The Ramblings of a Locked Down Blogger

I thought for a minute of changing the title of my whole website to that which you can see above: The Ramblings of a Locked Down Blogger. Maybe even the crazy ramblings! Still, in a few weeks or perhaps months, the lockdown and Coronavirus will just be a bad memory. In fact, my first post lockdown restaurant visit has already been booked and my table and meal are actually only a matter of hours away.

It will be nice to socialise again and also to dress up. I’ve spent the last two months wearing the same small selection of jeans, shorts, tee shirts and sweaters. Will I still be able to fit into my smart shirts and trousers I wonder? Well, I’ll soon find out.

I have been watching a quite inordinate amount of TV during the lockdown. That has not been any hardship on my part, in fact it could be argued that watching TV is my default position. I do love TV but not any TV; I am quite choosy in what I watch. I love films and only a small fraction of the films I love have I seen at the cinema. The other 99% I have seen on my television set with constant supplies of either tea or red wine near at hand.

At my mother’s house where I come to tidy up and keep the garden in order, I have just recently been trying to sort through my vast supplies of VHS video tapes. Any VHS films I have can be just junked as they will be either shown again on TV or are available on DVD.

Documentaries are a different matter. Films are shown time and time again but great documentaries are seldom shown again. It’s the same with made for TV films. A great film I have on VHS is Across the Lake, a made for TV film starring Anthony Hopkins as record breaker Donald Campbell. I have not watched it for ages but it’s a great film, well written and with an excellent performance by Anthony Hopkins documenting Campbell’s last and fatal attempt at the world water speed record. Why the BBC don’t think of showing these outstanding made for TV films again I really don’t know.

You can see the entire film on YouTube but here’s a short clip:

One thing I love in films is originality. There are a thousand films with car chases and shoot outs and murders but it’s great to see something new. One DVD I watched recently is The King of Comedy. Even though it’s directed by Martin Scorcese it’s not a gangster film, it’s something very different. Robert de Niro stars as a wannabe stand up comedian who wants to get on a show hosted by Jerry Lewis. Jerry plays a TV comedian who is pretty much Jerry Lewis himself. He turns in this outstanding performance as a TV host who is kidnapped by De Niro and held hostage in return for De Niro getting a stand up spot on Lewis’ show. De Niro is helped by a Jerry Lewis obsessed fan played by Sandra Bernhard turning in another great performance. This is a film that is funny, dramatic and completely original. Keep a look out for it on your favourite TV film channel.

Another original film I saw lately was Big Eyes. It’s based on a true story of an artist, Margaret Keane, who turns out some popular and charming pictures, all of people with big eyes. Margaret is a woman who can paint but is not so good at selling and marketing her work. She meets future husband Walter who seems to be a bit of a whiz at the promotion lark. He decides to rent space on a local nightclub wall to get attention for both Margaret’s and his paintings. Surprise, surprise, it is Margaret’s paintings of the doe eyed girls that get all the attention but Walter decides to play the part of the artist as some people have mistakenly thought that anyway. Margaret plays along but gradually becomes very unhappy having to constantly deny her own work.

Big Eyes is, incredibly, a true story. Margaret eventually leaves Walter and has to sue to be finally acknowledged for her own talent. Margaret’s paintings are captivating although art critics are divided on her true worth as an artist. It’s worth noting though that Andy Warhol said this about her work: ‘It has to be good. If it were bad, so many people wouldn’t like it.’

I’ve also been editing my own films during the lockdown. My friend Steve and I made a video about Manchester Airport in 1986 and it’s my second most watched film on YouTube with 16,000 viewings. In 2018 I realised that if I took out all the pop music used on the soundtrack the video would be eligible for monetising, that’s YouTube’s word for getting royalties from your video. I added some copyright free music, tidied a few bad cuts in the video and reposted it to YouTube. Rather annoyingly, YouTube decided just then that video producers have to have a minimum of 1000 followers to get royalties and as I only have about 220 that’s another income stream that has been denied to me.

When trolling through my VHS tapes I found another version of that same video. Yes, even 30 years ago I was still tinkering with my videos and re-editing them. Anyway, I took this one and re-made it again adding some sound effects and new music. Could YouTube stand a third version of the same video? I’m not sure but then again, some mainstream directors like to tinker with their own work when the time comes for the DVD version. I’ve got quite a few ‘directors cut’ DVDs in my collection like Aliens and Apocalypse Now to name but two.

During lockdown I’ve also been listening to my favourite podcasts. The BBC Radio 5 Live F1 podcast is a constant disappointment. When F1 races are on, the 5 Live people assume that listeners know what happened in the race. That’s not the case, I usually listen when I’ve missed the Channel Four broadcast on TV so I listen in for a race report not a load of F1 chit chat. When there are no races, like during the lockdown, I actually do want to hear some F1 chit chat, some gossipy stuff about which driver’s contract is about to expire, which designer is moving teams, will Vettel retire or go to the new Aston Martin F1 team? Stuff like that. No, they don’t even bother to do a podcast when there is no racing.

Instead I’ve been listening to my new favourite podcast, The Slowdown, a poetry podcast that usually lasts about 5 minutes, not too long, not too short. The presenter, US poet Tracy K Smith has such a wonderful voice she seems to make any poem sound good. Wonder if I could get her to read one of mine?


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Blogging by Numbers

Despite being constantly at home and within easy reach of my laptop and notebook I seem to be struggling to write anything lately. I was looking around for a new blog post and finally decided to set myself a task. Writing about numbers. Difficult I know but if I’m the top notch writer I think I am then it won’t be that hard, will it?

