Manchester, 41 Years On

A lot has changed in Manchester city centre, at least on the surface, but to a great extent it’s still the same city as it always was. My book, Floating in Space is, as you probably know if you have ever visited this web page before, set in Manchester in 1977 and I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the city, some 41 years later.

In 1977 there was no internet, no mobile phones and wireless was an old fashioned word that our parents used for the radio. Manchester was a busy and bustling city even back in 1977. People came into the city to shop, visit the cinema, eat at restaurants, drink beer and socialise in pubs and bars, pretty much just as they do today.

I loved my Saturday nights in Manchester. There was a quality of security, of expectancy, a feeling that the night and the future were going to be good. A feeling that you might just meet some gorgeous girl and that even if you didn’t, it didn’t really matter because there was always the excitement of the people and the music, and everything else that made up the evening. Then there was always the expectancy of the next night, and the next, and on and on into the future. The past building up inside you like a great data bank, reminding you, reassuring you, like a light burning in some empty room in the corner of your mind.

The main venue for me and my friends on a Saturday night in 1977 was the ‘Playground’, a small disco bar on Oxford Rd in the town centre. Flickering multi-coloured spotlights rotated across the red carpeted room which, on Fridays and Saturdays, was generally packed.

It had a small dance floor down at street level and when people stepped up to the bar, which was up on a slightly raised level, they could look down at the dancing, gyrating and mostly female dancers. Interestingly, on the same dance floor on week day lunchtimes, a topless dancer appeared at the stroke of one o’clock to translate the soul and disco music of the time into pulsating physical motion, the eyes of jaded office workers glued to her as she did so.

My friends and I used to meet up in the Salisbury, by Oxford Rd station, have a few pints and then make the short walk to the Playground. There was a paltry fifty pence charge to gain entry, the solitary bouncer was silent, but not unpleasant, and the DJ, who always began the night with ‘Love’s Theme’ by the Love Unlimited Orchestra, (Barry White’s backing band) played alternate sessions of rock, disco and chart music.

We were mad about Jenny, the barmaid. She was lovely. She had a kind of round, open face, framed by thick blonde hair and her skin was a creamy white. She served us Worthington ‘E’ and we melted into the hubbub of people on their Saturday night out whilst the music of the seventies drifted through us.

Those then, are my memories of Saturday nights in Manchester. Beer, music, girls and a kebab or curry before getting the late bus home.

I’m sure there are still Saturday nights like that, in Manchester’s 21st century world. Most of the pubs I used to frequent are still there, repainted, refurbished and in some cases re-named. They may look different but peel away those new outer layers and you’ll find things pretty much the same. Different decor, different music but still very similar people enjoying an evening of drinks, music and chat.

The Salisbury is still there. Today it looks just like it always did. Inside the pub has been refurbished but in a good way and it looks pretty similar to how it used to look. The room where my friends used to sit has gone. It’s now an office or a private room. Still, the same flagged stone floor is there and whenever I step inside the memories come flooding back.

The Playground is still there too, well not the Playground exactly but the building is there. It’s now the Palace Theatre bar and what it looks like inside I do not know. The last time I passed therit was closed but I imagine that the DJ’s booth and the dance floor have gone. Perhaps Jenny passes by and remembers the old times just like me. Perhaps not, perhaps it was just another bar job to her.

Once upon a time in 1977 I was a young office clerk who ate his sandwiches in St Peter’s Square on sunny weekday lunchtimes. All is different there now. Today Manchester looks cleaner and sleeker. Modern buildings of steel and glass sit side by side with traditional architecture and through it all glides the modern tram, toot tooting its way through the city.

Even at the old end of town, things are cleaner, smoother. Warehouses and old buildings have been reformed into trendy bars and restaurants and dance music venues. A short walk from Deansgate Station takes you to the Dukes 92, a lovely and trendy canalside bar but take plenty of money with you, it’s not cheap!

Walking up Peter St from Deansgate, the Café  Royale is gone. There is a bar called Henry’s Schloss, a huge Beer Keller sort of place where 2 pints of lager cost nearly ten pounds and large groups of men quaff beer and enjoy themselves. It’s not really my sort of place.

Just round the corner though, is a place that is my sort of place, the Abercromby, actually the Sir Ralph Abercromby, is one of those pubs that is a little like stepping into a time capsule. The decor is authentic seventies with lots of stained dark wood and leather seats and they serve a decent pint. I 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 wanted 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 meant nothing to him. Happily the council planners would not let him have his way.

As you read this on a Saturday morning the cleaners are busy in those Manchester bars. The chillers will be stocked, the carpets cleaned and the tables polished. New barrels of beer and lager will be made ready.

Everything is ready for another Saturday night.


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester 1977

Working Out that Sweet Illusion!

Not so long ago I had a check up at work, nothing exciting just a routine health check. However they noticed that my blood pressure was a little high. Anyway a while later I thought I’d better go and see the doc about it. He did another check and confirmed, yes, my blood pressure was a little high. He in turn sent me down to see the nurse and she checked my pressure too. Once again the verdict was it was a little high. The nurse recommended that I take home a blood pressure monitor for a month and record the readings. The thing was, all the monitors at the practice were currently out with patients and were being used so they had to put me on a waiting list.

