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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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.

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 links at the top of the page to buy Floating in Space!

 

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!

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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!

IMGA0269

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.)

IMGA0277

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!

IMGA0279

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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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?”


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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.”