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 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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The Idea, The Inspiration and The Kebab

A few weeks back I was asked to test some new editing software for a company whose software I used to use regularly. They were trying something new, in fact a feature that I had advocated a few times on one of their forums. It was a surprise to be asked to test the new feature but also rather nice. It’s always nice to be acknowledged so anyway as soon as the feature was enabled I set out to make a test video.

I thought about doing a new version of my usual content. You know the sort of thing, the videos that you usually find down at the end of my blogs extolling the virtues of Floating in Space and A Warrior of Words. Instead, I thought of doing a quick few minutes on the subject of poetry writing. It was called Ideas, Inspiration and Effort.

Nothing can start without an idea. Amateur writers like me just tend to wait for an idea to come but to be really professional you have to make the ideas come. You have to sit down and start writing. It’s only then that the ideas come. The same is true for blogs. I do get ideas. I get them driving to work. I get them while watching television. Sometimes I get no ideas at all but then I can always write about the books that I read, the old TV shows that I like and the classic black and white films that I watch on TV. Either way, blogs or poems, everything starts with the idea.

Next comes the inspiration. Again, when I’m in amateur writer mode I usually just wait for the inspiration to come. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t. The thing that makes it come is just to start writing. Sitting down at the keyboard with the TV on and the sound off, that’s usually when inspiration strikes. Last week if you may remember I was doing battle with my electric company because they wouldn’t give me my money back, the money that I had paid, in error, into the wrong account. I wasn’t happy about it at the time but on reflection I could see the funny side and that is hopefully what made that particular blog post rather amusing. The good thing as well is that it’s that kind of self-deprecating humour which Floating in Space is all about so if you liked that post, you should like Floating. (An in-post plug for Floating! Hey, I’m pretty pleased with that.)

The same is true for poetry, once I have an idea I start playing with words until inspiration finally comes. Then of course I need to make the effort. The effort to get down to work, typing away until the first draft is ready. Then more effort comes, the effort to edit and to develop the blog or poem until I think it’s finished. That of course is where I usually fail. I don’t have my editor on my back, I don’t have a publishing company that has paid me a million-dollar advance and is waiting for the book I promised them. The only promise I have made is to myself, a promise to one day complete another book which actually may be a long time coming. The thing is there are so many other things to do, restaurants to visit, books to read, TV shows to watch and so on.

Anyway, it’s time for another blog post and as usual lately I’m struggling. What I need is an idea. So using my own method above I thought about an idea and I came up with disappointment. Yes, what has disappointed me lately? Let me see, well there was the pizza I made the other day.

When I spend a little time on my own I tend to eat a lot of snack food. I do love sandwiches as you might have guessed if you had read this old post about sandwiches but sometimes I like to do something a little more exciting. I do like cooking with my slow cooker and I’ve made numerous bologneses, chillis and curries in this way but the other day I thought I’d try and make a pizza, a proper pizza made from scratch. I had some flour and yeast and I had Jamie’s Italian, Jamie Oliver’s Italian cook book to guide me so what could go wrong? I mixed all the ingredients and made some basic dough then I gave it a good kneading and eventually I got a good spongy dough. I left it to prove and a bit later made it into a few portions. I left one to rise once again and made a simple tomato sauce using tinned tomatoes. Later I slapped on the sauce then some cheese, some pepperoni and some onions and I was all ready to bake. Jamie recommended putting the oven on its hottest setting, gas mark 9 so I slapped the pizza in and about ten minutes later it was looking good.

The crusts were ok but the rest was a bit soggy. Even so, it was pretty reasonable. The next day I tried again and looking at some other recipes I thought it was better to cook the base first and then add the toppings and cook again. I did that, added the toppings but this time I left it in too long and the pizza emerged a little frazzled. Maybe I should just stick with chilli in future.

Here’s something else that was disappointing. Sitting down to eat I was happy to find that The Time Tunnel, the sixties Sci-fi TV show was about to start on the Horror channel. It’s about two American scientists ‘lost in the swirling maze of past and future ages, during the first experiments on America’s greatest and most secret project, the Time Tunnel. Tony Newman and Doug Phillips now tumble helplessly toward a new fantastic adventure, somewhere along the infinite corridors of time’ as the opening blurb used to go.

The Time Tunnel starts off with a Congressman coming to investigate the growing budget of the time tunnel complex and threatens to close things down unless he sees results. Scientist Tony Newman decides he must therefore travel back in time to prove that the tunnel really works and save the project. Tony ends up on the ill-fated liner Titanic. His colleague Doug follows him back to 1912 and the control room struggle to shift the two in time before the ship sinks. Unable to return the duo to the present, the technicians struggle every week to shift the duo to somewhere new just in the nick of time. One episode that I particularly remember was when the pair land in Pearl Harbour, just before the Japanese attack in 1941. Tony meets himself as a young boy and finally solves the mystery of the disappearance of his father in the attack.

The Time Tunnel was a sci fi series from the 1960’s and as a child I was crazy about it. I thought it was wonderful but it only lasted one season before producer Irwin Allen moved on to something new. I had missed the first few episodes of this latest re-run but as I settled down I realised that my favourite episode, the one about Pearl Harbour, was about to start.

Tony lived there as a child and his father was reported as missing in action so the first thing Tony and Doug decide to do is to go and visit him. Cue some rather daft dialogue and some clumsy situations which led on to more clumsy dialogue and daft situations. What a disappointment that episode was and yet for years and years I’ve looked forward to finally seeing it again. There are some things which just don’t stand the test of time.

Another thing that I found rather disappointing this week was a large donner kebab. My last few shifts at work this week went pretty well and as I drove home after the last one I thought it was time to treat myself. I ordered a large donner with salad and chilli sauce, took it home and settled down with a small beer.

The salad was as limp as the Time Tunnel dialogue, the chilli sauce didn’t have much get up and go and the donner meat had seen better days. All in all, I could have done with a trip through the time tunnel to Manchester city centre in 1986 and gone to my very favourite kebab emporium where they served donner on naan bread with fresh salad and a tasty hot chilli sauce. Yes, I had the idea, I had the inspiration, I just wish I hadn’t made the effort and got that kebab!


