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.


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.


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!

Resignations, Old Friends and Green for Danger!

I don’t know if you remember that old British movie, Green for Danger? I’ve not seen it myself for a while but this week I’ve been thinking about it and even done a search through my old VHS video tapes to find my copy.

If you’ve not seen it, the film is a murder mystery set in World War 2, and Inspector Cockrill, who is sent by Scotland Yard to investigate, is played by none other than one of my favourite actors, Alastair Sim. Although the film is a serious one, as usual Alastair Sim adds just the right amount of whimsical humour to make it just a shade lighter than perhaps it might have been. In one scene Sim crouches down expecting the crash of a German Doodlebug only to find a tractor passing by. A number of great British actors are also in the movie, Trevor Howard and Leo Genn to name but two.

The film is narrated by Sim in the form of a letter of resignation to his superiors after the case is finally resolved although not in quite the way he would have liked.

This week, I too have written my letter of resignation. It has not been a great week for me at work. I’m a deputy manager but deputising in my organisation is slightly different. I work in an emergency control room and most of the time I am just an operator, just like my colleagues. When my boss is not around, either off sick or on leave then it is me, as his deputy, who steps up and manages the shift. When he comes back I must once again step down and join my colleagues on the shop- sorry, control room- floor.

Still, it’s not a bad arrangement you might think, surely a step up the corporate ladder? Wrong. Maybe in an organisation that takes notice of its staff perhaps, maybe in a company where senior management are actually aware of the performance of the lower echelons and the efforts they make, yes, but here in a place where anonymous panels judge staff by their form filling abilities, it’s not a great situation.

Anyway, a while ago the management undertook a ‘refreshment’ -to use their word- of the deputy management situation. In basic terms, anyone who was a deputy had to re-apply in order to stay on as a deputy and now I find after six years I have not made the cut and I am no longer able to call myself a deputy manager.

Perhaps I am not that good at my job you might think, perhaps I am no longer up to the task of managing. Well, after six years of deputising I am older and wiser and although I have more backache than I used to have, I can still run the control room as well as I have always done. I wonder if I skimmed over the application too quickly; approached it too flippantly? Surely though, with six years worth of experience under my belt I must be better, more knowledgeable, more experienced than before. Does that matter? Apparently not. Am I a bad form filler? Perhaps yes.

All this started me thinking about a much simpler time many years ago when I became a bus conductor at the tender age of nineteen. I had returned from hitch hiking around Europe, sunburned and penniless and my Dad was not at all happy that I moped about the house all day winding up his electric bills by playing music constantly. That’s where the bus conducting job offered a solution. Well paid work while I looked for a proper job.

My driver was a guy called Jimmy. He was older than me and became a sort of, not a father figure but more an older brother figure to me. He mentored me in the arts of bus conducting and people management and laughed at my timid efforts to chat up the girls on our bus. Jimmy was a big speedway fan and quite a few times I joined him at Belle Vue and other venues watching the sport. At the time Jimmy had a three-wheel Reliant van and we chugged our way about the country to various speedway venues and after a late shift Jimmy would drop me off at home to save me from waiting on the grumpy staff bus drivers’ pleasure.

In return, I once gave Jimmy this big Lego set that my brother and I had. It had been a joint Christmas present to us years before; a great assortment of Lego bricks in a big wooden box that over time my brother and I added to with more bricks and bits and pieces and gradually built it up into a pretty big Lego set. It was no longer used and my Mum had suggested I give it to Jimmy for his children.

Jimmy was over the moon with the Lego and told me several times how his kids loved it.

One day I had the call from the chief inspector and he told me it was time for me to go in the driving school to become a driver. I wasn’t keen on leaving Jimmy and asked if I could defer driver training for a while. He agreed and Jimmy and I carried on our teamwork up and down the roads of south Manchester. Not long afterwards Jimmy had the call too, only he was called to become a one man operator. One man operators were paid much more money than conventional bus crews and being a fellow with a wife, children and a mortgage, it was not something Jimmy could refuse.

