A Series of ‘What If’ Events

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s one final, ‘what if’ story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Rooms, Film sets and Homes from the Corners of my Mind . .

Film sets? Rooms? What exactly is this guy going to write about rooms you might think? Well, this idea about rooms might take me a while to explain so here we go.

I’ve always been interested in really exciting rooms, usually those seen on a film where the room in question has been designed by some really top designer and put together by some award-winning prop guy and set dresser but the first room that comes to mind is one from my comic book days.

Back in the 1960s some British comics started to reprint American super hero comic strips. They did it by combining various super hero comic strips into one comic. The one that comes to mind was called Marvel after the producers of such comic books as Spiderman, the Hulk and so on.

One strip that I really loved was the new super hero Daredevil. Now he, believe it or not, was a blind guy but had this ‘radar sense’ that enabled him to see in a way that no sighted person could. In the first Daredevil strip I ever read there was a cutaway drawing showing Daredevil’s flat (apartment to you US readers) and its secret ‘underground lair’ when Daredevil got his kit off and exercised in a personal gym where he honed his gymnastic skills which as you know, are required by all costumed crime fighters. It was probably the idea of the concealed rooms that interested me as a child, I always loved that in the sci fi of the 1960s.

Image courtesy berkeleyplaceblog.com

Batman too had his underground lair; it was the Batcave and there was a great moment in the 1960’s TV series when Bruce Wayne would say to his young ward Dick Grayson ‘to the Bat poles!’ Robin alias Dick would flip the switch on the bust on Bruce’s desk and the two would leap onto the bat poles in the now opened secret compartment and slide down to the Batcave.

Another underground lair was that of Doctor No, the first villain in the James Bond film series. The doc had these amazing quarters with a glass wall looking out under the ocean.

‘A million dollars’ says the doc to James Bond as he quietly enters the room.

‘You were thinking of how much it cost?’ He goes on.

Actually, I wasn’t as I knew it was a film set but it was pretty cool.

The next great room and location that comes to mind was that of Ernst Stavro Blofield in my favourite Bond movie, On her Majesty’s Secret Service. Blofield has a mountain hideaway on top of a peak in the French Alps, or was it the Italian Alps? Either way Piz Gloria was an actual skiing lodge that had just been constructed and had been lent to the film crew. The interior, which I always rather liked, particularly Blofield’s inner sanctum was really cool and presumably designed by the production designer Syd Cain.

Another room I always liked was Joe 90’s dad’s house from the TV series Joe 90. It was a very comfy old-fashioned farmhouse where Joe and his dad, professor -I nearly said professor 90 but I don’t think it was. Anyway, the two of them lived there assisted by their housekeeper until Joe went off on his secret missions. Their front room was remarkably similar to the one owned by Barnes Wallis in the film The Dambusters. Wallis’ home was a typical 1940’s English farmhouse and it all looked pretty comfortable to me.

Remember the Beatles movie Help? In the film there is a great shot of the four Beatles walking up to their respective front doors along a typical row of English terraced houses.

They turn their keys, open their doors and they each step into: -Cut to interior shot- One ultra-modern long room and we see the Beatles step inside and settle down. John has a settee or couch sunk into a low area which he has to step down into and down there, or so I imagine, he has a TV and stereo and all the mod cons of the mid-1960s. I loved that little space and if I had a big enough house it would be great to recreate it. Then again, I can just imagine coming home late at night after a few beers at the pub, walking into it in the dark and breaking my neck!

Did you ever watch the 60’s TV show The Prisoner? A secret agent resigns, returns home to find gas filling his house. He awakes, seemingly in the same room but when he opens the window, he finds himself in a village where he is apparently a prisoner. The Prisoner starred Patrick McGoohan and the show combines elements of intrigue, espionage and sci fi. It was filmed in the Welsh village of Portmerion where a long time ago I was able to visit number 6’s old house. The inside of it was of course not in Portmerion but was something assembled on a film set at Elstree or somewhere. It was small and compact and the door automatically opened as you approached.

Number 2, the administrator of the village had an ultra modern office with stylish 1960’s bubble chairs. I’ve always fancied one of those chairs: I can just imagine curling up in one and having a good read.

Another great setting was Hugh Grant’s house in the film Notting Hill. Notting Hill is an actual area of London and Grant’s house in the film was presumably an actual house. Notting Hill, and I have to say I have no actual experience of the real Notting Hill, comes over in the film as a busy, vibrant and exciting place to live. Hugh’s house is a terraced house, rather narrow but with lots of light and a rather cosy area on a landing by the stairs with a couch where Grant spends the night on one occasion in the film and looks to be a really great place to relax, maybe watch TV or write blogs and just generally have some private time.

