Avatar and The Cycle of Life

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

2002 (ish)

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

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

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

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

2021

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

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

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

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

2002 (ish)

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

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

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

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

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

2021

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

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

See, the world is a circle after all!


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TV, Westerns and The Outlaw

Once upon a time Howard Hughes was the richest man in the world. In today’s society being the richest man requires some serious wealth and Howard Hughes ticked all the financial boxes you can think of. He inherited his father’s tool company when he was very young. Too young in fact to take control but he found a law that said if he could prove he was capable of running the company then he could take control. He proved he could and did just that, took control. His father had designed a tool bit that was essential to America’s oil industry but instead of selling the drill bit he patented it and then rented it out. Howard Hughes though had other ambitions which did not involve oil or drilling but the profits from the Hughes Tool Company were vital for his ambitions in aviation and film making.

Hughes combined those two interests in making the WW1 movie ‘Hell’s Angels’ about fighter pilots and for the shoot he assembled the largest private air force in the world. Towards the end of the shooting, sound pictures made their appearance so what did Howard do? He reshot the entire film with sound equipment!

The_Outlaw-poster-trimAnother movie Hughes made that is famous, or perhaps infamous, was the 1943 Movie ‘Outlaw’ starring Jane Russell. Hughes appeared to be obsessed with Jane’s breasts, even to the extent of designing a new bra for her and reshooting a famous close up of her time after time. Hughes clearly had some psychological issues; he was a compulsive, obsessive man. He usually had the same meal when he went out with one of the many starlets he courted. Jane Greer recounted in a TV interview how Hughes would eat things in the same order; the peas first, then the potatoes and finally the meat. Once when they dined Hughes came back to the table and Jane noticed that his shirt was wet. Hughes had spilt something onto his shirt so he had washed the shirt in the men’s room, rinsed and squeezed it out, then put it back on.

As his mental health deteriorated, Hughes retreated into a world of blacked out penthouse suites and midnight telephone calls to his army of assistants, some of whom were private investigators keeping close tabs on anyone Hughes had an interest in, particularly starlets he had signed to personal contracts and his girlfriends like Katharine Hepburn or Jean Peters whom he later married.

Anyway, this isn’t a post about Hughes, it’s about TV and looking through my old posts I noticed a couple that caught my attention. One was about Hughes and I have to confess, I pinched the text above from that post, and another was about my life as a couch potato and avid TV viewer. A few days ago, staying at my mother’s house I once again had a few couch potato days. On the first one I was tapping away on my laptop with the TV on but no sound. On Mum’s old TV you can go through the on screen menu and choose programmes you want to watch and the TV will flip to that channel at the appointed time. It was Saturday afternoon and even though that Saturday’s post had just been published, as usual I was already worrying about the next one.

As I looked up from my laptop I could see a new film had started. I switched on the volume and was surprised to find it was The Outlaw, the Hughes film I mentioned above. I had never seen the film and everything I knew about it came from either books, documentaries or films like the Aviator, the Martin Scorsese film about Hughes himself. Hughes filmed The Outlaw in 1941 but had trouble with the film censors of the time. He had to cut half a minute from the film where the camera had lingered for too long on Jane Russell’s ample bosom. 20th Century Fox however decided not to release the film thinking perhaps it was too hot to handle. Hughes decided to build his publicity on that very idea. The film was released for a quick showing and then Hughes put the film under wraps for the next few years while his publicity people whipped up controversy and hysteria, meaning that when it opened in 1946, released finally by RKO, the film was a huge hit.

Even over half a century later people like me are still liable to be caught up in the controversy because I always thought the film was about Rio, the character played by Jane Russell and was of a risqué nature, or at least as risqué as films could get in 1941. I have to admit I missed the beginning of the film the other day and the famous scene of Jane Russell in the hay must have occurred either before I looked up from my laptop or when I was in the kitchen making a brew.

Hughes seemed to be obsessed with Jane’s breasts and wasn’t happy with the way they looked on screen, so much so he designed a new cantilevered bra for her, perhaps the first push up bra ever made. Russell later claimed that the bra was a nightmare to wear so she simply used her own but padded the cups with tissue, which apparently achieved the effect that Hughes wanted.

The action, such as it was, seemed to revolve around the friendship which blossomed between Billy the Kid and Doc Holliday which seems to make Pat Garrett very jealous as he considered himself a better friend to the Doc than Billy. It was actually a quirky sort of film. Walter Huston, father of film director John, played the part of Doc Holliday and Jack Buetel, an actor I don’t think I’ve heard of before, played Billy.

Billy the Kid has been portrayed a number of times in films, as have Pat Garrett and Doc Holliday. Paul Newman played Billy in The Left Handed Gun, a part originally earmarked for James Dean until Dean was killed in a car crash. In the 1970’s Sam Peckinpah directed Pat Garret and Billy The Kid starring James Coburn as Pat Garret and Kris Kristofferson as Billy. Bob Dylan also had a small part as well as writing the music for the film including the hit single Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.

Billy the Kid was killed in 1881 by Pat Garrett. There were rumours however that Pat staged Billy’s death so that he would be free of pursuit by the law. That scenario was used in the end of The Outlaw, although in the film it was Doc Holliday who gets the bullet but it was Billy’s name on the gravestone.

One of my favourite cowboy/outlaw films has to be Jesse James, the 1939 film starring Tyrone Power as Jesse and Henry Fonda as his brother. The film was so successful that they made a sequel, The Return of Frank James starring Henry Fonda as Frank on track to find his brother’s killer.

Two more outlaws whose fame has lasted right down to the present day were Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid and the two were played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford in a film called just that: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I saw a film programme a while back on the BBC where Paul Newman explained that screenwriter William Goldman had approached him about making the film and starring as Butch. Various people were suggested for the Sundance Kid and Newman even met with Steve McQueen about the part but eventually it was Robert Redford who won the role.

The film was released in 1969 but has a very 1970’s feel about it. There is even a musical interlude in the film where Paul Newman tries out a new fangled bicycle with Sundance’s girlfriend Etta to the tune of Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head.

My two favourite westerns both star John Wayne, the quintessential cowboy hero. Wayne starred in The Searchers, directed by John Ford. Wayne stars as a civil war veteran whose niece has been kidnapped by a band of warlike Commanches. Ethan Edwards takes his adoptive nephew on a long search for the kidnapped girl until they finally rescue her.

My other favourite is The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Lee Marvin plays a brilliant part in that of Liberty Valance, a mean, no good bully who terrorises a western town until lawyer James Stewart manages to shoot him dead, or so we think. Later, when Stewart decides he is unwilling to base his career on being the man who shot Valance, John Wayne reveals what really happened.

