Cameras, Vlogging and that Personal Image

Travelling to the Loire Valley region of France this summer I brought four cameras with me. My trusty Nikon D100 SLR was left behind in favour of my Action cam, my GoPro Hero+, my Canon G7X and my always reliable Panasonic HM pocket camcorder. The Canon comes highly recommended as the top vlogging camera of its kind. If you want to look good on YouTube, this is the camera to have, and when I bought it after many moons of trying on eBay I was looking forward to branching out from merely writing about stuff to actually talking and showing you stuff too. My action cam I’ve had for a while but it’s really just a cheap copy of a GoPro camera and the thing is when you have a cheap copy, you tend to want the original. The only thing is, working with GoPro cameras isn’t that easy.

The first thing I noticed about my GoPro Hero+ is that there is no viewing screen so it’s not so easy to set up a shot. However, you can link the camera to your mobile and get a visual confirmation of your shot. Okay, skim back to the manual and I see I have to enable wi-fi. Nothing happened so back to the instructions and then I see I need the wi-fi app. Okay, download that and am I getting anywhere? No. Have I set up a password? No, okay, I sort the password out and finally, we are getting somewhere, can I shoot some video? Yes! Have I brought my mini memory card adapter to transfer video to my laptop? Er, actually, no. Can I do it by wi-fi? Yes, to my phone but I don’t want the stuff there I want it on my laptop. So, I have to download the GoPro pc application. Does it finally work? Yes. Am I bothered? No, cos I’m hot and stressed and I’m off to the pool!

Since then I’ve had a radical rethink and perhaps the age-old written word is more my style after all.

Why the change of heart you may ask. Well, there is not only the hassle of dealing with modern technology as I’ve mentioned above, there is also this. I am getting on a little, in fact not so very long ago I hit the big six O which was quite a turning point for me. The big four O didn’t make much of an impression. The big five O, well there was something, some feeling of me getting on a little but nothing too bad but then along came the six O and there was a feeling of, six O, really? Am I actually that old? The thing is, aging only really happens on the outside. On the inside a guy is pretty much the same guy he has always been. Inside, I don’t think I’ve really changed since I was, well, eighteen, nineteen or maybe twenty. My thinking has always been the same, I’ve matured a little, become a little more sensible (a little) but generally speaking I’m just the same, so how has this sixty thing just crept up on me?

The answer is I don’t really know. I’ve just been chugging along, getting on with my life and suddenly I’m sixty. I have to say I’m not too happy about it and perhaps I should look into making a complaint. The council comes to mind or the government. Perhaps they should have sent me a letter or something. Perhaps they should have picked up the phone and said hello, Steve, do you know what year it is? Maybe it’s time to take it easy, chill out a little or something of that nature.

Come to think of it, I did get a letter -from the civil service offering me semi-retirement- which is why I now only work three days a week. To think, they knew I was getting older but I never twigged!

Anyway, getting back to my cameras, I started off by shooting some background stuff here at our rented gite in the Loire; you know our villa, the pool and so on. While I was messing about and getting used to my New GoPro camera I shot some stuff of me checking out the villa, the pool and the grounds. Then I tried some shots of me typing away on my laptop, knocking out my latest post. I figured I could put a good narration together from some of my old ‘Sun Lounger Thoughts’ blogs or perhaps talk about being a blogger or a self-published author at work, that sort of thing.

One evening after the usual day of swimming, sunbathing, reading and drinking wine, you know, the average sort of holiday day, I thought I might as well review some of that stuff, that video that I’ve been shooting. The big shock was really, who is that old guy in the video who resembles my old Dad? Do we have a serious problem with lenses or filters or can that old overweight guy really be me?

Taking a serious look at myself even my hands look big. Did I say my hands? Just taking another look at those hands and I realised they were my old Dad’s hands, only bigger and chubbier than his ever were. No wonder I’m always pressing the wrong key on my mobile phone with those big chubby mitts!

