Holiday Book Bag Summer 2019

To me, one of the great things about a summer holiday are the books I take in my book bag. The chance to relax and read something in a good lengthy book reading session. These are the books I took away to read this summer.

The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe by J. Randy Taraborelli.

I’ve always found Marilyn Monroe to be just about the most fascinating of all the great Hollywood movie stars, not only her life and career but also her strange and mysterious death. This book written in 2008 is interesting in that it focuses on her early life as well as her movie career, but also looks closely at her private life and her issues with her own mental health which give us a clue to understanding her unhealthy obsession with drugs and medication. Clearly, as the author shows, it was more than the usual Hollywood addiction to uppers and downers, essential perhaps back then to deal with late night publicity and early film calls but actually for Marilyn a way to deal with the mental anguish that plagued her and her mother for most of their lives.

Marilyn was terrified of ending up like her mother in a mental institution and when in the early 1960’s she was voluntarily admitted to a mental hospital, supposedly for a rest cure, she was terrified to find she had been locked into what she described as a madhouse. Former husband Joe DiMaggio came to her rescue but the experience must have reminded her of her own mother who herself was desperate to escape the institutions she was kept in.

A lot of elements of her early life I wasn’t really aware of until reading this book and also the author makes a good point in showing that Marilyn herself wasn’t always honest about what she told the press and others about herself.

Well written, very interesting and apart from the last chapter on the Kennedys which I think has been dealt with better in some more recent books, a great addition to any Monroe book collection.

My Turn by Norman Wisdom.

I have to say that until reading this book I had no interest whatsoever in Norman Wisdom. I used to see his films regularly on television as a child but I have to say, I have never found him funny and his slapstick gormless antics have always left me unmoved.

Liz picked this book up for me at a church charity sale and I had a quick look at it one day relaxing in the garden. It sounded pretty interesting and I do love showbiz life stories so I popped it into my holiday book bag and finished it off on holiday.

Norman tells us the story of his early life in which his parents were clearly not happy together. His father was violent and eventually his mother left and divorced her husband. This being the 1930s when divorce was not so prevalent as in the present day she was unable to take her children with her and they were sadly neglected by their father.

He left them alone for long periods and their education and welfare suffered. At one point Norman remembered going to school in bare feet, something not so uncommon he says at the time. His father put Norman and his brother in various foster homes and at one point they even found themselves living on the streets. Norman himself was saved by the army. He joined as a child as a band boy and credits the army and the army way of life as the making of him. After leaving the army he found his father had remarried and went to see him hoping to be taken in. He knocked on the door and a lady answered. Norman told her who he was and she asked him to wait.

Later his father returned and without a thought for his son and his situation, threw him out. He is never mentioned again. It’s amazing that someone who has suffered so much in this way should go on to a career of making people laugh. I did wonder whether Norman, living in a lovely home in the Isle of Man, surrounded by a collection of exclusive motor cars, ever once thought about his father, who incidentally was a chauffeur.

Later he was reunited with his mother and brother and was supported by his mum and her new husband as he made his way into the world of comedy.

The first part of the book is truly sad and at the same time refreshing to see how Norman copes with all this and yet still goes on to fame and fortune. The latter part of the book is not so interesting; more of a list of his numerous successes but one anecdote was rather funny.

Norman was invited to Spain for a film festival where apparently his films were very popular, his visual style of comedy transcending the language barriers. At the festival he is the star attraction and due to go on last but Hollywood star James Mason thinks he should go on last as he is the bigger star. Norman agrees and goes on before Mason. He then wows his audience with a short speech in Spanish, leaves to a standing ovation and poor James Mason walks on to only a trickle of applause!

Tricks of the Mind by Derren Brown.

This is another book I picked up at a charity book shop. Derren Brown is an enigmatic TV fella whose shows are a sort of combination of magic, psychology, hypnotism and some just general weird spooky stuff. I’m not sure what I was expecting from his book. I suppose I guessed it was a sort of autobiography of sorts but in fact it’s really about the things that interest the author, pretty much in the realms of magic, psychology and hypnotism and have contributed towards his performances both on the stage and on TV.

He starts off with a little background to magic and how it works, things like sleight of hand and then how the magician uses various techniques to divert attention away from something that he doesn’t want you to see to something he wants you to see.

Another interesting technique, vital to a magician is memory. Imagine a magician, or anyone for that matter being able to memorise an entire shuffled deck of cards. Sounds impossible doesn’t it but no, it can be done by using various methods which the author describes which are also pretty good for remembering anything like passwords, telephone numbers or shopping lists for instance. The way to do it is by linking something –whatever it is you are trying to remember- to something you can remember like a really striking image. So when trying to remember the name of a new acquaintance called Mike for instance, we should create an image of someone with a really big nose, shaped like a mic –a microphone.

There are more highly interesting sections on hypnotism, and body language and then the author moves on to discrediting things like mediums who try to contact the spirit world. Everything they do he claims can be done by ‘cold reading’, a way of interpreting not only body language but verbal language tricks too.

Overall a fascinating book but one theme that Derren plays too much with is how he has rejected Christianity because science cannot prove that Jesus was who he says he is, the son of God and has been resurrected. Surely Derren especially should realise that everything is not as it seems.


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.

Everything you need to know about Shopping.

Believe it or not, I like shopping. Yes, really! I actually like shopping. Although born into the latter half of the 20th century I am a man who has embraced 21st century ideals. I don’t expect women to stay at home and do the cooking, washing, cleaning or shopping. No, as a new age man I am willing to get in there and sort out the shopping. Not the daily shop you understand, more of the occasional shop. .

I love shopping in Lidl and Aldi and I love checking out all those special offers in the centre aisles. You know things like, well the other day I saw this great set of ski goggles in Lidl. They had these special lenses and this special strap, and they were tinted and had this special anti-glare stuff on the lenses. Now it just so happens that I have never actually done any skiing. In fact I’ve never really been that interested in it. I mean actually paying to go somewhere that is cold? I don’t think so but then again. Imagine being on a flight that gets diverted and ends up in the French Alps. What would I do then? Sorry, can’t go skiing because I haven’t any ski goggles. You can see just from that quick example those ski goggles might have been worth it. Anyway, I managed to resist them in the end.

