10 Things I Can’t Live Without

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

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

TV

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

F1

Ayrton Senna

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

Books


My well thumbed copy of David Copperfield

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

Classic Films

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

My iPad

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

My laptop.

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

My trusty laptop, shown here in audio editing mode.

My Hair Trimmers

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

Mobile Phone

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

Bread

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

So what ten things can you not do without?


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Unboxing the Mobile Phone

One of the great pleasures of the 21st century digital age has to be unboxing your mobile phone. Even that word, unboxing is new and Microsoft Word wasn’t happy at all about me using it!

Yes, enough of that old mobile that cost me £20 on eBay, time to move into the 21st century with a new smart phone! Well, not a brand new one, a used one, again courtesy of eBay.

I did fancy an iPhone but did I really want to pay over £250 for a mobile phone? What if I lost it? What if I dropped it in the sea on holiday? That’s a big enough deal with my old phone but if my expensive phone was lost or ruined I’d be in shock. Of course, I could get it insured but that would mean more expense.

Anyway, after some research I decided on a Motorola G4, a nice looking phone that brought me into the modern smartphone era with a cash outlay considerably less than that of an iPhone.

The phone duly arrived and excited as I was, I managed to stay calm, relax and have a brew before opening the box. That turned out to be something of a struggle as the box was shipped in a sort of insulated plastic wrap which defied my initial attempts to unwrap it but I persevered and armed with a sharp knife and a pair of scissors, my new phone was eventually revealed.

First thing was to open the back of the phone and insert my SIM card. Now that presented a small problem because no matter how I tried, I couldn’t get the back off that phone. OK I said to myself, calm down. Have another brew and read the instructions again. When I say instructions, what I actually mean is the little slip of paper with a couple of diagrams on it. Technology today just doesn’t come with instructions; you’re lucky if you get a link to some online help site. Anyway after glancing through the instruction slip again, I had another go at removing the back of the phone, once again without success.

I had another bash using a knife and although the phone remained in one piece I was lucky not to cut myself to pieces. Well, next step, the brief instruction slip mentioned a link to a YouTube video showing me how easy it was to get the back off. So, iPad at the ready, I typed in the link and there we had the official Motorola video.

In the video the guy unboxes his phone, turns it over and easily pops the back off. Arghhh! Why couldn’t I do that? I tried a number of other videos and in every one the presenter easily popped off the back. I wasn’t happy! Wait a minute, the back of those phones wasn’t quite the same as mine; did I have the wrong model? No, mine was definitely the G4 and the pictures in my instructions matched the pictures in the video so what was wrong?

Anther hour went by, breakfast came and went. Liz had a go and the back still wouldn’t budge. There was an area round the side that seemed pliable and there I could get my fingernail in and push the back off. Wait a minute! What was this? The phone had a sort of gel surround on! I  struggled to get that off but eventually it peeled away and the actual back of the phone was finally revealed. Next, I popped off the back off the phone just like in the video! Happy days.

Right! Next step. The phone was well charged up so it was time to slot in the SIM card. It took quite a while to find the SIM card slot but eventually I discovered it. The thing is, the slot looked too small for a SIM card. What’s all this guff about a micro SIM card? What the heck is a micro SIM card?

It turns out that these days some phones use a micro or even a nano SIM card. OK, time to call up my service provider, in this case Virgin Media, and ask for a micro SIM. Anyway, three days later my micro SIM card appeared in the post and I slotted it successfully into the mobile. A quick chat with Virgin and I was up and running, or so I thought. The new SIM will be ‘live’ in the next hour the nice lady at Virgin told me, or it could even be 24 hours. Funny how they never mentioned 72 hours but yes, 72 hours and several phone calls later to Virgin Media and my new phone and micro SIM were finally up and running.

Since then, a whole new world of digital communications has appeared before me on my new smartphone. I can now sit down in my favourite restaurants and bars and ‘check in’ as they say on Facebook and other social media sites.

On my first day at work with my new phone I slipped it out of my pocket and took a sneaky glance – not to show off of course – just to check everything was OK, and was surprised to find an update from Google to advise me where my car was parked and for how long! OK, I knew where it was and roughly how long it had been there but there it was in black and white on Google. Technology, wow . .


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The Writer’s Guide to Mobile Phone Calls!

