Friday 30 October 2009

How Can I Get Fit?

Last night I made an arse of myself in front of strangers (yet again)!

I arrived home from work, as usual, ranting to myself about work and discovered that Mrs PM wasn’t home. With monumental self control I forced myself to calm down, forgetting the rigours of the day, breathing in slowly and meditating. And then I realised it was my turn to cook.

“OK,” I said to myself. “I can do this. I can keep calm. What I need is a little Heavy Metal and I can cope with anything.”

I switched on my computer and went straight for my new Rammstein album, carefully selecting “Bückstabü”, the track that was most likely to blast any stress away in a tsunami of noise.

With Till Lindemann growling in the background, I opened the fridge.


I looked at my watch and saw that the time was five to six. Five minutes before the local newsagent closed. Five minutes! It was a ten minute walk away.

“I could run,” I told myself.

With Rammstein blasting away, I grabbed my coat and before I could say “Bückstabü” I was out the door running down the street like an Olympic athlete.

As I approached the corner, two young women watched me with interest.

I ran past them and could have sworn that I heard “I didn’t know baboons ran like girls” amidst a fit of giggles. I didn’t care. My focus was my mission – to buy a carton of milk.

I arrived at the shop. It was then that I realised that I am a totally unfit forty seven year old man. I staggered over to the fridge and held on for support as the woman behind the counter watched me impatiently. She wanted to close the shop and a middle-aged pillock passing out would have made her life slightly irritating.

I gasped like a chain smoker as I approached the woman.

I meant to say, “Just the milk please,” but I think it came out as “JUSSERMELK” as I gasped for air.

“What?” said the woman. If I had been able to read her mind I’m sure I would have heard “Are you one of those people who make obscene phone calls?” I must have sounded like a complete pervert.

Somehow I managed to pay. I left the shop still gasping for breath with sweat running down my forehead and my back. I noticed the two young women were still watching me from a distance and I had to pass them on my way home.

Like a pillock, I decided to run again. Why? Call it some primeval urge but deep inside my addled brain, the male within said “You have to run past these girls. DON’T BE WEAK! YOU ARE A MAN!”

So like a moron, I ran. And I sprinted. As I passed them, I smiled.

“Hey look! I’m a middle-aged man who can sprint like Usain Bolt.” I wanted to say.

If I had been able to speak, it would have come out like “URRRRRGHHH! GIEARRRLLLLS”

They laughed at me. Not the way that girls laugh when they are flirting; they actually laughed as if they really had seen a crazy muppet, leering at them as he stumbled past. Instead of looking like Usain Bolt, I resembled a giant waddling baboon who had painted his face bright red and then had a shower in rancid sweat. My hair made my appearance even more bizarre.

I have a feeling that one of the women took a photo with their camera phone, so expect to see a bloated, smiling, half-dead baboon on You Tube or Facebook in the near future.

I arrived home and collapsed in the chair, sweating like a man who had just run a marathon. My heart was doing a fine impersonation of a drum solo. I had run for around ten minutes and it felt like I had just sprinted across Europe.

Jasper, our fat cat, wandered over and stared at me. I saw the words in his eyes: “You bloody idiot. By the way – can I have some food?”

All this has told me what I already knew. I need to get fit.

I used to be extremely fit. At school, I was a cross country runner and used to sprint around local streets delivering newspapers as well as playing football and rugby. I was one of the fastest kids in my school year and was happy running 100m, 200m, 800m, 1500m and even 3000m.

At university, I swam at least three times a week; I played squash and badminton and jogged.

At work, I played 5-a-side football twice a week and swam. I gave this up in my mid-thirties but joined a gym and only stopped going there around five years ago. Since then, my exercise regime has been walking and the occasional bike ride. Pathetic really!

When I look at my body (believe me – I don’t want to but somebody has too), I see a man who is putting on weight, slowly but surely. My gut is increasing in size; I can see flab appearing in places that I thought flab could never exist. I am sliding down the slippery slope to having a middle-aged spread.

Friends are kind – “You’re still quite slim, Dave. What’s the matter with you?” said one of Mrs PM’s friends last week. “If you are worried about your weight, just start exercising again.”

This is the problem – I want to start exercising again but I am lazy and, despite my war against procrastination, I am still procrastinating in areas such as this.

I could cycle to work but I am too sluggish in the mornings. My workplace is less than five miles from home and I drive there. Why? Because I wake up at 7am and in order to cycle, I would really need to get up an hour earlier. So, as you can see, I am a totally lazy git.

I could rejoin the gym. However, I have a couple of problems with this.

First, the gym is boring. Running on a treadmill is tedium personified. Cycling on a cycling machine is so mind-numbing that I almost fall asleep. Cross trainer machines are even more boring.

Second, the gym is embarrassing. When I am running on a running machine, I feel like a pillock. I can see people watching me, thinking “He runs like a demented road runner”. Worse, I find my eyes drifting towards female runners, particularly those in front of me.

I am a male – I can’t help it.

When a woman runs in a gym, she is usually very fit (in more ways than one) and I find myself staring in admiration, only to be glared at when she notices the lecherous goon leering at her. Of course, because I have been running, I am all sweaty, red, and gasping like a colossal pervert as I try to justify myself.

This isn’t the only source of embarrassment though. When you go to the weight machines to “pump some iron” (or in my case “give myself a hernia trying to lift a weight”), there is nothing more soul destroying than taking over from men who make Arnold Schwarzenegger look like Mr Bean. On one occasion, I was waiting to use the shoulder press and as I approached it, I found a huge black shiny man with muscles the size of Manchester leaning against it.

“Is it free?” I asked politely.

“Not just yet,” he boomed with a voice so deep that the floor shook.

I waited patiently as he started using the machine again. I goggled at the amount of weight he was lifting – and he made it look so easy. His rippling muscles mocked me as I watched, so I casually turned around and leaned up against the adjacent wall. Two minutes later, he appeared beside me.

“It’s free now,” he boomed and slapped me so hard on the back that I literally almost fell to the floor.

“Sorry about that,” he said smiling. “You need to bulk up, my friend.”

He then flexed his muscles for effect. Women who happened to be passing started giggling. My new found friend then stood in front of a mirror with other like-minded and equally massive individuals and began posing before lifting unfeasibly large quantities of weights. I felt absolutely useless.

When I started using the machine, I reduced the weights to the minimum, which was all I required. My friend watched me for a few seconds and chuckled to himself as he lifted another enormous pile of metal.

My final problem with gyms is the cost. When I joined the gym, I remember passing out when the trainer told me how much it cost per month. I had to force myself to go three times a week at least to justify the cost. In the end, procrastination took over and I stopped going – otherwise it would have been more cost effective burn a wad of cash once a month.

So I am not going to join a gym.

With winter approaching, my desire to do any form of physical exercise is diminishing. The days are cold and the nights are becoming long and dark as well as the weather becoming much worse. Should I start jogging around my neighbourhood in the rain? I don’t think so. Should I cycle in the dark and risk being smeared over the bonnet of a car? That doesn’t appeal much to me.

I think I’ll wait until New Year. – I know what my resolution will be: to get myself fit for a brand new decade. And I’m going to set myself targets and actually start in January. I know, dear reader that you are thinking to yourself “Why not start now you lazy arse?”

The problem is that I need to psyche myself up – but that will take a month or two. Of course, I realise that things could go downhill so I need to stop the rot – soon!

I have a goal - by the time I’m fifty I want to be slim and fit and not some fat lump of flab wobbling around Manchester before trying to crowbar myself back into my house.

I will cycle to work. I will walk and walk and walk. I may even run.

And finally - a message to those two young women who mocked me so mercilessly last night: come next year, I will still be a baboon – but at least I’ll be healthy (as long as I can learn to run properly).

And please don’t put me on Facebook or You Tube.

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Dear Simon Cowell ...

Dear Simon,

I was stumbling and bumbling through the world wide interweb when I came across an interesting couple of facts about you.

Before I go into those facts, let me assure you that I am not a crank and my intentions are honourable. I didn’t put “Simon Cowell” into Google hoping to find all sorts of sordid facts about you. Let me make that clear right from the start.

