Monday 30 March 2009

20 Songs To Chill Out To

After yet another frustrating day at the office, I was full of road rage on the way home. Thankfully, a song popped up on my mp3 player that eroded that anger and allowed me to drive the rest of the way home in peace and harmony with the rest of the world. The song was "I WIsh I Could Fly" by Roxette.
As I drove, I thought about other songs that have the same effect and have compiled a list of twenty from my collection that may well succeed in changing you from a fiery ball of rage into a chilled-out mellow ball of fluff. Here they are:

(1) Roxette – I Wish I Could Fly
(2) 10CC – I’m Not In Love
(3) Seal – Kiss From A Rose
(4) Air – All I Need
(5) China Crisis – Wishful Thinking
(6) David Gray – This Year’s Love
(7) Depeche Mode – Home
(8) Madonna – The Power Of Goodbye
(9) Tears For Fears – Listen
(10) Shakespears Sister – Hello (Turn Your Radio On)
(11) Enya – Caribbean Blue
(12) Richard Marx - Hazard
(13) Air – La Femme d’Argent
(14) Enya – Lothlórien
(15) Fleetwood Mac – Albatross
(16) Morcheeba – The Sea
(17) Kate Bush – The Man With The Child In His Eyes
(18) Madonna – Frozen
(19) Massive Attack - Teardrop
(20) Moby - Porcelain

For those who have heard or read about me singing the praises of rock and heavy metal, you may be surprised by some of the choices above. Hopefully it reveals another (weird) side of me and confirms that my taste isn’t limited to loud guitar music.

By the way, you can find most if not all of the above songs on YouTube. I would encourage you to seek them out; I think you’ll like them. If you have any similar songs that you think I might like please let me know – I’m always on the lookout for new music.

Stay chilled …

Sunday 29 March 2009

Health And Safety Gone Mad - AGAIN!

I read in today’s newspaper that the polystyrene floats used at swimming pools to help kids to learn to swim are being targetted by Health and Safety officials because (they say) they may be home to nasty bacteria and are therefore totally unhygienic.

Is it just me or is the world going crazy? Have they never heard of the idea of replacing them every so often?

The article goes on to suggest that if your child drowns as a result of not having a polystyrene float then at least you can be safe in the knowledge that it was in a hygienic environment.

I, along with many others, have considered recent health and safety guidelines to be ridiculously over the top. We can’t do anything these days, for fear of violating some weird safety protocol. I worry about wandering down my own street in case I break my leg on a cracked paving slab. I’m concerned about plugging in an electrical device unless I’ve passed an exam to do so. I’m even scared to get on my soapbox in case I should fall off and injure myself.

It never used to be this way. We could do things without worrying about our own safety. We could get involved in exciting activities without the fear of being sued. We took risks and we accepted them. Reading this article in the paper reminded me of an email I received a few years ago, regarding how things have changed over the years. I was born in 1962 so the contents of the email struck a chord. Here it is:

According to today's regulators and bureaucrats, those of us who were kids in the 60's, 70's and early 80's probably shouldn't have survived.

Our baby cots were covered with brightly coloured lead-based paint, which was promptly chewed and licked.

We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, or latches on doors or cabinets and it was fine to play with pans.

When we rode our bikes, we wore no helmets, just flip flops and fluorescent 'spokey dokey's' on our wheels.

As children we would ride in cars with no seatbelts or airbags -riding in the passenger seat was a treat.

We drank water from the garden hose and not from a bottle and it tasted the same.

We ate chips, bread and butter pudding and drank fizzy juice with sugar in, but we were never overweight because we were always outside playing.

We shared one drink with four friends, from one bottle or can and nbody actually died from this!

We would spend hours building go-carts out of scraps and then went top speed down the hill, only to find we forgot our brakes. After running into stinging nettles a few times, we learned to solve the problem.

We would leave home in the morning and could play all day, as long as we were back before it got dark - no one was able to reach us, and nobody minded.

We did not have Play Stations or X-Boxes, no video games at all. No 99 channels on TV, no video tape movies, no surround sound, no mobile phones, no personal computers, no DVD's & no internet chat rooms. We had friends - we went outside and found them.

We played elastics and rounders, and sometimes that really hurt!

We fell out of trees, got cut and broke bones, but there were no lawsuits!

We had full on fist fights but no prosecution followed from other parents.

We played chap-the door-run-away and were actually afraid of the owners catching us.

We walked to friends' homes.

We also, believe it or not, WALKED to school; we didn't rely on mummy or daddy to drive us to school, which was just round the corner.

We made up games with sticks and tennis balls.

We rode our bikes in packs of 7 and wore our coats by only the hood. The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of...they actually sided with the law.

I remember as a kid playing British Bulldog, a game involving around thirty kids. All kids would line up on one side of the playground (a concrete playground), apart from one who would stand in the middle facing them. The kids would then charge across to the other side of the playground, with the kid in the middle trying to capture any one of them, usually by wrestling him to the ground. The captured kid would then join the original kid and attempt to capture others on the next charge across the playground. The game would continue, with more and more kids being captured by being tackled onto the concrete until at the end there were only a handful left to charge across. The winner was the last surviving kid, or the kid who got furthest across without being leapt on by the captured kids. It was a great game. Nowadays it has been banned because it is "too dangerous".

We also played a variation of the game in the swimming pool. This game was called sharks and the idea was that the thirty kids would swim from one side of the pool to the other with one in the middle, the shark, trying to capture them by ducking them beneath the water. Once ducked, the kid became a shark and eventually there would be more sharks than kids trying to get across. Again, this was a superb game. It, too, has been banned because it is "too dangerous".

I have never seen any kids badly injured at either game, apart from a few cuts and bruises from being rugby tackled on concrete. In fact, sharks actually helped kids become stronger swimmers. Again, nobody ever drowned and every kid who played the game loved it.

Back to banning polystyrene floats – what next? Will they consider the swimming pools themselves to be unhygienic or dangerous and ban them? I think that there are far too many jobsworths in the world who have absolutely nothing better to do than make life more difficult for the population at large.

