The Big 65

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

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

2016

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

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

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

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

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

Picture courtesy perfectpint.com

Picture courtesy perfectpint.co.uk

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

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

2021

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

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

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

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

1973

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

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

2021

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

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

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


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Good Decision/Bad Decision

Decisions can change your life. That’s why it’s important to make the correct one but it’s always seemed to me that I tend to make the wrong one.

I wrote about my spectacles a few weeks back. You might think that in the general scheme of things specs don’t really amount to much but for someone like me who has worn glasses pretty much all his life they are a really big thing.

Just recently, being the tightwad I am I have trolled through the internet in search of cheap specs and as a result I have a pretty tasty pair of rimless distance specs, some handy readers, a slightly dud pair of varifocals which after I complained, the vendor replaced with another slightly less dodgy pair of varifocals and a pretty good pair of varifocals.

One day recently I got it into my head that for some reason I needed yet another pair. I thought that I could use the frames from my old and now defunct previous pair of specs and have new lenses added. So off I go to my opticians to sort it out. The old frames were actually pretty stylish and in good condition so all I needed was a set of new lenses however, that’s not quite how the optician saw it. New lenses meant having my old frames ‘reglazed’. This apparently entails a reglazing cost so actually it would be cheaper to buy some new frames. Ok I thought, how much are new frames? Well the optician directed me to a range that started at a mere £40 so I chose a pretty conventional pair of metal frames. Yes, said the optician, those frames look really good on you. Really? I said, giving myself a quick preen in the mirror. Ok she went on, let’s do a quick calculation. I myself had already done a calculation £40 plus lenses, still a little more than I intended paying so how much are we talking?

Of course, we had to factor in the anti glare coating and I had asked for what I always call Reactolite lenses, lenses that go dark when it gets sunny, apparently now called ‘Transition’ lenses. Yes, I can do you a great price said the optician, £245!

Now I’m not sure whether I was just a sucker for some smooth sales talk or perhaps had paid too much attention to the comment about the glasses looking ‘really good’ on me but instead of legging it straight for the door as per the instructions on my emergency tightwad help card I heard myself saying ‘OK’. Shortly afterwards I found myself drawn towards the card machine and paying money for another pair of expensive specs that actually I don’t really need. Good decision? Bad Decision!

Here’s another example. Quite a few years back I embarked on a career with GM Buses, the main bus operator in Manchester. It was always intended to be something to pay the rent while I found a proper job but somehow, I never found that proper job I was always looking for. After a few years I started to realise that, so I started trying for promotion. One day I put in for an inspector’s job. It was much more money, it was a supervisory role and best of all it was based in the depot so I didn’t have to deal with the great unwashed public. There were two vacancies, one in the Ardwick depot, about ten minutes from the city centre and another in Rochdale. I wasn’t interested in the Rochdale one as it was much too far away and I didn’t have any transport at the time. Ardwick though was pretty easy to get to, a quick bus into Manchester from Didsbury where I lived and then there were lots of buses heading south from the city centre through Ardwick.

The interview seemed to be going pretty well. There were three interviewers all coming at me with various questions and, because I had just read a book about how to have a great job interview, I had a shed load of answers as well as a host of questions to throw back at them. Anyway, after a while they asked me to step out of the room. When I was called back they asked me what would I do if they offered me the Rochdale job. Rochdale? That’s miles away I thought, so I said no thanks. No thanks? Good decision? Bad decision!

Okay, one last story. Years ago when I first lived in Didsbury I shared a flat with my friend Declan. (As usual names have been changed to protect the innocent.) Declan, or Dec as I called him worked at a garage and he was doing a day release training course. One particular day he was due to be on this course but he wanted to get away early to go out with his mates. He asked me to call in to his work and claim some kind of accident had happened and he had to leave. As it happened I wasn’t able to get to a phone that day so he asked one of our neighbours who was a chap who I had always thought wasn’t quite all there. In fact, he was what I’d probably call in no uncertain non pc terms, a nutter. Anyway, Dec was working happily away on his college course when he was called into the office. The principal was there looking pretty concerned and his secretary placed a glass of water in Dec’s hand.

‘How was your dad when you last saw him Declan?’ asked the principal. Dec wasn’t quite sure where this was going but he was eager to get off and get changed and to join his mates in the pub. ‘He seemed ok’ answered Dec and then took a long drink of his water.

‘Only he died this morning’ said the principal just before Declan sprayed the water all over him. I did tell Declan not to ask that guy to make a bogus call for him but he wouldn’t listen. Bad decision? Very bad decision!

Just now I’m on the verge of a very serious decision. I’m semi retired as I may have mentioned in previous posts and I’m thinking of just retiring now and spending more time on my writing, maybe even taking another step towards finishing the sequel to Floating in Space. I’ve tried to think of a film clip that’s appropriate and here’s one from one of my favourite films.

Robert Zemeckis directed the Back to the Future films as well as Forrest Gump and of course Castaway. At first I wasn’t sure about that ending, in fact I wasn’t even sure I liked the film itself but now I’ve come to think of it as something special. Tom’s character has to make a decision too, whether to go jetting off in a storm or staying with the girl he loved. He goes off in the plane, crash lands into the sea and spends four years on a desert island. When he is finally rescued he finds that the girl he loved has married someone else. After all, she thought he was dead.

