13 Annoying Elements of 21st Century Life

I have to admit, this isn’t a totally new post. It’s one I’ve used before but this version has had a major update. OK, don’t start giving me stick. Week after week I produce new content, all of it reasonably interesting I think, well at least to me. So I think I’m entitled to a week off and an easy blog post. After all, I’m a busy guy, I’ve got stuff to do that involves things like drinking, dining out, meeting friends in the pub, cycling and things like that. Occasionally, and I do mean occasionally, I might have to update an old post because I don’t have the time to make a new one.  Anyway, I read a blog a while ago about ‘curated’ content. Ever heard of it? Basically it’s about copying some else’s post but then linking your post to their original one. It’s sort of like stealing someone else’s work but saying, here’s the original so I didn’t really steal it! In this case the original was my work anyway so I’m doubly in the clear!
Interesting idea. Anyway, here’s my updated post.

    1. Irritating Internet Blogs. Not long ago, a blogger I follow published a post that was short and to the point It went pretty much like this:  My favourite Elton John track has to be ‘Tiny Dancer’. (I think it’s only fair to say at this point that names have been changed to protect the innocent. In this case, the name of the pop star!) Now you might think there would have been a photo included. No, there were no pictures. The writer could have done a search on google, clicked the box for images and ticked the ‘labelled for reuse’ tag and something copyright free would have appeared. No, he didn’t do that, no images. He could have also searched for a video of Elton performing Tiny Dancer and linked the video into his post. No, no such luck, just ‘my favourite Elton John track has to be Tiny Dancer.’ The thing is, last time I looked he had over twenty four likes and a shedload of views for something that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Facebook status post! Now, that gives me an idea for my next post: My favourite Kate Bush track is . . Whoa, wait a minute, don’t want to give my full post away before publishing!
    2. Annoying Websites. Here’s an example. The other day I clicked on a link which said ‘You’ll never guess what Victoria Principal looks like now!’ Victoria Principal was once one of the stars of Dallas back in the seventies or eighties, whenever it used to be on TV. She wasn’t my type but she was clearly a pretty and attractive young lady. Well, I wondered, what does she look like now? Anyway, I clicked on the link and was taken to a new page which took forever to load up and with my very fast iPad I wasn’t expecting that at all. After a while I was presented with a picture of a young girl from an American 70’s TV show looking about 15 in picture 1 and looking about 60 ish in picture 2. No sign of Victoria Principal but after scrolling through a shed load of advertising I was finally presented with a ‘next’ button. I clicked this and veerrryyyy slowwwwly another page loaded this time showing a seventies movie star in picture 1 and her somewhat older and chubbier 2017 self in picture 2. After battling through the interminable advertising to get to picture 3 I couldn’t stand the web page any longer so I exited the site. What is even more annoying though is this; I keep wondering what does Victoria Principal really look like now?
    3. Watching TV. Now this is more of a man thing than anything because women cannot multi task when it comes to TV watching. The art and science of TV watching is and always will be a purely man thing. Picture this: A man arrives home from a busy late shift, pours himself either (A) a beer (B) a glass of wine or (C) a glass of whisky, brandy or any other spirit.  He then combines this with either (D) a call to the local fast food delivery place or (E) whacks a slice of bread into the toaster. After settling down he might come across a James Bond film which he has seen approximately 35 times but He continues to watch it thinking, ‘this will keep me going until the adverts then I’ll flick through the channels to see if anything better is on’. Now here’s where the problem comes, you turn over in the adverts and unless you’ve turned to BBC 1 or 2, there are also adverts on the other channels! Why can’t the other channels schedule their ads at different times so there is always something for the channel hopper to watch? Is that so hard?
    4. david-essex-rock-on-cbsListening to the radio. Now I do like music and in years gone by I was a big singles man. I spent a lot of time in record stores flipping through racks of singles and I still have my record collection intact stored in big boxes. Not so long ago I got myself one of those turntables that you can connect to your pc so you can digitise your records. Technology: it’s just amazing. Of course I still hear records on the radio that I really like, just like the good old days but why is it that 21st century DJ’s don’t seem to bother telling us WHAT THAT RECORD ACTUALLY IS? As it is we will probably never hear that track again, so how can we actually buy or download it! Where do they get these DJ’s nowadays!
    5. Why is it that after an episode of your favourite soap on TV they then show you a clip of what’s going to happen next week! Don’t do that! We don’t want to know until next week when we are actually watching the show!
    6. This is yet another TV gripe: Why do they show part 1 of something then neglect to advise the viewing public when we can see part 2? Once upon a time if something was on a Thursday night at nine o’clock then it would be pretty much a certainty that part 2 would be on the following week at nine o’clock on a Thursday night. Is this the case in the 21st century? NO! I started to watch a cracking documentary on BBC4 the other day about O J Simpson. Excellent and informative. I expected to tune in the next week for part 2 but found out a couple of days later that the following parts were shown on subsequent days! People at the BBC -I am Not happy!
    7. Reality TV. What the heck is reality TV, who thought it up and how can I contact the mafia to put out a contract on them?
    8. Now I’m not really a grammar nut, at least not to the extent that I’ve joined the grammar police but there are people who put things on Facebook like ‘Wish I could of done that!’ It’s could HAVE done that you numpties!
    9. Telephone menus. Not so long ago I wanted to ask my mobile phone people a relatively simple question, so I dialled the number and I got through to a menu: Press 1 for accounts, 2 for phone problems, or 3 for network problems. Well it wasn’t any of those so I pressed 1 then got another menu. A two minute phone call escalated into half an hour of my life! If in doubt on any menu press the hash button, you usually get to speak with a real person. You can also try http://www.pleasepress1.com a website started by frustrated phone user Nigel Clarke with hints and tips for bypassing menus. Thinking of telephone menus, it reminded me of this joke: The psychiatrist’s answering machine that plays this message to callers: “We are very busy at the moment. If you are obsessive-compulsive, press 1 repeatedly. If you are co-dependent, please ask someone to press 2 for you. If you have multiple personalities, press 3, 4, 5 and 6. If you are paranoid, we know who you are and what you want. Stay on the line so we can trace your call!” The oldies really are the best!
    10. Don’t you just hate those ‘what’s on next’ banners that come on your TV screen in the last few minutes of your programme? I don’t need banners! I’ve got a TV guide! There’s an on screen TV guide too!
    11. Why is it whenever it’s raining and I’m driving home from work on the motorway there is always one plonker hurtling down the outside lane with only one headlight working or worse still, one very bright headlight and another dim one! Get your lights sorted and don’t hog the outside lane you Plonker!
    12. MobileJunk phone calls. It’s bad enough getting junk mail but phone calls from people trying to sell you something just get on my wick, especially if you are forced to answer the call. For instance if you’re waiting for a call back from your bank or insurance company or something or even the guy who’s coming to fix your boiler. You see that unknown number on your phone screen, decide to take it, and surprise –it’s someone calling you about PPI refunds! Take a look at this blog on the subject.
    13. A pint of Mild. As I begin to approach the mature years of my life I find myself drawn to towards the darker beers that life’s brewery have to offer. I have been through my younger years with an array of ciders and refreshing amber lagers but these days I tend to fancy a Guinness, a stout, even a porter but where are these exotic beers to be found? Guinness is available in most pubs but what about the humble pint of mild? How many more times must I suffer the stunned look of the teenage barman when I ask ‘do you serve mild?’ I can only answer by saying thank heavens for the Number Fifteen pub in St Annes which serves the rather lovely Theakston’s mild!