I’m adding Health and Safety to the list of things that I am targetting when I take over the world. To Health and Safety officials everywhere: Be afraid! Be very afraid!!

Thursday 26 March 2009

The Mysterious Masked Blade

I’ve just realised that I have been writing drivel on this blog for over a year. My first post was a tentative effort about Walsall Football Club on March 21st 2008. It’s hard to believe I’ve been posting drivel for so long.

For this short anniversary post, I want to introduce you to my alter ego.

Prepare to meet:

I would like to thank Holly from earthtoholly for introducing me to The Hero Factory and thus allowing me to find my inner superhero.

As you can see he is a fine figure of a man (if not a little scrawny). I’m happy with the name though perhaps squeezing “Mancunian” in there might have made it a little more accurate.

But there’s more. Why be content with one superhero when you can have two? Mrs PM also has an alter ego.

Prepare to meet the unfortunately named:

Now I know what you are thinking and you can stop right there. Mrs PM is NOT a General.

I think I might have some fun with General Swashbuckling Whiplash.

Monday 23 March 2009

Chuck Norris Versus Mr T

I am going to attempt to answer an impossible question. The greatest minds on the planet have been debating the answer since the eighties and have failed miserably. But I, a mere mortal from Manchester, have succeeded where they have failed.

The question is:

Who is the greatest: Chuck Norris or Mr T?

Before I answer I have a couple of things to say. Both men have been involved in some of the best movie fights ever. Chuck Norris took on Bruce Lee in arguably the greatest martial arts battle ever seen on the screen in Way Of The Dragon. Chuck Norris lost unfortunately (but fear not – he was paid to throw the fight).

Mr T positively mauled Silvester Stallone in Rocky III, the only time I’ve seen Rocky Balboa battered to a pulp. Of course, towards the end of the film, Stallone got his revenge by pretending to be a tiger (Mr T was also paid to throw the fight).

A couple of years ago, I was at the Manchester Evening News Arena, waiting to see a concert when all of a sudden, Chuck Norris came to my attention. He wasn’t actually present but there were clearly a few fans in the crowd. How do I know? Well, at the venue, it is possible to send SMS messages to a number and have your messages displayed on the scoreboard there. Usually you end up with utter bilge like:

Frank luvs Rachel xxx

However, on this particular evening, people were sending rather bizarre messages like:

Chuck Norris counted to infinity – TWICE

Chuck Norris is so fast he can run around the world and punch himself in the back of the head

Well I have to tell you, I was impressed. And I have discovered that there are a lot more facts about Chuck Norris. Here are a few of my favourites:

Chuck Norris never sleeps – he waits

Chuck Norris can slam revolving doors

Ghosts are caused by Chuck Norris killing people faster than the Grim Reaper can process them

Chuck Norris can build a snowman out of rain

Chuck Norris doesn’t do press-ups. He pushes the earth down

Chuck Norris can do a wheelie on a unicycle

Chuck Norris died ten years ago but the Grim Reaper is too afraid to tell him

Giraffes were created when Chuck Norris uppercutted a horse

Chuck Norris is the only man on earth who can kick you in the back of the face

Chuck Norris can punch a man in the soul

But what about Mr T? Are there similar facts about the mean machine that kicked Stallone’s bottom? Yes there are – here are twelve of the best:

Mr T does not break wind – he destroys it

Mr T destroyed the periodic table because he only recognises the element of surprise

Mr T is so scary that his hair is afraid to grow. The only reason he has a Mohawk is because it’s in his blind spot

Mr T invented the IQ testing system so that he could pity the fools more accurately

Mr T once won the Olympics – all of them

Mr T and Superman once fought for a bet. The loser had to wear their underpants on the outside

Mr T can beat a wall at tennis

The United States Federal Reserve Bank decided that Mr T’s neck was a much safer place for their gold than Fort Knox

Mr T once pitied the Sun – an Ice Age followed

There are only four horsemen of the apocalypse because Mr T is going to walk

Mr T once bit off more than he could chew. He ate it anyway.

Mr. T speaks only when necessary. His main form of communication is folding his arms and slowly shaking his head. And regardless of the situation, he is always understood.

So who is better? Both have kicked bums in films and both appear to be the best of the best of the best of the best. In order to decide we have to look further than films – we have to look to television. In the interests of research I recently watched episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger and The A-Team.

First, I was amazed to discover that Walker, Texas Ranger ran for eight seasons and finished in 2001. That means somebody must have enjoyed it. In the episode I saw it was basically Chuck Norris as the good guy, protecting innocent people by kicking the backsides of bad guys into the middle of next week’s episode, barely breaking a sweat as the sole of his boot lifted his poor victims a few feet off the ground. I can see where the Chuck Norris facts come from. I know that if I were a bad guy intent on breaking the law in the United States, I would think twice about heading to Texas to do so.

Sadly, for Chuck Norris, I have to admit that I loved The A-Team. It wasn’t just the fact that Mr T played the meanest man in America; I loved the humour, the insanity of Howling Mad Murdoch, the way the team were locked in a garage full of enough junk to build a spaceship (thought they always chose to build a tank), the verbal sparring between Murdoch and Mr T, the way Hannibal Smith, clearly an old man, could kick bottom while calling the villains sleazeballs and chewing on a cigar, the way Face could con anybody out of anything, and best of all, the fact that they never ever killed anybody, despite firing hundreds of bullets and the way B.A. had to be drugged to fly. Each episode was totally predictable; the A-Team would come up against really bad people victimising vulnerable but weak good guys who were heroes in a previous life. The victims would include a lovely woman who would end up having a fling with Face, or on occasion one of the others. At the end of the show, a car driven by a bad guy would be flipped over by a well placed grenade and the villains would crawl out shaken but uninjured. It was simple and thoroughly enjoyable.

For that reason alone, I have to side with Mr T, a man who showed that he was so tough but had a heart made of more gold than he wore. And he was funny, particularly when dealing with Murdoch.

