Sunday, 17 January 2021

A to Z

 


Welcome to an overcast South Manchester on day 310 of Covid-19 restrictions and just into the third week of lockdown number three in England. I’ve been out for my walk in the rain and my head is clear enough to partake in Sunday Stealing’s A to Z questions

Let’s hurl ourselves into this.

A - Annoyance:

I have several things that annoy me – I shall tell you two of them. The first is the fact that I still have to work for a living. I am fed up with my career and the fact that I can’t leave just yet is annoying. The day is coming within a couple of years though; I just need to be patient.

The second is the current UK government, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson in particular. He is an incompetent egomaniac who is responsible for Brexit (a colossal mistake that has made us a laughing stock worldwide), a terrible reaction to the pandemic that has left us sitting in fifth place in the world in terms of deaths and filling his cabinet with nasty sycophantic yes-men who are the personification of ineptitude. They are a perfect illustration of the Peter Principle.

B - Bestest Friend[s]:

Mrs PM is my best friend but there are a few guys out there who are amazing friends (you all know who you are).

C - Car:

Yes – I have one. I am not really a car person so as long as it gets me from A to B without any bother then that is fine. It is just a normal everyday four door family hatchback.

D - Day or night:

Can I say both? Of course I can (my rebellious streak is still there, folks). It’s a pity that we have to sleep because I would be very happy pottering around for 24 hours if I could.

E- Easiest person to talk to?:

That has to be Mrs PM. Nevertheless, once I get to know somebody, I can talk for England. In that sense, I find almost everybody I know well quite easy to talk to (if they can put up with me of course).

F - Favourite Month:

It’s a toss up between May, June and July. I will go for June because by that time, summer has kicked in and, if the weather is good, it is a great month. The days are longer and the whole country seems to be happier.

G - Gummy Bears or Worms:

Neither. I’ve heard of gummy bears but I have no idea what worms are. 

H - Hair Colour:

My hair is a light brown with streaks of grey at the side. I used to be blond but as the years of passed it has become darker. I fully expect it to be grey in a few years.

I - Ice Cream:

I rarely eat ice cream to be honest but I do like it. We always go for some when we are in Italy or France. In Nice there is a great ice cream store in the Old Town area and I have some every day when we are there. I love Nice – I miss travel.

J - Jewellery:

I don’t wear jewellery – in fact I don’t think I own any. I did wear a neck chain when I was in my twenties – I’m not sure why – perhaps they were fashionable for men at that time.

K - Kindergarten:

It is a German word that literally means “garden for children”. 

L - Longest Car Ride:

That would be when we drove from Brisbane to Sydney in Australia in 2005. I remember as we were leaving Brisbane I saw a sign saying that it was 1000km to Sydney. We obviously didn’t drive it all in one go – it took six days in total. Mostly we stopped at places on the way but there was one day in particular when we seemed to spend the entire day on the road. I enjoyed it but that was the time I realised just how huge Australia is.

M - Most missed person:

My parents. I lost my dad in 1981 and my mum in 2017. 

N - Number of Siblings:

I have two younger sisters, aged 56 and 53. They are both extremely strong women and we always have a lot of fun when we are together.

O - One regret:

What – just one? I have many regrets but I am genuinely quite content now that my life has settled. I will say perhaps not learning more languages. I can speak passable French and a little German and I have spent the last couple of years trying to teach myself Spanish. When I retire I intend to put that right. I aim to try to learn Spanish to fluency.

P- Part of your appearance you like least?:

My hair. I think I have said this numerous time on this blog and dedicated at least one post to it. As a reminder, my hair is a sentient creature that hates me. I control it by keeping it short because if it is long, it is totally unmanageable. At the moment, in lockdown, Mrs PM is cutting my hair every few weeks with some clippers that I bought for that purpose. I have to say that clippers are brilliant and I used them on New Year’s Day to take off the beard that I had spent six months growing. 

Mrs PM then said “You look weird without a beard; I think I prefer you with it.” 

So now I am growing it back – just for her. And, like my hair, it is actually growing back quite quickly. Maybe having a beard and then saving it off is the best way to grow a beard quickly. It took six weeks last time; I think it will take about four at the rate it is growing back. 

I only hope that I don’t suddenly start hating my beard; I aim to keep it short and well trimmed.

Q- Quote:

“Be crazy, be silly, be weird. Be whatever, because life is too short to be anything but happy.”

R - Reality TV Show:

I hate them as a rule. But I do like the UK version of “The Apprentice”. I love to see arrogant egomaniacs shot down in flames.

S - Shoe:

I have two pairs of shoes, two pairs of boots, a pair of walking boots, a pair of walking trainers, a pair of everyday trainers, a pair of beach shoes, two pairs of summer sandals and a pair of slippers.

T - Time you woke up:

This morning, I was rudely woken up by Ziggy who parked himself on my pillow right next to my face. He was purring like a car engine. The time was 08:30 (I usually have a bit of a lie in at the weekend). Approximately three minutes later, Star noticed that my foot was hanging out of the duvet cover and decided to attack it. I was downstairs feeding them at 08:34.

