked to be part of Bill Clinton’s administration in a way that other first ladies have never been, sometimes for the right reasons, sometimes for the wrong ones.

Her book What Happened? is basically about her failed attempt to become the USA’s very first female president. If she had succeeded, that would have been quite an achievement and for a while it even looked as though it was on the cards. Mrs Clinton mentions many times how she was ahead in the polls and how she beat Trump in their various TV debates so where did her candidacy go wrong?

She had a lot of ideas for the presidency and she reveals many of her plans to engage in the problems facing the USA in this book. Her presidential opponent Donald Trump didn’t seem to have many ideas at all, at least that’s what Hillary seems to think. His campaign was based on attacking and coming up with ideas for building a wall to keep the Mexicans out and of course, wanting to lock Hillary up.

A big problem for Hillary was her emails. She had decided to carry on using her personal email server instead of the government one, something that other government officials have done before, but somehow the press got hold of the story and blew it up out of all proportion. Her emails were leaked to the Wikileaks website and an investigation was made which involved publishing many of her emails, actually 30,000 of them. She mentions that many people seem to think she is hiding something despite her emails being published as well as her tax returns. After many investigations, the Whitewater investigation for instance, she makes the point that everything she has done has been so public, what could she be hiding? Mr Trump of course did not publish his tax returns, or his emails for that matter.

There’s a very hurt tone throughout the book and clearly, she’s not very happy about her defeat, just like any defeated candidate would be. Hillary has had to endure a lot. Mr Obama’s successful quest to become the first black president overshadowed her first try at the presidency and she returned eight years later when it was time for Obama to step down. Her husband is well known for his extra marital affairs but she has stood by him none the less and some of the bad press from those incidents has clung to her like a sort of bad background odour.

The final nail into the coffin of her presidential bid was a last minute announcement by the head of the FBI about the emails and her small points lead dwindled into a loss.

I often wonder why Mrs Clinton seems to be disliked. She is one of those personalities that people either like or hate, there doesn’t seem to be anything inbetween. Over on YouTube when I did a search about her, pretty much everything that came up was negative. There was a former secret service agent talking about an incident in which the former first lady had thrown a vase at the president, well an alleged incident I should say. The thing is, if your husband had been playing away with Monica Lewinsky and Gennifer Flowers, wouldn’t you be tempted to throw the occasional vase at him? I know I would, had I been in Hillary’s shoes.

Over on Quora, someone had already asked my question, what is Mrs Clinton really like? The first answer I saw was a lady who called up Mrs Clinton’s senatorial office about her brother’s problem, it was to do with money or tax or something I can’t remember. She left a message and the next morning Mrs Clinton, yes Mrs Clinton herself, not an assistant but actually Mrs Clinton herself, called up, took more details and sorted out the problem.

I doubt Hillary Clinton will ever go for another run at the presidency but it’s clear she has made her mark on the American political scene as a woman, a candidate, a senator and a First Lady.

Verdict: Not a great book but an enjoyable read all the same.


What to do next: Here are a few options.

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

Listen to my podcast Click here.

Buy the book! Click here to purchase my new poetry anthology.

Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.

The Trials of a Self Published Writer

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. It’s a desire that I suppose came from reading a lot of books. Someone had an idea, wrote a book and I read the book and in doing so the author transmitted his thoughts and ideas to me through the book. It’s only natural, at least it seems so to me, to want to do the same, to not just receive the thoughts of someone else but to transmit my thoughts and ideas, in the form of a book, to others.

When I was younger I discovered Dylan Thomas. I like his poetry but also I love his short stories and his plays, especially the ones he wrote for the radio. I was also attracted to Dylan because of his image, that of the boozing pub going artist who drank beer and wrote poetry and who died after proclaiming that he had drunk 18 straight whiskies. ‘I think it’s a record’ he said before passing into a coma in New York, never to recover.

As it happens I’m nothing like Dylan Thomas at all except that we both share a love of writing. When I left school I wanted to be a journalist but back then I was held back in life in so many ways by an overpowering shyness that crippled me and stopped me from doing so many of the things I wanted to do. In some situations, I couldn’t even speak but happily writing was something that I could do alone in the privacy of my bedroom. Perhaps that’s why I love writing because all I have to do is open my notebook, or laptop, and write away.

My first attempts at serious writing were stories based on my love of television. They were stories of espionage and time travel and one day in my twenties I decided to change my focus and write about things around me. I wrote an essay about my work colleagues and an evening in a working men’s club. It was about snooker and pool and card games and pints of Boddingtons bitter. I wrote more and more similar essays and then I decided I could put them all together and with a little editing make them into a story and then into a novel.

I worked on my book intermittently over a period of many years. I wrote lots of it in long hand and then bought a typewriter and began to type it up. When the home computer revolution happened I began to type it all out onto my computer and then when it was nearly finished, my PC crashed. I couldn’t find my back up copy so I started again. Once again I had nearly finished when I found the older copy. Now I had two slightly different versions and reaching the end, typing the final page just seemed like an impossible dream so I stepped away from it all once again.

I took my laptop along on a holiday to France which turned out to be very wet. It rained almost every day so I opened my laptop and edited everything, deleting all the unwanted versions and duplicated chapters. I wrote the ending, tidied everything up and finally my book was ready. So, there it was, my manuscript representing years of work and effort. What do I do now I thought?

That’s the problem for amateur writers today. You’ve produced a piece of work, what do you do now? How do you get it published? You could try getting yourself an agent. The thing is, agents aren’t interested in unpublished authors. It’s a sort of catch 22 situation; you want an agent to help get you published but the agent doesn’t want you because you are unpublished.

I picked up my copy of The Writers and Artists Yearbook and started trolling through the listings of publishers who accept work from people like me, new and unknown authors. I sent my book off to three publishers and was rejected three times.

Getting a rejection, even three rejections isn’t the end of the world, in fact for a writer it’s pretty much par for the course. Even so, getting a rejection email is disheartening, it really is! It’s like all those years of work, all that effort coming down to one short email from someone saying they are not interested.

Someone at work mentioned to me that they had self-published their own sci-fi novel on Amazon. Self-published? Is that possible I thought? So that’s when I turned to self-publishing. It wasn’t quite as easy as I had thought it would be and the process itself highlighted a number of issues with my manuscript but I persevered and finally my book became available as a Kindle download or a traditional paperback.

Right, I thought, that’s it. I’m finally published. Now I can just sit back and wait for people to buy it. The thing is, who would know about my book? How would readers even realise that a new novel was available? Yes, that’s the thing. Writing a book isn’t enough, nor is actually publishing it. This is where marketing comes in. To sell your book you need to advertise. You need to use all your social media channels to tell everyone and his dog, here is a new book, come and buy it. You need to start an author page at Amazon and one at Goodreads too. Then you need an author website which is where this page comes in. How can you keep people coming in to read your blogs? Well, you need more social media and more blogs and for more blogs you need more and more ideas. How can you make your social media posts more interesting? Well you might want to add some graphics. Then you might want to add some animated graphics and even video so now you might find not only have you written a novel, you’ve written over 500 blog posts and graphics and made over a hundred videos, all to bring in more blog readers who may, or may not, buy your book.

The other day I was watching the classic film Treasure of the Sierra Madre. If you haven’t seen it it’s about a bunch of Americans prospecting for gold down in Mexico. The leader of the prospectors explains the value of gold in this way. A thousand men go searching for gold. One man finds an ounce of gold. His small find represents not only his hard work but the work of the other 999 men who were unsuccessful. Gold is worth so much because of the effort that went into finding it. Now I could argue the same point about this blog, that even though it is free to read this humble post, it’s actually worth quite a lot because of the hours, weeks and months of effort that went into preparing it, writing it, making the videos shown here and designing and producing the graphics that adorn this and all my many other posts.

