Dear Diary

Reading a published diary is not like reading a normal book, A diary isn’t an autobiography, it’s something slightly different, the thoughts of the writer at the time and not his or her later retrospective thoughts.

I am a diarist, though very much an irregular one. Many of my diaries have gaping pages of emptiness in them and catch up pages where I quickly skim through things that have happened to me. Other pages are just lists of my shift times and I have to say there is not much of any great literary value in any of my diaries, although they are interesting to look back on, well at least to me. My oldest diary dates back to 1971 and a great deal of it concerns the television programmes I had watched. No wonder my old Dad used to call me ‘square eyes’!

Just taking in a random page from 1971 I see the Belgian Grand Prix was cancelled that year. I think there were safety concerns regarding the very fast Spa Fancorchamps circuit. I was a big fan of the Saint with Roger Moore and Strange Report was a TV show from the time with Anthony Quayle. I see that the Le Mans 24 hour race that year was won by Helmet Marko who these days is one of the big bosses at the Red Bull formula one team.

Exciting stuff from 1971!

I recently read the diary of Kenneth Williams which was interesting but in some ways difficult to keep track of. I did think at the time it was the only diary I have read but now I think of it I have also read Albert Speer’s Spandau: The Secret Diaries, a series of thoughts and essays he had smuggled out of Spandau prison where he served his 20 year sentence. Also, in a Southport charity shop, always a great place for second-hand books, I picked up Monty Python member Michael Palin’s diaries. Anyway, firstly I’ll start with Kenneth Williams’ diary. I reviewed the book for this year’s Holiday Book bag post and it went something like this:

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 many 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 forgotten 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 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 disappointments 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.

Spandau: The Secret Diaries by Albert Speer.

Albert Speer was Hitler’s armaments minister and favoured architect and this book is made up of diary entries he had secretly smuggled out of Spandau prison where he was incarcerated for 20 years after the Second World War. Speer admits he was one of those people seduced by the power of Hitler’s personality. Looking back at Hitler today in grainy old black and white films it is hard to understand how this strange and dour man who ranted and raved while speech making could seduce anyone. However, many have testified to the startling power of his personality. I remember watching that interesting BBC documentary ‘The Nazis: A warning from History’. In one segment various people were interviewed who declared their youthful love for Hitler; a young girl who looked into his eyes and saw goodness. An old man who testified he had once seen the great side of Hitler. Sadly Hitler let them down and many more like them. Speer maintained that he knew nothing of concentration camps and the final solution but author Gitta Sereny claimed in her book Speer: His battle with Truth that Speer knew more than he let on.

Getting back to the Secret Diaries. Speer talks about his imprisonment, his relationships with his fellow prisoners and his walks. Speer paced round and round the prison garden and as he counted down the miles he walked, he traced his steps across other parts of the world and imagined walking from Berlin and on to Heidelberg and from there on to Siberia. It is quite a few years since I read this book but the time is right for a re-read I think.

Michael Palin: Diaries 1969-1979 The Python Years.

I get the idea from some of Michael Palin’s comments in the book that he plans to publish more of his diaries. I’ve not finished it yet but so far its been pretty interesting, especially being a fan of the TV show Monty Python. Anyway, Palin started his diaries soon after packing in smoking. Perhaps it was a way of helping get over his tobacco addiction, perhaps not. The diaries also begin just as Monty Python, the comedy TV show was starting and Palin mentions this in his introduction, his aim not to record the start of the ground breaking comedy but more to record things about his new family, his wife having recently given birth to their first child.

A number of similarities between myself and Palin struck me early on, firstly, he gives us a quote from one of his schoolboy diaries which is amazingly similar to the one from my 1971 diary shown above. Another was his interest in the moon landings of 1969. Kenneth Williams may have been annoyed about the continued TV coverage of Apollo 11 but Palin and myself were more than happy to see it all.  Palin stayed up till 5am to watch the TV pictures from the Sea of Tranquility and I remember vividly being got up for school by my mother and being both amazed and excited about the TV broadcast presented to me while I ate my cornflakes. School mornings were never the same again.

My Diaries.

My diaries are definitely not for publishing. Looking back at them I notice that whenever something interesting has happened to me I have never written about it at the time, it has always been some time later when I have set down my feelings about the incident, whatever it may have been.The diary may be a confessional for some people but for me, I started writing a diary as a way of making myself write when I couldn’t think of anything else to write about. In the early 2000’s I started writing a diary on my laptop only to lose all my recollections from 2005 to 2006 when the file somehow became corrupted and refused to open. I was quite excited when the latest version of Microsoft Word came out because it gives you the option to repair a damaged file. Alas, that option would not work on my diary file. Then of course there are my big boxes of pre-2000 diaries. What shall I do with this lot I wonder? Will they add something to social history or grace the rubbish tip when I’m gone?

The latter, probably. . .


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.

