Writing, the Village and Young Higgins

Liz and I will soon be off to France in our motorhome. It’s had an MOT, it’s been taxed and has had a good wash and clean up and it’s pretty much all ready for the trip. As a writer, I try and get ready for the trip too, I like to get ahead with my weekly posts so I have a few all written and ready to be posted, even if I’m in the middle of the outback of the Loire valley. All I have to do is press the post button and I know that I will have met my deadline, my one deadline of 10:00am on a Saturday morning when my new post goes out.

A couple of weeks ago I was feeling pretty pleased with myself, I was actually three blogs in advance, a whole three weeks, all I had to do was keep writing one blog per week and then in the hoped for sunny Loire I could relax, read books, sunbathe and swim and still put out my one blog post every week. Of course, there are some writers, some bloggers whose output is considerably more than that. Even so, my one blog post per week keeps me honest as a writer and of course I do actually write more. I’ve started to recycle my old posts over on Medium.com to hopefully engage more readers and even sell more books. One day, when my royalties build up, I might even have enough to splash out on a pint of lager on our regular Thursday night pub quiz.

It was nice to get back behind the wheel of our motorhome and take it down for its first wash of 2023. I’ve already got a few good books to read packed aboard and it almost seems as though I can already taste the vin rouge and the French bread. Yes, that was a good feeling. A bad feeling though was when I realised that despite being three blogs ahead, it was soon two and then just one and as much as I looked at prompts and old posts, no inspiration seemed to come.

Parked by a lake in France

I did a post a while ago about Ideas, Inspiration and Effort. They, I thought, were the key things to any kind of writing, whether it’s a blog post, a story or a poem. The more I think about it, a better title might be Inspiration, Observation and Effort. Some ideas just come naturally. A writer is inspired, he jots down notes and then writes. Other ideas come just by observing things. A recent idea for a post came from a car journey and observing what happened during the trip and it got me talking about my former job, working as a motorway traffic officer and other ideas from my car stereo and the music I was playing. After that comes the effort, the actual work of putting together a blog or story or book.

This week it’s round about a year since I retired. I’m really still getting used to retirement. It’s nice having a free bus pass and it’s nice not having to go into work all the time. I did think about getting a part time job but I actually don’t need a job. Perhaps if I spend too much on holidays or restaurants then I might have to think about working but so far, I seem to be doing OK. When my father retired, he went out on long walks with his dog. He used to roam about the huge council estate where he lived and take in the farms or what used to be farms where he used to work in his youth. He once showed me an old farmhouse hidden in the estate surrounded by council houses. There was a large green there which he said used to be the farm’s orchard and indeed, there were still many apple and pear trees on the green.

After thinking about my father I thought that I might do a similar thing, have a little walkabout around some places I used to know well and see how they had changed.

Not far from the housing estate is a small village called Gatley and when I was younger I used to go there quite a lot. There was a fabulous model shop there and as a schoolboy I bought many a plastic model kit from there. I used to make models from scratch too using glue and balsa wood which I also bought from that shop. The shop itself was a wooden hut type of affair and walking down there the other day the shop was gone and only bushes and shrubs had taken its place. Right outside the shop was the bus stop for the 45 bus which came from Manchester, turned around in Gatley and then went back to Manchester. Today, the small block which the bus circled in order to turn round has been blocked off so the 45 bus is no more, although there is another bus which carries on through the village.

The Red Lion pub is now a Tesco store. There is still a café on the spot where there was aways a café but despite various visits recently, I have never seen it open. Further down, The Prince of Wales is still there. In that particular pub I had my first ever pint many years ago.

As I walked further into the village the traditional English chip shop I used to frequent is now a Chinese takeaway and the chip shop dining room is another shop entirely. The Tatton cinema was demolished some time ago although the builders kept the façade of the building when they built the new supermarket. Among many other films I remember seeing there was my first James Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in what must have been 1969.

Next door is the Horse and Farrier pub. My mother once worked there at lunchtimes making sandwiches and my father too, he was the pub gardener. Once, when I was 16 and still at school, a couple of friends and I went inside for a pint. We left our briefcases outside with our school jackets and just as we bought our drinks and had our first sips of beer, who came in through the entrance but our physics master, Mr Farragher. The three of us shot out of the back door and into the gardens before going round to grab our jackets and briefcases from the front. Ever afterwards we three referred to the pub as the Horse and Farragher!

