The Big 65

Birthdays are not something I look forward to these days. Years ago, when I was a school boy I did look forward to them, at least I think I did. Now I come to think of it, I’m not sure I was that bothered about them even back them.  I do remember as a schoolboy being very impressed with the film 2001 A Space Odyssey and I started working out if I stood a chance of being alive in the then distant year of 2001. I was 45 in 2001 which to a young schoolboy must have seemed pretty ancient. Add on another 20 years and that same schoolboy would surely have imagined himself as a decrepit old guy barely alive in 2021. The thing is, despite being 65 I don’t really feel that old, at least, not inside.

Back in 2016 when I was a young whippersnapper of only 60 I wrote a little tongue in cheek piece about my birthday:

2016

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

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

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

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

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

Picture courtesy perfectpint.com

Picture courtesy perfectpint.co.uk

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

Yes that was the 1970’s; no internet, no mobile phones and a pint of bitter was only 25 pence.

2021

As it was my birthday I had arranged a pre birthday date for lunch and drinks with my brother. I was staying at my mother’s house and I fancied a look around Manchester. I had not been to the city centre since 2019, before the pandemic and every time I look at Instagram or the photography page I follow on Facebook, I keep seeing photos of new space age hi rise buildings and I wanted to take a look myself.

I planned on going early into Manchester so I gave my brother a quick call so as to arrange where we could meet. My brother however told me he wasn’t feeling well and was staying in bed. Well, I wasn’t happy but no amount of cajoling could get him to change his mind. As I sat on the tram travelling into town I started to think about making a video. I had my camera with me so I decided to leave the tram at Deansgate where I knew that some new skyscrapers had been built and then just follow wherever my camera or my nose took me.

At the end of Deansgate on the far edge of the city the builders had created a whole new complex of hi-rise buildings called Deansgate Square. There was an interesting mural there with a short history of Manchester from the first Roman fort in AD79 to the industrial age and right through to the present. After shooting a lot of video I wandered back towards the station and decided to drop down to the canal. The canal runs right through the middle of the city centre largely unseen, hidden by the large buildings and in some places disappearing into tunnels. I came across a canal barge navigating one of the locks and got chatting to the occupants. The barge was a hire boat and came from Middlewich but the crew were surprisingly from Washington in the USA. They showed me how to navigate through the canal lock, opening and closing the lock gates and opening the water valves to raise the boat up to the next level.

Later I walked down Oxford Road and found myself drawn to the old Refuge Assurance building. When I started my working life at the tender age of 16 my first job was as a clerk in the Estates department of the Refuge. Construction on the building began in 1891 with a final extension completed in 1932. It’s a grade 2 listed building finished in red brick which today is known as the Kimpton Clocktower Hotel. I entered through the side entrance, the one I last used in 1977 and walked through the tiled entrance hall into what used to be the main office. It was still pretty quiet and various people were sat in the luxurious lounge eating and drinking. I ordered a pint of lager and found myself a comfy seat where I sat and drank and let my mind wander back to 1973 when I first started there.

1973

In the Estates department my job was to collect the rents we were owed for numerous properties in the city centre, enter them in a ledger and bank the money. Another job was to allocate a proportion of the fire insurance to our tenants, based on the floor size they rented. One incident that sprang to mind was something I’ve written about before but is worth telling again. I came into work one day to find that there was the hum of excitement in the office and my colleagues and I were advised of the imminent arrival of a million pound cheque.  As I was only a mere teenage accounts clerk,  I was running low on the pecking order to see this cheque, although it was actually my job to process it as I did with all the other cheques that came into the department. In due course, one of the very senior managers came down with the cheque and with great reverence it was handed to my boss Mr Ross. Mr Ross perused the cheque for a while along with a small clique of other managers and then conveyed it to the senior clerk, Mr Elliott. After marvelling at this great artefact for a few moments, he then passed the cheque to me. Numerous staff members from our and neighbouring departments also came to take a peek at this financial wonder which I believe, was the result of the company either selling off our sister company, Federated Assurance, or doing some fabulous property deal.

Anyway I did my job and duly entered the cheque into the ledger then put it in the safe ready to go down to banking prior to 3pm, as in those days, banks closed at 3pm. ‘Good heavens!’ declared one of my managers, ‘we can’t just leave the cheque there, think about the interest!’ So I was despatched on a special journey to the bank for this very special cheque. Actually that suited me quite well. After paying the cheque into the local bank I sauntered round the corner to the sandwich shop, ordered sausage on toast and made my way quietly back to work. Just as I arrived back in the office I realised that the senior management staff were still there, waiting for news. Were there any problems? What had happened? They seemed rather disappointed when I told them that no cataclysm had occurred, the bank had not come to a standstill but the million pound cheque had been routinely deposited. Thinking back, I’m not sure I liked the way they were looking at me, perhaps they knew all along I’d been to the sarnie shop!

2021

I finished my drink and walked back up towards St Peter’s Square. Back in the late seventies I used to spend my dinner break there on warm summer lunchtimes, eating my sandwiches and reading whatever book I was hooked on at the time. Things have changed in the square too, the seating area has gone and most of the area has been taken over by the trams.

The trams run every few minutes and I saw one approaching and so I ran up the steps and jumped aboard. I had shot quite a lot of video that day and already I was thinking of how I could put it all together and so I spent the next day glued to my laptop doing one of the things I love the most, editing video. I normally write a narration for my videos but this time I thought I’d put together one off the cuff. That is I made some notes and then switched on the microphone and started talking. The result was a verbatim commentary rather than a pre written narration. It’s not quite as fluid as I would have liked but it seems to work.

When the actual day of my birthday dawned I was feeling a little miserable. Perhaps it was the sudden onset of the cold wet weather or it might have been one of the symptoms of getting old. Anyway, I cheered up after opening my cards and presents and later Liz treated me to a meal at a lovely Italian restaurant. Yes, some garlic bread, pasta and red wine can go a long way towards cheering up an old codger like me and let me leave you with what I thought was a particularly interesting way of looking at the big 65 . .


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https://vimeo.com/510649733

From Blog Post to Video

I’ve had my YouTube channel for quite a while now but unlike this, my WordPress blogging page, I’ve always found it rather hard to create regular video output. Don’t get me wrong, I like making videos, I really do although the best part of making a video, at least for me, is the editing. With virtually every one of my videos there are multiple versions to be found in the video folder on my laptop. Yes, videos are just something I cannot leave alone. Every time I rewatch one I start to think didn’t I have a better clip for that scene? Why have I put that scene before this one? Wouldn’t it work better if I swapped them round? Why did I say that in the narration? I should have said this! And so that’s when I start tinkering and re-editing.

