Thursday, 5 March 2015

Dear Australia

Dear Australia,

I recently wrote a letter to the United States of America but I’ve just realised that I haven’t been in touch with Australia for ages. I last came to the big island down under way back in 2005; that’s ten years ago.

Anyway, how are you all doing down there?

Are you still trying to play cricket?

And rugby?

You’ve got a long way to go to reach the high standards of England, but I truly hope you keep trying. Beating Australia at sport is sweeter when you really try.

During my last visit, I tried my best not to upset you guys but I may have failed. It was quite badly timed on my part because England had just won the Ashes again and I found it difficult not to gloat. We stopped off in Hong Kong on the way to Australia and when I encountered a bunch of Ozzies in a lift in the hotel, I simply couldn’t resist mentioning cricket.

“My God! You’re a bladdy POM!!” said one woman, before her husband tried to make excuses for your cricket team’s total ineptitude with pathetic statements like “We let you win.”

This brings me nicely to my first point:

Why on earth do you call us “Poms”?

I have done some research on this but it seems that the origin of the word has drifted out to the ethers of time. Some people say that “POM” is an acronym for “Prisoner of (Her) Majesty”. say that it is short for pomegranate because, apparently, our pale skin colour matches that of a pomegranate when exposed to the sun down there. I can vouch that this might be a possibility as its damned hot on your side of the world.

Now I don’t mind being called a Pom to be honest. I have looked up some derogatory terms for Australians but because each and every one of you is a close friend, I won’t stoop to such depths of name calling.

I’ll just refer to you as Ozzies.

The one thing I like about you guys is that we share a similar sense of humour. I know that I can chat with an Ozzy and exchange meaningful banter without any offense. On the contrary, I think we both thrive on it.

Because we’re all mates together, I have a confession to make. I really worry about you guys.

When I was there, I discovered that you share your immense country with the most poisonous monsters on the entire planet.

How did that happen?

When I was there, I was on constant red alert for snakes and spiders. My first day on a beach in Port Douglas was marred by the fear of a crocodile racing out of the sea to grab my leg and drag me beneath the waves. I stepped back from the sea, watching the beautiful sunrise with half my mind on the undergrowth in case an eight-legged freak leapt up and sank its toxic fangs into my arse.

One thing is for sure, I didn’t walk into the sea – that would have been suicidal. The thought of encountering a box jellyfish, irukandji or blue ringed octopus put paid to any ideas of sampling the delights of the Coral Sea and the Great Barrier Reef.

I discovered that even the bloody platypus is venomous!

I did get the chance to cuddle a koala though. What a lovely creature that is. The one I held was very clingy, which made it awkward for me to smile, as my photo was taken, mainly because the creature smelled as if it had just had a monstrous shit.

Koala: "You stink as well, mate!"

Still, I can’t complain.

I did visit some great places; Port Douglas, Cairns, Brisbane and Sydney with lots of great places between Brisbane and Sydney, including Hunter Valley where you tried your best to get me drunk on your fabulous wine.

I even tried Vegemite, or as I like to call it, Marmite substitute. Next time I’m Down Under, I’ll bring some Marmite with me, just for you guys to try. I bet you don’t like it.

I particularly loved Sydney, despite scarying myself shitless climbing the giant coat hanger dangling over the harbour. Even that was amusing. The banter between the Brits and the Ozzie guide was, as you would expect, light-hearted and funny. The two American’s in our climbing group didn’t get the sense of humour, especially when the Ozzie guide addressed the group saying:

“So we have a fairly mixed bag of people; four ‘Stralians, four Poms, two from Japan and two Americans. Sorry about the Americans, guys.”

The Americans laughed but then frowned because they simply didn’t get the humour. I heard one of them say:

“Did he just insult us? And what’s a Pom?”

I would have explained but I was absolutely shitting myself.

I should have listened to the advice of the cashier at the start.

“I’m scared of heights,” I said.

“Well leave your fear on the ground,” she said with a smile.

One other thing; whenever I go to America, I’m often asked whether I am Australian.. I certainly don’t sound like an Ozzy.  You’ll never hear me referring to a dunny or a didgeridoo and the words “Fair Dinkum” will only ever cross my lips when I am trying a poor impersonation of you guys.

Anyway, I miss you guys – your beer, the banter, the weather, the beaches, the strange town names (Bong Bong, Humpybong, Jimcumbilly, Mount Buggery, Poowong to name but a few). And I love your openness and honesty.