Back in the fifties and sixties was probably the heyday of cowboy films and TV shows. Today it seems that the western is a genre that has been almost forgotten. As a schoolkid I was an avid watcher of The Lone Ranger, Branded, The Virginian, Bonanza, Casey Jones and many others. One of my favourites was Alias Smith and Jones, a series about two outlaws, Kid Curry and Hannibal Hayes who are on the run but have been offered an amnesty on the condition that they give up crime and go straight. They adopt new identities, that of Smith and Jones and try to live law abiding lives. It was a great series with some excellent episodes but in December 1971, Pete Duel, the actor who had played Hannibal Hayes committed suicide. Another actor was substituted in the role but the series was never as popular afterwards.

Another great western was Kung Fu. Kung Fu was an oddball western in many ways; it was about a half Chinese, half American called Kwai Chang Caine played by David Carradine. Caine becomes a Shaolin monk after he has been taken in by the monastery as an orphan. Caine has been tutored in the Buddhist religion and martial arts by master Po. When Po is murdered by the Emperor’s son, Caine retaliates and kills him. Now with a price on his head Caine flees to the USA. In the USA of the old west, Caine encounters many situations which then cause him to reflect on his own upbringing and tutoring in China, shown in many flashback sequences. Caine defends himself in many situations with his mastery of Kung Fu and the series became not only a great success but the forerunner in a world wide Kung Fu craze with many Hong Kong martial arts films also becoming popular.

The western film and TV shows seemed to have all fizzled out by the end of the 1970’s. Perhaps these days audiences prefer sci fi series like Star Wars and Star Trek. Tastes change of course and one day perhaps audiences will once again want more westerns. For now I think I’ll settle down after a busy shift, pour myself a glass of wine and wind down with my copy of John Ford’s The Searchers.


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A Brief History of the Disco Era (with a little help from Google)

I do love my music. At home when there is nothing much on the TV I like to flip through the recommendations that come my way on Spotify. In my car I listen to CDs. I have always told myself that my precious CDs were too good to be dragged about in my car so I lovingly copied them to writeable CD discs, carefully, in most cases editing out the tracks I didn’t like. I’d be my own invisible DJ making up new CD albums with a track from here, another from there and so on. Lately, I haven’t done that so much and seeing that I don’t play my CDs much at home, I decided not to copy them just to bring the original CDs themselves into my car.

The other day after a particularly bad day at work, a day that was busy, where things didn’t go so well and I was just wanting to forget about things and release all the stress that had built up, I searched for something new, some music that I hadn’t played for a while that would relax me. I chose a CD that was a 1970’s disco collection.

I cranked my motor up, turned up the volume and as I turned onto the M6 motorway heading for home, my mind went back to a better time, a younger, easy going more relaxed time. I went back to the disco era.

So when did the disco era start and what was the first disco record?

Looking on Google to answer that question gives up various results by numerous authors and music writers but the answers are invariably just the opinions of those same writers. One answer was Rock the Boat by the Hues Corporation, another was She’s a Winner by the Intruders. (Never heard of it.) It might even have been that disco classic, Never can Say Goodbye by Gloria Gaynor. When it comes down to it, there is no definitive answer.

A lot of disco music comes from the soul tracks of the early seventies by groups like the O’Jays, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes and the Trammps. Later, traditional pop bands tried to emulate those soul groups and the resulting soul/pop sound that became disco began emerging in the early 1970s in US urban night clubs and discotheques.

Here’s another random disco fact: the word discotheque is a French word meaning a library of discs. Discotheque became used in France to describe a nightclub where playing records had replaced a live band in the 1940s during the Nazi occupation. Discotheques are where disco music began and something else that I noticed on Google were comments about the disco clubs of the seventies, the most famous one must have been the Studio 54 club in New York.  Another google result mentioned that Seventies Disco was born on Valentine’s Day 1970, when David Manusco opened The Loft in New York City.

Anyway, that’s enough of Google for a while so here are some personal memories.

The record I probably most associate with disco is The Hustle, by a group called Van McCoy. I have a feeling they were just one hit wonders but I might be wrong. The Hustle seemed to me to be the perfect disco record at the time. Great tune, a great dance beat and just really well put together. Looking back at the track today in 2021, it’s still good but it’s not the work of musical genius I once thought it was.

Back in the mid seventies I used to occasionally visit the discos of Manchester, places like Pips, Saturdays, Rotters, Fagins and a dozen other clubs I can hardly remember. There was a club called Sands in Stretford which was always packed to the seams but the disco I remember the most was one I wrote about in Floating in Space, it was called Genevieve’s.

Genevieve’s was in Longsight, which was a pretty rough area of Manchester and one of the hazards of the place was that if you went there in your car, you never found it in quite the same shape as how you left it, if you found it at all.

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

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

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

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

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

I spent a lot of my young life in that club. Despite the watered down drinks and the frequent fights, my friends and I had a lot of fun there until one day it either closed down or we found a better place to go.

The track that really reminds me of that club was Bus Stop by the Fatback Band. It had a strong disco beat and lyrics that just seemed to consist of ‘Bus stop!’ ‘Do the Bus stop!’ ‘Are you ready? Do the Bus Stop!’

In 1977 John Travolta appeared in the ultimate disco film ‘Night Fever’ and Travolta danced away to the music of the Bee Gees and tracks like ‘Stayin’ Alive’ and the title track ‘Night Fever’. I don’t ever remember there being dancers like that in any club I ever visited but what the heck, it was still a good film.

It wasn’t enough to buy the records and dance to disco records in clubs, you had to look the part too. I had a stack of shirts with ‘penny round’ collars and matching fat ties and quite a few pairs of flared trousers. Oh, and don’t forget the 1970’s platform shoes. I must have looked about seven foot tall back in those days.

Disco came to an abrupt end in 1979 in the USA where there seemed to be an outcry against the genre. Many music fans apparently felt that the music industry had been taken over by disco and many artists who had begun to produce disco music themselves, people such as Rod Stewart, were accused of selling out. In the UK and most of Europe, disco music morphed seamlessly into new electronic music. Artists like Michael Jackson took dance music to a new level and his album Thriller which spawned a number of hit singles became one of the best selling albums of the 1980’s.

What was the last ever disco single? The easy answer is that there wasn’t one. Dance music continued into the eighties and from there to the present day. Groups like Shalamar and Colonel Abrams just carried on producing dance tracks but if I had to put my finger on any one track as being the last of the disco era, I’d vote for I’m Coming Out by Diana Ross, released in 1980 when flared trousers were making way for drainpipes and when ties and shirt collars were thinning down.

What was your favourite disco track?


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A Few Pandemic TV Thoughts

Lockdown may have finished on December 2nd in the UK but if you live in a tier 3 region, like me, it’s still going on. OK, I understand the need for the lockdown, I know we have to prevent the virus from spreading but that doesn’t stop the whole thing being a pain in the neck. No quiz nights at the pub, no restaurant meals out and so on. Not only that but why does the virus have 2 separate names? Is it Covid 19 or is it Coronavirus? And where does the 19 come from? Was there a Covid 18?  Does this mean there have been 18 previous versions of this insidious plague? If so, why have we never heard of them? We, the public, need to know.

