13 Annoying Elements of 21st Century Life

I have to admit, this isn’t a totally new post. It’s one I’ve used before but this version has had a major update. OK, don’t start giving me stick. Week after week I produce new content, all of it reasonably interesting I think, well at least to me. So I think I’m entitled to a week off and an easy blog post. After all, I’m a busy guy, I’ve got stuff to do that involves things like drinking, dining out, meeting friends in the pub, cycling and things like that. Occasionally, and I do mean occasionally, I might have to update an old post because I don’t have the time to make a new one.  Anyway, I read a blog a while ago about ‘curated’ content. Ever heard of it? Basically it’s about copying some else’s post but then linking your post to their original one. It’s sort of like stealing someone else’s work but saying, here’s the original so I didn’t really steal it! In this case the original was my work anyway so I’m doubly in the clear!
Interesting idea. Anyway, here’s my updated post.

    1. Irritating Internet Blogs. Not long ago, a blogger I follow published a post that was short and to the point It went pretty much like this:  My favourite Elton John track has to be ‘Tiny Dancer’. (I think it’s only fair to say at this point that names have been changed to protect the innocent. In this case, the name of the pop star!) Now you might think there would have been a photo included. No, there were no pictures. The writer could have done a search on google, clicked the box for images and ticked the ‘labelled for reuse’ tag and something copyright free would have appeared. No, he didn’t do that, no images. He could have also searched for a video of Elton performing Tiny Dancer and linked the video into his post. No, no such luck, just ‘my favourite Elton John track has to be Tiny Dancer.’ The thing is, last time I looked he had over twenty four likes and a shedload of views for something that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Facebook status post! Now, that gives me an idea for my next post: My favourite Kate Bush track is . . Whoa, wait a minute, don’t want to give my full post away before publishing!
    2. Annoying Websites. Here’s an example. The other day I clicked on a link which said ‘You’ll never guess what Victoria Principal looks like now!’ Victoria Principal was once one of the stars of Dallas back in the seventies or eighties, whenever it used to be on TV. She wasn’t my type but she was clearly a pretty and attractive young lady. Well, I wondered, what does she look like now? Anyway, I clicked on the link and was taken to a new page which took forever to load up and with my very fast iPad I wasn’t expecting that at all. After a while I was presented with a picture of a young girl from an American 70’s TV show looking about 15 in picture 1 and looking about 60 ish in picture 2. No sign of Victoria Principal but after scrolling through a shed load of advertising I was finally presented with a ‘next’ button. I clicked this and veerrryyyy slowwwwly another page loaded this time showing a seventies movie star in picture 1 and her somewhat older and chubbier 2017 self in picture 2. After battling through the interminable advertising to get to picture 3 I couldn’t stand the web page any longer so I exited the site. What is even more annoying though is this; I keep wondering what does Victoria Principal really look like now?
    3. Watching TV. Now this is more of a man thing than anything because women cannot multi task when it comes to TV watching. The art and science of TV watching is and always will be a purely man thing. Picture this: A man arrives home from a busy late shift, pours himself either (A) a beer (B) a glass of wine or (C) a glass of whisky, brandy or any other spirit.  He then combines this with either (D) a call to the local fast food delivery place or (E) whacks a slice of bread into the toaster. After settling down he might come across a James Bond film which he has seen approximately 35 times but He continues to watch it thinking, ‘this will keep me going until the adverts then I’ll flick through the channels to see if anything better is on’. Now here’s where the problem comes, you turn over in the adverts and unless you’ve turned to BBC 1 or 2, there are also adverts on the other channels! Why can’t the other channels schedule their ads at different times so there is always something for the channel hopper to watch? Is that so hard?
    4. david-essex-rock-on-cbsListening to the radio. Now I do like music and in years gone by I was a big singles man. I spent a lot of time in record stores flipping through racks of singles and I still have my record collection intact stored in big boxes. Not so long ago I got myself one of those turntables that you can connect to your pc so you can digitise your records. Technology: it’s just amazing. Of course I still hear records on the radio that I really like, just like the good old days but why is it that 21st century DJ’s don’t seem to bother telling us WHAT THAT RECORD ACTUALLY IS? As it is we will probably never hear that track again, so how can we actually buy or download it! Where do they get these DJ’s nowadays!
    5. Why is it that after an episode of your favourite soap on TV they then show you a clip of what’s going to happen next week! Don’t do that! We don’t want to know until next week when we are actually watching the show!
    6. This is yet another TV gripe: Why do they show part 1 of something then neglect to advise the viewing public when we can see part 2? Once upon a time if something was on a Thursday night at nine o’clock then it would be pretty much a certainty that part 2 would be on the following week at nine o’clock on a Thursday night. Is this the case in the 21st century? NO! I started to watch a cracking documentary on BBC4 the other day about O J Simpson. Excellent and informative. I expected to tune in the next week for part 2 but found out a couple of days later that the following parts were shown on subsequent days! People at the BBC -I am Not happy!
    7. Reality TV. What the heck is reality TV, who thought it up and how can I contact the mafia to put out a contract on them?
    8. Now I’m not really a grammar nut, at least not to the extent that I’ve joined the grammar police but there are people who put things on Facebook like ‘Wish I could of done that!’ It’s could HAVE done that you numpties!
    9. Telephone menus. Not so long ago I wanted to ask my mobile phone people a relatively simple question, so I dialled the number and I got through to a menu: Press 1 for accounts, 2 for phone problems, or 3 for network problems. Well it wasn’t any of those so I pressed 1 then got another menu. A two minute phone call escalated into half an hour of my life! If in doubt on any menu press the hash button, you usually get to speak with a real person. You can also try http://www.pleasepress1.com a website started by frustrated phone user Nigel Clarke with hints and tips for bypassing menus. Thinking of telephone menus, it reminded me of this joke: The psychiatrist’s answering machine that plays this message to callers: “We are very busy at the moment. If you are obsessive-compulsive, press 1 repeatedly. If you are co-dependent, please ask someone to press 2 for you. If you have multiple personalities, press 3, 4, 5 and 6. If you are paranoid, we know who you are and what you want. Stay on the line so we can trace your call!” The oldies really are the best!
    10. Don’t you just hate those ‘what’s on next’ banners that come on your TV screen in the last few minutes of your programme? I don’t need banners! I’ve got a TV guide! There’s an on screen TV guide too!
    11. Why is it whenever it’s raining and I’m driving home from work on the motorway there is always one plonker hurtling down the outside lane with only one headlight working or worse still, one very bright headlight and another dim one! Get your lights sorted and don’t hog the outside lane you Plonker!
    12. MobileJunk phone calls. It’s bad enough getting junk mail but phone calls from people trying to sell you something just get on my wick, especially if you are forced to answer the call. For instance if you’re waiting for a call back from your bank or insurance company or something or even the guy who’s coming to fix your boiler. You see that unknown number on your phone screen, decide to take it, and surprise –it’s someone calling you about PPI refunds! Take a look at this blog on the subject.
    13. A pint of Mild. As I begin to approach the mature years of my life I find myself drawn to towards the darker beers that life’s brewery have to offer. I have been through my younger years with an array of ciders and refreshing amber lagers but these days I tend to fancy a Guinness, a stout, even a porter but where are these exotic beers to be found? Guinness is available in most pubs but what about the humble pint of mild? How many more times must I suffer the stunned look of the teenage barman when I ask ‘do you serve mild?’ I can only answer by saying thank heavens for the Number Fifteen pub in St Annes which serves the rather lovely Theakston’s mild!

