Thoughts From A Sun Lounger (Part 14)

It’s still only January and yet here I am writing another ‘Thoughts from a Sun Lounger’ post. I love it! Yes, I’ve left behind the cold and wintery UK for the Spanish island of Lanzarote. It may be just a rock peeping out from the ocean but it’s a warm rock, warm and sunny, well mostly. We’ve had hot and sunny days but we’ve also had some dull and windy ones. OK so we’re not freezing in the snow and ice of the UK but I was hoping for a little more sun that we have had so far.

Travelling here wasn’t so enjoyable. Things weren’t too bad on the aircraft as I had an empty seat next to me which gave me a bit of much needed stretching room but the experience at Manchester Airport was not good. Security, which is inevitable these days was an absolute nightmare. A huge overcrowded busy scrum. I had a lot of gadgets in my hand luggage, my laptop, my iPad and camera. Those had to be x-rayed separately apparently and placed in a plastic tray and then I had to put my wallet and trouser belt in another tray which all went through at different times because of the amount of other people trying to get their things scanned and x rayed too. Our small case was held back because of a suspicious item inside which turned out to be our sandwiches. The security guy tried to hand back the case to me while I had my laptop and my belt in one hand and was holding my trousers up with the other. As it happened he could see my predicament and so a Carry On moment was happily avoided.

Security is important in order to travel safely but it can be a pain. I put the blame squarely on the shoulders of people like Dan Cooper. Dan was one of the first aircraft hijackers and he did what he did not for religious reasons or to further any kind of political cause, he just wanted money. The media have named Dan DB Cooper although there is no evidence to support those initials. Dan hijacked a Boeing 727 in November 1971 after paying cash for a flight from Portland Oregon to Seattle using the name Dan Cooper. He passed the stewardess a note demanding 200,000 dollars and a parachute and threatened to explode a bomb unless he got it. He showed the stewardess the bomb or what appeared to be a bomb inside his briefcase and then sat back chain smoking to await the outcome.

Official FBI artist rendering of Dan Cooper

He released the passengers in Seattle and when the aircraft took off again heading to Mexico, a destination specified by Cooper, he ordered the crew to all go forward then opened the rear exit and jumped out. He was never seen again although in 1980 some of the ransom money was found by a young boy along the banks of the Columbia River. It’s a fascinating story and I’ve read quite a few articles about the affair as well as having watched a couple of TV documentaries. A number of people have been named as being Dan Cooper but so far, no one has been definitively identified. I’ve added a picture of Dan just in case you happen to recognise him although these days, if he is still alive, he will probably be getting a little long in the tooth.

It’s been over a year since we were last in Lanzarote and one thing I have noticed is that in quite a few places, prices have gone up considerably. In the Café Berrugo, one of our favourite places, the meals were looking a little smaller and rather more expensive. When we first came here the staff boasted that this was the only place on the island that didn’t charge for bread with a meal. Nowadays, they charge.

Our local contact who picks us up from the airport, his fees have gone up too and a big problem we encountered on our first trip out was that no one seemed willing to answer the taxi number that we have always used. I checked and yes, the number was correct. We later found out that, just like in the UK, it’s better to use the app. Yes Lanzarote has gone all hi tech and instead of calling the taxi company it’s better and easier to book a taxi using the app.

The villa we wanted to rent wasn’t available and as rental property seems to be snapped up pretty quickly round here, we went for a villa we have rented before. It’s a nice place within easy walking distance of the marina and all our favourite restaurants. It has a nice pool, nice rooms, a nice kitchen and a nice barbecue area. Great you might think but there is a lot missing. There was only one wine glass for instance which was a bit of a pain and we had to go out and buy two matching wine glasses so we could share our evening wine together. In rental properties there are always items left over from previous tenants, a little olive oil, a half used packet of pasta, some salt and pepper and so on.