Today I often have a drink in that pub. On the outside it looks just the same as it always did and when I’m there I often think of Mr Farragher. That reminds me of Return Journey, the radio broadcast by Dylan Thomas I spoke about in last week’s post. Dylan returns to a pub of his youth looking for his younger self. He asks the barmaid about young Thomas and she in turn asks him what he looked like. He replies like this:

Thick blubber lips and a snub nose, a bit of a shower off: plus fours and no breakfast you know, a bombastic adolescent provincial bohemian with a thick knotted artist’s tie made from his sisters scarf. A gabbing, mock tough pretentious young man . .

How would I describe myself if I was looking for young Higgins I wonder?

A tall thin reserved young man wearing aviator spectacles. He sometimes wore tinted glasses even when it wasn’t so bright. A provincial adolescent wannabe writer and film director who packed in his job in an insurance company to travel through Europe and ended up as a bus conductor.

Such a shame we can’t go back and change things.

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Manchester, Metrolink and the Saga of a Mobile Phone

The other day I was staying at my Mum’s house in Manchester. It’s always nice to be back in the old home town. I was meeting my brother in the city centre and he advised me the best way to get there was by using the Metrolink, Manchester’s tram service.

Now, from my Mum’s place to Manchester city centre by car, it takes about twenty to thirty minutes, depending on traffic. The bus which comes down her road takes nearly an hour, why? Because it takes in a tour of various small estates within the larger housing estate of Wythenshawe, then takes another tour around Sharston and Northenden, eventually ending up in Piccadilly.

The tram is no quicker. It too takes the passenger on a tour of Wythenshawe before passing through Chorlton and Trafford and finally ending up in Manchester.

Cornbrook is a place I’ve never heard of before. It’s a remote tram staging post at the outskirts of the city centre. It looks like a vast industrial area where in the recent past, passengers from Manchester airport have to change to get to the city centre. Metrolink have done a lot of advertising recently telling the public that we no longer have to change at Cornbrook for the city centre: Wrong! You can go a stop further to Deansgate, the very edge of the city  but if you want to go to the heart of the city, Piccadilly for instance, you still have to change trams so sorry Metrolink, your publicity is just not true!

I should add that there is a tram every few minutes so it’s not a great inconvenience to have to change but it’s still rather annoying because the trams are always pretty packed. They vary from absolutely jam-packed to pretty busy and it makes you wonder where all these people come from. Are the buses all now running empty? Are there hundreds of cars left at home or have a great load of travelling public suddenly appeared from nowhere? I don’t know but the trams are certainly packing them in.

One other observation about the trams: It is a very impersonal way of travelling. There are no conductors and the driver is shut away in his cab. The passengers are all locked into their smartphones, many with earplugs further blocking out the outside world and passengers have to buy their tickets from a machine by the station platforms.

Anyway, it was nice to be in Manchester again. My brother and I were due to shoot some video of me blathering on about my book, Floating in Space, and once again urging the public to buy it. He however had found a mobile phone, a rather nice Samsung device costing I would guess between 150 to 200 pounds. He went to drop it in at Wythenshawe police station, a new building erected in the last few years. It is pretty big so I assume the local constabulary are expecting a lot of business. Anyway when he went round it was closed, as was another police station he tried. He called the police on the non emergency number but the officer who answered urged my brother to go to the station!

A little frustrated he had brought the phone with him to Manchester and I said we could go to the police station near to St Peter’s square and relax afterwards with a drink in the old pub the Abercromby, a watering house I had not visited in years. Alas, the cop shop was closed down and looked ready for demolition, no doubt ready to make way for a brand new futuristic office block which as we know are in short supply these days, so we took refuge in the pub.

The Abercromby, actually the Sir Ralph Abercromby was one of those pubs that is a little like stepping into a time capsule. The decor was authentic seventies with lots of stained dark wood and leather seats and they served a decent pint. I later 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 wants 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 means nothing to him or to the council planners.

