The Story of my Life in Less than 2500 Words

My life in 2500 words? Really? My whole life, everything? Is that possible? Well, hang on a minute, give me a chance. I’ve been reading a book by Nora Ephron called I Feel Bad about my Neck and its really just a series of essays. In fact, Nora would be a great blogger because all her essays are nice blog sized pieces which could all easily be humorous blog posts. Her book is a little bit of a cheat really, it reminds me of a book by Spike Milligan I read years ago, A Bit of a Book I think it was called. It was full of little drawings and sketches which could easily be flipped through and other things like blank pages entitled the blank of England.

It was all very humorous but I read the book in about thirty minutes. Nora’s book is one I tend to read at work on my lunch breaks and if I had taken it on holiday, I would have easily read it in a few hours. Anyway, I shouldn’t really be bad mouthing Nora because her book is pretty funny and one of the essays was called The Story of My Life in less than 3500 Words which has inspired this blog post. Some of course would say that this blog post is a blatant rip off of Nora’s book but I can assure you it isn’t. Well, not that much anyway.

This won’t be my whole life of course, I’ll probably leave many things out, especially the bad bits and the boring moments but here we go.

I was born in 1956, way back in the mid-20th century in Manchester in the north of England. I was born in October which has always rather annoyed me. Why couldn’t I have been born in July or August or better still earlier in the year, sometime in the spring? I don’t like October; in fact, I never have. I don’t like the fireworks coming up in November and the endless weeks of bangers going off at unexpected times of the day and night and neither do I like Hallowe’en where complete strangers have the cheek to knock on my door and ask for treats. Not only that I don’t like the cold which is why I would much prefer a warmer time of the year for my birthday. It’s not much to ask and I would enjoy it much more.

(I’m starting to worry now about fitting everything in. Here we are, two paragraphs in and I’ve not mentioned much except my birthday.)

I went to school in Wythenshawe in the south of Manchester and I’d like to tell you that I excelled in various things and won various prizes and stuff like that. The fact is I didn’t although I did get picked for the school high jump team once. I had managed to jump an incredible six foot and to be honest I’m not sure how I did it. I could say I discovered an innate skill for high jumping but well, that’s another of those things I’d like to tell you, despite it actually being untrue. One day I did this amazing jump, I’m not sure how and the next thing I was asked to join our team at a local school for some sort of athletics competition.

The big problem with that was that the match was on a Thursday and on Thursdays I used to like to be at home for my favourite TV show which at the time was Thunderbirds. I did mention to the other members of my team that the possibilities of me arriving at the rival school for the high jump was pretty non-existent but my fellow team members, who I might add at this point were all older and bigger than me and actually now I think of it, rather hostile explained a lot about team spirit and stuff like that and how much better it would for me to be on time.

This is me when I was a pretty good looking guy. Later my looks went all downhill.

Some threatening behaviour was involved which made me think more about the team spirit thing and so I turned up ready for the jump. The annoying thing was at this school, the name of which escapes me, the high jump was set up on a sort of uphill slope which made it a little difficult for me to get up to speed for the correct lift off for the jump. To cut a long story short, I failed my jump, I was eliminated and was never asked to join the team again. To this day I remember the look on our team captain’s face as he shook his head mumbling ‘Six feet?‘ The flip side is that I was free on a Thursday for Thunderbirds.

I liked junior school but after that, school just went downhill for me and I left aged 16 clutching my four O levels. I should confess that actually one of those O levels was a CSE grade 1 which counted, so I was told, as an O level pass. Still I am now 64 years old and never once in my entire life, not once, have I been asked for proof of my 4 O levels, not in any job ever. So now I think of it, I just might as well have told my employers I had ten O levels or maybe even just upgraded them to A levels. Of course, that’s the kind of knowledge that only comes with experience and nowadays, no one is interested in whether I have 4 or 12 O levels or even whether I have any at all.

When I was at school I wanted, among other things to be a journalist. I went along to our careers teacher, Mr Sherriff, imparted this information and waited for his advice. I remember him asking me how I was going to do that. Him asking me? Wasn’t it supposed to be the other way round? Wasn’t he supposed to tell me that I could go on a course or maybe apply to the Manchester Evening News to be a trainee reporter? The next few minutes are a bit of a blur but I remember leaving his office after being told that I would soon receive a letter telling me about my coming interview. Now the Manchester Evening News had been mentioned, mostly by me and I remember telling all my friends I was soon to be interviewed for a reporter’s post with the News. My schoolmates were impressed, in fact very impressed because all Mr Sherriff ever did was get pupils a job with Barclays bank. A few days later Mr Sheriff called me back and handed me a letter. I had an interview arranged for 3 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon. I remember hoping that I would be back in time for Thunderbirds. Did I know where Barclays bank was asked Mr Sherriff? It didn’t matter because he gave me a handout detailing its location in Manchester city centre. Barclays bank I asked? What about the Manchester Evening News? The Manchester Evening News don’t have trainee reporters blared Mr Sherriff and quickly dismissed me.

I went for the interview. It was all very pleasant but I didn’t get the job although I wasn’t particularly upset about it. Once again my Thursdays were free for Thunderbirds although by this time, I was probably watching the next Gerry Anderson series, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. I wasn’t a great fan of Captain Scarlet although I do remember getting a model of an SPV, Captain Scarlet’s Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle for either Christmas or my birthday so I must have been at least somewhat interested in it.

After a quick look on the internet I see that by 1973 when I left school, Gerry Anderson was making the live action series The Protectors so that’s my Captain Scarlet memory right out of the window.

I’ve always been a fan of Gerry Anderson, all the way from Fireball XL5 to UFO. I didn’t like Space 1999, I much preferred Star Trek but before leaving Gerry I just want to say a last word about Thunderbirds. It’s really more of an observation than anything but I just want to get it off my chest. It’s something which has been annoying me ever since I first saw the show as a schoolboy, and it’s this:

Thunderbirds was a sci-fi puppet show from the 1960’s. A secret organisation known as International Rescue is based on former astronaut Jeff Tracy’s island home. His five sons pilot the Thunderbird vehicles and Alan Tracy, as you might know, is the pilot of Thunderbird 3, which is a space ship. Thunderbird 3 launches from underground, blasting off right through the circular opening of the island’s Round House. Now to access the craft, Alan sits down on the settee in the Tracy Island main house. His Dad, Jeff Tracy, flicks a switch and Alan and the settee drop down into an underground complex. OK? With me so far?

