The ups and downs of the Internet

quotescover-JPG-11As you can guess if you’ve read any of my other blogs, I just love the digital age. It’s enabled me to do so many things; share my writing with everyone here on wordpress, share my pictures on Tumblr and Flickr and my videos on you tube.

What’s been a highlight in particular is that I’ve been a motor racing fan since I was a school boy and when I was younger I spent a lot of time at my local circuit, Oulton Park in Cheshire, watching motor races and taking pictures. I had a whole mountain of pictures that had only been seen by me and have been sitting in an album upstairs in my back room for years. Now Flickr has enabled me to share them with other race fans and my Oulton Park collection has had hundreds of views, when a few years back it was just one.

image courtesy everystockphoto.com

image courtesy everystockphoto.com

Social networking is so interesting and varied. The main social sites are probably Facebook and Twitter. I’m on both of those sites but they are very different. Twitter is in a lot of ways a real-time web site. Many people comment on sport and TV shows while the shows or events are still in progress but personally if I’m trying to comment on an F1 race I feel as though I’m missing the action whilst I’m tweeting. I suppose in that way Twitter is ideal for the smart phone whereas Facebook is somewhere you can post your status and then come back another time and respond to further comments. On Twitter most of my friends are pure internet acquaintances, especially now as I’ve been promoting my work heavily on that site. I get other authors asking me to like their pages and posts and in return I like their pages and posts so we both benefit with extra web exposure.

The same thing has been starting to happen on Facebook with increasing traffic from non-friends, people who just like my blogs, so I’ve had to create a Facebook page for myself as a writer so that I can keep separate my business and personal friends.

Another aspect of the internet is that it enables you to check out your old and long-lost friends and a site like Friends Reunited started a trend for connecting with old friends. Friends Reunited was one of the early success stories of the internet but in the last few years it fell by the wayside, it’s popularity overtaken by sites like the aforementioned Twitter and Facebook. Now the site has been taken down and it’s web address is just a dead link.

I’ve traced quite a few of my old school friends thanks to Friends Reunited, for instance one of my primary school pals that I have made contact with emigrated to Canada, was successful in the computer industry and now lives in semi-retirement on an island off the west Canadian coast. Pretty good for a lad from a Wythenshawe council estate. That was an interesting find and my friend Paul and I have exchanged a fair few e-mails. Both of us are happy and literate writers, perhaps we’re really old-fashioned letter writers now turned to e-mails but I find that today it’s easy, at least for some people, to fall into a kind of text speak even on social media that sometimes slips over into e-mail messages.

I had one e-mail a while ago from an old school friend asking if I was the same Steve Higgins who he knew at school. I replied back that yes I was and added a good few paragraphs about my life, what I had been up to in the intervening years and what I was doing now. Nothing came back for months and when I wrote again to say ‘did you get my e-mail’ a reply finally arrived. ‘Yes, great to hear from you LOL.’

That particular friend I’ve not seen for over thirty-five years and I’m none the wiser about him now, despite him wanting to contact me! Oh well, that’s the internet for you.

One more area of life that’s been revolutionised by the Internet is shopping. Yes, from the comfort of your own home you can search the Internet for all those tricky Christmas presents. There’s Amazon, and E-bay, and all the big stores have their own web sites and many frequently e-mail us about some great bargain. I had one a while ago offering me thirty razor blades ‘compatible’ with my Wilkinson’s razor at a very cheap price indeed. Blades are pretty pricey these days, so, OK, I clicked on the link, bought my voucher, then went to the razor blade site, and added my voucher code. OK so far but then I had to add a few quid for postage. Not happy! That extra money was eating into my savings. Anyway, eventually the blades arrived at my door. Not sure what kind of service was used but one wonders if a camel or even a tortoise was involved. OK, I get the blades but then there’s another problem: They won’t fit on my razor! Now, things get confusing because there are so many razors available these days. There’s the Hydro, the Quattro, the Quattro Titanium, and a shed load of others I couldn’t even begin to name. The blades were for a Hydro which I didn’t have but guess what? Someone on E-bay was selling one for a pound with free postage. Not only that, I had mentioned to Liz the previous day about some of the things I had noticed being sold on E-bay. A used razor for a pound? What plonker would even think of buying that?

Yes, that would be me . .


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Fast food, slow food, and French food

macweblogoIn the late 1930s a fellow called Patrick McDonald opened a fast food stand in California selling mainly hot dogs. Later, his sons took the business over and realising hamburgers were their top selling item they decided to revamp the entire operation, focusing on quick service and snack food that was served literally ‘fast’.

