Wednesday 30 July 2008

Fear (Part One) - Spiders

Mrs PM walloped me with a book the other night.

We were lying in bed, reading, and I had reached the stage where I was having to re-read the same sentence over and over again, dozing in between words. I had finally succumbed to sleep when I was rudely awoken by having a paperback smashed across my face. Accompanying this apparently act of random violence was a high-pitched screech. Totally disoriented and reeling from being physically abused, I fell out of bed, reaching up imploringly. For a second I thought that our bedroom had been invaded by a screaming banshee.

By the time my senses cleared, Mrs PM had also leapt out of bed and was pointing at the duvet.

“What are you doing?” I asked in bewilderment, trying to recall whether I had done something awful to provoke this unwarranted attack.

She could barely speak but managed somehow to speak:


I stood up and looked at the bed expecting to see the world’s largest arachnid. Instead I saw a typical, small British house spider, measuring approximately one centimetre in length (including legs). Apparently the creature had abseiled down from the ceiling and landed on the very word she was reading. In a fit of absolute panic she had lashed out and clobbered me full in the face with the book.

When she had calmed down she dispatched the poor creature to the afterlife with maximum prejudice.

She is terrified of spiders. I have a confession to make – so am I. I wonder what I would have done had the eight-legged beast landed on my book instead. I would probably have reacted in a similar way. The only difference between Mrs PM and myself is that her fear encompasses ALL spiders whereas I am scared of those that are slightly larger.

My fear is irrational; I admit that. I have never encountered any eight-legged monster larger than a fly but the thought of a large tarantula crawling on my skin fills me with absolute dread. The mere fact that a spider has fangs and that some can actually puncture the skin is enough for me. Worse still, some are totally and utterly poisonous and can actually seriously damage human beings.

In 2005, we went to Australia on holiday. On the flight I had plenty of time to read about the creatures inhabiting that far away place. As I read, my imagination began to run amok. Ignoring the snakes, jellyfish and other toxic creatures, I focussed wholly and absolutely on the arachnid population. Two specimens in particular captured my imagination and hurled it into the pits of Hell. The two beats I am about to describe can be found in Australian cities - inclduing the cities we were visiting:

(1) The redback spider bites frequently and can cause serious illness or death yet are only about a centimetre in length. Looks harmless doesn't it? Don't be fooled:

(2) The funnel-web spider is much bigger and is the stuff of nightmares. A bite from this satanic creature can cause death. Bizarrely, the venom is only toxic to primates (and of course that includes humans). Dogs and cats for example can break down the venom in half an hour. For humans, they are bad news because they like to nest under houses. They are also quite large and their fangs are strong enough to penetrate a finger nail or soft footwear. What’s even scarier is that they are aggressive and will bite repeatedly. This one looks horrific:

In the three weeks I was there, I was totally paranoid about everything that touched my skin, including inanimate objects. When walking through some grass to get to the beach at Port Douglas I was so on edge that I almost screamed every time a stalk of grass brushed past my legs. Bizarrely Mrs PM seemed to have no fear – you remember Mrs PM – the person who assaulted me in my own bed because a harmless spider landed on her book?
Anyway, in England my arachnophobia is under control though I have an irrational fear that if I were to kill a spider, my punishment would be a visit from a larger toxic cousin (even though no such creatures exist on our beloved island). When I encounter a spider, I either capture it in a plastic tub and dispose of it outside, or I set the cats on it. My three cats have no qualms about devouring spiders. To be honest it makes me convulse just to think of having one anywhere near my mouth.

One final thought – I would like to thank the producers of the movie “Arachnophobia” for creating one of the scariest films I have seen. I quite literally watched it through my fingers and have never seen it since. I even struggle to watch that episode of Red Dwarf where Lister was forced to eat a tarantula.

Is my fear irrational? I don’t know. But if any hypnotist or therapist reading this thinks that they can cure my terror by allowing a tarantula to crawl on my bare skin should think again. I am a pacificist but will use everything in my power to escape, as will my lovely lady, Mrs PM who is normally not the kind of person who batters loved ones with books.

Sunday 27 July 2008

Aliens In Manchester?

We have aliens in Manchester and I’m not talking about certain members of the cast of Coronation Street.

Our local newspaper, The South Manchester Reporter, reported that a couple living in Northenden, just a couple of miles from where I live, filmed a bunch of lights in the sky on Saturday 12th July at around 10:40. Apparently there were other witnesses to the event. You can see the footage of their video here.

Being a closet sci-fi buff myself, I would love it if tangible evidence for the existence of aliens existed. Sadly, the best we have is shaky video footage that shows the odd light here or there. I’m not suggesting for a second that the witnesses in Northenden didn’t see anything; the problem is that under the circumstances, it would be difficult to get a clear picture of what they actually saw. There have been many famous films showing UFOs from all over the world but experts and sceptics alike dismiss them simply because we simply cannot see what the witnesses themselves saw. Most of the time, the UFOs appear at night, which to me makes perfect sense. If aliens wanted to reconnoitre our planet, why would they do so during daylight hours when the sun is high in the sky and every intelligent life form below can actually see them?

