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Summer of Rockets

Summer of Rockets? How’s that for the title of a BBC drama series? I have to admit that I was expecting some rockets in Stephen Poliakoff’s BBC production, but there was none. Nevertheless, I soon realised the connections, having lived through the 1950s myself. I’m not sure the Cold War fear and paranoia was quite as manifest in the UK amongst the general population as it appeared in the series, but despite that, Poliakoff’s story was excellent, I enjoyed every minute. The main characters – and the actors – were superb. What other writer would have thought of casting a Russian-born Jewish manufacturer of hearing aids as the main protagonist? His family was fleshed out – like backstory – by material that I would usually have considered to be unnecessary padding. Padding it was not. It added depth to the lives of the characters, as did the story of the missing son (if you don’t know what I mean, then watch the series on iPlayer, it is worth searching for).

Stephen Poliacoff implies in the online version of the Radio Times that the Summer of Rockets is based on events and memories from his childhood. He has taken them, modified them, twisted and turned them to produce a gripping and unusual story.

s://youtu.be/3YzgncRy3F8

NOTE: For those interested in such things, the rocket in the photo is a Bloodhound missile, introduced in 1958, around the time ‘Summer of Rockets’ is set. I photographed this missile at the Museum of Edinburgh’s National Museum of Flight at East Fortune. Far more interesting than this missile is the video I took during my visit, of my granddaughter (then aged 12) landing an airship. She did a far better job of it than I did. Check out my blog post of 2012: http://tiny.cc/2uad9y

 

 

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Les Miserables – Edinburgh

 

Les Miserables? Have I read Victor Hugo’s novel? Rather like Tolstoy’s War and Peace, the answer is no. Have I seen the stage play? I didn’t think so, but my wife says we saw it together, many years ago (and though I am sure that particular perfomance was great, it clearly was not that memorable. For me, anyway).

I saw Les Miserables again last night, at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre*, courtesy of my daughter-in-law who bought (very expensive) tickets. Would I have gone otherwise? Probably not.

I have run out of superlatives to describe last night’s performance. I have commited the crime of having used the word “stunning” so many times in the last few years that there seems to be nothing left. My Thesaurus suggest ‘breathtaking”, or “splendid” (now there’s a word I haven’t heard for millenia). No, not splendid. “Outstanding”, is probably more appropriate.

This was a Cameron Mackintosh production, billed as a musical. I am not a fan of musicals, having been brought up having to listen repeatedly to my parent’s LPs (long playing records, for those of more tender years) of The King and I, Carousel, and South Pacific. At the risk of alienating some of my readers I have to admit that I hated them. But Les Miserables? For me, this version is not really a musical, it is an opera, a popular opera. Don’t be put off. I’m not a great fan of opera either. Madame Butterfly is okay, but more than that…

Superlatives have failed me again and I have to say that what I saw last night was stunning. Outstanding. Though I have seen some superb acting in the past, I have not seen scene changes and scenery like I saw last night (not that I am saying that the acting wasn’t just as stunning and outstanding, because it was).

Standing ovations for all of them. I am not easily impressed. I was very impressed last night (but I’m guessing you know that by now).

 

*Image: Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre. Please forgive me for ripping it off from my programme.

 

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Moped Crime – the misnomer

We have all surely heard of “Moped Crime”. To me, an ex-copper, a moped has a motor and pedals (So… no brownie points for guessing how mopeds got their name). If you are as old in the tooth as I am then you will remember what mopeds looked like. THIS is a moped –

I know this because I bought, and rebuilt, one of these for a girlfriend (and reluctantly admit that it went better before I rebuilt it than it did afterwards). The bikes being stolen, and ridden, for bagsnatching crime etcetera are lightweight motorcycles and motor scooters. They are not mopeds.

So who got it so wrong, the police or the media? Perhaps it doesn’t matter. It certainly doesn’t if you are Humpty Dumpty*: ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.

*Through the Looking-Glass, Lewis Carroll, 1872.

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Headlights to Auto. Phasers to Stun*.

 

Automatic headlights are great, right? Sensors detect dusk or dullness and switch on your dipped beams. In darkness they switch to main beams, then dip again for oncoming traffic or whenever you follow red rear lights. So far so good. So why did that taxi driver glare at me? It took a while to work out. So here goes…

Dull day. Dipped beams come on automatically. Oncoming taxi indicates to turn right, across my path. It stops, waiting for me to pass. As I approach it cuts across me. We almost collide. I quietly (ha ha) curse every taxi driver in the world.
But I flashed him, didn’t I? I let him know I was happy for him to turn across my path. Well no, I didn’t. My car did.

