Some Random Sun lounger Thoughts (part ?)

As I  have probably mentioned, Liz and I are on holiday for five lovely weeks in France and the other day it was with some trepidation that I heard the bat phone ring. Yes, the bat phone, that urgent direct line back to the UK and stevehigginslive.com tower, the hub of the stevehigginslive.com empire.

I answered and at the other end of the phone was one of my deputy managers advising me that an issue had occurred with last week’s Thoughts from a Sun Lounger post. As my usual readers will know, this is part of a regular series in which I expound on the often random thoughts that occur to me in that chilled, relaxed and generally other worldly state that I enter when lying on a sun lounger, fresh from a bout of gentle swimming in the pool.

‘What was the problem?’ I asked.

Turns out there was a mistake in last week’s Sun Lounger Thoughts part 4, despite extensive checks by the blog titling and numbering department. Perhaps they were getting a little lax up there in stevehigginslive.com tower while the boss was away but for whatever reason, Sun Lounger Thoughts part 4 had been inexplicably named Sun Lounger Thoughts part 4 when there was already a Sun Lounger Thoughts part 4 in existence!

Mon Dieu was all I could say, as after a few weeks in France, I was fully immersed in the French idiom, culture and customs as well as the gallic language. How many waiters could have guessed that Monsieur, the suave homme who deftly requested ‘une table pour deux‘ or ‘une bouteille de vin rouge au restaurant’ was in fact an English tourist? I know the baseball cap with ‘Team GB’ emblazoned on the top gave the game away a little but what the heck.

Anyway, I fired off a hot email to the blog titling department and began a full review and overhaul of the current blog titling and numbering procedures and now, after a full investigation, I can confirm that Sun Lounger Thoughts part 4 has been fully amended to Sun Lounger Thoughts part 5.

Woody Allen

This year I have not brought along my trusty Nikon DSLR to France but have concentrated on my video cameras. Filming, as you may know, is pretty easy in this digital day and age but the tricky stuff comes with video editing. The other day I finally finished off a short project that has consumed me for a while. It’s a short spoof on Woody Allen’s movie Manhattan, not the entire movie but the opening section where Woody is narrating the beginning of his novel.

I thought it would be a great idea to do something similar but about Manchester, my home town and also the location of the action in my book, Floating in Space.

I re-wrote Woody’s monologue with Manchester, rather than New York in mind and recorded it on my laptop. Next, using my Magix audio cleaning lab, I cut out all the bad bits, mumbles and murmurs, mixed in some royalty free music and added it to one of my old videos about Manchester. Next came a little juggling of some of the visuals, the addition of some more relevant stuff and after quite a few weeks of editing and re-editing I finally got something that was halfway towards what I wanted.

Just in case you have never seen Manhattan, here’s Woody’s original and much better opening.

Action Cam

Finally, I must tell you about my action cam. I shot a short film about cycling a while ago but I wanted to go a step further with the camera. I had it attached to the window all the way down here from the UK to the Cher region of central France. That edit however, must wait for another day, because as the camera has an underwater housing I thought it would be great to make an underwater film!

Now, I can see you, the reader, thinking: What is he going to do? Some underwater shots of the Loire? No. Some scuba diving perhaps off the coast of the Vendee? Nah! What I did was this, I took the camera into the swimming pool with me! Swimming pool? Yes, I know it’s not exactly coral reefs and exotic fish but photography can be a lot of fun especially if you are 60 going on  . . .15 . . .

Well, I enjoyed it anyway!

Floating in Space is available from Amazon as a Kindle download or a traditional paperback. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Swimming pools, Pubs, and the March of Time.

swimming poolThe Swimming Pool.

Time changes everything. Even in this remote (well, remote-ish) part of the world (the Cher region of France, as I write this) there are changes. The great thing about this gîte is the rather lovely pool which last year was open to the elements with a large patio but has now been covered by an enclosure, an abri as they call it here. It keeps the water warmer and means that the pool is useable in the cooler parts of the year. It also means that the pool complies with all the bureaucracy that goes with having a pool in France. Every pool must be protected against the accidental falling in of children so a small fence has to encircle the pool to keep wandering and unescorted children out of the water. We used to rent a place in the Loire which had a sort of concertina cover, which was in sections, one fitting into the other which could be all pushed completely back, opening up the pool in hot weather. Sacré Bleu! Said the French bureaucrats, This cannot be possible! That pool soon had the mandatory fence erected covering the exits. The owner was a little surprised when we pointed out that when the concertina covering was pushed back the fence could be bypassed. Mon Dieu! The next day we found that parts of the concertina had been screwed down, meaning it could only be opened within the fenced area. C’est la vie!

Photo by the author.

