The Trials of a Self Published Writer

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. It’s a desire that I suppose came from reading a lot of books. Someone had an idea, wrote a book and I read the book and in doing so the author transmitted his thoughts and ideas to me through the book. It’s only natural, at least it seems so to me, to want to do the same, to not just receive the thoughts of someone else but to transmit my thoughts and ideas, in the form of a book, to others.

When I was younger I discovered Dylan Thomas. I like his poetry but also I love his short stories and his plays, especially the ones he wrote for the radio. I was also attracted to Dylan because of his image, that of the boozing pub going artist who drank beer and wrote poetry and who died after proclaiming that he had drunk 18 straight whiskies. ‘I think it’s a record’ he said before passing into a coma in New York, never to recover.

As it happens I’m nothing like Dylan Thomas at all except that we both share a love of writing. When I left school I wanted to be a journalist but back then I was held back in life in so many ways by an overpowering shyness that crippled me and stopped me from doing so many of the things I wanted to do. In some situations, I couldn’t even speak but happily writing was something that I could do alone in the privacy of my bedroom. Perhaps that’s why I love writing because all I have to do is open my notebook, or laptop, and write away.

My first attempts at serious writing were stories based on my love of television. They were stories of espionage and time travel and one day in my twenties I decided to change my focus and write about things around me. I wrote an essay about my work colleagues and an evening in a working men’s club. It was about snooker and pool and card games and pints of Boddingtons bitter. I wrote more and more similar essays and then I decided I could put them all together and with a little editing make them into a story and then into a novel.

I worked on my book intermittently over a period of many years. I wrote lots of it in long hand and then bought a typewriter and began to type it up. When the home computer revolution happened I began to type it all out onto my computer and then when it was nearly finished, my PC crashed. I couldn’t find my back up copy so I started again. Once again I had nearly finished when I found the older copy. Now I had two slightly different versions and reaching the end, typing the final page just seemed like an impossible dream so I stepped away from it all once again.

I took my laptop along on a holiday to France which turned out to be very wet. It rained almost every day so I opened my laptop and edited everything, deleting all the unwanted versions and duplicated chapters. I wrote the ending, tidied everything up and finally my book was ready. So, there it was, my manuscript representing years of work and effort. What do I do now I thought?

That’s the problem for amateur writers today. You’ve produced a piece of work, what do you do now? How do you get it published? You could try getting yourself an agent. The thing is, agents aren’t interested in unpublished authors. It’s a sort of catch 22 situation; you want an agent to help get you published but the agent doesn’t want you because you are unpublished.

I picked up my copy of The Writers and Artists Yearbook and started trolling through the listings of publishers who accept work from people like me, new and unknown authors. I sent my book off to three publishers and was rejected three times.

Getting a rejection, even three rejections isn’t the end of the world, in fact for a writer it’s pretty much par for the course. Even so, getting a rejection email is disheartening, it really is! It’s like all those years of work, all that effort coming down to one short email from someone saying they are not interested.

Someone at work mentioned to me that they had self-published their own sci-fi novel on Amazon. Self-published? Is that possible I thought? So that’s when I turned to self-publishing. It wasn’t quite as easy as I had thought it would be and the process itself highlighted a number of issues with my manuscript but I persevered and finally my book became available as a Kindle download or a traditional paperback.

Right, I thought, that’s it. I’m finally published. Now I can just sit back and wait for people to buy it. The thing is, who would know about my book? How would readers even realise that a new novel was available? Yes, that’s the thing. Writing a book isn’t enough, nor is actually publishing it. This is where marketing comes in. To sell your book you need to advertise. You need to use all your social media channels to tell everyone and his dog, here is a new book, come and buy it. You need to start an author page at Amazon and one at Goodreads too. Then you need an author website which is where this page comes in. How can you keep people coming in to read your blogs? Well, you need more social media and more blogs and for more blogs you need more and more ideas. How can you make your social media posts more interesting? Well you might want to add some graphics. Then you might want to add some animated graphics and even video so now you might find not only have you written a novel, you’ve written over 500 blog posts and graphics and made over a hundred videos, all to bring in more blog readers who may, or may not, buy your book.

The other day I was watching the classic film Treasure of the Sierra Madre. If you haven’t seen it it’s about a bunch of Americans prospecting for gold down in Mexico. The leader of the prospectors explains the value of gold in this way. A thousand men go searching for gold. One man finds an ounce of gold. His small find represents not only his hard work but the work of the other 999 men who were unsuccessful. Gold is worth so much because of the effort that went into finding it. Now I could argue the same point about this blog, that even though it is free to read this humble post, it’s actually worth quite a lot because of the hours, weeks and months of effort that went into preparing it, writing it, making the videos shown here and designing and producing the graphics that adorn this and all my many other posts.

So you might be thinking now, wow, what a great deal you’re getting! All that effort, just for you. Should you click on one of the links for Floating in Space or A Warrior of Words and maybe buy a copy? Personally, I’d say ‘yes, you should’ but most readers might be thinking well, maybe later and click over to Facebook and take a look at what their friends are up to.

Yes, I thought as much.


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Writing, Tapes and Chocolate Biscuits

Once again, it’s Saturday and time for me to entertain my small band of readers with a new blog post. Just lately, having produced over 500 blog posts, I’m starting to feel a little pleased with myself. I started blogging in 2014 but now I think of it, I’ve been blogging a lot longer than that. As a schoolboy I used to publish a blog every week. OK, it wasn’t digital, it wasn’t called a blog and it wasn’t available on the internet, in fact the internet itself wasn’t available either.

My ‘blog’ was very low tech. It was written on the middle pages of a schoolboy exercise book and passed around to my fellow pupils. It was called ‘The latest from the Perverted Press!’ It was mainly a spoof on the then current news stories from the late sixties and early seventies. They were things along the lines of, President Nixon issues apologies after visiting the nuclear command centre and saying ‘time for launch’ when in fact he had really said ‘time for lunch!’

I used to bill myself as the celebrated author of that great trilogy, the ‘Master’ novels. There was the first one, ‘Master Smith’, the follow-up, ‘Master Jones’, and the one that caused a great deal of unwarranted attention to the Perverted Press, ‘Master Bates’.

I had a friend called Jeff Langdon who, as far as I know, was the only pupil from my rough and ready suburban high school who ever made it to university. Jeff created a blog, sorry, I mean pamphlet, called simply The Steve Higgins Story, so I was forced to reply with The Jeff Langdon Story.

My pamphlet was rather popular, far more popular than Jeff’s and he always complained that my popularity stemmed from the fact that my pamphlets looked better because of the liberal use of coloured pens and drawings. Alas Jeff, art always was one of my top subjects. Even so, I thought my blog -sorry, pamphlet- was much better anyway, coloured pens or no coloured pens. Jeff, I’m sure, would disagree.

Talking about The Perverted Press has made me look at my blogs and videos in a different way. One of my regular blogs is my Holiday Book Bag in which I review the books I’ve taken on holiday. Back in my teens I used to make a similar review about the records I used to buy. I still have a few of those tapes. One was called simply Tape Review and in it, I played excerpts of records and tapes I had bought and talked about the best ones. I remember on one of them I chose my favourite guitar solo of the year and if I remember correctly the winning guitar solo was one from One of These Nights by the Eagles.