On our last shift together, we had arranged to have a fish and chip treat to mark the occasion. We were on the 148 route from Manchester to Woodford where we had a long layover at the terminus. I think we had a twenty-minute drop back but as we had so much extra running time at the far end of the route we could easily put our foot down and extend that to twenty-five minutes. We stopped in Cheadle Hulme, I nipped out and bought the chips and then we raced up to Woodford. Just as we arrived a man was running for our bus, waving his hands presumably as he thought we were about to drive off and leave him behind. We pulled up in the layby and set ourselves up at the back of the bus. Jimmy poured us a brew but the guy was knocking on the window. I eventually let him in and he was glad he had seen us because he was in a rush to get to Bramhall, a place about ten minutes down the road. We told him that he had a long time to wait and that we weren’t due to leave for another twenty minutes but he sat down a couple of seats from us at the back, watching us eating our chips and looking at his watch, all the while carrying on a moan about buses and timetables and public transport in general. He completely ruined that last fish and chip supper on our final day of working together. We left on time and dropped our one passenger off at a place which was hardly a five-minute walk from where he had boarded our bus.

Jimmy settled down as a one-man bus driver but I left and came back to the company quite a few times as well as transferring to other depots and other rotas. On another occasion I took a job working in the coaching unit and then got a position in the bus control room. In those days I was always on the look out for something new and doing the same old thing bored me very quickly.

Years later I bumped into Jimmy and we had a long natter and a brew at the bus canteen in Stockport. I’d not seen him for many years and I was so pleased to see him again. ‘Listen my mate,’ he said, he always called me ‘my mate’. ‘I need to see you again, why don’t you meet me back here tomorrow?’

I met him in the car park the next day and he opened up the boot of his car with a big smile and there was the old Lego set. His kids had grown up and he was returning the Lego set to me for my kids.

Sadly, I never did have any children and the Lego set was lost, probably left forgotten in the attic on one of numerous house moves. Jimmy and I lost touch and I never saw him again.

I remember once sitting with Jimmy at some nameless bus terminus and he turned to me and told me how much he loved his job and how he knew he would stay as a bus driver until he retired. That’s the same feeling I used to have here at my present job; that this was the place where I would finish my working career. Yes, used to have: until they demoted me.

Anyway, back to the letter of resignation. What was it Alastair Sim said at the end of the film?

In view of my failure — correction, comparative failure — I feel that I have no alternative but to offer you, sir, my resignation, in the sincere hope that you will not accept it.

Yes, I think I’ll put my resignation on hold, for now!

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!


No Hiding Place and the Mexican Grand Prix

No Hiding PlaceI should start this post by explaining something. My blog posts have a sort of gestation period, usually about three weeks. I think of an idea and type out a few notes or a first draft. Sometimes I put it on my workstation and add to it as the day goes on and quiet moments appear. At home I’ll go over it again adding bits here, changing the language there. Sometimes I write about something topical and of course, by the time the post is published, the incident or event or TV show I’m writing about happened some time ago, so for the reader, it’s hardly topical at all! What is worse is that sometimes I shove something in ahead of schedule, making the post that was due to be posted even more out of date. Bit of a nightmare for readers I know so cast your mind back a few weeks. In the UK it was sunny but cool. Remember the weekend of the Mexican Grand Prix? Right, so here we go . .

The Mexican Grand Prix was the eighteenth race of the year, just this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix and the Abu Dhabi race left to finish off the 2017 season. As I am far too tight to subscribe to Sky TV and their Formula 1 channel, I have to make do with the terrestrial broadcast over at Channel Four. I say make do but that’s a little unfair, the F1 coverage over at Channel Four is actually very good indeed. David Coulthard is an excellent commentator and pundit and his colleagues, Ben Edwards and Karun Chandhok are excellent. Also making occasional appearances are Mark Webber, Eddie Jordan and Suzie Wolff, and together they make a great team. Sadly, not all the races are live and such was the case of the Mexican event. It turned out that Mexico was a key race with the possibility of Hamilton clinching his fourth world crown. Both the qualifying session and the race were broadcast late -after ten at night- so I set myself the task of not seeing the results until I watched the broadcast. Luckily I wasn’t at work so colleagues telling me about the race or feeding me dud information wasn’t an issue.

On race day I wasn’t actually sure what time the event was actually taking place. Was Mexico behind the UK or ahead? I could check the internet but then that gave rise to the possibility of seeing something like an e-mail about the event. I subscribe to a number of F1 web sites and their e-mail newsletters always have the winner’s name in the subject so e-mails and Internet were a no-no. Liz wanted to go into Lytham for some event on the sea front but again, that threw up the possibility of seeing someone, friend or foe, who would blab the results. No, the only answer was to stay indoors, shun contact with anyone and everyone, lock the doors and watch recorded TV only.

