Northern France, Video and a Supermarket Car Park

As you read this Liz and I will be making our way back to France for our proper summer holiday. The excursion in our motorhome a few weeks ago was mainly to attend a French wedding but it was also a chance to do a little exploring. In northern France the landscape is littered with many reminders of past conflicts but one you will come across time and time again are the many immaculate cemeteries maintained by the War Graves Commission. The price of world war comes heavy.

I won’t say too much about the trip because all my thoughts and observations are mostly in the video below.

It was a sad but moving experience, especially seeing so many graves of unknown soldiers. One particular gravestone I went in search of was the grave of Wilfred Owen, the famous Great War poet. He is buried in the small cemetery in the village of Ors and lost his life only a matter of days before the end of the conflict.

I do love the sweet satisfaction of putting together a short video but I often wonder if is it better to write my narration first and then put my video together to fit the words or just make the video and write the narration later. In actual fact the end result was a bit of both.

My ‘action cam’ video camera packed up during the trip, or at least I thought it had. Back home in the UK I plugged it into my laptop and realised that at some point I had left the camera running endlessly and all the space on the memory card had been swallowed up. For this next trip I have taken the plunge and got myself a ‘proper’ GoPro camera, a much more sophisticated version of the cheap action cam I have been using. I was a little disappointed to find that this version, despite the GoPro reputation and extra price tag, does not have a viewing screen in the rear of the camera. After further inspection of the manual I see that the device has an ‘app’ which you can download to your smartphone and see exactly what is being filmed and operate your camera remotely. Check back here in a few weeks to see whether I managed to shoot anything interesting or if I come back with another memory card full to the brim with exciting footage of the car park at Intermarche.

I shot a whole lot of in-car footage last year in France and put it all together in yet another video. I did the narration armed with a few notes and just rambled on into the microphone. On reflection I might have been better writing out a proper script but you can make your own mind up by checking out the video below.

Anyway, we are all packed, ready to return to France this time in a car rather than a motorhome so I hope that by next week I should have some more sun lounger thoughts to share with you. Our previous trip to France in a motorhome was fun but there was always that sense of travelling but never arriving. Still, maybe that’s the essence of a road trip, at least according to that old saying it’s better to travel than to arrive. This time we hope to arrive at our rented villa in the Loire sometime on Saturday afternoon. I can see it all now: A quick flurry of unpacking, a refreshing dip in the pool, the decanting of the red wine, that agreeable hiss as our steaks are slapped on the barbecue . . bring it on!


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.

The Cruel Sea

When I was writing my post ‘The Book of the Film or the Film of the Book’ a while ago, I did consider including ‘The Cruel Sea’ as not only is it one of my favourite films, it is a pretty good book too. I didn’t include it because I couldn’t find my copy of the book, which I hadn’t read for years and also I hadn’t seen the film for years either.

In one of those odd coincidences that always happen when I set my mind on a subject and leave ideas churning over in the upstairs room in my head, I was scouring through a charity shop in St Annes when I came across the DVD of the film. It was one of those free newspaper DVDs that seem to cost anything from a pound upwards at a car boot sale but was happily on sale here for a paltry 30 pence.

After a busy late shift at work I settled down with a glass of red in one hand and a ham sandwich in the other, compulsory on these occasions of course, and began watching.

The film starts off at the beginning of World War 2 when the Jack Hawkins character is at the builder’s yard helping with the fixing up of his new escort ship, Compass Rose. His officers begin to arrive, many of whom are easily recognisable as stalwarts of the 40’s and 50’s British film industry: Donald Sinden, Denholm Elliot, and Stanley Baker and later in the film Virginia McKenna appears as an officer in the WRNS.

The cast and characters are therefore introduced and then the ship goes off for its sea trials and crew training and soon the Compass Rose is escorting its first convoy. Nothing much happens at first as this is the early part of the war but when the Nazis over run France and the ports of northern France come available to the enemy, many U-Boats converge on the convoys and a great deal of merchant ships, along with the supplies so desperately needed by Britain, are lost.

The boredom of those early dull convoys contrasts sharply with the terror and mayhem waged by the U-boats later on. The film reveals the desperate tragedy of abandoning ship in the middle of the Atlantic, the oil and grease, not to mention the cold, are terrible. Many escort vessels could not stop for survivors as they would become easy prey to the unseen U-Boats, though some did, others returning later in the light of day as the attacks usually came at night.

Leave was a great relief for the naval crews. On one trip back to England the film shows the crew at home, some enjoying some home comforts, others struggling with failing marriages, a situation made worse by the war. One crewmate takes his friend the engineer home to meet his sister. On a later voyage the engineer tells his mate how he has fallen for the sister and plans to ask her to marry him. Later, the Compass Rose is sunk by a torpedo and as the survivors struggle to stay alive in the cold Atlantic many succumb to their injuries. As they drift in the oily water the soundtrack replays echos of their recent dialogue, a marriage proposals hangs in the air over the groom who will never wed and a petty argument haunts the body of the unhappily married officer. Happily, some survive till daylight when a destroyer returns to rescue them.

It must have been difficult living during the war, trying to get on with your own personal life when everything was wrapped up in the war effort. Manchester was a target for enemy bombers because of its industrial strength and also because of its airport at Ringway, now Manchester International Airport. My mother used to tell me stories of air raid shelters and late night cocoa when the air raid warnings were on and everyone trooped into the shelter. Everyone except my granddad who always said ‘If I’m going to die, I’ll die in my bed!’ She told and still tells stories of gas masks, bomb craters and how you could tell the differing sounds of German and British aircraft.