U - Unpredictable?:

One of the things I am going to try to do in 2021 is to be more unpredictable. Mrs PM may or may not like that – we shall see. It will have to wait until we are released from lockdown and Coronavirus restrictions, sadly.

V - Vegetable you hate:

I am not a fan of artichokes, parsnips or turnips. I can eat them but I really don’t like them.

W- Worst Habits:

Where do I start? Okay – it is procrastination and I am winning the war slowly but surely. 

X - X-Rays:

The only X-rays I have had have been at the dentist. It was interesting discussing them with him afterwards as he pointed out how he was using them.

Y - Year you were born:

I was born in 1962. Harold McMillan was Prime Minister and it was the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Marilyn Monroe sang Happy Birthday to President Kennedy before dying later in the year. Also born in the same year were Evander Holyfield, Demi Moore and Jodie Foster.

Z - Zoom:

Where to? Oh – you mean the software? Yes – I have used it quite a lot in the last year but then again I have also used similar applications such as Microsoft Teams, Lifesize, Slack, Whatsapp, Skype and even Facebook for the same purpose.


Saturday, 9 January 2021

January

 

Welcome to a cold but sunny day in south Manchester. 

What a week it has been. First of all, the new variant of the coronavirus is starting to run riot in the south of England and creeping up north, causing our Clown-in-Chief, Boris Johnson to perform so many U-turns that he must be truly dizzy now (I’ve always thought he looked dizzy to be honest). Finally, he decided (yes folks – he actually MADE a decision) to put the whole of England under full lockdown. 

So we are back to where we were in April and May last year and this time it is cold and dark. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter to me because January and February are bleak months anyway and I am still deeply entrenched in my lockdown routine (for the 301st day) to keep me sane. 

We are now in a race between the virus and vaccinations. In the UK we now have over a million people vaccinated. Despite the lockdown, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel (and I hope it isn’t a speeding train).

The other night I was about to go to bed when Mrs PM said “Shall we just turn over to the news channels? Something’s happening in America.” I turned over to the BBC News Channel and saw that a mob of lunatic Trumpists had invaded the Capitol Building, having been goaded to do so by the Orange Goblin himself. I flicked channels to CNN and a couple of European news channels and it was all over the headlines. 

And now that it has all calmed down over there, the Orange One has had his Twitter account permanently closed, leaving him to stew in his own juices in the White House for what remains of his Presidency. 

It’s all very difficult to believe what has happened. I would be interested to hear what any American readers think of it all. 

I asked for an exciting 2021 and the world has obliged but sooner than I thought.

Time for some questions, courtesy of Sunday Stealing

1. What are your plans for January?

I don’t usually plan anything for January other than trying to consolidate my New Year changes. This year I am planning:

To continue writing rubbish, every day in my Freewriting journal (as I have been doing for just over two years now).

To step up my Spanish by effectively starting again with a free online course that uses memory techniques to help you to recall what you have learned.

To study creative writing more.

These plans will last for 2021 – if I can win the war against procrastination. If I treat them as daily habits they are much easier to achieve (you only have to pursue such things for 66 days straight for them to become habits apparently – it does seem to work I have to say).

2. What do you want to see happen in 2021?

I think the entire world agrees with me when I say that I want Covid-19 to be largely eliminated worldwide. 

Anything else good that happens will be a bonus. 

3.  What would you give a 5-star rating?

I am currently watching a show on Amazon Prime called “The Expanse” and it is amazing. I would give that 5 stars. I am on Season 2 and am totally hooked:

It is the closest thing to my favourite science fiction show, Babylon 5, that I have seen.

4. Do you have writing goals for 2021?

See question 1. I am also going to try to increase my output on this blog. Sunday Stealing is great fun but I want to try to return to some of the older-style ridiculous nonsense that I have contributed to The Plastic Mancunian over the past 12 years.

5. How do you feel about memoirs?

It depends who it is. I have read a couple of autobiographies and quite enjoyed them (especially “I Am Ozzy” by Ozzy Osbourne – it is hilarious). 

I have (sort of) started a memoir, basically something that my sons could read in the future. It began as a few notes way back in 2011 and I really need to revisit it. When I have tidied up the Japan travelogue, I may take a look. It is tentatively called “Insignificant Memoirs”. 

6. If you could join any musical group who would you choose?

I would choose a progressive rock or progressive metal group. Or try to team up with a genius like Devin Townsend, Steven Wilson or Mariusz Duda.  I am toying with the idea of writing a couple of posts introducing the world to these guys in the near future. 

I just wish I had the talent to do something like that. I can only offer my vocals at the moment and they are awful (I would have to use one of those machines that retune your voice).

It is times like this that I wish I had chosen to learn to play a guitar when I was a kid. 

7. What are your favourite genres across all media?

Science fiction (including super-heroes) and spy thrillers (Like James Bond, Jason Bourne, Mission Impossible etc.). All of my favourite films, books and TV series fall into those two categories mainly.

8. What candle scents are your favourite?

I don’t have any favourites. If it wasn’t for Mrs PM I wouldn’t bother buying them. They are pleasant though I have to say.