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Death on a Monday Morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Three Funerals and a Pork Pie

Letters from an unknown author!

quotescover-JPG-12The other day my Mum started discussing her funeral plans with me. She is eighty five this year and I suppose at that age one starts to think that the day is coming when you won’t be around. Even so, it was pretty shocking to be talking about her funeral.

The first ever funeral I went to was my Uncle Raymond’s. Raymond was my favourite uncle and the most wonderful guy. When I first started work when I was sixteen, going on seventeen, I used to get off my bus, the 152, at the Bluebell pub in Handforth after coming home from work in Manchester and Uncle Ray was there, waiting for the pub to open. Inside he chatted to everyone, the staff, punters he had never met before and at the drop of a hat would produce the photographs from his recent cruise showing him and my Auntie Elsie…

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Confessions of an Armchair Formula One Fan

F1 fanI’m not a great sports fan but I do like my motor sport. I first started following Formula One back in 1970 when I was a school boy.

1970 was a pretty exciting year for formula one racing. Colin Chapman and his Lotus team had unveiled their new Lotus 72, a revolutionary ground-breaking car that set the standard for formula one cars for years to come. Jochen Rindt won the World Championship but sadly he was killed in practice for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. His points score was never overtaken and so he took the crown posthumously. In fact three F1 drivers were killed that year, Rindt, Bruce Mclaren, the founder of the Mclaren F1 team, and Piers Courage who drove for Frank Williams, a black year indeed for motorsport.

Jack_BrabhamBack in the early 70s there wasn’t great TV coverage but I do remember watching the Monaco Grand Prix live on the BBC and I will always remember that moment when the potential winner, old hand Jack Brabham, slipped into the barrier on one of the last corners letting Jochen Rindt through to win.

A few years later the BBC was not happy about the explosion of advertising on Grand Prix cars and the crunch came when the cars of John Surtees displayed advertising for Durex. The BBC pulled the plug and F1 effectively vanished from British TV screens for a long while. Towards the end of the seventies the BBC began to broadcast the odd race now and again and then their show ‘Grand Prix’ with long time commentator Murray Walker began in 1978 although I don’t think they broadcast the entire season until 1979.

For most of the seventies I had to depend on BBC radio to find out what had happened at the Grand Prix. In 1978 I listened to a report from the Italian Grand Prix about a crash just after the start in which Ronnie Peterson was injured. Ronnie had broken both legs and been taken to hospital. I was glad to hear he was OK. Ronnie was one of those drivers who appeared to me to be destined for a world championship. If someone had told me in the early seventies that Niki Lauda would be a three times champion I would have laughed out loud. He didn’t look or sound like a champion, unlike Ronnie, his team mate at the STP March team in 1972. The next day I picked up a newspaper and was shocked to find Peterson had died during the night from a fat embolism resulting from his broken bones.

