Dealing with that Corporate Event.

This week I was asked to attend a training course by my employer. I have been doing my job, reasonably successfully for the past 14 or so years so I was perhaps a little surprised to hear I required more training. Oh well, at least it was a nice day course and didn’t involve working till 10 pm at night like my regular shift.

Those readers who live in foreign climes may be a little ignorant of local geography in the north west of England but I’m sure many of you will be familiar with the Manchester United Football club in Old Trafford. The Hotel Football just next door to the football ground was the venue for this corporate event and according to google maps my journey from home would take one hour and 16 minutes. However, when the rush hour congestion was factored in it actually took me nearly two hours to get there.

The pretty receptionist at the Hotel Football was, like many receptionists these days a Polish lady. Her English seemed fairly good at first but when I couldn’t actually grasp what she was saying about the car park she produced a printed map with directions.

What English hotels will do for staff when we finally leave the EU I really do not know.

Anyway a short while later I was able to meet up with my colleagues, 3 of whom I was actually familiar with. I’m not sure what I was expecting but I thought the whole thing might involve a small group and not the 50 to 60 people who were milling about vying for cups of tea and bacon sandwiches.

Yes, welcome to the world of the corporate event.

The event or course or whatever it was finally got under way at about 9.30 and opened up with a message from our chief executive explaining that he had also attended the course and how wonderful it was.

Our chief exec by the way, who currently enjoys a £100,000 plus salary with a recent huge increase but feels he can only offer us, his underlings a measly 1 percent pay rise is not universally popular so his claims that we were in for a fascinating day were taken by the group with a pinch of salt.

Our trainers or presenters asked us after every short module to move to a new table and engage with someone new. So first I met a lady from, well I’m not sure what other department she actually represented but she was part of a group who all worked at different locations and every week they had a team meeting facilitated by that wonder of modern computing, skype.

It was actually quite interesting to hear about how these meetings worked when everyone was reduced to a small icon on a laptop screen and how difficult it was, when reduced by your colleagues in this way, to get the attention of the group.

At the next shuffle I introduced myself to a lady from financial planning and it was she, I think who introduced me to the corporate world of acronyms. Now in her world, something that was of major importance was the RIS. Not just RIS1 but also RIS2! What that acronym stood for I don’t know but this particular lady had a strange habit of pronouncing the word RIS and at the same time bending the tip of her nose in a southerly direction. It actually reminded me of when I met someone years ago who told me her party piece was wriggling her ears which she then proceeded to demonstrate. That was good but bending the tip of your nose when saying RIS was even better. However, every time she mentioned the RIS I had to tell myself, stop staring at her nose!

When we were required to move tables and meet new people I decided to stay put and let the new people come to me. I had a good seat where I could hear the presenters quite easily and see the PowerPoint slides that assisted them. Later on that morning I met a really chatty guy from, well again his department didn’t quite register that strongly on my frontal lobes but he was some kind of liaison guy who was involved with various meetings across England. He was quietly humorous too and he mentioned to me that the food at the hotel was supposed to be quite good. As there were in the region of 60 people to serve we decided it was pretty important to be first out of the room when we broke for lunch.

At the appointed hour my colleague shot out of his chair like a greyhound out of the trap or, like one of my old friends would say, like the proverbial wonga bird! As I wasn’t quite so quick off the mark a rampaging herd of hungry colleagues from the table just behind me shot ahead and I ended up well down the queue.

The food I have to say was very nice, in fact it was the highlight of the whole event. I filled my plate with a fresh salad, some cold meats, some pasta in a pesto sauce and some roasted potatoes. An interesting combination you might think but it was very tasty and thirty minutes later we were back in the presentation room.

On the next reshuffle I made a bad mistake and rather than wait for people to come to me I moved towards the rear of the room and found myself sitting with a bunch of people who were involved in the technical aspects of software and computers and they rather looked down on me, the sole representative at the table from operations. The various observations I passed them about the complete inadequacy of our systems went right over their heads although the reliability of various outside contractors was bandied about asa  sort of excuse.

