Christmas Day and Charles Dickens

Happy Christmas and I hope you are having a good one wherever you are. It’s not every year that my scheduled regular post ends up going out on Christmas day so should I make the most of it and deliver a sensational blog post or should I just recognise that today people have other things on their minds than reading a blog post?

Tough call.

Still, when people have finished opening their presents and have had their fill of Christmas dinner, pudding, drinks and nibbles, perhaps there might be a small opening for readers to open up their computers or tablets and have a read of my blog. Let’s give it a shot, anyway.

I caught the end of a documentary on TV the other day about Charles Dickens and how he apparently is the man who invented the modern Christmas just by publishing a short story about Christmas called A Christmas Carol. That sounded pretty interesting to me so as I had missed most of it, I thought I’d do a little internet research.

Charles Dickens was born in 1812 and in 1836 he published his first book, The Pickwick Papers. The Pickwick Papers became a publishing phenomenon by introducing serial publication; the book was published in serial form and it kept the readers wanting to find out what would happen next. In the TV show I watched they had someone on from Eastenders who claimed that if Dickens lived today, he would be working in TV, responsible for the cliff hangers that today’s soaps end with.

A Christmas Carol was published in 1843 and sold 6000 copies in just six days. It was not initially a great financial success for Dickens as he had decided to publish an edition with colour pictures. No colour printing was possible at the time and so the colour pictures were hand coloured by teams of people, all of which added to the expense of publication.

Dickens_by_Watkins_1858

Dickens himself was very fond of Christmas and the description in the book of the party at Scrooge’s nephew’s house was similar to the celebrations at Dickens’ own home. The piano was played, there was dancing, Christmas trees had become popular and Christmas carols were sung. The phrase ‘Merry Christmas’ became popular because of its use in ‘A Christmas Carol’.

The tradition of having a turkey dinner for Christmas began with Henry VIII but became popular in Victorian times. Prior to that a typical Christmas dinner involved goose. In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge buys a huge turkey for Bob Cratchit and his family and again that only increased the popularity of a Christmas turkey.

Another company produced an unauthorised edition of the book and Dickens sued, only for the rogue publisher to declare themselves bankrupt, leaving the author to pay for his costs despite winning his case.

Dickens was in need of money and he began a series of readings of his works which were lucrative and incredibly popular. These readings occupied most of his time in the last ten years of his life. He divorced his wife which was highly unusual for the time. He had met a young actress called Ellen Ternan who was 27 years younger than him and he remained passionate about her for the rest of his life. In 1860 he started a huge bonfire at his house, Gads Hill Place in Kent, in which he burned all his correspondence. Ellen too destroyed all her letters from Dickens so the full details of their relationship has never been known. Were they lovers? Possibly, but we can never know for sure.

On June 8th 1870, Dickens had a stroke after working on his last book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. He died the next day without regaining consciousness. Some have speculated that he died at Ellen Ternan’s house, and she had him taken back to Gads Hill to prevent a scandal.

He was laid to rest in Poets Corner at Westminster Abbey and A Christmas Carol remains one of his best-known works and the name of his main character, Scrooge has entered into the English language as meaning a miserly person. To this day, the book has never been out of print and a first edition copy would set you back about 10 to 15 thousand pounds.

More film versions have been made of A Christmas Carol than any other of Dicken’s works but the one that is head and shoulders above the others is the Alastair Sim version made in 1951. It just so happens that if you live in the UK you can watch it today at 12:45 on Talking Pictures.

Have a great Christmas.


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A Bit of a Blog or a Blog of Bits: Christmas Version

Well, we’re at that time of year again, Christmas. This time it will be Christmas with a difference; no parties, no meals out, no pub nights. The Coronavirus has changed everything. When it comes down to it, I’m not a great Christmas fan. It was good years ago as a child, waking up with the excitement of it all; the presents, the food, the cosy evening watching classic TV. But now I find myself wishing it was all over. I find myself looking forward to my favourite time of the year, the spring when days are getting longer and warmer and the bad weather is beginning to ease and  things are gradually becoming more light than dark and more warm than cold. This Christmas I will be working, even though I only work three shifts out of nine it turns out that my three days this week have fallen on the 25th, the 26th and 27th. Still, I’ve worked Christmas days before now as well as New Year’s day and Easter and other holidays. This time however, I’ve promised myself I won’t be working another one.

