Bright Lights, A Princess and Murder

I’ve been interested in the JFK assassination since I was a schoolboy and one of my earliest memories dates back to 1968 when JFK’s brother Bobby was shot at the Ambassador hotel after winning the California presidential primary. I was 12 years old at the time and I remember being so very shocked by his murder. The shooting of RFK and the circumstances surrounding his murder are probably even more questionable than the murder of JFK in Dallas but the mainstream media seem to look down on anyone who questions the accepted theories in both cases and the phrase they have coined for those of us who dismiss the tired old mainstream ‘lone nut’ ideas, is ‘conspiracy theorist’, and it really does annoy me.

It’s one of those phrases that pour scorn and ridicule without proper debate or discussion but having said that, there are some people who call out conspiracy without even thinking. I mean, seriously, can anyone actually doubt that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon in 1969? Was it all a hoax just to win the space race?

And as for 9/11, can people really think that the CIA and George Bush actually engineered the Twin Towers attack in New York just for an excuse to begin the second gulf war? Surely not!

That of course brings me in a roundabout way to Princess Diana. She was killed in a Paris car crash in 1997. She was estranged from her former husband and father of her two sons Prince Charles and was involved at the time with Dodi al Fayed, son of Mohammed al Fayed, the owner of Harrods. The crash was an accident wasn’t it? So why talk about conspiracy? What conspiracy?

Many years ago I remember seeing a BBC documentary about the accident and it raised more questions than answers and so one day, in my favourite new Blackpool secondhand bookshop what did I spy but a book about Diana’s death. The Murder of Princess Diana  by Noel Botham.

In the book the author alleges that Diana’s death was not an accident but was engineered by the British secret service. What happened then on the night of August 30th and the early morning of the 31st, 1997?

Diana was in Paris with her boyfriend Dodi al Fayed. The two of them were spending time together but had been hunted down mercilessly by the paparazzi, desperate for pictures of the couple. Diana felt that she was under constant surveillance and in fact British security services did monitor the phone calls of the Royals for supposedly ‘security’ purposes. Some years earlier, mobile phone recordings of Diana and one of her lovers had been revealed to the public in the so-called ‘Squidgy’ tapes. Ken Wharfe, Diana’s former bodyguard told a UK inquest in 2008 that the tapes had been recorded by GCHQ, the UK government’s secret listening station and deliberately leaked. They were apparently broadcast on a loop until an amateur radio ham picked up the messages and passed them to the media.

The princess’s friends suspected the “Squidgy” tapes were leaked to smear her at a time when her failing relationship with the Prince of Wales was at its most acrimonious. From then on, the Princess was very concerned with eavesdropping and hired private security consultants to sweep her apartments for bugs and listening devices.

August 30th around 4:30 p.m.: Diana and Dodi Fayed arrive at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, owned by Dodi’s father, Egyptian businessman Mohamed al Fayed. They enter through the back door and are shown to the Imperial Suite.

5:40  to 6:30 p.m.: Reportedly, Fayed ventures to Repossi jewellers and two rings are later delivered to the Imperial Suite. Perhaps they are gifts, perhaps Dodi is considering marriage.

Around 7 p.m.: Diana and al Fayed exit the Ritz through the rear entrance and are driven to his residence, near the Arc de Triomphe.

9:50 p.m.:  The couple return to the hotel and head for its L’Espadon restaurant, after forgoing reservations at Benoît Paris because of continued paparazzi attention. Diana reportedly orders Dover sole, vegetable tempura and a mushroom and asparagus omelette. Dodi began to feel suspicious that photographers might be posing as restaurant patrons and requested their food be delivered to their room.

August 31st 12:20 a.m.: With bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, al Fayed and Diana reportedly attempt to evade photographers by leaving the hotel through its rear entrance to return to his apartment. They enter the backseat of a black Mercedes S280 to be driven by Ritz security employee Henri Paul.

12:23 a.m.: The Mercedes, in an attempt to outrun photographers, collides with a concrete pillar in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel. Bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones was the only passenger in the Mercedes to be wearing a seatbelt. He was also the only one to survive the crash.

Fayed and Paul died at the scene. Following the accident, Dr. Frédéric Maillez who happened to be driving by, stopped and tended to Diana before the arrival of the emergency services.

In Noel Botham’s book, he notes that the paparazzi carried on photographing the scene while he worked to save Diana; some even poked their lenses inside the smashed car. Finally help arrived and Diana was taken away in an ambulance.

Approximately 2:00 a.m.: Diana arrives at Pitié-Salpétrière Hospital, undergoing surgery minutes later.

4:00 a.m.: The princess, who celebrated her 36th birthday the previous month, is pronounced dead.

That then, was the timeline of events. It looked like a simple car crash especially when Police revealed that Henri Paul, the Ritz security man and Dodi’s driver that night was revealed to have had a blood alcohol level that was more than 3 times the legal limit. However, despite that he appears relaxed and normal on the Ritz CCTV images. Not only that, no one appeared to notice Henri as having been drunk or intoxicated. In the book, the author reveals that Henri’s autopsy indicated that he had a high reading for carbon monoxide in his blood which would have been totally incompatible with someone driving a car. According to tests carried out by two French medical experts hours after the Paris crash, the levels of carbon monoxide in Mr Paul’s blood ranged between 12 and 21 per cent. That compares to a normal reading of around two to four percent.

With that carbon monoxide level, Henri Paul would have been unconscious and totally unable to drive a car. There was however another death that night, a man who was depressed and took his own life by inhaling his car’s exhaust fumes. Could the blood sample have come from this unknown male the author asks?

Another factor was a Fiat Uno which was ahead of Diana’s Mercedes which according to the Police was untraceable. In fact the car was traced to a journalist with connections to the security services. The Fiat Uno blocked the Mercedes in the Alma Tunnel and Henri Paul swerved to the left to avoid it although his front wing clipped the Fiat.

Ahead of the Mercedes was a scooter with a pillion passenger and some reports claim that an incredibly bright light was flashed by the pillion passenger back towards the Mercedes which would have blinded the occupants and forced the driver to crash. This same scenario was featured in an MI6 file according to former agent Richard Tomlinson. Tomlinson had seen an MI6 secret plan to assassinate Slobodan Milosevic which used the exact scenario of the crash that led to Diana’s death. When Tomlinson tried to give this information to the magistrate in charge of the French inquiry into the incident, he was arrested at gun point by the DST, the French secret service, beaten up and interrogated for eighteen hours.

Police said they were unable to trace the Fiat Uno but Mohamed al Fayed claimed the owner was a journalist, James Andanson, with connections to the various security services. He had boasted to friends about inside knowledge of Diana’s death but he was found dead in 2000. He had driven to a remote spot and set himself and his car on fire, a gruesome way to commit suicide but that was the official verdict. A few weeks after his death an armed raid was carried out on the agency for which Andanson had worked. The only material and records removed were Andanson’s.

Ultimately, if we believe that Diana was deliberately murdered then we have to ask the question why? Who would want to murder Diana? What would be the point? To enable Charles to marry Camilla? In present day UK do the marriages of the Royals have any relevance anymore? After all, this is the 21st century and the days of royal murders and plots to change the succession are all part of history, ancient history.