7 Classic Covers from Autosport

The formula one season has ended for another year and I wanted to write something a little different about motor racing rather than just a rehash of the 2018 season. I started looking through my F1 books and memorabilia for some inspiration and after a search in the loft I came across my stash of old racing magazines.

My stash consists of one box of old racing magazines, mainly Autosport although not so very long ago it was considerably more than that but after some major hoarding therapy, which basically involved flipping through each issue, deciding what was interesting and what wasn’t and chucking out the latter, I managed to reduce my collection down to just one box.

I love my old Autosport magazines and it’s always fascinating to read about racing and how it was at the time and not looking back from the perspective of the present day. A great column in Autosport back in the eighties and nineties was ‘5th column’, a regular series of essays about the sport written by columnist Nigel Roebuck.

Autosport covers from the late eighties were always one powerful image and a headline. Later on they decided to use multiple images and various levels of text which didn’t have the same impact. Anyway, let’s take a look at some Autosport covers.

This first one isn’t brilliant but the event, the Monaco Grand Prix of 1988 is quite a significant one in the relationship between the two top drivers of the day, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. Senna was in the lead and had a big margin over Gerhard Berger who was holding up Alain Prost in the other McLaren. Senna had started to take it easy and concentrate on getting to the end of the race at a slightly reduced pace, saving fuel and stress on the car. Then Prost slipped past Berger and Senna started to speed up. The pit crew radioed him to slow down and that it was too late for Prost catch him but Senna, desperate to beat his team-mate was taking no chances. He upped the pace, going ever faster until he hit the barrier coming into the harbour. Prost went on past and won the race. Senna, overwhelmed with disappointment would not even return to the pits, instead going straight back to his Monaco apartment.

1988 was the year in which Enzo Ferrari passed away. Ferrari started out as a driver for the Alfa Romeo team before starting his own Scuderia Ferrari team in 1929. Ferrari’s team had support from Alfa and in fact raced and prepared Alfa Romeos for various drivers including the famous Tazio Nuvolari. In 1933 Alfa Romeo withdrew their support and Ferrari began to produce his own cars.

The prancing horse was the symbol of an Italian first world war fighter ace, Francesco Baracca, who claimed 34 kills in action. He himself was shot down and killed in 1918 but in 1923 Baracca’s parents visited a motor race won by the young Enzo Ferrari. They were impressed by Ferrari and asked him to use the prancing horse on his cars, thinking it might bring him luck. Ferrari added a yellow background, the colours of his home city of Modena and the symbol has been on Ferrari cars ever since.

The McLaren duo of Senna and Prost won all the F1 races in 1988 but one. The one they didn’t win was that year’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Prost retired from the race and Senna was leading until a coming together with back marker Jean-Louis Schlesser who was deputising in the Williams for the poorly Nigel Mansell who was suffering from a bout of chicken pox. Senna tried to lap Schlesser at one of the chicanes, Schlesser locked his brakes and appeared to be heading towards the gravel trap, however, he managed to regain control, something that Senna wasn’t expecting and when he took the normal line through the chicane the two came into contact and Senna was forced out of the race with broken suspension.

The Tifosi, the Italian race fans, were overjoyed when Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto came home first and second for Ferrari. Did the spirit of the recently departed Commendatore influence things? Who knows?

The story of Prost and Senna is probably the story we all remember from the eighties but they didn’t always have things their own way. Nigel Mansell nearly won the championship in 1986 and his rivalry with team-mate Piquet enabled Prost to take the title that year. Honda were not happy and Frank Williams’ refusal to give team orders to his drivers led to Honda taking their engines away from Williams and over to McLaren. Williams did take the championship in 1987 for Nelson Piquet but he left for Lotus for the 1988 season. Mansell wasn’t happy either in 1988 as the Williams team, left in the lurch by Honda, were forced to use engines from privateer John Judd. That was probably a major factor in Nigel switching to Ferrari for the 1989 season. Mansell was the last ever driver to be personally signed by the Commendatore himself, Enzo Ferrari. The cover shown here is from 1989 when Mansell took his Ferrari to victory in Hungary.

Alain Prost was not happy working with Ayrton Senna. Their relationship broke down completely and Prost decided to jump ship from McLaren and join Nigel Mansell at Ferrari. The partnership of Prost and Mansell started off well with Mansell announcing that the only person he could learn from on the grid was Alain Prost. That relationship soon soured when Mansell felt that Prost was getting preferential treatment at Ferrari. His love affair with Ferrari over, Mansell rejoined the Williams team where he went on to win his only world championship in 1992.

Prost was fired from Ferrari towards the end of a winless season in 1992 after he publicly criticised the Ferrari team. He returned to F1 in 1993 but announced his retirement at the end of the season after Williams announced their signing of Ayrton Senna for 1994.