Despite my wish for alien evidence, I am in reality a sceptic myself. Thinking about this logically, if there are aliens out there, do you not think that they would have made their presence known by now? If there are extraterrestrial creatures out there with the technology to construct huge flying saucers that can move at incredible and impossible velocities (as witnesses have testified) do you really think that there would be evidence somewhere on Earth that they have visited?

I’m with Enrico Fermi on this. Enrico Fermi is a physicist who came up with the “Fermi Paradox” which basically states “if there are aliens out there, where are they?”

As a race, we live here on our little world in perfect harmony with other life forms. We exist and dwell on one tiny planet out of billions in the universe. What are the chances that there is another world somewhere out there, inhabited by other intelligent beings who have developed technologically? The basis of the Fermi Paradox is that given the sheer magnitude and age of our universe, surely there must be many technologically advanced species out there. The only problem is that there is literally no evidence to support it. Nobody can prove that they have seen any evidence of intelligent aliens. We have received no radio transmissions that originate from intelligent life forms. Furthermore, despite the supposed plethora of alien sightings on Earth and the number of alien spaceships that have whizzed past stunned observers in the middle of the night, there is not one shred of evidence to support the existence of aliens on Earth. There are no artefacts. There are no alien footprints. Aliens haven’t disposed of their waste products in the countryside. We have never found a dead alien. I ask again, as did Enrico Fermi; where the hell are they?

I would love to be wrong. I watch science fiction shows and films and envelop myself in the mysticism of these alien worlds and beings created purely from the imagination of talented authors and film makers. If an alien space ship landed in Cheshire I would be in my car like a shot to get great photos.

As for the Northenden sighting; I wish I had seen it myself. I’m sure the UFOs must have flown over my house on their way home. I would have liked to have been able to judge with my own two eyes rather than seeing home videos.

Never mind. Maybe aliens do exist and have done a pretty good job of disguising themselves. There are one or two celebrities who sometimes make me wonder …

Wednesday 23 July 2008

The World's Most Difficult Question

“It makes you look fat!” are the most ill-chosen five words I have ever used in my entire life. I was answering the most difficult question in the world at the time and for a whole day my normal, sane life was turned upside down in tsunami of abject misery.

The question was: “How do I look in this?”

I realised my mistake immediately.

I was standing in a female clothes shop outside the changing rooms waiting for my lovely lady, Mrs PM, to try on her umpteenth dress. I was hysterically bored and had spent the last hour and a half being dragged around similar shops. My will to live had booked a one way ticket to oblivion. To make matters worse, the changing rooms were strategically located to cause maximum embarrassment for men like me – right in the middle of the lingerie section. I stood there trying my best not to look like a colossal pervert gawping at bras and panties.

I mean, come on! Where do you look? You can’t stare at the goods on sale because the staff and other customers will think you are a cross dresser. You can’t look at the other female customers because they will think that you are eyeing them up, as will you missus when she finally emerges from the changing cubicle.

So why did I reduce my life expectancy to a few seconds in such a cold-hearted and stupid way?

To be honest, I made the mistake of misjudging the way women think.

On past excursions to similar shops I have simply not known how to answer the question and simply mutated into a gibbering wreck when asked it. Mrs PM, in a desperate attempt to help me, once said “Just be honest and tell me what you think”.

I thought honesty was the best policy. I should have that engraved on my tombstone.

As the five words that would spell my doom gushed from my mouth, I saw several women wince. Some stepped back in utter amazement. One man grabbed his crotch, presumably anticipating my punishment. Another dived for cover.

I almost ran myself but decided to stand my ground in a stupid attempt to recover the situation. I smiled and said “I was joking – it looks lovely”. It didn’t and she knew it. She was on this occasion seeking confirmation that perhaps it didn’t suit her. I spent the rest of the trip in mental anguish, anticipating the psychological torture on the way home and the pain that would assail me when I arrived there.

Suffice it to say, I endured hours of pure agony so graphic that I can’t possibly describe it here.

So this post is a warning to all men.

(1) “How do I look in this?” is the most difficult question in the world to answer. I don’t care about so-called philosophical claptrap like “Does God exist?”. You will suffer no matter how you answer.

(2) Honesty is most definitely NOT the best policy. In fact it is more likely to propel you towards the end of your life faster than you can say “but …”

(3) Never ever ever ever ever go shopping with your wife or girlfriend unless the alternative is a slow painful death.

Can somebody please help me to understand what goes on inside the female mind? Perhaps when I recuperate I can avoid walking with a limp next time I find myself in an alien place full of bras and panties.

