Everything you need to know about Shopping.

Believe it or not, I like shopping. Yes, really! I actually like shopping. Although born into the latter half of the 20th century I am a man who has embraced 21st century ideals. I don’t expect women to stay at home and do the cooking, washing, cleaning or shopping. No, as a new age man I am willing to get in there and sort out the shopping. Not the daily shop you understand, more of the occasional shop. .

I love shopping in Lidl and Aldi and I love checking out all those special offers in the centre aisles. You know things like, well the other day I saw this great set of ski goggles in Lidl. They had these special lenses and this special strap, and they were tinted and had this special anti-glare stuff on the lenses. Now it just so happens that I have never actually done any skiing. In fact I’ve never really been that interested in it. I mean actually paying to go somewhere that is cold? I don’t think so but then again. Imagine being on a flight that gets diverted and ends up in the French Alps. What would I do then? Sorry, can’t go skiing because I haven’t any ski goggles. You can see just from that quick example those ski goggles might have been worth it. Anyway, I managed to resist them in the end.

Another item that caught my fancy was some really tasty drill bits in a really nice case. I was tempted even though I don’t do that much drilling. Of course I do some drilling. I have a really rather nice drill and it was only months ago when I used it last. Actually, it may have been last year, or was it 2017? I know I did put up this really cracking set of bookshelves back in 1995 but anyway, once again I managed to resist the temptation to purchase.

Interestingly, a few weeks back Liz and I went into Curry’s to look for a new TV. We had already seen one on the World Wide Web but thought why wait for delivery? Why not just run up there and pick one up?

Of course the TV that we wanted wasn’t available. ‘You’d have been better ordering on the Internet’ said the salesman. No wonder Curry’s is only one third of the size it used to be; everyone is just ordering on the Internet.

When we mentioned we wanted a 32 inch TV the guy said ‘right, it’s for a caravan is it, or for the bedroom?’

Actually it was for the lounge, it’s just that we don’t want an oversized monstrosity taking over the entire room! (Actually now I think on, I quite fancy one of those huge TVs!)

When we mentioned we wanted a integrated DVD player the guy once again looked right down at us. A DVD player? ‘Well that’s old technology’ he said. ‘People tend to use Netflix nowadays.’

Look, whatever, It just so happens we want a DVD player, OK!

Right, said the guy but what about a Smart TV? You can watch Netflix, YouTube and all sorts of things. You do have Internet don’t you?

We do, only Liz’s bungalow is rather long and the Internet tends to stay over the other side of the house. Sorry Mr Smarmy Curry’s salesman: no sale and if I want a DVD player I’ll get one elsewhere!

Of course most of my shopping I do for my elderly mother in her local Asda store and there are some excellent departments there that I do like to visit. The CD section in Asda isn’t quite as interesting as the music area used to be. Now it’s a rather small section with only a limited few CD’s on sale because a lot of people tend to download their music. Sorry but once again I’m of the old school of music buyers, I want something physical for my money. I know I’m not going to get a big sleeve like in the vinyl days with some interesting sleeve notes. These days the sleeve notes are so small I need a magnifying glass to read them but I like to have something I can hold and look at and touch.

Sometimes I think back to those long gone Saturday afternoons flicking through records in the numerous record shops in Manchester. Sadly, that is just a distant memory now. Once I was always down at HMV in Manchester where they had an in store DJ. She was a really nice girl, very approachable and very into her music. She recommended all sorts of albums to me but I was usually in there hunting for some album or artist I had heard on the radio.

I remember going in one day to find the in-store DJ had been replaced by a radio version, someone, presumably at head office in London, who broadcast music to all the HMV stores. Later, in 2013,  the  store closed down completely after more than twenty years on the same site. Browsing records and videos in HMV and then popping into my favourite book stores before settling down in some back street pub for a drink, ah, those were the days.

Music shops are few and far between these days so where is left if you want to buy a record rather than download? Oh yes, the CDs and DVD department of your local superstore!

Moving on through Asda I do like to check out the the clothes section. It’s not so easy finding clothes to fit a huge gynormous great lump like me so it’s always worthwhile just checking out the supermarket menswear section because sometimes I will actually find something that will fit me.

Occasionally in the sale section I’ll find some really great XXL shirt lingering among the unwanted items but even then, I find that sometimes one man’s XXL is another man’s L!

Right that’s the proper shopping sorted, now for some day to day stuff, a quick whiz through and I slap a few things in my trolley; bacon, eggs, tomatoes, bread, milk and so on.

The big problem in any supermarket for me is that no matter what, some strange force will unerringly guide me to the totally wrong till. Now, I won’t just jump onto any till. I will observe closely, check out the options and then choose the wrong one.

