Friday, 31 October 2014

Ambient Rock

I’m off on my travels again next week, this time a short holiday to Berlin. I’ve only been to Germany once, a visit to the Oktoberfest in Munich way back in 1983, when I took on German beer and lost spectacularly.

I thought that it was about time I revisited the country to practice my German again (as poor as it is), and I think it might be nice to start a tradition where I share some of my thoughts about music before trips, before sharing some photos and experience of my visit on my return.

I was going to post some music about Hallowe’en since it’s 31st October today, but rather than encourage something I don’t really believe in, I’ve decided to go to the other extreme and prove to people who hate rock music, that some of the loudest and most obnoxious bands (in their eyes anyway) can be a source of calming pleasure.

Here are five glorious rocks songs that you can relax to with a glass of wine in a candlelit room with your loved one in your arms.

Steven Wilson – Veneno Para Las Hadas

Regular readers will know that I am a huge fan of progressive rock maestro Steven Wilson. He seems to improve with every album, and while his music wouldn’t really be described as “heavy”, his band Porcupine Tree have produced some fantastic rock music. This particular track is from his first solo album called Insurgentes and is a beautiful, slow and mesmerising masterpiece.

Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts 1 – 9


Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails is another musical maestro in my view and his music forms a large percentage of my collection. A few years ago, he produced a double album entitled Ghosts I to 4, containing 36 instrumental tracks, nine for each Ghost part. This is the final part of Ghosts I and is a very pleasant little tune.

Foo Fighters – Still

I’m really looking to the new Foo Fighters album in November and I daresay it will have a dominant position in my car for the next few months or so. While the band can produce some magnificent rockers, they are very good at taking it easy and producing a mellow ambient song. In fact, this is one of my favourite songs by the band.

Black Sabbath – Fluff

People who hate rock music hate Black Sabbath in particular. Yet, if you had never heard of the band and listened to this song first of all, you would find it very difficult to imagine that they were the founders of heavy metal with Ozzy Osbourne at the helm. This is a beautiful song and shows just what great musicians they are.

Rammstein – Ein Lied (A Song) 

It seems fitting that the final song comes from a German band. Rammstein are controversial and sometimes very heavy. Yet they too can turn the volume down and produce a lovely little ambient piece. Again, if this was the first song by the band you had heard, you would have no idea of their reputation nor would you imagine there explosive antics on stage.

Anyway, I hope you like the songs and I shall return with photos of Berlin in due course.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Scary Things

I read a quote recently that has, sort of, inspired me a little. Quotes don’t normally do that but this one has struck a bit of a chord.

The quote comes from Eleanor Roosevelt:

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”

The idea behind the quote is that a lot of people are quite happy sitting in their own comfort zone. Now while this may be absolutely fine for most people, the downside is that people tend to end up in a little bubble of coziness, reluctant to try new things to expand their horizons.

I’m not saying that is a bad thing at all. On the contrary, for most people, myself included, it is a good thing to live within your own harmonious world and be happy with that.

Looking at my own life, I have done some scary things but they have been few and far between. Moreover, in most cases I have had my arm twisted and not chosen to do these things to push myself – I’ve been pushed into doing them by other people.

Now I could quite happily just continue my life the way it is, but to be honest, there is a deep part of me that wants to step outside my comfort zone and, perhaps, try something every day that makes me feel uncomfortable or just plain scared.

I wonder, would something like that really make my life more interesting?

It’s tempting and a tiny voice is urging me to push myself to embrace this philosophy, but not for the reasons that you may think. I am not a Mr Motivator type person who wants to pour his soul into his career; the truth is that there’s not much of my career left when I think about it. I’ve been working within the rat race for thirty years with probably around fourteen years to go. It’s too late to drive myself to the limit, career wise – and besides, I am not willing to give 200% to somebody else (let’s forget the fact that you cannot physically give 200% anyway, which makes these bullshit merchants on shows like The Apprentice look utterly ridiculous anyway!).