In fact, the truth is a bit sad really. I was devoid of ideas when it came to writing my next blog post and I decided to look for famous Librans – and your name popped up. That’s how desperate I was.

At first, I wondered who you were – so I asked my dear lady, Mrs PM.

“Who is Simon Cowell?” I asked.

“You know when you run screaming from the room on a Saturday night,” she replied. “He’s the reason.”

“Not X Factor,” I cried.

“X Factor, Pop Idol, Britain’s Got Talent, America’s Got Talent – they’re his shows.”

At first, I wanted to hunt you down and subject you to, arguably, my biggest ever rant about the music you promote and those dreadful Saturday night light entertainment programmes that YOU are responsible for, while pummelling you around the face with a rancid salmon to emphasise my points (and believe me there are a LOT of points). I wanted to lock you in a room with Jeremy Kyle and tell him that you were a drunken chain smoker who stole sweets from babies.

But then I thought “No – I am a nice guy and I need to help this man realise the error of his ways. He is a fellow Libran.”

Simon – I want to save you.

We have a kinship, Simon, you and I. Your birthday is 7th October, the day before mine. If astrologers are to be believed, then we have similar personality traits and, although I hate to admit it, we are like brothers.

So I’m going to help you, Simon, in my own inimitable way.

Firstly, congratulations on turning 50 this year. You don’t look a day under 50 and I’m surprised you are so young. Given the dreadful music you promote (and it IS dreadful, Simon, utterly dreadful), I had assumed that you were at least 65 years old. I foolishly imagined that you were a pensioner with false teeth and dyed hair who was seeking a hobby after a long hard life being a gopher for somebody with talent. I guessed that you had a few bits of cash and had used it to inject your face with enough botox to turn you into the Michelin Man.

I admit it – I was wrong - totally and utterly wrong. And I apologise unreservedly for my warped thoughts.

Now, how can I help you?

First of all, being a Libran like me, I can understand your need to rant. I can fully appreciate you desire to vent your spleen when something displeases you. Look at fellow Libran Margaret Thatcher! She vented her spleen for eleven years as Prime Minister of Great Britain.

I’ve seen you in action. I can’t bring myself to watch your appalling TV programmes but, in the interests of research, and in a desire to make you a better person, I have suffered by watching your performances on YouTube; quite frankly I’m appalled.

Here are some of your worst moments:

“You’ve just killed my favourite song of all time”

“It was a bad shrieky version; I’d pack your suitcase.”

“You sing like a train going off the rails.”

“You sounded like Dolly Parton on helium.”

“You’re too old to be a Barbie Doll.”

“I really hate your image – it’s almost creepy.”

“That was like a one year old, singing.”

“Do you have a singing teacher? Get a lawyer and sue her. I’m serious.”

“That audition was like watching a ship sink.”

Simon, there’s no need to be that nasty. I can be that nasty from the comfort of my own living room but the only casualty is my television (which incidentally is thinking of suing me for constant and relentless verbal bullying). The victims of my cruelty are beyond my reach and will never hear me liken them to a screaming tuneless banshee. But you are staring them in the face when you utter those words. It is despicable.

My first piece of advice is, therefore, to be nice to these awful people. They may sing like crows on drugs but they are human beings. They may be the most talentless humans in the world with voices like broken foghorns – but they can’t help it. In their eyes (or should I say ears) they ARE divas; they ARE Elton John; they ARE Stevie Wonder; they DESERVE the fame they are going to get.

Be nice to them. Just say something like:

“I vote no. Next!!”

And when pressed for the reason, let them down gently:

“It was good but there are better people out there.”

The contestants will be happy and the audience will be happy. Nobody will ever take the piss out of your hair again.

Which conveniently brings me to my next point. I have terrible hair and I openly admit it. Mrs PM forces me to put products on it to keep it from invading the house next door. She even does it when I am asleep. You would do well to take her advice. To be honest, your hair looks like a tiny aircraft could land on it. I’m not sure what effect you are trying to create but it does look absurd.

One person said “[his hair] looks like he cut it himself blindfolded in a dark room with his feet”.

I’ve had worse things said about my hair – but you are on telly, Simon. Millions of people watch you every week. People tune in hoping to see a seagull perch on your head and your bonce and crap on your face.

I know it took you a while to get rid of those ludicrous high-waisted trousers and now, apparently, you do actually look a little bit like a human being again. You can do the same with your hair. With a decent haircut you can face your critics with your head held high. And there will be not one seagull in sight.

My final piece of advice is to stop promoting boy band clones, girl band clones, women who think they are Mariah Carey and guys who think they are Robbie Williams and embrace your one true love – ROCK MUSIC!!!

Get out there and start a talent show for young up and coming rock bands; there are thousands of musicians who can actually play instruments, write their own songs and are in bands with mates just waiting for a decent record deal.

I am sick to my back teeth of hearing second rate pop-clones filling the airwaves, warbling badly on a Saturday night and filling our tabloid newspapers with meaningless twaddle about their private lives.

Embrace up and coming rock bands on a Saturday night and I might watch you without:

(a) throwing up
(b) assaulting my telly to a with a cricket bat
(c) getting into trouble with Mrs PM for puking on the carpet and assaulting her poor TV with a cricket bat.

I am trying to turn over a new leaf myself and to spare my TV before it leaves home. You can do the same.

We are Librans. We love Rock music. You can change. You must change.

Yours Sincerely

The Plastic Mancunian

P.S. Sorry for comparing you to Margaret Thatcher. It took years for me to get over the fact that her personality was similar to mine in the eyes of astrologers. I’m still not over it yet actually. The Plastic Mancunian is not for turning – AARRRGGHHH!!! Sorry Simon – ignore that last sentence.

P.P.S. If you want more advice my fees are reasonable. I charge £200,000 for a 10 minute session. Cheap at twice the price – don’t you agree?

Saturday 24 October 2009

Food Glorious Food

I was recently tagged by Kath, from Blurb From The Burbs to have a go at this food-based meme. I usually steal memes so this is almost a novel experience for me (I have been tagged legitimately once before). It does make me think about the morality of stealing memes. Actually that's a lie - I couldn't give two hooots! I will continue to steal them.

However, I will walk on the legal side of the meme line – just this once. Unless of course Kath stole it – in which case – oops I did it again!

Here goes:

1. Whats your #1 comfort food?

I’m sad to say that it’s cheese. I love the stuff, particularly mature cheddar. I’m not that fussy though; I will eat cheese from any country in the world – as long as it doesn’t taste like old socks (which some do). If there is cheese in the house and I am even slightly peckish, I will eat it. In fact, contrary to the urban myth, it actually DOES give you weird dreams. Mind you, I have weird dreams all the time – I won’t go into those here. The only cheese I don’t like is that blue veined rubbish, like Stilton. It tastes as foul as it looks.

2. If you were stranded on a desert island what 5 foods would you want to have with you to survive on?

If there was a sand-powered fridge, I would say:

Cheese, eggs, bacon, pork and beer.

If such a thing didn’t exist, I would have to be more sensible, so for the purpose of this question I am going to assume that a sand powered fridge does actually exist.

3. What are your signature dishes? (What dishes are you known for making?)

I can rustle up a decent pasta dish as long as I have pre-cooked sauce or pesto. It’s quick and easy to make, so over the years I’ve honed the technique, adding bits and pieces of food to it, including, of course, cheese.

4. It’s Friday night, you don't know what to cook. You opt for?

To be honest I’d rather eat out on a Friday night, but, if I had to cook, I would opt for a Chinese stir fry – not as easy as pasta but easy enough.

5. What's your ultimate food weakness?

Cheese – bad for me but delicious.

6. What food can you soooo not eat?

Rhubarb! One of my very first posts on this blog cursed this disgusting vegetation. Here’s an excerpt from my rant about it:

Rhubarb is the only food of any description that makes me throw up. The taste is revolting and activates a cataclysmic chain reaction deep within my abdomen. Not only does it taste revolting, it looks utterly repulsive. And it is poisonous (well the leaves are anyway). I would love to know which masochist spotted a rhubarb plant and thought “Now there’s a strange looking piece of vegetation; I think I’ll stew that”. That person is one of my least favourite people in history. Without that person, my sadistic infant and junior school teachers wouldn’t have rammed rhubarb down my throat and instilled in me a morbid fear of school puddings.