Here’s a for instance, yesterday at Asda. All the main tills were full of people with a huge trolley of goods, enough to last me about a month so I ignored those and went on down to the basket section. Two tills were open here, one with about four people ahead of me, the other with about ten. A no brainer I thought, go for the one with four people. I just managed to nip in before a crazy looking lady with a failed 1960’s style beehive hairdo. She waited behind me for a short while before bailing out in favour of aisle 2.

Now my usual tactic is not to unload any stuff until I am sure of the lie of the land but on this day I felt confident enough to do so. Big mistake! On till number 2, weird looking crazy beehive lady seemed to be moving forward at a fair old speed while my till wasn’t doing much. Strange because the four people in front of me had only a sparse collection of goods and in till number 2 each of their people had a good selection of items.

Shortly after, crazy beehive woman seemed to be pretty much on a par with me and moments later was actually ahead. That checkout girl in aisle 2 was certainly doing the business. Up at the front of aisle 1 my checkout lady was far too chatty but not only that, something seemed to be going on up there and our checkout girl called over the checkout girl from aisle 2 to assist.

This didn’t go down well with the people from aisle 2 and crazy beehive lady clearly wasn’t happy as she was now stalled only a matter of feet from the till and freedom. Over on my side there was a battle under way to remove the security tag from a bottle of spirits, possibly vodka, but sadly checkout lady 2 gave up and returned to her till while we waited for the manager to sort out the security tag.

I felt like saying come on, do you really need a bottle of vodka at 2 in the afternoon but I kept silent and moments later, crazy beehive woman was off although not before shooting me a victorious look which seemed to say ‘that’ll teach you to nip in front of me at the checkout!’

Eventually, our till got sorted, the vodka bottle was freed up for sale and we moved on.

I knew that till was going to be a big mistake!


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

Music on the Move

Generally speaking, especially when a long journey is involved, I need music in my car. A quick trip to Sainsburys, ok, I can get along without it but to endure the forty-five minute motorway journey to work, I need music.

My taste in music has come a long way from my younger days in the 1970’s when I bought the latest chart singles (well not actually the latest. I always used to wait until they dropped down the top twenty and were reduced to half price!) Back then a top twenty single was three minutes of magic and how I must have driven my Mum and Dad demented when I played a new single time after time after time . .

Sorry Mum and Dad. . .

Anyway these days I like something that lasts longer than three minutes so here are a few of the CDs from my current in-car playlist.

Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds.

A firm favourite in my car is Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds. Yes, not only music but an album that tells a story with some drama and narration from that fine actor Richard Burton. Yes, this is an album ready for a good listening to and it’s not just a few quick singles; it’s music, dialogue, a good story and some excellent music -the perfect accompaniment for a long journey. Richard Burton’s narration is excellent and the dialogue elements are highly enjoyable, as are the musical sections.

Justin Hayward reached the UK top five with Forever Autumn, a shortened version of the album track and there are more vocal contributions on the album from Julie Covington, David Essex and Phil Lynott.

The whole thing is a sort of mix between radio drama, pop/rock music and contemporary orchestral works. I love it.

Kate Bush

I don’t know about you but in the past I’ve never had any real interest in Kate Bush. I’ve never disliked her but I’ve never felt compelled to buy any of her music. In fact, her early work has always sounded good but sort of odd if you know what I mean. Her slightly screechy ‘It’s me, Kathy, come home again’ was interesting but I never bought a copy and ‘Babooshka Babooshka‘ was ok but again, I never felt compelled to buy Kate’s work.

Some time ago I watched a documentary about Kate on BBC Four and I found myself liking the sounds and the melodies I heard. Straight afterwards I started searching on Ebay for her albums and found her latest work was the music I liked. Aerial is a double album full of lovely rhythms and melodies. It’s perhaps more akin to music that comes under the genre ‘chill out’ than her earlier frantic singles. I love the quick changes of direction, the way one track merges into another or into some soothing morning birdsong. The tracks on this album do not comply with the standard three-minute rule and they ebb and flow with Kate’s mood. Lovely stuff but be prepared to sit back and enjoy. This album is not something you can easily put away.

Ministry of Sound Chill Out Sessions.

Now, you might be surprised to see the Ministry of a Sound as one of my musical choices but I do like my electronic music. These compilation albums of chilled down dance tracks are the sort of music that does it for me these days.

Bands include Groove Armarda, Air, Kinobe, Jakatta and Massive Attack and many of the tracks are alternate mixes; the Club Mix, Pete Heller’s stylus mix, or the Electric Lounge Session re mix.

A typical song title is something like I am the Black Gold of the Sun (4 Hero Remix Edit.) Crazy stuff when you are used to a record title like Brown Sugar by the Rolling Stones!

