Night shift

What I think I might do in this post is an old writer’s trick. It involves taking some part written posts and trying to string them all together into a brand new post.
Let’s see if it works out.

The first night shift is, perversely, the easiest one. I say perversely because it should, by rights, be the hardest. To prepare for it I usually have a lie in that morning and prior to getting ready for work I go back to bed for at least an hour, just to get forty winks which, with a little luck, will get me through the night.
It’s a 45 minute drive to work, mostly all motorway driving, and I take a great deal of care in selecting some music to play in my car. My car is heaving with CDs and I’ll choose something interesting, something enjoyable that will last until I drive in through the gates at work.

Last week my first night shift coincided with election night so it was interesting to settle down and watch the results gradually come in. I work in an emergency control room and the wall of our room has various screens where we can highlight CCTV images of the incidents we are dealing with. In the centre is the TV screen currently set to Sky News as for some reason, every other channel comes up blank with the legend ‘no signal available.’
This being an operational control room the TV has no sound and it’s sometimes quite amusing to watch the subtitles appear with the wrong word or sentence. Some of the best I’ve seen include MP Ed Milliband described as the Ed Miller Band and the BBC welcoming viewers to the ‘Chinese new year of the whores!’

Anyway, it was a busy night and when I finally looked up from my desk it was clear that despite being the winner Theresa May was actually the loser, and despite being the loser, Jeremy Corbyn was really a winner, if you see what I mean. Yes, that’s politics for you, despite all the weeks of campaigning the result was essentially a hung parliament until Mrs May decided to do a deal with the DUP and their ten MPs.

Since then I’ve seen the DUP, the small Northern Irish party described as everything but Satan himself. Incredibly, gasp some people, they don’t seem to believe in same-sex marriages, although ten years ago, neither did anyone else! Clearly they haven’t moved with the times or perhaps they just believe in what they believe. After all, we do live in a free society.

This last week I went to my uncle’s funeral and I can’t ever remember going to a funeral that was so, I nearly said happy but that isn’t right, free from tears is probably nearer to the mark. Then again, I often wonder about myself and my own emotions. I’m not a particularly emotional man, in fact, I’m probably rather cold in an emotional sense. My family, reunited for the family funeral, many of whom I had not seen for years are clearly made of similar stuff. Then again, when I spoke to my Mum who is getting rather confused in her old age and did not attend, and told her about the pleasant demeanour of all concerned she thought for a moment and then said ‘don’t worry, the tears come later!’ Clearly, she is not as confused as I had thought.

As a sort of follow up to that, Friday night, Liz and I went to the Number 15 pub in St Annes and a guitar duo were the live band. Sadly I have forgotten their name but they were outstanding. One of the songs they played was a song I have never heard covered before. It was ‘The Ballad of Jack and Diane’ originally sung by John Mellencamp.

In part, the lyrics go like this:

‘Oh yeh, life goes on. Even though the thread of livin’ is gone.’

Quite appropriate under the circumstances.

This week I have spent some time in the garden with my latest toy, a chain saw. I was a little scared of it at first but gradually I got used to it and those tree branches that have been immune to my tame sawing and chopping these last few years have now been firmly removed and chopped neatly into fireplace sized logs. I enjoyed myself that much it’s a wonder I didn’t create a swathe of destruction throughout the local area.

I finally managed to take control and now I just need some cold weather so we can have a nice log fire!

The end of my block of night shifts is really the best moment of all. The morning shift manager comes in and we exchange a few pleasantries. I brief them about any ongoing incidents and they in turn go off to brief their team. I thank my people for their work over the past few nights, the new team come in and take over. We sign off and it is time to leave.

Outside in the car park it’s a lovely warm summer’s morning. There is some cloud but also one clear side to the sky and the sun’s rays bear down and warm all they touch.

The local rabbits scamper about as I search for a new CD. I’m looking forward to my sleep later this morning, because the sleep at the end of my last night shift is the nicest sleep of all. I start the engine and drive away and click play on my CD player. Yes, I fancy some Commodores this morning.

If you enjoyed this post, why not try my book, Floating in Space, set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Bikes, Continuity, and Stomu Yamashta!

This is probably my favourite time of the year, spring going in to summer. The weather is getting better and the days are growing longer. In fact on the first of this week’s night shifts I drove to work in the daylight and drove home on a lovely sunny morning. There is something intrinsically good about blue skies and sunshine. It sets off the feel good factor inside and it warms the inner soul.

How has your week been? Mine has been ok, mostly. One upset this week was that my beloved convertible (ok it’s only a Renault Megane but it’s still a convertible) was hit by a council wagon backing up in the car park where I had left my car. The council guy drove off but happily one of the neighbours over the road saw everything and jotted down the offending vehicle’s details. Happily, Manchester City Council admitted it was their fault and as you read this my lovely car has been towed away for the fitting of a new bumper. It’s great to have a convertible at this time of the year. Who needs air-con? Just take the roof off!

Just lately I’ve been doing a lot of bike riding on my rather old and rusty bike and it made me start to think about getting a newer model. Not a brand spanking new one but something just a little newer and nicer to ride. Numerous attempts to buy one on eBay failed miserably so I was forced to enlist Liz, a much more expert eBay buyer than me. She found me a nice second hand bike with 18 gears and pounced at the last minute to bring home the goods!

Since then I’ve had a few trial rides on my new bike and have even attached my trusty action cam but my new video projects have been crushed by that old movie issue –continuity! Yes, I had tried to update and improve on an earlier project by matching some older shots riding my old and rusty blue bike with shots of my new gold bike and shots wearing a blue top with shots of me wearing a hi vis vest. Oh well, back to the editing desk for that video!

The other day Liz and I went to a garage sale at a house round the corner and what was quite interesting was that the owner, a fellow of a similar age to me, had a large number of CD’s that I also have including one of my all-time favourite albums, Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds. Looking at the items for sale, quite a few of which I bought, were all sorts of things that I either like or also have. He and I seemed to have similar likes and interests. I bought a couple of his videos and he also had for sale the very same action cam that I use frequently as I have mentioned above, strapped to various parts of my bike.

