Coal Fires, Pub bands and Formula One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Woody, Marcus and such Small Portions!

I’ve just returned from yet another jaunt to France, a short one this time, six days in Liz’s motorhome, meandering around the Loire area, which we both love. One of our aims was to spend our nights ‘wild camping’, that is to say camping wherever we could without using commercial camping sites.

France is actually very motorhome friendly with many municipal sites providing free camping and toilet emptying facilities free of charge with optional charges for things like fresh water or electrical hook up and so on. We found a lovely spot by a lake, actually a plan d’eau, called Lac du Homme. In the summer when we visited it was a busy bustling place with a bar and restaurant and many spots for bathing and picnicking. The french take their picnics seriously and always bring huge hampers of food, always covering the many wooden and stone picnic tables with table cloths before opening up their bundles of cutlery, plates and food. At the Lac du Homme there were also quite a few areas with barbecue facilities dotted about, all that was needed were the hot coals and some steaks and burgers to cook.

Now in early October a last burst of summer had come and the restaurant and bar were boarded up for the winter. Most of the time we had the lake to ourselves, joined only by the few occasional visitors. The last two days were so hot we even ventured out onto the man-made beaches for a refreshing dip into the cold, very cold, waters.

One of the great things about being at this quiet lake was not only the quiet, calm and relaxing atmosphere but also the chance to read. I read a great deal but at home and at work I tend to read in short bursts, on my dinner breaks at work, in quiet moments in a morning or before I go to sleep. Holidays are when you can really get to grips with a book, really read it through without having to put the book down and go back into work. On this short break I finished off a book I was reading at work, The Assassination of Princess Diana’ (more about that in an upcoming post) and started on one of the P G Wodehouse Jeeves and Wooster books. It was amusing and interesting and thoroughly English but it wasn’t quite my cup of tea.

One other book I read was one of last year’s reads, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Marcus was an emperor of Rome and when he was compelled to go out with his armies to do battle he spent many hours alone in his tent compiling a series of philosophic writings that became known as the Meditations. Marcus was concerned with the force of nature, the force that drives the universe and all its  workings. Nature for him was probably more akin to God than what we understand nature to be but his thoughts and ideas are very moving, even more so as they were written prior to the year 180, nearly 2000 years ago. A lot of his thoughts are about life and death, simple things like a man who enjoys a long life and a man who experiences a short one both lose the same thing when they die. Death is a natural state he explains. Why fear it when everyone who has ever lived before us, has experienced it. To those of us who hunger for fame (potential authors perhaps) Marcus asks what is the point? One day you will die, one day those who remember you will die so one day your fame will vanish when no one remembers you. Time, says Marcus, is like a river, for as soon as something happens, the river of time carries it away, then some other event comes, also soon to be washed away.

In the opening of Annie Hall, one of Woody Allen’s most popular films, he talks about life in this way: “There’s an old joke, two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.” Well, that’s essentially how I feel about life – full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.” Woody Allen and Marcus Aurelius, both philosophers in their own ways.

I’ve spent a lovely couple of hours this week watching To Rome with Love, one of Woody Allen’s more recent films. Woody, if you have read one of my earlier posts about directors, is my all-time favourite director. I love his subtle observations about life and love, and his humour. What is a little sad lately, is that Woody’s image and persona have been challenged by his adopted daughter Dylan, who claims Woody assaulted her when she was young, 7, I think, and that he should be arrested and prosecuted. Woody stands by an investigation into the charges from 1975 that exonerated him but of course now, in the age of digital media, Dylan is able to go straight to the people with social media and put forward her case.

Someone who has put forward defence of Woody Allen is Moses Farrow, Woody and Mia’s adopted son. He has claimed in a blog post that his mother Mia was abusive and domineering and referring to the details of Dylan’s claims that there was no railway in the attic-supposedly where the attack took place- and that the attic was only a crawl space, not a place where father and daughter could play.

Many actors and actresses have come forward saying they will never work with Woody again and his reputation seems to sink lower every day and the body of work he has produced is now, by association, tainted. There is even a possibility that his latest film may not be released. I am a big fan of Woody Allen and although these revelations did not put me off watching To Rome with Love, it does set off a small alarm bell in the back of one’s mind. Did Woody do it? Did he molest the young Dylan? Well, two people know for sure: One is Dylan and the other is Woody. Woody claims Dylan’s claims were fabricated by Mia Farrow, his one-time partner and the mother of Dylan as part of a war of hate aimed at Woody because he became involved with another of Mia’s step daughters, Soon-Yi, and in fact, later married her. Mia, according to Woody, has brain washed Dylan with her abuse claims, so if that is true, then only Woody himself knows the truth. It seems to me that if Woody was an abuser then he would have abused other women and as no one else has come forward then that means Woody is innocent -doesn’t it?