If I were able to give 200% - or more accurately 100% - okay maybe 50% - then I would want it to be for me and my loved ones, not some corporate motivation machine.

So why is this little voice in my head telling me to scare myself every day?

It sort of started while I was revising a little Spanish vocabulary, a few weeks ago. As I sat there in front of my computer screen, cursing my failing memory when I couldn’t remember the Spanish word for knife (it’s cuchillo by the way), I had a moment when I started contemplating regrets in my life.

"What on earth are you talking about?" I hear you cry. "Just because you can’t remember a bit of vocab, you start thinking you are a failure."

Not quite, dear reader. I started regretting not attempting to learn Spanish earlier in my life. I am 52 years old and I have only been half-heartedly trying to learn this language for a couple of years.

My regret is that I didn't start to learn Spanish when I was 21. The reason why I didn’t, to be brutally honest, is that I was too scared to start. I learned French for five years at school and my head is full of French words that have embedded themselves into my brain – words that I can’t forget. And the reason why they are embedded into my memory is that I was forced to learn them.

When it came to Spanish, or indeed any other language, I was scared to commit myself to a proper course, to spending time immersing myself in a language instead of wasting my time doing other more mundane things.

Now, many years later, I am frustrated by the fact that I am not a polyglot. I love travelling but it would be so much better if I could go a foreign country and spend my time chatting to the local people in their own language instead of struggling with a pigeon version of the language gleaned from a phrase book and a dictionary.

Two years ago I started trying to teach myself Spanish and I’m getting there, slowly but surely. And now? I keep making excuses not to commit more time to the language, not to join a class and at least attempt to improve myself.

Fear plays its part. It is fear of the unknown and more than a little fear break out of my bubble. It’s easy for me to choose the easy option but my little voice is telling me that I should – perhaps about thirty years too late of course.

And if I had had more courage I would have started this blog a lot earlier than I did.

When I came across Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote, I suddenly thought to myself that perhaps it’s not too late after all. Maybe by challenging myself, I could actually have a bit of fun.

I’m not talking about doing big (and stupid) things, like climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge to scare myself absolutely shitless – I’ve done that and the only lesson I learned was that my fear of heights cannot be removed.

I’m talking about little things that are achievable but worrying to a person like me, somebody who is quite shy and loves his little comfort zone.

For example, walking up to a total stranger and starting a conversation might be very easy and not scary to a rampant extrovert, but to somebody like me who is cursed with shyness, that would be a scary thing to do.

Maybe join that Spanish class.

Or try to write comments on a Spanish blog – in Spanish!

Or video myself singing a song I love and publishing it on this blog (if nothing else it will make readers laugh) – actually I think some evil mates of mine might pay me to do that to make a complete fool of myself – so maybe not.

Or how about trying some new food? Actually, I have done that in Japan – and yes it did take me out of my comfort zone but I don’t regret it at all.

I’ll compile a list and see how I get on. I will not be taking suggestions – just in case my evil mates have anything up their sleeves – but you can suggest something if you like, dear reader, just for the amusement factor if nothing else.

And I may even write a blog post or two about it.

Now that would be scary.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Hypocrite

I have a confession to make and it’s something that regular readers know already.

I am a hypocrite.

There, I’ve said it.

I’m not a total hypocrite and it isn’t a natural part of my personality. It’s just that, sometimes, I find myself behaving in a way that I criticise others for.

I have a few examples.

Probably the best example is the transformation that occurs when I get behind the wheel of a car. When I am not in the car, I am a reasonable and happy person who is friendly and approachable. I am the personification of patience and empathy.

Yet when I turn on the ignition in my car and start to drive down the street it’s almost as if somebody has given my brain an enema, flushing out all of the goodness. I sometimes mutate into a totally unreasonable and impatient arse. I am aware of this and try to stop myself but I simply can’t help it. It gets worse when I am in a hurry and when the roads are busy. The worst time is when I am driving to and from work simply because I am desperate to get the office to get started so that I can leave early, and then I am equally desperate to escape and get home at the end of the day and, to add to the trauma, I am stressed and keen to wind down with the cats and Mrs PM in my safe haven. To make matters much worse, I drive to and from work during the rush hour along with thousands of equally frazzled commuters.