More than anything else, however, Mr T has recently appeared once more on our screens in commercials for the chocolate bar Snickers and they are hilarious. Here they are:

In conclusion, I think you know who I consider to be the greatest. The answer is (cue fanfare):

Mr T

Chuck Norris has kicked a lot of bottom but Mr T was in the A-Team and has enough catchphrases to defeat an army of bad guys.

Please don’t tell Chuck Norris about this post. I really don’t want to have my door kicked down, the back of my face kicked and my soul punched.

I'm off to get some nuts!

Saturday 21 March 2009

Stamp On A Skurff Today

Have you ever heard of a Smurf? They are irritating little blue creatures that apparently live in a wood in Belgium somewhere. No – I have not been drinking, before you ask.

In 1978, most of Europe was subjected to an annoying song by “Father Abraham and the Smurfs” called, imaginatively, “The Smurf Song”. It was played constantly in the UK and actually reached number two (a lot of people bought it). It was so annoying and drove most people up the wall, myself included. I hated it and the Smurfs with a passion because it had one of those tunes that embedded itself in your brain and refused to leave. Here it is:

Such was the success of Father Abraham and his Smurfs that a second, even more annoying single was released called “Dippety Day”. As if the first one wasn’t bad enough. Here it is:

However, thankfully, help was at hand. That same year, Sandford and Saker released a parody single called “Stamp on a Skurff Today”. I hated the Smurfs so much that I had to buy this single. I still have it somewhere in my loft.

Sadly a video wasn’t made for the song, but I have actually found it on YouTube.

For all of you out there who, like me, hated the Smurfs, I present to you “Stamp On A Skurff Today” one of the greatest tunes of 1978 – I hope you find it as funny as I do.

If you cannot get the Smurf songs out of your head, I do apologise. And remember: Stamp on a Skurff today – before it’s too late.

Thursday 19 March 2009

Am I a Gentleman?

I’ve always considered myself to be a perfect gentleman; I don’t, for example, drink tea directly from the teapot and I’ve never used a trowel to eat curry.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I may not be a gentleman at all; in fact I could well be diametrically opposite to the perfect gentleman. I could be an absolute blackguard. I’ve decided to test myself and share the results with you.

I have once more explored the internet on your behalf to find out exactly what makes a man a gentleman. Here’s what I’ve discovered. You can judge for yourself whether or not I am a gentleman or whether I am a fiendish cad. I’ve graded myself for each of them as follows:

A – Success. I am a perfect gentleman.

B – Partial success. I am sometimes a gentleman.

C - Average. I must try harder to be a gentleman.

D – Failed miserably. I need to go to etiquette school

A gentleman never slouches.

C – Sometimes I do slouch; it depends on how I feel. If I’ve had a pint or two I definitely slouch all the way home. And when I am at home, generally, I slouch all over the place. I am definitely a domestic slouch.

A gentleman is polite to everyone.

C – I am generally polite to older people. Well, when I say generally I mean sometimes. Well when I say sometimes I really mean rarely (it largely depends who it is – see below). As for younger people – I am a grumpy old git and I am impolite to most of the youth of today generally (mainly because they make fun of my age).

A gentleman pays attention to his appearance.

B – As far as dressing up is concerned, Mrs PM ensures that I don’t look like a sack of potatoes when I present myself to company. However, when she is not around, I tend to dress in the clothes that old tramps would reject as too shabby. For example, Mrs PM has been begging me for years to get rid of a classic leather jacket that I have worn to rock concerts for years. She says “It’s so scruffy! There are holes in it and it looks like you bought it in 1980.” Well she doesn’t know anything – I actually bought it in 1985.

A gentleman never wears the same clothes on consecutive days.

B – I don’t generally wear the same clothes on consecutive days, particularly in the summer when shirts tend to take on a life of their own. I have been known to wear the same pair of jeans for a week. It is possible to wear socks for two successive days, as long as you remember to turn them inside out. I’ve also considered wearing the same pair of underpants for more than a day; after all if you wear them the wrong way round for the second day and turn them inside out for the next two days they can theoretically last for four days. I say that if your clothes aren’t able to escape from your laundry bin on their own then are good enough to wear. I’m kidding of course – Mrs PM ensures that I am crisp and clean wherever I go.

A gentleman never swears.

C – Oh dear! I admit that I swear far too much, although I’ve given myself a C simply because I don’t swear in front of the kids, polite company or older people (if I can help it – see below). Nevertheless, I really do struggle sometimes at work though and am frequently having to apologise for expletives that escape when anger and frustration force my hand. Oh, and I swear in the pub as well. Oh dear – not looking good is it?

A gentleman is chivalrous to ladies.

B – Generally I am chivalry personified. Unfortunately I sometimes forget myself and impose aspects of my bizarre personality on unsuspecting women. Most of the time I get away with it because, even though I say it myself, I can sometimes be quite amusing. Unfortunately I have on other occasions made a complete arse of myself and offended some women. That said, I do generally hold the door open for ladies and assist them whenever I can.

A gentleman never talks down to anybody.

A – I treat almost all people I meet with the same courtesy and I rarely talk down to people. I enjoy making fun of them but that’s not the same as talking down to them, is it? Is it? Maybe I should give myself a D if that’s the case.

A gentleman never loses his temper.

B – I very rarely lose my temper. I rant almost all the time but mostly it is in jest.

A gentleman stands up for his lady.

A – I will always stand up for and defend Mrs PM (though she can certainly stand up for herself).

A gentleman respects his elders.

C – I try to respect my elders but they have to earn that respect. Unfortunately there are some older people who don’t deserve it (so I have to give myself a C for those nameless ignorant buggers). If you are older than me, please don’t be put off – I’m a nice person really and will try to treat you with respect.

A gentleman treats older women in the same way he would treat his own mother.

