Monday 30 August 2010

15 Albums That Will Always Stick With You

Two friends on Facebook challenged me (separately) to name 15 albums that will always stay with me. Here was the challenge:

The rules: Don't take too long to think about this. List 15 albums you've heard that will always stick with you.

There’s a lot more crap about tagging people etc. but you get the gist. I decided to have a go and actually managed to find 15 albums out of my collection. But it was hard, dear reader, very, very hard.

I published the note on Facebook but the note simply contained the albums. I have decided therefore to give you, dear reader, a bit more background into why each of the albums will always remain close to my heart. In many cases, the music on the album invokes memories and emotions that simply cannot be replaced; in others cases the album is listed simply because it is a classic.

Here they are (in roughly the order that they came to my attention):

Supertramp - Crime of the Century (Released 1974)

I love Supertramp and this is quite simply my favourite album by the band. At the tender age of eighteen, I escaped the clutches of my parents with three mates and spent a fun filled weekend at a cottage in Wales. There are many classic tracks on this album, like School, Crime of the Century and Hide in Your Shell. My favourite song is Dreamer.

Click here to listen to Dreamer.

U.F.O. - Strangers in the Night (Released 1979)

“Hello Chicago! Would you please welcome from England – U.F.O!!!!

These are the words that send a shiver down my spine even to this day. Strangers in the Night is a double live album from a British rock band called UFO and it has pride of place as the very first rock album I ever bought. It changed my musical direction and for that alone it will always remain in my heart. And of course it contains Rock Bottom one of the best live rock songs ever.

Click here to listen to Rock Bottom in all its glory

Deep Purple - Made in Japan (Released 1972)

“What’s that bloody screaming racket?” howled my father when he heard Ian Gillan screaming on Child in Time.

“It’s the future,” I decreed.

“Well if that’s the future then God help us,” he replied in disgust.

This is Deep Purple at their very best, performing in Japan, live and raw, with the Mark II line up.

Click here to listen to Highway Star

Rainbow - Rising (Released 1976)

The greatest rock album of the 70's is Rising by Rainbow. You only have to look at the line up on this magnificent magnum opus: Ritchie Blackmore, Ronnie James Dio and Cozy Powell, arguably the greatest guitarist, singer and drummer of that time.

The opening bars to Tarot Woman send shivers down my spine and the Stargazer and Light in the Black combination portray rock music in its purest and best form.

Rest in peace Ronnie James Dio.

Click here to listen to Stargazer

David Bowie - Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) (Released 1980)

There had to be a David Bowie in my list and I really struggled to decide which one. Aladdin Sane almost made it but it was edged out by Scary Monsters simply because it reminds me of a transitional time in my life when I was studying for A-levels and hoping to go to university but having to juggle life with mates who wanted to drink and chase girls.

I wanted to do that too but my dad led me on the right path. I hated him for it because I thought I was missing out. Of course, in the long term I can’t thank him enough.

It was just such a shame I never got to tell him – he died in 1981.

This was the last great David Bowie album.

Click here to listen to Scary Monsters

Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin (Released 1969)

Led Zeppelin’s debut album is the greatest blues rock album of all time in my humble opinion. I didn’t really get into Led Zeppelin until university so I was a late developer in that sense. When I had finished my final exam in my final year, I went back to my room and played Communication Breakdown at full volume – all the stress of revision and hard work was unleashed with Robert Plant’s magnificent vocals.

Dazed and Confused is one of the greatest blues rock songs of all time.

Click here to listen to Dazed and Confused

Rush - Signals (Released 1982)

Regular readers will know that Rush are my favourite band and Signals will always be special because it was my first real exposure to the power trio from Canada.

On the strength of this album I blew a large amount of money to see the band for the first time in 1982 as a student. They have been with me ever since.

Click here to listen to Subdivisions

Tears for Fears - Songs From the Big Chair (Released 1985)

I loved Tears for Fears in the early 80’s. Their first album had some great pop songs that still remind me of my time at university.

Nevertheless, it was nothing compared to their second album, Songs From the Big Chair, which in my humble opinion is the greatest pop album of the 80’s.

There are so many great tracks on it including Shout, The Working Hour and Mother’s Talk.

However, I think my favourite is Head Over Heels which is a wonderful song that quite simply stirs my emotions and brings a tear or two to my eyes.

Click here to listen to Head Over Heels

Rush - Power Windows (Released 1985)

In 1985, I had a touch and go long distance relationship with W (who ultimately became my wife).

I lived in Manchester and she lived in Harlow (a town about 30 miles north of London). The relationship was struggling because of the distance and each of us commuting alternate weeks.

Power Windows helped me to cope with the train journey to London every fortnight and I played it over and over again and it allowed me to forget the trauma of this challenging relationship. I knew every second of every song on the album and it was probably the first album that caused embarrassment for me, when I sang it aloud without thinking.

Eventually W moved up to Manchester and all was well – until the divorce some years later that is.

Anyway, every song on the album is legendary. Particular favourites are Marathon, Territories and The Big Money. My overall favourite is Mystic Rhythms.

Click here to listen to Mystic Rhythms

Queensrÿche - Operation Mindcrime (Released 1988)

I love a good concept album and concept albums do not come any better than Operation Mindcrime by Queensrÿche.

It tells the story of a man who becomes a political assassin and is accompanied by some of the finest music you will hear from a heavy metal band. It spawned a sequel a few years ago which, while good in its own right, didn’t quite live up to its predecessor.

If you love progressive heavy metal and haven’t heard Operation Mindcrime, you simply MUST. I urge you. You won’t regret it.

Click hear to listen to the introduction and Anarchy-X/Revolution Calling

Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral (Released 1994)

Trent Reznor is a genius. I love the guy – he can do no wrong. His band, Nine Inch Nails, first crossed my radar when I heard Closer, a very intense and controversial song that was a single containing a few expletives.

It was a fusion of the electronic music I loved from the early 80’s with a hard rock edge and I instantly became a huge fan. Closer is just one of a plethora of powerful songs that appear on The Downward Spiral, a wonderfully dark and malevolent album that takes no prisoners.

It is Trent Reznor’s finest masterpiece.

Every song is brilliant, from the opener Mr Self Destruct through to the wonderful Hurt, a song so enthralling that it was covered by the legendary Johnny Cash with an accompanying video will make you cry (well it made me cry anyway – but I can be a soppy git sometimes). My dad was a huge fan of Johnny Cash and I think he would have loved it.

Click here to listen to Hurt by Nine Inch Nails

Click here to listen to Johnny Cash’s incredible version of Hurt

Metallica - Master of Puppets (Released 1986)

I dismissed Metallica as “too thrashy” in the 80’s mainly because they were a little too heavy for my taste. However, with the release of the Black album, I decided to have another peek at them.

A mate recommended Master of Puppets as their magnum opus – I gave it a try and realised that Metallica were more than just a thrash metal band – they were fantastic musicians. Master of Puppets is quite simply one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all times.

Yes it’s heavy but it is in places extremely tuneful and shows that the band are quite diverse.

Highlights include Battery, Master of Puppets, Welcome Home (Sanitarium) and the instrumental track Orion, which shows the musicianship of the band.

Click here to listen to Orion

Air - Moon Safari (Released 1998)

As I get older, I am drifting more and more into mellow music, the kind of chill out tunes that you can listen too in a dimly lit room full of candles and watch your stress fade into a cloud of ecstasy.

It all started in Hong Kong when I first heard La Femme d’Argent on a CD that came with Q magazine. I listened to it while doing some work in the hotel room and I found myself floating away with the subtle tune. Before I knew it, I was lying on the bed and smiling.

Mrs PM remarked that the song was totally unlike anything I championed in the music world. And I agree. It isn’t loud andheavy and it doesn't have a stomping beat. It is mellow, tuneful and wonderful.

