A Few Christmas Memories

I always find it hard to write a Christmas blog post. I’m not sure why but then Christmas isn’t really my favourite time of the year. Anyway, here are a few of my Christmas memories, some of them culled from previous Christmas posts.

I used to like Christmas way back when I was about 12 years old. There were three presents I wanted as a child for Christmas and I didn’t ever get any of them, well not for Christmas anyway. One was a Secret Sam Briefcase which was a toy briefcase based on something James Bond might have had back in the 1960’s. The other was a toy rifle called a Johnny Seven which was very much like the big blockbuster rifle that Ripley wields towards the end of the film Aliens and the final thing was an Action Man. It was apparently too expensive my mother told me.

Secret Sam case. Picture from Pinterest

After Christmas I still had dreams of getting an Action Man and I eventually did. I bought or swapped one from my old schoolfriend Peter. It had a broken foot but I stuck it back together and had many happy hours of fun with it. I built this huge flying car I called a Jet Raft but sadly the co-pilot’s seat went unoccupied for quite a long time. The next Christmas, Action Man must have come down in price substantially as my brother received one as part of his Christmas box.

Many times I borrowed his Action Man to occupy the co-pilot seat in the Jet Raft. If we fell out during our games as we frequently did, he would depart and take his Action Man with him. Later I bought his Action Man off him outright at what was probably, knowing him, a hugely inflated price.

Back then when you bought an Action Man outfit, each outfit came with a number of stars. If you saved up 21 you could get a free Action Man. I only ever bought a couple of outfits as I mostly made my own. My favourite was an Apollo astronaut outfit I made out of cardboard and some white fabric. However, I did cadge the stars off various schoolfriends and eventually saved up the 21. Yes, it was a great day when the Jet Raft was finally fully manned with pilot, co-pilot and navigator!

This is a picture of my old childhood home. It didn’t look like that when we lived there, there was no drive for a start and there was no metal fence, we used to have privet hedges but of course don’t forget the first rule of karma; nothing stays the same.

Christmases back then were cosy affairs. My brother and me lying on the mat in front of the coal fire and Bob, the family dog, trying to push past us for prime position. He used to get as close to the fire as he possibly could. When his nose dried up my mother would shout at him and drag him away as a dog with a dried-up nose is, as we all know, such a terrible thing. Well, mum thought so anyway.

We used to watch a lot of old black and white films back then, in fact many of the films I saw were films that my dad had seen in his younger days at the cinema. Once we watched Angels with Dirty Faces and I could see from my dad’s face that the film must have brought back good memories for him. I won’t tell you the end of the film because it has quite a clever twist but for whatever reason, just as we approached the final reel, dad felt so moved by re-experiencing the film that he had to tell me the ending! Thanks a bunch dad!

Yes, I’ve experienced many Christmases, some good and some bad. Many years ago I lived with my girlfriend, I’ll call her J. (J for Judas.) On Christmas morning J went out early to take her two children to Christmas day mass. While she was away, I charged up my video camera and when they returned, I shot various things, opening presents and having Christmas dinner and so on. It makes me sad to see that video now although I haven’t seen it for years. When the children came back from mass, they were anxious to open their presents but we were still waiting for their mum. Where is she, I asked? Oh, she had to make a phone call they said. Phone call? Why use the call box round the corner when we had a phone. Two phones in fact, one in the hall and one upstairs. When J eventually came home, she told me she had been chatting to a neighbour. A little alarm bell went off in my head at the time but I dismissed it.

Later it turned out that she had used the call box to phone her new boyfriend, the one she eventually left me for.

Another Christmas I remember was when I had bought my first car. I was still at home and we had moved out from Manchester just over the border into Cheshire. It was freezing cold and my radiator was leaking so I topped it up with water from the tap. I drove back into Manchester, went to a party which I ended up walking home from. When I went back the next day, the radiator had frozen and ruined the engine. That was an expensive Christmas and an expensive lesson to learn about motor cars.

My first car, a three wheeled Bond Bug

Here’s one last Christmas memory. One far off Christmas spent with another ex-girlfriend in our small home in Merseyside. I’ll call the girl in question X. I had some time owing me so I had taken a few days off after Christmas. It had not been a great Christmas as it was the first one since X’s mother had died and she had sadly put the previous year’s Christmas card from her mother in pride of place right on the top of the TV.

Anyway, everyone was getting used to going back to work and there was me, who had worked during Christmas, knackered, worn out and ready for a break. I spent one day with my brother having a nice post-Christmas drink in Manchester and the next day I was relaxing, catching up on some TV of the type hated by X, yes, sci fi stuff, Star Trek, black and white films and so on and then a revelation came to me.

What if I took down the decorations, got rid of the tree, and chucked out the rubbish? There were piles of wrapping paper and empty bottles about and so on. I could actually come out of this looking good for once. Anyway, there and then I just got stuck straight in. I took the tree down, packed away all the ornaments and decorations and put the box back in the loft. The tree was chopped up and placed in the correct bin, the green one.

All the papers, wrapping paper and empty chocolate boxes and stuff were all removed and placed in the correct bin, (Don’t want to upset those hard-working bin men by putting stuff in the wrong bins, do we?) Old Christmas cards were removed also and placed into the brown bins.

After that a quick hoover up and a sort out of the furniture, all put back in its proper place.

Well, I think I worked up a bit of a sweat there as I remember. Great! Time now for a well-deserved cuppa, a bacon butty and get that black and white movie I recorded the other day cranked up.

As I sat there watching Ronald Colman, I could hear the sound of the bin men reversing down the avenue. Yes, my trusty van was on the drive, well out of the bin wagon’s way. (I don’t want to cast a slur on the bin wagon driver but accidents had been known to occur. And there was that incident last year when my next-door neighbour had the affrontery to park a huge transit van in the road making access difficult for the bin wagon so, well they just refused to come up the drive and empty our bins.) I had placed all the bins down by the end of the drive just within easy picking up distance for the bin men. (Can’t have them walking all the way up the drive to get the bins can we?)

Just then X came in through the door, I stood there foolishly thinking she would be happy and waiting for the praise that was bound to come my way. I hadn’t spent my day self-indulgently doing ‘my’ stuff. I had cleaned and tidied. I had helped. Hadn’t I?

X took one look at the tidy lounge then looked at me and said in a sort of scary accusatory sort of way: “What have you done?”

Well, I thought it was pretty obvious what had been done but just then the reversing horn of the approaching bin wagon set off a warning bell. What was wrong? The tree was in the correct bin. The plastic stuff and empty bottles in the glass and plastic bin. The paper stuff, the Christmas cards were all in the paper bin. The Christmas cards . .

I legged it outside just in the nick of time to dive into the paper bin just as the binman was about to empty it. Sprawled across the bin I rummaged frantically through the cardboard and wrapping paper and retrieved X’s mother’s card from certain destruction.

‘Afternoon’ I said nonchalantly to the bin men. They just looked at me with that ‘it’s that nutter from number 4’ look on their faces. Back inside X grabbed the card from my hand with a lethal black look and it was then that we became aware of a certain amount of what appeared to be tomato soup that had somehow attached itself to the card. Now, where that had come from, I do not know, I had not even eaten tomato soup that day (although perhaps I did throw a used tin of the stuff in the rubbish.) Oh well, at least my quick thinking had rescued the card!

Not long after, X and I parted company.

Those were a few of my Christmas memories. Hope you have a great Christmas and New Year.


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It’s C-C-Cold

This has got to be my least favourite time of the year. I hate the cold. Yes, actually hate it. It’s not a case of disliking it or preferring it to be warm or not being happy about it. Yes, I hate the cold.

I suppose, looking on the bright side, at least I can say I’m not living in Norway or Greenland or even Iceland but then again, it’s only a matter of 849 miles from the UK to Iceland. No wonder I’m cold. It would be nice if I could hibernate like a hedgehog. Have a good feed and then curl up in some nice, cosy spot and wake up in the Spring. I can just imagine waking up having slept through the winter. I’d have a long hot shower and then have breakfast out in the garden, perhaps cook some bacon and eggs and then just sit back and check my emails and see what has been happening while I’ve been away.

