Tuesday 30 December 2008

New Year, New Hobby? I Need Help

People have called me a weirdo on many occasions (and these are friends). I admit that I can be strange if I want to be (you may have worked this out yourselves from some of my earlier posts). However, I can tell you that there are some truly bizarre folks out there on Planet Earth. How do I know? Allow me to enlighten you.

At this time of the year, as the excesses of Christmas fade and the compulsory New Year party approaches, I usually take the time to examine my life and plan improvements for the coming year. I’ve had varying degrees of success in the past. For example, this time last year I promised myself that I would make an effort to embrace my love of creative writing. In the past I had merely dabbled and written the odd short story or rant. In 2008 I decided to start a blog to publish my thoughts to the world and receive some feedback. I thought to myself, why should I suffer the crazy and bizarre thought processes in my head alone? The whole world is mad and my thoughts are there to be shared. It took me three months to pluck up the courage and this blog is the result. And I am happy with it. However, I also promised myself that I would try to teach myself how to play the guitar. That lasted three months. I was bloody useless. In 2009, I will continue to post on this blog (sorry folks) and develop my love of writing.

Nevertheless, I have decided that I need something else, a new hobby of sorts. And it is while researching hobbies that I have discovered the eccentricities of people out there in the wonderful world we live in, people that make me look normal. These people have the most incredible hobbies you can imagine. And I’ve only scratched the surface. I am standing at the zenith of a colossal iceberg of weirdness – and it scares me.

Allow me to start with people who collect things. As a child I was fanatical about Walsall FC and used to go to every home game and as many away games as my dad would take me to. During those years I collected the football programmes from every single game I attended. I still have that collection today. As strange as that may sound, it is positively normal compared to some of the stuff amassed by people out there. For example: airline sickness bags. There are people who actually keep the barf bags that are meant for puking in should an aircraft encounter violent turbulence. Thankfully I haven’t discovered anybody who looks for used ones (yet!).

Other odd items that people collect include:

Garden gnomes whose heads are impaled with spikes and axes: This is a cause of major concern to me. I can vaguely understand folks filling their gardens with gnomes but the thought of buying a gnome and then gluing an axe to its head and painting blood on its face strikes me as perturbing. Am I alone?

Soil samples from abroad: One man I discovered travels the world and whenever he sets foot in a new place, he will scoop up some dirt, store it in a jar, label the jar and then take it back home with him to store in a shed or some other dark and lonely place.

Soil samples from famous graves: One man seeks out the graves of famous dead people, travels there and scoops up soil from the grave itself. How macabre.

Others collect a wide range of strange stuff like: thimbles, handcuffs, fish posters, sugar packets, toothpaste, saw blades, toilet paper, chocolate wrappers and medical antiques.

And I thought stamp collectors were weird.

Moving on, another hobby that people pursue is spotting. I find bird spotting a little strange but I can understand nature lovers enjoying seeing a rare bird. Others, however, are just weird:

Train spotting: I know a couple of train spotters (or “railway enthusiasts” as they like to call themselves) and I just cannot see the fascination of standing on a lonely platform with a book writing down serial numbers of locomotives. To me it is one of the saddest pastimes imaginable. But there is something worse ...

Plane spotting: A few years ago I took my two sons to the observation area at Manchester Airport as they had never seen an aircraft in its full glory. Sadly, we encountered an army of “plane enthusiasts” who had camped out there for hours armed with their radios and notebooks. A Pakistan International Airlines 747 approached while we were there. How did we know? One of the “enthusiasts” listening in on the radio screamed “it’s the PIA jumbo”. It was like a goal scored at a cup final. All of the plane spotters leapt up as one, pulled out their notebooks and binoculars and whooped as the aircraft approached. My boys were keen because they had never seen one but these guys were almost in total ecstasy. They cheered as the metal monster roared past and almost passed out in delirium as the tires hit the tarmac of the runway. I thought these people were the saddest people I had ever encountered until I discovered …

Bus spotting: I live in Manchester, a city that relies on buses as a major form of public transport. Why on earth would anybody want to stand at a bus stop and write down model numbers of each double decker that roared past? I have never seen one of these geeky nerds but I would love to, just so that I can persuade them to acquire some kind of life. However, they do have a life compared to those who are …

Eddie Stobart spotters: Eddie Stobart is the name of a haulage company with a fleet of distinctive lorries that travel the length and breadth of the United Kingdom and beyond. The lorries are distinctive and each one has a unique female name. An Eddie Stobart spotter is a person who sits on the side of the motorway basically spotting these lorries as they go about their daily duties. They even have a website called “Club Stobart” where like minded people can talk to each other. I had a quick peep to get an insight into their psyche but left when I discovered that I had to pay £15 for the privilege. Is that sad or what? Yes it is but even sadder is …

Trolley spotting: I discovered a woman who travels around searching for abandoned shopping trolleys. She takes a photo of them, marks their exact location and then returns home and records them on a map.

Container ship spotting: I’ve asked myself - do I want to travel all the way to Norfolk, stand on a cold, desolate, isolated beach with a pair of binoculars and a notepad and wait for a container ship to drift past? It took me a nanosecond to answer; NOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Enough spotting! How about being a fanatic? Recently, Barry Manilow played a concert in Manchester and Mrs PM’s dad was dragged there by his wife, forking out £240 for two tickets. He told me that he was sitting next to five women who were “Fanilows”. These are fanatics of the man who travel everywhere to see their hero. And boy do they travel. One woman said that she has been to Las Vegas to see Barry more times than she can recall and has paid thousands and thousands of pounds to do so. She was in Manchester but she had travelled all the way from Peterborough to see him, having been to London to see him on his previous date. Now that IS dedication. I’m still smarting over paying £45 to see AC/DC in April next year.

If music isn’t your bag then you could become a science fiction fanatic. And there are plenty of science fiction programmes to get excited about. I have to confess that I do love a bit of sci-fi and I love Star Trek, Star Wars, Babylon 5 and Dr Who. However, my love of the show stops at simply watching them on TV. I do not, for example, watch endless repeats. And I certainly do not dress up as a Starfleet Officer, give myself a Starfleet command title, learn Klingon, turn my dentists surgery into the Enterprise sick bay or go to a convention. I have one thing to say to those that do – IT’S JUST A TV PROGRAMME!!!!!

Fanaticism is out then. At this point I was struggling but did discover a couple of miscellaneous hobbies that made me laugh:

Duct tape artist – a woman who uses duct tape to construct works of art. However, she doesn’t limit herself to mere sculptures; she makes jewellery, shoes and even clothes. I would love to go to her fashion show. Maybe I could buy Mrs PM a duct tape dress for New Years Eve.

Space hijackers – These are a bunch of passive anarchists who stage unexpected events. For example, take the Circle Line Party. Meet on an underground station on the Circle Line in London, board the train and sit down with you fellow space hijackers and wait for the train to depart. As soon as the doors close and the train pulls out – HAVE A PARTY complete with drinks, disco lights, dancing, singing, karaoke and whatever. Carry on partying until the train pulls into the next station and then retake your seats in silence. When the train moves off again, HAVE ANOTHER PARTY! Carry on ad nauseam!

Guerilla gardening – Visit your local garden centre and buy lots of plants, bulbs and seeds. Wait until it is dark and then break into your neighbours’ gardens and plant the things you have purchased randomly. I presume that you may have to wait a month or so for the fruits of your labour but the pleasure of seeing their faces when they discover a rose bush sprouting up from their lawn.

So I need help. I can’t find anything that I want to do that isn’t sad, mad or outrageous. Any ideas?

Maybe I’ll just brush up on my French or write that elusive novel. If anybody has any suggestions, please let me know – as long as it doesn’t involve being perched on a stool by the motorway looking like a sad goon, or following a decrepit old has-been around the world.

Have a Happy New Year everybody and I hope 2009 is a fabulous year for you.

Tuesday 23 December 2008

Alien Cliches

I have discovered something incredible: aliens exist. And what’s more, they are frequent visitors to our planet.

How did I discover this fact? I watched a few TV shows and films. And for those of you who do not watch science fiction films or TV shows, here’s what I have discovered.

Most aliens speak English with an American accent. You can guarantee that if you encounter an alien speaking English with a British accent then you will be killed because he is an evil alien.

Aliens use clichés. In order to settle into our environment, they always use colloquialisms.