I’ve often wondered what happened if your house was bombed? Were you given new housing? What happened to your mortgage? Did you still have to pay it? Imagine being stuck with a 25 year mortgage and a house that was just a pile of rubble.

One other observation about films in the 40’s and 50’s: People seemed to have a different pattern of speech back then, a different and faster rhythm than today with clearer and more precise diction. Is that the case or is that just the way the actors and actresses of the time were taught to speak. Speech today seems slower and less precise and sprinkled with regular use of words like ‘awesome’!

Back to the Cruel Sea and Captain Ericson alias Jack Hawkins is given another ship which he captains until the end of the war. The producer, Sir Michael Balcon said that Hawkins was always the first choice for the Cruel Sea, even going so far as to say that without Hawkins he wouldn’t have made the film. The finished picture was the hit British film of 1953.

Hawkins was the epitome of the trustworthy British authority figure. In his obituary one writer wrote that Hawkins ‘exemplified for many cinemagoers the stiff upper lip tradition prevalent in post war British films. His craggy looks and authoritative bearing were used to good effect whatever branch of the services he represented.’

Hawkins himself was a three pack a day smoker and later became ill with throat cancer. In 1966 his entire larynx was removed however he still appeared in films with his dialogue dubbed by either Charles Gray or Robert Rietti. He died in 1973.

Just as I was writing this post, one thought came back to me about the book of the Cruel Sea. It was written by Nicholas Montsarrat and on the last page, when the war is over, the captain who has always hated his safety vest, hurls it into the sea. The vest sank like a stone!


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

Manchester

It was shocking to watch the events in Manchester unfold the other night. I was on a night shift and I looked up from my desk in the control room where I work, glanced at our large TV screen and saw Sky News revealing the dreadful news. I hoped as the night wore on that it would all turn out to be something and nothing, some minor incident inflated by social media but sadly it was much more serious.

One of my Mum’s favourite sayings is ‘nobody wants war’ but I have to disagree. War happens because some people want it. Hitler wanted it badly because it was a medium for him to realise his dreams of revenge, domination and murder. War also took a different turn in World War 2 because Hitler had the means to take war to innocent people, raining down bombs on England in the Blitz with bombing raids, V1s, and later V2 rockets.

In the 21st century war has taken another turn and now those consumed by hatred feel they must bring death and murder to peaceful places like a music stadium in Manchester where young people throng to see their musical heroes.

This is a sad day for my home town and for people all over the world because in this age the world is truly a global community. Terrorists will never succeed but they do leave nothing but pain and sadness in their wake. Let us hope that this incident will not sow the seeds of more hatred but will instead fan the flames of love and compassion so much so that one day hatred will have nowhere to show its face.

In The Wars

Just lately I’ve been in the wars a little. My trusty mountain bike was stolen a while ago but I have an older bike in the garage so the other day I dug it out, cleaned it up and pumped up the tyres. After fitting a new inner tube and giving the bike a good oil and clean up 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 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!

Now here’s my other scary moment; I’ve had a little mark on the side of nose for a while, two years actually and it’s a sort of red mark, it doesn’t hurt but every so often it gets inflamed and starts to bleed. Anyway, I went to the doctors about it and they sent me to a specialist who said it’s a rodent ulcer! Sounds pretty nasty but a quick look at the internet shows that it’s nothing really scary and hopefully it can be sorted out soon but the doctor decided to cut a slice of it off and send it for a biopsy. Now it didn’t hurt much as they gave me a local anaesthetic but, that needle going in was another story! That really hurt. Later, my nose swelled up and started throbbing. Anyway, you can get the picture, me looking a bit of a mess and feeling a little sorry for myself, so much so I called in sick at work. Not like me at all.

Now, a couple of days later I was feeling a little better and ready to go back to work so Liz and I went for a drink to the Links, a local pub. Monday is open mike night at the pub so we sat back and enjoyed the various singers. Now, there were three distinct groups at the Links that night. The regulars who of course are always there and never seem to me to care whoever is singing as long as they don’t interfere with their drinking. The second group was the Open Mikers, a regular group that we see at most of the various open mike nights in the St Annes area and also tonight, a third group, the outsiders. The outsiders we had never seen before. They were made up of two singing groups and a small band of their supporters. Now their performers were actually really pretty good, especially one young guy who had a great singing voice and sang some really good foot tapping songs. The thing that really bugged me though was that when the Open Mikers were playing the Outsiders sat at their table and paid little interest, unless one of their own people was performing, then they crowded the stage and gave support and applause. Hats off though to The Open Mikers, who supported and cheered whoever performed, whether good or bad, part of their group or not.

776px-Battle_of_Broodseinde_-_silhouetted_troops_marchingAnyway, I seem to be taking my time getting to the point but that night at the Links pub was the 4th August which just happens to be the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, or World War 1 as we now know it and on that night there was a lights out memorial over all the UK. At ten o’clock the pub lights dimmed and we stood for a minute’s silence, observed I might add by ninety-nine percent of the bar. It was pretty moving really, remembering those who taken part in this conflict, some who died during it in dreadful conditions, and some who lived on to return to their families. It certainly puts my whingeing about falling off my bike into perspective.

One of those who returned was my Grandad, George Higgins, who was in the Royal Horse Artillery. When my Dad, fresh from school started out as a milkman, with a horse and cart rather than an electric van I might add, his Dad, my Grandad, came to visit him at the stables where his horse was kept. He checked the horse out, paying particular attention to the horse’s teeth.

They knew how to look after horses, those Great War veterans.


If you liked this post then why not try my book, Floating in Space, set in Manchester, 1977? Click the links at the top of the page or the icon below to go straight to amazon!