Senna, Mansell, and Prost were the great drivers of the eighties and Gerhard Berger sometimes looked like a future champion although he never made the cut. He survived a terrible crash at Imola in 1989 when he hit the wall at Tamburello and his Ferrari burst into flames. I was watching the race live and thinking how could anyone survive that but moments later a marshal’s van drove up and quickly put the fire out. Berger survived with only 1st degree burns to his hands.

Mansell won a great race at Silverstone in 1987, probably one of my favourite races. It was a gamble on Mansell’s part, turning up the boost on his Honda turbo engine to catch Piquet and on the last lap he should have ran out of fuel. According to his dashboard he had, but his Williams somehow kept running to the end finally grinding to a halt on the slowing down lap.

Alain Prost Mclaren 1988 German Grand Prix

Alain Prost Mclaren 1988 German Grand Prix

Alain Prost retired after a comeback season with Williams when he walked to his final world championship in 1993. In 1994 the Grand Prix circus came to Imola for the San Marino Grand Prix and I remember well watching the race live on TV when Senna crashed, again at Tamburello. Someone said to me ‘he’s dead’ but I disagreed, Berger’s crash was worse and he survived. Sadly, Senna did not.

Television has had a great influence on formula one racing. In the nineties Bernie Ecclestone seemed to be trying a lot of tweeks to get more viewers, especially after one rainy Saturday qualifying round when hardly any drivers went out on track. Naturally really because they could not hope to improve on the previous day’s dry running. That spelled the end of Friday qualifying and from then on, only times set on a Saturday counted towards the grid. That tweeking resulted in an interesting knockout qualifying format which is enjoyable and good for the sport but it hasn’t stopped the rulers of F1 trying to fiddle with it even more and that interference has cast a cloud over the first part of the 2016 season.

Bernie Ecclestone

Bernie Ecclestone (image courtesy Wikipedia)

Formula One team bosses are currently in something of a panic. Investors have poured millions of pounds into F1, not because they like the sport but because they find their investment can pay off big style in these days of multi million pound global TV and advertising deals. Reports of failing interest in the sport however has rung alarm bells and throughout the motorsporting media there have been calls to make F1 more interesting. Why are the cars not louder? Why are Mercedes winning all the time? Should we bring back refuelling? Is the high tech aspect ruining the driver input? There are even calls for Bernie Ecclestone, the aging F1 emperor to hand over to someone else. Only time will tell what will happen.

It sometimes makes me smile when I compare Formula 1 to other sports like cricket. Can you just imagine if Ecclestone and his investors had a stake in cricket and the TV viewing figures were down? What would happen then? Increase the number of overs? Maybe have an extra ball in each over, seven instead of six? Change the wooden ball to a rubber one? Add an extra stump?

Maybe they will resolve the issues, maybe not. F1 racing goes from terrestrial channels to Sky pay per view in 2019. Will I be subscribing? I’m not so sure . . .


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My Holiday Book Bag (2)

A long time ago I was reading a biography about Richard Burton, in fact it I think it was ‘Rich,’ the biography by Melvyn Bragg. Bragg used Burton’s own diaries in his work and wrote, amongst other things, about Burton’s love of books and when Burton went on holiday he looked forward with delight to the contents of his ‘book bag.’ I know it’s a pretty tenuous link but one thing I have in common with Richard Burton is a love of books and when I go on holiday, one of the delights of lying under a warm sun on my sun bed is a good undisturbed read. OK, I read a lot at home and on my lunch breaks at work but it’s a few minutes here and a few minutes there and whenever I get interrupted it kind of breaks the flow. Some books, as we all know, are just made for a really long, uninterrupted read.

DSCF0004edOK, That was the intro copied from my earlier post Holiday Book Bag part 1. You might be thinking what is this about? A Holiday book bag in January? Yes, well here’s the thing, I’ve saved up my holidays for a winter escape from the UK and believe me, there is nothing more satisfying that calling up friends in the UK from sunny Lanzarote, where we are staying for six (yes six) weeks and asking ‘What’s the weather like back in the UK?’ Especially when they answer, as you knew they would, ‘It’s freezing cold and lashing it down!’

Anyway, I’m sure it’ll still be cold in February when we return so let’s move quickly on to the book bag. There is nothing more exciting for an avid reader like me, and the aforementioned Richard Burton, to plan what to pop into a book bag. Going to Lanzarote there are some restraints of course. One, we are flying so we only have limited luggage space so straight away I eliminated my hard back books which is something of a pity as I have some cracking hardbacks ready to be read. Anyway, I’ve stuck with paperbacks, some I have purchased recently and some have come my way as Christmas presents. Here is my final list.

Charlie Chaplin by Peter Ackroyd.

Peter wrote an excellent book about one of my writing heroes, Charles Dickens and I felt that this book was going to be in the same sort of mould. Long, intense and full of detail. Actually it’s a pretty slim volume and not the intense scrutiny of Chaplin that I was expecting. However, on the credit side, it’s a thoughtful and detailed look at Chaplin, his movies and his personal life and a cracking read it is too. One hundred years ago Chaplin was the most famous man in the world. I’m not sure who would qualify for that title today as despite global communications and the Internet age, the world is separated by many different languages and cultures. A hundred years ago there was no language barrier for Chaplin, and his silent films with their universal language of comedy, went all the way round the globe and he was as famous in countries such as Russia or Africa as he was in Europe or the USA.

Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth by Gitta Sereny.

This is a classic of World War 2 literature and concerns Albert Speer who was Hitler’s architect and then rose quickly in the ranks of the Nazi hierarchy to become Armaments Minister. He was spared the fate of hanging at the Nuremberg trials after admitting that the Nazi leadership, himself included, should take responsibility for the crimes of the Third Reich. What is interesting about the Nazi years is the way Hitler himself seemed to entrance people by the power of his personality. Much has been written about his speeches to the Nazi faithful and the many Nazi rallies of the 20’s and 30’s and yet, looking back at archive film, he looks to be almost something of a madman. However, those who attended the rallies speak of his almost magnetic power as an orator. Speer himself was surprised at first seeing Hitler speak because the speech he heard that day was about unifying Germany, bringing back employment and pride to the German worker, not about death to the Jews. It struck a chord with Speer and he began to follow him. It was the same with many people and as is pointed out in this book, had Hitler died in 1937, he would perhaps have gone down in history as a great German, not the mass murderer he turned out to be. There is an embarrassment among Germans of Speers’ generation; a feeling of how could Hitler have lied to them, how could he have done those terrible things? Something repeated many times is the feeling ‘if only the Führer knew! The fact is, Hitler did know but did Speer know too? An answer, of sorts, is the conclusion to the book.

One of the great aspects of this book is that the author’s journey into Speer’s life is a personal journey and one she shares with the reader. In the final pages we hear about how the author returns home after a weekend away and sees her telephone answering machine winking with various messages. The first one is a message from Speer himself, saying he was in London for a BBC interview and wondered if Gitta and her husband wanted to meet up. The next message is one from a television news company asking her to comment on the death of Speer!

Bleak House by Charles Dickens.

David Copperfield is my favourite Dickens book and one of my favourite books ever but I’ve had difficulty getting into Dickens’ other books. I gave up on the Pickwick Papers, although I liked Oliver Twist and Great Expectations but that’s about it. Hope this will be a good read especially as it’s the only novel I have brought.

The Life of Noel Coward by Cole Lesley.

I do love biographies and this memoir of Noel Coward’s life looks good. One of the reviewers quoted on the back cover says reading this is like ‘a holiday in a rented Rolls!’ One aspect of the earlier part of the book -I’m only partway through as I write this- is Coward’s visits to Manchester where he stayed at the Midland hotel when he was in his late teens. Even then he was a self assured young man about town and on the verge of fame. He charmed many of the rich and famous of the time and was always in demand as a country manor guest for weekends at home or abroad. Noel was a man who liked to travel, especially after a long spell of hard work, and he liked, at times, to travel alone. Indeed, the author quotes from a poem by Noel which reads in part; ‘ When the dream is ended and passion has flown, I  travel alone.’ Noel always took with him on holiday a portable typewriter, lined foolscap writing pads, and his ‘bursting’ book bag. This apparently contained the latest good novels, two or three classics and always Roget’s Thesaurus and Clement Wood’s Rhyming Dictionary.  Not a bad choice! I look forward to reading more about the witty Noel Coward and his life.

The Collected Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker.

Dorothy Parker was a jazz age writer and she chronicled the decadent twenties and thirties in her witty stories and reviews. Born in 1893 Parker sold her first poem to Vanity Fair magazine in 1914 and was then engaged by the magazine to write captions for fashion photographs and drawings. She later became drama critic for Vanity Fair and the central figure of the famous Algonquin Hotel Round Table, a group of celebrated authors and writers. I’ve already had a glance through the first few short stories and they look very well observed and entertaining so far.

Those are my January holiday books. Check out the video version of this post below!


If you are already planning for your holidays don’t neglect your reading matter. Why not take a copy of ‘Floating In Space’ along? Click the links at the top of the page or click on the icon below . .

Floating in Space

MASH and the Emotional Leap Indicator

mash-title-960x590MASH has always been one of my very favourite TV comedy programmes. You may have read in another post about how I used to record the programme back in the early seventies with my cassette tape recorder. Later when video tape recorders appeared I used to tape many episodes of the show and now, here in the DVD age I have a number of box sets of the series. One of the things I have always loved about the show was how they could take zany and surreal humour, not unlike that of the Monty Python guys, and set it down in a real place; Korea in the 1950s. Some of the lines that came from the mouths of the characters were not only zany and funny but also very witty and clever. Apart from that, the characters themselves, Hawkeye, Trapper John, Frank Burns, Hotlips, Colonel Blake and Radar were interesting and likeable and I, like most viewers, began a strong emotional attachment with the cast.
graph4Now, you might be wondering about that other part of this post’s title, the bit about the emotional indicator. Yes, I thought you might. It’s not so easy to explain but here goes. Most TV shows and movies have a sort of standard emotional indicator that stays pretty constant throughout the show. Take a look at the graph over to the left and let’s put some numbers up. Say a baseline of zero for a standard, calm emotional level. Now, when the show gets funny that level goes up to something like 15 for instance and I’d even say that in a movie like Police Academy that 15 or higher would be a constant throughout the film, well for me certainly. The original Police Academy movie is one of my favourites and I tend to start laughing round about the start of the film with the scene in the parking lot where Steve Guttenberg says the parking lot is full and then the guy comes in and says ‘park the car dirt bag!’ I usually stop laughing round about the end credits but on a normal film there’s a constant up and down: up when the film gets funny and down to nil when we get back to normal.

