Saturday 22 May 2010

Sunday Stealing - The Voice Post Meme

Well folks, I’m off on holiday to Canada (taking in Calgary and Vancouver) and America (visiting Alaska) on Monday so I thought I would have a go at a Sunday Stealing Meme before I go (I’m too lazy and too busy to write anything more challenging).

Of course, all this assumes that the Icelandic ash cloud doesn’t change direction and scupper my plans, or the British Airways strike doesn’t leave me stranded in Seattle. Also, isn’t it just typical that I plan to visit Iceland in August in the year that a bloody volcano erupts and brings European air traffic to a standstill? I’m cursed – I’m sure of it.

Be warned – when I return, it will be a few days before the World Cup starts so I will be boring you senseless (well, boring you more than I usually do) with posts about the mighty England and how we are going to conquer the football world (in my dreams at least). I’ll bet you can’t wait.

To the meme:

1) What's your middle name?

Sadly, my middle name is George. It almost became my first name but thankfully my mum intervened. Good old mum.

2) How old are you?

Too old – 47 (with the brain and mindset of a very immature 15 year old).

3) Where are you from? Are you living there right now?

I’m from Walsall originally and I live in South Manchester – that’s in England, if you hadn’t already guessed.

4) Is it cold where you are?

Normally it’s quite mild but today has been the hottest day of the year so far, with bright sunshine banishing the clouds and temperatures of 27 degrees Centigrade. Nice.

5) What's the time?

It’s currently 22:05.

6) What are you wearing?

I’m wearing shorts and a T-shirt – and underpants of course.

7) What was the last thing you listened to?

Joe Satriani – Ride (From “Flying in a Blue Dream”)

8) What was the last thing you ate?

Chicken fajitas.

9) What was the last thing you watched on TV?

Friday’s episode of “Lost” – only two to go.

10) What's your favorite tv show? Why?

There are too many to mention but at the moment I would probably say “24” or “Lost”, with “Dr Who” in there too. Why? Because they are weird, gritty and fun – just like me (though perhaps not gritty – I can’t imagine myself being Jack Bauer - maybe Jack Bauer's geeky brother perhaps - if I stretch my imagination in a weird way that is).

11) Quick! Find a book, or something with text on it! Flip to a random page and post the second paragraph's first sentence.

“The easiest way is to have him imagine himself at the top of a staircase”.

12) What was the last movie you saw? How was it?

“Gran Torino” with Clint Eastwood. It was an excellent film – funny and sad. I shed a tear at the end.

13) Do YOU think you have an accent? Where do people in your country do people speak with strong accents?

I certainly used to have a strong accent when I lived in Walsall. It is known as a “Black Country” accent and, to the untrained ear, it is very difficult to make sense of it. Here is a typical opening gambit:

“D’yow fancy cumming to the pub for a poy ana point? Nouw? Orroight – oll see ya next wik. Tara a bit, skip”.

I live in the UK so there are hundreds of strong accents. We all struggle to understand some of them. I can imagine if you come from America or Canada then you might struggle with them. I might try some on my holiday next week – for a laugh.

Anyway, that’s it for now so I’ll see you in a couple of weeks (travel permitting).

Friday 21 May 2010

The Keyboard Warrior

All hail the Keyboard Warrior.

The Keyboard Warrior is great.

The Keyboard Warrior is fantastic.

The Keyboard Warrior is cool.

The Keyboard Warrior is a total arse!

Some of you may wonder what I am talking about. Allow me to enlighten you.

If you browse internet forums, write a blog or, perhaps, are a member of social networking site like Facebook, then the chances are that you have encountered or certainly will encounter a Keyboard Warrior at some stage in your online life.

And you will certainly know when you have.

What is a Keyboard Warrior?

It is basically a person who chooses to remain anonymous and travels around cyberspace, disembarking from their luxury browser onto a web site that allows feedback, comment or communication of some kind and then, rather than being civil, explodes in a fireball of rage and writes cutting, cruel and sometimes vicious things, taking out their pent up anger on poor innocent fellow internet travellers who might have written something that in some tiny way offended them.

Or he may just do it for a laugh.

I have been a victim of such a person although this particular Keyboard Warrior chose not to address me directly. I wrote a blog post about how Mr Hugh Laurie, currently a serious actor in a very popular American series called House, was once a comedy actor. Basically, not being a fan of House, I exposed his earlier works to a global audience (well those people out there who may have stumbled unwittingly on my blog) and said that, to me at least, he will always be “Stupid Prince George” from Blackadder. You can read it here

This didn’t go down very well in Russia. I didn’t exactly unleash a major international incident but I did seriously annoy a Russian Keyboard Warrior hiding behind the pseudonym Swallow. Basically Swallow said that I was a moron and that he/she hated people from my country (“I hate you Brits”). Whatever I wrote made Swallow “shake with indignation.”

I have also suffered a little on other forums. Occasionally, I have posted something that is slightly controversial, usually veiled in humour, and then been assaulted using words that I certainly cannot repeat here.

On one occasion, I commented on an American blog, where the author had written a fairly nasty post President Obama. I was flabbergasted, so, foolishly, I said something along the lines of “Don’t be so hard on your new President; he’s better than the last one.” There was nothing bad in my comment at all.

However, the response I received was full of pure venom; I was accused of “breath-taking arrogance”, accused of being a “f****ing communist” and told in no uncertain terms that I should “rot in my f***ing socialist state”. I was tempted to reply but that would have made things much worse.