I pulled up my favourite comfy chair and found I had an episode of ‘Who do you think you are?’ featuring J K Rowling to watch, and very fascinating viewing it was too. I didn’t really know much about J K Rowling other than she has penned one of the most well read book series in modern publishing history and the programme was very interesting, so much so it spurred me to find out more about her. Apparently, the idea for Harry Potter and the school of wizardry came to her fully formed on a delayed rail journey from Manchester to London. She moved to Edinburgh after the failure of her marriage and wrote her first novel while on benefits. Much of the writing was done in local cafes where she walked with her baby daughter. The pram journey in the fresh air sent the youngster to sleep and J K was free to write. The K was actually an addition to her name by the publishers. They thought J K Rowling sounded better than J or Joanne Rowling.  The programme traced her French great grandfather’s origins in France and learned he had won the Croix de Guerre in the First World War. It was wonderful to see various grand and important archives give up their dusty old secrets.

In 2016 The Sunday Times Rich List estimated Rowling’s fortune at £600 million, a tidy few quid more than I have made from Floating in Space. I have never read any of the Harry Potter books or even seen the films so perhaps I should put them on my reading list.

Anyway, that programme took us to just after lunchtime so I chanced a look on my Ipad. I thought Ebay would be a safe site, no F1 news there. I looked at a few things and with Liz’s help tracked down a new phone which, when it arrives, will enable me to join the smart phone brigade.

Time for some tea and an afternoon/early evening film. I had recorded A Good Year the previous day which was a romcom directed by Ridley Scott. I had not seen the film before and it was reasonably pleasant but it had a lot of irritating faults that could have easily been removed to make it into a really good film. The photography was lush and atmospheric but the editor seemed to have chopped and cut it together rather haphazardly. There were flashbacks to the youth of the Russell Crowe character which I wasn’t sure were flashbacks at first. The soundtrack was dreadful and Russell Crowe was just totally miscast. His english accent was odd and his haircut even odder. I can imagine maybe Hugh Grant or some genuine Englishman would have been more believable. An enjoyable film but it could have been so much better.

When I stopped the recording, our hard drive recorder switched to the BBC news and to my horror, I heard the announcer talk about Lewis Hamilton’s fourth world championship! No! I quickly flipped over to another channel. Okay, Hamilton may be world champion but did he win the race? Perhaps Bottas or Vettel had won. Raikkonen has looked good this year; was he in with a shout?

Finally, 10.30 pm came and I sat back to watch the race. Hamilton came 9th and Max Verstappen was the winner. Sebastian Vettel came fourth. He and Hamilton had a coming together on the first lap. Vettel recovered better than Hamilton but fourth place was not enough to deny Lewis the championship. Not a great race but I was pleased that I had come though the day and watched the race highlights without knowing the eventual winner until I finally watched the race.

The whole thing reminded me of a Likely Lads episode I remembered from way back, in an episode called No Hiding Place, James Bolam and Rodney Bewes try to avoid hearing the result of a football match until the highlights are shown that evening. I know how they felt!

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

A Slice of my Life

I bumped into one of my friends the other day, someone I hadn’t seen for about a month. After a quick chat he said to me that he was looking forward to reading my next post. ‘Have you written a new one yet?’ he asked.

‘A new one?’ I replied. ‘Don’t you read my tag lines? A new post every Saturday!’

‘Yes,’ he said ‘but you can’t do a post every Saturday can you?’

‘Yes’ was the answer,’ a new post every Saturday!’

‘Every Saturday? But how do you think of things to write about?’

Well, actually I’m not sure. At least I’m not a newspaper columnist, having to write something new every day, that would be hard but now I think of it, writing a new post every week is pretty difficult too. Luckily, I’m free to write about almost anything, I’m not limited like someone who writes a cycling blog for instance, who must find a new cycling topic to write about every week. I do tend to stick to books, classic films and tell anecdotes about myself but sometimes I rabbit on about Watergate, Marilyn Monroe, JFK, Formula One racing, the Apollo missions and basically, everything under the sun.

While on holiday earlier this year -did I mention I went to France for five weeks?- I pumped out numerous blog posts but now I’m back home and back into the old routine my stack of draft posts is beginning to dwindle. Anyway, the other day I was reading a post by a fellow blogger, one in which he went from a slice of pizza, to a day in his life, a ‘slice’ of his life, if you will. That was so enjoyable I thought I might try it myself.

Picture courtesy Oliver’s

I’m not a great pizza fan but come to think of it, I did have a pizza the other week. Liz and I went to Oliver’s, a small eatery not far from a pub we drink in so it was nice to start off our night there. Oliver’s is a small place and I can imagine that in a previous life it was just a takeaway but the present owners have added a few tables, some pleasant lighting and decor and a small but tasty menu.

