Three Funerals and a Pork Pie

Letters from an unknown author!

quotescover-JPG-12The other day my Mum started discussing her funeral plans with me. She is eighty five this year and I suppose at that age one starts to think that the day is coming when you won’t be around. Even so, it was pretty shocking to be talking about her funeral.

The first ever funeral I went to was my Uncle Raymond’s. Raymond was my favourite uncle and the most wonderful guy. When I first started work when I was sixteen, going on seventeen, I used to get off my bus, the 152, at the Bluebell pub in Handforth after coming home from work in Manchester and Uncle Ray was there, waiting for the pub to open. Inside he chatted to everyone, the staff, punters he had never met before and at the drop of a hat would produce the photographs from his recent cruise showing him and my Auntie Elsie…

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How Not to be a Writer!

How not to be a writerHow not to be a writer!
Yes, there are plenty of blogs and posts out there telling you how to become a writer. Don’t be fooled by those them because once they pull you in and extract your e-mail address, you’ll be bombarded with firm requests asking you to sign up for an intensive blogging course that will require you to hand over money! Now, please tell me if I’m wrong but I didn’t hear about Dan Brown signing up for such a course, or Patricia Cornwell or even Hemingway for that matter.
Anyway, here’s a post that is slightly different, how not to be a writer!

Checking your e-mails.
Now this is a certain way not to start writing because checking those e-mails will lead to certain internet browsing -guaranteed, and by the time you have finished, that will be your writing time gone!

E-bay Watched Items.
Another instance, similar to the one above is checking your watched items on e-bay! That antique pocket watch you urgently need for your pocket watch collection needs attention before some other pesky collector comes along and nabs it! I can’t think of anything more annoying than a watched item being stolen from under your very nose because you didn’t watch it closely enough or –heaven forbid- you started writing a blog post or even worse- actually started work on that follow up novel you’ve been planning for ages!

Facebook.
Now here is a perfect opportunity to stop yourself writing. Have a scroll through Facebook and take a long look at your friends and what they are doing, where they are lunching, what they are having for tea, and so on. Perhaps you could even count the amount of times you see ‘LOL’ whatever that means or check who has replied to a post with the one word comment ‘awesome’ today. If you are really motivated why not go to quotescover and create one of those cheesy quote cards like . .’Love is like a password:  hard to figure out but you want to keep trying!’ Yuk!

Your Motor Vehicle.
Is your car looking a little bit dusty? Does the screen wash need filling up? Absolutely! Not a good option to run out of water or screen wash on these warm and dusty spring days. Get that screen wash filled up!

Have a lie in.
Great idea. How about a lazy Saturday morning, just the time you have set aside for ‘creative writing’! Perhaps drag yourself to the kitchen for a cuppa or a sausage sarnie then back to the bedroom for some lazy bedroom TV watching. Don’t forget, there are quite a few episodes of ‘Columbo’ that you may not know off by heart yet.

That new post.
Ok you’ve finally created a new post. It’s gritty, full of biting humour, topical and interesting so what do you do next? Tweet about it? Post it on every social media site you are a member of?
No, go and make a cup of tea and pat yourself on the back!

Finally: Actual Writing.
Eventually, you may find yourself sitting at your laptop or PC in a position to actually write something. If this does happen, be prepared to call a member of procrastinationalert.com

If that fails, there is only one option: Get on with writing!


If you liked this post read more by Steve Higgins. Floating In Space is a novel set in late 70’s Manchester. Click the links at the top of the page or the icon below to go straight to Amazon!

Confessions of an Armchair Formula One Fan

F1 fanI’m not a great sports fan but I do like my motor sport. I first started following Formula One back in 1970 when I was a school boy.

1970 was a pretty exciting year for formula one racing. Colin Chapman and his Lotus team had unveiled their new Lotus 72, a revolutionary ground-breaking car that set the standard for formula one cars for years to come. Jochen Rindt won the World Championship but sadly he was killed in practice for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. His points score was never overtaken and so he took the crown posthumously. In fact three F1 drivers were killed that year, Rindt, Bruce Mclaren, the founder of the Mclaren F1 team, and Piers Courage who drove for Frank Williams, a black year indeed for motorsport.

Jack_BrabhamBack in the early 70s there wasn’t great TV coverage but I do remember watching the Monaco Grand Prix live on the BBC and I will always remember that moment when the potential winner, old hand Jack Brabham, slipped into the barrier on one of the last corners letting Jochen Rindt through to win.

A few years later the BBC was not happy about the explosion of advertising on Grand Prix cars and the crunch came when the cars of John Surtees displayed advertising for Durex. The BBC pulled the plug and F1 effectively vanished from British TV screens for a long while. Towards the end of the seventies the BBC began to broadcast the odd race now and again and then their show ‘Grand Prix’ with long time commentator Murray Walker began in 1978 although I don’t think they broadcast the entire season until 1979.

