Thursday 26 April 2012

Evolution Of A Metalhead

I’ve been watching a great program on TV that chronicles the evolution of what is known as Heavy Metal music.

It got me thinking (always a dangerous thing).

Why do I like hard rock and heavy metal music?

Well I guess it all started when I was a rebellious teenager, driven by raging hormones, with no direction and desire to lash out at people whether they deserved it or no.  I wasn’t openly angry, reacting only when provoked; sadly, it was very easy to provoke me. I had a very short fuse.

At the time, my schoolmates were exploring Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, AC/DC and other similar bands. Punk rock was around but I wasn’t really exposed it that much because hard rock and heavy metal were prevalent in my school.

People used to lend me albums by Rainbow, Ian Gillan, UFO, Nazareth and Judas Priest; it was magnificent. I found an outlet for my anger. When I listened to grinding guitars, screeching vocals and pounding drums I was mesmerised and completely enthralled.

I will never forget the day when I bought my first rock album, Strangers In The Night by UFO, and put it on in my room at high volume. My dad and I had a row that day over the music and he threatened to break the LP in two if I didn’t turn down the volume.

My hair was long and bushy and I was not alone. At school, hair length was increasing despite the teachers’ attempts to force us to shorten it. One teacher called me “the boy with the chrysanthemum head” in an attempt to shame me into cutting it.

It worked – well sort of.

I reduced the length of it, but rebelled by keeping it bushy.

At school we had to wear a uniform, yet I managed to show our loyalty to the gods of rock with a scruffy beige rucksack upon which the logos of all my favourite bands was etched. I wasn’t talented enough to draw them so I asked my younger sister Jackie, who was a maestro when it came to art.

She drew the logos of Whitesnake, Deep Purple, Judas Priest, UFO, Nazareth, Black Sabbath and many others, even though she hated the bands herself.

Outside school I started wearing black shirts, T shirts and denim jackets. When I was seventeen I went on holiday with my family to Butlins  and spent the time on my own walking around with no desire to fit into the family lifestyle. I may as well have gone on holiday on my own. Here is a rare photo from that holiday, when my dad finally demanded proof that I had actually been with them.

Yes - that really is me aged 17. What do you think of the hair?

Of course, I mellowed slightly as I matured, yet my love of heavy metal and rock prevailed. The bands changed (I discovered progressive rock in the form of Rush, a band that is still my favourite today).

As I went to university, I began to drift away from rock slightly. My mates said that I would grow out it – and for a while they were right. While I enjoyed pop music, I still found it dull and as the 1980’s wore on, it became clear to me that music, in my opinion was too simple. I began to favour the bands of my youth, the progressive rock bands that composed rock symphonies, the powerful hard and heavy thumping sound of pure heavy metal at its very best.

I welcomed it back into my life with open arms – and I have never looked back since. And to me, my evolution into a metalhead is complete, simply because now I appreciate the music for what it is – skilful and beautiful.

I no longer needed to be the rebel I was when I was fifteen. I didn’t want to break my skull on a wall to the pounding heaviness of “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”; it was more an appreciation of how beautiful and powerful the genre can be.

And since then, my taste is more refined and the style I listen to most is progressive rock and progressive metal. I love listening to Dream Theater, a band who compose rock music with such virtuosity that it literally brings tears to my eyes, and Porcupine Tree, another fabulously talented band.

Old favourites are still there; Deep Purple, Rush and Judas Priest as well as new rock bands like the Black Spiders.

I marvel at the ability of guitarists like Alex Lifeson, Tony Iommi, John Petrucci, Joe Satriani, Ritchie Blackmore, Angus Young, Kirk Hammett, KK Downing and many more. The vocal range and talents of singers like Ian Gillan and Geddy Lee are incredible. The incredible majesty of drummers like Cozy Powell, Ian Paice, Mike Portnoy and Neil Peart are a joy to behold.

And I am so enthusiastic about these people and the music they compose that I find it hard to contain myself when talking to people about them.

Mrs PM and I have had numerous discussions about the glory of rock and heavy metal and she simply can’t understand why I rave about a Joe Satriani guitar solo or a Dream Theater masterpiece.

