Technology and a Sort of Personal History

So that’s Christmas and New Year over with, let’s get cracking with 2023. I might as well say, I’m always glad to see the back of Christmas and New Year. Not only that, I’m glad to see the back of December 21st too as the 21st is the shortest day of the year and now, each day gets longer as we gradually move towards the spring and warmer weather.

One other reason to see the back of 2022 was that during a cold snap just before Christmas, our pipes froze and we had three separate burst pipes in the loft. The first two weren’t so bad as we spotted them straight away and our plumber came over quickly and sorted them. The third one was worse. The pipes burst over the spare room which we didn’t notice straight away. It was only as Liz was passing on the way to the bathroom that we became aware of water pouring down into the room. Hats off once again to our plumber who came over straight away and sorted the leak. Sorting the wet carpets might take a little longer though. All that is just another reason to hate the cold.

This year, much later this year I should say, I will be 67 and I start to find myself looking inward, looking at where I have come from as well as wondering about the future.

The future, I have come to feel is about technology. Technology is ever changing and touches even a common individual like me. Once I recorded my television programmes on VHS tapes and now, they can be saved directly to my hard drive at the push of a button. Regular instalments of a show can be recorded automatically and missed shows can be watched on catch up TV. You can even begin to watch a TV show before the recording has finished. I spend a lot of time converting my favourite documentaries onto DVD although by the time I’ve finished, DVD will probably have given way to some newer technology.

The Beano. Picture courtesy Dundee.com

Years ago, I used to read a comic strip called General Jumbo. The general was actually a small boy who had various crime fighting adventures with a unique set of radio-controlled toys or models. I always remembered him controlling the models using something like an iPad although when I researched the General, who appeared in a famous UK comic called The Beano, I see he controlled them with a device that fitted over his wrist. Maybe it was some other comic strip hero that used the iPad like device but either way today’s iPad is one of my favourite devices. I’ve had an iPad for a number of years. I used to edit my blog posts on the iPad and produce and schedule most of my tweets and other social media posts but recently I have not been able to.

My iPad is fully up to date but alas, many apps will not work anymore. Many need an update of 14.5 and my pad, despite being fully updated only updates to 12.5. This is a most disappointing aspect of the iPad but it represents I suppose the ever-changing face of technology. It also represents something of a mean streak in the people at Apple, for they are not content for us to buy their very expensive gadgetry, they want us to buy the same item again, suitably updated and up-priced, several years later.

Fair enough, technology must move on but why at the expense of old technology? Anyway, one most wonderful and unexpected Christmas present I received this year, courtesy I might add of Liz, was a new iPad. Now I can reinstall the apps that I could no longer use on my old iPad. My banking app works again and I can sort out my social media posts with ease.

At Christmas I always get myself a present. It’s usually something like a DVD or a book but this year I bought myself a DNA test. It came with three months free on the ancestry.co.uk web site and it was pretty fascinating looking back at the paper fingerprints left behind by my ancestors in marriage documents, census forms and birth certificates. Having said that, researching your family history isn’t easy, especially when your grandfather for instance had the name George Higgins, a pretty unremarkable name in turn of the century Great Britain.

A lot of what I have found on the ancestry web site is nothing new and seems to merely confirm things I have found out by other means. I have my father’s birth certificate which gave some information and my grandfather’s marriage and death certificates which gave me more. My grandfather as I have mentioned was George Higgins. He died in 1954 before I was born. Ancestry linked me to the family tree of a distant relative who seems to claim that George was born in Ireland. Now that contradicts something my father told me many years ago. He told me that his grandfather or great grandfather came from Ireland. The man was a catholic and in order to marry a protestant, he was forced to come to England. That being the case I find it hard to understand how George came to be born in Ireland. Did his forebears return to Ireland or has Ancestry found a different George Higgins? On George’s army documents, he reports both his mother and father as being English, not Irish.

My Grandfather, George Higgins fought in the First World War with the Royal Horse Artillery so my father told me. This is him in this splendid picture with his horse, Prince. My Dad had the picture with him in his wallet when he was in the forces and as time went on it got a little torn and tatty and somewhere, I suppose it must have been in Hong Kong where he was stationed for a while, he found a little photographic shop that specialised in rescuing old pictures. The background of the picture was originally a forest but the rescue work removed them in order to make the picture good.

Over on Ancestry I found that George served with the Royal Army Medical Corps from 1912 to 1921. In 1921 he enlisted in the 52nd East Lancs Corps which was a Territorial Army Unit of Field Artillary.

Both sides of my family, my father’s people and my mother’s, came from the back-to-back terraced houses of Salford. They moved to Wythenshawe in the late 1930’s or early 1940’s. Wythenshawe was known as the ‘garden estate’ because instead of small terraced houses, here were bigger and better houses with front and back gardens. The estate was built on land purchased by Manchester City Council from the Tatton family. It was originally rustic countryside full of farms. My Dad worked on quite a few of them and my Mum tells me stories of getting milk from Potts dairy farm which stood apparently just across from my old junior school. You’d never know because no trace of it remains today, just a row of council houses.

I had hoped to find more about the past but navigating the records that hold the keys to the things that have gone before is not quite as easy as I had thought.

My great grandfather is mentioned on George’s marriage certificate. He was Patrick Henry Higgins and was no longer alive in 1920 when George married my grandmother. What makes the search difficult is that there are a great many Patrick Henry Higgins’s about. One day, during an epic troll of various census records, I found an Annie Higgins in the census of 1901. She was the head of quite a large household. Her husband was no longer around but one of her sons was called George. Was she the widow of Patrick Henry? Perhaps, perhaps not. Perhaps that elusive DNA report might help when it finally arrives. One day I hope to find out.


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A Few Christmas Memories

I always find it hard to write a Christmas blog post. I’m not sure why but then Christmas isn’t really my favourite time of the year. Anyway, here are a few of my Christmas memories, some of them culled from previous Christmas posts.

I used to like Christmas way back when I was about 12 years old. There were three presents I wanted as a child for Christmas and I didn’t ever get any of them, well not for Christmas anyway. One was a Secret Sam Briefcase which was a toy briefcase based on something James Bond might have had back in the 1960’s. The other was a toy rifle called a Johnny Seven which was very much like the big blockbuster rifle that Ripley wields towards the end of the film Aliens and the final thing was an Action Man. It was apparently too expensive my mother told me.

Secret Sam case. Picture from Pinterest

After Christmas I still had dreams of getting an Action Man and I eventually did. I bought or swapped one from my old schoolfriend Peter. It had a broken foot but I stuck it back together and had many happy hours of fun with it. I built this huge flying car I called a Jet Raft but sadly the co-pilot’s seat went unoccupied for quite a long time. The next Christmas, Action Man must have come down in price substantially as my brother received one as part of his Christmas box.

Many times I borrowed his Action Man to occupy the co-pilot seat in the Jet Raft. If we fell out during our games as we frequently did, he would depart and take his Action Man with him. Later I bought his Action Man off him outright at what was probably, knowing him, a hugely inflated price.

Back then when you bought an Action Man outfit, each outfit came with a number of stars. If you saved up 21 you could get a free Action Man. I only ever bought a couple of outfits as I mostly made my own. My favourite was an Apollo astronaut outfit I made out of cardboard and some white fabric. However, I did cadge the stars off various schoolfriends and eventually saved up the 21. Yes, it was a great day when the Jet Raft was finally fully manned with pilot, co-pilot and navigator!

This is a picture of my old childhood home. It didn’t look like that when we lived there, there was no drive for a start and there was no metal fence, we used to have privet hedges but of course don’t forget the first rule of karma; nothing stays the same.

Christmases back then were cosy affairs. My brother and me lying on the mat in front of the coal fire and Bob, the family dog, trying to push past us for prime position. He used to get as close to the fire as he possibly could. When his nose dried up my mother would shout at him and drag him away as a dog with a dried-up nose is, as we all know, such a terrible thing. Well, mum thought so anyway.

We used to watch a lot of old black and white films back then, in fact many of the films I saw were films that my dad had seen in his younger days at the cinema. Once we watched Angels with Dirty Faces and I could see from my dad’s face that the film must have brought back good memories for him. I won’t tell you the end of the film because it has quite a clever twist but for whatever reason, just as we approached the final reel, dad felt so moved by re-experiencing the film that he had to tell me the ending! Thanks a bunch dad!