If you liked this post, why not try my book, Floating in Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information or here to go to my amazon page!

10 Signs that You are Getting Old

This has been a funny kind of year for me because I’ve never really thought about my age, well, not until now that is. I’ve certainly never considered myself old until that one day, some months ago when I hit 60. So what then are the signs? What is it that tells you, this is it, you are finally getting old?30823347274_23da8df41d_b

1. You have insured your car with Saga.

2. You’re in Sainsbury’s and you recognise the piped music as something you bought on vinyl in 1975 which reached no 3 in the charts.

3. You are idly watching TV, playing with your left ear then find a three-inch hair growing out of it!

4. You remark jokingly to a young person that you once had more hair than Roy Wood from Wizzard and just get a blank look!

5. You remember when your family had a coal fire!

6. People call at 9 PM and ask ‘did I wake you?’

7. You check out the music singles chart and don’t recognise a single artist.

8. Things that used to be boring are now actually interesting, like crosswords.

9. In a hostage situation, you will be one of the first ones released.

10. Someone who loves you sends you a birthday card like this:

img_0389


I hope you enjoyed this post, if you did why not try my book, Floating In Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Aliens, Frank Sinatra, and Three Days in the Life of a Couch Potato

Day 1

quotescover-PNG-85In this technological age, one item in particular has come to the aid of the dedicated couch potato and that is the hard drive recorder. It’s a wonderful invention which enables the recording and playback of programmes at the touch of a button.

Last Sunday was my first day off and I had planned, unbeknown to my lovely lady Liz, a day of rest, self indulgence, and laziness, including Internet surfing and of course, TV watching.

She on the other hand had other ideas, in particular, a trip to the combination music and kite festival down on the beach. Anyway, all that went ok, the kites were flying well and the music was good. We went back home for some dinner and then it was time to get down to some TV viewing.

Now the Sunday lunch over ran a little making me late for my appointment with the German Grand Prix on Channel 4. Here, however, is where the hard drive recorder comes into its own because of one very simple fact: You can start watching the recorded programme even before it has finished! Technology; incredible isn’t it?

Anyway, The German Grand Prix from Hockenheim wasn’t a classic race but for an F1 fan like me it was well worth watching: Lewis Hamilton won and Nico Rosberg had a penalty but the real joy of watching the race just slightly behind the broadcast time is you can catch up by fast forwarding through the boring stuff from the drivers; “the team did a great job today in qually” and “I’d like to thank the guys back at the factory,” and so on. There is also the questions to the drivers which are well worth fast forwarding through: “You’re in second position on the grid, what can you do today?”
Not much of a record for a TV couch potato but I had big plans for day 2!

Day 2

Now day 2 promised much more TV watching than day 1. Liz was off to work round about twelve, leaving me time to check my e-mails, sort out a few social media updates plugging blog posts like this one, and then a whole afternoon of serious TV watching.

For starters I had Aliens, the sci-fi movie to watch, recorded from ITV 2 some weeks earlier. I have seen it before but some movies just get better over time. I do love the opening of Aliens: The music gradually fades in as we come across a lifeboat drifting through space. Yes, the lifeboat holds astronaut Ripley, sleeping soundly in suspended animation after her adventures in the previous movie, Alien. Ripley has been abandoned in space for 57 years and it turned out that this version was a director’s cut with a restored back story about Ripley’s daughter who we find has died recently as an old lady. The story gives an added poignancy to the film later on and we understand why Ripley is so passionate about rescuing the young girl ‘newt’ who we meet later in the film.

Time for a cuppa when we get to the adverts and then we follow Ripley through the committee meeting where it is revealed that the spacecraft Nostromo, which Ripley self-destructed, caused a loss of over 64 million adjusted dollars. Another committee member advises that LV426, the planet where the Nostromo landed was ‘a rock’ with no indigenous life forms. I can feel Ripley’s frustration when she says, “Did IQ levels just drop while I was away?” She tries to tell the group about a derelict alien vessel containing alien eggs but the meeting ends and Ripley’s story is not believed.