When I pull up at a junction I expect other drivers to let me out as soon as possible, snarling at those who don’t. Yet when I am in a position to let somebody else out, I actually find myself talking to an empty car: “There is NO way you are getting out, sunshine!” I snarl.

See? A total hypocrite. It would be easy and generous to let a person out; I would probably only add another minute or two onto my journey.

I also look down upon boy racers, the type of person who likes to put his foot down and enjoy the speed of the car. Yet on an empty motorway (a rare thing in Britain) if I get the chance, I will put the peddle to the metal and enjoy the acceleration with my hypocritical horns growing out of my hypocritical skull.

I am equally intolerant of cyclists who pull out in front of me to avoid drains and potholes, slowing me down by another microsecond. Yet if I am on a bike myself, I find myself snarling at drivers who glare at me for doing exactly the same thing.

My dad used to say “Don’t so as I do; do as I say”.

I have lectured my sons on the dangers of excessive alcohol, knowing full well that when I was a student, I over-indulged on more than a couple of occasions.

My dad was the same; “Don’t ever let me catch you smoking,” he once said to me with a cigarette dangling out of the corner of his mouth. When I questioned this, he used the phrase above as if that somehow made it okay.

Other examples are my proclamation on this blog and to work colleagues in particular that I love to travel. Yet when asked to go abroad for work, I rant about how I am sick of going to site. You may forgive me for that though, because when I say that I love travel, I really mean that I love travelling for leisure and pleasure rather than going abroad to a place I don’t really want to go to, where I am expected to work long days with no time to actually go out and see the place.

I also rant about people who seem obsessed with their smartphones, choosing to fiddle with their devices instead of having a conversation with me. Yet I have been known to do exactly the same when my phone buzzes in my pocket. “Oh, it’s an email from Wally,” I will say grinning to my conversation partner who, in my opinion, would be justified in saying “You bloody hypocrite. Put that bloody thing away.”

I moan about the Royal Family hogging the news and the limelight but I am the first to pop to a street party when two of them decide to get married.

I claim to hate Mrs PM’s music yet I sometimes play the odd song that she likes because deep down I like it too.

To be honest, I think that everybody has a hypocrite inside them fighting to get out an embarrass them. I quite often get caught out but when I do, I am fairly honest about it and admit the truth, just as I have done here.

It doesn’t make me feel any better; it’s just a fact of life.

Are you a hypocrite, dear reader?

Have you any examples of your rampant hypocrisy?

Are you as bad as I am?

Monday, 6 October 2014

The Wine Snob

I once bought a bottle of wine from an off licence (liquor store if you are American), and it cost 99p. It wasn’t the low price that attracted me to it, it was the name of the wine – something like Cheap Plonk – effectively stating exactly what it was – a very cheap bottle indeed.

It’s worse than that, dear reader, because I was taking this wine to a party. I can almost feel you shifting uneasily in your seat at the thought of my impending embarrassment at presenting the hosts of a dinner party with a bottle of red camel piss in order to contribute something to the drinks cabinet, almost certainly thriving under the addition of £20 bottles of fine wine from the other more generous guests.

Don’t worry – it wasn’t that kind of party. In fact, it was a normal house party full of drunken people, all consuming their own alcohol. The reason I bought the wine was because I was young, already half-caned and ready to drink anything.

My memories of the party are vague but I do recall having my first glass of my bargain booze and thinking “actually, this isn’t at all bad!”.

Fast forward to 1998 when I was in France with the family. In a supermarket, as you can guess, the choice of wine was huge and I found myself staring at rows and rows of wine trying to work out which one would complement a nice meal in the sun outside the apartment we were staying in.

I decided to try an experiment. I bought a cheap bottle of wine, again costing about one pound sterling, but this time I also splashed out and bought another bottle that cost around ten pounds.