Yes, I’ve experienced many Christmases, some good and some bad. Many years ago I lived with my girlfriend, I’ll call her J. (J for Judas.) On Christmas morning J went out early to take her two children to Christmas day mass. While she was away, I charged up my video camera and when they returned, I shot various things, opening presents and having Christmas dinner and so on. It makes me sad to see that video now although I haven’t seen it for years. When the children came back from mass, they were anxious to open their presents but we were still waiting for their mum. Where is she, I asked? Oh, she had to make a phone call they said. Phone call? Why use the call box round the corner when we had a phone. Two phones in fact, one in the hall and one upstairs. When J eventually came home, she told me she had been chatting to a neighbour. A little alarm bell went off in my head at the time but I dismissed it.

Later it turned out that she had used the call box to phone her new boyfriend, the one she eventually left me for.

Another Christmas I remember was when I had bought my first car. I was still at home and we had moved out from Manchester just over the border into Cheshire. It was freezing cold and my radiator was leaking so I topped it up with water from the tap. I drove back into Manchester, went to a party which I ended up walking home from. When I went back the next day, the radiator had frozen and ruined the engine. That was an expensive Christmas and an expensive lesson to learn about motor cars.

My first car, a three wheeled Bond Bug

Here’s one last Christmas memory. One far off Christmas spent with another ex-girlfriend in our small home in Merseyside. I’ll call the girl in question X. I had some time owing me so I had taken a few days off after Christmas. It had not been a great Christmas as it was the first one since X’s mother had died and she had sadly put the previous year’s Christmas card from her mother in pride of place right on the top of the TV.

Anyway, everyone was getting used to going back to work and there was me, who had worked during Christmas, knackered, worn out and ready for a break. I spent one day with my brother having a nice post-Christmas drink in Manchester and the next day I was relaxing, catching up on some TV of the type hated by X, yes, sci fi stuff, Star Trek, black and white films and so on and then a revelation came to me.

What if I took down the decorations, got rid of the tree, and chucked out the rubbish? There were piles of wrapping paper and empty bottles about and so on. I could actually come out of this looking good for once. Anyway, there and then I just got stuck straight in. I took the tree down, packed away all the ornaments and decorations and put the box back in the loft. The tree was chopped up and placed in the correct bin, the green one.

All the papers, wrapping paper and empty chocolate boxes and stuff were all removed and placed in the correct bin, (Don’t want to upset those hard-working bin men by putting stuff in the wrong bins, do we?) Old Christmas cards were removed also and placed into the brown bins.

After that a quick hoover up and a sort out of the furniture, all put back in its proper place.

Well, I think I worked up a bit of a sweat there as I remember. Great! Time now for a well-deserved cuppa, a bacon butty and get that black and white movie I recorded the other day cranked up.

As I sat there watching Ronald Colman, I could hear the sound of the bin men reversing down the avenue. Yes, my trusty van was on the drive, well out of the bin wagon’s way. (I don’t want to cast a slur on the bin wagon driver but accidents had been known to occur. And there was that incident last year when my next-door neighbour had the affrontery to park a huge transit van in the road making access difficult for the bin wagon so, well they just refused to come up the drive and empty our bins.) I had placed all the bins down by the end of the drive just within easy picking up distance for the bin men. (Can’t have them walking all the way up the drive to get the bins can we?)

Just then X came in through the door, I stood there foolishly thinking she would be happy and waiting for the praise that was bound to come my way. I hadn’t spent my day self-indulgently doing ‘my’ stuff. I had cleaned and tidied. I had helped. Hadn’t I?

X took one look at the tidy lounge then looked at me and said in a sort of scary accusatory sort of way: “What have you done?”

Well, I thought it was pretty obvious what had been done but just then the reversing horn of the approaching bin wagon set off a warning bell. What was wrong? The tree was in the correct bin. The plastic stuff and empty bottles in the glass and plastic bin. The paper stuff, the Christmas cards were all in the paper bin. The Christmas cards . .

I legged it outside just in the nick of time to dive into the paper bin just as the binman was about to empty it. Sprawled across the bin I rummaged frantically through the cardboard and wrapping paper and retrieved X’s mother’s card from certain destruction.

‘Afternoon’ I said nonchalantly to the bin men. They just looked at me with that ‘it’s that nutter from number 4’ look on their faces. Back inside X grabbed the card from my hand with a lethal black look and it was then that we became aware of a certain amount of what appeared to be tomato soup that had somehow attached itself to the card. Now, where that had come from, I do not know, I had not even eaten tomato soup that day (although perhaps I did throw a used tin of the stuff in the rubbish.) Oh well, at least my quick thinking had rescued the card!

Not long after, X and I parted company.

Those were a few of my Christmas memories. Hope you have a great Christmas and New Year.


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It’s C-C-Cold

This has got to be my least favourite time of the year. I hate the cold. Yes, actually hate it. It’s not a case of disliking it or preferring it to be warm or not being happy about it. Yes, I hate the cold.

I suppose, looking on the bright side, at least I can say I’m not living in Norway or Greenland or even Iceland but then again, it’s only a matter of 849 miles from the UK to Iceland. No wonder I’m cold. It would be nice if I could hibernate like a hedgehog. Have a good feed and then curl up in some nice, cosy spot and wake up in the Spring. I can just imagine waking up having slept through the winter. I’d have a long hot shower and then have breakfast out in the garden, perhaps cook some bacon and eggs and then just sit back and check my emails and see what has been happening while I’ve been away.

Anyway, back to reality and I’ll just pop the fan heater on for a few minutes while I go and load up the coal scuttle so I can light the fire.

We are off to Lanzarote in January and just thinking about it brings on a quick daydream: I’m over in Lanzarote and the temperature is a nice 70F. The pool is perhaps a little chilly but I jump in and after a few lengths I get out, slump into my deckchair and relax while the sun dries my body. I’ve got a book not far away for when I’m ready to read and I’m looking forward to some fresh salad and a barbecue later. Of course, we might even be walking down to the marina and our favourite tapas bar and partaking of a glass or two of red wine.

Back to reality again and excuse me while I pop out and chop some more wood for the fire. I put the kettle on and switch on the TV. I’m in the mood for an old black and white classic British film and what does BBC2 have to offer?  Scott of the Antarctic!

Captain Scott planned to make an expedition to the north pole but then changed his mind and went for the south pole. At pretty much the same time Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian explorer, decided he also wanted to make the trip so a kind of race began. Who would get to the pole first? Amundsen decided to travel in classic fashion with teams of dogs pulling sledges. Scott decided he would use new mechanical devices, vehicles with caterpillar tracks, all of which broke down in the cold. Scott also used ponies but they were not acclimatised to the cold and fared poorly. Amundsen’s dogs turned out to be the best choice.

Why either of them would want to go to the pole is completely beyond me. All that they found there was a shed load of snow and ice which most people could have predicted anyway.

As we all know, Scott got beaten to the pole by Amundsen. The gallant British explorers then had to face the task of getting back to civilisation, however the weather worsened and the men froze to death in their tent.

Scott of The Antarctic is a sad film although John Mills plays a good part as usual and James Robertson Justice plays a serious role for a change, that of Captain Oates who disappears into the snow after telling his friends that he ‘might be some time.’ Oates perished like his friends but his courageous actions have never been forgotten.

While I’m on the subject of Antarctica, here’s an interesting story. In 1513 an Ottoman Admiral and cartographer called Piri Reis compiled a map of the world. According to Wikipedia the map, not all of which has survived, depicts the western coasts of Europe and north Africa and Brazil with reasonable accuracy. The Canary Islands are also shown as well as Antarctica. Eric Von Daniken mentions the map in his book Chariots of the Gods and claims that extra-terrestrials may have supplied the information for earlier maps on which the Piri Reis’ map was based. Why you might ask? Well, the northern coast of Antarctica was perfectly detailed in the map but how could Reis know this when the coastline of the area is buried under snow and ice?

Anyway, enough of the Antarctic. Time for a quick scan through my emails. What’s this one:

I have to say, I’ve always rather fancied skiing. It looks pretty exciting and I can imagine it might even be a lot of fun. The big problem is that it involves paying money to travel somewhere that is cold and I have to say, straight out, that going to places that are not only cold but colder than where I live is not only wrong, it really must be either illegal or immoral or probably both. Quick on the spot reappraisal: Skiing? I don’t think so!

