This beautiful stretch of water forms part of the border between NI and the Republic. Today I drove all the way down to the spit of land that juts out on the North side, just as the clouds lifted and the sun came out. A magical moment in a wonderful landscape.

lough 1

lough 2

rocks 2

lough cloudy 1

Taken from Flagstaff viewpoint early today, bit misty and rainy

 

I’m over in Ireland, researching my next novel Grievance, a political thriller, set in Northern Ireland and the Republic, during 1998, the year of the Good Friday Agreement, and the start of the Peace Process.

pix lough 2

The book opens with a cry from the soul; a murdered mother lies unknown, and undiscovered by her grieving son Johnny, her flesh and bones resting beneath the shores of Carlingford Lough. The mystery of who killed her, and why, is the crux of the book, the axis upon which the bitter decades of killings, revenge and secrecy relentlessly turn.

I wanted to see the places where I set key action sequences, experience them.

For me, there’s no substitute for smelling the brine, the heavy salt that oozes from the marshy mouth of the Lough, or seeing the broad shoulders and brooding crags of the mountains nearby. The land itself in all its glory, rain and rich pasture, is also a character. Alive with secrets, betrayals, sorrows from ages past.

pix lough 4

I have another four days here, so I want to capture the feel of buildings, streets, forests and much more on camera. The great thing about looking back at these photos is that it will sustain the memories I have, and inspire me hopefully.

I want to make the words on the page seem more alive and resonate with every kind of human emotion. The pictures are the raw canvas, the bare bones of the book.

tain adv pix

 

It could be the inner workings of a pocket watch, the beautiful cam gear train on a VFR750 or building bridges, digging tunnels etc but blokes love engineering.


It’s 50 Sheds of Grey in this soft porn world, where the buzzwords are billet aluminium, cadcam, or something esoteric like ‘straight cut gears.’ Fact is, how stuff works, is the essence of the modern world, the engine of progress and unstoppable change.

And that’s always sexy..

For younger readers, let me explain how things were for film fans in 1980s Britain.

There were four – yes four – TV channels to choose from. If you were well off, you might have a VCR so you could record programmes onto a blank tape and watch them later. Or you could pay up and go to an Odeon, ABC or local cinema. Those were the only ways you would watch a film, unless you were a fan of imported Dutch porn via a P.O. Box number in Leatherhead.

abandoned video shop

Then, along came video rental stores. In a few years every town, and some villages, had a `Mom & Pop’ type independent video rental store. Some rented out early computer games too, in case your parents were simply too stingy to buy the game for you.

It cost about £3.00-£3.50 for a new release, or £1.50 to watch something that had been on TV five or six times already. But first, you had to apply for membership! No, you couldn’t rent a film that day, you had to wait while they `processed’ your membership and printed off a laminated card. Amazing. Not sure how these shops were checking your creditworthiness in an era before computers and Experian files, but those were the rules.

So you rented maybe two or three films to watch over a weekend, spending about £10. This was a big sum of money when many people were taking home about £60 a week wages. But the dazzling choice, the freedom from watching miserable dross like Brookside, Ronnie Corbett in Sorry, or scripted banter in Celebrity Squares! That was why we all rushed down the video stores, to find something more interesting to watch, for a treat.

You could watch `controversial’ films, like George Romero’s Dawn of The Dead, the 70s comedy Animal House – still deemed to risque for British TV back then – or Cronenberg’s Scanners, or Shivers. There were soft porn films like Porky’s, the Emmanuelle series transferred onto tape, or perhaps the extremely saucy Nine and a Half Weeks, with Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke – the uncut, non-TV version. Phew, steamy stuff…

DVD, SKY AND THE INTERNET KILLED THE VIDEO SHOPS

gee bee shop 2

One by one, the small independent shops in the UK were picked off by chains like Ritz, who in turn, sold out to Blockbuster in the 1990s. But the internet, and Sky, came along in the `90s as well, and although it wasn’t possible to watch video clips on the dog-slow connection that BT offered for well over a decade, eventually, the floodwaters broke and the day of the local video store was done.

