Good Decision/Bad Decision

Decisions can change your life. That’s why it’s important to make the correct one but it’s always seemed to me that I tend to make the wrong one.

I wrote about my spectacles a few weeks back. You might think that in the general scheme of things specs don’t really amount to much but for someone like me who has worn glasses pretty much all his life they are a really big thing.

Just recently, being the tightwad I am I have trolled through the internet in search of cheap specs and as a result I have a pretty tasty pair of rimless distance specs, some handy readers, a slightly dud pair of varifocals which after I complained, the vendor replaced with another slightly less dodgy pair of varifocals and a pretty good pair of varifocals.

One day recently I got it into my head that for some reason I needed yet another pair. I thought that I could use the frames from my old and now defunct previous pair of specs and have new lenses added. So off I go to my opticians to sort it out. The old frames were actually pretty stylish and in good condition so all I needed was a set of new lenses however, that’s not quite how the optician saw it. New lenses meant having my old frames ‘reglazed’. This apparently entails a reglazing cost so actually it would be cheaper to buy some new frames. Ok I thought, how much are new frames? Well the optician directed me to a range that started at a mere £40 so I chose a pretty conventional pair of metal frames. Yes, said the optician, those frames look really good on you. Really? I said, giving myself a quick preen in the mirror. Ok she went on, let’s do a quick calculation. I myself had already done a calculation £40 plus lenses, still a little more than I intended paying so how much are we talking?

Of course, we had to factor in the anti glare coating and I had asked for what I always call Reactolite lenses, lenses that go dark when it gets sunny, apparently now called ‘Transition’ lenses. Yes, I can do you a great price said the optician, £245!

Now I’m not sure whether I was just a sucker for some smooth sales talk or perhaps had paid too much attention to the comment about the glasses looking ‘really good’ on me but instead of legging it straight for the door as per the instructions on my emergency tightwad help card I heard myself saying ‘OK’. Shortly afterwards I found myself drawn towards the card machine and paying money for another pair of expensive specs that actually I don’t really need. Good decision? Bad Decision!

Here’s another example. Quite a few years back I embarked on a career with GM Buses, the main bus operator in Manchester. It was always intended to be something to pay the rent while I found a proper job but somehow, I never found that proper job I was always looking for. After a few years I started to realise that, so I started trying for promotion. One day I put in for an inspector’s job. It was much more money, it was a supervisory role and best of all it was based in the depot so I didn’t have to deal with the great unwashed public. There were two vacancies, one in the Ardwick depot, about ten minutes from the city centre and another in Rochdale. I wasn’t interested in the Rochdale one as it was much too far away and I didn’t have any transport at the time. Ardwick though was pretty easy to get to, a quick bus into Manchester from Didsbury where I lived and then there were lots of buses heading south from the city centre through Ardwick.

The interview seemed to be going pretty well. There were three interviewers all coming at me with various questions and, because I had just read a book about how to have a great job interview, I had a shed load of answers as well as a host of questions to throw back at them. Anyway, after a while they asked me to step out of the room. When I was called back they asked me what would I do if they offered me the Rochdale job. Rochdale? That’s miles away I thought, so I said no thanks. No thanks? Good decision? Bad decision!

Okay, one last story. Years ago when I first lived in Didsbury I shared a flat with my friend Declan. (As usual names have been changed to protect the innocent.) Declan, or Dec as I called him worked at a garage and he was doing a day release training course. One particular day he was due to be on this course but he wanted to get away early to go out with his mates. He asked me to call in to his work and claim some kind of accident had happened and he had to leave. As it happened I wasn’t able to get to a phone that day so he asked one of our neighbours who was a chap who I had always thought wasn’t quite all there. In fact, he was what I’d probably call in no uncertain non pc terms, a nutter. Anyway, Dec was working happily away on his college course when he was called into the office. The principal was there looking pretty concerned and his secretary placed a glass of water in Dec’s hand.

‘How was your dad when you last saw him Declan?’ asked the principal. Dec wasn’t quite sure where this was going but he was eager to get off and get changed and to join his mates in the pub. ‘He seemed ok’ answered Dec and then took a long drink of his water.

‘Only he died this morning’ said the principal just before Declan sprayed the water all over him. I did tell Declan not to ask that guy to make a bogus call for him but he wouldn’t listen. Bad decision? Very bad decision!

Just now I’m on the verge of a very serious decision. I’m semi retired as I may have mentioned in previous posts and I’m thinking of just retiring now and spending more time on my writing, maybe even taking another step towards finishing the sequel to Floating in Space. I’ve tried to think of a film clip that’s appropriate and here’s one from one of my favourite films.

Robert Zemeckis directed the Back to the Future films as well as Forrest Gump and of course Castaway. At first I wasn’t sure about that ending, in fact I wasn’t even sure I liked the film itself but now I’ve come to think of it as something special. Tom’s character has to make a decision too, whether to go jetting off in a storm or staying with the girl he loved. He goes off in the plane, crash lands into the sea and spends four years on a desert island. When he is finally rescued he finds that the girl he loved has married someone else. After all, she thought he was dead.

Then comes the scene above, right at the end of the film. Which way does he go? Does he go back and follow the girl, after all it’s probably her place he has just visited with the fed ex parcel he has kept with him all these years so he can complete his job, that of delivering it. I like to think he goes back to see the girl and if you watch the clip on YouTube and read the comments, you’ll see that a lot of people thought the same.

Perhaps there are no good decisions or bad decisions. Just decisions.


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Avatar and The Cycle of Life

I don’t know about you but this hasn’t been a great week for me. I started off with a bit of an ache in my right arm but when you are as ancient as me you get used to your body sending over these signals of age every so often. After a few days it became worse, a nagging ache that turned into a pain. As it happened, I’d had that pain before, in fact, I’d even written about it in a blog post. I was going to write about it again but there was the old blog post just aching to have new life breathed into it, to be rewritten, remodelled or repurposed as we blog writers like to say. After all, no work of art is ever finished, just abandoned. Of course, I do have a sore arm and it’s difficult to type at the moment but what the heck, anyone who knows me understands that at heart I’m just a lazy old codger and so instead of writing something new like a real writer, here’s what happened last time I had a sore shoulder.

2002 (ish)

Samsara, in the Buddhist way is the cycle of life; birth death and rebirth, represented by the circle. That circular vision of life is not always so easy to explain but let me tell you about it in my own way.

A long time ago, years ago in fact I had this really bad pain down my right arm. It didn’t get any better, in fact it got worse and worse so I called in for an appointment at the doctors’. I got to see Doctor Kowalski (as usual names have been changed to protect the innocent.) The thing with Doctor Kowalski was that anyone could see him any time because he wasn’t a doctor who was much in demand. Why not you might ask? No one really wanted to see him because all he wanted was to get you into his office and get you out again.
I sat down and the doctor smiled and asked ‘how can I help you?’
‘Well,’ I began, ‘It’s this pain down the side of my arm . .’
I stopped because Doctor Kowalski was already writing out a prescription. Already, and this was before he had examined me and before I had even finished speaking. Moments later I was on my way out of his surgery and the next patient was already on his way in. All I had to show for it was a prescription for pain killers.

Dr Kowalski must have looked good on the surgery stats as it looked like he dealt quickly with a lot of patients but as we all know, statistics don’t always tell the full story.

A few days later the pain was as bad as ever so I went back but I asked to see Doctor Edwards. Now Doctor Edwards was one of the most popular doctors in the surgery. Why? Because he actually listened to you! He was fully booked up for a while and it took me a week to get in to see him but when finally I sat down in his office, he listened attentively, asked a few questions, took a look at my arm and then sent me for an X ray. It turned out I had a nerve trapped in my neck which was referring pain to my arm and I needed to see the physiotherapist but the waiting time was about six weeks so I decided to go to a private physio.

