Everything you need to know about Shopping.

Believe it or not, I like shopping. Yes, really! I actually like shopping. Although born into the latter half of the 20th century I am a man who has embraced 21st century ideals. I don’t expect women to stay at home and do the cooking, washing, cleaning or shopping. No, as a new age man I am willing to get in there and sort out the shopping. Not the daily shop you understand, more of the occasional shop. .

I love shopping in Lidl and Aldi and I love checking out all those special offers in the centre aisles. You know things like, well the other day I saw this great set of ski goggles in Lidl. They had these special lenses and this special strap, and they were tinted and had this special anti-glare stuff on the lenses. Now it just so happens that I have never actually done any skiing. In fact I’ve never really been that interested in it. I mean actually paying to go somewhere that is cold? I don’t think so but then again. Imagine being on a flight that gets diverted and ends up in the French Alps. What would I do then? Sorry, can’t go skiing because I haven’t any ski goggles. You can see just from that quick example those ski goggles might have been worth it. Anyway, I managed to resist them in the end.

Another item that caught my fancy was some really tasty drill bits in a really nice case. I was tempted even though I don’t do that much drilling. Of course I do some drilling. I have a really rather nice drill and it was only months ago when I used it last. Actually, it may have been last year, or was it 2017? I know I did put up this really cracking set of bookshelves back in 1995 but anyway, once again I managed to resist the temptation to purchase.

Interestingly, a few weeks back Liz and I went into Curry’s to look for a new TV. We had already seen one on the World Wide Web but thought why wait for delivery? Why not just run up there and pick one up?

Of course the TV that we wanted wasn’t available. ‘You’d have been better ordering on the Internet’ said the salesman. No wonder Curry’s is only one third of the size it used to be; everyone is just ordering on the Internet.

When we mentioned we wanted a 32 inch TV the guy said ‘right, it’s for a caravan is it, or for the bedroom?’

Actually it was for the lounge, it’s just that we don’t want an oversized monstrosity taking over the entire room! (Actually now I think on, I quite fancy one of those huge TVs!)

When we mentioned we wanted a integrated DVD player the guy once again looked right down at us. A DVD player? ‘Well that’s old technology’ he said. ‘People tend to use Netflix nowadays.’

Look, whatever, It just so happens we want a DVD player, OK!

Right, said the guy but what about a Smart TV? You can watch Netflix, YouTube and all sorts of things. You do have Internet don’t you?

We do, only Liz’s bungalow is rather long and the Internet tends to stay over the other side of the house. Sorry Mr Smarmy Curry’s salesman: no sale and if I want a DVD player I’ll get one elsewhere!

Of course most of my shopping I do for my elderly mother in her local Asda store and there are some excellent departments there that I do like to visit. The CD section in Asda isn’t quite as interesting as the music area used to be. Now it’s a rather small section with only a limited few CD’s on sale because a lot of people tend to download their music. Sorry but once again I’m of the old school of music buyers, I want something physical for my money. I know I’m not going to get a big sleeve like in the vinyl days with some interesting sleeve notes. These days the sleeve notes are so small I need a magnifying glass to read them but I like to have something I can hold and look at and touch.

Sometimes I think back to those long gone Saturday afternoons flicking through records in the numerous record shops in Manchester. Sadly, that is just a distant memory now. Once I was always down at HMV in Manchester where they had an in store DJ. She was a really nice girl, very approachable and very into her music. She recommended all sorts of albums to me but I was usually in there hunting for some album or artist I had heard on the radio.

I remember going in one day to find the in-store DJ had been replaced by a radio version, someone, presumably at head office in London, who broadcast music to all the HMV stores. Later, in 2013,  the  store closed down completely after more than twenty years on the same site. Browsing records and videos in HMV and then popping into my favourite book stores before settling down in some back street pub for a drink, ah, those were the days.

Music shops are few and far between these days so where is left if you want to buy a record rather than download? Oh yes, the CDs and DVD department of your local superstore!

Moving on through Asda I do like to check out the the clothes section. It’s not so easy finding clothes to fit a huge gynormous great lump like me so it’s always worthwhile just checking out the supermarket menswear section because sometimes I will actually find something that will fit me.

Occasionally in the sale section I’ll find some really great XXL shirt lingering among the unwanted items but even then, I find that sometimes one man’s XXL is another man’s L!

Right that’s the proper shopping sorted, now for some day to day stuff, a quick whiz through and I slap a few things in my trolley; bacon, eggs, tomatoes, bread, milk and so on.