 9. How well can you mimic other accents or voices?

I’m not brilliant to be honest. I have lost my Black Country accent but I can revert back to that to amuse people who don’t know what it sounds like. As a reminder, it is something like this:

I can (kind of) do a Mancunian accent – but I have to say that I don’t have one. Mine is more neutral these days (and bizarrely regarded as a bit posh in both Walsall and Manchester). Here is a Mancunian accent:

I can do bits of a Scouse accent too (that’s the Liverpool accent like the Beatles in their early days) and I can go a neutral generic American accent (or at least I think I can).

My youngest son is very good at accents I have to say. His funniest is a Russian accent. He arrived one day at my house and when I opened the door, he said “Hello, bring me some vodka and women” in this accent and I almost fell over laughing. I wish I had his talent.

10. What books are on your TBR list in 2021?

I don’t have any in mind. I am considering “Ghost Rider” by Neil Peart and a book about retirement. I would love to read a decent space opera. At the moment I am reading Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari, so some non-fiction books like that are also a consideration. 

11. When do you decide it’s time to upgrade/buy something new?

In terms of technology, when there is a better model out there that has been tried and tested. For example, I wouldn’t buy the latest smartphone until it had been proven. I’ve seen people wasting money on the latest tech and then regretting it because it is buggy and full of problems.

With other things like clothes, usually when things start to wear out.

12. Why is your favourite colour your favourite colour?

I think my favourite colour is teal, a blue-green colour. There is nothing better than seeing a warm southern European sea that colour when the sun is setting. It makes me feel at peace and calm.

13. Who understands you the best?

Nobody understands me but me. Apart from me, the person who understands me most is Mrs PM but even so, I sometimes frustrate her.

14. Do you write letters?

Not any more. I send emails all the time as part of my job but if I want to get in touch with mates it is usually via my phone (Whatsapp, email, texts).

15. How do you keep going when times are hard?

Times are tough at the moment so I am right in that mindset.

Get yourself a routine and try to look for the positives in the situation. I have managed to cope with the last 300 days with these two important things in mind.

Saturday, 2 January 2021

Goodbye 2020 - and Good Riddance

 


Welcome to a very cold South Manchester and a slightly later than normal summary of what happened in 2020 in the life of the Plastic Mancunian.

I have a set of questions I usually use to summarise the year, but I thought that this year I would use the questions supplied by Sunday Stealing instead (though there is some overlap). 

All I can say at the start is that I want to kick 2020 into the annals of history as a truly terrible year. We all know why but it does need to be said.

Without further ado – let’s dive in.

1. First things first, did you have a good year?

I had a terrible year. It was fine until the beginning of March, which is the time when I usually start getting over the boring winter period and look forward to a bright, warm and wholesome spring, summer and autumn. Instead of euphoria and optimism, we were subjected to a pandemic that is still going on. All plans that I had disintegrated and were cast to the four winds. 

Here in the UK, as with other parts of the world, we have been confined to our houses, unable to travel, unable to go to the office to work and unable to socialize with friends and see family. 

Of course, it is worse for those who have been victims of the virus and I feel for all of those people taken prematurely from us in 2020.

To add insult to injury, the UK has finally cut ties with the EU. We have a terrible trade deal but a deal nonetheless – it could have been so much worse. The architects of this travesty should be ashamed of themselves and all of them need to prepare themselves for a trip into deep space when I become World President – because that is where they are going to end up, special passengers on the spaceships I intend to build for them. 

The one gold nugget in the sack of turds that was 2020 is that the USA finally got rid of the Orange Goblin. Good riddance.

2. What was your favourite article of clothing this year?

This would be a weird question any year because I am not a dedicated follower of fashion. In 2020, though, it is totally irrelevant because the only items of clothing that I have bought are two pairs of jeans, neither of which I have worn yet. 

3. What song sums up this year for you?

I have lots of depressing songs that can sum up 2020 for me but instead of that, I am going to show you an uplifting song from 2020 that makes me feel more positive for 2021. This is a song by the symphonic metal band Nightwish. It is called “Music”, something that has helped me cope with the tedium of being locked down.


4. What was your favourite movie of the year?
I haven’t been to the cinema this year because of lockdown. However, I have seen a couple of films released in the early part of 2020 that made it onto Sky Cinema. Probably the best of those is “The Invisible Man”:


It was a creepy thriller and I enjoyed it.
5. Did an actor/actress catch your attention for the first time this year?
Not really. 
6. Favourite new TV show?
We binge watched Stranger Things, a really weird but highly enjoyable show.


7. Did you make any big permanent changes this year?
Not at all, unless you count not going out, not going on holiday, working from home and being bored out of my brain.
8. What was one nice thing you did for yourself?
I grew a beard for the first time in my life. Does that count? I am fed up of it now so it is coming off tomorrow in fact. Hopefully that will signal good things ahead.
9. Did you develop a new obsession?
Due to boredom and the inability to go anywhere, I bought more CDs this year than I have done for a long time. Nothing else leaps to mind to be honest.
10. Did you move?
No – but my son and his girlfriend did, just before the lockdown hit. They lived with us and had been trying to move out for a while and just managed to move into a rented house a fortnight before we were locked down. And thank goodness they did because otherwise we would have all been working from home for months and on top of each other. 
Now they have saved up enough money for a deposit on a house and got the keys in December. The house needs some work and they will be hopefully moving into their first proper owned home in March, at which time I hope this pandemic is beginning to fade.
11. Did you get a pet?
Yes, we acquired two black kittens called Ziggy and Star. We were going to take in their sister too but she was ill and needed more time to get over her illness. The three kittens were abandoned in an alley and left to die so for the first month or so they were quite ill. Ziggy and Star recovered and now the third one has too. However, the owner of the cat charity fell in love with her and asked if we minded whether he kept her. In the end we decided to leave her with him and his other cats. We know she will be well looked after. 
It’s great having kittens again and they have made the end of a terrible year enjoyable. Here they are:

Star performing her famous balancing act

Ziggy helping me to write software

12. Do you regret not doing anything?
Yes – I regret not going on holiday to the Canary Islands in January. Mrs PM’s dad asked if we wanted to go for a week but I had run out of holiday and so I couldn’t go. Mrs PM went and had some winter sun in a dark month. If I had known what was going to happen, I would have taken unpaid leave to go.
13. Do you regret doing something?
Not really – there hasn’t been much to do.
14. Did anyone/thing make you so mad it stayed with you for days?
Boris Johnson and his government. His handling of the pandemic has been so bad that a totally incompetent village idiot could have done better. And to top it all, now that we have split from the EU, he is trying to sell it as an opportunity when everyone who isn’t a frothing-at-the-mouth Brexiter knows that we will be worse off. 
Words fail me.
15. Did you lose anyone close to you?
We lost Poppy, our cat of 18 years. She had mouth cancer – and it was a very upsetting time for us and for a while we were a cat-less house. Ziggy and Star have helped to make the loss easier to deal with.
Here is Poppy:



16. Who was important to you this year but wasn’t important last year?
Nobody leaps to mind.
17. Who wasn’t as important to you this year as they were last year?
Again, nobody leaps to mind.
18. What was the best moment of the year for you?
I would say that it was the Delain concert I was lucky enough to get to in February before the shit hit the fan.
19, What was the worst?
Everything from March onwards.
20. What have you learned about yourself this year that you didn’t know in the years prior?
I have learned that I can grow a beard and that I can adapt to circumstances. I may have moaned about 2020 and the pandemic but by setting up a routine I can cope with it all. I have also learned that I need to escape quite often; I have missed holidays and just being able to go somewhere on a whim. I also realise that I have missed my mates – all of them.
21. What do you wish for others for the coming year?
A swift end to this pandemic so that all of us can get back to normality.
22. What do you wish for yourself?
I need a positive year and I need to get out there, so I really hope that this happens. By this time next year, I want to be a lot happier and also be a better person, which I can and will achieve in 2021.

Saturday, 19 December 2020

Christmas Questions

 


Welcome to sunny South Manchester on a mild but sunny Saturday afternoon. Lockdown still continues with Manchester in the highest tier, although our rates have fallen dramatically and we are below the average in England, which is being buoyed by a rather larger increase in the south east of the country around the London area.

I have now finished work for the year and can enjoy a leisurely two week break, within the confines of the restrictions of course. Now it is time to relax and enjoy what I can of the Christmas and New Year period without the spectre of work to haunt me.

I am writing this on Saturday it isn’t really Sunday Stealing – but who cares? Let’s have some fun with a Christmas theme.

1. What’s your favourite thing about the holidays?

Given that Christmas falls in December, four days after the shortest day of the year (which is on Monday), the weather and the darkness do not really appeal. It is usually a cold, dark, damp and unpleasant time of the year. This year aside, it is usually a good time to meet friends and family and generally have a fun time with get-togethers and parties, over-indulging on food and drink and generally having a great time. This year will be different because of the restrictions but I will do my best. Of course the best thing of all is no work. I love that.

2. Do you send out Christmas cards and if so how many do you send?

I no longer send any Christmas cards. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not because I am a miserable Scrooge-like old git; it is because Christmas cards are a waste of paper, a waste of time and a waste of money. We still get them but I never return them. I prefer to talk to people or see them rather than just wasting a bit of card. 

3. Be honest: holiday newsletters. Love ‘em or hate ‘em?

I hate them. They are usually a way of telling the story of the last year and they are too impersonal for me. I would never bore anybody with such a thing.

4. Be honest: photo cards. Love ‘em or hate ‘em?

The same as newsletters. 

5. How soon do you start shopping?

I hate shopping but Christmas shopping is even worse. The shops and stores are usually crammed full of people and the queues are massive. I return home after such trips feeling stressed tired and in need of a stiff drink. These days, I just shop online. So much more relaxing. For Christmas, I like to get it all done by the end of November.

6. Real or fake tree?

I like the smell of real trees but they are an absolute pain in the backside to maintain. They shed their needles all over the place – even the ones that are “guaranteed not to shed their needles”. And when you finally take them outside they deposit the rest of them all over your house. 

So we have a fake tree. They are less messy and much more cost-effective.  

7. When do you put up your tree?

We usually put the tree about two weeks before the big day, but this year, given the circumstances, we put it up on 1st December.

8. When do you take down your tree?

We usually take it down the day after New Year’s Day. 

9. Describe your typical tree (size, decorations, type)

The tree is about 6ft 3inches and you can see it here.