I bought that one for a few pounds thinking that now, instead of doing separate runs for each new camera position, I can set up two action cams filming simultaneously! Steven Speilberg, eat your heart out!

Looking back, bumping into someone with similar likes to me wasn’t so strange at all. I mean, if people didn’t have similarities and shared ideas and experiences, human beings would have no connection to each other at all.

Some years ago I used to work with a fellow called Andy who became a great friend of mine. One dull night shift I decided to compile a list of my top 20 favourite singles but it expanded and expanded until it became my top 100. I showed it to Andy and he began compiling his own version. We compared notes and there was so much shared music that our compilations overlapped on. True, there were some areas of music that Andy liked but didn’t appeal to me but there was much more that we had in common. I was desperate for something that would be new to him and racked my brains for something he would never have heard of. I reached out for something obscure and from right in the back of my mind I remembered an artist Andy would never have heard of in a month of Sundays.’ Andy,’ I told him. ‘I’ve got one record that I really don’t think you’ll know. It’s by a Japanese percussionist.’

Andy thought for a moment and said ‘you don’t mean Stomu Yamashta!

image courtesy eil.com

Andy and I both roared with laughter. It’s not totally inconceivable that two middle aged men with similar likes should both have bought albums by the same obscure artist decades ago but the idea filled us both with a merriment so extreme we just howled with laughter. I remember one of our team mates coming over and asking what the joke was. When we had recovered sufficiently to tell her she looked back at us blankly and went back to her desk. Clearly she thought we were both bonkers.

No, we weren’t bonkers, just two middle aged men rejoicing in personal connections and a shared love of music. Wonder if Andy goes cycling with an action cam attached to his bike?


If you liked this post, why not try my book, Floating in Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information or click here for my amazon page.

Cycling, Action Cams and Making the Video!

One thing that concerns me in my new semi retirement is my health. I really am not an active person so I am always looking to stay healthy which is one reason why I have dug out my old bike from the depths of the garage. A quick hosing down and a spray on the vital points with WD40 and the bike doesn’t look so bad. I last used it regularly over twenty years ago when I had an early start in Warrington and I used to cycle from Newton Le Willows.

Since then I picked up a rather nice mountain bike, which was a joy to ride and served me well during my infrequent ‘get fit’ spells for years until one day last year when it fell prey to some light-fingered scoundrel who took a like to it and whisked it away.

Talking about bikes and cycling makes me think about the bikes I had as a teenager when cycling was pretty much my only means of transport. Me and my friends used to cycle all over, even ending up in the peak district on a few occasions, a fair old haul from our council estate in Manchester. My teenage cycling days came to an end one day in the 1970’s when I traded my bike to my brother in a swap.

My brother couldn’t actually ride a bike but that didn’t stop us from swapping. He might have wanted a particular record or something that I had so we would swap that for my bike and some weeks later usually swap back or I would pay him the cash equivalent. Now that’s where I felt I really had one over on Colin, my brother, because he couldn’t, and still can’t ride a bike! Yes, I was on to a winner there because I’d swap my bike for a record or book of his that I wanted and I had full use of the item while he couldn’t use the bike because he couldn’t ride it! After weeks of his moaning I usually had to pay him a cash sum or give him the item in question back.

One time he really got one over on me. I had swapped my bike for one of his records or something or other; I can’t really remember what. Anyway, one day I went to go out on my bike -OK, his bike- opened the shed and it was gone. What had happened? Had it been stolen, where was it?

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

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

He sold my bike!’ I yelled.

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

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

Anyway, back to the present day and another reason to start cycling is that a while ago when I was in the midst of a mad eBay buying session, I picked up, fairly cheaply, one of those action cams you have probably seen advertised. The same style of action cam that is responsible for so many videos of stunt cycles, skiing, surfing and so on that are featured regularly on Facebook and other social media sites.

My rather old bike looking good after a quick sprucing up!

The big problem with these kind of cameras, at least for me is this: Not only are they small, the buttons are small too, and the screen is small, and the indications on the screen -which mode you are in, battery time, record, play and so on, are even smaller, so setting things up is pretty hard especially for a man who uses reading glasses. As for setting the date and time -forget about it! Another thing is that when you switch on your camera and then set off biking, you, well me anyway, are not always sure if I pressed the right mode, if the two clicks for standby and then one for record actually registered so when I come back after a ride I sometimes get

  1. Nothing.
  2. A short video of me messing about with the camera and then it switching off just as I ride off.

The video of today is very much a tool of social media. Attention spans are short so documentaries are out and very much in is a short, straight to the point video. In fact, videos today have a lot in common with music videos which started life in the 1980’s when the idea of a short film or video to promote a music single evolved. Since then, a whole generation of MTV style cable and satellite channels have emerged showing nothing but music videos. No intros, titles or credits, just straight in with the song.

Michael Jackson’s video Thriller was a highlight of the music video genre. It won an award for best short film if I remember but my favourite video was the one where each paving stone lights up as Jackson, doing his wholly personal trademark style of dancing, steps on each one. Billie Jean, I do love that song.

Despite doing some video training in Manchester, some years before everything went digital, I have never worked in film or TV but that has not stopped me pestering TV and film companies with scripts and TV ideas. I still have hopes of one day having a movie made from one of my scripts. My favourite movie story is that of Sylvester Stallone who wrote the screenplay to the movie Rocky. The film studios snapped up the screenplay but there was a catch, Stallone wanted to play Rocky himself. The studios thought for a moment and made Stallone a counter offer. James Caan was a highly bankable and famous star and the producers preferred him to the unknown Sylvester Stallone. They offered him A million dollars if he would let Caan play the part. Stallone declined the offer, played the part himself, and the rest, as they say, is film history.