For most of the seventies I had to depend on BBC radio to find out what had happened at the Grand Prix. In 1978 I listened to a report from the Italian Grand Prix about a crash just after the start in which Ronnie Peterson was injured. Ronnie had broken both legs and been taken to hospital. I was glad to hear he was OK. Ronnie was one of those drivers who appeared to me to be destined for a world championship. If someone had told me in the early seventies that Niki Lauda would be a three times champion I would have laughed out loud. He didn’t look or sound like a champion, unlike Ronnie, his team mate at the STP March team in 1972. The next day I picked up a newspaper and was shocked to find Peterson had died during the night from a fat embolism resulting from his broken bones.

Senna, Mansell, and Prost were the great drivers of the eighties and Gerhard Berger sometimes looked like a future champion although he never made the cut. He survived a terrible crash at Imola in 1989 when he hit the wall at Tamburello and his Ferrari burst into flames. I was watching the race live and thinking how could anyone survive that but moments later a marshal’s van drove up and quickly put the fire out. Berger survived with only 1st degree burns to his hands.

Mansell won a great race at Silverstone in 1987, probably one of my favourite races. It was a gamble on Mansell’s part, turning up the boost on his Honda turbo engine to catch Piquet and on the last lap he should have ran out of fuel. According to his dashboard he had, but his Williams somehow kept running to the end finally grinding to a halt on the slowing down lap.

Alain Prost Mclaren 1988 German Grand Prix

Alain Prost Mclaren 1988 German Grand Prix

Alain Prost retired after a comeback season with Williams when he walked to his final world championship in 1993. In 1994 the Grand Prix circus came to Imola for the San Marino Grand Prix and I remember well watching the race live on TV when Senna crashed, again at Tamburello. Someone said to me ‘he’s dead’ but I disagreed, Berger’s crash was worse and he survived. Sadly, Senna did not.

Television has had a great influence on formula one racing. In the nineties Bernie Ecclestone seemed to be trying a lot of tweeks to get more viewers, especially after one rainy Saturday qualifying round when hardly any drivers went out on track. Naturally really because they could not hope to improve on the previous day’s dry running. That spelled the end of Friday qualifying and from then on, only times set on a Saturday counted towards the grid. That tweeking resulted in an interesting knockout qualifying format which is enjoyable and good for the sport but it hasn’t stopped the rulers of F1 trying to fiddle with it even more and that interference has cast a cloud over the first part of the 2016 season.

Bernie Ecclestone

Bernie Ecclestone (image courtesy Wikipedia)

Formula One team bosses are currently in something of a panic. Investors have poured millions of pounds into F1, not because they like the sport but because they find their investment can pay off big style in these days of multi million pound global TV and advertising deals. Reports of failing interest in the sport however has rung alarm bells and throughout the motorsporting media there have been calls to make F1 more interesting. Why are the cars not louder? Why are Mercedes winning all the time? Should we bring back refuelling? Is the high tech aspect ruining the driver input? There are even calls for Bernie Ecclestone, the aging F1 emperor to hand over to someone else. Only time will tell what will happen.

It sometimes makes me smile when I compare Formula 1 to other sports like cricket. Can you just imagine if Ecclestone and his investors had a stake in cricket and the TV viewing figures were down? What would happen then? Increase the number of overs? Maybe have an extra ball in each over, seven instead of six? Change the wooden ball to a rubber one? Add an extra stump?

Maybe they will resolve the issues, maybe not. F1 racing goes from terrestrial channels to Sky pay per view in 2019. Will I be subscribing? I’m not so sure . . .


If you liked this post why not try my book? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

MASH and the Emotional Leap Indicator

mash-title-960x590MASH has always been one of my very favourite TV comedy programmes. You may have read in another post about how I used to record the programme back in the early seventies with my cassette tape recorder. Later when video tape recorders appeared I used to tape many episodes of the show and now, here in the DVD age I have a number of box sets of the series. One of the things I have always loved about the show was how they could take zany and surreal humour, not unlike that of the Monty Python guys, and set it down in a real place; Korea in the 1950s. Some of the lines that came from the mouths of the characters were not only zany and funny but also very witty and clever. Apart from that, the characters themselves, Hawkeye, Trapper John, Frank Burns, Hotlips, Colonel Blake and Radar were interesting and likeable and I, like most viewers, began a strong emotional attachment with the cast.
graph4Now, you might be wondering about that other part of this post’s title, the bit about the emotional indicator. Yes, I thought you might. It’s not so easy to explain but here goes. Most TV shows and movies have a sort of standard emotional indicator that stays pretty constant throughout the show. Take a look at the graph over to the left and let’s put some numbers up. Say a baseline of zero for a standard, calm emotional level. Now, when the show gets funny that level goes up to something like 15 for instance and I’d even say that in a movie like Police Academy that 15 or higher would be a constant throughout the film, well for me certainly. The original Police Academy movie is one of my favourites and I tend to start laughing round about the start of the film with the scene in the parking lot where Steve Guttenberg says the parking lot is full and then the guy comes in and says ‘park the car dirt bag!’ I usually stop laughing round about the end credits but on a normal film there’s a constant up and down: up when the film gets funny and down to nil when we get back to normal.

