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 . .


If you liked this post why not check out the links at the top of my page for my novel, Floating In Space, or click the icon below to go straight to my Amazon page.

Floating in Space

 

 

 

 

 

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?


If you liked this blog, why not try my book, Floating in Space. Click the links at the top of the page for more information. Click the picture below to go straight to amazon!

Floating in Space

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.


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

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.


What to do next:

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

Buy the book! Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.

 

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!


If you enjoyed this blog why not buy my book! Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

 

 

7 Crazy Calls to the Bus Information Line!

Original image courtesy pixabay.com

Original image courtesy pixabay.com

I’ve written before about my friend and colleague Mister Nasty. We worked in the GM buses control room years ago and Nasty was the man to pass your calls to if your had any problem callers, he’d soon sort them out!

Photo Credit: North Wales Police via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: North Wales Police via Compfight cc

I was rummaging through a box of old stuff ages ago and I found a list he’d made of silly calls! Scroll down to find some of the better ones! I should add firstly that the picture to the right came from a web page that provides royalty free pictures and in no way resembles the GM Buses enquiry room. Imagine a scruffy office full of cigarette smoke, old newspapers and discarded tea cups and you’re on the way to getting the general idea!  We worked with a bunch of timetables clipped into big files and all in alphabetical order and a big bus route map on our desks then one day you’d get a call asking for a bus to Rochdale so you’d open the R for Rochdale folder and find B for Bolton because someone, usually the person sat killing themselves laughing opposite, had re-arranged your timetables during your tea break!

Seated next to me was Dave with a perpetual cigarette in his mouth. (As you can tell this was the early nineties, just before all this politically correct non smoking stuff!) Across from me was Mister Nasty and then Angela and Katie who spent most of the shift chatting to either each other or their friends. On the other side was Camilla whose nickname was PMT and could easily go off on a complete wobbler depending on the time of the month. Jeff, a pleasant enough chap who had lost his job as a driver due to some unexplained medical condition was next. Last of all and sat at the end next to Jeff was Norm, my best friend on the team. Norm was a nice guy but you had to be on the ball with him because if you weren’t he’d pull some trick on you like dialling in on an outside line and pretend to be a customer and then start an argument with you or, like he once did, pretend to be a member of the public who had put a carpet on a bus then followed on a bicycle but the bus was too fast and got away from him! Yes, you had me going then Norm, where ever you are these days!

Dave, the perpetual smoker, was a dour, straight to the point sort of guy. He’d get a call about a bus to Stockport from Manchester and he’d quickly reply, “The 192 service from Piccadilly sir, every ten minutes starting from 07.30 in the morning.” Then if you had nothing else to ask he’d give you the chop, job done and was ready for the next call.

PMT was slightly different. She’d answer the call by saying, “nice day for a trip to Stockport. Are you going to the market? Oh it’s a really good market there, and it’s all under cover in case the weather turns bad . .” And she’d go on and on.

One day, after a really busy session, I think it was a bank holiday or something, PMT must have been feeling really pleased with herself because she asked the inspector who had taken the most calls. The inspector that day was a really nice guy called ‘leave it wi’ me’ because if you ever asked him to sort anything out for you, he’d reply ‘leave it wi’ me’ and of course, never do anything. On this day he asked us all to hang about for a minute while he asked the ancient computer to throw up the figures. PMT was sure she had taken the most calls but it turned out to be Dave, yes dour Dave who answered the question then cut straight to the next call while PMT was still chatting. Well, PMT let off the most fearsome screaming wobbler, told ‘leave it wi’ me’ he didn’t know his ‘arse from his elbow’ and stormed off leaving the rest of us in a fit of laughter. I didn’t stop laughing until Normy got the beers in at the pub over the road!

GN BusesAnyway, as promised, here’s a few snippets from Nasty’s list:

 

GM operator: “Hello GM Buses.”

Caller: “Can you speak up? I’m partially sighted.”