This year the tree has a dual purpose. It is a Christmas decoration and a plaything for my two kittens.
10. What do you top your tree with?
A star.
11. Do you put Christmas lights outside your house?
No – maybe I am a little odd in that respect but I think it is a pointless exercise.
12. Is there a wreath hanging on your door?
Normally, yes there is, but we haven’t bothered this year – not sure why to be honest.
13. Do you hang up stockings?
Not any more. The kids have grown up an left home.
14. Your favourite Christmas Movie(s)
I like Die Hard – and yes, despite what people say, it is a Christmas movie.
I also like Scrooged, with Bill Murray. 
Finally, I love It’s a Wonderful Life – I shed a tear every time I see it.
15. Be honest: A Christmas movie you hate
Love, Actually? Is supposed to be a Christmas movie – it is bloody awful. I could write an entire blog post on how dreadful it is. 
16. Favourite Christmas Song(s)
Here we go (in no particular order):

 

 

 

 

and from my home town of Walsall:

17. Be honest: If I hear this/these Christmas songs again I will throw up

I am not even going to post them – just look them up if you don’t know them (which I seriously doubt).

Wham! – Last Christmas

Mariah Carey – All I Want for Christmas is You

Cliff Richard – Mistletoe and Wine

They are ALL awful!

18. Give or Receive?

Both. That is the point, surely?

19. Eggnog or Mulled Cider?

I have never fancied eggnog. It looks like vomit. 

I also like cider – but it makes my stomach churn if I have too much of it. I will say Mulled Cider (I a small glass).

20. Ham or Turkey?

Can I say both? Of course I can.

And Finally …

Since this is a weird Christmas and this will be my last post before the day, I will sign off by wishing you all the best Christmas possible and a Happy New Year. 

I will leave you with some alternative lyrics that I posted waaaaayyyyyyyyy back in 2009 (my second year of blogging). These are my own alternative lyrics to Jingle Bells. 

Merry Christmas.

Dashing to the shops every single bloody day

Join another queue, pushing people out the way

I need to buy so many presents and a lot of trash

I need to win the lottery cos I’ve just run out of cash


Oh Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells

Jingle all the way

Oh what fun it is to throw your hard earned cash away

Oh Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells

Jingle all the way

Oh what fun it is to throw your hard earned cash away


Eating lots of food and drinking lots of beer

I am getting fat again, much fatter than last year

The weather’s looking nice; I think it might have snowed

And if I eat another thing I think I might explode


Oh Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells

Jingle all the way

Oh what fun it is to double the amount you weigh

Oh Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells

Jingle all the way

Oh what fun it is to double the amount you weigh


Listening to the Queen and watching crap TV

Playing silly games with my entire family

Everybody’s tired and one or two begin to snore

But later we will have to eat and drink again some more


Oh Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells

Jingle all the way

Oh what fun it is to fall asleep on Christmas Day

Oh Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells

Jingle all the way

Oh what fun it is to fall asleep on Christmas Day


So a Merry Christmas to the readers of this post

I like to raise my glass and to propose a toast

To everyone in Blogland; every woman, every man

Here’s to a fun-filled holiday from The Plastic Mancunian


Oh Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells

Jingle all the way

Oh what fun it is to stuff your face on Christmas Day

Oh Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells

Jingle all the way

Oh what fun it is to stuff your face on Christmas Day

Saturday, 12 December 2020

COVID Questions


Welcome to South Manchester on a grey rainy day. Autumn is over and winter has effectively started which means short, grey and cold days that are normally buoyed by Christmas parties and celebrations as we head towards the big day. This year is different; no parties and the only celebrations are going to be a small one on Christmas Day itself. 

Still, the end of the pandemic is nigh as people are starting to be vaccinated here in the UK. They have started to vaccinate NHS staff and care workers and those over 85, the most vulnerable people and the people who care for others. 

Also, and this is true, the second person to be vaccinated was a guy called William Shakespeare from Warwickshire, the county were Stratford-upon-Avon is. Straford-upon-Avon is of course the birthplace of the bard. I am not making this up. I thought they were starting with the oldest people but I didn't know that we had a guy who was 456 years old. 

In other news, I have taken a chance and booked a gig ticket; I plan to see Steven Wilson in September – a little risky because we don’t yet know what will happen in 2021. Nevertheless I am going to take the risk because the worst that can happen is a postponement to a later date or a total refund if it is cancelled completely.

Talking of pandemics, the questions from Sunday Stealing are all COVID related so let’s launch ourselves into that COVID space, shall we?

1. Day 1 of serious isolation behaviour:

The company I work for had the foresight to close the office before the UK-wide lockdown occurred on March 23rd of this year. I began working at the desk where I am typing this on 16th March and have been doing so all year. The first thing that I did was get into a routine, a habit that I have kept up throughout the 274 days (so far) that we have had to suffer lockdowns and restrictions. And to be honest it has kept me sane. The good news is that with the advent of three vaccinations (one approved already) I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully I don’t have to put up with this for much longer. I am ever the optimist.

2. First trip you had to cancel.

We planned a trip to Palermo in Italy to celebrate Mrs PM’s 50th birthday with friends. We have another friend who was 60 this year and our trip in June was to celebrate both. We cancelled it, but this is just a postponement because as soon as normality is resumed, we will rebook the same trip.

