More Letters to Younger Selves

Wait just a minute! Letters to Younger Selves? Haven’t we had this post already I can hear you thinking? In fact not just once; there was Letters to My Younger Self and then we had A Video to My Younger Self? Hasn’t this guy got any new ideas? OK, I know where you’re coming from but bear with me for a short while. I did do a post a while back which was about me writing a letter to my younger self. Then the other week I told you about how I put together a video version for my YouTube channel. This week I want to tell you about what happened when I actually uploaded the video.

Now I did say the original letters post wasn’t my own idea. I got it from one of those blog writing prompts that can easily be found in either Google or your search engine of choice. After uploading my video I always do a search for it and if it comes up near the top of the search then I’ve feel I done a pretty good job in terms of tags and meta data (all that technical stuff) and choosing a good post title. A search for A letter to My Younger Self gave up some surprising results, in fact it seemed to me that everyone and his dog had been making a short video on this same subject. Even more surprising was that a lot of these short videos were by Formula One drivers. I’m guessing that at some time there was some kind of trend for this subject, perhaps a promotion around the hashtag #DearMe but when it comes down to it, I might as well admit, I don’t know.

Anway, I thought it might be interesting to showcase a few of the videos I came across so let’s start with Fernando Alonso, frustrated former Ferrari driver who jumped ship thinking Honda were going to create a world beating engine for his new Mclaren team, only they didn’t. Hard luck Fernando.

(I should point out here that F1 being the multi million dollar global industry it is, they wouldn’t for a minute let these videos play on my cheap nasty amateur blog post. Press play then you have to click the button that says ‘Play on YouTube’. Annoying I know but hey, that’s big business for you.)

Many people think that Fernando is one of, if not the greatest driver of all time. Those people are of course completely wrong and this then is the perfect time to introduce someone who actually is the greatest driver ever. Jackie Stewart, winner of 27 Grands Prix from 99 starts, three World Championships and now one of the Formula One world’s elder statesmen.

South African Jody Scheckter was once the enfant terrible of Formula One, especially when he spun and caused a huge pile up at the beginning of the British Grand Prix back in 1973. A lot of people weren’t happy but Scheckter went on to drive for Ferrari and win a World Championship in 1979.

Emerson Fittipaldi was one of my favourite drivers of the 1970’s. He took over from the late Jochen Rindt at Lotus and won three world Championships before electing to drive for his brother’s new F1 team. Things didn’t work out so well for the Fittipaldi brothers and Emerson retired for a while but then made a comeback in American Indycars winning the Indycar title in 1989.

Someone who did what Emerson did, only in reverse, was Mario Andretti. He was a champion in the US and had a few one off drives for Colin Chapman, head of he Lotus team who tried numerous times to lure Andretti over to F1. Andretti finally dipped his toe into F1 and won the world title for Lotus in 1978. He was the last American to date to win an F1 race. He won numerous races in all types of racing disciplines in the USA including 4 Indycar championships and numerous other races and awards. He is probably as synonymous with motor sport in the USA as Stirling Moss was in the UK.

I think that’s probably enough from the F1 world so I’ll finish with some other famous people. The first non F1 person I came across was Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the assassinated president. It’s pretty brief and the good news is that all these next videos can be played within this post!

Still with the Presidential theme here’s something from former first lady Michelle Obama.

Art Garfunkel, former singing partner of Paul Simon did one too . .

And finally, here’s one which isn’t by a celebrity. I came across this one after hours of trolling through Google and YouTube. Many videos I found were of young people talking to their even younger selves so really they didn’t have much to say. I think that the whole theme is better suited to someone older, someone in their later years looking back to their youth. Anyway, here’s a pretty inspiring video.

Finally it’s time to plug my own video once again. Here’s a slightly edited version with a few subtle sound effects added . .


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A Video for my Younger Self

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Willpower, wow! . .


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Blogging by Numbers

Despite being constantly at home and within easy reach of my laptop and notebook I seem to be struggling to write anything lately. I was looking around for a new blog post and finally decided to set myself a task. Writing about numbers. Difficult I know but if I’m the top notch writer I think I am then it won’t be that hard, will it?

Back in the 1980’s I received my first debit card just like many other people. Debit cards were a new concept back then. We already had credit cards but a debit card, what was that about? Back in pre-debit card days when everything was in black and white like an old film, we used to have to go into the bank to withdraw cash. I remember queuing at the bank on a Friday lunchtime in Manchester City centre waiting to draw some cash out for that weekend’s activities. The way we did it back then was to write a cheque to yourself or as I was taught to do ‘pay bearer cash’. In 1987 debit cards were first introduced in the UK although they had been around for a while in the USA. As you can imagine I didn’t actually know that, I had to look it up so while I’ve got that Google page open here are a few interesting facts from the BBC:

The earliest known cheque was written in 1659 dated the 16th February. The Bank of England was established in 1694. The first five pound note was issued in 1793 and was the lowest denomination note until 1797 when war drained the UK bullion reserves forcing the bank of England to issue one and two pound notes. 1966 was when the first UK credit cards were issued and of course, the debit card in 1987.

The first cash machine was put into use by Barclays Bank in 1967 and the machine was revealed with much fanfare by comedy actor Reg Varney who you may remember from the TV series On The Buses. The cash machine of 1967 was operated not by a debit card but by a voucher issued by the bank which was then entered into the cash machine.

It was interesting to hear about Reg Varney because, getting back to numbers, for my debit card secret number I decided to use the fleet number of the bus I was driving that day.

14.

Here’s another number: 14. Yes 14 was the number of the house I lived at as a child. My parents house was a council house and it was my grandad and grandmother’s house until they bought their own house and moved away to Wales. My mother managed to take the house over on the understanding that her brother and sister could continue to live there although by the time I came along they had both found their own homes.

Many years ago I came back to the house and parked outside and spent a few moments remembering the times of my childhood. I parked opposite and took the picture you can see here from the same spot where many years earlier I had first riden my two wheeled bike. The bike was really too tall for me and I could only get on it from the pavement. I spent a lot of weeks riding round the block making only left hand turns until I returned to my starting place. Eventually I got the hang of it. There used to be a hedge across the front of the garden which has now been removed to access the parking place which is also new. I do have a nice picture of me stood in that garden. Wish I could find it for this post but it’s upstairs in a box at my Mum’s house. One day I think I’ll go back and try and reproduce that picture if the present occupants will let me.