Anyway, back to reality and I’ll just pop the fan heater on for a few minutes while I go and load up the coal scuttle so I can light the fire.

We are off to Lanzarote in January and just thinking about it brings on a quick daydream: I’m over in Lanzarote and the temperature is a nice 70F. The pool is perhaps a little chilly but I jump in and after a few lengths I get out, slump into my deckchair and relax while the sun dries my body. I’ve got a book not far away for when I’m ready to read and I’m looking forward to some fresh salad and a barbecue later. Of course, we might even be walking down to the marina and our favourite tapas bar and partaking of a glass or two of red wine.

Back to reality again and excuse me while I pop out and chop some more wood for the fire. I put the kettle on and switch on the TV. I’m in the mood for an old black and white classic British film and what does BBC2 have to offer?  Scott of the Antarctic!

Captain Scott planned to make an expedition to the north pole but then changed his mind and went for the south pole. At pretty much the same time Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian explorer, decided he also wanted to make the trip so a kind of race began. Who would get to the pole first? Amundsen decided to travel in classic fashion with teams of dogs pulling sledges. Scott decided he would use new mechanical devices, vehicles with caterpillar tracks, all of which broke down in the cold. Scott also used ponies but they were not acclimatised to the cold and fared poorly. Amundsen’s dogs turned out to be the best choice.

Why either of them would want to go to the pole is completely beyond me. All that they found there was a shed load of snow and ice which most people could have predicted anyway.

As we all know, Scott got beaten to the pole by Amundsen. The gallant British explorers then had to face the task of getting back to civilisation, however the weather worsened and the men froze to death in their tent.

Scott of The Antarctic is a sad film although John Mills plays a good part as usual and James Robertson Justice plays a serious role for a change, that of Captain Oates who disappears into the snow after telling his friends that he ‘might be some time.’ Oates perished like his friends but his courageous actions have never been forgotten.

While I’m on the subject of Antarctica, here’s an interesting story. In 1513 an Ottoman Admiral and cartographer called Piri Reis compiled a map of the world. According to Wikipedia the map, not all of which has survived, depicts the western coasts of Europe and north Africa and Brazil with reasonable accuracy. The Canary Islands are also shown as well as Antarctica. Eric Von Daniken mentions the map in his book Chariots of the Gods and claims that extra-terrestrials may have supplied the information for earlier maps on which the Piri Reis’ map was based. Why you might ask? Well, the northern coast of Antarctica was perfectly detailed in the map but how could Reis know this when the coastline of the area is buried under snow and ice?

Anyway, enough of the Antarctic. Time for a quick scan through my emails. What’s this one:

I have to say, I’ve always rather fancied skiing. It looks pretty exciting and I can imagine it might even be a lot of fun. The big problem is that it involves paying money to travel somewhere that is cold and I have to say, straight out, that going to places that are not only cold but colder than where I live is not only wrong, it really must be either illegal or immoral or probably both. Quick on the spot reappraisal: Skiing? I don’t think so!

Right, kettle on and another steaming hot cup of tea coming up. I needed something to warm me up. I had the fire lit and as I settled down with my hot tea I was actually beginning to feel, not completely warm but a bit of a thaw at least. I flipped through the TV channels like the dedicated couch potato I am and what did I find?

Ice Station Zebra.

Ice Station Zebra was not only one of my favourite films but it was also a favourite of billionaire Howard Hughes. He would watch it regularly in his rooms high above Las Vegas and many times when it had finished, he would ask his aides to rewind the film on his projector and show it again.

Rock Hudson stars as the skipper of a submarine sent on a rescue mission to the north pole. Also on board the ship are a mysterious spy duo played by Ernest Borgnine and Patrick McGoohan. When the film was shot, McGoohan was in the middle of filming the TV series The Prisoner and while he was away from the set of the TV show an episode had to be shot without him so the writers dreamed up an installment in which his character Number 6 finds himself in the body of someone else, that of actor Nigel Stock. All of this was engineered for Patrick to star in the film without affecting the production of the TV series.

Ice Station Zebra was based on the novel by Alastair MacLean and it’s a film I’ve always enjoyed despite the cold location.

I piled more coal on the fire but I was still not feeling particularly warm. In fact I was quickly developing various symptoms that were all too familiar: runny nose, feeling cold, slight sore throat, high temperature, clearly a major cold, possibly even serious influenza was on the way. Might as well get out and enjoy myself I thought before being consigned to coughing, spluttering and sneezing, sipping hot lemon and whisky and not wanting to emerge from under the covers. Liz and I decided to visit our local Indian restaurant and join a few of our friends dining there. Obviously, it was going to be cold so I wrapped up well. Shirt, woolly jumper and thick new fleecy coat.

We settled down in the restaurant where I was pleasantly surprised to find the heating was going full blast. Off went the jumper, off went the coat. Poppadoms, onion bhaji and chicken bhuna with pilau rice? Yes, don’t mind if I do.

After some spicy food I finally warmed up. Well, for a little while anyway.


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Another Moany Whingey Kind of Blog Post

This week there are a few things I need to get off my chest, so what better way than to throw them into a blog post and just get the whole lot out into the open.

Here we go then.

I really do hate the cold which is why Liz and I spend the summer heading to the warmer climes of France in our motorhome and jet off to Lanzarote in January. As winter is coming ever closer I decided to splash out a little cash and buy myself a new winter jacket. It’s a fleece lined jacket with a warm fleecy hood just perfect for keeping the cold out and the warmth in. The problem is that as I write this, which might be a few weeks before it is injected into the cyberworld, the weather here in the northwest of England is pretty mild. So mild that when I first wore the new jacket, I found myself boiling hot. Maybe I should just put it away for the really bad weather. Typical! I’m prepared for the cold weather but things have got warmer. OK, that’s my first moan out of the way.

I do hate this time of year, Hallowe’en especially. Strange people start knocking on my door asking for treats. I don’t mind treating friends or family but strangers? I don’t think so! I found myself this Hallowe’en hoping it would be cold and raining but the day started off really nice and the sun was out and there was me, sweltering in my new fleecy jacket.

Oh well, as soon as Hallowe’en is over then it’s bonfire night where suburbia turns into something resembling a battle zone with bangers and rockets going off at all times of the day and night.

This week I received a message from an old friend of mine, Gary. I’d not spoken to Gary for a long time and to be honest, Gary is more of an acquaintance than a friend. Anyway, Gary sent me a message asking about a claim I could make. What claim? What was he on about? Of course, Gary is a similar age to me and I thought that maybe he’d retired, knew that I was a fellow retiree and just wanted my advice. I answered his message which was a big mistake. It wasn’t Gary but someone who had created a fake Facebook identity in his name. I blocked the fake Gary and reported the scam to Facebook but answering that message had consequences. Almost straight away friends were contacting me to say they had received dubious messages supposedly from me so in those few minutes before I blocked the fake Gary, he had scanned through my page, copied my pictures, produced a fake Steve Higgins site and was trying to scam others.

I wasn’t amused and I wasn’t amused by the response from Facebook. It seems to me that the bigger the organisation involved, the harder it is to contact them. I had a problem over on YouTube a few years ago when they blocked one of my videos saying it was spam. Spam? It wasn’t spam at all, it was a short entertaining little piece lasting about forty seconds explaining the virtues of this very blog. It was a nightmare getting in touch with someone who wasn’t an automated bot at YouTube and in the end, I was getting absolutely nowhere so I gave up, deleted the video and just made a new one.

Photo by FLY:D on Unsplash

Over on Facebook I found that to report a scam like this, it wasn’t possible to actually explain in detail what the issue was; no, you had to tick various boxes and it was a little difficult trying to find a box that exactly fit the situation that I was trying to report. I ticked a box for suspicious content which wasn’t exactly right.  Facebook later pinged into my inbox a short message saying they couldn’t find any issues with the content of Steve Higgins.

OK, stay calm, try again. The next time I seemed to have somehow reported myself rather than the fake but then I came across a button about fake identities. Yes, fake identity reporting. That was it! It would have been nice for a comments box to be available advising the details of the scam but clearly that looks like it was too much to ask for. Anyway, I think I finally managed to get through to Facebook but it wasn’t easy. Later when I did a Facebook search for Steve Higgins the fake account wasn’t there so presumably it had either been deleted or the scammer had given up and was looking at pastures new.