This is how the pool looked last year

Health and safety has reared its ugly head here too. There is a metal hand rail that leads one down into the pool but of course when it is hot -this year in the 90’s and hotter- the metal handrail gets . . hot! One of the previous tenants complained so the owners added a sort of padding, wrapped around the rail to protect one’s hands and fingers in the hot weather. (Note to self: exposed metal gets hot in 90 degrees plus!)

It’s funny now to think back to the first ever pool I swam in. Well, swam isn’t exactly the right word as I couldn’t swim then. I’m talking about when I was a schoolboy at Sharston school in Wythenshawe, Manchester many years ago. Every Monday, I think it was, we walked down to the baths at Sharston and our teacher sent our small group of non swimmers down to the shallow end, issued us with a polystyrene float and that was the last we saw of him till the end of the lesson. He spent all his time with the ‘advanced’ swimmers down at the deep end and at the end of the year he expressed himself very dissatisfied with our group as we hadn’t progressed to the ‘advanced’ stage. I wonder sometimes, if he had ever thought why we hadn’t progressed? Did it ever enter into his tiny mind for one minute that my schoolmates and I had no idea how to progress, how to become swimmers when apart from being handed a float, we actually had no swimming tuition at all? Strange that.

sharston

Sharston Baths

One year, at the end of the term, our teacher was so disappointed with our group that he took us up to the deep end where our more advanced schoolmates were doing their swimming proficiency medals. They had to jump into the deep end wearing pyjamas, undress, and then pick up a weight from the deep end. It was so very, very, easy that even we, the non swimmers could do it, he said. That was how I was compelled to jump in at the deep end wearing pyjamas, hanging onto a very long wooden pole with our swimming teacher holding the other end. I grappled about underwater for the weight and couldn’t find it. Not surprising really with my eyes shut. I couldn’t get the pyjamas off. Not surprising either as I hung onto the pole with both hands as if my life depended on it -which it did actually- and when finally dragged spluttering and choking to the surface, I was beached on the side of the pool like a stranded whale. My non swimming pals escorted me back to the shallow end like a hero. I must have been a sort of hero, to them, although inside I was a gibbering wreck, although I do remember thinking that if, by some strange chance I had come into contact with the weight at the bottom of the pool, I would have seriously considered whacking our teacher over the head with it!

I’m not a great swimmer but I finally learned to swim, after a fashion, in the warm waters off the South of France many years ago and as for my swimming teacher, Mr George, thanks for not completely drowning me!

Sharston.

Some years later the local planners decided to run the M56 Sharston bypass right through the centre of Sharston. A deep trench was cut, completely obliterating Sharston High street and its shops and businesses.  (Interesting idea that: Bypassing a place by completely obliterating it!) Some years afterwards Sharston Pool was knocked down too, as was Sharston Highways depot where my Dad used to work, and my old school, Sharston High, as was the school of our arch enemies, St John Vianney’s Catholic school round the corner. Yes, times indeed change.

Towards the top of Sharston, where Princess Parkway begins, is an area known as Royal Thorn. A pub bearing that same name used to stand there and an even older pub stood on the site in earlier days. Apparently the name dates back to the 16th century. The Royal Thorn was demolished a number of years ago though I still remember Sunday afternoon walks round the area which culminated in a drink in the large gardens to the rear of the pub. I, as a child, used to get a lemonade and a packet of crisps and would occasionally run to see the steam trains passing by.

sharston-hotelThe Sharston Hotel, once a local landmark is also gone. In its place stands an empty, unused, rather unattractive building.

The Salisbury.

Recently I was rather shocked to find, via Facebook, that an old haunt of mine, the Salisbury, a pub right by Oxford Road Station in Manchester, is in danger of demolition! Times move on, clearly, and the life of the city centre must change but why do we have to destroy those wonderful places of years gone by if it is not really, really, necessary? Shouldn’t the face of a great town like Manchester adequately reflect the past as well as the future?

The Salisbury

The Salisbury is a lovely old pub and one that I remember from my youth. In the mid seventies I left school and started work at the Refuge Assurance company on Oxford Rd and spent many a lunchtime and early evening at the Salisbury. I visited the pub last year and clearly a refurb has been done but happily it was a sympathetic refurb and the pub looks very, very similar to how it looked in the seventies. The stone flagged floor is still there. The food serving area has moved, in fact the bar has moved a little and the end of the pub, where my old office workmates and I used to congregate is now either an office or a private area but substantially, the pub looks pretty similar to how it used to look. On the outside, the pub is exactly the same as it always looked, and every time I see it, it is almost like the past, welcoming me back again.

Manchester city council, please, please don’t knock this pub down!

Thanks to the Facebook Wythenshawe page for the old pics of Sharston.


If you liked this post, why not try my book, Floating In Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

When Blogging has to go on the back burner!