One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen was how an Australian steward on a QANTAS flight dealt with a stupid passenger. I’ve seen two passengers do the same stupid thing, i.e. stand up to get something out of the overhead locker when the plane was about to race down the runway to take off. The first was on a Cathay Pacific flight; the second, as I mentioned above, was on a QANTAS flight.

On the Cathay flight, the lovely stewardess, still strapped in the seat, shouted in the nicest possible way:

“Sir, sir – excuse me sir. Please sit down! We are about to take off.”

The result was that the fool ignored her and almost brained himself when the aircraft accelerated.

On the QANTAS flight it was a different story.

The steward, a typical Ozzy bloke, told it as it was, screaming at the top of his voice:


The idiot sat down immediately. We were sitting right next to the steward and chuckled.

“STREWTH!” he said, still angry. “WHAT A PHARRKING MORON!!”

I loved that.

Anyway, I hope to see you all soon, when I can claw enough money (and patience) for the lengthy flight to the other side of the world. We have a few other places to visit first, but one day I’ll be back, hopefully when we’ve just kicked your arses at cricket again.

In the meantime, here are a few photos I took of Sydney:

And finally,  here’s a song for you:

I bet you've never heard THAT before.

Yours sincerely,

Plastic Mancunian

Monday, 2 March 2015

A Chemistry Catastrophe

I still remember the look of incredulity on his face.

“You are a complete and utter moron!”

he said, staring at me as if I had just dropped a rare Ming Dynasty vase.

To be totally honest, I had a look of sheer disbelief at my own incompetence. I looked around the room and saw twenty other faces also staring at me, except their reaction was completely different; there were all struggling not to laugh out loud.

Five minutes earlier I was preparing to perform a titration to find the concentration of an acid for my A-Level chemistry course. I had done this quite a few times already and even the most gormless muppet usually managed to complete the task without pain.

The experiment requires a glass tube, called a burette, which has a tap at the end, to be clamped vertically to a stand above a conical flask, similar to this:

This guy is much better than I was
The burettes were all clamped to the wall of the lab in tight metal clips and had to be very carefully removed.

I managed that.

I walked back to my workplace and opened the clamp on the stand to grip the burette vertically. Stupidly (and I still don’t know how I did this), I let go of the burette before the clamp had locked its rubber jaws onto the glass.

The burette obeyed the law of gravity and dropped onto the bench, shattering into several hundred pieces.

The chemistry teacher shouted from across the room.

“What have I told you all about clamping burettes?” he snarled. And then to me: “Get a brush and clean that up and then get another tube!”

I did as I was told. I grabbed a dustpan and brush and gathered up the tiny fragments of glass before walking across to acquire my second burette. I carefully prised the glass tube from the wall as I had done many times before and walked back to my workplace.

On the way, one of my so-called mates, lifted up a plastic bottle filled with distilled water and aimed it at my face. He didn’t actually squirt me, but I protected myself anyway out of instinct.

Sadly, I forgot about the burette in my hand and my evasive manoeuvres, while protecting me, had a devastating effect on the glass tube. I smashed it against the workbench and it shattered into a couple of hundred pieces, rather like its predecessor.

I closed my eyes in shame and when I dared to look up I discovered the chemistry teacher marching towards me, his face evolving into that of an apoplectic demon.

“In all my days, I have never seen one student break TWO burettes in the space of two minutes. Clean that up and get another – and this time BE CAREFUL!!”

I thought he was actually going to hit me. Thankfully, at my old school, when we entered the sixth form, students were treated as adults (even though we weren’t really) and the teacher restrained himself from any form of punishment.

All I could do was squeak the words, “I’m sorry, sir.”

I was genuinely embarrassed.

I cleaned up my second lot of glass and shuffled over to the burette wall again, amidst sniggering.

I grabbed the middle of the third burette.

Something came over me. Perhaps it was panic. Perhaps I was just flustered. Maybe I was frustrated at my own clumsiness.

I'll never know.

Rather  than carefully extracting the tube from its haven, I simply pulled the tube.

Burette number three snapped in two places.

The top third was still clamped to the wall.

The bottom third fell to the floor and shattered.

The final third was in my hand.

I turned around slowly and stared into the eyes of the teacher who was speechless for around twenty seconds. His mouth fell open in utter disbelief before he uttered the words:

 “You are a complete and utter moron!”

I had no defence. I couldn’t think of anything to say other than:

“I’ll get the dustpan and brush.”