One of the big problems I have found with computers and software is that as things move on, particularly with Microsoft, the programs that I use are removed or changed so much they will no longer do what I wanted them to do. Windows Movie Maker is a case in point. It is, or rather was, a great low level video editing program which has disappeared and its successor, HD Movie Maker is just not a patch on the original.

Being at the back of the room where there was no eye contact between myself and our presenters I found my mind beginning to wander and I woke up to hear something going on about Eisenhower’s Box. If you have never heard of this system it’s pretty simple. Dwight D Eisenhower, the late US President and Army General had a system like this:

Box 1: Urgent and Important

Box 2: Important but not urgent

Box 3: Urgent but not important.

Box 4: Neither urgent nor important.

Our final task was to take some elements of our everyday work schedule and add them to the boxes. I did mine in about 3 minutes but my colleagues in the technical department failed I fear to complete the task. No wonder, I thought, that our technology is in such a dire state.

The event fizzled out and when it became apparent that all was over there was a great rush for the exit.

The company had tried valiantly to stamp its work ethos on its workers but sadly, the presentation had lost its way somewhere. There were too many people and most of them wanted to be somewhere else.

Teamwork was one of the main values discussed and I thought that our organisation could learn a lot from the Mercedes F1 team. It was actually pretty interesting to hear Toto Wolf, the team manager at the Mercedes F1 team and James Allison his chief designer talk about the teamwork ethic on the Channel Four F1 broadcast last weekend. Lewis Hamilton has now clinched the 2019 world drivers’ championship and Mercedes are once again the champion constructor, making it 6 in a row for the massively successful team.

They were interviewed after the American Grand Prix and I did wonder for a moment, do they talk about Eisenhower’s box in their corporate events?


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

A Week that was Too Good to be Forgotten

This week started off with a tune running through my head. That’s not unusual. I often wake up with a tune in my head. It’s usually a leftover from our local pub quiz where they have a great music round, ten tracks with points on offer for song title, artist and year of highest chart placing. As it happened the tune was nothing to do with the quiz and sadly I didn’t have any words to go on, just a bit of a tune which irritatingly, kept floating around my head.

Thursday is the night of the pub quiz. We like to dine out beforehand so we settled on the Moghul, an Indian restaurant in St Annes. We’ve not been for a few years but were happy to see that the long complicated menu has been slimmed down and the food was particularly nice. Eating poppadums with Liz reminded me of many years ago when my friends and I would go into the Plaza Café in Manchester after a night of drinking. The curries on offer there were of three varieties, mild, hot and suicide.

It always brings a smile to my face when I remember calling for ‘Three suicides please mate!’

Those were the days. My dining experiences nowadays are much more relaxed.

This week’s music quiz was interesting, although I didn’t exactly cover myself in glory. One of the tracks played was a cover version of the Beatles hit ‘Yesterday’. It had to be either from 1965 or 1968 and being something of a Beatles expert I mentioned to my fellow quizzers that as Yesterday was one of the later Beatles hits it couldn’t have been 1965. It had to be 1968.

It turns out that although the Beatles included the track on the album ‘Help’ released in the UK in August 1965, it was not released in the UK as a single (actually an EP) until the following year. As the recording was essentially a solo performance by Paul McCartney, the group initially vetoed its release as a single. That left Matt Munro free to release his version and claim chart success in October 1965, all of which shows I’m not so much as a Beatles expert as I thought I was which didn’t go down too well with my fellow quiz team members. No gallon of ale for us that week!

‘Yesterday’ is, according to Wikipedia, one of the most recorded songs in history and in fact has an entry in the Guinness book of records as such, having by January 1986 more than 1,600 cover versions recorded. Paul McCartney claimed the entire melody came to him in a dream and unable at first to come up with a proper lyric, he dubbed the song scrambled eggs until he could produce more suitable words.

