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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Airports, Saturday Nights and Ally McBeal


I really hated work this week. I hated it for a number of reasons even though I only worked one day. Now as I’m semi-retired I only work three days anyway so one day, well, you might think ok, that’s not so bad, wish I only worked one day this week. Wrong! I actually wish I’d not worked any days. The first day I was poorly with a bad tummy. Day two I was still poorly although not quite as bad and day three I was feeling a little better so I went back to work. I was actually feeling bad about having those two days off, yes guilty about taking sick leave. Maybe I should have called in sick the third day and then after my six days off (yes, I get six days off) I’d be fully ready to start work again. Come to think of it, that would mean fifteen days off wouldn’t it? (Six plus three plus six, see what I mean?)

 Oh well, I still hated that one day either way. The funny thing is, I was recently looking at my horoscope and it said something about how I needed to get rid of something in my life to make room for something new. Is the cosmos hinting that I should just pack the job in? Would a great new job then come my way? It’s a nice thought but I’m not convinced. I tend to look at horoscopes for entertainment rather than to see into the future so I’ll just keep sending out my CV for now.

After my one day at work I thought I’d spend a couple of days at my mother’s house and make sure everything was ok. The garden was looking good. I had planned on giving the lawn a trim but I thought, what the heck, it’ll be ok for another week. More time for me to write and work on my various projects.

One long running project is the sequel to Floating in Space. It’s called the Girl in the Yellow Coat and it’s about a character that made a fleeting appearance in Floating, a girl in, guess what, a yellow coat. As I’ve not worked on it for a while, I started reading through what I had written so far, which then made me look back at Floating and read some of that. I love my writing, I really do. I’m not claiming it’s brilliant or anything but the thing is it’s written for me, I write it purely for myself so I’m bound to like it. The other thing is that a lot of my work is based on real things, real events and real people and sometimes when I read it I remember the real things that inspired the story. It’s like a walk down memory lane, looking back on things I’d actually forgotten about and people who I hadn’t thought about for years. Maybe that’s why I’m not making much headway on the book; I’m too busy reminiscing about stuff to get creative.

Another project I’m working on is making another version of one of my most popular YouTube videos; it’s called Manchester Airport 1986 and follows my late friend Steve and myself talking about spotting aircraft in and around the airport. I was never a real plane spotter myself but as a child living a stone’s throw from the airport, it was fun to tag along with my friends who were. I did love watching the big jet planes taxi out to the runway and blast off to their various destinations around the globe and people like Steve, Paul, Phil and various others all jotted down aircraft numbers into their notebooks. In the video, Steve and I visit a quiet country lane round the back of the airport where plane spotters gather and many other places like the Tatton Arms pub, ideally situated on the runway approach path and the old and original Airport Hotel. I say original because various other places have sprouted up in the area using that name.

On a whim on Saturday afternoon I decided to drag my brother out and cajoled him into filming with my video camera while I drove to the old locations. What about a sort of then and now video I thought, comparing the airport of 1986 to the huge place it has become now? Going into the airport itself I knew it was going to be different but I wasn’t prepared for just how different it actually was. There are three terminals at Manchester now and T2 was closed because of Covid 19. Anyway we wandered around and filmed various things although many areas seemed to be coned off and everywhere there were double yellow lines. Manchester Airport is not a car friendly environment and cars are discouraged from stopping or loitering. Nowadays you even have to pay to use the drop off and go areas.

I did manage to find the entrance to the multi storey car park which looked familiar. Back in 1986 Steve and I went to the top level and joined various other plane spotters watching aircraft but last Saturday I thought I’d save that for another day. I went off in search of that small lane round the back of the runway. That was easier said than done. Back in the 1980’s there was an old country pub called the Ship in Styal village, a posh village that is actually over the county border in Cheshire. It was a sleepy old pub and sometimes my friends and I would visit on a Friday or Saturday night.