Sunday 20 July 2008

Sanity In Europe - Finally?

In April, I mentioned after a trip to Madeira, that the EU had banned Madeiran bananas because they were to small.

I was delighted to read today in the Sunday Times that there are movements stirring to rid the EU of these ridiculous regulations concocted in the minds of faceless bureaucrats with nothing better to do than to conjure even more bizarre rules. Why? Apparently EU farmers are throwing away mountains of fruit and vegetables because it does not meet their moronic standards of these anonymous idiots sitting somewhere in the echelons of European Parliamentary buildings.

I have already cited the case of the Madeiran banana. What other preposterous legislation has persecuted inferior fruit and vegetables in our beloved “United States of Europe”?

From today’s Sunday Times we have …

(1) “Class 1 cucumbers must be practically straight and their maximum bend must be at a gradient of no more than 1/10”. Does that mean that there are sad individuals whose job it is to sit there armed with a tape measure and a protractor measuring each cucumber to make sure that it falls into these absurd guidelines? I don’t know what I would do if I chanced upon a cucumber that violated these dimensions.

(2) While cucumbers must not be bent, bananas have to be: “The thickness of a traverse section of the fruit between the lateral faces and the middle perpendicular to the longitudinal axis must be at a minimum of 27mm”. Can you believe that somebody actually wrote that?

(3) “A string of onions must consist of no fewer than 16 onions bound together”. What happens if an onion, disillusioned by illogical regulations let’s its entire bunch down by going AWOL?

(4) “Class 1 green asparagus must be green for at least 80% of its length”. No sunbathing for European asparagus then.

It would seem that the plight of poor nations is finally giving overpaid European decision makers the mental boost they deserve. Fruit is being thrown away because it is the wrong shape or colour and finally some are seeing the global picture. When I say some, I mean that countries like the UK who are actively backing this proposal. But typical of our European neighbours, there are some who oppose it; notably France, Italy and Spain. How can they justify this foolishness?

When farmers dispose of mountains of fruit and vegetables because it is the wrong colour or shape, it goes beyond the realms of madness. It becomes a crime.

Who Reads This Crap?

Yesterday, my good lady, Mrs PM, bought a magazine called “Celebrity Pants” (or something like that). Out of a morbid sense of curiosity, I picked it up and was immediately struck by the fact that I didn’t know who half the people in the magazine were. Either that or I couldn’t believe that these people were still famous.

The magazine described celebrities, some of whom had achieved nothing more than appearing in a reality TV show baring all their emotional baggage for all to see, still in states of extreme trauma in their personal lives due to fashion disasters, excessive weight gain, excessive weight loss, boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife trauma (delete as appropriate), pregnancy, loss of confidence and displaying all the misfortune that we all have to suffer as part of our daily lives.

Who the hell cares?

I ask this question because quite frankly I do not care one iota and furthermore I can’t see why anybody else should care. I don’t go to a random town in England, stop a complete stranger in the street and say to them “I’m slightly overweight and am really struggling to shift those extra pounds – you see I’m addicted to bacon and eggs and can’t stop eating it. I think I might go into rehab …” They would be quite justified in telling me to eff off to be honest.

The magazine basically told me that Kerry Katona is gorging herself into ugliness and her bloke is telling her that she is a fat cow – including pictures of her scoffing a burger; that Letitia Dean is so slim now that she can attract a toy boy; that Jordan and Peter Andre are arguing all the time; that Kate Moss’s arse is getting fat; that Lembit Opik and his cheeky girl have split up; that other supposedly famous people are vaulting mountains to stay in public view.

I ask again; who the hell cares?I also have another question: WHO READS THIS CRAP?

Well I know that Mrs PM does – occasionally. She justifies buying such magazines, saying that she loves a little sleaze, a little juicy gossip, celebrity self-destruction and what some women are wearing.

I couldn’t give a damn. Why would I want to read about Jade Goody and her latest dress? This is a woman who is famous for showing us her worst side on national TV, not once but TWICE. What else has she done? If she faded into obscurity overnight would anybody care? To give Jade Goody her due, at least I’ve heard of her. But on the other pages in “Celebrity Pants” I found myself staring at images of wannabees and has-beens who are strangers to me. I’ve never heard of them. And when I asked Mrs PM who they were she struggled in a lot of cases to tell me (a) who they were and (b) why they were famous.

The magazine would have been as useful to me if it had consisted of a series of articles about random people in London, who they were shagging and what they were wearing. In other words it would be totally and utterly pointless; a complete waste of a tree and ink.

The sad thing is that these magazines are best sellers. People buy them and people love them. WHY?

I just don’t get it. What’s more, I don’t get why the national newspapers are submerged in the cult of celebrity either. The tabloids are full of this kind of nonsense and make these so-called celebrities even more famous.