Back in the 1980’s I received my first debit card just like many other people. Debit cards were a new concept back then. We already had credit cards but a debit card, what was that about? Back in pre-debit card days when everything was in black and white like an old film, we used to have to go into the bank to withdraw cash. I remember queuing at the bank on a Friday lunchtime in Manchester City centre waiting to draw some cash out for that weekend’s activities. The way we did it back then was to write a cheque to yourself or as I was taught to do ‘pay bearer cash’. In 1987 debit cards were first introduced in the UK although they had been around for a while in the USA. As you can imagine I didn’t actually know that, I had to look it up so while I’ve got that Google page open here are a few interesting facts from the BBC:

The earliest known cheque was written in 1659 dated the 16th February. The Bank of England was established in 1694. The first five pound note was issued in 1793 and was the lowest denomination note until 1797 when war drained the UK bullion reserves forcing the bank of England to issue one and two pound notes. 1966 was when the first UK credit cards were issued and of course, the debit card in 1987.

The first cash machine was put into use by Barclays Bank in 1967 and the machine was revealed with much fanfare by comedy actor Reg Varney who you may remember from the TV series On The Buses. The cash machine of 1967 was operated not by a debit card but by a voucher issued by the bank which was then entered into the cash machine.

It was interesting to hear about Reg Varney because, getting back to numbers, for my debit card secret number I decided to use the fleet number of the bus I was driving that day.

14.

Here’s another number: 14. Yes 14 was the number of the house I lived at as a child. My parents house was a council house and it was my grandad and grandmother’s house until they bought their own house and moved away to Wales. My mother managed to take the house over on the understanding that her brother and sister could continue to live there although by the time I came along they had both found their own homes.

Many years ago I came back to the house and parked outside and spent a few moments remembering the times of my childhood. I parked opposite and took the picture you can see here from the same spot where many years earlier I had first riden my two wheeled bike. The bike was really too tall for me and I could only get on it from the pavement. I spent a lot of weeks riding round the block making only left hand turns until I returned to my starting place. Eventually I got the hang of it. There used to be a hedge across the front of the garden which has now been removed to access the parking place which is also new. I do have a nice picture of me stood in that garden. Wish I could find it for this post but it’s upstairs in a box at my Mum’s house. One day I think I’ll go back and try and reproduce that picture if the present occupants will let me.

The memories that come flooding back just from looking at that picture. My friend Gary Chapman lived just around the corner and we went all over on our bikes. One Christmas, Gary’s parents bought him a set of walkie takies. He always got really great presents. I remember once complaining to my mum who promptly told me that because Gary and his family lived in a flat and not a house, they had less rent to pay so had more money for presents! A few times Gary left me one of the walkie talkies and we had a conversation later that night. Battery power was limited so we arranged to switch on at a prearranged time, 8:30 or something. Our conversations went like this:

‘Gaz, are you receiving?’

‘Gaz here. Loud and clear. Are you receiving Ste?’

‘Steve here. Loud and clear.’

‘Receiving you loud and clear Ste.’

Not long after that Gary and his family were offered a council house but it was in Gamesley, Glossop, a Manchester overspill estate. Gary moved away and I didn’t see him again for years. I met him again in the late 1980’s. A mutual friend of ours, Chris had bumped into Gary’s sister, got Gary’s phone number and we all arranged to meet up. I remember being in a bar in Manchester waiting for Gary. I was at the bar which was pretty busy, getting the beers in when I heard Gary’s voice. It was just how I remembered Gary from years ago. I could hear ‘where’s Ste?’ ‘he’s over there at the bar’. I turned round expecting to see Gary but there was just this guy stood behind me that I didn’t recognise. Where’s Gary I thought? ‘Ste?’ said the stranger. It was Gary. He looked completely different but his voice, a distinctive throaty voice, was just the same.

71.

My very first car had the registration plate PDB71M. It actually caused a lot of confusion when I bought it because I traded in my motorbike, a Honda CB250 with the very similar registration PDB1M. Incredibly, checking on the Gov.UK website my motorcycle is still registered. It was a green Honda first registered in 1974. It has no tax or MOT so presumably it is languishing in the back of someone’s garage, rusting and probably neglected. My car was a Reliant Bond Bug which does not come up on a website search so presumably it went to the scrap yard many years ago. I bought it because I failed my first two attempts at the driving test and was really getting fed up. Of course we didn’t have a family car so the only driving I could do was the one hour a week on a Saturday morning that was my actual driving lesson. The Bond Bug was a three wheeler car and could be driven on a motorcycle license. After a few months regular driving I booked the test again and sailed through it.

I remember pulling up at home in my car feeling very pleased with myself. The car was small, it was an orange wedge shaped two seater and my Dad took one look at it and said ‘How are we all supposed to get in that?‘ and walked away. Presumably he thought I would be taking the family away on holiday. Sorry Dad!

126.

While I’m on the subject of firsts, my first camera was either a birthday or Christmas present and it was a Kodak Instamatic 126. I still have the camera. From my point of view it was a wonderful present; from my parents perspective, perhaps not, because back then in the late sixties cameras needed film and film had to be developed and printed which was fairly costly, especially if you had a child that liked taking pictures and also, whose first attempts were not so good. These days if you take some dud pictures with a digital camera- delete them! It’s no big deal. Back then it was expensive!