I have read blog posts written by people that have, for one reason or another, attracted absolutely incredibly vicious comments from certain Keyboard Warriors who have quite simply misunderstood the point of the post or just decided to lash out for reasons best understood by themselves.

I moderate comments on my own blog and now I am glad I do.

The reason I did that initially was because I was paranoid and thought that my friends would discover the blog and perhaps post something embarrassing about me or reveal other things I did not want the whole world to see.

The truth is rather more bizarre; I have ended up revealing enough embarrassing things about myself to make anybody blush. I have been my own worst enemy.

Since seeing how other bloggers have suffered, I reckon comment moderation is probably a good thing. I do try to allow every comment but have discarded a couple in the past because they have been from Keyboard Warriors.

One particular comment that I discarded said something like:

“This blog is f****ing terrible. It is poorly laid out, badly written and utterly pointless. If I were you, I would scrap it and do something worthwhile. It is totally shit”.

My first reaction was to laugh out loud. I assumed it was a mate trying to wind me up, but then I checked who had visited the blog and worked out that the comment came from America. I don’t mind criticism but something like that simply didn’t deserve to be aired – although I have done just that – D’OH!!!

Imagine receiving a comment like that when you had just started out and were looking for constructive comments? It would potentially be soul destroying. If you are just starting out on the road to blog heaven and require some feedback then a nasty comment will almost certainly make you reconsider. Worse, it makes you question yourself and possibly make a rash decision to abandon your blog, based solely on the terrible opinions of an anonymous Keyboard Warrior who, for some insane reason, has it in for you.

If the comment I had received had said something like:

“This blog could use some improvement. First of all, the layout is a bit bland and you’re writing could also be improved. What I would do if I were you, would be too reconsider the layout, perhaps putting in a few pictures and taking a little bit more time on your posts, rereading them and refining them rather than rushing them out.”

I certainly don’t want to censor any comments at all. In fact, I would prefer people to offer constructive criticism – and preferably not anonymously.

While surfing the internet I have landed on some truly dreadful blogs but I have resisted saying that I hate them, for the simple reason that it would almost certainly offend the person who wrote the blog. Why would anybody want to do that?

If you don’t like the blog then don’t read it. It’s simple really – it’s not rocket science.

While the Keyboard Warrior might use his internet browser as a warship, sailing on a calm internet sea, attacking anything he can with his nasty weaponry, he should perhaps consider the effect he has on those he is aggressive to.

I know of at least one blogger who has considered giving up because of constant attacks from anonymous and cowardly Keyboard Warriors. I have also heard of instances where the Keyboard Warrior’s ferocity has had a physical effect causing the victim to do something even more extreme.

Such things amaze me. I am not a nasty person at all and I simply cannot fathom how anybody can write such awful things. If I disagree with a blog post, or the sentiments in a blog post, then I will either ignore it or engage in a form of dialogue by posting my thoughts in a friendly and constructive way, with a little humour, while at the same time, posting details of my blog so that the person in question can pop along and see where I am coming from.

I will conclude with this thought.

If I were being vindictive I would say that a serial Keyboard Warriors is simply a coward. My theory would be that most of these people haven’t got the courage to identify themselves and face the consequences of their words. I could, for example, imagine a spotty little nerd hiding in a quiet little room all alone, angry that he has no friends and lashing out at anybody and everybody in order to get a warped sense of satisfaction at hurting an unknown person’s feelings. Perhaps he is bullied and rather than standing up to the bully he lashes out at innocent bloggers.

If you are such a Keyboard Warrior, and my theory is correct, then imagine the horror if a victim of your nastiness somehow managed to find out who you were or where you lived. You might actually crap your pants when you think of the consequences of your actions.

Of course, I may be wrong; the Keyboard Warrior may simply have anger management problems or have had a bad day at the office.

If you are tempted to be a Keyboard Warrior, folks, please reconsider. It is much better to express your opinions in a civil manner without the need to resort to maliciousness and vitriolic comments. Take a deep breath, ponder the post that has annoyed you and walk away from the keyboard.

You will feel better for it and everybody will be happy.

Monday 17 May 2010

Ronnie James Dio - Rest In Peace

Yesterday, the world lost one of the greatest heavy metal vocalists it has ever been my pleasure to hear; Ronnie James Dio passed away having lost his battle with stomach cancer at the tender age of 67.

Ronnie James Dio is a legend in my eyes. His performances since the 70’s have been breathtaking. It’s hard to believe that such a small man had such a wonderfully strong and powerful voice.

He was the vocalist on, in my opinion, the greatest rock album of the 1970’s – Rainbow Rising with the incomparable genius of Cozy Powell and Ritchie Blackmore. This incredible album is one of the main reasons I love hard rock and heavy metal – I still listen to it today.

I have been fortunate enough to see Ronnie perform on two occasions; once with Black Sabbath and once with his own band Dio. He sounded even better live.

I think I’ve said enough for now. I will let Mr Ronnie James Dio do the talking.

Here he is performing “Stargazer” from the album Rainbow Rising – my favourite song from that album.

Rest in peace …

Saturday 15 May 2010

Eye Spy

My last post was about my eyes, or more accurately my appalling eyesight. For this post I want to talk about the problem I have with eyes.

I hate them.

Perhaps that’s too strong a word.

