Dealing with that Corporate Event.

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, welcome to the world of the corporate event.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Box 1: Urgent and Important

Box 2: Important but not urgent

Box 3: Urgent but not important.

Box 4: Neither urgent nor important.

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

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

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

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

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


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

A Week that was Too Good to be Forgotten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

A Letter to my Younger Self

Steve, how are you? I’m just trying to visualise myself when I was 16. Yes, you’re ok. I know how hard things are for you just now, dealing with that overpowering shyness that has dogged you for so long and will continue to hold you back for a very long time.

What can I tell you, what do you need to know?

Well, here a few things that might be important to you.

It’s too late to tell you now that choosing metalwork over art at school was a big, big mistake. You hated metalwork I know and only chose it because of a crazy idea that it might just somehow help you get into motorsport. Wrong. It didn’t and it never would. You couldn’t drive when you were 16 and neither could your Dad. You’d probably be interested to know that the big stars of the future in motorsport were all helped by their fathers. Lewis Hamilton and Jensen Button, names that won’t mean much to you now but they became F1 stars because their fathers loved motorsport and started their sons off in go-karting and up through the racing levels until they reached the giddy heights of F1.

You should have stuck to art because you loved it and you were good at it. Remember all those times when Mr Markland would point out your painting or collage and show it to all the other pupils and comment on how good it was? Remember how good that felt? Remember too that time when you saw Mr Markland in the corridor and he told you that you were heading the wrong way to the new art room and you answered that you were doing metalwork instead. He never spoke to you again. That hurt, I know.

Anyway, at 16 it’s too late to rectify that, well, not too late. Your Dad wanted you to go on to college; you could have studied art there.

Why not give it a go Steve? I know, it would all be so new with strange places and new people but it might be worth it.

Here’s another thing. Remember when you told the careers teacher you wanted to be a journalist and he got you a job interview –at Barclays bank?

Mr Sheriff, the careers teacher said you had no chance at the Manchester evening news but what about other papers? There used to be a local one if I remember, that might have been a possibility. Did you ever think of trying for a job as a junior reporter? Maybe you could have even tried to study journalism at college. You were the top of the class in English if you remember.

Anyway, don’t think that people like Mr Sherriff have all the answers. They don’t and their advice isn’t always good. Some people just want to do the absolute minimum of work in their job and then get off for home as soon as possible. Others care about their jobs and their work and someone a little more dedicated might have listened more and given you better advice.

Try to focus on what you really want to do Steve.

Think about your job, well your future job. A job takes up so much of your time, so much of your life, it might be worth spending some time, a lot of time in fact, working out what you want to do and what you want to be involved in. At various times you wanted to work in motorsport, be a journalist, a screenwriter and a film director. Sit down and have a serious word with yourself Steve and think on this; you know that you love writing, you always have, even just for the personal pleasure of crafting a piece of writing work so maybe journalism was the job for you after all.

I’ve had some dreadful jobs and for some crazy reason I stayed far too long working for the bus company because I hadn’t got a clue how to get out of that job, how I could improve myself and go and try to do something that I would really enjoy. In a word Steve, focus. Focus and stop daydreaming and work out what you really want to do and go for it.

Oh and by the way Steve, get all that hair tidied up!

One final thing: Build a few bridges with your Dad. You and he are from different generations, different backgrounds. Make a few adjustments and try to get on with him because when he’s gone you’ll regret all that wasted time when you didn’t get on together.

One final word about your Mum. She’s very fond of saying ‘never mind’ but sometimes you should mind and mind so much that you work hard to do better and better until you get the job you want and the life you want.

One last thing, one day you might just think it is OK to fill your car’s leaky radiator with tap water on a cold and frozen New Year’s Eve just so you can get to a party. I know you really thought your car would be OK, believe me, it won’t and a little antifreeze will save you a hell of a lot of money!


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.

Cars and A Not So Worldwide Web

I’m probably pushed to tell you the registration number of my current car but the registration of my very first car is still firmly anchored in my old memory bank.  It was PDB 71M, A Bond Bug, and for those of you who don’t know, a Bond Bug was a sporty little Reliant three wheeler car and I bought one because I failed my driving test twice and I could drive the Bug on my motorbike licence.

It was actually a pretty eye catching car for a three wheeler. No doors but the roof lifted up to gain access and the side windows were plastic held on by Velcro. I always remember bringing it home and showing it off to my family with a certain amount of pride and my Dad looking at it and saying “How are we all going to get into that?” Perhaps he thought I was going to take us all away for a holiday!