Anyway, I don’t expect to see Jimmy Saville on old episodes of Top of the Pops, or Gary Glitter for that matter. Their actions and behaviour have airbrushed themselves out of history. Still, I will be very sad if they stop showing Woody’s films on TV.

Getting back to our trip to France, it was my birthday while we were away and it was nice to celebrate it in the sunny Loire valley instead of cold and rainy England. On our previous motorhome trip we had a lot of issues with mobile wi-fi which can be a bit of a pain when you have a blog deadline for Saturday morning. I wasn’t happy with Virgin media because my mobile data didn’t work in France, despite an expensive phone call to Virgin. Anyway, they sent me a new SIM card and I was happy to find that on this trip my mobile phone connected to the internet without problems. I even found that I could connect my Ipad to my mobile and use my mobile internet on my pad, so much easier than writing a blog post on your phone. Of course I had written my last post about Comics and Superheros in advance and had it scheduled but even so, I always like to tinker with my posts right up to that last moment.

After we returned, Liz and I went to a birthday meal for Liz’s sister-in-law who has a similar birth date to me. One of the other guests, a young girl, asked me about my birthday and how old I was. I was reluctant to say but finally answered 62. “62?” She said, “I didn’t think you were that old!”

Maybe that’s a good thing, that I look younger than I actually am and in fact that comment was really a boost for my personal image but there’s no getting away from that figure of 62. Still, here is one last quote from Marcus;

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.


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

Thoughts from a Sun Lounger Part 8

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

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

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

Work.

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

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

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

Tea.

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

Bread.

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

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

Fish and Chips.

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

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

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

Facebook.

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

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

The Chinese Guys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The New Year Blues

The post-Christmas period is sometimes one of sadness. All the Christmas fun is over, the decorations come down and are boxed away until next year. Personally, I’m not a great fan of Christmas. I hate to admit it but I’m basically a shy person and somewhat clumsy at group social events so it’s actually sometimes a relief for the holiday season to be over. Not only that, I absolutely hate the cold so as soon as the New Year celebrations are done and the pendulum starts to swing the other way, towards longer days and the spring, then I feel happier.

One thing I am looking forward to this January is jetting off to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. The sun will be shining, the temperature will be in the 70s, just like an English summer, and I can settle down, start a daily swimming regime and get myself fit. Well, fitter anyway.

I had to work over Christmas this year so my brother and I didn’t have our usual pre-Christmas pint together. We made up for it the other day by having a post-Christmas pint in Manchester.

One problem was that I found I had left behind my debit card which presented a serious problem that might possibly have prevented me from purchasing beer in any of the numerous public houses to which I was heading. However, armed with my new smartphone, I was able to locate a city centre branch of my bank, Santander, from the comfort of my tram seat. I jumped off the tram in Piccadilly, Manchester and went off down Market Street. The bank, however, wasn’t where I had thought it was so I had to click back onto Google maps to see what was wrong. I was a little confused when Google asked me to go right, right and right again until it became clear the bank was actually in Piccadilly itself and I had bypassed it with my nose glued to my phone just like the majority of younger people today.

The day before I was watching an episode of Star Trek in which Captain Kirk and Mr Spock had beamed down to 20th century earth in pursuit of a mysterious alien called Gary Seven. (Did he have a brother called Gary Six I wonder?)  The enterprise scanned for the alien and sent down coordinates to Kirk and Spock who promptly tracked the fellow down using their communicators. It appeared that the episode was a pilot for a new sci-fi show which never materialised. Shame really because it looked pretty interesting. Anyway, good job they didn’t send me to track down Gary Seven as I couldn’t even find a branch of my own bank! Kirk and Spock of course have much more experience with their communicators than I do with my smartphone, still, interesting how real life has caught up with sci-fi!

As you can perhaps see, I’m still in the honeymoon stage with my mobile phone. It’s great to be able to glance at my e-mails and see Facebook updates and so on but my favourite app has to be Google. I just love Google maps and whenever I arrive myself somewhere like a restaurant or pub, I always take a few minutes to add comments and post reviews.