We find only one tool, neither created nor invented, but perfect: the hand of man.” ― Julio Ramón Ribeyro

The other day in a cafe in the village of Parçay Le Pins, Liz took this picture of me sitting at our table having just eaten fish and chips and supping a pint of lager.

The picture isn’t a bad one. Ok I’m not as young as I used to be but I look reasonably well, I suppose, although I’m clearly not the cool dude in that graphic at the top of the page!

The thing is in a still picture you can put on your winning smile, (not exactly winning in this picture but you know what I mean) turn your best side to the camera, hold in your tummy and all will be ok but with video, things can be a little more revealing.

So, I think I might just put my vlogging plans on hold for a while, just a little while, well perhaps indefinitely. My next video will probably feature me but probably on the narration rather than the visuals . .

 


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

Videos, Blog posts and the Search for Content.

It doesn’t get any easier, the search for words and ideas for a weekly blog post. And it just goes on and on, just like marketing. You write a book, self publish it on Amazon, then realise that if you want to sell a few copies you need to promote your book more and more on social media. After all, before people can make a decision about whether to buy or not, they need to know more about your product, and if they’ve never heard of it at all there is only you who can tell them about it.

One of the ways in which I have worked is to show the public something interesting through either my blog posts or videos and hope people may think, ‘hey that was interesting. Wonder what this guy’s book is like? That’s the theory anyway. In practice coming up with varied content week after week is hard work. Sometimes I have to cheat a little. Cheat did he say? Well a little bit. Sometimes I take an old blog post and liven it up a little, rewrite it and add some new images and graphics and hey presto, new blog post!

Sometimes I’ll take content from a stalled project and use it for something else, like another blog post. Back in 2017 I was in Manchester, the location of the events in my book, Floating in Space, and shot some video of the town as it looks these days. I had a vague idea of talking about the city and how it has changed during the last 40 odd years and looking at some of the pubs and bars I used to frequent. Back home I saw that my footage wasn’t brilliant and there didn’t seem to be enough useable video to work with. One big problem for me is that when I visit Manchester, the lure of my old pubs and haunts is just too great and I tend to have to go and visit them and of course, have a pint or two in them too. Then there are new venues that need to be tried out and evaluated. This process of evaluating is very important, especially to a top blogger and chronicler of Manchester, like me! The thing is, after a few pints, which of course are essential to the evaulating process, I’m not necessarily in the mood, or the state, for shooting video!

Making a documentary film, even the short ones I make is pretty hard. I started off putting a rough cut together then working out a narration but things just wouldn’t come together. A better way, I found, was to sit down and write something and then try to select images that fit together with my words. Editing, especially the way I work, can be a slow process. After that particular video project stalled for the umpteenth time I realised my Saturday blog deadline was fast approaching and that I had little worth publishing. That’s when I decided to take my narration and re-purpose it into, yes, you’ve guessed it, another blog post.

My post Manchester 41 Years On, was a nostalgic look back down memory lane and a sort of appreciative look at present day Manchester. It combined a lot of text from Floating in Space, written quite a few years back now with some new fresh words inspired by my recent visit to the old home town. I liked it so much that I determined to get back into the editor’s chair and sort out that video!

After numerous re-edits I finally got things in some sort of order. I did have a version with some background music but it was annoying so that had to be removed. My narration wasn’t perfect but after a session with the old sound mixer and the snipping out of those many errs and ahhs, things seem a little better. Not Oscar nomination material I suppose, but a pretty reasonable short video. Take a look and see what you think!

By the way, this post came direct from French mobile internet hell! Stay tuned and illI tell you more next week!


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

Writing, Promotion and the Self published Author

Writing.

There is only one reason to be a writer and that is because you love writing.  OK, there are those whose novels regularly hit the best seller lists and get made into films and earn the writer untold millions and that is perhaps an incentive to write. Few writers however, get into the millionaire bracket so it is perhaps best to accept that writing is its own reward, just one of personal pleasure at creating something amusing, insightful, or whatever you, the writer, intended.

