Summer Holiday Reflections

I know I’ve waxed lyrical about lying on a sun lounger but another favourite pastime of mine on my French holidays is just sitting outside of an evening and watching the sun go down, a glass of wine not too far away of course. As the sun dips down over the horizon it’s time for the local bats to make an appearance and whip across the patio whizzing from the trees to I don’t know where but making a fleeting but strong impression on my mind.

The pool is all covered up and the barbecue cools quietly in the corner as I take a sip of my red wine. All is well in the world. Well, it was, a few days ago when I wrote that, now it’s just another holiday memory.

The last few days of a holiday are always the worst, a countdown to packing up and getting ready to leave, checking what time the ferry sails and considering which route to take to the port, what time to leave and so on.

After a pleasant trip to Caen we boarded our ferry, had some food and settled down in our cabin for a nap before the long drive up north in England.


Leaving Portsmouth we headed to Southampton and then north on the A34 dual carriageway. Leaving the port was a little like a grand prix start as various vehicles of all shapes and sizes passed through the passport checks and then sprinted away to the motorway. A large contingent of that traffic made their way up the A34 and up ahead of me as well as behind were a great number of cars. The A34 is an unlit dual carriageway and we all motored along at a good pace, 65 to 70 mph. After a while the traffic thinned out and up ahead of me were two pilots or pathfinders, lighting up the dark road ahead. Gradually, one pilot turned off leaving just one car ahead, then he turned off too and it was just me, leading the pack. Now being in front on a dark unfamiliar road at night is not so easy. There was plenty of traffic on the other side so use of my full beam headlights was limited and gradually my pace slowed a little.

Once someone behind decided to take a look at taking the lead but once off my tail in the outside lane he slowed right down and I overtook him back and once again I took on the pathfinder role. Later a guy doing well in excess of 80 came hurtling past, lit up the road for me but then disappeared over the horizon but after a while another vehicle came to the front, overtook and upped the pace a little and we carried on as before, my pathfinder lighting up the road for me.

Personally, I think that unlit motorways and A roads in the UK are an unnecessary hazard and I honestly think that perhaps Highways England would be better spending their money on street lighting rather than so-called Smart Motorways. However, the journey home was a good one, the rain held off and road closures were few. We motored up north serenely taking in the M40, the M42, the M6, the M55 and finally home. There were a number of mandatory 50 mph sections on the M6 due to roadworks but in a way they were helpful, almost like the safety car in a Grand Prix when, on a long journey, the driver can relax, check engine temperatures and oil pressure and so on before resuming 70 mph again.

Telephone Boxes.

Back in 1977, the year in which Floating in Space is set, there was a long row of telephone boxes just by Piccadilly gardens in Manchester. Telephone boxes were once everywhere but today, when the mobile phone is the main instrument of communication, telephone boxes are few and far between.

In a small village in France, we came across this once lonely and unused telephone box, now transformed into a small library. Take away a new book to read but remember to leave your old ones behind for other phone callers  -sorry, readers- to use.


One of my objectives on this holiday was of course to produce more writing and push one or more of my numerous writing projects towards completion. As you may have guessed if you have ever read any of my other post-holiday posts, that goal was not met although I did manage to knock out my usual Saturday posts whilst I was away and stack up a few draft posts into the bargain. My one deadline, that of a Saturday morning at 10:00 AM UK time is really what motivates me and keeps me going. Pity I don’t have a similar deadline for my books!

I am always wary of blogs that give tips for writing or blogging. They ask you to subscribe and then hit you with a full blogging/writing course with a bargain price tag thrown in towards the end of their patter. One great writing blog that I do enjoy is one by Kristen Lamb and one post that pinged into my inbox the other day was this one:

One of the tips for writing when you get stuck was this, instead of writing so much then flipping back and forth changing and editing, try writing a fast draft. Yes, head down, laptop open and just steam ahead. No stopping to check or to edit or to rearrange. Full speed ahead, nail that draft and then look back, rearrange things and edit. Great idea, I just need to get into full steam ahead mode first. Of course one thing is worth remembering:

No unfinished-but-perfect book has ever hit the New York Times best-seller list, but a lot of crappy finished ones have.

