A Bit of a Blog or a Blog of Bits (Part 3)

Sometimes, as a writer of blogs, I end up with a few bit and bobs of a blog that I know aren’t going to make it into a full blown blog post. So, what can I do except maybe pull them all in together and give them a title like A Bit of a Blog. See where I’m going here? Of course you do. Let’s crack on then. .

As I write this, I’m in France once again as Liz and I have decided to nip over to the continent. We came over earlier this year and have wanted to return for a while but various appointments and arrangements have been in place, keeping us at home but what the heck we thought, time for another trip in our motorhome.

September isn’t perhaps the best time to visit France. Yes things are quieter, holidays are over and the kids have gone back to school but the summer is largely over too. We had planned a week touring in our motorhome followed by a week in a French gîte which we have rented before followed by another week touring. As it happened, when we booked the gîte, the owner very kindly advised that the property was empty the week prior to us arriving and so if we wished, we could arrive whenever we liked.

As a member of the Order of Northern Tightwads, this of course was music to my ears. Free rental at a French villa with a swimming pool! Ok, no touring for us. We literally raced down to the villa arriving in a matter of 48 hours.

Our first day was wonderful. The sun poured down warmly, we swam in the pool and between dips, relaxed on our sun loungers. Day 2 at the villa was a washout, it rained all day, but happily day three was an improvement. So far, despite the mixed weather, I’ve managed to swim every day which has always been one of my goals on holiday; to relax but also to do a little exercise.

Another important exercise in France is to get out and about and mix with the locals a bit. I’m not much of a lunch person, I kind of like my usual late breakfast but a few times on this holiday we’ve skipped breakfast and headed down to a fairly nearby restaurant, the Restaurant à La Gare, or the Station restaurant to you. It’s about a ten minute drive away from Parçay Les Pins where we are staying and it does a four course lunch (yes, four courses) for a measly 12.50 euros, including wine. Ok, the wine is vin ordinaire, the cheap French wine found in most places in France but to be honest, it’s the kind of wine I like, not strong, fairly tasty and hugely quaffable. I’ll have a glass with my starter which involves a trip to the buffet table for all kinds of salad, cold meats, pâtés and so on. Our basket of bread is routinely filled by the waitress who then brings the next course which is jambon (ham) served with either frites, rice or petis pois. Time for more vin ordinaire and by the way I went for the frites. Top up the wine for the cheese course and then there is the dessert. I fancied a little ice cream but instead I had meringue with cold custard (île flottante). I prefer my custard the English way, warm but what the heck, at 12.50 Euros each I wasn’t likely to complain.

The Queen

Last week on the 8th September the Queen passed away. I’m not a particular royalist and there is a lot I don’t like about the Royal Family but the Queen is someone I’ve always admired. She had a dignity and elegance never to be found elsewhere in the British political scene. Whenever controversy emerged she rose above it and stayed discreetly silent, whatever criticism arose in the news media.

She has been, I’ve always thought, the glue that holds together the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. As long as I’ve lived, she has been the Queen. I wonder now, how the country will change?

Books

So, what else have I done on this trip? Well I’ve read books, after all reading has always been one of my greatest pleasures. I took it upon myself some time ago to read the entire library of Hamish Macbeth novels. They are not great works of literature but the world of books has everything for everyone and sometimes, I just like an old fashioned, easy going mystery read. Here in France, I’ve just finished Death of a Scriptwriter, the 14th entry into the series which wasn’t actually one of the best. The previous two were very good though, Death of a Macho Man and Death of a Dentist. If you are not familiar with Hamish Macbeth, he is a constable in a Scottish highland village. He likes to apply the rule of law in his own way, taking away the car keys from drink drivers before they leave the pub, giving various minor bootleggers a warning before removing their illegal stills and he’s not averse to poaching the odd salmon. The books are wonderful, quirky murder mysteries which Hamish always solves but tries to give credit to others in case his bosses think of promoting him and moving him away from his beloved village of Lochdubh.

A somewhat different kettle of crimefighting fish is private detective Philip Marlowe and a while back I picked up a Raymond Chandler anthology containing three of his Marlowe books, The Big Sleep, Farewell my Lovely and The Long Goodbye.

I wrote about the first novel, The Big Sleep a while back. It is a brilliant novel, one of my favourite ever reads and I particularly like the opening where he is engaged by General Sternwood to look into an issue of blackmailing.

Book 2, Farewell My Lovely, starts off well. It’s about Moose Malloy, an oversized fellow looking for Velma, an old flame. Marlowe gets in on the hunt as well as looking into another case and later finds both are related. I read the first part of the novel pretty much all in one go and enjoyed it very much. The next quarter was a little confusing. (During the filming of The Big Sleep the director and his stars wondered who killed the character of Owen Taylor, the Sternwood’s chauffeur. They sent a cable to Raymond Chandler asking him. Chandler told a friend later ‘Dammit, I don’t know either!)’ Happily, in Farewell My Lovely, everything finally came together towards the end.

Dilys Powell called Chandler’s writing ‘a peculiar mixture of harshness, sensuality, high polish and backstreet poetry’ and it’s easy to see why. The Long Goodbye has been unputdownable. The mix of fabulous descriptive text and authentic dialogue has got me hooked and I love hearing about the Hollywood Hills, Mulholland Drive where so many film stars lived as well as Romanoff’s, the famous Hollywood restaurant.

Not quite sure how to finish off this blog post so let’s go with the trailer for The Big Sleep, the 1944 version starring Humphrey Bogart.


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Blogging Out Loud

It’s really quite fascinating the way digital publishing is moving ever forward. Although I suppose I’m very much still an amateur writer I publish a blog post every weekend just like this one. I can also be found in various videos over on YouTube and many of my blog posts can be listened to as a podcast. I say many although in fact there are only nine podcasts available at the present time. I could make more I suppose, after all, I’m now retired and I’ve got plenty of time to make them as well as owning that special essential, a top quality microphone. The thing is I’m not really sure how I feel about my podcasts. I’m not a trained actor or public speaker and I’ve never been that keen on my voice. Someone once told me I sounded a lot like Terry Christian. You may not have heard of him but he’s a Manchester DJ and minor TV personality and he sounds a lot like a very northern working-class Mancunian which is pretty much how you might describe me.

A few years ago I wrote a poem about the way I sound over on Writeoutloud. I won’t reproduce it here because it wasn’t that good (although feel free to click that Writeoutloud link) but it did get a lot of comments. In the poem I mentioned that I wanted to sound like Richard Burton. I’ve always admired Burton’s rich speaking voice. He made many films and I listen to him from time to time on my CD recording of Under Milk Wood. Of course, Burton’s voice didn’t come naturally. He was a miner’s son from Wales and was born Richard Jenkins. He spent many years perfecting that wonderful voice under the tuition of his teacher Philip Burton.

To improve my podcasts and voice-overs I have subscribed to a couple of YouTube channels which explain the rudiments of public speaking and voice control but even so, I still reckon I sound pretty much the same.

I’ve mentioned many times that one of my favourite writers is Dylan Thomas. Dylan had a wonderful voice and made many recordings of his poems and plays. In fact quite a lot of his plays were written for the radio. One of the keys to appreciating Dylan’s work is his love of words, particularly the sound of words, which is at the heart of all Dylan’s work, especially his poetry. If you think about it, there must be a connection between the sound of a word and its meaning, a deep organic connection. After all, how did words begin? Imagine some ancient caveman, just wanting to get some concept over to his mate. What are the deepest and strongest feelings for a human being? Well, for a caveman food must be one, and love too. Surely love was present in those primordial days when every caveman went out on Saturday with his club looking for his mate. There must have been a moment when ancient man strived to say something to his mate, tried to express his feeling and a sound that was the precursor to the word love slipped uneasily from his lips.