I was so struck by this new style that I bought the album the next day – and it blew me away. Songs like All I Need, Talisman, You Make It Easy and New Star in the Sky will destroy stress and tension in a heartbeat. La Femme d’Argent is still my personal favourite.

Click here to listen to La Femme d’Argent, preferably in a dimly lit room with candles and a glass of wine.

Watch the tension vanish.

Rammstein - Mutter (Released 2001)

In complete contrast to Air, I present to you Rammstein, a German industrial rock band who are as brilliant as they are controversial. Most of their songs are sung in their native German and their lyrics can be offensive. I have met two German people, both women, who found them objectionable and told me their opinion in no uncertain terms. That said, their music is wonderfully heavy and utterly crazy.

The album Mutter is the best of their albums and includes Feuer Frei (from the movie XXX) and Sonne.

The less said about Zwitter the better (in terms of lyrics).

My favourite is a storming tune called Links 2-3-4 and I personally think that even if you claim not to like heavy metal or German lyrics sung in a growling voice, you will deep down at a primeval level put the song in that vault labelled “Guilty Pleasures”. Trust me – I know what I am talking about.

Click here to listen to Links 2-3-4

Dream Theater - Images and Words (Released 1992)

For many years friends who love heavy metal or progressive rock have been urging me to listen to Dream Theater. I capitulated last year and listened to Images and Words on Spotify.

Not since Rush has a band had such a profound effect on me.

After listening for the second time, I bought it and I still haven’t stopped playing it almost a year later. In fact, I have gradually been buying all their albums ever since and only have two to go to complete my collection. Like Rush, Dream Theater are masters of progressive rock but with the added bonus of having a more metallic tendency (some have called their style progressive metal).

Also like Rush they are virtuosos and play their instruments technically and flawlessly. Each song is a mini symphony (and some are very long, lasting ten minutes or more in a lot of cases).

Images and Words is one of the greatest rock albums of all time with Pull Me Under, Take the Time, Learning to Live and Metropolis Pt 1.

Here for your listening pleasure is another classic song from the album: Under a Glass Moon

And now, dear reader, over to you.

That just about wraps it up from me. Finding 15 albums from my collection that will always stick with me was very difficult to be honest and could really have been 100 albums.

I challenge you, dear reader, to name 15 albums that will always stick with you either in a comment or on your own blog if you have one. I don’t care whether you like Abba or Eminem; Beethoven or Black Sabbath, Jazz or DJ Jazzy Jeff – name your albums and then let me know.

I think you will find it very difficult.

Wednesday 25 August 2010

Visiting Vikings

I found myself surrounded by four stunningly beautiful blond Icelandic girls dancing in the throes of musical ecstasy. And before you say “OK Dave, what happened when you woke up?” I can tell you with my hand on my heart that I wasn’t dreaming. I will reveal all later in the post.

As you may have guessed from a few minor clues in my tweets and the previous blog post, I whisked Mrs PM away on a weekend to Reykjavik as a present for her fortieth birthday.

Mrs PM has always wanted to visit Iceland and, as is typical of her, she had to pick the year that a volcano erupted leading to the closure of most of European airspace for almost a week.

Eyjafjallajökull, bored sitting there twiddling it’s rocks, suddenly decided that it had had enough and proceeded to blow its top and announce its presence not only to Iceland, but also to the entire world.

“Look at me! I am Eyjafjallajökull! You may not be able to say my name but here I am anyway – and I’m bloody livid.”

I watched the news thinking: isn’t that just typical? In my last post I hinted about a phenomenon called the “Lisa effect” (Lisa is Mrs PM’s name for those who didn’t read the post). My beloved is scatterbrained (by her own admission) and bad luck and trouble do sometimes have a tendency to follow her around. I will expand on this phenomenon in future posts but for now, dear reader, just take my word for it.

Thankfully, the volcano must have calmed down a little because we were able to go on holiday in May and also our trip to see the land that spawned the volcano became reality on Friday last week.

When it came to packing, I foolishly decided that Reykjavik in the summer would be just a little cooler than Manchester in August. The BBC weather forecast confirmed my thoughts indicating temperatures of 14 degrees during the day for the duration of the trip. I packed a couple of T-shirts, a couple of shirts and a thin leather jacket. Mrs PM packed her autumn/winter coat.

We arrived late on Friday afternoon and it soon became clear that Iceland was expensive. We caught a bus to the centre of Reykjavik at the cool cost of 4500 Icelandic Krona (ISK) which translates to around £30 for a return trip. A taxi would have cost 8000 ISK or £50 each way.

We were keen to get out and see as much of the city as quickly as possible. Having dumped our bag we made our way to the city centre, approximately twenty minutes walk from the hotel and explored to get our bearings.

The temperature was a little cool I thought and I felt the cold wind biting through my thin leather jacket and shirt. I began to regret not bringing a warmer jacket.
We explored the city for a little while, hopping into a bar when the temperature became just a little too chilly. I bought two pints of Icelandic beer and handed over 1600 ISK: beer was £5 a pint which is roughly twice the price of beer in the UK.

We found a nice little restaurant called Caruso where we enjoyed a lovely meal followed by a visit to one or two bars before retiring for the night. Ominously, Mrs PM said “We have a big day tomorrow; we need a good night’s sleep.”
On Saturday morning at 9am, I peered out of the hotel window and saw a totally blue sky with sunshine to match. I assumed that the temperature would match and dressed in a T-shirt and thin jacket. I was partly right; the temperature was definitely warmer and we enjoyed a stroll around the city centre again watching insane people finishing off a marathon.

Saturday was a big day in Reykjavik. Not only was there a marathon, it was also the Reykjavik Culture festival. The crowds were out in force, applauding lots of very brave athletes as they finished their massive run around the streets of the city. I’ve flippantly referred to them as “insane” but they all put me to shame. There were all sorts of people: old people, young people, fat people, thin people, tall people, short people and some weird people.

We saw one guy with half of his leg missing who had run the marathon with prosthesis, which is a massive achievement. I was in awe of the guy.
At lunchtime, we returned to our hotel to catch a bus to the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa that is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. In the weeks leading up to the trip, Mrs PM had told me that visitors enjoy bathing in warm waters that are rich in minerals and that they cake themselves in mud before washing it all off.

My weird imagination ran amok. I envisaged myself covered from head to foot in dirty brown mud, looking more “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” than a human being. I had told Mrs PM in no uncertain terms that there was absolutely no way I was going anywhere near to any mud at all. I was totally wrong on so many counts.

Before entering the water, it was mandatory to have a shower to adhere to the strict hygiene requirements. And just in case I had any doubts about how to take a shower, a diagram of a man indicated exactly where I had to pay particular attention, including my nether regions, if you get my meaning.

Suitably washed and clean, I wandered down to the water and heard Mrs PM calling me from in the water. The outside temperature was now quite nippy and I gingerly stepped in expecting it to be slightly warm. In fact, at an average of 40 degrees, it was a bit of a shock to the system. I gasped as I plunged in; it was like climbing into a very warm bath. The water was milky and opaque and very pleasant. Mrs PM and I drifted around in the water, encountering the occasional hot spot where the temperature rose a couple of degrees. Sulphurous steam billowed across certain parts of the pool with a slightly offensive odour.

Mrs PM led me to some buckets and asked if I wanted to put some mud on my face. To my surprise, the mud was in fact white and called silica mud and others were smearing it on their face and shoulders. Mrs PM scooped up a handful from a bucket and covered here face in it. I thought, what the hell, and did the same. After around ten minutes, the mud had hardened. I laughed at Mrs PM’s appearance without realising that I looked the same – a berk with a white mud mask.