Right, kettle on and another steaming hot cup of tea coming up. I needed something to warm me up. I had the fire lit and as I settled down with my hot tea I was actually beginning to feel, not completely warm but a bit of a thaw at least. I flipped through the TV channels like the dedicated couch potato I am and what did I find?

Ice Station Zebra.

Ice Station Zebra was not only one of my favourite films but it was also a favourite of billionaire Howard Hughes. He would watch it regularly in his rooms high above Las Vegas and many times when it had finished, he would ask his aides to rewind the film on his projector and show it again.

Rock Hudson stars as the skipper of a submarine sent on a rescue mission to the north pole. Also on board the ship are a mysterious spy duo played by Ernest Borgnine and Patrick McGoohan. When the film was shot, McGoohan was in the middle of filming the TV series The Prisoner and while he was away from the set of the TV show an episode had to be shot without him so the writers dreamed up an installment in which his character Number 6 finds himself in the body of someone else, that of actor Nigel Stock. All of this was engineered for Patrick to star in the film without affecting the production of the TV series.

Ice Station Zebra was based on the novel by Alastair MacLean and it’s a film I’ve always enjoyed despite the cold location.

I piled more coal on the fire but I was still not feeling particularly warm. In fact I was quickly developing various symptoms that were all too familiar: runny nose, feeling cold, slight sore throat, high temperature, clearly a major cold, possibly even serious influenza was on the way. Might as well get out and enjoy myself I thought before being consigned to coughing, spluttering and sneezing, sipping hot lemon and whisky and not wanting to emerge from under the covers. Liz and I decided to visit our local Indian restaurant and join a few of our friends dining there. Obviously, it was going to be cold so I wrapped up well. Shirt, woolly jumper and thick new fleecy coat.

We settled down in the restaurant where I was pleasantly surprised to find the heating was going full blast. Off went the jumper, off went the coat. Poppadoms, onion bhaji and chicken bhuna with pilau rice? Yes, don’t mind if I do.

After some spicy food I finally warmed up. Well, for a little while anyway.


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Diary of An Oddball Kind of Day

I had another completely different kind of blog post planned for today but something happened that I just had to write about. Life and the things that get in your way when you’re not expecting them. I’ll start with the day before. I drove down to Manchester to my mother’s house. I like to write there and make some bits and pieces of video. It’s nice to be alone just for a while, to eat when I want to eat, eat what I want and to just generally sit back and open my laptop and create stuff. Sometimes nothing happens and I spend quite a lot of time watching DVDs and mowing the lawn. Actually, I was planning on one of those last lawn mowing efforts before the winter but alas, it had rained during the night and the lawn was soaked.

Arriving at mum’s I made a brew and started making some food. I sat down and waited for things to be ready and made a second brew. I’ve got a great mug at mum’s house. It’s big, bigger than a normal mug but not a giant one. It’s not too big and not too small, just perfect in fact. I ate my dinner, drank my tea and watched a little TV.

As it happens, not much was happening on terrestrial TV so I broke out the DVD box set that Liz had got me for my birthday. It was McMillan and Wife, one of my favourite old TV shows which surprisingly has not been repeated on British TV. Back-to-back episodes of Columbo are shown every Sunday and as much as I love Columbo you’d think broadcasters would like to mix things up and perhaps show the other elements of what used to be Mystery Movie: McCloud, Banacek or even McMillan and Wife.

McMillan and Wife starred Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James as the McMillans, a husband-and-wife detective team. Hudson plays the Police Commissioner of San Francisco and he and his wife go about solving various mysteries. It’s not quite as good as Columbo which for me has to be one of the greatest ever detective shows on TV. The series ran for 6 seasons but Susan left after season 5. She later gave up full time acting to concentrate on her family. Rock Hudson as we all probably know was a closet gay who died of AIDS in 1990.  Susan Saint James once said he was ‘the sexiest man alive!’

Anyway, let’s fast forward to the next day. I got up, washed and dressed and came down for breakfast. Soon I had sausages and bacon sizzling on my George Foreman grill and an egg all ready. The kettle boiled, the teapot was ready but where was the cup? You know the one, my favourite cup, the one not too big or too small. It wasn’t in the lounge and it wasn’t in the kitchen. It wasn’t on the drainer or in the sink with the dirty pots. In short, it had vanished. There was no other choice but to use another cup. I went for a slightly smaller one but, being a different size, I ended up with too much milk and not enough tea.

I had a feeling then that this was an omen, that this day wasn’t going to be good. Oh well!

Breakfast scoffed, I went out and walked into the civic centre to do some business. On the street just a few minutes walk from the centre I spotted a man approaching. He was about 30, tall and clearly under the influence of something, drink or drugs I wasn’t sure what. He was wearing flip flops and a pair of denim shorts which was a bit of a surprise as it was pretty cold. The top he was wearing looked a little like a sort of plastic mac only a very small one, a good three sizes too small for this guy. The buttons were all fastened but were straining a little. His belly was showing, not a particularly big belly but clearly there was nothing on under the mac. I made to walk to the other side of the road and this guy did the same. I nonchalantly turned back to my original side but the guy looked a bit confused by this and he decided to change direction also. Maybe he wanted to ask me something, I don’t know but to be fair, I just wasn’t in the mood to chat to a drunken idiot, especially as this was only about 10:30 in the morning.

A white van came down the street then going far too fast and the guy lurched back to my side but, anticipating this I ducked behind the van to the other side. As we passed on opposite sides of the street he gave a friendly wave and I waved back. He nearly fell over then but managed to keep control and despite nearly walking into a tree carried on.

My business that day was with my mother’s banks. There were two both side by side. My mother, for whatever reason, had split her money between the two banks and I had a court order enabling me to take control of her funds.

Bank number 1 was closed despite showing on their web site as being open until 5pm. That was annoying but I went into bank number 2. I spoke to a staff member and explained everything. Did I have a copy of the court order? Yes I did as well as a copy of my deputy certificate. Now this is where things get tricky. We live, as you know, in an electronic email internet age and my documents were saved on my phone, ready to be sent electronically to whoever needed to see them.

That’s no good explained the lady. We need to see a hard copy. Well, I can email them to you I said. No good she answered, I haven’t got an email address! Don’t give me that I thought. Everyone has an email address, especially people who work at big institutions like banks. No said the lady, you’ll have to phone our special hotline. She jotted down the number and sent me away.

OK, look on the good side. I’ve had a bit of exercise and taken in some fresh air so I went home and started again.

I called the number given to me by bank number 2. The conversation was a little difficult but they gave me a link to their website and I was eventually able to upload my documents. I still haven’t heard from them a week later but at least I’ve got somewhere….I think.

Bank number 2 was a little trickier. It turns out mum’s branch was in the process of closing down so I was advised to contact another branch. No problem I thought, there’s a branch near Liz in St Annes. Wrong! Turns out that branch has closed down too. There is a branch in Blackpool. I gave them a call, explained the situation. They too want to see a hard copy. Can’t I just upload the documents? No, they want to see the actual document. OK. I made an appointment to see them. I went to my solicitor and she had made me 6 copies of the court order. I passed them to bank number 1. OK? No, we want the original, not a copy. We want to make our own copy!

I knew it was going to be a bad day.

Back home I put the kettle on. Another search for my cup and still no sign. This is it. I knew it would end like this, losing my marbles. I made another cup of tea in another mug. Once again it was too strong and I had put too much milk in. Oh well, I’ll have to get used to my new mug I suppose.

What’s for tea? I’d not made a chilli for a while so I chopped the onions and garlic and fried gently. In went the mince along with cumin and chilli paste. Later, in went the tomatoes and stock. I transferred everything to my slow cooker and left it to gently bubble away. After a while I became concerned as no chilli aromas seemed to be forthcoming. A quick check and I noticed that I hadn’t plugged the slow cooker in!

My trusty old tea mug.

I’m trying to think of similar days. There was the time Liz and I went to a hotel in Folkestone. We were getting dressed for dinner and I realised the black shoes that I’d brought were both left shoes. Yes, that evening I don’t think I cut quite the figure I wanted to cut with my smart jacket, trousers and trainers. Then there was that other time, the one where I went for a night out wearing a white suit and came back with beer and kebab stains all over me. Oh well, these things happen.

