The Men in White Suits

Alec Guiness.

In case you haven’t seen it, and I can’t imagine for a moment that you haven’t, The Man in the White Suit was a British comedy film made by Ealing Studios in 1951. The film starred Alec Guinness as Sydney Stratton, a scientist and researcher specialising in man-made fabrics. His dream is to discover an everlasting fibre that never wears out. He is dismissed from numerous jobs because of his demands for ever more expensive facilities. Circumstances occur where he becomes an unpaid researcher at the hi-tech Stratton Mill where he finally discovers his new fibre. Sydney is over the moon as he wears his prototype indestructible suit for the first time. His new cloth is about to be revealed to the world but panic sets in; will this mean the end of the industry? After all, surely there will only be one lot of cloth to be made as it never wears out? Both union and senior executives in the textile industry unite to prevent the fabric coming out to the public domain but mill owner’s daughter Daphne Birnley, played by the husky voiced Joan Greenwood, strives to help Sydney to pursue his dream.

At the end of the film an angry mob who have pursued Sydney are united in laughter when the fabric becomes unstable and Sydney’s white suit falls apart.

One of the highlights of the film is the sound effect we hear whenever Sydney’s research apparatus is revealed. It is a rhythmic burbling sing-song sound that becomes a sort of musical motif for Sydney Stratton. At the end of the film he goes on his way and looking at his notebook has a thought, has he realised what was wrong? The burbling sound fades in as Sydney walks away.

Paul Sinha. (Picture courtesy Daily Express)

Paul Sinha.

I don’t know about you but weekday afternoons just wouldn’t be the same without the Chase. The Chase is a TV quiz show where four contestants try to build up a prize fund then play against the ‘Chaser‘, a seasoned quizzer, to take home that fund in the Final Chase. Sometimes the contestants win, sometimes not. Mark Labbett is the perhaps the most well-known chaser. He is known as the ‘Beast’ and is a former schoolmaster who had a success on the TV show ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’. Anyway, my personal favourite is the Sinnerman, Paul Sinha. Paul began a stand up comedy career in London while he was a junior doctor. He has appeared on his own radio show and as a quizzer competed in University Challenge, Mastermind, and Brain of Britain. Paul joined the Chase in 2011 as the fourth Chaser. His nicknames include the ‘Sinnerman‘ and ‘Sarcasm in a Suit’. He is a smiling, witty and erudite competitor and always wears his trademark white suit.

David Essex.

David Essex was a performer who made his name in the early seventies although in his youth he had ideas of becoming a footballer. He played the lead in the stage musical Godspell and then went on to star in the film ‘That’ll be the Day’. I remember seeing his album in a record shop and thinking what a cool dude he looked in his white suit. The album was ‘Rock On’ and the single of the same name went to number 3 in the UK charts in 1973.

The next year David released one of my all-time favourite tracks ‘Gonna make you a Star’ which went all the way up to number 1. He also appeared on the double album ‘Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds’ and went on to star in the musical ‘Evita’. In 2011, he joined the cast of TV soap ‘EastEnders’.

 

Steve Higgins.

When I saw David Essex singing ‘Rock On’ wearing a white suit on ‘Top of the Pops’ for the first time, I thought he was the epitome of seventies cool and it occurred to me that one way to transform my gangling self-conscious self into something better might be to get that very same white suit. I couldn’t afford a suit at the time so I settled for a jacket, a white jacket, and I well remember admiring myself in the mirror before my first Saturday night out wearing it, sometime back in 1973.

The first problem I encountered with the jacket came on the bus into town. I sat on the back seat and in those days, the back seats of our local buses were a little notorious for being dusty and grimy as they were over the engine and absorbed all the engine fumes. Also there were people who put their feet up on the seats leaving marks to which people like me (the twerp in the white suit) were highly susceptible. Another thing is that all my life I have been cursed with being clumsy and once I had met up with my friends I somehow managed to spill beer all down my sleeve. Anyway, the night went on, more or less successfully. I certainly remember having a good time although the white jacket failed in its primary function; that of attracting gorgeous girls. Later on we stopped at the kebab shop and somehow a sizeable portion of chilli sauce managed to attach itself to my jacket. Rather than feeling like David Essex, I felt a little like Alec Guinness in the aforementioned ‘Man In The White Suit‘, wanting to get away from everyone! I never wore the stained jacket again and it lingered sadly in the back of my wardrobe smelling of kebab, chilli sauce, beer and diesel fumes until my Mum, on a major clean up splurge, decided to throw it out.

Of course, it could have been worse: I could have gone out wearing jeans, a white t-shirt and a red jacket and tried to look like James Dean! (Actually, that was another night!)


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information or click the picture below to order now from amazon!

Floating in Space

Marketing, Social Media and the 1970’s.