The only place on Earth ever invaded is the United States of America. Aliens are completely unaware of any country outside America. The leader of the entire planet is the President Of The United States Of America who makes unilateral decisions “on behalf of all mankind”. That makes me feel safe here in Manchester.

All aliens of the same race wear the same uniform. This helps us to identify them because they are all humanoid in appearance, that is, they are about the same height, build, shape and have the same hairstyles as us. Nevertheless, we need to be on guard. Some aliens have cranial ridges and funny teeth. Klingons and Ferengi are a prime example of this natural deviation.

Earth computers are one hundred percent compatible with all alien computers. In Independence Day the aliens were defeated by a computer virus. We “gave it a cold”. Don’t you just marvel at our ingenuity?

We can procreate with aliens. I’ve always wondered why Captain Kirk in particular had an almost overwhelming desire to kiss as many green coloured alien females as he possibly could.

Aliens are highly advanced technically but fundamentally stupid. How else do you explain Independence Day?

Aliens come to Earth to save us or to kill us. There is no other reason.

The home planets of the aliens that visit Earth are either exactly the same as Earth in terms of climate and atmospheric composition or are about to explode due to a cataclysmic natural disaster or nuclear war.

Alien soldiers are useless at shooting. They tend have sophisticated weaponry eons in advance of our own but cannot shoot straight to save their lives.

When aliens die, they vanish without a trace or turn into a puddle of green goo.

Alien females use the same cosmetics as Human females. Do they really have L’Oreal lipstick on Vulcan?

Aliens come from planets whose name contains no vowels, like “Qyzyrks”

Those aliens that are not humanoid are killing machines that bleed acid and have about seven million teeth distributed around four separate embedded mouths. Avoid these (or just look for a woman called “Ripley”).

Humans are fundamentally flawed but the aliens are purely logical. However, in the end we always taint them with our impurity and feel better for it.

Most aliens are telepathic or empathic - yet we still defeat them somehow.

Alien food is edible by humans. For example, Klingon food that is still alive can be readily consumed by members of Starfleet.

Aliens can kill humans and then become them.

No matter how wonderful an alien culture is, human culture is always better.

Evil humanoid alien men are brutally ugly. Evil alien humanoid women are drop dead gorgeous.

Alien spaceships can always be repaired by human engineers.

I hope that helps, especially if you live in America. Your country is in far more danger than anybody else’s. Still, you needn’t worry; the President will always save the day. Just don’t send any of them here.

Sunday 21 December 2008

Are People Really This Stupid????

I’ve always wondered just how stupid the human race is. I know that I’ve been stupid in the past, but the level of my stupidity is normal, that is, I make the same mistakes as most people.

However, I have discovered that there are people out there in all countries of the world for whom the word “stupid” would be a complement. These people are so brainless that manufacturers of certain products have had to add warnings so that these imbeciles do not actually harm themselves by using the product in an unsavoury way, thus harming themselves in the process and, I would guess, suing the manufacturers for not adding a suitable warning

Once again, I have surfed the internet on your behalf in order to illustrate how utterly and completely boneheaded some people actually are. I realise that there are many out there who believe that it is the manufacturers who are the thick ones, but if you take a closer look you can imagine “victims” of product misuse attempting to sue to hide their dumbness. As far as I know, all of the warnings below are genuine.

On a toner cartridge for a laser printer: Do not eat toner

Instructions on the label of a bottled drink: Twist top off with hands. Throw top away. Do not put top in mouth

On a lottery ticket: Do not iron

On a birthday card for a one year old: Not suitable for children under 36 months

On flower pot: Houseplants are for ornamental use and not to be consumed

On cough medicine for children: Do not drive or operate machinery after use

On a hair colour box: Do not use as an ice cream topping

On a bag of peanuts: Warning: contains nuts

On a hair dryer: Do not use in the shower

Also on a hair dryer: Do not use while sleeping

On a toilet brush: Do not use orally

On a microwave oven: Do not use for drying pets

On a novelty rock garden: Warning: Eating rocks may lead to broken teeth

On a push chair: Warning: Remove infant before folding for storage

On a superman costume: Warning: Wearing this garment does not enable you to fly

On a lighter: Do not expose flame to the face

On a box of sleeping pills: Warning: May cause drowsiness

On a TV remote control: Warning: Not dishwasher safe

On an electric cattle prod: For use on animals only

On an iPod shuffle: Warning: Do not eat iPod shuffe

On a bottle of pills for dogs: Use care when operating a car

On an iron: Do not iron clothes on the body

On a barbecue: Warning: this product gets hot

On a chainsaw: Do not attempt to stop the blade with your hand or genitals

Also on a chainsaw: Do not hold the wrong end of a chainsaw

And my favourite:

On a blowtorch: Not to be used for drying hair

I have a picture in my mind for all of them (I’m sorry, I can’t help it – I’m drawn to such things in a weird kind of way). I can imagine a woman with long hair trying to dry it using a blowtorch; I can picture a man discovering that the shirt he has just put on needs to be ironed; I can picture a man leaping off a tall building in a Superman cape.

Anyway, I must go. I need to round up the cats with my new cattle prod.

Friday 19 December 2008

The Twelve Days Of Christmas

Christmas is a time for giving and I would just like to give to anybody who stumbles on this post a little gift. It is my own original version of “The Twelve Days Of Christmas” and is basically a list of the WORST gifts that any wife or girlfriend can give to her man for Christmas. If I receive anything like the gifts mentioned below they will end up either in the bin, at the back of a drawer or on the cats.

On the first day of Christmas my girlfriend sent to me:
a signed Celine Dion CD

On the second day of Christmas my girlfriend sent to me:
two Gok Wan books and
a signed Celine Dion CD

On the third day of Christmas my girlfriend sent to me:
three pink shirts
two Gok Wan books and
a signed Celine Dion CD

On the fourth day of Christmas my girlfriend sent to me:
four Hugh Grant films
three pink shirts
two Gok Wan books and
a signed Celine Dion CD

On the fifth day of Christmas my girlfriend sent to me:
five pairs of socks
four Hugh Grant films
three pink shirts
two Gok Wan books and
a signed Celine Dion CD

On the sixth day of Christmas my girlfriend sent to me:
six ballet tickets
five pairs of socks
four Hugh Grant films
three pink shirts
two Gok Wan books and
a signed Celine Dion CD

On the seventh day of Christmas my girlfriend sent to me:
seven knitted jumpers
six ballet tickets
five pairs of socks
four Hugh Grant films
three pink shirts
two Gok Wan books and
a signed Celine Dion CD

On the eighth day of Christmas my girlfriend sent to me:
eight pairs of slippers
seven knitted jumpers
six ballet tickets
five pairs of socks
four Hugh Grant films
three pink shirts
two Gok Wan books and
a signed Celine Dion CD

On the ninth day of Christmas my girlfriend sent to me:
nine romantic novels
eight pairs of slippers
seven knitted jumpers
six ballet tickets
five pairs of socks
four Hugh Grant films
three pink shirts
two Gok Wan books and
a signed Celine Dion CD

On the tenth day of Christmas my girlfriend sent to me:
ten scenic paintings
nine romantic novels
eight pairs of slippers
seven knitted jumpers
six ballet tickets
five pairs of socks
four Hugh Grant films
three pink shirts
two Gok Wan books and
a signed Celine Dion CD

On the eleventh day of Christmas my girlfriend sent to me:
eleven flowered hankies
ten scenic paintings
nine romantic novels
eight pairs of slippers
seven knitted jumpers
six ballet tickets
five pairs of socks
four Hugh Grant films
three pink shirts
two Gok Wan books and
a signed Celine Dion CD

On the twelfth day of Christmas my girlfriend sent to me:
twelve photo albums
eleven flowered hankies
ten scenic paintings
nine romantic novels
eight pairs of slippers
seven knitted jumpers
six ballet tickets
five pairs of socks
four Hugh Grant films
three pink shirts
two Gok Wan books and
a signed Celine Dion CD

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Invasion of the Jellyfish

I may never dip my toe into the sea again. I’ve just read an article that has turned my legs to jelly, which is quite apt really because it is all about jellyfish.

To be fair, I’ve always been a little nervous about exposing my naked flesh to the great oceans of the world or more accurately the creatures that reside within those vast expanses of brine. We all know that there are dangers there. I mean, who hasn’t seen “Jaws”? But at least you get a warning with sharks. If you are on the beach in a warm climate the chances are that the telltale dorsal fin will warn you of a shark’s approach.