The next morning, I had breakfast and then a few ideas came to me and I started tapping away furiously on my laptop. After a while I reached out for my tea. I had hardly drunk any and it had gone cold. I was going to throw it away but then thought I could easily warm it up in the microwave. I opened the microwave and what was there? My favourite cup and some old cold tea!

Today was going to be a good day!


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Memory, Memories and Memorabilia

I got to thinking about memory the other day, after all memories are important. Our whole past experience is made up of memories so in effect, everything that has passed, everything that has gone before, exists only in memory.

My mother who suffers with dementia will be 93 later this year. Sometimes when I visit her she is talkative and chatty, other times not. A sad moment a few months ago was when her only words were please help me, intoned over and over like a ritual or a prayer. I left her feeling extremely saddened and upset that day but when I visited a few weeks later she was the complete reverse, bright, happy, talkative and chatty. She couldn’t remember her address, except for her childhood address, the one she left behind many years ago but still, she was bright and asked about her home and her garden and what about the rent? Was I keeping up to date with the rent?

The Auntie I never met.

I brought her a photo I had found of her sister Ada. Ada was a keen cyclist who was sadly killed in 1948 in a traffic accident on her bike. I showed her the picture and she knew Ada immediately telling me about her many achievements in cycling and also winning a place at the Manchester Central Grammar School for Girls.

The photo, as I had hoped, stimulated her memory and we talked for a while about the past and her long-lost sister.

Sometimes I wonder about my own memory. I forget names quite frequently and sometimes when Liz and I go to the pub quiz and try to identify celebrities in the picture round I end up saying things to Liz like ‘It’s the woman who was Mrs Peel in the Avengers on TV’ (one point for Diana Rigg.) Or ‘It’s the woman from the film Titanic’ (another point for Kate Winslet.) Or even ‘the guy who used to be on the breakfast show on Channel 4 with that woman who’s on Celebrity Gogglebox’. (Outstanding if you got Johnny Vaughn!)

The other day I was sorting out some of my old CDs. There wasn’t much on the TV so I popped one in the player. It was by Elton John called simply ‘Elton John’ and contains the hit single ‘Your Song’ and various other tracks. As Elton tinkled the ivories and began to sing, I realised I knew all the words despite not having listened to that album for many years. I’ve also got it on vinyl and when I was in my early twenties and discovered Elton, I played and played his records until my parents yelled up the stairs telling me to pack it in.

Memory is important too in today’s electronic devices. I mentioned in a previous post about how a shoot for one of my videos was curtailed because the camera’s memory card was full. I usually have a spare but on that particular day I hadn’t popped one into my camera bag. Result disaster! Well, almost disaster as I still had my spare camera. When I came to edit that particular video which was about Manchester Airport I also had a lot of unused video from previous visits as well as some video from the VHS days shot in the late 1980s so I was able to change direction a little bit and also to look at how the area has changed in recent years.

Going back further to the 1960s and 70s, my schoolfriends and I used to visit the airport regularly and go on to the viewing terraces to watch the aircraft land and take off. My old schoolfriend Steve used to be a real aircraft expert and when we made a video about the airport in 1986, he would comment on my photos saying things like ‘that was a 747 just arrived from Heathrow’ or ‘that was a Lufthansa 757 off to Munich’.

My mother too was pretty knowledgeable about aircraft, well, World War II aircraft anyway. Manchester was bombed in the war and mum’s suburban home of Wythenshawe was frequently hit as it was just up the road from the airport, a particular target of the Nazi bombers. The famous WWII pilot Guy Gibson did some of his training at Manchester airport, then called Ringway and mentions it in his autobiography, Enemy Coast Ahead. My mother says she could tell if the aircraft were British or German by the sound of their engines. The German bombers had a deep droning sound apparently.

A lot of my photographs are routinely backed up on Google Photos but recently they advised me about the new limits of their online backup service. From June 1st 2021, instead of free back up, that now only extends to 15 GB, after that we will have to purchase a plan with Google to continue our image storage. All my laptop images are backed up at Flickr.com but again, that isn’t a free service, I pay a yearly fee. Of course, I could just cancel but then how could I access my images? Well, it just so happens that all my images and videos are backed up on my three hard drives but Google is so much easier to use. If I want a picture for a blog post I tend to just search my Google photos rather than search around the house for my drives and then plug them in. When I went to back up my 2021 photos and videos the other day, I realised I didn’t have enough memory on my current drive so now I’ll have to get another one.

Loss of memory is a regular theme in the film world. The Bourne Identity and its sequels were about an intelligence agent who wakes and does not know who he is. Matt Damon plays the lead character who is picked up by a fishing boat near to death suffering from bullet wounds and total amnesia. The Bourne films are a series I’ve always wanted to watch but I never seen them. (Note to self- set the TV recorder next time The Bourne Identity appears on the TV guide.)

Hitchcock made an amnesia themed film in Spellbound starring Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman. A doctor, played by Gregory Peck, arrives at a mental hospital to replace the outgoing hospital director but Ingrid Bergman discovers Peck is an imposter. Peck’s character fears he may have killed the former director but cannot recall anything. Not my favourite Hitchcock film but it’s an interesting one with dream sequences designed by surrealist artist Salvador Dali.

Finally, here’s my favourite amnesiac film, Random Harvest starring Ronald Colman and Greer Garson. It’s a film not often seen on TV and now and again I’ll get out my old VHS copy if I want to watch it. Based on the book by one of my favourite authors, James Hilton, the film concerns a shell-shocked war veteran, played by Colman, recovering in a sanatorium during the latter days of WWI. The man cannot remember his past but makes a new life with Greer Garson. After they are married the man now known as Smithy, journeys to Liverpool to see a newspaper editor about a story he has written. In the city Smithy is hit by a cab and knocked unconscious. When he awakes all memory of Smithy has vanished but his true identity returns.

He returns home to his lost family but what was he doing in Liverpool. Where has he been in the years since his wounding in the trenches of the Great War?

At times a little sentimental, I’ve always loved this film. Colman is wonderful as the man who rejuvenates his family’s business, becomes a respected MP but cannot find happiness until he knows what happened to him in those few lost years.

Here’s a last thought on the subject of memory. When you are at the pub quiz and are struggling to recall the name of the guy who played Jason King in TV’s ‘Department S’, never say to yourself ‘I can’t remember’. According to Paul McKenna, the guy who produced all those books and tapes about confidence boosting which I used to use when preparing for job interviews, you are sending a message to your subconscious saying ‘don’t remember’. What you should say to yourself is ‘I’m not sure at the moment but the answer WILL come to me soon.’ That way, you’re sending a positive message to your subconscious telling it to get working on that long-forgotten name.

Now, who did play Jason King? Peter Wyngarde! Told you it would work!


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The Day I Finally Cracked It

I’m still feeling rather fed up lately. It’s great to have no work to do but it’s important to fill that time and to keep busy, neither of which I’m currently doing.

Because I’m a little bored my writing has been affected too, I’m not doing much so I have little to write about. I don’t have the 42 mile trip to work so I’m not in my car as much and when I’m in my car that’s when a lot of my ideas come.

Years ago when I drove for the bus company I decided to pack the job in and try my hand at driving coaches. It was a bad mistake, I was only 21, I was too immature to take on a responsible job like coaching. I hadn’t travelled about much and so I didn’t know my way around the UK. On every trip I had to spend ages planning my route and where to stop and frankly, I just wasn’t up to the job. The result was that I ended up back at the bus company again. There were no vacancies at my old garage where they were gearing up to be all one man operated buses so I agreed to move to Stockport. At Stockport they still had a lot of old fashioned buses that were driver and conductor operated but to be honest, operating a bus with two people was much more fun.

Two staff members retired which I remember well. They were both characters. The first one was a long serving conductor whose name I can never remember. I’ll call him Tony. Tony was looking forward to retirement. He had worked for North Western before buses were nationalised and he always looked down on those who had worked for the ‘corporation’, the municipal bus companies. North Western had run a lot of long distance routes but the corporation had only local routes. When buses were nationalised the long distance routes went to National Express and Tony was forced to work for GM Buses which took over local routes.

