Ally Mcbeal, Eddie the Eagle and my TV Hard Drive

Looking back at some of my previous posts I see that back in April I was waxing lyrical about the onset of spring, the lengthening of the days and how nice it was to finish a night shift and find myself greeted by daylight as I left my workplace.

This week I was back on the night shift again but as I climbed into my car I had to crank up the heater for the first time in many months. I always think that September going into October is a sad time of the year. The days get shorter, the weather is colder and it is time to start wearing my fleece to work.

Being back home after three weeks in France is frankly, something of a let-down. The washer is humming away cleaning our holiday gear. I’m thinking about where I can put all that unnecessary stuff I bought at the brocantes and vide greniers we visited. The prospect of returning to work is no longer looming on the horizon, the moment is actually here. There was a time, I remember sadly, when I actually loved my job and looked forward to going back to work. Alas, those days are gone.

My car, my trusty Renault Megane convertible is a veritable hive of CDs. The glove compartment is full of them as are the pockets in the driver and passenger doors. Down in the passenger footwell there is a box of CDs which is interchangeable with one in the boot. When I get fed up with the selection I swap them round and the box I am tired of goes in the boot and the other one comes into the front. When I am tired of both boxes, I take them back home and make up a new selection.

Today, going back into work I had a good search through them for something new to listen to. Radio adverts are just not on my agenda. TV adverts, OK I can live with them, you can pop into the kitchen and make a cup of tea, yes, OK but radio ads: Not on my watch as they say. Anyway, the CD I decided to listen to was an album of songs from the TV show Ally McBeal, mostly by Vonda Shepard but with a sprinkling of guest singers. Ally McBeal was a comedy drama that aired back in the nineties and it’s surprising that it hasn’t turned up on some random Freeview TV channel yet. Ally McBeal played by Calista Flockhart was a Boston Lawyer and the show focussed on the antics of Ally and her colleagues not only in the courtroom but also in the local bar, which is where the music comes in. There were a heck of a lot of songs sung in that bar.

Music played a major part in the show and Vonda Shepard covered some classic pop tunes all slotted in carefully with lyrics that corresponded to the storyline of the show. One of my absolute favourites was Vonda’s cover of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s ‘Alone Again (Naturally)’ a hit single for O’Sullivan from 1972.

Gilbert O’Sullivan featured regularly in the music charts until the 1980’s when he began a legal battle with his music publisher Dick James regarding royalties and the ensuing legal contest stopped him from releasing his music.

In Ally McBeal, John Cage and Richard Fish were the co-owners of the law firm where Ally works. Cage was an oddball attorney nicknamed ‘the biscuit’. I loved his odd ways, his ‘taking a moment’, his antics in the communal toilet area and his invocation of the spirit of Barry White when he needed a confidence boost. Richard Fish was another oddball lawyer and also part of the firm was Billy, Ally’s former boyfriend and his new wife Georgia. Legal cases were up there in the foreground, actually the background and in the background, actually the foreground, if you see what I mean, were the loves and lives of the cast.

One thing that was important on returning home from holiday was checking the hard drive on my TV recorder and finding out just what was lurking there. What had recorded and what had failed.

There was of course three weeks of our favourite soap, Coronation Street lying in wait so we decided to have a duvet day, actually two duvet days of non-stop soap action. In some ways Corrie is best watched just like that. Fast forward through the adverts and no waiting between Friday night’s cliff hanger episode and the Monday night follow-up.

Some things seem to sort of leap out when you watch a soap in that fashion. One storyline involved Sean Tully, one of the Street’s gay characters. Sean packed his job in at the local factory in favour of a new job and new flat in the city centre. It turned out though that his job had fallen through, then he returned to live with friends who had to give him notice due to some new arrangements. Then it was revealed Sean had lost his job and now was actually homeless. Sean endured a few weeks of living rough in a tent and trying to conceal the shame of his new position from friends but suddenly, the way it is in soaps, his old friend Billy offered him a room at his house, he got his old job back and hey presto, all is well again.

It was nice that the soap tried to show a little of what life is like for the homeless but couldn’t they have carried the storyline on a little longer, like things are in, you know, real life?

Then again there was the storyline when poor old Rita started losing her memory and was diagnosed with dementia. Luckily there was that quick lifesaving operation and Rita’s brain power and memory were restored just like it never happens in real life. And there was the one about young Simon who had become violent towards his mother. Luckily, he quickly grew out of that phase. Oh well, that’s soaps for you.

