Wednesday 28 December 2011

Goodbye 2011

2011 is almost over, which means that it is time to resurrect a meme that I stole a couple of years ago which will help me reflect upon the last twelve months.

Feel free to steal it if you like.

This is quite a long post so just in case you get bored, I will wish you a Happy New Year right at the start, and I hope that 2012 brings all of your dreams to fruition.

Right – here goes – hold your nose and dive right in …

1. What did you do in 2011 that you'd never done before?

I started learning Spanish. After a holiday to Ibiza I thought that it might be fun to try to at least attempt to communicate in another language. I enrolled in an online course and have actually managed to maintain my momentum (apart from the last week or two thanks to Christmas and a last minute business trip).

Procrastination? I don’t know the meaning of the word.

And I hope to continue in 2012, so much so that I am considering enrolling in a real course at Instituto Cervantes in Manchester. The only thing likely to scupper this is juggling work with study (given that I may end up being out of the country a little more this year).

Hopefully I will prevail. I’ll let you know this time next year.

In the meantime …

Feliz Año Nuevo

2. Did you keep your New Years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Sort of…

I failed miserably to write that elusive book again but I think I’m going to change my relationship with writing a little. I think a novel is possibly too ambitious given that I am not the world’s best writer and writing fiction is actually quite hard.

However, I have an idea for a non-fiction book. And I think it might be achievable. I’m not going to promise myself that I will write it – but I may have a go.

My other “resolution” was to get fit again. And actually, recently I have started to make some headway, by walking a lot more.

Nevertheless, the bike still taunts me – maybe when the weather improves (where have you read THAT before?).

Of course I shall make resolutions for next year.

Here we go – let’s see whether I manage to achieve them:

(1) At least TRY to write that elusive book.

(2) Learn Spanish to the point where I can talk to Spaniards without a dictionary.

(3) Cycle to work at least twice a week (when the weather improves).

How’s that (he says trying to ignore Captain Paranoia)?

3. How will you be spending New Year's Eve?

This year the penguin suit will not be taken out of the wardrobe. We are going to the Metropolitan pub in West Didsbury for a meal and a disco (or whatever they call that situation where I am dragged up onto the dance floor to make a complete arse of myself in public).

4. Did anyone close to you die?

My ex-wife’s partner died suddenly while Mrs PM and I were away on holiday with the kids in the summer. It was a very traumatic experience and it has changed things a little between W and I (for the better I think). He was a nice guy too and only a couple of years older than I am.

It’s an absolute tragedy.

5. What countries did you visit?

I visited China, Portugal, Spain (Ibiza), Turkey and Switzerland.

6. What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011?

I would like to have more money obviously. The good news is that the house is more or less complete (certainly on the inside) so perhaps Mrs PM and I can start to look at spending it on more enjoyable pursuits instead of investing it all in plaster, wallpaper, paint, carpets, light fittings and furniture.

There is still work to do but at least Mrs PM is now a lot happier with our little house – which makes me happy too – particularly as I simply cannot stand a messy house.

7. What date from 2011 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

No dates stand out really.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

I think that would have to be maintaining my interest in learning Spanish. I just hope I can continue to do so.

Also, of course, my continued ability to pour forth the utter bilge that you read on this blog, dear reader.

9. What was your biggest failure?

For the third year running – the book. But I may have a new plan for that.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Yes – and I wrote about it in June (read it here). Basically I fell over while running for a bus after a beer festival. What a clumsy idiot I was – and am!

11. What was the best thing you bought?

I’ve not bought anything of significance this year. There were quite a few CD’s added to my collection, which I shall mention later, so I guess, boringly, it will have to be one of those.

12. Where did most of your money go?

Usual answer – the house. Also, my eldest lad has started university thus opening yet another bin into which I can throw away cash.

13. What song will always remind you of 2011?

2011 was a brilliant year for music and I have to say that I bought loads of fabulous CD’s. It would be unfair to mention just one song – so here are my top five songs of 2011:

At number 5 – Joe Satriani – Wormhole Wizards

Joe Satriani is my favourite guitarist in the world – a pure genius. The album Black Holes and Wormhole Wizards is his latest solo album and is up there with his best.

At number 4 – The Foo Fighters – Burning Bridges 

I love the Foos and this year they returned with a magnificent album called Wasting Light. Here is my favourite song on the album.

At Number 3 – The Black Spiders – Si, El Diablo 

I saw the Black Spiders support Aussie rockers Airbourne in 2010 and they are simply one of the best support bands I have ever seen. They finally released their debut album Sons of the North this year and I bought it immediately. This is British rock at its very best.