Then comes the scene above, right at the end of the film. Which way does he go? Does he go back and follow the girl, after all it’s probably her place he has just visited with the fed ex parcel he has kept with him all these years so he can complete his job, that of delivering it. I like to think he goes back to see the girl and if you watch the clip on YouTube and read the comments, you’ll see that a lot of people thought the same.

Perhaps there are no good decisions or bad decisions. Just decisions.


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Avatar and The Cycle of Life

I don’t know about you but this hasn’t been a great week for me. I started off with a bit of an ache in my right arm but when you are as ancient as me you get used to your body sending over these signals of age every so often. After a few days it became worse, a nagging ache that turned into a pain. As it happened, I’d had that pain before, in fact, I’d even written about it in a blog post. I was going to write about it again but there was the old blog post just aching to have new life breathed into it, to be rewritten, remodelled or repurposed as we blog writers like to say. After all, no work of art is ever finished, just abandoned. Of course, I do have a sore arm and it’s difficult to type at the moment but what the heck, anyone who knows me understands that at heart I’m just a lazy old codger and so instead of writing something new like a real writer, here’s what happened last time I had a sore shoulder.

2002 (ish)

Samsara, in the Buddhist way is the cycle of life; birth death and rebirth, represented by the circle. That circular vision of life is not always so easy to explain but let me tell you about it in my own way.

A long time ago, years ago in fact I had this really bad pain down my right arm. It didn’t get any better, in fact it got worse and worse so I called in for an appointment at the doctors’. I got to see Doctor Kowalski (as usual names have been changed to protect the innocent.) The thing with Doctor Kowalski was that anyone could see him any time because he wasn’t a doctor who was much in demand. Why not you might ask? No one really wanted to see him because all he wanted was to get you into his office and get you out again.
I sat down and the doctor smiled and asked ‘how can I help you?’
‘Well,’ I began, ‘It’s this pain down the side of my arm . .’
I stopped because Doctor Kowalski was already writing out a prescription. Already, and this was before he had examined me and before I had even finished speaking. Moments later I was on my way out of his surgery and the next patient was already on his way in. All I had to show for it was a prescription for pain killers.

Dr Kowalski must have looked good on the surgery stats as it looked like he dealt quickly with a lot of patients but as we all know, statistics don’t always tell the full story.

A few days later the pain was as bad as ever so I went back but I asked to see Doctor Edwards. Now Doctor Edwards was one of the most popular doctors in the surgery. Why? Because he actually listened to you! He was fully booked up for a while and it took me a week to get in to see him but when finally I sat down in his office, he listened attentively, asked a few questions, took a look at my arm and then sent me for an X ray. It turned out I had a nerve trapped in my neck which was referring pain to my arm and I needed to see the physiotherapist but the waiting time was about six weeks so I decided to go to a private physio.

2021

Anyway, back to 2021 and here I am finding that the only pain free position available is reclining on the couch. Ok I thought, as I’m in position anyway I might as well fire up the TV and slap a DVD in. What did I have that I hadn’t seen for a while? Well the DVD I chose was Avatar. A few years back I got into a conversation with Liz’s younger daughter about the great films of all time and the one she chose was Avatar. Yes, I said, but you’re probably not familiar with real great classic films like Sunset Boulevard, Citizen Kane, Casablanca or even The Godfather. No really, she said, watch Avatar, it’s amazing.

Avatar was written and directed by James Cameron and I have to admit he has made some pretty good films. The first two Terminator films were his projects and he was also responsible for Aliens, the second in the Alien series of films and a great film in its own right. Titanic was again written and directed by Cameron and was just not only an enjoyable film but also a magnificent feat of film making involving a huge mock up of the Titanic built on hydraulic rams which enabled it to drop into the sea for the sinking sequences.

Avatar makes a lot of use of CGI, computer generated images, only this film takes CGI to a whole new level. I actually think that CGI can detract from a film because sometimes it’s so obvious that you are watching something generated by a computer. In Avatar, the imagery and effects are nothing short of incredible. The film is like a sci-fi combination of Dances With Wolves and a Vietnam war film. In the future, an alien planet called Pandora is ripe for exploitation of its vast mineral wealth. The only problem is that a tribe of humanoids, the Na’vi, inhabit the planet and they are not so happy about moving just so the earth people can come and dig up their planet and mine its precious metals. Because of this, the military have initiated the Avatar project which involves growing an alien body and then using technology to transfer a human mind into it, so better first hand relations can be made with the tribe. Jake, a crippled ex marine is invited into the team to take over one of the Avatars and a series of events enable him to get close to the tribe. His job is to convince the Na’vi to move away but as time goes on, he finds himself becoming closer to the tribe and evermore understanding and respectful of their ties to nature and their way of life.

Computer technology has enabled Cameron to produce some incredible scenes of beautiful other worldly forest landscapes as well as numerous animals the tribe interact with and the story that the director weaves is a very thoughtful and moving one. Avatar really is a film that is up there with the all time great films of the cinema world.