I used Google maps to drive to work the other day. I know the way of course but it was fascinating to hear this voice telling me to turn left in a quarter of a mile and so on. The thing is, I always turn right at that particular spot so that experience left me a little bemused.

A really great app would be a Google Supermarket Planner. I can just imagine hearing ‘turn left at the next aisle to find cooked meats!’ ‘Turn right at the third aisle to find wines and spirits.’ Great stuff.

Pint of MildEven more helpful would be ‘don’t use checkout 3 because the lady there is questioning the price of a reduced item!’

‘Incident at checkout 1 as a customer has 16 items in the 10 items only checkout! Yes, that would be a great help because fate always points me in the direction of a checkout with problem customers, always, and the problems only usually arise after I have unloaded my shopping at that particular till.

Happily, there were no such delays in the Grey Horse in Manchester and they served me with an outstanding pint of mild.

Cheers everyone!


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. The book is available in Kindle or paperback formats. Click the icon below to go straight to Amazon.

Floating in Space

The Men in White Suits

Alec Guiness.

In case you haven’t seen it, and I can’t imagine for a moment that you haven’t, The Man in the White Suit was a British comedy film made by Ealing Studios in 1951. The film starred Alec Guinness as Sydney Stratton, a scientist and researcher specialising in man-made fabrics. His dream is to discover an everlasting fibre that never wears out. He is dismissed from numerous jobs because of his demands for ever more expensive facilities. Circumstances occur where he becomes an unpaid researcher at the hi-tech Stratton Mill where he finally discovers his new fibre. Sydney is over the moon as he wears his prototype indestructible suit for the first time. His new cloth is about to be revealed to the world but panic sets in; will this mean the end of the industry? After all, surely there will only be one lot of cloth to be made as it never wears out? Both union and senior executives in the textile industry unite to prevent the fabric coming out to the public domain but mill owner’s daughter Daphne Birnley, played by the husky voiced Joan Greenwood, strives to help Sydney to pursue his dream.

At the end of the film an angry mob who have pursued Sydney are united in laughter when the fabric becomes unstable and Sydney’s white suit falls apart.

One of the highlights of the film is the sound effect we hear whenever Sydney’s research apparatus is revealed. It is a rhythmic burbling sing-song sound that becomes a sort of musical motif for Sydney Stratton. At the end of the film he goes on his way and looking at his notebook has a thought, has he realised what was wrong? The burbling sound fades in as Sydney walks away.

Paul Sinha. (Picture courtesy Daily Express)

Paul Sinha.

I don’t know about you but weekday afternoons just wouldn’t be the same without the Chase. The Chase is a TV quiz show where four contestants try to build up a prize fund then play against the ‘Chaser‘, a seasoned quizzer, to take home that fund in the Final Chase. Sometimes the contestants win, sometimes not. Mark Labbett is the perhaps the most well-known chaser. He is known as the ‘Beast’ and is a former schoolmaster who had a success on the TV show ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’. Anyway, my personal favourite is the Sinnerman, Paul Sinha. Paul began a stand up comedy career in London while he was a junior doctor. He has appeared on his own radio show and as a quizzer competed in University Challenge, Mastermind, and Brain of Britain. Paul joined the Chase in 2011 as the fourth Chaser. His nicknames include the ‘Sinnerman‘ and ‘Sarcasm in a Suit’. He is a smiling, witty and erudite competitor and always wears his trademark white suit.

David Essex.

David Essex was a performer who made his name in the early seventies although in his youth he had ideas of becoming a footballer. He played the lead in the stage musical Godspell and then went on to star in the film ‘That’ll be the Day’. I remember seeing his album in a record shop and thinking what a cool dude he looked in his white suit. The album was ‘Rock On’ and the single of the same name went to number 3 in the UK charts in 1973.

The next year David released one of my all-time favourite tracks ‘Gonna make you a Star’ which went all the way up to number 1. He also appeared on the double album ‘Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds’ and went on to star in the musical ‘Evita’. In 2011, he joined the cast of TV soap ‘EastEnders’.

 

Steve Higgins.

When I saw David Essex singing ‘Rock On’ wearing a white suit on ‘Top of the Pops’ for the first time, I thought he was the epitome of seventies cool and it occurred to me that one way to transform my gangling self-conscious self into something better might be to get that very same white suit. I couldn’t afford a suit at the time so I settled for a jacket, a white jacket, and I well remember admiring myself in the mirror before my first Saturday night out wearing it, sometime back in 1973.

