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’.


What to do next: Here are a few options.

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

Listen to my podcast Click here.

Buy the book! Click here to purchase my new poetry anthology.

Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.

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.


What to do next: Here are a few options.

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

Listen to my podcast Click here.

Buy the book! Click here to purchase my new poetry anthology.

Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.

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.


What to do next: Here are a few options.

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

Listen to my podcast Click here.

Buy the book! Click here to purchase my new poetry anthology.

Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.

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!


What to do next: Here are a few options.

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

Listen to my podcast Click here.

Buy the book! Click here to purchase my new poetry anthology.

Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.

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 . . .


What to do next: Here are a few options.

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

Listen to my podcast Click here.

Buy the book! Click here to purchase my new poetry anthology.

Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.

Make me a Child Again, Just for Tonight

I’ve not been at my absolute best this last week. Liz brought the last dregs of a cold over with her from the UK here to Lanzarote and gradually gave it to me. While I’ve been coughing and sneezing I’ve been lacking in a little inspiration for my blog posts and so have just written about our holiday. Two things have given me some ideas. One was a new book I’ve started, the autobiography of Agatha Christie, one of the best-selling authors ever. Her book has so far been a delightful read. She describes scenes and events from her childhood, in the days before Queen Victoria passed away, (Agatha was born in 1890) with great charm.

Another was a blog I read recently on the website Medium.com and the author quotes a poem, Rock Me To Sleep by Elizabeth Akers Allen, which in part goes like this:

Backward, turn backward, O time, in your flight,

Make me a child again, just for tonight!

In my early teens we moved to a house in Cheshire which was on a new ‘overspill’ estate built by Manchester city council. It was only a two bedroomed house so my brother and I had to share a room, much to our mutual annoyance. Originally both beds were under the window, one on either side of the room with a chest of drawers in between. Later I moved my bed to the opposite end, just by the door and closing my eyes I can just see the sunlight coming through the thin curtains. My brother is not there, he has gone to school I suppose and I must either be off sick or it was one of those wonderful days when the school boiler broke down and everyone was sent home on a Thursday for an early weekend.

After a while Mum comes in with a cup of tea and announces that lying in bed all day will not be permitted. She opens the curtains and the light comes flooding in.

‘Your breakfast will be ready in ten minutes’ she says. ‘If you’re not there I’ll be giving it to the dog.’

That’s me told I think so I drink my tea and scan through whatever comic or book is down by the bedside. Later Mum shouts ‘It’s on the table!’ and I throw on some clothes and go down to the kitchen. There bacon, egg and tomatoes await me.

‘Have you had a wash?’ Mum asks.

‘Not yet,’ I answer.

‘Well make sure you have one.’

I start eating and Bob our dog walks over. He sits down on the floor beside me and I look at him, hold out my hand and say ‘Gimme your paw’ which he obediently does.

‘Don’t go feeding that dog,’ warns Mum.

After breakfast Mum makes more tea and sits down herself with some bread and jam before reminding me to have a wash. Then she shoos me away saying that this is her and Bob’s private time. She had probably been on the go all morning getting my dad ready for work, making his breakfast and his sandwiches as well as doing the same for my brother. She was always busy.

Some years later I had left home and came to visit on a Sunday. Mum was in tears because Bob had dropped dead on the previous evening. Dad was going to bury the dog where all the family animals were buried, in the garden but this house was a new build, and he found that when he dug down there was a layer of rubble there that he couldn’t get through so Mum resolved to take the dog to the vet on Monday where she knew they could dispose of the body.

She had intended to put poor old Bob in her shopping trolley but by Monday rigor mortis had set in and she couldn’t get Bob into the trolley. Happily, one of her neighbours came to the rescue and drove Mum and Bob to the vets.

Bob the Dog.

I have to add this one last story about Bob before moving on. 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’ and the dog gave me a doggy smile and placed his paw in my hand. Now I know you’re not going to believe this but I’m certain that dog was my old dog, either reincarnated, or possessed of the spirit of old Bob in some way. Whether by accident or design, Bob had come back to see me. A few people passing by saw him and asked about him and what his name was and so on. I told them I didn’t know and assumed he came from one of the many vans parked nearby. All the while he was there he watched me intently with that same doggy smile on his face. Later when I took the plates and things back inside the van, Bob the dog was nowhere to be seen.

