France in Six or Seven Restaurants.

I was tempted to label this post as another of my ‘Sun Lounger Thoughts’ but as Liz and I have just returned from another motorhome trip through France and neither the sun or a sun lounger made much of an appearance, well then, I thought I’d give that a miss.

I do love France but sometimes I think my love affair with this country is waning. I love the relaxed lifestyle, the food, the restaurants, the innate calm of sleepy French villages but, I do miss the absence of nightlife. The nights when I would stay out till the early hours are long gone of course but I do like a nice friendly bar or a busy restaurant. In rural France those things are hard to find.  In our favourite French town of Doué la Fontaine it is hard work to get a restaurant table on a Saturday lunch time but on Saturday night, the bars close around 9 pm and the restaurants are empty except for a few English tourists.

Coming over on this latest trip Liz did her usual research and found a lovely restaurant in the town of Montreuil sur Mer, a short walk from an Aire du Camping Car. As we motored along serenely through France after exiting the Eurotunnel Liz was urging me to get a move on but I knew in my heart of hearts that like so many other plans earlier in the year, the restaurant would be either closed or one that did not open in an evening.

We arrived in pouring rain to find that a huge amount of cars were parked in this small town. We had decided, wisely I thought, to park up and check the restaurant was open before going to the motorhome parking area. I squeezed gingerly into a small space and then we donned our rain coats and went off in search of food. One positive sight, apart from the numerous parked cars was the various bistros and bars all with a thriving clientele.

We wandered eagerly through the old cobbled streets and finally came to the restaurant Liz had found on the internet. Yes it was open and yes there were people inside! We entered to a round of bonsoirs from the serving and cooking staff clustered around the open kitchen, A table for two? Have we booked? No but could you fit us in? Yes of course! Moments later we were seated in a lovely restaurant full of old world charm and plenty of happy faces enjoying their food.

Le Pot du Clape specialised in home made soups and French flans so we started with mushroom soup and I chose a flan Italienne and Liz ordered a Welsh, nothing to do with Wales but a sort of cheesy quiche. The food was excellent and we particularly liked the red wine served at room temperature unlike so many establishments which serve cold red wine.

The next day we motored on further south. The bar is sadly closed at our regular stopping place in Gizeux and when we stopped at Bourgeuil the hotel and restaurant where we dine regularly was also closed. Oh well, time to light the barbecue once more! While I’m on the subject of barbecuing I think it’s important to share these two universal facts.

One. Always watch your barbecue because if you don’t it will burn itself out before you’ve had a chance to set the table and serve the salad.

Two. Never watch a barbecue because if you do it will just take ages and ages to get going and just when it finally reaches optimum cooking temperature well, it’ll probably be time for bed!

The view from our camping spot at Gastes.

Liz found us a super place to stop by a lake at Gastes. Nine Euros for two nights seemed pretty reasonable even to a tightwad like me so we found ourselves a nice spot with a view of the lake and parked up. The first evening was a lovely and warm one so out came the barbecue again. The next night was my birthday and there was a restaurant just by the motorhome parking area. We had a look in and there wasn’t much to the menu but the place was actually open with people inside eating food. Happy days!

That evening we got ourselves dressed up and meandered down looking forward to a birthday meal. However, the French restaurant curse struck again. They didn’t do food in the evenings! Quelle dommage!

I’m happy to report that we did finally finish the holiday with a lovely meal. We parked up in the village of Clérac in a lovely leafy aire. Sadly a bunch of noisy idiots in a clapped out campervan parked next to us and proceeded to annoy us no end with silly juvenile larking about. After a while they decided to move to the other end of the park and left us in peace. We walked into the village and found the hotel restaurant ready for business.

The Auberge des Lacs Bleus is well worth a visit if you are ever passing. The starter was an excellent cold buffet served with plenty of crusty French bread, next up was an escalope of chicken served in a tasty creamy sauce and we finished with some excellent cheese. The wine too was lovely.

Buffet starter looking yummy.

Of course I should mention the tasty food that Liz serves on board our motorhome. We have three rings on our small gas cooker and a grill but sadly no oven so cooking can be a challenge but even so we regularly find ourselves miles from anywhere enjoying a lovely English breakfast of bacon, sausage, mushrooms, egg and tomatoes, served with toast or fresh bread if there is a boulangerie nearby.

On one of our last nights in France we dined on Pasta Bolognese served with crunchy French bread and followed by an impressive cheese board sourced from the French supermarket Super U. Who needs French restaurants anyway!


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

 

Woody, Marcus and such Small Portions!

I’ve just returned from yet another jaunt to France, a short one this time, six days in Liz’s motorhome, meandering around the Loire area, which we both love. One of our aims was to spend our nights ‘wild camping’, that is to say camping wherever we could without using commercial camping sites.

France is actually very motorhome friendly with many municipal sites providing free camping and toilet emptying facilities free of charge with optional charges for things like fresh water or electrical hook up and so on. We found a lovely spot by a lake, actually a plan d’eau, called Lac du Homme. In the summer when we visited it was a busy bustling place with a bar and restaurant and many spots for bathing and picnicking. The french take their picnics seriously and always bring huge hampers of food, always covering the many wooden and stone picnic tables with table cloths before opening up their bundles of cutlery, plates and food. At the Lac du Homme there were also quite a few areas with barbecue facilities dotted about, all that was needed were the hot coals and some steaks and burgers to cook.

Now in early October a last burst of summer had come and the restaurant and bar were boarded up for the winter. Most of the time we had the lake to ourselves, joined only by the few occasional visitors. The last two days were so hot we even ventured out onto the man-made beaches for a refreshing dip into the cold, very cold, waters.