“Fancy a sauna?” asked Mrs PM.

I had never had a sauna so I followed her into a steam filled room. It was bloody hot I can tell you. An older guy walked in and sat down. Trying to make conversation I said “Hot isn’t it?”

“No shit, Sherlock,” he replied. He didn’t really. “No – this is mild?” were his true words.

Mild? Crikey – I was melting. After ten minutes I had had enough and plunged back into the relatively cooler white waters of the spa.
Before we left, we enjoyed a cold beer while still in the water. It was a wonderful contrast and very relaxing.

The one annoying thing that marred our trip was the loss of our camera. Mrs PM wanted to photos of us in mud masks, which I must admit would have been funny to post here. But the camera had gone missing while we were getting changed (we’re not sure who had it at the time). It was a sad ending to a truly wonderful experience.

Back in Reykjavik, Mrs PM had plans. When I look back on the events of Saturday night, I can’t help but think that Mrs PM was trying to prove that she was still able to party at the age of forty. She warned me that she wanted to fully enjoy a night out in one of the party capitals of the world. I, on the other hand, recalled a similar night out in Hong Kong a couple of years ago (you can read about it here). The memory of how I felt the next day dictated how we would approach this particular evening; have a rest, eat and go out later.

It sort of worked. The Reykjavik Cultural Festival put paid to that. Curious about the event, we left earlier than planned and headed for the centre of town down the lively shopping street called Laugavegur. Hundreds of people were making their way down the street, some drinking beer from cans and bottles, including a very well dressed lady. The street had been closed to traffic and the atmosphere was energetic, with people smiling and laughing and clearly under the influence of alcohol. Within the space of about a hundred yards we saw three separate musical acts performing in the street; a dance band, an Indie band and finally, at the rear of a rock bar called Dillons, a strange band led by a large gentleman playing a trombone. It was an excuse for the first beer of the night, so I persuaded Mrs PM to watch this last band, citing my own ability to play the trombone as an excuse.

The beer was nice but the cold weather made it uncomfortable. The wind at this point was very strong, turning Laugavegur into a freezing wind tunnel. Wearing just a shirt and a thin leather jacket, the wind tore away any thermal protection that I had and I shivered in the cold. The locals were all wearing woolly hats, thick gloves, scarves and winter coats; I must have looked like a complete idiot to these people.

After Dillons, we ate in a crowded restaurant and attacked the night again. Determined to stay out as late as possible, Mrs PM led me to an Irish bar, called The Celtic Cross. As I was being served a massive explosion erupted outside, signaling the firework display that would end the evening (it was midnight at this point). Thankfully from the window, I was able to see most of the display in the warmth of the pub. Mrs PM on the other hand joined the throngs outside; it was far too cold for me.

A drunken Icelander raised his beer to me and shouted something in his mother tongue. I didn’t have a beer at this point so I just raised an empty hand. He staggered over to me and said something else, staring at me as if I had wobbled into the bar from another planet. It was quite clear that I was a tourist so he raised his hand. I understood – I gave him a high five and he rewarded me with a cheer before leaving the bar.

The firework display was spectacular – one of the best I have seen. Mrs PM returned to the bar and we managed to get a seat, which was just as well because suddenly the place filled up with revellers. I have never seen a bar fill so quickly with people.

We visited a couple of other places and the music playing was bizarre, songs that I hadn’t heard for decades like (Si Si) Je Suis Un Rockstar by Bill Wyman and Live is Life by Opus. We heard the latter song twice in different bars – it must be a big favourite in Iceland because people began to sing – sadly including Mrs PM.

One bar we went to, called Kofi Tómasar Frænda (Uncle Tom’s Cabin) was a café by day, a bar by evening and then a night club – the smallest club I have ever seen. As we watched, the tables were gradually taken away leaving a big space for dancing.

The next bar was actually a night club and as we approached I had a sick feeling inside. Yes – Mrs PM wanted “a boogie” which meant that the place would be playing the worst music in the world. The place was called B5 and eventually we got in. It was packed to the rafters with young Icelanders. I started to feel old.

As I sipped my beer and grimaced internally at the dreadful dance music, Mrs PM excused herself to go to the toilet, leaving me standing there on my own. It gave me the opportunity to people watch – and I enjoyed it immensely. The average age of the place was, I reckoned, between 25 and 30. Mrs PM and I probably raised the upper range to 30 to be fair. The women were a young guy’s dream; tall, nubile with blonde hair cascading over their shoulders and wearing extremely sexy outfits.

Now before you chastise me for being a dirty old man, let me say in my defence that I am a man and I can’t help it. I watched them, fascinated by their youth and good looks. They responded by showing how oblivious they were to my existence.

Mrs PM took an age to go to the toilet, which was hardly surprising given the number of people in the place. More people were coming in and something had to give. Before I knew it, I was being squeezed into a tiny corner by the crowd and, in particular, the four very attractive women I mentioned at the start of the post. They gradually became aware of my presence but continued to dance around me as if I were a statue. Perhaps they thought I was an old uncle or something like that.

When Mrs PM fought her way back through the crowd, she approached and saw me surrounded by these lovely ladies. She managed to get to me and laughed.

“You look like you were enjoying yourself,” she said. Before I could answer, she added, “And you looked terrified.”

To be honest, I was a little wary because of the closeness of these strangers but I certainly enjoyed my minor flirt with youth.

We left soon after and entered possibly the most crowded pub in the world. It was called “The English Pub” and we were probably the only English people in there. It was so crowded that it took me a full ten minutes to fight my way to the toilet while Mrs PM fought her way to the bar. An impatient woman behind Mrs PM was so frustrated at her lack of progress that she reached over Mrs PM’s shoulders and hauled people out of the way, propelling Mrs PM straight to the bar. I made it back from the toilet just in time to see Mrs PM knock over my pint of ale – an act that made me wince, given the prices here - and, of course I had to fight my way BACK to the bar. Before we left this overcrowded drinking pit, I managed to attract the attention of an Icelander who promptly gave me a huge hug. Shame it was a bloke.

By now it was almost three o’clock in the morning and my tired old bones were urging me to go to bed. Mrs PM had other ideas and dragged me to Reykjavik’s most popular night club – a place called Nasa. Thankfully, the entrance fee was a whopping 2500 ISK (roughly £15) and common sense prevailed.

We had one for the road at a final bar and wandered back through the crowds to our hotel. People were drunk and boisterous and still queuing up to get into the numerous bars and clubs. What surprised me most was the lack of police. In Manchester on a Saturday night, the police are out in force to maintain order amongst the drunken rabble. In Reykjavik, there wasn’t even a hint of trouble. On the contrary, people were laughing and dancing (probably to keep warm).

Remembering my experience in Hong Kong, I drank approximately two gallons of water before retiring for the night.

I awoke the next day feeling slightly hung over but we managed to get out and spend our last day exploring the city for one final time.

The final evening was spent in a traditional Icelandic restaurant where I tried something new for the first time; mink whale. It tasted like steak.

We’re back in one piece now and despite the rain in Manchester, at least I am warm.

I would recommend Reykjavik to you, dear reader, with no hesitation whatsoever. However, here are a few words of advice based on things I learned from the trip:

(1) Take your wallet – you will need it and you will need to keep feeding it.

(2) Don’t go out to paint the town red until midnight at the earliest.

(3) Make sure that you dress for winter. The days are fine but the wind at night will slice you in two.

(4) Never ever tell your missus that the waitress in the café is absolutely gorgeous – unless you don’t mind being walloped in public (I have to say she was stunning – long blonde hair, very pretty and well worth the pain).

(5) I should really stop going to night clubs full of gorgeous blonde women. I’m not 25 any more - I am simply a discotheque wreck. Mind you – it was very nice.