I love gazing into Mrs PM’s eyes and I have no problem looking at a person’s eyes when I’m talking to them. In fact, it is sometimes difficult to drag my eyes away from the other person’s eyes, particularly if they are female. I try not to look men in the eye because, typically, it is a sign of aggression. I only do so when I’m trying to make a point.

But I love looking at women’s eyes. They are fascinating.

So why did I say that I hate eyes? Allow me to explain.

In my opinion eyes belong in eye sockets and nowhere else. That’s where they live. That is their accommodation and it is permanent accommodation. They have no business trying to escape from their prisons. Moreover, I should only be able to see that fraction of the eyeball that protrudes from the eye socket.

Furthermore, eyes should not be touched by anything but the inside of an eyelid. And I mean anything. I don’t want to see fingers near eyes and definitely not anything sharp. I can watch horror films but the moment anything like a needle goes anywhere near an eye I’m afraid I have to vomit.

Finally, eyes should be appreciated from a distance. I don’t want to get up close and personal with anybody’s eye – not even my own. I do not want to see bloodshot eyes or weird eyes.

You may have guessed something about me but if you are still puzzled then allow me to make my position clear.


Allow me to take you on a journey through my life in order to explain how this weird fear of eyes has hindered me.

I used to love playing football but my appalling short-sightedness was a major problem. In the early days, when I first acquired glasses, I used to play wearing them. You can imagine what happened. I destroyed several pairs and totally annoyed my parents. Balls have hit me in the face, I’ve suffered cuts and glasses have flown off my head only to be stamped on accidentally by myself and others in an attempt to find them.

At junior school I was told in no uncertain terms that I was not allowed to play football in my spectacles. And this left me with several grave problems; I couldn’t see my team mates; I couldn’t see the ball; I was hopeless as a result.

So I suffered until I left school and went to university. My mother wasn’t well off and I was left to fend for myself on a paltry student grant. The subject of contact lenses came up and some of my friends were starting to invest in them (or more accurately their parents were).

I couldn’t afford them so I didn’t bother – that is until I started playing football at work.

All of a sudden I had the cash to be able to afford them. I played football several times a week in a brightly lit enclosed gym and I could cope with the difficulty of not seeing because everybody wore bright clothes; I just passed to a distant red blob for example.

And then we started playing 11-a-side outside and I simply couldn’t see. The goalkeeper hoofed the ball up the field in my direction and all of my teams mates yelled “Dave! Dave! DAVE!!!!” as I ran blindly up the wing. I turned around and simply could not see the ball until it was two inches from my face, giving me approximately one nanosecond to move my head out of the way. Of course I failed, got the ball square on the nose and fell over in a heap with all players laughing at my blind stupidity including my own team mates.

I played with my spare glasses on one occasion and the ball smacked me square in the face, causing the frames to dig in and cut my just above my eye, wrecking yet another pair of glasses.

I had to get contact lenses.

My optician was offering a “contact lens” trial for the princely sum of £15. The idea behind it was that I would allow a man to put a pair of contact lenses in my eyes to see how they felt and whether they were suitable.

And it was a trial and the biggest waste of £15 in my life.

Each time he approached my eye, I flinched and pulled my head back. Deep down in my mind, my fear of eyes was kicking in. My brain screamed at me:


After ten minutes of frustration, he started to get annoyed.

“LOOK – I HAVE TO DO THIS!” he said, trying his best to be friendly with his patience at snapping point.

“OK, I’m sorry,” I said.

He tried once more and this time I forced myself to comply.

“That’s better,” he said as he gently approached my eye.

And then I flinched again. I thought he was going to punch me.

At that point, something happened within. My brain had been screaming at me not to allow this man to touch my eyeball or even get within an inch of it. The effort and the fear combined to create a tsunami of nausea within.

“I feel sick,” I declared.

The optician almost fell off his chair. Panicking, he rushed out of the little room, while I sat there like a complete lemon, clutching my head and trying to surf the wave of queasiness threatening to engulf me.

He returned with a glass of water and said “I don’t think contact lenses are suitable for you.”

No shit, Sherlock!

Suffice it to say my brush with contact lenses failed. Who was I kidding anyway? There was no way I would have found the courage to put them in and take them off. Shortly afterwards I gave up football.

I was quite pleased to have failed because a friend told me a horror story about his experience with contact lenses. He had wobbled home drunk one night and collapsed onto his settee where he fell asleep. He woke up at three in the morning and decided to find his bed. However, he was convinced that he still had his contact lenses in and spent a good ten minutes pinching his eyeball trying to extract them, only to discover that he had taken them out earlier.

I think I threw up at this point in the story.

Mrs PM used to wear contact lenses and glasses occasionally too.

She has no qualms about touching her eye or doing anything else with them. It was no surprise to me when she announced a few years ago that she was going to have laser eye surgery.

As is usual with Mrs PM, she doesn’t do things by halves; she goes in stampeding like a crazed animal.

“I’m going to have both eyes done at once,” she declared. “I need you to come with me.”

At the time I didn’t know anything about laser eye surgery. I am a curious soul so I did a little research. I wish I hadn’t.

Naively, I assumed that the laser altered the shape of you lens, thus correcting the focal length.

What I discovered chilled me to the very marrow of my bones, so much so that I can barely bring myself to type the words that describe the procedures available. Suffice it to say it involves cutting and burning the eyeball.

On the day of the surgery, I escorted Mrs PM to the clinic in the centre of Manchester, like the devoted partner I am. Mrs PM was calm and assured, if not a little nervous; I was a total wreck.