I know I’m not alone because I have friends who are enthusiastic as I am. And my eldest lad Stephen also appreciates how wonderful metal can be, though his taste is slightly more modern than mine.

I’ll leave you with a monster of a song from Judas Priest from the 1980’s which sums up why I love heavy metal so much. Incredibly I find songs like this blast away the anger and frustration I feel after an awful day at work – even now.

You won’t get Coldplay playing like this:

P.S. I am currently compiling a list of rock and metal classics to make up a blogathon, similar to the one I did in January that embraced the pop songs I love. I can sense already, dear reader, that this might not sit too well with some of you – but I hope when the time comes you will stick with it. It may even make those who think that metalheads are braindead Satanists think again. If you listen to the actual talent these guys have – you will be pleasantly surprised.

I hope.

Friday 20 April 2012

Ode To A Gadget

The other week tragedy struck.

My mp3 player, my beloved iRiver ihP-140 mp3 jukebox, containing my entire CD collection shuffled off this mortal coil and made its way to silicon heaven, taking all of my music with it.

This was a double tragedy because it meant that I had to listen to the inane drivel of Radio DJ’s to and from work and then had to decide on a replacement, and knowing how utterly indecisive I am, this was a major problem.

My iRiver mp3 jukebox was my favourite gadget, surpassed only recently my android smartphone.

My work colleagues constantly hurled abuse at me for owning, what they called, a giant brick that played music.

But I defended it, dear reader, because it gave me hours of pleasure, listening to my favourite music over and over again.

With a 40 gigabyte hard drive, it held thousands of songs, all organised in folders by genre, artist and album and with a couple of clicks I could find any song in my collection or play all of my songs in random order for hours on end.

We were one together, dear reader.

And then tragedy struck.

I was walking to my car, carrying my rucksack and mp3 player, trying to get my car keys out of my pocket, when the iRiver decided to make a bid for freedom. It was catapulted out of my hand and slowly rotated into the air before succumbing to the force of gravity and plummeting towards the ground.

It was like slow motion, dear reader. As it fell, I screamed


And then it crashed to earth and lay silent and still.

I picked it up, jumped in the car and pressed the ON button. At first, everything seemed to be fine until two things happened. First, the display told me that there were NO SONGS on the device. Second, the hard disk within started grinding and cranking – and then it died, there in my hand.


And as I drove to work listening to the wittering DJ’s all I did was cry “PHARK!!” over and over again, like a demented gargoyle.

My work colleagues had no sympathy.

“I thought I felt an earth tremor – must have been when you dropped your brick.”

“Why don’t you take it to the Science Museum? It will be the star attraction.”


I’ve written an ode to my beloved gadget. Coincidentally, it scans almost exactly with a little ditty written by the Beatles, called “Yesterday”. Here it is:

I had 7000 songs to play.
Now it looks as though they’ve gone away
Oh, I believe in yesterday

My mp3 player became slippery
and fell to the ground so tragically
Oh, death, it came so suddenly

Why the hard disk froze
I don’t know,
It wouldn’t play
Not a single song,
Now I long for yesterday ay ay ay

Heavy metal songs were there to play
Now I sit in silence, cast away
Oh, I believe in yesterday
Mm mm mm mm mm mm mm.

Thankfully, I now have a replacement. Mrs PM kindly lent me her spare iPod shuffle, which she won at work, so the vacuum created by the death of my iRiver was filled. I thank her and the iPod shuffle for that.

Now though, I have something MUCH BETTER – an iPod classic with (wait for it) a capacity of 160 gigabytes.

And it can accommodate everything my iRiver could – AND three times more.

So I am over the worst.

I can listen to music without fear of screaming “SHUT THE PHARK UP!” to DJ’s.

Farewell, dear iRiver. I shall cherish you. I hope the other gadgets in silicon heaven are enjoying my Rammstein and Rush songs.

I will move on.

Long Live My iPOD!!!

Wednesday 18 April 2012

The Old Washer Man

Today I want to talk about something I hate. I guess most people who read this post will agree with me.

I’m talking about washing clothes and all the pain that involves.

