Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Short trousers.

     The other day it was snowing a blizzard and I crossed the moor to go to the supermarket. The fields were white with snow and the roads were slippery. On the way I came across a walker, nothing unusual in that except that he was wearing shorts in January. It made me wonder why he would choose to wear a padded anorak, a scarf, a woolly hat, gloves, walking boots with thick socks, and shorts. Shorts when I was wearing the thickest corduroy trousers I could find and had the heater blasting out on full heat.
     When I arrived at the supermarket there was another idiot pushing a trolley and guess what? he was wearing shorts. A big coat, shoes with black socks, and shorts. Shorts with socks are not a great fashion combination at the best of times, and it's always middle aged men with legs which should be covered so as not to scare the horses who insist on wearing them. I wouldn't mind seeing an attractive young woman wearing shorts as I wander around the supermarket, it would  make my day, but I don't need to see knobbly knees and varicose veins,  it's enough to put you off your breakfast cereal. Who on earth get's these people dressed? Do they get out of bed, look out of the window, see the snow and instantly think I must wear my shorts today? but it's cold so I'll need my big coat, bobble hat, and thick socks. Are are they incapable of any kind of rational thought, or thought of any kind?

Answers on a postcard.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

I Write Like

       I  came across a site called,  http://iwritelike.com/  On this site you submit a sample of your writing and the site compares your writing style to a range of successful authors. Now I've been accused of having an old fashioned style of writing, which is hardly surprising as I learned to write in the nineteen-fifties, so I tend to write in sentences rather than text. I was brought up reading Charles Dickens, HG Wells, and Arthur Conan Doyle, so I expected to be compared to some obscure nineteenth century author.  Instead I was compared to a  science fiction writer named Cory Doctorow. 
       Now to my shame I had no idea who Cory Doctorow was. I wasn't even sure if Cory was a man or a woman until I did a little research. To my surprise he was not a nineteenth century writer, as I'd expected, but a Canadian born in 1971. It appears that Cory has written many books and won many literary awards so with my writing style I may even have success of my own, but I'm not holding my breath.

Saturday, 16 August 2014


     YouWriteOn was established, with Arts Council funding, to assist new writers to develop their writing. The premise is simple: members upload opening chapters, or short stories, and the YouWriteOn system randomly assigns these samples to another member for review.  For every  review  you must  review another member's story excerpt assigned to you at random. Feedback can be diverse. I tend to ignore a person's feedback if it contradicts the popular viewpoint, but feedback from a range of reviewers helps  to get a collective viewpoint of what works well and what needs developing. 
      Reviewers are asked to give a ratings breakdown in various categories to highlight strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately one unimpressed reader, or Troll, can drastically reduce your star rating. Hey that's life. After 5 reviews a story enters the chart system, and the highest rated writers receive feedback from editors of  the publishing houses, Orion and Random House. This chart tells me that pace and structure are my weakest disciplines, in consequence I've removed the first three chapters completely to get to the point. I've also added more dialogue as a consequence of the rating system, and re-written the narrative in the first person in an attempt to reach the top 10 and receive a review from one of the  major publishers. It isn't unknown for a  publisher  to publish a top 10 story from this group, but even if that never happens I have discovered how people view my writing. 


Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Why I began Writing

As I get older I spend more and more time living in the past. I may even become so enthused by my recollections that I begin to bore people with repeated stories. I am unable to remember who has suffered in the past, and inflict the same stories on the same people repeatedly. It's been suggested that I have an on/off switch fitted, so when I retired I decided to dedicate my precious memories to the silent page. There my stories could be accessed by those wishing to hear them, and I could be silenced, either temporarily or permanently, by closure of the book. In the early to mid nineteen-sixties I played with a rock and pop band and my murder mystery novel "Satan's Whiskers" is set against a backdrop of that period in my life.

At that time I met with a number of bands, and solo artists,  and some have been given cameo roles in my novel. One memory is of the Liverpool band Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. 

*  *  *  * 

Alan Caldwell (Rory Storm) with George Harrison and Richard Starkey (Ringo Starr).