A few years ago I thought about making my whole blog into a YouTube Vlog. Of course, that would involve shooting and editing and then adding in the music and perhaps sound effects. For someone like me who has taken laziness to new heights, I’m not sure that would be possible, at least not for a weekly Vlog.

When I’m stuck for video content I usually find myself looking back at my older blog posts and wondering what would work as a video. One regular blog I’ve managed to convert to video are my Book Bag blogs. It’s pretty easy to make them into a video. I sit myself in front of the camera, glance through my notes and then wax lyrical for the camera about the various books I’ve been reading.

The first Book Bag Vlog was difficult though. I made it on holiday in Lanzarote. I hadn’t brought my tripod along but I picked up an adjustable clamp in the market place, actually a gadget for taking selfies that worked pretty well once I had got things lined up. Back then I was using a small Panasonic video camera which looked a little bit like a mobile phone. Today I have a Canon GX7 with a viewing screen that can be flipped over so if I’m shooting myself I can easily frame the shot. With the Panasonic, it wasn’t so easy. The filming for that first Book Bag Vlog went something like this:

Take 1. OK, went pretty well, I blathered on a bit and forgot the author of one book so time for take 2.

Take 2. OK but I’m holding the books slightly out of camera shot.

Take 3. I lift the books higher but gradually as the take goes on the books are getting lower and dropping out of shot. Cut, I shout, getting my director’s hat on.

Take 4. I’ve reframed and lowered the camera a little. I’ve actually cropped off the top of my head but the books are centre stage. I fluffed one of my lines calling Noel Coward an historical figure instead of a theatrical one but recovered that one OK with a little laugh at myself. I also say the Germans were ‘disappointed’ with Hitler at the end of World War Two when discussing a book about Albert Speer, one of Hitler’s ministers. Bit of a understatement there, I meant to say shocked or devastated, anyway, time for take 5.

Take 5. Start to stumble a little here, perhaps I need cue cards. Dorothy Parker wrote what for New York Magazines? Check the blurb on the back of her book again and time for take 6.

Take 6. Looked pretty good. Wait a minute, did I really say ‘my holiday blook blag‘? Time for take 7.

Take 7. Radical re think needed here I think so I’ve smartened myself up a little, put on my favourite holiday shirt and re positioned the camera and my clamp gadget. Wish I’d brought my tripod along! Anyway here we go. Action: ‘Hi I’m Steve Higgins and I’m here in . . er . . ‘ CUT! It’s Lanzarote!

Take 8. Slight camera adjustment as take 7 wasn’t particularly well framed. Forgot to mention who Albert Speer actually was. Will people know who he was? Well, if they are interested in history and World War Two yes, otherwise no . .

Take 9. ‘Bleak House by David Copperfield’? What is this guy talking about? Cut!

Take 10. Not too bad, faltered a few times over some words, mumbled a little perhaps but generally not bad. Sure I can do better though; still a little slow. Needs more pace.

Take 11: Whoa, slow down boy! I said pace not rabbit on and on without taking a breath!

Take 12: Not happening! Time for a swim!

The book bag posts are pretty easy to make, it’s just me in front of a camera chatting away. As long as I manage to chat without mumbling, getting words wrong, forgetting the name of the book author and so on, I usually end up with a reasonable result. I somehow don’t think I have a career as a TV presenter coming anytime soon. Here’s a video I made with a whole lot of out takes, How not to Not to Make a Promo Video.

As I said earlier, I’ve always found it hard to leave a video alone. After all, no work of art is ever finished, only abandoned, as someone once said. A few years ago I made a video about the Graves and Cemeteries of Two World Wars.  It was shot in Northern France and for the narration I used in part, the text from one of my blogs. I talked about time and how time seems to have slowed at those sacred places where once so many people fought and died and how it must have seemed, in the past, in the heat of the battle, that time flowed so quickly.

The big problem with that video, and I only seemed to realise it much later, when the video had accrued a sizeable number of viewings was that the opening sequence was not really in keeping with the tone of the film as a whole. I had started out with an idea that came to me while shooting at a French municipal aire, a quiet motorhome stopping place. I’d started off a sequence with a really impressive motorhome and then panned over to our, much smaller vehicle implying initially, that the first vehicle was ours, before showing the smaller one. It might probably have worked for a general motorhoming video but the humour was out of place for something about the sad subject of war.

For the re-edit, I removed that sequence, tidied up various fades and added some stock photos from the war years. To promote it I added it to various video festivals and at one, the Think Shorts festival, they decided to publish my video on their platform. I even got a special badge which I proudly added to the video icon.

I think I mentioned a few weeks ago about the challenges of making an audio recording into a video, which I did for a radio interview in which I had to participate by phone because of Covid 19. I started by thinking, foolishly, that I could mime to the audio recordings to create a fully lip synced video. That didn’t work out at all so I made a video with still photos and screen grabs with a few shots of me talking into a phone although making sure my mouth wasn’t visible when I spoke. I think I got away with it.

I did make a video called A Letter to my Younger Self, the text of which came straight from a similarly titled blog post. The blog post was pretty good, at least I thought so. The video lacked something in the voiceover department as my monologue seemed a little less than dynamic. Another post derived straight from a blog post was 4 Simple Secrets of Self-Publishing which is not a bad little film which reminds the self published author that if anything needs doing in regards to his or her book; promotion, press releases, advertising and so on, the author is on his or her own. Being a self published author is a one person operation.

Over at the busy end of my YouTube page there is a video called Trucking: 1980’s Style. It was shot on my old VHS compact camera and I followed my old friend Brian for a weekend in the late 80’s delivering goods in his wagon. It was a tough old job, lugging great trolleys and boxes of Sharwood’s curry sauces about the country. Stopping in Truckstops, sleeping in the cab and finding his way about with the help of his CB radio. It is currently my most watched video with over 140,000 views at the time of writing. Lots of trucking enthusiasts follow me on YouTube expecting more of the same and what they think when they find a new poetry video in their notifications, I don’t know. I did think of making a follow up video with Brian, something on the lines of Trucking; 40 Years Later. Brian was still a truck driver until a few months ago but unfortunately for me and the YouTube world, he has just retired.