That was last year so now fast forward to January: A blood pressure monitor had become available but guess what? I was on holiday in Lanzarote for a month! Oh well, that’s the National Health Service for you. Anyway, the reason for me rambling on about all this is that the nurse offered me a free 12 week membership at the YMCA to see if 12 weeks activity might bring down my weight, my blood pressure or even both.

Liz and I then appeared at the YMCA in St Annes for our induction. Wearing my rather tasty track suit I picked up in the Asda sales, we were shown around the premises and given a run through of how to select certain weights on the weight training machines. We were also shown how to work various machines and introduced to the cross trainer, a sort of walking device with big handles so you can work out your arms and legs together. All these devices were kitted out with computerised systems which delivered the results of your work out at the touch of a button. So many calories burned. So many miles walked and so on. Tom our trainer, recommended we spend 10 minutes warming up on the walking machine before we went through our paces. 10 minutes warm up? Heck, I was knackered after 10 minutes!

Anyway, we carried on for another 30 gruelling minutes and I have to say it was all rather enjoyable. I burnt off a number of calories, at least 7 and even managed to walk and cycle quite a few miles. I did fancy a dip in the jacuzzi just to finish off but apparently, the YMCA doesn’t have one. Pity because a nice soak in a jacuzzi would have finished things off nicely.

I noticed that a lot of the other gym users were plugged into mobile phones or MP3 players, presumably listening to music while they jogged. As I didn’t bring mine I had to be content with listening to a few tracks in my head. Funnily enough, most mornings I tend to wake up with a tune running through my head. I usually have something of a stretch then potter off to sort out a cup of tea for myself and Liz. When I get back that tune will still be strumming away and sometimes I’ll know exactly what it is, other times the answer is just slightly out of reach. Anyway, back in the bedroom and Liz will be just reaching out for her cuppa and I’ll say ‘Guess what tune I woke up singing today?’

Now, you might think a simple answer would be in order but no, after all she is female. What she will do is ask me to guess what tune she woke up to that morning! When I decline she’ll tend to ignore me and just carry on to tell me about her tune. If it’s one I’ve never heard of she’ll probably even try to find it on YouTube. Eventually, some time later, we’ll get round to my tune. Now the tune in question on this particular morning was this: ‘Sweet Illusion‘ by Junior Campbell. Remember that one from 1973? It’s actually a great little track and one of the first singles I ever bought.

Now here’s the thing, why should I have woken up on a bank holiday Monday with that tune playing in my head? Sometimes I’ll hear a tune on TV or maybe playing on the jukebox in the pub. Then I can only guess that the tune will get trapped in my brainwaves, do a few circuits of my cranium while I’m asleep and surface into my consciousness just as I awake. Don’t remember hearing Sweet Illusion recently. Don’t think they played it during the pub music quiz either.

Two of my favourite live bands do a lot of cover versions. The Electric Boogie Club didn’t cover it last time we saw them although they do a cracking version of that old O’Jays hit ‘The Back Stabbers‘. April Moon are another band we like but again, Sweet Illusion is not one of theirs. Could it have meandering round my subconcious since 1973? I doubt it but then again, there is plenty of free space up there!


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information!

Some Random Thoughts on Box Rooms, Stormy Daniels and Action Man!

This is one of my favourite times of the year. March and its bad weather are on the way out (soon anyway) and April and gradually longer days are coming. Last weekend the hour went forward which was doubly enjoyable for me because I was working a night shift and therefore only worked 7 hours!

It was also the first morning this year that I left work in daylight and not the leftover darkness from the night before. Spring had arrived.

Last weekend I was staying with my Mum in Manchester and I slept in the small boxroom that I have used for years. It’s not my childhood bedroom, Mum and Dad have had a few house moves since then, but it’s pretty similar. It’s nice to be surrounded by my old books and cassette tapes from my past as well as my vinyl records and VHS tapes leftover from a previous house move.

Its called a boxroom, I suppose because of the large wooden ‘box’ that takes over one corner where the stairs below and this small room compete for space. When I was a young lad this part of the room was my focus. I used to have numerous plastic kit models on display there before my childhood Action Man phase took over. Action Man was a male figure about a foot high and you could buy various outfits and equipment for him. I think I’d almost forgotten about Action Man until the recent Money Supermarket TV advert brought my schoolboy memories flooding back.

We weren’t particularly well off so I used to make a lot of my Action Man gear myself, mainly out of cardboard, plastic or balsa wood. On the box in the corner of my room I set up a sort of control room based on the one in the TV show ‘The Time Tunnel’. In case you never watched that or were just too young when it aired, Time Tunnel is about ‘Two American scientists (who) are lost in the swirling maze of past and future ages, during the first experiments on America’s greatest and most secret project, the Time Tunnel. Tony Newman and Doug Phillips now tumble helplessly toward a new fantastic adventure, somewhere along the infinite corridors of time.” Or so the introduction told us.