One of the great things about being at this quiet lake was not only the quiet, calm and relaxing atmosphere but also the chance to read. I read a great deal but at home and at work I tend to read in short bursts, on my dinner breaks at work, in quiet moments in a morning or before I go to sleep. Holidays are when you can really get to grips with a book, really read it through without having to put the book down and go back into work. On this short break I finished off a book I was reading at work, The Assassination of Princess Diana’ (more about that in an upcoming post) and started on one of the P G Wodehouse Jeeves and Wooster books. It was amusing and interesting and thoroughly English but it wasn’t quite my cup of tea.

One other book I read was one of last year’s reads, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Marcus was an emperor of Rome and when he was compelled to go out with his armies to do battle he spent many hours alone in his tent compiling a series of philosophic writings that became known as the Meditations. Marcus was concerned with the force of nature, the force that drives the universe and all its  workings. Nature for him was probably more akin to God than what we understand nature to be but his thoughts and ideas are very moving, even more so as they were written prior to the year 180, nearly 2000 years ago. A lot of his thoughts are about life and death, simple things like a man who enjoys a long life and a man who experiences a short one both lose the same thing when they die. Death is a natural state he explains. Why fear it when everyone who has ever lived before us, has experienced it. To those of us who hunger for fame (potential authors perhaps) Marcus asks what is the point? One day you will die, one day those who remember you will die so one day your fame will vanish when no one remembers you. Time, says Marcus, is like a river, for as soon as something happens, the river of time carries it away, then some other event comes, also soon to be washed away.

In the opening of Annie Hall, one of Woody Allen’s most popular films, he talks about life in this way: “There’s an old joke, two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.” Well, that’s essentially how I feel about life – full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.” Woody Allen and Marcus Aurelius, both philosophers in their own ways.

I’ve spent a lovely couple of hours this week watching To Rome with Love, one of Woody Allen’s more recent films. Woody, if you have read one of my earlier posts about directors, is my all-time favourite director. I love his subtle observations about life and love, and his humour. What is a little sad lately, is that Woody’s image and persona have been challenged by his adopted daughter Dylan, who claims Woody assaulted her when she was young, 7, I think, and that he should be arrested and prosecuted. Woody stands by an investigation into the charges from 1975 that exonerated him but of course now, in the age of digital media, Dylan is able to go straight to the people with social media and put forward her case.

Someone who has put forward defence of Woody Allen is Moses Farrow, Woody and Mia’s adopted son. He has claimed in a blog post that his mother Mia was abusive and domineering and referring to the details of Dylan’s claims that there was no railway in the attic-supposedly where the attack took place- and that the attic was only a crawl space, not a place where father and daughter could play.

Many actors and actresses have come forward saying they will never work with Woody again and his reputation seems to sink lower every day and the body of work he has produced is now, by association, tainted. There is even a possibility that his latest film may not be released. I am a big fan of Woody Allen and although these revelations did not put me off watching To Rome with Love, it does set off a small alarm bell in the back of one’s mind. Did Woody do it? Did he molest the young Dylan? Well, two people know for sure: One is Dylan and the other is Woody. Woody claims Dylan’s claims were fabricated by Mia Farrow, his one-time partner and the mother of Dylan as part of a war of hate aimed at Woody because he became involved with another of Mia’s step daughters, Soon-Yi, and in fact, later married her. Mia, according to Woody, has brain washed Dylan with her abuse claims, so if that is true, then only Woody himself knows the truth. It seems to me that if Woody was an abuser then he would have abused other women and as no one else has come forward then that means Woody is innocent -doesn’t it?

Anyway, I don’t expect to see Jimmy Saville on old episodes of Top of the Pops, or Gary Glitter for that matter. Their actions and behaviour have airbrushed themselves out of history. Still, I will be very sad if they stop showing Woody’s films on TV.

Getting back to our trip to France, it was my birthday while we were away and it was nice to celebrate it in the sunny Loire valley instead of cold and rainy England. On our previous motorhome trip we had a lot of issues with mobile wi-fi which can be a bit of a pain when you have a blog deadline for Saturday morning. I wasn’t happy with Virgin media because my mobile data didn’t work in France, despite an expensive phone call to Virgin. Anyway, they sent me a new SIM card and I was happy to find that on this trip my mobile phone connected to the internet without problems. I even found that I could connect my Ipad to my mobile and use my mobile internet on my pad, so much easier than writing a blog post on your phone. Of course I had written my last post about Comics and Superheros in advance and had it scheduled but even so, I always like to tinker with my posts right up to that last moment.

After we returned, Liz and I went to a birthday meal for Liz’s sister-in-law who has a similar birth date to me. One of the other guests, a young girl, asked me about my birthday and how old I was. I was reluctant to say but finally answered 62. “62?” She said, “I didn’t think you were that old!”

Maybe that’s a good thing, that I look younger than I actually am and in fact that comment was really a boost for my personal image but there’s no getting away from that figure of 62. Still, here is one last quote from Marcus;

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.


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.

Northern France, Video and a Supermarket Car Park

As you read this Liz and I will be making our way back to France for our proper summer holiday. The excursion in our motorhome a few weeks ago was mainly to attend a French wedding but it was also a chance to do a little exploring. In northern France the landscape is littered with many reminders of past conflicts but one you will come across time and time again are the many immaculate cemeteries maintained by the War Graves Commission. The price of world war comes heavy.

I won’t say too much about the trip because all my thoughts and observations are mostly in the video below.

It was a sad but moving experience, especially seeing so many graves of unknown soldiers. One particular gravestone I went in search of was the grave of Wilfred Owen, the famous Great War poet. He is buried in the small cemetery in the village of Ors and lost his life only a matter of days before the end of the conflict.