GM operator: “Hello GM Buses.”

Caller: “My dog got on the 192 at Stockport. Has he got off at Hazel Grove yet?”

GM operator: “Hello GM Buses.”

Caller: “Can I use a birthday card as proof of age?”

GM operator: “Hello GM Buses.”

Caller: “My boyfriend has left his trousers and underpants on one of your buses!”

GM operator: “Hello GM Buses.”

Caller: “What time are the buses to Manchester from Roe Green on a Sunday?”

GM Operator: “They are 15 minutes past the hour at Roe Green post office.”

Caller: “They can’t be!”

GM Operator: “Why not?”

Caller: “The post office is closed on Sundays!”

GM operator: “Hello GM Buses.”

Caller: “What time is the night bus to Pilsworth?”

GM Operator: “Sorry, we don’t do a night bus to Pilsworth.”

Caller: Well, how much is the fare then?

GM operator: “Hello GM Buses.”

Caller: “What’s the fare to Oldham for a normal person?”


If you liked this post, why not buy my book! Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

 

 

Sunday Lunch with My Arch Enemy.

Sunday afternoon and my arch enemy is about to arrive. Zoe, Liz’s daughter has picked him up and I can hear them at the front door. I’ve lit the coal fire and done a quick tidy up and Zoe is showing him through. In the hallway he asks “Is the Mad Monk in?”

quotescover-JPG-43bThat’s me by the way, the Mad Monk.

“Bloody hell Zoe,” I say. “I had that door locked to keep the riff raff out!”

“Stephen,” he says using my Sunday name as he comes into the lounge. “We don’t mind slumming it with the riff-raff. Anyway, how lovely to see you!”

“Always a pleasure to see you, Harry,” I reply.

Harry is just approaching ninety years of age and all his faculties are in order although his memory is perhaps not as good as it used to be.

“Take a seat Harry,” I say. “What can I get you? A glass of water? Lemonade? A cup of tea perhaps?”

Harry turns to Zoe, a fake look of disdain on his face

“Pillock!” he murmurs.

Liz brings him a glass of French sherry..

“That’s more like it,” he says.

The women go off into the kitchen to sort the dinner and Harry and I chat about various things. Once Liz and Zoe come back though, we resume battle.

“Harry went for a brain operation the other day,” I announce, matter of factly. “It was free but they charged him £2000 search fees.”

“Dear me, I wish you’d try some new jokes Stephen,” comments Harry. “If you had a brain you’d be dangerous,”

Over seventy five years ago when war broke out Harry decided the army wasn’t for him so he went on a wireless operators course in Preston then signed up in the merchant navy as a ‘sparks’.

His first voyage took him down through the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf and Iraq. One day while his ship was being refuelled he went for a walk and he heard a voice call his name. He turned to find one of his old schoolmates hailing him. Frank and Harry went to school together, both went to sea and bumped into each other in Basra, along the Shatt-Al-Arab river,  a place Harry called the ‘arsehole of the world.’

Harry had no money on him but his friend Frank treated him to a meal and a few beers and they didn’t see each other until again until Harry’s fiftieth birthday, many years later.

“That doesn’t surprise me Harry,” I say. “That poor fella, having to pay for everything. No wonder he didn’t want to see you again.”

“Stephen. What you don’t realise is how hurtful insinuations like that are to a sensitive man like me.”

“I’ve not noticed your sensitive side Harry.”

“Well, you will in a minute if you don’t top my wine up, garcon!”

The wine is topped up and Liz calls for a ‘skivvy’ to help in the kitchen.

“That’s a good word for you Stephen, skivvy. Off you go and if you do a good job there might be a tip in it for you!”