2002 (ish)

I eventually got to see the NHS physio. She was a lady, a little old lady in fact. When I walked in to see her she offered me a seat then shouted at me to ‘sit up straight!’ No wonder I had neck and back issues because my posture was dreadful! She may have been a little old lady but she gave me some stick, not only verbally but she did a lot of work on my neck with her hands and eventually the pain in my arm slipped away and I gradually returned to normal.

At the end of my treatment she told me that if the issue returned not to bother going to the doctor again; ‘Come straight to me and I’ll sort you out but for heavens sake, sit up straight. Get your posture right and you’ll be fine!’ ‘OK,’ I said, ‘thanks.’

Some months went by and I began to get the same symptoms again so I went into the doctors’ surgery and asked to see the physio. The lady on the desk said no, I had to see the doctor first. I told her what the physio had said, go straight to her but the receptionist was adamant- I could only see the physio with a referral from the doctor. As I was dejectedly leaving the surgery I saw the physio and went over and told her what happened. She took me back to the reception, gave the receptionist there some first class stick and booked me in the next week to see her. Happy days!

About six to eight months later I once again began getting the neck and arm problems so I returned to the surgery. The receptionist advised me (with far too much smugness, I thought) that the physio had retired and a new younger model had taken over and this one would not see me without first seeing the doctor.

I made an appointment, went in to see the doctor and found myself with Dr Kowalski, pen in hand, ready to write me out a prescription for painkillers!

2021

My arm was really killing me so I went in to see my GP. I called in for an appointment but apparently, appointments can only be arranged by calling in at 8am. The next day I tried calling but could only get an engaged tone. When I finally got through all the appointments for that day were taken. I did manage to get myself booked into a private physiotherapist and he got straight to work giving my neck and shoulder a good pummelling and leaving me with a regime of exercises to do.

The next morning Liz got up at 8 and called the doctors’ surgery. After about thirty minutes she finally got through and managed to get me booked in to see the doctor. I dragged myself and my sore arm along and as I was telling Doctor Khan my story of pain and woe the good doctor was already sorting me out some painkillers and a sick note and telling me that I would be fine within a week, a prediction that has so far failed to come true.

See, the world is a circle after all!


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A Mostly Musical Slice of my Locked Down Week

The other day I was idly lazing about in the lounge in what might be described as my default position. You know what I mean, in my favourite chair, the TV remote within easy reach, my iPad just beside me.

After scanning through several TV channels in search of something to watch, I settled on plugging my earphones in and listening to Spotify. What I love about Spotify is that as you listen to the various tracks that you love, Spotify will create playlists for you of not only your favourite music but also similar music which it thinks you just might like also. You can also build your own playlists and recently I turned my old Top 100: one hundred of my favourite tracks I compiled quite a while ago, into a playlist.

Another great thing is that you can listen to new music, free of charge before you shell out and buy the CD or download the track. Recently I listened to the new album by Paul McCartney which seems to be pretty popular. McCartney wrote, sang and played all the instruments on the album which he recorded himself in his own studio during the lockdown. Now, you don’t need me to tell you what a talented guy Paul McCartney is but the fact is I didn’t think McCartney III was that good at all. I liked the first track, actually an instrumental one but the rest was pretty forgettable.

A few years back I decided that I was going to try and buy all the Beatles albums on CD. Not all in one go of course, just gradually, as and when I saw them up for sale. I started with Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band which was pretty good except for one awful George Harrison track. George, in the latter days of the Beatles, was getting a little fed up with Lennon and McCartney because he wanted some of his songs on the albums and they wanted, well just Lennon and McCartney ones. I can kind of see the Lennon/McCartney point of view because on the Sgt Pepper’s album, I copied all the tracks to a new CD for use in my car, but cut out George’s song because it was pretty awful. Harrison must have been fairly pleased with the Beatles break up because then he didn’t have to argue the toss about getting his music recorded, he just did what he wanted and in fact made some pretty successful albums.

Anyway as I bought more and more of the Beatles albums I actually became a little disillusioned. I’ve always found that even though the great Beatles hits are actually great, a lot of the other tracks on their albums are actually not that great at all so my project for buying all their albums gradually fizzled out except for getting most of their hit collections.

In the canteen at work the other day where we all sit at separate tables due to social distancing, I couldn’t help overhear two of my colleagues discussing music. One said that she and her husband had oceans of CDs between them but as they were all copied to their ‘master hard drive’ and that as streaming throughout the house of this music had somehow been enabled (I’m pretty low tech so don’t ask me to explain) she was urging her husband to get rid of his CDs. Get rid of his CDs? I couldn’t think of a greater blow she could have hit her husband with if I had tried. Get rid of his CDs? Outrageous!

One of the things I love about music is not just the music itself but the actual disc and the packaging and the sleeve notes. Now sleeve notes are not what they were back in the 70’s and 80’s. An album back then, a vinyl album of course was pretty big, twelve inches actually which gave the artist plenty of room to talk about his work, include the lyrics, details of the recording sessions and so on. It’s hard work getting all that stuff on a much smaller CD package but even so, I like the physicality of a record or a CD and although a download is pretty convenient sometimes, I still prefer my CDs.