On this particular Saturday afternoon the tiny car park was now three times as big as I remembered and was packed. The small lane was also crammed with parked cars making it hard to squeeze past. There is an old water mill further down that lane. We visited it once on a school trip. It’s nothing really exciting but today I could only imagine that all these visitors were either visiting the pub or the mill, after all there is nothing else in the village except the pub, the water mill and a small shop.

Eventually we managed to get past but in the old days the road carried on and eventually came to a steep hill just by the Valley Lodge hotel. Nowadays the road ahead seemed to have become a sort of pedestrianised walking area and traffic was forced off to the right. This must have been the old lane where we filmed in 1986 but the airport had grown and gradually encroached on and swallowed up some of the surrounding land. High barbed wire fences kept the public away and there were no longer any rough graveled parking bays to stop in. Eventually we came across a new and unfamiliar road which led us back into the airport itself.

The Tatton Arms looked similar to how it used to look but now it is now part pub and part bistro. We stopped for a moment, took a few pictures and left. Change is inevitable of course but I don’t think I was quite prepared for the scale of the change.

Getting back to Floating in Space, the main character, Stuart, is bored with his nine to five office job. He yearns for something different and lives for the weekend. The book starts off like this:

 The countdown starts on Friday afternoon at four thirty when my colleagues and I pour out from the Regal Assurance building and stream and scatter for the cars, buses, and trains that carry us away to different and better lives.  The countdown is for the weekend, and the weekend is one long high-energy cassette that plays on the hi-fi of life until that moment, that far distant moment, when the alarm bell rings for Monday morning and there are five days before you can rewind the tape and play it again.

That of course was 1977. In 2020 Stuart, like me might have been tempted to go into Manchester for a night out but Manchester is a hot spot as far as the Coronavirus is concerned. Bolton, a Manchester suburb has been forced back into lockdown because of a spike in Covid cases so for the time being I thought it might be better to just stay in and stay safe. That’s how I came to settle down in front of the TV with a can of Guinness and a packet of Doritos. I combed through my old VHS box looking for something I hadn’t watched for years. I picked up a couple of documentaries which looked interesting and then came across my Ally McBeal DVDs.

It’s a long time since I have seen Ally McBeal. It was a hit US show in the 1990’s and is something that I’ve never seen repeated even on all the new TV channels that have sprouted up, seemingly overnight. Ally was a Boston lawyer played by Calista Flockhart. She starts work at Cage and Fish, a Boston legal firm. The senior partners, John Cage and Richard Fish are two oddball characters presiding over a wacky company that has unisex toilets and on most nights everyone goes into a bar in the same building where resident singer Vonda Shepard regularly performs, sometimes handing the microphone over to the office staff. Barry White makes an appearance there as does Sting and other pop icons. The series is a comedy but with elements of drama, sentimentality and music all mixed in together.

My favourite character was John Cage played by Peter MacNicol. He was a shy character, unsure of himself who falls for Ally and fantasises about Barry White singing ‘You’re the First, My Last, My Everything’ in order to bulk up his confidence. In the first episode Ally loses her job at another firm because of sexual harassment, bumps into Richard Fish who immediately hires her and sets about suing the sexual harasser.

So that was my Saturday, getting lost at the airport, a place I used to know like the back of my hand. Staying in on a Saturday night and watching Ally McBeal, a TV show that was cancelled in 2002. What shall I do this Saturday I wonder?


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Writing, Blogging and making those Ch-Ch-Changes

I sometimes wonder why I go to all the effort of banging out a new blog post every weekend. My words like those of many others go forth into the internet and some multiply in terms of ‘likes’ and followers and some fall on stony ground. Still, what do I care? I have enjoyed the process of writing and have done ever since I was a child. I’ll go on banging out blog posts until the day when, well, the day when I don’t want to bang blog posts out anymore, when presumably I will either have found something more enjoyable to do or just shuffled off into the next world.

Of course I do want people to read my work and every time I get a new comment or a new ‘like’ it feels good, in fact it feels very good indeed, even though my blog is probably out there on the lower rung of popular blogs. Some of my WordPress colleagues have huge followings and I have to admit to a feeling of envy when I see their posts with lots of comments and lots of likes.