Anyway, back to my action cam. To be honest, I’m not even sure why I’m filming myself, although I did have a vague idea of trying yet another VLOG, this time one related to cycling. Actually, if I’m truthful, I just like messing about with cameras and video and pretending to be the film director I always wanted to be. Anyway, after two laps of the estate and about three mins of camera video, it was time for a cuppa. Then it was time to spend days, weeks even, fiddling about on Windows Movie Maker, cutting and splicing and so on until the program refused to make any more cuts. Perhaps there is a maximum movie length  or I don’t have enough mega bytes or whatever. (You can see clearly that although I pretend to be pretty tech savvy, I’m not really.)

Video edit one therefore was something of a disappointment but undeterred I started another one. This time I had another array of video footage all taken on a local bike ride. I did one trip using the camera mounted on my handle bars facing forward and then on the next run facing backwards showing me peddling away. Then I experimented with various camera positions. My action cam came with numerous items of kit for attaching cameras and one was a velcro band which I attached to my wrist which produced some dynamic shots of gear changing and braking, all of which add to the thrust of the finished edit.

Editing can be a slow process but as long as you have a clear result in mind it can be very satisfying. The main rule of editing for me, is always have a shot ready to cut to. On TV interviews they used to call this the ‘noddy’ shot. Interviews were filmed with only one camera so after the VIP had left the studio the interviewer would face the camera and repeat some of his questions and do some serious nodding so that in the final edit, when something was cut from the interviewee, the editor could always cut back to the noddy shot! My noddy shot was one from the camera mounted on my bike handlebars.

One big disappointment in making this video was than no matter which microphone I used, or no matter what tweaks I made on my computer, the recording volume seemed very low when I tried to narrate over my video. Eventually I did something really techy. I pulled my narration off my video, fed it into my Magix audio recorder, boosted the volume and put it back on the video. I have to admit I felt very pleased afterwards. Had I been a smoker I might have relaxed back in my chair and lit a big cigar feeling a little like David Lean, that master director and editor.

Actually, the sound still feels a little cranky but what the heck. A few captions and the addition of some royalty free music courtesy YouTube and all is looking much better. One day I might get a better microphone, a new computer, more megabytes and then, who knows what wonders I might bring to YouTube and the world of video?

Until then, click the video below for a quick trip around the block!

If you liked that video, have a gander at another edit, this one done using the online editing site http://www.animoto.com
They do say that no work of art is ever finished, only abandoned!

My Dad, Fletcher Christian and John Lennon

My Dad.

I can’t remember which year my Dad retired from Manchester Corporation. He died in 2000 and he was 72 so I suppose it must have been 1993 or earlier.

Every day prior to that he rose for work. He had porridge for breakfast, mounted his battered old bike and taking his shoulder bag with his box of sandwiches my mother had made for him and his brew can, he left for the ride to work. He did that every day of his working life and, come rain, snow or sunshine, he rode his bike work. In the mid seventies we moved to a new Manchester overspill estate and the result was a much longer journey for him.

He was a fit man, much fitter than me but sadly he and I wasted such a lot of time when we were younger, not getting on together. One day something tragic happened to me. Perhaps tragic is not the right word although it seemed so at the time. Anyway, I knew I would have to tell Mum and Dad. I couldn’t face Mum so I told Dad. Instead of getting the negative response I expected, my Dad was full of support and from that day on our friendship never looked back.

When he died, those wasted years always seemed to haunt me, but then, we were people from such different generations. Young people and their parents are so much closer these days in terms of cultural identity but for me and my Dad things were not like that. He came from a background where he was given an apple and an orange for Christmas whereas my brother and I, who received a sackful of presents on Christmas Day, were part of a new youth culture involving music, television and film that he struggled to understand.

Dad had served in the South Staffordshire regiment and I remember once my brother did some research and found the regiment had been merged with the North Staffordshire regiment in 1959 and later with other regiments to become the Mercian regiment. He told me that when he had called the regiment to enquire what kind of records were kept, they had asked him various questions. When my brother replied that Dad had done his national service as a private they said rather coldly that records of enlisted men were not kept!

Perhaps then it is only officers that matter to the record keepers of the army. I don’t know why but whenever I think of that phrase ‘enlisted men’, I tend to think of that old film with Clark Gable, Mutiny on the Bounty’ where press gangs roamed Portsmouth to press unwitting men into service with Her Majesty’s Navy.

DadHowever they were enlisted, they served and did their duty, just like my dad who was proud of his army service. He served in Northern Ireland, Germany and Hong Kong, and told me many stories about his army life. In fact not long ago when I posted a picture of him at work for the council highways department, one of his old work mates replied mentioning the stories he used to tell his workmates about his army sergeant major.

Fletcher Christian.

There have been so many versions of Mutiny on the Bounty but the one my Dad and I loved was the Clark Gable version. He saw it first time round at the cinema and I saw it on television. If you haven’t seen it, and I can’t for  moment believe you haven’t, it is the supposedly true story of Captain Bligh who so ill-treated his crew that they mutinied and set Bligh adrift on the high seas in a long-boat. They took the ship back to Tahiti, together with some natives and came across Pitcairn island. The island had been marked incorrectly on the British naval maps of the time so they decided to settle there. The ship, the HMS Bounty, was stripped of everything possible and then burned, stranding the mutineers on the island.

The settlement descended into conflict and jealousy with disputes between the mutineers and the natives. The natives resented being treated like slaves and there were further arguments involving the small group of women on the island. Fletcher Christian was reportedly murdered but there were constant rumours he had somehow returned to England.

Whether events happened as they have been portrayed in films is anyone’s guess. Was Bligh’s conduct of his men so poor that they were compelled to mutiny? Or was the truth that the pleasures shown to them on the Pacific island of Tahiti were too good to leave? I have to say that if I had been one of the mutineers, the thought of spending my days on a distant deserted island would have not appealed to me and the burning of the Bounty would have been a disaster, stranding the mutineers on Pitcairn. Fletcher Christian came from Cockermouth in Cumbria and thoughts of returning there must have plagued him or at least arisen in times of quiet consideration.