Mrs PM was offered valium; I demanded some but was refused.

As we waited, I noticed three other people, one of whom had one eye bandaged. Mrs PM, succumbing to the effects of the valium, was called in.

The guy with the bandage started a conversation with me.

Mr Bandage: Are you having your eyes done?

PM: No! I’m too squeamish.

Mr Bandage: You should you know – it’s fabulous.

PM: Why is your eye bandaged?

Mr Bandage: Oh they got it wrong and are doing it again.

AGAIN????? So this man’s eye had been butchered, they had messed up and now his eye was going to be butchered again?

Mrs PM went in for her “treatment”. At this point I noticed a funny smell pervading through the waiting room.

PM: I wonder what that funny smell is.

Mr Bandage: That’s the laser burning her eyes.

PM: You mean that the smell is burning eyeball?

Mr Bandage: Yes – that’s a good way of putting it.

He watched in amusement as I rushed to the bathroom to do battle with yet another eye-related tsunami of nausea. I just got out in time to see a valium-drugged Mrs PM wobbling out of the eyeball burning room.

Thankfully, Mrs PM’s laser treatment worked a treat and she now has perfect eyesight.

I, on the other hand, have the same poor short-sightedness coupled with long-sightedness.

How the hell can I have BOTH???

To cure this new problem with my pathetic eyes, I have just acquired a pair of varifocals. I am just getting used to the concept of having to adjust my eyes to look through the correct part of the lens - and I haven't fallen over once.

I suffered headaches for the first day, coupled with a “swimming sensation” and a total fear of walking downstairs – it was as if I looking at stuff through drunk eyes.

Thankfully I am used to them now and don’t wobble around like a crazed drunkard.

It does mean that I can see distance and read without having to take off my glasses.

Well, that’s enough about my eyes. I’ve suffered name calling, humiliation and nausea. I’ve suffered pain, torment and heartache.

The one good thing about this modern world is that wearing glasses is now considered “cool” so I look like a fashion icon.

My new glasses, selected by Mrs PM, are trendy and make me look, in her words, “sexy”. Other ladies have said that I look "intelligent".

Take that Joe 90! Take that Milky Bar kid! Take that skinheads who took the piss out of me in the pub. Take that kid whose nose I bloodied for calling me "four eyes".

I love my glasses.

Saturday 8 May 2010

Blind As A Bat

Somebody told me that newborn babies can’t see and that their eyesight dramatically improves. I still have the vision of a newborn baby – without my glasses I can barely see past the end of my nose.

My glasses are my best friend. Without them I am a shadow of myself; I am incomplete; I am Mr Magoo.

This is the story of how we met.

When I was a young child, my blurred vision seemed perfectly normal to me; it must have done. I must have adapted to the fact that I couldn’t see a bloody thing. To me it seemed perfectly natural to sit in front of our black and white television watching Thunderbirds. When I say “in front”, I mean with my nose pressed firmly against the tube.

My parents used to scold me and drag me back from the TV saying things like “if you sit too close to the TV you’ll go blind”. I must have stared at their blurred outlines and thought “Crikey! You mean my eyesight can get WORSE???”

Until I started school, I would sit on the settee watching television, staring at the box in the corner of the room unable to get a clear image of what was going on.

“This is the most stupid invention ever,” I thought. “All I can see is a bunch of wiggly blurred outlines.”

I had nothing to compare the images with. It was perfectly normal to me.

I started school aged five and nothing changed. I was handed books to read and, being short-sighted, I could read totally clearly. I couldn’t see what the teacher wrote on the blackboard but I didn’t actually need to – because I was clever and it was all in the book right in front of my eyes. Nobody was any the wiser, including me.

Eventually, when I turned seven, the teaching methods changed and we had to pay more attention to the drivel that teachers wrote on the blackboard; we were expected to copy it down. Having no idea that I was half blind, I assumed that there was a kind of ripple effect from the blackboard. The teacher wrote down a sentence for the kids in the front row; the kids in the second row copied the sentence from the kids in the front row and so on until it reached me. The problem was that the kid I copied from was as thick as an elephant sandwich so I simply copied down the gibberish that he wrote.

He couldn’t spell and his writing was appalling; I thought he was insane.

It was only when the teacher looked at my work that he put two and two together; I was either short-sighted or totally weird I’m both of course, but he didn’t know that at the time; he had a foolproof plan to work out which.

“Read what’s on the blackboard,” he bawled at me.

“I can’t,” I replied. “You write too small.”

The teacher decided that I was not weird but short-sighted. He told my mother and she dragged me off to my first optician appointment. I sat down in a scary chair in a small room and a scary old man put a contraption on my head that vaguely looked like a pair of glasses. He didn’t put any lenses into this contraption.

“Read those letters to me,” he barked.

“What letters?” I replied.

“Oh dear,” he sighed.

And then my life changed.

First of all, he put a black lens in the left socket of the device and a clear lens in the other side.

“Read those letters to me,” he repeated.

“AAAAAARRRRGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!” I screamed. “I CAN SEE!!!! I AM BIONIC!!!!!! I CAN SEE!!!!!!!”

And I could. I could see everything. It was as if somebody had wiped my eyeballs with a rag. Everything became crystal clear. Not only could I see the letters, I could also see a spider crapping a web in the corner of the room.

“I CAN SEE A SPIDER CRAPPING A WEB!! This room’s filthy you know.”

“Just read the letters,” he snarled.