One of my fellow bloggers has a large following even though he posts things that wouldn’t look out of place on a Facebook status post. Things like My favourite Bowie song is ‘Changes’. Now that particular post, which garnered about 80 likes last time I looked, took very little effort even though there wasn’t a picture of David Bowie or a link to a music video which he could have easily added, like this:

I do spend a lot of time on my posts and my deadline of 10am on a Saturday morning keeps me on my toes. It makes me write when I could very easily be watching TV and sometimes, a lot of the time in fact, I do need a hefty shove to get going. Some of my posts have been written with a sense of urgency on a Thursday afternoon or even Friday night and strangely, those last minute posts always seem to do well. A while ago I published a post about Watergate which I researched very thoroughly, reading various Watergate books and watching a few documentaries on the subject. The resulting post which I personally loved, didn’t get a great reaction from the blog reading public.

On the other hand, 3 Films about Films, which I wrote on a Thursday when I knew I would be busy Friday and Saturday did very well indeed. There was minimal research because I wrote about three films that I loved and have seen many times and apart from checking a few dates and spellings online, I knocked the post out in one fell writing swoop.

3 Films About Films netted about three times my usual readership and the annoying thing is that I don’t know why. It was lovely to have that extra readership and I’m glad readers liked it but I still wonder why my Watergate post didn’t go down so well. Perhaps, unlike me, people aren’t really interested in Watergate. Perhaps I didn’t include the right keywords in the title or use the most appropriate tags or just made some elementary blogging mistake. Those little blogging mysteries do make me wonder.

Every week I seem to pick up the odd new follower here and there and one day, hopefully I may move up into the stratosphere of popular blogs. I do like writing and blogging and that is the reason I keep on going, as well as to publicise my book Floating in Space for which, as usual, you will see a short plug down at the bottom of this post. Floating came from a love of writing too and I enjoyed writing it even if no one ever buys or reads a copy. The fact that people have bought a copy and read it and enjoyed it is a great feeling, even if my plans for using the proceeds to buy a penthouse in Barcelona have been put on hold for now.

This in some ways might be a breakthrough week for me as a writer. I have to stress the phrase might be though. A while back when I hit a bit of a blank wall whilst writing, I decided to look back at some of my older work. A few years ago I wrote a script  which went from psychological drama to murder mystery and while reading it I thought of a great idea for an alternative ending. I re-wrote the ending (added some ch-ch-changes) and thought great but what can I do with the script now?

Well I decided to list the script on Inktip.com a US site that puts together a newsletter that is read by many film industry professionals, at least that’s what they say. It was a mere $40 to list my script on the newsletter and all I had to do was create a logline, a short phrase that encapsulates the whole scenario. OK, that was sorted but then I find that the log line has to link to a script or synopsis and to add that it’s another $60. OK I sorted that but then it turns out your script has to be registered. Registered how? Well you can register a script with the Writer’s Guild of America which ensures no one can steal your ideas. I registered the script and that was another $20. If any film producer decides to option my script I’ll let you know. That could well be a hundred and twenty dollars (£92) well spent, on the other hand . . Well, I might just keep my options open on that Barcelona penthouse, you never know.

Getting back to my blog and Floating in Space, I do wonder about views and likes. Perhaps I need proof that I’m doing things right or that my work is engaging. Over on Twitter I have roughly 6500 followers but most of those are bloggers and authors and amateur video makers just like me and only a small portion of that following has ever bought Floating or even followed me here on WordPress. Sometimes I wonder just what is the point of Twitter? Is it just a collection of thoughts and comments that go off into cyberspace never to be heard of again, unless of course you are someone the world seems to takes notice of. I was thinking perhaps of Donald Trump whose Tweets seem to be reposted and commented on endlessly. Then again, maybe that isn’t really a good example but Trump really seems to have cracked what I might call the Twitter bubble.

I spend a lot of time wondering not only about my posts but also about my book. Who is buying it and why? How can I sell more books? Should I perhaps edit it again or perhaps do more advertising or make more promo videos?