This being December it certainly isn’t the time of the year for relaxing in the back garden but at least we have our TV set to keep us entertained. What TV gems have I found this week?

Showing on an obscure TV channel, Forces TV, I found the old Gerry Anderson TV series UFO. The show still looks pretty good after many years on the shelf. Ed Straker, the boss of SHADO is still trying to defend the world from alien attack and he and his colleagues look pretty good in their natty suits. In fact the whole thing looks pretty futuristic despite its obvious 1980’s origins, more so than Star Trek which, as much as I love it, does look very 1960’s.

It just so happens that I can remember that SHADO stood for Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organisation. What is interesting about that is this: The other day I went into the bedroom to get something and forgot what it was I’d gone in there for and yet I still knew what SHADO stood for.  A contributory factor might be that as a youngster I fell off a playground roundabout right onto my head. In fact, I can remember it like it was yesterday, falling off head first and heading towards the ground, actually a concrete slab and taking a hell of a whack on my bonce. Yes, that hurt, it really did but I’m still wondering what I wanted in the bedroom.

Anyway, when I mentioned Star Trek above. I’m talking about the original Star Trek, not the slightly lacking Star Trek:The Next Generation. Captain Picard and the cocktail lounge atmosphere of his space craft was not my cup of sci-fi at all and while Picard was running all the command decisions past everyone from the ship’s counsellor up, Kirk was already hitting the aliens with phasers on stun and getting up close and personal with some gorgeous interplanetary beauty.

The original Star Trek, like UFO was shot on film and today looks pretty sharp compared to the Next Generation which was shot straight to video. The original series was given a digital makeover a few years back with digital effects and new CGI spacecraft and is looking pretty good these days. The franchise has spawned quite a few follow up series and films. After the Next Generation came Deep Space 9 which was just as bad as the Next Generation if you ask me and then Star Trek Voyager. I actually like Voyager but it didn’t start off well for me and as much as I liked Captain Janeway, her oddball hairstyles just annoyed the hell out of me until in the later series they decided to employ someone who actually knew how to style hair and Janeway ended up looking pretty normal.

As Janeway became normal, the writers decided to shake things up with the pretty sexy Seven of Nine character. She was rescued from the Borg, an alien race whose catchphrase is you will be assimilated. Seven was given a very appealing tight fitting catsuit to wear instead of the Space Federation regulation uniform. Catsuits are OK and maybe they are pretty popular in the 24th century but they never seem to have any pockets. What Seven does with her handkerchiefs, lip gloss, mobile phone and purse I really don’t know. In the future people must prefer looking sexy rather than worrying about their stuff, at least they do in the eyes of the Star Trek writers.

While on the subject of cat suits, I feel I must mention, even just for a fleeting moment, the original cat suit girl who, at least in my mind, was Mrs Emma Peel played by Diana Rigg in the TV show The Avengers. The Avengers started off as a crime drama starring Ian Hendry as a police doctor, assisted in solving crimes by the dapper John Steed. Hendry left the show leaving Steed, played by Patrick MacNee needing a new assistant. His assistant was Kathy Gale played by Honor Blackman. She left the series to star in the film Goldfinger and Emma Peel was recruited as Steed’s new assistant. Kathy Gale was also a catsuit wearer although she seemed to prefer a leather version. When Emma Peel joined the series, the show moved from video to film and the production values increased enormously. The show also began to move in a sort of sci-fi fantasy espionage direction. Off the top of my head, I remember episodes about a mad scientist who shrinks other scientists and Steed, down to a small size, killer robots, time travel and cats that become wild animals.

Another problem with tight fitting cat suits must surely come whenever the wearer needs a bathroom break. Imagine having to strip right down just so you can have a wee. On board the Enterprise I can imagine that, like in any spaceship, space must be at a premium so the toilets must be pretty small. Now this is the perfect opportunity to introduce my own personal experience of using a ladies toilet. Years ago, when I had a cigarette vending machine round (writer, blogger, vending machine repairman -I’ve done it all) I remember visiting a pub in Prescot in Merseyside. I can’t remember the name of the place but it was the reverse of a normal pub in that most old pubs usually have a big room; the lounge and a small one, the vault, where men play cards, pool and darts. In this pub, the big room was the vault and the lounge was the small room. Anyway, after servicing the cigarette machine I wanted to use the toilet so I asked the cleaners, who were pretty fierce in that place, could I go in the gents. No she said, the floor was still wet but I could go in the ladies.

The ladies I soon found was actually two rooms, one with three toilet stalls and an outer room where you could wash your hands. The outer room had two huge mirrors for making sure your hair and makeup were OK and two comfy couches where the women could sit and presumably have a good natter before going back to join the men. Yes, that ladies toilet was a real eye-opener for me used to, like all men, smelly urinals.

Diana Rigg left The Avengers to become a Bond girl, just like Honor Blackman before her. Diana starred in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as the woman who finally got 007 to the altar only to be shot later by Bond’s enemy Blofeld.

Anyway, getting back to Star Trek, the latest series in the franchise are Discovery, which is rather like watching a very fast music video, I gave it a good 15 minutes and then had to switch off, and Star Trek Picard, which sees the return of Captain Picard and various other characters including Seven of Nine from Trek’s back catalogue. I actually quite fancy watching that but alas, not having Amazon Prime I’ve yet to do so. Pity because it actually looks pretty good from the clips I’ve seen on YouTube. Eventually it will filter down to the Freeview channels and one day I’m sure I’ll see it late at night on BBC2 perhaps.

William Shatner who starred as Captain Kirk in the original series is a firm favourite of mine and it would be rather nice to see his character pop up again. Star Trek: Kirk sounds like a pretty good idea for a new series to me. Shatner is now 89 years old and still going strong. His character was actually killed off in the Star Trek film Generations which started off pretty well, combining the usual sci-fi elements of Star Trek with an intriguing mystery; who is the mysterious Soran and what is he up to? As it happened what he was up to wasn’t really that interesting but the film marked the cinema handover from the original Star Trek cast to the new one. Pity really because as I mentioned above, I never really took to the Next Generation.

Star Trek is ultimately about three people, Kirk, Spock and McCoy and the producers probably realised that, which is why, in the latest Trek films a new generation of actors have been asked to recreate the old roles meaning that Captain Kirk lives on again for a new generation of sci-fi fans.

Another old show repeated currently on the CBS justice channel is The Fugitive starring David Janssen as Dr Richard Kimble, falsely accused of the murder of his wife. The show ran for four seasons but as viewer ratings began to fall, the series was cancelled. It was then that the producers hit on what at the time was an unusual idea. Instead of the show just ending, they decided to make an actual finale. Yes, they would wrap up the story of Kimble’s wife’s murder. Kimble had been searching for the supposed one-armed man he had seen leaving the murder scene for the past four seasons, now he would finally find him!

Back in the 1960’s, TV was not very highly thought of even by the TV networks themselves. So what if Kimble never finds the murderer. So what? It’s only a TV show. Of course, the viewers would disagree. They had kept faith with the series for four long years, they deserved a proper ending.

