Resignations, Old Friends and Green for Danger!

I don’t know if you remember that old British movie, Green for Danger? I’ve not seen it myself for a while but this week I’ve been thinking about it and even done a search through my old VHS video tapes to find my copy.

If you’ve not seen it, the film is a murder mystery set in World War 2, and Inspector Cockrill, who is sent by Scotland Yard to investigate, is played by none other than one of my favourite actors, Alastair Sim. Although the film is a serious one, as usual Alastair Sim adds just the right amount of whimsical humour to make it just a shade lighter than perhaps it might have been. In one scene Sim crouches down expecting the crash of a German Doodlebug only to find a tractor passing by. A number of great British actors are also in the movie, Trevor Howard and Leo Genn to name but two.

The film is narrated by Sim in the form of a letter of resignation to his superiors after the case is finally resolved although not in quite the way he would have liked.

This week, I too have written my letter of resignation. It has not been a great week for me at work. I’m a deputy manager but deputising in my organisation is slightly different. I work in an emergency control room and most of the time I am just an operator, just like my colleagues. When my boss is not around, either off sick or on leave then it is me, as his deputy, who steps up and manages the shift. When he comes back I must once again step down and join my colleagues on the shop- sorry, control room- floor.

Still, it’s not a bad arrangement you might think, surely a step up the corporate ladder? Wrong. Maybe in an organisation that takes notice of its staff perhaps, maybe in a company where senior management are actually aware of the performance of the lower echelons and the efforts they make, yes, but here in a place where anonymous panels judge staff by their form filling abilities, it’s not a great situation.

Anyway, a while ago the management undertook a ‘refreshment’ -to use their word- of the deputy management situation. In basic terms, anyone who was a deputy had to re-apply in order to stay on as a deputy and now I find after six years I have not made the cut and I am no longer able to call myself a deputy manager.

Perhaps I am not that good at my job you might think, perhaps I am no longer up to the task of managing. Well, after six years of deputising I am older and wiser and although I have more backache than I used to have, I can still run the control room as well as I have always done. I wonder if I skimmed over the application too quickly; approached it too flippantly? Surely though, with six years worth of experience under my belt I must be better, more knowledgeable, more experienced than before. Does that matter? Apparently not. Am I a bad form filler? Perhaps yes.

All this started me thinking about a much simpler time many years ago when I became a bus conductor at the tender age of nineteen. I had returned from hitch hiking around Europe, sunburned and penniless and my Dad was not at all happy that I moped about the house all day winding up his electric bills by playing music constantly. That’s where the bus conducting job offered a solution. Well paid work while I looked for a proper job.

My driver was a guy called Jimmy. He was older than me and became a sort of, not a father figure but more an older brother figure to me. He mentored me in the arts of bus conducting and people management and laughed at my timid efforts to chat up the girls on our bus. Jimmy was a big speedway fan and quite a few times I joined him at Belle Vue and other venues watching the sport. At the time Jimmy had a three-wheel Reliant van and we chugged our way about the country to various speedway venues and after a late shift Jimmy would drop me off at home to save me from waiting on the grumpy staff bus drivers’ pleasure.

In return, I once gave Jimmy this big Lego set that my brother and I had. It had been a joint Christmas present to us years before; a great assortment of Lego bricks in a big wooden box that over time my brother and I added to with more bricks and bits and pieces and gradually built it up into a pretty big Lego set. It was no longer used and my Mum had suggested I give it to Jimmy for his children.

Jimmy was over the moon with the Lego and told me several times how his kids loved it.

One day I had the call from the chief inspector and he told me it was time for me to go in the driving school to become a driver. I wasn’t keen on leaving Jimmy and asked if I could defer driver training for a while. He agreed and Jimmy and I carried on our teamwork up and down the roads of south Manchester. Not long afterwards Jimmy had the call too, only he was called to become a one man operator. One man operators were paid much more money than conventional bus crews and being a fellow with a wife, children and a mortgage, it was not something Jimmy could refuse.

On our last shift together, we had arranged to have a fish and chip treat to mark the occasion. We were on the 148 route from Manchester to Woodford where we had a long layover at the terminus. I think we had a twenty-minute drop back but as we had so much extra running time at the far end of the route we could easily put our foot down and extend that to twenty-five minutes. We stopped in Cheadle Hulme, I nipped out and bought the chips and then we raced up to Woodford. Just as we arrived a man was running for our bus, waving his hands presumably as he thought we were about to drive off and leave him behind. We pulled up in the layby and set ourselves up at the back of the bus. Jimmy poured us a brew but the guy was knocking on the window. I eventually let him in and he was glad he had seen us because he was in a rush to get to Bramhall, a place about ten minutes down the road. We told him that he had a long time to wait and that we weren’t due to leave for another twenty minutes but he sat down a couple of seats from us at the back, watching us eating our chips and looking at his watch, all the while carrying on a moan about buses and timetables and public transport in general. He completely ruined that last fish and chip supper on our final day of working together. We left on time and dropped our one passenger off at a place which was hardly a five-minute walk from where he had boarded our bus.

Jimmy settled down as a one-man bus driver but I left and came back to the company quite a few times as well as transferring to other depots and other rotas. On another occasion I took a job working in the coaching unit and then got a position in the bus control room. In those days I was always on the look out for something new and doing the same old thing bored me very quickly.

Years later I bumped into Jimmy and we had a long natter and a brew at the bus canteen in Stockport. I’d not seen him for many years and I was so pleased to see him again. ‘Listen my mate,’ he said, he always called me ‘my mate’. ‘I need to see you again, why don’t you meet me back here tomorrow?’

I met him in the car park the next day and he opened up the boot of his car with a big smile and there was the old Lego set. His kids had grown up and he was returning the Lego set to me for my kids.

Sadly, I never did have any children and the Lego set was lost, probably left forgotten in the attic on one of numerous house moves. Jimmy and I lost touch and I never saw him again.