The big problem in any supermarket for me is that no matter what, some strange force will unerringly guide me to the totally wrong till. Now, I won’t just jump onto any till. I will observe closely, check out the options and then choose the wrong one.

Here’s a for instance, yesterday at Asda. All the main tills were full of people with a huge trolley of goods, enough to last me about a month so I ignored those and went on down to the basket section. Two tills were open here, one with about four people ahead of me, the other with about ten. A no brainer I thought, go for the one with four people. I just managed to nip in before a crazy looking lady with a failed 1960’s style beehive hairdo. She waited behind me for a short while before bailing out in favour of aisle 2.

Now my usual tactic is not to unload any stuff until I am sure of the lie of the land but on this day I felt confident enough to do so. Big mistake! On till number 2, weird looking crazy beehive lady seemed to be moving forward at a fair old speed while my till wasn’t doing much. Strange because the four people in front of me had only a sparse collection of goods and in till number 2 each of their people had a good selection of items.

Shortly after, crazy beehive woman seemed to be pretty much on a par with me and moments later was actually ahead. That checkout girl in aisle 2 was certainly doing the business. Up at the front of aisle 1 my checkout lady was far too chatty but not only that, something seemed to be going on up there and our checkout girl called over the checkout girl from aisle 2 to assist.

This didn’t go down well with the people from aisle 2 and crazy beehive lady clearly wasn’t happy as she was now stalled only a matter of feet from the till and freedom. Over on my side there was a battle under way to remove the security tag from a bottle of spirits, possibly vodka, but sadly checkout lady 2 gave up and returned to her till while we waited for the manager to sort out the security tag.

I felt like saying come on, do you really need a bottle of vodka at 2 in the afternoon but I kept silent and moments later, crazy beehive woman was off although not before shooting me a victorious look which seemed to say ‘that’ll teach you to nip in front of me at the checkout!’

Eventually, our till got sorted, the vodka bottle was freed up for sale and we moved on.

I knew that till was going to be a big mistake!


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

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.

Ally Mcbeal, Eddie the Eagle and my TV Hard Drive

Looking back at some of my previous posts I see that back in April I was waxing lyrical about the onset of spring, the lengthening of the days and how nice it was to finish a night shift and find myself greeted by daylight as I left my workplace.

This week I was back on the night shift again but as I climbed into my car I had to crank up the heater for the first time in many months. I always think that September going into October is a sad time of the year. The days get shorter, the weather is colder and it is time to start wearing my fleece to work.

Being back home after three weeks in France is frankly, something of a let-down. The washer is humming away cleaning our holiday gear. I’m thinking about where I can put all that unnecessary stuff I bought at the brocantes and vide greniers we visited. The prospect of returning to work is no longer looming on the horizon, the moment is actually here. There was a time, I remember sadly, when I actually loved my job and looked forward to going back to work. Alas, those days are gone.

My car, my trusty Renault Megane convertible is a veritable hive of CDs. The glove compartment is full of them as are the pockets in the driver and passenger doors. Down in the passenger footwell there is a box of CDs which is interchangeable with one in the boot. When I get fed up with the selection I swap them round and the box I am tired of goes in the boot and the other one comes into the front. When I am tired of both boxes, I take them back home and make up a new selection.

Today, going back into work I had a good search through them for something new to listen to. Radio adverts are just not on my agenda. TV adverts, OK I can live with them, you can pop into the kitchen and make a cup of tea, yes, OK but radio ads: Not on my watch as they say. Anyway, the CD I decided to listen to was an album of songs from the TV show Ally McBeal, mostly by Vonda Shepard but with a sprinkling of guest singers. Ally McBeal was a comedy drama that aired back in the nineties and it’s surprising that it hasn’t turned up on some random Freeview TV channel yet. Ally McBeal played by Calista Flockhart was a Boston Lawyer and the show focussed on the antics of Ally and her colleagues not only in the courtroom but also in the local bar, which is where the music comes in. There were a heck of a lot of songs sung in that bar.

Music played a major part in the show and Vonda Shepard covered some classic pop tunes all slotted in carefully with lyrics that corresponded to the storyline of the show. One of my absolute favourites was Vonda’s cover of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s ‘Alone Again (Naturally)’ a hit single for O’Sullivan from 1972.

Gilbert O’Sullivan featured regularly in the music charts until the 1980’s when he began a legal battle with his music publisher Dick James regarding royalties and the ensuing legal contest stopped him from releasing his music.