 

In this edition of Autosport from 1989, the magazine chose a picture of Senna looking suitably gloomy as he waited on the FIA, the ruling body of motorsport, to rule on his appeal against his disqualification at the Japanese Grand Prix. Prost had been leading when Senna tried to overtake from a long way back. The two came together and Prost climbed out of his car. Senna however, was pushed away by the marshals and rejoined the race to eventually win. He was disqualified from the race and had to win at the final Grand Prix of the year in Australia to take the championship. The Australian race of 1989 was held in torrential rain and cut short. Prost declined to drive saying the conditions were too dangerous. Senna crashed into the back of Martin Brundle and the championship went to Prost. A year later in 1990, Senna drove Prost off the road to win his second championship. When he won for the third time in 1991, he admitted purposely colliding with Prost but felt he was not at fault because officials had changed pole position to the dirty side of the track. Had they not done so, he reasoned, the crash would not have happened.

1994 was a remarkable season in many ways. The Williams car which had been dominant for so many seasons was not handling well and a great deal of research and development was necessary for the car to be refined into a race winning motor car. Senna arrived at Imola for the San Marino Grand Prix in poor spirits. So far he had not scored a single point in the championship and murmured ruefully to the TV cameras, ‘for us the championship starts here, fourteen races instead of sixteen.’ Ratzenberger was killed in practice and Rubens Barrichello was lucky to escape from a horrifying crash without serious injury, all of which contributed to Senna’s darkening mood.

On lap 6 of the race Senna lost control of his car at Tamburello, one of the most challenging corners on the track. He hit the concrete wall there and part of the front suspension was flipped back towards Senna’s head. The impact pierced his helmet and dealt Senna a mortal blow. He died soon afterwards.


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

 

Writing, Marketing and the Incredible Truth about Google.

Once upon a time when I first started this web page, my whole focus was to promote my book, Floating in Space. Floating is a kitchen sink drama, something on the lines of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, although not quite as good, but set in 1977. Those were the days; no Internet and no mobile phones. There were only a handful of TV channels. Jimmy Carter was the US President, Jim Callaghan was the UK Prime Minister and a pint of bitter was only 25 pence.

 I had taken a number of essays based vaguely on my early life, knitted them together, added something of a storyline and finally, after lots of re-writing and editing, realised a lifetime’s ambition of creating a book and becoming a writer. It’s exciting to produce something, some small piece of work which people actually read, although to be completely honest, pretty much everything I write is for me, for my own personal pleasure and even if nobody ever read anything I wrote, the actual writing itself still gives me a lot of pleasure. Having said that, every time I sell a paperback or a Kindle, every time someone adds a ‘like’ to one of my posts it does make me feel really good.

Back in the old days like 1977, when everything was, you know, black and white and digital publishing was unheard of, an author would have to submit his manuscript to a publisher and nine times out of ten would be flatly rejected. Publishers are experts on literature, or so I suppose but even the best of them have rejected books like the Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth, or the Harry Potter books for instance. Maybe they are not such geniuses as we thought.

Either way, even Frederick Forsyth would be taken aback a little I think, if he had to write a weekly blog, plan posts for Facebook and Twitter and make short videos for his YouTube page. Things just aren’t what they used to be!

Not long ago I picked up an e-mail from the people at Google and they offered me a substantial amount of credit to start using Google ads again. I have to admit, I’d not advertised on Google for a long time but creating an ad these days isn’t as easy as it sounds. One of the important aspects is to know your audience. Your audience? Well, I’m not sure I do know my audience. I’m guessing, and this is purely guesswork, that people like me would like the things I write so I suppose we’re looking at middle aged book readers, interested in a humorous take on life, which is what Floating really is.

For the past three years I have concentrated my social media promotions on Twitter. OK, I have a Facebook writer page and a Pinterest account and a Google+ account but it’s Twitter where I have really pushed myself. So much so that I am the proud possessor of over 6,000 followers. Sounds good doesn’t it? If every one of those 6,000 people were fans of my blog and each and every one bought a copy of Floating in Space I’d be quids in. The fact is, out of those 6,000, I’d say only a handful are genuine fans. The rest want to be friends with me for one reason -because I have 6,000 followers and every time someone Tweets one of my Tweets I am honour bound by the unwritten Twitter users code to Tweet them back, Tweet them to my 6,000+ followers.

Anyway, the reason I mention Twitter is that over on the Twitter analytics tab there are some really interesting tools that tell you all sorts of statistical stuff about your Twitter account but one tool in particular will give you the lowdown on your audience, your Twitter audience that is. So, a quick click over to Twitter and I see something like this;

That’s my audience sorted so back to Google Ads to see if I can add those details provided by Twitter and you get these drop down boxes that seem to go on forever in the search to identify your audience: What is their location? Are they parents, homeowners, car owners and so on and so on? Even on the parenting box you can choose one or two or more children.

