More Sun Lounger Thoughts (Part 9)

Once again we have motored over to France in our motorhome (or camping car as the French call them.) The weather has been great, in fact a little too great as a heatwave has descended upon France making things rather uncomfortable indeed.

By the Lake.

As a result we parked up at the Lac d’Hommes, a lake with an artificial beach where the locals come to cool off. After a lovely cooling dip on a day when the mercury hit 105 degrees Fahrenheit (don’t bother asking what that is in Celsius because I neither know nor care!) I settled back on a towel on our groundsheet. Sadly, sun loungers were not available!

I know I’ve said it before but lying in the sun as the water drips off you after a swim is one of life’s great relaxing experiences. Here by the lake lying with my eyes closed I am bombarded by numerous different conversations coming from the busy lake. I can pick out various words in French that I know and I try to put together conversations based on those few words. The language of children squealing with delight as they splash about in the water though is universal. At one end of the spectrum are screams of delight, at the other end are the tears of some minor mishap and they die down when mum or dad come to the rescue.

Names are shouted across the waters of the lake and one urgent cry I heard was that of ‘Jean-Michel! Jean-Michel!’ Strange how brothers and sisters the world over always refer to their siblings with their full and proper names. My brother always calls me Stephen. Not Ste or Steve but Stephen and my childhood friends, brothers Tony and Chris, always referred to each other as Anthony and Christopher.

We arrived at the lake about 11am and after a few days here I think I have got used to the natural rythym of things. There are a few families here when we arrive but the second wave comes after the French lunchtime ends sometime after 2pm. The final wave of lake goers arrive in the late afternoon, just as we are about to leave, young men and women who have perhaps finished work or college.

By the Sea

One day we left the lake behind and moved towards the coast and the somewhat cooler climes of the French Vendée. Relaxing once again on our towels and groundsheet on the beach, the only thing I could hear when I closed my eyes was the crash of the waves on the beach. It was a hugely relaxing sound, very, very loud although we were about 100 yards from the sea.

Later we walked down to the sea wanting to swim but the breakers came in very fast. As we paddled barefoot out into the sea the sand gave way to a stretch of shingle and when I hopped from one foot to another to try and get away from the unexpected sharp stones, one huge wave knocked me right over and I fell over into the water momentarily shocked and confused.

I pulled myself up feeling rather silly and made my way back to the sand. No swimming today.

Le Puy Notre Dame.

One of the reasons we came to France so early this year was to watch the Retro Grand Prix at Le Puy Notre Dame. It’s a vintage motor race through the streets of the village with pre war motor cars and motorcycles. The cars assemble in a makeshift paddock then make their way to the track, actually the village streets, lined just as they were in the past, with straw bales. Motor racing in the pre-war years was a different thing to modern formula one. Huge steering wheels without power steering, narrow wheels with tyres made for normal motoring, cloth helmets and goggles.

The stars of those years, people like Tazio Nuvolari, Prince Bira, and Henry Segrave were a different breed to modern drivers. Still, whatever the era, racing drivers the world over love the speed, the competition and the winning although winning a race in some of the classic cars we observed at Le Puy Notre Dame must have been a formidable achievement.

In between the races we settled down for some french sausage and frites washed down with a 2 euro glass of beer. I fancied another but we had come on the day of late racing; the activities start in the late afternoon and go on until late in the evening so I had to forgo that extra drink so we could drive off to find a quieter place to stop the night.

In the Heat.

The heat of this summer heatwave is really hard to deal with. The usual frenchman or woman will just stay inside, after all, french houses are made with the heat in mind. Their stonework hugs the cool and their white exteriors reflect away the heat. A frenchman goes inside to cool down but in a motorhome, the interior is even warmer than the outside. Despite trying to park in cool shady places the motorhome is always hot and so we can only sit back and suffer the heat.

Shall we leave the doors open asks Liz? No, of course not I answer. Suppose someone comes in the night to rob us! However, what happens when the sweat is pouring down our faces? We leave the doors and windows open and security goes out of the window.

We stayed at one motorhome aire where there were showers. Showers, what a luxury. I don’t think I have enjoyed a shower so much ever. I was hot and bothered and sweaty and nothing seemed to combat the heat but after a cool shower, feeling cooler and fresh, suddenly all was right with the world!

Two things are always on my mind as a motorhomer; where can I stop the night and where can I empty my toilet? I worry about those things and it is always a great feeling to find somewhere to settle down for the night. We do consult various guide books and web sites like Park4Night and so far things have been fine.

On this trip one other thing has also worried me. Will we have enough water to drink? I find myself remembering something that happened years ago, cycling with my friends in the peak district and gasping, absolutely gasping for a drink. We stopped at a shop and I remember buying a big bottle of Dandelion and Burdock, my favourite childhood drink. We stepped outside the shop and my friend took a big gulp of his drink and me? Well I opened my bottle and drank the whole lot down in one long guzzle. I can still remember the feeling of refreshment that I felt back then, it was so wonderful.

Anyway, time to get that Pepsi out of the fridge!


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

Checking the Temperature and the British Summer

This week’s post is an old one from 2014 but still relevant this summer!

Hot, boiling, sweltering, humid: Any way you look at it the UK is hot! We can’t complain about a rainy summer this year but in the UK we are just not prepared for heat. In Spain for instance it’s perfect for a hot, sunny, holiday. They have their cool outdoor pools, their outdoor bars and restaurants, and if we want to cool down more then we can go inside where traditionally built Spanish properties with their tiled interiors and whitewashed exteriors positively hug any coolness that might be about.

In the UK with our insulated walls and roofing, our houses seem to hug the warmth, it’s hotter in our homes than outside and when we leave our windows open to cool down you can guarantee some inconsiderate noisy sod will be playing his or her music far too loud, Well, that’s the British summer for you.

Something that really bugs me lately is the way the metric system has started to grip it’s clammy fingers around the UK media. When I’m watching a rather interesting documentary on the BBC I’m not interested in the least about how many metres long this or that is, or how many kilometres it is to there from here, I want to know it in feet and inches, I want to know in miles! I’m English and OK when I’m travelling in Europe I accept kilometres and KPH and do the mental adjustment but in the UK I shouldn’t have to do that. On the motorway I understand what it means when I hit the 300 yard marker to the next exit. I know what a yard is, I can visualise it. I understand that the next services are twenty miles away because I understand what a mile is and how long a mile is so don’t start putting kilometres on the motorway to confuse me!

image courtesy wikipedia

image courtesy wikipedia

And, coming back to the heat, when did all this Celsius start creeping in. The temperature today will be a maximum of twenty degrees? What is that about? If you are going to tell me the temperature tell me in the Fahrenheit that I have been  brought up with and understand then I know that seventy is hot and eighty is even hotter!