The memories that come flooding back just from looking at that picture. My friend Gary Chapman lived just around the corner and we went all over on our bikes. One Christmas, Gary’s parents bought him a set of walkie takies. He always got really great presents. I remember once complaining to my mum who promptly told me that because Gary and his family lived in a flat and not a house, they had less rent to pay so had more money for presents! A few times Gary left me one of the walkie talkies and we had a conversation later that night. Battery power was limited so we arranged to switch on at a prearranged time, 8:30 or something. Our conversations went like this:

‘Gaz, are you receiving?’

‘Gaz here. Loud and clear. Are you receiving Ste?’

‘Steve here. Loud and clear.’

‘Receiving you loud and clear Ste.’

Not long after that Gary and his family were offered a council house but it was in Gamesley, Glossop, a Manchester overspill estate. Gary moved away and I didn’t see him again for years. I met him again in the late 1980’s. A mutual friend of ours, Chris had bumped into Gary’s sister, got Gary’s phone number and we all arranged to meet up. I remember being in a bar in Manchester waiting for Gary. I was at the bar which was pretty busy, getting the beers in when I heard Gary’s voice. It was just how I remembered Gary from years ago. I could hear ‘where’s Ste?’ ‘he’s over there at the bar’. I turned round expecting to see Gary but there was just this guy stood behind me that I didn’t recognise. Where’s Gary I thought? ‘Ste?’ said the stranger. It was Gary. He looked completely different but his voice, a distinctive throaty voice, was just the same.

71.

My very first car had the registration plate PDB71M. It actually caused a lot of confusion when I bought it because I traded in my motorbike, a Honda CB250 with the very similar registration PDB1M. Incredibly, checking on the Gov.UK website my motorcycle is still registered. It was a green Honda first registered in 1974. It has no tax or MOT so presumably it is languishing in the back of someone’s garage, rusting and probably neglected. My car was a Reliant Bond Bug which does not come up on a website search so presumably it went to the scrap yard many years ago. I bought it because I failed my first two attempts at the driving test and was really getting fed up. Of course we didn’t have a family car so the only driving I could do was the one hour a week on a Saturday morning that was my actual driving lesson. The Bond Bug was a three wheeler car and could be driven on a motorcycle license. After a few months regular driving I booked the test again and sailed through it.

I remember pulling up at home in my car feeling very pleased with myself. The car was small, it was an orange wedge shaped two seater and my Dad took one look at it and said ‘How are we all supposed to get in that?‘ and walked away. Presumably he thought I would be taking the family away on holiday. Sorry Dad!

126.

While I’m on the subject of firsts, my first camera was either a birthday or Christmas present and it was a Kodak Instamatic 126. I still have the camera. From my point of view it was a wonderful present; from my parents perspective, perhaps not, because back then in the late sixties cameras needed film and film had to be developed and printed which was fairly costly, especially if you had a child that liked taking pictures and also, whose first attempts were not so good. These days if you take some dud pictures with a digital camera- delete them! It’s no big deal. Back then it was expensive!

I remember getting a major verbal lashing from my Mum when we had gone to Boots to collect my photographs. I was using colour film and Mum had to shell out for my pictures of my action man in various poses in the back garden! (Action man? Hey, I was 12!)

I remember telling the lady in the camera shop about my photography and how I used to build all kinds of stuff out of cardboard and photograph the results. She told me about a close up lens you could buy which just fit snugly over the camera lens on my Instamatic and enabled me to get really close up shots. I’m not sure how much it was but I had to save up for it, my first ever new lens!

0063.

Back in the eighties when I received my first debit card I was a bus driver. Why I stayed in that job for so long I’ll never know but back then in the eighties there was a relentless move towards one man operated buses. Eventually I became a one man driver. It involved more money but also more work. Instead of just driving the bus you had to issue tickets and collect fares but anyone becoming a one man driver in those days was given a new staff number. I became driver 0063: Double O six three, licensed to drive buses.

Just looking at those numbers together (not including by debit card number of course) gives me 1,4,7,1,1,2,6,6,3. I could add my present staff number into the mix, 6102 and there must be a lottery number in there somewhere. Is it a rollover this weekend? Excuse me, think I might just get myself a lottery ticket!


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TV, Books and the Lockdown Blues

You might think that the lockdown is heaven sent for a writer. Stay at home and write stuff, perfect! After a few weeks though I have found not only have I not written much at all. Actually, I’ve been feeling a little bit bored, just like a great deal of the population I suppose.

Television

One thing I have done is watch a great deal of TV although a lot of it has been disappointing. Back in the late 1960s one of my favourite TV shows was The Time Tunnel. It was an American sci-fi show produced by Irwin Allen who made The Towering Inferno and the Poseidon Adventure among other things and a few weeks back I was delighted to find that it was being re-shown on the Horror channel.

In The Time Tunnel two American scientists are ‘lost in the swirling maze of past and future ages, during the first experiments on America’s greatest and most secret project, the Time Tunnel. Tony Newman and Doug Phillips now tumble helplessly toward a new fantastic adventure, somewhere along the infinite corridors of time’ as the opening blurb used to go.

The Time Tunnel starts off with a Congressman coming to investigate the growing budget of the Time Tunnel Complex and threatens to close things down unless he sees results. Scientist Tony Newman decides he must therefore travel back in time to prove that the tunnel really works and save the project. Tony ends up on the ill-fated liner Titanic. His colleague Doug follows him back to 1912 and the control room struggle to shift the two in time before the ship sinks.

One episode that I particularly remember was when the pair land in Pearl Harbour, just before the Japanese attack in 1941. Tony meets himself as a young boy and finally solves the mystery of the disappearance of his father in the attack. That was one of the better ones.

Unable to return the duo to the present, the technicians back at Time Tunnel HQ struggle every week to shift the duo to somewhere new just in the nick of time. They never seem to manage to get the pair home as there is never enough power for this process despite a huge powerhouse courtesy of the special effects department which we see a glimpse of almost every week. The other thing is that if they did get back home, there’d be no show next week.