Then you look at language spoken, income bracket and a multitude of other choices with which you can target your potential customer. Then you are looking at what sort of results are you after? Sales leads, purchases, web site clicks, video clicks, post likes?

This might be the point at which you, the reader, might be thinking that me, the author, is going to answer those questions. You might be thinking this is one of those how to do it posts with step by step instructions to get more book purchases and more readers. Now, or pretty soon, you might think, Steve is going to reveal all, some trick to Google Ads. You might even be thinking ‘wow, Steve is really clued in to all this technical marketing stuff!’

No, not gonna happen, it’s more the other way around: I’m sitting here waiting for someone to tell me what to do!

Just while I’m on the subject of Google it is pretty amazing how much Google is involved in your life, or can be, if you let it. If you search for something on the Internet, you probably use Google. If you upload videos to YouTube, that is part of Google.

A while ago I upgraded from my old banger mobile phone to a top notch internet savvy smartphone. I added Google onto my phone, logged in and found that straight away, Google was saving all my contacts on to my Google profile. Helpful, in fact very helpful because when I changed phones I no longer had to save my contacts to my SIM card. I could just log in to Google again on my new phone and there they were, all my contacts just waiting.

Here’s another thing, your Google timeline. I don’t know if you ever look at it or even know what it is but when you get a chance, check it out because what you will find is this, all your movements in great detail.

On the day I left for my holidays in France for instance, we left home at 8:57am, drove 307 miles in 5 hours and 21 mins. Travelled on Eurotunnel then drove 2 hours and 31 minutes through France to our hotel which was 4 minutes and 150 yards away from a restaurant on the Rue du Mont Perreux. And there was me, annoyed at myself for not jotting the car mileage down before we left home.

A while ago I was in Manchester with my brother and Google showed all our movements, what pubs we were in, how far we had walked to each pub, and how much time we had spent in each establishment. The only thing it didn’t record was what we drank, but now I think about it, in Wetherspoons I used the Wetherspoon app to order drinks so those details will be there, recorded for posterity in my phone memory somewhere.

Last weekend Liz and I went into Lytham for the Christmas lights switch on and when I looked, Google had once again faithfully recorded our movements. There were the times we had walked to the bus stop; the time and distance we had travelled on the bus (16 mins and 4.2 miles.) However, there was one missing element. After watching the festivities in Lytham we went to the Red Fort restaurant and now I think of it, I was unable to ‘check in’ there because I had no signal.

When I checked Google later it asked me if the Ego restaurant, one of my many regular watering holes and a mere stone’s throw from the Red Fort, was a ‘missing place’ Sorry Google, this time we fancied a curry at the Red Fort.

One more thing about Google. The whole genre of detective fiction will have to be changed. I watching a murder documentary the other day on TV and the killer’s movements were traced meticulously by Police investigators. A lot of their work involved tracking down CCTV cameras, trawling through recorded footage and establishing the timeline of the suspect. Then there was more legwork, interviewing people and taking witness statements. Such a pity the murderer didn’t have Google on his phone as his movements would have been there, minute by minute.

Good thing they didn’t have the Internet in Columbo’s day. Google would have ruined many an episode!


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

A Completely Inaccurate and Unreliable History of TV and Film Time Travel!

I think I’ll start this post with that fabulous time travel film Back to the Future. If you have never seen it, (shame on you) the film concerns young Marty McFly who helps his friend Doc Brown with a time travel experiment. The time machine is a 1985 DeLorean sports car which morphs through time when it reaches the magical speed of 88 mph. The experiment goes horribly wrong when a gang of Libyan terrorists whom the Doc has double crossed in order to get some vital nuclear supplies for his car/time machine arrive and shoot the Doc apparently dead.

Marty escapes in the DeLorean, accidentally hits the time travel switch (the flux capacitor) and zooms back to 1955 when he speeds up to 88 mph.
There Marty has to enlist the help of Doc Brown’s younger self, get his parents’ romance back on course after accidentally knocking that off target, and get himself back to 1985 in time to prevent the Doc being murdered by terrorists.

In Back to the Future 2, Crispin Glover, who played Marty’s dad, failed to agree terms with the producers so was not in films 2 or 3. Instead a look-alike actor was used prompting Glover to sue the production company. His legal challenge failed but next time you watch 2 and 3, that’s why Marty’s dad isn’t in the film much!

There are some great little touches to the film too, some you may not even have noticed, for instance, when Marty leaves 1985 and goes back to the past, he departs from the Twin Pines Mall. There, in 1955 he hits a pine tree and later arrives back in 1985 at the Lone Pine Mall!

In the final film Doc Brown gets accidentally flipped back to 1885 and Marty has to time travel back there to save the Doc. How does he know the Doc is in 1885? Well, the Doc arranges for a courier service to deliver a message to Marty at the exact time and spot where he disappears and flips back to 1885. Of course as Marty rescued him and brought him back to the future, then he wouldn’t have been there to write the message for the courier, well wouldn’t he? Maybe he wrote the message before departing!