So you might be thinking now, wow, what a great deal you’re getting! All that effort, just for you. Should you click on one of the links for Floating in Space or A Warrior of Words and maybe buy a copy? Personally, I’d say ‘yes, you should’ but most readers might be thinking well, maybe later and click over to Facebook and take a look at what their friends are up to.

Yes, I thought as much.


What to do next: Here are a few options.

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

Listen to my podcast Click here.

Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.

Buy the book! Click here to purchase my new poetry anthology.

10 Great War Films (Part 2)

I was reading a post called The 10 Best War Films Ever the other day. It wasn’t a list I particularly agreed with and in fact I hadn’t seen or even heard of quite a few of the films mentioned so I thought I’d have a go at making my own list. Here we go. As this post went on a bit I published part 1 last week so now here’s part 2.

Angels One Five

Angels One Five is another WWII film this time concerning the Royal Air Force. John Gregson plays a new pilot who is assigned to ‘Pimpernel’ squadron at a small airfield in the south of England. When he touches down he crashes and damages his replacement aircraft, not making a great impression on his new colleagues. The film follows Gregson’s character, nicknamed ‘Septic’ as he begins work at the station, first in the control room and then as a novice pilot.

Parts of the film were shot at RAF Uxbridge where a wartime operations room was located. Jack Hawkins and Michael Dennison also star in the film which shows life in the Royal Air Force in the dark days of 1940 during the battle of Britain.

Paths of Glory

Paths of Glory was a 1957 film directed by Stanley Kubrick. It was set in the First World War and starred Kirk Douglas as Colonel Dax. General Broulard of the general staff orders his army to attack a German position known as the Anthill. He commands General Mireau to organise the attack. Mireau says the task is impossible but changes his mind when offered a promotion. The attack predictably fails and some of the troops refuse to attack when they see their colleagues in the first wave mown down. The enraged General Mireau orders his artillery to fire on his own men but the artillery commander refuses.

Afterwards the general decides to have 100 men court martialled for cowardice but is later persuaded to have the number reduced to three. Colonel Dax, a lawyer in civilian life, volunteers to defend the men but the trial turns out to be a farce.

The Dambusters

This is one of those films that I have always loved in spite of its sometimes amateur special effects. The original Star Trek movie has been in the news lately as it has been re released with updated special effects and I often think it would be a great idea for some older films to be updated in that way too. Anyway, the Dambusters is another classic WWII film. It starts with the inventor Barnes Wallis played by Michael Redgrave who is working on an idea to breech the Ruhr dams in Germany thus disrupting the German manufacturing base in the Ruhr Valley. He works constantly in a water testing tank refining his ideas for a bouncing bomb. After a difficult process he gets his idea accepted by Bomber Command and a new squadron, 633 squadron is formed to take on the mission. Its leader is the famous Guy Gibson played by Richard Todd. Gibson and his team take on a difficult and dangerous task. The bombs must be dropped from low level at a specific height and specific distance from the dam. I’ve often felt this to be a wonderful film that not only shows the dangers of war and combat but also shows the whole process from beginning to end of the design and inception of a new wartime project. The only disappointing aspect is those poor special effects.

Platoon

OK, that’s enough of WWII, time to move on. Platoon was a film written and directed by Oliver Stone based on his own experiences in the Vietnam war. Vietnam was a different kind of war to WWII. The soldiers were younger and many were disillusioned about being in Vietnam in the first place. Charlie Sheen stars as a new recruit arriving in Vietnam and he soon learns that his life is worth less than the fellow soldiers. They have put the time in, they have fought the Vietcong and so if anyone deserves to go home safe and sound, it is them, not him.

The platoon is led by a young and inexperienced officer but the two real leaders are two company sergeants, Barnes and Elias played by Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe. Charlie Sheen’s character, Chris Taylor, respects both men but sees Barnes as someone who is a little dangerous. In an incident at a village Barnes shoots a Vietnamese woman dead while interrogating the villagers for information. Elias arrives and breaks things up and Barnes later finds he might be the subject of an investigation into the incident. During a fire fight with the Vietcong, Barnes shoots Elias dead in order to prevent him speaking up and later Taylor shoots a wounded Barnes.

Platoon is a powerful film that won many awards including four Oscars including best picture and best director.

Born on the Fourth of July

Born on the Fourth of July was another film by director Oliver Stone and the second in his Vietnam trilogy. It tells the story of Ron Kovic who was wounded in Vietnam and left paralysed and wheelchair bound. Tom Cruise gives a great performance as Kovic, showing him go from a believer in the war to the exact opposite, someone who campaigns for an end to the killing in Vietnam. He is invalided back to the USA where the poor medical care and the state of the veterans’ hospital is graphically portrayed. Kovic goes to Dulce Villa, a haven in Mexico for wounded veterans where he spends a lot of time drinking and perhaps getting the anger out of his system. Later he joins an anti-war group and the film finishes with Ron about to address the Democratic National Convention although I thought that a better ending might have been to show him actually making his speech. Even so, Oliver Stone has produced a powerful film which gave Tom Cruise his first nomination for Best Actor and another director’s Oscar for Stone himself.

So that’s my personal Ten Best War Films. If you missed Part One last week, click here to read it. What were your favourite war movies?


What to do next: Here are a few options.

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

Listen to my podcast Click here.

Buy the book! Click here to purchase my new poetry anthology.

Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.

10 Great War Films (Part 1)

I was reading a post called The 10 Best War Films Ever the other day. It wasn’t a list I particularly agreed with and in fact I hadn’t seen or even heard of quite a few of the films mentioned so I thought I’d have a go at making my own list. Here we go! As this post went on a bit I’ve split it in two and I’ll post Part 2 next week.

The Great Escape

The Great Escape was based on an actual event, a real life mass escape from a German prisoner of war camp in WWII. The film though wasn’t completely true to life, in fact I don’t think any American POWs were in the camp although Steve McQueen and James Garner played major roles. I also don’t think that any escaping POW’s tried to escape Germany on a motorcycle but hey, The Great Escape is one of those easy-going feel-good action-adventure films that is one of the most well-loved films ever made. For many years it was a staple of UK Christmas TV viewing and whether it is completely factual or not it is a great film. Richard Attenborough, Donald Pleasance, David McCallum, Gordon Jackson and many others play the British officers. Attenborough plays Roger Bartlett who has just been released by the Gestapo after being recaptured and interrogated in relation to another escape attempt. He now plans a mass escape from the camp and organises the digging of tunnels, fake identity papers, maps and clothing. After the escape fifty officers were executed by the Nazis although of course, Steve McQueen lived to fight another day.

The Colditz Story

The Colditz Story is another prisoner of war escape film also based on a true story. In WWII the Germans rounded up a bunch of the most prolific escapers and put them all together in an escape proof castle named Colditz. John Mills plays a British officer who is tasked with co ordinating escapes with various other groups of captives, French, Polish, Dutch and various others as previous escape attempts were failing due to a sort of free for all escaping culture. Various escaping officers are elected and the prisoners work together towards breaking out from the castle. Mills eventually escapes by using an idea suggested by a fellow soldier. It’s a simple idea involving dressing up as German officers. Not very original you might think but the officers plan to be leaving the Officers’ club which they hope will make them appear more natural. The chief British officer decides the plan is doomed to failure as the man who thought of it was a very tall officer who he thinks would be immediately recognised by the camp guards. I won’t tell you what happens but Colditz is a great British picture and well worth watching.