I remember once sitting with Jimmy at some nameless bus terminus and he turned to me and told me how much he loved his job and how he knew he would stay as a bus driver until he retired. That’s the same feeling I used to have here at my present job; that this was the place where I would finish my working career. Yes, used to have: until they demoted me.

Anyway, back to the letter of resignation. What was it Alastair Sim said at the end of the film?

In view of my failure — correction, comparative failure — I feel that I have no alternative but to offer you, sir, my resignation, in the sincere hope that you will not accept it.

Yes, I think I’ll put my resignation on hold, for now!


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

 

No Hiding Place and the Mexican Grand Prix

No Hiding PlaceI should start this post by explaining something. My blog posts have a sort of gestation period, usually about three weeks. I think of an idea and type out a few notes or a first draft. Sometimes I put it on my workstation and add to it as the day goes on and quiet moments appear. At home I’ll go over it again adding bits here, changing the language there. Sometimes I write about something topical and of course, by the time the post is published, the incident or event or TV show I’m writing about happened some time ago, so for the reader, it’s hardly topical at all! What is worse is that sometimes I shove something in ahead of schedule, making the post that was due to be posted even more out of date. Bit of a nightmare for readers I know so cast your mind back a few weeks. In the UK it was sunny but cool. Remember the weekend of the Mexican Grand Prix? Right, so here we go . .

The Mexican Grand Prix was the eighteenth race of the year, just this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix and the Abu Dhabi race left to finish off the 2017 season. As I am far too tight to subscribe to Sky TV and their Formula 1 channel, I have to make do with the terrestrial broadcast over at Channel Four. I say make do but that’s a little unfair, the F1 coverage over at Channel Four is actually very good indeed. David Coulthard is an excellent commentator and pundit and his colleagues, Ben Edwards and Karun Chandhok are excellent. Also making occasional appearances are Mark Webber, Eddie Jordan and Suzie Wolff, and together they make a great team. Sadly, not all the races are live and such was the case of the Mexican event. It turned out that Mexico was a key race with the possibility of Hamilton clinching his fourth world crown. Both the qualifying session and the race were broadcast late -after ten at night- so I set myself the task of not seeing the results until I watched the broadcast. Luckily I wasn’t at work so colleagues telling me about the race or feeding me dud information wasn’t an issue.

On race day I wasn’t actually sure what time the event was actually taking place. Was Mexico behind the UK or ahead? I could check the internet but then that gave rise to the possibility of seeing something like an e-mail about the event. I subscribe to a number of F1 web sites and their e-mail newsletters always have the winner’s name in the subject so e-mails and Internet were a no-no. Liz wanted to go into Lytham for some event on the sea front but again, that threw up the possibility of seeing someone, friend or foe, who would blab the results. No, the only answer was to stay indoors, shun contact with anyone and everyone, lock the doors and watch recorded TV only.

I pulled up my favourite comfy chair and found I had an episode of ‘Who do you think you are?’ featuring J K Rowling to watch, and very fascinating viewing it was too. I didn’t really know much about J K Rowling other than she has penned one of the most well read book series in modern publishing history and the programme was very interesting, so much so it spurred me to find out more about her. Apparently, the idea for Harry Potter and the school of wizardry came to her fully formed on a delayed rail journey from Manchester to London. She moved to Edinburgh after the failure of her marriage and wrote her first novel while on benefits. Much of the writing was done in local cafes where she walked with her baby daughter. The pram journey in the fresh air sent the youngster to sleep and J K was free to write. The K was actually an addition to her name by the publishers. They thought J K Rowling sounded better than J or Joanne Rowling.  The programme traced her French great grandfather’s origins in France and learned he had won the Croix de Guerre in the First World War. It was wonderful to see various grand and important archives give up their dusty old secrets.

In 2016 The Sunday Times Rich List estimated Rowling’s fortune at £600 million, a tidy few quid more than I have made from Floating in Space. I have never read any of the Harry Potter books or even seen the films so perhaps I should put them on my reading list.

Anyway, that programme took us to just after lunchtime so I chanced a look on my Ipad. I thought Ebay would be a safe site, no F1 news there. I looked at a few things and with Liz’s help tracked down a new phone which, when it arrives, will enable me to join the smart phone brigade.

Time for some tea and an afternoon/early evening film. I had recorded A Good Year the previous day which was a romcom directed by Ridley Scott. I had not seen the film before and it was reasonably pleasant but it had a lot of irritating faults that could have easily been removed to make it into a really good film. The photography was lush and atmospheric but the editor seemed to have chopped and cut it together rather haphazardly. There were flashbacks to the youth of the Russell Crowe character which I wasn’t sure were flashbacks at first. The soundtrack was dreadful and Russell Crowe was just totally miscast. His english accent was odd and his haircut even odder. I can imagine maybe Hugh Grant or some genuine Englishman would have been more believable. An enjoyable film but it could have been so much better.

When I stopped the recording, our hard drive recorder switched to the BBC news and to my horror, I heard the announcer talk about Lewis Hamilton’s fourth world championship! No! I quickly flipped over to another channel. Okay, Hamilton may be world champion but did he win the race? Perhaps Bottas or Vettel had won. Raikkonen has looked good this year; was he in with a shout?

Finally, 10.30 pm came and I sat back to watch the race. Hamilton came 9th and Max Verstappen was the winner. Sebastian Vettel came fourth. He and Hamilton had a coming together on the first lap. Vettel recovered better than Hamilton but fourth place was not enough to deny Lewis the championship. Not a great race but I was pleased that I had come though the day and watched the race highlights without knowing the eventual winner until I finally watched the race.

The whole thing reminded me of a Likely Lads episode I remembered from way back, in an episode called No Hiding Place, James Bolam and Rodney Bewes try to avoid hearing the result of a football match until the highlights are shown that evening. I know how they felt!


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

The Third Man, George Michael, and HMV

The other day I turned on my DVD player for some serious TV viewing. I had The Third Man lined up and ready to watch. Cheese sandwich primed and alcoholic beverage at the ready. Orson Welles plays a great part in the movie but of course, he isn’t in it that much, which is why I have always thought it strange that the BBC showed the movie in 1985 as a tribute to Welles when he had just died. Citizen Kane would have been a better choice surely?