The final episode aired on August 29th 1967 and in the USA the viewing figures were a sensation: 72% of US TV viewers were watching that final episode and the show held the most watched record until November 1980 when someone shot JR in Dallas.

When I watched The Fugitive yesterday, I think we were up to episode 20 in season 4. Hope I remember to watch that final episode, then again, I still can’t remember what I wanted from the bedroom!


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Airports, Saturday Nights and Ally McBeal


I really hated work this week. I hated it for a number of reasons even though I only worked one day. Now as I’m semi-retired I only work three days anyway so one day, well, you might think ok, that’s not so bad, wish I only worked one day this week. Wrong! I actually wish I’d not worked any days. The first day I was poorly with a bad tummy. Day two I was still poorly although not quite as bad and day three I was feeling a little better so I went back to work. I was actually feeling bad about having those two days off, yes guilty about taking sick leave. Maybe I should have called in sick the third day and then after my six days off (yes, I get six days off) I’d be fully ready to start work again. Come to think of it, that would mean fifteen days off wouldn’t it? (Six plus three plus six, see what I mean?)

 Oh well, I still hated that one day either way. The funny thing is, I was recently looking at my horoscope and it said something about how I needed to get rid of something in my life to make room for something new. Is the cosmos hinting that I should just pack the job in? Would a great new job then come my way? It’s a nice thought but I’m not convinced. I tend to look at horoscopes for entertainment rather than to see into the future so I’ll just keep sending out my CV for now.

After my one day at work I thought I’d spend a couple of days at my mother’s house and make sure everything was ok. The garden was looking good. I had planned on giving the lawn a trim but I thought, what the heck, it’ll be ok for another week. More time for me to write and work on my various projects.

One long running project is the sequel to Floating in Space. It’s called the Girl in the Yellow Coat and it’s about a character that made a fleeting appearance in Floating, a girl in, guess what, a yellow coat. As I’ve not worked on it for a while, I started reading through what I had written so far, which then made me look back at Floating and read some of that. I love my writing, I really do. I’m not claiming it’s brilliant or anything but the thing is it’s written for me, I write it purely for myself so I’m bound to like it. The other thing is that a lot of my work is based on real things, real events and real people and sometimes when I read it I remember the real things that inspired the story. It’s like a walk down memory lane, looking back on things I’d actually forgotten about and people who I hadn’t thought about for years. Maybe that’s why I’m not making much headway on the book; I’m too busy reminiscing about stuff to get creative.

Another project I’m working on is making another version of one of my most popular YouTube videos; it’s called Manchester Airport 1986 and follows my late friend Steve and myself talking about spotting aircraft in and around the airport. I was never a real plane spotter myself but as a child living a stone’s throw from the airport, it was fun to tag along with my friends who were. I did love watching the big jet planes taxi out to the runway and blast off to their various destinations around the globe and people like Steve, Paul, Phil and various others all jotted down aircraft numbers into their notebooks. In the video, Steve and I visit a quiet country lane round the back of the airport where plane spotters gather and many other places like the Tatton Arms pub, ideally situated on the runway approach path and the old and original Airport Hotel. I say original because various other places have sprouted up in the area using that name.

On a whim on Saturday afternoon I decided to drag my brother out and cajoled him into filming with my video camera while I drove to the old locations. What about a sort of then and now video I thought, comparing the airport of 1986 to the huge place it has become now? Going into the airport itself I knew it was going to be different but I wasn’t prepared for just how different it actually was. There are three terminals at Manchester now and T2 was closed because of Covid 19. Anyway we wandered around and filmed various things although many areas seemed to be coned off and everywhere there were double yellow lines. Manchester Airport is not a car friendly environment and cars are discouraged from stopping or loitering. Nowadays you even have to pay to use the drop off and go areas.

I did manage to find the entrance to the multi storey car park which looked familiar. Back in 1986 Steve and I went to the top level and joined various other plane spotters watching aircraft but last Saturday I thought I’d save that for another day. I went off in search of that small lane round the back of the runway. That was easier said than done. Back in the 1980’s there was an old country pub called the Ship in Styal village, a posh village that is actually over the county border in Cheshire. It was a sleepy old pub and sometimes my friends and I would visit on a Friday or Saturday night.

On this particular Saturday afternoon the tiny car park was now three times as big as I remembered and was packed. The small lane was also crammed with parked cars making it hard to squeeze past. There is an old water mill further down that lane. We visited it once on a school trip. It’s nothing really exciting but today I could only imagine that all these visitors were either visiting the pub or the mill, after all there is nothing else in the village except the pub, the water mill and a small shop.

Eventually we managed to get past but in the old days the road carried on and eventually came to a steep hill just by the Valley Lodge hotel. Nowadays the road ahead seemed to have become a sort of pedestrianised walking area and traffic was forced off to the right. This must have been the old lane where we filmed in 1986 but the airport had grown and gradually encroached on and swallowed up some of the surrounding land. High barbed wire fences kept the public away and there were no longer any rough graveled parking bays to stop in. Eventually we came across a new and unfamiliar road which led us back into the airport itself.

The Tatton Arms looked similar to how it used to look but now it is now part pub and part bistro. We stopped for a moment, took a few pictures and left. Change is inevitable of course but I don’t think I was quite prepared for the scale of the change.

Getting back to Floating in Space, the main character, Stuart, is bored with his nine to five office job. He yearns for something different and lives for the weekend. The book starts off like this:

 The countdown starts on Friday afternoon at four thirty when my colleagues and I pour out from the Regal Assurance building and stream and scatter for the cars, buses, and trains that carry us away to different and better lives.  The countdown is for the weekend, and the weekend is one long high-energy cassette that plays on the hi-fi of life until that moment, that far distant moment, when the alarm bell rings for Monday morning and there are five days before you can rewind the tape and play it again.

That of course was 1977. In 2020 Stuart, like me might have been tempted to go into Manchester for a night out but Manchester is a hot spot as far as the Coronavirus is concerned. Bolton, a Manchester suburb has been forced back into lockdown because of a spike in Covid cases so for the time being I thought it might be better to just stay in and stay safe. That’s how I came to settle down in front of the TV with a can of Guinness and a packet of Doritos. I combed through my old VHS box looking for something I hadn’t watched for years. I picked up a couple of documentaries which looked interesting and then came across my Ally McBeal DVDs.

It’s a long time since I have seen Ally McBeal. It was a hit US show in the 1990’s and is something that I’ve never seen repeated even on all the new TV channels that have sprouted up, seemingly overnight. Ally was a Boston lawyer played by Calista Flockhart. She starts work at Cage and Fish, a Boston legal firm. The senior partners, John Cage and Richard Fish are two oddball characters presiding over a wacky company that has unisex toilets and on most nights everyone goes into a bar in the same building where resident singer Vonda Shepard regularly performs, sometimes handing the microphone over to the office staff. Barry White makes an appearance there as does Sting and other pop icons. The series is a comedy but with elements of drama, sentimentality and music all mixed in together.