2021

Anyway, back to 2021 and here I am finding that the only pain free position available is reclining on the couch. Ok I thought, as I’m in position anyway I might as well fire up the TV and slap a DVD in. What did I have that I hadn’t seen for a while? Well the DVD I chose was Avatar. A few years back I got into a conversation with Liz’s younger daughter about the great films of all time and the one she chose was Avatar. Yes, I said, but you’re probably not familiar with real great classic films like Sunset Boulevard, Citizen Kane, Casablanca or even The Godfather. No really, she said, watch Avatar, it’s amazing.

Avatar was written and directed by James Cameron and I have to admit he has made some pretty good films. The first two Terminator films were his projects and he was also responsible for Aliens, the second in the Alien series of films and a great film in its own right. Titanic was again written and directed by Cameron and was just not only an enjoyable film but also a magnificent feat of film making involving a huge mock up of the Titanic built on hydraulic rams which enabled it to drop into the sea for the sinking sequences.

Avatar makes a lot of use of CGI, computer generated images, only this film takes CGI to a whole new level. I actually think that CGI can detract from a film because sometimes it’s so obvious that you are watching something generated by a computer. In Avatar, the imagery and effects are nothing short of incredible. The film is like a sci-fi combination of Dances With Wolves and a Vietnam war film. In the future, an alien planet called Pandora is ripe for exploitation of its vast mineral wealth. The only problem is that a tribe of humanoids, the Na’vi, inhabit the planet and they are not so happy about moving just so the earth people can come and dig up their planet and mine its precious metals. Because of this, the military have initiated the Avatar project which involves growing an alien body and then using technology to transfer a human mind into it, so better first hand relations can be made with the tribe. Jake, a crippled ex marine is invited into the team to take over one of the Avatars and a series of events enable him to get close to the tribe. His job is to convince the Na’vi to move away but as time goes on, he finds himself becoming closer to the tribe and evermore understanding and respectful of their ties to nature and their way of life.

Computer technology has enabled Cameron to produce some incredible scenes of beautiful other worldly forest landscapes as well as numerous animals the tribe interact with and the story that the director weaves is a very thoughtful and moving one. Avatar really is a film that is up there with the all time great films of the cinema world.

2002 (ish)

I eventually got to see the NHS physio. She was a lady, a little old lady in fact. When I walked in to see her she offered me a seat then shouted at me to ‘sit up straight!’ No wonder I had neck and back issues because my posture was dreadful! She may have been a little old lady but she gave me some stick, not only verbally but she did a lot of work on my neck with her hands and eventually the pain in my arm slipped away and I gradually returned to normal.

At the end of my treatment she told me that if the issue returned not to bother going to the doctor again; ‘Come straight to me and I’ll sort you out but for heavens sake, sit up straight. Get your posture right and you’ll be fine!’ ‘OK,’ I said, ‘thanks.’

Some months went by and I began to get the same symptoms again so I went into the doctors’ surgery and asked to see the physio. The lady on the desk said no, I had to see the doctor first. I told her what the physio had said, go straight to her but the receptionist was adamant- I could only see the physio with a referral from the doctor. As I was dejectedly leaving the surgery I saw the physio and went over and told her what happened. She took me back to the reception, gave the receptionist there some first class stick and booked me in the next week to see her. Happy days!

About six to eight months later I once again began getting the neck and arm problems so I returned to the surgery. The receptionist advised me (with far too much smugness, I thought) that the physio had retired and a new younger model had taken over and this one would not see me without first seeing the doctor.

I made an appointment, went in to see the doctor and found myself with Dr Kowalski, pen in hand, ready to write me out a prescription for painkillers!

2021

My arm was really killing me so I went in to see my GP. I called in for an appointment but apparently, appointments can only be arranged by calling in at 8am. The next day I tried calling but could only get an engaged tone. When I finally got through all the appointments for that day were taken. I did manage to get myself booked into a private physiotherapist and he got straight to work giving my neck and shoulder a good pummelling and leaving me with a regime of exercises to do.

The next morning Liz got up at 8 and called the doctors’ surgery. After about thirty minutes she finally got through and managed to get me booked in to see the doctor. I dragged myself and my sore arm along and as I was telling Doctor Khan my story of pain and woe the good doctor was already sorting me out some painkillers and a sick note and telling me that I would be fine within a week, a prediction that has so far failed to come true.

See, the world is a circle after all!


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A Series of ‘What If’ Events

Last week I wrote a blog post about my life with spectacles. I’ve worn glasses almost all my life and I thought writing about the world seen through corrective lenses was a pretty good idea. I’ve said many times in this blog that my writing is always aimed at one person in particular and that happens to be me so it’s no surprise that I actually really liked that post.

I tinkered with it for quite a while adding new bits here and there. I made a pretty interesting graphic for it made from shots of myself wearing different pairs of specs. I liked that so much I went a step further and made an animated version, one where the text and the pictures seem to just slip into place.

Feeling pretty pleased with myself I thought I’d make a quick promo video with which to plug the post on Twitter and Facebook. Yes, there I was feeling good about my work and my media profile. I put the video on my Facebook page with a little announcement ‘New Post Coming Tomorrow’. I felt like a real media genius and then while I was scheduling the post for my usual time on Saturday, my big fat fingers slipped and pressed the publish button by mistake. If only it had gone out at the usual time of 10am on Saturday morning, I reckon it would have pulled in so many more readers and potential book buyers. Oh well, if only . . .

I wrote about my old Dad a few weeks back. I wrote specifically about his diary as like me, he was keen on keeping a diary and a notebook. Journaling is important for us writers. Don’t take my word for it; Marcus Aurelius Thought so too and he was a great Roman philosopher and of course, an emperor.

My Dad died when he was 72. He lived, I suppose, a good life. He worked hard and was happy walking his dog and keeping his garden in shape. He enjoyed his favourite sport of boxing and was fond of anyone who might possibly beat Mohammed Ali. Ali, or so Dad thought, was a fraud and the ultimate ‘fix’ was Ali’s fake ‘defeat’ of Dad’s idol, Rocky Marciano, in a so called computer fight.

In his youth Dad had a few years of excitement when he joined the army and his memories of army life he kept with him to the end of his days, sharing little stories every now and then to me and my brother. He left school at 14 and worked on farms because back then before World War II, Wythenshawe, a suburb to the south of Manchester where I was brought up, was very much a rural area before the urban development of the 1950’s and 60’s.

He told me once that a farmer he worked for was moving to a new farm in neighbouring Cheshire, in a village called Lymm. Lymm is a very posh area indeed and because a lot of it is green belt land, few housing developments have emerged there, so today it looks pretty similar to what it did in my Dad’s time. At least it did when I last visited, many years ago. The farmer asked my Dad to come with him to Lymm to work on the new farm. It was a better area he said and he would have sorted Dad out with accommodation but Dad declined, choosing to stay in Wythenshawe with his family. If he had moved he would perhaps have met someone else other than my mother. He would have courted and eventually married this new lady and I might never have been born. If I had still emerged as his son, I would have been substantially different, with a different gene set up and a different background.

Strangely enough, many years later I met an old friend on that long defunct web site Friends Reunited. Alan lived just round the corner from me and as children we used to meet up regularly at either his or my back door and we’d both produce a selection of comics, usually American ones like Batman, Superman, Spiderman and so on and decide which ones to swap. I always liked Batman and Superman but there was also the Green Lantern, The Fantastic Four and a whole host of superheroes that today’s youth are probably more familiar with from the cinema. I enjoyed the first Superman and Batman films and also the first Spiderman movie but some of the rest haven’t really done it for me. Maybe that’s because the comics themselves have changed. In the film world they often talk about rebooting a particular film franchise with new actors playing the parts of the franchise hero. James Bond is probably the film series that started off the notion of franchising.