Rory Storm and the Hurricanes were one of the most popular bands on the Liverpool and Hamburg club scenes. Storm disbanded The Hurricanes in 1967 and became a DJ, after Ty O’Brian, the lead guitarist, collapsed on stage with appendicitis and subsequently died. Storm died five years later in 1972, along with his mother. They'd consumed alcohol and pills.
*   *  *  *

Jon Anderson  replaced my  friend as lead singer of the Accrington based band The Warriors, when he ceased to be a Warrior to become a Phantom.  Anderson  sang lead vocals with The Warriors for five years before forming the progressive rock band "Yes" in 1969, along with Chris Squire and Peter Banks. He later collaborated with the Greek musician Vangelis, to become part of the duo Jon and Vangelis, Apart from writing the musical score for the film "Chariots of Fire," Vangelis also formed the progressive rock band "Aphrodite’s Child," along with singer Demis Roussos.

* * * *

Bert Weedon was one of the guitar greats. He was the first British guitarist to hit the UK singles charts with "Guitar Boogie Shuffle" in 1959 and his tutorial guide, Play in a Day, was instrumental in the early careers of many other guitar greats including Hank Marvin and Eric Clapton. I met him after returning a stolen guitar to its rightful owner.  

Bert Weedon  told us of his experiences. He'd purchased his first guitar from a market stall in Petticoat Lane, a notorious market for the sale of antiques and bric-a-brac, in the city of London.  Guitars were such a rarity in those  days that passengers on the bus asked him what kind of musical instrument he was carrying. How times change; in the 1960's every spotty teenager, with a musical ambition, wore a guitar around his neck like a penis extension. Weedon died in April 2012 at the age of ninety-one. 

*  *  *  *

After the band, Satan's Whiskers, finished our spot I went for a drink in the bar of a Blackburn nightclub. The bar was empty as people were playing blackjack or roulette in the casino, dancing the night away in the disco, or in the cabaret lounge awaiting Bobby Vee's midnight show. As I ordered a drink Bobby Vee joined me at the bar. At that moment, a group of six or seven girls came into the room screaming with excitement and surrounded me. I don't know who was the more surprised, me or Bobby Vee. 

*  *  *  *

The Four Pennies where a local band who were familiar to

Lionel Walmsley sang with The Rockets skiffle band, in my youth, along with one of my school friends who played a tea chest bass. He even stole one of my girlfriends but that's another story.
In the 60's Lionel  formed a new band. The tea chest bass disappeared, along with my school friend, and the guitars became electrified. Lionel changed his name to Morton and  under new management the band changed its name from the Lionel Morton Four to the Four Pennies 

The Four Pennies had a number 1 UK hit with “Juliet” in 1964, following up, in the same year, with two minor hits. “I Found out the Hard Way,” which reached number 14 in the charts, and “Black Girl,” which managed to reach number 20. The following year they charted again with “Until It’s Time for You to Go” at number 19, before the band folded in 1967. Lionel Morton went on to marry the actress Julia Foster, and appeared in the children’s television programmes “Play School,” and “Play Away.” Fritz Fryer, the band’s lead guitarist, went on to work as a record producer for Motorhead.

*  *  *  * 

My friend sang with The Phantoms, from Haslingden, and when they were in need of a bass guitarist he arranged a meeting with Ray Jones of The Dakotas. The Dakotas had been hired by Brian Epstein to support the Liverpool singer Billy J Kramer and Jones split with the Dakotas after a row with Epstein over royalties. We met him at, a public house situated a short drive from the motorway which brought Jones to the meeting.  Unfortunately nothing was agreed upon and Jones returned empty handed and more than a little intoxicated.

Ray Jones is far right.

Ray Jones played on the number one hits “Little Children” and “Bad to Me,” but was neither impressed by Kramer or the disparity in their earnings. He left the business in 1967 to become a psychiatric nurse. He died in the year 2000 from, what appears to have been, a heart attack.

*  *  *  *

I was introduced to The Fourmost at a cabaret club. 