B – I will give myself a B for this because of one single occasion. I was out on a Christmas pub crawl and a little tipsy. A group of us were talking and a female friend said “You’re a real mate!” Unfortunately I switched my brain off and before I could stop the words from exploding out of my mouth: I said “I don’t regard you as a mate – I think of you more as a Mum”. Well, let me tell you this – that went down like a lead balloon laden with a ten ton weight; she didn’t speak to me for a week afterwards, and when she did finally get round to speaking to me she never let me forget it – nor anybody else for that matter. The fact that it happened about eight years ago and she STILL reminds me of it today means that I must have hurt her feelings pretty badly. But I can’t deny on this occasion that I truly did treat an older woman as a Mum. I just hope she doesn’t read this post otherwise I am in big, big trouble.

A gentleman will never kiss a lady socially unless she initiates it.

B – I’ve improved on this over the years. When I was young and foolish, I occasionally lunged at women and ended up with a big slap in the face for my trouble. Thankfully I have a modicum of self-control now, particularly since I discovered that a woman can legally bite off a man’s nose if he kisses her without permission.

A gentleman never wipes his mouth after kissing a woman.

C – I have been in trouble with Mrs PM for this disgraceful act so I am learning.

A gentleman removes his hat when indoors.

D – Why would a man wear a hat? The only time I would consider a hat is a woolly one in the winter. I’ve told Mrs PM that if she ever catches me wearing a cap or a hat she is to drag me home immediately, making sure that I take off the hat before I cross the threshold.

A gentleman never fights.

A – I hate fighting and would rather walk away than partake in a bout of fisticuffs.

A gentleman never gets drunk.

D – Oh dear! I don’t get drunk very often these days but that’s because my poor old body can’t cope with hangovers and nothing to do with gentleman’s etiquette

A gentleman never laughs at the mistakes of others.

D – I am the first to laugh at others’ mistakes. In fact, I am likely to constantly remind people of their mistakes, particularly if they are funny. Moreover, I am also very likely to post details about them on this blog. Marky Mark – you have been warned.

So how did I do?

I think that proves that I have what it takes to be a gentleman but I obviously need to improve, particularly when it comes to swearing and my behaviour when I’ve had a beer or two. I probably need to listen to Mrs PM more, particularly when going out unsupervised. Who knows, I might make her proud of my ability to dress myself properly one of these days.

I’d be interested to know how other guys rate themselves as gentlemen.

Now then, where’s my f*****g pint?

Monday 16 March 2009

A "Clear The Air" Summit

Jasper ate my newspaper yesterday (there is a photo of him doing so here) and this is the latest in a number of incidents involving all three of my cats that have caused friction between us.

My cats are fabulous creatures but they are really trying my patience at the moment, not least because Mrs PM is wholly committed to their cause and, as a result, I get the blame for every disagreement I have with my feline masters.

Jasper munching through the “Money” section of the Sunday Times was the last straw. I waited until Mrs PM had popped out of the house and called a meeting. I considered long and hard about the best place for this summit and decided that the ideal location was my own imagination.

I handed over a list of my gripes – and here they are. Unfortunately, the cats can’t read so I had to stand over them and dictate as they stared at me:

Jasper eats my newspapers. This is not a one-off occurrence. He has also eaten my “Classic Rock” magazine, something that is unforgivable.

Spike wakes me up at the crack of dawn every single day, howling outside the bedroom for breakfast and scratching the door.

Poppy runs out of the house every single time I run downstairs. Mrs PM shouts at me as if I’m to blame for Poppy’s cowardice.

Jasper is too fat. Despite his diet (which is working) he still insists on lurking, seeking any opportunity to eat any scrap he can.

Spike is still violent. He will sit on my knee, purring and allowing me stroke him and then, totally unprovoked, will suddenly turn into a vicious blur of fur, teeth and claws and rip my hand to shreds.

Poppy pesters me for food, usually while a big game is on, and when I go out to feed her, she waits for me to put the food down on the floor before shrieking (because a drop of water has plopped out of the tap) and then disappearing through the cat flap like a black bolt of lightning.

Jasper and Spike are in the early stages of civil war, the prize being dominance of the house. Occasionally we will hear them wrestling in the middle of the night and, being a light sleeper, it is me who has to creep downstairs to see if we have a burglar.

Jasper is a big cat. Our burglar alarm is calibrated for small cats. Jasper has set off the burglar alarm several times simply by turning over on the settee. The neighbours are starting to complain.

One or all of the cats eats vegetation and ends up throwing up on our carpets. I have on one occasion stumbled out of the bedroom in the middle of the night and placed my bare foot in a pile of cat vomit – it is a most unpleasant experience I can tell you.

We have a wooden floor. Mrs PM and I have painstakingly sanded and varnished these floorboards and admired them with pride. Now there is a patch about four inches in diameter where a nameless cat has ripped the wood to shreds.

Talking about scratching, all three cats frequently sharpen their claws on the furniture and carpets.

Spike and Poppy both take their food out of the dish and eat it on the floor, leaving dirty marks all over the place. Jasper isn’t guilty of this crime; he vacuums every last scrap.

Spike eats my lunch and any other food we leave lying around at every opportunity. I left a ham sandwich unattended on the chair and Spike somehow managed to pull the ham out and eat it. We left the butter dish on a table and Spike ate a huge chunk of it. I have caught Spike inside the dishwasher licking plates. We almost locked him in there by mistake.

I was actually very surprised to discover that, in return, they all have grievances with me:

Trips to the vet are the major concern. I am seen as the bad guy because Mrs PM is traumatized beyond words. It is I who has to catch them and force them into their cages.

I don’t feed them often enough. I should be at their beck and call. Spike is particularly irritated by this.

I don’t give them enough food. Jasper has a particular problem with this.

Apparently I am too noisy. I “charge about like a demented elephant” according to Poppy.

When a cat sits on my knee I should stay there; I shouldn’t move, fidget or twitch. I should feel privileged that I am being used as a bed. And if Spike wants to sink his claws and fangs into my skin he has every right to do so.

The cats want access to the bedroom at all times. It is particularly warm and comfortable in there at night time. We are hot water bottles for the cats so banning them is a real kick in the teeth.