They reopened with their new concept in 1948 calling their fast food establishment simply ‘McDonalds.’ They franchised their operation and other ‘McDonalds’ started springing up over California and Arizona. In 1954 a man called Ray Kroc bought up the franchise for the rest of the United States and in 1961 he bought out the McDonald brothers for 2.7 million dollars. He then went on to build the McDonalds Corporation bigger and bigger and to export the McDonald restaurants all over the world. Even to France.

Plat du jour

Plat du jour

Now, as a great lover of France and the french way of life, well, some of the french ways of life that is, it’s always been a great source of interest to me to see how the french would accept the fast food concept. As much as I love the french way of eating, the entree, plat, dessert et fromage, and plenty of bread, I do feel that french cusine is a little over rated. The fact of the matter is, some of the things that the french like to eat, well, they are just a little bit odd.

If you think about it, you can perhaps imagine ancient man many thousands of years ago. Picture him now, taking a good look at something like a cow for instance and thinking, “you know, bet there’s some tasty meat on that animal. I could slaughter it, cut a thick wedge of meat off, slap it on a griddle over the fire, some salt and pepper and bet it would taste lovely!” Yes, that’s thinking that I can understand, especially later when that same ancient man refined his original idea by adding a baked potato or a few chips to the meal and maybe even a side salad.

The ancestors of today’s frenchmen must have thought in a different way, well different to us anglo saxons that is. Just imagine some ancient frenchman in the same situation but instead of checking out the cow he has his eyes on a frog, hopping merrily about and croaking, as they do, and he begins to think like this: “Hey, wonder if I killed that frog, chopped its legs off and cooked them in a little garlic, what would they be like?” A thought that would never occur to any right minded Englishman in a million years! Imagine another frenchman, coming out of his cave on a damp morning and noticing a lot of snails wandering about in his back garden: “Hey, why don’t I cook those with some shallots and garlic?” he thinks. “What a great idea!” Wrong! Crazy idea! Take another look at that cow Monsieur!

Anyway, getting back to McDonalds. In Saumur, one of my favourite french towns, Liz and I dropped in to the local McDonalds  for a quick snack before making our way up north towards Calais. I think we ordered something from the breakfast menu like a bacon and egg McMuffin. Well, the trays behind the counter that are usually stacked with hot food were not stacked with anything so the staff asked us to settle down in a booth and take advantage of the free wi-fi and that they would bring our food over in a moment.

After a while, one of the staff came over, there was some sort of further delay so did we want another tea anglais on the house while we waited? OK. Eventually, after I had checked all my e-mails, started off a couple of blog posts and re written part of ‘Floating in Space‘ (ok, slight exaggeration) our food eventually arrived. After visiting McDonalds Saumur a few times I have found that this occurance is not unusual. In fact, it’s quite normal but the french seem happy with the situation and I think I know why: They do not understand the concept of fast food at all!

It’s the same in a french restaurant. They leave you for ages reading the menu as if it was ‘War and Peace.’ It’s not! Anyone can read the menu and decide what to have within five minutes. Oh and what about a drinks order while we wait? Oh no. The french waiter likes to give you plenty of time to choose. When you finally give the waiter your order, things go at a pace reasonably similar to that of a UK restaurant but then at the end when you are waiting and waiting for the bill, don’t they realise you have finished and actually want to leave?

The french like to savour the whole eating experience, even the reading of the menu and while I do agree with that initial concept, the french sometimes take it a little too far. No, the french food experience is not fast food, it’s slow food!


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Three Champions of Formula One

I’m not a great sports fan. I’ve no interest in football and cricket does nothing for me but formula one racing is something I’ve followed since my school days. What I’ve always loved about racing are the true champions of the sport, those drivers that have gone down in the annals of motor sporting history as the greats. My own personal favourite driver and the driver who to me is the greatest driver ever, is Sir Jackie Stewart.

Jackie Stewart Image courtesy wikipedia

Jackie Stewart Image courtesy wikipedia

You’ve heard of course of the great natural talents of Ayrton Senna and also of the man known as the professor, Alain Prost and his intelligent and calculating approach to racing. Imagine then those two disciplines put together in one man, well if that were possible the result would be Jackie Stewart. Jackie has all the qualities of a great driver: Fast in qualifying, fast in racing. Fast in the dry, fast in the wet. He also has those other great qualities, car control and understanding of the car as well as a great race craft. You’ve heard of Michael Schumacher and his reputation as the rainmeister I’m sure but well before Schumacher was even a glint in his father’s eye Jackie was winning the foggy and washed out 1968 German Grand Prix by four minutes from his nearest rival. Four minutes! Can you believe that?

Believe it my friend because that was one of the great wet weather drives of all time.