7. You need a drink, you grab a.....?

On Friday and Saturday evening - beer. Or on a school night or during the day at work - a cup of tea. I think I would be sacked if I drank beer at work.

8. What's the most decadent dish you've ever had?

Since I travel abroad on business a few times a year, I sometimes end up in oddly uncomfortable and extremely posh and pretentious restaurants ordering all sorts of decadent crap. I think I will plum for “thousand year old eggs”, which was a starter in a wonderful Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong. It looked repulsive – a dark green yolk in a clear brown goo. When I put it in my mouth, I said to a colleague: “Mmm this tastes just like egg!”. A second later the real taste hit me. It was like eating a solid fart. It was utterly revolting and tasted worse than it looked. I’ve never eaten one since. Here’s a picture.

9. What's your favourite type of food?

I don’t really have a favourite type of food. I do love Mexican food, Indian food and Chinese food so I will cheat and claim that I can’t distinguish between them.

10. Favourite Dish?

That’s a tough one – probably chicken cordon bleu – with tons of cheese!

11. If your partner could take you to any restaurant, where would you go?

I would go to Café Deco on Victoria Peak in Hong Kong. There is a wide range of food there and not a sinlge 1000 year old egg to be found. The view is spectacular. I get a fuzzy feeling inside when I’m there with Mrs PM – fabulous memories and fabulous food in my favourite city outside England. Here's the view from Cafe Deco:

Fab isn't it?

12. Soup or Salad?

Soup – every time. I’m a sucker for chicken and mushroom soup, although I’m usually tempted by any flavour to be honest.

13. Buffet, Take-Out or Sit-Down?

Sit down – unless I’m broke – in which case take away. You can’t beat a bag of fish and chips.

14. What's the most impressive meal you've ever made?

Mrs PM threw a dinner party and forced me to contribute. Worse than that, since she decided that starters and desserts were harder, she made me cook the main meal. Even worse than that, she didn’t even allow me to select the dish – she had chosen it for me. It was some kind of risotto and, as I was following the recipe to the letter, I began to have serious doubts about how good it would be. Thankfully, it went down very well. Nobody was sick and people claimed to have liked it. I’ve refused to make another one.

15. Do you consider yourself a good cook?

No – not at all. I can cook basic stuff but when it comes to anything more difficult than pasta or a quick stir fry I am seriously out of my depth. Mrs PM disagrees though; if she had her way, I would be attempting all sorts of culinary masterpieces. She is one of those irritating people who can throw together a gastronomic delight out of anything. So why she makes me cook is a huge mystery to me.

16. Do you know what vichyssoise is?

I think I dated a girl called Vicky Sauce once but I guess you don’t mean her. The answer is no.

17. Who's your favourite TV cook?

I despise them all. They have a one way ticket to Mars when I become World President. Actually, that’s not quite true. Gordon Ramsay is so rude that he makes me laugh and I quite enjoyed watching Keith Floyd becoming steadily more drunk as he cooked a meal. The two worst offenders and the only ones who make me rant mercilessly at my cowering TV are Jamie Oliver and Anthony Worrall Thompson. Every time Oliver opens his mouth, I scream “SHUT UP! Just shut up! Say PUKKA once more and I’ll be on the next train to London to throw you in the Thames.” Worrall Thompson has a similar effect. GET THEM OFF MY TELLY!!

18. Can you name at least three famous cooking personalities?

I think I named four in the last question, so yes.

19. Homemade or homemade from a box?

Home made (as long as I am not the one who made it)

20. Tag three more foodies...

You can steal the meme if you want. I don’t care. I like to live dangerously. That’s why I eat the food I cook.

If you do steal the meme, let me know and I'll comment on your answers.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Use Your Imagination

I’m in the wrong job. Why? Because quite frankly, I feel that I could be a contemporary artist.

Don’t laugh – it’s true.

I was in London at the weekend, visiting friends and on Sunday afternoon, we strolled along the south bank of the Thames, enjoying the atmosphere. We came to the Tate Modern, a museum full of contemporary art. Against my initial better judgement, we decided to pop in and have a look.

The first thing that I saw was an incredible piece of art called How It Is by a Polish artist called Miroslaw Balka. Basically is a huge steel box measuring 30 metres long, 10 metres wide and 13 metres deep. Why is it incredible? Because you can go inside the box and there is absolutely no light in there whatsoever.

It is slightly disconcerting as you step inside because you see people on their way out and they are almost completely in shadow. The further you get, the more eerie it becomes because, as you approach the back wall, you see absolutely nothing and eventually stumble into the wall, thankfully covered in a soft felt-type material. As you leave, you see others coming in and that too is strange, mainly because they are groping ahead and are unsure of what they are seeing ahead of them.

You can see and read about it here.

I enjoyed it - in a weird kind of way.

From what you have read so far, you may think that I am a fan of contemporary art; you are wrong.

How it is was a novel experience and I was mildly amused by it, which meant that Mrs PM and our friends didn’t have to listen to me ranting about how useless it was.

However, I soon degenerated into my old self as we explored one of the upper floors of the Tate Modern.

I have never seen such a load of old codswallop in my entire life. As we strolled through the galleries on one of the floors, I marvelled at the audacity of the artists who, somehow, managed to convince art critics and pseudo-intellectuals that the crap hanging up was worthy of even a passing glimpse. I honestly feel that I could have done a much better job.

Basically, the bulk of the “work” was abstract daubs of paint, presumably created when the artist was high on glue or so leathered on absinthe that he was out of his tiny mind.

“I just don’t get it,” I complained to Mrs PM, keeping my voice down so that others couldn’t hear. “If you gave me a blank canvas and a tin of red paint, I could paint something exactly like that,” I said, pointing to what can only be described as a large mess on the wall.

One painting I saw was a bright red canvas with a very thin brown line at the end. That was it. A child could have produced it. I was stunned by some of the bilge I saw.

Of course, the crowd admiring the rot on the walls was mixed; some, like me, walked around with looks of pure confusion on their faces, as if they walked into a world were insane people were suddenly sane; others pretended to admire the works; the final group, the eccentrics, actually discussed the works using bizarre language. One guy was wearing a pair of drainpipe jeans that were about six inches too short, and a grey jacket with a vivid pink feather attached to his lapel. His hair was wild and he gawked at the paintings with the look of a child in a sweet factory. He was pursued by an odd looking female with a permanent grin on her face.

In one room, full of abstract oil paintings, a European tour guide was attempting to explain the paintings. Out of sheer curiosity I stood nearby to listen to what he was saying. It went something like this:

The artist has resolved to forego the concept of creating a reproduction of an object in favour of the abstract. The paradigm behind these spectacular works of art is to compel the viewer to form an idea in his head and to extrapolate that idea until it stands out and announces itself to him. Different people will obviously see different things; that is why it is a work of pure genius. Every single human being on the planet will perceive a distinct and unique entity or idea as they study the painting and become part of it. The viewer will step across the barrier into a world that only he can conceive; a world that speaks only to him; a world that is disturbing, yet at the same time exciting; a world that is unique and like no other place in the imagination of any other human being. It is a concept of humanity, yet a uniquely individual creation. Magnificent isn’t it?

I wanted to go up to the guy and say:

“It’s SHIT!!! It is absolutely dreadful. Give me a single day and a ton of oil paints and I can produce something like that. What are you talking about anyway? I’ve never heard such claptrap in my entire life.”

Of course, I said nothing.

However, one brave woman did challenge him with the simple words:

“I don’t understand what you mean.”

His reply:

Yes, it can be confusing. To see a world that you alone can create in the vast cosmos of your imagination can be overwhelming. Let’s move on.

Fearing that she would look stupid, she didn’t press him further. He would have made more sense saying:

There is a planet in a distant galaxy where cats filter coffee and wash their carts with it. Did you know that stones are multicoloured in the imagination of a stag beetle? I know; I’ve been there and challenged slugs to play cricket against giant aliens on Sunday afternoons in January. The sun flies through our hearts trailing jelly behind it.

