Thursday, 31 October 2013

School Daze (Part Three) - Shapes of Things



I often wondered whether I fully exploited the subjects I did at school. To be honest, unless you really know what you want to do, deciding your career based on subject matter at an age where raging hormones and, in my case, rebellious confusion can make you decide on the path of life for the next 50 or so years is quite daunting.

I know that I had little clue about what I wanted to do and if I could go back I would change it all. Sadly, between the ages of 11 and 18 I made my choice based on the subjects I was good at, rather than the subjects that were more of a challenge.

I thought, for a laugh, and for a bit of nostalgia and to give you an idea of the person I was and how my schooling shaped me into this grumpy old pseudo Mancunian IT geek in his early 50s, who hates his career and yearns to be a travel writer.

Let me guide you through the various subjects I had to endure and how I coped.

Art

I was useless at art.

I suffered this for two years before I could safely kick it into touch. Surely the teacher must have had a bit of a clue about my ineptitude when he asked me to draw a bowl of fruit and found himself staring in shock at an alien nightmare. Mind you, my efforts could probably have been seized by pseudo –intellectual art critics as an abstract masterpiece.

My attempts at pottery were equally appalling and resulted in clay being thrown at the walls and other kids, not because I was a rapscallion; I just couldn’t control the bloody stuff as it flew in all directions. And you should have seen the result.

Woodwork

I am rubbish when it comes to DIY and I blame my woodwork teacher. He was a man who tried to encourage me with dulcet words as I destroyed half a tree trying to turn wood into something useful. I have never been able to mould wood since and I have no intention of ever trying again. Everything I constructed either fell apart or ended up in the bin. Another subject dumped after two years of wasted effort .

French

French was compulsory for five years and I had several run-ins with a rather maniacal French teacher who had the ability to make kids cry with a mixture of stern authority and menacing threat. My problem was that I could see through his fa├žade and actually used to laugh at his attempts to belittle me in front of the class.

Despite this, he was a very good teacher who immediately sussed out who the class villains were and made them all sit directly in front of him at the front. Nobody answered back – including me – yet I struggled to stifle guffaws when he started on a poor victim. Consequently he would pick on me – yet all I did was laugh.

“What is so funny?” he would ask, growling.

“You are,”  I said truthfully.

I would of course end up having to see him after class for a stern telling off and detention (or jug as we used to call it) – but I simply couldn’t help it.

 I was actually very good at languages and I still remember a lot of French thanks to this rather eccentric teacher. French is one of those subjects I regret not mastering; I would dearly love to be able to speak French fluently.

History

I found history totally boring and in the three years I had to suffer it, I had to endure tedious facts and, eventually, I found that it was drifting towards politics, a subject I despised even then.

My history teacher was an absent-minded old man who actually wrote a book about the history of my school, a rather grand grammar school in Walsall.

We just used to joke about him, saying that his knowledge was so deep because he was old enough to experience it personally.  These days I find myself being drawn towards history again and I sort of regret not being enthusiastic about it at school, choosing instead to draw moustaches on pictures of Henry VIII's wives.

Geography

For someone who wants to travel, this should have been a key subject for me.

It wasn’t.

I have the glorious distinction of coming bottom of my entire year in my final year of studying the subject. I was not going to continue, I figured, so I would do absolutely no work in the subject.

It worked; I simply couldn’t answer any of the questions or write any meaningful essays.

I didn’t care. To be honest, I don’t really care now because travelling for work and pleasure I am learning it all again – this time in a fun way.

Music

Here is a major regret. I really should have learned to play a guitar and/or piano and paid absolute attention to musical theory.

My music teacher was another eccentric maniac whose mannerisms and warped enthusiasm helped to fuel my rebellious nature.

Unlike the French teacher he wasn’t funny – he was just an obnoxious arsehole. And because I was also an obnoxious arsehole, we clashed in magnificent fashion.

When I gave up the trombone he was angry unlike the man who actually taught me how to play the instrument, a jazz trombonist whose skill with this brass monstrosity was amazing - he was very disappointed.

 Looking back, I feel ashamed that I had let my trombone teacher down – and maybe I could have been as good as he was had I pursued it.

I really should have chosen a guitar!

English Language

My English teacher didn’t like me.

I seemed to be able to wind him up just by being in the same room as he was – and this had nothing to do with any ill feeling on my part. During free writing lessons, I wrote weird stories about the Bermuda Triangle, space travel and monsters. He criticised them saying that my warped imagination was leading me completely astray.