Now in MASH, where surreal humour is combined with drama, it’s a different ball game. Many times not only does the viewer hit a 20 or higher and then drop down to zero,  he also drops down further, perhaps down to a -10 or lower in the really sad moments. In the graph you can see a really funny moment that comes before a really sad moment. Here’s a prime example from my favourite ever MASH episode, it was called ‘Sometimes you Hear the Bullet.’

Hawkeye’s friend Tommy comes to visit the 4077th MASH. He’s a journalist who wants to write the story of the Korean War from the point of view of the soldier, not the journalist. So he’s not a correspondent, he’s a fully signed up member of a platoon. He stops in and visits with Hawkeye for a while and the usual zany humour ensues. Tommy then has to return to the war. A side story is one where a wounded young lad (played by future film director Ron Howard) admits he is under age but joined up to prove to his girl that he was a man. In one scene he tells Hawkeye that he is out to get him some ‘gooks’ and Hawkeye replies calmly that another word for gooks is people.

Hawkeye and Trapper plan to steal Major Frank Burns’ Purple Heart- he had an accident and because it happened in a war zone he is eligible for the award -and pass it on to the young lad so he can impress his girl back home. Anyway, later in the episode, Tommy the journalist returns to the MASH, only this time he is seriously wounded. He was planning on writing a book called ‘They Never Hear the Bullet’ but this time he heard the bullet. ‘Never mind’ says Hawkeye, ‘just change the name. Sometimes you hear the bullet, it’s a better title anyway.’ Tommy is anaesthetised and Hawkeye gets to work. Sadly, Tommy dies on the operating table. Colonel Blake has to remind Hawkeye about the queue of wounded and Hawkeye, tragedy etched on his face (an outstanding performance by Alan Alda) has to carry on with his next patient. Every time I watch that episode I sob my heart out, just as I did years ago when I first saw that episode on my Mum and Dad’s old black and white TV. Now I know why; because it wasn’t a case of just dropping down from 0 to minus 36 on the emotional scale, I was already up there on +45 so I had to drop way, way down. That’s why I love MASH: Humour, drama, and tragedy, all mixed into one.

MASH_TV_cast_1974Mash ran for 11 seasons and an incredible 256 episodes. Trapper, played by Wayne Rogers, was my favourite character after Hawkeye and he left the series after season three to be replaced by Mike Farrell playing new doctor B J Hunnicut. Colonel Blake (McLean Stevenson) also left at the end of season three. His character was discharged but right at the very end of the episode news came through to the MASH that the Colonel’s aircraft had crashed with no survivors. This episode prompted an outpouring of grief and resentment from fans at the death of the character. I could understand perhaps Colonel Blake dying part way through the episode and the second part showing the sadness and grief of the rest of the characters but it seemed to me that Colonel Blake’s death was almost an afterthought, just tagged on to the end of the episode. As time went on many of the other series regulars left including Gary Burghof (Radar) and Larry Linville (Frank Burns) and for me personally, the series was never the same.
The last ever episode was aired in 1983 and became the most watched TV episode ever in the USA at the time.

Keep an eye out for Sometimes You Hear The Bullet. It’s well worth watching!


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The ups and downs of the Internet

quotescover-JPG-11As you can guess if you’ve read any of my other blogs, I just love the digital age. It’s enabled me to do so many things; share my writing with everyone here on wordpress, share my pictures on Tumblr and Flickr and my videos on you tube.

What’s been a highlight in particular is that I’ve been a motor racing fan since I was a school boy and when I was younger I spent a lot of time at my local circuit, Oulton Park in Cheshire, watching motor races and taking pictures. I had a whole mountain of pictures that had only been seen by me and have been sitting in an album upstairs in my back room for years. Now Flickr has enabled me to share them with other race fans and my Oulton Park collection has had hundreds of views, when a few years back it was just one.

image courtesy everystockphoto.com

image courtesy everystockphoto.com

Social networking is so interesting and varied. The main social sites are probably Facebook and Twitter. I’m on both of those sites but they are very different. Twitter is in a lot of ways a real-time web site. Many people comment on sport and TV shows while the shows or events are still in progress but personally if I’m trying to comment on an F1 race I feel as though I’m missing the action whilst I’m tweeting. I suppose in that way Twitter is ideal for the smart phone whereas Facebook is somewhere you can post your status and then come back another time and respond to further comments. On Twitter most of my friends are pure internet acquaintances, especially now as I’ve been promoting my work heavily on that site. I get other authors asking me to like their pages and posts and in return I like their pages and posts so we both benefit with extra web exposure.