Sometimes, now I have reached the status of the semi retired, I have wondered about living abroad. France appeals to me greatly. I like the relaxed lifestyle, the wine, the approach to food and restaurants and the cheap property prices. However, my French is very much the French of my schooldays and I often wonder whether I would pine for a pint of Guinness or a Wetherspoons meal on curry night. Similar thoughts arise when I have considered Spain or Lanzarote. My Spanish consists of a few phrases, Buenos dios and la cuenta, por favor (may I have the bill please.) On the flip side many brits live happily in foreign climes and in some places, especially Spain and Lanzarote, English is freely spoken.

John Lennon.

One man who chose to leave his home and live abroad was John Lennon. Lennon, suffocated by the incredible fame of the Beatles, decided to relocate to New York. New Yorkers were not overwhelmed by his celebrity status and he found himself a large apartment in the impressive Dakota Building on the corner of Central Park West and 72nd Street. Lennon lived there from 1973 to 1980 when he was shot to death by a disturbed fan called Mark Chapman. Lennon lived with his wife Yoko Ono and son Sean and retired from public life during his son’s early years. His comeback album Double Fantasy was released in 1980 and Lennon even autographed a copy for his would be assassin just hours before Chapman shot him.

The last vinyl album I ever bought, and the last one that John Lennon made. Double Fantasy. £2.99, what a bargain.

I can imagine Lennon in his room in the Dakota, looking down on New York and reflecting how far he had come. Did he ever think of his home in Liverpool? I am sure he did. He corresponded regularly with his Aunt Mimi who brought him up at their home, Mendips, in Liverpool.

Years ago when I used to work in Liverpool I visited his childhood home. I had always imagined Lennon came from a rough council house background but his former home is in Woolton, a pleasant leafy suburb of Liverpool with semi detached private houses and some rather nice pubs and shops. Not quite what I had expected.

One of the reasons that John Lennon came to mind for the end of this post is that over on Twitter where I spend a lot of time plugging this blog and my book, I’ve been running out of ideas for Tweets. Then I started tweeting a lot of ‘quote’ Tweets, you know the sort of thing I mean, a picture of some celebrity alongside a famous quote from them. I started with writers and various famous people like Einstein and Churchill, then I moved onto musicians like Bob Dylan and eventually John Lennon. Lennon appeared to be a popular choice and his quotes got a high percentage of likes and retweets bringing the words of John Lennon (and my web page) to new readers. My favourite was this one, one I hadn’t even heard of before but I liked it so much I’m thinking of having it as my motto.

Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.


If you liked this post, why not try my book, Floating in Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

A Monkey, A French Canal Barge and A Million Pound Cheque.

The French Canal Barge.

Money, as they say, makes the world go round. We work day after day to bring home the money so we can pay for our home, our cars, and all the essentials we need and hopefully have something left over for a little luxury. A night out in the pub or a meal at a restaurant. A holiday, a new TV, or even a bigger and better home.

Just lately, I feel fairly flush in the financial department because I’ve joined the ranks of the semi-retired and the lump sum from my pension is starting to burn a hole in my pocket. The problem with coming into money is that for someone like me, I don’t really know how to spend it. I don’t want to waste it and I certainly don’t want to fritter it away. I could do with a new car but a few years down the road my investment will surely have reduced in price, just like all cars do. My present motor, my lovely Renault Megane convertible cost a considerable sum a few years back but now . . . The other day I typed all my car details into the website webuyanycar.com only to be confronted with the measly offer of £398!

Well, thanks for the offer but I think you can keep your £398 and I’ll hang on to my car for a while longer. In fact I fully intend to keep driving it until the scrapyard beckons.

I often wonder what I would do if I won the lottery. Not long ago I received an e-mail from the lottery people heralding good news and urging me to check my ticket. Good job I did because the £3.20 winnings came in pretty handy that weekend enabling me to buy almost a full round of drinks. So what would I do with a really big win? Well, a new car would be nice. Another convertible perhaps or something more in the way of a 4X4? I’ve always fancied one of those Nissan Navara pick-up style motors. I’ve always thought it would be handy for travelling through France – plenty of room to whip a few wine boxes in the back ready for supping back in the UK. I did think of test driving one a while ago but when I climbed into the seat the driving position was not for me, not to my taste at all but I’m confident I could find an appropriate motor, given time.

Next on my purchase list would be a nice house and perhaps a holiday home in France, somewhere towards the south of the country because I really don’t like the cold. Perhaps one of those large French canal barges might suit. I could spend the summer in the lush Loire then chug serenely south when the weather cooled keeping an eye out for suitable bars and bistros along the way. A change of blog might be in order. Letters from an Unknown Diner sounds pretty good!

A million pounds would be a nice tidy sum but just thinking about that figure reminds of a time many years ago when I came into close contact with that very sum.

The Million Pound Cheque.

A long time ago when I was a teenager one of my very first jobs was as an accounts clerk. One day there was the hum of excitement in the office and my colleagues and I were advised of the imminent arrival of a £1 million cheque.  As I was only a mere teenage accounts clerk,  I was running low on the pecking order to see this cheque, although it was actually my job to process it as I did with all the other cheques that came into the department. In due course, one of the very senior managers came down with the cheque and with great reverence it was handed to my boss Mr Ross. Mr Ross perused the cheque for a while along with a small clique of other managers and then conveyed it to the senior clerk, Mr Elliott. After marvelling at this great artefact for a few moments, he then passed the cheque to me. Numerous staff members from our and neighbouring departments also came to take a peek at this financial wonder which I believe, was the result of the company either selling off our sister company, Federated Assurance, or doing some fabulous property deal.