When we last rented this villa there was nothing, the cupboards were bare. We even had to buy a scourer to use for washing up as well as washing up liquid. Seeing as we have spent quite a few thousand on this place on both of our visits, I do find that a little mean. Once, we rented a place in Portugal. It was an out of season deal and was very cheap compared to the prices at the height of the summer but when we arrived there, waiting for us was a bottle of wine, some milk, a bottle of water and a loaf of bread. There were various left over bits and pieces in the cupboards too and because of that we felt not only welcome but were happy to pass on our left overs to the next people too.

The really big issue for me though is the pool. As lovely and inviting as it looks, the pool is unheated. There is no cover either so any heat gained during the day, evaporates during the night. On our first morning at the villa a lovely warm day opened up before us. We had breakfast out on the patio. We relaxed in the warm sun for a while. Time for a swim. Not a good idea. The pool was not only freezing but incredibly freezing! I did manage to get in and do ten lengths but I came out a shivering, tingling wreck. Later it warmed up a little. It went from incredibly freezing to just freezing.

As I mentioned earlier, the weather has not been all warm and sunny. We had quite a few dull and windy days and even a little rain. The bad weather should be good for a writer like me, you might think. Less sunbathing by the pool and more writing. Yes, I thought that too but so far I’ve been a little slow in opening up my laptop and writing. I love reading and it’s great to settle down with a book by the pool and read. Then of course I’ve got emails that need reading, TikTok videos to watch and unlike this blog, I’ve no deadlines to force me to work on my books and screenplays. I got kind of excited for a while the other day when a producer showed interest in a screenplay of mine, then a few days later he declined to take it further. Pity because I had mentally planned most of my trip to Hollywood by then.

Another of my emails mentioned that I had won a prize on the national lottery. Now that isn’t much to get excited about at all as I’ve had emails like that before. You click on the lottery site and find you have won £6.70 on Thunderball. Even so I might as well check I thought. I clicked onto the lottery web site to find you can’t access the site unless you are in the UK! What the heck, I know its going to be £6.70 again but I did read about that unclaimed million pound win the other day. Nah, it’s £6.70. I know it is. Probably.

Think I might try that freezing cold pool again.


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The Dambusters and The State of The Union

When I say the union, I’m not talking about the United States of America but that other union, the one between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. So, what has happened to the United Kingdom? Why is it in such a state, beset by strikes and unrest?

It’s hard to say but a big factor is the Covid 19 epidemic which led to major lockdowns over the past three years. The nurses of the NHS are striking for better pay yet not long ago we, the British public, were clapping them outside on our streets because they were on the front line, risking infection whilst battling against the pandemic. Now, underpaid and overworked, they want more money. True they have done a great job but to be fair, all of us are in the same boat seeing our income dwindling because of inflation and seeing our utility bills soar as well as food prices going up and up.

Many suffered financially during the lockdown, especially those in the hospitality sector. Pubs and clubs were forced to close their doors, some feeling the financial burden so badly that they were unable to reopen and now they have further problems. Because of Brexit, many foreign workers in the licenced trade have returned home to Poland and other places in Eastern Europe. That means that pubs and restaurants are feeling the pinch because they can’t get the staff. It’s the same in the NHS; nurses and hospital staff are working more and more hours because there is no one to fill the numerous vacancies, and yet there are still 1,382,000 people unemployed in the UK according to the Office of National Statistics.

So why is it that despite all the available jobs going are people still unemployed? Is it that we as a nation think that jobs in bars and restaurants are beneath us? Are cleaning and hospital jobs not good enough? There is a great move in the UK to push more and more people into higher education which is great but it seems that these days everyone and his dog is wanting to go to university, so who is left to do the cleaning and beer pulling? The Poles and the other Eastern Europeans? No because they have all buggered off back home. Of course, there are a shed load of illegal immigrants parked up in various places in ex army camps and hotels that have been taken over by the government but they are too busy being looked after to do any work but perhaps in the future they could be offered work in the NHS and in bars and restaurants.

