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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How to Mix Poetry and Video using Animoto

I suppose that really I’m a frustrated film director but one of the great things about the 21st century’s digital revolution is that anyone can make a video, slap it up there on YouTube or Vimeo and call themselves a director.

Amateur or not, I take my video very seriously and I’m constantly thinking of what I can do with the huge amount of footage that I record. What kind of short video can I make with it? How can I use it? What kind of project can I work on for my next video? I will usually find something to focus on, even if it’s yet another promo video for Floating in Space!

Back in 2016 I seemed to have poems just pouring out of me. I was constantly coming up with something lyrical or what I thought was a great turn of phrase and creating poems. Some of those resultant poems may not have been prize winners or worthy of great poets like Dylan Thomas but they were mostly pretty reasonable and what the heck, I liked them and today with social media we can all bypass the editors of the book publishing world and publish whatever we want via the internet.

Anyway as most of my poems are pretty short I thought it might be a good idea to put a few of them on video and use them to further build up my media profile as a writer as well as giving my YouTube page a little more depth.

First off a few years back I just stepped in front of the camera and read a few poems. Ok, fair enough but a little basic. Here’s the kind of thing I mean, me reading a poem called Some Love.

Not such a bad poem but on a visual level I have to admit it’s a bit on the basic side, just me talking to the camera. What I felt I really needed was perhaps some images that relate to the subject matter and some background music. Also what about the words? I wanted to see the actual text of the poem being shown on screen.

A handy website that has helped me achieve this is Animoto, an on-line editing program that has built in templates that can be used not only for marketing videos but for anything really, but I find it perfect for the video poem.

Animoto isn’t free, but you can trial the site for free and see if it works for you. Anyway, I love Animoto and find it really helpful to make the short videos I use to plug my book (Floating in Space) and this website itself across Instagram, Facebook and anywhere on social media I can find a little spot for myself.

My latest video uses a poem I wrote some years ago called ‘I am That Seed’. It’s pretty short, as is most of my work and to start off I had a troll through the various templates on Animoto and chose one. Click ‘create’ and ‘choose template’ and you will find yourself with a screen something like the one below. The template I have chosen is actually designed to introduce a new family member but we can easily change that.

OK, so now what I’ll do is add my own text -in this case poetry- in each of the boxes after making the first box into a title page, in this case I am That Seed by Steve Higgins. Here’s the finished item below:

You can see that as well as using stock video and photography, I’ve also uploaded some of my own images, in this case a picture of me. I’ve also copied that title box and put the copy at the end of the poem. The whole thing can be tweaked using the buttons on the far left to change text fonts, size and colour as well as the music track.

Animoto have even made their own video showing how to use the templates; have a look below:

Now comes what is a little more difficult, getting the timings right so that the visual text matches up with me reading the poem. This takes a good deal of trial and error so I’ll just read the poem and time each section and then update the time each image stays on the screen. In the case of video, each clip can be trimmed to the appropriate time. After that, click ‘produce’ and Animoto will complete the video and then it can be downloaded.

Editing that sound!

Once you have the video on your PC or laptop then you have to use whatever video editing software you have to record your poem in voice over mode. If I’ve got all the timings correct then that is pretty easy, if not I have to either trim my video on my laptop software or, go back to Animoto, change the timings and then download again! Making a video can be a slow process.

After I’ve recorded the voice over, I usually send it to my sound recording software to cut out my usual mumbles and any background noises and I also sometime add a little bass just to beef up my voice and make it a little sexier!

After that there are two more options. I can send the resulting audio track back to Animoto and complete the video there or just finish the job on my PC by fading the background music down to a quieter level. In fact on the video below, I mixed the narration and the music together and uploaded the complete soundtrack back to Animoto and from there I can export the completed video to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter or anywhere I want.

Here’s the final version on YouTube, and don’t forget that if you are doing something similar, make youself a professional YouTube video icon by using canva or another good imaging website.


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

Holiday Book bag (Video Version)

Any regular readers might have noticed that on my last Book Bag post the usual video was missing. I do tend to try and add a video version to each Book Bag review but this year’s video sessions have been something of a trial.