One of the problems of writing, for me at least is that I have two what I might call ‘situations’. One is the idea situation when I get an idea for something and long to get it down on paper, on my laptop or whatever. The second one is actual writing, that situation when I am alone, Liz has gone to work or out somewhere. She has probably left a list of things to be doing like ‘cut the grass’ or something but let’s ignore that for now. I am sitting at my laptop all ready to create a new chapter for my book, a new screenplay or whatever.

Here then, is the problem. These two states or situations rarely, if ever, meet, so a lot of the time when I am sitting quietly with my laptop nothing comes to mind. The other situation, the one where I am full of ideas, well that usually happens when I am at work and things are very busy or I am driving my car and unable to get this stuff down. Now I do have something of a solution. There is a hand-held dictation recorder in my car into which I blab various ideas, poems and stories as I speed along the M6 motorway on my way to work.

Another is an in idea I pinched from a fellow called Jack Black who wrote a motivational book called Mindstore. I used to use Mindstore quite a lot when I was trying to up my confidence for job interviews and so on. What Jack suggests is building a house entirely within your mind and designating various rooms inside for various confidence building activities.

For instance, there is a shower room where, after going through a relaxation and meditational procedure, one uses the imaginary shower room which not only cleanses but it relaxes and washes away all negative emotions and feelings. There are various meditational procedures used to build this house and its rooms in your mind and the individual is encouraged to design something outstanding. One room I added was a boxroom, in which I store all my unworked on ideas, unused blog posts and book chapters. The only problem is this, when I come to enter that room, I’m usually in situation #1, you know, the one where I’ve got time on my hands and can’t think of anything.

Promotion.

You may have spent weeks, months, even years writing and re writing and now your book is finally finished. Great, you think, pour out a glass of port, or your alcoholic beverage of choice and celebrate. It’s over, the mammoth task you set yourself ages ago is finally complete. Wait a minute, what do you do now?

Yes, exactly what do you do? Well, the first thing is to start searching for publishers which is not an easy task. If that fails you could always self publish your work, just like myself and thousands of others have done through Amazon. Floating in Space is available there as a paperback or as a Kindle download but what then? The book comes out and is perhaps one of 5,000 new titles newly available that or any day. 5,000! That is a pretty huge figure. How then do you not only get people to look at your book but actually buy it?

There is only one answer that I know, and that is to spend a great deal of your free time on social media plugging your work. That is how this whole WordPress site came about. Yes, these weekly posts are just a pawn in the game of marketing to seduce readers into buying my book. Sadly, Floating still isn’t a number one bestseller, I haven’t been able to give up my day job and the few pennies I make from book sales just about pay for my subscription to Animoto, the site where I edit most of my videos. Why video you might ask? Well, here are a few stats.

1 .In 2017 video content represented 74% of all internet traffic.

2. 37% of marketers said visual marketing was the most important form of content for their business, second only to blogging (38%)

3. 4X as many consumers would prefer to watch a video about a product than to read about it.

4. Facebook users watch 8 billion videos per day.

5. Viewers retain 95% of a message when they watch it in a video compared to 10% when reading it in text.

Well, that’s five facts gleaned from various sources on the Internet. My top Tweet on Twitter is one that links directly to my landing page here at stevehigginslive.com and that’s pretty much why I’ve got so many videos lurking about the Internet ready to extol the virtues of my writing and to convince the lucky viewer that they must buy my book! Here’s my very latest video which comes with some very exciting James Bond style music:

Videos aren’t that difficult to make but you do need a great deal of patience when it comes to the editing stage. In a number of my videos I speak directly to the camera and try to impart to the viewer why he or she should buy my book. That isn’t such an easy thing to do but it can be made easier just by a little preparation. What are you going to say? Well, work that out in advance and rehearse, take a few test shots. I tend to keep my chatter down to a few sharp and straight to the point phrases these days because in a lot of my earlier videos I tended to ramble on a bit too much. Anyway, here’s a video which shows just how I used to get it all so very wrong.