The other day I happened to be watching the film The Dambusters which as you will probably know is about 617 squadron which was formed in World War II specifically to attack the dams of Germany so as to destroy the Nazi industrial capability. Destroying the German dams flooded the Ruhr Valley and dealt a huge blow to the Nazi war effort. The story was more than that though, it was also about Barnes Wallis, the inventor of the bouncing bomb and showed how he developed an idea from the drawing board through to models and finally to the real thing.

At the beginning of the film Barnes’ wife calls the doctor to look at their sick child and also to have a word with Barnes himself as his wife suspected he was working too hard and making himself ill. The doctor was a kindly old chap who came to the house, attended to the child and dispensed advice and wisdom to the hardworking inventor.

That was back in 1940 but try getting a doctor to pop round to your house these days! Not only would that be next to impossible but try to get an actual appointment to see a doctor! At my surgery I thought it might be possible to ask for a routine appointment, something of a non-urgent nature so I could perhaps discuss with the doctor some minor ailments that were causing me a little discomfort. No, I was told, not possible. I have to call in at 8am in the morning and try and get through for one of the appointments for that day which, based on previous experience, will all be booked up by about 8:30. Not only that but the last time I visited my doctor after two days of trying to get through on the phone, he was already writing out a prescription for painkillers before I had even finished telling him about my problem.

It was not easy for Barnes Wallis to develop his idea for the bouncing bomb and it was even harder for him to get Whitehall and the RAF to follow through and actually prepare to attack the German dams. Perhaps what we need in the NHS is someone similar, someone with vision, someone both creative and tenacious that can sort out the whole terrible mess we seem to be in now.

One of the problems of reshowing the Dambusters film on TV these days is that back in the 1940’s, Wing Commander Guy Gibson, the leader of the Dambusters squadron had a black dog and this being the 1940’s he chose, like many others of the time, to call his dog by the N word. I’m sure Gibson chose that name quite innocently but it is a word that has caused untold pain and unhappiness to a great many people with dark skin. Just prior to the famous dam busting raid, Gibson’s dog was killed in a hit and run accident and he asked that his dog should be buried at the same time as he was going into action over Germany. I mention this so you can see it would be pretty hard to delete the entire dog scenario from the film so as not to cause offence with viewers today.

What did happen though was a pretty remarkable editing job in which the dog was renamed ‘Trigger’ via some really outstanding audio dubbing. So outstanding that you can hardly even believe a change had taken place.  In a way it’s a little sad that we worry so much about offending others that we must change historical names that are considered today to be unacceptable. It’s not as if by doing so we can change the past. Anyway, the result was that this story of ingenuity and heroism can still be told and seen by young people without upsetting anyone.

Guy Gibson won the Victoria Cross for commanding the raid on the dams of Nazi Germany. He was later stood down from active flying after completing his 174th mission in 1943. He was asked to join Prime Minister Winston Churchill on a trip to Canada. He also visited the USA for propaganda and publicity reasons. On his return to England, he was asked to write a book about his experiences, again presumably for publicity purposes.

After writing his book, Enemy Coast Ahead, he was posted to RAF Coningsby where he was mostly responsible for planning and liaison which did not suit him at all. He was anxious to go flying again and was concerned that the war would end before he could get back into combat.

On the night of the 19th August 1944 an order came through for a raid on Germany and as senior officer he took control of a Mosquito aircraft for which he had only logged 9 hours and 35 minutes flying time. Returning from the mission Gibson’s aircraft entered into a steep dive over Steenbergen in Holland. The aircraft crashed killing all on board. In 2011 a British film maker made claims that Gibson’s plane had been shot down by a gunner aboard an RAF Lancaster who mistook the Mosquito for a German Junkers 88.

Gibson was buried in the local cemetery in Steenberegen where there are a number of streets dedicated to his memory, Gibsonstraat and Warwickstraat named after his navigator James Warwick.