You read things like “All eyes were on ”. Well let me tell you something; that is a lie. My eyes weren’t on whoever it was. If the person who finished fourth on Big Brother two years ago said to me “Do you know who I am?” I would say – “No – who the hell are you and why should I give you more than a nanosecond of my attention?”

It’s all gone too far in my view and I hate shows like Big Brother and the like that are fuelling this obsession with fame and being famous when the people involved have as much talent as my cat.

I would much prefer to read about unsung heroes and people who deserve the adulation that these so-called celebrities receive. It is these people who deserve the riches that come from celebrity not some former singer of a crap band from the eighties whose now so fat she can’t crowbar her bulk into a limousine, or a winner of a reality TV show whose only claim to fame is that he doesn’t know the capital of France.

Saturday 19 July 2008

Travel Trauma - Flying (Part Three)

Yet another trip to Johannesburg and yet more travel trauma. To be fair it wasn’t that bad this time. However, all of the elements of a long haul flight that I despise were as insufferable as ever.

When you board the metal sausage, more commonly known as an aircraft, and you are like most people booked into economy class, or as I prefer to call it, “cattle class”, you are struck by several things.

At first, you are greeted by the cabin crew. Now this isn’t a bad thing because the vast majority of them are very attractive females. However, I feel their apparent euphoria at greeting three hundred passengers, none of whom really want to board, is sometimes a little false. Their mouths are smiling but their eyes are totally bored and frustrated. After all, they have to look after these people for the next ten to twelve hours. And given some of the passengers they have to deal with I do feel sorry for them.

When I get to my seat, which is usually an aisle seat so that I have the freedom to get up and walk around whenever I choose, I pray that the seat or seats next to me are empty. Why? So that I can spread out and if incredibly lucky, lie down for the duration of the flight and sleep. Sadly that happens once every other blue moon and I find the seat next to me occupied. Of course this is something I don’t mind if I am with my wonderful lady partner. Otherwise I have to sit next to and sleep next to a total stranger for the next ten or so hours in a seat that barely fits my width.

Before you jump to the obvious conclusion, that my middle-aged spread is rather large and still growing, I can tell you that I am not fat. I am average in every way; height, length and breadth so in theory these seats are designed for a person exactly like me. Wrong! They are designed for the lower end of the statistical distribution. I squeeze in and immediately appraise the person next to me (as I know they are appraising me).

A lot of the time I’ve been lucky to sit next to a normal person on the aircraft. However some have been strange or demanded my attention for most of the flight. Let me give you some examples:

One guy I was unfortunate to sit next to had, I think, been expecting to travel business class but found himself with the rest of the cattle. He was appallingly rude to the cabin crew. He complained about the wine, told a stewardess that her service techniques were unacceptable, demanded, again via the stewardess, that the gentleman in front sit with his seat in the upright position for the entire flight and was generally obnoxious. He was a man who expected the best but had been forced to endure what the rest of us had to suffer. The one time he spoke to me I ignored him in case I said something I regretted. However, I did make my feelings clear by taking the opposite stance when he had a pop at the cabin crew. For every complaint, I offered praise. When he said something was crap, I said it was fine. He was an arrogant tosser of the highest order.

Another time I was sitting next to a man who I felt really sorry for. He was a good six inches taller than me and also extremely well built (I’m being very kind here). He was in a state of total discomfort for the entire flight and I offered to exchange seats so that he could sit next to the aisle and spread his legs a little. He refused my offer. When the meal came, I had to wait for him to finish because his elbows were everywhere. Incredibly he did manage to fall asleep but sadly for me, he leaned right over towards me and snored like a lion with a sore throat and catarrh. I didn’t get a wink of sleep.

On one flight from Hong Kong I found myself next to a sweet old lady whom I initially thought was harmless. She was slightly nervous and we exchanged one or two pleasantries before the flight taxied to the runway. I don’t mind talking to the person next to me but when I want to stop conversing I expect that person to respect my wishes and basically shut the hell up. This old lady refused to shut up even when the entertainment started. I hinted to her that I didn’t want to talk by putting my headphones on and watching a film. Did she take the hint? Absolutely not! She spoke to me constantly at just the right volume to invade the movie soundtrack. Frustrated, I gave up on the film and succumbed to her wishes (basically because I’m a wonderful chap and not the kind of anarchistic rebel my heart desires me to be). She told me her life story for the entire duration of the flight apart from maybe one or two hours when she dozed off. It was obvious that she hadn’t flown long haul for many, many years and was very nervous. Furthermore she was returning back to England after several decades in Australia to celebrate her brother’s eightieth birthday. When we landed back in Manchester, I had had virtually no sleep and was almost drugged with insomnia. My mind had barely enough energy to allow me walk. It was then that I discovered that she was a special needs passenger requiring a wheelchair and that she had about a thousand tons of luggage. What could I do? As I have said, I’m a kind chap and volunteered to assist her. With the help of a member of ground staff, I lifted her into a wheelchair and then wheeled her to baggage reclaim via passport control and ended up collecting all of her luggage from the belt and wheeling her through customs. When we arrived at the greeting point there was a veritable army of relatives waiting for her who screamed in delight as I pushed her through. Tears flowed and she introduced me to her daughter as “a toy boy she had picked up on the flight”. There were hugs all round and dazed, I found myself being hugged by all manner of strangers.