I read a lot about promotions and marketing, all in pursuit of selling my book, Floating in Space, to the unsuspecting public. Many marketeers recommend giving away free copies as a way of driving sales forward. Other marketeers are not so certain. A book is a product of many long hours, even years of hard work and for some, giving it away for free is not an option. For a registered tight wad like me that is something I go along with wholeheartedly.

Another reason is that at the moment I only have one book to sell. It’s not like having a trilogy or a series of books, where giving the first one of the series away will drive sales of the other books. Having said all this, I did run a giveaway lasting for three days in the hope that some new reviews might drive sales up but sales seemed to just run at their normal rate.

Reviews are important to an author. Quite a few readers have given me good reviews on Facebook but where I need them are on my amazon page where the buyers go to look directly at my book.  I suppose not being the pushy type works against me but I have recently added my book to Goodreads where readers with a Facebook profile can log on there and add a review. There are links on my Goodreads author page straight to amazon.

Dear me, bet Charles Dickens never had this trouble!

One of the nice aspects of Floating in Space is that because it has been born out of my past, as well as my imagination, reading it is a rather nice nostalgic experience for me, drawn back into the world of my youth, Manchester in the late 1970’s. Reading the book I can once again soak up the atmosphere of Manchester City Centre and remember those late afternoons and early evenings drinking in pubs like the Salisbury after a day in the office, or evenings playing snooker and pool after a shift going up and down the roads of Manchester as a bus conductor. Sometimes I can almost feel the polished wood of the bar in the working men’s club I used to frequent and even smell the cigarette smoke of the smokers, now a long gone sensation in British pubs. The past is inside all of us and I’m sure many people could do what I have done and take their past life, mix it up with a dash of imagination and some humour and write it all into a book.

So how easy is it to write a book like this? Well, not that easy, I can tell you. However, my book started life as a series of essays about my life in the late seventies. I started to compare the worlds of insurance and accounting and the world of passenger transport. Accounting wasn’t that easy in the seventies. Everything was added up by hand and entered into huge ledgers. There was the rough ledger where all the rough entries and working out and cash balancing was done and then it was all entered neatly into the big blue main ledger.

I am sure that today it’s a much easier process with software that does all the additions and calculations for you. One job that really used to tax me was arranging fire insurance for the offices rented by our tenants. They paid a percentage based on their office space. So for instance, if they rented 50% of the available space, they paid 50% of the insurance. There again, there were other tenants who rented a small office on the ground floor that measured 12 by 8. Now, try converting that into a percentage!

Coming back to the present day, here’s another set of maths questions. If I have 4,619 followers on Twitter, (correct at the time of writing although according to Twitter analytics, I get an average of 4 new followers per day so please make the necessary adjustments when you read this) why then don’t I get that figure following my blog? After all, all my Twitter posts lead, directly or indirectly, to this website. I recently had my Twitter page analysed by one of those writers’ sites that offer stuff like that. This is what they said.

Followers are generally people who just want you to follow them back. There’s no love there or loyalty.
Put it this way. 
Say you had a coffee shop and 2 people walked in:
person a) who is an ardent coffee fan and
person b) who came in basically to get out of the rain.
Who are you most likely to get a sale out of and be able to convince to join your email list to send them more coffee ideas?
Clearly person a) – they already love coffee right?
Person b) – harder work to convince them to do anything. Not impossible but definitely more work.
You need a bunch of person a)’s Steve.
The 2nd thing you may be doing ‘wrong’ is HOW you are going about trying to funnel those blog views. Let me give you some generic advice.
With all due respect nobody is interested in you. 
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that nobody is interested in any of us (so don’t take it personally!)  : )
People are interested in what YOU can do for THEM.

I have to admit, that’s a pretty shrewd assessment of Twitter. Everyone who is on there, with the exception of those who just want to Tweet to their friends about their social life, is out there to sell something, just, as my Twitter reviewer pointed out, as I am. I want people to read my blog and then perhaps think, “hey, this isn’t bad, wonder if its worth buying Steve’s book?” Bingo!

Just one last thought. There was no social media in 1977, the year in which Floating in Space is set but imagine if we tried to do the sort of things then that we do now on Facebook?  Suppose we went for a meal and wanted to share the experience with friends. We had to take a big bulky camera, take a picture of our meal, take the film to Boots or Max Spielmann or wherever, have the film developed, have the prints made and then get copies and send them out in the mail to your friends. By mail of course I mean mail, the Royal Mail, put the picture in an envelope, get a stamp and actually send it after adding a brief message for your followers -I mean friends- such as ‘this looks yummy!’

Social media was hard work in the 1970’s!


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.

What Happened to my White Jacket and my 70’s Pop Star Heroes?