Next time I will take earplugs to protect me from the dreadful music.

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Happy Birthday Mrs PM

Mrs PM reaches a marvellous milestone tomorrow (18th August); she is forty years old.

I have already mentioned that she is slightly traumatised by the prospect of turning forty, despite my attempts to convince her that it she is still a child (well compared to me anyway).

I have said before that I simply do not understand why it is such a problem – I mean look at me!! It’s only a couple of years until I am fifty and my hair is starting to go grey. You don’t see me moaning and moping.

I’m sure she will get over it and, like me, she will embrace her age and enjoy it.

Mrs PM shares her birthday with Edward Norton, Robert Redford, Christian Slater and Malcolm-Jamal Walker (the latter being born in the same year).

To celebrate her birthday, I have compiled a series of facts about my beloved lady, one for each year of her life.

Without further ado, I present for your reading pleasure, forty facts about Mrs PM.

(1) Mrs PM’s real name is Lisa, a name she loves. Sadly, I am an immature buffoon and love calling her derivatives of her name – like Betty, Beth, Betsy or Elizabeth. Sadly I suffer pain as a result.

(2) She is from Blackpool, a seaside resort in the North West of England famous for its tower. Again Mrs PM is very proud of her home town. On a trip to Shanghai, we climbed up the Pearl Tower (not literally obviously) and as I was squeaking with fear and ready to explode from all orifices, Mrs PM pointed to a display that mentioned other towers. Guess what? Blackpool Tower was there even though it is tiny in comparison.

(3) Mrs PM hates football but has suddenly found an interest in the sport – because her home town team, Blackpool, are now in the Premiership (although they will be absolutely destroyed by all clubs they play). I actually caught her listening to live commentary on Radio Five Live on Saturday – something she has never ever done before. And Blackpool handed her the perfect birthday present by winning 4-0 against Wigan away. It is all downhill from here.

(4) Like me, Mrs PM is a seasoned traveller and has visited similar countries to me. We are both visiting Iceland on Friday this week, a country neither of us has been to before. It is my treat for her birthday. We are looking forward to it, although I believe that it is very expensive. I will say hello to Eyjafjallajökull for you and ask it stop erupting.

(5) Mrs PM and I have been together since 1998. She has had to put up with me for almost twelve years. She obviously has a lot of staying power.

(6) Lisa is a Leo and is convinced that she possesses all of the personality traits of the rest of the twelfth of the world population that share her star sign. I am a Libran and apparently Librans and Leos are ideally matched, which is lucky I guess. Our relationship consists of me trying to stop her from being impulsive. I am careful by nature (she uses the word “indecisive” instead of “careful”) so I try to rein her in sometimes. I don’t always succeed and end up on the top of places like the Sydney Harbour Bridge in a stupid suit absolutely shitting my pants.

(7) Mrs PM has bad taste in men. Why else would she choose me?

(8) Mrs PM’s taste in music is utterly, utterly dreadful. She loves the Black Eyed Peas, Lady Ga Ga and all sorts of similar crap.

(9) Mrs PM hates my music so you can imagine the battles we have (Rammstein versus Madonna for example).

(10) Lisa has seen a few big acts live like Madonna and the Black Eyed Peas. She wasn’t impressed with Madonna and paid over £100 to see her. I would have gone out of curiosity but chose to spend the £100 on several decent CDs instead.

(11) Mrs PM can speak French almost fluently (though she claims to be rusty). I have seen her hold a conversation in France and she doesn’t sound rusty to me. She sounds extremely sexy when she chats in French even if she is insulting me.

(12) Mrs PM can also speak a little Spanish. With my German we have a lot of Europe covered (though my German is crap).

(13) We met in Hong Kong – hence it is our favourite city in the world. We always stop off there if we are heading in that direction to visit old haunts and reminisce about our early relationship. We plan to head east on my fiftieth birthday and no doubt we will stop off there on our way.

(14) Mrs PM used to be short sighted but she is not squeamish about eyes and had the eye-butchers laser her eyes into submission. She can see perfectly now. I am too much of a coward to even go near to the place.

(15) Mrs PM shares my passion for science fiction – she is a geek (by her own admission).

(16) She has a degree from the University of Liverpool, just like me. However, we attended university at different times so never actually met there. Bizarrely we even had some of the same lecturers.

(17) Mrs PM works in IT doing a similar job to me but for a different company. We have been known to sit in a pub discussing the merits of databases, programming languages and operating systems, oblivious to the fact that people might be watching and thinking that we are the saddest individuals on the entire planet.

(18) Lisa is a very good photographer and my own ability to take decent pictures has improved as a result of her coaching. She took a course and has produced some great pictures. She was responsible for making me dress up like Gene Simmons. Here are some photos you may not have seen – and yes they are all me and all taken by Mrs PM. She also did all of the make up – and, despite claiming to hate my old leather jacket, she made me wear it (she LOVES it really).

(19) Mrs PM likes to experiment when cooking – she uses me as a guinea pig and apart from the odd disaster she usually pulls it off.

(20) She loves going out for meals and “having a boogie”. Unfortunately “having a boogie” invariably involves dragging me up onto the dance floor to strut my funky stuff to songs like this. I am usually surrounded by lots of attractive young women at the time, even though I look like a mad uncle dancing at a wedding.

(21) Mrs PM is an only child.

(22) She lived in Toulouse, France, for a year and when she speaks French, people say she has a Toulouse accent.

(23) Cats are her favourite animal by a country mile. I reckon that if I agreed we would have an army of cats in our house. Instead we have just the two and she absolutely dotes on them. I am convinced that I am bottom of the pecking order.

(24) I am in awe of her intelligence. Mrs PM is far cleverer than I am.

(25) She is far more adventurous than me and I have suffered as a result of her daring behaviour. As I said earlier she has dragged me kicking and screaming to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and other enormous leviathans like the Eiffel Tower.

(26) I sometimes call Mrs PM Tonto because although she is highly intelligent, she is one of the most scatterbrained people I know. Tonto was the Lone Ranger's faithful companion and could guide him anywhere with his excellent sense of direction and tracking skills. Mrs PM on the other hand is the complete opposite and has managed to get us lost on numerous occasions. “I know where I’m going” she will cry confidently, just before leading us into oblivion. She frequently has what she calls “Lisa moments” when she gets lost, forgets something, loses something or all three. I will one day compile a list of “Lisa moments” for a future blog post – and I can guarantee that you won’t believe a word of it.

(27) She has several names for me, one of which is her “public term of endearment”. Inspired by my crazy hair, she calls me Flossy much to the amusement of friends. Another name is Wavy Davy, again a reference to my horrific hair. Yet she won’t let me cut it all off.

(28) Her eyes are green and very sexy.

(29) Although I am accused of snoring, I can confirm that Mrs PM is the loudest snorer in the world. When our fat cat is asleep at the bottom of the bed I simply cannot sleep due to excessively loud close harmony snoring.

(30) She doesn’t mind being “fashionably” late (unlike me).

(31) My two lads love Mrs PM because she jokes around with them almost as much as I do. We usually have “lads versus girl” discussions and gang up on her. It’s all good fun.

(32) Her favourite TV programmes at the moment include Casualty, Mistresses, Desperate Housewives and Fringe. She is also, like me, a fan of Star Trek, Dr Who and Lost.

(33) White wine is Mrs PM’s favourite tipple but she also drinks red wine, beer and the odd cocktail. She has been known to get drunk once in a while (though usually I am equally inebriated).

(34) Mrs PM claims to be shy but is usually the life and soul of any party. I simply cannot believe that she thinks she is shy.

(35) She gets a kick out of embarrassing me in public. The more people there the more humiliating she can be.

(36) Spiders terrify Mrs PM which is bad news when one appears because I have to get rid of the thing – and I am scared of them too.