My favourite character was John Cage played by Peter MacNicol. He was a shy character, unsure of himself who falls for Ally and fantasises about Barry White singing ‘You’re the First, My Last, My Everything’ in order to bulk up his confidence. In the first episode Ally loses her job at another firm because of sexual harassment, bumps into Richard Fish who immediately hires her and sets about suing the sexual harasser.

So that was my Saturday, getting lost at the airport, a place I used to know like the back of my hand. Staying in on a Saturday night and watching Ally McBeal, a TV show that was cancelled in 2002. What shall I do this Saturday I wonder?


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If that was 2019, You’ve had it!

Well, there goes another year. 2019. Was it a good one for you? Hopefully, it was. For me, 2019 was probably the year I became a carer. OK, I’d looked after my mother before but it was only this year that I became aware of how much help she really needed. Anyway, time for a quick look back focussing on my blog posts from this last year. All the links open up into another page to reunite you with my past posts.

I started this year off as a blogger with a post about me, yes, the real me. I started wondering how visible I really am on the Internet and came up with some surprising results in a post called Will the Real Steve Higgins Please Stand up?

Floating in Space is my novel as you probably know, I go on about it often enough and this post, 10 Books Rejected by Publishers was probably written just to console myself and make me think that Floating might one day become a proper published book, rather than a self published one.

While I’m on the subject of Floating in Space, I did get a bad review in 2019. Well, it wasn’t that bad really, it was someone who bought the book as a gift and when the recipient didn’t fancy it they decided to read it themselves and well, they didn’t like it. OK, Floating isn’t for everyone I suppose and we writers have to deal with bad reviews now and again.

A popular post this year was this one about food, A Foodie Sort of Blog Post which relied on those blog post prompts that we all sometime use when we are stuck for blog content.

A pretty exciting thing happened early on in 2019 when I was invited to be a guest on a radio show. It was really interesting and I took my video camera along and made it into a short video as well as a blog post.

I mentioned my Mum in the opening paragraph and here’s a post I wrote about trying to arrange an appointment for her about her hearing aid. Data protection issues stuck the boot in and made it really difficult.

This year, 2019 was the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. I remember it like it was yesterday, getting woken up for school and coming downstairs for breakfast to find the TV on and Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. How my mother got me off to school that day I’ll never know!

This year we holidayed in our motorhome and I didn’t get much of a chance to relax like I usually do when we rent a villa over there in France. Motorhoming holidays are all about travelling and in Sun Lounger Thoughts Part 9 I talked about our travels.

Here’s another post about our travels in France, this time focussing on the restaurants we stopped at.

I’m pretty keen on cameras and photography so here are two posts on the subject. This first one is about looking back and comparing my film cameras to my modern digital stuff. This second one is about some of my favourite snaps.

Should we talk about Brexit? Should I even mention it? Well if you haven’t had enough on the subject click here for the Brexit Blues Part 2.

I’ve not seen the latest Bond film yet but here’s a post about the relative merits of the actors who have played 007.

Here’s a final post about one of my favourite subjects, making that YouTube video.

That’s about it. Thanks to everyone who has read my blog posts and especially those who have taken the time to click the like button and to have even dropped me a few comments. All the best for 2020!


 

Gregory’s Girl and Memories of Schooldays

There are two films in particular that bring back memories of my schooldays. One is the classic movie Kes and the other is a film that I watched last Sunday night; Gregory’s Girl.

Gregory’s Girl was a low-budget movie made in 1981 and was written and directed by Bill Forsyth. The film is a gentle comedy about a young lad who fancies a girl who has just joined his school football team. The film was one of those special films where so many things come together to make a truly great and memorable film, in fact it is ranked number 30 in the British Film Institute’s list of the top 100 British films.

It reminds me so much of my own schooldays in so many ways. The hairstyles in the film were similar to those of myself and my friends back in 1973, the year I left school (armed with only four O levels to take on the world). The school ties and jackets were similar to mine, the classrooms and desks were also similar and lead actor John Gordon Sinclair’s gaudy and shy manner both on and off the football field was just like mine.

The scene where Sinclair, playing the part of Gregory, asked Dorothy for a date brought back memories. I remember asking some long forgotten girl out once. I had planned what to do and what to say but nothing came out. The girl, perhaps recognising my situation asked me ‘would I be going down the shops tonight?’

The shops, yes that’s where my school friends used to congregate of an evening and we didn’t do much except talk and wander about. Sometimes there would be a ball game, other times, just like Gregory, we’d go down to the chip shop and eat a bag of chips. We did talk, that long forgotten girl and me, but that was about all we did, after all we shared our ‘date’ with about six other people!

On Gregory’s date he borrows his friend’s jacket and my friend Chris also had a jacket which he loaned to his friends. It was his number two jacket, not quite as smart as his number one jacket and when Chris used to take us to places where we could ‘chat up’ the girls I would always get friends and acquaintances asking me ‘is that Chris’ jacket?’ I would always deny it but that jacket was pretty well known!

In the early seventies fashions were different and I was famous at my school for having the biggest and fattest tie, just like my hero, flamboyant TV detective Jason King. Back then my school pals and I all loved Jason King and his trendy outfits and we went out of our way to get a giant tie knot, just like the one Jason had in ‘Department S.’ Most of the kids got the big knot by tying their ties way down at the fat end of the tie making their ties short but at least with a big knot. I got some help with my tie from an unexpected source: My Mother!

We were watching Department S one day and I was wishing out loud for a big fat tie like the one Peter Wyngarde who played Jason King was sporting and she said to me “You could make one yourself. It’s easy.”

“Easy!” I said. “How?”

“Well, all you need is another tie to go inside the first one and make it bigger.” Sounds good I thought but how do you get one tie inside another? My Mum showed me how with a big safety pin! What you had to do was get your second tie, the one that needs to go inside the other, pin the safety pin to it and then you can thread it through the other one, manipulating it along with the safety pin which you can feel through the material.

I dug out an old tie and threaded it through my school tie, took out the safety pin and then tied my tie in the usual way. Result-one huge knot that Jason King himself would be pleased with.

The next day I went into school wearing my new fashionable tie and half the school–or so it seemed to me-were stunned by my trendy new school tie. Where did I get it from? How did I get such a knot? Did I tie it in a special way?

I remember once after games, getting changed in the changing rooms and everyone turned to watch as I fastened my tie. There was me, fastening the tie in the mirror with all my school mates watching. I had become a sort of mini school celebrity: The kid with the trendy tie!

“Here it comes,” said someone as I made the final tie of the knot, “Super knot!”

