Dreams and Dreamers

I’ve not had a particularly great week this week. The weather has been poor, I’m still off work because of my sore neck and shoulder and despite feeling better over the past month, these last two weeks have actually seen me going the other way, my neck and arm are starting to hurt more.

The other day I woke up far too early, it was 6 am when I stretched out and fumbled for my phone to check the time. It was a Friday and I didn’t have a completed blog post for my usual Saturday morning deadline, the deadline that for the past few years has kept me honest as a writer. I padded off wearily to the bathroom, had a glass of water and availed myself of the facilities and went back to bed. I don’t dream that much although a few years ago my dreaming seemed to increase, so much so that I started a dream journal, a notebook just by the bedside so that when I awoke I could jot down the details of my dream. Later when I came to review the notes I tended to find a whole lot of gibberish that not only made no sense but didn’t in any way nudge my memory and bring back those quickly forgotten dreams.

A long time ago I awoke after a crazy dream in which I was out with a friend I hadn’t seen for years, and somehow, don’t ask me how, I had lost all my clothes. We had been out drinking and were walking home then something happened and I woke up somewhere without any clothes. I woke up then but that wasn’t the end of it.

The next night I had a sort of follow on dream. I was wandering around with no clothes, although I had come across a blanket somehow and with me was Michael Portillo (yes, the ex-MP who hosts a show on BBC about railway journeys). Well we ended up in this hotel and I was starting to worry. Well, who wouldn’t? No clothes, no wallet, no mobile. Who could I call? Should I try and cancel my bank cards? What happened to my keys? Where am I and what has Michael Portillo got to do with it?

Michael was standing nearby and using his influence as a famous former MP. Someone brought him a phone and he started chatting into it. Clothes were brought for him and I could hear him speaking to his bank. It actually brought to mind that sequence at the beginning of one of the Bond films where Pierce Brosnan has been in a Chinese prison, escapes and finds himself in Hong Kong. He walks into this posh hotel, his hair long and unkempt, his clothes in rags and the guy at reception says “Will you be wanting your usual suite Mr Bond?”.

Some people just have that manner about them don’t they? Me, I’d have been unceremonially kicked out of that hotel, assuming I’d even made it past the front door! I can just imagine the scene:
Your usual suite Mr Higgins? Just a moment please?”
The manager beckons to a large man looking similar to Oddjob from the Bond movie Goldfinger. The next moment Mr Higgins hurtles through the front door. As he is propelled into the street he murmurs, “that’s a ‘no’ then is it?”

I often wonder where dreams actually come from. What is it in the deep recesses of the mind that produce these spurious dramas? When I was younger I don’t really recall ever dreaming that much. As I grew older I seemed to dream more but tended to forget most of my dreams very quickly. These days I do dream quite a lot and I dream pretty sensible things too. The ending of ‘Floating In Space’ was something I dreamed one night and I typed it up and replaced the original finale which, although inspired by real events, was a little unbelievable. Also, I have an entire story which I’ve partly written into a screenplay which I dreamed one night and which played out in front of me as vividly as if I was sitting at the front row of a picture house. It is about a man who appears one night wearing a white suit and who gets involved in some strange circumstances. So strange that those around him begin to believe the man is a kind of Saviour; a sort of new Jesus figure, and his companions become disciples in the way of those who followed Jesus himself. I still have my notes from that dream and the story is on my ‘to do’ list to finish.

Dreaming a story and making it into a novel or a screenplay isn’t quite as strange as it seems. In 1898 an American writer, Morgan Robertson wrote a story about an unsinkable ship called the Titan which sailed from England to the USA, hit an iceberg and sank. The story was published fourteen years before the Titanic disaster. I remember reading the story of this writer years ago, even that the writer saw the story played out in front of him like a movie but all the research I did on the internet for this blog seems to imply that the author was a man who knew his business where ships were concerned, felt that ships were getting bigger and bigger and that a disaster like that of the Titanic was inevitable.

That particular morning I fell back asleep and when I finally awoke, the sun was streaming through the windows and I felt refreshed and ready for a steaming hot cup of tea. In the kitchen I flipped on the kettle and while I waited for it to boil, I scrolled through my iPad. I was particularly interested in my YouTube stats because I had recently entered two of my short videos into film festivals and I was hoping that even if the videos didn’t get anywhere in competition, they would at least bring in some views and increase my media profile.

The stats for my videos were tremendous and I remember feeling a little buzz of excitement. My mobile phone rang just then. I didn’t recognise the number but I took the call anyway. It was a fellow who identified himself as one of the producers of the new James Bond film. They weren’t happy about the film; it hadn’t been released yet due to the Covid pandemic but they reckoned after seeing my film festival entries that perhaps I could take a look at their final edit and suggest some improvements. There was only one possible answer of course: I said yes straight away. It turned out there was an edit suite ready for me somewhere in London and I could expect a call back as soon as arrangements were made for the helicopter to pick me up.

Breakfast then was a quick bacon and egg butty which Liz expertly sorted out while I had a quick shower and a shave. I was just finishing off eating when I heard sirens and could see flashing lights in the street. A small posse of police cars had stopped all the traffic so the helicopter could land. It felt slightly surreal giving Liz a goodbye hug and kiss and then ducking down and running towards the aircraft. Moments later, St Annes was dropping away beneath me as we made our way towards Blackpool airport where we transferred to a jet specially chartered by MGM.

The aircraft lifted easily up into the clouds and headed south and almost as soon as the seat belt light went out the stewardess appeared and served me with a nice pot of tea. She did try to serve me coffee until I mentioned I’d rather drink a cup of mud. Funnily enough, in one of the Bond books, coffee drinker 007 describes tea in exactly the same way.  Scrambled eggs came shortly afterwards served with toast. I didn’t have to heart to tell her I’d already eaten.

