A Matter of Perspective

Quite a while back, probably over two years ago, I seemed to be having problems focussing my right eye. My right eye is actually my good eye, the other, the left one is what my optician has always called my lazy eye. Years ago as a schoolboy I had to watch TV for an hour a day with a patch over my good eye. This was supposed to make my left eye, the lazy one, pull its way a bit more. That was successful to a point but the right one has always been better.

I called the doctor and he recommended that I go to see my optician. I called Specsavers who could not fit me in at first but when I mentioned the eye problems they asked me to come in straight away. I had an eye test and the problem was resolved. I needed a new prescription, no health issues at all, so they said. I wasn’t happy so a more senior optometrist was called in and he concurred, all I needed was a new prescription.

I still wasn’t happy. At the time my right eye seemed to be all gummy and I felt that perhaps I had some sort of infection. I started rinsing that eye with a salt water solution and after a week it all seemed to clear up. I have to admit I was a little scared for a while, after all, it wasn’t as if it was my bad eye, my good eye was the problem one. What would have happened if it had gone worse, if I had lost the sight in that eye? I wouldn’t be able to drive, I wouldn’t be able to get to work. No more motorhoming holidays. It would have been difficult to even write with just my bad eye. Yes, looking back, that was actually a serious health scare, perhaps even the scariest health scare I’ve ever had.

I went back to pick up my new specs about ten days later and surprise surprise, I couldn’t see a thing through them. No wonder! I’d had an eye test when my right eye wasn’t working properly. I still think I had an eye infection that they hadn’t spotted in the opticians. Another eye test followed. It was with a new fangled gadget that I had to put my head in and the optician changed lenses with a touch of a button. I wasn’t comfortable but at least my eye seemed better and a few weeks later I had a brand new pair of specs. They weren’t perfect but at least I could see pretty well.

This year I had another eye test at a different opticians. This time I went to Boots. The optician seemed to be a little more precise than the previous ones and not only that, he gave me an eye test in the traditional way, you know with the frames in which he slips in different lenses and ask things like ‘is this better or worse, is this clearer or not?’

All seemed pretty good until I saw the prices of the glasses they were selling. Being a card carrying tightwad I declined to pay those high street prices and just then found various internet stores selling bargain priced specs. I sometimes find it a little creepy when you do a few searches on Google for something; specs, an electric saw, a digital camera or whatever and the next thing you know, every site that you visit that carries advertising, all you can see are ads for specs, electric saws and digital cameras. Just shows you what those little inoffensive things called cookies do when you let them into your personal cyber world.

Anyway, I bought a pair of specs from a company called Goggles4u. They are based in the USA and looked pretty cheap. Almost just as I was about to press the buy now button, a discount voucher pinged up on my screen and I was able to buy my first internet spectacles at a very low price indeed.

I waited a hell of a long time for them but in the current Covid wary world there wasn’t much else to do except watch TV, listen to music and look for more things to buy on eBay.

One day my new specs arrived. I tried them on and the result was amazing. I wasn’t struggling to see small things anymore, everything was pin sharp. Watching the new F1 season opener on TV I could actually see those little boxes they display on the broadcast showing the current standings and lap times and what tyres each driver was using. To those of you with 20 20 vision you might not understand but seeing perfectly and sharply is nothing short of wonderful. The great thing with my new specs is that I clicked the box for what I’ve always called Reactolite lenses, actually photochromic lenses that react to bright light and darken when it’s sunny. Believe me, I was going round taking in things as if I’d never seen them before.

Fashion is a pretty big part of spectacles. Lots of top designers produce trendy spectacle frames and the resulting product can have a fairly hefty price tag. When I was a school kid growing up on a council estate I always wore national health spectacles with national health frames. You know the ones I mean, the ones with black plastic frames. Sometimes I got called names like ‘speccy four eyes’. I never liked those frames but as I grew up I got the chance to actually have some trendier frames. I always liked those metal rimmed frames. I was probably still at school when I got my first pair. Only after moaning and begging and pleading to my mother. She probably bought those glasses just to shut me up.

One day when I had left school and could afford to pay for my frames I bought some aviator styles. I always loved that aviator shape you know, that sort of stylish aerodynamic looking frame. I even had a pair with smoked graduated lenses. That’s just an excuse to show you my favourite picture of myself. I was 21 and had the whole world at my feet. I was in Paris having just packed my job in and I was having the time of my life with one of my best friends, and I loved those glasses. A lot of years later when my optician recommended a pair of reading glasses I had those same aviator frames turned into reading glasses.

Now that I have turned to the internet I am the proud owner of quite a few new pairs of specs. My favourites are probably the rimless ones but they do have a bit of an annoying element. Almost but not quite outside my vision to the right and to the left are two hinges that connect to the spectacle arms. I can’t quite see them but they are there and they are annoying.

Of course you might be thinking why even bother with glasses? It’s the 21st century, I could get contact lenses or even have laser treatment. Laser treatment? Like when they fire laser beams into your eyes? I don’t think so. I’ve worn glasses from ever since I can remember so I think I’ll stick with them if you don’t mind. One of my earliest memories was as a very young schoolboy going for that regular meeting with the school nurse or ‘Nitty Nora’ as we referred to her. For us spectacle wearers the first thing Nitty used to ask was to take off our glasses and place them on the table. That was OK if you put them down face up but bad if you set them face down because that way the lens could get scratched or marked by the table top.

Elton John is probably the most famous spectacle wearer of all time. He even once wore a pair of specs with little windscreen wipers. John Lennon is another famous spectacle wearer. He wore those famous round glasses that you will see if you just type ‘Lennon glasses’ into Google.

The glasses he was wearing when he was shot dead in 1980 were used by Yoko Ono to protest against gun violence. She also used the picture on her solo album Season of Glass which I’ve always found hugely shocking but then shock was an emotion that she and Lennon used frequently in their work.

Superman wore glasses too. Clark Kent, Superman’s alter ego wore a set of black plastic specs as a disguise. How Lois Lane who worked with Clark at the Daily Planet newspaper never noticed that Clark was just Superman wearing a suit and a pair of glasses, I’ll never know. The funny thing is the glasses that I always hated, those black plastic ones that Clark and my younger self wore, are today pretty fashionable.

Which pair shall I wear today then?


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Some Thoughts on Books and Reading

I really do love books and reading. My idea of heaven is lying by a pool in somewhere like Lanzarote with the sun shining and a book in my hand. What is important for a good read is time. It’s alright to read a book on your lunch break or on the bus travelling home after work but to really get into a book, some uninterrupted time is important. So, what is really so good about reading? You, the reader must like reading otherwise you probably wouldn’t be reading this but for me reading is about connecting with worlds I will never see and connecting with my own world too; finding that I’m not as unique or as different as I had thought and that other people have had similar experiences to me.

Looking through a box of my old books I found a book I had read many years ago. It’s called the Wooden Horse and it’s a classic wartime escape book. The author conveys vividly the boredom of incarceration during WWII as a prisoner of war and the feelings that time was just slipping away and also the petty arguments that arose when confined with other people. Escape was on the minds of many but digging an escape tunnel was difficult as there was such a long way to tunnel. The huts were deliberately placed well away from the camp perimeter. One day, one of the men had an idea, what if they could start the tunnel nearer the wire? They hit on the idea of making a vaulting horse, putting a couple of men inside and then digging while their fellow prisoners exercised above.

The Wooden Horse was written by one of the actual escapees, Eric Williams. He was an RAF pilot shot down over Germany and imprisoned in 1942 and in 1950 the book was made into a classic WWII film.

As a child I remember reading books at night in bed before going to sleep and arguing with my brother who wanted the light turned out. Sometimes I’d read under the covers with a torch.

There was a small library a short ten-minute walk from my old house and I used to spend many an early evening there with my mother and brother. I remember a particular series of books I used to read when I was very young about someone called Mr Grimpwinkle.

A quick search on Google showed my memory had not failed me and there was such a series of books. They were written by a lady called Joan Drake. One example was Mr Grimpwinkle’s Marrow published in 1959. The going price on Abebooks was £148.95, quite a considerable sum for a book. The author, Joan Drake, seems to have published quite a few children’s books but I couldn’t find out anything more about her. I did actually fancy buying a copy of Mr Grimpwinkle’s Marrow just for nostalgic reasons but £149 is a lot to pay for nostalgia.

Another book I particularly remember was one I got for Christmas one year. It was two stories in one book. I forget the title and the author but one part was the story of Robin Hood and the other was about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The end of both stories has always struck me. In Robin Hood, Robin lies on his death bed and fires a last arrow asking to be buried wherever the arrow lands. That could have been tricky for Robin’s merry men but as far as we know everything went to plan and Robin was laid to rest somewhere, I assume, in Sherwood forest. When Arthur lies dying, he entrusts one of his lieutenants with the sword Excalibur and tasks him to throw the sword into a lake. The knight, who I believe was Sir Bedivere, wasn’t happy with throwing away such an excellent sword so he hid it. When Arthur asked what had happened and Sir Bedivere replied ‘nothing’, Arthur knew he was lying. Eventually the knight was persuaded to follow Arthur’s instructions and saw that Excalibur was caught by the lady of the lake, brandished three times then disappeared into the waters.

Now that is a book I would like to read again and ever since that first read many years ago I have always been interested in Robin and King Arthur.

The story of Robin Hood has been made into many films. A recent one from 2010 was Robin Hood which starred Russell Crowe as Robin and was directed by Ridley Scott. I’ve only seen it once but it was a pretty good film. Another version from 1991 starred Kevin Costner. Robin Hood Prince of Thieves was a highly enjoyable film if you can overlook Costner’s American accent. Alan Rickman plays a slightly over the top Sheriff of Nottingham and the film is well worth watching.

