Soaps, Comedians and a DVD: This year’s Christmas TV

Now we are well into 2018 I thought I’d take a quick look back to the recent Christmas and New Year TV. I don’t know about you but for me it just wasn’t really up to standard, at least not on terrestrial TV or ‘proper’ TV as I call it. Christmas on proper TV was all about soaps, Doctor Who and old shows from the TV of yesteryear.

Coronation Street.

Eastenders has never been my cup of tea but I do like Coronation Street. What has been a little disappointing this year is that this soap, set in my home town of Manchester, has drifted away from a lot of the things I used to like about it. It’s not as ‘northern’ as it used to be, or as funny as in the Jack Duckworth and Hilda Ogden days and the current storyline about Pat Phelan which involves kidnapping and murder is just not what I want. I just wish Pat would go away and we could return to storylines about affairs, illicit relationships, and domestic issues with a large dose of tongue-in-cheek humour thrown in. In a recent Coronation Street special about Jean Alexander, who played the warbling Hilda, the many funny and amusing sides of her character were shown, including a very sad and touching  moment when she returns home after the death of her husband and opens a bag of his effects, clothes and spectacles and so on. The sight of these few simple items reduced Hilda to tears -and many viewers along with her. Those were the days when simple observations like that, some sad, some funny, took the series to ever higher dramatic standards.

Doctor Who.

Another Christmas broadcast that was pretty enjoyable was this year’s Doctor Who special which reunited the current doctor with the original, recreated by actor David Bradley and linked together their regenerations. Just to explain, Doctor Who is the UK’s longest running sci-fi show and one aspect that has helped it continue is that when the lead actor leaves the show, the doctor ‘regenerates’ into a new personality, and of course, a new actor. In this case, Peter Capaldi is leaving and Jodie Whittaker is the new and controversial female doctor. Sound a bit weird? Well, sounds very odd to me. It’s rather like those things you hear on the Internet where people call for a black or even a female James Bond. Bond of course is a white, upper class male and that is the only way to play him. A female Doctor Who? How that will work out is anybody’s guess but this year’s Doctor Who was a good episode, if a tad wordy which is the main problem for me with the modern version of Doctor Who.

Sarah Millican.

Sarah Millican, just for those who have never heard of her, is a Geordie comedian and on Christmas day Liz and I watched three of her stage performances back to back on one of the Freeview channels. Sarah isn’t for me a laugh out loud kind of comedian but she is amusing. She is one of those observational comedians, the ones who take nondescript things and make them into funny monologues. Think Peter Kaye and Garlic bread or Michael McIntyre and bad breath. I tend to prefer my comedians to just tell jokes the old-fashioned way but no, that’s not the way comics work these days. One of the funniest moments in Sarah’s routine was one in which she overheard three older ladies talking about what they would do if they became men for a day. One of the women answered, ‘knowing my luck I’d get a Tuesday –and what can you do on a Tuesday?’

As I watched these three performances, all pretty amusing, I started thinking how I could make some of my blogs into a comic routine. (They call them ‘stand up’ comedians these days so I wonder how they would class Dave Allen, the comedian who used to sit on a stool with a glass of whisky nearby?) Anyway, take one of my posts like The day the Cat War Started perhaps. That might make a reasonable comedy monologue. Introducing the neighbours, then the cats, then the confusion of the cats I was supposed to be feeding while my neighbours were away. Possible career change? Well, perhaps not!

There’s Something about Mary.

A great deal of this Christmas and New Year TV I haven’t watched ‘live’ as it were, I just pressed the record button and kept them for a quieter day so I have yet to see 50 years of Star Trek and a couple of Star Wars documentaries from BBC4 but I did watch ‘There’s Something about Mary‘ on New Year’s Eve as we declined to venture out in the face of a major rainstorm. We could have gone out later I suppose but by then the fire had been lit, the wine had been poured and the cheese was warming. The TV guide mentioned something about this film being a ‘movie classic’. Now to me, a movie classic is something like ‘All About Eve’ with Bette Davies which was shown on TV over Christmas but, sadly, I neglected to record, or ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ which I mentioned in a recent post. ‘Mary’ was mildly amusing with the occasional funny scene but was not, I must insist, a film which could now or ever be mentioned in connection with the phrase ‘movie classic’.

Harry Potter films and TV soaps seemed to be the main factor in this years TV schedule. I looked in vain to find a major new movie but the only one I could see was Spectre, the most recent James Bond film which was shown on New Year’s day. Pity really because I happened to be working then. Oh well, 50 Years of a Star Trek is still there on my hard drive so I look forward to the end of one of my late shifts when I might just start it up and relax with a glass of port.

The Intruder.

One final film, and it’s not one that you will find in the TV guide. The Intruder was a DVD that appeared in my Christmas stocking and is one of those classic British films starring the wonderful Jack Hawkins and a whole host of familiar faces from British films of yesteryear. Set in the 1950’s, former army Colonel Merton played by Jack Hawkins returns home to find he is being burgled by one of his own former wartime platoon members, Ginger, played by Michael Medwin. Ginger runs off when he thinks Colonel Merton has called the Police so the colonel decides to track the man down. He visits his former army comrades and they each tell a story in flashback that builds up a picture of Ginger, his life and that of his comrades. It must have been strange to have lived through the intensity of war and then to return home to rationing and shortages and the near normality of post war Britain. The film, directed by Guy Hamilton who also directed some of the early James Bond films, captures all that perfectly.

Despite the host of cable and satellite TV channels available these days, it’s a shame that sometimes you have to crank up the DVD player to find something worthwhile to watch.


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. The book is available in Kindle or paperback formats. Click the icon below to go straight to Amazon.

Floating in Space

The New Year Blues

The post-Christmas period is sometimes one of sadness. All the Christmas fun is over, the decorations come down and are boxed away until next year. Personally, I’m not a great fan of Christmas. I hate to admit it but I’m basically a shy person and somewhat clumsy at group social events so it’s actually sometimes a relief for the holiday season to be over. Not only that, I absolutely hate the cold so as soon as the New Year celebrations are done and the pendulum starts to swing the other way, towards longer days and the spring, then I feel happier.