The stewardess was soon back with a telephone call for me. It was Sky TV and they wanted to know that as I was on the way south would I have time for an interview? I scanned through my schedule for the day and I could see that we could maybe just fit that in as long as the Bond thing went smoothly enough. They must want to talk about the Bond film I assumed but apparently, sales of Floating in Space had just recently taken off and they wanted to ask about that.

It was a pretty busy day in the 007 editing suite although as I absolutely love editing, it was highly enjoyable. No more working on my cheap laptop. The edit suite was state of the art and I engineered a few minor but subtle changes. Apparently, the cast was standing by at Pinewood studios in case there was anything I wanted to reshoot but I didn’t think it was necessary. Not only that, Melvin Bragg was waiting down at the Sky television studios.

On the way down there having said goodbye to the lovely James Bond people, I settled down in my limo and had a quick check on my bank account. Whoa, there was a hell of a lot of money in there, money I wasn’t expecting to see. Checking through my emails, there was one from Amazon advising that Floating in Space was now the best-selling work of fiction in the UK. Straight away I started thinking about the villa in the Loire Valley that I had been looking at a few weeks ago on the internet. Wonder if I could fly down there and take a look at the property? If I liked it, if it was really as good as it looked on the website, could I really afford it? Looking at my bank account again, I reckon I could.

It wasn’t long until we arrived at the studios. Melvyn Bragg looked a little older than I remembered him although I had only ever seen him on TV and that was quite a while ago. I went into makeup and he and I had a quick chat about what we were going to talk about. In the green room I happened to mention I was a little thirsty and in a jiffy there was someone there with just what I wanted, a Pepsi Max with ice and lemon. The assistant mentioned that the other guest was about to come through and I was just about to ask who it was when Olivia Newton John entered. The same Olivia Newton John whose poster used to adorn the wall in my teenage bedroom so many years ago back in Manchester. We had a chat, far too brief a chat and then I had to go for my interview.

How did I come to write Floating in Space? Would there be a sequel? Would the book be taken up by a traditional publisher? What about the film version?

Later on some of the TV executives took me into London for an early evening meal. I was pretty hungry by then. I could have murdered a donner kebab but we ended up in the west end somewhere eating one of those meals that look like a piece of artwork on a plate but actually can be eaten in a few mouthfuls.

They offered me a room at some swanky London hotel but I was still hungry and if I remembered correctly I think Liz had planned something special for Friday night so I declined the room and asked to be taken back home. When I was settled in on the aircraft once again I gave Liz a quick call and she mentioned that she had already decanted some red wine. The stewardess served me a gin and tonic in one of those large glasses with plenty of ice and lemon. To be honest I actually fancied a pint of lager but anyway, as I reached forward to take the drink, I slipped and went head over heels towards the floor.

I lifted my hand up to check my fall but I was back in bed. I looked over and Liz was scrolling down her mobile phone. ‘Bloody hell!’ she said, ‘that snoring was going right through me. Where’s my cup of tea?’


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A Pain in the Neck (and Other Body Issues)

I’m not sure how I came to write about this subject but what the heck, I’ve started so I’ll finish as they say. What can I say about my body, that great big lump of flesh and bone that I drag out bed every morning? Well for a kick off I don’t think it’s quite fair that I got lumbered with this particular one. Why couldn’t I have one like Tom Cruise perhaps or even Arnold Schwarznegger? Yes ok, I know that I could have had a body like Arnold’s if I had spent a lot more time in the gym, it’s just that I’ve always found exercising a little boring.

Having said that a few years back I was handed a twelve-week freebie at the YMCA and Liz and I spent a little time down there once or twice a week, cycling, walking and weight lifting and it was, not exactly fun but interesting for a while. I particularly liked walking out of the gym with a little exercise high and feeling pretty pleased with myself and ever so slightly fitter.

Just lately I’ve found out that I have type 2 diabetes and before starting with medication my medical practitioner has given me three months to slim down and change my eating habits. I think I’ve done reasonably well so far; I’ve stopped my nightly nibble on chocolate and my daily biscuits every time I have a cup of tea. I’ve tried to reject potatoes and chips although I must admit I did have roast potatoes with last Sunday’s roast dinner, but then seriously, who can have a Sunday roast without roast potatoes?

I’m still struggling with a sore shoulder as I mentioned last week so I am continuing with my exercises and have moved on from extreme agony down to a more acceptable pain level. I’m tempted to add a picture of me wearing my cervical collar but no, let’s not go there. Having said that I’ll probably be posting that picture on Facebook in an attempt to get some internet sympathy.

As I mentioned in a post a few weeks back my eyesight has always been poor but just lately I’ve upgraded to a pair of varifocals and I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to read things without changing specs. It’s great whenever I troll through charity shops and I can actually see the writing on the CDs and books. Amazing!

A few years go I had a great urge to get my body into shape through cycling. Come to think of it, fitness was just a spinoff; the real reason I went cycling was to clip on my GoPro camera and shoot some video. After my mountain bike was stolen I dragged my old bike out of the garage. I spent a few minutes oiling the chain and adjusting the seat and handle bars when perhaps I should have spent a little more time.

One of the tyres was flat so after fitting a new inner tube 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 that 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!

Some time later I tried again. Exercise is one thing but to be honest, I just like messing about with cameras and video and pretending to be the film director I always wanted to be. Anyway, after three laps of the immediate area and about forty minutes of camera video, it was time for a cuppa. Then it was time to spend days, weeks even, fiddling about on Windows Movie Maker, cutting and splicing and so on until I managed to produce a workable edit.

Editing can be a slow process but as long as you have a clear result in mind it can be very satisfying.

I do so like photography in the digital age. No expensive films, no waiting for the film to be developed and printed. No more expensive mistakes. Today, if you take a bad picture, delete it, take another in fact, take multiple exposures and just delete or edit the bad ones later.