I have to admit to making some elementary mistakes in self publishing. A while back I made a big update to Floating and rather than getting an increased readership, sales dropped back to nothing. After a couple of months I did a check on Amazon and found that due to a slip of the keyboard Floating was retailing for £70.10 rather than £7.10! That mistake was quickly resolved and sales gradually began to move again but I felt like such a fool.

A few weeks ago I had a message from an old schoolfriend saying she had read Floating in Space and how much she had enjoyed it. The lady in question was (all names have been changed to protect the innocent) a girl called Stella Smith. Now Stella and I were in the same class together in Junior school and High school and except for a few chance meetings here and there, I don’t think we have have ever met up since our schooldays.

Stella was a popular girl and it was nice to talk to her again via the internet. When we had finished talking about schooldays and Manchester I asked her how come she had bought Floating? Had she seen one of my Tweets? Caught one of my YouTube videos? Had she seen one of the occasional advertisements I have tried on Google? No. None of these. She had been told about the book by another schoolfriend, a guy called Laurence.

I didn’t know Laurence or at least didn’t remember him but Stella mentioned that he had ‘friended’ her after talking on a Facebook page dedicated to our old school, Sharston High.

I joined the Sharston page and looking through it I found a number of interesting posts relating to old teachers and pupils and so on. After I had posted something myself Laurence commented on it and we got talking. It turned out he was in the year below me which is why I didn’t remember him. He mentioned how much he had enjoyed Floating. How had he heard about it I asked? Facebook? Youtube? No, he had been told about it by his old friend Eddie White.

Eddie wasn’t a former pupil, he was a colleague from my bus driving days. He and I were in the bus driving school together and while we weren’t great mates we were friendly. Eddie was a mate of Brian, another busman who I am still friends with today. Brian had told Eddie about the book, Eddie told Laurence and Laurence had told Stella.

Holy smoke, am I wasting my time with YouTube and Twitter! Perhaps I need to make some marketing ch-ch-changes . . .


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More Letters to Younger Selves

Wait just a minute! Letters to Younger Selves? Haven’t we had this post already I can hear you thinking? In fact not just once; there was Letters to My Younger Self and then we had A Video to My Younger Self? Hasn’t this guy got any new ideas? OK, I know where you’re coming from but bear with me for a short while. I did do a post a while back which was about me writing a letter to my younger self. Then the other week I told you about how I put together a video version for my YouTube channel. This week I want to tell you about what happened when I actually uploaded the video.

Now I did say the original letters post wasn’t my own idea. I got it from one of those blog writing prompts that can easily be found in either Google or your search engine of choice. After uploading my video I always do a search for it and if it comes up near the top of the search then I’ve feel I done a pretty good job in terms of tags and meta data (all that technical stuff) and choosing a good post title. A search for A letter to My Younger Self gave up some surprising results, in fact it seemed to me that everyone and his dog had been making a short video on this same subject. Even more surprising was that a lot of these short videos were by Formula One drivers. I’m guessing that at some time there was some kind of trend for this subject, perhaps a promotion around the hashtag #DearMe but when it comes down to it, I might as well admit, I don’t know.

Anway, I thought it might be interesting to showcase a few of the videos I came across so let’s start with Fernando Alonso, frustrated former Ferrari driver who jumped ship thinking Honda were going to create a world beating engine for his new Mclaren team, only they didn’t. Hard luck Fernando.

(I should point out here that F1 being the multi million dollar global industry it is, they wouldn’t for a minute let these videos play on my cheap nasty amateur blog post. Press play then you have to click the button that says ‘Play on YouTube’. Annoying I know but hey, that’s big business for you.)

Many people think that Fernando is one of, if not the greatest driver of all time. Those people are of course completely wrong and this then is the perfect time to introduce someone who actually is the greatest driver ever. Jackie Stewart, winner of 27 Grands Prix from 99 starts, three World Championships and now one of the Formula One world’s elder statesmen.