The mobile phone was locked so we were unable to get access to any stored numbers and we also noticed it was set to silent so it wasn’t easy to pick up incoming calls. Two calls came and went while we chatted, both of us too slow to pick up the call. Eventually my brother answered a call from the owner, arranged to meet him and hand over the mobile. That sorted, we decided to get on with our video shoot.

There was another camera crew in our chosen location in St Peter’s Square. They had an impressive looking camera and tripod but we found ourselves a spot away from them and with my mobile phone sized video camera, hand-held by my brother, we set to work. The result was something vaguely similar to other videos I have made but this time I tried to evoke the spirit of the 1970’s by mentioning people, music and films from the time. For instance, in 1977 (the year Floating in Space is set) the Prime Minister was James Callaghan, the US President was Jimmy Carter, a hit album from Fleetwood Mac was Rumours and so on. I’ll post the result after the usual editing process. (I edit in a way similar to George Stevens, the director of Giant with James Dean and Shane starring Alan Ladd to name but two of his classic movies. I review all my footage, all fifteen minutes of it, and take my time with the final cut. Any similarity to George Steven’s work will probably not be evident!)

The fellow who had lost his mobile duly arrived to meet my brother, said thanks and took away his phone. Now I may sound a little churlish here but my brother had saved the man a good £150 to £200. He had made numerous efforts to hand the phone to the police and had politely resisted my outrageous but not totally serious suggestion to keep the phone for himself. In a similar situation I think I might have offered £10 or even a fiver to the finder of my lost phone for his honesty and efforts.

No such luck on this occasion so whoever you are Mr Recently Reunited with your Mobile Phone -shame on you!

Floating in Space is available from Amazon.co.uk Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

The Birthday Blues of an Unknown Author

quotescover-png-57October 3rd was the birthday of Manchester author and blogger Steve Higgins.

At a press conference this past Monday morning at Wetherspoons in Southport Mr Higgins, reputedly now 60 years of age, was asked numerous questions about his advancing years. He was heard to ask “Pint of lager, please mate,” numerous times but did not seem willing to discuss his birthday further.

Although Mr Higgins seemed somewhat reluctant to engage with people, he responded to a question about television in the early years of the second half of the twentieth century.
He confirmed there were, in the 1960’s when he was a child, only two TV channels. There were further gasps from people when he mentioned, almost nonchalantly that he and his family were at one time forced to watch programmes in black and white!

As Mr Higgins moved onto his next pint he enlarged upon his theme. “Yes, in those days there was no colour TV, no Internet and no mobile phones.”
“How did people send messages?” One journalist asked.
“Well,” said Mr Higgins. “The only way was to get some paper and a pen or pencil and laboriously write out a message. Afterwards it had to be sealed in an envelope and posted after of course, adding a stamp.”
“What, you mean it wasn’t free?”
“Of course not!” snapped Mr Higgins, rather testily. “Not only that, you had to take it round to the post box and mail it yourself.”
“How long would the process take?” asked another.
“Well, it could be anything from a couple of days to almost a week”

A young lady reporter fainted and was revived by splashing cold water on her face. As she came round, she looked up at Mr Higgins and asked, “How did you carry on, how did you survive?”

“Well,” answered Mr Higgins. “I suppose we were a tough generation. It was hard then. You lot have things so easy!” Returning to the bar, Mr Higgins waved over to the bar staff and commented. “This lager is a bit naff. Have you got any dark beers? What about a pint of mild?”

Picture courtesy perfectpint.com

Picture courtesy perfectpint.co.uk

“Mild?” replied the barmaid, a young Romanian girl of about nineteen. “What iz zat?”
Mr Higgins looked a little frustrated until the bar manager came over and revealed that Theakstons mild was one of the guest beers that day. Mr Higgins immediately perked up and called for a pint.
“Lovely jubbly” he commented, “cracking pint. Now, what else do you lot need to know? I’ve got some serious drinking to do.”
“What about films?” someone asked. Surely it was just like today; surely you could download a movie onto your tablet and watch at your convenience?
Mr Higgins, now onto his fourth pint seemed to jump on the word tablet and exclaim “Tablet? In my day that was something you took for a headache! If you wanted to see a film, you had to go down to the picture house, pay your money and go in and get your seat and watch the film.”
Someone asked if the term ‘picture house’ could be explained.
“The picture house! Cinema! A big place with a huge screen where they projected the picture!”
“Do you mean you had to sit with other people?”
“Of course you pillock!” replied Mr Higgins. He turned back to the bar just as his all day breakfast arrived. “Right, that’s it now. If you want to learn about the old days, like the seventies, just get yourselves a copy of my book, ‘Floating in Space!’”