Now before Liz went to work she had left me a couple of jobs and the thought of them threatens my TV watching marathon so I decide to get them out of the way. One of them involved mowing the lawn so I put Aliens on pause and sorted out the mower and strimmer. I was actually immersed in my mowing when Liz popped back in and caught  me doing a bit of grafting! This was great because she could see with her own eyes I’m not just sprawled on the couch watching TV! Result!

Anyway, job done and it’s time for some more TV. I fancy a change from Aliens so I finish off an episode of The Saint I watched part way through last week. A TV Diva is kidnapped but Simon Templar saves the day and rescues the lady. Nice to see these old TV shows from my school years still looking good and getting another airing on TV.

Time for a brew and a cheese sarnie, the Saint episode is deleted (that space on the hard drive is in constant demand!) and I’m ready for something more serious. I crank up a BBC 4 documentary about Frank Sinatra. I was planning to listen to it and simultaneously surf the net on my iPad but it’s so engrossing I have to put the pad down.

Six o’Clock and Liz is home and asking why am I not ready yet? Ready? Of course, we have a family meal planned for tonight. “Just about to get changed, love” I say quickly! (Phew!)

DAY 3

Day three and Liz is off to work at the usual time, twelve-ish. The breakfast pots are duly washed and the only cloud on the horizon is that I need to get some eggs and some milk in. Should I leave it until later or sort it now? Tell you what, time for a quick Saint episode (series record, I love that button on the recorder!) and a cuppa. The episode is one about the Saint receiving threats on his life and it’s a bit of a naff one with the back lot at Elstree or Pinewood trying desperately to look like swinging sixties London and wait a minute, isn’t that lady reporter played by the same lady who played the film actress diva in the last episode? The Saint, the more you watch it increasingly becomes like a little TV repertory company, with increasingly familiar faces, even in the bit parts. Anyway, I fast forward through most of it and then it’s off to the shops for the milk and eggs.

Sigourney Weaver as Ripley

Sigourney Weaver as Ripley

Back home and it’s time for some more Aliens. I don’t know about you but I tend to watch a lot of recorded films in two or more parts. I settle down with Aliens and the Slimy Carter Burke has enticed Ripley on a trip to LV426 with the tough hombres of the Space Marine Chore. They drop into orbit over the planet, now inhabited by terraformers with their atmosphere processors and Ripley, Burke and the marines awake from hibernation. I think for a moment that if LV426 is that far away enough for the crew to hibernate while travelling there, it isn’t that much of an emergency rescue mission but hey, what do I know? Later they arrive on the planet in a pretty exciting drop from the mother craft. The marines secure the area but then find that the Aliens have taken the humans into the atmosphere processor to use their bodies to hatch more of their creatures. Aliens is a sort of hybrid film; a sci-fi horror action movie, combining two or even three genres. The rest of the series was a little poor if you ask me but the first two in the series: Alien and Aliens, are classic cinema. Sigourney Weaver creates a memorable movie character in Ripley, tough and uncompromising, she is a sort of female John McClane. (Remember the Bruce Willis character from Die Hard?)

Anyway, time for the usual afternoon cheese sarnie and a brew and I settle down to watch the end of the Frank Sinatra documentary. I found it highly interesting as the film explored Sinatra’s relationships and associations and shows how the Kennedys dumped him, not wanting to be associated with him when his friendships with mafia figures became public. Later, in the eighties, Sinatra, a lifelong Democrat allied himself with republican Ronald Reagan.

A quick check of my e-mails and some more posts sorted on Twitter and Google+ and time for another cuppa. (Choccy biscuit? Don’t mind if I do!) Time to crank up Aliens again and this time the action heats up as Carter Burke decides Ripley knows too much and he locks her in the med lab with one of the alien parasites. It’s a pretty scary sequence. Ripley gets away but the Aliens are trying to break through into the complex. Why are the radar tracker signs showing the Aliens inside? Look at the roof, people!

Enough scary stuff for today. Liz comes in and asks “Is my dinner ready?” in a tone that suggests she doesn’t think it is. I need to think fast and quickly come up with: “Thought we might go to the Turkish Restaurant darlin’.”  “Well,” she says, “sounds nice, better get ready then.” As I leave to follow her I glance at myself in the mirror and hear myself saying: ‘Top TV couch potato? Steve, you are the man!’


 If you liked this post, why not try my book Floating In Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information or click on the icon below to visit my Amazon page!

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Think your Password is Safe? Think Again!

PasswordsIn this digital hi tech age there is one thing of vital importance and that is passwords! It doesn’t matter if you are using a laptop, a PC, an iPad, a smartphone or even your credit card, a password is vital but it is also something of a huge pain in the rear. Different passwords for different web sites; your PC, your iPad, your smartphone, your banks cards. How can you remember them all? Easy, use something simple: great idea! Actually, no, it’s a bad idea, very bad!

Looking on the internet, one of the most popular passwords is Password. Yes, some people apparently think computer security is of such low importance that they use a password like that.

Come to think of it, one of the systems I use at work has a similar password, only they have replaced the ‘o’ with a zero. Pretty sneaky eh? Bound to deter those resourceful cyber thieves. Yes, my colleagues and I at the Trident Nuclear Launch Centre were pretty pleased with that one!

Here are some other passwords that you shouldn’t use

123456
Yes, don’t try this one at home.

1234567
Yes, even with the extra seven, it’s still a little weak!

ABC123
For Jackson Five fans only!

QWERTY
Yes, it’s right there on the keyboard in front of you. Good reminder if you forget it.

1234567890
Another variation of the 123456 theme.

Football
Using the name of your favourite sport –Good idea if you are a fan of Japanese underwater polo!

Monkey
This word comes up on a lot of lists of bad passwords, although I’m not sure why. Perhaps there are a lot of fans of the old badly dubbed Japanese TV series ‘Monkey’. People do use names of their favourite TV show though, perhaps that  explains why I used to use Fireball XL5 until I became rather interested in . . . oops, nearly let the cat out of bag there!

