Sunday, 29 March 2015

Porcupine Tree - The Meme

I’m sorry, dear reader, but it’s time again for a little self-indulgence. Recent readers will have heard me sing the praises of Steven Wilson, an English progressive rock musician and singer whose talents are endless.

Steven Wilson is a multi-instrumentalist with the fantastic ability to produce memorable songs  and is criminally unknown to most people.

I said in a previous post that I would start with Steven’s solo career but I have decided to begin with the band that made him famous (well famous-ish) – Porcupine Tree.

1. How long have you been a fan?

I have recently written about my war on crap music but the truth is I started fighting this war a few years ago. In 2010, I decided that I wanted to discover a new band – well new to me anyway. I am a huge fan of progressive rock music and after a few searches with my good friend Mr Google, I stumbled on an article recommending a band called Porcupine Tree. I’m always willing to at least give a band a try, so I fired up my trusty Spotify program and searched for the band.

The first album that appeared was called In Absentia so I clicked the album and set about my business with the music as background. It didn’t take long for me to stop what I was doing and fully concentrate on the music.

I played it repeatedly over the next couple of weeks and bought the CD.

So the answer is, I have been a fan for five years.

I really wish I had discovered them earlier.

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

The first song that really made an impression was called Trains from In Absentia. This is a truly beautiful song – but don’t take my word for it; see the next question below.

3. What’s your favourite album(s)?

I have seven albums by the band and I love all of them. However, I do have three albums that I prefer to the rest. They are:

In Absentia (2002)

Deadwing (2005)

Fear of a Blank Planet (2007)

4. What’s your favourite song(s)?

It is so difficult to choose my favourite songs but I am going to have a go at picking five for you. The songs range from being extremely beautiful and melodic to much heavier as well as fully fledged progressive leviathans bringing together a wide range of musical styles. 

If you were to ask me again in a month’s time, I might pick a different set of songs – but for now my top five is as follows:

At 5: Trains from In Absentia (2002):

Steven Wilson definitely has a great ear for melody and this beautiful track was the first song to catch my attention. I played this over and over again, so much so that Mrs PM almost knew it by heart.

At 4: Lazarus from Deadwing (2005):

When I saw Steven Wilson on his solo tour a couple of weeks ago, he played Lazarus, citing it as one of the songs he was most proud of. I agree – I think he should be proud.

At 3: Fear of a Blank Planet from Fear of a Blank Planet (2007):

The title track of Fear of a Blank Planet is a cracking rock song and a fitting opener for a fantastic album.

At 2: Anaesthetize from Fear of a Blank Planet (2007):

Be warned – this song is a monster, coming in at 17 minutes long. It has everything, including a guest appearance from Alex Lifeson, the guitarist from my favourite band, Rush. It flows from beautiful melancholy to rampant rock with a touch of heavy metal. It is a truly colossal masterpiece.

At 1: Arriving Somewhere But Not Here from Deadwing (2005):

My favourite song by the band is another progressive rock masterpiece, coming in at 12 minutes. It is everything I love about Porcupine Tree and songs in general – a wonderful tune that builds up from a beautiful melody, flowing seamlessly into a great rock song before cranking right up to a magnificent burst of heavy metal and finally calming down back into a beautiful mellow conclusion.

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

Sadly, no.

Steven Wilson has put the band on hiatus since 2009 to concentrate on his solo career. Having released four solo albums since then, I am not convinced that they will reconvene. Hopefully I am wrong.

However, Steven performed a couple of Porcupine Tree songs live when I saw him recently.

Does that count?

6. Have you ever met them?

No. But I would love to.

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

I prefer the period between 2002 and 2007 but the other albums are still excellent.

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

The earliest albums by the band are a little too weird for my taste. I didn’t bother buying them.

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

Although Rush are my all-time favourite band, spanning decades, Porcupine Tree have made a significant recent impact and helped me to rediscover my love of progressive rock. Their music is wonderful and is still high up on my playlist. I will love the band for years to come.