I do love the sweet satisfaction of putting together a short video but I often wonder if is it better to write my narration first and then put my video together to fit the words or just make the video and write the narration later. In actual fact the end result was a bit of both.

My ‘action cam’ video camera packed up during the trip, or at least I thought it had. Back home in the UK I plugged it into my laptop and realised that at some point I had left the camera running endlessly and all the space on the memory card had been swallowed up. For this next trip I have taken the plunge and got myself a ‘proper’ GoPro camera, a much more sophisticated version of the cheap action cam I have been using. I was a little disappointed to find that this version, despite the GoPro reputation and extra price tag, does not have a viewing screen in the rear of the camera. After further inspection of the manual I see that the device has an ‘app’ which you can download to your smartphone and see exactly what is being filmed and operate your camera remotely. Check back here in a few weeks to see whether I managed to shoot anything interesting or if I come back with another memory card full to the brim with exciting footage of the car park at Intermarche.

I shot a whole lot of in-car footage last year in France and put it all together in yet another video. I did the narration armed with a few notes and just rambled on into the microphone. On reflection I might have been better writing out a proper script but you can make your own mind up by checking out the video below.

Anyway, we are all packed, ready to return to France this time in a car rather than a motorhome so I hope that by next week I should have some more sun lounger thoughts to share with you. Our previous trip to France in a motorhome was fun but there was always that sense of travelling but never arriving. Still, maybe that’s the essence of a road trip, at least according to that old saying it’s better to travel than to arrive. This time we hope to arrive at our rented villa in the Loire sometime on Saturday afternoon. I can see it all now: A quick flurry of unpacking, a refreshing dip in the pool, the decanting of the red wine, that agreeable hiss as our steaks are slapped on the barbecue . . bring it on!


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.

Some Random Sun lounger Thoughts (part ?)

As I  have probably mentioned, Liz and I are on holiday for five lovely weeks in France and the other day it was with some trepidation that I heard the bat phone ring. Yes, the bat phone, that urgent direct line back to the UK and stevehigginslive.com tower, the hub of the stevehigginslive.com empire.

I answered and at the other end of the phone was one of my deputy managers advising me that an issue had occurred with last week’s Thoughts from a Sun Lounger post. As my usual readers will know, this is part of a regular series in which I expound on the often random thoughts that occur to me in that chilled, relaxed and generally other worldly state that I enter when lying on a sun lounger, fresh from a bout of gentle swimming in the pool.

‘What was the problem?’ I asked.

Turns out there was a mistake in last week’s Sun Lounger Thoughts part 4, despite extensive checks by the blog titling and numbering department. Perhaps they were getting a little lax up there in stevehigginslive.com tower while the boss was away but for whatever reason, Sun Lounger Thoughts part 4 had been inexplicably named Sun Lounger Thoughts part 4 when there was already a Sun Lounger Thoughts part 4 in existence!

Mon Dieu was all I could say, as after a few weeks in France, I was fully immersed in the French idiom, culture and customs as well as the gallic language. How many waiters could have guessed that Monsieur, the suave homme who deftly requested ‘une table pour deux‘ or ‘une bouteille de vin rouge au restaurant’ was in fact an English tourist? I know the baseball cap with ‘Team GB’ emblazoned on the top gave the game away a little but what the heck.

Anyway, I fired off a hot email to the blog titling department and began a full review and overhaul of the current blog titling and numbering procedures and now, after a full investigation, I can confirm that Sun Lounger Thoughts part 4 has been fully amended to Sun Lounger Thoughts part 5.

Woody Allen

This year I have not brought along my trusty Nikon DSLR to France but have concentrated on my video cameras. Filming, as you may know, is pretty easy in this digital day and age but the tricky stuff comes with video editing. The other day I finally finished off a short project that has consumed me for a while. It’s a short spoof on Woody Allen’s movie Manhattan, not the entire movie but the opening section where Woody is narrating the beginning of his novel.

I thought it would be a great idea to do something similar but about Manchester, my home town and also the location of the action in my book, Floating in Space.

I re-wrote Woody’s monologue with Manchester, rather than New York in mind and recorded it on my laptop. Next, using my Magix audio cleaning lab, I cut out all the bad bits, mumbles and murmurs, mixed in some royalty free music and added it to one of my old videos about Manchester. Next came a little juggling of some of the visuals, the addition of some more relevant stuff and after quite a few weeks of editing and re-editing I finally got something that was halfway towards what I wanted.

Just in case you have never seen Manhattan, here’s Woody’s original and much better opening.

Action Cam

Finally, I must tell you about my action cam. I shot a short film about cycling a while ago but I wanted to go a step further with the camera. I had it attached to the window all the way down here from the UK to the Cher region of central France. That edit however, must wait for another day, because as the camera has an underwater housing I thought it would be great to make an underwater film!

Now, I can see you, the reader, thinking: What is he going to do? Some underwater shots of the Loire? No. Some scuba diving perhaps off the coast of the Vendee? Nah! What I did was this, I took the camera into the swimming pool with me! Swimming pool? Yes, I know it’s not exactly coral reefs and exotic fish but photography can be a lot of fun especially if you are 60 going on  . . .15 . . .

Well, I enjoyed it anyway!

Floating in Space is available from Amazon as a Kindle download or a traditional paperback. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

The Holiday Diary of a So-Called Writer!

Somebody once said that the only things in life that are certain are death and taxes. Everything comes to an end and holidays are no exception. The time comes when you have to say goodbye to your holiday home or hotel room and hand it over to some other lucky holidaymaker. As you, the reader reads this, I will be well into my first day back at work, yes, Saturday – what a day to go back to work!