One final password story to finish. This doesn’t concern the internet but years ago I got a job working for a cigarette vending company. It was a bit of a pain getting to work that first week because I didn’t have a car. The bus nearest to my home didn’t start early enough so I had to take a twenty minute hike further up the road to catch the earlier bus to Warrington and then catch another bus from Warrington to work. Towards the end of the week my manager asked how I was getting on and I replied OK, apart from the trek to work. “What,” he said. “Why didn’t you say? You might as well take one of the spare vans; they only get used when one of the newer ones breaks down.”
That night I drove home in my very ‘own’ small ford van. In order to start the van you had to insert the key then enter a number on the keypad on the dashboard. Security was the watchword my boss explained. Our vans carried cigarettes, cigars and cash from the cigarette machines. It was vital to protect our assets and profits.
To start the van you had to enter a code into the pad. It was a six figure number and my boss stressed I couldn’t share it with anyone and writing it down was frowned upon. Anyway, I memorised the number, started the van and set off.
All went well that first week but somehow, between Friday night and Monday morning I suffered an inexplicable memory loss. Time after time I entered what I thought was the number only to see code incorrect flash up on the dash.
Eventually I had to admit defeat and call my boss. He wasn’t happy and rather dismissively passed me over to one of the other drivers.
“Where are you now?” asked the driver.
“Sat in the cab” I answered meekly.
“Well pull the sun visor down and tell me what you see.”
I pulled down the visor and there, in ballpoint pen, despite our company code of ethics; protecting profits and assets and so on, someone had written the high security code.
It was 234561! A slight variation on the number one password from the list of all-time worst passwords!


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Captain Kirk, Al Jolson, and the problem with Windows 10!

captain kirkTime passes, as Dylan Thomas said in Under Milk Wood. Time passes and the new replaces the old. Okay but why is it that the old is sometimes better than the new? Here are a few cases in point.

Star Trek.

Here is something that may be a revelation to you; if you don’t know it already it will vastly improve your understanding of Star Trek. It’s a simple truth and here it is, Star Trek is about three guys, Captain Kirk, Mr Spock and Doctor McCoy. Sometimes there are four, we can maybe throw in Scotty but that’s it, that’s the essential truth about Star Trek and that’s why things like the Next Generation and Deep Space 9 will never come up to scratch, simply because Kirk, Spock and McCoy are not involved. Even the Star Trek people themselves understand this, which is why Star Trek has been reinvented (re-imagined to use movie speak) with new actors playing Kirk and his crew in the latest Trek movies.

Forget about Mr Pointy-head Captain Picard and the cocktail lounge style bridge on his version of the Star Ship Enterprise. Why on earth does he have to run every decision over his number two, his councillor and everyone else on the bridge when Kirk would have just sorted that situation out like a shot and would even have found a pretty girl to flirt with too? Deep space 9: A load of old tosh and as for Star Trek Voyager? Well, I have to say I do like the later episodes when Captain Janeway finally got rid of her previous weird hair styles and the drippy Kes got the bullet from the show and was replaced by the rather interesting Seven of Nine, a young lady rescued from the clutches of the Borg. As much as I like Voyager, it really can’t compete with the original. Yes, in every way, old is better.

Movies.

If you are a regular reader of this blog you will know that I like my movies. I much prefer old classic movies to the latest films. The last movie I caught at the cinema was the latest Bond movie, well actually, not even the latest one, it was the one before that! I did try to see the new one, Spectre, but when I enquired at the picture house about the movie, the lady behind the counter looked at me and said: ‘Spectre? That movie has been and gone,’ as if I had been talking about Gone with the Wind. As I remember it, there were still Spectre film trailers being shown on the TV so my enquiry was not all that silly, although shortly afterwards they released the film on DVD. There seems to be a short shelf life for movies these days; they are released, shown for a while at the cinema and then whoosh –straight to DVD.

DVDs.

Talking of DVDs, one I picked up lately from e-bay for a measly few pounds was a DVD with two movies: The Jolson Story and the follow up, Jolson Sings Again. The Jolson Story is typical of the kind of movies watched in our house when I was a child. My Mum was a big musical fan and we watched a lot of musicals. I do love those movies of the forties and fifties, the ones where someone says something like ‘let’s put the show on right here!White Christmas with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby is the sort of movie I mean, some light comedy, some great songs and they put on a show in their old wartime colonel’s failing hotel. The Jolson Story has some wonderful songs, proper tuneful yesteryear classic songs and Larry Parks plays a great part. Sadly he was black listed by the House Committee on Un-American Activities and only made a few more films afterwards.

A much more modern movie I picked up recently on DVD was A Bridge of Spies starring Tom Hanks and directed by Steven Spielberg. Spielberg’s reputation as a great director precedes him as they say but for my money, I don’t really think his films are that great. I can’t rubbish this film by any means but it was a little tame and I have found that with a lot of his films, they always seem to fall slightly short of the mark somehow. Might have to sell Bridge of Spies in the same place I found it, on e-bay!

Windows 10.

Now, here is a perfect example of the old being better than the new. With my old laptop kitted out with windows XP and later windows 7 I could carry on doing the simple nerdy things I have always done on my laptop. As you know from these posts I have a long trip to work every day, I hate radio with adverts so I play a lot of discs, most of which I make up myself. I used to drop a DVD in my laptop, use windows sound recorder to copy some music or dialogue. Later I’d use various software bits and pieces to cut and paste, mix, and create a CD of favourite film music and dialogue that I could play in my car.

Anyway, in Windows 10, which I updated to not long ago, there is no sound recorder. There is however ‘voice recorder’ which I assume works in the same way only the tab on my computer is greyed out and when I click on it a message appears which says go to the windows store. Okay, I click that; a box opens up saying ‘windows store’, looks like it’s doing something for a minute than just closes. Right, so next I go to the Microsoft website, click on ‘windows store’, find windows voice recorder, click the download button and nothing happens. After a quick search I find windows sound recorder, I click on that and it says ‘not compatible with your device’!