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

I am really annoyed that this wonderful band are not well known. I am convinced that if they received the same airplay as a shit band like One Direction, they would have an army of fans.

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

The collaboration with Alex Lifeson of Rush is enough for me.

12. Are they underappreciated/unknown?

Totally. See my answer to question 10.

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

I’m sure there is. I don’t know what it is though.

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

Mrs PM thinks I’m too obsessed with Steven Wilson generally. When she read my post about my war on crap music she said “You’re not going on about him AGAIN are you?”

I have no doubt she will say the same about this post.

Also, I have probably been boring my work colleagues about him too.

15. Do you pre-order their new albums without having heard any music from it?

No – but only because they haven’t released a new album since I started listening to them. If they get back together for a new album, I will buy it immediately.

And Finally ...

Thanks again for allowing me to indulge myself.

I hope I have created at least one new fan.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

What's Hot and What's Not

Statements like green is the new black make my blood boil. It is a ludicrous thing to say and highlights the worst façades of the fashion industry and other culprits who try to sell their wares to gullible fools and pseudo intellectuals at ridiculously inflated prices.

Magazines like the Style section of The Sunday Times are full of this kind of nonsense, offering, say, a pair of silver shoes at a ridiculous £400 just because they are currently in vogue and drive normally sane people insane because, apparently, they are the new black in the world of footwear.

Needless to say that Style usually goes straight into the recycling without its pages being turned – that is unless Mrs PM gets it first.

Mrs PM is a very sensible person and even she tuts and sighs as she reads the pages of this dreadful waste of ink and paper.

“Why do you read it?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she says. “I usually only skim it and look at the Going Up, Going Down section."

She elaborated telling me that this little note at the side of one of the many pages of garbage, is effectively a filler which indicates what is currently cool and trendy, and what is currently on its way out.

I was slightly curious so I grabbed the most recent copy and had a look.

Here’s what I found.

At the bottom of the pile, rolling out of fashion faster than a mad dog on a ski slope, is The Shareable Coat.

What the flump is a Shareable Coat?

Surely all coats are shareable. I know that I have lent a coat to my lads who are now the same size as me, and also, like the gentleman that I am, draped it over the shoulders of Mrs PM and other female friends when it gets a little chilly. Isn’t that sharing a coat?

No. A Shareable Coat is a big scarf-like thing that two BFFs can share together (apparently BFF means Best Friend Forever but I reckon it stands for Bloody Foolish Females in this case).

You've got too much of the coat!
“What else is on its way out?” I hear you cry.

Well brankles or mankles (bloke ankles/man ankles) are hurtling down the fashion parade. Basically this involves men (or as I prefer to call them dickheads) rolling up their trousers or actually buying trouser that are too short in some cases to expose their manly calves and ankles.  I’m sure that women go crazy for such idiocy.

Really? Is this a good look????
What else? Oh yes – extreme aged steak. A steak is usually hung out for 30 days or so but in this case, the meat is left out for much longer, the longest I managed to find was 459 days.

459 days!

I would have made a pair of shoes out of it.

Do you want to hear the hot stuff? The stuff that is soaring so much that it is sizzling?

First, vinyl booties, which are thigh high multi-coloured skin tight boots that must be incredibly weird to wear. Apparently they simply MUST be Dior vinyl boots (that figures!!).

Before I go on, let me just clarify that these are for women so the chances of me ever wearing them are zero. To be honest, I can’t see Mrs PM wearing them either.

I'll bet it takes about two hours to put them on!
Also rising like a phoenix are canelés, something else I have never heard of. They are French cakes that have been around since the 18th century but, for some reason, are undergoing a resurgence of popularity.

