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Archive for the ‘nostalgia’ Category

In my post The Gogglebox And What It Did For Me, I ended with the title sequence for UFO. Clearly, it’s a personal view, but I can’t watch that without a sense of anticipation and excitement – even if I’m not actually going to watch an episode.  In case you didn’t catch it last time, click here to see it again (anyone spot the inappropriate apostrophe?).

Now, I do know it looks dated, but it was 1970 and the whole world looked different then. My responses, of course, are conditioned and based on how I felt seeing it as a seven year old in 1970.  It should be said that, at the time, those reactions were based largely on the action played out when the UFOs of the title approached the Earth.

When the alert was sounded and the Interceptors were launched from the moon, there was no climbing aboard.

ufo-shado-interceptor-2

 

 

Why would you when your employer has provided a slide for you to use?

 

The same was true if the UFOs entered the Earth’s atmosphere. Skydiver (the submarine with a jet fighter attached to the front of it – and why not?) was launched, but not until the pilot used his slide to board the fighter, Sky One.

ufo-skydiver

 

 

 

Not, I’m sure, that the pilots referred to them as slides.  But, hey, that’s an exciting way to start the process of going to fight aliens, isn’t it?

 

If you didn’t spot the slides in the titles, watch it again.

 

If we throw in the presence of a moon base, gull wing cars, the creepy soulless voice of SID (Space Intruder Detector – they knew how to make titles fit acronyms in those days) and Barry Gray’s music there was plenty to get the pulse racing. It was only as I got older that I realised some of the costumes were designed to get pulses racing as well.

 

This was Gerry Anderson taking things just a little bit further than he’d been able to before.  After producing classics like Thunderbirds, Stingray and Captain Scarlet, he was finally given the chance to produce a show with real people in it, not puppets.

 

To be fair, I was never overly enthused about Ed Bishop as the lead. Undoubtedly, a fine actor, for my money his best role was as the voice of Captain Blue. He never seemed quite right as head of SHADO (Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organisation – they really liked their acronyms in those days) – or maybe it was the blond wig that put me off.

 

And wigs were important, as you may have spotted from the scenes on Moonbase. Of course, we didn’t get a colour TV until several years later, so I didn’t know they were purple, but even in black and white you knew they weren’t natural hair colours.

ufo-wigs

 

 

It could be argued that some of the clothing worn fit in with some fetishists fantasies, though in some instances, a combination of crimplene and acrylic seemed to be the order of the day.

ed-straker

 

 

Or Bacofoil…

ufo-bacofoil

 

 

Or that staple of many a seaside holiday in the 1960s – a string vest…

ufo-string-vests

 

 

 

It has to be said that UFO was not simply a version of Thunderbirds without the puppets – although it was only when watching a re-run in the ’90s that I realised that. In spite of the models (disappointingly, Skydiver wasn’t real) created in the same way as those for the Supermarionation shows, the themes covered were much more grown up (not adult – don’t want you to get the wrong idea).

 

Aside from Ed Bishop, the most notable cast members were:

  • Michael Billington – for me, very much the action hero of the series, but who also has the claim to fame of being the actor auditioned more often for James Bond than any other. I suspect he would have done a good job
  • George Sewell – playing Ed Bishop’s sidekick for most of the series, but went on to play the lead in Special Branch a couple of years later
  • Wanda Ventham – in those days a very much in demand actress, who seemed to be all over the place, playing supporting roles in programmes like The Saint but also the lead in a couple of series in the ‘70s. These days she’s better known as Benedict Cumberbatch’s mum
  • Gabrielle Drake – who played the Moonbase commander (unusual in those days to see a female in charge of anything). Another actress seen a lot (to be fair, a lot was seen of her as well) in the ‘60s and ‘70s – no doubt the focus of many adolescent fantasies
  • Gary Myers – to be fair, I had to look the name up, but as well as playing an Interceptor pilot and, later, commander of Skydiver, he was very recognisable as the original Milk Tray man.

As very often happened, the series was shelved because the American market didn’t buy it, though there was interest in developing a second series as long as there was more emphasis on the moon base.  That didn’t come off, but (and Hugh will be delighted to her this), it did lead to the development of another TV series.

For now, though, I’ll leave you with what I always felt was a somewhat creepy end credit sequence to UFO.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Facebook is full of random stuff, isn’t it?  Last week, for no apparent reason, I saw two references to a TV series from 1970 that I used to be a big fan of: UFO.  This prompted me to share one of the posts with Hugh, who I had previously discovered to be something of a Space 1999 fan.  The connection between those two programmes will become clear in time, but before I get even close to that, I need to explain what made me think I should write about it.