I did love this show as a 12 year old sci-fi fan but here in 2020 I seemed to be fast forwarding through all the boring bits, of which there were plenty. Some things don’t seem to stand the test of time and the big problem with the Time Tunnel is that the stories mostly weren’t good enough and many episodes seem to revolve around what appears to be stock footage that was filmed for some other project. I’m really cheesed off that I missed the Pearl Harbour episode though.

Coronation Street, like all the TV soaps is suffering because the lockdown has prevented further filming of the series. Instead of going out six times per week, we are now only getting three episodes to satisfy us and even those are looking like they are missing something. It looks to me like the current main storyline involving controlling husband Geoff and wife Yasmin has been the focus of the last filming sessions while some other content involving the minor storylines is missing. Last Wednesday’s episode seemed to have a slightly odd narrative flow, returning to the same scene when perhaps we should have cut to something else, the cafe or the Rover’s Return pub. Still, the editors can only work with the footage they have and sooner or later there will be nothing and our favourite soaps will be on hold until staff can return safely to work. I noticed also that TV quizzes like Tipping Point and Countdown are now just re runs of older episodes.

Spotify

One other thing has made my life slightly more interesting during these slightly surreal times and that is Spotify. You might not have even heard of it but it’s a music app I’ve downloaded to my iPad. I thought originally that it was a way of downloading music. I’m not a great downloader but the previous place where I used to download music was the HMV digital site, 7Digital. It had, I first thought, gone to the heavenly resting place of defunct web sites but when I finally got connected once again after many years I found it not very interesting and so in my search for internet music I came across Spotify. Now with Spotify, you cannot actually download music, well actually you probably can if you pay for Spotify premium but as the cheapskate that you know I am, I’m happy just to listen to music. On Spotify you can set up favourites and playlists and here’s the really extraordinary thing, after a few days use Spotify starts to suggest things you might like, new music that is similar to music you have already played. Now, after only using it for a couple of weeks, I have built up some pretty substantial music playlists.

Books

After finishing my last book, Michael Palin’s diaries, I looked around for something new to read and picked up three books. Bruce Forsyth’s autobiography, Khrushchev’s memoirs and a book of three Noel Coward plays. I’ve read the Noel Coward book before but the writer’s wit and humour never cease to amuse me. Blythe Spirit is one of Coward’s best known plays and was also made into an excellent film starring Rex Harrison. Having read that book before I tend to just flip through it and re read some of the best bits although in the end, I went through the entire book.

When Khrushchev’s memoirs become a little too serious and I fancy a change, something a little bit lighter, I turn to either Noel Coward or Bruce Forsyth. I picked up Bruce’s book at a church sale and although I didn’t expect much, it has been pretty interesting. Bruce was probably one of the last old time entertainers. He talks about the days of variety in the 1950’s and 60’s and about being in various shows and playing in theatres like the London Palladium and how he managed to break in to TV with Sunday Night at the Palladium which he compered for many years.

At one time he was travelling the country living in a caravan and performing in numerous shows. The latter part of the book is just an excuse to mention all his show biz chums and drop a lot of names but all in all, it was a good read. Bruce doesn’t tell us much about himself though, except in a chapter about his relationship with the UK press, where he proceeds to give the press a good telling off. Still, Bruce was a proper celebrity unlike some celebs these days who seem to make a career from being on TV reality shows.

The Khrushchev book is interesting but suffers like many books written in a foreign language by not reading quite as well as it should when translated into English. 20,000 Leagues under the Sea was another foreign language book I read a while ago but that was a new translation and actually read pretty well.

One brilliant foreign language book that comes to mind is Papillon by Henri Charrière. This, unlike the two books mentioned above is an amazing read, an absolutely wonderful book and one of my all time favourites. It was made into a film with Steve McQueen which comes out pretty poor when compared to the book. Still, the book is a pretty thick volume and there is probably enough material in there for a TV series, never mind a film.

One part of the book which is pretty relevant to the lockdown is when Papillon is sent to solitary confinement. In case you don’t know anything about Papillon at all, he was a Frenchman convicted of murder and sent to a penal colony in French Guiana and after numerous escape attempts and many adventures, he finds freedom in Venezuela.

When Charrière is sent to solitary confinement he wonders how he will fill a chapter about a time when nothing at all happens to him, locked away for 24 hours a day with a rule of silence. Every day he is made to stick his head out of a small door in his cell so the warders can check to see if he is still alive. If he is, he is given food which has little nutrient. Luckily, Papillon’s friends have bribed the warders to give him some extra food including some fruit, or I think it might have been a coconut, which helped to sustain him. After many months someone new takes over the solitary block and he lets the prisoners out every day to socialise. This easing of the strict regime helps Papillon and his fellow inmates no end. I can imagine feeling similar when the lockdown is eased.

Blogs

Just looking back at some of my old blogs for inspiration, I came across The Big 300, my 300th blog post and was surprised to find that this very post you are currently reading is my big 405! Still, I did start blogging way back in 2016 just as a way of promoting Floating in Space, my novel set in Manchester, 1977. You might possibly be thinking that this has been an excellent time to pen a sequel. If so, how wrong you are!


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A Slice of my Life Part 4

Just now we are approaching my favourite time of the year. The days are getting longer, spring is nearly here and the days are beginning to get warmer. Understood by our ancestors to be a potent portal of power, the Spring Equinox which happened yesterday, has long been celebrated as an awakening time of growing energy and budding new life. Its earlier roots begin in many of the most ancient myths and tales about the Goddess regaining her power and fertility after the long months of winter. Just now though, all I can think about is what a pain in the neck the coronavirus is turning out to be. It’s pretty easy when you are watching the TV news, to sort of dismiss things that don’t seem to affect us but when you find that you actually are affected then it’s a whole different story.

Recently Liz and I were looking at our next trip in our motorhome. We thought about taking the ferry to Spain and spending a leisurely few weeks meandering north back through France and finally back up to the UK. Now we’re starting to realise it might not be worth booking that trip at all in case the ferries are cancelled. I noticed on the news that Jet2.com with whom we have flown to Lanzarote many times have cancelled their flights to Spain and the Canary Islands so we were lucky to have had our holiday in Lanzarote earlier this year. Certain countries like Spain, Italy and France are on a virtual lockdown situation. Things are looking very grim indeed, in fact it’s almost like being in the middle of a crazy science fiction film, something like Twelve Monkeys or The Andromeda Strain where a virus devastates a US town leaving only two survivors, a baby and an old man, and scientists race to find the connection and hopefully the antidote.