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The Electric Bill, The Banking App and Me

This last week I picked up my iPad to pay my electric bill. Yes, the digital world has made it so easy to do things like that. No writing a cheque and slipping it into a pre-paid envelope and then going off into the cold to find a post box. These days you can just click on your banking app and press a button and it’s all sorted. Sometimes though it can all go so very wrong.

My electric bill arrived as usual in my email inbox. I saw it and made a mental note to pay it and then moved on to much more interesting things such as the old episodes of The Saint for instance, currently enjoying a renewed life on digital TV. Roger Moore is so much better at playing Simon Templar than James Bond. Then of course there are so many things to search for on eBay, things I didn’t know I even wanted until eBay showed them to me.

Eventually I finally got around to paying that pesky electric bill. I was tired and did it quickly, far too quickly as it turned out, just before going to sleep. Just as I pressed the button to pay my bill, I glanced fleetingly at the reference number that had been saved and the thought that that didn’t look like my usual electricity reference number passed fleetingly through my head before I nodded off to a restful slumber.

It just so happens that I’m pretty good at remembering stuff like that, reference numbers and telephone numbers. All I have to do to remember a telephone number is to write it down and I’ll automatically remember it. Don’t write it down and that’s it, I’ll always forget it. Anyway a few days later I had an email from the electricity company moaning that I still hadn’t paid my bill so I double checked everything, yes there was the payment, I had definitely paid it. Before sending off an email to Eon I thought I’d better just check that reference number. I did and I noticed it wasn’t the right one. What was it then? Aha, it was my old mum’s reference number from the days when I used to pay her electric bill. My iPad always remembers her reference number. I usually delete it and add my own account number but that last time I didn’t. Serves me right for paying the bill late at night when I was tired. OK, they had the money but just not in the right account. Could hardly be difficult to resolve, could it?

I dropped an email off to Eon and waited for an answer. Nothing. I called them and got stuck in a call centre queue which believe me, there is nothing I hate more apart from perhaps getting stuck in a traffic queue on the motorway when a lane is closed and there are no road workers working. So, I switched my phone on to speaker, tried to block out the horrible recorded music coming through and started pottering about on my iPad. Forty minutes later after Liz had thrown various things at me because the racket coming from my phone was driving her mad, I retreated into the kitchen and put the kettle on. Just as I was ready to settle down with a cup of tea and a corned beef sandwich someone finally answered.

That someone was a chap called Bakar. Now Bakar spoke pretty good English but even so, it wasn’t a great line and I did have a little difficulty understanding him. For a kick off I couldn’t quite get his name and I had to ask him to spell it phonetically. Bravo Alfa Kilo Alfa Romeo. Exotic names like that can be a real problem in today’s international world. At work the other day I took a call from a motorist (I work in a motorway control room) who had broken down on the motorway. His name was -and here I won’t use his real name but a very similar one that I’ve pinched from a popular comedian, Romesh Ranganathan. I couldn’t for the life of me catch his name so I asked him to spell it phonetically; Romeo Oscar Mike Echo Sierra Hotel and so on. As you can imagine that took a while and that was only his first name. In order to get the AA to come and rescue him I had to give him a major interrogation, name, address, mobile number and so on and then to pass all of that to the AA themselves, which took a bit of effort I can tell you.

Towards the end of the conversation the AA declined to come out because Mr Ranganathan’s policy had expired which to be honest, is something that happens fairly regularly. Let’s face it, as soon as you think you’re fed up paying a ridiculous amount of money for breakdown cover that you never use, you know you’re going to need it.

Anyway, that’s enough about Mr Ranganathan, let’s get back to my electric bill and Bakar. Here’s a quick recap. I’d paid my electric bill to Eon. They had the money in their bank, it was just that it was in the wrong account. From my perspective it seemed to me that there was a simple solution, even a couple of simple solutions. (1) Transfer the money from the wrong account into the correct account. (2) Refund the money to me and then I could just pay it again with the correct reference.

‘Sorry no’ said Bakar, ‘we can’t just credit your account’. Why not I asked? ‘It’s just not possible’ said Bakar without really explaining why.’ OK then refund me the money. ‘Ahh, that’s not possible either,’ said Bakar. ‘Why not?’ I asked. ‘Well, I can’t refund you money from someone else’s account.’  ‘But that’s my mother’s defunct account.’ ‘Ahh yes but she’d have to give us authorisation to refund the money to you.’ ‘Why? It was me that paid the money in!’ ‘Ahh, but Mrs Higgins would have to authorise the payment to you.’ ‘Why? Her account is closed and she is currently living in an old people’s home!’

This conversation went on for some time and Bakar successfully deflected every idea I had for resolving the issue and come to think of it, he didn’t bring any of his own ideas into the conversation. How I didn’t smash my phone into a thousand pieces I don’t know but I would like to think that you, the impartial blog reading public are on my side, surely Eon could have sorted the whole thing out easily. However, their final piece of advice, was to contact my bank and ask them to contact Eon’s bank for the return of the money. Bakar, and the Eon help desk which he was representing went right down in my estimation but there was no choice but to contact my bank after, I might add, telling Bakar how disappointed I was in him and his organisation and penning a strongly worded email complaining bitterly about my treatment. His final comment was that if I didn’t pay my bill soon, I would be incurring a late payment charge (numerous swear words deleted here).

After a fresh cup of tea and the now slightly stale corned beef sandwich followed by some deep breaths to calm me down, it was time to dial my bank. Once again, I went through numerous menus, all advising me to put the phone down and use the bank’s internet app. I did check the app, but nothing there was of any help to my particular problem. After a relatively short wait I found myself talking to an operator who seemed eager to help but felt that a colleague in another department could provide more information so once again I was condemned to phone menu music while I waited.

After a short wait the same operator came back. Clearly that other colleague was busy so he’d have to try another one in a ‘specialist’ department. Cue more music and finally a lady came on the line, a lady who sounded very much like she was at the end of a very long tunnel. I explained the situation once again, in fact I’d explained it so much I was now word perfect. Pity I couldn’t have been as perfect when I was narrating the short introduction to one of my new videos the other day which I had to re-record many, many times. Yes, that imagined career in voice overs I was contemplating may just not be happening.