One thing I am looking forward to this January is jetting off to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. The sun will be shining, the temperature will be in the 70s, just like an English summer, and I can settle down, start a daily swimming regime and get myself fit. Well, fitter anyway.

I had to work over Christmas this year so my brother and I didn’t have our usual pre-Christmas pint together. We made up for it the other day by having a post-Christmas pint in Manchester.

One problem was that I found I had left behind my debit card which presented a serious problem that might possibly have prevented me from purchasing beer in any of the numerous public houses to which I was heading. However, armed with my new smartphone, I was able to locate a city centre branch of my bank, Santander, from the comfort of my tram seat. I jumped off the tram in Piccadilly, Manchester and went off down Market Street. The bank, however, wasn’t where I had thought it was so I had to click back onto Google maps to see what was wrong. I was a little confused when Google asked me to go right, right and right again until it became clear the bank was actually in Piccadilly itself and I had bypassed it with my nose glued to my phone just like the majority of younger people today.

The day before I was watching an episode of Star Trek in which Captain Kirk and Mr Spock had beamed down to 20th century earth in pursuit of a mysterious alien called Gary Seven. (Did he have a brother called Gary Six I wonder?)  The enterprise scanned for the alien and sent down coordinates to Kirk and Spock who promptly tracked the fellow down using their communicators. It appeared that the episode was a pilot for a new sci-fi show which never materialised. Shame really because it looked pretty interesting. Anyway, good job they didn’t send me to track down Gary Seven as I couldn’t even find a branch of my own bank! Kirk and Spock of course have much more experience with their communicators than I do with my smartphone, still, interesting how real life has caught up with sci-fi!

As you can perhaps see, I’m still in the honeymoon stage with my mobile phone. It’s great to be able to glance at my e-mails and see Facebook updates and so on but my favourite app has to be Google. I just love Google maps and whenever I arrive myself somewhere like a restaurant or pub, I always take a few minutes to add comments and post reviews.

I used Google maps to drive to work the other day. I know the way of course but it was fascinating to hear this voice telling me to turn left in a quarter of a mile and so on. The thing is, I always turn right at that particular spot so that experience left me a little bemused.

A really great app would be a Google Supermarket Planner. I can just imagine hearing ‘turn left at the next aisle to find cooked meats!’ ‘Turn right at the third aisle to find wines and spirits.’ Great stuff.

Pint of MildEven more helpful would be ‘don’t use checkout 3 because the lady there is questioning the price of a reduced item!’

‘Incident at checkout 1 as a customer has 16 items in the 10 items only checkout! Yes, that would be a great help because fate always points me in the direction of a checkout with problem customers, always, and the problems only usually arise after I have unloaded my shopping at that particular till.

Happily, there were no such delays in the Grey Horse in Manchester and they served me with an outstanding pint of mild.

Cheers everyone!


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. The book is available in Kindle or paperback formats. Click the icon below to go straight to Amazon.

Floating in Space

Why Men are not cut out for the Christmas Clean up!

Every year, round about October, when the weather gets colder and leaves are dropping frantically from trees, I always think to myself, ‘this would be a great time to start off my Christmas shopping!’ Yes, I think that every year and every year I never do it.  A similar thing happens with blogging. I think to myself, is it time to start off a few drafts for some  Christmas style blog posts? Yes it is. Do I do it? Well, in this case no. Anyway, perhaps now you get the picture and understand why I’ve had to resort to posting this revised blog post from last Christmas . .


Men are just not cut out for cleaning. OK, it’s a fact. I’m not being sexist or anything but there it is, just a cold hard fact. It’s just not in the male make up. Women are far better qualified to do the job. Here’s an example. I remember one far off Christmas spent with my former wife in our small home in Newton Le Willows. I had some time owing me so I had taken a few days off after Christmas. It had not been a great Christmas as it was the first one since my wife’s mother had died and she had sadly put the previous year’s Christmas card from her mother in pride of place right on the top of the TV.

Anyway, everyone was getting used to going back to work and there was me, who had worked during Christmas, knackered, worn out and ready for a break. I spent one day with my brother having a nice post-Christmas drink in Manchester and the next day I was relaxing, catching up on some TV of the type hated by my wife, yes, sci-fi stuff, Star Trek, black and white films and so on and then a revelation came to me. What if I took down the decorations, got rid of the tree, and chucked out the rubbish? There were piles of wrapping paper and empty bottles about and so on. I could actually come out of this looking good for once. Anyway, there and then I just got stuck straight in. I took the tree down, packed away all the ornaments and decorations and put the box back in the loft. The tree was chopped up and placed in the correct bin, the green one.

All the papers, wrapping paper and empty chocolate boxes and stuff were all removed and placed in the paper bin, along with the old Christmas cards. (Don’t want to upset those hard-working bin men by putting stuff in the wrong bins do we?)

After that a quick hoover up and a sort out of the furniture, all put back in its proper place.

Well, I think I worked up a bit of a sweat there as I remember. Great! Time now for a well-deserved cuppa, a bacon butty and get that black and white movie I recorded the other day cranked up.

As I sat there watching Ronald Colman I could hear the sound of the bin men reversing down the avenue. Yes, my trusty van was on the drive, well out of the bin wagon’s way. (I don’t want to cast a slur on the bin wagon driver but accidents had been known to occur. And there was that incident last year when my next door neighbour had the effrontery to park a huge transit van in the road making access difficult for the bin wagon so, well they just refused to come up the drive and empty our bins.) I had placed all the bins down by the end of the drive just within easy picking up distance for the bin men. (Can’t have them walking all the way up the drive to get the bins can we?)

Just then my wife came in through the door, I stood there foolishly thinking she would be happy and waiting for the praise that was bound to come my way. I hadn’t spent my day self-indulgently doing ‘my’ stuff. I had cleaned and tidied. I had helped. Hadn’t I?

My wife took one look at the tidy lounge then looked at me and said in a sort of scary accusatory sort of way: “What have you done?”