Recently, in the Washington Examiner, believe it or not, I read an article about an American writer who lived in Blackheath in London in the 1980’s. He pointed out that Blackheath was so named because of the 60,000 Londoners who perished as a result of the Black Death in the 14th century, many of whom are buried in Blackheath. The Black Death changed everything; it pushed up the value of labour and created a wage economy. No doubt today’s pandemic will bring about change too but as somebody once said, there is nothing new under the sun.

Mum

My mum who for a long time has become very unsteady on her feet finally entered a care home some weeks ago.  My brother and I have done our absolute best to look after her over the past two years and more but we had done as much as we could. Her mobility had dropped dramatically and her dementia has increased, with her grasp on reality gradually slipping away. At her new care home the staff specialise in dementia patients but this week when I went to visit they told me that no unnecessary visitors were being let in. In a way that means a little break for me. My mother sometimes seems reasonably lucid and at other times not so. Recently she told me she missed her mother and father and I had to tell her they died many years ago. She was very upset but I’ve always tried to be straight with her and not tell her lies. Another time she asked me why my dad had not visited her and fighting back some tears I gently told her he was working. He died twenty years ago.

Dementia has made a liar of me.

Australian Grand Prix.

One big upset relating to the virus has to be, for me at any rate, the cancelation of the Australian Grand Prix. For the past few weeks I have been checking my email updates from various Formula One blogs and web sites. I’ve read about the testing sessions in Barcelona and about the controversy over the Ferrari engine from last year. Apparently, the governing body, the FIA investigated claims that Ferrari’s engine was illegal. They dismissed the claims but declined to comment further. The other teams have protested, claiming that the FIA has tried to hush the incident up. Anyway, that incident has been forgotten now the future of this year’s racing is in doubt. F1 may not begin in earnest until May, if it begins at all.

Pity, because this could be the year that Lewis Hamilton equals Michael Schumacher’s record of 7 world championships but if there are no races, or not enough races will a championship even be awarded?

Woody Allen

The other week I was a little poorly myself. Not the corona virus but some bug that caused me to spend a lot of time being sick. I spent a lot of that time at my mother’s house just generally feeling sorry for myself and drinking hot water and lemon and watching a lot of DVDs. Looking back, those few days have got me ready for the current climate of self-isolation. Anyway, the handy thing with a DVD is that every time I had the urge to run to the toilet I could pause the film, do what I had to do and then return to my couch. Yes, I know that we can even pause live TV these days but Mum’s TV doesn’t support stuff like that.

Anyway, to entertain myself I cranked up some Woody Allen stuff on the DVD player. Midnight in Paris is one of his later films starring Owen Wilson. I’m not sure I have even liked Owen Wilson in the past but watching this film, he plays the perfect role that Woody himself might have played in his younger days.

I followed that with Radio Days, Woody’s homage to the days when radio was universally popular and kids in the pre TV age were as obsessed with radio as I was with TV in the 1960’s. Woody doesn’t appear in the film but narrates it and it tells various radio themed stories. One big point he makes is that radio listeners tend to imagine the broadcaster or actor looking as good as whatever part they are playing, so of course the hero of young Woody’s favourite show, the Masked Avenger, turns out to look nothing like we might imagine.

Third in my trilogy of Woody Allen films was Manhattan which I’ve always thought was much better than Annie Hall, Woody’s Oscar winning 1977 film which won awards in 4 categories; best film, best script, best director and best actress for Diane Keaton. Manhattan is famous for its black and white photography and it’s Gershwin music score and is just generally a lovely film, not outstandingly funny or hilarious but gently humorous.

For real laugh out loud humour, you have to go back to Woody’s earlier films like Take the Money and Run and Bananas. My favourite moment from these earlier films is in Bananas. At the end of the film Woody marries his love interest played by Louise Lasser who was once upon a time his real-life love interest. The two go to bed to consummate the marriage but the ‘bout’ is shown on TV with two actual US TV commentators Howard Cosell, and Don Dunphy. Allen and Lasser get under the sheets and afterwards the two discuss the action with the interviewer as if they have just competed in a prizefight.

Despite his wonderful films, Woody Allen is a controversial character these days. His latest film lies unreleased, despite a deal with Amazon, and a similar fate has fallen to his memoirs. I recently read an interesting article about Woody and Woody’s memoirs, which were apparently dropped by publisher Hacher after a staff walk out. Journalist Hadley Freeman said ‘What a strange, through-the-looking-glass world we live in, when people who consider themselves to be liberals celebrate suppressing others’ words.’

Woody has been investigated for abusing his step daughter Dylan Farrow twice and declared innocent, although his now adult step daughter still claims Woody was an abuser. The abuse apparently relates to only one occasion and no other person has come forward to complain of abuse at Woody’s hands, unlike people like producer Harvey Weinstein, Michael Jackson or Jimmy Saville to name but three.

Freeman goes on to point out ‘It would have been one thing if Hachette had never agreed to publish Allen’s memoir in the first place. Fair enough; that’s a publisher’s prerogative. But for it to sign him, edit him and then fearfully drop him because some people object is a terrible precedent for a publisher to set.’

Click here to read the complete article in the Guardian.

YouTube

Despite being an avid video maker, I haven’t produced any great video works lately apart from the usual trailers that I use to plug my book, Floating in Space. As I’ve had a distinct lack of ideas, I’ve tended to continue making short video versions of my poems which keeps me busy and not only that, as a frustrated film director, there is nothing I like more than messing about with video, cutting and splicing and mastering sound effects.

Every so often I try to update the introductory video on my YouTube page. It’s nothing outstanding but I do like to try and make it reasonably exciting, so as to lure followers -and potential readers- into my clutches. Just recently I made a new version over on Animoto.com which is an online editing studio which comes with various templates themed for various types of project. My new video was pretty similar to the last one but I’d added a new block template which inserted a series of pictures fairly quickly. Perhaps that was the reason why, when it was uploaded to YouTube, they quickly deleted it as apparently it had infringed YouTube community guidelines involving spam, misleading metadata and scams!