By the early 2000s you could buy a DVD from HMV for under £3 and own it forever and the DVDs didn’t go all scratchy and fail to play, like VHS tapes did after 20 playbacks or so.

Small shops went first, then big chains like Blockbuster collapsed too. But let’s give a round of applause to the video shops of the 1980s; the pioneers of piracy, the original entertainment on demand service.

There was a real thrill in browsing the `New Titles ‘ section, or asking the staff’s advice on whether a film was any good or not. The shops smelled of fusty carpets and were often converted corner shops, no longer viable in an 80s Britain that was switching to big supermarkets. This was the era when people started to stay in, rather than go out socialising at weekends.

BE KIND, PLEASE REWIND THIS BLOG POST AFTER USE – THANK YOU ;-))

Top Gun day is a perfect time to look back at what makes this movie a true classic, and a nod to the bike that defined the 1980s in many ways, the Kawasaki Ninja GPZ900R.

gpz900r cruise kelly house

Top Gun is one of my fave action comedies of all time. Why comedy? Come on, are you taking dialogue about inverted MIGs, target-rich environments or Ice-Men being Wing-Men seriously?? Then there’s the oiled up guys playing volleyball and the aircraft carrier crew’s reaction to Maverick starting WW3 by shooting down four Russian pilots in balls of flame.

So much about this 80s action movie defines the era.

Maverick’s leather jacket, handmade by Intersport Fashions West in California, sparked a hundred imitations. The karoake bar, where Mav and Goose murder the Righteous Brothers was a social trend way ahead of its time, reaching its peak about 15 years later in the UK. The way that jets, and military hardware in general are depicted in soft-focus, almost pornographic homage, is something that you can see later in Top Gear Specials and films like True Lies, Independence Day, Under Siege or Navy Seals.

NINJA BY NAME, ASS-KICKER BY NATURE

But let’s talk motorcycles. The Kawasaki GPZ900R was a 1984 model Superbike which kicked the arses of rival brands like Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha, not to mention Italian manufacturers still struggling to shake off their 1970s demons of piss-poor electrics, patchy build quality and under-powered engines.

top gun gpz900r couple

It was still a heavy bike, but compared to dinosaurs like the Honda CBX1000 six, Yamaha XS1100 or Suzuki GSX1100, the new Kawa 900 was a lithe supermodel. Even rivals like the Ducati 900SS/S2, which was beautiful to look at, couldn’t match the sheer barnstorming speed of the Kawasaki. Road tests at the time raved about reaching the scary side of 150mph, which was a magic number back then, a true landmark in production motorcycles.

More importantly, the Ninja 900 had a certain poise, a grace, that others lacked. I tested one in the 90s for a used bike/classic feature and still thought it was a half-decent machine in the twisty sections, with reasonably sharp steering thanks to that 16 inch front wheel. Tiny front wheels were all the rage in the 1980s, but Kawasaki seemed to get the overall handling balance just right, whereas bikes like the GSX750/1100, Yamaha FZ750 and Honda’s VF1000R and CBX750F models often felt less stable, less trustworthy when push came to shove. In fact Kawasaki ballsed things up with the GPZ1000R, which was a sister model to the 900R and frankly, cornered like a bucket of lard on a hostess trolley by comparison.

YEP, SUZUKI GOT THERE A YEAR LATER

OK, I will accept the GSXR750/1100 models which came after the Ninja 900 were lighter, more agile bikes – better to race without a doubt – but definitely more scary to ride on bumpy public roads. The early `Gixers’ were head-shaking, hard work on the open road to be brutally honest, and you always felt like a hunched-up jockey on top of a wayward missile.

THE ESSENCE OF COOL – THE NEED FOR SPEED

gpz900r cruise jets

Here’s the thing, Cruise looks cool on that red/black Ninja 900R. The stickers match his cocky, street-racer jacket, the black paint adds a stealth fighter touch. The 900R also sounds like a jet fighter when you rev the heck out of that liquid-cooled, 16 valve engine. Kawasaki spent years developing a motor that would power a generation of superbikes in the 1980s, and the Top Gun movie would have been a lesser film without its banzai performance.