Anyway, as my DVD player flickered into life I noticed the George Michael documentary ‘Freedom’ was just beginning on live TV. The programme had been continuously hyped by Channel Four for the previous week so, what the heck I thought. Put The Third Man on hold and let’s see what George has to say.

The documentary was narrated and co-directed by George himself and completed just before the singer’s untimely death at the age of only 53.

A lot of the reviews of the film seem to say how honest the film was but it seemed to me to skim over a lot of things in his life. His arrest in a public lavatory in the USA by an undercover police officer was not mentioned. Neither was the incident where he fell out of his chauffeur driven car on the M1. Maybe he just preferred to concentrate on other things in his life. A big focus of the documentary was when he took his record company to court over his recording contract. That was fairly interesting but another event the film brought into focus was when George was the recipient of the best soul album award at the Grammys and a few members of the black music community apparently weren’t too happy. That experience fuelled George’s next album Listen Without Prejudice. The thing is, was Faith really a soul album? Was George a soul singer?

If you ask the question into Google, What is soul music? This is what comes back:

A kind of music incorporating elements of rhythm and blues and gospel music, popularized by American black people. Characterized by an emphasis on vocals and an impassioned improvisatory delivery, it is associated with performers such as Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and Otis Redding.

I’m not sure George Michael fits into that category but then again, we’re talking about music not some mathematical computation. Music genres shift and merge, one man’s soul is another man’s jazz. Another man’s jazz is another man’s pop!

Another genre crossing track was David Bowies’s Young Americans which reached 28 in the US Billboard Top 100 in 1975 and I’m pretty sure topped the US soul charts too. Bowie himself said of Young Americans that is was “plastic soul, the squashed remains of ethnic music as it survives in the age of Muzak rock, written and sung by a white limey”.

A few years back my favourite radio channel was Jazz FM. My car was constantly tuned to it. I was always down at HMV in Manchester where they had an in store DJ. She was a really nice girl, very approachable and very into her music. She recommended all sorts of albums to me but I was usually in there hunting for some album or artist I had heard on Jazz FM. Then one day I tuned into to Jazz FM, only to find Smooth FM. What had happened to my radio station? Well, it went digital and as I don’t have a digital radio in my car I’m no longer able to listen to it. Still, at least I have my Jazz FM CDs. What’s quite interesting is that looking at them, they feature quite a lot of soul artists. After all, modern jazz is pretty much like soul in a way. Aren’t soul, jazz, and funk all related?

Anyway, getting back to George Michael, his documentary just wasn’t all that brilliant for me. There were a lot of big stars praising George, stars like Stevie Wonder and Elton John. Looking a little out of place was the foul-mouthed Liam Gallagher who despite knowing, presumably, that this was a tribute film about George, he managed to throw in a fair few F words and the occasional C word too. Liam is a big fan of John Lennon and although Lennon wasn’t a saint, the people of Liverpool can be pretty proud of Lennon and his achievements both as a musician and as a peace activist. Speaking as a Mancunian, it’s a pity we cannot say the same about Liam Gallagher.

HMV Manchester. Picture courtesy Manchester Evening News

As for HMV Manchester, I remember going in one day to find the in-store DJ had been replaced by a radio version, someone, presumably at head office in London, who broadcast music to all the HMV stores. Later, in 2013,  the  store closed down completely after more than twenty years on the same site. Browsing records and videos in HMV and then popping into my favourite book stores before settling down in some back street pub for a drink, ah, those were the days. I probably bought my Third Man DVD there, or was it Ebay? Certainly, the buying power of the Internet may well have played a part in HMV’s demise.

Anyway, for me, Saturday afternoons will never be the same again.

George Michael did make some good music and he was a good singer but I wouldn’t put him up there in the pop legends’ category. I don’t think I have a single one of his records in my collection but I do like this track he recorded with Mary J Blige. Great video too . .


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

Adventures with an Action Cam

One of the great web sites of the modern digital age has to be Ebay. I spend a lot of time there, idly searching cyberspace for things that I want and sometimes, things that I don’t even know that I want. Do you ever look at your purchases and think, why did I buy that? Did I really want that? Was it just an impulse buy? It’s much easier to put something down if you are actually in a shop and say to yourself, ‘I really don’t need that’ than it is on on the Internet.

Having said that I have picked up quite a few bargains on Ebay. We wont go into the numerous leather jackets, shirts and shoes that I have bought online and that don’t fit me even though they are clearly marked XXL and that when tried on, it becomes apparent that a dwarf pygmy wouldn’t fit into them, let alone someone of my considerable bulk. XXL it seems to me, is a term open to interpretation.

One thing that I did buy on Ebay and that I have had lots of fun filled hours with is my action cam. My action cam is only a cheap one, made in China, and it’s a cheap copy of the much more expensive Go-Pro camera and only cost £20 compared to the huge cost of a proper Go-Pro camera. Mine does the job and takes some interesting pictures strapped to my bike handlebars or on my car window or wherever I choose to stick it.

On our recent holiday to France I spent a lot of time filming through the car window on our way down south from St Annes in Lancashire to Folkestone for the shuttle over to Calais and then on down through France to our rented gite in the rural Cher region in central France. There were, of course, the usual problems endemic to shooting ‘live’ action. The battery ran out at various crucial moments of interest and on other occasions I didn’t pause it properly so I shot an endless half hour of hum drum motorway and then, when we arrived at somewhere very lovely and photogenic I pressed the record button to begin filming but actually paused a recording I didn’t realise was already in progress. C’est la vie as the French say.

On my YouTube page I now have three short action cam films. A Trip Around the Block on my bicycle, my first foray into action cam film making. Second, a short underwater film of me taking a swim, not in the the blue seas of the Mediterranean or some exotic fish filled lake but actually in our holiday swimming pool. Yes, I know what you are thinking but the lure of messing about with a video camera underwater was just too much! Anyway, now, coming to a computer screen near you, in colour and with the added attraction of a special written commentary spoken and verbally crucified by me, I give you, A French Journey . .

