Tuesday 30 June 2009

Australian English

In Australia, I would probably be called “The Plastic Pom”, although maybe such a title would better serve an Australian living in England.

For those of you who don’t know, Pom is a term of endearment that our Australian cousins like to call people from Britain. It’s a bit of a weird name to be called and, from what I’ve read, nobody really knows where the name originates from. Some say it comes from POHM, meaning “Prisoners Of His Majesty”; others say that it is short for pomegranate, derived from the colour that pale English skins became when exposed to the sun down under.

Either way, I like the word, though I’m not sure that I like being called a Pom to be perfectly honest. As far as our Australian brethren are concerned, we simply call them Aussies.

All this shows that there is healthy banter between our two nations. We are fiercely competitive but to be honest I think we like each other, probably because we share the same sense of humour; I certainly haven’t met a bad Australian.

When it comes to sport, Aussies are insanely jealous of us because we beat them repeatedly at most sports. Well, sometimes anyway. Well – rarely if I’m perfectly honest. Nothing is sweeter than kicking Australian arse at cricket or rugby. Recently Britain inflicted a fabulous Australian bum kicking in the last Olympics, causing outrage down under. We won a magnificent 19 gold medals, compared to a pathetic 14 by team Australia. Of course, the Australians claim victory because, of the 19 British medals, 6 were won by Scottish and Welsh athletes making the real result: Australia 14 England 13. This is quite clearly a desperate and pathetic argument – we kicked your arses my Aussie friends.

Sadly, in rugby and cricket, we have limited success against them, and apart from beating Australia in their own back yard to win the Rugby World Cup in 2003, we don’t have much to shout about.

Anyway, the point of this post is not to gloat about sport; it is to differentiate between the way English is spoken in Britain and Australia. And boy do Australians have some strange words

Here are a few examples:

Ankle biter - a small child
Arvo - afternoon
Barbie - barbecue
Bathers - swimming costume
Billy - teapot
Bingle - car accident
Blue - fight (“he was having a blue with his wife”)
Bonzer - great
Cactus - dead (“this bloody machine is cactus”)
Chook - chicken
Cobber - friend
Daks - trousers
Digger - soldier
Dinkum - true, great
Docket - bill
Drongo - stupid person
Dunny - outside toilet
Franger - condom
G’day - hello
Grog - booze
Hoon - hooligan
Jumbuck - sheep
Liquid laugh - vomit
Matilda - sleeping roll
Moolah - money
Mystery bag - sausage
Ocker - oaf
Pommy - Englishman
Porky - lie
Rip snorter - fantastic (“It was a rip snorter of a party”)
Roo - kangaroo
Ripper - great, fantastic
Rotten - drunk
Sanger - sandwich
Seppo - an American
Sheila - woman
Shonky - dubious
Skite - boast
Spewin - angry
Sticky beak - nosey person
Strides - trousers
Swaggie - tramp
Tinny - can of beer
Tucker - food
Whacka - idiot
Wowser - a prude

Another one of my favourite phrases is a pommy shower, yet another reference to Brits but good nonetheless. What does it mean? Well, imagine that you’ve been out boozing all night and then have to go to work the next day. Obviously you still stink of booze so you try to mask the smell by drowning yourself in deodorant; hence a pommy shower.

Some other good phrases:

All over the place like a mad woman’s breakfast – in a state of chaos.

Park a tiger on the rug – vomit

I could kick the arse off an emu – I am very healthy

He’s got a head like a robber’s dog – He’s ugly

I was very surprised to see that a lot of British and Australian slang is very similar; the words may vary slightly but in essence they are the same.

One final word that has me a bit stumped is Manchester which apparently means household linen; it brings a whole new meaning to the Plastic Mancunian. I’d love to know the origin of that one.

Finally, have you ever watched Australian rules football? I swear it is the most violent and crazy game I have ever seen. If anybody can explain the rules to me feel free. I recall watching it for the first time in the 80’s and to me it looked like a bunch of Australian thugs running around on an oval pitch and kicking seven colours of crap out of each other. In the game I saw, one guy was sent off for excessive violence and, when heckled from the crowd, launched himself at the guy before being dragged off to the dressing room. The commentators shrugged it off as a normal event saying “Boy – he must’ve been pissed off!”

Yet in England, when Eric Cantona, having been sent off in a game of football, leapt into the crowd and karate kicked a fan, there was universal outrage with the commentators, pundits and newspapers condemning him in the most vehement fashion. I’ll bet the Aussie guy’s antics went unnoticed and he had a tinny in the dunny before he went home.

I’m looking forward to my next trip to Australia, which unfortunately won’t be in the near future. It gives me plenty of time to practice Australian English thankfully, though a Pom impersonating an Aussie in his own back yard may precipitate a fight rather quickly.

By the way, Aussies, if you are reading this post, I hope you’re looking forward to having your arses kicked in the Ashes this summer. Of course, if the results go your way, I will make an excuse, just like you did when we battered you in the Olympics.

Saturday 27 June 2009

Beautiful Rock, Beautiful Metal

I am misunderstood when it comes to music and I’m bloody sick of it.

I’m often asked “What kinds of music do you like, Dave”

When I reply “I love classic rock and heavy metal”, the person reacts in one of three ways:

First, they run away, screaming “Devil worshipper”.

Or second, they say “Oh – so you don’t really like music then. Heavy metal is just a wall of noise that makes most of its fans tone deaf.” They then proceed to lecture me on how the singers can’t sing, the guitarists just pour out wailing noise and can’t really play before accusing me of having no musical taste whatsoever. I have to listen to a one way diatribe about how “rock is dead” and that all rock lovers are smelly, brainless, long-haired idiots who wouldn’t know a decent tune if it came up and said “I’m a decent tune”. Finally, they say something along the lines of “If you want to listen to some good music, buy the latest album by Britney Spears or Take That”.