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

Anyway, getting back to the cheque, it was actually not really that impressive. It was not printed but hand written in a very scrawling, looping, and altogether unreadable hand and it occurred to me that the payee, Refuge Assurance Company limited, could quite easily be changed to Stephen Higgins Esquire had there been some  tippex handy. As this was an accounts department you might think we had a great deal of tippex, however tippex was completely Verboten.  Yes tippex was never used, and in the event of a mistake being made, the procedure was to strike a line through the incorrect number, sign your name, date it and then add the correct figure.

The Monkey.

One summer we employed a young lad called Jonathan, fresh from university who had a degree in accounting under his belt and was rumoured by all and sundry to be a candidate for future management. Our boss, Mr Ross, was highly impressed by him and seemed to take every opportunity to praise his achievements to me, the proud possessor of four O’ levels. Personally I thought Jonathon was a bit of a, how can I put this? Plonker, is probably the word I am searching for. Yes, Jonathan was something of a plonker who appeared to me to be easily bored.

One day Mr Ross approached me and asked, after showing me the ledger, was this my handwriting? I replied no, it wasn’t. Mr Ross then asked me what I made of some figures at the bottom of the page. I replied that I wasn’t sure although a clear figure was apparent and by figure I don’t mean a numerical figure but something more artistic.  Jonathan our new clerk was then asked about the figures. He took a rather long glance at the ledger, thought about it for a while, and then told Mr Ross that the figure in question was in fact a monkey.

A monkey? replied Mr Ross. I say replied, although this is really a quite inadequate word. It would have been more appropriate to say Mr Ross screeched or howled and the phrase ‘a monkey’ came out in a very distorted, even agonised way. Anyway, after some further thought, Jonathan confirmed he was responsible for the monkey. It was actually quite a good representation of a monkey and it looked quite at home among the accounting and various totals and sub totals. It turned out that in a rather quiet moment in the office Jonathan had idly decided to draw a monkey on the ledger for some reason. I too, in quieter moments sometimes used to do drawings or write poetry and stories. I tended to use scrap paper or a notebook and perhaps that is why I managed to hang onto to my job somewhat longer than Jonathan hung on to his, despite me not being a university graduate.

That, as you can easily imagine, turned out to be Jonathan’s last day on the job and he was never seen again, although any time I happen to be looking at art and come across something to do with monkeys, I always wonder whether he made his mark in accounting or the art world.


If you enjoyed this post, why not try my book Floating in Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Things to do when you’re Semi-Retired

Reading.

Yes, I don’t know about you but I have quite a lot of books and quite a few of them are big heavy hardback volumes, totally unsuited to popping in your bag to read at work or taking on holiday. Semi retirement means this is the chance for me to get stuck into William L. Shirer’s History of the Third Reich or the Life and Art of Charlie Chaplin by David Robinson. Yes, all those big chunky hardback books I’ve collected over the years and never read, I can now get stuck into.

Walking.

Exercise is important as we all know and a great way to burn off those extra calories is to just walk. Here in lovely St Annes in Lancashire it’s so nice to walk down to the beach and enjoy the sea and the breeze. Yesterday after walking for about thirty minutes my right knee became sore, clearly not used to this unexpected workout. Happily, on the seafront there are plenty of seats for those old people, like me, who sit and watch the sea. I always thought those old guys who sit and watch the sea were bored. Of course not, they just stopped to rest their sore knees!

TV.

Hey don’t discount the television. Yes there is loads of tripe on TV these days, especially since the advent of reality TV. Someone, somewhere must be watching things like The Only Way is Essex although personally I think the producers are just using new technology to screw with the viewing figures so that the BBC will keep renewing the series! Anyway, with all these extra channels the dedicated couch potato can always find something worth watching. Take full advantage of your hard drive recorder and get those classic movies and TV series from the 60’s and 70’s recorded so when you are faced with a barrage of the Jeremy Kyle Show, The Real Housewives of Orange County, Judge Rinder, Made in Chelsea and other TV delicacies, rebel and crank up The Persuaders, The Prisoner, The Saint or a good old Carry On film! It’s well worth reviewing the movie output for the coming TV week because all manner of hidden gems can pop up unexpectedly on all sorts of oddball channels. I recently recorded the splendid and not often seen movie The Magic Box starring Robert Donat as William Freize-Greene, one of the early cinema pioneers. Not something you will find on Film Four at prime viewing time.

Nights out.

Yes but what about work the following day? What the heck, now I’ve got six days off I can easily go for nights out during the week. I can even spend an afternoon in Wetherspoons drinking and putting the world to rights with some other old guys, many of whom are well versed in the arts of afternoon boozing!

Writing that next novel.

Yes, writing that next novel. Might have to take a back seat for a while. What with all this walking, reading, and boozing, I’m finding myself a little short of time!

Make yet another Video about Floating in Space.

Hey, there’s always time for another Floating in Space video!

 

If you enjoyed this post why not try my book Floating in Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information!

Manchester, Metrolink and the Saga of a Mobile Phone

The other day I was staying at my Mum’s house in Manchester. It’s always nice to be back in the old home town. I was meeting my brother in the city centre and he advised me the best way to get there was by using the Metrolink, Manchester’s tram service.

Now, from my Mum’s place to Manchester city centre it takes about twenty to thirty minutes depending on traffic. The bus which comes down her road takes nearly an hour, why? Because it takes in a tour of various small estates within the larger housing estate of Wythenshawe, then takes another tour around Sharston and Northenden, eventually ending up in Piccadilly.

The tram is no quicker. It too takes the passenger on a tour of Wythenshawe before passing through Chorlton and Trafford and finally ending up in Manchester.

Cornbrook is a place I’ve never heard of before. It’s a remote tram staging post at the outskirts of the city centre. It looks like a vast industrial area where in the recent past, passengers from Manchester airport have to change to get to the city centre. Metrolink have done a lot of advertising recently telling the public that we no longer have to change at Cornbrook for the city centre: Wrong! You can go a stop further to Deansgate, the very edge of the city  but if you want to go to the heart of the city, Piccadilly for instance, you still have to change trams so sorry Metrolink, your publicity is just not true!