IMG_00000349Yes, those are my feet in the picture, and my pool too. Well, my pool for this week:  I’m spending a very lazy week in Portugal with Liz and I was hoping to be knocking out some top notch blogs but, well it hasn’t really happened. The thing is there’s the pool just lying there empty, and someone has to swim in it, so well, I’ve just got to do it. Liz was doing a bit of swimming but I can hardly leave her to do all the work, can I? Of course, there’s also the barbecue ; well, I just can’t leave it sitting there can I? So,  I have to slap a few steaks on it, and then, I can’t have a steak without a glass of wine -obviously not!  So I have to have some wine, of course! Then again, I can hardly have a good glass of wine without any cheese can I? Of course not, I mean, do I look like a Philistine? So there you have it!  Blogging is on the back burner at the moment. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible!

Swimming, The French Riviera, and the Magic Bus.

Years ago when I was a teenager, my friend Chris asked me if I fancied a holiday in France with him at his Grandfather’s villa in Hyeres, not far from St Tropez. Now on the surface that seemed to be a pretty incredible invitation. I wish I had a friend today who could make me an offer like that. Like a lot of things in life though, there was a catch, and in fact there turned out to be more than one. Chris’ Grandfather was retired and living in the UK and we were taking him with us to visit his property in France. Anyway, we booked a trip on something called the Magic Bus; a coach service frequented by students and back packers attracted to the cheap fares. It was quite a contrast when we arrived in London and boarded our bus at the coach station; fifty or so teenage travellers and one rather frail old man.

cannes-190461blog_1280Two things stand out from that journey. One was waking up in the middle of the night, curled up in my seat and watching the two young French drivers effect a driver change while the bus was still travelling at roughly seventy miles an hour in lane one of the autoroute. One driver leant out of the cab, still hanging on to the steering wheel, while the other slipped nimbly past him into the seat. He took the wheel and then reached down to adjust the seat with his other hand. Once he was comfy and settled in, he put his foot down and carried on. The other driver was already asleep in his little bunk.

The other thing was early in the morning we awoke to find ‘Pappy’ as Chris called him, scrabbling about on the floor. He didn’t seem to understand my poor schoolboy French so I had to nudge Chris awake and ask what was going on. After a swift French exchange Chris said he was looking for the false teeth he had dropped in the night. One of the back packers nearby found them and Pappy leapt up, grabbed the gnashers and popped them into place!

Poor old Pappy was not happy when we arrived at his French villa. The villa had come to him after the death of his second wife and there were conditions attached meaning it would pass to her family in full when Pappy died. During his absence, the French relatives must have been getting impatient about their inheritance and they had somehow managed to sell off some parts of his land and rented out the downstairs of the villa to a motor mechanic. He was not happy.

The villa was the second catch. Lovely as it was with its extensive grounds, it appeared to me to have been untouched for many years. There was no running water at all in the house. If we needed water it had to be pumped up from a well in the garden. There were no indoor toilets; one had to use the traditional ancient French toilet outside. Pappy, being unable to reach these facilities in a rush, had a bucket in his bedroom which Chris and his brother Tony also made use of. As I could not approach the bucket without retching I declined to either use or empty it. However, after one evening of excessive drinking they caught me using it and I was forced to empty it the next day. I could only do so by wearing my diving mask and snorkel and as I pottered along to the French toilet the two of them, watching from afar collapsed into laughter which soon passed to me and it was much later, after repeated attempts, when I managed to complete my task.

That snorkel and mask turned out to be pretty helpful in an other way too. As a school pupil at Sharston Comprehensive school, every Wednesday I think it was, we marched the short distance to Sharston baths for our swimming lesson. I use the word ‘lesson’ reluctantly as I really don’t remember getting much tuition at all, As usual I joined the small band of non swimmers in the shallow end of the pool. The teacher tossed us a few polystyrene floats then joined the others at the deep end. That was generally the last we saw of him till the end of the lesson. All the time at that school I can only think of one person who ever made the move from the non swimmers to the swimmers and that was because his dad taught him to swim in the summer holidays. All well and good you may think but what has that to do with a trip to France? Well, simply this, on that holiday in Hyeres, with the help of my two friends and a borrowed dive mask, I finally gained my confidence in the water and learned to swim in the gentle blue waters of the Mediterranean by a quiet beach called ‘Le Cat.’

When the time came to leave, Pappy refused to go. He was Italian by birth but had lived all his life in France and wanted to stay here in a place where they spoke a language he understood. He was very old though and unable to look after himself and after some persuasion, he came with us and returned to the UK. Sadly, he died some time later.

Years afterwards Chris returned to Hyeres to take a look at the old place. He told me that the villa was still there but the land had all been sold and numerous properties now closely surrounded it. The relatives had finally got their inheritance.


If you liked this post, why not try my novel? Floating in Space is set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.