3. Other trips cancelled     

Mrs PM and I had planned a trip to Brussels and Bruges but we shelved that idea as soon as the pandemic struck. We had also booked a trip to Estepona on the south coast of Spain; that had to go. Also, we were planning to go to Mykonos in Greece in September. Fortunately we hadn’t booked that so we just kissed it goodbye.

4. Last trip out of town before isolation.   

That depends what you mean by “out of town”. Our last trip abroad was to Skala in Kefalonia in Greece in September 2019. After that, we stayed in the UK apart from a trip to Blackpool at Christmas to see Mrs PM’s parents and to Delamere Forest near to Chester for a weekend away with friends in February.

5. Farthest from home since isolation.

In July and August, our restrictions were lifted enough for us to be able to visit friends in Chester (about 40 miles away) for a weekend. We have not been anywhere else.

6. Last Meal sitting in a restaurant before Isolation.   

There is a good Italian restaurant within walking distance of our home and we were allowed to eat out in October (just after my birthday) before the restrictions became really tight again. We had a very good meal. It was just Mrs PM and I (as we haven’t been allowed to socialise with other households since the end of July).

7. How many books have you read?

During the pandemic I have read about 15 books. 

8. First event you didn’t attend due to virus.

I was scheduled to see Whitesnake and that was cancelled fairly soon into the lockdown. 

9. Date and event of last over 200-person event.

I managed to see Delain in February. They are a Dutch symphonic metal band whose latest album, Apocalypse and Chill is one of the albums of the year.

Here they are in their full glory. 

10. Last live music event.

See previous question. However, I also saw the Wildhearts a week before Delain, a British rock band I have loved for years. Here they are:

11. Things you are eating more of since isolation.

At the beginning of the lockdown Mrs PM and I decided to relieve the boredom with cake and biscuits (cookies to Americans) to “treat ourselves”. The problem is that we don’t normally eat a lot of fattening food and, within a few weeks, I noticed the weight creeping on. So we stopped it. And now we eat normally, apart from the odd indulgence.

12. Things you are eating less of since isolation.

Nothing – as I said above, we are eating normally.

13. What restaurants have you gotten take-out meals from?

We’ve eaten Indian, Chinese, Italian and even ordered fish and chips to be delivered (something we have never done before). 

14. Have you found yourself bored in isolation?

Yes, as I said above. And I am still bored. We can go out and go for walks etc. but we can’t socialise, go to the cinema, go to the theatre or travel – the things that keep me going. What is keeping me going is the fact that I can now see an end to this – plus a little bit of inventive fun that I will mention in a more relevant question below.

15. Have you gained or lost weight?

I am exactly the same. As I said above, I gained weight at first and now I have stabilised. I actually weight slightly less than I did on January 1st of this year.

16. Do you drink alcohol?

Of course – I am British – alcohol is a way of life.

17. If so, more or less in isolation?

I have probably consumed more in lockdown to be brutally honest. However, I don’t drink on what I term as “school nights”, i.e. Sunday to Thursday inclusive (although I sometimes have a cheeky beer on Thursday). 

18. What entertainments have you explored?   

Mrs PM and I usually pop to the pub for a couple of beers/wines on Friday nights. Of course in lockdown, you can’t do that so we have basically created three pubs in our own house. The lounge becomes “The Black Cat” – named after our love of black furry felines. The room I am in becomes “The Warrior’s Arms” named after our Chinese Terracotta Warrior. Here he is:


In the summer, the back garden became our third pub, “The Cat’s Head” but that is closed now because of winter.
We have also binged-watched quite a few TV series.
19. Gotten into anything new?
Not really. I have spent a lot of time exploring potential new pastimes in preparation for retirement in a couple of years but not actually taken anything up yet. I plan to change that is 2021 when I am unleashed on the world again.
20. Have you done crosswords? Board games?  Jigsaw puzzles?
No. I like crosswords but board games and jigsaws are too dull for me. Mrs PM loves jigsaws though and has an app on her phone/laptop where she can spend hours with jigsaws. I just don’t get it. I would fall asleep within minutes. That said, I guess a jigsaw is a good thing to cure insomnia.
21. Have you cleaned out some cabinet, drawer, closet, etc. thoroughly?
Yes. We have cleaned out the cupboard under the stairs, the cupboard in one of the spare rooms and I have tidied up and cleared out my work area. 
22. Are you spending about the same amount of money?
Not really – we are spending less on average because there is nothing to spend it on. We can’t go out, it’s pointless buying new clothes and we can’t book any holidays. I guess one good thing about the lockdown is that I am actually saving money.
23. Done Zoom, Facetime, etc. meetups?
Yes. We have had many quizzes and chats. I quite enjoy quizzes and I have 58 years’ worth of useless trivia in my head, which means that I am very good. We have a quiz every Friday with work to end the week and I have won seven out of the last twelve of them. 
24. Had a social occasion with a small group of people you consider safe?
We only did this in July when the restrictions were eased. We had a couple of nights out with some close friends and, as I said above, visited some other close friends in Chester. I miss them all and I can’t wait to see them again.
25. Did you vote? In Person? On Election Day?
No because we didn’t have an election here in the UK. However, had I been an American citizen living in the US I would have made a special effort to vote the Orange Goblin out of office. Good riddance Donald Trump – the one good thing to pop out of this miserable year.