“Q I R T Y B P” I said triumphantly before adding a few more with a giggle:

“P O O”

“W I L L Y”

“F A R T”

After a few more lenses, and a couple of cracks around the bonce for being cheeky, the optician homed in on my prescription. Finally, he took off the contraption and told me to go.

“Can’t I take it with me?” I asked. “I can’t see properly now.”

He laughed and told me that my glasses would arrive in a couple of weeks and I would be able to see clearly for ever.

I was overjoyed and I couldn’t wait to get them. Two weeks later I sat on the sofa and suddenly realised what the point of the TV was.

Sadly, acquiring my first pair of glasses was a bittersweet experience. I could see great distances and was therefore deliriously happy, running around like a demented imbecile with my new found vision. Unfortunately, in my school year, nobody else wore glasses except me.

I was mocked – mercilessly.

Within two minutes of arriving at school on that first day with by glasses, kids who I thought were my friends, were calling me “Four eyes” and “Specky” and other derogatory names. In fact, my first altercation with a teacher happened on that very day. I remember it well and it is probably one of the reasons why I have a problem with authority today.

It was the teacher who had noticed my poor eyesight so, looking back, I should really have shaken the man’s hand and given him all of my worldly possessions (a toy robot, a football and my bogey collection); I should have been forever in his debt. However, on that first day, I grew to hate him.

“Specky four eyes,” I was called over and over again and something had to give. The anger built up and up and up and up until finally I broke.

I forget the name of the poor kid who pushed me into the abyss of wrath but I bet he remembers me.

“What’s it like to look like a specky four-eyed girl?” he said.

“What’s it like to be in pain, you BUGGER!!!” I screamed as I hit him square on the nose with all my might, actually giving him a nose bleed.

The teacher saw it all, grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and dragged me into the library, which was a room that we dubbed “the naughty room”; people waited there to receive the cane in those days of corporal punishment.

“Sit down!” shouted the teacher. “How DARE you hit another child; AND use language like that.”

I was still enraged and, without thinking of the consequences, I turned on him. I couldn't believe that I was being punished after the ruthless name calling that had driven me to violence. And now the teacher was my target; this man who had helped me see; this man who was my hero; this responsible human being who now turned out to be a complete arse. I lost any respect for him.

“THAT BUGGER HAS BEEN CALLING ME FOUR EYES ALL DAY! WHY AM I IN TROUBLE?” I screamed exploding in a blend of tears, snot and spit. I might also have wet my pants – I’m not sure. I simply couln't believe what was happening.

I forget the events after that, such was my trauma, but I do know that I soon realised my predicament and may suffer the wrath of the headmaster, resulting in six hefty whacks across the arse with his cane. After all this was a strict catholic school and using foul language and violence was regarded as a pretty bad sin. Furthermore, I feared that I might end up in hell with Satan himself calling me “Four Eyes” for eternity while punching me on the nose.

I do know that the headmaster got involved and when I explained, through floods of tears, snot and spit, about the persecution I had received from my so-called friends, it must have turned the tide somewhat.

In the end I had to suffer punishment but the teacher and headmaster were lenient.

The kid I had smacked on the nose was also punished and ended up sitting next to me in the library for an hour. Our punishment was missing the PE lesson, which we both loved, and hundreds of lines. We had to write sheets and sheets of lines: mine were meant to drill into me that I should never use the foul language I had used and I had to write out repeatedly the line:

“Let me no wrong or idle word unthinking say. Set thou thy seal upon my lips just for today”

from the old hymn “Just For Today”

I think my tormentor and victim of my violence had to write some crap about being nice to unfortunate people.

After that, certain kids thought twice about calling me “Four Eyes” at school, for a while at least. It wasn’t long before I was called names again but by then I was hardened to it. “Four eyes” and other derogatory terms stuck with me throughout my early childhood and youth and I still wince when I hear similar phrases now (though thankfully I haven’t heard it for quite a few years now).

As you can imagine, though, “Four Eyes” and “Specky” weren’t the only insults that were hurled my way.

It was typical that I was born and grew up at a time when there were not one but TWO of my nemeses on the TV.

The first was “The Milky Bar Kid”, a boy about my age with blond hair and glasses, just like me, who dressed up as a cowboy and ate white chocolate bars called Milky Bars. I hated the kid and I hated Milky Bars, not only because of the torment that came my way but also the taste.

White chocolate? What crazy mutant dreamed that up?

Here is my first nemesis:

With my wild blond hair and glasses I looked like a crazed version of the Milky Bar Kid who had been assaulted with a particularly potent ugly stick.

My second nemesis was “Joe 90” and in many ways this was even worse because the name “Joe 90” stuck for years and years. Who is "Joe 90"? In case you don’t know, here he is:

One of the last times I remember having “Joe 90” trauma was when I was nineteen. I was about to leave a pub in Walsall town centre with a couple of friends when I noticed a bunch of skinheads. As we walked past, the skinheads, in a coordinated harmonious manner that belied their Neanderthal stupidity, gave a rendition of the “Joe 90” theme tune.


and bellowed with laughter. We all walked out and I told my mates to run to the next pub.

“Why?” asked one. “They were just taking the piss. They’re not coming after us.”

“Just run,” I said. “Because they will be coming after us.”

They walked, thinking I had had a pint too many. When I went back into the pub, however, they changed their mind and set off for the next pub at a trot.