The same thing has been starting to happen on Facebook with increasing traffic from non-friends, people who just like my blogs, so I’ve had to create a Facebook page for myself as a writer so that I can keep separate my business and personal friends.

Another aspect of the internet is that it enables you to check out your old and long-lost friends and a site like Friends Reunited started a trend for connecting with old friends. Friends Reunited was one of the early success stories of the internet but in the last few years it fell by the wayside, it’s popularity overtaken by sites like the aforementioned Twitter and Facebook. Now the site has been taken down and it’s web address is just a dead link.

I’ve traced quite a few of my old school friends thanks to Friends Reunited, for instance one of my primary school pals that I have made contact with emigrated to Canada, was successful in the computer industry and now lives in semi-retirement on an island off the west Canadian coast. Pretty good for a lad from a Wythenshawe council estate. That was an interesting find and my friend Paul and I have exchanged a fair few e-mails. Both of us are happy and literate writers, perhaps we’re really old-fashioned letter writers now turned to e-mails but I find that today it’s easy, at least for some people, to fall into a kind of text speak even on social media that sometimes slips over into e-mail messages.

I had one e-mail a while ago from an old school friend asking if I was the same Steve Higgins who he knew at school. I replied back that yes I was and added a good few paragraphs about my life, what I had been up to in the intervening years and what I was doing now. Nothing came back for months and when I wrote again to say ‘did you get my e-mail’ a reply finally arrived. ‘Yes, great to hear from you LOL.’

That particular friend I’ve not seen for over thirty-five years and I’m none the wiser about him now, despite him wanting to contact me! Oh well, that’s the internet for you.

One more area of life that’s been revolutionised by the Internet is shopping. Yes, from the comfort of your own home you can search the Internet for all those tricky Christmas presents. There’s Amazon, and E-bay, and all the big stores have their own web sites and many frequently e-mail us about some great bargain. I had one a while ago offering me thirty razor blades ‘compatible’ with my Wilkinson’s razor at a very cheap price indeed. Blades are pretty pricey these days, so, OK, I clicked on the link, bought my voucher, then went to the razor blade site, and added my voucher code. OK so far but then I had to add a few quid for postage. Not happy! That extra money was eating into my savings. Anyway, eventually the blades arrived at my door. Not sure what kind of service was used but one wonders if a camel or even a tortoise was involved. OK, I get the blades but then there’s another problem: They won’t fit on my razor! Now, things get confusing because there are so many razors available these days. There’s the Hydro, the Quattro, the Quattro Titanium, and a shed load of others I couldn’t even begin to name. The blades were for a Hydro which I didn’t have but guess what? Someone on E-bay was selling one for a pound with free postage. Not only that, I had mentioned to Liz the previous day about some of the things I had noticed being sold on E-bay. A used razor for a pound? What plonker would even think of buying that?

Yes, that would be me . .


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Why Commuting isn’t as bad as you think (It’s just different)

NYC_subway_riders_with_their_newspapers

Commuters reading newspapers? Nah, not in the 21st century! Commuters are more likely to be glued to tablets or smartphones! (Image courtesy Wikipedia)

It’s a long time since I’ve been a commuter. Now I come to think of it, it’s been a very long time. My first job after leaving school was at an Insurance company in Manchester and I travelled to work either by bus or by train. Going by rail was slightly more expensive as I remember it but the advantage of going by rail was that the railway station was only a stone’s throw from where I worked. That was quite handy after work as it was nice to pop into the pub, either the Salisbury or the Beef and Barley for a few pints then nip round the corner to the station when I was ready to go home. I remember it well: The walk to the station and then finding my usual spot on the platform. There were plenty of other regulars who travelled with me, not that I ever got to know them but day after day we waited together on that platform. We boarded the train together and slipped into our own favoured seats. On the journey back I particularly remember one young girl, slightly older than me with lovely long legs. Wish I’d got to know her!

In my current job I work shifts so the rush hour is something I rarely embrace. This week however I went to a training course in Manchester which started at 9 am so once again I joined the ranks of the commuter.

The 07:27 from St Annes on Sea to Preston where I had to change trains was a pretty nice trip. Busy but not excessively so. Everyone knew their place and seemed calm and organised. No one played loud music or hogged seats by leaving bags or coats on them. In Preston I nipped smartly across to the next platform and was just in time for my connection to Manchester. This train was pretty busy but once again seasoned commuters filled the train and as it was the trans-Pennine express to Manchester Airport, it was a much comfier train with roomier seats.

Oxford Road Station. Photo by the author

Oxford Road Station. Photo by the author

The train stopped at Oxford Road, my old stop from my insurance days and a great many people left the train there. After that we rumbled on through the centre of Manchester, bumping and squeaking over the old track, looking down on Oxford Rd and passing behind my old office and on to Piccadilly station.