Funnily enough, that is a similar situation in one of my favourite of the rebooted Doctor Who episodes, Blink. The doctor, played by David Tennant, gets stuck in the past courtesy of the Weeping Angels, aliens who appear frozen when watched but otherwise move in the blink of an eye. However he manages to add some special video links to a future DVD so people in the present can pick up his messages and help him.

Blink is possibly the most beloved episode of the modern Doctor Who era, with an oddball mystery that is intriguing and a slightly off beat approach to the show’s usual format, focusing mainly on a new character named Sally Sparrow instead of David Tennant’s Doctor. Sally is played by the now famous Carey Mulligan, and her portrayal of a normal young woman who has to solve a crazy time mystery when her friend is transported to the past by a living angel statue won her plenty of fans among the Doctor Who faithful.

Really though, the best Doctor Who episodes were back in the 1980’s with Tom Baker as the Doctor and Elizabeth Sladen as assistant Sarah Jane Smith. A great episode was Pyramids of Mars, which combines sci- fi with the mystery of Egyptian tombs and artefacts. The Tardis materialises back at Unit headquarters in the UK. (UNIT by the way, is a military organisation the Doctor worked with in the 1980’s.) However, they are not at the current time period but have arrived earlier, in 1911. A great country house is there and it appears that a mysterious Egyptian has taken over the late Professor Scarman’s estate and there are many strange goings on. Later the Doctor finds that an ancient alien called Sutekh, imprisoned thousands of years ago by another alien, Horus is trying to escape captivity and wreak death and destruction on the universe. The Doctor, naturally, foils his plans.

Doctor Who is the world’s longest running sci-fi show having been first broadcast on the 22nd November 1963. Not many people watched the show that day as most people were desperate to find out about the Kennedy assassination and so it was repeated again the following week. William Hartnell, the original doctor, left the show in 1966 and the role passed to Patrick Troughton. The producers came up with the ingenious idea of having the doctor, an alien from the planet Gallifrey, regenerating into another body making it easy to reboot the series every time the lead actor left.

Star Trek, although not really a time travel programme actually had quite a few episodes which involved time travel. The fans’ firm favourite, an episode voted the best ever Star Trek episode, was City on the Edge of Forever. The crew of the Enterprise arrive at a distant planet searching for the source of some time displacement. The source is a time portal, left among the ruins of an ancient civilisation which although abandoned, still emits waves of time displacement. In the meantime, Doctor McCoy is suffering from paranoia brought on by an accidental overdose of the wonder drug cordrazine which any Star Trek fan will tell you can cure any known Galactic ailment. McCoy in his crazed state bumbles through the time portal, back to 1930’s America (handy for that old 1930’s set on the Paramount back lot) and changes history. Kirk and Spock are forced to also go back in time, stop McCoy from changing history and restore things to as they were. Joan Collins plays a charity worker at the core of events; does she have to die in order to restore things to as they were?

In the Star Trek movie world there was another great time travel film, Star Trek 4 in which earth is threatened by a space vehicle causing havoc with the world’s weather. It turns out that the aliens are sending signals in whale-speak so the crew travel back to the 1980’s in order to find a hump back whale which can respond to the aliens. Sounds a bit mad when I put it like that but actually Star Trek 4 was one of the best Trek films. Highlights included Mr Spock diving into a giant pool and mind melding with a whale and later asking a punk rocker to turn down his ghetto blaster.

I must of course mention the sixties show the Time Tunnel the Irwin Allen show about two American scientists ‘lost in the swirling maze of past and future ages, during the first experiments on America’s greatest and most secret project, the Time Tunnel. Tony Newman and Doug Phillips now tumble helplessly toward a new fantastic adventure, somewhere along the infinite corridors of time’ as the opening blurb used to go.

The Time Tunnel starts off with a Congressman coming to investigate the growing budget of the time tunnel complex and threatens to close things down unless he sees results. Scientist Tony Newman decides he must therefore travel back in time to prove that the tunnel really works and save the project. Tony ends up on the ill-fated liner Titanic. His colleague Doug follows him back to 1912 and the control room struggle to shift the two in time before the ship sinks. Unable to return the duo to the present,  the technicians struggle every week to shift the duo to somewhere new just in the nick of time. One episode that I particularly remember was when the pair land in Pearl Harbour, just before the Japanese attack in 1941. Tony meets himself as a young boy and finally solves the mystery of the disappearance of his father in the attack.