Douglas Fairbanks made the original version of Robin Hood in 1922. It was the very first film to have a Hollywood premiere which was held at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre on October 18th 1922. I’ve always thought that this was the film in which Fairbanks slides down a huge curtain by slashing it with his sword but after a quick internet check it looks like that was The Black Pirate from 1926.

Alan Hale played Little John in Fairbank’s version and interestingly, he played the same role in the later Errol Flynn version The Adventures of Robin Hood in 1938.

Flynn’s version is probably the definitive film of Robin Hood. It was shot in Technicolor and starred Flynn alongside Olivia de Havilland as Lady Marian and Basil Rathbone as Guy of Gisbourne. Claude Rains played Prince John who plots to steal the throne from King Richard who is away at the Crusades. Michael Curtiz directed.

King Arthur and the legend of the Knights of the Round Table has also inspired quite a few films. King Arthur and the Legend of the Sword from 2017 was probably the latest. It was directed by Guy Ritchie and stars Charlie Hunnam (never heard of him myself) and Jude Law.

There was a version called First Knight from 1995 starring the highly over rated Richard Gere and a 2004 version simply called King Arthur with Clive Owen as Arthur. ‘A gritty attempt to update Arthurian legend’ said the one review I found on Google.

There was a cartoon version, the Sword in the Stone released in 1963 and a musical, Camelot from 1967 but my favourite film adaptation is Excalibur directed by John Boorman. Nicol Williamson plays an impressive Merlin and the film is an absorbing mix of sorcery, legend and fantasy all remaining fairly true to Le Morte d’Arthur, the book published by Thomas Mallory in 1485.

Under normal circumstances I might go on to talk further about my favourite books but I have done that already. I think I did my top ten favourite books in two parts a few weeks back. At various points in my blogging life I’ve written about David Copperfield, The Great Gatsby and Lost Horizon, my three all time favourite books. I’ve also written a few posts about James Bond, the UK’s top secret agent but I’d like to focus on one of the Bond books, Goldfinger.

Back in the early 1960’s Harry Saltzman bought the film rights for the Bond books. He formed a partnership with fellow producer Albert Broccoli and they cast Sean Connery as Bond and in 1962 produced the first Bond movie, Doctor No. I was a schoolboy back then and had never seen the films but there was a great deal of hype about them on television. So much so that I went down to the library to read one of the books. There was only one in stock at the time and it was The Man with the Golden Gun, one of the worst books in the series. The author, Ian Fleming, had passed away before finishing the final draft of the book which accounts for the poor quality. Luckily, my uncle brought round a box of paperbacks for my dad to read and one was a cheap paperback version of Goldfinger. I read it, thought it was wonderful and embarked on a mission to buy all the other Bond books.

At school in English class our teacher had asked us to bring in a book with a vivid description of someone and my choice was Goldfinger. The book is about a man called Auric Goldfinger, a rich businessman who is suspected of smuggling gold. Bond is tasked to find out more and Fleming gives the reader a particularly compelling description of Goldfinger.  Fleming describes him as having a body seemingly put together with parts of other people’s bodies. I always thought that was pretty good. Fleming used to write his first drafts of a book and then add in all sorts of details afterwards like the vodka martinis that James Bond liked so much and the Sea Island cotton shirts that Bond favours in the novels. It was actually Fleming who wore those particular shirts and who drank vodka martinis and also preferred scrambled eggs for breakfast. Many people have speculated who Bond was based on and my feeling has always been that in fact it was Ian Fleming himself.

My current read is a book I mentioned last week, Charlie Chaplin and his Times by Kenneth S Lynn. Chaplin was a music hall entertainer working for the great impresario Fred Karno. Karno regularly sent teams of entertainers to the USA and while there Chaplin was invited to make a film for Mack Sennett, the famous producer of comedy films. Chaplin’s films proved to be enormously popular and so Chaplin moved on to different studios, all for better and better money until he established his own studio. I’ve always found the early days of Hollywood to be fascinating and this book is no exception.

Which books are you reading?


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Life but Not as We know it

 

lifeThis week the lockdown has eased a little here in the UK. Groups of six can now meet together in public places and soon we will be able to go to the pub once again, as long as we stay outside. No doubt pubs who don’t already have beer gardens or some sort of outside area will be scrambling to get one set up. It will be nice to go down to the pub or restaurant again and take another step towards normality.

Once again I’ve spent a few days at my mother’s house, checking that everything is ok, tidying the garden up and so on. As I am alone here this should be the perfect time to write. After all, what could be better for a writer; quiet, solitude and my trusty laptop? One other thing that is important is a writing routine and a few ideas. Of course, if I was a professional writer, let’s say a newspaper columnist for instance, my editor would surely be on my back asking for my next article.

I can just imagine a scene like something out of All the President’s Men, the 1976 movie about the reporters who broke the Watergate story at the Washington post. There’s a nice scene there that goes like this:

EDITOR: Bernstein! Is that story ready yet?

BERNSTEIN: Yes, I’ve finished it.

EDITOR: Let me have it then.

BERNSTEIN: I will. It just needs polishing.

I tried to find the video of that scene but failed. Here’s the trailer instead:

I do have a few articles or I should say blog post drafts, that need polishing. Fifteen actually. I think of them as my stand bys. Posts I work on when I just haven’t got any idea what to write about. Sometimes I will look at one, get an idea or an angle, a new way of looking at the subject and then I’m off and I actually finish, or get closer to finishing the post. Other times I just end up adding another draft that will probably never get finished.

This week I had a plan. I always seem to wake up at 7:30 no matter what. At home I usually just nod off back to sleep but here at my mother’s house I rarely seem able to do that. So, here’s the plan: wake at 7:30. A quick clean of my teeth and splash a little water on my face. Back to bed. Check my emails and social media. Then back to the bathroom for a shave and a proper wash, downstairs for breakfast and ready to get writing. Great, there is nothing like having a plan, now to put it into action.

Sunday. I wake up and check the time. It’s 8:30. 8:30? Wow, I’ve actually had a good sleep for a change. OK. Clean teeth and back to check out my emails. Now the big mistake there is that recently I’ve subscribed to Medium. It’s a story website and there is always some interesting story I want to read. There are numerous true crime stories that I like. In particular I do like reading about cold cases; old police murder cases that are now being solved by new DNA technology. It must be great for the families and the detectives to see crimes that were thought to be finished and unsolved, now being given a new lease of life by technology.

This week I watched a TV documentary about a famous cold case, the disapearance of Suzy Lamplugh. Suzy was an estate agent who left work to meet someone wanting to look at a property. The only clue was that Suzy had left a note in her diary that she was to meet a ‘Mr Kipper’ on the 28th July, 1986 in Fulham, London. She was due to meet Mr Kipper at a property at Shorrolds Rd at 12:45. She went to meet him and was never seen again. Her car was found half a mile away from the property at Stevenage Road, also in Fulham.

suzylamplugh

Picture courtesy Wikipedia

Witnesses saw Suzy with someone at the Shorrolds Road property; a smartly dressed man with a bottle of wine or champagne with a fancy wrapping. Later another witness saw Suzy in a BMW in Stevenage Road. Nothing was ever found and despite reinvestigation in 1998 and 2000, Suzy was never traced.

In 2000 it was suggested that convicted rapist and murderer John Cannan could have been the culprit. Cannan looks startlingly similar to a photofit picture produced by Police, of the man Suzy met at Shorrolds Road. Cannan denied being the murderer but he was staying in a hostel for released prisoners not far away at the time and others at the hostel said that Cannan used to leave at night through a window. Cannan visited pubs and restaurants in the area and could have seen Suzy there, in fact she had lost her checkbook and a local pub called Suzy to say they had found it the day she disappeared.

It was all rather shocking and the programme left me fairly convinced that Cannan was the villain although the man himself, still serving time on another murder charge, denies everything. Suzy’s parents sadly never lived to see the crime solved but they did establish the Suzy Lamplugh Trust that helps people with their personal safety and also runs the National Stalking Helpline.

Anyway, back to my personal writing plan. After that late start it was nearly 10 so I dragged my lazy behind out of bed and made it down to the kitchen. I hurriedly sorted out some egg and bacon ready to eat during Star Trek, the original series on the Horror channel. Star Trek however wasn’t on. It must have just finished because I realised just then that it’s Spring and we have now moved to BST, British Summer Time and it was actually eleven o’clock, not ten!

Come to think of it, they don’t show Star Trek on a Sunday, it’s just on Monday to Friday so there’s my whole blog post blown out of the water. Anyway using the power vested in me by WordPress what I think we’ll do is just fast forward to Monday at 10. There I was eating pretty much the same breakfast -OK, I’d thrown a sausage in and a few beans but what the heck, variety is the spice of life in these highly irregular Covid 19 times.

Let’s start again. There I was with substantially the same breakfast on Monday ready to eat and watch Star Trek.

I do love Star Trek, in particular the first episodes starring William Shatner as Captain James T Kirk. Forget Captain pointy head Picard, Kirk is a proper captain and by 10:30 he will usually have blasted a number of aliens with his phaser (a sort of ray gun) and done some pretty serious kissing of any beautiful girl, alien or otherwise, within a 100 yard area. In the episode I watched, Kirk decided that the only way to get free from a planet where androids had imprisoned him was to show the androids that there was more to life than working in an underground prison. He gave the tonsils of one android lady a good work out and lo and behold, that sent her into some serious confusion. She then encountered another android who clearly was in need of some snogging software as he wasn’t so keen on kissing, so she gave him a quick blast of her ray gun, enabling Kirk to once again take control and show everyone involved that messing with James T Kirk is not a good idea.