My plan was to try a glass of each and see if I could tell the difference.

Let me tell you this, dear reader – they were both beautiful.

Now I can imagine a wine snob reading this and thinking:

“You absolute heathen! Your taste buds must have been burned off your tongue!”.

Wine snobbery is a similar ailment to pseudo intellectualism. Pseudo intellectuals praise vomit stains as wonderful art just to appear clever. Wine snobs praise expensive bottles of wine just to appear sophisticated or show off their wealth.

Of course, there are exceptions, but mostly I consider somebody who is willing to splash out a huge wad of cash on a bottle of wine at a fancy restaurant is just careless and/or slightly mad.

They are basically show offs.

Except, I am not impressed. I would be more impressed with somebody who bought the house wine to be honest.

I have a couple of rules about buying wine:

(a) In a supermarket, I only buy a bottle of wine costing more than £3.99 if it is reduced in price from £7.99 o £3.99.

(b) In a restaurant, I will never buy a bottle of wine costing more than my main course.

Restaurants make most of their money on wine. When you sit down at the table of a good restaurant, the first thing they do is present you with the wine list. When you open it, the price ranges from around the price of a main course to stupid money. And if you are unfortunate to be sharing your table with a wine snob, you will find that to only are they willing to spend their cash on the most expensive wines, they also speak utter crap.

There is no way that I want to spend £200 on a bottle of wine in a restaurant when I can get just as much enjoyment from a £10 bottle of wine. Think about it – the same drink but it costs 20 times more and the difference in taste will never ever be worth the difference in price, I don’t care whether you are a wine connoisseur or not. You may as well flush your wallet down the toilet.

Now I don’t mind people wasting their cash on expensive wine – that’s their prerogative. What I do mind, however, is the pseudo intellectual style bullshit that invariably pours forth from their mouths when they take their first sip of £200 wine:

“Oh my goodness. The bouquet of this wine is astounding; it’s the perfect combination of peach and cantaloupe, accompanied by a hint of cherry flirting with a gathering of blueberry in a two hundred year old oak casket. It tastes divine, like a tide of flavour from a heavenly ocean washing up on your tongue. It speaks to me; I’m getting banana, blueberry, strawberry with a hint of a rare Brazilian cherry found only the shores of the Amazon in an area of the rain forest untouched by human beings. This nectar is transporting my tongue into orgasmic ecstasy.”

What a load of old bollocks.

We recently went to a wine tasting event in Manchester, where we met three very famous wine connoisseurs from the television. As somebody who hates cookery programmes, I did not know any of them, but I am told that they are famous.

Perhaps you’ve heard of them. Oz Clarke, Olly Smith and Tim Atkin.

I shook hands with Oz Clarke as I walked in, thinking he was just the event organiser. I only discovered who he actually was when Mrs PM, a wine lover, bought one of his books. Basically, the event was very enjoyable and I was able to try quite a few whites, reds and rosés, most of which were very pleasant.

At first, the words of the people offering the wine passed me by and as I sipped the wine, their words went in one ear and out of the other without my brain registering their words. However, as I got slightly more merry I actually started talking to them and asking them what was special about their wine. Some switched to wine snob mode and started talking about “ a hint of fruit salad with an undertone of mahogany” but I found that quite a few of them actually told me how suited to various meals the wines were, which was actually very interesting.

And as the event wore on, I wobbled up to the people and said “What’s your most expensive wine?”

Maybe my taste buds were numb but, to be honest, the top end wines didn’t taste much different from the cheaper ones.

So, what did I get out of the event, apart from proving all that I have said about wines?

WelI, I bought some cheese from a cheese company in Cheshire that experimented with different flavours. Yes that’s right – I went to a wine event and walked out with several pounds of weird cheese.

Nevertheless, I did enjoy how some of the wines complemented the cheese.

And that’s about as pretentious as I get:

“This lump of mature English cheddar complements this Sauvignon Blanc”.