Takes 1 and 2

I’m not sure what happened here but these two takes were where I lost the plot and started mumbling about that largely unheard of Beatles band member George McCartney. Another issue arose because I hadn’t brought my mini tripod, but instead I had my easy to transport plastic camera holder which seemed to absorb every ambient sound through the plastic table outside and every touch of the table was transformed into a mighty scrape or roar on the soundtrack. Also brought to my attention was my huge reliance on the use of the word ‘fabulous’ which I hadn’t noticed at the time.

Takes 3 and 4

It does get windy in Lanzarote at this time of year and once, a few years back when we visited the island it was very windy and gusty. Lately I’ve not really noticed any major windiness (hope that’s a proper word) but anyway, when I relocated the camera to a different table in a secluded corner of the patio, the resultant soundtrack seemed to imply that a hurricane was in progress.

Take 5 and 6

Take 5 started off OK then I realised the previous day I had passed my Paul McCartney book to another English holiday maker who was also a Beatles fan. This revelation seemed to hit me during the recording as something of a surprise and it took me a while to stop laughing. I eventually did and so managed to bumble along through take 6. The result was not totally professional and I seriously doubt it will be snapped up for BBC prime time but what the heck, 6 takes is enough when the sun is shining and the swimming pool beckons . .

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.

YouTube and The Final Cut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editing that sound!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s called progress . . .


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

Lest we Forget . .

Blogging, Editing and Re-Editing

One of my workmates asked me recently if I had written a new blog post lately. Yes, I answered, a new post every Saturday.

‘Every Saturday?’ asked my friend. ‘You can’t write a new one every Saturday!’

Well, that’s what I do, a new post every Saturday.

It’s not so easy knocking out a new post every week and just lately I’ve noticed in a few of the blogs I follow that other bloggers must also feel the pressure to produce new content.

How do we get the ideas? How do we keep on writing week after week?

Well I have to admit that just lately I have faltered a little and I have started looking at blog post prompts that various bloggers have left scattered about the four winds of the Internet.

Write a post about your favourite book: Done that one!

Write about your favourite sporting event: Done that one!

Write a post linking various videos together: Done that too!

Write a post about your favourite music: Done that one too.

Not long ago I found a whole set of prompts about cookery and incorporated them into a post like a series of questions: What do you like to eat? What’s your favourite recipe? What was the first meal you cooked yourself? That particular post was pretty popular and I even found a whole new set of followers who post regularly about food on their food themed web sites. As that is pretty much the only food blog I’ve produced they must be pretty fed up now with my regular content. Sorry guys but then again, I do have quite a few posts about restaurants. This is one of my favourites about Giorgio, the worst waiter ever.

Another way to produce new content is to take an old post and add a little more material to it and perhaps even spice it up with a few pictures or videos. I have done that a few times most noticeably with a post about annoying elements of the 21st century. It started life as 10 annoying things and every now and again I’ll brush it off and add some new annoying thing. I think now I’m up to 16 annoying things!

Somebody once said that no work of art is ever finished, just abandoned. That is really how I feel about my blogs and my videos. I’m forever watching my old videos and thinking ‘that bit isn’t right, I’ll just change it!’

One of my best videos is one about the graves and cemeteries of World War I and II in northern France. It’s a sad video but the visuals are good and I put together what I thought was a pretty good narration based on some blog posts I’d written previously.

One big mistake was when I edited the video I put in a shot I’d taken at the start of our trip to France. It was a really great motorhome with a trailer and then I panned over to our much smaller model, thinking at the time I’d add some jokey comment about ours being smaller in the narration.

Anyway, I added the comment and put everything together then uploaded it to YouTube. It seemed to do pretty well getting a lot of views but when I added it to a Facebook video page expecting a certain amount of praise, one reviewer mentioned that the jokey stuff didn’t really go with the overall tone. Looking back at the video I realised he was completely correct however by then the video had pulled in a few thousand views (some free promo credit with Google ads had helped there!) and I was reluctant to substitute the re-edited version as then I’d lose all those views! Oh well, there is a more subdued version on Vimeo, alas without so many views.

One video idea lately came from a post I wrote about cameras. In Cameras then and Cameras now, I looked back at my SLR case with my Olympus film cameras and compared it to my current camera gear. I took a few photographs for the blog and thought hey, why not make this into a video?

I powered up my trusty Canon G7X and ran through my film camera case, pointing out all the relevant bits and pieces then did the same for my current camera bag and my video case. When I came to review the footage the sound wasn’t so very good, probably because I was behind the camera talking rather than in front. Oh well, I re-recorded my narration which is sometimes a good thing as I can snip out all the ums and ahs which I invariably produce. The end result seemed a bit flat somehow. Anyway, I added all the usual music and captions and uploaded it to YouTube. Somehow it just wasn’t punchy or snappy enough. Take a look at it here.