Terry Christian. Picture courtesy BBC

I make great use in my video voice-overs and podcasts of one particular program on my laptop, my Magix sound mixer. I’m able, to a great extent, to cut out my mumbles and ums and ahs, add some bass and make myself sound just a little bit better than I actually do.

On one of my short videos, I once tried to dub my own voice with a new recording. You’ve probably seen on TV and films how this can be done. There are some amazing over dubs in the Bond films for instance. In Goldfinger, Gert Frobe played the eponymous villain but the actor was German and spoke poor English. His voice was dubbed by an actor called Michael Collins. Many films in the 60’s, particularly European films were made with a fully dubbed soundtrack so how hard could it be?

I got set up with my video, the text of what I was saying and my microphone and off I went. About two weeks later having got about ten seconds of useable video and having come pretty close to smashing my laptop to pieces, I finally realised that audio dubbing wasn’t as easy as I thought it was and made the video in a different way.

Over on Anchor where I produce my podcasts, they have the facility to take one of my blogs and convert it into a podcast by having it spoken by an electronic voice so none of the recording and editing that goes into making a podcast would in theory be necessary. Some of the voices available actually sound pretty real but they all fall down in things like pronunciation of odd words or names or sometimes when I’ve tried to render a particular accent into the text. Yes, I think I’ll stick to my own voice for the time being.

I’ve always found it fascinating how a particular sound can jog our memory. Some time ago I wrote a blog about Mr Todd’s projector. Mr Todd was a teacher from my junior school and every Christmas he set up his projector and screen in the hall and put on a film show for the school. The films were mostly cartoon shorts like Sylvester the cat, Daffy Duck and even some of Disney’s wildlife films. I loved those Christmas film shows and what brought back the memory was that wonderful sound of the projector, that clickety click sound of the film running through the machine.

One year, I think it must have been my last at the school, Mr Todd retired and there was no final Christmas film show. Instead, we were treated to some dreary school choir or something which was such a disappointment. Of course, there had been a final film show. It had been the one the previous year, only at the time, like many things in life, we didn’t know it would be the last.

Here’s one final thing about sound. Music. I do love my music and like most people I associate various songs and music tracks to various times in my life. The very first vinyl singles I ever bought were by Olivia Newton John and since then I’ve amassed quite a collection of records, tapes and CDs. My record collection fills a small corner in the spare room in my mother’s house but these days, youngsters have even bigger collections than mine kept either on a small device or in cyberspace. I have to say I do like to have physical versions of music. I like my record and CD covers. I like the sleeve notes and I like to see the small notes I have made myself on my own records, things like the date of purchase and so on.

Many years ago one of my favourite things to do on a Saturday afternoon was to sift through racks of records in the music shops in Manchester. It’s hard to even find a record shop these days. I was a big music fan and back in the seventies and eighties singles were marked down in price as soon as they dropped out of the charts and vultures like me were there to buy up cheap records. I started buying singles in 1973 and the last one I bought must have been in the late eighties or early nineties. I wish I knew which record it was. In the eighties I started buying picture singles which were singles in clear vinyl with a picture running through. My favourite is probably Alexi Sayle singing ‘Hello John, got a new motor’ which comes in the shape of a Ford Cortina With Alexi Sayle on the bonnet.

The day came, probably sometime in the nineties, when the pop charts became a mystery to me, singers and bands were in there that I’d never heard of with records I had no interest in buying. Just then, almost like a thief in the night, vinyl disappeared and the CD era began.

In the box room at my Mum’s house are four or five boxes of my singles, another box of LP’s and two boxes of 12 inch singles which started out in the eighties as a single but with a longer or different mix or sometimes with an extra track. I like my vinyl records, I like the smoothness of the plastic, the static electricity, the album covers, the sleeve notes (can anyone really read the sleeve notes on CDs written in that tiny writing?) and the inserts. I still have all the booklets that came with Elton John’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy and I so wish I’d written the lyrics to that Cliff Richard song, ‘Wired for Sound’; power from the needle to the plastic.

I’m not much of a downloader but I do have a shedload of CD’s I’ve picked up over the years and I’ve gradually started to use my MP3 player, especially on holiday. I even have fun making up playlists on Spotify just like in the old days when I’d copy my vinyl singles onto cassette tapes.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ve really changed at all from the teenager I used to be.


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Manipulating The Image

The other day I was having a quick scan through my email junk folder. It’s always interesting what can be found there even if it’s just scammers pretending to be a pretty girl who is in love with me. Oh well, poor girls, can’t blame them really.

One email that caught my eye before hitting the permanently delete button was one asking me to follow a girl called Olivia Casta. Looking at her picture she seemed to be a very pretty girl but even so, I wasn’t going to click the link on the email, after all, that’s what the scammers want you to do; click on a phony link. I did a search for her on google and she came up as a popular model and influencer on Instagram.

I am on Instagram although not knowing that much about it I rarely post anything there apart from the occasional graphic trying as usual to bring in more readers to my blog. Come to think of it, I don’t even look at Instagram that much at all.

Olivia Casta

I did a quick search for Olivia on Instagram and there were various people associated with that name, most of whom seemed to be posting pretty much the same pictures of the same pretty girl dressed in various skimpy outfits.

Going back to Google I was about to search for something else but looking down the list there was another hit on Olivia. This one at a site called caveman.com claimed that Olivia Casta really wasn’t Olivia Casta.

That looked kind of interesting so I clicked on it and it claimed that Olivia Casta was really another lady called Maria Tretjakova. There was even a picture of this other lady in the same pose as a picture of Olivia. Whoa, this was really odd! It seemed that this author claimed that Maria was using a face app teen filter to make herself look younger, the giveaway was apparently that each picture of Olivia Casta has the same sweet smile, in fact exactly the same sweet smile.

Well I decided to take a look and see if I could find the Face app. I looked on my iPad and the app was available in my app list. I tried to download it but like a lot of apps I try to download these days, a message came up asking me to upgrade my software to version 14.0. Now that is a problem because my iPad says I’m on 12.5 but it also says that I am fully updated. In order to update my iPad I would actually need to go out and buy a newer model which is really just not acceptable because I spent a lot of money on my current iPad only a few years ago. Oh well, I won’t be exchanging my blog profile photo for a faceapped one of me looking considerably younger any time soon.

After this little excursion into face imaging it got me thinking about Lee Harvey Oswald. I’m sure you will know that Lee Oswald is the man accused of the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. Lee worked in the Texas School Book Depository and three shots from the 6th floor were fired at the President on the 22nd November 1963. One shot hit Kennedy in the back of the head causing a wound from which he could not possibly have survived.

A rifle was found at the scene, a rifle that had been ordered by a man called Alex Hidell and Lee Oswald, when later arrested at the Texas theatre was carrying an identity card in that exact name.

image courtesy wikipedia

Oswald turned to the TV cameras and asked for ‘someone to come forward’ presumably to help him but no one ever did. Oswald himself was in turn later murdered by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner right in the underground car park of the police headquarters and people have been asking ever since, was Oswald guilty? Did he shoot the President? Did Ruby shoot Oswald to silence him?

Well one of the things that looked pretty bad for Oswald was a photo of him holding a Mannlicher Carcarno rifle, the same rifle apparently that fired the fatal shot. The thing is, Oswald said that the photo was a fake, a manipulated photo designed to frame him. So was it?