Or third, they say “YEAH! METAAAALLLLL!!!””

I want to target this post at those in the first two categories (as those in the third category are usually like minded people).

Before I go on, I would just like to say that I appreciate most forms of music and have a varied collection of CDs. I just happen to prefer rock music and heavy metal.

There are people out there who genuinely believe that rock music is the spawn of satan and all people who buy CDs by bands like Black Sabbath are destined to burn in the fires of hell for all eternity. There are also people out there who believe that heavy metal simply isn’t music at all, claiming, as I said above, that the artists are in fact using electric guitars as noise generators and somehow convincing people like me that it is music when in fact it is a tuneless dirge.

Well I want to make a stand here and now and prove these people wrong. The purveyors of rock and metal are not satanists and they are, on the whole, possibly the most gifted musicians on the planet.

I have numerous discussions with Mrs PM about music and I frequently end up banging my head against the wall in frustration. To say our tastes are different is a massive understatement.

Mrs PM would rather listen to nonsense like Britney Spears and Lady Ga Ga. When we drive a fair distance, we argue constantly about which radio station to listen to; she prefers Galaxy, a station that plays endless dance music. We end up playing one or two tracks of my music and one or two tracks of hers, which means that I am exposed to the latest bilge from Britney whilst trying to educate her about the finer points of heavy metal.

“It’s over,” she keeps saying to me when I extol the virtues of rock.

I am utterly fed up with this stereotyping and I am sick of people accusing me of having no appreciation of decent music just because I like to play air guitar with Metallica, or leap up and down while singing along with Trent Reznor or Geddy Lee.

Who else can play a musical instrument the way that Kirk Hammett, Joe Satriani or Tony Iommi can play the guitar? Who can play drums better than Neil Peart, Ian Paice or Cozy Powell?

Here for you delectation are a few songs by classic rock and heavy metal artists that will prove once and for all that these people have a rare talent for song writing, can actually sing delightfully and most importantly are superb musicians. These songs are, in my humble opinion, beautiful.

I present to you some exquisite examples of beautiful rock and beautiful metal, without a devil and barely a wailing guitar in sight. Follow the links to YouTube, close you eyes and let your imagination take you away on a cloud of wonder:

(1) Black Sabbath – Laguna Sunrise
(2) Ten – The Elysian Fields
(3) Foo Fighters – Still
Queensrÿche – Silent Lucidity
(5) Jethro Tull – Slow Marching Band
(6) Joe Satriani – Day At The Beach
Black Sabbath – Fluff
Gun – The Only One
(9) Pink Floyd – Comfortably Numb
(10) Evanescence – My Immortal
Nine Inch Nails – Right Where It Belongs
Deep Purple – The Aviator
(13) Def Leppard – From The Inside
Rainbow – Temple Of The King
Led Zeppelin – All My Love
Nazareth – Fallen Angel
(17) Whitesnake – Don’t Fade Away
Rammstein – Ohne Dich
(19) Little Angels – Feels Like My World Has Come Undone
(20) Ozzy Osbourne – My Little Man
Black Sabbath – Spiral Architect

These songs are so delightful that they bring tears to my eyes.

I hope you appreciate how musical these guys are and I hope that I’ve persuaded you a little. If you decide to listen to a little Def Leppard, Deep Purple or Black Sabbath as a result of this post I feel I will have done a good job.

Let me know what you think.

And finally, in the words of Bon Scott – LET THERE BE ROCK!!!!!!!

Thursday 25 June 2009

I'm In Love With My Car

Why do many men fall in love with their cars?

And if you don’t think that they do, think again. A large number of men are obsessed with their cars and treat them better than they treat their women.

I hasten to add that I am not in this category. I drive, what my mates describe, as a shed on wheels. It is a thirteen year old banger, although the manufacturers prefer to call it a “Ford Escort”. Boy racers and car-obsessed guys pour scorn on my old car, and openly mock me for continuing to use what they also describe as a “heap”.

I’ve owned my car now for about nine years. One of the reasons that I have kept it, instead of succumbing to pressure from car-loving mates to replace it, is that my car is totally and utterly reliable. In the time I have owned it, my car has only let me down once; I broke down on the M62 crawling up a hill in a traffic jam and the car overheated because a fan had failed. The breakdown guy who rescued me managed to get it going within two minutes and I managed to get home without further problems.

Sure, it’s got a few dents, a couple of rusty spots and it has definitely seen better days, but it still goes. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that the point of having a car? Aren’t cars simply meant to be devices that simply take us from A to B?

One thing’s for sure; I am definitely not in love with it. I would be a little miffed if something happened to it, but not for any reason other than the inconvenience it would cause.

There are men I know who have spent hundreds of pounds on their cars; their obsession is laughable. All of their spare time is spent polishing the thing and when you are a passenger in it, you have to watch where you put your feet.

These guys drive around for fun; I HATE driving – the only reason I do it is because it gets me to my destination quicker. I have absolutely no desire to drive around for the hell of it. We’re talking about guys who would marry their cars if it were legal to do so.

One mate of mine was so in love with his car that he barely drove the thing; it sat in his garage and he polished it religiously and rarely went out in it. His wife had an old banger and he used that instead Then came the fateful day when his wife announced that she was pregnant. He was faced with a stark choice. Well, to his wife it was a no-brainer but to him it was a huge problem. Could he afford to keep a high performance beauty of a car that he rarely drove AND have the ability to support his wife and forthcoming child? In the end, common sense prevailed and he sold it. There were tears in his eyes as he handed over the keys. He also handed over a handwritten book about how to look after the car, covering details of which polish to use, how often to service it, etc. and what to call it when he drove it.