David Cassidy

image courtesy wikipedia

image courtesy wikipedia

I wasn’t so much a fan of David Cassidy, I just wanted to look like him. I always thought he was a pretty cool dude and although I didn’t rush out and buy his music I always kind of liked him.( You can click here to see what happened when I went for a David Cassidy haircut!) Cassidy was an unexpected superstar, the son of actor Jack Cassidy who crops up frequently in classic Columbo episodes.

David began working as an actor and musician and was signed up by Universal studios in 1969. He worked on many TV shows of the time like Ironside and Bonanza until he was signed up for a part in a show called ‘The Partridge family’. Cassidy and the show became a runaway hit and ten albums produced during the show’s run sold over a million copies each. David became a teen idol and his personal concerts were sell outs but a Cassidy mania, not unlike that experienced by the Beatles years earlier, caused numerous problems and culminated in a stampede at White City stadium where many people were injured and one girl fan sadly died.
Today Cassidy is still singing and writing and has appeared in many stage shows and musicals. You might even have seen him in a TV version of his life story, ‘The David Cassidy Story’.

Gary Glitter
Gary Glitter’s first big hit, back in the early seventies was ‘Rock n’ Roll’ parts 1 and 2, a double-sided single which on part 2 was mainly instrumental with group chants of ‘rock n roll’. Glitter followed this up with a string of hits throughout the early seventies with singles like ‘I’m the leader of the gang’, ‘I love you love me love’, ‘Do you wanna touch me?’ and ‘Hello hello, I’m back again’. His career faded afterwards but in the early 90’s his records were discovered by a new generation of record buyers and many modern artists have acknowledged that he was an inspiration to them in earlier years.

The late 1990’s saw his image become fatally destroyed by his arrest and conviction in 1999 for possession of child pornography. Some years later, in 2006, Glitter faced criminal charges and deportation from Vietnam after a court found him guilty of obscene acts with minors. Glitter was deported back to Britain and placed on the Sex Offenders’ Register for life. These convictions turned Glitter from being one of the best-loved stars in British pop history, into a hated and reviled figure. As much as I like the glam music of the seventies, I actually feel bad today playing Gary Glitter’s music.

blogpicheroes

David Essex.
David Essex was another performer who made his name in the early seventies. I remember seeing his album in a record shop and thinking what a cool dude he looked. The album was ‘Rock On’ and the single went to number 3 in the UK charts in 1973. The next year David released one of my all-time favourite tracks ‘Gonna make you a Star’ which went all the way up to number 1. He also appeared on the double album ‘Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds’ and went on to star in many musicals such as ‘Godspell’ and ‘Evita’. In 2011, he joined the cast of TV soap ‘EastEnders’.

david-essex-rock-on-cbsThe White Jacket
David Essex sang ‘Rock On’ wearing a white suit on ‘Top of the Pops’ and as I have said above, I thought he was a real cool guy and it seemed that one way to transform my gangling self-conscious self into somebody ‘cool’ might be to get that very same white suit. I couldn’t afford a suit at the time so I settled for a jacket, a white jacket and I well remember admiring myself in the mirror before my first Saturday night out wearing it sometime back in 1973.

The first problem came on the bus into town. I sat on the back seat and in those days, the back seats of our local buses were a little notorious for being dusty and grimy as they were over the engine and absorbed all the engine fumes and also there were people who put their feet up on the seats leaving marks to which people like me (the twerp in the white suit) were highly susceptible. Another thing too is that all my life I have been cursed with being clumsy and once I had met up with my friends I managed to spill beer all down my sleeve. Anyway, the night went on, more or less successfully. I certainly remember having a good time although the white jacket failed in its primary function, that of attracting gorgeous girls. Later on we stopped at the kebab shop and somehow I managed to land a sizeable portion of chilli sauce down my front. Rather than feeling like David Essex, I felt a little like Alec Guinness in that film ‘The Man In The White Suit’, wanting to get away from everyone! I never wore the stained jacket again and it lingered sadly in the back of my wardrobe until my Mum decided my room was cluttered up enough and threw it out.

Of course, it could have been worse, I could have gone out wearing jeans, a white t-shirt and a red jacket and tried to look like James Dean! (Actually, that was another night!)


If you liked this blog, why not buy my book? Click the picture below to go straight to my Amazon page!

Floating in Space

 

Writers Block and Promotional Videos

Every writer gets there eventually; the point where a blank piece of paper stares back at you and you can’t think of anything to put on it. I’ve always tried to write, even when nothing will come to mind, and it’s then I open my diary and write about me and things that I can chronicle and maybe even turn into a poem or a blog. I guess that’s why so many of my blogs are about my personal past, I’ll be writing about myself and something comes to me, a little light goes on and I start thinking, ‘hey, this could be a good blog!’