Sunday, 6 December 2020

Best Things to Talk About

 


Welcome to a grey but dry day in South Manchester. England is now free of lockdown and back into a tiered system. Sadly we are tier 3 so really the only difference between the lockdown and the situation we are in now is that we can go to the shops. It’s still crap if I’m honest.

Rather than wittering on about Covid-19, I shall just dive into questions from Sunday Stealing

1. What is the craziest, most outrageous thing you want to achieve?

I might have mentioned this before but I want to go on a trip around the world, visiting as many countries as I can and write a travelogue about my experiences. I have already written three travelogues about trips to China, Australia and Japan and I plan to pen another one about my experiences in all of the other countries I have visited, including the good old UK too. I don’t think these travelogues will ever see the light of day – they are too personal – but they are good to reread and remind myself of these wonderful places. 

Will I get to achieve it?

Who knows. It’s still on the bucket list.

2. Have your parents influenced what goals you have?

Not really. My dad basically pushed me to achieve the best academic qualifications I could but didn’t have any specific goals. He just wanted me to be the best that I can be. I think he would be proud. 

3. What is a fashion trend you’re glad went away.

Most of the fashion from the 1970’s. Big collars and big trousers with big platform shoes. It was horrific.


4. What word or saying from the past do you think should come back?

I probably use a few phrases that are out of fashion, probably from my youth.

How about:

“Hunky dory” – fine or OK.

“Pardon my French” – an apology (of sorts) if I accidentally swear.

“Strewth!” – an exclamation of frustration.

Or perhaps some things my parents used to say to me:

“I’ll wipe that smile off your face!” – a veiled threat.

“I wouldn’t change it for all the tea in China!” – I love this and I am not going to change it or give it away.

“Am I talking to a brick wall?” – are you ignoring me.

5. What do you bring with you everywhere you go?

I’m sad to say that it is my smartphone. I never thought I would come to rely on this gadget and when mobile phones first appeared I used to mock people who relied on them. And now I have become one of those people. I do not use it as a phone; it is a step counter, a language learner, a book, a connection to the internet and countless other things. 

6. Is there such a thing as a soul?

I guess there probably is and I would define it as the essence of a person. If you try to see beyond the physical appearance of a person, you can truly see them – and I think you are seeing their soul. Some people are just beautiful – not necessarily physically beautiful but just wonderful to be with, kind, considerate, funny and charming. Equally, others can be attractive but when you see past the outer beauty you can sometimes see unattractive traits. 

I like to think of this inner person as the soul, if that makes sense.

7. Is there life after death?

I would like to hope so. I was raised a Roman Catholic, guilty from the moment I popped into this world, and I was indoctrinated with all of the teachings, including Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. I was told that when I finally shuffle off this mortal coil I will stand before God and be sentenced to eternity in Heaven, Purgatory followed by Heaven or eternal damnation in Hell with Satan and all of his demons force-feeding me rhubarb while listening to Piers Morgan serenading me with acid jazz.

I would like to be reincarnated as another human being please, if that’s possible and I have a choice. 

Or maybe even just let my spirit roam the Earth and witness the future of mankind through the eyes of a ghost. 

8. Do you think there will ever be a third world war?

Sadly, I think there might be but it will be over in a flash – literally. 

9. What smell brings back great memories?

My mum used to bake pies, especially at Christmas. The smell of baking reminds me of her delicious pies.

10. How would you like to be remembered?

I would like to be remembered as a nice guy, whose heart was in the right place and made people laugh. 

11. What kind of music are you into?

I could write a book on this subject but put simply, I like ambient electronic pop music, new age,  1970’s dance music, early 1980’s electronic pop music, blues, blues rock, heavy blues, soft rock, AOR, hard rock, heavy metal, progressive rock, progressive metal, classical music (not opera) and other odd songs from other genres. I don’t like country music, hip hop, modern dance music, manufactured pop music (boy bands, girl bands) and anything created by arses like Simon Cowell.

Here are two examples of the music I like.

12. What is the biggest surprise of your life?

That I can grow a beard. Past attempts have been a disaster so I thought I would try again during lockdown. Mrs PM likes it (bizarrely). However, it is coming off in 2021. 

13. If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?

A proper Sunday lunch. 

14. Where is the most awe-inspiring place you have been?

I have been to many awe-inspiring places and it is really difficult to choose amongst them. I could list them all but that would be another huge list.

I will choose The Great Wall of China simply because it is the first thing that popped into my head.







15. Describe your life in six words

Looking forward to the next chapter.



Sunday, 29 November 2020

Weight

 

Welcome to a rather grey and miserable South Manchester in the North West of England. We are still in lockdown here in England but will be released on Wednesday into a Tier system that still sees us effectively in lockdown. The only difference is that shops and gyms will be open and I will be able to go the barber for a haircut. However, we cannot go the pub or a restaurant so effectively we have really been in lockdown in my part of the country for 261 days now. 

And I am bloody sick of it, if the truth be known.