Sean Connery gave way to George Lazenby; Lazenby gave way to Connery again and then Roger Moore and so on down to the present day Bond, Daniel Craig. The Superman films have been rebooted and also the Batman series. Ages ago I picked up a DVD copy of Batman Begins. I wasn’t crazy about the film, mainly because it was so different from the comic book Batman I used to read. The thing is, while I had been absent from reading comic books and generally getting on with my life, the comic books themselves rebooted with new artists and a new origin story for Batman. In this version Bruce Wayne’s parents are still murdered by a mugger but then Bruce goes off to Tibet or somewhere and in a sequence a little like Batman meets Kung Fu, Bruce, who is Batman’s alter ego in case you didn’t know, is trained in the ancient arts of martial combat. He then returns to Gotham City and becomes Batman.

Yes, other comics have rebooted things too with new artists and new layouts and new back stories for their characters. I didn’t care much for the X-Men films but I did used to read the comic versions. In my day The Beast was one of the X-Men but he is nowhere to be seen in the films and Wolverine must have been just a gleam in some comic book writer’s eye when I read about the X-Men because I had never heard of him until I saw the film

Anyway, getting back to Alan my comic swapping friend. Alan was shorter than me and a pretty tubby guy. In the late 60’s he and his family emigrated to Australia. I never heard from him again until we met, as I mentioned, on Friends Reunited. One day on our internet chat Alan asked me to pass on the regards and best wishes of his Dad on to my Mum. I told her and asked did she remember Alan and his Dad. It turned out that Alan’s Dad was once engaged to my Mother. They had gone out together for a while but Mum liked dancing, Alan’s Dad didn’t and when she went dancing he was forever questioning her, asking her who she was with, who she danced with and so on. Eventually she gave him the bullet.

Of course, if she had married Alan’s Dad, once again I wouldn’t have been born. At least not as I am now. I would have been Alan. I would have been the short chubby lad who liked comics and moved to Australia. The thing is, if my Dad had also married someone else, where would that leave me, buying comics in Australia or flicking through comics in a Cheshire village shop?

Just going back to superheroes for a minute, I reckon it would be kind of good to have some superpowers for a day or so. Not necessarily superpowers even, I’d settle for some martial arts skills. During the period I had the powers or the skills, I’d take no messing from anyone. If anyone was rude to me, they’d get a slap and if someone tried to mug me, well I’d send them flying along with a flea in their ear. Once when I was in my twenties, I arrived at my friend Chris’ house to pick him up for a night out. Sometimes we’d go to the Valley Lodge Hotel near the airport where they had a really good night club. I’d leave my car there and Chris and I would both make our own way home. Sometimes he’d pick me up and we’d go into town and he’d be the one to leave his car somewhere.

Once when I was waiting for him to finish getting ready there was a knock on the door. It was a guy called Dennis. Dennis was a bit of a local villain, a very tough hombre and although I knew him, I didn’t know him very well. He had somehow had his car towed away by the police. I’m not sure why but naturally he wasn’t happy. Actually, he was hopping mad and looked like he wanted to take his anger out on someone. He was visiting his mother’s house a few doors away from Chris when this outrage occurred and he wanted an urgent lift to his friend’s place, a ten minute drive away. Chris suggested I take Dennis while he finished getting dressed. I wasn’t too keen on the idea but went along with it. Five minutes down the road we came across a big fella wandering idly across the road. I beeped my horn but all the guy did was give me the V sign and swear at me so I swerved across the road to miss him. ‘Wait a minute’, said Dennis. ‘That’s well out of order, we’re not having that’.

‘It doesn’t matter’, I said. ‘No! Pull up here’ snapped Dennis. We stopped and Dennis stepped out of the car to advise the big fella that his manners were substantially lacking. The guy didn’t take this well, in fact he wasn’t happy at all and a fight began. Dennis basically taught the guy a major lesson in manners that I doubt he ever forgot. I dropped Dennis off at his friend’s house and he left me with thanks as I had apparently got him out of a major spot. ‘If there’s anything I can ever do for you’ he called, ‘give me a shout’.

Now I had no intention of giving Dennis a shout I can assure you and in fact I never did. The good thing about knowing Dennis though was that his reputation as a tough thug was pretty welcome sometimes. I once met him whilst queuing up to get into Fridays, a local nightclub, and he greeted me like a long-lost friend. He convinced the bouncers to let me in without paying the usual outrageous entrance fee and once inside after chatting with him at the bar for a while, I had the feeling that the local punters were eyeing me with a new found respect.

Another place I liked to frequent was a huge pub called the Snooty Fox. They had live music on at weekends and the place was on two levels with a games area upstairs. It had a late bar so back in those far off days, my friends and I could stay out late without having to pay night club prices. Also it was full of pretty girls waiting to hear whatever corny chat up lines we were using back then. The bouncers on the door were of the big neanderthal gorilla type and to be fair, they needed to be because that bar was a pretty rough place. I remember going in one time and a new bouncer stopped me at the door.

‘I know you from somewhere’ he said, breathing stale donner kebab breath all over me. ‘You look like a trouble maker.’

‘Me? No, I’m a quiet lad. You’ll get no trouble from me’

A bit later on I realised who he was. Yes, he was the guy crossing the road the time that Dennis had given him a lesson in bad manners. That was my last night in the Snooty and I was out of there like the proverbial wonga bird before he realised who I was. Pity! If only I hadn’t given Dennis that lift . .

Here’s one final, ‘what if’ story.

I think I’ve mentioned before in these pages that I went from working in an insurance company to being a bus conductor. Working on the buses wasn’t a great career move by any means but I didn’t like being out of work and for a while that new job was actually quite a lot of fun. Friends told me that working shifts would be the end of my social life but actually it was really the beginning of my social life. At the end of an early shift, I could usually be found down at the busman’s club, playing snooker and pool. After a late shift I’d be heading to the pub for last orders or sometimes heading off to a night club. It was all great fun and as someone who suffered greatly from an intense shyness, I found that being a bus conductor brought me out of myself and that gradually I was becoming more and more confident.

Some years later though the company made us all into one-man drivers and driving through the streets of Manchester on my own wasn’t my cup of tea at all. I was desperate to get another job but I didn’t know how to do it or what to do. One day I decided to start my own business selling motor sport merchandise. I called it Armchair Motorsport and I rented a unit inside the Corn Exchange in Manchester city centre. I worked on my small business for about a year. I didn’t make a great deal of money but I did spend a great deal of time chatting about Formula One racing. In fact, now I think about it, a great many of my customers used to come in and buy me a tea from the nearby café, come in, sit down and we’d talk Formula One.

One of my customers was a big Ferrari fan and was always on the look out for Ferrari memorabilia. There was a particular book he wanted and it took me a long time to get it for him but he was really pleased when I did. He mentioned that he drove a Ferrari and said he’d come down one day and show it to me. On the appointed day he came into the shop and asked me to hurry as he was outside on a double yellow line. We hurried outside and I have to say, I was eager to see his car. I expected a blood red Ferrari Dino or something similar.  As a matter of fact, I fully expected to see my favourite car the Ferrari Dino 246GT, the one driven by Tony Curtis in the TV series The Persuaders.

The car wasn’t a Dino, it was actually a very dull saloon car. It wasn’t even red. It was a rather drab green and I have to say I don’t think I disguised my disappointment very well although my customer assured me that the car drove and handled every bit as well as one might imagine a Ferrari to handle.

The aftermath of the IRA bomb, Manchester, 1996. Photo courtesy of BBC

After a year of relatively poor trading, it was time to sell up and say goodbye to the Corn Exchange. I’ve always wondered if I could have lasted longer. Perhaps if I had advertised more, done more promotions, increased my advertising I could have built up a good business. I could have made a decent amount of money, expanded and perhaps employed some staff so I could have spent more time at home or dining at my favourite restaurants but it was not to be. If only I could have made it work.