Mum had mentioned her private time but my private time back then was reading books and comics and there was little in the way of daytime TV in the late 1960’s and early 70’s although sometimes there were some pretty good school programmes. I always remember watching one about how newspapers and journalism had been used or portrayed in films. In one part they showed clips in which a comic strip artist set up various scenes and had a photographer take pictures. Later he rendered the scenes into a comic strip for a newspaper and the character, played by Jack Lemmon turned to his valet played by Terry-Thomas and started to talk about their next ‘caper’ as they called it. I wish we’d been able to watch it at our school. We had this huge TV in a cabinet. The teacher used to wheel it out and we’d watch some schools programme but we never saw one half as good as the comic strip one. It took me years to find out what the film was. It was called How to Murder Your Wife and if you ever catch it on TV, it’s well worth watching.

A bit later on I was tasked to take out the dog so we walked up to the old abandoned RAF camp that was just across from our estate. Entry was strictly forbidden but the locals had opened up gaps in the fence and it was easy to walk in. I loved that RAF camp. It covered a huge area and all the camp roads and buildings were still in place. The roads were in good condition but a lot of the buildings looked ready to collapse. There were about three or four huge towers going up about three storeys high. One had an iron ladder attached to the outside wall but it started about six feet up so to get to it you had to scale the crumbling brickwork just to get a handle on the ladder. One day I managed to do it and hauled myself up the ladder. I went right to the top and was just able to pull myself into a small space right at the very pinnacle. If I’d have fallen off or had the ladder fallen away, I’d have been killed but it was one of those daft things that kids do. There was a great view but the hard bit was slipping down from that top space onto the ladder to get down.

My brother Colin and mum at the Heysham Kart Racing Track

Sometimes on the camp a kart racing team appeared. It was just a man and his son and they prepared the kart; Dad did some engine tuning and his son took off for a few laps. I was always asking if I could have a drive but they wouldn’t let me although we chatted a lot about motor racing. They told me about a kart track in Heysham where they had raced and once, when we went on holiday to Morecambe we visited the track although sadly, there was no racing on.

I took Bob home and it was time for more tea and then I took my bike to the RAF camp for some laps round the camp roads. I had worked out a racetrack in my note book around the camp and timed myself racing round there on my bike and used to jot down my lap times including things like fastest lap on a weekday, fastest weekend lap, all time fastest lap and so on. One day the council decided to send in a tractor which deposited a load of rubble at each of the junctions so neither me nor my friendly father and son kart team could race around there anymore. Later the tower and all the buildings were reduced to rubble. Today all remains of the camp have gone and a new private housing estate occupies the site.

Later my Dad arrived home from work on his pushbike. In Agatha Christie’s autobiography she describes her own father as ‘a very agreeable man’ and even adds a quote from my favourite book David Copperfield:

‘Is your brother an agreeable man, Peggoty?’ I enquired anxiously.

‘Oh what an agreeable man he is!’ exclaimed Peggoty.

My Dad was an agreeable man just like Agatha’s and it was that comment which sparked off most of these memories. Anyway, after Dad arrived home it was usually time for tea. My Mum was a good cook but she had a limited repertoire of dishes. Curries, pizzas and pasta dishes were unheard of for her and even today when she is 92 years old, stricken with dementia and living in a home, if I can’t seem to get a reaction out of her, I’ll simply tell her curry is on the menu for tea and she will be almost jumping out of her chair ‘I’m not eating curry!’ and she won’t relax until I say I’m joking.

Back then my favourite meal must have been meat pie. Mum used to buy her meat from the butchers and she always minced the meat herself with an old metal mincer which she screwed to the table top. She cooked it slowly and always made her own pastry. She’d serve it with either mash and carrots or chips and peas, both with lashings of gravy and piles of bread and butter. It was lovely.

One of my favourite TV shows then was MASH with Alan Alda. I just loved it and still do, the way they could mix madcap humour with tragedy, and I used to record my favourite episodes. Alas, there were no VHS recorders back then and a hard driver recorder was just a twinkle in some pre-teen inventor’s eye. What I did was record the soundtrack on my cassette tape recorder. Our TV didn’t have a jack plug either so I had to use the microphone and ask people to be quiet which was an absolute impossibility for both my Dad and my brother.

Once during a recording, Mum called ‘dinner’s ready’ and we all trooped silently out to the kitchen. Afterwards Dad and my brother would try to be the first back to make some silly comment on the tape.

Bedtime was usually about 10pm. Sometimes I’d myther Mum so that I could stay up late to watch either Monty Python’s Flying Circus or something like The Invaders. I loved the opening titles to the Invaders and the way the narrator read out everything. ‘The Invaders: A Quinn Martin Production!’

David Vincent has seen them. For him, it began one lost night on a lonely country road, looking for a shortcut that he never found. It began with a closed, deserted diner, and a man too long without sleep to continue his journey. It began with the landing of a craft from another galaxy. Now David Vincent knows that the Invaders are here, that they have taken human form. Somehow, he must convince a disbelieving world that the nightmare has already begun!