It just so happens that William Shatner has reached the venerable age of 90 this week so it was good to read in the media that he is still going strong. Wonder if there is any chance of him playing Kirk again just one last time?

Anyway, back to the plan. You know, the one I was talking about earlier, the writing plan, up early have breakfast and then write stuff. Well after Star Trek I thought I might just check to see if any more emails had landed on my virtual doorstep. One was a newsletter from the Guardian newspaper. I’ve signed up for a few newsletters from the Guardian; one for films and another about books. I get one every week and there are a whole list of bookish articles about various book related topics. Usually I have a quick scan and if there is nothing of any interest I just hit the delete button. This week there was a post about a lady called Vivian Gornick. I’ve never heard of the lady but apparently she is a journalist and memoirist and in the book section the Guardian hit her with their regular bunch of questions so I thought I’d just see if I could answer those questions myself.

What book am I currently reading?

Well just lately I’m really fascinated by the silent film era as you can see from my Book Bag post a few weeks back. I’m reading Charlie Chaplin and His Times by Kenneth S Lynn. It’s a really interesting read about Chaplin and the author, who happens to be a really great researcher, checks out all the various stories in Chaplin’s autobiography and compares them to actual records. All fascinating stuff about the early days of film making.

What book changed your life?

Not sure about that one. Did any book change my life? Well I’ll have to say David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. That changed my life in that it opened up my mind to how an author could take his reader on such an incredible journey and manage a story in such a way that the reader could experience it and feel almost as if he was living the narrative with the writer. You’ve guessed by now I just love that book.

What book do I think is most overrated?

That’s another tough question and I’d have to answer Wuthering Heights. I read something ages ago about 100 books I should read before I die so I picked a copy up in my local charity shop, back in the days when we could go into shops, and read it. I should say tried to read because I just thought it was a little dull. Sorry, I know it’s a classic but it just didn’t do it for me.

The last book that made me laugh.

I think it would have to be The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. You might have seen the TV series with Leonard Rossiter playing the part of Reggie Perrin. I’m not sure which came first, the book or the TV show but it’s a really funny book.

The book I couldn’t finish.

This has to be Catch 22 the novel by Joseph Heller. One of my friends gave it me and said it was brilliant and I had to read it. I tried but I just couldn’t get into it.

I guess this must have taken me into lunchtime. I was feeling a little hungry round about then. I suppose that when you start working like a real writer with a writing plan you must need a little sustenance to keep you going. What I needed was a corned beef sandwich and a large cup of tea with maybe a chocolate biscuit on the side. I made my way into the kitchen to sort out that little feast but just then the phone rang and I’m guessing the call was from an alternate universe because it was my editor yelling down the phone:

EDITOR: Where the heck is that blog post you promised me?

ME: That blog post? Oh yes, I finished it.

EDITOR: Where the hell is it then?

ME: It’s just . . . er . . . I’m just . . polishing it!


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Money, the Lottery and Three Very Rich Men

Quite a while ago, I pondered in another post what I might do if I should win a lot of money in the lottery. I thought about it quite a bit and came up with the usual answers like new home, new car, holiday homes and so on. Maybe a new laptop or stand-alone PC. The fact is, not being used to money and not having particularly expensive tastes I probably wouldn’t have much of a clue. At home I have a whole lot of collectable things, model cars, antique telephones, books and DVDs so I could easily find myself being like the character in the film Citizen Kane, buying lots of things and having them stored somewhere. Would I be affected by a big win? I can see the headlines now: Northern Lottery winner says his 32-million-pound win won’t affect him. But of course, that wouldn’t necessarily be true. How did big money affect others? Let’s take a look at three multi-millionaires.

Howard Hughes.

Once upon a time Howard Hughes was the richest man in the world. In today’s society being the richest man requires some serious wealth and Howard Hughes ticked all the financial boxes you can think of. He inherited his father’s tool company when he was very young. Too young in fact to take control but he found a law that said if he could prove he was capable of running the company then he could take control. He proved he could and did just that, took control. His father had designed a tool bit that was essential to America’s oil industry but instead of selling the drill bit he patented it and then rented it out. Howard Hughes though had other ambitions that did not involve oil or drilling but the profits from the Hughes’ Tool Company were vital for his ambitions in aviation and the movies.

Hughes combined those two interests in making the WW1 movie ‘Hell’s Angels’ about fighter pilots and for the shoot he assembled the largest private air force in the world. Towards the end of the shooting, sound pictures made their appearance so what did Howard do? He re shot the entire film with sound equipment!

Another movie Hughes made that is famous, or perhaps infamous, was the 1943 Movie ‘Outlaw’ starring Jane Russell. Hughes appeared to be obsessed with Jane’s breasts, even to the extent of designing a new bra for her and re shooting a famous close up of her time after time. Hughes clearly had some psychological issues; he was a compulsive, obsessive man. He usually had the same meal when he went out with one of the many starlets he courted. Jane Greer recounted in a TV interview how Hughes would eat things in the same order, the peas first, then the potatoes and finally the meat. Once when they dined Hughes came back to the table and Jane noticed his shirt was wet. Hughes had spilt something onto his shirt so he washed the shirt in the men’s room, rinsed and squeezed it out, then put it back on.

In the 1940’s, Hughes designed and built a prototype large transport aircraft for the US military. The aircraft, nicknamed the ‘Spruce Goose,’ was made entirely of wood due to wartime restrictions on aluminium and was not completed until 1947 after the war was over. Hughes was called to testify about the project before a senate committee investigating his use of government funds. The investigation distressed Hughes enormously and led to his retreat from the public eye.

As his mental health deteriorated, Hughes retreated into a world of blacked out penthouse suites and midnight telephone calls to his army of assistants, some of whom were private investigators keeping close tabs on anyone Hughes had an interest in, particularly starlets he had signed to personal contracts and his girlfriends like Katherine Hepburn or Jean Peters whom he later married.

The incredible thing is despite his illness, he and his company produced aircraft for the US government, including the ‘Spruce Goose’ mentioned above, many of which he test flew himself. However, in July, 1946, Hughes crashed while testing his XF11 reconnaissance plane. The aircraft crashed in Beverly Hills and Hughes was seriously injured. He survived but remained addicted to morphine for the rest of his life. His company also produced the Glomar Explorer, an undersea recovery craft for the CIA and it was part of a plan to raise a sunken Soviet nuclear sub in an effort to learn the USSR’s nuclear secrets

If you want to know more about Howard Hughes my favourite movie about him is not the Aviator, the Scorcese/ Di Caprio movie, good though it is, but an old TV mini-series based on a book by Noah Dietrich, ‘Howard, The Amazing Mr Hughes.’  Tommy Lee Jones gives a great performance as Hughes in the film.

Noah Dietrich was once Hughes’ chief executive and financial advisor. He resigned after becoming more and more unhappy with Hughes’ bizarre behaviour. In later years Bob Maheau, a former FBI man employed by Howard, experienced much the same thing; numerous obsessive memos, midnight phone calls and so on.

Hughes died in 1976, cocooned from the world by morphine and the close attention of his Mormon aides. Despite his wealth Hughes was emaciated and underfed, addicted to drugs which his aides rationed in order for them to manipulate him. Surely, final proof that money is not everything.

Robert Maxwell.

Maxwell was born Ján Ludvík Hyman Binyamin Hoch in 1923 in Czechoslovakia. He escaped to France before the Nazi invasion and joined the Czechoslovakian army. After the fall of France he was attached to a British unit and fought in the allied invasion achieving the rank of captain and winning the Military cross. Maxwell was Jewish and lost his family in the Nazi holocaust. He became a UK citizen after the war and changed his name to Robert Maxwell. Using his contacts in the allied occupation, he became the British and US distributer for a series of scientific books and after acquiring a major share in the Permagon Press, built it up into a major publishing house.

Maxwell served as a British MP for a while but after losing his seat he carried on building his business empire. He bought various other companies, one of them becoming the Maxwell Communications Corporation, Later he bought the Mirror Newspapers Group in the UK and various other companies in the USA. In 1991 he bought the New York Daily News.

As well as his business activities, Maxwell was rumoured to have links with British intelligence and the Israeli Secret Service, Mossad. Maxwell denied all these claims although at his funeral many serving and former heads of the Mossad were in attendance.

In his later life he seemed to cut a sad figure. An old BBC documentary I watched recently claimed he had developed an obsession with a female assistant who later left his employ.

Beset by legal troubles he missed a meeting with the bank of England over his default on a 50-million-pound loan and instead sailed in his yacht, the Lady Ghislane to the Canary Islands. He was alone on his yacht apart from the crew. The BBC documentary showed him visiting the islands on an earlier trip and dining alone.

On the 5th November 1991 he was found to be missing from the yacht and his body was later found floating in the ocean. It was speculated that while urinating over the side of the ship as he frequently did, he suffered a heart attack and fell overboard.

After his death Maxwell’s companies collapsed owing huge amounts of money. It was also revealed that Maxwell had tried to save the impending collapse by secretly using hundreds of millions of pounds from his companies’ pension funds.

Maxwell was buried on the Mount of Olives in Israel and his funeral there was attended by the Israeli Prime Minister, various serving and former heads of Israeli intelligence and by many dignitaries and politicians.