The fact that you have to try to sleep in these awful seats can be a source of embarrassment too. The reason I choose an aisle seat is so that I can get up without disturbing anybody. Other people do not share this viewpoint though. I have been prodded, clambered over, shouted at and fallen upon. Its worse when you have children next to you because they insist on getting up at every opportunity. Even when you are sitting next to a nice young lady, it can be awkward. On an earlier trip to South Africa I awoke to find myself staring at a rather attractive young lady who was fast asleep and whose face was literally three inches away from mine. Thankfully she didn’t wake up herself.

One of the major irritations is the fact that you cannot sleep unless you are extremely tired. There is no room for legs if you are as tall as I am. I cannot lie on my side because I end up smashing my knees on the seat in front or one of the arm rests and I can’t stretch my legs into the aisle because people kick me, stamp on my feet or trip over them. The noise of the aircraft is intrusive. Being a light sleeper this causes me additional trauma and restrict my sleep even further. That said, there are those annoying people you see who can sleep anywhere and anytime. I’ve sat next to a man who started sleeping almost as soon as the aircraft took off and I swear he never woke up for twelve hours. He didn’t even move and spent the entire journey snoring softly. I envied him and wanted to wake him up out of pure envious vindictiveness.

So what was this latest flight like? Well I was sitting in the aisle seat next to two American teenagers whose parents had wisely chosen to sit on the row behind. The boy, about fourteen, would not shut up and even annoyed his sister, who was about sixteen. In the end, his father gave him a sleeping pill so I managed to have some peace. The person in front of me pushed her seat back to its limit, restricting my leg room to a bare minimum. I smashed my knees several times and was kicked by passers-by twice. But I did sleep, mainly thanks to a set of noise reduction headphones I bought for my mp3 player. I suppose I should be grateful for small mercies.

Wednesday 9 July 2008

Walsall - Redressing The Balance

In 2001, I came across an article written by a man called Theodore Dalrymple (well that’s his pen name anyway) describing my place of birth, Walsall in the West Midlands, as possibly the ugliest town in the world, “like Ceaucescu’s Romania with fast food outlets”. I was extremely angered at this, not just because I come from there, but also because I still have relatives there.

Walsall may not be the most salubrious place in England, but there are worse places, if not in the United Kingdom as a whole, then certainly outside our beloved island.

When I read the article, a scarlet mist descended and I found myself interrogating Mr Google, my favourite internet knowledge base, and came across something even worse. Another person, this time a resident of Walsall, had actually gone to great lengths to highlight how hideous he thought the town was by creating a web site called, full of hideously grotesque pictures of the worst aspects of the town. My blood boiled and in a fit of pique I added a comment to his website, excerpts of which appear below:

When I first heard about Theodore Dalrymple’s article about Walsall I was shocked and incensed. His comments about the town were cruel, upsetting and inaccurate. To liken Walsall and the Black Country to Ceaucescu’s Romania is at best insulting and at worst downright vindictive. Although I no longer live in Walsall I was angry enough to seek out Mr Dalrymple via the web so that I could protest about his article. My investigations led me to your “Ugly Walsall” website, which, frankly, took my breath away. For a resident of the town to dedicate an entire website to bringing the world’s attention to “Ugly Walsall” is unbelievable and I ask myself whether Mr Dalrymple may have chanced upon the site searching for inspiration to write his article. Perhaps; perhaps not.

Obviously you feel that you should bring the worst things about the town to the attention of people surfing cyberspace, but if you really cared about the town and its people, I would have expected you to at least balance the bad with the good. Your site, by name alone, gives the casual visitor a completely negative impression of the town. Wouldn’t it be more constructive to have a site dedicated to the town but show its good points as well as the bad? If I were thinking of relocating to Walsall and came across your site, I would think again. Perhaps that’s what you want. I’m sure if you walked around the more pleasant areas that you could fill a web site full of pictures of “beautiful Walsall” despite your denials that such areas exist.
Walsall may have its problems but no more than many other towns and cities in England. Graffiti-covered buildings, littered streets and boarded up shops can be seen in many towns across the UK. It is unfair to focus on Walsall and its people.