The first problem I encountered with the jacket came on the bus into town. I sat on the back seat and in those days, the back seats of our local buses were a little notorious for being dusty and grimy as they were over the engine and absorbed all the engine fumes. Also there were people who put their feet up on the seats leaving marks to which people like me (the twerp in the white suit) were highly susceptible. Another thing is that all my life I have been cursed with being clumsy and once I had met up with my friends I somehow managed to spill beer all down my sleeve. Anyway, the night went on, more or less successfully. I certainly remember having a good time although the white jacket failed in its primary function; that of attracting gorgeous girls. Later on we stopped at the kebab shop and somehow a sizeable portion of chilli sauce managed to attach itself to my jacket. Rather than feeling like David Essex, I felt a little like Alec Guinness in the aforementioned ‘Man In The White Suit‘, wanting to get away from everyone! I never wore the stained jacket again and it lingered sadly in the back of my wardrobe smelling of kebab, chilli sauce, beer and diesel fumes until my Mum, on a major clean up splurge, decided to throw it out.

Of course, it could have been worse: I could have gone out wearing jeans, a white t-shirt and a red jacket and tried to look like James Dean! (Actually, that was another night!)


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information or click the picture below to order now from amazon!

Floating in Space

Surveyors, Inspectors, and Lawrence of Arabia

I started thinking about regrets the other day. Bit of a waste of time, you might think. Regrets? What’s the point? Oh well, two big regrets in my life are both work orientated. Let’s take a closer look.

Surveyors.

The first one was way back in the late seventies when I was a lowly clerk in an assurance company in Manchester. I worked in the estates department and I had a lovely job there. It involved collecting the rental we were due for our properties in the city centre. Then I had to sort out the wages for our cleaning staff in Manchester and liaise with caretakers to order cleaning products such as bleach and so on. I remember when we converted from hard toilet paper to soft, our toilet paper bill shot right up. I was tasked with getting to the bottom of that issue (excuse the pun!) which turned out to be staff using the soft toilet paper as paper hankies! I so enjoyed writing that report.

Sometimes I went out with the surveyors to help them take measurements of properties and I jotted down notes for the surveyor and carried his gear, stuff like that. It got me out of the office for hours at a time and usually the surveyor and I would have to time to take on board a few beers as our junior surveyor was a fellow who enjoyed his ale.

One day my boss, the venerable Mr Ross, called me into his office and said the surveyors wanted me to join their department and train to become a surveyor. Wow, you might think. That’s not an offer that comes to a young eighteen year old clerk every day. The thing is, I turned it down. Yes, I declined that rather excellent offer on the grounds that I was young and the estates and surveyors offices were staffed by a lot of old (well, middle-aged) people. I asked for a transfer and was sent to IA/1, an internal accounts office, full of young people like myself but actually a deadly dull boring job. What a fool I was. Just think, today I could be a successful surveyor with perhaps, a property portfolio on the side. Yes, that was big mistake number 1.

Inspectors.

Regret number 2. This came years later when I was a bus driver. There was a time when I liked this job, running up and down the byways of Greater Manchester as a bus conductor or driver, chatting up the girls and generally having fun. Of course drivers and conductors meant that two wages were being paid out by the bus company; so much easier just to pay out one; that’s when the idea of one man buses caught on. Then I became a rather self-absorbed chap driving a bus up and down the road and taking fares. It was a lonely life and the worst thing was that when something relatively minor cropped up, say someone cut in front of you and you had to slam the brakes on, there was no conductor to talk to about it, no one to say ‘he was a pillock wasn’t he?’. The result was that you’d tend to think about it over and over until a minor thing became a big thing.

One day the company advertised for two Inspectors, one for the Ardwick depot, not far from where I lived and another for Rochdale depot, well over the other side of Manchester. I applied and had rather a good interview. I was asked to step outside the interview room for a while and when I came back the spokesman for the interview panel asked me which job I was interested in. ‘Well, the Ardwick one,’ I answered. ‘What if we offered you the Rochdale one?’ they asked. Well, what could I do? How could I even get to Rochdale? I had no car, no personal transport. Anyway I said no, I couldn’t take the job. Big mistake number 2!