Now I think of it, and I’m really not trying to compare myself to Paul McCartney but quite a lot of my writing, especially poetry has come to me in dreams. In fact I once dreamt an entire story which unfolded before my eyes like a film and when I awoke I jotted it down and later made it into a film script. Because of that I became pretty fascinated by my dreams and placed a notebook by my bed so I could record any profound thoughts or dreams I’d had when I awoke in the morning. After a few weeks of noting stuff down then going for a wash and making a brew then coming back to look at various garbled nonsensical notes, well I soon gave up the practice.

‘Yesterday’ by the way, won Paul McCartney an Ivor Novello award in 1965 and was ranked 13th in the Rolling Stone’s 2004 list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.

Prior to coming back to St Annes I spent my usual five days looking after my elderly Mum in Manchester. Her dementia seems to be getting worse and it’s hard to imagine that this old lady born on the day of the Wall Street Crash in 1929 was, only a couple of years ago, doing her own shopping and cooking. I used to call her up and say ‘can I get you any shopping in Mum?’ She would always reply ‘no, the day I can’t get to the shops is the day I’m finished.’

She used to trek slowly along pushing her little trolley over to the shops every single day. Always buying no more than she needed for that day then back again the next day. Today she endlessly repeats herself, asks for the breakfast she has already eaten and agonises about the Sunday lunch she will never make again. After a particularly stressful day the endless news reports about Brexit are a welcome distraction.

Sometimes I feel that she has died already but her body refuses to go and that like the Dylan Thomas poem some inner force she possesses rages foolishly against ‘the dying of the light’.

It’s always a relief to hand over caring to my brother and get back to St Annes.

This last week I too felt a little like Paul McCartney although instead of humming the tune to ‘Yesterday’ and trying to think of better lyrics I kept humming the tune which had annoyed me all week. I hummed it to Liz but it didn’t ring any bells with her either.

Now one thing that is important to do in these situations is not to say anything to yourself like ‘Dammit, I just can’t remember what that tune is!’

A statement like that sends a clear message to your brain that you can’t remember so you may as well not bother. The best thing to say to yourself is this: ‘I can’t recall the title of that tune presently, but It will come to me later!’ That is a much more positive message to send to your brain and one which according to all the positive thinking books I used to read years ago should provide much more positive results, eventually.

A few days later I had a few actual words. Something, something, blah blah forgotten. Now I was getting somewhere! Then I had a brainstorm, it was too good to be forgotten!

A quick lunge to our good friend Google and I finally had it: Too Good to be Forgotten by the Chi-Lites! What a cracking soul track.


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.

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.

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.

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.

Adventures with Data Protection

I spend a lot of time these days looking after my mother who will be 90 later this year. Her memory is not what is was, in fact sometimes she’ll have breakfast, fall asleep in the chair and wake up wanting her breakfast. My brother and I think of it as her reset mode, as if someone has pressed control alt and delete on her personal memory bank and all that has gone before has been wiped clean.

Her hearing aids are a big problem too, despite the note written large on her table which says ‘DON’T HIDE AWAY YOUR HEARING AIDS. LEAVE THEM WHERE YOU CAN SEE THEM.’ We tend to spend a lot of mornings searching for her hearing aids because she cannot remember where she put them, unless we were there when she took them out, and even then we are only human and sometimes forget ourselves.

Both her hearing aids need new earpieces and the doctor referred her to Specsavers which is only a short walk away so happily I can push her there in her wheelchair and do away with the nightmare of trying to get her in and out of my car.

The other day I called Specsavers and asked if they had the referral yet. They couldn’t find it but were very helpful and said if I contacted the doctor’s surgery and they had the referral to hand then they could either fax or e-mail it to Specsavers and then provided me with the necessary fax numbers and email addresses.

The Doctors’ surgery was not though helpful at allthough. The referral had gone through, yes. E-mail? No, it had to go through proper channels. Fax it? Fax? They hadn’t had a fax machine for years implying that I, that top notch technology savvy writer and blogger, was a good few light years behind the times.

My mother did have a letter about an appointment which needed to be booked via something called the NHS gateway. Was that the referral I asked? Could be . . .