In Ally McBeal, John Cage and Richard Fish were the co-owners of the law firm where Ally works. Cage was an oddball attorney nicknamed ‘the biscuit’. I loved his odd ways, his ‘taking a moment’, his antics in the communal toilet area and his invocation of the spirit of Barry White when he needed a confidence boost. Richard Fish was another oddball lawyer and also part of the firm was Billy, Ally’s former boyfriend and his new wife Georgia. Legal cases were up there in the foreground, actually the background and in the background, actually the foreground, if you see what I mean, were the loves and lives of the cast.

One thing that was important on returning home from holiday was checking the hard drive on my TV recorder and finding out just what was lurking there. What had recorded and what had failed.

There was of course three weeks of our favourite soap, Coronation Street lying in wait so we decided to have a duvet day, actually two duvet days of non-stop soap action. In some ways Corrie is best watched just like that. Fast forward through the adverts and no waiting between Friday night’s cliff hanger episode and the Monday night follow-up.

Some things seem to sort of leap out when you watch a soap in that fashion. One storyline involved Sean Tully, one of the Street’s gay characters. Sean packed his job in at the local factory in favour of a new job and new flat in the city centre. It turned out though that his job had fallen through, then he returned to live with friends who had to give him notice due to some new arrangements. Then it was revealed Sean had lost his job and now was actually homeless. Sean endured a few weeks of living rough in a tent and trying to conceal the shame of his new position from friends but suddenly, the way it is in soaps, his old friend Billy offered him a room at his house, he got his old job back and hey presto, all is well again.

It was nice that the soap tried to show a little of what life is like for the homeless but couldn’t they have carried the storyline on a little longer, like things are in, you know, real life?

Then again there was the storyline when poor old Rita started losing her memory and was diagnosed with dementia. Luckily there was that quick lifesaving operation and Rita’s brain power and memory were restored just like it never happens in real life. And there was the one about young Simon who had become violent towards his mother. Luckily, he quickly grew out of that phase. Oh well, that’s soaps for you.

Also there on my hard drive were two formula one Grands Prix. The Belgian Grand Prix from the impressive and historic Spa Francorchamps and the Italian race from the equally historic Monza. There was a time too when I would have hungered to watch those races. As it is, Formula One still has its moments and I do still love the sport but not like the days when I bought a shed load of racing magazines every week and hungered for every snippet of racing information I could find.

While in France I subscribed to Radio Five Live’s F1 podcasts. Now the podcasts are not quite what I had thought they were going to be. I thought they might be an audio version of the race highlights with the commentators breathlessly describing the race track action in the way Murray Walker used to do in the old days. (Murray, for those of you who have never heard of him, was a BBC commentator who was once described as a man who talks like his trousers are on fire -in his quieter moments!)

No, the podcasts were not like that. They start off, unlike the TV highlights show on Channel 4, by telling you the results, and just how they came about. Then there are 30 to 50 minutes of driver interviews and endless discussion about what happened, why it happened and why didn’t something that didn’t happen, not happen. Yes, interesting but maybe the production team assumed we listeners had watched the race on TV. Actually we hadn’t, or at least I hadn’t, which is why I was listening to the podcast in the first place.

There were some exciting elements to those races, Hamilton and Vettel colliding at the first corner at Monza and Hamilton hunting down Raikkonen’s Ferrari and just pipping him for the win. Still, watching those races a few weeks after they had happened just wasn’t my cup of tea.

Anyway, soon it was time to go back to work but before that we sat down one evening after our tea looking for something to watch. Nothing was on TV (naturally) so once again I scanned through the hard drive and came across a film I had recorded about Eddie the Eagle.

In 1988, Eddie became the first skier to represent Britain in Olympic Ski jumping since 1928. The film describes Eddie’s life as an Olympic obsessed youngster and his progression to ski jumper. He self-trains in Germany where the seasoned skiers belittle him. However by grit and determination, Eddie qualifies for the Olympics in Calgary despite resistance by the Olympic team for his amateur and uncouth appearance. Eddie turns the tables on everyone by his determination and humour and in fact becomes the star of the Olympics, feted by the world’s press.

The film is an enjoyable and affectionate portrait. I’m not sure just how accurate or true it is but I enjoyed every minute of it and if I had been there at the Olympics, I would have been cheering for Eddie myself.

Well, that first night shift was hard. Not actually hard in itself just hard to endure, sitting there wishing I was back in my rented villa tapping away on my laptop trying to finish a new blog post so that I could hurry out for a dip in the pool, after decanting some vin rouge to breathe, of course.