I started off with one Action Man, a second-hand Action Man I picked up from my friend Peter Condron in a swap for something or other, I don’t remember what. Another one came from my brother in another swap and the third was a brand new Action Man I got free by collecting the ‘stars’ on new Action Man products. There were ‘stars’ on each product and when you collected 21 and fixed them to a special chart you were sent a free Action Man. As I didn’t buy much Action Man stuff I used to cadge stars off people at school or swap for comics, books or models.

One day I picked up this sheet of plywood about 3′ x 2′ and decided to convert my control room into a flying ‘jet raft’ for my Action figures. I built the seats out of balsa wood and cardboard, glued together with Bostick. The control and computer arrays were made from plastic bottle tops, toothpaste lids and bits of plastic model kits. They were cannibalised from the former control room and I added panels that lit up with some bulbs and bulb holders attached to a battery underneath the rear ‘thrusters’. How I loved that ‘Jet Raft’! When my free Action Man arrived I built a navigator’s console onto the rear area with maps and his own little control panel. Yes, lying there in my boxroom all those memories come back.

My present car was one I bought in 2008 and before that the old banger Rover I drove had a cassette player and I made and played music cassettes by the dozen. From my teenage years, right up to the present day I have made music tapes, although these days it’s CDs I put together rather than tapes. Most of my older tapes are still stored here in my little room. I used to mix vinyl tracks with bits and pieces I had taped from the radio over the years, not just music but film dialogue and comedy routines too. The other day I came across a tape with two of my favourite comedy sketches. In the first one an unknown American impressionist does the voice of JFK, uncannily realistic, as he speaks to his daughter Caroline. He reads her a bedtime story about the ‘Steel Duke’ and the ‘Bad Prince with the Black Beard from the island in the south’ (with me so far?). At the end of the story JFK leaves Caroline who says to the listener ‘these sessions do him so much good!’

In the other one, another impressionist voices Richard Nixon, again incredibly realistically, as he meets the Godfather, Don Corleone. ‘Thanks for coming to see me’ says the Don, ‘on the day of my daughter’s wedding. How may I help you?’ ‘Well, says Nixon. ‘I have to get out of the Watergate mess.’ ‘Do you want justice? asks Corleone. Nixon thinks for a moment: ‘Not necessarily!’ he replies.

As I said above, I’ve no idea who the impressionist was but it’s amazing what a simple search on google will bring up:

Back to the present and that last night shift. It was actually pretty busy but there was a lull around 3am when I had a chance to catch up on the recent news events courtesy of the BBC 24 news channel. Two interesting items stood out. The first was adult star Stormy Daniels and her revelations about her encounters with Donald Trump, now of course President of the USA. It seems Trump or at least ‘his people’, paid her $130,000 to keep quiet about their liaison. Pretty natural really if you’re running for the presidency. However, for whatever reasons Stormy decided to reveal all in a TV interview which probably wasn’t what Mr Trump had in mind when he bunged her the $130,000! I personally think now he would be within his rights to ask for his money back! Stormy of course is relishing in the free publicity and has even added more dates to her tour of US strip clubs.

The other item which I thought was interesting was the one about the ball tampering scandal in Australian cricket. Even the Aussie Prime Minister has had a say in the matter but what is it all about really? Cricketers tend to give the ball a bit of a polish don’t they so why shouldn’t they be able to go the other way and rough up the ball a little? To be honest, cricket is a sport that makes that age-old practice of watching paint dry look attractive. Ball tampering scandal? Do me a favour! I remember once when I was a coach driver taking a load of fans from the Lancashire Cricket Club which perversely, due to boundary changes is no longer in Lancashire but now in Greater Manchester. I took them to a match at Lytham Cricket Club and was given a free ticket to stay and watch the action. After thirty minutes I was so bored I was ready to end it all but instead I went for a wander around in search of a cup of tea and a sandwich. I’ve loved Lytham St Annes ever since.

One final nostalgic memory: Once, again when I was a coach driver, a job I used to get regularly was a pick up and drop off service for some small kids at a special school. I used to start off by picking up this supervising lady who told me where to go to pick up the kids. They were all problem kids with behavioural or physiological issues: Special needs is the term I think I’m looking for. Anyway, they were a bit of a handful and one week I was allocated a coach with a video player. So, I brought along a VHS tape of the TV show Thunderbirds and set it up for the kids to watch. It quickly got their attention and calmed them down and I felt pretty pleased with myself. However, the trip to the school was only about 30 minutes after the last pick up and Thunderbirds lasts for an hour, which unfortunately set up a scenario at school where the kids all started getting rowdy again because they wanted to see the end of the episode!

Anyway, I just fancy an hour of nostalgic TV viewing, something like Thunderbirds perhaps. Where did I put that box of old VHS tapes?


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information!

Cars, Codes and Coming Home

The end of a holiday is always a sad time, even more so when you’ve been away for a whole month. Our flight to Lanzarote was pleasant and comfortable but the return journey was on a different sort of aeroplane, one in which far too many seats were crammed in together and the flight was very, very uncomfortable. They just don’t make planes suitable for big people like me.