His daughter, Ghislaine was recently in the news due to her involvement with Jeffrey Epstein and a sex trafficking scandal. She was arrested in July 2020 and is still in custody awaiting trial.

J Paul Getty.

J Paul Getty also had the dubious honour, like Howard Hughes, of being at one time the richest man in the world. I became interested in Getty after watching the Ridley Scott film All the Money in the World. It’s about the kidnapping of J Paul Getty III which I remember quite vividly from the news in 1973. Getty’s grandson was kidnapped in Italy and the kidnappers made a demand of 17 million dollars for his release.

J Paul Getty’s father was in the oil business and gave his son $10,000 to invest when he was 22. The young Getty invested the money wisely in a new oilfield and made a great deal of money. In the coming years Getty bought more and more oil companies and expanded into the middle east where his talent for languages helped enormously.

He was married and divorced numerous times and owned property all over the world including a mansion in the UK. In his fourth marriage he produced a son, J Paul Getty Jr who became the father of J Paul Getty III who was kidnapped.

In the film, and I’m not sure how true to life it was, J Paul Getty III is living the life of a hippy in Italy. He has mentioned to various people the thought of a fake kidnapping as an idea to raise money from his grandfather. He is then kidnapped for real but an investigator for Getty thinks the kidnapping might be a fake and so Getty declines to pay the ransom. After the kidnappers cut off his grandson’s ear and send it to the newspapers, Getty decides to pay but only after knocking the price down to 3 million dollars. Even then, he only pays 2.2 million (a figure that was apparently tax deductible) and loans the remainder to his son at 4% interest. Finally, the grandson, minus one ear was released.

What is quite interesting about the film, and actually this has nothing to do with millionaires and tycoons, is that Kevin Spacey originally played the part of J Paul Getty but after allegations against Spacey regarding sexual advances towards a young boy of 14, Spacey was cut out of the film and substituted with Christopher Plummer.

Getty was a major art collector although he always tried to buy at knock down prices. He was a notorious tightwad (nice to know I have something in common with a multi-millionaire). In his mansion Sutton Place in Surrey, England, he installed a payphone for guests to make personal calls. He did his own laundry by hand and always replied to letters by writing back on the reverse of the letter he had received in order to save on stationary.

Getty died in 1976 at the age of 83.

J Paul Getty III was traumatised by his abduction. He suffered from drug and alcohol addiction in the years after his release and in 1981 suffered a stroke brought on by taking a cocktail of drugs and alcohol. The stroke left him severely disabled for the rest of his life. He died at the age of 54 after a long illness.

Spend, Spend, Spend.

In 1961 a woman called Viv Nicholson and her husband won a huge prize on the football pools declaring to the press that they would spend spend spend! The couple won £152,000 equivalent to just under three and a half million pounds today.

Viv and her husband grew up in extreme poverty and true to their word they went on spending sprees involving clothes, sports cars, holidays and anything they could think of. Viv later said she seemed to be almost addicted to spending. Things went sour when her husband was killed in a car crash and all that they owned was deemed to belong to his estate. She had to sue to get a share of their purchases but her uncontrolled spending soon emptied her financial coffers.

Viv married again but eventually ended up a penniless alcoholic. In later life she wrote an autobiography called Spend, Spend, Spend. It was made into a remarkable BBC film written by playright Jack Rosenthal. I went on YouTube to look for a clip to show you and there wasn’t one but I did see that the book had been made into a musical starring Barbara Dickson. Some stories seem to just have a life of their own.

Conclusions

Looks like big money didn’t guarantee a great life for the three tycoons or the pools winner above. Still, I wouldn’t say no to a big cash win. Ages ago in another post I wrote this about my first lottery win:

When the lottery first began I would spend Saturday night glued to the lottery programme just checking my numbers. (Sad or desperate, I don’t know which.)  I’d decided to use numbers of houses I’d lived at, and one evening I was getting ready to go out, getting changed in front of the TV just in case and the first number came up; number 1. Great, give my ticket a little tick. Second number: number 4, whay, another little tick.  Third number; number 28. Whoa! A slight sweat beginning to break out on my forehead, a third tick on my lottery ticket.  Fourth number, number 38! Oh my God! Four in a row! Heart rate increasing, a nervous tension beginning, starting to breathe faster and faster!  Then the fifth number; number 6!

Of course, I hadn’t chosen number 6 so I wasn’t happy but still, that was pretty good going, four numbers on the trot. I won £100 which is better than a slap in the face but believe me, I was so excited that if I’d actually got the six numbers I’d probably have dropped dead with a heart attack, never living to enjoy my millions!

Anyway, I’ll have to go. Just got time to buy my lottery ticket for tonight’s draw.


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Pandemics and Podcasts

This blog seems to come round pretty quickly, too quickly really. Looking at my stack of blog post drafts I couldn’t see one that I could really get excited about finishing. That lethargy and tedium is of course a consequence of the lockdown. The lockdown continues to plod along, bringing everything down to its slow and humdrum pace. I’ve stayed at home like most people and pretty much done a great deal of nothing. The usual highlight of the week used to be a night in a restaurant and a visit to our local pub quiz. Now it’s a trip to the shops. What will be in the special offers aisle?

The Dentist.

A really big event this week was a trip to the dentist. I’ve not had a check up for quite a while but this one was a little different. We usually spend quite a bit of time waiting in the waiting room but no, due to Covid 19 precautions we weren’t even allowed inside the building until it was time to actually see the dentist. As Liz and I actually live together it was deemed OK for us to enter the surgery together. The dentist then changed his mind and decided no, one at a time must be the norm, irrespective of living arrangements. It was me of course who was ejected and rather than sit in the cold and rain I parked my car so it was just opposite the dentist’s doors and the nurse or dental assistant could just wave me over when it was my turn.

After a quick check of my molars, the dentist decided an x ray was in order. An old filling needed replacing so a new appointment was made for that. Oh and that crown I asked about some time ago. Yes, that was the one the dentist thought was unnecessary, well now after a few months without any income, the dentist has decided yes, we can sort that out, that will be another appointment and £280 please. Of course, the private non NHS crown is much better and will blend in much better with my current set of choppers. That will be £550.

A few moments later when the dentist’s assistant handed me a whopping great bill my inner tightwad kicked in and I thought, Whoa, steady on. Let me think about that for a while.

Two Topical Events.

Sometimes I think I should try to be a little more topical on my posts and so perhaps I should mention this week’s big news, the Harry and Meghan interview. I’ve read that in the USA it went down really well making the two really popular. In the UK it went down pretty much like a lead balloon as we Brits really don’t like anyone upsetting the Queen. Meghan was whinging that her children won’t have a royal title, well the fact is, neither do any of the Queen’s other great grandchildren and if they are so upset about publicity and want to live a quiet life, why go to the USA and court the media? Of course, now they are no longer on the Royal payroll they need to make a few quid to support themselves. After all, Harry has only got the meagre ten million his mother left him so embracing the media might be a good move for him.

Personally, I think that the royals are over paid, over privileged and over here. The flip side is that like them or lump them, the Royal Family are the glue that holds the United Kingdom together. If we had a President the country would descend into chaos and be split apart. Would Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland accept an English President? Would the Scots accept a Conservative President? Perhaps the Irish would want an Irishman but then would they want a Protestant or a Catholic? The Queen is happily above all that which is probably why she has endured for so long and kept the Commonwealth and the UK together.

The really big news this week for me was actually the death of Murray Walker the famous motor sport commentator. Murray has commentated on motor sport and particularly F1 for almost as long as I can remember. Murray used to commentate on rallycross and motorcycle scrambling back in the 1970’s and I once remember him commentating on a segment of the Le Mans 24 hour race and being surprised when the broadcast cut back to the BBC sport studio and there was Murray sat at a desk in front of a monitor with his microphone. I had just assumed he was at the race track. The BBC began a regular F1 broadcast in 1978. Before that they just used to show the odd event here and there which was not good for race fans like me. Walker became the undisputed voice of the sport until he retired in 2001. Clive James once said that Murray, in his quieter moments sounded like a man with his trousers on fire, such was the high spirits and enthusiasm of his broadcasts. F1 will never be the same again.

Podcasting

What else have I done this week? Well, a long time ago I thought about starting a podcast. Now I don’t know much about them but I thought as I’ve produced more than 400 or so blog posts, (actually this epic you are now reading is my 450th post) surely a few of those might be easy enough to convert to a podcast. I mean, I could just read out a few of them into my laptop microphone, cut out a few umms and ahs, just as I do with my video narrations and Bob’s your uncle.

A good idea to start, I thought was a post with some good turns of phrase and perhaps a good theme. Now one that came to mind straight away was a post I did yonks a go about time. Yes, time. The idea occurred to me when Liz and I visited some military cemeteries in Northern France. All the places we visited had a calm and tranquil ambience. Clearly that can’t have been the case during the First World War. Then the place must have looked like a wilderness filled with craters. The sound of deadly gunfire would have been all around along with explosions from the artillery bombardments. Time must have run faster then so now to compensate, time, or so it seems to me at these quiet and peaceful memorials, runs slowly.

What made the podcast easier to produce was the fact that I had already used some of that text in a narration for a video about the military cemeteries of France. I took the sound recordings, added a little intro, the welcome to my new podcast type of stuff, cleaned up the sound in my trusty sound mixer and hey presto, I finished up with a good five minutes of me rabbiting away as a new podcast.

Anyway, after all that, I set about working out how to actually broadcast a podcast, how to actually get it live on air. I spent a fair old bit of time trying to sort it out but failed dismally and put the whole project on the back burner.