Also there on my hard drive were two formula one Grands Prix. The Belgian Grand Prix from the impressive and historic Spa Francorchamps and the Italian race from the equally historic Monza. There was a time too when I would have hungered to watch those races. As it is, Formula One still has its moments and I do still love the sport but not like the days when I bought a shed load of racing magazines every week and hungered for every snippet of racing information I could find.

While in France I subscribed to Radio Five Live’s F1 podcasts. Now the podcasts are not quite what I had thought they were going to be. I thought they might be an audio version of the race highlights with the commentators breathlessly describing the race track action in the way Murray Walker used to do in the old days. (Murray, for those of you who have never heard of him, was a BBC commentator who was once described as a man who talks like his trousers are on fire -in his quieter moments!)

No, the podcasts were not like that. They start off, unlike the TV highlights show on Channel 4, by telling you the results, and just how they came about. Then there are 30 to 50 minutes of driver interviews and endless discussion about what happened, why it happened and why didn’t something that didn’t happen, not happen. Yes, interesting but maybe the production team assumed we listeners had watched the race on TV. Actually we hadn’t, or at least I hadn’t, which is why I was listening to the podcast in the first place.

There were some exciting elements to those races, Hamilton and Vettel colliding at the first corner at Monza and Hamilton hunting down Raikkonen’s Ferrari and just pipping him for the win. Still, watching those races a few weeks after they had happened just wasn’t my cup of tea.

Anyway, soon it was time to go back to work but before that we sat down one evening after our tea looking for something to watch. Nothing was on TV (naturally) so once again I scanned through the hard drive and came across a film I had recorded about Eddie the Eagle.

In 1988, Eddie became the first skier to represent Britain in Olympic Ski jumping since 1928. The film describes Eddie’s life as an Olympic obsessed youngster and his progression to ski jumper. He self-trains in Germany where the seasoned skiers belittle him. However by grit and determination, Eddie qualifies for the Olympics in Calgary despite resistance by the Olympic team for his amateur and uncouth appearance. Eddie turns the tables on everyone by his determination and humour and in fact becomes the star of the Olympics, feted by the world’s press.

The film is an enjoyable and affectionate portrait. I’m not sure just how accurate or true it is but I enjoyed every minute of it and if I had been there at the Olympics, I would have been cheering for Eddie myself.

Well, that first night shift was hard. Not actually hard in itself just hard to endure, sitting there wishing I was back in my rented villa tapping away on my laptop trying to finish a new blog post so that I could hurry out for a dip in the pool, after decanting some vin rouge to breathe, of course.

When I finished at 6 am it was still dark and rather cold. As I pulled away from the car park I turned up the heat and switched on the CD player. Vonda Shepard was singing another of my favourite songs, a cover of the Dusty Springfield’s hit, I Only Want to be With You . .


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.

 

Surveyors, Inspectors, and Lawrence of Arabia

I started thinking about regrets the other day. Bit of a waste of time, you might think. Regrets? What’s the point? Oh well, two big regrets in my life are both work orientated. Let’s take a closer look.

Surveyors.

The first one was way back in the late seventies when I was a lowly clerk in an assurance company in Manchester. I worked in the estates department and I had a lovely job there. It involved collecting the rental we were due for our properties in the city centre. Then I had to sort out the wages for our cleaning staff in Manchester and liaise with caretakers to order cleaning products such as bleach and so on. I remember when we converted from hard toilet paper to soft, our toilet paper bill shot right up. I was tasked with getting to the bottom of that issue (excuse the pun!) which turned out to be staff using the soft toilet paper as paper hankies! I so enjoyed writing that report.

Sometimes I went out with the surveyors to help them take measurements of properties and I jotted down notes for the surveyor and carried his gear, stuff like that. It got me out of the office for hours at a time and usually the surveyor and I would have to time to take on board a few beers as our junior surveyor was a fellow who enjoyed his ale.

One day my boss, the venerable Mr Ross, called me into his office and said the surveyors wanted me to join their department and train to become a surveyor. Wow, you might think. That’s not an offer that comes to a young eighteen year old clerk every day. The thing is, I turned it down. Yes, I declined that rather excellent offer on the grounds that I was young and the estates and surveyors offices were staffed by a lot of old (well, middle-aged) people. I asked for a transfer and was sent to IA/1, an internal accounts office, full of young people like myself but actually a deadly dull boring job. What a fool I was. Just think, today I could be a successful surveyor with perhaps, a property portfolio on the side. Yes, that was big mistake number 1.

Inspectors.