Now in MASH, where surreal humour is combined with drama, it’s a different ball game. Many times not only does the viewer hit a 20 or higher and then drop down to zero,  he also drops down further, perhaps down to a -10 or lower in the really sad moments. In the graph you can see a really funny moment that comes before a really sad moment. Here’s a prime example from my favourite ever MASH episode, it was called ‘Sometimes you Hear the Bullet.’

Hawkeye’s friend Tommy comes to visit the 4077th MASH. He’s a journalist who wants to write the story of the Korean War from the point of view of the soldier, not the journalist. So he’s not a correspondent, he’s a fully signed up member of a platoon. He stops in and visits with Hawkeye for a while and the usual zany humour ensues. Tommy then has to return to the war. A side story is one where a wounded young lad (played by future film director Ron Howard) admits he is under age but joined up to prove to his girl that he was a man. In one scene he tells Hawkeye that he is out to get him some ‘gooks’ and Hawkeye replies calmly that another word for gooks is people.

Hawkeye and Trapper plan to steal Major Frank Burns’ Purple Heart- he had an accident and because it happened in a war zone he is eligible for the award -and pass it on to the young lad so he can impress his girl back home. Anyway, later in the episode, Tommy the journalist returns to the MASH, only this time he is seriously wounded. He was planning on writing a book called ‘They Never Hear the Bullet’ but this time he heard the bullet. ‘Never mind’ says Hawkeye, ‘just change the name. Sometimes you hear the bullet, it’s a better title anyway.’ Tommy is anaesthetised and Hawkeye gets to work. Sadly, Tommy dies on the operating table. Colonel Blake has to remind Hawkeye about the queue of wounded and Hawkeye, tragedy etched on his face (an outstanding performance by Alan Alda) has to carry on with his next patient. Every time I watch that episode I sob my heart out, just as I did years ago when I first saw that episode on my Mum and Dad’s old black and white TV. Now I know why; because it wasn’t a case of just dropping down from 0 to minus 36 on the emotional scale, I was already up there on +45 so I had to drop way, way down. That’s why I love MASH: Humour, drama, and tragedy, all mixed into one.

MASH_TV_cast_1974Mash ran for 11 seasons and an incredible 256 episodes. Trapper, played by Wayne Rogers, was my favourite character after Hawkeye and he left the series after season three to be replaced by Mike Farrell playing new doctor B J Hunnicut. Colonel Blake (McLean Stevenson) also left at the end of season three. His character was discharged but right at the very end of the episode news came through to the MASH that the Colonel’s aircraft had crashed with no survivors. This episode prompted an outpouring of grief and resentment from fans at the death of the character. I could understand perhaps Colonel Blake dying part way through the episode and the second part showing the sadness and grief of the rest of the characters but it seemed to me that Colonel Blake’s death was almost an afterthought, just tagged on to the end of the episode. As time went on many of the other series regulars left including Gary Burghof (Radar) and Larry Linville (Frank Burns) and for me personally, the series was never the same.
The last ever episode was aired in 1983 and became the most watched TV episode ever in the USA at the time.

Keep an eye out for Sometimes You Hear The Bullet. It’s well worth watching!


Hope you enjoyed this post. If you want to read more of my work, why not try Floating In Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

My 10 Best Posts of 2015

dsc_ed0287Yes, it’s that reflective time of year again, the one where we look back at the last year, review what happened and work out what will be our resolutions for the next one. We’re not necessarily going to keep those resolutions but what the heck; it’s a worthwhile exercise anyway. I planned to write a follow up novel to Floating In Space in 2015 but I stalled after two chapters. Oh well, I’ve got an extended holiday in Lanzarote to look forward to in January 2016 so I’ll have to sit down and get stuck in. Come to think of it, I had an extended holiday in Lanzarote in January of 2015 but only managed to drink a great deal of wine, eat a great deal of tapas and swim a lot. C’est la vie as they say, at least I did a lot of ground work for the sequel and I did get those two chapters down on paper so the minimum I might expect this time is, chapters three and four!