The other day however, I opened up WordPress to find a new article titled ‘How to grow Your Podcast with Anchor’ there in front of me. I logged into Anchor and found that I could actually convert my written blog posts straight into a sound recording. I had a choice of two voices, one male and the other female. I chose the male voice which had a sort of Cary Grant quality. Not actually like Cary himself but similar, sort of like a newsreader with a transatlantic kind of tone. The resulting reading wasn’t perfect. Sadly it couldn’t differentiate between ‘it’ and ‘IT’. That’s when I remembered that earlier podcast recording about military cemeteries and time.

It was really quite fun to open up Spotify and find, alongside my favourite podcasts, the new Letters from an Unknown Author. Click here to listen to the first episode.

Click here To listen on Pocketcasts or try this link with various options.


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More From a Locked Down Blogger

The lockdown isn’t over yet but at least we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. As much as I like staying at home and watching my favourite films and TV shows I miss visiting my favourite bars and restaurants.  Our motorhome has been left quietly on the drive awaiting the day when we can once more drive off for a short or even a long break. We did take it on a run to the shopping centre a few weeks ago but that really doesn’t count.

As the weather has brightened up lately I thought it might be a good time to take my new drone for its maiden flight. It was a Christmas present from Liz but the cold and the rain have put me off venturing out to use it. Now that some nice weather has finally appeared here in the north of England I charged it up and had a quick scan through the instructions. I noticed that on the box the drone was described as perfect for 14 years and older so how hard could it be to fly one?

Flying the Drone

Down by the beach in St Annes I had envisioned some establishing shots from up on high looking down to reveal the layout of the sea front and the pier; a tracking shot showing the sturdy girders holding the structure in place followed by a flight moving up from the sand to the top of the pier. Maybe now is the time to mention that the drone also has a video camera. I’d recently watched a very poor drone video taken in the same area and I knew absolutely that I could do better.

The beach was pretty busy on the day I chose to venture out but everyone seemed to be keeping their distance. I found a suitable spot and switched on the drone. All ok so far, the correct lights were flashing but the rotors were not spinning. I went through the start procedure and still nothing happened so I went for that old computer stand by, switch off and switch on again.

A small group of locals began to hover around me. I heard a young boy tell his mother about the man that was about to fly a drone. A man called his dog to heel and he also stopped to watch. A group of lads appeared too. They all seemed fascinated by the forthcoming spectacle. The big problem was that I just couldn’t get anything to happen. Like a fool I was wearing my new pair of specs I had bought from a cheap online site. The specs were wonderful and had photochromic lenses, the ones that go dark when it gets sunny. I may have looked pretty cool but began to realise I should have worn my substantially uncool reading glasses.  Then I could have made out what was going on with the various lights that were lit up on my drone control panel. A few beads of sweat began to form on my forehead and I could feel my audience getting restless. The young lad was dragged away by his mother and the dog walker was fed up of waiting. It was time to pick up my drone and leave.

I imagined myself for a moment as a music hall performer being booed off the stage, departing before an onslaught of rotten fruit came my way.

Back at my car I pulled out the instructions, written of course in very tiny writing and with the help of a magnifying glass gave them another look. Ah ha. The drone must first be synchronised by pushing the throttle lever forward and then back. Armed with this new information I walked over to the nearby car park. It was mostly empty, although there was a big white van parked right in the centre.

This time I felt a little better as there was no audience to distract me. I went through the process a few times without getting anywhere. Another look at the instructions. Had I forgotten to press the start flight button? Ha! A press of the button and finally the rotors began to spin. Up we went to about ten or fifteen feet. Move left, fine. Move right, fine. Move back, not so fine. The drone seemed to wander away from me towards the white van and just as I thought we might have a possible impact I remembered the end flight button and the drone settled softly down. I tried two or three more flights and every time the drone began to wander towards that van but luckily I was able to abort the proceedings before the inevitable impact. Drone flying is not quite as easy as I had thought and the video of St Annes pier which I had hoped to include on this post must sadly wait for another day.

Stan and Ollie

Not so very long ago in my Book Bag Silent film edition, I talked about Stan, a biography of Stan Laurel by Fred Laurence Guiles. Since then, I’ve been pretty interested in seeing the biopic about the comedy duo, Stan and Ollie. I did hope that one day it might come up on Film 4 or some other free to air channel but alas, it has not. The only alternative for a low-tech guy like me then was to browse eBay until a suitably cheap DVD came available. There are some who will tell you that I am mean, others who will say I am a cheapskate. There are even some who might describe me as tight as a fish’s rear end. None of these descriptions really get to the heart of the matter because I am in fact a fully paid up, card carrying tightwad and I am happy to report that an ‘as good as new’ DVD copy of the aforementioned cinematic epic is now in my possession after parting with a minimal amount of my hard earned cash.

Some time ago a young TV salesman who was close to selling me a very expensive new television set told me that DVDs were ‘old technology’. Sadly for him, he lost a sale as I vehemently disagreed. The idea that the customer is always right was clearly lost on him. I love DVDs and this particular one gave me a great deal of pleasure on the evening I decided to pour myself a glass of port and settle down with a cheese sandwich, the remote control and then pressed the play button.

Stan and Ollie is about the latter days of the comedy twosome. Their film career is over and they have come to the UK with their stage act as at the time, it seemed to have been the only offer available to them. Stan is hoping that the two might be doing one final film and looks forward to the producer, Mr Miffen coming to the theatre to take in their performance. Mr Miffen sadly never appears and neither does the hoped-for film production although in real life the pair made a film in Europe called Atoll K that was beset with production problems.

In the early part of the film Stan is at odds with producer Hal Roach. I had always assumed that Laurel and Hardy were a long-time comedy duo that brought their act to the movies. Not so. They came to the Roach studio separately and it was Roach and director Leo McCarey who brought the pair together but they were on different contracts that expired at different times so they could never sit down and negotiate a contract for Laurel and Hardy together. Stan laments the fact that Charlie Chaplin owned his own films and made a great deal of money, while Stan and Ollie were only contract players. Stan thought the two should have held out for a better deal with Roach or another studio but the fact is that both men had trouble with wives, divorces and financial settlements and always signed with Roach again because they were always short of money.

Later in the film, Oliver Hardy suffers a heart attack and though he gamely carries on with the tour, the two realise after a performance in Ireland that their performing days are over.

The film correctly shows that Stan worked long hours with the director and editors of the films as well as scripting much of their work but the incident where Stan decides to work with another comedian in England but then fails to go through with it, is not true.

It’s a little disappointing that the film strays from real life in many ways and I always find it hard to reconcile this in true to life films. If you are going to portray real people and real events then why change them and add a dose of fiction? Perhaps the answer here is that it was a way to show the spirit of the relationship between the two comedians in their twilight years. The two principal actors are excellent; Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel and John C Reilly as Oliver Hardy. They pick up the essence of the comedy duo very well although the film has a bittersweet tone rather than a funny one. The strange thing is that for me, Stan and Ollie were laugh out loud comedians and I still laugh at their antics today but I’m not sure the film shows just how funny they were. The bittersweet tone is really more appropriate to a film about Chaplin because although Charlie makes me smile, he could never really make me laugh like Laurel and Hardy.

Oliver Hardy died in 1957 and despite many offers, Stan declined to work without Hardy. Stan died in 1965. All in all, Stan and Ollie is a sad film but a highly enjoyable one and it is clear that all those involved with the production had a true affection for Laurel and Hardy.

Covid 19

A few days ago I finally had my invitation from the UK government to be innoculated against the dreaded Coronavirus. I was pleased as a couple of people who I knew were younger than me had already had their invite so I was beginning to wonder whether I had somehow been missed off the list. Anyway, I made my appointment and on the appointed day, Wednesday March 3rd, I made my way to the vaccination centre. The staff there, all volunteers apart from the NHS professionals actually giving the jab, were all cheerful and efficient. I queued for a short while at the regulation 2 metre distance and finally was asked a few questions about my health and then quick as a flash, in went the needle. It wasn’t painful and it all seemed to go ok. While we filled in some bits and pieces of paperwork the lady filled up another needle with the vaccine and for a moment there I thought maybe the vaccination involves two injections. Happily, that was for the next victim. The next day I felt a little queasy and had a mild headache, nothing more but that was one small step towards sorting out the virus and getting back to normal.


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A Bit of a Blog or a Blog of Bits: Christmas Version

Well, we’re at that time of year again, Christmas. This time it will be Christmas with a difference; no parties, no meals out, no pub nights. The Coronavirus has changed everything. When it comes down to it, I’m not a great Christmas fan. It was good years ago as a child, waking up with the excitement of it all; the presents, the food, the cosy evening watching classic TV. But now I find myself wishing it was all over. I find myself looking forward to my favourite time of the year, the spring when days are getting longer and warmer and the bad weather is beginning to ease and  things are gradually becoming more light than dark and more warm than cold. This Christmas I will be working, even though I only work three shifts out of nine it turns out that my three days this week have fallen on the 25th, the 26th and 27th. Still, I’ve worked Christmas days before now as well as New Year’s day and Easter and other holidays. This time however, I’ve promised myself I won’t be working another one.

There isn’t much to do during the lockdown and apart from work, the only excitement in my life has been TV, books and writing.

TV.