Diaries are a good way to keep you writing, because something is always happening in your life, even something ever so minor. ‘Watched that Old Bond film last night, Goldfinger. Had a glass of whisky and scoffed half a large fruit and nut bar.’ Not a great diary entry but so what, you are writing again and as more and more words start to come, you are writing and creating more and more. You’ve beaten the blank page and produced something. Not only that, diaries are great to look back on. I tend to open one and look back and see what I did on this day on a past year. 14th September, 1996? Wonder what happened then? Wonder what I was doing? Who was I spending my time with?

Just lately I’ve been waiting for the latest proof version of my book with my latest revisions and the curse of the blank page has hit me. So, I decided to step back from writing and make a few videos about Manchester and maybe link them up with a half hearted idea about talking to camera about events that my book was based on. All the locations in the book, well the pubs anyway, are real life locations, real pubs and in my video I take a look back at some of those places.

The video started well but it took a while for me and my brother to get the hang of what we were doing. He was filming and I was talking. We shot some footage then retired to the pub to check it out. One of the pubs we went to was the Salisbury, a pub I used to frequent years ago and a pub that looks today, pretty much just how it used to look years ago. Even inside the pub; it had clearly had a refurb, but it had been done thoughtfully and the pub with its polished wooden bar and flagged stone floors looked pretty similar to how it used to look. The only thing was that back in the late seventies and early eighties when I used to drink there, my friends and I used to sit in a room at the far end of the pub which nowadays looks as though it’s a private function room, so I couldn’t just sit back in my old seat and remember the times gone by.

Anyway, we reviewed our video, made a few suggestions and shot some more takes. Much better ones. Then we decided to wander down to some other locations. We shot some more video then retired to the pub for another review. We were on our way to the Briton’s Protection when we called into the Rains pub which has a really nice beer garden backing onto the canal. After a few pints I had some ideas in my head for some more filming so my brother cranked up the camera. ‘It’s not working,’ he said so I told him to press the record button again then went off into what I thought was a pretty interesting monologue. Later we realised that the camera was recording when my brother thought it wasn’t so when he pressed the record button the second time it went into pause mode. A great monolgue lost for prosperity! Anyway, at least we had a great afternoon out. As for the video, well, take a look for yourself:

A Comedy Sketch, Hitchhiking and an American Contact.

Funny how certain things can jog your memory and bring back stuff that happened to you years ago. Not long ago I wrote a blog about Monty Python and afterwards did a search on you tube looking for my favourite Monty Python sketches. One of the ones I came across was a sketch called ‘the visitors’. You must remember it if you’ve ever watched Monty Python: A romantic night in for a couple then someone knocks at the door. It’s Eric Idle who says “Remember me, at the pub, three years ago?”

That sketch always makes me laugh and watching it set off this thought;

A lot of years ago (well, not that many really) when I was eighteen or nineteen I was not happy with my office job and like a lot of young people yearned to travel the world. One day my friend Chris and I decided to do just that. We packed our jobs in and set off with a view to travelling through France and on to Spain where we planned to get work in the thriving, so we were told, ex pat community of Lloret De mar.

The week before I left for France, my souped up mini cooper blew up and the former owner of the car made me a paltry offer to buy it back. I accepted in something of a rush and left for France with much less funding than anticipated. In France we started off happily travelling about but things didn’t go so well on the hitch hiking front so we jumped on a train to Spain and arrived some days later in Lloret.hitching

I remember lying on a beach when we were approached by two Scots guys who said they would sort us a room out, a Spanish pension, in return for a few beers in the pub later that night.

They sorted the room out for us and later, we went down to the rather un-Spanish Moby Dick pub. Chris and I were separated in the pub and got chatting to different people. The Scots guys came over and I bought them a round. Then later I bought them another. The third time I thought they had been thanked enough and sent them on their way. When I found Chris he also had bought them a couple of rounds so clearly they had been well rewarded. Not that they thought so. Anyway, after a couple of weeks I got tired of fending off the constant cadgers, of spending my time either lying in the sun or drinking in the same pub with the same people and I left to hitch my way back to France.

In France I met up with an American guy who like me had worked in insurance and like me had sold his car and resigned from his job to travel in Europe. We spent a few weeks together hitch hiking and travelling in France. He of course had pretty substantial funds as his car had not blown up just before he was due to travel! When we arrived somewhere new he would book into a hotel and I would go and find a field or a park and put up my little tent then we would meet up for a glass of beer. It was clear to me he was dining well and I of course wasn’t. I must have ponged a little though after all those weeks on the road and I have to say I wouldn’t have minded using his shower but the offer never came. After a while we parted company.

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


If you liked this post, why not try my novel, Floating In Space? Click on the links at the top of the page for more information or click here to go to my amazon page.

 

Malta, and why you should never drink with eight pub landlords.