All holidays end with a certain amount of sadness, saying goodbye to new friends and acquaintances. Leaving behind memories of lovely places, beaches, or resorts. I’ve spent almost a month in France; three weeks in the Cher region and a final five days in the Loire valley in a place called Doué la Fontaine.

a so called writer!I began my holiday with a few set tasks to complete; in fact, here’s a quick scan through my itinerary, both the planned version and the actual:

08:00 AM Planned. Into the lounge with my laptop for some creative writing. Starting off with any blog post ideas then straight into my follow-up novel. Hoping to get a good few pages cranked off.

08:00 AM Actual. Sleeping.

10:00 AM Planned. Cup of tea and slice of toast.

10:00 AM actual. Still sleeping.

11:00 AM Planned. Cup of tea.

11:00 AM actual. Cup of tea.

11:30 to 12:00. Planned: More writing.

11:30 to 12:00. Actual: Sip tea while checking e-mails, surfing facebook and pinning various pictures to Pinterest.

12:00 to 01:00 Planned: Lunch.

12:00 01:00 Actual: Breakfast.

01:00 to 02:00 Planned: Swimming.

01:00 to 01:30 Actual: Swimming. 1:30 to 02:00 reading.

02:00 to 16:00 Planned: writing.

02:00 to 16:00 Actual: Dozing, reading and swimming.

16:00 to 17:00 Planned: Swimming

16:00 to 17:00 Actual: Swimming/ reading/ sleeping.

17:00 to 21:00 Planned: Barbecue preparation, lighting, cooking and dining.

17:00 to 21:00 Actual: Pouring of wine, barbecue preparation, lighting of barbecue, pouring of more wine. Drinking wine. Cooking and dining. Drinking wine.

21:00 to 22:00. Planned: Editing and review of days work.

21:00 to 22:00. Actual: Wine, chatting and Facebook surfing.

Looks like the follow up novel may have to wait until next year. C’est la vie as the french say.  . .


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

My Holiday Book bag (3)

obook bagI’m just not into busy, rushed holidays. I prefer the quiet, relaxing type; the ones that involve sunny days, swimming pools and plenty of leisure time to read books. I read at home too but that is a different sort of reading; a few minutes here, a few minutes there. I’ll read on my lunch break at work in between eating my sandwiches and drinking tea but the best way to read, the way to really get into a book is a long uninterrupted read while you lie on your sun lounger with the pool handy nearby for when it gets a little too hot. A quick dip then you are back to the thoughts of your chosen author.

Here’s my holiday book bag for this year. Paperbacks are usually my preferred choice for holidays but as we’re travelling to France by car, there’s a little extra room for a few hardbacks.

In God’s Name by David Yallop.

DSCF1024I bought this book originally on the 3rd March, 1987.  I know that for a fact because back then I used to write the date on all my book and record purchases. I have read it a number of times and it is a fascinating read. It ticks all my personal boxes of history and modern mysteries. Why, you might ask would anyone want to murder the Pope? Good question and the answer, according to the author is the Vatican Bank. The Vatican, thanks to Mussolini, is a separate independent state and so the Vatican bank, registered in the Vatican state is not answerable to the banking laws and inspectors of Italy. This idea appealed to various unscrupulous individuals, notably Licio Gelli – the head of an illegal and secret masonic organisation known as P2, Roberto Calvi – a banker with ties to P2 and the Mafia, and Michele Sindona, another criminal. Together they engineered the movement of various shares and monies, using the Vatican bank. A man called Albino Luciano, the bishop of Venice, became aware gradually of various wrongdoings in the bank and was particularly dismayed by the action, or inaction of Bishop Paul Marchinkus, the head of the Vatican Bank. In 1978, after the death of Pope Paul VI, Luciano was elected Pope. He was a man dedicated to the ideas of Jesus, a simple carpenter from Nazareth and he wanted the church to follow his example. He did not want a church that had a multi million dollar profit in stocks and shares, he wanted a poor church, a church that properly reflected the feelings of its founder. When he was elected the new Pope, Luciano’s ideas and those of the aforementioned individuals were on a collision course. David Yallop’s investigation is intensive and revealing and I came away from the book feeling an intense sadness that a good and decent man, a man who would have been a great Pope and spiritual leader had been stolen from us by the greed of a few men.

Alfie by Bill Naughton.

I do like to buy books with a film tie in cover. I have all the Bond books, some in paperback, some in hardback and I am always on the look out for the film cover versions. This book has the movie cover that links not to the classic Michael Caine version, but the poor, the very, very poor, Jude Law version. I suppose in some ways you can sympathise with the movie moguls. Alfie was a great hit in the 60’s. Hey, they must have thought, we can transfer the location from Swinging 60’s London to cosmopolitan New York in the 21st century, the result will be dynamite! Wrong! The result was dreadful. Anyway, the novel is brilliant. Written in the first person the writer, just like Alfie in the movie, talks directly to you, the reader and tells you about his life, in his own words, his own accent, and with his own logic. Just about the best free thinking, verbatim (so it seems) book I have ever read. The great thing is when the dialogue tells you one thing, and his inner voice tells you another! Brilliant.

a-year-in-provence_28624048773_oA Year in Provence by Peter Mayle.