The good thing about Christmas, speaking strictly as a couch potato, is the good stuff that will be on the television. At least, the good stuff I expect will be on. Last week I sat and watched one of my favourite films Fantastic Voyage. It’s a brilliant film in many ways. Firstly, it’s so incredibly original. We’ve all heard of outer space and seen a hundred or more films on the subject but this film is something different, it’s about inner space. An important scientist lies stricken with an inoperable blood clot on the brain and the solution is this: take a team of doctors, put them in a submarine and shrink them down so that they are so small, so very tiny that they will fit in a hypodermic and can be injected into the scientist’s bloodstream so they can journey towards the brain and clear the blood clot from the inside. Brilliant, wish I’d thought of it. Some of the special effects are a little tame and to be honest, it’s a film that is ripe for a 2021 remake with 21st century CGI special effects. Even so, I enjoyed it just the same.

The film stars various well known actors, from the glamorous Raquel Welch to the villainous Donald Pleasance. Also starring is Stephen Boyd. Boyd was an Irish actor who appeared in over 60 films. Boyd was a good actor who seemed to vanish quite abruptly from our film and TV screens. I looked him up on Wikipedia to find out what had happened to him and discovered that he had died suddenly at a very young age. He hailed from County Antrim in Northern Ireland. His big movie breakthrough was the film Ben Hur in which he played the part of Roman Tribune Messala for which he won a Golden Globe award. He was only 45 when he died of a heart attack whilst out playing golf at a course in California.

A few days ago I watched a repeat of one of the Christmas episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond. One of the great things about that show is Liz and I both enjoy it. In this episode Ray, just like me, is wondering what presents to buy. In particular he wants something for Debra, his wife. Previous failed presents were a set of pyjamas, he bought the wrong ones and his present idea, a space heater. Brother Robert, the funniest character in the show suggests a first edition of Debra’s favourite book, To kill a Mockingbird. Ray gets the book, Debra is over the moon -Ray finally bought her a good present- but Robert ruins everything by revealing the book was his idea. That show always makes me laugh especially as I’m so bad at buying gifts.

Just as I was doing the final edit for this post I took a quick glance at the TV guide. Bypassing Stalkers who Kill scheduled for Christmas Day –somehow I don’t think I’ll be watching that– I noticed It’s a Wonderful Life showing on Christmas Eve. I love that film and come to think of it, I haven’t seen it for quite a few years. It’s about George Bailey played by James Stewart who looks forward to an interesting life of travel but then finds obligations force him to stay in the small town where he has always lived. George is beset by problems and even considers suicide but then his guardian angel -literally- arrives to help him. The secret of this film is, I think, the fact that despite the fantasy premise of the film, everyone plays their parts as if they were in a serious drama. The result is that the drama and emotion of the situation rises to the surface and we are left with a vibrant and dramatic piece of cinema.

Books.

Hollywood has always fascinated me, especially Hollywood’s Golden Age. Just recently I’ve been reading Murder Hollywood Style written by Samuel Marx and Joyce Vanderdeen. Samuel Marx worked in Hollywood for many years and was a story editor and later a producer. He was a friend of Paul Bern who had married the original platinum blonde, Jean Harlow, in 1932.

On the morning of September the 5th, 1932, Marx received a phone call advising him that Bern had been found dead that morning. Bern was a former script writer who now worked as a producer for MGM where he was assistant to Irving Thalberg. Thalberg was known as the ‘Boy Wonder’ of MGM having produced a number of hit films such as Grand Hotel and Mutiny on the Bounty. Marx was shocked by the news and went quickly over to Bern’s house. Thalberg was already there and Marx spoke to neighbour about a mysterious veiled woman who had arrived the previous night. She arrived in a limousine and the neighbour heard various sounds that evening. Some sounds of laughter, some of anger. Marx went to go inside Bern’s house but Thalberg told him not to enter. Bern had committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. It was not a pretty site. Louis B Mayer the famous head of MGM had been to the house already and the head of the studio police force was also there. Marx, who had dined with Bern and his wife Jean Harlow only recently was shocked and left for home.

Strangely nothing appeared on the news until the next day. Who was the woman in the limo and had Bern really committed suicide? Marx takes us on an interesting tour of 1930’s Hollywood and along the way talks about many of the famous personalities of the time as well as the background to MGM studios and the films they made. He explains how the studio managed the press and dealt with the law enforcement officials of the day. Nothing was allowed to upset the carefully managed careers of stars like Jean Harlow and Clark Gable, her co-star in the hit movie Red Dust which was completed after Bern’s death.

All in all, a fascinating read.

Writing.

I was watching a TV quiz show the other day and one of the celebrity contestants mentioned that he had just finished writing a book. He did it by setting himself a target of 2000 words per day. Now sometimes I’ve hit 2000 words myself although certainly not every day. Sometimes it’s just 200. Writing isn’t always that easy and working from home there are so many distractions like emails and time wasting web sites like Pinterest and eBay. On eBay you can not only waste time but also spend money that you didn’t want to spend. When I’m stuck on a blog post or any other writing project I tend to look back at my half finished projects and work on those. I have a whole stack of half written poems, some of which I wrote many years ago and recently I put together a collection of poems with a vague idea of publishing them on Amazon. Lo and behold, just then a publisher contacted me asking to publish my poems! It was an Indian publisher and over on their web page there was a lengthy portfolio of their published editions which will soon be joined by my own book, A Warrior of Words.

Hope you’re having a good socially distanced Christmas. All the best and I’ll see you over in 2021.

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The Story of My Life Part 2

OK, here we go. Remember the post from a few weeks back? Life story in less than 2500 words? You do? Great stuff. Here’s the continuing story then, this time restricted to 2390 words.

Only 2390 words? What can I say? I did 1000, then 1500 then after 2200, I felt I’d gone as far as I could, not only that, I felt I had to go out and do some Christmas shopping instead of living dangerously and waiting until December 24th like I usually do. The funny thing is, when we get to Bonfire Night on November the 5th, I always think that this will be a good time to take a crack at Christmas shopping. I always think that. I never actually do it, you know, actually buy anything but I do think about it.

I think I finished part 1 at a point where I was working at an insurance company in Manchester city centre. If you want to refresh yourself with that earlier work, feel free to click here. I really did enjoy my time working in the insurance world. Well, I liked being in Manchester city centre and I liked the world of after work drinks in the city centre, evenings after work in the city centre. Actually, I suppose I just liked the city centre.

Back in the 1970’s there were a number of great bars and pubs in Manchester. I remember an exclusive looking bar I sometimes ventured into on a side road just off Deansgate. It was called Sims as I remember. I used to get myself a bar stool and order a very James Bond dry martini. For a while I wore a grey trench coat and it has just occurred to me I must have cut a figure similar to Delboy in the classic TV comedy Only Fools and Horses. Remember that scene where he leans on the bar but doesn’t realise the bar top has been lifted up? Well happily that didn’t happen to me although I must have looked like a right plonker sat at the bar sipping my dry martini. Of course, in those days I knew nothing about drinks or what to order. I spent quite a few years ordering a pint of mild in pubs all because I hadn’t a clue what to ask for. I remembering ordering a beer and the slightly stunned barmaid asked ‘what sort of beer?’ Luckily just then I overheard someone nearby asking for a pint of mild so I asked for the same having no idea what it was. Later on, when I realised all my mates were drinking lager, I started drinking that.

Sometimes, I felt that I wasn’t in the mood to quaff a full pint, especially at lunch times. We had a short lunch break at the insurance company where I worked so I felt I had to order something smaller. I’m not sure why I didn’t just ask for a half pint but for some reason, perhaps I had read too many James Bond books, I ordered a dry martini and lemonade. My work colleagues were always rather amused by this so I decided to try and change back to beer. It wasn’t easy. The barman at the time in the Beef and Barley had made it his mission to have my martini all ready when I came in. I’d approach the bar and before I could say, pint of lager please he would whip out a dry martini. If there was a bunch of people at the bar, he’d always find time to sort out the martini before I could put my order in. I wouldn’t mind but it wasn’t as if I was giving out big tips, after all, as a committed and fully paid up tightwad, tipping is not only not part of our mission statement, it is completely against our cultural ethos. These days I’d just say, look, I’ve stopped drinking martini, give me a lager. Back then, the only answer was to just stop going in there and walk the extra 100 yards to the Salisbury.

The Salisbury pub in Manchester City Centre

Incidentally, my uncle Raymond, who lied about his age in order to join his older brothers in World War II, once told me he had been arrested by MPs in the Salisbury so that pub has a particular bit of Higgins history that I have always liked.

Another bar I used to frequent, especially on a Saturday night, was the ‘Playground’, a small disco bar on Oxford Rd. Flickering multi- coloured spotlights rotated across the red carpeted room, which, on Fridays and Saturdays was generally packed. It had a small dance floor sunk low like a pit, where people up on the raised bar level could look down at the gyrating girls, and where also, on week day lunchtimes, a topless dancer appeared at the stroke of one o’clock to translate the soul and disco music of the time into pulsating physical motion, the eyes of jaded office workers glued to her as she did so.

My friends and I used to meet up in the Salisbury, by Oxford Rd station, have a few pints and a bit of a natter to any Insurance colleagues who we might find there, then make the short walk to the Playground. There was a paltry fifty pence charge to get in, the solitary bouncer was silent, but not unpleasant and the DJ, who always began the night with ‘Love’s Theme’ by the Love Unlimited Orchestra, played alternate sessions of rock, disco and chart music.  We were all mad about Jenny, the barmaid. She was lovely. She had a kind of round, open face, framed by thick blonde hair and her skin was a creamy white. She served us Worthington ‘E’ and we melted into the hubbub of people on their Saturday night out while the music of the seventies drifted through us.

