Supermarkets, Stan Laurel and the Crazy Bee Hive Lady

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

Picture courtesy Unsplash.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eventually, our till got sorted, the vodka bottle was freed up for sale and we moved on. Just as the lady in front of me got to the checkout she exclaimed, ‘I’ve forgotten the milk, can I just nip back for one?’

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

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

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


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

The Long and Dusty Road of Life

Updated version with new video . .

Letters from an unknown author!

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

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

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

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

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


Steve Higgins is the author of…

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Gregory’s Girl and Memories of Schooldays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Easy!” I said. “How?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Star Wars, Remakes and Dealing with Man-Flu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Big Macs, Brexit and Elizabeth!

There always is a special feeling about the last shift, well, certainly for me at any rate. After my last block of shifts I left work at the usual time, 10 pm -I work shifts as you may know- and I fancied something special for a late treat. I wasn’t hungry enough for a donner kebab and my favourite chip shop doesn’t open late so I popped into McDonald’s for my yearly Big Mac and fries. Every time I get a Big Mac it seems to me that it gets smaller and smaller. The Big Mac I bought for my treat seemed smaller than ever and I even debated about getting two. Anyway, I drove quickly home, changed into my scruffy ‘lounge about the house’ gear, poured a small Bacardi into my coke and tucked into my food. Sadly, it was rather lukewarm and didn’t taste much better after a few seconds in the microwave. The fact of the matter is that my Big Mac always seems rather lukewarm and why I go back for one, once or even sometimes twice a year, I really don’t know.

Many years ago, I used to work for a cigarette company and I used to meet with my manager and two team mates every Friday afternoon at McDonald’s in Liverpool, the one right at the end of the M62 motorway, for a Big Mac and some sales talk and updates from our boss. Every single time, now I think of it, I used to send my Big Mac back and soon afterwards a new one, fresh and hot would appear. Why oh why they could not serve me a fresh hot one in the first place I will never know.

In France, the concept of fast food is lost on the French and I usually have to wait for at least thirty minutes if I have a Big Mac over in Saumur, my favourite French city. At least though, it is served hot and fresh off the frying pan or hotplate or whatever it is cooked on. Then again, when I’m eating in France, eating at MacDonald’s is not high on my agenda, it’s just sometimes when we have to exit our rented villa early in the morning (I should say at this point that 11am counts as early for me) it’s convenient to stop for a Big Mac, or even the McDonald’s breakfast when we have a long drive ahead.

Anyway, this particular night I settled down to watch the end of a really good film. It was Elizabeth which starred Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth the 1st and it was a wonderful film cataloguing the intrigue and suspense of that long-gone age. No democracy back then, kings and queens won and lost thrones and power through murder and manipulation and Elizabeth was lucky to have by her side her spymaster and security chief Francis Walsingham.

These days our present queen is Elizabeth the 2nd and she is probably a pretty popular monarch. Having said that I have little time for the rest of the royals; they are overpaid, over privileged and over here. Whatever you may think of Donald Trump by comparison he has a right to be where he is, in the Oval office as he has won the only popularity contest that counts in the USA, the election. In a few years’ time, Americans will be able to vote out Trump or if they so desire, vote him in again for another four years. No such luck with the Queen.

The UK Prime Minister is a different kettle of fish though. We, the citizens of the UK don’t vote directly for her, in fact only Conservative MPs had a say in her election as party leader and only the constituents of Maidenhead have a say in her election to the house of commons. Currently, Theresa May has the most MPs at the moment, a very slender majority in fact, but that small majority then makes her the Prime Minister.

If I, by some miracle, ever became Prime Minister, one of my first jobs would be to depose the royals and ship the whole lot of them over to either Ekaterinburg in the former Soviet Union or if Mr Putin were not too willing to oblige, to some east London council estate. One big problem there is that the Queen, like it or not, is the glue that binds the English, Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish together in the United Kingdom and whether a President or Prime Minister could do that remains to be seen.

There was a follow-up film to Elizabeth, it was called Elizabeth the Golden Age and I do wonder what historians will call the present age when they look back to add a new chapter in the history of the British Isles.