It was a bright sunny day in Southport as we left Mr Higgins. He appeared contented and happy with a pint in one hand and his all day breakfast in the other. I did notice him quietly slip an iPad onto the table and he glanced back at me and commented; “technology, you’ve got to embrace it haven’t you? Otherwise you’ll just get left behind.”

This exclusive report was by Johhny Lizt

Find out more about Floating In Space. Click the links at the top of the page for information, video, and background.

Writers Block and Promotional Videos

Every writer gets there eventually; the point where a blank piece of paper stares back at you and you can’t think of anything to put on it. I’ve always tried to write, even when nothing will come to mind, and it’s then I open my diary and write about me and things that I can chronicle and maybe even turn into a poem or a blog. I guess that’s why so many of my blogs are about my personal past, I’ll be writing about myself and something comes to me, a little light goes on and I start thinking, ‘hey, this could be a good blog!’

Diaries are a good way to keep you writing, because something is always happening in your life, even something ever so minor. ‘Watched that Old Bond film last night, Goldfinger. Had a glass of whisky and scoffed half a large fruit and nut bar.’ Not a great diary entry but so what, you are writing again and as more and more words start to come, you are writing and creating more and more. You’ve beaten the blank page and produced something. Not only that, diaries are great to look back on. I tend to open one and look back and see what I did on this day on a past year. 14th September, 1996? Wonder what happened then? Wonder what I was doing? Who was I spending my time with?

Just lately I’ve been waiting for the latest proof version of my book with my latest revisions and the curse of the blank page has hit me. So, I decided to step back from writing and make a few videos about Manchester and maybe link them up with a half hearted idea about talking to camera about events that my book was based on. All the locations in the book, well the pubs anyway, are real life locations, real pubs and in my video I take a look back at some of those places.

The video started well but it took a while for me and my brother to get the hang of what we were doing. He was filming and I was talking. We shot some footage then retired to the pub to check it out. One of the pubs we went to was the Salisbury, a pub I used to frequent years ago and a pub that looks today, pretty much just how it used to look years ago. Even inside the pub; it had clearly had a refurb, but it had been done thoughtfully and the pub with its polished wooden bar and flagged stone floors looked pretty similar to how it used to look. The only thing was that back in the late seventies and early eighties when I used to drink there, my friends and I used to sit in a room at the far end of the pub which nowadays looks as though it’s a private function room, so I couldn’t just sit back in my old seat and remember the times gone by.

Anyway, we reviewed our video, made a few suggestions and shot some more takes. Much better ones. Then we decided to wander down to some other locations. We shot some more video then retired to the pub for another review. We were on our way to the Briton’s Protection when we called into the Rains pub which has a really nice beer garden backing onto the canal. After a few pints I had some ideas in my head for some more filming so my brother cranked up the camera. ‘It’s not working,’ he said so I told him to press the record button again then went off into what I thought was a pretty interesting monologue. Later we realised that the camera was recording when my brother thought it wasn’t so when he pressed the record button the second time it went into pause mode. A great monologue lost for prosperity! Anyway, at least we had a great afternoon out. As for the video, well, think we’ll have to schedule a re-shoot!

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When Good Service Makes Your Meal.

I do love my food as anyone will tell you. And I do love dining out. The food is important of course but just as important is the service and I do hate bad service.

