2021 And All That

Well, that’s it for 2021. How was your year? Not very exciting I suppose, just like mine, and all because of the global pandemic. One day everything will be back to normal, although I’m not quite sure when that will be. Here’s a quick look back at 2021 with particular attention to some of last year’s blog posts. Click the links and they will open into a new page.

I started off in 2021 looking forward to a break from the cold UK weather in Lanzarote. Lanzarote has just the perfect temperature for me, a pleasant 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and although it can be a little cooler in the evening it’s still pretty nice. In the UK parts of the country were separated into various lockdown tiers. We in the northwest were in tier 4 which prevented foreign travel but then we realised that the restrictions were not mandatory, only advisable so it looked like we might still get away. Our flight was still showing the week before we were due to leave, then it was cancelled, then another lockdown began. Our holiday was off.

As I was stuck at home, I wrote quite a few posts about the lockdown. One was A Mostly Musical Slice of my Locked Down Life. I talked about the Beatles who incidentally are back in the news again as director Peter Jackson has taken all the unused footage from a 1970 documentary, released it as Get Back, and made it into three two hour films. I haven’t seen yet it because as usual it was all shown on some pay to view channel, actually Disney+, so until it gets released on DVD or shown on the BBC, I’ll just have to wait. Pity because it looks pretty interesting.

In the same post I mentioned that Joe Biden was sworn in as the President of the United States and Donald Trump, the outgoing President, was so upset he didn’t even attend the swearing in. Personally, I think it was a pity that Hillary Clinton didn’t run again but as an Englishman living in the UK, what do I know?

As I was part of locked down Britain, I didn’t get up to much earlier in the year so I thought I might impart some of my poetry writing wisdom to my readers in a post about The Secret of Writing Poetry. I even threw in a video of me rabbiting away to the camera and explaining my three different ways of writing poetry.

In March I was still writing about being a Locked Down Blogger but I had started to pine for my favourite sport F1 racing. The season was due to start in March and just to get myself in the mood I decided to watch some old F1 on an old VHS tape. Monaco, TV Ads and the Problem with VHS Tapes will explain what happened. While we’re on the subject of F1, Lewis Hamilton, like Donald Trump, didn’t show up for the new guy to be sworn in, well, given his World Championship trophy, but as the season ended up in a rather disappointing fashion with Max Verstappen winning because of a controversial safety car decision, I can’t really blame him. There are rumours in the media that Lewis might retire but I certainly hope not.

In April I was back writing about books again. I do love books and reading so I thought I’d set down Some Thoughts About Books and Reading.

I went for an eye test in April. For my previous test I’d been subjected to a new electronic gizmo which I didn’t like at all. This time I’d gone somewhere where they used the old fashioned method, a big set of specs into which the optometrist pops his little eyeglass variations until I had the perfect prescription lenses. That gave me an idea for a blog post. Most people take good eyesight for granted but as a lifelong spectacle wearer I can assure you I don’t. I’m used to having to change specs every time I want to read the small print on a CD in a shop or on a book or on food packaging. Now with my new varifocals I can see up close and far away without changing to another pair. Varifocals, I love them.

When I start writing a blog post, I tend to look back on my life and the things I’ve done which is how I came to write a post called A Series of What If Events I talked about how my life would have turned out if certain things hadn’t happened, like if my Dad had taken a job offer that entailed him moving away or if my Mum hadn’t broken off her engagement with another man before marrying my Dad.

In May I’d probably put together a new playlist on Spotify which prompted me to write A Brief History of the Disco Era. I’ve always liked disco music but what was the first disco record? What was the last one? How and why did the disco era end, if it really did end?

In June I was doing a lot of pottering about in the back garden which is how I came to write How Does Your Garden Grow? I’m not any sort of a gardener but Liz certainly is and so I got out my camera and took various shots of her vegetables and my lemon trees -not shop bought but grown from lemon pips, and threw it all into a blog post.

In July I was suffering with a trapped nerve in my neck which was hurting my neck and arm and that painful time prompted A Pain in the Neck as well as a later post, My Arm Hurts.

In August I had managed to get some space in a local newspaper talking about my poetry collection and that led to an interview on local radio. The recording was made available as a download so I duly downloaded it, cut out the boring bits and made it into a short video. The whole experience was one I wrote about in Diana, Meghan, Nixon and Me.

In September I was looking for inspiration not only for my blog posts but also for my videos. Sometimes I’ve made a video inspired by my blogs, sometimes it’s the other way round, I’ve made a post about making videos. From Blog Post to Video was a post about just that, how my blogs and videos sometimes overlap.

In October I hit the Big 65, yes 65 years old or to put it another way, 23,725 days old or 569,400 hours old. Wow, I didn’t realise I was so ancient!

In November I wanted to get a good moan off my chest, hence a post called A Kind of A Moany, Whingy Sort of Blog Post.

In December Liz and I were finally in Lanzarote and I was probably enjoying it all too much which is why Thoughts from A Sun Lounger part 13 was such a short one. Later as I lay on my sun lounger my thoughts drifted back to my childhood and I jotted down a few childhood memories in Make Me A Child Again, Just For Tonight. I even had a few reminiscences left over for The Post Holiday Blues and Other Ramblings.

So there it is, that was my year. Not particularly exciting but I pretty much enjoyed it anyway. To be honest, I may have been a little bored during the lockdown but mostly, I pretty much enjoyed that too. Yes, it was more time for reading, writing and blogging, all of which I hope to be doing in 2022 along with, pandemic permitting, some motorhome travels too.

Best wishes and a happy New Year.


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Thoughts and Reflections from Lanzarote

As I write this we are on our 5th day in Lanzarote. I do love it here and it was nice to go to our favourite bar and see all our favourite bar staff there. The manager Juan was pleased to see us and greeted us in his usual fashion, calling out good morning as he does, no matter whether it is morning, afternoon or evening.

I’m not sure that Juan’s English is as good as he makes it out to be because sometimes I can see a little confusion on his face when we talk about something other than the usual greetings and ‘how are you?’. Still, he is the consummate professional waiter, always focussed on who is coming in, who needs attention and even as we chat I could see he had spotted a table that required attention and he was soon off to take their order.

I do love being in a warm climate. There are so many things that once here we take for granted. How easy is it to rinse out a pair of socks or under garments and hang them outside to quickly dry? So easy. Come to think of it, why I have brought three pairs of socks over from England I do not know. I only tend to wear socks when I go out in the evening. During the day I am either barefoot or wearing my sandals without socks. Come to think of it, I didn’t need all those undies either as most of the time I wander about in my swimming trunks.

The villa we have rented is not one that I’ve stayed in before. We came across it just out walking back in 2020 and decided to book it for this year. Actually, we booked it for January but Covid 19 put paid to our travel plans. I have brought my laptop and iPad over and brought an array of electrical plug converters in order to keep everything fully charged. The thing is, this place has built in USB ports, so we didn’t need all those adapters after all. Next year I must seriously review my packing.

Another problem I’ve encountered is this one. Earlier this year a routine check up showed that I was suffering with type 2 diabetes. The doc gave me three months to cut out sugary stuff and get my sugar levels down before recommending medication. So I’ve tried to cut down on my nightly nibbles of chocolate and biscuits. No more sugar in my tea and no more choccy bar in my lunch box and happily I found that on my last check up I was back to normal. Great news but I’ve noticed that a lot of my trousers don’t seem to be fitting me as well as they did and I’ve had to cut an extra notch in my belt to tighten it up.

Before flying out from the UK I duly ironed my favourite shorts that I’ve had for a couple of years but they were way too big so they were jettisoned in favour of an older pair. My favourite trousers are feeling a little big too so I may have to look at buying some new clothes soon, especially with all the swimming and walking I’m doing.

Talking of new clothes. I usually make my Holiday Book Bag posts into a video for my YouTube page. Looking at the video from 2017, I’m wearing my favourite T shirt as I talk to the camera, the same one I’m wearing today. Note to the video wardrobe department. Make sure I’m wearing something different for this year’s video!