Looking back at my blogging year my anecdotal posts have thinned out a little and I’ve concentrated a little more on two of my favourite things, books and classic movies. What I’ve tried to do is perhaps link some personal moments to something about books, film or TV and give a personal slant on my subject matter. One of my goals in blogging is to emulate the talkative, colloquial style of my novel Floating In Space in my posts, so if the reader likes the posts, he might just part with some money and buy my book! Psychology, isn’t it great! Anyway, hope you have all had a fabulous Christmas and New Year. Best wishes for you in 2016 and here’s a quick run-down of my favourite posts of the year!

1: Be Nice to People on Your Way Up! Absolutely. Just remember, if things go wrong, you’ll be meeting those same people on the way down!

2: Breakfast TV and the Apollo Moon Landing. I remember this like it was yesterday, getting up for school and the Moon Landing was being shown live on TV! How my poor mother managed to pack me off to school, I’ll never know!

3: What Happened to my White Jacket and my 70’s Pop Star Heroes? This is an interesting post and it’s strange to think how much we, as youngsters, are influenced by our heroes from the world of TV and music. It was David Essex who unwittingly influenced me to buy a white jacket but it didn’t turn out to be the babe magnet I thought it might be!

4: Marilyn Monroe: Suicide, the Kennedys, and a Red Notebook. I’ve probably got more books about Marilyn in my book collection than about any other movie star. Not only is she such a fascinating character but her death is just as big a mystery as the Kennedy Assassination and I do love a mystery!

5: A few unconventional Thoughts about Time. Travelling through France and seeing the relics of past wars inspired me to write this post about time and the way it passes.

6: Sunday Lunch with my Arch Enemy. This was an updated post about Liz’s father, who sadly passed away in October, 2015.

7: Four Random Thoughts on a Sun Lounger. A little sun, a sun lounger and a notebook and it’s amazing what comes to you!

8: Why Commuting Isn’t as bad as you think! Travelling into the City centre for a management course wasn’t a complete waste of time as I came up with this post!

9: TV Movies and a Serious Case of Deja Vu! I do love my TV movies but why do we get the same ones, time after time?

10: 12 Chart Hits from a Decade when Music was Fun! A quick bit of research and here’s the result, a fun filled music video post!

Hope you enjoyed my post. You can check out my favourite posts of 2014 here and if you fancy reading more of my work why not check out my book Floating In Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information or the icon below to go to my Amazon page.

FIScoverbuynow

 

How to deal with Laptop Failure and the Rules of Writing

quotescover-JPG-23Take a look at the picture just below. Not a particularly outstanding picture I know but that house is the one where I grew up. I took the picture a while ago after a sort of nostalgic drive around the old neighbourhood. Yes, the house with the white door, thats my old home. It’s changed a bit since I lived there. The privet hedge has gone and the car space is new. One amazing thing I found out on that visit is that the walk to my old junior school, which seemed to be a heck of a walk as I remember it; surely at least a thirty minute walk, was actually more of a ten minute walk: Well, it was a long time since I walked to my junior school. I stopped in the road, took my picture, thought for a moment as a thousand memories crowded my mind, then drove off.

14nuffieldThose memories and other ones always come back every time I look at that picture. I happened to be looking at it because my new laptop finally arrived and all my files had been moved over by the guys in the computer shop and I was just checking through them. It’s been over a week since my trusty old laptop overheated and expired and I’ve missed it. I’ve not been separated from my e-mails because I have a tablet, actually a Blackberry Playbook which is good but there’s a lot I just can’t do on a pad. Writing is difficult; in fact, it’s not unlike writing a text on a mobile phone and there’s no way I could write a blog post using it.

It was quite a shock, my laptop failing as most of my digital life is stored there. Luckily I have a portable drive on which I store my files although I mostly save completed works; fully edited videos, fully written blogs, that sort of thing. The half-finished ones, and believe me I have plenty; half-finished scripts, fragments of poems, ideas for blog posts; they were all there on the hard drive of that old laptop.

I felt a little like Carrie in Sex and the City. Remember that episode when Carrie’s laptop –an apple mac actually- conks out? Her boyfriend Aiden vainly hits the control alt and delete keys and makes things worse and Carrie, a writer with a column in a New York newspaper had lost all her work. Now I know how she felt.

Just looking at the clip above brought it all back. I was just as wound up as Carrie. My laptop couldn’t be repaired but not long ago I’d picked up a laptop that had a broken screen at a car boot sale. It was a sort of impulse buy but at least the computer guys could fix it and transfer my data over. I’d had the other laptop four years and it lasted longer than my previous two laptops. Wonder how long laptop number four will last?