Digital video is pretty much the same. Delete what you don’t like and start again. Even if what you have shot isn’t good, it can be saved by cutting or effects like slow motion. In the editing suite, build your video slowly, adding each scene and then later your soundtrack, adding layers to the original sound with effects, music and narration.

I remember editing in the VHS days, juggling different tracks on my sound mixer, having to cue each track and fade in when ready, keeping an eye on the monitor all the time. Once, in one of my airport videos I had to do a narration, fade down the original video soundtrack, pause while a helicopter flew into the shot, fade in a helicopter sound effect, fade in the next section of original sound while I narrated the next paragraph and finally, cue and fade in the music and then fade out the original sound. Today, with digital, all that is a step by step process.

Sorry, I seem to have rambled on a bit there so back to my body. One thing I would probably like to change is my hair. When I was younger I had a big, thick head of hair and I remember being quite shocked one day in the 1970’s when I decided to get a really good haircut. I’d gone down to the city centre in Manchester to a place called Paul Brendon’s Hair Design and asked for a cut like David Cassidy. Cassidy in case you either didn’t know or can’t remember was the star of a TV show called The Partridge Family. The show was a big hit, in fact it was such a gynormous success I’m not even sure that the TV producers were prepared for it. Cassidy became a huge star and his ‘group’, the fictional Partridge Family had a string of hit singles. Cassidy himself was a major heart throb with numerous young ladies screaming and swooning over him at concerts and personal appearances.

Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t think that having a David Cassidy cut was going to get me a shed load of screaming females, although I wasn’t actually averse to that idea. I reckoned that if it happened I’d just deal with it on the day but I did think that having a haircut a little more stylish than my usual one was a good idea. After sorting my hair out and taking my cash, the barber -sorry, hair stylist- said just watch out, your hair’s going a bit thin on top. Thin on top? What on earth did he mean? He couldn’t mean I was losing my hair, could he? Surely not! Yes, I just rejected the obvious for quite a few years although what I could have done about it, I don’t know. If I was particularly vain, if there was something, some cream for instance that you could just rub on your head and would bring back your hair would I go for it? Of course!

I mentioned earlier about trying to get my weight down. I’ve tried to cut out carbohydrates. I haven’t succeeded totally but I have cut down quite a lot and until I hurt my neck had upped my walking schedule. My dad was a great walker. In fact, everywhere we went as children involved walking as dad didn’t have a car and couldn’t drive.

When he retired, he used to get up, have breakfast and then take the dog for a walk. He walked for miles and his dog Mickey, who was a pretty old dog then, used to be worn out when they returned home. Mickey would head straight for the water bowl and then drop down on the floor somewhere to recuperate, oblivious of everyone having to step over him as he dreamed his canine dreams.

Once, one Sunday, my Dad and I went for a drink together. Dad said he’d take me to the Griffin for a pint. ‘The Griffin?’ I asked. ‘Where’s the Griffin? There’s no pub round here called the Griffin?’

‘Oh yes, the Griffin. It’s not a bad pub. It’ll be a nice walk.’

Well, off we went, out of Wythenshawe where we lived, past Peel Hall and down towards Heald Green. Heald Green was a good thirty to forty minute walk and I remember saying, ‘look Dad, let’s go into the Heald Green hotel for a pint.’

‘No,’ he said. ‘The Griffin’s not far away now.’ So we walked and walked, past Heald Green and on towards Cheadle and eventually, after about an hour’s walk if not longer, we came to the Griffin. Inside there were a bunch of fellas who nodded to my Dad and he nodded in return. Up at the bar the barman came over and said ‘pint of mild Ralph?’ He’d been here before, apparently.

I was exhausted and gasping for a drink and I was probably hanging onto the bar for dear life when my dad asked what was I drinking?

‘Pint of lager please,’ I said. Dad nodded to the barman then looked back at me. ‘Not a bad stretch of the legs was it?’ he said.

Another form of exercise I do like is swimming. Usually at this time of year we will either have parked up our motor home by a plan d’eau, a French swimming lake or have rented a nice holiday home complete with swimming pool. There Liz and I will be doing some regular swimming and keeping pretty fit. Alas, the pandemic has sadly put the blockers on our regular French trip. Even if it hadn’t though, I wouldn’t be up to driving down to France, not with my sore neck and shoulder. Pity though because I reckon a little swimming might have loosened up my shoulder. A few years back I opened up my camera case in France to find my new GoPro camera complete with underwater housing. What could I possibly film with that I thought? Well, there was always the swimming pool:

I’m hoping that I will be able to do some more walking soon. The thing is though I might need a whole new wardrobe by then. I noticed that last week when Liz and I went out to Quiz Night at our local pub, my favourite pair of trousers which at one time were a little on the tight side now seemed a little slack. I normally wear them without a belt but now I have had to not only wear a belt but also have added a new notch to tighten them up. Yes, sometimes this body can be a bit of a pain in the neck.

That reminds me, time to take off this neck collar and do my neck exercises. . .


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A Video for my Younger Self

Lockdown has been eased slightly here in the UK but even so, the day when things will be back to normal seems pretty distant. Even then I keep seeing things in the media about the ‘new normal’. What will the new normal be like? I don’t know but one day we will all be back out again, going back to bars and restaurants and flying to Europe and even further afield for our holidays. Still, I can imagine everything being ever so slightly different though with much more handwashing and social distancing.

I did consider calling this post How not to Smash up your Laptop. I didn’t but read on and you’ll begin to understand why. I have actually been fairly industrious this week, well, industrious by my standards that is. I have finally finished my latest video project and I have gradually come up with a few ideas for blogs and made some headway on my other writing projects. When I see my blog post deadline looming, I am not usually that worried because I tend to have a half-written blog post in the pipeline but when I have no ideas at all and no partly written blog posts, well, that is a worry so it has been good to get myself ahead again, if only by one or two blog posts.

