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?


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Think your Password is Safe? Think Again!

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

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

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

Here are some other passwords that you shouldn’t use

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

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

ABC123
For Jackson Five fans only!

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

1234567890
Another variation of the 123456 theme.

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

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

One final password story to finish. This doesn’t concern the internet but years ago I got a job working for a cigarette vending company. It was a bit of a pain getting to work that first week because I didn’t have a car. The bus nearest to my home didn’t start early enough so I had to take a twenty minute hike further up the road to catch the earlier bus to Warrington and then catch another bus from Warrington to work. Towards the end of the week my manager asked how I was getting on and I replied OK, apart from the trek to work. “What,” he said. “Why didn’t you say? You might as well take one of the spare vans; they only get used when one of the newer ones breaks down.”

That night I drove home in my very ‘own’ small ford van. In order to start the van you had to insert the key then enter a number on the keypad on the dashboard. Security was the watchword my boss explained. Our vans carried cigarettes, cigars and cash from the cigarette machines. It was vital to protect our assets and profits.

To start the van you had to enter a code into the pad. It was a six figure number and my boss stressed I couldn’t share it with anyone and writing it down was frowned upon. Anyway, I memorised the number, started the van and set off.

All went well that first week but somehow, between Friday night and Monday morning I suffered an inexplicable memory loss. Time after time I entered what I thought was the number only to see code incorrect flash up on the dash.
Eventually I had to admit defeat and call my boss. He wasn’t happy and rather dismissively passed me over to one of the other drivers.

“Where are you now?” asked the driver.
“Sat in the cab” I answered meekly.
“Well pull the sun visor down and tell me what you see.”

I pulled down the visor and there, in ballpoint pen, despite our company code of ethics; protecting profits and assets and so on, someone had written the high security code.

It was 234561! A slight variation on the number one password from the list of all-time worst passwords!


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Three Funerals and a Pork Pie

Letters from an unknown author!

quotescover-JPG-12The other day my Mum started discussing her funeral plans with me. She is eighty five this year and I suppose at that age one starts to think that the day is coming when you won’t be around. Even so, it was pretty shocking to be talking about her funeral.

The first ever funeral I went to was my Uncle Raymond’s. Raymond was my favourite uncle and the most wonderful guy. When I first started work when I was sixteen, going on seventeen, I used to get off my bus, the 152, at the Bluebell pub in Handforth after coming home from work in Manchester and Uncle Ray was there, waiting for the pub to open. Inside he chatted to everyone, the staff, punters he had never met before and at the drop of a hat would produce the photographs from his recent cruise showing him and my Auntie Elsie…

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A Tale of Four Horses.

The Grand National is one of those institutions of British sport, and coming in the early part of April like it does, it’s one of those events that herald the gradual warming of the days, the better weather and the move into the summer. It also heralds, at least where I work, someone going round with a card asking for money to enter the office sweepstake. Pay a pound, choose a horse at random and hope you are going to win some money. The National itself is pretty random. The nature of the event with its long course and numerous fences mean a huge amount of luck is involved. Maybe that’s why it’s so popular with the betting public. Anyway, it made me think about horses and their connection with my family which, when it comes down to it, is more considerable than I had originally thought.

Royal Horse artilleryMy Grandfather, George Higgins fought in the First World War with the Royal Horse Artillery and this is him in this splendid picture with his horse, Prince. My Dad had the picture with him in his wallet when he was in the forces and as time went on it got a little torn and tatty and somewhere, I suppose it must have been in Hong Kong where he was stationed for a while, he found a little photographic shop that specialised in rescuing old pictures. The background of the picture was originally a forest but the rescue work removed them in order to make the picture good.

Both sides of my family, my father’s people and my mother’s, came from the back to back terraced houses of Salford. They moved to Wythenshawe in the early 1940s. Wythenshawe was known as the ‘garden estate’ because instead of small terraced houses, here were bigger and better houses with front and back gardens. The estate was built on land purchased by Manchester City Council from the Tatton family. It was originally rustic countryside full of farms. My Dad worked on quite a few of them and my Mum tells me stories of getting milk from Potts Dairy farm which stood apparently just across from my old junior school. You’d never know because no trace of it remains today, just a row of council houses.