I remember getting a major verbal lashing from my Mum when we had gone to Boots to collect my photographs. I was using colour film and Mum had to shell out for my pictures of my action man in various poses in the back garden! (Action man? Hey, I was 12!)

I remember telling the lady in the camera shop about my photography and how I used to build all kinds of stuff out of cardboard and photograph the results. She told me about a close up lens you could buy which just fit snugly over the camera lens on my Instamatic and enabled me to get really close up shots. I’m not sure how much it was but I had to save up for it, my first ever new lens!

0063.

Back in the eighties when I received my first debit card I was a bus driver. Why I stayed in that job for so long I’ll never know but back then in the eighties there was a relentless move towards one man operated buses. Eventually I became a one man driver. It involved more money but also more work. Instead of just driving the bus you had to issue tickets and collect fares but anyone becoming a one man driver in those days was given a new staff number. I became driver 0063: Double O six three, licensed to drive buses.

Just looking at those numbers together (not including by debit card number of course) gives me 1,4,7,1,1,2,6,6,3. I could add my present staff number into the mix, 6102 and there must be a lottery number in there somewhere. Is it a rollover this weekend? Excuse me, think I might just get myself a lottery ticket!


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James Hilton, Winston Churchill and the Lockdown

When I get stuck looking for a new idea for a blog post I sometimes look back at my old ones just to see if anything there might inspire me. Sometimes I’ll think of something I could have said about a particular subject which I didn’t say at the time so I’ll start writing about that and then I’m off. Sometimes a writer just needs something to start him off. In fact over on Twitter I sometimes use a meme that goes like this

Some old posts can also be re-purposed. That is to say an old post can be given a new lease of life by a re-write, a few new paragraphs, some new pictures and maybe a link to a relevant video. One old post I looked at tapped right into a long running daydream of mine. Imagine me, a writer from the north of England getting the chance to go and work in Hollywood, writing scripts. I can just imagine the trip over on a Jumbo Jet or whatever passes for a jumbo jet these days. Arriving in Hollywood and looking at all the sights I have read about and imagined over the years, The Brown Derby restaurant, Romanoffs, Schwabs drugstore and maybe even catching a glimpse of Pickfair, the old Fairbanks/Pickford mansion on Summit Drive, the home according to David Niven’s book Bring on The Empty Horses of many of the great stars of the golden age of Hollywood.

Alas, every single one of those places has gone eclipsed by the passage of time. Even the new owners of Pickfair, actress Pia Zadora and her millionaire husband, decided that after aquiring such an historic place, the best thing to do would be to knock it down. Termites had ruined the property, or so they claimed.

One other thing that is real enough is the bit about the writer from the north of England making his way over to Hollywood. No, it wasn’t me, it was James Hilton, the author of one of my favourite books of all time.

James Hilton is one of my personal writing heroes and yet his name may be unfamiliar to many of you reading this blog. He was a journalist and an author and made the trip from his home in Leigh, Lancashire, (now Greater Manchester) in the UK to the Hollywood hills in the United States to become a screen writer. He is probably more well known for his book ‘Goodbye Mr Chips’ which was made into a film with Robert Donat (actually another northerner from Didsbury in Manchester) but my favourite of his books and quite possibly my all-time favourite book is ‘Lost Horizon’.

Lost Horizon is a book I found in a second-hand shop many years ago. A battered 1940s paperback I paid twenty-five pence for and yet that small investment has paid me back many times over for sheer reading pleasure as Lost Horizon is a book I re read every year or so and I often pull it down from my bookshelf when a current read fails to entertain me.

Lost Horizon is a completely original idea and is about British consul Robert Conway in the dark days before World War II. Conway is helping his fellow British citizens escape from civil war in China and he and his small party escape in the last plane only to be kidnapped and taken to a distant Tibetan monastery. Conway meets the High lama and after a time it is revealed that the Tibetans  want to preserve the best of world culture and art and make it safe from the coming war.

Hilton is one of those few people who have invented a word or coined a phrase that has become part of the English language. In this case it was the name of the Tibetan monastery, Shangri-la which has since become a byword for a peaceful paradise, a distant haven. Camp David, the US President’s retreat was originally called Shangi-la until renamed by Eisenhower for his son, David.

Hilton’s journey from Leigh to Hollywood must have been a magical one and one I envy, especially as his time in Hollywood was a golden age for movie making. Lost Horizon was made into a movie by Hollywood director Frank Capra and starred Ronald Colman as the urbane British diplomat of the novel. It’s a movie that was restored some time ago and is a great DVD if you happen to see it. Colman also starred in another movie authored by Hilton; ‘Random Harvest ‘.

Hilton settled in Hollywood and wrote a number of screenplays for classic Hollywood movies such as ‘Mrs Miniver ‘. Sadly he died from cancer in 1954.

How would Hilton have coped with the Lockdown? Pretty well I should imagine. Professional writers are not like us amateurs, they are not governed by how they feel, if they are in the mood or not, if they are feeling creative or not. They just get on with it.

A few weeks back I decided that a good project for me would be to make one of my blogs into a video. I chose one from a short while ago A Letter to my Younger Self. I opened up my laptop, clicked on my Animoto page and began. I’m still working on it. It wasn’t as easy as I had thought. I could quite easily have read the post to camera but I wanted something a little more exciting and the good thing about Animoto is that they have a great library of stock footage and photos so combined with some of my own images the result should be good.