This is the time of year when the papers will say one day, it was hotter in Dartford that it was in Barcelona or hotter in Brighton than the Costa Del Sol! Interesting. Of course, they don’t say that happened on one day out of three hundred and sixty five or that the last time it happened it was 1973 but either way it’s still pretty interesting. But, and here’s something you should know, on the day the temperature  hits 37 degrees Celcius in somewhere like Blackpool the papers won’t tell you that. No, what they will say will be this ‘Temperature hits 100 degrees in Blackpool!’

Yes, the big one hundred, that’s Fahrenheit of course . .


Enjoyed this post? Well, if you did why not try my book, Floating In Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information or HERE to go straight to Amazon!

 

16 Annoying Elements of 21st Century Life

I have to admit, this isn’t a totally new post. Sometimes I struggle to think of something new and sometimes I have to update some old stuff. As you read this I should be tootling about France in a motorhome, depending of course on how welcome the English are considering the Brexit situation which is why I haven’t had chance to produce something new. Just wondering now about what to write for next week. . .

Anyway, this post appeared originally as 13 annoying things. Now I’ve thought of an extra 3!

    1. Irritating Internet Blogs. Not long ago, a blogger I follow published a post that was short and to the point It went pretty much like this:  My favourite Elton John track has to be ‘Tiny Dancer’. (I think it’s only fair to say at this point that names have been changed to protect the innocent. In this case, the name of the pop star!) Now you might think there would have been a photo included. No, there were no pictures. The writer could have done a search on google, clicked the box for images and ticked the ‘labelled for reuse’ tag and something copyright free would have appeared. No, he didn’t do that, no images. He could have also searched for a video of Elton performing Tiny Dancer and linked the video into his post. No, no such luck, just ‘my favourite Elton John track has to be Tiny Dancer.’ The thing is, last time I looked he had over twenty four likes and a shedload of views for something that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Facebook status post! Now, that gives me an idea for my next post: My favourite Kate Bush track is . . Whoa, wait a minute, don’t want to give my full post away before publishing!
    2. Annoying Websites. Here’s an example. The other day I clicked on a link which said ‘You’ll never guess what Victoria Principal looks like now!’ Victoria Principal was once one of the stars of Dallas back in the seventies or eighties, whenever it used to be on TV. She wasn’t my type but she was clearly a pretty and attractive young lady. Well, I wondered, what does she look like now? Anyway, I clicked on the link and was taken to a new page which took forever to load up and with my very fast iPad I wasn’t expecting that at all. After a while I was presented with a picture of a young girl from an American 70’s TV show looking about 15 in picture 1 and looking about 60 ish in picture 2. No sign of Victoria Principal but after scrolling through a shed load of advertising I was finally presented with a ‘next’ button. I clicked this and veerrryyyy slowwwwly another page loaded this time showing a seventies movie star in picture 1 and her somewhat older and chubbier 2017 self in picture 2. After battling through the interminable advertising to get to picture 3 I couldn’t stand the web page any longer so I exited the site. What is even more annoying though is this; I keep wondering what does Victoria Principal really look like now?
    3. Watching TV. Now this is more of a man thing than anything because women cannot multi task when it comes to TV watching. The art and science of TV watching is and always will be a purely man thing. Picture this: A man arrives home from a busy late shift, pours himself either (A) a beer (B) a glass of wine or (C) a glass of whisky, brandy or any other spirit.  He then combines this with either (D) a call to the local fast food delivery place or (E) whacks a slice of bread into the toaster. After settling down he might come across a James Bond film which he has seen approximately 35 times but He continues to watch it thinking, ‘this will keep me going until the adverts then I’ll flick through the channels to see if anything better is on’. Now here’s where the problem comes, you turn over in the adverts and unless you’ve turned to BBC 1 or 2, there are also adverts on the other channels! Why can’t the other channels schedule their ads at different times so there is always something for the channel hopper to watch? Is that so hard?
    4. david-essex-rock-on-cbsListening to the radio. Now I do like music and in years gone by I was a big singles man. I spent a lot of time in record stores flipping through racks of singles and I still have my record collection intact stored in big boxes. Not so long ago I got myself one of those turntables that you can connect to your pc so you can digitise your records. Technology: it’s just amazing. Of course I still hear records on the radio that I really like, just like the good old days but why is it that 21st century DJ’s don’t seem to bother telling us WHAT THAT RECORD ACTUALLY IS? As it is we will probably never hear that track again, so how can we actually buy or download it! Where do they get these DJ’s nowadays!
    5. Why is it that after an episode of your favourite soap on TV they then show you a clip of what’s going to happen next week! Don’t do that! We don’t want to know until next week when we are actually watching the show!
    6. This is yet another TV gripe: Why do they show part 1 of something then neglect to advise the viewing public when we can see part 2? Once upon a time if something was on a Thursday night at nine o’clock then it would be pretty much a certainty that part 2 would be on the following week at nine o’clock on a Thursday night. Is this the case in the 21st century? NO! I started to watch a cracking documentary on BBC4 the other day about O J Simpson. Excellent and informative. I expected to tune in the next week for part 2 but found out a couple of days later that the following parts were shown on subsequent days! People at the BBC -I am Not happy!
    7. Reality TV. What the heck is reality TV, who thought it up and how can I contact the mafia to put out a contract on them?
    8. Now I’m not really a grammar nut, at least not to the extent that I’ve joined the grammar police but there are people who put things on Facebook like ‘Wish I could of done that!’ It’s could HAVE done that you numpties!
    9. Telephone menus. Not so long ago I wanted to ask my mobile phone people a relatively simple question, so I dialled the number and I got through to a menu: Press 1 for accounts, 2 for phone problems, or 3 for network problems. Well it wasn’t any of those so I pressed 1 then got another menu. A two minute phone call escalated into half an hour of my life! If in doubt on any menu press the hash button, you usually get to speak with a real person. You can also try http://www.pleasepress1.com a website started by frustrated phone user Nigel Clarke with hints and tips for bypassing menus. Thinking of telephone menus, it reminded me of this joke: The psychiatrist’s answering machine that plays this message to callers: “We are very busy at the moment. If you are obsessive-compulsive, press 1 repeatedly. If you are co-dependent, please ask someone to press 2 for you. If you have multiple personalities, press 3, 4, 5 and 6. If you are paranoid, we know who you are and what you want. Stay on the line so we can trace your call!” The oldies really are the best!
    10. Don’t you just hate those ‘what’s on next’ banners that come on your TV screen in the last few minutes of your programme? I don’t need banners! I’ve got a TV guide! There’s an on screen TV guide too!
    11. Why is it whenever it’s raining and I’m driving home from work on the motorway there is always one plonker hurtling down the outside lane with only one headlight working or worse still, one very bright headlight and another dim one! Get your lights sorted and don’t hog the outside lane you Plonker!
    12. MobileJunk phone calls. It’s bad enough getting junk mail but phone calls from people trying to sell you something just get on my wick, especially if you are forced to answer the call. For instance if you’re waiting for a call back from your bank or insurance company or something or even the guy who’s coming to fix your boiler. You see that unknown number on your phone screen, decide to take it, and surprise –it’s someone calling you about PPI refunds! Take a look at this blog on the subject.
    13. A pint of Mild. As I begin to approach the mature years of my life I find myself drawn to towards the darker beers that life’s brewery have to offer. I have been through my younger years with an array of ciders and refreshing amber lagers but these days I tend to fancy a Guinness, a stout, even a porter but where are these exotic beers to be found? Guinness is available in most pubs but what about the humble pint of mild? How many more times must I suffer the stunned look of the teenage barman when I ask ‘do you serve mild?’ Not only that but what has happened to one of my favourite pubs in St Annes?  The Number Fifteen pub Has now stopped serving the rather lovely Theakston’s mild! Not happy!
    14. Ripped Jeans. OK, accidents happen in life. Doing some work in the back garden and you trip over the mower and catch your jeans on something sharp. Oh well, that’s that pair of jeans consigned to garden or decorating duties, well, that’s my thinking anyway. For some other people who want to look trendy (or plain daft) then check out the new range of ripped jeans in your local fashion emporium. We went through some crazy fashions in the seventies, penny round collars, kipper ties and so on but ripped jeans, brand new jeans that are . . ripped? Do me a favour!
    15. DVD Advertising. I do love cinema and I have quite an impressive DVD collection. I particularly like those 2 disc ‘special collectors’ versions that you get when they remaster some old classic and add in documentaries, features and interviews. What I really hate is when you buy a disc like that, press play and get some advert for a film you are not in any way interested in. Not only that, sometimes you can’t even exit the ads which is doubly annoying!
    16. Hallowe’en. What on earth is that about and how has it descended like a plague on modern life? When I was a school boy back in the 1960s and early 70s I had never even heard of Hallowe’en but nowadays hordes of kids and youths hammer on my door and beg for sweets and other goodies. Go away and don’t mither me especially when I’m relaxing with a glass of red with some classic film on TV. Personally I blame the Americans!