I do not appreciate their presents. Live mice, a half-eaten bird, even a pile of grassy puke are all gifts that should be appreciated. I am seen as ungrateful.

I don’t look where I’m going in the dark. Cats can see perfectly well, so why can’t I? The fact that they are black is totally irrelevant.

I do not pamper them enough. Mrs PM is seen as acceptable and adequate, whereas I am deemed to be pathetic and useless.

We go away on holiday far too often; our neighbours are seen as even worse slaves than Mrs PM and I.

They all think I am an arse.

Well we had a frank but fruitless discussion and the high level talks collapsed in chaos. Poppy howled at the door to be let out, Jasper munched the remaining sections of the Sunday Times as we chatted and Spike attacked my feet (and now I can barely walk). All three of them treated me with utter (and in their words “deserved”) contempt.

When Mrs PM returned, I told her about the meeting and suggested that we should work together to come to an agreement. After she had called for a psychiatrist, she basically told me that she agreed with the cats.

So I am outnumbered and my ego has been dealt yet another severe blow; I thought I was the King of my own Castle, yet here I am at the very bottom of food chain.

But fear not, fine readers; rest assured that the war will continue. This was just one battle lost. I will return.

I have to go now; Spike is hungry again, Jasper is eating the Sports section and Poppy has broken the land speed record to escape from another shadow.

Coming my Lords and Lady ...

Sunday 15 March 2009

50 Albums You Really Must Hear

It’s been a while since I posted about music so here is another little diversion. I would like to apologize in advance for a little self-indulgence.

In my lifetime there have been several classic albums by my favourite artists that may have escaped the radar of the general public. I thought I would briefly bring them to the notice of anybody who may be vaguely interested in the hope that just one person may listen to at least one of the albums below for the first time and enjoy them as much as I have over the years.

Here is a list of albums that, in my modest opinion, everybody should listen to at least once before in their lifetime. They are in no particular order but have given me great enjoyment over the years.

(1) Coverdale Page – Coverdale Page

(2) Air – Moon Safari

(3) David Bowie – Scary Monsters

(4) Tears For Fears – Songs From The Big Chair

(5) Jeff Wayne – War Of The Worlds

(6) Deep Purple – Made In Japan

(7) The Wildhearts – Earth versus The Wildhearts

(8) Nazareth – Loud’n’Proud

(9) Rush – Counterparts

(10) Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral

(11) Metallica – Death Magnetic

(12) Depeche Mode – Violator

(13) Queensryche – Operation Mindcrime

(14) Dire Straits – Love Over Gold

(15) Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV

(16) Enya – Shepherd Moons

(17) AC/DC – Back In Black

(18) Foo Fighters – Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace

(19) Rainbow – Rising

(20) The Wildhearts - PHUQ

(21) Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin

(22) Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Welcome To The Pleasure Dome

(23) Def Leppard – Slang

(24) Rush – Signals

(25) Morcheeba – Big Calm

(26) Rush – Hold Your Fire

(27) Sisters Of Mercy – Floodland

(28) Ten – Spellbound

(29) Whitesnake – Come An’ Get It

(30) Nazareth – No Mean City

(31) Rush – Snakes and Arrows

(32) Judas Priest – Nostradamus

(33) UFO – Strangers In The Night

(34) Rammstein – Mutter

(35) Joe Satriani – Crystal Planet

(36) SilverGinger 5 – Black Leather Mojo

(37) Judas Priest – Defenders Of The Faith

(38) Foo Fighters – The Colour And The Shape

(39) Rush – Power Windows

(40) A-ha – Scoundrel Days.

(41) Metallica – Master Of Puppets

(42) Electric Light Orchestra – Out Of The Blue

(43) Moby – Play

(44) Joe Satriani – The Extremist

(45) Jethro Tull – Thick As A Brick

(46) Judas Priest – Painkiller

(47) Meat Loaf – Bat Out Of Hell

(48) Pink Floyd – Dark Side Of The Moon

(49) Rush – 2112

(50) Thunder – Backstreet Symphony

And yes, I do have A-ha and Enya in there with Judas Priest and Metallica. I don’t care – they are all great albums.

Please feel free to agree or disagree or to nominate the albums you feel should grace any record collection.

Wednesday 11 March 2009

A Tale From Trinidad

I was recently looking through a few old files on my desktop computer and stumbled across a tiny file dated in 1990. Intrigued by the date, I opened up the file and it contained an account of a business trip to Trinidad. I was obviously bored at the time and decided to write about a couple of strange and funny things that happened to me during that trip.

I’ve travelled quite a lot through work but sadly I haven’t written too much about experiences in foreign countries. I think I might start posting a few over the coming months. First I shall relate to you a mildly amusing but potentially disturbing incident from that file that occurred on that fabulous Caribbean Island sometime in Summer 1990.

In July of that year, there was a coup attempt in Trinidad; the Prime Minister and most of his cabinet were taken hostage. The siege lasted six days. I travelled there a month or two later. At the time, although life had started to settle down, there was a government curfew that began at 6pm sharp and lasted until 6am in the morning. Anybody caught violating the curfew was arrested.

I was staying in a hotel and was being looked after by a customer, who ferried me to work and back. This guy, whom I shall call Alfred (not his real name), was brilliant; he was a laid back friendly fellow in his fifties and had the most infectious laugh imaginable. Our working hours were cut short because he had to get me back to the hotel and get home himself before the curfew started. Usually we left work at around 3.30pm; our journey usually took around 30 minutes.

Alfred owned a real old banger of a car; a Ford Cortina that had seen many better days. The bodywork was held together by the rust and the engine sounded as if it was on its last legs. Yet Alfred was proud of his car and insisted that it would survive for many years to come. I had no reason to disagree. Why would I? Alfred was confident. I ignored the rattling engine, the grinding gears and shaking doors. Alfred’s car would ensure that we arrived at work in the morning and safely back home well before the curfew began.

What I didn’t know was that Alfred’s car had one fault that I was unprepared for. Alfred only informed me about it when it was too late.