Another one was Self Portrait in Tape, a possible precursor to my podcasts or perhaps my Life Story blog posts. In it I rabbit on about myself and play some favourite music tracks.

Those tapes were the forerunners of my book reviews and podcasts. Back in the 1970’s there was a show on Radio 1 called My Top Twelve. It was actually a straight rip off of Desert Island Discs in which someone would choose their top 12 tracks and talk about them. My old friend Steve and I decided to interview each other and we both introduced our own top twelves. A few years ago, I digitised my copy but I changed some of the tracks as in the intervening 40 years my tastes have changed a little. Neil Sedaka’s Laughter in The Rain was a pleasant enough track but hardly Top Twelve material so that had to go as did a couple of other tracks that are no longer my cup of tea. Barry White got a bit of a slagging off from my younger self so I felt compelled to add a few interjections from the present day -actually 2017- to redress the balance and explain my changed attitude towards Barry. (What would my younger self think if he knew I had a copy of Barry White’s Greatest Hits in my car?)

I play the resulting Top Twelve CD in my car quite a lot. It’s nice and perhaps a little surreal to hear my old self from 1974 and my somewhat older 2017 self, chatting with my old friend Steve, sadly no longer with us, once again.

Now I think of it, my past life has been the inspiration behind quite a lot of my writing. My early life inspired a lot of Floating in Space and many of my blog posts. I like to take something, some incident from the past and make it into a funny story or compare the situation to one in today’s digital, internet, mobile phone 21st century world.

As I’m looking back and getting nostalgic, I thought I’d throw in the following story from when I first started work. It’s nothing whatsoever to do with blogging but now I think about it, I bought my tape recorder with my very first wage packet so I must have made the Top Twelve recording round about the time of the following events so there is a faint connection.

When I lived at home with mum and dad and my brother, I occasionally might have got to eat a chocolate biscuit. My brother and I would have had to have been good, done our homework, tidied our bedroom and eaten all our dinner and so on. Then and only then would we be offered a chocolate biscuit with our after dinner cup of tea. Even today I find it hard not to have a biscuit with a cup of tea; old habits die hard.

One day at work I went out for lunch with our company surveyor and on the way back he nipped into a small shop nearby. He emerged with a large pack of chocolate biscuits. Back in the office he offered a biscuit to me and my colleagues. Most people said no but I took one thinking that if I was offered one later by my mother, I would have doubled my chocolate biscuit intake for the day.

Coming back from the tea machine with a cup of tea I watched Dave the surveyor, settle down at his desk which was on a slightly higher level than mine. Dave took a biscuit and quietly scoffed it. Then he took another and then another, and then another! I remember watching wide eyed as Dave ate the entire packet of chocolate biscuits, one after the other. I felt I had witnessed an act of unbelievable gluttony. A grown man eating an entire packet of biscuits. What would my mother have said?

Looking back, I reckon that was the moment when I decided to leave home. Away from the constraints of my family I would be free to stay up late, drink alcohol, invite women home and spend as much time as I desired on my writing projects.

And eat chocolate biscuits of course.


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Blogs, Video and a Social Media Marketing Mix

The lockdown of last year didn’t really affect me that much. It was a bit of a pain not being able to go out and I did miss the pub quiz night as well as my visits to my favourite restaurants. Essentially though, I’m not an outdoor kind of guy. I like my TV and my laptop and I’m pretty happy sitting outside in the summer reading a good book. This last week I’ve been experiencing a more personal kind of lockdown. Liz has just had a hip replacement and I’ve been off work tending to her every need.

Even people who are close can have their differences. Liz likes to be challenged by word games and I like my challenge in the form of a good documentary film.

‘Not another quiz show’ I usually say when she has got the TV remote.

‘Not another Kennedy documentary’ she tends to say when the remote is over on my side. Oh well, recuperation is important and if she can put up with the occasional JFK documentary I can deal with another Countdown, I suppose.

When I’ve had a brief moment to myself, I’ve been looking at my book, Floating in Space, and wondering what more I could do to promote it. This entire blog is about promoting Floating in Space, at least that was the idea when I started. Every blog post, whether it’s about books, films, my life or any other random subject that comes to mind always ends with a little plug for Floating, right down at the end of the post. It usually comes in the form of a short video with the prime intention of making the viewer wonder if their life is worth living if they haven’t got a copy of my book. Most people and I’m talking a good 90% plus of people who decide to watch decide that life is worth living without a copy of Floating in Space and decline to buy. Pity, especially as I went to a lot of trouble making those videos.

A lot of people ask me about the title, Floating in Space. Why is it called that? Is it a sci-fi book? No, it isn’t which makes me wonder whether changing the title would be a good thing. The title comes about because of the way the main character, Stuart Hill, looks at his life. Sometimes it’s a good thing to look at your life not in little segments but as a whole. How could you possibly do that? Well Stuart does it like this.

Updated version of Floating In Space available now from Amazon!

This technique, for want of a better word, is best employed in the summer. Find yourself a quiet outdoor place. Lie down on the grass facing towards the sky. A clear blue sky isn’t much good for this. What you need is a blue sky and a good selection of white fluffy clouds. Now relax. A good way to do that is start at the top of your head and relax your scalp, then go down to your eyebrows and relax them. Then your eyes, nose and so on, all the way down to your toes.

Now, I don’t know if you can remember those visual teasers you used to see in comics years ago. For instance a line drawing of a cube which by an effort of will you could make into a solid box or, again using only your mind, see the box as an open box and look inside. That’s the thing to do now looking up at the sky. See the curve of the sky bending down towards the horizon at the extreme end of your peripheral vision? Well turn that around so instead of looking up at the sky you are looking down. Imagine you are floating in space, seeing the blue, not of the sky, but of the planet Earth and down below is you and your life, going about it’s everyday cycle of work, sleep and relaxation. Down there on the Earth are moments of enjoyment, moments of happiness, moments of sadness and sadly, moments of horror.

Most of my promotions for Floating tend to focus not on the process I’ve described above but on the city of Manchester where the book is set. I’ve only visited my home city once since the pandemic and it’s looking good. New towering skyscrapers seem to be going up with every month that passes by, at least according to the small group of Manchester photographers that I follow on Instagram. Manchester’s nickname is the Rainy City because of course it rains a lot and one of my favourite photographers makes a habit of photographing the puddles of the city, either with the city’s new buildings reflected in the water or low angle pictures with a rainy puddle in the foreground and some Mancunian architectural delight in the background.

When I visited Manchester a few months ago I took my camera along and made a bit of a walkabout video. I had my selfie stick and walked around chatting to the camera. I looked at some of the new hi rise towers and then walked round to the old end of town and took a stroll down the Rochdale canal which was completed in 1804. Instead of writing a narration I just stayed with the video of me chatting to the camera and added a few voice over comments and snippets of info. That video is currently one of my most watched videos so if I had any sense I’d probably make more of the same but it so happens I’m just not that comfortable walking around chatting to my camera. I much prefer my usual videos, many of which have voice-over narrations which originate in many cases from my blog posts. Like a lot of my blogs and videos, I can’t leave them alone, I’m always tinkering with them and here’s a case below, another edit of my favourite Manchester video.