And his final word was “If you crash it, I’ll bloody kill you.”

He didn’t say that really but I know that he was thinking it.

You only have to watch TV shows like Top Gear to get a feel for man’s obsession with his four-wheeled friends. The three presenters spend the entire show drooling over the latest high performance motors, blinding us with statistics about how fast the things go:

0 to 60 in 2 seconds – now THERE’S a car

I love the show because it is hilarious but the obsession with cars is there for even the most stupid among us to see.

I must admit that some of the cars featured on the show are quite exquisite to look at but how the hell could the vast majority of people in Britain (or indeed anywhere) afford such a beast? Most of the cars featured on the show cost more than my house. If I were to drive a top of the range Ferrari around Manchester, I would be travelling at 5 mph for fear of damaging it. And woe betide the person who crashed into me.

Why do people spend so much on cars? I don’t understand it. My old banger costs quite a lot to keep it on the road and, although the repair, service and MOT bills are modest, they are still expensive. To service a top of the range car (even a modest saloon) it would cost a fortune. To me that would be a disaster – it would be like throwing my wallet over the cliff – utterly pointless and very expensive.

And have you ever been to a motor show?

A car-loving mate once persuaded me to go down to Birmingham to see a show covering mainly motor sport. He and just about every other male there were drooling over the sports cars, formula one cars, rally cars etc. – I was drooling over the busty models who were sitting on the bonnets of these cars (and I think I was in a minority). Honestly, the place was awash with dribble from car-obsessed men. There were stalls with wheels, bits of engines and all sorts of other anatomical bits and pieces for high performance cars and I have never seen so many men in lust with them. It was absurd and ridiculous. I was bored out of my brain after an hour or so.

My mate spotted a Finnish rally driver and bought a video covering a two year old rally season just so that he could get the guys autograph; I’d never heard of the man, even though I exchanged a few words with him. I can’t even remember his name and I wouldn’t know him again even if I tripped over his outstretched boot.

If only I had been single, good-looking and charming, I could have tried to pull one of the busty models – but sadly that was also a non-starter.

All the way back, my mate enthused over the show and I nodded but lost interest. I haven’t been back to another show.

There is a song by Queen called “I’m In Love With My Car” and I reckon that it could have been written by any one of my mates who are obsessed with their cars. The lyrics are very funny to somebody like me, who regards them as functional devices – here are a few excerpts:

When I’m holdin your wheel
All I hear is your gear
When my hands on your grease gun
Oh its like a disease son

I'm in love with my car
Gotta feel for my automobile
Get a grip on my boy racer rollbar
Such a thrill when your radials squeal

Told my girl I’ll have to forget her

Rather buy me a new carburettor

Here’s the song in full:

I personally think that Roger Taylor’s lyrics probably don’t go far enough for men who love their cars; perhaps they would if the song were called “I’m OBSESSED with my car”, with new lyrics:

When I’m rubbing your wheel
All I feel is your gear
When I’m stroking your bodywork
Oh your touch drives me beserk

I’m obsessed with my car
Want to marry my automobile

Anyway, my old banger does me proud but it will be a sad day when it finally dies and goes to that great garage in the sky.


Because I’ll have to bloody well fork out for a new one, that’s why.

Tuesday 23 June 2009

I've Got This Mole, Ya Know ...

I was having a poke around YouTube (as I sometimes do) and I came across this classic piece of stand-up comedy from Jasper Carrott.

For those of you who have never heard of him, Jasper Carrott is from Birmingham (pretty close to where I was born) and is one of my favourite comedians. I first heard this routine as a child in the 70's and I have never forgotten it.

I was delighted to discover that it came with its own animated film.

I hope you understand the Birmingham accent (very similar to a Black Country accent but not quite).


Monday 22 June 2009

Grow Up, Dad!!!

“Why don’t you just grow up?”

Harsh words that perhaps you would imagine were spoken by me when reprimanding one of my sons. The sad truth of the matter is that it is me who was being told off … by my thirteen year old son.

I deserved it, of course. I had been sitting next to him on the settee, driving him up the wall by poking him, prodding him, tickling him and inflicting upon him all sorts of other juvenile annoyances.

“What do you mean – GROW UP?” I asked indignantly.

“You’re an embarrassment,” he replied cruelly. “Stop acting like a child.”

I was mortified. All I was doing was having a little fun. And then Mrs PM, sitting across the room backed him up.

“He’s right. You are a child,” she said. And then she launched into a lecture about examples of how I act more like a four year old than a middle aged man. I couldn’t believe it. She told me that I do the same to her. She reminds me constantly that I behave like a child even when the kids aren’t around. Once, when we visited her parents, she said:

“I’m here with the three kids.”

I foolishly looked around and said “Who’s the third kid?”

“YOU ARE!” she said.

Now I don’t know whether to be proud of this or not. My philosophy with children has always been to join them on their level. I’ve tried to make my lads’ lives fun from the moment they could crawl.

For example:

As babies, I tried to make bath time a complete laugh. I was frequently told off by my (ex) wife for turning the bathroom into a swimming pool, simply because I encouraged the babies to splash me. It was fun – I loved it. And so did they.

As they grew older, I used to hide in their bedroom at bedtime and scare the pants off them when they came in – again they loved it. I have always hidden in the house looking for the best time to make them jump out of their skin by leaping out and screaming “BOOOOO!!!!”.

Even now, I wrestle with them, pin them down and tickle them – and my eldest is sixteen. At bedtime I charge up the stairs and leap on my thirteen year old throwing stuff at him and tickling him.

When we play “Super Mario Kart” on the Wii, I leap up and down like a demented jack-in-a-box when I win, leap onto the losing child and scream “I WON I WON I WON I WON I WON!”