As I write this the government suffered the biggest defeat in the House of Commons by any government in UK history when members of parliament rejected Theresa May’s Brexit deal by a huge majority and later only survived a no confidence vote by 19 votes. Personally, I voted to leave the European Union but the big problem is that the majority leave vote only amounted to 52% which really means that the country is pretty much split on the issue. If the vote had been 60 to 70% to leave, I don’t think Brexit would be such a big issue but as we as a country are so divided then it is an issue.

So, what is the answer? Another vote? Suppose the remain voters won that one, would that solve the issue? I doubt it, after all it would be one for the leavers and one for the remainers. We could have a best of 3 vote though, couldn’t we?

The real problem is that when David Cameron resigned, I assumed a pro leave MP would take over at 10 Downing Street, the obvious candidate being Boris Johnson but no, Theresa May won the premiership contest despite being on the remain side, just like David Cameron but wasn’t that why he resigned?

Despite personally being on the leave side I think David Cameron would have been better going back to Brussels and saying, look, my voters are not happy about the EU, we need to take a good look at our membership, perhaps that would have been preferable to the current chaos, after all, the referendum was hardly legally binding as far as I know, it was just a referendum, an indication of the feeling in the country.

The thing is though, why should it be so hard to leave a club like the EU? We have given them notice, we have followed the rules of membership and now they are asking for a multi-million-pound fee to leave.

I wonder what Elizabeth 1st answer would be to that?


Floating in Space is available from Amazon as a Kindle download or traditional paperback. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

2018 and All That

OK so there it is, 2018 all done and dusted and we look forward to 2019. How was your year? Good, or bad? Was it all that you expected, or not? Here’s a quick look back at my personal 2018 with some of my blog highlights thrown in for good measure.

In January, Christmas and New Year quickly receding into the murky past, Liz and I were looking forward to a long break in Lanzarote. Lanzarote is really lovely at this time of year. Sometimes it tends to get a little windy and a few times in the evening temperatures dipped a little causing a flurry of fleece jackets to appear in the bar we frequented. The bar I should add was substantially an outside rather than inside bar and we sat alfresco under an awning while we drank, ate tapas, nibbled on olives and nuts and listened to some soothing pop classics performed either by a local pianist or the local sax player. I went into more detail in Thoughts from a Lanzarote Sun lounger but it was a very relaxing time.

The only problem of any significance was some annoying keyboard issues with my laptop. The letter O key was not working which caused some difficulties in producing a TV themed blog called ‘Putting the ‘O’ in Columbo’. Columbo being the famous TV detective played by Peter Falk and one of my very favourite TV shows ever. I had taken the laptop to my local computer store who had replaced the keyboard but when I arrived in Lanzarote ready to pound out some more blogs and possibly even add a few more pages to my new book I found the keyboard misbehaving again! I was not happy and a lot of the blogs I wrote while I was away were produced mostly on my Ipad.

There were some lovely restaurants in Lanzarote but in one of them the antics of one of the waitresses put me in mind of an old friend of ours, a waiter called Giorgio. He was a lovely fellow Giorgio. As a waiter he just wasn’t one of the best but he always made us smile and one sunny afternoon I took a break from the pool to write a post about him and some similar waiters called ‘The Giorgio factor.’

Back home in the UK I was spending an increasing amount of time looking after my elderly mother who was 89 in 2018 and has the beginnings of dementia. Only two years ago or so, I used to call up Mum and say I was coming to stay. Arriving there after work I would find my little box room all neat and tidy with fresh covers on the bed. My Mum is probably the only person I have ever known who irons socks and underwear and it is sad to see her today with her memory loss getting worse by the day and it is me who irons things for her, and me who puts the fresh bedding on the beds. In Some Random thoughts on Boxrooms, Stormy Daniels and Action Man I talked about how good it felt to return to that room, surrounded by the old books, vinyl records and cassette tapes of my past life. When I am there I sometimes feel that I have never really grown up.