Atlantic convoys during World War 2 were a lifeline for the UK. Bringing in food and supplies and munitions as we fought alone against the Nazis after the fall of France. U boats were a deadly menace to our ships and Harry told me once how he lay on his bunk shivering with fear during an attack. If a ship went down there was no one to help. Other ships couldn’t stop for survivors as they too might be torpedoed. After a while though Harry told me you just got used to the threat and got on with your job. He told me of trips to the Middle East taking tanks and equipment for the Middle Eastern campaigns. A trip from Argentina to the UK with a cargo of rice. A visit to Rio and a trip to New York.

We eat our Sunday dinner with little let up in the banter. Later when it’s time to go Harry turns to Liz and says “Lovely meal darling.” Then with a wink he says, “pity about the company though.”

So, let me wish you a super ninetieth birthday Harry, and let me give you the toast that you so often give to me,

“May your shadow never grow less.”

The Sound of a writing hero: Dylan Thomas

under-milk-wood I love lots of writers but probably my all-time favourite is Dylan Thomas. I love the outstanding power of his writing, his incredible imagery, and the wonderful pictures he creates with his words.

Dylan also is the sort of writer I’ve always wanted to be: A bohemian, pub crawling, boozing writer who fought with himself as he laboured to paint his word pictures. Whether that was really the case I don’t know but Dylan did like his pubs and he did enjoy a drink.

The fact of the matter is that I’m nothing like Dylan, except we both share a love of words, particularly the sound of words, which is the key to the richness of Dylan’s work, especially his poetry. If you think about it, there must be a connection between the sound of a word and its meaning, a deep organic connection. After all, how did words begin? Imagine some ancient caveman, just wanting to get some concept over to his mate. What are the deepest and strongest feelings for a human being? Well, for a caveman food must be one, and love too. Surely love was present in those primordial days when every caveman went out on Saturday with his club looking for his mate. There must have been a moment when ancient man strived to say something to his mate, tried to express his feeling and a sound that was the precursor to the word love slipped uneasily from his lips.

27th October this year is the centenary of Dylan’s birth and I’m sure Wales and Great Britain itself won’t let the occasion pass without celebrations of some sort. If you have read any of Dylan’s poems and are yet to understand his magic, let me give you a tiny bit of advice: Listen to Dylan’s voice. Yes, Dylan, like many poets wrote for his own voice and if you click on to any Dylan Thomas page or search anywhere on the internet you are bound to come across some old recording of his voice. Don’t make do with lesser voices, even when we are talking about great actors like Richard Burton or Anthony Hopkins. Search out Dylan himself and you will be won over, like me, by the power of his voice.

It’s not just his poems that are rich with the power of words. Dylan wrote and performed a good many radio plays and broadcasts and my very favourite is ‘Return Journey.’ It’s about Dylan himself returning to Swansea in search of his former self ‘Young Thomas.’ He visits young Thomas’ old haunts and meets with people who knew him fleetingly; like the barmaid who used to serve him, journalists who worked with him and even the park keeper where Dylan and his young friends would play in the park. It’s a lovely piece where drama merges with prose and we slip in and out of the two as the story progresses.

5737365722_15dde4c19c_bMany years ago I visited Dylan’s former home in Laugharne, now a museum dedicated to Dylan. I can only say I loved the place and didn’t want to leave. I wandered through its rooms and looked at the black and white photos on the walls and tried to imagine Dylan living here and banging out his poems and stories in his writing shed then later ambling down to the pub for a pint. I had to leave early the day I visited so I went back the next day and the staff recognised me and let me in without paying so in return I bought some books about Dylan and a copy of his collected stories.

At least I can say that in the mustardseed sun, I visited his house on stilts, high among beaks and palavers of birds . .


If you liked this post why not buy my book? Click the icon below! Want to know more about Floating In Space? Visit my video page!

Floating in space: a novel

 

 

When Good Service Makes Your Meal.

I do love my food as anyone will tell you. And I do love dining out. The food is important of course but just as important is the service and I do hate bad service.