Another item that caught my fancy was some really tasty drill bits in a really nice case. I was tempted even though I don’t do that much drilling. Of course I do some drilling. I have a really rather nice drill and it was only months ago when I used it last. Actually, it may have been last year, or was it 2017? I know I did put up this really cracking set of bookshelves back in 1995 but anyway, once again I managed to resist the temptation to purchase.

Interestingly, a few weeks back Liz and I went into Curry’s to look for a new TV. We had already seen one on the World Wide Web but thought why wait for delivery? Why not just run up there and pick one up?

Of course the TV that we wanted wasn’t available. ‘You’d have been better ordering on the Internet’ said the salesman. No wonder Curry’s is only one third of the size it used to be; everyone is just ordering on the Internet.

When we mentioned we wanted a 32 inch TV the guy said ‘right, it’s for a caravan is it, or for the bedroom?’

Actually it was for the lounge, it’s just that we don’t want an oversized monstrosity taking over the entire room! (Actually now I think on, I quite fancy one of those huge TVs!)

When we mentioned we wanted a integrated DVD player the guy once again looked right down at us. A DVD player? ‘Well that’s old technology’ he said. ‘People tend to use Netflix nowadays.’

Look, whatever, It just so happens we want a DVD player, OK!

Right, said the guy but what about a Smart TV? You can watch Netflix, YouTube and all sorts of things. You do have Internet don’t you?

We do, only Liz’s bungalow is rather long and the Internet tends to stay over the other side of the house. Sorry Mr Smarmy Curry’s salesman: no sale and if I want a DVD player I’ll get one elsewhere!

Of course most of my shopping I do for my elderly mother in her local Asda store and there are some excellent departments there that I do like to visit. The CD section in Asda isn’t quite as interesting as the music area used to be. Now it’s a rather small section with only a limited few CD’s on sale because a lot of people tend to download their music. Sorry but once again I’m of the old school of music buyers, I want something physical for my money. I know I’m not going to get a big sleeve like in the vinyl days with some interesting sleeve notes. These days the sleeve notes are so small I need a magnifying glass to read them but I like to have something I can hold and look at and touch.

Sometimes I think back to those long gone Saturday afternoons flicking through records in the numerous record shops in Manchester. Sadly, that is just a distant memory now. Once 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 the radio.

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.

Music shops are few and far between these days so where is left if you want to buy a record rather than download? Oh yes, the CDs and DVD department of your local superstore!

Moving on through Asda I do like to check out the the clothes section. It’s not so easy finding clothes to fit a huge gynormous great lump like me so it’s always worthwhile just checking out the supermarket menswear section because sometimes I will actually find something that will fit me.

Occasionally in the sale section I’ll find some really great XXL shirt lingering among the unwanted items but even then, I find that sometimes one man’s XXL is another man’s L!

Right that’s the proper shopping sorted, now for some day to day stuff, a quick whiz through and I slap a few things in my trolley; bacon, eggs, tomatoes, bread, milk and so on.

The big problem in any supermarket for me is that no matter what, some strange force will unerringly guide me to the totally wrong till. Now, I won’t just jump onto any till. I will observe closely, check out the options and then choose the wrong one.

Here’s a for instance, yesterday at Asda. All the main tills were full of people with a huge trolley of goods, enough to last me about a month so I ignored those and went on down to the basket section. Two tills were open here, one with about four people ahead of me, the other with about ten. A no brainer I thought, go for the one with four people. I just managed to nip in before a crazy looking lady with a failed 1960’s style beehive hairdo. She waited behind me for a short while before bailing out in favour of aisle 2.

Now my usual tactic is not to unload any stuff until I am sure of the lie of the land but on this day I felt confident enough to do so. Big mistake! On till number 2, weird looking crazy beehive lady seemed to be moving forward at a fair old speed while my till wasn’t doing much. Strange because the four people in front of me had only a sparse collection of goods and in till number 2 each of their people had a good selection of items.

Shortly after, crazy beehive woman seemed to be pretty much on a par with me and moments later was actually ahead. That checkout girl in aisle 2 was certainly doing the business. Up at the front of aisle 1 my checkout lady was far too chatty but not only that, something seemed to be going on up there and our checkout girl called over the checkout girl from aisle 2 to assist.

This didn’t go down well with the people from aisle 2 and crazy beehive lady clearly wasn’t happy as she was now stalled only a matter of feet from the till and freedom. Over on my side there was a battle under way to remove the security tag from a bottle of spirits, possibly vodka, but sadly checkout lady 2 gave up and returned to her till while we waited for the manager to sort out the security tag.

I felt like saying come on, do you really need a bottle of vodka at 2 in the afternoon but I kept silent and moments later, crazy beehive woman was off although not before shooting me a victorious look which seemed to say ‘that’ll teach you to nip in front of me at the checkout!’

Eventually, our till got sorted, the vodka bottle was freed up for sale and we moved on.

I knew that till was going to be a big mistake!


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.

More Sun Lounger Thoughts (Part 9)

Once again we have motored over to France in our motorhome (or camping car as the French call them.) The weather has been great, in fact a little too great as a heatwave has descended upon France making things rather uncomfortable indeed.

By the Lake.

As a result we parked up at the Lac d’Hommes, a lake with an artificial beach where the locals come to cool off. After a lovely cooling dip on a day when the mercury hit 105 degrees Fahrenheit (don’t bother asking what that is in Celsius because I neither know nor care!) I settled back on a towel on our groundsheet. Sadly, sun loungers were not available!