When we have dinner, it is usually me who is being told off by Mrs PM for acting like a buffoon and cracking jokes.

Tell me something – is that so wrong?

I love making the kids laugh. I love having fun with them. I always have done.

It’s a crying shame that my eldest son is almost an adult. I still have fun with him and make him laugh but the looks he gives me when I act like a child are embarrassing.

“Easy Dad,” he says. “I’m sixteen you know.”

You can imagine, I guess, how I felt when my thirteen year old son told me to grow up; I was a little hurt because now he seems to be maturing to the point where my behaviour is an embarrassment to him. And to be honest, I’m saddened by it.

Of course, it is good to see them growing up and I can barely believe that in two years time my eldest son will be able to vote and drink beer. The days of having childish fun with them will soon vanish.

But I am making a promise to myself – I am going to encourage the child within despite people's best efforts to subdue him. After all, we need some fun in our lives and if I can be a child for a little while occasionally, I think it will make me a better person. Embrace that inner child, I say. You will feel better for it.

I must finish now because Mario is calling – I have an appointment with Mario, Wario, Luigi and Bowser and I don’t intend to miss it.

Saturday 20 June 2009

Killer Cats

Cats can be cute and cuddly, but one thing that most people forget (usually women) is that they are in fact vicious killing machines who butcher innocent creatures without remorse.

Take the other night, for example. Picture the scene:

There I was, sitting at my desktop, with a very dodgy post about toilets in front of me, searching for inspiration for another blog post. Mrs PM had gone to bed early. The house was silent. The world was falling asleep.

All of a sudden, a blood-curdling scream reverberated around the house. It shocked me so much that I pressed “Publish” by accident and unleashed the disgusting post about toilet habits onto the world without proof-reading it first. Mayhem ensued.

Poppy, the most timid of our cats, the one who is terrified of shadows, raced downstairs in a flurry of black and threw herself out of the cat flap like a feline possessed. This was all the more incredible because the cat flap was locked.

Spooked by the scream and Poppy’s remarkable exit, our fat cat, Jasper, followed her and somehow managed to crowbar his bulk through the same cat flap.

“What the …?” I said. Mrs PM ran downstairs still in a state of shock.

Fearing that we had a burglar or, worse, a ghost in the house I looked around for the nearest blunt object. I found a Wii controller and prepared myself for combat. Then I thought to myself “That’s going to be a pretty useless weapon when challenging a spook,” so I reluctantly put it down and tried to be the brave man.

“Wh..wh...wh...what’s wrong?” I stammered, picturing a psychotic vampiric spectre marching downstairs with blood lust in its eyes.

“Poppy’s bought a LIVE MOUSE into the bedroom and dropped it on the bed,” said Mrs PM with a look of total trauma. I then realised that she was holding the little blighter by its tail – and it was still wriggling. She opened the front door and carefully released it back into the wild.

When she came back, I was on the floor rolling around in hysterical laughter.

“IT’S NOT FUNNY!” she shouted before storming off back to bed.

I was still laughing when I reread the blog post I had inadvertently published. Thankfully, I deleted the post before anybody read it (at least I hope I did).

I have tried, in vain, to convince Mrs PM that “her babies” can be evil little monsters who terrorize wildlife. Even Poppy, a tiny cute little black creature, can mutate into a vicious, heartless predator. If Arnie Schwartzenegger had had to face a giant Poppy in that jungle rather than an alien killing machine, he wouldn’t have stood a chance.

I’ve seen it myself. Poppy has marched into the lounge on a number of occasions with a live creature in her mouth and then let it go before walking out of the room again, leaving me to catch the creature myself.


I cannot catch mice; I cannot catch birds; I cannot catch frogs.

Have you ever tried to catch a mouse? It’s impossible. Cheese doesn’t work. Those Tom and Jerry cartoons are lies.

Mice are bad enough but birds are the worst.

Why? Because they can fly and I hate them.

When I was a kid, we had a particularly vicious cat called Midge. This cat was a psychopath. It would treat me as prey. I would go to school covered in scratches, battle scars from my confrontations with this mad moggy.

My dad christened the cat Midge because when we first acquired him, he was tiny, absolutely minute and totally cute. But inside that tabby ball of fluff lurked a monster. It seemed like he mutated overnight. One day he was a cuddly little ball of fluff, the next he was a psychotic killing machine – and nothing was safe – including me.

One day, I returned from school and Midge was sitting on the gate post. As I approached, I heard him purring and so, led cunningly into a false sense of security, I put out my hand to stroke him.

I almost lost it. He leapt off the wall, grabbed my hand with his front paws, sank his teeth into my flesh and clawed my forearm with his back legs. I couldn’t shake him off. By the time he’d let go, my entire arm was a bloody mess.

Another time, he jumped on my knee, purring and moved his face close to mine. Before I could say a word, he had sunk his teeth into my nose. On other occasions he simply scratched me for the hell of it. I think he saw me as a challenge. He would stare at me and his eyes would say “You’re going down, sucker!”

My sisters were also victims. He once climbed into my eldest sister’s school bag and peed all over her school books.

As well as attacking me at every opportunity, Midge used to bring live birds into the house and let them go. Once, he brought in a thrush that was almost bigger than he was. He let the beast go and its instinct told it to fly for freedom towards the window. As well as glass, there was another obstacle to block its escape: a net curtain.

The bird flapped around the window screeching in terror and the cat ran up the net curtain tearing it to shreds in the process. I sat there in total shock as I watched the mayhem unfold. I was stunned into inaction as the cat leapt about the window, using the curtains as claw holds, ripping them to pieces.

Can you imagine the scene? Me trying desperately to catch a cat with bloodlust in its eyes, a terrified thrush flapping around making enough noise to wake a corpse, and my mum’s net curtains being systematically destroyed by claw and beak?