The Wooden Horse.

The Wooden Horse is similar to the two films above. It is based on a book which in turn was a true story, actually written by one of the escapees from a WWII prisoner of war camp. In fact, if I remember rightly, the escape was from the same camp as the Great Escape Stalag Luft III. One of the big problems of digging a tunnel in a POW camp was the distance that needed to be covered. There was quite a distance from the camp huts to the perimeter, then there was an area of no mans land before the outside world. Two escapers, both captured airmen, hit on an idea. They decide to make a vaulting horse and lead it out close to the camp fence. Inside are concealed two men who dig a tunnel while their comrades exercised above. This meant that only a relatively short tunnel was required. The film covers all the aspects of camp life, the boredom, the petty arguments with fellow prisoners and the eventual escape. The film stars Leo Genn, Anthony Steel and David Tomlinson as the escapees.

The Cruel Sea

It’s time to move on from POW camps and escaping and to take a look at the war at sea. The Cruel Sea is a classic WWII film based on the book by Nicholas Monsarrat. Jack Hawkins is the commander of the escort vessel Compass Rose. The film follows the story of the ship from its handover in the shipyard to the navy all the way through to its final demise at sea. The crew are new to naval warfare but bind together through various incidents at sea guarding convoys in the north Atlantic. The outstanding cast are all stalwarts of 1940s and 50s British cinema, names like Donald Sinden, Denholm Elliott, Stanley Baker and Virginia McKenna.

The Compass Rose is eventually sunk by a torpedo and as the survivors struggle to stay alive in the cold Atlantic, many succumb to their injuries. As they drift in the oily water the soundtrack replays echos of their recent dialogue, a marriage proposal hangs in the air over the groom who will never wed and a petty argument haunts the body of an unhappily married officer. Happily, some survive till daylight when a destroyer returns to rescue them. The film continues with the next vessel Jack Hawkins is charged with commanding until the war ends. Colditz and the Great Escape are pretty light hearted films compared to this one which tends to be grittier and more realistic in its portrayal of the war.

Sink The Bismarck

Continuing with the war at sea, this film follows the hunt for the battleship Bismarck by the Royal Navy again in WWII. It focuses on the Admiralty’s control centre as they attempt to track down the German battleship before it wreaks further havoc with the convoys that brought vital supplies to Britain. Kenneth Moore plays captain Shepard, the chief of operations, as he and his team attempt to find the Bismarck so British destroyers can attack and destroy the enemy. The film is perhaps a little different to other war films in that a great deal of the action focusses on the Admiralty control room showing the work of the unsung back room experts as they collate information and sightings and relay it to the ships under their command.

Don’t forget to check back next week for part 2 of this post.


What to do next: Here are a few options.

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

Listen to my podcast Click here.

Buy the book! Click here to purchase my new poetry anthology.

Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.

 

The Day I Finally Cracked It

I’m still feeling rather fed up lately. It’s great to have no work to do but it’s important to fill that time and to keep busy, neither of which I’m currently doing.

Because I’m a little bored my writing has been affected too, I’m not doing much so I have little to write about. I don’t have the 42 mile trip to work so I’m not in my car as much and when I’m in my car that’s when a lot of my ideas come.

Years ago when I drove for the bus company I decided to pack the job in and try my hand at driving coaches. It was a bad mistake, I was only 21, I was too immature to take on a responsible job like coaching. I hadn’t travelled about much and so I didn’t know my way around the UK. On every trip I had to spend ages planning my route and where to stop and frankly, I just wasn’t up to the job. The result was that I ended up back at the bus company again. There were no vacancies at my old garage where they were gearing up to be all one man operated buses so I agreed to move to Stockport. At Stockport they still had a lot of old fashioned buses that were driver and conductor operated but to be honest, operating a bus with two people was much more fun.

Two staff members retired which I remember well. They were both characters. The first one was a long serving conductor whose name I can never remember. I’ll call him Tony. Tony was looking forward to retirement. He had worked for North Western before buses were nationalised and he always looked down on those who had worked for the ‘corporation’, the municipal bus companies. North Western had run a lot of long distance routes but the corporation had only local routes. When buses were nationalised the long distance routes went to National Express and Tony was forced to work for GM Buses which took over local routes.

Tony had planned well for his retirement. He had gone on a few retirement courses, he had invested well and had also topped up his pension with a private one. He wouldn’t miss the bus company for a minute. On his last day he walked over to Sainsbury’s for something and dropped dead in the frozen food aisle. He never got to enjoy his retirement at all.

Another long-time employee was Bert, known to all as ‘Cracked it’ Bert. Bert was a crusty old guy who always wore the full uniform including the cap. He worked on the 900 rota on which all the old timers worked. They didn’t do weekends and they worked easy split shifts covering the morning rush hour and then returning later for the evening one.  Bert always used to say to me that it was hard work because the staff were ‘always in the thick of the action’. Don’t believe a word of it. Split shifts were busy, very busy but not the ones on the 900 rota.

The 900 rota was unofficially known as the ‘Sick, Lame, and Lazy Rota’, and it was all easy work; the odd works’ service and a couple of the easier school runs.

Thrown in to their duties was also a gratuitous share of standby time. Standby was when you have spare drivers or conductors, ready to fill in to replace another crew when a bus had broken down or staff had called in sick. The thing was, with the 900 rota, their standby time was only a couple of hours so they were ninety nine percent certain they would never be called to go out. The drivers were fairly amenable old chaps but the conductors, all mostly clippies, female conductresses apart from Tony and Bert, were all quite the opposite. Go out on their stand by time, when they could be supping tea and knitting? Not likely! As you can imagine the 900 staff were universally unpopular.

When I was a one-man driver, in the latter days of conductor operations, we used to do a trip from Bramhall in the morning rush hour. When we got closer to Stockport the bus was always packed to the seams and the extra rush hour bus, covered by the 900 staff, always used to hang back and let the one-man driver do all the work. Well, we can’t expect our senior 900 staff to cover that busy run can we? And knitting won’t do itself, will it?

I remember pulling into Mersey Square in Stockport with a bus bursting at the seams and the 900 bus pulling in behind me with about five people on board. I went back to that bus and told them in no uncertain terms they were out of order. The driver was about to say something when his clippie, Doris, the laziest conductress you ever met, pushed him aside and gave me a right mouthful about how I hadn’t been doing the job five minutes and how she and her driver had been at it since before I was born and well, I think you get the picture.

Now I have always believed in the interconnectedness of the universe, how one good deed will come back to you twofold and how those evil doers, as they used to call them in my old comic days, will eventually be punished. Anyway, one fine day it came to pass that I was asked to work my day off. I came in for my stand by duty and sat down with a cuppa and a slice of toast hoping for a nice relaxing read. After a while the tannoy called my name and I went over to the desk to see what was in store for me.

Doris, the laziest conductress in the world was there waiting for me. ‘Are you driver Higgins?’ she bellowed.

‘What’s it to you?’ I replied in the same happy tone.

Well, it turned out that Karma, that magical mystery force of the universe had poked its nose into our life that day and her driver had called in sick and, guess what? I was her driver for the day. Well, when we came to do the Bramhall rush hour bus, instead of hanging back, I passed the packed one-man bus and we did most of the work coming into Stockport. That’s the way it should have been done with the workload, and the passengers split evenly between the two buses.