Jellyfish, on the other hand are another story.

I first became aware of these odd beasts on a holiday in the north of England as a child; washed up on the shore was a strange creature with tentacles that looked like an alien creature from hell. “Don’t touch it,” yelled my Dad. “It will sting!”

Well that was enough for me. I have a fear of any creature that will bite or sting. I was off the beach before you could yell “Jellyfish”, whipping up a major sandstorm in my wake.

My next encounter with a jellyfish, or should I say a fluther of jellyfish, was on a ferry between Vila Real de Santo António in Portugal and Ayamonte in Spain. I was a student, travelling around Europe with two friends and we were taking the early morning ferry. The sun was peeping over the horizon, the air was cool and comfortable and I was at peace. My two friends were staring into space and I decided to observe the tranquil sea. However, it wasn’t tranquil at all. Swarming around the boat, like a pulsating nightmare of rubber were literally thousands of huge jellyfish. I had never seen anything like it. The worst thing about the creatures were their horrifically long tentacles. There were so many that if I had been crazy enough and completely lost my mind, I felt I could have slipped over the side of the boat and walked to Spain on their backs. They were big and they terrified me. Later on our holiday, we visited a couple of places in Spain next to the coast and I swear that I refused to set foot in the water; I had to be persuaded to even walk on the beach in case one of the monsters washed up onto the sand.

Three years ago, I was lucky enough to go to Australia. On my very first day in that beautiful country, I wandered onto the beach and saw this:

The jellyfish I saw in England was small; the ones in Portugal and Spain were big. The one represented by this sign, a box jellyfish, looked huge. In fact the sign made it look more like a giant octopus. I suppose, in many ways, it is good that the creature is so large because at least you can see it coming have time to get over your blind panic before swimming away like a creature possessed.

This venomous monster looks like this:

The box jellyfish can often be found on or near to beaches that the human population of Australia are attracted to. Thankfully they only appear in the Northern Australian seas. It is named because of its box shaped head – I think if I’d named it I would have called it something like the Killer Jellyfish.

I did some research on this monster and discovered that it weighs up to 2 kg and has up to 15 tentacles on each corner that can be up to 15m in length. Each tentacle can have up to 5000 stinging cells. Why in God’s name would a creature need 75000 stinging cells? It makes me wonder whether there is another much larger creature out the in the Australian seas that feeds on box jellyfish. Why else would it need to defend itself so vigorously?

You may think that a beast such as this can only move slowly. Wrong! It can propel itself along at speeds of up to 4 knots (about 5 mph). Avoiding it is therefore not easy. So much for me thinking that I could outswim it in a blind panic.

But it gets far worse than that. You cannot survive being stung unless the venom is treated immediately. The pain is excruciating and the likelihood is that if you are stung, you will almost certainly go into shock and drown before you reach the shore. The treatment is to pour vinegar over the stings as soon as possible. The warning sign came equipped with a bottle of vinegar and instructions on what to do. You would have to be insane to step into the water on your own. In fact if, in a fit of madness, I decided to chance it, I would insist that there were at least twenty life guards swimming around me; not to rescue me, but to get in the way of any box jellyfish that happened to be in the vicinity.

But there is something worse in the seas of Australia and unlike its cousin, the box jellyfish, this creature is tiny – so much so that you can’t see it. I am talking about the Irukandji. This demonic little beast is only 2cm in diameter. It has a single tentacle on each of the four corners of the bell but at 50mm in length they do not help to make this tiny creature visible. Because of its diminutive stature, it can evade any barriers constructed to keep out box jellyfish by simply swimming over under or through them.

If that wasn’t enough, the Irukandji is almost transparent, making it difficult to see in daylight should it be washed ashore. In the sea, the damned thing is practically invisible. It looks like this (not that it will help being so microscopic):

Now, if you thought that this insignificant creature was harmless you would be totally wrong. The sting itself is not actually that painful. The problems occur about half an hour afterwards. All of a sudden, the victim begins to have a severe headache and backache accompanied by shooting pains in their muscles chest and abdomen. As the venom takes hold, the victim suffers from extreme nausea and vomiting. In extreme cases the patient suffers pulmonary oedema or fluid on the lungs, which is fatal if left untreated.

The symptoms I have just described were afflicting bathers in the seas off Cairns before the little terror was actually discovered. Back in 1964, a doctor called Jack Barnes speculated that a jellyfish was responsible for these symptoms, called Irukandji syndrome and named initially after a tribe of who lived in the Cairns area. So how did he go about finding the culprit? He spent hours in the water with a wet suit searching for new jellyfish. By chance, one of the little blighters swam past his mask so he caught it. And what did he do to prove that his little captive was responsible for this horrible ailment? He stung himself with it! Yes that’s right – the idiot actually allowed the little beast to sting him. As if that weren’t enough he felt he needed a better test so he stung his own son and also a surf life saver who happened to be with them. If I had been with him at the time, I would have hit the guy for even suggesting that I allow a jellyfish to sting me. Maybe it was a macho thing; three big manly Australians can take a little itty bitty sting from a tiny marine creature.

Well the inevitable happened and all three of them ended up in hospital. Many people called it dedication. I call it gross stupidity! For his efforts Dr Barnes’ reward was to have the jellyfish named after him – carukia barnesi is the official Latin name. I bet the life saver was a bit pissed off about that!

So, back to the article that rekindled my fear of jellyfish. According to the article, the US government has warned that armies of killer jellyfish are marauding around our beautiful oceans. What’s so bad about that I hear you say, safely, sitting in your comfy chair reading this post? Well these brutes are reported to weigh up to a quarter of a ton and some of them are the size of fridges. A QUARTER OF A TON!!! THE SIZE OF A FRIDGE!!!!

Not only have they invaded the seas, they are actually damaging ships. I can imagine the captain of a boat peering over the side and saying

“Look at that – some swine has dumped a fridge in the sea. Wait a minute – that’s no fridge. It’s got tentacles – RED ALERT! GET US OUT OF HERE!!!”

Well - maybe not.

Now I don’t know about you but all of this is a fantastic reason never ever to dip my big toe into the sea again, not even when a wave gently washes up on the sandy shore. There may not be a fridge-sized leviathan in the water, but there may be a tiny little invisible irukandji waiting to kill me.

The sea is their domain. Leave them alone, I say. And if you must head to the beach, don’t forget your vinegar and personal army of paramedics and life guards.

Sunday 14 December 2008

Women's Rules For Men

My lack of knowledge and confusion when it comes to the female of the species is a recurrent theme in this blog and I try to make it part of my life to solve the mystery that is womankind. So far I have failed. Not only have I failed, I have failed spectacularly. Not only have I failed spectacularly I have had to endure pain, both physical and mental, as a result.

Perhaps my problems could be solved if there were an evening class to study the female mind. No such luck. The path to understanding females is a rocky one, strewn with traps, pitfalls and dangers. And I am like a short-sighted wanderer, stumbling into every single one of them.

Nevertheless, today I found something that may help me on my quest. I discovered “Rules For Men” but written by a woman. Now I don’t want to be subservient but at least they may give me some idea of how to react under certain situations and maybe a way to win favour.

Here they are – and below are my comments:

The female always makes the rules.

Oh dear! That’s a bad start.

The rules are subject to change at any time without prior notification.

They’re not making it easy are they guys?

No male can possibly ever know the rules.

Talk about making life difficult. Is there any man on the planet who understands women?

If the female suspects that the male knows all the rules, she must immediately change some or all of the rules.

OK, four rules in and I feel like I’m trying to nail jelly to a wall.

The female is never wrong.

So to get a peaceful life I have to reply “You’re right, dear” whenever we have a discussion or argument – is that it?

If the female is wrong, it is because of a flagrant misunderstanding which was a direct result of something the male said wrong or did wrong.

Well thanks for clearing that up then. Basically whatever the problem is, it’s my fault.

If the previous rule applies, the male must apologize immediately for causing the misunderstanding.

I can see “I’m sorry” becoming my most used phrase.

The female can change her mind at any given point in time.

I knew this rule – that’s one of the reasons for my constant confusion.

The male must never change his mind without express written consent from the female.

So much for no subservience …

The female has every right to be angry or upset at any time.

Ah – I can see that I could possibly use this to my advantage. If she’s angry or upset then we may as well do something worthy of that anger. Fancy a pint, lads?

The male must remain calm at all times unless the female wants him to be angry or upset.