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s funny how mobile phones have literally changed the world. In fact it’s hard to remember a time when we didn’t have them. Off the top of my head I really don’t know what the last mobile free year was and to find out I’ve had to do a google search. The first mobile phone service started in 1983 in, well, where else? The USA. It wasn’t until 1992 that the UK had consumer mobile phones on sale. I remember buying one of the very first ones round about then, it was a motorola personal phone which was a pretty big device and seemed to use its charge up pretty quickly.
The first text message was sent in 1992 and the first camera phone appeared in 2000 with picture messaging available from 2002.

I love my mobile. It isn’t a smart phone but it does everything I need it to do. It has wi-fi which I hardly ever use. It has a camera which is a must for me as I’m always taking snapshots with it. My mobile also has a little memory card with some of my favourite music tracks so I can just plug in my headphones and it’s ideal for whiling away the time on that long train journey. Certain things about mobiles are annoying though and here are a couple of the main ones.

MobileQueuing up at a supermarket till and the woman in front is just about to pay then she decides to answer the mobile phone ringing in her pocket. Is it a vital call? Is it of major importance? No, it’s her mate calling up for a chit chat but all of us in the queue have to wait while she carries on chatting as if she has all the time in the world. I’m at the point of saying “We’re all wanting to pay and get off home!” when someone behind me shouts “We’re all wanting to pay and get off home! Put that f***ing phone down!” The lady appears shocked to hear this but we are all highly fed up of her, including the supermarket till lady.

Why is it that when a vital call is required in a TV soap, the soap star in question has left their mobile behind or is out of battery or even just doesn’t bother to answer? Soap writers just can’t get their heads round mobiles! They are just a plot busting device so what do they do? Characters leave them behind, run out of battery or just plain ignore their phones. Sorry, that just doesn’t happen in real life. Take a look around you in any public place. People are glued to their mobiles!
The other day my phone was ringing and when I looked it was an unknown number. Now, and this is another great thing about mobile phones, you can see who’s calling you! Great stuff! Don’t want to deal with a call from the ex – just don’t answer her!
Called a sickie in to work and your boss rings you in the pub? Leg it into the toilet, put on a croaky voice and say to the boss, “Can’t talk at the moment, I’m really poorly!”

Now normally I wouldn’t necessarily answer an unknown caller after all, it’s bound to be some plonker trying to sell you double glazing but; and here’s the thing about writing and trying to get stuff published, I’ve currently got quite a bit of product ‘out there’ sent to publishers, magazines, and producers, all with my name, address and mobile number displayed prominently so I could not afford to miss that call. I was particularly hoping to hear from a radio drama producer who had looked at a radio play I’d written and had not rejected it out of hand but liked it and wanted to look at the next draft. Well, I wasn’t really contemplating a next draft; I thought the piece was pretty much ok as it was, in fact, I was pretty pleased with it. Here’s what I’d done, I’d taken all my nerdy knowledge as a self-confessed conspiracy theorist, written something about –not the JFK assassination but the RFK shooting, re-invented it as the shooting of a British MP, set it in Manchester and thrown in a lot of speculation about organised crime and MI5 and stuff and thought I’d arrived with something pretty good.
Anyway, you can imagine my feeling when my mobile was ringing. I very briefly imagined a scenario where the radio producer was offering me a lot of money, asking me about who I wanted to play the main characters; did I need a car to pick me up for the rehearsals and what about the recording day? Was the 20th a suitable date? Well, I’m sure you’ve got the picture, anyway, so I pressed the answer button on the phone and here’s what happened; I thought I’d put it in script format just so you can really get a feeling for the scene:

(INTERIOR DAY, STEVE HIGGINS IS AT HOME, WATCHING TV.)
(FX: MOBILE RINGING.)
STEVE: Hello.
CALLER: Is that Steve Higgins?
STEVE: Yes, speaking.
CALLER: Steve, have you ever considered replacing the windows of your house?
STEVE: (APPREHENSIVELY) Well, actually, no I haven’t. .
CALLER: Well here at the Acme window company we have chosen you exclusively to receive a very special discount offer of 45 percent when you replace the window frames of your house with our fully guaranteed hi tech replacement double glazed windows and frames made from hyper glass, our new and exclusive new-
(CLOSE UP OF MOBILE AS STEVE ENDS THE CALL. CUT TO DISAPPOINTED LOOK ON STEVE’S FACE; FADE OUT)