Eventually I would be sent off to bed. Back then I couldn’t sleep without reading something for a while. My brother would complain because I had the light on and I’d say to him ‘go under. Go under the covers just for five minutes!’ Eventually I put out the lights. Just outside was a street light that would light up our room with a reddish amber glow. I can see it now and I can look over and see my posters, one of Jackie Stewart in his F1 Championship winning Matra and another of the lovely Olivia Newton-John, my childhood crush.

I close my eyes for a moment and then open them again. I’m back in my room in Lanzarote, the overhead fan sending cooling air towards me. It is 7.30am. Should I get up or go back to sleep?


What to do next: Here are a few options.

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

Listen to my podcast Click here.

Buy the book! Click here to purchase my new poetry anthology.

Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.

A Kind of Moany Whingey Sort of Blog Post

As this is my 484th blog post I hope I can be forgiven for tending to repeat myself now and again. I’ve probably said this before but what the heck, I’ll take a risk and say it again; I really don’t like this time of the year. I don’t care for Bonfire Night or Hallowe’en and on top of that I’ve experienced some unmitigated disasters this week involving video cameras and my mobile phone. Anyway, what shall I moan about first? Let’s get Hallowe’en out of the way!

What is Hallowe’en all about and how did it creep over the Atlantic from the USA to the UK? TV is probably the culprit but basically Hallowe’en is an excuse for kids to dress up and knock on other people’s doors and ask for sweets. Go away! This is a Hallowe’en free zone! I keep meaning to put that up on a sign outside the front door but of course I never do, although either way, the neighbours have probably got the message because these days they just don’t bother knocking, so if there are any sweets around I’ll just scoff them myself.

On October the 31st the new series of Doctor Who began on the BBC. The 13th Doctor is of course played by Jodie Whittaker and for some reason the last time the Doctor regenerated into a new body, he or she found himself/herself this time in a female one. In some ways I kind of like Jodie as Doctor Who. She’s kept all the Doctor’s quirky elements and odd humour but instead of being a man, she’s a woman. Personally, all respect to Jodie, I’m hoping that the new Doctor – this is Jodie’s last series in the role – will once again be a man. I mean basically, that’s what the Doctor has always been, male. Of course, in the media there are calls for another woman to play the role and even for the new James Bond to be a woman or even a black man. The thing is if we are going to swap genders and ethnicity randomly why not remake Sex and the City with men instead of women? Why not have a white man playing Shaft?

Here’s an idea. Why not leave things as they are and perhaps make new productions for new female time travellers and new female black, Asian or even oriental secret agents?

Anyway, getting back to Dr Who, this new episode was actually pretty good although there were so many plot elements, I just wondered how they were all going to fit together. The Doctor’s new companion was played by Liverpool comedian John Bishop and he was actually pretty good. In one sequence he opened the door to some kids on Hallowe’en and gave them some sweets but gave short shrift to someone else who was knocking on the door just hoping for a freebie and who had not even dressed up. ‘On your way’ said John to that guy which just about sums up my feelings about Hallowe’en.

The other nightmare that occurs at this time of year is bonfire night. A long time ago a fellow by the name of Robert Catesby decided he wasn’t very happy with the government so he decided to blow the lot of them up. Funnily enough I’m pretty sure that is something the people of 2021 would like to do to the current government. Anyway, I’m not sure what Catesby was planning to do next, take over or start a revolution or what but he and his fellow conspirators, the most famous of which was Guy Fawkes, were apprehended before they could light the blue touch paper on the gunpowder plot and were quickly dealt with.

These days a fellow like Guy Fawkes would be suing the government and claiming legal aid and all sorts of stuff. Back then we didn’t mess about, we just chopped off the guy’s head. Case closed. Actually, not quite case closed because every year on November the 5th, we light bonfires and let off fireworks to remember him. Perhaps this is a subtle message to the government, a reminder that the people can only take so much or perhaps it’s just an excuse to let off bangers and rockets at all times of the day and night for weeks on end either side of the 5th and annoy the hell out of everyone.

I arrived home on bonfire night and believe me, it felt a little like I had been transported to a war zone with great explosions going off around me and sudden unexpected rockets taking off from every corner. I’m glad that’s over anyway, well just as soon as everyone has finished off their firework supply.

At Liz’s house she still has an old fashioned coal fire and I have to admit that it’s nice sitting by the fire with a bottle of wine just on the hearth gradually coming up to serving temperature. The big pain is having to go out in the cold and rain to fill up the coal scuttle and to light everything on a cold morning instead of just clicking on the central heating button.