The final straw for me was a video display. As we approached the room I was intrigued by a sign that warned us about “sexually explicit images and violence”.

A voice in my head warned: DON’T GO IN DAVE! IT WILL BE UTTER BILGE!

I ignored the voice.

In the room I found five projectors playing five different films next to each other. The first film showed a naked person with a disturbing mask, jumping up and down over and over again. Next to that, a naked lady lay on a bed as a pair of hands smeared, what looked like sauce all over her naked form. In a third film, a semi-naked man, pounded objects, as if in a fit of rage. I couldn't bear to watch the other two films.

I wanted to cry out in despair. It was possibly the worst thing I had ever seen. It was tasteless and pointless. If that was art then I am a jellyfish. It was dreadful. It was awful. It was rubbish. It was garbage. It was meaningless twaddle. It was totally useless. It was painful. It was a complete waste of the two minutes it took for me to endure it. It was the most pointless two minutes of my entire life. It was shit. It was a waste of a room. It was a waste of electricity. There was no talent there whatsoever. It was devoid of aptitude. Genius it was not. I hated it. I despised it. I detested it.

Do you understand how I felt about it or am I being too subtle?

What particularly annoyed me about it, was the fact that the artist was probably absolutely loaded and had somehow convinced somebody somewhere to allow him to display this tacky piece of nonsense for people like me to see.

I felt cheated. I felt soiled.

I was bloody annoyed.

As we left, I ranted to Mrs PM and decided that I could (and possibly should) seek out a new career as a contemporary artist. If I can persuade some pseudo-intellectual idiot somewhere that my totally useless pieces of art are worthy of display in the Tate Modern, I can live the rest of my life laughing at those dumb enough to try to explain my worthless crap to people who are stupid enough to believe them.

I’ve made a start.

Below are two pieces of work that I think will challenge people, intellectually and physically.

The first, I have called Naughty Cat and, although it is not an abstract piece, I hope that it challenges you to explore the inner child within. As you contemplate the feline indiscretion, consider you own innocent childhood and the feeling of naughtiness as you knowingly misbehaved.

The second, I have called Plastic Man, which is a portrait and urges you to confront the repulsiveness of the human form. The pathetic creature portrayed in the piece is disturbing not only because the person in the picture is quite clearly plastic; he is also the human form of a baboon.

Yes – it is me! Don’t laugh!!

Do you think I should give up my day job?

Friday 16 October 2009

Public Toilet Etiquette

WARNING: This post discusses toilets.

I could say something pretentious like:

Please don’t read any further if you are offended by toilets.

Or something puerile like:

EURRGGHH!! Toilets!! Plop plop plop!!! (snigger snigger snigger)

But I’m not going to. You see I personally believe that people do not discuss toilets enough. Every human being in the world goes to the toilet:

The Queen of England goes to the toilet.

Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister, goes to the toilet.

President Barack Obama goes to the toilet.

I think you get my drift.

So why are people so unwilling to discuss them? And why are people even more unwilling to discuss toilet habits?

You see, I think that people are getting away with murder in toilets around the world, particularly public toilets. There is no etiquette for proper toilet behaviour, especially in public toilets. Most people do use them responsibly and certainly do consider others when they have finished. Others have no consideration at all and do not even bother to think about:

(1) People who are in the toilet with them (Note – when I say “in” the toilet with them, I don’t actually mean that there are two people standing in the toilet bowl together nor do I mean that people should go to their own toilet in their own house and invite groups of people to accompany them and share the experience. I am talking about public toilets here).

(2) People who may use the toilet after them (Yes – people DO actually use the SAME toilet as other people though not at the same time).

(3) People who have to clean the toilet.

I am here to attempt to educate you in public toilet etiquette based on my own experience.


Okay – let me get one thing straight. I am not the kind of pervert who hangs around female toilets with a note pad trying to research a blog post on toilet etiquette.

Men should NEVER, EVER, EVER set foot inside a public toilet intended for members of the opposite sex.

This is a law that is built into the DNA of most men.

Even when the situation is desperate, all men should resist the temptation to even peer inside when they happen to walk past if the door is open.

You can read here about the kind of thing that happens.

Guys – just don’t go there.

I made that mistake once. A group of us were in a night club many years ago and one of our number, the only young lady, suddenly became rather ill. She had had far too much to drink and suddenly announced, in a slurred voice, that she felt sick. A kind hearted male member of our party supported her and led her to the LADIES. After about ten minutes, three of us started to become a little concerned because neither had returned. We found our male friend standing outside the toilet waiting.

“Where is she?” we asked.

“She hasn’t come out,” he replied.

Apparently he had asked a couple of women to check on her but, this being a night club and most of the patrons being a little drunk, he had no success. After a brief discussion we decided to walk into the LADIES en masse.

I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Most male public toilets are worse than seventh level of Hell (see later). This particular toilet was pristine with a pervading scent of roses. We gawped around like four lemons, completely forgetting our friend.

A couple of women came in and started moaning.

“We’re here to check on our friend,” said one guy. Another, walked up to the each cubicle, tapping on each door, saying:

“Are you in there? Are you OK?”

Within minutes, female security staff descended on the toilet like a SWAT team with a set of male bouncers who, unlike us, remained outside.

“WHAT THE $%*& are YOU DOING IN HERE?” screamed a very big and very angry woman. We stood there too shocked to speak while our comrade continued to knock on the cubicle doors.

A split second before the female security killed us, our female friend staggered out of a cubicle and said in a very slurred voice. “It’s OK – they are just checking on me. I’ve been violently ill.” She then burst into tears for effect.

I found my tongue and said “Yes – we were worried. Are you OK?”

The head female security staff member glared at me. “GET OUT!!!!” she screamed. We didn’t need to be asked twice and walked out as quickly as possible with our female friend in tow, so that the male bouncers outside didn’t beat us to a pulp outside.

Actually, before I leave female public toilets, can I just ask a couple of questions?

(1) Why do women always go to public toilets in pairs?

(2) Why do women TALK to each other in public toilets?

(3) Why are female public toilets a lot cleaner in general than male public toilets?

I know, having spoken to Mrs PM at length, that female public toilets can be disgusting. She mentions “hovering” and my mind boggles.

I think we’ll leave it there.


I wish I could convince women that they should never, ever, ever go into male public toilets, but I know I would be wasting my breath. You see, women have no qualms about walking into a male toilet and, worse, they never, ever get threatened with extreme violence if they do find themselves there.

Men, on the other hand, react in one of two ways if a woman walks in while nature is taking its course:

(1) They become one with the urinal in an attempt to cover their pride.

(2) They suddenly forget the basic rule of male public toilets: DON’T EVER, EVER SPEAK IN A MALE TOILET and start actually trying to chat up the woman, as if suddenly they think they are more attractive while caught in the middle of their natural duty.

I fall into category (1) and have on one occasion had to stay in the toilet for ten minutes under the hand dryer trying to rectify the obvious mistake I made.

Men’s public toilets are, in general (and let’s be kind here) absolutely disgusting places that no human being should ever see.

Why? Because there is no toilet etiquette at all in these nauseating pits of despair.

Actually, that's not quite true. Strangely, etched into the primeval database of all males, there IS etiquette when it comes to urinals. I won’t discuss this further because people like Dave Barry have done so at length and it is illustrated here:

However, there appear to be no rules when it comes to the use of the stalls, or as I prefer to call them, traps.

So, how should men behave in the traps?

(1) Do not become a bogeyman (read about it here):

(2) Always flush the toilet and, most importantly, MAKE SURE IT THAT EVERYTHING IS WASHED AWAY. Do you really think that I want to see the deposits you have made?

(3) Never, ever talk to the man in the adjacent trap. First of all, before you go about your business, ALWAYS check that there is enough toilet paper. If there isn’t then either go to the next trap or wait for another to become free. In an emergency, if you underestimate how much toilet paper you require, you must stay put until another trap becomes free rather than asking the man in the next trap to “pass you some paper under the dividing wall”.

(4) If you had a curry the night before, always carry some deodorant spray with you. I’ll leave that to your imagination.