There is quite a nice scene in the film JFK where Kevin Costner as Jim Garrison is explaining things to his team, that they have to look at things like the CIA and that black is white and white is black. As he does so, on the screen is a montage of someone manipulating an image, taking a picture of Oswald and fixing it to a picture of someone holding the rifle.

Now despite all this controversy over the photo and Lee Oswald claiming it was a fake, Lee’s Russian wife Marina, claimed she took the picture. It was actually taken at 214 West Neely street in Dallas, a rooming house where Lee was living at the time of the assassination. Was Oswald lying or was it Marina? Marina was taken into protective custody by the FBI after the assassination so was she telling the truth or just going along with what the FBI had told her to say?

These days, images are so easy to manipulate. Somewhere on my hard drive, I’ve got a version of this picture with my face in place of Lee’s but for the life of me, I couldn’t find it.

Changing your image digitally is one thing but there are those that want to change themselves physically. One way of doing that is to get plastic surgery but there can be pitfalls if you go down that road. Marilyn Monroe was rumoured to have had some surgery done to the tip of her nose and her chin but clearly if the rumours are true, the surgery was minimal and turned out pretty well. Others have not been so lucky.

Leslie Ash was one of stars of the TV comedy Men Behaving Badly. I’ve always thought she was rather pretty but it looks like she wasn’t happy with her looks and had filler injected into her lips giving her what the newspapers called a ‘trout pout’. I don’t think I’ve seen her on TV since.

Meg Ryan was another pretty lady who perhaps was worried about her advancing years, she was born in November 1961 making her 61 later this year. Searching through the internet there are claims Meg has had her cheeks filled, some work on her nose, botox on her forehead and volume in her lips. She claims she left Hollywood for personal reasons but perhaps Hollywood didn’t want her anymore when she started to look a bit odd.

Of course, the way we look is important to all of us in some way, however small. Even someone like me, I’m not immune to wanting to look my best. The profile picture of me that accompanies this blog was one taken by Liz back in 2006, 16 years ago. I could argue that I keep it for the sake of continuity rather than wanting to look younger but if I’m honest, I’d have to admit I just like the way I look as my slightly younger self.

Not only do we aspire to look our best and present ourselves at our best to the public at large, whether we are going for a night out or going to the shops (or pinning a profile picture to our blog posts) but we also look up to others who look good and who we find attractive.

When I was a teenager up on my bedroom wall alongside pictures of various racing drivers was a poster of my first crush, Olivia Newton John. In fact, the very first vinyl singles I ever bought were records by Olivia; The banks of the Ohio and What is life? A chart single at the time in 1973 cost about 48p and as those two singles had dropped out of the charts they were half price. To this day one of the few songs I can correctly recite the lyrics to is one of her other songs, Country Roads. I bought many of her albums and followed her career with interest. It was sad to hear of her death last week.

A few years ago, I did a blog post about my own internet presence. I googled myself and talked about what I found. I didn’t feature on Google until page 3 of the results but now in 2022 I come up on page 1. Steve Higgins an American TV personality came up number one just as he did a few years back, then there was Professor Steve Higgins of Durham university and various other Steve Higgins’ until I slotted in at number 7 with my YouTube page which is apparently more popular than this blog which was down there at number 10. I was pretty pleased with 7 but I’m still not happy that my YouTube page rated higher than my blog. After all, I do put the effort in here, writing a new post every week. I don’t post regular videos, just the odd one every now and then.

Not only that, how did Professor Steve Higgins of Durham University get ranked ahead of me?


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Birds, Barbecues and Big Steve

I had a few ideas for the title of this post. I had A Piece of My Life on the brain for a long time and then substituted A Pizza My Life (A piece of my life, geddit?) I even had a graphic sorted showing a slice of pizza. The thing with that I thought is that even though it ranges from funny to faintly humorous, I reckoned I would be giving people the wrong idea and that readers might have been expecting a post about, well pizza. Just lately I’m trying to optimise my titles for SEO (search engine optimisation) and at the same time also trying to give the impression that I know something about it. Some time ago I did a few posts titled A Slice of My Life so perhaps I should be adding part 3 or part 4 and just going with that? Nah, time for something new.  Anyway, cue new title and blog post graphic and here we go . . .

I wrote a few weeks ago about the UK heatwave. Temperatures hit record highs although the hot weather here in the northwest only lasted for two days. The day after the hottest day, it was dull and wet once again. The summer has generally been like that, a few hot and sunny days followed by more dull and wet ones. Liz and I like our barbecues so when the skies clear we tend to defrost some meat from the freezer and crank up the barbecue. A regular visitor to our barbecues is a large seabird which we have christened CBS. Nothing to do with the American TV channel but that bird is one heck of a Cheeky Bastard Seagull.

He usually arrives on our garden wall and struts around in the manner of an avian Mussolini. If he gets no response from us, he will tend to have a bit of a stretch before going into a major squawking session. Now he has made his presence felt we can expect some more strutting about until we put some bits of sausage or fat from our steak on the wall. He’ll gobble that up with the occasional foray into the sky to fend off any other birds who might be after a nibble before beginning his ritual again. When the gas goes off and he knows no more food will be forthcoming, CBS will usually have a final strut, give us a last squawk and be off into the sky.

These last few weeks however, CBS has not appeared. We’ve saved him some bits and pieces but our familiar feathered friend has not made an appearance. I’ve often wondered what has happened to him. Has he emigrated somewhere? No, surely it’s not the time of the year for birds to migrate? Has he passed away? It’s hard to tell if he was a young or an old bird. Has he been hit by a car trying to peck at some stray leftover sandwich accidentally dropped in the road?

At our last barbecue a large seabird appeared on our wall. At first, we thought it was CBS but there was no strutting or squawking and the bird did seem a little timid. He wouldn’t come close to collect his titbits on the wall. Was he a doppelganger trying to muscle in on CBS’s patch knowing the real CBS has passed away? We’ll never know.

I do love my books and when the weather is warm and sunny it’s a delight to lie outside on my sun lounger and have a good read. I’ve got quite a few books needing my attention and the first one was another book from a second-hand shop, Bette and Joan by Shaun Considine. It’s about a feud between classic film stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. After reading it I’m not even sure there was a feud between the two stars but either way, it’s a nice excuse to talk about these two screen gems and compare their personal lives as well as their screen stardom.

The book takes us back to the days of classic cinema and the big-league movie studios when stars were stars and the studio manufactured every level of their image; magazine interviews, acting lessons, publicity shots and in some cases even their personal relationships. Rock Hudson was a big star but also a closet homosexual and the studios manufactured a marriage for him to make sure he had a clean-cut Hollywood image. Not that that ever stopped Joan Crawford from bedding Rock, which according to the book, she did. Crawford had numerous affairs and also had a penchant for cleanliness. She lived the film star life to the full with big houses, cars and servants with her career starting in silent films in 1925.

Bette Davis always claimed to be an actress rather than a film star. Her career began later than Crawford’s and her first film role was in 1931. On the film Dangerous, she fell in love with co-star Franchot Tone but Crawford stole him from under her, seducing and later marrying him. That might well have been the beginning of their feud. The two only worked together once which was on the film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane. The two despised each other, didn’t get on at all and their mutual hatred was evident on the screen.