Wythenshawe

Image courtesy Wikipedia

One of my Dad’s early jobs was as a milkman but not for him the electric milk van. No, he had a horse drawn milk trolley and he told me with pride how, as he ran up and down through the gates of the various houses dropping off milk on doorsteps, he didn’t have to run back and move his trolley up. No, just a whistle was all it took and his horse would trot quietly forward to my Dad and he would replace the empties and take out fresh bottles for the next house. My Dad was pretty attached to that horse. It was stabled not far away in Northenden. Once his father, my grandfather, the WW1 Veteran came to see the horse. He checked the horse’s teeth, apparently a good indicator of equine health and pronounced himself satisfied.

On another occasion, my Dad rode the horse to a nearby fair in Northenden. It was a bank holiday weekend and my Dad rode his horse bareback. For a joke, some comedian decided to whack the horse and it rose up and galloped off at a great rate, my Dad hanging on for grim life. After a short sprint, the horse spied its own field, hit the brakes and ducked into the field for a quiet grass chewing session. My Dad hopped down, closed the gate and walked back to the fair. Numerous people congratulated him on his riding skills and horse control!

In the 1990’s I took some horse riding lessons myself. I went to a small riding school run by a young girl who looked to me to be nothing more than a schoolgirl but she told me with great pride how she had started the school from scratch and made it into a good business. She gave me a horse called Granite, a huge grey horse who was that tall it was not that easy to mount him. The first strange thing for a new rider on a horse is ‘what do I hold on to?’ On a motorbike or a bicycle, you have your handle bars but not of course on a horse. OK you have the reins but if you pull back on the reins you’re send a signal to the horse to stop. It took me a heck of a long time to get used to just sitting atop my horse. The other thing is that as you trot around, I always thought the rider would just be sitting there. Oh no. You have to learn to go up and down with the horse as you bob along. The thighs certainly get a good workout!

HorseI thought it was important to get along with Granite so I made a point of bringing him a juicy carrot every week. Granite loved that carrot and he would frisk me with his nose every time we met. One day, Vanessa, the young girl trainer spied me and told me in no uncertain terms not to feed her horse! Why not? I asked. Well, she didn’t want strange substances going inside her horses she said. What exactly she meant by that I really don’t know but she was in earnest and kept a close eye on Granite and myself for any signs of contraband carrot!

Granite of course was not happy. After our lesson, the last of the day, we trainee riders unsaddled our mounts, brushed them down and popped then into their stable. The first day without a carrot Granite showed in no uncertain terms he was not happy and tried to pin me against the stable wall to let me know.

Next lesson, I brought a carrot, cut into a number of bite sized pieces and slipped them to my horse surreptitiously. Once again, my horse was a happy horse.

Just to finish, here is another happy horse, well, for me at any rate. Rule the World was the winner of the 2016 National and it just so happened that he was the horse I pulled out in the draw. Happy days!


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Confessions of an Armchair Formula One Fan

F1 fanI’m not a great sports fan but I do like my motor sport. I first started following Formula One back in 1970 when I was a school boy.

1970 was a pretty exciting year for formula one racing. Colin Chapman and his Lotus team had unveiled their new Lotus 72, a revolutionary ground-breaking car that set the standard for formula one cars for years to come. Jochen Rindt won the World Championship but sadly he was killed in practice for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. His points score was never overtaken and so he took the crown posthumously. In fact three F1 drivers were killed that year, Rindt, Bruce Mclaren, the founder of the Mclaren F1 team, and Piers Courage who drove for Frank Williams, a black year indeed for motorsport.

Jack_BrabhamBack in the early 70s there wasn’t great TV coverage but I do remember watching the Monaco Grand Prix live on the BBC and I will always remember that moment when the potential winner, old hand Jack Brabham, slipped into the barrier on one of the last corners letting Jochen Rindt through to win.