The other night having made a superb fire I realised I hadn’t filled up the coal scuttle so I had to go out in the rain and cold and fill it up. It was a little dark out there so I took my phone and lit up the torch so I could see where I was shovelling the coal. What a great idea to take my phone out. Wrong because like the twit that I am, I left it there in the rain and it got totally drenched.

When I remembered it and retrieved it, the phone was soaked through. At first it seemed in pretty good shape but then it kept switching itself off and on. Liz had heard it was a good idea to put the phone in a bag of rice which was apparently sure to soak up the moisture. So while that was drying out I thought I’d put the sim card in my old phone. It used to have a serious battery problem which is why I bought my latest phone. Anyway, after charging it up I thought I’d just slip my sim card in. Wrong. My old phone takes a mini sim and my new one takes a nano sim and I couldn’t find the adapter to fit my nano sim into the mini sim slot! Technology! If they are not changing from VHS video tapes to DVDs they are changing sim cards to infinitely smaller ones.

What made the situation worse was that I was expecting a telephone consultation with my physio so I really needed that phone. Of course, I could have called them up and explained the situation but the phone number was on my phone, you know the one in the bag of rice that wasn’t working. I was also expecting a couple of other calls too but once again the only contact details were, well not accessible. Amazing isn’t it just how much we rely on our mobile phones.

Here’s another disaster that happened this week. Disaster is probably too strong a word but it’s something else that goes with this week’s general theme. My latest video Return to Manchester over on YouTube was a walk around Manchester taking in some new hi rise buildings that are changing the shape of my home city and a quick look at the old Manchester, namely the canal that runs through the centre and dates back to the industrial revolution of the past. I made it pretty quickly and instead of writing and narrating a voice over I did it off the cuff, just working from some notes. For some reason it seems to have done pretty well as far as viewers are concerned and as usual, I can never understand why. Why does a blog or video that I have worked hard at do not so well, and something else that was a rush job seem to be popular? I get lots of feedback from both YouTube and WordPress in terms of statistics and analysis but I never really know what to do with it or learn any lessons from it.

Last week I thought I’d make a follow up video with a tram ride up to Manchester Airport and do some similar stuff, a walk round and chat to the camera. I also thought that I could combine some elements from a video I made in 1986 at the airport and compare how things have changed. Return to Manchester Airport sounded like a good title too.

Things didn’t start well when my GoPro camera wouldn’t charge up. I had my trusty Canon GX7 with me but I had wanted the GoPro to take some additional stuff. Luckily in my bag I had my cheapo action camera with me. It’s a cheap GoPro copy that takes reasonable video. Anyway, the tram arrived which I filmed on my Canon. I nipped aboard and went to a seat at the front where I clipped my handy suction mount to the window and pressed record. Well, I thought I had pressed record but in fact I’d pressed the wrong button and nothing happened, not that I realised it at the time. I left that to its own devices and shot some hand held stuff with my Canon. At the airport I had a wander around and filmed some chatty stuff to the camera then went down the walkway towards terminal 2 which incidentally, in a few short days I’ll be flying from!

Later, on the way back to the bus station my trusty Canon declined to record any more. The memory card was full but did I have my spare memory card? That would be a no. That was when I realised that when I was on the tram I’d been pressing the wrong button to start recording on my action cam so I hadn’t shot anything of the trip up towards the airport except for stuff I’d shot with the Canon. OK, keep calm, press the right button now!

Back home I found I had only a short burst of video on the tram and had nothing at all of the bus and tram station. However, I did have some in car video I had filmed during the summer of part of the route. It was actually a part that had changed substantially because of the new tram route and I also had some video from 1986 showing how things were many years ago. Yes, in a burst of creative editing kudos I was able to cut all that together and actually put a video of sorts together.

The good news is that I was using the wrong charger on my GoPro camera. I found the correct one and now it’s fully charged up. A bit late in the day for the airport video but ready for action on my next production. The really good news was that a few days later my phone, fully dried out was back in action again. Note to self: make sure you keep that coal scuttle filled up Steve!


What to do next: Here are a few options.

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

Listen to my podcast Click here.

Buy the book! Click here to purchase my new poetry anthology.

Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.

Beginnings and Ends

I’ve been off work for quite a while with my sore arm and neck and even though I don’t feel quite right I’ve started to think that perhaps I won’t ever be fully ‘normal’ again. I said as much to my physio and he didn’t agree. Keep doing the exercises he reckons and one day I’ll be back to my usual fitness. OK, that’s pretty positive so I’ll just keep calm and carry on, what else can anyone do? Well, I can go back to work for a start, which is what I did this week. It was a little odd at first but by the second day, it felt as if I’d never been away.