I’ve made comments in the past about my TV viewing as a child.  And the relevance of that is the influence it had on me as a writer.

In the UK at least, I suspect I was part of the first TV generation of kids. There was TV before the ‘60s, but it was limited both in when it was shown and the range of viewing available.  Any shows from the ‘50s were usually American – Casey Jones, The Lone Ranger, Champion the Wonder Horse.  I’m sure there would have been some British series, they just didn’t seem to warrant being repeated, or maybe they didn’t keep the tapes.

My mum used to berate herself as I got older for having used the TV as a babysitter.  Apparently, I was as good as gold when I was sitting in front of that little black and white set, so with three sisters following me in quick succession, it was probably a relief for her to keep me occupied.  Still, she felt my obsession with the TV was unhealthy. I’d rather come in from school and turn it on than go out and play with my mates.

On the face of it, that’s an understandable assumption to make, and one I appreciated even then. But who knows how things will turn out?

After all, I didn’t just watch any old thing on TV. When The Magic Roundabout finished and the news came on, I was off like a shot.  And documentaries didn’t interest me, or even Blue PeterMagpie or How!.  No, I was interested in action and adventure, something with a story to it.

To be fair, as we headed into the ‘70s, I was prepared to watch Clapperboard, but only because it was about movies, and let’s face it, movies were just stories on a grander scale.

At the same time, I loved books, so although my mum might have been concerned about the amount of time I spent in front of the gogglebox, she couldn’t complain I didn’t like reading. When I was eight, school assessed my reading age to be 11.  When I was ten, I was reading my first James Bond book, and becoming aware of authors like Alistair McLean and Desmond Bagley.

So the prompt may have come from TV, but the underlying fascination was with storytelling.

The variety of stories I watched, though, has meant I’m not satisfied with just one genre.  There will be viewers and readers who are only interested in Westerns – from Bonanza to Alias Smith and Jones – or Sci-Fi – Star Trek, Time Tunnel, Buck Rogers, etc.  I liked both, but I also liked Batman, Thunderbirds, and The Saint. My point is, as a viewer I was interested in the story, characters and situations, not in whether it fit a specific genre.

During that period, I also got the impression there was no restriction on the creativity of the writers.  Terry Nation, for example, is probably best known as the creator of the Daleks, and wrote many episodes of Doctor Who in the ‘60s and ‘70s.  But he was also a big contributor to series like The Persuaders and The Protectors ­– both of which were more mainstream action series.  Another hero of mine was Brian Clemens, creator of The Avengers, which blurred genres on a regular basis, but who also wrote for a wide range of other TV series as well as films and plays in the UK and US.

Ultimately, these writers (and their peers), and the wide range of TV shows they created during those formative years of mine have contributed to my enthusiasm for writing entertaining stories. Because, ultimately, that’s all they are – entertainment.  I’m never going to produce a piece of great literature (I wouldn’t enjoy reading it, so why would I write it?), but over the next few years you will see action and adventure, fantasy and horror, and probably the odd bit of humour thrown in for good measure.

Seeing these posts about UFO reminded me of how important those early influences have been for me, so over the coming months I’ll share the occasional memory of these old TV series.  It may prompt some of you to look them up and experience them for yourselves, and for others it might be a trip down memory lane.

Obviously, I’m going to start with Gerry Anderson’s first TV series with real people in it, but it’ll have to wait until next time.  For now, here’s a trailer

 

 

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Around Christmas, I got a message.  “Rachel’s got some photos of yours.”  Rachel’s my daughter.  The message was from her mum.  It seemed I’d left them behind when I moved out – nearly nine years ago.

I’ve got the photos now and made a start on sorting them out.  Some were thrown away, the bag with the rest lies in a corner ready for me to have another look at them.  It’s been there for at least two months.

Anyone who’s read my blog posts over the last couple of years may have noticed they lack visuals.  I might throw in a link to a video occasionally, but the posts including actual pictures can be counted on one hand – with room left for extras.

And yet I know that, as David Gates wrote, a picture paints a thousand words.  And I don’t just know it.  Within neuro-linguistic programming, there’s an element that focuses on which of our senses is most dominant.  Whenever I’ve been tested on this, it’s clear that my dominant sense is visual.

Not that these results were a great surprise.  As a fan of movies and having spent an excessive amount of time in front of a TV as a child, I knew already that I liked seeing things.

So you’d think photographs would be significant to me, wouldn’t you?