There isn’t much to do during the lockdown and apart from work, the only excitement in my life has been TV, books and writing.

TV.

The good thing about Christmas, speaking strictly as a couch potato, is the good stuff that will be on the television. At least, the good stuff I expect will be on. Last week I sat and watched one of my favourite films Fantastic Voyage. It’s a brilliant film in many ways. Firstly, it’s so incredibly original. We’ve all heard of outer space and seen a hundred or more films on the subject but this film is something different, it’s about inner space. An important scientist lies stricken with an inoperable blood clot on the brain and the solution is this: take a team of doctors, put them in a submarine and shrink them down so that they are so small, so very tiny that they will fit in a hypodermic and can be injected into the scientist’s bloodstream so they can journey towards the brain and clear the blood clot from the inside. Brilliant, wish I’d thought of it. Some of the special effects are a little tame and to be honest, it’s a film that is ripe for a 2021 remake with 21st century CGI special effects. Even so, I enjoyed it just the same.

The film stars various well known actors, from the glamorous Raquel Welch to the villainous Donald Pleasance. Also starring is Stephen Boyd. Boyd was an Irish actor who appeared in over 60 films. Boyd was a good actor who seemed to vanish quite abruptly from our film and TV screens. I looked him up on Wikipedia to find out what had happened to him and discovered that he had died suddenly at a very young age. He hailed from County Antrim in Northern Ireland. His big movie breakthrough was the film Ben Hur in which he played the part of Roman Tribune Messala for which he won a Golden Globe award. He was only 45 when he died of a heart attack whilst out playing golf at a course in California.

A few days ago I watched a repeat of one of the Christmas episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond. One of the great things about that show is Liz and I both enjoy it. In this episode Ray, just like me, is wondering what presents to buy. In particular he wants something for Debra, his wife. Previous failed presents were a set of pyjamas, he bought the wrong ones and his present idea, a space heater. Brother Robert, the funniest character in the show suggests a first edition of Debra’s favourite book, To kill a Mockingbird. Ray gets the book, Debra is over the moon -Ray finally bought her a good present- but Robert ruins everything by revealing the book was his idea. That show always makes me laugh especially as I’m so bad at buying gifts.

Just as I was doing the final edit for this post I took a quick glance at the TV guide. Bypassing Stalkers who Kill scheduled for Christmas Day –somehow I don’t think I’ll be watching that– I noticed It’s a Wonderful Life showing on Christmas Eve. I love that film and come to think of it, I haven’t seen it for quite a few years. It’s about George Bailey played by James Stewart who looks forward to an interesting life of travel but then finds obligations force him to stay in the small town where he has always lived. George is beset by problems and even considers suicide but then his guardian angel -literally- arrives to help him. The secret of this film is, I think, the fact that despite the fantasy premise of the film, everyone plays their parts as if they were in a serious drama. The result is that the drama and emotion of the situation rises to the surface and we are left with a vibrant and dramatic piece of cinema.

Books.

Hollywood has always fascinated me, especially Hollywood’s Golden Age. Just recently I’ve been reading Murder Hollywood Style written by Samuel Marx and Joyce Vanderdeen. Samuel Marx worked in Hollywood for many years and was a story editor and later a producer. He was a friend of Paul Bern who had married the original platinum blonde, Jean Harlow, in 1932.

