The Essential Englishman

Some time ago I wrote a poem, published on my poetry page at Writeoutloud, called Sounds like Richard Burton.

I wrote it a while ago and I was perhaps feeling somewhat dissatisfied with my accent, one that reflects my own Manchester council estate background. Someone once told me that I sounded like Terry Christian, the Manchester DJ and radio personality. I don’t dislike Terry or his voice but I sometimes feel that I’d like to sound a little more cultured. A little more refined.

So who would I like to sound like? Richard Burton? Well, I have always loved the richness of Burton’s voice, his perfect pronunciation and his rounded baritone vowels.

He was the son of a Welsh miner and his voice represented not only a natural talent for public speaking but many years of hard work and vocal training. Despite the title of my poem and my admiration of Burton’s voice, Richard Burton is not quite what I am looking for. So who has that particular Englishness that I want?

David Niven as Phileas Fogg.

I’ve always admired the character of Phileas Fogg as portrayed by David Niven in that wonderful movie Around the World in 80 days. I like the way he speaks, his easy and relaxed effortless eloquence, his perfect pronunciation and his knowledge of words. His very Britishness, his upper class Englishness is perhaps what I envy.

Fogg is something of an eccentric which surely must be part of the essential Englishman’s make up. His morning toast must be exactly 83 degrees Fahrenheit and his afternoon tea has to be served punctually. At the beginning of the film Fogg arrives at the Reform Club to find someone has read his copy of the Daily Telegraph!

“Kindly remove it and send for a fresh one.” says Fogg.
“At once, sir.” replies the waiter.
“I’m a patient man, Hinshaw, but don’t trespass on my good feelings.”

Robert Donat as Sir Robert Morton.

Another upper class Englishman is Robert Donat’s character in The Winslow Boy, the barrister and Member of Parliament Sir Robert Morton. There is a lovely sequence in the play and the movie where Morton first arrives at the Winslow home. He is received by master Winslow’s elder sister who questions Moreton about his recent cases and lets us know she does not entirely approve of him. Moreton is in a hurry. He is dining and the Winslow family wish to know if he will accept the case.

Morton answers her questions coolly and quietly and them some minutes later, displays all his powers as a barrister by apparently assassinating young Winslow’s claims to innocence.

He exits quickly asking for the relevant papers.

“Will you need those now?” asks someone.

“Of course. The boy is plainly innocent. I accept the brief !” And with that he is gone.

Rex Harrison as Charles Condomine.

Another favourite Englishman is Rex Harrison and I’ve always loved him most in Blithe Spirit, the witty and amusing comedy by Noel Coward. David Lean directed a colour version in 1945 and Rex was just as I’ve described David Niven above, effortlessly urbane and eloquent, as of course was Noel Coward himself.

Leslie Howard as Professor Higgins.

Rex Harrison also portrayed an archetypal Englishman in My Fair Lady, playing the part of professor Higgins in the musical version of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. There was an earlier version, a non musical version made in 1938 starring Leslie Howard. Howard is probably most famous for his portrayal of Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind but his version of Higgins was to me, much superior to Harrison’s although I love both.

In Pygmalion, Wendy Hiller plays Eliza Doolittle. Hiller is much more believable as Eliza, no disrespect to Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, and Howard is a bright, eccentric Higgins. What is interesting from researching the film on the internet is that a controversial (at the time) line was included in the film: Eliza saying ‘Not Bloody Likely!’ This made Wendy Hiller the first person ever to swear in a British film. Dear me, how times change!

George Sanders as Jack Favell.

Sanders was born in Russia to an English father and Russian mother and he and his family left for England in 1917 at the outbreak of the Russian Revolution when George was 11.

He made his British film debut in 1929 and first appeared in a Hollywood film in 1936. After that he was in constant demand with his suave persona and upper class English accent. He is seen at his best as Jack Favell, the ‘favourite cousin’ of the unseen title character Rebecca, in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic movie.

Albert Finney as Arthur Seaton.

Finally, I must come back to what is really me, the essential northern working class man.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is set in working class Nottingham. Albert Finney stars as Arthur Seaton, a rebellious factory worker who works hard in the factory by day, but at the weekend he spends his money in the pubs and clubs of the town.

He is involved with a married woman but starts to lose interest when he meets a single girl called Doreen and begins a relationship with her.

My favourite line from the book and the movie is this: “I’m not barmy, I’m a fighting pit prop that wants a pint of beer, that’s me. But if any knowing bastard says that’s me I’ll tell them I’m a dynamite dealer waiting to blow the factory to kingdom come. I’m me and nobody else. Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not because they don’t know a bloody thing about me!”