When I looked back through the photos sent via Rachel, I did quite enjoy it.  A lot of them were from my childhood and, naturally enough, they brought back memories.

I guess that’s what photos are: memories captured in visual form.  Though they’re often literally a snapshot that can only tell you so much about that moment, because they don’t necessarily capture everything.

Video images go some way towards putting that right.  Footage can include panning shots that take in the surroundings and other people around you better.  Even then, like photos, when you watch them back they’re reminders rather than complete reflections of exactly what happened.

The Christmas after Rachel was born, I bought a camcorder.  There was a new and exciting person in our lives and I wanted to record as much as I could so those memories would be stored forever.  I’d be lying if I said it was an impulse buy.  It was about £600, and at that stage in our young family’s life, this was an amount we could ill afford.  Still, it seemed the right thing to do and I got little resistance from my other half.

So filming began.  I filmed the events of that Christmas, continued to film into the New Year and her birthday celebrations in March and beyond.  There are loads of sequences from our holiday the following summer.

Then her brother arrived, and the filming continued at a slightly slower pace.  It’s not as easy when there’s a baby that needs attention as well as a toddler.  More importantly, something was dawning on me.  While I was behind the camera recording what was happening, I wasn’t getting involved.  I was documenting events, not participating.

Gradually, the camera began to be set aside, until eventually it was left in its box.  To be honest, I have no idea where it is now.  I also don’t have the videos, because I left those behind as well, though more because they were family heritage (and most of the family were in that house) than because I wasn’t interested.

Reflecting on it now, I recall going through a previous phase when I became involved in photography, buying myself a half-decent SLR camera.  But having it ready to take photos seemed to detract from my ability to live life.  If I was constantly on the lookout for a photo opportunity, I was distracted from just getting on and doing things.  So that camera also disappeared.  It may still be in the loft at the old house.

Of course, not everyone sees it this way – and I’m not saying this is the right way to view it.  Reviewing those old photos recently clearly did give me pleasure.  But I think I got more pleasure from playing with my children than trying to record them playing.  And I hope they got more pleasure from it too.

The chances are there’s a happy medium somewhere.  Maybe I could have taken more opportunities to capture stuff on film and still allow myself to enjoy the moment.  I never really found that balance.

Have I got this completely wrong?  Will I regret it as I get older, or will I be happy with the memories I’ve stored away in my head?

Only time will tell – but do feel free to let me know what you think as well.

 

 

 

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If you got to the end of my last post, you may still have been wondering: But where’s all this going?

To be fair, I wasn’t 100% sure myself at first, but I realised this isn’t a side of my life I’ve talked about before. And it has eventually led me in a particular direction, including informing some of my writing.  In Carrion there are three key scenes that take place in and on water.  In Birth Rights a climactic scene involves a boat chase.

The funny thing is, it’s only become apparent in the last few years how important water is to me. In my late teens I was convinced I wasn’t a good sailor, largely because I had a couple of experiences on ferries in choppy seas that left me nauseous (it can’t be a coincidence that the word “nausea” includes the word “sea”).

When my sister moved to the Isle of Wight, I visited regularly and even felt queasy crossing the Solent. So it’s perhaps understandable that I had no plans to take up sailing at that time.

Swimming continued to be fun. Pools, water parks, playing in the sea at any opportunity, all were experiences to be enjoyed and, as my children came along and learnt to swim, my own version of my dad’s games came into play.  The crocodile was replaced with a shark, but they rode on my back as I submarined.

Something else my dad used to do was get us to stand on the floor of a pool while he attempted to swim between our legs. In practice, of course, there was only room for his head, so we’d find ourselves rising out of the water on his shoulders, usually laughing hysterically.  Inevitably, I shared this joy with my son and daughter.

These days, of course, some of these things would be difficult to do in a public swimming pool. Not only would there be Health and Safety issues, you’d probably feel self-conscious about playing in such an intimate way with a child – even if it was your own.

As you’ve read this (and hopefully the previous post) you may have picked up on a recurring theme. But just in case you haven’t, I’ll spell it out for you.  When I say I like being in water, I mean completely in it.  Being totally immersed gives you a terrific weightless sensation that must be the closest you can get to being in a zero gravity environment without becoming an astronaut.

Aside from swimming, there were other clues I should have picked up on. When I was about 12, I went camping in the Lake District with the scouts (which will have come as a surprise to anyone who knows me at all: camping and the scouts are not things you’d naturally associate with me).  Anyway, during this trip we learnt how to canoe and my favourite part was the capsize drill.  The canoe was tipped over, leaving me suspended upside down in the lake.  You’re supposed to pull yourself free and head for the surface, and I did – I just took an extra few seconds to savour the moment.