(37) Her ideal man, apparently, is Antonio Banderas, a man who is the total opposite of me in every respect. He is a ruggedly handsome Hispanic type who smoulders onscreen and who only has to say “Hello – my name is Zorro” to make women swoon in a fit of ecstasy. I on the other hand am a mad-haired Viking with the charm and sophistication of a warthog who only makes women swoon when I show them a recording of Banderas talking. I’m convinced that Mrs PM sniffs glue sometimes.

(38) Mrs PM is very ticklish – and I mean VERY VERY ticklish. Just gently stroking her hand can make her laugh. You can imagine what happens when I really go for it; she transforms into a gibbering giggling wreck. I don’t tickle her often – just once or twice an hour.

(39) Despite hating rock music, for some insane reason she actually likes this song. She also recently admitted that AC/DC were “not that bad”. I think my brainwashing attempts are working.

(40) Mrs PM loves horror films but they scare the sanity out of her. If we watch a horror film you can guarantee that she will have nightmares unless she spends at least two hours actively thinking about something else – unless I casually remind her just as she is about to go to sleep.

I hope you found those facts interesting and perhaps it gives you a picture of the woman I love. She is a wonderful person and I am crazy about her.

I will finish off by posting a photo of myself (sans makeup) and Lisa, taken last Saturday in a bar in Manchester where we were out celebrating her birthday with family and a few friends.

Happy fortieth birthday Lisa and thanks for putting up with me.

Life begins now …

Sunday 15 August 2010

My Name Is Bond - James Bond

When Pierce Brosnan threw in the towel, I tried to audition for the part of James Bond.

I thought that I satisfied the requirements. After all, I am English, male and, compared to Roger Moore, a mere child. Roger Moore was forty five years old when he starred in his first Bond film – at the time of Casino Royale I was forty four and thought that I would waltz into the role.

As you may have gathered, I failed spectacularly. Why?

(1) I have the physique of a stuffed pepper.

(2) James Bond is meant to be human, not a strategically shaved albino baboon.

(3) I can’t act.

(4) I am totally unfit.

(5) When I walk out of the sea, people point saying “I didn’t know whales could walk”

(6) I am blind without my glasses.

(7) I have blond hair.

The last item was the final straw. I screamed at them: “Why can’t James Bond be James Blond? I am going to start a campaign against you because I know for a fact that Ian Fleming wanted a blond guy to play the part.”

They obviously listened to me because Daniel Craig is quite clearly blond, which was a bittersweet pill to swallow. Apparently women watched that scene in Casino Royale where he walked out of the sea and, en masse, fainted in every cinema.

Why would they do that?

I can imagine that some girls may have fainted if it had been me who wobbled out of the sea, but perhaps for different reasons.

It’s too late for me because Daniel Craig has now played James Bond twice and is destined for his third film.

Anyway, the purpose of this post is not to moan about short-sighted film producers. The purpose is to celebrate James Bond by presenting four top tens for the price of one:

My Top Ten Bond Villains

(10) Le Chiffre (Casino Royale)

(9) Dr Kananga (Live and Let Die)

(8) Dr Julius No (Dr No)

(7) Hugo Drax (Moonraker)

(6) Max Zorin (A View To A Kill)

(5) Oddjob (Goldfinger)

(4) Ernst Stavro Blofeld (From Russia With Love, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever, For Your Eyes Only)

(3) Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker)

(2) Fransisco Scaramanga (The Man With The Golden Gun)

(1) Auric Goldfinger (Goldfinger)

My Top Ten Bond Girls

(10) Natalya Simanova (Goldeneye)

(9) Tiffany Case (Diamonds Are Forever)

(8) Dr Holly Goodhead (Moonraker)

(7) Solitaire (Live and Let Die)

(6) Pussy Galore (Goldfinger)

(5) Jill Masterson (Goldfinger)

(4) Anya Amasova (The Spy Who Loved Me)

(3) Paris Carver (Tomorrow Never Dies)

(2) Jinx (Die Another Day)

(1) Honey Rider (Dr No)

My Top Ten Bond Theme Tunes

(10) Diamonds Are Forever

(9) A View To A Kill

(8) License To Kill

(7) Dr No

(6) The Man With The Golden Gun

(5) Goldfinger

(4) The Living Daylights

(3) On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

(2) Casino Royale

(1) Live and Let Die

My Top Ten Bond Films

(10) Moonraker

(9) Casino Royale

(8) A View To A Kill

(7) Tomorrow Never Dies

(6) License To Kill

(5) The Spy Who Loved Me

(4) Dr No

(3) The Man With The Golden Gun

(2) Live And Let Die

(1) Goldfinger

What do you think dear reader? What is your favourite Bond film? And more importantly do you think I might have succeeded in the role of 007?

I’m off to enjoy a pint of bitter and I don't want it shaken or stirred - maybe that's where I'm going wrong.

Monday 9 August 2010

Am I Evil? Yes I Am - Apparently ...

A trip to Manchester city centre can sometimes be entertaining and thankfully a visit last Saturday did not disappoint.

Mrs PM told me that she planned to go to the city in the morning in order to buy a couple of things, in particular a new watch for her fortieth birthday courtesy of her mother. She wanted my opinion and so I agreed to go.

Regular readers will know that I have always suffered when shopping with Mrs PM mainly because she is a woman.

Shopping with Mrs PM can be particularly irritating because I am usually dragged around shop after shop and left standing looking like perverts in the middle of the lingerie section while she tries on the umpteenth item of clothing.

However, in this case, Mrs PM promised that we would only be a couple of hours and that all she wanted to do was to buy the watch and for me to help her choose it.

I agreed.

We decided to go early to beat the crowds and a miracle occurred; Mrs PM chose her watch in the very first shop we tried and it only took about twenty minutes. She was happy and I was elated.

“Can I just look around for a handbag?” she asked. I was buoyant after the success of the watch purchase so I agreed.

“While you are looking for your bag, I’ll pop into HMV,” I suggested.

After browsing through the CD’s on offer and the new releases, I decided that HMV was too expensive and that I could get what I wanted cheaper via the internet. I left HMV on Market Street slightly early and decided to watch the crowds while I waited for Mrs PM.

And I was in for a treat.

First there was a guy playing a guitar just like Hank Marvin. He had a small crowd around him and entertained them and me with his rendition a song by the Shadows. A bit further down the street, a young couple were salsa dancing, which was very brave considering the drizzle that was drifting down from the heavens. Even further, a guy sitting a massive green umbrella played a mixture of songs by Dire Straits and other similar artists; he had a great singing voice and played a mean guitar.

I saw Mrs PM approaching and as she did, my attention was drawn to a man standing in the middle of Market Street who was shouting at everybody.

“What’s he saying?” I asked Mrs PM who had walked past him.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I wasn’t listening.”

“Can I just walk past him?” I asked.

“You attract nutters,” she warned. “Keep your distance.”

As I approached, I began to smile. He wasn’t a nutter at all but he was very brave and very foolish.

He was a normal looking guy in his late thirties with black hair and a few grey tinges and was wearing a black coat and jeans. He was clutching a well thumbed Bible and bellowing at anybody and everybody who walked past.

I wanted to go closer as we approached but Mrs PM pulled me to a distance that was close enough to hear him but far enough to make a quick getaway in case he made a threatening move.

“You! Yes you there!” he yelled at a particularly sweet old lady. “You are EVIL! Your wickedness knows NO BOUNDS!”

I laughed.

“SSSHHHH!!!” hissed Mrs PM.

The old lady and others ignored him; yet I was fascinated that this man had the balls to chastise every person passing. He looked into his Bible for guidance and then starting screeching scripture at people accusing them all of being fundamentally evil and committing a major sin by merely existing.