In case you didn’t catch this on a previous post, check out this cycling video:

And last but not least, here’s my underwater video:

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

A Slice of my Life

I bumped into one of my friends the other day, someone I hadn’t seen for about a month. After a quick chat he said to me that he was looking forward to reading my next post. ‘Have you written a new one yet?’ he asked.

‘A new one?’ I replied. ‘Don’t you read my tag lines? A new post every Saturday!’

‘Yes,’ he said ‘but you can’t do a post every Saturday can you?’

‘Yes’ was the answer,’ a new post every Saturday!’

‘Every Saturday? But how do you think of things to write about?’

Well, actually I’m not sure. At least I’m not a newspaper columnist, having to write something new every day, that would be hard but now I think of it, writing something for every week is pretty difficult too. Luckily, I’m free to write about almost anything, I’m not limited like someone who writes a cycling blog for instance, who must find a new cycling topic to write about every week. I do tend to stick to books, classic films and tell anecdotes about myself but sometimes I rabbit on about Watergate, Marilyn Monroe, JFK, Formula One racing, the Apollo missions and basically, everything under the sun.

While on holiday earlier this year -did I mention I went to France for five weeks?- I pumped out numerous blog posts but now I’m back home and back into the old routine my stack of draft posts is beginning to dwindle. Anyway, the other day I was reading a post by a fellow blogger, one in which he went from a slice of pizza, to a day in his life, a ‘slice’ of his life, if you will. That was so enjoyable I thought I might try it myself.

Picture courtesy Oliver’s

I’m not a great pizza fan but come to think of it, I did have a pizza the other week. Liz and I went to Oliver’s, a small eatery not far from a pub we drink in so it was nice to start off our night there. Oliver’s is a small place and I can imagine that in a previous life it was just a takeaway but the present owners have added a few tables, some pleasant lighting and decor and a small but tasty menu.

Liz and I always share a pizza for starters. We usually have the Siciliana pizza which comes with olives, capers, onions, cheese and anchovies. Now I don’t care for anchovies so we tend to swap that topping for something else. It’s a really nice pizza and as we are sharing we don’t get too stuffed. The main course is one that most people have as a starter; it’s a sharing board with meatballs, spicy potatoes, olives, cheese, some cold meats, and this really lovely olive oil bread. Wonderful! The other thing about this place is that they don’t have a drinks license so you have to take your own,which brings the bill down considerably and we always decant some wine from our French collection and take it along. (Did I mention we spent five weeks in France during the summer?) The staff at Oliver’s are very friendly too, making our visit there just a lovely experience, and not only that, the place is only a stone’s throw from the Victoria pub where they serve an outstanding pint of lager.

A meal out and a few beers is the perfect way to forget about work and blog posts and relax for a while.

A big headache for me lately is editing the video I shot while in France this year. (Did I mention we went to Fra- oh never mind!) Video editing is very satisfying, especially for a wannabe movie director like me but it is very time-consuming and there is so much you have to keep in your head. You have to hold the big picture up there in your mind while you sort out the bits and pieces that go to make that big picture.

The other day I finished my edit and began the upload to YouTube. The first few tries were a failure as my laptop timed out then went in to a sort of meltdown and had to be re started. Laptops are a little like a woman, fine if you give them the attention they need but if you think you can go in the other room and watch ‘Lost in Space’ -which is currently being re-shown on the freeview Horror channel at the moment- while they are working: Forget it!

After a number of false starts I finally got my upload sorted. My plan of action was to get the video uploaded then add some fine tuning and some music by using You-tube’s built-in video editor. At first I thought an element of brain fade had caused a minor meltdown within me (could do with another night out at Oliver’s perhaps) because for the life of me I couldn’t find the video editor or even how to access it. After some research I found that I couldn’t access it because the YouTube Video Editor is no more! As John Cleese might say, it has ceased to be, it is an ex-video editor, it is pushing up video daisies because, alas, YouTube decided they were going to dispense with the video editor.

Some other evening activity this week involved that great modern British custom, going down to the pub quiz. I do enjoy a good pub quiz and the Lytham and St Annes area there are quite a few quizzes to be found. A lot of them are the highbrow variety where the pub quizzers appear to have been bussed in from surrounding areas. They give you quite a glare if you happen to be manhandling a mobile phone and look like you are looking up the answers. As it happens our ancient mobiles are non smartphones so we are not guilty, although I have to admit I did once text my brother to ask ‘who plays Purdey in the New Avengers?’ (One point if you got Joanna Lumley.)

Questions in these kind of quizzes are on the lines of: Pudong, meaning “east bank”, is the financial district of which city? (One point if you answered Shanghai.) Bonus point if you know the husband and wife star of the movie ‘The lady From Shanghai!’ (One point each for Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth.) We went to one pub quiz a few years back in which the quiz master, a retired schoolteacher, asked to check each quiz paper after each round. He then put the team names on a ladder with current leaders at the top and those bringing up the rear at the bottom. Needless to say, not being well up in the districts of Shanghai, Liz and I, who quiz as The Lovers, were at the bottom of the ladder.

Anyway, this week’s quiz was at the Blossoms pub and the quiz was not of the highbrow variety but more of the fun variety. Lots of familiar film, TV and music stars in the picture round for me and a good cryptic word round which Liz excels at. After liaising with a young couple sitting close by we were able to come through as the winners after a round which alternated disco era music questions with 2012 chart hits. Great quiz and plenty of spot prizes for those who drew out raffle tickets and some great music. In fact they played the sort of tracks that you realise were not only brilliant but you haven’t heard for a while. One particular favourite was ‘Mind Blowing Decisions, by Heatwave, a fabulous track from 1978.