Well this is where the problem arises. As you can see from the video above, Alan and the settee drop down on a sort of hydraulic pole, just behind him we see another settee, being pushed up towards the lounge on another hydraulic pole, where it pops into the vacant slot where Alan’s settee was moments earlier. However, as Alan’s settee is going down on the first hydraulic pole, and the alternate settee is on a second hydraulic pole to his rear; there is no way that second settee is going to pop into the vacant slot left by the first. Also, what if Alan was watching TV when the call came in and he goes off on the departing settee with the remote control? It could be halfway to trajectory insertion when Jeff wants to switch over to Sky Sport and he says, “Who’s got the remote?”

Not only that, imagine if Alan was on his way to an emergency launch which came in while Grandma was in the kitchen making everyone a cup of tea and a slice of toast?

THE SCENE. INTERIOR. DAY. TRACY ISLAND LOUNGE.

JEFF TRACY
This is a job for Thunderbird 3.

ALAN TRACY
OK Dad. Ready for launch.

JEFF TRACY
Off you go Alan.

ALAN TRACY
Bye Dad, tell Grandma I’ll have a brew later.

JEFF TRACY
Look Alan, those tea bags don’t grow on trees you know. We have them imported from the UK.

ALAN TRACY
Gee whizz Dad, never thought of that. Only thing is, that rocket on collision course with the sun, don’t you think that has to take priority?

JEFF TRACY
Well . . . Sometimes I fancy an extra cuppa anyway so I guess I could always finish yours off. Hot diggedy dog Alan, you’re right. Off you go and I’ll sort your brew out.

ALAN TRACY
Thanks Dad.

JEFF PRESSES A SWITCH AND THE SETTEE DROPS AWAY ON ITS HYDRAULIC POLE INTO THE CAVERNOUS SECRET WORLD BENEATH THE TRACY HOME.

JEFF TRACY
Right, that’s that. Think I might have a gander at Sky Sports. Where the heck is the remote? Grandma! Grandma! Where has the old biddy got to? Bet she’s got the damned remote, she’s always watching daytime TV.

JEFF GOES OFF STAGE RIGHT TO LOOK FOR GRANDMA.

GRANDMA ENTERS STAGE LEFT WITH A TRAY OF TEA AND TOAST.

GRANDMA
Jeff! Alan! Now where have those two got to? Where have they moved the settee to? Sure it used to be just hereeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Yes, when you look closely, that Thunderbird 3 launch procedure has a major health and safety issue!

This where I have to make a confession and reveal the stuff above about Thunderbirds I wrote for an earlier post a few years back but it’s nice to see that it has slotted in so nicely.

Anyway back to the story of my life. My first job was as a clerk in the estates department of an insurance company, Refuge Assurance Ltd. Now on my very first day the first thing I was told was the difference between Assurance and Insurance. I’ve often thought about that. I wish I could remember what the hell that difference was. It’s bothered me for quite a while. Anyway, I worked in the Estates department which I have to say was actually really interesting. Our company owned a lot of property in central Manchester and I used to collect the rents and enter it all in a big ledger. Once, we were told in hushed tones about the impending arrival of a million-pound cheque. As it happens, I’ve written about that before but just in case you didn’t read that earlier post, this is what happened:

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 3pm, as in those days, banks closed at 3pm. ‘Good heavens!’, declared one of the senior managers, ‘we can’t just leave the cheque there, all afternoon.’ I don’t know what they thought was likely to happen to it but 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 after a quick gander through the Daily Express, made my way quietly back to work. Just as I arrived back in the office, I realised that the senior management staff were still there, waiting for news. What had happened? Were there any problems? 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!

Anyway, getting back to the cheque, it was actually not really that impressive. It was not printed but hand written in a very scrawling, looping, and altogether unreadable hand and it occurred to me that the payee, Refuge Assurance Company limited, could quite easily be changed to Stephen Higgins Esquire had there been some tippex handy. As this was an accounts department you might think we had a great deal of tippex, however tippex was completely Verboten.  It was never used, and in the event of a mistake being made, the procedure was to strike a line through the error, sign your name, date it and then add the correct figure. Looking back, I’m starting to wonder whether that’s why management were so keen to get that cheque into the bank, did they see me eyeing it up with a greedy sort of look on my face?

A few years later I handed in my resignation. Just before that a colleague who had a degree but as a clerk was completely useless, also handed in his notice. After our resignations we compared notes. He looked very pleased with himself because the company had offered him more money to stay on. I lied and told him they had offered me more money too although actually they didn’t offer me a bean. As a matter of fact, looking back, they seemed rather happy to see the back of me.

Well, I’d like to tell you more about myself, how I left the Insurance world behind and went on to greater success. I’d like to tell you that. I would. But the truth is . .

I’m already over 2500 words!


What to do next:

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

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

 

 

 

How Barack Obama Ended up in my Junk Mail and Other Stories

It’s always worth just having a peek in your junk mail. You never know what may be found there. I tend to look when I’m expecting an important e-mail and it hasn’t turned up in the usual place, my inbox for instance. I’m always pretty amazed at what I might find there: Invitations to join groups. Blogging advice. Video seminars. How to make money with bitcoin. Russian women who want to meet me and so on.

I’m always surprised at the volume of Russian women who want to meet me and just lately an increasing number of Ukrainian ladies have expressed similar feelings too. I can’t really say that I’ve ever thought of myself as good looking but perhaps when the light catches me in a particular way, something is visible which just catches the eye of Russian women.