When we got to Stockport our passengers piled off leaving our flustered conductress in a state of disarray and her cash bag full of coins. Her ticket machine had issued more tickets in an hour than it normally did in a week. She was looking a little peaky, if I remember correctly.

Perhaps that’s why she went sick for the rest of the shift!

Anyway, getting back to Bert. His place in the canteen was the very first table just by the entrance. He let on to everyone who entered with his usual phrase ‘Have you cracked it yet?’

If you had just come on shift you could only reply ‘Not yet Bert’. If you had nearly finished work the obvious answer was ‘nearly done Bert’.

Bert took his retirement and that first table by the entrance was empty for many a week. Then one day I came in for my break and who was there but Bert, dressed in his civvies of course.

‘How are you, Bert?’ I asked.

We had a bit of chit chat and then I went on to order my breakfast. After that I saw Bert pretty regularly as he took his usual place in the canteen most days. Buses and that canteen had been his life for so long he couldn’t stay away. He must have been 65 back then and that was over 30 years ago, I doubt if he would still be alive today. Even so, I can just imagine bumping into him and him asking me ‘have you cracked it yet Steve?’

I’d smile back and answer ‘I’ve finally cracked it, Bert’.


What to do next: Here are a few options.

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

Listen to my podcast Click here.

Buy the book! Click here to purchase my new poetry anthology.

Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.

A Short Collection of Bitesized Posts

A bunch of short posts were lying in my drafts box waiting for me to either finish them off or merge them into another blog post, so I thought I’d put a few of them together and with a bit of luck, these bitesized posts might even link together.

It was a lovely sunny day when I last visited my mother. She is 92 years old and suffering with dementia. Most of the time she looks fresh and healthy but her problem is not in her body but her mind. I visited about a month ago and her first words were ‘please help me’. I asked what was wrong and what did she want but all she could do was repeat endlessly ‘please help me’ like a record stuck in a groove. She did that for the duration of our meeting and I left saddened to see her that way. On the last visit she was completely different; chatty and alert. We spoke about the warm weather and the rose buds that were on the bush outside her room. We talked about her sister Ada who was a keen cyclist and was sadly killed in a road accident many years ago. I asked her how she was sleeping and she gave me a big smile and said ‘you know I never have any trouble sleeping!’

As usual I asked her to recite some times tables in the hope it will get her to use her memory and exercise her brain waves. We did a simple one, the three times table. One three is three, two threes are six and so on. Round about nine she began to falter and looked suddenly distressed. ‘I can’t remember anymore’ she said sadly.


Saturday has always been the traditional first day of rest. The Monday to Friday grind is over and we can finally get down to some serious relaxing. Now that I’m retired though, I find that a much nicer day is actually Monday. Everyone else has mostly gone back to work and the kids are off to school. The street outside is quiet and it’s great to go out in the evening and find pubs and restaurants not quite as packed as they were at the weekend. In the book A Kind of Loving the hero who works in a drawing office is asked to go out to deliver a letter to an absent colleague. When he is outside, he remarks how busy the streets are. Who are all these people? Why are they not at work? I remember having the same thoughts myself when I first started work and was occasionally sent forth from my office job to visit other businesses in Manchester.

I’ve not been to Manchester much lately, mostly because of the pandemic and the various lockdowns we have experienced. On one of my last visits, I visited the beautiful building in Manchester which once upon a time was the headquarters of the Refuge Assurance building where I first started work many years ago. I was a fresh-faced youth of 16 when I started there and now that my old workplace is a hotel I often visit there and remember my old job as an insurance clerk.

When I visited last year, I had my camera with me as usual and one thing I have always tried to do is to use my own pictures in my many YouTube videos. When I have had to use a stock picture either from Unsplash or Adobe, I tend to try and replace it with my own photos in my inevitable re-edit if I have taken an appropriate picture at a later date. In one of my videos, I wanted a shot of a pint being poured, so in the bar of the hotel in what used to be our old reception area, I asked the barman if I could take a shot while he pulled my pint. No was the distinctly unfriendly reply. I explained that his face wouldn’t be in the picture, it would be a close up so only his hands would be visible. Was it for me personally or would it be displayed on the internet or used in a YouTube video? Well, yes, it would be used possibly in a YouTube video. No came the answer once again. It wasn’t the hotel policy apparently for staff to get involved in ‘unofficial’ photography. Pity. Anyway, here’s an ‘unofficial’ shot of my pint in the bar which wasn’t really what I wanted. (It wasn’t a great pint either!)


This last week Liz and I went to her friend’s 60th birthday party. Her friend Alice (names have been changed to protect the innocent) is a singer, actually a cabaret singer and she has always struck me as being very normal, very down to earth and non- showbizzy. That of course was before I saw her in her proper showbizzy environment. The party was in a nice hotel and a pretty good singer kept us entertained while we found seats and bought our drinks. Later Alice took the microphone and belted out a few numbers in a very Shirley Bassey/Judy Garland sort of way. Her boyfriend took the microphone to wish her a happy birthday and then Alice herself responded with a short but emotional speech. Later there was another song and another speech thanking various friends for their friendship over the years. Later still came yet another speech when the birthday cake was unveiled. The cake, like the speeches, was a little too sweet for me.


Alice’s singing style brought to mind Judy Garland who was one of my mother’s favourite singers. Once, back in the 70’s or 80’s, The Wizard of Oz had a cinema re-release and I took mum to see it. When the film came on mum let out a sort of disappointed shrug and I asked her what was wrong. She told me that when she had seen the film originally it had been in colour. ‘Perhaps they couldn’t find a colour print or perhaps it wasn’t in colour after all’ I told her. ‘I was sure it was in colour’ she replied.

Later, when Dorothy wakes up in the land of Oz, the film goes from black and white to colour. I looked over at mum and she smiled back. ‘I was right after all’ she said.


Judy Garland was a great star but sadly was a victim of the Hollywood studio system. Given uppers to give her more energy to work and downers to help her sleep, she became addicted to the pills fed her by the studio. She died in England in 1969 from an accidental barbiturate overdose. She was only 47 years old.


I’ve written about my lemons before. I’ve always loved growing things from pips or seeds and I have two large lemon trees grown from pips. They must be at least three years old, possibly more and my big ambition is for one of them to give me a lemon. Yes, my own home-grown lemon, I’d love that, I really would. I’m not sure what I’d do with my first lemon. I think I might just pop a big chunk of it into a glass, add some ice, some gin and some tonic and sit back on a sunny evening and just relish the achievement.

My lemon trees have survived another winter and are looking good. I’m a bit short of room so I took one of the lemons and planted it in the garden in a sheltered spot. I wasn’t really sure it was going to survive but happily it did. The other one wintered in the porch and the other day I gave it a bit of a pruning and repotted it. I left it outside overnight but sadly, the early spring warm temperature dropped a little during the night and my poor lemon shed a heck of a lot of its leaves. Should I bring it back into the porch or would another change in temperature upset it?

I do have another lemon tree. It’s only small and it’s one that Liz bought me a few years ago. Towards the end of last summer, a flower appeared but sadly died away. This last week I put it outside for some sunshine and a good feeding and noticed another flower. On closer inspection there are actually a considerable amount of flowers which I hope will soon grow into lemons. I reckon I can taste that gin and tonic already.