Author Noel Botham claims that a certain element of the British secret service was used by a sinister hard core of palace watchdogs under oath to defend the royal family against scandals, whether that is the case I do not know but the author clearly believes that. Mohamed al Fayed has gone further, naming the Duke of Edinburgh as the author of the plot to kill Diana. Is al Fayed a grieving father making wild accusations or do his claims have some substance?

I have to say this book was an interesting read, not just the conjecture about assassinations but also the background to Charles and Diana and Camilla. The incredible love story, the blossoming of the princess, the failure of the Royal marriage, Diana’s efforts to outdo the Royals in revenge for Charles’ betrayal of her with Camilla. All in all, a fascinating read.


The Murder of Princess Diana by Noel Botham.

Click here for a fascinating pdf file on the results of Operation Paget, the Metropolitan Police Investigation into the various conspiracy claims in 2004.


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

 

Woody, Marcus and such Small Portions!

I’ve just returned from yet another jaunt to France, a short one this time, six days in Liz’s motorhome, meandering around the Loire area, which we both love. One of our aims was to spend our nights ‘wild camping’, that is to say camping wherever we could without using commercial camping sites.

France is actually very motorhome friendly with many municipal sites providing free camping and toilet emptying facilities free of charge with optional charges for things like fresh water or electrical hook up and so on. We found a lovely spot by a lake, actually a plan d’eau, called Lac du Homme. In the summer when we visited it was a busy bustling place with a bar and restaurant and many spots for bathing and picnicking. The french take their picnics seriously and always bring huge hampers of food, always covering the many wooden and stone picnic tables with table cloths before opening up their bundles of cutlery, plates and food. At the Lac du Homme there were also quite a few areas with barbecue facilities dotted about, all that was needed were the hot coals and some steaks and burgers to cook.

Now in early October a last burst of summer had come and the restaurant and bar were boarded up for the winter. Most of the time we had the lake to ourselves, joined only by the few occasional visitors. The last two days were so hot we even ventured out onto the man-made beaches for a refreshing dip into the cold, very cold, waters.

One of the great things about being at this quiet lake was not only the quiet, calm and relaxing atmosphere but also the chance to read. I read a great deal but at home and at work I tend to read in short bursts, on my dinner breaks at work, in quiet moments in a morning or before I go to sleep. Holidays are when you can really get to grips with a book, really read it through without having to put the book down and go back into work. On this short break I finished off a book I was reading at work, ‘The Assassination of Princess Diana’ (more about that in an upcoming post) and started on one of the P G Wodehouse Jeeves and Wooster books. It was amusing and interesting and thoroughly English but it wasn’t quite my cup of tea.

One other book I read was one of last year’s reads, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Marcus was an emperor of Rome and when he was compelled to go out with his armies to do battle he spent many hours alone in his tent compiling a series of philosophic writings that became known as the Meditations. Marcus was concerned with the force of nature, the force that drives the universe and all its  workings. Nature for him was probably more akin to God than what we understand nature to be but his thoughts and ideas are very moving, even more so as they were written prior to the year 180, nearly 2000 years ago. A lot of his thoughts are about life and death, simple things like a man who enjoys a long life and a man who experiences a short one both lose the same thing when they die. Death is a natural state he explains. Why fear it when everyone who has ever lived before us, has experienced it. To those of us who hunger for fame (potential authors perhaps) Marcus asks what is the point? One day you will die, one day those who remember you will die so one day your fame will vanish when no one remembers you. Time, says Marcus, is like a river, for as soon as something happens, the river of time carries it away, then some other event comes, also soon to be washed away.

In the opening of Annie Hall, one of Woody Allen’s most popular films, he talks about life in this way: “There’s an old joke, two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.” Well, that’s essentially how I feel about life – full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.” Woody Allen and Marcus Aurelius, both philosophers in their own ways.

I’ve spent a lovely couple of hours this week watching To Rome with Love, one of Woody Allen’s more recent films. Woody, if you have read one of my earlier posts about directors, is my all-time favourite director. I love his subtle observations about life and love, and his humour. What is a little sad lately, is that Woody’s image and persona have been challenged by his adopted daughter Dylan, who claims Woody assaulted her when she was young, 7, I think, and that he should be arrested and prosecuted. Woody stands by an investigation into the charges from 1975 that exonerated him but of course now, in the age of digital media, Dylan is able to go straight to the people with social media and put forward her case.

Someone who has put forward defence of Woody Allen is Moses Farrow, Woody and Mia’s adopted son. He has claimed in a blog post that his mother Mia was abusive and domineering and referring to the details of Dylan’s claims that there was no railway in the attic-supposedly where the attack took place- and that the attic was only a crawl space, not a place where father and daughter could play.

Many actors and actresses have come forward saying they will never work with Woody again and his reputation seems to sink lower every day and the body of work he has produced is now, by association, tainted. There is even a possibility that his latest film may not be released. I am a big fan of Woody Allen and although these revelations did not put me off watching To Rome with Love, it does set off a small alarm bell in the back of one’s mind. Did Woody do it? Did he molest the young Dylan? Well, two people know for sure: One is Dylan and the other is Woody. Woody claims Dylan’s claims were fabricated by Mia Farrow, his one-time partner and the mother of Dylan as part of a war of hate aimed at Woody because he became involved with another of Mia’s step daughters, Soon-Yi, and in fact, later married her. Mia, according to Woody, has brain washed Dylan with her abuse claims, so if that is true, then only Woody himself knows the truth. It seems to me that if Woody was an abuser then he would have abused other women and as no one else has come forward then that means Woody is innocent -doesn’t it?

Anyway, I don’t expect to see Jimmy Saville on old episodes of Top of the Pops, or Gary Glitter for that matter. Their actions and behaviour have airbrushed themselves out of history. Still, I will be very sad if they stop showing Woody’s films on TV.

Getting back to our trip to France, it was my birthday while we were away and it was nice to celebrate it in the sunny Loire valley instead of cold and rainy England. On our previous motorhome trip we had a lot of issues with mobile wi-fi which can be a bit of a pain when you have a blog deadline for Saturday morning. I wasn’t happy with Virgin media because my mobile data didn’t work in France, despite an expensive phone call to Virgin. Anyway, they sent me a new SIM card and I was happy to find that on this trip my mobile phone connected to the internet without problems. I even found that I could connect my Ipad to my mobile and use my mobile internet on my pad, so much easier than writing a blog post on your phone. Of course I had written my last post about Comics and Superheros in advance and had it scheduled but even so, I always like to tinker with my posts right up to that last moment.

After we returned, Liz and I went to a birthday meal for Liz’s sister-in-law who has a similar birth date to me. One of the other guests, a young girl, asked me about my birthday and how old I was. I was reluctant to say but finally answered 62. “62?” She said, “I didn’t think you were that old!”

Maybe that’s a good thing, that I look younger than I actually am and in fact that comment was really a boost for my personal image but there’s no getting away from that figure of 62. Still, here is one last quote from Marcus;

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Spiderman, Comics and the World of the Super Hero!