One of the great things about video, at least for me, is that I love messing about with videos, editing and adding music and sound effects. My preferred video editor is Windows Movie Maker. It’s simple, it doesn’t seem to overtax my computer memory unlike some other programs I have and it’s very easy to use. One of the problems though with computers and particularly with Microsoft is this. I’m pretty sure they know exactly what programs I use because as soon as I get pretty happy and settled with a particular one, in the next Windows upgrade, they will promptly drop it.

Windows Sound Recorder.

Windows Sound Recorder for instance. A simple program, pop in a DVD and copy some of the music and dialogue from your favourite film, mix it on my trusty magic sound mixer, burn it onto a CD and the next day I am happily hurtling down the M6 listening to wonderful old classic movies as I drive to work. Upgrade to Windows 10 and where is the sound recorder? Gone. replaced by Windows voice recorder which is a total waste of time.

Windows Movie Maker.

A few weeks back I decided it was time for a new laptop. I saw a good deal on Ebay, sent off my cash and soon my lovely HP laptop arrived. A short time later I was online only to find a message saying my laptop did not have the latest version of Windows 10. Now, and this may have been my first mistake, I clicked the ‘update’ button and began a long process of updating Windows 10. When the dust had settled and updates were installed, where was Windows Movie Maker? Gone. Consigned to the trash bin of software history! That scuppered my plans for making a few quid out of my old laptop because I still need it for my video editing.

Oh well, just call me Two Laptop Steve!


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. To find out more click the links at the top of the page.

Some Hints and Tips from my Adventures on YouTube

I was checking my YouTube page the other day and noticed that I have eighty four videos there. That figure was quite a surprise to me. Eighty four videos? I have to admit, some of those are in my private file and are for production use only. (That makes me sound like a real film producer – production use only!) By that I mean some were uploaded so I could use the soundtrack on another video, some were uploaded without a soundtrack so I could add YouTube music later and some were promotional videos that use the old Floating in Space cover and were made before I introduced the newer version and rather than delete them I have just taken them offline.

By far my most popular video is this one, Trucking: The life of an HGV driver, 1980’s Style! I’d like to be able to tell you what a cracking video it is and that it is well worth watching although, in fact, it isn’t. It’s one of my first videos made before I even went on a media course at the Manchester WFA. I spent a few days with my friend Brian who was an HGV delivery driver and I made a short film about him at work.

I think people watch the film because of the nostalgia factor. I can see perhaps former HGV drivers watching it because that’s how things used to be, no sat navs or other gadgets, just get your map out and get trucking. They are certainly the ones who leave comments. Apart from that it has no particular merit. Pity I didn’t remove the title sequence, done on my old Sinclair Spectrum with music from Elton John, because if I had, the 35,917 views I’ve had at the time of writing could be making me a few quid in royalties. Instead the video is subject to a copyright claim by the owners of Elton’s music.

That’s probably the best lesson I’ve learnt from my time on YouTube; if you made a video years ago and used your favourite tracks from your record collection, replace them with royalty free music which you can download free from YouTube.

One of my favourite videos is another I made in the 1980’s, A Welsh Journey, Manchester to Porthmadoc. It’s a short documentary made about a rail trip which was inspired at the time by a documentary film presented by Michael Palin called Confessions of a Train Spotter. It was part of a Great Railway Journeys series and unlike some of the travel films made later by the former Monty Python performer, it was a great little film full of enthusiasm for the subject.

My old friend Steve and I wanted to recreate Palin’s journey but instead decided to do something cheaper and easier, a rail trip from Manchester Victoria to Porthmadoc. I did a great edit with a documentary style voice over and some top notch sound, music and effects mixing, courtesy of the new sound mixer I had just picked up. The big problem with that video, as regards YouTube, was that I used music from a great album by the Crusaders called Images. Now, that was fine in 1986 when the video was viewed just by me and my friends. Fast forward however to the 21st century digital age, upload it to YouTube and suddenly you have a whole lot of  musical rights owners who are not happy that their music is playing on my video. Result: YouTube have muted the entire soundtrack. You can still watch it but you cannot hear it.