I then called the NHS booking gateway, supplied the reference numbers and asked to book the appointment. Could my Mum confirm some details? Not really, she’s having trouble with her hearing aid. OK they said we’ll sort it out. After a moment, they said, yes it’s all sorted, we’ll send you a letter about it.

Is it for Specsavers I asked?

Sorry, we can’t tell you because of data protection.

What was the date and time?

Sorry, can’t tell you because of data protection.

The thing is, I tried to explain, it will be me taking Mum for the appointment so I could do with knowing the where and when as that could be pretty helpful.

Sorry, can’t tell you because of data protection.

OK, what if I put Mum on the phone? OK but we have to verify her identity. Right so I put Mum on the phone and the guy asks her can you confirm your name?

MUM: What?

GUY: Can you confirm your name?

MUM: What?

ME: He’s asking your name!

MUM: OK It’s (Ooops, sorry data protection, can’t reveal that on this blog!)

GUY: What is your date of birth?

MUM: What? Speak up!

GUY: What is your date of birth?

ME: Your date of birth Mum!

MUM: It’s (whooa, can’t reveal that here on this blog post because of data protection!)

GUY: What is your post code?

MUM: What!

ME: Your postcode?

MUM: Er . . .

ME: (Whispering) It’s (whooa, can’t reveal that here on this blog post because of data protection!)

GUY: Just a minute, I heard you telling her the answer!

ME: She’s a deaf old lady and couldn’t remember it!

GUY: Well, we’ll send your Mum a letter with the date of the appointment.

ME: It would just be so helpful if you could tell me when it is because I am the one who will be taking her for the appointment!

GUY: Sorry, can’t reveal that because of data protection!

The really good thing is that not long afterwards Specsavers called me back to say they had received the referral and that my Mum was booked in for (Ooops, sorry data protection, can’t reveal that on this blog!)


Floating in Space is a novel about beer and cigarettes, pubs and pool tables, discotheques, loud music and cheesy chat up lines. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

 

 

 

Supermarkets, Stan Laurel and the Crazy Bee Hive Lady

I actually really quite like supermarkets. Yes, really! Unusual perhaps for a man but I do like wandering about a good supermarket. It’s nice to go around the food section and plan a meal as I go around, choose some nice ingredients, some fresh vegetables and fresh bread and so on. Of course, I must first take a look round the other sections.

Picture courtesy Unsplash.com

There is the book and magazine section which is an absolute must. Then perhaps over to the menswear section. To be fair, the menswear section does present a problem because what looks good on a shop dummy or on advertising images does not necessarily look good on me. An outfit that looks good on someone else might tend to make me look like Oliver Hardy after one of his rough and tumble adventures with his partner Stan Laurel.

Stan Laurel was English as you may know. He was a music hall performer and first went over to America with Charlie Chaplin on a tour for the famous Fred Karno. Karno regularly sent his comedy troupes across the Atlantic to the USA. Both Chaplin and Laurel stayed on in America and both made it to Hollywood and went on to star in the new movie business. Stan was signed by the Hal Roach Studios who teamed him with Oliver Hardy. Stan was actually planning to concentrate on writing and directing in Hollywood but it was clear that the duo had a great comedy chemistry together so he continued as a performer although he contributed greatly towards the writing and direction of their films. A great blow to the duo came when they signed for 20th Century Fox who made it clear Stan could not contribute to the writing, directing or editing.

Chaplin was a very canny individual who thought his success might not last long so he began to demand not only the most enormous salaries but also some very lucrative deals which saw him owning the rights to all of his films and negatives. At the time in the early 20th century, films had a shelf life of about 3 to 4 weeks but later, in the TV age, Chaplin’s ownership of his films began to pay off handsomely. Perhaps Stan and Ollie could have done with some of Charlie’s business acumen because they made no such deals despite being one of the great comedy duos of all time.

After the death of Ollie in 1957, Stan lived out his life in humble surroundings in a small apartment in Hollywood and there, comedy actor Peter Sellers who was a great fan, sought him out and made friends. Peter used Stan as a model for one of his last film characters, that of Chancey Gardener in the film Being There.