Now the author of the web site felt compelled to publish my remarks, which surprised me to be honest. He regarded my comment as “constructive” simply because I had made positive suggestions. To me it was obvious that there are nice areas in Walsall – I’ve seen them; I know. Thankfully, the web site vanished along with its creator who managed to get a writing job based on the strength of his web site. He maintained it for a little while after his departure just giving me the opportunity to add one final comment wishing him luck in his new venture, though I added a sting in the tail, mentioning that I hoped his views of Walsall would be consigned to that compost heap in cyberspace.

In the interim years, I’ve noticed with interest that Walsall has been trying to shake the image created by one-sided articles and web sites such as I’ve described and I regard that as a good thing. There are areas in the town that have failed to shine and still live as a sickening reminder of the town’s industrial history. However I am pleased to say that something is being done about it.

I appreciate it will be a slow process but something is happening.

So why, after all of these years am I mentioning it again now?

Well I was browsing blogs to see if there was anything interesting about Walsall when I came across something from a young lady who also still has relatives there, who reignited the irritation I felt when I first heard the name Theodore Dalrymple. In fact, she did worse than that – she actually put a link to the story on the BBC, thus enabling the casual viewer to read about this so-called hellish town just north of Birmingham. Did she give a balanced viewpoint? Nope! She was scathing describing it as “a complete hole”, saying “it’s grim in Walsall” and saying that it “evokes images of The Waste Land; it is just an ugly, charmless town with nothing much going for it”.

Upon reading this, I felt the old red mist rising again and was compelled to leave a comment, only to discover that she had restricted comments to, presumably, those who know her.

I believe that the lady in question has a right to her opinion, just as I have to mine. But what particularly annoyed me about this was the fact that she doesn’t want to take responsibility for what she writes and allow people, like me, to comment on it. Had I been able to do so, I would have eloquently suggested that perhaps she should be a little more balanced in her view and perhaps read about how Walsall is trying to change its image. After all, she was happy to dig up Theodore Dalrymple’s awful view of the town and point the residents of cyberspace to that alone.

C’est la vie. I’m just irked by this again. And what’s more I am happy to accept comments on this article. I’m sure that there are people out there who are adamant about their negative views of the town despite the efforts involved to make the town a better place.

By the way, to redress the balance a little more, just follow the link below:


Saturday 5 July 2008

Cinema Stormtroopers

Today I am taking my family to the cinema, a fairly mundane activity for a rainy July day in Manchester. However, there is a point I wish to make.

In my previous post, I grumbled about being ripped off by ticket agents. Today I will be ripped off by the cinema.

For some bizarre reason, I am not allowed to take food into the cinema, including sweets, drinks, sandwiches, ice cream – anything in fact. I know this because there are paper signs on the doors and scattered around the complex stating just that.

Why? The cinema is banning me from bringing my own food so that they can force me to purchase their offerings instead. And what delights have they got to offer us? Crap at a mad exorbitant cost.

Imagine if I went to the cinema alone and fancied watching the film munching a small bag of Minstrels and a tiny bottle of Tango. The stormtroopers at the cinema would not allow me to enter. So I would have to hand them over, like a naughty schoolchild and then queue up with everybody else, waiting to be served by useless employees who lack any interest and seen content to stand there in a coma while the queue builds up. When you finally manage to attract the attention of one of these people, the only choice you have as an individual is to purchase a huge bag of Minstrels that could feed 5000 people and a colossal bucket of Fanta orange that you could drown an elephant in; you have to hand over the deeds to your house to play for them.

Furthermore, if you manage to consume these products during the two hours of the film, you cannot get up because of the additional weight and the doubling of your girth.

Suffice it to say that I will be sneaking stuff in as if I am a common petty criminal. If I’m caught – there goes my house and my gut.

I hope I enjoy the film.

Wednesday 2 July 2008

Convenience Charges - Convenient For Who, Exactly?

Why is everybody trying to rip me off? I am sick of being led to believe that the price of an item is there for all to see only to discover that there is a hidden charge.

Let me home in one particular example of this covert form of daylight robbery; the “convenience charge”.

Consider the following scenario.

You are flicking through the entertainment section of a periodical of your choice when you stumble across details of a forthcoming tour by your favourite artist. Of course you are filled with absolute glee and immediately phone up the ticket hotline to purchase your ticket. Now the price of the said ticket is expensive at £160, but you dismiss that because, after all, she is your idol and the chance to see the princess of pop at Wembley is simply too much to resist. Now if you live in, say, Birmingham, it would be difficult to drive all the way down to the Wembley Box Office to pick up your ticket in person because it is a long distance so you can order your ticket online or via the telephone hotline.


The way I see it, you should be able to call the hotline and ask them to post the ticket to you. Maybe send the ticket with the option of guaranteed delivery with recorded delivery or take the chance at receiving it in the normal mail. So in theory the ticket should cost:

(1) £164.60 – if the ticket is sent recorded delivery
(2) £160.36 – if the ticket is sent first class
(3) £160.27 – if the ticket is sent second class

But it bloody well doesn’t.