Next mind-blowing decision: Might as well delete that upload then and start the fine tuning of my video on my old laptop. As I wait for it to crank up I start thinking about food. What shall we have for tea tonight? Pizza? Nah, don’t think so. Come to think of it, we haven’t visited the Greek place for a while. Just fancy some Calamari for starters and maybe a little Moussaka with some salad . . OK, put that edit on hold for a while . .


Floating in Space can be ordered from amazon as a Kindle download or as a traditional paperback by clicking here. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Metrics and the Art of Social Media.

You might think having been a blogger for over three years now I’d be an expert in the art of social media? Think so? Really? Forget it!

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  Google+ account but it’s Twitter where I have really pushed myself. So much so that I am the proud possessor of over 5,000 followers. Sounds good doesn’t it? If every one of those 5,000 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 5,000, I’d say only a handful are genuine fans. The rest want to be friends with me for one reason -because I have 5,000 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 5,000+ followers.

Yes, I feel good with that power; 5,000 followers. Wow, that’s power. Of course, if you have ever read the Spiderman comics or indeed seen the film you will know that with great power comes great responsibility.

Not so long ago I made a video, a spoof of Woody Allen’s opening to the movie Manhattan. It was good, I thought. I made the video over on Animoto and exported the result to everywhere I could think of: YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, Twitter and so on. Then I sat back and waited for the results to come in. Next day I had four views on YouTube. Yes, I have to admit I was kind of disappointed. The thing is, everything I have ever written, particularly on WordPress, that I personally thought was really good has never had such a great reaction. Conversely also, those things I have just knocked out quickly because my Saturday deadline was looming have actually done pretty well with lots of hits and comments.

Anyway, not to be daunted I added the video to one of my WordPress posts and hoped I might get more hits that way. A few days later I checked YouTube again. 17 hits. Not bad I suppose. So, next move: check my Twitter analytics. I took a look and saw this:

Yes right in the middle there as you can see, there is a big spike. What was it? Well it was a Tweet created by Vimeo, a sort of automatic Tweet that is created when you post something there. The Tweet had over 12,000 impressions and 411 engagements, which is people actually clicking on the video and watching it. It looks like, in this case at least, that despite Vimeo being the poor cousin to YouTube, or so I thought, it was actually Vimeo that was performing for me!
Why?
How should I know? I’m still just an amateur!

Anyway, over on YouTube I not only have numerous videos encouraging the world to buy my book or subscribe to my web page, I also have various other non-marketing videos available.

My top watched video is this one below with, at the time of writing, over 30,899 views. You might be thinking hey, bet he makes a tidy little sum out of that video. However, if you did you’d be wrong because that video, which I made back in 1986 or 1987 is enhanced by an Elton John album track and all the royalties goes to Elton’s music company, despite my hours and weeks of filming and editing.

The video was one of my early video efforts, filmed using a JVC VHS-Compact camera, similar to the one Marty McFly uses in Back to the Future. One day I must get around to deleting Elton and adding some royalty free music.

Next in my video chart is this one about Manchester Airport;

Manchester Airport 1986 was such a long video I had to split it into two parts to upload it and strangely, part one has 6,839 views while poor old Part Two only has 4,762! Once again no royalties are forthcoming from either video as I used music from the pop charts of 1986.

Anyway, time to take another look at my Twitter account and schedule some tweets for this weekend. Should I do the usual stuff plugging my videos and blog posts or perhaps I should Tweet something a little more thoughtful to my 5,000 plus followers? Something about saving the environment or some heartwarming stuff about love and relationships?

After all, with great power comes great responsibility!


Now the nights are drawing in, why not settle down with a good book? Floating in Space is available from amazon as a paperback or Kindle download! Click here to buy!

Charlie Chaplin: Autobiography versus Biography

Earlier this year again, Liz and I packed up the motor and headed off to France. One of the first things I did in preparation was to sort out my holiday book bag. I usually have a stack of unread books to take along but I always like to take along a banker, yes that’s a book I can bank on, rely on to be a good read, usually one I have read before.

I was sorely tempted to bring my favourite read of all time along, Dickens’ David Copperfield or another favourite holiday read ‘A year in Provence‘, that much maligned gentle read about an Englishman living in France, however, one book I chose was so interesting I re-read a great deal of it at home before I left so I didn’t bother to bring it. The book in question was My Autobiography by Charles Chaplin, Charlie, to you and me.

My Autobiography by Charles Chaplin.

Charlie was born in 1889 in Walworth, London and spent his early life in the London suburb of Kennington. His parents were both music hall performers but separated when Charlie was about two years old. His mother was poor and the small family, Charlie, his mother and older brother Sydney, were admitted to the workhouse on two separate occasions.

In 1903, Charlie’s mother was committed to Cane Hill mental asylum and Charlie lived on the streets alone until his brother Sydney, who had joined the navy, returned from sea.

With his father’s connections Charlie secured a place in a clog dancing troupe called the Eight Lancashire Lads and so began his career as a performer. After appearing in some minor roles in the theatre he developed a comic routine and, with help from Sydney, was signed by Fred Karno, the famous music hall impresario, for his comedy company in 1908.

Chaplin became one of Fred Karno’s top comedians and Karno sent him with a troupe of other comedians on a tour of vaudeville theatres in the USA. One of the others was Stan Laurel, later to find fame with the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy.

By  far the most interesting part of Charlie’s autobiography is where he talks about the beginning of his movie career. On a second tour of America in 1913, Chaplin was asked to join the Mack Sennett studios as a performer in silent films for the fee of $150 per week. He wasn’t initially keen but liked the idea of starting something new.

His first film for Sennett was called Making a Living, released in 1914. Chaplin himself wasn’t so keen on the film and for his second appearance selected a new costume. After searching through the costume department Chaplin chose a bowler hat, a jacket that was too small, baggy trousers, shoes that were too large and a cane. It almost seems as though the clothes made him become the character of the tramp which was to make him famous. The film was Mabel’s Strange Predicament although another tramp film made afterwards, Kid Auto races at Venice, was released to the public first.

