Big Macs, Brexit and Elizabeth!

There always is a special feeling about the last shift, well, certainly for me at any rate. After my last block of shifts I left work at the usual time, 10 pm -I work shifts as you may know- and I fancied something special for a late treat. I wasn’t hungry enough for a donner kebab and my favourite chip shop doesn’t open late so I popped into McDonald’s for my yearly Big Mac and fries. Every time I get a Big Mac it seems to me that it gets smaller and smaller. The Big Mac I bought for my treat seemed smaller than ever and I even debated about getting two. Anyway, I drove quickly home, changed into my scruffy ‘lounge about the house’ gear, poured a small Bacardi into my coke and tucked into my food. Sadly, it was rather lukewarm and didn’t taste much better after a few seconds in the microwave. The fact of the matter is that my Big Mac always seems rather lukewarm and why I go back for one, once or even sometimes twice a year, I really don’t know.

Many years ago, I used to work for a cigarette company and I used to meet with my manager and two team mates every Friday afternoon at McDonald’s in Liverpool, the one right at the end of the M62 motorway, for a Big Mac and some sales talk and updates from our boss. Every single time, now I think of it, I used to send my Big Mac back and soon afterwards a new one, fresh and hot would appear. Why oh why they could not serve me a fresh hot one in the first place I will never know.

In France, the concept of fast food is lost on the French and I usually have to wait for at least thirty minutes if I have a Big Mac over in Saumur, my favourite French city. At least though, it is served hot and fresh off the frying pan or hotplate or whatever it is cooked on. Then again, when I’m eating in France, eating at MacDonald’s is not high on my agenda, it’s just sometimes when we have to exit our rented villa early in the morning (I should say at this point that 11am counts as early for me) it’s convenient to stop for a Big Mac, or even the McDonald’s breakfast when we have a long drive ahead.

Anyway, this particular night I settled down to watch the end of a really good film. It was Elizabeth which starred Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth the 1st and it was a wonderful film cataloguing the intrigue and suspense of that long-gone age. No democracy back then, kings and queens won and lost thrones and power through murder and manipulation and Elizabeth was lucky to have by her side her spymaster and security chief Francis Walsingham.

These days our present queen is Elizabeth the 2nd and she is probably a pretty popular monarch. Having said that I have little time for the rest of the royals; they are overpaid, over privileged and over here. Whatever you may think of Donald Trump by comparison he has a right to be where he is, in the Oval office as he has won the only popularity contest that counts in the USA, the election. In a few years’ time, Americans will be able to vote out Trump or if they so desire, vote him in again for another four years. No such luck with the Queen.

The UK Prime Minister is a different kettle of fish though. We, the citizens of the UK don’t vote directly for her, in fact only Conservative MPs had a say in her election as party leader and only the constituents of Maidenhead have a say in her election to the house of commons. Currently, Theresa May has the most MPs at the moment, a very slender majority in fact, but that small majority then makes her the Prime Minister.

If I, by some miracle, ever became Prime Minister, one of my first jobs would be to depose the royals and ship the whole lot of them over to either Ekaterinburg in the former Soviet Union or if Mr Putin were not too willing to oblige, to some east London council estate. One big problem there is that the Queen, like it or not, is the glue that binds the English, Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish together in the United Kingdom and whether a President or Prime Minister could do that remains to be seen.

There was a follow-up film to Elizabeth, it was called Elizabeth the Golden Age and I do wonder what historians will call the present age when they look back to add a new chapter in the history of the British Isles.

As I write this the government suffered the biggest defeat in the House of Commons by any government in UK history when members of parliament rejected Theresa May’s Brexit deal by a huge majority and later only survived a no confidence vote by 19 votes. Personally, I voted to leave the European Union but the big problem is that the majority leave vote only amounted to 52% which really means that the country is pretty much split on the issue. If the vote had been 60 to 70% to leave, I don’t think Brexit would be such a big issue but as we as a country are so divided then it is an issue.

So, what is the answer? Another vote? Suppose the remain voters won that one, would that solve the issue? I doubt it, after all it would be one for the leavers and one for the remainers. We could have a best of 3 vote though, couldn’t we?

The real problem is that when David Cameron resigned, I assumed a pro leave MP would take over at 10 Downing Street, the obvious candidate being Boris Johnson but no, Theresa May won the premiership contest despite being on the remain side, just like David Cameron but wasn’t that why he resigned?

Despite personally being on the leave side I think David Cameron would have been better going back to Brussels and saying, look, my voters are not happy about the EU, we need to take a good look at our membership, perhaps that would have been preferable to the current chaos, after all, the referendum was hardly legally binding as far as I know, it was just a referendum, an indication of the feeling in the country.

The thing is though, why should it be so hard to leave a club like the EU? We have given them notice, we have followed the rules of membership and now they are asking for a multi-million-pound fee to leave.

I wonder what Elizabeth 1st answer would be to that?