I left home when I was nineteen and went to share a house in Burnage with my friend Brian. Brian was a regular at a pub which I think was called the Farmers Arms, anyway; whatever it was called, he mentioned that a pub holiday to Malta had been arranged but someone had dropped out and there was a spot for me on the trip. It turned out there were eight pub regulars going, including me, and eight pub landlords.

My Mum was a little apprehensive at the time because since I had become a busman my social life and intake of alcohol had escalated hugely. Now I was playing snooker at the club after the early shift, out late after a late shift and out on my rest days too, but she was happy eight responsible landlords were going along to keep me ‘in check’ as she put it.

malta-map1We rented two apartments in Malta, one for the pub regulars and one for the pub landlords and on the first night at the resort the landlords invited us over to their apartment for a drink and it appeared to me as we entered their place that we were walking into a well-stocked brewery. Perhaps they were intending to open a bar or some such establishment in Malta because the place was stacked with booze. At the end of the night as we staggered back to our place the landlords called out, “Make sure you invite us over to your place!” Yes, a pity about the poor Maltese postal service. Can’t understand how that invitation was never delivered!

Later on towards the end of the week which turned out to be one long alcoholic soiree, we ended up in some Maltese bar after an evening spent visiting the ‘Gut’, a fairly appropriate name for the Maltese red light district. The numerous ‘ladies of the night’ there had a habit of grabbing a man’s crotch presumably to check if he had the equipment necessary to enter into a transaction with them. Strangely, when they tried the same tactic on our wallets they found us less co-operative.

I sat myself at the bar ready for a relaxing night drinking and chatting and towards the end of the night the manager locked the bar up while we were still drinking. Clearly a Maltese lock in. Every time we ordered a drink from then on the manager said in fractured English, “I let you stay after time, you buy me drink.”

OK, seemed like a reasonable arrangement to me so every drink we bought we added ‘one for yourself’ to the manager. He had a tall glass with some ice and lemon and topped it up every time from a bottle of what appeared to be whisky.

One of the landlords who had the physique normally associated with a sumo wrestler seemed to be pretty interested in this arrangement. He came and sat near me at the bar and asked what the drink was.

“You no like.” said the barman. “Cheap whisky.”

“I like cheap whisky.” said the landlord.

“No, I get you good whisky, cheap whisky for me.”

“Pop us a drop in that glass, I’ll have a taste.”

“Not good whisky, you no like.”

My friend the landlord however had other ideas and with a swiftness and grace which I wouldn’t have thought he possessed, he flipped himself up and over the bar, grabbed the manager’s glass and took a big swig of the amber liquid. I can only guess that this impromptu taste test was something of a failure as he then sprayed the offending drink all over the bar!

The drink was probably cold tea or some other unacceptable non-alcoholic beverage, but either way, what happened then was that this small bar turned into a scene from a John Wayne film with accusations and glasses flying, tables and chairs overturned and a bunch of Mancunians turned out onto the streets well before their usual drinking up time.

When I returned from that holiday I popped into my Mum’s with some Maltese confectionery or something and Mum looked at me and said “Hope you behaved yourself young man.”

“What? Of course I did.” I replied.

“Good job those landlords were there to keep an eye on you!”

Dear me, If only she knew!


If you enjoyed this post you might be interested in my novel, Floating In Space. Click the links at the top of the page for more information!

The CIA and Life through a Purple Lens.

Photographic_lenses_front_viewMany years ago when I was a bus conductor it was pretty easy to spot the fare fiddlers. They would never look directly at you. As I strolled down the bus asking for ‘any more fares please’ I knew who had paid and who hadn’t, after all, I had usually just watched them get on the bus. One scruffy guy got on one day and went straight down the bus, sat down and set a fixed gaze out of the window. Ok, I was chatting to other passengers at the time but I still knew he was new to the bus and I wanted his money.

“Fares please”, I called. Nothing. So then I turned directly to him and asked “I don’t think I’ve had your fare mate?” He finally turned away from the window.

“Where are you going to?”

“Levenshulme” he said.

“Thirty five pence please.” The guy thought for a minute, reached into his pocket and pulled out a can of soup.

“Can I pay with this?” He asked. The answer was no. He was asked to leave. After all it was pea and ham soup, tomato might have been another matter.

Here’s an extract from my book ‘Floating In Space’ that deals with another odd ball passenger;

A harassed looking girl boarded in Stockport. There was something about her that I couldn’t put my finger on. She asked for a single to Manchester and did I require identification?

“Identification?” I asked.

“Only I don’t have my credentials on me at the moment. I’ve got to be careful.”

“Careful of what?”

“Well my boyfriend’s a nuclear arms salesman. I’m being watched by the CIA and God knows who else. MI5 have probably got the scent by now.”

“Right, we’ll keep a low profile then.”

“Probably best if you know what I mean.”

She was a Nutter.

“What was that all about?” asked Milligan, my driver, when I went back up to the front of the bus.