When I was a school kid which now I think of it, sometimes feels like years ago and other times feels like yesterday, I was a big, very big fan of comics. All my pocket-money went on comics and I would spend many a happy hour reading, lost in the world of comic book heroes. My Dad used to get me a copy of the Hotspur even though I knew it was really for him despite his denials. I read the Hotspur after I managed to prise it off him and a number of other comics like the Beano, The Tiger, TV Comic, TV 21 which was based on Gerry Anderson’s TV series and  whole host of other comics, all of which have faded into the world of comic history. Looking round the newsagents these days you don’t seem to see comics any more. Perhaps today’s youngsters are too grown up, too enthralled with computer games and television. Still, I loved those old comics and still do and I tend to think they kick started my imagination and made me want to be a writer.

Another type of comic I used to buy were American comics which back then were split into two types, DC comics and Marvel comics. Superman and Batman were the stars of DC comics along with the Flash, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman. On the Marvel side were Spiderman, the X-men, the Hulk, Ironman and many others.

Every summer I used to beg my mother for the latest summer 80 page Giant, which was usually one of the DC comics. It consisted of 4 stories from an ordinary comic reprinted in one bumper edition. A great staple of the 80 page Giant was the superhero ‘origin’, the story of how that particular superhero began his life of crime busting and derring do.

Fast forward to the present day and those superhero characters have made the leap from comic book pages to the big movie screen, mainly with the help of modern-day computer generated effects.

Superman.

Superman, made in 1978, started off the movie superhero craze and starred Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel. It was a movie made before the aforementioned CGI were even thought of. Many traditional techniques were used in the film such as back projection, miniatures and matte paintings. Wire riggings were used, suspended from cranes or the studio ceilings, to enable Christopher Reeve to fly as Superman.

Marlon Brando appeared as Superman’s father, Kal-El and many other major film stars added to the cast list and the budget. The shooting was constantly marred by cash flow issues but somehow the producers kept everything together and the film was released in December 1978 becoming a major financial hit, in fact the 6th highest grossing film of all time, despite a multi million dollar salary paid to Brando who appears in only part of the film.

Batman.

Batman hit the big screen in 1989 in a film directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader. A series of films followed with various actors taking on the role of Batman. Burton’s film was a dark, serious version of Batman in some ways returning to the vision of Batman that the original authors, Bob Kane and Bill Finger had first presented in 1939 when the comic strip began. The film depicts Gotham City as an ugly and bleak city where crime is an every day hazard.

I’m not sure I’d put the Batman films down as my all time favourites. They are actually a little slow with outbursts of action and violence. The Batman film franchise, like all film franchises, has rebooted itself several times. In 2005 came the film Batman Begins, based upon a new comic book version called the Dark Knight. Batman Begins starred Christian Bale as Batman and the first time I saw it, I wasn’t impressed. It didn’t resonate with my 1960s comic book memories and it seemed to me to be a sort of Batman meets Kung Fu, the 1970’s TV series. One of my work colleagues told me recently it was his favourite film ever so I watched it again after a busy late shift at work and actually, perhaps it’s not such a bad film.

Thor.

Thor was another comic book hero that became a feature film. In the comic as I remember it, Thor is actually a doctor who finds Thor’s hammer disguised as a walking stick, and when he bashes the stick to the ground the good doctor is transformed into the God of Thunder. The movie version released in 2011 was actually rather boring. I only managed about 40 minutes of it before changing channel. The X-men movie suffered a similar fate at the hands of my remote control. I think I managed about 30 minutes before going channel hopping. I don’t remember Wolverine from the comic books either. Cyclops, the Beast and Professor Xavier were all part of the X-men comic book version that I used to read, as was Invisible Girl, although perhaps that was the Fantastic Four. I did get to the end of the movie version of the Fantastic Four though, although another failure was Iron Man.

The Hulk.

Bruce Banner was a scientist who is accidentally exposed to gamma rays and finds that when he gets angry he morphs into a huge green-skinned mutant with incredible strength. There was a TV series made in the 1980s and a catchphrase of Bruce Banner’s, played by Bill Bixby was, ‘you won’t like me when I’m angry!’

In the 2003 film Erica Bana plays Banner and the Hulk is a creation of computer technology. I wasn’t crazy about the film, in fact the computer imaging looked more like a cartoon than CGI effects. The Hulk franchise was rebooted again in 2008 as The Incredible Hulk, this time Edward Norton playing Bruce Banner. In this film Banner is on the run from the American miliary and trying to cure himself of the effects of the gamma rays that transform him into the Hulk. The military however, want to use the gamma ray effect to create a ‘super soldier’ so they are intent on tracking Banner down. The film connected with the comics I used to read much more than some other superhero films and I enjoyed the film very much. The CGI effects were a big improvement on the earlier Hulk film too.

Spiderman.

One of my absolute comic book superhero favourites was Spiderman. The great thing about the 60s comic book version was that it wasn’t all about Spiderman. A lot of the appeal of Spiderman was the story of Peter Parker, the nerdy student who has a crush on red head Mary Jane Watson.

Peter gets bitten by a radioactive spider which gives him incredible spider powers: strength, agility and in the comics Peter develops this incredible synthetic web which he can shoot from his wrist, spin a web and swing from skyscraper to skyscraper across New York City. In 2002 the amazing Spiderman hit the big screen in a film directed by Sam Raimi and starring Toby McGuire as Spiderman. James Franco appeared as Peter’s fellow student but had I been casting the film, I think I might have been tempted to have Franco play Peter Parker. I thought that perhaps Toby McGuire was a little too wimpy!

Oh well, maybe I should stick to the comic books or even the old TV cartoon series. I did love that theme song . .


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Ally Mcbeal, Eddie the Eagle and my TV Hard Drive

Looking back at some of my previous posts I see that back in April I was waxing lyrical about the onset of spring, the lengthening of the days and how nice it was to finish a night shift and find myself greeted by daylight as I left my workplace.

This week I was back on the night shift again but as I climbed into my car I had to crank up the heater for the first time in many months. I always think that September going into October is a sad time of the year. The days get shorter, the weather is colder and it is time to start wearing my fleece to work.

Being back home after three weeks in France is frankly, something of a let-down. The washer is humming away cleaning our holiday gear. I’m thinking about where I can put all that unnecessary stuff I bought at the brocantes and vide greniers we visited. The prospect of returning to work is no longer looming on the horizon, the moment is actually here. There was a time, I remember sadly, when I actually loved my job and looked forward to going back to work. Alas, those days are gone.

My car, my trusty Renault Megane convertible is a veritable hive of CDs. The glove compartment is full of them as are the pockets in the driver and passenger doors. Down in the passenger footwell there is a box of CDs which is interchangeable with one in the boot. When I get fed up with the selection I swap them round and the box I am tired of goes in the boot and the other one comes into the front. When I am tired of both boxes, I take them back home and make up a new selection.