As my time off has come to an end you might think that as an enthusiastic writer, I might have completed a draft of a new book or screenplay. Well actually no, I didn’t. It was the same old story and once again I succumbed to laziness or procrastination or being me, probably both.

I read a blog post on Medium the other day in which the writer rejected all those terms which writers like me cling to and put forward another one. Unwillingness. That’s right. It’s not laziness that stops us writing but an unwillingness to write. In order to write said the author, we must be willing to write, we must sort out a writing space, sort out a writing time and just write. It was actually a pretty motivating piece, so much so that I pulled out my finger and wrote a few new pages of my next novel.

I’ve applied for a few jobs while I’ve been off. One job looked ideal for me, it was only a customer services role but according to the job advert it was weekend work, just what I wanted. I applied and was invited for an interview but it was an online interview. I read all the information they had sent and it looked like the interview involved answering various questions then doing something with a webcam. I guessed that they wanted to see me in a sort of simulated question/answer situation with the public so as they advised, I put on a smart shirt and clicked the link to start.

The first question was the usual one; Did I have to right to work in the UK? Yes. Was I willing to work shifts? Yes. Did I want the full time role or the part time? Part time. Was I ok selling media packages to the public? Wait a minute, selling? I thought it was a customer services role, what has selling got to do with it? Wait a minute I thought, maybe this was just a general question and there were other roles available as well as the customer service ones? There must be sales roles too. Anyway, that’s where I made a big mistake and pressed no.

The system thought for a moment and then a message came on the screen. The interview is over, thanks for your interest in Virgin media. Whoa, wait a minute, where’s the rest? Where’s the webcam bit where I simulate talking to the public. Alas, that was not to be, I’d blown it and that was the end of that.

Books

Here are two of my favourite beginnings and ends from books. My favourite book of all time has to be David Copperfield from that late, great master of the written word Charles Dickens.

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o’clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously.

Some of Dickens’ other books I’ve found hard to read. I’ve never finished The Pickwick Papers and Bleak House is another book I started then found reading enjoyment elsewhere but Copperfield draws me back time and time again and it’s a book I probably re read every few years. Dickens died in 1870 but his stories will live on for as long as books are read.

Here’s another quote, this one is from the end of a book.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter, tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther and one fine morning . . So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

If you haven’t guessed already, that’s a quote from another of my favourite books of all time, The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald. Like Dickens, I’ve tried to read other books by Fitzgerald but not really found them to my taste. Gatsby though is a wonderful book, opening up a window back into the jazz age of America and with a story told through some outstanding descriptive passages just like that last paragraph above.

Films

I wrote a post a long time ago about the texts my brother and I send each other. They are just quotes from films, usually pretty obscure ones and because he and I generally watch the same kind of films we usually know which film the quote is from. Here’s one he sent me a while ago. I knew straight away which film he was watching, what about you?

Take ‘em to Missouri Matt!

Did you get the film? Well, perhaps you are not a fan of classic westerns then. Red River is a 1948 film directed by Howard Hawks and starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift. It’s about a cattle drive from Texas to Kansas along the Chisholm Trail and John Wayne says the line to Montgomery Clift when they begin their epic drive. The men encounter many difficulties along the way including a big fall out between Wayne’s character and his adoptive son, played by Clift. It’s one of the great westerns of all time and even if you haven’t seen it you might have seen a clip of it in the film The Last Picture Show. At the end of the film when the only cinema in a small American town is closing, the last picture show is Red River.

Robert Zemeckis is one of my favourite directors. He directed Back to the Future, Castaway and Forrest Gump among others. Forrest Gump isn’t a great favourite of mine but I love the way the film opens and closes. A feather is floating high up on the wind and the camera follows it as it falls down towards the ground. Forrest Gump played by Tom Hanks is revealed sitting on a wooden bench and he picks up the feather and places it in his book as a bookmark. Zemeckis’ films are full of little touches like that and of course the film ends in a similar way, Gump opens his notebook and the feather blows away.

I’m going to end with a clip I used in another post a few weeks ago. It’s the last scene in Castaway again with Tom Hanks. Hanks’ character has been rescued from a desert island after four years. The love of his life has married someone else and now he has arrived back to civilisation he doesn’t know what to do, after all, his home is gone and all his possessions presumably either sold or given away. He decides to deliver in person a package which washed up on the desert island with him. The person isn’t home so he leaves it with a note. Then he stops and wonders what to do next.