Regret number 2. This came years later when I was a bus driver. There was a time when I liked this job, running up and down the byways of Greater Manchester as a bus conductor or driver, chatting up the girls and generally having fun. Of course drivers and conductors meant that two wages were being paid out by the bus company; so much easier just to pay out one; that’s when the idea of one man buses caught on. Then I became a rather self-absorbed chap driving a bus up and down the road and taking fares. It was a lonely life and the worst thing was that when something relatively minor cropped up, say someone cut in front of you and you had to slam the brakes on, there was no conductor to talk to about it, no one to say ‘he was a pillock wasn’t he?’. The result was that you’d tend to think about it over and over until a minor thing became a big thing.

One day the company advertised for two Inspectors, one for the Ardwick depot, not far from where I lived and another for Rochdale depot, well over the other side of Manchester. I applied and had rather a good interview. I was asked to step outside the interview room for a while and when I came back the spokesman for the interview panel asked me which job I was interested in. ‘Well, the Ardwick one,’ I answered. ‘What if we offered you the Rochdale one?’ they asked. Well, what could I do? How could I even get to Rochdale? I had no car, no personal transport. Anyway I said no, I couldn’t take the job. Big mistake number 2!

I often think what could have happened if I had done the right thing and said yes. I could have bought a car with my new improved Inspector’s salary or even moved to Rochdale and started a new life there. After all, I was a single man, I might have made new friends, made a whole new life. Well, like Frank Sinatra, I can only say;

Regrets, I have a few . .

But then again, too few to mention . .

Lawrence of Arabia.

Anyway, that brings me to today’s classic movie, Lawrence of Arabia, that fabulous 70mm classic directed by David Lean.

In one part of the movie Lawrence – played by Peter O’Toole – and his arab army are plodding through the Nefu desert, a normally impassable stretch of land described by one of the characters as the sun’s anvil. Lawrence and his arab irregulars decide to cross the desert and attack the coastal town of Aqaba, coming from a direction the enemy Turks would not expect. One morning the travellers realise that one of their number, sweltering in the desert heat, has fallen asleep and slipped off his camel into the sands. Lawrence decides to turn and rescue the man despite assurances that he will not make it. ‘The man is surely dead,’ Lawrence is told. It is written. Despite this, Lawrence turns and rides back into the desert.

Later he returns to the group a hero having saved a man from the desert. He whispers hoarsely to Omar Sharif, ‘nothing is written’ before collapsing into his sleeping bag.

Later still, shots are fired in the desert encampment. A man has been robbed and killed and the various tribes, brought together by Lawrence, are ready to defend their honour. The culprit is found and must die but his death will only bring forward a feud.

Lawrence  argues that he is a man without a tribe, and so he will execute the criminal and honour will be kept. Lawrence takes out his revolver and the doomed man is revealed; only then do we see that the man is Gasim, the man Lawrence saved from the desert. Lawrence shoots him dead, the alliance is saved. Lawrence turns sadly away.

‘What is wrong with him?’ asks one of the arabs.

‘That man he killed, it was the same man he rescued from the desert.’

‘Ah,’ says the man, ‘then it was written . .’

So if that is the case, that everything is written or preordained, then perhaps even if I had accepted that Inspector’s job or become a surveyor, my life might still have turned out the same and here I would be, whatever my life’s choices were, writing blogs and Tweeting about Floating in Space!

What do you think?


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information or click the picture below to order now from amazon!

Floating in Space

Resignations, Old Friends and Green for Danger!

I don’t know if you remember that old British movie, Green for Danger? I’ve not seen it myself for a while but this week I’ve been thinking about it and even done a search through my old VHS video tapes to find my copy.

If you’ve not seen it, the film is a murder mystery set in World War 2, and Inspector Cockrill, who is sent by Scotland Yard to investigate, is played by none other than one of my favourite actors, Alastair Sim. Although the film is a serious one, as usual Alastair Sim adds just the right amount of whimsical humour to make it just a shade lighter than perhaps it might have been. In one scene Sim crouches down expecting the crash of a German Doodlebug only to find a tractor passing by. A number of great British actors are also in the movie, Trevor Howard and Leo Genn to name but two.

The film is narrated by Sim in the form of a letter of resignation to his superiors after the case is finally resolved although not in quite the way he would have liked.

This week, I too have written my letter of resignation. It has not been a great week for me at work. I’m a deputy manager but deputising in my organisation is slightly different. I work in an emergency control room and most of the time I am just an operator, just like my colleagues. When my boss is not around, either off sick or on leave then it is me, as his deputy, who steps up and manages the shift. When he comes back I must once again step down and join my colleagues on the shop- sorry, control room- floor.