I’m at the point of running out of time travel TV shows but here is one great time travel movie, 12 Monkeys. I didn’t like it the first time I saw it then some time later I saw part of the film again and thought, hey, maybe this film isn’t so bad. The third time I saw it all the way through and did enjoy it although it can be a little hard to follow. 12 Monkeys was inspired by the French short film La Jetée made in 1962 and it goes something like this; Bruce Willis plays prisoner James Cole who lives in a post apocalyptic society in the year 2035 where people are forced to live underground after a deadly virus was released in 1996 which wiped out most of humanity. The virus was released by a group known only as the 12 Monkeys and Cole is selected to be sent back into the past to try and find the original virus so scientists can perfect a cure. Cole is plagued by a vision which constantly returns to him in which a man is shot dead on a railway station and as the film reaches its final moments, this tragic vision is finally explained.

I’ve tried to keep this post pretty much research free so no doubt numerous errors and omissions will be evident. What was your favourite time travel film or TV episode?


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

Cameras, Edits and Fish and Chips.

This weekend is Remembrance Sunday and there is a lot of stuff out there in the media about the sad events of war, in particular World War 1 which ended 100 years ago this week. I occasionally comment on social media threads about the war and sometimes even tag my video from earlier this year about my visit to various war cemeteries in France.

The other week I added a link to my video on a Facebook page. It wasn’t anything to do with war, in fact it’s a Facebook page for amateur video makers, like me, to plug their work and discuss the arts of video making. I actually got some good reviews there but one fellow video maker questioned the beginning of the film. What I had done was this; when I had started filming I was planning a film about motorhomes and travelling in France and at one camp site parked next to us was a very tasty motorhome with a big trailer. Straight away I envisioned a narration talking about the big motorhome as if it was ours, then cutting to our much smaller one and saying ‘oh well, we’ll take this one then.’ Not exactly hilarious but faintly amusing. Anyway, that’s pretty much exactly how the finished video starts off.

However, as I eventually produced a video about war graves and cemeteries, the rest of the narration is of a sad and sombre tone and the jokey comments didn’t really fit in, which is what my fellow Facebook video maker had noticed.

When I originally put the video together I just somehow didn’t pick up on that. Take a look below and see what you think.

It’s always great to finish my block of shifts at work and then I can look forward to my six days off. This week however I picked up a tummy bug and spent a lot of time lying about in discomfort, constantly running to the toilet. Why couldn’t I have got the bug on a work day, then at least I could have called in sick? Anyway, one thing I thought I’d do on my days off was to sort out that video; go back to my editing deck, cut out the offending phrase and the much bigger motorhome and just record another line, something more in keeping with the general tone of the subject.

This of course is where everything went wrong. I added the new line, but in doing so I somehow managed to delete everything else on the soundtrack. OK, no problem, I still had the original recording of the narration so I thought I could just add that. What I did the first time round was to save the voice over as short individual tracks so I could change things round and pace things to match the visuals. Now, many months later the tracks were staring back at me, track 1, track 2 and so on, all the way up to track 48 and I couldn’t remember what I had said on each track, plus every few minutes, courtesy of the stomach bug, I had to drop everything and rush to the bathroom. Yes, I think I’ll leave that edit for another day but thanks fellow video producer for bringing that to my attention . .

Prior to my work shifts, Liz and I decided to spend an evening driving through the Blackpool Illuminations. The very first Illuminations began in 1879 but didn’t become a regular event until 1913 and were an idea for extending the holiday season at this seaside resort. The lights run for about six miles along Blackpool promenade from Starr Gate to Bispham and consist, apparently, of over one million light bulbs. Anyway, it was a great opportunity for a fish and chip supper and for me to mess about with my video cameras and editing software. A little background music instead of a voiceover might be preferable me thinks . .

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

Cary Grant, Peter Sellers and Home Movies.

The BBC does do a good documentary and the other day I settled down to watch a documentary about the film star Cary Grant; Becoming Cary Grant.

Grant was the smooth talking and sophisticated star of many a Hitchcock film, indeed the documentary revealed ‘Hitch’ to be his favourite director. Grant and Hitchcock were both immigrants from the UK.

Cary Grant was born Archibald Leach in Bristol in the south of England. He had a rather sad childhood during which his mother disappeared. Various explanations were put to the young Archie including the lies that she had gone on holiday and later that she had died. In fact his father had his wife committed to an asylum where she languished until her rich and famous son returned to her much later. In fact, Grant did not learn that his mother was still alive until he was thirty-one years old.

Archie’s father remarried but Archie was not included in the new family. Instead he was sent to live with his grandparents. At school he developed a love of theatre and spent much time helping and later working at small theatres in Bristol. When he was only 11 he began working with a small troupe known as the Pender Troupe and when they went to undertake a new tour in the USA, the young Archie went with them, following in the footsteps of other performers like Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel.

In the USA, Archie toured the vaudeville circuit with the Pender Troupe and decided to stay on in the USA when the troupe returned home. He and some others formed their own troupe and Archie spent a lot of time doing various acts like stilt walking and unicycle riding. Gradually he moved on to better roles in various theatre productions and even had a screen test in the early 1930s, which was shown on the documentary. Archie, now using the name Cary Grant comes over as a loud-voiced individual, making many faces for the camera. Of course, as a vaudeville actor he was used to talking loudly and making exaggerated expressions but he soon learned to tone down his performance for the cameras.

