Friday, 29 August 2008

Make Me Over - Slice And Dice

I have never understood the apparent fascination of my fellow countrymen with watching people on the TV being ritually humiliated before undergoing an experience that involves being hacked on an operating table.

On Channel Four in the UK there is a programme called “Ten Years Younger” where people are made to look, as the name suggests, ten years younger. When Mrs PM (who incidentally loves the programme) first brought this to my attention I sat down to watch it, more out of a morbid curiosity than a real desire to watch a fascinating piece of televisual excellence.

The host of the show is Nicky Hambleton-Jones, a South African dietician. The victim, sorry, contestant, is a person, usually a woman, who appears to be at least ten years older than she is.

We are introduced to the victim at the start of the show. Nicky basically smiles sweetly at the woman and then verbally rips her to shreds, with all the sympathy of a starving lion standing over a plump gazelle. She savages the victim’s hair, colour and texture, before moving onto the face, usually showing the audience every single wrinkle and every blemish. Next the victim is forced to show her yellow or rotting teeth in close up for all to see. The final kick in teeth involves the victim’s dress sense being condemned with the ferocity of a hungry shark.

If that’s not enough, just as she thinks that the savaging is complete, the now dejected contestant is paraded on a local high street like a mutated freak. Nicky demands that every single passer by gives his or her opinion on age and appearance.

Now at her lowest ebb, the victim is led back to the studio where Nicky confirms the dreaded news; the victim looks like a decrepit old geriatric and has the style and grace of an orang-utan cat-walking at a fashion show.

Nicky herself is not a bad-looking woman and boy does she rub it in. “Look at me! I’m beautiful; I dress like a model; I am an expert in all things fashionable and nutritional. You are the complete opposite!!”

Nicky isn’t totally heartless. She is here to help after all and her audience, perched on their settees, are then subjected to the remedy to cure the victim’s problems. With a smile on her pretty face Nicky tells the victim that she will have her face sliced open and vast swathes of facial skin peeled off before having major dental surgery and a thorough makeover.

I cringed throughout the entire show.

I hated the fact that the victim was paraded in public as some kind of aged mutant creature in a zoo. I hated the condescending way in which Nicky talked down to the victim, treating her like a naughty child and acting as if she herself were an omnipotent fashion guru.

And being a squeamish wimp, I couldn’t bear watching the victim being attacked by a mad cosmetic surgeon with a scalpel and marker pen.

I left at that point and returned at the end of the show.

Thankfully, the victim was transformed; her hair was sculpted by a celebrity hairdresser; her teeth were perfected by a dental surgeon; her face was peeled, sliced and every wrinkle and blemish exterminated; her wardrobe was replaced by clothes selected by style gurus to the rich and famous.

The final chapter involved Nicky once more parading the victim in the high street, this time as a youthful, dashing, gorgeous nymphette who could melt any man’s heart at one hundred paces.

It worked. The victim, no longer a victim, did indeed look like a completely different person with at least ten years surgically removed. And the audience agreed.

But, for me the whole thing was very distressing. I saw a sad old woman humiliated to within an inch of total despair only to be sliced and diced and resurrected as a youthful phoenix. I felt a wave of sorrow followed by relief - I hated it.

That’s why I question the programme and other programmes like it. Is it right to watch a person destroyed and then recreated all in the name of entertainment? What if the surgery had gone wrong? What if the makeover hadn’t worked? Do we know about the failures, if there are any?

I am so grateful that I have managed to retain my youthful looks. I am forty five years old but almost always mistaken for somebody ten years younger. Why? Well the main reason is that I do not smoke and I do not spend hours in the sun. If I expose my skin to bright sunshine for more than an hour, it turns a luminous purpley-red colour. Any longer and I get sunstroke, which means that I end up in bed ill, but unable to get comfortable because my skin has been cooked. And two days later I look like an extra from a zombie film as the fried skin peels off - I don't need cosmetic surgery to remove my facial skin.

I have no intention of ever subjecting myself to a traumatic experience such as “Ten Years Younger”. I’m there already thankfully.

See you in two weeks. I’m off to South Africa tomorrow to tell Nicky what I think of her show (if I bump into her on my travels).

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

The Bogeyman


The Bogeyman lurks in the gentleman’s toilet at my place of work.

I am not talking about the demonic fiend that hides in your cupboard and leaps out when you’re asleep to kidnap and torment you to within a centimetre of your life. I am talking about the nameless and repulsive monster that performs an act of gross indecency within the cubicles of the male toilet.

This beast walks amongst us and I possibly talk to him every single day. When an innocent man walks into the toilet to answer a call of nature and chooses to use a cubicle he is reduced to a gibbering wreck if the Bogeyman was the previous occupant.

I know what you’re thinking; you are debating whether or not to read on. I urge you to do so because this kind of act needs to be stamped out and I feel that it is my mission to do so. Why? Because I am sickened whenever I am that poor unfortunate victim who has to bear witness to the antics of this cursed creature and I respect my fellow man.

So what is this grotesque act of offensiveness?

The Bogeyman, when perched on his throne, is obviously too bored to allow nature to take its course and decides to succumb to the urge to pick his nose. When he has managed to clean all of the snot from his right nostril, he doesn’t use the adjacent toilet roll to dispose of the detritus; he wipes it on the cubicle door. How revolting is that? And not content with trying to create a Picasso masterpiece from the dried mucus of his right nostril, he sticks his finger up the remaining nostril and hauls out the contents to reproduce another abstract work of genius on the wall just above the toilet roll dispenser.

WHY DOES HE DO THIS?

I have tried to shame the individual concerned to own up by expressing my displeasure at this revolting hobby – usually when there have been a group of us quaffing beer at the local pub – yet nobody confesses. In fact, everybody seems to find it highly amusing, so much so that I am beginning to suspect that there may actually be several Bogeymen whose sole purpose is to cover each cubicle in snot.

Thankfully I have two groups of allies; the cleaning staff who meticulously scrape the cubicle walls at the end of the day and my female colleagues who agree with me and find the whole thing utterly sickening.

One day I will find out who is responsible for this outrage. I have a dilemma, though. Should I name and shame him or leave a sticky note on the cubicle wall?

“Self Portrait” by “Mr Bogey Mann” (during his green period)

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Cats, Vets And Pills Don't Mix

Hell hath no fury like a she-cat scorned.

I am in agony as I type this post, quite literally bleeding all over the keyboard.

You may recall that we planned to take our cats to the vet (read about it here). Well yesterday we did the deed. It wasn’t for anything serious; just a visit to clean their teeth. Spike was exempt because he isn’t really our cat, so only Jasper and Poppy had to suffer.

Now call me na├»ve if you will but I imagined that cleaning a cat’s teeth was a simple procedure where we held the cat and the vet moved in with a tiny toothbrush and special fish flavoured toothpaste. I was completely wrong.

The procedure involved:

(1) Taking the cats to the vet in the morning. Obvious really.
(2) Leaving the cats with the vet. Fantastic – at least the vet will suffer the wrath of the feline.
(3) Each cat having a blood test to see if the cat would be allergic to the anaesthetic. Hang on – anaesthetic?
(4) Shaving a portion of the cat’s front leg to administer the anaesthetic. Shaving their legs?
(5) Cleaning their teeth while they are unconscious. The vet is obviously a coward.
(6) Returning them to their owner with special cat food to settle their stomachs. Great! A chance of cat vomit.
(7) Administering antibiotics for five days. WHAT??????

The whole experience was a trauma from start to finish and not just for the cats.

First, we had to keep them in overnight and not feed them after a certain time. Jasper was delirious with hunger and howled in anguish. Poppy was invisible as usual. Keeping them in was difficult; we had to lock the cat flap and push a kitchen bin in front of it. Why? Because Jasper has been known to break through a locked cat flap – I am not joking.

Of course we had to give them access to a toilet as well so out came the cat tray. I HATE cat trays.

The next morning Jasper was so ravenous that he was looking at me as if I were a gourmet meal.

Mrs PM retrieved the cat carriers while I caught the cats. Jasper was easy. He allows us to pick him up all the time. It wasn’t too bad trying to squeeze him into the carrier. Poppy on the other hand is a nightmare. First I had to flush her out from under the bed in the spare bedroom, then Mrs PM had to stand strategically by the kitchen door so that Poppy would be diverted into the lounge. It worked but we had to move every item of furniture to retrieve her.

By this stage, Jasper was howling. Already starving, he was trapped and knew what was coming. We bundled the cats in the car and set off to the vets – a fifteen minute drive. Except this time we hadn’t anticipated the traffic jam.

The fifteen minute journey turned into a forty minute descent into Hell; as the cats’ howling intensified, Mrs PM became more anguished, causing the cats to howl even more and my road rage to intensify, which caused the cats to howl even more. By the time we arrived at the vet, both cats had expelled the contents of their bladders leaving them and the back seat of the car covered in cat urine.

We had to wait ten minutes for the vet and then we left. Mrs PM was distraught.

After work, Mrs PM went to pick them up.

When she arrived home, she was still agitated, but mainly because the entire procedure had cost us a lovely £330.

THREE HUNDRED AND THIRTY BLOODY POUNDS!!!!

The fee included anaesthetic, light food, antibiotics, the blood test and the treatment itself. Why did we need antibiotics? Because the de-scaling procedure can cause their gums to bleed; the pills were needed to stop them from getting an infection.

Well, basically the cats stopped speaking to us, apart from Spike who was laughing his tail off.

Poppy, the timid one, glared at me and fled.

Now tonight, we had to administer the first of the antibiotics. We have in the past failed miserably when trying to hide the pill in the cat food - they are wise to that now. We would have to use the technique that the vet was so successful at – opening the mouth, popping the pill in, closing the mouth and rubbing the throat. The vet had made it look easy in the past.

Again, Jasper was easy enough to catch but forcing him to take a pill was very difficult. It took us ten minutes and my hands were covered in cat saliva.

Poppy was far, far worse.

Again we trapped her in the lounge through the use of a strategically placed Mrs PM. And I caught her. As I held her, Mrs PM opened Poppy’s mouth and dropped the pill inside. Poppy closed here mouth and stared fiercely at me. Her little tongue popped out and I caught a glimpse of the pill resting on it. She spat it out even though I rubbed her throat. Three times we tried and three times we failed. I decided that Poppy was small enough for me to both hold her and force the pill inside. After all I’d seen the vet do it many times.

I opened her mouth and popped the pill in. However I left my finger in her mouth a little too long and she sank her teeth straight in. I howled with pain and Poppy saw her chance; as I relaxed my grip she extended all of her claws and literally ran up my shoulder and face digging her claws in as deep as she could to get a foothold. And she spat the pill out for good measure.

Bleeding and feeling sorry for myself (and Mrs PM trying not to laugh) we finally managed to succeed.

Poppy fled and is now on her way to London to seek her fortune.

And the worst thing about all this is, we have to go through the whole thing again for the next four days.

I bloody hate vets!

The Flying Spaghetti Monster Is Real

Today I discovered evidence that the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the supposed creator of our universe, is in fact real.

I know – difficult to believe isn’t it?

I first became aware of the Flying Spaghetti Monster when a rather eccentric Austrian database trainer pointed it out to me during a course on performance tuning. I laughed, of course, and after a quick investigation with the help of my good friend Mr Google, enjoyed the supposed parody religion that has now become the Church of The Flying Spaghetti Monster. And it is truly hilarious.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster has the appearance of two enormous meatballs literally implanted in a huge mass of sentient spaghetti known as “noodly appendages”. The creature supposedly created the entire universe after a particularly heavy drinking session thus explaining the imperfect nature of our beloved world. There is even a “Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster” complete with eight commandments (or “I’d Really Rather You Didn’ts”).

Followers are called “pastafarians” and non-believers are “spagnostics”.

You can read all about it here.

Until now I treated with sheer amusement, particularly the seriousness with which some people take it. It is a joke after all.

Or is it?

A colleague of mine at work sent me an article today with a rather startling picture of the Flying Spaghetti Monster in all his glory. Here it is.

I’m afraid that I might have to reassess my thinking in this area. Perhaps I should start by confessing that I have just devoured a huge plate of Spaghetti Bolognese.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

My Feline Masters

It is said that an Englishman’s home is his castle. That is a misguided statement, particularly if cats live there.

Cats are devious, manipulative and selfish creatures who twist people to do their bidding. I am not the king of my own castle; I am a mere servant who, when home, is ruled by felines. Even as I type, I have a cat sitting next to the keyboard glaring at me because I have not leapt up to feed him.

One cat is bad enough; but Mrs PM and I own two and share a third. Mrs PM is a willing servant. I am not and am desperate to recapture my castle. I am starting a revolution in my own home.

It isn’t easy. You see, Mrs PM is enthralled by each one of them – I face major opposition from my only human ally.

Allow me to introduce you to our cats:

First, we have Jasper, a six year old male black cat who is extremely fat. He is very friendly but is driven solely by philosophy: “I am therefore I eat”. If there is any food left anywhere in the house he will hoover it up via his huge maw. Recently we have been trying to weigh him but the scales have been complaining about exceeding limits. The only time Jasper moves is when it is dinnertime or he needs to answer a call of nature. The cat flap we had initially installed had to be replaced by a new one “for the bigger cat”. I am convinced that he thinks his name is “Dinner”. Here he is:




Second, we have Poppy, a six year old female black cat who is Jasper’s sister. Their colour is where the similarity ends. Poppy is afraid of absolutely everything, including her own tail. If a pebble moves in the garden, she flees for her life. She is so timid that she has to pluck up a huge amount of courage to miaow for food. She is small and slim and moves at lightning speed, usually to flee from a shadow. It takes a major amount of courage for her to be in the same room as us. She struggles to compete with Jasper for food and we have to referee each dinnertime to stop Jasper from devouring her portion, which is difficult since Poppy runs at the slightest provocation. We managed to take a photograph by hiding behind a mirror just as she was admiring herself:



Finally, we have Spike, a sixteen year old male black cat who is a cuckoo in our nest. Spike’s real name is Hamish McTamish (as Dave Barry would say, I swear I am not making this up). Spike’s real owner lives a couple of streets away. We have agreed in principle to share him because frankly the lady who owns Spike cannot stop him from invading our house. Spike is very friendly but knows how to look after himself. He is old and so arthritic that he can barely climb onto the sofa. I christened him Spike because he can be very vicious when provoked (I have the scars to prove it). He also has hyperthyroidism, which makes him very hungry, very thirsty, very dribbly, very vocal and very, very demanding. Here he is:



From the above descriptions I can imagine cat lovers everywhere saying “Aww! How cute!”. And I say this – those cats have taken over my home and want to alienate me from Mrs PM’s affections. If I dare to say a word against them I incur the wrath of Mrs PM, which is not a pleasant experience, especially when it involves “her babies”. The cats use her to get to me.

Mrs PM insists that we sleep with the bedroom door open so that they can keep me awake. Jasper is so heavy that when he spreads his fat body across your legs the circulation quite literally stops. Poppy runs across the bed in sheer terror whenever I turn over and Spike is so demanding that the instant he requires food, he literally walks over my head, plants his bum on my face and then dribbles all over me whilst miaowing so loudly that neighbours consider calling the police. When I try to eject them, they hide in the shadows so that if I need to answer a call of nature in the middle of the night, they can walk in front of me and trip me up as I pass the stairs.

Now if I were paranoid I would swear that they were trying to kill me. I have evidence. When Jasper was younger he leapt from the wardrobe in the middle of the night and landed on my stomach. If it wasn’t for the fact that I was concentrating on getting my breath back, I might have died of fright.

I wouldn’t mind but I do actually look after them. I am not cruel to them in any way. I feed them when I can; I allow them to walk all over me; I protect them from other cats; I brush them; I pamper them; I give them titbits. What more could a loving owner do? Last week for example, I stood outside the house in the pouring rain holding a dish full of cat foot up to a six foot wall so that Poppy could eat – she was too scared to come in the house because there was a shadow in there.

And what do they do in return? They keep me awake; they bring me dead animals; they cough up fur balls on our carpets; they howl at night; they scratch the floor; they scratch the furniture; they make Mrs PM panic when they disappear for a day or so and I suffer as a result.

Still, they are cute when they behave themselves and all three are usually mooching around the house when we’re home.

I do occasionally get the chance to impose my authority and tomorrow is one such day. It is time for their check up at the vet.

I fully expect a campaign of revenge from them – starting tomorrow night I guess when I am asleep; I expect a close encounter with Spike’s bum.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Fear (Part Three) - Public Speaking

“Everybody will think I am a completely spineless imbecile with all the social graces of a demented rhinoceros on acid.”

Why does that sentence (and others like it) run through my head when I am asked to give a presentation? The final phobia I wish to talk about is fear of public speaking, otherwise known as glossophobia.

Sadly, as part of my job, I am sometimes asked to make a presentation to a handful of people or give training courses to external customers. Each time I am asked I quite literally explode with anxiety. The mere thought of standing up in front of even a handful of people causes me to mutate into a gibbering alien.

Of all my fears, glossophobia is the most irrational of all. Why should I be afraid to stand up in front of people talking about something I am very familiar with? It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

The first time I had to face this particular fear, I was asked to give a five day training course in the United States. I tried my very best to avoid the course; I even contemplated pretending to be ill. I felt like I was being thrown into a volcano that was about to erupt. Here I was, a terrified Englishman being asked to stand up in front of a handful of Americans for seven hours a day for five days. I’ve worked with Americans before and they are extremely friendly people who are easy to talk to in casual conversation. Generally, however, I find they possess a quality that, at the time, I lacked – they are supremely confident.

On the long flight across the pond, I replayed the course over and over again in my head. Each time I saw myself stammering and shaking; running out of the training room in blind panic; screaming in pure terror; passing out in panic.

I decided that I had to do something about it. In the hotel room on that fateful Sunday night I asked myself a simple question:

What is the worst that can happen?

Pretty soon, I came up with several terrifying scenarios and I concluded that, realistically, the worst case scenario would be my dismissal from the company, probably due to the fact that I had burst into tears and fled the building like a screaming banshee.

On the morning of the course, I had a light breakfast and absolutely no coffee. I told myself over and over again that nothing would happen and I encouraged myself further by telling myself that these people wanted to hear what I was saying. My students were desperate to learn and I was the only person who could hand over that knowledge. As soon as I had introduced myself, in my stammering voice, I allowed each of them to do the same and I was immediately struck by their confidence, friendliness and most importantly of all eagerness. They wanted to hear me.

I struggled for the first ten minutes. I was sweating profusely and my voice quivered. Occasionally I lost track of my train of thought, stopped, breathed deeply and somehow found my way.

After an hour I was in full flow and my fear had dissipated. When we had a break, I chatted to the students and they told me how much they were getting from my course. My confidence came back and the rest of the week was a breeze.

My problem is that each time I make presentations, my anxiety returns. As I prepare for the course or presentation, I am briefly possessed by the fretful beast within. And thankfully, these days I can overcome the anxiety because deep down I know that my audience want me to pass across my knowledge to them; they want me to succeed.

I have seen professional presenters flounder and somehow get a grip of the situation. I now know from experience that if I struggle myself all I need to do is call a break to compose myself or simply pause for long enough to control my inner turmoil. The good news is that now I can.

It still scares the hell out of me though.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

The Female Of The Species

Ladies and gentlemen, I have a big problem and I need your help.

At my age you would have assumed that my experiences would have equipped me to deal with most situations. For the most part, I am fully capable of coping with life’s mysteries. However, one thing continues to elude me; how to understand what is going on inside a woman’s mind.

I love women. They are fabulous, fascinating and wonderful people. My problem is that I am forever getting into trouble with them because of my lack of understanding. And it frustrates the hell out of me. I have tried repeatedly to escape from this predicament and just as I am almost at the point of being able to boast “I understand women”, I suddenly say or do something that pushes me back to the start. I can go for weeks talking to ladies, discussing interesting topics of conversation and generally getting along fine. And then I say something that upsets or annoys them and I find myself staggering backwards against a tsunami of verbal abuse, simply because I have done it again; said something without thinking.

It is like playing a game of “Snakes and Ladders”.

I end up spending a week walking around with a limp, and not always because my foot is entrenched firmly in my mouth.

I have already given you one example of this ("The World's Most Difficult Question") and you would have thought that by now I should have learned my lesson.

I haven’t.

Here’s an example of a conversation with my boss, who happens to be female. The background is that she has been trying to lose weight. I hope this illustrates my point. I will play the part of “The Idiot” (which is in reality what I am):

THE BOSS: It’s Fred’s birthday today and he’s put a box of chocolates in the kitchen.

THE IDIOT: Are you going to succumb to temptation?

THE BOSS: What do you mean?

THE IDIOT: Are you going to have a chocolate or two?

THE BOSS: Why do you ask?

THE IDIOT: Well, you said you were on a diet so I assumed that you wouldn’t bother. You know – chocolate makes you fat.

The tension increases at this point as THE IDIOT realises that his foot may be approaching his mouth at rapid velocity

THE BOSS: (through clenched teeth) Are you saying I’m fat?

THE IDIOT: No, of course not. I just thought …

THE BOSS: Just thought WHAT exactly???

THE IDIOT: (gulp) I just thought that you would stick to your diet?

THE BOSS: You ARE saying I’m fat!!!!!

THE IDIOT: No, of course I’m not saying you’re fat. In fact I think you look fabulous. You look really slim and really nice; you are delightful.

Seconds pass - tick tick tick tick

THE BOSS: ARE YOU COMING ON TO ME?????????

At this point the entire office is in uproar as once again the Plastic Mancunian has kicked himself in the teeth and upset yet another woman.

What should I have said? I mean, to be honest, I asked Mrs PM when I got home and she, like everybody in the office, laughed her head off. Thanks for the support Mrs PM!

I need to go on a crash course. I need to write to an agony aunt. I need a book that tells me how to talk to women without upsetting them. My head can’t stand many more blows. I’m punch drunk.

Can anybody help me?

Monday, 11 August 2008

Boring Boring Premiership

It takes a monumental amount of intense self-control to restrain my inner grumpy old man when it comes to the English Premier League. As a fan that supports a team in the lower echelons of the Football League I am fully aware of the ever increasing gulf between the elite and the peasantry in our beautiful game and endeavour to turn a blind eye to the gluttonous activities of the privileged.

However, sometimes I read a headline that shatters that discipline and unleashes the anger within.

Yesterday I saw such a headline; Chelsea are negotiating with AC Milan about buying Kaka for an astonishing £78 million (here it is). £78 MILLION!!!!!.

Please excuse the rant below but I find such a post is very therapeutic.

£78 million is an incredible and obscene amount of money and is a typical example of why the game in England, as exciting as it is perceived worldwide, is basically being destroyed by greed, greed and more greed.

Foreigners with their billions are pumping outrageous amounts of money into the game, as are television companies desperate to see the world’s best players plying their trade on English soil. Some say this is a good thing. I say that it stinks.

Since the inception of the Premiership, the gulf between the big clubs and the rest of the league has increased at an almost exponential rate. Desperate to jump on the bandwagon, other clubs have spent money they don’t have in order to keep players and crashed into oblivion. Promotion and relegation is now a joke.

Let’s take a look at the situation:

In League One and League Two we have small teams, such as Walsall, Port Vale, Stockport County who are permanently stuck in those two divisions with little hope of escape. The three clubs I mention have flirted with a little success in the Championship (or equivalent) in recent years but have ended up back where some say they belong. At the foot of League Two this season we have three clubs who are massively in trouble; Luton Town, Bournemouth and Rotherham United all starting the season with a huge negative deficit. Luton Town stand absolutely no chance this season with a whopping -30 points as a start. Rotherham United and Bournemouth will battle it out not to get relegated alongside Luton Town, having had 17 points removed before the big kick off. For those three clubs the season is over before it has begun. What would £78 million do for them?

The Championship is multi-tiered. You can look at the table and immediately predict who will struggle and who will be vying for promotion. There are teams in that division who one would say have a great history. The problem is that they will never again match the achievements of the past. Nottingham Forest will never again win the European Cup (or “Champions League" as it has become known – if it is for “Champions” then why do the teams finishing second, third and fourth qualify?). Look at Derby County? League Champions in the 1970’s but now just over thirty years later, relegated from the top division with virtually no points having suffered defeat after embarrassing defeat in the Premiership last season.

Finally, let’s talk about the “glorious” Premiership. It is almost laughable. In the seventies and eighties the league was exciting. How many different clubs fought for the coveted title? In the seventies, we had Derby County slugging it out with Leeds United, QPR finishing second in 1975, Nottingham Forest winning the title in 1978, Aston Villa winning in 1981 with Ipswich Town finishing second in both 1981 and 1982. Watford second in 1983, Everton champions in 1984 and 1986. Not any more. None of those teams, with the possible exception of Aston Villa, will get anywhere close – probably ever again.

The Premiership now is boring and will continue to be so. Take a look at the teams who will be competing this year; the final table is almost totally predictable. Let me have a stab:

First we have the “big four” who will battle it out for the top four spots (as they will next season and the season after that)

(1) Manchester United
(2) Chelsea
(3) Liverpool
(4) Arsenal

After that we have the teams with a lot less money but still enough to buy certain big players:

(5) Manchester City
(6) Tottenham Hotspur
(7) Everton
(8) Newcastle United
(9) Aston Villa
(10) Portsmouth

Next we have the also-rans who will flirt with the top half of the table but will almost certainly flirt more with relegation:

(11) West Ham United
(12) Blackburn Rovers
(13) Bolton Wanderers
(14) Middlesborough
(15) Sunderland
(16) Fulham

And finally, let’s not forget the whipping boys. I feel particularly sorry for Hull City and Stoke City who will be put the sword in the most savage fashion (just as Derby County were last season).

(17) Wigan Athletic
(18) West Bromwich Albion
(19) Stoke City
(20) Hull City

You will notice that the three promoted teams will be relegated. I ask myself what the point is. Hull City fans in particular will be delighted that they are in the highest division for the first time. But will they be happy at Christmas when they are bottom having conceded at least six goals to the top ten teams? I doubt it. Their only hope is that teams like Manchester United field weakened teams against them. Why bother?

Read this post in May next year and see how wildly different it is. I’ll be surprised if it is to be honest.

Teams like Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea do have real fans. They also have a vast number of fake fans who support the team so that they can take a share in the success of the club. True football fans are suffering at all levels. Season tickets in the Premiership are so costly now, that real fans, the ones who have supported the clubs for decades, are being squeezed out of the game. I spoke to a Chelsea fan who used to be a season ticket holder at Stamford Bridge in the eighties and nineties but now cannot afford to pay the exorbitant price and so stays away. A good friend of mine who is a Manchester United season ticket holder is contemplating giving it up next season because the price hikes over the last couple of seasons have been totally unreasonable. This guy has been a season ticket holder since the mid seventies and lives and breathes Manchester United. This is the kind of fan that is needed in the game.

When I first moved to Manchester I used to be able to go to Old Trafford and pay on the gate half an hour before kick off. I could pop to Maine Road and see Manchester City, turning up at the ground ten minutes before kick off. That is now impossible. My youngest son is a Manchester United fan but I doubt whether he will ever get a season ticket in his life.

True fans aside, the fake fans really wind me up. I am laughed at, and mocked because I support a small club like Walsall, usually by fake Manchester United fans who live well outside the area and who have never been to Manchester let alone Old Trafford. They watch their team on Sky and then claim to be fans. I have been to Old Trafford far more times than these people, most of whom could barely name squad members from the seventies and eighties. I can – and I’m not even a fan. I am picking on Manchester United here but it is the same for the rest of the big four and some of the pretenders to the throne.

The Premiership will be boring this season. The results will be easy to predict, apart perhaps from those between teams in the four groups I have mentioned above. For real excitement, people need to move down to the football league where teams are more evenly matched. Those clubs need the support far more than the prima donnas in the Premiership. To be honest I wouldn't care if the big four and their equivalents in Europe all left and formed the European League that those greedy clubs so desperately want. English football would improve dramatically.

And don’t get me started on Cristiano Ronaldo and the supposed slavery in Premiership football – I’ll be posting all day.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Come On You Saddlers

It’s that time of the year again.

Tomorrow at approximately 4.50pm I shall either be sizzling with satisfaction, fiercely frustrated or dangerously depressed. Yes, that’s right - the football season starts again. And I’m talking about the real football season here, not the pseudo-rugby that Americans call football, nor the pompous, over-rated gluttony that is the English Premiership.

My attention will be focussed completely on a small Somerset town where my beloved team, the mighty Saddlers (aka Walsall), will be in combat with Yeovil Town at Huish Park. I will not be there, much to my chagrin, mainly because I live so far away, but also because Mrs PM would reject me with maximum prejudice were I to spend my weekends away from her, screaming with a tribe of like minded Saddlers, as our mighty team do battle on the field of play.

I’ve waited for this all summer. When the football season ends in May, a little piece of my soul is stolen. In England we are meant to enjoy the beautiful weather and relax; the only problem is that the beautiful weather never arrives and most of the time we stare out of the window as the storm clouds expel an ocean of water onto our cities. I would argue that summertime in England is the ideal time to play football, and would gladly back any argument to play the beautiful game every single week of the year. Of course this is not possible and players deserve a rest, so begrudgingly I don’t complain (too much anyway).

During the void that is summer, I have to content myself scrutinizing the internet searching for news on new players. Will we sign a new striker or midfield dynamo? How about a stalwart defender who will let no opposing striker run rampant in our area? What about the safest goalkeeper in the league?

I was disappointed last season because after a lot of promise and a massive unbeaten run, Walsall floundered and ended up finishing in a tedious style in mid table. We also lost the manager, Richard Money (or “Dicky Dosh” as the fans christened him). I was distraught. I regarded him as our best manager for years and he simply walked out. I don’t want to dwell on the reasons why but my frustration was almost unbearable. Many Walsall fans share my irritation (some more than others) and voice their opinions on different platforms. I prefer not to do that. I am not as vociferous as most.

However, now the new manager, Jimmy Mullen, has acquired several decent new recruits and I feel frighteningly confident. I am desperately resisting the inexorable urge to be over-optimistic but it is a massive struggle. My heart tells me that we shall romp through the season winning every game. My head shoots that line of reasoning down in flames, reminding me that there are some very good teams out there who will potentially destroy us. Leeds United will be formidable as will Leicester City. I hope I’m wrong but common sense tells me otherwise.

Of course every fan of every other League One team will be imbued with exactly the same amount of confidence as I am, even though in some cases that confidence will be undeserved.

Me, I will choose to succumb to the excitement in the hope that my club and the players will not let me down.

At 4:50 on Saturday I may be drinking a beer to toast the heroic Saddlers or to drown my sorrows. I pray that fate shines a light on the away team at Huish Park tomorrow and we demolish Yeovil Town.

Come on Walsall – make my day!

Up The Saddlers

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Fear (Part Two) - Heights

I have a secret that I want to share: I do NOT plan to throw myself off a tall building.

To be honest, if I did have suicidal tendencies, hurling myself into space from a lofty position would be the last thing I would do. The reason? I am afflicted with is acrophobia: an irrational fear of heights. Like many co-sufferers, when I venture to uncomfortable heights (usually about fifty feet will do it), I feel as if an unseen and unknown force is drawing me to the edge of the precipice with the sole purpose of flinging me to my death. How stupid is that?

I admit it – I am being totally and utterly ridiculous about this. There is no invisible entity lurking in the shadows next to a cliff waiting to push me off. So why am I so scared? I really don't know. And the worst thing about this is that I am getting steadily worse. My fear of heights is increasing at a rate that is directly proportional to my age. As a child I don’t recall being afraid of tall structures. In fact I distinctly remember jumping up and down, as a child, on the glass floor at the top of Blackpool Tower. Something must have changed in all those years but I simply cannot recall ever being in a position of jeopardy at a great height that might have triggered the descent into acrophobia

Despite my fear, over the years I have scaled some of the world’s tallest structures; the Eiffel Tower, The Empire State Building and even the CN Tower in Toronto in order to combat my fear. Each time I have failed.

Take the Eiffel Tower for example. I climbed up to the second level of the structure, gripping the sides in sheer terror. I then went to the top in the lift and was perfectly fine. You see my problem is that when I am enclosed I am okay. At the top of the Eiffel Tower, I was caged in and there was no chance of falling at all. Same with the CN Tower – I had absolutely no problem walking around admiring the view.

Sadly I came unstuck when I visited Sydney in 2005 and Mrs PM persuaded me to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Knowing that my fear of heights might intervene I asked the check-in assistant:

“I’m scared of heights! Is that going to be a problem?”

Her reply was:

“Don’t worry about you fear of heights. Leave it on the ground, mate! No worries.”

When the assistant offered her advice I had a moment of spontaneous insanity during which time I paid my fee and agreed to do the climb. This insanity lasted until the point of no return when, after a pre-climb and health and safety briefing, I found myself walking along catwalks with wire meshing at my feet that were approximately 170 feet above the ground. The insanity departed and absolute terror took its place. My heart started beating faster than a Cozy Powell marathon drum solo and leapt up into my mouth.

And then it got worse. In order to cater for all levels of fitness, the actual climb to the summit of the bridge took ages and ages. Our guide was superb and asked if everybody was okay. Only Mrs PM (to whom I was clinging) was aware of my discomfort.

“Look, there’s the Sydney Opera House”, people said. “Wow, what a view!”

I didn’t look until I had to.

I clung on for dear life but somehow managed to completely fool everyone in our party that I was fine, using a combination of Oscar worthy acting, strategic eye-closing, deep breathing, using Hulk-like steel grips on Mrs PM’s arm and lying my bloody arse off to the guide when he asked if was okay. Nobody suspected that I was absolutely crapping my pants all the way up, all the way across and all the way back down again. We were all perfectly safe, harnessed to the bridge itself and each other and under the protection of a superb guide. There was absolutely nothing to fear – apart from the height. What seemed like an eternity later, we were back down on solid ground. The climb had lasted a couple of hours and I have never been so relieved in my entire life. Thankfully there is photographic evidence to prove that I made it.

I will endeavour to try to understand why I am so idiotically afraid of heights, starting with a trip to Hong Kong in November, where I shall undoubtedly crap myself as I stand at the bottom of one of the countless skyscrapers in that formidable city. I’m just glad that Mrs PM will be there to hold my hand, though if she suggests abseiling down the Bank Of China building I shall retire to the nearest bar and leave her to it.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Crazy Song Titles

I’ve just been listening to a song with an amazingly long title:

You Got to Get Through What You've Got to Go Through to Get What You Want, But You Got to Know What You Want to Get Through What You Got to Go Through

This particular song is by The Wildhearts and as I listened, I started thinking about what other strange, quirky, long and crazy song titles are out there. So I did a little research and discovered the following gems from my own collection:

  • Post Fade Brain Damage
  • I Hate Myself And Everybody Else
  • Luminous Flesh Giants
  • Malignant Narcissism
  • This Maniac’s In Love With You
  • The Ninns Of Mourning
  • The Four Of Us Are Dying
  • Mugwump
  • The Mystical Potato Head Groove Thing
  • Everybody Knows That You Are Insane
  • Too Many Hippies (In The Garden Of Love)
  • Break Like The Wind
  • I’ll Rip Your Spine Out
  • Jizzlobber
  • Cheer Up Boys, Your Makeup Is Running
  • Help Me I Am In Hell
  • Can’t Drink You Pretty
  • A Piece Of Liquid
  • Objects In The Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are
  • Woodpecker From Mars

Of course, if you trawl the internet, you can find all sorts of crazy stuff. Country and Western seems to be full of wackiness:

  • I Don’t Know Whether To Kill Myself Or Go Bowling
  • I Still Miss You Baby, But My Aim's Gettin' Better
  • Mama Get A Hammer (There’s A Fly On Papa’s Head)
  • You’re The Reason Our Kids Are So Ugly
  • I Flushed You From The Toilets Of My Heart
  • I Wanna Whip Your Cow
  • I’d Rather Have A Bottle In Front Of Me Than A Frontal Lobotomy
  • May The Bird Of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose
  • She Made Toothpicks Out Of The Timber Of My Heart
  • They May Put Me In Prison But They Can’t Stop My Face From Breakin’Out

Similarly, from the world of heavy metal and rock

  • Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter
  • Leper Messiah
  • Killing Is My Business … And Business Is Good
  • Lay Down And Die … Goodbye
  • You’re The Victim, I’m The Crime
  • Where There’s A Whip There’s A Way
  • The Apes Of Wrath
  • Suburbanality (How To Hang Yourself From An Urban Structure)
  • Circular Flight of the One-Winged Sparrow
  • Journey Through A Burning Brain
Anybody got any more?