Today, going back into work I had a good search through them for something new to listen to. Radio adverts are just not on my agenda. TV adverts, OK I can live with them, you can pop into the kitchen and make a cup of tea, yes, OK but radio ads: Not on my watch as they say. Anyway, the CD I decided to listen to was an album of songs from the TV show Ally McBeal, mostly by Vonda Shepard but with a sprinkling of guest singers. Ally McBeal was a comedy drama that aired back in the nineties and it’s surprising that it hasn’t turned up on some random Freeview TV channel yet. Ally McBeal played by Calista Flockhart was a Boston Lawyer and the show focussed on the antics of Ally and her colleagues not only in the courtroom but also in the local bar, which is where the music comes in. There were a heck of a lot of songs sung in that bar.

Music played a major part in the show and Vonda Shepard covered some classic pop tunes all slotted in carefully with lyrics that corresponded to the storyline of the show. One of my absolute favourites was Vonda’s cover of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s ‘Alone Again (Naturally)’ a hit single for O’Sullivan from 1972.

Gilbert O’Sullivan featured regularly in the music charts until the 1980’s when he began a legal battle with his music publisher Dick James regarding royalties and the ensuing legal contest stopped him from releasing his music.

In Ally McBeal, John Cage and Richard Fish were the co-owners of the law firm where Ally works. Cage was an oddball attorney nicknamed ‘the biscuit’. I loved his odd ways, his ‘taking a moment’, his antics in the communal toilet area and his invocation of the spirit of Barry White when he needed a confidence boost. Richard Fish was another oddball lawyer and also part of the firm was Billy, Ally’s former boyfriend and his new wife Georgia. Legal cases were up there in the foreground, actually the background and in the background, actually the foreground, if you see what I mean, were the loves and lives of the cast.

One thing that was important on returning home from holiday was checking the hard drive on my TV recorder and finding out just what was lurking there. What had recorded and what had failed.

There was of course three weeks of our favourite soap, Coronation Street lying in wait so we decided to have a duvet day, actually two duvet days of non-stop soap action. In some ways Corrie is best watched just like that. Fast forward through the adverts and no waiting between Friday night’s cliff hanger episode and the Monday night follow-up.

Some things seem to sort of leap out when you watch a soap in that fashion. One storyline involved Sean Tully, one of the Street’s gay characters. Sean packed his job in at the local factory in favour of a new job and new flat in the city centre. It turned out though that his job had fallen through, then he returned to live with friends who had to give him notice due to some new arrangements. Then it was revealed Sean had lost his job and now was actually homeless. Sean endured a few weeks of living rough in a tent and trying to conceal the shame of his new position from friends but suddenly, the way it is in soaps, his old friend Billy offered him a room at his house, he got his old job back and hey presto, all is well again.

It was nice that the soap tried to show a little of what life is like for the homeless but couldn’t they have carried the storyline on a little longer, like things are in, you know, real life?

Then again there was the storyline when poor old Rita started losing her memory and was diagnosed with dementia. Luckily there was that quick lifesaving operation and Rita’s brain power and memory were restored just like it never happens in real life. And there was the one about young Simon who had become violent towards his mother. Luckily, he quickly grew out of that phase. Oh well, that’s soaps for you.

Also there on my hard drive were two formula one Grands Prix. The Belgian Grand Prix from the impressive and historic Spa Francorchamps and the Italian race from the equally historic Monza. There was a time too when I would have hungered to watch those races. As it is, Formula One still has its moments and I do still love the sport but not like the days when I bought a shed load of racing magazines every week and hungered for every snippet of racing information I could find.

While in France I subscribed to Radio Five Live’s F1 podcasts. Now the podcasts are not quite what I had thought they were going to be. I thought they might be an audio version of the race highlights with the commentators breathlessly describing the race track action in the way Murray Walker used to do in the old days. (Murray, for those of you who have never heard of him, was a BBC commentator who was once described as a man who talks like his trousers are on fire -in his quieter moments!)

No, the podcasts were not like that. They start off, unlike the TV highlights show on Channel 4, by telling you the results, and just how they came about. Then there are 30 to 50 minutes of driver interviews and endless discussion about what happened, why it happened and why didn’t something that didn’t happen, not happen. Yes, interesting but maybe the production team assumed we listeners had watched the race on TV. Actually we hadn’t, or at least I hadn’t, which is why I was listening to the podcast in the first place.

There were some exciting elements to those races, Hamilton and Vettel colliding at the first corner at Monza and Hamilton hunting down Raikkonen’s Ferrari and just pipping him for the win. Still, watching those races a few weeks after they had happened just wasn’t my cup of tea.

Anyway, soon it was time to go back to work but before that we sat down one evening after our tea looking for something to watch. Nothing was on TV (naturally) so once again I scanned through the hard drive and came across a film I had recorded about Eddie the Eagle.

In 1988, Eddie became the first skier to represent Britain in Olympic Ski jumping since 1928. The film describes Eddie’s life as an Olympic obsessed youngster and his progression to ski jumper. He self-trains in Germany where the seasoned skiers belittle him. However by grit and determination, Eddie qualifies for the Olympics in Calgary despite resistance by the Olympic team for his amateur and uncouth appearance. Eddie turns the tables on everyone by his determination and humour and in fact becomes the star of the Olympics, feted by the world’s press.

The film is an enjoyable and affectionate portrait. I’m not sure just how accurate or true it is but I enjoyed every minute of it and if I had been there at the Olympics, I would have been cheering for Eddie myself.

Well, that first night shift was hard. Not actually hard in itself just hard to endure, sitting there wishing I was back in my rented villa tapping away on my laptop trying to finish a new blog post so that I could hurry out for a dip in the pool, after decanting some vin rouge to breathe, of course.

When I finished at 6 am it was still dark and rather cold. As I pulled away from the car park I turned up the heat and switched on the CD player. Vonda Shepard was singing another of my favourite songs, a cover of the Dusty Springfield’s hit, I Only Want to be With You . .


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

 

Cameras, Vlogging and that Personal Image

Travelling to the Loire Valley region of France this summer I brought four cameras with me. My trusty Nikon D100 SLR was left behind in favour of my Action cam, my GoPro Hero+, my Canon G7X and my always reliable Panasonic HM pocket camcorder. The Canon comes highly recommended as the top vlogging camera of its kind. If you want to look good on YouTube, this is the camera to have, and when I bought it after many moons of trying on eBay I was looking forward to branching out from merely writing about stuff to actually talking and showing you stuff too. My action cam I’ve had for a while but it’s really just a cheap copy of a GoPro camera and the thing is when you have a cheap copy, you tend to want the original. The only thing is, working with GoPro cameras isn’t that easy.

The first thing I noticed about my GoPro Hero+ is that there is no viewing screen so it’s not so easy to set up a shot. However, you can link the camera to your mobile and get a visual confirmation of your shot. Okay, skim back to the manual and I see I have to enable wi-fi. Nothing happened so back to the instructions and then I see I need the wi-fi app. Okay, download that and am I getting anywhere? No. Have I set up a password? No, okay, I sort the password out and finally, we are getting somewhere, can I shoot some video? Yes! Have I brought my mini memory card adapter to transfer video to my laptop? Er, actually, no. Can I do it by wi-fi? Yes, to my phone but I don’t want the stuff there I want it on my laptop. So, I have to download the GoPro pc application. Does it finally work? Yes. Am I bothered? No, cos I’m hot and stressed and I’m off to the pool!