I sometimes wonder if the essential Englishman portrayed by Niven, Donat, Harrison and Howard still exists in the 21st century. I’m sure it does somewhere, in the posh parts of London and the home counties. People who travel first class everywhere and dress for dinner. Members of Prince Charles’ set perhaps?

As for me, I’m not sure I can really aspire to be like David Niven and Phileas Fogg. Still, next time I go down to the Ego restaurant in Lytham I might dress up in my best suit and tie, pop a pocket watch and chain in my waistcoat and just . . pretend.


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Manchester, Saturday Night, and Floating In Space

My book, Floating In Space is set in the Manchester of the late seventies. A pint of bitter was 25 pence. There were no smartphones, no Internet and no wireless networks. In fact ‘wireless’ was an old fashioned word for the radio. I’m tempted to say that things moved at a slower pace then but that’s not true. Things just moved at a different pace. In 2015 you hear a lot about pubs closing down but back in 1977, pubs were far from closing down; at the weekend they were the place to be! That was where my friends and I met up, drank beer, listened to music and chatted up the ladies. Saturdays were the focus of our week and here’s an excerpt from Floating In Space where Stuart, the narrator, talks about the upcoming Saturday night.

ManchesterSaturday night was in a lot of ways the culmination of the weekend. I always preferred it to Friday nights because things were more relaxed, there was no rushing home from work, no rushing to get your tea down your neck so you can get changed, then leg it out for the bus. Saturday, you could take your time and leisurely work up to things. Sometimes I would go out shopping and buy myself something new to wear for that evening, a shirt, or perhaps even a new pair of trousers. Then later I would have a long relaxed soak in the bath, and dress unhurriedly in my room to the tune of my favourite music. In 1977 my favourite album was Elton John’s ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick road’, and as I dressed I would mimic Nigel Olsson’s measured and rhythmic drumming to ‘The Ballad of Danny Bailey’, or ‘Candle in the Wind’.

There was something about Saturday nights in Manchester. Some quality of security, of expectancy, a feeling that the night and the future were going to be good. A feeling that you might just ‘get off’ with some gorgeous girl and that even if you didn’t it didn’t really matter because there was always the excitement of the people, the music, the drink, and everything else that made up the evening. And then there was always the expectancy of the next night, and the next, and on and on into the future. The past building up inside you like a great data bank, reminding you, reassuring you, like a light burning in some empty room in the corner of your mind.

The main venue that night, and on many other Saturday nights like it, was the ‘Playground’, a small disco bar on Oxford Rd in the town centre. Flickering multi-coloured spotlights rotated across the red carpeted room, which, on Fridays and Saturdays was generally packed. It had a small dance floor sunk low like a pit, where people up on the raised bar level could look down at the gyrating girls, and where also, on week day lunchtimes, a topless dancer appeared at the stroke of one o’clock to translate the soul and disco music of the time into pulsating physical motion, the eyes of jaded office workers glued to her as she did so.

My friend ‘Matty’ Edwards and I used to meet up in the Salisbury, by Oxford Rd station, have a few pints and a bit of a natter to any Regal cronies who we might find there, then make the short walk to the Playground. There was a paltry fifty pence charge to get in, the solitary bouncer was silent, but not unpleasant, and the DJ, who always began the night with ‘Loves Theme’ by the Love Unlimited Orchestra, played alternate sessions of rock, disco, and chart music. We were both mad about Jenny, the barmaid. She was lovely. She had a kind of round, open face, framed by thick blonde hair and her skin was a creamy white. She served us Worthington ‘E’ and we melted into the hubbub of people on their Saturday night out while the music of the seventies drifted through us.

Matty was tall; he had lazy, rather hayfevered eyes, and a biggish nose over thin lips. His brown hair was short and untidy and he dressed smartly, but had a sort of ‘middle of the road’ taste in clothes.
“Jenny’s looking gorgeous tonight,” he told me over his pint of Worthingtons.
We were propped up at the bar in a convenient spot where we could eye up any possible female talent, and cast a fond eye over Jenny’s appealing form.

“You’re not wrong mate.” I agreed. “I wouldn’t mind getting a grip of that myself.”
I caught Jenny’s eye and ordered two more pints of Worthington ‘E’. It wasn’t a great drink but we were tuned into it now for the rest of the evening, and anyway, I hadn’t as yet developed any clearly defined tastes in beer. The first pint I ever ordered myself was a pint of mild, and that was because I had nervously entered a Cheshire country pub after a long cycle ride and hesitatingly asked for a pint of ‘beer’.
“A beer?” asked the barmaid.
“Yes,” I replied, “A pint, please.”
“A pint of what?”