Last year I remember reading about Noel Coward, either in his autobiography or some other biography. Coward spent a lot of his time in the winter months at his house ‘Firefly’ in Jamaica. There, Coward would go to his study at 8 AM and write through the morning until 12 when he would join his friends for a swim and then lunch. Ian Fleming had a house nearby, ‘Goldeneye’ where he wrote many of the James Bond books.

Perhaps that’s the answer to my writing issues! I need to spend the winter in Jamaica!

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

The Trials and Tribulations of a Coach driver

Quite a few times travelling on the motorway I’ve seen some really nice looking futuristic coaches. Back in the early eighties I had a short spell as a coach driver working for National Travel but the coaches we drove were not quite so exotic.

picture courtesy wikipedia

picture courtesy wikipedia

Today’s coaches are limited to seventy mph but back then our coaches could do eighty or even ninety miles per hour. The job for us drivers on the Manchester to London route was all about getting down to Victoria Coach Station as quickly as possible, parking up at Battersea coach park then getting down to the pub. One of the problems of running at high speeds, especially in the summer, was that engine temperatures soared and we had to slow down. One day when, once again, I was the last to arrive in London and consequently got the worst hotel room, the one that nobody wanted, one of my fellow drivers asked me if I had used the heaters.

The heaters? What, in this heat?”

“Yes,” said my colleague. “When your temperature goes up slap the heaters on and you’ll see that temperature dial drop right down.”

Well, anything’s worth a try I thought so the next time I was on the London route I was hurtling along, way ahead of everyone and the temperature dial rose up into the red. Instead of slowing down I popped on the heaters and like magic the temperature gauge dropped down from the red into the black.

When I finally pulled up into the coach station in London I looked up into the mirror and there were my assembled passengers looking as though they had spent the trip in a steam room.

Hey, at least I got the pick of the hotel rooms though!

My fellow drivers and I were booked in at a hotel not far from Battersea coach park and in the evening we would assemble in a pub called the Drum for drinks. Some of the guys had told me about a group of ladies there who used to favour the coach drivers. They were known as ‘the heavy gang’ and for some reason I got the impression of them as being movie starlets, or fashion models. Big mistake! When I was first introduced to one of these ladies with, I might add, the whispered comment ‘she’s a right goer’ I was, well, let’s say disappointed. The epithet ‘heavy gang’ was clearly a reference to the ladies weight rather than their passionate nature as I had mistakenly believed. The Drum was not for me and from then on I rarely frequented its portals.

On one particular London trip I fell into the age old trick of thinking I had begun to actually know London. We were diverted down a different route because of road works and just as I thought we were back on the normal road I looked about and realised to my horror that I didn’t recognise any of the roads. Just then a young girl came down to the front and told me I was going the wrong way and I would have to turn back somewhere. I turned off the main road into a housing estate and just after completing a difficult three point turn (it was a 57 seater coach after all!) the same girl came back and asked if she could get off. I said sorry, no, I could only stop at authorised stops. She looked at me and pointed to the door of a house only yards away, “but that’s where I live!” She gave me that sad imploring look she must have used on many a coach driver so I opened the doors and let her off. Perhaps she wasn’t used to kindly northern coach drivers but whatever the reason she planted a huge kiss on my astonished lips, told me I was wonderful, and nipped off the coach. As I was finishing the three point turn and straightening the coach up she went into her front door and waved back with a huge smile. The rest of the passengers, subjected to this untimely diversion were not so happy.

After meeting the ‘heavy gang’ I tended to drink in the pub next door to the Drum. They had a pool table and I used to put a marker down and have a game. On this particular night a driver called Freddie came in (not his real name!) He was a really over the top friendly guy and seemed to be very concerned that I was on my own playing pool. He brought a few of the other National Travel drivers in and we all had a chat and a nice evening. Later on he asked me if I fancied going on to a club. Great stuff I thought. Here I am, a northern lad, clubbing down in London. I even imagined mydelf bumping into the girl I had dropped off earlier!

One of the other guys said to me quietly “Are you going to this club?”

“Yes,” I replied. “You fellas up for it too?”

“Well, not really, “they said. “Do you know what sort of a club it is?”

“What sort of a club? Well, I assume it’s a nightclub.”

“Yes, it is. But it’s a gay club.”