Since then I’ve had a radical rethink and perhaps the age-old written word is more my style after all.

Why the change of heart you may ask. Well, there is not only the hassle of dealing with modern technology as I’ve mentioned above, there is also this. I am getting on a little, in fact not so very long ago I hit the big six O which was quite a turning point for me. The big four O didn’t make much of an impression. The big five O, well there was something, some feeling of me getting on a little but nothing too bad but then along came the six O and there was a feeling of, six O, really? Am I actually that old? The thing is, aging only really happens on the outside. On the inside a guy is pretty much the same guy he has always been. Inside, I don’t think I’ve really changed since I was, well, eighteen, nineteen or maybe twenty. My thinking has always been the same, I’ve matured a little, become a little more sensible (a little) but generally speaking I’m just the same, so how has this sixty thing just crept up on me?

The answer is I don’t really know. I’ve just been chugging along, getting on with my life and suddenly I’m sixty. I have to say I’m not too happy about it and perhaps I should look into making a complaint. The council comes to mind or the government. Perhaps they should have sent me a letter or something. Perhaps they should have picked up the phone and said hello, Steve, do you know what year it is? Maybe it’s time to take it easy, chill out a little or something of that nature.

Come to think of it, I did get a letter -from the civil service offering me semi-retirement- which is why I now only work three days a week. To think, they knew I was getting older but I never twigged!

Anyway, getting back to my cameras, I started off by shooting some background stuff here at our rented gite in the Loire; you know our villa, the pool and so on. While I was messing about and getting used to my New GoPro camera I shot some stuff of me checking out the villa, the pool and the grounds. Then I tried some shots of me typing away on my laptop, knocking out my latest post. I figured I could put a good narration together from some of my old ‘Sun Lounger Thoughts’ blogs or perhaps talk about being a blogger or a self-published author at work, that sort of thing.

One evening after the usual day of swimming, sunbathing, reading and drinking wine, you know, the average sort of holiday day, I thought I might as well review some of that stuff, that video that I’ve been shooting. The big shock was really, who is that old guy in the video who resembles my old Dad? Do we have a serious problem with lenses or filters or can that old overweight guy really be me?

Taking a serious look at myself even my hands look big. Did I say my hands? Just taking another look at those hands and I realised they were my old Dad’s hands, only bigger and chubbier than his ever were. No wonder I’m always pressing the wrong key on my mobile phone with those big chubby mitts!

We find only one tool, neither created nor invented, but perfect: the hand of man.” ― Julio Ramón Ribeyro

The other day in a cafe in the village of Parçay Le Pins, Liz took this picture of me sitting at our table having just eaten fish and chips and supping a pint of lager.

The picture isn’t a bad one. Ok I’m not as young as I used to be but I look reasonably well, I suppose, although I’m clearly not the cool dude in that graphic at the top of the page!

The thing is in a still picture you can put on your winning smile, (not exactly winning in this picture but you know what I mean) turn your best side to the camera, hold in your tummy and all will be ok but with video, things can be a little more revealing.

So, I think I might just put my vlogging plans on hold for a while, just a little while, well perhaps indefinitely. My next video will probably feature me but probably on the narration rather than the visuals . .

 


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Holiday Book Bag Video Version

Eagle-eyed readers will have surely spotted the lack of the usual video version to my summer book bag 2018. Alas, I filmed three versions, all of which suffered from hesitation, repetition and deviation, so much so that not only would I not have lasted long on the radio show ‘Just a Minute’ but any addition to YouTube would be sorely lacking, particularly in the area of presentation.

However, due to the miracle of technology, particularly in the field of editing, a fairly reasonable video version has been made available for my long-suffering YouTube audience and I feel it only fair that they should not suffer alone and that my WordPress followers should also be invited to watch.

If any viewer is unduly affected by this video, a free counselling service is available. Please contact your local healthcare provider immediately should any adverse symptoms occur.

Summer Holiday Reflections


I know I’ve waxed lyrical about lying on a sun lounger but another favourite pastime of mine on my French holidays is just sitting outside of an evening and watching the sun go down, a glass of wine not too far away of course. As the sun dips down over the horizon it’s time for the local bats to make an appearance and whip across the patio whizzing from the trees to I don’t know where but making a fleeting but strong impression on my mind.

The pool is all covered up and the barbecue cools quietly in the corner as I take a sip of my red wine. All is well in the world. Well, it was, a few days ago when I wrote that, now it’s just another holiday memory.

The last few days of a holiday are always the worst, a countdown to packing up and getting ready to leave, checking what time the ferry sails and considering which route to take to the port, what time to leave and so on.

After a pleasant trip to Caen we boarded our ferry, had some food and settled down in our cabin for a nap before the long drive up north in England.

Driving.

Leaving Portsmouth we headed to Southampton and then north on the A34 dual carriageway. Leaving the port was a little like a grand prix start as various vehicles of all shapes and sizes passed through the passport checks and then sprinted away to the motorway. A large contingent of that traffic made their way up the A34 and up ahead of me as well as behind were a great number of cars. The A34 is an unlit dual carriageway and we all motored along at a good pace, 65 to 70 mph. After a while the traffic thinned out and up ahead of me were two pilots or pathfinders, lighting up the dark road ahead. Gradually, one pilot turned off leaving just one car ahead, then he turned off too and it was just me, leading the pack. Now being in front on a dark unfamiliar road at night is not so easy. There was plenty of traffic on the other side so use of my full beam headlights was limited and gradually my pace slowed a little.

Once someone behind decided to take a look at taking the lead but once off my tail in the outside lane he slowed right down and I overtook him back and once again I took on the pathfinder role. Later a guy doing well in excess of 80 came hurtling past, lit up the road for me but then disappeared over the horizon but after a while another vehicle came to the front, overtook and upped the pace a little and we carried on as before, my pathfinder lighting up the road for me.

Personally, I think that unlit motorways and A roads in the UK are an unnecessary hazard and I honestly think that perhaps Highways England would be better spending their money on street lighting rather than so-called Smart Motorways. However, the journey home was a good one, the rain held off and road closures were few. We motored up north serenely taking in the M40, the M42, the M6, the M55 and finally home. There were a number of mandatory 50 mph sections on the M6 due to roadworks but in a way they were helpful, almost like the safety car in a Grand Prix when, on a long journey, the driver can relax, check engine temperatures and oil pressure and so on before resuming 70 mph again.

Telephone Boxes.

Back in 1977, the year in which Floating in Space is set, there was a long row of telephone boxes just by Piccadilly gardens in Manchester. Telephone boxes were once everywhere but today, when the mobile phone is the main instrument of communication, telephone boxes are few and far between.

In a small village in France, we came across this once lonely and unused telephone box, now transformed into a small library. Take away a new book to read but remember to leave your old ones behind for other phone callers  -sorry, readers- to use.

Writing.