It took me a good ten minutes to catch the cat. As I struggled to take it outside, the cat vented its spleen and tore several shreds of skin from my face and arms. Midge became a hissing, scratching ball of pure fury; it was like wrestling a live chainsaw.

Having disposed of the cat, I finally managed to open the window and free the thrush. However, the poor creature had deposited the contents of its bowels evenly over the curtains, carpet, TV and most other items of furniture in the lounge. The bird was like a TARDIS - how could something so small contain so much poo?

I sat down dishevelled, bleeding and shell-shocked. All I could hear was the cat howling outside the door: “Let me in or there will be hell to pay.”

It took a hell of a lot of explaining to my mum when she returned and saw her lounge looking like the Battle of the Somme. And, of course, because to her Midge was a harmless ball of cuteness, I got the blame.

“Yes, Mum. I caught a thrush, let it go in the lounge and tried to cut it to pieces with a chainsaw. Midge had nothing to do with it.”

Thankfully, our three cats are nowhere near as violent as Midge was. Nevertheless, they do feel the need to bring us creatures, alive and dead, for reasons that only they understand. They show no remorse when they drop a bloody half-eaten sparrow in the middle of the carpet. In the summer, in particular, our house can become littered with half-eaten woodland creatures. Our house becomes a morgue for wildlife.

I see dead creatures.

And still Mrs PM treats the cats as if they are little angels.

The day after Poppy dropped a live mouse on Mrs PM in bed, she was walking around the house, cooing.

“Poppy! Poppy! Where are you little girl?”

“She’s probably annihilating the mouse population again,” I replied on Poppy’s behalf.

“She’s not,” replied Mrs PM. “She’s frightened because you’ve been stomping around like a demented elephant again. You’re horrible”

“Correct me if I’m wrong,” I said. “But are we talking about the cute little black thing, known in the garden as The Killing Beast? The same little black ball of fluff that decapitates mice for fun? The very same timid creature that dropped a live mouse on your head last night?”

“Leave her alone,” she snapped.

“So let me get this right – you’re having a go at me because Poppy, aka the Manchester Mouse Murderer, is out there on a killing spree rather then being here with you?”

“She’s not a murderer. She’s lovely. She’s so cute.” said Mrs PM before storming off. I somehow managed to acquire the blame for the whole episode.

I can’t win. It is so difficult to convince Mrs PM, sometime, that Poppy is really a serial killer; so is Jasper; so is Spike.

Anyway, I need to get this off my chest, so I would like to dedicate this post to Poppy for giving me a little inspiration.

Now then, where’s that post about toilet habits?

Thursday 18 June 2009

Tweet Tweet

I am about to go to the toilet. It may not be pleasant. More details later.

I can imagine that the previous three sentences filled you with revulsion and disgust. I have got a point – honestly (and it does not involve graphic details of my toilet habits). My point can be summed up in one word:


I have been reading a few blogs recently and have noticed that more and more bloggers are asking me to follow them on Twitter. I’ve had a quick look at the Twitter web site and it basically says:

Answer this simple question – What are you doing?

The opening line to this post tried to illustrate how I thought this whole Twitter thing worked. I’ve seen something similar on Facebook where you can leave a status of sorts stuff like:

Fred is skinning a dead fish

Bill is up to his eyeballs in dog poo

Linda has just dumped Greg but don’t tell him.

So what’s the difference between your Facebook status and Twittering? To be honest, I don’t know. I never bother filling in my Facebook status simply because I don’t want my friends to become comatose reading about my mundane and tedious life. Can you imagine it?

Dave is having a one way conversation with the cats about who scratched the door.

Dave is beginning to regret having chicken madras last night.

Dave has hay fever and it is totally unpleasant.

Dave is at work, cursing, spitting and drinking copious amounts of tea.

Actually to be fair, my life isn’t that humdrum; I do occasionally wander out into the wide world and slap it in the face (or usually get slapped instead), so there may be a remote chance that somebody might be vaguely interesting in some bits of my existence. I doubt it though.

So now I have a dilemma. Should I get onto this Twitter thing and spend my whole day updating it? I can see one use for it – that’s to promote this blog – but is that enough to make it worth my while?

I must admit I’m intrigued to find out what famous people are doing. For example, I know that Stephen Fry is a huge fan of Twitter and does it all the time. I wonder whether it is worth enrolling. I enjoy writing drivel here, so I wouldn’t want to make it a substitute for this blog. But I guess it could have its advantages.

So, can I ask anybody out there whether it is worth me doing it? Do you “tweet” and if so, why? And does it help to fulfil your life?

I’m genuinely interested, particularly after the recent events in Iran, where Twitter seems to have come into its own.

By the way – my first tweet, if I go for it, will be a report on my first paragraph. That should scare people away.

Monday 15 June 2009

The Importance Of Being Lazy

We live in a world where we’re urged get up and then hit turbo charge and attack each day as if it is the last day of our lives. From the moment my crusty eyes open after a night’s sleep I am on the bloody move. I look at my clock and think “Crap! I’m going to be late!!”

So I get up, rush to get to the bathroom before Mrs PM, race downstairs, get hassled by the cats, prepare their breakfast, make my lunch, rush out, hit the rush hour, curse because I’ve forgotten to eat breakfast myself, curse again because I’m in such a rush that I forgot my lunch and finally after seemingly eons in the car I get to work,

When I arrive, I am urged to fall into line and spend an adrenalin-fuelled day meeting deadlines and being virtually ordered to be a dynamic robot, seeking excellence in everything I do. My entire day is usually a tiring stress-filled period of trauma where I have several people bothering me constantly:

“Have you done this?”

“Have you done that?”