Still, it’s not a bad arrangement you might think, surely a step up the corporate ladder? Wrong. Maybe in an organisation that takes notice of its staff perhaps, maybe in a company where senior management are actually aware of the performance of the lower echelons and the efforts they make, yes, but here in a place where anonymous panels judge staff by their form filling abilities, it’s not a great situation.

Anyway, a while ago the management undertook a ‘refreshment’ -to use their word- of the deputy management situation. In basic terms, anyone who was a deputy had to re-apply in order to stay on as a deputy and now I find after six years I have not made the cut and I am no longer able to call myself a deputy manager.

Perhaps I am not that good at my job you might think, perhaps I am no longer up to the task of managing. Well, after six years of deputising I am older and wiser and although I have more backache than I used to have, I can still run the control room as well as I have always done. I wonder if I skimmed over the application too quickly; approached it too flippantly? Surely though, with six years worth of experience under my belt I must be better, more knowledgeable, more experienced than before. Does that matter? Apparently not. Am I a bad form filler? Perhaps yes.

All this started me thinking about a much simpler time many years ago when I became a bus conductor at the tender age of nineteen. I had returned from hitch hiking around Europe, sunburned and penniless and my Dad was not at all happy that I moped about the house all day winding up his electric bills by playing music constantly. That’s where the bus conducting job offered a solution. Well paid work while I looked for a proper job.

My driver was a guy called Jimmy. He was older than me and became a sort of, not a father figure but more an older brother figure to me. He mentored me in the arts of bus conducting and people management and laughed at my timid efforts to chat up the girls on our bus. Jimmy was a big speedway fan and quite a few times I joined him at Belle Vue and other venues watching the sport. At the time Jimmy had a three-wheel Reliant van and we chugged our way about the country to various speedway venues and after a late shift Jimmy would drop me off at home to save me from waiting on the grumpy staff bus drivers’ pleasure.

In return, I once gave Jimmy this big Lego set that my brother and I had. It had been a joint Christmas present to us years before; a great assortment of Lego bricks in a big wooden box that over time my brother and I added to with more bricks and bits and pieces and gradually built it up into a pretty big Lego set. It was no longer used and my Mum had suggested I give it to Jimmy for his children.

Jimmy was over the moon with the Lego and told me several times how his kids loved it.

One day I had the call from the chief inspector and he told me it was time for me to go in the driving school to become a driver. I wasn’t keen on leaving Jimmy and asked if I could defer driver training for a while. He agreed and Jimmy and I carried on our teamwork up and down the roads of south Manchester. Not long afterwards Jimmy had the call too, only he was called to become a one man operator. One man operators were paid much more money than conventional bus crews and being a fellow with a wife, children and a mortgage, it was not something Jimmy could refuse.

On our last shift together, we had arranged to have a fish and chip treat to mark the occasion. We were on the 148 route from Manchester to Woodford where we had a long layover at the terminus. I think we had a twenty-minute drop back but as we had so much extra running time at the far end of the route we could easily put our foot down and extend that to twenty-five minutes. We stopped in Cheadle Hulme, I nipped out and bought the chips and then we raced up to Woodford. Just as we arrived a man was running for our bus, waving his hands presumably as he thought we were about to drive off and leave him behind. We pulled up in the layby and set ourselves up at the back of the bus. Jimmy poured us a brew but the guy was knocking on the window. I eventually let him in and he was glad he had seen us because he was in a rush to get to Bramhall, a place about ten minutes down the road. We told him that he had a long time to wait and that we weren’t due to leave for another twenty minutes but he sat down a couple of seats from us at the back, watching us eating our chips and looking at his watch, all the while carrying on a moan about buses and timetables and public transport in general. He completely ruined that last fish and chip supper on our final day of working together. We left on time and dropped our one passenger off at a place which was hardly a five-minute walk from where he had boarded our bus.

Jimmy settled down as a one-man bus driver but I left and came back to the company quite a few times as well as transferring to other depots and other rotas. On another occasion I took a job working in the coaching unit and then got a position in the bus control room. In those days I was always on the look out for something new and doing the same old thing bored me very quickly.

Years later I bumped into Jimmy and we had a long natter and a brew at the bus canteen in Stockport. I’d not seen him for many years and I was so pleased to see him again. ‘Listen my mate,’ he said, he always called me ‘my mate’. ‘I need to see you again, why don’t you meet me back here tomorrow?’