Those words were the catalyst and laughter erupted from the mouths of the rest of the class like tiny sonic tsunamis.

I cleaned up the mess for the third time and when I had finished, the teacher had extracted a fourth burette and set it up at my workplace. As I approached, he simply said:

“For God’s sake try not to break this one!”

I didn’t and managed to complete the experiment without any more burette casualties.

It didn’t stop the teacher from saying:

“Try not to shatter any more burettes, Mr Mancunian. They cost a lot of money you know.” 

repeatedly for every titration I had to do. On the occasion of my very last titration, he actually smiled at me as he spoke the words.

I have quite a few tales from the chemistry laboratory that I may regale you with in later posts, some of which are quite a lot more spectacular than a little breaking glass.

In many ways this, and many other examples of my prowess at practical chemistry, go to prove that while I was actually good at the subject, I was really rather clumsy and careless when it came down to handling dangerous substances.

At one point I honestly fancied a career based on chemistry.

Thinking about it, it’s probably a good idea that I didn't pursue that particular plan.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Foo Fighters - The Meme

Self –indulgence is good and makes me feel happy. As the dark days of January and February are almost behind me, and we are edging ever closer to spring, combined with a very exciting March, I have decided that I will dedicate a post a month to a musical meme based on my favourite artists.

I know that you may cringe, dear reader, if you think my musical taste leaves a lot to be desired but hopefully you will carry on reading and expose yourself to a new slice of musical pie.

I’ve decided to journey through my music considering artists who have made an impact on my life, and whose albums fill my upstairs cupboard.

You may even learn a little bit about what makes me tick (or what makes me weird!).

This month’s band are the Foo Fighters.

1. How long have you been a fan?

I have been a fan since the beginning. The band rose from the ashes of Nirvana and, initially, I didn’t connect the two. 

A mate persuaded me to see Nirvana in Manchester and, since I had a couple of their albums I thought it might be a good gig. 

Sadly, Kurt Cobain committed suicide, which was an absolute tragedy, particularly at such a young age. 

Nirvana had achieved a musical paradigm shift and the pressure of fame finally got to him. I was really sad when I heard the news. 

Foo Fighters appeared a year later and I had no idea that the lead singer, Dave Grohl, was the drummer of Nirvana until I read it in a rock magazine. 

2. Do you remember the first song of theirs you heard?

The first song I heard was their one of their first singles, I’ll Stick Around and I loved it. I watched the video and thought to myself, that guy looks familiar but I couldn’t recall where I had seen him before. 

Nevertheless, I loved the song. It was similar to Nirvana in some ways but different enough to be a little more appealing to my taste. I bought their eponymous first album on the strength of that song alone. It is only when I looked into the band members that it clicked who Dave Grohl actually was – and I was delighted that he was not just a drummer; he could sing and play a decent guitar too.

3. What’s your favourite album(s)?

My favourite albums is Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace simply because it has some of my favourite songs by the band. It coincides with the first time I saw the band live and that was a special moment.

4. What’s your favourite song(s)?

Top five songs are:

At 5: Something From Nothing from Sonic Highways (2014):

I love songs that build up from a mild beginning to an extremely loud, fast sonic masterpiece. The first single from the band’s latest album does just that, reaching a fabulous crescendo just before it finishes.

At 4: Still from In Your Honour (2005):

This is a beautifully mellow song that is totally unlike any other track by the band. The acoustic guitar and haunting keyboard are simply mesmerising and Dave Grohl’s vocals are fantastic. This is a truly wonderful song that will appeal to many people. It has a lofty position in the chillout playlist on my iPod.

At 3: But Honestly from Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace (2007):

This is another song that slowly builds up from a beautiful acoustic start to a more traditional rock song. When I saw the band for the first time at the Manchester Arena, they seemed so far away on the main stage. However, they had constructed a smaller stage a lot closer to us and used it about half way through the show to perform a couple of acoustic numbers. This song was one of them and for me it was a highlight.

At 2: The Pretender from Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace (2007):

I absolutely love this song. The chorus is a complete earworm and I have embarrassed myself many times bellowing in the car while waiting at traffic lights. It’s one of those songs that are all encompassing and makes me forget where I am, particularly when the challenging:

I’m what’s left, I’m what’s right – I’m the enemy.
I’m the hand that’ll take you down and bring you to your knees.
So who are you?
Yeah – who are you?
Yeah – who are you?

That appeals to the anarchist in me.