When I finished at 6 am it was still dark and rather cold. As I pulled away from the car park I turned up the heat and switched on the CD player. Vonda Shepard was singing another of my favourite songs, a cover of the Dusty Springfield’s hit, I Only Want to be With You . .


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.

 

Rumours, Motorhomes and the Red Carpet Treatment

Motorhomes.

As you read this I will hopefully be making my way to France via the channel tunnel in Liz’s tidy little motorhome. This is not -as you might be thinking- my summer holiday. In fact its my pre-summer holiday! Yes, we are off to a wedding in the Alsace region of France and have decided to make the trip in the motorhome and make things into a mini holiday, a nice precursor to our main holiday also in France later in the year.

We have already had a trip to Scotland in the motorhome but this trip to France is one I’m really looking forward to. I really do love driving through France, exploring sleepy french villages, antique shops and of course, restaurants. If no restaurants appear on the horizon, which I seriously doubt very much, we can always park up and slap some sausages into the frying pan. Things taste so much better when cooked out on the road.

The forecast in France is not looking that great for the first few days which might come as something of a shock to our system as for the last few weeks the UK has been in the middle of a major heat wave. Garden hoses and sprinklers will soon be banned I’m sure and apart from having some trouble sleeping in the warm nights things have been very nice in the UK. We’ve had plenty of barbecues and for most of the time I have been wandering about in the same pair of shorts and an old vest, occasionally interchanged with a smart pair of shorts and a smart polo shirt when I have ventured out into town.

The weather has had quite an impact on our laundry as I have given up wearing socks for the duration of the heat wave. Shoes have been replaced by sandals and jeans have been pushed firmly to the back of the wardrobe. When the washer has been taken for a spin it’s so hot that the washing is dry in no time at all.

Many people have mocked me in the past for buying a convertible motor car. ‘When is he going to use that in rainy UK’ they may have thought? Yet how I laugh when I motor serenely by, roof down, sunglasses firmly fixed in place as I offer a cool wave to my friends, boiling in their conventional motor vehicles. I have heard some talk of ‘air con’ but what on earth is that? Must be bad for you and it really can’t compare to having the roof off your car and being bathed in fresh, warm, natural air, can it?

The Red Carpet Treatment.

Last week our friend Veli who runs the Anotolia Turkish Restaurant in St Annes invited us to the launch of his new venture the Anatolia Sea View Restaurant down on the seafront. Veli must have some good contacts because also in attendance were the local mayor, the local MP and various minor celebrities from the north-west, including Bobby Ball whom UK readers may remember from the comedy duo Cannon and Ball back in the 80s. Anyway, it was nice to step along the red carpet and be handed a glass of bubbly by our favourite waiter Zoltan and nibble at various Turkish delicacies from the buffet.

Rumours.

I never used to be a great album buyer, in fact back in the 70’s and 80’s I was always a singles man but I do have a few vinyl albums in my collection. In the CD age I have built up quite a substantial CD album collection and it’s always nice to pick up a CD version of a classic vinyl album and I did plan at one time to gradually update my album collection from vinyl to CD like that, record by record. Then again, by the time I’ve finished I can imagine the CD will probably be defunct and some new technology will have replaced it.

What is interesting these days though is how bands tend to update their work and issue new versions of their classic stuff. We can now get classic albums ‘re-mastered‘ and with other versions of the original tracks. That is all very well but what it really means is that the record company can now add on a few extra quid to the price tag.

On the BBC a while ago I watched that late night show about classic albums and the subject happened to be Rumours, the hit Fleetwood Mac album. Rumours, in case you didn’t know, was released in 1977 and reached the top of both the US and UK charts. Four tracks from the album were released as singles and all did well in the charts. The BBC show revealed how the album was made and the personal relationship issues that fuelled the creative song writing. Following on from that I decided to do a search on Ebay for Rumours and spotted a ‘new’ version of the album for sale.

The version I saw on Ebay was remastered and claimed to be a deluxe and special version but after further searches and examinations, I now see that for a few quid you can get, quite cheaply, the basic CD version of the original album. Also available, a little pricier, is the ‘re-mastered’ version. For a little more money the remastered 2 disc version can be bought and for even more money, a remastered special 3 disc version. The 3 disc version was too pricey for me but after a few Ebay bidding excursions I managed to get hold of a reasonably priced 2 disc version. Now I had planned to save it for our journeys in France however, in France, as much as I enjoy driving there I do have to concentrate on what I’m doing because it involves driving on the wrong side of the road. In the UK I feel I’m something of an ‘automatic’ driver because I rarely think about my driving, I’m just on my personal auto pilot and my inner driver takes over. Not something that’s a good idea in France.