I know I’ve said it before but lying in the sun as the water drips off you after a swim is one of life’s great relaxing experiences. Here by the lake lying with my eyes closed I am bombarded by numerous different conversations coming from the busy lake. I can pick out various words in French that I know and I try to put together conversations based on those few words. The language of children squealing with delight as they splash about in the water though is universal. At one end of the spectrum are screams of delight, at the other end are the tears of some minor mishap and they die down when mum or dad come to the rescue.

Names are shouted across the waters of the lake and one urgent cry I heard was that of ‘Jean-Michel! Jean-Michel!’ Strange how brothers and sisters the world over always refer to their siblings with their full and proper names. My brother always calls me Stephen. Not Ste or Steve but Stephen and my childhood friends, brothers Tony and Chris, always referred to each other as Anthony and Christopher.

We arrived at the lake about 11am and after a few days here I think I have got used to the natural rythym of things. There are a few families here when we arrive but the second wave comes after the French lunchtime ends sometime after 2pm. The final wave of lake goers arrive in the late afternoon, just as we are about to leave, young men and women who have perhaps finished work or college.

By the Sea

One day we left the lake behind and moved towards the coast and the somewhat cooler climes of the French Vendée. Relaxing once again on our towels and groundsheet on the beach, the only thing I could hear when I closed my eyes was the crash of the waves on the beach. It was a hugely relaxing sound, very, very loud although we were about 100 yards from the sea.

Later we walked down to the sea wanting to swim but the breakers came in very fast. As we paddled barefoot out into the sea the sand gave way to a stretch of shingle and when I hopped from one foot to another to try and get away from the unexpected sharp stones, one huge wave knocked me right over and I fell over into the water momentarily shocked and confused.

I pulled myself up feeling rather silly and made my way back to the sand. No swimming today.

Le Puy Notre Dame.

One of the reasons we came to France so early this year was to watch the Retro Grand Prix at Le Puy Notre Dame. It’s a vintage motor race through the streets of the village with pre war motor cars and motorcycles. The cars assemble in a makeshift paddock then make their way to the track, actually the village streets, lined just as they were in the past, with straw bales. Motor racing in the pre-war years was a different thing to modern formula one. Huge steering wheels without power steering, narrow wheels with tyres made for normal motoring, cloth helmets and goggles.

The stars of those years, people like Tazio Nuvolari, Prince Bira, and Henry Segrave were a different breed to modern drivers. Still, whatever the era, racing drivers the world over love the speed, the competition and the winning although winning a race in some of the classic cars we observed at Le Puy Notre Dame must have been a formidable achievement.

In between the races we settled down for some french sausage and frites washed down with a 2 euro glass of beer. I fancied another but we had come on the day of late racing; the activities start in the late afternoon and go on until late in the evening so I had to forgo that extra drink so we could drive off to find a quieter place to stop the night.

In the Heat.

The heat of this summer heatwave is really hard to deal with. The usual frenchman or woman will just stay inside, after all, french houses are made with the heat in mind. Their stonework hugs the cool and their white exteriors reflect away the heat. A frenchman goes inside to cool down but in a motorhome, the interior is even warmer than the outside. Despite trying to park in cool shady places the motorhome is always hot and so we can only sit back and suffer the heat.

Shall we leave the doors open asks Liz? No, of course not I answer. Suppose someone comes in the night to rob us! However, what happens when the sweat is pouring down our faces? We leave the doors and windows open and security goes out of the window.

We stayed at one motorhome aire where there were showers. Showers, what a luxury. I don’t think I have enjoyed a shower so much ever. I was hot and bothered and sweaty and nothing seemed to combat the heat but after a cool shower, feeling cooler and fresh, suddenly all was right with the world!

Two things are always on my mind as a motorhomer; where can I stop the night and where can I empty my toilet? I worry about those things and it is always a great feeling to find somewhere to settle down for the night. We do consult various guide books and web sites like Park4Night and so far things have been fine.

On this trip one other thing has also worried me. Will we have enough water to drink? I find myself remembering something that happened years ago, cycling with my friends in the peak district and gasping, absolutely gasping for a drink. We stopped at a shop and I remember buying a big bottle of Dandelion and Burdock, my favourite childhood drink. We stepped outside the shop and my friend took a big gulp of his drink and me? Well I opened my bottle and drank the whole lot down in one long guzzle. I can still remember the feeling of refreshment that I felt back then, it was so wonderful.

Anyway, time to get that Pepsi out of the fridge!


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

Checking the Temperature and the British Summer

This week’s post is an old one from 2014 but still relevant this summer!

Hot, boiling, sweltering, humid: Any way you look at it the UK is hot! We can’t complain about a rainy summer this year but in the UK we are just not prepared for heat. In Spain for instance it’s perfect for a hot, sunny, holiday. They have their cool outdoor pools, their outdoor bars and restaurants, and if we want to cool down more then we can go inside where traditionally built Spanish properties with their tiled interiors and whitewashed exteriors positively hug any coolness that might be about.

In the UK with our insulated walls and roofing, our houses seem to hug the warmth, it’s hotter in our homes than outside and when we leave our windows open to cool down you can guarantee some inconsiderate noisy sod will be playing his or her music far too loud, Well, that’s the British summer for you.

Something that really bugs me lately is the way the metric system has started to grip it’s clammy fingers around the UK media. When I’m watching a rather interesting documentary on the BBC I’m not interested in the least about how many metres long this or that is, or how many kilometres it is to there from here, I want to know it in feet and inches, I want to know in miles! I’m English and OK when I’m travelling in Europe I accept kilometres and KPH and do the mental adjustment but in the UK I shouldn’t have to do that. On the motorway I understand what it means when I hit the 300 yard marker to the next exit. I know what a yard is, I can visualise it. I understand that the next services are twenty miles away because I understand what a mile is and how long a mile is so don’t start putting kilometres on the motorway to confuse me!

image courtesy wikipedia

image courtesy wikipedia

And, coming back to the heat, when did all this Celsius start creeping in. The temperature today will be a maximum of twenty degrees? What is that about? If you are going to tell me the temperature tell me in the Fahrenheit that I have been  brought up with and understand then I know that seventy is hot and eighty is even hotter!