I repeated my sad story of paying my electric bill using my mother’s defunct electric account number yet another time, and then repeated it once again as the lady at the end of the long and echoing tunnel didn’t quite get it the first time. I went on hold yet again and finally was told the electric company’s bank had been contacted and they had asked for my money back which apparently might take up to four weeks. Four weeks! Four weeks in this instant internet digital world. Yes, apparently so.

The whole sad saga brought to mind the old joke about the guy who phones up his psychiatrist. He too gets a phone menu and the electronic voice at the other end says this:

If you are obsessive-compulsive, please press 1 repeatedly. If you are co-dependent, please ask someone to press 2. If you have multiple personalities, please press 3, 4, 5, and 6. If you are schizophrenic, listen carefully and a little voice will tell you which number to press. If you are paranoid, we know who you are and what you want. Just stay on the line so we can trace the call.

Anyway, here’s the moral of the story, next time you pay your electric bill always check that reference number!


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The Worst Week of My Life

Regular readers might have noticed that this blog is hardly topical. Most of these posts are written, or at least started weeks ago. I get an idea, scribble it down and sooner or later I finish it off. Sometimes I never finish it and a number of my blog posts have been condemned to an eternity in my drafts folder waiting for a day when I will feel inspired enough to either finish the post or hit the delete button. Anyway, I thought I’d try to do something topical for a change.

This last week three particular people have been in the news for having a bad week. let’s take a closer look.

Boris Johnson

I’ve always kind of liked Boris. Some seem to think he’s just a bumbling buffoon but at least he does have some charisma, which many politicians lack. Boris had to wait quite a while for the top job. He was the leader of the leave group during the Brexit campaigns and should have rightly become prime minister when David Cameron decided to resign. Strangely he didn’t, Theresa May became the prime minister despite being in the same remain camp as the newly departed David Cameron. Anyway, the top job clearly wasn’t for her and she was soon to give way to Boris.

Boris has tried to keep on top of the Covid 19 situation which has caused mayhem all across the globe. His government have issued lockdowns at various times but recently he has stepped back from another lockdown and just asked the populace to use common sense. The big problem for him though is more and more revelations of partying at 10 Downing St when the rest of us were staying at home and keeping away from friends and family.

He has apologised to the Queen for a drinks party at number 10 on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral and new reports suggest that staff even went with a suitcase to buy more alcohol to continue the festivities. All of that contrasts sharply with the image the Queen presented, sitting alone at her husband’s funeral wearing a black mask.

Will Boris be able to ride out calls to resign? Only time will tell. By the time you read this, we might know a little more.

Novak Djokovic

Tennis player Novak Djokovic flew to Australia to defend his Australian Open Championship Title. He apparently had a ‘vaccine exemption’ but the Australian authorities weren’t happy about it and the Serbian player was denied entry. He and his team decided to appeal and he was forced to go into quarantine while everything was sorted out. He won his appeal but the immigration minister decided to quash the appeal and reimpose the penalty.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that ‘Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic and rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected.’

Djokovic has appealed again so is in further quarantine while he awaits the latest result. The whole thing must be a pain in the neck for the tennis player and I don’t understand why the Australians let him into the country in the first place. Of course, a lot of the actions of the Ozzie government have been fuelled by the feelings of the Australian people themselves. I saw quite a few interviews on TV where members of the public were deeply unhappy about Djokovic entering the country. After all, he wants to enjoy international travel but at the same time, isn’t willing to be vaccinated. Not a great week at all for Novak and as you read this he is back in his native Serbia.

Prince Andrew.

Andrew must be the most unpopular member of the Royal Family. For years I’ve been reading articles in newspapers about his bad attitude, his rudeness and his desire to go everywhere in private jets, paid for by us, the UK taxpayer.

What has happened to him now? Well, he is to face a civil case in the USA over claims he sexually assaulted a lady called Virginia Giuffre in 2001 when she was 17. Andrew’s lawyers claim the case should be dismissed citing a 2009 deal she signed with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein who apparently introduced Andrew to Giuffre but a New York judge doesn’t agree so the case is now free to come to court.

The Royal family have reacted by stripping Andrew of his HRH title and a whole list of other military titles such as Colonel of the Grenadier Guard, Colonel in Chief of the Irish Regiment, Honorary Air Commodore of RAF Lossiemouth and many more. Basically, the royals have cut him loose to protect the family and are saying, ‘Bye Andrew, you’re on your own!’ Yep, not a great week for Andrew.

Nicholas Rossi

It hasn’t been a great week for Nicholas Rossi. Mr Rossi isn’t quite as famous as the three detailed above but he has had just as bad a week as they have. He was admitted to hospital in Scotland using the nom de plume of Arthur Knight. Unfortunately, he was unmasked as Rossi and found to have an international arrest warrant waiting for him regarding an alleged rape in the USA.

Mr Rossi told US media in December 2019 that he had late-stage non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and had only weeks to live. Various media outlets reported that he had died in February 2020 and a memorial posted online declared him a “warrior that fought on the front lines for two decades” for children’s rights and said his ashes had been scattered at sea. He was arrested by Police in Glasgow on behalf of their counterparts in Utah.

Me

I really can’t imagine what the worst week of my life might have been. The engine blowing up on my first car? My Kawasaki Z500 stolen from my back garden? The death of my father?

This week hasn’t been so bad really. I haven’t done much although I went to the quiz night the other night and also went to one of my favourite Italian restaurants, Allegria in St Annes. I had the usual email from the national lottery telling me to check my account because I had some good news coming. I’m glad I did because that £6 lottery win should come in pretty handy.

One thing I did do this week was embrace the digital world even more by adding Google Pay to my mobile phone. The first time I tried to use it I was struggling a little and nothing was happening. Luckily the lady at the till had seen this sort of thing before and advised that I was pointing the wrong end of my phone towards the pay hub at the checkout. I turned the phone round and made my first payment. Of course, big downside of this is that the old tightwad’s excuse of sorry, I forgot my wallet doesn’t pass muster anymore so clearly I’ll have to bring that up at the next Tightwads’ members’ meeting.