Getting back to the afternoon that I started off with, there I was, listening to music and just generally meditating when I became aware of a nose hair. Now generally speaking, I am all for some personal grooming most days but now when the lockdown has stopped us going to restaurants and pubs and so on I suppose I’ve been a little lax in that department. You know how it is, like me you’ve probably been lazing about under lockdown in the same old jogging pants and sweatshirt you’ve been wearing for ages. Not going out to restaurants or pubs means I’ve not been grooming myself in the bathroom mirror as much as usual and as all the barbers and hair stylists are closed, my hair has been getting noticeably longer.

The result of that non-grooming soon became evident because as I relaxed I idly passed a hand over my nose and to my dismay I discovered a random nose hair dangling out from my left nostril. Going by touch only, it appeared to be a pretty long one so as my appearance is pretty important to me -heck I am a well-known writer, blogger and YouTuber– I thought the best thing was to yank it out. Now I’ve removed nose hair before, but this particular removal sent me into a paroxysm of pain and some serious sneezing. It put me in mind of a cartoon I snipped out from a magazine years ago and glued into my scrapbook. It was a guy at the dentist and he was having a tooth pulled out. The caption went something like ‘this might hurt!’ and it showed the dentist pulling out the tooth which had such a long root it also pulled out the fellow’s private parts.

My parts were intact, but that hair removal certainly made my eyes water.

What else happened last week while I was glued to my couch; grooming, listening to music and watching TV? Oh yes, Joe Biden was sworn in as the next President of the USA. All the living former Presidents with the exception of the poorly Jimmy Carter came to see Joe being appointed as President. One particular guest was missing though; that was Donald Trump, the outgoing President. Of course he wasn’t expected to attend because the whole thing was a stitch up because Joe, Trump maintains, stole the election. Well as far as I know, despite this terrible crime of election tampering being committed, no actual evidence of the tampering has come forward or been revealed.

On a BBC2 documentary the other day they showed a tearful young woman crying for the loss of Trump and all he stood for and has done. What he actually stands for, I don’t know and what he has done, well actually I don’t know that either. He was keen on building a wall to keep out the Mexicans but I’m not sure if he did that. He promised to lock up Hillary Clinton but he definitely didn’t do that. I know for a fact he’s played a lot presidential golf but that wasn’t one of his election promises.

I have always felt that Trump’s supporters would most likely be his fellow millionaires and billionaires but the majority of people who rampaged through the Capitol building the other week didn’t look like millionaires to me either, unless they were all disguised as para military fatigue wearing rednecks. Trump then leaves the White House as a bit of an enigma. Some pundits think he might even leave the Republicans and start his own party. Wonder who the first presidential candidate for the Trump party will be?

I spent some time this week looking back through my old posts in search of inspiration. I didn’t get an idea for anything new, but I did begin to think that one of my old posts, Four Simple Secrets of Self Publishing could be made into a video. I do love tinkering about, editing video so I decided to shift my lazy behind, crank up my laptop and create something for my YouTube channel.

There are probably two ways to make the kind of video I had in mind, one is to put a rough cut together with an eye on what I think I’m going to say in the voiceover. The other way is to record the voiceover first and then cut some images together to fit the voiceover, which is what I did.

So there you have it, the story of a few of my locked down days: Some music, some TV, some grooming and a little bit of video editing. How was your week?

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The Story of My Life Part 2

OK, here we go. Remember the post from a few weeks back? Life story in less than 2500 words? You do? Great stuff. Here’s the continuing story then, this time restricted to 2390 words.

Only 2390 words? What can I say? I did 1000, then 1500 then after 2200, I felt I’d gone as far as I could, not only that, I felt I had to go out and do some Christmas shopping instead of living dangerously and waiting until December 24th like I usually do. The funny thing is, when we get to Bonfire Night on November the 5th, I always think that this will be a good time to take a crack at Christmas shopping. I always think that. I never actually do it, you know, actually buy anything but I do think about it.

I think I finished part 1 at a point where I was working at an insurance company in Manchester city centre. If you want to refresh yourself with that earlier work, feel free to click here. I really did enjoy my time working in the insurance world. Well, I liked being in Manchester city centre and I liked the world of after work drinks in the city centre, evenings after work in the city centre. Actually, I suppose I just liked the city centre.

Back in the 1970’s there were a number of great bars and pubs in Manchester. I remember an exclusive looking bar I sometimes ventured into on a side road just off Deansgate. It was called Sims as I remember. I used to get myself a bar stool and order a very James Bond dry martini. For a while I wore a grey trench coat and it has just occurred to me I must have cut a figure similar to Delboy in the classic TV comedy Only Fools and Horses. Remember that scene where he leans on the bar but doesn’t realise the bar top has been lifted up? Well happily that didn’t happen to me although I must have looked like a right plonker sat at the bar sipping my dry martini. Of course, in those days I knew nothing about drinks or what to order. I spent quite a few years ordering a pint of mild in pubs all because I hadn’t a clue what to ask for. I remembering ordering a beer and the slightly stunned barmaid asked ‘what sort of beer?’ Luckily just then I overheard someone nearby asking for a pint of mild so I asked for the same having no idea what it was. Later on, when I realised all my mates were drinking lager, I started drinking that.