This is the time of year when the papers will say one day, it was hotter in Dartford that it was in Barcelona or hotter in Brighton than the Costa Del Sol! Interesting. Of course, they don’t say that happened on one day out of three hundred and sixty five or that the last time it happened it was 1973 but either way it’s still pretty interesting. But, and here’s something you should know, on the day the temperature  hits 37 degrees Celcius in somewhere like Blackpool the papers won’t tell you that. No, what they will say will be this ‘Temperature hits 100 degrees in Blackpool!’

Yes, the big one hundred, that’s Fahrenheit of course . .


Enjoyed this post? Well, if you did why not try my book, Floating In Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information or HERE to go straight to Amazon!

 

Remembering Apollo 11

image By NASA –

I’m not one for writing topical blog posts. I pretty much write about whatever comes into my head but this week it’s the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, something that made a deep impression on me as a 12 year old boy in June, 1969.

There have been lots of anniversary programmes on TV about the moon shots and Apollo 11 and for me who was once obsessed by the Apollo missions they were all pretty interesting.

One was a programme I have seen before about Neil Armstrong which involved his friends and family talking about the late astronaut. Armstrong was a quiet man who took lessons at his local aerodrome and learned to fly before he could drive. He joined the US air force and became a pilot in the Korean War before returning home to study aeronautics at university.

Later he joined NASA and became an astronaut and apparently the first his family knew about it was when NASA introduced its new trainees on the television news.

Armstrong was a talented pilot who went from testing aircraft like the experimental X15 to become part of the manned spaceflight program and later from being an unknown astronaut to perhaps the most famous man in the world. Everyone wanted to meet the first man on the moon and perhaps get his autograph.

Later on he declined to sign autographs when he found that people were selling them on.

Armstrong resigned from NASA in 1971 and decided to take up a professorship at the University of Cincinnati.

He seemed reluctant to talk about Apollo 11 and I even remember back on the 25th anniversary, the BBC ran a documentary in which Buzz Aldrin did most of the talking, explaining how Neil landed the Lunar Module Eagle on the moon’s surface.

On the way down the Eagle’s computer kept throwing up ‘1201’ and ‘1202’ program alarms. Neither Armstrong nor Aldrin knew what that was but the controllers at mission control knew. The on-board computer which had less memory that a modern mobile phone, could not deal with all the data is was receiving. Armstrong switched over to manual flight, hopped the lunar lander over a rocky area then finally dropped down safely onto the lunar surface with only a scant few seconds of fuel remaining.

Anyway, getting back to July, 1969, I don’t know if you can imagine the excitement of a twelve year old boy, getting up for school one morning to find the TV on and Neil Armstrong walking on the moon when the usual TV broadcast at that time would have been the test card!

Those black and white ghostlike TV images enthralled me that July morning and how my Mother eventually managed to pack me off to school I do not know. Back then I was glued to the BBC transmissions about the Apollo programme and I was a great fan of James Burke who gave us concise updates on what was happening in space and at mission control.

Another BBC programme I saw recently was one about the BBC broadcasts of those days and James Burke himself looked back at film from the late sixties. Video tape was apparently in short supply at the BBC back then and most of his broadcasts were deleted but many of the filmed inserts, broadcast presumably when not much was happening live, were really interesting.

In one, Burke gets inside the cramped command module and shows us just how small it actually was. Apparently in zero g: weightlessness, it appeared bigger because then one could float off into a corner that was normally inaccessible and go to sleep.

In another Burke goes aboard a NASA plane which makes a steep descent creating a few moments of weightlessness which was important for astronaut training.

I often think about that day in 1969, watching the Apollo 11 crew on the moon. The images looked ethereal and ghostly as the two astronauts bobbed about in the low gravity of the moon. I used to wonder just what it was like for Aldrin and Armstrong and what it was like also for Mike Collins, waiting patiently orbiting above in the Command Module Columbia.

Collins must have been the loneliest man in the world just then.

Later in the Apollo program, the TV pictures improved enormously but it was the pictures and cine film that the astronauts brought back which were really amazing.

You might be forgiven for thinking that with the moon landing being 50 years ago, manned space exploration has gone on to bigger and better things. Not so. The Apollo program was incredibly expensive: 25.4 billion dollars according to a quick search on Google: Money that of course the US government could well use elsewhere and after Apollo 17 the moon landing programme was shut down.

Still, think about the spin offs in technology, not only rocketry but computers and electronics and so on. I once read that the secret to the US winning the space race was computer technology and that many calculations done by the Soviets were done by teams of mathematicians using abacuses!

The space race was also part of the cold war and although the Soviets seemed to excel in the early part of the 1960’s, it was the USA that finally put a man on the moon and that man, the first man, was Neil Armstrong who went from relative obscurity to the most famous man in the world. The only other person I can really think of with a similar fame was Charlie Chaplin, whose films, in the days of silent films, went all the way around the world.

One interesting thing to finish with: On one of the BBC documentaries, one of Armstrong’s friends, or perhaps it was his brother, remembered Neil as having a regular dream when he was a child.

Armstrong dreamt that he could float in the air by holding his breath! Quite an interesting dream for a future astronaut!


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.

Blogging, Editing and Re-Editing

One of my workmates asked me recently if I had written a new blog post lately. Yes, I answered, a new post every Saturday.

‘Every Saturday?’ asked my friend. ‘You can’t write a new one every Saturday!’

Well, that’s what I do, a new post every Saturday.

It’s not so easy knocking out a new post every week and just lately I’ve noticed in a few of the blogs I follow that other bloggers must also feel the pressure to produce new content.

How do we get the ideas? How do we keep on writing week after week?

Well I have to admit that just lately I have faltered a little and I have started looking at blog post prompts that various bloggers have left scattered about the four winds of the Internet.