Not so long ago Liz and I were in a local pub and I noticed that on the next table there were a couple finishing off their meals. One meal was half eaten; the other looked to be almost untouched. What was wrong with it I wanted to say? Had any staff member been over to ask if it was OK? If so, what did the two diners say? I think we, the English, tend not to like to complain. I’ve had poor meals and eaten more of it than I wanted just because I didn’t want to leave a half full plate. Even so, the meal I mentioned above was hardly touched. Why hadn’t the staff done something? Most pubs these days have someone who comes round and asks ’is everything ok with your meal?’ The thing is, a lot of those people are not prepared or trained when the answer is ‘well it wasn’t very warm’ or ‘the steak was overdone’ or ‘the chips are cold.’ In Wetherspoons not long ago we were asked just that question, was our meal OK? Liz replied that her steak was cold and the waiter just said ‘sorry’ and went away. Was he doing something about the food? Evidently not as he never returned! Why ask about the state of the food if you are not prepared to do something about it? These days I just won’t stand for bad food or service. Complain! We British should complain more. We owe it to the subsequent customers to complain so that the pub or bar or restaurant will get it right.

One little bit of advice I will give is if that if you want a decent meal and decent service, go for a restaurant rather than a pub. No matter what anyone may tell you, a pub is all about drinks, and food is just secondary. A restaurant on the other hand is all about food and it seems to me that staff in a restaurant know more about service than staff in a pub who are used to standing behind a bar. OK, there’s the cost factor, but when you add it up I believe a restaurant is better value in the long run.

Anyway, enough about bad food; I’d much rather talk about good food. One of my favourite meals ever was at a restaurant in France. I can’t tell you the name of it but it is on a winding road coming out of Calais and heading towards St Omer. My starter was celery soup and Liz had the pate; simple French country food. A pichet of red wine and jug of water appeared. An empty bowl and spoon came and sadly I looked down at the rather small bowl that had arrived. The pate came with a huge basket of fresh French bread and a healthy portion of home-made pate with side salad. The waiter soon arrived with a large tureen of soup with a ladle and as I waited for him to dish me out a small portion, he just put the tureen on the table and left. Needless to say, Liz and I had several bowls of that wonderful soup each. It was lovely and the pate was tasty and just perfect with a small salad and French bread.

My next course was a ham and cheese omelette, the lightest, fluffiest omelette. Delicieux! Even the fish that Liz had was nice and I am not a fish lover. Pity I was driving that day as I could have sat there and consumed another pichet of wine as we enjoyed our cheese board.

Just to finish with I’d like to say a few words about my favourite restaurant. It’s the Ego restaurant in Lytham. The food is always good; I’d say it alternates between good and very good and on the rare occasion it isn’t that good, maybe the steak is overcooked or the salad comes with a dressing that we didn’t want, there are no arguments. It’s not like some places where we hear the excuses, sorry, we didn’t get a delivery of that today or the oven’s not working properly or the chef’s not feeling well or something. The staff just whisk the meal away and come back with a new one or with the missing item replaced. The staff in Ego are really exceptional and as we’ve been going there for a while we’ve got to know the staff and they’ve got to know us. They know without us saying that we don’t care for the anchovies on the Spanish sharing board and they always replace them with something we prefer, like the chorizo in red wine and garlic. I have to say hats off to Jay, Tony, Paul, John, Christian, Natasha, Camilla and Sandra, not forgetting the chefs, Ben, who makes a superb Spanish sharing board and Adam who rustles up our main courses; they certainly know how to look after us and as long as they do, we’ll keep coming back for more!


If you enjoyed this post, why not try my book, Floating in Space, set in Manchester, 1977?

A Shaggy Dog Story and how a Hoodie got his Just Desserts!

Looking back to my childhood, one thing I’ll always remember is our dog, Bob. My brother and I always wanted a dog and one day I remember playing outside, waiting for Mum and she came towards us holding a wicker basket and in the basket was Bob, a mongrel puppy but, according to my Dad, ninety per cent Manchester Terrier.