They made this book into a TV series years ago. It starred the late John Thaw and the reviewers panned it mercilessly. TV seems to do working class pretty well, what with its soaps and dramas and made for TV films but middle class, that is for some reason a different story. Middle class is a big no no for TV. Strange but true. The producers might have been better making a movie out of this book. I can see a movie version in the tradition of say, Four Weddings and a Funeral or Notting Hill looking good. Anyway, enough about the TV version because the book itself is just a minor classic. I’ve read it before and it is just a joy to read. No deaths or murders or violence. No bad language just a middle class couple who decide to pack everything in and go and live in Provence, that lovely department in the South of France. It’s about wine and food. About gardens and kitchen refurbs. Truffle hunting and vine planting. Swimming pools and life in the country; the French country. If you see a copy in your local book shop, snap it up! It’s well worth a read: A gentle, relaxing, summer read.

Nixon In Winter by Monica Crowley.

Richard Nixon is not perhaps the most enigmatic of presidents but he and his presidency are very, very interesting. He could have very easily become president in 1960 but he was narrowly beaten by John F Kennedy. I can’t think of anyone else, beaten in an election who managed to come back again as his party’s presidential candidate. Probably the closest is Hilary Clinton, beaten by Obama in the Democratic primarys eight years ago and has now risen again to finally become the new 2016 Democratic candidate. Nixon won the election in 1968 with a promise to end the Vietnam war with honour and to bring people together. He did just that, he ended the war and brought people together, all though not in the way he wanted. He brought them together in a determination to remove him from office and as the Watergate scandal escalated, he finally resigned. Strange how Nixon is suddenly much in the forefront of popular media. Oliver Stone made a film about him – Nixon, starring Anthony Hopkins. There was a recent film about the Nixon/Frost interviews starring Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, which was a fabulous movie and I hear there is a new film being released this year about the meeting between Nixon and Elvis, when Elvis, a collector of law enforcement badges, wanted to be sworn in as a Bureau of Narcotics agent. This book is written by Monica Crowley who became his research assistant in his later years and is based on her daily diary of conversations with the former president. Nixon died in 1994.

James ElroyMy Dark Places by James Elroy.

This was my first read on this holiday and I wondered at the time if any of my other books could live up to this one. Elroy as you may know is a writer of crime novels. If you haven’t read his books you may have seen the movie adaptations like LA Confidential. Elroy is a modern crime noir writer, following in the footsteps of Chandler and Dashiel Hammet. This book is a diversion for him. Part autobiography, part investigation into his mother’s murder in 1958. In the book Elroy bares his soul to the reader and explores all his inner most feelings; his early life, his thoughts; in effect, all his dark places. An incredible read. A fast moving, inward looking memoir and a man looking for answers to his life. I’ve already been searching abebooks for copies of his other works.

Present Indicative by Noel Coward.

Recently I picked up a few of Coward’s plays in paperback form and was totally taken aback by the witty repartee, the humour and the freshness of Coward’s work. You might think as a devotee of ‘Kitchen Sink Drama’ Coward’s work might be anathema to  me. Nothing could be further from the truth. In art as in literature, there is room for all genres and all tastes. On my last holiday in Lanzarote I read The Life of Noel Coward by his partner, Cole Lesley and it just made me want to read more of Coward’s own work. I look forward to reading about Noel’s early life in his own words.

The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe by Donald Wolfe.

I’ve been reading this book for the last few days and like the really good read that it is, the author has sucked me in to Los Angeles and its environs in the post war years and those people who made a beeline for Hollywood, thinking that they could be discovered and take a short cut to fame and fortune. Norma Jeane Mortensen was a dreamer, a girl who dreamed of being a star and for her it came true when she became Marilyn Monroe. From a factory girl to model, and model to movie stardom and then to an untimely end. This is her story. I’ve read one of Wolfe’s other books on Marilyn, The Assassination of Marilyn Monroe, and so far this is just as good if not better. Monroe, Hollywood, the Kennedys and murder is a very heady mix indeed. If you want a very brief rundown of Marilyn’s last hours, take a look at this post from last year.

The Past Through Tomorrow by Robert Heinlein.

When I was younger I used to read a lot of sci-fi although these days I prefer the genre in TV or movie format. Heinlein is a classic writer and I picked up this volume in a second-hand book shop. I made a pretty late snap decision to throw this into my book bag and I’m not sure how things will turn out, if I’ll enjoy it or not. But, if the book is not my cup of tea I’ve always got the pool open nearby ready for some serious swimming.

Floating In Space by Steve Higgins.

Of course, this is my very own book: A kitchen sink drama set in the late seventies. My top proofreader Liz Morrison scanned through this a while ago and pointed out numerous grammar issues. On this holiday I’m hoping to rectify them. Also, I’ve never been really satisfied with the cover. I always envisaged a young man seen from behind, floating before the earth and I did my best with the createspace templates that were at hand. When I finally sort out those grammatical errors I’ve got a new cover in mind. In the meantime if you fancy reading Floating In Space, click here for my Amazon page or click the links at the top of this page for more information.

 

Thoughts from a Sun lounger (Part 4)

Sun LoungerI don’t think there is any nicer feeling than to take a dip in a swimming pool and then after a few lengths, return to your sun lounger and lie there peacefully while the hot sun dries your body. You can feel little rivulets of water dripping away and in time the sun will gradually dry you. It’s almost like a sort of rebirth or a least a refreshing of the soul. The only sounds in this remote hamlet where we are staying are the gentle breeze swaying through the branches of a nearby tree, the quiet humming of insects, some bird song and the occasional drone of a far away car or tractor.

You might be thinking hang on, why is this guy waxing lyrical about lying on a sun bed? Yes it’s that time of year again, holiday time. Once again Liz and I have travelled to France to spend time in a beautiful gîte in the Cher region of France.