I often think what could have happened if I had done the right thing and said yes. I could have bought a car with my new improved Inspector’s salary or even moved to Rochdale and started a new life there. After all, I was a single man, I might have made new friends, made a whole new life. Well, like Frank Sinatra, I can only say;

Regrets, I have a few . .

But then again, too few to mention . .

Lawrence of Arabia.

Anyway, that brings me to today’s classic movie, Lawrence of Arabia, that fabulous 70mm classic directed by David Lean.

In one part of the movie Lawrence – played by Peter O’Toole – and his arab army are plodding through the Nefu desert, a normally impassable stretch of land described by one of the characters as the sun’s anvil. Lawrence and his arab irregulars decide to cross the desert and attack the coastal town of Aqaba, coming from a direction the enemy Turks would not expect. One morning the travellers realise that one of their number, sweltering in the desert heat, has fallen asleep and slipped off his camel into the sands. Lawrence decides to turn and rescue the man despite assurances that he will not make it. ‘The man is surely dead,’ Lawrence is told. It is written. Despite this, Lawrence turns and rides back into the desert.

Later he returns to the group a hero having saved a man from the desert. He whispers hoarsely to Omar Sharif, ‘nothing is written’ before collapsing into his sleeping bag.

Later still, shots are fired in the desert encampment. A man has been robbed and killed and the various tribes, brought together by Lawrence, are ready to defend their honour. The culprit is found and must die but his death will only bring forward a feud.

Lawrence  argues that he is a man without a tribe, and so he will execute the criminal and honour will be kept. Lawrence takes out his revolver and the doomed man is revealed; only then do we see that the man is Gasim, the man Lawrence saved from the desert. Lawrence shoots him dead, the alliance is saved. Lawrence turns sadly away.

‘What is wrong with him?’ asks one of the arabs.

‘That man he killed, it was the same man he rescued from the desert.’

‘Ah,’ says the man, ‘then it was written . .’

So if that is the case, that everything is written or preordained, then perhaps even if I had accepted that Inspector’s job or become a surveyor, my life might still have turned out the same and here I would be, whatever my life’s choices were, writing blogs and Tweeting about Floating in Space!

What do you think?


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information or click the picture below to order now from amazon!

Floating in Space

Running With the Stars.

Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

I am back once again in the UK after my five weeks in France. Yes, all things must come to an end and of course, so do holidays. It’s probably only fair to mention that after an inordinately long time spent lying on a French sun lounger, I do have, as you can imagine, a fair old plethora of French thoughts and ramblings in my notebook, all of which I feel duty bound to share with you, my readers.

Please bear with me, after all, in a few weeks time I will be fully reintegrated back into the UK and I’ll be writing the usual stuff about things like old black and white films and old TV programmes newly discovered by strange and sometimes fleeting new freeview TV channels. However, until then:

One of the really satisfying things about staying in a large house in the French countryside, is the lack of interference from the outside world. I mentioned in another post about silence, that simple commodity that is a cornerstone of relaxation but is difficult to find in an urban metropolis like Manchester. Another simple quality here in rural France is the lack of light pollution. In the city things such as street lighting, neon lights and illuminated advertising hoardings all contribute an abundance of light but here in the country, darkness is something different; a deep, sensuous blackness that almost overwhelms the senses.

Lying back on your chair or lounger in the soft, warm evening and looking up at the sky is a wonderful sensation. Without the interference of ambient light, the sky at night is a whole new world. An enigmatic velvet vista opens up to the naked eye with myriads of stars, some the merest pinpricks, others great beacons in the sky.

Peering into the night sky I noticed one particular star, much brighter than the others. It was then I remembered that on my iPad I have an app that can tell you which stars are in the sky. The star in question was not the pole star as I had surmised but Vega. Vega is the brightest star in the constellation of Lyra, the fifth brightest star in the night sky, and the second brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere, after Arcturus. It is relatively close at only 25 light years away from us, here on Earth.

A screenshot from my iPad.

It is really humbling looking up at this great vista and realising that this is what creation looks like and that you too are a tiny part of it. It might even be the case too on that some distant place, millions of light years away, some other person, some distant inhabitant of a distant star is thinking the same thing, looking up at a star that might be our sun, the same sun that warms the earth.

One book that I have particularly enjoyed on this holiday was a book about the thoughts and ideas of Marcus Aurelius, a long dead Roman emperor and philosopher.

This is one of the things he said . .

Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them. - Marcus Aurelius

Another book which I read on holiday was a little disappointing; Lion by Seroo Brierley. The film version was an absolute wonder of documentary style realism and full on emotion. In the book though, Seroo talks about the events that took him away from India to Australia and then years later, reunited him with his lost family in a rather detached and matter of fact way. He hints at a hidden guiding hand in the universe but then denies that he is religious. What was the hidden guiding hand then? Fate? Electricity?

Strange how something that would make one man turn to religion makes another turn away. Sometimes, religion itself can trigger a negative response. It has always surprised me that someone in the public eye like Cliff Richard for instance, who is a devout Christian and used to make a full on Christian song his Christmas hit has always had his faith used against him. It used to be a regular thing in the 1990’s to slag off Cliff because he was a Christian and yet Madonna, who belongs to a strange sect called Kabbalah, has not had similar treatment. She for some reason, was the acceptable face of the religious pop star.

In a few months time, around Christmas in the UK, yet another town will cancel the Christmas lights because it is offensive to non Christians and rename them ‘holiday lights.’ It’s Christmas, it’s actually a Christian festival for pity’s sake. Still, it will happen and it will be reported in the Daily Mail, I’m sure.

What you probably won’t see reported in the Daily Mail will be that in Afghanistan, Ramadan has been renamed ‘holiday week’ so as not to offend westerners. Perhaps here in the UK we are somehow ashamed of faith, perhaps we don’t need it any more, we are too advanced, too technological, or something. Perhaps technology explains too many things, the origin of the universe, the big bang. Pity it doesn’t explain the reason for living, the actual point of life.

Some years ago I started using some audio tapes by Paul McKenna to build my confidence and help with job interviews. On one of the tapes he mentions that there is no fixed purpose in life except the one you give it. Could he be right?

On one of my last evenings in rural France gazing at the night sky, I found myself thinking of the last sequence in the movie ‘The History of Mr Polly.‘ You must have seen the film on TV, the one with John Mills as Mr Polly. Polly finds himself in a very dull job with a very dull wife and resolves to commit suicide. Anyway, events unfold and instead of committing suicide, Polly accidentally starts a fire which threatens the whole street and he then mounts a brave rescue of an old lady. Instead of dying, Mr Polly becomes a hero and when the insurance money comes in, he leaves his wife, nicely settled with the insurance money, takes a little for himself and departs for pastures new. He sends some money to a post office in another village and gradually meanders in that direction, sleeping in fields and hedges, getting himself a tan. Working occasionally when he wants and sleeping when the mood takes him at other times.

He comes across the Potwell Inn and asks for work and right away finds himself at home.

Right at the very end of the film Polly, played by Mills and the Inn landlady, played by that old British film actress Megs Jenkins are sitting in the garden, contentedly watching the sun go down and Mills wonders aloud ‘what have we done to deserve a sunset like this?’

The fact is, sunsets are a part of nature and they will come and go whether we deserve to see them or not. As long as this world goes round the sun, the sun will rise and the sun will set somewhere on the globe. Even so, sunsets are lovely.

So are the stars and now and again it’s nice to imagine yourself running with them.


Floating in Space can be ordered from amazon as a Kindle download or as a traditional paperback by clicking here. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Night shift

What I think I might do in this post is an old writer’s trick. It involves taking some part written posts and trying to string them all together into a brand new post.
Let’s see if it works out.

The first night shift is, perversely, the easiest one. I say perversely because it should, by rights, be the hardest. To prepare for it I usually have a lie in that morning and prior to getting ready for work I go back to bed for at least an hour, just to get forty winks which, with a little luck, will get me through the night.
It’s a 45 minute drive to work, mostly all motorway driving, and I take a great deal of care in selecting some music to play in my car. My car is heaving with CDs and I’ll choose something interesting, something enjoyable that will last until I drive in through the gates at work.

Last week my first night shift coincided with election night so it was interesting to settle down and watch the results gradually come in. I work in an emergency control room and the wall of our room has various screens where we can highlight CCTV images of the incidents we are dealing with. In the centre is the TV screen currently set to Sky News as for some reason, every other channel comes up blank with the legend ‘no signal available.’
This being an operational control room the TV has no sound and it’s sometimes quite amusing to watch the subtitles appear with the wrong word or sentence. Some of the best I’ve seen include MP Ed Milliband described as the Ed Miller Band and the BBC welcoming viewers to the ‘Chinese new year of the whores!’