(5) Always lift the seat if you wish to pee. Why on earth wouldn’t you?

(6) Always aim for the water and not the rim of the toilet. Again, why on earth wouldn’t you?

(7) Always put the lid down (unless of course the toilet has no lid).

(8) If you make a mess, clean it up. It is courteous and makes the toilet experience for the next person that little bit more pleasant. As a rule of thumb – always leave the toilet as you would wish to find it.

(9) Do not, under any circumstances, grunt and gasp while allowing nature to take its course. It’s bad enough listening to the noises that can’t be helped but when you start adding to the sound effects, the experience somehow degenerates into something I can barely cope with. I have started taking my mp3 player into the cubicle with me, which has led to me singing in there – an experience that is equally distressing for others. Help me out here!!

Together we can make the toilet experience a pleasant one. I know that there is nothing like your own loo and sitting on your own personal toilet in the morning, reading the newspaper; it is a strangely fulfilling experience.

At least it is for me anyway.

I told you I was weird.

Monday 12 October 2009

Artistic Food

In a restaurant the other week, I saw an absolutely artistic masterpiece, so aesthetically pleasing that I wanted to take a photograph of it and display it on my kitchen wall as a work of art. Sadly, it was my main meal and although it was beautiful to look at, the dish in question had barely enough food to satisfy a hungry dormouse; in fact a hungry dormouse would have been able to eat it in one go (and would almost certainly have complained afterwards).

As a human being, hundreds of times larger than your average rodent, what bloody chance did I have with this meal? I’m not going to name and shame this restaurant because it is one of thousands throughout the world that change the emphasis on your dining experience. Call me boring but when I go into a restaurant, I want the food before anything else. The very fact that I am going to a restaurant means that I am hungry. The depth of that hunger will typically range from “more than a little peckish” to “so ravenously hungry that if you don’t feed me within ten minutes I will rampage through your kitchen eating anything that is vaguely edible”.

Almost all of the restaurants I choose to go to satisfy this one basic requirement: to drive out my hunger in the most pleasant way possible and leave me fully sated and happy with my dining experience. Sadly, there are a number of restaurants that shift the emphasis from eating to “a fascinating dining experience”. I will describe a typical night out in a restaurant such as this.

Picture the scene.

Mrs PM and I arrive at the restaurant for our table which is booked at 8 o’clock. We arrive early out of courtesy. We are greeted at the door by a very pleasant European maître d’hôtel who immediately charms us with his lovely French accent.

Maître d’ : Good evening, sir and madame. Do you have a reservation?

Plastic Mancunian: Yes. I have a reservation in the name of Mr Mancunian for 8 o’clock

Maître d’ : Ah, oui, Monsieur Mancunian. You are early and your table is not quite ready. Would you like a drink in the bar while we prepare your table?

Plastic Mancunian: Certainly.

We stroll over to the bar and a charming barman, also French or Italian, greets us and asks what we would like to drink.

Plastic Mancunian: I’ll have a pint of bitter please.

Mrs PM: I’ll have a glass of sauvignon blanc.

Barman: I am very sorry, sir, but we do not sell bitter. We have bottled premium lagers.

The barman then rattles off a list of lagers that I have never heard of. I opt for a weird Lithuanian pilsner called something like Kibiras.

Barman: Would you like to pay now or put it on the bill?

Plastic Mancunian: I’ll pay now.

Barman: That’s £15.

Mrs PM: Are you OK Dave? Why are you lying on the floor?

Plastic Mancunian (getting up); £15?????? £15?????????

Mrs PM pays the barman while I continue to question the price. At precisely 8pm a wonderfully charming waiter leads us to our table and presents us with our menus before departing to leave us to make our choices.

Plastic Mancunian: £15????????????

Mrs PM: Will you shut up about the bloody drink prices?

I just can’t get the price out of my head. There I am with a small bottle of Lithuanian beer that probably costs £7.50 and it tastes just like every other pretentious continental lager I've ever had. Just because it comes from Lithuania doesn’t mean that I should pay a fortune for it.

Then I look at the menu.

Plastic Mancunian (frowning): There’s a misprint.

Mrs PM: Why do you say that?

Plastic Mancunian: £10 for a bowl of soup.

Mrs PM: That’s not a misprint.

Plastic Mancunian: £10?????????????? £10?????????????????

Mrs PM (through gritted teeth): Shut up!

Plastic Mancunian: £10 for a bowl of soup????? £15 for a glass of wine and a tiny bottle of Lithuanian beer?????? That’s £35 if we both have a bowl of soup. And we still have to order out main courses.

All of the starters are roughly the same price. The main courses are even more expensive and I try not to look at the prices (fearing the wrath of Mrs PM). The waiter comes along and takes our order. I opt for a prawn cocktail starter and the “Lamb Poubelle”, the description of which makes it sound like the best dish ever, fit only for royalty and the privileged elite. It is described as follows:

A tranche of the finest lamb, lightly cooked to your liking, resting on a bed of pommes de terre puree and with the finest legumes du jour and drizzled with jus de rôti.

I try to ignore the price: £35.

I also try not to moan about the restaurant because, clearly Mrs PM is beginning to have violent thoughts. I change the conversation to something more pleasing. And then the starter comes.

I stare in disbelief at my prawn cocktail that has set me back a cool £8.

It is a single lettuce leaf, shaped like a face, with two prawns, strategically placed to give the appearance of two eyes, a single cherry tomato sliced up artistically to look like a nose and a wafer slice of gherkin forming the mouth. Carrot shavings form the hair and a little mayonnaise (two tiny pipette drops) signify the cheeks.

Plastic Mancunian: Excuse me I ordered prawn cocktail.

The Waiter: Monsieur, this is your starter.

My prawn cocktail looks like a ginger person with green skin, prawns for eyes and a red nose. I look around for flies because a tiny insect could scoop up my starter in a mouthful and still be ravenously hungry. In fact, I devour the food in one gulp. I feel as if I have just set fire to a five pound note and skimmed three pound coins into the sea. If that was a starter then I am Brad Pitt.

I look across at Mrs PM who has ordered the same. She, too has eaten her tiny portion and is looking as disappointed as I am. I want to rant; I want to storm into the kitchen, grab the “chef” and say:

“What the %*$% was that? You may be able to fool an art critic or a pseudo intellectual that what you presented them was worth eating but I tell you what, mate! You don’t fool me! How much did it cost to prepare that piece of crap? 20p? And you want to charge £8 for it? You, sir, are a thief. You, sir, are a blackguard.”

The waiter returns and takes our plates. I want to stand up and punch him on the nose.

The conversation remains stilted. Mrs PM wants to mention the starter but fears that it will be like arming a nuclear warhead. I want to stand on the table and scream blue murder but I am not sure whether Mrs PM agrees with me and I don’t want to annoy her.

The waiter returns.

The Waiter: Would you like another drink sir?

Plastic Mancunian: (thinks – GO OUT TO THE PUB ROUND THE CORNER AND GET A PINT OF BITTER AT A REASONABLE PRICE YOU THIEVING SWINE!!!!!!!) Yes, please. I’ll have another kebab.

The Waiter: You mean the Kibiras? It is a fine beer brewed for centuries by Lithuanian monks, using an 800 year old recipe.

Plastic Mancunian: (thinks – Oh is that why it costs nearly a tenner? Was the bottle flown to the UK in a first class seat? Is that why this bottle of gnat’s urine costs over a bloody fiver?). Oh, that’s interesting. Yes – a bottle of gnat’s, pi... er, sorry, Kibiras.

The Waiter: And for madame?

Mrs PM: Nothing for me.

I begin to believe that Mrs PM realises how much this meal is going to cost. The waiter returns with my beer and another waiter arrives with our main courses. With a “bon appetite”, he leaves our “main course” with us.

I will say this once (through gritted teeth). The “meal” looks amazing. There is a huge plate that could accommodate an enormous quantity of food, enough to satisfy even the hungriest Mancunian. The food itself has the appearance of an art masterpiece; the meat has been carved to the shape of a little lamb and the jus de rôti (or gravy) has been spread to make the little lamb look as if it bounding happily in a field. A small chunk of mashed swede has been carefully placed to give the appearance of the sun shining and there are no potatoes to be seen – oh hang on, they are underneath the lamb.