I will calmly sip my beer in the pub as she rants and raves at home. She can ring me up if she wants me to be angry in which case I will do so – after I have finished my pint.

The female must under no circumstances let the male know whether or not she wants him to be angry or upset.

OK – no phone call then.

After reading those rules I am still none the wiser. All I have learned is that if Mrs PM is angry and upset because of something I have or haven’t done then I should pop out to the pub. Whether or not she will be even more angry upon my return I don’t know. Perhaps I could try buying flowers – that hasn’t worked in the past though.

One final thought: I know that I am not alone. I know that there are mates of mine who actually think that they understand women but fall foul of their lack of knowledge on a regular basis. Now that this blog is public I am sure that there will be comments but all I can say is that I have proof of their ignorance, with some failures much more spectacular than others.

As for my quest, I am more confused than ever. But fear not – I am determined to carry on. I will learn and I will post my progress.

I must dash now; Mrs PM wants me to nail some jelly to the wall.

Saturday 13 December 2008

So Where Is Manchester Then?

The other day I came across a blog where the author had held a kind of comment competition. The idea was that he asked a question at the end of his post and then that question was answered by the first person to comment. That person asked a question and then the second person to comment answered it and so on.

I thought I would play along for a laugh. I think I answered a question about what to give your pets on Thanksgiving – and it was a typically stupid Plastic Mancunian answer. But then I thought, I wonder what people know about Manchester? So I asked. “Do you know where Manchester is?” hoping that it would be a non-British person who answered.

It wasn’t.

The woman who answered the question was American and wrote something like “Oh, er, oh, you’ve got me there. Er er er nope! Don’t know where it is, sorry.”

I was appalled and slightly shocked. I was also saddened. I’ve decided to take action.

I know that there are many people who stumble across this blog come from outside the United Kingdom and I’m sure that there are a large proportion of people who know all about Manchester.

But for those who don’t – here are some details about this wonderful city that I call home.

Manchester is the third largest conurbation in the United Kingdom and is the “capital of the North” [of England]. The city has a population of around 2.5 million people (I can’t say how many dogs and cats there are though). Yes, that’s right. I live in the third largest city in Britain, behind London and Birmingham. This is one of the reasons I am so shocked at the response above.

Manchester is located in the north west of England. To get some sense of location, it is 73 miles north of Birmingham, 210 miles north of London, 33 miles east of Liverpool, 165 miles north of Oxford, 215 miles south of Glasgow, 217 miles south of Edinburgh and 43 miles west of Leeds.

People who are from Manchester are called “Mancunians” – hence my title.

The world’s first computer was built in Manchester fifty years ago. How amazing is that?

Manchester has the oldest public library in the English speaking world.

Manchester is home to two Premiership football clubs. First and arguably the most famous football team in Europe or the world: Manchester United (although most of the supporters come from outside Manchester). The second club is Manchester City.

The world’s first passenger railway ran from Manchester.

Despite being 36 miles from the coast and landlocked, the Manchester Ship Canal allows ships to sail into the Port Of Manchester.

Ernest Rutherford split the atom in 1917 at Manchester University.

Over 20 of the Nobel prize winners have come from Manchester

Manchester has four universities.

Many famous bands and musicians hail from Manchester, such as 10cc, The Bee Gees, Elkie Brooks, The Buzzcocks, The Happy Mondays, Oasis, Joy Division, New Order, The Smiths, Simply Red, The Verve, The Ting Tings and Sad Café.

Beetham Tower is Manchester’s tallest building and is also the tallest residential building in the UK. At 554 feet and with 47 stories, it is the 7th tallest building in England. Although it doesn’t compare with the skyscrapers in places like New York City it does stand out in the city.

Manchester Airport is the busiest UK airport outside London and has a Concorde on permanent display.

Manchester is twinned with St Petersburg in Russia, Wuhan in China and Cordoba in Spain.

Hopefully a few people who have no clue about Manchester will be enlightened by this post. And if there is anybody out there who fancies a trip to England, feel free to pop up north – you will be welcomed with open arms - you may even be lucky enough to meet me!

Monday 8 December 2008

Fear (Part Four) - The Dentist

Tomorrow I have to spend half an hour in a torture chamber.

Yes, it’s that time again; my semiannual visit to the fourth level of hell – the dentist. I can’t help but picture Laurence Olivier playing Dr Christian Szell in the film “Marathon Man” torturing poor Dustin Hoffman. As the dentist puts me in the chair and comes towards me, all I hear is “Is it safe?”.

I’ve had a mild fear of dentists for years. I remember my first day at university when I happened to walk past the School of Dentistry; I became aware of something very strange. The screams of agony aside, I noticed that everybody walking into the place were either quaking with terror or grinning psychotically. It took me an instant to work out which ones were the trainee dentists and which ones were the guinea pigs. I mean, what kind of masochist would allow himself to be treated by dental students?

Intrigued by this, I made an effort to get inside the mind of a dental student. I got to know a young Indian woman who on the surface was a wonderful person – in fact we became very good friends. But when I mentioned the quaking victims, her eyes became feral and she said “Yes, I’m looking forward to practicing my art”. I felt as if she had reached into my chest and squeezed my heart.

I came to the conclusion that dentists are normal people but as soon as they get a sniff of the white coat, and pictured their instruments of torture, they mutate into sadistic beasts ready to inflict pain and torment on hapless victims like myself.

Now some of you reading this may be thinking “You are such a coward! They are there to help you!”

That is just not true. I have evidence – approximately forty years of evidence. True, my teeth are fine, but the psychological torment dentists have inflicted on me over the years is immense.

In the 70’s as a mere child a dentist was responsible for a full year of embarrassment. I was just a teenager but he didn’t care. He was a young man; cool and friendly and quite likeable. But the instant he got you into his surgery, there was a transformation to rival that of Dr Jekyll mutating into Mr Hyde. He took out four of my adult teeth without a care, telling me that my teeth overlapped and therefore needed room to manoeuvre. He made me wear not one but TWO dental braces; the first ached, the second was agony – I looked like I was trying to eat metal spaghetti.

And then there was the time when at the age of 15 I foolishly gave my mate a ride down a hill on my bike. The inevitable happened and the two of us went flying over the handlebars. I was a cushion for him. The tarmac was a cushion for me – my face hit the road, tooth first and I chipped away most of one of my front teeth. And as I lay there on the road, in complete agony with my upper lip so swollen that it looked like I had tried to glue a sausage to it, all I could think of was the dentist. “Oh no!" I wailed to my mate. "The dentist, the dentist, the dentist, …”

When I got there, all I received, apart from a temporary filling, was a severe bollocking and the ritual torture I had suffered before.

Of course, you may say that the acts of sadism perpetrated by this dentist were rare and that this dentist was particularly brutal. I can tell you that isn’t true. Eventually, he departed to cause untold terror in Birmingham. He was replaced by a young female dentist fresh out of university.

“Now then,” she said smiling as I opened my mouth. “Let’s do a thorough examination.”

Before that session, I had no fillings. After that session, I needed six – SIX!!! And she “made sure” that I needed six by impaling each tooth with a metal spike, causing me to head butt the ceiling six times. I had to have the six fillings over a period of three more appointments. Each time was more terrifying than the last. What is worse than seeing the world’s biggest needle heading towards you gum? I’ll tell you. There are TWO things worse; the first is the look of glee on the dentist’s face as the needle goes in; the second is the sound of drilling.

I have a weird phobia that makes my teeth itch; you know when you get two forks stuck together and grind the metal? My teeth are on edge when that happens, a bit like the feeling you get when fingernails scrape down a blackboard – it is pure agony. Drilling a tooth, sounds very similar to me and I am in total distress when the dentist is chiselling away chunks of my teeth with the drill.

And all the time the dentist is in your mouth with spikes and drills driven by motors, he is talking to you.

DENTIST: Are you all right?


DENTIST: There’s no need for language like that!

Why do dentists insist on talking to you when your mouth is full of equipment? And, yes they do understand you. I’ve had a conversation with my current dentist about holidays:

DENTIST: Where are you going to on holiday?


DENTIST: Hong Kong, eh? Should be nice in November. I’ve never been to Thailand, actually. Is it nice?

Of course, these days dental appointments are made all the more traumatic because not only do you have to suffer the dentist, you have to face the dental hygienist, who is, in many ways much worse. The session goes something like this.

HYGIENIST: What have I told you about brushing too hard?