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 or here to go to my amazon page!

Supermarkets, Stan Laurel and the Crazy Bee Hive Lady

I actually really quite like supermarkets. Yes, really! Unusual perhaps for a man but I do like wandering about a good supermarket. It’s nice to go around the food section and plan a meal as I go around, choose some nice ingredients, some fresh vegetables and fresh bread and so on. Of course, I must first take a look round the other sections.

Picture courtesy Unsplash.com

There is the book and magazine section which is an absolute must. Then perhaps over to the menswear section. To be fair, the menswear section does present a problem because what looks good on a shop dummy or on advertising images does not necessarily look good on me. An outfit that looks good on someone else might tend to make me look like Oliver Hardy after one of his rough and tumble adventures with his partner Stan Laurel.

Stan Laurel was English as you may know. He was a music hall performer and first went over to America with Charlie Chaplin on a tour for the famous Fred Karno. Karno regularly sent his comedy troupes across the Atlantic to the USA. Both Chaplin and Laurel stayed on in America and both made it to Hollywood and went on to star in the new movie business. Stan was signed by the Hal Roach Studios who teamed him with Oliver Hardy. Stan was actually planning to concentrate on writing and directing in Hollywood but it was clear that the duo had a great comedy chemistry together so he continued as a performer although he contributed greatly towards the writing and direction of their films. A great blow to the duo came when they signed for 20th Century Fox who made it clear Stan could not contribute to the writing, directing or editing.

Chaplin was a very canny individual who thought his success might not last long so he began to demand not only the most enormous salaries but also some very lucrative deals which saw him owning the rights to all of his films and negatives. At the time in the early 20th century, films had a shelf life of about 3 to 4 weeks but later, in the TV age, Chaplin’s ownership of his films began to pay off handsomely. Perhaps Stan and Ollie could have done with some of Charlie’s business acumen because they made no such deals despite being one of the great comedy duos of all time.

After the death of Ollie in 1957, Stan lived out his life in humble surroundings in a small apartment in Hollywood and there, comedy actor Peter Sellers who was a great fan, sought him out and made friends. Peter used Stan as a model for one of his last film characters, that of Chancey Gardener in the film Being There.

Fred Karno with Charles Chaplin and Stan Laurel. Image courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Okay, getting back to the supermarket, after the menswear there is the music section and though CDs are a little old hat in this age of downloading and streaming I do like my CDs.

Moving on to the electronics section there is always some handy lead or connector that I need or might need, then finally I will make time to get in a few essentials like food.

The big problem in any supermarket for me is that no matter what, some strange force will unerringly guide me to the totally wrong till. Now, I won’t just jump onto any till. I will observe closely, check out the options and then choose the wrong one.

Here’s a for instance, yesterday at Asda. All the main tills were full of people with a huge trolley of goods, enough to last me about a month so I ignored those and went on down to the basket section. Two tills were open here, one with about four people ahead of me, the other with about ten. A no brainer I thought, go for the one with four people. I just managed to nip in before a crazy looking lady with a failed 1960’s style beehive hairdo. She waited behind me for a short while before bailing out in favour of aisle 2.

Now my usual tactic is not to unload any stuff until I am sure of the lie of the land but on this day I felt confident enough to do so. Big mistake. On till number 2, weird looking crazy beehive lady seemed to be moving forward at a fair old speed while my till wasn’t doing much. Strange because the four people in front of me had only a sparse collection of goods and in till number 2 each of their people had a good selection of items.

Shortly after, crazy beehive woman seemed to be pretty much on a par with me and moments later was actually ahead. That checkout girl in aisle 2 was certainly doing the business. Up at the front of aisle 1 my checkout lady was far too chatty but not only that, something seemed to be going on up there and our checkout girl called over the checkout girl from aisle 2 to assist.

This didn’t go down well with the people from aisle 2 and crazy beehive lady clearly wasn’t happy as she was now stalled only a matter of feet from the till and freedom. Over on my side there was a battle under way to remove the security tag from a bottle of spirits, possibly vodka, but sadly checkout lady 2 gave up and returned to her till while we waited for the manager to sort out the security tag.

I felt like saying come on, do you really need a bottle of vodka at 2 in the afternoon but I kept silent and moments later, crazy beehive woman was off although not before shooting me a victorious look which seemed to say ‘that’ll teach you to nip in front of me at the checkout!’

Eventually, our till got sorted, the vodka bottle was freed up for sale and we moved on. Just as the lady in front of me got to the checkout she exclaimed, ‘I’ve forgotten the milk, can I just nip back for one?’

If she had asked me I would have declined but our checkout lady clearly thought we were happy standing there while the entire day ebbed away before us.

The lady shot off to get a bottle of milk while I and the other shoppers behind me shuffled about, checked our Facebook statuses and thought about what items we had neglected to buy.

I knew that till was going to be a big mistake!


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.

Make a Million Pounds in the next 5 Minutes!