One of my objectives on this holiday was of course to produce more writing and push one or more of my numerous writing projects towards completion. As you may have guessed if you have ever read any of my other post-holiday posts, that goal was not met although I did manage to knock out my usual Saturday posts whilst I was away and stack up a few draft posts into the bargain. My one deadline, that of a Saturday morning at 10:00 AM UK time is really what motivates me and keeps me going. Pity I don’t have a similar deadline for my books!

I am always wary of blogs that give tips for writing or blogging. They ask you to subscribe and then hit you with a full blogging/writing course with a bargain price tag thrown in towards the end of their patter. One great writing blog that I do enjoy is one by Kristen Lamb and one post that pinged into my inbox the other day was this one:

https://authorkristenlamb.com/2018/09/stuck/

One of the tips for writing when you get stuck was this, instead of writing so much then flipping back and forth changing and editing, try writing a fast draft. Yes, head down, laptop open and just steam ahead. No stopping to check or to edit or to rearrange. Full speed ahead, nail that draft and then look back, rearrange things and edit. Great idea, I just need to get into full steam ahead mode first. Of course one thing is worth remembering:

No unfinished-but-perfect book has ever hit the New York Times best-seller list, but a lot of crappy finished ones have.

Last year I remember reading about Noel Coward, either in his autobiography or some other biography. Coward spent a lot of his time in the winter months at his house ‘Firefly’ in Jamaica. There, Coward would go to his study at 8 AM and write through the morning until 12 when he would join his friends for a swim and then lunch. Ian Fleming had a house nearby, ‘Goldeneye’ where he wrote many of the James Bond books.

Perhaps that’s the answer to my writing issues! I need to spend the winter in Jamaica!


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information!

Holiday Book Bag Summer 2018

Well in advance of this year’s summer holiday I took an intensive inventory of my books, separated those I had not yet read as well as separating the hardbacks from the softcovers and sorted out my holiday book bag for this summer. I particularly favoured hardbacks because during the year I don’t tend to read those, after all, it’s so much easier to pop a paperback book in your pocket to read at work rather than lug a heavy hardback book about. On reflection that was really rather forward thinking of me. Where the heck I put those books though I do not know, so instead I grabbed a few nearby paperbacks at the last minute and that is what I took to France to read. All were sourced from second hand book shops or charity shops.

What did you take to read on holiday this year?

The Kenneth Williams Diaries edited by Russell Davies.

I’ve always rather liked Kenneth Williams, the slightly over the top star of many a Carry On film as well as numerous radio comedy shows. However, it did feel rather odd reading his private thoughts through his diary. This is not an autobiography where the author tells us the story of his life and keeps things in some sort of order, it’s a diary, a record of the author’s day to day thoughts and sometimes it’s hard to keep track of what is happening. In a lot of the diary entries Kenneth refers to people by their initials rather than their name. The habit of using initials can be rather annoying as the editor will mention in one of the many footnotes that SB for instance refers to his friend and fellow performer Stanley Baxter. Later on SB will turn up again and I find myself flipping back through the footnotes because I have forgotton who SB was.

In the diaries, Williams talks about his private life mostly in a sort of code. He does talk about his many trips to Morocco where he went in search of young men, something he was willing to indulge in in the secret world of gay men abroad.  A lot of this activity gave him little pleasure and it seems to me he was unhappy with his sexuality and perhaps he envied his friend the playwright Joe Orton, who accepted himself in a way Williams never could.

The diaries are actually pretty famous because they reveal Kenneth Williams as being so very different to the persona he revealed to the world. All of Williams’ moods are revealed in the book, his anger, his sadness and his disapointments as well as his happier times. It’s interesting to read about world events in the entries, for instance the Moon landing in 1969 causes Williams to moan about the TV being all about the moon! I was 13 at the time, very interested in the Apollo programme and couldn’t get enough of moon landing TV.

The three day week is mentioned in 1973 along with various entries about power cuts and industrial action, a time I remember well, sitting in my Mum’s kitchen lit by a candle and my dad trying in vain to read the newspaper.

I did expect to read a lot about Barbara Windsor, his great friend from the Carry On films but there is little about her although actress Maggie Smith is talked about constantly, his admiration for her very evident.

I did wonder whether Kenneth Williams wrote the diaries expecting them to be published when he died but that same issue he dealt with in a 1972 entry where he claims that the writing of a diary is only something to jog the memory. He goes on to say; ‘One puts down what one wants, not what others want. That is what is so delightful about a diary, it is what the self wants to say.’

The strange thing is that the diary reminds me a lot of my diary which I write in these days only infrequently. I started it as something just to get me writing and I still write in it on those occasions when ideas for a story or a blog fail to materialise. A diary can just be a record of your daily life but it also is a confidante, something you can turn to when something has annoyed or upset you or just when your thoughts are so overwhelming you have to get them out onto paper or your computer screen. I ended up feeling an affinity for Williams, a similarity whereas before reading this book I thought we had nothing in common at all.

Kenneth Williams seemed to have many sad moments where he wished he had a confidante, perhaps that is another reason he wrote in his diary. Many entries detail his dissatisfaction with his life and his sadness. ‘What’s the point?’ is how he ends many entries, including his very last one on the 14th April, 1988.

I did not know about Williams’ theatre career, or even that he had one and it was interesting to read about what an actor and performer’s life is like; it seems to be mostly waiting for things to turn up, waiting for one’s agent to ring or for calls from film or TV producers. When the phone does not ring it can be a worrying time, as it seemed to be for Kenneth Williams, thinking about his tax bill or other bills that need paying.

A fascinating read and not quite what I expected.

Blessing in Disguise by Alec Guinness.

This is an autobiography by the actor Alec Guinness, well, I bought it thinking it was that but actually it is a collection of random thoughts and episodes in the actor’s life that don’t always go together. The beginning of the book is about Guinness’ younger days but then he leaps forward through his life describing other times and incidents and it all leaves the reader wondering what happened after that or what did he do before this? It is all very well written but there are endless dull chapters focussing very acutely on some unheard of person in the theatre and then some very few lines about people I actually wanted to hear about. He mentions having dinner with Sophia Loren who then disappears from the page. Richard Burton and other film notables are mentioned all too briefly. Guinness’ wife also makes various oblique entries into the book but who she really is, how Alec met her and how they married is never revealed. Star Wars is mentioned towards the end of the book but if you are interested in any filming anecdotes or behind the scenes stories, well, none are to be found here.

Well written but ultimately disapointing.

Port Mortuary by Patricia Cornwell.

Port Mortuary features Patricia Cornwell’s forensic heroine Kay Scarpetta who first appeared in the book Postmortem published in 1990. I remember reading a newspaper article about Cornwell and her books in the mid 1990’s, they seemed pretty interesting so I bought the first one, Postmortem and began to read. Kay Scarpetta is the Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia and uses modern forensic sciences and technologies to solve murders. Working with her is police homicide detective Pete Marino and together they embark on solving a series of murders. The series of books are well written if a little gruesome and are said to have influenced a host of similar books and TV series such as CSI where forensic technolgy and science are used to solve crimes. Scarpetta has an Italian background and in the earlier books cooks a lot of Italian dishes. (There is even a companion cook book; ‘Secrets from Scarpetta’s Kitchen’.)