Back at the nursing home with my mother I was getting ready to leave. I felt a little disappointed as my attempt to get her to use her memory had backfired when she couldn’t remember anymore of her three times table.  The disappointment of not being able to remember such a simple thing was evident in her face. We said our goodbyes and I went towards the door. As I turned back for a final wave goodbye, she said something and I stopped to listen.

‘Ten threes are thirty’ she said. ‘Eleven threes are thirty-three, twelve threes are thirty-six’. She looked back and smiled. ‘I remembered after all’ she said.


What to do next: Here are a few options.

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

Listen to my podcast Click here.

Buy the book! Click here to purchase my new poetry anthology.

Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.

Three Oscar Winners

The Academy Awards are the premier awards for artistic and technical expertise in the motion picture industry. The awards are given annually to mark various categories of cinema excellence. The award statuettes are known as Oscars and were first awarded in 1929 at a ceremony hosted by Douglas Fairbanks at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. The very first film to be voted as Best Picture was Wings, a first world war silent film starring Clara Bow, Charles Roger and Richard Arlen. In my DVD collection I have quite a few Oscar winners but here I’d like to look closer at three in particular. Two fairly recent films and one absolute classic.

The Shape of Water

Now, there are those who seem to think I only ever look at black and white classic movies. Not so, I like modern films too and just to prove it I picked up The Shape of Water not long ago for a few pounds on Ebay. You may remember that the film won the Oscar for Best Film at the 2018 awards and it looked pretty interesting in the various clips I have seen. Everything I had heard about the film was positive so I decided to search the internet for the DVD version. The first warning sign was the extensive availability of DVDs of the film on Ebay and the second was the rather low prices those DVDs were fetching. Anyway, I got my copy and watched it and how this film won an Oscar I really do not know.

Yes it is well acted. The photography was excellent although everything is presented in a sort of greenish hue that the director perhaps feels enshrouded late fifties and early sixties America. However the content just didn’t do it for me. It’s about a young mute woman cleaner in a top secret government installation who falls in love with a strange creature, half man, half fish, that is held captive there. She and her father rescue the fish man and take him back to their apartment high over a cinema and install the creature in the bath.

The Guardian said this about the film: ‘Guillermo del Toro’s escapist fantasy-romance The Shape of Water was the biggest winner, (at the Oscars) the story of a young woman’s love for a captured sea creature — with best picture and best director, setting the official seal of approval on what is, by any measure, a beautifully made movie to which audiences have responded with distinctively sensual delight.’

Don’t believe a word of it, the fact is The Shape of Water is a dismal weird film that completely failed to engage me and my copy will soon be available once again on Ebay. It was so bad it even made me hunger for one of Roger Moore’s dreadful Bond Films.

 

Nomadland

Now that I’ve retired I’ve often thought about spending more time in my motorhome and it’s only Liz’s recent hip operation that has prevented us from travelling over to France for some exploring. Could I live full time in a motorhome though? I’m not so sure. Everything is fine in the summer but I doubt if I could cope with the cold of the winter. Of course, we could always drive south towards somewhere a little warmer, even perhaps our beloved Lanzarote but van life isn’t, I suspect, as romantic as it sounds. Nomadland is a film that addresses this subject. A woman loses her job when the US Gypsum plant closes down in her town. Her husband has died so she decides to buy a van and go in search of work. She works for a while at an Amazon packing centre and when that job ends she goes off to Arizona where she heard fellow nomads will be meeting.

She makes new friends among the nomad community and has to overcome various problems, mainly issue with her van. At the end of the film she returns to her home town where all her possessions are in storage and finally sells them all before going back on the road again. After the first thirty minutes or so the film seemed like an actual documentary with real people rather than actors, so much so I had to pick up the DVD box and double check. It’s a slow film with little dialogue but even so it is original and realistic and examines the lives of a new breed of Americans, nomads who live in vans and spend their lives on the move, settling down where there is work and moving on when the work runs out. A flat tyre can be not just an inconvenience but a disaster as well as other problems which for us are merely distractions. Washing and showering for instance, not so easy when you have to consider whether there is enough water in the tank, where to do the laundry and so on. When a major van repair is needed the heroine of the film has to leave the van -her home- at a garage and check into a hotel while it is repaired.

I’ve got mixed feelings about this film. It’s good and well worth watching but whether it’s worthy of an Oscar I’m not so sure.

Silence of the Lambs

After watching the above two Oscar winners on DVD I fancied something a little different. The very first horror film to win an Oscar was Silence of the Lambs. It’s a gruesome film in many ways following the FBI as they try to track down a serial killer who has just abducted the daughter of a US senator. The killer known as Buffalo Bill, imprisons his victims then kills and skins them. (Told you it was gruesome!) To try and get a lead on the killer the FBI send trainee agent Clarice Starling to interview the incarcerated murderer and psychiatrist Dr Hannibal Lector to see if he can give any insight into the murders, a new perspective that might help the FBI investigation.

Lector is played by Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster plays agent Starling. She wants to work in the Behavioural Science Unit of the FBI and Lector, chillingly played by Hopkins, finds her interesting. He seems willing to give information about Buffalo Bill but in return he wants information about Clarice herself. He initiates a quid pro quo, he gives her information and observations about Bill and in return she must reveals snippets of information about herself, her background and her life.

Clarice becomes a pawn when Jack Crawford, the head of behavioural science, makes a fake offer to Lector. They promise that Lector will be moved to a secure unit on an island with a view of nature and wildlife in return for more information. The head of the secure unit where Lector is currently held, Dr Chiltern makes a rival offer which Lector accepts but passes on fake information about Buffalo Bill.

Clarice meets Lector again and presses Lector for the real information but Lector wants only to hear about her life, in particular when she was orphaned and terrified when lambs were slaughtered on the farm where she was staying. Lector tells her that all the relevant information to find the killer is in the case file which he has been allowed to read.

Later, FBI agents approach the suspected home of Buffalo Bill. At the same time Clarice is following a lead based on some advice from Lector. The two situations are presented in alternate clips. The FBI ring the bell of Bill’s supposed home. Clarice rings the bell of her suspect. When the FBI burst in and the house is empty, Jack Crawford, and we the viewers, realise that Starling has stumbled on the real Buffalo Bill.

Much of the content of the film is terrifying but at the same time, it is a compelling film and comes together in an exciting climax.

The film spawned numerous sequels. Hopkins reprised his role as Lector twice but Jodie Foster declined to play Clarice again blaming scheduling conflicts. Clarice was played by Julianne Moore in the follow up film, Hannibal.

Silence of The Lambs won five Oscars, Best Picture, Best Director (Jonathon Demme) Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins) Best Actress (Jodie Foster) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Ted Tally).

Do you have a favourite Oscar winning film?


What to do next: Here are a few options.

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

Listen to my podcast Click here.

Buy the book! Click here to purchase my new poetry anthology.

Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.

Retirement, Caravans and Some Holiday Memories

Just lately I’ve been getting an awful lot of congratulations. Some in person and others by text or email. You might be thinking what has Steve done? Won a prize, had a book published? A video getting honours in a film festival? No, none of that. I’ve retired. By rights I should be happy, after all I wasn’t so happy in my job and I’m glad I don’t have to go back in again. Of course, if my retirement had happened ten years ago perhaps, then I’d have a reason to be upset. I was a deputy manager working with a lot of colleagues who I also counted as friends and leaving was the last thing on my mind. These days, a lot of those friends have left and moved on to other things and my deputy manager status was lost when I had to reapply for my own job. So now that I am leaving, I should be feeling happy but I actually feel a little bit sad. Perhaps if I had an exciting new job to look forward to, I’d be feeling more positive but the thing with retiring, it means no new job, no new beginning, just an end.

