Thursday, 27 December 2012

Goodbye 2012




2012 is almost over so it is time to dust off an old meme that covers the last year. 

Please feel free to steal it yourself.

As usual, this is quite a long post so just in case you get bored, I will wish you all a Happy New Year right at the start, and I hope that 2013 brings all of your dreams to fruition.

I will be jetting off to the sun for New Year (we are off to Tenerife) rather than trying to avoid the rain.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

1. What did you do in 2012 that you'd never done before?

I visited a new part of the world, the United Arab Emirates. We have friends who have moved out to Abu Dhabi for a couple of years and we decided to pop over and pay them a visit. These friends are the former owners of our hellcat, Liquorice.


The Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi
Burj Khalifa, Dubai

I was a bit worried because I had read some strange stuff on the internet about the place but, as usual, Captain Paranoia was wrong and I enjoyed every bit of it – apart from climbing the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest building (you can read about it here). I never ever learn.

2. Did you keep your New Years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Yes and no. Here are last year’s resolutions:

(a) At least TRY to write that elusive book.

Writing a book still eludes me – but I have cheated a little. I have turned my blog into a book – well sort of. I have pulled together most of my blog posts from 2008, 2009 and 2010 and compiled them into five small books, converted them to eBook format and then dumped them onto my Kindle.

So rather than writing a new book, I have compiled five books from words I have written on this very blog over three years.

That sounds impressive but, really, it isn’t.

Nevertheless I will write a book next year because we are going to Japan and I aim to write my third travelogue to summarise the experience.

(b) Learn Spanish to the point where I can talk to Spaniards without a dictionary.

I am still plugging away at Spanish and have improved, despite a bit of a relapse in the last couple of months. I have been to Spain twice this year and have managed to speak to people without a dictionary – only in restaurants though sadly.

(c) Cycle to work at least twice a week (when the weather improves).

I have failed miserably on this promise. I haven’t even taken the bike out this year.

My resolutions for 2013 will therefore remain the same. I’ll report this time next year.

3. How will you be spending New Year's Eve?

We are going to Tenerife this year, so hopefully I will be spending New Year’s Eve in the sun, and then in a restaurant followed by a lively bar.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

No humans died thankfully. Sadly, my old Ford Escort died in September and I managed to kill my iRiver ihP-140 mp3 jukebox. You can read about my losses here and here.

5. What countries did you visit?

I visited Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, Spain and Italy.

6. What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012?

A little willpower wouldn’t go amiss to be honest. I would love to actually say this time next year that I had gone above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to writing, cycling and learning Spanish. I might achieve that with some willpower.

Oh – and maybe a winning lottery ticket would help too.

7. What date from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

I guess October 8th stands out because that was the date I entered my sixth decade. I am now officially an old git, at the tender age of 50.

Despite the slide downhill, I actually feel very content and am looking forward to the next ten years.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

I would say that my biggest achievement this year was standing up to my fear of heights and climbing the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Alas, I didn’t conquer that fear but I am quite proud of the fact that I didn’t turn into a jabbering wreck and scream “GET ME DOWN!!!!”.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Sadly, that would be failing to overcome my fear of heights. I have surrendered in that particular war and promised myself that I will never scale any tall buildings or structures ever again.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

No, thankfully.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

The prize is shared between the following:

(a) An iPod Classic

Yes, I have ventured over to the dark side and bought an Apple product. It has a whopping 160 Gb of storage, four times than my old mp3 player, and is far superior in every way. It currently contains approximately 6300 songs and two recorded rock concerts from DVDs. And it is only a third full.

(b) A Kindle Touch

I debated whether or not to buy a Kindle because I didn’t really want to contribute to the end of the paperback. Unfortunately, now that I have one, I much prefer it, mainly because I can keep any books I read without fear of Mrs PM throwing any away in one of here bi-weekly purges. The added bonus is that I can load it with books and it won't get any heavier, thus saving me valuable luggage space for a work trip to Oman at the end of January and a jaunt to Japan in May.

(c) A New Car

My old banger has been replaced by a three year old silver Vauxhall Astra. I feel like a bit of a traitor because it is a much nicer car than my old dead jalopy.

12. Where did most of your money go?

The new car, although my eldest lad, Stephen, who is 19 and in his second year at university, has tried his best to relieve me of as much cash as he can. I have now become a bank.

13. What song will always remind you of 2012?

2012 was a fantastic year for music and once again I bought loads of fabulous CD’s. It would be unfair to mention just one song – so here are my top songs of 2012, although one or two of them are from previous years. Follow the links to listen to some great music:

At number 8Black Country Communion – Cry Freedom

Black Country Communion released their third album  this year, called Afterglow, and it is just as good as the previous two. This is my favourite song on the album.

At number 7Ginger Wildheart – Internal Radio

Ginger Wildheart is another criminally underrated songwriter who produces extremely catchy rock songs. His band, The Wildhearts, have been around for about 20 years now. In 2012 he released a solo album called 100% which is full of captivating songs of which Internal Radio is my favourite.

At number 6 - Ten – Arabian Knights

Ten are an English rock band that you will only ever have heard of on this blog – as I have mentioned them several times in the past, mainly because they are wickedly underrated. This year they released their tenth album, Heresy and Creed, and it is a great slice of melodic rock.

At number 5The Hives – Go Right Ahead 

The Hives are a Swedish punky rock band who write some extremely catchy songs. 2012 saw the release of the album Lex Hives and this wonderfully catchy song.

At number 4 - Porcupine Tree – Idiot Prayer

Porcupine Tree are one of my favourite progressive rock bands and I have been collecting some of their older albums. This year I bought 1996’s Signify and the best track is Idiot Prayer – progressive rock at its very best.

At number 3Steven Wilson – Deform To Form A Star

The main man behind Porcupine Tree is Steven Wilson, a prolific prog rock genius. In 2011 he released his second solo album called Grace For Drowning which is a masterpiece. Deform To Form a Star is a beautiful, spine tingling, mellow masterpiece that will make the hairs stand up on the back of your head. I love this song.

At number 2Muse – Survival

2012 was a triumph for Britain, with the Olympics taking centre stage. I loved every bit of the entire event including the opening ceremony, and the incredible sport. Best of all, though was this incredible song from Muse, the official anthem for the Olympics. The album, The 2nd Law, is equally good and easily the second best album of the year.

At number 1Rush – Headlong Flight

So what could beat Survival by Muse? Only one band – the magnificent Rush who released the album Clockwork Angels in 2012, their best album for years. I have barely stopped playing it. How can a band that has been producing superb albums for almost 40 years provide one of their greatest recordings so late in their career? They are geniuses – nothing more; nothing less. Headlong Flight is the song of 2012.

14. What do you wish you'd done more of?

I wish I had made a bit more of an effort with Spanish – like starting a proper course. My problem is that work commitments usually jeopardize courses. For example, I can never be sure whether I will have to work late or jet off somewhere. For example, if I wanted a winter course, it would be screwed by a three week trip to Oman I have to make at the end of January.

Maybe I should say no – but it is a brand new country for me and the lure of that makes me excited. I am not looking forward to the work though.

15. What do you wish you'd done less of?

As usual, I would like to have done less procrastinating and less ranting. Maybe this year?

16. What was your favourite TV program?

Once again, TV has been great this year. Here are a few to mention:

The Walking Dead, Dexter, True Blood, Fringe, Game of Thrones, Dr Who, Falling Skies, Red Dwarf X, Alphas, Merlin, Warehouse 13 and many more.

17. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

No – but I have added to the list of people I want to dump into a spaceship bound for the Planet Tharg. One day I will write a list.

18. What was the best book you read?

That’s easy – The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks.


I am gradually working my way through the author’s Culture novels and still have a lot to get through. I may start reading some of his non Science Fiction efforts when I have finished them all.

19. What was your greatest musical discovery?

I haven’t discovered any new bands this year, sadly. Let’s hope that changes in 2013.

20. What was your favourite film of this year?

I have seen some great films this year, including The Dark Knight Rises, Prometheus, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Skyfall (the new James Bond movie).

My favourite, by a long way is The Avengers Assemble.

21. What did you do on your birthday?

On my actual birthday, October 8th, I spent a boring day at work and then Mrs PM and I ordered a Chinese take away and shared a bottle of wine.

However, the real celebrations was a four day break in Rome with friends, which you can read about here.

22. What kept you sane?

Work has been especially hard this year, particularly recently. When I am working long days, I tend to drift into a day dream thinking about spending time with Mrs PM in a foreign country where work is at the other side of the universe and therefore cannot be considered.

Add to that the usual remedies for insanity – beer, blogging and a good dose of music – and I can get through most things.

23. Who did you miss?

Nobody leaps to mind.

24. Who was the most interesting new person you met?

Nobody stood out this year, but next year I have decided to make more of an effort to chat to strangers, something that I don’t tend to do much because of my inherent shyness. Is that a new resolution? Perhaps – we’ll see.

25. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2012.

I'll tell you three life lessons:

(a) Being 50 years old is actually pretty good.

(b) The Twilight Saga is rubbish.

(c) Gadgets don’t bounce.



Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Pros And Cons Of Christmas


Is it just me or are years flying by way too fast?


It seems like only yesterday when I was recovering from Christmas 2011 and, hey presto, here it is again. As a self-confessed grumpy old git, you may imagine that I adopt the role of Ebenezer Scrooge at this time of year and start moaning about humbugs.

That’s not true. Well – sometimes it is to be fair.

I have a love-hate relationship with Christmas; there are elements that I love and embrace, and there are elements that I despise. I’m sure that regular readers will have a guess at which bits of the festive season drive me crazy, given the things I’ve ranted about before on this cyber soapbox.

I thought it would be a nice idea to share with you what I hate and what I love about this time of year.

Without further ado, here are the pros and cons of Christmas.

Cons



(1) Choosing presents – I find it really difficult to decide what to buy everybody. I find my thoughts drifting to what I want, which means that I have to resist buying a heavy metal album for Mrs PM for example. Mrs PM says that by now, after almost 15 years together, I should easily be able to select a suitable gift. And I can – after I have beaten myself up over it for several months. Come January, I will be thinking of what I can buy her for Christmas 2013 – yes it takes that long. And she is only one of the people I have to consider.

(2) Christmas shopping – I hate shopping at the best of times and it this time of year, this abhorrent pastime mutates into a monstrous experience – even if you want to buy something unrelated to the festive period. In Manchester we have a huge shopping mall called the Trafford Centre and in December it is like entering Hell itself. The enormous car parks are so full that arriving and leaving take hours to achieve, having blocked up the motorways and main roads around for hours. Inside the Trafford Centre all shops are absolutely crammed with hapless shoppers, none of whom want to be there. You have to queue for hours to actually buy what you want and queue for more hours to leave the bloody place. And supermarkets are the same. There is so much food to buy that the weekly shop becomes a nightmare. People buy so much food you would think that they have predicted World War 3 and are planning for four years in a bunker to avoid nuclear fallout.

(3) Christmas starts earlier and earlier every year. My birthday is 8th October and I use that as a marker to see whether Christmas adverts have started or not. In the past, the first commercials appeared in late October. More recently the adverts have started much earlier; it was in September this year meaning that we have to spend a quarter of the year suffering bloody Christmas commercials – three bloody months of it.

(4) The Queen’s Christmas Message. I am ambivalent when it comes to Liz. I neither hate her nor love her. To me she is just another celebrity who happens to get a lot of media attention. Why should I be even remotely interested in anything she has got to say? I haven’t. The only thing I have in common with Liz and her family is that we live in England. Apart from that I care not one jot about her thoughts, her wisdom or her opinions. Why this is prime time TV on Christmas Day is beyond me.

(5) Travelling. Since I moved to Manchester in 1984, I have had to spend the Christmas period driving around the Midlands, Yorkshire and the North West of England visiting people who demand my presence. Back in 1984 I thought to myself, one day you will all come to me. It is now 2012 and there is absolutely no chance of that happening, This year I have to drive for three hours on Christmas Day, an hour and a half on Boxing Day and three hours the day after that. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

(6) Bad presents. I wish people would just say – “Here’s £20 – go and buy something you like.” Instead I get slippers, hankies and after shave – repeatedly.

Enough of that “Bah! Humbug!” nonsense. Here are the pros:

Pros

(1) Time off work. I love being off work and at Christmas I usually manage a week or two off work. I love to wake up with the knowledge that I can stay in bed, relax, go for a walk and take it easy for the duration of the Christmas Holiday period.

(2) Christmas Parties and socialising. Christmas parties can be an amazing experience, with either friends, family or work colleagues and usually I end up attending quite a few events. Generally the pubs and restaurants are full of joy and cheer anyway but whether you go to the pub with your mates or end up at a Christmas Party, fun is freely available to make even the most boring Scrooge smile occasionally – even me:


(3) Kids – Kids love Christmas and there is nothing better than seeing the faces of children when they see Father Christmas and open their presents on the big day. Sadly my two are too old now (19 and 16) and no longer have that innocent enthusiasm.

(4) Good presents. Occasionally I have genuinely surprised when receiving gifts. As I said above, these days I love it when people give me gift vouchers or cash so that I have an excuse to hit the sales or go online and splash out on something wonderful for myself.

(5) Christmas Markets. In recent years there has been a trend in Britain where major cities welcome European style markets selling all sorts of Christmas goodies. The annual Christmas Market in Manchester is usually packed but mulled wine is abundant and you can relax in a bar supping your mulled wine or the alcoholic beverage of your choice while watching people enjoying the experience. A great way to spend a few hours in the run up to Christmas.

(6) Food. I love Christmas fare, particularly mince pies. Mrs PM and I eat them by the bucket load and any diets we are considering are shelved for a week or two. Christmas is the time of year when you basically tell your diet to “Bugger off”. I genuinely do not feel bad about gaining a few pounds. Such things can be dealt with in January. This year on Christmas Day I will end up looking like a roly poly old man as I settle down in front of the TV to watch the Dr Who Christmas special. And I won’t care at all.

Well that’s it for now.

I would like to wish everybody a Merry Christmas whether you are a regular reader or a poor unfortunate who has stumbled across this post by accident.

May Father Christmas bring you all the gifts that you want – but please – no more socks and hankies. I have so many now that I could open a shop.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Room 101 (Part Two)



Earlier this year I wrote a post about Room 101, a place where all of the horrors of the world are kept and promptly popped 10 things into the room so that they would never be seen or experienced by human eyes ever again – apart from by the eyes of those humans already in Room 101 – like Piers Morgan for example.

You can read it here.

Well, dear reader, it is time to put ten more things into Room 101.

And good riddance!

Monday Mornings



Like Garfield I hate Monday – particularly Monday morning at the precise moment my alarm clock drags me kicking and screaming from the bliss of my beauty sleep into a reality that forces me to get out of bed and go to work. There is no worse feeling than getting dressed and trying to psyche yourself up for the inevitable struggle through five days of frustration, ranting and pleading with yourself not to attack people with cricket bats.

It is the worst day of the week and needs to be dispatched to Room 101 with maximum prejudice.

Antony Worrall Thompson


In Britain we seem to be obsessed with cookery programmes and I hate them. What’s more, I am not keen on any so-called celebrity chefs either. I could spend all day ranting about cookery programmes but I will restrict myself to one person for now: Antony Worrall Thompson, one of the most irritating chefs on television.

His voice is so annoying it makes me feel like my head is pummelled by a woodpecker on speed. How did he ever become a TV chef?

It beats me.

What’s worse is that in 2008 he recommended that we all add a little henbane to our salads. Do you know what henbane is? It is a toxic weed that should not be consumed under any circumstances. Okay – he meant to recommend “fat hen”, a wild herb, so perhaps he could be forgiven.

Except in January this year he was caught shoplifting in Tesco – something he allegedly did on five separate occasions, leading to a tabloid headline “Ready Steady Crook”.

Off to Room 101 you go, Antony; Piers Morgan is hungry.

Immigration and Customs Officers



I am not a murderer. I am not a drug lord. I am not a terrorist. I am not a smuggler. I am not a criminal.

When I visit another country, I do so out of pure pleasure (except when I am working; nevertheless I try to find some pleasure outside work too). Yet when I enter certain countries I am subjected to an interrogation by immigration officers and or certain customs officials. What’s more, I even sometimes suffer on my return to the UK. On a visit to America once, Mrs PM and I approached the immigration officer together as “family” but because we aren’t married, I was bollocked by this uniformed stranger, sent back and then when he finally allowed me to come back, I was interrogated.

“What’s the purpose of your visit to the United States?”

“Let me see your return ticket!” 


“How long do you intend to stay in the United States?” 


“Where will you be staying?”


The temptation to be sarcastic is almost overwhelming but you daren’t lest you be carted off by armed officers, dragged into a room and then subjected to a search that requires a special glove.

Customs officials aren’t much better. On a return trip to the UK:

“Where have you been?”

“What did you buy?”


“Open up your suitcase: I don’t care if it has three weeks of dirty underwear – I have a special glove.”


Into Room 101 you go - and feel free to interrogate and strip search Piers Morgan.

Boy Bands


What is a boy band? A boy band is a bunch of pretty boys who can barely sing and regurgitate the same old insipid song over and over again for an army of teenage girls full of hormones and hysteria, or a bunch of old women who, for some reason, have abandoned all hope and want to be spoon fed dreary ballads.

I hate them; I hate them so much I can barely type out the words that express my hatred of them.

Take That, Westlife, One Direction, Boyzone and all other equally shit “bands” should be locked up and blasted to the planet Tharg at the first opportunity.

Please help me rid the world of them. Oh – OK let’s put them into Room 101 where they can annoy Piers Morgan with their crap cacophony.

Diving Footballers



I enjoy watching Premiership football but there are certain players who are so keen to win or gain an advantage that they throw themselves to the floor when an opposing player breathes on them, screaming blue murder in a vain attempt to be awarded a penalty.

The way some of them do it, you would think a sniper had shot them in the head from the stands. This is not the way football should be played. There should be no reward for cheating. If I had my way, I would ban players found guilty of diving for at least five games and fine them a month’s salary (which could run into hundreds of thousands of pounds). Sadly, I can’t – but what I can do is put them into Room 101.

The Turner Prize


Modern art leaves me stone cold. It is garbage produced by so-called artists for pseudo-intellectuals under the pretence that “it hasn’t been done yet”. The focal point for all that is wrong in the art world is the annual Turner Prize where “artists” compete for a cash prize by producing a piece that makes most people say “What the PHARKKK????”.

Past winners have included:

A bare room where the lights are on for 5 seconds then off for 5 seconds – called “The Lights Go On And Off”.

“60 minutes of silence” in which we see a whole bunch of policemen sitting there staring at the camera for 60 minutes.

It is insanity and only belongs in one place – Room 101.

Lady In Red

Lady In Red is one of the worst songs ever written – four minutes of dreary nonsense masquerading as a romantic song. If somebody were to play it to me in the name of romance I would vomit all over them. The lyrics are so cheesy that they could have been written by mice. And Chris de Burgh’s voice grates my brain and makes me grimace in pain.

A dreadful song – an utterly dreadful waste of four minutes. I’ll bet it is Piers Morgan’s favourite song – he is welcome to it.



Thick British Tourists
Some British people should never be allowed to leave our island. Why? Because they are not equipped to deal with life in foreign countries. In their minds, every country is just like good old Britain, where everybody should speak the Queen’s English and watch British television. In their eyes, Britannia Rules the world, so it is perfectly acceptable to say things like:

“I’m a British ciitizen – give me some Worcester Sauce NOW!!”

I have numerous examples of the obnoxious behaviour of Brits abroad and each time I hold my head in my hands and shake it in despair and shame.

“Give me a pint of lager! What do you mean you don’t know what a pint is?”

“DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH???? WHY NOT??? I thought EVERYBODY spoke English!”

“I’m not eating any of this foreign muck. Have you got any fish and chips?”

“Are you showing Eastenders in your bar? What do you mean you don’t get Eastenders in Spain?”

Let’s hope they are happy in Room 101 because that is where they are going.

Obnoxious Parisians


When I first visited Paris, I was led to believe that all French people were obnoxious arseholes. Later visits to La Belle France have corrected that initial wrong assumption - the problem is limited to a small percentage of obnoxious and extremely rude Parisians.

There are certain Parisians who simply don’t like anybody who is not from Paris. I can speak a little French and my general philosophy is to try to speak the language of the country I am in – with a phrase book if necessary. One summer, I was in Paris and my hay fever was so bad that I had to seek medication. I found a pharmacy and, with streaming eyes and constant sneezing, I tried to buy some antihistamine tablets. Sadly my French didn’t stretch to “Antihistamine” and the phrase book didn’t help. I was unfortunate enough to be served by an obnoxious Parisian:

PM: Pardon, monsieur (AAAATTTTCHHHOOO!!!!) Parlez vous anglais? (AAAAATTTCCHHOOOOO!!!)

Obnoxious Parisian: Non!

PM: D’accord. Avez vous (AAAAATTTTCCHHHHOOOOO!!!!!) quelquechose pour m’aider (AAAAAAAATTTCHHHHOOOO!!!!) ….

The bugger just left me standing there and went to serve somebody else. I tried to interrupt but he totally ignored me. The other person was quite surprised and started pointing at me and gestured for the arse to help me. I was clearly struggling – and I would have struggled in an English pharmacy to be honest.

What did this arse do? He shrugged in typical Gallic fashion and carried on serving the woman. Thankfully, another assistant came to my rescue and she spoke a little English. With an exchange of franglais she sold me a box of antihistamines with instructions in both French and English.

I saw her talk to the obnoxious arse as I left – and all he did was shrug again.

There are a fair few people like this in Paris, superior people who look down on non-Parisians. Mrs PM lived in Toulouse for a year and told me that people from that town are generally not keen on Parisians either.

In the other parts of France I have visited, I have been welcomed with open arms and encountered some of the friendliest people I have ever met. I want to dispatch these people to Room 101 where they can be rude to Piers Morgan.

The rest of the people in Paris can then make me welcome next time I visit that beautiful city.

My Hair.

I hate my hair. You can read about the reasons here.

Every day is a constant battle to keep it under control. Every day I look into the mirror and grimace in shame because it has morphed into a totally embarrassing shape. One time, on holiday in Spain, I spent a fair amount of time swimming in the sea before strolling around the holiday resort for the rest of the day. When we returned to the hotel, I looked in the mirror and my hair, which was admittedly a little longer than usual, was sticking up all over the place.

“You let me walk around like this?” I asked Mrs PM.

She sniggered and said “Your hair looks like that all the time. It’s lovely!”

It’s not. And here are some examples:


Shocking hair aged one.

Shocking hair aged 12
Can you spot the bad haired boy in this picture?
Shocking hair aged 17

 Into Room 101 you go – and give me a decent hairstyle.

That’s it for now. I will add some more items to Room 101 next year some time.

I have thousands of things destined for Room 101.

I hope Room 101 can cope.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Tulips From Amsterdam



A week or so ago, I attempted a meme about travel (you can read it here) and it gave me an idea. I have decided to pepper my usual inane garbage with a few posts about my favourite cities but with a bit more detail.

I would like to start with Amsterdam, a city that I absolutely love.

Amsterdam will always have a place in my heart as the first city I visited outside the UK. I was 20 years old and completely naïve, so naïve in fact that I had absolutely no idea about its reputation and why it was, and still is, a favourite location for stag parties.

Since that first visit all of those years ago, I have returned to the city so many times that I have lost count. I was lucky enough to work on two separate projects in the city with work, resulting in countless trips. I have also returned on a couple of lads’ weekends, a city break with W, my ex-wife, and with Mrs PM as well as a stag party.

Here are a few highlights of my trips and some of my favourite places:

(1) On my first visit there, I walked out of Centraal Station with my mate Steve and my first conversation with a Dutch man was this:

Dutch Man: Hello – do you speak English?

Naïve PM (grinning inanely) : Yes – YES I DO!

Dutch Man: Want to buy some hashish?

(2) The reputation of the Red Light area in Amsterdam in legendary and on my first visit I walked around with my mouth wide open in shock at the graphic and extremely hard core pornographic magazines. What’s more, I was flabbergasted by the fact that women sold their bodies for money so openly in shop windows. When I was working there, every single person who came out for the first time wanted to go to the Red Light Area and in the end I was so fed up of endless strolls around there with shocked individuals that I would pop into a bar and wait for them, rather than walk around yet again. When I was with W, we strolled around and were invited to go to a Sex Show. I politely declined and the guy said:

“Oh come on! Tonight it is audience participation and couples are definitely most welcome”.

We, of course, declined.

The funniest thing I saw there was a bunch of Japanese gentlemen standing staring at one of the shop windows. After a couple of minutes, another Japanese gentleman came out of the shop window, having sampled the local delights, and was greeted by rapturous applause from his fellow countrymen.

(3) My favourite bar in Amsterdam is Café Gollem, a small bar with a plethora of beers from all over the world. It is only a small bar but it is always absolutely packed, particularly at weekends. Here I sampled Belgian beers for the very first time and I haven’t looked back since. If you visit Amsterdam, I recommend you to check out Café Gollem if you like decent beer in a laid back environment.

(4) My first trip, as I said, was legendary. On our last day there two major things happened. Let me tell you about the first. Steve and I were backpacking so we sought cheap accommodation and ended up in a real dive masquerading as a hotel on the edge of the Red Light area. The place supplied breakfast (well when I say “breakfast” I mean a roll, some ham, some cheese and a coffee) and with a hangover, I nursed my coffee with all of the other travellers. After a while, a woman who I presumed was the owner came in and started to scream at one of the other guests, a young hippy with major dreadlocks who looked as if he were high on some drug or another. I took no notice until I heard this:

Angry Woman: I want you out NOW!!!

Hippy Guest: Chill out, man.

Angry Woman: CHILL OUT???? It wasn’t ME who shot my friend.

Hippy Guest: Chill out, man. It was an accident. We were playing Russian Roulette. He’s not DEAD! I’ll pick him up from the hospital later. We’ll be fine.

(5) The second thing occurred on that day, not long before we were about to leave the city. We had three hours to wait before our train left for Munich. As we strolled around the city, a man approached and said:

“Have you got time to take part in a survey?”

Steve and I shrugged and agreed so that we could kill time without having to spend money. We sat down and filled in what turned out to be a Personality Test and at the end were invited to chat with "one of our experts”.  I answered all of the multiple choice questions and after five minutes or so was invited to chat with a very attractive Dutch lady. After telling me that I was a “people person” who “cared about his fellow man”, the conversation went something like this:

Woman: When are you leaving Amsterdam?

Naïve PM: Later today.

Woman: You mustn’t – you must come back here.

Naïve PM: Why?

Woman: Your test shows that you are suicidal; you have problems. We can help. We have this course …

Naïve PM: Hang on – excuse me! What do you mean “suicidal”?

Woman: Your answers reveal that you are very sad and depressed. You may not believe it but you are. There is a darkness inside you that we need to help you with. And we can help you if you stay...

Naïve PM: No I’m not  depressed. I’m very happy. What on earth did I say that makes you think that I’m going to top myself?

After ten minutes or so of disagreeing with the woman, she finally agreed that I could leave without having to be escorted out of the building by a guardian angel. She tried to sell me a book and I refused (well I had little money).

As I left the building, paranoia kicked in and I actually started to question myself. Am I really going to commit suicide? Am I really so depressed that I need to go on suicide watch?

Steve was waiting.

“How did it go?” he asked.

I didn’t want to tell him that I was potentially going to hurl myself in front of a bus. Steve didn’t wait for my answer. He continued:

“You’ll love this,” he laughed. “Apparently I am about to KILL myself. Can you believe that? Pharrking charlatans. They should talk to that arse who shot his mate.”

I laughed and told him that I, too, was a suicide risk.

The book they tried to sell us was Dianetics by L.Ron Hubbard.

Yes, that’s right – this was an attempt to recruit myself and Steve into the Church of Scientology.

(6) If you go to the Amsterdam you must visit the Anne Frank house. I have never been to a place where the memories of the tiny house are so intense that they are almost tangible. Every single person who walked around the tiny house and museum did so in utter silence, contemplating the atrocities of the Second World War and how a little Dutch girl’s diary helped to give a sense of that terrible time.

(7) If you like art, the Rijksmuseum is the place for you. I was working on my own for the weekend and staying near there and, because the weather was dreadful, I thought I would pass an hour or two looking at some paintings. Five hours later, I was still in there and I hadn’t seen half of the place. And I am not a big fan of art at all.

(8) My last visit there was in 2009 when I went on a stag party. The groom was a policeman and four of the group were also British bobbies. And boy can they drink. I spent the weekend trying to stay relatively sober but also, because I had been there before, acting as a tour guide. The sad thing was we all had to wear the same T shirt – complete with porn star name on the back. For the duration of that weekend I became Jake Sin.

I could tell you a lot more, but this post is already quite long so I will leave it at that for now. Suffice it to say, I know that I have not seen the last of Amsterdam and I look forward to my next visit to the city – whenever that may be.

I recommend you visit if you ever get the chance – even if you want to avoid the Red Light area. There is so much to see – the bars, the canals, the restaurants and, best of all, the people who are among the friendliest and most laid back I have ever met on my travels.

I’ll leave you with some photos from my last trip there.

 


    

  

 Next time, dear reader, I will bring you back a gift – some tulips!



Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Twilight Saga Is Rubbish



Warning – if you haven’t seen The Twilight Saga and want to watch it (for some insane reason) – DON’T!!!!

If you insist on watching it, despite my warning, this post may contain spoilers! And I’m not talking about the plot.

I like vampires and I love stories and novels involving these horrific creatures of the night but I have one thing to say about The Twilight Saga.

It is official:

The Twilight Saga is rubbish!

Last night, I had to pay a heavy price for dragging Mrs PM to see The Avengers (or as it’s called in the UK The Avengers Assemble) earlier this year.

She told me that I would have to go and see a film of her choice and so keen was I that I agreed immediately. Last night was payback.

Last night I had to go to the cinema to watch Breaking Dawn Part Two the final film in The Twilight Saga.

I had already seen the first three movies and had decided that I was not going to watch the remainder of the series – because it was utter rubbish.

I know what you’re asking:

“Why did you see THREE of the films if you think they are rubbish?”

I saw the first film on Sky Movies because it was on. I had heard that it was all about vampires and watched it because of my love of everything to do with undead bloodsucking monsters. Imagine how horrified I was when I sat through two hours of romantic tosh.

The second movie was on a long haul flight when there was quite literally nothing else to do. I had finished my book and was so bored that I was counting the hairs on the head of the woman snoring next to me. I had to watch a film – it was the only one on. It was two hours of romantic tosh.

The third movie was also on a long haul flight. Again I was so bored that this time I actually started reading the in-flight magazine. I had to watch a film. When I saw the choices, I sighed in disgust but watched it anyway. It was two hours of romantic tosh.

I vowed not to watch any more.

That was until Mrs PM told me the film she wanted to see.

“AWWW NOOO!!!!” I wailed. “You said you ENJOYED The Avengers Assemble. You CAN’T make me go to see that garbage. I haven’t even seen the FOURTH one.”

My pleas fell on deaf ears. I actually paid money to watch the fourth movie, Breaking Dawn Part One, on my laptop from Sky Anytime, and sat in the lounge having connected it to the TV, so that I would have at least an inkling about what was going on in the fifth movie.

Liquorice, my hellcat, was sitting on my lap staring at me as I struggled through the film. Liquorice stared at me as if to say:

If you rant once or vomit at the insipid nature of this film, I will tear your face off into little strips. You will wish that you had been savaged by a vampire.”

She's a very eloquent cat.

“Not one of these useless vampires,” I wailed. “I’d rather be savaged by YOU than one of these bland bloodsuckers. Liquorice, YOU are far more scary than these limp vamps.”

She agreed and I watched it while trying desperately to control my reactions. Actually, half way through I was tempted to piss Liquorice off so that she would put me out of my misery.

In the cinema last night, I watched the final part and wasted two hours of my life, while desperately trying not to stand up and scream at the screen and the rest of the audience, who were mostly women. The only other men there were young guys trying to show how romantic they were, and other idiots like me who had been dragged to the cinema to suffer this drivel.

Although Mrs PM had forbidden me from bringing my soapbox along, I managed to sneak it in.

At one point, towards the end, when they were singing “I will love you forever,” I said, to myself but sadly loudly enough for Mrs PM to hear:

“For God’s sake – when is this crap going to END?”

She realised I had brought my soapbox.

Now I realise that there are a lot of Twilight fans out there and they are mostly women (probably ALL women).

Please allow me to tell you why I think that The Twilight Saga is rubbish.

(1) The Vampires are tedium personified.

Vampires are supposed to be evil creatures, driven by blood lust; they are insatiable monsters with no feelings and no desires other than guzzling as much blood as they can from human beings.

Instead, in Twilight, we are presented with a bunch of toothless chumps, none more so than Edward Cullen, the main “vampire” played by Robert Pattinson.

(2) The Vampires are not monsters.

Vampires are supposed to be totally scary and, if you are human, you should be terrified of having all of the blood sucked out of your body through hideously long fangs that puncture your neck and draw all of your lifeblood through the carotid artery.

In some movies and novels, vampires tear their victims apart, such is their insatiable appetite for blood.

In Twilight they don’t even have bloody fangs.

(3) The Vampires sparkle in daylight.

What is going on?

Vampires, when confronted by the sun, explode in a tsunami of burning flesh, or melt into a pile of ash. The do not “twinkle” like they do in this cesspit of a saga.

(4) The Werewolves can change at the drop of a paw.

Werewolves change into murderous monsters when the full moon rises – and rip human beings to bits in an orgy of bestial ferocity. They wake up totally unaware of what they have done.

Not in Twilight - OH NO!

The Twilight wolves are like big growling puppies and can change whenever they feel the need to be lead around on a lead.

It’s pathetic.

(5) Jacob Black is stupid idiot.

This “werewolf” cuts off his hair and flexes his muscles and turns into a whimpering mutt that growls a lot. He rages about vampires but does nothing about them other than moan in human form and growl in wolf form.

He seems to spend the entire set of films looking as if he’s going to burst into tears.

And worst of all, he has a crush on Bella Swann.

(6) Bella Swann is wetter than a fish’s armpit.

The reason the main character, Bella Swann, is torn between a vampire and a werewolf is that no human male would touch her with a bargepole.

While Kristen Stewart isn’t a bad looking lass, the character is deplorable.

If I had been a vampire I would have drained her blood and cast her aside.

If I had been a werewolf I would have not bothered ripping her throat out because werewolves traditionally do not like fish.

(7) Edward Cullen is the worst Vampire in the history of the Vampiric race.

I hope that Robert Pattinson isn’t as lame as Edward Cullen.

He’s about as terrifying as a kitten playing with a ball of wool.

Even when Edward Cullen is supposed to be scary, he simply isn’t.

And since when did vampires wear hair gel and look completely and utterly lost when around humans?

He looks like he’s two fangs short of being a vampire. I wish somebody had put him out of his misery at the start of the film. Then perhaps Bella Swann would have faded into obscurity.

He is a DISGRACE!!!

(8) Is there anything good about The Twilight Saga, you moaning Mancunian git?

I can hear you asking – do you think there are any GOOD points in The Twilight Saga?”

Yes – the vampire/werewolf fight at the end of the final film – where I hoped that we would see lots of blood and gore. I liked seeing heads ripped off and the main characters gradually being killed off – but then they spoiled it by making it all a vision of the future.

And they all bloody well survived – even soppy old Jacob Black who all of a sudden being a vampire baby’s pet pooch.

I won’t ever watch these films again.

Vampires are meant to be evil, blood-sucking monsters who scare the hell out of people before eating them and causing a painful horrible death.

They are not soppy gel-wearing idiots that fall in love with fishy females.

Werewolves are equally vicious monsters who rip the throat out of girls.

They do not allow girls to put a lead on them, take them for a walk and pick up their poo.

Bella Swann should never have had a boyfriend – she doesn’t deserve one.

If you like vampires – watch True Blood or read the Sookie Stackhouse novels from whence the series came. They are proper vampires.



Or the Blade Trilogy, particularly Blade II, where the vampires themselves are hunted by a more horrific species of vampire.


Or better still, read Brian Lumley’s Necroscope series, where the vampires are so evil and monstrous that they scare me half to death just  thinking about them. If ever they make a movie out of Necroscope it wills scare the Twilight audience so much they won’t sleep for a year.


There is one good thing about Breaking Dawn Part Two – I managed to amass approximately 10,000 Brownie Points from Mrs PM.

I will probably lose them when she reads this post.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

My ABC of Travel



Travelling is good for the soul, or so I have heard, which is great news for my soul as I have soundly bitten by the travel bug.

My job involves travelling occasionally, although these days I am less keen to jet off to another country with work because I know that when I get there I will get little chance to see the place due to the demands that are thrust upon me.

Sometimes I get lucky and get some time off; others I quite literally arrive, work, eat, sleep and then repeat that monotonous list until I have to leave again, with little or no chance to break the chains and escape for a little adventure.

Holidays are obviously the best way to travel simply because I am not constrained by the chains of employment.

Anyway – to the point of this post. I have discovered an A to Z travel meme I thought might be fun to have a go at.

So without further ado, let’s dive straight in:

A: Age you made your first international trip

I made my first trip abroad when I was 20 years old. I travelled to Holland and Germany but I was totally naïve. Such a lot happened on the trip that I could write several posts on the subject. It all started off in Amsterdam, a city I have been back to more times than I can remember, both with work and travel, and ended up at the Oktoberfest in Munich.

I will reveal all in a future post.

B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where

There are so many spectacularly good Belgian beers that it is difficult to choose one. I will select De Koninck because it was always my first beer of the night when I was working in Amsterdam, which is the place I first tried it.

C: Cuisine (Favourite)

I love Chinese food, particularly in China itself. On a recent work trip to Kunming in China, every meal time was fantastic, particularly because we dined with local Chinese guys who ordered some of the most amazing dishes I have ever tasted. I had to stipulate that I would not eat insects. I don’t think that I did – but to be honest I wouldn’t have known.

D: Destinations. Favourite. Least Favourite. Why?

My favourite destination is Hong Kong. The whole city is vibrant, colourful and an amazing combination of east and west. It holds a special place in my heart because that is where Mrs PM revealed her feelings for me. With work and travel I have spent well over a year of my life in that wonderful city and I would be tempted to live there if I had the means and opportunity. In fact, next year we are going to another place I have always wanted to visit – Japan – and we are going back to spend three more days in Hong Kong on the way. I can’t wait.

My least favourite destination is probably Chongqing in China. When Mrs PM and I visited the city it was merely as the starting point of a cruise down the Yangtze River, which itself was a total hellish disaster. The city itself was crammed, dirty and polluted as well as having the worst drivers in China (which is quite a spectacular achievement in itself).

E: Event you experienced that made you say ‘Wow’

That is easy; Niagara Falls. I have been to Niagara twice and each time I have been lost for words. It is a beautiful, natural phenomenon that really did take my breath away.

F: Favourite mode of transportation

I love travelling but hate getting there. I think the train is probably the least offensive mode of transportation, particularly if you can sleep in the comfort of a bed, as we did on an overnight trip from Beijing to Shanghai. The sound and motion of the train makes it very easy to fall asleep.

G: Greatest feeling while travelling

The greatest feeling is the first day in a new place; leaving the hotel for the first time to explore a new country or city, venturing into the unknown.

H: Hottest place I’ve travelled to

Las Vegas, without a doubt. The temperature outside was 45 °C compared to inside the hotels where the air conditioning bordered on being too cold. Mrs PM and I walked down The Las Vegas Strip, seeking sanctuary in each hotel. It was too hot to walk back and we wilted while waiting for a bus. In the end we got a taxi.

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where

It’s tough to find better service than in nice restaurants in the United States. I know that all they want is a tip and they are not really your best friend, but it is nice all the same.

J: Journey that took you the longest

I travelled to Australia but we stopped in Hong Kong on the way there and Singapore on the way back, so I guess that doesn’t count. The longest trip in one go has to be to and from Kunming a year or two ago. I had to fly from Manchester to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Beijing and Beijing to Kunming. The entire journey took almost 24 hours. I was absolutely shattered each time, so much so that on the way back from Amsterdam to Manchester, I only woke up when the plane touched down.

K: Keepsake from your travels

If I keep keepsakes, Mrs PM accuses me of hoarding .However, there are quite a few trinkets lying around the house in places that Mrs PM has yet to discover. I guess, the best keepsakes that will remain untouched are the photos we have.

L: Let down sight. Why and where?

Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. I was expecting the glitz and glamour of the Los Angeles film industry and possibly the opportunity to spot a famous face or two. Instead, it is in an area that is not the best and although you can look at the pavement stars and the handprints, it was too busy with tourists and I simply didn’t get the inner reaction I expected.

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel

That would have to be that first trip to Holland and Germany. When I arrived home, I was desperate to get away again – and I did the following summer when I went travelling around Europe again.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in

It’s tough to beat the Bishop Lei Hotel in Hong Kong. Mrs PM and I lived there for three months while working in the city. We negotiated a discount on a suite that overlooked Hong Kong harbour and woke up to spectacular views every single day. We got to know the staff too and we are going to stay there again when we visit next year.

O: Obsession. What are you obsessed with taking pictures of while travelling?

I really want to be able to take pictures of the people but I am not very good at doing so, simply because I don’t want to offend anybody. I have managed to take some, but I really need to invest in a camera with a bigger zoom capability.

I do like taking pictures of famous iconic symbols too – but not with my ugly mug in them.

P: Passport stamps. How many and from where?

I used to have loads but nowadays we don’t get them when travelling in Europe. However, I do have some pretty good ones like: South Africa, Russia, China, Thailand, Canada, The United States, Hong Kong, Macau, Australia, Singapore, Barbados, The Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago and The United Arab Emirates. There are probably more.

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where.

There have been some odd things I’ve seen on my travels, changing the Kremlin guards was quite amusing because of the regimented choreography involved. Also, an impromptu Dragon Dance in Beijing where Mrs PM and I captivated almost as much interest from the locals as the dragon itself.

R: Recommended sight, event, or experience

I have several that leap immediately to mind.

Niagara Falls, Sydney Harbour, Eiffel Tower, Pearl Tower in Shanghai, Grand Canyon, visit the Kremlin, St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, London (generally), Empire State Building in New York, A traditional jazz bar in New Orleans, a stroll round Boston, Madrid, a stroll around Rome, Pompeii, Positano and the Amalfi Coast, Amsterdam, The Great Wall of China, The Forbidden City, a river boat cruise in Bangkok, a stroll on the beach in Port Douglas Australia, a river cruise in Singapore and a meal at Café Deco on Victoria Peak in Hong Kong.

If I rack my brains I could write an entire post on this.

S: Splurge. Something you have no problem forking over for while travelling.

Everything – except Thai food which I just don’t like (making life particularly difficult on holidays to Thailand).

T: Touristy thing you’ve done

I’ve done loads of touristy things. If there is a major tourist attraction where I am I will go and see it if I can, which means that I have a massive list of things I could write about. See R above for some of them.

U: Unforgettable travel memory

A two week trip around China in 1999. If it were made into a film it would be called “Planes, Trains, Automobiles and Boats – Chinese style”. A scary but hugely rewarding backpacking experience. I am hoping that Japan next year surpasses it.

V: Visas. How many of them and for where.

I assume this means Visas I have had to have beforehand. Usually when you travel to a country, if they are friendly with the UK you get a visa on arrival. In some countries you have to get one in advance and be invited by somebody, usually a company. In which case, only two leap to mind – Russia and China. Other visas have been acquired on arrival.

W: Wine, best glass while traveling and where.

The only one that leaps to mind is a glass of Rioja in Madrid. I love Rioja. Having said that, I tasted some delightful wines on wine tasting tour in the Napa Valley, California and a similar one in Hunter Valley in Australia.

X: eXcellent view and from where

I’ll select one that I haven’t mentioned yet – Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower – if I can get over my fear of heights.

Y: Years spent traveling

I guess since the first time I travelled abroad at the age of 20, it has to be 30 years (minus the odd few when the boys were very small).

Z: Zealous sports fans and where

Amsterdam. I was working there on my own and walked out of Centraal Station on my way to the hotel and was confronted by an army of Dutch football fans ready to catch the train to see the national team play against Wales in a World Cup qualifying game. I have never seen so much orange in my life. Flags and banners were everywhere and even the people were orange, having painted their faces. And every single one of them was chanting a Dutch football song – the same song as far as I could tell. It was an absolutely unbelievable and slightly scary sight, even though there was no hint of malice at all.

And finally …

Here’s to the next 30 years of travelling, starting with Tenerife at Christmas, Hong Kong and Japan in May and, to be arranged, Hungary (a country I have never visited) and the South of France.

I can’t wait.


Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The Plastic Businessman



Technically speaking, I am a businessman, using the definition of the word in its loosest possible way.

The definition of a businessman is:

A person, esp a man, engaged in commercial or industrial business, esp as an owner or executive.

Let’s look at that a little more closely.

A person – yes, I think I qualify as a person.

Esp a man – especially a man. I thought that you had to be a man to be a businessman and a woman to be businesswoman. Businesswoman has its own definition in the dictionary as does businessperson. So am I a businessman or a businessperson? Or both? I know one thing for certain – I am definitely NOT a businesswoman.

Engaged in commercial or industrial business – I’m not going let slip exactly what I do – apart from spending my entire day swearing at computers and the people who buy and use them. I guess that counts as industrial business.

Esp as an owner or executive – sadly no! I do not own my business nor am I an executive.

Nevertheless, I guess I do count as a businessman – albeit a plastic businessman.

My job involves travel, and when I am fortunate enough to get a trip abroad, I look forward to the prospect of visiting different countries. I don’t look forward to the work when I get there and spend the journey planning ways to escape the business prison and explore strange and exciting lands.

Anybody who has travelled will see businessmen at the airport as they check in, wait for their flight, fly, land, arrive, pick up their bags and depart to set the business world alight with their business stuff.

For fun, I would like to compare myself and my own travel experiences, the Plastic Businessman, with the stereotypical businessman, the Proper Businessman.

Checking In

The Proper Businessman will arrive at the airport in a taxi and march with determination towards the check in desk. He will be wearing a suit, even if he is travelling to the other side of the world, and he will be carrying another in one of those plastic suit carrier things. He will have a top of the range suitcase and a business case, complete with laptop, iPad and Blackberry. He will have checked in online, because his time is so precious that he simply cannot afford to waste his valuable time standing in line with the economy class scutters. He will arrive at the Business Class check in desk, hand over his suitcase and march away triumphantly with his Business Class boarding card.

The Plastic Businessman will arrive at the airport in a taxi – and that is where the similarity ends. He will be wearing a pair of jeans and a T shirt with a scruffy coat and hauling a suitcase full of work documents he doesn’t need but has been asked to take just in case. He will have had the foresight to check in online but will have to drop his bag off at the economy class check in desk with the rest of the scutters because his company will not pay for Business Class. He will ask for an upgrade and be laughed at by the check in assistant – and then he will be laughed at by the rest of the scutters. In his scruffy rucksack he will have a laptop, an iPod and a book. He will have a cheap Nokia mobile phone that belongs in a Science Museum but, being a geek, he will have an Android Smartphone too. When he has finally checked in, he will shuffle away feeling pissed off about being humiliated when asking for an upgrade.

Departure Lounge

The Proper Businessman will aim to do as much work as humanly possible while waiting for his flight. He will be constantly talking into his Blackberry or listening to it pinging as important emails fly into his inbox. The laptop will be out and he will be analysing spreadsheets, studyinging documents so important that they must be reviewed before he flies, or he will be sending emails barking orders to is underlings because he is so high-flying, so important that he doesn’t think they can function without him. If is in the Business lounge he will sip a glass of red wine as he chats, covering his mouth occasionally in case somebody may be lip-reading and keen to steal his entrepreneurial ideas or his company’s secrets.

The Plastic Businessman will make straight for the bar, or if he managed to fluke entry into the Business Lounge, will try to cram as much free beer, wine and food down his neck as he can. He will talk on his personal smartphone to tell his beloved that he is about to fly and that he will miss her. Then he will get his laptop out and, after struggling for a while to get an internet connection, will check his blog, his personal emails and then poke around web sites such as BBC Sport or Amazon. Then he may start to write a blog post. Or just play a game. And he will laugh at the Proper Businessman, knowing that he is a workaholic who isn’t actually that important but cannot actually leave his work alone for five minutes.

Boarding

The Proper Businessman will walk straight onto the aircraft barking orders at his subordinates in his Blackberry – except he can’t carry it – so he has his earpiece in, looking, in his eyes, even cooler.

The Plastic Businessman will queue with the other scutters, listening to rock music on his iPod and embarrassing himself slightly when he inadvertently blurts out profane lyrics to one of his rock songs, like “I’m so HUNGRY for YOUR SEX!!”. The other scutters will laugh.

On Board

The Proper Businessman will open up his laptop as soon as the “Fasten Seat Belts” sign has gone off. His aim will be to work for the entire duration of the trip. After all, that important document won’t write itself and since he is the only man who can possibly produce such a document, it is absolutely imperative that he gets at least the first draft of the document done. One of the most frustrating things about flying is that there are no power points so that he can recharge is laptop when it inevitably runs out of power. Still, never mind; he has an iPad and he can do at least a little constructive work on that. If all else fails, he has a stash of paper documents in his business case – and a BIG RED PEN.

The Plastic Businessman is so tightly crammed into his economy seat that there is no room for him to get his laptop out. Even if he did, all he would do is play silly games on it (although he would never admit to that knowing that it is company policy not to allow any leisure software on a company laptop). Instead he will watch a film that has been sliced to ribbons so that it fits on the tiny screen and has had all of the sex and violence removed in case young eyes in a nearby seat can see it. Instead he reads a book – not a Business Book like “The Audacity of Hope” or “How to Acquire Excellence in an Economy Seat on a Cramped Aircraft Even When Sitting Next to the Fattest Man on Planet Earth”. No – instead he chooses a crappy science fiction novel called “Invasion of the Vampire Fembots From Tharg”. And when he’s fed up of that, he will once again dissolve into his iPod and inadvertently blurt out another embarrassing lyric from a rock song like “Pull my trigger; I’ll get bigger – then I’m lots of fun – I’m YOUR GUN GUN GUN!” The other scutters will laugh again.

Arriving

The Proper Businessman arrives refreshed after a nice sleep because he has been in Business Class and has been able to convert his already comfortable seat into a bed and been tucked in by a beautiful stewardess. He has in his business case, lots of smelly cologne and a razor to make himself look perfect as he steps off the aircraft before all the scutters and picks up his bag immediately because it has been given a priority tag. He has a limousine waiting for him to whisk him off to a hotel to catch up on the remainder of his sleep because he is a Proper Businessman who deserves his rest after an eight hour flight.

The Plastic Businessman leaves the aircraft an hour after the doors opened because he ended up at the back and had to wait for the other scutters to struggle off first. When he gets into the terminal building he looks like a dishevelled version of the scruffy old git that checked in so long ago. Why? Because he has had absolutely no sleep. Faced with the choice of cuddling up to the fat bloke next to him or leaning out into the aisle where he would have been constantly hit by people going to the toilet or trollies full of food, he opted to sleep in the normal sitting position and ended up with a cricked neck. And then he realises with horror that his toothpaste and deodorant were confiscated because both were over 100ml and he forgot to put it in his suitcase. He realises with horror, as he waits for his bag that he has to meet the customer immediately to say hello – and he looks and smells like something that crawled out of a primeval swamp.

Conclusion

I am a Plastic Businessman.

I am not bitter.

Honestly.


Thursday, 15 November 2012

Noisy Neighbours



I live in an Edwardian terraced house, built in 1906 during the reign of Edward VII. We moved into the house in 2002 and I watched it pass its 100th birthday.

I love my house.

We have now removed most traces of the previous occupants, an elderly couple who didn’t have too much money to spend to develop the property, choosing instead to (and let’s be kind here), patch the place up.

Mrs PM and I have spent a fortune on it, renovating each room in the house including a fair amount of building work, a new bathroom and a new kitchen.

The previous occupants would not recognise the place now.

We have completely stamped our personas on the house.

It is ours – well, when I say ours, I really mean that it belongs to the cats.

We acquired two of our moggies, Jasper and Poppy, about a month after we moved in and they have been with us ever since. Two other moggies have lived here with us too; poor old Spike – the cat that belonged to a woman two streets away but chose to live with us instead until he finally disappeared again – and now Liquorice, the hellcat who tears off strips of my skin for fun.

We are all one big happy family.

One of the problems of living in a terraced house is that we share walls with our neighbours, and can sometimes hear them. Normally, this isn’t a huge problem, as our neighbours are quiet and friendly.

This hasn’t always been the case though.

When we first moved in, the neighbour on one side decided that she wanted to sell up, leave her job and travel – so she did. She sold the house to a rich man, who bought it for his young son, a student.

At first, everything was fine. The young man was friendly enough and didn’t make much noise. For the purpose of this post I will call him Student.

The house on the other side of Student was owned by a young gay couple, who have since moved out but we are still friends with. They were more Student’s age and often hung around with them. We popped over a few times but I kind of lost interest because I was too old to sit outside laughing with students about young people’s stuff.

I was happy to leave them to have fun.

That is, until the fun started to get annoying.

At first, things were friendly. Student would come round and say “I’m having a party tonight – you are welcome to come round.”

“Thanks for telling us, “ I would say with a smile, but declined to leap into a house full of young people getting drunk.

On the occasions when he warned us, he was good to his word and the frivolities would fade about midnight – at first.

And then he stopped telling us.

And then he decided that the best time for the start of a party was at midnight when he and his mates had returned from the pub after drinking for hours.

And then he started doing that during school nights.

The first time it happened, I was lying in bed at 1am on a Saturday night and all I could hear was

DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF

with the gentle screaming of pissed people as a background melody to accompany the thumping beats.

The second time it happened, I was very annoyed. To cap it all, somebody knocked on our door.

I was genuinely angry thinking that one of his mates had drunkenly wobbled to our house by mistake. I quickly got dressed and ran downstairs preparing to shout at the idiot who had turned up at the wrong house.

It wasn’t an errant partygoer, it was Luke, one of our gay neighbours.

“I’m going to complain to Student,” he said. “Will you come with me for backup?”

“Damned right I will,” I snarled and the two of us went next door.

The door was answered by a very drunk Student.

“Can you keep it down? It's late and we're all trying to sleep,” said Luke diplomatically. I stood behind him looking as mean as I could.

Student uttered a quick slurred apology and the volume was almost immediately lowered.

The parties continued and no matter how much complaining we did, they kept on happening. One one occasion, I knocked on his door at 3am and was heckled by one of his mates, standing behind Student when he had opened the door, said:

“I don’t like your attitude mate. You could ask nicely.”

Step out of the house and let’s discuss it,” I snarled with an uncharacteristic rage building inside of me.

Student intervened and turned the volume down while trying to shut up his dumb drunk mate.

I decided to exact revenge. I woke up at 8 am the following day (a Sunday), knowing full well that Student would be sound asleep and nursing a hangover.

I put the speakers of our hi fi against the bedroom wall, knowing that his room was on the other side and subjected him to a full hour of this at high volume:



I didn’t hear a peep out of him; not one complaint.

The last straw, for both of us I think, was when, on a Sunday night at 3am, Mrs PM and Luke went round to complain and the noise was so loud that they couldn’t hear the door being knocked.

Our bedroom and Student's were separated only by a wall and I could hear him in his room blasting his music out at a volume that could probably have been heard in Liverpool, peppered with a few giggles from the people in there with him.

I was enraged because Mrs PM and Luke’s futile attempts to penetrate the vile pounding music had fallen on deaf ears. I ran downstairs to get a broom. One good thing about living in a terraced house with adjacent bedrooms is that the windows are quite close together.

I ran back upstairs, opened my bedroom window and walloped his window with the broom handle as hard as I could. He opened the window and Mrs PM and Luke complained in a more controlled way than I would have done.

When he turned the music down I heard him shout:

MY BLOODY NEIGHBOURS! ALWAYS PHARKKING COMPLAINING!

I was just about ready to smash his door down and show him exactly how I really wanted to complain. I didn’t – I was too tired.

His parents sold the house about a month after that event – that was his last party.

On the day Student moved out, I walked past as he was loading up a van with his parents.

“Moving out?” I asked with a smile.

“Yes,” he said. “It’ll be a little more peaceful now, I guess.”

“Yeah,” I agreed.

Our new neighbour is the complete opposite; a lovely lady who is very quiet, so quiet in fact that we can hardly hear her most of the time.

As for Student – I bumped into him about six months after he had moved out, in a bar in Manchester, as I was having a last beer before going home after a concert.

I saw him at the other end of the bar and raised my glass to him with as smile. He raised his back to me, also with a smile, and we left it at that.

I don’t hold it against him now he's gone; after all I was young and stupid once.

Now I’m just stupid.