Tony had planned well for his retirement. He had gone on a few retirement courses, he had invested well and had also topped up his pension with a private one. He wouldn’t miss the bus company for a minute. On his last day he walked over to Sainsbury’s for something and dropped dead in the frozen food aisle. He never got to enjoy his retirement at all.

Another long-time employee was Bert, known to all as ‘Cracked it’ Bert. Bert was a crusty old guy who always wore the full uniform including the cap. He worked on the 900 rota on which all the old timers worked. They didn’t do weekends and they worked easy split shifts covering the morning rush hour and then returning later for the evening one. Bert always used to say to me that it was hard work because the staff were ‘always in the thick of the action’. Don’t believe a word of it. Split shifts were busy, very busy but not the ones on the 900 rota.

The 900 rota was unofficially known as the ‘Sick, Lame, and Lazy Rota’, and it was all easy work; the odd works’ service and a couple of the easier school runs.

Thrown in to their duties was also a gratuitous share of standby time. Standby was when you have spare drivers or conductors, ready to fill in to replace another crew when a bus had broken down or staff had called in sick. The thing was, with the 900 rota, their standby time was only a couple of hours so they were ninety nine percent certain they would never be called to go out. The drivers were fairly amenable old chaps but the conductors, all mostly clippies, female conductresses apart from Tony and Bert, were all quite the opposite. Go out on their stand by time, when they could be supping tea and knitting? Not likely! As you can imagine the 900 staff were universally unpopular.

When I was a one-man driver, in the latter days of conductor operations, we used to do a trip from Bramhall in the morning rush hour. When we got closer to Stockport the bus was always packed to the seams and the extra rush hour bus, covered by the 900 staff, always used to hang back and let the one-man driver do all the work. Well, we can’t expect our senior 900 staff to cover that busy run can we? And knitting won’t do itself, will it?

I remember pulling into Mersey Square in Stockport with a bus bursting at the seams and the 900 bus pulling in behind me with about five people on board. I went back to that bus and told them in no uncertain terms they were out of order. The driver was about to say something when his clippie, Doris, the laziest conductress you ever met, pushed him aside and gave me a right mouthful about how I hadn’t been doing the job five minutes and how she and her driver had been at it since before I was born and well, I think you get the picture.

Now I have always believed in the interconnectedness of the universe, how one good deed will come back to you twofold and how those evil doers, as they used to call them in my old comic days, will eventually be punished. Anyway, one fine day it came to pass that I was asked to work my day off. I came in for my stand by duty and sat down with a cuppa and a slice of toast hoping for a nice relaxing read. After a while the tannoy called my name and I went over to the desk to see what was in store for me.

Doris, the laziest conductress in the world was there waiting for me. ‘Are you driver Higgins?’ she bellowed.

‘What’s it to you?’ I replied in the same happy tone.

Well, it turned out that Karma, that magical mystery force of the universe had poked its nose into our life that day and her driver had called in sick and, guess what? I was her driver for the day. Well, when we came to do the Bramhall rush hour bus, instead of hanging back, I passed the packed one-man bus and we did most of the work coming into Stockport. That’s the way it should have been done with the workload, and the passengers split evenly between the two buses.

When we got to Stockport our passengers piled off leaving our flustered conductress in a state of disarray and her cash bag full of coins. Her ticket machine had issued more tickets in an hour than it normally did in a week. She was looking a little peaky, if I remember correctly.

Perhaps that’s why she went sick for the rest of the shift!

Anyway, getting back to Bert. His place in the canteen was the very first table just by the entrance. He let on to everyone who entered with his usual phrase ‘Have you cracked it yet?’

If you had just come on shift you could only reply ‘Not yet Bert’. If you had nearly finished work the obvious answer was ‘nearly done Bert’.

Bert took his retirement and that first table by the entrance was empty for many a week. Then one day I came in for my break and who was there but Bert, dressed in his civvies of course.

‘How are you, Bert?’ I asked.

We had a bit of chit chat and then I went on to order my breakfast. After that I saw Bert pretty regularly as he took his usual place in the canteen most days. Buses and that canteen had been his life for so long he couldn’t stay away. He must have been 65 back then and that was over 30 years ago, I doubt if he would still be alive today. Even so, I can just imagine bumping into him and him asking me ‘have you cracked it yet Steve?’

I’d smile back and answer ‘I’ve finally cracked it, Bert’.


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Retirement, Caravans and Some Holiday Memories

Just lately I’ve been getting an awful lot of congratulations. Some in person and others by text or email. You might be thinking what has Steve done? Won a prize, had a book published? A video getting honours in a film festival? No, none of that. I’ve retired. By rights I should be happy, after all I wasn’t so happy in my job and I’m glad I don’t have to go back in again. Of course, if my retirement had happened ten years ago perhaps, then I’d have a reason to be upset. I was a deputy manager working with a lot of colleagues who I also counted as friends and leaving was the last thing on my mind. These days, a lot of those friends have left and moved on to other things and my deputy manager status was lost when I had to reapply for my own job. So now that I am leaving, I should be feeling happy but I actually feel a little bit sad. Perhaps if I had an exciting new job to look forward to, I’d be feeling more positive but the thing with retiring, it means no new job, no new beginning, just an end.

My plan, and believe it or not because generally I don’t plan anything, my plan was to be off to Europe with Liz in our little motorhome but with her hip replacement operation coming sooner than expected and Liz still recovering, we are still here. At least I don’t have to go into work though.

When we finally get to go away there will be no checking of our route and worrying about getting back in time. Getting back in time for what? For work? A few years ago we thought about taking the ferry to Santander in Spain and working our way gradually back home through Spain and France. Covid put paid to that at the time but now that journey is once again a possibility. We could even just travel south in France until we find somewhere warm and relaxing. Breakfast in a French aire. A check of the map and then a few hours driving to a new location, preferably by a plan d’eau, a swimming lake. Time perhaps for a swim, a little relaxation in the sun before cranking up the barbecue. Yes, bring it on.

We did think long and hard before buying a motorhome. Getting a caravan was another possibility. Many years ago I used to have a static caravan. It was on a site in Lancashire, not far from Lytham St Annes and it was a nice relaxing place. There were no amenities such as a bar or restaurant but there were many good walks along the estuary and it was a short drive or bus ride into Lytham where there were, and still are, many lovely restaurants and bars.

Probably the thing I used to really like about it was how much it reminded me of the many family holidays we used to have as a child. We always stayed in a caravan in places not too far away like Blackpool, Morecambe, Rhyll, Prestatyn or sometimes we’d go further afield to the east coast of England. My mother always arranged those trips. We didn’t have a car so we would travel on a coach. There was mum, dad, me and my brother and Bob, our old dog. Bob was always a bit of an attraction to the other kids on the bus and we were always proud to tell them that Bob was ours. Frequently on those trips, Bob, who was not a good traveller would throw up. Then we disowned the dog and pretended he was nothing to do with us. Mum, who came armed for every eventuality always had some cloths ready to clean up the mess although once I remember her going forward to the driver who stopped and produced a mop and bucket from somewhere which she took from him and expertly mopped up.

Today I can still remember the smell of the calor gas stove. The thrill of renting a bicycle that was much better than my old tatty bike back home and racing round the camp. Sleeping in bunk beds and fish and chips for tea from the camp chippy.

My last caravan was really pretty well laid out. It had a central lounge, kitchen and dining area. At one end was the guest bedroom and small toilet, at the other end was the master bedroom with a connecting door to the pretty spacious bathroom and toilet. There was a nice garden and a shed where we kept our lawn mower and outside table and chairs. When I eventually sold the van there was a clause in the contract which said I could only sell back to the camping site unless I removed it and the price was much less than I thought it was worth. The only alternative was to take the van away. To do that would involve hiring someone to move it and then, move it where? I would have had to have found another site and pay the usual costs, transport of the van, new site fees, site tax and so on. After some haggling I gave in and sold the van to the site owner. Funnily enough, only today I read a blog about caravanning calling caravan site owners the New Robber Barons of the 21st century!

In England, motorhome owners have no choice except to stop at private camping sites, all of whom charge fees, some fair, some not so fair. One thing we have started doing is stopping for the night at pubs that allow campervans to park in their grounds free as long as you use the pub facilities, buy beer and food which I have always been happy to do.