Last year Liz and I drove our motorhome up to Scotland for a few days visiting the Isle of Skye and various other places. I should perhaps have asked proofreader Liz to check the resulting video film because right at the end I announced that the music in the film was called Soul Grove instead of Soul Groove. I rectified that and some other blemishes which I won’t go into in a re-edit which I uploaded to Vimeo. Vimeo has some great little advantages over YouTube, the main one for me is that if you choose to edit a video you can just replace the new version with your old one, without losing any of your viewer count. One disadvantage though is with a free Vimeo account, there are restrictions on how much content you can upload per week, which is why I had to make the resulting video into two separate parts.

Here are two final videos, both inspired by blog posts. The first is yet another re-edit. Manchester 1977-2017 is a visit to my home town of Manchester where I look at the city as it was then in 2017 and how it was in 1977, the year in which Floating in Space, my self published book is set. A lot of the narration is taken from a blog post about the city, Manchester 41 Years On. I talk about the pubs I used to visit, the square where I used to eat my sandwiches on sunny weekday lunchtimes and how the city centre has changed.

I have quite a few poetry videos both on YouTube and Vimeo. Most of the ones on Vimeo are re-edits where I’ve tried to improve on the original, either with the visual content or my usual weak point, my narration. In one blog post The Secret of Writing Poetry, I tried to impart my ideas on writing to the reader showcasing a few example poems on the way. That in turn inspired the video version which is pretty much the same, me talking to camera and delving into the background of three particular poems. I did it all one one or two takes and perhaps I might have been better going for take three but at least I think I have managed to get my general idea over.

Which of your blog posts would you make into a video?


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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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Locked Down Blogger Part 2

It finally happened last week. It had been rumoured and expected. It had been predicted many months ago and so here it is. I’m talking of course about the second wave of the Coronavirus epidemic and the resulting second lockdown. There was some advance notice and as a result Liz and I were able to book a table and enjoy a last meal out. We even thought what the heck and went for a second bottle of wine just like the other couple in the next table sitting a socially distanced two metres to our left.

So that’s a month coming up with no nights out at the pub, no meals out and no quiz nights. The big problem with this second lockdown is the weather. In the first one I was quite happy sitting out in the sunshine reading a book. Now we have entered November here in the north of England it seems as though it has been constantly raining. What can we find of interest then? Well the big interest for me just lately is the American election. Like many people, I thought the election was a foregone conclusion, that Trump would be out and whoever the democrats chose would be in. It just so happened that the democratic candidate was Joe Biden. Joe is getting on a little bit for the top job and wouldn’t necessarily have been my choice but then again, neither would Donald Trump. As I write this the election is still ongoing, they are still counting the votes in a few remaining states. Both candidates are claiming victory and one is claiming huge voter fraud. Biden has so far been pretty much acclaimed as the winner, having received congratulations from previous presidents Obama and George W Bush. No congratulations have been forthcoming from Donald Trump and his legal team has already initiated legal action. I’m not sure who exactly they are planning to take to court but either way, that has not stopped Joe Biden getting his transition team together and making plans for when he takes office.

I wrote something back in 2016 about the smooth transition of power in the great democracies and even wondered what would happen if ever the outgoing president refused to budge. That was just wild blogging speculation but now some commentators are saying it could actually happen. This is almost as interesting for me as Watergate.

There was a time when I thought I understood the US election, now I’m not so sure. Hillary Clinton and Al Gore both won the popular vote in previous elections but failed to get enough electoral college votes to take them to the White House. I’m even confused about the primaries, I mean I was convinced Bernie Sanders would be the democratic candidate, but he stepped down earlier in the year and then Biden seemed to become the candidate virtually unchallenged and his projected walkover victory over Trump has just not happened. Many people actually support Trump. Some give their support because they are dyed in the wool Republicans, some presumably admire him but either way, 48% of the votes were for him.

I was watching TV the other day and a female black voter was being interviewed and surprisingly, she was voting for Trump. She wouldn’t vote for Biden she said because he was a socialist, which in the USA is one step from being a communist. Maybe that explains why Trump has such a following; in many places he must be seen as the anti-socialist. Trump did well in Florida where many Cubans found home after leaving communist Cuba.

When Nixon won the election in 1968 he spotted a supporter in a crowd with a banner proclaiming Bring us together and made that a campaign slogan. Bringing Americans together is a big ask for whoever wins in 2020 but I wish him luck in doing just that.

Theoretically this should be a great time for writers. What could be a better time to write than the lockdown, after all there isn’t much else to do. A few months back I shelled out a hundred or so dollars to list my screenplay on a web site called InkTip. InkTip is a way of bringing producers and writers together. They produce a newsletter for producers listing scripts and also provide subscribers with weekly lists of producers who want scripts. My screenplay has seen a lot of action lately with various producers reading either the synopsis or the script itself but that million-dollar deal has yet to surface. I live in hope.

My screenplay was one I wrote quite a few years back and I read through it recently and had an idea for a new ending. I added the new ending, tidied everything up and that final version was the one I added to InkTip. As I reviewed it again the other day – I don’t know about you but I’m always reviewing my old stuff- I realised that it was written before today’s mobile phone, Twitter and Instagram age. Not one of the characters has a phone. I might have to spend the lockdown adding mobile phones to my screenplay and bringing it into the 21st century.

Another project I’ve been working on during the lockdown is a video covering my recent trip to the Scottish Highlands. It’s mostly GoPro video from a camera stuck to my motorhome window. I’ve added some stills and some bits where I talk straight to the camera. I had a lot of technical problems putting it together, particularly recording the voice over. The voice over is pretty important because the actual visual stuff isn’t that exciting. When I recorded it, my laptop clearly couldn’t keep up with playing video and recording sound at the same time, so I had to record my voice separately and then add it to the video. That makes it difficult because normally as I’m reading the narration I tend to react to what is on screen so I can slow down or speed up if required or just add lib if I need to.

I was feeling pretty pleased with myself when I finished it and quickly got it uploaded to YouTube. I added the video to a video creators page that I follow and got some pretty reasonable feedback. What was really annoying was when I decided to tinker with it and spotted a couple of things I hadn’t noticed. One was in the credits at the end where I credited the music as Soul Grove instead of Soul Groove. Oh, and there was one more. In one of the stills of the motorhome I hadn’t picked up that Liz was rather cheekily giving me the V sign through the window! The thing is, the video had already garnered 72 views so do I delete and add the updated version or just leave things as they are? Decisions, decisions.