Incredibly, Kawasaki did NOT provide the Ninja bikes for free – the production company actually bought one from a dealer, which seems crazy now, but that’s how things were back then. Kawasaki have never really courted the film industry, mainly because making motorbikes is small beer to a conglomerate that makes rockets for NASA, build bridges, or designs drills that can dig a channel tunnel.

Brando on his Triumph defined the 50s rebel, Hopper and Fonda stuck two fingers up at The Man in the Sixties classic Easy Rider on their H-D choppers. Motorcycles always hint at rebellious characters, like Richard Gere in An Officer and A Gentleman. But Tom Cruise and the Ninja 900R both came along at just the right point in the mid-80s – suddenly, Japanese motor cycles became cool.

They were Top Dog, and Hollywood knew it.

 

 

I’m in the midst of a town centre development in Warrington. This Cheshire town is reasonably well off compared to many places but the town centre is dated, parking is patchy and there’s no cinema.

So a £107m development with 10 screen multiplex, new multi-storey car park, shops, restaurants and central piazza is underway, and that is really good news. It’s called Time Square and my shop will be part of it. Exciting stuff!

Is there a Time Square Twitter, FB page or a website where you can watch time lapse videos of the work? Perhaps see interviews with architects, planners, business owners and Joe Public on You Tube maybe? Nope. 

You see councils fear social media. They hate it in fact. 

That is because people use it to highlight incompetence, fraud, and a stream of general complaints. But you know what, a big project like this is good news, and it deserves a set of social channels to share that news. Just moderate comments, shut down or block trolls. It isn’t difficult to manage.

Many town centres are slowly dying in the UK and if High Streets can be saved then councils – who depend on business rates to pay wages and pensions – should build social media campaigns, to run alongside the social media marketing by visitor attractions, shops, arts and sporting events promoters. 

Tell your story on social, sell the idea of a great day out. Otherwise we will all simply buy online.

For the 187th time over the last week, the BBC, ITN, C4 News, Sky, UK broadsheets, even local radio stations, have been adding on some extra surnames to Sadiq Khan. He’s now known as `Sadiq-Khan-Bus-Driver’s-Son’ apparently.

Sadiq_Khan mayor

Sadiq’s Dad drove a bus, but the media doesn’t like to mention it…

The way that media works in the UK is that super wealthy people, often privately educated, or billionaires based overseas for tax reasons, own the channels and outlets, and senior editors and political feature writers are drawn from a Russell Group University cabal, determined to preserve their position of pre-eminence.

This elitist cadre cannot believe it when a person born poor, actually achieves anything in life, apart from sporting success or having 15 minutes of fame on a Simon Cowell circus show. This why the constant, boring, slightly smirking, mention of Khan Senior’s job is a patronising, back-handed compliment, from a group of people who are upset that someone else has picked a plum job from the political orchard.

Social mobility in Britain has all but ground to a halt and that is exactly why the media keep harping on about Khan’s humble background – it is SO unusual, so shocking, to a great swathe of privately educated elitists in the upper echelons of British politics, media, law and the public sector, that they cannot get their heads around it. So they have to keep chanting it like a playground mantra.

How Oxbridge Grads rule Britain – Guardian research;

http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2014/aug/28/elitism-in-britain-breakdown-by-profession

BN5NMN CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY STUDENTS ON GRADUATION DAY

Our future Oxbridge Overlords, chillaxing.

As I wrote in an essay last year, London is the LAST place in the UK where you can make on merit, talent and hard work, not University connections, who you’re sleeping with, or who your parents do business with – although all of those factors still help of course.

Because London is detached from the failing, abandoned rest of Britain, an ambitious, clever person, irrespective of religion, skin colour, or background, can get to the top.

Good for Sadiq, and you know what, his Dad’s job is utterly irrelevant to any debate about his career to date, his policies, or future achievements as Mayor of London.

So hey media snobs, shut up about it, OK?