A few years ago, I wrote back to one of these ladies who claimed to have seen me on an international dating site and tried to explain I thought she was the victim of a scam and that I had never been on a dating site. The lady in question wrote back with a three-page email detailing her life in a remote region of Russia and how my photograph had so enthralled her she had decided to join me in the USA at the earliest opportunity. I’m sorry to say I didn’t reply although I was tempted to say I would be waiting at JFK in New York whenever she wanted. Funnily enough, she’s not the only person to think I live in the USA.

One day I was scanning through the junk folder and there it was. An e-mail from Barack Obama. That’s right, former President of the USA Barack Obama. Obama clearly wanted my help. He was urging me to vote for Joe Biden. I’m not sure how he had heard about me, maybe he has read one of my blog posts. Of course, if he had, I’m guessing he would have spotted that I’m English although perhaps it isn’t completely clear from my blog posts that I actually live in England, although now I think about it, it actually is.

Joe Biden. Pic courtesy Wikipedia

Don’t get me wrong, I’d be happy to vote for Joe as a favour to Mr Obama, even though I do wonder whether or not Joe is getting a little long in the tooth for the top job at the White House. I say Mr Obama but as we are now on email terms, maybe I should just call him Barack? He could call me Steve or even Ste if he wanted, after all we are now friends, well, email friends, sort of.

Of course, I’m not actually eligible to vote in the USA which could cause a problem with our friendship but I thought I’d keep that to myself until after I’d asked Barack to maybe plug my book, Floating in Space. After all, one favour deserves another and like I said, I am willing to vote for Biden, if I could.

I’m wondering now whether the issues from the last election regarding President Putin came about because he had also received an email from the democrats urging him to vote for their candidate which at the time was Mrs Clinton. I don’t know Putin personally but I can see him being the sort of guy who might take offence at that and maybe cause him to vote for Trump. Putin of course, not being American can’t vote for Trump either but again, I wouldn’t want to be the guy who has to tell him that. One thing that might get in the way is that I don’t actually speak Russian although I do happen to know that the Russian word for no is niet. Putin however, strikes me as the kind of guy who doesn’t want to hear niet, nein, non or basically anything in the negative.

Tell him what he doesn’t want to hear and next thing you know you’d be hearing reports of the English blogger getting hit by a poisoned dart or being invited for a cup of coffee and then suddenly suffering from a bout of radiation poisoning! Putin is not a man who takes dissent lightly and if you don’t believe me try asking Alexei Navalny. Good job I’m not a coffee drinker is all I can say about that.

Donald Trump. Picture courtesy Wikipedia

This week I watched the first presidential debates between Biden and Trump and like many people I really wasn’t impressed. I’m not sure what the population is in the USA these days but it must be pretty big. All those millions of Americans and this is it? These two guys are the best on offer? Actually, that’s not necessarily true because believe it or not there are 1207 candidates in this year’s election. 1207? That’s right, 1207 although the media for some reason will only focus on two.

On a completely different topic, this past week Liz and I went to the funeral of a virtual friend of ours, Johnny Two Sheds. Now neither of us have ever met Johnny but we have both chatted to him out there in cyberspace on various facebook pages relating to Lytham and St Annes. Liz spoke with him much more than me and the two of them had a great deal of cheeky banter over the years particularly on one page which is more dedicated to cheeky banter than to actual news worthy items on the Fylde coast.

Johnny alas was banned by Facebook because as you may have guessed Johnny ‘Two Sheds’ was not his real name. He rose again on Facebook with the name Johnny Phoenix but sadly passed away some weeks ago. Due to the current regulations, only thirty people were allowed at his funeral although it was nice to see his coffin arrive at the country church in Wrea Green escorted by a paramedic motorcycle rider and the street outside lined by his fellow paramedics.

Johnny’s brother was there to answer one important question. Actually I felt a little nervous about posing the question so I gave Liz a nod and she obligingly did the honours. Did Johnny have two sheds? Apparently, he did.


What to do next:

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

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

Airports, Saturday Nights and Ally McBeal


I really hated work this week. I hated it for a number of reasons even though I only worked one day. Now as I’m semi-retired I only work three days anyway so one day, well, you might think ok, that’s not so bad, wish I only worked one day this week. Wrong! I actually wish I’d not worked any days. The first day I was poorly with a bad tummy. Day two I was still poorly although not quite as bad and day three I was feeling a little better so I went back to work. I was actually feeling bad about having those two days off, yes guilty about taking sick leave. Maybe I should have called in sick the third day and then after my six days off (yes, I get six days off) I’d be fully ready to start work again. Come to think of it, that would mean fifteen days off wouldn’t it? (Six plus three plus six, see what I mean?)

 Oh well, I still hated that one day either way. The funny thing is, I was recently looking at my horoscope and it said something about how I needed to get rid of something in my life to make room for something new. Is the cosmos hinting that I should just pack the job in? Would a great new job then come my way? It’s a nice thought but I’m not convinced. I tend to look at horoscopes for entertainment rather than to see into the future so I’ll just keep sending out my CV for now.

After my one day at work I thought I’d spend a couple of days at my mother’s house and make sure everything was ok. The garden was looking good. I had planned on giving the lawn a trim but I thought, what the heck, it’ll be ok for another week. More time for me to write and work on my various projects.

One long running project is the sequel to Floating in Space. It’s called the Girl in the Yellow Coat and it’s about a character that made a fleeting appearance in Floating, a girl in, guess what, a yellow coat. As I’ve not worked on it for a while, I started reading through what I had written so far, which then made me look back at Floating and read some of that. I love my writing, I really do. I’m not claiming it’s brilliant or anything but the thing is it’s written for me, I write it purely for myself so I’m bound to like it. The other thing is that a lot of my work is based on real things, real events and real people and sometimes when I read it I remember the real things that inspired the story. It’s like a walk down memory lane, looking back on things I’d actually forgotten about and people who I hadn’t thought about for years. Maybe that’s why I’m not making much headway on the book; I’m too busy reminiscing about stuff to get creative.