I’ve has a couple of nights on my own this week, as usual keeping my mothers house ship shape and lived in. One night I thought I’d make one of my favourite dishes, bruschetta. It just so happened I had some ciabatta in the freezer as well as onions and tomatoes. So here we go, I sliced the bread and popped it in the toaster for a light toasting. While that was going on I chopped the tomatoes and onions, mixed them up with a little garlic and olive oil. I Popped the bread out, slapped on the tomato and onion mixture and settled down to eat. It was wonderful.

It was so good I decided on another Italian favourite for the second course. aglio olio peperoncino. It’s basically spaghetti with olive oil, garlic and chilli. What could go wrong with that?

The quick answer is everything, overdone spaghetti, burnt garlic and those chillies I used last week on a curry that weren’t very hot: this week they were hot!

When is my favourite Italian restaurant opening again?


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Beer, Chilli and Gentleman Jim

My brother and I usually go out into Manchester every few weeks. We get something to eat and have a few beers and a good natter. It’s always nice to visit our old haunts in Manchester and to find new ones. There always seems to be a new venue popping up and the only flip side to new venues in Manchester seems to be the extraordinary prices they like to charge for food and drink. Maybe, being the fully paid up tightwad that I am, I should stick to the old, less trendy and cheaper places that I know.

Of course, just lately with Manchester and the whole world dealing with a major pandemic I can’t see any new venues popping up, in fact, it looks like things might go the other way, with places closing down. Pubs, bars and restaurants have been the hardest hit during the pandemic and with the new restrictions, like the 10pm closing times, many more venues will sadly close.

These days, rather than go out into Manchester, my brother will come round to visit and we watch something on TV together while we chat.

Years ago, when I was a schoolboy, I was never that good at mathematics. In particular I was always frustrated by the particular rules that we had to remember. You know the ones I mean, the sum of the sides of a triangle equals the hypotenuse and stuff like that.

Here’s one rule that I have discovered myself. The sum of all the new TV channels does not necessarily equal anything worthwhile watching. Back in the old days when things were black and white and there were only 2 channels, there was actually something usually worth watching. Still, perhaps I’m looking back with rose tinted spectacles. I’m sure there was rubbish on the TV back then; maybe we just don’t remember it.

Anyway, with a chilli on the go in my slow cooker and a few bottles of Becks chilling in the fridge and nothing looking interesting to watch on TV, I dug out an old VHS copy of the Errol Flynn film Gentleman Jim.

I’m not sure how true to life this film was but it supposedly told the story of Gentleman Jim Corbett and his fight with John L Sullivan ‘himself’. John L was, according to Wikipedia, the first world champion of gloved boxing, reigning until Gentleman Jim defeated him in a bout fought under the new Marquess of Queensbury rules in 1892.

Looking at John L Sullivan’s picture on the internet it’s surprising just how authentic Ward Bond, who played him in the film, actually looked. My brother and I both remarked that our dad, who died in 2000, twenty years ago this November, loved this film. He liked both Errol Flynn and was a great boxing fan. His favourite boxer was Rocky Marciano, the undefeated champion who was sadly killed in a plane crash not long after ‘fighting’ Mohammed Ali in a TV computer bout. I remember my dad being outraged at the result which gave the win to Ali. Funnily enough, the version shown in the USA gave the result to Marciano which would have pleased dad enormously.

In my favourite Hollywood book Bring on the Empty Horses, David Niven paints an excellent portrait of Flynn. You always knew where you were with Errol, wrote Niven -he always let you down.

Flynn hailed from Tasmania, an island state of Australia. In Australia he became involved in a film production called In the Wake of the Bounty, a documentary film about the mutiny on the Bounty that featured reconstructions with Flynn as Fletcher Christian. After this he made his way to the UK where he became an actor and spent many years in repertory in Northampton. He was fired from Northampton rep but was spotted by producer Irving Asher and given a part in a film made at Teddington Studios in 1934. The film was Murder in Monte Carlo which has since been lost but apparently Asher, who worked for Warner Brothers, sent word to Hollywood recommending Flynn for a contract. After a successful screen test Flynn was given the starring role in the swashbuckling adventure, Captain Blood after Robert Donat turned down the role. The film was a great success and made stars of Flynn and co-star Olivia de Havilland.

David Niven recounts many tales about Flynn. The two shared a house together in Hollywood after Flynn separated from wife Lilli Damita, ‘Tiger Lil’ as Flynn used to call her.

During the making of ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade‘ which Warner brothers decided to set in India rather than the Crimea, Flynn, the new star started to get a little big headed. One big brute of an extra decided to waggle a lance under the behind of Flynn’s horse to teach Flynn a lesson.  The horse consequently threw Flynn off. He got up, dusted himself down and proceeded to teach the big guy a lesson of his own by beating him into a pulp.

Flynn had a yacht named the Zaca and weekends on the boat included sailing trips full of wine, women and song. Many young girls appeared on the boat, none of whom produced any ID which was unfortunate for Flynn as he was later charged with statutory rape. The accusing girls appeared in the courtroom wearing school uniforms and in pigtails but happily for Flynn the court saw through that and he was acquitted, although the image that the press painted of him was not one that he was happy with.

In later life Flynn was bankrupt and became a floating shadow of his former self, sailing the seas in the Zaca. Later he made a great Hollywood comeback playing his great friend John Barrymore in ‘Too much Too Soon.’

In Bring on the Empty Horses, Niven describes a poignant moment after writing his chapter on Flynn.  Niven, living then in the South of France, took a walk along the coast and came across something sadly familiar. It was the abandoned remains of the Zaca lurking quietly in a boat yard.

Gentleman Jim was made in 1942 and was one of Flynn’s favourite films. He took extensive boxing training taking lessons from Mushy Callaghan, a former welterweight champion who worked as a stuntman and boxing advisor after retiring from the ring. During the film Flynn collapsed from a mild heart attack. He had just failed the medical to join the army having suffered from malaria in his younger days as well as having a heart murmur. The production was closed down for a week while Flynn recovered. After the war Flynn was often criticised for not joining the forces but Warner Brothers would not admit that their star, visually a picture of health and vitality, suffered from health issues.