At 1: All My Life from One by One (2002):

This is the song that has embarrassed me most in the car, causing me to be stared at and laughed at as I pull a face and scream:

And I’m On To The Next One

If you need an injection of pure rock – look no further than this song.

5. Have you ever seen them live? (How often?)

Yes – three times.

Dave Grohl is a great frontman and holds the audience in the palm of his hand for the entire show.

After the second time I saw them, I decided that sitting down was safer than standing up.

I watched them at Old Trafford Cricket Ground in Manchester and I was so far away from the stage that I suggested to my mate perhaps we could get closer. He agreed – but it was a mistake.

The band started playing and a mosh pit erupted around me, quite literally lifting me off my feet and propelling me forward. I turned around in desperation and as I was carried towards the stage I looked around and saw my mate, who is about six inches taller than me, waving at me as the distance between us increased. It took me three songs to fight my way back to him. The other two times I have watched them from the safety of a seat and enjoyed the music rather than doing an impromptu tour of the audience.

6. Have you ever met them?

No – but Dave Grohl is one of the few musicians I would love to meet. He is one of my rock heroes.

7. Do you have a favourite era of their career?

No. The band continue to move from strength to strength.

8. Is there a song or album of theirs you dislike?

All of their albums are fine pieces of work but there are a couple of songs that I am not too keen on.

9. What do they or their music mean to you?

Foo Fighters are a band that appeals to a wide range of people of all ages and they keep me in touch with the youth. My eldest son loves the band and he is going to see them later this year. I have decided against it, based on cost but believe me I was sorely tempted.

10. Do you get annoyed when other people don’t like them?

Not at all. Foo Fighters are one of the most popular bands on the planet and even Mrs PM likes the odd song.

11. Which artist do you want them to collaborate with?

Dave Grohl has already collaborated with a couple of my favourite artists. The most notable is Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, another hero of mine.

Here is a song featuring Dave Grohl (drums and vocals), Josh Homme (guitar and vocals) and Trent Reznor (keyboards and vocals):

12. Are they underappreciated/unknown?

Absolutely not. They are massively appreciated.

13. Is there a song of them that everybody likes but you dislike?

Not really. Most of the songs they have released as singles have universal appeal.

14. Do people think you are too obsessed with the artist?

No. While Foo Fighters are one of my favourite bands, there are many more that I share my obsession with.

15. Do you preorder their new albums without having heard any music from it?

Yes – sadly I do. The good news is that when I hear about a new Foo Fighters album, I have usually heard the lead single from it – so I know what to expect. They haven’t let me down yet.

And Finally ...

Thanks again for allowing me to indulge myself.

I would apologise - but, hey, I enjoyed delving into my Foo Fighters collection so I don't care.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

The Anarchist

I have a flaw.

Actually, I have many flaws but there is one in particular that sometimes annoys me but most of the time makes me feel truly alive and gives me a buzz unlike any other.

I am a bit of an anarchist.

The targets of my anarchist streak are those who have been granted a tiny bit of power and have tried to abuse it in order to control me.

A good way to illustrate this is the saga of “Dave versus the Night Club Bouncer”. Thankfully, I rarely visit such establishments these days but in the past I have many encounters with certain meatheads who have been given a little power and feel it necessary to abuse innocent people like me.

Okay , I’ve not always been innocent but at the start of the encounter I have usually been in a happy frame of mind and therefore tolerant of their power trip. It almost as if the fake tuxedo has turned them into an unreasonable henchman, whose ego has been inflated by a tiny bit of authority that they simply do not possess in their normal lives.

I can tolerate bouncers who are friendly and are genuinely there to stop trouble. What I hate and detest are those who, for some reason, do not like the look of me or cannot take any sarcastic banter from me when they question my suitability to enter their establishment.

A bouncer would, of course, beat the shit out of me if my behaviour were worthy of being forcibly removed from the premises; I have never let it get that far. My purpose has always been to point out to anybody in the vicinity (usually other punters waiting to get into the night club) how stupid the rules are and how the bouncer is in fact on a power trip, having been granted a miniscule amount of authority.

That’s really what my anarchist streak is fighting against – people who have been granted a small amount of power and abuse it in order to control me when they have no right to do so.

One bouncer, for example, once told me that I was overdressed.

Can you believe that?

How can you be overdressed for a shitty little night club?

This meatheaded moron was standing outside a nightclub dressed in a tuxedo and refused to allow me in because I was wearing a shirt and trousers instead of a T-shirt and jeans.

“Look, mate,” I said in a reasonable fashion. “I’ve just met my mates for a pint and on the spur of the moment we thought we’d pop to this club because we heard it was great. Come on – look at me? Do I look as if I’m going to cause trouble? I’ll just sit at the bar and chat with my friends.”

“You’re overdressed!” was his curt reply.

“Really? And why are you wearing a tuxedo? Aren’t you overdressed?”

“It’s not about me; I let in normal people. You are not normal; you are overdressed.”

“I tell you what – it’s the first time I’ve been refused entry because I’m overdressed. You’ve just let in three women wearing fantastic dresses and shoes but you won’t let me in because I have a shirt and trousers?”

“You’re overdressed.”

“And you, my friend, are an idiot. Look at me. I’m a scrawny bespectacled spotty little kid who is more likely to run away from a fight than start one. What possible harm could I cause sitting in a dark corner with my mates?”

“You’re overdressed.”

Once the meathead realised that other people in the queue were laughing at him, his reaction changed. The look on his face evolved from one of  blind stupidity to an air of aggressive thuggery as he slowly realised that his power was being threatened by a clever little anarchistic geek wearing glasses.

The only way he could reinforce his power was to use violence. That way he could control the rest of the queue out of fear.

Fortunately for me, he was a moron and the synapses of his acorn brain were slow to realise this, giving me and my mates ample time to make ourselves scarce before he turned into a raging meathead.

It’s not just bouncers that rile me.

One encounter I had was with local councillor in a car park. I had gone on a shopping trip and parked my car in a “Pay and Display” car park. The idea is that you park your car and pay for a ticket in advance. I guessed that my shopping trip would last three hours so I purchased a ticket for that length of time.

I overestimated the time. I managed to buy what I needed in just under an hour.

I arrived back at my car just as another guy was parking next to me. I was in a generous mood and as the guy was about to buy his ticket, I said:

“Hi mate. Listen, I’ve still got two hours left on this ticket. You can have it for nothing. It will save you wasting your money.”

Unfortunately, I was overhead by a rather posh and pompous arse who marched over and intervened.

“Excuse me,” he bellowed at me in a voice reminiscent of a teacher I hated at school. “Do you realise that I am a councillor for this town? You cannot give away a ticket like that. “

He turned to the guy to whom I had offered the ticket. “You need to buy your OWN ticket.”

He turned back to me with a look of authority that soured my mood. I had been happy and now the anarchist inside rose up like a demon.

I was livid.

“Er – excuse me,” I said in a voice that I hadn’t heard since being an obnoxious little teenager. “I wasn’t talking to you.”

I turned back to the other guy. “Do you still want the ticket? It’s free.”

“DID YOU HEAR WHAT I SAID?” bellowed the pompous arse.

“Yes,” I replied. “Talk to somebody who gives a toss.”

The other guy considered his position and was slightly intimidated by this jumped up little Hitler.

“It’s okay; I’ll get a new ticket," he said with a smile.

“Thank you,” said the councillor, enjoying his victory.

I was enraged. I launched into a tirade about overpriced car parks and pocket dictators, questioning his authority and his opinion about his inflated authority.

“The whole point of having rules is to follow them,” he replied in a condescending voice. “If everybody flouts the rules then there will be total anarchy.”

“In this case, the rules are created by greedy idiots,” I said. “Being a councillor doesn’t give you the right to tell me what to do or try to quash my generosity. You have ruined the day for two people. “

I shook the ticket at him.

“Oh – and by the way, it doesn’t say “not transferrable”. So you're wrong. And rest assured that if this situation arises again I will GLADLY give my ticket away to whoever I bloody well want to."

I asked for his name but he refused to give it to me.

I left the car park with mixed emotions. I was angry that my good deed for the day had been ruined by a pompous idiot on a power trip, but I was delighted with myself for standing up to his dubious authority.

Although this councillor was undoubtedly a more intelligent man than your average meathead, he was the same at a basic primeval level, i.e. he had been given a little power and was trying to use it to control me.

In my opinion we should all allow the anarchist within us to breathe a little fresh air. I want everybody to join me and stand up to these petty minded fools who use the tiny bit of power they have been granted to enforce their will on the general public.

Say no to councillors.

Tell bouncers they are idiots.

Go into the “10 items or less” queue with 12 items.

Sneak sweets into cinemas who stipulate “only food bought in the cinema can be consumed”.

There is more to follow on this touchy subject but in the meantime I simply want to ask:

Who’s with me?

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Food Fascists

(Take a deep breath Dave …)

If I had made a New Year’s resolution to give up being a grumpy old git who ranted for England, then I would have failed miserably.

I strive for happiness, dear reader, I truly do, but fate and the petty minded idiocy of people turns on the red mist machine and I find myself trapped in an incredulous rant.

I say again – maybe it is the cold winter months in Britain that aggravate the situation – but I’m not so sure.

“What has pushed your buttons this time?” I hear you cry.

The answer is; an email at work.

I won’t reproduce the email but the gist of it is:

It has been suggested that we get some vending machines but there are some people who think it will encourage unhealthy eating. So instead of getting them, we are going to put it to the vote. Please reply with “Yes” if you want a vending machine or “No” if you don’t.

Where do I begin with why this pissed me off so much?

First of all, let me just say that as far as vending machines are concerned, I can take them or leave them. I usually take enough food with me to work to get me through the day; usually a couple of sandwiches, a couple of apples, a banana, some cherry tomatoes and perhaps a couple of plums, nectarines or peaches.

Also, it is a tradition at work that when you celebrate a birthday, you bring in some treats for your co-workers, usually in the form of chocolates, cakes or whatever takes your fancy.

So why I am I so bloody annoyed about this email?

I'll tell you why. It's because there are a few people in my company who think that they can control those others who want a vending machine because of the stupid belief that a vending machine will encourage you to eat crisps, sweets, chocolates etc. and ultimately become a bloated monster unable to crowbar your blubbery body through the door.

What right have these people got to dictate what other people eat?

Why the flump should they care about a bloody vending machine?

Should we ban people from bringing treats in on their birthday for the co-workers to enjoy?

If the folks on my table want to eat crisps, doughnuts, cakes, bacon sandwiches or sweets then that is entirely up to them.

The worst thing, the thing that really winds me up, is that these people do not even know what is being sold in the bloody vending machine. It could be tea, coffee, soup or sandwiches. Vending machines sell a variety of wares.

“Oh – it’s a vending machine so it’s crisps, pop, sweets and blubber in a box. It will turn us all into fat bastards!”

I blame the "State of Fear".

My own television tells me of an obesity epidemic in Britain with people growing fatter every second of the day and making us the laughing stock of Europe. They show pictures of fat people walking around towns and cities, their bits wobbling menacingly towards the camera with the hidden message: “It’s an illness and one day you, dear everyday Brit, will succumb and spend the whole day eating burgers, cakes and chocolate until your trousers give up in shock and your blubber escapes for the whole world to see.”

And not content with targetting fat adults, it seems that they want to step up a gear with horrific statistics about children being obese. And, yes, they show fat kids wobbling to school just to illustrate the point.

The people who say things like “We don’t want vending machines because it will turn you all into hippopotami.” have just been brainwashed by the fear of a state of obesity.

Are we all school children for flump’s sake?

Can’t we make our own decisions about whether we want to stuff our faces with crisps from a vending machine? Or a bloody supermarket?

The truth is that if you are the kind of person who’s massive bulk is due to eating cakes, crisps and chips then you will bring all manner of unhealthy food into work anyway. Surely it is up to the person concerned what he bloody well eats.

I mean, what next?

Should fat people be banned from supermarkets in case they buy high calorie food?

Should supermarkets stop selling chocolate, doughnuts and cakes to people because they are unhealthy?

Should we close all fish and chip shops in the UK?

It makes me sick that people preach to me about how I should live my life, what I should eat and what I should drink, just because of their own silly views, their own perception of what the news and media are saying about obesity and (this is the thing that really annoys me) their own desire to control me in some subtle way,

I am not going to stuff my face and become a bloater; my kids haven’t and didn’t and most people eat what they bloody well like anyway, whether it be a supremely healthy diet or a normal balanced diet with the odd cake as a naughty treat.

I say to you people:

“Sod off! If I want a bag of crisps from a vending machine I will buy one. I will not come and ask your permission and I will call you a fool if you accuse me of eating in an unhealthy way.”

Guess which way I voted, dear reader?

Yes, that’s right. I voted for a vending machine.

Just to piss off these subtle dictators.

And when we get one I will enjoy every bag of crisps I buy from it (however occasional they are).

Rant over.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Our House In The Middle Of Our Street

In my wrap up post for last year, I suggested that I might try a couple of 30 day challenges, in order to have a little fun, learn something new or just make a couple of tiny improvements.

I have just completed two in a month.

I thought I would start with easy challenges, just to ease me into the concept and acclimatise me to the discipline required.

The first challenge was to walk at least two miles a day for 30 days. I usually go for a lunchtime walk at work just to get me away from my desk but I don’t usually force myself to walk as far as two miles, usually a little under. Also, I don’t walk every day at weekends.

This proved to be easier than I thought. Armed with an application on my phone and a pedometer to measure distance etc., I marched around the streets with my trusty iPod as a guide, pumping out decent well timed music.

When the snow came, last week, it was a little tougher but I completed the challenge with a 2.3 mile walk around Didsbury.

The pedometer proved to be extremely useful because it measured how far I walked during the rest of the day, rather than just on a two mile walk around the block – I was surprised to be honest that I actually walked probably twice that distance just ambling around the office, running up the stairs etc.

My second challenge was to dedicate an hour a day to learning Spanish. Again, this seemed relatively easy because I have been learning on and off for the best part of two years now, but this was tougher than I thought. Again, my smartphone came in very useful, allowing me to learn new vocabulary with a suitable application, and to read a Spanish web site whilst on a bus, at home on the settee or even on the throne.

Now that I am used to it, I will try to read a little Spanish and learn some grammar and vocabulary on a more regular basis.

So now to the next challenge: I am going to start improving my photography. I have an assistant for this one because Mrs PM is a keen and able photographer, so I will spend the next 30 days either taking photos or reading some of her books on how to improve my techniques.

“What has all this malarkey got to do with the blog post title?” I hear you ask.

Allow me to elaborate. I’ve taken a few photos from around my house this weekend and I thought I would share them. They’re nothing special but I hope that may change with a little practice and insight from Mrs PM and her books over the coming month.

Here they are with suitable captions.

There's a meerkat in our mug cupboard

I don't even drink spirits!!!

An English Rose

The Warrior who guards the gasfire

Flower and lamp

A chequered bathroom

A glimpse of my CD collection and, yes, it is in alphabetical order!

Cheshire Cat seems happy.


Some books - they are not all mine!

A boring cloudy day through a pretty window
Straight from the 1970's to our bedroom

And, of course, I can't take photos of our house without my three bosses.

Jasper has had such a busy day - he's exhausted!

Poppy is terrified - what on earth is the oaf pointing at me now?

Liquorice plotting her next attack from the comfort of her furry tube.

If you fancy letting me know what you think, please feel free.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Rush - The Meme

Following on from my last rant about music, I thought I would be a little more positive in this post. I don’t expect this to be a post that people will enjoy too much because it is a little self-indulgent. In these deep dark January days I need a little self-indulgence.

Regular readers will know that I often mention my favourite band, the progressive rock power trio from Canada called Rush. Well, I have discovered a meme that allows me to explain why they hold this lofty position in my musical world and, hopefully, to introduce the band to anybody who has not heard of them.

This year is their 40th anniversary and they have somehow survived with a cult following for all this time despite receiving very little, if any airplay. Mrs PM, for one, was stunned two years ago that this band sold out the Manchester Arena, the largest music venue in the city. She would never have heard of them if it hadn’t been for me.

Anyway, without further ado, here is the meme and hopefully it will give a little insight into why I love the band and a little history of how they rose to the throne in my musical world.

1. How long have you been a fan?

I have been a fan since 1982, when a friend at university lent me a tape of their latest album at that time called Signals.

I had heard of the band before, when I was at school, because a lad in my school urged people to listen to, what he then described as, the greatest band on the planet. Being a hormone-fuelled arse at the time, I chose to ignore him.

At university I mellowed and grew up a little. I remember putting the tape on and listening to the first song, Subdivisions, a song about dreamers living in suburbia and being regarded as pariahs for not living the mundane “cool” life that suburbia demands:

In the high school halls
In the shopping malls
Conform or be cast out
In the basement bars
In the backs of cars
Be cool or be cast out

I was totally blown away. This was a band that wrote intelligent songs about interesting things. On the strength of that one album I paid a fortune, as a poor student, to travel about 80 miles from Liverpool to Birmingham to see them live. That concert, way back in the early 1980’s, was when I handed my soul to Rush.

I’ve been a fan ever since.

2. Do you remember the first song of theirs you heard?

Strangely the first song I heard was a radio friendly song that somehow crept into the back end of the UK charts in 1978 called Closer To The Heart. It didn’t really appeal to me as I was just drifting into heavy metal at the time and, compared to bands like Black Sabbath, it was just a short vaguely pleasant rock song.

3. What’s your favourite album(s)?

I have all of their studio albums apart from the first three – that’s 17 albums if you count the extended play album called Feedback. I love them all but the following stand out:

Signals (1982)  - the first album I really loved by the band – it was their 9th album!

Power Windows (1985) – this album was my best friend on long distance commutes every other weekend to London during my long distance relationship with my ex-wife.

Counterparts (1993) – I just love this album; it has some great songs.

Clockwork Angels (2012) – Their most recent studio album is a return to their progressive rock roots and pays tribute to their earlier work while maintaining a modern forward looking feel.

4. What’s your favourite song(s)?

This is a really difficult question as there are simply so many to choose from. Here are three off the top of my head (ask me tomorrow and I will pick three more).

Red Barchetta (from Moving Pictures (1981):

Stick It Out (from Counterparts (1993):

Headlong Flight (from Clockwork Angels 2012):

5. Have you ever seen them live? (How often?)

I have seen Rush five times live. The first time I have mentioned above and was back in 1982 at the NEC in Birmingham. I travelled down to Birmingham again in 1989 to see them on the Presto tour. All of the other times were at the Manchester Arena, in 2002 for the Vapor Trails tour, for their 30th anniversary tour in 2005 and finally in 2013 for the Clockwork Angels tour.

6. Have you ever met them?

No I haven’t, sadly, but I would love to meet them and discuss their music and the inspiration behind it.

7. Do you have a favourite era of their career?

Die hard Rush fans may disagree with this but from 1982 to 1993, keyboards and synthesisers played a major part in their music. While I love all of their music, I have a particular soft spot for the albums of that period.

8. Do you have their autograph or a photo with them?

As I said, I have never met the band so the answer is no.

9. Is there a song or album of theirs you dislike?

There are a couple of songs that I am not too keen on; I am not such a die-hard fan that I love every single piece of music they have composed. A couple of albums disappointed me, although not all of the songs on them are bad. My least favourite albums are Roll The Bones (1991) and Test For Echo (1996).

Having said that, I still listen to them occasionally.

10. What do they or their music mean to you?

Rush have provided a soundtrack to my life since 1982 – and before if you count my old school friend who I should really have listened too in the 1970’s. For every major event in my life since that time, I can mention one or more Rush songs that remind me of those times, both good and bad. If they ever make a movie out of my life, Rush will feature heavily in the soundtrack.

11. Would you pay £200 for a front row ticket?

No. Having said that, I have a limit on ticket prices, which I rarely exceed, but did so for the last concert I saw them play in 2013. I paid £84, mainly because I thought that I may not get the chance to see them again, but also because Clockwork Angels was such a great album.

I have to say that a Rush concert is worth every penny normally because the band has no support and, since they have so much material, they play for around three hours.

12. Do you get annoyed when other people don’t like them?

Not really. I may rant about music but I don’t try to enforce it on people. I am just keen for people to explore outside the box that we find ourselves in thanks to the greedy music industry. One thing does surprise me about Rush; a lot of people are closet fans. A friend of mine heard that I was going to see Rush in 2005 and actually phoned me up asking me to get him a ticket. I didn’t even know he was a fan. That’s the good thing about Rush – there are lots of secret Rush fans out there, despite the fact that they are unfashionable.

13. Which artist do you want them to collaborate with?

I don’t want them to collaborate with anybody because there music would be diluted. Having said that, many other artists have performed their songs, like Dream Theater. When the band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I discovered that the Foo Fighters are huge fans of the band and actually performed live with them, impersonating the band at first before Rush joined them on stage. If you are a Rush/Foo Fighters fan you will find this video entertaining, with Dave Grohl impersonating a younger Alex Lifeson:

Also from that same induction, Alex Lifeson’s speech is quite memorable and quite embarrassing for his fellow band members who had no idea about what he was going to say (he is the last member of the band to speak). You can see their amused discomfort (start at 4:36 if you don’t want to see the first speeches):

The audience seemed to like it anyway.

14. Are they underappreciated/unknown?

They are not unknown but I think they are underappreciated for the same reasons that I ranted about in my last post, that is, they are rarely played on the radio.

15. Is there a song of them that everybody likes but you dislike?

They have a song that is a token rock song. You may have heard it:

Actually, I still like it.

And Finally ...

I liked this self-indulgent meme and I think I may repeat it for some other bands I like that are unknown or underrated.

Sorry about the self-indulgence.

I needed it.