Now the video in question may not have been Oscar material but it certainly wasn’t a scam or spam for that matter. You can’t see it on YouTube but here it is on Animoto.

YouTube were pretty quick to delete the video and send me an e-mail about it. They said I could appeal so I did so straight away, after all it’s a pretty innocuous video, it’s not offensive and it’s hardly spam. They sent me back another e-mail saying my appeal has been approved but the video is still not visible on my channel. Not only that, I couldn’t write back to YouTube to complain because their email would not accept replies. YouTube is like a big monolithic entity and they are actually pretty difficult to contact. I suppose I’ll just have to wait and hope that some person, some real person rather than a computer program, will look at my video and say ‘that looks OK, let’s reinstate it!’

I live in hope.


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Yet Another slice of my Life

Yes, it’s time to take a rest from books and classic TV and take a look at my own life again, not that there is much going on there but hopefully I can find something reasonably interesting to tell you about and stop you clicking away to a rival website for a while.

These days my life seems to be split into two, five days looking after my elderly mother who is 90 years old and suffering with dementia and then five free days with the lovely Liz in St Annes.

As I’m semi-retired I only work for three days out of nine but as I spend those with my mother my poor old brother has to do some extra caring when I am at work.

Sometimes, as is the case with many dementia sufferers, my mum can act pretty normally and then at other times she can be very difficult.

One night this week she woke me up 5 times with various issues and I was so tired when I came into work. That particular day was a busy day but I was in my favourite role, running the radio channel in the motorway control room where I work. It can be a difficult job especially when there are many incidents and you have to remember what is happening at each incident and prioritise the workload.

In one incident a few weeks back a driver was seriously injured and we had to close both carriageways of the motorway while the air ambulance landed and took away the casualty. Later he sadly died in hospital and it seemed to highlight to me the fragility of life; here was someone on the way home from work, his wife may have planned something special for tea, perhaps not. Either way I can imagine the dinner sitting there uneaten, left by his family who were perhaps expecting a mundane weekday evening rather than the complete upending of their lives.

I was glad that day to have had a busy day on the radio desk. My mind was focussed on my work rather than how my mother would behave later. That night she complained that my brother had not given her any food and that she was starving. She frequently says things like this as she cannot remember having eaten. Sometimes I try to prove to her she has had a meal, by showing her her plate, or the pan I cooked the food in, things like that. On this occasion I was about to make some supper anyway, so we both had a bacon sandwich together and she calmed down, had half a cup of hot milk and went quietly to sleep.

My brother and I frequently throw my mother’s comments back at each other. ‘These are not my clothes’ I declared to him the other day. He replied with ‘this isn’t my house!’

If we didn’t laugh in a situation like that I’m sure we would go quietly mad.

It’s always a relief to hand over to Jimmy after my five days. By the way, my brother is called Colin although I tend to call him Jimmy. I much prefer it to Colin.

The next day Liz and I were off for a short jolly at the Royal Clifton Hotel and Spa in Southport. We checked in after a short drive and were soon feeling the trained hands of a masseuse on our necks and shoulders. My masseuse asked me if the pressure was ok, did I need more or less? I answered that it was ok although this petite lady was pummelling my shoulders with a grip similar to that of a trained sumo wrestler. I’m not sure how she could have increased the pressure as it seemed pretty forceful anyway but, enjoyable though it was, I was glad when it was over. Later we dined in the hotel restaurant and decided to upgrade from the menu which was part of the offer Liz had purchased and chose from the à la carte menu. An extra £8 but well worth it and further offset by a £5 discount on a bottle of red.

Later after a second bottle to help wash down an excellent cheese board we returned to our room where I slept the sleep of the just and truly knackered.

The next day after breakfast it was time for some more pampering. A few laps in the pool and a dip in the Jacuzzi punctuated by various visits to the steam room left us feeling relaxed and clean. I do love a steam room especially when they have that stuff in the steam that clears out your nasal passages as well as your pores.

Later that evening after a substantial nosh at our friend Salvatore’s place we went over to the Cheshire Lines pub for the quiz there. It’s slightly more highbrow than our usual quiz back in St Annes but still an enjoyable one. Not only that, they serve my favourite drink in there, Theakston’s mild.

At the end of the quiz there is always a draw and the winner gets to answer a jackpot question. Last time we visited I drew the jackpot card and the 64,000 dollar question (actually £250) was who entered the US music charts straight in at number ? I can’t remember if there was a time scale to that question but I instantly thought of Elton John. When the 30 second clock began to tick though I started to wonder, maybe it was Elvis when he died in 1977. I wrote down my answer, Elvis Presley, the quiz master seemed to look a little relieved because the answer was . . . Elton John.

Maybe it was me but did the locals look a little too happy that I wasn’t taking away the jackpot?


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.

Exploring the Windmills of your Mind.

I’ve missed my sun lounger this year. Even though it has been a hot summer in the UK and Europe I don’t seem to have done what I always enjoy doing, relaxing in a sun lounger; reading, listening to music and letting my mind wander and open up to new thoughts, ideas and blog posts.

A whole bunch of my blog posts have started life in that way, just by relaxing and thinking and later putting those random thoughts down on paper or on my laptop and then later honing them into something readable and hopefully entertaining to my small band of readers out there in Cyberspace.

I have done some sun lounging of course both at home in St Annes and down in France but a motorhome holiday is different to renting a villa like we usually do. Cheaper of course but it seems to me that a motorhome holiday is one where you always seem to be going somewhere but not necessarily arriving. Maybe it might be better to find a suitable caravan park and stake out our own personal corner for a week combined with the usual driving about the previous and following weeks. My big problem of course as anyone who has ever read this blog before is that I am fundamentally lazy. I’m not one for doing a great deal of exploring, except for maybe finding the best way to the pool or the beach or to the nearest restaurant or bar. Once that vital research has been done and locked into my personal sat nav, that malfunctioning out of date device I refer to as my brain, well then that’s my exploring done.