South African Jody Scheckter was once the enfant terrible of Formula One, especially when he spun and caused a huge pile up at the beginning of the British Grand Prix back in 1973. A lot of people weren’t happy but Scheckter went on to drive for Ferrari and win a World Championship in 1979.

Emerson Fittipaldi was one of my favourite drivers of the 1970’s. He took over from the late Jochen Rindt at Lotus and won three world Championships before electing to drive for his brother’s new F1 team. Things didn’t work out so well for the Fittipaldi brothers and Emerson retired for a while but then made a comeback in American Indycars winning the Indycar title in 1989.

Someone who did what Emerson did, only in reverse, was Mario Andretti. He was a champion in the US and had a few one off drives for Colin Chapman, head of he Lotus team who tried numerous times to lure Andretti over to F1. Andretti finally dipped his toe into F1 and won the world title for Lotus in 1978. He was the last American to date to win an F1 race. He won numerous races in all types of racing disciplines in the USA including 4 Indycar championships and numerous other races and awards. He is probably as synonymous with motor sport in the USA as Stirling Moss was in the UK.

I think that’s probably enough from the F1 world so I’ll finish with some other famous people. The first non F1 person I came across was Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the assassinated president. It’s pretty brief and the good news is that all these next videos can be played within this post!

Still with the Presidential theme here’s something from former first lady Michelle Obama.

Art Garfunkel, former singing partner of Paul Simon did one too . .

And finally, here’s one which isn’t by a celebrity. I came across this one after hours of trolling through Google and YouTube. Many videos I found were of young people talking to their even younger selves so really they didn’t have much to say. I think that the whole theme is better suited to someone older, someone in their later years looking back to their youth. Anyway, here’s a pretty inspiring video.

Finally it’s time to plug my own video once again. Here’s a slightly edited version with a few subtle sound effects added . .


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A Video for my Younger Self

Lockdown has been eased slightly here in the UK but even so, the day when things will be back to normal seems pretty distant. Even then I keep seeing things in the media about the ‘new normal’. What will the new normal be like? I don’t know but one day we will all be back out again, going back to bars and restaurants and flying to Europe and even further afield for our holidays. Still, I can imagine everything being ever so slightly different though with much more handwashing and social distancing.

I did consider calling this post How not to Smash up your Laptop. I didn’t but read on and you’ll begin to understand why. I have actually been fairly industrious this week, well, industrious by my standards that is. I have finally finished my latest video project and I have gradually come up with a few ideas for blogs and made some headway on my other writing projects. When I see my blog post deadline looming, I am not usually that worried because I tend to have a half-written blog post in the pipeline but when I have no ideas at all and no partly written blog posts, well, that is a worry so it has been good to get myself ahead again, if only by one or two blog posts.

A while back I decided that as my writing wasn’t coming along too well, I should set myself the task of making something new for my YouTube channel. There are actually plenty of videos over there on my channel but they are all short and simple one or two minute videos either of me reading poetry or me extolling the virtues of Floating in Space to the reading public.

I felt that my loyal band of video followers could do with something slightly different and while looking around for ideas I began to wonder if I could perhaps make one of my blogs into a video. After a look through my older posts I came across A Letter to my Younger Self. It was a post inspired by one of those blog post prompts that I tend to use when I’m short of ideas. What would you tell your younger self? What advice could you give?

My younger self needed not only advice but a good kick up the rear end although I didn’t quite go that far in the finished video. As we are still under lockdown I couldn’t go out and shoot anything new but I do have plenty of assorted video that I have accumulated over the years. To make things easier I decided to make the video on Animoto which does have plenty of stock clips that I knew I could use. Not only that, I have used Animoto for several years and I’m pretty confident using it. The alternative was using the windows HD movie maker. I have the Pro version but even so it’s not nearly as user friendly as the old Windows Movie Maker.

OK here we go. I logged on to Animoto but found that I was now one of the few people chosen to use the new beta 3 version of Animoto. Why oh why must our favourite software be continually changed? The first big problem I came across was that when using a vertical image in Animoto, it couldn’t be fully zoomed out; it would only fit on the screen to its width, I couldn’t zoom back and display the full image.