One more connection with that picture and it’s to do with writing. Creative writing. I subscribe to a lot of blogs and groups and on Facebook there’s this writer’s group I’m a member of and members are always, naturally, posting stuff about writing. One post I read recently was ‘never start a novel off with the beginning of a day.’ Why the heck not I thought? It seems to me a pretty normal way to start a novel: The hero wakes up and the writer describes the surroundings and introduces the characters naturally as we meet them and so on. In fact, my novel, Floating In Space, starts off in exactly that way with my main character, Stuart Hill, waking up and getting ready for work.

Another thing you see on this writers’ page are graphics. You’ve probably seen the sort of thing I mean all over the internet. This particular one was about rules of writing. Rules? What rules? Well it said that if you’re describing something, some incident, your description shouldn’t last longer than the actual event! Now that just sounds bonkers to me on a whole lot of levels. Where did the writer get that information? Who decided on that ‘rule’? The only rules that I stick to as a writer are the rules of grammar, and believe me, a lot of the time, either accidentally or on purpose, I bend those rules too! One more thing; did Dickens and F Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway and all the other great authors adhere to these ‘rules’? Did they even know about them? I doubt it!

Anyway, I decided to comment on this graphic. I said that it didn’t matter whether the real event was long or short-lived, it’s the importance of the event to the narrative that matters, and that all depends on the author. The person who posted the item replied by adding a comment that included a link to a police report that showed that when shocking events happen, people don’t always take much in. Anyway, what that meant I don’t know so I added another comment about how the writer should take control of the reader and make events either important or unimportant depending entirely on his vision of the novel.

Straight away another comment came back at me saying it was the reader in charge, not the writer. Well, of course the reader is in charge as to whether he reads your book or not, but as soon as he does decide to read, it’s the author who is in control, it’s the author who shows the reader what he wants to show him, hides what he wants to hide, and reveals in whatever way he wants, whatever he wants to reveal. Anyway this annoyed the other guy no end and a sort of internet argument began. The sort of thing you’ve seen before probably. After a while I stepped back before things got nasty. I do hate those internet arguments you see in the comments section of posts and anyway, I’m convinced I am right and the other guy was a complete plonker. Tempted as I was to say that on the post, I’m happy to say I resisted!

That of course brings me back to the picture of my old home. The photo only took a moment to take but it’s nice to think about that house and all the happy times I had there. Not only that, my Grandma and Grandad lived there before us. They moved to Prestatyn in Wales and my Mum and Dad took over the house when they were first married. I could go on and on about that house: about how I learned to ride a two-wheeler bike just in front of it: About the soap box cart I made with my friends with some wood and parts of an old pram and how we careered through the streets with it. One time my friend Gary Chapman was given a set of walkie talkies by his dad for Christmas and he and I used to chat to each other at night as our houses were pretty close together. I could tell you much more but the thing is, if I did go on and on I’d go over my allotted time.

Dear me, can’t go breaking the writing rules can we?


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

 

More Random thoughts from a (French) Sun Lounger

sunloungerlogoI really do love France. I love travelling here, driving down the picturesque country lanes. I love the quiet sleepy villages. Driving is a joy here, even on the major roads. OK, I’m sure that in Paris or any of the other major towns driving is just the usual nightmare that it is in London or Manchester but here in the countryside, driving is just a joy.

What is a little annoying is the French system of signing. I’m talking about traffic signs, directional signs. You follow the signs, for instance on the way here we followed signs for the town of Nevers for a while, then we were looking for a right turn and none appeared. OK one did appear but it was unsigned. After a while we realised we must have missed something, so we turned back and guess what, coming from the other direction the road is signed for Nevers but not from the original direction. Maybe there is someone in the French road sign office thinking ‘Ha! Got those English idiots again!’

On holiday in France Liz and I spend a lot of time at the weekend at vide greniers (car boot sales to you) and brocantes, a sort of antiques/ flea market. It always surprises me how well attended these events are in the French countryside and bad weather does not seem to put people off at all. In the UK the first sign of rain or even dark clouds and it’s ‘get the stuff in the van -we’re off!’ The French are made of sturdier stuff and if it rains, OK, get the covers over the goods and it’s off to the wine tent for some vin rouge and some frites while it clears up. I often wonder though, if there isn’t a fete or vide grenier on, what do French people do? They certainly know how to keep quiet! Read this previous post for a few ideas on what they get up to!

The French have a strong connection with food and in particular bread or ‘le pain’ as they call it here. On arriving at our gite in the french village of Germigny L’Exempt we began to unload the car and numerous neighbours came out to talk and advise us. One French chap came over, said bonjour and proceeded to babble away at a ferocious pace in his native tongue. It took me a full ten minutes before I could stop him and say I didn’t speak french that well. ‘Je ne parle pas bien francais!’ Did that stop him? Well, for a moment, then he began again only at a slightly reduced speed. Did we have bread? If not he had some to spare for this evening but in the morning we had to be at the bakers by twelve otherwise, well various dire consequences were explained, none of which I understood, but of course a Frenchman must have bread.