Many years later, I helped arrange a couple of white water rafting trips (sadly only on a man-made course). In both cases, I managed to fall in, the second time backwards off the raft and into a whirlpool.  As I spun upright, I felt the water pulling me down.  There was no sudden tug, or any sensation of restraint, but the water seemed to enfold me and ease me down to what turned out to be quite a deep bottom.  What struck me most about this experience was that, at no point did I feel frightened or panicky.  I was quite happy to let the water do its stuff.  And as I touched bottom, I bounced gently, then rose slowly and steadily to the surface.  It was a very peaceful experience, broken only as I surfaced to find myself caught in the flow of water and thrust towards the bank.

I think it was around this time that I decided that you haven’t really been on the water unless you’ve got wet. It’s a philosophy I firmly believe.  And when the decision was made to start sailing a few years ago, I took it with me – much to the dismay of my partner.

 

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Roger Moore turned 88 this week. “So what?” you ask.  “Why’s this relevant?”  Well, because it’s a wake-up call for me.

I know it seems strange, but he’s been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. His Simon Templar (arguably the definitive Saint) was a constant in my childhood, before he teamed up with Tony Curtis in The Persuaders , then became James Bond.

You hear a lot of debate about who was the best Doctor.  For a lot of people, it’s usually the one they first saw, and the same’s true about Bond.

Clearly, I was a Moore fan anyway but, aged 10, I saw my first Bond movie.  And what was there not to like?  Planes, trains and automobiles; snakes, crocodiles and sharks; voodoo, jazz funerals, hang-gliding; a magnetic watch, a double-decker bus meeting a low bridge, a villain with a hook for a hand.  And, no, I haven’t forgotten that boat chase.

What a way to be introduced to the world’s favourite spy. I was hooked, and there was Roger again.

I’ve seen him interviewed many times. He never takes himself seriously, and it’s hard not to like someone like that.   On one occasion the subject of stunt work came up and he told the interviewer he did all his own stunts.  After a beat he added: “I tell all my own lies as well.”

People complain he’s not a great actor. Honestly, I really don’t know, but he’s a great entertainer.  And, frankly, when I go to the movies or watch TV I want to be entertained more than anything else.  It’s what I aspire to when I write.

So why’s this relevant? And why’s his birthday a wake-up call?  Because he’s always been around, and while I want him around for a long time to come, the reality is that he won’t be.  His films and TV series are still there to watch, and will be long after he’s gone.  But they act as a reminder of the ageing process.

To be fair, he’s aged well. He doesn’t look 88 now and, while he didn’t look youthful in View to a Kill, he didn’t look 57.  Looking back at Live and Let Die, it’s hard to believe he was 45.  But that’s not the point.  What makes me stop and think is, when I recall seeing his films for the first time, it seems like only a short time ago.  And then I realise I’m the same age he was when he made Moonraker – when I was only 16.

Where have the years gone? Because if it doesn’t seem that long ago since I first watched that breathtaking pre-title sequence then, in the blink of an eye, I could be looking back on this period of my life and seeing that in the same light.

Having an older person in our lives can do that to us at times. Looking ahead, as we get older, that age gap between us seems to narrow.  We see their frailties materialise and start contemplating our own mortality and the deterioration we may suffer in what increasingly looks like such a short time ahead.

Those older people are usually parents, uncles and aunts, or old family friends. But, for my generation, brought up when TV was starting to become an increasing part of our lives, there are other familiar faces too.  Watching their younger selves whenever we want on DVD or YouTube only helps to reinforce the effects of the passage of time.

I don’t mean to suggest that I morbidly dwell on this topic. It’s just every now and then you get those reminders, like Roger Moore’s birthday.  I wish him a belated Many Happy Returns, but I also see it as an opportunity to remind myself that I haven’t got forever.  There are things I want to do, and I need to get on with them before it’s too late.

What about you?

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Second Hand News

I’ve realised over the last few months that I’m getting a lot more people reading my blog than I did before.  This is terrific news for me.  Even though I haven’t hit any heady heights in terms of numbers, the comments and feedback I’ve received have all given me an added incentive to write more (so that backfired for you, didn’t it?).

But I’m also conscious that some readers who’ve expressed appreciation of some of my posts this year might also like some of the posts I produced two or three years ago.  I have shared the odd one here and there, but not in any consistent manner.  With that in mind, expect to see some slightly dated posts over the coming weeks – but, hey, I like nostalgia.  I won’t bombard you, and I hope they won’t bore you.