“Nutter” was all I had to say.

“That’s the 189 you see Stu. Used to be a hell of a lot of them on this route. Quietened down a lot lately, oh yes.”

The rest of the trip was pretty unremarkable. When we finally reached Albert Square in the city centre the nutter came storming towards me down the centre aisle and yelled at the top of her voice “If my boyfriend’s not a nuclear arms salesman then how did I get CIA Clearance?”

She charged through the open door and on into Manchester. An old chap behind her departing at a much slower and more sensible pace said, “Answer that one then!”

You can read more about life on the buses in Manchester in my book Floating In Space.

One final nutter to finish with; There used to be a guy who never boarded our bus but spent his time hurtling through the traffic on his bike cutting up cars and buses alike. How he was never ran over I do not know. My colleagues had dubbed him simply ‘the Levenshulme Nutter.’

One day, years later when I made been promoted from bus conducting to the lofty heights of bus driver, I was driving through Levenshulme on the 192 service when the Levenshulme nutter cut across me and I nearly ran him over. I stopped next to him at the traffic lights, opened my window to give him some abuse then, noticing his outsize spectacles with their purple lenses said, instead “I like your glasses!”

He popped the glasses up on his head and said “Yes, but it’s the man behind that counts!” And cycled away. I never saw him again.


If you liked this blog, then why not try my book? Click the the links at the top of the page for more information or to buy.

 

 

 

Arrested Development and the advent of the Internet

As a child growing up in the 1960’s one of my favourite television programmes was Tomorrows World, a BBC show about technology and the future. I was acutely interested in science, science fiction and all things related to the future. The future was hi-technology, gleaming metal and plastic cities, hover cars, and space travel. The movie 2001 A Space Odyssey predicted manned missions to Mars, powerful computers, and lunar space stations. But, 2001 is now  thirteen years ago, so what happened? Why is 2014 not really that much different from 1968?

Movies like 2001, produced in 1968, were made in the sure knowledge that the incredible leaps in manned space flight made since 1960, and the technology that made it all possible, would continue. How wrong they were. When Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the surface of the Moon in 1969 the space race was over. It was a case of mission accomplished and the Apollo programme was cut short when Apollo 17 made the last manned trip to the Moon. To a great extent, space exploration, or at least manned space exploration stopped there. Space travel had become too expensive even for the Americans. The NASA space programme continued with Skylab and the development of the space shuttle, but none of those projects went further than orbiting the Earth, and that feat had been accomplished easily on the Mercury and Gemini programs.

Take a look at your kitchen and think to yourself how different is it from the kitchen of thirty years ago? Apart from advancements in electronics, probably in the form of your microwave and your freezer, the answer is not much. Step back further and look at your home. Are your living in a gleaming metal and plastic ‘future home’ or is it a modernised terraced house. Terraced houses are over a hundred years old but many people live in them happily today. Differently from our counterparts of a hundred years ago of course. Bathrooms have been added, and extensions with kitchens and indoor toilets, but terraced houses all the same.

Many writers and film makers have chosen to look at the future as a separate place altogether from the present and this has been their mistake. The future is the continuation of the past. Cities, homes, society itself is all an evolution of what has gone before.

Heathrow Airport was recently in the news because of protests about a possible new runway. New Runway? Why is a runway even necessary when the Harrier Jump jet has been taking off and landing vertically since the 1960’s? The answer is two words, arrested development. Perhaps VTOL has suffered, like Concorde, in not being American. There is no doubt in my mind that had Concorde been an American aircraft instead of an Anglo-French craft the skies above us would have been substantially populated with supersonic passenger aircraft. The United States is the land of opportunity, especially commercial opportunity. The space programme of course was also American but perhaps commercial exploitation in visiting the moon was limited. The great technological advances in the last thirty years have come in computer orientated technology that is full of commercial applications like, pc’s, laptops, tablet computers, mobile phones, and of course the internet.

Having a book published has been the dream of many people, including me but today, with the advent of internet technology, that dream is easy to realise. My Book, ‘Floating In Space’ is one that I have been working on, off and on, for thirty years. I found it, uncompleted on an old disc, reacquainted myself with it, finished it off and now you can read it as a kindle e-book available on amazon. There were no meetings with publishers, no discussions, no chats with an editor, no re-writes. It was just a case of upload the files, proof read then press a button and it’s live on-line.

That of course has its drawbacks. As a writer I have discovered a sort of word blindness when it comes to my own work. I’ve proof read my book a multitude of times but how many times have I come to put an extract on this blog only to find missed words and other errors. When the paperback proof version came (in the wrong size: I’d made it far too big!) more errors jumped out at me and my girlfriend Liz, a fully paid up member of the Grammar Police has pointed out so many punctuation issues I sometimes feel like taking it off the market. Anyway, the good thing is that in the digital world, errors can quickly be resolved. A quick update, press the save button and we are all sorted.