Write a post about your favourite book: Done that one!

Write about your favourite sporting event: Done that one!

Write a post linking various videos together: Done that too!

Write a post about your favourite music: Done that one too.

Not long ago I found a whole set of prompts about cookery and incorporated them into a post like a series of questions: What do you like to eat? What’s your favourite recipe? What was the first meal you cooked yourself? That particular post was pretty popular and I even found a whole new set of followers who post regularly about food on their food themed web sites. As that is pretty much the only food blog I’ve produced they must be pretty fed up now with my regular content. Sorry guys but then again, I do have quite a few posts about restaurants. This is one of my favourites about Giorgio, the worst waiter ever.

Another way to produce new content is to take an old post and add a little more material to it and perhaps even spice it up with a few pictures or videos. I have done that a few times most noticeably with a post about annoying elements of the 21st century. It started life as 10 annoying things and every now and again I’ll brush it off and add some new annoying thing. I think now I’m up to 16 annoying things!

Somebody once said that no work of art is ever finished, just abandoned. That is really how I feel about my blogs and my videos. I’m forever watching my old videos and thinking ‘that bit isn’t right, I’ll just change it!’

One of my best videos is one about the graves and cemeteries of World War I and II in northern France. It’s a sad video but the visuals are good and I put together what I thought was a pretty good narration based on some blog posts I’d written previously.

One big mistake was when I edited the video I put in a shot I’d taken at the start of our trip to France. It was a really great motorhome with a trailer and then I panned over to our much smaller model, thinking at the time I’d add some jokey comment about ours being smaller in the narration.

Anyway, I added the comment and put everything together then uploaded it to YouTube. It seemed to do pretty well getting a lot of views but when I added it to a Facebook video page expecting a certain amount of praise, one reviewer mentioned that the jokey stuff didn’t really go with the overall tone. Looking back at the video I realised he was completely correct however by then the video had pulled in a few thousand views (some free promo credit with Google ads had helped there!) and I was reluctant to substitute the re-edited version as then I’d lose all those views! Oh well, there is a more subdued version on Vimeo, alas without so many views.

One video idea lately came from a post I wrote about cameras. In Cameras then and Cameras now, I looked back at my SLR case with my Olympus film cameras and compared it to my current camera gear. I took a few photographs for the blog and thought hey, why not make this into a video?

I powered up my trusty Canon G7X and ran through my film camera case, pointing out all the relevant bits and pieces then did the same for my current camera bag and my video case. When I came to review the footage the sound wasn’t so very good, probably because I was behind the camera talking rather than in front. Oh well, I re-recorded my narration which is sometimes a good thing as I can snip out all the ums and ahs which I invariably produce. The end result seemed a bit flat somehow. Anyway, I added all the usual music and captions and uploaded it to YouTube. Somehow it just wasn’t punchy or snappy enough. Take a look at it here.

The other day I decided to remake the video this time using the online editing site www.animoto.com

The result was visually much better with some eye catching fades and cuts which the animoto templates provide but my narration still sounded a bit flat even after I tweaked the sound using my sound mixer so I recorded another narration. I think this one is better, at least it’s a little more dynamic.

Oh well, another work of art about to be abandoned!


If you enjoyed this post then why not try my book, Floating in Space, a nvel set in Manchester, 1977.

Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Rooms, Film sets and Homes from the Corners of my Mind . .

Film sets? Rooms? What exactly is this guy going to write about rooms you might think? Well, this idea about rooms might take me a while to explain so here we go.

I’ve always been interested in really exciting rooms, usually those seen on a film where the room in question has been designed by some really top designer and put together by some award-winning prop guy and set dresser but the first room that comes to mind is one from my comic book days.

Back in the 1960s some British comics started to reprint American super hero comic strips. They did it by combining various super hero comic strips into one comic. The one that comes to mind was called Marvel after the producers of such comic books as Spiderman, the Hulk and so on.

One strip that I really loved was the new super hero Daredevil. Now he, believe it or not, was a blind guy but had this ‘radar sense’ that enabled him to see in a way that no sighted person could. In the first Daredevil strip I ever read there was a cutaway drawing showing Daredevil’s flat (apartment to you US readers) and its secret ‘underground lair’ when Daredevil got his kit off and exercised in a personal gym where he honed his gymnastic skills which as you know, are required by all costumed crime fighters. It was probably the idea of the concealed rooms that interested me as a child, I always loved that in the sci fi of the 1960s.

Image courtesy berkeleyplaceblog.com

Batman too had his underground lair; it was the Batcave and there was a great moment in the 1960’s TV series when Bruce Wayne would say to his young ward Dick Grayson ‘to the Bat poles!’ Robin alias Dick would flip the switch on the bust on Bruce’s desk and the two would leap onto the bat poles in the now opened secret compartment and slide down to the Batcave.

Another underground lair was that of Doctor No, the first villain in the James Bond film series. The doc had these amazing quarters with a glass wall looking out under the ocean.

‘A million dollars’ says the doc to James Bond as he quietly enters the room.

‘You were thinking of how much it cost?’ He goes on.

Actually, I wasn’t as I knew it was a film set but it was pretty cool.

The next great room and location that comes to mind was that of Ernst Stavro Blofield in my favourite Bond movie, On her Majesty’s Secret Service. Blofield has a mountain hideaway on top of a peak in the French Alps, or was it the Italian Alps? Either way Piz Gloria was an actual skiing lodge that had just been constructed and had been lent to the film crew. The interior, which I always rather liked, particularly Blofield’s inner sanctum was really cool and presumably designed by the production designer Syd Cain.

Another room I always liked was Joe 90’s dad’s house from the TV series Joe 90. It was a very comfy old-fashioned farmhouse where Joe and his dad, professor -I nearly said professor 90 but I don’t think it was. Anyway, the two of lived there assisted by their housekeeper until Joe went off on his secret missions. Their front room was remarkably similar to the one owned by Barnes Wallis in the film The Dambusters. Wallis’ home was a typical 1940’s English farmhouse and it all looked pretty comfortable to me.