Later on in the series, things get a little weird. Benton Wesley, an FBI profiler is murdered but reappears in a later book alive, having been in a FBI witness protection programme. Scarpetta’s niece becomes a computer expert at the FBI, leaves to start her own internet company, becomes a multi millionaire, buys a helicopter and morphs into a sort of James Bond sci-fi hi-tech lesbian character. That was when I stopped reading the books.

Anyway, fast forward to the present day and I find Port Mortuary at a charity shop and think OK, let’s see whats happening to Scarpetta these days. Sometime after I stopped reading the books, Cornwell decided to write in the third person rather the first and Port Mortuary is the book where she decides to revert back to the first person way of story telling. A lot has changed since I last read the books. Pete Marino no longer works for the police and joins Scarpetta at the National Forensic Academy, an institution founded by her millionaire niece, Lucy. Scarpetta is also a Colonel in some kind of military forensic set up and while she is on duty, Pete and Lucy fly in to tell her about a murder that has occurred that threatens the whole National Forensic Academy. They fly back in Lucy’s helicopter and the narrative goes through all the pre flight checks and helicopter terminology which was interesting but not neccessarily important. Then again, every other page seems to mention technology and brand names like Scarpetta’s iPad and iPhone. It’s almost as if Apple were on a sort of product placement mission.

I clicked onto goodreads to check out what sort of reviews were being left there and many people were saying things like ‘not as good as the older books’ and some complained about all the superfluous detail that wasn’t required. Personally, I like all that extra detail. Maybe Cornwell went a little overboard with her gadgetry and helicopter stuff but isn’t that the mark of a good writer? That little extra descriptive detail that adds to the background and the imagery?

Anyway, the book is a hi-tech murder mystery, well written and enjoyable although I got a little lost with the plot towards the end. Also there were perhaps a little bit too much of Kay Scarpetta’s internal monologues. A great sun lounger read but I still feel the first ten or eleven books in the series are better than the later ones.

(Chaos is the latest book in the series, published in 2016)

A Kentish Lad by Frank Muir.

One thing I really love about second hand books are inscriptions. On my copy of Frank Muir’s book this is written on the title page: ‘To Derek, lots of love, Ruth. Christmas, 1998.’  Who was Derek I wonder, who was Ruth? Why was Derek’s Christmas gift loitering on the shelves of a St Annes charity shop? I’ll never know but to me it makes the book all that more interesting.

A while back I wrote a post about the Essential Englishman which was a few remarks about film actors who have portrayed a certain type of Englishman, debonair, urbane and eloquent and the actors I chose were David Niven, Robert Donat, Rex Harrison and so on. Had I extended my terms of reference to include TV personalities I would have had to have included Frank Muir, the eloquent bow-tied and nattily turned out star of TV shows like Call my Bluff.

This enjoyable and amusing autobiography charts Frank’s days as a schoolboy in Broadstairs in the south of England to his life as a TV executive and TV personality in the 1970s and eighties. It is written in an amusing and self deprecating way, always seeing the funny side of life and a very jolly read it is too. I particularly enjoyed the first part of the book when Muir talked about his war years at the parachute training school at Ringway, now Manchester Airport and then his first forays into the world of show business and his script writing partnership with Denis Norden. A highlight was his first trip to France in the late 1940s revealing a different sort of trip to the one I have currently undertaken in 2018. Later, Muir paints a fascinating portrait of the radio days of the 1950s when the UK was tuned to the radio for their favourite musical and comedy shows.

The book’s latter half is perhaps not quite as enjoyable as the first but on the whole a pleasant, interesting and enjoyable read.

Enemy Coast Ahead by Guy Gibson.

Guy Gibson? Sound familiar? Well if you have ever seen the classic movie the Dambusters you will know that Wing Commander Guy Gibson was the leader of the force that attacked the dams of the Third Reich during the Second World War and scored a decisive victory for the Allies, destroying the manufacturing capability of the Ruhr Valley for a considerable time. This book is Gibson’s own account of his time in Bomber Command and his is a fascinating story. To start with he talks about the so called phoney war and how people thought it might be over very quickly and how the RAF was hopelessly unprepared for war. He tells of air raids in 1939 where crews became lost, when crews were told strictly not to drop bombs on civilian homes and so bombs were returned back to base in dangerous conditions, unreleased on enemy targets. As time went on, the crews became more familiar with what they had to do, they got used to navigating and night time flying and Gibson here shows a different world to that portrayed in films like the Dambusters.

The aircrews were all young men who worked hard at what they did and worked hard also at drinking, partying and chasing girls, pretty much like young men today, although for these men, they partied like there was no tomorrow because in some cases, there wasn’t.

In the foreward to the book, Gibson dedicates this volume to all those aircrews lost in action in the various squadrons he was attached to and the list makes grim reading, almost all the names he lists are noted as missing in action, presumed killed. The odd one here and there is noted as POW, prisoner of war.

A fascinating book, written by a brave man telling a story you may have heard before from a completely different angle. A classic book of Second World War literature.


One last book, Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Thoughts from a Sun Lounger Part 8

I don’t think there is any nicer feeling than to take a dip in a swimming pool and then after a few lengths, return to your sun lounger and lie there peacefully while the hot sun dries your body. You can feel little rivulets of water dripping away and in time the sun will gradually dry you. It’s almost like a sort of rebirth or at least a refreshing of the soul.

The only sounds in this remote French hamlet where we are staying are the gentle breeze swaying through the branches of a nearby tree, some bird song and the occasional drone of a far away car or tractor. I love the silence of the French countryside and silence is one of those commodities that is sadly missing in 21st century UK. It is something that is hard to find, yet here in the country, silence is as free as the fresh air.

Lying on my sun bed under the hot sun and a clear blue sky is just a wonderful feeling and after a short while those sun lounger thoughts begin to flow.

Work.

Now work is not something I usually think about when I’m on holiday, in fact nothing could be further from my thoughts. However, I mentioned a while back how I had lost my status as a Deputy Manager and that demotion, especially after some pretty good work that I had delivered was very upsetting. The application form in which I had to apply (sorry, re apply) used some common competencies derived from the civil service, things like ‘communicating and influencing’ and ‘delivering at pace’ and although my application was a failure, I decided to use my competency answers in another application, this time for a position in the civil service at the DWP. (Department for Work and Pensions.) Lo and behold this time I was deemed worthy of an interview which was surprising considering how those exact answers spelt failure at my actual place of work.

The interview was set for a time during my holidays so I e-mailed the DWP telling them of my holiday predicament and they agreed to interview me the day before I left for France. Okay, fine so far. A big problem though was a sudden attack of constipation, (readers of a sensitive disposition may wish to skip this paragraph!) something that has only happened to me once before but now, only two days before my interview I was desperate for a bowel movement but nothing was happening. So, I finished my night shift, went home for a sleep and then managed to wake up in time to get ready. No bowel movement had presented itself and I was feeling desperate, horrible scenarios kept coming to mind where in the middle of my interview I would have to say, ‘excuse me, I’ve got to go’ and then rush out!