Inside the pub, I walked up to the skinheads as they laughed, amused by their piss-taking. Years of being called “Joe 90” had finally got to me and having had a pint or two of lager and lime I felt it was time to tell them what I thought. And I did. I can’t recall exactly what I said but I think I accused them of having dog-shit for brains and the intellectual capacity of a particularly stupid dung beetle.

Thankfully, at the time, I was fit and fast and was out of the pub before they could react. Whether they chased me or not, I don’t know. But I felt better for telling them what I thought, that’s for sure.

Of course, I wouldn’t do anything that stupid now; I’d probably join in their laughter and chat to them.

That’s not the end of my story about my relationship with my glasses. There is much more to come.

What do you mean “Oh no!!!”??????

By the way, the picture at the start of the post is me aged twelve. See what I mean about being a mad-haired version of “The Milky Bar Kid”?

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Beaten Up In The Name Of Sport

If somebody said to you:

“I want you to go onto the pitch and spend the next eighty minutes being pounded, mauled, savaged, mangled, battered and generally knocked about. Now GET GOING!!”

I can guess that you would probably say “No way, you psychotic arse!”

You would be justified in saying this or something stronger.

Sadly, for me, I had no choice; I had to obey.

At the age of 11, I started on my first day at Walsall’s only grammar school, a school with an immense reputation for excellence and scholarly achievement. My parents were proud as I had managed to earn a place using my intelligence, i.e. I passed my 11+ exam with flying colours. I had reached a pinnacle of achievement and I joined the ranks of the elite – or so I thought.

I came from a working class background, where kids swore (in some cases it was their first word). My mum didn’t work and my dad worked in a factory. We struggled on and we coped. I had somehow emerged from the working class shadows and was on my up. From an early age, I yearned to be a footballer; my dad took me to my first match at Fellows Park, Walsall to watch what would become my beloved Walsall FC. I was hooked. At junior school, I was elated to make the football team briefly, even though I was so short sighted that I could barely see the ball. I loved football.

Imagine my horror when I discovered, after all my hard work in the exam, that my new grammar school played rugby and only rugby. There was no football. Any round balls that made it into the school were mutated into eggs with maximum prejudice.

I had no choice! Rugby was going to be my sport whether I like it or not. And I didn’t like it one little bit. I was gutted. I wanted to leave and go to the local comprehensive school. My dad told me in no uncertain terms what I should do. I stayed at the grammar school.

I enjoyed watching rugby, particularly the Five Nations (as it was then) and I cheered England until I was hoarse. But play rugby? No chance!!


Well let me tell you. People say that football is a sport for gentlemen played by thugs and rugby is a sport for thugs played by gentlemen.

I say that rugby is a sport for thugs played by thugs.

I still remember that fateful day when I stood in the September rain in the autumn of 1974 with the other poor wretches staring at the mud bath that was to become my worst nightmare over the years.

The PE teacher, himself an amateur rugby player for Walsall, was a giant compared to me. He was also a total sadist. And he didn’t like me. Why? Because I was a cheeky little git.

In that first lesson, he tried to teach us the basics of the brutal game. His words went in one ear and out of the other. Over the weeks, he taught us how to tackle, how to run, the basic rules and tactics. It wasn’t long before he uttered the words that chilled me to the very marrow of my bones:

“Right – we’re going to play a game.”

I was small for my age, a “late developer” my embarrassed parents told friends. Not only was I short – I was as thin as an anorexic rake. Whenever I walked past railings, people said “Now you see him; now you don’t”.

You can imagine that rugby was never going to be the best sport for me.

I looked around at my school friends and saw the first signs of change. The bigger lads began to mutate into Mr Hyde. Knowing grins spread across their sadistic faces. One or two pairs of eyes settled on me.

Before I go on, I have to tell you something. I was a cheeky little bugger at school. I would not allow teachers to get the better of me and I certainly didn’t allow the big lads to bully me; I always tried my best to get the better of them by humiliating them by exposing them as buffoons, which was quite easy really. I certainly couldn’t take them on in a fight – that way would have been madness. At times I was a real arsehole at school.

As I’ve said, my sadistic PE teacher didn’t like me either (mainly because on more than one occasion I accused him of being a meathead). When he picked the teams, he had already decided which players that were going to be in the elite “First XV” – and I wasn’t one of them.

Sadly, that meant that I ended up in the “Second XV” or “Third XV”, i.e. the “also rans”. Worse, the sadistic PE teacher wanted them to bond as a team – so he pitched them against the rest.

I did have one thing going for me; I was fast – in fact I was one of the fastest kids in the year, despite my height.

I was also fearless (for “fearless” read “stupid”). I found myself facing the “First XV” when the whistle was blown and within seconds I would invite pain, goading the biggest kids on the other team with taunts like:

“OY! FATSO!!! I’m surprised you’re not sinking in the mud with that fat arse of yours! Hippos like mud and you look so at home in it, you fat arsehole!”

What, in the name of all that was holy, was I thinking? The “fat” kids weren’t fat at all. They were bruisers and they were fast. They had muscles where I didn’t think muscles existed. Even their muscles had muscles.

As you can see, I was a supercilious little shit with a big mouth and, because of my arrogance I thought I could outrun them all.

I was wrong.

In the early days I used to catch the ball and get rid of it immediately but then I became cocky and kept it, my insane ego telling me that I could outrun these fat lumps, score a try and get the glory. That was my biggest mistake.

Picture the scene.

Straight from the scrum, one of my team mates has the ball and throws it along the line as we advance. The bulky bruisers advance. The ball is passed to me.