Another project I’m working on is making another version of one of my most popular YouTube videos; it’s called Manchester Airport 1986 and follows my late friend Steve and myself talking about spotting aircraft in and around the airport. I was never a real plane spotter myself but as a child living a stone’s throw from the airport, it was fun to tag along with my friends who were. I did love watching the big jet planes taxi out to the runway and blast off to their various destinations around the globe and people like Steve, Paul, Phil and various others all jotted down aircraft numbers into their notebooks. In the video, Steve and I visit a quiet country lane round the back of the airport where plane spotters gather and many other places like the Tatton Arms pub, ideally situated on the runway approach path and the old and original Airport Hotel. I say original because various other places have sprouted up in the area using that name.

On a whim on Saturday afternoon I decided to drag my brother out and cajoled him into filming with my video camera while I drove to the old locations. What about a sort of then and now video I thought, comparing the airport of 1986 to the huge place it has become now? Going into the airport itself I knew it was going to be different but I wasn’t prepared for just how different it actually was. There are three terminals at Manchester now and T2 was closed because of Covid 19. Anyway we wandered around and filmed various things although many areas seemed to be coned off and everywhere there were double yellow lines. Manchester Airport is not a car friendly environment and cars are discouraged from stopping or loitering. Nowadays you even have to pay to use the drop off and go areas.

I did manage to find the entrance to the multi storey car park which looked familiar. Back in 1986 Steve and I went to the top level and joined various other plane spotters watching aircraft but last Saturday I thought I’d save that for another day. I went off in search of that small lane round the back of the runway. That was easier said than done. Back in the 1980’s there was an old country pub called the Ship in Styal village, a posh village that is actually over the county border in Cheshire. It was a sleepy old pub and sometimes my friends and I would visit on a Friday or Saturday night.

On this particular Saturday afternoon the tiny car park was now three times as big as I remembered and was packed. The small lane was also crammed with parked cars making it hard to squeeze past. There is an old water mill further down that lane. We visited it once on a school trip. It’s nothing really exciting but today I could only imagine that all these visitors were either visiting the pub or the mill, after all there is nothing else in the village except the pub, the water mill and a small shop.

Eventually we managed to get past but in the old days the road carried on and eventually came to a steep hill just by the Valley Lodge hotel. Nowadays the road ahead seemed to have become a sort of pedestrianised walking area and traffic was forced off to the right. This must have been the old lane where we filmed in 1986 but the airport had grown and gradually encroached on and swallowed up some of the surrounding land. High barbed wire fences kept the public away and there were no longer any rough graveled parking bays to stop in. Eventually we came across a new and unfamiliar road which led us back into the airport itself.

The Tatton Arms looked similar to how it used to look but now it is now part pub and part bistro. We stopped for a moment, took a few pictures and left. Change is inevitable of course but I don’t think I was quite prepared for the scale of the change.

Getting back to Floating in Space, the main character, Stuart, is bored with his nine to five office job. He yearns for something different and lives for the weekend. The book starts off like this:

 The countdown starts on Friday afternoon at four thirty when my colleagues and I pour out from the Regal Assurance building and stream and scatter for the cars, buses, and trains that carry us away to different and better lives.  The countdown is for the weekend, and the weekend is one long high-energy cassette that plays on the hi-fi of life until that moment, that far distant moment, when the alarm bell rings for Monday morning and there are five days before you can rewind the tape and play it again.

That of course was 1977. In 2020 Stuart, like me might have been tempted to go into Manchester for a night out but Manchester is a hot spot as far as the Coronavirus is concerned. Bolton, a Manchester suburb has been forced back into lockdown because of a spike in Covid cases so for the time being I thought it might be better to just stay in and stay safe. That’s how I came to settle down in front of the TV with a can of Guinness and a packet of Doritos. I combed through my old VHS box looking for something I hadn’t watched for years. I picked up a couple of documentaries which looked interesting and then came across my Ally McBeal DVDs.

It’s a long time since I have seen Ally McBeal. It was a hit US show in the 1990’s and is something that I’ve never seen repeated even on all the new TV channels that have sprouted up, seemingly overnight. Ally was a Boston lawyer played by Calista Flockhart. She starts work at Cage and Fish, a Boston legal firm. The senior partners, John Cage and Richard Fish are two oddball characters presiding over a wacky company that has unisex toilets and on most nights everyone goes into a bar in the same building where resident singer Vonda Shepard regularly performs, sometimes handing the microphone over to the office staff. Barry White makes an appearance there as does Sting and other pop icons. The series is a comedy but with elements of drama, sentimentality and music all mixed in together.

My favourite character was John Cage played by Peter MacNicol. He was a shy character, unsure of himself who falls for Ally and fantasises about Barry White singing ‘You’re the First, My Last, My Everything’ in order to bulk up his confidence. In the first episode Ally loses her job at another firm because of sexual harassment, bumps into Richard Fish who immediately hires her and sets about suing the sexual harasser.

So that was my Saturday, getting lost at the airport, a place I used to know like the back of my hand. Staying in on a Saturday night and watching Ally McBeal, a TV show that was cancelled in 2002. What shall I do this Saturday I wonder?


What to do next:

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

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

Actors, Lemons and The Big Sleep

I was going into work the other day and remembered that I had didn’t have anything to read. I do like to have a read on my break so I looked around and picked up The Big Sleep. If you haven’t read the book by Raymond Chandler you must surely have seen the film with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. I love the opening scene where Bogart meets with General Sternwood and has separate encounters with his two daughters. Sternwood, an old former general lives in a sort of greenhouse where the heat that keeps his tropical plants alive makes Bogart wilt. That was a great opening and sets the scene for the rest of the film.

When I sat down on my break and flipped open the book, a small cutting fell out. It was a newspaper cutting dated November 14th 1995 from the Daily Express. An Actor Bombs went the headline and went on to tell the story of an actor:

An out of work actor was amazed when his agent rang and offered a part in a Shakespearean play. All he had to say was ‘My Lord, I hear a cannon.’

For weeks the actor rehearsed his line, giving it a variety of interpretations. Walking down the street (My Lord, I hear a cannon.) In the bath (My Lord, I HEAR a cannon.) In the shaving mirror (My LOOOORD, I hear a cannon)

The day came and the actor strode on to the stage and turned to the audience

The cannon went off with a terrifying bang and he shouted ‘What the *** was that?’