Well, I thought it was pretty obvious what had been done but just then the reversing horn of the approaching bin wagon set off a warning bell. What was wrong? The tree was in the correct bin. The plastic stuff and empty bottles in the glass and plastic bin. The paper stuff, the Christmas cards were all in the paper bin. The Christmas cards . .

I legged it outside just in the nick of time to dive into the paper bin just as the binman was about to empty it. Sprawled across the bin I rummaged frantically through the cardboard and wrapping paper and retrieved my late mother in law’s card from certain destruction.

‘Afternoon’ I said nonchalantly to the bin men. They just looked at me with that ‘it’s that nutter from number 4’ look on their faces. Back inside my wife grabbed the card from my hand with a lethal black look and it was then that we became aware of a certain amount of what appeared to be tomato soup that had somehow attached itself to the card. Now, where that had come from I do not know, I had not even eaten tomato soup that day (although perhaps I did throw a used tin of the stuff in the rubbish.) Oh well, at least my quick thinking had rescued the card!

So, that was that, my good deed had backfired and there was I, thinking I had helped but the fact of the matter is I hadn’t helped at all. I should have just left the tidying up to her then she could have moaned at me for sitting on my behind watching TV all day and everything would have been OK and the card that was a tangible connection to her late mum at Christmas would have been safe and free from tomato soup stains.

Anyway, think on male readers. If you are considering cleaning up over Christmas, think again!


If you liked this post, why not consider buying my book? Click the links at the top of the page for more information. Thanks for looking in and have a great Christmas!

Surveyors, Inspectors, and Lawrence of Arabia

I started thinking about regrets the other day. Bit of a waste of time, you might think. Regrets? What’s the point? Oh well, two big regrets in my life are both work orientated. Let’s take a closer look.

Surveyors.

The first one was way back in the late seventies when I was a lowly clerk in an assurance company in Manchester. I worked in the estates department and I had a lovely job there. It involved collecting the rental we were due for our properties in the city centre. Then I had to sort out the wages for our cleaning staff in Manchester and liaise with caretakers to order cleaning products such as bleach and so on. I remember when we converted from hard toilet paper to soft, our toilet paper bill shot right up. I was tasked with getting to the bottom of that issue (excuse the pun!) which turned out to be staff using the soft toilet paper as paper hankies! I so enjoyed writing that report.

Sometimes I went out with the surveyors to help them take measurements of properties and I jotted down notes for the surveyor and carried his gear, stuff like that. It got me out of the office for hours at a time and usually the surveyor and I would have to time to take on board a few beers as our junior surveyor was a fellow who enjoyed his ale.

One day my boss, the venerable Mr Ross, called me into his office and said the surveyors wanted me to join their department and train to become a surveyor. Wow you might think. That’s not an offer that comes to a young eighteen year old clerk every day. The thing is, I turned it down. Yes, I declined that rather excellent offer on the grounds that I was young and the estates and surveyors offices were staffed by a lot of old (well, middle-aged) people. I asked for a transfer and was sent to IA/1, an internal accounts office, full of young people like myself but actually a deadly dull boring job. What a fool I was. Just think, today I could be a successful surveyor with perhaps, a property portfolio on the side. Yes, that was big mistake number 1.

Inspectors.

Regret number 2. This came years later when I was a bus driver. There was a time when I liked this job, running up and down the byways of Greater Manchester as a bus conductor or driver, chatting up the girls and generally having fun. Of course drivers and conductors meant that two wages were being paid out by the bus company; so much easier just to pay out one; that’s when the idea of one man buses caught on. Then I became a rather self-absorbed chap driving a bus up and down the road and taking fares. It was a lonely life and the worst thing was that when something relatively minor cropped up, say someone cut in front of you and you had to slam the brakes on, there was no conductor to talk to about it, no one to say ‘he was a pillock wasn’t he?’. The result was that you’d tend to think about it over and over until a minor thing became a big thing.

One day the company advertised for two Inspectors, one for the Ardwick depot, not far from where I lived and another for Rochdale depot, well over the other side of Manchester. I applied and had rather a good interview. I was asked to step outside the interview room for a while and when I came back the spokesman for the interview panel asked me which job I was interested in. ‘Well, the Ardwick one,’ I answered. ‘What if we offered you the Rochdale one?’ they asked. Well, what could I do? How could I even get to Rochdale? I had no car, no personal transport. Anyway I said no, I couldn’t take the job. Big mistake number 2!

I often think what could have happened if I had done the right thing and said yes. I could have bought a car with my new improved Inspector’s salary or even moved to Rochdale and started a new life there. After all, I was a single man, I might have made new friends, made a whole new life. Well, like Frank Sinatra, I can only say;

Regrets, I have a few . .

But then again, too few to mention . .

Lawrence of Arabia.

Anyway, that brings me to today’s classic movie, Lawrence of Arabia, that fabulous 70mm classic directed by David Lean.

In one part of the movie Lawrence – played by Peter O’Toole – and his arab army are plodding through the Nefu desert, a normally impassable stretch of land described by one of the characters as the sun’s anvil. Lawrence and his arab irregulars decide to cross the desert and attack the coastal town of Aqaba, coming from a direction the enemy Turks would not expect. One morning the travellers realise that one of their number, sweltering in the desert heat, has fallen asleep and slipped off his camel into the sands. Lawrence decides to turn and rescue the man despite assurances that he will not make it. ‘The man is surely dead,’ Lawrence is told. It is written. Despite this, Lawrence turns and rides back into the desert.

Later he returns to the group a hero having saved a man from the desert. He whispers hoarsely to Omar Sharif, ‘nothing is written’ before collapsing into his sleeping bag.

Later still, shots are fired in the desert encampment. A man has been robbed and killed and the various tribes, brought together by Lawrence, are ready to defend their honour. The culprit is found and must die but his death will only bring forward a feud.

Lawrence  argues that he is a man without a tribe, and so he will execute the criminal and honour will be kept. Lawrence takes out his revolver and the doomed man is revealed; only then do we see that the man is Gasim, the man Lawrence saved from the desert. Lawrence shoots him dead, the alliance is saved. Lawrence turns sadly away.

‘What is wrong with him?’ asks one of the arabs.