The other night we went to one of Liz’s favourite restaurants, Casa Carlos. Carlos is a big guy and always remembers us. He always takes the orders in his restaurant and usually comes and fills us in with the delights of the numerous fishy dishes that are on offer. He generally gives me a pretty black look when I order the pizza but sorry Carlos, I don’t like fish! This year the restaurant has relocated to the centre of the Marina Rubicon. When we arrived, Carlos was not in evidence but the waiter began to talk us through various fishy specials. I tried to look interested but probably failed dismally. We haven’t had a menu yet I told him. It turned out that Casa Carlos has gone hi-tech – on each table is a card with a QR code. You scan the code with your phone and a pdf version of the menu is instantly downloaded. Sorry Carlos, but I prefer an old-fashioned physical menu.

Carlos soon appeared and as usual remembered us and was pleased to see us. Liz ordered some fisherman’s soup and I went for the tomato variety. For the main course I couldn’t seem to find the pizza section but it seemed they just don’t do pizza anymore. I’m not sure if Carlos thought that he’d got me and I would be compelled to order something fishy. He did seem to have a bit of a smile on his face which crumbled a little when I ordered Spaghetti Bolognese. Yes, I know, a rather uninspired choice but the menu just wasn’t my cup of tea. We only go there so Liz is able to eat some exotic fish.

I tasted some of her fish soup and believe it or not, it wasn’t vile. In fact, it was really nice. Of course, I’m full of a holiday cold at the moment so perhaps my taste buds weren’t functioning as they should be.

One of our holiday rules has always been no TV. We’ve stayed at plenty of places with impressive TV and satellite combos but we’ve never been tempted. This year as I’ve suddenly developed the cold and sore throat that Liz has recently got rid of and also because she is suffering greatly with a sore hip, we haven’t done much walking down to our usual restaurants. Well, at least not as much as usual. It’s November and it goes dark early here so we have relented and turned the TV on to watch I’m a Celebrity; Get Me out of Here!

Yes, I know it’s a load of old tosh with plenty of non-celebrity celebrities competing to be King or Queen of the jungle. I’m really not that interested but I think Liz likes it when I squirm at the bug eating antics of the show’s cast. This year the show is not in Australia it is in some castle in Wales. It looks pretty cold as the contestants are wearing numerous layers of coats and body warmers. They consist of a music producer I’ve never heard of, a TV presenter I’ve never heard of, a DJ I’ve never heard of and some others whose fame has just passed me by apart from Richard Madeley, once a presenter on some daytime TV magazine show. There is also a lady from BBC news and two late entrants, two stars of UK TV soaps, Eastenders and Coronation St, so to me that makes a total of four genuine selebrities.

The first episode was last Sunday and by chance the TV set was already tuned to Channel Four and the Qatar Grand Prix highlights were just starting. I’ve not written much about F1 this year but it has been a cracking season with some great battles between Max Verstappen and 7 times champ Lewis Hamilton. In recent years Hamilton has really rendered the sport rather boring by virtue of just winning almost everything but this year he has had to fight to keep up with Verstappen. Lewis won the Qatar Grand Prix so now has an outside chance of overtaking Max’s superior points score. I hope he does because it will be a long time before we see an 8 times champion again.

These last couple of days have been a little dull and much cooler. We mentioned this to our host Carlos the other night but he just dismissed our moan with a laugh. ‘What is it like back home in England?’ he asked. Infinitely worse than where we are now of course. ‘It will soon be warm and sunny again’ added Carlos, ‘don’t worry.’

I think that is really what I like about Lanzarote, the chilled-out outlook and the optimism of its people. If it isn’t sunny today, it will be tomorrow.


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Advertising, Comedy Writers and Patricia Cornwell

Advertisements do get on my nerves. They’re perhaps not so bad when reading a magazine, you don’t even have to look at them but TV commercials, well they are just a pain in the neck. Occasionally, if you are watching terrestrial TV and a commercial break comes on, sometimes you think OK, I’ll put the kettle on or go for a quick bathroom visit then you can sit down and you haven’t missed much. I’ve noticed lately however, that on some of the more commercial channels like ITV2 and 5USA for instance, the commercial breaks seem to go on for ever and sometimes it’s easier to just record the film or whatever you are watching and watch it later, when you can fast forward through the advertising.

Liz and I have a Sky subscription. It’s only the basic one, we don’t get sport or the movies channels, or the Formula 1 racing for that matter but we do hand over a sum of money to Sky every month in return for various TV channels. It almost seems then, that we are actually paying to see advertisements which really gets me so mad as I am paying for something which is annoying!

Still, I suppose the TV channels have to find a way to maximise their profits; they don’t put out TV shows for free of course, they do it to make money. I sometimes wonder how the world of broadcasting would have evolved without advertising; it would be so much better. Imagine all TV stations like the BBC, devoid of adverts and showing just the things we want to see. I remember once seeing an interview with Galton and Simpson, the famous comedy writers. They wrote for Tony Hancock and they wrote sitcoms like the classic Steptoe and Son. They said that sitcoms on commercial TV were essentially two 12-minute acts, with the remaining 6 minutes taken up by advertising. Writing for the BBC they said gave them an extra 6 minutes to play with. ‘Integrity time’ I think they called it.

Ray Galton and Alan Simpson met at a tuberculosis clinic in 1948 when they were both recuperating from the disease. They went on to write scripts for various radio shows before beginning a collaboration with Tony Hancock for the Hancock’s Half Hour radio show and for the later TV series. When Hancock ended their relationship, the two writers wrote a series called Comedy Playhouse. One particular episode was very popular and from this the two created Steptoe and Son, the classic BBC comedy.

Another writing partnership that I have always been fond of is Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement. They wrote the TV series The Likely Lads in the 1960’s and its 1970’s follow up Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads. I’ve always loved the Likely Lads, in particular that latter follow up series. Rodney Bewes and James Bolam played the eponymous lads and the series was set in the Newcastle upon Tyne area of north east England.  The later series was funny but also had a poignant quality as the two lamented the way things had changed since the days of the 1960’s. In the film version the two take time to attend the last moments of their favourite pub, the Fat Ox, soon to be knocked down by developers. All around them they can see change as back-to-back terraced houses are knocked down in favour of new housing estates. The feature film captures all the elements of the show and there were plans for a revival of the series but the two actors, Bolam and Bewes, apparently had a falling out and Bolam declined to appear again as his character Terry. After Bewes passed away, Bolam maintained that there never was a feud but that unlike Bewes, he was not interested in doing more Likely Lads.

La Frenais and Clement wrote a pilot script for Ronnie Barker in 1973 which later became the hit comedy series Porridge. It ran for three series and was also made into a feature film. The series starred Barker and Richard Beckinsdale as two inmates of Slade prison. Barker plays Fletcher, a prisoner who knows the prison ropes and is described in the opening titles by the judge as he is handing down a prison sentence (actually a voice over by Barker himself) as an ‘habitual criminal’. Beckinsdale plays Godber, an inmate serving his first term in prison who Fletcher takes under his wing and tries to educate in the ways of prison life.

Richard Beckinsdale who sadly passed away from an undiagnosed heart problem in 1979, was one of the bright new comedy actors of his time and would surely have gone on to greater things. He also starred in the TV comedy Rising Damp, about a seedy landlord played by Leonard Rossiter with three regular guests played by Beckinsdale, Frances De La tour and Don Warrington. The classic series even now enjoys many re runs on TV.

Another of my favourite comedy writers is Spike Milligan. He wrote most of the episodes of the classic radio comedy The Goon Show which starred Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Milligan. The Goon show was a revolution in radio comedy and featured a sort of surreal humour allied to numerous comedy voices, mostly supplied by Sellers, and many outlandish sound effects.

The show debuted in 1951 but the pressure of continually having to produce a new script weighed heavy on Milligan who suffered a nervous breakdown towards the end of 1952. Other writers were drafted in to help with scripts including Jimmy Grafton, (who ran a London pub where the cast originally met) Michael Bentine and others. The members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus all credit Milligan with inspiring them to work in comedy.

Milligan was a prolific writer, creating many radio and TV scripts as well as a play, The Bed Sitting Room which was also made into a film.

Back to Advertising.

I seem to have drifted off my original subject which was TV advertising. All TV adverts are not bad I suppose. Some that come to mind were the Cinzano ads featuring Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins. Together, they made a very funny series of ads back in the 70’s. Here’s the one I think is the funniest . .