Emails fly in, the phone rings, I’m asked question after question. I attend meeting after meeting. I barely have time to breath.

At the end of the day, I am a shredded nervous wreck. The greatest feeling in the world is driving out through the gates at the end of the day knowing that I can relax at least a little. But then there’s the drive home through the rush hour traffic to rekindle the stress-monster within.

When I finally arrive home I am shattered and want nothing more than to vegetate in front of the TV. My brain is quite literally fried, drained of all emotion and thought. My imagination is a distant memory and I find myself trying to fill the void with inane garbage on the TV. I sit there like a dribbling half-wit as boring drivel somehow gets past my mental firewall filling my mind with utter nonsense. Eventually my firewall somehow reboots and I am able to focus on more interesting stuff but then I realise that it is time to go to bed. My final thought before sleep claims me is:“Oh no! Back to work tomorrow!”

The cycle is inexorable and all-consuming, mentally draining and physically sickening.

And it doesn’t matter what you do or who you work for. I speak to friends and colleagues from all walks of life with all sorts of careers. It is the same for them.

Recently I’ve been asking myself, who the bloody hell decided that I should spend my entire life racing through days like a rocket powered Formula One car? What elite group of psychotic arses decided that everybody should run around like blue-arsed flies for their entire working lives? I’ve come to the conclusion that the whole world is run by a bunch of these people. I would like to call them "agitators”.

So, what is an agitator? It is a person who is driven to work, work, work until they are fit to drop and expects everybody else to fall in line. Such is their devotion to life in the fast lane that they drag the rest of us along with them. They regard idleness as a sin; they regard relaxation as a crime; they have no imagination; they want to rise as quickly as possible up the corporate ladder and will do anything to achieve their goals.

Agitators seem to think that it is somehow good for the rest of us to be overly productive, mentally alert, and run ourselves into the ground day in day out for the best years of our lives. We have been told that we must “GO, GO, GO!” constantly and inexorably. And if we do “GO GO GO” they tell us that we should “GO FASTER FASTER FASTER ”. We are not allowed to stop. We are expected to put in supreme effort and drain ourselves almost to an oblivious void. These people have somehow brainwashed everybody into thinking that we have to drive ourselves into the ground every single day.

We are good, they ask to be better.

We improve and become better, they ask to reach excellence.

We achieve excellence, we are asked to become perfect.

We reach perfection and that is still not enough. We have to become super-perfect. These are the kind of people who, when told “I will give you 100%”, dismiss that with a wave of their hands and say “100%? I WANT 200%!!!”

There’s no time even to be ill. If you ARE ill you have to personally phone up work; it’s as if nobody believes that you can be so ill that work is impossible. There are commercials on the TV for maximum über-strength cold and flu remedies that enable you to get to work and do your job even though you are in the grip of the worst flu imaginable. The agitators tell us “Life doesn’t stop just because you are sick and dying”.

I have an ambition to write a novel or at least some kind of book. I know that I will never do that unless something changes. When I arrive home from yet another day’s hard work, together with millions of people worldwide, my brain is about as useful as a chocolate teapot. My vivid imagination has been replaced by a nebulous cloud. I could not stimulate my mind if I applied a million volt electric shock (you may actually struggle to believe I hadn’t already done that if you’ve ever seen my hair on a bad day).

My mind becomes a void that can only be filled with trash.

If you read the job pages of a British broadsheet, you see that the demands on people are phenomenal. The job commercials demand qualities that even Superman would struggle to fulfil. Here are some examples I picked up recently from a broadsheet:

“Capable of thriving under pressure”

“Must be deadline oriented”

“Must be absolutely flexible”

“Must be able to solve any problem”

We are expected to hit the ground running and to stay there, burning ourselves out. Friends and colleagues in all walks of life and in many careers feel exactly the same. We are driven to dedicate our entire lives to this unending mind-destroying rat race.

We can’t relax, even at home or on holiday. Some people are driven to work all the hours they can and are not satisfied even when they achieve great things. I am astounded that people can go on holiday and take their work with them. They have to “GO GO GO GO GO” all of the time and if they are go-go-going at their fastest rate they are urged to slip into overdrive by the agitators.

I think we have forgotten about life and are gradually leaving it behind. In my twenty five years in the rat race, things have become far worse and I can only see things deteriorating rapidly. Stress is causing illness amongst the population of the world; demands are made through the management chain and by the time it reaches the bottom, everybody in the chain has suffered varying degrees of pressure. Even if you are not an agitator yet have some degree of success, the agitators will pile even more work and burdens upon you to make sure your stress levels are so high that you can be even more productive.

Okay, so we need to work to be able to live comfortably, but the agitators, the drivers of this fast paced life, have us by the short and curlies. We have to work and they know it, so their demands become greater while resources and time becomes scarcer. Even agitators have demands thrust upon them by competitors, customers and über-agitators higher up the food chain, whose requirements are becoming more absurd as time progresses. It’s a vicious circle of mayhem; we are all part of it and cannot escape.

Why should agitators ruin it for those who wish to be creative? Agitators are driven by a work ethic that is becoming increasingly all-consuming in all walks of life. Ultimately I see the human race becoming almost robotic. Longer working hours will mean that we have less free time to become relaxed and ponder the beauty of the world; we should be working shorter hours and using spare time to expand our minds. Agitators, who seem to be in charge, have forgotten how to do this and are driven solely by a meaningless ambition. They pat themselves on the back for their success.

Except they don’t have success do they, if we’re honest about it?

A large proportion of them set themselves and others increasingly absurd and unachievable deadlines and targets that they and the people who work for them can’t even dream of reaching. Just take a look at the crazy rush to build the new Wembley Stadium as a prime example of the failure of agitators. Look at the panic that ensues when other large building contracts and projects finish way over budget and years too late. It is a worldwide phenomenon and yet we sit there and continue to let the agitators dictate to us.