In France, there are many free parking sites for motorhomes. Most are municipally owned with small charges for emptying your toilet and filling up with drinking water and I must tell you this story about one particular parking site and Bob the dog which I know I’ve told in an earlier post but it seems to fit in so well here.  A few years ago, Liz and I were motoring through France in our motorhome and we stopped in a pretty big town where they had a large municipal stopover for motorhomes.

We found ourselves a spot in this busy place and the parking bays backed onto a grassy area with picnic tables. It was really quite a lovely spot. Liz began to sort out our food while I took plates and cutlery over to the table. As I approached, I had a sort of odd feeling that something was about to happen and there was a really friendly dog who greeted me like a long lost friend. He wasn’t jumping up or anything but he was pleased to see me. Anyway, we brought the food and wine over and sat down and the dog sat just by me.

I looked at the dog and held out my hand and said ‘Gimme your paw’ just like I used to say to Bob our old family dog. Now I’m not sure what I expected to happen but the dog gave me a doggy smile and placed his paw in my hand, just like old Bob used to do. It was rather satisfying to have the dog there by my side while we ate. Occasionally I slipped him some food just like I used to do with old Bob. Later when I took the plates and things back inside the van, the dog was nowhere to be seen. He had vanished into the warm evening and I wondered whether it really had been Bob, reincarnated and come back to check on his old master.

Just writing about these things has got me all geared up ready for our future trip. Driving is a pain in the neck these days in places like busy Manchester. On the much quieter roads of the Loire for instance, driving is still a pleasure. I look forward to chugging along watching for the road signs and the names of the French towns. I like the quiet stopping places and the peaceful aires where we can stay for the night. I like too the sleepy French villages and the small markets where we buy local bread and cheeses. Of course, who can forget those wonderful restaurants and eating in the open air. The small starters of cold meats and crudités. The appetising mains, le plat de jour and the cheese course. The glass of rosé to start with and the pichet of vin rouge.

Hopefully, I’ll be seeing all those again soon.


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The Story of My Life (Part 3)

As usual when I’m stuck for a blog post I tend to look back on my old posts for a little inspiration. I’ve already produced parts 1 and 2 of The Story of my Life (In less than 2500 words) so I thought it might be time to crack on with part 3. To be fair I’ve not had the most exciting life but as a writer with a good 500 blog posts behind me, I’m hoping that with a bit of effort I can produce something of some interest to the reader, however small. My novel, Floating in Space is to a great extent, my own life just jazzed up a little so let’s see if I can make it interesting enough for a blog post. I find that a lot of the episodes in my life have already been made into a blog post so I have added the links which open up in another page if you want to read about things in a little more detail.

Looking back, I seem to have spent a lot of years working for a bus company when really, I should have pulled my finger out and tried to get a job doing something I really enjoyed. Alas, it’s always easy to look back and see where we have made mistakes but at the time things are not always so clear. I had a lot of fun working as a bus conductor and then a driver but later when I wanted to move on, I wasn’t sure how to do it, plus I had a mortgage and bills to pay so I couldn’t afford to just jack everything in.

However, that day did eventually arrive. I had just split with my girlfriend and it was time for a completely new start and so I resigned. I was a great Formula One fan and I decided to start my own business selling motorsport memorabilia. I rented a small place in Manchester City centre in the Corn Exchange which was a grand old building that housed various small units selling all manner of things; books, records, pottery and clothing as well as a lady who read palms.

In my small unit I was selling motor sport books and videos, posters and model racing cars. As time went on people came to me to sell their motoring memorabilia and I realised that my second hand items were doing better than the new stuff. My customer base gradually built up and I noticed that as well as selling I was doing a great deal of talking. I had regular customers that came round just to talk about Formula One rather than buying books on the subject. I kept a diary and spent the quiet moments in my little shop writing away. One of my customers Tom, used to pop in, tell me to get him ‘booked in’ in my diary then he would nip round the corner for two teas. He and I spent a lot of time drinking tea and chatting and I’m pushed to remember if he ever bought anything.

Another customer was an ex-soldier who told me all about his adventures in various parts of the world. He was always asking me to go with him on various wild camping expeditions to the Scottish Highlands but it wasn’t for me. There were many others and looking back there seemed to be an awful lot of people looking for a little companionship and chit chat. Perhaps I should have opened a pub rather than a shop.

One gentleman who bought a good number of things off me was someone who owned his own company. His name was Bernard (once again, names have been changed to protect the innocent) and he was a great Ferrari fan. I sourced a number of Ferrari books and videos for him. We talked a lot too. Not only was he a great fan of the Scuderia Ferrari, he also told me that he drove a Ferrari himself. One day he arranged to bring his car for me to see. Now I don’t know about you but I had, and still have, a firm idea of what a Ferrari should look like. My favourite Ferrari has always been the Ferrari Dino 246GT, the one Tony Curtis drove in the TV series The Persuaders.

The author and his, well ok not his actually, just some random Ferrari!

Bernard arranged to come by at about 12:30 to show me his car. At the appointed time I put the closed for lunch sign up on the door and nipped outside. I suppose I wasn’t really expecting a Ferrari Dino to turn up and there were no Ferraris to be seen but there was a nondescript green saloon car and the occupant was beeping his horn and waving. Yes, it was my customer and he was driving a Ferrari and not all Ferraris are red sporty models as Bernard soon pointed out. I managed to hide my disappointment reasonably well, at least I think so.

I loved that little shop and I loved spending my time chatting F1 to everyone who wanted to chat F1 which was pretty much everyone that came in. The big problem was that I wasn’t making much money so eventually I put the entire business up for sale. That advert ran for a week and only one person answered. Luckily, he was the guy who bought my entire stock. I was really sad to see my business go but not long afterwards the IRA exploded a huge car bomb on the street outside which, had I still had my shop, could easily have blown to me to pieces so maybe there was a silver lining after all. In 2022 the Corn Exchange houses the Triangle, a posh shopping centre and various restaurants, all far too up market for the likes of me.

I was unemployed for a while. The two things I remember about that period was taking a video production course and going to the ‘Job Club’. I was hoping that I could claim something while I was on the video course, you know, travel expenses or something or at least not having to sign on. The DWP took a different view though; according to them if I was on a course, I would be unavailable for work and therefore, not entitled to any benefits at all! I told the people who were running the course and they just said, don’t tell the DWP and we will let you nip out to sign on, which is basically what happened.

I enjoyed that course so much. I really did. We were split into various groups and we had to choose a subject for making a film. My group batted various ideas about and eventually we went for my idea which involved making a documentary about taxi drivers. We had tuition on working the camera and then we were off to the city centre to film taxis and interview taxi drivers. I think we made a pretty good film although I remember having to defend part of it when we had to show our rough cut to the other students. One of the taxi drivers mentioned that certain parts of the city were dangerous to go to and he mentioned Moss Side, only five minutes away from our training location. Moss Side is a predominantly black area but I didn’t think the taxi driver was racist, he was just not happy about going to Moss Side and having his customers run off without paying.

The best bit was working in the editing suite and putting together our video. I loved that and in fact, still love video editing to this day. Back in 1992 we were still using video tape, in fact we shot our film on Super VHS. These days in the digital world, editing is different. I remember once back in the 1980’s, editing a film about Manchester Airport. I had to fade in some sound effects and mix in some background music then fade all that down to read a short narration then fade in a helicopter sound effect before bringing in some more music, and I had to do that all in ‘real’ time. Today that kind of edit is a matter of adding the different audio layers one on top of the other.

I had hoped that afterwards I might have got employment in a video production company but it wasn’t to be. A few companies offered me work but it was work of the unpaid kind. Later I found that unpaid work is a recognised way of getting into film and TV. Sorry but unpaid work wasn’t and isn’t for me.

Back at the DWP they decided to send me to the ‘Job Club’. I didn’t fancy it but it was a case of either go or lose your benefit. The first day I went, the club was so busy all I could do was go in and register and that was it. Next week was quieter and so was the next. By about week three, the attendance had thinned out and I was finally able to make some headway towards getting a job. Someone helped me to put together my very first CV. My unemployed mates and I checked the newspapers for jobs, wrote spec’ letters, were given interview advice and generally had a nice chat and supped endless cups of tea. Eventually I got employment as a coach driver, not one of my favourite jobs. I did get to travel about the country and on one occasion got to go to the Black Forest in Germany. Most of the time I was driving school buses.