Sometimes, I felt that I wasn’t in the mood to quaff a full pint, especially at lunch times. We had a short lunch break at the insurance company where I worked so I felt I had to order something smaller. I’m not sure why I didn’t just ask for a half pint but for some reason, perhaps I had read too many James Bond books, I ordered a dry martini and lemonade. My work colleagues were always rather amused by this so I decided to try and change back to beer. It wasn’t easy. The barman at the time in the Beef and Barley had made it his mission to have my martini all ready when I came in. I’d approach the bar and before I could say, pint of lager please he would whip out a dry martini. If there was a bunch of people at the bar, he’d always find time to sort out the martini before I could put my order in. I wouldn’t mind but it wasn’t as if I was giving out big tips, after all, as a committed and fully paid up tightwad, tipping is not only not part of our mission statement, it is completely against our cultural ethos. These days I’d just say, look, I’ve stopped drinking martini, give me a lager. Back then, the only answer was to just stop going in there and walk the extra 100 yards to the Salisbury.

The Salisbury pub in Manchester City Centre

Incidentally, my uncle Raymond, who lied about his age in order to join his older brothers in World War II, once told me he had been arrested by MPs in the Salisbury so that pub has a particular bit of Higgins history that I have always liked.

Another bar I used to frequent, especially on a Saturday night, was the ‘Playground’, a small disco bar on Oxford Rd. Flickering multi- coloured spotlights rotated across the red carpeted room, which, on Fridays and Saturdays was generally packed. It had a small dance floor sunk low like a pit, where people up on the raised bar level could look down at the gyrating girls, and where also, on week day lunchtimes, a topless dancer appeared at the stroke of one o’clock to translate the soul and disco music of the time into pulsating physical motion, the eyes of jaded office workers glued to her as she did so.

My friends and I used to meet up in the Salisbury, by Oxford Rd station, have a few pints and a bit of a natter to any Insurance colleagues who we might find there, then make the short walk to the Playground. There was a paltry fifty pence charge to get in, the solitary bouncer was silent, but not unpleasant and the DJ, who always began the night with ‘Love’s Theme’ by the Love Unlimited Orchestra, played alternate sessions of rock, disco and chart music.  We were all mad about Jenny, the barmaid. She was lovely. She had a kind of round, open face, framed by thick blonde hair and her skin was a creamy white. She served us Worthington ‘E’ and we melted into the hubbub of people on their Saturday night out while the music of the seventies drifted through us.

The Playground as it is today

I’ve got to admit, I’ve cheated a little bit here because that last section about the Playground was lifted straight out of Floating in Space. I loved that bar and I was pretty gutted when it closed down. It’s still a bar today in 2020 but not quite the same. The dance floor has gone although there is still a bouncer on the door. I spoke to him last year before this whole nightmare Covid 19 stuff and he showed me round and said it was OK to return with my video camera and take some shots. Maybe I will in 2021.

Sometimes my friends and I went down to our favourite club. It was a place called Genevieve’s. Genevieve’s was in Longsight, which was a pretty rough area of Manchester and one of the hazards of the place was that you never found your car quite the same as how you left it, if you found it at all.

I remember one long ago Saturday night. My friends and I had to queue up for about ten minutes to get inside but we took that as a good sign. After all, a queue meant the club was busy. A group of grizzly bouncers scrutinised us and under their intense gaze we paid the entrance fee then went on inside. We were met by the warm fireside glow of soft lighting and the loud, pulsating beat of disco music. Coloured spot lights flashed over the four dance floors, in the hub of which sat the DJ, turning slowly around in a revolving booth.

There were five bars. Two small corner bars, two long bars, and a circular bar at the far end of the club. It really was a well set out place. We headed for one of the corner bars and my mate asked “bitter Steve?” I nodded and he called out to the barmaid.

A small army of bouncers was wandering around the club and as we waited for our drinks an argument broke out at one of the slot machines. Without any questions two burly bouncers grabbed the offender and propelled him expertly to the door. Another hooligan tried to come to the rescue by jumping on the back of one of the bouncers but a third bow-tied, black suited gorilla punched him solidly in the side, twisted his arm up his back and quickly removed him also. It was the sort of place where they didn’t stand any messing and the beer tasted like 3 parts water to one part beer and your feet stuck to the floor as you walked around. No one to my knowledge ever decided to complain to the management.

Genevieve’s attracted all sorts of people. There were smartly dressed, obviously wealthy people, peeling off rolls of bills to pay for whiskies and gins and other spirits. There were many attractive, well dressed girls. The younger girls drank halves of lager, sat in groups, and danced in groups to the Motown music of the sixties. They would drop their handbags onto the floor as they converged together for the formation dance routines for ‘Jimmy Mack’ and ‘Third Finger Left Hand’.