Well, my fifteen minutes of fame came, went, and vanished as other people worked out how to make their own special ‘super knots.’ Jason King went on to star in his own spin-off TV series then he too vanished into TV’s Golden past. Fashion moved on and in the eighties ties went the other way; narrow thin ties were the norm. Trousers lost their flares, jacket lapels slimmed down once again. ‘Penny round’ shirts were forgotten but then, that’s the great thing about old movies like Gregory’s Girl, whenever they pop up again on TV you can experience everything all over again!

Another movie that reminds me of schooldays, although in a different way, was Kes. Kes was a 1969 film directed by Ken Loach and based on the book A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines. It’s about a teenage schoolboy in a deprived part of Yorkshire. The boy comes from a dysfunctional family and he is bullied by his older brother. He fares badly at school and has few friends but seems to find a direction in life after finding a baby kestrel and he decides to care for and train the bird.

It’s a gritty film that pulls no punches and it’s shot in a realistic documentary style using a lot of local and amateur actors as well as professionals. One sequence that stood out for me was about a group of boys who are outside the headmaster’s study awaiting punishment. Another lad who comes along with a message for the head finds himself caught up with the guilty boys and given a few strokes of the strap as a result. When they shot the scene, director Loach assured the boys they would not be strapped and he would call ‘cut’ just in time. He didn’t and the result, seen in the film is for real.

My own headmaster was very like the head in the film. He used to give these long elaborate morning assemblies and talk, quite eloquently about some subject or other, the Vietnam war being one of his favourites and then, right in the middle of speaking he would burst out in a complete frenzy, shout at some boy or other to remove himself and wait at his office for punishment for talking during assembly. Why he couldn’t just make a note of the offenders and seek them out later or arrange for one of his teachers to direct the boys to his office I don’t know.

Looking at the trailer above there were some great performances from both amateur and professional actors. Brian Glover, a familiar face to British TV viewers played the aggressive football master and Colin Welland played one of the more sympathetic teachers. He was a veteran of the TV show Z-Cars and went on to write the screenplays for the movies Yanks and Chariots of Fire for which he won an Oscar.

Two movies then, both completely different in tone and outlook. Both wonderful viewing but one makes me look back and think ‘thank God my school days are over’. The other allows me to look back warmly and remember the good times. School days are important and I made such a lot of mistakes back then, mistakes that changed my whole life. If only I’d chosen my subjects better, if only I’d been more determined to be a writer back then and hadn’t had my head set so firmly in the clouds. Maybe I could have trained as a newspaper reporter and actually written for a living.

Either way, I’d probably still be here, still writing this blog although perhaps with a better title: Letters from a Northern Reporter sounds good . .


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.

Airports and Things

These last few weeks have seen something of a heatwave in the UK and of course we Brits are just not equipped to cope with extreme heat, well not in the UK anyway. In Spain the buildings are built to keep out the heat where as in the UK, our houses are insulated and are made to hang on to the heat throughout the cooler parts of the year as well as the usual dismal summers.

When I was a child a great lure for me on a hot summer’s day was the airport. My friends and I used to cycle to Manchester Airport and sometimes lurk around the terraces that used to welcome ‘plane spotters’ or more often than not, we used to ride around the back of the airport and wander down secret (or so we thought) lanes and avenues that backed onto the runway. We always headed for a popular spot, an old world war 2 pillbox where we would meet and observe the aircraft. I remember spending many happy hours there, jotting down all sorts of thoughts in my childhood notebooks while listening to the appealing drone of light aircraft or the exciting blast of jet engines. I sometimes imagined that the reason I so loved that light aircraft droning sound was that perhaps I was a World War One fighter ace in a previous life when that sound would have been so much a part of my existence.

Some time later, I think I was in my twenties, I knew someone who had an ambition to be a pilot and was taking lessons at Blackpool Airport. He used to alleviate his tuition costs by taking friends or colleagues on his training flights if they would drive him up to Blackpool.

On the day that I joined James (as usual, names have been changed to protect the innocent) as an eager passenger, I drove up to Blackpool Airport pretty excited. James advised that on the day he would be doing some instrument tests which involved flying the aircraft on instruments alone.

I stepped into the back of the small plane and strapped myself in. It was a hot day and the aircraft had a huge glass cockpit making it warmer still. I was at a point when I thought I would have to get out and cool off but just then the instructor turned up. He was an older chap and brought his big woolly dog along as he enjoyed, well so I was told, flying. Fido was led in to the rear seat with me and we eyed each other warily as he was strapped in.

The engine was started, we taxied out on to the runway and a few moments later we were aloft. It was exhilarating to look down on Blackpool and the tower, a place where I had spent many happy holidays as a child. After a while James had to put on a rather odd-shaped helmet which blocked out the view through the windscreen and he could only see his instruments. The small plane flew higher and higher, Blackpool Tower becoming the merest pinprick in the distance. Then the engine stopped.

image courtesy wikipedia.

image courtesy Wikipedia.

I’m not sure if you have ever seen one of those World War Two films when German Stuka bombers hurtle down at their targets with a banshee type wail. I only mention that because it seemed very much akin to our current situation and not only that, the pilot was lucky on this occasion that it wasn’t me issuing the wail, but as we hurtled towards the ground, Fido and I eyed each other with mutual fear in our eyes.

“Now come on James” said the instructor. “What have we forgotten?”

Fido pawed the back of the pilot’s seat in a vain attempt to jog his memory but our downward path continued. If you ever happen to see that rather old film ‘The Sound Barrier’ you might get some idea of our situation hurtling down towards the earth with Blackpool Tower looming ever closer in our windscreen.

“You’ve forgotten something haven’t you? The instructor might have been talking to a learner driver who had not put his hand brake on at the traffic lights.

“What if I mentioned the mixture?”

If that was a hint it was certainly in a much better class than his previous comments but either way the pilot got the message, adjusted the engine mixture and our tiny aircraft’s propeller burst into renewed life and not long later we touched down rather bumpily back in Blackpool.

“Watch out” said the instructor, “Fido gets a bit excited when we land.”

If this was a typical flight with his master then it was clear to me why Fido was excited when he landed but anyway, the dog gave me a look which said in its canine way “We made it!” and hopped out of the plane. James completed his flying studies and left our company. He went on, I assume, to a career in aviation and we never met again but I have learnt one thing.

Next time, if on the way to Spain, the engines of our jet airliner conk out I’ll be shouting to the pilot “What about the mixture!?”

Much has changed with aircraft and airports since those far off days. Also when I was a child, my father who never owned and could not drive a car, took us, my mother and brother and Bob our dog, on long walks around the area. Many times we would end up at a lovely old pub called the Romper where my brother and I would get crisps (chips to you American readers) and a glass of fizzy pop before setting off on the walk back home. There would usually be somewhere to buy some fresh eggs or vegetables which we would have later. The road that took us to the Romper has now been enveloped by the ever-expanding airport and the Romper itself is also quite different. I fondly remember it as having comfy old chairs inside and no pumps at the bar: The barstaff used to fill a jug direct from the casks of ale and pour beer from that. The last time I went into the Romper was at least ten years ago. It was a posh and polite bar and eating house. Nothing stays the same.