I am of course an old school video producer. I like videos that open up gradually and have titles and an introduction. That technique, I am reliably informed, is very old hat indeed. In the 21st century social media world, videos need to be straight to the point. Quick introductions, a quick statement of your credentials, perhaps a brief exhortation for the viewer to subscribe to my channel and then wham, straight into the subject. That is internet video in a nutshell because there are thousands of other videos out there that are just a click away and can instantly nab your viewer if you fail to grab and keep their attention.

Getting back to blogging, I have probably written more words, in my blogs and tweets and other social media posts promoting my book, than are actually in the book itself. Oh well, that is one of the facts of the self-publishing world: Writing a book is one thing but marketing is an entirely different ball game altogether and of course the competition is fierce with more than 5000 new books released on Kindle every day! Is it worth it you might ask? Why do I do it? Well, quite simply I do it because I like doing it and when the enjoyment has gone, I’ll start thinking about doing something else with my spare time.

Nothing improves and hones your writing skills more than the writing process itself and as a blogger with a deadline of 10am on a Saturday morning I have even started to feel like something of a professional writer. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to log into WordPress and find that someone has liked one of my posts, or better still has left a comment. I’ve always thought that an intrinsic element of the human condition is finding that out that there are others in the world who think the same way as you do and like the things that you like.

I do tinker quite a lot with Floating in Space and some time ago I added a version which hopefully corrected the book’s various grammatical mistakes and I also added a small index to help explain 1977 to my younger readers. So, what else should I do to market my work? Another Tweet? Another Facebook post? Another YouTube video? Perhaps I should go further afield in the social media world and do more on Instagram or sign up for Tik Tok?

Actually I think I might just give marketing a rest for a while. Liz is still in bed so I think I might just relax for a while with Oliver Stone’s new Kennedy documentary.


What to do next: Here are a few options.

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Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.

Writing, Recording and The Next Blog Post

Well, I’ve had the Big 500, that was last week so time to move on and get on with Blog #501. Things are the same for every content creator whether it’s me and my blog or Martin Scorsese and his next film. One project finishes and we move on to the next one. It’s great to put together a creative piece of work but I’ve always felt a little sadness leaving a completed blog or video behind and moving on to the next one. In fact, I wonder if it’s a feeling experienced by all creative people? In the movie The Bad and The Beautiful, Kirk Douglas plays a film producer who goes into a deep depression every time a project is finished. Was the author or the director putting his own experiences into the film?

The other day I was scanning through my diary from 2021 and I noticed in one entry I was feeling pretty pleased with myself because I had put together not one but three separate blog posts. I must have been feeling pretty creative that week because these days I often seem to be struggling for ideas.

Lately I’ve done some beta testing work for the online editing website Animoto. I put together two short video projects for them and reviewed a new facility in their software and in exchange they sent me an Amazon gift voucher. Now it just so happens that my subscription with Animoto has expired and I tried to barter the gift voucher for a discount subscription but despite my charm, which I’ve always thought was one of my great assets, they declined. Pity really because I rather like Animoto.

During my separation from them I’ve tried other online editing sites but I’ve not been totally happy so I suppose that soon I’ll just have to cough up the appropriate fees and re-join Animoto.

In the meantime I’ve been wondering what to do with my voucher. Eventually I decided it might be an idea to invest in a good microphone so I can improve the voiceovers I put together for my YouTube videos as well as my podcasts. That seems like a good excuse as any to publish a link one of my videos with an extensive voiceover. The video below has a narration based on a number of my blog posts as well as text from my book. the voiceover isn’t actually bad but a new recording might make it sound a bit more professional.

I sent off for my selected microphone and the one I chose came in a set with a telescopic arm, just like the ones you see in recording studios. Later I thought I might as well have bought the usual one with a little tripod as I don’t really have the room for the arm. I don’t have a room, a special room for writing and recording but then I don’t think a lot of writers do.

My workspace: Laptop, cup of tea, notebook and the TV remote not too far away

Recently I decided to take a short demo screenplay I had written ages ago and rewrite it as a short story. I did so and feeling fairly pleased with it decided to send it to an online magazine that was looking for just such a story. I was actually going to use the story as a blog post but I noticed in the small print that the magazine didn’t want work that had been printed elsewhere. Well, if I recorded the story as a podcast then really it wouldn’t have been printed elsewhere, would it? That was my cue to set up my new microphone and start recording. The sound quality was so much better than my previous recordings.

Not long ago I read Agatha Christie’s autobiography and in it she mentions that many people ask her where her famous novels were written. The fact is, they were written any place that was handy at the time. She didn’t have a special writing place and I wonder if writers, or indeed any writer has a particular writing place? I like to write in the dining room but then I also like to write in the lounge with the TV on in the background but the sound on mute. Sometimes I’ll write in bed or jot down ideas at my desk at work.

The interior of Dylan Thomas’ writing shed.

Dylan Thomas famously had a writing shed in the garden of his ‘house on stilts’ in Laugharne. I daresay he didn’t write everything he ever wrote in there but of course he did write there when he was at home. I visited the house once many years ago. I was really impressed with it. The national trust or some such organisation had rescued the building, saved it from sliding into the sea and reopened it as a museum. I arrived late in the day, just before they were closing up so I returned the following day for another look. The staff didn’t charge me as they remembered me having to leave prematurely and so I bought various items from their museum shop.

One place I’d like to visit would be Charles Dickens’ home; Gad’s Hill Place in Kent. Dickens spent the last 15 years of his life in the house and it was one he had seen and fallen in love with as a child when he and his father took long walks together. It must have seemed quite an achievement for him to buy the house, even in a life filled with great achievements. Dickens died in the house on June 9th, 1870 aged 58. What would Dickens make of a present-day writer’s life I wonder? Writing blogs to promote his work, tweeting Tweets, and making Facebook posts. I’m not sure he would have been impressed.

My minor problems of wondering what to write pale into insignificance when I watch the terrible news from the Ukraine. A few weeks ago, the Ukrainians had similar problems to us here in the UK. Things like getting to work on time; would the bus be late? Picking the kids up from school. What to have for tea. Now they wonder if their homes will be destroyed by bombs. Will their loved ones be safe? Only the other day I watched a newscast where a distraught woman went to a makeshift hospital with her young daughter who had been hurt in the Russian attack. Doctors fought to save her and the cameraman followed their efforts. One man, a doctor turned and began to rage at the camera. I guessed he was complaining to the cameraman for intruding but when his words were translated, he was calling for the camera man to take the video and show it to Mr Putin: let him see what he has done raged the doctor. Sadly, the young girl died.

So, here we go. My laptop has been cranked up. The Saint is playing on the TV with the sound muted. A large cup of tea is ready to be sipped. I pause for a moment to nibble on some toast and marmalade then press the button for NEW BLANK DOCUMENT and I am ready to write.


What to do next: Here are a few options.

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Buy the book! Click here to purchase my new poetry anthology.

Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.

The Big 500

Yes, here we are, the big 500. My 500th blog post. I have to say that I had big plans for this post but plans, as we all know, don’t always work out. I started out wanting to write on the theme of 500: Things named 500, famous 500’s and so on. The problem is, the only thing I could come up with was the Indianapolis 500, the famous Indycar race in the USA.

That was fine of course, I’m a big motor racing fan and I do know a little about the Indianapolis 500. The Indianapolis motor speedway where the event takes place is known as the brickyard as it was originally paved with bricks. Graham Hill and Jim Clark were famous European winners of the Indy 500 back in the 1960’s. Emerson Fittipaldi, another F1 driver retired after two world championships in the 1970’s but made a comeback in Indycars winning the Indianapolis 500 in 1989 and again in 1993.