My personal favourite of Jackie’s wins was the 1969 Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Monza at that time had still not been hampered by the chicanes that were to be added a few years later. It was a fast high speed track and the event was a slip streaming formula one sprint. Cars hurtled along sucking the following cars along in their wake and the following driver would use this slipstream to hurtle past. The trick to win the Italian Grand prix was to exit the last corner in second place, slipstream the leader and take the win.

In 1969 however wily Scotsman Jackie Stewart reasoned that if he added an extra-long fourth gear to his car the difference between hanging on to fourth for a while longer when his fellow racers were changing up a gear could enable him to win. In the race when the cars arrived at that all important last corner Jackie dived in front and exited in the lead. Jochen Rindt who was second, latched onto Stewart’s lead and was sucked up in his slip stream then ducked out to take the lead. His momentum eased momentarily as he flicked into fifth but Jackie hung on in his extra-large fourth gear and when Rindt slipstreamed past it was too late; they were past the chequered flag and Jackie had just won the race.

Senna by the author 1988

Ayrton Senna McLaren 1988 German GP

In 1988 two great drivers became teammates at McLaren-Honda, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. 1988 was a classic season for the Mclaren squad winning 15 out of the season’s 16 races but it could have been so different. The Williams team and their driver Nigel Mansell could have been in prime position to take the championship. The previous year, 1987, Mansell and team mate Nelson Piquet battled against each other and ultimately Piquet took the title but he had left for Lotus and Honda, who had been Williams’ engine partners for the previous few years had switched their allegiance to McLaren. The move had come a year earlier than had been planned and Williams were left in the lurch. Their relationship with Honda had soured when they declined to replace Nigel Mansell with Honda’s man Saturu Nakajima and they were forced to turn to a private engine manufacturer, John Judd. 1988 would not be their year. The McLarens were dominant. The only possible challenge could come from Lotus, the only other team with the unbeatable Honda engine. That challenge never appeared.

nelson Piquet Lotus 1988 German Grand Prix

Nelson Piquet Lotus 1988 German Grand Prix

Towards the end of the year, Lotus arranged for Jackie Stewart to test their car as part of a TV spot. Stewart, who had been retired for over a decade, took the wheel of the Lotus and almost straight away spotted the very issue that had dogged Lotus for the season. I well remember Peter Warr, the Lotus Team manager saying to TV cameras very diplomatically that Jackie had ‘correctly identified an issue the team were already working on.’ If only Jackie had tested the car earlier in the season, perhaps then they could have challenged the McLarens.

Jackie Stewart at Oulton Park in 1988 with son Paul

Jackie Stewart at Oulton Park in 1988 with son Paul

Three factors then cement Jackie’s position as one of the best drivers ever: his natural ability and car control, his affinity with the motor car and ability to translate that intuition back to the engineers and designers and his canny wisdom, intelligence and pure race craft. After he retired from the sport Jackie Stewart spent years as a PR man for companies like Ford. Later he built up his Stewart formula one team which later sold to Ford for it to become the Jaguar F1 team. Later still, Ford began to reduce its investment in motor sport and the team was sold again this time for it to morph into Red Bull Racing which won four world championships with driver Sebastian Vettel.

In later years Jackie Stewart and Ayrton Senna came together in a television interview where Stewart famously challenged Senna about his driving style and his collisions with other drivers. Senna brushed it off but later admitted that Stewart was right and that he had deliberately pushed Alain Prost off the track in Japan 1990. According to an interview with Stewart in the Daily Mail, Senna apologised to Jackie before admitting to the press what he had done.

Alain Prost Mclaren 1988 German Grand Prix

Alain Prost Mclaren 1988 German Grand Prix

Alain Prost, like Jackie became a team owner in the late 1990s with Ligier, renaming it Prost Grand Prix. Sadly the team went bankrupt in 2002.

Senna and Prost as is well known had numerous battles together on and off the race track. Prost left McLaren believing that team boss Ron Dennis supported Senna rather than him and left to drive for Ferrari. He joined Williams in 1993 but declined to partner Senna in 1994 and retired from driving.

Ayrton Senna was killed in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. In formula one the event is known as ‘Black Sunday.’ Happily, Prost and Senna were reconciled in the days before the tragedy. Senna had done an in car lap of the race track for french TV  and Prost was working there as a TV pundit. Senna passed a message to Prost saying ‘we miss you Alain.’

The death of Senna and Ratzenberger at Imola were the first formula one tragedies for over twelve years and that was due in no small way to the campaigns began in the 1970’s by Jackie Stewart for better safety in formula one.