One thing I enjoy coming across in France are windmills. Yes windmills, not the old fashioned ones although I like those too, I’m talking about those huge white modern ones that harness the wind and turn it into electricity. They do that quietly and cleanly without any side effects to the environment although there are some who say the windmills spoil our countryside. That is something I find hard to get my head around, especially when our nuclear power stations create power but leave behind a waste product that is toxic and radioactive for many years and the usual way of disposing of it is to dig huge holes underground in which to bury it like some allegorical cat burying its dirt.

After checking on the Internet I see that there are three kinds of nuclear waste LLW (Low Level Waste) ILW (Intermediate Level Waste) and HLW (High Level Waste). The first too are radioactive for perhaps 40 years but the High Level stuff can be toxic for many thousands of years. So, the next time you see a modern windmill just think for a moment how they are saving us from producing and storing this dreadful toxic waste. Not only that I’ve always found windmills elegant and calming with -and excuse me for perhaps waxing a little too lyrical here- a sort of innate beauty all of their own.

Round about this time of year my email inbox gets flooded with various invitations to participate in the annual JFK Lancer conference in Dallas Texas in the USA. JFK Lancer is a group named after the Secret Service codename for President Kennedy -Lancer- and they continue to research Kennedy’s assassination. I have to say I do always think about going to their annual conferences. It’s a heck of a way but it would combine a number of ambitions: visiting the USA and meeting other folk all interested in what happened to John F Kennedy that day in Dallas back in 1963. Even with the release of new files the real facts are still obscure and today all those intelligence agencies that had links to supposed assassin Lee Harvey Oswald still continue to deny them.

Lee Oswald, in case you didn’t know was a former marine who spoke Russian. Russian you might ask? Yes, Russian. How on earth does a marine get special training in the Russian language? Because he was an intelligence agent of course. Does that mean the CIA liquidated the President? No but it does mean that Oswald was not quite the guy that the media has portrayed.

Still, I’m sure there will be many presentations in Dallas about rifle trajectories, about the ‘magic bullet’ about Police officers who encountered secret service agents on the ‘grassy knoll’ (when in fact there were none) about the CIA and the Mafia. There might even be presentations about the secret service whose actions seem in retrospect to be a little bit odd; their officers spending the night before the assassination at a Dallas nightclub and they later had the assassination car cleaned destroying any forensic evidence. Will we ever know the absolute truth? I think not especially when experts cannot even agree from which direction the shots came from that killed Kennedy and if anyone expects to find a file released by the CIA with the plans for the assassination complete with names, well I don’t think that will happen anytime ever. Still, for conspiracy buffs like me it is all hugely fascinating.

Another death has been on my mind this last week, Liz and I went to a funeral in Blackburn. When you hit your early sixties like I have done funerals seem inevitable. Time runs out for the elderly and infirm just as it will for those who today are young and healthy. Sadly, this was not a funeral for someone old; it was a young girl aged only 28. A university graduate who excelled at sports, especially swimming and who had started a new career in the police force. The church was packed for the funeral and clearly the late girl’s father was surprised and moved at the turnout.

He, his wife and two other children, a son and daughter gave their own eulogies to the deceased each in their own ways. The father thanked everyone he could think of, the mother spoke of her daughters last days which were marked by humour. The sister spoke of earlier happier times and the young brother spoke of how 80 percent of his young life was taken up fighting and arguing with his late sister, each complaining to the parents about what the other had done and each lying that the other was guilty of some misdeed or other. In later life the two had finally become friends, just like many fighting siblings the world over do.

It struck me then about the unfairness of life, about how one person can live a long and happy life and another a short one. Both of those of course lose exactly the same thing but one will have enjoyed a long life and all its benefits while the other would hardly have had the chance to live. I remember thinking of my elderly mother, currently in hospital and fast approaching her 90th birthday. Dementia has taken away her short term memory and she lives in a state of confusion but her heart, nearly ninety years old, beats on as strong as ever. If she had the choice of choosing death instead of that young girl I am sure she would have gladly done so.

Once again I felt myself drawn to my new mentor, Marcus Aurelius for some comfort.


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. In the video below I talk about the city of Manchester and discuss the background to the book.

A Week that was Too Good to be Forgotten

This week started off with a tune running through my head. That’s not unusual. I often wake up with a tune in my head. It’s usually a leftover from our local pub quiz where they have a great music round, ten tracks with points on offer for song title, artist and year of highest chart placing. As it happened the tune was nothing to do with the quiz and sadly I didn’t have any words to go on, just a bit of a tune which irritatingly, kept floating around my head.

Thursday is the night of the pub quiz. We like to dine out beforehand so we settled on the Moghul, an Indian restaurant in St Annes. We’ve not been for a few years but were happy to see that the long complicated menu has been slimmed down and the food was particularly nice. Eating poppadums with Liz reminded me of many years ago when my friends and I would go into the Plaza Café in Manchester after a night of drinking. The curries on offer there were of three varieties, mild, hot and suicide.

It always brings a smile to my face when I remember calling for ‘Three suicides please mate!’

Those were the days. My dining experiences nowadays are much more relaxed.

This week’s music quiz was interesting, although I didn’t exactly cover myself in glory. One of the tracks played was a cover version of the Beatles hit ‘Yesterday’. It had to be either from 1965 or 1968 and being something of a Beatles expert I mentioned to my fellow quizzers that as Yesterday was one of the later Beatles hits it couldn’t have been 1965. It had to be 1968.

It turns out that although the Beatles included the track on the album ‘Help’ released in the UK in August 1965, it was not released in the UK as a single (actually an EP) until the following year. As the recording was essentially a solo performance by Paul McCartney, the group initially vetoed its release as a single. That left Matt Munro free to release his version and claim chart success in October 1965, all of which shows I’m not so much as a Beatles expert as I thought I was which didn’t go down too well with my fellow quiz team members. No gallon of ale for us that week!

‘Yesterday’ is, according to Wikipedia, one of the most recorded songs in history and in fact has an entry in the Guinness book of records as such, having by January 1986 more than 1,600 cover versions recorded. Paul McCartney claimed the entire melody came to him in a dream and unable at first to come up with a proper lyric, he dubbed the song scrambled eggs until he could produce more suitable words.