What?” I said.

If you don’t believe it they said, ask Freddie.

Well, I asked Freddie and it was a gay club and Freddie turned out to be the resident gay driver at National Express. He was a really nice guy but I was unable to return his affections. It’s nice to be wanted of course, especially when you are the new guy but it was hard work making Freddie understand that gay clubs weren’t my scene.

The next day when I arrived back in Manchester the Boss called me over. Apparently he had been inundated with complaints about my conduct on the trip down to London.

“What?” I asked, incredulously, “me?”

“Yes,” he said. “What’s all this about you going off route and dropping your girlfriend off at her front door in London?”

That one took some explaining!

If you liked this blog, why not try my book, Floating in Space? Click the links at the top of the page to buy for more information!


When Bad Driving is just a symptom of Something Bigger

The TV news brings the news right into our homes and I’ve been close to the news, via the TV, many times. I was watching TV when the 9/11 attacks happened and remember switching on one Sunday to find that Princess Diana was dead. Shocking events indeed but other news, personal news can be hard to take and sometimes shocking things are inside us and we need to let them out.

One day many years ago, when I was a bus conductor I worked with one of the worst drivers ever. We had numerous arguments about his fast driving and even worse, his fast stops. A bus conductor needs a smooth driver and one he has confidence in because he needs his hands free to deal with cash and change and to issue tickets. Keith, not his real name, was a dreadful driver and sometimes used to stop the bus in an emergency by using the dead man’s handbrake, so called because it locked the wheels of the bus. We nearly came to blows after I had been sent sprawling across the top deck once too often and Keith’s excuse was that he had to slam the brakes on to avoid an accident. Of course, if he hadn’t been going so fast he wouldn’t have needed to slam on!

Eventually I went to our chief Inspector and told him frankly that Keith was dangerous and I wouldn’t be working with him again so they sent an Inspector from the training school to check him out. The inspector was in full uniform so you might think that Keith would have modified his driving style but no, he drove at his usual mad speed, lurching to a stop and seemingly enjoying throwing passengers and conductors alike all over the place. I always felt I needed those clamps that rock climbers have so I could clamp myself to a rail while I issued fares.

Later on, on what turned out to be our last shift together, we stopped up at Woodford where we had a twenty five minute lay over. I sat down and poured out some tea from my flask and started reading my book. Every time I got into the book Keith would say something so I’d have to stop, sigh, mark my place and say something in return. Eventually I could see he wanted to talk and wasn’t interested that I wanted to read so I put my book away.

He turned to me and told me about his wife who was pregnant. Then he said, “The thing is, I’m not the father. I’ll bring the child up as my own but I’m not the father!

“Right,” I said. Inside I was thinking; what is he saying here? Have he and his wife had IVF treatment or something?

Keith cut me short and said, “She’s had an affair. It’s not my child. It’s my Dad’s.”

“Your Dad’s?”

“Yes, she’s had an affair with my Dad. It’s all over now. We sorted it all out. I’ll look after her. It’s all over. She’ll be ok with me now.”

Keith reached into his pocket and pulled out a newspaper and began to read. He had let it out, the secret that had been eating into him, perhaps even the secret of his bad driving. Perhaps he had been taking his anger out on the people and streets of Manchester with his mad driving. I can’t tell you how shocked I was to hear his story. I wish I could have been more helpful. I wish I could have been supportive but perhaps I was. After all, it was me he chose to tell and I did listen but I did wonder about his dad. What sort of a man was he? How could he treat his son like that?

My own Dad was a super guy. He died at a hospice not far from Manchester Airport in the early hours of the  morning many years ago but my Mum waited until six am to tell me, because she knew I got up for work at that time. He had been poorly for a while and the phone call wasn’t unexpected. Despite that it was still a shock. When I was much younger and dressed in denims and had long hair and was obsessed by pop music, just like many people of my generation, my Dad and I were worlds apart, but we managed to bridge that gap, eventually. Whether Keith and his Dad could do the same and bridge the gulf that had opened up between them, I don’t know.

The Inspector from the driving school took Keith off the road and sent him back into the driving school. The school failed his driving and he became a conductor on the all night buses. I never saw him again but I hope things worked out for him.

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.