At Number 2 – Dream Theater – Breaking All Illusions 

Dream Theater are magnificent and this year they released yet another storming album called A Dramatic Turn of Events. I love this band and next year I finally (FINALLY) get my chance to see them in the flesh at the Apollo in February. I can’t wait.

At Number 1 – Within Temptation – Faster 

The album of the year is The Unforgiving by Dutch rockers Within Temptation – and this is against some very challenging opposition (Foo Fighters, Joe Satriani Dream Theater etc.). I have barely stopped playing it for months now. I love the voice of the lead singer, Sharon van Adel - and she's a lovely lady too. It is a magnificent recording – a triumph. I love it. I was lucky enough to see them in Manchester in November and when they sang Faster (my favourite song on the album), I felt tears running down my cheeks. That’s right – a 49 year old rocker moved to tears by a great rock song. How embarrassing is that? How much more embarrassing is it that I have actually admitted it on this blog?

14. What do you wish you'd done more of?

I wish I had started learning Spanish before going to Ibiza and I wish I had written more posts for the blog. Sadly, this year I have written fewer posts than previous years – not by much – but it matters to me. All this will change in January when you will be subjected to a marathon of posts – one per day; you (un)lucky reader.

15. What do you wish you'd done less of?

I am getting more and more grumpy as the years goes by and I am starting to moan and witter on about trivial things. I think I am going to make an effort to be more positive this year too. I shall still be ranting though – when the need arises of course.

16. What was your favourite TV program?

Too many to mention – but I will try:

Dr Who, Fringe, The Tudors, V, Dexter, Game of Thrones, Torchwood: Miracle Day, Merlin, Terra Nova.

17. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

No. I genuinely do not hate anybody.

18. What was the best book you read?

Two books stood out this year:

(1) Matter by Iain M. Banks - This is only the second book I have read by Iain M Banks – and it was fabulous. A great slice of science fiction.

(2) The Dragon Factory by Jonathan Mayberry – the sequel to Patient Zero a good mix of sci-fi, horror and action thriller.

19. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Within Temptation – okay, they have been around for a while and I own a previous album but I would say that I have rediscovered the band.

The Black Spiders deserve a mention too, as do Black Country Communion.

Here is Man in the Middle by Black Country Communion.

I would like to thank my work colleague Graham for turning my radar in their direction. They have released two albums and now I have them both. The band has its roots in the Black Country, which is where I come from, and is actually a supergroup made up of Jason Bonham (son of the legendary Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham), Derek Sherinian (ex-Dream Theater keyboard player), legendary blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa and Glenn Hughes (ex Deep Purple).

20. What was your favourite film of this year?

I am going to name two: Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.

21. What did you do on your birthday?

The usual – a lovely romantic meal with my beloved Mrs PM.

22. What kept you sane?

The usual – beer, music and writing this drivel.

23. Who did you miss?

Nobody really.

24. Who was the most interesting new person you met?

I don’t normally mention new people but this year I will.

I was lucky enough to meet blogger extraordinaire, Kath Lockett in Geneva while I was working there a week or so ago. I’ve been reading her blog for a couple of years now and she never fails to amuse and interest me.

If you haven’t come across Blurb From The Burbs  you should go over there immediately and start reading it.

25. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2011:

Two things.

(1) Never run for a bus holding a glass having had a couple of pints of beer.

(2) Never stare at a Chinese man having a crap on a squatter – even if he is staring at you.

Saturday 17 December 2011

Old Farts' Reunion

Last night I had a trip down Memory Lane.

Every year, there is a reunion in a small pub in Heaton Mersey in Stockport. It is a reunion of old work colleagues and a couple of my mates attend every year. It usually occurs on the Friday before Christmas.

I have been invited but am usually unable to attend because it coincides with another event that is also annual and traditional – my workplace’s Christmas pub crawl around Didsbury – which usually takes place the day before, on the last Thursday before Christmas.

As much as I love beer, it usually too much for me to take in both events – there is only so much beer you can drink at my age, so I attend the Didsbury crawl – and have done for the last ten or so years.

This year, however, the Didsbury crawl will take place next Thursday and I was delighted to hear that the Heaton Mersey reunion would be a week earlier. In fact, it took place yesterday afternoon – and I went.

The pub is about fifteen minutes’ walk away from my house, and as I braved the snow and rain, I started thinking about who might be there. One of my mates jokingly refers to it as “The Old Farts’ Reunion” because at the age of 54, he is one of the younger people there.

I walked into the pub and it seemed empty, but then I heard some raucous laughter from a room at the back. I walked in and was astounded to see around twenty guys that I have not seen for years – some of whom I last clapped eyes on about twenty years ago.