Here’s the problem though, and this is the big issue with technology that I come across time after time. Once the designers have put together a great peice of software or an electronic device, they just cannot leave it alone. Windows Sound Recorder: they replaced it with Windows Voice Recorder and all the things I used to do on there, I can no longer do. Windows Movie Maker: my favourite video editing platform: discontinued in favour of HD Movie Maker. The old version was so much better especially when editing sound. The new version is quite different. In the past I could position and reposition sound clips with the mouse now in HD Movie Maker the user can only trim sound or use the delay option. Oh well at least Animoto, the online editing platform I use frequently is untouched, or so I thought.

Wrong! This week Animoto unleashed a new version of its editing software on its users. Does it have improved features? Yes. Is it easier to use? No. Well to be fair it’s not bad but every so often the web page seems to crash and I have to reload the page and start editing again from the point my work was saved. Perhaps that’s the fault of my laptop although it never lost the page with the old version. There are some other litle teaks I don’t like too so I might just put that project on hold for now.

This week Prime Minister Boris Johnson decided to ease the current lockdown. Now we can return to work and also travel around if we want to visit somewhere. Most businesses are still closed of course but it might mean places like Blackpool and other seaside resorts will be expecting daytrippers soon. Personally I think his advice is ill advised and we should be keeping the lockdown on for a while longer. The thing is, the devolved governments of Scotland and Wales seem to agree with me so if you are planning a trip to either of those places soon, forget it because the lockdown is still in place there.

The other night I stayed up late watching the film Darkest Hour which is about Winston Churchill and the beginning of his Prime Ministership in World War II. It paints a rather bleak picture of Winston’s premiership with the Conservative party apparently holding back from supporting him and a growing clique actually wanting to replace him with Lord Halifax. When France fell to the Nazis Halifax wanted to explore peace talks with Hitler which Churchill was violently opposed to. I’m not sure how true to life the film was and although I can imagine not everyone was 100% behind Churchill, I found some of this film a little hard to believe. There was a vote of no confidence in the commons in 1942 although Churchill won this by a resounding 475 votes to 25. In the film, conservatives still will not support Churchill in the commons until outgoing premier Neville Chamberlain signalled them to do so by placing a white hankerchief on his knee. By then Chamberlain and his policy of appeasement were totally discredited so would he really have had such sway over his fellow MPs? I doubt it.

What Churchill would think of today’s devolved government I shudder to think.

In these difficult times I take comfort from, as usual, Marcus Aurelius. I receive a regular email from The Daily Stoic and it is surprising how words of wisdom from the past can be relevant to today. One email I picked up this week went like this : All of us who are alive today are the last in an unbroken line of our ancestors who survived two world wars, the plague and much more. They kept calm, they carried on. They learned, as Marcus did, that things can only ruin your life if they ruin your character. We might not control world events, but we can control how we respond. We control whether we hold our heads high. We control whether we help our neighbors. We control whether we contribute to the panic or not.

Not only that, the important thing to remember about the Corona Virus is that . . .


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TV, Books and the Lockdown Blues

You might think that the lockdown is heaven sent for a writer. Stay at home and write stuff, perfect! After a few weeks though I have found not only have I not written much at all. Actually, I’ve been feeling a little bit bored, just like a great deal of the population I suppose.

Television

One thing I have done is watch a great deal of TV although a lot of it has been disappointing. Back in the late 1960s one of my favourite TV shows was The Time Tunnel. It was an American sci-fi show produced by Irwin Allen who made The Towering Inferno and the Poseidon Adventure among other things and a few weeks back I was delighted to find that it was being re-shown on the Horror channel.

In The Time Tunnel two American scientists are ‘lost in the swirling maze of past and future ages, during the first experiments on America’s greatest and most secret project, the Time Tunnel. Tony Newman and Doug Phillips now tumble helplessly toward a new fantastic adventure, somewhere along the infinite corridors of time’ as the opening blurb used to go.

The Time Tunnel starts off with a Congressman coming to investigate the growing budget of the Time Tunnel Complex and threatens to close things down unless he sees results. Scientist Tony Newman decides he must therefore travel back in time to prove that the tunnel really works and save the project. Tony ends up on the ill-fated liner Titanic. His colleague Doug follows him back to 1912 and the control room struggle to shift the two in time before the ship sinks.

One episode that I particularly remember was when the pair land in Pearl Harbour, just before the Japanese attack in 1941. Tony meets himself as a young boy and finally solves the mystery of the disappearance of his father in the attack. That was one of the better ones.

Unable to return the duo to the present, the technicians back at Time Tunnel HQ struggle every week to shift the duo to somewhere new just in the nick of time. They never seem to manage to get the pair home as there is never enough power for this process despite a huge powerhouse courtesy of the special effects department which we see a glimpse of almost every week. The other thing is that if they did get back home, there’d be no show next week.

I did love this show as a 12 year old sci-fi fan but here in 2020 I seemed to be fast forwarding through all the boring bits, of which there were plenty. Some things don’t seem to stand the test of time and the big problem with the Time Tunnel is that the stories mostly weren’t good enough and many episodes seem to revolve around what appears to be stock footage that was filmed for some other project. I’m really cheesed off that I missed the Pearl Harbour episode though.

Coronation Street, like all the TV soaps is suffering because the lockdown has prevented further filming of the series. Instead of going out six times per week, we are now only getting three episodes to satisfy us and even those are looking like they are missing something. It looks to me like the current main storyline involving controlling husband Geoff and wife Yasmin has been the focus of the last filming sessions while some other content involving the minor storylines is missing. Last Wednesday’s episode seemed to have a slightly odd narrative flow, returning to the same scene when perhaps we should have cut to something else, the cafe or the Rover’s Return pub. Still, the editors can only work with the footage they have and sooner or later there will be nothing and our favourite soaps will be on hold until staff can return safely to work. I noticed also that TV quizzes like Tipping Point and Countdown are now just re runs of older episodes.