Come to think of it, I’m wondering what to do next myself.


What to do next: Here are a few options.

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

Listen to my podcast Click here.

Buy the book! Click here to purchase my new poetry anthology.

Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.

The Big 65

Birthdays are not something I look forward to these days. Years ago, when I was a school boy I did look forward to them, at least I think I did. Now I come to think of it, I’m not sure I was that bothered about them even back them.  I do remember as a schoolboy being very impressed with the film 2001 A Space Odyssey and I started working out if I stood a chance of being alive in the then distant year of 2001. I was 45 in 2001 which to a young schoolboy must have seemed pretty ancient. Add on another 20 years and that same schoolboy would surely have imagined himself as a decrepit old guy barely alive in 2021. The thing is, despite being 65 I don’t really feel that old, at least, not inside.

Back in 2016 when I was a young whippersnapper of only 60 I wrote a little tongue in cheek piece about my birthday:

2016

At a press conference this past Monday morning at Wetherspoons in Southport Mr Higgins, reputedly now 60 years of age, was asked numerous questions about his advancing years. He was heard to ask “Pint of lager, please mate,” numerous times but did not seem willing to discuss his birthday further.

Although Mr Higgins seemed somewhat reluctant to engage with people, he responded to a question about television in the early years of the second half of the twentieth century.
He confirmed there were, in the 1960’s when he was a child, only two TV channels. There were further gasps from people when he mentioned, almost nonchalantly that he and his family were at one time forced to watch programmes in black and white!

As Mr Higgins moved onto his next pint he enlarged upon his theme. “Yes, in those days there was no colour TV, no internet and no mobile phones.”
“How did people send messages?” one journalist asked.
“Well,” said Mr Higgins. “The only way was to get some paper and a pen or pencil and laboriously write out a message. Afterwards it had to be sealed in an envelope and posted after of course, adding a stamp.”
“What, you mean it wasn’t free?”
“Of course not!” snapped Mr Higgins, rather testily. “Not only that, you had to take it round to the post box and mail it yourself.”
“How long would the process take?” asked another.
“Well, it could be anything from a couple of days to almost a week”

A young lady reporter fainted and was revived by splashing cold water on her face. As she came round, she looked up at Mr Higgins and asked, “How did you carry on, how did you survive?”

“Well,” answered Mr Higgins. “I suppose we were a tough generation. It was hard then. You lot have things so easy!” Returning to the bar, Mr Higgins waved over to the bar staff and commented. “This lager is a bit naff. Have you got any dark beers? What about a pint of mild?”

Picture courtesy perfectpint.com

Picture courtesy perfectpint.co.uk

“Mild?” replied the barmaid, a young Romanian girl of about nineteen. “What iz zat?”
Mr Higgins looked a little frustrated until the bar manager came over and revealed that Theakston’s mild was one of the guest beers that day. Mr Higgins immediately perked up and called for a pint.
“Lovely jubbly.” he commented, “Cracking pint! Now, what else do you lot need to know? I’ve got some serious drinking to do.”
“What about films?” someone asked. “Surely it was just like today; I suppose you could download a movie onto your tablet and watch at your convenience?”
Mr Higgins, now onto his fourth pint seemed to jump on the word tablet and exclaim “Tablet? In my day that was something you took for a headache! If you wanted to see a film, you had to go down to the picture house, pay your money and go in and get your seat and watch the film.”
Someone asked if the term ‘picture house’ could be explained.
“The picture house! Cinema! A big place with a huge screen where they projected the picture!”
“Do you mean you had to sit with other people?”
“Of course you pillock!” replied Mr Higgins. He turned back to the bar just as his all day breakfast arrived. “Right, that’s it now. If you want to learn about the old days, like the seventies, just get yourselves a copy of my book, ‘Floating in Space!’”

Yes that was the 1970’s; no internet, no mobile phones and a pint of bitter was only 25 pence.

2021

As it was my birthday I had arranged a pre birthday date for lunch and drinks with my brother. I was staying at my mother’s house and I fancied a look around Manchester. I had not been to the city centre since 2019, before the pandemic and every time I look at Instagram or the photography page I follow on Facebook, I keep seeing photos of new space age hi rise buildings and I wanted to take a look myself.

I planned on going early into Manchester so I gave my brother a quick call so as to arrange where we could meet. My brother however told me he wasn’t feeling well and was staying in bed. Well, I wasn’t happy but no amount of cajoling could get him to change his mind. As I sat on the tram travelling into town I started to think about making a video. I had my camera with me so I decided to leave the tram at Deansgate where I knew that some new skyscrapers had been built and then just follow wherever my camera or my nose took me.