Yes, the motor car is a place of comfort, a highly personal space. Sometimes I think I should invest in a digital radio for my lovely motor, then again, WeBuyAnyCar.com have valued it at a measly £398 so is it worth it?

Well, whatever it is worth I am happy with my car. If it is another warm night when I finish my late shift tonight I might just drop the roof down and drive home with the wind rushing through my hair, imagining for all the world that I am Hollywood scriptwriter cruising down Sunset Boulevard in my convertible ready to drop off another million dollar hit at the studios.

I can see myself now, reaching for my hand-held tape recorder, dictating some idea for a script, another blog post, perhaps even the sequel to Floating in Space. My hands touch the steering wheel lightly as I slip smoothly through the gears. With the sound of Nitin Sawhney’s chilled down spiritual moods wafting over me I think for a moment and then an idea begins to form . .


If you liked this post why not try my book, Floating in Space? Click the links at the top of the page or take a look at the video below and listen to me tell you more. . .

 

 

The Soundtrack to my Life (Part 2)

stmlstePart 1 of the Soundtrack To My Life, which you can read by clicking here began by me trolling through my old albums. These days I buy a lot of  CD albums but back in my younger days I was a singles man. Yes, those vinyl discs spinning at 45 rpm sent me into a spin too from the very first single I bought in 1973, well it was two together actually, Banks of the Ohio and What is Life, sung by my seventies heart throb, Olivia Newton John.

In a previous post I compiled my all-time top 100 singles. You might think it was hard, well it wasn’t but my original task, that of compiling my all-time top 12 was, which is why I ended up with 100 records, all vying to get into the top 12 slot.
In an idle moment, well, a few hours actually when I had some free time on my hands, I made a rather nerdy spreadsheet of my top 100 which you can download. 100besttracks. Here are a few of my favourite tracks in detail.

The oldest track in my top 100 is Moon River from Andy Williams. I’ve always liked Andy and used to look forward to his TV show when I was a child and there was a rather memorable moment when the song was used in Sex and the City, one of my favourite TV shows, when Mr Big decides to leave New York for his vineyard somewhere in the country.

Olivia Newton-John doesn’t feature in my top 100 but she did do a pretty good version of Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ but I think its only fair to have the original in my top 100.

I do rather like acoustic guitar music and so Peter Sarstedt, James Taylor, Carole King and Bob Dylan are entries from the late sixties. On one of my very first dates I took a girl called Beryl to see the movie Pat Garret and Billy the Kid. I always thought that it featured the Dylan song ‘Lay Lady Lay‘ but it was actually Knocking on Heaven’s Door which was another great Dylan track, anyway, despite the movie mix up on my part, Lay Lady Lay always reminds me of that date.

Two other sixties tracks are Burt Bacharach songs: ‘Do You Know the Way to San Jose?’ and Dusty Springfield with The Look of Love. As a child in the 1960s, I wasn’t really aware of pop music, and all the sixties tracks mentioned here came into my record collection retrospectively but I came to know Burt’s music through the many films that benefited from his songs.

When I first started work in Manchester as a fresh youth of sixteen in 1973, a new colleague told me she was into soul music and I remember wondering what soul music was. I eventually asked her and she couldn’t define the genre except to say that it was dance music which doesn’t really go far enough to explain soul. Anyway, the first soul track I bought was Stevie Wonder’s ‘Boogie on Reggae Woman’. Later I added ‘Superstition’ to my collection.  The Chi Lites and ‘Have You Seen Her’ was another great soul track and  I’ve always loved ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’ by Gladys Knight and the Pips.

In the mid-seventies I used to frequent a bar in Manchester called the Playground and the DJ in the evening, his name was Steve also, used Loves Theme by Barry White’s backing band, Love Unlimited, as his theme song. I can’t hear that single today without remembering that bar with its dance floor sunk low in the floor where drinkers could look down at the dancers and where on weekday lunchtimes, office workers like myself could watch the topless dancer who appeared at 1 pm to entertain the patrons. No wonder I always used to get stuck with the 12 o clock lunch slot!

Angie Baby by Helen Reddy was one of those haunting tracks with clever lyrics. It was released in 1974, the most popular year in my top 100 with nine records from that year. The Hustle by Van McCoy was a disco classic from 1974 but another record I love from that time was ‘How Long’ by a now long defunct group called Ace. The writer and lead singer was Paul Carrack who went on to greater fame with Mike and the Mechanics and as a solo performer. That song  always reminds me of the Salisbury, a pub just by Oxford Rd Station where my colleagues and I used to congregate at lunchtimes or after work.

Young Americans was a track from rock legend David Bowie which made the soul charts in the USA and David Essex sang Rock On looking incredibly cool in his white suit.