A while back I decided that as my writing wasn’t coming along too well, I should set myself the task of making something new for my YouTube channel. There are actually plenty of videos over there on my channel but they are all short and simple one or two minute videos either of me reading poetry or me extolling the virtues of Floating in Space to the reading public.

I felt that my loyal band of video followers could do with something slightly different and while looking around for ideas I began to wonder if I could perhaps make one of my blogs into a video. After a look through my older posts I came across A Letter to my Younger Self. It was a post inspired by one of those blog post prompts that I tend to use when I’m short of ideas. What would you tell your younger self? What advice could you give?

My younger self needed not only advice but a good kick up the rear end although I didn’t quite go that far in the finished video. As we are still under lockdown I couldn’t go out and shoot anything new but I do have plenty of assorted video that I have accumulated over the years. To make things easier I decided to make the video on Animoto which does have plenty of stock clips that I knew I could use. Not only that, I have used Animoto for several years and I’m pretty confident using it. The alternative was using the windows HD movie maker. I have the Pro version but even so it’s not nearly as user friendly as the old Windows Movie Maker.

OK here we go. I logged on to Animoto but found that I was now one of the few people chosen to use the new beta 3 version of Animoto. Why oh why must our favourite software be continually changed? The first big problem I came across was that when using a vertical image in Animoto, it couldn’t be fully zoomed out; it would only fit on the screen to its width, I couldn’t zoom back and display the full image.

I contacted Animoto and they said you can zoom out using the scale bar. No you can’t I said. Yes, you can they said. I had only just started the project and already I was ready to smash my laptop into small pieces. A few days later after a lot of moaning on various Animoto forums the technical people sorted that issue out and yes, I could finally zoom fully out. Anyway, I ploughed on and when I had an initial basic cut, I made a rough narration and uploaded that to the project so I could get the pictures and video clips to fit in together. This seemed to take a hell of a long time and I found myself continually moving on to some other project or sometimes just surfing through eBay for something to buy that in fact I didn’t really need.

Just to give you a fuller picture of the issue, over lockdown I have ordered 3 DVDs, 3 lots of razor blades for the various razors I use, a bargain box of Terry’s chocolate oranges, a 1/43rd model of a bus I used to drive in 1987, a couple of books and various other things I’m too embarrassed to mention. One other thing I ordered, not from eBay but from Wowcher, was a set of face masks, quite handy I thought for venturing out shopping during the current situation. On Wowcher you order your item and are then given a voucher code which you use on the actual site that sells your item. I sorted that out, entered my code and ordered my face masks.

A week later I received an email saying the company had received my voucher from Wowcher and was ‘processing’ my order. After another week I got another email this time to confirm my order had now become ‘fully processed’. Later another email landed in my inbox advised that the item was now with the Royal Mail. At this rate I might just get the face masks in time for Christmas shopping.

Over on Twitter I tend to schedule my posts for the next few days but just lately Twitter doesn’t seem to want to display my scheduled tweets on my laptop. In fact I get a page looking something like this.

Now this can be a problem because there is no point in scheduling a post for 12:03 on Thursday if I’ve already set one to pop up at a similar time. Emails to Twitter and posts on various forums got me nowhere fast and once again I had to use all my willpower to prevent the violent smashing up of my laptop. The only solution was to schedule the posts using my iPad which happily displays the relevant scheduling page without any issues.

OK. Days have passed, even weeks and after getting my video cut near to perfection it was time to download the result and narrate a much more confident voiceover. Here’s when some more technology issues began to slow me down.

I noticed that when I recorded the voiceover, the recording seemed to be jumping and missing out various words. So, I clicked over to Google and searched for information about optimising sound recordings. I found I had set my recordings to DVD quality and maybe my laptop just couldn’t cope with that. OK, time to reset to CD quality and finally that was another problem sorted. (I’m happy to report I resisted the temptation to just smash my laptop to smithereens again.)

I noticed then that when I had my narration on my computer screen and scrolled down as I read, the microphone was picking up the clicks on the scroll button. I couldn’t print off the narration as I had no ink in the printer so what I did was upload the narration to my OneDrive and open it up on my iPad and read it from there. On my iPad I was asked to log in to OneDrive. I did but they wanted further confirmation. They wanted a passcode entered which they sent to my mobile. Off I went in search of the mobile. I entered the pass code but I was too late. It had expired! I did it again but this time the password was wrong!

(Steve don’t do it. Don’t smash the laptop to smithereens!)

No I didn’t. Instead I recorded the first section of the voiceover, paused, scrolled the text and recorded some more. Brilliant!

OK, final narration added, time for a few quick changes here and there and that was it. The big problem with editing is that when you are replaying your work over and over, it’s easy to miss the odd error. A few things I missed were some text on the screen that was in dark blue but wasn’t easy to see against a dark background and some other similar bits and pieces. I like to leave the finished video for a few days then take another look and then those minor errors are much easier to see.

In the old days of editing video, the editor began at the beginning and just carried on adding the next clip and then the next and so on. Today, working in digital video, the approach is slightly different. A scene can be easily compiled into a rough cut but then the editor can go back and change clips earlier in the video, trimming a bit here or re-ordering things there. Another great thing about modern video editing is that you can save your project so if, at a later date, you want to change something, you don’t have to start all over again. You just open up your saved project, change whatever you want and create a video file for the new version.

I’ve often thought about how wonderful it would to be a professional video editor but then I always see myself at work and the boss comes in and says ’can you have that ready by this afternoon?’. I doubt if I would last long at that company when I handed in the finished product two weeks later.

One of my favourite video editing stories is about Charlie Chaplin. Exactly a hundred years ago in 1920, Chaplin had just completed his first major film as a director, The Kid. He was in the middle of a messy divorce from his first wife Mildred Harris and thinking she was about to seize the unreleased film, Chaplin smuggled the negative to Salt Lake City where he completed the edit in his hotel room. Despite this, The Kid was released to rave reviews and became the second highest grossing film of 1921. I doubt whether A Letter to my Younger Self will get a similar response but it I do love messing about with video or as Liz tends to say twatting about on my laptop!