OK, that’s it off the top of my head. For anything more I’d have to head for Google. To be honest, I did do a search in Google for some ideas. Some suggestions from over there were the dog recently rehomed after 500 days in the kennels and the Fiat 500 motor car. I did hire a Fiat 500 once in Lanzarote which was fun. I’m OK driving on the other side of the road but sitting in the left hand seat and changing gear with my right hand, well I’ve always found that to be the difficult part. Anyway, the Fiat 500 was a pretty tasty motor car, even for a big lug like me but I’m not sure I can say much more about it. Glad to hear about that dog getting rehomed though.

Perhaps a quick troll through my blogging landmarks might help.

Blog 100: Mr Todd and the Sound of that Elusive Next Blog.

Looking back to my 100th blog I see I was still searching for things to write about. A blog post prompt tasked me to write about a sound and the one that came to me was Mr Todd’s projector. Who was Mr Todd? Well he was a teacher at my junior school, Crossacres Junior School in Manchester and every Christmas Mr Todd set up his projector and we filed into the hall, sat down cross legged on the floor while the curtains were closed, the lights switched out and Mr Todd’s projector took us into another world, the world of films. They were mostly cartoons, things like Woody Woodpecker and Bugs Bunny and sometimes he showed a few Walt Disney animal documentaries.

Those Christmas film shows were just wonderful for us children, sitting in the dark watching those slapstick antics on the screen. I used to like to sit near to Mr Todd and marvel at the projector. He would open up little doors in the workings and make adjustments, and little shafts of light would escape until he closed the small doors again, and the whirring of the reels and the clicketty-click sound was a sound I loved.

One day, and I think it must have been my last year at junior school, Mr Todd retired but not only did he retire, he took his projector and films with him and the last Christmas at Crossacres was empty without him. I remember sitting in the hall listening to the choir or some play or other and hoping that eventually someone would give the signal to close the curtains and the projector would be wheeled in and the fun would begin. Mr Todd and his projector however, never returned and Christmases were never the same. Still, whenever I hear the sound of a projector the memory of that Christmas film show returns to me. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the Hitchcock movie ‘Rebecca’, but there’s a sequence in the film where Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier start watching their home movies and we hear that clicketty click projector sound again.

The World of the Vinyl Single

My 200th post was actually about TV Spies. It was OK but nothing exciting but for my 201st post I found myself writing about The World of The Vinyl Single. In 2022 there are still music charts although youngsters today prefer downloads to actually owning a physical copy of their chosen music. They have never known the joy of spending Saturday afternoons flipping through the singles in the numerous record shops of cities like my home town of Manchester. Not for them the allure of the soft dark vinyl or the album art or sleeve notes. No personal annotations like there were on my record sleeves with the discreet addition of the date I bought the record. The first single I ever bought was in 1973 and it was Olivia Newton-John’s version of ‘If Not For You’. Reduced to half price it was 24 pence. I sometimes wonder what was the last ever vinyl single I ever bought. One day I’ll have to search through my boxes of old records and work it out.

Edit: An Alternative 200th Post

WordPress is pretty good at showing you how many posts you’ve done but finding the 100th, the 200th and so on meant having to count back to blog number 1. I have to admit here that I made a big cock up looking back and after a recount I think my 200th blog post was actually one about photography. It was called Adventures with a Camera. I showed the reader some of my favourite pictures and talked about my favourite cameras from my first one, an Instamatic 126 to my current one a Nikon D100.

Night Shift

My 300th blog post was a poem, not one of my very best but my 301st was a post called Night Shift. What I did was string various threads together and link them to my night shift. As I’m now semi-retired I don’t do night shifts anymore so reading this post was a nostalgic look back for me at how things used to be: Trying to get some sleep during the day, the burst of activity at the start of the shift, the gradual winding down of things. The endless cups of tea, the midnight sandwich and finally the relief when the morning shift came in to take over. Going outside and getting into my car after the last one was a good feeling and so was the feeling that while everyone was off to work for me it was the other way round, off home for a sleep and remembering to set the alarm so I wouldn’t sleep away what was really my first day off.

Edit #2

After a substantial recount I found out later that my 300th post was (surprise, surprise) The Big 300. I think I was a little surprised to have got to that milestone and I talked a lot about writing and finding inspiration and also about the film and TV scripts I have written and had rejected. Writing scripts isn’t so hard but it’s what to do with them afterwards. Who will read them? Who can I send them to? Most companies are not interested in unsolicited scripts or ones from an unknown author or writers who are unrepresented by agents. For a while I paid to list one of my screenplays on Inktip.com and although I had some interest, producers weren’t queuing up to buy my script.

The Big 400

Blog Post 400 was about Things to Do During the Pandemic. Well, I guess we are all pretty happy to have put the pandemic (mostly) behind us. The things I was doing during the pandemic were watching TV, drinking wine and ordering restaurant meals to be delivered. Nowadays I’m doing pretty much the same thing although I’m actually back visiting restaurants instead of asking them to deliver food. Of course, the food is only part of the restaurant experience. Chatting to friends, having banter with our waiters and being waited on is really what a restaurant is about as well as good food and wine. In 2022 Liz and I have discovered a different restaurant called Spago and we have currently been taking advantage of their January and February offers. We have already found our favourite table (table 12) and the waiters are by now pretty used to our little idiosyncrasies (we like to pour the wine ourselves, we don’t like sweet stuff dribbled on our food, we like a lot of lemon in our table water to name but three).

The Big 500

Of course, we also like to visit our regular restaurants too like Ego (table 30 please) and Allegria (table 16). I also still watch far too much TV. Interestingly in the 400th post above I talked about watching Rocketman, the Elton John biopic. Last night we watched Bohemian Rhapsody the 2018 Freddie Mercury/Queen biopic.

Just like those earlier blog posts, in 2022 I’m still trying to flog my books, Floating in Space and A Warrior of Words. I’ve got a few more followers than I had back in 2014 when I first started blogging. Have I made any money from my blog posts? Er, no. Have my posts gone viral? No. Has writing and blogging made me a better writer? Well, those 500 blog posts haven’t hurt me in any way and more writing can’t be bad for a writer, it can only be good. Do I still like blogging? Of course, I do. The only problem is, what can write for blog #501?


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Diana, Meghan, Nixon and Me

As I’ve mentioned in a number of blog posts, it’s not enough to simply write a book, you have to get out there and start to sell it. Marketing is the bane of any self-published author’s life. Videos, Tweets, Facebook posts and WordPress blogs; I’ve done them all endlessly trying to bring my two short books into the media spotlight and flog a few copies.

Now that the lockdown has eased, I thought that perhaps I should try something new. In a local freebie newspaper in my home town of Wythenshawe in Manchester, I noticed a small article about a local writer who had recently had his work published. I contacted the paper asking if they might be interested in writing about me. We exchanged a few emails and I told them how I had self-published Floating in Space and how Cyberwit publishing had approached me offering to publish a collection of my poems.

After a few emails that was apparently that and I heard nothing more until in my junk mail I spotted another follow up message saying that the paper might have enough space to write about me and did I have a picture of me with my poetry Book A Warrior of Words?