What I should say, and perhaps it’s foolish of me to say this so early on, is that I didn’t say How to make a million pounds in the next 5 minutes. I just said ‘make a million pounds in the next 5 minutes’. Subtle I know but different.

Those readers who have now sadly departed were clearly those of a mercenary nature who just wanted an easy pay out, sorry folks. It might be possible somehow to make a quick million, I don’t know. Perhaps some property investor might do it. Not the normal property investor of course, more someone in the Gordon Gekko bracket perhaps or some millionaire Hollywood real estate dealer.

I’ve just been reading an article about how a blog title can pull in the readers and this one of course will do just that, at least for a few lines after which the reader will think, OK, I’m off, I need to find that million somewhere else.

Those recently departed blog readers must understandably be a little frustrated. Blog posts and their titles can be a little annoying. Here’s another one. You’ll be amazed at how Victoria Principal looks today! I have to say I was pretty interested in that post. Victoria Principal was one of the stars of the TV show Dallas back in, well whenever it was, probably the 1980’s. She was a rather good looking girl and I must admit to clicking on that link, wondering what she looks like nowadays.

The link led to one of those really annoying websites that have about twenty or thirty pages. Page one was a lady from some 70’s TV show who today looks rather overweight. Scroll on down past the numerous adverts and we get to a ‘next’ banner. Click that and here we are on page 2, no mention of Victoria Principal yet but here are some pictures of another star, this time a child star from some 80’s film. OK. Interesting, well fairly interesting but what about Victoria?

Scroll down further past more advertising and there it is again: ‘next.’ Click that and here we are at page 3. Any sign of the lovely Victoria? Of course not! Did I eventually arrive at something that in any way amazed me or was remotely related to Victoria Principal? No, because after about five minutes I just got bored and started searching for something else.

A long time ago when I was a teenager one of my very first jobs was as an accounts clerk. One day there was the hum of excitement in the office and my colleagues and I were advised of the imminent arrival of a million pound cheque.  As I was only a mere teenage accounts clerk,  I was running low on the pecking order to see this cheque, although it was actually my job to process it as I did with all the other cheques that came into the department. In due course, one of the very senior managers came down with the cheque and with great reverence it was handed to my boss Mr Ross. Mr Ross perused the cheque for a while along with a small clique of other managers and then conveyed it to the senior clerk, Mr Elliott. After marvelling at this great artefact for a few moments, he then passed the cheque to me. Numerous staff members from our and neighbouring departments also came to take a peek at this financial wonder which I believe, was the result of the company either selling off our sister company, Federated Assurance, or doing some fabulous property deal.

Anyway I did my job and duly entered the cheque into the ledger then put it in the safe ready to go down to banking prior to three PM, as in those days, banks closed at three PM. ‘Good heavens’, declared one of those senior managers, ‘we can’t just leave the cheque there, it must go straight to the bank!’ So I was despatched on a special journey to the bank for this very special cheque. Actually that suited me quite well. After paying the cheque into the local bank I sauntered round the corner to the sandwich shop, ordered sausage on toast and made my way quietly back to work via the newsagents. Just as I arrived back in the office I realised that the senior management staff were still there, waiting for news. Were there any problems? What had happened? They seemed rather disappointed when I told them that no cataclysm had occurred, the bank had not come to a standstill but the million pound cheque had been routinely deposited. Thinking back, I’m not sure I liked the way they were looking at me, perhaps they knew all along I’d been to the sarnie shop!

By now I suppose I must have one or two pretty disappointed readers. Five minutes gone and no million bucks and no Victoria Principal. Think about it though, just what would you do with a million pounds? Well, for me I’d probably start off by going down to Wetherspoon’s for a pint. I might even see some of my cronies in there, Colin, Dougie, Nick and probably Graham. Now they always stick together in a round so they’d be probably be surprised when I bought a round in. Still I reckon these days a million pounds might not last long as we might think so it might be in order to say to myself ‘steady on Steve, just hold on with that round of drinks for a minute’.

Next I might be thinking about a new motor. My trusty Renault Megane has over 130,000 miles on the clock and it’s a diesel, which a few years ago the government were encouraging us to buy, now it’s the other way, they want us to get rid of diesels!

I kind of fancy one of those chunky 4×4 off roader type motors; you know what I mean, a station wagon with a big area in the back to chuck things in. Not actually sure what I’d chuck in there. Maybe I could put my bike in there and drive out to some sort of biking track. Of course that’s something that normally I would never do but with a station wagon the possibilities are opening up before me.

LOS ANGELES, CA – DECEMBER 20: Victoria Principal seen shopping at James Perse in Malibu on December 20, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by JB Lacroix/WireImage)

What else could I do with a million? Well, a new laptop springs to mind. Wait a minute, I’ve got a million pounds, I need to think big, really big, not just cars and computers, not just beers and bicycles. I could get a plane ticket to the USA. I could even go round to Victoria Principal’s place and find out just what she actually looks like now!


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.

 

Coal Fires, Pub Bands and Formula One

The nights are growing shorter and the weather is cooling rapidly. In fact, the U.K. Is heading for a three-week freeze according to the latest weather report and Liz and I have lit our first coal fire since those long departed days of winter.

This has been a long Formula One season. The days when the season fizzled out towards the end of the summer are long gone. Nowadays there are new races and new venues, some in countries that have no native F1 drivers or teams, nor even in some places, any noticeable motor sporting traditions.

This year two four time world champions are battling it out for the honour of becoming only the third ever five times champion. The very first of course was Fangio, someone I heard described as the Godfather of F1 the other day, and Michael Schumacher, who went on to take 7 world titles in total.

Schumacher made a return to F1 in 2001 with the Mercedes team and didn’t exactly cover himself in glory, finally retiring again a couple of years later. When Lewis Hamilton decided to leave McLaren in favour of the Silver Arrows I thought that was probably the biggest mistake of his career but luckily, Hamilton ignored my advice, moved to Mercedes and now as I write this, is poised on the verge of championship number 5.

It is perhaps fair to mention here that despite a life long love of the sport, every prediction I have ever made, regarding formula one, has been completely wrong. JJ Lehto, who I predicted would one day be a multiple F1 champion, failed to live up to my hopes and in fact his career nose-dived in a sad and unhappy way after an accident whilst testing the new Benneton. Jean Alesi, another driver who I noted early on was destined to be a world champion won only one grand prix, once again confirming my credentials as a bad, very bad, F1 forecaster.

Sebastian Vettel has an outside chance of challenging for the 2018 title but the odds are really against him. This has been a season of lost opportunities for the German driver and, as was mentioned in the channel 4 US Grand Prix coverage, he is looking increasingly unhappy at Ferrari. Ferrari came out tops in the recent US Grand Prix although it wasn’t Vettel who won the race but teammate  Kimi Raikkonen. Kimi, known as the Iceman because of his rather inexpressive demeanour, scored a popular victory. This is his last season with Ferrari and next year he will return to Sauber, the team in which he made his F1 debut in 2001.