One school run that I remember was one week when they gave me a really nice coach instead of an old banger bus for a change. It was a junior school and the kids were only young but they were an unruly lot. The coach had a video player so I brought along a VHS copy of the Gerry Anderson TV show Thunderbirds and the kids loved it. They sat glued to the TV but the only problem was that they didn’t want to get off the bus. Someone complained on the return journey because their child nearly missed their stop so I had to stop playing the video. I remember the delighted faces of the kids when I got the same job again, a few weeks later and they saw me and said look, it’s the driver that plays the Thunderbirds video and then the look of misery when the school assistant who travelled on the bus forbade me to play it.

The coach company I worked for was owned by GM Buses, my former bus company. One day I saw a job advert on the notice board for a job in Metro Comms, the GM Buses control room. I applied, got the job and said goodbye to coaching.

Working in the enquiry section of the bus control room was actually a pretty fun job. The job itself wasn’t great but we had a lot of laughs. I could spend all day telling you stories about our control room in fact I wrote a blog post about it a few years ago but here’s the funniest thing that happened there. One of my friends was called Norm and Norm had a particular dislike of the identity badge we had to wear. When it was time for a break, Norm would pull off his badge, slap it down on his desk and go off to the canteen.

One day, some of the guys decided to cut out a shapely pair of breasts from that day’s newspaper page three model and insert the picture into Norm’s badge. I couldn’t stop laughing and this was even before Norm came back to the office. Everyone was calling for me to shut up and be quiet but I couldn’t help it. Thirty minutes later Norm returned, sat down at his desk, put on his headset, switched on his phone and clipped on his badge. I must have looked ready to burst and after stifling my laughter for about ten minutes Norm got up to get a brew. He happened to glance over at me and asked what was wrong and I couldn’t hold the laughter in any more. He eventually found the offending picture and removed it convinced that I was the practical joker.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post because I had a lot of fun writing it and looking back on some of my old jobs. Working in Metro Comms wasn’t the best job I’ve ever had but we had a lot of laughs there and believe me, if you get the chance to laugh at least sometime during your day, that day will go down a whole lot better.


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The Electric Bill, The Banking App and Me

This last week I picked up my iPad to pay my electric bill. Yes, the digital world has made it so easy to do things like that. No writing a cheque and slipping it into a pre-paid envelope and then going off into the cold to find a post box. These days you can just click on your banking app and press a button and it’s all sorted. Sometimes though it can all go so very wrong.

My electric bill arrived as usual in my email inbox. I saw it and made a mental note to pay it and then moved on to much more interesting things such as the old episodes of The Saint for instance, currently enjoying a renewed life on digital TV. Roger Moore is so much better at playing Simon Templar than James Bond. Then of course there are so many things to search for on eBay, things I didn’t know I even wanted until eBay showed them to me.

Eventually I finally got around to paying that pesky electric bill. I was tired and did it quickly, far too quickly as it turned out, just before going to sleep. Just as I pressed the button to pay my bill, I glanced quickly at the reference number that had been saved and the thought that that didn’t look like my usual electricity reference number passed fleetingly through my head before I nodded off to a restful slumber.

It just so happens that I’m pretty good at remembering stuff like that, reference numbers and telephone numbers. All I have to do to remember a telephone number is to write it down and I’ll automatically remember it. Don’t write it down and that’s it, I’ll always forget it. Anyway a few days later I had an email from the electricity company moaning that I still hadn’t paid my bill so I double checked everything, yes there was the payment, I had definitely paid it. Before sending off an email to Eon I thought I’d better just check that reference number. I did and I noticed it wasn’t the right one. What was it then? Aha, it was my old mum’s reference number from the days when I used to pay her electric bill. My iPad always remembers her reference number. I usually delete it and add my own account number but that last time I didn’t. Serves me right for paying the bill late at night when I was tired. OK, they had the money but just not in the right account. Could hardly be difficult to resolve, could it?

I dropped an email off to Eon and waited for an answer. Nothing. I called them and got stuck in a call centre queue which believe me, there is nothing I hate more apart from perhaps getting stuck in a traffic queue on the motorway when a lane is closed and there are no road workers working. So, I switched my phone on to speaker, tried to block out the horrible recorded music coming through and started pottering about on my iPad. Forty minutes later after Liz had thrown various things at me because the racket coming from my phone was driving her mad, I retreated into the kitchen and put the kettle on. Just as I was ready to settle down with a cup of tea and a corned beef sandwich someone finally answered.

That someone was a chap called Bakar. Now Bakar spoke pretty good English but even so, it wasn’t a great line and I did have a little difficulty understanding him. For a kick off I couldn’t quite get his name and I had to ask him to spell it phonetically. Bravo Alfa Kilo Alfa Romeo. Exotic names like that can be a real problem in today’s international world. At work the other day I took a call from a motorist (I work in a motorway control room) who had broken down on the motorway. His name was -and here I won’t use his real name but a very similar one that I’ve pinched from a popular comedian, Romesh Ranganathan. I couldn’t for the life of me catch his name so I asked him to spell it phonetically; Romeo Oscar Mike Echo Sierra Hotel and so on. As you can imagine that took a while and that was only his first name. In order to get the AA to come and rescue him I had to give him a major interrogation, name, address, mobile number and so on and then to pass all of that to the AA themselves, which took a bit of effort I can tell you.

Towards the end of the conversation the AA declined to come out because Mr Ranganathan’s policy had expired which to be honest, is something that happens fairly regularly. Let’s face it, as soon as you think you’re fed up paying a ridiculous amount of money for breakdown cover that you never use, you know you’re going to need it.

Anyway, that’s enough about Mr Ranganathan, let’s get back to my electric bill and Bakar. Here’s a quick recap. I’d paid my electric bill to Eon. They had the money in their bank, it was just that it was in the wrong account. From my perspective it seemed to me that there was a simple solution, even a couple of simple solutions. (1) Transfer the money from the wrong account into the correct account. (2) Refund the money to me and then I could just pay it again with the correct reference.

‘Sorry no’ said Bakar, ‘we can’t just credit your account’. Why not I asked? ‘It’s just not possible’ said Bakar without really explaining why.’ OK then refund me the money. ‘Ahh, that’s not possible either,’ said Bakar. ‘Why not?’ I asked. ‘Well, I can’t refund you money from someone else’s account.’  ‘But that’s my mother’s defunct account.’ ‘Ahh yes but she’d have to give us authorisation to refund the money to you.’ ‘Why? It was me that paid the money in!’ ‘Ahh, but Mrs Higgins would have to authorise the payment to you.’ ‘Why? Her account is closed and she is currently living in an old people’s home!’

This conversation went on for some time and Bakar successfully deflected every idea I had for resolving the issue and come to think of it, he didn’t bring any of his own ideas into the conversation. How I didn’t smash my phone into a thousand pieces I don’t know but I would like to think that you, the impartial blog reading public are on my side, surely Eon could have sorted the whole thing out easily. However, their final piece of advice, was to contact my bank and ask them to contact Eon’s bank for the return of the money. Bakar, and the Eon help desk which he was representing went right down in my estimation but there was no choice but to contact my bank after, I might add, telling Bakar how disappointed I was in him and his organisation and penning a strongly worded email complaining bitterly about my treatment. His final comment was that if I didn’t pay my bill soon, I would be incurring a late payment charge (numerous swear words deleted here).

After a fresh cup of tea and the now slightly stale corned beef sandwich followed by some deep breaths to calm me down, it was time to dial my bank. Once again, I went through numerous menus, all advising me to put the phone down and use the bank’s internet app. I did check the app, but nothing there was of any help to my particular problem. After a relatively short wait I found myself talking to an operator who seemed eager to help but felt that a colleague in another department could provide more information so once again I was condemned to phone menu music while I waited.

After a short wait the same operator came back. Clearly that other colleague was busy so he’d have to try another one in a ‘specialist’ department. Cue more music and finally a lady came on the line, a lady who sounded very much like she was at the end of a very long tunnel. I explained the situation once again, in fact I’d explained it so much I was now word perfect. Pity I couldn’t have been as perfect when I was narrating the short introduction to one of my new videos the other day which I had to re-record many, many times. Yes, that imagined career in voice overs I was contemplating may just not be happening.