Then again, not long afterwards the area was destroyed by an IRA bomb planted nearby. If I’d stayed, if my business had worked out, I could have been blown to pieces.


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A Matter of Perspective

Quite a while back, probably over two years ago, I seemed to be having problems focussing my right eye. My right eye is actually my good eye, the other, the left one is what my optician has always called my lazy eye. Years ago as a schoolboy I had to watch TV for an hour a day with a patch over my good eye. This was supposed to make my left eye, the lazy one, pull its way a bit more. That was successful to a point but the right one has always been better.

I called the doctor and he recommended that I go to see my optician. I called Specsavers who could not fit me in at first but when I mentioned the eye problems they asked me to come in straight away. I had an eye test and the problem was resolved. I needed a new prescription, no health issues at all, so they said. I wasn’t happy so a more senior optometrist was called in and he concurred, all I needed was a new prescription.

I still wasn’t happy. At the time my right eye seemed to be all gummy and I felt that perhaps I had some sort of infection. I started rinsing that eye with a salt water solution and after a week it all seemed to clear up. I have to admit I was a little scared for a while, after all, it wasn’t as if it was my bad eye, my good eye was the problem one. What would have happened if it had gone worse, if I had lost the sight in that eye? I wouldn’t be able to drive, I wouldn’t be able to get to work. No more motorhoming holidays. It would have been difficult to even write with just my bad eye. Yes, looking back, that was actually a serious health scare, perhaps even the scariest health scare I’ve ever had.

I went back to pick up my new specs about ten days later and surprise surprise, I couldn’t see a thing through them. No wonder! I’d had an eye test when my right eye wasn’t working properly. I still think I had an eye infection that they hadn’t spotted in the opticians. Another eye test followed. It was with a new fangled gadget that I had to put my head in and the optician changed lenses with a touch of a button. I wasn’t comfortable but at least my eye seemed better and a few weeks later I had a brand new pair of specs. They weren’t perfect but at least I could see pretty well.

This year I had another eye test at a different opticians. This time I went to Boots. The optician seemed to be a little more precise than the previous ones and not only that, he gave me an eye test in the traditional way, you know with the frames in which he slips in different lenses and ask things like ‘is this better or worse, is this clearer or not?’

All seemed pretty good until I saw the prices of the glasses they were selling. Being a card carrying tightwad I declined to pay those high street prices and just then found various internet stores selling bargain priced specs. I sometimes find it a little creepy when you do a few searches on Google for something; specs, an electric saw, a digital camera or whatever and the next thing you know, every site that you visit that carries advertising, all you can see are ads for specs, electric saws and digital cameras. Just shows you what those little inoffensive things called cookies do when you let them into your personal cyber world.

Anyway, I bought a pair of specs from a company called Goggles4u. They are based in the USA and looked pretty cheap. Almost just as I was about to press the buy now button, a discount voucher pinged up on my screen and I was able to buy my first internet spectacles at a very low price indeed.

I waited a hell of a long time for them but in the current Covid wary world there wasn’t much else to do except watch TV, listen to music and look for more things to buy on eBay.

One day my new specs arrived. I tried them on and the result was amazing. I wasn’t struggling to see small things anymore, everything was pin sharp. Watching the new F1 season opener on TV I could actually see those little boxes they display on the broadcast showing the current standings and lap times and what tyres each driver was using. To those of you with 20 20 vision you might not understand but seeing perfectly and sharply is nothing short of wonderful. The great thing with my new specs is that I clicked the box for what I’ve always called Reactolite lenses, actually photochromic lenses that react to bright light and darken when it’s sunny. Believe me, I was going round taking in things as if I’d never seen them before.

Fashion is a pretty big part of spectacles. Lots of top designers produce trendy spectacle frames and the resulting product can have a fairly hefty price tag. When I was a school kid growing up on a council estate I always wore national health spectacles with national health frames. You know the ones I mean, the ones with black plastic frames. Sometimes I got called names like ‘speccy four eyes’. I never liked those frames but as I grew up I got the chance to actually have some trendier frames. I always liked those metal rimmed frames. I was probably still at school when I got my first pair. Only after moaning and begging and pleading to my mother. She probably bought those glasses just to shut me up.

One day when I had left school and could afford to pay for my frames I bought some aviator styles. I always loved that aviator shape you know, that sort of stylish aerodynamic looking frame. I even had a pair with smoked graduated lenses. That’s just an excuse to show you my favourite picture of myself. I was 21 and had the whole world at my feet. I was in Paris having just packed my job in and I was having the time of my life with one of my best friends, and I loved those glasses. A lot of years later when my optician recommended a pair of reading glasses I had those same aviator frames turned into reading glasses.

Now that I have turned to the internet I am the proud owner of quite a few new pairs of specs. My favourites are probably the rimless ones but they do have a bit of an annoying element. Almost but not quite outside my vision to the right and to the left are two hinges that connect to the spectacle arms. I can’t quite see them but they are there and they are annoying.

Of course you might be thinking why even bother with glasses? It’s the 21st century, I could get contact lenses or even have laser treatment. Laser treatment? Like when they fire laser beams into your eyes? I don’t think so. I’ve worn glasses from ever since I can remember so I think I’ll stick with them if you don’t mind. One of my earliest memories was as a very young schoolboy going for that regular meeting with the school nurse or ‘Nitty Nora’ as we referred to her. For us spectacle wearers the first thing Nitty used to ask was to take off our glasses and place them on the table. That was OK if you put them down face up but bad if you set them face down because that way the lens could get scratched or marked by the table top.

Elton John is probably the most famous spectacle wearer of all time. He even once wore a pair of specs with little windscreen wipers. John Lennon is another famous spectacle wearer. He wore those famous round glasses that you will see if you just type ‘Lennon glasses’ into Google.

The glasses he was wearing when he was shot dead in 1980 were used by Yoko Ono to protest against gun violence. She also used the picture on her solo album Season of Glass which I’ve always found hugely shocking but then shock was an emotion that she and Lennon used frequently in their work.

Superman wore glasses too. Clark Kent, Superman’s alter ego wore a set of black plastic specs as a disguise. How Lois Lane who worked with Clark at the Daily Planet newspaper never noticed that Clark was just Superman wearing a suit and a pair of glasses, I’ll never know. The funny thing is the glasses that I always hated, those black plastic ones that Clark and my younger self wore, are today pretty fashionable.

Which pair shall I wear today then?


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Blogging by Numbers

Despite being constantly at home and within easy reach of my laptop and notebook I seem to be struggling to write anything lately. I was looking around for a new blog post and finally decided to set myself a task. Writing about numbers. Difficult I know but if I’m the top notch writer I think I am then it won’t be that hard, will it?

Back in the 1980’s I received my first debit card just like many other people. Debit cards were a new concept back then. We already had credit cards but a debit card, what was that about? Back in pre-debit card days when everything was in black and white like an old film, we used to have to go into the bank to withdraw cash. I remember queuing at the bank on a Friday lunchtime in Manchester City centre waiting to draw some cash out for that weekend’s activities. The way we did it back then was to write a cheque to yourself or as I was taught to do ‘pay bearer cash’. In 1987 debit cards were first introduced in the UK although they had been around for a while in the USA. As you can imagine I didn’t actually know that, I had to look it up so while I’ve got that Google page open here are a few interesting facts from the BBC:

The earliest known cheque was written in 1659 dated the 16th February. The Bank of England was established in 1694. The first five pound note was issued in 1793 and was the lowest denomination note until 1797 when war drained the UK bullion reserves forcing the bank of England to issue one and two pound notes. 1966 was when the first UK credit cards were issued and of course, the debit card in 1987.

The first cash machine was put into use by Barclays Bank in 1967 and the machine was revealed with much fanfare by comedy actor Reg Varney who you may remember from the TV series On The Buses. The cash machine of 1967 was operated not by a debit card but by a voucher issued by the bank which was then entered into the cash machine.