I do love my showbiz biographies and autobiographies and one I picked up a while back was an autobiography by Dora Bryan, According to Dora. I love Dora from her many appearances in British films but my favourite film is probably A Taste of Honey. The screenplay was by Shelagh Delaney and director Tony Richardson, adapted from Delaney’s own play which she famously wrote when she was only 18.

Dora Bryan gives an outstanding performance at times comic but always supremely natural. She grew up on an Oldham housing estate. Dora was a great performer as a child and so her mother took her to dancing school and further encouraged by her mother joined Oldham Repertory before moving to London to develop her stage career. She had a great career on the stage as well as on film and TV and appeared in many successful West End productions. The first part of the book is very interesting but then, like a lot of autobiographies, the latter part of the book seems to wander off into lists of productions and theatre and TV personalities. Even so, it was a lovely read.

We went to a birthday celebration this week and after a meal in a restaurant we went over to the Trawl Boat pub. Inside the talk turned to a fellow called Malcolm. He was an old chap and presided over the main table in the pub. He knew everyone and everything and his table was always referred to as the ‘Captain’s table’. Even the staff looked up to Malcolm. If you ordered a round, they would ask ‘is that for the Captain’s table?’ Yes. ‘OK we’ll bring it over’. We’ve never had service like that before or since. Malcolm was a character but he passed away a few years ago.

Another of the guys we used to chat to in there was a fella we called Big Steve. I’m six-foot and Big Steve towered above me, he must have been six-foot six, easy. He was a pretty fit guy having been a former drayman, one of those people who lug big beer barrels about for a living and he was a really easy fellow to get on with. We always used to sit with Steve and have a drink and a natter and when he was due to leave he would pull his jacket on, say his goodbyes and then always say to us; “Nice to see you both again, as always.” And then he would be off.

A few years ago, we saw Big Steve sometime in December and as usual at the end of the evening we said our goodbyes, wished each other a happy Christmas in case we didn’t see each other before the holidays and Steve said his usual “Nice to see you both, as always” and left.

We didn’t see Big Steve over Christmas, nor through the New Year period and one day we both said together in the Trawl Boat, ‘wonder where Steve is?’ Anyway, we thought nothing of it and assumed we’d catch up with him soon.

Later, Liz was chatting to some of the regulars and one mentioned to her that he had been to a funeral the previous day. Liz asked idly who the deceased was and the man answered that it was someone they didn’t think Liz or I knew. It was a guy called Big Steve who used to be a drayman! Well, the words leapt up and hit Liz and I like a slap. Big Steve was gone and we’d hadn’t even had a chance to pay our respects at his funeral. I can’t tell you how sad we both felt.

Liz, being the amateur Sherlock Holmes she is, tracked down the widow and we went to see her to pass on our condolences. It turned out that Steve had died quietly in his sleep and his wife went into his room one morning to find him dead. Not very nice for her but a peaceful passing at least for Steve.

I’ve not thought about Big Steve for a long time. Funny how that cheeky bird should bring back the memory of him.  Wherever Cheeky Bastard Seagull is, and I prefer to believe he has emigrated rather than been hit by a car, I hope the locals are looking after him.


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https://youtu.be/JzJA9YIAGls

We’re Having A Heatwave

I don’t usually write about anything topical but a big thing in the UK at the moment is the current red warning about the heat. Yes, the heat. According to the media there is a heatwave due for this coming week, (this week as you read this) warning us to stay under cover, drink plenty of water and to visit cool places that have air con like the local library. I’m not sure our local library even has air conditioning so no point in going there, unless you want to borrow one of their books.

The Red Extreme heat national severe weather warning will cover Monday and Tuesday (18th and 19th July) for parts of central, northern, eastern and south eastern England. An Amber Extreme heat warning, has been in place for much of England and Wales for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday (17th – 19thJuly) since earlier this week. Today the amber areas are also being extended to cover Cornwall, west Wales and parts of southern Scotland.

OK so let me get this right, the extreme heat warning is for just two days, not the whole of the summer. The expected heat is going to reach temperatures of 40 degrees C, which works out at 104 degrees Fahrenheit, which is pretty much the temperatures we Brits are looking for when we jet off to Spain for our summer holidays. Is it worth getting excited about? Well, for a month of 100 plus degrees yes but for two days, I don’t think so.

Come to think of it, when we were in France a few weeks ago the weather was really hot. The temperatures hit 100F then but the French didn’t get their knickers in a twist, they just came down to the lake where we were staying and went for a swim.

What precautions have I taken so far? Well, I’ve put a few bottles of water in the fridge. I’ve got some t-shirts and shorts ready. Liz bought a big tray of meat for barbecuing from the butchers. She also filled up her pool. It’s not a big pool, it’s about 8 foot by 5 and it took us a while to put it together, connecting various steel tubes which click together to make the framework that holds the main water tank. I have to say I didn’t expect to be using it but I have slipped into it on a couple of occasions, just to cool myself down.

Anyway, let’s look at the days prior to the heatwave.

Saturday.

Started off a little dull but warmed up later. Spent the day reading and had a barbecue later. I thought it went a little chilly that evening and popped my fleece on. Liz told me I was ‘nesh’.

Sunday.

Quite warm. Spent the day reading in the garden. Numerous dips in the pool. Had a barbecue later. A mild, warm evening.

Monday. (Red Alert Day)

It was a warm night but hardly roasting. I woke early at about 7am. I stayed in bed and went through my emails and checked my weekend blog stats. I washed and shaved and made a cup of tea. I checked for mail, the proper mail that comes to the post box. Nothing so far. I was expecting a pair of shoes I had bought on eBay and wanted to intercept them before Liz arose and threw the usual Imelda Marcos cracks at me that I usually throw at her. While I was having my tea Liz came in and checked the mail. A parcel was there for me. It was the expected shoes: cue the expected Imelda Marcos gags.

I parked myself on my sun lounger ready for a good read but things went a little dull and then it started to rain. The quick shower was soon over with and then the sky cleared and the sun came out.

Things got pretty hot especially when we cranked up the barbecue once again. Being sunny the wine was at the perfect temperature and the food, some chicken kebabs, a little steak, some sausages and some small burgers went down a treat. Liz’s salad starter was pretty outstanding too. On the TV news later, we were advised that numerous trains had been cancelled and British Rail was advising travellers not to travel and to stay at home. Apparently, it was so hot the rails were buckling in many places and the trains were running at slower speeds to avoid any potential accidents. Funny how the trains in hot places like Spain, Greece, the South of France, Africa and other hot spots never seem to be affected by buckling rails. Do those pesky foreigners use some sort of special steel for their rails?

The highest ever temperatures were recorded in places like Suffolk (38.1C) which fell just short of a new UK high according to the BBC website. They also said that now Tuesday is going to be even hotter!

Tuesday.

Tuesday started out very warm. Too warm in fact for any unnecessary cooking heating up the house so we had boiled eggs for breakfast. I got myself settled in the garden but then everything clouded over and we even had a brief rain shower. After that it did get pretty warm. A strong wind started up but soon died out. According to the news the projected temperature of 42 degrees C didn’t happen but 40.3C recorded down south somewhere is apparently a new UK temperature record.

The London fire service recorded their busiest day since WWII and on the news there was the sad story of a fire that enveloped an entire row of houses. Luckily, no one was injured.

Back in the north west I was lying idly on my sun lounger and I started to think about film clips that I might use in this post. Lawrence of Arabia was one that first came to mind but then I remembered that excellent British Film, Ice Cold in Alex. John Mills plays Captain Anson, an officer in charge of an ambulance unit in Tobruk in the Second World War. Anson must get his crew across the desert to the British lines and escape the advancing German troops. Anson is suffering with battle fatigue and alcoholism and is determined not to drink until he can buy his crew a cold lager in Alexandria. They face various struggles in the desert but finally get to have that ice cold beer.