By the way, that’s the laptop I didn’t smash into a thousand pieces.

Willpower, wow! . .


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YouTube and The Final Cut

Ok, settle down, put your feet up. It’s time to reveal a great new slice of visual entertainment that has finally been released. Yes we know, I can hear you say, the new Bond film!  Bond film? No no, no. Forget about the Bond film, I’m talking about some serious movie making, my latest YouTube video!

Way back in the spring and again in the summer Liz and I motored off to France in our Ford Transit based motorhome. As usual I had my GoPro camera affixed to my driver’s window and along with my trusty Canon GX7 I built up a fair few reels of video footage.

I kept looking through it with a view to making it into some kind of video project but various things seemed to hold me back.

Firstly on our first trip to France we travelled through the French Jura and got caught in some spectacular and unseasonal snowstorms. I thought I had shot some spectacular footage only to find that the video files from that day would not play when downloaded to my laptop. I wasn’t happy.

My GoPro camera doesn’t seem to like to play ball when it has been left alone for a while and I’ve found just charging it up isn’t enough, It needs to be attached to my pc and and updated with the correct date and time and made a fuss of before it will function properly.

I slapped in a new memory card and the camera seemed in better shape for the rest of our travels but losing that video from the snowstorm still really winds me up. At one point it felt as though we were in a whiteout, the snow was falling so thickly it was like being inside a ping pong ball. Happily the snow cleared and an impressive army of snow ploughs and gritters cleared the area and we were soon back on route. No video footage though to liven up my videos.

Over the summer I started to put together a video but although I had a lot of film, not much of it was particularly inspiring and the loss of that snowstorm video really put a dampener on my enthusiasm.

Another thing that made the production difficult was that I like to use the old Windows Moviemaker which is why I’ve hung on to my old laptop. It’s easy to use and gives you a lot of control over your clips both visually and in terms of the sound track. The original soundtrack from the video can be edited as well as an additional music channel and a voice over channel. I tend to mix and match these channels so I can add a narration and music as well as adding sound effects all of which enhance the finished product.

Editing that sound!

Windows 10 comes with a new and completely different HD Movie Maker which I have never really got to grips with but I thought it was high time I did so I started the project off using the new software.

I have got the advanced rather than the free version and initially I found it pretty easy to use. Adding clips is pretty easy and they can be trimmed or split into two or more sections just like on the old program. There are various fades that can be used and just like the old version there is a music channel as well as a narration channel.

In the summer we visited the Retro Grand Prix in the village of Le Puy Notre Dame in France and I filmed a lot of stuff with my Canon GX7. The Canon is a really versatile camera both for still photography and video. In fact on the Internet it is noted for being the best vlogging camera around which is really why I bought it. Instead of bashing away at my laptop knocking out a new post every week I thought hey, I can just film a vlog instead. Well, I’ve since found it’s not so easy creating a vlog. To start with I’m not so good just talking off the cuff, I need to plan what I’m going to say which entails bashing away at my laptop once again. Vanity also comes into play as my youthful good looks are just not what they once were. Anyway, even though vlogging is not for me the GX7 is a great camera and I took some pretty good shots at the Retro Grand Prix with it so I decided that for my video project I would just concentrate on our trip there.

It’s vital to review your raw video footage first when creating a video project so what I tend to do is this; I’ll troll through everything I have shot and anything that I either like or think will add to the narrative I will add to the project. I tidy things up a little, eliminate the bad shots and then start to think about what I am going to say in the narration. What I usually do to start things off in that area is review the blogs I have written on the subject and start to see if they will fit the video. Then I will add to them and rewrite and finally a clearer picture of the project will begin to appear.

Next I usually record my narration direct to the video then export that as a sound file to my sound mixer where I cut out all my mumbles and ers and ahs, beef up the bass and the volume and then add it back to the project.

A big problem that appeared here was that when recording the narration on my new HP laptop on HD Movie Maker, my voice came out all tinny and clipped so it was back to my old laptop with the old Movie Maker and I recorded the narration again. Maybe the microphone is better on that older laptop. Next I produce the audio file in little sections, little clips, so I can move the narration about to fit the video. On the old Movie Maker this is easy as you can move the clips about with your mouse so they can be placed exactly where you want. On the new HD Movie Maker this is not possible although you have a delay button so you can move an audio file forward for however many seconds or milliseconds you want. Anyway after some time moving between laptops and editing programs I felt I was finally getting somewhere. Even so, a good few months had passed by at this point but I sometimes think it’s good to let a little time go by and so the project will coalesce in my mind resulting in what I like to think of as an organic result.

George Stevens was a Hollywood director who always edited his projects in a similar way. He directed among many other films Shane, the classic western with Alan Ladd and Giant the Rock Hudson/ Elizabeth Taylor film famous for being James Dean’s last film.

Stevens apparently received many threats on his life if he dared to cut any of Dean’s final scenes. He took his time and his films were always a masterclass in the art of editing.

Anyway, back to my little video. I finally reviewed the final cut and noticed that my narration, now slightly shortened after the excision of various mumblings now seemed to expose a typical piece of cheeky banter between myself and Liz. A little fun, but not something for the general public. Now on the old version of Movie Maker I could have faded out the video sound at that point but on the new version that wasn’t an option. I could either silence the whole clip but not fade it out. The solution was this: Silence the whole clip and add a sound clip, that of our motorhome exiting the car park of the french supermarket Intermarche, no doubt after purchasing a good few boxes of French wine ready to export back to Lancashire. A quick addition of some copyright free music from YouTube and there you have it, a new video for my YouTube channel.