Writing isn’t particularly easy but it’s something I’ve always done and have always loved. The end product is usually its own reward but like any writer it’s great to have your work get somewhere and be read by others. That’s why I so love the digital age. Every time I publish something on wordpress and get some tiny comment back or even just the odd ’like’ it’s a great feeling.
Just going back to the radio producer and his request for another draft it just reminded me about screenwriter William Goldman’s book, Adventures in the Screen Trade. Goldman tells how it’s fine to get your script finished but then the producer always wants another draft and then the star steps in, he wants a new draft and he doesn’t like it when his character does this, he thinks the character should do that so can we have another draft and then he drops out and the new star likes the script only he doesn’t think that should happen so, can we have another draft please . .The day I actually get to hear my characters on the radio investigating the shooting of my fictional MP I’ll be overjoyed but I have a feeling that if the script ever gets produced, someone other than myself will have had a hand in the proceedings.

Anyway, just to finish, here’s my favourite mobile story. Many years ago when I was working as a bus driver in Warrington, I was at the wheel of my bus but had got stuck in a queue of traffic just as we were approaching Warrington bus station. I picked up one of my fellow drivers who had nipped out on his break and popped into the shops. We were talking about a nutter who travelled on our buses and chatted to all the drivers. Now some nutters are pretty nice people when you get to know them but some are the bane of a bus driver’s life! I didn’t really care for this particular guy so I tended not to let him on my bus if I could help it. By coincidence we saw the same guy just then, walking along towards the bus station and my friend said, “go on, pick him up.” Well we were stuck in a traffic queue going nowhere so I opened the doors and let him on. I don’t quite remember how this nutter looked but he did have a kind of Lara Croft thing strapped to his leg.
“What is that?” I asked him.
“That’s me mobile phone,” he said and pulled out a big 1990s style mobile. “I love it,” he said. “You can have loads of fun with it.”
“Fun? In what way?”
“Well,” he said, “watch this.”
Now in the next lane there was a tatty old builders van with a mobile number painted on the rear doors and behind it was a very smart Jaguar driven by a very posh chap wearing a suit and tie.
The nutter dialled the builder’s number and when the call was answered said something like this;
“That bloody van of yours is a disgrace! I’m sat behind you in the traffic and your engine fumes are bloody choking me! Get that great heap off the bloody road!” Then he cut the builder off.
Nothing happened for a moment then the builder, a man with a physique not unlike that of the incredible hulk, squeezed himself out of his van and walked back to the Jaguar.
Just then the lights changed and we drove off. I’ve always wondered what happened next but if you ever get a phone call like that in Warrington check that there isn’t a guy with a mobile phone strapped to his leg in something like Lara Croft’s dagger sheath nearby!


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Floating in Space

What would life be like without your mobile?

It’s funny how mobile phones have literally changed the world. In fact It’s hard to remember a time when we didn’t have them. Off the top of my head I really don’t know what the last mobile free year was and to find out I’ve had to do a google search. The first mobile phone service started in 1983 in, well, where else? The USA. It wasn’t until 1992 that the UK had consumer mobile phones on sale. I remember buying one of the very first ones round about then, it was a motorola personal phone which was a pretty big device and seemed to use its charge up pretty quickly.

The first text message was sent in 1992 and the first camera phone appeared in 2000 with picture messaging available from 2002.

MobileI love my mobile. It isn’t a smart phone but it does everything I need it to do. It has wi-fi which I hardly ever use. It has a camera which is a must on any phone that I buy but when it comes down to it, I don’t really take many snapshots with it. Certain things about mobiles are annoying though and here are a couple of the main ones.

Queuing up at a supermarket till and the woman in front is just about to pay then she decides to answer the mobile phone ringing in her pocket. Is it a vital call? Is it of major importance? No, it’s her mate calling up for a chit chat but all of us in the queue have to wait while she carries on chatting as if she has all the time in the world. I’m at the point of saying “We’re all wanting to pay and get off home!” when someone behind me shouts “We’re all wanting to pay and get off home! Put that f***ing phone down!” The lady appears shocked to hear this but we are all highly fed up of her, including the supermarket till lady.