Anyway, it was a busy night and when I finally looked up from my desk it was clear that despite being the winner Theresa May was actually the loser, and despite being the loser, Jeremy Corbyn was really a winner, if you see what I mean. Yes, that’s politics for you, despite all the weeks of campaigning the result was essentially a hung parliament until Mrs May decided to do a deal with the DUP and their ten MPs.

Since then I’ve seen the DUP, the small Northern Irish party described as everything but Satan himself. Incredibly, gasp some people, they don’t seem to believe in same-sex marriages, although ten years ago, neither did anyone else! Clearly they haven’t moved with the times or perhaps they just believe in what they believe. After all, we do live in a free society.

This last week I went to my uncle’s funeral and I can’t ever remember going to a funeral that was so, I nearly said happy but that isn’t right, free from tears is probably nearer to the mark. Then again, I often wonder about myself and my own emotions. I’m not a particularly emotional man, in fact, I’m probably rather cold in an emotional sense. My family, reunited for the family funeral, many of whom I had not seen for years are clearly made of similar stuff. Then again, when I spoke to my Mum who is getting rather confused in her old age and did not attend, and told her about the pleasant demeanour of all concerned she thought for a moment and then said ‘don’t worry, the tears come later!’ Clearly, she is not as confused as I had thought.

As a sort of follow up to that, Friday night, Liz and I went to the Number 15 pub in St Annes and a guitar duo were the live band. Sadly I have forgotten their name but they were outstanding. One of the songs they played was a song I have never heard covered before. It was ‘The Ballad of Jack and Diane’ originally sung by John Mellencamp.

In part, the lyrics go like this:

‘Oh yeh, life goes on. Even though the thread of livin’ is gone.’

Quite appropriate under the circumstances.

This week I have spent some time in the garden with my latest toy, a chain saw. I was a little scared of it at first but gradually I got used to it and those tree branches that have been immune to my tame sawing and chopping these last few years have now been firmly removed and chopped neatly into fireplace sized logs. I enjoyed myself that much it’s a wonder I didn’t create a swathe of destruction throughout the local area.

I finally managed to take control and now I just need some cold weather so we can have a nice log fire!

The end of my block of night shifts is really the best moment of all. The morning shift manager comes in and we exchange a few pleasantries. I brief them about any ongoing incidents and they in turn go off to brief their team. I thank my people for their work over the past few nights, the new team come in and take over. We sign off and it is time to leave.

Outside in the car park it’s a lovely warm summer’s morning. There is some cloud but also one clear side to the sky and the sun’s rays bear down and warm all they touch.

The local rabbits scamper about as I search for a new CD. I’m looking forward to my sleep later this morning, because the sleep at the end of my last night shift is the nicest sleep of all. I start the engine and drive away and click play on my CD player. Yes, I fancy some Commodores this morning.

If you enjoyed this post, why not try my book, Floating in Space, set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

A Child of the Universe


quotescover-png-67Getting older is a strange sensation. Once you reach a big birthday like sixty you start to re examine yourself and start to silently ask lots of questions. Inside, I’m the same person I always was: The same in fact, that I have been since I was a child, at least to me, at any rate. It’s only the outer layer that has changed. The outer layer has got fatter, heavier, and somewhat grayer. But inside, the essence that is me, the real me, is essentially unchanged. What is my essence though? What am I? How did I come to be, what purpose, if any, have I served?

Those questions are ones which people have been asked over and over for millennia and of course, will continue to be asked over and over again. As for the answers, well that is something different. I could quite easily be an accident of fate, just like the rest of the population, like the insect and animal world, like plant life, like the earth itself. It could be that the Creator of All Things, God, Allah, or whatever you like to call Him created us all, and that every step we take has been pre-ordained in some way. It could be that when we die we vanish, or it could be that our spirits live on, that you and I have lived before and will live again. Who knows?

It’s interesting to think that in some eastern religions, they believe that we are all born with a finite set of breaths. Breath then, in such a religion, is life itself, and when our allotment of breaths has gone, we are no more. Yoga, the understanding and practice of breathing was understandably very important to ancient people, perhaps for that very reason itself, for by controlling breath, one can live longer. It’s an interesting thought.

Another interesting concept is Samsara. In the Buddhist faith there are three primary states, birth, death and rebirth. Samsara is the wheel of life and only those Buddhist scholars who can escape from the cycle of life by meditation are those who achieve enlightenment, which in its highest form is nirvana, freedom from rebirth.