I had a small health scare earlier in 2018. Nothing exciting just that a check up revealed slightly high blood pressure. The end result was that I was advised to check into the gym and see if a little work out might help. The practice nurse handed me a free three-month course at the YMCA which was my very first introduction to the world of pumping iron, the gym and physical exercise which until then I had completely shunned. I actually enjoyed the course, it was nice to feel healthy (well, healthier) and I jotted down a few remarks about the experience in a blog called Working Out That Sweet Illusion!

In May I was working hard on one of my videos, a look back at the places which inspired my book Floating in Space. I visited Manchester on a few occasions and shot plenty of video, a great deal of which, sadly, wasn’t of a particularly great quality. One of the problems in shooting video on a visit to Manchester is that I tend to combine filming with a tour of my old pub haunts in the town, as well as visiting some new ones so at the end of the day my hand tends to become a little rocky on the lens when too much beer has been downed.  Eventually after a number of false starts I put together a short film about Manchester and added a narration compiled from some old blog posts, text from Floating in Space itself and some new observations. I still wasn’t happy with the video and was struggling to get it right so I decided to use the narration (re-purpose I think the correct phrase is) in a blog post entitled Manchester, 41 Years On.

If you want to see the video which I eventually finished, click here.

Picture courtesy Wikipedia

Anyway, in June I decided to turn to something much more interesting than my little life and write about two of my most enduring interests, books and the Watergate Scandal. President Nixon must be one of the most interesting figures ever to become President of the USA and his journey to the Oval Office was remarkable. Nixon spent two years as vice president to Eisenhower, looked like winning the election in 1960 from relatively unknown John F Kennedy but it was Kennedy who pipped Nixon to the prize. Nixon ran for governor of California and lost, declaring to the press politics was over for him: ‘You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore!’ However, in the tumultuous year of 1968 he was back, once again the Republican candidate for the presidency and this time he won. When Lyndon Johnson left office he advised Nixon to make tape recordings of his conversations as he had done, saying that they were invaluable in preparing his memoirs. That advice proved to be Nixon’s undoing.

In a post called ‘Writing and the Big 300 I published my 300th blog post, a small milestone for an amateur writer like myself. I concentrated on the flip side of writing; the continual search for content and some of my other writing projects, things like my scripts. In particular I talked about a sit-com idea I had that I submitted to the BBC Writer’s Room web page. Alas, after many a month in deliberations the BBC decided my project was unworthy of putting into production. Pity really because I thought it was rather good.

Getting back to my holiday travels, Liz and I journeyed back to France once again for a wedding in the Alsace area of France. We went in Liz’s new motor home and after the wedding festivities were over we travelled through the north of France taking in many of the famous World War One battle grounds and cemeteries. The summer as you will no doubt remember was hot, in fact very hot indeed and I put together a post about our travels in the motor home, my impressions of visiting the military cemeteries and my frustration with mobile wi-fi! I also had time to make a short video about the military cemeteries which you can see here.

In August I turned my attention to Manchester Airport in a post called Airports and Things. As a schoolboy, Manchester Airport was one of my favourite places and my friends and I spent many a happy hour cycling down the quiet lanes that back on to the runway where we jotted down aircraft numbers. In 2018 the Airport Authority introduced a controversial drop off and pick up charge of £3 which caused many complaints from the public and in the post I argued the case for a larger number of smaller airports rather than fewer huge airports.

A lot of my posts are inspired by the books I read and one fascinating volume was a book by Noel Botham about the death of Princess Diana. He claimed the Princess had been murdered by elements of M16 loyal to the Royal Family and went on to explain various issues with the accepted story of the Princess’ death. Whether the Princess was really murdered or not, numerous parts of the story do not add up and they all contributed to a story of mystery and intrigue.

To round up my personal 2018, a meander through my old diaries prompted a post called Dear Diary and just to get in the festive mood in December my brother and I went on a pub crawl in Manchester In Search of Dark Beer. You just can’t beat a perfect pint of mild!

Well, that was my year. How was yours?


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.