It’s good that Kimi is not leaving the F1 grid, after all, like me he hardly has a career as an F1 pundit to look forward to.

Last Saturday, the qualifying hour for the US Grand Prix was shown live on Channel Four in the UK. I really do love the irregular live coverage we get on terrestrial TV as I have no intention of splashing out, as I have mentioned before on these pages, for Sky TV. Anyway, due to the time difference the coverage started at 8:30 pm in the UK, just about the time Liz and I were due to leave for our local pub. Friends had mentioned to us that a ‘great’ band were playing in the pub so we decided to go and see what they were like, quaff a few beers and generally show support for our local which had just reopened under new management.

We were chatting away with friends who were sitting just by the stage when the band started up. The music wasn’t anything I would call ‘great’ but then again, they were playing at a volume several decibels above the normal volume of a rocket launch from Florida so Liz and moved to an area of the room furthest away from the racket. Did I say racket? Well, noise, cacophony, you get the picture. Not long afterwards our friends joined us, having been blasted away from their table by the volume. Even at the furthermost reaches of the pub, conversation was difficult and I spent a lot of time nodding to people who were telling things I hadn’t even heard. Anyway, the beer was good and our new table was happily near to a TV set showing the qually so I was able to keep my eye on events in Texas. Although I tend to moan about F1 not being as good as the old days, one new aspect of the sport I really do like is the qualifying. The qually hour is now divided into three; qually one where the slowest four cars are dropped. Times are reset and then the top ten cars from qually two go forward to qually one for the top ten shoot out.

On this particular occasion, Hamilton was fastest just ahead of championship rival Sebastian Vettel. Unfortunately, Vettel was demoted to fifth place due to a rule infringement during the practice session, where he failed to slow sufficiently during a red flag period. Importantly for Ferrari though, Kimi Raikkonen, Vettel’s team-mate was therefore elevated to second place.

During a break from the band someone at the table noticed me watching the TV and asked what I saw in motor racing. ‘After all, it’s just cars going round and round.’ ‘Well that’s one way of looking at it’ I replied but isn’t football just a bunch of guys running up and down a field kicking a ball about? There are good races and boring ones, just like any football or cricket match. You either like racing or you don’t I argued and no amount of tinkering with the format will make people watch it if they don’t like the sport. Nothing will never make me tune in to a football match even if they decide to have naked dancing girls at half time.

The band finished their set, mercifully, and the lead vocalist called out ‘Do you want one last number?’

Our table called ‘No’ in unison but clearly deafened by their own acoustics, the band went on to crucify another final song. At least the bar staff and a few deaf regulars were there to listen to them. We were off!

On Sunday evening then, it was rather nice to sit in my favourite armchair after our Sunday dinner, a glass of red to hand, coal fire roaring away in the grate and enjoy the US Grand Prix live from Austin, Texas. It was a fairly exciting event. Kimi stole the lead from Hamilton at the start and using his super soft tyres carved himself a fair old lead. Hamilton and the Mercedes team dropped the ball by coming in for tyres too early, Kimi switched to a harder compound and held the lead to the end. Verstappen had a great drive from 18th to second place and Vettel who had yet another comeback drive after tangling with another car in the opening laps, this time Ricciardo, came home fourth and so keeps the championship alive for this weekend’s race in Mexico. In order to win the championship, Vettel has to win all three remaining races with Hamilton scoring only 4 points. Bit of a tall order really, even for Vettel.

Pity we haven’t got Sky TV though, might be an exciting championship finale . .


Floating in Space, a novel by Steve Higgins and set in Manchester, 1977 is available from Amazon as a Kindle download or traditional paperback. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Cameras, Vlogging and that Personal Image

Travelling to the Loire Valley region of France this summer I brought four cameras with me. My trusty Nikon D100 SLR was left behind in favour of my Action cam, my GoPro Hero+, my Canon G7X and my always reliable Panasonic HM pocket camcorder. The Canon comes highly recommended as the top vlogging camera of its kind. If you want to look good on YouTube, this is the camera to have, and when I bought it after many moons of trying on eBay I was looking forward to branching out from merely writing about stuff to actually talking and showing you stuff too. My action cam I’ve had for a while but it’s really just a cheap copy of a GoPro camera and the thing is when you have a cheap copy, you tend to want the original. The only thing is, working with GoPro cameras isn’t that easy.

The first thing I noticed about my GoPro Hero+ is that there is no viewing screen so it’s not so easy to set up a shot. However, you can link the camera to your mobile and get a visual confirmation of your shot. Okay, skim back to the manual and I see I have to enable wi-fi. Nothing happened so back to the instructions and then I see I need the wi-fi app. Okay, download that and am I getting anywhere? No. Have I set up a password? No, okay, I sort the password out and finally, we are getting somewhere, can I shoot some video? Yes! Have I brought my mini memory card adapter to transfer video to my laptop? Er, actually, no. Can I do it by wi-fi? Yes, to my phone but I don’t want the stuff there I want it on my laptop. So, I have to download the GoPro pc application. Does it finally work? Yes. Am I bothered? No, cos I’m hot and stressed and I’m off to the pool!

Since then I’ve had a radical rethink and perhaps the age-old written word is more my style after all.

Why the change of heart you may ask. Well, there is not only the hassle of dealing with modern technology as I’ve mentioned above, there is also this. I am getting on a little, in fact not so very long ago I hit the big six O which was quite a turning point for me. The big four O didn’t make much of an impression. The big five O, well there was something, some feeling of me getting on a little but nothing too bad but then along came the six O and there was a feeling of, six O, really? Am I actually that old? The thing is, aging only really happens on the outside. On the inside a guy is pretty much the same guy he has always been. Inside, I don’t think I’ve really changed since I was, well, eighteen, nineteen or maybe twenty. My thinking has always been the same, I’ve matured a little, become a little more sensible (a little) but generally speaking I’m just the same, so how has this sixty thing just crept up on me?

The answer is I don’t really know. I’ve just been chugging along, getting on with my life and suddenly I’m sixty. I have to say I’m not too happy about it and perhaps I should look into making a complaint. The council comes to mind or the government. Perhaps they should have sent me a letter or something. Perhaps they should have picked up the phone and said hello, Steve, do you know what year it is? Maybe it’s time to take it easy, chill out a little or something of that nature.

Come to think of it, I did get a letter -from the civil service offering me semi-retirement- which is why I now only work three days a week. To think, they knew I was getting older but I never twigged!

Anyway, getting back to my cameras, I started off by shooting some background stuff here at our rented gite in the Loire; you know our villa, the pool and so on. While I was messing about and getting used to my New GoPro camera I shot some stuff of me checking out the villa, the pool and the grounds. Then I tried some shots of me typing away on my laptop, knocking out my latest post. I figured I could put a good narration together from some of my old ‘Sun Lounger Thoughts’ blogs or perhaps talk about being a blogger or a self-published author at work, that sort of thing.