Consequently I was forced to write about stuff I hated and my lack of enthusiasm must have shown through. In retrospect, perhaps I should have listened to him more and at least attempted to prove him wrong. Sadly, when my rebellious nature finally did manifest itself we drifted even further apart – which was a problem because he also taught me English Literature.

English Literature

Forcing me to read Shakespeare and Thomas Hardy was a mistake in my opinion. I hated them. I also despised poetry and my abhorrence showed itself in the essays I had to write criticising them. When I say criticising, I don’t mean pouring scorn on them; I mean giving a critical analysis of the work in question.

Sadly my true feelings often came through.

It was only when we had the opportunity to choose our own books that I somehow clawed myself back from the abyss of failure. H.G.Wells, Jules Verne and George Orwell saved me. My passion was evident, even to a teacher who regarded me with contempt and he had to acknowledge that the essays I wrote about authors I liked were actually quite good – a brave admission from the man, in my opinion, despite our differences.

Finally

There’s more to come so I will continue opening a door to the past in my next post rather than droning on about other subjects.

In the meantime, dear reader:

Did you enjoy any of the subjects I have mentioned above? 

Have you any regrets about school?

And just how cheeky or obnoxious were you to your teachers? 




Saturday, 26 October 2013

Disappointed!


While I am a happy chap, there are still things in life that disappoint me. These are the tiny irksome irritating things that are like a tiny little pain, constantly there and causing discomfort on occasion – like an itch in a hard to reach place.

I can find some solace in sharing them with you, dear reader, so if you are prepared to indulge me and allow me to scratch that infuriating itch by allowing me to list them for you, then I will be grateful.

Here are a few of the sources of disappointment for me. This list is not exhaustive – there are many items that are in my deep subconscious mind hiding from my mental search – but I will get to them someday.

Anyway, enough waffle – here goes. I am disappointed because:

  • The X Factor is back for another season.  When will ITV see sense and remove this virus from our screens?
  • My favourite football team are in the third tier of English football and I get excited when they scrape a win against Swindon Town.  I have to suffer fans of Manchester United and Manchester City constantly bleating about how brilliant their clubs are while I have to sit there and watch the team I love struggling.
  • Metrolink roadworks have doubled my journey time to and from work. I arrive at work with my soapbox out already wound up about the stupid bus that blocked the road for 20 minutes because he thought he could sneak through a temporary red light.
  • Piers Morgan has a new series on television.  When will the British media stop allowing this man airtime on prime time TV? Send him to America and keep him there.
  • I am still stuck in the rat race.  My need for money forces me to spend the entire day frustrated and angry. Where is that elusive winning lottery ticket?
  • Summer is over and the rain has struck back with a vengeance.  A fairly big storm is forecast for Sunday night and Monday morning bringing yet more rain to an increasingly damp and miserable Manchester. The nights are getting longer and the grey clouds are obscuring the sunshine that I crave so much.
  • I want to travel the world but am tied up in work.  My trip to Japan earlier this year has rekindled the travel bug to the extent that the temptation to simply give up, say “Bugger this!” and just go out there, is almost overwhelming.
  • I cannot become invisible.  Okay, this is a silly one. If I had the ability to become invisible I would give quite a few people an anonymous slap.
  • David Cameron is still Prime Minister.  David Cameron, or “Dave” to his mates, may be a member of the elite club of Dave’s but he is so far out of touch with life in Britain that I suspect he is an alien.
  • We rarely see good news – unless it’s about Royalty.  When I watch the news, I see tales of war, poverty, trouble, trauma and travesty and the newscasters seem to think that seeing a baby being baptised will bring a smile to my face and somehow make the bad news go away. “Yes there is a war but at least we can fawn over the future king of England.”
  • My decrepit old body is not able to keep pace with my young man’s brain.  Aches and pains appear for no reason – well realistically because I have done something foolish like jog to the shop.
  • Mrs PM still wants to watch The X Factor despite ranting about how unfair and ridiculous it is. Sorry to mention The X Factor again but I have to put up with Mrs PM being drawn to the show, almost like a drug that she cannot give up. For the last two years, she has cried out about how unfair it is. “I can't BELIEVE they got rid of Ploppy McPlop. He was the best singer. I am NOT watching this show again.” – that is until next year when she will be there watching it avidly. Worse – she tells me what’s going on and I HATE the show.
  • I am not a millionaire.  Life is not fair; if it were I would have so much money that I wouldn’t know what to do with it.
  • I am not The Incredible Hulk.  I just want to be able to say “Don’t make me angry; you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry!” to those people who annoy me.
  • Nice guys do not get a fair deal.  I am a nice guy. I treat people with kindness and respect, and I always have a smile on my face even when I am going full pelt on my soapbox. Yet the people who get on in the world seem to have a sinister nasty streak and don’t mind treading on people to achieve their goals. Life is simply unfair sometime.
  • My cats won’t go outside to answer a call of nature. Ever since we introduced Liquorice into our household, the feline hierarchy has been turned upside down. After a run in with next door’s dog, Liquorice only leaves the house when we do. Poppy has chosen to stay upstairs rather than tangle with Liquorice. Jasper is so lazy that he would rather poop in the house than outside, particularly if it is raining. Consequently we have three litter trays and each one of our cats loves to hurl litter all over the entire house.