On the morning of September the 5th, 1932, Marx received a phone call advising him that Bern had been found dead that morning. Bern was a former script writer who now worked as a producer for MGM where he was assistant to Irving Thalberg. Thalberg was known as the ‘Boy Wonder’ of MGM having produced a number of hit films such as Grand Hotel and Mutiny on the Bounty. Marx was shocked by the news and went quickly over to Bern’s house. Thalberg was already there and Marx spoke to neighbour about a mysterious veiled woman who had arrived the previous night. She arrived in a limousine and the neighbour heard various sounds that evening. Some sounds of laughter, some of anger. Marx went to go inside Bern’s house but Thalberg told him not to enter. Bern had committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. It was not a pretty site. Louis B Mayer the famous head of MGM had been to the house already and the head of the studio police force was also there. Marx, who had dined with Bern and his wife Jean Harlow only recently was shocked and left for home.

Strangely nothing appeared on the news until the next day. Who was the woman in the limo and had Bern really committed suicide? Marx takes us on an interesting tour of 1930’s Hollywood and along the way talks about many of the famous personalities of the time as well as the background to MGM studios and the films they made. He explains how the studio managed the press and dealt with the law enforcement officials of the day. Nothing was allowed to upset the carefully managed careers of stars like Jean Harlow and Clark Gable, her co-star in the hit movie Red Dust which was completed after Bern’s death.

All in all, a fascinating read.

Writing.

I was watching a TV quiz show the other day and one of the celebrity contestants mentioned that he had just finished writing a book. He did it by setting himself a target of 2000 words per day. Now sometimes I’ve hit 2000 words myself although certainly not every day. Sometimes it’s just 200. Writing isn’t always that easy and working from home there are so many distractions like emails and time wasting web sites like Pinterest and eBay. On eBay you can not only waste time but also spend money that you didn’t want to spend. When I’m stuck on a blog post or any other writing project I tend to look back at my half finished projects and work on those. I have a whole stack of half written poems, some of which I wrote many years ago and recently I put together a collection of poems with a vague idea of publishing them on Amazon. Lo and behold, just then a publisher contacted me asking to publish my poems! It was an Indian publisher and over on their web page there was a lengthy portfolio of their published editions which will soon be joined by my own book, A Warrior of Words.

Hope you’re having a good socially distanced Christmas. All the best and I’ll see you over in 2021.

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A Kind of 70’s Music sort of Blog Post

I hope you had a good Christmas and New Year and didn’t eat too much turkey or drink too much of your favourite tipple. As usual I like to think I drank just the right amount (well, maybe slightly over) but as usual ate far too much. Anyway, one of my favourite evenings over Christmas was when Liz’s sister came over to visit from France with her French boyfriend and we settled down for a good natter, some wine and some good English Christmas food. On the menu this year was gammon with all the trimmings, roast potatoes, sprouts, carrots, little sausages wrapped in bacon and gravy and as usual we had some top music going on in the background.

Now I’m not a great present buyer at Chistmas, in fact I always despair at ever getting something for the lovely Liz that she might actually like. Despite some major failures in the past this year I did pretty well with at least one of my presents. I bought her a great CD; 100 Forgotten Hits of the 1970’s.

So I hope you can imagine the scene; the wine has been gently warmed by the roaring open fire. The Christmas tree lights are twinkling, our roast dinner is served and rather than sit in the dining room we are all cosy in the lounge by the roaring fire while the CD player tinkles away in the background.

The album kicks off with Fanfare for the Common Man by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, a great track and one I could have added to a music post from a few weeks back: 19 Outstanding Instrumental tracks. Next up was was Gudbuy T’Jane by Slade. Slade made the perennial Christmas hit Merry Christmas Everybody and Gudbuy T’Jane is an earlier hit from 1972. That particular track reminds me of years ago when my brother and I were children. My Mum had taken us into town and treated us for our birthdays. I was bought an LP by Gary Glitter (don’t say anything -it was the seventies then!) and he chose a cassette album by Slade which featured Gudbuy T’Jane, I think it was called Sladest. As time went on I began to prefer Sladest to my Gary Glitter LP. Money changed hands or items were swapped but eventually Sladest became mine. Cassette tapes of course do not last forever, the tape snaps or tape get snarled up in the cassette player and Sladest is long gone. That Gary Glitter LP is still in the loft though at my Mum’s house.