‘That man he killed, it was the same man he rescued from the desert.’

‘Ah,’ says the man, ‘then it was written . .’

So if that is the case, that everything is written or preordained, then perhaps even if I had accepted that Inspector’s job or become a surveyor, my life might still have turned out the same and here I would be, whatever my life’s choices were, writing blogs and Tweeting about Floating in Space!

What do you think?


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

Schoolday Memories

The other day I was watching one of my favourite movies from my favourite director: Woody Allen’s Radio Days. In case you haven’t seen it, it’s about Woody Allen looking back at his young self and how he lived his life through the radio shows of the day. It pretty much reminded me of myself, and how I was obsessed with TV when I was a child. Personally, I wouldn’t have said obsessed but that’s what my Mum and Dad used to say. They used to tell me I watched that much TV I would grow up with ‘square eyes’.

Anyway, that movie got me thinking about my schooldays, but as I started to put pen to paper, I remembered an essay I had written years ago about my schooldays. I scoured my notebooks and old laptop archives and finally, after a long search, here it is, suitably updated.

My first school memory is of infant school, in fact I can remember my very first day there I remember being taken there by my Mum. She stayed for a while and watched me take my first tentative steps into the classroom. Once I was happy and started playing with the other kids she then slipped discreetly away. I remember playing with these large wooden bricks, like household bricks but wooden and light. I made a car with them, or a plane; some sort of vehicle that you could actually sit in and pretend to drive or fly.

On the next day a new climbing frame arrived at the school. It was made of wood, painted blue with a sort of platform at the top if you were good enough a climber to get there. It was much better than the old climbing frame which was just a series of wooden poles interlocked together. If you got to the top you could only pop your head out and look around. I much prefered the blue one, it gave you a goal: getting to the platform at the top.

The memory of Christmas at infant school still lingers fondly. I played one of the three kings in the nativity play. I can still remember the excitement of getting changed in the makeshift dressing room, actually the headmistress’ office. The backstage nerves, most of all I recall the feeling of being part of things, not just an observer.

In junior school I was a member of the choir and there was that same excitement: The rehearsals. Missing normal lessons to be in the hall for all the rehearsals and the big one, the dress rehearsal, then the even bigger one, the real thing.

One day, while in the choir practice, the music teacher stopped in front of me. After some thought she put her ear directly to my mouth, listened intently to my singing then banished me from the choir, from backstage, from everything that mattered. My voice clearly wasn’t good enough. Then I was once again just a spectator. Not really part of anything.

One exciting part of the Christmas events was the setting up of Mr Todd’s 16 mm projector and the watching of his films in the main hall. They were mostly cartoons like Woody Woodpecker but I also remember seeing those Walt Disney true-life films. I can still hear now the clicketty-click of the projector and feel the excitement of the lights going down just as the show began. When Mr Todd retired, the projector, which must have been his personally, retired also and the film sessions went with him.

In that same hall I danced with my childhood crush, Jacqueline Stonehouse. In junior school we used to have dance lessons and she was my regular partner.  One day after being off sick for a while, I returned to find she was dancing with Luke White, the class hard man. I was devastated.

When I walked home at lunchtime I used to save a biscuit from the tuck shop to give a to a dog that I had made friends with. He waited behind his gate on my way home for this usual treat. The dog was always there and always waited. One day at playtime Luke White demanded a biscuit and I refused. As I walked home he and his big brother chased me and took away my biscuit. The biscuit and Jacqueline Stonehouse. I don’t know which crime I hated him for the most.

The Christmas slide in the junior school playground is another memory; this was a dangerous slide, big and long and fast. Only for the biggest lads, only for the most skilled of sliders. You had to be skilful and quick because a split second behind you was the next man. No time for hesitancy, no time for time wasters. Go quickly, feel the ice, the slippery smoothness, the danger, keep your balance and enjoy the exhilaration of a great slide!

Then there was the Christmas party. I cannot remember enjoying any party more, even some fifty years later. Pass the parcel. Jelly and cream. Paper hats. I must have been happy all the time at junior school. I had all the important things in life; my bike, my friends and my favourite TV programmes: Star Trek, Stingray, Time Tunnel, Doctor Who and a hundred others, and not a worry in the world.

The move to ‘big’ school, comprehensive school, was a hard one. Leaving behind the familiarity and warmth of my old school and its teachers was hard. Not only that; I had been one of the big boys. I was among the oldest in the school and now I would be among the youngest again.  All I had heard about the new school was how the big lads would be after us. Don’t let them get you alone in the toilets because they would grab you and push your head into the toilet bowl and flush! The fear comes back to me again, deep in the stomach along with the smell and feel of my new green blazer, my brown leather briefcase, my gym kit and my hated football boots. I remember the thrill of going to school in my new long trousers. The feel of being a grown up.

Just like young Joe, the young Woody Allen character in Radio Days who was mad about radio, I was mad about television. I loved my TV programmes then and looked forward to my regular dose of Blue Peter, How, Magpie, and Crackerjack. One firm favourite was the Magic Boomerang. It was set in the outback of Australia and was about a young boy who has, yes, a magic boomerang. Whenever he throws it, time stand still for everyone except the boy. A little bit like those quick quid adverts today!

My absolute favourites though, were the puppet shows of Gerry Anderson. Four Feather Falls was about a sheriff with magic guns set in the wild west but then came Supercar, a show set a hundred years into the future. Supercar was a small craft that could fly up into the atmosphere or under the sea and was developed by professor Popkiss, Doctor Beaker and test pilot Mike Mercury.

Supercar was followed by Fireball Xl5, the adventures of a space patrol and its crew. Then came Stingray, a submarine operated by WASP, the World Aquanaut Security Patrol with Captain Troy Tempest and Marina, the mute girl from under the sea. I always loved the opening titles for Stingray; the fabulous theme tune, the battle stations at Marineville (WASP headquarters) and finally the launch of Stingray into the ocean. The best bit was always Commander Shore speaking into the tannoy and saying ‘anything can happen in the next half hour!’