I think that’s enough for now.

Despite the rather negative tone of the post, I absolutely love life and am rational enough to realise that however happy people are there are and always will be disappointments to deal with.

Over to you, dear reader.

What disappoints you?

Do you agree with any items above? 

Or better still have you any remedies for any of them?

[Ed – Come on PM, end on a positive note!]

OK, Ed – here is a happy little ditty that is a guaranteed earworm.

It’s called Swimwear by a band called Hey! Hello! and I guarantee you will have the chorus in your head for days to come.

Enjoy:



Monday, 14 October 2013

Goodbye Dexter Morgan


Earlier this year I said goodbye to my current favourite fictional anti-hero:
Dexter Morgan, a blood spatter analyst who works for Miami Police and just happens to be a cold, unfeeling psychopathic serial killer who murders bad guys that have escaped justice and then hacks them to pieces, pops them in black plastic bags, takes them in his boat, aptly called “The Slice of Life” and dumps them out at sea.

Here is the trailer for season one:



Whenever I become engrossed in a major drama, I find myself worrying about whether it will survive or not. Thankfully, in the case of Dexter, the series has finished and reached some kind of conclusion.

After eight seasons, I can’t imagine Michael C. Hall wanting to play the part of Dexter for a moment longer, mainly because people will forever consider him to be that character. I can’t say that I blame him simply because of the nature of the character as well as forever being referred to as Dexter Morgan the serial killer.

There are actually people out there who truly believe that the characters actually exist and the poor actor has to suffer being chastised for daring to do the bad things he acted out on the screen. In the UK, some actors have received hate mail simply because they committed an atrocity against a much loved character in a soap opera.

It’s amazing to think that people are that gullible and stupid – but it’s true.

While some series manage to run to a logical and satisfying conclusion, there are others that don’t. This is particularly true in America, where major drama series are judged on audience ratings and axed if they do not attract the required number of dedicated viewers.

This truly annoys me.

Series like Lost managed somehow to hold on and reach a conclusion (whether it was satisfactory are not is a subject for another debate), yet other series are simply cut short in their prime leaving a cliff hanger series finale that leaves fans totally frustrated.

One of my favourite science fiction series from the 1990’s suffered with the threat of being axed but recovered. It was hugely popular in the UK but in the US, the ratings weren’t quite as high as expected and the threat of the axe loomed over the series for four out of the five seasons, leading to a truly action-packed fourth season as the producers tried to cram everything in, but leaving season five slightly disjointed.

If you haven’t seen Babylon 5 – here’s a taster – a space battle with the evil Shadows in their malevolent spider-like spaceships:



Even the first season of Star Trek was curtailed too quickly after a mere three seasons. It was only later due to fan pressure that the show was resurrected as movies, which ultimately spawned four more separate series and even more movies.

In the UK it seems that producers are less likely to wield the axe on a show. Some shows last for years and only suffer if they are truly awful.

An example of a show that has true longevity is, of course, Dr Who, which remarkably is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Dr Who is the story of a time travelling alien who seeks adventure and has as his playground the whole of time and the whole of space. All of this means that he can travel to anywhere in the universe and anywhen.

Being an alien, he lives for centuries and has the ability to survive mortal wounds by regenerating into a different person – i.e. a different actor can play the character.

From 1963 to the early 1980’s the series went from strength to strength, despite shaky special effects and crazy storylines.

However in 1989 it was finally axed as the producers thought it had run its course. Many people were upset about this and there were several campaigns to bring it back. The show was resurrected briefly in the 1990’s in a one off special before finally returning to our screens with a bigger budget and much improved storylines and special effects in 2005.

And it has gone from strength to strength since then as one of the flagship programmes  of the BBC.

I can’t imagine that happening in America.