A similar thing happened with my car insurance, As usual the premiums have gone up. You might think as I’m no longer a regular commuter and have a lifetime of collision free driving behind me including a lot of years as a motorway traffic officer, you might think that my premiums might actually be going down. Of course not, so once again I’ve had to search the internet for a cheaper insurance supplier. I chose my deal, sent them the cash and advised my old company that I would no longer be needing their services. I downloaded my no claims certificate ready to upload to my new company. They mentioned when I purchased the insurance that they would contact me and ask for proof of the no claims. Well, they never asked! How could I send them my no claims letter anyway? Well, there is a contact us section on their web site, that leads us to the frequently asked questions page. Are these frequently asked questions what you wanted they ask? No. Click the contact us button and that takes us, yes, you’ve guessed it, back the FAQ page.

I reckon we’re up to moan number 4 now but what the heck, who’s counting? On Monday I popped into Asda for a few items, chief among them a bottle of tawny port. For some reason Asda was packed to the seams. I’m not sure why but the really annoying thing is that, like a lot of supermarkets, Asda seems to have cut down on staff manning their tills and increased the amount of self-service tills. Now I may be an seasoned internet blogger, an experienced iPad and laptop user, an editor of videos both on and offline and even a podcaster but one thing I will never understand is how to check out at a self service till.

Whenever I come close to one, I always get messages about things in the bagging area, things that should be there or shouldn’t be there and I always, always, have to call for assistance. Even if I don’t call for assistance something will go off advising me that assistance is on the way. Every time! It happened on my recent visit and then on the way out the alarms went off. Why? Well on bottles of alcohol, like port, they have this anti-theft thingy attached which one needs to have removed by calling for assistance. Self service supermarket tills, I hate them. Help to till 12 please! I need the device removing from my bottle of port.

Later on back home on Hallowe’en night, I realised that the two digital clocks in the house were showing the wrong time. The hour had gone back that week to Daylight Saving Time and even though my iPad and mobile phone automatically change time, older things like digital clocks, need to be manually updated which in itself is quite annoying. It was dark then by 5:30 and I had the curtains closed and the lights turned down as I was thinking that I wasn’t even going to open the door to Hallowe’en trick or treaters this year. I could eat my tea in the kitchen rather than on a tray while watching TV and soon Hallowe’en would be just a distant memory.

Round about six I heard something outside. Not people knocking on the door, not voices, no! It was a torrential downpour, a complete washout and all those annoying kids asking for treats had gone; they had all rushed home to escape from the rain.

Hey, Hallowe’en wasn’t such a bad day after all!


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Diary of An Oddball Kind of Day

I had another completely different kind of blog post planned for today but something happened that I just had to write about. Life and the things that get in your way when you’re not expecting them. I’ll start with the day before. I drove down to Manchester to my mother’s house. I like to write there and make some bits and pieces of video. It’s nice to be alone just for a while, to eat when I want to eat, eat what I want and to just generally sit back and open my laptop and create stuff. Sometimes nothing happens and I spend quite a lot of time watching DVDs and mowing the lawn. Actually, I was planning on one of those last lawn mowing efforts before the winter but alas, it had rained during the night and the lawn was soaked.

Arriving at mum’s I made a brew and started making some food. I sat down and waited for things to be ready and made a second brew. I’ve got a great mug at mum’s house. It’s big, bigger than a normal mug but not a giant one. It’s not too big and not too small, just perfect in fact. I ate my dinner, drank my tea and watched a little TV.

As it happens, not much was happening on terrestrial TV so I broke out the DVD box set that Liz had got me for my birthday. It was McMillan and Wife, one of my favourite old TV shows which surprisingly has not been repeated on British TV. Back-to-back episodes of Columbo are shown every Sunday and as much as I love Columbo you’d think broadcasters would like to mix things up and perhaps show the other elements of what used to be Mystery Movie: McCloud, Banacek or even McMillan and Wife.

McMillan and Wife starred Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James as the McMillans, a husband-and-wife detective team. Hudson plays the Police Commissioner of San Francisco and he and his wife go about solving various mysteries. It’s not quite as good as Columbo which for me has to be one of the greatest ever detective shows on TV. The series ran for 6 seasons but Susan left after season 5. She later gave up full time acting to concentrate on her family. Rock Hudson as we all probably know was a closet gay who died of AIDS in 1990.  Susan Saint James once said he was ‘the sexiest man alive!’

Anyway, let’s fast forward to the next day. I got up, washed and dressed and came down for breakfast. Soon I had sausages and bacon sizzling on my George Foreman grill and an egg all ready. The kettle boiled, the teapot was ready but where was the cup? You know the one, my favourite cup, the one not too big or too small. It wasn’t in the lounge and it wasn’t in the kitchen. It wasn’t on the drainer or in the sink with the dirty pots. In short, it had vanished. There was no other choice but to use another cup. I went for a slightly smaller one but, being a different size, I ended up with too much milk and not enough tea.

I had a feeling then that this was an omen, that this day wasn’t going to be good. Oh well!

Breakfast scoffed, I went out and walked into the civic centre to do some business. On the street just a few minutes walk from the centre I spotted a man approaching. He was about 30, tall and clearly under the influence of something, drink or drugs I wasn’t sure what. He was wearing flip flops and a pair of denim shorts which was a bit of a surprise as it was pretty cold. The top he was wearing looked a little like a sort of plastic mac only a very small one, a good three sizes too small for this guy. The buttons were all fastened but were straining a little. His belly was showing, not a particularly big belly but clearly there was nothing on under the mac. I made to walk to the other side of the road and this guy did the same. I nonchalantly turned back to my original side but the guy looked a bit confused by this and he decided to change direction also. Maybe he wanted to ask me something, I don’t know but to be fair, I just wasn’t in the mood to chat to a drunken idiot, especially as this was only about 10:30 in the morning.

A white van came down the street then going far too fast and the guy lurched back to my side but, anticipating this I ducked behind the van to the other side. As we passed on opposite sides of the street he gave a friendly wave and I waved back. He nearly fell over then but managed to keep control and despite nearly walking into a tree carried on.

My business that day was with my mother’s banks. There were two both side by side. My mother, for whatever reason, had split her money between the two banks and I had a court order enabling me to take control of her funds.

Bank number 1 was closed despite showing on their web site as being open until 5pm. That was annoying but I went into bank number 2. I spoke to a staff member and explained everything. Did I have a copy of the court order? Yes I did as well as a copy of my deputy certificate. Now this is where things get tricky. We live, as you know, in an electronic email internet age and my documents were saved on my phone, ready to be sent electronically to whoever needed to see them.

That’s no good explained the lady. We need to see a hard copy. Well, I can email them to you I said. No good she answered, I haven’t got an email address! Don’t give me that I thought. Everyone has an email address, especially people who work at big institutions like banks. No said the lady, you’ll have to phone our special hotline. She jotted down the number and sent me away.

OK, look on the good side. I’ve had a bit of exercise and taken in some fresh air so I went home and started again.

I called the number given to me by bank number 2. The conversation was a little difficult but they gave me a link to their website and I was eventually able to upload my documents. I still haven’t heard from them a week later but at least I’ve got somewhere….I think.

Bank number 2 was a little trickier. It turns out mum’s branch was in the process of closing down so I was advised to contact another branch. No problem I thought, there’s a branch near Liz in St Annes. Wrong! Turns out that branch has closed down too. There is a branch in Blackpool. I gave them a call, explained the situation. They too want to see a hard copy. Can’t I just upload the documents? No, they want to see the actual document. OK. I made an appointment to see them. I went to my solicitor and she had made me 6 copies of the court order. I passed them to bank number 1. OK? No, we want the original, not a copy. We want to make our own copy!

I knew it was going to be a bad day.

Back home I put the kettle on. Another search for my cup and still no sign. This is it. I knew it would end like this, losing my marbles. I made another cup of tea in another mug. Once again it was too strong and I had put too much milk in. Oh well, I’ll have to get used to my new mug I suppose.