One evening after the usual day of swimming, sunbathing, reading and drinking wine, you know, the average sort of holiday day, I thought I might as well review some of that stuff, that video that I’ve been shooting. The big shock was really, who is that old guy in the video who resembles my old Dad? Do we have a serious problem with lenses or filters or can that old overweight guy really be me?

Taking a serious look at myself even my hands look big. Did I say my hands? Just taking another look at those hands and I realised they were my old Dad’s hands, only bigger and chubbier than his ever were. No wonder I’m always pressing the wrong key on my mobile phone with those big chubby mitts!

We find only one tool, neither created nor invented, but perfect: the hand of man.” ― Julio Ramón Ribeyro

The other day in a cafe in the village of Parçay Le Pins, Liz took this picture of me sitting at our table having just eaten fish and chips and supping a pint of lager.

The picture isn’t a bad one. Ok I’m not as young as I used to be but I look reasonably well, I suppose, although I’m clearly not the cool dude in that graphic at the top of the page!

The thing is in a still picture you can put on your winning smile, (not exactly winning in this picture but you know what I mean) turn your best side to the camera, hold in your tummy and all will be ok but with video, things can be a little more revealing.

So, I think I might just put my vlogging plans on hold for a while, just a little while, well perhaps indefinitely. My next video will probably feature me but probably on the narration rather than the visuals . .

 


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.

Motorhomes, Weddings and the Curse of Mobile Wi-Fi!

Holidaying in a motorhome is a great adventure; the open road, the open country, the sense of freedom, the feeling of self reliance. The joy of stopping where and whenever you like and switching on the gas, making tea and watching the sausages sizzle satisfyingly in the frying pan. Believe me, it’s a great feeling.

The flip side is baking in the 90 degree plus heat of a French summer and finding that your motorhome provides no shelter, in fact, it’s even hotter inside than outside.

The good thing though is that you can drive away, find a nearby lake or plan d’eau, park up and jump straight into the cool water.

On this eleven day trip we have meandered slowly through the towns and villages of north-eastern France. On our first night we parked up outside our favourite French restaurant in Zutkerque, Le Mas Fleuri, where we ate and drank heartily of the simple but wonderful food they serve. Monsieur Le Patron assured us that he would open his doors at 8 in the morning so we could avail ourselves of his restaurant toilets. What a lovely gesture indeed.

The next evening we arrived in Berny-Rivière and visited another old watering hole, Chez Micheline, where we had a superb pâté to start with and for me a rather tame pizza which was a poor choice on my part. It was the night when the French won the World Cup and they drove around beeping their car horns and waving excitedly back at us when we beeped ours. The TV in the restaurant bar was tuned naturally to the football station and everyone there was clearly overjoyed. The atmosphere was wonderful.

Grave of Wilfrid Owen, Ors, France.

Travelling through north-eastern France you cannot help but recognise many of the names on the road signs. Cambrai, Arras, the Marne, Verdun and so on, all are famous names from the First World War and as you travel further, it is inevitable that you will see signs for military cemeteries. The country is littered with these cemeteries, some huge and impressive and some small but all quiet, silent and filled with a sadness for a generation lost in the carnage of war. At each one we visited there are many graves labeled simply ‘A Soldier of the Great War. Known unto God.’ Soldiers whose remains were unrecognisable in death, their documents and serial numbers blown to pieces in one of the many artillery bombardments on the Western Front.

We went to the village of Ors to find the grave of Wilfred Owen, one of the outstanding poets of the First World War. He is buried in the village cemetery at Ors where there are a number of soldiers’ graves. It was sad to see that he died on the 4th of November, 1918, only a matter of days before the armistice. He was only 25 years old and interestingly for me, was a member of the Manchester Regiment. Manchester of course being my home town. We left Ors saddened by the events of a hundred years ago.

One interesting aspect of using a motorhome is how you become aware of your consumables, not only power but water. Power was not a great problem due to our solar panel but water was an issue, especially as we drank more and more in the high temperatures. It was great to find that in France, motorhomes are welcome in many places and there are plenty of municipal motorhome sites where you can dump waste water, empty your toilet and top up your drinking water.

On our first stop at one of these sites we set about our first toilet emptying. I successfully removed the toilet container, emptied it, swilled it out, added some fresh water and the toilet liquid that helps break down the waste. It was all a little pongy but not too bad. The next day when we were preparing to leave, a French motorhome arrived next to us. We murmured a few bonjours at each other and the French driver set about emptying his toilet, however we weren’t prepared for the horrendous stench of what smelled like the entire contents of a Paris suburb being flushed away. We rapidly battened down the hatches and fled.

The one disaster of this holiday was our mobile internet connection. I had got myself a mobile router arranged and a data SIM courtesy of Three.co.uk. I tried everything out in the UK and everything seemed OK. Fast forward to France and nothing worked. In desperation I made an expensive call to the Three network and when I finally got through they assured me my SIM was registered OK, roaming was set up so everything should work, only it didn’t. Next step was to buy a French data SIM card, slip it into my router and hope for the best. Did that work? No. We tried the SIM in Liz’s iPad and finally got a connection. The router was at fault then. Back in the UK I had a moaning email all ready to complain to the manufacturer but then I thought I’d have one last try. Going through the instructions once again using a magnifying glass -they were written in very tiny type for some reason- I noticed a password I hadn’t seen earlier, typed it in and my little wi-fi router finally connected. If you happened to be on the Fylde coast that day and heard a piercing scream, well you can perhaps guess who was responsible.

The objective of our trip to France was the wedding of Liz’s nephew Michael to his bride Anaïs in Alsace. The wedding venue was high on the top of a mountain, well it seemed like a mountain to me. Actually it was a very big hill accessible only by a mountain track normally used only by goats. It was a bit of a scary trip uphill but we somehow made it and a very nice time was had by all. The bride and groom made their vows, a number of speeches were forthcoming, happily for me there were even a few in English. A great deal of alcohol was consumed as was a large barbecue consisting of three medium sized pigs and a small lamb and plenty of salad and wine. This being France a halt was called during the proceedings for the serving of the cheese then after a suitable period the music and dancing commenced.

The Bride and Groom watch a special dance performed by their guests.

At the wedding one surreal event occurred which I must tell you about but first I need to introduce this week’s classic film which is Romancing the Stone. Not a classic in the same sense as Casablanca perhaps but still a pretty good film, well worth watching the next time it comes up on TV. If you’ve not seen the film it stars Michael Douglas as Jack Colton, an American adventurer in Colombia who is helping out novelist Joan Wilder, played by Kathleen Turner, whose sister has been kidnapped by a nasty drug cartel. At one point in the film the couple are lost in an unfriendly village full of aggressive gun-toting individuals. They are directed to the house of one fellow in an attempt to get transportation. Negotiations are going decidedly nowhere and fingers are on triggers when the gang boss eyes the novelist and asks ‘Joan Wilder? Are you Joan Wilder the novelist?’