Here in France it reminds me of the UK twenty years ago. Shops closed on Sundays and bank holidays. Unthinkable isn’t it? Over in Calais they tempt British day trippers over to huge hypermarkets and wine stores selling so called ‘duty free’ merchandise at inflated prices. Stores may be open on Sunday there but here in the countryside that is not the case. Of course the bakeries do open on Sunday morning. After all next to liberty and fraternity it is bread that really matters to the French.

Photo by the author.

Photo by the author.

Anyway, one last thought about France. Why is it that whenever I arise from the swimming pool (it’s quite a nice pool, check out the picture) wet and dripping after a welcome cooling dip and looking for my towel, some irritating French fly seems to want to buzz round my head? Just by our gite, there is a road that brings traffic in to our small village. As you approach our holiday home there is a rise and one can see a car rise up and then dip down again as it comes towards us. As I am about to get out of the pool I can just imagine a Frenchman and his son, heading back home with the thought of lunch on their mind. As they crest the small rise the boy looks out at a man rising from a swimming pool and then turns to his father and asks, “Why was that man waving his hands about and doing a dance when he gets out of the pool?”

The father thinks for a moment and then replies, “Il est Anglais!” (He is English!)


If you liked this post then why not try my novel, Floating In Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Three Champions of Formula One

I’m not a great sports fan. I’ve no interest in football and cricket does nothing for me but formula one racing is something I’ve followed since my school days. What I’ve always loved about racing are the true champions of the sport, those drivers that have gone down in the annals of motor sporting history as the greats. My own personal favourite driver and the driver who to me is the greatest driver ever, is Sir Jackie Stewart.

Jackie Stewart Image courtesy wikipedia

Jackie Stewart Image courtesy wikipedia

You’ve heard of course of the great natural talents of Ayrton Senna and also of the man known as the professor, Alain Prost and his intelligent and calculating approach to racing. Imagine then those two disciplines put together in one man, well if that were possible the result would be Jackie Stewart. Jackie has all the qualities of a great driver: Fast in qualifying, fast in racing. Fast in the dry, fast in the wet. He also has those other great qualities, car control and understanding of the car as well as a great race craft. You’ve heard of Michael Schumacher and his reputation as the rainmeister I’m sure but well before Schumacher was even a glint in his father’s eye Jackie was winning the foggy and washed out 1968 German Grand Prix by four minutes from his nearest rival. Four minutes! Can you believe that?

Believe it my friend because that was one of the great wet weather drives of all time.

My personal favourite of Jackie’s wins was the 1969 Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Monza at that time had still not been hampered by the chicanes that were to be added a few years later. It was a fast high speed track and the event was a slip streaming formula one sprint. Cars hurtled along sucking the following cars along in their wake and the following driver would use this slipstream to hurtle past. The trick to win the Italian Grand prix was to exit the last corner in second place, slipstream the leader and take the win.

In 1969 however wily Scotsman Jackie Stewart reasoned that if he added an extra-long fourth gear to his car the difference between hanging on to fourth for a while longer when his fellow racers were changing up a gear could enable him to win. In the race when the cars arrived at that all important last corner Jackie dived in front and exited in the lead. Jochen Rindt who was second, latched onto Stewart’s lead and was sucked up in his slip stream then ducked out to take the lead. His momentum eased momentarily as he flicked into fifth but Jackie hung on in his extra-large fourth gear and when Rindt slipstreamed past it was too late; they were past the chequered flag and Jackie had just won the race.

Senna by the author 1988

Ayrton Senna McLaren 1988 German GP

In 1988 two great drivers became teammates at McLaren-Honda, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. 1988 was a classic season for the Mclaren squad winning 15 out of the season’s 16 races but it could have been so different. The Williams team and their driver Nigel Mansell could have been in prime position to take the championship. The previous year, 1987, Mansell and team mate Nelson Piquet battled against each other and ultimately Piquet took the title but he had left for Lotus and Honda, who had been Williams’ engine partners for the previous few years had switched their allegiance to McLaren. The move had come a year earlier than had been planned and Williams were left in the lurch. Their relationship with Honda had soured when they declined to replace Nigel Mansell with Honda’s man Saturu Nakajima and they were forced to turn to a private engine manufacturer, John Judd. 1988 would not be their year. The McLarens were dominant. The only possible challenge could come from Lotus, the only other team with the unbeatable Honda engine. That challenge never appeared.

nelson Piquet Lotus 1988 German Grand Prix

Nelson Piquet Lotus 1988 German Grand Prix

Towards the end of the year, Lotus arranged for Jackie Stewart to test their car as part of a TV spot. Stewart, who had been retired for over a decade, took the wheel of the Lotus and almost straight away spotted the very issue that had dogged Lotus for the season. I well remember Peter Warr, the Lotus Team manager saying to TV cameras very diplomatically that Jackie had ‘correctly identified an issue the team were already working on.’ If only Jackie had tested the car earlier in the season, perhaps then they could have challenged the McLarens.