Remember the Beatles movie Help? In the film there is a great shot of the four Beatles walking up to their respective front doors along a typical row of English terraced houses.

They turn their keys, open their doors and they each step into: -Cut to interior shot- One ultra-modern long room and we see the Beatles step inside and settle down. John has a settee or couch sunk into a low area which he has to step down into and down there, or so I imagine, he has a TV and stereo and all the mod cons of the mid-1960s. I loved that little space and if I had a big enough house it would be great to recreate it. Then again, I can just imagine coming home late at night after a few beers at the pub, walking into it in the dark and breaking my neck!

Did you ever watch the 60s TV show The Prisoner? A secret agent resigns, returns home to find gas filling his house. He awakes, seemingly in the same room but when he opens the window, he finds himself in a village where he is apparently a prisoner. The Prisoner starred Patrick McGoohan and the show combines elements of intrigue, espionage and sci fi. It was filmed in the Welsh village of Portmerion where a long time ago I was able to visit number 6’s old house. The inside of it was of course not in Portmerion but was something assembled on a film set at Elstree or somewhere. It was small and compact and the door automatically opened as you approached.

Number 2, the administrator of the village had an ultra modern office with stylish 1960’s bubble chairs. I’ve always fancied one of those chairs: I can just imagine curling up in one and having a good read.

Another great setting was Hugh Grant’s house in the film Notting Hill. Notting Hill is an actual area of London and Grant’s house in the film was presumably an actual house. Notting Hill, and I have to say I have no actual experience of the real Notting Hill, comes over in the film as a busy, vibrant and exciting place to live. Hugh’s house is a terraced house, rather narrow but with lots of light and a rather cosy area on a landing by the stairs with a couch where Grant spends the night on one occasion in the film and looks to be a really great place to relax, maybe watch TV or write blogs and just generally have some private time.

Anyway, enough of films, it’s about time I told you about my favourite room. I had two and they were both at the first house I ever bought; my house in Didsbury, Manchester. There was a small front room which I decorated myself, slowly. There was a dado rail with different but matching wallpapers above and below, bookshelves, books and videos (VHS of course). I also kept one of the three bedrooms for myself as a music room and my stereo and records were all stored there along with a couple of comfy chairs and all the other toys, gadgets and cameras I had at the time.

Once, years later, I remember visiting the old place and I parked outside for a while feeling like an intruder. Years before, this had been my street and my house and if, back then I had glanced outside and seen a strange guy in a strange car just waiting, I might have been tempted to call the police. Times had changed, and now I was the intruder.

There was a time when I might have been tempted not to mention that story but I remember watching my favourite TV documentary of all time about the late actor, Peter Sellers. Sellers had a thing about dragging his ex-wife out and taking her on these regular tours of his old haunts, his old schools and old homes and so on. If a famous actor and comedian like Sellers did something like that then clearly parking outside my old house for a few moments can’t be so bad after all.

I enjoyed some happiness in that house but also a lot of pain and sadness too. I remember sitting there in my car and I tried to turn my mind to the happier times I had there.

Once, we had a sort of, well gathering there. I was tempted to say dinner party but really it was just a few people coming around for drinks and nibbles and things.

One guest was our solicitor, I’ll call him Phil (although his name was actually Pete!) Seriously, Phil was a really arrogant guy. In fact he had very bad eyesight and could hardly see his hand in front of his face. He rejected the use of a white stick and arrogantly pushed away anyone who tried to help him. He was a good solicitor and although he could be a bit of a pain I had a lot of respect for him.

He was sitting in the small lounge in my comfy chair when he got up to get a drink or some food or something from the other room. I was tempted to nip into the comfy chair but another guest pushed me aside and slipped into the seat. When Phil came back with a plate of nibbles he turned to sit back in the chair, obviously not seeing the girl sitting there and she slipped out of the seat just as Phil sat down again.

We were all killing ourselves laughing but Phil didn’t quite get the joke.

Later when he left, he once again declined any assistance. Pity really because the path from our front door to the street went towards the right at a 45 degree angle whereas Phil went straight ahead towards the privet hedge.

Never did get that gap in the hedge sorted.


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.

 

 

A letter to my Younger Self

Steve, how are you? I’m just trying to visualise myself when I was 16. Yes, you’re ok. I know how hard things are for you just now, dealing with that overpowering shyness that has dogged you for so long and will continue to hold you back for a very long time.

What can I tell you, what do you need to know?

Well, here a few things that might be important to you.

It’s too late to tell you now that choosing metalwork over art at school was a big, big mistake. You hated metalwork I know and only chose it because of a crazy idea that it might just somehow help you get into motorsport. Wrong. It didn’t and it never would. You couldn’t drive when you were 16 and neither could your Dad. You’d probably be interested to know that the big stars of the future in motorsport were all helped by their fathers. Lewis Hamilton and Jensen Button, names that won’t mean much to you now but they became F1 stars because their fathers loved motorsport and started their sons off in go-karting and up through the racing levels until they reached the giddy heights of F1.

You should have stuck to art because you loved it and you were good at it. Remember all those times when Mr Markland would point out your painting or collage and show it to all the other pupils and comment on how good it was? Remember how good that felt? Remember too that time when you saw Mr Markland in the corridor and he told you that you were heading the wrong way to the new art room and you answered that you were doing metalwork instead. He never spoke to you again. That hurt, I know.

Anyway, at 16 it’s too late to rectify that, well, not too late. Your Dad wanted you to go on to college; you could have studied art there.

Why not give it a go Steve? I know, it would all be so new with strange places and new people but it might be worth it.

Here’s another thing. Remember when you told the careers teacher you wanted to be a journalist and he got you a job interview –at Barclays bank?