This is the bit where I tend to link these ramblings to a film or TV show. Big ask this week, you might be thinking. However, it just so happens that back in 2004 there was a TV series called just that, The Worst Week of My Life.

The Worst Week of My Life follows publishing executive Howard Steel in the week prior to his wedding. It’s perhaps not the best-known TV series but personally I thought it was pretty funny.

That’s it from me, hope you had a good week!


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The Old, the New, Covid and 2022

My first post of 2022 was just a review of 2021 so this one is really my first proper 2022 post. I was due to be working on New Year’s Eve but that scourge of our modern times, Covid 19, stepped in and I had to call in sick.

Covid.

Both Liz and I had been suffering with bad colds and hers was getting worse with a bad headache and a loss of taste and smell. We did Covid tests and Liz was positive. My test was negative which was a surprise but then I haven’t had the headache or the loss of taste. I’m not sure when Liz was exposed to Covid, after all we haven’t been out much lately apart from some last minute shopping and a visit to quiz night at a local pub, the Lord Derby. Anyway, we were of course condemned to a minimum seven day lockdown so that meant no work on New Year’s Eve and no going out either.

We lit the fire, got the red wine on the hearth and settled down while we waited for our curry takeaway to be delivered.

The New.

Just lately I’ve been watching a whole lot of TV. Some of it new and some of it old. I mentioned a few weeks ago about watching And Just Like That, a new series of Sex and the City. Happily, it wasn’t on some subscription TV channel but on normal TV so I was able to watch it. I gave it another try the other day but I wasn’t impressed. Carrie had some hip surgery and Miranda got involved with a lesbian comedian. All pretty routine stuff for modern New Yorkers I suppose but it really wasn’t for me. Another new series was the latest four part JFK documentary by director Oliver Stone. I’ve been interested in the JFK assassination since I was a child and although I didn’t quite expect any new revelations in this new documentary series, I was surprised to find there were.

The so called magic bullet was given a severe bashing by various experts and so was the actual provenance of the bullet. The chain of evidence regarding the bullet was shown to be completely compromised as various new records released by the JFK Assassinations Records Review Board were shown to be either false or incorrect by the hard work of various investigators. The ARRB came into effect after the outcry from Oliver Stone’s 1991 film JFK and the documentary was fascinating but a little disjointed as instead of covering each issue in full, the films returned to the same subjects again in later episodes. Apart from that it was very convincing despite the poor review I read in the Guardian recently.

The Old.

There were the usual films shown over the Christmas period. Many films like Ghost for instance look pretty modern but it was technology that betrayed how old they were.

In Ghost banker Patrick Swayze was using one of those old computers with green text while Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in the film You’ve Got Mail were still using dial up to get online and pick up their email messages. You’ve Got Mail was released in 1998 and Ghost in1990 making it 32 years old this year, would you believe it! Another film I saw that was also dated by technology was The Net with Sandra Bullock. The Net was a thriller about a computer programmer who gets involved in a conspiracy by a computer security company to mine and manipulate information. Made in 1995, dial up internet and green text were evident and there must have been many young people watching and wondering what exactly a floppy disc was.

Making Bread.

One thing that I really love and could never give up is bread. Yes, some may say it’s fattening and full of calories but it’s a food that has nurtured mankind for many centuries and anyone who tries to keep me away from a ham salad on granary is risking their life. When a bread shortage began to rear its ugly head here in Liz’s kitchen a state of panic began to mount. We were self-isolating so I couldn’t go to the shops, what could be done?

The obvious answer was to bring down my bread maker from the dusty shelf where it had lain for the past god knows how many years and to wipe it down and crank it up. I suppose I’ve had that bread maker for about twenty years. Once I got pretty interested in bread making. I had a few recipe books, I bought flour and yeast and started baking. I had a number of disasters along the way but eventually I managed to make some reasonable bread. Then, some new gadget caught my interest and the bread maker was left on the shelf. Why on earth did I stop making bread when I love it so much?

A quick search in the cupboard produced some flour and some packets of yeast and it was time to start up my bread maker once again. The thing is, making bread takes time. First the machine has to mix the ingredients then the mixture has to prove and rise. Then it gets another mix and finally the gizmo starts to bake. I waited patiently looking forward to warm fresh bread and then, many hours later when a huge rock hard inedible blob emerged I finally remembered why the bread maker had been lying on the shelf for so long.

More Old.

The Net was by no means a great film but Ghost was. I remember seeing it at the cinema back in the 1990s and it was one of those word-of-mouth films where the word was, this is a pretty good film, make sure you watch it. Patrick Swayze plays Sam Wheat, a banker who gets murdered. When his spirit is about to be pulled upward into the next world he looks back towards his girlfriend Demi Moore who is shattered and cradling his dead body and Sam realises it is not time for him to go yet. The ghostly Swayze later finds that his killer is stalking Demi. Frustrated and not knowing what to do, Sam wanders New York and finds a medium played by Whoopi Goldberg with whom he can communicate. Whoopi tells Demi about the stalker and Sam’s best friend Carl goes to find out what is happening. Sam is shocked to see that the murderer and stalker is actually acting on the orders of Carl. Maybe Ghost is a little too sentimental in parts but what the heck, I’ve always enjoyed it.

More New.

One new film (well new to me anyway) I did watch was The Time of Their Lives. It was a 2017 film starring Joan Collins and Pauline Collins. It was on in the background while I was tapping away on my laptop. I didn’t catch much of the beginning but Joan Collins is a faded movie star living in a home who decides to go to the funeral of her film director ex-lover in the hope of somehow breaking back into the film business. The funeral is in France and she somehow persuades Pauline Collins to go with her on the trip so it becomes a sort of French road trip. Over in France they meet an Italian artist played by Franco Nero, the one time spaghetti western star. Joan Collins is wonderful in the part of the former film star and I ended up putting my laptop down and giving the film my full attention. Very enjoyable it was too.