There were groups of lads too, who held cigarette packets and lighters in their hands, or placed them down in front of them on the tables while they drank, talked and eyed up the girls.

I spent a lot of my young life in that club. Tracks like Bus Stop by The Fatback band and Young Hearts Run Free by Candi Staton always remind me of Genevieve’s. Despite the watered down drinks and the frequent fights, my friends and I had a lot of fun there until one day it either closed down or we found a better place to go.

Just to try and give you a better idea of the times, in 1978, Jim Callaghan was the UK Prime Minister and Jimmy Carter was the US President. The movie Grease was released starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton John. The Bee Gees released Night Fever and the biggest selling hit of the year was Rivers of Babylon by Boney M.

Anyway, after a few years of working as an office clerk my friend Chris and I decided to pack our jobs in and go and work in Spain in a place called Lloret de Mar. His sister was based there and according to her it was a great life; sun, sand and of course, the young ladies.

We both decided to finance the deal by selling our cars. My car was a major mistake. It was a Mini Cooper and although it was a great car the insurance for that particular vehicle for a young man back in 1978 was pretty horrendous. When I came to sell the car, it attracted young men like me, all of whom were pushed to pay the insurance. Then a whole lot of problems occurred with the car and so I ended up selling it for a measly £50.

Chris and I hitchhiked down to London then got the boat train to Paris and then after being becalmed in French hitchhiking hell for days, we just jumped on a train direct to Lloret.

We met two girls on the train and had a fun time travelling together for a few days. ‘My’ girl was called Lee, which she said was short for Emily.

On arrival in Lloret we found a small pension consisting of a couple of rooms and a bathroom and spent a lot of time going down the pub drinking beer and chatting to girls.

We were pretty popular for a while. A short while. Later I realised our popularity was directly related to the money we had. The locals we met, by locals I mean the British ex pats who had flocked to the area just for the same reasons we had, all had pretty much nothing and anyone else who either was a new arrival with money or an expat who had some kind of a job was fair game to cadge off. For a short time I worked in a pub. I wasn’t paid any money but they gave me a meal for my trouble. Any time I was behind the bar collecting plates and glasses for washing, my new mates all hissed ‘Steve, pour us a lager while no one is looking!’ I didn’t and as a result my popularity plummeted. One night I was in the pub drinking with friends and after an evening of fending off various cadgers I told one of them to, in polite terms, go and have sex with himself. Alas this did not go down well and I became somewhat unpopular in that small Spanish town. After a few weeks I got a little fed up of this and so I moved on and left my friend behind. He was happy, he was a popular guy and he spent the summer with new friends loitering about Spain.

I started hitchhiking back north through France. I remember meeting an American guy. He was doing something similar to me, he had packed in his insurance job, sold his car and was travelling around Europe. We travelled together for a while. Every night he checked into a hotel and I put my tent up somewhere nearby. He had his evening meal in the hotel, I had some bread and cheese from the local shop and we had a few drinks together of an evening. Like all Americans, certainly those I have met, he was a friendly guy. It was clear to me he was dining well and I of course wasn’t. I must have ponged a little though after all those weeks on the road and I have to say I wouldn’t have minded using his shower, but the offer never came. After a while we parted company.

Not so long ago I found my old notebook from those days and written neatly in there are his name and address and phone number in the USA. I’ve always wanted to visit the USA and the Americans are such friendly, outgoing people. Wonder what he’d say if I turned up on his doorstep. Remember me? Steve Higgins? France, 1978? Any chance of using your shower?

I fondly remember turning up at home. My mum answered the door with a look of shock. ‘What are you doing here?’ she asked. I thought you were going away for six months?’

I’d returned after about six weeks. ‘I don’t know where you’re going to sleep’ she went on. ‘We threw your old bed out the other week!’


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The Story of my Life in Less than 2500 Words

My life in 2500 words? Really? My whole life, everything? Is that possible? Well, hang on a minute, give me a chance. I’ve been reading a book by Nora Ephron called I Feel Bad about my Neck and its really just a series of essays. In fact, Nora would be a great blogger because all her essays are nice blog sized pieces which could all easily be humorous blog posts. Her book is a little bit of a cheat really, it reminds me of a book by Spike Milligan I read years ago, A Bit of a Book I think it was called. It was full of little drawings and sketches which could easily be flipped through and other things like blank pages entitled the blank of England.

It was all very humorous but I read the book in about thirty minutes. Nora’s book is one I tend to read at work on my lunch breaks and if I had taken it on holiday, I would have easily read it in a few hours. Anyway, I shouldn’t really be bad mouthing Nora because her book is pretty funny and one of the essays was called The Story of My Life in less than 3500 Words which has inspired this blog post. Some of course would say that this blog post is a blatant rip off of Nora’s book but I can assure you it isn’t. Well, not that much anyway.

This won’t be my whole life of course, I’ll probably leave many things out, especially the bad bits and the boring moments but here we go.