I had passed under a low bridge. Car detected darkness. Main beams came on, then immediately off again. My car flashed the taxi driver, telling him I was happy for him to turn in front of me.
Years ago I was taught never to flash my lights at other drivers, because it is their job to decide what is safe for them to do. My car needs to be told that.

Just the very thought of driverless cars scares me silly. They do not know how to behave.

* I am no trekkie. One definition = Saying “set phasers to stun” is like modern police or military saying “check the safety on your weapon.”  (That’s what it says on Google so it must be true)

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Queensferry Crossing – Satnav fail!

I am lucky to have a built-in satnav (in my car, not in my body – now there’s a thought…) Very useful. Very modern. Top of the range, probably. Yesterday I upgraded it online. Downloading the latest maps (the whole of Europe, not just the UK, which is all I wanted) took over six hours. Today I installed the upgrade in my car. That took another hour while the mass of data transferred itself from memory stick to my satnav.

Apparent change of subject…

The Queensferry Crossing, the amazing new bridge across the Firth of Forth (in Scotland, for my non-UK readers) was opened officially in August 2017, having been in use, unofficially, for some time before that. So why, I wonder, does my recent satnav map upgrade, undertaken 14 months later, not show the bridge? Strangers to the region might well wonder why their vehicle suddenly appears to be travelling over water, well to the west of the old Forth Road Bridge. Never fear, folks. Your car is not amphibious. It’s simply the tardiness of your satnav provider.

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Playpits Park?

I wrote this almost ten years ago. How things have changed!

Is writing to yourself better than talking to yourself? Debatable. No, it is probably worse. When you talk to yourself at least you can do other stuff, whereas writing to yourself takes time … like right now. One day someone else will read this. And then I won’t be writing to myself.
So why a blog? And why Playpitspark?
A blog because it might be a good way to get published (yes, okay, so that’s rubbish. I don’t expect a white knight – or a white dame – to rescue me from unpublished oblivion. It just doesn’t happen).
To be honest with you I am blogging because my daughter in law says I should get on the net. She reads about three novels a week and she loves my stuff. She knows I write because I love it and can’t stop myself writing, not because I’m a starving author in a garret who needs to sell books to live. ‘If you can’t or don’t want to get published,’ she said, ‘then just put it online so people can read it.’
So here I am.
Ahh… so why Playpitspark? Playpits Park is one of my earliest novels, possibly my best. About 10 years ago I sent it to Random House. I got a reply from Simon King, the MD of Hutchinson, Century, Heinemann and Arrow. He had personally edited my first few chapters. He had read the whole thing. His letter to me was over a page long. He said ‘I like your writing. You will get published. It might take some time, but you will get there.‘ He also said he wasn’t sure what to do with my book because it appeared to be a children’s novel but there were real deaths. (Real deaths, yes… how times have changed!). It wasn’t supposed to be a children’s novel. I took his comments on board. I have rewritten it – ten years on!
I read that Simon King has now retired. Good luck in your retirement, Simon. If it wasn’t for that early encouragement I might well have given up.

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Driving on water…

I really must update my satnav. Driving north the other day it tried to force me over the Forth Road Bridge rather than the new Queensferry Crossing. After tracking me across what it thought were green fields it then took me over the Firth of Forth (someone else took the pic of my screen. I was too busy avoiding the shipping).

IMG_0915

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Apologies…

Apologies for not posting for rather a long time, but novel writing (the latest is The Man Who Played Trains – check it out on out Amazon?) takes most of my time. Recently I have noticed that many more people are following my blog.

The older pages are interesting, but I need to find time to do more. Bear with me? For now, page through the older stuff?

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Fantastic review for The Man Who Played Trains!

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I am one of those writers who doesn’t particularly want to be famous (fat chance of that anyway). What I want is to write novels that people enjoy reading – and, I suppose, sell enough of them to keep my publisher, Urbane, happy.

My reviews on Amazon are mainly 5-stars. Check out  The Man Who Played Trains

What I did not expect (never in my wildest dreams, as they say…) was a review as stunning as this one

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True Tale – MUNCHIES WITH THE MAFIA?