Spotify

One other thing has made my life slightly more interesting during these slightly surreal times and that is Spotify. You might not have even heard of it but it’s a music app I’ve downloaded to my iPad. I thought originally that it was a way of downloading music. I’m not a great downloader but the previous place where I used to download music was the HMV digital site, 7Digital. It had, I first thought, gone to the heavenly resting place of defunct web sites but when I finally got connected once again after many years I found it not very interesting and so in my search for internet music I came across Spotify. Now with Spotify, you cannot actually download music, well actually you probably can if you pay for Spotify premium but as the cheapskate that you know I am, I’m happy just to listen to music. On Spotify you can set up favourites and playlists and here’s the really extraordinary thing, after a few days use Spotify starts to suggest things you might like, new music that is similar to music you have already played. Now, after only using it for a couple of weeks, I have built up some pretty substantial music playlists.

Books

After finishing my last book, Michael Palin’s diaries, I looked around for something new to read and picked up three books. Bruce Forsyth’s autobiography, Khrushchev’s memoirs and a book of three Noel Coward plays. I’ve read the Noel Coward book before but the writer’s wit and humour never cease to amuse me. Blythe Spirit is one of Coward’s best known plays and was also made into an excellent film starring Rex Harrison. Having read that book before I tend to just flip through it and re read some of the best bits although in the end, I went through the entire book.

When Khrushchev’s memoirs become a little too serious and I fancy a change, something a little bit lighter, I turn to either Noel Coward or Bruce Forsyth. I picked up Bruce’s book at a church sale and although I didn’t expect much, it has been pretty interesting. Bruce was probably one of the last old time entertainers. He talks about the days of variety in the 1950’s and 60’s and about being in various shows and playing in theatres like the London Palladium and how he managed to break in to TV with Sunday Night at the Palladium which he compered for many years.

At one time he was travelling the country living in a caravan and performing in numerous shows. The latter part of the book is just an excuse to mention all his show biz chums and drop a lot of names but all in all, it was a good read. Bruce doesn’t tell us much about himself though, except in a chapter about his relationship with the UK press, where he proceeds to give the press a good telling off. Still, Bruce was a proper celebrity unlike some celebs these days who seem to make a career from being on TV reality shows.

The Khrushchev book is interesting but suffers like many books written in a foreign language by not reading quite as well as it should when translated into English. 20,000 Leagues under the Sea was another foreign language book I read a while ago but that was a new translation and actually read pretty well.

One brilliant foreign language book that comes to mind is Papillon by Henri Charrière. This, unlike the two books mentioned above is an amazing read, an absolutely wonderful book and one of my all time favourites. It was made into a film with Steve McQueen which comes out pretty poor when compared to the book. Still, the book is a pretty thick volume and there is probably enough material in there for a TV series, never mind a film.

One part of the book which is pretty relevant to the lockdown is when Papillon is sent to solitary confinement. In case you don’t know anything about Papillon at all, he was a Frenchman convicted of murder and sent to a penal colony in French Guiana and after numerous escape attempts and many adventures, he finds freedom in Venezuela.

When Charrière is sent to solitary confinement he wonders how he will fill a chapter about a time when nothing at all happens to him, locked away for 24 hours a day with a rule of silence. Every day he is made to stick his head out of a small door in his cell so the warders can check to see if he is still alive. If he is, he is given food which has little nutrient. Luckily, Papillon’s friends have bribed the warders to give him some extra food including some fruit, or I think it might have been a coconut, which helped to sustain him. After many months someone new takes over the solitary block and he lets the prisoners out every day to socialise. This easing of the strict regime helps Papillon and his fellow inmates no end. I can imagine feeling similar when the lockdown is eased.

Blogs

Just looking back at some of my old blogs for inspiration, I came across The Big 300, my 300th blog post and was surprised to find that this very post you are currently reading is my big 405! Still, I did start blogging way back in 2016 just as a way of promoting Floating in Space, my novel set in Manchester, 1977. You might possibly be thinking that this has been an excellent time to pen a sequel. If so, how wrong you are!


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Things to do during a Pandemic

I’m pretty much of a stay at home sort of guy normally although I do like to go out now and again. I do love dining out for instance. However, staying  at home day after day may stop the corona virus spreading but it can get a little boring. What can we do to entertain ourselves then?

Well first of all the weather in the UK is pretty nice so why not get the deckchair out and have a read of a good book? The obvious one for me to recommend is of course Floating in Space but I’m trying not to make this post into a plug for my book, although if you fancy getting a copy, click here!

The Murders at White House Farm.

Recently I’ve been reading a great book called The Murders at White House Farm by Carol Ann Lee. The book was made into a TV drama series not long ago which I thought was really interesting and that made me buy the book. In case you’re not familar with the story, back in 1985 Jeremy Bamber called the police to say he had received a telephone call from his father to say that his sister, staying at his father’s White House Farm had gone berserk with a gun. He didn’t call 999 but called his local police station directly. He and the police went to the farm and after waiting for a firearms squad, they broke into the house -locked from the inside- to find Bamber’s mother and father, sister Sheila and her two young sons, all dead from gunshot wounds. Sheila was suffering from schizophenia and the immediate assumption was that she had murdered her family and then turned her father’s rifle on herself.