The only thing to do was to take my original VHS video, slip the digitised version into my Windows Movie Maker and then re-edit and add some royalty free music provided by YouTube, in this case a little track by a guy called Kevin MacLeod called Local Forecast. I re-did some of the commentary, faded in Local Forecast in place of the Crusaders and even tidied up the video as a whole.

Some time ago videos could be edited on YouTube using their on-line video editor, hence the reason for uploading videos for ‘production use only’ as I mentioned earlier. You could trim videos, use the soundtrack from a different video and so on. Alas, the YouTube editor is no more, so it’s important to have your video all ready for viewing before you upload it.

One handy little thing on YouTube are YouTube cards. They are just that; a little card that appears in the top right hand corner in which you can add a link to other videos or even to your website.

Just going back to my Trucking video, two other reasons why that video does so well might be as follows.

a) The title is very SEO compatible. It’s straight to the point and tells you all you want to know and it also has a pretty good thumbnail or icon. That’s the image when you see when you first find a video on YouTube. If you look at the railway video above, you can see the icon has all the basics, a simple but relevant picture, the title, and a little explanation that it’s the updated version, not the one with the sound muted!

b) Thumbnails are important as a  good one can pull the viewer into watching your video.

A lot of my more recent videos were made on the Animoto web site. Animoto is a video editing website that comes with templates so you can easily upload your photos and video clips and the template will do the rest. You can even create a whole slide show video with just a collection of still images. Here’s one of my favourites, even though it’s just a little advert for my book:

Here’s another one, this time a collection of photographs of Lytham St Annes :

Right, so so far we’ve got documentaries from the 1980’s, promo videos, and slide shows. Not only that but I also have my book reviews on YouTube. Yes, I’ve always added a video version of my Book Bag series. Here’s the last one, filmed in sunny France in 2017:

Just as I’ve finished this post and pretty much finished re-editing my Airport 1986 video by adding royalty free music, I’ve had an email from YouTube advising me that because I have under a 1000 subscribers I can no longer ‘monetise’ my videos! Oh well, the Internet is a fast moving and ever changing place. Perhaps I should look at shifting my videos over to rival video channel Vimeo.com! Anyway, here’s my updated airport video, split into two parts for ease of uploading.

So, just to finish, here are three points that are key to developing your YouTube channel:

1. Use royalty free music!

2. Think carefully about your video title.

3. Add a simple but effective icon for your video; that and your video title can be the key to bringing in your viewers and subscribers!

4. People have very short attention spans these days. If they are not interested in your video in the first few seconds, they will navigate away from your video to something else so make those first few seconds count.


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information or watch the short promo below.

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!

A Slice of my Life

I bumped into one of my friends the other day, someone I hadn’t seen for about a month. After a quick chat he said to me that he was looking forward to reading my next post. ‘Have you written a new one yet?’ he asked.

‘A new one?’ I replied. ‘Don’t you read my tag lines? A new post every Saturday!’

‘Yes,’ he said ‘but you can’t do a post every Saturday can you?’

‘Yes’ was the answer,’ a new post every Saturday!’

‘Every Saturday? But how do you think of things to write about?’

Well, actually I’m not sure. At least I’m not a newspaper columnist, having to write something new every day, that would be hard but now I think of it, writing a new post every week is pretty difficult too. Luckily, I’m free to write about almost anything, I’m not limited like someone who writes a cycling blog for instance, who must find a new cycling topic to write about every week. I do tend to stick to books, classic films and tell anecdotes about myself but sometimes I rabbit on about Watergate, Marilyn Monroe, JFK, Formula One racing, the Apollo missions and basically, everything under the sun.