Readers sometimes ask me where I get the ideas for my novels. Am I a people watcher? Do I do a lot of research? The answer to the first is no, not really. The answer to the second is always the same – yes, I do a lot of research. I did two years – at least – before I started to write The Man Who Played Trains. It didn’t stop there, because during the novel’s rewrites and edits I did even more, it is important to get everything right. The story is one thing; the factual parts on which it is based must be correct.

This is the third of my True Tales. Read this and the others and you will get an idea where I get my material.

For reasons you will soon understand, I won’t name names or places – except that this was San Francisco, California, in the late nineteen-eighties. I was working as a consultant to a drilling company, a firm owned by a long chain of other firms (you know the kind of thing, numerous addresses in small print along the bottom of stationery). I had no idea what these other firms did, nor did I care. Nor, thankfully, can I recall their names.

My visit was short, no more than a week. I flew into San Francisco International where I picked up a hire car reserved for me by the firm, probably the most powerful car I have ever driven. It was quite pointless in a city like SF. I had expected something much smaller.

After a couple of days in the company’s office I was stopped in a corridor by the CEO, who asked me if I would care to meet him later, for supper. It would be a small affair, he said. And it would be early, because the big boss, Mister Giovanni, did not like to eat late. Supper, for me, was something I had when I was a boy. Back then, for reasons still unknown to me, I was given a snack and drink to be consumed shortly before bedtime. What the CEO meant, of course, was dinner. He gave me the address of an Italian restaurant and suggested I meet him there. Seven o’clock, he said, and warned me not to be late. Mister Giovanni, he added, would not like that at all.

To be sure I’d find the restaurant that evening I set off mid-afternoon, heading away from the places I was getting to know (my hotel in the city, the old harbour and the tramcars). All I remember of the place was that it was in a run-down neighbourhood with not a soul to be seen. I parked up, got out of the car, and walked to an entrance little more than a door in a wall. While staring at it, with my back to the street, a woman from apparently nowhere sidled up to me. She was mid-twenties, with high heels and big-breasts – a lady of the night in broad daylight. She asked me if I needed anything. Anything at all.

I did need something, I realised. I needed to get the hell out of there. A car had drawn up across the street and its two occupants were now out of it, leaning on it Humphrey Bogart-style, staring across at me. I walked to the middle of the street. From there, but no further, I called out that I was lost. They said nothing.

That evening, wearing a pale, lightweight suit, I arrived at the restaurant at ten minutes to seven and found the door in the wall locked. I waited in the car for a while and then called my CEO. He had changed his mind, he told me. He wasn’t coming.

At exactly seven the door in the wall opened. A man dressed in black smiled at me mechanically as he ushered me in to a long narrow room that surprisingly was busy with waiters and diners. A man had come in behind me and together we followed the maître’d (or his Italian equivalent), down to the far end of what, surprisingly, was a very plush room.

Beyond a floor-to-ceiling blue velvet curtain was a private dining area as big as the restaurant space I had just walked through. A long table sat centrally. It was about the size of that in Michaelangelo’s Last Supper, except that unlike Michaelangelo’s table, this one had seats on both sides. There were seats across the far end of it too, just a short row of three. Unlike all the others in the room, these chairs had arms. I was shown to my place, five down from the top end and three up from the curtain – a definite pecking order. Being close to the exit seemed a good place to be.

The three chairs at the end of the table stayed empty. The others filled up, all but the one reserved for my CEO. At fifteen minutes past seven, three men slipped in around the velvet curtain. The first man, despite the warm California evening, wore an overcoat over his shoulders, a coat not removed by the maître d’ as might be expected but by the last of the three men to come in, a huge man dressed in working clothes and built like a brick outhouse. He hung the coat on an empty wooden coat stand in the corner of the room while the maître ‘d did that thing with the chair with the arms, pulling it right out, guiding Mister Giovanni into it and slipping it gently forwards. The third man in the group carried a leather bag that he set down by his chair. He was, I learned later, Mister Giovanni’s financial director.

What else happened? Not much. Hardly anything was said. During the meal those around me swapped niceties, including a whispered comment that Mister Giovanni wasn’t there to see us, we were there to see him. What I didn’t expect, but probably should have done, was that a number of the diners tucked huge white napkins into their collars before they tackled their several-course pasta-based meal. Oh, I almost forgot. The event was paid for at the end by the man with the leather bag, in cash. For everyone to see.

How do I remember detail like that from thirty years ago? (Seriously, would you forget something like that?) Was it Mafia? How do I know? They all seemed so very nice.

There are so many ways such real events can be turned into fiction.

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