Anyway, our flight arrived in Manchester 20 minutes early and just as we passed through passport control we picked up a call from our lift; he had arrived and was in position at the drop off point just outside the Jet2 building. Happy days! A quick visit to the toilets and we made our way over but guess what? Our driver was nowhere to be seen.

We waited and waited and eventually gave him a call. The police, who are very sensitive regarding parked cars around the airport these days, had moved him on and he was about to turn round and come back. The big problem was that just up the road, a host of roadworks were in place denying traffic access to the roundabout. The only alternative was to carry on ahead on the M56 motorway so Jay, our driver was forced to carry on to the next exit and then turn back, a diversion that took him about 20 minutes to negotiate! When he finally arrived back we were cold and shivering, unused to the current February UK weather.

My lovely old motor, my Renault Megane convertible had been parked up for a whole month and I did notice, last I time I drove the car, that it wasn’t starting quite as promptly as it usually does. When I returned home my faithful motor was there just as I had left it, ready, or so I thought, to go. I sat down, felt the comfy leather seats, slipped in the key and everything lit up just as it should do. The only thing was that when I pressed the starter a groaning noise issued forth from under the bonnet and after a brief turn of the motor a red battery light began to flash on the dashboard.

There was nothing for it but to put in a call to the RAC. It was, they told me, a day of exceptional demands on their staff so my recovery agent would be on scene with me in anything up to 4 hours! Luckily, I had parked on a neighbour’s drive a few doors down the road so I went home to await the call from the RAC man who promised to call me when he was a few minutes away.

Almost three hours later, it was dark and cold and the RAC man arrived, promptly diagnosed a dead battery and offered me a deal on a new one with a five-year guarantee. I coughed up my credit card and not long afterwards I was back on the road. Later that evening I decided to take a run down to Manchester and spend some time with my elderly mother. Now one of the things I love about my car is the perfect opportunity it offers to listen to music. In fact, I think that listening to music in the car is really the only way to listen to music; clear and uninterrupted and driving seems to somehow put one in the perfect frame of mind to listen and enjoy music.

Driving to Manchester is a good 90 minute drive, mostly on the motorway and like any long journey I popped in a CD, slipped into first gear and settled down ready to chill with some of my favourite music, in this case a compilation I made myself from the Kate Bush double album Aerial.

Nothing appeared to be happening and I glanced over at my radio screen only to see not ‘CD loading’ as I expected but a flashing message saying ‘input code’! Yes, as the battery had been disconnected the radio had reverted to that regrettable situation, one I had not experienced for many moons, of requiring a security code to be input. By this time I was just joining the motorway and could only emit a silent scream of agony, compelled to continue my journey in silence instead of the musical interlude I was so looking forward to!

A few days later, back in St Annes I scoured through my collected motoring invoices and came across my original purchase note for my car. Was there a car radio code? No! A search on the internet provided various hits for people who would find my code for a price, the cheapest was in the £30 region. I did come across a forum where someone said Renault main dealers were happy to supply radio codes but the next comment was ‘no they won’t’

Anyway, undaunted I called the Renault dealer where I had bought my car some ten years ago. The lady who took my call transferred me to another lady and lo and behold, within moments I had the radio code! So, thanks to Blackpool Renault dealer Arnold Clark and that very nice lady, I was able to take my next journey with the chilled out sounds of Kate Bush playing on my in-car stereo. Pity I was on my way back to work!


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.

 

Walks with and without my Dad

As you read this post my winter holiday will be over and I’ll be back in cold old England. It’s been a nice break though, a month in Lanzarote and it’s been sunny and warm for the most part. There were a number of things I wanted to do in Lanzarote including  working on my new book and other writing projects but sadly I’ve not been completely successful in that area.

Another thing was to improve my fitness which I think I have achieved, at least in part. I’ve swum in our pool almost every day and I’ve tried to make up for missed swimming days by doing extra lengths on the next day. The tight trousers I brought with me are now slipping off me so I must have lost weight, unless I’ve just stretched them! I’ve also done a fair bit of walking here which has also helped in the fitness area. A favourite walk for me is going from our rented villa in Las Coloradas down to the sea front and then on along the coastal path down to the Marina Rubicon. There’s a lovely view of Fuerteventura, a lovely sea breeze and sometimes you can see the ferry going across.

As I’ve walked along the sea front I’ve thought about my old Dad and how he would have enjoyed this walk. He was a great walker and when I lived at home, not having a car, we walked everywhere. When he retired he used to get up, have breakfast and then take the dog for a walk. He walked for miles and Mickey, who was a pretty old dog then, used to be worn out when they returned home. Mickey would have a long drink of water and then drop down on the floor somewhere to recuperate, oblivious of everyone having to step over him as he dreamed his canine dreams.

Once, my Dad and I went for a drink together. Dad said he’d take me to the Griffin for a pint. ‘The Griffin?’ I asked. ‘Where’s the Griffin? There’s no pub round here called the Griffin?’