Not so long ago Liz and I were in a local pub and I noticed that on the next table there were a couple finishing off their meals. One meal was half eaten; the other looked to be almost untouched. What was wrong with it I wanted to say? Had any staff member been over to ask if it was OK? If so, what did the two diners say? I think we, the English, tend not to like to complain. I’ve had poor meals and eaten more of it than I wanted just because I didn’t want to leave a half full plate. Even so, the meal I mentioned above was hardly touched. Why hadn’t the staff done something? Most pubs these days have someone who comes round and asks ’is everything ok with your meal?’ The thing is, a lot of those people are not prepared or trained when the answer is ‘well it wasn’t very warm’ or ‘the steak was overdone’ or ‘the chips are cold.’ In Wetherspoons not long ago we were asked just that question, was our meal OK? Liz replied that her steak was cold and the waiter just said ‘sorry’ and went away. Was he doing something about the food? Evidently not as he never returned! Why ask about the state of the food if you are not prepared to do something about it? These days I just won’t stand for bad food or service. Complain! We British should complain more. We owe it to the subsequent customers to complain so that the pub or bar or restaurant will get it right.

One little bit of advice I will give is if that if you want a decent meal and decent service, go for a restaurant rather than a pub. No matter what anyone may tell you, a pub is all about drinks, and food is just secondary. A restaurant on the other hand is all about food and it seems to me that staff in a restaurant know more about service than staff in a pub who are used to standing behind a bar. OK, there’s the cost factor, but when you add it up I believe a restaurant is better value in the long run.

Anyway, enough about bad food; I’d much rather talk about good food. One of my favourite meals ever was at a restaurant in France. I can’t tell you the name of it but it is on a winding road coming out of Calais and heading towards St Omer. My starter was celery soup and Liz had the pate; simple French country food. A pichet of red wine and jug of water appeared. An empty bowl and spoon came and sadly I looked down at the rather small bowl that had arrived. The pate came with a huge basket of fresh French bread and a healthy portion of home-made pate with side salad. The waiter soon arrived with a large tureen of soup with a ladle and as I waited for him to dish me out a small portion, he just put the tureen on the table and left. Needless to say, Liz and I had several bowls of that wonderful soup each. It was lovely and the pate was tasty and just perfect with a small salad and French bread.

My next course was a ham and cheese omelette, the lightest, fluffiest omelette. Delicieux! Even the fish that Liz had was nice and I am not a fish lover. Pity I was driving that day as I could have sat there and consumed another pichet of wine as we enjoyed our cheese board.

Just to finish with I’d like to say a few words about my favourite restaurant. It’s the Ego restaurant in Lytham. The food is always good; I’d say it alternates between good and very good and on the rare occasion it isn’t that good, maybe the steak is overcooked or the salad comes with a dressing that we didn’t want, there are no arguments. It’s not like some places where we hear the excuses, sorry, we didn’t get a delivery of that today or the oven’s not working properly or the chef’s not feeling well or something. The staff just whisk the meal away and come back with a new one or with the missing item replaced. The staff in Ego are really exceptional and as we’ve been going there for a while we’ve got to know the staff and they’ve got to know us. They know without us saying that we don’t care for the anchovies on the Spanish sharing board and they always replace them with something we prefer, like the chorizo in red wine and garlic. I have to say hats off to Jay, Tony, Paul, John, Christian, Natasha, Camilla and Sandra, not forgetting the chefs, Ben, who makes a superb Spanish sharing board and Adam who rustles up our main courses; they certainly know how to look after us and as long as they do, we’ll keep coming back for more!

If you enjoyed this post, why not try my book, Floating in Space, set in Manchester, 1977?

In The Wars

Just lately I’ve been in the wars a little. My trusty mountain bike was stolen a while ago but I have an older bike in the garage so the other day I dug it out, cleaned it up and pumped up the tyres. After fitting a new inner tube and giving the bike a good oil and clean up I was ready for a quick test spin and luckily, as it turned out, popped on my helmet and gloves. As I went down the avenue I noticed I hadn’t tightened up the handlebars enough, so I turned round and headed back. My big mistake was in not getting off the bike and walking back because the front wheel turned sharply, I turned the handlebars, and of course nothing happened, except that I ended up in a heap on the pavement. Still, I had my helmet on, no head injuries and my natty little bike mitts had prevented any cuts on my hands. As I pushed the bike back home I noticed my leg hurting a little and later on my ankle swelled up. A two hour visit to casualty revealed no broken bones but I was pretty happy no one was around that afternoon to video my escapade and post it on you tube!