Why is it that when a vital call is required in a TV soap, the soap star in question has left their mobile behind or is out of battery or even just doesn’t bother to answer? Soap writers just can’t get their heads round mobiles! They are just a plot busting device so what do they do? Characters leave them behind, run out of battery or just plain ignore their phones. Sorry, that just doesn’t happen in real life. Take a look around you in any public place. People are glued to their mobiles!

Anyway, just to finish, here’s my favourite mobile story. Many years ago when I was working as a bus driver in Warrington, I was at the wheel of my bus but had got stuck in a queue of traffic just as we were approaching Warrington bus station. I picked up one of my fellow drivers who had nipped out on his break and popped into the shops. We were talking about a nutter who travelled on our buses and chatted to all the drivers. Now some nutters are pretty nice people when you get to know them but some are the bane of a bus driver’s life! I didn’t really care for this particular guy so I tended not to let him on my bus if I could help it. By coincidence we saw the same guy just then, walking along towards the bus station and my friend said, “go on, pick him up.” Well we were stuck in a traffic queue going nowhere so I opened the doors and let him on. I don’t quite remember how this nutter looked but he did have a kind of Lara Croft thing strapped to his leg.

“What is that?” I asked him.

“That’s me mobile phone,” he said and pulled out a big 1990’s style mobile.

“I love it,” he said. “You can have loads of fun with it.”

“Fun? In what way?”

“Well,” he said, “watch this.”

Now in the next lane there was a tatty old builders van with a mobile number painted on the rear doors and behind it was a very smart Jaguar driven by a very posh chap wearing a suit and tie.

The nutter dialled the builders number and when the call was answered said something like this;

“That bloody van of yours is a disgrace! I’m sat behind you in the traffic and your engine fumes are bloody choking me! Get that great heap off the bloody road!” Then he cut the builder off.

Nothing happened for a moment then the builder, a man with a physique not unlike that of the incredible hulk, squeezed himself out of his van and walked back to the Jaguar.

Just then the lights changed and we drove off. I’ve always wondered what happened next but if you ever get a phone call like that in Warrington check that there isn’t a guy with a mobile phone strapped to his leg in something like Lara Croft’s dagger sheath nearby!


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Marlon Brando, Texts, and Extraordinary Behaviour

quotescover-JPG-83My brother sent me a text a few days ago, it read simply ‘You don’t remember me do you?’ Probably a little confusing to the man on the street but I knew exactly what he meant. I responded with; ‘I remembered you the moment I saw you!’ My brother texted  back straight away; ‘By the nose huh?’ The thing is, my brother and I are movie buffs, or to be more accurate, classic movie buffs and we sometimes text in movie dialogue.

Here’s another text; ‘Meatballs!’

I replied with ‘Definitely!’

Picked up on the movie yet? Well that it’s one of the great motion pictures of all time. It starred Marlon Brando in an Oscar winning performance, much better, much more exciting and above all, much more human than his other Oscar winning role in the Godfather. Here are  some more text clues;

My Brother: ‘What did that man mean just now?’

Me: ‘Oh don’t pay no attention, he’s drunk, falling down . .’

My Brother: ‘He’s just a juice head that’s hangs round the neighbourhood, don’t pay no attention.’

Another text read ‘Some people have faces that stick in your mind.’ And some movies have dialogue that can stick in your mind too, especially if you like your movies in black and white and served with a large helping of classic.

image courtesy wikipedia

image courtesy wikipedia

The movie was ‘On the Waterfront’ and it’s probably famous for the double act of Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger playing brothers but there are plenty of other wonderful performances and scenes. My personal favourite is when Brando and Eva Marie Saint walk together in the park and Eva drops a glove which Brando picks up but keeps hold of and eventually pulls onto his own hand and we know that Eva wants it back but, well watch the movie, believe me it’s a great scene.

My brother and I do text each other a lot but we also chat on the phone too. The thing is though; we tend to talk on the phone with East European accents. We starting doing it one day then began a sort of unspoken contract to carry it on. Sometimes I’ll get a call and he might say, in his best Hungarian accent ‘ Gut Evenink my friend.’

‘Gut evenink to you also my friend’ I tend to replyIt’s fun but sometimes I get odd looks, especially if I’m in Sainsburys or at the bar of my local pub. Which brings me finally to another text he sometimes sends; ‘Extraordinary behaviour!’

(In case you didn’t get that one, remember the 1955 movie ‘The Colditz Story’ ? Eric Portman says the line towards the end of the film!)


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