My plan, and believe it or not because generally I don’t plan anything, my plan was to be off to Europe with Liz in our little motorhome but with her hip replacement operation coming sooner than expected and Liz still recovering, we are still here. At least I don’t have to go into work though.

When we finally get to go away there will be no checking of our route and worrying about getting back in time. Getting back in time for what? For work? A few years ago we thought about taking the ferry to Santander in Spain and working our way gradually back home through Spain and France. Covid put paid to that at the time but now that journey is once again a possibility. We could even just travel south in France until we find somewhere warm and relaxing. Breakfast in a French aire. A check of the map and then a few hours driving to a new location, preferably by a plan d’eau, a swimming lake. Time perhaps for a swim, a little relaxation in the sun before cranking up the barbecue. Yes, bring it on.

We did think long and hard before buying a motorhome. Getting a caravan was another possibility. Many years ago I used to have a static caravan. It was on a site in Lancashire, not far from Lytham St Annes and it was a nice relaxing place. There were no amenities such as a bar or restaurant but there were many good walks along the estuary and it was a short drive or bus ride into Lytham where there were, and still are, many lovely restaurants and bars.

Probably the thing I used to really like about it was how much it reminded me of the many family holidays we used to have as a child. We always stayed in a caravan in places not too far away like Blackpool, Morecambe, Rhyll, Prestatyn or sometimes we’d go further afield to the east coast of England. My mother always arranged those trips. We didn’t have a car so we would travel on a coach. There was mum, dad, me and my brother and Bob, our old dog. Bob was always a bit of an attraction to the other kids on the bus and we were always proud to tell them that Bob was ours. Frequently on those trips, Bob, who was not a good traveller would throw up. Then we disowned the dog and pretended he was nothing to do with us. Mum, who came armed for every eventuality always had some cloths ready to clean up the mess although once I remember her going forward to the driver who stopped and produced a mop and bucket from somewhere which she took from him and expertly mopped up.

Today I can still remember the smell of the calor gas stove. The thrill of renting a bicycle that was much better than my old tatty bike back home and racing round the camp. Sleeping in bunk beds and fish and chips for tea from the camp chippy.

My last caravan was really pretty well laid out. It had a central lounge, kitchen and dining area. At one end was the guest bedroom and small toilet, at the other end was the master bedroom with a connecting door to the pretty spacious bathroom and toilet. There was a nice garden and a shed where we kept our lawn mower and outside table and chairs. When I eventually sold the van there was a clause in the contract which said I could only sell back to the camping site unless I removed it and the price was much less than I thought it was worth. The only alternative was to take the van away. To do that would involve hiring someone to move it and then, move it where? I would have had to have found another site and pay the usual costs, transport of the van, new site fees, site tax and so on. After some haggling I gave in and sold the van to the site owner. Funnily enough, only today I read a blog about caravanning calling caravan site owners the New Robber Barons of the 21st century!

In England, motorhome owners have no choice except to stop at private camping sites, all of whom charge fees, some fair, some not so fair. One thing we have started doing is stopping for the night at pubs that allow campervans to park in their grounds free as long as you use the pub facilities, buy beer and food which I have always been happy to do.

In France, there are many free parking sites for motorhomes. Most are municipally owned with small charges for emptying your toilet and filling up with drinking water and I must tell you this story about one particular parking site and Bob the dog which I know I’ve told in an earlier post but it seems to fit in so well here.  A few years ago, Liz and I were motoring through France in our motorhome and we stopped in a pretty big town where they had a large municipal stopover for motorhomes.

We found ourselves a spot in this busy place and the parking bays backed onto a grassy area with picnic tables. It was really quite a lovely spot. Liz began to sort out our food while I took plates and cutlery over to the table. As I approached, I had a sort of odd feeling that something was about to happen and there was a really friendly dog who greeted me like a long lost friend. He wasn’t jumping up or anything but he was pleased to see me. Anyway, we brought the food and wine over and sat down and the dog sat just by me.

I looked at the dog and held out my hand and said ‘Gimme your paw’ just like I used to say to Bob our old family dog. Now I’m not sure what I expected to happen but the dog gave me a doggy smile and placed his paw in my hand, just like old Bob used to do. It was rather satisfying to have the dog there by my side while we ate. Occasionally I slipped him some food just like I used to do with old Bob. Later when I took the plates and things back inside the van, the dog was nowhere to be seen. He had vanished into the warm evening and I wondered whether it really had been Bob, reincarnated and come back to check on his old master.

Just writing about these things has got me all geared up ready for our future trip. Driving is a pain in the neck these days in places like busy Manchester. On the much quieter roads of the Loire for instance, driving is still a pleasure. I look forward to chugging along watching for the road signs and the names of the French towns. I like the quiet stopping places and the peaceful aires where we can stay for the night. I like too the sleepy French villages and the small markets where we buy local bread and cheeses. Of course, who can forget those wonderful restaurants and eating in the open air. The small starters of cold meats and crudités. The appetising mains, le plat de jour and the cheese course. The glass of rosé to start with and the pichet of vin rouge.

Hopefully, I’ll be seeing all those again soon.


What to do next: Here are a few options.

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

Listen to my podcast Click here.

Buy the book! Click here to purchase my new poetry anthology.

Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.

The Human Eye and A Handful of Film Directors

I wrote a blog post a while ago about the 60s TV show the Time Tunnel. I used to love that show when I was about 12 years old but watching it these days it isn’t quite as good as I remember. If the time tunnel was real and I could sneak inside and send myself back in time the place I’d like to go would probably be the early days on cinema in Hollywood.

Back then when the cinema was new and the job of film director was something that didn’t require a degree, I reckon I might have been in with a chance of getting to direct a film. These days I have to content myself with being an amateur video maker. Anyway, I may not be a director but I can certainly write about film directors if nothing else.

Charlie Chaplin

I’m going to start off with Chaplin because he was one of the very first to give actual direction to a motion picture. Charlie came to Hollywood after a career in Fred Karno’s musical halls in England. Karno was a successful impresario and producer and when his productions became successful, he decided to export them and sent various troupes on tours of the USA. On one of those tours Chaplin was spotted by slapstick film maker Mack Sennet and Chaplin began to appear in early Hollywood comedy shows. In those days there were no scripts. The actors and directors threw a few ideas about and then the cameras began to roll. The short films were made quickly and then sent off for distribution across the USA and even the world.

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

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

I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever thought of Chaplin as a genius but he was clearly one of the first to realise a film needed a structure and that comedy films didn’t need to be gag after gag after gag. They needed a story, the audience needed to sympathise with the characters and so on. Whatever you think of Charlie Chaplin, his contribution to the film world was immense.

Billy Wilder

My favourite Billy Wilder story goes like this: In his later years he wanted, as usual, to make a movie. He approached a studio and was invited in to make his pitch, as they call it in the movie world. The executive who met with Billy was a young man. He said to Billy, “I’m not familiar with your work could you tell me about it?”

Wilder replied, “of course, after you!”

Wilder was born in 1906 in Austria. He became a screenwriter while living in Berlin but left when the Nazi party began their rise to power. In 1933 he moved to Hollywood where many artists and film makers fled to escape the Nazis. Wilder wrote numerous screenplays with his co-writer Charles Brackett and in 1942 made his directing debut with The Major and the Minor.