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

Coal Fires, Pub bands and Formula One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Ally Mcbeal, Eddie the Eagle and my TV Hard Drive

Looking back at some of my previous posts I see that back in April I was waxing lyrical about the onset of spring, the lengthening of the days and how nice it was to finish a night shift and find myself greeted by daylight as I left my workplace.

This week I was back on the night shift again but as I climbed into my car I had to crank up the heater for the first time in many months. I always think that September going into October is a sad time of the year. The days get shorter, the weather is colder and it is time to start wearing my fleece to work.

Being back home after three weeks in France is frankly, something of a let-down. The washer is humming away cleaning our holiday gear. I’m thinking about where I can put all that unnecessary stuff I bought at the brocantes and vide greniers we visited. The prospect of returning to work is no longer looming on the horizon, the moment is actually here. There was a time, I remember sadly, when I actually loved my job and looked forward to going back to work. Alas, those days are gone.

My car, my trusty Renault Megane convertible is a veritable hive of CDs. The glove compartment is full of them as are the pockets in the driver and passenger doors. Down in the passenger footwell there is a box of CDs which is interchangeable with one in the boot. When I get fed up with the selection I swap them round and the box I am tired of goes in the boot and the other one comes into the front. When I am tired of both boxes, I take them back home and make up a new selection.

Today, going back into work I had a good search through them for something new to listen to. Radio adverts are just not on my agenda. TV adverts, OK I can live with them, you can pop into the kitchen and make a cup of tea, yes, OK but radio ads: Not on my watch as they say. Anyway, the CD I decided to listen to was an album of songs from the TV show Ally McBeal, mostly by Vonda Shepard but with a sprinkling of guest singers. Ally McBeal was a comedy drama that aired back in the nineties and it’s surprising that it hasn’t turned up on some random Freeview TV channel yet. Ally McBeal played by Calista Flockhart was a Boston Lawyer and the show focussed on the antics of Ally and her colleagues not only in the courtroom but also in the local bar, which is where the music comes in. There were a heck of a lot of songs sung in that bar.

Music played a major part in the show and Vonda Shepard covered some classic pop tunes all slotted in carefully with lyrics that corresponded to the storyline of the show. One of my absolute favourites was Vonda’s cover of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s ‘Alone Again (Naturally)’ a hit single for O’Sullivan from 1972.

Gilbert O’Sullivan featured regularly in the music charts until the 1980’s when he began a legal battle with his music publisher Dick James regarding royalties and the ensuing legal contest stopped him from releasing his music.

In Ally McBeal, John Cage and Richard Fish were the co-owners of the law firm where Ally works. Cage was an oddball attorney nicknamed ‘the biscuit’. I loved his odd ways, his ‘taking a moment’, his antics in the communal toilet area and his invocation of the spirit of Barry White when he needed a confidence boost. Richard Fish was another oddball lawyer and also part of the firm was Billy, Ally’s former boyfriend and his new wife Georgia. Legal cases were up there in the foreground, actually the background and in the background, actually the foreground, if you see what I mean, were the loves and lives of the cast.

One thing that was important on returning home from holiday was checking the hard drive on my TV recorder and finding out just what was lurking there. What had recorded and what had failed.

There was of course three weeks of our favourite soap, Coronation Street lying in wait so we decided to have a duvet day, actually two duvet days of non-stop soap action. In some ways Corrie is best watched just like that. Fast forward through the adverts and no waiting between Friday night’s cliff hanger episode and the Monday night follow-up.

Some things seem to sort of leap out when you watch a soap in that fashion. One storyline involved Sean Tully, one of the Street’s gay characters. Sean packed his job in at the local factory in favour of a new job and new flat in the city centre. It turned out though that his job had fallen through, then he returned to live with friends who had to give him notice due to some new arrangements. Then it was revealed Sean had lost his job and now was actually homeless. Sean endured a few weeks of living rough in a tent and trying to conceal the shame of his new position from friends but suddenly, the way it is in soaps, his old friend Billy offered him a room at his house, he got his old job back and hey presto, all is well again.

It was nice that the soap tried to show a little of what life is like for the homeless but couldn’t they have carried the storyline on a little longer, like things are in, you know, real life?

Then again there was the storyline when poor old Rita started losing her memory and was diagnosed with dementia. Luckily there was that quick lifesaving operation and Rita’s brain power and memory were restored just like it never happens in real life. And there was the one about young Simon who had become violent towards his mother. Luckily, he quickly grew out of that phase. Oh well, that’s soaps for you.

Also there on my hard drive were two formula one Grands Prix. The Belgian Grand Prix from the impressive and historic Spa Francorchamps and the Italian race from the equally historic Monza. There was a time too when I would have hungered to watch those races. As it is, Formula One still has its moments and I do still love the sport but not like the days when I bought a shed load of racing magazines every week and hungered for every snippet of racing information I could find.