I repeated my sad story of paying my electric bill using my mother’s defunct electric account number yet another time, and then repeated it once again as the lady at the end of the long and echoing tunnel didn’t quite get it the first time. I went on hold yet again and finally was told the electric company’s bank had been contacted and they had asked for my money back which apparently might take up to four weeks. Four weeks! Four weeks in this instant internet digital world. Yes, apparently so.

The whole sad saga brought to mind the old joke about the guy who phones up his psychiatrist. He too gets a phone menu and the electronic voice at the other end says this:

If you are obsessive-compulsive, please press 1 repeatedly. If you are co-dependent, please ask someone to press 2. If you have multiple personalities, please press 3, 4, 5, and 6. If you are schizophrenic, listen carefully and a little voice will tell you which number to press. If you are paranoid, we know who you are and what you want. Just stay on the line so we can trace the call.

Anyway, here’s the moral of the story, next time you pay your electric bill always check that reference number!


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The Post Holiday Blues and Other Ramblings

Returning home after a holiday is always a let down, even more so when you return to the cold and wet UK after the temperate climate of Lanzarote. One morning I woke to beautiful sunshine streaming in through the window and then went outside to sit in the sun by the pool while I waited for the kettle to boil. The next morning, I woke in a cold house with the wind battering at the window and made my way shivering into the kitchen to once again boil the kettle. In one of the James Bond books 007 calls tea ‘mud’ and claims it was the cause of the downfall of the British Empire. Nothing could be further from the truth because tea, at least for me, is one of the great wonders of British life and whether I am in the cold of a British winter or the warmth of the Canary Islands, I really cannot start my day without a cup of tea.

I had a pretty lazy holiday in Lanzarote. I spent it, like I spend most of my holidays, reading books on my sun lounger, swimming in the pool, having barbecues and enjoying drinks and meals down in the nearby marina.

I did mean, as usual, to work on my writing and as usual, I didn’t. I did manage to write my weekly blog while I was there though. In fact, despite my lacking in the work ethic department, I have managed to produce a post every Saturday for as long as I have been a blogger and this epic you now find before you is my 489th blog post.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my childhood. I had quite a few stories to add to that particular post but I always try to keep to about 2000 words or less and here’s one story that didn’t make the final draft.

I wrote about my bike in that childhood post. I loved my bike and I spent a lot of time on it exploring the Cheshire countryside as well as the country lanes that surrounded Manchester Airport where my friends and I would meet by an old WWII pillbox, slurp dandelion and burdock and watch the aircraft come and go.

Back in the 1970’s, the classic, iconic bike of the times was the chopper bike. It had a low slung frame with a seat and handlebars that rose up to the proper level. Back then I had no chance of getting a chopper bike but one thing I could do was get a chopper seat. I saved up and bought one and fitted it to my conventional bike. It looked a bit odd I suppose but I liked it, especially the tall hoop on the back of the seat.

By Raleigh-Chopper – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org

One day my dad, who cycled to work every day come rain or come shine, had a problem with his bike. My uncle came round to help him fix it but nothing could be done. It was a Thursday I think and so all dad could do was ask mum to take the bike down to the cycle shop and to borrow my bike to get to work. I did think about telling him about the new seat but I wasn’t sure how to go about it. The next morning, he went out to the outhouse to get my bike and a few minutes later he was back. ‘What’s happened to your bike? Where’s the proper seat?’

The old seat was there in the outhouse but it wasn’t a quick fix. The chopper seat had two arms that came down and were screwed to the back wheel so poor old dad had to tootle off to work with the bike as it was. Mum and I watched him ride away. She turned to me and asked ‘why didn’t you tell him last night so he could have put the old seat on?’

‘I don’t know’ I said. Then again, it was my bike and I didn’t want the old seat back.

I loved that bike but one day I lost it forever. My brother and I were always swapping things; toys, models, books but mostly records. Our musical likes in those days were pretty fleeting. He’d play something that I realised I had to have and after paying his extortionate demands or swapping whatever possession of mine that he wanted, sometimes I’d find a week later that that record really wasn’t the all time classic I thought it was and so we’d either swap back or I’d wait until he wanted something of mine and then I’d insist he take back the record I’d never really wanted in the first place. Sometimes I’d swap my most treasured possession, my bike. The thing was, my brother Colin couldn’t ride a bike so it was a win win situation for me as sooner or later he’d want to get rid of the bike back to me. One day he really got one over on me.

We’d done a swap for something and he had taken my bike. I was going out for a ride but the bike wasn’t in the outhouse. Where was it? What had happened? Had it been stolen?

‘The bike?’ Colin answered blithely. He had sold it to his friend because he wanted money to buy a new LP.

My mother facilitated the removal of my hands from his throat with a firm whack to the back of my head and asked what was going on.

He sold my bike!’’ I yelled.

‘Your bike?’ she replied. ‘Didn’t you swap it with him? Isn’t it his bike?’

Yes but, yes but,’ was all I could say.

I had taken my video camera to Lanzarote with the vague idea of shooting something, a vlog or a tour of the resort, I wasn’t sure what. Perhaps I could have hired a bike and done a Lanzarote cycling video. I noticed there were electric scooters for hire but at 20 Euros for 2 hours, that wasn’t for me.

In the end I decided to take my camera and my trusty selfie stick and chat away to the camera while taking a walking tour of the marina.

On holiday I don’t watch much TV but back home on a cold December evening I tend to head straight for the TV remote. One show I wanted to watch this week was And Just Like That, a new version of Sex and The City. Now Sex and the City has always been one of my favourite shows. Season 4 was the absolute highlight of the series but the later ones were good too. The first feature film was good but the second one was poor. That’s it I thought, it’s finally finished and rightly so after all, all things must come to an end sooner or later.

The producers thought differently though and minus Samantha, as actress Kim Catrall declined to take part, Sex and the City has returned, thinly disguised as And Just Like That.

A long time ago one of my favourite TV shows was also rebooted for a TV movie special. It was called The Return of the Man From Uncle and despite having stars David McCallum and Robert Vaughn recreate their roles as super cool spies Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin, the film was dreadful. The slightly tongue in cheek attitude was gone, the music was different, the super cool way they used to cut to the next scene with a whip pan effect, gone also. The producers cut out everything that made the original good.

In And Just Like That the original cast were all there, just a little older, actually, not just older but old, seriously old. Miranda mentioned she was 55 at one point although I had already got her down as being about 65. Charlotte played by Kristin Thomas was reeling from either far too much botox or a seriously bad facelift and only Carrie herself seemed to have aged gracefully. Nothing in episode one, and I do mean nothing, was anything I could relate to despite my undying love of the previous series. One of my favourite characters died at the end of episode 1 so I had to watch episode 2. This featured a non-religious funeral ceremony in some sterile and unwelcoming New York funeral home.

Will I be watching episode 3? Maybe . .

Another TV event this last week was the finale to the F1 world championship. Lewis Hamilton the 7 times world champ was hoping to extend his record breaking run to 8 championships although bad boy Max Verstappen was giving him a good run for his money. The two were tied on points going into this last race and it was pretty clear that the winner would be taking home the 2021 champ’s trophy. The race was pretty exciting but a late race crash brought out the safety car. Max dived into the pits for new tyres but Lewis stayed out, confident that the race would not have the time to restart.

Restart it did though as the race director decided that it might be best for this race to end on a proper racing lap rather than a safety car. So, in came the safety car a lap early and Lewis and Max commenced battle, Max with new tyres, Lewis with old ones and the result naturally was Max taking the win and the World Championship.

It was a poorly mismanaged end to the season, a season that had been one of the most exciting for a very long time. Max and Lewis had fought it out on the race circuits of the world. Max has shown himself to be a talented and very fast driver but one who doesn’t seem to care for any form of driver etiquette. He lunges into the inside of a corner and gives his opponent the choice of either giving way or crashing. Lewis has had the maturity to avoid a crash mostly although the two have had their moments together.

In some ways I’m glad Max has won. It’s been a bit boring when Lewis has won everything and a new World Champion should shake the sport up a little.

Back to the present and after having my Covid booster yesterday I don’t feel particularly well. I feel slightly sick and I’ve got a mild headache. What should I do today then, Christmas shopping? Wrap presents? Slide back under the covers?

Let me see . . .


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