A big hit for wilder was the film Double Indemnity. Wilder co-wrote the script with Raymond Chandler and the film was nominated for 7 academy awards as well as becoming a classic of film noir.

By far my favourite Wilder film though was Sunset Boulevard. The film follows William Holden as screenwriter Joe Gillis who is down on his luck and is about to have his car repossessed. To escape the repo men, Holden drives into what he thinks is a deserted house on Sunset Boulevard. To his surprise he finds reclusive film star Gloria Swanson living there. Swanson plays Norma Desmond, once a star of the silent era who is planning her return to the screen.

Norma engages Joe to edit a script she has written herself and Joe soon finds himself seduced by the affection and money she lavishes on him. Some of Swanson’s own silent films are used within the production and one of her old directors, Erich Von Stroheim plays the part of her butler and former husband. The final scene of Joe floating dead in Norma’s pool took was a difficult shot to film. Wilder eventually did it by putting a mirror in the bottom of the pool.

Wilder died in 2002. He is buried in Los Angeles and on his grave is inscribed. ‘Billy Wilder. I’m a writer but then, nobody’s perfect’, a reference to the final line in Some Like It Hot.

Oliver Stone

Oliver Stone enlisted in the US Army in 1967 and served in Vietnam with the 25th Infantry and later the 1st Cavalry.
Back in the USA he enrolled at university in New York and studied filmmaking. Martin Scorsese was one of his teachers. Vietnam was among the first subjects of his student films.

Stone graduated in 1971 and took on various jobs while he wrote screenplays. His breakthrough success was in 1978 with the screenplay for the film Midnight Express for which he won the Academy Award for best adapted screenplay.

The first Oliver Stone movie I ever saw was the 1986 movie ‘Platoon.’ Stone wrote and directed the movie set during the Vietnam War and based on some of his own experiences.

He followed up with another Vietnam film, ‘Born on the 4th of July’ about Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic. A third film completed Oliver Stone’s Vietnam trilogy, Heaven and Earth released in 1993.

Wall Street was a hit movie for Oliver Stone in the eighties and the character of Gordon Gekko played by Michael Douglas became an eighties screen icon. In Wall Street Stone first developed a mesmerising visual style almost akin to a music video and it is a style that many film-makers seem to have picked up.

In JFK, Stone takes this visual style to another level and combines various film formats to produce a stylish visual montage. The subject is a controversial one, the shooting of President John Kennedy in Dallas in 1963. Stone decides to use the investigation by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison as a vehicle to explore the various theories about the shooting although ultimately an amorphous military industrial complex is blamed for the conspiracy. Criticism rained down on Oliver Stone from anti conspiracy theorists but I personally felt that the movie was a fair one and everything that was conjecture was shown as conjecture. The great treat for me was the combining of the different visuals and the inter weaving of documentary film with new footage. Stone went on to make two more films about American presidents, Nixon and W, the latter film about George W Bush.

George Stevens

George Stevens made many memorable films and I’ve including him in this handful of directors because if I was a director, I reckon I’d make my films the way George did. George directed the classic western Shane starring Alan Ladd. Shane is one of the great film westerns and one that tried to show the west as it really was. Stevens also directed Giant, James Dean’s last film. Giant is about Bick Benedict, a Texas rancher played by Rock Hudson and Dean plays Jett Rink, a surly ranch hand who is fired by Benedict. Benedict’s sister however, has a soft spot for Jett and when she is unexpectedly killed in a fall from a horse, we find that she has gifted a small piece of land to Jett. Bick wants to keep the ranch together and offers Jett a large sum of money for the property but he declines and goes on to strike oil on the land. Stevens filmed his actors with many cameras and liked to shoot everything he could then sit back and work his way through the resulting footage and slowly figure out how to edit it together, which is pretty much what I do with my short amateur YouTube videos.

Alfred Hitchcock

Hitchcock was a British director who began in the days of silent films and came to be known as the master of suspense. Blackmail made in 1929 was the first British Talkie and 10 years later producer David O Selznick lured him to Hollywood where he made many films that are now regarded as classics, films like North by Northwest, Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, The Birds and Pyscho. Hitchcock might also be seen as one of the first celebrity directors. He became popular because of his habit of appearing, however briefly in all of his films, sitting on a bus for instance, just missing the bus in another. He also became well known by introducing his television series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Alfred Hitchcock (Picture courtesy Wikipedia)

There are some directors who have tried to make films that show events the way the human eye sees things. Roberto Rossellini was one. Another surprisingly was Hitchcock himself.

In 1948 he made the film The Rope. It was an unusual film in many ways, especially for Hitchcock. The length of a film magazine back then was ten minutes so Hitchcock decided to shoot the film in a series of 10 minute takes each take morphing smoothly into the next one. The set was built with moveable walls which were able to be moved swiftly out of the way by the prop men to accommodate the very large film camera of the time as it moved about the set.

Making a film without the usual cuts and edits would create a viewer experience more akin to the way a human being sees things, or so Hitchcock thought. My personal view is that we see things with our mind more than the eye. The human eye is constantly scanning the scene before us and these scans are used by the mind to put together an image for us. Some of that image will be up to date, especially whatever it is we are concentrating on. Other elements, things in our peripheral vision for instance may be seconds out of date because that element of the image we are seeing was scanned seconds or even minutes ago. That’s my theory anyway. For me the director who films in the way the human eye sees things is Woody Allen.

Woody Allen

I’ve written plenty about Woody before so I won’t go on about him here too long. The great thing about Woody’s films is that they don’t follow the usual film school format of close up, medium shot and wide shot. Woody usually makes a one or two camera set up with few if any close ups and that’s it. In one shot in Hannah and Her Sisters, Michael Caine is talking to someone, it might have been Mia Farrow but I can’t remember off the top of my head and the Mia character goes into the bedroom but continues to talk with Caine. Michael expected there to be a second set up filming Mia in the bedroom but there wasn’t. He asked Woody why not and Woody answered why do we need to see the other person in the bedroom? We can hear their voice that’s all we need. If the character was hiding a gun in their purse or pocket or something pursuant to the plot then we need to see that but otherwise, what’s the point? That’s what I like about Woody’s films, their economical use of film and the lack of multiple set ups.

Those then are my handful of film directors. Who are your favourites?


What to do next: Here are a few options.

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

Listen to my podcast Click here.

Buy the book! Click here to purchase my new poetry anthology.

Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.

 

 

 

 

The Story of My Life (Part 3)

As usual when I’m stuck for a blog post I tend to look back on my old posts for a little inspiration. I’ve already produced parts 1 and 2 of The Story of my Life (In less than 2500 words) so I thought it might be time to crack on with part 3. To be fair I’ve not had the most exciting life but as a writer with a good 500 blog posts behind me, I’m hoping that with a bit of effort I can produce something of some interest to the reader, however small. My novel, Floating in Space is to a great extent, my own life just jazzed up a little so let’s see if I can make it interesting enough for a blog post. I find that a lot of the episodes in my life have already been made into a blog post so I have added the links which open up in another page if you want to read about things in a little more detail.

Looking back, I seem to have spent a lot of years working for a bus company when really, I should have pulled my finger out and tried to get a job doing something I really enjoyed. Alas, it’s always easy to look back and see where we have made mistakes but at the time things are not always so clear. I had a lot of fun working as a bus conductor and then a driver but later when I wanted to move on, I wasn’t sure how to do it, plus I had a mortgage and bills to pay so I couldn’t afford to just jack everything in.