Mr Sheriff, the careers teacher said you had no chance at the Manchester evening news but what about other papers? There used to be a local one if I remember, that might have been a possibility. Did you ever think of trying for a job as a junior reporter? Maybe you could have even tried to study journalism at college. You were the top of the class in English if you remember.

Anyway, don’t think that people like Mr Sherriff have all the answers. They don’t and their advice isn’t always good. Some people just want to do the absolute minimum of work in their job and then get off for home as soon as possible. Others care about their jobs and their work and someone a little more dedicated might have listened more and given you better advice.

Try to focus on what you really want to do Steve.

Think about your job, well your future job. A job takes up so much of your time, so much of your life, it might be worth spending some time, a lot of time in fact, working out what you want to do and what you want to be involved in. At various times you wanted to work in motorsport, be a journalist, a screenwriter and a film director. Sit down and have a serious word with yourself Steve and think on this; you know that you love writing, you always have, even just for the personal pleasure of crafting a piece of writing work so maybe journalism was the job for you after all.

I’ve had some dreadful jobs and for some crazy reason I stayed far too long working for the bus company because I hadn’t got a clue how to get out of that job, how I could improve myself and go and try to do something that I would really enjoy. In a word Steve, focus. Focus and stop daydreaming and work out what you really want to do and go for it.

Oh and by the way Steve, get all that hair tidied up!

One final thing: Build a few bridges with your Dad. You and he are from different generations, different backgrounds. Make a few adjustments and try to get on with him because when he’s gone you’ll regret all that wasted time when you didn’t get on together.

One final word about your Mum. She’s very fond of saying ‘never mind’ but sometimes you should mind and mind so much that you work hard to do better and better until you get the job you want and the life you want.

One last thing, one day you might just think it is OK to fill your car’s leaky radiator with tap water on a cold and frozen New Year’s Eve just so you can get to a party. I know you really thought your car would be OK, believe me, it won’t and a little antifreeze will save you a hell of a lot of money!


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.

7 Questions for a Self-Published Author

Question 1:

How did you come to write your book?

I’ve always been a writer, even as a school kid I was writing stories and screenplays. I used to write scripts and do all the casting. Not sure whether Steve McQueen would have appreciated the roles I was planning for him though.

Later on when I was in my 20s I tried to move away from all the sci-fi and espionage stuff I was writing and write about something more personal to me, something that I had a personal connection with so I started writing about life working on the buses, which is what I was doing at the time.

I wrote about working as a bus conductor and driver and jotted down my observations about the people I met and carried on my bus. Then there were other stories about my personal life, drinking in pubs, chatting up girls in nightclubs, listening to music and so on. Later I realised I could bring all this stuff together even though it was just a series of essays then, and even make it into a book, which I eventually did.

Question 2

How did you go about publishing the finished book?

I had the book turned down by three publishers, not really a great amount.  I wrote a blog post a while ago about books rejected by publishers and I found out that Day of the Jackal was rejected 4 times, Gone with the Wind 38 times and The Time Traveller’s Wife 25 times. Publishers are only human of course but these days writers don’t need them, we can just publish online, just like I did at Amazon using their website createspace which is now kdp.amazon.com

Question 3

Tell me about the problems of marketing and getting your book noticed by the public.

Well, that was the hard part, writing it was easy in comparison!

Building up a presence on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube was a gradual process and the same is also true for my blog on WordPress which I started really just to promote the book. I started off with essays about how I wrote the book and videos of me talking about the book and so on.

I read somewhere that over 5000 books are published every day on Amazon, an incredible figure so how can anyone compete with that? Well, just by getting out onto social media and plugging away with tweets, new blog posts, videos on YouTube and so on.

Question 4

Tell me about your website and your blog

Well, it was originally created just to promote my book and get my message out there to potential readers but it’s also a challenge, a writing challenge. My big problem is that I’m lazy and I need a big push to get me writing so having a deadline, 10:00am on a Saturday morning, is something that gets me motivated as a writer. I know that I have to write something by then.

I even feel like a sort of writing professional because I have my deadline, my one deadline, and I’m always working towards that, trying to get something ready to post for my followers.

Question 5

What sort of posts will we find on your blog?

Generally I try to write stuff that is similar to my book, little bits of fluff, anecdotes with a funny twist, things like that. The idea is that if people like the blogs, they should like my book, Floating in Space which is written in a similar style. A typical blog post, and one of my favourites, is the one about hoodies (Hoodies and a Shaggy Dog Story) and an incident where an old lady’s handbag was snatched. Another favourite was called the Cat Wars and was about a crazy situation that built up when I was looking after my neighbour’s cat.

The only problem now is that I’m running out of anecdotes but I still manage to write about two other favourite themes, second-hand books and classic films.

Question 6

What about video, do you use video in your blogs and marketing?

Any internet post on social media performs better with images, a 37% percent increase in engagement and even more so with video.

Here are a few stats:

100 million hours of video are watched each day on Facebook.

500 million people watch Facebook videos every day.

Facebook videos receive 135% more organic reach on average than a photo.

2 thirds of content on Instagram is now video as opposed to pictures but video has to be snappy. If viewers are not hooked in the first few seconds, they just click away from your video to something more interesting.

I use video on my website to try and engage readers and all my adverts, because I do use advertising every now and then, are all video based.

A lot of years ago, in the 1990’s I really wanted to get into TV and video and I went on a video production course at the WFA media centre in Manchester. Subsequently, I made a few attempts to make some things for TV, all of which ended in failure but as a result I do have a bit of technical knowledge with video editing and production which has helped me a lot.

Luckily, today’s technology today makes it pretty easy to create simple videos and I use them a lot in my blog posts.

Question 7

What are your plans for the future regarding writing and blogging?

Well, more of the same really. I’m actually very slow at producing video content so I need to maybe speed up a little with my video production.

I really need to work more on my follow up book.

I’ve written some screenplays that were rejected so I plan on turning those into a book. The big problem is just me, being motivated and just getting myself geared up to work and write!


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.