That newspaper clip really made me laugh and sometimes we all need a good giggle. That’s one of the things I love about second hand books; who put the clipping in the book? Did they find it as amusing as I did? I hope so.

Anyway getting back to The Big Sleep. The book was written by Raymond Chandler and he had this really fabulous talkative way of writing. You can almost imagine hearing Humphrey Bogart’s voice as you read the book. Here’s a quote from the text, an example of Chandler’s descriptive style:

I sat down on the edge of a deep soft chair and looked at Mrs Regan. She was worth a stare. She was trouble. She was stretched out on a modernistic chaise-longue with her slippers off so I stared at her legs in the sheerest silk stocking. They seemed to be arranged to stare at. They were visible to the knee and one of them well beyond. The knees were dimpled, not bony or sharp. The calves were beautiful, the ankles long and slim with enough melodic line for a tone poem. She was tall and rangy and strong looking. Her head was against an ivory satin cushion. Her hair was black and wiry and parted in the middle and she had the hot black eyes of the portrait in the hall. She had a good mouth and a good chin. There was a sulky droop to her lips and the lower lip was full.

Not bad eh? Dilys Powell called his wrting ‘a peculiar mixture of harshness, sensuality, high polish and backstreet poetry’ and it’s easy to see why. Mrs Regan was played by Lauren Bacall in the film and up till now I had always thought this was the film where they had met. Wrong! A quick check on Wikipedia and I see the couple met on the set of To Have and Have Not in 1944. Bacall was 19 and Bogart was 45 and married to his third wife Mayo Methot at the the time. Sparks apparently flew between the couple and Bogart divorced Mayo and married Bacall the next year, 1945. Despite the great on screen chemistry together the couple only made four films together.

The film version of The Big Sleep was a brilliant adaptation of the book and some of the differences are interesting. For instance, early in the book detective Philip Marlowe played by Bogart meets General Sternwood’s daughter Carmen. She looks at Marlowe and remarks how tall he is. In the film, Bogart of course wasn’t that tall so the dialogue is reversed ‘You’re not very tall are you?’ comments Carmen.

Carmen was played in the film by Martha Vickers and Chandler felt that she seemed to overshadow the performance of female lead Lauren Bacall. For that reason many of Vickers’ scenes were cut. Release of the film was delayed by Warner Brothers and in fact another of Bacall’s films shot after The Big Sleep, Confidential Agent, was released first. Reaction to Confidential Agent was so good Jack Warner, the studio head, decided to beef up Bacall’s part in The Big Sleep so new scenes were shot and added to the film including a new ending.

The plot of the book and film are pretty complicated, although having just read the book I think that the book is easier to follow. During the filming the director and his stars wondered who killed the character of Owen Taylor, the Sternwood’s chauffeur? They sent a cable to Raymond Chandler asking him. Chandler told a friend later ‘Dammit, I don’t know either!’

One strange element in the film, certainly for me, is a scene where Philip Marlowe (Bogart) is watching blackmailer Geiger. Geiger has a shop that sells rare books in Hollywood and Marlowe asks for information in another bookshop opposite. There he chats to a bookseller played by Dorothy Malone who, if you are old enough, will remember her from the Peyton Place TV series. Malone and Bogart seem to hit it off well in the film but he never returns to the bookshop and Dorothy is never seen again in the film.

Every time I watch the film I always expect Malone to reappear but that’s one of the many dead ends the film leads us down. I think it was Hitchcock who said that every scene in a film should lead the audience somewhere and Quentin Tarantino of course said the reverse. Perhaps director Howard Hawks favoured the Tarantino’s view. Over on YouTube I found a clip from that scene. It was titled, The Big Sleep, best scene ever. I wouldn’t go that far myself but see what you think.

As I write this I have spent the day at my Mother’s house in Manchester. She is suffering from dementia and is being looked after nearby but sadly, because of Covid 19, I am unable to visit. Lately, everytime I have visited her house with intentions to sort out the garden it has done nothing but rain. Today dawned nice and sunny, at least it was when I awoke at the ridiculous time of 6:30 am. After looking through my e-mails and planning my daily social media broadside into Twitter cyberspace I arose, had a wash, made a quick breakfast and got cracking. I mowed the lawn, trimmed the hedges and cleared the sharp and unruly brambles that have appeared at the end of the garden. I strimmed the path and finally, everything seems to look neat and tidy.

The apple tree in the corner, a birthday present from me to my dad who died 20 years ago this year is looking well but unlike last year I couldn’t see any apples. My mum used to make apple pies from the apples from this tree but after my dad died I came home to visit one day and was shocked to see the council had chopped down the tree. I was absolutely fuming and while I silently planned what I would do to the nameless official who had perpetrated this tragedy, my mum mentioned casually that it was she who arranged to have the tree chopped down. What on earth for I asked? She had been worried that the tree, which grew at an odd angle might trip her up.

Today the tree has  grown again, this time straight up and I can look forward to one day making apple pies again.

While I am on the subject of trees I might as well mention my lemon trees. I do love taking a stone or a pip from a fruit and growing something. I’ve grown quite a few lemon trees and I have two now, both grown from pips and both growing strong. They look good, I keep them well watered and fed but, no lemons. Liz bought me another lemon tree a while back. It was small but it came with about three small lemons. After a short while each of those lemons dropped off but no more have grown. It seems as though when it comes to lemons, I’ve got the kiss of death but if I could just grow a lemon, just one, it would really make my day.

My brother is planning to join me later. I’ve got a couple of lagers in the fridge and a chilli on the go in the slow cooker (gardening, blog writing and cooking: it’s been a busy day!) Tuesday, not much on TV tonight. Think I might just dig out my DVD of The Big Sleep!


What to do next:

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

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

A Bit of a Blog or a Blog of Bits . .

This week I’ve been focussed on other things rather than blogging so I decided to take a few half finished posts and stitch them into one. Maybe it’s worked, maybe not. Here we go . . .