8 Things You Didn’t Know about James Bond, 007

bondblogI’ve been a big James Bond fan since I was a schoolboy and you may have noticed a couple of other Bond posts that I’ve written previously. The first Bond book I ever read was The Man with the Golden Gun which is a rather poor entry into the Bond world. Author Ian Fleming wrote the first draft but died before revising the book. His method was to write a first draft and then on the second, add in all the little bits of detail, such as Bond’s meals, drinks, clothing and so on that made the books so fascinating. I persevered, found the correct sequence of the novels, and have been a Bond fan ever since. Anyway, I’m getting away from my theme, eight things you may not know about 007.

1: The Longest Serving Bond.
Roger Moore made the most Bond films starting with Live and Let Die in 1973 and finishing with A View to A Kill in 1985. As much as I love Roger Moore, I really do feel he was the worst James Bond ever, totally unsuited for the role and a prime factor in me stopping watching the films during the 80’s. Adam West, TV’s Batman, Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds were all once in the running to play 007 but all declined, believing Bond should be played by a British actor. Cary Grant was also approached but turned down the role believing he was too old.

2: The Shortest Serving Bond.
George Lazenby was recruited to carry on as 007 when original Bond actor Sean Connery left. Lazenby was an Australian actor and the star of The Fry’s Chocolate Cream TV adverts. Lazenby was my personal favourite Bond actor and the one I’ve always felt that most resembled Ian Fleming’s description of Bond. He had the authentic black comma of hair that Fleming described in the books and his one Bond movie, ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ was one of the very best. Such a pity that Lazenby didn’t go on to make more Bond films. He was given poor advice about the movie business; in particular he was advised that the Bond movies were on the way out. Away from the Bond set Lazenby dressed like a seventies hippy with long hair and a beard, none of which went down well with his movie bosses and PR men so Lazenby was out and Sean Connery asked back for one last 007 movie.

image courtesy flickr.com

image courtesy flickr.com

3: Who wrote the Bond books and where were they written?
Ian Fleming wrote the Bond books. After the war finished Fleming began work as foreign manager for the Kemsley newspaper group and as his contract with them gave provision for three months holiday during the
winter months, Fleming spent the time in Jamaica where he bought a house. He named the house after a wartime operation known as operation Goldeneye. He returned there every summer where he would work on the next Bond book. When all the books had been made into films, Eon productions, the makers of the Bond movies had to create new stories and new plots. The seventeenth Bond film Goldeneye was named after Ian Fleming’s Jamaica home.
Goldeneye the movie marked the debut of Pierce Brosnan as 007 when the movie franchise returned to the cinema screens after a brief hiatus. Apart from a rather silly tank chase, Goldeneye was one of the very best Bond movies.

4: Was there a real James Bond?
Indeed there was a real James Bond. When Fleming was planning his original novel he was looking around for the blandest and most anonymous name he could think of, and that’s when he came across a book called ‘Birds Of The West Indies’ by ornithologist James Bond. In 1964 Fleming gave Bond a first edition copy of ‘You Only Live twice’ inscribed by Fleming ‘to the real James Bond from the thief of his identity.’ When the book was auctioned in 2008 it fetched £56,000.
Many magazines and newspaper articles have put forward theories as to who the real Bond was but the fact is that while many of Fleming’s colleagues in the wartime SOE (Special Operations Executive) may have inspired him, the character of Bond was inspired by Fleming himself. Fleming was a commander in naval intelligence during the war, just like 007, and it was Fleming who drank the vodka martinis that James Bond liked so much. It was Fleming who wore the Sea Island cotton shirts that appear in the novels and it was Fleming who favoured scrambled eggs for breakfast, just like his creation, James Bond.

5: Which was the highest grossing Bond movie?

image courtesy flickr.com

image courtesy flickr.com

It was actually ‘Skyfall’, the 2012 Bond movie starring Daniel Craig as 007. The movie is easily the best of the Daniel Craig Bond films and there are some interesting aspects to the film in particular a visual homage to past Bond movies using a vintage Aston Martin. Until recently the top grossing movie was ‘Thunderball’ with Sean Connery.

6: How did two independent Bond movies come to be made?
Ian Fleming sold the movie rights to Casino Royale separately from the rest of the books and this enabled producer Charles K Feldman to produce a movie independently from Eon productions who own the rights to the other books. Feeling that he could not compete with the mainstream movies, he decided to make Casino Royale into a comedy version. David Niven starred as Sir James Bond and interestingly, Fleming had mooted Niven as a possible Bond when casting Dr No, the first movie in the series.
The other independent movie, ‘Never say Never Again’, came about due to a legal squabble. Fleming began work with producer Kevin McCLory and writer Jack Whittingham on a script which never came to fruition. Like many writers, Fleming was reluctant to waste this material and used it in his book Thunderball but did not credit McClory or Whittingham. McClory sued Fleming and won certain rights to the story. This enabled him to make what was essentially a remake of Thunderball in 1983 with Sean Connery returning for a last bow as 007.