We were on our way back from work when Alfred’s car began to splutter. I looked across, ready to ask what the problem was, but saw from the way Alfred was uncharacteristically grinding his teeth that there was something seriously wrong. The car gradually slowed down and stopped. We were still a few miles from the hotel and the curfew was an hour or two away so I had no reason to worry. Or did I?

Alfred acted as if he knew exactly what the problem was. He opened the car door and lifted up the bonnet. I got out of the car and joined him at the front of the car and we both looked at the engine as if we knew exactly what the problem was. Of course I hadn’t a clue but I nodded sagely, as men do when confronted with engine problems. I assumed Alfred was in control of the situation.

With the curfew drawing ever closer and a solution to our predicament seemingly moving further away, Alfred eventually swallowed his pride and made a confession.

“I can’t work out what’s wrong,” he said, “and we are running out of time. Fortunately, I have a friend who is a mechanic and will be able to fix it in no time. He only lives about five minutes away. You wait in the car.”

I believed him. I sat in the car and waited as Alfred strode off in the direction of a housing estate.

I waited ...

… and waited ...

… and waited.

It started getting darker and darker. The curfew was getting closer and closer. After half an hour, Alfred finally returned with a look of concern on his face. The mechanic was unavailable because he was staying with his family on the other side of Trinidad. My heart sank.

“Can we walk or get a taxi?” I asked hopefully. Alfred was beginning to lose his composure. He chose that moment to tell me what was probably wrong with his car.

“I think I know what the problem could be,” he confessed. “My fuel gauge doesn’t work and I normally guess how much petrol there is in the tank by filling up after a certain number of journeys. But I have been picking you up and dropping you off at the hotel, so I have lost track.”

Fortunately, there was a petrol station about half a mile down the road. Once again I waited in the car as Alfred retrieved a petrol cannister from the boot of the car and trudged off down the road looking totally despondent; he walked as if he were carrying the entire world on his shoulders.

The curfew drew nearer and nearer. Soon Alfred returned with his container full of petrol, looking a bit happier. I, too, was relieved and hoped that I would soon be back in the safety of my hotel room. But fate was about to deal us a heavy blow.

Alfred successfully transferred the contents of his petrol cannister into the fuel tank and deposited it into the boot of his car and sat down in the driver seat, slamming the door with gusto.

“Right!” he said. “Let’s get you back to the hotel.”

I looked away, eager to leave this place. It was then that I noticed something else was wrong. Turning slowly towards Alfred, I realised that he was starting to panic. His hands were frantically slapping his chest and desperately rooting round in his pockets.

“The keys!” he said. “I’ve lost the damned KEYS!”.

Then suddenly it dawned on him where they were.


With his dignity in tatters, Alfred was totally helpless. He was desperate and distraught and had no clue what to do. He searched his mind for inspiration and there was none forthcoming. With the curfew drawing ever closer the situation was becoming desperate; the car had broken down, Alfred had wasted a precious twenty minutes staring at his engine, he had wasted another thirty minutes anxiously searching for the only local person who could help, only to realize when it was too late that he was at fault in the first place. And now he was walloped by the final insult - just when hope was about to reward him, he had messed up in the most idiotic way and locked his keys in the boot of his saloon car.

I watched this normally cool guy fall to pieces in front of me in the most comical fashion. And at the most inopportune moment possible I was struck by the laughter bug. I still don’t understand why because as far as I was concerned we were in trouble. I had nothing to look forward to but possibly spending a night in a prison cell and I was sitting next to a man who was disintegrating in front of me. This poor wretched man was not only a customer; he was my host as well – and I really liked the guy. My role in Trinidad dictated that I treat Alfred with respect and professional courtesy. Giggling uncontrollably would not create a good impression, especially given the circumstances; we were a couple of miles from my hotel; Alfred had a further mile or two get home himself; the curfew was approaching faster than a speeding bullet; the situation was completely hopeless.

I had to make a monumental effort to discipline myself. My hand instinctively went to my mouth and I squeaked, attempting to control the gales of laughter that were rising within. I bit my finger in an attempt to haul myself from the pits of violent hilarity. Thankfully, Alfred was oblivious to the raging war of emotions I was fighting as he had his own internal battle.

He leapt out of the front of the car and into the back, wrenching open the door. I watched as he transformed from a laid back, fun-loving, kind man into a desperate, half-crazed animal. It was like watching Dr Jekyll turn into Mr Hyde or Bruce Banner become “The Hulk”. With inner strength, summoned from the very depths of despair, he grabbed hold of the back seat of the car and pulled at it with all his might. Unable to resist the force of a madman, the back seat began to give way and somehow Alfred managed to force his arm into a gap. He probed fiercely for a good few minutes, his face dripping with sweat and his teeth grinding in frustration. His perseverance was rewarded and eventually he miraculously managed to locate his keys. All of the time, I was grasping my midriff and stifling the gales of laughter permanently lodged into my throat.

Meanwhile, Alfred triumphantly returned to the front seat and, once again, slammed the door. “NOW, we can go!”, he exclaimed jamming the keys into the ignition; except the car was not playing; it had decided to throw its toys out of the pram and give up completely. I could almost hear it saying “I’m going nowhere mate!!”

Alfred was beyond despair. His anger had completely taken control of him and he was physically shaking. He was like a volcano waiting to erupt. If I had lost control of my ability to contain my laughter at this point in time, I’m sure he would have beaten me to a pulp. Alfred once again stormed out of the car, without a word, and marched resolutely in the direction of the garage.

My own internal struggle to conceal my amusement was finally over. I guffawed so loudly that for a second I thought Alfred would hear me as he marched away from the car. Mucus sprayed outwards as I burst out laughing. The inside of the windscreen in front was bombarded by a mixture of snot, tears and saliva. I completely lost control of my emotions. My face turned a bright shade of red and the already fragile Ford Cortina, shook violently as I completely deteriorated into a mucilaginous, giggling wreck covered in a mixture of sweat, dribble and snot. All I could hear was a wailing, whooping racket echoing around the confines of the Cortina as I shook with laughter. I no longer cared about our plight. My brain was totally submerged in an ocean of hysteria and refused to come up for air.