The film is a lot of fun and it was interesting to watch the scenes of John L Sullivan in training. Training in those days apparently consisted of chopping down trees and swigging bottles of beer. Jim Corbett, in a crazy way anticipating the style of Ali many years later, beats Sullivan by his speed and footwork. Alan Hale plays the Irish American head of the Corbett family whose antics in trying to control his brawling clan are always amusing and Alexis Smith plays Flynn’s love interest. Over on Wikipedia Smith is quoted as telling Flynn to takes things easy ‘don’t you want to live a long life?’ Flynn replied that he was not interested in the future, just the present.

By the end of the 1950’s Errol Flynn no longer had a contract with Warner Brothers and his attempt to co-produce a film about William Tell had ended in financial disaster. He was involved with a young girl, 17-year-old Beverly Aadland and in a severe financial state. His health had suffered after decades of alcohol and possibly drug abuse. Beverly was with him when he died in 1959 aged only 50 after a meeting to arrange the leasing out of the Zaca.

I’d not seen Gentleman Jim for many years and I enjoyed it immensely. The chilli was another story though. I’d made an outstanding chilli about a month ago and this latest one was a little tame, not quite right. Pity but at least Errol Flynn still has the power to entertain and that scene where John L Sullivan hands over his world championship belt always brings a tear to my eye.


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Airports, Saturday Nights and Ally McBeal


I really hated work this week. I hated it for a number of reasons even though I only worked one day. Now as I’m semi-retired I only work three days anyway so one day, well, you might think ok, that’s not so bad, wish I only worked one day this week. Wrong! I actually wish I’d not worked any days. The first day I was poorly with a bad tummy. Day two I was still poorly although not quite as bad and day three I was feeling a little better so I went back to work. I was actually feeling bad about having those two days off, yes guilty about taking sick leave. Maybe I should have called in sick the third day and then after my six days off (yes, I get six days off) I’d be fully ready to start work again. Come to think of it, that would mean fifteen days off wouldn’t it? (Six plus three plus six, see what I mean?)

 Oh well, I still hated that one day either way. The funny thing is, I was recently looking at my horoscope and it said something about how I needed to get rid of something in my life to make room for something new. Is the cosmos hinting that I should just pack the job in? Would a great new job then come my way? It’s a nice thought but I’m not convinced. I tend to look at horoscopes for entertainment rather than to see into the future so I’ll just keep sending out my CV for now.

After my one day at work I thought I’d spend a couple of days at my mother’s house and make sure everything was ok. The garden was looking good. I had planned on giving the lawn a trim but I thought, what the heck, it’ll be ok for another week. More time for me to write and work on my various projects.

One long running project is the sequel to Floating in Space. It’s called the Girl in the Yellow Coat and it’s about a character that made a fleeting appearance in Floating, a girl in, guess what, a yellow coat. As I’ve not worked on it for a while, I started reading through what I had written so far, which then made me look back at Floating and read some of that. I love my writing, I really do. I’m not claiming it’s brilliant or anything but the thing is it’s written for me, I write it purely for myself so I’m bound to like it. The other thing is that a lot of my work is based on real things, real events and real people and sometimes when I read it I remember the real things that inspired the story. It’s like a walk down memory lane, looking back on things I’d actually forgotten about and people who I hadn’t thought about for years. Maybe that’s why I’m not making much headway on the book; I’m too busy reminiscing about stuff to get creative.

Another project I’m working on is making another version of one of my most popular YouTube videos; it’s called Manchester Airport 1986 and follows my late friend Steve and myself talking about spotting aircraft in and around the airport. I was never a real plane spotter myself but as a child living a stone’s throw from the airport, it was fun to tag along with my friends who were. I did love watching the big jet planes taxi out to the runway and blast off to their various destinations around the globe and people like Steve, Paul, Phil and various others all jotted down aircraft numbers into their notebooks. In the video, Steve and I visit a quiet country lane round the back of the airport where plane spotters gather and many other places like the Tatton Arms pub, ideally situated on the runway approach path and the old and original Airport Hotel. I say original because various other places have sprouted up in the area using that name.

On a whim on Saturday afternoon I decided to drag my brother out and cajoled him into filming with my video camera while I drove to the old locations. What about a sort of then and now video I thought, comparing the airport of 1986 to the huge place it has become now? Going into the airport itself I knew it was going to be different but I wasn’t prepared for just how different it actually was. There are three terminals at Manchester now and T2 was closed because of Covid 19. Anyway we wandered around and filmed various things although many areas seemed to be coned off and everywhere there were double yellow lines. Manchester Airport is not a car friendly environment and cars are discouraged from stopping or loitering. Nowadays you even have to pay to use the drop off and go areas.

I did manage to find the entrance to the multi storey car park which looked familiar. Back in 1986 Steve and I went to the top level and joined various other plane spotters watching aircraft but last Saturday I thought I’d save that for another day. I went off in search of that small lane round the back of the runway. That was easier said than done. Back in the 1980’s there was an old country pub called the Ship in Styal village, a posh village that is actually over the county border in Cheshire. It was a sleepy old pub and sometimes my friends and I would visit on a Friday or Saturday night.

On this particular Saturday afternoon the tiny car park was now three times as big as I remembered and was packed. The small lane was also crammed with parked cars making it hard to squeeze past. There is an old water mill further down that lane. We visited it once on a school trip. It’s nothing really exciting but today I could only imagine that all these visitors were either visiting the pub or the mill, after all there is nothing else in the village except the pub, the water mill and a small shop.

Eventually we managed to get past but in the old days the road carried on and eventually came to a steep hill just by the Valley Lodge hotel. Nowadays the road ahead seemed to have become a sort of pedestrianised walking area and traffic was forced off to the right. This must have been the old lane where we filmed in 1986 but the airport had grown and gradually encroached on and swallowed up some of the surrounding land. High barbed wire fences kept the public away and there were no longer any rough graveled parking bays to stop in. Eventually we came across a new and unfamiliar road which led us back into the airport itself.

The Tatton Arms looked similar to how it used to look but now it is now part pub and part bistro. We stopped for a moment, took a few pictures and left. Change is inevitable of course but I don’t think I was quite prepared for the scale of the change.

Getting back to Floating in Space, the main character, Stuart, is bored with his nine to five office job. He yearns for something different and lives for the weekend. The book starts off like this:

 The countdown starts on Friday afternoon at four thirty when my colleagues and I pour out from the Regal Assurance building and stream and scatter for the cars, buses, and trains that carry us away to different and better lives.  The countdown is for the weekend, and the weekend is one long high-energy cassette that plays on the hi-fi of life until that moment, that far distant moment, when the alarm bell rings for Monday morning and there are five days before you can rewind the tape and play it again.