Rest assured, dear reader – both were cheap.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Yet Another Music Meme

I love a good meme and I love a good music meme even more. I have discovered yet another one while prowling cyberspace so without further ado, let’s get going.

1. Which bands/artist do you own the most albums by?

That’s easy – Rush. Given that the band is very soon celebrating their 40th anniversary, and they have been my favourite band since 1981, it’s kind of obvious really. In total I have nineteen albums by the band, including live recordings. Let’s hope they continue to make superb music for a while yet.

2. What was the last song you listened to?

I am currently have iTunes on shuffle on my desk top and the song that has just finished is Here Is The News by Electric Light Orchestra, a classic from the early 1980’s.

3. What’s in your CD player right now?

The song I am currently listening to is Every Day Is Exactly The Same by Nine Inch Nails:

So the album is With Teeth (by the same band of course).

4. What was the last show you attended?

The last gig I went to was Within Temptation at the Manchester Apollo, earlier this year. For those of you who haven’t heard of them, they are a symphonic metal band from Holland.

5. What was the greatest show you’ve ever been to?

I think that would have to be Rammstein, a highly controversial German industrial metal band who sing almost exclusively in German yet are massively popular among the metal loving English speaking world. The show was incredible, full of fire, fun and a massive audience of English people all singing in German – myself included.

6. What’s the worst show you’ve ever been to?

That’s easy – Cher. My ex-wife persuaded me against my better judgement to drive all the way to the Birmingham NEC in the late 1980’s to see this so-called superstar. The support was fairly dreadful but Cher simply took the piss in terms of value for money. I was used to seeing the feature artist on stage for at least an hour and a half. Sher came on and sang a few songs, changed her costume every five minutes and played for just over an hour. The best bit of the concert was when she disappeared for five minutes and left her dancers to show their art to a fairly good rock instrumental – but even that was ruined by a big screen showing us all how great Cher was at singing and acting. At the time it was the most expensive gig I had been to, which is another reason why I hated it.

7. What’s the most musically involved you have ever been?

I guess that means taking part in a musical act of some kind. I have played a trombone in the school orchestra at Walsall Town Hall in front of an appreciative audience of parents and teachers and also played in a brass group in the school hall in front of a similar bunch of people, including a stand up solo to the Floral Dance. How embarrassing.

8. What show are you looking forward to?

I have three concerts lined up in the next few months but the one I am looking forward to most is Steel Panther, a kind of extreme version of Spinal Tap who take the piss out of 1980’s heavy metal. They are extremely  rude and offensive but hilarious.

9. What is your favorite band shirt?

I don’t buy band shirts anymore because, quite frankly, they are a complete waste of money.  The last one I bought was Guns’n’Roses way back in the early 1990’s, so I’ll select that one.

10. What musician would you like to hang out with for a day?

I think my current favourite is a guy called Steven Wilson, a progressive rock genius who is the main songwriter and driving force behind Porcupine Tree. He has recently released his third solo album called The Raven That Refused To Sing (and Other Stories) which is one of the best albums I have heard for years. I would like to spend a day watching him at work.

11. Who is one musician or group you wish would make a comeback?

I would like Led Zeppelin to go into the studio one more time, with Jason Bonham replacing his father John on the drums, and record an album in the same style as their very first album.

A particular favourite is Dazed and Confused and if they could reproduce a bluesy masterpiece like this I would be absolutely delighted.

12. Who is one band/artist you’ve never seen live but always wanted to?

Again that has to be either Steven Wilson as a solo artist or with his band Porcupine Tree. He toured last year and played in Manchester but sadly, I was in Muscat so I couldn’t go.

13. Name four or more flawless albums:

I have a lot of flawless albums - but these immediately leap to mind.