I ask myself whether it is time to fight back. Should we improve our quality of life by spending more time relaxing?

Agitators pour scorn on such rebellious thoughts by making out that this leads to idleness and sloth. You are lazy and therefore a total burden to society.

But I ask myself, what the hell is wrong with being idle?

My mind is normally active and, when not under pressure at work, I am constantly thinking about new stuff. My imagination tends to run amok if I am relaxed, particularly if fuelled by something strange I see in the news, or something weird I read in newspapers and magazines. Even something as mundane as watching a film can trigger a bizarre journey into the sick, sordid and wacky universe that is my imagination.

Yet the work ethic that is forced upon me by agitators is slowly killing that world. Even if I change my job to do something else I will be at the mercy of these people. Agitators call us lazy and the rest of society frowns upon us as a result. I can just imagine an agitator watching me at the moment and the thoughts that may go through his head.

“Why are you sitting there at a computer typing a blog post when you could be working? Your blog is meaningless. You don’t get paid for it – why bother? You may as well knuckle down and start thinking about how you are going to tackle your next week’s work.”

It shouldn’t have to be that way.

Staying in bed for an extra hour at the weekend is frowned upon and criticised by agitators.

Well, maybe it is time for me to make a stand. Maybe I shouldn’t allow agitators to dictate the roads I take. Okay, I have to work, but outside that work I should not be pushed around and accused of being unproductive just because I am refusing to tow society’s line of constantly running and living on an adrenalin-fuelled rollercoaster.

I think I will embrace idleness. Laziness will be my guide. Indolence will fuel my imagination and help me fuel my ambitions.

No more burning the midnight oil for me; no more worrying about work when I am at home. I will no longer allow agitators to accuse me of idleness just because I decide to spend my days strolling through the park, allowing my imagination to run free.

There is a world out there and being idle occasionally allows us to focus on it. Ignore the agitators; join me and we can derail this obsession with fast-paced, stress-inducing, agitator-driven rat race that we all have to endure.

Life is good – relax and enjoy it.

Sunday 7 June 2009

Guitar Heroes - Joe Satriani

Joe Satriani is one of the most incredible guitarists I have ever seen live – and I have seen many.

I first stumbled across his work in 1989, when I heard a superb song called “Big Bad Moon”. I loved the video accompanying the song and as I watched and listened I thought to myself, this guy can really play the bloody guitar.

I was so awestruck that I mentioned him to a mate at work, who turned out to be a huge fan. He lent me a video featuring videos and work from his second album “Surfing with the Alien”. I was converted and bought the album “Flying In A Blue Dream”, containing “Big Bad Moon”.

When Joe released the follow up album, “The Extremist”, he toured the UK and I had the chance to see him in Birmingham. As we travelled to the gig, I listened to “The Extremist” and was disappointed to hear that he didn’t sing. However, the more I heard it the more I thought, the songs stand out even without vocals.

As for the concert, I was stunned at how superb Joe Satriani was live; I have never seen a more technically advanced guitarist ever – he turned his guitar into a living entity. It was sheer brilliance. I have seen him twice now, the second time in Manchester, where he was even better.

What’s even more incredible is the fact that Joe Satriani actually helped two other guitar heroes of mine to learn the guitar: Kirk Hammett of Metallica and the incredible Steve Vai.

Furthermore, when Ritchie Blackmore left Deep Purple in the lurch in the 90’s, Joe Satriani stepped in and completed the tour. I would have loved to have seen the great man performing “Highway Star”. Not many (if any) can simply step into the shoes of the great Ritchie Blackmore.

Anyway, here are a few of my favourite Joe Satriani songs:

(1) Big Bad Moon
(2) Summer Song
(3) Crystal Planet
(4) War
(5) Satch Boogie
(6) Crowd Chant
(7) Ceremony
(8) Flying In A Blue Dream
(9) Surfing With The Alien
(10) Motorcycle Driver

He has now formed a supergroup with Sammy Hagar, Chad Smith and Michael Anthony. I can’t wait to hear what they sound like.

Finally, here is Joe performing “Big Bad Moon” with another legendary guitarist, Brian May, and the fantastic and sorely missed drummer, Cozy Powell, way back in 1992.

Thursday 4 June 2009

The Curse Of Shyness

I have a shocking confession: I am a very shy person.

I know that there will be people out there who know me and will say:

“WHAT? You may be many things but you are DEFINITELY NOT shy!”

If you think that then you are definitely wrong. I have lived with this debilitating condition ever since I can remember. Even when I was born, from the very moment I popped out my mother, I cried because I was entering a world of complete strangers. My mum was a stranger and so was the midwife – and when my dad walked in the room to see his first born, I screamed in terror.

I have suffered as a consequence of my introversion.

I was the child who hid behind his mother.

I was the teenager who preferred to sit in his room than go outside.

I was the student who stood alone like a lemon at parties. It was ironic really that I was lonely in a crowded room full of people who were enjoying themselves.

Don’t get me wrong – I did have friends; the only problem was that I really had to work hard at acquiring them. I relied heavily on fearless people who would talk to anybody, particularly those who would talk to me. I envied folks who could simply walk up to others and say things like “Hi, I’m Mike. What do you do?”

I found myself hanging around rampant extroverts, those who had no qualms about talking to me. Even then, it was difficult because I didn’t know what to say to them. I am thankful that they persevered and managed to unlock the real me from my self-inflicted prison. You see, once they got to know the real me, the person inside the shell, they actually liked what they found. When I become a friend to somebody, there is a bond between us that never breaks.