The Playground as it is today

I’ve got to admit, I’ve cheated a little bit here because that last section about the Playground was lifted straight out of Floating in Space. I loved that bar and I was pretty gutted when it closed down. It’s still a bar today in 2020 but not quite the same. The dance floor has gone although there is still a bouncer on the door. I spoke to him last year before this whole nightmare Covid 19 stuff and he showed me round and said it was OK to return with my video camera and take some shots. Maybe I will in 2021.

Sometimes my friends and I went down to our favourite club. It was a place called Genevieve’s. Genevieve’s was in Longsight, which was a pretty rough area of Manchester and one of the hazards of the place was that you never found your car quite the same as how you left it, if you found it at all.

I remember one long ago Saturday night. My friends and I had to queue up for about ten minutes to get inside but we took that as a good sign. After all, a queue meant the club was busy. A group of grizzly bouncers scrutinised us and under their intense gaze we paid the entrance fee then went on inside. We were met by the warm fireside glow of soft lighting and the loud, pulsating beat of disco music. Coloured spot lights flashed over the four dance floors, in the hub of which sat the DJ, turning slowly around in a revolving booth.

There were five bars. Two small corner bars, two long bars, and a circular bar at the far end of the club. It really was a well set out place. We headed for one of the corner bars and my mate asked “bitter Steve?” I nodded and he called out to the barmaid.

A small army of bouncers was wandering around the club and as we waited for our drinks an argument broke out at one of the slot machines. Without any questions two burly bouncers grabbed the offender and propelled him expertly to the door. Another hooligan tried to come to the rescue by jumping on the back of one of the bouncers but a third bow-tied, black suited gorilla punched him solidly in the side, twisted his arm up his back and quickly removed him also. It was the sort of place where they didn’t stand any messing and the beer tasted like 3 parts water to one part beer and your feet stuck to the floor as you walked around. No one to my knowledge ever decided to complain to the management.

Genevieve’s attracted all sorts of people. There were smartly dressed, obviously wealthy people, peeling off rolls of bills to pay for whiskies and gins and other spirits. There were many attractive, well dressed girls. The younger girls drank halves of lager, sat in groups, and danced in groups to the Motown music of the sixties. They would drop their handbags onto the floor as they converged together for the formation dance routines for ‘Jimmy Mack’ and ‘Third Finger Left Hand’.

There were groups of lads too, who held cigarette packets and lighters in their hands, or placed them down in front of them on the tables while they drank, talked and eyed up the girls.

I spent a lot of my young life in that club. Tracks like Bus Stop by The Fatback band and Young Hearts Run Free by Candi Staton always remind me of Genevieve’s. Despite the watered down drinks and the frequent fights, my friends and I had a lot of fun there until one day it either closed down or we found a better place to go.

Just to try and give you a better idea of the times, in 1978, Jim Callaghan was the UK Prime Minister and Jimmy Carter was the US President. The movie Grease was released starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton John. The Bee Gees released Night Fever and the biggest selling hit of the year was Rivers of Babylon by Boney M.

Anyway, after a few years of working as an office clerk my friend Chris and I decided to pack our jobs in and go and work in Spain in a place called Lloret de Mar. His sister was based there and according to her it was a great life; sun, sand and of course, the young ladies.

We both decided to finance the deal by selling our cars. My car was a major mistake. It was a Mini Cooper and although it was a great car the insurance for that particular vehicle for a young man back in 1978 was pretty horrendous. When I came to sell the car, it attracted young men like me, all of whom were pushed to pay the insurance. Then a whole lot of problems occurred with the car and so I ended up selling it for a measly £50.

Chris and I hitchhiked down to London then got the boat train to Paris and then after being becalmed in French hitchhiking hell for days, we just jumped on a train direct to Lloret.

We met two girls on the train and had a fun time travelling together for a few days. ‘My’ girl was called Lee, which she said was short for Emily.

On arrival in Lloret we found a small pension consisting of a couple of rooms and a bathroom and spent a lot of time going down the pub drinking beer and chatting to girls.

We were pretty popular for a while. A short while. Later I realised our popularity was directly related to the money we had. The locals we met, by locals I mean the British ex pats who had flocked to the area just for the same reasons we had, all had pretty much nothing and anyone else who either was a new arrival with money or an expat who had some kind of a job was fair game to cadge off. For a short time I worked in a pub. I wasn’t paid any money but they gave me a meal for my trouble. Any time I was behind the bar collecting plates and glasses for washing, my new mates all hissed ‘Steve, pour us a lager while no one is looking!’ I didn’t and as a result my popularity plummeted. One night I was in the pub drinking with friends and after an evening of fending off various cadgers I told one of them to, in polite terms, go and have sex with himself. Alas this did not go down well and I became somewhat unpopular in that small Spanish town. After a few weeks I got a little fed up of this and so I moved on and left my friend behind. He was happy, he was a popular guy and he spent the summer with new friends loitering about Spain.

I started hitchhiking back north through France. I remember meeting an American guy. He was doing something similar to me, he had packed in his insurance job, sold his car and was travelling around Europe. We travelled together for a while. Every night he checked into a hotel and I put my tent up somewhere nearby. He had his evening meal in the hotel, I had some bread and cheese from the local shop and we had a few drinks together of an evening. Like all Americans, certainly those I have met, he was a friendly guy. It was clear to me he was dining well and I of course wasn’t. I must have ponged a little though after all those weeks on the road and I have to say I wouldn’t have minded using his shower, but the offer never came. After a while we parted company.

Not so long ago I found my old notebook from those days and written neatly in there are his name and address and phone number in the USA. I’ve always wanted to visit the USA and the Americans are such friendly, outgoing people. Wonder what he’d say if I turned up on his doorstep. Remember me? Steve Higgins? France, 1978? Any chance of using your shower?

I fondly remember turning up at home. My mum answered the door with a look of shock. ‘What are you doing here?’ she asked. I thought you were going away for six months?’

I’d returned after about six weeks. ‘I don’t know where you’re going to sleep’ she went on. ‘We threw your old bed out the other week!’


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The Ramblings of a Locked Down Blogger Part 3

While the lockdown is still ongoing there is not much going on my little life except for work, television and eating. I’ve written a lot about TV in the past, in fact as a couch potato of the highest order, TV viewing is one of the few activities in which I can claim to be an expert. Still, when it comes to food I’m an expert too, an expert in knowing just exactly what I like. Just in case you the reader ever decides to ask me over for dinner I thought it might be an idea to blog about my favourite foods.

Sandwiches.

What I thought I’d do is just stick with sandwiches for now. Now you might be thinking sandwiches, wow, that’s not really grabbing me, what else is available on WordPress? Where’s my google tab when I need it?

Let me see if I can just stop you from navigating away, just for a minute.

Personally, I love sandwiches. I have sandwiches every day at work and even on my days off, I tend to look longingly towards the bread bin round about early afternoon, especially if I’ve had an early breakfast.

A while back I was eating in the work’s mess room and one of my colleagues, a lady, in fact a lady of somewhat larger proportions sat nearby, and we began talking about healthy food. A lot of what she was saying was some sort of a rant about people who eat unhealthily and regrettably not a lot of what she was saying has quite caught in any lasting way onto my memory banks, but I was able to remark, in response, that my lunch, ham salad on a brown bun, was pretty healthy.

Healthy? She replied in a very shocked and surprised manner. Bread?

What’s wrong with bread I asked? It’s one of the oldest foods known to man.

As a general rule I should add that it is better never to argue with a woman who has found an almost religious fervour for the techniques of dieting and weight loss. Bread as far as I am concerned is one of the oldest and healthiest forms of food. Over on Wikipedia it is described thus:

Bread is a staple food prepared from a dough of flour and water, usually by baking. Throughout recorded history it has been a prominent food in large parts of the world. It is one of the oldest man-made foods, having been of significant importance since the dawn of agriculture, and plays an essential role in both religious rituals and secular culture. 

The name sandwich comes from John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich who one night asked his valet to bring him some meat between two slices of bread so that he could continue his card game, apparently cribbage, and eat without using a fork or getting his hands greasy. Sandwiches though, at least a form of sandwich, arrived in the world at a much earlier date and bread in various forms has been used to scoop up or wrap food in many cultures all over the world. I have always liked the humble sandwich because the sandwich enables one to eat on the go and as a hungry bus or van driver I’ve always taken advantage of that fact. Even today working in a purpose built hi tech control centre, my colleagues complain when the microwave is out of order or the oven has failed. Ha, I think, you should have brought a sandwich!

Anyway, here are a few of my favourites.

Bacon Sarnie

We in the northwest of England sometimes call a sandwich a sarnie or a butty and one universally loved in the north is a bacon butty or bacon barm. A barm, actually a barmcake, is a round white bread bun or bap. Cut one across the middle, butter it and slap on some grilled bacon and there you have the perfect way to start the day. As a further refinement, slap on some brown sauce or even an egg.

Sausage Sarnie

Similar to the bacon sarnie. Slap a few sausages on the griddle or pan. Cook until ready. Slice down the middle and arrange on your bread. Perfect with brown sauce.

Bacon Grill Sarnie

Bacon grill comes in a tin and is similar to spam in appearance and texture although in taste it is similar to sausage meat or bacon. Like a Big Mac it’s supremely unhealthy but one sandwich every now and again won’t hurt. Open the tin, slice the bacon grill and slap it on either a frying pan or under the grill for a few minutes. Transfer straight away to some buttered white bread and enjoy.