Fred Karno with Charles Chaplin and Stan Laurel. Image courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Okay, getting back to the supermarket, after the menswear there is the music section and though CDs are a little old hat in this age of downloading and streaming I do like my CDs.

Moving on to the electronics section there is always some handy lead or connector that I need or might need, then finally I will make time to get in a few essentials like food.

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. Just as the lady in front of me got to the checkout she exclaimed, ‘I’ve forgotten the milk, can I just nip back for one?’

If she had asked me I would have declined but our checkout lady clearly thought we were happy standing there while the entire day ebbed away before us.

The lady shot off to get a bottle of milk while I and the other shoppers behind me shuffled about, checked our Facebook statuses and thought about what items we had neglected to buy.

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


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.

The Long and Dusty Road of Life

Updated version with new video . .

Letters from an unknown author!

A short road, a long road,
A travelled-only-once-road
It’s the long and dusty road of life
It’s heartache, happiness, and strife

A happy road, a clean road​
Is the road that I desire
A cheerful road, a sweet singing music road,
Free from muddy mire

Let my road be a long road,
A fondly remembered high road
And don’t let me detour at a crossroads,
Or linger on a lonely road

One day I’ll need a fast road, a rushing road
A quickly time is running out road
And I’ll breathe my last in a quiet road, a by road
An end of the line side road

For journeys end is a sad road
A goodbye and thanks for all you’ve done road
A cul de sac, an avenue, a long gone distant road,
And as time passes it soon becomes a travelled-long-ago road.


Steve Higgins is the author of…

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Gregory’s Girl and Memories of Schooldays

There are two films in particular that bring back memories of my schooldays. One is the classic movie Kes and the other is a film that I watched last Sunday night; Gregory’s Girl.

Gregory’s Girl was a low-budget movie made in 1981 and was written and directed by Bill Forsyth. The film is a gentle comedy about a young lad who fancies a girl who has just joined his school football team. The film was one of those special films where so many things come together to make a truly great and memorable film, in fact it is ranked number 30 in the British Film Institute’s list of the top 100 British films.

It reminds me so much of my own schooldays in so many ways. The hairstyles in the film were similar to those of myself and my friends back in 1973, the year I left school (armed with only four O levels to take on the world). The school ties and jackets were similar to mine, the classrooms and desks were also similar and lead actor John Gordon Sinclair’s gaudy and shy manner both on and off the football field was just like mine.

The scene where Sinclair, playing the part of Gregory, asked Dorothy for a date brought back memories. I remember asking some long forgotten girl out once. I had planned what to do and what to say but nothing came out. The girl, perhaps recognising my situation asked me ‘would I be going down the shops tonight?’

The shops, yes that’s where my school friends used to congregate of an evening and we didn’t do much except talk and wander about. Sometimes there would be a ball game, other times, just like Gregory, we’d go down to the chip shop and eat a bag of chips. We did talk, that long forgotten girl and me, but that was about all we did, after all we shared our ‘date’ with about six other people!

On Gregory’s date he borrows his friend’s jacket and my friend Chris also had a jacket which he loaned to his friends. It was his number two jacket, not quite as smart as his number one jacket and when Chris used to take us to places where we could ‘chat up’ the girls I would always get friends and acquaintances asking me ‘is that Chris’ jacket?’ I would always deny it but that jacket was pretty well known!

In the early seventies fashions were different and I was famous at my school for having the biggest and fattest tie, just like my hero, flamboyant TV detective Jason King. Back then my school pals and I all loved Jason King and his trendy outfits and we went out of our way to get a giant tie knot, just like the one Jason had in ‘Department S.’ Most of the kids got the big knot by tying their ties way down at the fat end of the tie making their ties short but at least with a big knot. I got some help with my tie from an unexpected source: My Mother!

We were watching Department S one day and I was wishing out loud for a big fat tie like the one Peter Wyngarde who played Jason King was sporting and she said to me “You could make one yourself. It’s easy.”

“Easy!” I said. “How?”