In the 1980’s, the moment when the crew get their beer was used in a popular TV beer commercial. Looks good doesn’t it but that barman could use a little extra training on how to pour a glass of beer.

Wednesday.

Wednesday was windy, dull and considerably cooler, that was it I suppose for the so called heatwave. It has of course been a pretty hot week for UK politics. Boris Johnson has been forced to resign as Prime Minister (his last words to parliament were apparently ‘hasta la vista, baby’) and the Conservative party are busy electing a new leader. The two candidates remaining after the Conservative MP’s whittled the candidates down to two are Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, neither of whom I’d be interested in voting for but as I’m not a member of the Conservative party, I won’t even get a chance.

Yes, the heatwave was pretty nice while it lasted, certainly for me but then I really do hate the cold and of course, I haven’t had to go to work. It gave me a chance to work on my tan and I’ve really enjoyed our barbecue meals. Not sure if it might be just a little too chilly to have another one tonight though.

By the way, where did I leave that fleece?


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A Few Holiday Reflections

It’s always a bit of a let down when you return home after a holiday. The weather isn’t that great, there’s a whole lot of washing to do of your holiday clothes. You start wishing things like, maybe we should have had another week? We were travelling in a motorhome and I start to think why didn’t we go there or go to see that? There’s always the next trip of course and the good thing is that as I’m now retired, I don’t have to go back to work. Anyway, while I’m feeling a little deflated looking out at the rather dull suburban view from my window it might be a good idea to take a look back at the last few weeks in France.

One of the things I’ve always liked about France is their laid-back lifestyle. Over there, and perhaps more so in the rural areas than the big cities, everything stops for lunch. No, not a quick sandwich grabbed on a 30-minute break, lunch times in France are something to be enjoyed and for care to be taken over. Shops close between 12 and 2 pm and it’s only in recent years that some supermarkets will stay open during those times.

At picnic tables all over france, the French descend on sunny days with huge containers of food and wine. Tablecloths are laid and the food is eaten and enjoyed at leisure.

Restaurants in France always have a plat du jour, a dish of the day and many are served as part of a formula menu comprising of starter, main, dessert and/or cheese. I always thought that the plat du jour was something a French restaurant had to serve but I couldn’t find any evidence of that on the internet so perhaps it’s just a tradition. Plenty of bread is always served with a French meal and it is usual for the waiter to top up your bread basket when he or she sees it is empty.

My favourite French restaurants are those which have a buffet starter. There is usually a small choice of main courses but over on the buffet table there will be a large selection of salads, cold rice and pasta dishes, pâté, cold meats in various dressings, shredded carrots and chopped beetroot. I try to avoid the various fishy dishes like cold rice and tuna but I usually find my plate piled with goodies.

House wine is usually served by the pichet, small jugs. Very small at 25cl and larger ones at 50cl. On hot summer days I tend to go for the house rose but more often than not Liz and I will share a pichet of red.

Cheese in a French restaurant with a pichet of vin rouge

Our first French meal this year was in the Buffalo Grill, a franchised restaurant you will see all over France. It’s like an English steak house serving steak, burgers, ribs and so on. A small salad in a bowl came first before our choice of mains. Mine was an excellent cheeseburger, Liz had a steak and the dessert was some ice cream.

In the town of Saumur, we had our first proper French lunch. The starter was the lovely French buffet I talked about above and the main was confit duck for Liz and a chicken in curry sauce for me. Curry is an unusual dish to find in France as the French don’t seem to go in for spicy food. The curry sauce was to me very mild and more of a slightly curry flavoured cream sauce. It came with fries and the traditional green beans and I have to say, I do love French green beans.

Curried chicken and frites

For dessert we ordered ice cream for me and cheese for Liz and we split the two between us. It was a lovely meal although perhaps a little too much for someone like me who rarely eats lunch.

Most weekends we scour the internet and find ourselves a few brocantes or vide greniers to visit. Vide greniers or car boot sales are usually part of a village fete and there will also be music, wine and food to be found. I remember going to one a few years ago which was interrupted by a pretty heavy shower of rain. In the UK, the vendors would have quickly packed up and been off but in France it was a different story. Plastic covers were quickly whipped out and people took shelter in the food and bar area. Liz and I stood at the bar and drank a glass of cheap red wine and when the skies cleared, we carried on looking for bargains.

I like travelling in our motorhome but after a few weeks living in a somewhat cramped environment I was glad to get to our French villa. I say our French villa even though it is a rental property. We have stayed here a couple of times before and it is ideally placed for everything we need although a bar or restaurant within walking distance would be nice.

The sun going down after a day by a plan d’eau

At the villa I usually try to act like a writer. I get up fairly early and after a cup of tea and a quick scan of my emails on my iPad I crank up my laptop and do some work on my writing projects. In my draft blog folder I’ve currently got eight blogs awaiting attention. Most are just ideas but some are partly written blog posts that need an injection of effort and inspiration to get them finished. The sequel to Floating in Space is still only half finished but I still chip away at it, a few pages at a time as well as a few other stories, screenplays and poems that all need urgent work.

After a little of that it’s time for a late breakfast, brunch might be a better word, and to have a swim and a read by the pool. I remember once reading about Noel Coward that while staying at his house in Jamaica, he rose at 8 am and worked at his writing until 12 when lunch was served. No wonder he produced a fine body of work while I have only produced one novel and one poetry anthology.

A big disappointment on this last trip was the failure of one of my video cameras, my GoPro Hero. I had intended to put together another travel video and at first, I thought it wasn’t going to be possible as I hadn’t shot enough video. However, looking back through my video files I see I’ve got hours of unused video from our previous trips so perhaps I can just cobble something together after all.

Looking back through some of my old video I came across what was quite a scary moment. We were travelling through the town of Rouen, a lovely old town but quite a busy one. I’m always a little nervous driving in big cities, especially in an area where there is lots of traffic and also when the road goes into multiple lanes. I’m pretty good at driving on the right-hand side but in multiple lanes I find myself drifting to the left-hand lane and I usually have to say to myself, Steve, get over to the right.

As you leave Rouen, there are numerous roundabouts and the French have come up with an interesting congestion busting idea. If you are carrying straight on you can duck under the roundabouts down a tunnel and in fact, Google maps which we often use, tends to direct you down into the tunnels. The big problem is that our motorhome is between 2.8 and 2.9 metres in height, just over 9 foot and the tunnels have a height limit of 2.6 metres if I remember correctly. One year I was getting flustered and ended up in the lane for the tunnel but then realised I wasn’t going to fit. Luckily there was an exit lane back to the main carriageway and after some scary reversing we managed to get out.

A big disappointment this year was not seeing much of my favourite cheese, Rondele Bleu. It’s a blue cheese produced in a light mousse style. I think we managed to buy the last tub in one supermarket and then failed to find it again in any other store.

Naturally, we brought quite a bit of French wine and cheese back to the UK but already our stocks are getting low. Time to plan another trip perhaps?


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The Trials of a Self Published Writer

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. It’s a desire that I suppose came from reading a lot of books. Someone had an idea, wrote a book and I read the book and in doing so the author transmitted his thoughts and ideas to me through the book. It’s only natural, at least it seems so to me, to want to do the same, to not just receive the thoughts of someone else but to transmit my thoughts and ideas, in the form of a book, to others.