I caught his eye.

“Your EVIL is beyond measure,” he bellowed across at me stabbing his Bible with his finger. “You seek reward in this life. You will not be rewarded in the next.”

I smiled at him and was very tempted to go to him and find out why he was having such a bad day and to advise him that he should perhaps stop accusing every person who passed of being evil personified. After all, somebody might just punch him.

Mrs PM dragged me away before I could act. But this man did get me thinking – and that is a dangerous thing. It got me thinking about religion and people’s interpretation of it.

I was brought up as a Roman Catholic, something I abandoned as a rebellious teenager. The problem I found with being a Roman Catholic was that no matter what I did, I was in the wrong. My soul was stained with Original Sin (through no fault of my own) and as a consequence I had to live my life in a constant state of repentance, confessing my sins on a weekly basis to a priest who would punish me by making me recite thousands of prayers.

And at the end of all that? I would end up in Purgatory being tortured before I was worthy enough to pass through the gates of Heaven.

I know that one or two readers of this blog are very religious and that they feel it is their solemn duty to spread the word of the Lord to the fallen, like me. I’m okay with that – I am fascinated by it in fact and I will do absolutely nothing to stop them from preaching the Word to me. In fact, I actively encourage it.

I don’t mean to belittle the beliefs of anybody who is a Christian at all but I would like to know how certain people can be so convinced that because I am sceptical of their words that I will burn in Hell. I was told that as a child even when I was religious – so what’s changed now that I am not?

When I was in the sixth form at school (aged about seventeen), there was a sudden surge of religion amongst my friends. One or two, like me, had decided that going to church was not for them. A fairly large number, however, travelled the other way and became “Born Again Christians”.

What is a “Born Again Christian?”

It is a person who has been reborn spiritually and sees spiritual life and belief in a completely different way. I was fascinated by this and at the time I actually started to interrogate friends who had undergone this transformation.

In those early days, my tone came across as scornful as if I were making fun of them. These guys didn’t help themselves. One guy who had been reborn a week before accused me of being Satan in human form because I listened to heavy metal. Another said that I was not a Christian even though I was a Roman Catholic. I would have to be baptised AGAIN if I wanted to become a “true” Christian.

As you can see – the lines are clearly blurred between the various Christian factions. I didn’t help myself because I was cruel in those youthful days.

One guy, a very intelligent lad who ended up at Oxford University, stood up in front of the school at assembly and told us a story that his pastor had told him that illustrated his beliefs and explained why he had begun to follow the Lord. He said:

Two men were on an island with the tide rising. If they didn’t leave they would drown. A man appeared on the water and held out his hand. “Follow me,” he said, “ and you will be saved.” The first man was sceptical and had no faith. “I will not follow you – if I do I will drown.” The other man had faith and took the man’s hand. He departed leaving the sceptic behind. And what happened to the sceptic? The water got him.

All of this proves that you must have faith in the Lord. If you have faith you will be saved. If you don’t – the water will get you.

Nobody argued – except me. After the assembly, his fellow Christians congratulated him on his speech.

“Hang on,” I said. “What if the man who suddenly appeared on the water had been Satan and had tempted the man to follow him? Wouldn’t he have followed the man off the island straight into the Gates of Hell to have red hot pokers stuffed up his arse for all eternity? How can you use that story to illustrate faith?”

The problem was that because he believed his story without question, he accused me of doubting the word of the Lord and consequently I was embarking upon the road to Hell itself.

“But how do you know that the man in the story wasn’t Satan? How would you know? Didn’t Satan attempt to tempt Jesus?”

That did it – they all refused to even consider my argument and walked away proud, yet sorrowful that I was going to become Satan’s plaything for all eternity.

This is what irritated me about certain groups of Christians; they refused to argue and debate about it.

Many years later, in Birmingham, I was sitting outside the library on a bright sunny afternoon when a Christian came up to me and told me that I was going to Hell.

“I beg your pardon?” I said. “How do you know?”

“Do you acknowledge that our Lord is the Way the Truth and the Light? Do you embrace Him without question? Do you have faith?”

“I’m a Roman Catholic,” I replied. “What are you exactly?”

“I’m a follower of the One True Lord,” he said.

I tried to debate with him but he, too, told me in no uncertain terms that I was going to Hell.

“Hang on,” I asked finally, now very annoyed with him. “How do you KNOW? How do you actually know that I am going to Hell? What proof have you got? Who told you?”

“God,” he declared as if that were proof enough and sufficient to end the discussion.

“So God has just told you that I am going to Hell, has he? How did you hear Him? Did he come down and tell you? Am I not privy to this secret conversation between you and the Lord?”

“It’s not too late,” he said mellowing slightly. “Come with me and you can be saved. Open your heart and let in the Lord.”

“The Lord is in all of us,” I said fighting back. “You have no right to declare that I am going to Hell just because I don’t walk the streets talking to strangers about Satan and his minions.”

These days I am much more relaxed about it, having met and chatted to quite a few born again Christians. I welcome their input and I can have a good conversation with them about their beliefs. They have faith that I don’t but they do not seem to scare me into believing that I am going to Hell.

I have noticed a trend though and I don’t really want to say that this is why people are “born again”. A lot of people who suddenly find the Lord seem to do so when they hit rock bottom and are embraced by a crowd of friendly and supportive people at a Christian gathering. It is that support that lifts them up and breaths new life into them. Not all people hit rock bottom but when they get involved in the church, the support of the congregation can be mesmerising.

This was certainly the case for Mrs PM’s grandparent, Tom and Paula; they never hit rock bottom but they became Christians when they were welcomed by an Evangelical Church in their early sixties.

When I first met them, about fifteen years after their rebirth, I thought they were wonderfully happy people. I had no idea that they were seriously religious until Tom died.

I saw Paula shortly afterwards and said “I’m really sorry to hear about Tom. He was a lovely man.”

She said “Thanks very much – he’s with the Lord now.”

And then I realised something – her faith helped her cope with the loss.

The funeral was very sad for the family but I realised that Tom belonged to a much bigger family than his own flesh and blood: the Christian family at his church. The pastor led a celebration of Tom’s life in a packed church full of friends that they had met through religion and many of them shouted out prayers asking the Lord to look after Tom and guide Paula through the hardship. Songs were sung and Tom’s life was celebrated – it was almost a celebration of his passing into Heaven.

It was pretty much the same when Paula died a couple of years later All this has taught me that, if nothing else, belief in the Lord and faith makes people happy and guides them through life with no fear of death.

I think that is a good thing, which is why I try not to mock devout Christians.

There are a few bad eggs though and it is those who annoy me. A man standing in the centre of Manchester telling everybody who passes that they are evil is, in my opinion, wrong.

We should embrace life and be tolerant of those whose beliefs differ from our own.

Even Jehovah’s Witnesses – I am one of those people who love discussing religion with them. Most people slam the door in their faces – whereas I will chat about the differences in our beliefs until the cows come home. Perhaps that’s why they don’t call anymore.

Anyway – I will leave you with the words of a much loved Irish comedian who was one of my all time favourites – the late great Dave Allen. Here he is:

Thanks and may your God go with you.

Saturday 7 August 2010

The Crafty Fifty Meme, Part One

Here's yet another meme from Sunday Stealing - it is two parter and for once I managed to catch the first part - so I don't have to bore you with all fifty questions.

Here we go:

1. Introduce yourself.

Hi – I’m Dave and my alias on this internet-type thing is “The Plastic Mancunian”. I am 47 years old in body and about 14 in mind. I am a strange man.

2. What happened to question 2?

The pixies came into the author's room in the middle of the night and napalmed it. They're violent those pixies.

3. What happened to question 3?

It was there a minute ago. My cat must have eaten it.