Unlike me, Alfred had somehow managed to assume a level of authority over the rage and terror assaulting him and decided to phone his family to come to our rescue. By the time he returned from the garage, we had both recovered and I had cleaned the layer of sweat, snot and spit from his windscreen with a bottle of water and handkerchief.

After a further twenty minutes of waiting, Alfred’s daughter arrived in her car and we left the comatose Cortina to spend a night on the main road to Port of Spain.

In the end, it was a close call; I arrived at the hotel with about twenty minutes to spare. Thankfully, Alfred lived about ten minutes further on and also made it home in time.

I am convinced to this day, that if Alfred had seen me laughing he would have beaten me senseless. It is a tribute to his character that he managed to think straight and extricate us from our predicament despite fate conspiring against us and my contribution being thoroughly inadequate. I am eternally grateful.

And if you ever get a chance to read this, Alfred, I can only apologise for being attacked by the laughter bug at the worst possible time and being about as much use as a chocolate teapot just when you needed the most help. I would reveal your true name but I am too ashamed. You conducted yourself with dignity despite the traumatic circumstances (something I can’t say for myself). I’m sure this post will also explain why your windscreen was spotless when you returned from the petrol station – and why your precious Cortina’s suspension was ruined.

Sunday 8 March 2009


It’s confession time again; I am going to reveal another weird thing about myself:

I am absolutely fascinated by vampires.

I’ve tried to trace the roots of their appeal and I think I’ve pinpointed to the time when my dad allowed me to watch a vampire film at the age of eleven. Here is an excerpt from a post I wrote in October last year about the experience:

I remember as an eleven year old kid pestering my dad to allow me to watch a horror film. I must have been a real pain in arse because he finally gave in and allowed me to watch “Dracula” starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. I was so excited I almost peed my pyjamas. I watched the film and then actually peed my pyjamas. I have never been so scared in my entire life. I spoke with a stammer for ten weeks. I didn’t get a wink of sleep for an entire month. I quite literally avoided cemeteries for ten years. My dad certainly taught me a lesson. He asked me about a month later if I wanted to watch “Dracula Has Risen From The Grave”.“Has he risen from the grave?” I stammered. “Yes,” he replied. I spent the next fortnight under the duvet with a crucifix, a torch and a telephone directory trying to find the number for Professor Van Helsing.
I recovered from that trauma eventually and as I grew older I began to watch more films about vampires. They scared the hell out of me but, I was drawn to them, like a moth to a flame. I was enthralled by them; their evil, their thirst for blood; their strengths and apparent weaknesses; the intrigue of their existence.

I watched all of the Hammer vampire films and many others but had to do so clutching a cushion in a room full of people. In particular, “Salem’s Lot”, based on a book by Stephen King, and starring David Soul, scared me half to death. I thought I was overcoming my fear and I watched this two part drama at the tender age of 16, with no idea at all that vampires were involved. I can still picture the young boy, converted to a vampire, hovering outside the bedroom window of another boy, scratching the glass and begging to be let in. Why did it scare me? Because it made vampires seem to be more invincible and also showed that the victims of vampires weren’t just adults. The scene where the “Master” vampire confronts the priest who is defending himself with a cross struck a particular chord. Vampires were supposed to be terrified of holy symbols; this one wasn’t – he simply tore the cross from the priest’s hands.

I would go to bed engulfed by anxiety and quake as my eyes searched the darkness for signs of vampiric movement. As intriguing as they were, vampires were pure evil and, being a Roman Catholic, anything that was ungodly in anyway pressed a deep button that injected pure terror into my psyche. My fear of all things diabolical was all-consuming.

I had a huge brass cross on my window sill that I could use for self defence should the need arise, though I prayed that the “Master” vampire from “Salem’s Lot” wouldn’t be the one who called. If a vampire actually had materialised at my bedside I would have screamed and been desperately terrified. Yet, I would have been pleased at a deep primeval level.

Is that a paradox? At the time I thought it was and I didn’t understand it at all. How could I be so scared of such a tainted, evil, godless creature yet actually want to meet one?

Now, however, I think I understand.

As terrifying as they are, the appeal of the vampire is the romance and sexuality that accompanies them. Dracula appeared at the window of a beautiful woman, entranced her and then sucked her blood, ultimately converting her to one of the legions of the undead. And amidst all that evil, there was love. The film “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” starring Gary Oldman as the evil count illustrates this perfectly. In a similar way, I found the portrayal of female vampires beguiling. The very lifestyle of a vampire had a menacing attraction. These creatures could come and go as they pleased; they could hold their victims in thrall and feast off them; they were creatures of the night. However vulnerable they were during the day, they had guardians who would protect them with their lives. They were hunters, like cats, who stalked their prey, except instead of killing them (which they sometimes did unfortunately) they would captivate them, entrance them and bond with them. It was this lifestyle that was appealing.

I enjoyed the film “Interview With The Vampire” for this reason. I would love to watch an interview with a real vampire. I’m unsure that I would want to do the interview myself (especially given what happened to the interviewer in that film). I would certainly have taken more precautions, like having crosses and Holy Water present and I would have almost certainly have done the interview remotely, that is, at 8am in the morning in Manchester where it is bright and sunny, via satellite to Los Angeles where the vampire could relax in his night time environment.

While I am merely fascinated by these remarkable fictional beings, there are others who have taken their interest much further - into the realms of dangerous obsession. A whole subculture exists with people who are infatuated by vampires. It makes scary reading.

These days, I can watch vampire films with no qualms and no feelings of primordial dread and I do so with pure enjoyment. I can retire to my bed after a vampire film with no fear.