I contacted Animoto and they said you can zoom out using the scale bar. No you can’t I said. Yes, you can they said. I had only just started the project and already I was ready to smash my laptop into small pieces. A few days later after a lot of moaning on various Animoto forums the technical people sorted that issue out and yes, I could finally zoom fully out. Anyway, I ploughed on and when I had an initial basic cut, I made a rough narration and uploaded that to the project so I could get the pictures and video clips to fit in together. This seemed to take a hell of a long time and I found myself continually moving on to some other project or sometimes just surfing through eBay for something to buy that in fact I didn’t really need.

Just to give you a fuller picture of the issue, over lockdown I have ordered 3 DVDs, 3 lots of razor blades for the various razors I use, a bargain box of Terry’s chocolate oranges, a 1/43rd model of a bus I used to drive in 1987, a couple of books and various other things I’m too embarrassed to mention. One other thing I ordered, not from eBay but from Wowcher, was a set of face masks, quite handy I thought for venturing out shopping during the current situation. On Wowcher you order your item and are then given a voucher code which you use on the actual site that sells your item. I sorted that out, entered my code and ordered my face masks.

A week later I received an email saying the company had received my voucher from Wowcher and was ‘processing’ my order. After another week I got another email this time to confirm my order had now become ‘fully processed’. Later another email landed in my inbox advised that the item was now with the Royal Mail. At this rate I might just get the face masks in time for Christmas shopping.

Over on Twitter I tend to schedule my posts for the next few days but just lately Twitter doesn’t seem to want to display my scheduled tweets on my laptop. In fact I get a page looking something like this.

Now this can be a problem because there is no point in scheduling a post for 12:03 on Thursday if I’ve already set one to pop up at a similar time. Emails to Twitter and posts on various forums got me nowhere fast and once again I had to use all my willpower to prevent the violent smashing up of my laptop. The only solution was to schedule the posts using my iPad which happily displays the relevant scheduling page without any issues.

OK. Days have passed, even weeks and after getting my video cut near to perfection it was time to download the result and narrate a much more confident voiceover. Here’s when some more technology issues began to slow me down.

I noticed that when I recorded the voiceover, the recording seemed to be jumping and missing out various words. So, I clicked over to Google and searched for information about optimising sound recordings. I found I had set my recordings to DVD quality and maybe my laptop just couldn’t cope with that. OK, time to reset to CD quality and finally that was another problem sorted. (I’m happy to report I resisted the temptation to just smash my laptop to smithereens again.)

I noticed then that when I had my narration on my computer screen and scrolled down as I read, the microphone was picking up the clicks on the scroll button. I couldn’t print off the narration as I had no ink in the printer so what I did was upload the narration to my OneDrive and open it up on my iPad and read it from there. On my iPad I was asked to log in to OneDrive. I did but they wanted further confirmation. They wanted a passcode entered which they sent to my mobile. Off I went in search of the mobile. I entered the pass code but I was too late. It had expired! I did it again but this time the password was wrong!

(Steve don’t do it. Don’t smash the laptop to smithereens!)

No I didn’t. Instead I recorded the first section of the voiceover, paused, scrolled the text and recorded some more. Brilliant!

OK, final narration added, time for a few quick changes here and there and that was it. The big problem with editing is that when you are replaying your work over and over, it’s easy to miss the odd error. A few things I missed were some text on the screen that was in dark blue but wasn’t easy to see against a dark background and some other similar bits and pieces. I like to leave the finished video for a few days then take another look and then those minor errors are much easier to see.

In the old days of editing video, the editor began at the beginning and just carried on adding the next clip and then the next and so on. Today, working in digital video, the approach is slightly different. A scene can be easily compiled into a rough cut but then the editor can go back and change clips earlier in the video, trimming a bit here or re-ordering things there. Another great thing about modern video editing is that you can save your project so if, at a later date, you want to change something, you don’t have to start all over again. You just open up your saved project, change whatever you want and create a video file for the new version.