AC/DC – Back in Black
Air – Pocket Symphony
Dream Theater – Metropolis Part II: Scenes from a Memory
Foo Fighters – Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace
Joe Satriani – The Extremist
Metallica – Master of Puppets
Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral
Porcupine Tree – Fear of a Blank Planet
Queensrÿche – Operation Mindcrime
Rammstein – Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da
Rush – Clockwork Angels
Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing (and other stories)
Within Temptation – The Unforgiving

14. How many music related videos/DVDs do you own?

I own a couple of Rush DVD’s, and ones by Alice Cooper, Roger Waters and Nine Inch Nails.

15. How many concerts/shows have you been to, total?

I’ve been to so many over the years that I simply cannot remember. I would say well over a hundred.

16. Who have you seen the most live?

Bizarrely, the band I have seen most is Thunder, a British rock band from the 1990’s who still tour occasionally. They play good old British rock music that is totally inoffensive and extreme fun. In fact I have actually met the guys when my mate managed to wangle a couple of tickets to the after show party.

Here is a sample of their work:

Here's when I met them (in 2005):

17. What is your favourite movie soundtrack?

I don’t own this OST but I would say The Matrix because it has two fantastic songs on it as well as a few other great songs. Here are Du Hast by Rammstein and Dragula by Rob Zombie.

18. What was your last musical “phase” before you wisened up?

To be honest, I love music from all the phases I have passed through – including 1970’s disco. See next question.

19. What’s your “guilty pleasure” that you hate to admit to liking?

I know – I shouldn’t like this but I do and I can’t help it. it takes me back to a time when I loved bopping away with all the other kids at the school disco in the 1970’s.

I present to you, Daft Punk with Get Lucky – and I love this song and I don't mind admitting it.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Telly Hell

What is going on in Britain? We’re all cracking up and going mad – MAD I tell you.

I know why we are going mad – and I have a cure. The people of Britain will not like it one iota but in my view, you sometimes have to be cruel to be kind.

My plan is to purge our television of all programmes that turn people into dribbling imbeciles whose common sense seems to take a holiday for the duration of the garbage they are watching.

What has caused this outburst, I hear you cry?

I was reading about what people like to complain about on the TV and I came across an article that said a number of people had complained about the use of the phrase “soggy bottom” on a programme that seems to have turned the UK into a bunch of maniacs. The programme is called “The Great British Bake Off” and is basically a cookery programme where amateur bakers compete against each other to win some form of pathetic prize – what the prize is, I don’t know – I would never watch such rubbish.

The programme should be removed from prime time telly because, quite frankly, it turns people into brainless goons who find excitement in truly awful entertainment; some people become obsessed with such trash telly and feel the need to write about how the phrase "soggy bottom" upsets them enough to write a bloody letter to the BBC.

What is wrong with these people?

What turns normal every day pleasant and intelligent people into these sad obsessed complainers?

I'll tell you the answer: programmes made in telly hell.

Here are some programmes or types of programmes that I would relegate to the early hours on an obscure television channel or, better still, wipe off the face of the earth, in order to save humanity.

Cookery Programmes

Cookery programmes should be relegated to a specialist channel and not be shown all day every day (or so it seems). Such programmes are becoming more prevalent every single second of every single day, making celebrities out of bizarre people like Jamie Oliver, Anthony Worrall Thompson and Delia Smith. Such shows have turned these so-called celebrities into megalomaniacs – like this:

Yes – Delia claims she wasn’t drunk but wanted to use her “status” to get the crowd behind her favourite football team simply because of who she was.

She just made a fool of herself and of those who thought such a rant was a good idea.

Soap Operas

Soap operas do not reflect real life – if they did then society would break down into total anarchy, particularly if real life reflected soaps like Eastenders.

I have a confession; I used to watch Eastenders, Coronation Street and Brookside religiously (as they are on all the time or so it seems). Thankfully, I had a Eureka moment on 5th July 1991 and said to myself “Hang on! What the flump am I doing watching a programme where every character is a flawed arse who wants to con, shag or kill everyone else?”

Soaps are responsible for inflicting Jason Donavon and Kylie Minogue on us. Thanks Australia for Neighbours and Home and Away. And what about Dallas and Dynasty? America is just as culpable.