“Well, all you need is another tie to go inside the first one and make it bigger.” Sounds good I thought but how do you get one tie inside another? My Mum showed me how with a big safety pin! What you had to do was get your second tie, the one that needs to go inside the other, pin the safety pin to it and then you can thread it through the other one, manipulating it along with the safety pin which you can feel through the material.

I dug out an old tie and threaded it through my school tie, took out the safety pin and then tied my tie in the usual way. Result-one huge knot that Jason King himself would be pleased with.

The next day I went into school wearing my new fashionable tie and half the school–or so it seemed to me-were stunned by my trendy new school tie. Where did I get it from? How did I get such a knot? Did I tie it in a special way?

I remember once after games, getting changed in the changing rooms and everyone turned to watch as I fastened my tie. There was me, fastening the tie in the mirror with all my school mates watching. I had become a sort of mini school celebrity: The kid with the trendy tie!

“Here it comes,” said someone as I made the final tie of the knot, “Super knot!”

Well, my fifteen minutes of fame came, went, and vanished as other people worked out how to make their own special ‘super knots.’ Jason King went on to star in his own spin-off TV series then he too vanished into TV’s Golden past. Fashion moved on and in the eighties ties went the other way; narrow thin ties were the norm. Trousers lost their flares, jacket lapels slimmed down once again. ‘Penny round’ shirts were forgotten but then, that’s the great thing about old movies like Gregory’s Girl, whenever they pop up again on TV you can experience everything all over again!

Another movie that reminds me of schooldays, although in a different way, was Kes. Kes was a 1969 film directed by Ken Loach and based on the book A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines. It’s about a teenage schoolboy in a deprived part of Yorkshire. The boy comes from a dysfunctional family and he is bullied by his older brother. He fares badly at school and has few friends but seems to find a direction in life after finding a baby kestrel and he decides to care for and train the bird.

It’s a gritty film that pulls no punches and it’s shot in a realistic documentary style using a lot of local and amateur actors as well as professionals. One sequence that stood out for me was about a group of boys who are outside the headmaster’s study awaiting punishment. Another lad who comes along with a message for the head finds himself caught up with the guilty boys and given a few strokes of the strap as a result. When they shot the scene, director Loach assured the boys they would not be strapped and he would call ‘cut’ just in time. He didn’t and the result, seen in the film is for real.

My own headmaster was very like the head in the film. He used to give these long elaborate morning assemblies and talk, quite eloquently about some subject or other, the Vietnam war being one of his favourites and then, right in the middle of speaking he would burst out in a complete frenzy, shout at some boy or other to remove himself and wait at his office for punishment for talking during assembly. Why he couldn’t just make a note of the offenders and seek them out later or arrange for one of his teachers to direct the boys to his office I don’t know.

Looking at the trailer above there were some great performances from both amateur and professional actors. Brian Glover, a familiar face to British TV viewers played the aggressive football master and Colin Welland played one of the more sympathetic teachers. He was a veteran of the TV show Z-Cars and went on to write the screenplays for the movies Yanks and Chariots of Fire for which he won an Oscar.

Two movies then, both completely different in tone and outlook. Both wonderful viewing but one makes me look back and think ‘thank God my school days are over’. The other allows me to look back warmly and remember the good times. School days are important and I made such a lot of mistakes back then, mistakes that changed my whole life. If only I’d chosen my subjects better, if only I’d been more determined to be a writer back then and hadn’t had my head set so firmly in the clouds. Maybe I could have trained as a newspaper reporter and actually written for a living.

Either way, I’d probably still be here, still writing this blog although perhaps with a better title: Letters from a Northern Reporter sounds good . .


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.

Star Wars, Remakes and Dealing with Man-Flu

Our motorhome was looking a little forlorn lately, parked up on the drive all packed up ready to face the winter. The thing is, just lately the weather has been rather mild and Liz felt that we should perhaps unpack the motorhome and give it a winter drive out. So we set off for Southport, a small seaside town just a short 90 minute drive away. We parked up the motorhome, put on our glad rags and went off to dine and generally make merry.