While on holiday earlier this year -did I mention I went to France for five weeks?- I pumped out numerous blog posts but now I’m back home and back into the old routine my stack of draft posts is beginning to dwindle. Anyway, the other day I was reading a post by a fellow blogger, one in which he went from a slice of pizza, to a day in his life, a ‘slice’ of his life, if you will. That was so enjoyable I thought I might try it myself.

Picture courtesy Oliver’s

I’m not a great pizza fan but come to think of it, I did have a pizza the other week. Liz and I went to Oliver’s, a small eatery not far from a pub we drink in so it was nice to start off our night there. Oliver’s is a small place and I can imagine that in a previous life it was just a takeaway but the present owners have added a few tables, some pleasant lighting and decor and a small but tasty menu.

Liz and I always share a pizza for starters. We usually have the Siciliana pizza which comes with olives, capers, onions, cheese and anchovies. Now I don’t care for anchovies so we tend to swap that topping for something else. It’s a really nice pizza and as we are sharing we don’t get too stuffed. The main course is one that most people have as a starter; it’s a sharing board with meatballs, spicy potatoes, olives, cheese, some cold meats, and this really lovely olive oil bread. Wonderful! The other thing about this place is that they don’t have a drinks license so you have to take your own, which brings the bill down considerably and we always decant some wine from our French collection and take it along. (Did I mention we spent five weeks in France during the summer?) The staff at Oliver’s are very friendly too, making our visit there just a lovely experience, and not only that, the place is only a stone’s throw from the Victoria pub where they serve an outstanding pint of lager.

A meal out and a few beers is the perfect way to forget about work and blog posts and relax for a while.

A big headache for me lately is editing the video I shot while in France this year. (Did I mention we went to Fra- oh never mind!) Video editing is very satisfying, especially for a wannabe movie director like me but it is very time-consuming and there is so much you have to keep in your head. You have to hold the big picture up there in your mind while you sort out the bits and pieces that go to make that big picture.

The other day I finished my edit and began the upload to YouTube. The first few tries were a failure as my laptop timed out then went in to a sort of meltdown and had to be re started. Laptops are a little like a woman, fine if you give them the attention they need but if you think you can go in the other room and watch ‘Lost in Space’ -which is currently being re-shown on the freeview Horror channel at the moment- while they are working: Forget it!

After a number of false starts I finally got my upload sorted. My plan of action was to get the video uploaded then add some fine tuning and some music by using You-tube’s built-in video editor. At first I thought an element of brain fade had caused a minor meltdown within me (could do with another night out at Oliver’s perhaps) because for the life of me I couldn’t find the video editor or even how to access it. After some research I found that I couldn’t access it because the YouTube Video Editor is no more! As John Cleese might say, it has ceased to be, it is an ex-video editor, it is pushing up video daisies because, alas, YouTube decided they were going to dispense with the video editor.

Some other evening activity this week involved that great modern British custom, going down to the pub quiz. I do enjoy a good pub quiz and the Lytham and St Annes area there are quite a few quizzes to be found. A lot of them are the highbrow variety where the pub quizzers appear to have been bussed in from surrounding areas. They give you quite a glare if you happen to be manhandling a mobile phone and look like you are looking up the answers. As it happens our ancient mobiles are non smartphones so we are not guilty, although I have to admit I did once text my brother to ask ‘who plays Purdey in the New Avengers?’ (One point if you got Joanna Lumley.)

Questions in these kind of quizzes are on the lines of: Pudong, meaning “east bank”, is the financial district of which city? (One point if you answered Shanghai.) Bonus point if you know the husband and wife star of the movie ‘The lady From Shanghai!’ (One point each for Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth.) We went to one pub quiz a few years back in which the quiz master, a retired schoolteacher, asked to check each quiz paper after each round. He then put the team names on a ladder with current leaders at the top and those bringing up the rear at the bottom. Needless to say, not being well up in the districts of Shanghai, Liz and I, who quiz as The Lovers, were at the bottom of the ladder.

