Old Age, Editing and a Touch of Variety

Week after week, I knock out a new blog post all in the mostly vain hope that my readers will watch the promotional video down at the bottom of this page and either buy my novel, Floating in Space or my poetry anthology A Warrior of Words. If one of those videos should perchance ‘go viral’ as they say and get some huge viewing figures then those viewers might even be suitably impressed enough to go out in great numbers and buy my books. Then I’d make a huge load of money and quite possibly depart for the South of France with the intention of trying some new wines and new cheeses at pretty frequent intervals.

You might think that once I had those royalties in the bank I might not bother about this lowly WordPress blog anymore. Nothing of course could be further from the truth. This blog and my one deadline of Saturday morning at 10am is the fuel that gets me writing. So far, nothing has stopped me putting out a post, apart from the odd occasion when I have forgotten to press the schedule button or pressed the publish button instead by mistake. The other thing that has sometimes curtailed these blogs is that moment that must come to all writers, the moment when a blank page stares back at you and you have nothing to fill it with.

Now it just so happens that I have been a little stuck for a blog post this week so what I’m going to do is combine this post with a half written post about favourite comedy sketches. Now of course you might be wondering how this is going to work so I suggest you think of this post like you might think of an old variety show, you know, those old Saturday night TV variety shows with a mix of singing, dancing and comedy.

Here’s the first clip from The Two Ronnies, one of my favourite sketches, seriously well written:

 

Last week I wrote about my latest radio interview which was only for a local community station but even so, it was an interesting experience. I am still off work and still suffering with pain in my right shoulder and arm and it’s not so easy to type but I’ve found that by getting into a semi prone position on the couch (some would say that would be my default position anyway) I am actually reasonably comfortable.

Due to Covid 19 it was not possible to go into the studio for the interview so we had to do it by telephone. I had written up a few notes to help me and make me sound reasonably intelligent, a difficult task as you can imagine. What made it more difficult was that the previous night I had slept really badly due to my sore arm and had finally nodded off round about the time I should have been getting up. Anyway, I did get up, got ready for my call and waited and waited for my trusty laptop to fire up. Fire up it did and then displayed a message saying ‘do not turn off your computer while Windows is updating’, not that it fires up particularly quickly anyway. Yes I always seem to get either that or something similar whenever I need my laptop in a hurry. In fact, come to think of it, scrap the South of France idea I mentioned above, I think I’ll spend a huge amount of money on an all singing all dancing new laptop before I venture off to France.

Time for some more humour. This clip is from the Monty Python team and I must add a quick personal story first. Years ago I used to work in the GM Buses control room. I was employed in the enquiry office taking calls from the public and we had the far corner of the control room to ourselves. Opposite me was Jed, a guy who hated the job and sat scowling at his desk waiting for his next call. Two young girls sat in the corner chatting and across from me was Mr Nasty, so called because of the various arguments he used to get into with the public. A young lad called Andy sat in the other corner.

Jed took a call quickly and efficiently, giving out bus times to the customer then quickly finishing the call. Next was Mr Nasty but his call clearly wasn’t going well. This was my first week in the job and I remember wondering whether or not I had made a good career move. The enquiry opposite me began to escalate into an argument and just then my phone rang. I picked it up and said ‘Hello, GM Buses’. A voice then asked me ‘Is this the right room for an argument?’

What? I looked around and my eye caught Andy quietly giggling to himself. I answered ‘I’ve told you once!’ just like John Cleese in the original Monty Python sketch. I had found another Python fan.

 

Okay, where was I? Of course, the root problem is age. If I wasn’t so old and knackered I wouldn’t have had the shoulder problem, I would have got up on time and started my laptop off good and early. The big problem is the inconvenience of getting old.

Yes, seriously inconvenient. Old age comes along just when you don’t want it. You have a few years on the clock, you’ve gained some experience of life, a lot of experience of life in fact. Some wisdom, some money in the bank. Retirement beckons and if you have been smart and invested in a private pension plan, retirement might even come earlier and sooner than it comes for most people. Of course, maybe the mortgage has been paid off and you may be sitting on a prime piece of property. You could sell it, downsize, buy a place in Spain or the south of France, maybe even in the USA, after all, over there they mostly speak the same language.

But what happens? Your back hurts. Your neck hurts. Maybe you need a hip replacement. You might be experiencing a little deafness or poor vision. Yep, old age can be really inconvenient. What has the government done about it? Yes, they have increased the retirement age rather than lowered it. What were they thinking? Lower it and straight away a whole raft of jobs becomes available to all those out of work people hoping for a job and as for us older people, we can jet off to somewhere warm and relax before our aches and pains get the better of us.