When I was younger I discovered Dylan Thomas. I like his poetry but also I love his short stories and his plays, especially the ones he wrote for the radio. I was also attracted to Dylan because of his image, that of the boozing pub going artist who drank beer and wrote poetry and who died after proclaiming that he had drunk 18 straight whiskies. ‘I think it’s a record’ he said before passing into a coma in New York, never to recover.

As it happens I’m nothing like Dylan Thomas at all except that we both share a love of writing. When I left school I wanted to be a journalist but back then I was held back in life in so many ways by an overpowering shyness that crippled me and stopped me from doing so many of the things I wanted to do. In some situations, I couldn’t even speak but happily writing was something that I could do alone in the privacy of my bedroom. Perhaps that’s why I love writing because all I have to do is open my notebook, or laptop, and write away.

My first attempts at serious writing were stories based on my love of television. They were stories of espionage and time travel and one day in my twenties I decided to change my focus and write about things around me. I wrote an essay about my work colleagues and an evening in a working men’s club. It was about snooker and pool and card games and pints of Boddingtons bitter. I wrote more and more similar essays and then I decided I could put them all together and with a little editing make them into a story and then into a novel.

I worked on my book intermittently over a period of many years. I wrote lots of it in long hand and then bought a typewriter and began to type it up. When the home computer revolution happened I began to type it all out onto my computer and then when it was nearly finished, my PC crashed. I couldn’t find my back up copy so I started again. Once again I had nearly finished when I found the older copy. Now I had two slightly different versions and reaching the end, typing the final page just seemed like an impossible dream so I stepped away from it all once again.

I took my laptop along on a holiday to France which turned out to be very wet. It rained almost every day so I opened my laptop and edited everything, deleting all the unwanted versions and duplicated chapters. I wrote the ending, tidied everything up and finally my book was ready. So, there it was, my manuscript representing years of work and effort. What do I do now I thought?

That’s the problem for amateur writers today. You’ve produced a piece of work, what do you do now? How do you get it published? You could try getting yourself an agent. The thing is, agents aren’t interested in unpublished authors. It’s a sort of catch 22 situation; you want an agent to help get you published but the agent doesn’t want you because you are unpublished.

I picked up my copy of The Writers and Artists Yearbook and started trolling through the listings of publishers who accept work from people like me, new and unknown authors. I sent my book off to three publishers and was rejected three times.

Getting a rejection, even three rejections isn’t the end of the world, in fact for a writer it’s pretty much par for the course. Even so, getting a rejection email is disheartening, it really is! It’s like all those years of work, all that effort coming down to one short email from someone saying they are not interested.

Someone at work mentioned to me that they had self-published their own sci-fi novel on Amazon. Self-published? Is that possible I thought? So that’s when I turned to self-publishing. It wasn’t quite as easy as I had thought it would be and the process itself highlighted a number of issues with my manuscript but I persevered and finally my book became available as a Kindle download or a traditional paperback.

Right, I thought, that’s it. I’m finally published. Now I can just sit back and wait for people to buy it. The thing is, who would know about my book? How would readers even realise that a new novel was available? Yes, that’s the thing. Writing a book isn’t enough, nor is actually publishing it. This is where marketing comes in. To sell your book you need to advertise. You need to use all your social media channels to tell everyone and his dog, here is a new book, come and buy it. You need to start an author page at Amazon and one at Goodreads too. Then you need an author website which is where this page comes in. How can you keep people coming in to read your blogs? Well, you need more social media and more blogs and for more blogs you need more and more ideas. How can you make your social media posts more interesting? Well you might want to add some graphics. Then you might want to add some animated graphics and even video so now you might find not only have you written a novel, you’ve written over 500 blog posts and graphics and made over a hundred videos, all to bring in more blog readers who may, or may not, buy your book.

The other day I was watching the classic film Treasure of the Sierra Madre. If you haven’t seen it it’s about a bunch of Americans prospecting for gold down in Mexico. The leader of the prospectors explains the value of gold in this way. A thousand men go searching for gold. One man finds an ounce of gold. His small find represents not only his hard work but the work of the other 999 men who were unsuccessful. Gold is worth so much because of the effort that went into finding it. Now I could argue the same point about this blog, that even though it is free to read this humble post, it’s actually worth quite a lot because of the hours, weeks and months of effort that went into preparing it, writing it, making the videos shown here and designing and producing the graphics that adorn this and all my many other posts.

So you might be thinking now, wow, what a great deal you’re getting! All that effort, just for you. Should you click on one of the links for Floating in Space or A Warrior of Words and maybe buy a copy? Personally, I’d say ‘yes, you should’ but most readers might be thinking well, maybe later and click over to Facebook and take a look at what their friends are up to.

Yes, I thought as much.


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A Short Collection of Bitesized Posts

A bunch of short posts were lying in my drafts box waiting for me to either finish them off or merge them into another blog post, so I thought I’d put a few of them together and with a bit of luck, these bitesized posts might even link together.

It was a lovely sunny day when I last visited my mother. She is 92 years old and suffering with dementia. Most of the time she looks fresh and healthy but her problem is not in her body but her mind. I visited about a month ago and her first words were ‘please help me’. I asked what was wrong and what did she want but all she could do was repeat endlessly ‘please help me’ like a record stuck in a groove. She did that for the duration of our meeting and I left saddened to see her that way. On the last visit she was completely different; chatty and alert. We spoke about the warm weather and the rose buds that were on the bush outside her room. We talked about her sister Ada who was a keen cyclist and was sadly killed in a road accident many years ago. I asked her how she was sleeping and she gave me a big smile and said ‘you know I never have any trouble sleeping!’

As usual I asked her to recite some times tables in the hope it will get her to use her memory and exercise her brain waves. We did a simple one, the three times table. One three is three, two threes are six and so on. Round about nine she began to falter and looked suddenly distressed. ‘I can’t remember anymore’ she said sadly.


Saturday has always been the traditional first day of rest. The Monday to Friday grind is over and we can finally get down to some serious relaxing. Now that I’m retired though, I find that a much nicer day is actually Monday. Everyone else has mostly gone back to work and the kids are off to school. The street outside is quiet and it’s great to go out in the evening and find pubs and restaurants not quite as packed as they were at the weekend. In the book A Kind of Loving the hero who works in a drawing office is asked to go out to deliver a letter to an absent colleague. When he is outside, he remarks how busy the streets are. Who are all these people? Why are they not at work? I remember having the same thoughts myself when I first started work and was occasionally sent forth from my office job to visit other businesses in Manchester.

I’ve not been to Manchester much lately, mostly because of the pandemic and the various lockdowns we have experienced. On one of my last visits, I visited the beautiful building in Manchester which once upon a time was the headquarters of the Refuge Assurance building where I first started work many years ago. I was a fresh-faced youth of 16 when I started there and now that my old workplace is a hotel I often visit there and remember my old job as an insurance clerk.

When I visited last year, I had my camera with me as usual and one thing I have always tried to do is to use my own pictures in my many YouTube videos. When I have had to use a stock picture either from Unsplash or Adobe, I tend to try and replace it with my own photos in my inevitable re-edit if I have taken an appropriate picture at a later date. In one of my videos, I wanted a shot of a pint being poured, so in the bar of the hotel in what used to be our old reception area, I asked the barman if I could take a shot while he pulled my pint. No was the distinctly unfriendly reply. I explained that his face wouldn’t be in the picture, it would be a close up so only his hands would be visible. Was it for me personally or would it be displayed on the internet or used in a YouTube video? Well, yes, it would be used possibly in a YouTube video. No came the answer once again. It wasn’t the hotel policy apparently for staff to get involved in ‘unofficial’ photography. Pity. Anyway, here’s an ‘unofficial’ shot of my pint in the bar which wasn’t really what I wanted. (It wasn’t a great pint either!)