Also I have to admit liking those ones featuring the Meerkats. There’s a great one where one of the meerkats, Sergei, (sad isn’t it when you watch the TV ads that much you even know the names of the meerkats) has been left alone for a while and he is really sad. When his pal finally returns and asks did you miss me? Sergei replies Miss you? I didn’t even notice you’d gone!

Remember the one about JR Hartley? I couldn’t even remember what they were actually advertising but after a quick look on Google I see it was yellow pages. An old chap is looking for a book, Fly Fishing by JR Hartley. He finds a copy using the yellow pages but who is the guy? It’s the author himself, Mr JR Hartley!

A personal favourite was one advertising a new Ford car using Steve McQueen. McQueen’s image was pulled from the movie Bullit and digitally inserted into the ad for a new Ford Puma.

Patricia Cornwell.

Patricia Cornwell is an American writer of mystery novels mainly featuring her heroine, Kay Scarpetta. Scarpetta is a medical examiner in the US state of Virginia and solves many murder cases using forensic methods and technology. Many credit Cornwell with inspiring the rash of CSI TV shows and other books and films that feature hi tech forensics.

I have a lot of respect for Patricia and any writer who can produce numerous high-quality novels. As for me, I’m still here labouring (sometimes) on the sequel to Floating in Space so my output is just a pale shadow compared to Patricia’s. Over on Twitter where I knock out a few Tweets every day in hope of attracting some attention to my blogs and books I have a shedload of followers but not a lot of interaction. Often my Tweets go off into cyberspace sometimes without anyone even noticing. The highlight of my week therefore was not only Patricia Cornwell following me on Twitter but also liking one of my Tweets. Pity she couldn’t have given me a retweet but heck, I’ll settle for a like. Thanks Patricia!


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Dreams and Dreamers

I’ve not had a particularly great week this week. The weather has been poor, I’m still off work because of my sore neck and shoulder and despite feeling better over the past month, these last two weeks have actually seen me going the other way, my neck and arm are starting to hurt more.

The other day I woke up far too early, it was 6 am when I stretched out and fumbled for my phone to check the time. It was a Friday and I didn’t have a completed blog post for my usual Saturday morning deadline, the deadline that for the past few years has kept me honest as a writer. I padded off wearily to the bathroom, had a glass of water and availed myself of the facilities and went back to bed. I don’t dream that much although a few years ago my dreaming seemed to increase, so much so that I started a dream journal, a notebook just by the bedside so that when I awoke I could jot down the details of my dream. Later when I came to review the notes I tended to find a whole lot of gibberish that not only made no sense but didn’t in any way nudge my memory and bring back those quickly forgotten dreams.

A long time ago I awoke after a crazy dream in which I was out with a friend I hadn’t seen for years, and somehow, don’t ask me how, I had lost all my clothes. We had been out drinking and were walking home then something happened and I woke up somewhere without any clothes. I woke up then but that wasn’t the end of it.

The next night I had a sort of follow on dream. I was wandering around with no clothes, although I had come across a blanket somehow and with me was Michael Portillo (yes, the ex-MP who hosts a show on BBC about railway journeys). Well we ended up in this hotel and I was starting to worry. Well, who wouldn’t? No clothes, no wallet, no mobile. Who could I call? Should I try and cancel my bank cards? What happened to my keys? Where am I and what has Michael Portillo got to do with it?

Michael was standing nearby and using his influence as a famous former MP. Someone brought him a phone and he started chatting into it. Clothes were brought for him and I could hear him speaking to his bank. It actually brought to mind that sequence at the beginning of one of the Bond films where Pierce Brosnan has been in a Chinese prison, escapes and finds himself in Hong Kong. He walks into this posh hotel, his hair long and unkempt, his clothes in rags and the guy at reception says “Will you be wanting your usual suite Mr Bond?”.

Some people just have that manner about them don’t they? Me, I’d have been unceremonially kicked out of that hotel, assuming I’d even made it past the front door! I can just imagine the scene:
Your usual suite Mr Higgins? Just a moment please?”
The manager beckons to a large man looking similar to Oddjob from the Bond movie Goldfinger. The next moment Mr Higgins hurtles through the front door. As he is propelled into the street he murmurs, “that’s a ‘no’ then is it?”

I often wonder where dreams actually come from. What is it in the deep recesses of the mind that produce these spurious dramas? When I was younger I don’t really recall ever dreaming that much. As I grew older I seemed to dream more but tended to forget most of my dreams very quickly. These days I do dream quite a lot and I dream pretty sensible things too. The ending of ‘Floating In Space’ was something I dreamed one night and I typed it up and replaced the original finale which, although inspired by real events, was a little unbelievable. Also, I have an entire story which I’ve partly written into a screenplay which I dreamed one night and which played out in front of me as vividly as if I was sitting at the front row of a picture house. It is about a man who appears one night wearing a white suit and who gets involved in some strange circumstances. So strange that those around him begin to believe the man is a kind of Saviour; a sort of new Jesus figure, and his companions become disciples in the way of those who followed Jesus himself. I still have my notes from that dream and the story is on my ‘to do’ list to finish.

Dreaming a story and making it into a novel or a screenplay isn’t quite as strange as it seems. In 1898 an American writer, Morgan Robertson wrote a story about an unsinkable ship called the Titan which sailed from England to the USA, hit an iceberg and sank. The story was published fourteen years before the Titanic disaster. I remember reading the story of this writer years ago, even that the writer saw the story played out in front of him like a movie but all the research I did on the internet for this blog seems to imply that the author was a man who knew his business where ships were concerned, felt that ships were getting bigger and bigger and that a disaster like that of the Titanic was inevitable.

That particular morning I fell back asleep and when I finally awoke, the sun was streaming through the windows and I felt refreshed and ready for a steaming hot cup of tea. In the kitchen I flipped on the kettle and while I waited for it to boil, I scrolled through my iPad. I was particularly interested in my YouTube stats because I had recently entered two of my short videos into film festivals and I was hoping that even if the videos didn’t get anywhere in competition, they would at least bring in some views and increase my media profile.

The stats for my videos were tremendous and I remember feeling a little buzz of excitement. My mobile phone rang just then. I didn’t recognise the number but I took the call anyway. It was a fellow who identified himself as one of the producers of the new James Bond film. They weren’t happy about the film; it hadn’t been released yet due to the Covid pandemic but they reckoned after seeing my film festival entries that perhaps I could take a look at their final edit and suggest some improvements. There was only one possible answer of course: I said yes straight away. It turned out there was an edit suite ready for me somewhere in London and I could expect a call back as soon as arrangements were made for the helicopter to pick me up.

Breakfast then was a quick bacon and egg butty which Liz expertly sorted out while I had a quick shower and a shave. I was just finishing off eating when I heard sirens and could see flashing lights in the street. A small posse of police cars had stopped all the traffic so the helicopter could land. It felt slightly surreal giving Liz a goodbye hug and kiss and then ducking down and running towards the aircraft. Moments later, St Annes was dropping away beneath me as we made our way towards Blackpool airport where we transferred to a jet specially chartered by MGM.

The aircraft lifted easily up into the clouds and headed south and almost as soon as the seat belt light went out the stewardess appeared and served me with a nice pot of tea. She did try to serve me coffee until I mentioned I’d rather drink a cup of mud. Funnily enough, in one of the Bond books, coffee drinker 007 describes tea in exactly the same way.  Scrambled eggs came shortly afterwards served with toast. I didn’t have to heart to tell her I’d already eaten.

The stewardess was soon back with a telephone call for me. It was Sky TV and they wanted to know that as I was on the way south would I have time for an interview? I scanned through my schedule for the day and I could see that we could maybe just fit that in as long as the Bond thing went smoothly enough. They must want to talk about the Bond film I assumed but apparently, sales of Floating in Space had just recently taken off and they wanted to ask about that.

It was a pretty busy day in the 007 editing suite although as I absolutely love editing, it was highly enjoyable. No more working on my cheap laptop. The edit suite was state of the art and I engineered a few minor but subtle changes. Apparently, the cast was standing by at Pinewood studios in case there was anything I wanted to reshoot but I didn’t think it was necessary. Not only that, Melvin Bragg was waiting down at the Sky television studios.