That of course was 1977. In 2020 Stuart, like me might have been tempted to go into Manchester for a night out but Manchester is a hot spot as far as the Coronavirus is concerned. Bolton, a Manchester suburb has been forced back into lockdown because of a spike in Covid cases so for the time being I thought it might be better to just stay in and stay safe. That’s how I came to settle down in front of the TV with a can of Guinness and a packet of Doritos. I combed through my old VHS box looking for something I hadn’t watched for years. I picked up a couple of documentaries which looked interesting and then came across my Ally McBeal DVDs.

It’s a long time since I have seen Ally McBeal. It was a hit US show in the 1990’s and is something that I’ve never seen repeated even on all the new TV channels that have sprouted up, seemingly overnight. Ally was a Boston lawyer played by Calista Flockhart. She starts work at Cage and Fish, a Boston legal firm. The senior partners, John Cage and Richard Fish are two oddball characters presiding over a wacky company that has unisex toilets and on most nights everyone goes into a bar in the same building where resident singer Vonda Shepard regularly performs, sometimes handing the microphone over to the office staff. Barry White makes an appearance there as does Sting and other pop icons. The series is a comedy but with elements of drama, sentimentality and music all mixed in together.

My favourite character was John Cage played by Peter MacNicol. He was a shy character, unsure of himself who falls for Ally and fantasises about Barry White singing ‘You’re the First, My Last, My Everything’ in order to bulk up his confidence. In the first episode Ally loses her job at another firm because of sexual harassment, bumps into Richard Fish who immediately hires her and sets about suing the sexual harasser.

So that was my Saturday, getting lost at the airport, a place I used to know like the back of my hand. Staying in on a Saturday night and watching Ally McBeal, a TV show that was cancelled in 2002. What shall I do this Saturday I wonder?


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The Ramblings of a Locked Down Blogger

I thought for a minute of changing the title of my whole website to that which you can see above: The Ramblings of a Locked Down Blogger. Maybe even the crazy ramblings! Still, in a few weeks or perhaps months, the lockdown and Coronavirus will just be a bad memory. In fact, my first post lockdown restaurant visit has already been booked and my table and meal are actually only a matter of hours away.

It will be nice to socialise again and also to dress up. I’ve spent the last two months wearing the same small selection of jeans, shorts, tee shirts and sweaters. Will I still be able to fit into my smart shirts and trousers I wonder? Well, I’ll soon find out.

I have been watching a quite inordinate amount of TV during the lockdown. That has not been any hardship on my part, in fact it could be argued that watching TV is my default position. I do love TV but not any TV; I am quite choosy in what I watch. I love films and only a small fraction of the films I love have I seen at the cinema. The other 99% I have seen on my television set with constant supplies of either tea or red wine near at hand.

At my mother’s house where I come to tidy up and keep the garden in order, I have just recently been trying to sort through my vast supplies of VHS video tapes. Any VHS films I have can be just junked as they will be either shown again on TV or are available on DVD.

Documentaries are a different matter. Films are shown time and time again but great documentaries are seldom shown again. It’s the same with made for TV films. A great film I have on VHS is Across the Lake, a made for TV film starring Anthony Hopkins as record breaker Donald Campbell. I have not watched it for ages but it’s a great film, well written and with an excellent performance by Anthony Hopkins documenting Campbell’s last and fatal attempt at the world water speed record. Why the BBC don’t think of showing these outstanding made for TV films again I really don’t know.

You can see the entire film on YouTube but here’s a short clip:

One thing I love in films is originality. There are a thousand films with car chases and shoot outs and murders but it’s great to see something new. One DVD I watched recently is The King of Comedy. Even though it’s directed by Martin Scorcese it’s not a gangster film, it’s something very different. Robert de Niro stars as a wannabe stand up comedian who wants to get on a show hosted by Jerry Lewis. Jerry plays a TV comedian who is pretty much Jerry Lewis himself. He turns in this outstanding performance as a TV host who is kidnapped by De Niro and held hostage in return for De Niro getting a stand up spot on Lewis’ show. De Niro is helped by a Jerry Lewis obsessed fan played by Sandra Bernhard turning in another great performance. This is a film that is funny, dramatic and completely original. Keep a look out for it on your favourite TV film channel.

Another original film I saw lately was Big Eyes. It’s based on a true story of an artist, Margaret Keane, who turns out some popular and charming pictures, all of people with big eyes. Margaret is a woman who can paint but is not so good at selling and marketing her work. She meets future husband Walter who seems to be a bit of a whiz at the promotion lark. He decides to rent space on a local nightclub wall to get attention for both Margaret’s and his paintings. Surprise, surprise, it is Margaret’s paintings of the doe eyed girls that get all the attention but Walter decides to play the part of the artist as some people have mistakenly thought that anyway. Margaret plays along but gradually becomes very unhappy having to constantly deny her own work.

Big Eyes is, incredibly, a true story. Margaret eventually leaves Walter and has to sue to be finally acknowledged for her own talent. Margaret’s paintings are captivating although art critics are divided on her true worth as an artist. It’s worth noting though that Andy Warhol said this about her work: ‘It has to be good. If it were bad, so many people wouldn’t like it.’

I’ve also been editing my own films during the lockdown. My friend Steve and I made a video about Manchester Airport in 1986 and it’s my second most watched film on YouTube with 16,000 viewings. In 2018 I realised that if I took out all the pop music used on the soundtrack the video would be eligible for monetising, that’s YouTube’s word for getting royalties from your video. I added some copyright free music, tidied a few bad cuts in the video and reposted it to YouTube. Rather annoyingly, YouTube decided just then that video producers have to have a minimum of 1000 followers to get royalties and as I only have about 220 that’s another income stream that has been denied to me.

When trolling through my VHS tapes I found another version of that same video. Yes, even 30 years ago I was still tinkering with my videos and re-editing them. Anyway, I took this one and re-made it again adding some sound effects and new music. Could YouTube stand a third version of the same video? I’m not sure but then again, some mainstream directors like to tinker with their own work when the time comes for the DVD version. I’ve got quite a few ‘directors cut’ DVDs in my collection like Aliens and Apocalypse Now to name but two.