I was born in 1956, way back in the mid-20th century in Manchester in the north of England. I was born in October which has always rather annoyed me. Why couldn’t I have been born in July or August or better still earlier in the year, sometime in the spring? I don’t like October; in fact, I never have. I don’t like the fireworks coming up in November and the endless weeks of bangers going off at unexpected times of the day and night and neither do I like Hallowe’en where complete strangers have the cheek to knock on my door and ask for treats. Not only that I don’t like the cold which is why I would much prefer a warmer time of the year for my birthday. It’s not much to ask and I would enjoy it much more.

(I’m starting to worry now about fitting everything in. Here we are, two paragraphs in and I’ve not mentioned much except my birthday.)

I went to school in Wythenshawe in the south of Manchester and I’d like to tell you that I excelled in various things and won various prizes and stuff like that. The fact is I didn’t although I did get picked for the school high jump team once. I had managed to jump an incredible six foot and to be honest I’m not sure how I did it. I could say I discovered an innate skill for high jumping but well, that’s another of those things I’d like to tell you, despite it actually being untrue. One day I did this amazing jump, I’m not sure how and the next thing I was asked to join our team at a local school for some sort of athletics competition.

The big problem with that was that the match was on a Thursday and on Thursdays I used to like to be at home for my favourite TV show which at the time was Thunderbirds. I did mention to the other members of my team that the possibilities of me arriving at the rival school for the high jump was pretty non-existent but my fellow team members, who I might add at this point were all older and bigger than me and actually now I think of it, rather hostile explained a lot about team spirit and stuff like that and how much better it would for me to be on time.

This is me when I was a pretty good looking guy. Later my looks went all downhill.

Some threatening behaviour was involved which made me think more about the team spirit thing and so I turned up ready for the jump. The annoying thing was at this school, the name of which escapes me, the high jump was set up on a sort of uphill slope which made it a little difficult for me to get up to speed for the correct lift off for the jump. To cut a long story short, I failed my jump, I was eliminated and was never asked to join the team again. To this day I remember the look on our team captain’s face as he shook his head mumbling ‘Six feet?‘ The flip side is that I was free on a Thursday for Thunderbirds.

I liked junior school but after that, school just went downhill for me and I left aged 16 clutching my four O levels. I should confess that actually one of those O levels was a CSE grade 1 which counted, so I was told, as an O level pass. Still I am now 64 years old and never once in my entire life, not once, have I been asked for proof of my 4 O levels, not in any job ever. So now I think of it, I just might as well have told my employers I had ten O levels or maybe even just upgraded them to A levels. Of course, that’s the kind of knowledge that only comes with experience and nowadays, no one is interested in whether I have 4 or 12 O levels or even whether I have any at all.

When I was at school I wanted, among other things to be a journalist. I went along to our careers teacher, Mr Sherriff, imparted this information and waited for his advice. I remember him asking me how I was going to do that. Him asking me? Wasn’t it supposed to be the other way round? Wasn’t he supposed to tell me that I could go on a course or maybe apply to the Manchester Evening News to be a trainee reporter? The next few minutes are a bit of a blur but I remember leaving his office after being told that I would soon receive a letter telling me about my coming interview. Now the Manchester Evening News had been mentioned, mostly by me and I remember telling all my friends I was soon to be interviewed for a reporter’s post with the News. My schoolmates were impressed, in fact very impressed because all Mr Sherriff ever did was get pupils a job with Barclays bank. A few days later Mr Sheriff called me back and handed me a letter. I had an interview arranged for 3 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon. I remember hoping that I would be back in time for Thunderbirds. Did I know where Barclays bank was asked Mr Sherriff? It didn’t matter because he gave me a handout detailing its location in Manchester city centre. Barclays bank I asked? What about the Manchester Evening News? The Manchester Evening News don’t have trainee reporters blared Mr Sherriff and quickly dismissed me.

I went for the interview. It was all very pleasant but I didn’t get the job although I wasn’t particularly upset about it. Once again my Thursdays were free for Thunderbirds although by this time, I was probably watching the next Gerry Anderson series, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. I wasn’t a great fan of Captain Scarlet although I do remember getting a model of an SPV, Captain Scarlet’s Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle for either Christmas or my birthday so I must have been at least somewhat interested in it.

After a quick look on the internet I see that by 1973 when I left school, Gerry Anderson was making the live action series The Protectors so that’s my Captain Scarlet memory right out of the window.

I’ve always been a fan of Gerry Anderson, all the way from Fireball XL5 to UFO. I didn’t like Space 1999, I much preferred Star Trek but before leaving Gerry I just want to say a last word about Thunderbirds. It’s really more of an observation than anything but I just want to get it off my chest. It’s something which has been annoying me ever since I first saw the show as a schoolboy, and it’s this:

Thunderbirds was a sci-fi puppet show from the 1960’s. A secret organisation known as International Rescue is based on former astronaut Jeff Tracy’s island home. His five sons pilot the Thunderbird vehicles and Alan Tracy, as you might know, is the pilot of Thunderbird 3, which is a space ship. Thunderbird 3 launches from underground, blasting off right through the circular opening of the island’s Round House. Now to access the craft, Alan sits down on the settee in the Tracy Island main house. His Dad, Jeff Tracy, flicks a switch and Alan and the settee drop down into an underground complex. OK? With me so far?