Some officers weren’t so sure about that scenario and a number of things didn’t add up. For instance a struggle had ensued between the killer and Jeremy Bamber’s father Neville, so how did the 27 year old daughter manage to overcome the bigger and stronger Neville? Sheila shot herself after the murders but there were two shots to her head. How could she then shoot herself a second time? Blood was all over the master bedroom where Neville and his wife June were first shot yet Sheila’s feet were clean and free from bloodstains. Some officers and family members were concerned at Jeremy’s lack of emotion and his plans to sell off and convert into cash his parents’ assets.

Later Julie, Jeremy’s girlfriend came forward to reveal Jeremy had told her of his plans to murder the family. Her story though had a number of flaws; in particular she claimed Jeremy had used Matthew McDonald, a friend, as a hitman for a fee of £2000. McDonald had an alibi for the night and vigorously denied any involvement in the murder.

When the case came to court Bamber was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. This was a fascinating read but I found myself confused about some elements of the case. The author focusses on many aspects in detail but is a little unclear on others. The really strange thing is that Jeremy Bamber was convicted without any forensic evidence showing him to be the murderer. There was no evidence showing him to have been present that night, in fact he was seen leaving for home after working on the farm that day but he supposedly returned on a bicycle to do the murders. Again, there was no proof of that. He was found guilty only by his ex-girlfriend’s testimony which I find a little scary. Maybe he did it, but then again, maybe he didn’t.

TV

Of course, in a situation like the corona virus lockdown the TV comes into its own. We need entertaining but also, we need information. Information about what to do and how to keep ourselves safe during the crisis. The other day we downloaded Rocketman, the film about Elton John for viewing when we get bored with the usual TV output but so far we haven’t got around to watching it. We have watched Flesh and Blood on the ITV hub. In case you didn’t see it, Flesh and Blood “is the modern story of three adult siblings – Helen, Jake and Natalie – who are thrown into disarray when their recently widowed mother Vivien declares she’s in love with a new man,” according to ITV.

“This is no ordinary relationship drama, as someone in the family will be dead by the end of the story – but the question of who dies and who is the killer keeps us guessing right up to the last moment,” the channel added. I found it really good and I look forward to seeing series 2.

Jobs around the House

There’s a joke I’ve seen on facebook a number of times. It’s the one where the guy says ‘If a man says he’ll fix it, no need to remind him about it every 6 months’. Anyway, recently during the lockdown I’ve repaired the garden gate, fixed the leaky gutter and given the lawn it’s first 2020 mowing.

Writing

I read somewhere that during the plague in Elizabethan times, Shakespeare’s Globe theatre was closed down just like other places of entertainment. People at the time had no idea how the bubonic plague was transmitted so the authorities of the day banned mass gatherings, just like 2020 in fact. Between 1603 and 1613, the Globe and other London theatres were closed for 78 months according to an article in the Guardian. Plague was an ever present threat for Shakespeare and other actors and performers of the day and in fact, there is some evidence to show that King Lear was written during a plague outbreak in London in 1606. Everywhere was quarantined so Shakespeare clearly thought, might as well get down to it and write something new!

I had the same thought and maybe by the end of this outbreak I might even have completed something new. Well, one or two pages anyway.


A Slice of my Life Part 4

Just now we are approaching my favourite time of the year. The days are getting longer, spring is nearly here and the days are beginning to get warmer. Understood by our ancestors to be a potent portal of power, the Spring Equinox which happened yesterday, has long been celebrated as an awakening time of growing energy and budding new life. Its earlier roots begin in many of the most ancient myths and tales about the Goddess regaining her power and fertility after the long months of winter. Just now though, all I can think about is what a pain in the neck the coronavirus is turning out to be. It’s pretty easy when you are watching the TV news, to sort of dismiss things that don’t seem to affect us but when you find that you actually are affected then it’s a whole different story.

Recently Liz and I were looking at our next trip in our motorhome. We thought about taking the ferry to Spain and spending a leisurely few weeks meandering north back through France and finally back up to the UK. Now we’re starting to realise it might not be worth booking that trip at all in case the ferries are cancelled. I noticed on the news that Jet2.com with whom we have flown to Lanzarote many times have cancelled their flights to Spain and the Canary Islands so we were lucky to have had our holiday in Lanzarote earlier this year. Certain countries like Spain, Italy and France are on a virtual lockdown situation. Things are looking very grim indeed, in fact it’s almost like being in the middle of a crazy science fiction film, something like Twelve Monkeys or The Andromeda Strain where a virus devastates a US town leaving only two survivors, a baby and an old man, and scientists race to find the connection and hopefully the antidote.

Recently, in the Washington Examiner, believe it or not, I read an article about an American writer who lived in Blackheath in London in the 1980’s. He pointed out that Blackheath was so named because of the 60,000 Londoners who perished as a result of the Black Death in the 14th century, many of whom are buried in Blackheath. The Black Death changed everything; it pushed up the value of labour and created a wage economy. No doubt today’s pandemic will bring about change too but as somebody once said, there is nothing new under the sun.

Mum

My mum who for a long time has become very unsteady on her feet finally entered a care home some weeks ago.  My brother and I have done our absolute best to look after her over the past two years and more but we had done as much as we could. Her mobility had dropped dramatically and her dementia has increased, with her grasp on reality gradually slipping away. At her new care home the staff specialise in dementia patients but this week when I went to visit they told me that no unnecessary visitors were being let in. In a way that means a little break for me. My mother sometimes seems reasonably lucid and at other times not so. Recently she told me she missed her mother and father and I had to tell her they died many years ago. She was very upset but I’ve always tried to be straight with her and not tell her lies. Another time she asked me why my dad had not visited her and fighting back some tears I gently told her he was working. He died twenty years ago.