While in France I subscribed to Radio Five Live’s F1 podcasts. Now the podcasts are not quite what I had thought they were going to be. I thought they might be an audio version of the race highlights with the commentators breathlessly describing the race track action in the way Murray Walker used to do in the old days. (Murray, for those of you who have never heard of him, was a BBC commentator who was once described as a man who talks like his trousers are on fire -in his quieter moments!)

No, the podcasts were not like that. They start off, unlike the TV highlights show on Channel 4, by telling you the results, and just how they came about. Then there are 30 to 50 minutes of driver interviews and endless discussion about what happened, why it happened and why didn’t something that didn’t happen, not happen. Yes, interesting but maybe the production team assumed we listeners had watched the race on TV. Actually we hadn’t, or at least I hadn’t, which is why I was listening to the podcast in the first place.

There were some exciting elements to those races, Hamilton and Vettel colliding at the first corner at Monza and Hamilton hunting down Raikkonen’s Ferrari and just pipping him for the win. Still, watching those races a few weeks after they had happened just wasn’t my cup of tea.

Anyway, soon it was time to go back to work but before that we sat down one evening after our tea looking for something to watch. Nothing was on TV (naturally) so once again I scanned through the hard drive and came across a film I had recorded about Eddie the Eagle.

In 1988, Eddie became the first skier to represent Britain in Olympic Ski jumping since 1928. The film describes Eddie’s life as an Olympic obsessed youngster and his progression to ski jumper. He self-trains in Germany where the seasoned skiers belittle him. However by grit and determination, Eddie qualifies for the Olympics in Calgary despite resistance by the Olympic team for his amateur and uncouth appearance. Eddie turns the tables on everyone by his determination and humour and in fact becomes the star of the Olympics, feted by the world’s press.

The film is an enjoyable and affectionate portrait. I’m not sure just how accurate or true it is but I enjoyed every minute of it and if I had been there at the Olympics, I would have been cheering for Eddie myself.

Well, that first night shift was hard. Not actually hard in itself just hard to endure, sitting there wishing I was back in my rented villa tapping away on my laptop trying to finish a new blog post so that I could hurry out for a dip in the pool, after decanting some vin rouge to breathe, of course.

When I finished at 6 am it was still dark and rather cold. As I pulled away from the car park I turned up the heat and switched on the CD player. Vonda Shepard was singing another of my favourite songs, a cover of the Dusty Springfield’s hit, I Only Want to be With You . .


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

 

Cameras, Vlogging and that Personal Image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

Thoughts from a Sun Lounger Part 8

I don’t think there is any nicer feeling than to take a dip in a swimming pool and then after a few lengths, return to your sun lounger and lie there peacefully while the hot sun dries your body. You can feel little rivulets of water dripping away and in time the sun will gradually dry you. It’s almost like a sort of rebirth or at least a refreshing of the soul.

The only sounds in this remote French hamlet where we are staying are the gentle breeze swaying through the branches of a nearby tree, some bird song and the occasional drone of a far away car or tractor. I love the silence of the French countryside and silence is one of those commodities that is sadly missing in 21st century UK. It is something that is hard to find, yet here in the country, silence is as free as the fresh air.

Lying on my sun bed under the hot sun and a clear blue sky is just a wonderful feeling and after a short while those sun lounger thoughts begin to flow.

Work.

Now work is not something I usually think about when I’m on holiday, in fact nothing could be further from my thoughts. However, I mentioned a while back how I had lost my status as a Deputy Manager and that demotion, especially after some pretty good work that I had delivered was very upsetting. The application form in which I had to apply (sorry, re apply) used some common competencies derived from the civil service, things like ‘communicating and influencing’ and ‘delivering at pace’ and although my application was a failure, I decided to use my competency answers in another application, this time for a position in the civil service at the DWP. (Department for Work and Pensions.) Lo and behold this time I was deemed worthy of an interview which was surprising considering how those exact answers spelt failure at my actual place of work.

The interview was set for a time during my holidays so I e-mailed the DWP telling them of my holiday predicament and they agreed to interview me the day before I left for France. Okay, fine so far. A big problem though was a sudden attack of constipation, (readers of a sensitive disposition may wish to skip this paragraph!) something that has only happened to me once before but now, only two days before my interview I was desperate for a bowel movement but nothing was happening. So, I finished my night shift, went home for a sleep and then managed to wake up in time to get ready. No bowel movement had presented itself and I was feeling desperate, horrible scenarios kept coming to mind where in the middle of my interview I would have to say, ‘excuse me, I’ve got to go’ and then rush out!

Suddenly, at the eleventh hour, my bodily plumbing got itself into gear and my bowels were happily evacuated, leaving me free to turn up at the appointed time for my interview free of any personal worries. All the new people I met were lovely and friendly and my two interviewers put me at ease with some friendly chat and then I answered all their questions pretty well. On one occasion I felt myself stumbling but my interviewers gave me a little prompt in the right direction and all seemed to go pretty well. Whether I will get a job offer remains to be seen but I left the UK feeling upbeat and happy.