I was slightly overwhelmed and blurted out:

“Bloody Hell – I haven’t seen some of you old buggers for YEARS!”.

This exclamation was greeted with laughter. It was four thirty in the afternoon and some of them had been there since three o’clock; most were slightly inebriated.

I was the youngest there – at the age of 49 – and some of these guys remembered me as a spotty faced little idiot joining their project team way back in September 1984. I was still a youngster to most of them.

The conversation flowed, with lots of names popping up that I had not heard for years. My very first software team leader was there as was my first supervisor, who greeted me with the following words:

“How are you, lad?”

I liked that – “Lad” – as if I were still a pasty-faced 21 year old filled with innocence.

We chatted for a few hours and over several pints, reminiscing about how life had changed.

I was reminded of a three way bet involving football that apparently was still in place. I foolishly pitted my team, Walsall – a shit little club languishing in League One, against Manchester United and Bolton Wanderers, the teams supported by the other two guys. The supporter of the team that finished lowest of the three in their respective divisions would have to buy a pint for the other two.

I support a team that is (and let’s be kind here) – absolutely pathetic and I have lost every year almost for the past twenty or so years.

“You owe us about twenty pints,” I was told. “Get your money out.”

Another guy who last saw me when I was married was astounded to find out that I had divorced. Another guy who had seen me just after the divorce said,

“How many women have you had since then, Dave?”

What followed was a very amusing character assassination and my claims that Mrs PM was and is the only woman I have been involved with since the divorce were hurled aside in favour of banter with me as their target. 

"It was thirteen years ago," I said but my claims fell on deaf ears.

And it was hilarious – I thoroughly enjoyed being savaged by these guys.

Another guy said “How old are you then?”

“I’m 50 next year,” I said.

“Farkin’ hell – you MUST use cream on your skin. You haven’t even got any grey hair. I’ll bet you’ve been using products for twenty years.”

More raucous laughter followed by more piss taking at my expense.

It was sad to hear about people I knew as a young man who had died – a melancholy diversion from Memory Lane – but overall it was brilliant to see some of these guys again. As the evening drifted on, Mrs PM’s words echoed in my head:

“Don’t get shit-faced. It’s my Christmas party tomorrow and you are coming whether or not you are hungover.”

So reluctantly I had to go, leaving behind a handful of die-hards sipping more beer and chatting about age, work and the past. I thoroughly enjoyed this little trip down Memory Lane and promised that I would do my best to come back next year.

And as I wobbled back home in the snow and rain, the one clear thought that shone through the alcoholic haze was this:

I will keep that promise.

Tuesday 13 December 2011


On Saturday I heard some bad news: I was told that I was “boring”.

The accuser didn’t tell me to my face; she did it in a subtle way but she spoke her words directly in front of me (almost as if I wasn't there). The conversation went something like this (the words changed slightly to protect the guilty and the innocent):

Mrs PM: I work at a place that's similar to your workplace. My company does the same sort of thing.

The Accuser: How BORING!!

Mrs PM: What? What do you mean, “boring”?

The Accuser: It must be full of engineers – and engineers are SO BORING!

Mrs PM (grinding her teeth): Well I’m an engineer, of sorts – and I like it.

The Accuser (now referring to me): Well YOU TWO are MADE for each other then!!

I thought Mrs PM was going to explode. Mrs PM was actually trying to help the person concerned and the “boring” tag was something she really didn’t like at all.

I was amazed that somebody had the audacity to call Mrs PM and I boring to our faces. Not only that: she actually called ALL engineers boring.

The Accuser, thankfully moved away, presumably her senses being nullified by the tedium of our conversation - or maybe she sensed the aggression in Mrs PM's demeanour.

“I can’t believe she said that,” said Mrs PM snarling. “How can she call engineers boring? I’m not boring, am I?”

“I wouldn’t know,” I said jokingly. “I’m boring too.”

Sadly, that didn’t go down too well.

There are a lot of engineers in my company, as you would imagine, so really the Accuser’s slur was directed at all of us.

Now I don’t want to have a go at somebody I barely know – so I won’t. Well, I might do – one day.

But I certainly won’t do it now. It wouldn’t be very nice.

I have actually heard one other woman who works for my company (she shall remain nameless) say a similar thing about one of my fellow engineers:

“He’s really quite nice – for an engineer”.

Again, this struck me as an odd thing to say (and of course he was ridiculed mercilessly for it). And if you are reading, dear engineer - I'm sorry for bringing it up again - but I do have a point to make so I hope you'll forgive me.