2022.

Most years I make the same New Year resolutions. They usually go something like this; finish my new book. Finish my latest screenplay. Write more poetry. Make better videos. This year I decided not to make any resolutions. I thought why not make 2022 a pressure free year? After all, I never make good on any of those resolutions anyway.

Have a great 2022 and by the way, did you make any resolutions?


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The Post Holiday Blues and Other Ramblings

Returning home after a holiday is always a let down, even more so when you return to the cold and wet UK after the temperate climate of Lanzarote. One morning I woke to beautiful sunshine streaming in through the window and then went outside to sit in the sun by the pool while I waited for the kettle to boil. The next morning, I woke in a cold house with the wind battering at the window and made my way shivering into the kitchen to once again boil the kettle. In one of the James Bond books 007 calls tea ‘mud’ and claims it was the cause of the downfall of the British Empire. Nothing could be further from the truth because tea, at least for me, is one of the great wonders of British life and whether I am in the cold of a British winter or the warmth of the Canary Islands, I really cannot start my day without a cup of tea.

I had a pretty lazy holiday in Lanzarote. I spent it, like I spend most of my holidays, reading books on my sun lounger, swimming in the pool, having barbecues and enjoying drinks and meals down in the nearby marina.

I did mean, as usual, to work on my writing and as usual, I didn’t. I did manage to write my weekly blog while I was there though. In fact, despite my lacking in the work ethic department, I have managed to produce a post every Saturday for as long as I have been a blogger and this epic you now find before you is my 489th blog post.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my childhood. I had quite a few stories to add to that particular post but I always try to keep to about 2000 words or less and here’s one story that didn’t make the final draft.

I wrote about my bike in that childhood post. I loved my bike and I spent a lot of time on it exploring the Cheshire countryside as well as the country lanes that surrounded Manchester Airport where my friends and I would meet by an old WWII pillbox, slurp dandelion and burdock and watch the aircraft come and go.

Back in the 1970’s, the classic, iconic bike of the times was the chopper bike. It had a low slung frame with a seat and handlebars that rose up to the proper level. Back then I had no chance of getting a chopper bike but one thing I could do was get a chopper seat. I saved up and bought one and fitted it to my conventional bike. It looked a bit odd I suppose but I liked it, especially the tall hoop on the back of the seat.

By Raleigh-Chopper – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org

One day my dad, who cycled to work every day come rain or come shine, had a problem with his bike. My uncle came round to help him fix it but nothing could be done. It was a Thursday I think and so all dad could do was ask mum to take the bike down to the cycle shop and to borrow my bike to get to work. I did think about telling him about the new seat but I wasn’t sure how to go about it. The next morning, he went out to the outhouse to get my bike and a few minutes later he was back. ‘What’s happened to your bike? Where’s the proper seat?’

The old seat was there in the outhouse but it wasn’t a quick fix. The chopper seat had two arms that came down and were screwed to the back wheel so poor old dad had to tootle off to work with the bike as it was. Mum and I watched him ride away. She turned to me and asked ‘why didn’t you tell him last night so he could have put the old seat on?’

‘I don’t know’ I said. Then again, it was my bike and I didn’t want the old seat back.

I loved that bike but one day I lost it forever. My brother and I were always swapping things; toys, models, books but mostly records. Our musical likes in those days were pretty fleeting. He’d play something that I realised I had to have and after paying his extortionate demands or swapping whatever possession of mine that he wanted, sometimes I’d find a week later that that record really wasn’t the all time classic I thought it was and so we’d either swap back or I’d wait until he wanted something of mine and then I’d insist he take back the record I’d never really wanted in the first place. Sometimes I’d swap my most treasured possession, my bike. The thing was, my brother Colin couldn’t ride a bike so it was a win win situation for me as sooner or later he’d want to get rid of the bike back to me. One day he really got one over on me.

We’d done a swap for something and he had taken my bike. I was going out for a ride but the bike wasn’t in the outhouse. Where was it? What had happened? Had it been stolen?

‘The bike?’ Colin answered blithely. He had sold it to his friend because he wanted money to buy a new LP.

My mother facilitated the removal of my hands from his throat with a firm whack to the back of my head and asked what was going on.

He sold my bike!’’ I yelled.

‘Your bike?’ she replied. ‘Didn’t you swap it with him? Isn’t it his bike?’

Yes but, yes but,’ was all I could say.

I had taken my video camera to Lanzarote with the vague idea of shooting something, a vlog or a tour of the resort, I wasn’t sure what. Perhaps I could have hired a bike and done a Lanzarote cycling video. I noticed there were electric scooters for hire but at 20 Euros for 2 hours, that wasn’t for me.

In the end I decided to take my camera and my trusty selfie stick and chat away to the camera while taking a walking tour of the marina.

On holiday I don’t watch much TV but back home on a cold December evening I tend to head straight for the TV remote. One show I wanted to watch this week was And Just Like That, a new version of Sex and The City. Now Sex and the City has always been one of my favourite shows. Season 4 was the absolute highlight of the series but the later ones were good too. The first feature film was good but the second one was poor. That’s it I thought, it’s finally finished and rightly so after all, all things must come to an end sooner or later.

The producers thought differently though and minus Samantha, as actress Kim Catrall declined to take part, Sex and the City has returned, thinly disguised as And Just Like That.

A long time ago one of my favourite TV shows was also rebooted for a TV movie special. It was called The Return of the Man From Uncle and despite having stars David McCallum and Robert Vaughn recreate their roles as super cool spies Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin, the film was dreadful. The slightly tongue in cheek attitude was gone, the music was different, the super cool way they used to cut to the next scene with a whip pan effect, gone also. The producers cut out everything that made the original good.

In And Just Like That the original cast were all there, just a little older, actually, not just older but old, seriously old. Miranda mentioned she was 55 at one point although I had already got her down as being about 65. Charlotte played by Kristin Thomas was reeling from either far too much botox or a seriously bad facelift and only Carrie herself seemed to have aged gracefully. Nothing in episode one, and I do mean nothing, was anything I could relate to despite my undying love of the previous series. One of my favourite characters died at the end of episode 1 so I had to watch episode 2. This featured a non-religious funeral ceremony in some sterile and unwelcoming New York funeral home.