On the way down there having said goodbye to the lovely James Bond people, I settled down in my limo and had a quick check on my bank account. Whoa, there was a hell of a lot of money in there, money I wasn’t expecting to see. Checking through my emails, there was one from Amazon advising that Floating in Space was now the best-selling work of fiction in the UK. Straight away I started thinking about the villa in the Loire Valley that I had been looking at a few weeks ago on the internet. Wonder if I could fly down there and take a look at the property? If I liked it, if it was really as good as it looked on the website, could I really afford it? Looking at my bank account again, I reckon I could.

It wasn’t long until we arrived at the studios. Melvyn Bragg looked a little older than I remembered him although I had only ever seen him on TV and that was quite a while ago. I went into makeup and he and I had a quick chat about what we were going to talk about. In the green room I happened to mention I was a little thirsty and in a jiffy there was someone there with just what I wanted, a Pepsi Max with ice and lemon. The assistant mentioned that the other guest was about to come through and I was just about to ask who it was when Olivia Newton John entered. The same Olivia Newton John whose poster used to adorn the wall in my teenage bedroom so many years ago back in Manchester. We had a chat, far too brief a chat and then I had to go for my interview.

How did I come to write Floating in Space? Would there be a sequel? Would the book be taken up by a traditional publisher? What about the film version?

Later on some of the TV executives took me into London for an early evening meal. I was pretty hungry by then. I could have murdered a donner kebab but we ended up in the west end somewhere eating one of those meals that look like a piece of artwork on a plate but actually can be eaten in a few mouthfuls.

They offered me a room at some swanky London hotel but I was still hungry and if I remembered correctly I think Liz had planned something special for Friday night so I declined the room and asked to be taken back home. When I was settled in on the aircraft once again I gave Liz a quick call and she mentioned that she had already decanted some red wine. The stewardess served me a gin and tonic in one of those large glasses with plenty of ice and lemon. To be honest I actually fancied a pint of lager but anyway, as I reached forward to take the drink, I slipped and went head over heels towards the floor.

I lifted my hand up to check my fall but I was back in bed. I looked over and Liz was scrolling down her mobile phone. ‘Bloody hell!’ she said, ‘that snoring was going right through me. Where’s my cup of tea?’


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From Blog Post to Video

I’ve had my YouTube channel for quite a while now but unlike this, my WordPress blogging page, I’ve always found it rather hard to create regular video output. Don’t get me wrong, I like making videos, I really do although the best part of making a video, at least for me, is the editing. With virtually every one of my videos there are multiple versions to be found in the video folder on my laptop. Yes, videos are just something I cannot leave alone. Every time I rewatch one I start to think didn’t I have a better clip for that scene? Why have I put that scene before this one? Wouldn’t it work better if I swapped them round? Why did I say that in the narration? I should have said this! And so that’s when I start tinkering and re-editing.

A few years ago I thought about making my whole blog into a YouTube Vlog. Of course, that would involve shooting and editing and then adding in the music and perhaps sound effects. For someone like me who has taken laziness to new heights, I’m not sure that would be possible, at least not for a weekly Vlog.

When I’m stuck for video content I usually find myself looking back at my older blog posts and wondering what would work as a video. One regular blog I’ve managed to convert to video are my Book Bag blogs. It’s pretty easy to make them into a video. I sit myself in front of the camera, glance through my notes and then wax lyrical for the camera about the various books I’ve been reading.

The first Book Bag Vlog was difficult though. I made it on holiday in Lanzarote. I hadn’t brought my tripod along but I picked up an adjustable clamp in the market place, actually a gadget for taking selfies that worked pretty well once I had got things lined up. Back then I was using a small Panasonic video camera which looked a little bit like a mobile phone. Today I have a Canon GX7 with a viewing screen that can be flipped over so if I’m shooting myself I can easily frame the shot. With the Panasonic, it wasn’t so easy. The filming for that first Book Bag Vlog went something like this:

Take 1. OK, went pretty well, I blathered on a bit and forgot the author of one book so time for take 2.

Take 2. OK but I’m holding the books slightly out of camera shot.

Take 3. I lift the books higher but gradually as the take goes on the books are getting lower and dropping out of shot. Cut, I shout, getting my director’s hat on.

Take 4. I’ve reframed and lowered the camera a little. I’ve actually cropped off the top of my head but the books are centre stage. I fluffed one of my lines calling Noel Coward an historical figure instead of a theatrical one but recovered that one OK with a little laugh at myself. I also say the Germans were ‘disappointed’ with Hitler at the end of World War Two when discussing a book about Albert Speer, one of Hitler’s ministers. Bit of a understatement there, I meant to say shocked or devastated, anyway, time for take 5.

Take 5. Start to stumble a little here, perhaps I need cue cards. Dorothy Parker wrote what for New York Magazines? Check the blurb on the back of her book again and time for take 6.

Take 6. Looked pretty good. Wait a minute, did I really say ‘my holiday blook blag‘? Time for take 7.

Take 7. Radical re think needed here I think so I’ve smartened myself up a little, put on my favourite holiday shirt and re positioned the camera and my clamp gadget. Wish I’d brought my tripod along! Anyway here we go. Action: ‘Hi I’m Steve Higgins and I’m here in . . er . . ‘ CUT! It’s Lanzarote!

Take 8. Slight camera adjustment as take 7 wasn’t particularly well framed. Forgot to mention who Albert Speer actually was. Will people know who he was? Well, if they are interested in history and World War Two yes, otherwise no . .

Take 9. ‘Bleak House by David Copperfield’? What is this guy talking about? Cut!

Take 10. Not too bad, faltered a few times over some words, mumbled a little perhaps but generally not bad. Sure I can do better though; still a little slow. Needs more pace.

Take 11: Whoa, slow down boy! I said pace not rabbit on and on without taking a breath!

Take 12: Not happening! Time for a swim!

The book bag posts are pretty easy to make, it’s just me in front of a camera chatting away. As long as I manage to chat without mumbling, getting words wrong, forgetting the name of the book author and so on, I usually end up with a reasonable result. I somehow don’t think I have a career as a TV presenter coming anytime soon. Here’s a video I made with a whole lot of out takes, How not to Not to Make a Promo Video.

As I said earlier, I’ve always found it hard to leave a video alone. After all, no work of art is ever finished, only abandoned, as someone once said. A few years ago I made a video about the Graves and Cemeteries of Two World Wars.  It was shot in Northern France and for the narration I used in part, the text from one of my blogs. I talked about time and how time seems to have slowed at those sacred places where once so many people fought and died and how it must have seemed, in the past, in the heat of the battle, that time flowed so quickly.

The big problem with that video, and I only seemed to realise it much later, when the video had accrued a sizeable number of viewings was that the opening sequence was not really in keeping with the tone of the film as a whole. I had started out with an idea that came to me while shooting at a French municipal aire, a quiet motorhome stopping place. I’d started off a sequence with a really impressive motorhome and then panned over to our, much smaller vehicle implying initially, that the first vehicle was ours, before showing the smaller one. It might probably have worked for a general motorhoming video but the humour was out of place for something about the sad subject of war.

For the re-edit, I removed that sequence, tidied up various fades and added some stock photos from the war years. To promote it I added it to various video festivals and at one, the Think Shorts festival, they decided to publish my video on their platform. I even got a special badge which I proudly added to the video icon.

I think I mentioned a few weeks ago about the challenges of making an audio recording into a video, which I did for a radio interview in which I had to participate by phone because of Covid 19. I started by thinking, foolishly, that I could mime to the audio recordings to create a fully lip synced video. That didn’t work out at all so I made a video with still photos and screen grabs with a few shots of me talking into a phone although making sure my mouth wasn’t visible when I spoke. I think I got away with it.

I did make a video called A Letter to my Younger Self, the text of which came straight from a similarly titled blog post. The blog post was pretty good, at least I thought so. The video lacked something in the voiceover department as my monologue seemed a little less than dynamic. Another post derived straight from a blog post was 4 Simple Secrets of Self-Publishing which is not a bad little film which reminds the self published author that if anything needs doing in regards to his or her book; promotion, press releases, advertising and so on, the author is on his or her own. Being a self published author is a one person operation.