What’s for tea? I’d not made a chilli for a while so I chopped the onions and garlic and fried gently. In went the mince along with cumin and chilli paste. Later, in went the tomatoes and stock. I transferred everything to my slow cooker and left it to gently bubble away. After a while I became concerned as no chilli aromas seemed to be forthcoming. A quick check and I noticed that I hadn’t plugged the slow cooker in!

My trusty old tea mug.

I’m trying to think of similar days. There was the time Liz and I went to a hotel in Folkestone. We were getting dressed for dinner and I realised the black shoes that I’d brought were both left shoes. Yes, that evening I don’t think I cut quite the figure I wanted to cut with my smart jacket, trousers and trainers. Then there was that other time, the one where I went for a night out wearing a white suit and came back with beer and kebab stains all over me. Oh well, these things happen.

The next morning, I had breakfast and then a few ideas came to me and I started tapping away furiously on my laptop. After a while I reached out for my tea. I had hardly drunk any and it had gone cold. I was going to throw it away but then thought I could easily warm it up in the microwave. I opened the microwave and what was there? My favourite cup and some old cold tea!

Today was going to be a good day!


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We’re Having A Heatwave

I don’t usually write about anything topical but a big thing in the UK at the moment is the current red warning about the heat. Yes, the heat. According to the media there is a heatwave due for this coming week, (this week as you read this) warning us to stay under cover, drink plenty of water and to visit cool places that have air con like the local library. I’m not sure our local library even has air conditioning so no point in going there, unless you want to borrow one of their books.

The Red Extreme heat national severe weather warning will cover Monday and Tuesday (18th and 19th July) for parts of central, northern, eastern and south eastern England. An Amber Extreme heat warning, has been in place for much of England and Wales for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday (17th – 19thJuly) since earlier this week. Today the amber areas are also being extended to cover Cornwall, west Wales and parts of southern Scotland.

OK so let me get this right, the extreme heat warning is for just two days, not the whole of the summer. The expected heat is going to reach temperatures of 40 degrees C, which works out at 104 degrees Fahrenheit, which is pretty much the temperatures we Brits are looking for when we jet off to Spain for our summer holidays. Is it worth getting excited about? Well, for a month of 100 plus degrees yes but for two days, I don’t think so.

Come to think of it, when we were in France a few weeks ago the weather was really hot. The temperatures hit 100F then but the French didn’t get their knickers in a twist, they just came down to the lake where we were staying and went for a swim.

What precautions have I taken so far? Well, I’ve put a few bottles of water in the fridge. I’ve got some t-shirts and shorts ready. Liz bought a big tray of meat for barbecuing from the butchers. She also filled up her pool. It’s not a big pool, it’s about 8 foot by 5 and it took us a while to put it together, connecting various steel tubes which click together to make the framework that holds the main water tank. I have to say I didn’t expect to be using it but I have slipped into it on a couple of occasions, just to cool myself down.

Anyway, let’s look at the days prior to the heatwave.

Saturday.

Started off a little dull but warmed up later. Spent the day reading and had a barbecue later. I thought it went a little chilly that evening and popped my fleece on. Liz told me I was ‘nesh’.

Sunday.

Quite warm. Spent the day reading in the garden. Numerous dips in the pool. Had a barbecue later. A mild, warm evening.

Monday. (Red Alert Day)

It was a warm night but hardly roasting. I woke early at about 7am. I stayed in bed and went through my emails and checked my weekend blog stats. I washed and shaved and made a cup of tea. I checked for mail, the proper mail that comes to the post box. Nothing so far. I was expecting a pair of shoes I had bought on eBay and wanted to intercept them before Liz arose and threw the usual Imelda Marcos cracks at me that I usually throw at her. While I was having my tea Liz came in and checked the mail. A parcel was there for me. It was the expected shoes: cue the expected Imelda Marcos gags.

I parked myself on my sun lounger ready for a good read but things went a little dull and then it started to rain. The quick shower was soon over with and then the sky cleared and the sun came out.

Things got pretty hot especially when we cranked up the barbecue once again. Being sunny the wine was at the perfect temperature and the food, some chicken kebabs, a little steak, some sausages and some small burgers went down a treat. Liz’s salad starter was pretty outstanding too. On the TV news later, we were advised that numerous trains had been cancelled and British Rail was advising travellers not to travel and to stay at home. Apparently, it was so hot the rails were buckling in many places and the trains were running at slower speeds to avoid any potential accidents. Funny how the trains in hot places like Spain, Greece, the South of France, Africa and other hot spots never seem to be affected by buckling rails. Do those pesky foreigners use some sort of special steel for their rails?

The highest ever temperatures were recorded in places like Suffolk (38.1C) which fell just short of a new UK high according to the BBC website. They also said that now Tuesday is going to be even hotter!

Tuesday.

Tuesday started out very warm. Too warm in fact for any unnecessary cooking heating up the house so we had boiled eggs for breakfast. I got myself settled in the garden but then everything clouded over and we even had a brief rain shower. After that it did get pretty warm. A strong wind started up but soon died out. According to the news the projected temperature of 42 degrees C didn’t happen but 40.3C recorded down south somewhere is apparently a new UK temperature record.

The London fire service recorded their busiest day since WWII and on the news there was the sad story of a fire that enveloped an entire row of houses. Luckily, no one was injured.

Back in the north west I was lying idly on my sun lounger and I started to think about film clips that I might use in this post. Lawrence of Arabia was one that first came to mind but then I remembered that excellent British Film, Ice Cold in Alex. John Mills plays Captain Anson, an officer in charge of an ambulance unit in Tobruk in the Second World War. Anson must get his crew across the desert to the British lines and escape the advancing German troops. Anson is suffering with battle fatigue and alcoholism and is determined not to drink until he can buy his crew a cold lager in Alexandria. They face various struggles in the desert but finally get to have that ice cold beer.

In the 1980’s, the moment when the crew get their beer was used in a popular TV beer commercial. Looks good doesn’t it but that barman could use a little extra training on how to pour a glass of beer.

Wednesday.

Wednesday was windy, dull and considerably cooler, that was it I suppose for the so called heatwave. It has of course been a pretty hot week for UK politics. Boris Johnson has been forced to resign as Prime Minister (his last words to parliament were apparently ‘hasta la vista, baby’) and the Conservative party are busy electing a new leader. The two candidates remaining after the Conservative MP’s whittled the candidates down to two are Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, neither of whom I’d be interested in voting for but as I’m not a member of the Conservative party, I won’t even get a chance.

Yes, the heatwave was pretty nice while it lasted, certainly for me but then I really do hate the cold and of course, I haven’t had to go to work. It gave me a chance to work on my tan and I’ve really enjoyed our barbecue meals. Not sure if it might be just a little too chilly to have another one tonight though.

By the way, where did I leave that fleece?


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The Day I Finally Cracked It

I’m still feeling rather fed up lately. It’s great to have no work to do but it’s important to fill that time and to keep busy, neither of which I’m currently doing.

Because I’m a little bored my writing has been affected too, I’m not doing much so I have little to write about. I don’t have the 42 mile trip to work so I’m not in my car as much and when I’m in my car that’s when a lot of my ideas come.

Years ago when I drove for the bus company I decided to pack the job in and try my hand at driving coaches. It was a bad mistake, I was only 21, I was too immature to take on a responsible job like coaching. I hadn’t travelled about much and so I didn’t know my way around the UK. On every trip I had to spend ages planning my route and where to stop and frankly, I just wasn’t up to the job. The result was that I ended up back at the bus company again. There were no vacancies at my old garage where they were gearing up to be all one man operated buses so I agreed to move to Stockport. At Stockport they still had a lot of old fashioned buses that were driver and conductor operated but to be honest, operating a bus with two people was much more fun.

Two staff members retired which I remember well. They were both characters. The first one was a long serving conductor whose name I can never remember. I’ll call him Tony. Tony was looking forward to retirement. He had worked for North Western before buses were nationalised and he always looked down on those who had worked for the ‘corporation’, the municipal bus companies. North Western had run a lot of long distance routes but the corporation had only local routes. When buses were nationalised the long distance routes went to National Express and Tony was forced to work for GM Buses which took over local routes.

Tony had planned well for his retirement. He had gone on a few retirement courses, he had invested well and had also topped up his pension with a private one. He wouldn’t miss the bus company for a minute. On his last day he walked over to Sainsbury’s for something and dropped dead in the frozen food aisle. He never got to enjoy his retirement at all.