Lets see, where’s my ‘Writers and Artists yearbook’? Maybe its time to check out that list of publishers again!

Saturday Night, a bar called ‘The Playground’ and that first pint . .

As a younger man Saturday night was everything to me and my friends. Nights out, beer, music and the ritual ‘chatting up’ of girls was our ‘raison d’etre’

In my book ‘Floating in Space’ a lot of the action takes place in bars and pubs and one of my favourite places in late seventies Manchester was the ‘Playground’, a disco bar on Oxford street. Here’s an extract from the book where I introduce the venue;

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

My friend ‘Matty’ Edwards and I used to meet up in the Salisbury, by Oxford Rd station, have a few pints and a bit of a natter to any Regal Insurance cronies who we might find there, then make the short walk to the Playground. There was a paltry fifty pence charge to get in, the solitary bouncer was silent, but not unpleasant, and the DJ, who always began the night with ‘Loves Theme’ by the Love Unlimited Orchestra, played alternate sessions of rock, disco, and chart music. We were both mad about Jenny, the barmaid. She was lovely. She had a kind of round, open face, framed by thick blonde hair and her skin was a creamy white. She served us Worthington ‘E’ and we melted into the hubbub of people on their Saturday night out while the music of the seventies drifted through us.
Matty was tall, he had lazy, rather hayfevered eyes, and a biggish nose over thin lips. His brown hair was short and untidy and he was smart, but had a sort of ‘middle of the road’ taste in clothes.
“Jenny’s looking gorgeous tonight” he told me over his pint of Worthington’s.
We were propped up at the bar at a convenient spot where we could eye up any possible female talent, and cast a fond eye over Jenny’s appealing form.
“You’re not wrong mate” I agreed. “I wouldn’t mind getting a grip of that myself.”
I caught Jenny’s eye and ordered two more pints of Worthington ‘E’. It wasn’t a great drink but we were tuned into it now for the rest of the evening, and anyway, I hadn’t as yet developed any clearly defined tastes in beer. The first pint I ever ordered myself was a pint of mild, and that was because I had nervously entered a Cheshire country pub after a long cycle ride and hesitatingly asked for a pint of ‘beer’.
“A beer?” asked the barmaid.
“Yes,” I replied, “A pint, please.”
“A pint of what?”

I realised, uncomfortably, that something more was required. I had thought that ‘a pint of beer’ would have been enough, but what the barmaid wanted to know was did I want bitter, or mild, or lager even? My first tentative forays into the world of the alcoholic drink were with my friend Mike Larini and it was always he who had done the ordering. What did he ask for, I thought? I couldn’t remember but down the bar the faint voice of an old man asking for half of mild drifted along to me, and so I went on to drink mild. Later I changed to bitter, and even now I was currently considering another change as someone had given me the cheerful news that bitter ‘rots your guts’. Perhaps it had been that eternal pessimist Matty Edwards with his inside knowledge of beer. His father was a Didsbury publican, and Matty’s drink changed from pub to pub. Sometimes it was lager, sometimes bitter, but here, in the Playground, it was that now long departed brew, Worthington ‘E’.


You can read more about that night out in either the kindle or paperback version of my book available at amazon. Click the icon below for more details.

Floating In Space

In my book ‘Floating in Space,’ available now as a paperback or a kindle e-book from amazon.co.uk, all the action takes place in Manchester in the north west of England in 1977. All the venues are authentic, all actual Manchester pubs or bars. here’s an excerpt about a bar called the ‘Playground’ which used to be on Oxford Road.

Saturday night was in a lot of ways the culmination of the weekend. I always preferred it to Friday nights because things were more relaxed, there was no rushing home from work, no rushing to get your tea down your neck so you can get changed, then leg it out for the bus. Saturday, you could take your time and leisurely work up to things. Sometimes I would go out shopping and buy myself something new to wear for that evening, a shirt, or perhaps even a new pair of trousers. Then later I would have a long relaxed soak in the bath, and dress unhurriedly in my room to the tune of my favourite music. In 1977 my favourite album was still Elton John’s ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick road’, and as I dressed I would mimic Nigel Olsson’s measured and rhythmic drumming to ‘The Ballad of Danny Bailey’, or ‘Candle in the Wind’.

There was something about Saturday nights in Manchester. Some quality of security, of expectancy, a feeling that the night and the future were going to be good. A feeling that you might just ‘get off’ with some gorgeous girl and that even if you didn’t it didn’t really matter because there was always the excitement of the people, the music, the drink, and everything else that made up the evening. And then there was always the expectancy of the next night, and the next, and on and on into the future. The past building up inside you like a great data bank, reminding you, reassuring you, like a light burning in some empty room in the corner of your mind.

playground

The Playground in 2015. Photo by the author.