OK, fast forward to France at the wedding on the top of the mountain and Michael, the groom if you remember, introduces me to one of his French friends and this fellow does a double take and asks ‘Steve? Steve Higgins, writer and blogger?’ I was so surprised I nearly tripped backwards and went splat right into the buffet table. I mean writing a blog post every week hardly makes you famous does it?

Anyway, when I had calmed down it turned out that many moons ago Laurent, as the French chap was called, and I had both commented on some long forgotten family Facebook thread and he had checked out my profile and found my Facebook writers’ page titled ‘Steve Higgins writer and blogger‘. ‘Have you read Floating in Space?’ I asked. ‘I will when the french version is available’ he replied.  Yes, he might have to wait a while for that one!


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

Writing and the Big 300!

It’s not always so easy to come up with a new blog post week after week. It’s even harder to find something extra special for my 300th post. Three hundred posts! I suppose to those of you who have been writing for years, 300 may not be such a big milestone but for an amateur writer like me, it’s pretty special. The crazy thing is this, a few weeks ago I was commenting on one of those online forums, praising WordPress and blogging and someone commented that if I hadn’t been blogging I might have finished my second book! Looking back I now wonder whether that guy was actually right. 300 blog posts, times my average word count per post: That comes to about 20,000 words. Yes, perhaps I could have written my next book. Then again, it’s not just the words, its the idea behind the words, the creative thrust of a book that’s important. Get that and the book should just follow. Still, that fellow had a point. Should I give up my blog posts in favour of my book? Well, if that would guarantee me producing a book then yes, great! The thing is, it’s not a lack of words that have kept my book in a constant state of unfinishedness (is that a word? If Norman Mailer can invent words then so can I.) It’s really my own laziness.

Laziness, fear of the blank page, procrastination, they are all enemies of the writer. The only way to overcome them is just to keep on writing. If you are writing a blog post and it wont come, switch to something else; that other post you had on the back burner or that  script you had started a few years back. A great deal of my work is done like that, in small bursts of activity. A while back I had an idea for a film screenplay and worked away creating the first quarter of the work. Later I decided to turn it into a book and as I worked with the text, adding in all sorts of detail that wasn’t in the original script, the story came alive to me in a different way and I started to bring something new to the book version. Don’t hold your breath though, its still far from completion.

On a number of occasions I get an idea for a scene, a single scene for a screenplay or even a book. Just a scene, not a book or screenplay idea, just an idea for a short scene. Occasionally I’ll write something and see an opening for that scene, a little space that the scene will fit in and perhaps take one of the characters from A to C when before there was a yawning chasm at B!

The other day my brother and I were talking about war pictures and I said that war films don’t really do it for me but then, my brother reeled off a number of war films that I love. World War 2 Films like The Wooden Horse, First of the Few, The Cruel Sea, The Great Escape, and The Dambusters. Then there are modern classics like Platoon and Born on the Fouth of July from director Oliver Stone. Platoon is a particular favourite of mine; it was written and directed by Stone and based on his personal experiences in Vietnam, which made it all the more relevant and emotional.

Anyway, I’m talking about war films for a reason, which is this. My scene, the one that I’m waiting for a story to fit it into, is from a war film. It goes like this:

EXTERIOR. WORLD WAR 2 BATTLEFIELD. SHELLS ARE BURSTING ALL AROUND. MACHINE GUN FIRE RAKES THE AREA AND A WOUNDED SOLIDER STUMBLES INTO A FOX HOLE. SOLDIERS RUN TO HIS AID. THEY TURN HIM OVER AND LIFT HIS HEAD UP.

THE SOLDIER COUGHS AND TRIES TO SPEAK.

SOLDIER 1: Take it easy son. Don’t try to talk.

SOLDIER 2: HE LIGHTS A CIGARETTE AND SLIPS IT INTO THE WOUNDED SOILDIER’S MOUTH.

THE WOUNDED SOLDIER COUGHS AND CHOKES.

SOLDIER 1: What did I tell you kid? Don’t try and talk. The medic’s on the way over. Save your strength.

THE WOUNDED SOLDIER COUGHS EVEN MORE.

SOLDIIER 2: Sarge, I think he’s trying to tell us something.

SOLDIER SPITS OUT THE CIGARETTE.

CLOSE UP:

(By the way, I did mention it was a comedy scene , didn’t I?)

WOUNDED SOLDIER: I don’t . .smoke..

Oh well. Here’s another script story. Ages ago when I first met Liz and we began socialising in St Annes, we started frequenting Wetherspoons there. It’s a pretty friendly pub and we made friends with quite a few people. There was Big Steve who I wrote about in another post but we also met two guys, Craig and Danny (as usual, names have been changed to protect the innocent!) They were brothers in law who were married to twin sisters and they both owned and ran small hotels in St Annes. The hotels were on the same street opposite each other and the  sisters were identical twins so their whole scenario seemed to scream ‘sitcom’ to me.

I used to ask them what funny things had happened to them in their work as hoteliers and being married to identical women. ‘Loads of things’ they would always say but I could never get any details. Anyway, when I had a quiet moment I started off a pilot sit com script using their situation, rival hoteliers married to identical sisters. It’s nothing brilliant but mildly amusing and it sat in my documents folder for a long time. Every now and again when I slipped into that blank page syndrome, I’d pull out the script and add a few more pages.

Not long ago I noticed on one of my occasional visits to the BBC Writersroom page that a window of opportunity was coming up for a sitcom script. The BBC, rather than accepting ‘spec’ scripts all year round open a small ‘window’ of a few weeks where you can submit your work in certain areas, sometimes a film script or a play, sometimes drama, other times situation comedy. I went back to my sitcom script,  pulled it quickly into some sort of shape, added an ending and bunged it off to the BBC. Now I sit glued to my inbox with bated breath, awaiting the BBC email that may or may not even arrive.

Of course, I do wonder what might happen if the BBC actually decided that my sitcom script is worth making into a pilot? That would be fun having my work made into a TV show. Imagine if it was succesful! Imagine if the BBC said we’re going to make a twelve episode series! Imagine me trying to write twelve episodes when it took me months to write one 25 minute episode! Even the great Spike MIlligan had a nervous breakdown writing the numerous scripts of the radio show ‘The Goon Show’. Of course, someone at the BBC could be reading this very post. Did I say something about 12 episodes? Would I be able to write 12 episodes?

Of course! What’s 12 episodes to a top writer like me? I might even start episode 2 straight away. Well, straight away after a cup of tea. And maybe a sandwich. Better make it first thing tomorrow. Well, tomorrow afternoon might be better . .


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!