While I’m on a rant about windows 10 here’s another thing. When I first installed windows 10, everything seemed to be in order but lately, every time I click on the start menu I get a critical error report and a box comes up saying ‘log out of windows and we will repair the error when you log back in’. So, like the box says I log out, log back in but did they keep their word? Have they fixed the critical error? No!

Wonder what Captain Kirk would do? Knowing him, a good blast from a Phaser will solve everything!


If you liked this post, why not try my novel, Floating In Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information!

How Not to be a Writer!

How not to be a writerHow not to be a writer!
Yes, there are plenty of blogs and posts out there telling you how to become a writer. Don’t be fooled by those them because once they pull you in and extract your e-mail address, you’ll be bombarded with firm requests asking you to sign up for an intensive blogging course that will require you to hand over money! Now, please tell me if I’m wrong but I didn’t hear about Dan Brown signing up for such a course, or Patricia Cornwell or even Hemingway for that matter.
Anyway, here’s a post that is slightly different, how not to be a writer!

Checking your e-mails.
Now this is a certain way not to start writing because checking those e-mails will lead to certain internet browsing -guaranteed, and by the time you have finished, that will be your writing time gone!

E-bay Watched Items.
Another instance, similar to the one above is checking your watched items on e-bay! That antique pocket watch you urgently need for your pocket watch collection needs attention before some other pesky collector comes along and nabs it! I can’t think of anything more annoying than a watched item being stolen from under your very nose because you didn’t watch it closely enough or –heaven forbid- you started writing a blog post or even worse- actually started work on that follow up novel you’ve been planning for ages!

Facebook.
Now here is a perfect opportunity to stop yourself writing. Have a scroll through Facebook and take a long look at your friends and what they are doing, where they are lunching, what they are having for tea, and so on. Perhaps you could even count the amount of times you see ‘LOL’ whatever that means or check who has replied to a post with the one word comment ‘awesome’ today. If you are really motivated why not go to quotescover and create one of those cheesy quote cards like . .’Love is like a password:  hard to figure out but you want to keep trying!’ Yuk!

Your Motor Vehicle.
Is your car looking a little bit dusty? Does the screen wash need filling up? Absolutely! Not a good option to run out of water or screen wash on these warm and dusty spring days. Get that screen wash filled up!

Have a lie in.
Great idea. How about a lazy Saturday morning, just the time you have set aside for ‘creative writing’! Perhaps drag yourself to the kitchen for a cuppa or a sausage sarnie then back to the bedroom for some lazy bedroom TV watching. Don’t forget, there are quite a few episodes of ‘Columbo’ that you may not know off by heart yet.

That new post.
Ok you’ve finally created a new post. It’s gritty, full of biting humour, topical and interesting so what do you do next? Tweet about it? Post it on every social media site you are a member of?
No, go and make a cup of tea and pat yourself on the back!

Finally: Actual Writing.
Eventually, you may find yourself sitting at your laptop or PC in a position to actually write something. If this does happen, be prepared to call a member of procrastinationalert.com

If that fails, there is only one option: Get on with writing!


If you liked this post read more by Steve Higgins. Floating In Space is a novel set in late 70’s Manchester. Click the links at the top of the page or the icon below to go straight to Amazon!

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National (Customer) Service!

Steve HigginsBad manners, foul language and general bad behaviour are some of the criticisms pointed at the youth of today. Some people blame poor schooling, some blame bad parenting as the source of the problem. Of course the thing is what to do about it? The first thing my dad would say, and perhaps many others of his generation too, would be ‘bring back National Service!’ Ok but I say let’s go one better: Let’s have National Customer Service! Yes, the youth of today should have to commit to a minimum of two years customer service before they embark on life. Two years given to the mother nation in the name of customer service. That would do the job!

THE SCENE: MANCHESTER BUSES CUSTOMER ENQUIRY OFFICE ON A QUIET SATURDAY MORNING.
THE TIME 08:12 HRS.
IN LEVENSHULME THE 190 SERVICE INTO MANCHESTER ALBERT SQUARE HAS PASSED THE MIDWAY PUB FOUR MINUTES EARLY.
AN IRATE WOULD BE PASSENGER HAS IMMEDIATELY CALLED THE ENQUIRY OFFICE.

OPERATOR 1
Morning ,bus enquiries.
IRATE CUSTOMER
Where’s my f***ing bus!
OPERATOR 1
Sorry, I am not paid enough money to listen to that sort of language!
OPERATOR 1 CANCELS THE CALL.

OPERATOR 2
Morning, bus enquiries.
IRATE CUSTOMER
Where’s my f***ing bus you bast***s!
OPERATOR 2 CANCELS THE CALL.

OPERATOR 3
Morning, bus enquiries.
IRATE CUSTOMER
You lousy bas****s! Where’s my f***ing bus?
OPERATOR 3 CANCELS THE CALL

Eventually the call reaches operator 8. Now operator 8 is my friend Jiffrey. That’s right, we tend to call him Jiffrey, rather than Geoffrey, his actual name.  He used to be known rather humourously, we thought, as ‘Jiff Lemon’, as he is a bit of a, well, a lemon. Having said that the way he dealt with our irate customer should qualify him to be an instructor in the new National Customer Service.