HYGIENIST: Yes you can. I’m sorry but now I have to scrape all the tartar away and I’m going to have to use THIS!

And then the hygienist pulls out a drill with a spike on the end of it and proceeds to attack my teeth with it. The noise is unbearable and the agony is unspeakably horrible. And all the time, his partner in crime, the dental hygienist assistant, has a hoover in my mouth, sucking up the saliva and my tongue (and possibly my lungs). And still the hygienist insists on talking to me as if I am a child. And I can’t respond properly because my tongue is three quarters of the way up the hoover nozzle getting dangerously close to the motor.

HYGIENIST: You know you really should use dental floss.


HYGIENIST: There’s no need for language like that!

Anyway, this time tomorrow it will all be over. I know that for six months I will not have to enter the torture chamber have to cringe at fifteen tons of dental equipment, most of which will end up in my mouth. I won’t have to have rubber-gloved hands shoved in my mouth. I will be free of spiked drilling equipment being jammed into my teeth and gums in the name of dental hygiene. And best of all I won’t have to say “GAH! GEAGE GE AGONE!” when the dentist says “Is it safe?”

Thursday 4 December 2008


Well it’s finally happened! I’ve been busted!

I have been trying to keep my blog a secret from the prying eyes of my work colleagues. I wanted to remain anonymous and have a bit of fun ranting and raving to the world via the internet.

Unfortunately in a moment of amazing stupidity, I let it slip that I had a blog. I was even more incredibly stupid, when pressed for the address because I said “There’s no way you will find it – go ahead! Have a go!” These guys work in IT and love a challenge.

After a day’s worth of searching by a number of people, my blog was finally discovered, with photos of myself made up as Gene Simmons to confirm my identity and give me away.

Well now they know who I am and I expect a lot of people who know me will be hitting the pages and reading my innermost thoughts.

I was disappointed at first, and a little concerned, but thinking about it, this can all work out to my advantage as long as I am careful what I say. And I tell you what, I have some stories to tell about those very people who will be reading this blog.

How about my mate who …

Ah – one for another time maybe.

I have this message for my workmates:

Hi folks – I hope you enjoy reading the blog and please feel free to comment. Note – comments will be moderated so you will not be able to post (any more) embarrassing revelations about me. Also, you should note, that I have stories about most of you and also, lots and lots of photos. I will have even more after Saturday’s Christmas Party and the Christmas pub crawl, which I will be happy to post.

Seriously though, welcome to my world and I hope you have fun reading the blog. You may even see a story or two about yourselves. Of course, I will be discrete and not use your real names – well maybe ...

Wednesday 3 December 2008

American English

As a child, I wondered why Americans couldn’t spell. I thought to myself “Surely Americans should be able to spell basic words – after all, don’t they have spelling competitions?”

I couldn’t understand why Americans couldn’t spell words like colour (color), favourite (favorite), honour (honor), analyse (analyze), analogue (analog), encyclopaedia (encyclopedia), manoeuvre (maneuvre), cheque (check), defence (defense), through (thru) and plough (plow).

Eventually somebody pointed out to me that Americans spell some of their words differently.

“No!” I said with more than a hint of incredulity.

And then somebody told me that Americans use different words for everyday objects.

“NO!!!” I said.
I was young and naïve – and stupid!

The good news is that over the years we have been exposed to America via music, films etc. and now most British people are fully aware of the subtle differences between our tongues.

I’ve travelled to America several times and had to smile at some of the differences, even though I’ve understood what was meant. Occasionally I have said something to an American who has stared at me as if I have just crawled out of a primeval soup, simply because I have used British words rather than their American equivalents.

For example, I was in a café (diner) in New York and, having finished my meal, I called the waitress over and said

“Can I have the bill please?”

She stared at me for a second and said “The what?”

Thankfully I recalled the correct term.

“Can I have the check, please?”

I have been caught off guard myself though.

For example, I was walking around the French Quarter in New Orleans, enjoying the ambience of the place when a gentleman walked up to me and said

“I like your sneakers.”

“My what?” I said.

It was only when he pointed at my feet that I realised he meant trainers.

Here are some other examples:

Bonnet (car)Hood
Car ParkParking Lot
ChemistDrug Store
CV (curriculum vitae)Resume
Exhaust PipeTail Pipe
Estate AgentRealtor
Fairy CakeCup Cake
Ice LollyPopsicle
I’m tiredI’m beat
Mucking AroundGoofing Off
Off-LicenseLiquor Store
Post CodeZip Code
Semi-Detached HouseDuplex
Take AwayTake Out

In some cases, the words used could lead to utter confusion. For example in America the equivalent of the British First Floor is the Ground Floor so the British First Floor is the American Second Floor. This has caused trauma in hotels where I've found myself trying to get into the wrong room.

Here are some more examples:

A British scone is an American biscuit and a British biscuit is an American cookie.
British crisps are American chips and British chips are American fries.
British jam is American jelly and British jelly is American jell-o
American soccer is British football and American football is a poor version of British rugby. Only kidding - my problem is I just don't understand American Football.
Some American words annoy me a little because to me they just don't sound right. Take for example math. As far as I am concerned, it really should be maths because maths is short for mathematics. Call me pedantic if you like but whenever I hear it on an American TV show, I find myself yelling "MATHS! IT'S MATHS!!!!!" at the screen.
Another one is aluminum. In Britain, the element is called aluminium. "IT'S ALUMINIUM, NOT BLOODY ALUMINUM!" I scream. My TV does bear the brunt of my rants sometimes. And the final one is already. Now this word of course is used by British people but Americans use it in a really bizarre and irritating way. For example - "Tidy your room already" and "Shut up already". What does that mean?
Apart from that, I can cope with the other variations - in fact I prefer some American words, like goofing off and garbage.
There is one final word, commonly used in British and American English that could lead to major confusion and possibly violence. Next time I see a woman in America who happens to own a small but magnificent horse-like beast that brays I shall choose my words very carefully if I want to complement her on having such a splendid creature. I wouldn't want to have my butt kicked.

Friday 28 November 2008

Silly English Laws

I feel quite at home living in England for many reasons. One particular reason is that it is a wacky place to live with some incredible (and stupid) laws. My beloved country has existed for centuries; we have been overrun by Romans, Normans and Vikings, ruled by mad Kings and Queens and even crazier politicians. The result of all this insanity is the country I live in now, which sadly is much more sensible than it used to be.

However, fear not. There are some ridiculous laws that still exist in this green and pleasant land, laws that time has forgotten.

I swear that the following laws are true (to the best of my knowledge).

Let me first say that I have unwittingly committed an act of treason. I didn’t mean to, and to be honest, nobody told me not to. The treasonous law I have broken is the following:

It is an act of treason to put a stamp bearing the head of the monarch upside down on an envelope.

There are several laws involving the Houses of Parliament, the seat of our beloved (?) government. First of all:

It is illegal to enter the Houses of Parliament wearing a suit of armour.

Oh dear! I must remember to leave my suit of armour behind when I next visit the capital. Should I do so, and should I decide to visit the Houses of Parliament:

It is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament.

I’d better go next week then just to make sure that the authorities don’t send me to prison for dropping dead in the chamber in my old age. Still with London, you may have heard the reputations taxi drivers have. Some can be very irritating. But you can threaten them because I know for a fact that each of them is breaking the law:

London taxi cabs must carry a bale of hay at all times.

How many taxi drivers in London have you seen with a bale of hay strapped to the roof? Exactly! Next time you hail a cab in London, ask the driver if he has a bale of hay in his boot. I guarantee there will be a look of incredulity and terror on his face. And here’s another reason to keep an eye on London cabbies:

It is illegal for a cab in the City of London to carry rabid dogs or corpses.

Mind you, there is a remote danger that you yourself could break the law because:

It is illegal to flag down a London cab if you have the plague.

Don't get a cab to the hospital then if you are suddenly brought down by a dose of Black Death. Call 999 instead.

Still with London, I regard Chelsea Pensioners as a little odd (please don’t tell them that), so odd in fact that it is very tempting to dress up as one for a fancy dress party. However, I am in trouble if I want to do that because:

It is illegal to impersonate a Chelsea Pensioner.

Damn! Another dream fades and dies. Perhaps I will drown my sorrows in a pub. Oh dear – I can’t even do that because:

It is illegal to be drunk on Licensed Premises (in a pub or bar).