This week Liz and I have flown to Lanzarote to get away from the cold of the UK. Luckily we weren’t flying last Thursday as Manchester Airport had been closed because of half an inch of snow. I read about that on an English newspaper site so I assume it was accurate, despite Prince Harry having a go at English journalists and blaming them for all his problems.

One of the books I have brought with me to read on holiday was a book by the BBC’s former World Affairs Correspondent, John Simpson. His book is called ‘A Mad World, My Masters’. In his introduction he says this.

I decided to lift the title of this book from the Jacobean playwright Thomas Middleton because I felt it expressed the sense that many people have now, and clearly had 400 years ago too, that things around them have gone mildly crazy. Of course, today’s craziness is tomorrow’s rational order, which becomes disrupted again at some future point and then becomes a new and and perfectly workable basis for society.

That was written in the year 2000 and seems still relevant today over twenty years later. Still, I’m sure the United Kingdom will still be in one piece when we get back. I can just imagine being stranded at Lanzarote airport like Tom Hanks in the film The Terminal. ‘I’m sorry, you cannot fly with a UK passport as the UK no longer exists’ the airport staff tell me.

Oh well, I don’t mind staying in sunny Lanzarote while the UK sorts itself out!


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A Few Christmas Memories

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

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

Secret Sam case. Picture from Pinterest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My first car, a three wheeled Bond Bug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not long after, X and I parted company.

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


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It’s C-C-Cold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ice Station Zebra.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Another Moany Whingey Kind of Blog Post

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

Here we go then.

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by FLY:D on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Diary of An Oddball Kind of Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I knew it was going to be a bad day.

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

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

My trusty old tea mug.

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

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

Today was going to be a good day!


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10 Things I Can’t Live Without

Thanks for tuning in once again and if you’re not a regular reader, thanks for giving me a try. In case regular readers are getting fed up of blogs about motorhomes and travelling in France, swimming in lakes, eating fabulous food, drinking red wine and all that stuff, this week I thought I’d have a change of pace and write about something a little less serious so this week’s blog post is a homage to a similar post I saw out there in cyberspace. It had a similar title, 10 Things I Couldn’t Do Without but those 10 things were so uninteresting I just had to think of 10 of my own ideas. Anyway, let’s get cracking. I found that a lot of my 10 items I had written about before so I’ve added the relevant links to those posts. Feel free to click on them and I definitely won’t mention anything about motorhomes or holidaying in France.

Bacon.
There is nothing that could be more perfect for breakfast than bacon. Throw in a poached egg, a sausage, maybe some black pudding or a hash brown and some tomatoes, a couple of rashers of bacon and there you have it, a wonderful breakfast. If you are perhaps not so hungry or maybe in a rush or on the move, you can still enjoy a bacon sandwich, throw a fried egg on top to make it extra tasty and get yourself a fresh cup of tea. Lovely! On holiday a while ago in France (did I say I wasn’t going to mention our 4 weeks in France? Sorry!) cooking can be a little difficult on our small three burner stove so Liz made us a bacon and egg omelette which was really nice served with French bread, lovely!

TV

I’ve got TV on the list and believe me I love my TV. Just cast your eye over the many TV posts on this blog and you will realise I am a big fan of the old gogglebox so much so that my Dad, may he rest in peace, used to call me square eyes. For younger readers, TV sets tended to be square back in the old black and white days. Having said that on our holidays -like the 4 weeks we’ve just had in France– I didn’t miss TV at all and in fact, only watched it once and that was for the Italian Grand Prix.

F1

Ayrton Senna

That brings me nicely to my next subject, F1 racing. I’ve followed F1 since 1970 and back then I used to read Motor Sport and Autosport and Motoring News. I had a chart on my wall which I used to fill in with the points scored by the drivers and look forward to each new race. These days some 52 years later, I’m perhaps not as keen. I don’t subscribe to the Sky F1 channel though I still look forward to the Channel 4 highlights show on terrestrial TV. I don’t buy F1 magazines anymore but I do subscribe to various F1 fan pages on the internet, all of which I have to mute on a Sunday so I don’t see the race results before I watch the highlights. Hamilton, Verstappen, LeClerc and Alonso don’t quite measure up to the Stewarts and the Mansells and the Sennas of the past but anytime I say to myself that’s it, I’m not watching Formula One anymore, I always find myself reneging on that particular promise.