All of Me an autobiography by Barbara Windsor

Barbara is probably best known as the blonde from the Carry On films. It’s a niche that’s she stuck in despite her appearances in later years in the TV soap Eastenders. Maybe she likes that, maybe not but either way, she’s rather good at what she does. In this book, she tells her life story and it’s very frank and pretty entertaining.

‘Bar’ as her friends call her, doesn’t hold back and basically tells it like it is. She talks about her climb to fame and the husbands she has had along the way. First was Ronnie Knight, an East End gangster and friend of the Kray twins. Ronnie and Bar seemed pretty good together for a while but neither of them were interested in each other’s careers. Barbara would be off filming and Ronnie it seemed wasn’t bothered at all about that. He would be off to sort his nightclub out and Bar would be happy at home having to get up early for a film or rehearsing for one of her many stage roles. On one occasion in the early morning, the police burst in and carted Ronnie off to the nick for armed robbery. Barbara stuck by her man then but soon after, she’d had enough.

After Ronnie got the push, he was ‘aving it off’ with a blonde down at his club; Bar moved on to a younger guy and when that didn’t work out she moved onto an even younger guy. That younger guy, Scott, is still with her today and was in the news recently as Barbara has sadly been stricken with dementia and may have to go into residential care.

One surprising aspect of the book is that although like fellow Carry On star Kenneth Williams, I’d always thought of Barbara as a film and TV star, in fact a great deal of her career involved the stage and she appeared in many stage productions including her own one woman show.

This book, written in 2000 is a great little read and well worth picking up if you see it in the book shop. It’s written in a friendly talkative chit chat style, almost as if Bar has dictated it to someone and that’s something I particularly like about the book. The last quarter of the book though feels a little as if it has been tagged onto the end of another book. It mainly concerns her relationship with final husband Scott and is perhaps a little gushing and overly romantic and Woman’s Weekly style but I reckon Bar deserved a little romance in the twilight of her days. Nice read and a book well worth picking up.

Chaplin directed by Richard Attenborough

Searching through my old VHS videos the other day, I came across Chaplin, a film about the great silent comedian, directed by Richard Attenborough. I can’t say I’m a great fan of Attenborough as a director and this film showing us the life and times of Charlie Chaplin is lacking in many ways, but having said that it’s a pretty good film in many other ways.

I’ve often thought that if I could go back in time to any era, I’d go back to Hollywood in the 1920’s, the time of silent films. Someone, and I forget who it was, discovered that Hollywood had the perfect climate for making movies. Great weather, plenty of sun, all the requisites for making silent movies. Films back then were shot either outdoors or with basic sets without a roof, all lit by the relentless Californian sun. You didn’t need a degree to be a director in those days, just confidence and the ability to put a film together, not only in your head but to transfer it to film.

I don’t think Charlie Chaplin was really that funny, certainly not as funny as Laurel and Hardy for instance but he was the first film comedian to do more than link a series of funny images or sketches together. He added a little pathos, made the viewer feel for the character, care about the character as well as laugh at him.

Chaplin is loosely based on Charlie’s own autobiography, with a fictional editor played by Anthony Hopkins trying to add in all the bits that Chaplin didn’t want to write about, his various young wives for instance. Robert Downey Junior plays Chaplin and Geraldine Chaplin, Charlie’s real ife daughter, plays Chaplin’s mother who sadly descended into madness. Chaplin brought her to America and looked after her although he visited her infrequently.

The great loves of his life were his mother, his brother Sydney and his great friend Douglas Fairbanks. Sadly, Chaplin emerges  from his autobiography and from this film as essentially a sad fellow, someone in a way unfulfilled, although his films indeed changed the course of cinema history. In his time he was probably the most famous person in the world, his silent films were unrestricted by the restraints of language and his fame covered the entire globe, anywhere in fact that had a projector and a screen.

There are some great performances in this film, Kevin Kline is good as Douglas Fairbanks as is Dan Ackroyd playing the part of producer Mack Sennet. Robert Downey isn’t so bad either in the title role. I read somewhere that the film was a disaster at the box office. Pity. Personally I really enjoyed it.

Annoying Things Part 17

I was saving this for an ongoing blog post about annoying elements of the 21st Century which I update every now and then but instead here it is now. Having been cooped up at home for over 12 weeks I called into work ready to get back to my desk but apparently the Human Resources Department (years ago we used to call them ‘personnel’) decided I couldnt go back until August 1st. As a lot of the lockdown has eased we decided to have a trip out in the motorhome.

We found a nice spot to stop and set up our little camp, part of which involved a ground sheet. Now a ground sheet is something used by campers to lay down on the ground. It came in a smart plastic case and we unfolded it, spread it out and spent a considerable amount of time in the sun on it, lying around, reading, sunbathing and so on.

Later on when we packed up, I folded the ground sheet up but somehow it must have grown or stretched because no matter how I folded it, and I did do it according the still visible folds on the sheet itself, no way would it ever go back in that case. A similar thing happened the other week when I bought a hair cutting kit. It came in a box, the electric hair cutters, various length combs, a plug and so on. After I had performed my post lockdown personal haircut would that lot fit back in the box? Of course not! I’m sure one of the main design factors in these items is to make the box so small that the items will only ever fit in once and even then only in a certain way.

Of course I could put the hair cutters in the plastic bag from the groundsheet and then just tie up the ground sheet with an old belt. Result!


What to do next:

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

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

A Video for my Younger Self

Lockdown has been eased slightly here in the UK but even so, the day when things will be back to normal seems pretty distant. Even then I keep seeing things in the media about the ‘new normal’. What will the new normal be like? I don’t know but one day we will all be back out again, going back to bars and restaurants and flying to Europe and even further afield for our holidays. Still, I can imagine everything being ever so slightly different though with much more handwashing and social distancing.

I did consider calling this post How not to Smash up your Laptop. I didn’t but read on and you’ll begin to understand why. I have actually been fairly industrious this week, well, industrious by my standards that is. I have finally finished my latest video project and I have gradually come up with a few ideas for blogs and made some headway on my other writing projects. When I see my blog post deadline looming, I am not usually that worried because I tend to have a half-written blog post in the pipeline but when I have no ideas at all and no partly written blog posts, well, that is a worry so it has been good to get myself ahead again, if only by one or two blog posts.