‘Oh yes, the Griffin. It’s not a bad pub. It’ll be a nice walk.’

Well, off we went, out of Wythenshawe where we lived, past Peel Hall and down towards Heald Green. Heald Green was a good thirty to forty minute walk and I remember saying, ‘look Dad, let’s go into the Heald Green hotel for a pint.’

‘No,’ he said. ‘The Griffin’s not far away now.’ So we walked and walked, past Heald Green and on towards Cheadle and eventually, after about an hour’s walk if not longer, we came to the Griffin. Inside there were a bunch of fellas who nodded to my Dad and he nodded in return. Up at the bar the barman came over and said ‘pint of mild Ralph?’ He’d been here before, apparently.

I was exhausted and gasping for a drink and I was probably hanging onto the bar for dear life when my dad asked me what I was drinking?

‘Pint of lager please,’ I said. Dad nodded to the barman then looked back at me. ‘Not a bad stretch of the legs was it?’ he said.

Wythenshawe is supposed to be the biggest council estate in Europe, at least I remember reading that somewhere. When my Dad left school at 14 during the Second World War the estate was small and was surrounded by farms and market gardens. Gradually as the estate became larger the farms were swallowed up and built on. Dad worked on a farm in those early days and on one walk he decided to show me the first farm he’d worked at. I doubted there would be much to see but he took me through some unfamiliar streets and we came to a green with a few trees and there, just at the head of the green was an old house. The house was surrounded by the council estate which had been built around it. This used to be the farmhouse where he once worked. The green had once been part of the orchard. As we looked closer I could see that the trees were pear trees and I tried to imagine this place in a rural setting, instead of the urban one it had become.

Getting back to Lanzarote, it’s about a half hour walk to the beginning of the marina. The footpath comes in from high up on the rocks and you get a great view of the marina before you drop down and walk past the yachts and boats, their masts jogging slightly in the breeze. The picture above is one of me surveying the harbour.

After that it’s down to the marina proper and it’s nice to walk past the elegant restaurants and watch the boats bobbing about on the sea. Finally we arrive at our destination, the Cafe Berrugo and our waiter, Oscar, mimes the pouring of beer to us as we get seated. We mime back the thumbs up sign and the drinks quickly arrive along with our nibbles; nuts, olives and popcorn.

I reckon my Dad would have liked it here.


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

The New Year Blues

The post-Christmas period is sometimes one of sadness. All the Christmas fun is over, the decorations come down and are boxed away until next year. Personally, I’m not a great fan of Christmas. I hate to admit it but I’m basically a shy person and somewhat clumsy at group social events so it’s actually sometimes a relief for the holiday season to be over. Not only that, I absolutely hate the cold so as soon as the New Year celebrations are done and the pendulum starts to swing the other way, towards longer days and the spring, then I feel happier.

One thing I am looking forward to this January is jetting off to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. The sun will be shining, the temperature will be in the 70s, just like an English summer, and I can settle down, start a daily swimming regime and get myself fit. Well, fitter anyway.

I had to work over Christmas this year so my brother and I didn’t have our usual pre-Christmas pint together. We made up for it the other day by having a post-Christmas pint in Manchester.

One problem was that I found I had left behind my debit card which presented a serious problem that might possibly have prevented me from purchasing beer in any of the numerous public houses to which I was heading. However, armed with my new smartphone, I was able to locate a city centre branch of my bank, Santander, from the comfort of my tram seat. I jumped off the tram in Piccadilly, Manchester and went off down Market Street. The bank, however, wasn’t where I had thought it was so I had to click back onto Google maps to see what was wrong. I was a little confused when Google asked me to go right, right and right again until it became clear the bank was actually in Piccadilly itself and I had bypassed it with my nose glued to my phone just like the majority of younger people today.

The day before I was watching an episode of Star Trek in which Captain Kirk and Mr Spock had beamed down to 20th century earth in pursuit of a mysterious alien called Gary Seven. (Did he have a brother called Gary Six I wonder?)  The enterprise scanned for the alien and sent down coordinates to Kirk and Spock who promptly tracked the fellow down using their communicators. It appeared that the episode was a pilot for a new sci-fi show which never materialised. Shame really because it looked pretty interesting. Anyway, good job they didn’t send me to track down Gary Seven as I couldn’t even find a branch of my own bank! Kirk and Spock of course have much more experience with their communicators than I do with my smartphone, still, interesting how real life has caught up with sci-fi!

As you can perhaps see, I’m still in the honeymoon stage with my mobile phone. It’s great to be able to glance at my e-mails and see Facebook updates and so on but my favourite app has to be Google. I just love Google maps and whenever I arrive myself somewhere like a restaurant or pub, I always take a few minutes to add comments and post reviews.

I used Google maps to drive to work the other day. I know the way of course but it was fascinating to hear this voice telling me to turn left in a quarter of a mile and so on. The thing is, I always turn right at that particular spot so that experience left me a little bemused.