Of course, Captain Paranoia had a field day:

“HA HA!!! She just told you TO YOUR FACE what everybody else thinks of you. You are tedium personified. I've been telling you that for YEARS! You have the same effect on people as Medusa – one sentence from you turns them to stone. Even your cats find you boring – your bloody cats!!”

And for a while I heeded his words and started to think – am I boring?

Are engineers all boring people?

Do we induce coma when we use our tedious conversation as a weapon to neutralise people?

Do people fall asleep when listening to us?

Are you, dear reader, struggling to stay awake while reading my monotonous rambling?

I haven’t noticed it to be honest. But would I really notice something like that? Do people call me boring behind my back?

One thing I will say about the Accuser is although she has to interact with engineers as part of her job (albeit briefly), she isn’t an engineer herself. She doesn’t sit at a desk with engineers and she doesn’t therefore participate in our day to day banter.

Consequently, she doesn't really know us.

Maybe we are all geeks who are so preoccupied with technology, gadgets, science fiction and computers that we have little time for small talk about the more mundane things in life that might interest a wider range of people.

I know for a fact that I wouldn’t want to spend my time having a conversation about soap operas for example.

Does that make me boring?

Now, I know a bore when I see one – but I would never call a person boring to his or her face – even if I really did find them boring.

Anyway, I don’t mind what people think of me. I have a thick skin and I can take it. I’ve been called far worse.

One thing I do know, if you are ever unfortunate enough to be trapped in a conversation with me and are about to blackout into an abyss of oblivion, just remember what you have read on this very blog; you can change me from being a boring bastard into a rampaging, ranting monster just by asking me what I think of X Factor, politicians or a whole host of insane madness that blights my world.

On seconds thoughts, maybe that’s not such a good idea.

I just hope this post didn’t bore you.

Are you still awake?

Hello …


Thursday 8 December 2011

Silly Campaigns (Part Two) - Health and Common Sense

I am certain that at some point in my life I have eaten dirt.

Obviously I was a child at the time – it’s not something I do now – at least not knowingly.

To be honest, I’m surprised that there hasn’t  been a TV campaign urging me NOT to eat dirt. There are TV campaigns to stop me doing everything else that might harm me.

I am not a stupid person, despite being portrayed as such by the media and health and safety experts.  They are not just picking on me, dear reader – they are picking on you too.

We see it every day from crazy health and safety rules and regulations to the news throwing all manner of scare tactics our way.

I’ve told you about a sign in our toilets at work that urges you to wash your hands after using the loo, together with pictures showing you exactly what to do; but that is just the tip of the iceberg.

We have a near miss register – a list of potential issues that could have happened, didn’t and need to be addressed. A person is assigned to each near miss and then action is taken. And it is hilarious reading.

Here are a few examples (I am not making them up):

The condition of the road was very icy and no grit had been put on the road. I approached the barrier very slowly but despite this found I could not stop the car, the car slid slowly toward the barrier and the security guard then came out slowly and lifted the barrier very slowly. I nearly crashed into the barrier.

Walked into kitchen and foot slipped significantly on the floor. It has been recently mopped by the cleaners but they have not put out a wet floor sign and have used a high concentration of multi-purpose fluid in their mop bucket mixture making it very slippery

From where I sit in the office I regularly see near misses where people are rushing out of the kitchen and turning right towards the HR offices with hot drinks and meet someone walking the other way towards my teams area. I think its only a matter of time before someone gets hurt.

Faeces and nose pickings on walls of cubicles of toilets in the offices where staff are working. Reported on 28/11/2006. 29/11/2006 - Reported again: cleaners had not identified and cleaned off. On 30/11/2006, cleaners had still not cleaned the toilets, so reported again, who did get the cubicles cleaned properly after a site visit. To be covered again, at fortnightly H&S meetings on the office facility.

Unwashed Tea Towel has been left for a period of time. This is filthy and I believe may pose a threat to health if used either for drying utensils or use on hands. There are no hand drying facilities in the kitchen. It may sound insignificant but there is a lot of publicity with regards to kitchen germs.

One of the decorative panels behind the urinals fell off. Nobody was using the toilets at the time.

It is worse at some places. Today a work colleague was telling me about his friend who works at another company and has to put up with rules like:

All staff must walk down the stairs holding the handrail. Anybody seeing a person not holding the handrail must report that person. Anybody who knows of a person who did not report another person for not holding the handrail must report the person who didn’t report the first person.

This bizarre rule had a comical effect at a conference in a posh building with one of those staircases that widens into a trumpet shape at the bottom; because the staff were on company business they had to adhere to the above crazy rule. Everybody else marched up the middle of the stairs like the adults they are. The staff of this nameless company all had to hold the handrail and stood out like sore thumbs.

And it gets worse – the same company actually give travelling staff a small handbook which contains instructions in different languages for any taxi driver ferrying the staff member. Instruction like:

The taxi driver must not start the car until the staff member has fastened his safety belt. 

The taxi driver must not smoke in the car. 

The taxi driver must wear a seatbelt. 

That would be pointless in China. In Kunming last year, I jumped into the front of a taxi and tried to fasten my seat belt – the driver refused to drive until I unbuckled my seat belt. I then had to suffer a hair-raising trip around the city of Kunming without a seatbelt.

And what was the reason he had shouted at me for fastening my belt? By fastening my belt I was insulting his driving – implying that I considered him to be a terrible and unsafe driver. No little book would have helped me.

We are being treated like idiots dear reader. They won’t let us use our common sense. We can’t even let our kids outside to get dirty in case they catch some revolting disease.

What they forget is that I have built up an immunity to germs and bugs by actually playing in and with dirt – and I have probably eaten some of it too in my life.

Equally, as adults we are being treated as morons who cannot read and have no common sense. I mean – if I didn’t read the signs they put up I would spend my day with my hands under scalding hot water or picking up dog shit with my bare hands and then eating my sandwiches.

This is my new campaign dear reader.

And I have a big name on my side. I don’t like David Cameron, our new Prime Minister, but I have persuaded him to back my desire to eliminate this inane stupidity.

Read it here.

At least he and I agree on something.

Of course the dates indicate that this was two years ago and he doesn’t actually give me the credit I deserve.

But then again he is politician.

Who's with me?

Sunday 4 December 2011

Blogging Block

The computer is on, the Word document is open and a blank screen sits in front of me.

A voice inside my head says: “Well go on then – type something.”

I answer that voice: “I don’t know what to type.”

Another voice speaks – it is Captain Paranoia:

“Ha ha ha! You have no stupid ideas for your stupid blog – it’s over! The Plastic Mancunian is no more. HA HA HA HA!”

I reply: “It’s just writer’s block – bugger off!”

I am a realist striving to be an optimist so I won’t be beaten by a touch of blogging block. I’ve written all sorts of nonsense on this blog – why can’t I do it again?

Something will happen.

All I need is some inspiration. I close my eyes – and rack my brain. It is devoid of ideas.

Where did they all go? I claim on this very blog to have a superb and weird imagination. There must be SOMETHING in that vast creepy universe that I can write about.




Nothing at all!

Bugger! Is Captain Paranoia right? Is my alternative persona fatally wounded?

Will the Plastic Mancunian disappear into the ether?

Not if I can help it. I click on Windows Media Player and hit a random tune to see if that gets the creative juices flowing.

Supertramp – Sister Moonshine

Mmm – shall I write about my favourite Supertramp songs?

Bugger! I've done that!

Next song; Dream Theater – Under a Glass Moon.

Mmm – shall I write about my favourite Dream Theater songs?

No – not many people out there know about Dream Theater and I may find myself ranting about the state of music again – and I’ve done that.

Then I remember a book I bought called “The Writers Block” – a small cuboid book packed full of ideas to inspire writers (which I guess I am – a plastic writer perhaps).  I open it at a random page:

Spark word: Waiting

Bugger – I’m waiting for inspiration; that’s a frustrating spark if ever I heard one.

Crap – I’m stuck.

Captain Paranoia resurfaces:

“You may as well give up now…and delete the blog while you’re on.”

Maybe he’s right. Maybe I am struggling because I have run out of ideas.

I’ve written 344 posts and I can’t write one more – about anything!


Writer’s block – my imagination won’t talk to me. What have I done to it?

Next song: The Buzzcocks – Ever Fallen In Love

I remember that song – from my youth. I liked that song – it brings back memories. Good memories.

A spark.

A massive spark.

Memories and music.

That’s it! That’s what I’ll do – I’ll trawl my music collection and select songs from my collection. It is vast – there are too many songs.

How about a song a day?

How about 31 songs – a song a day for an entire month – and stories about my life at that time?

Too much for one post – but what a great idea.

Captain Paranoia – get back in you hole. I can now write 31 posts – maybe for January.

Count them Captain Paranoia - 31 posts!!!

Captain Paranoia: “Doesn’t help you for December though – idiot.”

Yes it does. I can write a post about writer's block.


Inspiration can be found from the most unlikely sources. If you suffer from writer's block – write about that – and listen to some music - ideas will come.

Inspiration is out there for everyone. It’s just a matter of finding it. Thanks to the Buzzcocks ...

I start typing:

The computer is on, the Word document is open and a blank screen sits in front of me...