You might be thinking this might be a good spot to add another comedy video. I thought that too but in my draft post, 10 Classic Comedy Sketches, I had only got as far as number 3 and when it comes down to it, I’m not sure that number 3 was actually good enough to get into the top 10. Anyway, so as to continue the variety theme, here’s a little music from another unfinished draft; 10 Great Beatles Cover Versions;

Getting back to my interview, it seemed to go off reasonably well and like the seasoned blogger that I am I started sharing links to the interview over on Facebook and Twitter. What else could I do though? How else could I promote the interview and me at the same time? What about making it into a video? Difficult I know! If I had been really on the ball I could have set myself up at the table in front of my camera and videoed things from my perspective. I hadn’t, so how could I make it into a video? Well, I could easily add the soundtrack to a still picture of me or my website logo but that would be a bit boring. No, what I could do was to pretend to be doing the interview on camera and lip sync to my recorded answers. Genius!

How hard could it be to lip sync? Back in the sixties many films, especially European ones were made with only a guide soundtrack and all the dialogue was dubbed later. A prime example would be the spaghetti westerns like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Dubbing was pretty much the norm in European films, as many times they would be dubbed not only in their native language but in other languages too so as to facilitate sales in other countries.

Another interesting example is the James Bond films which surprisingly contain some excellent audio dubbing. Gert Frobe who played Auric Goldfinger was German and did not speak English well. His voice was dubbed in the film by another actor. I think I mentioned in a previous Bond blog post that Ursula Andress who played the first ever Bond girl Honeychile Ryder in Doctor No was dubbed in the film by Nikki Van der Zyl who did voice overs for many Bond girls. Apparently, Ursula Andress was felt by the producers to have had too strong a German accent.

Shirley Eaton played Jill Masterton in Goldfinger and it was she who was famously covered in gold paint. Jill’s voice was dubbed by Nikki in order to give her a softer voice. French actress Claudine Auger who played Domino in Thunderball was also dubbed by Nikki.

Not long ago on one of my promotional videos, I decided to lip sync myself when some unexpected wind noise ruined one of my recordings. I have to admit, the result was only partially successful even after hours of work. Actually it would have easier just to reshoot on a less windy day. Anyway, all that experience would pay off now and I could lip sync my new interview. Sadly after a few hours of lip syncing and coming close to smashing my beloved video camera and laptop to pieces I decided on another tack. I filmed myself talking but with the phone covering my mouth so my lips couldn’t be seen on the finished film. What a directorial film making genius. Why Hollywood has never signed me up I’ll never know?


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The Secret of Writing Poetry

I’ve been looking through my poetry work lately and I started to think that I could write a blog about writing a poem. Now I’ve started I’m not sure how this is going to work out but anyway, let’s give it a shot.

For me there are two ways to write a poem. One is where I have to work at it and the other is when the whole thing just comes to me. I once read that Paul McCartney thinks that his songs and melodies are just hanging in the air and all he does is to entice them down to him. I’m clearly not on the same level as McCartney but that image just captures exactly how I feel when a good poem comes to me.

There is a particular state of mind that I enter for this process to happen. The best time is when I’m driving my car. I don’t know why, and I can only guess that driving sends me into that perfect state of mental concentration where a poem or an idea will come to me, enticed down, as Paul McCartney suggested, from the cosmos. That is the purest way to write a poem, one where either the whole thing or at least a couple of verses present themselves and then I have to sit down and work at the rest.

Sometimes an idea comes to me in odd ways. Some years ago in one of my old jobs, I used to return home from work in the mid afternoon. I started very early and usually worked through my break, getting home between 2 and 3pm. I would get changed, have a quick wash and come into the kitchen to put the kettle on. The kitchen was in the front of the house and in the summer months I noticed the cat from the house across the road would usually be getting comfy under the small tree on their lawn while I waited for the kettle to boil. I often watched that cat. I never noticed it as I reversed my big van into my drive but later, in the kitchen, I would invariably see the cat settle down for an afternoon nap.

One day I came home from work, got washed, and from the kitchen noticed the cat getting into position as usual under the tree. I took my tea and toast into the lounge and settled down with the TV. Later I heard something, a commotion of some sort but nothing that was compelling enough for me to shift my lazy butt and see what was happening. Not long after that, my partner came home and I could hear something going on. She seemed to come in and go out again. When she finally came in I asked what had happened and it seemed that the lady opposite had returned home and found that her cat was still under the tree but not sleeping, it had died.