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

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

Chaplin seems strangely perturbed by his fame and fortune. He writes about an incident between contracts where he takes the train to meet his brother in, I think, New York but word has got out to the public he is travelling and everywhere the train stops, masses of people were waiting. Eventually it dawns on him that it is he they were waiting for. Many times the narrative describes meals and walks taken alone giving the impression of a solitary, lonely man.

The thing to remember about reading this book is that Chaplin tells the reader only what he wants them to know, nothing more. His various marriages are only skimmed over although when he is making the Kid, probably his most important picture, he explains how he thought the negative may have be taken by lawyers acting for his estranged wife so he takes the film and edits it while almost ‘on the run’ in various hideaways and hotel rooms.

Chaplin was known for being attracted to young girls and one of his conquests, a girl called Joan Barry was arrested twice for her obsessive behaviour after he ended their relationship. She became pregnant and claimed he was the father and began a paternity suit against him. J Edgar Hoover who believed Chaplin to be a communist, engineered negative publicity against him and public opinion began to turn against Charlie. He was ordered to pay child support to Barry’s baby despite blood test evidence which showed he could not be the father. The blood test evidence was ruled inadmissible.

The earlier part of the book is by far the most interesting but the later part, where Chaplin is famous the world over, it becomes an excuse for name dropping, despite there being a clear absence of any notable anecdotes involving the famous names. Even his best friend Douglas Fairbanks, makes few appearances within the pages.

A fascinating read none the less.

Charlie Chaplin by Peter Ackroyd.

Peter wrote an excellent book about one of my writing heroes, Charles Dickens and I felt that this book was going to be in the same sort of mould. Long, intense and full of detail. Actually it’s a pretty slim volume and not the intense scrutiny of Chaplin that I was expecting. However, on the credit side, it’s a thoughtful and detailed look at Chaplin, his movies and his personal life and a cracking read it is too.

One hundred years ago Chaplin was the most famous man in the world. I’m not sure who would qualify for that title today as despite global communications and the Internet age, the world is separated by many different languages and cultures. A hundred years ago there was no language barrier for Chaplin, and his silent films with their universal language of comedy, went all the way round the globe and he was as famous in countries such as Russia or Africa as he was in Europe or the USA.

Hollywood in the early part of the twentieth century must have been a fascinating place and this book is a great starting point to find out about Chaplin and his work and the beginning of the film industry. Definitely a book well worth reading.


Floating in Space can be ordered from amazon as a Kindle download or as a traditional paperback by clicking here. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Running With the Stars.

Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

I am back once again in the UK after my five weeks in France. Yes, all things must come to an end and of course, so do holidays. It’s probably only fair to mention that after an inordinately long time spent lying on a French sun lounger, I do have, as you can imagine, a fair old plethora of French thoughts and ramblings in my notebook, all of which I feel duty bound to share with you, my readers.

Please bear with me, after all, in a few weeks time I will be fully reintegrated back into the UK and I’ll be writing the usual stuff about things like old black and white films and old TV programmes newly discovered by strange and sometimes fleeting new freeview TV channels. However, until then:

One of the really satisfying things about staying in a large house in the French countryside, is the lack of interference from the outside world. I mentioned in another post about silence, that simple commodity that is a cornerstone of relaxation but is difficult to find in an urban metropolis like Manchester. Another simple quality here in rural France is the lack of light pollution. In the city things such as street lighting, neon lights and illuminated advertising hoardings all contribute an abundance of light but here in the country, darkness is something different; a deep, sensuous blackness that almost overwhelms the senses.

Lying back on your chair or lounger in the soft, warm evening and looking up at the sky is a wonderful sensation. Without the interference of ambient light, the sky at night is a whole new world. An enigmatic velvet vista opens up to the naked eye with myriads of stars, some the merest pinpricks, others great beacons in the sky.

Peering into the night sky I noticed one particular star, much brighter than the others. It was then I remembered that on my iPad I have an app that can tell you which stars are in the sky. The star in question was not the pole star as I had surmised but Vega. Vega is the brightest star in the constellation of Lyra, the fifth brightest star in the night sky, and the second brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere, after Arcturus. It is relatively close at only 25 light years away from us, here on Earth.

A screenshot from my iPad.

It is really humbling looking up at this great vista and realising that this is what creation looks like and that you too are a tiny part of it. It might even be the case too on that some distant place, millions of light years away, some other person, some distant inhabitant of a distant star is thinking the same thing, looking up at a star that might be our sun, the same sun that warms the earth.

One book that I have particularly enjoyed on this holiday was a book about the thoughts and ideas of Marcus Aurelius, a long dead Roman emperor and philosopher.

This is one of the things he said . .

Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them. - Marcus Aurelius

Another book which I read on holiday was a little disappointing; Lion by Seroo Brierley. The film version was an absolute wonder of documentary style realism and full on emotion. In the book though, Seroo talks about the events that took him away from India to Australia and then years later, reunited him with his lost family in a rather detached and matter of fact way. He hints at a hidden guiding hand in the universe but then denies that he is religious. What was the hidden guiding hand then? Fate? Electricity?

Strange how something that would make one man turn to religion makes another turn away. Sometimes, religion itself can trigger a negative response. It has always surprised me that someone in the public eye like Cliff Richard for instance, who is a devout Christian and used to make a full on Christian song his Christmas hit has always had his faith used against him. It used to be a regular thing in the 1990’s to slag off Cliff because he was a Christian and yet Madonna, who belongs to a strange sect called Kabbalah, has not had similar treatment. She for some reason, was the acceptable face of the religious pop star.

In a few months time, around Christmas in the UK, yet another town will cancel the Christmas lights because it is offensive to non Christians and rename them ‘holiday lights.’ It’s Christmas, it’s actually a Christian festival for pity’s sake. Still, it will happen and it will be reported in the Daily Mail, I’m sure.