Still, we had some nice times, me and the Bond Bug but then one cold and snowy Christmas I decided to chance going out to a Christmas party in the car even though it was losing coolant. I topped it up with water and went off for a night of Christmas cheer. I walked home sensibly I might add, but when I returned the next day I found that the car had frozen overnight and it ended up having to have an engine rebuild. That was a pretty expensive night out! When I eventually  passed my driving test I got myself a proper car.

The other day I was tapping away on my laptop with the TV on in the background and I heard someone during a TV interview say that he wanted cars, personal cars as we know them, to be phased out in the next 10 years! Whoa! What was that? I grabbed the TV remote to rewind but accidentally switched off the TV and when I powered it up again the TV channel and the interviewee had disapeared. I don’t  know who that guy was but he was on cloud cuckoo land if he really thought it was feasible to take away motor cars from the general public.

The motor car is probably one of the great status symbols of our time and also one of those things that give us unprecedented freedom, certainly compared to our ancestors. Turn the clock back to the 1950s: If people wanted to get out and about and enjoy the great outdoors on a bank holiday the only way to travel was by bus or train. Yes, public transport was crammed with people in those days, all on their way to enjoy the great British seaside destinations.

Today, we are free of all those past restrictions, no waiting for trains or buses. It’s just a simple matter to pop outside, start up the motor and you’re off. The only restriction is probably traffic congestion. How many of us spend our bank holidays stuck in some traffic jam that clogs up the roads to the holiday hotspots? Either way, if that unknown politician really thinks the private motor car can be pushed aside he is in for a rude awakening.

I changed my car this week. I was sad to see my old car go because, well I’ve always liked it. It’s a very comfortable car, the reclining seat suited me very well and I had wanted a convertible car for a long time. It was so lovely in the summer to sit back, press a button and see the roof fold back into the boot. Air conditioning? Who needs it when your roof comes off!

Bye old car!

What is really annoying is that my 2006 car, for which I paid something in the region of £6000 some years back, 2011 I think, is now, according to webuyanycar.com, worth the paltry sum of £260!

To be fair, it does have a lot of mileage under the bonnet, 140,000 miles to be exact.

I did wonder about changing the car, then I thought why bother, why not wait until it finally dies the death. True, the ride had become a little rougher than usual but after a flat caused me to sort out a new tyre, the ride became smooth once again. I wavered then, should I change cars?

Then the passenger window jammed and not long after the boot jammed. I couldn’t free the window but found that the boot could be opened with the key, a physical key contained within the car’s key card. Opening the boot in this way was a real pain in the neck as the keyhole was located under the boot and sometimes, especially in the dark, it was hard to get the key in the slot. On one occasion I opened up the key card and out popped the battery so I had to rummage about under the car in the dark to find it.

Anyway, another car caught my fancy being sold by a friend at a very reasonable price. Normally I tend to stick with vehicles from a dealer because as I know very little about cars and anything mechanical, I like to buy something with a warranty and someone who will take away my old vehicle.

This new purchase meant I had to sell my trusty old motor myself so this being 2019 I nipped outside, took a few pictures on my mobile phone and put a short advert on Facebook. I sold the car the same day, not for a great price but much more than webuyanycar were offering!

All I had to do then was clear out my stack of personal stuff from the car, endless boxes of CDs, waterproof jackets, wellies and all sorts of other stuff I didn’t even know I was carrying.

There was one thing I left behind. Secreted somewhere in the car I was sure was a member of the spider family. He was a pretty active fellow, spending a lot of his spare time spinning a web across my driver’s mirror. I was sure he would continue to do a sterling job in that respect for the new owner.

Presently, that same day, the new owner arrived. She was actually a foreign lady although she arrived with an entourage of friends who, it seemed to me, were the real owners. They took a quick glance at the car and seemed happy. They were a little surprised to find the boot required a key but I did mention that in the advert. They were also concerned about the mileage and the seized window but again, I had mentioned that in the ad.

The cash was handed over and off my little car went. Hope they take care of it.

The owner of my new car was away for the weekend but she had left the keys and log book for me.

This being 2019 I was able to tax and insure my car online although I wasn’t too happy about the insurance. I can’t ever remember an insurer charging me to change my insurance to a new car. There has always been something to pay of course as usually I’ve moved up to a better, newer and more expensive car but a transfer fee? Well, I’m afraid I may be changing insurers when that policy comes up for renewal.