A while back I decided that as my writing wasn’t coming along too well, I should set myself the task of making something new for my YouTube channel. There are actually plenty of videos over there on my channel but they are all short and simple one or two minute videos either of me reading poetry or me extolling the virtues of Floating in Space to the reading public.

I felt that my loyal band of video followers could do with something slightly different and while looking around for ideas I began to wonder if I could perhaps make one of my blogs into a video. After a look through my older posts I came across A Letter to my Younger Self. It was a post inspired by one of those blog post prompts that I tend to use when I’m short of ideas. What would you tell your younger self? What advice could you give?

My younger self needed not only advice but a good kick up the rear end although I didn’t quite go that far in the finished video. As we are still under lockdown I couldn’t go out and shoot anything new but I do have plenty of assorted video that I have accumulated over the years. To make things easier I decided to make the video on Animoto which does have plenty of stock clips that I knew I could use. Not only that, I have used Animoto for several years and I’m pretty confident using it. The alternative was using the windows HD movie maker. I have the Pro version but even so it’s not nearly as user friendly as the old Windows Movie Maker.

OK here we go. I logged on to Animoto but found that I was now one of the few people chosen to use the new beta 3 version of Animoto. Why oh why must our favourite software be continually changed? The first big problem I came across was that when using a vertical image in Animoto, it couldn’t be fully zoomed out; it would only fit on the screen to its width, I couldn’t zoom back and display the full image.

I contacted Animoto and they said you can zoom out using the scale bar. No you can’t I said. Yes, you can they said. I had only just started the project and already I was ready to smash my laptop into small pieces. A few days later after a lot of moaning on various Animoto forums the technical people sorted that issue out and yes, I could finally zoom fully out. Anyway, I ploughed on and when I had an initial basic cut, I made a rough narration and uploaded that to the project so I could get the pictures and video clips to fit in together. This seemed to take a hell of a long time and I found myself continually moving on to some other project or sometimes just surfing through eBay for something to buy that in fact I didn’t really need.

Just to give you a fuller picture of the issue, over lockdown I have ordered 3 DVDs, 3 lots of razor blades for the various razors I use, a bargain box of Terry’s chocolate oranges, a 1/43rd model of a bus I used to drive in 1987, a couple of books and various other things I’m too embarrassed to mention. One other thing I ordered, not from eBay but from Wowcher, was a set of face masks, quite handy I thought for venturing out shopping during the current situation. On Wowcher you order your item and are then given a voucher code which you use on the actual site that sells your item. I sorted that out, entered my code and ordered my face masks.

A week later I received an email saying the company had received my voucher from Wowcher and was ‘processing’ my order. After another week I got another email this time to confirm my order had now become ‘fully processed’. Later another email landed in my inbox advised that the item was now with the Royal Mail. At this rate I might just get the face masks in time for Christmas shopping.

Over on Twitter I tend to schedule my posts for the next few days but just lately Twitter doesn’t seem to want to display my scheduled tweets on my laptop. In fact I get a page looking something like this.

Now this can be a problem because there is no point in scheduling a post for 12:03 on Thursday if I’ve already set one to pop up at a similar time. Emails to Twitter and posts on various forums got me nowhere fast and once again I had to use all my willpower to prevent the violent smashing up of my laptop. The only solution was to schedule the posts using my iPad which happily displays the relevant scheduling page without any issues.

OK. Days have passed, even weeks and after getting my video cut near to perfection it was time to download the result and narrate a much more confident voiceover. Here’s when some more technology issues began to slow me down.

I noticed that when I recorded the voiceover, the recording seemed to be jumping and missing out various words. So, I clicked over to Google and searched for information about optimising sound recordings. I found I had set my recordings to DVD quality and maybe my laptop just couldn’t cope with that. OK, time to reset to CD quality and finally that was another problem sorted. (I’m happy to report I resisted the temptation to just smash my laptop to smithereens again.)

I noticed then that when I had my narration on my computer screen and scrolled down as I read, the microphone was picking up the clicks on the scroll button. I couldn’t print off the narration as I had no ink in the printer so what I did was upload the narration to my OneDrive and open it up on my iPad and read it from there. On my iPad I was asked to log in to OneDrive. I did but they wanted further confirmation. They wanted a passcode entered which they sent to my mobile. Off I went in search of the mobile. I entered the pass code but I was too late. It had expired! I did it again but this time the password was wrong!

(Steve don’t do it. Don’t smash the laptop to smithereens!)

No I didn’t. Instead I recorded the first section of the voiceover, paused, scrolled the text and recorded some more. Brilliant!

OK, final narration added, time for a few quick changes here and there and that was it. The big problem with editing is that when you are replaying your work over and over, it’s easy to miss the odd error. A few things I missed were some text on the screen that was in dark blue but wasn’t easy to see against a dark background and some other similar bits and pieces. I like to leave the finished video for a few days then take another look and then those minor errors are much easier to see.

In the old days of editing video, the editor began at the beginning and just carried on adding the next clip and then the next and so on. Today, working in digital video, the approach is slightly different. A scene can be easily compiled into a rough cut but then the editor can go back and change clips earlier in the video, trimming a bit here or re-ordering things there. Another great thing about modern video editing is that you can save your project so if, at a later date, you want to change something, you don’t have to start all over again. You just open up your saved project, change whatever you want and create a video file for the new version.

I’ve often thought about how wonderful it would to be a professional video editor but then I always see myself at work and the boss comes in and says ’can you have that ready by this afternoon?’. I doubt if I would last long at that company when I handed in the finished product two weeks later.

One of my favourite video editing stories is about Charlie Chaplin. Exactly a hundred years ago in 1920, Chaplin had just completed his first major film as a director, The Kid. He was in the middle of a messy divorce from his first wife Mildred Harris and thinking she was about to seize the unreleased film, Chaplin smuggled the negative to Salt Lake City where he completed the edit in his hotel room. Despite this, The Kid was released to rave reviews and became the second highest grossing film of 1921. I doubt whether A Letter to my Younger Self will get a similar response but it I do love messing about with video or as Liz tends to say twatting about on my laptop!