Jackie Stewart at Oulton Park in 1988 with son Paul

Jackie Stewart at Oulton Park in 1988 with son Paul

Three factors then cement Jackie’s position as one of the best drivers ever: his natural ability and car control, his affinity with the motor car and ability to translate that intuition back to the engineers and designers and his canny wisdom, intelligence and pure race craft. After he retired from the sport Jackie Stewart spent years as a PR man for companies like Ford. Later he built up his Stewart formula one team which later sold to Ford for it to become the Jaguar F1 team. Later still, Ford began to reduce its investment in motor sport and the team was sold again this time for it to morph into Red Bull Racing which won four world championships with driver Sebastian Vettel.

In later years Jackie Stewart and Ayrton Senna came together in a television interview where Stewart famously challenged Senna about his driving style and his collisions with other drivers. Senna brushed it off but later admitted that Stewart was right and that he had deliberately pushed Alain Prost off the track in Japan 1990. According to an interview with Stewart in the Daily Mail, Senna apologised to Jackie before admitting to the press what he had done.

Alain Prost Mclaren 1988 German Grand Prix

Alain Prost Mclaren 1988 German Grand Prix

Alain Prost, like Jackie became a team owner in the late 1990s with Ligier, renaming it Prost Grand Prix. Sadly the team went bankrupt in 2002.

Senna and Prost as is well known had numerous battles together on and off the race track. Prost left McLaren believing that team boss Ron Dennis supported Senna rather than him and left to drive for Ferrari. He joined Williams in 1993 but declined to partner Senna in 1994 and retired from driving.

Ayrton Senna was killed in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. In formula one the event is known as ‘Black Sunday.’ Happily, Prost and Senna were reconciled in the days before the tragedy. Senna had done an in car lap of the race track for french TV  and Prost was working there as a TV pundit. Senna passed a message to Prost saying ‘we miss you Alain.’

The death of Senna and Ratzenberger at Imola were the first formula one tragedies for over twelve years and that was due in no small way to the campaigns began in the 1970’s by Jackie Stewart for better safety in formula one.

The British Grand Prix

This is the premier weekend of British motorsport, yes, the British Grand Prix. Time once again for Hamilton and Rosberg to do battle, along with the Ferraris of Vettel and Raikkanon and the Williams cars of Bottas and Massa, and all the lesser teams who gather at Silverstone to fight it out on the tarmac for the spoils of victory.

Years ago, when I was a schoolboy and followed Formula One with a religious fervour, the British Grand Prix alternated between Silverstone, the flat former airfield circuit in Northamptonshire and Brands Hatch, the picturesque track in Kent full of twists, turns and dips.

Today, it seems to me as though Silverstone is trying to turn itself into Brands Hatch because in the past decade they have added various twisty sections and an entire new pit and garage complex. Many other traditions have vanished too in F1 such as the annual post British Grand Prix cricket match; not possible today unfortunately as the latest drivers are prone to dash off home at the end of the race at the earliest possible opportunity. Even a DNF (did not finish) is not all bad if it fits in with an earlier flight.

Now that the F1 teams are flying off to ever more distant lands for their racing; places like Singapore, Soshi in Russia and Bahrain to name but three, it’s good to see the drivers return to a track where the greats of the past also raced. Fangio and Moss competed at Silverstone, as did Stewart and Clark, and Prost and Senna. What they think of the current Silverstone is anybody’s guess but perhaps I’m being mean, looking back when I should be looking forward. Silverstone today is the UK’s premier track and to a great extent, the UK is the centre of the Formula One world. Most of the current F1 teams are based within a stone’s throw of Silverstone and even Mercedes, the current number one team are based in the UK despite their German background. Within 80 minutes of Silverstone is an area nicknamed motorsports alley and the teams that are based here include Mercedes, McLaren, Lotus, Red Bull, Force India, Williams, and F1 minnows Manor Marussia. In many ways, the British Grand Prix is the home race, even for the Mercedes!

I’ve not visited Silverstone since 1992 when it was £60 just to walk in through the gates. What it costs nowadays to gain entrance I shudder to think. Even so, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg should hopefully deliver a performance that will make the entrance fee well worth paying.