As we ate and chatted the 70’s tracks came and went. Sad Sweet Dreamer confused us for a while, we thought it was Michael Jackson but no, it was that forgotten 70’s band Sweet Sensation.

A superb track was Get Down by Gilbert O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan once had a successful career and produced some great hits, however in the mid seventies he felt that his record contract was not paying him enough despite the huge hits he had delivered. He sued MAM records and eventually won 7 million pounds from them before returning to the CBS record label in 1980. He issued one single, What’s in a Kiss, and a compilation album but then litigation kept him away from the charts until another compilation album The Berry Vest of Gilbert O’Sullivan in 2004.  In 2018, O’Sullivan released his 19th studio album Gilbert O’Sullivan. The album entered the UK album charts at No. 20, his first UK charting studio album for over 40 years.

The next track that comes to mind is There’s A Whole Lot Of Loving by Guys ‘n’ Dolls. Not an outstanding track or even one that I had bought back in my vinyl single buying days but one that took me back to the 1970’s, back to evenings at home watching Top of the Pops on TV. Music by John Miles was a particular favourite of Liz’s but I preferred Hang on In there Baby by Johnny Bristol.

Another Track was Run For Home, a song I’d not heard for years. We all racked our brains trying to remember who the band was but in the end we had to look it up. It was Lindisfarne.

Time for the usual debate with French people. Do we have dessert before the cheese or the cheese before the dessert? Well the French way is the cheese first then dessert, that way you are staying with savoury before changing to sweet. Sounded good to me.

While we were nibbling on the cheese -not before refilling the wine glasses of course- a number of tracks came up for debate. Who sang I wanna Stay with you? (Gallagher and Lyle) Who sang Girls? (The Moments and Whatnaughts) Rock me Gently? (Andy Kim). What about You’re Moving out Today? (Carole Bayer Sager).

While I was writing this post I saw an interesting article on the BBC News. They were talking about the rise in streaming music tracks. Apparently over a 100 billion music tracks were streamed in 2019 and that was 7.5% up on 2018. Vinyl is still making something of a comeback with 43 million vinyl LP’s sold in the UK in 2019. They also said that tape cassettes were making a comeback with 80,000 sold in the UK in 2019. I have to say that does surprise me.

When I was much younger tape cassettes were something I loved playing with. I’d put together albums of music and even TV recordings and play them in my car. If I ever got fed up with them I’d record another and if the tape broke then once again I’d record another and if there was something on the radio I liked, I’d record it and play it on the way to work in my car.

Even today my car is the centre of my personal music. My car is filled with CDs both ‘proper’ music CDs and ones put together on my computer. I have to say though, making a cassette was so much easier.

The cheese went down well. I was hoping for some nice french imports courtesy of our guests but it was not to be although last year, Bernie and Angela managed to smuggle my favourite cheese, Rondele Bléu over on the flight from France. On the menu this year was a tasty  cheddar, a soft blue and some brie. In our wine glasses was a nice French Merlot courtesy of French supermarket Super U which went down rather well I thought.

I’m just wondering what music to finish on. Teenage Rampage by the Sweet? Nah! Storm in a Teacup by The Fortunes? Nah! Rock on by David Essex. Funnily enough I used to love that one back in the seventies. Sounds a bit whiney these days. Come What May by Eurovision winner Vicky Leandros went down well with the ladies but no, I’m going to go with this one by Helen Reddy. I love the quirky story of the secret lover who keeps her satisfied . . .


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

 

Codes, Films, Christmas and John Wayne

There are two particular films that come to mind at Christmas. I’m not talking about films that are typical Christmas films, things like It’s a Wonderful life or Scrooge or even Home Alone but films that tell the true story of Christmas, the story of Jesus himself. The two films I’m thinking of are King of Kings and The Greatest Story ever Told.