Normally, I think I would have probably taken my new birthday and my age in its stride but the big six zero does have an effect. Recently I have been on the look out for new jobs. Something more challenging, something different to what I do at present. I’ve started looking at roles outside of what I do in my day job, jobs involving social media, blogging and so on. Of course things aren’t like the old days, in the 21st century you cannot get a job without a qualification and the fact that I’ve been writing this blog for two years now, and single-handedly producing the graphics and the videos and promoting it all on Facebook and Twitter doesn’t really mean anything, not to an employer anyway. A degree in social media is what employers want. Anyway, two letters I received lately stopped me in my job hunting tracks. One was from an old employer saying they were ready to pay my pension and how and when did I want it: A lump sum? Monthly payments or a combination? Interesting, I thought. Then I got one from my current employer telling me I could retire if I wanted to or go part-time; semi retired. Well, wasn’t expecting that.

Yes, the thought of working part-time is starting to appeal to me. I’ll have more time to write, to make my videos and to create my graphics. Time to finish that second novel. Perhaps even time to take up a social media course! I’m not sure what to do but, if I continue to think about life, the universe and everything, taking up a philosophy course and really looking into the meaning of life might be an option!

It may be that the only meaning to this life is the one that you yourself give to it. I’ve always taken inspiration from that fine poem the Desiderata that says in part, ‘no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.’

We can only suppose it is.

quotescover-png-ed289

If you enjoyed this post, why not try my book, Floating In Space? It’s available from Amazon as a Kindle download or as a traditional paperback book. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Death on a Monday Morning

This web page announces me as Steve Higgins: writer and Blogger, but writing is something I do in my spare time. I do have a day job. My usual place of work is an emergency control room and this last weekend my team and I have dealt with two fatalities on our night shifts.

quotescover-PNG-31The first one involved a pedestrian who crossed the M6 motorway running lanes and was hit by a car. Police officers believed he had spent the afternoon and evening at a nearby race course, attended some evening festivities and for whatever reason, decided to walk across six lanes of motorway traffic. Initial reports were for a drunken pedestrian so I can only guess that the man was intoxicated and in that inebriated state made a foolish decision and was killed.

The other death was different. A lady driver spun on the motorway and her car was left sideways on in the carriageway. It was an unlit section of the motorway, it was night or rather early morning. The next vehicle along was an HGV which crashed into her just as she had got out of her car to examine the damage.

As I drove home the next morning I thought about the woman. She may have been on the way to work on an early shift. Perhaps she worked like me in a control room. Perhaps she worked for a transport depot or it could have been anywhere that has 24 hour a day working. I did’t know where she worked or anything about her at all really but I imagined her getting up early, perhaps shutting her alarm off quickly so as not to disturb her partner, if she had one of course. I imagined her getting ready for work, hurrying on to her appointment with death. Perhaps she had a tea or coffee before leaving. I always have a tea and some cereal in the morning or even my favourite fast food- toast. Perhaps she would have said goodbye to her husband. Perhaps not, after all, she would be seeing him later. I can imagine her hurrying if she was late, hurrying to her doom. If only her car had not started.

If she had a car problem she would perhaps have had to call the RAC or AA. They usually take about an hour to arrive. They might have fixed the car after say, thirty minutes or so and she would be back on her way. The spot where she would have crashed would have been full of slow traffic an hour or more later and she would have been forced to slow. Her boss might have told her off, her colleagues might have been annoyed, perhaps they had missed a break because she was late. You can imagine the conversations about that missed hour. Would she have to say behind after work to make up the time? Would her employer take an hour’s pay off her? Either way, she would be alive and well and would see her husband again at the end of the day. Not now, though.

Strange isn’t it, to look back and think what might have happened? I’ve written posts in the past about James Dean and Marilyn Monroe and as I look at the minutiae of their last hours, I’m sometimes drawn to certain things, certain decisions they made and think, if only they had done this, or that, instead, they might have avoided their fate. Still, you cannot change the past. You cannot undo what has happened.

Later, I found an article in the Manchester Evening News about this fatality. The lady in question was a young woman. She was not on her way to work but on her way home so a lot of my assumptions above were incorrect. Either way, she was killed. Whatever plans she had for the future, nights out, holidays, all gone.

If there is a message there, it is this; wherever you are, enjoy your life and your days on this earth, for they can so easily be taken away from you.


Steve Higgins is the author of ‘Floating In Space’ available from Amazon.