I should add that there is a tram every few minutes so it’s not a great inconvenience to have to change but it’s still rather annoying because the trams are always pretty packed. They vary from absolutely jam-packed to pretty busy and it makes you wonder where all these people come from. Are the buses all now running empty? Are there hundreds of cars left at home or have a great load of travelling public suddenly appeared from nowhere? I don’t know but the trams are certainly packing them in.

One other observation about the trams: It is a very impersonal way of travelling. There are no conductors and the driver is shut away in his cab. The passengers are all locked into their smartphones, many with earplugs further blocking out the outside world and passengers have to buy their tickets from a machine by the station platforms.

Anyway, it was nice to be in Manchester again. My brother and I were due to shoot some video of me blathering on about my book, Floating in Space, and once again urging the public to buy it. He however had found a mobile phone, a rather nice Samsung device costing I would guess between 150 to 200 pounds. He went to drop it in at Wythenshawe police station, a new building erected in the last few years. It is pretty big so I assume the local constabulary are expecting a lot of business. Anyway when he went round it was closed, as was another police station he tried. He called the police on the non emergency number but the officer who answered urged my brother to go to the station!

A little frustrated he had brought the phone with him to Manchester and I said we could go to the police station near to St Peter’s square and relax afterwards with a drink in the old pub the Abercromby, a watering house I had not visited in years. Alas, the cop shop was closed down and looked ready for demolition, no doubt ready to make way for a brand new futuristic office block which as we know are in short supply these days, so we took refuge in the pub.

The Abercromby, actually the Sir Ralph Abercromby was one of those pubs that is a little like stepping into a time capsule. The decor was authentic seventies with lots of stained dark wood and leather seats and they served a decent pint. I later read on the internet that it was the model for the pub in the TV show Life on Mars. The former footballer turned property developer Gary Neville apparently wants to knock down not only the pub but an entire block in the area to build two skyscrapers and a hotel. The fact that the pub dates back to the early 19th Century and is the only structure remaining from St Peter’s Field, site of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre clearly means nothing to him or to the council planners.

The mobile phone was locked so we were unable to get access to any stored numbers and we also noticed it was set to silent so it wasn’t easy to pick up incoming calls. Two calls came and went while we chatted, both of us too slow to pick up the call. Eventually my brother answered a call from the owner, arranged to meet him and hand over the mobile. That sorted, we decided to get on with our video shoot.

There was another camera crew in our chosen location in St Peter’s Square. They had an impressive looking camera and tripod but we found ourselves a spot away from them and with my mobile phone sized video camera, hand-held by my brother, we set to work. The result was something vaguely similar to other videos I have made but this time I tried to evoke the spirit of the 1970’s by mentioning people , music and films from the time. For instance, in 1977 (the year Floating in Space is set) the Prime Minister was James Callaghan, the US President was Jimmy Carter, a hit album from Fleetwood Mac was Rumours and so on. I’ll post the result after the usual editing process. (I edit in a way similar to George Stevens, the director of Giant with James Dean and Shane starring Alan Ladd to name but two of his classic movies. I review all my footage, all fifteen minutes of it, and take my time with the final cut. Any similarity to George Steven’s work will probably not be evident!)

The fellow who had lost his mobile duly arrived to meet my brother, said thanks and took away his phone. Now I may sound a little churlish here but my brother had saved the man a good £150 to £200. He had made numerous efforts to hand the phone to the police and had politely resisted my outrageous but not totally serious suggestion to keep the phone for himself. In a similar situation I think I might have offered £10 or even a fiver to the finder of my lost phone for his honesty and efforts.

No such luck on this occasion so whoever you are Mr Recently Reunited with your Mobile Phone -shame on you!


Floating in Space is available from Amazon.co.uk Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

My Mum, the Microwave, and Old Age.

quotescover-jpg-95I wanted to write a post about age and getting older and then I thought to myself, am I the right person to write this?  Because of course, I’m only . . . Well, now I mention it I’m actually sixty, yes, sixty years old. Sometimes it’s hard to get my head round that fact because I don’t feel sixty. Well, not inside anyway. On the outside it’s another matter.

You may have seen some of my videos on this site; ones where I talk to the camera and try to encourage people to buy my book. The other week I thought that perhaps it’s time to shoot a few new ones. This time I started with my iPad thinking how much easier it would be. I’ve got a special iPad mounting for my tripod and I can set up the shot easily with the self-facing camera. No need for endless test shots to get the framing right. Anyway, it wasn’t as easy as I had thought because outside on a sunny day it’s hard to see your iPad screen.

Back indoors to check out the finished result and my first thought was what is this? Who is that old guy on the screen? Maybe I need to get down to the gym and get myself toned up a little because for the first time I feel like I really do look my age. So, I may not feel that old on the inside, apart from a few aches and pains in my back but on the outside it’s clearly a different story.

Anyway, no more filming that day but then again, perhaps it was the light. Yes and I have just had a rather short haircut. On a better day I’d probably look more like my normal self. Yes, that must be it!

Still, if I have problems getting to grips with my age, I wonder what it is like for my Mum?

Over forty years ago, when I was a teenager my Mother and I used to have conversations like this:

ME: (Shouting from the top of the stairs) Mum, where are my jeans? (Shouted with an element of frustration.)

MUM: (Shouting from the kitchen where she is either cooking, cleaning or ironing.) Which jeans do you mean? The faded blue ones or the dark blue ones?

ME: (Slightly taken aback, of course I’ve got two pairs, which ones did I mean?) The faded blue ones!

MUM: They are on a hanger in your wardrobe, on the right hand side, next to the black cord trousers. (That son of mine couldn’t find the trousers if they were hanging in front of his face!) The dark blue ones are in a pile waiting to be ironed which I can’t do now because I’m BUSY!