The price of the ticket does not include a “convenience charge”, a fee that is added for the convenience to the purchaser. For a £160 ticket, this fee is £14. FOURTEEN BLOODY POUNDS!

I have a question. What the hell do you get for your £14. And what the hell is the convenience for? Is £14 the fee paid to the operator who spent all of ten seconds finding the best available seat (given that she probably used a computer to do so)? How can this daylight robbery be justified?
OK, so it is more than one question but when the red mist descends you suddenly find yourself being taken over in order to demand answers as to why you are mugged online or from the other end of a phone.

Conveniently the £14 in the above example is a percentage of the ticket price. If for example you wanted to see a band charging £17.50 for a ticket then the “convenience charge” would be a mere £3.75 – cheaper yes, but little consolation because it is still a complete rip off.

The problem is that we all as a nation sit there and accept this disgraceful behaviour. We willingly accept that we are being stopped by cyber-highwaymen and handing over our hard earned cash for nothing. It is a legal form of theft.

Why don’t we make a stand? Why don’t we as a nation throw down our gauntlets and say “ENOUGH!!!”?

The sad thing about all of this is that we are happy to allow unscrupulous faceless, RICH, people to take our money in exchange for the “convenience” of seeing our favourite artists. The fact that certain stars charge the earth to see them perform live is one thing but to add insult to injury there are modern day highwaymen waiting in the wings to squeeze that little extra bit of cash out of us, conning those gullible enough to believe them that we are getting something in return.

We are getting NOTHING!

We should make a stand!

Tuesday 1 July 2008

100 Rock Songs (91 To 100)

The final ten …

(91) Foo Fighters – Come Back

As I have already said, there are hidden gems on most albums. Forget the singles; listen to the other tracks. From the album “One By One”, the Foos have written such a gem. I have to say that this song sends shivers down my spine, such is its appeal. The Foo Fighters just keep getting better and better. For those fans who have yet to buy an album or see the band live – just do it. They are one of the best bands around at the moment.

(92) Marilyn Manson – mObscene

I never thought I’d like Marilyn Manson. When I first encountered his music I assumed he was just another shock-jockey trying to be controversial to sell records as a poor Alice Cooper clone. Yet the more I hear him the more I realise that his songs are actually very appealing. “mObscene” is a great example of this. Criticize it if you will but you cannot deny it is a fantastic rock song.

(93) Velvet Revolver – Do It For The Kids

You can wait forever for a Guns ‘n’ Roses album but if you want something similar look no further than Velvet Revolver, a band made up of former members of the gunners and in many ways better. Okay, they’ve had their issues with Scott Weiland but you can’t deny that they are great. “Chinese Democracy” will only appear when Axl Rose pulls his finger out a certain orifice but in the meantime Velvet Revolver are still there. “Do It For The Kids” is a great song – hope you enjoy it.

(94) The Wildhearts – O.C.D.

The Wildhearts keep self-destructing and still come back – and thankfully they are still around despite the ups and downs. From the album of “B-sides” called “Coupled With” comes a typical barn-storming Wildhearts classic that gets the crowd leaping around like crazy folks.

(95) Ginger – Drinking In The Daytime

Nowadays, the Wildhearts seem to have settled down and are still together but these days Ginger has produced a few solo albums. The best so far is “Valor Del Corazon”, a double album recorded at a turning point in the great man’s life with some of the best songs he has written. From that album comes “Drinking In The Daytime”, a song that would fit snugly on a Wildhearts album. Epic.

(96) Ginger – My Friend The Enemy

From the same album comes “My Friend The Enemy”, another cracking song worthy of the Wildhearts. As is typical of Ginger’s output it is highly contagious and will have you singing away with your air guitar. Sadly the snippet below doesn’t do it justice – trust me, listen top “Valor Del Corazon”. You will love it.

(97) Nine Inch Nails – The Hand That Feeds

Trent Reznor has become quite prolific in recent years. It all started with the album “With Teeth”, which some fans didn’t rate as highly as his previous masterpieces. I beg to differ. I regard it as a work of genius and “The Hand That Feeds” is the best song on the album. At the moment I just can’t get enough of Nine Inch Nails and the more prolific Trent Reznor becomes the better. Long may he reign.

(98) Rammstein - Benzin

“Benzin” comes from the latest album from Rammstein called “Rosenrot”. While not quite as heavy as the earlier offerings it is still a great CD. Accompanied by a great video it is the best song on the album. Rumour has it that the band are working on their next album. Personally I can’t wait. BENZIN!!!