The great thing about Gerry Anderson’s work was that it all linked together and never looked down on the children who watched it. It was all serious stuff. His next show was the highly successful Thunderbirds which I have to say was never really one of my favourites. I mean come on, who serviced all those craft at the underground base on Tracy island? Brains? By himself? I don’t think so and don’t get me started on the launch of Thunderbird 3 because the round house would have been totally incinerated when Thunderbird 3 launched and as for Alan Tracy’s launch procedure, well that’s a whole other blog post!

Gerry Anderson’s futuristic world was incorporated into a comic called Tv21 which I bought every week and just like the young Woody Allen character who longed for a Masked Avenger ring, I was desperate for an Identicode with which I finally sent numerous coded messages to friends.

One last school memory to finish with. As time moved on my friends and I settled into the new routine. We all seemed to grow up at pretty much the same pace and as time went on we all naturally became taller. All except for Luke White that is.

Once the class hard man, Luke had stayed pretty much the same size as he was in junior school. One day he approached myself, and some others, demanding money or sweets, I can’t remember which but I do remember hearing his voice and having to look down to see him. The others looked down on Luke like the pygmy he was and some one, I can’t remember who it was, but I heard a voice say firmly and with some disgust, ‘piss off White!’ Luke looked at us and quietly shuffled away.

His days as the class tough guy were over.

Finally, yesterday, as you read this, was my last night shift for a while as next week Liz and I are off on our travels again to France. Leaving work I pulled onto the M6 to travel home and switched on Radio 2. Chris Evans had just started his morning show and started on a long monologue about the morning’s highlights. What was that playing in the background though?

Yes, I remember it well; the theme from Thunderbirds!


If you enjoyed this post why not try my book, Floating in Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information or watch the video below.

Things to do when you’re Semi-Retired

Reading.

Yes, I don’t know about you but I have quite a lot of books and quite a few of them are big heavy hardback volumes, totally unsuited to popping in your bag to read at work or taking on holiday. Semi retirement means this is the chance for me to get stuck into William L. Shirer’s History of the Third Reich or the Life and Art of Charlie Chaplin by David Robinson. Yes, all those big chunky hardback books I’ve collected over the years and never read, I can now get stuck into.

Walking.

Exercise is important as we all know and a great way to burn off those extra calories is to just walk. Here in lovely St Annes in Lancashire it’s so nice to walk down to the beach and enjoy the sea and the breeze. Yesterday after walking for about thirty minutes my right knee became sore, clearly not used to this unexpected workout. Happily, on the seafront there are plenty of seats for those old people, like me, who sit and watch the sea. I always thought those old guys who sit and watch the sea were bored. Of course not, they just stopped to rest their sore knees!

TV.

Hey don’t discount the television. Yes there is loads of tripe on TV these days, especially since the advent of reality TV. Someone, somewhere must be watching things like The Only Way is Essex although personally I think the producers are just using new technology to screw with the viewing figures so that the BBC will keep renewing the series! Anyway, with all these extra channels the dedicated couch potato can always find something worth watching. Take full advantage of your hard drive recorder and get those classic movies and TV series from the 60’s and 70’s recorded so when you are faced with a barrage of the Jeremy Kyle Show, The Real Housewives of Orange County, Judge Rinder, Made in Chelsea and other TV delicacies, rebel and crank up The Persuaders, The Prisoner, The Saint or a good old Carry On film! It’s well worth reviewing the movie output for the coming TV week because all manner of hidden gems can pop up unexpectedly on all sorts of oddball channels. I recently recorded the splendid and not often seen movie The Magic Box starring Robert Donat as William Freize-Greene, one of the early cinema pioneers. Not something you will find on Film Four at prime viewing time.

Nights out.

Yes but what about work the following day? What the heck, now I’ve got six days off I can easily go for nights out during the week. I can even spend an afternoon in Wetherspoons drinking and putting the world to rights with some other old guys, many of whom are well versed in the arts of afternoon boozing!

Writing that next novel.

Yes, writing that next novel. Might have to take a back seat for a while. What with all this walking, reading, and boozing, I’m finding myself a little short of time!

Make yet another Video about Floating in Space.

Hey, there’s always time for another Floating in Space video!

 

If you enjoyed this post why not try my book Floating in Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information!

My Mum, the Microwave, and Old Age.

quotescover-jpg-95I wanted to write a post about age and getting older and then I thought to myself, am I the right person to write this?  Because of course, I’m only . . . Well, now I mention it I’m actually sixty, yes, sixty years old. Sometimes it’s hard to get my head round that fact because I don’t feel sixty. Well, not inside anyway. On the outside it’s another matter.

You may have seen some of my videos on this site; ones where I talk to the camera and try to encourage people to buy my book. The other week I thought that perhaps it’s time to shoot a few new ones. This time I started with my iPad thinking how much easier it would be. I’ve got a special iPad mounting for my tripod and I can set up the shot easily with the self-facing camera. No need for endless test shots to get the framing right. Anyway, it wasn’t as easy as I had thought because outside on a sunny day it’s hard to see your iPad screen.

Back indoors to check out the finished result and my first thought was what is this? Who is that old guy on the screen? Maybe I need to get down to the gym and get myself toned up a little because for the first time I feel like I really do look my age. So, I may not feel that old on the inside, apart from a few aches and pains in my back but on the outside it’s clearly a different story.

Anyway, no more filming that day but then again, perhaps it was the light. Yes and I have just had a rather short haircut. On a better day I’d probably look more like my normal self. Yes, that must be it!

Still, if I have problems getting to grips with my age, I wonder what it is like for my Mum?

Over forty years ago, when I was a teenager my Mother and I used to have conversations like this:

ME: (Shouting from the top of the stairs) Mum, where are my jeans? (Shouted with an element of frustration.)

MUM: (Shouting from the kitchen where she is either cooking, cleaning or ironing.) Which jeans do you mean? The faded blue ones or the dark blue ones?

ME: (Slightly taken aback, of course I’ve got two pairs, which ones did I mean?) The faded blue ones!

MUM: They are on a hanger in your wardrobe, on the right hand side, next to the black cord trousers. (That son of mine couldn’t find the trousers if they were hanging in front of his face!) The dark blue ones are in a pile waiting to be ironed which I can’t do now because I’m BUSY!