So, on my last block of night shifts before journeying away, I cranked up the old motor, slipped CD1 into the player and set off for work. It was good. Not quite as good as my Fleetwood Mac Greatest Hits CD but good all the same. CD2 was similar but was mostly alternative versions of the same tracks. Verdict: It was an OK album but not head over heels brilliant. Glad I didn’t fork out for the  3 disc version!

Anyway, here’s one of my favourite tracks.


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

Working Out that Sweet Illusion!

Not so long ago I had a check up at work, nothing exciting just a routine health check. However they noticed that my blood pressure was a little high. Anyway a while later I thought I’d better go and see the doc about it. He did another check and confirmed, yes, my blood pressure was a little high. He in turn sent me down to see the nurse and she checked my pressure too. Once again the verdict was it was a little high. The nurse recommended that I take home a blood pressure monitor for a month and record the readings. The thing was, all the monitors at the practice were currently out with patients and were being used so they had to put me on a waiting list.

That was last year so now fast forward to January: A blood pressure monitor had become available but guess what? I was on holiday in Lanzarote for a month! Oh well, that’s the National Health Service for you. Anyway, the reason for me rambling on about all this is that the nurse offered me a free 12 week membership at the YMCA to see if 12 weeks activity might bring down my weight, my blood pressure or even both.

Liz and I then appeared at the YMCA in St Annes for our induction. Wearing my rather tasty track suit I picked up in the Asda sales, we were shown around the premises and given a run through of how to select certain weights on the weight training machines. We were also shown how to work various machines and introduced to the cross trainer, a sort of walking device with big handles so you can work out your arms and legs together. All these devices were kitted out with computerised systems which delivered the results of your work out at the touch of a button. So many calories burned. So many miles walked and so on. Tom our trainer, recommended we spend 10 minutes warming up on the walking machine before we went through our paces. 10 minutes warm up? Heck, I was knackered after 5 minutes!

Anyway, we carried on for another 30 gruelling minutes and I have to say it was all rather enjoyable. I burnt off a number of calories, at least 7 and even managed to walk and cycle quite a few miles. I did fancy a dip in the jacuzzi just to finish off but apparently, the YMCA doesn’t have one. Pity because a nice soak in a jacuzzi would have finished things off nicely.

I noticed that a lot of the other gym users were plugged into mobile phones or MP3 players, presumably listening to music while they jogged. As I didn’t bring mine I had to be content with listening to a few tracks in my head. Funnily enough, most mornings I tend to wake up with a tune running through my head. I usually have something of a stretch then potter off to sort out a cup of tea for myself and Liz. When I get back that tune will still be strumming away and sometimes I’ll know exactly what it is, other times the answer is just slightly out of reach. Anyway, back in the bedroom and Liz will be just reaching out for her cuppa and I’ll say ‘Guess what tune I woke up singing today?’

Now, you might think a simple answer would be in order but no, after all she is female. What she will do is ask me to guess what tune she woke up to that morning! When I decline she’ll tend to ignore me and just carry on to tell me about her tune. If it’s one I’ve never heard of she’ll probably even try to find it on YouTube. Eventually, some time later, we’ll get round to my tune. Now the tune in question on this particular morning was this: ‘Sweet Illusion‘ by Junior Campbell. Remember that one from 1973? It’s actually a great little track and one of the first singles I ever bought.

Now here’s the thing, why should I have woken up on a bank holiday Monday with that tune playing in my head? Sometimes I’ll hear a tune on TV or maybe playing on the jukebox in the pub. Then I can only guess that the tune will get trapped in my brainwaves, do a few circuits of my cranium while I’m asleep and surface into my consciousness just as I awake. Don’t remember hearing Sweet Illusion recently. Don’t think they played it during the pub music quiz either.

Two of my favourite live bands do a lot of cover versions. The Electric Boogie Club didn’t cover it last time we saw them although they do a cracking version of that old O’Jays hit ‘The Back Stabbers‘. April Moon are another band we like but again, Sweet Illusion is not one of theirs. Could it have meandering round my subconcious since 1973? I doubt it but then again, there is plenty of free space up there!


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information!

Cars, Codes and Coming Home

The end of a holiday is always a sad time, even more so when you’ve been away for a whole month. Our flight to Lanzarote was pleasant and comfortable but the return journey was on a different sort of aeroplane, one in which far too many seats were crammed in together and the flight was very, very uncomfortable. They just don’t make planes suitable for big people like me.