That's another law I may have broken. Worse still:

All men over the age of 14 must carry out at least two hours of longbow practice a week, supervised by the local vicar.

Will they throw the book at me when they discover that I don’t even own a longbow? Perhaps I should buy one and go to Hereford:

In Hereford, it is legal to shoot a Welshman all day, but only on a Sunday, with a longbow in the Cathedral Close.

Now I don’t want to antagonise the Welsh as I have some very good friends who come from there but I will have to warn them that if they visit Chester then they must be wrapped up and in bed by midnight because:

It is perfectly legal to shoot a Welshman with a bow and arrow inside the walls of Chester after midnight.

Similarly, in York:

It is perfectly legal to shoot a Scotsman with a bow and arrow inside the walls of York unless it is Sunday.

Chester, York and Hereford sound a bit extreme. I think I’ll go back to my favourite tropical fish store in Liverpool and visit my favourite clerk:

In Liverpool it is illegal for a woman to be topless unless she is a clerk in a tropical fish store.

I’d better be careful not to kiss her though because:

A woman may bite off a man’s nose if he kisses here against her will.

A bit harsh, that one, I think.

Finally, with Christmas around the corner, I’m sure you will be looking forward to tucking into several mince pies on Christmas Day. If you do, though, you will be breaking the law because Oliver Cromwell passed the law:

It is illegal to eat mince pies on Christmas Day.

Oh well, perhaps that will help my diet. Please don't tell anybody I have broken the law, otherwise I'll send you a letter, put the stamp on upside down and tell the police that you made me do it.

Sunday 23 November 2008

Guys - Grow Old Gracefully

Does the fountain of youth exist? Is there a way for a man of my age to take a liquid of some kind and use it to rejuvenate myself?

Allow me to let you into a secret. I have discovered such a substance. And I didn’t have to trek to the deepest and most dangerous parts of the Amazon to do it. I merely switched on my TV set.

The miraculous product is readily available and is in fact advertised on the TV regularly. Yes, that’s right – it is actually available to buy in the shops for a mere £4.99.

You may have seen the advert yourself. It is heart-warming and creates a buzz inside that almost brings a tear to the eye. Picture the scene:

Two little girls stumble tentatively into a living room whispering to each other. One of them says “Dad?”. They are holding hands, clearly nervous. The music in the background is the kind you would expect to hear on a True Movie where somebody has overcome a major trauma to make them a better person. ”It’s time,” says the girl.

The camera moves to the settee where a man lowers a newspaper stares at the girls in puzzlement.

“You’d be a really nice catch for somebody,” says the other cute girl with a grin and then shows us the miracle. They lift up a box of “Just For Men” and offer it to the man imploringly saying “Please?”

After briefly explaining how this miracle works, we suddenly move to a restaurant where the man is now with a lovely woman. He takes a photo of the two of them and says “For my girls”.

Now at this point in the commercial I did three things. First I stared open-mouthed as I took in the message accompanying the advert. Then I threw up in disgust. Finally I erupted into a major (and I mean major) rant. The man in the commercial had one or two grey hairs and apart from that was perfectly normal. To me, he looked no different when he had applied the miracle cure. Furthermore, what kind of man would want a woman who only went out with him because of his youthful hair? Even worse, what would she do when she discovered the “Just For Men” in the bathroom cupboard? Can you imagine the scene?

Woman: You’ve been in the bathroom for ages. Are you alright?

Man: Er er er er – I’m fine. Don’t come in.

Woman barges in because man has forgotten to lock the door.

Woman: What’s in your hand?

Man: Noth..noth..noth..nothing dear.

Woman: Let me see …. AAARRRGGHHHH!!!! It’s “Just For Men”. It’s over, you grey-haired old fogey. How could you do this to me?????

I don’t think I would want a woman like that.

The commercial is, without doubt, one of the worst I have ever seen in my life. And believe me, I have seen many dreadful adverts (usually for products just like “Just For Men”). You can even get “Just For Men” for your beard! Here’s what I say – shave the bloody thing off.

I mean, come on. Do the people who make this really believe that eliminating one or two grey hairs on man’s head turns him into some kind magnet for gorgeous women? It makes me sick. As we grow older, men are being exploited by companies like this who prey on our fears. The same has, of course, been happening to women but I would like to focus on men (mainly because that's what I am and I don't understand the female psyche sadly).

I have a question to ask. Why can’t we, as men, just grow old gracefully?

I have monitored the effects of age on myself and to be honest I haven’t done a single thing to change them. True, I’ve been lucky in a sense because I have a full head of hair, none of which is grey. But I do suffer from the other signs of age; there are wrinkles appearing all over the place; my stomach is getting bigger; various parts of my body that used to be fine and upstanding are now drooping slightly. Losing weight is more and more difficult. My eyesight is getting worse. I'm starting to get pains in parts of my body that I never knew existed.

I don’t really care to be perfectly honest. The only thing I really want to do is to lose weight in order to be fit and to live longer. And also because I'm too tight-fisted to keep shelling out on new clothes.

As for the signs of ageing, I can guarantee that:

When I go bald, I shall not grow the hair on either side of my head longer and then comb it over the bald spot, nor will I glue it there. I will look ridiculous. More people laugh at those who wear comb-overs than anything.

When I go bald, I shall not even consider wearing a wig or toupee of any kind. I do not want to be called “Wiggy” by any of my mates.

When I go bald, I will not spray the bald patch with gunk that “hides” the spot. I’ve seen this in action and it looks absurd.

When I go grey, I will not use “Just For Men” on what is left of my hair. The chances of a man pulling a gorgeous woman simply because he has hidden a few grey hairs are, in my opinion, remote. Does any man who has a touch of grey really think that he will become an irresistable adonis if he rids himself of them?

When the wrinkles on my face become prevalent I will not use any L’Oreal product “because I’m worth it”. I will not inject myself with anything that puffs out my wrinkles and I will certainly not have any surgery that puts a permanent stupid grin on my face or stops me from opening my mouth wide.

I would urge men to grow old gracefully; embrace the signs of ageing. By all means, look good but don’t look ridiculous. You can’t fight it – why bother? We should be proud that we’re getting older, even though things do change.

I have one final thought on the subject of “Just For Men”. What happens if a woman uses it? Furthermore, what happens if you use “Just For Men” for a beard on your head by mistake (something that could easily be done with fading eyesight)? Does your hair fall out?

Maybe I’ll buy some, to satisfy my inquisitive mind. Maybe I’ll use it on one of the cats. I just hope that Mrs PM doesn’t catch me in the act.

Saturday 22 November 2008

Smile - With Two Doses Of Lemonade

The abstract title of this post may make you think – “Has Plastic Mancunian been at the cheese again?”

Fear not! I am limiting my intake of cheese (for now!); my therapist is pleased with my progress (as long as I keep away from cheddar).

Anyway, the point of the post is to let you know that I have been nominated for the Lemonade Award (twice) and the Smile Award.

I would like to thank Holly from Earth To Holly for the first Lemonade Award. I am delighted with this and would encourage you to pop along for a visit.

I would also like to thank Patricia at Communication Exchange for the other Lemonade Award and the Smile Award. Again I would encourage you to drop by there too.

Now this is where it gets tricky. The rules state that I have to nominate at least ten blogs for the Lemonade Award and five for the Smile Award. I read so many amusing and inspiring blogs that I am struggling to mention just ten. Apparently the rules for these awards are:

Lemonade Award:

1) Put the logo on your blog or post
2) Nominate at least 10 blogs which show great attitude and/or gratitude,
3) Be sure to link to your nominees within your post,
4) Let them know that they have received this award by commenting on their blog.,
5) Link to this post and to the person from whom you received your award.

The qualifications for the Smile Award are:

1) Display a cheerful attitude,
2) Love one another,
3) Make mistakes,
4) Learn from others,
5) Be a positive contributor to the blog world,
6) Love life,
7) Love kids.

The rules for the Smile Award are:

1) Please link back
2) Post the rules
3) Choose 5 people to give it to (Like Patricia at Communication Exchange I cheated here and am giving this award to ten people)
4) Recipients must fill the characteristics above
5) Create a post to share this
6) Thank the winners.

I will endeavour to make my nominations in due course, so I won't post the awards themselves just yet. I hope that's OK.

In the meantime, where’s that lump of cheddar?

Wednesday 19 November 2008

Impossible Questions

As a child, I was a real pain in the arse (no change there then), particularly to my granddad. As an inquisitive, five year old, I used to ask him questions like “What’s the biggest number?” and “Why is the sky blue?”