Fast forward forty years and more to 2017. My Mum is 87 years old and we still have similar conversations; only nowadays they go like this:

ME: Have you seen my green top?

MUM: Green top? What green top? I’ve not seen a green top here.

ME: It’s the one I always wear. (I don’t have a lot of clothes at my Mum’s, just a couple of tops, the green one for when it’s warm and the beige one for when it’s cold.)

MUM: No, never seen a green top.

Just then I realised how hot it was in my Mum’s house. I was really sweating so I turned off the heating and dropped the fire down a few notches. OK, it is winter but it wasn’t that cold outside. Anyway, back to the green top search.

I took a look in the washing basket. Not there: Nothing in the washer itself. There is a pile of stuff, mainly towels and things on a small chair by the washer and there I find the green top. Not only that but there is a bag of onions from when we went shopping the other day and I recall the conversation from a few days later when I said ‘where did you put the onions?’ Mum answered that we didn’t have any and we’ll get some next time we go shopping. Yes, there they are, those same onions, languishing, for some reason in a pile of towels.

Just over twelve months ago my Mum was reasonably fit and active. I used to visit her and I’d usually stay for a couple of nights. She always had the two work shirts that I keep at her house ready for me, washed and hung up and she’d usually ask me if I wanted anything in particular for my dinner. I’d tell her either what I fancied, or whatever she had in mind would be fine. I’d usually ask if she want me to get any shopping in, to which she would always say, ‘No. When I can’t get to the shops myself I’m finished.’

In the past she used to trundle off to the shops pushing a little trolley thing that Liz found for her in a house clearance. It’s just a set of handlebars and some wheels with a space to hold your shopping, and it’s good to lean on while you walk. Mum used to potter away trundling ever so slowly with her trolley but she’d take her time, get her shopping and return.

Then the day came early last year when her legs started to fail due to her arthritis and she couldn’t get to the shops. Now, either my brother will do her shopping, or me. When I’m on my way I’ll call her and ask ‘What do you need?’ Mum will usually reply bread, milk and anything I want for myself so I’ll get the requested items and anything else I can think of for our dinner.

Mum’s memory is a little hit and miss these days too because when I arrived there last week, duly laden with bread, milk and other things she had asked me to bring, my brother arrived soon afterwards. He had with him exactly the same food order. Mum had asked us both to bring the same things!

It was also rather hot so I turned the fire down and reset the thermostat to something reasonable. Later, when I was getting myself sorted for work the next day I asked ‘Mum, where are my blue work shirts?’ My Mum replied ‘You didn’t leave any shirts. There are no blue shirts here.’ After a short dispute in which she insisted I had no shirts at her house I went off for a search and I found the shirts hanging up in her wardrobe!

When I came down the stairs to tell her the first thing she said was ‘It’s a little chilly, I’d better put the heating on!’

Not so long ago I bought Mum a microwave for Christmas. A microwave is an indispensable item in a modern kitchen. Microwave meals are easily sorted in a few minutes and items from the freezer are quickly defrosted.  I told Mum how to use it and showed her some simple things like how to heat a tub of baked beans in a few minutes. Simple stuff like that.

Her favourite breakfast item is porridge. I explained how easy microwaved porridge can be. Next time I was shopping I picked up a box of those little sachets of oats, showed her how to place them in a bowl, add milk and two minutes later, there is your porridge.

A few days later, I asked her how she was going on with the porridge sachets. She said they were perfect, and told me how easy it was to empty one into a pan, add milk and stir and . . well, a few minutes later, perfect porridge!

You have to laugh, otherwise you’d cry.


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 watch the video below:

 

Christmas TV, Quiz Shows and the Hand of Friendship

card_232fd1b24b_oTV this Christmas wasn’t particularly great but I did watch a few things. One film I was looking forward to watching was the Lady in the Van, a mostly true story about a bag lady, in a van, who came to live outside playwright Alan Bennett’s home in London. Bennett takes pity on the lady and lets her move the van into his drive when parking restrictions force her to relocate. He combines her story with that of his relationship with his mother but the odd thing about the film is that Bennett gives himself two personas, one Alan Bennett the writer and the other Alan Bennett who is experiencing all these events. The two even confer together. This did confuse me at first but I eventually worked it out. Not a brilliant film but original.

On Boxing day I contrived to watch two films together, not by recording one and watching the other later as you might think but simply by flicking over between the two channels at an appropriate moment. Uncle Buck is one of those rubbish formulaic American films that I have to describe as not only a load of old tosh but also a rather fun film. Sometimes bad is good, if you know what I mean. Uncle Buck is about an American family who need an emergency babysitter, well, family sitter, for a few days. They find the only option is the unreliable out of work brother played by John Candy. He arrives in his old car pumping out smoke and oil. He charms the younger kids but the teenage daughter is something of a problem. I found myself a little bored part way through so it was time for a quick switch over to watch that classic John Ford western The Searchers. If you have never seen this movie, which I cannot for a moment believe, it’s about settlers in the old west who find their daughter has been taken by Indians after a raid. John Wayne and his part Indian nephew played by Jeffrey Hunter, start tracking the Indians across the west and it is only after many years that they find themselves face to face with Scar, the Indian chief, and their long-lost sister and niece Debbie, played by a young Natalie Wood.

I missed a huge chunk of Uncle Buck because I became too interested in The Searchers but I managed to tune in at the end where Uncle Buck sorts out ‘Bug’ the teenage girl’s cheating boyfriend and in doing so makes friends with the girl. Uncle Buck is a great film to watch when you’re tired and not really paying attention and I always get the feeling it was written by a sort of committee of writers. (Probably the same committee that wrote Home Alone and Three Men and a Baby and so on.) I remember once seeing a documentary about the US sitcom Friends. The show is not one of my favourite programmes but in the documentary they showed how Friends was recorded in front of a live audience. If a bit of business didn’t quite work out, the recording was stopped while a whole bunch of writers and producers had a chat about things. Then a new line or even a section of dialogue was inserted or some of the action was changed. That was then run past the live audience. If it still wasn’t quite right the laughter track was updated to fill in. Writing by committee, interesting. .