During lockdown I’ve also been listening to my favourite podcasts. The BBC Radio 5 Live F1 podcast is a constant disappointment. When F1 races are on, the 5 Live people assume that listeners know what happened in the race. That’s not the case, I usually listen when I’ve missed the Channel Four broadcast on TV so I listen in for a race report not a load of F1 chit chat. When there are no races, like during the lockdown, I actually do want to hear some F1 chit chat, some gossipy stuff about which driver’s contract is about to expire, which designer is moving teams, will Vettel retire or go to the new Aston Martin F1 team? Stuff like that. No, they don’t even bother to do a podcast when there is no racing.

Instead I’ve been listening to my new favourite podcast, The Slowdown, a poetry podcast that usually lasts about 5 minutes, not too long, not too short. The presenter, US poet Tracy K Smith has such a wonderful voice she seems to make any poem sound good. Wonder if I could get her to read one of mine?


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More Letters to Younger Selves

Wait just a minute! Letters to Younger Selves? Haven’t we had this post already I can hear you thinking? In fact not just once; there was Letters to My Younger Self and then we had A Video to My Younger Self? Hasn’t this guy got any new ideas? OK, I know where you’re coming from but bear with me for a short while. I did do a post a while back which was about me writing a letter to my younger self. Then the other week I told you about how I put together a video version for my YouTube channel. This week I want to tell you about what happened when I actually uploaded the video.

Now I did say the original letters post wasn’t my own idea. I got it from one of those blog writing prompts that can easily be found in either Google or your search engine of choice. After uploading my video I always do a search for it and if it comes up near the top of the search then I’ve feel I done a pretty good job in terms of tags and meta data (all that technical stuff) and choosing a good post title. A search for A letter to My Younger Self gave up some surprising results, in fact it seemed to me that everyone and his dog had been making a short video on this same subject. Even more surprising was that a lot of these short videos were by Formula One drivers. I’m guessing that at some time there was some kind of trend for this subject, perhaps a promotion around the hashtag #DearMe but when it comes down to it, I might as well admit, I don’t know.

Anway, I thought it might be interesting to showcase a few of the videos I came across so let’s start with Fernando Alonso, frustrated former Ferrari driver who jumped ship thinking Honda were going to create a world beating engine for his new Mclaren team, only they didn’t. Hard luck Fernando.

(I should point out here that F1 being the multi million dollar global industry it is, they wouldn’t for a minute let these videos play on my cheap nasty amateur blog post. Press play then you have to click the button that says ‘Play on YouTube’. Annoying I know but hey, that’s big business for you.)

Many people think that Fernando is one of, if not the greatest driver of all time. Those people are of course completely wrong and this then is the perfect time to introduce someone who actually is the greatest driver ever. Jackie Stewart, winner of 27 Grands Prix from 99 starts, three World Championships and now one of the Formula One world’s elder statesmen.

South African Jody Scheckter was once the enfant terrible of Formula One, especially when he spun and caused a huge pile up at the beginning of the British Grand Prix back in 1973. A lot of people weren’t happy but Scheckter went on to drive for Ferrari and win a World Championship in 1979.

Emerson Fittipaldi was one of my favourite drivers of the 1970’s. He took over from the late Jochen Rindt at Lotus and won three world Championships before electing to drive for his brother’s new F1 team. Things didn’t work out so well for the Fittipaldi brothers and Emerson retired for a while but then made a comeback in American Indycars winning the Indycar title in 1989.

Someone who did what Emerson did, only in reverse, was Mario Andretti. He was a champion in the US and had a few one off drives for Colin Chapman, head of he Lotus team who tried numerous times to lure Andretti over to F1. Andretti finally dipped his toe into F1 and won the world title for Lotus in 1978. He was the last American to date to win an F1 race. He won numerous races in all types of racing disciplines in the USA including 4 Indycar championships and numerous other races and awards. He is probably as synonymous with motor sport in the USA as Stirling Moss was in the UK.

I think that’s probably enough from the F1 world so I’ll finish with some other famous people. The first non F1 person I came across was Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the assassinated president. It’s pretty brief and the good news is that all these next videos can be played within this post!

Still with the Presidential theme here’s something from former first lady Michelle Obama.

Art Garfunkel, former singing partner of Paul Simon did one too . .

And finally, here’s one which isn’t by a celebrity. I came across this one after hours of trolling through Google and YouTube. Many videos I found were of young people talking to their even younger selves so really they didn’t have much to say. I think that the whole theme is better suited to someone older, someone in their later years looking back to their youth. Anyway, here’s a pretty inspiring video.

Finally it’s time to plug my own video once again. Here’s a slightly edited version with a few subtle sound effects added . .


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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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A Slice of my Life Part 4

Just now we are approaching my favourite time of the year. The days are getting longer, spring is nearly here and the days are beginning to get warmer. Understood by our ancestors to be a potent portal of power, the Spring Equinox which happened yesterday, has long been celebrated as an awakening time of growing energy and budding new life. Its earlier roots begin in many of the most ancient myths and tales about the Goddess regaining her power and fertility after the long months of winter. Just now though, all I can think about is what a pain in the neck the coronavirus is turning out to be. It’s pretty easy when you are watching the TV news, to sort of dismiss things that don’t seem to affect us but when you find that you actually are affected then it’s a whole different story.

Recently Liz and I were looking at our next trip in our motorhome. We thought about taking the ferry to Spain and spending a leisurely few weeks meandering north back through France and finally back up to the UK. Now we’re starting to realise it might not be worth booking that trip at all in case the ferries are cancelled. I noticed on the news that Jet2.com with whom we have flown to Lanzarote many times have cancelled their flights to Spain and the Canary Islands so we were lucky to have had our holiday in Lanzarote earlier this year. Certain countries like Spain, Italy and France are on a virtual lockdown situation. Things are looking very grim indeed, in fact it’s almost like being in the middle of a crazy science fiction film, something like Twelve Monkeys or The Andromeda Strain where a virus devastates a US town leaving only two survivors, a baby and an old man, and scientists race to find the connection and hopefully the antidote.

Recently, in the Washington Examiner, believe it or not, I read an article about an American writer who lived in Blackheath in London in the 1980’s. He pointed out that Blackheath was so named because of the 60,000 Londoners who perished as a result of the Black Death in the 14th century, many of whom are buried in Blackheath. The Black Death changed everything; it pushed up the value of labour and created a wage economy. No doubt today’s pandemic will bring about change too but as somebody once said, there is nothing new under the sun.