Fast forward forty years and more to 2017. My Mum is 87 years old and we still have similar conversations; only nowadays they go like this:

ME: Have you seen my green top?

MUM: Green top? What green top? I’ve not seen a green top here.

ME: It’s the one I always wear. (I don’t have a lot of clothes at my Mum’s, just a couple of tops, the green one for when it’s warm and the beige one for when it’s cold.)

MUM: No, never seen a green top.

Just then I realised how hot it was in my Mum’s house. I was really sweating so I turned off the heating and dropped the fire down a few notches. OK, it is winter but it wasn’t that cold outside. Anyway, back to the green top search.

I took a look in the washing basket. Not there: Nothing in the washer itself. There is a pile of stuff, mainly towels and things on a small chair by the washer and there I find the green top. Not only that but there is a bag of onions from when we went shopping the other day and I recall the conversation from a few days later when I said ‘where did you put the onions?’ Mum answered that we didn’t have any and we’ll get some next time we go shopping. Yes, there they are, those same onions, languishing, for some reason in a pile of towels.

Just over twelve months ago my Mum was reasonably fit and active. I used to visit her and I’d usually stay for a couple of nights. She always had the two work shirts that I keep at her house ready for me, washed and hung up and she’d usually ask me if I wanted anything in particular for my dinner. I’d tell her either what I fancied, or whatever she had in mind would be fine. I’d usually ask if she want me to get any shopping in, to which she would always say, ‘No. When I can’t get to the shops myself I’m finished.’

In the past she used to trundle off to the shops pushing a little trolley thing that Liz found for her in a house clearance. It’s just a set of handlebars and some wheels with a space to hold your shopping, and it’s good to lean on while you walk. Mum used to potter away trundling ever so slowly with her trolley but she’d take her time, get her shopping and return.

Then the day came early last year when her legs started to fail due to her arthritis and she couldn’t get to the shops. Now, either my brother will do her shopping, or me. When I’m on my way I’ll call her and ask ‘What do you need?’ Mum will usually reply bread, milk and anything I want for myself so I’ll get the requested items and anything else I can think of for our dinner.

Mum’s memory is a little hit and miss these days too because when I arrived there last week, duly laden with bread, milk and other things she had asked me to bring, my brother arrived soon afterwards. He had with him exactly the same food order. Mum had asked us both to bring the same things!

It was also rather hot so I turned the fire down and reset the thermostat to something reasonable. Later, when I was getting myself sorted for work the next day I asked ‘Mum, where are my blue work shirts?’ My Mum replied ‘You didn’t leave any shirts. There are no blue shirts here.’ After a short dispute in which she insisted I had no shirts at her house I went off for a search and I found the shirts hanging up in her wardrobe!

When I came down the stairs to tell her the first thing she said was ‘It’s a little chilly, I’d better put the heating on!’

Not so long ago I bought Mum a microwave for Christmas. A microwave is an indispensable item in a modern kitchen. Microwave meals are easily sorted in a few minutes and items from the freezer are quickly defrosted.  I told Mum how to use it and showed her some simple things like how to heat a tub of baked beans in a few minutes. Simple stuff like that.

Her favourite breakfast item is porridge. I explained how easy microwaved porridge can be. Next time I was shopping I picked up a box of those little sachets of oats, showed her how to place them in a bowl, add milk and two minutes later, there is your porridge.

A few days later, I asked her how she was going on with the porridge sachets. She said they were perfect, and told me how easy it was to empty one into a pan, add milk and stir and . . well, a few minutes later, perfect porridge!

You have to laugh, otherwise you’d cry.


If you liked this post, why not try my book, Floating in Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information or watch the video below:

 

 

 

Christmas TV, Quiz Shows and the Hand of Friendship

card_232fd1b24b_oTV this Christmas wasn’t particularly great but I did watch a few things. One film I was looking forward to watching was the Lady in the Van, a mostly true story about a bag lady, in a van, who came to live outside playwright Alan Bennett’s home in London. Bennett takes pity on the lady and lets her move the van into his drive when parking restrictions force her to relocate. He combines her story with that of his relationship with his mother but the odd thing about the film is that Bennett gives himself two personas, one Alan Bennett the writer and the other Alan Bennett who is experiencing all these events. The two even confer together. This did confuse me at first but I eventually worked it out. Not a brilliant film but original.

On Boxing day I contrived to watch two films together, not by recording one and watching the other later as you might think but simply by flicking over between the two channels at an appropriate moment. Uncle Buck is one of those rubbish formulaic American films that I have to describe as not only a load of old tosh but also a rather fun film. Sometimes bad is good, if you know what I mean. Uncle Buck is about an American family who need an emergency babysitter, well, family sitter, for a few days. They find the only option is the unreliable out of work brother played by John Candy. He arrives in his old car pumping out smoke and oil. He charms the younger kids but the teenage daughter is something of a problem. I found myself a little bored part way through so it was time for a quick switch over to watch that classic John Ford western The Searchers. If you have never seen this movie, which I cannot for a moment believe, it’s about settlers in the old west who find their daughter has been taken by Indians after a raid. John Wayne and his part Indian nephew played by Jeffrey Hunter, start tracking the Indians across the west and it is only after many years that they find themselves face to face with Scar, the Indian chief, and their long-lost sister and niece Debbie, played by a young Natalie Wood.

I missed a huge chunk of Uncle Buck because I became too interested in The Searchers but I managed to tune in at the end where Uncle Buck sorts out ‘Bug’ the teenage girl’s cheating boyfriend and in doing so makes friends with the girl. Uncle Buck is a great film to watch when you’re tired and not really paying attention and I always get the feeling it was written by a sort of committee of writers. (Probably the same committee that wrote Home Alone and Three Men and a Baby and so on.) I remember once seeing a documentary about the US sitcom Friends. The show is not one of my favourite programmes but in the documentary they showed how Friends was recorded in front of a live audience. If a bit of business didn’t quite work out, the recording was stopped while a whole bunch of writers and producers had a chat about things. Then a new line or even a section of dialogue was inserted or some of the action was changed. That was then run past the live audience. If it still wasn’t quite right the laughter track was updated to fill in. Writing by committee, interesting. .