Sounds good, eh?


It is the smallest meal I have ever seen. I eat the bloody thing in two seconds (one second to think about it).

It is a monumental rip off. It cost me £35. £35!!!!!!!

In my head I can contain myself no longer. In my head, I stand up and throw the plate at the wall. In my head, I take Mrs PM’s equally pathetic fish dish and smear it on the waiter’s face (barely covering a quarter of his cheek). In my head I tell the waiter to stuff his Kibiras up his bloody arse, preferably breaking the top of the bottle before he does so.

In reality, I tell Mrs PM to hurry up (only to find she has already eaten her “meal”) so we can clear out of the place. The waiter returns, takes our plates, offers us a dessert (to which thankfully we both say NO!!!) and gives us the bill.

Plastic Mancunian: I don’t want to see how much it is. Just pay it.

Mrs PM: OH MY GOD!!!!!! You DO NOT want to know the price.

Plastic Mancunian: Just pay it.

Mrs PM, now almost as angry as I am, pays the bill and we leave the restaurant as quickly as is humanly possible.

Mrs PM: Fancy some fish and chips?

Plastic Mancunian: I thought you’d never ask.

Of course, the above scenario may seem a little over the top, but I swear that I have been in a situation that was extremely similar. I mean, come on! How can restaurants justify giving you barely enough food to feed an anorexic ant and then charge you a small fortune to eat it, just because it looks nice? And why do people put up with and, worse, return to the place to be robbed again?

It’s like “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.

It’s time we made a stand. Some people have more money than sense.

It makes me so mad I could drink a bucket of Kibiras.

(Kibiras is used by kind permission of the Plastic Mancunian’s warped imagination. Any similarity to any existing beer, Lithuanian or otherwise is purely coincidental).

Sunday 11 October 2009

Sunday Stealing - The Magical Mystery Tour Meme

Thanks to my friend and fellow Manchester blogger, Mark (from
An Eerie Tapestry) I have decided to become a thief on Sunday and steal a meme. Anyway, you too can play here if you like - it's a bit of fun, anyway.

1. Is there anybody you just wish would fall off the planet?

Too many to mention. Here are a few: Simon Cowell and anybody to do with X Factor, Anybody with anything to do with Strictly Come Dancing, Jeremy Kyle, 50 Cent, George W Bush, Margaret Thatcher, Katie Price (aka Jordan), Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Chris Moyles, Timmy Mallet, Ant and Dec, Boris Johnson, Naomi Campbell, Mariah Carey, Jamie Oliver, Anthony Worral Thompson, Anybody who has been a contestant on Big Brother or any other reality TV show, Ashley Cole, Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Maradona, Alan Hansen, Clive Tyldesley

I think I’d better stop there.

2. How do you flush the toilet in public?

Bizarre question. I prefer not to allow the public into the toilet while I’m using it to be honest. Call me weird but that’s the way I think.

3. Do you wear your seatbelt in the car?

Yes I do. I would be arrested if I didn’t and that’s something I’m not willing to do.

4. Do you have a crush on someone?

Of course - Mrs PM.

5. Name one thing you worry about running out of.

Toilet paper.

6. What famous person do you (or other people) think you resemble?

The Milky Bar Kid or Joe 90 or anybody with blonde hair and glasses.

7. What is your favourite pizza topping?

Pepperami and as many different kinds of cheese as you can cram onto the top of the pizza without gluing it to the hotplate.

8. Do you crack your knuckles?

No. That is one of the most irritating habits on the planet. I hate it when people do that.

9. What song do you hate the most?

Too many to mention. At the moment, anything in the categories: rap, r’n’b, boy bands, girl bands, jazz or dance music. That’s a start at least. Oh and anything by Mariah Carey.

10. Did just mentioning that song make it get stuck in your head?

Nope. I am listening to “Under a Glass Moon” by Dream Theater so that is firmly entrenched in my head.

11. What are your super powers?

I can read minds - particularly those who read my blog posts.

12. Peppermint or spearmint?


13. Where are your car keys?

Next to me on the desk (where they always are).

14. Last song you listened to?

“Pull Me Under” by Dream Theater (“Under a Glass Moon” is still playing).

15. What's your most annoying habit?


16. Where did you last go on vacation?

Boston and Cape Cod in the good old US of A.

17. What is your best physical feature?

Asking me that is like trying to find a diamond in a pile of elephant droppings. I would probably say my blue eyes, although certain crazy women appear to like my bum for some reason.

18. What CD is closest to you right now?

“Images and Words” by Dream Theater

19. What 3 things can always be found in your refrigerator?

Cheese, milk and grapefruit juice.

20. What superstition do you believe/practice?

None – it’s all a bunch of bunkum.

21. What colour are your bed sheets?

At the moment, red.

22. Would you rather be a fish or a bird?

A bird - which is a bit weird considering I’m scared of heights – but I would hope that the ability to fly would put paid to that.

23. Last thing you broke?

I can’t remember. Watch me break something now.

24. What are you having to eat tonight?

Pork chops.

25. What colour shirt are you wearing?


26. If you could be doing anything else today, what would you rather be doing?

I would rather be on holiday somewhere exotic.

27. Do security cameras make you nervous?

No – my ugly face usually inflicts severe damage to them.

28. If you wrote a book about your life, what would the title be?

The Mancunian Candidate

29. Last time you went to a cemetery?

In Boston, we visited the Copps Hill Burial Ground. Lots of intersting old graves dating from the 17th century.

30. Last concert you went to?

Steel Panther at the Manchester Academy.

31. Favourite musician(s)/bands you've seen in concert?

Rush, Metallica, Rammstein, Foo Fighters, Nine Inch Nails, Deep Purple, AC/DC, Judas Priest, Thunder, The Widhearts, Queen – too many others to mention.

32. Next concert you're planning to attend?

Rammstein at the Manchester Evening News Arena in February.

33. Do you talk to yourself?

No – but I talk to the cats. They are the only ones who listen to me. Actually, even the cats don’t listen to me.

34. Have you ever adopted or purchased a pet?

Yes. Jasper and Poppy were acquired from the Cats Protection League as kittens.

35. Have you ever been present when an animal is being born?


Wednesday 7 October 2009

Birthday Rock

Well, another year passes by. I am 47 years old tomorrow (8th October).

What’s worrying is that years seem to be flying by in an absolute blur at the moment; it was only yesterday that I was coping with the depression of turning 40. Now, seven years later, I find that I am only three years away from another bloody milestone.

I need to have a word with somebody about this – stop this bloody ageing process and let me go back to being 30 again.

Anyway, no use moping in a stew of gloominess – I am nothing if not optimistic.

I’ve decided to blast away my blues with a feast of hard rock and heavy metal. Below are 20 headbangers and fist-clenchers, many of which I have humiliated myself to in the car, on aircraft, in supermarkets and just about everywhere I’ve ever been with my mp3 player and the 5000 plus songs I have on there.

But who cares? I don’t – if music can’t be enjoyed in public then there is something wrong..

For those of you who loathe all things rock, there is a nice mellow tune at the end.

If you choose to visit the links, please think of me as you are assaulted by sonic perfection.

1. Blue Murder – We All Fall Down
2. Def Leppard – Go
3. The Hives – Tick Tick Boom
4. Iron Maiden – Where Eagles Dare
5. Judas Priest – Painkiller
6. Alice Cooper – Brutal Planet
7. Evanescence – Going Under
8. Marilyn Manson – The Fight Song
9. Metallica – Whiplash
10. Motörhead – Bomber
11. Muse – Knights Of Cydonia
12. Korn – Coming Undone
13. Nine Inch Nails – The Hand That Feeds
14. Rammstein – Links 2 3 4
15. Ten – Thunder In Heaven
16. The Wildhearts – Anthem
17. Joe Satriani – Crystal Planet
18. Nazareth – No Mean City
19. Motley Crue – Kickstart My Heart
20. Gary Moore – Over The Hills And Far Away

And here’s something to calm you down after all that rock:

Air – Space Maker

50? Bring it on!!!