Tea.

Tea of course comes mainly from Asia however it just so happens that tea is absolutely fundamental to England and the English. What we would do without a tea break or afternoon tea I really do not know. When tea supplies dry up it could spell the end of the British Empire -what’s left of it of course. As usual Liz and I have come to France with a substantial supply of tea bags because life without tea for any sensible Englishman is unacceptable. The thing is tea doesn’t taste quite the same here as it does in the UK. Ah, you are thinking, it’s probably the milk. No, because we brought English milk with us, frozen in small bottles. Perhaps then it’s the water. The water certainly tastes alright when you drink it from the tap or chilled straight from the fridge, then again some things just do not travel, perhaps tea is one of them. Cheese is probably another because come September, Liz and I will take the remnants of our french cheeses back to the UK and on some cold and chilly September evening we will lay out a cheeseboard and wonder why it doesn’t taste as good as it did on a warm french evening.

Bread.

Here in France I do try to eat healthily, much more than I do in the UK. I’ve have had no cakes or biscuits or chocolate but I do like my bread. Here in France bread is vital to any french meal. Shops may close on Sundays and bank holidays but one place which will always be open, come what may, is the boulangerie. I remember once a few years back discussing food with one of my work colleagues. The lady in question was a rather large lady who had discovered dieting with what I can only describe as a religious fervour and when I mentioned that I always ate heathily at work she looked at my sandwich and said ‘healthy, eating bread!’

She eyed my sandwich as if I had been eating a great big fry up with a pizza on the side. Bread is natural and healthy, isn’t it? At least I always thought so but it turned out that her diet forbade the eating of bread because it was full of calories, whatever they are. Personally I think that bread, proper fresh bread is one of the great food experiences you can have. Bread with cheese, bread with your meal so you can mop up any juices or sauces from your food, bread as a snack or part of a starter. Toast for breakfast. Yes, I’m sorry, I stand with the French, bread is indispensable.

Fish and Chips.

Ok, you might be surprised to see this here, especially as we are currently in France but the other night we fancied a night out and we noticed that down in the nearby village of Parçay Les Pins there was a special fish and chips night at the local restaurant. Well, what could this be, we thought. Clearly it was going to be nothing like proper fish and chips but some French approximation of the dish. Anyway, what the heck we thought, it’s only a ten minute drive so we’ll give it a go.

Off we drive and we pull up at the restaurant, well it looked more of a cafe but there were a few token French couples (so we thought) about so we went in, I had my French already prepared, bonsoir and une table pour deux and so on and the hostess greeted me, not in French but in an unexpected southern English accent. Not only was she English but so were the bar staff and also all the customers. It appeared that her fish and chip night drew in all the local English for miles around. Anyway, the beer was nice and cool, just right for a hot summer’s evening. The fish was ok, not up to the Fylde coast standard but ok although the chips were a little crisp and I do prefer slightly softer chips. A number of authentic Frenchmen passed by wondering what are this lot doing out at this time of night (it was well past 7 PM) and a good time was had by all.

Think we might try for some more authentic French food next time. . .

Facebook.

I’m not a great Facebooker. I have a page there and it’s nice to post now and then and see what reactions my friends have when once again I ‘check in’ to one of the many restaurants in Lytham St Annes. It’s also nice to take a look and see what is happening back home, well sometimes anyway.

The other day I clicked onto Facebook and sadly the first item I saw was a video showing some youths attacking a middle aged chap who had asked them to watch out for his car when they were larking about somewhere. It was sad, very sad to see that sort of mentality, especially when here in the Loire we encountered something very different. In a quiet lane in a lay by, we found a table laden with fruit and vegetables for sale. No one was around just a note asking any potential buyers to take what they wanted and leave the money, the payment, in a tin left on the table. Simple trusting faith in one’s fellow man that put the youths in that dreadful video to shame. Still, one day, I am sure they will meet their comeuppance.

The Chinese Guys.

Once, many years ago when I was a bus conductor working the night shift on Manchester’s buses, a wonderful example of comeuppance  or karma, presented itself to me. We used to pick up these three regular Chinese guys who took the night bus from Altrincham into Manchester City centre. They got on about eleven or midnight and returned from Manchester about three or four in the morning. None of them spoke English but the spokesman would show me three fingers and would say something that approximated three, and would present the exact fare for three to Manchester. I took the money and gave them their tickets and they carried on into town. The first time I came across these guys I mentioned them to the driver and he explained they were three regulars who went into town every week to gamble in the casino.

One night I picked them up as usual and they paid for three fares and exited the bus in Manchester. Later, earlier than normal, maybe about two am, one of the three boarded for the return journey. When I approached he said one and produced the exact fare for one. I asked ‘what has happened to your mates?’ but was met with an unintelligible stream of Chinese. Clearly it hadn’t been a successful night in the casino for this fellow.