My favourite Grand Prix was the 1987 event. I visited Silverstone that year to watch the qualifying and then returned home to watch the race on Sunday on television. Nigel Mansell won a terrific race after changing tyres and then chasing and finally overhauling team mate and race leader Nelson Piquet for a memorable victory.

Nigel Mansell German GP 1988 photo by author

Nigel Mansell German GP 1988 photo by author

Formula One team bosses are currently in something of a panic. Investors have poured millions of pounds into F1, not because they like the sport but because they find their investment can pay off big style in these days of multi million pound global TV and advertising deals. Reports of failing interest in the sport however has rung alarm bells and throughout the motorsporting media there have been calls to make F1 more interesting. Why are the cars not louder? Why are Mercedes winning all the time? Should we bring back refuelling? Is the high tech aspect ruining the driver input? There are even calls for Bernie Ecclestone, the aging F1 emperor to hand over to someone else. Only time will tell what will happen. It sometimes makes me smile when I compare Formula 1 to other sports like cricket. Can you if imagine if Ecclestone and his investors had a stake in cricket and the TV viewing figures were down? What would happen then? Increase the number of overs? Maybe have an extra ball in each over,  seven instead of six?  Change the wooden ball to a rubber one? Add an extra stump? Or even helmet cams on the batsman! Now there’s an idea!

Enjoy the British Grand Prix on Sunday and if you liked this blog, why not buy my book? Click the icon below!

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The Joy of a Second Hand Bookshop (and two particular gems)

There is nothing more pleasurable, certainly to me, than messing about, not in boats but in a second hand book shop. I do love flicking through the old and worn books on the shelves and if you persevere and have patience you will always find at least one book worthy of your attention. Here are two of my finds, one new and one old.

Michael Powell: a life in the movies.
IMG_20150608_221725edMichael Powell is perhaps not a name that leaps out at you but he was a movie director who made movies in partnership with screenwriter Emeric Pressburger. His most famous film is probably ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, a movie starring David Niven and Kim Hunter. Niven plays a pilot who miraculously survives certain death in plane crash returning from a bombing mission in World War 2 Germany. He is then visited by a conductor from the next world, advising that his survival is a mistake and he should be dead and he now must be prepared to enter the next world. Niven decides this is not on at all as now he has fallen in love with Kim Hunter and he decides to appeal. This fantasy is interwoven with another explanation of his issue, that of a serious brain trauma that needs the help of a neurosurgeon. I loved that movie and you can see it for yourself as it’s regularly shown on British TV.
Powell and Pressburger made numerous movies together but hit a downturn in their fortunes when they made the controversial film ‘Peeping Tom’. The film was about a murderer who films the death of his victims and was not well received at the time.
Years later, directors like Martin Scorsese revived the film and praised it as a lost classic but at the time Powell and Pressburger’s career stalled fatally.
Powell’s autobiography is a wonderful read. His career as a film maker spanned some exciting times in the industry and the book is divided into three sections: Silent, Sound, and Colour. Not many directors can boast of covering a filmmaking span like that. The book is a wandering, meandering look at Powell’s life and career. It’s a rather disjointed read -Powell tends to go off at a tangent about various things- but somehow that seems to add to the enjoyment of the book rather than detract from it.

Little bit disappointed though to get to the end of this pretty hefty book to find that it’s only volume one! Better get back to the shop and see if they have volume two!

James Hilton: Lost Horizon.
8391034163_f7c1b5accb_bI picked up this wonderful gem of a book at charity shop years ago for the bargain price of twenty five pence and if I could convert the pleasure this book has given me into pounds, shillings, and pence, it would be a figure that far eclipses that initial outlay. James Hilton has become one of my favourite writers and one of my personal writing heroes. (Check out my blog about him here!) This highly original novel reflects the fear and sadness that many must have felt in the days prior to World War 2. There must have been a feeling then that with new technology the approaching conflict could be the end of civilisation.
In this wonderful book, a group of lamas in a monastery hidden from the world by a chance of geographical fate decide to look ahead and ensure that the riches of the world, not gold or silver, but literature, art and music, should be preserved should a holocaust engulf the world. To ensure that their creed of respect and compassion endures they select a British diplomat, Conway, to carry on their work and set about bringing him to Shangri-La. Shangri La is a small community in Tibet insulated from the world by mountains on all sides and the people here enjoy unheard of longevity.
Despite his capture Conway is taken into the confidence of the High Lama and given his task of continuing the community and its traditions but his fellow captives have differing ideas, especially Mallinson, his young vice-consul who is desperate to escape.
I won’t spoil things for you just in case you come across the book, or the outstanding 1937 movie directed by Frank Capra but I will say that this novel is one of my top ten books of all time, and one I return to time after time.


If you can’t get your hands on the two books above, why not try Floating In Space? Click the icon below!