Anyway, our flight arrived in Manchester 20 minutes early and just as we passed through passport control we picked up a call from our lift; he had arrived and was in position at the drop off point just outside the Jet2 building. Happy days! A quick visit to the toilets and we made our way over but guess what? Our driver was nowhere to be seen.

We waited and waited and eventually gave him a call. The police, who are very sensitive regarding parked cars around the airport these days, had moved him on and he was about to turn round and come back. The big problem was that just up the road, a host of roadworks were in place denying traffic access to the roundabout. The only alternative was to carry on ahead on the M56 motorway so Jay, our driver was forced to carry on to the next exit and then turn back, a diversion that took him about 20 minutes to negotiate! When he finally arrived back we were cold and shivering, unused to the current February UK weather.

My lovely old motor, my Renault Megane convertible had been parked up for a whole month and I did notice, last I time I drove the car, that it wasn’t starting quite as promptly as it usually does. When I returned home my faithful motor was there just as I had left it, ready, or so I thought, to go. I sat down, felt the comfy leather seats, slipped in the key and everything lit up just as it should do. The only thing was that when I pressed the starter a groaning noise issued forth from under the bonnet and after a brief turn of the motor a red battery light began to flash on the dashboard.

There was nothing for it but to put in a call to the RAC. It was, they told me, a day of exceptional demands on their staff so my recovery agent would be on scene with me in anything up to 4 hours! Luckily, I had parked on a neighbour’s drive a few doors down the road so I went home to await the call from the RAC man who promised to call me when he was a few minutes away.

Almost three hours later, it was dark and cold and the RAC man arrived, promptly diagnosed a dead battery and offered me a deal on a new one with a five-year guarantee. I coughed up my credit card and not long afterwards I was back on the road. Later that evening I decided to take a run down to Manchester and spend some time with my elderly mother. Now one of the things I love about my car is the perfect opportunity it offers to listen to music. In fact, I think that listening to music in the car is really the only way to listen to music; clear and uninterrupted and driving seems to somehow put one in the perfect frame of mind to listen and enjoy music.

Driving to Manchester is a good 90 minute drive, mostly on the motorway and like any long journey I popped in a CD, slipped into first gear and settled down ready to chill with some of my favourite music, in this case a compilation I made myself from the Kate Bush double album Aerial.

Nothing appeared to be happening and I glanced over at my radio screen only to see not ‘CD loading’ as I expected but a flashing message saying ‘input code’! Yes, as the battery had been disconnected the radio had reverted to that regrettable situation, one I had not experienced for many moons, of requiring a security code to be input. By this time I was just joining the motorway and could only emit a silent scream of agony, compelled to continue my journey in silence instead of the musical interlude I was so looking forward to!

A few days later, back in St Annes I scoured through my collected motoring invoices and came across my original purchase note for my car. Was there a car radio code? No! A search on the internet provided various hits for people who would find my code for a price, the cheapest was in the £30 region. I did come across a forum where someone said Renault main dealers were happy to supply radio codes but the next comment was ‘no they won’t’

Anyway, undaunted I called the Renault dealer where I had bought my car some ten years ago. The lady who took my call transferred me to another lady and lo and behold, within moments I had the radio code! So, thanks to Blackpool Renault dealer Arnold Clark and that very nice lady, I was able to take my next journey with the chilled out sounds of Kate Bush playing on my in-car stereo. Pity I was on my way back to work!


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10 Great Christmas Singles from the 1970s!

It’s that time of year again and although I was a little bit behind in my blogging schedule last week, I have got it together, or at least hope I’ve got it together for this week.

For this Christmas post I started off trying to compile my favourite Christmas singles but then realised most of them were from the 1970s, so quick blog title change and here we have it, the best ever Christmas singles from the 1970s!

Although this hit single from the unlikely pairing of Bing Crosby and David Bowie was released in 1982, I’ve included it here because it was recorded for a television special in 1977.

This version of ‘When a Child is Born’ was released in 1976. Perhaps a little bit on the sugary side but what the heck, it’s Christmas!

A track I’ve always liked from Elton, ‘Step into Christmas’. This was a hit for Elton in 1974.

‘Wonderful Christmastime’ was a hit for former Beatle Paul McCartney in 1979.

‘I believe in Father Christmas’ was a hit for Greg Lake in 1975. According to Wikipedia, Greg Lake says the song was a protest at the commercialisation of Christmas.

‘Lonely This Christmas’ was a 1974 hit for Mud. Personally I prefer Tiger Feet!