The journey back was something of a different nature. Those who had come on the train from the airport were a little surprised by the rampant hordes waiting for them on the platform at Piccadilly. Many had returned from trips abroad and sat scanning newspapers for news of the home country. Coffees and teas littered the tables and some had left bags and cases on the seats. Then the train slid to a halt. Some looked idly up to see where the train had stopped just in time to see the doors open and a mass of humanity surge in like a tidal wave. The afternoon rail trip brought passengers of a different nature. People playing loud music, people taking up two seats who gave them up reluctantly as ever more people crammed into the carriage. Many people seemed glued to their mobile phones, oblivious to the outside world and blocking it out with their earphones. Back in the seventies commuters read books or magazines on the train. Nowadays, they listen to music or watch video on smartphones or tablets, plastic earpieces plugged into their heads.

The trip back home involved a long wait, usually half an hour for my connecting train in Preston. In the early evening this train was invariably rather like an old bus that had been dragged from the back of the garage to help out in the rush hour. It was dark going home and the conductor garbled the name of the approaching stations over the rather raucous tannoy. I listened incomprehensively and peered through the gloom of the window to try and spot a familiar landmark. One evening I nearly exited at Ansdell and Fairhaven by mistake. I was glued to my book and glanced up to see what I thought was my station coming up. The lady next to was watching a video and didn’t appear to see or hear me trying to get past her. She had her earphones set firmly in her ears blocking out any unwanted sound and I had to shout to get her to see me and let me past. The train doors closed just as I got to them but luckily I was a station early and St Annes was the next stop. Looking around I seemed to have been the only person reading a book. Almost everyone was concentrating on a smartphone or tablet.

Times have changed since the late seventies.


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Second Hand Books and The World of Movie Making

Million Dollar Movie by Michael Powell.

poweelbookI really do love books, especially second hand books. I think that what is so wonderful about a second hand book is that the book has told its story before to someone else, and now if you have just bought it, its going to tell it’s story to you. I spend a lot of time browsing in book shops, both physically in actual shops or on-line in virtual book stores. The thing about on-line book stores is that you have to have a starting point, it’s  no fun browsing through lists of books so I tend to browse on-line only when there is a particular book I want. In an actual book store I scan through the various sections and although I tend to linger on biographies and books about film, anything can catch my eye. A while ago I was reading a book by movie director Michael Powell called ‘A Life in Movies.’ It was a pretty thick book and took a fair old while to read and when I got the end there didn’t seem to be any indication there was another volume. Of course, Powell was quite old when he wrote his autobiography, perhaps he thought that there wouldn’t be time for another book. Well, I’m happy to say he did write another volume and this is it, Million Dollar Movie. Powell continues the story of his life in his usual random fashion, jumping to things out of context and out of sequence. Just because he happens to visiting Hollywood for instance, he will go on to talk about Hollywood and movie people he knows there and so on. Powell made some great movies alongside collaborator Emeric Pressburger but his career stalled when he made a shocking film called Peeping Tom about a disturbed cameraman who murders his subjects and films them as he does so. Audiences were shocked and Powell’s directing career ended, although in later years fellow directors like Martin Scorcese praised the film as a classic. Liz bought me this book as a gift and the copy she tracked down comes from Austin Public library in Texas in the United States. Provenance is a word they use in the antiques business; It’s to do with the background of an item, and that is what makes this copy so wonderful; How it has come so far, from the USA to England, just so I can sit back and enjoy it.

Bring on the Empty Horses by David Niven.

bringontheYou might be thinking, looking at the picture here: Couldn’t the author have found a better picture? Looking at the picture again I suppose that particular copy is just a little tatty. That’s because it’s my travel copy. I’ve got another copy, a much nicer version that resides in my bookcase that I browse through now and again. The reason I’ve got two versions is because my travel copy goes all over the place with me. If I’m travelling somewhere on the bus or train, that slightly tatty copy goes easily into my pocket or my bag because I can read it time and time again. Not only is it the best ever book written about the golden age of Hollywood, it’s also by far the most accessible and readable book on the subject ever.

Niven’s first book was his autobiography; ‘The Moon’s a Balloon.’ In it Niven told how he came over to Hollywood from the UK and made the incredible leap from movie extra to movie star. The title of this book comes from Hungarian director Michael Curtiz. When filming ‘the Charge of the Light Brigade’ Curtiz wanted a hundred riderless horses to come into shot so he boomed on his megaphone ‘Bring on the Empty Horses!’ Niven and fellow actor Errol Flynn collapsed into laughter and Niven filed away the phrase for later use. The book covers the Hollywood years from 1935 to 1960 and Niven paints vivid portraits of Hollywood itself and long vanished watering holes like the Brown Derby and Romanoffs. He looks at some of the stars he has known like Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Ronald Colman, and Constance Bennett. Other chapters profile producers like Sam Goldwyn and many other famous Hollywood personalities of the time. All his stories are told with great affection and I particularly liked the portrait of Mike Romanoff, the restaurateur who tried to pass himself off, in a slightly tongue in cheek way, as a member of the Russian Romanov family. If ever I’m travelling and need something to read on the journey I’ll always have this copy on hand. It’s like an old wine that improves with age!