Through blurred eyes, I can vaguely see the post ahead. Looming in front of me are three or four bruisers, most of whom I have verbally abused in the past week or called “FATSO” in a moment of madness at the start of the game. But I am fearless; I am fast and I can outrun these lumbering hippopotami with ease.

One minute I am running; the next I am not. One of the hippos has caught me and lifted me up in the air. I am travelling backwards at a rate of knots and at the same time, my head is hurtling towards a deep puddle of thick, viscous mud. I crash to the ground with the full weight of a hippo on top of me. I am still clutching the ball, somehow. Several things cross my mind:

(1) That bloody hurt.

(2) That really bloody hurt.

(3) That really, really, really, really bloody hurt.

(4) Bloody hell, I can’t breathe.

(5) I must get rid of the ball before another hippo arrives.

(6) My face is a little too close to that puddle of mud.

(7) I wish I hadn’t called the hippo “Fatso!”

(8) Oh shit! Here comes another hippo.

Before I know it, the other hippo has leapt on top of me, and the first hippo, incensed at my suggestion that he may be a little overweight, has grabbed my long hair and rammed my face into the puddle of mud.

I hear the words:

“That’ll teach you to call me Fatso, you little shit!”

Let me tell you one thing. Breathing and swallowing mud is not a pleasant experience, particularly when you in agony and being sat on by at least two huge bruisers. When the hippos finally get off, I am lying in the mud, soaking wet, filthy and my face is covered in mud. I spit out a pint of liquid mud and pull half a pound of turf out of my teeth.

I hear the PE teacher shouting at me:

“Get up and get back into position!”

I stand up and look around. Before I know it, somebody has passed the ball to me again.

“Oh no!!”

I am too slow. One of the hippos flattens me again and once more I drink a cocktail of mud, turf and filthy water.

And there are still 70 minutes to play.

Every game of rugby I took part in was the same. I walked off the pitch battered, bruised and broken. The bullies couldn’t lay into me normally but did so “legally” on the rugby pitch, incensed by my piss-taking.

On one occasion I was actually tackled so hard that I was almost knocked unconscious. Thankfully, the sadistic PE teacher took pity on me and sent me staggering back to the changing room.

For five years I endured this ritual torture.

I hated every last second of it.

When I reached the sixth form, I had the opportunity to drop the sport (if you want to call it a sport). Mind you, I had filled out a little bit then and also grown. I was actually taller than some of the hippos so I reckon, had I continued playing rugby, I might have been able to exact my revenge.

I chose a more sedate pursuit – kickboxing!

Not really!

Some people look back at past traumatic experiences and say “it wasn’t so bad.”

To those people I say this:

Play rugby for five years. Find a sadistic PE teacher who hates you, add a pinch of arrogance and foolhardy piss-taking of the biggest lads in the year, be clever and tell the PE teacher that “rugby is a game for brainless meatheads”, stand in front of your nemeses on a rugby pitch and call them all “fat useless oafs” and, after you have quite literally been dragged through the mud and beaten for 80 minutes, tell me that “it wasn’t so bad”.

Mind you, I guess I deserved everything I got.

As much as I hated playing the game, I still like to watch rugby, particularly the Six Nations. I love to cheer England especially when they kick a bit of Aussie arse. I will be watching and cheering during the next World Cup, that’s for sure.

But to those hippos that so ruthlessly made me drink mud as a child, I have just this to say:

“OY FATTY!!! I am still faster than you, you mal-coordinated lump of blubber. The only reason they put you in the scrum is because they haven’t built the crane yet that could lift your fat arse off the pitch!”

I have changed – honest.

Saturday 1 May 2010

Let's Talk ABout Sex

Actually, let’s NOT talk about sex.

Let’s talk about people who like to talk about sex.

When I’m having a conversation with other men, the subject of sex rarely crops up. The only time guys talk about sex is when a lovely woman happens to wander into the vicinity and even then we barely scratch the surface. A typical conversation may go something like this:

FIRST GUY: Look at her. She’s tasty.

SECOND GUY: Phwoarr! I’d give her one.

FIRST GUY: Me too.

And that’s about it. The conversation may vary slightly, depending on whether the woman is in the room and/or in earshot or perhaps if we are talking about a lovely creature like BeyoncĂ© or Megan Fox – but it doesn’t get much deeper than that.

On the odd occasion, when a guy has had a date or something like that, the conversation may get a little deeper:

FIRST GUY: So what was she like?

SECOND GUY: Fabulous.

FIRST GUY: Did you shag her?

SECOND GUY: Yeah – I gave her a right good seeing to.

FIRST GUY: You didn’t shag her did you?


And that really is it.

Women, on the other hand, always want to talk about sex, which I find really odd. Men are driven by sex and want it all the time, yet don’t like talking about it at all. Women don’t seem to want sex all the time yet they want to talk about the intimate details of every second of their encounters with men.

Let me give you an example.

When Mrs PM and I first moved in together, one of her friends came round for tea. I knew her but not very well. Faced with an evening of girl talk, I decided, out of a morbid sense of curiosity, to stay in rather than go out. There was a football match on TV and I assumed that the two girls would eat their food and leave me in peace to watch the game while they retired to the dining room to discuss flowers, chocolate, bunny rabbits and cats.

In order to protect the girl’s identity (and myself if ever she reads this), I will call her “Lozenge”.