Suddenly, at the eleventh hour, my bodily plumbing got itself into gear and my bowels were happily evacuated, leaving me free to turn up at the appointed time for my interview free of any personal worries. All the new people I met were lovely and friendly and my two interviewers put me at ease with some friendly chat and then I answered all their questions pretty well. On one occasion I felt myself stumbling but my interviewers gave me a little prompt in the right direction and all seemed to go pretty well. Whether I will get a job offer remains to be seen but I left the UK feeling upbeat and happy.

Tea.

Tea of course comes mainly from Asia however it just so happens that tea is absolutely fundamental to England and the English. What we would do without a tea break or afternoon tea I really do not know. When tea supplies dry up it could spell the end of the British Empire -what’s left of it of course. As usual Liz and I have come to France with a substantial supply of tea bags because life without tea for any sensible Englishman is unacceptable. The thing is tea doesn’t taste quite the same here as it does in the UK. Ah, you are thinking, it’s probably the milk. No, because we brought English milk with us, frozen in small bottles. Perhaps then it’s the water. The water certainly tastes alright when you drink it from the tap or chilled straight from the fridge, then again some things just do not travel, perhaps tea is one of them. Cheese is probably another because come September, Liz and I will take the remnants of our french cheeses back to the UK and on some cold and chilly September evening we will lay out a cheeseboard and wonder why it doesn’t taste as good as it did on a warm french evening.

Bread.

Here in France I do try to eat healthily, much more than I do in the UK. I’ve have had no cakes or biscuits or chocolate but I do like my bread. Here in France bread is vital to any french meal. Shops may close on Sundays and bank holidays but one place which will always be open, come what may, is the boulangerie. I remember once a few years back discussing food with one of my work colleagues. The lady in question was a rather large lady who had discovered dieting with what I can only describe as a religious fervour and when I mentioned that I always ate heathily at work she looked at my sandwich and said ‘healthy, eating bread!’

She eyed my sandwich as if I had been eating a great big fry up with a pizza on the side. Bread is natural and healthy, isn’t it? At least I always thought so but it turned out that her diet forbade the eating of bread because it was full of calories, whatever they are. Personally I think that bread, proper fresh bread is one of the great food experiences you can have. Bread with cheese, bread with your meal so you can mop up any juices or sauces from your food, bread as a snack or part of a starter. Toast for breakfast. Yes, I’m sorry, I stand with the French, bread is indispensable.

Fish and Chips.

Ok, you might be surprised to see this here, especially as we are currently in France but the other night we fancied a night out and we noticed that down in the nearby village of Parçay Les Pins there was a special fish and chips night at the local restaurant. Well, what could this be, we thought. Clearly it was going to be nothing like proper fish and chips but some French approximation of the dish. Anyway, what the heck we thought, it’s only a ten minute drive so we’ll give it a go.

Off we drive and we pull up at the restaurant, well it looked more of a cafe but there were a few token French couples (so we thought) about so we went in, I had my French already prepared, bonsoir and une table pour deux and so on and the hostess greeted me, not in French but in an unexpected southern English accent. Not only was she English but so were the bar staff and also all the customers. It appeared that her fish and chip night drew in all the local English for miles around. Anyway, the beer was nice and cool, just right for a hot summer’s evening. The fish was ok, not up to the Fylde coast standard but ok although the chips were a little crisp and I do prefer slightly softer chips. A number of authentic Frenchmen passed by wondering what are this lot doing out at this time of night (it was well past 7 PM) and a good time was had by all.

Think we might try for some more authentic French food next time. . .

Facebook.

I’m not a great Facebooker. I have a page there and it’s nice to post now and then and see what reactions my friends have when once again I ‘check in’ to one of the many restaurants in Lytham St Annes. It’s also nice to take a look and see what is happening back home, well sometimes anyway.

The other day I clicked onto Facebook and sadly the first item I saw was a video showing some youths attacking a middle aged chap who had asked them to watch out for his car when they were larking about somewhere. It was sad, very sad to see that sort of mentality, especially when here in the Loire we encountered something very different. In a quiet lane in a lay by, we found a table laden with fruit and vegetables for sale. No one was around just a note asking any potential buyers to take what they wanted and leave the money, the payment, in a tin left on the table. Simple trusting faith in one’s fellow man that put the youths in that dreadful video to shame. Still, one day, I am sure they will meet their comeuppance.

The Chinese Guys.

Once, many years ago when I was a bus conductor working the night shift on Manchester’s buses, a wonderful example of comeuppance  or karma, presented itself to me. We used to pick up these three regular Chinese guys who took the night bus from Altrincham into Manchester City centre. They got on about eleven or midnight and returned from Manchester about three or four in the morning. None of them spoke English but the spokesman would show me three fingers and would say something that approximated three, and would present the exact fare for three to Manchester. I took the money and gave them their tickets and they carried on into town. The first time I came across these guys I mentioned them to the driver and he explained they were three regulars who went into town every week to gamble in the casino.

One night I picked them up as usual and they paid for three fares and exited the bus in Manchester. Later, earlier than normal, maybe about two am, one of the three boarded for the return journey. When I approached he said one and produced the exact fare for one. I asked ‘what has happened to your mates?’ but was met with an unintelligible stream of Chinese. Clearly it hadn’t been a successful night in the casino for this fellow.

Three other guys boarded in Manchester, all the worse for wear with drink but they paid their money and all was ok. As we trundled back towards Altrincham, I noticed that these guys were annoying the Chinaman, throwing bits of paper at him and calling him names. My way of dealing with trouble on the bus was always to use a bit of humour and try to get the drunken idiots on my side. So, I sidled over to the young guys and said, ‘do me a favour, don’t upset Kwai Chang Caine!’ They all laughed, we had a little bit of banter together and I thought, job done, situation defused! Later, they decided to have some more fun and started again on the Chinese guy again so he decided to move to the upper deck. The young guys followed him upstairs and my driver, looking into the periscope where he could see upstairs said to me, ‘something’s going on up there, you’d better take a look.’

I went upstairs and the three youngsters were taunting the Chinese guy and I could see the time for humour had gone, these fellows had to be sorted. Things were getting rowdy and I called for my driver to stop. Look fellas, I said, this is out of order, leave this guy alone. Things had escalated and it looked like a fight was about to start. I remember the youths charging towards me but the Chinese guy calmly pushed me aside and proceeded to wipe the floor with the youths using some expert kung fu or jujitsu or whatever. The three of them charged downstairs shouting for the driver to let them out, which he did without any persuasion and we continued without further incident.

When we reached Altrincham bus station, the Chinese guy shook hands with me, said something profound in Chinese and was gone.

After that, every time I saw those Chinese guys they came aboard, asked for three, held up three fingers but always gave me money for four. I always tried to give them the money back but they wouldn’t have it. It was their way of giving me a tip I suppose.

Anyway, it is my profound wish that one day, the violent and nasty youths from that video will get on board the bus to Manchester and pick a fight with those Chinese guys. I just hope I am there to video it!


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977 and is available from Amazon. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.