I realised, uncomfortably, that something more was required. I had thought that ‘a pint of beer’ would have been enough, but what the barmaid wanted to know was did I want bitter, or lager, or mild even? My first tentative forays into the world of the alcoholic drink were with my friend Mike Larini and it was always he who had done the ordering. What did he ask for, I thought? I couldn’t remember but down the bar the faint voice of an old man asking for half of mild drifted along to me, and so I went on to drink mild.

Later I changed to bitter, and even now I was currently considering another change as someone had given me the cheerful news that bitter ‘rots your guts’. Perhaps it had been that eternal pessimist Matty Edwards with his inside knowledge of beer. His father was a Didsbury publican, and Matty’s drink changed from pub to pub. Sometimes it was lager, sometimes bitter, but here, in the Playground, it was that now long departed brew, Worthington ‘E’.


You can read on and find out what happens to Matty and Stuart on that and other Saturday nights. Click the icon below to go to my Amazon page or click the links at the top of the page to find out more about Floating In Space.

My 10 Best Posts of 2015

dsc_ed0287Yes, it’s that reflective time of year again, the one where we look back at the last year, review what happened and work out what will be our resolutions for the next one. We’re not necessarily going to keep those resolutions but what the heck; it’s a worthwhile exercise anyway. I planned to write a follow up novel to Floating In Space in 2015 but I stalled after two chapters. Oh well, I’ve got an extended holiday in Lanzarote to look forward to in January 2016 so I’ll have to sit down and get stuck in. Come to think of it, I had an extended holiday in Lanzarote in January of 2015 but only managed to drink a great deal of wine, eat a great deal of tapas and swim a lot. C’est la vie as they say, at least I did a lot of ground work for the sequel and I did get those two chapters down on paper so the minimum I might expect this time is, chapters three and four!

Looking back at my blogging year my anecdotal posts have thinned out a little and I’ve concentrated a little more on two of my favourite things, books and classic movies. What I’ve tried to do is perhaps link some personal moments to something about books, film or TV and give a personal slant on my subject matter. One of my goals in blogging is to emulate the talkative, colloquial style of my novel Floating In Space in my posts, so if the reader likes the posts, he might just part with some money and buy my book! Psychology, isn’t it great! Anyway, hope you have all had a fabulous Christmas and New Year. Best wishes for you in 2016 and here’s a quick run-down of my favourite posts of the year!

1: Be Nice to People on Your Way Up! Absolutely. Just remember, if things go wrong, you’ll be meeting those same people on the way down!

2: Breakfast TV and the Apollo Moon Landing. I remember this like it was yesterday, getting up for school and the Moon Landing was being shown live on TV! How my poor mother managed to pack me off to school, I’ll never know!

3: What Happened to my White Jacket and my 70’s Pop Star Heroes? This is an interesting post and it’s strange to think how much we, as youngsters, are influenced by our heroes from the world of TV and music. It was David Essex who unwittingly influenced me to buy a white jacket but it didn’t turn out to be the babe magnet I thought it might be!

4: Marilyn Monroe: Suicide, the Kennedys, and a Red Notebook. I’ve probably got more books about Marilyn in my book collection than about any other movie star. Not only is she such a fascinating character but her death is just as big a mystery as the Kennedy Assassination and I do love a mystery!

5: A few unconventional Thoughts about Time. Travelling through France and seeing the relics of past wars inspired me to write this post about time and the way it passes.

6: Sunday Lunch with my Arch Enemy. This was an updated post about Liz’s father, who sadly passed away in October, 2015.

7: Four Random Thoughts on a Sun Lounger. A little sun, a sun lounger and a notebook and it’s amazing what comes to you!

8: Why Commuting Isn’t as bad as you think! Travelling into the City centre for a management course wasn’t a complete waste of time as I came up with this post!

9: TV Movies and a Serious Case of Deja Vu! I do love my TV movies but why do we get the same ones, time after time?

10: 12 Chart Hits from a Decade when Music was Fun! A quick bit of research and here’s the result, a fun filled music video post!

Hope you enjoyed my post. You can check out my favourite posts of 2014 here and if you fancy reading more of my work why not check out my book Floating In Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information or the icon below to go to my Amazon page.

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Memories of Christmas

Christmases I have known.14nuffield
Well, there have been a few but the ones that stick in my mind are from long ago. Take a look over to the right. I have shown this picture before in a previous post and yes, that was the house where I used to live in when I was a child.

We had some lovely Christmases there. I remember watching old films on our black and white TV while my brother and I slurped fizzy pop like Dandelion and Burdock or Cream Soda, our faces lit by the warm glow of the coal fire. Bob the dog sat as close as earthly possible to the fire and if anyone dared to sit closer – my brother and I both liked to lie on the hearth rug and be close to the fire too – well Bob the dog would paw us till we moved or slump over us. He would peer into the fire until my Mum would shout at him when his nose dried up. Apparently a really bad thing for a dog, so she seemed to think.