Airports have been in the news a lot lately because the government has decided to approve the building of a third runway at Heathrow, despite this meaning the destruction of 700 houses and the entire village of Sipson. It’s pretty probable that noise pollution will increase as well as increased greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s a similar situation at Manchester airport where, as I said earlier, the airport seems to be expanding all the time. A new complaint at Manchester is that where motorists have been able to drop off and pick up passengers freely, a new charge of £3 has come into effect. Three pounds, just to drop your friends or relatives off for their flight!

Personally, I’d advocate a string of smaller airports around the country which would mean people wouldn’t have to travel so far to big airports like Heathrow or Manchester. Liz and I used to use Blackpool airport quite frequently. It’s a fairly small place, very handy for us and those in the local area and it was a little like a friendly bus station until Jet2 stopped flying from there and the location returned to helicopter and light aircraft use.

If you look back at the history of aviation, you’ll see that in the 1960’s Hawker Siddeley developed the Harrier Jump Jet, a fighter aircraft which could take off and land vertically! So why has that concept not been taken up by the commercial aviation world? Imagine airports with VTOL aircraft. No lengthy runways taking up space. What are today’s generation of boffins up to? Get working on vertical take off and landing guys!

This seems to be an appropriate point to plug, no not Floating in Space but one of the videos on my YouTube page. You might breathe a sigh of relief, regular readers, to know that it’s not another video about that aforementioned novel (wonderful read though it is) but a re-edit of my second most popular video, a look at Manchester Airport back in 1986.

The original has had 7.8 thousand views which is pretty impressive but as it is enhanced by the top 20 chart music of the time, all of which is copyright protected of course, no royalties are payable to me. Naturally, that was quite a motivation for me to re-edit the film with some new copyright free music. Just as I had finished YouTube announced that as I have less than 1000 followers I am no longer eligible to be a YouTube ‘partner’ and therefore ineligible for any royalties.

My old friend Steve, now longer with us, introduces various aspects of the airport, a place he loved and knew a great deal about. A few years later I took the original video and edited him out, substituted some new video and added a lot of Steve’s introductions into my voice over narration. He wasn’t happy. Not long ago when I copied the video to DVD ready to convert to digital for yet another re-edit, my laptop would not accept the digital data. I sometimes think that maybe his spirit was watching over making sure that particular version never made it to YouTube. Oh well, perhaps I’ll leave it for another day, a day when I’m eligible for YouTube royalties!


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.

Manchester, 41 Years On

A lot has changed in Manchester city centre, at least on the surface, but to a great extent it’s still the same city as it always was. My book, Floating in Space is, as you probably know if you have ever visited this web page before, set in Manchester in 1977 and I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the city, some 41 years later.

In 1977 there was no internet, no mobile phones and wireless was an old fashioned word that our parents used for the radio. Manchester was a busy and bustling city even back in 1977. People came into the city to shop, visit the cinema, eat at restaurants, drink beer and socialise in pubs and bars, pretty much just as they do today.

I loved my Saturday nights in Manchester. There was a quality of security, of expectancy, a feeling that the night and the future were going to be good. A feeling that you might just meet some gorgeous girl and that even if you didn’t, it didn’t really matter because there was always the excitement of the people and the music, and everything else that made up the evening. Then there was always the expectancy of the next night, and the next, and on and on into the future. The past building up inside you like a great data bank, reminding you, reassuring you, like a light burning in some empty room in the corner of your mind.

The main venue for me and my friends on a Saturday night in 1977 was the ‘Playground’, a small disco bar on Oxford Rd in the town centre. Flickering multi-coloured spotlights rotated across the red carpeted room which, on Fridays and Saturdays, was generally packed.

It had a small dance floor down at street level and when people stepped up to the bar, which was up on a slightly raised level, they could look down at the dancing, gyrating and mostly female dancers. Interestingly, on the same dance floor on week day lunchtimes, a topless dancer appeared at the stroke of one o’clock to translate the soul and disco music of the time into pulsating physical motion, the eyes of jaded office workers glued to her as she did so.

My friends and I used to meet up in the Salisbury, by Oxford Rd station, have a few pints and then make the short walk to the Playground. There was a paltry fifty pence charge to gain entry, the solitary bouncer was silent, but not unpleasant, and the DJ, who always began the night with ‘Love’s Theme’ by the Love Unlimited Orchestra, (Barry White’s backing band) played alternate sessions of rock, disco and chart music.

We were mad about Jenny, the barmaid. She was lovely. She had a kind of round, open face, framed by thick blonde hair and her skin was a creamy white. She served us Worthington ‘E’ and we melted into the hubbub of people on their Saturday night out whilst the music of the seventies drifted through us.

Those then, are my memories of Saturday nights in Manchester. Beer, music, girls and a kebab or curry before getting the late bus home.

I’m sure there are still Saturday nights like that, in Manchester’s 21st century world. Most of the pubs I used to frequent are still there, repainted, refurbished and in some cases re-named. They may look different but peel away those new outer layers and you’ll find things pretty much the same. Different decor, different music but still very similar people enjoying an evening of drinks, music and chat.

The Salisbury is still there. Today it looks just like it always did. Inside the pub has been refurbished but in a good way and it looks pretty similar to how it used to look. The room where my friends used to sit has gone. It’s now an office or a private room. Still, the same flagged stone floor is there and whenever I step inside the memories come flooding back.

The Playground is still there too, well not the Playground exactly but the building is there. It’s now the Palace Theatre bar and what it looks like inside I do not know. The last time I passed by it was closed but I imagine that the DJ’s booth and the dance floor have gone. Perhaps Jenny passes by and remembers the old times just like me. Perhaps not, perhaps it was just another bar job to her.

Once upon a time in 1977 I was a young office clerk who ate his sandwiches in St Peter’s Square on sunny weekday lunchtimes. All is different there now. Today Manchester looks cleaner and sleeker. Modern buildings of steel and glass sit side by side with traditional architecture and through it all glides the modern tram, toot tooting its way through the city.

Even at the old end of town, things are cleaner, smoother. Warehouses and old buildings have been reformed into trendy bars and restaurants and dance music venues. A short walk from Deansgate Station takes you to the Dukes 92, a lovely and trendy canalside bar but take plenty of money with you, it’s not cheap!

Walking up Peter St from Deansgate, the Café  Royale is gone. There is a bar called Henry’s Schloss, a huge Beer Keller sort of place where 2 pints of lager cost nearly ten pounds and large groups of men quaff beer and enjoy themselves. It’s not really my sort of place.

Just round the corner though, is a place that is my sort of place, the Abercromby, actually the Sir Ralph Abercromby, is one of those pubs that is a little like stepping into a time capsule. The decor is authentic seventies with lots of stained dark wood and leather seats and they serve a decent pint. I read on the internet that it was the model for the pub in the TV show Life on Mars. The former footballer turned property developer Gary Neville apparently wanted to knock down not only the pub but an entire block in the area to build two skyscrapers and a hotel. The fact that the pub dates back to the early 19th Century and is the only structure remaining from St Peter’s Field, site of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre clearly meant nothing to him. Happily the council planners would not let him have his way.