It was interesting to hear about Reg Varney because, getting back to numbers, for my debit card secret number I decided to use the fleet number of the bus I was driving that day.

14.

Here’s another number: 14. Yes 14 was the number of the house I lived at as a child. My parents house was a council house and it was my grandad and grandmother’s house until they bought their own house and moved away to Wales. My mother managed to take the house over on the understanding that her brother and sister could continue to live there although by the time I came along they had both found their own homes.

Many years ago I came back to the house and parked outside and spent a few moments remembering the times of my childhood. I parked opposite and took the picture you can see here from the same spot where many years earlier I had first riden my two wheeled bike. The bike was really too tall for me and I could only get on it from the pavement. I spent a lot of weeks riding round the block making only left hand turns until I returned to my starting place. Eventually I got the hang of it. There used to be a hedge across the front of the garden which has now been removed to access the parking place which is also new. I do have a nice picture of me stood in that garden. Wish I could find it for this post but it’s upstairs in a box at my Mum’s house. One day I think I’ll go back and try and reproduce that picture if the present occupants will let me.

The memories that come flooding back just from looking at that picture. My friend Gary Chapman lived just around the corner and we went all over on our bikes. One Christmas, Gary’s parents bought him a set of walkie takies. He always got really great presents. I remember once complaining to my mum who promptly told me that because Gary and his family lived in a flat and not a house, they had less rent to pay so had more money for presents! A few times Gary left me one of the walkie talkies and we had a conversation later that night. Battery power was limited so we arranged to switch on at a prearranged time, 8:30 or something. Our conversations went like this:

‘Gaz, are you receiving?’

‘Gaz here. Loud and clear. Are you receiving Ste?’

‘Steve here. Loud and clear.’

‘Receiving you loud and clear Ste.’

Not long after that Gary and his family were offered a council house but it was in Gamesley, Glossop, a Manchester overspill estate. Gary moved away and I didn’t see him again for years. I met him again in the late 1980’s. A mutual friend of ours, Chris had bumped into Gary’s sister, got Gary’s phone number and we all arranged to meet up. I remember being in a bar in Manchester waiting for Gary. I was at the bar which was pretty busy, getting the beers in when I heard Gary’s voice. It was just how I remembered Gary from years ago. I could hear ‘where’s Ste?’ ‘he’s over there at the bar’. I turned round expecting to see Gary but there was just this guy stood behind me that I didn’t recognise. Where’s Gary I thought? ‘Ste?’ said the stranger. It was Gary. He looked completely different but his voice, a distinctive throaty voice, was just the same.

71.

My very first car had the registration plate PDB71M. It actually caused a lot of confusion when I bought it because I traded in my motorbike, a Honda CB250 with the very similar registration PDB1M. Incredibly, checking on the Gov.UK website my motorcycle is still registered. It was a green Honda first registered in 1974. It has no tax or MOT so presumably it is languishing in the back of someone’s garage, rusting and probably neglected. My car was a Reliant Bond Bug which does not come up on a website search so presumably it went to the scrap yard many years ago. I bought it because I failed my first two attempts at the driving test and was really getting fed up. Of course we didn’t have a family car so the only driving I could do was the one hour a week on a Saturday morning that was my actual driving lesson. The Bond Bug was a three wheeler car and could be driven on a motorcycle license. After a few months regular driving I booked the test again and sailed through it.

I remember pulling up at home in my car feeling very pleased with myself. The car was small, it was an orange wedge shaped two seater and my Dad took one look at it and said ‘How are we all supposed to get in that?‘ and walked away. Presumably he thought I would be taking the family away on holiday. Sorry Dad!

126.

While I’m on the subject of firsts, my first camera was either a birthday or Christmas present and it was a Kodak Instamatic 126. I still have the camera. From my point of view it was a wonderful present; from my parents perspective, perhaps not, because back then in the late sixties cameras needed film and film had to be developed and printed which was fairly costly, especially if you had a child that liked taking pictures and also, whose first attempts were not so good. These days if you take some dud pictures with a digital camera- delete them! It’s no big deal. Back then it was expensive!

I remember getting a major verbal lashing from my Mum when we had gone to Boots to collect my photographs. I was using colour film and Mum had to shell out for my pictures of my action man in various poses in the back garden! (Action man? Hey, I was 12!)

I remember telling the lady in the camera shop about my photography and how I used to build all kinds of stuff out of cardboard and photograph the results. She told me about a close up lens you could buy which just fit snugly over the camera lens on my Instamatic and enabled me to get really close up shots. I’m not sure how much it was but I had to save up for it, my first ever new lens!

0063.

Back in the eighties when I received my first debit card I was a bus driver. Why I stayed in that job for so long I’ll never know but back then in the eighties there was a relentless move towards one man operated buses. Eventually I became a one man driver. It involved more money but also more work. Instead of just driving the bus you had to issue tickets and collect fares but anyone becoming a one man driver in those days was given a new staff number. I became driver 0063: Double O six three, licensed to drive buses.

Just looking at those numbers together (not including by debit card number of course) gives me 1,4,7,1,1,2,6,6,3. I could add my present staff number into the mix, 6102 and there must be a lottery number in there somewhere. Is it a rollover this weekend? Excuse me, think I might just get myself a lottery ticket!


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James Hilton, Winston Churchill and the Lockdown

When I get stuck looking for a new idea for a blog post I sometimes look back at my old ones just to see if anything there might inspire me. Sometimes I’ll think of something I could have said about a particular subject which I didn’t say at the time so I’ll start writing about that and then I’m off. Sometimes a writer just needs something to start him off. In fact over on Twitter I sometimes use a meme that goes like this

Some old posts can also be re-purposed. That is to say an old post can be given a new lease of life by a re-write, a few new paragraphs, some new pictures and maybe a link to a relevant video. One old post I looked at tapped right into a long running daydream of mine. Imagine me, a writer from the north of England getting the chance to go and work in Hollywood, writing scripts. I can just imagine the trip over on a Jumbo Jet or whatever passes for a jumbo jet these days. Arriving in Hollywood and looking at all the sights I have read about and imagined over the years, The Brown Derby restaurant, Romanoffs, Schwabs drugstore and maybe even catching a glimpse of Pickfair, the old Fairbanks/Pickford mansion on Summit Drive, the home according to David Niven’s book Bring on The Empty Horses of many of the great stars of the golden age of Hollywood.

Alas, every single one of those places has gone eclipsed by the passage of time. Even the new owners of Pickfair, actress Pia Zadora and her millionaire husband, decided that after aquiring such an historic place, the best thing to do would be to knock it down. Termites had ruined the property, or so they claimed.

One other thing that is real enough is the bit about the writer from the north of England making his way over to Hollywood. No, it wasn’t me, it was James Hilton, the author of one of my favourite books of all time.

James Hilton is one of my personal writing heroes and yet his name may be unfamiliar to many of you reading this blog. He was a journalist and an author and made the trip from his home in Leigh, Lancashire, (now Greater Manchester) in the UK to the Hollywood hills in the United States to become a screen writer. He is probably more well known for his book ‘Goodbye Mr Chips’ which was made into a film with Robert Donat (actually another northerner from Didsbury in Manchester) but my favourite of his books and quite possibly my all-time favourite book is ‘Lost Horizon’.

Lost Horizon is a book I found in a second-hand shop many years ago. A battered 1940s paperback I paid twenty-five pence for and yet that small investment has paid me back many times over for sheer reading pleasure as Lost Horizon is a book I re read every year or so and I often pull it down from my bookshelf when a current read fails to entertain me.

Lost Horizon is a completely original idea and is about British consul Robert Conway in the dark days before World War II. Conway is helping his fellow British citizens escape from civil war in China and he and his small party escape in the last plane only to be kidnapped and taken to a distant Tibetan monastery. Conway meets the High lama and after a time it is revealed that the Tibetans  want to preserve the best of world culture and art and make it safe from the coming war.