Boney M had a number of hits in the 1970s. This was their Christmas hit in 1978.

Not my favourite Christmas hit. I never really liked this one back in the 70’s although now, forty odd years later, it’s starting to grow on me. I even posted a meme on Twitter the other day. It was a picture of lead singer Noddy Holder with a caption saying ‘It’s not Christmas until Noddy says so!’

‘RentaSanta’ is a record you might not remember. It’s a collection of clips from other songs with DJ Chris Hill providing some amusing links.

‘I wish it could be Christmas Everyday’ by Wizzard. I’ve  loved this record ever since I first heard it back in 1973 and I have placed it in its proper place at number 1, absolutely my favourite Christmas record ever!

Have a great Christmas!

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

The Third Man, George Michael, and HMV

The other day I turned on my DVD player for some serious TV viewing. I had The Third Man lined up and ready to watch. Cheese sandwich primed and alcoholic beverage at the ready. Orson Welles plays a great part in the movie but of course, he isn’t in it that much, which is why I have always thought it strange that the BBC showed the movie in 1985 as a tribute to Welles when he had just died. Citizen Kane would have been a better choice surely?

Anyway, as my DVD player flickered into life I noticed the George Michael documentary ‘Freedom’ was just beginning on live TV. The programme had been continuously hyped by Channel Four for the previous week so, what the heck I thought. Put The Third Man on hold and let’s see what George has to say.

The documentary was narrated and co-directed by George himself and completed just before the singer’s untimely death at the age of only 53.

A lot of the reviews of the film seem to say how honest the film was but it seemed to me to skim over a lot of things in his life. His arrest in a public lavatory in the USA by an undercover police officer was not mentioned. Neither was the incident where he fell out of his chauffeur driven car on the M1. Maybe he just preferred to concentrate on other things in his life. A big focus of the documentary was when he took his record company to court over his recording contract. That was fairly interesting but another event the film brought into focus was when George was the recipient of the best soul album award at the Grammys and a few members of the black music community apparently weren’t too happy. That experience fuelled George’s next album Listen Without Prejudice. The thing is, was Faith really a soul album? Was George a soul singer?

If you ask the question into Google, What is soul music? This is what comes back:

A kind of music incorporating elements of rhythm and blues and gospel music, popularized by American black people. Characterized by an emphasis on vocals and an impassioned improvisatory delivery, it is associated with performers such as Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and Otis Redding.

I’m not sure George Michael fits into that category but then again, we’re talking about music not some mathematical computation. Music genres shift and merge, one man’s soul is another man’s jazz. Another man’s jazz is another man’s pop!

Another genre crossing track was David Bowies’s Young Americans which reached 28 in the US Billboard Top 100 in 1975 and I’m pretty sure topped the US soul charts too. Bowie himself said of Young Americans that is was “plastic soul, the squashed remains of ethnic music as it survives in the age of Muzak rock, written and sung by a white limey”.

A few years back my favourite radio channel was Jazz FM. My car was constantly tuned to it. I was always down at HMV in Manchester where they had an in store DJ. She was a really nice girl, very approachable and very into her music. She recommended all sorts of albums to me but I was usually in there hunting for some album or artist I had heard on Jazz FM. Then one day I tuned into to Jazz FM, only to find Smooth FM. What had happened to my radio station? Well, it went digital and as I don’t have a digital radio in my car I’m no longer able to listen to it. Still, at least I have my Jazz FM CDs. What’s quite interesting is that looking at them, they feature quite a lot of soul artists. After all, modern jazz is pretty much like soul in a way. Aren’t soul, jazz, and funk all related?

Anyway, getting back to George Michael, his documentary just wasn’t all that brilliant for me. There were a lot of big stars praising George, stars like Stevie Wonder and Elton John. Looking a little out of place was the foul-mouthed Liam Gallagher who despite knowing, presumably, that this was a tribute film about George, he managed to throw in a fair few F words and the occasional C word too. Liam is a big fan of John Lennon and although Lennon wasn’t a saint, the people of Liverpool can be pretty proud of Lennon and his achievements both as a musician and as a peace activist. Speaking as a Mancunian, it’s a pity we cannot say the same about Liam Gallagher.

HMV Manchester. Picture courtesy Manchester Evening News

As for HMV Manchester, I remember going in one day to find the in-store DJ had been replaced by a radio version, someone, presumably at head office in London, who broadcast music to all the HMV stores. Later, in 2013,  the  store closed down completely after more than twenty years on the same site. Browsing records and videos in HMV and then popping into my favourite book stores before settling down in some back street pub for a drink, ah, those were the days. I probably bought my Third Man DVD there, or was it Ebay? Certainly, the buying power of the Internet may well have played a part in HMV’s demise.