As an equal partner in a relationship, I am keen not to inflict the pain of washing on Mrs PM, although if she were to volunteer to take on the responsibility of all aspects of keeping our clothes clean, I would gladly hand it over and make her sign her name in blood to ensure that I never have to do it again.

Alas, that is not to be and on a regular basis I am called upon to attack this tedious task with fake enthusiasm.

Some male readers will have no clue what I am talking about.

One guy I used to know claimed that the laundry basket was a miracle of modern science.

“Why?” asked a particularly ferocious woman who worked with us.

“Every day I put my dirty clothes in the laundry basket and, hey presto, a few days later they are magically transformed ; I open my wardrobe and there they are, lovely and clean and pressed.”

I thought the woman was going to explode in rage.

Each stage of washing clothes is a pain in the arse, to put it bluntly; even something as mundane as putting them in the washing machine.

When I first started washing my clothes as a student, I had many mishaps, like the brand new jeans I bought that turned my best white shirt into various shades of blue. I wouldn’t have minded but it wasn’t a uniform distribution of colour; my crisp white shirt had huge blotches of blue of varying intensity making it impossible to wear without looking like a mad goon.

And this has happened repeatedly.

On another occasion, a rogue red sock somehow found its way into a basket full of white clothes and rampaged through them in the washing machine, freely distributing its red colour randomly amongst the perfect white cloth. When I opened the washing machine it looked like all of my whites had been murdered in a horrific bloodbath.

All of this means that I have to painstakingly sort all of the clothes out into piles to make sure that nothing is ruined by murderous colours.

And that brings me to the next point – sorting through shreddies. This is not a pleasant experience even when the shreddies are your own. Underwear is nasty – but my dirty socks are dangerous creatures that need to be handled with care.

The biological suit I had to buy cost me a fortune.

When the washing machine has done its job, unloading it is a pain. The washing machine can mutate your clothes. I’ve already mentioned inadvertently dying your best whites – but sometimes the machine has another couple of surprises. A slight error can cause your clothes to shrink to the point where they are too small for a cat, or to grow so that the only creature they would fit is a deformed troll. Again, washing machines tend to favour new and expensive clothes for this unscheduled punishment.

Living in the UK makes drying clothes difficult because you never know when it will rain. In the summer you can hang out the washing and then the next minute, a thunderstorm will appear and completely soak you newly washed laundry with dirty rain.

If it doesn’t rain, Mother Nature has other ways of ruining your efforts; birds can still crap all over your nice clean shirt, or, if you haven’t pegged up the washing properly, your beautiful clean clothes can end up in the dirt, or resting on a nice fresh pile of cat shit.

And the final operation is ironing, something that I hate with a passion. In the past, I have burned shirts and burned myself. Ironing is a punishment that I am convinced Satan will impose upon me if I end up meeting him in the afterlife.

“You are sentenced to iron my shreddies for the rest of eternity!”


Anyway, I’d like to finish on a lighter note as I am sure that I have invoked horrific laundry related episodes in your life. I apologise for that, dear reader.

Back in 1976, a song entered the UK charts that was so dreadful it was hilarious. I am convinced to this day it was totally tongue in cheek.

It has the greatest laundry lyrics in the world ever:

She was sharing her spin dryer with a guy in a tie-dye
When she saw my reflection in the chrome
I knew that she'd seen me 'cause she dropped her bikini
The one that I got her in Rome.

Little does she know that I know that she knows
That I know she's two-timin' me
Little does she know that I know that she knows
That I know she's cheatin' on me

When she finished her laundry she was all in a quandary
And made for the street like a hare
Her escape was so urgent, she forgot her detergent
And dropped all her clean underwear

The song is called “Little Does She Know” by the Kursaal Flyers.

There is something the singer can console himself with – at least his two-timing girlfriend did her own laundry.

Wednesday 11 April 2012

In Search Of Brownie Points

The other week, I was shopping in the supermarket and spotted a load of Cadbury’s Cream Eggs. I know how much Mrs PM likes them, so I treated her (and me) to a box of six.

She was delighted and over the next few days we enjoyed a cream egg in the evening.

Last night, I was chatting to my kids and Mrs PM over a meal, when I made a joke about her. The kids laughed but Mrs PM glared.

“You’ve just lost loads of Brownie Points,” she warned.