Quickly, with a speed I am not usually associated with I put on a smart shirt, grabbed a copy of Warrior, shoved a camera into Liz’s hands and got her to snap off a few pictures of me with my prized book.

I heard nothing back but while I was shopping at Asda, I saw a stack of the free paper The Local Voice and picked one up. To my surprise there I was, beaming at the camera on page 8 proudly displaying A Warrior of Words to the unsuspecting reader. If that small article will get me any new sales only time will tell. Until then I’ve put the order for my new Ferrari on hold. I have to say though that seeing my picture in the paper did give me a sense of pride, just like whenever someone presses the ‘like’ button on one of my posts. Writing gives me a sense of accomplishment and like everyone, the occasional pat on the back – or picture in the newspaper – gives me that feel good factor.

Just while I’m on the subject of newspapers I sometimes wonder how they have kept going during the digital revolution. Many years ago, I used to buy a newspaper every day. I’d read it on the way to work if I was travelling by bus or train. I’d read it on my break and do the small crossword and the word games, trying to find the nine-letter word and make as many smaller words as possible out of the letters. I’d even scan through the sports pages in case there was something in there about motor racing.

My mum and dad used to read the Manchester Evening News from front to back. Once, when scanning through the births, deaths and marriages section, she spotted the death of the mother of an old school friend, contacted the newspaper and as a result was able to meet up with her friend again.

Now I rarely buy a newspaper. I read them on the internet but whenever my quota of free news has been reached and I’m asked to pay to read more, I always decline. I can read the news on the BBC website for free as well as some excellent articles on the Guardian website so why should I pay? How do newspapers survive I wonder when people always go for the free option? Well, if you want to read quality journalism you have to pay for it and although many newspapers and magazines occasionally give you a snippet of an article for free, if you want regular content, they will always ask for a subscription. Even some of my favourite racing magazines like Motor Sport and Autosport are both now only available digitally.

I am happy to report though that one outlet of quality writing is still free, yes, you’ve guessed it, you’re reading it!

Advertising brought in a great deal of revenue for newspapers in the past, indeed motor car sales and estate agents must have funded most of the free newspapers we used to see but now specialised websites for property and motor cars have appeared and all that advertising revenue has been diverted to them. Nice to see that some free papers are coming back though, especially one with my picture inside!

Another spin off from that small item was a call from a local community radio station wanting to do an interview with me. Covid restrictions meant that I couldn’t go into the studio which was a pity because I did rather want to be invited inside. I could actually imagine myself as a DJ. I think the late night shift would suit me, playing chilled down music as the sun slips down, perhaps even mixing in some poetry and some chit chat to go with the tunes. Oh well, enough day dreaming. Denise, the local DJ and I had some introductory chat and went on to talk about my books. Unbeknown to Denise, I had just arisen from a dreadful night’s sleep, my arm and shoulder had been hurting and had kept me awake most of the night. I’d finally nodded off when it was time to get up and only just got to the phone at the agreed time for our telephone talk. I didn’t have time to crank up my laptop and access my notes, ready made in advance with useful hints about writing poetry and also about how Floating in Space took shape.

This was only the second time I’ve been interviewed so I’m hardly an expert. The first time ever was a few years ago on Salford City Radio and the DJ and I planned the interview in advance, in fact he asked me to give him a list of questions that he should ask me so I had my answers already rehearsed and also had a list of some facts and figures about blogging which I could quote when we got talking about that subject. That was a really interesting experience and I was able to bring my video camera and mini tripod along so I was able to make it into a YouTube video.

Afterwards I started looking at TV interviews in a different light, how rehearsed are they I wonder? Did Oprah give her questions to Harry and Meghan in advance? Did they give specific questions to Oprah to be asked on air? I was watching a documentary the other night about the late Patrick Swayze and he was interviewed on TV by a US TV host I’m not familiar with. His friend advised him to be careful because the host was known to ask questions that surprise the subject, even to the point of them crying. Swayze dismissed the advice but when they were on camera, the interviewer asked Swayze about his new ranch and his father who had just passed away. Swayze choked up straight away as it was his dad who had got him interested in horses and he had bought the ranch specifically for his dad to manage. That interviewer had certainly done her homework!

Which other TV interviews are remembered as classic ones? Well the two that immediately come to mind are the David Frost interviews with disgraced former President Richard Nixon and the famous Martin Bashir interview with Princess Diana. That latter interview has been in the news recently as it has been revealed that Martin Bashir apparently falsified various documents in order to get Diana on board with the project. Devious that may have been but clearly Diana had her own agenda which was to get her story over to the public and gain public support and sympathy. The quote most often associated with that interview was when Diana said ‘well there were three of us in this marriage so it was a bit crowded’ referring of course to Charles’ relationship with Camilla.

The Nixon interviews were really compelling watching and what was just as good was the film version Frost/Nixon which starred Frank Langella as Nixon and Michael Sheen as Frost. The film shows the background to the interviews, the financial stakes as well as the political ones and finally Nixon and Frost commence a verbal battle about Watergate in which Nixon makes his famous quote ‘when the President does it, that means it’s not illegal!’

When I came review it, my interview was not quite as interesting as the ones I have mentioned above but at least I remembered some of my prepared thoughts and managed to get them over. I am always impressed when on TV and in films, people just seem to press a button and their laptops are up and running. My laptop takes a lifetime to get going and my notes appeared just as I was saying goodbye. Anyway, the good thing was that as the interview was recorded, Denise, my interviewer, should be able to cut out all my mumbling ums and ahs and make me sound reasonably interesting.

Well, I hope so!


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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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Statistics, 2020 and a Troll Through Some Popular Posts

Being a creature of habit, I always tend to do a blog post at the start of the year, looking back to my posts of the previous year. In one of my first posts of 2020 I did one looking back through what had happened to me in 2019 and linking it to my best posts of the year. My best or favourite posts are not necessarily the ones that picked up the most views or the most likes. WordPress has a pretty comprehensive stats page so this year I thought I’d spend a little time going through them. All the links to previous posts open up in a new page.

image courtesy wikipedia

My all-time top scoring blog post is this one about David Cassidy. Cassidy became a big star on the hit TV show The Partridge Family about a family that formed themselves as a pop group. When the songs from the TV show were released as singles they quickly became hits and Cassidy himself soon began making his own records. His star shone very bright for a while but then faded leaving Cassidy trying to make his way in film and TV almost as a has been when he was still young. My post is actually about me and the time I went to the barber’s -sorry, hair stylist- and asked for a style like Cassidy’s. One of the reasons for the success of that post might be that its very search engine optimised, meaning that it always comes up in any search for Cassidy. I like to think it’s a pretty good read too. The post also showed up as my second most read post in 2020.

My most read post in 2020 was one from 2016, 6 Kitchen Sink Dramas which is a post about a new style of films in the 1960’s that focused on the working class. The post looked at 6 particular films that I thought were the very best of the 1960’s. A similar sort of post from 2020 was this one, Films, Allegories and McCarthyism which was about films which were in some way related to the McCarthyism of the 1950’s. Hollywood was particularly affected with many actors, writers and other film professionals having their careers either compromised or in some cases, completely ruined. The post was also one of the first for which I decided to make a short video trailer for use on social media to bring in those new readers. The post doesn’t seem to register that well in my stats, but it was one that I personally thought was good and I enjoyed doing the research and writing.