The other day I decided to remake the video this time using the online editing site www.animoto.com

The result was visually much better with some eye catching fades and cuts which the animoto templates provide but my narration still sounded a bit flat even after I tweaked the sound using my sound mixer so I recorded another narration. I think this one is better, at least it’s a little more dynamic.

Oh well, another work of art about to be abandoned!


If you enjoyed this post then why not try my book, Floating in Space, a nvel set in Manchester, 1977.

Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Cameras Then, and Cameras Now . .

I still have my old camera bag, well, camera case actually. I have often wondered just how much money I would make if I sold it on eBay. Would I be impressed I wonder of the value of my once expensive film cameras? Or would I be disappointed to find these great cameras are now comparatively worthless?

I was always rather proud of my aluminium camera case. It made me feel like someone who was serious about cameras and who knew something about photography. There was my Olympus OM10 complete with the manual adapter which transformed the camera from an amateur’s automatic device to a professional tool. The OM10 cost a lot of money as I remember and so did the bits and pieces that went with it. A wide angle lens which always delivered some super sharp shots. Then there was my 200mm telephoto lens, my medium 80 to 150 zoom and my 3 times converter that made my 200mm lens into a 600mm although it struggled in that configuration for light so large apertures and slow shutter speeds were the norm.

Also in the case is my Olympus OM2SP complete with spot programme technology. As you may probably know, a modern camera tends to average out the light that comes into the lens giving a slightly false reading or at least an overall reading which when shooting scenes with dark and bright elements can cause confusion. The spot meter in the OM2SP means the user can choose a single spot from which to take a light reading and set the camera accordingly so that the point of interest would always be perfectly lit.

To assist further on the quest for the perfect picture my case also had a wide variety of filters. A small number of screw on filters which screwed directly onto the front of the lens and another set, my Cokin filters which were square filters that slotted into a holder which screwed onto the front of the lens.

My old 1980’s camera case

There was more also. My cable release, vital for those late night long exposures. Long exposures, now I think of it, were photographs I used to love taking. One of my favourites was shooting someone in the dark, whirling a sparkler or a torch round and round while the shutter was open then I’d fire a hand held flash to freeze the person and then close the shutter. I’m not even sure you could do that on a modern digital camera but anyway it was a fun picture to take.

Also in the case is my motor wind, a vital addition for capturing the fast action of the cars at my nearest race track, Oulton Park in Cheshire. If you look at the outside of the case still adorned with motor sport stickers from the 1980’s, you can see how much I was into car racing back then.

My current SLR camera bag

Fast forward to the present day and there is not much in my SLR camera bag. My Nikon D100 and zoom lens, a medium zoom, a spare battery and a lens cloth and that is about it. Filters are available today but it’s probably just easier to add a filter with image editing software after you have downloaded your snaps to your laptop.

My video case has a little more to it. It contains quite a few cameras, my three action cameras and batteries and my Canon G7X. Also in there is my trusty Panasonic mobile phone sized video camera. Most of the other gear consists of things like mini tripods and devices for attaching the cameras to something, bike handlebars, car doors and so on. I have a fairly new gadget I’ve only used once so far, you can see it in the lower centre of my video case, it’s a device like the professional steadicam, a weighted handle that absorbs movement when you are moving to give a smoother camera pan.

My video camera bag.

Oh and plenty of cables, charging cables, connecting cables and well all sorts of various cables. Now I come to think of it, I’ve probably got cables I don’t even need.

I do love my old Olympus but to be fair, I love my modern cameras more. Even so, I wonder if it’s worth putting one last roll of film through my Olympus before eBay beckons?


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

Cameras, Cards and Motorhomes.

My holiday in France this year was pretty different to the one I’m used to. No French villa, no poolside sunbed. Although I did manage to get through four books from my holiday book bag ( I have to admit I only finished three of them) I didn’t do much writing at all.

It’s not quite so easy writing in the hot confines of a motorhome. No cool kitchen or dining room like in our last rented villa. A motorhome too is about movement, about travelling. It’s about spending one or two nights in one location and then hitting the road, looking for that next location and then the next. I enjoyed it all, don’t get me wrong but the lazy relaxing holiday is probably the one for me.