It just so happened that this particular night turned out to be the coldest in modern UK history. Well, at least it was in Scotland so it was lucky we weren’t staying there. Southport was much warmer and our heater worked a treat. However, having to get underneath the van in the cold and rain and empty the water system wasn’t so nice, in fact I reckon that’s where I caught a chill which was soon to develop further into a major man-flu episode.

A couple of days later I was back at work. On the first day I felt fine and I wasn’t too bad when I went in on the second day but by the end of the shift I was coughing and sneezing like nobody’s business. By day 3 I was feeling so poorly I had to throw a sick note in. Anyway, home on a cold day with no energy to do anything except cough and sneeze, what was there to do but watch TV.

On a Sunday on UK TV there is always a choice of Columbo episodes because they are shown on two rival channels, ITV3 and 5USA. Which one should I watch though? Luckily, the first one started on 5USA at one o’clock and the other over on ITV3 at five past. Just enough time to start the first one, see if it was a good one then quickly check out the other one to see if that was more interesting . The 5USA one was the one for me, a classic 70s episode guest starring Robert Culp as the murderer.

A couple of hours and a hot lemon drink later Columbo had his man and it was time for a change of channels. I switched over to ITV2 to watch the first Star Wars film. I’m tempted to call it Star Wars 1 but just to confuse you, the first Star Wars film was actually the fourth episode in the series. The second and third films, all made in the late seventies are all actually pretty much more of the same thing although not quite as good as the original.

Later on writer and director George Lucas decided to make episodes 1, 2, and 3 which were actually films 4, 5, and 6. Now those latter three films were, and I don’t want to put too fine a point on this, a load of old tosh. Even if I was on my last legs I wouldn’t sit and watch any of those movies. In 2015 JJ Abrams was tasked to make a new movie following on from episode 6 which reunited the original cast of Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamilton and Harrison Ford (who I must nominate as one of the worst movie actors ever along with the equally dismal Richard Gere.)

The result seemed to me pretty much a remake of Star Wars 1 (I mean 4). It was the usual thing, droids on an unknown planet with info which the Empire wanted, or maybe the new Empire wanted because the original Empire had been defeated in the previous Star Wars film. The droids and their human helpers escaped in Harrison Ford’s old ship the Millennium Falcon and then, well, I don’t know what happened then because I either mentally or physically switched off!

Getting back to Star Wars 1, or episode 3 or whatever, I’d not seen the film for a long while and I enjoyed the sending of the droids to seek out Obi Wan Kenobe, the appearance  of Luke Skywalker, the hiring of Hans Solo and his Millennium Falcon and the trip to the rebel alliance planet, Alderon. The truth is, just like when I watched Star Wars 7, I actually got a bit bored with the whole thing and decided to change channels. Star Wars isn’t a bad film but like all the rest in the franchise they seem to flatter only to deceive.

Over on the Paramount film channel they were showing a bunch of Steve Martin films and the first up was Roxanne. While not exactly brilliant it was actually a pretty good film and despite the continual coughing and spluttering I still managed to enjoy the proceedings. Roxanne was based on the 1897 play Cyrano De Bergerac and it’s about, as you may have guessed, a man with a big nose.

(Short break here while I sort out another hot lemon drink this time with a small shot of -purely medicinal- whisky.)

Paramount decided to follow this up with ‘The Out of Towners’, which was a remake of a 1970 Neil Simon film. Sadly, the Out of Towners wasn’t that great a film and I can only hope the 1970 original was much better. The fact is, it’s hard to understand the motivation behind remaking a very average film. Do they hope to make a better version? Do they think with better actors and updated film making techniques the film will be better or funnier? The fact is that if you remake an average film you will still get an average film as the result. Not long ago I saw the new version of Flight of the Phoenix. It was OK, although I switched channels after about thirty minutes. Then again, the original version starring such heavyweight actors as James Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Hardy Kruger and Peter Finch wasn’t that brilliant either although I have watched that version through to the end.

Still, does that mean we should only remake classic films? I can’t really imagine any new version of Casablanca, for instance, bettering the original. Who could take the place of Bogart? Who could replace Ingrid Bergman? Yes, there is always the chance a mediocre movie could be remade better, I suppose.