A really great app would be a Google Supermarket Planner. I can just imagine hearing ‘turn left at the next aisle to find cooked meats!’ ‘Turn right at the third aisle to find wines and spirits.’ Great stuff.

Pint of MildEven more helpful would be ‘don’t use checkout 3 because the lady there is questioning the price of a reduced item!’

‘Incident at checkout 1 as a customer has 16 items in the 10 items only checkout! Yes, that would be a great help because fate always points me in the direction of a checkout with problem customers, always, and the problems only usually arise after I have unloaded my shopping at that particular till.

Happily, there were no such delays in the Grey Horse in Manchester and they served me with an outstanding pint of mild.

Cheers everyone!


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. The book is available in Kindle or paperback formats. Click the icon below to go straight to Amazon.

Floating in Space

Why Men are not cut out for the Christmas Clean up!

Every year, round about October, when the weather gets colder and leaves are dropping frantically from trees, I always think to myself, ‘this would be a great time to start off my Christmas shopping!’ Yes, I think that every year and every year I never do it.  A similar thing happens with blogging. I think to myself, is it time to start off a few drafts for some  Christmas style blog posts? Yes it is. Do I do it? Well, in this case no. Anyway, perhaps now you get the picture and understand why I’ve had to resort to posting this revised blog post from last Christmas . .


Men 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, and 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 paper bin, along with the old Christmas cards. (Don’t want to upset those hard-working bin men by putting stuff in the wrong bins do we?)

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 effrontery 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!

The Men in White Suits

Alec Guiness.

In case you haven’t seen it, and I can’t imagine for a moment that you haven’t, The Man in the White Suit was a British comedy film made by Ealing Studios in 1951. The film starred Alec Guinness as Sydney Stratton, a scientist and researcher specialising in man-made fabrics. His dream is to discover an everlasting fibre that never wears out. He is dismissed from numerous jobs because of his demands for ever more expensive facilities. Circumstances occur where he becomes an unpaid researcher at the hi-tech Stratton Mill where he finally discovers his new fibre. Sydney is over the moon as he wears his prototype indestructible suit for the first time. His new cloth is about to be revealed to the world but panic sets in; will this mean the end of the industry? After all, surely there will only be one lot of cloth to be made as it never wears out? Both union and senior executives in the textile industry unite to prevent the fabric coming out to the public domain but mill owner’s daughter Daphne Birnley, played by the husky voiced Joan Greenwood, strives to help Sydney to pursue his dream.

At the end of the film an angry mob who have pursued Sydney are united in laughter when the fabric becomes unstable and Sydney’s white suit falls apart.

One of the highlights of the film is the sound effect we hear whenever Sydney’s research apparatus is revealed. It is a rhythmic burbling sing-song sound that becomes a sort of musical motif for Sydney Stratton. At the end of the film he goes on his way and looking at his notebook has a thought, has he realised what was wrong? The burbling sound fades in as Sydney walks away.

Paul Sinha. (Picture courtesy Daily Express)

Paul Sinha.

I don’t know about you but weekday afternoons just wouldn’t be the same without the Chase. The Chase is a TV quiz show where four contestants try to build up a prize fund then play against the ‘Chaser‘, a seasoned quizzer, to take home that fund in the Final Chase. Sometimes the contestants win, sometimes not. Mark Labbett is the perhaps the most well-known chaser. He is known as the ‘Beast’ and is a former schoolmaster who had a success on the TV show ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’. Anyway, my personal favourite is the Sinnerman, Paul Sinha. Paul began a stand up comedy career in London while he was a junior doctor. He has appeared on his own radio show and as a quizzer competed in University Challenge, Mastermind, and Brain of Britain. Paul joined the Chase in 2011 as the fourth Chaser. His nicknames include the ‘Sinnerman‘ and ‘Sarcasm in a Suit’. He is a smiling, witty and erudite competitor and always wears his trademark white suit.

David Essex.

David Essex was a performer who made his name in the early seventies although in his youth he had ideas of becoming a footballer. He played the lead in the stage musical Godspell and then went on to star in the film ‘That’ll be the Day’. I remember seeing his album in a record shop and thinking what a cool dude he looked in his white suit. The album was ‘Rock On’ and the single of the same name went to number 3 in the UK charts in 1973.

The next year David released one of my all-time favourite tracks ‘Gonna make you a Star’ which went all the way up to number 1. He also appeared on the double album ‘Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds’ and went on to star in the musical ‘Evita’. In 2011, he joined the cast of TV soap ‘EastEnders’.

 

Steve Higgins.

When I saw David Essex singing ‘Rock On’ wearing a white suit on ‘Top of the Pops’ for the first time, I thought he was the epitome of seventies cool and it occurred to me that one way to transform my gangling self-conscious self into something better might be to get that very same white suit. I couldn’t afford a suit at the time so I settled for a jacket, a white jacket, and I well remember admiring myself in the mirror before my first Saturday night out wearing it, sometime back in 1973.