4. What happened to question 4?

It ran away to London to seek its fortune and become Lord Mayor - let's face it - it could do a much better job than Boris Johnson.

5. Did you ever get into a bar and drink before you were 21?

I certainly did. It is legal to go into a bar and consume alcohol at the age of 18 in the UK. That said, I actually made it into a pub at the sweet age of 16 and drank a couple of pints. How I managed that I have no idea because I looked about 10 years old. In fact, the last time I was asked my age in a pub was when I was 30 – I kid you not!

6. What countries have you been to?

England, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Holland, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Croatia, Malta, Greece, United States, Canada, Trinidad and Tobago, The Bahamas, Barbados, South Africa, China, Russia, Thailand, Australia – and if we’re being pedantic, Vatican City and Hong Kong.

7. Do you watch MTV anymore?

No – I watch Kerrangg, Scuzz and sometimes Q. MTV simply plays crap music.

8. What do you think about Oprah?

I think she is quite a powerful woman and I wish I had her money. I’m glad she’s not English.

9. What happened to question 9?

It lost the will to live and threw itself off my roof. It is now in that great meme in the sky.

10. You need a new pair of jeans: what store do you go to first?

I would probably go to Next or Burtons – but then Mrs PM would drag me to a weird shop that sold weird jeans and make me buy them (citing them as being the height of fashion).

11. Did you ever watch The O.C.?

Absolutely not. I heard it was absolute bilge and several people who have actually watched it have confirmed it.

12. What kind of car do you drive?

I drive a clapped out old Ford Escort.

13. Honestly, is that car insured?


14. Do you like sushi?

I love sushi.

15. Have you ever been to Tiffany & Co. or Saks 5th Ave?

Nope. Why would I?

16. Did your parents spoil you growing up?

Not at all. My mother was very strict (she’s mellowed a little) and we had many clashes as we grew up because I am an anarchist. In the end I simply stopped listening to her. My old man’s plan was for me to make my own way with a little guidance from him – I thank him for that.

17. Do you like roller coasters?

I used to like them as a child but then something happened in America that gave me the fear – I would tell you the name of the thing but I have expelled it from my brain. All I can tell you is that it resides in Los Angeles and I am scared of it to this day.

18. What magazine(s) do you buy regularly or subscribe to?

I usually buy “Classic Rock”.

19. Do you remember the old WB show “Popular”?


20. When you go out do you prefer to go to a dance club or to a bar?

I prefer a bar but am frequently dragged to dance clubs by my dance music loving missus. She knows I hate dance music yet insists on going to these places “for a boogie”. I have to tie her up to get her into a bar that plays rock music.

21. What do you think about gay marriage?

I totally agree with it. I have two gay friends who live a couple of doors away who are very happily married. If it makes people happy, why oppose it?

22. Who do you think will be the next president?

Oprah Winfrey.

23. Are you registered to vote?

Of course I am – this isn’t America you know.

24. Do you own an iPad?

Yes – to cover my eye when its sore. Oh – iPad? I thought you said “Eye Patch”. No – iPad's are a complete waste of technology – an iPhone for people with big hands and bad eyesight. Mrs PM likes them though so she may end up with one. I will stick to my laptop thanks.

25. Is your bathroom filled with beauty stuff?

I live with a woman – what do you think?

See you for part two.

Tuesday 3 August 2010

Mellow Metal, Mellow Rock

Last year I wrote a post that I hoped would assist shattering the myth that Heavy Metal and Rock music is noisy and featureless with screaming vocals and wailing guitars that is indecipherable to those who have taste.

My post used a few songs to illustrate that Heavy Metal and Rock music can actually be beautiful music that anybody can enjoy.

You can read it here.

I’ve decided to treat you again, dear reader, to another twenty or so songs that I hope help to prove that my favourite bands can in fact produce breath-taking mellow and beautiful music that can soothe away stress in a relaxed way.

You can listen to the following songs in a dimly lit room, with scented candles filling the space around you with a sweet odour that will help you to escape on a fluffy cloud into a land of marshmallows and chocolate where “stress” and “pressure” are words that nobody recognises.

So, dear reader, relax, put up your feet, turn down the lights, close your eyes and drift away into a land of peace and tranquillity (you might have to open your eyes to play the links though):

(1) Dream Theater – Wait For Sleep
(2) Foo Fighters – On The Mend
(3) Queensryche – Someone Else
(4) Porcupine Tree – Trains
(5) Eric Clapton – Let It Grow
(6) Whitesnake – Blindman
(7) Porcupine Tree – Collapse The Light Into Earth
(8) Rammstein – Ein Leid
(9) Rainbow – Rainbow Eyes
(10) Metallica – The Unforgiven
(11) Muse – Exogenesis Part One : Overture
(12) Nazareth – Let Me Be Your Leader
(13) Pink Floyd – Mother
(14) Black Sabbath – Changes
(15) Nine Inch Nails – In This Twilight
(16) Rush – Resist
(17) Dream Theater – Space-Dye Vest
(18) Deep Purple – A Touch Away
(19) Joe Satriani – Always With Me, Always With You
(20) Judas Priest – New Beginnings
(21) Little Angels – Colour of Love

There – that’s better isn’t it?

And just remember – these tunes are by established monsters of Rock and Metal.

You’re welcome.

Sunday 1 August 2010

Here Is The News

On Friday somebody genuinely asked me:

“What planet are you from?”

There was a valid reason for the question and it made me realise something about myself: I have changed.

Let me tell you a story. On Friday, a group of us hired a minibus and drove to Nottingham to watch day two of the test match between England and Pakistan. I usually try to take in at least one day’s cricket during the summer, heading to Nottingham, Birmingham or, of course, Manchester for a day of sun, cricket and beer (which sometimes involves just beer if the unpredictable British weather decides scupper our plans).

On Friday we enjoyed almost a full day’s cricket and one or two beers with it. In the minibus on the way back, I noticed that one of our fellow travellers had purchased a newspaper, so I thought I would pass the time by reading it.

The newspaper was The Sun.

I use the word “newspaper” when in reality I should use the word “comic”.

The Sun (or to give it the full title The Super Soaraway Sun) is one of three major tabloid newspapers that are driven by the cult of celebrity, strange sensationalist stories and perhaps one or two items of news.

If I had been totally sober I would have read the newspaper shaking my head in disbelief and tutting at the absurdity of the articles. Alas, my brain was under the influence of several pints of the finest ale in Nottinghamshire so the first thing I unleashed on my unsuspecting fellow passengers was my soapbox (which I always carry in my back pocket in case of emergency).

My eyes widened as I read the tales of woe – it took about thirty seconds for this newspaper to unlock the ranting box.

“Who the bloody hell are these people?” I yelled.

A couple of people who had dozed off were suddenly jarred awake by my outburst. A couple of my closest mates looked at each other and as their eyes met, a silent message passed between them:

“Right – get the popcorn out. This should be fun.”

There were absurd stories about celebrities who I had never heard of. I read outlandish headlines describing the antics of these unknown goons with tales that were about as interesting to me as the fly that was crawling on the window next to me:

Somebody from X Factor had snogged somebody else I had never heard of.

A Z-list nobody from the current series of Big Brother had apparently once been arrested for some minor offence.

An unknown wannabe had argued with another unknown wannabe in a night club.

“Who ARE these people?” I cried.

One guy in the minibus, the guy who had bought the newspaper, then asked me what planet I was from. He read this rag regularly and was therefore totally familiar with these people who, to me at least, spent all of their time trying to do controversial things just so that The Sun could report on them.

I disregarded the question and continued to read. When I had exhausted “the news” I drifted into the problem page where an agony aunt answered questions that actually made me laugh out loud, I started to read them aloud and, fuelled by alcohol, giggled like an insane extraterrestrial. I was in tears, howling at the problems some people write in about.