Travelling down here was a little bit of a trial though. Coming down the M6 in  the north-west we had to travel through the roadworks for the new Smart motorway scheme. I don’t know that Smart is really the right name for this concept but the idea is that the traffic runs along the hard shoulder in the busy periods thus shifting more traffic. So the experts say, anyway. Whether that will happen I really don’t know but at the moment the whole area is bit of a nightmare and when we finally got through that we came across more delays round about junction 13. Throw in some torrential rain and spray, creating really poor driving conditions and you begin to get the picture. Anyway, we made it to the terminal in Folkestone with about ten minutes to spare; many thanks to Liz for her fabulous driving.

One thing I noticed during the journey down here was the enormous amount of tyre carcasses in the central reservation. It really seems to me that Highways England need to pull their finger out and clean up the motorway otherwise I may just start up a scrap rubber company and pick up all those discarded tyres, and believe me I’ve counted a hell of a lot of tyres on the way south. I reckon I can make an absolute fortune flogging all those tyres to Goodyear or Pirelli or even some rubber recycling company. Come on Highways, get your act together!

French phrase book After the hell of UK motorway travel, the roads of France are just a delight. OK, it might be busy round Paris and other large towns but out in the countryside driving is once again an enjoyable experience. Stopping at the services is much nicer too. Not for us the packed UK services charging ridiculous amounts for a cup of tea. The French aires are quiet and picturesque. Nice rural stopping places with picnic tables and nice clean toilets. Lovely.

In the UK I have had a great deal of trouble with my back. The doctor offered me pain killers which I declined, well, I must admit I did take some, the pain was that bad. Anyway I asked to be referred to a physiotherapist. Get the problem sorted out at the source I thought. This gets complicated here so bear with me: I started off with a telephone appointment, one in which you are supposed to make an ‘actual’ appointment. It did not go well because although I rang at the specified time, I was given several messages to listen to and options to choose so when I eventually got through, the lady at the other end thought I was late for an ‘actual’ appointment, not a telephone appointment and could not arrange it for me as I was two minutes late. Anyway, to cut a long story short I spoke to her boss and made an appointment (an ‘actual’ appointment) and arrived on the day only to find that my ‘actual’ appointment had been cancelled due to a bereavement at the hospital. Pity they didn’t tell me in advance. (They said that they had left a message on my mobile – which I never received, although on the same day my garage had managed to leave me a message about my car and my brother had also left a message. Strange that two others had no problem leaving messages.)

Anyway, with me so far? Another appointment was duly made and then two days before that appointment I received a letter saying that had been cancelled too. I called  to complain only to be told I had cancelled the appointment! I most certainly did not, I said in my best aggrieved customer voice. I eventually spoke to a manager and she managed to arrange another date which fitted into my calendar just nicely between work and leaving for France.

When I finally found myself face to face with a physiotherapist, or at least someone who claimed to be a physiotherapist, he spent a lot of time asking me questions about my pain, which, when it first occurred three months previously had been very severe but now it wasn’t so bad, in fact the actual spot in the middle of my back seemed OK but the pain was now in my neck and lower back. Sadly, those areas were not the ones that I had been referred for via my GP. Now those two areas, the neck and lower back, happen to be a matter of inches from the source of the original pain so let me throw out a crazy mad concept here: could they be related? Well, we’ll never know because as my physio pointed out yet again; my GP had not referred me for those areas! After a lengthy consultation of which perhaps five minutes was actual hands on my back stuff, my physio declared my back was ‘mechanically’ sound. How did he explain the pain I asked? Well, that was a muscular issue due to my ‘sedentary’ life style. As we were on the way out he mentioned it was perhaps ‘not worth seeing me again.’

Interesting. Perhaps the problem solving concept was not something this guy covered at university, perhaps they don’t even teach that kind of stuff any more. I know that if I was a physio and someone came to me with back pain my job would be trying to find the source of that pain and cure it or ease it or suggest further treatment for my patient. It’s rather like having a problem with your car and telling the customer, well, we can’t fix that, perhaps it’s time to get a new motor. In this case, no new motor is available! I’m tempted to apply my usual rule here, that names have been changed to protect the innocent but Clifton Hospital in St Annes, Lancashire, you have gone way down in my estimation!

Anyway, the temperature here in our little village is currently in the 90s. (Fahrenheit of course. If you want that in Celsius, I don’t do metric, work it out yourself!) Time for a read, perhaps a short doze, then another swim in the pool. After all, exercise is good for your back!


Make sure your click back here next Saturday for at look at my Holiday Book Bag!


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My Holiday Book Bag (2)

A long time ago I was reading a biography about Richard Burton, in fact it I think it was ‘Rich,’ the biography by Melvyn Bragg. Bragg used Burton’s own diaries in his work and wrote, amongst other things, about Burton’s love of books and when Burton went on holiday he looked forward with delight to the contents of his ‘book bag.’ I know it’s a pretty tenuous link but one thing I have in common with Richard Burton is a love of books and when I go on holiday, one of the delights of lying under a warm sun on my sun bed is a good undisturbed read. OK, I read a lot at home and on my lunch breaks at work but it’s a few minutes here and a few minutes there and whenever I get interrupted it kind of breaks the flow. Some books, as we all know, are just made for a really long, uninterrupted read.

DSCF0004edOK, That was the intro copied from my earlier post Holiday Book Bag part 1. You might be thinking what is this about? A Holiday book bag in January? Yes, well here’s the thing, I’ve saved up my holidays for a winter escape from the UK and believe me, there is nothing more satisfying that calling up friends in the UK from sunny Lanzarote, where we are staying for six (yes six) weeks and asking ‘What’s the weather like back in the UK?’ Especially when they answer, as you knew they would, ‘It’s freezing cold and lashing it down!’