He was named Bob because all my Dad’s pet dogs were called Bob. There was Old Bob, before him there was Even Older Bob and then the Last Bob. Presumably if there had been one before him he would have been In-between Bob.

Bob the Dog.

Bob the Dog.

Anyway, we grew up, my brother and I with Bob. He was a wonderful dog and we had some great times together. When we moved from Wythenshawe to Handforth Bob disappeared after a few days. We searched and searched but couldn’t find him. We went to the Police and the officer suggested that maybe Bob had gone back to our old house. “What? All the way to Manchester?” we asked.

“It’s been known!” he said.

We had no car so we walked back to our old house, a good five or six miles away, nothing in a car I suppose but a fair walk. The neighbours had seen Bob about and after waiting a while he turned up, very pleased to see us.

Where we lived in Handforth there was a dog called Butch who lived around the corner. Butch looked like the meanest nastiest dog ever but he was actually a really friendly dog. When we took Bob for a walk Butch would follow us to the old RAF camp where we went for walks. Of course, Bob would not allow Butch to actually walk with us. Oh no. Butch would have to walk about five yards behind us and if he approached, Bob would bark and growl until Butch went back to his proper station. When we got to the field and Bob’s lead came off then all bets were off and the two raced about and played together but on the way back home, protocol had to be observed and Butch had to adopt the proper position or be barked and growled at.

Butch’s owners were not the best or most responsible dog owners. Butch was an outside dog and when they went on holiday Butch was left to fend for himself until they returned and some of our neighbours thought Butch was a menace, a wild dog but he really wasn’t.

One day, during the school holidays, there was a knock on the door. Now, I do mean a proper knock, a real rat-tat-tat on the door knocker. When I opened the door no one was there except Butch, looking at me in askance. I assumed some kids had been messing about knocking on our door so I told Butch to go away and shut the door but a few minutes later there was the rat-tat-tat again. My Mum opened the door looked at Butch and said “Round the back Butch” and a few minutes later Butch turned up at the back door and my Mum gave him a few scraps to eat. It turned out this was a regular visit from Butch and Mum explained how Butch used to tap on the letterbox with his foot or his nose. He was a bright lad that Butch.

Anyway, one final dog story to finish with. I must be careful how I tell this one because I always seem to give the punch line away before the end. Anyway, here goes.

When I lived in Newton le Willows I used to take our Labrador for a walk on the playing field round the corner after finishing work. There was a little snicket you walked down to the playing field and further up was some rough ground and a bit of a pond where we’d have a run around. On this day as I approached the path a youth on a mountain bike came hurtling down the path, passed me and was off. As I came to the field there was an old lady there who looked a little odd. Something about her wasn’t quite right so I went over and asked if everything was ok.

“No,” she answered. A man on a mountain bike had just grabbed her hand bag and shot off. “I saw him,” I said. “He went off towards Newton. Stay here and I’ll run home and call the Police.”

“No,” said the lady. “It doesn’t matter,” and then she started to laugh, slowly at first, then developing into a great big hysterical laugh.

Well, I thought, I wonder if this is some sort of shock reaction? Should I perhaps slap or shake her or something? The lady could see where my thinking was taking me and held up her hand. “I’m not mad, just a minute and I’ll explain.”

When she had calmed down she told me that she came here every day to walk her dog but the dog always liked to have a poop on the football field. Well, she was aware of the kids playing football so she always used her poop scoop and picked up the dog mess but felt a little self-conscious walking back home carrying a bag of poop. Now this is the bit where you’ve probably preempted me and guessed what happened. The lady brought an old handbag with her to carry the poop and that’s what the hoodie biker had grabbed!

I can just imagine the face on that hoodie when he stopped to examine his goods. What would he find? Had it been pension day? Would he find a purse filled with money?

Well, when it comes down to it, he found exactly what he deserved!


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