That particular lady was someone who was a bit of a diva and very often made a lot of fuss about things that really, weren’t worth making a fuss of. Apparently, she began shouting and screaming and various neighbours came over to assist while I, in blissful ignorance, was busy dozing. Still, that little event became the inspiration for the poem The Cat Across the Road. I made the assumption, rightly or wrongly, that the cat was ready to depart his life; maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. Maybe he felt he had a few more years left of sun lounging, mouse chasing and bird catching. If he did his heart must have stopped without warning during his or her feline slumbers. All in all, not a bad way to go.

 

Everything seemed in order, I suppose, to die

It was a warm enough day

Certainly

 

The sun shone and birds sung

Even though birds would cause a feline heart to race

Normally

 

I’ve had my fill of life

Of titbits and cosy sleeps, sometimes in next door’s shed

Informally

 

And I’ve had my chases and midnight hunts

And I’ve always remembered my owners and left them a mouse or two

Naturally

 

A last cuddle would have been nice

Still, all in all it’s been a good life, and I’ve loved it

Enormously

 

I’ve always liked this tree

I can keep my eye on the birds and the sun comes down

Warmly

 

So now I’ll just close my eyes and die

And go on to the next of my nine lives

Expectantly.

The other way of writing a poem is where I sit down determined to write something. Recently I saw in one of the poetry newsletters that I subscribe to, an item about a poetry contest. They wanted a poem about love. Now I am not a person who can describe himself as well qualified to write on that particular subject, but I settled down and began to play with ideas and words. After a while I came up with the beginning of a poem, one that I had to return to in the following days to flesh out. As I mentioned before, love isn’t one of my specialist subjects and I took that thought literally into the poem. As I am a cool sort of customer, not one for spouting or talking about my feelings I thought that might be a relevant message for me and others like me.

I don’t think I can remember my mother and certainly not my father ever talking about love. They loved me, I knew that. I knew it when my dad picked me up off the floor when I fell off a ride in the park. I knew it every time my mother washed my jeans and shirts and made my favourite meals. Still, there are others who need love spoken in words. I realise and respect that but for me there is No Need to Talk of Love.

To save me typing the poem out here and also to liven up this post a little, here’s my YouTube video version:

That’s about it really. Take an idea, try and boil it down into a phrase, something with resonance and some lyrical attributes and go with it. I was actually pretty pleased with the poem above. I sent it off to the poetry competition with high hopes. I have to admit, I didn’t send it off in the form it is above. Since then I’ve worked on it some more and edited it a little but sadly it wasn’t a winner or even a runner up.

As a writer though and not one who can really call himself a professional one, the fundamental result of writing and the reason for doing it has to be the pleasure of crafting something that is satisfying to me; satisfying to write and to read. It is the process of writing itself which is most rewarding to me, perhaps that is why I am always skimming back over my past work. Well, someone has to read this stuff, it might as well be me.

I do love it every time someone presses the like button here on WordPress or over on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube but the Ferrari, the motorboat and the Spanish villa that I expected, or more accurately hoped I might earn from all this scribbling has not arrived. Indeed, those things may never arrive but even so if you come looking for me you’ll probably find me with a notebook or my laptop in my hand, writing.


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I Hope The Train Breaks Down.


I hope the train breaks down

Before the end of the line.

Then again, that’s a bit of a foolish thought

For sooner or later

We’ll get to the end,

In time.

 

I’m not in any hurry

To get to my destination.

I might even change trains at the next station

I’m not quite ready

For the end of the line,

This time.

 

So I’ll carry on with my trip

And I’m enjoying my travels

Plenty of stations to call at

While life unravels.

I’ll get to the end of the line,

Sometime.


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

Dylan Thomas and the Joy of a Second Hand book

As you might have guessed from reading these posts, I really do love my books. This particular book, about the last days of poet Dylan Thomas is one I’ve had a long time but have not got around to reading until recently. I do endlessly peruse our local secondhand shops for books but I have a feeling I bought this one from one of two online bookshops, either abebooks or awesome books, both of which I use especially when there is a particular book that I am after.

This book is a rather slow one but it details Dylan’s last days and ultimately his death in New York in the USA.