Such a pity that Microsoft have seen fit to mess with Movie Maker. No doubt just when I manage to master the new HD Movie Maker they will replace it with something new.

It’s called progress . . .


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

Cameras, Edits and Fish and Chips.

This weekend is Remembrance Sunday and there is a lot of stuff out there in the media about the sad events of war, in particular World War 1 which ended 100 years ago this week. I occasionally comment on social media threads about the war and sometimes even tag my video from earlier this year about my visit to various war cemeteries in France.

The other week I added a link to my video on a Facebook page. It wasn’t anything to do with war, in fact it’s a Facebook page for amateur video makers, like me, to plug their work and discuss the arts of video making. I actually got some good reviews there but one fellow video maker questioned the beginning of the film. What I had done was this; when I had started filming I was planning a film about motorhomes and travelling in France and at one camp site parked next to us was a very tasty motorhome with a big trailer. Straight away I envisioned a narration talking about the big motorhome as if it was ours, then cutting to our much smaller one and saying ‘oh well, we’ll take this one then.’ Not exactly hilarious but faintly amusing. Anyway, that’s pretty much exactly how the finished video starts off.

However, as I eventually produced a video about war graves and cemeteries, the rest of the narration is of a sad and sombre tone and the jokey comments didn’t really fit in, which is what my fellow Facebook video maker had noticed.

When I originally put the video together I just somehow didn’t pick up on that. Take a look below and see what you think.

It’s always great to finish my block of shifts at work and then I can look forward to my six days off. This week however I picked up a tummy bug and spent a lot of time lying about in discomfort, constantly running to the toilet. Why couldn’t I have got the bug on a work day, then at least I could have called in sick? Anyway, one thing I thought I’d do on my days off was to sort out that video; go back to my editing deck, cut out the offending phrase and the much bigger motorhome and just record another line, something more in keeping with the general tone of the subject.

This of course is where everything went wrong. I added the new line, but in doing so I somehow managed to delete everything else on the soundtrack. OK, no problem, I still had the original recording of the narration so I thought I could just add that. What I did the first time round was to save the voice over as short individual tracks so I could change things round and pace things to match the visuals. Now, many months later the tracks were staring back at me, track 1, track 2 and so on, all the way up to track 48 and I couldn’t remember what I had said on each track, plus every few minutes, courtesy of the stomach bug, I had to drop everything and rush to the bathroom. Yes, I think I’ll leave that edit for another day but thanks fellow video producer for bringing that to my attention . .

Prior to my work shifts, Liz and I decided to spend an evening driving through the Blackpool Illuminations. The very first Illuminations began in 1879 but didn’t become a regular event until 1913 and were an idea for extending the holiday season at this seaside resort. The lights run for about six miles along Blackpool promenade from Starr Gate to Bispham and consist, apparently, of over one million light bulbs. Anyway, it was a great opportunity for a fish and chip supper and for me to mess about with my video cameras and editing software. A little background music instead of a voiceover might be preferable me thinks . .

Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Video and Recycling the Re-edit

The video of today is very much a tool of social media. Attention spans are short so documentaries are out and very much in is a short, straight to the point video. In fact, social media videos today have a lot in common with music videos which started life in the 1980’s when the idea of a short film or video to promote a music single evolved. Since then, a whole generation of MTV style cable and satellite channels have emerged showing nothing but music videos. No intros, titles or credits, just straight in with the song.

Video.

Michael Jackson’s video Thriller was a highlight of the music video genre. It won an award for best short film if I remember but my favourite video was the one where each paving stone lights up as Jackson, doing his wholly personal trademark style of dancing, steps on each one. Billie Jean, I do love that song.

On social media a video needs to have a quick impact: So quick you wouldn’t believe it. According to statistics, a viewer has to be hooked by a video in the first ten seconds, otherwise they are off. There are more videos to watch and better content to be found elsewhere.  Here are a few more stats from http://www.wordstream.com

  • 82% of Twitter users watch video content on Twitter
  • YouTube has over a billion users, almost one-third of total internet users.
  • 45% of people watch more than an hour of Facebook or YouTube videos a week.
  • More than 500 million hours of videos are watched on YouTube each day.
  • More video content is uploaded in 30 days than the major U.S. television networks have created in 30 years.
  • 87% of online marketers use video content.
  • 85% of Facebook videos are watched without sound.
  • 72 Hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every 60 seconds.

Pretty staggering stats aren’t they? However you interpret those figures they are saying this; if you are in the business of marketing or social media, you need to be in the business of video. Happily, with today’s technology, videos are not quite as hard to make as they were a few years back. Many social media videos are made with minimal editing on tablets or even mobile phones. Most of my videos are shot either on a small hand-held Panasonic HD camera or on my newest gadget, my action cam. Technology has helped some bloggers evolve from blogging into vlogging, simply by pointing a camera at themselves and chatting away, instead of writing.

Earlier in 2017 I made a short film about cycling. I had picked up, fairly cheaply, one of those action cams you have probably seen advertised. The same style of action cam that is responsible for so many videos of stunt cycles, skiing, surfing and so on that are featured regularly on Facebook and other social media sites. I thought I could perhaps combine some sort of physical activity; in which I am severely lacking, with cameras; which I love messing about with and the result might be an entertaining film with which to pull viewers into the clutches of my web site and then, you guessed it, flog more copies of my book!

Recycling.

So, I dug out my old bike from the depths of the garage. A quick hosing down and a spray on the vital points with WD40 and the bike didn’t look so bad.  I have two action cams; they are not expensive Go-Pro cameras, just cheap copy versions. One cost about £19 from eBay, the other was £2 from a car boot sale. They come with various clamps and grabs and things to attach them to your bike. I had the cameras mounted  in various positions although the best was when I strapped one to my wrist with a Velcro strap so I could flip it around and catch shots of gear changing and braking and so on and even flip round to see me, straining somewhat as I began to get my muscles to flex again.