I met him in the car park the next day and he opened up the boot of his car with a big smile and there was the old Lego set. His kids had grown up and he was returning the Lego set to me for my kids.

Sadly, I never did have any children and the Lego set was lost, probably left forgotten in the attic on one of numerous house moves. Jimmy and I lost touch and I never saw him again.

I remember once sitting with Jimmy at some nameless bus terminus and he turned to me and told me how much he loved his job and how he knew he would stay as a bus driver until he retired. That’s the same feeling I used to have here at my present job; that this was the place where I would finish my working career. Yes, used to have: until they demoted me.

Anyway, back to the letter of resignation. What was it Alastair Sim said at the end of the film?

In view of my failure — correction, comparative failure — I feel that I have no alternative but to offer you, sir, my resignation, in the sincere hope that you will not accept it.

Yes, I think I’ll put my resignation on hold, for now!


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Buses, Nicknames, and the Scaremonger!

quotescover-JPG-28My current job is a safety critical one. I work in an emergency control room and many of the decisions me and my colleagues take have highly serious implications. It can be stressful work and sometimes I look back to a much easier control room job I had years ago. I once worked in the GM Buses Control room in Manchester.

Back then in the mid nineties the buses in Manchester had radio communication so the driver could advise control of late running or breakdowns, and even call for help in an emergency. I worked in a team in the enquiry section and we took queries from the bus travelling public of Greater Manchester.

In many ways it was a good job, lots of fun, good workmates and plenty of practical joking. Everyone had a nickname and one fellow I worked with, Paul, was known as ‘Mister Nasty’. He was the guy to deal with abusive callers and when a caller turned unpleasant we would put him on hold with a cheery ‘hold the line please!’ and shout across to Paul who would take the call and give back as much abuse as the caller would be giving.

One day ‘Nasty’ realised he had perhaps overstepped the line and the caller demanded to speak with his manager. The call was sent through to the duty Inspector who on that particular day was a nice guy called Alan who had the nickname ‘Leave it wi’ me’. Paul ran from his desk in the enquiry section, through the control room to where Alan sat on a raised dais where he could survey the whole room. Paul wanted to get his version of events in first and knew that with our antiquated telephone system the call would take its time to ping across the room. However, just as he reached the Inspectors desk the phone rang and Alan stopped Paul in mid sentence. ‘Just a minute Paul, I’d better take this call.’

Alan took the call, listened for a moment and said ‘Someone in enquiries called you a bastard? Leave it with me!’ and put the phone down. He turned to Paul and asked him to carry on. Paul thought for a moment then said, ‘Actually Alan, it doesn’t matter . .’ and went back to his desk.

Another staff member had the nickname ‘Norm’ which I think was based on a character from the TV comedy ‘Cheers’ but anyway, Norm had a particular dislike of the identity badge we had to wear in the control room. When it was time for a break, Norm would pull off his badge, slap it down on his desk and go off to the canteen. One day, some of the guys decided to cut out a shapely pair of breasts from that day’s newspaper page three model and insert the picture into Norm’s badge. I personally could not stop laughing and everyone was calling me to shut up and be quiet but I couldn’t help it. Thirty minutes later Norm returned, sat down at his desk, put on his headset, switched on his phone and clipped on his badge. I must have looked ready to burst and after stifling my laughter for about five minutes Norm looked over at me and asked what was wrong. He eventually found the offending picture and removed it convinced that I was the offending culprit.

GN BusesYes, that wasn’t the best job I have ever had but we did have some fun with fake calls and wind ups. We used to get calls from the Police and they would ask our radio staff to broadcast radio messages to our drivers. ‘Please be on the look out for a red Ford Fiesta registration number . .’ and so on. One day Norm called our radio man, an old chap called ‘Stoddy’ and pretending to be the Police asked him to put out information about a stolen Ford Camper van with a registration number of . . and gave out the registration of Stoddy’s beloved camper van. Stoddy had a near hysterical reaction and rushed out to the car park where of course his camper van was still parked. When he returned fuming to the control room we were still laughing.

Finally, I must tell you about Mr Scrimingeour who was one of the top bosses at GM buses and in charge of our fraud team. His rather unwieldy name was pronounced  SKRIM- IN- JUR- and many calls  came through the switchboard asking for him as anyone caught fiddling their bus fare received a letter demanding a five-pound fine which was signed by him. We had a list on the wall of the many mispronunciations of his name but the best, the very best came in a call taken by our very own Mr Nasty.

A caller had asked to speak to a Mr Scaremonger!


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