Dylan was a slow worker when it came to writing and there was always something, usually a pub, to draw him away from his work. In his latter days he was concerned that his talent or his inspiration had gone and that all his best work was perhaps behind him. He was short of money as usual and that is what drove him to accept an offer to go to the USA on a poetry tour by Canadian poet John Brinnin. Brinnin was the director of a poetry centre in New York and the trips Dylan undertook there were very lucrative for the always hard up poet. Thomas had a number of wealthy patrons, in fact his famous house in Laugharne was bought by for him by an admirer but money went through Dylan’s hands quickly.

He had travelled there before and on his penultimate visit had become romantically involved with a lady called Liz Reitel who worked for Brinnin at the poetry centre. When Dylan arrived for his last visit Reital was shocked to see the poet looking poorly and ‘not his usual robust self’. Dylan was in an odd mood and related a strange story of an encounter on the aircraft with a priest. Over the next few days his mood alternated between being tired and poorly and getting drunk with some moments of normality. I get the impression from the book that Dylan liked attention, he liked admirers and although he was in the middle of an affair with Liz Reitel, he was not averse to enjoying the attention he received from other women.

At the poetry centre preparations were under way for a recital of the newly finished Under Milk Wood for which Dylan had produced some new edits and updates. Towards the end of the book Liz mentions that she was disappointed that these revisions were not included in the published versions of the play despite the fact that she personally typed them up and passed them on to Dylan’s publishers.

The recital went well and was in fact tape recorded by someone at the time with Dylan taking the part of the narrator.

The book goes on to detail Dylan’s various moods and the symptoms of whatever was ailing him.

Liz called a doctor when Dylan became unwell again and the doctor gave Dylan an injection of morphine sulphate which may or may not have helped him.

After a night of drinking at the White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village Dylan returned to the Chelsea hotel claiming famously that he had downed ‘eighteen straight whiskies. I think that’s the record!’

Dylan’s breathing became difficult later in the evening and an ambulance was summoned. Thomas slipped into a coma from which he never awoke and later died on the 9th of November, 1953. He was only 53 years old and died with assets of only £100.

I was always under the impression that Dylan had drunk himself to death but that may not be the case. The autopsy did not find any evidence of liver cirrhosis and his death may have been due to pneumonia and bronchitis as well as the injections he had received from the doctor. It was later thought that the morphine may have inhibited Dylan’s breathing rather than easing his pain.

This was a good read although the author’s style was not completely to my liking. One interesting thing about it was that in my copy, it was a second hand book remember, there was an inscription on the first page. The book was clearly a gift. Did the owner pass away? Did his family send for the house clearance man and clear away his belongings? Who was Kate, the lady who signed the book in 1992?

Who was the person she loved and thought the world of?

In way it is almost like Under Milk Wood itself, where the dead come alive again at night as time passes . .

 


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

The Long and Dusty Road of Life

A short road, a long road,
A travelled-only-once-road
It’s the long and dusty road of life
It’s heartache, happiness, and strife

A happy road, a clean road​
Is the road that I desire
A cheerful road, a sweet singing music road,
Free from muddy mire

Let my road be a long road,
A fondly remembered high road
And don’t let me detour at a crossroads,
Or linger on a lonely road

One day I’ll need a fast road, a rushing road
A quickly time is running out road
And I’ll breathe my last in a quiet road, a by road
An end of the line side road

For journeys end is a sad road
A goodbye and thanks for all you’ve done road
A cul de sac, an avenue, a long gone distant road,
And as time passes it soon becomes a travelled-long-ago road.


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. The book is available in Kindle or paperback formats. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Tap, Tap, Tapping my Way


I’m caught up in the fog

I’ve got my hands out

Feeling my way like a blind man in a haze

Tap, tap, tapping my way along,

Through life.

I don’t really know what I’m looking for

But I keep searching

I’m like a blind man fumbling in the dark

And I sometimes think I need an instruction book

So I can be flick, flick, flicking,

Through life.

There are times; I guess it’s my lot,

When I don’t understand the plot.

I’m going backwards and forwards

Trying to understand.

Fast, fast, forwarding

Through life.

One day there’ll be a break in the fog

And I’ll see the sun,

But when the answers won’t come

I’ll dream harder,

Borne back to the past by memories

Back, back, back,

Through life.


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.

The Rain

The stream becomes the river
The river becomes the sea
And the rain that washes over me
Is the rain that will set me free.

For you are my rain,
My river and my stream,
And I am the fisherman
Who loves you in his dreams.