Over at the busy end of my YouTube page there is a video called Trucking: 1980’s Style. It was shot on my old VHS compact camera and I followed my old friend Brian for a weekend in the late 80’s delivering goods in his wagon. It was a tough old job, lugging great trolleys and boxes of Sharwood’s curry sauces about the country. Stopping in Truckstops, sleeping in the cab and finding his way about with the help of his CB radio. It is currently my most watched video with over 140,000 views at the time of writing. Lots of trucking enthusiasts follow me on YouTube expecting more of the same and what they think when they find a new poetry video in their notifications, I don’t know. I did think of making a follow up video with Brian, something on the lines of Trucking; 40 Years Later. Brian was still a truck driver until a few months ago but unfortunately for me and the YouTube world, he has just retired.

Last year Liz and I drove our motorhome up to Scotland for a few days visiting the Isle of Skye and various other places. I should perhaps have asked proofreader Liz to check the resulting video film because right at the end I announced that the music in the film was called Soul Grove instead of Soul Groove. I rectified that and some other blemishes which I won’t go into in a re-edit which I uploaded to Vimeo. Vimeo has some great little advantages over YouTube, the main one for me is that if you choose to edit a video you can just replace the new version with your old one, without losing any of your viewer count. One disadvantage though is with a free Vimeo account, there are restrictions on how much content you can upload per week, which is why I had to make the resulting video into two separate parts.

Here are two final videos, both inspired by blog posts. The first is yet another re-edit. Manchester 1977-2017 is a visit to my home town of Manchester where I look at the city as it was then in 2017 and how it was in 1977, the year in which Floating in Space, my self published book is set. A lot of the narration is taken from a blog post about the city, Manchester 41 Years On. I talk about the pubs I used to visit, the square where I used to eat my sandwiches on sunny weekday lunchtimes and how the city centre has changed.

I have quite a few poetry videos both on YouTube and Vimeo. Most of the ones on Vimeo are re-edits where I’ve tried to improve on the original, either with the visual content or my usual weak point, my narration. In one blog post The Secret of Writing Poetry, I tried to impart my ideas on writing to the reader showcasing a few example poems on the way. That in turn inspired the video version which is pretty much the same, me talking to camera and delving into the background of three particular poems. I did it all one one or two takes and perhaps I might have been better going for take three but at least I think I have managed to get my general idea over.

Which of your blog posts would you make into a video?


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Enjoying The Fruits of Our Labours

A while back I wrote a post about Liz’s garden and all the things that were growing there. Now we’re in September it might be a good time to look again and see how things are.

The tomatoes have done well. There are not too many to show you because we both love tomatoes and between us we’ve scoffed a great deal. We’ve had some fried with bacon, sausage and eggs and some in my favourite salad; tomato and onion with plenty of olive oil.

We didn’t get many peas or broad beans but I’m guessing if we did Liz and daughter Zoë would have soon eaten those too. They like to eat them raw, nibbling on them as they pass by.

The cauliflower are not looking great as they have been the victim of some serious nibbling by the garden’s indigenous insect population. The insects can’t have been that keen on the celeriac as even though they were planted right next door to the cauliflower they are looking well.

We had a good crop of strawberries this year but they too have been harvested and eaten. We like them served with raspberries and some Greek yoghurt.

The padron peppers are looking good. I’ve seen padron peppers on the tapas menu in Lanzarote in the past but I’ve never tried them. This year we’ve had plenty of peppers on the barbecue and I have to say, I’ve got to really like them.

I grew some chilli pepper plants from seeds. Most have not done too well except for one which has resided on the kitchen window sill throughout the summer. That plant has a few chillies just waiting to be added to either a good chilli con carne or any one of a number of spicy dishes served in our household like Liz’s hot goats’ cheese with spinach and chilli. Another chilli plant, one that came direct from the garden centre sale is doing really well, that’s it in the picture above.

There is some garlic too, over on the far side of the garden which comes in pretty handy for curries and all sorts of spicy dishes. We sometimes add some to our tomato and onion salads too.

I’ve got two olive trees and both seem to have fruit on them, whether they will become fully rounded olives is another story. Some nice black olives would come in pretty handy as they are really nice when added to the tomato and onion salad I mentioned earlier.

It’s been nice to see that the apple pips I planted earlier this year have sprouted into two small plants about six inches high. Might be a few years before I see any apples though. that’s one of the apple plants in the collage below, bottom right.

Some years ago, I grew some lemon plants from pips. I really do love growing things from pips. It’s like having a close up of nature renewing itself. My lemon trees are probably about three years old now and according to the internet, they have to be three to five years old to produce fruit. That’s if they will produce fruit. The thing is if they did produce fruit, if they did actually produce a lemon for me that would be so wonderful, I’d be over the moon.

I’d probably cut a big slice of my lemon -my future lemon- and drop it into a gin and tonic with a whole lot of ice or maybe even a Bacardi and Pepsi Max. Then I’d savour it and quietly thank my tree for giving me a lemon. Once, Liz and I rented a villa in Spain and in the gardens were a whole bunch of lemon trees so we could pick one whenever we wanted.

I do have another lemon tree, a shop bought lemon tree. It’s only small but is obviously grafted and came with a few lemons already growing on it. After a few days my two small lemons dropped off and that was that. I’ve had it for about a year but I’ve watered it regularly, letting it dry out just like they say in those how to do it YouTube videos and blogs that I’ve been researching. I’ve fed it too with the correct fertilizers and nutrients. The other day I noticed something on one of the branches, something that at first glance seemed like a small bit of fluff or something that had been blown in on the breeze but it wasn’t. It was a flower and the beginning of a small lemon!

September has never been one of my favourite months. The days are getting shorter and cooler but last week here in the north west UK we had something of a mini heatwave so rather than go out to a restaurant or eat inside, it was time to crank up our very handy mini gas barbeque. As usual we started off with a tomato and onion salad. Slice your home grown tomatoes and place them in a dish, sprinkle with finely chopped red onions, pour over a glug of good olive oil and season well and if you fancy, throw in a few black olives and even some garlic; lovely.

Another addition is a tomato, chive and rice salad and some homemade slaw. We usually add a bag of salad leaves and we’ll nibble on all that while Liz slaps on our first course, small kebabs made from beef lorne sausages seasoned with cumin and some salt and pepper.

Next up on the little barbeque are some padron peppers, home grown of course, just simply seasoned and rubbed with olive oil.

A couple of homemade burgers go on the grill and I like them served up in a toasted bun with some of my tomatoes and onions and a nice portion of either mustard or tomato sauce. Final course, a small steak served medium for me and medium rare for Liz. Glass of wine? Don’t mind if I do!


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Good Decision/Bad Decision

Decisions can change your life. That’s why it’s important to make the correct one but it’s always seemed to me that I tend to make the wrong one.

I wrote about my spectacles a few weeks back. You might think that in the general scheme of things specs don’t really amount to much but for someone like me who has worn glasses pretty much all his life they are a really big thing.

Just recently, being the tightwad I am I have trolled through the internet in search of cheap specs and as a result I have a pretty tasty pair of rimless distance specs, some handy readers, a slightly dud pair of varifocals which after I complained, the vendor replaced with another slightly less dodgy pair of varifocals and a pretty good pair of varifocals.

One day recently I got it into my head that for some reason I needed yet another pair. I thought that I could use the frames from my old and now defunct previous pair of specs and have new lenses added. So off I go to my opticians to sort it out. The old frames were actually pretty stylish and in good condition so all I needed was a set of new lenses however, that’s not quite how the optician saw it. New lenses meant having my old frames ‘reglazed’. This apparently entails a reglazing cost so actually it would be cheaper to buy some new frames. Ok I thought, how much are new frames? Well the optician directed me to a range that started at a mere £40 so I chose a pretty conventional pair of metal frames. Yes, said the optician, those frames look really good on you. Really? I said, giving myself a quick preen in the mirror. Ok she went on, let’s do a quick calculation. I myself had already done a calculation £40 plus lenses, still a little more than I intended paying so how much are we talking?

Of course, we had to factor in the anti glare coating and I had asked for what I always call Reactolite lenses, lenses that go dark when it gets sunny, apparently now called ‘Transition’ lenses. Yes, I can do you a great price said the optician, £245!

Now I’m not sure whether I was just a sucker for some smooth sales talk or perhaps had paid too much attention to the comment about the glasses looking ‘really good’ on me but instead of legging it straight for the door as per the instructions on my emergency tightwad help card I heard myself saying ‘OK’. Shortly afterwards I found myself drawn towards the card machine and paying money for another pair of expensive specs that actually I don’t really need. Good decision? Bad Decision!