Hilton is one of those few people who have invented a word or coined a phrase that has become part of the English language. In this case it was the name of the Tibetan monastery, Shangri-la which has since become a byword for a peaceful paradise, a distant haven. Camp David, the US President’s retreat was originally called Shangi-la until renamed by Eisenhower for his son, David.

Hilton’s journey from Leigh to Hollywood must have been a magical one and one I envy, especially as his time in Hollywood was a golden age for movie making. Lost Horizon was made into a movie by Hollywood director Frank Capra and starred Ronald Colman as the urbane British diplomat of the novel. It’s a movie that was restored some time ago and is a great DVD if you happen to see it. Colman also starred in another movie authored by Hilton; ‘Random Harvest ‘.

Hilton settled in Hollywood and wrote a number of screenplays for classic Hollywood movies such as ‘Mrs Miniver ‘. Sadly he died from cancer in 1954.

How would Hilton have coped with the Lockdown? Pretty well I should imagine. Professional writers are not like us amateurs, they are not governed by how they feel, if they are in the mood or not, if they are feeling creative or not. They just get on with it.

A few weeks back I decided that a good project for me would be to make one of my blogs into a video. I chose one from a short while ago A Letter to my Younger Self. I opened up my laptop, clicked on my Animoto page and began. I’m still working on it. It wasn’t as easy as I had thought. I could quite easily have read the post to camera but I wanted something a little more exciting and the good thing about Animoto is that they have a great library of stock footage and photos so combined with some of my own images the result should be good.

Here’s the problem though, and this is the big issue with technology that I come across time after time. Once the designers have put together a great peice of software or an electronic device, they just cannot leave it alone. Windows Sound Recorder: they replaced it with Windows Voice Recorder and all the things I used to do on there, I can no longer do. Windows Movie Maker: my favourite video editing platform: discontinued in favour of HD Movie Maker. The old version was so much better especially when editing sound. The new version is quite different. In the past I could position and reposition sound clips with the mouse now in HD Movie Maker the user can only trim sound or use the delay option. Oh well at least Animoto, the online editing platform I use frequently is untouched, or so I thought.

Wrong! This week Animoto unleashed a new version of its editing software on its users. Does it have improved features? Yes. Is it easier to use? No. Well to be fair it’s not bad but every so often the web page seems to crash and I have to reload the page and start editing again from the point my work was saved. Perhaps that’s the fault of my laptop although it never lost the page with the old version. There are some other litle teaks I don’t like too so I might just put that project on hold for now.

This week Prime Minister Boris Johnson decided to ease the current lockdown. Now we can return to work and also travel around if we want to visit somewhere. Most businesses are still closed of course but it might mean places like Blackpool and other seaside resorts will be expecting daytrippers soon. Personally I think his advice is ill advised and we should be keeping the lockdown on for a while longer. The thing is, the devolved governments of Scotland and Wales seem to agree with me so if you are planning a trip to either of those places soon, forget it because the lockdown is still in place there.

The other night I stayed up late watching the film Darkest Hour which is about Winston Churchill and the beginning of his Prime Ministership in World War II. It paints a rather bleak picture of Winston’s premiership with the Conservative party apparently holding back from supporting him and a growing clique actually wanting to replace him with Lord Halifax. When France fell to the Nazis Halifax wanted to explore peace talks with Hitler which Churchill was violently opposed to. I’m not sure how true to life the film was and although I can imagine not everyone was 100% behind Churchill, I found some of this film a little hard to believe. There was a vote of no confidence in the commons in 1942 although Churchill won this by a resounding 475 votes to 25. In the film, conservatives still will not support Churchill in the commons until outgoing premier Neville Chamberlain signalled them to do so by placing a white hankerchief on his knee. By then Chamberlain and his policy of appeasement were totally discredited so would he really have had such sway over his fellow MPs? I doubt it.

What Churchill would think of today’s devolved government I shudder to think.

In these difficult times I take comfort from, as usual, Marcus Aurelius. I receive a regular email from The Daily Stoic and it is surprising how words of wisdom from the past can be relevant to today. One email I picked up this week went like this : All of us who are alive today are the last in an unbroken line of our ancestors who survived two world wars, the plague and much more. They kept calm, they carried on. They learned, as Marcus did, that things can only ruin your life if they ruin your character. We might not control world events, but we can control how we respond. We control whether we hold our heads high. We control whether we help our neighbours. We control whether we contribute to the panic or not.

Not only that, the important thing to remember about the Corona Virus is that . . .


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Yet Another Slice of my Life

Yes, it’s time to take a rest from books and classic TV and take a look at my own life again, not that there is much going on there but hopefully I can find something reasonably interesting to tell you about and stop you clicking away to a rival website for a while.

These days my life seems to be split into two, five days looking after my elderly mother who is 90 years old and suffering with dementia and then five free days with the lovely Liz in St Annes.

As I’m semi-retired I only work for three days out of nine but as I spend those with my mother my poor old brother has to do some extra caring when I am at work.

Sometimes, as is the case with many dementia sufferers, my mum can act pretty normally and then at other times she can be very difficult.

One night this week she woke me up 5 times with various issues and I was so tired when I came into work. That particular day was a busy day but I was in my favourite role, running the radio channel in the motorway control room where I work. It can be a difficult job especially when there are many incidents and you have to remember what is happening at each incident and prioritise the workload.

In one incident a few weeks back a driver was seriously injured and we had to close both carriageways of the motorway while the air ambulance landed and took away the casualty. Later he sadly died in hospital and it seemed to highlight to me the fragility of life; here was someone on the way home from work, his wife may have planned something special for tea, perhaps not. Either way I can imagine the dinner sitting there uneaten, left by his family who were perhaps expecting a mundane weekday evening rather than the complete upending of their lives.

I was glad that day to have had a busy day on the radio desk. My mind was focussed on my work rather than how my mother would behave later. That night she complained that my brother had not given her any food and that she was starving. She frequently says things like this as she cannot remember having eaten. Sometimes I try to prove to her she has had a meal, by showing her her plate, or the pan I cooked the food in, things like that. On this occasion I was about to make some supper anyway, so we both had a bacon sandwich together and she calmed down, had half a cup of hot milk and went quietly to sleep.

My brother and I frequently throw my mother’s comments back at each other. ‘These are not my clothes’ I declared to him the other day. He replied with ‘this isn’t my house!’

If we didn’t laugh in a situation like that I’m sure we would go quietly mad.

It’s always a relief to hand over to Jimmy after my five days. By the way, my brother is called Colin although I tend to call him Jimmy. I much prefer it to Colin.

The next day Liz and I were off for a short jolly at the Royal Clifton Hotel and Spa in Southport. We checked in after a short drive and were soon feeling the trained hands of a masseuse on our necks and shoulders. My masseuse asked me if the pressure was ok, did I need more or less? I answered that it was ok although this petite lady was pummelling my shoulders with a grip similar to that of a trained sumo wrestler. I’m not sure how she could have increased the pressure as it seemed pretty forceful anyway but, enjoyable though it was, I was glad when it was over. Later we dined in the hotel restaurant and decided to upgrade from the menu which was part of the offer Liz had purchased and chose from the à la carte menu. An extra £8 but well worth it and further offset by a £5 discount on a bottle of red.

Later after a second bottle to help wash down an excellent cheese board we returned to our room where I slept the sleep of the just and truly knackered.

The next day after breakfast it was time for some more pampering. A few laps in the pool and a dip in the Jacuzzi punctuated by various visits to the steam room left us feeling relaxed and clean. I do love a steam room especially when they have that stuff in the steam that clears out your nasal passages as well as your pores.