(99) Queensr├┐che – Signs Say Go

Queensyche went off the boil for years and I was delighted to hear that they had recorded a follow up to “Operation Mindcrime” called imaginatively “Operation Mindcrime 2”. I’m pleased to say that it is a welcome return to form and though not as good as the original, it stands up on its own merits. “Signs Say Go” is a cracking track and the link below doesn’t do it justice. A piece of trivia – I was at the gig below so I witnessed this performance first hand and I have to say it was magnificent (I didn’t do the filming though).

(100) Ten – The Elysian Fields

The final song is from the latest Ten album called “The Twilight Chronicles”. It is a mellow piece of melodic beauty that generates goosebumps and shivers for a whole seven minutes. A true masterpiece – check out the album if you can – sadly there are no links to it. Stunning.

Well – that’s it. The problem is now that as I buy new albums I may have to revise both lists. Maybe I will in a few years time – its too soon now. I hope there are people out there who find my list of songs agreeable – let me know if you so desire.

100 Rock Songs (81 To 90)

The penultimate bundle …

(81) Arena – The Butterfly Man

The great thing about “The Butterfly Man” is the idea of a being wandering around collecting the souls of people and leaving them in timeless oblivion. That aside, the song is a superb piece of progressive rock, the kind I love. Well done Arena – scary. The link below plays only half of the song but hopefully it will give you some idea of just how good the song is.

(82) Black Sabbath – Spiral Architect

Slightly out of order (because I forgot about it) is “Spiral Architect” an enigmatic song by the classic Black Sabbath line up. It is different from most of their offerings and has the most bizarre lyrics by the band. When I first heard the song I was unsure who the band was until Ozzy’s unique voice joined in. A great, if not strange song from the brilliant “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” album.

(83) Silver Ginger 5 – Take It All Why Don’tcha?

In one of his many breaks from the Wildhearts, one of Ginger’s side projects was a one off album called “Black Leather Mojo” released under the name “Silver Ginger 5”, an album of pure brilliance, better in fact than a lot of Wildhearts albums. There is not a single bad song on the album – all of them are almost perfect. All of them are infectious and leave you wanting more. I almost wore out the CD. The best song is “Take It All Why Don’tcha?”, a real stomping rock song that is pure brilliance. I can’t say more than that.

(84) Silver Ginger 5 – More Is The Law

“Black Leather Mojo” contains a bonus CD with live tracks and three demos. One of those demos is a song called “More Is The Law”, a belter of a song that is raw and a true fist-pounder. To be honest if Ginger ever decides to polish it and pop it onto a Wildhearts album it will be a classic. Sadly you’ll just have to take my word for it.

(85) Ten – Thunder In Heaven

One of Ten’s greatest albums is a concept album called “Babylon” featuring the legendary Don Airey on keyboards who was a guest for that one release. It is a highly polished offering full of fantastic songs, culminating in a climax with “Thunder In Heaven”, a great storming rock song with superb guitars augmented by Airey’s keyboard wizardry. Unbeatable. Sadly once more, you will have to take my word for it but, trust me, if you get your hands on “Babylon” you will love it.

(86) Queens Of The Stone Age – No One Knows

Although the band had been around for ages, “No One Knows” was the first song I heard from the album, played all the time on rock music channels and rock radio. On the strength of this one song, I bought the album “Songs For The Deaf” and saw the band live. Wonderful.

(87) Rammstein – Links 2 3 4

“Mutter” is my favourite album by the magnificent Rammstein and the strongest song on that record is “Links 2 3 4” a total chunk of metal ecstasy. I don’t headbang but this song certainly tempts me to stomp around the room bellowing in a deep guttural German voice. It doesn’t get much better than this. Wunderbar!

(88) Terrorvision – D’Ya Wanna Go Faster

Just when I thought Terrorvision were no more, I heard this highly infectious explosion of rock from the boys from Bradford. When I saw the badn recently on yet another reunion tour, this song was the one that had the crowd jumping up and down most – myself included (sadly). Top tune.

(89) Foo Fighters – All My Life

“All My Life” is without doubt my favourite song by the Foo Fighters. It is a diamond amongst gems and has resulted in me howling in glee in my car, much to the amusement of fellow drivers. If you haven’t been lucky enough to see Dave Grohl’s boys live, believe me when I say the crowd erupt into a frenzy of ecstasy when the distinctive guitars introduce the song. Done, done and I’m on to the next one …

(90) Rush – Secret Touch

After the slightly disappointing album “Test For Echo”, Rush had an enforced hiatus due to a double personal tragedy for the drummer and lyricist Neil Peart. For a few years I thought that my favourite band were no more. Imagine my delight when they finally got back together in 2002 and released a glorious album called “Vapour Trails”. It was a true return to form and is one of my favourite albums. The best song is “Secret Touch”, a wonderful rock song that borders on being a headbanger – unusual for Rush. And the good news is that the band are still going strong! Splendid!

91 to 100 to follow …