Now here’s my other scary moment; I’ve had a little mark on the side of nose for a while, two years actually and it’s a sort of red mark, it doesn’t hurt but every so often it gets inflamed and starts to bleed. Anyway, I went to the doctors about it and they sent me to a specialist who said it’s a rodent ulcer! Sounds pretty nasty but a quick look at the internet shows that it’s nothing really scary and hopefully it can be sorted out soon but the doctor decided to cut a slice of it off and send it for a biopsy. Now it didn’t hurt much as they gave me a local anaesthetic but, that needle going in was another story! That really hurt. Later, my nose swelled up and started throbbing. Anyway, you can get the picture, me looking a bit of a mess and feeling a little sorry for myself, so much so I called in sick at work. Not like me at all.

Now, a couple of days later I was feeling a little better and ready to go back to work so Liz and I went for a drink to the Links, a local pub. Monday is open mike night at the pub so we sat back and enjoyed the various singers. Now, there were three distinct groups at the Links that night. The regulars who of course are always there and never seem to me to care whoever is singing as long as they don’t interfere with their drinking. The second group was the Open Mikers, a regular group that we see at most of the various open mike nights in the St Annes area and also tonight, a third group, the outsiders. The outsiders we had never seen before. They were made up of two singing groups and a small band of their supporters. Now their performers were actually really pretty good, especially one young guy who had a great singing voice and sang some really good foot tapping songs. The thing that really bugged me though was that when the Open Mikers were playing the Outsiders sat at their table and paid little interest, unless one of their own people was performing, then they crowded the stage and gave support and applause. Hats off though to The Open Mikers, who supported and cheered whoever performed, whether good or bad, part of their group or not.

776px-Battle_of_Broodseinde_-_silhouetted_troops_marchingAnyway, I seem to be taking my time getting to the point but that night at the Links pub was the 4th August which just happens to be the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, or World War 1 as we now know it and on that night there was a lights out memorial over all the UK. At ten o’clock the pub lights dimmed and we stood for a minute’s silence, observed I might add by ninety-nine percent of the bar. It was pretty moving really, remembering those who taken part in this conflict, some who died during it in dreadful conditions, and some who lived on to return to their families. It certainly puts my whingeing about falling off my bike into perspective.

One of those who returned was my Grandad, George Higgins, who was in the Royal Horse Artillery. When my Dad, fresh from school started out as a milkman, with a horse and cart rather than an electric van I might add, his Dad, my Grandad, came to visit him at the stables where his horse was kept. He checked the horse out, paying particular attention to the horse’s teeth.

They knew how to look after horses, those Great War veterans.

If you liked this post then why not try my book, Floating in Space, set in Manchester, 1977? Click the links at the top of the page or the icon below to go straight to amazon!

Catchphrases, Pub Friends, and Big Steve

quotescover-JPG-23Not long ago at work I noticed something that wasn’t right on the rota so I spoke to our former rota lady about it. She agreed with me, there was a problem but she herself couldn’t do anything about it and I would have to contact the new ‘National Roster Team.’

“Drop them an e-mail.” She said, then added with a giggle. “Tell them you’re not happy!”

Now, at first I don’t think I quite understood that but the other day I had an e-mail from a colleague which was in reply to some procedural point I had raised. The e-mail said something like I’ll sort that out straight away because I wouldn’t want you to be ‘not happy!’

Now, we don’t always notice that something we say habitually has become a sort of personal catchphrase and I’m sure I don’t say ‘not happy’ that much but clearly some people think differently.

trawlboatHere’s another example of a catchphrase or saying that I always associate with a particular person but first I need to tell you about a pub that Liz and I regularly use. It’s called the Trawl Boat and we both know a lot of people in there. I don’t always know their names but then that’s the thing about pub friends, they’re acquaintances and beyond our pub chatter I don’t know much about most of them at all. Anyway, there are the two guys who always stand at the end of the bar and order double rounds (not sure if that’s a comment on the bar service or maybe they just like their ale!). The thin guy who works for British Aerospace and is not happy (oops, there’s that phrase again! ) about being sent by his company to work on a project in Australia. (Wish my employer would send me off on a project like that! ) Then there’s his colleague with the Kojak haircut and a group that I do know the names of, Colin and Dougie, B&B owners in St Annes and Nick who manages a hotel on St Annes front.