The first problem I encountered with the jacket came on the bus into town. I sat on the back seat and in those days, the back seats of our local buses were a little notorious for being dusty and grimy as they were over the engine and absorbed all the engine fumes. Also there were people who put their feet up on the seats leaving marks to which people like me (the twerp in the white suit) were highly susceptible. Another thing is that all my life I have been cursed with being clumsy and once I had met up with my friends I somehow managed to spill beer all down my sleeve. Anyway, the night went on, more or less successfully. I certainly remember having a good time although the white jacket failed in its primary function; that of attracting gorgeous girls. Later on we stopped at the kebab shop and somehow a sizeable portion of chilli sauce managed to attach itself to my jacket. Rather than feeling like David Essex, I felt a little like Alec Guinness in the aforementioned ‘Man In The White Suit‘, wanting to get away from everyone! I never wore the stained jacket again and it lingered sadly in the back of my wardrobe smelling of kebab, chilli sauce, beer and diesel fumes until my Mum, on a major clean up splurge, decided to throw it out.

Of course, it could have been worse: I could have gone out wearing jeans, a white t-shirt and a red jacket and tried to look like James Dean! (Actually, that was another night!)


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information or click the picture below to order now from amazon!

Floating in Space

Surveyors, Inspectors, and Lawrence of Arabia

I started thinking about regrets the other day. Bit of a waste of time, you might think. Regrets? What’s the point? Oh well, two big regrets in my life are both work orientated. Let’s take a closer look.

Surveyors.

The first one was way back in the late seventies when I was a lowly clerk in an assurance company in Manchester. I worked in the estates department and I had a lovely job there. It involved collecting the rental we were due for our properties in the city centre. Then I had to sort out the wages for our cleaning staff in Manchester and liaise with caretakers to order cleaning products such as bleach and so on. I remember when we converted from hard toilet paper to soft, our toilet paper bill shot right up. I was tasked with getting to the bottom of that issue (excuse the pun!) which turned out to be staff using the soft toilet paper as paper hankies! I so enjoyed writing that report.

Sometimes I went out with the surveyors to help them take measurements of properties and I jotted down notes for the surveyor and carried his gear, stuff like that. It got me out of the office for hours at a time and usually the surveyor and I would have to time to take on board a few beers as our junior surveyor was a fellow who enjoyed his ale.

One day my boss, the venerable Mr Ross, called me into his office and said the surveyors wanted me to join their department and train to become a surveyor. Wow, you might think. That’s not an offer that comes to a young eighteen year old clerk every day. The thing is, I turned it down. Yes, I declined that rather excellent offer on the grounds that I was young and the estates and surveyors offices were staffed by a lot of old (well, middle-aged) people. I asked for a transfer and was sent to IA/1, an internal accounts office, full of young people like myself but actually a deadly dull boring job. What a fool I was. Just think, today I could be a successful surveyor with perhaps, a property portfolio on the side. Yes, that was big mistake number 1.

Inspectors.

Regret number 2. This came years later when I was a bus driver. There was a time when I liked this job, running up and down the byways of Greater Manchester as a bus conductor or driver, chatting up the girls and generally having fun. Of course drivers and conductors meant that two wages were being paid out by the bus company; so much easier just to pay out one; that’s when the idea of one man buses caught on. Then I became a rather self-absorbed chap driving a bus up and down the road and taking fares. It was a lonely life and the worst thing was that when something relatively minor cropped up, say someone cut in front of you and you had to slam the brakes on, there was no conductor to talk to about it, no one to say ‘he was a pillock wasn’t he?’. The result was that you’d tend to think about it over and over until a minor thing became a big thing.

One day the company advertised for two Inspectors, one for the Ardwick depot, not far from where I lived and another for Rochdale depot, well over the other side of Manchester. I applied and had rather a good interview. I was asked to step outside the interview room for a while and when I came back the spokesman for the interview panel asked me which job I was interested in. ‘Well, the Ardwick one,’ I answered. ‘What if we offered you the Rochdale one?’ they asked. Well, what could I do? How could I even get to Rochdale? I had no car, no personal transport. Anyway I said no, I couldn’t take the job. Big mistake number 2!

I often think what could have happened if I had done the right thing and said yes. I could have bought a car with my new improved Inspector’s salary or even moved to Rochdale and started a new life there. After all, I was a single man, I might have made new friends, made a whole new life. Well, like Frank Sinatra, I can only say;

Regrets, I have a few . .

But then again, too few to mention . .

Lawrence of Arabia.

Anyway, that brings me to today’s classic movie, Lawrence of Arabia, that fabulous 70mm classic directed by David Lean.

In one part of the movie Lawrence – played by Peter O’Toole – and his arab army are plodding through the Nefu desert, a normally impassable stretch of land described by one of the characters as the sun’s anvil. Lawrence and his arab irregulars decide to cross the desert and attack the coastal town of Aqaba, coming from a direction the enemy Turks would not expect. One morning the travellers realise that one of their number, sweltering in the desert heat, has fallen asleep and slipped off his camel into the sands. Lawrence decides to turn and rescue the man despite assurances that he will not make it. ‘The man is surely dead,’ Lawrence is told. It is written. Despite this, Lawrence turns and rides back into the desert.