If you haven’t seen Dr Who, here’s a taster for you, with a particularly creepy alien:




And here is another clip of the Doctor standing up to his mortal enemy – the Daleks:




Thankfully, Dr Who doesn’t show any signs of going away and there are plenty of other excellent drama series out there.

But alas I must say goodbye to Dexter Morgan. If you haven’t see it, I urge you to do so if you get the chance.

 You will thank me for it.




Over to you, dear reader.

What are your favourite TV programmes?

Have you ever suffered because the networks have prematurely terminated one of your favourite series?

Are you a Dexter fan?


Friday, 11 October 2013

No Offense


Hot on the heels of my last post about offending people I know by mentioning their exploits or my thoughts of their exploits on this blog, I’d like to cast a slightly wider net and consider offending people I don’t actually know.

I often wonder whether there are people out there who stumble on my blog, read it and are so offended by it that they are too apoplectic to even write a comment telling me how my seemingly innocent post has offended them.

I’m not talking about your everyday troll, the warrior king of the keyboard, who thinks I am a dickhead and tells me such; I’m talking about people who are genuinely upset by the balderdash that pours forth from my keyboard.

Recently this has been another cause for concern. There are a lot of subjects I want to air my opinions about but have stepped back from the brink because those subjects are controversial and may cause distress to over-sensitive souls.

I have touched on subjects like religion but held back because I have known that some readers will genuinely dislike what I write – not that my opinions are extreme – they’re not. But I have had debates with religious people who have stormed off in disgust because I have questioned their belief system.

There is a line and I have never dared to approach it, let alone march up to it and stomp over without a care for the casualties of my words.

Once again, it’s “Nice Guy Syndrome”.

There are some subjects I am passionate about, such as music, and I will quite happily pour scorn on musical genres I hate, the general state of the music industry and the dumbing down of the masses with insipid pointless commercial crap that is making arseholes like Simon Cowell incredibly rich at the expense of a person with a great voice who will fall by the way side and never be heard of again.

I have even written about things I think are rubbish, like Shakespeare, opera and reality television. Yet these supposedly controversial posts have been relatively mild and offer a carrot to anybody who is willing to engage me in a debate about them.

The truth is I can’t imagine anybody getting upset because I have dragged the name of opera through the mud; at worst most people will laugh and consider me to be a blinkered buffoon unwilling to expand my horizons.

I don’t care. I have a thick skin and am happy for people to think that.

Yet if I were to turn to politics, say, and express my views in a similar way to some Americans do on their blogs, I fear that I might genuinely make an enemy or two out there; likewise with religion.

I have skirted around both subjects in the past but fallen way short of expressing my true feelings about the state of politics in Britain and other countries. The closest I’ve come really is a post about Margaret Thatcher, a woman who is seen as a hero by certain parts of the community but who I actually despised.

Again that post was relatively mild and my feelings were masked behind light-hearted observations and stolen jokes.

I have read posts in America where the author has written some truly horrific things about their politicians, particularly Barack Obama. One time, I was so stunned by what I read that I left an innocuous comment and ended up on the receiving end of a troll-like attack.

I am not sure whether if, say, I wrote a post praising the work of somebody such as Obama, whether my comment box would be full of comments from pissed off readers accusing me of being a communist.

It’s the threat of such comments that keeps me back from the line I have drawn.

Mrs PM has suggested that I air my views more and discuss controversial topics in order to attract attention to my blog.

I’m not sure whether that is a price I am willing to pay. I want people to read my posts and have a smile on their face at the end of it instead of a look of pure ferocity that makes them want to vent their fury in an enormous vitriolic comment.

Anger turns people into keyboard warriors and I don’t like keyboard warriors.

Hence I have backed off.

Nevertheless, I am in a dilemma because I really do want to court controversy. I want to express myself but I don’t want to offend people or turn mild mannered readers into raging trolls.

Despite all of this, part of me wants to say:

“So you’re offended, are you? So bloody what? Just because you are offended by my views doesn’t actually mean you are right and I am wrong. Just get over it!”

However, once again, “Nice guy syndrome” kicks in again and I find myself resisting the desire to push forward and challenge people about why the things I am saying are so offensive. For some people, the phrase “I’m offended” seems to put them on the moral high ground and they look down on you as if you are some sort of snivelling demon intent on upsetting everybody.

For example, if a man was outraged because I used the word “PHHARRK!” in front of him, I would laugh and say:

 “For God’s sake get a grip, man! Everybody swears! Get over it.”

He might then chastise me for using the Lord’s name in vain.

And do you see what these people are doing to me? I use the word “PHHARRK!” in my blog instead of the real word – simply because it might be offensive to somebody.