The very first guy we got chatting with in the Trawl boat was a guy we called Big Steve. I’m six-foot and Big Steve towered above me, he must have been six-foot six, easy. He was a pretty fit guy having been a former drayman, one of those people who lug big beer barrels about for a living and he was a really easy fellow to get on with. We always used to sit with Steve and have a drink and a natter and when he was due to leave his would pull his jacket on, say his goodbyes and then always say to us; “Nice to see you both again: As always.” And then he would be off.

A couple of years ago we saw Big Steve sometime in December and as usual at the end of the evening we said our goodbyes, wished each other a happy Christmas in case we didn’t see each other before the holidays and Steve said his usual “Nice to see you both: As always” and left.

We didn’t see Big Steve over Christmas, nor through the New Year period and one day we both said together in the Trawl Boat, ‘wonder where Steve is?’ Anyway we thought nothing of it and assumed we’d catch up with him soon.

Later, Liz was chatting to some of the regulars and one mentioned to her that he had been to a funeral the previous day. Liz asked idly who the deceased was and the man answered that it was someone they didn’t think Liz or I knew. It was a guy called Big Steve who used to be a drayman! Well, the words leapt up and hit Liz and I like a slap. Big Steve was gone and we’d hadn’t even had a chance to pay our respects at his funeral. I can’t tell you how sad we both felt.

Liz, being the amateur Sherlock Holmes she is, tracked down the widow and we went to see her to pass on our condolences. It turned out that Steve had died quietly in his sleep and his wife went into his room one morning to find him dead. Not very nice for her but a peaceful passing at least for Steve but here’s a thing about pub friends. I don’t have the phone numbers of any of those guys from the Trawl Boat and apart from the guys who own B&B’s I’ve no idea where they live. Luckily, Big Steve had mentioned Nick to his wife as being a hotel manager and one day they had popped in the hotel for a meal and when Big Steve passed away that was the one contact she had for Steve’s pub friends.

One day, in the next world, I’ll make a point of finding Big Steve and I can see myself now tapping him on the shoulder and saying “Nice to see you again Steve, as always.”

Hope he doesn’t turn round and say “Steve, I’m not happy!”

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Malta, and why you should never drink with eight pub landlords.

I left home when I was nineteen and went to share a house in Burnage with my friend Brian. Brian was a regular at a pub which I think was called the Farmers Arms, anyway; whatever it was called, he mentioned that a pub holiday to Malta had been arranged but someone had dropped out and there was a spot for me on the trip. It turned out there were eight pub regulars going, including me, and eight pub landlords.

My Mum was a little apprehensive at the time because since I had become a busman my social life and intake of alcohol had escalated hugely. Now I was playing snooker at the club after the early shift, out late after a late shift and out on my rest days too, but she was happy eight responsible landlords were going along to keep me ‘in check’ as she put it.

malta-map1We rented two apartments in Malta, one for the pub regulars and one for the pub landlords and on the first night at the resort the landlords invited us over to their apartment for a drink and it appeared to me as we entered their place that we were walking into a well-stocked brewery. Perhaps they were intending to open a bar or some such establishment in Malta because the place was stacked with booze. At the end of the night as we staggered back to our place the landlords called out, “Make sure you invite us over to your place!” Yes, a pity about the poor Maltese postal service. Can’t understand how that invitation was never delivered!

Later on towards the end of the week which turned out to be one long alcoholic soiree, we ended up in some Maltese bar after an evening spent visiting the ‘Gut’, a fairly appropriate name for the Maltese red light district. The numerous ‘ladies of the night’ there had a habit of grabbing a man’s crotch presumably to check if he had the equipment necessary to enter into a transaction with them. Strangely, when they tried the same tactic on our wallets they found us less co-operative.

I sat myself at the bar ready for a relaxing night drinking and chatting and towards the end of the night the manager locked the bar up while we were still drinking. Clearly a Maltese lock in. Every time we ordered a drink from then on the manager said in fractured English, “I let you stay after time, you buy me drink.”

OK, seemed like a reasonable arrangement to me so every drink we bought we added ‘one for yourself’ to the manager. He had a tall glass with some ice and lemon and topped it up every time from a bottle of what appeared to be whisky.