Three other guys boarded in Manchester, all the worse for wear with drink but they paid their money and all was ok. As we trundled back towards Altrincham, I noticed that these guys were annoying the Chinaman, throwing bits of paper at him and calling him names. My way of dealing with trouble on the bus was always to use a bit of humour and try to get the drunken idiots on my side. So, I sidled over to the young guys and said, ‘do me a favour, don’t upset Kwai Chang Caine!’ They all laughed, we had a little bit of banter together and I thought, job done, situation defused! Later, they decided to have some more fun and started again on the Chinese guy again so he decided to move to the upper deck. The young guys followed him upstairs and my driver, looking into the periscope where he could see upstairs said to me, ‘something’s going on up there, you’d better take a look.’

I went upstairs and the three youngsters were taunting the Chinese guy and I could see the time for humour had gone, these fellows had to be sorted. Things were getting rowdy and I called for my driver to stop. Look fellas, I said, this is out of order, leave this guy alone. Things had escalated and it looked like a fight was about to start. I remember the youths charging towards me but the Chinese guy calmly pushed me aside and proceeded to wipe the floor with the youths using some expert kung fu or jujitsu or whatever. The three of them charged downstairs shouting for the driver to let them out, which he did without any persuasion and we continued without further incident.

When we reached Altrincham bus station, the Chinese guy shook hands with me, said something profound in Chinese and was gone.

After that, every time I saw those Chinese guys they came aboard, asked for three, held up three fingers but always gave me money for four. I always tried to give them the money back but they wouldn’t have it. It was their way of giving me a tip I suppose.

Anyway, it is my profound wish that one day, the violent and nasty youths from that video will get on board the bus to Manchester and pick a fight with those Chinese guys. I just hope I am there to video it!


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

Prefer not to Say


I sometimes wonder just what is happening to us in the 21st century world of free speech, the politically correct world of free speech that is. In this mad world there are just certain things that you can’t say and certain things you can’t criticise without someone accusing you of sexism, racism or basically any other kind of ‘ism’! Then again, my mother always used to say, never talk about politics or religion and you’ll get on fine.

Religion.

This week Boris Johnson is in the news for saying that Muslim women in burkas ‘look like letterboxes’ and the whole world, or so it seems is up in arms because this means that jovial Boris is Islamaphobic! He wrote the comments in a newspaper article and I thought he was just trying to take a serious subject and inject some good old British humour, pretty much just like this blog post. How wrong I was!

On the other side of the political divide, Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party are not exempt from allegations either. Not allegations of Islamophobia but this time antisemitism.

These allegations seem to stem from a speech made by Ken Livingstone, the former London mayor, who mentioned in a speech that Hitler was, or so he thought, a Zionist. A Zionist, as far as I know, is someone who believes in a Jewish homeland and Hitler appeared to believe in that for a time, as it was a way to get the Jews out of Nazi Germany but then in his madness he went one step further and with Himmler and the SS created the Holocaust, an attempt to wipe out the entire Jewish race.

I’m not quite certain what Livingstone was trying to get at or what point he was trying to make but the Labour party is still suffering from these allegations even though Ken Livingstone has been expelled from the party, which is a shame because I always thought he was an interesting and articulate politician.

One other element of this situation concerns an international ‘definition’ of antisemitism which Labour has declined to accept, as this definition severely limits any kind of criticism of Israel and its current attitude towards the Palestinians. So not adopting this definition is hardly anti-Semitic, it is just a choice made by reasonable men. Some people think the whole thing is a stick which the right wing of the party are using to attack Jeremy Corbyn with, as he is seen by some as too left wing. Oh well, that’s politics for you.

Sexuality

Today, British and Western society are pretty tolerant of others’ sexual preferences. I remember years ago, seeing a programme on TV in which the sexual antics of the late MP Alan Clark were being discussed and someone, I forget who, in fact it may have been just an ordinary member of the public, answered this to a question about Clark’s numerous affairs. ‘At least he wasn’t a poufter!’

Personally, and it may be politically incorrect to admit this, I found it rather funny. Today when at least one MP I know of and another ex-minister are rather fond of Brazilian rent boys, Alan Clark’s antics are perhaps hardly worthy of comment.

The other day I sat down with my tea to watch channel 4’s Dinner Date. Now this isn’t one of the great TV shows of all time, in fact it’s pretty tame really but I do like it, even though it’s something I really only watch when I settle down to eat my tea. It’s a pretty simple format; a man or woman sits down to scan through five possible dinner menus devised by five possible dinner dates. Only three can be chosen so then the fellow, or the lady, meet with three blind dates, each serving him/her a home cooked meal as per the menu. At the end of the show, the diner chooses one of their dates to take to a restaurant for a proper date. Sometimes all turns out well, sometimes not. At the end of each show there’s a little teaser, John and Janet exchanged phone numbers, but haven’t seen each other again. My favourite was when Terry and Angela had another date then moved in with each other!