Will I be watching episode 3? Maybe . .

Another TV event this last week was the finale to the F1 world championship. Lewis Hamilton the 7 times world champ was hoping to extend his record breaking run to 8 championships although bad boy Max Verstappen was giving him a good run for his money. The two were tied on points going into this last race and it was pretty clear that the winner would be taking home the 2021 champ’s trophy. The race was pretty exciting but a late race crash brought out the safety car. Max dived into the pits for new tyres but Lewis stayed out, confident that the race would not have the time to restart.

Restart it did though as the race director decided that it might be best for this race to end on a proper racing lap rather than a safety car. So, in came the safety car a lap early and Lewis and Max commenced battle, Max with new tyres, Lewis with old ones and the result naturally was Max taking the win and the World Championship.

It was a poorly mismanaged end to the season, a season that had been one of the most exciting for a very long time. Max and Lewis had fought it out on the race circuits of the world. Max has shown himself to be a talented and very fast driver but one who doesn’t seem to care for any form of driver etiquette. He lunges into the inside of a corner and gives his opponent the choice of either giving way or crashing. Lewis has had the maturity to avoid a crash mostly although the two have had their moments together.

In some ways I’m glad Max has won. It’s been a bit boring when Lewis has won everything and a new World Champion should shake the sport up a little.

Back to the present and after having my Covid booster yesterday I don’t feel particularly well. I feel slightly sick and I’ve got a mild headache. What should I do today then, Christmas shopping? Wrap presents? Slide back under the covers?

Let me see . . .


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A Kind of Moany Whingey Sort of Blog Post

As this is my 484th blog post I hope I can be forgiven for tending to repeat myself now and again. I’ve probably said this before but what the heck, I’ll take a risk and say it again; I really don’t like this time of the year. I don’t care for Bonfire Night or Hallowe’en and on top of that I’ve experienced some unmitigated disasters this week involving video cameras and my mobile phone. Anyway, what shall I moan about first? Let’s get Hallowe’en out of the way!

What is Hallowe’en all about and how did it creep over the Atlantic from the USA to the UK? TV is probably the culprit but basically Hallowe’en is an excuse for kids to dress up and knock on other people’s doors and ask for sweets. Go away! This is a Hallowe’en free zone! I keep meaning to put that up on a sign outside the front door but of course I never do, although either way, the neighbours have probably got the message because these days they just don’t bother knocking, so if there are any sweets around I’ll just scoff them myself.

On October the 31st the new series of Doctor Who began on the BBC. The 13th Doctor is of course played by Jodie Whittaker and for some reason the last time the Doctor regenerated into a new body, he or she found himself/herself this time in a female one. In some ways I kind of like Jodie as Doctor Who. She’s kept all the Doctor’s quirky elements and odd humour but instead of being a man, she’s a woman. Personally, all respect to Jodie, I’m hoping that the new Doctor – this is Jodie’s last series in the role – will once again be a man. I mean basically, that’s what the Doctor has always been, male. Of course, in the media there are calls for another woman to play the role and even for the new James Bond to be a woman or even a black man. The thing is if we are going to swap genders and ethnicity randomly why not remake Sex and the City with men instead of women? Why not have a white man playing Shaft?

Here’s an idea. Why not leave things as they are and perhaps make new productions for new female time travellers and new female black, Asian or even oriental secret agents?

Anyway, getting back to Dr Who, this new episode was actually pretty good although there were so many plot elements, I just wondered how they were all going to fit together. The Doctor’s new companion was played by Liverpool comedian John Bishop and he was actually pretty good. In one sequence he opened the door to some kids on Hallowe’en and gave them some sweets but gave short shrift to someone else who was knocking on the door just hoping for a freebie and who had not even dressed up. ‘On your way’ said John to that guy which just about sums up my feelings about Hallowe’en.

The other nightmare that occurs at this time of year is bonfire night. A long time ago a fellow by the name of Robert Catesby decided he wasn’t very happy with the government so he decided to blow the lot of them up. Funnily enough I’m pretty sure that is something the people of 2021 would like to do to the current government. Anyway, I’m not sure what Catesby was planning to do next, take over or start a revolution or what but he and his fellow conspirators, the most famous of which was Guy Fawkes, were apprehended before they could light the blue touch paper on the gunpowder plot and were quickly dealt with.

These days a fellow like Guy Fawkes would be suing the government and claiming legal aid and all sorts of stuff. Back then we didn’t mess about, we just chopped off the guy’s head. Case closed. Actually, not quite case closed because every year on November the 5th, we light bonfires and let off fireworks to remember him. Perhaps this is a subtle message to the government, a reminder that the people can only take so much or perhaps it’s just an excuse to let off bangers and rockets at all times of the day and night for weeks on end either side of the 5th and annoy the hell out of everyone.

I arrived home on bonfire night and believe me, it felt a little like I had been transported to a war zone with great explosions going off around me and sudden unexpected rockets taking off from every corner. I’m glad that’s over anyway, well just as soon as everyone has finished off their firework supply.

At Liz’s house she still has an old fashioned coal fire and I have to admit that it’s nice sitting by the fire with a bottle of wine just on the hearth gradually coming up to serving temperature. The big pain is having to go out in the cold and rain to fill up the coal scuttle and to light everything on a cold morning instead of just clicking on the central heating button.

The other night having made a superb fire I realised I hadn’t filled up the coal scuttle so I had to go out in the rain and cold and fill it up. It was a little dark out there so I took my phone and lit up the torch so I could see where I was shovelling the coal. What a great idea to take my phone out. Wrong because like the twit that I am, I left it there in the rain and it got totally drenched.