Another long-time employee was Bert, known to all as ‘Cracked it’ Bert. Bert was a crusty old guy who always wore the full uniform including the cap. He worked on the 900 rota on which all the old timers worked. They didn’t do weekends and they worked easy split shifts covering the morning rush hour and then returning later for the evening one. Bert always used to say to me that it was hard work because the staff were ‘always in the thick of the action’. Don’t believe a word of it. Split shifts were busy, very busy but not the ones on the 900 rota.

The 900 rota was unofficially known as the ‘Sick, Lame, and Lazy Rota’, and it was all easy work; the odd works’ service and a couple of the easier school runs.

Thrown in to their duties was also a gratuitous share of standby time. Standby was when you have spare drivers or conductors, ready to fill in to replace another crew when a bus had broken down or staff had called in sick. The thing was, with the 900 rota, their standby time was only a couple of hours so they were ninety nine percent certain they would never be called to go out. The drivers were fairly amenable old chaps but the conductors, all mostly clippies, female conductresses apart from Tony and Bert, were all quite the opposite. Go out on their stand by time, when they could be supping tea and knitting? Not likely! As you can imagine the 900 staff were universally unpopular.

When I was a one-man driver, in the latter days of conductor operations, we used to do a trip from Bramhall in the morning rush hour. When we got closer to Stockport the bus was always packed to the seams and the extra rush hour bus, covered by the 900 staff, always used to hang back and let the one-man driver do all the work. Well, we can’t expect our senior 900 staff to cover that busy run can we? And knitting won’t do itself, will it?

I remember pulling into Mersey Square in Stockport with a bus bursting at the seams and the 900 bus pulling in behind me with about five people on board. I went back to that bus and told them in no uncertain terms they were out of order. The driver was about to say something when his clippie, Doris, the laziest conductress you ever met, pushed him aside and gave me a right mouthful about how I hadn’t been doing the job five minutes and how she and her driver had been at it since before I was born and well, I think you get the picture.

Now I have always believed in the interconnectedness of the universe, how one good deed will come back to you twofold and how those evil doers, as they used to call them in my old comic days, will eventually be punished. Anyway, one fine day it came to pass that I was asked to work my day off. I came in for my stand by duty and sat down with a cuppa and a slice of toast hoping for a nice relaxing read. After a while the tannoy called my name and I went over to the desk to see what was in store for me.

Doris, the laziest conductress in the world was there waiting for me. ‘Are you driver Higgins?’ she bellowed.

‘What’s it to you?’ I replied in the same happy tone.

Well, it turned out that Karma, that magical mystery force of the universe had poked its nose into our life that day and her driver had called in sick and, guess what? I was her driver for the day. Well, when we came to do the Bramhall rush hour bus, instead of hanging back, I passed the packed one-man bus and we did most of the work coming into Stockport. That’s the way it should have been done with the workload, and the passengers split evenly between the two buses.

When we got to Stockport our passengers piled off leaving our flustered conductress in a state of disarray and her cash bag full of coins. Her ticket machine had issued more tickets in an hour than it normally did in a week. She was looking a little peaky, if I remember correctly.

Perhaps that’s why she went sick for the rest of the shift!

Anyway, getting back to Bert. His place in the canteen was the very first table just by the entrance. He let on to everyone who entered with his usual phrase ‘Have you cracked it yet?’

If you had just come on shift you could only reply ‘Not yet Bert’. If you had nearly finished work the obvious answer was ‘nearly done Bert’.

Bert took his retirement and that first table by the entrance was empty for many a week. Then one day I came in for my break and who was there but Bert, dressed in his civvies of course.

‘How are you, Bert?’ I asked.

We had a bit of chit chat and then I went on to order my breakfast. After that I saw Bert pretty regularly as he took his usual place in the canteen most days. Buses and that canteen had been his life for so long he couldn’t stay away. He must have been 65 back then and that was over 30 years ago, I doubt if he would still be alive today. Even so, I can just imagine bumping into him and him asking me ‘have you cracked it yet Steve?’

I’d smile back and answer ‘I’ve finally cracked it, Bert’.


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https://youtu.be/36P5mCSp0xg

A Short Collection of Bitesized Posts

A bunch of short posts were lying in my drafts box waiting for me to either finish them off or merge them into another blog post, so I thought I’d put a few of them together and with a bit of luck, these bitesized posts might even link together.

It was a lovely sunny day when I last visited my mother. She is 92 years old and suffering with dementia. Most of the time she looks fresh and healthy but her problem is not in her body but her mind. I visited about a month ago and her first words were ‘please help me’. I asked what was wrong and what did she want but all she could do was repeat endlessly ‘please help me’ like a record stuck in a groove. She did that for the duration of our meeting and I left saddened to see her that way. On the last visit she was completely different; chatty and alert. We spoke about the warm weather and the rose buds that were on the bush outside her room. We talked about her sister Ada who was a keen cyclist and was sadly killed in a road accident many years ago. I asked her how she was sleeping and she gave me a big smile and said ‘you know I never have any trouble sleeping!’

As usual I asked her to recite some times tables in the hope it will get her to use her memory and exercise her brain waves. We did a simple one, the three times table. One three is three, two threes are six and so on. Round about nine she began to falter and looked suddenly distressed. ‘I can’t remember anymore’ she said sadly.


Saturday has always been the traditional first day of rest. The Monday to Friday grind is over and we can finally get down to some serious relaxing. Now that I’m retired though, I find that a much nicer day is actually Monday. Everyone else has mostly gone back to work and the kids are off to school. The street outside is quiet and it’s great to go out in the evening and find pubs and restaurants not quite as packed as they were at the weekend. In the book A Kind of Loving the hero who works in a drawing office is asked to go out to deliver a letter to an absent colleague. When he is outside, he remarks how busy the streets are. Who are all these people? Why are they not at work? I remember having the same thoughts myself when I first started work and was occasionally sent forth from my office job to visit other businesses in Manchester.

I’ve not been to Manchester much lately, mostly because of the pandemic and the various lockdowns we have experienced. On one of my last visits, I visited the beautiful building in Manchester which once upon a time was the headquarters of the Refuge Assurance building where I first started work many years ago. I was a fresh-faced youth of 16 when I started there and now that my old workplace is a hotel I often visit there and remember my old job as an insurance clerk.

When I visited last year, I had my camera with me as usual and one thing I have always tried to do is to use my own pictures in my many YouTube videos. When I have had to use a stock picture either from Unsplash or Adobe, I tend to try and replace it with my own photos in my inevitable re-edit if I have taken an appropriate picture at a later date. In one of my videos, I wanted a shot of a pint being poured, so in the bar of the hotel in what used to be our old reception area, I asked the barman if I could take a shot while he pulled my pint. No was the distinctly unfriendly reply. I explained that his face wouldn’t be in the picture, it would be a close up so only his hands would be visible. Was it for me personally or would it be displayed on the internet or used in a YouTube video? Well, yes, it would be used possibly in a YouTube video. No came the answer once again. It wasn’t the hotel policy apparently for staff to get involved in ‘unofficial’ photography. Pity. Anyway, here’s an ‘unofficial’ shot of my pint in the bar which wasn’t really what I wanted. (It wasn’t a great pint either!)


This last week Liz and I went to her friend’s 60th birthday party. Her friend Alice (names have been changed to protect the innocent) is a singer, actually a cabaret singer and she has always struck me as being very normal, very down to earth and non- showbizzy. That of course was before I saw her in her proper showbizzy environment. The party was in a nice hotel and a pretty good singer kept us entertained while we found seats and bought our drinks. Later Alice took the microphone and belted out a few numbers in a very Shirley Bassey/Judy Garland sort of way. Her boyfriend took the microphone to wish her a happy birthday and then Alice herself responded with a short but emotional speech. Later there was another song and another speech thanking various friends for their friendship over the years. Later still came yet another speech when the birthday cake was unveiled. The cake, like the speeches, was a little too sweet for me.