And of course, I am absolutely certain that we are totally blameworthy for inflicting Eastenders on our American and Australian friends, making them all believe that every cockney is a depressed gangster who screams at every other one and then kill themselves.

Talent Shows

The X Factor is still on for what seems like the gazillionth year. It is a show that dominates Saturday and Sunday night television, exposes us repeatedly to Simon effing Cowell and his equally talentless judges, and presents to us a bunch of lame karaoke singers who are “on a journey”, “have a deep trauma in their lives” and who all sing shit songs in the style of a bad boy band singer or in a bad impersonation a croaking warbling oversinger. Equally deplorable are The Voice, the BBC equivalent, and Britain’s Got Talent, a show that unequivocally proves that Britain has NO talent whatsover.

Such shows are gold dust for tabloids because they fill their pages with bilge about the contestants - which is apt really because I would probably ban tabloids too.

Reality TV Shows

I do not want to watch Z list celebrities trying to dance on a Saturday night in Strictly Come Dancing. Nor am I remotely interested in any other Z list celebrities who want to be dumped into a jungle in Australia. The only time I would be interested would be if they exiled Piers Morgan on a desert island – but only enough to see his smug face crumble when he realised that there would be no cameras to film him, he wouldn't actually get paid and he had to stay there for six months.

I am equally uninterested in the bunch of oversexed Geordies trying to get their end away in Geordie Shore and a bunch of posh pratts in Made in Chelsea.

I can got to the city centre late on a Saturday night to watch that kind of garbage.

Freak Shows

If I woke up and discovered that I had piled on 500 lbs or developed and embarrassing and totally horrendous bodily ailment that made me look like The Elephant Man, I would immediately call the hospital and beg them to fix me behind closed doors. I would not ring Channel 4 and say Can I be a contestant on Embarrassing Bodies” and subject the entire horror of my condition to the whole of the UK, including showing the full gory details of all operation I need to rectify the situation.

Mrs PM is a sucker for these kind of programmes and usually watches them when it is my turn to cook (having recorded them the previous week). When I walk into the lounge, I then find myself confronted with my tellybox showing me an explicit operation, complete with blood and gore, of a man just at the point where the surgeon is going to puncture his swollen scrotum. I look at my plate and see a lovely meal but the sight of a bloated ballsack about to be sliced somehow turns me off my dinner and makes me want to throw up.

That is not entertainment.

And Finally...

There are lots more programmes I want to consign to TV Hell. I will tell you more in a future post.

Over to you, dear reader.

What TV programmes make your blood boil?

Which TV programmes would you consign to TV Hell?

Am I being weird in my choice or am I the crazy one?

Actually – perhaps you shouldn’t answer that last question.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Dave Versus The Volcano

I have recently fulfilled a rather strange ambition; I have stood on the edge of the crater of an active volcano.

To be honest, it wasn’t really an ambition – it’s just something I have never done before – and I didn’t really plan to do it.

It was an accident.

This rare episode occurred in Santorini, a most beautiful Greek island, which was formed as the result of an enormous volcanic eruption thousands of years ago and is thought to have contributed to the demise of the Minoan civilisation on the nearby island of Crete.  Basically Santorini is what’s left of the island of Thera, a much bigger island that was devastated by the eruption.

Our initial plan was to visit the old port of Fira and take a boat trip around the small uninhabited volcanic island of Nea Kameni and then take a dip in some hot springs. Sadly, our plans went awry, when a small in a boat tried to charge us 200 Euros. In the end we went with the tourists on a packed boat, for the princely sum of 15 Euros each.

To our surprise, the boat arrived at Nea Kameni, and we were treated to a stroll up to the active crater at the top of the island. I was totally unprepared for the hike, wearing beach sandals instead of half decent trainers. Mrs PM and I also had very little water and the temperature was fairly high.

The walk was relatively easy but the temperature and the ground made it tricky for me, not because I am so unfit that I can’t climb what was effectively a small hill; my sandals were constantly filling up with tiny bits of volcanic rock, which felt the need to glue themselves to my sweating feet and irritating the skin.

I moaned to Mrs PM about my choice of footwear. As we climbed, we saw a lot of signs warning us not to take samples of the rocks.

“So will they check my feet and sandals?” I quipped. “I’ve probably acquired a couple of pounds of volcano in my sandals; my feet will look like The Thing's from the Fantastic Four - only black.

We were accompanied by a polyglot guide, who spoke in Greek, Spanish, English and Italian. Not only was his knowledge of the volcano exceptional, his command of language was terrific.

At the peak, we stood next to a still active crater, complete with smoking rocks and the distinctive smell of sulphur and enjoyed an incredible view of Santorini and the surrounding islands.

We returned to the boat, whereupon I spent half an hour chipping volcanic rock from my disgustingly sweaty feet. The boat continued to the hot springs on the smaller island of Palia Kameni and we were told that we had to swim 50 or 60 yards to reach the spring.

“It is best to jump off the boat,” said our guide. “But you can climb down the ladder if you wish.”

I read that as “you can climb down the ladder if you a GREAT BIG COWARD AND TOO SCARED TO JUMP IN THE WATER.

The captain of the boat had a magnificent huge white beard and was also an impressive polyglot. As we queued for the ladder, he was challenging people to just leap from the side of the boat. The captain urged a Spanish guy in front of me to leap into the sea and he duly obliged. His girlfriend was less keen and under duress was persuaded by the captain, now speaking fluent Spanish, to follow her boyfriend’s lead. She reluctantly climbed over the side and clung to the captain.

No es frio,” said her boyfriend now treading water. “It isn’t cold.”

After an eternity she finally leapt in.

The captain looked at me and smiled. “Your turn,” he said in perfect English.

I asked myself how he knew I was English, but perhaps my light hair, pale skin and general demeanour told him my nationality. Actually, bizarrely, I am usually mistaken for a German and I often find random Germans picking me out from a crowd as the obvious German. Why? I have no idea but it happens a lot. For example, last year we flew to Hong Kong on Lufthansa, and the stewardess welcomed Mrs PM on board the plane with a very friendly “Hello and welcome to our flight.” I was behind Mrs PM and the same stewardess said to me “Guten Tag und willkommen auf unserem Flug”.

Anyway, the captain looked at me as if to say “Are you going to jump – or are you CHICKEN?”

In typical Marty McFly fashion I said “Of course I’m going to jump!”

And I did. And it was fantastic.

We swam slowly to the hot springs on the rocky shoreline of the tiny island and as we approached we could feel the difference in temperature as the water became hotter and more yellow; you could see the brown and yellow particles in the water. It was wonderful.

Sadly, when I finally got back to the hotel and had a shower, I realised that I needed to take two showers to remove the residue of the hot springs. After my first shower, I towelled myself down on the pristine perfectly white fluffy hotel towels and realised with horror that I wasn’t quite clean enough – the towels where filthy , now coloured with a revolting and highly suspect browny yellow colour.

I think, for a while, I must have looked like I had a proper suntan.

I have to admit that Santorini is my favourite Greek island so far. The views over the caldera are stunning, particularly when the sun sets in the evening. It is definitely worth paying a little bit extra for a cold beer while watching wonderful sunset.

Another surprising thing about the island is the varied nationalities of tourists. On past visits to Greece, I have usually only encountered Greeks (obviously), Germans and British people. On this trip we encountered Russians, Americans, South Africans, Spaniards, French, Germans, Italians, British, Australians, Chinese and Japanese as well as a family from Venezuela and even Greek tourists from the other islands – a truly cosmopolitan tourist venue.

I’ll leave you with a few photos of this beautiful place – I hope you agree.


Beautiful sunset

Another beautiful sunset

The town of Oia

Another view of Oia

The hotel's cat trying to drink the swimming pool. We christened her "Pussaka"!

This is where Dave took on the volcano with sandals full of volcanic boulders!

View of Palia Kameni and Aspronisi from Nea Kameni.