Another film I watched was The Secret Life of Walter Mitty starring Ben Stiller as the title character. Mitty was actually a pretty good film. I missed a section in the middle when I turned over to watch a bit of Uncle Buck on plus 1 that I had missed earlier but it was a well-produced film, not hilarious but interesting. I did come away from the film though wondering whether the magazine ‘Life’ had paid to be featured in the film (a prime example of product placement) or whether the movie producers paid Life for the use of the magazine in the film.

Dr Who was relegated to the TV recorder but Liz and I watched our favourite soap Coronation Street on Christmas day. Hey, we’re northern people and Corrie is our representation in the TV world. Whilst on the subject of the north in the media I have to say one of the attractions of Coronation Street is seeing and hearing people talk the way I talk and do the things I do and live in a place I was brought up in. Certain ‘northern’ films like Educating Rita annoy me so much. It’s supposed to be set in Liverpool although the only authentic scouse accent is that of Julie Walters. Her screen husband has some kind of bland accent that’s a cross between a brummie and something else and all around are various southern and northern brogues all mixed together. I suppose the producers or director were from London and assumed that those of us up here in the ‘north’ would all understand it. Actually, that confusion of accents in the film destroys its credibility. I believe it was shot in Ireland so why not make everyone Irish? Surely a better solution to the mish-mash of accents that ruin the film. OK rant over. Back to Christmas.

I had to work on Boxing day but the drive to work was a real pleasure. I leave home at 5am to get to work in time for my shift at six and generally, the M6  is pretty busy at that time.  I find these days that the rush hour starts very early and more and more people are travelling further to their places of work. Boxing Day though was a different story, just me and a few others travelling to work.

SpitfireOn Wednesday I changed to the night shift and spent a few hours during the day with Harry and Theo, Liz’s grandsons. We went out to the park and then had a drive down to the ‘front’ in St Annes. Many holiday towns seem to look a little forlorn out of the holiday season. A prime example is Blackpool, a few miles further up the road. It looks like a tired film set waiting for the actors and cameramen to return and brighten it up again. St Annes though is a lovely, friendly town that looks good to me whatever the season. Along the front we passed the Spitfire aircraft, mounted on a tall plinth looking just like it was taking off over the sand. The other day on a TV quiz show one of the questions concerned the Spitfire which must surely have a prime place in the annals of British history. This icon of the skies was the backbone of the RAF in the dark days of 1940 and the lady on the Chase  or Tipping Point or whatever quiz it was, who had never heard of a Spitfire, was the brunt of a shower of abuse which I directed at her through the medium of my TV screen. Never heard of a Spitfire? What was she even doing on a quiz show?

Despite this being the season of goodwill it is still saddening to see images of the war in Syria on the TV news. I sometimes wonder what would happen if just one soldier would put down his rifle and hold out his hand in friendship. Would it catch on? Imagine ten soldiers, then twenty, then a hundred, then thousands following suit until an unstoppable wave of peace and fellowship begins to spread. Imagine a huge wave of harmony circulating like some oddball YouTube video going viral all around the world shaming all those who want war and strife.

One last thought about that hand of friendship. My old dad was a man who left school at fourteen with not much in the way of education. He worked on farms in the then rural area of Wythenshawe where I was brought up. He was a great reader though and whenever he started a new book he would prepare a cardboard bookmark, fashioned out of a cereal box or whatever came to hand and on it he would write down any word he came across in the book that he didn’t know. Then he would look up that word and write down the definition in his notebook. He added all sorts of things to that book. Words, phrases, lines of poetry, names of famous people and so on. One of the quotations he noted was this: A closed fist is a closed mind. An open hand is an open mind.

All I need now is a quiet day to watch Eight Days a Week, the Beatles movie directed by Ron Howard that Liz gave me for Christmas and a spare week to watch the bumper Doctor Who DVD bundle that I won on e-Bay the other day.

Happy Christmas and all the best for 2017!


Floating In Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Christmas and why women should do the cleaning!

quotescover-jpg-61Men are just not cut out for cleaning. OK, it’s a fact. I’m not being sexist or anything but there it is, just a cold hard fact. It’s just not in the male make up. Women are far better qualified to do the job. Here’s an example. I remember one far off Christmas spent with my former wife in our small home in Newton Le Willows. I had some time owing me so I had taken a few days off after Christmas. It had not been a great Christmas as it was the first one since my wife’s mother had died and she had sadly put the previous year’s Christmas card from her mother in pride of place right on the top of the TV.

Anyway, everyone was getting used to going back to work and there was me, who had worked during Christmas, knackered, worn out and ready for a break. I spent one day with my brother having a nice post-Christmas drink in Manchester and the next day I was relaxing, catching up on some TV of the type hated by my wife, yes, sci fi stuff, Star Trek, black and white films and so on and then a revelation came to me. What if I took down the decorations, got rid of the tree, chucked out the rubbish? There were piles of wrapping paper and empty bottles about and so on. I could actually come out of this looking good for once. Anyway, there and then I just got stuck straight in. I took the tree down, packed away all the ornaments and decorations and put the box back in the loft. The tree was chopped up and placed in the correct bin, the green one.

All the papers, wrapping paper and empty chocolate boxes and stuff were all removed and placed in the correct bin, (Don’t want to upset those hard working bin men by putting stuff in the wrong bins do we?) Old Christmas cards dumped into the brown bins.

After that a quick hoover up and a sort out of the furniture, all put back in its proper place.

Well, I think I worked up a bit of a sweat there as I remember. Great! Time now for a well-deserved cuppa, a bacon butty and get that black and white movie I recorded the other day cranked up.

As I sat there watching Ronald Colman I could hear the sound of the bin men reversing down the avenue. Yes, my trusty van was on the drive, well out of the bin wagon’s way. (I don’t want to cast a slur on the bin wagon driver but accidents had been known to occur. And there was that incident last year when my next door neighbour had the affrontery to park a huge transit van in the road making access difficult for the bin wagon so, well they just refused to come up the drive and empty our bins.) I had placed all the bins down by the end of the drive just within easy picking up distance for the bin men. (Can’t have them walking all the way up the drive to get the bins can we?)