I realised that I had a problem and the desire to overcome that problem was more important than the fear generated by it. The turning point for me came at university. In my first year, I was invited to parties by extrovert friends, possibly because they realised I was horrifically shy and thought that the combination of atmosphere, young like-minded people and alcohol would allow me to break out of my shell naturally. The first few parties were terrifying. It was like being asked to leap from the top of the Eiffel Tower wearing nothing but a fig leaf (I would have preferred to have done that to be honest).

At those parties I would find myself lost in a room full of strangers, all of whom were happily talking to others and completely ignoring me. I may as well have been invisible – at least then I could have had some fun. I was the solitary person stood in the corner desperate to hear from anybody. People thought I was aloof and weird. I would drink a large amount of alcohol in order to pluck up the courage to chat; the problem was that I would then butt into a conversation and say something totally inappropriate or just plain stupid and all this with a totally slurred voice. I would be dismissed as a goon and pushed aside like a piece of crap. Inevitably I would often leave the party in disgrace. My ego took a real pounding at that time of my life.

I couldn’t understand how people could actually simply walk up to complete strangers and start a conversation. I would rather have had all of my teeth extracted with a sledgehammer than talk to somebody I didn’t know. I even found it difficult to walk into a place full of strangers just to meet a friend. If I had arranged to meet a mate in a pub, for example, I would be late on purpose, just so that I didn’t have to sit down on my own waiting for them. And then I gained a reputation for always being late.

I decided to fight back. I still had a couple of years of university left and I was determined to make the most of them. I began to study more than just the academic course I was on; I started studying other people, particularly those fearless warriors who slap the face of introversion into submission. These guys had no shame and most importantly they had no fear. They would simply say the first thing that came into their heads as an ice-breaker – and ninety percent of the time it worked. There were occasions when they were slapped back but, because they had skins thicker than an elephant pie, it had absolutely no effect. The kind of people I am talking about are those who volunteer to be made an exhibition of themselves and don’t fear the consequences.

I decided to try my hand at being extrovert. I became two people.

The first was “Real Me”, the person who was still shy, still terrified and still scared to open my mouth in public. The second was a person who the complete opposite, the person who laughed in the face of shyness and used it as a punch bag. I began to grab every opportunity to meet new people with both hands. When I was in the company of close friends I was still “Real Me”, the “me” who had popped out of the shell of shyness. Close friends knew the real me so I didn’t have to pretend to be somebody else. However, when I was invited to a party or had to be in a scenario where I had to talk to strangers, I became “The Extrovert”.

I saw “The Extrovert” as a different person, somebody I admired, and somebody who had the courage to explode into a room and enthral everybody present with his charm, wit and amazing repartee. “The Extrovert” was great. Almost everybody loved him and he could do anything.

And it actually worked - sometimes. After a summer off, I started my second year at university and was invited to a party. I arrived with friends but I took it upon myself to march into a room where I knew nobody whatsoever. I unleashed “The Extrovert” for the first time and said, “Go and do your stuff.”

I was fuelled by a little alcohol, but I did it. I walked up to a group of three guys chatting and said “Hi I’m Dave. I’ve come with Chris. Is this your party?” And they actually started chatting to me. In the end, it was one of the most enjoyable parties I’d been to. “The Extrovert” broke the ice and as I chatted to these three guys “Real Me” came out and “The Extrovert” rode off into the sunset like the Lone Ranger.

I made three new friends on my own without anybody else having to make an effort. Now to most people that would have been as natural as going to the toilet. I can imagine extroverts reading this and saying “D’UH!!! Doesn’t everybody do that? Are you some kind of freak?” To me, however, it was a major, and I mean MAJOR achievement

It was an epiphany. It was liberating. It changed my life.

Of course, after I left university and joined the rat race, I simply had to change. Given what I do now, the shy version of me would have a seizure. I travel a fair amount but the thought of flying to Switzerland on my own would have filled me with absolute dread. Even the thought of sitting in a restaurant on my own would be a nightmare for that shy person. It’s absolutely true. He would rather skewer his eyeballs than ask for a table for one in a German-speaking restaurant. However, I do this all the time. I call on “The Extrovert” to do the honours and then I can relax and send him on his way.

It doesn’t work all the time. I am still afraid to be perfectly honest. There are times when I find myself in a situation that chills me to the bone. I stutter, break into a cold sweat and have enough adrenalin flooding around my body to make me take off in flight. But I breathe deeply, smile and face the issue in front of me. It works, most of the time.

I still don’t like walking into a pub on my own either, but I bite the bullet and do it. I prefer to face the fear than be regarded as unreliable. It’s the same with public speaking. I’ve posted about this in the past, and, although I still have the urge to run screaming from the room, I let “The Extrovert” tell me “What’s the worst that can happen?” before unleashing him on the people I have to present to. Sometimes he fails, most of the time he succeeds.

You may read this post and think that there is a lot of bravado and that I have succeeded in conquering my affliction.

I haven’t.

I am still fundamentally shy. I still feel uncomfortable walking into a room of strangers, and sometimes, depending on my level of self-esteem, I will sit in a corner for a while speaking to nobody. Sadly there are still times when I am alone in a crowded room. The difference now, though, is that I know that I can talk to people if I want to. If I have a moment of supreme confidence I can walk into a room of strangers and become the life and soul of the party.

Are you shy, dear reader? If so, have you taken steps to try to fight this monster within? I’d be interested to know. Or are you a raging extrovert with no shame? If so, how do you do what you do?

As I said, people who know me don’t think I’m shy at all. They have seen me walk into a room full of strangers and charm the shoes off people. They have also seen me make a fool of myself in front of people I don’t know and then they have watched me laugh about it without a trace of fear.

They see “The Extrovert”. And thankfully, they also see the real me basking in his wake.