By the way, that’s the laptop I didn’t smash into a thousand pieces.

Willpower, wow! . .


What to do next:

Share this post on your favourite social media!

Hit the Subscribe button. Never miss another post!

Buy the book! Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle today!

Dealing with that Corporate Event.

This week I was asked to attend a training course by my employer. I have been doing my job, reasonably successfully for the past 14 or so years so I was perhaps a little surprised to hear I required more training. Oh well, at least it was a nice day course and didn’t involve working till 10 pm at night like my regular shift.

Those readers who live in foreign climes may be a little ignorant of local geography in the north west of England but I’m sure many of you will be familiar with the Manchester United Football club in Old Trafford. The Hotel Football just next door to the football ground was the venue for this corporate event and according to google maps my journey from home would take one hour and 16 minutes. However, when the rush hour congestion was factored in it actually took me nearly two hours to get there.

The pretty receptionist at the Hotel Football was, like many receptionists these days a Polish lady. Her English seemed fairly good at first but when I couldn’t actually grasp what she was saying about the car park she produced a printed map with directions.

What English hotels will do for staff when we finally leave the EU I really do not know.

Anyway a short while later I was able to meet up with my colleagues, 3 of whom I was actually familiar with. I’m not sure what I was expecting but I thought the whole thing might involve a small group and not the 50 to 60 people who were milling about vying for cups of tea and bacon sandwiches.

Yes, welcome to the world of the corporate event.

The event or course or whatever it was finally got under way at about 9.30 and opened up with a message from our chief executive explaining that he had also attended the course and how wonderful it was.

Our chief exec by the way, who currently enjoys a £100,000 plus salary with a recent huge increase but feels he can only offer us, his underlings a measly 1 percent pay rise is not universally popular so his claims that we were in for a fascinating day were taken by the group with a pinch of salt.

Our trainers or presenters asked us after every short module to move to a new table and engage with someone new. So first I met a lady from, well I’m not sure what other department she actually represented but she was part of a group who all worked at different locations and every week they had a team meeting facilitated by that wonder of modern computing, skype.

It was actually quite interesting to hear about how these meetings worked when everyone was reduced to a small icon on a laptop screen and how difficult it was, when reduced by your colleagues in this way, to get the attention of the group.

At the next shuffle I introduced myself to a lady from financial planning and it was she, I think who introduced me to the corporate world of acronyms. Now in her world, something that was of major importance was the RIS. Not just RIS1 but also RIS2! What that acronym stood for I don’t know but this particular lady had a strange habit of pronouncing the word RIS and at the same time bending the tip of her nose in a southerly direction. It actually reminded me of when I met someone years ago who told me her party piece was wriggling her ears which she then proceeded to demonstrate. That was good but bending the tip of your nose when saying RIS was even better. However, every time she mentioned the RIS I had to tell myself, stop staring at her nose!

When we were required to move tables and meet new people I decided to stay put and let the new people come to me. I had a good seat where I could hear the presenters quite easily and see the PowerPoint slides that assisted them. Later on that morning I met a really chatty guy from, well again his department didn’t quite register that strongly on my frontal lobes but he was some kind of liaison guy who was involved with various meetings across England. He was quietly humorous too and he mentioned to me that the food at the hotel was supposed to be quite good. As there were in the region of 60 people to serve we decided it was pretty important to be first out of the room when we broke for lunch.

At the appointed hour my colleague shot out of his chair like a greyhound out of the trap or, like one of my old friends would say, like the proverbial wonga bird! As I wasn’t quite so quick off the mark a rampaging herd of hungry colleagues from the table just behind me shot ahead and I ended up well down the queue.

The food I have to say was very nice, in fact it was the highlight of the whole event. I filled my plate with a fresh salad, some cold meats, some pasta in a pesto sauce and some roasted potatoes. An interesting combination you might think but it was very tasty and thirty minutes later we were back in the presentation room.

On the next reshuffle I made a bad mistake and rather than wait for people to come to me I moved towards the rear of the room and found myself sitting with a bunch of people who were involved in the technical aspects of software and computers and they rather looked down on me, the sole representative at the table from operations. The various observations I passed them about the complete inadequacy of our systems went right over their heads although the reliability of various outside contractors was bandied about as a sort of excuse.

One of the big problems I have found with computers and software is that as things move on, particularly with Microsoft, the programs that I use are removed or changed so much they will no longer do what I wanted them to do. Windows Movie Maker is a case in point. It is, or rather was, a great low level video editing program which has disappeared and its successor, HD Movie Maker is just not a patch on the original.

Being at the back of the room where there was no eye contact between myself and our presenters I found my mind beginning to wander and I woke up to hear something going on about Eisenhower’s Box. If you have never heard of this system it’s pretty simple. Dwight D Eisenhower, the late US President and Army General had a system like this:

Box 1: Urgent and Important

Box 2: Important but not urgent

Box 3: Urgent but not important.

Box 4: Neither urgent nor important.

Our final task was to take some elements of our everyday work schedule and add them to the boxes. I did mine in about 3 minutes but my colleagues in the technical department failed I fear to complete the task. No wonder, I thought, that our technology is in such a dire state.

The event fizzled out and when it became apparent that all was over there was a great rush for the exit.

The company had tried valiantly to stamp its work ethos on its workers but sadly, the presentation had lost its way somewhere. There were too many people and most of them wanted to be somewhere else.

Teamwork was one of the main values discussed and I thought that our organisation could learn a lot from the Mercedes F1 team. It was actually pretty interesting to hear Toto Wolf, the team manager at the Mercedes F1 team and James Allison his chief designer talk about the teamwork ethic on the Channel Four F1 broadcast last weekend. Lewis Hamilton has now clinched the 2019 world drivers’ championship and Mercedes are once again the champion constructor, making it 6 in a row for the massively successful team.

They were interviewed after the American Grand Prix and I did wonder for a moment, do they talk about Eisenhower’s box in their corporate events?


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

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!