I’ve often thought about how wonderful it would to be a professional video editor but then I always see myself at work and the boss comes in and says ’can you have that ready by this afternoon?’. I doubt if I would last long at that company when I handed in the finished product two weeks later.

One of my favourite video editing stories is about Charlie Chaplin. Exactly a hundred years ago in 1920, Chaplin had just completed his first major film as a director, The Kid. He was in the middle of a messy divorce from his first wife Mildred Harris and thinking she was about to seize the unreleased film, Chaplin smuggled the negative to Salt Lake City where he completed the edit in his hotel room. Despite this, The Kid was released to rave reviews and became the second highest grossing film of 1921. I doubt whether A Letter to my Younger Self will get a similar response but it I do love messing about with video or as Liz tends to say twatting about on my laptop!

By the way, that’s the laptop I didn’t smash into a thousand pieces.

Willpower, wow! . .


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10 Incredible Tips to take your Writing to the Next Level

As the writer of some 394 blog posts I thought it was perhaps high time that I tried to impart some of my hard earned blogging and writing knowledge to you, my esteemed readers. Not only that, I read somewhere that those ‘how to’ kind of blog posts get some great readership so here goes . .

1. Writing.

Now this might seem to be a bit of a lame subject to start with but writing these days usually involves a keyboard of some sort, unless you’re from the old school of pen and paper writers. Even then, all your hand written work still needs to be transferred to a computer so try this link which has quite a few handy keyboard tips.

27 Handy Keyboard Shortcuts Every Writer Should Know

2. How many words should you write?

If you are writing a novel how much is enough? Have you written too little or too much? Floating in Space is only a slim volume so maybe I should have written more. Click the link below to find out.

https://self-publishingschool.com/how-many-words-in-a-novel/

3. Displaying a link for your book.

Now when I search Amazon to get the link for Floating it is always a long, long link which takes up perhaps two lines of text. I usually try to hide an unwieldy link like that within the text so for instance, why don’t you click here. Let your mouse hover for a moment to see just how long that link is. To get yourself a much cleaner universal link, one that will direct your readers to the Amazon store relevant to the country in which they live, click this link https://books2read.com/

Using this link will direct you to a page where you can enter your page link and convert it to something not only a little leaner but also one that is universal. Here is my resulting link:

https://books2read.com/u/3LD92N

If you fancy settling down to read about Manchester in the 1970’s give it a click!

4. Stuck for Book Marketing Ideas?

Try this link for 119 ideas!

119 Book Marketing Ideas That Can Help Authors Increase Sales

5. Wanting to write a novel but short on ideas?

Try this link for 8 novel writing ideas!

8 novel writing tips from accomplished authors

6. Have you got a Facebook Author Page?

No Facebook author page? Can you really afford to ignore Facebook in this social media age? Surely not! Click the link below to get your Facebook page up and running!

https://kindlepreneur.com/facebook-author-page/

7. Are there any YouTube pages for authors?

Yes there are plenty. Here’s one from Joanna Penn, a writer who also has a blog page and a YouTube channel where she shares information and inspiration about writing fiction, writing non-fiction, self-publishing, book marketing and making a living with your writing.

https://www.youtube.com/user/thecreativepenn

8. Any Twitter Tips?

Twitter, in case you didn’t know is a great place to market your work and send it out into the world of social media. Here’s an excellent post by writter and blogger Rachel Thompson, 5 tips for marketing your book on Twitter. The one about optimising your author bio is one I’ve used myself.

https://writingcooperative.com/top-5-twitter-tips-to-powerfully-market-your-books-81de1a9af202

9. What about Instagram?

Try this link for information on creating an author page on instagram:

https://kindlepreneur.com/instagram-for-writers-and-authors/

10. How did I find out about all this stuff?

Well, some of it was pure research, some of it I just stumbled upon as I bumbled through the internet and some was by following some great author and writers’ pages like Roxanne who publishes a very handy list of helpful links every week right here on WordPress.

https://moonrox.wordpress.com/


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

 

 

 

How to Mix Poetry and Video using Animoto

I suppose that really I’m a frustrated film director but one of the great things about the 21st century’s digital revolution is that anyone can make a video, slap it up there on YouTube or Vimeo and call themselves a director.