Books


My well thumbed copy of David Copperfield

I really couldn’t ever give up reading. A consistent pleasure for me that I’ve enjoyed since childhood is relaxing with a good book. I read all sorts from the classics of literature like David Copperfield and the Great Gatsby (two of my all time favourite reads) to modern fiction. On holiday I found John Grisham’s The Rainmaker highly enjoyable and the great thing about a holiday read is that you have time, the time to savour a really good long read.

Classic Films

I am a bit of a film buff, well, a classic film buff anyway. Anything with stars like Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, James Stewart, Ronald Colman or John Wayne will do it for me. Of course I like modern films too. I love the Bond films as well as the Rocky series and directors like Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen.

My iPad

One indispensable item of modern technology has to be the iPad. On our trip to France (did I mention we just had 4 weeks in France?) one big disaster was just before leaving home I took out my iPad to check something and then put it down on the chair rather than back in the bag. The bag went into the motorhome, the iPad didn’t. Quelle horreur! OK I could check my emails with my phone as well as my social media and stuff but my iPad has all the various apps I use, in particular one that I use with my foreign currency card. Luckily Liz took her spare iPad with her and very kindly lent it to me for the duration of the holiday, so I was able to use that for the sites that I could remember the passwords for. Most of my blog posts I start off on my laptop but tend to fine tune them on the iPad but anyway, I managed to write and publish three blog posts while I was away. I did miss that iPad though.,

My laptop.

That leads me nicely to my laptop. My entire life as a writer is on my laptop. All my original blog posts are there as well as my draft posts, stories, unfinished screenplays and two part finished novels. All my videos are made on my laptop and the great thing about my video editing programs is that when I want to update a video, I can just go back in to the edit file and add new video clips and take out old ones and even add new voiceovers or different music. I do back up my files but even so, if the house was on fire, my laptop would be the one thing I would have to save before jumping out of the window.

My trusty laptop, shown here in audio editing mode.

My Hair Trimmers

There are some things in life which are essential but don’t rate too highly in terms of enjoyment. One of those, for me anyway, is getting my hair cut. I’ve always hated going to the barber and coming out afterwards feeling itchy with bits of hair down my neck knowing that the same scissors the guy has used on me have been used on the heads of all sorts of other people before me. When I do actually go to the barber (perhaps I should say hair stylist) I always look inside to see if anyone is waiting because I never ever sit and queue to get my hair done. The thing is, it takes about five to ten minutes to trim my hair. I don’t have a lot of it but even so it needs tidying up and it is so annoying to see the guy in front having his hair cut soooo slooowwly and this little bit done and then this bit and then that bit and then the hair dryer comes out. I finally get in the barber’s chair and it’s a quick number 2, square up the neck, trim the sideburns and we’re off, ten minutes max and usually the barber hasn’t even had time to say stuff like ‘have you been anywhere nice for your holidays?’ (Actually I’ve had 4 weeks in France but I’m not going into that right now). Now that entire sorry experience has been almost wiped from my existence. Is there a queue in the barbers? Oh well, off back home, plug in my electric hair trimmers, trim the sideburns, clip on the comb, a quick all over the head, change comb and take all the fuzz off the top and before you can say ‘Nicky Clarke’, the job has been done. Hair trimmers, I love ‘em!

Mobile Phone

What can I say about mobile phones? They are just the perfect companion in this high tech 21st century world. You can call who you want and in fact, you don’t even need to remember phone numbers, your phone will do it for you. If you want to call your favourite restaurant to book a table and don’t know the number, your phone will look it up. You can message your friends, check social media and ‘check in’ on Facebook when you go somewhere special, even if it’s not that special at all. You can book a hotel or a flight. You can even play a game or listen to music if you’re stuck in a queue at the doctor’s surgery or at the hairdresser’s.