The Starlight Club was a converted cinema on the outskirts of Blackburn. It booked quality acts like Shane Fenton who became Alvin Stardust, and  Arnold Dorsey who was a complete unknown before changing his name to Engelbert Humperdinck.
The band knew the girl I was with and sat at our table during the interval. People approached  for autographs. Some may have assumed me to be a fifth member of The Fourmost, which made absolutely no sense. But a man wielding an eyebrow pencil and a table napkin, approached me in the urinals, and asked me to sign an autograph for his girlfriend.

*  *  *  *

I met Wayne Fontana when we were rivals for the affections of the same girl. 

I went to the bar to buy a girlfriend a drink. When I returned, with a full glass in either hand, I was surprised to find her talking to Wayne Fontana.  It was obvious that Fontana knew her,and was trying to convince her that she should leave with him after the show. I felt I wouldn't stand a cat in hell’s chance of competing for her affections, and was about to withdraw, when she spotted me and beckoned me over.  She introduced me and Fontana said, “Pleased to meet you,” which he obviously wasn't, and  left.

*Born Glyn Geoffrey Ellis in 1945, Wayne Fontana formed the Mindbenders in 1963 with Bob Lang, Ric Rothwell, and Eric Stewart. He had two minor chart hits in 1963, before reaching number 5 in the UK charts with the Curtis Mayfield hit “Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um.” He went on to have two further top ten hits with “The Game of Love,” his biggest hit of the decade at number two in the UK charts. He charted with Pamela, Pamela, after splitting with the Mindbenders, who in turn had a chart hit of their own with “A Groovy Kind of Love” in 1965. Eric Stewart became lead vocalist after the split, before going on to form the band 10cc, along with Graham Goulden, also of the Mindbenders, Kevin Godley, and Lol Cream.

*  *  *  *

I met Dave Berry at a nightclub. He wanted somewhere to stay and asked if I could help. I suggested a local hotel but he said  that he couldn't afford it. I perused the yellow pages at the reception desk until I found a local pub with rooms.  I wouldn't have relished staying there myself but Berry appeared to be happy with the arrangement. I hope he was still  happy when he arrived ?

Dave Berry had his first chart success with Chuck Berry’s “Memphis Tennessee,” in October 1963. In July 1964 he charted again with “The Crying Game.” He had two further chart hits with “Little Things” in March 1965 and “Mamma” in July 1966.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Morning Coffee

     One of my greatest pleasures in life is morning coffee, preferably in a cafe with a muffin, or a toasted teacake, and a good book. I love cappuccino but on occasions I have to settle for filter coffee. This is usually served with two cartons of UHT milk.  I don't know if you've ever tried using cartons of UHT milk but they never colour the coffee no matter how many cartons you add. While waiting for my toasted teacake I  have to drink enough black coffee to add a further four cartons, which are kept at the opposite end of the room. When my toast  arrives it's accompanied by a  solid brick of butter. After warming the butter in my hands,  so that it can be spread on my teacake, and adding six cartons of UHT milk in a futile attempt to colour my coffee, it's stone cold.
     Hotels are not much better.  Once they issued a key with a fob so large that it wouldn't fit into my pocket. Now I get a swipe card.  I wasn't born in the high tech age and I can never get the blasted thing to work. I put the card in the slot and the light turns green, but as soon as I attempt to open the door it turns back to red. After a dozen swipes I finally get into my bedroom and head straight for the kettle. There may be a half a dozen tea bags, half a dozen coffee sachets,  the ubiquitous  UHT milk cartons and one spoon, only ever one spoon even though it's a double room.
     The kettle is empty so where to fill it? The bathroom washbasin appears to be the obvious choice but the kettle won't fit under the tap unless placed at  an angle. It's possible to part fill the kettle  but while removing it  half the water empties  down the drain. The only other water supply is from the bath, because I don't want coffee enough to fill it from the toilet bowl, but it's impossible to reach the bath taps because of the fixed shower screen.
    Sachets are another problem, although they have a nick designed for tearing they never actually tear. After using my fingernails and my teeth, as I can never find any scissors, I have to give up as this sachet has been designed to be indestructible. A million years on a landfill site and this baby will still be intact. If it does tear,  it's never at the nick and the contents end up  all over the carpet. I do love a nice cup of coffee, don't you?