Amateur or not, I take my video very seriously and I’m constantly thinking of what I can do with the huge amount of footage that I record. What kind of short video can I make with it? How can I use it? What kind of project can I work on for my next video? I will usually find something to focus on, even if it’s yet another promo video for Floating in Space!

Back in 2016 I seemed to have poems just pouring out of me. I was constantly coming up with something lyrical or what I thought was a great turn of phrase and creating poems. Some of those resultant poems may not have been prize winners or worthy of great poets like Dylan Thomas but they were mostly pretty reasonable and what the heck, I liked them and today with social media we can all bypass the editors of the book publishing world and publish whatever we want via the internet.

Anyway as most of my poems are pretty short I thought it might be a good idea to put a few of them on video and use them to further build up my media profile as a writer as well as giving my YouTube page a little more depth.

First off a few years back I just stepped in front of the camera and read a few poems. Ok, fair enough but a little basic. Here’s the kind of thing I mean, me reading a poem called Some Love.

Not such a bad poem but on a visual level I have to admit it’s a bit on the basic side, just me talking to the camera. What I felt I really needed was perhaps some images that relate to the subject matter and some background music. Also what about the words? I wanted to see the actual text of the poem being shown on screen.

A handy website that has helped me achieve this is Animoto, an on-line editing program that has built in templates that can be used not only for marketing videos but for anything really, but I find it perfect for the video poem.

Animoto isn’t free, but you can trial the site for free and see if it works for you. Anyway, I love Animoto and find it really helpful to make the short videos I use to plug my book (Floating in Space) and this website itself across Instagram, Facebook and anywhere on social media I can find a little spot for myself.

My latest video uses a poem I wrote some years ago called ‘I am That Seed’. It’s pretty short, as is most of my work and to start off I had a troll through the various templates on Animoto and chose one. Click ‘create’ and ‘choose template’ and you will find yourself with a screen something like the one below. The template I have chosen is actually designed to introduce a new family member but we can easily change that.

OK, so now what I’ll do is add my own text -in this case poetry- in each of the boxes after making the first box into a title page, in this case I am That Seed by Steve Higgins. Here’s the finished item below:

You can see that as well as using stock video and photography, I’ve also uploaded some of my own images, in this case a picture of me. I’ve also copied that title box and put the copy at the end of the poem. The whole thing can be tweaked using the buttons on the far left to change text fonts, size and colour as well as the music track.

Animoto have even made their own video showing how to use the templates; have a look below:

Now comes what is a little more difficult, getting the timings right so that the visual text matches up with me reading the poem. This takes a good deal of trial and error so I’ll just read the poem and time each section and then update the time each image stays on the screen. In the case of video, each clip can be trimmed to the appropriate time. After that, click ‘produce’ and Animoto will complete the video and then it can be downloaded.

Editing that sound!

Once you have the video on your PC or laptop then you have to use whatever video editing software you have to record your poem in voice over mode. If I’ve got all the timings correct then that is pretty easy, if not I have to either trim my video on my laptop software or, go back to Animoto, change the timings and then download again! Making a video can be a slow process.

After I’ve recorded the voice over, I usually send it to my sound recording software to cut out my usual mumbles and any background noises and I also sometime add a little bass just to beef up my voice and make it a little sexier!

After that there are two more options. I can send the resulting audio track back to Animoto and complete the video there or just finish the job on my PC by fading the background music down to a quieter level. In fact on the video below, I mixed the narration and the music together and uploaded the complete soundtrack back to Animoto and from there I can export the completed video to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter or anywhere I want.

Here’s the final version on YouTube, and don’t forget that if you are doing something similar, make youself a professional YouTube video icon by using canva or another good imaging website.


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