As you read this on a Saturday morning the cleaners are busy in those Manchester bars. The chillers will be stocked, the carpets cleaned and the tables polished. New barrels of beer and lager will be made ready.

Everything is ready for another Saturday night.


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Some Random Thoughts on Box Rooms, Stormy Daniels and Action Man!

This is one of my favourite times of the year. March and its bad weather are on the way out (soon anyway) and April and gradually longer days are coming. Last weekend the hour went forward which was doubly enjoyable for me because I was working a night shift and therefore only worked 7 hours!

It was also the first morning this year that I left work in daylight and not the leftover darkness from the night before. Spring had arrived.

Last weekend I was staying with my Mum in Manchester and I slept in the small boxroom that I have used for years. It’s not my childhood bedroom, Mum and Dad have had a few house moves since then, but it’s pretty similar. It’s nice to be surrounded by my old books and cassette tapes from my past as well as my vinyl records and VHS tapes leftover from a previous house move.

Its called a boxroom, I suppose because of the large wooden ‘box’ that takes over one corner where the stairs below and this small room compete for space. When I was a young lad this part of the room was my focus. I used to have numerous plastic kit models on display there before my childhood Action Man phase took over. Action Man was a male figure about a foot high and you could buy various outfits and equipment for him. I think I’d almost forgotten about Action Man until the recent Money Supermarket TV advert brought my schoolboy memories flooding back.

We weren’t particularly well off so I used to make a lot of my Action Man gear myself, mainly out of cardboard, plastic or balsa wood. On the box in the corner of my room I set up a sort of control room based on the one in the TV show ‘The Time Tunnel’. In case you never watched that or were just too young when it aired, Time Tunnel is about ‘Two American scientists (who) are lost in the swirling maze of past and future ages, during the first experiments on America’s greatest and most secret project, the Time Tunnel. Tony Newman and Doug Phillips now tumble helplessly toward a new fantastic adventure, somewhere along the infinite corridors of time.” Or so the introduction told us.

I started off with one Action Man, a second-hand Action Man I picked up from my friend Peter Condron in a swap for something or other, I don’t remember what. Another one came from my brother in another swap and the third was a brand new Action Man I got free by collecting the ‘stars’ on new Action Man products. There were ‘stars’ on each product and when you collected 21 and fixed them to a special chart you were sent a free Action Man. As I didn’t buy much Action Man stuff I used to cadge stars off people at school or swap for comics, books or models.

One day I picked up this sheet of plywood about 3′ x 2′ and decided to convert my control room into a flying ‘jet raft’ for my Action figures. I built the seats out of balsa wood and cardboard, glued together with Bostick. The control and computer arrays were made from plastic bottle tops, toothpaste lids and bits of plastic model kits. They were cannibalised from the former control room and I added panels that lit up with some bulbs and bulb holders attached to a battery underneath the rear ‘thrusters’. How I loved that ‘Jet Raft’! When my free Action Man arrived I built a navigator’s console onto the rear area with maps and his own little control panel. Yes, lying there in my boxroom all those memories come back.

My present car was one I bought in 2008 and before that the old banger Rover I drove had a cassette player and I made and played music cassettes by the dozen. From my teenage years, right up to the present day I have made music tapes, although these days it’s CDs I put together rather than tapes. Most of my older tapes are still stored here in my little room. I used to mix vinyl tracks with bits and pieces I had taped from the radio over the years, not just music but film dialogue and comedy routines too. The other day I came across a tape with two of my favourite comedy sketches. In the first one an unknown American impressionist does the voice of JFK, uncannily realistic, as he speaks to his daughter Caroline. He reads her a bedtime story about the ‘Steel Duke’ and the ‘Bad Prince with the Black Beard from the island in the south’ (with me so far?). At the end of the story JFK leaves Caroline who says to the listener ‘these sessions do him so much good!’

In the other one, another impressionist voices Richard Nixon, again incredibly realistically, as he meets the Godfather, Don Corleone. ‘Thanks for coming to see me’ says the Don, ‘on the day of my daughter’s wedding. How may I help you?’ ‘Well, says Nixon. ‘I have to get out of the Watergate mess.’ ‘Do you want justice? asks Corleone. Nixon thinks for a moment: ‘Not necessarily!’ he replies.

As I said above, I’ve no idea who the impressionist was but it’s amazing what a simple search on google will bring up:

Back to the present and that last night shift. It was actually pretty busy but there was a lull around 3am when I had a chance to catch up on the recent news events courtesy of the BBC 24 news channel. Two interesting items stood out. The first was adult star Stormy Daniels and her revelations about her encounters with Donald Trump, now of course President of the USA. It seems Trump or at least ‘his people’, paid her $130,000 to keep quiet about their liaison. Pretty natural really if you’re running for the presidency. However, for whatever reasons Stormy decided to reveal all in a TV interview which probably wasn’t what Mr Trump had in mind when he bunged her the $130,000! I personally think now he would be within his rights to ask for his money back! Stormy of course is relishing in the free publicity and has even added more dates to her tour of US strip clubs.

The other item which I thought was interesting was the one about the ball tampering scandal in Australian cricket. Even the Aussie Prime Minister has had a say in the matter but what is it all about really? Cricketers tend to give the ball a bit of a polish don’t they so why shouldn’t they be able to go the other way and rough up the ball a little? To be honest, cricket is a sport that makes that age-old practice of watching paint dry look attractive. Ball tampering scandal? Do me a favour! I remember once when I was a coach driver taking a load of fans from the Lancashire Cricket Club which perversely, due to boundary changes is no longer in Lancashire but now in Greater Manchester. I took them to a match at Lytham Cricket Club and was given a free ticket to stay and watch the action. After thirty minutes I was so bored I was ready to end it all but instead I went for a wander around in search of a cup of tea and a sandwich. I’ve loved Lytham St Annes ever since.

One final nostalgic memory: Once, again when I was a coach driver, a job I used to get regularly was a pick up and drop off service for some small kids at a special school. I used to start off by picking up this supervising lady who told me where to go to pick up the kids. They were all problem kids with behavioural or physiological issues: Special needs is the term I think I’m looking for. Anyway, they were a bit of a handful and one week I was allocated a coach with a video player. So, I brought along a VHS tape of the TV show Thunderbirds and set it up for the kids to watch. It quickly got their attention and calmed them down and I felt pretty pleased with myself. However, the trip to the school was only about 30 minutes after the last pick up and Thunderbirds lasts for an hour, which unfortunately set up a scenario at school where the kids all started getting rowdy again because they wanted to see the end of the episode!

Anyway, I just fancy an hour of nostalgic TV viewing, something like Thunderbirds perhaps. Where did I put that box of old VHS tapes?


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