Monday 5 October 2009

Deal Or No Deal?

My television set hates me and I’m not surprised. It bears the brunt of my ranting. Mrs PM is thinking of calling in a therapist for it (and asking him for a straight-jacket for me).

Certain TV programmes ignite a spark within me, a spark that becomes a flame, then a blaze, then a nuclear explosion. My normal mild-mannered demeanour is cast aside as I mutate into a cross between My Hyde and the Incredible Hulk.

One such programme is “Deal or No Deal”.

If you’ve never seen it before then pay heed because it may have a similar effect on you. You may consider yourself to be like me, a pacifist who wouldn’t harm a fly. I reckon that by the time you have finished watching “Deal or No Deal” your TV will be cowering in the corner, crying for its mummy.

In Britain, the premise of the game is very simple; 21 contestants each have a sealed box containing a sticky label in the lid that depicts a sum of money, ranging from a penny to £250,000. One lucky contestant is selected and he then has to eliminate boxes guarded by the remaining contestants, pausing at various stages while “the banker” offers a sum of money based on the boxes left and values eliminated so far. The contestant can choose to accept the banker’s offer (“Deal”) or carry on (“No Deal”) potentially losing or gaining money as a result. If the contestant refuses the deals all the way through then effectively he gets what’s in his own box, which could be as much as £250,000 or as little as one penny.

Basically it is just a guessing game with a little bit of risk and a little bit of drama.

Incredibly this dreadful programme is shown in several countries. In Britain it is fronted by Noel Edmonds, who has somehow managed to resurrect his career because of it. From the very offset, Noel has somehow turned the show into an advert for the power of positive thinking. What is going on? This is the man who brought us Mr Blobby!!!

The chosen contestant appears with all sorts of lucky charms and, in some cases, sad tales that somehow wrench at the heart strings of those viewers susceptible to that kind of nonsense.

First and foremost, it is just a guessing game and, at best, a test of how brave or how risk averse the chosen contestant actually is.

Whenever the contestant picks a box, he is led to believe (by an unknown force) that he can somehow influence the contents of the box; if he is positive then the lower values will be eliminated. Of course, the values in the boxes are predetermined and he has no way of influencing the outcome of his selection at all. Sure he can have a “hunch” but that’s about the best he can hope for. If he is lucky then he will eliminate the low values. In reality, the odds are probably against him anyway.

However, what particularly irritates me is the “feel good” factor. The contestant convinces himself that a benign power is on his side; the remaining contestants with the boxes are also convinced that they too can help the chosen contestant achieve his goal of winning an incredible amount of money. All this is fuelled by Noel.

We hear things like:

CONTESTANT: I have a good feeling about box number 5; go on Ryan, open the box for me. 5 is my lucky number and I feel really sure it is a low number.

NOEL: I hope it is a low number. Positive thinking aids positivity. Ryan, can you open the box?

RYAN (Box Number 5): I’ll do my best.

What does Ryan mean: “I’ll do my best”? What the hell can he do? He can’t do anything but open the bloody box. Other things that Ryan might say are:

“I am WILLING this to be a low number for you mate.”

“This is a low number. I FEEL it in my water.”

Inevitably, when the box containing £250,000 is eliminated, Ryan will say something absurd like:

“I’m so sorry! I’ve let you down. How can you ever forgive me?”

The contestant will reply:

“It’s OK Ryan. I forgive you!”

AARRGGHHH!!! Am I the only person on the planet annoyed by this? Ryan couldn’t influence the contents of the box unless he was an alien with paranormal powers or just a bloody cheat! And if he WERE a cheat, if he had any sense he would wait until it was HIS turn to become the chosen contestant before putting his devious little plan into action.


Anyway, after eliminating a few boxes, the contestant then has to wait for the Banker to offer him a deal based on the remaining box values. The Banker is not seen and resides in an office off screen. We do not get to hear what he has to say because he calls Noel on the phone and speaks to him alone.

The Banker makes his offer based on a formula which is high enough to tempt the hapless contestant to accept the deal, but low enough to tempt the greedy bugger to continue in the hope that he completely blows it. To add to this, the Banker usually adds a couple of mild insults to relieve the tension (after all, we all like a bit of banter, don’t we?).

The Banker is the only sane person on the show, choosing to openly ridicule the contestant and shatter his greedy illusions. I’m sure he also gets to insult Noel Edmonds, which in my opinion would qualify it as a serious contender for the best job ever.

As you might have guessed I would LOVE to be the banker on the show.

Picture the scene:

NOEL: You still have a few boxes left, including the £250,000 and the penny. How do you feel?

CONTESTANT: I feel brilliant. I feel POSITIVE!! I really feel that I can do well. I FEEL it in my water.


NOEL (feigning surprise): Guess what? It’s the Banker.

THE BANKER (aka The Plastic Mancunian): OK you bearded buffoon. Tell that pillock that this is just a stupid guessing game and that he stands no bloody chance of getting his greedy mitts on the £250,000. Tell him he is almost as ugly as you are and that positive thinking is a way of life that helps people to make the best of what remains of their existence. It is not some stupid made up thing that somehow influences the contents of those bloody boxes. I’ll offer the idiot £5000 and tell him he can be thankful for that. By the way, Noel, did I tell you that you are a bearded buffoon?

NOEL: HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! He’s such a mischievous imp. He says he wants to see you go home and that your luck has run out.

THE BANKER (aka The Plastic Mancunian): No I didn’t you weird beard. Tell the man the truth you and stop trying to raise his hopes. It’s a bloody guessing game. Tell him to take the five grand and be thankful. By the way, did I tell you that you are a bearded buffoon?

CONTESTANT: HA HA HA. My luck hasn’t run out. I feel positive. This whole place is filling me with a positive sense of certainty. I WILL win that £250,000. You can tell the Banker ... NO DEAL!!!

NOEL: Well done. He won’t be happy with that!

THE BANKER (aka The Plastic Mancunian): STREWTH! Never mind, weird beard. At least it pays my wages – oh and you exorbitant fee too. By the way, did I tell you that you are a bearded buffoon?

Noel has in fact leapt onto the positivity in the show and actually written a book called “Positively Happy: Cosmic Ways To Change Your Life”. Clearly something has worked for him.

In America, the show is very similar to the show in Britain but the contestants are absolutely bonkers. Gone is the positivity; it has been replaced by the razzamatazz that exists in American TV shows. If you were to take your average British contestant and pop him with so many happy pills that he rattled when he walked, you would have the contestant that I saw on the show during my recent visit to Boston. This was TV that was so incredible that I simply couldn’t take my eyes off it.

The contestant was dressed in an orange shirt that was so bright, I had to wear a pair of sunglasses to shield my eyes from the glare. His confidence was surpassed only by his arrogance; this man was the best of the best of the best of the best (in his world only of course). His hairstyle was incredible, a mullet that had been permed somehow. I like mullets but that hairstyle would have sent me to the hairdressers screaming “Cut it off! CUT IT OFF!!!!”

And, guess what? The guy was a HAIRDRESSER!!!!

The boxes in the British version were replaced by suitcases but the game was almost identical. There were one or two differences though.

First, there were two glamorous assistants who had two purposes, as far as I could see:

to take the suitcases off the remaining contestants when they had revealed their contents and also to let us all know, out there in TV land, how we should feel. Whenever a suitcase revealed a low value, the assistants would laugh and jump up and down clapping their hands. When it was a high value, they would look sad and pout mournfully. Whenever the orange contestant cracked a wild and unfunny joke they would laugh and whoop as if they had just heard the funniest joke in the history of mankind.

In addition to the empathic assistants, we had an audience that had been overdosed with Red Bull and Coca Cola; they were whooping, clapping and screaming continually, so much so that I could barely hear the presenter when he tried to speak. They were in a state of constant frenzy, which fuelled the orange contestant even more.

I was expecting the TV to explode.

In a similar way to the British contestants, the guardians of the suitcases were saying things like:
“I will MAKE SURE that this is a LOW value!”

One guy said:

“If this is a low number I want a FREE HAIRCUT!”

The orange contestant shouted:

“WHOO!!!! You got it, man!”