JIFFREY
Morning, bus enquiries.
IRATE CUSTOMER.
Your fu**ing company and your drivers are a shower of bas**ds!
JIFFREY
I see, how can I help though?
IRATE CUSTOMER
Your fu**ing bus has gone past 4 minutes early! I’m going to be late for f***ing work!
JIFFREY.
Dear me. Shall I call the local zoo and tell them the monkey cage is going to be short this morning?
IRATE CUSTOMER
What?
JIFFREY
Don’t mind me, just my little joke. Sorry about the bus this morning. I’ll send a report to the inspector straight away.
IRATE CUSTOMER
And another thing. One of your people just called me a bastard! Tell him he’s a cheeky c**t!
JIFFREY
I’ll pass that message on straight away.
IRATE CUSTOMER
So what can I do now?
JIFFREY
Well there’s another bus at 08:38. That’ll take you to Albert Square or if you want Piccadilly there’s a 192 every six minutes.
IRATE CUSTOMER
OK I’ll have to wait for that one then but I’m not f***ing happy about that. I’m going to be late.
JIFFREY.
Well, sorry about that. Anyway, It’s been a pleasure and a privilege speaking with you. Have a nice day.
IRATE CUSTOMER.
(Lost for words.) OK.

Jiffrey was, as you can see, a master of customer service. He had skills that are so lacking in today’s society but a National Customer Service would remedy that issue. The benefits are enormous:

1: No more foreign call centres.
2: Foreign people from eastern Europe could be sent to the centre too, vastly improving their English language skills.
(Not long ago I went for a pint in Manchester with my brother. The lady behind the bar was a Polish lady. I greeted her with ‘Hi. Can we have two pints of lager please love.’
She replied with ‘Vot did you say?’
I repeated, ‘Two pints of lager!’
She looked at me as if I had used similar language to the irate man in the text above, went into a back room and returned with the landlord . He said ‘yes?’
I replied, ‘two pints of lager please mate’
He looked at the girl and said ‘two pints of lager.’
She looked again at him questioningly and he pointed to the lager pumps and gave her two fingers. I assume for the number of pints.
Eventually we were served but then another man came in and said, ‘pint o’ bitter love please!’
She answered with, ‘vot did you say?’)
3: Improved manners and behaviour in young people.
4: Vastly improved people skills nationally.
5: Unemployment figures vastly improved.

Lobby your MP today for National Customer Service!


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The Secrets of a Schoolboy Correspondent to the Stars!

A schoolboy correspondentNeil Armstrong, the commander of Apollo 11 stepped out onto the moon in July 1969. He and his crew, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins, came home to incredible global adulation and spent a lot of time touring the world and cementing global understanding that the USA had well and truly won the space race. I can’t imagine what it was like to receive that sort of world-wide adulation but for Armstrong his work with NASA was over. He resigned and became a university professor. People at the university of Cincinnati looked at him with wonder. He signed autograph after autograph then realised that many people were using these as a source of income. For every schoolboy who took his signature, venerated it and saved it in some secret safe place, there were others making a buck from every photo or scrap of paper he signed. So, one day, he stopped doing it.

That’s the thing about the famous; people want to connect with them. Today many people see their hero or heroine and they want to take a ‘selfie’ with them on their smart phone. Facebook and other social media are littered with these sorts of pictures, but in earlier times fans wanted autographs. In fact, they still do. Take a look at ebay and you’ll find many hits for the autographs of movie, TV and sports stars. Rare ones cost many thousands of pounds and if you are lucky enough to have an autograph signed by Neil Armstrong, well it’s worth about £8, 500. Autographs by Neil Armstrong are pretty rare and very collectable, partly because he stopped signing autographs!

You might be wondering where I got that figure from, well it’s from the PFC40 autograph index, a listing of autograph values to help collectors. Top of the list is James Dean’s autograph. Dean was famous for only a short while before his death in a car crash at the age of 24 and it’s the rarity of his signature that gives it such a strong price, showing in the index at £18,500! I wish I had the autograph of James Dean or Neil Armstrong in my collection but here are a few of the ones I do have.

Graham HillGraham Hill can’t really lay claim to being the greatest driver ever, but without a doubt he is one of the greatest motor sporting personalities to ever grace the racetrack. I wrote to him in the seventies and he responded with a card and his signature and it’s one of the prize autographs in my collection. Jackie Stewart, my favourite ever F1 driver and quite frankly, in my opinion, the greatest ever driver, sent me a card with only a machine printed signature. (Little bit disappointed there Jackie!) I have a number of signatures of F1 drivers in the seventies, Bruce McLaren, (founder of the McLaren F1 team) Denny Hulme (world champion 1967) Jack Brabham (world champion 1959, 1960 and 1966) Jackie Oliver, (he drove for BRM in 1970) and John Surtees (world champion 1964.)

Jack_Brabham

Three time world champion Jack Brabham

One of my colleagues who has a daughter who lives in Australia showed me something a while ago. A programme from the 2013 Australian GP signed by all the drivers. Knowing I’m a big Formula One fan my friend thought he had a sure fire sale but sadly, the programme looks a little as if a schoolboy has scribbled all over the pages and the autographs are just undecipherable swirls of a felt tipped pen. It was hugely disappointing and a ‘no sale’ for my friend. Perhaps in the age of the computer, people, well at least Formula One drivers, have forgotten how to write and how much more satisfying are the signatures in my collection than the ones on that programme.

william_shatner

Captain Kirk from Star Trek

As a school kid I spent a lot of time writing to my schoolboy TV heroes and I have signed pictures from Patrick Macnee who played the debonair John Steed in the Avengers, and Linda Thorson who played Steed’s sidekick Tara King. I wrote to the producers of Star Trek in the USA and they sent me colour pictures of William Shatner who played Captain Kirk and Leonard Nimoy, who was Mr Spock.

Tara King

Linda Thorson as Tara King

My very favourite autograph of all though is another one from the seventies. I wrote a fan letter to Andy Williams who had a hugely popular TV show which aired on the BBC. My favourite part of the show was a comedy sketch with Andy and a bear (OK, a guy dressed in a bear outfit) who always asked Andy for some cookies and then they went into a different comedy routine every week. I loved the bear sketches so much that I wrote to Andy Williams care of Desilu productions, who were mentioned on the credits of his show, in Hollywood California. Months later, a large envelope arrived and inside was a picture of Andy and the bear. ‘To Stephen from Andy and friend’ was the inscription.