What you probably won’t see reported in the Daily Mail will be that in Afghanistan, Ramadan has been renamed ‘holiday week’ so as not to offend westerners. Perhaps here in the UK we are somehow ashamed of faith, perhaps we don’t need it any more, we are too advanced, too technological, or something. Perhaps technology explains too many things, the origin of the universe, the big bang. Pity it doesn’t explain the reason for living, the actual point of life.

Some years ago I started using some audio tapes by Paul McKenna to build my confidence and help with job interviews. On one of the tapes he mentions that there is no fixed purpose in life except the one you give it. Could he be right?

On one of my last evenings in rural France gazing at the night sky, I found myself thinking of the last sequence in the movie ‘The History of Mr Polly.‘ You must have seen the film on TV, the one with John Mills as Mr Polly. Polly finds himself in a very dull job with a very dull wife and resolves to commit suicide. Anyway, events unfold and instead of committing suicide, Polly accidentally starts a fire which threatens the whole street and he then mounts a brave rescue of an old lady. Instead of dying, Mr Polly becomes a hero and when the insurance money comes in, he leaves his wife, nicely settled with the insurance money, takes a little for himself and departs for pastures new. He sends some money to a post office in another village and gradually meanders in that direction, sleeping in fields and hedges, getting himself a tan. Working occasionally when he wants and sleeping when the mood takes him at other times.

He comes across the Potwell Inn and asks for work and right away finds himself at home.

Right at the very end of the film Polly, played by Mills and the Inn landlady, played by that old British film actress Megs Jenkins are sitting in the garden, contentedly watching the sun go down and Mills wonders aloud ‘what have we done to deserve a sunset like this?’

The fact is, sunsets are a part of nature and they will come and go whether we deserve to see them or not. As long as this world goes round the sun, the sun will rise and the sun will set somewhere on the globe. Even so, sunsets are lovely.

So are the stars and now and again it’s nice to imagine yourself running with them.


Floating in Space can be ordered from amazon as a Kindle download or as a traditional paperback by clicking here. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Return Journey

All holidays end, and eventually, no matter how wonderful a time you have had, you have to return home and go back to work. It’s sad to think that when I’m back at my desk, some other lucky fellow will be in my villa, sipping wine on my patio, and relaxing. At least he won’t be using my glass, because I bought my glass at a vide grenier and brought it home to the UK so, to the guy relaxing on my patio -get yer own glass mate!

Liz and I finished our holiday in France by motoring from the Cher department to the much lovelier Loire region and stayed for a few days in one of our favourite french towns, Doué la Fontaine.

It was nice to see our old friends again. We visited Julie, the landlady of a small bar in Doué. The bar is rarely busy and Julie runs the place herself. On the day we visited, she wasn’t feeling too well but what can she do she asks; she must work as there is no one else to open up. I have to say, I did consider eating there but earlier, as we walked around the market, we found a small bar offering a 13 Euro three course menu, including wine, so we sauntered round there to find a hidden gem of a bar that we had not noticed on any of our numerous previous trips to the town.

Julie’s bar in Doué La Fontaine

The lunch was lovely, if a little too big for someone who has never taken lunch seriously. A sandwich is my usual lunchtime fare but this lovely lunch kept me going for the rest of the day.

After a few days we had to say goodbye to Doué and set off for our rendezvous with the ferry at Caen. We did some serene motoring travelling north but as I was worried about time we jumped onto the autoroute to make better headway. After a good run we stopped at the services for some refreshments. French services, Aires as they call them, are much, much nicer than the packed UK versions. French Aires are like quiet restful picnic areas, some have petrol and all the other facilities of UK services but others are just small picnic areas. The one we stopped at was unusually busy. Rarely have I ever seen more than a few cars and wagons at the services but at these there must have been fifteen to twenty cars.

At the toilets themselves, one of the cubicles was closed for repairs and the other was engaged so I had to use the urinals. French men clearly do not need privacy because many urinals are open to the gaze of passersby, sometimes with a small modesty screen, other times not. Both urinals were in use but as I approached, one became free and as I opened up my trousers the one to my left became free also. Happy days I thought because for some reason, I always find it difficult having a communal wee. Just as I was ready to release my waters, someone stood at the free urinal to my left and my hoped for flow was stemmed before it had even started. ‘Come on’ I said to myself, ‘have a wee and get it over with!’ The more I tried the harder it seemed to be. My fellow urinal user was also having the same problem as I had not heard the tell-tale sound of his waters flowing either. He must have been trying hard because after a few moments he issued a loud and unexpected fart!. He was obviously flustered and mumbled a hasty ‘sorry about that.’ I detected a southern english accent and mumbled OK in what I thought was a french accent, not wanting him to think I was english as I felt that if he thought I was French he might be less embarrassed. (Yes, I don’t understand that either but that was my thought process.) Just then, the happy trickle of my waters finally began to flow.

A typical French aire. Looks busy doesn’t it?

We were early for our appointment with the ferry but what with passport checks and the inevitable stopping and starting the time passed quickly.

One nice way to travel on a ferry is to take the night crossing so you can freshen up, have a nice meal and perhaps the odd glass of wine and then sleep during the crossing, waking up in Portsmouth ready for the long trip up north. I’ve always rather liked that coming the other way, England towards France. It’s nice to wake up in France of a morning, all fresh and ready to drive through the Gallic countryside. Waking up in Portsmouth ready to face the morning rush hour is not always a good thing. On this trip we arrived in the UK at nine thirty in the evening. The weather kept mostly dry and we had a good run until the A34 we were travelling on was unexpectedly closed before we met with the M40. Ah, the nightmare of night-time road works!

The diversion took us back partly along the way we had had already travelled and on to the M40 from a different direction. Later as we ventured further up north we encountered signs for ‘DELAYS J15 – J16 M6’. Delays, at one in the morning? Surely not? Surely yes because after a while, when our three lanes became only one due to road works’ closures, we joined a sad and slow-moving convoy creeping forward in first gear. Oh well, good job it wasn’t a night journey in the other direction, hoping to pick up a night ferry to France. I could just imagine us sitting on the quayside having missed the boat!