A lot of film franchises are pretty much just a series of remakes. That is true of the Star Wars series as I have already mentioned but take a look at the Rocky films. Rocky 2 was pretty much another version of Rocky and while Rocky was a great movie, Rocky 2 was just, well, Rocky 2. Towards the end of the series Rocky star Sylvester Stallone made Rocky Balboa which was a fitting end to the series. Rocky has retired and is running his small Italian restaurant. His wife has succumbed to cancer and then he gets the chance to be involved in a computer fight with the current champion Mason ‘the line’ Dixon.

I did wonder when I saw the film whether writer and director Stallone was inspired by the 1970s computer fight between Muhammad Ali and Rocky Marciano. My dad, a great boxing fan and a great fan of Marciano was outraged by the fight as the result was a win for Ali. My dad loathed Ali even to the extent of always referring to him by his former name of Cassius Clay. When I looked up the fight on the internet I discovered that only European viewers saw Ali win the fight. American viewers saw a version in which Marciano emerged as the victor in the 13th round. I know which version my dad would have prefered.

Getting back to remakes, after a short pause for another whisky and hot lemon: Which films would be good candidates for a remake? Well, there are two that I can think of. The first is Desperately Seeking Susan, an 80’s film starring pop singer Madonna in a small role, that of an independent young girl who travels the country but keeps in touch with her friends using the personal ads in a newspaper. Step in bored housewife Rosanna Arquette who follows the personal ads, even to the extent of watching Madonna from afar when she meets with her boyfriend. There is a lot more to it of course, memory loss, mistaken identity and stolen jewels but it’s a great film and here’s the thing; substitute personal ads with modern-day social media and the film is perfect for a 21st century remake! Casting might be an issue though, after all, who could replace Madonna?

One last film that I’d remake: Capricorn One. Now you may remember in an earlier post I wrote about watching an old VHS tape of the film and finding, sadly, that the tape ran out before the end. Now the more I thought about the film it made me remember that I had the full film on VHS somewhere and after a long and dusty search of my mother’s house I finally found it, a proper VHS shop bought, full version of Capricorn One. If you haven’t seen the film and I have to say, I haven’t noticed it on the TV schedules for a long time, the film is about the first manned voyage to Mars. On launch day the crew are removed from the spacecraft and it blasts off without them. They are then taken to an abandoned air force base and find that the plan is to fake the mission using a TV studio.

Why, you may ask? Well this is where the film falls on a little shaky ground. The space missions are in danger of losing funding from the government and as the life support system has been found to be faulty, this would be a good reason for the program to be cancelled. To prevent this, this fake mission is the course of action chosen by the top brass at NASA to keep the Mars program going.

Yes, not sure that NASA would really do that sort of thing. Perhaps if they threw in something else, some sort of conflict between Russia and America where winning the Mars race was of vital political importance, well then perhaps it would be more believable.

Later on during the mission Elliot Whitter, a member of staff in mission control, discovers that the TV signals supposedly coming in from the spacecraft are coming in ahead of the spacecraft telemetry. Of course they are! They are being beamed from a TV studio out in the desert. OK, this guy has to be got rid off so how do the NASA people do it? Nab him on his way home? Grab him somewhere at Mission Control? No, they wait until he is in the middle of a pool game in a bar with his best mate, a TV news journalist played by Elliot Gould. The journalist takes a call at the bar and when he returns, two minutes later, his mate has vanished! Something fishy going on here thinks the journalist.

Although the TV journalist eventually solves the case there is no real link as to how he does it, just guesswork really so in the remade version maybe Elliot Whitter made a computer disk that leads to the TV studio at the abandoned air force base, the TV journalist gets hold of it, finds the astronauts who are now virtual prisoners and hey presto we have a proper ending to the film.

Don’t miss Capricorn One if it ever gets shown on TV because it really is a great film despite me criticising it. And if any wily film producer is thinking about a remake, my updated re written script is available, whenever you are!


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.