Actually, I could probably eat one of these.
Finally, the most disgusting foodstuff known to man (apart from rhubarb) is right up there claiming a high spot on the hot list. I am talking about Oyster Happy Hours when you can apparently purchase cut price globs of disgusting rubbery seafood in shells and slide them down your gullet with your friends.

There are more items on this list but I can’t bring myself to write about them. One thing they all have in common is that they are almost exclusively consumed or used by slaves to the God of Style, a faceless entity that makes people wishing to be seen as cool make arse out of themselves by either looking ridiculous wearing or eating them.

It makes me laugh, more out of pity than humour.

Like pseudo intellectuals, these style chasers will pretend to love this stuff and will pay a fortune to have it. It’s no surprise to me that London is the centre for this overpriced hogwash, not the whole city, just the cool places, where it’s good to be seen and you can slurp you oysters before trying to chew on a battered old steak and diving into a container of canelés, all the time huddled in a shareable coat with your BFF while admiring the local dickhead mankles.

What a load of crap it all is.

Sadly, dear reader we are all slaves to the God of Style, simply because we have no choice about the style of clothes to wear (unless you want to buy all your clothes from jumble sales) although we do have a choice about what we eat.

Thank goodness we can pick and choose our own food. Give me a decent steak in a reasonably priced restaurant any time.

And please – no bloody oysters.

Do you want to know what I think is hot and what’s not?

Hot – The Plastic Mancunian!

Not hotThe God of Style. He’s like a modern artist and all of his followers are pseudo-intellectuals with more money than sense.

(Note to self: Please no more rants about modern art).

Sunday, 15 March 2015

The War Against Crap Music

Last night I went to see my current favourite musical hero in concert and this was a euphoric experience in more ways than one.

The artist in question was Steven Wilson, a musical genius in every sense of the phrase.