Now I think of it, and I’m really not trying to compare myself to Paul McCartney but quite a lot of my writing, especially poetry has come to me in dreams. In fact I once dreamt an entire story which unfolded before my eyes like a film and when I awoke I jotted it down and later made it into a film script. Because of that I became pretty fascinated by my dreams and placed a notebook by my bed so I could record any profound thoughts or dreams I’d had when I awoke in the morning. After a few weeks of noting stuff down then going for a wash and making a brew then coming back to look at various garbled nonsensical notes, well I soon gave up the practice.

‘Yesterday’ by the way, won Paul McCartney an Ivor Novello award in 1965 and was ranked 13th in the Rolling Stone’s 2004 list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.

Prior to coming back to St Annes I spent my usual five days looking after my elderly Mum in Manchester. Her dementia seems to be getting worse and it’s hard to imagine that this old lady born on the day of the Wall Street Crash in 1929 was, only a couple of years ago, doing her own shopping and cooking. I used to call her up and say ‘can I get you any shopping in Mum?’ She would always reply ‘no, the day I can’t get to the shops is the day I’m finished.’

She used to trek slowly along pushing her little trolley over to the shops every single day. Always buying no more than she needed for that day then back again the next day. Today she endlessly repeats herself, asks for the breakfast she has already eaten and agonises about the Sunday lunch she will never make again. After a particularly stressful day the endless news reports about Brexit are a welcome distraction.

Sometimes I feel that she has died already but her body refuses to go and that like the Dylan Thomas poem some inner force she possesses rages foolishly against ‘the dying of the light’.

It’s always a relief to hand over caring to my brother and get back to St Annes.

This last week I too felt a little like Paul McCartney although instead of humming the tune to ‘Yesterday’ and trying to think of better lyrics I kept humming the tune which had annoyed me all week. I hummed it to Liz but it didn’t ring any bells with her either.

Now one thing that is important to do in these situations is not to say anything to yourself like ‘Dammit, I just can’t remember what that tune is!’

A statement like that sends a clear message to your brain that you can’t remember so you may as well not bother. The best thing to say to yourself is this: ‘I can’t recall the title of that tune presently, but It will come to me later!’ That is a much more positive message to send to your brain and one which according to all the positive thinking books I used to read years ago should provide much more positive results, eventually.

A few days later I had a few actual words. Something, something, blah blah forgotten. Now I was getting somewhere! Then I had a brainstorm, it was too good to be forgotten!

A quick lunge to our good friend Google and I finally had it: Too Good to be Forgotten by the Chi-Lites! What a cracking soul track.


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.

A Letter to my Younger Self

Steve, how are you? I’m just trying to visualise myself when I was 16. Yes, you’re ok. I know how hard things are for you just now, dealing with that overpowering shyness that has dogged you for so long and will continue to hold you back for a very long time.

What can I tell you, what do you need to know?

Well, here a few things that might be important to you.

It’s too late to tell you now that choosing metalwork over art at school was a big, big mistake. You hated metalwork I know and only chose it because of a crazy idea that it might just somehow help you get into motorsport. Wrong. It didn’t and it never would. You couldn’t drive when you were 16 and neither could your Dad. You’d probably be interested to know that the big stars of the future in motorsport were all helped by their fathers. Lewis Hamilton and Jensen Button, names that won’t mean much to you now but they became F1 stars because their fathers loved motorsport and started their sons off in go-karting and up through the racing levels until they reached the giddy heights of F1.

You should have stuck to art because you loved it and you were good at it. Remember all those times when Mr Markland would point out your painting or collage and show it to all the other pupils and comment on how good it was? Remember how good that felt? Remember too that time when you saw Mr Markland in the corridor and he told you that you were heading the wrong way to the new art room and you answered that you were doing metalwork instead. He never spoke to you again. That hurt, I know.

Anyway, at 16 it’s too late to rectify that, well, not too late. Your Dad wanted you to go on to college; you could have studied art there.

Why not give it a go Steve? I know, it would all be so new with strange places and new people but it might be worth it.

Here’s another thing. Remember when you told the careers teacher you wanted to be a journalist and he got you a job interview –at Barclays bank?

Mr Sheriff, the careers teacher said you had no chance at the Manchester evening news but what about other papers? There used to be a local one if I remember, that might have been a possibility. Did you ever think of trying for a job as a junior reporter? Maybe you could have even tried to study journalism at college. You were the top of the class in English if you remember.

Anyway, don’t think that people like Mr Sherriff have all the answers. They don’t and their advice isn’t always good. Some people just want to do the absolute minimum of work in their job and then get off for home as soon as possible. Others care about their jobs and their work and someone a little more dedicated might have listened more and given you better advice.

Try to focus on what you really want to do Steve.

Think about your job, well your future job. A job takes up so much of your time, so much of your life, it might be worth spending some time, a lot of time in fact, working out what you want to do and what you want to be involved in. At various times you wanted to work in motorsport, be a journalist, a screenwriter and a film director. Sit down and have a serious word with yourself Steve and think on this; you know that you love writing, you always have, even just for the personal pleasure of crafting a piece of writing work so maybe journalism was the job for you after all.

I’ve had some dreadful jobs and for some crazy reason I stayed far too long working for the bus company because I hadn’t got a clue how to get out of that job, how I could improve myself and go and try to do something that I would really enjoy. In a word Steve, focus. Focus and stop daydreaming and work out what you really want to do and go for it. And by the way, get your hair cut!

Oh and by the way Steve, get all that hair tidied up!

One final thing: Build a few bridges with your Dad. You and he are from different generations, different backgrounds. Make a few adjustments and try to get on with him because when he’s gone you’ll regret all that wasted time when you didn’t get on together.

One final word about your Mum. She’s very fond of saying ‘never mind’ but sometimes you should mind and mind so much that you work hard to do better and better until you get the job you want and the life you want.

One last thing, one day you might just think it is OK to fill your car’s leaky radiator with tap water on a cold and frozen New Year’s Eve just so you can get to a party. I know you really thought your car would be OK, believe me, it won’t and a little antifreeze will save you a hell of a lot of money!


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.

2018 and All That

OK so there it is, 2018 all done and dusted and we look forward to 2019. How was your year? Good, or bad? Was it all that you expected, or not? Here’s a quick look back at my personal 2018 with some of my blog highlights thrown in for good measure.