Later he returns to the group a hero having saved a man from the desert. He whispers hoarsely to Omar Sharif, ‘nothing is written’ before collapsing into his sleeping bag.

Later still, shots are fired in the desert encampment. A man has been robbed and killed and the various tribes, brought together by Lawrence, are ready to defend their honour. The culprit is found and must die but his death will only bring forward a feud.

Lawrence  argues that he is a man without a tribe, and so he will execute the criminal and honour will be kept. Lawrence takes out his revolver and the doomed man is revealed; only then do we see that the man is Gasim, the man Lawrence saved from the desert. Lawrence shoots him dead, the alliance is saved. Lawrence turns sadly away.

‘What is wrong with him?’ asks one of the arabs.

‘That man he killed, it was the same man he rescued from the desert.’

‘Ah,’ says the man, ‘then it was written . .’

So if that is the case, that everything is written or preordained, then perhaps even if I had accepted that Inspector’s job or become a surveyor, my life might still have turned out the same and here I would be, whatever my life’s choices were, writing blogs and Tweeting about Floating in Space!

What do you think?


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information or click the picture below to order now from amazon!

Floating in Space

Unboxing the Mobile Phone

One of the great pleasures of the 21st century digital age has to be unboxing your mobile phone. Even that word, unboxing is new and Microsoft Word wasn’t happy at all about me using it!

Yes, enough of that old mobile that cost me £20 on eBay, time to move into the 21st century with a new smart phone! Well, not a brand new one, a used one, again courtesy of eBay.

I did fancy an iPhone but did I really want to pay over £250 for a mobile phone? What if I lost it? What if I dropped it in the sea on holiday? That’s a big enough deal with my old phone but if my expensive phone was lost or ruined I’d be in shock. Of course, I could get it insured but that would mean more expense.

Anyway, after some research I decided on a Motorola G4, a nice looking phone that brought me into the modern smartphone era with a cash outlay considerably less than that of an iPhone.

The phone duly arrived and excited as I was, I managed to stay calm, relax and have a brew before opening the box. That turned out to be something of a struggle as the box was shipped in a sort of insulated plastic wrap which defied my initial attempts to unwrap it but I persevered and armed with a sharp knife and a pair of scissors, my new phone was eventually revealed.

First thing was to open the back of the phone and insert my SIM card. Now that presented a small problem because no matter how I tried, I couldn’t get the back off that phone. OK I said to myself, calm down. Have another brew and read the instructions again. When I say instructions, what I actually mean is the little slip of paper with a couple of diagrams on it. Technology today just doesn’t come with instructions; you’re lucky if you get a link to some online help site. Anyway after glancing through the instruction slip again, I had another go at removing the back of the phone, once again without success.

I had another bash using a knife and although the phone remained in one piece I was lucky not to cut myself to pieces. Well, next step, the brief instruction slip mentioned a link to a YouTube video showing me how easy it was to get the back off. So, iPad at the ready, I typed in the link and there we had the official Motorola video.

In the video the guy unboxes his phone, turns it over and easily pops the back off. Arghhh! Why couldn’t I do that? I tried a number of other videos and in every one the presenter easily popped off the back. I wasn’t happy! Wait a minute, the back of those phones wasn’t quite the same as mine; did I have the wrong model? No, mine was definitely the G4 and the pictures in my instructions matched the pictures in the video so what was wrong?

Anther hour went by, breakfast came and went. Liz had a go and the back still wouldn’t budge. There was an area round the side that seemed pliable and there I could get my fingernail in and push the back off. Wait a minute! What was this? The phone had a sort of gel surround on! I  struggled to get that off but eventually it peeled away and the actual back of the phone was finally revealed. Next, I popped off the back off the phone just like in the video! Happy days.

Right! Next step. The phone was well charged up so it was time to slot in the SIM card. It took quite a while to find the SIM card slot but eventually I discovered it. The thing is, the slot looked too small for a SIM card. What’s all this guff about a micro SIM card? What the heck is a micro SIM card?

It turns out that these days some phones use a micro or even a nano SIM card. OK, time to call up my service provider, in this case Virgin Media, and ask for a micro SIM. Anyway, three days later my micro SIM card appeared in the post and I slotted it successfully into the mobile. A quick chat with Virgin and I was up and running, or so I thought. The new SIM will be ‘live’ in the next hour the nice lady at Virgin told me, or it could even be 24 hours. Funny how they never mentioned 72 hours but yes, 72 hours and several phone calls later to Virgin Media and my new phone and micro SIM were finally up and running.

Since then, a whole new world of digital communications has appeared before me on my new smartphone. I can now sit down in my favourite restaurants and bars and ‘check in’ as they say on Facebook and other social media sites.

On my first day at work with my new phone I slipped it out of my pocket and took a sneaky glance – not to show off of course – just to check everything was OK, and was surprised to find an update from Google to advise me where my car was parked and for how long! OK, I knew where it was and roughly how long it had been there but there it was in black and white on Google. Technology, wow . .


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