Here’s another example. Quite a few years back I embarked on a career with GM Buses, the main bus operator in Manchester. It was always intended to be something to pay the rent while I found a proper job but somehow, I never found that proper job I was always looking for. After a few years I started to realise that, so I started trying for promotion. One day I put in for an inspector’s job. It was much more money, it was a supervisory role and best of all it was based in the depot so I didn’t have to deal with the great unwashed public. There were two vacancies, one in the Ardwick depot, about ten minutes from the city centre and another in Rochdale. I wasn’t interested in the Rochdale one as it was much too far away and I didn’t have any transport at the time. Ardwick though was pretty easy to get to, a quick bus into Manchester from Didsbury where I lived and then there were lots of buses heading south from the city centre through Ardwick.

The interview seemed to be going pretty well. There were three interviewers all coming at me with various questions and, because I had just read a book about how to have a great job interview, I had a shed load of answers as well as a host of questions to throw back at them. Anyway, after a while they asked me to step out of the room. When I was called back they asked me what would I do if they offered me the Rochdale job. Rochdale? That’s miles away I thought, so I said no thanks. No thanks? Good decision? Bad decision!

Okay, one last story. Years ago when I first lived in Didsbury I shared a flat with my friend Declan. (As usual names have been changed to protect the innocent.) Declan, or Dec as I called him worked at a garage and he was doing a day release training course. One particular day he was due to be on this course but he wanted to get away early to go out with his mates. He asked me to call in to his work and claim some kind of accident had happened and he had to leave. As it happened I wasn’t able to get to a phone that day so he asked one of our neighbours who was a chap who I had always thought wasn’t quite all there. In fact, he was what I’d probably call in no uncertain non pc terms, a nutter. Anyway, Dec was working happily away on his college course when he was called into the office. The principal was there looking pretty concerned and his secretary placed a glass of water in Dec’s hand.

‘How was your dad when you last saw him Declan?’ asked the principal. Dec wasn’t quite sure where this was going but he was eager to get off and get changed and to join his mates in the pub. ‘He seemed ok’ answered Dec and then took a long drink of his water.

‘Only he died this morning’ said the principal just before Declan sprayed the water all over him. I did tell Declan not to ask that guy to make a bogus call for him but he wouldn’t listen. Bad decision? Very bad decision!

Just now I’m on the verge of a very serious decision. I’m semi retired as I may have mentioned in previous posts and I’m thinking of just retiring now and spending more time on my writing, maybe even taking another step towards finishing the sequel to Floating in Space. I’ve tried to think of a film clip that’s appropriate and here’s one from one of my favourite films.

Robert Zemeckis directed the Back to the Future films as well as Forrest Gump and of course Castaway. At first I wasn’t sure about that ending, in fact I wasn’t even sure I liked the film itself but now I’ve come to think of it as something special. Tom’s character has to make a decision too, whether to go jetting off in a storm or staying with the girl he loved. He goes off in the plane, crash lands into the sea and spends four years on a desert island. When he is finally rescued he finds that the girl he loved has married someone else. After all, she thought he was dead.

Then comes the scene above, right at the end of the film. Which way does he go? Does he go back and follow the girl, after all it’s probably her place he has just visited with the fed ex parcel he has kept with him all these years so he can complete his job, that of delivering it. I like to think he goes back to see the girl and if you watch the clip on YouTube and read the comments, you’ll see that a lot of people thought the same.

Perhaps there are no good decisions or bad decisions. Just decisions.


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Old Age, Editing and a Touch of Variety

Week after week, I knock out a new blog post all in the mostly vain hope that my readers will watch the promotional video down at the bottom of this page and either buy my novel, Floating in Space or my poetry anthology A Warrior of Words. If one of those videos should perchance ‘go viral’ as they say and get some huge viewing figures then those viewers might even be suitably impressed enough to go out in great numbers and buy my books. Then I’d make a huge load of money and quite possibly depart for the South of France with the intention of trying some new wines and new cheeses at pretty frequent intervals.

You might think that once I had those royalties in the bank I might not bother about this lowly WordPress blog anymore. Nothing of course could be further from the truth. This blog and my one deadline of Saturday morning at 10am is the fuel that gets me writing. So far, nothing has stopped me putting out a post, apart from the odd occasion when I have forgotten to press the schedule button or pressed the publish button instead by mistake. The other thing that has sometimes curtailed these blogs is that moment that must come to all writers, the moment when a blank page stares back at you and you have nothing to fill it with.

Now it just so happens that I have been a little stuck for a blog post this week so what I’m going to do is combine this post with a half written post about favourite comedy sketches. Now of course you might be wondering how this is going to work so I suggest you think of this post like you might think of an old variety show, you know, those old Saturday night TV variety shows with a mix of singing, dancing and comedy.

Here’s the first clip from The Two Ronnies, one of my favourite sketches, seriously well written:

 

Last week I wrote about my latest radio interview which was only for a local community station but even so, it was an interesting experience. I am still off work and still suffering with pain in my right shoulder and arm and it’s not so easy to type but I’ve found that by getting into a semi prone position on the couch (some would say that would be my default position anyway) I am actually reasonably comfortable.

Due to Covid 19 it was not possible to go into the studio for the interview so we had to do it by telephone. I had written up a few notes to help me and make me sound reasonably intelligent, a difficult task as you can imagine. What made it more difficult was that the previous night I had slept really badly due to my sore arm and had finally nodded off round about the time I should have been getting up. Anyway, I did get up, got ready for my call and waited and waited for my trusty laptop to fire up. Fire up it did and then displayed a message saying ‘do not turn off your computer while Windows is updating’, not that it fires up particularly quickly anyway. Yes I always seem to get either that or something similar whenever I need my laptop in a hurry. In fact, come to think of it, scrap the South of France idea I mentioned above, I think I’ll spend a huge amount of money on an all singing all dancing new laptop before I venture off to France.

Time for some more humour. This clip is from the Monty Python team and I must add a quick personal story first. Years ago I used to work in the GM Buses control room. I was employed in the enquiry office taking calls from the public and we had the far corner of the control room to ourselves. Opposite me was Jed, a guy who hated the job and sat scowling at his desk waiting for his next call. Two young girls sat in the corner chatting and across from me was Mr Nasty, so called because of the various arguments he used to get into with the public. A young lad called Andy sat in the other corner.

Jed took a call quickly and efficiently, giving out bus times to the customer then quickly finishing the call. Next was Mr Nasty but his call clearly wasn’t going well. This was my first week in the job and I remember wondering whether or not I had made a good career move. The enquiry opposite me began to escalate into an argument and just then my phone rang. I picked it up and said ‘Hello, GM Buses’. A voice then asked me ‘Is this the right room for an argument?’

What? I looked around and my eye caught Andy quietly giggling to himself. I answered ‘I’ve told you once!’ just like John Cleese in the original Monty Python sketch. I had found another Python fan.

 

Okay, where was I? Of course, the root problem is age. If I wasn’t so old and knackered I wouldn’t have had the shoulder problem, I would have got up on time and started my laptop off good and early. The big problem is the inconvenience of getting old.

Yes, seriously inconvenient. Old age comes along just when you don’t want it. You have a few years on the clock, you’ve gained some experience of life, a lot of experience of life in fact. Some wisdom, some money in the bank. Retirement beckons and if you have been smart and invested in a private pension plan, retirement might even come earlier and sooner than it comes for most people. Of course, maybe the mortgage has been paid off and you may be sitting on a prime piece of property. You could sell it, downsize, buy a place in Spain or the south of France, maybe even in the USA, after all, over there they mostly speak the same language.

But what happens? Your back hurts. Your neck hurts. Maybe you need a hip replacement. You might be experiencing a little deafness or poor vision. Yep, old age can be really inconvenient. What has the government done about it? Yes, they have increased the retirement age rather than lowered it. What were they thinking? Lower it and straight away a whole raft of jobs becomes available to all those out of work people hoping for a job and as for us older people, we can jet off to somewhere warm and relax before our aches and pains get the better of us.