The big problem with these kind of cameras, at least for me is this -not only are they small, the buttons are small too, and the screen is small, and the indications on the screen -which mode you are in, battery time, record, play and so on, are even smaller, so setting things up is pretty hard especially for a man who uses reading glasses. As for setting the date and time -forget about it! Another thing is that when I switched on my camera and then set off biking, I was not always sure if I had pressed the right mode; if the two clicks for standby and then one for record actually registered so when I came back after a ride I sometimes got:
1. Nothing.
2. A short video of me messing about with the camera and then it switching off just as I ride away.

To be honest, I’m not even sure why I was filming myself, although if I’m truthful, I just like messing about with cameras and video, just as I said earlier, and pretending to be the film director I always wanted to be. Anyway, after three laps of the immediate area and about forty minutes of camera video, it was time for a cuppa. Then it was time to spend days, weeks even, fiddling about on Windows Movie Maker, cutting and splicing and so on until I managed to produce a workable edit.

Editing can be a slow process but as long as you have a clear result in mind it can be very satisfying.

I do so like photography in the digital age. No expensive films, no waiting for the film to be developed and printed. No more expensive mistakes. Today, if you take a bad picture, delete it, take another in fact, take multiple exposures and just delete or edit the bad ones later.

Digital video is pretty much the same. Delete what you don’t like and start again. Even if what you have shot isn’t good, it can be saved by cutting or effects like slow motion.

In the editing suite, build your video slowly, adding each scene and then later your soundtrack, adding layers to the original sound with effects, music and narration.

I remember editing in the VHS days, juggling different tracks on my sound mixer, having to cue each track and fade in when ready, keeping an eye on the monitor all the time. Once, in one of my airport videos I had to do a narration, fade down the original video soundtrack, pause while a helicopter flew into the shot, fade in a helicopter sound effect, fade in the next section of original sound while I narrated the next paragraph and finally, cue and fade in the music and then fade out the original sound.

Today, with digital, all that is a step by step process.

The Re-edit.

Since my original version of my cycle ride, I seem to have finally mastered (perhaps not quite the word) my sound technology and have produced a number of short films featuring me, chattering away about various things. On A French Journey I added a narration that was done extemporaneously (I like that word) meaning basically that I started talking off the top of my head armed only with a few notes about the history of the M6 and the channel tunnel. I think I did about three takes, took away the soundtrack to my sound mixer, cut out a lot of er and ahs and returned it successfully to the video. For my cycling re-edit I tried to do a similar off the cuff piece but it didn’t work out so I sat down, wrote a short essay linking cycling, photography and editing and read it over the video. Again after a few cuts here and there it doesn’t seem so bad. Is it the sort of content that will pull the viewers in to stevehigginslive.com?

Only time will tell . .


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

Adventures with an Action Cam

One of the great web sites of the modern digital age has to be Ebay. I spend a lot of time there, idly searching cyberspace for things that I want and sometimes, things that I don’t even know that I want. Do you ever look at your purchases and think, why did I buy that? Did I really want that? Was it just an impulse buy? It’s much easier to put something down if you are actually in a shop and say to yourself, ‘I really don’t need that’ than it is on the Internet.

Having said that I have picked up quite a few bargains on Ebay. We wont go into the numerous leather jackets, shirts and shoes that I have bought online and that don’t fit me even though they are clearly marked XXL and that when tried on, it becomes apparent that a dwarf pygmy wouldn’t fit into them, let alone someone of my considerable bulk. XXL it seems to me, is a term open to interpretation.

One thing that I did buy on Ebay and that I have had lots of fun-filled hours with is my action cam. My action cam is only a cheap one, made in China, and it’s a cheap copy of the much more expensive Go-Pro camera and only cost £20 compared to the huge cost of a proper Go-Pro camera. Mine does the job and takes some interesting pictures strapped to my bike handlebars or on my car window or wherever I choose to stick it.

On our recent holiday to France I spent a lot of time filming through the car window on our way down south from St Annes in Lancashire to Folkestone for the shuttle over to Calais and then on down through France to our rented gite in the rural Cher region in central France. There were, of course, the usual problems endemic to shooting ‘live’ action. The battery ran out at various crucial moments of interest and on other occasions I didn’t pause it properly so I shot an endless half hour of hum drum motorway and then, when we arrived at somewhere very lovely and photogenic I pressed the record button to begin filming but actually paused a recording I didn’t realise was already in progress. C’est la vie as the French say.

On my YouTube page I now have three short action cam films. A Trip Around the Block on my bicycle, my first foray into action cam film making. Second, a short underwater film of me taking a swim, not in the blue seas of the Mediterranean or some exotic fish filled lake but actually in our holiday swimming pool. Yes, I know what you are thinking but the lure of messing about with a video camera underwater was just too much! Anyway, now, coming to a computer screen near you, in colour and with the added attraction of a special written commentary spoken and verbally crucified by me, I give you, A French Journey . .

In case you didn’t catch this on an earlier post, check out this cycling video:

And last but not least, here’s my underwater video:


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. Click the picture below to go straight to amazon!

Cycling, Action Cams and Making the Video!

One thing that concerns me in my new semi retirement is my health. I really am not an active person so I am always looking to stay healthy which is one reason why I have dug out my old bike from the depths of the garage. A quick hosing down and a spray on the vital points with WD40 and the bike doesn’t look so bad. I last used it regularly over twenty years ago when I had an early start in Warrington and I used to cycle from Newton Le Willows.

Since then I picked up a rather nice mountain bike, which was a joy to ride and served me well during my infrequent ‘get fit’ spells for years until one day last year when it fell prey to some light-fingered scoundrel who took a like to it and whisked it away.