Well this is where the problem arises. As you can see from the video above, Alan and the settee drop down on a sort of hydraulic pole, just behind him we see another settee, being pushed up towards the lounge on another hydraulic pole, where it pops into the vacant slot where Alan’s settee was moments earlier. However, as Alan’s settee is going down on the first hydraulic pole, and the alternate settee is on a second hydraulic pole to his rear; there is no way that second settee is going to pop into the vacant slot left by the first. Also, what if Alan was watching TV when the call came in and he goes off on the departing settee with the remote control? It could be halfway to trajectory insertion when Jeff wants to switch over to Sky Sport and he says, “Who’s got the remote?”

Not only that, imagine if Alan was on his way to an emergency launch which came in while Grandma was in the kitchen making everyone a cup of tea and a slice of toast?

THE SCENE. INTERIOR. DAY. TRACY ISLAND LOUNGE.

JEFF TRACY
This is a job for Thunderbird 3.

ALAN TRACY
OK Dad. Ready for launch.

JEFF TRACY
Off you go Alan.

ALAN TRACY
Bye Dad, tell Grandma I’ll have a brew later.

JEFF TRACY
Look Alan, those tea bags don’t grow on trees you know. We have them imported from the UK.

ALAN TRACY
Gee whizz Dad, never thought of that. Only thing is, that rocket on collision course with the sun, don’t you think that has to take priority?

JEFF TRACY
Well . . . Sometimes I fancy an extra cuppa anyway so I guess I could always finish yours off. Hot diggedy dog Alan, you’re right. Off you go and I’ll sort your brew out.

ALAN TRACY
Thanks Dad.

JEFF PRESSES A SWITCH AND THE SETTEE DROPS AWAY ON ITS HYDRAULIC POLE INTO THE CAVERNOUS SECRET WORLD BENEATH THE TRACY HOME.

JEFF TRACY
Right, that’s that. Think I might have a gander at Sky Sports. Where the heck is the remote? Grandma! Grandma! Where has the old biddy got to? Bet she’s got the damned remote, she’s always watching daytime TV.

JEFF GOES OFF STAGE RIGHT TO LOOK FOR GRANDMA.

GRANDMA ENTERS STAGE LEFT WITH A TRAY OF TEA AND TOAST.

GRANDMA
Jeff! Alan! Now where have those two got to? Where have they moved the settee to? Sure it used to be just hereeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Yes, when you look closely, that Thunderbird 3 launch procedure has a major health and safety issue!

This where I have to make a confession and reveal the stuff above about Thunderbirds I wrote for an earlier post a few years back but it’s nice to see that it has slotted in so nicely.

Anyway back to the story of my life. My first job was as a clerk in the estates department of an insurance company, Refuge Assurance Ltd. Now on my very first day the first thing I was told was the difference between Assurance and Insurance. I’ve often thought about that. I wish I could remember what the hell that difference was. It’s bothered me for quite a while. Anyway, I worked in the Estates department which I have to say was actually really interesting. Our company owned a lot of property in central Manchester and I used to collect the rents and enter it all in a big ledger. Once, we were told in hushed tones about the impending arrival of a million-pound cheque. As it happens, I’ve written about that before but just in case you didn’t read that earlier post, this is what happened:

As I was only a mere teenage accounts clerk, I was running low on the pecking order to see this cheque, although it was actually my job to process it as I did with all the other cheques that came into the department. In due course, one of the very senior managers came down with the cheque and with great reverence it was handed to my boss Mr Ross. Mr Ross perused the cheque for a while along with a small clique of other managers and then conveyed it to the senior clerk, Mr Elliott. After marvelling at this great artefact for a few moments, he then passed the cheque to me. Numerous staff members from our and neighbouring departments also came to take a peek at this financial wonder which I believe, was the result of the company either selling off our sister company, Federated Assurance, or doing some fabulous property deal.

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

Anyway, getting back to the cheque, it was actually not really that impressive. It was not printed but hand written in a very scrawling, looping, and altogether unreadable hand and it occurred to me that the payee, Refuge Assurance Company limited, could quite easily be changed to Stephen Higgins Esquire had there been some tippex handy. As this was an accounts department you might think we had a great deal of tippex, however tippex was completely Verboten.  It was never used, and in the event of a mistake being made, the procedure was to strike a line through the error, sign your name, date it and then add the correct figure. Looking back, I’m starting to wonder whether that’s why management were so keen to get that cheque into the bank, did they see me eyeing it up with a greedy sort of look on my face?

A few years later I handed in my resignation. Just before that a colleague who had a degree but as a clerk was completely useless, also handed in his notice. After our resignations we compared notes. He looked very pleased with himself because the company had offered him more money to stay on. I lied and told him they had offered me more money too although actually they didn’t offer me a bean. As a matter of fact, looking back, they seemed rather happy to see the back of me.

Well, I’d like to tell you more about myself, how I left the Insurance world behind and went on to greater success. I’d like to tell you that. I would. But the truth is . .

I’m already over 2500 words!


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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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