For those of you who’ve read them before, you may just have forgotten enough of them to make them worth reading again.  Otherwise, I’m sure you’ll recognise them quickly and set them aside.

Regardless of whether you’ve been with me from the beginning or have only just found me, thanks for coming along for the ride.  It wouldn’t be the same without you, and it’s been fun reading your comments.

For now, though, here’s some nostalgia to go along with the title.  (And what the hell is going on with Mick Fleetwood’s eyes?)

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It’s not often I write about my writing. Maybe the odd reference, but a whole piece about it feels more than a little self-indulgent. Still, I won’t let that stop me…

For a host of reasons, Ravens Gathering is set in the late 1980s and most – if not all – of my stories will be based in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I realised this meant they’d appeal to people with fond memories of those times, especially as they’d be more likely to get the popular culture references. In RG those include Inspector Morse, Columbo and Doctor Who (okay, we still have The Doctor, and the others are repeated, but my point’s still valid).

So, having something of a nostalgic bent myself, I joined some online groups set up to reminisce about those times. Most posts are based on movies, music and TV, and seeing these posts flash up on my screen does bring a warm glow.

One post included a still from the first ever episode of Thunderbirds. Fireflash

Any aficionado will instantly know which one I’m talking about but, for the ignorant among you, I’ll explain shortly.

Apart from childhood memories, the image also reminded me of a lesson I’d learnt when it came to creating stories. I deliberately say creating stories, because the one I’ll refer to here hasn’t been written yet, even though the original idea came to me as a teenager (I haven’t been lying about my propensity for bone-idleness when it comes to writing).

When I get an idea for a story, it’s generally a broad outline and the theme tends to trigger certain scenes in my mind. When I came up with Ravens Gathering, for example, it was clearly going to be creepy and the first image I had involved furniture coming to life. That scene’s still in there (so I’ll say no more about it – that’s spoiler enough for now) and it’s one of my favourites in the book.

The story I created in my teens was originally called Leave Them to Die, a title representative of the lesser quality action movies of the time. It will be changed when I finally get round to writing it – let’s face it, that’s just a bit too retro.

This was an action thriller: lots of guns, terrorists, an extended car, bus and Tube chase, and a threat to crash an airliner carrying a nuclear bomb into London. In my head, it’s evolved over the years and I suspect the emphasis on action may reduce a little in favour of plot and character.

Originally, the climactic scene involved the airliner attempting to land at an airport, but the undercarriage had been destroyed and a crash landing might set off the bomb. To overcome this obstacle, our hero implements an ingenious plan to use (wait for it…) buses to replace the undercarriage.

Now, the flaws in this scheme are obvious and plentiful, but I’ve seen much more improbable stuff in movies than a plane landing on three buses that are racing to match its landing speed. Eighteen year-old me was happy with it. It would be tense, nail-biting stuff that would have the reader on the edge of their seats – and just think how good it’ll look when they make the movie!

As I’ve matured, though, I’ve reined it in and the climax plays out somewhat differently now.

But what’s all that got to do with Thunderbirds? I hear you ask.

The series was re-run in the 1980s and I’m not ashamed to say that I thoroughly enjoyed watching it when I got in from work (personally, I think shows like this are wasted on kids.)

However, the first episode involves an airliner (Fireflash anybody?) which has to make a landing without being able to use its undercarriage. Of course, International Rescue don’t have to worry about commandeering buses. They’ve got specialist equipment designed for this very emergency and they produce it for what is… well, a tense, nail-biting scene that has the viewer on the edge of the seat.

And if this is bringing back memories you want to relive, here it is.

So, watching this again, I realised that, aside from its implausibility, my climactic scene was a complete rip-off.

Of course, in those days, I was convinced I was capable of producing completely original stories. But it’s become clear that this isn’t the case, that there are only so many basic storylines. And a lot of what we write is inspired by things around us, including the influences we had in our formative years. The important thing is to make it readable, and you do that with characters and a strong story, even if some of those elements have been used before.

What would be a mistake, though, would be to take something as unique as that Thunderbirds scene, which uses futuristic technology in a far-fetched way to entertain children (I know…) and try to incorporate it into a contemporary thriller for adults. Even if those adults yearn for their childhood and are massive Gerry Anderson fans, it ain’t gonna work.

Sometimes, I’m grateful for the fact that I’ve taken a while to get round to writing. Having said that, frankly I’d be delighted if, whenever someone picked up one of my stories, another Gerry Anderson phrase sprang to mind….

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