Walking in Rhythm was a track I used to dance to in Manchester in the dark and packed night clubs of the seventies.  I also boogied away to Can you Feel the Force, (The Real Thing) September, (Earth Wind and Fire) and Night Fever (The Bee Gees) but another quirky favourite was the Pino Colado song with its wonderful engaging lyrics. While on the subject of Manchester, I must mention that great Manchester band 10cc and their classic 1975 hit, I’m Not In Love, recorded in Stockport’s Strawberry studios.

I’m not a great Cliff Richard fan but in the 80’s he came out with some fabulous songs like Wired for Sound, again with wonderful lyrics.

Billie Jean was my favourite of Michael Jackson’s work and I much prefer it to the overhyped Thriller.

I was still liking the acoustic guitar in the mid-eighties with songs like Marlene on the Wall by Suzanne Vega but a ground breaking record was that of Nineteen by Paul Hardcastle that introduced computers and sampling into music making.

Two songs that were from movies were Into the Groove by Madonna from the film Desperately Seeking Susan and The Power of Love by Huey Lewis and the News featured in Back to the future.

I must stop to mention Bruce Hornsby and the Range from 1986 and ‘The Way it is’. What a great track that is, a major contender for my all-time top 10.

In the late seventies I was a great fan of Elton John, buying all his early albums but my interest in his work fizzled out in the 1980’s. Made in England was a single by Elton that re-acquainted me with his music after twenty or so years.

The newest tracks on my list were from 2002 and 2003. Vanessa Carlton released A Thousand Miles in 2002 and sang backing vocals on a version of Big Yellow taxi in 2003 by Counting Crows. Neither were ever heard from again.

I’m sure there must have been great singles released between 2003 and now but nowadays I don’t rely on radio stations to tell me what to listen to. Radio channels and adverts just don’t go together for me so I tend to favour the BBC and Radio 2 but I must admit to liking Smooth FM and its playlist of non stop classic pop.

After having written this post about my top 100 list compiled a few years ago I reckon it’s time for a 2017 update. The thing is, that might just mean my top 100 is going to become my top 150!

Before I sign off, I think it’s only fair to leave a link to an outstanding post from fellow blogger Dave Kingsbury that inspired me to write this one: https://davekingsbury.wordpress.com/2015/10/09/a-life-in-music/


Hope you liked this post. If you want to read more of my work why not try my book, Floating In Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

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The Soundtrack to my Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Music and the Fifty Year old Teenager

800px-nadelaufplatteMany years ago in my mid-teens I was in Manchester doing pretty much what I have always done, then and now, whenever I have free time on a Saturday, either looking at records in a music store or looking at books in a book shop.

In 2014 there are not many record stores left; the whole culture of buying records is a different ball game these days, downloading instead of taking home a hard physical copy. You might be thinking hey: haven’t we had this blog already? Yes but the other day I went on to talk about James Dean, today I want to carry on with music.

As a teenager Saturday afternoons meant one thing to me, going into town, probably Manchester, and flipping through records and books. I was a big music fan and back in the seventies and eighties singles were marked down in price as soon as they dropped out of the charts and vultures like me were there to buy up cheap records. I started buying singles in 1973 and the last one I bought must have been in the late eighties. I wish I knew which record it was. In the eighties I started buying picture singles which were singles in clear vinyl with a picture running through. My favourite is probably Alexi Sayle singing ‘Hello John, got a new motor’ which comes in the shape of a Ford Cortina With Alexi Sayle on the bonnet.

The day came, probably sometime in the nineties, when the pop charts had become a mystery to me, singers and bands were in there that I’d never heard of with records I had no interest in buying. Just then, almost like a thief in the night, vinyl disapeared and the CD era began.

In the box room at my Mum’s house are four or five boxes of my singles, another box of LP’s and a two boxes of 12 inch singles which started out in the eighties as a single but with a longer or different mix or sometimes with an extra track. The strange thing is, my teenage counterparts in 2014 probably have a similar size collection only without the physicality. A huge stack of music kept on a hard disc or MP3 device, kept forever in cyberspace. I like my vinyl records, I like the smoothness of the plastic, the static electricity, the album covers, the sleeve notes (can anyone really read the sleeve notes on CDs written in that tiny writing?) and the inserts. I still have all the booklets that came with Elton John’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy and I so wish I’d written the lyrics to that Cliff Richard song, ‘Wired for Sound’; power from the needle to the plastic.

I’m not much of a downloader but I do have a shed load of CD’s I’ve picked up over the years and I’ve gradually started to use my MP3 player, especially on holiday and I even have fun making up playlists just like in the old days when I’d copy my vinyl singles onto cassette tapes.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ve really changed at all from the teenager I used to be. .


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