Dementia has made a liar of me.

Australian Grand Prix.

One big upset relating to the virus has to be, for me at any rate, the cancelation of the Australian Grand Prix. For the past few weeks I have been checking my email updates from various Formula One blogs and web sites. I’ve read about the testing sessions in Barcelona and about the controversy over the Ferrari engine from last year. Apparently, the governing body, the FIA investigated claims that Ferrari’s engine was illegal. They dismissed the claims but declined to comment further. The other teams have protested, claiming that the FIA has tried to hush the incident up. Anyway, that incident has been forgotten now the future of this year’s racing is in doubt. F1 may not begin in earnest until May, if it begins at all.

Pity, because this could be the year that Lewis Hamilton equals Michael Schumacher’s record of 7 world championships but if there are no races, or not enough races will a championship even be awarded?

Woody Allen

The other week I was a little poorly myself. Not the corona virus but some bug that caused me to spend a lot of time being sick. I spent a lot of that time at my mother’s house just generally feeling sorry for myself and drinking hot water and lemon and watching a lot of DVDs. Looking back, those few days have got me ready for the current climate of self-isolation. Anyway, the handy thing with a DVD is that every time I had the urge to run to the toilet I could pause the film, do what I had to do and then return to my couch. Yes, I know that we can even pause live TV these days but Mum’s TV doesn’t support stuff like that.

Anyway, to entertain myself I cranked up some Woody Allen stuff on the DVD player. Midnight in Paris is one of his later films starring Owen Wilson. I’m not sure I have even liked Owen Wilson in the past but watching this film, he plays the perfect role that Woody himself might have played in his younger days.

I followed that with Radio Days, Woody’s homage to the days when radio was universally popular and kids in the pre TV age were as obsessed with radio as I was with TV in the 1960’s. Woody doesn’t appear in the film but narrates it and it tells various radio themed stories. One big point he makes is that radio listeners tend to imagine the broadcaster or actor looking as good as whatever part they are playing, so of course the hero of young Woody’s favourite show, the Masked Avenger, turns out to look nothing like we might imagine.

Third in my trilogy of Woody Allen films was Manhattan which I’ve always thought was much better than Annie Hall, Woody’s Oscar winning 1977 film which won awards in 4 categories; best film, best script, best director and best actress for Diane Keaton. Manhattan is famous for its black and white photography and it’s Gershwin music score and is just generally a lovely film, not outstandingly funny or hilarious but gently humorous.

For real laugh out loud humour, you have to go back to Woody’s earlier films like Take the Money and Run and Bananas. My favourite moment from these earlier films is in Bananas. At the end of the film Woody marries his love interest played by Louise Lasser who was once upon a time his real-life love interest. The two go to bed to consummate the marriage but the ‘bout’ is shown on TV with two actual US TV commentators Howard Cosell, and Don Dunphy. Allen and Lasser get under the sheets and afterwards the two discuss the action with the interviewer as if they have just competed in a prizefight.

Despite his wonderful films, Woody Allen is a controversial character these days. His latest film lies unreleased, despite a deal with Amazon, and a similar fate has fallen to his memoirs. I recently read an interesting article about Woody and Woody’s memoirs, which were apparently dropped by publisher Hacher after a staff walk out. Journalist Hadley Freeman said ‘What a strange, through-the-looking-glass world we live in, when people who consider themselves to be liberals celebrate suppressing others’ words.’

Woody has been investigated for abusing his step daughter Dylan Farrow twice and declared innocent, although his now adult step daughter still claims Woody was an abuser. The abuse apparently relates to only one occasion and no other person has come forward to complain of abuse at Woody’s hands, unlike people like producer Harvey Weinstein, Michael Jackson or Jimmy Saville to name but three.

Freeman goes on to point out ‘It would have been one thing if Hachette had never agreed to publish Allen’s memoir in the first place. Fair enough; that’s a publisher’s prerogative. But for it to sign him, edit him and then fearfully drop him because some people object is a terrible precedent for a publisher to set.’

Click here to read the complete article in the Guardian.

YouTube

Despite being an avid video maker, I haven’t produced any great video works lately apart from the usual trailers that I use to plug my book, Floating in Space. As I’ve had a distinct lack of ideas, I’ve tended to continue making short video versions of my poems which keeps me busy and not only that, as a frustrated film director, there is nothing I like more than messing about with video, cutting and splicing and mastering sound effects.

Every so often I try to update the introductory video on my YouTube page. It’s nothing outstanding but I do like to try and make it reasonably exciting, so as to lure followers -and potential readers- into my clutches. Just recently I made a new version over on Animoto.com which is an online editing studio which comes with various templates themed for various types of project. My new video was pretty similar to the last one but I’d added a new block template which inserted a series of pictures fairly quickly. Perhaps that was the reason why, when it was uploaded to YouTube, they quickly deleted it as apparently it had infringed YouTube community guidelines involving spam, misleading metadata and scams!

Now the video in question may not have been Oscar material but it certainly wasn’t a scam or spam for that matter. You can’t see it on YouTube but here it is on Animoto.