This last week Liz and I went to her friend’s 60th birthday party. Her friend Alice (names have been changed to protect the innocent) is a singer, actually a cabaret singer and she has always struck me as being very normal, very down to earth and non- showbizzy. That of course was before I saw her in her proper showbizzy environment. The party was in a nice hotel and a pretty good singer kept us entertained while we found seats and bought our drinks. Later Alice took the microphone and belted out a few numbers in a very Shirley Bassey/Judy Garland sort of way. Her boyfriend took the microphone to wish her a happy birthday and then Alice herself responded with a short but emotional speech. Later there was another song and another speech thanking various friends for their friendship over the years. Later still came yet another speech when the birthday cake was unveiled. The cake, like the speeches, was a little too sweet for me.


Alice’s singing style brought to mind Judy Garland who was one of my mother’s favourite singers. Once, back in the 70’s or 80’s, The Wizard of Oz had a cinema re-release and I took mum to see it. When the film came on mum let out a sort of disappointed shrug and I asked her what was wrong. She told me that when she had seen the film originally it had been in colour. ‘Perhaps they couldn’t find a colour print or perhaps it wasn’t in colour after all’ I told her. ‘I was sure it was in colour’ she replied.

Later, when Dorothy wakes up in the land of Oz, the film goes from black and white to colour. I looked over at mum and she smiled back. ‘I was right after all’ she said.


Judy Garland was a great star but sadly was a victim of the Hollywood studio system. Given uppers to give her more energy to work and downers to help her sleep, she became addicted to the pills fed her by the studio. She died in England in 1969 from an accidental barbiturate overdose. She was only 47 years old.


I’ve written about my lemons before. I’ve always loved growing things from pips or seeds and I have two large lemon trees grown from pips. They must be at least three years old, possibly more and my big ambition is for one of them to give me a lemon. Yes, my own home-grown lemon, I’d love that, I really would. I’m not sure what I’d do with my first lemon. I think I might just pop a big chunk of it into a glass, add some ice, some gin and some tonic and sit back on a sunny evening and just relish the achievement.

My lemon trees have survived another winter and are looking good. I’m a bit short of room so I took one of the lemons and planted it in the garden in a sheltered spot. I wasn’t really sure it was going to survive but happily it did. The other one wintered in the porch and the other day I gave it a bit of a pruning and repotted it. I left it outside overnight but sadly, the early spring warm temperature dropped a little during the night and my poor lemon shed a heck of a lot of its leaves. Should I bring it back into the porch or would another change in temperature upset it?

I do have another lemon tree. It’s only small and it’s one that Liz bought me a few years ago. Towards the end of last summer, a flower appeared but sadly died away. This last week I put it outside for some sunshine and a good feeding and noticed another flower. On closer inspection there are actually a considerable amount of flowers which I hope will soon grow into lemons. I reckon I can taste that gin and tonic already.


Back at the nursing home with my mother I was getting ready to leave. I felt a little disappointed as my attempt to get her to use her memory had backfired when she couldn’t remember anymore of her three times table.  The disappointment of not being able to remember such a simple thing was evident in her face. We said our goodbyes and I went towards the door. As I turned back for a final wave goodbye, she said something and I stopped to listen.

‘Ten threes are thirty’ she said. ‘Eleven threes are thirty-three, twelve threes are thirty-six’. She looked back and smiled. ‘I remembered after all’ she said.


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Writing, Tapes and Chocolate Biscuits

Once again, it’s Saturday and time for me to entertain my small band of readers with a new blog post. Just lately, having produced over 500 blog posts, I’m starting to feel a little pleased with myself. I started blogging in 2014 but now I think of it, I’ve been blogging a lot longer than that. As a schoolboy I used to publish a blog every week. OK, it wasn’t digital, it wasn’t called a blog and it wasn’t available on the internet, in fact the internet itself wasn’t available either.

My ‘blog’ was very low tech. It was written on the middle pages of a schoolboy exercise book and passed around to my fellow pupils. It was called ‘The latest from the Perverted Press!’ It was mainly a spoof on the then current news stories from the late sixties and early seventies. They were things along the lines of, President Nixon issues apologies after visiting the nuclear command centre and saying ‘time for launch’ when in fact he had really said ‘time for lunch!’

I used to bill myself as the celebrated author of that great trilogy, the ‘Master’ novels. There was the first one, ‘Master Smith’, the follow-up, ‘Master Jones’, and the one that caused a great deal of unwarranted attention to the Perverted Press, ‘Master Bates’.

I had a friend called Jeff Langdon who, as far as I know, was the only pupil from my rough and ready suburban high school who ever made it to university. Jeff created a blog, sorry, I mean pamphlet, called simply The Steve Higgins Story, so I was forced to reply with The Jeff Langdon Story.

My pamphlet was rather popular, far more popular than Jeff’s and he always complained that my popularity stemmed from the fact that my pamphlets looked better because of the liberal use of coloured pens and drawings. Alas Jeff, art always was one of my top subjects. Even so, I thought my blog -sorry, pamphlet- was much better anyway, coloured pens or no coloured pens. Jeff, I’m sure, would disagree.

Talking about The Perverted Press has made me look at my blogs and videos in a different way. One of my regular blogs is my Holiday Book Bag in which I review the books I’ve taken on holiday. Back in my teens I used to make a similar review about the records I used to buy. I didn’t have a video camera back then so I recorded my review on audio tape. I still have a few of those tapes. One was called simply Tape Review and in it, I played excerpts of records and tapes I had bought and talked about the best ones. I remember on one of them I chose my favourite guitar solo of the year and if I remember correctly the winning guitar solo was one from One of These Nights by the Eagles.

Another one was Self Portrait in Tape, a possible precursor to my podcasts or perhaps my Life Story blog posts. In it I rabbit on about myself and play some favourite music tracks.

Those tapes were the forerunners of my book reviews and podcasts. Back in the 1970’s there was a show on Radio 1 called My Top Twelve. It was actually a straight rip off of Desert Island Discs in which someone would choose their top 12 tracks and talk about them. My old friend Steve and I decided to interview each other and we both introduced our own top twelves. A few years ago, I digitised my copy but I changed some of the tracks as in the intervening 40 years my tastes have changed a little. Neil Sedaka’s Laughter in The Rain was a pleasant enough track but hardly Top Twelve material so that had to go as did a couple of other tracks that are no longer my cup of tea. Barry White got a bit of a slagging off from my younger self so I felt compelled to add a few interjections from the present day -actually 2017- to redress the balance and explain my changed attitude towards Barry. (What would my younger self think if he knew I had a copy of Barry White’s Greatest Hits in my car?)

I play the resulting Top Twelve CD in my car quite a lot. It’s nice and perhaps a little surreal to hear my old self from 1974 and my somewhat older 2017 self, chatting with my old friend Steve, sadly no longer with us, once again.

Now I think of it, my past life has been the inspiration behind quite a lot of my writing. My early life inspired a lot of Floating in Space and many of my blog posts. I like to take something, some incident from the past and make it into a funny story or compare the situation to one in today’s digital, internet, mobile phone 21st century world.