Liz and I always share a pizza for starters. We usually have the Siciliana pizza which comes with olives, capers, onions, cheese and anchovies. Now I don’t care for anchovies so we tend to swap that topping for something else. It’s a really nice pizza and as we are sharing we don’t get too stuffed. The main course is one that most people have as a starter; it’s a sharing board with meatballs, spicy potatoes, olives, cheese, some cold meats, and this really lovely olive oil bread. Wonderful! The other thing about this place is that they don’t have a drinks license so you have to take your own,which brings the bill down considerably and we always decant some wine from our French collection and take it along. (Did I mention we spent five weeks in France during the summer?) The staff at Oliver’s are very friendly too, making our visit there just a lovely experience, and not only that, the place is only a stone’s throw from the Victoria pub where they serve an outstanding pint of lager.

A meal out and a few beers is the perfect way to forget about work and blog posts and relax for a while.

A big headache for me lately is editing the video I shot while in France this year. (Did I mention we went to Fra- oh never mind!) Video editing is very satisfying, especially for a wannabe movie director like me but it is very time-consuming and there is so much you have to keep in your head. You have to hold the big picture up there in your mind while you sort out the bits and pieces that go to make that big picture.

The other day I finished my edit and began the upload to YouTube. The first few tries were a failure as my laptop timed out then went in to a sort of meltdown and had to be re started. Laptops are a little like a woman, fine if you give them the attention they need but if you think you can go in the other room and watch ‘Lost in Space’ -which is currently being re-shown on the freeview Horror channel at the moment- while they are working: Forget it!

After a number of false starts I finally got my upload sorted. My plan of action was to get the video uploaded then add some fine tuning and some music by using You-tube’s built-in video editor. At first I thought an element of brain fade had caused a minor meltdown within me (could do with another night out at Oliver’s perhaps) because for the life of me I couldn’t find the video editor or even how to access it. After some research I found that I couldn’t access it because the YouTube Video Editor is no more! As John Cleese might say, it has ceased to be, it is an ex-video editor, it is pushing up video daisies because, alas, YouTube decided they were going to dispense with the video editor.

Some other evening activity this week involved that great modern British custom, going down to the pub quiz. I do enjoy a good pub quiz and the Lytham and St Annes area there are quite a few quizzes to be found. A lot of them are the highbrow variety where the pub quizzers appear to have been bussed in from surrounding areas. They give you quite a glare if you happen to be manhandling a mobile phone and look like you are looking up the answers. As it happens our ancient mobiles are non smartphones so we are not guilty, although I have to admit I did once text my brother to ask ‘who plays Purdey in the New Avengers?’ (One point if you got Joanna Lumley.)

Questions in these kind of quizzes are on the lines of: Pudong, meaning “east bank”, is the financial district of which city? (One point if you answered Shanghai.) Bonus point if you know the husband and wife star of the movie ‘The lady From Shanghai!’ (One point each for Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth.) We went to one pub quiz a few years back in which the quiz master, a retired schoolteacher, asked to check each quiz paper after each round. He then put the team names on a ladder with current leaders at the top and those bringing up the rear at the bottom. Needless to say, not being well up in the districts of Shanghai, Liz and I, who quiz as The Lovers, were at the bottom of the ladder.

Anyway, this week’s quiz was at the Blossoms pub and the quiz was not of the highbrow variety but more of the fun variety. Lots of familiar film, TV and music stars in the picture round for me and a good cryptic word round which Liz excels at. After liaising with a young couple sitting close by we were able to come through as the winners after a round which alternated disco era music questions with 2012 chart hits. Great quiz and plenty of spot prizes for those who drew out raffle tickets and some great music. In fact they played the sort of tracks that you realise were not only brilliant but you haven’t heard for a while. One particular favourite was ‘Mind Blowing Decisions, by Heatwave, a fabulous track from 1978.

Next mind-blowing decision: Might as well delete that upload then and start the fine tuning of my video on my old laptop. As I wait for it to crank up I start thinking about food. What shall we have for tea tonight? Pizza? Nah, don’t think so. Come to think of it, we haven’t visited the Greek place for a while. Just fancy some Calamari for starters and maybe a little Moussaka with some salad . . OK, put that edit on hold for a while . .

Floating in Space can be ordered from amazon as a Kindle download or as a traditional paperback by clicking here. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.