Just then my wife came in through the door, I stood there foolishly thinking she would be happy and waiting for the praise that was bound to come my way. I hadn’t spent my day self-indulgently doing ‘my’ stuff. I had cleaned and tidied. I had helped. Hadn’t I?

My wife took one look at the tidy lounge then looked at me and said in a sort of scary accusatory sort of way: “What have you done?”

Well, I thought it was pretty obvious what had been done but just then the reversing horn of the approaching bin wagon set off a warning bell. What was wrong? The tree was in the correct bin. The plastic stuff and empty bottles in the glass and plastic bin. The paper stuff, the Christmas cards were all in the paper bin. The Christmas cards . .

I legged it outside just in the nick of time to dive into the paper bin just as the binman was about to empty it. Sprawled across the bin I rummaged frantically through the cardboard and wrapping paper and retrieved my late mother in law’s card from certain destruction.

‘Afternoon’ I said nonchalantly to the bin men. They just looked at me with that ‘it’s that nutter from number 4’ look on their faces. Back inside my wife grabbed the card from my hand with a lethal black look and it was then that we became aware of a certain amount of what appeared to be tomato soup that had somehow attached itself to the card. Now, where that had come from I do not know, I had not even eaten tomato soup that day (although perhaps I did throw a used tin of the stuff in the rubbish.) Oh well, at least my quick thinking had rescued the card!

So, that was that, my good deed had backfired and there was I, thinking I had helped but the fact of the matter is I hadn’t helped at all. I should have just left the tidying up to her then she could have moaned at me for sitting on my behind watching TV all day and everything would have been OK and the card that was a tangible connection to her late mum at Christmas would have been safe and free from tomato soup stains.

Anyway, think on male readers. If you are considering cleaning up over Christmas, think again!


If you liked this post, why not consider buying my book? Click the links at the top of the page for more information. Thanks for looking in and have a great Christmas!

The Soundtrack to my Life

The soundtrack to my life? What’s that all about? Well, quite simply it’s music. I don’t know about you but I’ve been a music fan all my life and I have always bought records of one sort or another. Vinyl singles and albums, cassette tapes, CDs and yes, even the occasional download.

picmonkey-imageMy Christmas present in 1972, my shared present I might add, which I shared with my brother, was a record player. I don’t actually remember getting any records to play on it though but a few days afterwards I bought a collection of TV and film themes by John Barry in the post Christmas sales.. Barry scored the early Bond films and wrote the theme from the Persuaders, the 70’s TV show starring Roger Moore and Tony Curtis. So much is that record built into my memory that whenever I hear the tune from the Persuaders, it’s not Curtis and Moore that comes to mind but that small portable record player that spent much of its life in the bedroom that my brother and I shared many years ago.

31436280925_c1d7ff01eb_oThe first single I ever bought was by my childhood heart-throb Olivia Newton-John. I actually bought two singles together, The Banks of the Ohio and What is life. A single back in 1973 cost thirty-eight pence if I remember correctly and as both those singles had dropped out of the charts I was able to get the two singles for half price, nineteen pence each. Olivia Newton-John started out as a country/folk singer but found greater fame as John Travolta’s co-star in the hit movie Grease. Sorry Olivia but Grease just didn’t do it for me.

Olivia Newton-JohnI’ve never been one for albums, I’m much more of a singles man but in the 1970s I was very fond of Elton John’s music. When I first heard his records I just assumed he was an American so I was pretty surprised to find he was English and hailed from Pinner in Middlesex. His first hit single was ‘Your Song’ from his second album, Elton John but the first album I bought was ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’. Elton worked closely with lyricist Bernie Taupin to produce some memorable songs. Taupin wrote the lyrics in the fashion of poems, passed them over to Elton who worked them into a song, which is the way they work together today some five decades later. I still have all my Elton John albums but after Elton made Rock Of The Westies I lost interest in his music a little. In the CD era I picked up some of my favourites of his music on CD and I have found some of his newer work that I really like, in particular Made In England which must count to me as one of his best ever albums.

img_0142Back in my single buying days a work colleague lent me his copy of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds. I didn’t really fancy it but my friend was insistent that I would love it and he was right. The idea of a whole album telling a single story including snippets of dialogue and sound effects is brilliant. I copied the album onto cassette tape and today I have two CD versions, one for in the home and one for my car.

It seems to me sometimes that back in the 70’s buying music was so easy. Hear a record on the radio, go out to the record shop and buy it; job done. Nowadays when I sometimes watch music videos channels like the Box, I hear something I like but there are no music stores to visit to buy the recording. Not only that, when and if you find one, they’ve never heard of the track that you noted down! Actually its much easier to just go online and search for the music you want and then its just a few clicks to download. However, I’m not convinced a download is what  I really want. I want something physical, something I can pick up and look at, something with sleeve notes and inserts, that’s what I used to love about vinyl albums.

The last vinyl album I ever bouht, and the last one that John lennon made. Double Fantasy. £2.99, what a bargain.

The last vinyl album I ever bought, and the last one that John Lennon made. Double Fantasy. £2.99, what a bargain.

So, back to the present. The other week I was watching a programme on BBC 4 about Kate Bush. It was all pretty interesting and seemed to portray a Kate Bush that was a whole world apart from babooshka babooshka and Kath-ee,  let me in at your window, the slightly scary Kate Bush that I remember from the seventies and eighties.

I did an online search and on e-Bay I found myself three fairly cheap CDs. 1: The Sensual World. (Sorry Kate, this didn’t do it for me at all.) 2: The Red Shoes. (Pretty good, nice album.)  3: Aerial. Now this was more like it. A cracking double CD. Actually more chill out than the Kate Bush of the seventies I’m used to hearing. It has not been off my in-car stereo since I bought it. It’s a fabulous album full of exciting rhythms and sounds.

aerialSo, what music do you have on the soundtrack to your life?


If you liked this post, why not try my book Floating In Space set in Manchester, 1977? Click the links at the top of the page for more information or have a peek at the video below: