Monday 29 November 2010

Signs Of Age

I am aware that I am not getting any younger and I realise that I can’t do anything about Father Time’s obsession with transforming me into a shrivelled old prune.

I know that many people cannot accept their fate and the inevitable consequences of living for decades. Some people go to extraordinary lengths to do battle with the inexorable slide into old age and look even more ridiculous as a result.

I have chosen to embrace the mutation into a withered old wreck. After all, I can’t fight it – why bother?

Many people say that I look young for my age and while that is true, the signs are there for all to see (if you are brave enough to get close enough to me that is).

Let’s look at the evidence.

Baggy Face: My face is beginning to droop like a sack of sludge with a couple of holes. I have compared my face with that of a younger more vibrant version of myself and it is quite shocking to see the difference. My cheeks look like I have stuffed cotton wool into them and I somehow seem to have acquired more skin. I would say that my skin is growing but I know that isn’t true. If I didn’t know any better, I would say that my face is slowly melting. I am beginning to look like John McCain with a wig:

Grey Hair: My lovely blond locks have darkened to a dirty brown and the pigment is marching towards boring old grey. I could persuade it to reverse I suppose by applying liberal amounts of a product like “Just For Men” that is supposed to turn an old fart into a dark haired Adonis (but in reality makes them look ridiculous). I will let my hair change colour and, I guess, ultimately I will look like a grey owl:

Actually that may not be the case: people with blond hair tend to turn white. So maybe I will end up looking like a white owl:

Moobs: I can’t deny it - I have small moobs (or moobies if you prefer). Purely in the name of research, I have just, stupidly been cupping them in my hands as Mrs PM walked in and now I feel like a right berk!

“What the hell are you doing?” she has just asked.

“Research for a blog post!”

Now Mrs PM thinks I am even more of a weirdo and I have some explaining to do (“Read the post” doesn’t seem to have worked).

Thankfully my moobs really are tiny and only visible if I am stupid enough to wear a tight T-Shirt. But they are there, dear reader. I can see them and soon they will announce themselves to the world despite my attempts to hide them. I will have to start investing in baggy T shirts.

Double chin: Under a certain light I can see that I have a fledgling second chin. I can’t possibly see the use for an extra chin and I imagine if it gets any bigger it will make shaving a right pain in the arse. I fear that unless I deflate it somehow it might become the first of many. My chin is spawning, dear reader!

Hair sprouting everywhere: Regular readers will know that I have a problem with my hair. It is an unmanageable mess at the best of times. Now, the rest of my body has decided to join in, thrusting hair out of all sorts of weird orifices.

Why on earth would I want monster clumps of hair hanging out of my nose?

What possible purpose can they achieve?

Worse, when I go to get my hair cut, the poor woman who battles my monstrous locks now has to shave my ears.

MY EARS for Pete's sake.

Why at the age of forty does Mother Nature decide to cover my ears with hair? I’m turning into a yeti:

Eyesight: I’ve always been as blind as a bat and now my eyes have decided to kick me in the teeth by making me long-sighted as well as short-sighted. I have to wear varifocals now which means that I have to peer through the bottom of the lenses when reading. Why would Mother Nature do that to me? It’s bad enough having to wear glasses since the age of eight without them suddenly becoming useless at the age of forty five.

Mother Nature certainly has a sick sense of humour.

Wrinkles: My fair complexion is fine and from a distance my face looks as smooth as a baby’s backside. Get closer and you begin to see the flaws. Crevices, fissures and ravines are beginning to appear. And they are getting worse. Mrs PM keeps telling me to stop frowning because my forehead has deepening cracks. It could be worse but I know that it won’t get any better. If my hair decides to throw in the towel I could end up looking like one giant wrinkle.

It is inevitable that I will probably end up looking like this any one of these three guys:

As I said, I’m not Benjamin Button and neither is anybody else, so why would growing old worry anybody? I don't like it but it is inevitable, dear reader. I will live with it and get some blogging mileage out of it too.

I know that I am not suddenly going to become a heart throb with features so handsome that women swoon when they see me - in fact, women have NEVER swooned over me so why would growing old be any different?

Mind you, I guess it is possible that older women might find me attractive, simply because they will be as blind as I am.

Besides, who would want to become younger? Crikey – we would have to go through puberty again and the thought of that makes me cringe – it was bad enough the first time.

And yes, dear reader, I HAVE gone through puberty (despite what you may think).

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Ozzy Comes To Work

Every year in the UK we are treated to a charity telethon called “Children In Need” where people basically do stupid stuff to raise money for children’s charities.

The show on TV is dreadful but the sentiment is admirable.

Last year my company decided to participate for the first time and organised a whole bunch of ideas for fund raising, involving raffles selling home-made food and, most importantly, a fancy dress day at work.

Sadly, last year I was a coward and opted not to dress up, choosing instead to sit and laugh at my work colleagues in their silly costumes.

However, this year, I decided to join in. I was tempted to resurrect my Gene Simmons look but thought that it would be too much hassle for Mrs PM to paint my face first thing on a Friday morning. Besides, I would have had to drive to work with my glasses on, risking smudging the make up and running the whole effect.

So I opted to become Ozzy Osbourne.

It was a relatively easy thing to achieve and it cost next to nothing. The hardest part was drawing


in blue biro on my left hand. I certainly didn’t want to emulate the man by reproducing ALL of his tattoos.

To enhance the magic, and unlike some of the other participants, I could actually do a pretty good impersonation of the person I was dressed up as.

You see, Ozzy Osbourne grew up about six miles away from where I was born and it’s not too difficult for me to revisit my old accent for the enjoyment of my colleagues.

I even took some music from my Black Sabbath and Ozzy collection and played it sporadically on my PC throughout the day peppering the tunes with cries of “SHAAARRRROONNN!!!”

Here are some photos:

And here is the man himself for comparison:

The worst thing about the day, apart from looking daft, was wearing the bloody wig. Not only did it drive me crazy causing my head to itch, I also ended up eating most of it when I tried to have lunch and snacks. It was a right pain in the arse.

Nevertheless I stuck at it.

Of course, I didn’t win the competition– but that wasn’t the plan. The plan was to look like a goon and play heavy metal at work – oh and pay the entrance fee to help charity.

I think I might just have pulled it off.

Saturday 20 November 2010

Questions A La Randomness : A Meme

Time for another strange meme from Sunday Stealing . Theft, in some cases, can be good.

1. What was the last thing you put in your mouth?

The last thing I put in my mouth would have been a piece of fusilli, cooked to perfection and smothered in a fabulous mushroom sauce, with a hint of tuna.

Yup – I bashed together a quick pasta for tea again.

2. How late did you stay up last night and why?

I went to bed at approximately 11:30 pm. I would have stayed up later but I had fallen asleep on the couch and Mrs PM said that I was scaring the cats.

3. If you could move somewhere else, would you?

I would seriously consider a move to Hong Kong. My problem is that I would miss Britain too much so I really can’t decide whether my desire to live in Hong Kong would be stronger than the desire to stay in Britain. I would quite happily consider travelling between the two though; summer in Britain and winter in Hong Kong.

Now there’s a thought.

4. Have you ever been kissed under fireworks?

I’ve been kissed in a lot of places and I am certain that fireworks were going off at some point.

5. Do you believe ex’s can be friends?

That’s a really tricky one. I do know of people who are friends with ex’s simply because when they were in a relationship with each other they could not live together.

I think it would be a struggle to be honest.

6. When was the last time you cried really hard?

I can’t remember. Probably ten years ago when a football pranged me in the groin.

7. What items could you not go without during the day?

A cup of tea, a dose of decent music and a computer/laptop/notepad to transform my weird thoughts to a different media so I can remember to inflict them on you, dear reader.

8. Who was the last person you visited in the hospital?

I think it was probably my mum a few years ago.

9. How do you feel about your life right now?

If you take work out of the equation, life is absolutely peachy.

10. If we were to look in your facebook inbox, what would we find?

A message from Facebook saying “We miss you. Why don’t you log on very often?”

11. Say you were given a drug test right now, would you pass?

Of course.

12. Has anyone ever called you perfect before?

Yes. Megan Fox keeps ringing me up and saying “We’re perfect for each other.” I have to fight the woman off. Have you ever been stalked by a pest before? It’s not pleasant. I shouldn’t have given her my phone number.

13. Someone knocks on your window at 2:00 a.m.: who do you want it to be?

I know who I DON’T want it to be. I still remember being scared shitless by “’Salem’s Lot” when the floating vampire kid scraped the window. Since there is a good chance of me being asleep in my bedroom on the first floor, such a knock would probably make me wet the bed.

And that would really annoy Mrs PM.

14. Do you think too much or too little?

I definitely think too much. Even when I am in bed, I replay weird thoughts over and over and end up having crazy dreams.

15. Do you believe in fairy tales?

No. I do believe in science fiction though.

16. Have you ever licked the back of a CD to try to get it to work?

What kind of pervert would do that? I’ve tried licking the back of a stamp to make it work but I don’t always succeed. I would love to do something to destroy one of Mrs PM’s CD’s though. The only problem is that I have so many more than her and my music is precious – and her revenge would know no bounds.

17. What’s the largest age difference between yourself and someone you’ve dated?

I think, actually, that might be the age difference between myself and Mrs PM. We are almost eight years apart.

18. Have you ever been on a blind date?

Yes – and she loved me. We danced the night away and I kissed here sweetly on the cheek when we parted. I was thirteen years old and her name was Tracy.

My dad set up the date.

19. Do you have any friends that you’ve known for 10 years or more?

Crikey – yes! Lots. And I feel very old.

20. Have you ever had a crush on a teacher?

Absolutely! At the tender age of nine in my junior school we had a delightful teacher called Miss Thomas. She was probably in her twenties and I adored her, so much so that I fawned over her like a lost kitten. I still think of her when I hear the Abba song “When I Kissed the Teacher” – which sadly I never managed to pluck up the courage to do. I reckon she must be sixty five years old now – at least.

21. What song do you want played at your funeral?

A choice of two:

Stairway To Heaven – Led Zeppelin

Home – Depeche Mode

22. Would you tell your parents if you were gay?

I would have to. I would hope that they would support me.

23. What would your last meal be before getting executed?

I think I would go for fifteen pints of bitter, so that the pain was nulled.

24. Do you walk around the house naked?

I have been known to but since the cats starting complaining, Mrs PM has urged me not to.

25. What do you do as soon as you walk in the house?

Throw my keys onto the table, throw my wallet and change into a dish, throw my coat onto the chair and sit down with a huge sigh of relief.

26. Who is the person you can count on the most?

Mrs PM. No contest (musical taste apart that is).

27. What is your favourite Holiday?

Anywhere nice in the summer – or Christmas.

28. Would you ever get plastic surgery?

Not at all. I am more scared of the pain than I am of being ugly.

29. Have you ever caught a fish?

I once caught a fish breaking into my house.

No – seriously, I haven’t. Fishing is tedium personified.

30. What is the first thing you notice about people?

If it’s a woman then definitely her boobs. I am a man and I can’t help it.

31. What is the farthest you’ve been from home?

That would have to be Sydney, Australia – 10553 miles or 16983 kilometres.

32. How did you meet your spouse or significant other (or most recent one)?

We got together on a business trip to Hong Kong.

33. Where was the last place you drove (other than home/school/work)?

I drove to the cinema today with my two lads, to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part One).

Tuesday 16 November 2010

The North South Divide

Wednesday night is a good night to rant at the moment.


We are well into the new series of The Apprentice, a reality show that pits the (supposedly) greatest young entrepreneurs of Britain with Alan Sugar, aka Sir Alan Sugar, aka Lord Sugar.

It seems like he gains a new title every time they film a new series. What next? King Alan the First?

Anyway, I digress. I used to rant about Alan Sugar, the founder of Amstrad but I have warmed to him over the years. He is famous now for being Britain’s most belligerent boss, a man who is almost impossible to please and who does not suffers fools at all.

The Apprentice is compelling viewing. Lord Sugar takes a handful of young arseholes and puts them through a terrible ordeal with the dubious prize of being able to work for him for a six figure salary.

The candidates are all young and have one thing in common: their arrogance is breath-taking.

I watch the show hurling abuse at how cocky these fools are. They claim to be expert sales people, fantastic marketing gurus who will make loads of money for Lord Sugar. Yet most of them are absolute idiots who have a massive ego but little else.

And Lord Sugar delights in exposing them and shooting them down in flames – and he delights me too.

A week or two ago, one contestant made me reach a new level of anger when watching the show. To my amazement, Mrs PM also let rip and our TV almost buckled under the assault from the two of us.

Lord Sugar sent the candidates from London up to the Trafford Centre in Manchester to sell the latest London fashions to Mancunians. I was already irritated by the phrase latest London fashions when one of the candidates said something that enraged the two of us.

“Manchester is two years behind London.”


“THE CHEEKY BUGGER!” screamed Mrs PM.

Can you believe that?

To be honest, I wasn’t surprised at this sweeping and wholly inaccurate slur on my adopted city. A few people in the South of England pour scorn on the North.

When I say “South” I really mean “Greater London” because in reality quite a few people of that city and the surrounding towns look down on Northerners. I am not joking when I say that there are some from the London area who don’t actually know anything about life north of Watford.

Many years ago, I was visiting friends in London and we found ourselves in a night club near Camden Town. At the end of the evening, a young woman asked me where I was from. The conversation went something like this:

Southern Belle: So where are you from?

Plastic Mancunian: Manchester.

Southern Belle: Manchester? Where’s that then?

Plastic Mancunian: You are joking, right?

Southern Belle: No. Whereabouts in London is Manchester?

Plastic Mancunian: It’s not in London. Its 250 miles away.

Southern Belle: Oh! Are you getting home in a taxi?

I swear I am not making that up. I have had similar conversations with people who have said, quite seriously:

“Manchester? That’s north of Watford innit? Why would anybody live north of Watford?”

It makes you feel like punching them.

It is this perception of the North that really annoys me. I love London as a city but some of its residents are bizarrely arrogant. When questioned about life north of Watford they consider us all to wear cloth caps, breed whippets and pigeons and say things like:




Let me aim this post at that minority of Southerners and just say this.

We are not stupid.

We are not two years behind London.

We are friendly.

We do not say “ECKY THUMP!”

I could go on. I could dismiss everything that these people think but it is not worth it. Some of them would never travel out of earshot of Bow Bells – unless they were to move into the Home Counties of course.

Actually, to be honest, I suffer at the hands of both Northerners and Southerners.

I was born in Walsall, near Birmingham, i.e. I am from the Midlands. I am regarded as a pariah by both Northerners and Southerners. Northerners call me a Southern Jessie. Southerners call me a Northern Arse.

I reckon now, in the North, I have been accepted because I have lived in Manchester for longer than I lived in the Midlands and these days I even count myself as a Northerner.

And to any Southerners who feel that travelling North of Watford is like stepping back into the Stone Age, I think you should pay us a visit. We might not be able to understand what you say but we are a friendly bunch and we do have interpreters.

I am joking of course. The regional accents in England can change dramatically within a few miles. Sometimes though, it can be difficult to understand the cockney accent or even the Greater London accent.

I remember meeting a lad at university who was from the south of England. I understood everything he said until he told me where he was from.

“EMOO” he said.


“EMOO! You know. EMOO EMSTID!”

“Where? Spell it!”

“H-E-M-E-L H-E-M-P-S-T-E-A-D!”

“OH! Hemel Hempstead!”

“That’s what I said. Where are you from?”




“Warsaw? Are you Polish?”

“No! W-A-L-S-A-L-L!”

So my accent in those days was just as difficult to understand.

I will finish off by saying that I actually like cockneys and Southerners but I will add that if you are a Southerner reading this who thinks that Northerners are Neanderthals who worry sheep then think again. The North of England is beautiful – so is the Midlands.

And there IS life outside London and particularly north of Watford.

It most certainly is not “GRIM OOP NORTH!!”.


I will leave you with an ode to Southerners everywhere:

Alexei Sayle’s “'Ullo John! Gotta New Motor!”

We don’t think all Southerners are like that!

Sunday 14 November 2010

Night Clubs - Chinese Style

I’m too old for night clubs. I am a perfect example of a Discotheque Wreck.

For one thing, most of the youngsters who frequents such places would be horrified to see somebody my age trying to look cool on a dance floor – I know I would have been in my twenties. I couldn’t dance then and I’m even worse now.

To be honest, I don’t really want to go to these places anyway. There are lots of reasons for this but the chief amongst them are:

Night clubs are far too loud. These days I like to have a conversation when I socialise with people. This is absolutely impossible in a night club. The music is cranked up to a volume so loud that it invades your thoughts and renders you useless. If you try to have a conversation with another person in a night club, you end up bellowing down their ear to make yourself heard. It might make give you the opportunity to get close to a woman you fancy, but your cool words and well-rehearsed chat up line will quite literally fall on deaf ears. Add to that the spray of spittle as somebody screams at you, you realise that the experience is not a pleasant one.

I used to wonder why my throat was raw the following morning and also why my ears felt like there was a crazed bell ringer inside. It was because we screamed at each other and, more often than not, could not understand what the hell was being said anyway.

Night clubs play shit music. I have always thought this. With the exception of places like Rockworld all night clubs play dreadful music that I loathe. To me it all sounds exactly the same:


repeated ad nauseam.

Night clubs are too expensive. As a student we used to get tanked up in the pubs before embarking on a trip to a night club. We usually had to pay a colossal entrance fee to get into the place before wobbling over to the bar to pay an exorbitant price for our beverage of choice. And the beer was like camel urine so why the hell did we even bother to drink it?

Night clubs have bouncers. I have lost count of the number of times I have had arguments with these well-dressed meatheads. It is not difficult to prove that they are as dumb as a particularly stupid sheep. Those that can articulate can only say two words: “NO JEANS!” Most of them just grunt.

You should stop going to night clubs in your thirties in my opinion.

If you want to cling onto your youth, a night club is not the place to be. “Getting down with the kids” is embarrassing and a pointless as it is stupid for people my age.

One of the worst sights I have ever seen is a young man, about twenty years old, snogging with a woman who must have been about sixty in a Manchester night club. It was quite literally “Grab a Granny” night and I decided then that I would give up going to night clubs when I reached a suitable age.

I have largely stuck to that principle, apart from the odd foray into Icelandic night clubs.

Nevertheless, when I visited Kunming recently, a young work colleague suggested that we head off to a lively area and have a couple of beers in a night club.

I was about to refuse and head back to the hotel when I reconsidered. My curiosity got the better of me. I have ventured into night clubs on my travels before and I was intrigued by the prospect of seeing how Chinese youth let their hair down.

“You are an old git!” screamed my conscience and of course it was correct. But I was also a foreigner in a Chinese city and that, too, would make me stand out from the crowd.

So I thought: ”Sod it” and agreed to join my youthful colleagues, two English guys and two Chinese guys.

The area we were taken to was called Kundu. When we climbed out of the taxi, I was absolutely astonished. It was midnight and the place was one of the liveliest areas I have ever seen. The streets were packed with youngsters prepared to have a great time. The place was full of bars and clubs blaring out all manner of dreadful music at an ear-shattering volume.

I allowed myself to be lead into a night club that was packed to the rafters. One of my colleagues tried to get to the bar while I watched the crowd. It was a sight to behold but not too different from a night club anywhere else in the world.

I decided to film a short video on my camera. Here it is:

The volume doesn’t do it justice; the music was hellishly loud. When I had finished the video, a hand appeared in front of my face. I looked at the owner and it was a young Chinese guy, beaming from ear to ear. I smiled at him and he leaned over to bellow something in my ear.

“HOW DO YOU DO?” he shouted.

“I’m very well, thanks,” I replied. “How are you?”

He then gave me a high five and his friends laughed, not in an unfriendly way I have to say. It was a moment of fun.

Sadly, the place was too busy and an executive decision was made by my younger associates to try somewhere else.

Pretty soon I was in another night club – and this was even better. I had a perfect view of the DJ’s who were well into the swing of things. I took another video:

It was so funny. Unfortunately this night club really was expensive; they tried to charge us £5 for a bottle of beer in a city where the average price was around £1.

As we left, I tried to shoot another small video of the clientele, only to be screamed at by an irate waitress who told me in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t allowed to take photos in the club. I didn’t understand a word she screamed but her gestures told me everything I needed to know.

Eventually, we found a slightly less crowded club with more reasonably priced beer and we managed to sit down, sup a pint of Chinese lager and scream at each other over the dreadful music.

We didn’t last much longer. A tough working week took its toll and we left for our hotel.

I was shattered when I got back into my room and I realised then that I was definitely too old for the night club game. The music was far too loud, the beer far too expensive and the clientele far too young for an old fool like me.

Despite this, I actually quite enjoyed my short exposure to Chinese night clubs. For once, I didn’t stand out for being too old - I was simply a curious foreigner.

And there wasn’t a bouncer in sight to tell me that my jeans weren’t allowed.

Friday 12 November 2010

Fear (Part Five) - Chinese Toilets


This post, as the title suggests, talks about toilets - but not just any toilets.

It talks about Chinese toilets, arguably the worst toilets in the world.

If you are in any way squeamish, it might be better to give this one a miss.

For the rest of you brave souls …

I was worried about one thing and one thing alone when I returned to China this year; yes – the prospect of having to use Chinese toilets.

You may feel that this was an overreaction but I can promise you it wasn’t.

I am used to pristine wonderful loos. I have encountered many disgusting toilets, particularly public ones, in Britain, America, Australia, Europe, Canada, South Africa and similar places but most have been usable. It’s all relative, you see.

Sadly, in China, toilets are quite simply awful. I am really sorry and ashamed to admit that the one thing that struck fear into the very core of my soul was the prospect of eating something that wanted to churn my guts, causing a major intestinal problem and forcing me to use a Chinese toilet that belonged in the seventh level of Hell.

Here are the toilets I encountered on my recent trip to Kunming in descending order of horror.

The Hotel Toilet

I stayed in a 5 star hotel on the outskirts of Kunming. It was a wonderful place with a palatial lobby, perfect food, and a room that was massive and magnificent. On that first jet-lagged day, I walked into the room and goggled at the splendour of the king-sized bed and the pristine d├ęcor.

What was my first thought? It was:

“What is the loo like?”

Thankfully the toilet was pure and unsullied. I sat on the throne and looked out over the Kunming skyline from my perch. It was only later, when I used it for the first time that I realised with the aid of strategically placed mirrors, I could actually see how unattractively podgy I was. I was fascinated by the image of myself sitting there and a little disappointed. I apologise for the picture this creates in your mind, dear reader.

Suffice it to say, I was delighted with this toilet and pledged to use it every day – as long as my body clock could handle the time difference caused by jet lag.

The Office Toilet

My main place of work was on a building site, which I shall describe later. Thankfully, on two occasions I was fortunate to work in an office in Kunming.

“Where is the toilet?” I asked a colleague.

The closest toilet was a few seconds from our office. The sun shone through the window of that toilet for the best part of the day, heating it up and breathing new life into the odours that called the place home.

I used the toilet (having drunk too much coffee) and the smell was almost a physical entity, waiting to slap me around the head as I entered the loo. The technique that worked for me was to take a deep breath, run in, do the business as quickly as possible and then run out again.

Local Chinese office workers must have thought I was a total goon.

In terms of cleanliness, the toilet was of course a squatter, thankfully with traps for privacy, and a flush that worked but couldn’t remove the smell. The stench was terrible and, as the day wore on and the sun beat down, the odour monster drifted out into the corridor and into our office. We had to shut the door to keep it out.

There was no toilet paper.

Bar Toilet

I visited a couple of bars in Kunming and each had a toilet; just one toilet to share between all the clientele, both male and female. In one such toilet was a picture of Mr T pointing at me while I was doing the business and saying:


In another bar, there was a similar warning:

“PLEASE – NO POO!! Public bathroom is across street. If you shit, other people must clean it up because the pipes are too small to pass shit.”

People had added their thoughts at the end of the sign:

“Bad diarrhoea is possibly OK”

“Don’t you mean shit diarrhoea?”

“Is there such a thing as good diarrhoea?”

The toilet was, of course a squatter and once more there was no toilet paper.

Building Site Toilet Two

We worked on a building site – a very muddy, filthy and dangerous building site. As you can imagine, the toilets were pretty grim and very temporary.

Thankfully, the constructors had installed running water, urinals and private traps with flushes. The traps were full of mud and filth and were, in the Chinese tradition, squatters. The smell was almost overpowering, but if you were quick enough, you could escape unscathed.

When I first saw the toilet facilities that were on offer, realising that would spend most of my day at the building site, I began to realise that sooner or later I might have to bite the bullet and use the squatters.

I won’t go into the thoughts that went through my mind but I spent hours concocting a plan for their use. I won’t share these with you, dear reader, because I have had to share them with myself – and they are not pleasant. Sometimes I hate my imagination.

And, of course, there was no toilet paper.

Building Site Toilet One

On our first day at the building site, I asked about the facilities. We were lead to the workers village, a hastily built area where makeshift accommodation had been quickly constructed to house the many Chinese workers and their families. The conditions were filthy; while the men worked, theirs wives and children spent their time in small houses, not much bigger than garden sheds. Facilities such as toilets were laid on for them and we were told that we would have to use these too.

“Where are they?” I asked.

My nose told me exactly where they were.

Several yards away was a building and I looked upon it with absolute dread.

As we approached I found myself being beaten up by the invisible monster that was providing the increasingly vile stench. The monster was rampant and I shrank in its presence.

Somebody pointed to a door.

I had to see what I was letting myself in for.

I walked towards it and, probably being braver than I have ever been, I walked into Hell on Earth.

The toilet was thankfully quite dark and dingy; nevertheless the lack of light couldn’t hide what I saw.

There were five “stalls” separated by walls that were around three feet high. Underneath the walls was a thin gutter to catch human by-products. There was absolutely no toilet paper and even less privacy. I almost wretched before I realised something was horribly wrong.

Squatting there as bold as brass was a Chinese worker having a crap in full view of me. He was in no way ashamed and stared at me as if I were an alien.

I had to escape and did so as if I had the hounds of Hell chasing me to bite my arse.

“What’s it like?” asked a work colleague.

“Put it this way,” I replied. “I hope you are not shy.”

I spent that first night beating myself up, formulating a plan to avoid having a crap in full view of anybody who was there to watch.

Thankfully, we discovered “Building Site Toilet Two” (described above) the next day – it wasn’t perfect but compared to this festering cesspit, it was like the Ritz.

Thankfully, I managed to use the hotel toilet each time and completely avoid any squatters whatsoever.

Sadly, I am going back to Kunming in January or February next year and I fear that my record may not remain intact.

Another work colleague suggested that perhaps when I revisit Kunming, I could avoid using squatters by strategic use of Immodium and laxatives. This was the same person who also suggested that I:

“Keep a stiff upper lip and think of England!”

Do people even say that any more?

I don’t think so!

Monday 8 November 2010

Guilty Pleasures (Part Two)

Its confession time again, dear reader.

I feel that I can now exorcise those demons within that force me to like songs by artists whose very countenance makes me physically ill. Actually, that’s not quite true because some of the artists are quite good in their own peculiar way.

So, without further ado, I present to you another selection of songs that people may think are well off my radar because they don’t sail in the sea of rock.

To be honest, one or two of the artists below should be locked up in a massive space ship and propelled to the furthest reaches of the galaxy to avoid contaminating my ears any longer – yet each one has produced one gem amongst their portfolio of musical manure and that, dear reader, is probably enough to save them.

It is time for part two of my GUILTY PLEASURES and yet another opportunity for me to embarrass myself for your reading displeasure.

Republica – Ready To Go

To be honest, I would never condemn Republica to an eternity in a space ship because deep down I actually like them, so much so that I own two albums by them. This song is an absolute gem and I love it. And yes, you have guessed it, I have strutted my funky stuff to it in front of a lot of strangers and a very ashamed Mrs PM. Besides, the singer, Saffron, floats my boat.

The Tubes – White Punks On Dope

Don’t ask me why but I love this tune. I’ve not heard anything else by the band - perhaps I should explore their back catalogue. The song is funny, controversial, weird and punky enough to sit comfortably within my musical taste. If you get the chance, have a look for a live performance of this song by the band on YouTube – the lead singer is a sight to behold.

Hazel O’Connor – Will You?

I am sorry to confess that this is another song that brings the odd tear to my eye. The song comes from a film called Breaking Glass from the late 1970’s, which was not that good but featured one or two good songs, including the excellent (if not a little odd) Eighth Day (also by Hazel O’Connor).

The Smiths – How Soon Is Now

The Smiths remain one of the most overrated bands of the past few decades and I stand by that statement. I am often criticised for this view by people who regard them as legendary. I simply don’t get them at all. Nevertheless, How Soon Is Now is a great song, which leads me to believe that there was a modicum of talent in there somewhere.

I have one claim to fame as far as The Smiths are concerned.

My eldest son was being christened at the same time as another little baby girl. We had to turn up at the church the day before the ceremony to talk about where we were meant to stand, what to say and all of the other nonsense that goes with such pomp. I met the father of the baby girl and spent a good fifteen minutes chatting to him. He told me that he was a musician but didn’t elaborate.

He was Mike Joyce, the drummer of the Smiths. I only discovered who he was a couple of months after the ceremony.

I probably wouldn’t have told him that the bands’ music was dull and uninspiring – but I would have been thinking it.

The J Geils Band – Centrefold

I apologise in advance for this one. When it was released it annoyed the hell out of a lot of my friends and I didn’t admit that I liked it for a long time for fear of being ridiculed mercilessly. I don’t know why I like it – I just do. It’s catchy and fun – even though some might say it is totally irritating.

Yello – The Race

My (ex) wife W hated The Race, particularly when I sang along with it and hummed along to the tune. I used to play this song over and over again. I absolutely loved it – I still do.

I’m attacking the illusion but the stopping drives me mad.

T’Pau – Monkey House

Yes – I admit it. I liked T’Pau. Their first album, Bridge of Spies, is a bit of a classic in my view and I won’t hear a word against it. The second album was a disappointment, which was a shame. Monkey House is the best song from the first album – a modest little rocker that packs a nice little punch – and it’s much better than the dreary China In Your Hand.

Ricky Martin – Livin’ La Vida Loca

This is possibly the most dangerous song in the list. I imagine that I will get a lot of stick for admitting that I love this song. I can’t help it. To be honest I am willing to bet that you, dear reader, also secretly love Livin’ La Vida Loca. Come on admit it.

Kylie Minogue – I Can’t Get You Out Of My Head

Actually, I take that back – this song is definitely the most dangerous one on the list.

Kylie Minogue is typical of everything I hate about modern chart music, manufactured by old geezers, like Pete Waterman and Simon Cowell, and targeted at people with no imagination whatsoever. I have spent many hours pontificating about the dreadful state of music and the fact that we are being force fed manufactured bilge on a daily basis.

It may therefore come as a surprise to you that I actually like this song. I am willing to admit that once in a blue moon that such a song might actually be worthy of more than a passing rant.

Besides, Kylie looks quite tasty in the video.

Mark Ronson – God Put a Smile Upon Your Face

The original version of this song by Coldplay is one of my favourite pop songs in recent years. Mrs PM bought Mark Ronson’s album of covers and I dismissed it as novelty pap. She played the CD and this song popped out immediately. I had to eat my words because it is a different and very enjoyable version of a classic pop song.

Primal Scream – Rocks

I’ve never been a fan of Primal Scream – I’ve always considered them to be overrated. Like the Smiths, however, they have produced the odd little gem, and this song is the best of them.

Primal Scream have staying power – I’ll give them that.

Shakespears Sister – Hello (Turn Your Radio On)

Picture the scene – I have been woken up by a screaming baby at three o’clock in the morning and am desperate to get him to sleep. I have walked around the house with him, talked gently to him but my efforts have been in vain. In a last ditch attempt I sit down and put on a CD. It is Hormonally Yours by Shakepears Sister and belongs to my (ex) wife W. I love this song so I sing it to my screaming son, rocking him gently. As the words pour forth, he gradually starts to close his eyes and fall asleep. I watch him while still listening to this fabulous song. A tear of joy rolls down my face. And now, almost eighteen years later, a tear is rolling down my cheek as I listen to the song again.

Well that just about wraps it up – for a while at least. I have definitely revealed too much this time.

And I’m still willing to hear your guilty pleasures, dear reader. I won’t tell – honestly!

Come on – you know you want to.

Sunday 7 November 2010

The 14 Question Meme

Another Sunday, another theft.

Here is The 14 Question Meme from Sunday Stealing .

1. What do you consider your hometown to be?

I was born in Walsall but I have lived in Manchester since 1984. It’s a wrench but I have to say that Manchester wins the accolade. Sadly, I still support Walsall football team which is painful. They are currently the strongest team in League One, firmly entrenched at the bottom and holding the entire table up.

And we couldn’t even beat Fleetwood Town in the F.A. Cup yesterday, drawing 1-1 instead. I am dreading the replay.

2. What’s the hardest part of your average day?

On a weekday it is getting up knowing that I have to spend hours at work yelling and computers and chipping away at the absurdity of corporate life. I am Reginald Perrin.

3. The easiest? Why?

The easiest part of the day is, of course, leaving the office. Unlike some people I switch off entirely and drive home with loud music blasting the frustration out of my poor brain.

Why? That’s easy. My stress in instantaneously annihilated.

4. What beverage do you reach for to quench your thirst?

If I’m honest I would say beer, but that doesn’t work at 9am. So I will say a decent strong cup of English tea.

5. What is one not-so-secret goal you have for your life? I’ll let you keep your secret ones to yourself.

I’ve made no secret of my goal to quit my job and become a writer. Realistically it is almost certainly not easily achievable unless something radically changes.

6. What physical pain do you fear most? For example, I’m trying to decide how bad my jaw pain needs to get before I risk a potential needle from my dentist. So, for me, throbbing is preferable to jabbing.

I fear any physical pain, including the dentist. However, I can cope with all that the tooth butcher decides to hurl in my direction, as long as he has applied copious amounts of local anaesthetic. I wouldn’t want him to extract my teeth with just a lump hammer for example.

If you want to push me to be more specific, I guess that I fear breaking a bone. I have never even come close to that pain and those who have inform me that it is very nasty indeed.

7. Where do you find solace?

Wherever solace is hiding, as long as it leaves clues to its location.

Seriously, I find solace with Mrs PM and heavy metal – though she hates me playing loud rock music when she wants to be romantic.

8. What makes you the saddest when you read/see the news?

You mean apart from Walsall losing yet another football match? I’m sad that there are people in the world whose sole purpose is to harm other people.

9. What do you eat for a favorite snack?

Cat food.

Not really – I answered this one last week. Cheese on toast.

10. What movie could you/would you watch more than two or three times and still enjoy just as much as the first time?

Anything with Laurel and Hardy in it.

11. What boy/girl first made you cry?

I would guess that it was my sister. One of my first memories was playing my favourite little toy robot. It was great; it walked along saying “Crush: Kill; Destroy” and fired a gun from its ample chest. My sister wanted to play with it and I told her, in no uncertain terms, where to go. She picked it up and threw it against the wall, crushing it, killing it and destroying it in one violent action.

I cried. And then I made her cry.

I was four years old.

12. What brand of coffee/tea do you drink most often?

I usually drink P.G.Tips or Tetley tea. I rarely drink coffee but if I must it is usually Nescafe.

13. Dig in the dirt with or without garden gloves?

I would normally use a spade, fork or trowel.

14. James Taylor or Carly Simon?

Carly Simon – “You’re So Vain” is a nice song.

Thursday 4 November 2010

Guilty Pleasures (Part One)

Regular readers of the bilge I write will know that I am a huge fan of heavy metal and that I spit in the face of dreadful music.

I have occasionally been unlucky enough to catch snippets of shows like The X Factor and have been almost at the point of tears, mourning the future of music as a bunch of lame karaoke singers try to perform dreadful versions of awful songs. The audience figures indicate that millions of people watch this appalling programme and these same people contribute to coffers of the producers of the show, making them millionaires as they slowly destroy music.

If I had the power I would change things. Sadly I don’t and it breaks my heart.

Nevertheless, let me get to the point of this post. The attack you have just read was a ranting diversion but it does lead me gently into a confession that shames me.

I curse certain artists and styles of music but there are some songs by these artists that I actually like.

I can almost hear you screaming at the monitor, dear reader:

“You bloody pseudo-Mancunian hypocrite!!! How VERY DARE YOU!!”

I am ashamed. There – I’ve said it. Every fibre of my being screams at me, saying “NO!! Don’t listen to these songs.”

But I can’t help it, dear reader – they are GUILTY PLEASURES.

I am baring my soul here in the hope that I can annihilate this affliction and move on.

Here are 10 songs that, deep down, I actually enjoy. To be fair, I genuinely like some of the artists and they are quite welcome to continue making music with my blessing (though I don’t necessarily promise to like it). However, some of the artists should be sent to prison for crimes against music – that is apart from the songs listed below.

I invite you, dear reader, to click on the links and judge for yourself.

Please take the time to do this and then, if you wish, comment telling me what a musical Nazi I am and that I should just shut up – or alternatively recommend a good therapist.

The B52’s - Love Shack

Actually I wouldn’t condemn The B52’s to eternal punishment for crimes against music - because I like another song by them – the brilliant Rock Lobster . Love Shack gets the nod over Rock Lobster in this list because it brings back lots of memories a drunk Plastic Mancunian strutting his funky stuff on the dance floor in his youth, trying to impress armies of gorgeous young beauties, but only succeeding in scaring all of them off (or rendering them hysterical with laughter).

Robbie Williams – Let Me Entertain You

I detest Take That with a passion. I detest everything they stand for musically. They are one of the progenitors of the “boy band” phenomenon that still infects modern music today. If it weren’t for Take That we wouldn’t have Westlife, Boyzone and other similar vomit-inducing bilge that young girls and grannies hurl their knickers at. However, Robbie Williams has proved to me that members of such bands can produce great music. Let Me Entertain You is a beauty of a song that I absolutely love. It has catapulted Robbie Williams onto my mp3 player along with at least a dozen other songs. Yes, dear reader, I like Robbie Williams – although now he rejoined Take That, I am reconsidering my position.

The Bangles - Walk Like an Egyptian

Yes – I do fancy the Bangles, particularly Susanna Hoffs. That has nothing to do with the reason I love this song though. It is a genuinely fun-packed little tune that pushes the button in my head labelled Don’t Push This Button – It Will Turn Dave Into An Embarrassing Arse! And yes, dear reader, of course I have walked like an Egyptian (much too often).

David Cassidy – How Can I Be Sure?

My younger sister had a major crush on David Cassidy and he became my nemesis in the early 70’s. I hated his music. Every time I saw his face I felt like puking up my guts. This song, however, is a masterpiece and so alien to my musical taste that you probably cannot fathom why I like it. To be honest neither can I. But it’s worse than that – I actually well up when I hear the song – it’s so good. How embarrassing!! My sister would ridicule me mercilessly if she found out. Please don’t tell her. My reputation as a music connoisseur will be shattered. I’m depending on you, dear reader.

Spandau Ballet – Instinction

What the hell does Stealing cake to eat the moon mean? Spandau Ballet remind me of the time at university when a woman vaporised my heart. I still can’t listen to True to this day because of her. Whenever I hear the words, I cringe inwardly and want the ground to swallow me up. For that alone, Spandau Ballet deserve to be roasted in Satan’s hotpot for all of eternity. Nevertheless, Instinction more than makes up for it and that will save them from becoming lunch in Hell. Embarrassingly, at a wedding, in the late 80’s the DJ popped this song on and I did my “Mad Dad” dance to it, prompting people to seriously question my musical taste and my sanity.

The Osmonds – Crazy Horses

Donny Osmond ranked even below David Cassidy in the 70’s. My sister loved him. I hated him. I wanted to break things when I heard his reedy voice warbling Puppy Love. Yet even this musical low life has redeemed himself, simply by having a bunch of brothers who produced one of the classic songs of the 70’s - and even included him in the band. Crazy Horses is a terrific little rocker and I don’t mind admitting that I love it.

Abba – So Long

I would never dream of dismissing Abba. As a child, I loved them and I am openly willing to defend them. Their music doesn’t conform to my taste these days but I simply cannot forget their contribution to my youth. Besides, how could I dream of cursing a band containing the most gorgeous pop star of that decade. I am talking about Agnetha, of course. I had a major, major, major crush on her. Of all the songs they wrote, So Long is by far their best. Purists may once again question my judgement – I don’t care one jot. And just look at the video - very, very nice.

Duran Duran – Ordinary World

In the 80’s my youngest sister was in love with Duran Duran and I claimed that they drove me up the wall. I have to confess that I did secretly like a few of their songs but I would never have admitted it least of all to my sister. It was only later on that I confessed to liking this song in particular. It is a beautiful song and I defy anybody to disagree.

Richard Marx – Hazard

I hate music by singers like Michael Bolton and other purveyors of sentimental AOR bilge and when I heard Richard Marx’s first big single Right Here Waiting For You I despised it with venom. A couple of years later, he released Hazard and I was flabbergasted. It is a beautiful and very sad AOR ballad that I never thought I would like. Lyrically it is wonderful and is yet another song that sadly makes me blub like a baby. Don’t tell anybody.

Well that’s enough for now, dear reader. Tell me your guilty pleasures if you feel up to it. We're bonding here and I feel you can lift a weight off your shoulders.

From my perspective, I must admit that confession really is good for the soul and I have a few more musical guilty pleasures to share with you soon – just as soon as I have recovered from the fact that you now think I like David Cassidy.