As I’m looking back and getting nostalgic, I thought I’d throw in the following story from when I first started work. It’s nothing whatsoever to do with blogging but now I think about it, I bought my tape recorder with my very first wage packet so I must have made the Top Twelve recording round about the time of the following events so there is a faint connection.

When I lived at home with mum and dad and my brother, I occasionally might have got to eat a chocolate biscuit. My brother and I would have had to have been good, done our homework, tidied our bedroom and eaten all our dinner and so on. Then and only then would we be offered a chocolate biscuit with our after dinner cup of tea. Even today I find it hard not to have a biscuit with a cup of tea; old habits die hard.

One day at work I went out for lunch with our company surveyor and on the way back he nipped into a small shop nearby. He emerged with a large pack of chocolate biscuits. Back in the office he offered a biscuit to me and my colleagues. Most people said no but I took one thinking that if I was offered one later by my mother, I would have doubled my chocolate biscuit intake for the day.

Coming back from the tea machine with a cup of tea I watched Dave the surveyor, settle down at his desk which was on a slightly higher level than mine. Dave took a biscuit and quietly scoffed it. Then he took another and then another, and then another! I remember watching wide eyed as Dave ate the entire packet of chocolate biscuits, one after the other. I felt I had witnessed an act of unbelievable gluttony. A grown man eating an entire packet of biscuits. What would my mother have said?

Looking back, I reckon that was the moment when I decided to leave home. Away from the constraints of my family I would be free to stay up late, drink alcohol, invite women home and spend as much time as I desired on my writing projects.

And eat chocolate biscuits of course.


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Blogs, Video and a Social Media Marketing Mix

The lockdown of last year didn’t really affect me that much. It was a bit of a pain not being able to go out and I did miss the pub quiz night as well as my visits to my favourite restaurants. Essentially though, I’m not an outdoor kind of guy. I like my TV and my laptop and I’m pretty happy sitting outside in the summer reading a good book. This last week I’ve been experiencing a more personal kind of lockdown. Liz has just had a hip replacement and I’ve been off work tending to her every need.

Even people who are close can have their differences. Liz likes to be challenged by word games and I like my challenge in the form of a good documentary film.

‘Not another quiz show’ I usually say when she has got the TV remote.

‘Not another Kennedy documentary’ she tends to say when the remote is over on my side. Oh well, recuperation is important and if she can put up with the occasional JFK documentary I can deal with another Countdown, I suppose.

When I’ve had a brief moment to myself, I’ve been looking at my book, Floating in Space, and wondering what more I could do to promote it. This entire blog is about promoting Floating in Space, at least that was the idea when I started. Every blog post, whether it’s about books, films, my life or any other random subject that comes to mind always ends with a little plug for Floating, right down at the end of the post. It usually comes in the form of a short video with the prime intention of making the viewer wonder if their life is worth living if they haven’t got a copy of my book. Most people and I’m talking a good 90% plus of people who decide to watch decide that life is worth living without a copy of Floating in Space and decline to buy. Pity, especially as I went to a lot of trouble making those videos.

A lot of people ask me about the title, Floating in Space. Why is it called that? Is it a sci-fi book? No, it isn’t which makes me wonder whether changing the title would be a good thing. The title comes about because of the way the main character, Stuart Hill, looks at his life. Sometimes it’s a good thing to look at your life not in little segments but as a whole. How could you possibly do that? Well Stuart does it like this.

Updated version of Floating In Space available now from Amazon!

This technique, for want of a better word, is best employed in the summer. Find yourself a quiet outdoor place. Lie down on the grass facing towards the sky. A clear blue sky isn’t much good for this. What you need is a blue sky and a good selection of white fluffy clouds. Now relax. A good way to do that is start at the top of your head and relax your scalp, then go down to your eyebrows and relax them. Then your eyes, nose and so on, all the way down to your toes.

Now, I don’t know if you can remember those visual teasers you used to see in comics years ago. For instance a line drawing of a cube which by an effort of will you could make into a solid box or, again using only your mind, see the box as an open box and look inside. That’s the thing to do now looking up at the sky. See the curve of the sky bending down towards the horizon at the extreme end of your peripheral vision? Well turn that around so instead of looking up at the sky you are looking down. Imagine you are floating in space, seeing the blue, not of the sky, but of the planet Earth and down below is you and your life, going about it’s everyday cycle of work, sleep and relaxation. Down there on the Earth are moments of enjoyment, moments of happiness, moments of sadness and sadly, moments of horror.

Most of my promotions for Floating tend to focus not on the process I’ve described above but on the city of Manchester where the book is set. I’ve only visited my home city once since the pandemic and it’s looking good. New towering skyscrapers seem to be going up with every month that passes by, at least according to the small group of Manchester photographers that I follow on Instagram. Manchester’s nickname is the Rainy City because of course it rains a lot and one of my favourite photographers makes a habit of photographing the puddles of the city, either with the city’s new buildings reflected in the water or low angle pictures with a rainy puddle in the foreground and some Mancunian architectural delight in the background.

When I visited Manchester a few months ago I took my camera along and made a bit of a walkabout video. I had my selfie stick and walked around chatting to the camera. I looked at some of the new hi rise towers and then walked round to the old end of town and took a stroll down the Rochdale canal which was completed in 1804. Instead of writing a narration I just stayed with the video of me chatting to the camera and added a few voice over comments and snippets of info. That video is currently one of my most watched videos so if I had any sense I’d probably make more of the same but it so happens I’m just not that comfortable walking around chatting to my camera. I much prefer my usual videos, many of which have voice-over narrations which originate in many cases from my blog posts. Like a lot of my blogs and videos, I can’t leave them alone, I’m always tinkering with them and here’s a case below, another edit of my favourite Manchester video.

I am of course an old school video producer. I like videos that open up gradually and have titles and an introduction. That technique, I am reliably informed, is very old hat indeed. In the 21st century social media world, videos need to be straight to the point. Quick introductions, a quick statement of your credentials, perhaps a brief exhortation for the viewer to subscribe to my channel and then wham, straight into the subject. That is internet video in a nutshell because there are thousands of other videos out there that are just a click away and can instantly nab your viewer if you fail to grab and keep their attention.

Getting back to blogging, I have probably written more words, in my blogs and tweets and other social media posts promoting my book, than are actually in the book itself. Oh well, that is one of the facts of the self-publishing world: Writing a book is one thing but marketing is an entirely different ball game altogether and of course the competition is fierce with more than 5000 new books released on Kindle every day! Is it worth it you might ask? Why do I do it? Well, quite simply I do it because I like doing it and when the enjoyment has gone, I’ll start thinking about doing something else with my spare time.

Nothing improves and hones your writing skills more than the writing process itself and as a blogger with a deadline of 10am on a Saturday morning I have even started to feel like something of a professional writer. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to log into WordPress and find that someone has liked one of my posts, or better still has left a comment. I’ve always thought that an intrinsic element of the human condition is finding that out that there are others in the world who think the same way as you do and like the things that you like.

I do tinker quite a lot with Floating in Space and some time ago I added a version which hopefully corrected the book’s various grammatical mistakes and I also added a small index to help explain 1977 to my younger readers. So, what else should I do to market my work? Another Tweet? Another Facebook post? Another YouTube video? Perhaps I should go further afield in the social media world and do more on Instagram or sign up for Tik Tok?

Actually I think I might just give marketing a rest for a while. Liz is still in bed so I think I might just relax for a while with Oliver Stone’s new Kennedy documentary.


What to do next: Here are a few options.

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

Listen to my podcast Click here.

Buy the book! Click here to purchase my new poetry anthology.

Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.