At the end of Deansgate on the far edge of the city the builders had created a whole new complex of hi-rise buildings called Deansgate Square. There was an interesting mural there with a short history of Manchester from the first Roman fort in AD79 to the industrial age and right through to the present. After shooting a lot of video I wandered back towards the station and decided to drop down to the canal. The canal runs right through the middle of the city centre largely unseen, hidden by the large buildings and in some places disappearing into tunnels. I came across a canal barge navigating one of the locks and got chatting to the occupants. The barge was a hire boat and came from Middlewich but the crew were surprisingly from Washington in the USA. They showed me how to navigate through the canal lock, opening and closing the lock gates and opening the water valves to raise the boat up to the next level.

Later I walked down Oxford Road and found myself drawn to the old Refuge Assurance building. When I started my working life at the tender age of 16 my first job was as a clerk in the Estates department of the Refuge. Construction on the building began in 1891 with a final extension completed in 1932. It’s a grade 2 listed building finished in red brick which today is known as the Kimpton Clocktower Hotel. I entered through the side entrance, the one I last used in 1977 and walked through the tiled entrance hall into what used to be the main office. It was still pretty quiet and various people were sat in the luxurious lounge eating and drinking. I ordered a pint of lager and found myself a comfy seat where I sat and drank and let my mind wander back to 1973 when I first started there.

1973

In the Estates department my job was to collect the rents we were owed for numerous properties in the city centre, enter them in a ledger and bank the money. Another job was to allocate a proportion of the fire insurance to our tenants, based on the floor size they rented. One incident that sprang to mind was something I’ve written about before but is worth telling again. I came into work one day to find that there was the hum of excitement in the office and my colleagues and I were advised of the imminent arrival of a million pound cheque.  As I was only a mere teenage accounts clerk,  I was running low on the pecking order to see this cheque, although it was actually my job to process it as I did with all the other cheques that came into the department. In due course, one of the very senior managers came down with the cheque and with great reverence it was handed to my boss Mr Ross. Mr Ross perused the cheque for a while along with a small clique of other managers and then conveyed it to the senior clerk, Mr Elliott. After marvelling at this great artefact for a few moments, he then passed the cheque to me. Numerous staff members from our and neighbouring departments also came to take a peek at this financial wonder which I believe, was the result of the company either selling off our sister company, Federated Assurance, or doing some fabulous property deal.

Anyway I did my job and duly entered the cheque into the ledger then put it in the safe ready to go down to banking prior to 3pm, as in those days, banks closed at 3pm. ‘Good heavens!’ declared one of my managers, ‘we can’t just leave the cheque there, think about the interest!’ So I was despatched on a special journey to the bank for this very special cheque. Actually that suited me quite well. After paying the cheque into the local bank I sauntered round the corner to the sandwich shop, ordered sausage on toast and made my way quietly back to work. Just as I arrived back in the office I realised that the senior management staff were still there, waiting for news. Were there any problems? What had happened? They seemed rather disappointed when I told them that no cataclysm had occurred, the bank had not come to a standstill but the million pound cheque had been routinely deposited. Thinking back, I’m not sure I liked the way they were looking at me, perhaps they knew all along I’d been to the sarnie shop!

2021

I finished my drink and walked back up towards St Peter’s Square. Back in the late seventies I used to spend my dinner break there on warm summer lunchtimes, eating my sandwiches and reading whatever book I was hooked on at the time. Things have changed in the square too, the seating area has gone and most of the area has been taken over by the trams.

The trams run every few minutes and I saw one approaching and so I ran up the steps and jumped aboard. I had shot quite a lot of video that day and already I was thinking of how I could put it all together and so I spent the next day glued to my laptop doing one of the things I love the most, editing video. I normally write a narration for my videos but this time I thought I’d put together one off the cuff. That is I made some notes and then switched on the microphone and started talking. The result was a verbatim commentary rather than a pre written narration. It’s not quite as fluid as I would have liked but it seems to work.

When the actual day of my birthday dawned I was feeling a little miserable. Perhaps it was the sudden onset of the cold wet weather or it might have been one of the symptoms of getting old. Anyway, I cheered up after opening my cards and presents and later Liz treated me to a meal at a lovely Italian restaurant. Yes, some garlic bread, pasta and red wine can go a long way towards cheering up an old codger like me and let me leave you with what I thought was a particularly interesting way of looking at the big 65 . .


What to do next: Here are a few options.

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

Listen to my podcast Click here.

Buy the book! Click here to purchase my new poetry anthology.

Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.

My Arm Hurts

Yes, it does hurt, in fact it hurts a lot. Sorry for the moaning but my arm is really killing me. So, how did this happen? Let’s just go back a few weeks and review the whole thing.

My neck and arm started hurting several weeks ago. At first it was a dull ache but then it got worse. It was so painful I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t sit up straight at my desk and I had no strength in my right hand, so much so I couldn’t even fire the deodorant spray under my arm, I had to grip the spray so as to use my thumb to press the button. Well, it was either that or go around with one sweaty armpit.

I had a few days off work and it wasn’t getting better so it was off to see the doc. I phoned in to get an appointment but was told I had to call in the next morning after 8am. It wasn’t a life and death thing so why not just book me in? It’s no use arguing with the Doctor’s receptionist, we all know that so OK, I set my alarm, woke up, took my phone into the lounge and dialled the surgery. At 8:45 I got through only to be told all the appointments were taken.

The next day Liz called up at 8. After forty minutes she got through and finally got me an appointment with the doc. Now we were finally getting somewhere. I went into the doc at the appointed time. Due to Covid 19 he decided not to approach me, in fact he directed me to a chair on the opposite side of the room and asked me about my symptoms. ‘Ah yes’, he said confidently, ‘I’ll prescribe some painkillers and you will be fine this time next week’.

I tried to explain that this issue had occurred before, about 16 years ago and that I was pretty sure the problem was a trapped nerve in the neck, referring pain to the arm. Of course, he, a doctor of many year’s training knew much more than me and so I was quickly dispatched to the exit with a prescription for painkillers in my pocket. A week later the pain was worse so I called back to the doctor asking if I could be referred to a physiotherapist, not a particularly incredible request under the circumstances I would have thought. Later I had a call back from the surgery; the doctor wanted to speak with me again, this time over the phone so another appointment was made for the following week for a telephone consultation.

The doc called at the appointed time and despite me explaining again about the previous time I had incurred exactly the same symptoms and how my neck and arm were now killing me in exactly the same way, the doc still hesitated about the physio. ‘I’m going to send you for an X-ray’ he said. An X-ray, wow I thought, we are finally getting somewhere. The next week I went in for the X-ray. I wasn’t kept waiting long and the snapshots of my neck were taken quickly and efficiently. ‘Your doctor will have the results in two weeks,’ said the X-ray guy. Two weeks! Two weeks in this twenty first century digital email internet Microsoft age! Yes, two weeks.

Fast forward two weeks and I a letter arrived from the doc saying I had finally been referred to the physio. Great, they didn’t mention anything about the X-ray but it must have shown something up for them to send me to the physio. Oh well. A few days afterwards I had a letter from the Musculo-Skeletal unit inviting me to a telephone appointment, on October the 20th! The NHS has been dealing with a pandemic so of course that has slowed things down a lot but even so, I didn’t reckon on a nearly two month wait.

Earlier on this year Saga, with whom I once insured my car until their prices went right up, sent me a flyer asking me to join their private healthcare scheme. I was tempted and I was about to buy in when I decided to call the helpline provided by the Order of Northern Tightwads, an organisation in which I have risen to the noble order of Tightwad, Third Grade, only two below the most senior level.

At the Order of Tightwads, we don’t just let anyone join. First you must pass certain ancient tests, undergo many varied ancient rituals and then and only then if you are found worthy, you may be asked to join.

What is the philosophy of tightwadism? Well one of our founding members, the late Penny Pincher, put it this way. Tightwadism, she said, is the art of being in the toilet when it is your round. To put it another way, it is simply this, never to pay when you can get away with not paying, never to pay a large amount if you can get away with a lower one. Always ask for a discount and most of all, never ever open your wallet unless under the most extreme provocation and even then only the tiniest, tiniest amount.

The helpline was manned 24 hours a day and there at the end of the line was a dedicated fellow tightwad who repeated our philosophy above in the most eloquent manner. I told him quickly about my sore neck and arm. Boo hoo he replied, oh dear how sad, what a shame. Did I want to disgrace the order? No. Did I want to reject our philosophy, handed down from generations of tightwads? Of course not. That helpline guy really knew his stuff. The way was clear to me, reject this overt attack on my personal funds from Saga and make sure my wallet and credit cards were once again kept safe.

Pity really because I ended up having to shell out for a private physiotherapist. The Order of Tightwads weren’t happy. My disciplinary meeting is next week.


What to do next: Here are a few options.

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

Listen to my podcast Click here.

Buy the book! Click here to purchase my new poetry anthology.

Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.

https://youtu.be/ycJ4krvmDI8