Coming in third in my all-time most read posts was one from 2014 about the JFK Assassination. Again, this is another post that always seems to do well. I spent a lot of time on the post doing research with the stack of books I have on the subject. In this post I stay clear of wild theories and tend to stick with the basics in particular Lee Oswald’s rifle, famously found on the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository. The rifle had a telescopic sight which the FBI found later was not only mis-aligned but actually impossible to set up. They solved the problem by adding metal shims to the mounting, meaning that FBI shooters who test fired the rifle used it in a configuration that was not available to the alleged assassin Lee Oswald.

While I’m on the subject of the Kennedys, another post that’s showing up well in my stats is an old one from  2015 about Marilyn Monroe. Researching from various books and websites I tried to piece together the events of Marilyn’s last day. Marilyn was very angry in her last days. She claimed to friends she was fed up of being tossed around ‘like a piece of meat’ by the Kennedy brothers and threatened to blow the lid on her dealings with them in a press conference. Bobby Kennedy wanted her notebook, the one in which she had noted down details of her meetings with him. Kennedy wanted it destroyed and Marilyn kept quiet. The Mafia wanted derogatory information on the Kennedys and had even had Marilyn’s home bugged. A press conference was arranged for Monday August 6th, 1962. Was she about to reveal her affair with Bobby? Sadly, Marilyn was found dead in the early hours of the 5th

Another of my favourite topics concerning the USA are the Nixon years and coming up third in my 2020 stats was a 2016 post about Howard Hughes and the Watergate Tapes. Billionaire Hughes wanted the US government to shift their underground nuclear tests from Nevada to somewhere else. In his dealings with President Nixon he bandied around a figure of a million dollars. Was this the same million dollars that Nixon mentioned to presidential aide John Dean?

Fourth in this year’s rankings and also fourth in my overall stats was a post about American Pie, the hit song by Don McLean. I’ve always loved that song and years ago I used to read a magazine called The Story of Pop. One edition was dedicated to the song and it fascinating to read about the true meaning of Don’s lyrics. Who was the Jester? Who was the King? All is revealed in the post.

Jason King

In fifth place in my 2020 most read posts was one from 2014 about Jason King. Jason who, did I hear you asking? Back in the 1970’s Jason King was a character in the TV show Department S. Jason was played by Peter Wyngarde. He was an author who worked with two colleagues in a government investigatory department set up to solve the most baffling of mysteries. Jason was a very avant-garde character, especially in his clothes and Wyngarde himself, no slouch in the fashion department, used his own clothes in his portrayal. Chief among his fashion items was a tie with a fashionably large knot and as a teenage schoolboy, I made it my mission to emulate that super knot! Did I succeed? Click this link to find out.

A lot of my 2020 posts seem to have been eclipsed by views of posts from bygone years but one of this year’s posts was my 6th most popular. It was a book post and reading, especially second hand books, is one of my great loves. During the first Lockdown in 2020 the weather was good and the sun was shining so Liz and I spent a lot of time reading and generally pottering about in the garden. One of the books I read was the diary of Michael Palin of the Monty Python team. The diary talks about Palin giving up smoking, making the first series of Monty Python and various other film and TV projects. It was interesting especially the peripheral things Palin mentions, the Apollo 11 moon landings, the strikes, the three day week and so on and it also brought back a lot of memories of my schooldays when my fellow pupils and I were great fans of Monty Python. Click here for the full post.

Coronavirus is basically a total pain in the neck and has ruined everything from Christmas celebrations to our regular quiz night down at the Lord Derby in St Annes to our random nights out in various pubs and our regular meals at a whole host of restaurants that we used to frequent. I hope 2021 turns out a lot better. We started off 2020 in Lanzarote and while we were there we found a fabulous villa close to all the bars and restaurants we loved. What the heck we thought and spent a shed load of money to book it for 2021. Now we’re in the middle of the second wave of the pandemic but I still live in hope that we may still be able to go there. So apart from that trip last January we didn’t do much travelling. We did do a few trips in our motorhome though and my post from this year, The Ups and Downs of Motorhoming did pretty well, coming in as my 8th most popular post. This was another post for which I used a short video trailer over on Twitter; here it is below:

Later in the year, in October we went off to Scotland visiting the Highlands, the Isle of Skye and Plockton among other places. I even managed to put together a video which pulled in some reasonable stats over on YouTube. Pity I didn’t spot a few typing errors in the post’s captions but now it’s got such a lot of views I don’t like to replace it. You can read the post and see the video by clicking here.

There are plenty of other stats that I’ve gleaned from my WordPress stats page. In my first year of blogging, 2014, I wrote 58,895 words. That figure has gradually expanded and this year, up to the 26th of December as I write this, I published 76,659 words (plus however many words are in this post). Average words per post in 2014 were only 633 words so these days at an average of 1446 words per post the reader is getting real value for money. I say value for money but as SteveHigginsLive.com is an entirely free service that’s not strictly true but I like to think I am doing something towards keeping readers amused during this locked down, mask wearing, hand sanitising time.

76,000 words though, I wish I could motivate myself to write that much on the sequel to Floating in Space!


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Locked Down Blogger Part 2

It finally happened last week. It had been rumoured and expected. It had been predicted many months ago and so here it is. I’m talking of course about the second wave of the Coronavirus epidemic and the resulting second lockdown. There was some advance notice and as a result Liz and I were able to book a table and enjoy a last meal out. We even thought what the heck and went for a second bottle of wine just like the other couple in the next table sitting a socially distanced two metres to our left.

So that’s a month coming up with no nights out at the pub, no meals out and no quiz nights. The big problem with this second lockdown is the weather. In the first one I was quite happy sitting out in the sunshine reading a book. Now we have entered November here in the north of England it seems as though it has been constantly raining. What can we find of interest then? Well the big interest for me just lately is the American election. Like many people, I thought the election was a foregone conclusion, that Trump would be out and whoever the democrats chose would be in. It just so happened that the democratic candidate was Joe Biden. Joe is getting on a little bit for the top job and wouldn’t necessarily have been my choice but then again, neither would Donald Trump. As I write this the election is still ongoing, they are still counting the votes in a few remaining states. Both candidates are claiming victory and one is claiming huge voter fraud. Biden has so far been pretty much acclaimed as the winner, having received congratulations from previous presidents Obama and George W Bush. No congratulations have been forthcoming from Donald Trump and his legal team has already initiated legal action. I’m not sure who exactly they are planning to take to court but either way, that has not stopped Joe Biden getting his transition team together and making plans for when he takes office.

I wrote something back in 2016 about the smooth transition of power in the great democracies and even wondered what would happen if ever the outgoing president refused to budge. That was just wild blogging speculation but now some commentators are saying it could actually happen. This is almost as interesting for me as Watergate.

There was a time when I thought I understood the US election, now I’m not so sure. Hillary Clinton and Al Gore both won the popular vote in previous elections but failed to get enough electoral college votes to take them to the White House. I’m even confused about the primaries, I mean I was convinced Bernie Sanders would be the democratic candidate, but he stepped down earlier in the year and then Biden seemed to become the candidate virtually unchallenged and his projected walkover victory over Trump has just not happened. Many people actually support Trump. Some give their support because they are dyed in the wool Republicans, some presumably admire him but either way, 48% of the votes were for him.