A few years later the BBC was not happy about the explosion of advertising on Grand Prix cars and the crunch came when the cars of John Surtees displayed advertising for Durex. The BBC pulled the plug and F1 effectively vanished from British TV screens for a long while. Towards the end of the seventies the BBC began to broadcast the odd race now and again and then their show ‘Grand Prix’ with long time commentator Murray Walker began in 1978 although I don’t think they broadcast the entire season until 1979.

For most of the seventies I had to depend on BBC radio to find out what had happened at the Grand Prix. In 1978 I listened to a report from the Italian Grand Prix about a crash just after the start in which Ronnie Peterson was injured. Ronnie had broken both legs and been taken to hospital. I was glad to hear he was OK. Ronnie was one of those drivers who appeared to me to be destined for a world championship. If someone had told me in the early seventies that Niki Lauda would be a three times champion I would have laughed out loud. He didn’t look or sound like a champion, unlike Ronnie, his team mate at the STP March team in 1972. The next day I picked up a newspaper and was shocked to find Peterson had died during the night from a fat embolism resulting from his broken bones.

Senna, Mansell, and Prost were the great drivers of the eighties and Gerhard Berger sometimes looked like a future champion although he never made the cut. He survived a terrible crash at Imola in 1989 when he hit the wall at Tamburello and his Ferrari burst into flames. I was watching the race live and thinking how could anyone survive that but moments later a marshal’s van drove up and quickly put the fire out. Berger survived with only 1st degree burns to his hands.

Mansell won a great race at Silverstone in 1987, probably one of my favourite races. It was a gamble on Mansell’s part, turning up the boost on his Honda turbo engine to catch Piquet and on the last lap he should have ran out of fuel. According to his dashboard he had, but his Williams somehow kept running to the end finally grinding to a halt on the slowing down lap.

Alain Prost Mclaren 1988 German Grand Prix

Alain Prost Mclaren 1988 German Grand Prix

Alain Prost retired after a comeback season with Williams when he walked to his final world championship in 1993. In 1994 the Grand Prix circus came to Imola for the San Marino Grand Prix and I remember well watching the race live on TV when Senna crashed, again at Tamburello. Someone said to me ‘he’s dead’ but I disagreed, Berger’s crash was worse and he survived. Sadly, Senna did not.

Television has had a great influence on formula one racing. In the nineties Bernie Ecclestone seemed to be trying a lot of tweeks to get more viewers, especially after one rainy Saturday qualifying round when hardly any drivers went out on track. Naturally really because they could not hope to improve on the previous day’s dry running. That spelled the end of Friday qualifying and from then on, only times set on a Saturday counted towards the grid. That tweeking resulted in an interesting knockout qualifying format which is enjoyable and good for the sport but it hasn’t stopped the rulers of F1 trying to fiddle with it even more and that interference has cast a cloud over the first part of the 2016 season.

Bernie Ecclestone

Bernie Ecclestone (image courtesy Wikipedia)

Formula One team bosses are currently in something of a panic. Investors have poured millions of pounds into F1, not because they like the sport but because they find their investment can pay off big style in these days of multi million pound global TV and advertising deals. Reports of failing interest in the sport however has rung alarm bells and throughout the motorsporting media there have been calls to make F1 more interesting. Why are the cars not louder? Why are Mercedes winning all the time? Should we bring back refuelling? Is the high tech aspect ruining the driver input? There are even calls for Bernie Ecclestone, the aging F1 emperor to hand over to someone else. Only time will tell what will happen.

It sometimes makes me smile when I compare Formula 1 to other sports like cricket. Can you just imagine if Ecclestone and his investors had a stake in cricket and the TV viewing figures were down? What would happen then? Increase the number of overs? Maybe have an extra ball in each over, seven instead of six? Change the wooden ball to a rubber one? Add an extra stump?

Maybe they will resolve the issues, maybe not. F1 racing goes from terrestrial channels to Sky pay per view in 2019. Will I be subscribing? I’m not so sure . . .


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