Anyway, I’m sure it’ll still be cold in February when we return so let’s move quickly on to the book bag. There is nothing more exciting for an avid reader like me, and the aforementioned Richard Burton, to plan what to pop into a book bag. Going to Lanzarote there are some restraints of course. One, we are flying so we only have limited luggage space so straight away I eliminated my hard back books which is something of a pity as I have some cracking hardbacks ready to be read. Anyway, I’ve stuck with paperbacks, some I have purchased recently and some have come my way as Christmas presents. Here is my final list.

Charlie Chaplin by Peter Ackroyd.

Peter wrote an excellent book about one of my writing heroes, Charles Dickens and I felt that this book was going to be in the same sort of mould. Long, intense and full of detail. Actually it’s a pretty slim volume and not the intense scrutiny of Chaplin that I was expecting. However, on the credit side, it’s a thoughtful and detailed look at Chaplin, his movies and his personal life and a cracking read it is too. One hundred years ago Chaplin was the most famous man in the world. I’m not sure who would qualify for that title today as despite global communications and the Internet age, the world is separated by many different languages and cultures. A hundred years ago there was no language barrier for Chaplin, and his silent films with their universal language of comedy, went all the way round the globe and he was as famous in countries such as Russia or Africa as he was in Europe or the USA.

Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth by Gitta Sereny.

This is a classic of World War 2 literature and concerns Albert Speer who was Hitler’s architect and then rose quickly in the ranks of the Nazi hierarchy to become Armaments Minister. He was spared the fate of hanging at the Nuremberg trials after admitting that the Nazi leadership, himself included, should take responsibility for the crimes of the Third Reich. What is interesting about the Nazi years is the way Hitler himself seemed to entrance people by the power of his personality. Much has been written about his speeches to the Nazi faithful and the many Nazi rallies of the 20’s and 30’s and yet, looking back at archive film, he looks to be almost something of a madman. However, those who attended the rallies speak of his almost magnetic power as an orator. Speer himself was surprised at first seeing Hitler speak because the speech he heard that day was about unifying Germany, bringing back employment and pride to the German worker, not about death to the Jews. It struck a chord with Speer and he began to follow him. It was the same with many people and as is pointed out in this book, had Hitler died in 1937, he would perhaps have gone down in history as a great German, not the mass murderer he turned out to be. There is an embarrassment among Germans of Speers’ generation; a feeling of how could Hitler have lied to them, how could he have done those terrible things? Something repeated many times is the feeling ‘if only the Führer knew! The fact is, Hitler did know but did Speer know too? An answer, of sorts, is the conclusion to the book.

One of the great aspects of this book is that the author’s journey into Speer’s life is a personal journey and one she shares with the reader. In the final pages we hear about how the author returns home after a weekend away and sees her telephone answering machine winking with various messages. The first one is a message from Speer himself, saying he was in London for a BBC interview and wondered if Gitta and her husband wanted to meet up. The next message is one from a television news company asking her to comment on the death of Speer!

Bleak House by Charles Dickens.

David Copperfield is my favourite Dickens book and one of my favourite books ever but I’ve had difficulty getting into Dickens’ other books. I gave up on the Pickwick Papers, although I liked Oliver Twist and Great Expectations but that’s about it. Hope this will be a good read especially as it’s the only novel I have brought.

The Life of Noel Coward by Cole Lesley.

I do love biographies and this memoir of Noel Coward’s life looks good. One of the reviewers quoted on the back cover says reading this is like ‘a holiday in a rented Rolls!’ One aspect of the earlier part of the book -I’m only partway through as I write this- is Coward’s visits to Manchester where he stayed at the Midland hotel when he was in his late teens. Even then he was a self assured young man about town and on the verge of fame. He charmed many of the rich and famous of the time and was always in demand as a country manor guest for weekends at home or abroad. Noel was a man who liked to travel, especially after a long spell of hard work, and he liked, at times, to travel alone. Indeed, the author quotes from a poem by Noel which reads in part; ‘ When the dream is ended and passion has flown, I  travel alone.’ Noel always took with him on holiday a portable typewriter, lined foolscap writing pads, and his ‘bursting’ book bag. This apparently contained the latest good novels, two or three classics and always Roget’s Thesaurus and Clement Wood’s Rhyming Dictionary.  Not a bad choice! I look forward to reading more about the witty Noel Coward and his life.

The Collected Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker.

Dorothy Parker was a jazz age writer and she chronicled the decadent twenties and thirties in her witty stories and reviews. Born in 1893 Parker sold her first poem to Vanity Fair magazine in 1914 and was then engaged by the magazine to write captions for fashion photographs and drawings. She later became drama critic for Vanity Fair and the central figure of the famous Algonquin Hotel Round Table, a group of celebrated authors and writers. I’ve already had a glance through the first few short stories and they look very well observed and entertaining so far.

Those are my January holiday books. Check out the video version of this post below!


If you are already planning for your holidays don’t neglect your reading matter. Why not take a copy of ‘Floating In Space’ along? Click the links at the top of the page or click on the icon below . .

Floating in Space

More thoughts from a Sun Lounger

IMGA0475edOne of the most pleasurable things in life surely must be relaxing on a sun lounger. I love it when I have a refreshing dip in the pool, climb out and lie on my lounger and then slowly feel my wet body drying in the sun. Here in Lanzarote in January it’s quiet by our rented villa and the only sounds are the gentle hum of the pool machinery, the wind blowing through the trees and the birds singing. Now and again there is the distant sound of a car or motorbike, the sound becoming louder and then dying away into the distance. One thing about relaxing on a sun lounger, apart from getting a tan and recharging those batteries before going back to cold England, is how the mind wanders and with a little effort the beginnings of a blog post can take shape in my mind.