Another Slice of My Life

A while ago I published a post called ‘A Slice of my Life‘ which was in fact a homage to a similar post by one of my favourite bloggers, a fellow from the USA. You might be thinking OK, Steve’s run out of ideas, he’s got to pinch something from some other blogger. Well you’re free to think that if you want but I’m sticking to my version, that I was so impressed by that rival blog I produced a ‘homage’. In music terms we could say I ‘sampled’ his post which is when you get a great record that has pinched something from a much better original. (Did he say ‘pinched’ I hear you asking?)

Anyway, as I’m a little short of ideas, I though I’d revisit that theme again, this time, no pizza involved.

This week Liz and I visited a psychic event. It was some kind of charity function and consisted of three mediums who demonstrated their psychic powers to a small audience. Liz and I and another couple arrived early and grabbed front row seats although sadly the bar was closed for the duration of the event. Pity because I quite fancied a pint of lager, however it was thought that activity at the bar might disturb the vibrations from the ‘other side’. Oh well.

The event kicked off with the first medium. Unfortunately this particular lady looked very like a character from a short-lived sit com that Liz and I both loved. It was called Early Doors and revolves around a small public house in Manchester called the Grapes and the group of regulars who drink there. Two of the characters are Eddie and Joan who always sit in the corner and discuss issues like temporary traffic lights, Joan’s mother’s cats and ‘chippy’ teas. Joan was the absolute spitting image of our first medium and it was all I could do to keep a straight face. Anyway, this lady started off by picking up vibrations from a lady who had passed over to the other side. No one seemed to recognise this lady until our medium focussed on a lady in the audience who she was ‘drawn’ to. Eventually the lady in the audience recognised her father from the vague descriptions given and seemed pretty impressed with the information given from the other side.

The next lady started off with another vague description but no one wanted to be a part of it. No one had relations overseas or knew a stocky gentleman who had passed over with throat issues so that one really died the death, if you know what I mean. Everything then stopped for a tea break. Now, you might get the idea from these remarks that perhaps I’m not a believer in psychic or mediums or indeed the afterlife. No, not true. I do believe the human spirit survives death but when the psychic looks like a character from your favourite sit-com, her credibility goes right out of the window.

One of the great things about my current semi-retired status is that I only work three shifts and then can look forward to six lovely days off. This weekend my three days on centred over the bank holiday weekend, which in one way was a bit of a pain, in others not so. It’s great to have time off like other people but when the whole country gets the same day off and the roads are crammed with traffic and when you get to your destination and that is crammed with people I sometimes think, what the heck, I’d rather be working and have time off on some quieter day when everyone else is at work.

The bit that was the pain was the fact that it was the Monaco Grand Prix weekend which was live on terrestrial TV’s channel 4. The Monaco Grand Prix is a sort of leftover from the days of classic motor sport. It is really rather wonderful to see Hamilton, Vettel and Alonso race on what is  essentially the same track as Fangio, Moss and Clark drove on many years ago. F1 race tracks today are frankly rather boring and the tracks that are pretty exciting are few and far between. Years ago the British Grand Prix alternated between Silverstone and Brands Hatch. Brands is a twisty up and down track and Silverstone, being a former airfield, is flat and full of long straights. In recent years the owners have added a number of twists and turns so Silverstone is not really the track it used to be, perhaps they are trying to make it more like Brands Hatch! Here’s a radical idea: Why not alternate with Brands just like we used to do?

Monaco though is the same as it always was but rather difficult for modern grand prix cars. They are too fast for the tight circuit and their wings and fins that seem to stretch out to hug the downforce are so vulnerable to getting knocked and bumped in close quarter racing. I have to hand it to Max Verstappen though. He started from the back of the grid after a shunt in practice but fought his way through to 9th. Pretty impressive.

Anyway, off the track Monaco is full of glitz and glamour. It’s great to see the former F1 stars who lurk in the paddock coming back to the old venue not as drivers but as visitors, lapping up the champagne, the yachts, the Michelin starred restaurants and so on. One day I will shell out some of my hard-earned cash and go to Monaco for the race and have a very expensive drink in the Tip Top bar where Graham Hill and other stars of my youth used to drink. (Nowadays it’s a glass of organic tomato juice and off to bed early for Graham’s modern counterparts.)

Anyway, as I mentioned, I had to work over the weekend on the late shift so I had to avoid e-mails (numerous F1 website newsletters that might give away the race results) TV, (don’t want to see the results on the news) and friends (always ready to spill the results I don’t want to know) just so I could get home and watch the race on video without any advance knowledge spoiling the results for me.

I’ve spent some time this week as usual with my old mum. She is 89 this year and the days when she would cook my favourite tea, wash all my clothes, and make my bed with crisp fresh sheets are long gone. Now she has to put up with my cheat’s roast beef (boil in the bag beef and frozen roasties) and other meals I produce. Pity she doesn’t care for chilli because I used to make a pretty top-notch chilli.

Today my Mum and I have conversations like this:

ME: Mum, I’m off to work. I’ll see you later at about ten thirty.

MUM: What time are you back?

ME: Ten thirty.

MUM: Are you coming back here tonight?

ME: Yes, at ten thirty.

MUM: What time are you coming back?

ME: Ten thirty . .

Old age comes to us all eventually but I did find myself wondering this week if perhaps I could get one of those mediums to contact the living. My Mum for instance . .

After the bank holiday was over, Liz and I decided to head up north to Scotland for a short road trip in Liz’s motorhome. One of the great things about driving a motorhome is that other motorhome drivers always let on with a quick wave as you pass by. It’s like you’re part of a special group or fraternity, us motorhomers against the world.

The weather was gloriously hot and sunny and we motored serenely north and after a few sightseeing stops finally parked up in the car park of a welcoming pub called the Kings Arms in Ballantrae. Ballantrae is a small village and the only time I had ever heard of it before was in the Robert Louis Stevenson book, The Master of Ballantrae. I happened to mention this to my brother over the phone and being the classic movie buff he is he immediately brought up the movie version with Errol Flynn which was actually Flynn’s last film for Warner Brothers.

Motorhome life can be interesting. The next night we stopped out in the country by Loch Doon. We parked up with a rather lovely view of the Loch and set up our little barbecue and soon we were tucking into a veritable feast of steak, burger, sausage and salad. As the evening wore on and the sun began to sink behind the hills a number of midges, those tiny flies appeared. Time to pack up and settle down inside. Once inside we found midges trying to gain entry through any available area and we had to quickly lock down the vents, windows and pretty much everywhere. I don’t know if you have ever seen Hitchcock’s film The Birds where birds suddenly go on the attack but that pretty much summed up our situation and we fought off those midges with anything we could lay our hands on.

The next morning all was quiet on the loch but the midgies were gathered there on the outside of our motorhome resting before no doubt renewing their attack on us later. Time to make a quick getaway!


Enjoyed this post? Why not try my book Floating in Space set in Manchester, 1977? Watch the video below for a quick taster or click the options at the top of the page for info or to buy!