The documentary uses text from Grant’s unpublished autobiography and it is clear an experience in later life had a great effect on him. Grant took part in a form of psychoanalysis using LSD which enabled him to confront issues from his early life which the actor felt had unduly affected his relationships as an adult, particularly with women, in fact he was married five times.

The film was interesting but focused mainly on the unpublished autobiography and many of his friendships and relationships that I have read about in other books were not even mentioned. A great part of the film also was Grant’s collection of home movies which were used throughout the film although many times what we were seeing was not properly explained. Towards the end of the film Grant’s daughter was interviewed and visits Cary’s old home. In one scene we see her visiting the patio shown in a earlier shot on one of Cary’s home movies. More interviews and perhaps some more location footage would have benefited this film enormously. Still, it was interesting and can be found on the BBC i-Player if you missed the original broadcast.

The Peter Sellers Story: As He Filmed It.

A similar and much superior film to the Cary Grant documentary is this one, The Peter Sellers Story: As He Filmed It, made by the BBC Arena team in 1995. It was created largely from cine film shot by Sellers himself, who was a lifelong camera enthusiast. If I remember correctly, Sellers’ widow, Lynne Frederick had died and left behind a lot of Sellers’ effects, including his home movies which is how the film came to be made.

Normally, I’d say that you have to be interested in movie people and how movies are made to like this documentary but this film is so special I don’t think that rule applies.

The original film was in three parts and began with Sellers’ early days, and his early films. The first cine films we see are black and white movies and as Sellers’ career takes off, his cine equipment also improves and he upgrades to colour and then on to sound. His own images show his young self as a sort of ‘spiv’, a Flash Harry sort of character with his double-breasted and shoulder padded jackets. An uneasy relationship with his mother emerges, as does a rather spoilt and volatile personality. His first wife talks about their early days and their life together and friends like Spike Milligan talk happily about successes like the Goon show and their beginnings in show business. Milligan had a 8mm camera and Sellars a 16mm one. Of course ‘Peter was richer,’ comments Milligan. ‘Richer by 8 millimetres!’

Sellers’ cine film is blended with interviews from various people who played a part in Sellers’ life.

A fascinating section concerned Casino Royale, the spoof James Bond film. Various directors were involved but Joe McGrath shot one segment with Peter Sellers and Orson Welles. McGrath was a TV director relishing the move into feature films, that is until Sellers told him he didn’t want to be in the same shot as co-star Welles. A heated debate ensued which became physical. Sellers said he was going off to calm down. He never returned and if you ever see the completed movie, you’ll understand why Sellers’ character abruptly disappears too!

Sellers claimed to have no personality of his own and ‘borrowed’ them from the characters he impersonated. It’s interesting to watch the TV interviews included in the film where Sellers seems to mimic the Yorkshire tones of Michael Parkinson and again, in other snippets he is taking on the accents and style of his interviewers.

The film overall has a sort of melancholy feeling which I feel accurately represents Sellers’ persona. He was a sad character, disappointed in his life and loves. He was not happy with his last wife, Lynne Frederick and he even junked many of his cine films prior to his death as they didn’t seem to match his expectations. The mood of the film is further enhanced by a wonderful soundtrack full of sad saxophones and jazz tones.

There are some that put down documentaries that are full of so-called ‘talking heads’ but personally, if the talking head has something interesting to say, I like to hear them. However, in 2002 the BBC re edited the film by taking the soundtracks from the ‘talking heads’ and combined them with Sellers’ self filmed visuals. The result is now available as a BBC DVD. The original is much better though.

If you are interested the original is available in three parts on vimeo.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three


Floating in Space, a novel by Steve Higgins and set in Manchester, 1977 is available from Amazon as a Kindle download or traditional paperback. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Coal Fires, Pub bands and Formula One

The nights are growing shorter and the weather is cooling rapidly. In fact, the U.K. Is heading for a three-week freeze according to the latest weather report and Liz and I have lit our first coal fire since those long departed days of winter.

This has been a long Formula One season. The days when the season fizzled out towards the end of the summer are long gone. Nowadays there are new races and new venues, some in countries that have no native F1 drivers or teams, nor even in some places, any noticeable motor sporting traditions.

This year two four time world champions are battling it out for the honour of becoming only the third ever five times champion. The very first of course was Fangio, someone I heard described as the Godfather of F1 the other day, and Michael Schumacher, who went on to take 7 world titles in total.

Schumacher made a return to F1 in 2001 with the Mercedes team and didn’t exactly cover himself in glory, finally retiring again a couple of years later. When Lewis Hamilton decided to leave McLaren in favour of the Silver Arrows I thought that was probably the biggest mistake of his career but luckily, Hamilton ignored my advice, moved to Mercedes and now as I write this, is poised on the verge of championship number 5.