In January, Christmas and New Year quickly receding into the murky past, Liz and I were looking forward to a long break in Lanzarote. Lanzarote is really lovely at this time of year. Sometimes it tends to get a little windy and a few times in the evening temperatures dipped a little causing a flurry of fleece jackets to appear in the bar we frequented. The bar I should add was substantially an outside rather than inside bar and we sat alfresco under an awning while we drank, ate tapas, nibbled on olives and nuts and listened to some soothing pop classics performed either by a local pianist or the local sax player. I went into more detail in Thoughts from a Lanzarote Sun lounger but it was a very relaxing time.

The only problem of any significance was some annoying keyboard issues with my laptop. The letter O key was not working which caused some difficulties in producing a TV themed blog called ‘Putting the ‘O’ in Columbo’. Columbo being the famous TV detective played by Peter Falk and one of my very favourite TV shows ever. I had taken the laptop to my local computer store who had replaced the keyboard but when I arrived in Lanzarote ready to pound out some more blogs and possibly even add a few more pages to my new book I found the keyboard misbehaving again! I was not happy and a lot of the blogs I wrote while I was away were produced mostly on my Ipad.

There were some lovely restaurants in Lanzarote but in one of them the antics of one of the waitresses put me in mind of an old friend of ours, a waiter called Giorgio. He was a lovely fellow Giorgio. As a waiter he just wasn’t one of the best but he always made us smile and one sunny afternoon I took a break from the pool to write a post about him and some similar waiters called ‘The Giorgio factor.’

Back home in the UK I was spending an increasing amount of time looking after my elderly mother who was 89 in 2018 and has the beginnings of dementia. Only two years ago or so, I used to call up Mum and say I was coming to stay. Arriving there after work I would find my little box room all neat and tidy with fresh covers on the bed. My Mum is probably the only person I have ever known who irons socks and underwear and it is sad to see her today with her memory loss getting worse by the day and it is me who irons things for her, and me who puts the fresh bedding on the beds. In Some Random thoughts on Boxrooms, Stormy Daniels and Action Man I talked about how good it felt to return to that room, surrounded by the old books, vinyl records and cassette tapes of my past life. When I am there I sometimes feel that I have never really grown up.

I had a small health scare earlier in 2018. Nothing exciting just that a check up revealed slightly high blood pressure. The end result was that I was advised to check into the gym and see if a little work out might help. The practice nurse handed me a free three-month course at the YMCA which was my very first introduction to the world of pumping iron, the gym and physical exercise which until then I had completely shunned. I actually enjoyed the course, it was nice to feel healthy (well, healthier) and I jotted down a few remarks about the experience in a blog called Working Out That Sweet Illusion!

In May I was working hard on one of my videos, a look back at the places which inspired my book Floating in Space. I visited Manchester on a few occasions and shot plenty of video, a great deal of which, sadly, wasn’t of a particularly great quality. One of the problems in shooting video on a visit to Manchester is that I tend to combine filming with a tour of my old pub haunts in the town, as well as visiting some new ones so at the end of the day my hand tends to become a little rocky on the lens when too much beer has been downed.  Eventually after a number of false starts I put together a short film about Manchester and added a narration compiled from some old blog posts, text from Floating in Space itself and some new observations. I still wasn’t happy with the video and was struggling to get it right so I decided to use the narration (re-purpose I think the correct phrase is) in a blog post entitled Manchester, 41 Years On.

If you want to see the video which I eventually finished, click here.

Picture courtesy Wikipedia

Anyway, in June I decided to turn to something much more interesting than my little life and write about two of my most enduring interests, books and the Watergate Scandal. President Nixon must be one of the most interesting figures ever to become President of the USA and his journey to the Oval Office was remarkable. Nixon spent two years as vice president to Eisenhower, looked like winning the election in 1960 from relatively unknown John F Kennedy but it was Kennedy who pipped Nixon to the prize. Nixon ran for governor of California and lost, declaring to the press politics was over for him: ‘You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore!’ However, in the tumultuous year of 1968 he was back, once again the Republican candidate for the presidency and this time he won. When Lyndon Johnson left office he advised Nixon to make tape recordings of his conversations as he had done, saying that they were invaluable in preparing his memoirs. That advice proved to be Nixon’s undoing.

In a post called ‘Writing and the Big 300 I published my 300th blog post, a small milestone for an amateur writer like myself. I concentrated on the flip side of writing; the continual search for content and some of my other writing projects, things like my scripts. In particular I talked about a sit-com idea I had that I submitted to the BBC Writer’s Room web page. Alas, after many a month in deliberations the BBC decided my project was unworthy of putting into production. Pity really because I thought it was rather good.

Getting back to my holiday travels, Liz and I journeyed back to France once again for a wedding in the Alsace area of France. We went in Liz’s new motor home and after the wedding festivities were over we travelled through the north of France taking in many of the famous World War One battle grounds and cemeteries. The summer as you will no doubt remember was hot, in fact very hot indeed and I put together a post about our travels in the motor home, my impressions of visiting the military cemeteries and my frustration with mobile wi-fi! I also had time to make a short video about the military cemeteries which you can see here.

In August I turned my attention to Manchester Airport in a post called Airports and Things. As a schoolboy, Manchester Airport was one of my favourite places and my friends and I spent many a happy hour cycling down the quiet lanes that back on to the runway where we jotted down aircraft numbers. In 2018 the Airport Authority introduced a controversial drop off and pick up charge of £3 which caused many complaints from the public and in the post I argued the case for a larger number of smaller airports rather than fewer huge airports.

A lot of my posts are inspired by the books I read and one fascinating volume was a book by Noel Botham about the death of Princess Diana. He claimed the Princess had been murdered by elements of M16 loyal to the Royal Family and went on to explain various issues with the accepted story of the Princess’ death. Whether the Princess was really murdered or not, numerous parts of the story do not add up and they all contributed to a story of mystery and intrigue.

To round up my personal 2018, a meander through my old diaries prompted a post called Dear Diary and just to get in the festive mood in December my brother and I went on a pub crawl in Manchester In Search of Dark Beer. You just can’t beat a perfect pint of mild!

Well, that was my year. How was yours?


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.