Anyway, enough of films, it’s about time I told you about my favourite room. I had two and they were both at the first house I ever bought; my house in Didsbury, Manchester. There was a small front room which I decorated myself, slowly. There was a dado rail with different but matching wallpapers above and below, bookshelves, books and videos (VHS of course). I also kept one of the three bedrooms for myself as a music room and my stereo and records were all stored there along with a couple of comfy chairs and all the other toys, gadgets and cameras I had at the time.

Once, years later, I remember visiting the old place and I parked outside for a while feeling like an intruder. Years before, this had been my street and my house and if, back then I had glanced outside and seen a strange guy in a strange car just waiting, I might have been tempted to call the police. Times had changed, and now I was the intruder.

There was a time when I might have been tempted not to mention that story but I remember watching my favourite TV documentary of all time about the late actor, Peter Sellers. Sellers had a thing about dragging his ex-wife out and taking her on these regular tours of his old haunts, his old schools and old homes and so on. If a famous actor and comedian like Sellers did something like that then clearly parking outside my old house for a few moments can’t be so bad after all.

I enjoyed some happiness in that house but also a lot of pain and sadness too. I remember sitting there in my car and I tried to turn my mind to the happier times I had there.

Once, we had a sort of, well gathering there. I was tempted to say dinner party but really it was just a few people coming around for drinks and nibbles and things.

One guest was our solicitor, I’ll call him Phil (although his name was actually Pete!) Seriously, Phil was a really arrogant guy. In fact he had very bad eyesight and could hardly see his hand in front of his face. He rejected the use of a white stick and arrogantly pushed away anyone who tried to help him. He was a good solicitor and although he could be a bit of a pain I had a lot of respect for him.

He was sitting in the small lounge in my comfy chair when he got up to get a drink or some food or something from the other room. I was tempted to nip into the comfy chair but another guest pushed me aside and slipped into the seat. When Phil came back with a plate of nibbles he turned to sit back in the chair, obviously not seeing the girl sitting there and she slipped out of the seat just as Phil sat down again.

We were all killing ourselves laughing but Phil didn’t quite get the joke.

Later when he left, he once again declined any assistance. Pity really because the path from our front door to the street went towards the right at a 45 degree angle whereas Phil went straight ahead towards the privet hedge.

Never did get that gap in the hedge sorted.


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.

 

 

Comics, and how they Kick Started a Writers Imagination!

When I was a school kid one of my passions was comics. And I mean comics of all shapes and sizes. The crazy thing is that now, whenever I look round a newsagent’s or supermarket, one thing you just don’t see are comics. Maybe the younger generation are too ‘adult’ these days for comics, or maybe they just appealed to my generation. Perhaps comics are just a casualty of the electronic internet age. Who knows?

image courtesy wikipedia

image courtesy wikipedia

One of the earliest comics I remember reading is one I used to prise off my Dad despite his protests that he wasn’t interested in comics. The Hotspur. It was a great comic, although a little old-fashioned even then. Another similar comic was the Valiant. Now the Valiant had some great stories. Captain Hurricane, who was usually the front page feature: A World War II Royal marine who had a habit of flying into what might be termed today a ‘wobbler’ but in the comic they called a ‘ragin’ fury’. Kelly’s Eye was another favourite, about a man who had an ancient charm he wore around his neck called the ‘Eye of Zoltec’ that protected him from harm. Then there was ‘The Steel Claw’ about a scientist who had a false hand which when connected to an electric current rendered him invisible.

Remember the Tiger? I used to buy that for a strip called ‘Skid Solo’ about a formula one racing driver and his team.

In the late sixties and early seventies I was fascinated by Gerry Anderson’s sci fi children’s series and a comic soon appeared called TV21 which featured Anderson’s series in comic form. What I loved about TV21 was that the front page was in a kind of newspaper format with a headline and associated stories, even sometimes with a stop press that all related to comic strips within the comic. For instance: Stop press. WASP submarine Stingray reported missing in the Atlantic. When you turned to the Stingray page, there was the full story.

image courtesy flickr

image courtesy flickr

I used to buy American comics too. DC comics like Superman and Batman and the Marvel comics featuring Spiderman and The Fantastic Four. My favourites were the older DC comics and you used to be able to get an 80 page ‘Giant’ featuring something like the origin of Batman. (All super heroes had their ‘origin’ edition.) In the case of Batman I loved the older 1940’s gothic versions of Batman with his 1940’s style Batmobile. It’s great to see the latest movie versions of these fantasy comic strips but they don’t always live up to their comic predecessors.

Comics instilled in me a love of stories and lit the fuse that burned inside me and made me want to be a writer. Just to finish this blog here’s one final comic confession: Many years ago my Mum had a part time job as a cleaning lady at a big posh house in Gatley. The family which lived there included two young girls who read a girl’s comic called  Bunty. I hate to admit it but my Mum used to bring home a pile of old Buntys every month or so and I used to put them in chronological order and sit down and read them! I really did love my comics!


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