I was watching TV the other day and a female black voter was being interviewed and surprisingly, she was voting for Trump. She wouldn’t vote for Biden she said because he was a socialist, which in the USA is one step from being a communist. Maybe that explains why Trump has such a following; in many places he must be seen as the anti-socialist. Trump did well in Florida where many Cubans found home after leaving communist Cuba.

When Nixon won the election in 1968 he spotted a supporter in a crowd with a banner proclaiming Bring us together and made that a campaign slogan. Bringing Americans together is a big ask for whoever wins in 2020 but I wish him luck in doing just that.

Theoretically this should be a great time for writers. What could be a better time to write than the lockdown, after all there isn’t much else to do. A few months back I shelled out a hundred or so dollars to list my screenplay on a web site called InkTip. InkTip is a way of bringing producers and writers together. They produce a newsletter for producers listing scripts and also provide subscribers with weekly lists of producers who want scripts. My screenplay has seen a lot of action lately with various producers reading either the synopsis or the script itself but that million-dollar deal has yet to surface. I live in hope.

My screenplay was one I wrote quite a few years back and I read through it recently and had an idea for a new ending. I added the new ending, tidied everything up and that final version was the one I added to InkTip. As I reviewed it again the other day – I don’t know about you but I’m always reviewing my old stuff- I realised that it was written before today’s mobile phone, Twitter and Instagram age. Not one of the characters has a phone. I might have to spend the lockdown adding mobile phones to my screenplay and bringing it into the 21st century.

Another project I’ve been working on during the lockdown is a video covering my recent trip to the Scottish Highlands. It’s mostly GoPro video from a camera stuck to my motorhome window. I’ve added some stills and some bits where I talk straight to the camera. I had a lot of technical problems putting it together, particularly recording the voice over. The voice over is pretty important because the actual visual stuff isn’t that exciting. When I recorded it, my laptop clearly couldn’t keep up with playing video and recording sound at the same time, so I had to record my voice separately and then add it to the video. That makes it difficult because normally as I’m reading the narration I tend to react to what is on screen so I can slow down or speed up if required or just add lib if I need to.

I was feeling pretty pleased with myself when I finished it and quickly got it uploaded to YouTube. I added the video to a video creators page that I follow and got some pretty reasonable feedback. What was really annoying was when I decided to tinker with it and spotted a couple of things I hadn’t noticed. One was in the credits at the end where I credited the music as Soul Grove instead of Soul Groove. Oh, and there was one more. In one of the stills of the motorhome I hadn’t picked up that Liz was rather cheekily giving me the V sign through the window! The thing is, the video had already garnered 72 views so do I delete and add the updated version or just leave things as they are? Decisions, decisions.

I’ve has a couple of nights on my own this week, as usual keeping my mothers house ship shape and lived in. One night I thought I’d make one of my favourite dishes, bruschetta. It just so happened I had some ciabatta in the freezer as well as onions and tomatoes. So here we go, I sliced the bread and popped it in the toaster for a light toasting. While that was going on I chopped the tomatoes and onions, mixed them up with a little garlic and olive oil. I Popped the bread out, slapped on the tomato and onion mixture and settled down to eat. It was wonderful.

It was so good I decided on another Italian favourite for the second course. aglio olio peperoncino. It’s basically spaghetti with olive oil, garlic and chilli. What could go wrong with that?

The quick answer is everything, overdone spaghetti, burnt garlic and those chillies I used last week on a curry that weren’t very hot: this week they were hot!

When is my favourite Italian restaurant opening again?


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The Story of my Life in Less than 2500 Words

My life in 2500 words? Really? My whole life, everything? Is that possible? Well, hang on a minute, give me a chance. I’ve been reading a book by Nora Ephron called I Feel Bad about my Neck and its really just a series of essays. In fact, Nora would be a great blogger because all her essays are nice blog sized pieces which could all easily be humorous blog posts. Her book is a little bit of a cheat really, it reminds me of a book by Spike Milligan I read years ago, A Bit of a Book I think it was called. It was full of little drawings and sketches which could easily be flipped through and other things like blank pages entitled the blank of England.

It was all very humorous but I read the book in about thirty minutes. Nora’s book is one I tend to read at work on my lunch breaks and if I had taken it on holiday, I would have easily read it in a few hours. Anyway, I shouldn’t really be bad mouthing Nora because her book is pretty funny and one of the essays was called The Story of My Life in less than 3500 Words which has inspired this blog post. Some of course would say that this blog post is a blatant rip off of Nora’s book but I can assure you it isn’t. Well, not that much anyway.

This won’t be my whole life of course, I’ll probably leave many things out, especially the bad bits and the boring moments but here we go.

I was born in 1956, way back in the mid-20th century in Manchester in the north of England. I was born in October which has always rather annoyed me. Why couldn’t I have been born in July or August or better still earlier in the year, sometime in the spring? I don’t like October; in fact, I never have. I don’t like the fireworks coming up in November and the endless weeks of bangers going off at unexpected times of the day and night and neither do I like Hallowe’en where complete strangers have the cheek to knock on my door and ask for treats. Not only that I don’t like the cold which is why I would much prefer a warmer time of the year for my birthday. It’s not much to ask and I would enjoy it much more.

(I’m starting to worry now about fitting everything in. Here we are, two paragraphs in and I’ve not mentioned much except my birthday.)

I went to school in Wythenshawe in the south of Manchester and I’d like to tell you that I excelled in various things and won various prizes and stuff like that. The fact is I didn’t although I did get picked for the school high jump team once. I had managed to jump an incredible six foot and to be honest I’m not sure how I did it. I could say I discovered an innate skill for high jumping but well, that’s another of those things I’d like to tell you, despite it actually being untrue. One day I did this amazing jump, I’m not sure how and the next thing I was asked to join our team at a local school for some sort of athletics competition.

The big problem with that was that the match was on a Thursday and on Thursdays I used to like to be at home for my favourite TV show which at the time was Thunderbirds. I did mention to the other members of my team that the possibilities of me arriving at the rival school for the high jump was pretty non-existent but my fellow team members, who I might add at this point were all older and bigger than me and actually now I think of it, rather hostile explained a lot about team spirit and stuff like that and how much better it would for me to be on time.

This is me when I was a pretty good looking guy. Later my looks went all downhill.

Some threatening behaviour was involved which made me think more about the team spirit thing and so I turned up ready for the jump. The annoying thing was at this school, the name of which escapes me, the high jump was set up on a sort of uphill slope which made it a little difficult for me to get up to speed for the correct lift off for the jump. To cut a long story short, I failed my jump, I was eliminated and was never asked to join the team again. To this day I remember the look on our team captain’s face as he shook his head mumbling ‘Six feet?‘ The flip side is that I was free on a Thursday for Thunderbirds.

I liked junior school but after that, school just went downhill for me and I left aged 16 clutching my four O levels. I should confess that actually one of those O levels was a CSE grade 1 which counted, so I was told, as an O level pass. Still I am now 64 years old and never once in my entire life, not once, have I been asked for proof of my 4 O levels, not in any job ever. So now I think of it, I just might as well have told my employers I had ten O levels or maybe even just upgraded them to A levels. Of course, that’s the kind of knowledge that only comes with experience and nowadays, no one is interested in whether I have 4 or 12 O levels or even whether I have any at all.