Bob the Dog.

Bob the Dog.

We would watch films with stars like Judy Garland and Donald O’Connor. Musicals about Vaudeville and the American stage. ‘The Glenn Miller Story‘ was a firm favourite as well as ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business‘ and ‘the Jolson Story.‘ Poor Larry Parks; his career destroyed by the McCarthy Communist trials.

Funnily enough I saw the Glenn Miller story the other day and wasn’t impressed apart from the music. James Stewart was too old and there are too many shots of him looking quizzical and thinking about ‘that sound’ and, well I won’t say any more because years ago I loved that film. That and a hundred others like the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby road movies. Don’t seem to see many of those on TV any more!

Another Christmas TV event was the Andy Williams show, I loved that show and I so hoped the bear would get some cookies! ( Cookies and the bear? If you don’t understand you never watched the show!)

My Dad used to tell me all he ever got for Christmas was an apple and an orange and if he was lucky some second hand item like a box of tin soldiers! What he thought of the pillowcase of things my brother and I received for Christmas I don’t know!

Anyway, cherish your memories, because one day your loved ones will be gone and those memories will be so much more important to you. I hope you’re having a lovely Christmas and to all my past, present and future readers, thanks for looking in.

Let me finish with something a very dear and much missed old friend used to say to me;

May your shadow never grow less!


Remember, if you stuck for something to read this Christmas, Floating In Space is available for an instant download to your Kindle!

Why Commuting isn’t as bad as you think (It’s just different)

NYC_subway_riders_with_their_newspapers

Commuters reading newspapers? Nah, not in the 21st century! Commuters are more likely to be glued to tablets or smartphones! (Image courtesy Wikipedia)

It’s a long time since I’ve been a commuter. Now I come to think of it, it’s been a very long time. My first job after leaving school was at an Insurance company in Manchester and I travelled to work either by bus or by train. Going by rail was slightly more expensive as I remember it but the advantage of going by rail was that the railway station was only a stone’s throw from where I worked. That was quite handy after work as it was nice to pop into the pub, either the Salisbury or the Beef and Barley for a few pints then nip round the corner to the station when I was ready to go home. I remember it well: The walk to the station and then finding my usual spot on the platform. There were plenty of other regulars who travelled with me, not that I ever got to know them but day after day we waited together on that platform. We boarded the train together and slipped into our own favoured seats. On the journey back I particularly remember one young girl, slightly older than me with lovely long legs. Wish I’d got to know her!

In my current job I work shifts so the rush hour is something I rarely embrace. This week however I went to a training course in Manchester which started at 9 am so once again I joined the ranks of the commuter.

The 07:27 from St Annes on Sea to Preston where I had to change trains was a pretty nice trip. Busy but not excessively so. Everyone knew their place and seemed calm and organised. No one played loud music or hogged seats by leaving bags or coats on them. In Preston I nipped smartly across to the next platform and was just in time for my connection to Manchester. This train was pretty busy but once again seasoned commuters filled the train and as it was the trans-Pennine express to Manchester Airport, it was a much comfier train with roomier seats.

Oxford Road Station. Photo by the author

Oxford Road Station. Photo by the author

The train stopped at Oxford Road, my old stop from my insurance days and a great many people left the train there. After that we rumbled on through the centre of Manchester, bumping and squeaking over the old track, looking down on Oxford Rd and passing behind my old office and on to Piccadilly station.

The journey back was something of a different nature. Those who had come on the train from the airport were a little surprised by the rampant hordes waiting for them on the platform at Piccadilly. Many had returned from trips abroad and sat scanning newspapers for news of the home country. Coffees and teas littered the tables and some had left bags and cases on the seats. Then the train slid to a halt. Some looked idly up to see where the train had stopped just in time to see the doors open and a mass of humanity surge in like a tidal wave. The afternoon rail trip brought passengers of a different nature. People playing loud music, people taking up two seats who gave them up reluctantly as ever more people crammed into the carriage. Many people seemed glued to their mobile phones, oblivious to the outside world and blocking it out with their earphones. Back in the seventies commuters read books or magazines on the train. Nowadays, they listen to music or watch video on smartphones or tablets, plastic earpieces plugged into their heads.

The trip back home involved a long wait, usually half an hour for my connecting train in Preston. In the early evening this train was invariably rather like an old bus that had been dragged from the back of the garage to help out in the rush hour. It was dark going home and the conductor garbled the name of the approaching stations over the rather raucous tannoy. I listened incomprehensively and peered through the gloom of the window to try and spot a familiar landmark. One evening I nearly exited at Ansdell and Fairhaven by mistake. I was glued to my book and glanced up to see what I thought was my station coming up. The lady next to was watching a video and didn’t appear to see or hear me trying to get past her. She had her earphones set firmly in her ears blocking out any unwanted sound and I had to shout to get her to see me and let me past. The train doors closed just as I got to them but luckily I was a station early and St Annes was the next stop. Looking around I seemed to have been the only person reading a book. Almost everyone was concentrating on a smartphone or tablet.

Times have changed since the late seventies.


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TV Movies and a Serious Case of Deja Vu!

children-403582_1920I don’t know about you but there are certain things I hang on to in life. One of those things are my diaries. The other day, looking through my schoolboy diary from 1973 I noticed that one entry mentions that I watched a film called the Inspector with Stephen Boyd. It was a movie made in 1962 and it’s about a jewish girl trying to get into Palestine. It’s not a classic movie but I’ve always liked Stephen Boyd and he was rather good in movies like Fantastic Voyage where a mini submarine and her crew were shrunk to minute size and then injected into a man’s body. Have you ever seen The Inspector? I doubt very much if you have, in fact I can’t remember ever seeing that movie again on TV. There are plenty of movies I have seen, some of them over and over though, here are a few of them;

The Great Escape. Ok I love it, I really do but I know the script off by heart I’ve seen it that many times!

Great Expectations. David Lean’s cinematic version of Dicken’s novel. Great movie but I’m fed up of seeing it on Film 4!

The Man In The Iron Mask! Seen this so many times with Richard Chamberlain and Patrick McGoohan and of course it was re made in 1998 with Leonardo Di Caprio but what about showing the 1952 version with Louis Hayward? Now that is a movie I’d love to see again.

Goldfinger, or any of the Bond films. As much as I love James Bond 007, most of the films, especially the older ones, I have seen again and again so I need a break from them. Strangely, I have a few of my favourite Bonds on DVD. I don’t think I ever watch them but I’m so familiar with the Bonds that if I come home from work and one is on TV and I’ve missed the first thirty minutes – well, it doesn’t matter!

So who is it at the BBC or Channel 4 or Sky who decides what films we can see and why is it that some are shown over and over and some only get aired rarely? What happens in the world of the TV scheduler? I really hope those guys are reading this blog because there are movies out there I want to see and a whole bunch of ones, like those above that I am fed up of seeing! Anway, here are a few recommendations for any TV schedulers reading!

CBubblesCharlie Bubbles. This is a great film penned by northern writer Shelagh Delaney and it’s about a (surprise) northern writer played by Albert Finney who journeys back up north from London to see his son. It’s a well observed and fascinating film and for a northerner like me it’s great to see the Manchester of the 1960’s up there on the movie screen. Writer Shelagh Delaney shot to fame in the sixties when she wrote her play ‘A Taste Of Honey’ and had it accepted and performed by Joan Littlewood’s theatre workshop. There’s a rather telling line in the movie when a waiter played by Joe Gladwin, (an actor familiar to UK TV audiences of the 70’s), asks Charlie, played by Finney, “are you still working or do you just do the writing?” Somehow I can imagine that line came from Delaney’s personal experience! Interestingly, this movie marked Albert Finney’s debut as a director. Have you seen the movie? I don’t think you have unless maybe you’ve sourced the DVD version.

In my large but slightly redundant VHS video box I’ve a copy of a wonderful film starring Alec Guinness called ‘Last Holiday’. Guinness plays a pleasant mild mannered salesman called George Bird who has no friends or family and finds out he only has a few weeks to live. He decides to spend the time he has left by going to a rather posh residential hotel where the residents find him a sort of enigma. His star rises here as he becomes involved with the residents and staff and people start to wonder about him. Who is he? Is he rich? Lucrative job offers come his way as well as love but only one person knows his secret, a member of staff that he confides in. In the end Mr Bird finds out he was wrongly diagnosed but the film ends on a sad note when he is killed in a car crash. Penned by author J.B.Priestley, it’s another wonderful British picture full of excellent performances with a whiff of sadness and poignancy about it. Have you seen it on TV? Well, not recently because the last time I have noticed it broadcast was in the 1980’s when I taped it with my trusty VHS video recorder. What happens to classic movies like this and why are they rarely seen on British TV? I wish I knew but I’d love to see this movie again.

Pygmalion Movie Poster

Pygmalion. You’ve probably seen the movie ‘My Fair Lady’ with Rex Harrison as Professor Higgins and Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle but I’d be surprised if you’ve seen this, the original, non-musical version, on TV. Leslie Howard plays Higgins and Wendy Hiller plays Eliza. Hiller is much more believable as Eliza, no disrespect to Audrey Hepburn and Howard is a bright, eccentric Higgins. I’ve never seen this version on TV at all, in fact I picked up the movie on one those free newspaper DVDs. What is interesting from researching the film on the internet is that a controversial (at the time) line was included in the film: Eliza saying ‘Not Bloody Likely!’ This made Wendy Hiller the first person ever to swear in a British film. Dear me, how times change!

Robinson Crusoe on Mars. Sounds a bit mad doesn’t it, a sort of 1950’s B picture. In fact this was shot in colour in 1964 and starred an actor called Paul Mantee who appears in many US TV series of the 1970’s and 1980’s. It pretty much follows the original story of Robinson Crusoe only it’s about an astronaut who crash lands on Mars. He thinks he’s had it but finds that certain rocks contain oxygen which is released when they are heated so he is able to replenish his oxygen supplies. He even finds an alien ‘Friday’ on Mars who has escaped from an alien slave camp. Sounds a little far-fetched I know but it was actually a pretty good movie. I remember watching it on TV on a cold weekday afternoon in the early eighties and it certainly warmed me up. Since then I have never seen it on British TV but it’s well worth a search on e-bay for the DVD version. The day they show it again on TV I’ll be parked up on my favourite armchair ready to enjoy! Come on TV schedulers, get your act together!

Which movies would you like to see on the small screen?


If you liked this post, then why not try my book, ‘Floating In Space’? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Breakfast TV and The Apollo Moon Landing.

I’ve always been a sci-fi fan but when I was a child growing up in the 1960’s I was probably more interested in science fact. The sixties was the time of the space race and the Gemini and Apollo missions were covered in great detail on TV and when I say covered I mean full features and bulletins and not just a one minute item on the news.

I don’t know if you can imagine the excitement of a twelve year old boy, getting up for school one morning to find the TV on and Neil Armstrong walking on the moon when the usual TV broadcast at that time would have been the test card! Those black and white ghostlike TV images enthralled me that July morning and how my Mother eventually managed to pack me off to school I do not know.

The moon landing was covered on UK TV by both the BBC and ITV although in our house we watched the BBC coverage exclusively. Cliff Michelmore was the main presenter but it was James Burke who explained all the technical stuff.
The launch of the Apollo missions was always a highlight for me. Although I enjoyed all the other elements too like the crew broadcasts from space, and those from Mission Control in Houston especially when a major decision had to be taken, for instance, ‘are we ok for lunar trajectory insertion?’ And the answers would come from the experts around the control room:

Mission_Control_Celebrates_After_Conclusion_of_the_Apollo_11_Lunar_-_GPN-2002-000033

Mission Control: Image courtesy wikipedia.

Capcom? (Capsule communications)Go!
Retro? (Retrofire officer)Go!
Fido? (Flight Dynamics Officer)Go!
Guidance? (Flight Guidance Officer)Go!
Booster? (Booster Systems Engineer) Go!
And so on round the room.

Now the Space Shuttle has been mothballed there are very few launches from Cape Canaveral. (Originally I had written Cape Kennedy but as usual after finishing writing I did a quick search on the internet to check my facts and found, surprisingly, that Cape Kennedy reverted back to its original name of Cape Canaveral in 1973. I never knew that!) But another highlight of TV space coverage was in 1968 when Apollo 8 made the first manned trip to the Moon. Apollo 8’s mission was not to land but to fly to the Moon, orbit and return to Earth. The three crew members were Commander Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders.

There were numerous broadcasts from the crew, especially during their orbits of the moon and they sent back to mission control their impressions of the lunar surface, Lovell commenting that “the Moon looks like plaster of Paris or sort of a greyish beach sand.”
Every time the spacecraft passed behind the Moon radio transmissions were blacked out and the crew and ground control were relieved to hear each other’s voices once again when they came back, unscathed, from the far side of the Moon.

The crew of Apollo 8 were the first in history to see ‘earthrise,’ the Earth emerging from the lunar horizon. The crew all scrambled for their cameras but it was Anders who took the famous colour photo seen here.

297755main_gpn-2001-000009_full_0The most moving broadcast ever was when the crew read lines from the book of Genesis and Borman finished by saying “and from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.”
Every time I see a documentary about the Apollo programme that includes that transmission, I can feel myself taken back to Christmas of 1968 and once again I become that same small boy, glued to our old black and white TV set. Incredibly, NASA was hit by a lawsuit because of this by an atheist who objected to astronauts broadcasting religious activities while in space.

Back to 1969 though as the Eagle, Apollo 11’s lunar module piloted by Neil Armstrong dropped down towards the Moon an alarm sounded in the spacecraft. Ed Aldrin passed the information back to earth; “Alarm 1201”.
Armstrong carried on, dropping the craft ever so closer to the Moon’s surface but again that alarm sounded. What was it? Well believe it or not, the Eagle’s on-board computer, which had a memory less than that of your mobile phone had locked up with an overload of data. Armstrong switched over to manual control and landed the Eagle, dodging an area in the Sea Of Tranquillity littered with boulders without computer assistance. His remaining fuel supply when Eagle touched down was just 30 seconds!