One of the landlords who had the physique normally associated with a sumo wrestler seemed to be pretty interested in this arrangement. He came and sat near me at the bar and asked what the drink was.

“You no like.” said the barman. “Cheap whisky.”

“I like cheap whisky.” said the landlord.

“No, I get you good whisky, cheap whisky for me.”

“Pop us a drop in that glass, I’ll have a taste.”

“Not good whisky, you no like.”

My friend the landlord however had other ideas and with a swiftness and grace which I wouldn’t have thought he possessed, he flipped himself up and over the bar, grabbed the manager’s glass and took a big swig of the amber liquid. I can only guess that this impromptu taste test was something of a failure as he then sprayed the offending drink all over the bar!

The drink was probably cold tea or some other unacceptable non-alcoholic beverage, but either way, what happened then was that this small bar turned into a scene from a John Wayne film with accusations and glasses flying, tables and chairs overturned and a bunch of Mancunians turned out onto the streets well before their usual drinking up time.

When I returned from that holiday I popped into my Mum’s with some Maltese confectionery or something and Mum looked at me and said “Hope you behaved yourself young man.”

“What? Of course I did.” I replied.

“Good job those landlords were there to keep an eye on you!”

Dear me, If only she knew!

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Saturday Night, a bar called ‘The Playground’ and that first pint . .

As a younger man Saturday night was everything to me and my friends. Nights out, beer, music and the ritual ‘chatting up’ of girls was our ‘raison d’etre’

In my book ‘Floating in Space’ a lot of the action takes place in bars and pubs and one of my favourite places in late seventies Manchester was the ‘Playground’, a disco bar on Oxford street. Here’s an extract from the book where I introduce the venue;

The main venue that night, and on many other Saturday nights like it, 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 sunk low like a pit, where people up on the raised bar level could look down at the gyrating girls, and where also, 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 friend ‘Matty’ Edwards and I used to meet up in the Salisbury, by Oxford Rd station, have a few pints and a bit of a natter to any Regal Insurance cronies who we might find there, then make the short walk to the Playground. There was a paltry fifty pence charge to get in, the solitary bouncer was silent, but not unpleasant, and the DJ, who always began the night with ‘Loves Theme’ by the Love Unlimited Orchestra, played alternate sessions of rock, disco, and chart music. We were both 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 while the music of the seventies drifted through us.
Matty was tall, he had lazy, rather hayfevered eyes, and a biggish nose over thin lips. His brown hair was short and untidy and he was smart, but had a sort of ‘middle of the road’ taste in clothes.
“Jenny’s looking gorgeous tonight” he told me over his pint of Worthington’s.
We were propped up at the bar at a convenient spot where we could eye up any possible female talent, and cast a fond eye over Jenny’s appealing form.
“You’re not wrong mate” I agreed. “I wouldn’t mind getting a grip of that myself.”
I caught Jenny’s eye and ordered two more pints of Worthington ‘E’. It wasn’t a great drink but we were tuned into it now for the rest of the evening, and anyway, I hadn’t as yet developed any clearly defined tastes in beer. The first pint I ever ordered myself was a pint of mild, and that was because I had nervously entered a Cheshire country pub after a long cycle ride and hesitatingly asked for a pint of ‘beer’.
“A beer?” asked the barmaid.
“Yes,” I replied, “A pint, please.”
“A pint of what?”

I realised, uncomfortably, that something more was required. I had thought that ‘a pint of beer’ would have been enough, but what the barmaid wanted to know was did I want bitter, or mild, or lager even? My first tentative forays into the world of the alcoholic drink were with my friend Mike Larini and it was always he who had done the ordering. What did he ask for, I thought? I couldn’t remember but down the bar the faint voice of an old man asking for half of mild drifted along to me, and so I went on to drink mild. Later I changed to bitter, and even now I was currently considering another change as someone had given me the cheerful news that bitter ‘rots your guts’. Perhaps it had been that eternal pessimist Matty Edwards with his inside knowledge of beer. His father was a Didsbury publican, and Matty’s drink changed from pub to pub. Sometimes it was lager, sometimes bitter, but here, in the Playground, it was that now long departed brew, Worthington ‘E’.

You can read more about that night out in either the kindle or paperback version of my book available at amazon. Click the icon below for more details.