In Search of Dark Beer

Last year my brother and I struggled to get our Christmas pint in before Christmas so this year we decided to meet up early and make sure we did. My brother hates it when I drag him round book and music shops so I decided to go out early, have a bit of a nosey about then meet him later for drinks. In particular I was on a quest for that rare item in British pubs today, dark beers; stouts, porters and mild.

Manchester in December is nothing short of an absolute madhouse. The streets were packed, as were the shops. I had a look round a couple of my favourite shops but the rain was relentless and so I retreated into the Arndale centre to dry out. There are a couple of cheapie book shops in there that I always look at and then there is the – actually a shop I can’t remember the name of but it sells all kinds of geeky stuff that appeals to me; CD cases, electronic items, leads, blank media and so on, so I always spend a lot of time looking round there.

Feeling a little hungry I wandered over to the market area and realised it was actually years since I had been there. To my surprise, there was a whole hall of small stalls and shops that I had never seen before. As I moved further inside I discovered a sort of street food area with some tasty looking food. The whole area seemed to be screened off from the rest of the Arndale which is probably why it was relatively quiet compared with everywhere else. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve been in this part of the Arndale since it was redeveloped years ago.

The Micro Bar.

In the street food area there were stalls selling various types of food. I spotted Mexican, Thai, Chinese and Indian stalls but then I came across a Greek takeaway and picked up some Greek Gyros in pitta bread with salad and some cooling yoghurt for £4. Lovely! I wandered about looking for a table and sat myself down only to find I had settled down in front of what was a small bar, appropriately called the Micro Bar, selling some tasty real ales. The barman offered me a taster of the porter he had on. Sadly it was a plum porter, a dark beer flavoured with a plum essence. It wasn’t for me! There seems to be a trend in drinks today calling for fruit flavoured drinks. Various flavours of gin are available in pubs. I even saw a rhubarb gin the other day I shudder to add. Cider is another drink that comes with various fruit flavoured varieties.

I called for a pint of a tasty golden ale to wash down my Gyros and sat back and waited for my brother, watching the horde of shoppers and office workers braving the lashing wind and rain down the High street.

The Grey Horse.

Pint of MildWe decided to take in some of the old and the new of licensed premises in the city. First stop was our old favourite, the Grey Horse, one of the smallest pubs in Manchester but also a pub that serves that classic dark beer, mild. Don’t you just hate it when you go in a pub nowadays and the teenage barman looks at you like you are a nutter when you ask for a pint of mild just because the average teenage barman has never heard of it? Well in a proper pub like the Grey Horse that just never happens.

I think I have mentioned before, in the evening of my years (just a minute, late afternoon surely?) I have moved away from lagers and closer towards the darker beers to be found in life’s brewery. As often as not I end up drinking Guinness or some random guest beer but in the Grey Horse they serve a lovely dark mild.

Pubs and bars are driven by the younger generation and their drink of choice is lager which explains the distinct lack of porters, stouts and mild available these days. For me, I must admit I do drink lager but it’s mild and Guinness I’m always on the lookout for.

As the afternoon moved into early evening we decided to take a wander down to the so-called ‘Northern Quarter’ of Manchester. Really the Northern Quarter is just a PR exercise, a rebranding of the older and more run down area of Manchester, actually Ancoats, so that younger and less savvy people like myself can be lured into small bars that were once probably shops or offices and now charge incredible prices for drinks.

Luckily it was my brother who got saddled with a ridiculous bill for two drinks and not me but now armed with this new information, that the rebranding of this area is just an excuse to double prices, we wandered back to more sensible pubs.

Albert’s Schloss.

For one last pint we went into Albert’s Schloss, a sort of modern German Beer Keller sort of place packed with people and serving lager at inflated prices. (Though not as inflated as the Northern Quarter!) No dark beers to be found there but Albert’s was actually a fun place full of city centre workers spending their hard-earned cash.  I enjoyed that pint of pilsner. Pity I couldn’t have had one last dark beer.

Dark Beers in Classic Film.