Bread

OK, here’s one final item I can’t do without. I started with food so I’ll finish with food too: Bread. What is so special about bread you might ask. Well bread is on this list because I just love bread. Every meal in France comes with a basket of bread (I should know because we’ve just spent 4 weeks there) It’s perfect to mop up that lovely oil or gravy. It’s great for a snack (ham, cheese and coleslaw on granary bread; my favourite sandwich) and it’s really quite satisfying to make; mixing the dough, kneading it, letting it prove and then slipping it into the oven and waiting while that lovely aroma fills the house. It’s also great toasted, just a slice with some butter or margarine is great. Add some marmalade and it’s even better. If you’re having an Italian meal chop some tomatoes and onions, add some olive oil. Brush a slice of granary bread with oil and either pop it in the toaster or on your George Foreman grill then slap it on a plate and top with the tomato and onion mixture. Wonderful.

So what ten things can you not do without?


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Memory, Memories and Memorabilia

I got to thinking about memory the other day, after all memories are important. Our whole past experience is made up of memories so in effect, everything that has passed, everything that has gone before, exists only in memory.

My mother who suffers with dementia will be 93 later this year. Sometimes when I visit her she is talkative and chatty, other times not. A sad moment a few months ago was when her only words were please help me, intoned over and over like a ritual or a prayer. I left her feeling extremely saddened and upset that day but when I visited a few weeks later she was the complete reverse, bright, happy, talkative and chatty. She couldn’t remember her address, except for her childhood address, the one she left behind many years ago but still, she was bright and asked about her home and her garden and what about the rent? Was I keeping up to date with the rent?

The Auntie I never met.

I brought her a photo I had found of her sister Ada. Ada was a keen cyclist who was sadly killed in 1948 in a traffic accident on her bike. I showed her the picture and she knew Ada immediately telling me about her many achievements in cycling and also winning a place at the Manchester Central Grammar School for Girls.

The photo, as I had hoped, stimulated her memory and we talked for a while about the past and her long-lost sister.

Sometimes I wonder about my own memory. I forget names quite frequently and sometimes when Liz and I go to the pub quiz and try to identify celebrities in the picture round I end up saying things to Liz like ‘It’s the woman who was Mrs Peel in the Avengers on TV’ (one point for Diana Rigg.) Or ‘It’s the woman from the film Titanic’ (another point for Kate Winslet.) Or even ‘the guy who used to be on the breakfast show on Channel 4 with that woman who’s on Celebrity Gogglebox’. (Outstanding if you got Johnny Vaughn!)

The other day I was sorting out some of my old CDs. There wasn’t much on the TV so I popped one in the player. It was by Elton John called simply ‘Elton John’ and contains the hit single ‘Your Song’ and various other tracks. As Elton tinkled the ivories and began to sing, I realised I knew all the words despite not having listened to that album for many years. I’ve also got it on vinyl and when I was in my early twenties and discovered Elton, I played and played his records until my parents yelled up the stairs telling me to pack it in.

Memory is important too in today’s electronic devices. I mentioned in a previous post about how a shoot for one of my videos was curtailed because the camera’s memory card was full. I usually have a spare but on that particular day I hadn’t popped one into my camera bag. Result disaster! Well, almost disaster as I still had my spare camera. When I came to edit that particular video which was about Manchester Airport I also had a lot of unused video from previous visits as well as some video from the VHS days shot in the late 1980s so I was able to change direction a little bit and also to look at how the area has changed in recent years.

Going back further to the 1960s and 70s, my schoolfriends and I used to visit the airport regularly and go on to the viewing terraces to watch the aircraft land and take off. My old schoolfriend Steve used to be a real aircraft expert and when we made a video about the airport in 1986, he would comment on my photos saying things like ‘that was a 747 just arrived from Heathrow’ or ‘that was a Lufthansa 757 off to Munich’.