Armstrong was the first man to step out of the hatch and to drop down onto the lunar surface and I should imagine everyone is familiar with his famous words: ‘That’s one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind.’ However Armstrong’s first step out onto the Moon wasn’t small at all, because the Lunar Module landed so gently that the shock absorbers hadn’t compressed. His first step out onto the Moon was almost a four foot jump onto the lunar surface. TV cameras beamed the event to viewers back on Earth and along with myself, almost 600 million people watched Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon. It seems incredible to me even now, that back then in 1969, I was getting ready for school, eating my porridge or cornflakes and watching science fiction become science fact.

I must remember to ask my Mum though, how did she manage to get me off to school on the day Neil Armstrong walked on the moon?


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Floating in Space

The Writer’s Guide to Mobile Phone Calls!

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s funny how mobile phones have literally changed the world. In fact it’s hard to remember a time when we didn’t have them. Off the top of my head I really don’t know what the last mobile free year was and to find out I’ve had to do a google search. The first mobile phone service started in 1983 in, well, where else? The USA. It wasn’t until 1992 that the UK had consumer mobile phones on sale. I remember buying one of the very first ones round about then, it was a motorola personal phone which was a pretty big device and seemed to use its charge up pretty quickly.
The first text message was sent in 1992 and the first camera phone appeared in 2000 with picture messaging available from 2002.

I love my mobile. It isn’t a smart phone but it does everything I need it to do. It has wi-fi which I hardly ever use. It has a camera which is a must for me as I’m always taking snapshots with it. My mobile also has a little memory card with some of my favourite music tracks so I can just plug in my headphones and it’s ideal for whiling away the time on that long train journey. Certain things about mobiles are annoying though and here are a couple of the main ones.

MobileQueuing up at a supermarket till and the woman in front is just about to pay then she decides to answer the mobile phone ringing in her pocket. Is it a vital call? Is it of major importance? No, it’s her mate calling up for a chit chat but all of us in the queue have to wait while she carries on chatting as if she has all the time in the world. I’m at the point of saying “We’re all wanting to pay and get off home!” when someone behind me shouts “We’re all wanting to pay and get off home! Put that f***ing phone down!” The lady appears shocked to hear this but we are all highly fed up of her, including the supermarket till lady.

Why is it that when a vital call is required in a TV soap, the soap star in question has left their mobile behind or is out of battery or even just doesn’t bother to answer? Soap writers just can’t get their heads round mobiles! They are just a plot busting device so what do they do? Characters leave them behind, run out of battery or just plain ignore their phones. Sorry, that just doesn’t happen in real life. Take a look around you in any public place. People are glued to their mobiles!
The other day my phone was ringing and when I looked it was an unknown number. Now, and this is another great thing about mobile phones, you can see who’s calling you! Great stuff! Don’t want to deal with a call from the ex – just don’t answer her!
Called a sickie in to work and your boss rings you in the pub? Leg it into the toilet, put on a croaky voice and say to the boss, “Can’t talk at the moment, I’m really poorly!”

Now normally I wouldn’t necessarily answer an unknown caller after all, it’s bound to be some plonker trying to sell you double glazing but; and here’s the thing about writing and trying to get stuff published, I’ve currently got quite a bit of product ‘out there’ sent to publishers, magazines, and producers, all with my name, address and mobile number displayed prominently so I could not afford to miss that call. I was particularly hoping to hear from a radio drama producer who had looked at a radio play I’d written and had not rejected it out of hand but liked it and wanted to look at the next draft. Well, I wasn’t really contemplating a next draft; I thought the piece was pretty much ok as it was, in fact, I was pretty pleased with it. Here’s what I’d done, I’d taken all my nerdy knowledge as a self-confessed conspiracy theorist, written something about –not the JFK assassination but the RFK shooting, re-invented it as the shooting of a British MP, set it in Manchester and thrown in a lot of speculation about organised crime and MI5 and stuff and thought I’d arrived with something pretty good.
Anyway, you can imagine my feeling when my mobile was ringing. I very briefly imagined a scenario where the radio producer was offering me a lot of money, asking me about who I wanted to play the main characters; did I need a car to pick me up for the rehearsals and what about the recording day? Was the 20th a suitable date? Well, I’m sure you’ve got the picture, anyway, so I pressed the answer button on the phone and here’s what happened; I thought I’d put it in script format just so you can really get a feeling for the scene:

(INTERIOR DAY, STEVE HIGGINS IS AT HOME, WATCHING TV.)
(FX: MOBILE RINGING.)
STEVE: Hello.
CALLER: Is that Steve Higgins?
STEVE: Yes, speaking.
CALLER: Steve, have you ever considered replacing the windows of your house?
STEVE: (APPREHENSIVELY) Well, actually, no I haven’t. .
CALLER: Well here at the Acme window company we have chosen you exclusively to receive a very special discount offer of 45 percent when you replace the window frames of your house with our fully guaranteed hi tech replacement double glazed windows and frames made from hyper glass, our new and exclusive new-
(CLOSE UP OF MOBILE AS STEVE ENDS THE CALL. CUT TO DISAPPOINTED LOOK ON STEVE’S FACE; FADE OUT)

Writing isn’t particularly easy but it’s something I’ve always done and have always loved. The end product is usually its own reward but like any writer it’s great to have your work get somewhere and be read by others. That’s why I so love the digital age. Every time I publish something on wordpress and get some tiny comment back or even just the odd ’like’ it’s a great feeling.
Just going back to the radio producer and his request for another draft it just reminded me about screenwriter William Goldman’s book, Adventures in the Screen Trade. Goldman tells how it’s fine to get your script finished but then the producer always wants another draft and then the star steps in, he wants a new draft and he doesn’t like it when his character does this, he thinks the character should do that so can we have another draft and then he drops out and the new star likes the script only he doesn’t think that should happen so, can we have another draft please . .The day I actually get to hear my characters on the radio investigating the shooting of my fictional MP I’ll be overjoyed but I have a feeling that if the script ever gets produced, someone other than myself will have had a hand in the proceedings.

Anyway, just to finish, here’s my favourite mobile story. Many years ago when I was working as a bus driver in Warrington, I was at the wheel of my bus but had got stuck in a queue of traffic just as we were approaching Warrington bus station. I picked up one of my fellow drivers who had nipped out on his break and popped into the shops. We were talking about a nutter who travelled on our buses and chatted to all the drivers. Now some nutters are pretty nice people when you get to know them but some are the bane of a bus driver’s life! I didn’t really care for this particular guy so I tended not to let him on my bus if I could help it. By coincidence we saw the same guy just then, walking along towards the bus station and my friend said, “go on, pick him up.” Well we were stuck in a traffic queue going nowhere so I opened the doors and let him on. I don’t quite remember how this nutter looked but he did have a kind of Lara Croft thing strapped to his leg.
“What is that?” I asked him.
“That’s me mobile phone,” he said and pulled out a big 1990s style mobile. “I love it,” he said. “You can have loads of fun with it.”
“Fun? In what way?”
“Well,” he said, “watch this.”
Now in the next lane there was a tatty old builders van with a mobile number painted on the rear doors and behind it was a very smart Jaguar driven by a very posh chap wearing a suit and tie.
The nutter dialled the builder’s number and when the call was answered said something like this;
“That bloody van of yours is a disgrace! I’m sat behind you in the traffic and your engine fumes are bloody choking me! Get that great heap off the bloody road!” Then he cut the builder off.
Nothing happened for a moment then the builder, a man with a physique not unlike that of the incredible hulk, squeezed himself out of his van and walked back to the Jaguar.
Just then the lights changed and we drove off. I’ve always wondered what happened next but if you ever get a phone call like that in Warrington check that there isn’t a guy with a mobile phone strapped to his leg in something like Lara Croft’s dagger sheath nearby!


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Floating in Space

Floating In Space: Last day to download free on Kindle!

Yes, you can download ‘Floating In Space’ free for your Kindle until 22nd January.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Floating-space-novel-vanished-Manchester-ebook/dp/B00KCS19LO/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1402836758&sr=1-1&keywords=floating+in+space

It’s a novel following the adventures of a young man in Manchester in 1977. No mobile phones, no Internet and a pint of bitter cost only 25p. Here’s me talking about it in Manchester;

 

Floating In Space: Free offer!

Anyone who knows me will tell you I never give anything away free, so just to prove them wrong you can download the Kindle version of Floating In Space free from today until the 22nd January! Click the picture below to take you straight to the amazon.co.uk page!

fiskindlecover

Floating In space is a novel set in Manchester in 1977 and if you like kitchen sink dramas like ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ and ‘A Kind Of Loving’ then you’ll love this book too.

If you remember the seventies I hope you’ll perhaps enjoy a trip down memory lane, if you’re younger then you’ll be pleased to know life did exist before mobile phones and the Internet were invented and if you’re familiar with Manchester then I hope you’ll recognise some of the locations, particularly the pubs and clubs mentioned.

Here’s me talking about the book on you tube: