Tuesday, 31 January 2012

31 Days of Blogging - Day 31


Day 31 – Robyn – With Every Heartbeat



With Every Heartbeat is a song that Mrs PM introduced me to during a car journey to see her Mum in Blackpool.

She played three songs from Robyn’s album and I hated two of them. I grimaced as I endured the first two songs but then With Every Heartbeat came on and I smiled in surprise.

“Is this the same woman?” I asked incredulously.

“Yes,” she replied.

“This is a great song,” I said and Mrs PM almost crashed the car in shock.

It reminds me of the early 80’s when pop music was good with the electronic sound that I still love.

I struggle these days to listen to pop music because it has changed so radically and is mostly utter rubbish. I realise that I sound just like my dad did in the 70’s.

The song was released in 2007, the year before I started this blog, which I think is a fitting place to end this blogathon.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it and seeing a few glimpses into my life and the events that have shaped the person whose nonsense you have been reading, dear reader.

There have been ups and downs and I’m sure there are more ups and downs to come – mostly ups hopefully.

But that’s life, isn’t it?

At the moment I am thoroughly enjoying my life and have been, really, since the turn of the millennium. As the years go by I am more and more content. I am probably happier now than I have ever been.

I have a house that I am proud of (though it still needs some work) and three adorable cats. Yes – even Liquorice, the hellcat, can be extremely cute. I now know her well enough to be able to predict when she wants to rip my face off.

Here is Poppy trying to decide whether I want to feed her – or eat her.



Here is Jasper, the fat cat, doing what he does best – sleeping.



And here is Liquorice helping me cure writers block - I daren't refuse.


I have a job that winds me up on a daily basis but has the major perk that it allows me to visit other countries. I may moan about my job but it has taken me to Europe, Singapore, Hong Kong, Russia, China, Canada, the Caribbean and the United States. It is the one dilemma left in my life – and I’m sure I will work it out in years to come. The travel bug is still alive and kicking – and I have plans over the next year or two to visit some fabulous places.

I have two brilliant sons. I would call them boys but one of them is 18 and the other almost 16. Mrs PM calls them the clones because their resemblance to me is striking – just like my resemblance to my dad.

Time has healed a lot of the pain between W and myself and we now get on relatively okay. We always said that the boys would come first, and thankfully we have both tried to make that the case. I don’t think the boys have ever seen an argument between us since we split up.

And of course, there is Mrs PM. She is a wonderful woman and has been there for me for the past fourteen years. It is difficult to say in words how much she means to me so I will just say that I love her more each day and I simply don’t know what I would do without her. She has embraced my sons as if they were her own and she adores them. She has seen me at my lowest and has been there to help me find my way back. She is always there for me.

And of course, the last four years or so has been taken up with The Plastic Mancunian blog. I’ve always loved writing but I never really got my words out on paper until Mrs PM and I went to China. I also wrote an account of my trip to Australia in 2005 that we embarked upon with Mrs PM’s mum and her partner for her 60th birthday. I wrote the account as a present – and she loved it.

After that, Mrs PM suggested that I get my drivel out there into cyberspace and when I saw that a work colleague had done it, I took the plunge in March 2008. I decided to start the blog as a new hobby but it took me three months to pluck up the courage to actually publish my first nonsensical post – about the football team I support.

Since then, I have thoroughly enjoyed posting all manner of garbage out there into Blogland for anybody in the world to read.

For me it is a great hobby that is an outlet for my love of writing. It’s fantastic to know that there are people out there who do actually read it (I’m delighted by that in fact) but even if nobody read my musings I would still hurl them into cyberspace.

Writing to me is an means for me to vent my spleen and express myself in my own absurd way. Work colleagues read it, my sons occasionally read it, friends read it and people from all over the world read it. Mrs PM reads it too and often chuckles at my portrayal of our life together.

And I love that – I really do.

I’ll sign off for now by reiterating that I hope you enjoyed this little 31 day blogging exercise. It gave me the chance to enjoy some music from my past and to reminisce about events that have shaped my life, both good and bad.

I’ll leave you with another photo of me, Mrs PM and the boys from Ibiza last year.


Not sure who that bloke is at the back though - probably laughing at me in shorts.

Anyway - thanks for reading.

Monday, 30 January 2012

31 Days of Blogging - Day 30


Day 30 – Gwen Steffani – What You Waiting For?



I like Gwen Steffani – a very nice young lady.

Her music is a bit hit and miss though – some of it is dreadful.

What You Waiting For however is a triumph.

It’s been quite difficult for me to find examples of pop songs from the 2000’s that I actually like; mainly because the charts are dominated by drivel.

My two lads have exposed me to all manner of musical nonsense, some of it I have liked, most of it I’ve not liked.

Stephen, my eldest lad, has followed in my footsteps to a certain degree. I have followed rock music as it has progressed and been introduced to some marvellous new bands. Stephen has embraced some of them too and has become a bit of a rock fan himself.

In fact, we are both going to see Rammstein in March. Sadly, my influence hasn’t been absolute, because he also likes some pure drivel, which he is keen on inflicting on me.

Michael, on the other hand, has rebelled. He listens to music that is more in tune with Mrs PM and they discuss music quite often. He puts up with my music because he has no choice.

I don’t care and I welcome the fact that they have both veered off in their own direction. I have watched the two of them grow up and become young men and I am very proud of them.

Stephen, now 18, has followed in my footsteps and gone to university in Newcastle, studying IT - just like I did.

And, like me, he loves it.

Mrs PM and I visited him a month or two ago and it was like stepping back in time. He shares his accommodation with a mixed group of people and he thoroughly enjoys it. The place was an absolute tip – just like I remembered my place being.

“I’ve tidied up a bit,” he said.

I laughed, because it was a complete mess. “What was it like before?” I asked incredulously. Later, when we returned after a brief tour of the university, two of his female flatmates were cleaning the place up.

Stephen, unlike me, is not shy at all. He has always been a good talker and can march into a group of people and start a conversation with ease.

Michael, now almost 16, is more like me. I wouldn’t say he is shy but he is a lot quieter than his brother. He is also a very sporty lad. He plays for a local football club and is very interested in sport of any kind. I’m not sure where he gets his footballing skills from – certainly not me. I was absolutely rubbish, relying totally on pace rather than skill. Michael has both.

Having seen his brother go to university, Michael is keen to do the same. He is just about to take his GCSE exams and then he will go into the sixth form and A levels.

A part of me is envious. I remember what it was like for me.

Unlike me, however, my two lads are more prepared for the years ahead. For me, going to university was like stepping through a massive door into an unknown world. For Stephen and Michael, Mrs PM, W and I have all encouraged them, guided them and prepared them for what lies ahead – well as much as we can.

We’re already seeing a change in Stephen.

As I’ve said before, another part of me sees them almost grown up and regrets the fact that they are not children any more. That part of me is selfish – it is the child within who wants to be young again. I miss playing with them, teasing them and generally fooling around.

When Stephen once said to me “Grow up, Dad,” the child within me was hurt. It was a moment when I realised that I could no longer act like a child with him.

I miss the little rituals we had – hiding in the bedroom at bedtime and scaring them, drawing Mr Men on a blackboard and then reading the stories to them; giving them Mohican hairstyles in the bath; watching Thomas the Tank Engine videos; chasing them around the house pretending to be a monster; playing football with them in the park and many more things.

Now, it is like having two adults around the place – and that is fun as well. I can see them becoming fine young men.

Yes – I am envious. I am sure they will make mistakes but I hope to be there for them as long as I can, accompanied by Mrs PM, who adores them, and of course W, who has been the perfect mother to them.

Anyway – this is me and the boys back in 2006 in Blackpool (Mrs PM’s home town). Michael is closest - he was 10 - Stephen was 13.


And this is last summer in Ibiza. Stephen, now 18, is next to me, taking after his father and drinking beer. Michael is now almost 16.


I feel really old - but I am very proud of them.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

31 Days of Blogging - Day 29


Day 29 – Goldfrapp – Strict Machine



As I’ve already told you, Mrs PM and I do not share the same taste in music at all. The good news is, however, that we do have the odd song in common that we both like.

Strict Machine is another one of them.

For me the song has a style takes me back to the early 1980’s and a time I have already described that I am fiercely nostalgic for.

For Mrs PM, it is just another pop song she likes.

We needed some music that we had in common; particularly when we were working on our new house.

As I said in the previous post, we bought our house in 2002 and it needed some work. It needed more than just “some” work – it needed LOADS.

It is an old three bedroomed Edwardian terrace built in 1906 and is a bit like Dr Who’s TARDIS. From the front it looks small but when you open the door it just goes back and back.

The previous occupants were an old couple who didn’t have much money to spend on the house. They sold up because the area where I live is a fairly popular area and the housing boom meant that the house was worth a lot more than they had paid for it originally. The moved to a smaller, cheaper house on the outskirts of Stockport and made a fair amount of profit I believe.

Sadly, the house was not decorated to our taste. Every room was covered in woodchip.

The main bedroom was like a cave. The walls were painted a dark avocado green and the old couple, when they moved out, took all of the bulbs with them and replaced them with useless low wattage excuses for bulbs.

“What have we done?” asked Mrs PM as we struggled to see each other that first night.

“We’ll sort it out,” I said.

And we have – well sort of.

The main bedroom was first. We stripped all of the wallpaper, replaced the horrific carpet, plastered the room and bought loads of new furniture.

The main living room was next. Originally it had an awful fake brick façade straight out of the 1970’s. We smashed it all down, bought a new mantelpiece and fire, new carpet, new furniture, new wallpaper etc..

And so it went on. Every year since then we have had some major work done to the house including a new bathroom, new kitchen and lots of plastering.

Finally – FINALLY – it is in a state that Mrs PM is happy with.

I have been throwing cash at builders, decorators, furniture stores, carpet stores, DIY stores and all manner of other people to get the house in good state.

Of course, we have contributed hard work ourselves. And this is where the tiny overlap in our musical tastes has helped.

When I am painting or doing anything like that I NEED music to keep me sane. Sadly, playing heavy metal and rock music has a negative effect on Mrs PM.

“If you play ONE MORE SONG from Dream Theater I will pour that pot of paint over your head.”

My reaction was similar except the main artist to drive me nuts was Lady Gaga – or J Lo – or the Black Eyed Peas – you get the drift.

In the end we just played stuff that we both liked. The problem is that Mrs PM gets fed up of old music really quickly so now we have another approach to our problem.

When we are in the car driving somewhere that involves a journey of say an hour or two, we take it in turns playing three songs each. That way we endure around fifteen minutes of Hell followed by fifteen minutes of Heaven.

Sadly this has had a bad effect on me – like walking down the street and suddenly, out of the blue singing Lady Gaga songs:

Rah-rah-ah-ah-ah!
Roma-Roma-ma-ah!
Ga-ga-ooh-la-la!
Want your bad romance

before realising what I am doing and then screaming “SHIT!!! WHAT AM I DOING????” to alarmed passers-by.

I just hope that Mrs PM suffers from the same embarrassing affliction.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

31 Days of Blogging - Day 28


Day 28 – Coldplay – Clocks



The opening piano on Clocks is wonderful.

This song is so infectious that I had it as my mobile phone ring tone for a while. It was one of those old Nokias and I had to painstakingly type it in, a kind of crude version of the tune.

Mates and work colleagues took the piss but I didn’t care.

Coldplay are one of those bands that people love or hate – I love them – Mrs PM isn’t too keen at all and this song drives her up the wall.

So back in 2002, when the song was released, we moved into the house we live in now. And the family increased by two.

That’s right – we bought two black kittens from the Cat Protection League, which in itself was a bizarre experience. Mrs PM had always wanted black cats, so I called the charity and was told that a representative would come to visit us and check us out.

The way it was phrased, it appeared as if we were being scrutinised to see if we were suitable “parents”.

And that’s exactly how it was.

A woman called on us armed with a book of photographs and then interviewed us in our own home. She had long grey hair and looked at me in particular as she asked the questions, probably because I was the less enthusiastic of the two.

“Do you consider this to be a dangerous road?” she asked me.

“Not really. It’s not a main road is it?”

“This IS a dangerous road for cats,” she replied, shaking her head in disbelief. “Just count the cars that go past.”

I did – and there seemed to be quite a few.

She then continued the interrogation – er sorry – interview – asking questions about how we would look after the cats.

I wanted to jump up and scream at the woman: “Look – I have owned a cat before. I know how to feed them and how to look after them. I will not harm these animals. For Pete’s sake – if you think we are unworthy then I’ll just go out and get some kittens from somebody else.”

I didn’t say those words. I just nodded when she suggested that the cats should be kept in ( “House cats are better” she said), knowing that I would let them out because that’s exactly what cats want.

Eventually, Mrs PM chose Jasper and Poppy, whom regular readers will now be familiar with. A couple of days later, she brought them round and sat with us in the lounge just to make sure that we knew what we were doing.

“I have brought up two kids. I KNOW HOW TO LOOK AFTER A BLOODY CAT!!!!”

I didn’t say this at all – though the urge to do so was almost totally overwhelming.

She stayed with us for one hour – ONE HOUR!!!!

When she finally left, I allowed these two delightful little creatures to roam our house and have fun doing so. They were already house-trained, which was a massive bonus.

And the woman even rang us up a couple of times to ask “how the kittens were settling in.”

“I’ve fed them to next door’s dog,” I said.

I didn’t really.

At the time she rang, I was reading in bed and had Jasper on my chest and Poppy was sitting on Mrs PM purring.

And they have been with us ever since.

Here they are, as they were in 2002:



I was going to tell you something about the house we live in but I got carried away with our moggies (as I so often do).

Well at least that gives me something to talk about in tomorrow’s post – unless I start waffling about the cats again, of course.

Friday, 27 January 2012

31 Days of Blogging - Day 27


Day 27 – Roxette – I Wish I Could Fly



Another decade was over – a fiery decade – another life changing decade.

As the 1990’s drifted to a close and a new millennium, no less, was upon me, I finally began to settle and take stock of my life again. You would have thought that would have managed over the previous 38 years – but I like to think that life is a constant challenge and evolution and self-development are inevitable.

This is the approach I decided to take as 1999 became 2000.

And for once I was content.

I had first heard I Wish I Could Fly sometime in 1999, as my time in Hong Kong was over. Mrs PM and I were happy and all I could think of was a rosy future. The song reminds me of the new feeling of hope that I had.

I was happy and I still am – nothing much has changed in that area – apart from possibly being even happier.

That’s not to say it wasn’t tough at first. I was used to living in a three bedroomed detached house and found myself renting a house for six months before we bought a two bedroomed (and small) flat.

It was the first time Mrs PM had owned her own place and she was very excited. I wasn’t as excited as she was because I was used to a house and this place was much smaller than I was used to, although it was very homely.

I am a bit of a hoarder and I had a lot of stuff. There was no room in the flat so I had to make sacrifices – and that hurt.

The flat was another brand new property in South Manchester and right next to an area that was a thriving student community.

In fact, I had come full circle because it was about 100 yards away from the bedsit I had first lived in way back in 1984 – remember the mad professor who thought that there was a pervert leaving elastic bands on his front door?

He was long gone and the building I had lived in had become (and still is) an old people’s home. Thinking about it, moving back to the area I first lived in when I first came to Manchester, didn’t seem like a good plan of attack to get my life back on track .

But in a way, it kind of worked. I started to look back at what my life was like back then and it helped me decide on a way forward – with Mrs PM’s help of course.

The area was a lot livelier than I remember and the number of student bars that had suddenly appeared was incredible.

I began to feel quite old for the first time in my life, mainly because I realised that students looked like children and the fact that my fortieth birthday was just around the corner didn’t help me.

In 2001, I finally suggested to Mrs PM that we ought to consider looking for a bigger place. I think at first she was reluctant, but when we talked about it, she began to see my point of view. We were living on the top floor of a block of flats in a lively area and I wanted something a little bigger and a little more peaceful.

Mrs PM agreed and we began to hunt for houses.

In the end, we had a couple of failures, as the housing market was on the up. Mrs PM has a penchant for older period houses and had a fairly specific style of house in mind.

And we found one.

There were quite a few problems trying to buy the place, mainly because we were in a chain and we were let down a couple of times by people who said they wanted the flat and then changed their minds. It was quite frustrating.

We got there eventually.

My life was settling down at last. The plan started to come together.

I was content. Mrs PM was content.

I was finally learning to fly.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

31 Days of Blogging - Day 26


Day 26 – Madonna – Ray of Light



I used to really fancy Madonna – though recently I’ve gone off her. As far as her music is concerned, I am not generally a fan of Madonna at all – but I do love this song and the album from which it comes.

And I can't deny that she is a superstar.

You might be a little surprised therefore by my choice today. Allow me to explain.

Getting used to living with a new person can be troublesome. Mrs PM and I did actually get on but had a few hiccups on the way.

By far the biggest hiccup, which is still there and shows no sign of abating, is the dreadful taste in music she has.

Our musical tastes are so completely different that we actually argue about music – even to this day. I am deeply opinionated about music and Mrs PM’s choice of tune is firmly in the category that makes me rant, rave and pontificate about.

Apart from a few hidden gems that is – like Ray of Light.

When we were in the honeymoon period of our relationship, I wanted to do something romantic. I opted to record a bunch of power ballads that I could hand over to her. Something made me change my mind.

We were watching a TV programme and “Is This Love?” by Whitesnake came on.

“This is AWFUL!” she howled. “Turn it off!”

I looked at the tape I was in the middle of preparing and the second song was “Is This Love?”

Thank God I found out before I completely embarrassed myself.

Over the first couple of years of our relationship, I was subjected to all manner of dreadful tune. To be fair, from her perspective, so was Mrs PM.

We both had to endure listening to bands and artists that we had never heard of or absolutely loathed.

For me it was dross like Mariah Carey and any DOOF DOOF style dance number that is repetitive, boring and tedious.

For her it was Rush and heavy metal.

To this day we hate each the vast majority of other’s music. The sad thing is that we actually now know each other’s music because we constantly have to listen to stuff we don’t like.

She has driven me almost to breaking point with Lady Gaga and Rihanna while I have subjected her to Dream Theater and Metallica.

And my aim is to brainwash her with my music so that she comes to love it. She does this too.

It won’t work – we both know it.

However, the good news is that over the years we have found some common ground and we can actually play music that we both like…

Well – a little anyway.

At least I have now broadened my musical horizons such that at quizzes I can identify the dreadful artists that she likes (shocking those who know my musical preferences).

And so can Mrs PM.

Some good has therefore come from our differences.

That’s what I keep telling myself anyway.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

31 Days of Blogging - Day 25


Day 25 – Air – La femme d’argent



I love La Femme d'Argent and I think Air are an absolutely superb pop band.

Moon Safari, the album from which this song comes, is one of my favourite albums in my collection. I have most of the albums they have released since then.

Air are French and the name is supposedly an acronym for Amour Imagination Rêve. I suppose it’s a good job they are not English, otherwise they would be called Lid.

When I first heard the song in 1999, I was working in Hong Kong and my time there was drawing to a close. The customer wanted somebody to spend three months supporting the system and prepare for the oncoming time bomb – the infamous Millennium Bug.

Of course, the Millennium Bug turned out to be a damp squib but the panic that preceded it was almost laughable. Because the customer wanted two people, and Mrs PM and I were together, it seemed logical that the two of us would fulfil that requirement.

We spent a fabulous three months in what has become my favourite city outside the UK.

I loved Hong Kong and living there together gave me a totally fresh perspective on the place. So many wonderful things happened.

Work was tough and we were pushed quite hard – but the fact that I was in Hong Kong and had a new found positive outlook on life meant that I approached those times with a smile on my face. It helped having Mrs PM there of course.

I also developed mobile phone twitch.

The customer made sure that we carried a mobile phone with us all the time and in those early days, just about everybody in Hong Kong had Nokia phones with that irritating bloody ringtone that we still hear today.

And every time the mobile phone rang it was always something that had to be dealt with immediately. Because other people had the same ringtone, I twitched every time I heard it, thinking that my phone was beckoning me into a bad place.

And most of the time it wasn’t my phone at all.

During the three months, the customer informed us that there would be a two week period when our services weren’t required. We had the choice to go back to the UK.

“No way,” said Mrs PM, like a wildly excited child. “Let’s go to CHINA!!!!!”

I must admit that I didn’t fancy the prospect of going to China at all, and even the people we worked with tried to dissuade us.

However, I was won over by Mrs PM’s enthusiasm; she stirred the travel bug inside me and we ventured into a mad but incredible country for a memorable two week trip.

At this time I was actually starting to write a little too, yet another seed being sewn, so I opted to make notes and write a travelogue, mainly so that I could keep a diary of events for the future.
And that travelogue became The China Chronicles, which although rough and ready, I still enjoy reading from time to time, to remind of the trip. There is a link to it just to your right.

After China, we returned to Hong Kong for our final two weeks and left via Singapore (again work related) before heading home.

I was very sad at leaving the city and felt quite emotional at the airport.

I still love Hong Kong even now and whenever I head towards Asia, I always try to make it back there. Mrs PM and I have been back there on our way to Australia in 2005 and more recently on a holiday to Thailand.

We are planning another big holiday next year, to Japan – another place I have always wanted to go to.

And we will visit Hong Kong again for a few days on the way there or back.

It will be like visiting an old friend.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

31 Days of Blogging - Day 24


Day 24 – Morcheeba – The Sea



There are times when music can soothe your soul. I love that.

The Sea by Morcheeba is one such song.

Mrs PM had the CD, Big Calm, and despite her otherwise dreadful taste in music (more of that to come), I really liked the entire album.

People sometimes need something to escape to and music has always been a suitable transitional medium to allow me to escape the real world and lose myself in my own imagination.

I have always had an active imagination and I managed to push aside my problems in favour of a trip to a calm place there – a sanctuary if you like.

When I hear this song, I imagine myself drifting off shore on a boat away from the stress and hardship of life, out to sea where all I could hear was the gentle lapping of waves against the boat and distant cry of a seagull riding on the breeze.

Of course, eventually you have to return to the things that you were trying to escape from but I find that it relaxes me enough to revisit and review them with a fresh perspective.

At night when I can’t sleep for whatever reason, I grab my trusty MP3 player, turn the volume down low and allow the music to take me on a journey away from the worries, that are keeping me awake, and into the weird world created by my own mind.

I’ve even found that it works when jet lag keeps me awake – well sometimes.

It’s easier to fight insomnia if you are tired but being kept awake by life’s problems. However, when you are stuck in a hotel room and your body thinks that it is noon, music does not always allow you to drift away.

Your body says:


NO SLEEP! GET UP! IT’S NOON! YOU SHOULD BE OUT THERE – DOING STUFF.

Your mind moans  “But it’s three o’clock in the morning!”


On the subject of insomnia, why do people think that counting sheep actually works? I’ve tried it in the past and it does not work at all. I can imagine a field full of sheep where each one of them wants to leap over a fence one at a time into the next field – but counting them is totally boring. And as the number of sheep increases, I find myself asking questions like:

How big is this damned field? I’ve counted 10,000 of the buggers and there are still loads of sheep left.


What’s wrong with the field they are in anyway?


I didn’t know that sheep queued up to leap a fence. Why would they do that?


And just how high is this fence?


Will they eventually evolve and sprout wings, if I count them for long enough?

See? That’s my weird imagination coming to the fore.

Let’s just say that soothing music is a much better option for me … unless I’ve just arrived in Hong Kong in which case I just have to bear it…

… and count thousands of flying sheep, soaring over a two hundred foot fence.

I’m a weirdo aren’t I?

Don't answer that.

Monday, 23 January 2012

31 Days of Blogging - Day 23


Day 23 – Depeche Mode – Home



I’ve just re-read the last few days’ posts and have decided that I have had enough of talking about the demise of my marriage. It is time to be positive, something which fits nicely into the way I approach life these days.

I had written another depressing post for today – but now I think it is enough. So I’ve scrapped the original post and hastily rewritten it.

The break-up of my marriage to W is not something that I really want to revisit – and I’m sure that W doesn’t either.

So I will leave it at that in the interests of harmony and positivity. Suffice it to say that W and I are actually friendly to each other now. There may be bitterness on both sides but we largely push that aside these days and are civil to each other – even joking about our life together sometimes, making both of our lads cringe with embarrassment.

As I said – enough about all of that; instead – let me tell you about Home.

The song reminds me of the time when I changed my opinion of Hong Kong. When I first went there, as I’ve said, work was tough, but later when I had a chance to stay in the centre of the city instead of the New Territories, the city became something else.

It was a vibrant exciting place and I loved it.

I bought the Depeche Mode album Ultra in Hong Kong – Home is on the album. I loved Depeche Mode way back in the 80’s but they improved dramatically later on. I was in HMV in Tsim Sha Tsui listening to the album on headphones (having not heard it at all) and instantly loved it.

Home is the best track on the album, though slightly melancholy, I find it uplifting.

I sometimes like a dark edge to my music – perhaps regular readers have guessed that.

Anyway, I guess it’s time to tell you about Mrs PM.

We used to work together. She joined my company from university having just completed her degree, also at Liverpool University. She studied French and IT and has spent a year of her course living in Toulouse.

She had worked in a bank and had decided that she wanted something more – so she left to become a mature student and loved travel, which led her to join my company because of the opportunities it provided.

What I didn’t know was that she took quite a shine to me. Do you recall me telling you how useless I was with women?

Well it was the same with Mrs PM – history repeated itself again.

Fate stepped in and we had to go to Hong Kong together for a site trip. After a week working together, we went out for yet another meal and had a great laugh together. And then she shocked me.

As we walked back to the hotel, she told me in no uncertain terms how she felt about me. Her exact words were:

"Do you want some romance?"

See a pattern?

And again I succumbed. I really liked her even though there is eight years age difference. She was 28 and I couldn’t see what on earth she saw in a crotchety old git like me.

And I haven’t looked back since.

As you can imagine, all of this caused quite a stir and times were hard during the first period of our relationship – almost all of it was my fault I hasten to add, as I was going through a rough time.

Nevertheless, we bonded because there was something different about her.

We were on the same wavelength; our background was the same and we wanted the same things in life.

And we still are on the same wavelength almost fourteen years further on.

Crikey – I feel old.

But I am happy and that’s thanks mainly to Mrs PM, who stayed with me through those turbulent first months.

I must have been a right royal pain in the arse. She clearly saw something there and rode that storm. She saw me at my worst – warts and all.

And she stayed.

And thank God she did.

She has embraced my two boys and loves them as if they were her own.

She really is a special woman – and I am very lucky to have her.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

31 Days of Blogging - Day 22


Day 21 – Seal – Kiss From A Rose



I started to mellow out in terms of music in the mid 1990’s. I loved heavy metal and rock music but I also needed a little mellow music to balance it out – you have seen this in the last couple of days and you will see this in the next day or two as well.

I think Seal is a great artist – something you may not expect to hear from somebody who champions Rammstein and Dream Theater. I can’t help it – I love to chill out to a decent mellow ballad.

Kiss From A Rose is my favourite song by Seal – with the possible exception of Crazy.

This period of my life was almost like a soap opera and I certainly needed some calm music to relax to.

There were a lot of things going on between 1996 and 1998. The highs were very high – I had two marvellous, beautiful and fabulous sons. The lows were extremely low – work was all-consuming and my relationship with W was deteriorating.

As far as work was concerned, I found myself jetting to and from Hong Kong on a regular basis. I was working on a building site and that, combined with the stress of the project I was working on, conspired to make my life almost unbearable.

Stephen was a young toddler and Micheal was a baby who kept us awake most of the night.

To add to the ever increasing stress, I was leaving home for up to three weeks at a time on business trips to Hong Kong. While I loved the city, I really didn’t get much chance to see it. The days were long and arduous on site and when I returned home, the pressure of work was immense as the deadlines were becoming more and more difficult to achieve, which meant having to work longer and longer hours.

Stress was building up and I was struggling to cope. I was tired constantly and I wasn’t sleeping. I found myself not wanting to wake up in the morning because I knew what the day would bring. Life was a chore and a mess – long haul flights to a sweltering city and working in dust and sweat while trying to deal with some very belligerent people all mounted up.

The pressure began to have an effect.

Finally something happened. I began to have chest pains and dizzy spells and, of course, Captain Paranoia was really helpful:

“You are dying!”

Being a hypochondriac, I listened to him and convinced myself that I was going to have a heart attack. And that caused even MORE stress. Memories of my dad’s premature death were starting to haunt me – causing me YET MORE stress.

It was like I was tumbling over and over inexorably in an unrelenting avalanche.

W was unsympathetic: “Of course you’re not dying: pull yourself together.”

I finally plucked up the courage to go to the doctor. He found nothing wrong but sent me to a heart specialist – just in case!

I ended up having an ECG and a thorough examination from a cardiac specialist.

The conclusion? All of my symptoms were caused by stress – every single last one of them.

I was in perfect health.

Something changed within me because of this little scare.

How could I be in such a bad way that my anguish was giving me physical symptoms?

Of course I was delighted to have been given a clean bill of health but it made me take a closer look at my life – almost from the point of view of a person watching me in an intimate way.

And I didn’t like what I saw.

Something had to change – my whole life seemed to be heading in a direction that I didn’t like – hence the stress.

That was a major turning point and it also eventually had dire consequences.

The first plan of attack was work. I began to stand up for myself and cut down on the trips and the hours I was working. I began to look for the positives and promised myself that I would start enjoying my life in the way that I wanted to enjoy it.

The work pressure finally began to ease off and I managed to reduce the number of trips to Hong Kong.

Sadly things weren’t alright at home, despite my wonderful kids. And with my new found positivity I had to do something about that. I thought that I could beat that too.

I tried – but it didn’t work. It was clear that W and I were drifting further apart, despite the kids, and when I opted to change my own direction, she resisted because her plans were sacred to her – and mine simply didn’t fit in with hers.

And she didn’t care. She didn't even consider my problems - as long as she was happy, everything was fine.

It wasn't.

It was the beginning of the end for us.

Again, I’m aware that I have selected a mellow and romantic song to remind me of a dark period of my life but songs like this really helped take me away from the pain – there is more of that to come. Equally, heavy metal provided an escape for me – two extremely diverse forms of music.

But I did find comfort in them both..

And it is that comfort that I remember when I hear Kiss From A Rose, rather than the increasing anguish.

Music is powerful and therapeutic, from beautifully mellow songs like Kiss From A Rose to powerful rock songs.

They both help.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

31 Days of Blogging - Day 21


Day 21 – Shakespears Sister – Hello (Turn Your Radio On)



June 5th 1993 was the day I became a dad for the first time.

I had always wanted children. I LOVE children; mainly because I am, and always have been, a child myself.

My mind has always been able to descend to the right level of immaturity to match the wavelength of a young person.

It is easy for me.

I have a deep sense of fun and can watch and play with kids for hours.

The next step in W’s plan was children and, because the thought of being a dad excited me, I was a willing participant. I have posted before about the actual birth of Stephen so I won’t bore you with all that again.

However, the aftermath of that experience was something that brought W and I closer together. We both had no idea what we were doing and we were terrified. A new human being lived with us and was totally and utterly dependent upon us.

And we were clueless.

We found ourselves struggling to stay awake, and coping with a screaming, puking, shitting, pissing lump of flesh that kept us awake. We were so tired that we stumbled around like two zombies, doing chores on autopilot and in a constant daze and state of stupor.

But I loved it.

Work was particularly tough and I found myself working long hours and then coming home to have a wailing ball of humanity dumped into my arms, as W had a well–deserved respite from the trauma of the day.

But we had it easy. Compared with other friends who had children at the same time, Stephen was a completely laid back child. He was sleeping through the night from a very early age but on those nights when he decided to scream, I found myself walking around our house, gently rocking him at 3 o’clock in the morning.

Somebody told me that taking a baby out for a drive always worked – it didn’t. Sometimes it did but most times it failed.

In desperation I opted for some soothing music and found a song that worked; Hello (Turn Your Radio On).

W had bought the album some time earlier but Stephen responded to me as I sang along to the words of the song. Sometimes I just sat in the chair gently rocking him and singing the chorus over and over again; others I put on the CD at a low volume and gently rocked him in the chair.

There were a number of times when I fell asleep and W would get up in the morning to find us both snoring away in the chair.

It got easier, dear reader.

In fact, as far as kids are concerned, I believe that it simply gets better. As your child grows, life becomes infinitely more interesting and lovely.

I love all kids and it is a shame in some ways that they are both grown up now. There is something missing and while that’s a good thing it is also sad.

The best part of my life was seeing the birth of Stephen and then three years later, Michael – and then watching them grow up and become the two young men they are now.

I have W to thank for that.

And I truly and sincerely mean that.

Friday, 20 January 2012

31 Days of Blogging - Day 20


Day 20 – Enya – Caribbean Blue



Decades come and decades go. The 1980’s was over and the 1990’s were upon us.

So much happened to me in the 1980’s that I thought it might be a difficult one to top. The 1990’s however, proved to be as big a rollercoaster ride as the 1980’s – but for wildly different reasons.

It started off calmly enough, a calm that is reflected in this wonderfully mellow song by Enya.

By now we had moved to a three bedroomed detached house in Altrincham and W was happy and content. Her life plan was coming together and she was climbing the social ladder to the level that she wanted – to match that of her parents.

From my relatively lofty position, I was staring down to the life that my mum had envisaged for me. I was having dinner parties with bankers and managers, people who made conversation about promotions and career paths and not about life in general.

One of our neighbours wanted a personalised number plate so that people didn’t know how old her car was. As far as she was concerned, she was with the movers and the shakers.

I felt kind of uncomfortable with that.

I was entertaining people who drank brandy and port and looked down on those who liked a beer. Was I punching above my weight?

I didn’t really feel comfortable with people who urged me to climb the corporate ladder and appeared to judge me based on my car and how old it was.

My friends made me happy and as long as I was happy I was fine; as long as I could do what I liked I was fine; as long as I was able to buy what I wanted, go out with my friends, play football with the lads and enjoy my home life, I was fine; as long as I could travel I was fine.

And I could do those things – but there was something slightly wrong. The differences between my working class upbringing and W’s rather lofty ambitions were beginning to cause cracks in our relationship.

Looking back, it was obvious that W’s plan and my plan were diverging.

At first I thought nothing of it and I succumbed to her desires, under the pretence that I was somehow becoming a better person by mixing in circles that W felt comfortable with. She wasn’t that keen on my closer friends – she was friendly enough but I sensed that she considered them to be holding me back a little.

We had a big house and I loved it – I was happy. But W wanted more – not just yet but the signs were there.

Hints like “the house is too small” – we had a brand new three bedroomed detached house! Why did we need another one? It was easily big enough for a family of four. I didn’t understand it.

But I did try – in the interests of harmony.

At the time Caribbean Blue was released, we had a wonderful holiday to Greece and I recall walking along a cliff face staring out at the brilliant blue sea with a fabulous cloudless sky reflecting the sun’s rays as it made its descent to the horizon – and Caribbean Blue was in my thoughts – it was like paradise. On this holiday we were fine – I forgot about our differences.

We were abroad and I was relaxed. I was travelling.

We dined, we drank we danced and we talked.

When we got home, though, I was disappointed – not just because our holiday had finished; it was because I was stepping back into W’s world, a world in which she was happy and didn’t care about how I felt.

I should have been happy too but the problem was that I was increasingly outside my comfort zone as all of W’s dreams were coming to fruition.

The first feelings of discontent were beginning to show and I fought them. I wanted everything to work and I was determined, at that time at least, to try to make them work.

I therefore put up with it – I succumbed and I played the doting husband despite the increasing number of arguments.

I fitted nicely into W’s plans and tried my best to keep her happy, despite the dinner parties and the fact that more and more of the things I wanted were being shelved in the name of peace and harmony.

The holiday in Greece and Caribbean Blue  remind me of a happy time with W – an oasis of calm and contentment – the calm before the storm, if you like – a time when, perhaps, the differences between our outlooks on life were tolerable.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

31 Days of Blogging - Day 19


Day 19 – Richard Marx – Hazard



There aren’t many songs that make me cry – but this one does. I think it is truly beautiful and as I am typing this I am struggling to focus on the words that I are appearing on the screen because my eyes are teary – and I am not making that up – because I am listening to the song as I type and it always fills me with emotion – without fail.

I’m not sure why the song does this to me. It is such a sad song and makes me imagine myself suffering the same plight as the poor soul in the song.

“I swear I left her by the river – I swear I left her safe and sound” – that line gets me every time.

It is quite amazing really that a song can have such a profound effect on a person. And for a man to admit that he openly cries at music is something that is quite difficult.

But I am admitting it here and now – and I don’t care. I will face the consequences and the piss-taking from my mates who read this blog.

I cry at a lot of things – but most of the time I try to disguise it. Why? Because I succumb to the macho man inside who considers crying to be a thing that only girls do.

I have sat in cinemas and watched movies that have actually grabbed a hold of my heartstrings and wrenched so hard that my entire body has convulsed forcing a waterfall of tears to flood down my cheeks.

And I have been embarrassed by that.

As I have got older though, I have to say that I care less about being embarrassed.

Hence my confession in this post.

It’s not a bad thing, is it, dear reader?

I am sure that female readers will sympathise with me and male readers will possibly be torn between saying – “You big girl’s blouse” while others will say “Yes – I struggle with that too.”

To those men who regard this as a struggle, I suggest that we make a pact – you and I – to allow ourselves the privilege of showing our emotions openly in public.

How can we do that?

I’ve started by admitting that a beautiful song makes me cry.

We can also not try to “pretend to be tired” when the lights go up at the end of heart-wrenching movie and admit that the film was so emotional that you simply could not help the tears gushing out of your eyes.

And best of all, get your mates to do the same, even those macho guys who reckon that they never ever cry.

I have a message for those guys – I don’t believe you.

There must be a movie that makes you cry – or a song that fills you up.

There is emotional empathy in all of us – even meatheads.

You just need to turn on the tap and let it all out – just like I have (though there may actually be something in my eyes - BOTH of them).

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

31 Days of Blogging - Day 18


Day 18 – Talk Talk – Life’s What You Make It



I love this song and at the time it was re-released, 1990, it was a time for reflection for me. The 1980’s was over, a decade that I will always cherish.

My life had changed so much; I had a good job, I owned a house and I was married. There were times when I had to pinch myself.

A year earlier W and I had pushed the boat out and splashed out on a massive four week holiday to the United States of America, a country I had always wanted to visit. I was in awe of the place it lived up to my expectations completely.

I was young and impressionable and fell in love with the place so much that I actually considered leaving my job and my country to go and live there.

We flew to New York and then immediately on to Washington, spending two days there before heading south to New Orleans. After a day or two there, we headed west to San Francisco before visiting Los Angeles for two weeks to stay with a friend of W. Finally we headed back east to Cleveland to visit another friend of W who had been her pen pal since they were kids. Finally we drifted back to New York for a couple of days before flying back home.

There were many highlights and, of course, a couple of cultural mishaps. Here are some of them:

We saw all of the sights in Washington, but one of the funniest things I saw were a bunch of Americans at Dulles airport standing looking at Concord with looks of pure reverence. One guy turned to me and said “Wonderful, isn’t she?” As soon as I replied he shook my hand – because I was British, as if I actually had a hand in creating it.

In New Orleans in the French Quarter, we enjoyed listening to traditional jazz, while sipping Dixie beer in a bar with one of the most attractive barmaids I have ever seen. And she considered my accent to be very sexy.

I loved San Francisco and actually got cramp walking up and down the legendary hills of that city. It is still the only place on Earth where I have been in a jail cell; I hasten to add that it was on Alcatraz.

In Los Angeles, a woman was so enamoured by my accent that she said “I would do ANYTHING for an Englishman.” All I asked for was change for a dollar. In case you are wondering, she was in her seventies.

I met and chatted to KITT, the legendary Knight Rider car, lifted the A Team van, climbed on a giant telephone from Land of the Giants, met the shark from Jaws, was involved in a simulated earthquake and was attacked by Cylons – all in the space of three hours.

In Beverley Hills I saw a pair of trousers for sale in one of the shops on Rodeo Drive for $500 – and that was in a sale.

I swam in a swimming pool with one of the best dogs I have ever met – the golden retriever owned by the woman we were staying with. I wanted to bring that dog home with me; sadly W wasn’t keen on dogs and the owner wouldn’t let me take her back anyway.

I went to a drive-in movie – a surreal experience – but fun.

In Cleveland, an American guy was waiting for me to say one stereotypically English phrase – so that he could crack a totally unfunny joke. His girlfriend called him an “Asshole” when he kept trying to get me to say it – I didn’t have the heart to tell him that most British people do not say “Cheerio”. His “joke” was also not funny at all.

I climbed the Empire State Building – not like King Kong, I have to say; I used a very fast lift.

I spent Independence Day at a party in New Jersey and was followed around for the entire event by a guy with a camcorder who “loved my accent”.

I loved America and it took a while for the desire I had to uproot and move there to dissipate. By now, that little seed of desire to travel had now germinated into a full infatuation – something that still exists today.

And thankfully, at that time, my career drifted into an area that enabled me to travel abroad as part of my job. And I still do that today.

I may moan about my job on this blog but the one thing that I love about it is the opportunities it has given me over the years to visit some of the wonderful countries out there in the world.

And each time I set foot on a plane to jet to pastures new, I still get that amazing buzz that appeared in 1989 when I went to America for the first time.

Don’t you just love travelling?

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

31 Days of Blogging - Day 17


Day 17 – Black - Wonderful Life



Wonderful Life is a beautiful song and back in 1987 life really seemed wonderful. The video is even better – I think its mesmerising.

At that time, W and I had bought our first house in Altrincham, a three bedroomed semi-detached house – though the third bedroom was so tiny that you could barely swing around a cat in it – not that I would ever have done that.

I’ve always been tempted to ask people how they can dare to describe a house as having three bedrooms when you cannot actually fit a bed in the small room that masquerades as that third bedroom.

“This isn’t a three bedroomed house – unless the third bedroom’s for a bloody cat.” was a consistent rant for me at the time.

In a moment of madness, I bought a rowing machine that year and tried to set it up in that third bedroom – no chance. It barely fit – I had to use it with the door open and I kept smashing my elbows on the walls.

It was even more disastrous than that because the thing was so cheap that when I dismantled it to move it to the “second bedroom” I almost castrated myself with the springs before bending the metal and effectively rendering the thing unusable.

How I put it together in the first place is beyond me – and how it managed to survive as long as it did without running my chances of procreation is another miracle.

Anyway, I digress; the wedding was planned for 1988 and we were (sharp intake of breath) “living in sin”.

W’s mum is a lovely woman but she has always had principles, and she frowned on people who didn’t adhere to them. I was surprised to find that when we went to visit them and stayed over, I was not allowed to share a room with W – even though she knew that we shared a room back in Manchester.

I respected her so I slept in a separate room. It was no bother, though I did joke about it on occasion.

It’s quite amazing how the whole process of dealing with and living in a relationship has changed over the years. Tradition dictates that a relationship is almost like a recipe – you have to follow certain steps.

Remember my first major girlfriend, C, from my post a few days ago? Well her mother made it quite clear from the very start what she thought of young men.

We had been going out for about three months when I went to her house. As soon as I sat down, her mum offered me a cup of tea and then, in the next breath, said openly in front of C, her brother and her father:

“If you make my daughter pregnant, I will cut off your balls. Would you like some sugar with your tea?”

It was a surreal moment and I actually laughed out loud before realising that she was deadly serious.

W’s mum wasn’t that bad but she expected me to follow tradition. I had already failed because W had proposed to me. I would have to repair the damage by asking W’s dad for her hand in marriage.

W’s mum nagged W to nag me to do this but I steadfastly refused. W's mum would never have nagged me; I found it weird that there was a middle-(wo)man and when I talked to W's mum, the subject was never broached - but we both knew what was going on.

I told W that people don’t do that sort of thing anymore and no matter how hard she tried to persuade me, there was no way I was going to do it.

And I didn’t.

In fact, W’s dad didn’t seem to mind at all – as far as he was concerned, the deed had already been done. What’s more, I later found out that W’s mum was upset because W had got engaged without discussing it with her first.

I was quite surprised and in retrospect I might have done things differently. It would have been a gesture, nothing more, that would have made W’s mum happy and content. Perhaps I was just too stubborn.

In the end, it didn’t matter – we all got on very well and I was already a part of the family.

Tradition is important to some people and in the interests of harmony, I could and perhaps should have been more flexible.

It’s the little things that can sometimes make life more pleasurable.

W’s mum got her own way at the wedding though – and I was a willing pawn, being shoved around, photographed, videoed all in the name of pomp and ceremony.

It was a very traditional wedding and W and I were, as expected, the centre of attention, something I was definitely not used to. There was certainly no invitation for shyness or introversion, which made the day even more of a struggle for me.

I had to make a speech (my first real public speaking exercise) and everybody wanted to speak to me, especially relatives that I had never met before. At one stage, both W and I found separate hiding places and just spent about an hour in total solitude trying to get our breath back.

People were wondering where the bride and groom were and when I turned up some time before W, I was interrogated.

“Where’s W?”

“I haven’t seen her – I reckon she’s hiding – that’s where I have been.”

It was a great day and everybody enjoyed it.

At that point in my life, I can honestly say that Wonderful Life seemed to sum everything up perfectly - for a while at least.

Monday, 16 January 2012

31 Days of Blogging - Day 16


Day 16 – A-ha - The Sun Always Shines on TV



A-ha were my constant companion when commuting to Harlow to see W. I had a Sony Walkman and the album Hunting High and Low was always one of the necessary soundtracks to the three hour journey from Manchester to London, across London (usually in the rush hour) and then up to Harlow. Best song on the album was The Sun Always Shines On TV.

Commuting was a complete ball-ache. I almost knew every single mile of that journey between Manchester Piccadilly and London Euston. And Friday evening was the worst time to arrive.

I have never seen so many people; huge crowds all squeezing themselves into a tight space to go down an escalator or onto a metal tube on wheels.

The London Underground has always been a bittersweet experience for me – bitter because of the crowds and the nutters, but sweet because the people who travel on the trains are fascinating to watch.

I could have sat on the Circle Line all day watching people and listening to their conversation. London is so crowded that you get the full range of humankind on those trains and being a multicultural place you see just about every nationality there.

It was good – but not on a Friday evening when there was standing room only and I had to endure being crushed up against complete strangers. There’s no room for shyness on the Tube.

This is one of the reasons that the relationship between W and I was struggling. The long distance between us was taking its toll and she wanted to stay in Harlow – she enjoyed her job.

She used to drive up to Manchester and she hated the journey. Rush hour traffic between Harlow and Manchester was as unbearable for W as the train journey to Harlow was for me.

We had another problem – I wanted to stay in Manchester – I loved my job too.

I would arrive in Harlow late on a Friday night, tired and fed up after yet another commute, and we would end up arguing about trivia.

I wasn’t happy – and I told her, one Sunday as I stepped on the train to return home to Manchester. As I travelled back I thought that the relationship would soon be over. She had friends down there and I had friends in Manchester; and neither of us wanted to leave..

I hated Harlow – it was one of those small southern towns that was basically made up of roundabouts. It was a faceless boring little place and its only attraction was that it was within travelling distance of London.

And then W surprised me.

She came up to Manchester and we had a conversation over a meal. It went something like this:

W: When do you think you will settle down?

Me: I am settled, I guess. I’m saving up and one day I will move out of this madman’s castle.

W: You’re not that settled though are you?

Me: Not really.

W: When you were younger, when did you think you would get married?

Me: Dunno – maybe when I was in my mid-20’s.

W: How old are you now, again?

Me: 24.

W: Want to get married?

Me: What?????

She had proposed to me and I was so shocked I blurted out “yes” without really thinking about it. She had caught me totally off guard.

My God – I was going to get married. I couldn’t believe that anybody had asked me. I never thought that a woman would be so interested in me that she was willing to commit the rest of her life to me.

I always thought that I would have to do the asking, something I hadn’t even considered doing with W. Our relationship was almost at breaking point and then she has amazed me by cementing it.

I was flabbergasted – I still am because she recently revealed to me that she had almost finished it herself. I will never know why she changed her mind and also, I will never know why I accepted so readily.

W even agreed to quit her job and move to Manchester with me, which probably surprised me even more than the marriage proposal.

Perhaps I should have thought about it, given the way it turned out.

I knew one thing at that early stage - I was bloody terrified.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

31 Days of Blogging - Day 15


Day 15 –– Tears For Fears - Head Over Heels



Songs From The Big Chair is my favourite pop album of the 1980s and Head Over Heels is one of the great songs from that album.

I was living in a bedsit at the time in South Manchester and had a kind of crazy social life. During the week I hung out with mates from work – usually in the pub – and at weekends I commuted to Harlow, via London, to see W.

I wasn’t settled yet; I still had the mind-set of a student and found myself enjoying crazy nights and then going to work with a hangover.

I soon realised that I couldn’t keep this up, particularly when one of my work colleagues remarked that I “stank like a brewery”. I wasn’t the only one – but it did make me realise that the excesses of my student days simply didn’t fit snugly with the demands of my company.

I cut down considerably and learned to drive.

Nobody in my working class family had ever been behind the wheel of a car so that was another first. I had lessons every Friday lunchtime with an old guy who used to bellow “mirror mirror mirror” every time I made a manoeuvre. It drove me round the bend and I had to bite my tongue to stop myself telling him to shut up (thankfully I was becoming a nicer person).

I passed my test first time and was absolutely delighted. My driving instructor was equally elated and chalked me up as yet another success. He wouldn’t let me drive back home so he did the honours – and when a set of traffic lights turned red, he shouted “MIRROR MIRROR MIRROR”. I burst out laughing when he said “I do that in my sleep!”

My bedsit was a strange place; it was a room in a big house in Fallowfield, owned by a rather strange professor who worked at Manchester University. He was a really eccentric guy and often woke me up at 3 am playing his piano.

He always wanted me to hand over the rent in person, too – so he could “have a chat” with me. And those chats were very peculiar. For example, he was convinced that there was a pervert dumping elastic bands on the door step.

“I don’t know what this madman is doing,” he would say. “Every day, more elastic bands. What is going on?”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that it was the postman; I chose to let him have an unexplained mystery in his life.

Worse, he did not like the idea of people who weren’t married, living or sleeping together. He actually said to me:

“If I catch you with a woman in your room at night, I shall throw you out.”

I was 23 years old for God’s sake.

When W came up to Manchester, I had to sneak her in and then sneak her out again in the morning. One time, he saw us coming in on a Sunday morning and asked W where she was staying: “With my sister in Fallowfield” she lied. She doesn’t even have a sister.

I often wonder why I stayed in that bedsit for so long – I would have been much happier in a shared house. I think the main reason was because I was broke – the rent was really cheap.

The money from work was good but I had to pay off an overdraft from my days as a student; I spent a lot of the bank’s money funding my trip around Europe and had to pay the price. The bank were furious until they discovered my job offer; and then they changed back from evil Mr Hyde into kindly Dr Jekyll – mainly because they saw an opportunity to do what banks do best – squeeze more money out of me.

I didn’t mind.

It took a while to pay off the bank’s “kind loan” but when I had paid off that last monthly instalment I decided that I needed to sort myself out.

Living in a cheap bedsit with a mad landlord seemed like a good idea – and it would have been had I not had to commute to London every fortnight to see W.

I wondered just how long that could last.

Looking back it was typical; I’d spent years trying to get a girlfriend and then, when I finally managed it, she lived over 200 miles away.

Bloody typical.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

31 Days of Blogging - Day 14


Day 14 – Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Two Tribes



Two Tribes still sends shivers up my spine after all these years – it is one of my all-time favourite pop songs.

1984 was the year of Frankie Goes To Hollywood and also my final year at university. Again it is a bittersweet memory – bitter only in that I had to leave Liverpool.

The good news is that I was good enough to earn an honours degree in Computational and Statistical Science. I loved Liverpool so much that I wanted to get a job there and stay in the city. Sadly there were limited opportunities there so I had to move.

I was eventually offered a job in Manchester a city that is only 30 miles away. I had already decided that I was not going to return to Walsall or Birmingham – there was nothing there for me, apart from family – and Walsall was close enough to Manchester for me to be able to commute (it’s about 75 miles away).

In that final year in Liverpool, I met W. She was going out with one of my best mates and the first time we met, we kissed – and then fought.

Again I was the victim of my own blindness; the difference was that W made it perfectly clear over the course of 1984 how she felt about me. I should have guessed.

She typed up my final year project for me and all she wanted in repayment was for me to take her out for a mail. As it turned out, this was a romantic meal and she was still going out with my mate.

I tried not to respond and I think I succeeded. We all left and moved on. My mate moved to Basingstoke in the south of England, I moved to Manchester and W stayed in Liverpool (as she was in the year below us).

Over the summer, she went to America and wrote me letters. I started to sense that she was planning something. Inevitably she spilt up from her boyfriend, citing the stresses of a “long distance relationship” as the cause.

And then she pursued me.

I resisted until early 1985 and then succumbed to temptation.

I found myself returning to Liverpool University to see her and visit mates I still had there. We started a relationship.

It was a lot more serious than any relationship I had ever had before. I was 22 years old and staring at my career path and it terrified me. I worked in Manchester and pined for the student life. I made new friends but there was something missing – freedom.

I realised that I needed to work to live but it took me a long time to get used to the daily grind. The only thing that made it worthwhile was the money. In my last summer holiday before starting work I went with two mates on a four week tour of Europe and I loved it.

I wouldn’t say I was bitten by the travel bug; I was positively savaged by it. I loved the freedom of travelling around France, Spain and Portugal and naively thought that I could do this all the time.

It was a major blow when I realised instead that I only had four weeks annual leave a year and that I had to go and ask somebody for permission to take time off – it was like being back at school but with a few perks.

Another seed was sewn, dear reader; a seed of discontent that has gradually blossomed over the years.

The work was interesting but in those days there was little scope for travelling at all. It involved writing software, testing software and then travelling to another UK town to install it – if I was lucky.

Bizarrely, my first business trip was back to Liverpool to work at an edible oil producing company on the docks.

Not exactly exotic was it?

All of this time, W was working hard to finish her degree and she passed. She got a job in Harlow, in Essex – over 150 miles away.

And I remembered her dumping my mate because of a long distance relationship.

While the future looked bright, there were dark clouds looming on the horizon.

I was taking my place in the rat race.

And even now, I miss those days at university. I miss the freedom, the social life, the new and bizarre people I met (even the nerds) and, yes, I even miss the academic study.

It was a period of my life that I shall hold dear and I am still fiercely nostalgic for that period, particularly when I hear music from the time.

Friday, 13 January 2012

31 Days of Blogging - Day 13


Day 13 –– Spandau Ballet - Instinction



I had a love/hate relationship with Spandau Ballet. I loved Instinction – but hated most of everything else they ever did.

There was one song in particular that I can’t even bring myself to mention – it brings back such painful memories.

Suffice it to say it was about a woman – a woman I was seriously in love with. Sadly those feelings were totally one-sided. I’ve posted about her before so I shall refrain from writing this tortuous episode again.

I did have some fun with women at university. Nevertheless, my inability to read female body language was a major hindrance; if I fancied a woman I was utterly convinced that she fancied me. There were women who actually did like me but like a complete lemon I did not see the signs.

On a few occasions, I found myself at a night club with friends, some female, and when it came to the slow dance, I was more likely than not stuck in the corner watching the smooching couple with envy.

And there were occasions when a female friend would simply grab me by the hand and have a smooch dance – and being the utter blind pillock that I was, I would regard it as a friend simply dancing with me just so that I didn’t feel left out.

One mate used to say to me – “You have a harem; how come you haven’t got a girlfriend yet?”

The problem was that when I danced with these women, I spoke to them like mates and when the dance was over I would walk away, leaving them feeling insulted that I had not responded to their advances. And they would subsequently treat me with contempt (a smile here and there but largely ignoring me because I had mistreated them).

See what I mean? I was a complete idiot.

And this is where I began to have serious doubts about my understanding of the fair sex.

“She bloody fancies you, you total moron. What do you want her to do? Carve it on your forehead?”

“Why can’t women TELL me they fancy me?”

“Because they don’t do that.”

“Why not?”

“They just don’t!”

No wonder I struggled. I was like a blind man walking towards a precipice.

I did have my moments though but usually this involved women I didn’t know and, of course, beer. When I had sobered up, I suddenly became very shy and the embryonic relationship fizzled out before it had even begun.

I was crap with women – I probably still am (don’t answer that, Mrs PM!).

And I haven’t learned my lesson yet – and thank God I no longer have to worry about it; the thought of having to go out and find myself a woman fills me with utter dread. All those memories of failure with a woman I was besotted with; a woman who tore out my heart and chomped it in front of me before casting aside for the vultures to devour; humiliation after humiliation.

Do you know what? I’ve changed my mind. I WILL tell you the name of the song that fills me with dread because of the woman who plucked my heart from my chest and laughed as I crumbled before her.

I feel we have bonded, dear reader, so I shall pour out my heart to you.

The song was “True” by Spandau Ballet – look it up on YouTube because I can’t bear to post even a link to it.

I may even tell you the name of the woman concerned – but you would have to get me very drunk first.

I prefer to remember Instinction.

It’s a pity that I have no instinct myself.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

31 Days of Blogging - Day 12


Day 12 – Godley and Creme - Under Your Thumb



Students are a strange breed, and back in 1982 it was no different. The arts students seemed to want to express themselves physically and generally had a strange appearance.

I looked like a geek, as did many science students, but I was quite astounded to see a lot of overweight female students with bright pink hair, talking utter gibberish.

At first I thought I was missing something but then I realised that I simply didn’t speak “arty farty” as I so crudely and stupidly put it at the time.

There were no shortage of extra-curricular activities to pursue at university and I have to say that I dabbled in some pretty mad and sad pursuits.

For instance, I joined the Dungeons and Dragons society, having flirted with a game in the Sixth Form at school. I turned up and encountered the weirdest bunch of misfits it has ever been my misfortune to meet.

As I stood there in a room in the Students Union watching these six guys and one girl, I began to seriously doubt my own sanity. The clear head of the group was a long-haired bearded six foot five pseudo-intellectual – I initially thought he was gay but he proved me wrong in spectacular fashion later in the evening.

He took charge of the group and we all played this weird role-playing game involving dice and battles with imaginary people and weird troll-like beasts. About half way through the game, we had a coffee break (I went up to the bar to get some beer – I needed it - I was interrogating myself all the way to the bar asking one question over and over again - "WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE WITH THESE PEOPLE??").

Eventually I returned to see the leader of the pack lying down on a table on top of the girl (who was quite chubby) and they were quite literally trying to eat each other’s tongues.

I was sick in my mouth briefly.

The remaining nerds were sitting there oblivious to this depraved snogging and chatting about mythical monsters as if they were real.

I gulped my pint and was on my way back to the bar to get another one (and I definitely definitely needed it after seeing the snogging), when I heard a huge thumping noise from somewhere else. Another student appeared and went through a door labelled “STAFF ONLY” and as soon as he opened the door, I heard music – loud music – very loud music - extremely loud music.

I opted to investigate and, fuelled by a little Dutch courage and an overwhelming desire to rid myself of the snogging memory, peered through the door and found myself in the main concert hall of the Student Union, watching a band perform. This was far more interesting than Dungeons, Dragons, Nerds and Nerd Snogging so I opted to gate-crash the gig instead. I saw a whole crowd of people standing outside with tickets waiting to get in so I joined the crowd already waiting at the stage.

The anarchist inside me rejoiced.

I didn’t want to ask who was playing so I stood still nursing my pint. The band currently on stage finished (they were the support) and then on came the main act – Bow Wow Wow – do you remember this song?



Weird.

So why did I select Godley and Creme's Under Your Thumb? Well I was never a fan of Bow Wow Wow but the song that was playing when I was trying unsuccessfully to vanquish dragons with the weird nerds was Under Your Thumb – and I love that song.

Sadly the main memory it sparks is that Dungeons and Dragons episode; but at least for this post you get two songs for the price of one.

I did see one or more of the nerds after that and, being a friendly chap, I talked to them fairly often. They even tried to persuade me to fight more mythical battles against even more bizarre imaginary beasts – but I refused, citing cowardice (though I didn't mention that I was really afraid to witness another large dose of inappropriate snogging).

But what was the real excuse?

I had a life.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

31 Days of Blogging - Day 11


Day 11 – Blancmange – Living on the Ceiling



University is supposed to be a place of academia and study, a place where people discuss cerebral subjects and surround themselves in an atmosphere of learning and intellectual pursuits.

It was for me.

Additionally, it was a place of partying and absolute fun.

During my first year in Liverpool I was like the proverbial kid in a candy shop. I was away from home and felt like a puppy liberated from the leash. I ran around like a lunatic, sampling everything.

I had money (though not a lot) and I could do what I wanted. I could go to the pub, meet friends, stay up late, lie in and drink like an idiot.

I’m not going to bore you with my tales of excess and tomfoolery – there are too many to mention – but I had to calm down, that much was certain. Sadly, it took a couple of years for me to fully appreciate what I was doing.

I met countless new people: intellectuals, pseudo-intellectuals, fools, friends and foes.

It was mind-blowing and for a while I was lost. It was like being drunk (and drink was involved of course) although I mean the surreal feeling of being drunk rather than the physical symptoms. It was almost like a waking dream.

University is totally unlike the school experience. Attending lectures instead of lessons and being able to go and sit in a bar drinking coffee with your new friends is a bizarre experience. There were people from all walks of life.

I met one of my best friends there but his background is diametrically opposite to mine. I came from a poor working class background with a dad who worked in a factory and a mum who was a secretary before giving it up to take cleaning jobs to make ends meet.

My friend J went to public school and came from the richest part of Birmingham. His mother was a doctor and his father a vicar. His accent was and is extremely posh, his manners pristine, his outlook on life and his experiences completely different from mine.

Yet we bonded and became best mates, along with a group of other people who I still keep in touch with today.

After a couple of weeks of being a party animal I suddenly realised why I was at university and what I was meant to achieve. I had to be very careful as I had little money. I started to work.

And I actually enjoyed it. Maths took on a whole new level of difficulty and I found myself having to work really hard. My very first Maths homework involved ten really difficult questions. It took me two days to answer the first one and I struggled.

We were taught theorem after theorem, lemma after lemma (yes – what IS a lemma? It is a stepping stone to a larger result rather than theorem- apparently).

Computer Science was new and I loved it and I threw myself whole heartedly into it. I also had to endure statistics, numerical analysis and a few other bits and pieces.

There was a lot to learn and it was tough.

Nevertheless, as I have hinted, we found times to let down our hair and usually popped into our local pub on a Saturday Night – the Aigburth Arms.

The pub had a video jukebox and we used to hope that the locals put on our favourite songs (we would have but we had little money to waste). One of my favourites was the aforementioned Living on the Ceiling.

The locals in the pub didn’t take kindly to students and there was an uneasy atmosphere sometimes. We didn’t help by being loud and boorish. I was a target for abuse on a couple of occasions because, of all my mates, I looked like an easier target.

As a young man I was still slightly arrogant, slightly cocky and didn’t react favourably when somebody who I didn’t know, decided to take the piss. With blond hair and glasses, I was good fodder for the witty Scouse put down.

“Look at ‘im here,” said one guy once when I was standing at the bar. “It’s Bamber Gascoigne.”

These days I would laugh with them and not react at all. In those days I was not so civil and regarded such banter as a form of verbal bullying – and my response was not pleasant, particularly when fuelled by a little ale.

“Very funny,” I retorted. “Great imagination. Bet you’ve never watched University Challenge, have you? Can you even spell it? I’d offer you a starter for ten – but I bet you can’t count to ten, can you?”

I was an idiot and if I hadn’t been with a group of mates that particular response might have turned ugly. I was fairly lucky really – and I realised it when I returned to the table and my mates were horrified at what I had said, so much so that they feared reprisals. There were none – thankfully.

Incidents like this make me cringe when I look back at them.

It was essential that I grew up instead of acting like an arse. And I started to realise this and act accordingly.

The independence, the need to look after my own finances, the fear of failure and the freedom to express myself and do as I pleased all began to contribute to my becoming something else.

I was finally going to become a mature person.

And I liked the idea very much.