Anyway, I know I’m rambling on so I’ll get to the point. The other week I was watching it and the guy was looking through his menus and then the first blind date comes on to introduce the meals and it was another man. Yes, it was a gay version. A gay man chooses three gay dates and hopes to find love.

Sorry but it wasn’t my cup of tea so I turned it off.

Judge

You turned the programme off Mr Higgins?

Me

Yes your honour, I turned the programme off. I just wasn’t enjoying it.

Judge

So you just turned the programme off? Do you not realise that diversity should be welcomed?

Me

Well when it’s about a man and a woman it’s really quite a fun sort of programme but in this one when it was a man talking about other men that he fancies and what turns him on in a man; well it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

Judge

Mr Higgins are you a communist?

Me

Me? No your honour.

Judge

Mr Higgins are you now or have ever been a member of the Communist Party?

Me

What? No I’m not a communist I just didn’t like that particular episode. In fact I was discussing it with a couple of my friends and they didn’t like it either.

Judge

Was this a meeting? A communist party meeting?

Me.

No, not a meeting. Just me and some friends having a few pints.

Judge

Who were these friends? What are their names?

THE ACCUSED LOOKS ABOUT THEN RACES FROM THE COURTROOM, SECURITY PEOPLE HOT ON HIS HEELS.

Race.

Have I covered all the no go area of today’s sensitive society? No, there is one remaining issue which I really must tackle.

The other day I was listening to Radio 4. It was a programme discussing Boris Johnson. One lady being interviewed described herself as a woman of colour. I thought, what is that about? Perhaps it’s not politically acceptable to call yourself black these days, instead you must be a person of colour. I must be a little behind the times then with twenty first century PC speak but what does that make me then as a white person? Am I a person of no colour? Clearly I do have some colour, in fact I’m usually rather pink although just lately after experiencing the hottest summer in the UK since 1976, I am really rather brown. Am I a brown person then?

Not so long ago I was filling in an application form for a new job. Towards the end of a form I came across another document about my racial identity. This of course is 21st Century UK not apartheid South Africa so the question took me a little by surprise. There were two obvious answers, one was White British and the other was White English. Anyway I finally found a third option which was the one I  decided to take.

It was prefer not to say.

If you have been offended by the content of this blog, well I’m not sure what I can do about it. You could go for a lie down or maybe even go for a quick pint down at your local. If you need counselling please call somebody. I’m not sure who but you could always have a look in the phone book.


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

Airports and Things

These last few weeks have seen something of a heatwave in the UK and of course we Brits are just not equipped to cope with extreme heat, well not in the UK anyway. In Spain the buildings are built to keep out the heat where as in the UK, our houses are insulated and are made to hang on to the heat throughout the cooler parts of the year as well as the usual dismal summers.

When I was a child a great lure for me on a hot summer’s day was the airport. My friends and I used to cycle to Manchester Airport and sometimes lurk around the terraces that used to welcome ‘plane spotters’ or more often than not, we used to ride around the back of the airport and wander down secret (or so we thought) lanes and avenues that backed onto the runway. We always headed for a popular spot, an old world war 2 pillbox where we would meet and observe the aircraft. I remember spending many happy hours there, jotting down all sorts of thoughts in my childhood notebooks while listening to the appealing drone of light aircraft or the exciting blast of jet engines. I sometimes imagined that the reason I so loved that light aircraft droning sound was that perhaps I was a World War One fighter ace in a previous life when that sound would have been so much a part of my existence.

Some time later, I think I was in my twenties, I knew someone who had an ambition to be a pilot and was taking lessons at Blackpool Airport. He used to alleviate his tuition costs by taking friends or colleagues on his training flights if they would drive him up to Blackpool.

On the day that I joined James (as usual, names have been changed to protect the innocent) as an eager passenger, I drove up to Blackpool Airport pretty excited. James advised that on the day he would be doing some instrument tests which involved flying the aircraft on instruments alone.

I stepped into the back of the small plane and strapped myself in. It was a hot day and the aircraft had a huge glass cockpit making it warmer still. I was at a point when I thought I would have to get out and cool off but just then the instructor turned up. He was an older chap and brought his big woolly dog along as he enjoyed, well so I was told, flying. Fido was led in to the rear seat with me and we eyed each other warily as he was strapped in.

The engine was started, we taxied out on to the runway and a few moments later we were aloft. It was exhilarating to look down on Blackpool and the tower, a place where I had spent many happy holidays as a child. After a while James had to put on a rather odd-shaped helmet which blocked out the view through the windscreen and he could only see his instruments. The small plane flew higher and higher, Blackpool Tower becoming the merest pinprick in the distance. Then the engine stopped.

image courtesy wikipedia.

image courtesy Wikipedia.

I’m not sure if you have ever seen one of those World War Two films when German Stuka bombers hurtle down at their targets with a banshee type wail. I only mention that because it seemed very much akin to our current situation and not only that, the pilot was lucky on this occasion that it wasn’t me issuing the wail, but as we hurtled towards the ground, Fido and I eyed each other with mutual fear in our eyes.