Talking about bikes and cycling makes me think about the bikes I had as a teenager when cycling was pretty much my only means of transport. Me and my friends used to cycle all over, even ending up in the peak district on a few occasions, a fair old haul from our council estate in Manchester. My teenage cycling days came to an end one day in the 1970’s when I traded my bike to my brother in a swap.

My brother couldn’t actually ride a bike but that didn’t stop us from swapping. He might have wanted a particular record or something that I had so we would swap that for my bike and some weeks later usually swap back or I would pay him the cash equivalent. Now that’s where I felt I really had one over on Colin, my brother, because he couldn’t, and still can’t ride a bike! Yes, I was on to a winner there because I’d swap my bike for a record or book of his that I wanted and I had full use of the item while he couldn’t use the bike because he couldn’t ride it! After weeks of his moaning I usually had to pay him a cash sum or give him the item in question back.

One time he really got one over on me. I had swapped my bike for one of his records or something or other; I can’t really remember what. Anyway, one day I went to go out on my bike -OK, his bike- opened the shed and it was gone. What had happened? Had it been stolen, where was it?

‘The bike?’ he answered blithely; he had sold it to his friend because he wanted money to buy a new LP!

My Mother facilitated the removal of my hands from his throat with a firm whack to the back of my head and asked what was going on?

He sold my bike!’ I yelled.

‘Your bike?’ she replied. ‘Didn’t you swap it with him? Isn’t it his bike?’

Yes but, yes but,’ was all I could say.

Anyway, back to the present day and another reason to start cycling is that a while ago when I was in the midst of a mad eBay buying session, I picked up, fairly cheaply, one of those action cams you have probably seen advertised. The same style of action cam that is responsible for so many videos of stunt cycles, skiing, surfing and so on that are featured regularly on Facebook and other social media sites.

My rather old bike looking good after a quick sprucing up!

The big problem with these kind of cameras, at least for me is this: Not only are they small, the buttons are small too, and the screen is small, and the indications on the screen -which mode you are in, battery time, record, play and so on, are even smaller, so setting things up is pretty hard especially for a man who uses reading glasses. As for setting the date and time -forget about it! Another thing is that when you switch on your camera and then set off biking, you, well me anyway, are not always sure if I pressed the right mode, if the two clicks for standby and then one for record actually registered so when I come back after a ride I sometimes get

  1. Nothing.
  2. A short video of me messing about with the camera and then it switching off just as I ride off.

The video of today is very much a tool of social media. Attention spans are short so documentaries are out and very much in is a short, straight to the point video. In fact, videos today have a lot in common with music videos which started life in the 1980’s when the idea of a short film or video to promote a music single evolved. Since then, a whole generation of MTV style cable and satellite channels have emerged showing nothing but music videos. No intros, titles or credits, just straight in with the song.

Michael Jackson’s video Thriller was a highlight of the music video genre. It won an award for best short film if I remember but my favourite video was the one where each paving stone lights up as Jackson, doing his wholly personal trademark style of dancing, steps on each one. Billie Jean, I do love that song.

Despite doing some video training in Manchester, some years before everything went digital, I have never worked in film or TV but that has not stopped me pestering TV and film companies with scripts and TV ideas. I still have hopes of one day having a movie made from one of my scripts. My favourite movie story is that of Sylvester Stallone who wrote the screenplay to the movie Rocky. The film studios snapped up the screenplay but there was a catch, Stallone wanted to play Rocky himself. The studios thought for a moment and made Stallone a counter offer. James Caan was a highly bankable and famous star and the producers preferred him to the unknown Sylvester Stallone. They offered Stallone a million dollars if he would let Caan play the part. Stallone declined the offer, played the part himself, and the rest, as they say, is film history.

Anyway, back to my action cam. To be honest, I’m not even sure why I’m filming myself, although I did have a vague idea of trying yet another VLOG, this time one related to cycling. Actually, if I’m truthful, I just like messing about with cameras and video and pretending to be the film director I always wanted to be. Anyway, after two laps of the estate and about three mins of camera video, it was time for a cuppa. Then it was time to spend days, weeks even, fiddling about on Windows Movie Maker, cutting and splicing and so on until the program refused to make any more cuts. Perhaps there is a maximum movie length  or I don’t have enough mega bytes or whatever. (You can see clearly that although I pretend to be pretty tech savvy, I’m not really.)

Video edit one therefore was something of a disappointment but undeterred I started another one. This time I had another array of video footage all taken on a local bike ride. I did one trip using the camera mounted on my handle bars facing forward and then on the next run facing backwards showing me peddling away. Then I experimented with various camera positions. My action cam came with numerous items of kit for attaching cameras and one was a velcro band which I attached to my wrist which produced some dynamic shots of gear changing and braking, all of which add to the thrust of the finished edit.

Editing can be a slow process but as long as you have a clear result in mind it can be very satisfying. The main rule of editing for me, is always have a shot ready to cut to. On TV interviews they used to call this the ‘noddy’ shot. Interviews were filmed with only one camera so after the VIP had left the studio the interviewer would face the camera and repeat some of his questions and do some serious nodding so that in the final edit, when something was cut from the interviewee, the editor could always cut back to the noddy shot! My noddy shot was one from the camera mounted on my bike handlebars.

One big disappointment in making this video was than no matter which microphone I used, or no matter what tweaks I made on my computer, the recording volume seemed very low when I tried to narrate over my video. Eventually I did something really techy. I pulled my narration off my video, fed it into my Magix audio recorder, boosted the volume and put it back on the video. I have to admit I felt very pleased afterwards. Had I been a smoker I might have relaxed back in my chair and lit a big cigar feeling a little like David Lean, that master director and editor.

Actually, the sound still feels a little cranky but what the heck. A few captions and the addition of some royalty free music courtesy YouTube and all is looking much better. One day I might get a better microphone, a new computer, more megabytes and then, who knows what wonders I might bring to YouTube and the world of video?

Until then, click the video below for a quick trip around the block!

Here’s a later version with added narration:


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