Anyway, for me, Saturday afternoons will never be the same again.

George Michael did make some good music and he was a good singer but I wouldn’t put him up there in the pop legends’ category. I don’t think I have a single one of his records in my collection but I do like this track he recorded with Mary J Blige. Great video too . .


If you enjoyed this post, why not try my book Floating in Space? Click the links at the top of the page or watch the video below for more information!

Music on the Move

Generally speaking, especially when a long journey is involved, I need music in my car. A quick trip to Sainsburys, ok, I can get along without it but to endure the forty-five minute motorway journey to work, I need music.

My taste in music has come a long way from my younger days in the 1970’s when I bought the latest chart singles (well not actually the latest. I always used to wait until they dropped down the top twenty and were reduced to half price!) Back then a top twenty single was three minutes of magic and how I must have driven my Mum and Dad demented when I played a new single time after time after time . .

Sorry Mum and Dad. . .

Anyway these days I like something that lasts longer than three minutes so here are a few of the CDs from my current in-car playlist.

Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds.

A firm favourite in my car is Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds. Yes, not only music but an album that tells a story with some drama and narration from that fine actor Richard Burton. Yes, this is an album ready for a good listening to and it’s not just a few quick singles; it’s music, dialogue, a good story and some excellent music -the perfect accompaniment for a long journey. Richard Burton’s narration is excellent and the dialogue elements are highly enjoyable, as are the musical sections.

Justin Hayward reached the UK top five with Forever Autumn, a shortened version of the album track and there are more vocal contributions on the album from Julie Covington, David Essex and Phil Lynott.

The whole thing is a sort of mix between radio drama, pop/rock music and contemporary orchestral works. I love it.

Kate Bush

I don’t know about you but in the past I’ve never had any real interest in Kate Bush. I’ve never disliked her but I’ve never felt compelled to buy any of her music. In fact, her early work has always sounded good but sort of odd if you know what I mean. Her slightly screechy ‘It’s me, Kathy, come home again’ was interesting but I never bought a copy and ‘Babooshka Babooshka‘ was ok but again, I never felt compelled to buy Kate’s work.

Some time ago I watched a documentary about Kate on BBC Four and I found myself liking the sounds and the melodies I heard. Straight afterwards I started searching on Ebay for her albums and found her latest work was the music I liked. Aerial is a double album full of lovely rhythms and melodies. It’s perhaps more akin to music that comes under the genre ‘chill out’ than her earlier frantic singles. I love the quick changes of direction, the way one track merges into another or into some soothing morning birdsong. The tracks on this album do not comply with the standard three-minute rule and they ebb and flow with Kate’s mood. Lovely stuff but be prepared to sit back and enjoy. This album is not something you can easily put away.

Ministry of Sound Chill Out Sessions.

Now, you might be surprised to see the Ministry of a Sound as one of my musical choices but I do like my electronic music. These compilation albums of chilled down dance tracks are the sort of music that does it for me these days.

Bands include Groove Armarda, Air, Kinobe, Jakatta and Massive Attack and many of the tracks are alternate mixes; the Club Mix, Pete Heller’s stylus mix, or the Electric Lounge Session re mix.

A typical song title is something like I am the Black Gold of the Sun (4 Hero Remix Edit.) Crazy stuff when you are used to a record title like Brown Sugar by the Rolling Stones!

Yes, the motor car is a place of comfort, a highly personal space. Sometimes I think I should invest in a digital radio for my lovely motor, then again, WeBuyAnyCar.com have valued it at a measly £398 so is it worth it?

Well, whatever it is worth I am happy with my car. If it is another warm night when I finish my late shift tonight I might just drop the roof down and drive home with the wind rushing through my hair, imagining for all the world that I am Hollywood scriptwriter cruising down Sunset Boulevard in my convertible ready to drop off another million dollar hit at the studios.

I can see myself now, reaching for my hand-held tape recorder, dictating some idea for a script, another blog post, perhaps even the sequel to Floating in Space. My hands touch the steering wheel lightly as I slip smoothly through the gears. With the sound of Nitin Sawhney’s chilled down spiritual moods wafting over me I think for a moment and then an idea begins to form . .


If you liked this post why not try my book, Floating in Space? Click the links at the top of the page or take a look at the video below and listen to me tell you more. . .