The next day I picked up my new car and settled into it. The boxes of CDs were transferred over, as well as the wellies and waterproofs and so on.

The great thing about my new car is that it can handle 5 CDs at once and when you are in CD mode the next CD plays as the last one finishes.

Ages ago I compiled my top 100 all-time favourite tracks so I wonder now if I could get all 100 on 5 CDs and play them back to back? 20 tracks on each CD, is that feasible? Oh well, time to get the laptop out and give it a try.

Once I had got my CDs set up I settled back and sorted out my seat and made myself familiar with all the controls. The cigarette lighter/charger was hard to find but a glance through the instruction book and there it was.

A few days later I was ready to take my new motor on its first trip to work. The CDs were all ready, I had fuelled up the previous day. I started the engine, slipped the lever into first gear and checked the mirror. What was this? On my wing mirror was a large and intricate spider’s web!

Our local spider was clearly reluctant to leave sunny St Annes!


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.

Adventures with Data Protection

I spend a lot of time these days looking after my mother who will be 90 later this year. Her memory is not what is was, in fact sometimes she’ll have breakfast, fall asleep in the chair and wake up wanting her breakfast. My brother and I think of it as her reset mode, as if someone has pressed control alt and delete on her personal memory bank and all that has gone before has been wiped clean.

Her hearing aids are a big problem too, despite the note written large on her table which says ‘DON’T HIDE AWAY YOUR HEARING AIDS. LEAVE THEM WHERE YOU CAN SEE THEM.’ We tend to spend a lot of mornings searching for her hearing aids because she cannot remember where she put them, unless we were there when she took them out, and even then we are only human and sometimes forget ourselves.

Both her hearing aids need new earpieces and the doctor referred her to Specsavers which is only a short walk away so happily I can push her there in her wheelchair and do away with the nightmare of trying to get her in and out of my car.

The other day I called Specsavers and asked if they had the referral yet. They couldn’t find it but were very helpful and said if I contacted the doctor’s surgery and they had the referral to hand then they could either fax or e-mail it to Specsavers and then provided me with the necessary fax numbers and email addresses.

The Doctors’ surgery was not though helpful at allthough. The referral had gone through, yes. E-mail? No, it had to go through proper channels. Fax it? Fax? They hadn’t had a fax machine for years implying that I, that top notch technology savvy writer and blogger, was a good few light years behind the times.

My mother did have a letter about an appointment which needed to be booked via something called the NHS gateway. Was that the referral I asked? Could be . . .

I then called the NHS booking gateway, supplied the reference numbers and asked to book the appointment. Could my Mum confirm some details? Not really, she’s having trouble with her hearing aid. OK they said we’ll sort it out. After a moment, they said, yes it’s all sorted, we’ll send you a letter about it.

Is it for Specsavers I asked?

Sorry, we can’t tell you because of data protection.

What was the date and time?

Sorry, can’t tell you because of data protection.

The thing is, I tried to explain, it will be me taking Mum for the appointment so I could do with knowing the where and when as that could be pretty helpful.

Sorry, can’t tell you because of data protection.

OK, what if I put Mum on the phone? OK but we have to verify her identity. Right so I put Mum on the phone and the guy asks her can you confirm your name?

MUM: What?

GUY: Can you confirm your name?

MUM: What?

ME: He’s asking your name!

MUM: OK It’s (Ooops, sorry data protection, can’t reveal that on this blog!)

GUY: What is your date of birth?

MUM: What? Speak up!

GUY: What is your date of birth?

ME: Your date of birth Mum!

MUM: It’s (whooa, can’t reveal that here on this blog post because of data protection!)

GUY: What is your post code?

MUM: What!

ME: Your postcode?

MUM: Er . . .

ME: (Whispering) It’s (whooa, can’t reveal that here on this blog post because of data protection!)

GUY: Just a minute, I heard you telling her the answer!

ME: She’s a deaf old lady and couldn’t remember it!

GUY: Well, we’ll send your Mum a letter with the date of the appointment.

ME: It would just be so helpful if you could tell me when it is because I am the one who will be taking her for the appointment!

GUY: Sorry, can’t reveal that because of data protection!

The really good thing is that not long afterwards Specsavers called me back to say they had received the referral and that my Mum was booked in for (Ooops, sorry data protection, can’t reveal that on this blog!)


Floating in Space is a novel about beer and cigarettes, pubs and pool tables, discotheques, loud music and cheesy chat up lines. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

 

 

 

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.

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.

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!