King of Kings starred Geoffrey Hunter as Jesus and in the Greatest Story it was Max Von Sydow. Max was in a way an unusual choice to play Jesus, he was pale and blue eyed and had a faint Swedish accent. Even so, he played a good part, so much so that whenever I see another portrayal of Christ, I always mentally compare it to that of Max. As for being pale and blue eyed, I suppose it is inevitable that people everywhere will envisage their religious icons in their own terms.

Geoffrey Hunter you may remember from the Star Trek pilot episode where he played Captain Pike, the original captain of the Enterprise. The producers of Star Trek, not wanting to waste the footage shot in the pilot, remade it into a two part episode where Mr Spock tries to help his former captain and is court marshalled.  In King of Kings Hunter plays a Jesus a little more forceful than that of Max Von Sydow’s but both portrayals are excellent. In King of Kings the director seems to compare the life of Jesus with that of Barrabus the rebel and freedom fighter –or terrorist, depending on your viewpoint. The two lives come together when Pontius Pilate asks the Jerusalem mob who do they wish to be freed. The mob chose Barrabus.

King of Kings was directed by Nick Ray who directed the famous Rebel without a Cause, James Dean’s iconic second film.

The Greatest Story was directed by George Stevens who made such classic films as Shane and James Dean’s last film Giant. Stevens was a director who worked the way I would work if I was a director. He shot a great deal of film then sat back, reviewed everything and put his film together one brushstroke –or film clip-  at a time. He chose Max to star as Jesus as he wanted a performer that was unknown to the general public. He might have been better in choosing unknown actors for the other roles too because the many star appearances seem to stop the viewer in his or her tracks as we spot various top actors and actresses in minor roles.

I do have a personal reason for liking this film. Once, many years ago my school friends and I were taken on a Christmas school trip to watch the film. We walked it as I remember in crocodile fashion from our Junior school Crossacres, down Wiggins hill and into Gatley, a small nearby village that boasted a lovely old cinema. That trip to watch this film did more for me than any teacher or RE lesson had ever done before or since and although I cannot claim to be overtly religious, I am certainly not an atheist and my respect for the person of Jesus has never been greater.

In Dan Brown’s thriller the Da Vinci Code, Brown looks at the ideas presented in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail about the idea that Jesus was married and that his widow, Mary Magdalene went to France where her child began a bloodline that exits to this day. The Holy Grail apparently was not a goblet that caught drops of blood from Jesus but an actual bloodline, a dynasty of Meringovian Kings that can be traced back to Jesus himself.

In the Da Vinci Code, Brown reveals these things as something that could tear the Christian church apart, why, I don’t know. To me, the idea that Jesus married and had children means he is more human and more understanding of the human condition than I have previously thought, so this news, if indeed it is actual news, does not distress me, to me it is joyous news.

While on the subject of the Da Vinci Code, I read it some time ago and although the book has many detractors, I personally found it a gripping read, one that I found hard to put down. Its effect though is perhaps like one of those very bright and loud fireworks that capture the attention for a short while and then fizzle out. In a St Annes charity shop not long ago where I go to peruse the second hand books and DVDs, they had a sign up next to an entire row of Da Vinci Codes. No more Da Vinci Code please: We’ve got plenty!

At the Regent Cinema in Blackpool they recently had a showing of that Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life. Sadly I was working that day but I hope to catch up with the film soon as they are bound to show it again on TV over Christmas. Director Frank Capra is another of my favourite directors and the film successfully combines fantasy with real life and James Stewart plays such a good part. Pity I missed that showing at the Regent, I really fancied seeing the film on the big screen.

There are a whole lot of film versions of a Christmas Carol, 73 TV and film versions according to a BBC news item I saw a while ago but the definitive version is the one with Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge

A Christmas Carol was published over a hundred and seventy years ago. It’s a wonderful story by that master storyteller Charles Dickens. Within six days the entire print run of 6,000 copies had sold out. Within six weeks theatre adaptations had hit London’s theatres. In many ways the book is Dickens’ defining vision of a Victorian Christmas.