Another film I watched was The Secret Life of Walter Mitty starring Ben Stiller as the title character. Mitty was actually a pretty good film. I missed a section in the middle when I turned over to watch a bit of Uncle Buck on plus 1 that I had missed earlier but it was a well-produced film, not hilarious but interesting. I did come away from the film though wondering whether the magazine ‘Life’ had paid to be featured in the film (a prime example of product placement) or whether the movie producers paid Life for the use of the magazine in the film.

Dr Who was relegated to the TV recorder but Liz and I watched our favourite soap Coronation Street on Christmas day. Hey, we’re northern people and Corrie is our representation in the TV world. Whilst on the subject of the north in the media I have to say one of the attractions of Coronation Street is seeing and hearing people talk the way I talk and do the things I do and live in a place I was brought up in. Certain ‘northern’ films like Educating Rita annoy me so much. It’s supposed to be set in Liverpool although the only authentic scouse accent is that of Julie Walters. Her screen husband has some kind of bland accent that’s a cross between a brummie and something else and all around are various southern and northern brogues all mixed together. I suppose the producers or director were from London and assumed that those of us up here in the ‘north’ would all understand it. Actually, that confusion of accents in the film destroys its credibility. I believe it was shot in Ireland so why not make everyone Irish? Surely a better solution to the mish-mash of accents that ruin the film. OK rant over. Back to Christmas.

I had to work on Boxing day but the drive to work was a real pleasure. I leave home at 5am to get to work in time for my shift at six and generally, the M6  is pretty busy at that time.  I find these days that the rush hour starts very early and more and more people are travelling further to their places of work. Boxing Day though was a different story, just me and a few others travelling to work.

SpitfireOn Wednesday I changed to the night shift and spent a few hours during the day with Harry and Theo, Liz’s grandsons. We went out to the park and then had a drive down to the ‘front’ in St Annes. Many holiday towns seem to look a little forlorn out of the holiday season. A prime example is Blackpool, a few miles further up the road. It looks like a tired film set waiting for the actors and cameramen to return and brighten it up again. St Annes though is a lovely, friendly town that looks good to me whatever the season. Along the front we passed the Spitfire aircraft, mounted on a tall plinth looking just like it was taking off over the sand. The other day on a TV quiz show one of the questions concerned the Spitfire which must surely have a prime place in the annals of British history. This icon of the skies was the backbone of the RAF in the dark days of 1940 and the lady on the Chase  or Tipping Point or whatever quiz it was, who had never heard of a Spitfire, was the brunt of a shower of abuse which I directed at her through the medium of my TV screen. Never heard of a Spitfire? What was she even doing on a quiz show?

Despite this being the season of goodwill it is still saddening to see images of the war in Syria on the TV news. I sometimes wonder what would happen if just one soldier would put down his rifle and hold out his hand in friendship. Would it catch on? Imagine ten soldiers, then twenty, then a hundred, then thousands following suit until an unstoppable wave of peace and fellowship begins to spread. Imagine a huge wave of harmony circulating like some oddball YouTube video going viral all around the world shaming all those who want war and strife.

One last thought about that hand of friendship. My old dad was a man who left school at fourteen with not much in the way of education. He worked on farms in the then rural area of Wythenshawe where I was brought up. He was a great reader though and whenever he started a new book he would prepare a cardboard bookmark, fashioned out of a cereal box or whatever came to hand and on it he would write down any word he came across in the book that he didn’t know. Then he would look up that word and write down the definition in his notebook. He added all sorts of things to that book. Words, phrases, lines of poetry, names of famous people and so on. One of the quotations he noted was this: A closed fist is a closed mind. An open hand is an open mind.

All I need now is a quiet day to watch Eight Days a Week, the Beatles movie directed by Ron Howard that Liz gave me for Christmas and a spare week to watch the bumper Doctor Who DVD bundle that I won on e-Bay the other day.

Happy Christmas and all the best for 2017!


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

Christmas and why women should do the cleaning!

quotescover-jpg-61Men are just not cut out for cleaning. OK, it’s a fact. I’m not being sexist or anything but there it is, just a cold hard fact. It’s just not in the male make up. Women are far better qualified to do the job. Here’s an example. I remember one far off Christmas spent with my former wife in our small home in Newton Le Willows. I had some time owing me so I had taken a few days off after Christmas. It had not been a great Christmas as it was the first one since my wife’s mother had died and she had sadly put the previous year’s Christmas card from her mother in pride of place right on the top of the TV.

Anyway, everyone was getting used to going back to work and there was me, who had worked during Christmas, knackered, worn out and ready for a break. I spent one day with my brother having a nice post-Christmas drink in Manchester and the next day I was relaxing, catching up on some TV of the type hated by my wife, yes, sci fi stuff, Star Trek, black and white films and so on and then a revelation came to me. What if I took down the decorations, got rid of the tree, chucked out the rubbish? There were piles of wrapping paper and empty bottles about and so on. I could actually come out of this looking good for once. Anyway, there and then I just got stuck straight in. I took the tree down, packed away all the ornaments and decorations and put the box back in the loft. The tree was chopped up and placed in the correct bin, the green one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, that was that, my good deed had backfired and there was I, thinking I had helped but the fact of the matter is I hadn’t helped at all. I should have just left the tidying up to her then she could have moaned at me for sitting on my behind watching TV all day and everything would have been OK and the card that was a tangible connection to her late mum at Christmas would have been safe and free from tomato soup stains.

Anyway, think on male readers. If you are considering cleaning up over Christmas, think again!


If you liked this post, why not consider buying my book? Click the links at the top of the page for more information. Thanks for looking in and have a great Christmas!