You might be thinking this might be a good spot to add another comedy video. I thought that too but in my draft post, 10 Classic Comedy Sketches, I had only got as far as number 3 and when it comes down to it, I’m not sure that number 3 was actually good enough to get into the top 10. Anyway, so as to continue the variety theme, here’s a little music from another unfinished draft; 10 Great Beatles Cover Versions;

Getting back to my interview, it seemed to go off reasonably well and like the seasoned blogger that I am I started sharing links to the interview over on Facebook and Twitter. What else could I do though? How else could I promote the interview and me at the same time? What about making it into a video? Difficult I know! If I had been really on the ball I could have set myself up at the table in front of my camera and videoed things from my perspective. I hadn’t, so how could I make it into a video? Well, I could easily add the soundtrack to a still picture of me or my website logo but that would be a bit boring. No, what I could do was to pretend to be doing the interview on camera and lip sync to my recorded answers. Genius!

How hard could it be to lip sync? Back in the sixties many films, especially European ones were made with only a guide soundtrack and all the dialogue was dubbed later. A prime example would be the spaghetti westerns like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Dubbing was pretty much the norm in European films, as many times they would be dubbed not only in their native language but in other languages too so as to facilitate sales in other countries.

Another interesting example is the James Bond films which surprisingly contain some excellent audio dubbing. Gert Frobe who played Auric Goldfinger was German and did not speak English well. His voice was dubbed in the film by another actor. I think I mentioned in a previous Bond blog post that Ursula Andress who played the first ever Bond girl Honeychile Ryder in Doctor No was dubbed in the film by Nikki Van der Zyl who did voice overs for many Bond girls. Apparently, Ursula Andress was felt by the producers to have had too strong a German accent.

Shirley Eaton played Jill Masterton in Goldfinger and it was she who was famously covered in gold paint. Jill’s voice was dubbed by Nikki in order to give her a softer voice. French actress Claudine Auger who played Domino in Thunderball was also dubbed by Nikki.

Not long ago on one of my promotional videos, I decided to lip sync myself when some unexpected wind noise ruined one of my recordings. I have to admit, the result was only partially successful even after hours of work. Actually it would have easier just to reshoot on a less windy day. Anyway, all that experience would pay off now and I could lip sync my new interview. Sadly after a few hours of lip syncing and coming close to smashing my beloved video camera and laptop to pieces I decided on another tack. I filmed myself talking but with the phone covering my mouth so my lips couldn’t be seen on the finished film. What a directorial film making genius. Why Hollywood has never signed me up I’ll never know?


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Prisons and Prisoners in TV, Books and Film

As usual on this blog I’ll be talking about books, films and TV and what started me off on this theme of prisons and prisoners was watching my box set of the 60’s TV series the Prisoner. Anyway, I’ll get to that shortly but first let me start with a book. It’s one I reviewed earlier in the year

Papillon by Henri Charrière

Papillon is a book by Frenchman Henri Charrière. It is an autobiographical novel about Charrière’s imprisonment in the French penal colony of French Guiana and covers a period of about fifteen years. The original novel was written on a series of exercise books and is presented in just that way. Charrière describes his experience of imprisonment as a terrible one. He escaped and was recaptured many times and ended up in solitary imprisonment twice. The first time was for two years and he was kept in solitary for 24 hours a day. In his second bout of solitary a new officer takes over the running of the area and prisoners are let out for exercise every day. At one point in his escape Charrière encounters a tribe of Indians and joins them for many months, even marrying one of the Indian girls but despite finding this apparent paradise, he leaves and is imprisoned again. He eventually escapes from Devil’s Island by jumping into the sea aboard a sack filled with coconuts. The book is an incredible read and I found it one I just couldn’t put down. It is filled with action and adventure but also with thoughtful observations about the human condition and there are many moments when simple acts of kindness stand out to the author against a background of cruelty and inhumanity.

The book was an instant hit when it was published in France in 1969 and the author, Henri Charrière, nicknamed Papillon because of a tattoo of a butterfly on his chest, became a French celebrity. He died in 1973 but always maintained the book was true and based on his own recollections despite claims to the contrary. Whatever its origins the book is a true classic adventure story.

Papillon was made into a film in 1973 and on paper this should have been a brilliant film; Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman star, there was a screenplay by Dalton Trumbo and the author acted as an advisor. Actually it’s pretty poor, I’m not sure why but McQueen was not suited for the role and the writers tried to cram in all the events of a pretty hefty book into a film when there really wasn’t room. Forget the film, read the book.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

It’s a long time since I read this book and I couldn’t seem to dig my copy out so I don’t think I can be too critical. According to Wikipedia it was first published in a Soviet magazine and was only later published in book form. It’s the story of a single day in the life of a prisoner in a Soviet labour camp seen through the eyes of a man called Ivan. It’s a pretty bleak book as I remember and unlike the book by Henri Charrière, it’s not a hopeful book and there is no feeling that Ivan will ever escape or would even try to escape. It is a book about survival rather than escape. The book was first published during the Khrushchev years when the new Premier Nikita Khrushchev attempted a degree of openness after the repressive years of Stalin’s rule. Author Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel prize for Literature in 1970.

The Prisoner TV Series.

Actor Patrick McGoohan was the man behind this exceptional TV series made at the end of the 1960’s. McGoohan had become a TV star with a series called Danger Man about a secret agent called John Drake and the actor had become fascinated with what would happen to a spy or agent when they decided to retire. Would their spymasters be happy to let someone with highly classified secret information emigrate for instance? On Danger Man, McGoohan met writer George Markstein and the two discussed McGoohan’s ideas. Markstein hinted that he might have had connections to the secret service in the past and told McGoohan about a top secret establishment called Inverlair Lodge in Inverness, Scotland where during the Second World War ‘recalcitrant agents were housed.’ McGoohan and producer David Tomblin, also from the Danger Man series, started their own production company, later called Everyman Films to produce a new TV series based on these ideas. McGoohan asked Tomblin and Markstein to write the script for the first episode into which he later incorporated some of his own ideas.

The basic idea was that a secret agent resigns and he is kidnapped and taken to an unknown place known only as the village. The agent was possibly John Drake from the Danger Man series but this could never be said publicly because of copyright reasons. In the village there are no names, only numbers. McGoohan plays Number Six and the chairman of the village is Number Two, played by a different actor every week. Will Number Six reveal why he has resigned? Who is running the village? Is it our side or the enemy?

McGoohan, then a hugely popular TV star went to Lew Grade, the head of the ITV network and told him he wasn’t keen on a new Danger Man series but had an idea called the Prisoner. Grade apparently said ‘you know it’s so crazy, it just might work’, and production went ahead.

In the first episode we see McGoohan driving into London in his Lotus 7 and slapping down his resignation letter on the desk of some unknown person. The man at the desk was in fact George Markstein who became the story editor of the series. McGoohan returns home to pack but then his house fills with gas rendering him unconscious. When he awakes, he is not at home but in the village.

Confused and disorientated he attempts to find out where he is and soon meets Number Two. Number Two explains that he wants to know why McGoohan resigned and that there is no escape from the village. The exteriors of the village were filmed in the Welsh village of Portmerion but the interiors, especially Number Two’s office, had a very futuristic, hi-tech feel.

Lew Grade had expected various seasons of The Prisoner but Patrick realised early on that the format was not something that could be sustained for multiple seasons so eventually he and Lew Grade agreed on making 17 episodes in order to realise a product that could be marketed to other countries, particularly the USA.

The 17 episodes all had either a mystery, sci-fi, espionage appeal or leaned towards McGoogan’s vision of an avant-garde allegory about the individual and freedom. In the first episode, Arrival, the prisoner who we come to know only as Number Six wakes up in the mysterious village. What is it all about? Why is here?

Number Two comes straight to the point, ‘why did you resign?’ he asks.

Number Six looks down at his file and observes the time of his birth is missing.

‘Let’s bring it up to date’ replies Number Two.

‘4:30 am, 19th March, 1928’ answers Six. ‘I’ve nothing more to say’ he adds slapping the file shut.

4:30am, 19th March 1928 just happens to be Patrick McGoohan’s date and time of birth so we can see just how personal The Prisoner was to him. The file photo of number Six used throughout the series was McGoohan’s own actual publicity picture.

The final episode where viewers expected everything to be explained and for Number Six to escape and find out who was Number One was a controversial episode and many viewers jammed the network in the UK complaining about the crazy ending in which a mock trial descends into a psychedelic montage of 1960’s music and imagery.