Cars and A Not So Worldwide Web

I’m probably pushed to tell you the registration number of my current car but the registration of my very first car is still firmly anchored in my old memory bank.  It was PDB 71M, A Bond Bug, and for those of you who don’t know, a Bond Bug was a sporty little Reliant three wheeler car and I bought one because I failed my driving test twice and I could drive the Bug on my motorbike licence.

It was actually a pretty eye catching car for a three wheeler. No doors but the roof lifted up to gain access and the side windows were plastic held on by Velcro. I always remember bringing it home and showing it off to my family with a certain amount of pride and my Dad looking at it and saying “How are we all going to get into that?” Perhaps he thought I was going to take us all away for a holiday!

Still, we had some nice times, me and the Bond Bug but then one cold and snowy Christmas I decided to chance going out to a Christmas party in the car even though it was losing coolant. I topped it up with water and went off for a night of Christmas cheer. I walked home sensibly I might add, but when I returned the next day I found that the car had frozen overnight and it ended up having to have an engine rebuild. That was a pretty expensive night out! When I eventually  passed my driving test I got myself a proper car.

The other day I was tapping away on my laptop with the TV on in the background and I heard someone during a TV interview say that he wanted cars, personal cars as we know them, to be phased out in the next 10 years! Whoa! What was that? I grabbed the TV remote to rewind but accidentally switched off the TV and when I powered it up again the TV channel and the interviewee had disapeared. I don’t  know who that guy was but he was on cloud cuckoo land if he really thought it was feasible to take away motor cars from the general public.

The motor car is probably one of the great status symbols of our time and also one of those things that give us unprecedented freedom, certainly compared to our ancestors. Turn the clock back to the 1950s: If people wanted to get out and about and enjoy the great outdoors on a bank holiday the only way to travel was by bus or train. Yes, public transport was crammed with people in those days, all on their way to enjoy the great British seaside destinations.

Today, we are free of all those past restrictions, no waiting for trains or buses. It’s just a simple matter to pop outside, start up the motor and you’re off. The only restriction is probably traffic congestion. How many of us spend our bank holidays stuck in some traffic jam that clogs up the roads to the holiday hotspots? Either way, if that unknown politician really thinks the private motor car can be pushed aside he is in for a rude awakening.

I changed my car this week. I was sad to see my old car go because, well I’ve always liked it. It’s a very comfortable car, the reclining seat suited me very well and I had wanted a convertible car for a long time. It was so lovely in the summer to sit back, press a button and see the roof fold back into the boot. Air conditioning? Who needs it when your roof comes off!

Bye old car!

What is really annoying is that my 2006 car, for which I paid something in the region of £6000 some years back, 2011 I think, is now, according to webuyanycar.com, worth the paltry sum of £260!

To be fair, it does have a lot of mileage under the bonnet, 140,000 miles to be exact.

I did wonder about changing the car, then I thought why bother, why not wait until it finally dies the death. True, the ride had become a little rougher than usual but after a flat caused me to sort out a new tyre, the ride became smooth once again. I wavered then, should I change cars?

Then the passenger window jammed and not long after the boot jammed. I couldn’t free the window but found that the boot could be opened with the key, a physical key contained within the car’s key card. Opening the boot in this way was a real pain in the neck as the keyhole was located under the boot and sometimes, especially in the dark, it was hard to get the key in the slot. On one occasion I opened up the key card and out popped the battery so I had to rummage about under the car in the dark to find it.

Anyway, another car caught my fancy being sold by a friend at a very reasonable price. Normally I tend to stick with vehicles from a dealer because as I know very little about cars and anything mechanical, I like to buy something with a warranty and someone who will take away my old vehicle.

This new purchase meant I had to sell my trusty old motor myself so this being 2019 I nipped outside, took a few pictures on my mobile phone and put a short advert on Facebook. I sold the car the same day, not for a great price but much more than webuyanycar were offering!

All I had to do then was clear out my stack of personal stuff from the car, endless boxes of CDs, waterproof jackets, wellies and all sorts of other stuff I didn’t even know I was carrying.

There was one thing I left behind. Secreted somewhere in the car I was sure was a member of the spider family. He was a pretty active fellow, spending a lot of his spare time spinning a web across my driver’s mirror. I was sure he would continue to do a sterling job in that respect for the new owner.

Presently, that same day, the new owner arrived. She was actually a foreign lady although she arrived with an entourage of friends who, it seemed to me, were the real owners. They took a quick glance at the car and seemed happy. They were a little surprised to find the boot required a key but I did mention that in the advert. They were also concerned about the mileage and the seized window but again, I had mentioned that in the ad.

The cash was handed over and off my little car went. Hope they take care of it.

The owner of my new car was away for the weekend but she had left the keys and log book for me.

This being 2019 I was able to tax and insure my car online although I wasn’t too happy about the insurance. I can’t ever remember an insurer charging me to change my insurance to a new car. There has always been something to pay of course as usually I’ve moved up to a better, newer and more expensive car but a transfer fee? Well, I’m afraid I may be changing insurers when that policy comes up for renewal.

The next day I picked up my new car and settled into it. The boxes of CDs were transferred over, as well as the wellies and waterproofs and so on.

The great thing about my new car is that it can handle 5 CDs at once and when you are in CD mode the next CD plays as the last one finishes.

Ages ago I compiled my top 100 all-time favourite tracks so I wonder now if I could get all 100 on 5 CDs and play them back to back? 20 tracks on each CD, is that feasible? Oh well, time to get the laptop out and give it a try.

Once I had got my CDs set up I settled back and sorted out my seat and made myself familiar with all the controls. The cigarette lighter/charger was hard to find but a glance through the instruction book and there it was.

A few days later I was ready to take my new motor on its first trip to work. The CDs were all ready, I had fuelled up the previous day. I started the engine, slipped the lever into first gear and checked the mirror. What was this? On my wing mirror was a large and intricate spider’s web!

Our local spider was clearly reluctant to leave sunny St Annes!


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.