However, that day did eventually arrive. I had just split with my girlfriend and it was time for a completely new start and so I resigned. I was a great Formula One fan and I decided to start my own business selling motorsport memorabilia. I rented a small place in Manchester City centre in the Corn Exchange which was a grand old building that housed various small units selling all manner of things; books, records, pottery and clothing as well as a lady who read palms.

In my small unit I was selling motor sport books and videos, posters and model racing cars. As time went on people came to me to sell their motoring memorabilia and I realised that my second hand items were doing better than the new stuff. My customer base gradually built up and I noticed that as well as selling I was doing a great deal of talking. I had regular customers that came round just to talk about Formula One rather than buying books on the subject. I kept a diary and spent the quiet moments in my little shop writing away. One of my customers Tom, used to pop in, tell me to get him ‘booked in’ in my diary then he would nip round the corner for two teas. He and I spent a lot of time drinking tea and chatting and I’m pushed to remember if he ever bought anything.

Another customer was an ex-soldier who told me all about his adventures in various parts of the world. He was always asking me to go with him on various wild camping expeditions to the Scottish Highlands but it wasn’t for me. There were many others and looking back there seemed to be an awful lot of people looking for a little companionship and chit chat. Perhaps I should have opened a pub rather than a shop.

One gentleman who bought a good number of things off me was someone who owned his own company. His name was Bernard (once again, names have been changed to protect the innocent) and he was a great Ferrari fan. I sourced a number of Ferrari books and videos for him. We talked a lot too. Not only was he a great fan of the Scuderia Ferrari, he also told me that he drove a Ferrari himself. One day he arranged to bring his car for me to see. Now I don’t know about you but I had, and still have, a firm idea of what a Ferrari should look like. My favourite Ferrari has always been the Ferrari Dino 246GT, the one Tony Curtis drove in the TV series The Persuaders.

The author and his, well ok not his actually, just some random Ferrari!

Bernard arranged to come by at about 12:30 to show me his car. At the appointed time I put the closed for lunch sign up on the door and nipped outside. I suppose I wasn’t really expecting a Ferrari Dino to turn up and there were no Ferraris to be seen but there was a nondescript green saloon car and the occupant was beeping his horn and waving. Yes, it was my customer and he was driving a Ferrari and not all Ferraris are red sporty models as Bernard soon pointed out. I managed to hide my disappointment reasonably well, at least I think so.

I loved that little shop and I loved spending my time chatting F1 to everyone who wanted to chat F1 which was pretty much everyone that came in. The big problem was that I wasn’t making much money so eventually I put the entire business up for sale. That advert ran for a week and only one person answered. Luckily, he was the guy who bought my entire stock. I was really sad to see my business go but not long afterwards the IRA exploded a huge car bomb on the street outside which, had I still had my shop, could easily have blown to me to pieces so maybe there was a silver lining after all. In 2022 the Corn Exchange houses the Triangle, a posh shopping centre and various restaurants, all far too up market for the likes of me.

I was unemployed for a while. The two things I remember about that period was taking a video production course and going to the ‘Job Club’. I was hoping that I could claim something while I was on the video course, you know, travel expenses or something or at least not having to sign on. The DWP took a different view though; according to them if I was on a course, I would be unavailable for work and therefore, not entitled to any benefits at all! I told the people who were running the course and they just said, don’t tell the DWP and we will let you nip out to sign on, which is basically what happened.

I enjoyed that course so much. I really did. We were split into various groups and we had to choose a subject for making a film. My group batted various ideas about and eventually we went for my idea which involved making a documentary about taxi drivers. We had tuition on working the camera and then we were off to the city centre to film taxis and interview taxi drivers. I think we made a pretty good film although I remember having to defend part of it when we had to show our rough cut to the other students. One of the taxi drivers mentioned that certain parts of the city were dangerous to go to and he mentioned Moss Side, only five minutes away from our training location. Moss Side is a predominantly black area but I didn’t think the taxi driver was racist, he was just not happy about going to Moss Side and having his customers run off without paying.

The best bit was working in the editing suite and putting together our video. I loved that and in fact, still love video editing to this day. Back in 1992 we were still using video tape, in fact we shot our film on Super VHS. These days in the digital world, editing is different. I remember once back in the 1980’s, editing a film about Manchester Airport. I had to fade in some sound effects and mix in some background music then fade all that down to read a short narration then fade in a helicopter sound effect before bringing in some more music, and I had to do that all in ‘real’ time. Today that kind of edit is a matter of adding the different audio layers one on top of the other.

I had hoped that afterwards I might have got employment in a video production company but it wasn’t to be. A few companies offered me work but it was work of the unpaid kind. Later I found that unpaid work is a recognised way of getting into film and TV. Sorry but unpaid work wasn’t and isn’t for me.

Back at the DWP they decided to send me to the ‘Job Club’. I didn’t fancy it but it was a case of either go or lose your benefit. The first day I went, the club was so busy all I could do was go in and register and that was it. Next week was quieter and so was the next. By about week three, the attendance had thinned out and I was finally able to make some headway towards getting a job. Someone helped me to put together my very first CV. My unemployed mates and I checked the newspapers for jobs, wrote spec’ letters, were given interview advice and generally had a nice chat and supped endless cups of tea. Eventually I got employment as a coach driver, not one of my favourite jobs. I did get to travel about the country and on one occasion got to go to the Black Forest in Germany. Most of the time I was driving school buses.

One school run that I remember was one week when they gave me a really nice coach instead of an old banger bus for a change. It was a junior school and the kids were only young but they were an unruly lot. The coach had a video player so I brought along a VHS copy of the Gerry Anderson TV show Thunderbirds and the kids loved it. They sat glued to the TV but the only problem was that they didn’t want to get off the bus. Someone complained on the return journey because their child nearly missed their stop so I had to stop playing the video. I remember the delighted faces of the kids when I got the same job again, a few weeks later and they saw me and said look, it’s the driver that plays the Thunderbirds video and then the look of misery when the school assistant who travelled on the bus forbade me to play it.

The coach company I worked for was owned by GM Buses, my former bus company. One day I saw a job advert on the notice board for a job in Metro Comms, the GM Buses control room. I applied, got the job and said goodbye to coaching.

Working in the enquiry section of the bus control room was actually a pretty fun job. The job itself wasn’t great but we had a lot of laughs. I could spend all day telling you stories about our control room in fact I wrote a blog post about it a few years ago but here’s the funniest thing that happened there. One of my friends was called Norm and Norm had a particular dislike of the identity badge we had to wear. When it was time for a break, Norm would pull off his badge, slap it down on his desk and go off to the canteen.

One day, some of the guys decided to cut out a shapely pair of breasts from that day’s newspaper page three model and insert the picture into Norm’s badge. I couldn’t stop laughing and this was even before Norm came back to the office. Everyone was calling for me to shut up and be quiet but I couldn’t help it. Thirty minutes later Norm returned, sat down at his desk, put on his headset, switched on his phone and clipped on his badge. I must have looked ready to burst and after stifling my laughter for about ten minutes Norm got up to get a brew. He happened to glance over at me and asked what was wrong and I couldn’t hold the laughter in any more. He eventually found the offending picture and removed it convinced that I was the practical joker.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post because I had a lot of fun writing it and looking back on some of my old jobs. Working in Metro Comms wasn’t the best job I’ve ever had but we had a lot of laughs there and believe me, if you get the chance to laugh at least sometime during your day, that day will go down a whole lot better.


What to do next: Here are a few options.

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

Listen to my podcast Click here.

Buy the book! Click here to purchase my new poetry anthology.

Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.