I think it says a lot about Andy Williams, that he should make such a gesture for a far away English schoolboy. Thanks Andy, I loved that picture so much!
Andy_Williams

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Cillit Bang, Doctor McCoy and the Launch of Thunderbird 3

cillit bang, and Dr McCoyYou might be thinking, and believe me I can understand it if you are, what have Cillit Bang, Doctor McCoy and the launch of Thunderbird 3 got in common? Well it is simply this; together they are three small mysteries that have annoyed me for a while and in the case of Thunderbird 3, a very long time. Please read on . . .

Cillit Bang
A cleaning company has just created a new household cleaner. It works in the kitchen: It works anywhere! It washes away dirt and grime so what should we call it?
INTERIOR. DAY. A PLUSH HI TECH MARKETING OFFICE. A MEETING IS IN PROGRESS. AT THE HEAD OF THE TABLE IS THE HEAD OF MARKETING. HE ADDRESSES THE GROUP OF EAGER YOUNG MARKETEERS.

HEAD OF MARKETING.
Ladies and gentlemen, you know all about the product. We are getting ready to sell to the public as soon as possible. We already have contracts to sell to the major stores and supermarkets, all we need is a name!

YOUNG STAFF MEMBER #1
What about Flash? It cleans your kitchen in a flash and-

HEAD OF MARKETING.
Good but that name has been used already!

YOUNG STAFF MEMBER#1
Sorry sir.

YOUNG STAFF MEMBER #2
What about Super Clean. It’s no ordinary cleaner: it’s a Super Cleaner!

HEAD OF MARKETING.
Not bad but I’m looking for something really special.

YOUNG STAFF MEMBER #3
I know I’m new here (COYLY) But what about Cillit-Bang!

FACES FALL ALL AROUND THE TABLE. SOME STAFF MEMBERS HOLD THEIR HEADS IN THEIR HANDS. OTHERS OPENLY MOUTH ‘OH MY GOD!’

HEAD OF MARKETING.
That’s brilliant. Just what we want.

THE WHOLE OFFICE APPLAUDS.

OK, that’s just a fantasy, just an idle musing that came to me a few weeks back under the hot Lanzarote sun while I pondered about whether to take another dip in the pool. The thing is though, why did they really call it Cillit-Bang?

Doctor McCoy in Star Trek

Dr McCoy Star Trek

Picture courtesy Wikipedia

I have always been a fan of Star Trek, well, the original one anyway. You know the one, Captain Kirk, Mr Spock and Doctor (Bones) McCoy. (Proper Star Trek, not those wishy washy Next Generation people!) Kirk was played by William Shatner, Spock by Leonard Nimoy and McCoy by DeForest Kelley. DeForest did you say? Yes, DeForest, that was his name. I’ve often wondered how he got a name like that, perhaps it was something like this;

INTERIOR. DAY.THE SCENE:THE SUBURBAN HOME OF THE NEWLY WED KELLEYS.

MRS KELLEY
You know, we ought to think about names, there’s not long to go now.

MR KELLEY
Yes, you’re not wrong. Remind me, when is the little one due?

MRS KELLEY
Well, my due date is January 20th.

MR KELLEY
Well, what about Woodrow, you know after the President?

MRS KELLEY (WITH HARDLY A HINT OF ENTHUSIASM.)
What! Woodrow?

MR KELLEY
Well, only a suggestion.

MRS KELLEY
Edward is a thought. I’ve always liked Edward.

MR KELLEY
Edward? Edward Kelley? Don’t know, Edward Kelley. Sounds a bit ordinary . . .

MRS KELLEY
We could name him after you, Ernest David.

MR KELLEY
Yes but then he’d be Ernest David Kelley Junior. I’ve always hated that junior stuff! I want something memorable, something that invokes, you know, the forest or something.

MRS KELLEY
The forest? What are you on about?

MR KELLEY
Well, remember that time in the forest when we were camping and we both, you know . .

MRS KELLEY
Oh my giddy aunt! I’ve never heard anything like it in my life!

MR KELLEY
Look, let’s be straight; we once did it in the forest. So what? Couples have to do it somewhere, it’s only natural. In fact, tell you what, what about Deforest?

MRS KELLEY
Deforest? Are you bonkers? Are you out of your tiny mind?

MR Kelley
It’d be a private joke, you know, me and you against the world and we’d always remember that special time. You know, when we did it in ‘de forest!’

MRS KELLEY
Are you on mind altering drugs or what? I was reading only the other day they reckon that by the 1960’s mind altering drugs could destroy western civilisation. Sure you’re not on them already?

MR KELLEY
OK, so what have you got?

MRS KELLEY
So Ernest David is out?

MR KELLEY
Absolutely.

MRS KELLEY
OK, DeForest it is but I want it with a capital F.

MR KELLEY
It’s a deal!

Thunderbird 3The Launch of Thunderbird 3.

Did you ever watch Thunderbirds, the 1960’s sci-fi show? I’m talking about the original, not the 21st century computer animated version, because something has been annoying me ever since I first saw the show as a schoolboy, and it’s this:
Alan, as you probably know, is the pilot of Thunderbird 3, the space ship, and Thunderbird 3 launches from underground, blasting off right through the circular opening of the Round House. Now to access the craft, Alan sits down on the settee in the Tracy Island main house. His Dad, Jeff Tracy, flicks a switch and Alan and the settee drop down into an underground complex. OK? With me so far? Well this is where the problem arises. As Alan and the settee drop down on a sort of hydraulic pole, just behind him we see another settee, being pushed up towards the lounge on another hydraulic pole,  where it pops into the vacant slot where Alan’s settee was moments earlier. However, as Alan’s settee is going down on the first hydraulic pole, and the alternate settee is on a second hydraulic pole to his rear, there is no way that second settee is going to pop into the vacant slot left by the first. Also, what if Alan was watching TV when the call came in and he goes off on the departing settee with the remote control? It could be halfway to trajectory insertion when Jeff wants to switch over to Sky Sport and he says, “Who’s got the remote?” Not only that, imagine if Alan was on his way to an emergency launch which came in while Grandma was in the kitchen making everyone a cup of tea and a slice of toast?