Alice’s singing style brought to mind Judy Garland who was one of my mother’s favourite singers. Once, back in the 70’s or 80’s, The Wizard of Oz had a cinema re-release and I took mum to see it. When the film came on mum let out a sort of disappointed shrug and I asked her what was wrong. She told me that when she had seen the film originally it had been in colour. ‘Perhaps they couldn’t find a colour print or perhaps it wasn’t in colour after all’ I told her. ‘I was sure it was in colour’ she replied.

Later, when Dorothy wakes up in the land of Oz, the film goes from black and white to colour. I looked over at mum and she smiled back. ‘I was right after all’ she said.


Judy Garland was a great star but sadly was a victim of the Hollywood studio system. Given uppers to give her more energy to work and downers to help her sleep, she became addicted to the pills fed her by the studio. She died in England in 1969 from an accidental barbiturate overdose. She was only 47 years old.


I’ve written about my lemons before. I’ve always loved growing things from pips or seeds and I have two large lemon trees grown from pips. They must be at least three years old, possibly more and my big ambition is for one of them to give me a lemon. Yes, my own home-grown lemon, I’d love that, I really would. I’m not sure what I’d do with my first lemon. I think I might just pop a big chunk of it into a glass, add some ice, some gin and some tonic and sit back on a sunny evening and just relish the achievement.

My lemon trees have survived another winter and are looking good. I’m a bit short of room so I took one of the lemons and planted it in the garden in a sheltered spot. I wasn’t really sure it was going to survive but happily it did. The other one wintered in the porch and the other day I gave it a bit of a pruning and repotted it. I left it outside overnight but sadly, the early spring warm temperature dropped a little during the night and my poor lemon shed a heck of a lot of its leaves. Should I bring it back into the porch or would another change in temperature upset it?

I do have another lemon tree. It’s only small and it’s one that Liz bought me a few years ago. Towards the end of last summer, a flower appeared but sadly died away. This last week I put it outside for some sunshine and a good feeding and noticed another flower. On closer inspection there are actually a considerable amount of flowers which I hope will soon grow into lemons. I reckon I can taste that gin and tonic already.


Back at the nursing home with my mother I was getting ready to leave. I felt a little disappointed as my attempt to get her to use her memory had backfired when she couldn’t remember anymore of her three times table.  The disappointment of not being able to remember such a simple thing was evident in her face. We said our goodbyes and I went towards the door. As I turned back for a final wave goodbye, she said something and I stopped to listen.

‘Ten threes are thirty’ she said. ‘Eleven threes are thirty-three, twelve threes are thirty-six’. She looked back and smiled. ‘I remembered after all’ she said.


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The Story of My Life (Part 3)

As usual when I’m stuck for a blog post I tend to look back on my old posts for a little inspiration. I’ve already produced parts 1 and 2 of The Story of my Life (In less than 2500 words) so I thought it might be time to crack on with part 3. To be fair I’ve not had the most exciting life but as a writer with a good 500 blog posts behind me, I’m hoping that with a bit of effort I can produce something of some interest to the reader, however small. My novel, Floating in Space is to a great extent, my own life just jazzed up a little so let’s see if I can make it interesting enough for a blog post. I find that a lot of the episodes in my life have already been made into a blog post so I have added the links which open up in another page if you want to read about things in a little more detail.

Looking back, I seem to have spent a lot of years working for a bus company when really, I should have pulled my finger out and tried to get a job doing something I really enjoyed. Alas, it’s always easy to look back and see where we have made mistakes but at the time things are not always so clear. I had a lot of fun working as a bus conductor and then a driver but later when I wanted to move on, I wasn’t sure how to do it, plus I had a mortgage and bills to pay so I couldn’t afford to just jack everything in.

However, that day did eventually arrive. I had just split with my girlfriend and it was time for a completely new start and so I resigned. I was a great Formula One fan and I decided to start my own business selling motorsport memorabilia. I rented a small place in Manchester City centre in the Corn Exchange which was a grand old building that housed various small units selling all manner of things; books, records, pottery and clothing as well as a lady who read palms.

In my small unit I was selling motor sport books and videos, posters and model racing cars. As time went on people came to me to sell their motoring memorabilia and I realised that my second hand items were doing better than the new stuff. My customer base gradually built up and I noticed that as well as selling I was doing a great deal of talking. I had regular customers that came round just to talk about Formula One rather than buying books on the subject. I kept a diary and spent the quiet moments in my little shop writing away. One of my customers Tom, used to pop in, tell me to get him ‘booked in’ in my diary then he would nip round the corner for two teas. He and I spent a lot of time drinking tea and chatting and I’m pushed to remember if he ever bought anything.

Another customer was an ex-soldier who told me all about his adventures in various parts of the world. He was always asking me to go with him on various wild camping expeditions to the Scottish Highlands but it wasn’t for me. There were many others and looking back there seemed to be an awful lot of people looking for a little companionship and chit chat. Perhaps I should have opened a pub rather than a shop.

One gentleman who bought a good number of things off me was someone who owned his own company. His name was Bernard (once again, names have been changed to protect the innocent) and he was a great Ferrari fan. I sourced a number of Ferrari books and videos for him. We talked a lot too. Not only was he a great fan of the Scuderia Ferrari, he also told me that he drove a Ferrari himself. One day he arranged to bring his car for me to see. Now I don’t know about you but I had, and still have, a firm idea of what a Ferrari should look like. My favourite Ferrari has always been the Ferrari Dino 246GT, the one Tony Curtis drove in the TV series The Persuaders.

The author and his, well ok not his actually, just some random Ferrari!

Bernard arranged to come by at about 12:30 to show me his car. At the appointed time I put the closed for lunch sign up on the door and nipped outside. I suppose I wasn’t really expecting a Ferrari Dino to turn up and there were no Ferraris to be seen but there was a nondescript green saloon car and the occupant was beeping his horn and waving. Yes, it was my customer and he was driving a Ferrari and not all Ferraris are red sporty models as Bernard soon pointed out. I managed to hide my disappointment reasonably well, at least I think so.

I loved that little shop and I loved spending my time chatting F1 to everyone who wanted to chat F1 which was pretty much everyone that came in. The big problem was that I wasn’t making much money so eventually I put the entire business up for sale. That advert ran for a week and only one person answered. Luckily, he was the guy who bought my entire stock. I was really sad to see my business go but not long afterwards the IRA exploded a huge car bomb on the street outside which, had I still had my shop, could easily have blown to me to pieces so maybe there was a silver lining after all. In 2022 the Corn Exchange houses the Triangle, a posh shopping centre and various restaurants, all far too up market for the likes of me.

I was unemployed for a while. The two things I remember about that period was taking a video production course and going to the ‘Job Club’. I was hoping that I could claim something while I was on the video course, you know, travel expenses or something or at least not having to sign on. The DWP took a different view though; according to them if I was on a course, I would be unavailable for work and therefore, not entitled to any benefits at all! I told the people who were running the course and they just said, don’t tell the DWP and we will let you nip out to sign on, which is basically what happened.

I enjoyed that course so much. I really did. We were split into various groups and we had to choose a subject for making a film. My group batted various ideas about and eventually we went for my idea which involved making a documentary about taxi drivers. We had tuition on working the camera and then we were off to the city centre to film taxis and interview taxi drivers. I think we made a pretty good film although I remember having to defend part of it when we had to show our rough cut to the other students. One of the taxi drivers mentioned that certain parts of the city were dangerous to go to and he mentioned Moss Side, only five minutes away from our training location. Moss Side is a predominantly black area but I didn’t think the taxi driver was racist, he was just not happy about going to Moss Side and having his customers run off without paying.

The best bit was working in the editing suite and putting together our video. I loved that and in fact, still love video editing to this day. Back in 1992 we were still using video tape, in fact we shot our film on Super VHS. These days in the digital world, editing is different. I remember once back in the 1980’s, editing a film about Manchester Airport. I had to fade in some sound effects and mix in some background music then fade all that down to read a short narration then fade in a helicopter sound effect before bringing in some more music, and I had to do that all in ‘real’ time. Today that kind of edit is a matter of adding the different audio layers one on top of the other.

I had hoped that afterwards I might have got employment in a video production company but it wasn’t to be. A few companies offered me work but it was work of the unpaid kind. Later I found that unpaid work is a recognised way of getting into film and TV. Sorry but unpaid work wasn’t and isn’t for me.