YouTube were pretty quick to delete the video and send me an e-mail about it. They said I could appeal so I did so straight away, after all it’s a pretty innocuous video, it’s not offensive and it’s hardly spam. They sent me back another e-mail saying my appeal has been approved but the video is still not visible on my channel. Not only that, I couldn’t write back to YouTube to complain because their email would not accept replies. YouTube is like a big monolithic entity and they are actually pretty difficult to contact. I suppose I’ll just have to wait and hope that some person, some real person rather than a computer program, will look at my video and say ‘that looks OK, let’s reinstate it!’

I live in hope.


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Yet Another slice of my Life

Yes, it’s time to take a rest from books and classic TV and take a look at my own life again, not that there is much going on there but hopefully I can find something reasonably interesting to tell you about and stop you clicking away to a rival website for a while.

These days my life seems to be split into two, five days looking after my elderly mother who is 90 years old and suffering with dementia and then five free days with the lovely Liz in St Annes.

As I’m semi-retired I only work for three days out of nine but as I spend those with my mother my poor old brother has to do some extra caring when I am at work.

Sometimes, as is the case with many dementia sufferers, my mum can act pretty normally and then at other times she can be very difficult.

One night this week she woke me up 5 times with various issues and I was so tired when I came into work. That particular day was a busy day but I was in my favourite role, running the radio channel in the motorway control room where I work. It can be a difficult job especially when there are many incidents and you have to remember what is happening at each incident and prioritise the workload.

In one incident a few weeks back a driver was seriously injured and we had to close both carriageways of the motorway while the air ambulance landed and took away the casualty. Later he sadly died in hospital and it seemed to highlight to me the fragility of life; here was someone on the way home from work, his wife may have planned something special for tea, perhaps not. Either way I can imagine the dinner sitting there uneaten, left by his family who were perhaps expecting a mundane weekday evening rather than the complete upending of their lives.

I was glad that day to have had a busy day on the radio desk. My mind was focussed on my work rather than how my mother would behave later. That night she complained that my brother had not given her any food and that she was starving. She frequently says things like this as she cannot remember having eaten. Sometimes I try to prove to her she has had a meal, by showing her her plate, or the pan I cooked the food in, things like that. On this occasion I was about to make some supper anyway, so we both had a bacon sandwich together and she calmed down, had half a cup of hot milk and went quietly to sleep.

My brother and I frequently throw my mother’s comments back at each other. ‘These are not my clothes’ I declared to him the other day. He replied with ‘this isn’t my house!’

If we didn’t laugh in a situation like that I’m sure we would go quietly mad.

It’s always a relief to hand over to Jimmy after my five days. By the way, my brother is called Colin although I tend to call him Jimmy. I much prefer it to Colin.

The next day Liz and I were off for a short jolly at the Royal Clifton Hotel and Spa in Southport. We checked in after a short drive and were soon feeling the trained hands of a masseuse on our necks and shoulders. My masseuse asked me if the pressure was ok, did I need more or less? I answered that it was ok although this petite lady was pummelling my shoulders with a grip similar to that of a trained sumo wrestler. I’m not sure how she could have increased the pressure as it seemed pretty forceful anyway but, enjoyable though it was, I was glad when it was over. Later we dined in the hotel restaurant and decided to upgrade from the menu which was part of the offer Liz had purchased and chose from the à la carte menu. An extra £8 but well worth it and further offset by a £5 discount on a bottle of red.

Later after a second bottle to help wash down an excellent cheese board we returned to our room where I slept the sleep of the just and truly knackered.

The next day after breakfast it was time for some more pampering. A few laps in the pool and a dip in the Jacuzzi punctuated by various visits to the steam room left us feeling relaxed and clean. I do love a steam room especially when they have that stuff in the steam that clears out your nasal passages as well as your pores.

Later that evening after a substantial nosh at our friend Salvatore’s place we went over to the Cheshire Lines pub for the quiz there. It’s slightly more highbrow than our usual quiz back in St Annes but still an enjoyable one. Not only that, they serve my favourite drink in there, Theakston’s mild.

At the end of the quiz there is always a draw and the winner gets to answer a jackpot question. Last time we visited I drew the jackpot card and the 64,000 dollar question (actually £250) was who entered the US music charts straight in at number ? I can’t remember if there was a time scale to that question but I instantly thought of Elton John. When the 30 second clock began to tick though I started to wonder, maybe it was Elvis when he died in 1977. I wrote down my answer, Elvis Presley, the quiz master seemed to look a little relieved because the answer was . . . Elton John.

Maybe it was me but did the locals look a little too happy that I wasn’t taking away the jackpot?


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

Dealing with that Corporate Event.

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, welcome to the world of the corporate event.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Box 1: Urgent and Important

Box 2: Important but not urgent

Box 3: Urgent but not important.

Box 4: Neither urgent nor important.

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

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

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

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

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


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

A Week that was Too Good to be Forgotten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Everything you need to know about Shopping.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes I think back to those long gone Saturday afternoons flicking through records in the numerous record shops in Manchester. Sadly, that is just a distant memory now. Once I was always down at HMV in Manchester where they had an in store DJ. She was a really nice girl, very approachable and very into her music. She recommended all sorts of albums to me but I was usually in there hunting for some album or artist I had heard on the radio.

I remember going in one day to find the in-store DJ had been replaced by a radio version, someone, presumably at head office in London, who broadcast music to all the HMV stores. Later, in 2013,  the  store closed down completely after more than twenty years on the same site. Browsing records and videos in HMV and then popping into my favourite book stores before settling down in some back street pub for a drink, ah, those were the days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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