First, the concert was a triumph. It was everything I thought it would be. The music was perfect and on more than one occasion, I was so lost in the melodies and songs that a tear of joy escaped from my eye and rolled gently down my cheek.
Second, I had persuaded a friend of mine to take a chance and see the concert. His musical taste does not walk hand in hand with mine, but there is an overlap. When I bought the tickets, a few months ago, I suggested that he listen to Steven’s solo music on the internet and also that of his former band (currently on hiatus), Porcupine Tree. 
There was no way he would ever hear the work on the radio so he would have to use the internet. It didn't take him long to find it and since then he has devoured the music. He loves Steven Wilson and, like me, thinks it’s a crime against humanity that this guy is not massively famous. He has already started to delve into his back catalogue.
Finally, the venue for the concert was Manchester Bridgewater Hall, a place usually reserved for classical music concerts. And the place was packed with a wildly varied audience, ranging from the odd rock lover to entire families of music lovers including kids. 
Steven’s music is basically progressive rock but, my God, does the man have an ear for melody. He has experimented with jazz, orchestral arrangements, progressive rock, pop music and heavy metal – sometimes all in the same song. 
What I liked best was the fact that there is a huge audience for his music, people who have turned their backs on shit like the X Factor and radio friendly nonsense that I ranted about earlier this year in A Rant About Music.
I am not the only one.
I have allies in this battle.
It’s not easy though. 
On Friday night, I was in a pub in Manchester, celebrating a friend from work’s fortieth birthday, when I opted to leave early. The reason for leaving was that I wanted a totally clear head to see Steven Wilson and it was the most important event of the weekend for me. 
“Who?” came the incredulous replies as I tried to leave the pub at around 9pm. “Never heard of him!”
I could have stayed and discussed this further with another pint of ale but I chose to leave rather than risking hangover. This was the big event of the weekend for me and nothing was going to ruin it.
As I lay in bed this morning, remembering the concert and trying to describe it to Mrs PM, I discovered that she too had no interest.
“But the music is beautiful,” I said. “I’m not asking you to like it; I’m asking you to listen to the concepts.”
I tried to explain a song called Routine from the latest (and truly brilliant) album called Hand. Cannot. Erase., which describes a woman who uses the routine of the mundane chores every day of her life to keep her going. I didn’t really grasp the full meaning of the song until I saw it performed live, with a very moving animated video being shown in the background. The woman, preparing meals for four, washing, cleaning, ironing to help her sane until towards the end of the song she shrieks finally:
Routine keeps me in line
Helps me pass the time
Concentrate my mind 
Helps me to sleep
And keep making beds and keep the cat fed
Open the Windows let the air in
And keep the house clean and keep the routine
Paintings they make still stuck to the fridge
At this point in the video we learn that her entire family, husband and two children, died in a car crash and the "routine" is how she copes with the loss.
Heart-wrenching stuff that allowed one of my tears to escape.
The song is beautiful, melodic with disturbing undertones and has a truly magnificent guest female vocal and a choir boy and is technically brilliant as well as very intelligent.
The whole album is the same, full of deep emotional songs transcending various genres with a progressive feel but also a couple of, what I would describe as pop songs. Of course, it is progressive rock at the end of the day, but there are no songs that I don’t like.
It is a triumph and to be absolutely frank, should be made available to a wider audience.
I’m not asking you to like Steven Wilson or his music, dear reader; I’m offering it to you as an alternative to the tired old fodder that is spoon-fed to you by corporate executive billionaires who want to peddle crap music that makes them richer. I want to fire a broadside across the bows of radio stations who claim to speak for the population by playing “the music that they love” when in reality they are TELLING the people what music they SHOULD love by limiting the amount they can listen too.
Even Madonna may become an ally in this war as BBC Radio One, the so-called “kids” radio station here in the UK, has removed her current single from their playlist. 
What goes around, comes around, eh Madge? Now you know how the rest of the struggling music makers feel.
I equate this struggle to thinking that McDonald’s is the only place to get food when there is a gourmet restaurant  hidden in the back streets of the city that is not advertised and you have to search around for. Not all these restaurants are good - but most of them are far better than the bland burgers offered by Ronald McDonald.
To complete my role in this analogy, I want to be the man who meets you off the train and says:
"Before you go to McDonalds, take a look at this book, which is full of decent restaurants to try.”
In fact, that's an even better analogy:
Simon Cowell is the Ronald McDonald of the music industry.
Later in the month I will dedicate a meme to Steven Wilson’s solo work and maybe next month, I will do the same for his band Porcupine Tree.
In the meantime, here is a song called Perfect Life from Hand.Cannot.Erase. featuring the spoken words of Katherine Jenkins, the opera singer.

Remember, I’m not asking you to like it; I’m just trying to broaden your horizons and erode the influence of Simon Cowell and his cohorts.

Equally, I am willing to listen to anything you have to offer me, dear reader, and it doesn't matter what genre the music is.

I will champion anything I feel should be out there - even if it's jazz!!

Please join me.

We can do this!

Who’s with me?

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Train of Thought (Part Two)

In the crushing grip of a touch of writers block, I decided to look for a little inspiration in older posts and stumbled upon Train of Thought where I tried an experiment just allowing my thoughts to steer me in a certain direction and eventually see which song popped into my head.

I thought I would have another go.

In this particular case, I didn’t have to wait long before an external event interrupted me - in the form of one of my cats.

I have just fed them and hoped for a nice quiet brain storming session. You would have thought that the three of them would respect my wishes. I know – it’s stupid really expecting them to behave themselves.  Besides, they are all higher in the pecking order than I am so I have to bow to their every whim. Telling them what to do just doesn’t work.

All three of the cats have different personality traits, which are highlighted when it’s time for dinner.

Jasper, the boss of the entire house, is a fat monster who is so demanding when he’s hungry that he actually resorts to physical abuse. He miaows repeatedly until he gets attention and then he tries to lead me into the kitchen. If I don’t respond, he sits as close as he can and then gently puts his paw on the nearest part of my body. If that fails, the claws come out and he gently demonstrates how sharp they are, without actually drawing blood. Finally, he uses his teeth and actually takes a nip.