THE SCENE. INTERIOR. DAY. TRACY ISLAND LOUNGE.

JEFF TRACY
This is a job for Thunderbird 3.

ALAN TRACY
OK Dad. Ready for launch.

JEFF TRACY
Off you go Alan.

ALAN TRACY
Bye Dad, tell Grandma I’ll have a brew later.

JEFF TRACY
Look Alan, those tea bags don’t grow on trees you know. We have them imported from the UK.

ALAN TRACY
Gee whizz Dad, never thought of that. Only thing is, that rocket on collision course with the sun, don’t you think that has to take priority?

JEFF TRACY
Well . . . Sometimes I fancy an extra cuppa anyway so I guess I could always finish yours off. Hot diggedy dog Alan, you’re right. Off you go and I’ll sort your brew out.

ALAN TRACY
Thanks Dad.

JEFF PRESSES A SWITCH AND THE SETTEE DROPS AWAY ON ITS HYDRAULIC POLE INTO THE CAVERNOUS SECRET WORLD BENEATH THE TRACY HOME.

JEFF TRACY
Right, that’s that. Think I might have a gander at Sky Sports. Where the heck is the remote? Grandma! Grandma! Where has the old biddy got to? Bet she’s got the damned remote, she’s always watching daytime TV.

JEFF GOES OFF STAGE RIGHT TO LOOK FOR GRANDMA.

GRANDMA ENTERS STAGE LEFT WITH A TRAY OF TEA AND TOAST.

GRANDMA
Jeff! Alan! Now where have those two got to? Where have they moved the settee to? Sure it used to be just hereeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Yes, when you look closely, that Thunderbird 3 launch procedure is a major health and safety issue!


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Fast food, slow food, and French food

macweblogoIn the late 1930s a fellow called Patrick McDonald opened a fast food stand in California selling mainly hot dogs. Later, his sons took the business over and realising hamburgers were their top selling item they decided to revamp the entire operation, focusing on quick service and snack food that was served literally ‘fast’.

They reopened with their new concept in 1948 calling their fast food establishment simply ‘McDonalds.’ They franchised their operation and other ‘McDonalds’ started springing up over California and Arizona. In 1954 a man called Ray Kroc bought up the franchise for the rest of the United States and in 1961 he bought out the McDonald brothers for 2.7 million dollars. He then went on to build the McDonalds Corporation bigger and bigger and to export the McDonald restaurants all over the world. Even to France.

Plat du jour

Plat du jour

Now, as a great lover of France and the french way of life, well, some of the french ways of life that is, it’s always been a great source of interest to me to see how the french would accept the fast food concept. As much as I love the french way of eating, the entree, plat, dessert et fromage, and plenty of bread, I do feel that french cusine is a little over rated. The fact of the matter is, some of the things that the french like to eat, well, they are just a little bit odd.

If you think about it, you can perhaps imagine ancient man many thousands of years ago. Picture him now, taking a good look at something like a cow for instance and thinking, “you know, bet there’s some tasty meat on that animal. I could slaughter it, cut a thick wedge of meat off, slap it on a griddle over the fire, some salt and pepper and bet it would taste lovely!” Yes, that’s thinking that I can understand, especially later when that same ancient man refined his original idea by adding a baked potato or a few chips to the meal and maybe even a side salad.

The ancestors of today’s frenchmen must have thought in a different way, well different to us anglo saxons that is. Just imagine some ancient frenchman in the same situation but instead of checking out the cow he has his eyes on a frog, hopping merrily about and croaking, as they do, and he begins to think like this: “Hey, wonder if I killed that frog, chopped its legs off and cooked them in a little garlic, what would they be like?” A thought that would never occur to any right minded Englishman in a million years! Imagine another frenchman, coming out of his cave on a damp morning and noticing a lot of snails wandering about in his back garden: “Hey, why don’t I cook those with some shallots and garlic?” he thinks. “What a great idea!” Wrong! Crazy idea! Take another look at that cow Monsieur!

Anyway, getting back to McDonalds. In Saumur, one of my favourite french towns, Liz and I dropped in to the local McDonalds  for a quick snack before making our way up north towards Calais. I think we ordered something from the breakfast menu like a bacon and egg McMuffin. Well, the trays behind the counter that are usually stacked with hot food were not stacked with anything so the staff asked us to settle down in a booth and take advantage of the free wi-fi and that they would bring our food over in a moment.

After a while, one of the staff came over, there was some sort of further delay so did we want another tea anglais on the house while we waited? OK. Eventually, after I had checked all my e-mails, started off a couple of blog posts and re written part of ‘Floating in Space‘ (ok, slight exaggeration) our food eventually arrived. After visiting McDonalds Saumur a few times I have found that this occurance is not unusual. In fact, it’s quite normal but the french seem happy with the situation and I think I know why: They do not understand the concept of fast food at all!

It’s the same in a french restaurant. They leave you for ages reading the menu as if it was ‘War and Peace.’ It’s not! Anyone can read the menu and decide what to have within five minutes. Oh and what about a drinks order while we wait? Oh no. The french waiter likes to give you plenty of time to choose. When you finally give the waiter your order, things go at a pace reasonably similar to that of a UK restaurant but then at the end when you are waiting and waiting for the bill, don’t they realise you have finished and actually want to leave?

The french like to savour the whole eating experience, even the reading of the menu and while I do agree with that initial concept, the french sometimes take it a little too far. No, the french food experience is not fast food, it’s slow food!


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