Ham salad

Probably what I’ll be eating tonight at work, I prefer this on a brown bun, split it in half, slap on the butter or margarine then chop some iceberg lettuce, some red onions, some sliced tomatoes, salt and pepper and then plenty of thinly sliced ham.

Cheese and onion

Not much to this one, get a brown bun, cut in half, slap on the butter or margarine and then you’re ready for some cheddar cheese either sliced or grated. Throw in some red onions to taste. This is nice on some plain white bread too.

Cheese and ham Toastie.

You really need a toastie maker for this but if you haven’t got one you can either grill your toastie or dry fry in frying pan. Butter the bread on the outside so it won’t stick in the toastie maker. Throw on your ham, grate some cheese and add a little onion. Slap it into the toastie maker until the cheese starts to melt. Great after a busy late shift at work. Serve with chilled lager.

The Steve Higgins Special

There’s a great moment in the Woody Allen film Broadway Danny Rose. The films starts and ends with a group of comedians, actually real-life US comedians discussing the world of comedy in New York. The conversation turns to Broadway Danny Rose, an agent who has a stable of not so great artists. Later, at the end of the film they mention that Danny Rose has received the ultimate New York honour, a sandwich named after him in the deli where they congregate. Here then is my own contender for that special honour. If I ever get to New York I might just mention it to any deli owner willing to listen.

I prefer this with a fresh white bap but it’s equally as good with a brown bun: split and butter it. Slap on some thinly sliced honey roast ham, then some grated cheddar and to finish off add a generous portion of coleslaw. Settle down, tune the TV onto your favourite channel, pour yourself a cup of tea and enjoy!

Fires.

I very nearly added a line in that last paragraph above about turning up the heating, after all, summer is long gone and now the temperature has dropped considerably. Liz still has a traditional fireplace and it is nice to sit in front of a roaring coal fire (with a steaming hot cuppa and my ham, cheese and coleslaw special) while we still have the chance. The government has banned the sale of coal from next year, so we have been buying extra supplies.

Our first few coal fires this year were a little smoky, so we felt that maybe the chimney could do with a clean. Many years ago, when I lived at home we had a coal fire. My Mum used to get up early and sort out the fire which would have been left murmuring away from the previous night. In those days the fire also heated the water in the house so no fire, no hot water.

I can fondly remember evenings sat in front of a fire watching television. Our old family dog, Bob, so named because all my Dad’s dogs were called Bob, would make his way forcefully to a spot right in front of the fire. After forcefully pushing either me or my brother out of the way he used to get as close as he possibly could to the fire and gaze thoughtfully into the flames until his nose dried up and Mum would shout at him until he reluctantly moved. A dog with a dry nose? No, not on Mum’s watch!

The visit from the chimney sweep was a big event for us kids back then. The lounge would be covered with white sheets and the sweep would bring his collection of brushes and connecting rods. Firstly, the brush would be shoved up the chimney then the next rod would be screwed on and the brush shoved up further. Then the next rod or pole would be connected until the chimney sweep would ask me and my brother to nip outside and look out for the brush popping out of the chimney.

It was always pretty exciting to see the brush pop up out of the chimney. We’d rush back in and advise him of the situation. Then he would bring down the brush, disconnect the rods and pack things away. Mum would spend forever then cleaning up despite the sheets that covered all the furniture. The dark fingers of soot would appear on the window frames and mantelpiece but the fire that evening would be brighter than ever.

I’m not sure if there still are chimney sweeps in the 21st century but it so happens that Liz has a set of chimney rods and brush, so we set about cleaning the chimney ourselves. The fireplace was sealed with a sheet of plastic and the brush poked through a small hole keeping the lounge free of soot. Ramming that brush up wasn’t so easy but finally I made some headway and started on the next connector and then the next and so on. Luckily for me Liz lives in a bungalow so there wasn’t too far to go but after a while I ended up stripping off my top as I was pouring with sweat. Afterwards, covered with soot and sweat it was time for a shower.

They must have been a tough old lot those chimney sweeps!


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Locked Down Blogger Part 2

It finally happened last week. It had been rumoured and expected. It had been predicted many months ago and so here it is. I’m talking of course about the second wave of the Coronavirus epidemic and the resulting second lockdown. There was some advance notice and as a result Liz and I were able to book a table and enjoy a last meal out. We even thought what the heck and went for a second bottle of wine just like the other couple in the next table sitting a socially distanced two metres to our left.

So that’s a month coming up with no nights out at the pub, no meals out and no quiz nights. The big problem with this second lockdown is the weather. In the first one I was quite happy sitting out in the sunshine reading a book. Now we have entered November here in the north of England it seems as though it has been constantly raining. What can we find of interest then? Well the big interest for me just lately is the American election. Like many people, I thought the election was a foregone conclusion, that Trump would be out and whoever the democrats chose would be in. It just so happened that the democratic candidate was Joe Biden. Joe is getting on a little bit for the top job and wouldn’t necessarily have been my choice but then again, neither would Donald Trump. As I write this the election is still ongoing, they are still counting the votes in a few remaining states. Both candidates are claiming victory and one is claiming huge voter fraud. Biden has so far been pretty much acclaimed as the winner, having received congratulations from previous presidents Obama and George W Bush. No congratulations have been forthcoming from Donald Trump and his legal team has already initiated legal action. I’m not sure who exactly they are planning to take to court but either way, that has not stopped Joe Biden getting his transition team together and making plans for when he takes office.

I wrote something back in 2016 about the smooth transition of power in the great democracies and even wondered what would happen if ever the outgoing president refused to budge. That was just wild blogging speculation but now some commentators are saying it could actually happen. This is almost as interesting for me as Watergate.

There was a time when I thought I understood the US election, now I’m not so sure. Hillary Clinton and Al Gore both won the popular vote in previous elections but failed to get enough electoral college votes to take them to the White House. I’m even confused about the primaries, I mean I was convinced Bernie Sanders would be the democratic candidate, but he stepped down earlier in the year and then Biden seemed to become the candidate virtually unchallenged and his projected walkover victory over Trump has just not happened. Many people actually support Trump. Some give their support because they are dyed in the wool Republicans, some presumably admire him but either way, 48% of the votes were for him.

I was watching TV the other day and a female black voter was being interviewed and surprisingly, she was voting for Trump. She wouldn’t vote for Biden she said because he was a socialist, which in the USA is one step from being a communist. Maybe that explains why Trump has such a following; in many places he must be seen as the anti-socialist. Trump did well in Florida where many Cubans found home after leaving communist Cuba.

When Nixon won the election in 1968 he spotted a supporter in a crowd with a banner proclaiming Bring us together and made that a campaign slogan. Bringing Americans together is a big ask for whoever wins in 2020 but I wish him luck in doing just that.

Theoretically this should be a great time for writers. What could be a better time to write than the lockdown, after all there isn’t much else to do. A few months back I shelled out a hundred or so dollars to list my screenplay on a web site called InkTip. InkTip is a way of bringing producers and writers together. They produce a newsletter for producers listing scripts and also provide subscribers with weekly lists of producers who want scripts. My screenplay has seen a lot of action lately with various producers reading either the synopsis or the script itself but that million-dollar deal has yet to surface. I live in hope.

My screenplay was one I wrote quite a few years back and I read through it recently and had an idea for a new ending. I added the new ending, tidied everything up and that final version was the one I added to InkTip. As I reviewed it again the other day – I don’t know about you but I’m always reviewing my old stuff- I realised that it was written before today’s mobile phone, Twitter and Instagram age. Not one of the characters has a phone. I might have to spend the lockdown adding mobile phones to my screenplay and bringing it into the 21st century.

Another project I’ve been working on during the lockdown is a video covering my recent trip to the Scottish Highlands. It’s mostly GoPro video from a camera stuck to my motorhome window. I’ve added some stills and some bits where I talk straight to the camera. I had a lot of technical problems putting it together, particularly recording the voice over. The voice over is pretty important because the actual visual stuff isn’t that exciting. When I recorded it, my laptop clearly couldn’t keep up with playing video and recording sound at the same time, so I had to record my voice separately and then add it to the video. That makes it difficult because normally as I’m reading the narration I tend to react to what is on screen so I can slow down or speed up if required or just add lib if I need to.

I was feeling pretty pleased with myself when I finished it and quickly got it uploaded to YouTube. I added the video to a video creators page that I follow and got some pretty reasonable feedback. What was really annoying was when I decided to tinker with it and spotted a couple of things I hadn’t noticed. One was in the credits at the end where I credited the music as Soul Grove instead of Soul Groove. Oh, and there was one more. In one of the stills of the motorhome I hadn’t picked up that Liz was rather cheekily giving me the V sign through the window! The thing is, the video had already garnered 72 views so do I delete and add the updated version or just leave things as they are? Decisions, decisions.

I’ve has a couple of nights on my own this week, as usual keeping my mothers house ship shape and lived in. One night I thought I’d make one of my favourite dishes, bruschetta. It just so happened I had some ciabatta in the freezer as well as onions and tomatoes. So here we go, I sliced the bread and popped it in the toaster for a light toasting. While that was going on I chopped the tomatoes and onions, mixed them up with a little garlic and olive oil. I Popped the bread out, slapped on the tomato and onion mixture and settled down to eat. It was wonderful.

It was so good I decided on another Italian favourite for the second course. aglio olio peperoncino. It’s basically spaghetti with olive oil, garlic and chilli. What could go wrong with that?

The quick answer is everything, overdone spaghetti, burnt garlic and those chillies I used last week on a curry that weren’t very hot: this week they were hot!

When is my favourite Italian restaurant opening again?


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