“It doesn’t matter; I have loads of them,” I said triumphantly. “Those Cream Eggs I bought last week must have earned me thousands.”

“You mean the six Cream Eggs of which you stole three?” said Mrs PM. “That earned you three Brownie Points”.

THREE?” I said incredulously. “THREE???? I won’t bother next time; THREE??? It’s hardly worth the effort.”

I realised then, as my lads sniggered, that I had lost the battle and approximately four and half million further Brownie Points.

And it has started me thinking – what exactly ARE Brownie Points? How do you acquire them? And once you have them, how do you make sure that you keep them?

What are Brownie Points?

I don’t actually know. All I do know is that they are a representation of my position in the scale of Mrs PM’s feelings, providing an indication of whether I am in her good books or her bad books. Here is a graph to represent how I see Brownie Points plotted against Pain:

The more Brownie Points you have, the less Pain you experience.

As you can tell, I cannot show the actual number of Brownie Points required to produce zero pain. And of course, I haven’t factored in Mrs PM.

For all I know the graph could look like this:

In fact, it probably does.

So how do you acquire these so-called Brownie Points?

Using my male mind, I have always assumed that if you do something good, your Brownie Point account automatically has a few thousand deposited into it. There is, however, a factor I have discovered that affects this. It is called the Female Factor. And what’s worse, it varies from female to female.

I stupidly assumed that because Mrs PM loves Cream Eggs that I would be in credit for days if not weeks. But I wasn’t – and all it took to annihilate the contents of my account were a few ill-chosen words that caused my lads to laugh at her in a restaurant full of people.

I have another example. A mate of mine spent the entire day laying laminate flooring in his house while she was at work. When she returned, he had finished and was taking a well-deserved rest with a beer and a sandwich, watching the football on TV.

Her first words weren’t “Wow – good job.”

They were: “Why haven’t you started dinner? And why haven’t you washed up? This house is a tip!”

If he had spent one hour, cleaning the kitchen, washing up and preparing dinner he would have acquired more Brownie Points than he did spending five hours laying down a floor.

That doesn’t make sense to me.

If I am watching football and Mrs PM returns home from shopping, if I leap up and make a cup of tea for her and then boast about loading the dishwasher, hoovering and feeding the cats, I gain more points than if I had driven to the Trafford Centre and bought something we needed.

Why? Because I completed three jobs with a fourth in progress rather than just the one job.

Does that make sense to any male readers?

It might make sense to female readers but it really doesn’t make sense to me at all.

Once you have performed lots of little tasks and amassed a fortune in Brownie Points, how do you keep them?

This is perhaps the trickiest question of all. I have learned a few tricks but I am no expert; I am a mere apprentice learning from past mistakes.

Here’s how you keep them:

Keep your account topped up with complements. Notice when she has had her hair cut and tell her that she looks fabulous. Do not go shopping with her, but when she returns showing off her new clothes, take interest and let her know how fabulous her choices are. Make her a cup of tea out of the blue. Be romantic.

But the most important thing is – ever underestimate the cost in Brownie Points for the bad things that you do.

And be aware that you will not know which things are good and which things are bad.

For example, a football match costs a lot more Brownie Points than you can imagine. If you have enough Brownie Points to pay for a night out with the lads, the cost goes up exponentially if:

You come home absolutely leathered.

You remark on a good looking woman you saw.

You wake her up.

You say you are going to come home at 10 o’clock and roll in at midnight.

You do not answer the phone or reply to any texts she has sent.

You hangover is so bad that you can’t do anything the next day.


Understanding Brownie Points is like learning to read and write Chinese; a skill that is difficult to master and demands as much attention as you are willing to give it.

In the end, the rewards are incredible but men ever reach the pinnacle and amass enough Brownie Points to achieve these rewards.

By the way, does anybody know Chinese for “You look lovely today, dearest?”

Sunday 8 April 2012

Wind Of Change

One of the things that foreigners say about British people is that we are obsessed with the weather.

And do you know what? I think they are right.

There is a reason for this obsession – our weather in the British Isles is so crap, so unpredictable, so utterly irritating that it does make a good topic for conversation.

Take the last couple of weeks for example.