Later that evening after a substantial nosh at our friend Salvatore’s place we went over to the Cheshire Lines pub for the quiz there. It’s slightly more highbrow than our usual quiz back in St Annes but still an enjoyable one. Not only that, they serve my favourite drink in there, Theakston’s mild.

At the end of the quiz there is always a draw and the winner gets to answer a jackpot question. Last time we visited I drew the jackpot card and the 64,000 dollar question (actually £250) was who entered the US music charts straight in at number ? I can’t remember if there was a time scale to that question but I instantly thought of Elton John. When the 30 second clock began to tick though I started to wonder, maybe it was Elvis when he died in 1977. I wrote down my answer, Elvis Presley, the quiz master seemed to look a little relieved because the answer was . . . Elton John.

Maybe it was me but did the locals look a little too happy that I wasn’t taking away the jackpot?


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

Four Writers’ Homes

Clouds Hill

TE Lawrence’s home was a small cottage called Clouds Hill. I read somewhere recently that the house had now been refurbished and open to the public. It is a small place and I remember seeing a TV documentary about Lawrence where someone who visited in the past advised that guests were generally left to their own devices, that food was eaten from tins left in the cupboard and that a lot of classical music was played.

Lawrence of course was more popularly known as Lawrence of Arabia, the man who organised the Arab revolt during the First World War. As the feature film by David Lean tells us, Lawrence was dismayed by having to lie to the Arab people, telling them that Great Britain would honour their claims for freedom at the end of the conflict when in fact the UK had every intention of holding on firmly to the Arab lands.

Churchill was impressed by Lawrence and invited him to attend the Paris peace talks.

Lawrence later wrote his classic book, Seven Pillars of Wisdom upon which the film Lawrence of Arabia was based.

A number of elements of the book have interested scholars ever since. The book is a work of history but also a great work of literature and readers have wondered ever since about whether the work was accurate, especially as in one infamous chapter, Lawrence relates how he was captured and beaten by a sadistic Turkish officer.

In that same TV documentary, Lawrence’s brother addresses the camera and sheepishly tells the viewer that not many people can understand how someone can enjoy pain. That was in response to a 1960’s newspaper report about a man who claimed Lawrence paid him to be beaten regularly. Clearly Lawrence was a complicated man. In later life he hid from the public by using the names John Ross and later T E Shaw. He was fatally injured in 1935 after a motorcycle accident.

After a little research I find that the property is now owned by the national trust and is open regularly for visitors. Find out more at https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/clouds-hill

Chartwell

Nothing that I can add to the mountains of books and articles written about Winston Churchill can make much of a difference, but anyway, here we go. Can there ever have been someone who was not only a great politician but also a great writer and also one of the giants of history? I have always felt a tiny spark of excitement when even now I read Churchill’s words on when he attained the premiership in the dark early days of World War II. ‘I felt,’ he wrote ‘as if I was walking with destiny.’

The amazing thing is that only a few years previously Churchill was a has been, a man written off as a former chancellor who had crossed the floor of the house once too often and now was distrusted by everyone.

As it happened, his dire warnings about Nazi Germany and the impending war made him the obvious choice to succeed Neville Chamberlain, whose policies of appeasement had perhaps led Britain towards the path of war.

Churchill’s home, Chartwell had been bought largely from the proceeds of his books. Indeed he was fond of commenting ‘all this, came from my pen.’

During the time of his so called wilderness years he spent a lot of time at Chartwell and even built some of the walls there with his own hands. He painted there and prior to World War II many informants came to him to reveal information with which he used to call attention to the tragic state of unreadiness of the UK for war.

This is also a national trust property. You can find more about visiting Chartwell here: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/chartwell

The Boathouse

It’s a long time since I visited Dylan Thomas’ house in Wales. The house is in the village of Laugharne and is not far from one of his famous watering holes, the Brown’s Hotel which I’m pretty sure was bought by one of the comedians from TV’s Men Behaving Badly.

The boathouse was bought by a trust some years ago which saved the property from collapsing into the sea. It’s a lovely place and on the day I visited, we had to leave early although I can’t remember why. I came back the next day and the staff remembered I had left early previously and let me in for free. I wandered about Dylan’s old house and sucked in the atmosphere before buying various books and pamphlets about Dylan and his works.

In another old TV documentary I tend to watch now and again, the presenter, a poet himself, thought he could imagine the conversations of Dylan and his wife, the chit chatting, the arguing and the making up later, or so he supposed.

I took a primitive digital camera with me and took a few shots of the house and Dylan’s famous writing shed. I read somewhere recently that the shed has now been removed and taken to a museum with a duplicate shed now occupying the site.

I enjoyed my visit and Dylan’s own poem always makes me think of it:

In the mustardseed sun,
By full tilt river and switchback sea
Where the cormorants scud,
In his house on stilts high among beaks
And palavers of birds . . .

Click the following link for more information on the boathouse: https://www.dylanthomasboathouse.com/

Mendips.

Lennon is a different kind of writer of course. He did publish a couple of books of his doodlings, one was called In his own Write if I remember correctly but mostly his creative urge went towards his music. Early on, he and fellow Beatle Paul McCartney agreed that all their songs would be known as Lennon and McCartney songs, even though some were written totally by Lennon and some totally by McCartney. Sometimes McCartney would finish off Lennon’s song, other times Lennon would sort out a problem song McCartney couldn’t finish. It was a great collaboration, perhaps the greatest in pop history.

Picture courtesy wikipedia

All the Beatles were from Liverpool of course. Lennon was brought up by his aunt Mimi in the Liverpool suburb of Woolton.

Many years ago I used to have a cigarette vending machine round and one of my sales areas was Woolton. One of the pubs I used to service there was a small modest place, owned by two former Shell tanker drivers. They had retired and pooled their retirement money to buy this small pub. They made little money they told me, in fact neither of them ran the pub, they employed a manager to do so.

One was a quiet chap, the other a pretty talkative fellow. The manageress never spoke to me much but the talkative owner was always in the bar and he usually made me a cup of tea and we would have a bit of a natter and then I would be off on my way to service some other pub.

One day we started talking about Lennon and my friend mentioned that Lennon had lived just around the corner from that very pub. Later I followed the directions given to me and found myself parked outside a typical 1950’s looking suburban semi-detached house. Surely Lennon came from a deprived background, a rough and tumble council estate? But no, there was a blue plaque on the wall denoting Lennon had indeed lived here. It was somehow not what I was expecting.

Since I last visited here I see that the house is now owned or at least managed by the national trust along with Paul McCartney’s former home. Click this link for more information: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/beatles-childhood-homes


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Checking the Temperature and the British Summer

This week’s post is an old one from 2014 but still relevant this summer!

Hot, boiling, sweltering, humid: Any way you look at it the UK is hot! We can’t complain about a rainy summer this year but in the UK we are just not prepared for heat. In Spain for instance it’s perfect for a hot, sunny, holiday. They have their cool outdoor pools, their outdoor bars and restaurants, and if we want to cool down more then we can go inside where traditionally built Spanish properties with their tiled interiors and whitewashed exteriors positively hug any coolness that might be about.

In the UK with our insulated walls and roofing, our houses seem to hug the warmth, it’s hotter in our homes than outside and when we leave our windows open to cool down you can guarantee some inconsiderate noisy sod will be playing his or her music far too loud, Well, that’s the British summer for you.

Something that really bugs me lately is the way the metric system has started to grip it’s clammy fingers around the UK media. When I’m watching a rather interesting documentary on the BBC I’m not interested in the least about how many metres long this or that is, or how many kilometres it is to there from here, I want to know it in feet and inches, I want to know in miles! I’m English and OK when I’m travelling in Europe I accept kilometres and KPH and do the mental adjustment but in the UK I shouldn’t have to do that. On the motorway I understand what it means when I hit the 300 yard marker to the next exit. I know what a yard is, I can visualise it. I understand that the next services are twenty miles away because I understand what a mile is and how long a mile is so don’t start putting kilometres on the motorway to confuse me!

image courtesy wikipedia

image courtesy wikipedia

And, coming back to the heat, when did all this Celsius start creeping in. The temperature today will be a maximum of twenty degrees? What is that about? If you are going to tell me the temperature tell me in the Fahrenheit that I have been  brought up with and understand then I know that seventy is hot and eighty is even hotter!