One time, when I allowed them into the bedroom (they are all banned now and that’s a completely different story), I woke up to find him sitting on my pillow and chewing my hair.

Normally I can make him move by using the word Dinner. I’m sure he thinks his name is Dinner.

Suffice it to say, the monster scoffs his dinner faster than I can put it in his dish.

Poppy is a coward who lives upstairs and refuses to come down – this is mainly due to Liquorice, our hellcat. Poppy wails with a high pitched squeak if she’s hungry but, rather than eating proper cat food, she craves cat treats instead. In order to make her eat her food, I pop a treat into the meat.

Liquorice is a hellcat who hates to be left alone. She follows me everywhere – I am her favourite human (I don’t know why) and she often sits next to me, demanding attention but ready to eat my entire hand if I touch her in the wrong place. She is the easiest to feed because she loves cat biscuits, which means that we leave her a permanent dishful on the shelf, allowing her to leap up when she wants to have her fill. She is the most agile of all the cats in my house.

Jasper is a greedy monster and after he has eaten, he will wander around the house looking for Poppy’s leftovers. He can’t get to Liquorice’s food because he can’t jump that high any more.

What’s this got to do with my train of thought?

Jasper has just interrupted me by walking in from the kitchen having gorged himself on food and started bellowing at me.

He’s been doing this for a couple of years now. He usually walks into the back room with his head held high and starts howling – a sort of cross between a miaow and a growl.

Mrs PM calls it his “assembly call”, probably because he’s warning the other cats that he is about to invade their territory and claim what’s left of their food.

I disagree; I think he does it to say:

“Let it be known that I am the king of this house and you are all my minions”.

He has started to make the same noise when I walk past him or if he wants something, like a tickle under the chin, or his ear to be scratched.

And, of course, being a sucker, I oblige him.

All of this means that I am at the command of my feline master – and his minions too – because the two female subordinates also miaow at me to order me around. Liquorice is slightly less patient and I have to be careful not to incur her violent wrath.

Following on from this train of thought, the song that has popped into my head is kind of predictable.

I am a cat person; I have three black cats and if you combined them all into one, you would have a hungry mini black panther, potentially vicious enough to rip off your arm.

If you’ve seen the movie Cat People you’ll know exactly what I am talking about.

I give you the legendary David Bowie with the theme from Cat People, starring all three of my cats (combined and blown up to look a little larger of course). In fact they also appear in the video below.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Dear Australia

Dear Australia,

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

Anyway, how are you all doing down there?

Are you still trying to play cricket?

And rugby?

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

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

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

This brings me nicely to my first point:

Why on earth do you call us “Poms”?

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

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

I’ll just refer to you as Ozzies.

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

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

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

How did that happen?

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

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

I discovered that even the bloody platypus is venomous!

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

Koala: "You stink as well, mate!"

Still, I can’t complain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I would have explained but I was absolutely shitting myself.

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

“I’m scared of heights,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the QANTAS flight it was a different story.

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


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

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

I loved that.

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

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

And finally,  here’s a song for you:

I bet you've never heard THAT before.

Yours sincerely,

Plastic Mancunian

Monday, 2 March 2015

A Chemistry Catastrophe

I still remember the look of incredulity on his face.

“You are a complete and utter moron!”

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

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

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

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

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

I managed that.

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

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

The chemistry teacher shouted from across the room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was genuinely embarrassed.

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

I grabbed the middle of the third burette.

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

I'll never know.

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

Burette number three snapped in two places.

The top third was still clamped to the wall.

The bottom third fell to the floor and shattered.

The final third was in my hand.

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

 “You are a complete and utter moron!”

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

“I’ll get the dustpan and brush.”

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

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

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

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

It didn’t stop the teacher from saying:

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

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

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

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

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

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