Back at the DWP they decided to send me to the ‘Job Club’. I didn’t fancy it but it was a case of either go or lose your benefit. The first day I went, the club was so busy all I could do was go in and register and that was it. Next week was quieter and so was the next. By about week three, the attendance had thinned out and I was finally able to make some headway towards getting a job. Someone helped me to put together my very first CV. My unemployed mates and I checked the newspapers for jobs, wrote spec’ letters, were given interview advice and generally had a nice chat and supped endless cups of tea. Eventually I got employment as a coach driver, not one of my favourite jobs. I did get to travel about the country and on one occasion got to go to the Black Forest in Germany. Most of the time I was driving school buses.

One school run that I remember was one week when they gave me a really nice coach instead of an old banger bus for a change. It was a junior school and the kids were only young but they were an unruly lot. The coach had a video player so I brought along a VHS copy of the Gerry Anderson TV show Thunderbirds and the kids loved it. They sat glued to the TV but the only problem was that they didn’t want to get off the bus. Someone complained on the return journey because their child nearly missed their stop so I had to stop playing the video. I remember the delighted faces of the kids when I got the same job again, a few weeks later and they saw me and said look, it’s the driver that plays the Thunderbirds video and then the look of misery when the school assistant who travelled on the bus forbade me to play it.

The coach company I worked for was owned by GM Buses, my former bus company. One day I saw a job advert on the notice board for a job in Metro Comms, the GM Buses control room. I applied, got the job and said goodbye to coaching.

Working in the enquiry section of the bus control room was actually a pretty fun job. The job itself wasn’t great but we had a lot of laughs. I could spend all day telling you stories about our control room in fact I wrote a blog post about it a few years ago but here’s the funniest thing that happened there. One of my friends was called Norm and Norm had a particular dislike of the identity badge we had to wear. When it was time for a break, Norm would pull off his badge, slap it down on his desk and go off to the canteen.

One day, some of the guys decided to cut out a shapely pair of breasts from that day’s newspaper page three model and insert the picture into Norm’s badge. I couldn’t stop laughing and this was even before Norm came back to the office. Everyone was calling for me to shut up and be quiet but I couldn’t help it. Thirty minutes later Norm returned, sat down at his desk, put on his headset, switched on his phone and clipped on his badge. I must have looked ready to burst and after stifling my laughter for about ten minutes Norm got up to get a brew. He happened to glance over at me and asked what was wrong and I couldn’t hold the laughter in any more. He eventually found the offending picture and removed it convinced that I was the practical joker.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post because I had a lot of fun writing it and looking back on some of my old jobs. Working in Metro Comms wasn’t the best job I’ve ever had but we had a lot of laughs there and believe me, if you get the chance to laugh at least sometime during your day, that day will go down a whole lot better.


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Writing, Tapes and Chocolate Biscuits

Once again, it’s Saturday and time for me to entertain my small band of readers with a new blog post. Just lately, having produced over 500 blog posts, I’m starting to feel a little pleased with myself. I started blogging in 2014 but now I think of it, I’ve been blogging a lot longer than that. As a schoolboy I used to publish a blog every week. OK, it wasn’t digital, it wasn’t called a blog and it wasn’t available on the internet, in fact the internet itself wasn’t available either.

My ‘blog’ was very low tech. It was written on the middle pages of a schoolboy exercise book and passed around to my fellow pupils. It was called ‘The latest from the Perverted Press!’ It was mainly a spoof on the then current news stories from the late sixties and early seventies. They were things along the lines of, President Nixon issues apologies after visiting the nuclear command centre and saying ‘time for launch’ when in fact he had really said ‘time for lunch!’

I used to bill myself as the celebrated author of that great trilogy, the ‘Master’ novels. There was the first one, ‘Master Smith’, the follow-up, ‘Master Jones’, and the one that caused a great deal of unwarranted attention to the Perverted Press, ‘Master Bates’.

I had a friend called Jeff Langdon who, as far as I know, was the only pupil from my rough and ready suburban high school who ever made it to university. Jeff created a blog, sorry, I mean pamphlet, called simply The Steve Higgins Story, so I was forced to reply with The Jeff Langdon Story.

My pamphlet was rather popular, far more popular than Jeff’s and he always complained that my popularity stemmed from the fact that my pamphlets looked better because of the liberal use of coloured pens and drawings. Alas Jeff, art always was one of my top subjects. Even so, I thought my blog -sorry, pamphlet- was much better anyway, coloured pens or no coloured pens. Jeff, I’m sure, would disagree.

Talking about The Perverted Press has made me look at my blogs and videos in a different way. One of my regular blogs is my Holiday Book Bag in which I review the books I’ve taken on holiday. Back in my teens I used to make a similar review about the records I used to buy. I didn’t have a video camera back then so I recorded my review on audio tape. I still have a few of those tapes. One was called simply Tape Review and in it, I played excerpts of records and tapes I had bought and talked about the best ones. I remember on one of them I chose my favourite guitar solo of the year and if I remember correctly the winning guitar solo was one from One of These Nights by the Eagles.

Another one was Self Portrait in Tape, a possible precursor to my podcasts or perhaps my Life Story blog posts. In it I rabbit on about myself and play some favourite music tracks.

Those tapes were the forerunners of my book reviews and podcasts. Back in the 1970’s there was a show on Radio 1 called My Top Twelve. It was actually a straight rip off of Desert Island Discs in which someone would choose their top 12 tracks and talk about them. My old friend Steve and I decided to interview each other and we both introduced our own top twelves. A few years ago, I digitised my copy but I changed some of the tracks as in the intervening 40 years my tastes have changed a little. Neil Sedaka’s Laughter in The Rain was a pleasant enough track but hardly Top Twelve material so that had to go as did a couple of other tracks that are no longer my cup of tea. Barry White got a bit of a slagging off from my younger self so I felt compelled to add a few interjections from the present day -actually 2017- to redress the balance and explain my changed attitude towards Barry. (What would my younger self think if he knew I had a copy of Barry White’s Greatest Hits in my car?)

I play the resulting Top Twelve CD in my car quite a lot. It’s nice and perhaps a little surreal to hear my old self from 1974 and my somewhat older 2017 self, chatting with my old friend Steve, sadly no longer with us, once again.

Now I think of it, my past life has been the inspiration behind quite a lot of my writing. My early life inspired a lot of Floating in Space and many of my blog posts. I like to take something, some incident from the past and make it into a funny story or compare the situation to one in today’s digital, internet, mobile phone 21st century world.

As I’m looking back and getting nostalgic, I thought I’d throw in the following story from when I first started work. It’s nothing whatsoever to do with blogging but now I think about it, I bought my tape recorder with my very first wage packet so I must have made the Top Twelve recording round about the time of the following events so there is a faint connection.

When I lived at home with mum and dad and my brother, I occasionally might have got to eat a chocolate biscuit. My brother and I would have had to have been good, done our homework, tidied our bedroom and eaten all our dinner and so on. Then and only then would we be offered a chocolate biscuit with our after dinner cup of tea. Even today I find it hard not to have a biscuit with a cup of tea; old habits die hard.

One day at work I went out for lunch with our company surveyor and on the way back he nipped into a small shop nearby. He emerged with a large pack of chocolate biscuits. Back in the office he offered a biscuit to me and my colleagues. Most people said no but I took one thinking that if I was offered one later by my mother, I would have doubled my chocolate biscuit intake for the day.

Coming back from the tea machine with a cup of tea I watched Dave the surveyor, settle down at his desk which was on a slightly higher level than mine. Dave took a biscuit and quietly scoffed it. Then he took another and then another, and then another! I remember watching wide eyed as Dave ate the entire packet of chocolate biscuits, one after the other. I felt I had witnessed an act of unbelievable gluttony. A grown man eating an entire packet of biscuits. What would my mother have said?

Looking back, I reckon that was the moment when I decided to leave home. Away from the constraints of my family I would be free to stay up late, drink alcohol, invite women home and spend as much time as I desired on my writing projects.

And eat chocolate biscuits of course.