Sadly, in recent times, vampires on film have become nothing more than just an average bad guy and, apart from a few exceptions, they are not really scary at all. I blame “Buffy, The Vampire Slayer” for this – though there are other culprits. I watched a couple of episodes of that particular series and then refused to watch it further since, to me, it was contributing to the demise of the true genre. While some may argue that it was broadening their appeal, I would regard it as dumbing down for the masses.

Similarly, I love the “Blade” films but the mysticism surrounding vampires is sacrificed in favour of using them as bad guys for Wesley Snipes to turn to ash with maximum prejudice. I regard these films simply as action films rather than horror films, though most of the elements of traditional vampirism are used.

Maybe the vampire needs to evolve. I know one author has taken the vampire myth and used it to create a race of creatures that really are terrifying, even more so that Dracula. Brian Lumley’s “Necroscope” series of novels have introduced the concept that a vampire is in fact a symbiotic parasite, a creature that invades a human host and mutates that person into a monster that is far more fearsome than anything Bram Stoker could have dreamed up. He has even given them a more romantic name; “Wamphyri”. For me that conjures up an image of pure ancient evil. These creatures are almost invincible and it requires a supremely powerful super-hero to be able to combat them. I would recommend reading them; I won’t spoil it for you but there are thirteen novels in the series and each one of them is superb.

If they ever make a film based on “Necroscope” you can guarantee that it will be genuinely frightening. I will march into the cinema, popcorn in hand and watch it, knowing that I will once more be scared out of my wits exactly as I was when I was a naïve little eleven year old.

Now, where’s that big brass cross?

Friday 6 March 2009

The Scatterbrain

I have known people who live by Murphy’s Law: if something can go wrong for them, it will go wrong. Sadly, Mrs PM is one of those people.

Now I have to be careful here because Mrs PM does actually read the nonsense I write and, posting about how scatterbrained she is, may cause me serious pain. So instead I will relate to you an unfortunate incident involving an old friend of mine that demonstrates the point perfectly.

The story illustrates a common mistake that anybody could make (or so my mate said – I’m not sure that I believe him). Picture the scene. At university a group of us were in a night club trying to look cool at the edge of the dance floor and make eye contact with the females in the place. I was failing miserably and horribly (as usual).

Of course, several beers had been consumed and we were all slightly tipsy. My friend, let’s call him Wally, was struck by an irresistible urge to answer the call of Mother Nature. Unfortunately for him, this would not be a quick call. In retrospect I was aware that this might have been the case because the look on his face had become more and more desperate as he had tried to hang on. I mean did he honestly think that it would “go away”?

Ultimately Mother Nature was very insistent and told him in no uncertain terms that he had a choice. Either he find a toilet NOW or she would not be responsible for the consequences; he chose wisely and quite literally sprinted to the toilet.

“Gents” toilets in nightclubs the world over are worse than the third level of hell and this particular toilet was no exception. This is possibly the reason why Wally had hung on for so long. Knowing that he required a cubicle rather than a urinal, Wally raced into the “Gents” and burst straight into the nearest cubicle. Unfortunately, it was occupied – by a woman!

She screamed.

Wally screamed

In extreme panic, and as if it would make a difference, he mumbled an apology and fled. Such was his embarrassment and distress that he was out of there in a flash and into the other toilet, safely ensconced in a cubicle before the worst happened. As he sat down, his embarrassment at having entered that “Ladies” by mistake was momentarily subdued by his relief. It took a while before his alcohol soaked brain registered the fact that he had made a colossal error and seen a girl perched on the throne.

As he sat there waiting for nature to take its course, he considered what had happened and decided that perhaps he had got away with it. After all, in his mind, he had left the poor woman so quickly that she had almost certainly not seen him properly. Perhaps it was his confused alcohol-addled brain that convinced him he was fine.

But it wasn’t fine at all.

The toilet door burst open and in ran a hysterical female hotly pursued by her friend.

“Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!” she said.

“What’s the matter?” said her friend said.

“I’ve just done something terrible. I’ve just wandered into the “Gents” by mistake. There I was, sitting on the loo when this bloke burst in and caught me with my pants down. I screamed!”

“How did you manage to go to the wrong loo?” said her concerned friend.

“I was in a hurry …”

The conversation continued.

Wally’s world collapsed around him. He had not made the initial mistake; the girl had. The original toilet was indeed the “Gents” and he was now perched on a throne in a cubicle in the “Ladies” toilets.

To make matters worse, just about every other woman in the night club chose that precise moment to go to the toilet. Girl after girl poured in; some tried the cubicle door (which thankfully was locked); others chatted about guys in the club; still more reapplied their make-up. Wally was deafened by the chatter but his brain filtered out all of that; all he heard were the words of the girl he had upset as they boomed into his head.

“I feel awful,” the unfortunate woman continued. “I can’t go back out there: I might bump into him. I’m going home.”

“You can’t go home,” her friend said. “He won’t even remember you – that’s if he’s still in here.”

And so it went on …

… and on …

… and on …

… and on …

Wally by this time had long finished his business and sat there waiting for the girls to depart, hoping that the Earth would split open and swallow him up. Sadly, the girls remained, discussing her trauma for what seemed like an eternity. To make matters worse, he had been on the throne for so long that his legs were becoming numb. He had been sitting there for ages, his elbows resting on his knee and his face cradled in his hands, shaking his head in despair.

Desperate times called for desperate measures; Wally had to act.

“I’m so embarrassed,” continued the girl. “I can’t think of anything worse.”

Wally bit the bullet. He opened the door and walked out of the cubicle at that precise moment.

“I know exactly how you feel,” he said to the girl as he casually walked out.

This is typical of Wally. I have another couple of tales about his exploits that I may save for a later post. Moreover, I have stories about Mrs PM and others proving that Murphy’s Law does have favourite victims.

The sting in the tale for poor Wally on this particular occasion was that he had spent so long perched on the throne, with his chin cradled in his hands, that he had large red handprints on his cheeks for about fifteen minutes. To make matters worse, he actually fancied the victim of this particular scatterbrained incident. Unsurprisingly, she was long gone by the time he considered how to break the ice – I think the ice had been nuked already!