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The twelve weeks of Christmas

Christmas comes but once a year, but it lasts for three whole months.

Toy manufactures begin to bombard our television screens with Christmas toys long before the leaves of autumn begin to fall.   If you are foolish enough to purchase these can't live without items in October, in a misguided attempt to spread the cost of Christmas, you may well discover that these much coveted items are no longer on the most wanted list by the time that Christmas arrives.
Christmas decorations are soon in the shops, and it's impossible to walk around the supermarket without hearing Christmas songs played on a loop system. Pity the poor checkout girls who must listen to the same songs for three whole months, while wearing antlers, and hats with bells and holly.

Before Halloween arrives we have become the proud owners of a Christmas cake, a Christmas pudding, a box of crackers and all of the presents are wrapped and residing in the loft. We have to purchase mince pies because they are on sale so it must be time to buy them, but as the use by date expires eight weeks before Christmas they have to be eaten up and replacements bought. Chocolates, sold in tins and boxes, are everywhere, but be honest, how many of us will be able to resist them until Christmas?

 Every January I take down the Christmas lights carefully, wrap them up, and put them away in an old suitcase in the loft. By the time I get them out on the first weekend in December, they look like a ball of wool that the cat's been playing with. Although they were working perfectly when mothballed, it takes hours before every set is  once again working. Now you might expect people to be grateful for the expense and effort I've incurred to make the dark days of winter a little brighter for everyone. Not a bit of it. I was savaged by an elderly neighbour who informed me that a simple holly wreath would have been sufficient.

 In December the grandchildren will want to visit Santa's grotto. It cost will cost me  £5 pounds each for a jigsaw puzzle priced at £3.50 and reduced, because of poor sales, to £1.99. At least one of the grandchildren will be too apprehensive to approach Santa, while another will doubt his credentials publicly. You can tell when it's getting very close to Christmas as Easter eggs will  begin to appear in the shops, and every other advert on television will be trying to persuade me to purchase a three piece suite in time for Christmas. If Christmas fails to live up to my expectations this year, I don't need to worry, as I need only wait until the 1st October for it all to begin again.

Merry Christmas

Friday, 8 November 2013

Book Art

      I am a book, and it has to be said that printed books are being persecuted since the advent of the e-book. I understand the evolutionary concept that the strong must survive while the weak will perish, but we, the books, have been around, in printed form since William Caxton invented the printing press in 1415, and for hundreds of years before that as illuminated manuscripts, while our ancestors, the scrolls, have been around for thousands of years. Should we be cast aside after so many years of faithful service to humanity?
  I can't help but notice the increasing amounts of book art displayed on social websites.  Let's be honest they're really rather clever, but the bookworm inside of me can't help but think that destroying books, in the name of art, is a sacrilege. HG Wells didn't write War of the Worlds as an origami project, nor did Arthur Conan Doyle conceive The Hound of the Baskervilles so that it could be converted into a popup book.
     The other kind of abuse I've noticed, is the placing of books to form a sculpture, books floating in the air, or used as stepping stones across a field. Books used to make igloos or arched supports for ceilings. When did books become building blocks? Now I have the highest regard for bricks, they've been around for almost as long as books, and perform a valuable service, but come on, someone has spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours constructing a story, or explaining a phenomenon, books  should be read and digested, not walked upon or used to build Wendy houses. Artists, go back to your paints and clay, your stone and marble, your unmade beds and preserved wildlife in formaldehyde, and leave us books alone. Readers, demand a real book, not a text message, when we are gone we are gone, and I guarantee we will be missed. Remember that the vinyl record was replaced by the tape cassette; remember how well that turned out.

This was a party political broadcast on behalf of the Real Book Foundation.