So when I wake I’ll hold you
And take away your pain.
Love can wash the pain away
Like dust in the pouring rain.

The stream becomes the river,
The river becomes the sea.
And all our sins are washed away
When the rain washes over me.

Love Isn’t

 

Love isn’t some little thing that goes ding!

It isn’t a song that you can sing.

It’s not something that might happen in a flash,

It doesn’t happen while driving and cause you to crash.

 

Love isn’t something tangible, something you can see,

It might even be invisible, to both you and to me.

It’s something that will join us and hold us together,

It’s a feeling that will get better, whatever the weather.

 

Love isn’t the singing of a song

But it’s working together when things go wrong

It isn’t the chiming of a bell or the tooting of a horn

But It’s just tears of joy when a child is born.

 

 

Dylan Thomas

Time for a reblog to commemorate Dylan’s birthday today!

Letters from an unknown author!

I love lots of writers but probably my all-time favourite is Dylan Thomas. I love the outstanding power of his writing, his incredible imagery, and the wonderful pictures he creates with his words.

Dylan also is the sort of writer I’ve always wanted to be: A bohemian, pub crawling, boozing writer who fought with himself as he laboured to paint his word pictures. Whether that was really the case I don’t know but Dylan did like his pubs and he did enjoy a drink.

The fact of the matter is that I’m nothing like Dylan, except we both share a love of words, particularly the sound of words, which is the key to the richness of Dylan’s work, especially his poetry. If you think about it, there must be a connection between the sound of a word and its meaning, a deep organic connection. After all, how did words begin? Imagine…

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The Sound of a writing hero: Dylan Thomas

under-milk-wood I love lots of writers but probably my all-time favourite is Dylan Thomas. I love the outstanding power of his writing, his incredible imagery, and the wonderful pictures he creates with his words.

Dylan also is the sort of writer I’ve always wanted to be: A bohemian, pub crawling, boozing writer who fought with himself as he laboured to paint his word pictures. Whether that was really the case I don’t know but Dylan did like his pubs and he did enjoy a drink.

The fact of the matter is that I’m nothing like Dylan, except we both share a love of words, particularly the sound of words, which is the key to the richness of Dylan’s work, especially his poetry. If you think about it, there must be a connection between the sound of a word and its meaning, a deep organic connection. After all, how did words begin? Imagine some ancient caveman, just wanting to get some concept over to his mate. What are the deepest and strongest feelings for a human being? Well, for a caveman food must be one, and love too. Surely love was present in those primordial days when every caveman went out on Saturday with his club looking for his mate. There must have been a moment when ancient man strived to say something to his mate, tried to express his feeling and a sound that was the precursor to the word love slipped uneasily from his lips.

27th October this year is the centenary of Dylan’s birth and I’m sure Wales and Great Britain itself won’t let the occasion pass without celebrations of some sort. If you have read any of Dylan’s poems and are yet to understand his magic, let me give you a tiny bit of advice: Listen to Dylan’s voice. Yes, Dylan, like many poets wrote for his own voice and if you click on to any Dylan Thomas page or search anywhere on the internet you are bound to come across some old recording of his voice. Don’t make do with lesser voices, even when we are talking about great actors like Richard Burton or Anthony Hopkins. Search out Dylan himself and you will be won over, like me, by the power of his voice.

It’s not just his poems that are rich with the power of words. Dylan wrote and performed a good many radio plays and broadcasts and my very favourite is ‘Return Journey.’ It’s about Dylan himself returning to Swansea in search of his former self ‘Young Thomas.’ He visits young Thomas’ old haunts and meets with people who knew him fleetingly; like the barmaid who used to serve him, journalists who worked with him and even the park keeper where Dylan and his young friends would play in the park. It’s a lovely piece where drama merges with prose and we slip in and out of the two as the story progresses.

5737365722_15dde4c19c_bMany years ago I visited Dylan’s former home in Laugharne, now a museum dedicated to Dylan. I can only say I loved the place and didn’t want to leave. I wandered through its rooms and looked at the black and white photos on the walls and tried to imagine Dylan living here and banging out his poems and stories in his writing shed then later ambling down to the pub for a pint. I had to leave early the day I visited so I went back the next day and the staff recognised me and let me in without paying so in return I bought some books about Dylan and a copy of his collected stories.

At least I can say that in the mustardseed sun, I visited his house on stilts, high among beaks and palavers of birds . .


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Floating in space: a novel