McGoohan defended himself by describing The Prisoner as an allegory when the viewers were still expecting something similar to The Saint or Man in a Suitcase, the action/ adventure and espionage series that were being filmed at the time. Today over 50 years later the Prisoner is a TV show with cult status.

The Truman Show

The Truman show is a film starring Jim Carrey. Carrey plays Truman who lives in a small town but does not realise that he is in fact the star of a reality TV show. Secret cameras film everything he does and all those around him, including his mother, his wife and best friend who are all actors in on the secret. The TV show is the brainchild of Christof, a producer/director played by Ed Harris. As the film unfolds we gradually realise that Truman is becoming aware of things that are not right; a spotlight that falls from the sky, people who approach him and want to talk but are hustled away by strange people, an office building where no one is working and his wife who seems to announce the benefits of various products as if she is in a TV advert.

The film is based on an episode of the Twilight Zone. A man getting ready for work finds a camera in his bathroom and realises he is being secretly filmed. It turns out that unknown to him, he is the star of a reality TV show. The producers take him aside and explain what a hit the show is and how much money he could be making. Why not carry on as if he never found out the truth they ask. Keep the show running. No one would ever know.

The man decides to just carry on with his life and allow the filming and the money to continue. In some ways I think that might even be a better storyline than the Truman show. Either way, this film is a really interesting look at the current reality TV genre and flips the whole concept on its head. Carrey is great in what is really his first dramatic role too. The most telling moment comes at the end when the whole world has been glued to the last episode. When it has finished one of the enthralled TV viewers asks ‘what’s on now?’

So, are we all prisoners then, prisoners trying to break free from either the bars of our cell or from the restrictions imposed on us by modern living, the media or society itself?

As they say in The Prisoner, ‘be seeing you!’


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Diana, Meghan, Nixon and Me

As I’ve mentioned in a number of blog posts, it’s not enough to simply write a book, you have to get out there and start to sell it. Marketing is the bane of any self-published author’s life. Videos, Tweets, Facebook posts and WordPress blogs; I’ve done them all endlessly trying to bring my two short books into the media spotlight and flog a few copies.

Now that the lockdown has eased, I thought that perhaps I should try something new. In a local freebie newspaper in my home town of Wythenshawe in Manchester, I noticed a small article about a local writer who had recently had his work published. I contacted the paper asking if they might be interested in writing about me. We exchanged a few emails and I told them how I had self-published Floating in Space and how Cyberwit publishing had approached me offering to publish a collection of my poems.

After a few emails that was apparently that and I heard nothing more until in my junk mail I spotted another follow up message saying that the paper might have enough space to write about me and did I have a picture of me with my poetry Book A Warrior of Words?

Quickly, with a speed I am not usually associated with I put on a smart shirt, grabbed a copy of Warrior, shoved a camera into Liz’s hands and got her to snap off a few pictures of me with my prized book.

I heard nothing back but while I was shopping at Asda, I saw a stack of the free paper The Local Voice and picked one up. To my surprise there I was, beaming at the camera on page 8 proudly displaying A Warrior of Words to the unsuspecting reader. If that small article will get me any new sales only time will tell. Until then I’ve put the order for my new Ferrari on hold. I have to say though that seeing my picture in the paper did give me a sense of pride, just like whenever someone presses the ‘like’ button on one of my posts. Writing gives me a sense of accomplishment and like everyone, the occasional pat on the back – or picture in the newspaper – gives me that feel good factor.

Just while I’m on the subject of newspapers I sometimes wonder how they have kept going during the digital revolution. Many years ago, I used to buy a newspaper every day. I’d read it on the way to work if I was travelling by bus or train. I’d read it on my break and do the small crossword and the word games, trying to find the nine-letter word and make as many smaller words as possible out of the letters. I’d even scan through the sports pages in case there was something in there about motor racing.

My mum and dad used to read the Manchester Evening News from front to back. Once, when scanning through the births, deaths and marriages section, she spotted the death of the mother of an old school friend, contacted the newspaper and as a result was able to meet up with her friend again.

Now I rarely buy a newspaper. I read them on the internet but whenever my quota of free news has been reached and I’m asked to pay to read more, I always decline. I can read the news on the BBC website for free as well as some excellent articles on the Guardian website so why should I pay? How do newspapers survive I wonder when people always go for the free option? Well, if you want to read quality journalism you have to pay for it and although many newspapers and magazines occasionally give you a snippet of an article for free, if you want regular content, they will always ask for a subscription. Even some of my favourite racing magazines like Motor Sport and Autosport are both now only available digitally.

I am happy to report though that one outlet of quality writing is still free, yes, you’ve guessed it, you’re reading it!

Advertising brought in a great deal of revenue for newspapers in the past, indeed motor car sales and estate agents must have funded most of the free newspapers we used to see but now specialised websites for property and motor cars have appeared and all that advertising revenue has been diverted to them. Nice to see that some free papers are coming back though, especially one with my picture inside!

Another spin off from that small item was a call from a local community radio station wanting to do an interview with me. Covid restrictions meant that I couldn’t go into the studio which was a pity because I did rather want to be invited inside. I could actually imagine myself as a DJ. I think the late night shift would suit me, playing chilled down music as the sun slips down, perhaps even mixing in some poetry and some chit chat to go with the tunes. Oh well, enough day dreaming. Denise, the local DJ and I had some introductory chat and went on to talk about my books. Unbeknown to Denise, I had just arisen from a dreadful night’s sleep, my arm and shoulder had been hurting and had kept me awake most of the night. I’d finally nodded off when it was time to get up and only just got to the phone at the agreed time for our telephone talk. I didn’t have time to crank up my laptop and access my notes, ready made in advance with useful hints about writing poetry and also about how Floating in Space took shape.

This was only the second time I’ve been interviewed so I’m hardly an expert. The first time ever was a few years ago on Salford City Radio and the DJ and I planned the interview in advance, in fact he asked me to give him a list of questions that he should ask me so I had my answers already rehearsed and also had a list of some facts and figures about blogging which I could quote when we got talking about that subject. That was a really interesting experience and I was able to bring my video camera and mini tripod along so I was able to make it into a YouTube video.

Afterwards I started looking at TV interviews in a different light, how rehearsed are they I wonder? Did Oprah give her questions to Harry and Meghan in advance? Did they give specific questions to Oprah to be asked on air? I was watching a documentary the other night about the late Patrick Swayze and he was interviewed on TV by a US TV host I’m not familiar with. His friend advised him to be careful because the host was known to ask questions that surprise the subject, even to the point of them crying. Swayze dismissed the advice but when they were on camera, the interviewer asked Swayze about his new ranch and his father who had just passed away. Swayze choked up straight away as it was his dad who had got him interested in horses and he had bought the ranch specifically for his dad to manage. That interviewer had certainly done her homework!

Which other TV interviews are remembered as classic ones? Well the two that immediately come to mind are the David Frost interviews with disgraced former President Richard Nixon and the famous Martin Bashir interview with Princess Diana. That latter interview has been in the news recently as it has been revealed that Martin Bashir apparently falsified various documents in order to get Diana on board with the project. Devious that may have been but clearly Diana had her own agenda which was to get her story over to the public and gain public support and sympathy. The quote most often associated with that interview was when Diana said ‘well there were three of us in this marriage so it was a bit crowded’ referring of course to Charles’ relationship with Camilla.

The Nixon interviews were really compelling watching and what was just as good was the film version Frost/Nixon which starred Frank Langella as Nixon and Michael Sheen as Frost. The film shows the background to the interviews, the financial stakes as well as the political ones and finally Nixon and Frost commence a verbal battle about Watergate in which Nixon makes his famous quote ‘when the President does it, that means it’s not illegal!’

When I came review it, my interview was not quite as interesting as the ones I have mentioned above but at least I remembered some of my prepared thoughts and managed to get them over. I am always impressed when on TV and in films, people just seem to press a button and their laptops are up and running. My laptop takes a lifetime to get going and my notes appeared just as I was saying goodbye. Anyway, the good thing was that as the interview was recorded, Denise, my interviewer, should be able to cut out all my mumbling ums and ahs and make me sound reasonably interesting.

Well, I hope so!


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