A big disappointment on this holiday was also the reliability of my GoPro Hero camera. I’ve got 2 action cameras; one is a cheap imitation of a GoPro camera. It works fine but sometimes in the heat of the moment, especially when driving, it’s easy to stay too long on the power button and click into another mode like a still picture mode or a time lapse mode. The GoPro hero is great in this regard as it can be set for instant shooting. Once set up all you do is press the top button, the camera begins recording and beeps to acknowledge that (3 beeps). When you are done, click the same button once again and the camera beeps again (5 beeps) and you know recording has shut off.

I had not used either camera for a while but made sure they were both fully powered up and even had a long lead to connect the GoPro to the cigarette lighter socket and a new memory card. Everything seemed outwardly OK but the files from days 2 and 3, when later downloaded to my laptop would not play. What is even more annoying is that on day 3 as we drove down (up actually) into the Jura and the French Alps we were engulfed in a huge snowstorm which would have made great video. Alas none of those recordings were usable nor were the next day’s video with some spectacular views as we headed towards the south of France.

All of this brought back memories of the film era and so many disappointments of photographs that I knew were going to be amazing but after a visit to the photo lab were found to be too bright or too dark or blurred or, in one sad episode, completely blank. On that last occasion I remember going to pick up my prints and finding that the bill was rather cheap. ‘Is that right?’ I asked. ‘Oh yes’ said the rather smug girl at the till and I did wonder why my prints were not on the counter in front of me while I pulled some notes from my wallet. As soon as she had my money she handed over the prints wallet with the news that my film was blank and must have somehow been exposed. Nothing to do with them of course. A heated debate followed. The manager appeared and declared it ‘obvious’ that the film was exposed when removed from the camera incorrectly. I felt on the contrary that it was ‘obvious’ the photo lab had cocked up. Either way, I found somewhere else to do my developing and printing after that.

A GoPro Hero similar to mine.

Getting back to my video cameras, I did notice when downloading the footage that the date on my GoPro Hero had somehow reverted to 1899 instead of 2019 so that may have been the root of the problem. I updated it and later bought another new memory card and I did manage to record some more video but nothing as spectacular as the video that I should have had. Some other mistakes on my part led to me using up the memory card prematurely because I had left the GoPro running too long on a couple of occasions. In fact in one instance I have a good 30 minute sequence of the corner of a lay-by when we stopped for a brew and a sandwich. The latest video I had looked forward to producing may now be condemned to a fate similar to the latest Woody Allen film: Never to be released!

That brings me now to pre-paid Euro cards. Heading to France my wallet had a hefty chunk of cash Euros but just to supplement that I had a post office card which you can top up with a currency of your choice, in this case Euros. My biggest expenditure on the trip, apart from food and drink was fuel and we tended to always make for the supermarket fuel pumps which, as in the UK, are usually much cheaper than Texaco or Esso or all the other brand names. Each time though my Euro card was declined and I was forced to use my credit card and pay whatever arbitrary exchange rate was available that day.

Strangely enough, those same stores were willing to accept my Euro card in payment for food and groceries. Many petrol stations in France though are automated ones; perhaps that was the issue.

On the positive side though, one great advantage of a motorhome is simply this: As you motor down the Autoroute following the sun, you begin to feel the pangs of hunger and the need for a good old British cuppa. After a while a lovely layby or country aire surrounded by trees and birdsong appears. You stop, crank up the gas, gently fry the sausages on the stove while the tea brews and now, miles from anywhere, you can relax with a cup of English tea in one hand and an English sausage butty in the other. Wonderful!


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

More Travels in a Motorhome.

This week Liz and I have been once again off on our travels in our motorhome. We set off on April 1st and rather than endure the long haul south to Folkestone and the horrendous traffic queues and delays we decided on another route, the ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge.

This involved only a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Lancashire over to Hull. One interesting aspect of this was although Yorkshire folk and those of us from west of the Pennines are sworn enemies, we are both northern and so a little northern humour and banter was the order of the day at Hull when we arrived at the port and I took a wrong turning and also when I stalled our vehicle as we were boarding the ferry. The ferry itself was also a delight. The bar was very northern in atmosphere and there was a ‘turn’ as we say ‘up north’, a vocalist and her keyboard man who knocked out some very nice songs indeed.