“Now come on James” said the instructor. “What have we forgotten?”

Fido pawed the back of the pilot’s seat in a vain attempt to jog his memory but our downward path continued. If you ever happen to see that rather old film ‘The Sound Barrier’ you might get some idea of our situation hurtling down towards the earth with Blackpool Tower looming ever closer in our windscreen.

“You’ve forgotten something haven’t you? The instructor might have been talking to a learner driver who had not put his hand brake on at the traffic lights.

“What if I mentioned the mixture?”

If that was a hint it was certainly in a much better class than his previous comments but either way the pilot got the message, adjusted the engine mixture and our tiny aircraft’s propeller burst into renewed life and not long later we touched down rather bumpily back in Blackpool.

“Watch out” said the instructor, “Fido gets a bit excited when we land.”

If this was a typical flight with his master then it was clear to me why Fido was excited when he landed but anyway, the dog gave me a look which said in its canine way “We made it!” and hopped out of the plane. James completed his flying studies and left our company. He went on, I assume, to a career in aviation and we never met again but I have learnt one thing.

Next time, if on the way to Spain, the engines of our jet airliner conk out I’ll be shouting to the pilot “What about the mixture!?”

Much has changed with aircraft and airports since those far off days. Also when I was a child, my father who never owned and could not drive a car, took us, my mother and brother and Bob our dog, on long walks around the area. Many times we would end up at a lovely old pub called the Romper where my brother and I would get crisps (chips to you American readers) and a glass of fizzy pop before setting off on the walk back home. There would usually be somewhere to buy some fresh eggs or vegetables which we would have later. The road that took us to the Romper has now been enveloped by the ever-expanding airport and the Romper itself is also quite different. I fondly remember it as having comfy old chairs inside and no pumps at the bar: The barstaff used to fill a jug direct from the casks of ale and pour beer from that. The last time I went into the Romper was at least ten years ago. It was a posh and polite bar and eating house. Nothing stays the same.

Airports have been in the news a lot lately because the government has decided to approve the building of a third runway at Heathrow, despite this meaning the destruction of 700 houses and the entire village of Sipson. It’s pretty probable that noise pollution will increase as well as increased greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s a similar situation at Manchester airport where, as I said earlier, the airport seems to be expanding all the time. A new complaint at Manchester is that where motorists have been able to drop off and pick up passengers freely, a new charge of £3 has come into effect. Three pounds, just to drop your friends or relatives off for their flight!

Personally, I’d advocate a string of smaller airports around the country which would mean people wouldn’t have to travel so far to big airports like Heathrow or Manchester. Liz and I used to use Blackpool airport quite frequently. It’s a fairly small place, very handy for us and those in the local area and it was a little like a friendly bus station until Jet2 stopped flying from there and the location returned to helicopter and light aircraft use.

If you look back at the history of aviation, you’ll see that in the 1960’s Hawker Siddeley developed the Harrier Jump Jet, a fighter aircraft which could take off and land vertically! So why has that concept not been taken up by the commercial aviation world? Imagine airports with VTOL aircraft. No lengthy runways taking up space. What are today’s generation of boffins up to? Get working on vertical take off and landing guys!

This seems to be an appropriate point to plug, no not Floating in Space but one of the videos on my YouTube page. You might breathe a sigh of relief, regular readers, to know that it’s not another video about that aforementioned novel (wonderful read though it is) but a re-edit of my second most popular video, a look at Manchester Airport back in 1986.

The original has had 7.8 thousand views which is pretty impressive but as it is enhanced by the top 20 chart music of the time, all of which is copyright protected of course, no royalties are payable to me. Naturally, that was quite a motivation for me to re-edit the film with some new copyright free music. Just as I had finished YouTube announced that as I have less than 1000 followers I am no longer eligible to be a YouTube ‘partner’ and therefore ineligible for any royalties.

My old friend Steve, now longer with us, introduces various aspects of the airport, a place he loved and knew a great deal about. A few years later I took the original video and edited him out, substituted some new video and added a lot of Steve’s introductions into my voice over narration. He wasn’t happy. Not long ago when I copied the video to DVD ready to convert to digital for yet another re-edit, my laptop would not accept the digital data. I sometimes think that maybe his spirit was watching over making sure that particular version never made it to YouTube. Oh well, perhaps I’ll leave it for another day, a day when I’m eligible for YouTube royalties!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grave of Wilfrid Owen, Ors, France.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Rumours, Motorhomes and the Red Carpet Treatment

Motorhomes.

As you read this I will hopefully be making my way to France via the channel tunnel in Liz’s tidy little motorhome. This is not -as you might be thinking- my summer holiday. In fact its my pre-summer holiday! Yes, we are off to a wedding in the Alsace region of France and have decided to make the trip in the motorhome and make things into a mini holiday, a nice precursor to our main holiday also in France later in the year.