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

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

Matty was tall, he had lazy, rather hayfevered eyes, and a biggish nose over thin lips. His brown hair was short and untidy and he was smart, but had a sort of ‘middle of the road’ taste in clothes.

“Jenny’s looking gorgeous tonight” he told me over his pint of Worthington’s.

We were propped up at the bar at a convenient spot where we could eye up any possible female talent, and cast a fond eye over Jenny’s appealing form.

“You’re not wrong mate” I agreed. “I wouldn’t mind getting a grip of that myself.”

I caught Jenny’s eye and ordered two more pints of Worthington ‘E’. It wasn’t a great drink but we were tuned into now for the rest of the evening, and anyway, I hadn’t as yet developed any clearly defined tastes in beer. The first pint I ever ordered myself was a pint of mild, and that was because I had nervously entered a Cheshire country pub after a long cycle ride and hesitatingly asked for a pint of ‘beer’.

“A beer?” asked the barmaid.

“Yes,” I replied, “A pint, please.”

“A pint of what?”

I realised, uncomfortably, that something more was required. I had thought that ‘a pint of beer’ would have been enough, but what the barmaid wanted to know was did I want bitter, or mild, or lager even? My first tentative forays into the world of the alcoholic drink were with my friend Mike Larini and it was always he who had done the ordering. What did he ask for, I thought? I couldn’t remember but down the bar the faint voice of an old man asking for half of mild drifted along to me, and so I went on to drink mild. Later I changed to bitter, and even now I was currently considering another change as someone had given me the cheerful news that bitter ‘rots your guts’. Perhaps it had been that eternal pessimist Matty Edwards with his inside knowledge of beer. His father was a Didsbury publican, and Matty’s drink changed from pub to pub. Sometimes it was lager, sometimes bitter, but here, in the Playground, it was that now long departed brew, Worthington ‘E’.

I passed over Matty’s pint and we both took deep draughts. Worthington’s was never a great ale but it was good enough, and the first taste of a fresh pint is always the best.  I looked into the deep mahogany of the beer and thought about the things you can see through the bottom of a glass. Could I see Spain, there, in the distance? Could I really do it? Pack in my job and go to Spain in search of sun, sea, sand, and girls?

Somebody bumped into me from behind and a gruff voice said “sorry mate” and shouted up four pints of lager.

“Busy in here tonight” I said to Matty.

“Its Saturday night isn’t it? It’s always busy.”

“Yes, but it seems to be mostly lads. Was there a match on today or something?”

“Of course. City and United. Still, it was at Maine Rd so I wouldn’t have expected a load of hooligans in town.”

“Keep it down,” I said quietly. “You know what these football fans are like. Look at them the wrong way and they’ll have you.”

A girl in short black outfit caught my eye across the other side of the room and as Matty and I nattered on I would occasionally glance over and make eye contact. Matty soon noticed me and asked who I was eyeing up, and I told him and of course he had to gawp over at her despite me asking him to be discreet.

I thought about going over to chat to her but the usual fear crept up on me. What could I say? Suppose she wasn’t even interested in me? Sometimes I had found myself eyeing up someone I later found I wasn’t really interested in, it was just that the invisible thread that bound you across the room wasn’t all that easy to break. You would find yourself turning again to meet those same eyes, attracted to each other purely by the link that held you.

“Are you getting them in or what?” I said to Matty.

“Just waiting till Jenny comes this way.”

“Shout up the other barmaid. She’s over this side,” I told him, impatiently.

“You shout her up if you want. I want Jenny. Look at that; gorgeous.”

We spent a few moments discussing the merits of Jenny. Her eyes, her lips, her hair. She was lovely. Matty finally caught her attention and she filled up our pint pots. Matty bought her a drink and they exchanged some pleasantries before she moved on to the next customer. Matty came closer and quietly told me about the letter he was thinking of sending to her, telling her how he felt about her, but what did I think? Was it a good idea?

“What, a letter?” I shook my head. “No, why don’t you get her alone on a quiet night, give her some chat? Ask her out or something?”

“I don’t know. What about a card though, instead. I could send her a nice card asking for a date.”

Matty was as shy as I was in some ways, but his ideas of writing to a girl were always a mistake. If the girl did like him, and wanted to go out, then he would be actually asking her to ask him out. He would be transferring the responsibility of the whole thing on to her. No, we’re all shy to varying degrees, but things like this are a part of life that we have to face up to. We have to rise to the occasion and take on the challenge. Perhaps that sounds a bit dramatic but, getting involved with the opposite sex is a normal part of life, it’s just that anything new is hard at first, and all of us are conscious of our feelings, especially where sexuality is concerned.


Floating in Space is available from Amazon as a Kindle download or traditional paperback. Click the icon below or go to the links at the top of the page for videos and more information!