My mother too was pretty knowledgeable about aircraft, well, World War II aircraft anyway. Manchester was bombed in the war and mum’s suburban home of Wythenshawe was frequently hit as it was just up the road from the airport, a particular target of the Nazi bombers. The famous WWII pilot Guy Gibson did some of his training at Manchester airport, then called Ringway and mentions it in his autobiography, Enemy Coast Ahead. My mother says she could tell if the aircraft were British or German by the sound of their engines. The German bombers had a deep droning sound apparently.

A lot of my photographs are routinely backed up on Google Photos but recently they advised me about the new limits of their online backup service. From June 1st 2021, instead of free back up, that now only extends to 15 GB, after that we will have to purchase a plan with Google to continue our image storage. All my laptop images are backed up at Flickr.com but again, that isn’t a free service, I pay a yearly fee. Of course, I could just cancel but then how could I access my images? Well, it just so happens that all my images and videos are backed up on my three hard drives but Google is so much easier to use. If I want a picture for a blog post I tend to just search my Google photos rather than search around the house for my drives and then plug them in. When I went to back up my 2021 photos and videos the other day, I realised I didn’t have enough memory on my current drive so now I’ll have to get another one.

Loss of memory is a regular theme in the film world. The Bourne Identity and its sequels were about an intelligence agent who wakes and does not know who he is. Matt Damon plays the lead character who is picked up by a fishing boat near to death suffering from bullet wounds and total amnesia. The Bourne films are a series I’ve always wanted to watch but I never seen them. (Note to self- set the TV recorder next time The Bourne Identity appears on the TV guide.)

Hitchcock made an amnesia themed film in Spellbound starring Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman. A doctor, played by Gregory Peck, arrives at a mental hospital to replace the outgoing hospital director but Ingrid Bergman discovers Peck is an imposter. Peck’s character fears he may have killed the former director but cannot recall anything. Not my favourite Hitchcock film but it’s an interesting one with dream sequences designed by surrealist artist Salvador Dali.

Finally, here’s my favourite amnesiac film, Random Harvest starring Ronald Colman and Greer Garson. It’s a film not often seen on TV and now and again I’ll get out my old VHS copy if I want to watch it. Based on the book by one of my favourite authors, James Hilton, the film concerns a shell-shocked war veteran, played by Colman, recovering in a sanatorium during the latter days of WWI. The man cannot remember his past but makes a new life with Greer Garson. After they are married the man now known as Smithy, journeys to Liverpool to see a newspaper editor about a story he has written. In the city Smithy is hit by a cab and knocked unconscious. When he awakes all memory of Smithy has vanished but his true identity returns.

He returns home to his lost family but what was he doing in Liverpool. Where has he been in the years since his wounding in the trenches of the Great War?

At times a little sentimental, I’ve always loved this film. Colman is wonderful as the man who rejuvenates his family’s business, becomes a respected MP but cannot find happiness until he knows what happened to him in those few lost years.

Here’s a last thought on the subject of memory. When you are at the pub quiz and are struggling to recall the name of the guy who played Jason King in TV’s ‘Department S’, never say to yourself ‘I can’t remember’. According to Paul McKenna, the guy who produced all those books and tapes about confidence boosting which I used to use when preparing for job interviews, you are sending a message to your subconscious saying ‘don’t remember’. What you should say to yourself is ‘I’m not sure at the moment but the answer WILL come to me soon.’ That way, you’re sending a positive message to your subconscious telling it to get working on that long-forgotten name.

Now, who did play Jason King? Peter Wyngarde! Told you it would work!


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We’re Having A Heatwave

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday.

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

Sunday.

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

Monday. (Red Alert Day)

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

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

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

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

Tuesday.

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

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

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

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

Wednesday.

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

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

By the way, where did I leave that fleece?


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The Day I Finally Cracked It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘How are you, Bert?’ I asked.

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

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


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