How about you dear reader? 

Do you like the thought of being controversial? 

Are you willing to court controversy and offend people, even innocently?

Do you care if you offend people?

It is yet another blogging dilemma that is haunting me.

I will stay on the safe side of the line for now and keep people happy – with the exception of Simon Cowell lovers and those who think the X Factor is the future of music of course.

Those people are fair game in my opinion.

And perhaps I might just stop saying “PHHARK!” instead of “FUCK!”

BUGGER! That’s the first time I’ve used the “PHHARK!” word in my blog.

SHIT! Now I’ve said “BUGGER!” as well.

And “SHIT!”

I’m doomed.

No offense.

Please carry on reading - and please don't become a troll.


Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Are You Blogging About Me??


There are a few things I would love to write about on this blog but the truth is I am a little worried about doing so.

There are many tales to tell, mostly funny and amusing, and some things that have irritated me or continue to annoy me. I would love to write them down but there is one thing stopping me.

They involve people I know.

I have a thick skin and can tolerate a fair amount of abuse, either funny tongue in cheek banter or even on occasion words spoken in spite because of a difference of opinion, an argument or whatever.

The problem is that I really don’t know how thick skinned other people actually are. Worse, I have no idea if they would mind seeing a story about them appearing on a blog in cyberspace that a lot of people may stumble across.

Regular readers know that I have actually written about a few people, notably Mrs PM, as well as my sons. I’ve also mentioned people in passing, usually involving an amusing incident in a light-hearted post.

However, I have hidden their names behind a pseudonym; I’ve done exactly the same with myself too. My name is not really Plastic Mancunian – in case you were wondering.

Nevertheless, even when I have mentioned people hidden behind a silly name, I have wondered whether they actually read my blog and if so what they would think if they actually recognised themselves.

It’s happened on one or two occasions.

I walked into a pub one day to meet some mates and one of them said:

“OY! You wrote about me wearing a bloody dress!”

The fact that quite a few people knew that he wore a dress once was irrelevant. I didn’t even give him a pseudonym – I merely mentioned the fact that I knew a guy who wore a dress to see the Rocky Horror Show and allowed a photograph of him to be taken.

Worse, I think I was the person who circulated the photo around selected people in the office – a double whammy if you like.

And now I’ve mentioned it again he might even bring it up YET AGAIN!

“YOU UTTER ARSE! YOU’VE DONE IT AGAIN! ARE YOU OBSESSED?”

Of course I’m not obsessed and I apologise once more in advance.

This is the dilemma I have. Over the years certain people have truly annoyed me and some still do, particularly in the work environment. And I am itching, absolutely itching to pour scorn on them via the medium of the blog.

I guess that for those in my past who I do not class as friends or those I simply haven’t seen for years, the problem is not too bad. I would hate to have upset a work colleague because of a few ill-chosen sentences just to make a point – even if I disliked the fellow in question.

So I am torn; torn between an evolving need to write about people I know or have known and a desire to remain a nice guy and leave people alone.

I don’t think it’s so bad in the case above where I am simply taking the piss out of a friend. I wouldn’t mind if people did that to me – I do enough of that myself.

It is an inner conflict that needs to be resolved.

This is one of the reasons that I was disappointed that my blog was discovered in the first place. Initially I wanted it to remain completely anonymous, devoid of any photographs of myself, so that I could regale the world with tales of work, life and the universe, mentioning everybody I knew without fear of reprisals.

Thinking about this logically, I shouldn’t be worried at all. I’ve read autobiographies where the author has made it perfectly clear how he feels about the people in his or her past. It’s worse in this case because the author has actually named names and not been kind enough to protect them behind a pseudonym.

So why should I care?

I care because I think I am a nice guy and even though I may not be keen on the person in question, I feel a moral obligation to leave them alone rather than splashing their name, albeit a pseudonym, on a blog that anyone can read.

I sometimes even wonder how Mrs PM will react if I mention her in a post (and I never say anything bad about her).

Not everyone is like me. Not everyone would like to be seen as a joke or the target of a Plastic Mancunian rant.

Do you see my predicament? I could open up a whole new area of bloggery if I allowed myself to stop caring about what people would think if I were to write about them.
It’s one to mull over I think. Perhaps I can dig into the distant past and hope that people don’t recognise me or themselves.

Over to you, dear reader.

What would you do? 

Would you avoid writing about people you know for fear of upsetting them – even if you are not sure whether they read your blog or not?

Actually, part of me is tempted to lose my own anonymity on this blog.

But that's an inner struggle for another day.