When I was at school I wanted, among other things to be a journalist. I went along to our careers teacher, Mr Sherriff, imparted this information and waited for his advice. I remember him asking me how I was going to do that. Him asking me? Wasn’t it supposed to be the other way round? Wasn’t he supposed to tell me that I could go on a course or maybe apply to the Manchester Evening News to be a trainee reporter? The next few minutes are a bit of a blur but I remember leaving his office after being told that I would soon receive a letter telling me about my coming interview. Now the Manchester Evening News had been mentioned, mostly by me and I remember telling all my friends I was soon to be interviewed for a reporter’s post with the News. My schoolmates were impressed, in fact very impressed because all Mr Sherriff ever did was get pupils a job with Barclays bank. A few days later Mr Sheriff called me back and handed me a letter. I had an interview arranged for 3 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon. I remember hoping that I would be back in time for Thunderbirds. Did I know where Barclays bank was asked Mr Sherriff? It didn’t matter because he gave me a handout detailing its location in Manchester city centre. Barclays bank I asked? What about the Manchester Evening News? The Manchester Evening News don’t have trainee reporters blared Mr Sherriff and quickly dismissed me.

I went for the interview. It was all very pleasant but I didn’t get the job although I wasn’t particularly upset about it. Once again my Thursdays were free for Thunderbirds although by this time, I was probably watching the next Gerry Anderson series, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. I wasn’t a great fan of Captain Scarlet although I do remember getting a model of an SPV, Captain Scarlet’s Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle for either Christmas or my birthday so I must have been at least somewhat interested in it.

After a quick look on the internet I see that by 1973 when I left school, Gerry Anderson was making the live action series The Protectors so that’s my Captain Scarlet memory right out of the window.

I’ve always been a fan of Gerry Anderson, all the way from Fireball XL5 to UFO. I didn’t like Space 1999, I much preferred Star Trek but before leaving Gerry I just want to say a last word about Thunderbirds. It’s really more of an observation than anything but I just want to get it off my chest. It’s something which has been annoying me ever since I first saw the show as a schoolboy, and it’s this:

Thunderbirds was a sci-fi puppet show from the 1960’s. A secret organisation known as International Rescue is based on former astronaut Jeff Tracy’s island home. His five sons pilot the Thunderbird vehicles and Alan Tracy, as you might know, is the pilot of Thunderbird 3, which is a space ship. Thunderbird 3 launches from underground, blasting off right through the circular opening of the island’s Round House. Now to access the craft, Alan sits down on the settee in the Tracy Island main house. His Dad, Jeff Tracy, flicks a switch and Alan and the settee drop down into an underground complex. OK? With me so far?

Well this is where the problem arises. As you can see from the video above, Alan and the settee drop down on a sort of hydraulic pole, just behind him we see another settee, being pushed up towards the lounge on another hydraulic pole, where it pops into the vacant slot where Alan’s settee was moments earlier. However, as Alan’s settee is going down on the first hydraulic pole, and the alternate settee is on a second hydraulic pole to his rear; there is no way that second settee is going to pop into the vacant slot left by the first. Also, what if Alan was watching TV when the call came in and he goes off on the departing settee with the remote control? It could be halfway to trajectory insertion when Jeff wants to switch over to Sky Sport and he says, “Who’s got the remote?”

Not only that, imagine if Alan was on his way to an emergency launch which came in while Grandma was in the kitchen making everyone a cup of tea and a slice of toast?

THE SCENE. INTERIOR. DAY. TRACY ISLAND LOUNGE.

JEFF TRACY
This is a job for Thunderbird 3.

ALAN TRACY
OK Dad. Ready for launch.

JEFF TRACY
Off you go Alan.

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

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

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

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

ALAN TRACY
Thanks Dad.

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

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

JEFF GOES OFF STAGE RIGHT TO LOOK FOR GRANDMA.

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

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

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

This where I have to make a confession and reveal the stuff above about Thunderbirds I wrote for an earlier post a few years back but it’s nice to see that it has slotted in so nicely.

Anyway back to the story of my life. My first job was as a clerk in the estates department of an insurance company, Refuge Assurance Ltd. Now on my very first day the first thing I was told was the difference between Assurance and Insurance. I’ve often thought about that. I wish I could remember what the hell that difference was. It’s bothered me for quite a while. Anyway, I worked in the Estates department which I have to say was actually really interesting. Our company owned a lot of property in central Manchester and I used to collect the rents and enter it all in a big ledger. Once, we were told in hushed tones about the impending arrival of a million-pound cheque. As it happens, I’ve written about that before but just in case you didn’t read that earlier post, this is what happened:

As I was only a mere teenage accounts clerk, I was running low on the pecking order to see this cheque, although it was actually my job to process it as I did with all the other cheques that came into the department. In due course, one of the very senior managers came down with the cheque and with great reverence it was handed to my boss Mr Ross. Mr Ross perused the cheque for a while along with a small clique of other managers and then conveyed it to the senior clerk, Mr Elliott. After marvelling at this great artefact for a few moments, he then passed the cheque to me. Numerous staff members from our and neighbouring departments also came to take a peek at this financial wonder which I believe, was the result of the company either selling off our sister company, Federated Assurance, or doing some fabulous property deal.

Anyway I did my job and duly entered the cheque into the ledger then put it in the safe ready to go down to banking prior to 3pm, as in those days, banks closed at 3pm. ‘Good heavens!’, declared one of the senior managers, ‘we can’t just leave the cheque there, all afternoon.’ I don’t know what they thought was likely to happen to it but I was despatched on a special journey to the bank for this very special cheque. Actually, that suited me quite well. After paying the cheque into the local bank I sauntered round the corner to the sandwich shop, ordered sausage on toast and after a quick gander through the Daily Express, made my way quietly back to work. Just as I arrived back in the office, I realised that the senior management staff were still there, waiting for news. What had happened? Were there any problems? They seemed rather disappointed when I told them that no cataclysm had occurred, the bank had not come to a standstill but the million-pound cheque had been routinely deposited. Thinking back, I’m not sure I liked the way they were looking at me, perhaps they knew all along I’d been to the sarnie shop!

Anyway, getting back to the cheque, it was actually not really that impressive. It was not printed but hand written in a very scrawling, looping, and altogether unreadable hand and it occurred to me that the payee, Refuge Assurance Company limited, could quite easily be changed to Stephen Higgins Esquire had there been some tippex handy. As this was an accounts department you might think we had a great deal of tippex, however tippex was completely Verboten.  It was never used, and in the event of a mistake being made, the procedure was to strike a line through the error, sign your name, date it and then add the correct figure. Looking back, I’m starting to wonder whether that’s why management were so keen to get that cheque into the bank, did they see me eyeing it up with a greedy sort of look on my face?

A few years later I handed in my resignation. Just before that a colleague who had a degree but as a clerk was completely useless, also handed in his notice. After our resignations we compared notes. He looked very pleased with himself because the company had offered him more money to stay on. I lied and told him they had offered me more money too although actually they didn’t offer me a bean. As a matter of fact, looking back, they seemed rather happy to see the back of me.

Well, I’d like to tell you more about myself, how I left the Insurance world behind and went on to greater success. I’d like to tell you that. I would. But the truth is . .

I’m already over 2500 words!


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