When I remembered it and retrieved it, the phone was soaked through. At first it seemed in pretty good shape but then it kept switching itself off and on. Liz had heard it was a good idea to put the phone in a bag of rice which was apparently sure to soak up the moisture. So while that was drying out I thought I’d put the sim card in my old phone. It used to have a serious battery problem which is why I bought my latest phone. Anyway, after charging it up I thought I’d just slip my sim card in. Wrong. My old phone takes a mini sim and my new one takes a nano sim and I couldn’t find the adapter to fit my nano sim into the mini sim slot! Technology! If they are not changing from VHS video tapes to DVDs they are changing sim cards to infinitely smaller ones.

What made the situation worse was that I was expecting a telephone consultation with my physio so I really needed that phone. Of course, I could have called them up and explained the situation but the phone number was on my phone, you know the one in the bag of rice that wasn’t working. I was also expecting a couple of other calls too but once again the only contact details were, well not accessible. Amazing isn’t it just how much we rely on our mobile phones.

Here’s another disaster that happened this week. Disaster is probably too strong a word but it’s something else that goes with this week’s general theme. My latest video Return to Manchester over on YouTube was a walk around Manchester taking in some new hi rise buildings that are changing the shape of my home city and a quick look at the old Manchester, namely the canal that runs through the centre and dates back to the industrial revolution of the past. I made it pretty quickly and instead of writing and narrating a voice over I did it off the cuff, just working from some notes. For some reason it seems to have done pretty well as far as viewers are concerned and as usual, I can never understand why. Why does a blog or video that I have worked hard at do not so well, and something else that was a rush job seem to be popular? I get lots of feedback from both YouTube and WordPress in terms of statistics and analysis but I never really know what to do with it or learn any lessons from it.

Last week I thought I’d make a follow up video with a tram ride up to Manchester Airport and do some similar stuff, a walk round and chat to the camera. I also thought that I could combine some elements from a video I made in 1986 at the airport and compare how things have changed. Return to Manchester Airport sounded like a good title too.

Things didn’t start well when my GoPro camera wouldn’t charge up. I had my trusty Canon GX7 with me but I had wanted the GoPro to take some additional stuff. Luckily in my bag I had my cheapo action camera with me. It’s a cheap GoPro copy that takes reasonable video. Anyway, the tram arrived which I filmed on my Canon. I nipped aboard and went to a seat at the front where I clipped my handy suction mount to the window and pressed record. Well, I thought I had pressed record but in fact I’d pressed the wrong button and nothing happened, not that I realised it at the time. I left that to its own devices and shot some hand held stuff with my Canon. At the airport I had a wander around and filmed some chatty stuff to the camera then went down the walkway towards terminal 2 which incidentally, in a few short days I’ll be flying from!

Later, on the way back to the bus station my trusty Canon declined to record any more. The memory card was full but did I have my spare memory card? That would be a no. That was when I realised that when I was on the tram I’d been pressing the wrong button to start recording on my action cam so I hadn’t shot anything of the trip up towards the airport except for stuff I’d shot with the Canon. OK, keep calm, press the right button now!

Back home I found I had only a short burst of video on the tram and had nothing at all of the bus and tram station. However, I did have some in car video I had filmed during the summer of part of the route. It was actually a part that had changed substantially because of the new tram route and I also had some video from 1986 showing how things were many years ago. Yes, in a burst of creative editing kudos I was able to cut all that together and actually put a video of sorts together.

The good news is that I was using the wrong charger on my GoPro camera. I found the correct one and now it’s fully charged up. A bit late in the day for the airport video but ready for action on my next production. The really good news was that a few days later my phone, fully dried out was back in action again. Note to self: make sure you keep that coal scuttle filled up Steve!


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The Big 65

Birthdays are not something I look forward to these days. Years ago, when I was a school boy I did look forward to them, at least I think I did. Now I come to think of it, I’m not sure I was that bothered about them even back them.  I do remember as a schoolboy being very impressed with the film 2001 A Space Odyssey and I started working out if I stood a chance of being alive in the then distant year of 2001. I was 45 in 2001 which to a young schoolboy must have seemed pretty ancient. Add on another 20 years and that same schoolboy would surely have imagined himself as a decrepit old guy barely alive in 2021. The thing is, despite being 65 I don’t really feel that old, at least, not inside.

Back in 2016 when I was a young whippersnapper of only 60 I wrote a little tongue in cheek piece about my birthday:

2016

At a press conference this past Monday morning at Wetherspoons in Southport Mr Higgins, reputedly now 60 years of age, was asked numerous questions about his advancing years. He was heard to ask “Pint of lager, please mate,” numerous times but did not seem willing to discuss his birthday further.

Although Mr Higgins seemed somewhat reluctant to engage with people, he responded to a question about television in the early years of the second half of the twentieth century.
He confirmed there were, in the 1960’s when he was a child, only two TV channels. There were further gasps from people when he mentioned, almost nonchalantly that he and his family were at one time forced to watch programmes in black and white!

As Mr Higgins moved onto his next pint he enlarged upon his theme. “Yes, in those days there was no colour TV, no internet and no mobile phones.”
“How did people send messages?” one journalist asked.
“Well,” said Mr Higgins. “The only way was to get some paper and a pen or pencil and laboriously write out a message. Afterwards it had to be sealed in an envelope and posted after of course, adding a stamp.”
“What, you mean it wasn’t free?”
“Of course not!” snapped Mr Higgins, rather testily. “Not only that, you had to take it round to the post box and mail it yourself.”
“How long would the process take?” asked another.
“Well, it could be anything from a couple of days to almost a week”

A young lady reporter fainted and was revived by splashing cold water on her face. As she came round, she looked up at Mr Higgins and asked, “How did you carry on, how did you survive?”

“Well,” answered Mr Higgins. “I suppose we were a tough generation. It was hard then. You lot have things so easy!” Returning to the bar, Mr Higgins waved over to the bar staff and commented. “This lager is a bit naff. Have you got any dark beers? What about a pint of mild?”