“It’s made up,” I cried amidst gales of laughter. “Who would write in with problems like these?”

In the end, somebody took the paper off me because I was quite literally on the brink of bursting.

The next day the question came back to haunt me. I switched on the TV to watch the news and it all came back to me just before reality kicked in: I am out of touch.

In my younger days, I used to watch soap operas and occasionally read tabloid newspapers, so I had an inkling who most of the stars of tabloid news were. A few years ago at work a group of us used to pop off to the pub for lunch on Friday afternoons and read the three main tabloids, giggling at the stories and trying desperately to find something worth reading.

We used to have a competition called “Pun of the Week” where we would search for the most ridiculous sensationalist headline in all three papers and then vote for the best. I knew who these characters were – I didn’t care for them at all but I had a vague notion.

I no longer read them and haven’t done so for a good fifteen years or so. Occasionally a tabloid crosses my path but within five minutes I have thrown it down in disgust.

I think this is the reason that I am so out of touch. I should perhaps read this crap.

Many years ago, I remember reading about a judge who hadn’t heard of one such wannabe celebrity and he was absolutely pilloried for being so out of touch with society and youth. I joined in the derision; at the time I watched soap operas, listened to the pop charts and watched dreadful Saturday night television and all of those crappy talk shows and light entertainment programmes. I knew who these people were and could not understand why a stuffy old git in a wig would never have heard of them.

Then I came to my senses and my choices changed. Pop music gradually became dreadful. I realised that soap operas were rubbish; my ex-wife used to watch them all the time and I learned to appreciate that there was more to life – so I simply stopped watching them with her. Equally, I saw that most TV on Saturday night, what people would call light entertainment, was actually utter shit. One or two gems surfaced but the majority of it was mind-numbingly tedious and about as entertaining as watching paint dry.

And now I am just like that stuffy old judge; I have no idea who these people are. I have absolutely no idea why they are so fascinating. I simply cannot see why anybody would even be vaguely interested in the lives of these people at all.

Is that wrong?

Am I in the minority here, dear reader?

Am I really a stuffy old git?

Should I get involved in the cult of celebrity?

Don’t worry, dear reader, I am not asking you to be an agony aunt for me. I have already answered these questions and I simply don’t care that I have never heard of a Z-list ex Big Brother wannabe. I don’t care that I regard magazines like OK! and Hello! where readers are invited into celebrity homes to see how the other half lives.

However, there is a part of me that is curious and reading The Sun had stimulated my interest a little. I have done a little research.

I’m not an anthropologist by any means (in fact I might just be a massive challenge to an anthropologist) but I have delved a little into this.

Last night, I was alone in the house with my two cats; Mrs PM had gone out with friends. This gave me the opportunity to watch Saturday night TV to see if I could gain any insight into why people watch this bilge.

First up was Hole In The Wall where a bunch of celebrities have to get through a funny shaped hole in a rapidly moving wall. If they can’t do it, they end up in a pool of water. They can win money for charity apparently. It was awful. The music was irritating, the jokes were unfunny. Even when they celebrities hit the water I didn’t laugh once. It was utter bilge.

Next was 101 Ways To Leave A Gameshow where a bunch of real people compete against each other, with contestants being eliminated in bizarre ways, like being dragged off by a Formula one car, being dropped fifty feet into a pool of water, dropped through a trapdoor or, in last night’s show, being turned over in a stock car with a massive ball of flames. Now I actually enjoyed this – simply because people who fail to answer questions are eliminated in bizarre ways. Okay – the contestants were egotistical maniacs who wanted their fifteen minutes of fame but they were brought crashing down to earth as they were dragged from the show in increasingly terrifying ways (my favourite was the ejector seat).

At this point, however, I had had enough. I’m sorry, dear reader, but there is only so much crap I can take.

But if you are one of those people who love this kind of bland mind-numbing bilge then fear not – I believe there is a new series of The X Factor coming soon which will satisfy the needs of those who crave crap TV and have musical taste that is so shallow, that they wet themselves over the latest dreadful karaoke singers.

And there is more, dear reader. In the interests of research, I have bought two newspapers today instead of just the usual one.

The first is The Sunday Times, which is the flagship Sunday newspaper. It is a serious broadsheet and a bargain at £2. It is vast and enormous. It has eight sections, each of which is a newspaper in its own right and comes with three magazines.

It is so huge that you could use it to wallpaper each house in my street.

As you would expect from such a newspaper, it focuses on the news, covering current affairs, politics, sport, business, health, money, travel, culture and style. There is talk of celebrity but only when these celebrities actually do something newsworthy or are in the news because of their art.

The other newspaper is a tabloid called The Sunday People. You might think that is better value for money at a cost of 95p but that’s where it ends. It is not serious at all, not by any stretch of the imagination. It is just one single newspaper with three little magazines – one of which is a “special” in preparation for the start of the football season next week, listing the fixtures of every club in England and Scotland.

What newsworthy items are contained within these papers then?

The Sunday Times talks about a British killing squad in Afghanistan, 11 year old girls on the pill, a row in the Home Office about a controversial aide to the Home Secretary, Naomi Campbell giving evidence in the Hague at a war crimes trial, more news on the new Conservative government’s cuts, the drop in ratings of the Liberal Democrat Party since the election and the Navy’s attempts to save £10billion. All of this appears on the first two pages and is the tip of the iceberg. The rest of the newspaper contains actual news from home and abroad and not just the antics of the latest supermodel on her Caribbean holiday.

The Sunday People has the following.

The first page is divided into three bits – the first (taking up almost three quarters of the page) is an advert for the fixtures magazine that comes free with the paper. The second, just below that under the headline “Dead Duck” is a taster for the impending death “in a bloodbath” of one of the characters, Jack Duckworth (Dead Duck - Get it?), in the soap opera Coronation Street. Finally right at the top of the page is a picture of a woman’s backside under the headline “Move over J-Lo”.

Let’s turn over to page two.

Ah – some news. Apparently we are going to be attacked by Al-Qaeda because of David Cameron’s views on Pakistan and a couple of other minor stories about the Labour Party leadership elections and some landmines found in Afghanistan.

Page Three? We learn the identity of the owner of the arse on page one – none other than Scary Spice. This takes up almost the entire page. There is also a small story about Frank Lampard, the footballer, buying a £4million house.

So what? Am I alone in thinking that this kind of stuff is not worth the paper it is printed on?

But it gets better. On pages four and five, they expand on the Dead Duck headline from page one, with a double page spread about something that is going to happen in a fictional soap opera on TV some time in the future.

The rest of the paper is pretty much the same with a story about “SuBo” (aka Susan Boyle, the Scottish woman who sang like an angel), Simon Cowell (again) is apparently “stressed”, Cheryl Cole has fallen out with one of her bandmates (who cares?), Charlotte Church wants to fall in love again, David Beckham giving his son a kiss and various other sensationalist stories about other celebrities and nasty people who have done despicable things to each other.

It is truly awful and I can’t think why anybody would buy this thing week in week out.

Am I alone?

There is one thing worth having a look at though: “Dear Rachel” who is “Britain’s Most Straight-Talking Agony Aunt”.

I am absolutely convinced that the people who write letters to agony aunts are simply making it all up. I am sorely tempted to do this myself – for a laugh. And the “sex tips” are even better.

Maybe I should become an internet agony uncle, specialising in people who have problems separating celebrity culture from real life, for example:

People who regard themselves as Kerry Katona’s best friend because they watch a reality TV show about her.

People who think that Katie Price’s new reality TV show is worthy of anything more than the “off” button on a remote control.

People who think that “Jack Duckworth” is a real person.

My advice will be simple:

Get a life!