Anyway, this week’s quiz was at the Blossoms pub and the quiz was not of the highbrow variety but more of the fun variety. Lots of familiar film, TV and music stars in the picture round for me and a good cryptic word round which Liz excels at. After liaising with a young couple sitting close by we were able to come through as the winners after a round which alternated disco era music questions with 2012 chart hits. Great quiz and plenty of spot prizes for those who drew out raffle tickets and some great music. In fact they played the sort of tracks that you realise were not only brilliant but you haven’t heard for a while. One particular favourite was ‘Mind Blowing Decisions, by Heatwave, a fabulous track from 1978.

Next mind-blowing decision: Might as well delete that upload then and start the fine tuning of my video on my old laptop. As I wait for it to crank up I start thinking about food. What shall we have for tea tonight? Pizza? Nah, don’t think so. Come to think of it, we haven’t visited the Greek place for a while. Just fancy some Calamari for starters and maybe a little Moussaka with some salad . . OK, put that edit on hold for a while . .


Floating in Space can be ordered from amazon as a Kindle download or as a traditional paperback by clicking here. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

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 him 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:

If you liked that video, have a gander at another edit, this one done using the online editing site http://www.animoto.com
They do say that no work of art is ever finished, only abandoned!


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.

(Almost) Unseen TV

tv documentaryIt’s interesting that on TV, the same movies come at us time after time. The Great Escape, wonderful film though it is, has been broadcast so many times I know the script off by heart. The Bond films are a staple of UK TV. They and the Die Hard films, the Carry on series and a hundred others–they are all constantly on British TV. Old TV shows are another staple of the new free view channels.

In fact, just lately a lot of my favourite shows from when I was a school boy are currently being shown on TV: The Saint, Land of the Giants, The Invaders and many more. (Wish they’d get around to showing the Time Tunnel though!) Some things that rarely, if ever, are repeated, are old TV documentaries and old made for TV movies. Here are three of my favourites, two documentaries and one made for TV movie, preserved for my viewing pleasure on trusty old VHS video tape.

The Peter Sellers Story: As He Filmed It.

The BBC Arena team made this film about Peter Sellers in 1995. It was created largely from cine film shot by Sellers himself, who was a lifelong camera enthusiast. The original documentary was made in 1995 and if I remember correctly, Sellers’ widow, Lynne Frederick had died and left behind a lot of Sellers’ effects, including his home movies which is how the film came to be made.

Normally, I’d say that you have to be interested in movie people and how movies are made to like this documentary but this film is so special I don’t think that rule applies.

The original film was in three parts and began with Sellers’ early days, and his early films. The first cine films we see are black and white movies and as Sellers’ career takes off, his cine equipment also improves and he upgrades to colour and then on to sound. His own images show his young self as a sort of ‘spiv’, a Flash Harry sort of character with his double-breasted and shoulder padded jackets. An uneasy relationship with his mother emerges, as does a rather spoilt and volatile personality. His first wife talks about their early days and their life together and friends like Spike Milligan talk happily about successes like the Goon show and their beginnings in show business. Milligan had a 8mm camera and Sellars a 16mm one. Of course ‘Peter was richer,’ comments Milligan. ‘Richer by 8 millimetres!’

Sellers’ cine film is blended with interviews from various people who played a part in Sellers’ life.

Sellers as Group Captain Mandrake in Dr Strangelove.

Sellers as Group Captain Mandrake in Dr Strangelove.

A fascinating section concerned Casino Royale, the spoof James Bond film. Various directors were involved but Joe McGrath shot one segment with Peter Sellers and Orson Welles. McGrath was a TV director relishing the move into feature films, that is until Sellers told him he didn’t want to be in the same shot as co-star  Welles. A heated debate ensued which became physical. Sellers said he was going off to calm down. He never returned and if you ever see the completed movie, you’ll understand why Sellers’ character abruptly disappears too!