Picture courtesy perfectpint.com

Picture courtesy perfectpint.co.uk

“Mild?” replied the barmaid, a young Romanian girl of about nineteen. “What iz zat?”
Mr Higgins looked a little frustrated until the bar manager came over and revealed that Theakston’s mild was one of the guest beers that day. Mr Higgins immediately perked up and called for a pint.
“Lovely jubbly.” he commented, “Cracking pint! Now, what else do you lot need to know? I’ve got some serious drinking to do.”
“What about films?” someone asked. “Surely it was just like today; I suppose you could download a movie onto your tablet and watch at your convenience?”
Mr Higgins, now onto his fourth pint seemed to jump on the word tablet and exclaim “Tablet? In my day that was something you took for a headache! If you wanted to see a film, you had to go down to the picture house, pay your money and go in and get your seat and watch the film.”
Someone asked if the term ‘picture house’ could be explained.
“The picture house! Cinema! A big place with a huge screen where they projected the picture!”
“Do you mean you had to sit with other people?”
“Of course you pillock!” replied Mr Higgins. He turned back to the bar just as his all day breakfast arrived. “Right, that’s it now. If you want to learn about the old days, like the seventies, just get yourselves a copy of my book, ‘Floating in Space!’”

Yes that was the 1970’s; no internet, no mobile phones and a pint of bitter was only 25 pence.

2021

As it was my birthday I had arranged a pre birthday date for lunch and drinks with my brother. I was staying at my mother’s house and I fancied a look around Manchester. I had not been to the city centre since 2019, before the pandemic and every time I look at Instagram or the photography page I follow on Facebook, I keep seeing photos of new space age hi rise buildings and I wanted to take a look myself.

I planned on going early into Manchester so I gave my brother a quick call so as to arrange where we could meet. My brother however told me he wasn’t feeling well and was staying in bed. Well, I wasn’t happy but no amount of cajoling could get him to change his mind. As I sat on the tram travelling into town I started to think about making a video. I had my camera with me so I decided to leave the tram at Deansgate where I knew that some new skyscrapers had been built and then just follow wherever my camera or my nose took me.

At the end of Deansgate on the far edge of the city the builders had created a whole new complex of hi-rise buildings called Deansgate Square. There was an interesting mural there with a short history of Manchester from the first Roman fort in AD79 to the industrial age and right through to the present. After shooting a lot of video I wandered back towards the station and decided to drop down to the canal. The canal runs right through the middle of the city centre largely unseen, hidden by the large buildings and in some places disappearing into tunnels. I came across a canal barge navigating one of the locks and got chatting to the occupants. The barge was a hire boat and came from Middlewich but the crew were surprisingly from Washington in the USA. They showed me how to navigate through the canal lock, opening and closing the lock gates and opening the water valves to raise the boat up to the next level.

Later I walked down Oxford Road and found myself drawn to the old Refuge Assurance building. When I started my working life at the tender age of 16 my first job was as a clerk in the Estates department of the Refuge. Construction on the building began in 1891 with a final extension completed in 1932. It’s a grade 2 listed building finished in red brick which today is known as the Kimpton Clocktower Hotel. I entered through the side entrance, the one I last used in 1977 and walked through the tiled entrance hall into what used to be the main office. It was still pretty quiet and various people were sat in the luxurious lounge eating and drinking. I ordered a pint of lager and found myself a comfy seat where I sat and drank and let my mind wander back to 1973 when I first started there.

1973

In the Estates department my job was to collect the rents we were owed for numerous properties in the city centre, enter them in a ledger and bank the money. Another job was to allocate a proportion of the fire insurance to our tenants, based on the floor size they rented. One incident that sprang to mind was something I’ve written about before but is worth telling again. I came into work one day to find that there was the hum of excitement in the office and my colleagues and I were advised of the imminent arrival of a million pound cheque.  As I was only a mere teenage accounts clerk,  I was running low on the pecking order to see this cheque, although it was actually my job to process it as I did with all the other cheques that came into the department. In due course, one of the very senior managers came down with the cheque and with great reverence it was handed to my boss Mr Ross. Mr Ross perused the cheque for a while along with a small clique of other managers and then conveyed it to the senior clerk, Mr Elliott. After marvelling at this great artefact for a few moments, he then passed the cheque to me. Numerous staff members from our and neighbouring departments also came to take a peek at this financial wonder which I believe, was the result of the company either selling off our sister company, Federated Assurance, or doing some fabulous property deal.

Anyway I did my job and duly entered the cheque into the ledger then put it in the safe ready to go down to banking prior to 3pm, as in those days, banks closed at 3pm. ‘Good heavens!’ declared one of my managers, ‘we can’t just leave the cheque there, think about the interest!’ So I was despatched on a special journey to the bank for this very special cheque. Actually that suited me quite well. After paying the cheque into the local bank I sauntered round the corner to the sandwich shop, ordered sausage on toast and made my way quietly back to work. Just as I arrived back in the office I realised that the senior management staff were still there, waiting for news. Were there any problems? What had happened? They seemed rather disappointed when I told them that no cataclysm had occurred, the bank had not come to a standstill but the million pound cheque had been routinely deposited. Thinking back, I’m not sure I liked the way they were looking at me, perhaps they knew all along I’d been to the sarnie shop!

2021

I finished my drink and walked back up towards St Peter’s Square. Back in the late seventies I used to spend my dinner break there on warm summer lunchtimes, eating my sandwiches and reading whatever book I was hooked on at the time. Things have changed in the square too, the seating area has gone and most of the area has been taken over by the trams.

The trams run every few minutes and I saw one approaching and so I ran up the steps and jumped aboard. I had shot quite a lot of video that day and already I was thinking of how I could put it all together and so I spent the next day glued to my laptop doing one of the things I love the most, editing video. I normally write a narration for my videos but this time I thought I’d put together one off the cuff. That is I made some notes and then switched on the microphone and started talking. The result was a verbatim commentary rather than a pre written narration. It’s not quite as fluid as I would have liked but it seems to work.

When the actual day of my birthday dawned I was feeling a little miserable. Perhaps it was the sudden onset of the cold wet weather or it might have been one of the symptoms of getting old. Anyway, I cheered up after opening my cards and presents and later Liz treated me to a meal at a lovely Italian restaurant. Yes, some garlic bread, pasta and red wine can go a long way towards cheering up an old codger like me and let me leave you with what I thought was a particularly interesting way of looking at the big 65 . .


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