This is the time of year when the papers will say one day, it was hotter in Dartford that it was in Barcelona or hotter in Brighton than the Costa Del Sol! Interesting. Of course, they don’t say that happened on one day out of three hundred and sixty five or that the last time it happened it was 1973 but either way it’s still pretty interesting. But, and here’s something you should know, on the day the temperature  hits 37 degrees Celcius in somewhere like Blackpool the papers won’t tell you that. No, what they will say will be this ‘Temperature hits 100 degrees in Blackpool!’

Yes, the big one hundred, that’s Fahrenheit of course . .


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Another Slice of My Life

A while ago I published a post called ‘A Slice of my Life‘ which was in fact a homage to a similar post by one of my favourite bloggers, a fellow from the USA. You might be thinking OK, Steve’s run out of ideas, he’s got to pinch something from some other blogger. Well you’re free to think that if you want but I’m sticking to my version, that I was so impressed by that rival blog I produced a ‘homage’. In music terms we could say I ‘sampled’ his post which is when you get a great record that has pinched something from a much better original. (Did he say ‘pinched’ I hear you asking?)

Anyway, as I’m a little short of ideas, I though I’d revisit that theme again, this time, no pizza involved.

This week Liz and I visited a psychic event. It was some kind of charity function and consisted of three mediums who demonstrated their psychic powers to a small audience. Liz and I and another couple arrived early and grabbed front row seats although sadly the bar was closed for the duration of the event. Pity because I quite fancied a pint of lager, however it was thought that activity at the bar might disturb the vibrations from the ‘other side’. Oh well.

The event kicked off with the first medium. Unfortunately this particular lady looked very like a character from a short-lived sit com that Liz and I both loved. It was called Early Doors and revolves around a small public house in Manchester called the Grapes and the group of regulars who drink there. Two of the characters are Eddie and Joan who always sit in the corner and discuss issues like temporary traffic lights, Joan’s mother’s cats and ‘chippy’ teas. Joan was the absolute spitting image of our first medium and it was all I could do to keep a straight face. Anyway, this lady started off by picking up vibrations from a lady who had passed over to the other side. No one seemed to recognise this lady until our medium focussed on a lady in the audience who she was ‘drawn’ to. Eventually the lady in the audience recognised her father from the vague descriptions given and seemed pretty impressed with the information given from the other side.

The next lady started off with another vague description but no one wanted to be a part of it. No one had relations overseas or knew a stocky gentleman who had passed over with throat issues so that one really died the death, if you know what I mean. Everything then stopped for a tea break. Now, you might get the idea from these remarks that perhaps I’m not a believer in psychic or mediums or indeed the afterlife. No, not true. I do believe the human spirit survives death but when the psychic looks like a character from your favourite sit-com, her credibility goes right out of the window.

One of the great things about my current semi-retired status is that I only work three shifts and then can look forward to six lovely days off. This weekend my three days on centred over the bank holiday weekend, which in one way was a bit of a pain, in others not so. It’s great to have time off like other people but when the whole country gets the same day off and the roads are crammed with traffic and when you get to your destination and that is crammed with people I sometimes think, what the heck, I’d rather be working and have time off on some quieter day when everyone else is at work.

The bit that was the pain was the fact that it was the Monaco Grand Prix weekend which was live on terrestrial TV’s channel 4. The Monaco Grand Prix is a sort of leftover from the days of classic motor sport. It is really rather wonderful to see Hamilton, Vettel and Alonso race on what is  essentially the same track as Fangio, Moss and Clark drove on many years ago. F1 race tracks today are frankly rather boring and the tracks that are pretty exciting are few and far between. Years ago the British Grand Prix alternated between Silverstone and Brands Hatch. Brands is a twisty up and down track and Silverstone, being a former airfield, is flat and full of long straights. In recent years the owners have added a number of twists and turns so Silverstone is not really the track it used to be, perhaps they are trying to make it more like Brands Hatch! Here’s a radical idea: Why not alternate with Brands just like we used to do?

Monaco though is the same as it always was but rather difficult for modern grand prix cars. They are too fast for the tight circuit and their wings and fins that seem to stretch out to hug the downforce are so vulnerable to getting knocked and bumped in close quarter racing. I have to hand it to Max Verstappen though. He started from the back of the grid after a shunt in practice but fought his way through to 9th. Pretty impressive.

Anyway, off the track Monaco is full of glitz and glamour. It’s great to see the former F1 stars who lurk in the paddock coming back to the old venue not as drivers but as visitors, lapping up the champagne, the yachts, the Michelin starred restaurants and so on. One day I will shell out some of my hard-earned cash and go to Monaco for the race and have a very expensive drink in the Tip Top bar where Graham Hill and other stars of my youth used to drink. (Nowadays it’s a glass of organic tomato juice and off to bed early for Graham’s modern counterparts.)

Anyway, as I mentioned, I had to work over the weekend on the late shift so I had to avoid e-mails (numerous F1 website newsletters that might give away the race results) TV, (don’t want to see the results on the news) and friends (always ready to spill the results I don’t want to know) just so I could get home and watch the race on video without any advance knowledge spoiling the results for me.

I’ve spent some time this week as usual with my old mum. She is 89 this year and the days when she would cook my favourite tea, wash all my clothes, and make my bed with crisp fresh sheets are long gone. Now she has to put up with my cheat’s roast beef (boil in the bag beef and frozen roasties) and other meals I produce. Pity she doesn’t care for chilli because I used to make a pretty top-notch chilli.

Today my Mum and I have conversations like this:

ME: Mum, I’m off to work. I’ll see you later at about ten thirty.

MUM: What time are you back?

ME: Ten thirty.

MUM: Are you coming back here tonight?

ME: Yes, at ten thirty.

MUM: What time are you coming back?

ME: Ten thirty . .

Old age comes to us all eventually but I did find myself wondering this week if perhaps I could get one of those mediums to contact the living. My Mum for instance . .

After the bank holiday was over, Liz and I decided to head up north to Scotland for a short road trip in Liz’s motorhome. One of the great things about driving a motorhome is that other motorhome drivers always let on with a quick wave as you pass by. It’s like you’re part of a special group or fraternity, us motorhomers against the world.

The weather was gloriously hot and sunny and we motored serenely north and after a few sightseeing stops finally parked up in the car park of a welcoming pub called the Kings Arms in Ballantrae. Ballantrae is a small village and the only time I had ever heard of it before was in the Robert Louis Stevenson book, The Master of Ballantrae. I happened to mention this to my brother over the phone and being the classic movie buff he is he immediately brought up the movie version with Errol Flynn which was actually Flynn’s last film for Warner Brothers.

Motorhome life can be interesting. The next night we stopped out in the country by Loch Doon. We parked up with a rather lovely view of the Loch and set up our little barbecue and soon we were tucking into a veritable feast of steak, burger, sausage and salad. As the evening wore on and the sun began to sink behind the hills a number of midges, those tiny flies appeared. Time to pack up and settle down inside. Once inside we found midges trying to gain entry through any available area and we had to quickly lock down the vents, windows and pretty much everywhere. I don’t know if you have ever seen Hitchcock’s film The Birds where birds suddenly go on the attack but that pretty much summed up our situation and we fought off those midges with anything we could lay our hands on.

The next morning all was quiet on the loch but the midgies were gathered there on the outside of our motorhome resting before no doubt renewing their attack on us later. Time to make a quick getaway!


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