It is perhaps fair to mention here that despite a life long love of the sport, every prediction I have ever made, regarding formula one, has been completely wrong. JJ Lehto, who I predicted would one day be a multiple F1 champion, failed to live up to my hopes and in fact his career nose-dived in a sad and unhappy way after an accident whilst testing the new Benneton. Jean Alesi, another driver who I noted early on was destined to be a world champion won only one grand prix, once again confirming my credentials as a bad, very bad, F1 forecaster.

Sebastian Vettel has an outside chance of challenging for the 2018 title but the odds are really against him. This has been a season of lost opportunities for the German driver and, as was mentioned in the channel 4 US Grand Prix coverage, he is looking increasingly unhappy at Ferrari. Ferrari came out tops in the recent US Grand Prix although it wasn’t Vettel who won the race but teammate  Kimi Raikkonen. Kimi, known as the Iceman because of his rather inexpressive demeanour, scored a popular victory. This is his last season with Ferrari and next year he will return to Sauber, the team in which he made his F1 debut in 2001.

It’s good that Kimi is not leaving the F1 grid, after all, like me he hardly has a career as an F1 pundit to look forward to.

Last Saturday, the qualifying hour for the US Grand Prix was shown live on Channel Four in the UK. I really do love the irregular live coverage we get on terrestrial TV as I have no intention of splashing out, as I have mentioned before on these pages, for Sky TV. Anyway, due to the time difference the coverage started at 8:30 pm in the UK, just about the time Liz and I were due to leave for our local pub. Friends had mentioned to us that a ‘great’ band were playing in the pub so we decided to go and see what they were like, quaff a few beers and generally show support for our local which had just reopened under new management.

We were chatting away with friends who were sitting just by the stage when the band started up. The music wasn’t anything I would call ‘great’ but then again, they were playing at a volume several decibels above the normal volume of a rocket launch from Florida so Liz and moved to an area of the room furthest away from the racket. Did I say racket? Well, noise, cacophony, you get the picture. Not long afterwards our friends joined us, having been blasted away from their table by the volume. Even at the furthermost reaches of the pub, conversation was difficult and I spent a lot of time nodding to people who were telling things I hadn’t even heard. Anyway, the beer was good and our new table was happily near to a TV set showing the qually so I was able to keep my eye on events in Texas. Although I tend to moan about F1 not being as good as the old days, one new aspect of the sport I really do like is the qualifying. The qually hour is now divided into three; qually one where the slowest four cars are dropped. Times are reset and then the top ten cars from qually two go forward to qually one for the top ten shoot out.

On this particular occasion, Hamilton was fastest just ahead of championship rival Sebastian Vettel. Unfortunately, Vettel was demoted to fifth place due to a rule infringement during the practice session, where he failed to slow sufficiently during a red flag period. Importantly for Ferrari though, Kimi Raikkonen, Vettel’s team-mate was therefore elevated to second place.

During a break from the band someone at the table noticed me watching the TV and asked what I saw in motor racing. ‘After all, it’s just cars going round and round.’ ‘Well that’s one way of looking at it’ I replied but isn’t football just a bunch of guys running up and down a field kicking a ball about? There are good races and boring ones, just like any football or cricket match. You either like racing or you don’t I argued and no amount of tinkering with the format will make people watch it if they don’t like the sport. Nothing will never make me tune in to a football match even if they decide to have naked dancing girls at half time.

The band finished their set, mercifully, and the lead vocalist called out ‘Do you want one last number?’

Our table called ‘No’ in unison but clearly deafened by their own acoustics, the band went on to crucify another final song. At least the bar staff and a few deaf regulars were there to listen to them. We were off!

On Sunday evening then, it was rather nice to sit in my favourite armchair after our Sunday dinner, a glass of red to hand, coal fire roaring away in the grate and enjoy the US Grand Prix live from Austin, Texas. It was a fairly exciting event. Kimi stole the lead from Hamilton at the start and using his super soft tyres carved himself a fair old lead. Hamilton and the Mercedes team dropped the ball by coming in for tyres too early, Kimi switched to a harder compound and held the lead to the end. Verstappen had a great drive from 18th to second place and Vettel who had yet another comeback drive after tangling with another car in the opening laps, this time Ricciardo, came home fourth and so keeps the championship alive for this weekend’s race in Mexico. In order to win the championship, Vettel has to win all three remaining races with Hamilton scoring only 4 points. Bit of a tall order really, even for Vettel.

Pity we haven’t got Sky TV though, might be an exciting championship finale . .


Floating in Space, a novel by Steve Higgins and set in Manchester, 1977 is available from Amazon as a Kindle download or traditional paperback. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

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 Assassination 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.