Off to sleep Monday night and we awoke in the morning in Belgium. There was no knocking on our cabin door by ferry staff, eager to get in and clean up for the next batch of passengers which is what we are used to with Brittany Ferries. No, with P & O everything was a little more relaxed. A little, dare I say, ‘northern’!

Belgium was looking rather sad and was covered with a grey low cloud and persistent drizzle but things brightened up as we swept into France.

After a few hours we stopped for the night at a ‘Routier’ which in France is a sort of restaurant come Truck stop. We were able to enjoy the usual lovely starter, a small plate from the buffet comprising salad, cooked meats, pates, pickles and so on. The main was a choice of two dishes, Steak or pork. The cheese board was as usual wonderful, this is France after all, and for dessert I chose ile flottant which was a meringue in a sort of cold custard. Nice and all for 13 Euros including wine.

The next day we motored on south to visit Liz’s sister who lives in the French Alps. She had mentioned the previous day that it was warm up there, 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees F for all us non metric folk!) and apparently she had been swimming in the local plan d’eau, a small lake. However, on the day we decided to visit a major snowstorm blew into the Alps. Conditions were very, very Arctic indeed, in fact at one point we were almost in a ‘white out’ situation where only a thin ribbon of tarmac was discernible through the blizzard. If similar conditions had descended on the UK it would have resulted in a total grid lock on the roads there. Here, in France though, the locals were ready for bad weather and a small army of snowploughs were at work clearing and treating the roads.

Our big mistake was following the advice of the lady from Google maps who sent us up a small mountain which gradually became blocked with snow as we rose higher. Thick snowflakes were falling and as we approached the highest point, I stopped to avoid a large mound of snow and my wheels would not grip the tarmac to carry on ahead. A snowplough motored serenely past going the other way and I managed to roll back onto the snow free side of the road, turn in a small area where the road was wider and go back the way we had come. Back down the mountain we located the Autoroute where constant ploughing and treating had kept the surface clear and we finally got going once more. The route across the A40 was spectacular, changing from tunnels to bridges and more tunnels.

I clicked on my Go Pro camera which I had stuck to my window but sadly when I later transferred the files to my laptop they wouldn’t play. Of course, all the boring stuff I shot on the M62 in the UK was fine but the really spectacular views didn’t come out. It was rather like years ago when you took your camera film to be developed just knowing what great shots you had taken and for one reason or other they just didn’t come out. I was not happy. I hadn’t used the camera for a while but I had charged it up and fitted a new and better memory card. Oh well, that’s technology for you!

The next day it was cool but sunny and most of the snow had vanished. We motored on further south and stopped in the small lakeside town of St Chamas. We were hoping to stop in the camping car area but sadly it was under renovation but we managed to find a spot in the local car park.

Driving a motorhome makes you very aware of consumables like water and gas and also of the waste products you are creating. I’m not sure actually how much our toilet holds but I do find myself worrying about it getting too full and wherever possible we try to use public toilets. The great thing about France is that they actively welcome visitors in motorhomes and provide a lot of facilities for them, toilet dumps, waste disposal, drinking water and so on. Back home in the UK it is almost impossible to find such amenities unless you pay to go on a camping site.

A busy motorhome stop at Pelissanne.

After a wet evening in the town of Pelissanne where we were able to empty our onboard toilet we carried on to a lovely motorhome site situated in a olive oil farm near the town of Trouillas. The site was completely free and there was a shower and washing area available. The staff encourage campers to visit their shop and purchase some of their lovely olive oil products but otherwise, stopping here is completely free.

Day 9 of our trip saw us head further south and cross the border into Spain. In fact as I write this in a quiet motorhome parking spot in Cantallops across from what I hope will be a lovely restaurant, the clouds are clearing and the sun has appeared.

Fuel is much cheaper over in Spain, pity I filled the tank up in France! While I’m on the subject of money, in the UK I had got myself a post office card and topped it up with Euros. It’s quite handy for most purchases except in the french service stations where it has been declined it all but one so far.

One more thing though, I really am not happy about that video!


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information. In the interview below I talk about the background to the book, publishing and the trials of marketing.

My life on YouTube

I am pretty active on social media, all mostly focussed on the thankless task of flogging my book, Floating in Space, to the unsuspecting book reading public. Here on WordPress my output is mostly short essays about my life, the books I read and the classic films I watch on TV. Over on YouTube my output is slightly different, mostly short videos that extol the virtue of my equally short novel but I do get pretty creative in the video element too.