Going back to the film versions there’s one with Albert Finney, one with George C Scott, a cartoon version and even a version with Bill Murray as a modern-day Scrooge.. Don’t give any the time of day except for the definitive 1951 classic.

I must finish with one final anecdote about The Greatest Story ever Told. As I have mentioned, numerous star actors make guest appearances in the film from Sydney Poiter to Van Heflin, Angela Lansbury to Shelley Winters and many others but there is one I must mention: John Wayne as the Centurion who watches Jesus die on the cross. When Wayne uttered his immortal line, ‘truly this man was the son of God.’ Director George Stevens called ‘cut’ and asked Wayne to do the scene again but this time with more awe.

Wayne duly complied.

‘Action’ called Stevens.

‘Aww, truly this man was the son of God’ said Wayne.


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

Christmas Day Menu: Starter, Main and Classic Film.

There has been some discussion in our household recently about Christmas dinner. Personally, I think I am just easy to please but others apparently think differently. No one in our house is a great turkey fan although now I think of it, at a Christmas party recently at the Inn on the Prom in St Annes, a local hotel, I did choose the turkey roast as my main meal, and very nice it was too.

One thing I do not like is fish. Well, let me clarify that, I don’t like fishy fish. I quite like fish and chips, usually deep-fried cod because it doesn’t really taste that fishy. I’ve had a hake dish before now. Occasionally, very occasionally I have eaten mussels. They are not my cup of tea but sometimes I can eat a few especially with some strong sauce, something garlicky or spicy to drown out the fishiness.

Liz and daughter number 2 who is dining with us on Christmas Day like fish and they seem to favour something like smoked salmon for a starter. Yuk! Not for me please. Another idea was prawn cocktail. I have to say I’m not a great prawn lover either. I have eaten prawn cocktail before now, though I must say it’s not my dish of choice. What would I choose for myself then? Well, a nice pâté might be nice but some crusty fresh bread would be vital for that. Perhaps a nice tomato or even minestrone soup, yes that would be nice.

Many years ago the two dishes I first cooked for myself as a schoolboy were boiled eggs (I do love my eggs!) and tomato soup. By ‘make’ I mean I opened the can and warmed up the soup on the hob so no great talent required there but I have loved tomato soup ever since and today it’s one of those comfort foods for me. If I’m ever feeling low or under the weather, a nice bowl of tomato soup just does it for me.

Boiled eggs are the first things I can claim to have actually cooked. If the eggs come from the fridge, warm them gently in some warm water before cooking. The perfect timing for me is 2 minutes and 50 seconds. Serve with lightly toasted fresh bread and you have a wonderful snack or breakfast.

Back to the main course and a great favourite for me would be roast gammon. That apparently is off the menu because we will be having that when Liz’s French family come visiting just prior to Christmas with gammon leftovers also being served on Boxing day when daughter number 1 comes for dinner. I did mention roast beef but that suggestion was frowned upon. Goose and duck were also mentioned but they are two meats that just don’t do it for me. Roast chicken? OK with me but I’m in a minority there. That of course brings us back to . . turkey. Oh well, I may have to bow to a majority decision and perhaps suffer one or two slices of duck with some extra roast potatoes.

Whatever the roast of your choice some important additions are vital to your christmas dinner. Roast potatoes for instance. Personally I don’t like crispy ones. I like them soft and cooked in the roast beef juices. If not serving roast beef then goose fat is good for your roasties, apparently. Brussels sprouts are usually mandatory for a christmas dinner and the other day I saw them made on one of those TV cookery programmes but instead of boiling them, the TV chef cut them in half, gave them ample salt and pepper and roasted them. I tried them myself a while back in one of my rare forays into the kitchen and I have to say they were much nicer roasted than boiled. Carrot and turnip is another welcome addition for me. I’m not a great fan of mashed potatoes but I do like my mash rustic; mashed and served with butter is perfect although I have seen TV chefs mash potatoes into almost a puree and throw in butter and cream! Not in my mash, please.