The guy must have known it had a high number otherwise he would never have taken a chance with his hair.

We actually saw the Banker in silhouette in the American version and he managed to ridicule the orange contestant. He must have read my mind because he remarked on the guy’s haircut being dreadful despite the fact he was a hairdresser.

Now, you may think that I consider the American version to be worse, but to be honest, it has one thing that makes it slightly better than the British version – the host is NOT Noel Edmonds. In the show I saw, he remained calm and tried his best to contain the arrogant craziness of the orange contestant, carefully explaining to him that he had to think about what he was doing rather than riding on a wave of frenzied enthusiasm.

I liked him.

In fact, I was thinking of applying for the position of Banker on the US show; my only problem is that people may guess who I am from my silhouette:

Do you think I should apply?

Thursday 1 October 2009

American TV Commercials

I’ve just returned from a very pleasant trip to the United States and, I tell you something, I’m glad I didn’t fall ill over there. If I had succumbed to an illness that required drugs of some kind I am certain that I would have perished as a result of a horrific treatment related side effect.

Mrs PM and I arrived in Boston around ten days ago and, whilst unpacking, I switched on the TV and started to flick through the channels, searching for something to watch as a background activity. It took a while because every single channel had a TV commercial on it – I was beginning to think that Americans had given up on the idea of watching TV programmes in favour of an endless loop of adverts.

Of course, we have commercials in the UK but in the US, they have millions of the things. I was drawn away from the necessity of packing and sucked into the world of advertising American style. Mrs PM seemed immune and unpacked, making sure that her clothes were impeccably hung up or popped into drawers. I simply watched the TV like a hypnotised idiot.

Here are a couple of commercials that grabbed my attention:

First, a very scary man, with a beard that made him look incredibly sinister, tried to convince me that I could use his services to make sure that the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) would not overtax me. I couldn’t drag my eyes from his beard; it was so perfectly coiffured in perfect harmony with his hair, that for a second I thought I was watching a talking doll. The expression on his face never changed and neither did the tone of his voice. Was he a robot? He certainly scared me into thinking that I should engage his services (otherwise I would have to pay the taxman millions of dollars) – and I’m not even a resident. But he was scary looking and I mean SCARY, so scary in fact that I later had a jet-lagged induced nightmare about him, picturing him as an immigration officer, accusing me of not paying my taxes.

Next came a dreadful advert for fast food with camera close-ups of seafood drowned in a weird looking sauce, all available for the cool price of $1.99, including a bucket of coke (and I mean a huge bucket). There were kids involved and parents smiling as they bit into this horrible looking gunk, with a catchphrase that made me cringe, a catchphrase that somehow stuck in my mind, causing me to suggest trying it for dinner later. Thankfully, Mrs PM hadn’t seen the advert so she replied “WHAT? ARE YOU MENTAL????”

Other products and services were being advertised with a phone number being drilled into the viewer’s skull by being repeated endlessly throughout the commercial:

Call 1-800-BUYJUNK. That’s 1-800-BUYJUNK. By the way, did I tell you that you need to call 1-800-BUYJUNK? If I didn’t then don’t forget to call 1-800-BUYJUNK. That’s 1-800-BUYJUNK. Have you called 1-800-BUYJUNK yet? Why not? Why haven’t you called 1-800-BUYJUNK? Are you insane? This is a once in a lifetime chance for you to call 1-800-BUYJUNK.

However, there was an advert that genuinely terrified me.

As you may know, I have suffered from hypochondria in the past (
read about it here). Imagine my shock at seeing a US advert for a drug that could cause more harm than good. For non-American readers, let me explain and give you a detailed description of the commercial. I won’t use the real name of the drug – instead I’ll make on up; for the sake of the description, let’s call this wonder drug Phawxx.

Picture the scene. A smiling middle-aged woman is sitting on a sofa, looking at old photographs. Then she starts to describe, in painful detail, the dreadful medical condition she has and how Phawxx has saved her life.

Phawxx has helped me live my life again,” she says. She is accompanied by music that, quite frankly, is so melodramatic that it either makes you want to sit there saying “AWWWWW” or (in my case) makes me feel like throwing up.

“Since I discovered Phawxx,” she continues, “I now have a reason to live. Suffering from Dragwart Syndrome is so debilitating it has made me question my very existence.”

“Dragwart Syndrome?” I ask myself. “What in blue blazes is Dragwart Syndrome? Is it some exotic disease I can catch in America? What the hell will happen to me if I catch that?”

I make a note of the name “Dragwart Syndrome” in my notebook, promising to look it up on the internet at the next available opportunity. I also start to plan to buy Phawxx – just in case.

She then goes into great detail about how the wonder drug, Phawxx, has made a difference. We see her in a sun filled garden laughing contentedly with her children; we see her lying in the arms of her devoted husband, both smiling adoringly and staring into each others eyes as if they are love struck teenagers. And the dreadful music plays on.

And then the warnings start. The commercial has lasted around six seconds until this point; the remaining twenty four seconds are devoted to the side effects of Phawxx. A voice over appears and then spends the remaining time warning you what can happen when Phawxx goes bad.

Always consult your doctor before using Phawxx. Possible side effects include: pregnancy, blindness, headaches, vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach cramps, deafness, hair loss and loss of toes. If your skin starts to turn crimson, stop using Phawxx. If your breathing becomes shallow or you fall asleep while walking, stop using Phawxx. In extreme cases, Phawxx can cause Dragwart Syndrome-related death. In some cases, you may grow an extra eye in the middle of your forehead. In others, your left leg and right arm may both wither and drop off unexpectedly. Do not take Phawxx if you have blonde hair, are Chinese, wear purple spectacles or own a cat. If you are male, Phawxx may turn you into a woman. Do not give Phawxx to children under the age of forty. Do not take Phawxx if you are receiving any other treatment for Dragwart Syndrome as the two treatments will combine and turn you into a fish. Ask you doctor about Phawxx.

And all the time, the voiceover man is telling us the ways in which Phawxx can mutate human beings, the nice woman is sitting in her comfy chair, smiling like an angel and laughing with her family. And the dreadful music plays on.

Of course, for any fellow hypochondriacs out there, Dragwart Syndrome is in fact a figment of my imagination (at least I hope it is).

I could go on all day about adverts on American TV but I will leave you with a complaint.

In the UK, on commercial channels, we are warned that adverts are about to come on. Let’s take the sitcom “Friends” as an example of how adverts are shown in the US and the UK.

In the UK a typical episode of Friends, a man will introduce the show and one set of commercials will appear about halfway through the show. A couple of commercials are also broadcast before and after the show.

In the US a typical episode of Friends will be split into about three hundred parts with commercials appearing every few seconds. Adverts will appear between the opening credits and the first part of the show, numerous times during the show and then just before the last scene and the end credits. For a foreigner like me it is impossible to know where the show starts and the adverts end. Even when Joey and Chandler are chatting, there are banners at the bottom of the screen advertising the next show to be ruined by adverts. Incredibly, just before the show ends, you get “close captioning for Friends was brought to you by Phawxx, the wonder drug for Dragwart Syndrome”.

Annoyingly, I was actually watching a sitcom I had never seen before and stupidly left the room and completely missed the final quirky scene.

“That was the best bit of the show,” said Mrs PM.

“Bollocks!” I said.

To be honest, I hate TV commercials as a rule. British commercials are awful but American ones are far worse on the whole. In Britain we at least inject some humour into them to make them a little bit interesting whereas humour is largely omitted from US adverts – either that or they simply aren’t funny.

If it were up to me, I would remove all TV adverts. The BBC is a commercial-free zone and it is small wonder that on the whole more viewers watch it than the other 3000 channels we get over here. The only things the BBC advertises are other BBC shows. That’s good enough for me.

I can do without “Just For Men” and “Phawxx the wonder drug” thank you very much, for my sanity at least.

This post was brought to you by The Plastic Mancunian. Warning - Do not read The Plastic Mancunian after consuming Phawxx as it may turn you into a baboon. Phawxx was brought to you by the weird and sordid imagination of The Plastic Mancunian and should not be taken ever - particularly if you suffer from Dragwart Syndrome.