When Lozenge arrived, Mrs PM was in the kitchen putting the final touches to her fabulous lasagne leaving me to chat to her newly arrived friend. We had a nice little chat about life, the universe and everything, everything that is apart from sex. The subject wasn’t broached. The subject did not rear its head. The subject stayed in the shadows exactly where it belonged.

A few minutes later, Mrs PM summoned us into the dining room where a bottle of wine was uncorked and a lovely dish of lasagne was presented to us with salad and a few other trimmings.

As I prepared to eat, the subject suddenly changed. Within seconds, the subject of sex came stampeding out of the shadows like a demented beast and threw itself into the conversation like a demolition ball crashing into a house.

“I’m having a few problems with Bodger,” said Lozenge. “In the bedroom.”

Bodger was her boyfriend (not his real name obviously), and I had met him a couple of times. He seemed like a nice chap, the kind of chap who would never have initiated a conversation with me about the bedroom – unless he was decorating it of course.

“Ooh!” said Mrs PM, excited by the immediate change of subject. “Do tell.”

My brain screamed at me, ordering me to tell them to change the subject and talk about it later. Unfortunately my mouth was full lasagne and all I managed to do was choke, splutter and dribble like a mutant baby, with lasagne dripping down my chin.

“Are you alright? “ asked Lozenge, suddenly concerned.

“Yes,” I lied. “It was a bit hot that’s all.”

I was happy. My spluttering faux pas appeared to have worked. By choking and dribbling I had diverted the topic of conversation. Sadly, my euphoria was slain within seconds. Mrs PM diverted conversation back.

“So what about Bodger in the bedroom?” asked Mrs PM completely oblivious to my embarrassment.

“Well,” continued Lozenge. “He’s got this problem.”

I coughed again and a large chunk of lasagne exploded from my mouth and onto the table.

”Are you sure you’re OK?” asked Lozenge.

I nodded. “Yes, I’m really sorry about that. This lasagne is lovely though, don’t you think? You’ve excelled yourself this time, dearest. Do you cook a lot Lozenge? What’s your finest culinary creation?”

“Shut up,” said Mrs PM scowling. “What about Bodger?”

This time I could do nothing. Lozenge started talking giving, giving graphic details of what happened in the bedroom, including all the gory details of who put what where and for how long. I heard details of everything – every act, every motion, every word uttered in the throes of passion, every problem, every deviation; every single second was described in intimate and graphic detail.

I tried to interrupt but my protestations were brushed aside by both the girls. Mrs PM asked all sorts of probing questions that, quite frankly made me wince with embarrassment.

But do you know the worst thing of all?

I was told everything about Bodger from his physical prowess to all of his anatomical details. Lozenge described his fetishes, his preferences and all of the embarrassing spoken details.

My lasagne ended up down my shirt as I choked, missed my mouth, dribbled and spluttered. I don’t think any of it found its way to my stomach.

I was a mess.

After ten minutes of sex talk, I had had enough..

“ENOUGH!” I said staring at the two women. “I KNOW Bodger but I don’t want to know all of intimate details. Ladies, do me a favour. Change the subject and resume this when I am not in the room.”

Lozenge stared at me.

“What’s the matter? Are you embarrassed?” she said.

“Too bloody right I am,” I said. “Men don’t talk about sex often – and when they do they DO NOT give a blow by blow, second by second account of everything that goes on.”

They laughed. Both of them.

“Well you should talk about sex,” said Lozenge. Mrs PM agreed.

Both ladies then told me in no uncertain terms how insensitive men were and I had to suffer a tirade of verbal abuse on behalf of my gender.

After a couple of minutes of this, I cracked.

“I’ve had enough. I’m going to be a man and watch the bloody football.”

As I left the room, my head held high, I was mocked mercilessly amidst derisive laughter.

It just got worse. As I watched my football match with a can of beer, I could hear the two of them giggling like children; I knew they were taking the piss.

Eventually, Lozenge left, but before she did she came up to me and hugged me goodbye.

And I swear that before she left, she eyed me up and down like an inspector scrutinising dodgy goods. And my brain went to red alert.

“Do you talk about us?” I asked Mrs PM.

“What do you mean?” she replied.

“You know – do you talk about the bedroom?”

“No – not really.”

“What do you mean “not really”? You DO, don’t you?”

“Of course not,” she said giggling.

That said it all. She did and she probably still does. For a while afterwards, I couldn’t look any of her friends in the eye – I simply couldn’t. I walked around like an embarrassed arsehole for months, wondering what Mrs PM had told her friends. Every time one of them smiled at me I felt that they knew something intimate about me.

Poor Bodger had had his secrets betrayed to me by Lozenge and I had only met her a couple of times. I can also imagine that Lozenge had relayed my secrets to Bodger, spilled by Mrs PM over a glass of wine.

The next time I saw Bodger, my face must have betrayed me; I had conversations with him but steered the subject towards manly pursuits like sport, cars, fighting and hunting. He must have thought I was a complete arse.

It’s not the first time this has happened and when in the company of Mrs PM and her friends I have to switch off and think “LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA” as they descend into the depths of depravity and spill the beans over their antics in the bedroom. Or I simply leave the room carrying my plate of food with me – which gets me into trouble sometimes – particularly when I am in a restaurant.

Some of her friends simply do not care and now I know why some of them laugh at me when they see me (or at least that’s what my paranoia tells me).

In conclusion, I would just like to say one thing:

Let’s NOT talk about sex. NOT EVER!!