Back in the war years dark beers were the more accepted drink for men in the UK. I remember watching ‘The Way to the Stars’, a 1945 war picture in which John Mills, a ground controller at a world war 2 airfield, stays behind when his squadron is posted overseas. The new squadron are a US Army Air Force group flying B-17 Flying Fortresses. John Mills’ character takes the Yanks out for a few beers and is surprised to see them drinking pale ales which he and the other Brits consider a little ‘ladylike’ to use his words! Straight away he introduces them to some dark beers.

Which classic film buff can forget John Ford’s The Quiet Man? John Wayne plays a retired American boxer returning to his roots in Ireland. He steps into the pub, looks around and orders ‘one of those black beers’. John Wayne knew a good pint when he saw one.

St Annes on the Sea.

A couple of days later, back in St Annes, Liz and I popped into the Number 15, one of our favourite local pubs. The premises used to be a bank and what was once the bank vault is now a cosy room at the back. The great thing about 15’s is that along with many guest beers they serve one of my absolute favourites, Theakston’s mild.

I ordered the drinks and waited eagerly at the bar while the barmaid went off to pull our beers. She was back a moment later with an apologetic look. ‘Sorry’ she said, ‘I’d forgotten, we’re not serving mild any more. There’s no call for it these days!’

Clearly I hadn’t been drinking enough of it!


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

Cameras, Edits and Fish and Chips.

This weekend is Remembrance Sunday and there is a lot of stuff out there in the media about the sad events of war, in particular World War 1 which ended 100 years ago this week. I occasionally comment on social media threads about the war and sometimes even tag my video from earlier this year about my visit to various war cemeteries in France.

The other week I added a link to my video on a Facebook page. It wasn’t anything to do with war, in fact it’s a Facebook page for amateur video makers, like me, to plug their work and discuss the arts of video making. I actually got some good reviews there but one fellow video maker questioned the beginning of the film. What I had done was this; when I had started filming I was planning a film about motorhomes and travelling in France and at one camp site parked next to us was a very tasty motorhome with a big trailer. Straight away I envisioned a narration talking about the big motorhome as if it was ours, then cutting to our much smaller one and saying ‘oh well, we’ll take this one then.’ Not exactly hilarious but faintly amusing. Anyway, that’s pretty much exactly how the finished video starts off.

However, as I eventually produced a video about war graves and cemeteries, the rest of the narration is of a sad and sombre tone and the jokey comments didn’t really fit in, which is what my fellow Facebook video maker had noticed.

When I originally put the video together I just somehow didn’t pick up on that. Take a look below and see what you think.

It’s always great to finish my block of shifts at work and then I can look forward to my six days off. This week however I picked up a tummy bug and spent a lot of time lying about in discomfort, constantly running to the toilet. Why couldn’t I have got the bug on a work day, then at least I could have called in sick? Anyway, one thing I thought I’d do on my days off was to sort out that video; go back to my editing deck, cut out the offending phrase and the much bigger motorhome and just record another line, something more in keeping with the general tone of the subject.

This of course is where everything went wrong. I added the new line, but in doing so I somehow managed to delete everything else on the soundtrack. OK, no problem, I still had the original recording of the narration so I thought I could just add that. What I did the first time round was to save the voice over as short individual tracks so I could change things round and pace things to match the visuals. Now, many months later the tracks were staring back at me, track 1, track 2 and so on, all the way up to track 48 and I couldn’t remember what I had said on each track, plus every few minutes, courtesy of the stomach bug, I had to drop everything and rush to the bathroom. Yes, I think I’ll leave that edit for another day but thanks fellow video producer for bringing that to my attention . .

Prior to my work shifts, Liz and I decided to spend an evening driving through the Blackpool Illuminations. The very first Illuminations began in 1879 but didn’t become a regular event until 1913 and were an idea for extending the holiday season at this seaside resort. The lights run for about six miles along Blackpool promenade from Starr Gate to Bispham and consist, apparently, of over one million light bulbs. Anyway, it was a great opportunity for a fish and chip supper and for me to mess about with my video cameras and editing software. A little background music instead of a voiceover might be preferable me thinks . .

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.