Sellers claimed to have no personality of his own and ‘borrowed’ them from the characters he impersonated. It’s interesting to watch the TV interviews  included in the film where Sellers seems to mimic the Yorkshire tones of Michael Parkinson and again, in other snippets he is taking on the accents and style of his interviewers.

The film overall has a sort of melancholy feeling which I feel accurately represents Sellers’ persona. He was a sad character, disappointed in his life and loves. He was not happy with his last wife, Lynne Frederick and he even junked many of his cine films prior to his death as they didn’t seem to match his expectations. The mood of the film is further enhanced by a wonderful soundtrack full of sad saxophones and jazz tones.

There are some that put down documentaries that are full of so-called ‘talking heads’ but personally, if the talking head has something interesting to say, I like to hear them. However, in 2002 the BBC re edited the film by taking the soundtracks from the ‘talking heads’ and combined them with Sellers’ self filmed visuals. The result is now available as a BBC DVD. The original is much better though.

Barry Sheene. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Barry Sheene. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Barry Sheene. Daytona 1975.

This is a film about the late motorcycle racer Barry Sheene. He was a star of the 1970’s motorcycle racing scene. A long-haired, chain-smoking racer who had Donald Duck on his crash helmet and who famously gave the V sign to one of his opponents, I think it was Kenny Roberts, at a race at Silverstone in 1979. In this film Sheene goes to Daytona and is flat-out testing his bike when the engine locks up. He yanks in the clutch but is still sent hurtling along the track breaking several bones in the process. The film follows him to hospital where he joked with colleagues, even saying to his team manager, ‘the staff really hurt me. I’m glad I didn’t tell them about that pain I’ve got in my shoulder.’ His manager looks confused for a moment and says, ‘well, don’t you think you should tell them?’

Sheene is pinned back together with various metal rods and is later seen hobbling away from the hospital but even so, later in the film, we see him back on his motorbike once again.

The film was produced and directed by Canadian documentary maker Frank Cvitanovich and is a fascinating insight into the world of Barry Sheene. It is clear he lived and breathed motorcycles. In later life he retired and became a sports commentator in Australia. He died of cancer at the age of only 52

Across the Lake.

Across the Lake was a BBC film made in 1988. It starred Anthony Hopkins as speed king Donald Campbell in the final days of his life as he tried to raise the water speed record to over 300 miles per hour. Hopkins gives a lovely performance as Donald Campbell, a man who believed himself to be living in the shadow of his father, record breaker Sir Malcolm Campbell. He decided to take his old Bluebird boat, update her and try to break the 300 mph mark on Coniston water in the lake district. The jet boat flipped over and Campbell was killed. His body was not found until 2001.

The film shows the unglamorous side to record-breaking. Waiting in poor weather, the endless delays, the mechanical issues, the press waiting for something to happen. Something drove Campbell onwards in his pursuit of records. He was short of money and had sold all sorts of rights to his name, his films of record-breaking and so on. This was all before the days of big time sponsorship in the speed and motor racing industry and Hopkins shows us a Donald Campbell undefeated, perhaps even a little desperate but still with considerable style.

The record-breaking team disperse for Christmas and then return after the holidays. They begin their preparations again until a fine January morning appeared. Campbell powered up his speedboat and did a run of 297 mph but lost his life on his second run.

Having written this post about three old films I watch now and again on my old TV with the built-in VHS cassette player, it was interesting to find, during research, that all three can be seen online.

The original three-part version of The Peter Sellers Story: As he filmed it can be see on vimeo. Click here to watch it.

Frank Cvitanovich’s Barry Sheene Daytona 1975 documentary is on you tube. Watch it here.

Across the Lake is also on youtube. Watch it here.

Perhaps those old films are not as unseen as I thought!


If you enjoyed this post, why not try my book, Floating In Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information, or the picture below to go straight to my amazon page.

Floating in Space