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TV Movies and a Serious Case of Deja Vu!

children-403582_1920I don’t know about you but there are certain things I hang on to in life. One of those things are my diaries. The other day, looking through my schoolboy diary from 1973 I noticed that one entry mentions that I watched a film called the Inspector with Stephen Boyd. It was a movie made in 1962 and it’s about a jewish girl trying to get into Palestine. It’s not a classic movie but I’ve always liked Stephen Boyd and he was rather good in movies like Fantastic Voyage where a mini submarine and her crew were shrunk to minute size and then injected into a man’s body. Have you ever seen The Inspector? I doubt very much if you have, in fact I can’t remember ever seeing that movie again on TV. There are plenty of movies I have seen, some of them over and over though, here are a few of them;

The Great Escape. Ok I love it, I really do but I know the script off by heart I’ve seen it that many times!

Great Expectations. David Lean’s cinematic version of Dicken’s novel. Great movie but I’m fed up of seeing it on Film 4!

The Man In The Iron Mask! Seen this so many times with Richard Chamberlain and Patrick McGoohan and of course it was re made in 1998 with Leonardo Di Caprio but what about showing the 1952 version with Louis Hayward? Now that is a movie I’d love to see again.

Goldfinger, or any of the Bond films. As much as I love James Bond 007, most of the films, especially the older ones, I have seen again and again so I need a break from them. Strangely, I have a few of my favourite Bonds on DVD. I don’t think I ever watch them but I’m so familiar with the Bonds that if I come home from work and one is on TV and I’ve missed the first thirty minutes – well, it doesn’t matter!

So who is it at the BBC or Channel 4 or Sky who decides what films we can see and why is it that some are shown over and over and some only get aired rarely? What happens in the world of the TV scheduler? I really hope those guys are reading this blog because there are movies out there I want to see and a whole bunch of ones, like those above that I am fed up of seeing! Anway, here are a few recommendations for any TV schedulers reading!

CBubblesCharlie Bubbles. This is a great film penned by northern writer Shelagh Delaney and it’s about a (surprise) northern writer played by Albert Finney who journeys back up north from London to see his son. It’s a well observed and fascinating film and for a northerner like me it’s great to see the Manchester of the 1960’s up there on the movie screen. Writer Shelagh Delaney shot to fame in the sixties when she wrote her play ‘A Taste Of Honey’ and had it accepted and performed by Joan Littlewood’s theatre workshop. There’s a rather telling line in the movie when a waiter played by Joe Gladwin, (an actor familiar to UK TV audiences of the 70’s), asks Charlie, played by Finney, “are you still working or do you just do the writing?” Somehow I can imagine that line came from Delaney’s personal experience! Interestingly, this movie marked Albert Finney’s debut as a director. Have you seen the movie? I don’t think you have unless maybe you’ve sourced the DVD version.

In my large but slightly redundant VHS video box I’ve a copy of a wonderful film starring Alec Guinness called ‘Last Holiday’. Guinness plays a pleasant mild mannered salesman called George Bird who has no friends or family and finds out he only has a few weeks to live. He decides to spend the time he has left by going to a rather posh residential hotel where the residents find him a sort of enigma. His star rises here as he becomes involved with the residents and staff and people start to wonder about him. Who is he? Is he rich? Lucrative job offers come his way as well as love but only one person knows his secret, a member of staff that he confides in. In the end Mr Bird finds out he was wrongly diagnosed but the film ends on a sad note when he is killed in a car crash. Penned by author J.B.Priestley, it’s another wonderful British picture full of excellent performances with a whiff of sadness and poignancy about it. Have you seen it on TV? Well, not recently because the last time I have noticed it broadcast was in the 1980’s when I taped it with my trusty VHS video recorder. What happens to classic movies like this and why are they rarely seen on British TV? I wish I knew but I’d love to see this movie again.

Pygmalion Movie Poster

Pygmalion. You’ve probably seen the movie ‘My Fair Lady’ with Rex Harrison as Professor Higgins and Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle but I’d be surprised if you’ve seen this, the original, non-musical version, on TV. Leslie Howard plays Higgins and Wendy Hiller plays Eliza. Hiller is much more believable as Eliza, no disrespect to Audrey Hepburn and Howard is a bright, eccentric Higgins. I’ve never seen this version on TV at all, in fact I picked up the movie on one those free newspaper DVDs. What is interesting from researching the film on the internet is that a controversial (at the time) line was included in the film: Eliza saying ‘Not Bloody Likely!’ This made Wendy Hiller the first person ever to swear in a British film. Dear me, how times change!

Robinson Crusoe on Mars. Sounds a bit mad doesn’t it, a sort of 1950’s B picture. In fact this was shot in colour in 1964 and starred an actor called Paul Mantee who appears in many US TV series of the 1970’s and 1980’s. It pretty much follows the original story of Robinson Crusoe only it’s about an astronaut who crash lands on Mars. He thinks he’s had it but finds that certain rocks contain oxygen which is released when they are heated so he is able to replenish his oxygen supplies. He even finds an alien ‘Friday’ on Mars who has escaped from an alien slave camp. Sounds a little far-fetched I know but it was actually a pretty good movie. I remember watching it on TV on a cold weekday afternoon in the early eighties and it certainly warmed me up. Since then I have never seen it on British TV but it’s well worth a search on e-bay for the DVD version. The day they show it again on TV I’ll be parked up on my favourite armchair ready to enjoy! Come on TV schedulers, get your act together!

Which movies would you like to see on the small screen?


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