Being an intelligent bloke, he did his best to satisfy my curiosity by answering such questions as best he could. Sadly, for certain particularly stupid questions he was unable to give me a satisfactory reply. For my sixth birthday he bought me a book called something like “Every Child’s Answer Book” which contained very simple answers to the crazy questions I asked. I loved it and read it from cover to cover. It even had the answer to “What is the biggest number?” – though when I discovered that there wasn’t one I was very disappointed - perhaps that’s why I studied Maths and Computer Science at university.

Unfortunately, as I have grown older, I am still curious about things. With the birth of the internet I can satisfy this crazed curiosity with my mate, Mr Google. However, there are some questions where the answer still eludes me. And what great questions they are. Feast your eyes on these:

What happens when an immoveable object meets an unstoppable force?

What is the exact value of pi?

What happens when you die?

What happened before the Big Bang?

Is time travel possible and if so, how can I travel through time?

Is humanity alone?

If space is constantly expanding, what is it expanding into?

Have we been visited by time travellers from the future?

Who was the first human being?

How many stars are there?
How many planets are there?

Now I realise that with some of the questions above, I am heading dangerously towards the subject of philosophy, a subject that is in the realm of the pseudo-intellectual and something I have previously spent time laughing at for its absurdity. However, in my defence, I believe that the answers to the questions above are scientific only and not a complete loads of conjectural clap-trap from the minds of people who talk pure piffle. My theory is that if you ask an impossible question to a philosopher today and ask the same question to the same philosopher in a year’s time, you will get two different answers.

Perhaps I am being a bit harsh – judge for yourself. Here are some impossible philosophical questions:

What is it like to be a rock?

What is the opposite of a duck?

What is the answer to this question?

For how long is “now” here?

Would this question still say anything if nobody could read?

Do Martians like ice cream?

Is there a planet exactly the same as Earth but populated only by unicorns?

What colour is the number six?

What does purple smell like?

Is this a trick question?

Is an apple alive when you eat it?

If I am wrong then I apologise to all philosophers for my views on their subject. I don’t think I am wrong. What kind of question is "Do Martians like ice cream?" and what kind of person asks such a bizarre question? I’d be interested for any philosophers to answer that or any of the philosophy questions above – and then answer them again in a year’s time.

Me? I think I’ll stick with the scientific questions and ponder what would happen if I were to meet my future self – or is that too philosophical?

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Politics - I Wish It Were Really All Over

First of all I would like to congratulate Barack Obama for winning the U.S. Presidential election and I would also like to congratulate the American people for doing the right thing this time.

Now, finally, it is all over and there is nobody in the world happier than I am. I was in Hong Kong when the result was announced and it was all over every single TV channel out there. Barack Obama’s face was plastered over every newspaper, every single TV screen and there were even pictures of him in the street. Why should any Hong Kong residents care?

At least now I can now settle in front of the TV and watch news that doesn’t include the media circus that has surrounded this election for the past year. I will never see the face of Joe the Plumber again. I don’t even care who the man is. I will no longer have to hear Barack Obama and John McCain telling me that America is the greatest country on the planet. I was at the point where I was going to throw my bowl of cereal at the TV if I heard the phrase “God Bless America” again.

Of course, we all have to have elections. There is one due in the UK in 2010. The difference is that we will only have to endure the endless and relentless canvassing for a month or so. We will know who the candidates will be and we will have to endure lie after lie from each of them as they try to worm their way into Number 10. I will hate it and I will be sick of it by the end. But you can guarantee that there will be no rallies and no Hollywood style razzamatazz (can you imagine Gordon Brown trying to be a messiah to a sceptical UK audience?). We will not hear David Cameron, Gordon Brown or Nick Clegg refer to Britain as the best country on earth or that God should somehow single out our islands in preference to any other country. In fact, if one of the leaders finished off his rousing speech with “Britain is the greatest country on earth. God bless Great Britain”, it would almost certainly result in most of us voting for one of the other two guys.

I will hate our election in 2010. I will almost certainly write vitriolic posts about how awful the candidates are. I rant about them now. I yell “liar” at the TV whenever they appear. I scream “Just answer the bloody question, you arse” when an interviewer asks a question and they evade the point like an eel covered in oil. Below is an example of a politician, in this case Michael Howard, not answering the simple question - "Did you threaten to overrule him?":

A simple “yes” or “no” would have sufficed. And how about this from Boris Johnson (don’t get me started on this buffoon), the current Mayor of London?

It makes me wonder why we vote for any of these people.

So, the US election is all over and we have around a year or so to wait until it’s our turn. I have read numerous blogs from Americans supporting one candidate or the other and now, hopefully, many of the authors of those blogs will settle down and write posts about something else. it may take a while - those bloggers who love Obama are gloating while those who hate him are crying on their keyboards. I'm not a fan of posts or blogs that dwell on politics but I love to read posts about political gaffes so I will continue to pursue such nuggets of satire relentlessly. There is nothing better than a politician, of any party or nationality, that makes a huge and hilarious mistake.

I will finish with more from our very own Boris Johnson, a man who is lampooned mercilessly by satirists here in the UK. Americans have George W Bush, we have Boris Johnson, the Conservative mayor of London and touted, by some crazy people, as a future Prime Minister - I swear I will leave the UK if that ever happens.

Here are some of his quotes:

(On using a mobile phone while driving) - "I don't believe that is necessarily any more dangerous than the many other risky things that people do with their free hands while driving - nose-picking, reading the paper, studying the A-Z, beating the children, and so on."

(On ever becoming Prime Minister) - "My chances of being PM are about as good as the chances of finding Elvis on Mars, or my being reincarnated as an olive."

(On being sacked) - "My friends, as I have discovered myself, there are no disasters, only opportunities. And, indeed, opportunities for fresh disasters."

(On voting Conservative – his party) - "Voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW M3."

(On drugs) - "I think I was once given cocaine but I sneezed so it didn't go up my nose. In fact, it may have been icing sugar."

(More on drugs) - “I can't remember what my line on drugs is. What's my line on drugs?”

(On Portsmouth) - "Too full of drugs, obesity, underachievement and Labour MPs."

“Look, the point is ... er, what is the point? It is a tough job but somebody has got to do it.”

And finally, here is what the Governer of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger - the Terminator himself - thinks of bumbling Boris.

I’m sure he was elected Mayor of London as a joke. If the population of London can elect this idiot as mayor then there is no hope. Thank heavens I live in Manchester.

That’s why I despair when it comes to politics. I really do wish that we didn't have to endure this nonsense. I will not post on politics again until 2010 – unless George W Bush, Sarah Palin or Boris Johnson make any other gaffes of course, in which case I shall enjoy telling the world.

Monday 17 November 2008

Cat Camera

Have you ever wondered what your moggy is up to when he's not following you around the house like a lost sheep begging for food? Are you even mildly curious about what your feline companion does after he has disappeared through the cat flap? Well, wonder no more for I have discovered a great way for you to find out.

I read a fabulous article in the newspaper a couple of weeks ago about people who have actually bought cameras for their cats. These cameras are attached to your moggy's collar and periodically take snapshots as he goes about his daily business.

What a fantastic idea! And what’s more, I’m disappointed that I didn’t think of it myself.

I want one. No, that’s not true – I want three – one for each of our cats.

Cats fascinate me. If you have read any of my posts before (here and here), you will be aware that we have three cats; two of our own plus a third, Spike, who is really owned by a near neighbour. We first became aware that Spike was not a stray cat when he ambled into our house wearing a collar and name tag with the name “Hamish” and a phone number engraved on it. Of course, I had to phone the number and discover who really owned him. Having done so, I visited the owner and discovered that she thought Spike/Hamish had simply gone missing. She told me that she had even tried to follow him, having to give up when he crawled through a small hole in the fence.

If only she had had a cat camera. She would have discovered a whole new world of information. She would have seen photos of:

(1) My ugly mug as Spike sits on my knee begging for food
(2) My sleeping ugly mug as Spike sits on my sleeping form begging for food shortly before giving up and lying across my face.
(3) My semi-naked body as I emerge, bleary eyed from the bedroom first thing in the morning searching for the bathroom.

You may agree, these things are not pretty sights.