7: Did the author ever kill off 007?
Not exactly but at the end of ‘You Only Live Twice’ in the novel, Bond is presumed dead or missing and M, the head of the secret service and 007’s boss, writes Bond’s obituary for the Times. It is quite interesting to read and M mentions that Bond was born of a Scottish father and French mother. The Bond family motto as we learn from ‘On Her majesty’s Secret Service’ is ‘the world is not enough,’ a phrase that later became the title for the 19th Bond movie.

8: Bond girls and voice overs.
A quick internet search tells me there have been 75 Bond girls but I’m not sure whether that includes minor flirtations or ladies like the formidable Miss Moneypenny herself. Two Bond girls were veterans of the British TV espionage series the Avengers: Diana Rigg played Tracy in ‘On her Majesty’s secret service’ and Honor Blackman was Pussy Galore in ‘Goldfinger.’ Terri Hatcher, formerly Lois Lane in the TV series of Superman played Bond’s love interest in Tomorrow Never Dies and Eva Green played Vesper Lynd in the new version of Casino Royale. The most famous is probably Ursula Andress who played the first ever Bond girl Honeychile Ryder in Doctor No. Interestingly, Ursula Andress’ voice was dubbed in the film by Nikki van der Zyl who did voice overs for many Bond girls. Apparently Ursula Andress was felt by the producers to have had too strong a German accent. Shirley Eaton played Jill Masterton in Goldfinger and it was she who was famously covered in gold paint. Jill’s voice was dubbed by Nikki in order to give her a softer voice. French actress Claudine Auger who played Domino in Thunderball was also dubbed by Nikki.
Miss Moneypenny, M’s secretary is not necessarily considered to be a Bond girl; however, in the films Moneypenny and Bond always have a certain amount of banter. Lois Maxwell played Moneypenny in the first fourteen Bond films. My personal favourite was Samantha Bond who played the role four times in the Pierce Brosnan era. The current Miss Moneypenny has been given a sort of backstory in Skyfall, that of a former field agent assigned to a desk role.

The 24th and latest Bond movie ‘Spectre,’ premiers later this year. Watch the trailer below!

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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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10 things you didn’t know about American Pie

71WZbVhqbkL._SL1300b_Well, here’s the first thing that perhaps you didn’t know; The lyrics to American Pie, or more correctly, writer Don McLean’s sixteen page original draft of the song was sold recently at an auction in the USA for 1.2 million dollars, that’s £806, 000 for us here in the UK. That’s a hell of a lot for a few song lyrics but to be fair, American Pie has the most interesting and fascinating lyrics of any pop song ever.

American Pie debuted in 1972 and reached number 2 in the UK charts. I didn’t really get interested in music until 1973 when I started buying singles but also, in that same year, a magazine was launched in the UK called ‘the story of pop’ and in one of the issues there was a lengthy article about the song and what it meant and ever since then I’ve been fascinated by the lyrics and what they may or may not mean.

The day the music died

This is generally thought to refer to Buddy Holly’s sad death in 1959 at the age of 22. Holly was only at the beginning of his career and would have gone on to greater success. Even so, he was inducted into the rock n roll hall of fame in 1986.

The Jester

The Jester is Bob Dylan and the coat he borrowed from James Dean can be seen on the cover of Dylan’s album ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.’

The King

The King is of course the King of rock n roll, Elvis Presley, and it was his crown that the Jester stole when the King was looking down.

The beginning of the song looks back to a golden time for Don McLean, the fifties and the birth of rock n roll and artists like Presley and Holly. The sixties gave birth to a new freedom for young people and it was expressed in music and in the use of drugs like marihuana. No wonder the ‘half time air was sweet perfume!’

The sergeants played a marching tune

The Beatles are the Sergeants, fresh, no doubt, from their Sergeant Pepper album.

I saw Satan laughing with delight, the day the music died

Jack Flash is the Rolling Stone’s Mick Jagger and it is he that Mclean sees as Satan. ‘No angel born in hell could break that Satan’s spell.’

This part of the song refers to the Rolling Stones’ concert at Altamont Speedway in northern California. The event was a free one and was anticipated as a sort of ‘Woodstock west’. Various bands played including Santana, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and The Grateful Dead. The fans however, were stoned on drugs and drink and the atmosphere deteriorated, so much so that the Grateful Dead declined to play. The local chapter of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang were hired, supposedly, to take care of security but they later denied this and said they had been promised $500 dollars’ worth of beer merely to keep people away from the stage.

During the concert a fan by the name of Meredith Hunter was killed by a Hells Angel. Hunter had tried to get on the stage during the Stones performance and the Hells Angels had pushed him away. Hunter returned and pulled out a revolver from his jacket. Hells Angel Alan Pissaro charged Hunter; pushed the gun aside and stabbed him. The incident was caught by a film crew which helped Pissaro’s self-defence plea later on in court. Pisarro was acquitted. The clock had turned full circle from the innocence of the fifties to the disillusionment of the late sixties and Don Mclean’s classic song is a wonderful and lyrical evocation of the times.

Click on the video below and enjoy American Pie for yourself.

Why Writers can’t do Without Dreams

image courtesy fotolia

image courtesy fotolia

Dreams; there’s a subject. I woke up a few mornings ago in sunny Lanzarote (sorry, just had to rub that in) after a crazy dream in which I was out with a friend I hadn’t seen for years, and somehow, don’t ask me how, I had lost all my clothes. We had been out drinking and were walking home then something happened and I woke up somewhere without any clothes. I woke up then but that wasn’t the end of it.

The next night I had a sort of follow on dream. I was wandering around with no clothes, although I had come across a blanket somehow and with me was Michael Portillo (yes, the ex-MP who hosts a show on BBC about railway journeys.) Well we ended up in this hotel and I was starting to worry. Well, who wouldn’t? No clothes, no wallet, no mobile. Who could I call? Should I try and cancel my bank cards? What happened to my keys? Where am I and what has Michael Portillo got to do with it?

Michael was standing nearby and using his influence as a famous former MP. Someone brought him a phone and he started chatting into it. Clothes were brought for him and I could hear him chatting to his bank. It actually brought to mind that sequence at the beginning of one of the Bond films where Pierce Brosnan has been in a Chinese prison, escapes and finds himself in Hong Kong. He walks into this posh hotel, his hair long and unkempt, his clothes in rags and the guy at reception says “Will you be wanting your usual suite Mr Bond?”

Some people just have that manner about them don’t they? Me, I’d have been unceremonially kicked out of that hotel, assuming I’d even made it past the front door! I can just imagine the scene:
Your usual suite Mr Higgins? Just a moment please?”
The manager beckons to a large man looking similar to Oddjob from the Bond movie Goldfinger. The next moment, Mr Higgins hurtles through the front door. As he is propelled into the street he murmurs, “that’s a ‘no’ then is it?”

I often wonder where dreams actually come from. What is it in the deep recesses of the mind that produce these spurious dramas? When I was younger I don’t really recall ever dreaming that much. As I grew older I seemed to dream more but tended to forget most of my dreams very quickly. These days I do dream quite a lot and I dream pretty sensible things too. The ending of ‘Floating In Space’ was something I dreamt one night and I typed it up and replaced the original finale which, although inspired by real events, was a little unbelievable. Also, I have an entire story which I’ve partly written into a screenplay which I dreamt one night and which played out in front of me as vividly as if I was sitting at the front row of a picture house. It is about a man who appears one night wearing a white suit and who gets involved in some strange circumstances. So strange that those around him begin to believe the man is a kind of Saviour; a sort of new Jesus figure, and his companions become disciples in the way of those who followed Jesus himself. I still have my notes from that dream and the story is on my ‘to do’ list to finish.

Dreaming a story and making it into a novel or a screenplay isn’t quite as strange as it seems. In 1898 an American writer, Morgan Robertson wrote a story about an unsinkable ship called the Titan which sailed from England to the USA, hit an iceberg and sank. The story was published fourteen years before the Titanic disaster. I remember reading the story of this writer years ago, even that the writer saw the story played out in front of him like a movie but all the research I did on the internet for this blog seems to imply that the author was a man who knew his business where ships were concerned, felt that ships were getting bigger and bigger and that a disaster like that of the Titanic was inevitable.

Wikipedia describes dreams like this: Dreams are successions of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations that occur involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep. It’s easy to think that perhaps the basis of dreams, the make-up of dreams comes from within but it’s possible external forces can affect dreams too. Paul McCartney once said that he didn’t write his songs but that they were out there, waiting for him to catch them; to pick them up. Perhaps dreams too are there just waiting for us to dream them.

One other kind of dream is the daydream and T E Laurence once said that those who dream in the day are dangerous men: “All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”

I have to confess to being a daydreamer but as for being dangerous, well, I think not. I do have a persistent daydream though, one of becoming a best-selling author. Of course, you the reader could make it happen, just by clicking the link below . .

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What happens when classic TV gets remade?

. . . Or perhaps more importantly, why does classic TV get remade? Why not just let sleeping TV classics lie? What! When there’s more money to be made! The thing about classic TV is that people know what it’s about. When they made Mission Impossible into a movie with Tom Cruise we all knew that somewhere in the movie Cruise would get to listen to a recording giving him some impossible mission with the reminder that ‘if any of your people are caught or killed, the secretary will disavow knowledge of your actions!’ The PR man’s job is half done already, done by the collective TV memory of millions of people who watched the TV series. Recently movie producers did the impossible, re created (re-imagined to use movie-speak) Kirk, Spock, and Scotty from the original Star Trek. The first was a pretty good movie, the second, Into Darkness, I wasn’t so keen on. Someone must have liked it though because director JJ Abrams has now been recruited to inject new life into the Star Wars franchise.

Every day the more visible you are on the internet the more stuff comes into your inbox. Some of it is unwanted, TAG_Teaser_Email_05_asome of it is junk but occasionally you get something pretty interesting. I recently received this picture to the left and a week later the video link below. Looks like there is a new version of Thunderbirds in the offing. As a school kid I was brought up on Gerry Anderson’s TV productions. I vaguely remember Four Feather Falls, a cowboy puppet show, but then came Supercar, Stingray and Thunderbirds, all part of Gerry’s vision of the future. What was great about Gerry’s TV shows was that they were aimed at kids but all had a serious adult perspective. They didn’t look down at kids, they treated children more as future adults. Supercar, Stingray and Fireball XL5 were all thirty minute shows but Thunderbirds was a full hour and many of the episodes were serious and complex. One episode entitled the ‘cham cham’ was about a musical code written into a song and it was up to Lady Penelope, the Thunderbirds London agent, to get to the bottom of things. Another Lady Penelope episode that comes to mind was ‘Vault of Death’ in which an employee is trapped in the vault of the Bank of England and the international rescue guys try to save the man before the oxygen runs out. Of course it is Parker, Penelope’s chauffeur, manservant, and former safe cracker who manages to open the vault with a hairpin!

Scott Tracy Thunderbird 1 pilot

Scott Tracy Thunderbird 1 pilot

Sylvia Anderson, Gerry’s wife, was the voice of Lady Penelope and Sylvia always had a credit on the shows for characterisation. It was always the characters that brought the shows to life, not just the incredible Thunderbirds craft launching from under the swimming pool or other hidden places. Gerry and Sylvia went on to make live action shows like UFO and Space 1999 before they had an acrimonious split. Later Gerry tried for a comeback children’s show with Terrahawks but without Sylvia’s characterisations the show didn’t really hit the mark.

Anyway, I do wonder how the guys from this new series targeted me. I must have left something somewhere, some random cookie in cyberspace that let the marketing people know that I used to watch Thunderbirds years ago. Well, I’m not ashamed to say that I did and I also subscribed to the Gerry Anderson comic TV21 and built a plastic kit version of Thunderbird One. Hope the new series lives up to the old one, although I seriously doubt it. Anyway, if today’s kids don’t enjoy the new Thunderbirds, they can catch the classic original on DVD!

By the way, if you enjoyed this post then why not buy my book?

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Tasting the Tapas in Lanzarote

snaplanzaThis is week five for Liz and I staying here near the Marina Rubicon in Lanzarote. We’re here for six weeks in total, a nice break away from the snow and ice of the UK. The temperature here is in the early seventies and this last week it’s been a bit cool and cloudy which, I have to say, has played havoc with my swimming and sunbathing routine.

We’re away  from the centre of Playa Blanca by the Marina which is good because like a lot of Spanish resorts, the centre of Playa Blanca is a full of ‘British’ pubs and bars and restaurants offering British beer and meals like chips, egg and beans and so on as their staple fare. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not against chips, egg and beans, as a matter of fact it is one of my favourite meals but I can make it myself back at home or go to any pub or café to get it. When I travel hundreds of miles I want something different, not something I can have any day of the week back home. It’s the same with beer. Why would I want a pint of British beer or lager when I can have something different? Of course, all the major brands of beer can now be found all over the world. My local pub has San Miguel on draft! The fact is that the whole world is getting smaller and more international by the day. Not so long ago my cousin was in New York tweeting he was at a bar drinking a pint of Boddingtons, the definitive Manchester ale!

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Tasty nibbles at Café Berrugo

I do like my food and dining out can be such a wonderful experience. All you need is a great location, great staff and of course, great food. As we’re here in the canary islands it seems fair to step away from UK pub food for a while and experience proper Spanish tapas. Tapas as you may know is Spanish for small plates. Small plates of food that is, so not long after arriving Liz and I went to our ‘local’ café, a place called Café Berrugo. Now at first I wasn’t sure if this place was a real authentic Canarian eating house. Why not? Well, with items like chips, egg and sausage and hot dog and chips on the menu that was something of a giveaway but actually when we come here of an evening, most of the clientele are local Lanzarote people and if you look closely at the menu there is a nice tapas section which a lot of the Brits seem to ignore. Anyway, we knew that tapas is small dishes so we ordered this lot: Garlic mushrooms, Canarian potatoes with mojo sauce, garlic prawns, Canarian boar with peppers and onions and a portion of, well I am a Brit after all, a portion of chips. (That’s fries if you are reading this in the US.)

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Garlic mushrooms and bread.

Now the thing is, at this cheap and cheerful café the portions are pretty big so we ended up fairly stuffed after that veritable feast but we managed to scoff it all and wash it down with a nice bottle of Spanish red and the excellent staff offered us a nice free liquor to finish off.

Another night we decided to go up market to the Blue Note bar and restaurant and once again we went for the tapas. I only ordered five as part of the five for twelve euros deal and decided to have two as starters and three as a main meal. Now the thing was that here at the posh end of the marina, tapas clearly does mean small plates, or perhaps tiny plates would have been a better description. The chorizo sausages were nice but as there were only three small sausages I didn’t quite get to gauge the flavour. Same with the meatballs, there were only three of them. Anyway, it was all very lovely with nice staff and a picturesque setting by the marina with a small jazz trio playing away. I recommend it highly, unless you happen to be really hungry!

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Canarian potatoes with mojo sauce and a plate of serrano ham.

So after that little bit of research it seems that tapas do not come in a standard size. If you ever visit Lanzarote and happen to be staying near the Marina Rubicon at Playa Blanca remember this; if you’re not too hungry then have your tapas in the posh restaurants by the marina but if you are feeling even a little ravenous, go down to Café Berrugo!

 

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David Cassidy and a Haircut in 1975

quotescover-JPG-61Take a look at the photo just below. You wouldn’t think a young lad with all that hair would one day, well, not have it. Especially if that lad had really thick luxuriant hair. Well, you just wouldn’t would you? steve 1970sThe fact of the matter is, that picture is me, my former self, a painfully shy teenage youth who would one day discover, to his utter shock and horror, that he was losing his hair! It actually happened when I was nineteen and I was working in city centre Manchester and decided I was going to have a really top notch hair cut and try a proper salon: Not the usual barber’s shop I used to go to, so one day back in . . 1975, I think it was, I went to a place called Paul Brendon’s hair design on Oxford road and asked for a haircut that was pretty popular at the time. It was the hairstyle favoured by David Cassidy who was a seventies female heart throb and although I wouldn’t have admitted it then, well, I thought he looked pretty cool. David had long hair –hey, it was 1975! – parted in the middle, so that was what I asked for. I went for the full monty; shampoo, cut and blow dry, and at the end of it I thought it looked pretty good, but as I was leaving, the barber (sorry, hair stylist) said to me, “better watch out, your hair’s getting a little thin on top!”

image courtesy wikipedia

image courtesy wikipedia

Well I paid up and left the salon and tried to get my head round that last statement. ‘My hair’s going a little thin on top’ the stylist had said. A little thin? Wonder what he meant? Of course, with such a luxuriant growth of hair (take another look at the picture) he couldn’t really mean I was losing my hair, could he? So, what on earth did he mean? After a while it came to me, he meant the individual strands of hair were thin rather than thick! I had heard talk of products like volumisers and stuff, maybe that is what I needed. Looking back it’s sad to see how I was unable to face the obvious truth; that I had begun to lose my hair. It took me a lot of years to get used to it but now, over thirty years later, well I suppose I finally have, I think!

Nowadays hair salons are a distant dream to me. Once every six weeks or so, I pop down into St Annes, and go into whichever barbers has no one waiting. (Believe me, when you have hair like mine that can be cut in ten minutes flat or less, you do not want to wait half an hour while some long haired nerd has his hair trimmed and blow dried and God knows what else done to it!) I ask for a number 2, the barber gets stuck in and then five to ten minutes later I am good to go, all neat and trimmed and with hair that does not need a drier or even a comb for that matter.

I wonder though if some miracle cure came out that would restore my hair and I mean really restore my hair, fully guaranteed, not some rip off product that doesn’t deliver, would I pay a fortune for it? Well, would I sell the car and take out a loan to get it?

Are you joking? Do you want a serious answer? Of course I would!


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