C’est la vie!


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

Past and Future: Some F1 Thoughts and Reflections

Back in the 1970’s I subscribed to a magazine called Motor Sport. The magazine was, and still is, a monthly motor sporting glossy and I kept each copy as my reference guide and revered it as my motor sporting bible. The F1 races were always fully covered in detail and there was also an interesting reflections column written by a journalist who signed himself DSJ.

DSJ was Dennis Jenkinson. Jenkinson served in the RAF where he met Bill Boddy the editor of Motor Sport and it was through Boddy that Jenkinson became the continental correspondent of Motor Sport. According to his Wikipedia page, Jenkinson or ‘Jenks’ as he was known, lived a wonderful life, well, wonderful for a bachelor motor sporting fan. He lived at a succession of digs in the UK in winter and spent the summer touring the continent watching motor sport and writing about it for the magazine. (Why can’t I get a job like that?) He famously partnered Stirling Moss in the Mille Miglia in the 1950’s and perfected a style of pace notes which later became the norm in rallying. The co-driver reads notes out to the driver about what is coming up; ‘fast left’, tight right turn’ and so on.

I always rather liked his Grand Prix reports, especially the interesting reflections he wrote which concerned motor sporting chit-chat and background stuff that he picked up in the paddock. The 1970’s era disappointed Jenks and it began to show in his writings. Jackie Stewart, who fought so hard for improved safety in F1 after seeing his friends die driving racing cars was someone who Jenks clearly loathed. To him the greats were people like Jo Siffert and Pedro Rodriguez who were willing to race whatever the weather and didn’t care if the medical facilities were available or not. Both those drivers, I might add, were killed in motor races. Another hero of his, Stirling Moss, was lucky not to lose his life too.

In one issue, his reflections concerned a ‘jamboree’ that took place at Silverstone. He spoke at great length about the John Player Special cars, the Marlboro motor home and so on. At the end of this report he mentioned that in the midst of the ‘jamboree’ an F1 race had taken place and he listed the results. That was his Grand Prix report. It was, I suppose, a protest item. The sport he loved had become something else, actually it had become the sport I loved. I never read the magazine again and cancelled my subscription. The F1 of the 70’s was my world and the racing world pre 1970 was dark and gloomy. Sponsorship and aerodynamics gave formula one a look and feel that I have always loved and Stewart was and always will be to me, one of the great drivers of motor sport.

In the early days of the sport, cars were painted according to their home colours. The UK was British racing green, Silver for Germany, red for Italy, blue for France and so on. Italy was rather lucky, I think, to get red when the colours were given out and of course Ferraris are painted red to this day. Ferrari are the oldest and most historic team in the sport and something that has enhanced their image and prestige as much as the red colours is the prancing horse symbol. I’ve always liked the story of how Ferrari came to use the horse symbol, in fact I first read it in a comic strip in the Valiant or the Hotspur. 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.

Today a new F1 team might employ a graphic designer to create a logo for their car or team. Such a designer, having studied art and design would surely come up with a good logo but, could he capture the history or the allure of the prancing horse? I doubt it.

The Singapore Grand Prix last weekend was the background to some interesting news, although some of it was not only expected but something of an open secret. Mclaren announced that they were ending their fruitless partnership with Honda in favour of becoming a customer of the Renault F1 engine. I had read rumours about this in the F1 press for weeks but in Singapore the move was finally confirmed. McLaren have arrived at a crossroads with two choices: One, carry on ahead with Honda, Two, turn sharp right with Renault. Clearly they have chosen the right turn option.

McLaren have waited nearly three years for their partnership with Honda to bear fruit and it looks as though time has finally run out. Personally, I would have given things another year but the added problem for McLaren is that the ace they hold in their other hand -star driver Fernando Alonso- is in danger of jumping ship if the team stay with Honda, so it seems to me that this move to Renault means Alonso is more important to the team than Honda. Ron Dennis, the former Mclaren boss who arranged the deal with Honda, felt that to succeed in modern F1 a partnership with a major engine manufacturer was vital. If that is true then Torro Rosso, who will run with Honda engines next year, could well find themselves a major player in the sport with Honda backing, assuming of course, that Honda finally get their engines to work properly. As Torro Rosso are the junior team to Red Bull, it might even be possible that a fully sorted Honda engine could be powering a Red Bull in the next few years, especially as the Red Bull/Renault relationship has soured recently. Renault are here for two main reasons, as are all the other car companies involved in F1. One, to tag their brand image with racing, hi-technology and success and two, in doing so, sell more motor cars. Once the Red Bull management started slagging off Renault and putting those ideals in jeopardy, that relationship was clearly on the way out.

Fernando Alonso. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Fernando Alonso is one of the great F1 drivers, up there in terms of talent with Lewis Hamilton but clearly Hamilton has made far better team moves than his rival. He must have looked at Mercedes from the McLaren motor home, skimmed over the past poor seasons when Schumacher drove for the team, considered the money Mercedes was spending and saw the talent, managerial and technical that they were attracting and made his move, an inspired move as it turned out. Alonso’s move, in retrospect, was perhaps not such a good one. Following the talent is always a good idea.

Some years back I was surprised to see Mark Webber move from Williams to Red Bull. What on earth was he doing I thought at the time? Webber could see first hand that the glory days at Williams were over and decided to follow that top design talent, Adrian Newey to Red Bull. Top notch move, Mark.

Another interesting item from the paddock in Singapore was that Valterri Bottas was signed up for another year at Mercedes. I was always of the feeling that when Mercedes signed him up to a one year deal in 2016, they had plans for someone else the year after. Did they have their eyes on Alonso, perhaps?

Alonso brings a lot to a team, his immense driving talent for sure but he also brings with him a hefty price tag. Honda footed his $40 million salary but next year, McLaren must cough up that cash themselves. If Alonso brings success back to the McLaren team then the big name sponsors will return and everyone will be happy. Personally, I think the winners here might ultimately be the Red Bull team . .