Two weeks ago we had unseasonably high temperatures in March; in fact it was the hottest March on record. We were basking in temperatures of 24°C. People throughout the United Kingdom were out in shorts and thoroughly enjoying the warm temperature.

Mrs PM and I walked into Didsbury and sat outside at a local café eating a nice early evening meal with a pint of fine ale; it had a definite continental feel to it. People were walking past in T-shirts and shorts, remarking that we were perhaps, for once, in for a great summer. Sunglasses were ubiquitous and I even heard people talking about using sun block for their kids.

In a little place called Aboyne in the northern reaches of Scotland, they too were enjoying the highest temperatures they had experienced in March.

Fast forward a few days and everything changed.

The temperatures plummeted. In Manchester, having enjoyed 24°C, we suddenly found ourselves waking up to frozen cars and days were the temperature barely scraped 4°C. A huge cloud, weighed down with snow, drifted south depositing several inches over the United Kingdom. The Pennine roads were blocked and impassable; a friend of mine who commutes from Halifax, found himself snowed in.

Aboyne, that pleasant little village in Aberdeenshire that had been basking in the sunshine, now found itself covered in six inches of snow.

And all of this happened in a few days.

Is it any surprise that we are so utterly obsessed with the weather?

The weather forecast is mandatory viewing for most Brits simply because we have no idea what on earth Mother Nature is going to dump on us.

I have in the past seen all four seasons in one day. One June many years ago, I woke up and saw that it was snowing – yes that is correct – snowing in the summer. By midday the snow had turned to rain and in the afternoon we had glorious sunshine.

The weather is that mad.

Nevertheless, we never get extremes. A comedian remarked on TV recently that our weather is rarely so extreme that it is dangerous.

We have had a hurricane – and the weather forecasters failed to predict that – so it caused havoc in the South of England. But that is a very rare event. We don't get cyclones or tornadoes.

We have had a fair temperature range though. The highest recorded temperature in the UK is 38.5 °C with the lowest being -26.1°C.

In my own personal experience, the highest temperature I have encountered in the UK was 35 °C and the lowest about -15 °C.

Of course, outside the UK I have experienced more extremes. The highest temperature I have had to endure was during August in Las Vegas, when the temperature soared to a massive 45°C. I remember the pain involved with that. Walking outside was agonizing and we hotel-hopped down the famous Las Vegas Strip, just so that we could avoid as much of the sun as possible. At one point, Mrs PM and I were waiting for a bus and wilting so much that we just dived into a cab.

Compare that with the lowest temperature I have had to endure; -20 °C in Moscow in Winter. I wore two pairs of socks and a coat that was so big that I looked like the Michelin man. It was so bad that my nose was running and the liquid snot was freezing as soon as it cleared the sanctuary of my nostrils.

And I lost my woolly hat and gloves, thankfully the day before I left. I thought my nose was going to drop off.

We rarely get such extremes in the UK and I am thankful for that. Yes, we have to put up with bizarre weather, damp weather, cloudy dull days, foggy mornings, snow, and rainy summers.

It will be amusing to discover what the British weather has in store for us when the Olympics come to London later this year.

But on those days in late spring, summer and early autumn, when the weather decides to become seasonal and stable and the sun shines on our lovely countryside, with blue skies and big fluffy white clouds, I realise why I love being in Britain.

I still take a coat and an umbrella with me though – because you never know.

Sunday 1 April 2012

I Think I'm Paranoid

Research can be a dangerous thing.

Being a hypochondriac, I should know better; I choose not to use the internet to research symptoms of illnesses because if I do, I convince myself that I am terminally ill, even though I only have a mild headache (read about my past exploits here).

I should apply the same rules to travel research.

If you read my last post you will already know that I had a jaunt to Abu Dhabi recently, with a day trip to Dubai to scale the world’s tallest building (read about it here) but the lead up to the trip was a nightmare – because of research I had done on the internet.

Mrs PM suggested the trip because her friend who lives there was about to turn 40.

My first reaction was positive; not only had I never travelled to the United Arab Emirates, I had never travelled to the Middle East at all. For an explorer like myself it seemed like an opportunity not to be missed.

So I said “Yes” with no hesitation.

And then I made a mistake. I did some research.

And Captain Paranoia was sitting on my shoulder as I surfed the world wide web, laughing his tiny little socks off.

As he read the words on the computer screen, he must have thought all of his birthdays had come at once. My initial euphoria evaporated as the words sank in. It was like an enormous bubble had burst. My enthusiasm vanished.

Captain Paranoia was merciless.

Here’s what I read:

Possession of illegal drugs can result in a minimum four year jail sentence. Some over the counter drugs are illegal in the UAE.

Captain Paranoia suggested that if the customs officers found paracetamol in my luggage I would be jailed.

Videos, books and CD’s may be censored in the UAE.

Captain Paranoia suggested that my mp3 player was full of songs so offensive that I would be arrested on sight.

While you can drink in the UAE, you may find that a taxi driver will take you directly to the police station if you are drunk, where you will be thrown in jail.

Captain Paranoia suggested that I might be arrested even if I have a small glass of beer.

It is illegal to live together in the UAE if you are unmarried. It is illegal to have sex outside marriage and even for an unmarried couple to be in a car together. People have been arrested and thrown in jail for this.

Captain Paranoia pointed out that Mrs PM and I are not married and that a hit squad of Emerati police would break down our door while we were asleep, drag us off to jail and then I would have my genitalia hacked off with a rusty sword.

You can be arrested for kissing in public or even holding hands.

Mrs PM is affectionate and often puts her arm around me or pecks me on the cheek in public. Captain Paranoia suggested that I would last approximately three minutes in public before the police dragged me off to jail for acts of gross indecency.

For days, Captain Paranoia persecuted me. I had nightmares about being interrogated in an Emerati police cell for being offensive, drunk or merely being in a relationship outside wedlock. I sheepishly approached Mrs PM and told her that I had changed my mind about going.

“You must be joking,” she said. “I’ve been to places like this before and if you behave yourself and are discrete there is nothing to worry about.”

In the end, she contacted Abbi, her friend in Abu Dhabi, and listed all of my concerns. I wasn’t party to the exchange of emails and missives that occurred but Mrs PM told me in no uncertain terms that while there were stricter rules in place in the UAE, as long as you conducted yourself well, respected the local culture and didn’t do anything stupid like get smashed and urinate against the wall of a mosque, you would be absolutely fine.

And, of course, she was absolutely right.

Just before our trip, we had a meal with a friend who had divorced but then subsequently had suffered the loss of her ex-husband. She kindly offered her old wedding ring to Mrs PM so that we could pretend to be married – just to put my mind at rest.

I felt quite bad about this, but our friend just laughed and said that it was really no bother.

So we travelled to Abu Dhabi.

Captain Paranoia was with me all the time. On the flight he said “If you drink on the flight, you will be arrested at the airport.”

Of course, we weren’t arrested at all. In fact, we sailed through immigration and customs with barely a passing glimpse from the authorities.

Furthermore, when we arrived at the airport, Abbi was waiting for us and gave me a massive hug and a kiss on the cheek.

If anybody was offended, they didn’t show it.

When we arrived at Abbi’s house, Abbi and her husband Adam actually thought we had got married when Mrs PM showed the ring off – and it led to a very embarrassing discussion about getting married and me making an honest woman of Mrs PM.

Of course, Abu Dhabi and Dubai were fabulous. I loved it. I will tell you more detail about that soon.

We had no issues whatsoever.

The key was to respect the local customs and that’s exactly what we did. The Emerati we met were friendly and, although the local culture is more conservative than what we are used to in Europe, it didn’t seem anywhere near as oppressive as Captain Paranoia and the selected items I had read on the internet had led me to believe.

That said, Mrs PM and I didn’t hug and kiss each other in public, we had a few beers but were not drunk enough to offend, we respected the local Islamic culture and dressed accordingly – and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

And yes, I will go back again.

The moral of this tale is to be aware of the local laws and customs of a country you visit and don’t be offensive.

You would have thought that I would have learned that by now anyway, having travelled to lots of countries in the world, including places like China and Russia.

I definitely must not take everything I read on the internet literally.

And even more importantly, I must stop listening to Captain Paranoia.