The other thing Spike’s real owner told me was that some of the old ladies in her street feed a huge black cat whom they lovingly call George. This cat is so fat that he can barely crowbar his bulk through holes in fences. Does this post (here) give you a clue as to the real identity of that enormous black fat lump of feline blubber? Yes - I think so too.

That’s why I am tempted to buy three of these cameras. I’m deadly serious.

For Spike, I want to know if he distributes his time between his real owner and us or whether in fact he is “owned” by more neighbours. I also want to know whether he has more aliases other than Spike or Hamish

For Poppy, the cat who is scared of her own tail, I want to know if she has a dynamic feline alter-ego where she fights feline crime in neighbours’ gardens and is the scourge of the mice in the area. Is she Poppy, the mild mannered scaredy cat by day and SpiderCat the terror of birds, mice and other tiny woodland creatures by night?

For Jasper, I want to know just how much he is eating and whether we should confine him to the house for the duration of his diet (and yes, he is on a strict diet at the moment – and losing a little weight too). If old ladies are pandering to his gluttonous requirements I need to know about it.

As brilliant an idea as it sounds, there are a couple of things making me think twice about cat cameras.

First, Mrs PM thinks that the cats are her babies. She thinks that the cats love her and are one hundred percent committed to us. I know about cats. I know for a fact that you do not own a cat – the cat owns you. You are merely a source of mild amusement and a slave that feeds them. I know my place; all three of them treat me with contempt and only show me any attention when they are hungry. Jasper only sits near to me when he wants to steal some of my body heat to keep him warm. Spike sits on my knee only when he needs a cushion or when he wants a little bit of my dinner. Poppy only ventures out of her hiding place when her tummy is rumbling. But sadly, to Mrs P, they are like children. Even when they deposit the remains of a half eaten bird in her lap, she is unaware of the true nature of the feline.

Second, there may be a problem with the photos produced. I can imagine that Spike’s owner may call the police if she discovers a photo of me staggering out of the shower first thing in the morning. Worse still, she may see the camera around Spike’s neck and consider me to be a colossal pervert using Spike as an unwitting accomplice.

Maybe its not such a good idea after all, but if you are interested (or amused by the idea) simply follow this link.

Sunday 16 November 2008

One Night In Wan Chai

Waking up with a hangover is a very unpleasant experience. I been afflicted by hangovers quite a few times in my life and have come to realise that the older you get, the more powerful the effects. In my youth, I would wake up with a headache and a feeling of nausea. The headache would feel like a lazy woodpecker tapping a rhythm in time with my heartbeat – annoying but nothing more – and would be easily curable with an aspirin. The nausea would be overwhelmed by a good old full English breakfast. By lunchtime I would be human again.

Now, in my mid-forties, hangovers are dreadful. The woodpecker has been replaced by an army of maniacs with road drills; the nausea is now a tsunami of gut-wrenching mayhem. The cures are the same but the effects last longer.

Why am I telling you this? Because on our third day of our recent holiday to Hong Kong I woke up with a hangover. Combined with my age and the effects of jet lag, the hangover took on a life of its own, beating me up relentlessly and mercilessly. Mrs PM and I had planned to spend the day roaming around the wonderful city. The excesses of the night before put paid to that, not least because we had slept until one o’clock in the afternoon. The only consolation was that Mrs PM (who is incidentally seven years younger than me) was just as bad.

How did this come to pass? How did a supposedly sensible and mature man like me allow myself to get so horribly drunk? I made a mistake – I allowed the teenager in me to take control.

It all started off so innocently. We had vowed to attempt to beat the jet lag and stick to our rough plan. Ten years ago, during a three month stint working in Hong Kong, we used to visit numerous restaurants and bars in Causeway Bay and Wan Chai. Our plan was to have a dignified meal in Causeway Bay and pop to Wan Chai to visit the Old China Hand and perhaps have a beer or two in another bar somewhere before retiring sensibly to bed at a reasonable hour.

It all started so well …

The meal was very lovely, a nice steak in a restaurant in Times Square in Causeway Bay. Mrs PM and I chatted about old times in this wonderful city, remembering favourite restaurants that had disappeared, others that were still there and reminisced about our first few weeks together.

After the meal, I noticed that it was getting late (around ten o’clock) so I suggested paying a visit to one of my favourite old haunts in Wan Chai, an Australian bar called Carnegie’s, for a night cap. Mrs PM concurred and later we found ourselves stepping out of the MTR station on Lockhart Road. To my delight, Carnegie’s was still there and still rocking as it used to. What’s more, they had a promotion on vodka, which proved to be very appealing to Mrs PM and to me too, since alcohol prices in Hong Kong aren’t cheap.

I had a beer and Mrs PM had vodka and cranberry juice. The rock music was loud, the atmosphere was vibrant and the clientele had started dancing on the bar and generally having a good time. I remembered good times from my time there and was captivated and consumed by the atmosphere. Before I knew it I had ordered another beer, then another.

Eventually we ran out of cash and, led astray by the alcohol, I volunteered to find an ATM, leaving Mrs PM to enjoy her drink.

For those of you who don’t know, Wan Chai is a very lively area and also full of strip clubs and girly bars. I was a solitary male, walking around on my own, searching for an ATM. To the women trying to attract men into the strip clubs and girly bars, I was prey. I walked past one such bar with an old woman sitting outside persuading men to come in. When she saw me, she leapt off her seat, grabbed my arm and tried to haul me into her club. Waiting at the door was a voluptuous young Chinese women with open arms waiting to ensnare me and drag me into her web of debauchery. I panicked and tore my arm away from the old woman screeching apologetic excuses. I managed to get away but before I had walked five yards, another old woman from another girly bar had launched herself in my direction. Somehow I managed to stumble away from her before she grabbed my arm. I’m sure that never used to happen in Wan Chai ten years ago.

Eventually I found an ATM and returned to the safety of Carnegie’s where I related the tale of my narrow escape to Mrs PM who, in deep sympathy, laughed her head off. At this point I encountered a drunk Australian who walked up to me, clapped me on the back and said “Jimmy! What are you doing here?”

“My name’s not Jimmy,” I replied.

“Bloody hell,” he slurred. “You look just like Jimmy. Are you sure you’re not Jimmy?”

“Positive,” I replied with a smile.

“You look just like a bouncer I know called Jimmy,” he continued. “Are you sure you’re not Jimmy?”

His mates joined in, trying to convince me that I was indeed an Australian bouncer called Jimmy. Eventually I returned to Mrs PM and she laughed at my expense for the second time that night. I can see her point; I do not possess any of the qualities that a bouncer requires, such as build, aggression, height and strength, plus, despite evidence to the contrary, I do have a personality. I could possibly be a bouncer but only at a club for children under ten – and even then I might struggle if one or two ate too much sugar.

Back in Wan Chai, we were having such a good time, that we decided to visit another old haunt, an Irish pub called Delanie’s, where we had another quiet drink. Across the road from there was a lively bar called Amazonia, featuring a live band covering hits by the Beatles. This was too enticing to walk past. As we settled down with yet another beer, a new band appeared playing classic rock hits. I was struck by the number of men in the bar, my age or older, who were cavorting with young Chinese women – it looked ridiculous so we decided to return to Carnegie’s for the infamous “one for the road”.

I have no idea how many more we had or what time we left. I do have hazy memories of being in a taxi and listening to the driver ranting about how terrible it is to be a taxi driver in Hong Kong.

As we left the taxi, the teenager within retired for the night leaving the mature person back in charge, giving me the opportunity to buy two bottles of water from the 7-11 next to the hotel. I knew we had had far too much to drink and would benefit from quaffing a large quantity of water. Thank goodness there was a sensible part of my addled alcohol-soaked brain still working.

The following morning (afternoon), as I prised my tongue from the roof of my mouth with my toothbrush, stared at the creature in the mirror with wild hair and bloodshot eyes and fought the hangover with every weapon at my disposal (water, aspirin, self-pity), I began to regret my over-indulgence. Mrs PM was also feeling very sorry for herself.

United in pain we faced our hangovers and ventured out of the hotel to Lan Kwai Fong where we found a pub that served English breakfasts all day. Armed with bacon, eggs, sausage, toast, gallons of orange juice and coffee, we did battle and eventually won. We were able to face the day as human beings – or in reality, two aliens pretending to be human beings. Our hangovers dissipated and we reflected on our night in Wan Chai.

We both agreed that we had overdone it. That teenager inside me has a lot to answer for. But, I tell you what – Mrs PM and I both agree - we had had a fabulous night.