Mum

My mum who for a long time has become very unsteady on her feet finally entered a care home some weeks ago.  My brother and I have done our absolute best to look after her over the past two years and more but we had done as much as we could. Her mobility had dropped dramatically and her dementia has increased, with her grasp on reality gradually slipping away. At her new care home the staff specialise in dementia patients but this week when I went to visit they told me that no unnecessary visitors were being let in. In a way that means a little break for me. My mother sometimes seems reasonably lucid and at other times not so. Recently she told me she missed her mother and father and I had to tell her they died many years ago. She was very upset but I’ve always tried to be straight with her and not tell her lies. Another time she asked me why my dad had not visited her and fighting back some tears I gently told her he was working. He died twenty years ago.

Dementia has made a liar of me.

Australian Grand Prix.

One big upset relating to the virus has to be, for me at any rate, the cancelation of the Australian Grand Prix. For the past few weeks I have been checking my email updates from various Formula One blogs and web sites. I’ve read about the testing sessions in Barcelona and about the controversy over the Ferrari engine from last year. Apparently, the governing body, the FIA investigated claims that Ferrari’s engine was illegal. They dismissed the claims but declined to comment further. The other teams have protested, claiming that the FIA has tried to hush the incident up. Anyway, that incident has been forgotten now the future of this year’s racing is in doubt. F1 may not begin in earnest until May, if it begins at all.

Pity, because this could be the year that Lewis Hamilton equals Michael Schumacher’s record of 7 world championships but if there are no races, or not enough races will a championship even be awarded?

Woody Allen

The other week I was a little poorly myself. Not the corona virus but some bug that caused me to spend a lot of time being sick. I spent a lot of that time at my mother’s house just generally feeling sorry for myself and drinking hot water and lemon and watching a lot of DVDs. Looking back, those few days have got me ready for the current climate of self-isolation. Anyway, the handy thing with a DVD is that every time I had the urge to run to the toilet I could pause the film, do what I had to do and then return to my couch. Yes, I know that we can even pause live TV these days but Mum’s TV doesn’t support stuff like that.

Anyway, to entertain myself I cranked up some Woody Allen stuff on the DVD player. Midnight in Paris is one of his later films starring Owen Wilson. I’m not sure I have even liked Owen Wilson in the past but watching this film, he plays the perfect role that Woody himself might have played in his younger days.

I followed that with Radio Days, Woody’s homage to the days when radio was universally popular and kids in the pre TV age were as obsessed with radio as I was with TV in the 1960’s. Woody doesn’t appear in the film but narrates it and it tells various radio themed stories. One big point he makes is that radio listeners tend to imagine the broadcaster or actor looking as good as whatever part they are playing, so of course the hero of young Woody’s favourite show, the Masked Avenger, turns out to look nothing like we might imagine.

Third in my trilogy of Woody Allen films was Manhattan which I’ve always thought was much better than Annie Hall, Woody’s Oscar winning 1977 film which won awards in 4 categories; best film, best script, best director and best actress for Diane Keaton. Manhattan is famous for its black and white photography and it’s Gershwin music score and is just generally a lovely film, not outstandingly funny or hilarious but gently humorous.

For real laugh out loud humour, you have to go back to Woody’s earlier films like Take the Money and Run and Bananas. My favourite moment from these earlier films is in Bananas. At the end of the film Woody marries his love interest played by Louise Lasser who was once upon a time his real-life love interest. The two go to bed to consummate the marriage but the ‘bout’ is shown on TV with two actual US TV commentators Howard Cosell, and Don Dunphy. Allen and Lasser get under the sheets and afterwards the two discuss the action with the interviewer as if they have just competed in a prizefight.

Despite his wonderful films, Woody Allen is a controversial character these days. His latest film lies unreleased, despite a deal with Amazon, and a similar fate has fallen to his memoirs. I recently read an interesting article about Woody and Woody’s memoirs, which were apparently dropped by publisher Hacher after a staff walk out. Journalist Hadley Freeman said ‘What a strange, through-the-looking-glass world we live in, when people who consider themselves to be liberals celebrate suppressing others’ words.’

Woody has been investigated for abusing his step daughter Dylan Farrow twice and declared innocent, although his now adult step daughter still claims Woody was an abuser. The abuse apparently relates to only one occasion and no other person has come forward to complain of abuse at Woody’s hands, unlike people like producer Harvey Weinstein, Michael Jackson or Jimmy Saville to name but three.

Freeman goes on to point out ‘It would have been one thing if Hachette had never agreed to publish Allen’s memoir in the first place. Fair enough; that’s a publisher’s prerogative. But for it to sign him, edit him and then fearfully drop him because some people object is a terrible precedent for a publisher to set.’

Click here to read the complete article in the Guardian.

YouTube

Despite being an avid video maker, I haven’t produced any great video works lately apart from the usual trailers that I use to plug my book, Floating in Space. As I’ve had a distinct lack of ideas, I’ve tended to continue making short video versions of my poems which keeps me busy and not only that, as a frustrated film director, there is nothing I like more than messing about with video, cutting and splicing and mastering sound effects.

Every so often I try to update the introductory video on my YouTube page. It’s nothing outstanding but I do like to try and make it reasonably exciting, so as to lure followers -and potential readers- into my clutches. Just recently I made a new version over on Animoto.com which is an online editing studio which comes with various templates themed for various types of project. My new video was pretty similar to the last one but I’d added a new block template which inserted a series of pictures fairly quickly. Perhaps that was the reason why, when it was uploaded to YouTube, they quickly deleted it as apparently it had infringed YouTube community guidelines involving spam, misleading metadata and scams!

Now the video in question may not have been Oscar material but it certainly wasn’t a scam or spam for that matter. You can’t see it on YouTube but here it is on Animoto.

YouTube were pretty quick to delete the video and send me an e-mail about it. They said I could appeal so I did so straight away, after all it’s a pretty innocuous video, it’s not offensive and it’s hardly spam. They sent me back another e-mail saying my appeal has been approved but the video is still not visible on my channel. Not only that, I couldn’t write back to YouTube to complain because their email would not accept replies. YouTube is like a big monolithic entity and they are actually pretty difficult to contact. I suppose I’ll just have to wait and hope that some person, some real person rather than a computer program, will look at my video and say ‘that looks OK, let’s reinstate it!’

I live in hope.


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