I know that Yorkshire pudding is traditionally served with beef but I’ll be hoping for a portion of Yorkshires on Christmas day too. I recently produced a perfect Yorkshire pudding but my second attempt was a disaster as was my third. At least Liz will be in charge of the kitchen on Christmas day so looking forward to a veritable feast!

Now for Christmas day dessert we will be having Liz’s wonderful low sugar cheesecake. It is absolutely fabulous and we all look forward to having a slice. Another element is the cheese course. Here’s a question though, do the French have cheese before or after their sweet? I’ll have to make a few enquiries before the French contingent arrive because personally, I like to finish with some cheese, some English Cheddar, a little French Brie and perhaps a slice of Stilton to liven things up. A glass of red, some fresh bread or crackers, what could be nicer!

One last element of dining over the Christmas period is perhaps something that gets easily forgotten. the humble sandwich. Now I don’t much care for turkey sandwiches but the great thing about gammon is that when cooked, it becomes ham, and some freshly sliced ham slapped on some fresh bread is just perfect for relaxing with a late night glass of port, perhaps even a mince pie and my favourite Christmas film, A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge. Yes there are a whole lot of film versions of a Christmas Carol, (73 TV and film versions according to a BBC news item I saw recently.)

A Christmas Carol was published 175 years ago this week. It’s a wonderful story by that master storyteller Charles Dickens. Within six days the entire print run of 6,000 copies had sold out. Within six weeks theatre adaptations had hit London’s theatres. In many ways the book is Dickens’ defining vision of a Victorian Christmas.

Going back to the film versions there’s one with Albert Finney, one with George C Scott, a cartoon version and even a version with Bill Murray as a modern-day Scrooge. According to my TV guide they are all available in the UK over the holiday period. Don’t give any the time of day except for the definitive 1951 classic.

Best wishes and have a lovely Christmas.


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.

The New Year Blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers everyone!


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

Floating in Space

10 Great Christmas Singles from the 1970s!

It’s that time of year again and although I was a little bit behind in my blogging schedule last week, I have got it together, or at least hope I’ve got it together for this week.

For this Christmas post I started off trying to compile my favourite Christmas singles but then realised most of them were from the 1970s, so quick blog title change and here we have it, the best ever Christmas singles from the 1970s!

Although this hit single from the unlikely pairing of Bing Crosby and David Bowie was released in 1982, I’ve included it here because it was recorded for a television special in 1977.

This version of ‘When a Child is Born’ was released in 1976. Perhaps a little bit on the sugary side but what the heck, it’s Christmas!

A track I’ve always liked from Elton, ‘Step into Christmas’. This was a hit for Elton in 1974.

‘Wonderful Christmastime’ was a hit for former Beatle Paul McCartney in 1979.

‘I believe in Father Christmas’ was a hit for Greg Lake in 1975. According to Wikipedia, Greg Lake says the song was a protest at the commercialisation of Christmas.

‘Lonely This Christmas’ was a 1974 hit for Mud. Personally I prefer Tiger Feet!

Boney M had a number of hits in the 1970s. This was their Christmas hit in 1978.

Not my favourite Christmas hit. I never really liked this one back in the 70’s although now, forty odd years later, it’s starting to grow on me. I even posted a meme on Twitter the other day. It was a picture of lead singer Noddy Holder with a caption saying ‘It’s not Christmas until Noddy says so!’

‘RentaSanta’ is a record you might not remember. It’s a collection of clips from other songs with DJ Chris Hill providing some amusing links.

‘I wish it could be Christmas Everyday’ by Wizzard. I’ve  loved this record ever since I first heard it back in 1973 and I have placed it in its proper place at number 1, absolutely my favourite Christmas record ever!

Have a great Christmas!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Christmas TV, Quiz Shows and the Hand of Friendship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Christmas and all the best for 2017!


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

Christmas and why Women Should do the Cleaning!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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