My hobby as a video producer began in 1986 when I was given a VHS compact video camera for my birthday. It was pretty much the same camera that Marty McFly used in back to the future, shooting video onto small VHS tapes that you play on a standard VHS player by inserting the small tapes into a VHS converter which was just the size of a standard VHS tape. When I got the camcorder, as soon as I had exhausted the usual stuff, filming weddings and christenings and so on, I starting trying to make something more professional and the first time I felt like I had succeeded was when my friend Steve and I made a film about Manchester Airport.

We had both spent lots of time at the airport as schoolkids and we both had ideas about what we wanted to show on the video, particularly the back lanes of the airport and the old war-time pill-box we used to visit on our bikes. Almost as soon as we began to shoot Steve just switched on his life time love of aircraft and started talking, which apart from some brief discussions earlier, was basically unscripted. When I consider now how hard it is to speak on camera, even when I have a script, I take my hat off to Steve.

Not so long ago I took the airport video and added some copyright free music, tidied up some bad cuts and added it back to YouTube. I did think of deleting the original but when I looked at all the views it has had (8.3K views at the time of writing) and all the comments, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Another re-edit was a video about a rail trip from Manchester to Porthmadoc in Wales made on a weekend trip Steve and I made in 1986. The original used a lot of contemporary music and was not very visible on the Internet, in fact a little caption used to come up saying ‘blocked in Europe due to copyright infringement!’ So again with this other re-edit I added copyright free music and tidied the film up a little. I re-voiced part of the narration which was a mistake because my voice is so much more confident these days than it used to be and the old and the new narration don’t really go together. Perhaps I just need to go the whole hog and re-voice the entire narration!

Back in the 1980’s I was a great motorsport fan and spent every other weekend down at Oulton Park, the Cheshire racing circuit. Here’s a video that was a compilation of some of my best video at the track complete with titles made on my Sinclair Spectrum!

Getting to some of my more recent videos, here’s me reciting some of my poetry, in fact this poem, The Long and Dusty Road of Life, is one of my favourites.

One of my usual themes in this blog is second-hand books and I’ve done quite a few posts on the theme of my Holiday Book Bag. Every time so far I’ve managed to convert the post into a video version. Here’s the first from 2016 with me dressed as Bruce Willis in Die Hard fashion.

I’ve used the online editing website Animoto for a while now and here’s one of my favourite short promo videos for Floating in Space. One of the great things about Animoto is that you don’t necessarily need video, you can create a video slide show using still images or combine video and still photography.

Here’s another one but instead of just pictures and music I’ve tried to do something slightly different. Floating is set in 1977 so I’ve tried to bring up some interesting things from that year as well as some interesting personalities to make the watcher start to think about the late seventies and perhaps how interesting a book set in that time period might be .

Here’s something different again. It’s actually still a plug for Floating but also a spoof on the opening of the Woody Allen film Manhattan, only instead of talking about New York like Woody, I wax lyrical about Manchester. Once the watcher has been lulled into a false sense of security, then comes the link to Floating!

Having got the hang of this narration business I decided to step back and add a narration to a video that just had captions when I first put it together. Even though at first glance the video seems to be about cycling, it’s actually about video editing. Click here to see the original.

One of my favourite videos is this one. The narration has been put together from my blogs and text from Floating with some new additional thoughts on Manchester. I revisit the sites of some of the locations used in the novel and talk about how things have changed, take a ride on the town’s new tram system and generally wax lyrical about Manchester.

Talking to camera and trying to make your book sound interesting isn’t as easy as it seems. In this video I’ve tried to show how difficult it is and produced what is generally called a bloopers reel. It’s nothing brilliant, just a bit of fun.

When I travelled to France in 2018, I clipped my action cam to the window and filmed pretty much everywhere I went. On several occasions, especially when travelling long distances, the cameras ground to a halt when their battery charge ran out. Anyway, this short video takes in the village of Parçay les Pins where we stayed, my favourite town of Saumur, brocantes and barbecuing.

Here’s one last video. Earier this year, 2019, I was invited to the radio station Salford City Radio 94.4 FM to talk about books, writing and blogging. I was hoping to improve my media profile and pick up a few more followers and perhaps even flog a few more books. Naturally, I took along my video camera and here is the result.


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