Christmas and New Year

Not a great Christmas for me this year as I was working. Christmas Eve and Christmas day in the UK was made worse by the terrible weather, particularly the rain in the north of England. I work in one of Highways England’s motorway control rooms and Christmas day was unexpectedly busy with crash after crash. Why people continue to drive at high speed when the weather conditions are atrocious, I’ll never know. On New Year’s day I was working on the early shift, starting work at 6 in the morning and it was a particularly quiet drive into work. It seems to me in recent years the rush hour has just got longer and longer and people now travel earlier to avoid the rush which seems to just expand the rush hour. Many times at five in the morning when I leave home for the 42 mile trip to work the traffic can be really busy.

I think that nowadays, people are just doing more and more travelling in order to get the job that they want. It becomes very apparent when my work colleagues discuss where to go for our work’s ‘do’. Colleagues live all over the north west; St Annes, St Helens, Preston, Wigan, Manchester and even the Wirral, so where can we go to suit everyone? It’s hard work choosing a venue but eventually we chose Liverpool which involved a two hour plus rail journey for me. A bit different from the days when I worked in Stockport and every one of my work colleagues lived in, yes, Stockport. Back in the eighties I don’t think the idea of long commutes to work had really taken off.

Travelling by Air

I sometimes wonder whether aircraft were invented by the Japanese, or at least, are modern aircraft designed for people with an oriental like body frame? For me, a six foot tall man with a considerable bulk although surely not that much bigger than the average male, travelling by air can be something of a trial. On the way here flying on a Boeing 737 courtesy of Jet2.com I remember thinking about this problem as I struggled to get comfy in my small seat and fumbled and wrestled to eat my cheese and ham toastie. The thought of all those movies and TV shows that depict air travel with big comfortable seats and lots of room flickered for a moment through my mind as I almost knocked over my plastic cup of red wine. Yes, once upon a time, back in the uncivilised 1940’s and the beginning of air travel they actually used proper plates, cups and glasses. How we have moved on since then!

Another trial was when I realised I had to use the bathroom. I didn’t really want to get up so I tried hard to hold things in but eventually I got to the point when I realised it was no use. I had to go. I had a good view of the toilet so I waited until I knew it was free and no one was waiting then I pried myself up and out of the seat. Just I was doing so a woman nipped past me and into the toilet! Not happy! Anyway, I had to wait at the front of the aircraft, in the way of everyone including the stewardess trying to serve drinks but eventually, my turn came. It was a little cramped but I got on with what I had to do. At least we didn’t hit turbulence while I was there and have a steward banging on the door telling me I had to return to my seat and strap myself in which has happened to me before. I washed my hands in the little basin but dropped the paper towel on the floor which was pretty hard to pick up and I incurred a bang on the head for my efforts.

By the time I returned to my seat I felt as though I needed another wee but with a supreme effort of will, I managed to push that thought to the back of my mind. To be honest, our flight was particularly friendly. The steward and stewardess were nice and helpful and I appreciated the complimentary tea due to French Air traffic Control having computer problems which caused delays on the part of our flight that passed over France. Also, there were many empty seats so we were able to stretch over to the empty ones and relax. Not looking forward to the flight back though so here’s a quick hint to the guys at Boeing: Put bigger seats on your planes!

The Glenn Miller Story

I think I mentioned in an earlier post about Christmases back home with my Mum and Dad and how we would gather round our coal fire to watch a family film on our old black and white TV with my brother, myself, and Bob the dog vying to be closest to the fire. One of the films we watched back then was the Glenn Miller Story. I really loved that movie when I first saw it on TV back in the 1960’s. It was on TV again over this last Christmas and I settled down to watch it, a nice glass of port in hand and a box of Christmas chocolates nearby. Sadly, the movie was a big disappointment! James Stewart, as much as I love him, was far too old to play Glenn Miller and the film was in colour, not the expected black and white.

June Alyson played Glenn’s wife and she elevated the use of the word ‘annoying’ to a new level with her constant beginning or ending of a phrase with ‘Honestly!’ I imagine the scriptwriter was fairly pleased with himself, coming up with a cute bit of business like that. Wrong! If I had been Glenn Miller and June Alyson my wife, I would have been sorely tempted to employ some appropriately placed Gaffer tape to remedy that situation.

Another moment in the film comes when Glenn comes home from work and his wife takes him upstairs and says, ‘look what just arrived’, and guess what had arrived: Two children who seemed to have arrived in time honoured fashion via the unseen stork. Of course, they may have been adopted, I really don’t know because it wasn’t really explained very well but it was a little bit like one of those moments in old episodes of Blue Peter, the children’s TV show, where Valerie Singleton or John Noakes would say, ‘and here’s one I made earlier!’

One last thing I want to tell you about the Glenn Miller story, and I do feel bad about taking the mickey out of an old favourite movie but that’s the thing about the sun and sun loungers, as your mind wanders, all sorts of old memories rise to the surface! Anyway, here goes. I must have mentioned in previous posts about how I used to have a cassette tape recorder and how many times I used to drag my poor brother into performing the skits and plays I used to write.

One time we did a skit on the Glenn Miller story and there was me in my best American accent drawling, James Stewart style, ‘that sound, that certain sound, I need to find that certain sound and I’m gonna keep on looking till I find it.’ Enter stage left my brother with a cardboard toilet tube over his mouth and he does a tremendous raspberry fart into the microphone. Cue me as James Stewart: ‘That sound, that certain sound: That’s it! I’ve found it!’


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Memories of Christmas

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

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

Bob the Dog.

Bob the Dog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

May your shadow never grow less!


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