We can “socialise” for Christmas though, which means that between 23rd and 27th December inclusive we can form a “Christmas bubble” (or perhaps better a “Christmas Bauble”) with three other households. 

All this means that my two sons can come to visit on Christmas Day – so that will be good.

The problem is that I haven’t seen my friends for so long now that I have almost forgotten what they look like in the flesh.

All I can say is that now there are three vaccines about to be unleashed I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Sadly it will probably be another couple of months before we see the signs. I am so desperate to get out of the UK and travel somewhere that you wouldn’t believe it. 

Anyway – enough of COVID-19; I want to think of good things. 

I noticed that in America it was Thanksgiving last week so I couldn’t really answer the questions on that topic in Sunday Stealing because we don’t have it in the UK. But this week is different. So let’s answer some silly questions from this week’s Sunday Stealing selection

1. My biggest barrier to weight loss is...

My biggest barrier to weight loss is my love of food and drink. First of all, I should say that I am not a fat person, just slightly overweight. When I was younger I could literally eat a horse and not put on weight but ever since my mid-forties I have had to be more careful and now as I approach 60 years old, it is more of a struggle. I weigh thirteen and a half stones (about 190 lbs if you are American) and at a height of 5 feet 11 inches that gives me a BMI of 26.4. That puts me about 10 lbs overweight.  

2. What is your relationship with food like?

Excellent. I eat and enjoy most foods but I try not to over-indulge. I generally eat fairly healthily, avoiding burgers, pies, chips (fries), cake and other things that are supposedly bad for you. 

3. What was the last time you had fun that made you smile for a few days

I don’t think that has happened in 2020 due to this bloody virus. It was probably Christmas 2019. Actually, the arrival of Ziggy and Star has been a fun experience. As I type, they are racing around the house chasing each other.

4. What are triggers in your life that lead to eating?

When I’m hungry. Why else? 

Actually, I can see that there is a problem with things like “comfort eating” and, to be honest, this lockdown has been so desperately dull at times that there has been a temptation to just buy snacks and scoff them all day. 

In the early days of lockdown in April this year, we bought cakes, treats and biscuits (something we don’t normally do apart from at Christmas) and ate them to help cheer ourselves up. My weight increased and so in May or June we decided to stop doing it again and my weight has stabilised. Christmas is coming though so I imagine we will succumb to the festive spirit (as I usually do to be fair).

5. What inspires you to be healthier

I used to be really fit but in my mid-forties again I slowed down and actually stopped exercising until perhaps I was 47, at which time I decided to resume again but walking. 

Over the past ten or so years I try to walk every day and reach a monthly rate of a least 7000 steps a day. Last year I calculated that I had walked 1500 miles which sounds a lot but is actually quite easy (that was an average of 7500 steps a day). 

Walking at my age is a perfect way to stay active and I would love to increase that rate next year. It is a great activity that helps me clear my mind, gives me a good workout (depending on how fast I walk) as well as reducing stress. 

The healthier I am, the happier I am and that is inspiration enough.

6. Name two foods that you think are “bad”

I like to think that you can have anything in moderations, even food that is supposedly bad for you. It is perfectly fine to have deep fried food once in a while as long as it isn’t every day. 

The only food that I would say is bad is rhubarb and apricots. This is not because they are unhealthy. It is because they taste absolutely dreadful and make me wretch just thinking about eating them.

7. Are your expectations for yourself too high?

Not at all. I know what I want and what I like and what my limitations are. I occasionally step outside of my comfort zone (I should do so more often to be honest) but I certainly do not push myself to limits that I don’t expect to be able to achieve. 

8. Would you like more fun in your life?

At the moment, yes, because in this pandemic I am hardly having any fun at all. 

9. What is your one comfort food?

Cheese. I love cheese. I especially love cheese on toast. I try to limit my intake but if I am peckish, I will pop to the fridge and slice off a chunk of cheese.

10. How would you give someone encouragement?

I would talk to them and gently tell them that they can do whatever it is they need encouragement to do.

11. Do you get enough sleep?

I have been watching a few TED talks recently and I was particularly fascinated when the subject was sleep. 

My usual amount of sleep is seven and a half hours a night (almost timed like clockwork) but there are times in the past when I have either gone to bed to late or just had a poor night’s sleep and woken up feeling groggy, irritated and grumpy. The TED talks basically told me about how important sleep is because it gives your body the chance to cleanse, heal and clear itself down after a hard day. Consequently I have tried to go to bed earlier. The good news is that I have now started waking up before my alarm clock having had a great night’s sleep – still about seven and a half hours but sometimes longer. And I feel better for it. 

12. What activities make you feel more relaxed

As I said above, walking helps me to relax as does reading and listening to ambient music like this:

13. Where do you need to practice forgiveness in your life?

I don’t think I do need to practice forgiveness to be honest. I will forgive if necessary but I don’t tend to bear grudges.

14. What is one thing you have not done because of how you looked?

I’ve not entered a beauty pageant because I don’t look like a beautiful woman.

15. What would you like more of in your life?

I would like more freedom from coronavirus restrictions. More generally I would like more freedom anyway but only in terms of not being tied down to a career in the rat race. When I retire, I hope that freedom will materialise.