We have already had a trip to Scotland in the motorhome but this trip to France is one I’m really looking forward to. I really do love driving through France, exploring sleepy french villages, antique shops and of course, restaurants. If no restaurants appear on the horizon, which I seriously doubt very much, we can always park up and slap some sausages into the frying pan. Things taste so much better when cooked out on the road.

The forecast in France is not looking that great for the first few days which might come as something of a shock to our system as for the last few weeks the UK has been in the middle of a major heat wave. Garden hoses and sprinklers will soon be banned I’m sure and apart from having some trouble sleeping in the warm nights things have been very nice in the UK. We’ve had plenty of barbecues and for most of the time I have been wandering about in the same pair of shorts and an old vest, occasionally interchanged with a smart pair of shorts and a smart polo shirt when I have ventured out into town.

The weather has had quite an impact on our laundry as I have given up wearing socks for the duration of the heat wave. Shoes have been replaced by sandals and jeans have been pushed firmly to the back of the wardrobe. When the washer has been taken for a spin it’s so hot that the washing is dry in no time at all.

Many people have mocked me in the past for buying a convertible motor car. ‘When is he going to use that in rainy UK’ they may have thought? Yet how I laugh when I motor serenely by, roof down, sunglasses firmly fixed in place as I offer a cool wave to my friends, boiling in their conventional motor vehicles. I have heard some talk of ‘air con’ but what on earth is that? Must be bad for you and it really can’t compare to having the roof off your car and being bathed in fresh, warm, natural air, can it?

The Red Carpet Treatment.

Last week our friend Veli who runs the Anotolia Turkish Restaurant in St Annes invited us to the launch of his new venture the Anatolia Sea View Restaurant down on the seafront. Veli must have some good contacts because also in attendance were the local mayor, the local MP and various minor celebrities from the north-west, including Bobby Ball whom UK readers may remember from the comedy duo Cannon and Ball back in the 80s. Anyway, it was nice to step along the red carpet and be handed a glass of bubbly by our favourite waiter Zoltan and nibble at various Turkish delicacies from the buffet.

Rumours.

I never used to be a great album buyer, in fact back in the 70’s and 80’s I was always a singles man but I do have a few vinyl albums in my collection. In the CD age I have built up quite a substantial CD album collection and it’s always nice to pick up a CD version of a classic vinyl album and I did plan at one time to gradually update my album collection from vinyl to CD like that, record by record. Then again, by the time I’ve finished I can imagine the CD will probably be defunct and some new technology will have replaced it.

What is interesting these days though is how bands tend to update their work and issue new versions of their classic stuff. We can now get classic albums ‘re-mastered‘ and with other versions of the original tracks. That is all very well but what it really means is that the record company can now add on a few extra quid to the price tag.

On the BBC a while ago I watched that late night show about classic albums and the subject happened to be Rumours, the hit Fleetwood Mac album. Rumours, in case you didn’t know, was released in 1977 and reached the top of both the US and UK charts. Four tracks from the album were released as singles and all did well in the charts. The BBC show revealed how the album was made and the personal relationship issues that fuelled the creative song writing. Following on from that I decided to do a search on Ebay for Rumours and spotted a ‘new’ version of the album for sale.

The version I saw on Ebay was remastered and claimed to be a deluxe and special version but after further searches and examinations, I now see that for a few quid you can get, quite cheaply, the basic CD version of the original album. Also available, a little pricier, is the ‘re-mastered’ version. For a little more money the remastered 2 disc version can be bought and for even more money, a remastered special 3 disc version. The 3 disc version was too pricey for me but after a few Ebay bidding excursions I managed to get hold of a reasonably priced 2 disc version. Now I had planned to save it for our journeys in France however, in France, as much as I enjoy driving there I do have to concentrate on what I’m doing because it involves driving on the wrong side of the road. In the UK I feel I’m something of an ‘automatic’ driver because I rarely think about my driving, I’m just on my personal auto pilot and my inner driver takes over. Not something that’s a good idea in France.

So, on my last block of night shifts before journeying away, I cranked up the old motor, slipped CD1 into the player and set off for work. It was good. Not quite as good as my Fleetwood Mac Greatest Hits CD but good all the same. CD2 was similar but was mostly alternative versions of the same tracks. Verdict: It was an OK album but not head over heels brilliant. Glad I didn’t fork out for the  3 disc version!

Anyway, here’s one of my favourite tracks.


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

Writing and the Big 300!

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE SOLDIER COUGHS AND TRIES TO SPEAK.

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

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

THE WOUNDED SOLDIER COUGHS AND CHOKES.

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

THE WOUNDED SOLDIER COUGHS EVEN MORE.

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

SOLDIER SPITS OUT THE CIGARETTE.

CLOSE UP:

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

WOUNDED SOLDIER: I don’t . .smoke..

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

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

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

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

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


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