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More Beginnings and Ends

As I approach my 500th blog post, I sometimes wonder if I’m running out of steam. Yes, instead of brand new posts I’m looking back at my old ones and giving them a bit of a rehash or sometimes writing more on the same theme and adding ‘More’ to the title or ‘Part 2’.

Last week I talked about more Essential Englishmen and this week I’m going to return to a post from 2021 so, without further ado, let me see if I can interest you in some more beginnings and ends.

I’m going to start with an end, a personal end.

I wrote about the issues I had paying my electric bill a while ago. Here’s a quick recap. I’d paid my bill but my banking app remembered the account number from when I used to pay my mother’s electric account and used that instead of my own account number. Mum is living in a nursing home at the moment so her electricity account has been closed. I contacted my supplier Eon, who were not at all helpful. They wouldn’t credit my electric account and neither would they return the money to my bank. Contact my bank was their one and only suggestion. My bank tried to sort the issue, they tried to retrieve the payment but contacted me back the other week saying Eon’s bank were not playing ball.

I called Eon again but after waiting over 30 mins in a telephone queue I gave up, put the phone down and wrote a moaning email to Eon. In sharp contrast to last time, their staff member Jim checked the details I gave him, saw immediately an error had occurred and credited the amount into my bank account. Simple, although I’ve had weeks of hassle, hanging onto phone lines and going through various phone menus until I got basically nowhere. Thanks Jim at Eon!

Beginnings

Next I’d like to talk about one of my favourite films written and directed by my favourite director, Woody Allen. Woody is not the most popular guy in Hollywood these days but back in 1979 he made the film Manhattan and the opening sequence is one I’ve always been fond of. In it he’s narrating the opening to a new novel and as he goes along he starts editing and rewriting and starts over again. No, that’s too preachy, he says. That’s too angry, till finally he comes up with some text he really likes –I love this says Woody.

I loved it too, so much that I made a spoof version about Manchester rather than Manhattan.

The Godfather

The Godfather is one of the classics of cinema. It’s based on the book by Mario Puzo which is a classic in its own right. In the film version Marlon Brando plays Don Corleone, the head of the Corleone mafia family. The film opens on the day of his daughter’s wedding which is a day when no Sicilian can refuse a request. In his office that morning is a man whose daughter has been the victim of an attempted rape and he comes to ask the Don for revenge. The Godfather emerges out of the shadows not a happy man. Has he been asked with respect? No. Has he been called Godfather? No. Marlon Brando plays the Don beautifully as a man of honour but also a dangerous man.

Director Francis Ford Coppola always wanted Brando for the role but the executives at Paramount weren’t happy. They made him do a screen test and also put up a bond in case he delayed the film and caused unwarranted expense. The result is a wonderful piece of cinema.

The Truman Show

I’ve not always been a fan of Jim Carrey but I’ve always rather liked The Truman Show. It’s a sort of reality show where Jim Carrey’s character Truman is the star only he isn’t aware of it. Everyone around him knows everything is fake. Secret cameras film everything he does and all those around him, including his mother, his wife and best friend who are all actors in on the secret. The TV show is the brainchild of Christof, a producer/director played by Ed Harris. As the film unfolds we gradually realise that Truman is becoming aware of things that are not right; a spotlight that falls from the sky; people who approach him and want to talk but are hustled away by strange people; an office building where no one is working and his wife who seems to announce the benefits of various products as if she is in a TV advert.

The film is based on an episode of The Twilight Zone. A man getting ready for work finds a camera in his bathroom and realises he is being secretly filmed. It turns out that unknown to him, he is the star of a reality TV show. The producers take him aside and explain what a hit the show is and how much money he could be making. Why not carry on as if he never found out the truth they ask. Keep the show running. No one would ever know.

The man decides to just carry on with his life and allow the filming and the money to continue. In some ways I think that might even be a better storyline than The Truman Show. Either way, this film is a really interesting look at the current reality TV genre and flips the whole concept on its head. Carrey is great in what is really his first dramatic role too. The most telling moment comes at the end when the whole world has been glued to the last episode. When it has finished one of the enthralled TV viewers asks ‘what’s on now?’

The Big Sleep

The book The Big Sleep 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 writing ‘a peculiar mixture of harshness, sensuality, high polish and backstreet poetry’ and it’s easy to see why. Anyway, the book was made into a film starring Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe and the film and the book open with Marlowe’s visit to see General Sternwood. I was calling on a million dollars says the famous detective in the opening monologue. Sternwood is an elderly man who spends his time in a stiflingly hot conservatory where he offers Marlowe brandy while he explains just what he wants Marlowe to do.

The Story in Your Eyes

In my original blog post I stuck to film, TV and books but for this version I thought I’d throw in some music, just for the hell of it. Despite being a great music fan I was pushed to think of something with a really outstanding opening but I think the guitar riff on this track from the Moody Blues really fits the bill.

The Cut

Before I cut to the ‘ends’, I thought this might be just the point to show what we video editors call a cut. Here is what has been described as the most epic cut in film history.

Ends: The Fugitive

Another old show repeated currently on the CBS justice channel is The Fugitive starring David Janssen as Dr Richard Kimble, falsely accused of the murder of his wife. The show ran for four seasons but as viewer ratings began to fall, the series was cancelled. It was then that the producers hit on what at the time was an unusual idea. Instead of the show just ending, they decided to make an actual finale. Yes, they would wrap up the story of Kimble’s wife’s murder. Kimble had been searching for the supposed one-armed man he had seen leaving the murder scene for the past four seasons, now he would finally find him!

Back in the 1960’s, TV was not very highly thought of even by the TV networks themselves. So what if Kimble never finds the murderer. So what? It’s only a TV show. Of course, the viewers would disagree. They had kept faith with the series for four long years, they deserved a proper ending.

The final episode aired on August 29th 1967 and in the USA the viewing figures were a sensation: 72% of US TV viewers were watching that final episode and the show held the most watched record until November 1980 when someone shot JR in Dallas.

Citizen Kane

The cinematography was by Gregg Toland, one of the film industry’s top photographers. Toland had asked to work on the film and director and star Orson Welles replied ‘Why? I don’t know anything about making films.’ Toland countered that was exactly why he wanted to work on the film because a film by a newcomer, Kane was actually Welles’ first film, would produce something new and original.

There are some fascinating elements to Citizen Kane, especially in the special effects department. A famous one is where the camera flies through a rooftop sign and then drops down through a skylight into a restaurant. That was done with a sign that came apart as the camera approached and then a fade from a model shot into the restaurant set disguised in a flash of lightning. I could go on and mention plenty of elements like that but if you haven’t seen Citizen Kane let me just explain what it’s all about. The film opens with the death of Kane, a millionaire newspaper magnate. His last words were ‘Rosebud’. The makers of a cinema newsreel decide to find out what or who Rosebud was.

To do so they research Kane’s life; his inheritance of a huge fortune, his takeover of a newspaper, his great wealth, his power and influence, his marriage and divorce and ultimately his death. The reporters never find the answers to their questions but we, the cinema audience, have the secret revealed to us right at the end of the picture. The end is what makes the film really and Welles admitted that Rosebud, and the idea behind it, was the idea of his co-writer Herman Mankiewicz. The final scene takes place in a huge storage area, packed with crates containing all the numerous items the acquisitive Kane bought, packaged and hoarded during his lifetime. Some of the stuff is scheduled for the furnace and as one labourer throws in an old sledge, we see the flames begin to consume the wooden frame. The top coat of paint is burned off and we see revealed underneath the name ‘Rosebud’.

One Final End.

I’m due to get my state pension in October which as regular readers will know is my least favourite time of the year. I thought it might be nicer to retire in the spring which is actually one of my favourite times of the year, the days are getting warmer and longer and the summer is on its way. A nice time to tootle off in our little motorhome perhaps so I sent in my early retirement request letter to my boss. That is in fact one really big end. I’ve been working since I was 16, starting my working life in Manchester city centre in the world of insurance back in 1973. Apart from a break in the early 1990’s when I decided I wanted to be a film maker and went on a video production course in Manchester I’ve worked all my life so understandably I was a little nervous when I pressed the send button on that particular email. I didn’t get to be a film maker, well, not a professional one anyway. Still, I’m not dead yet so there’s still time for a new beginning . .


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