Thursday 27 December 2012

Goodbye 2012

2012 is almost over so it is time to dust off an old meme that covers the last year. 

Please feel free to steal it yourself.

As usual, this is quite a long post so just in case you get bored, I will wish you all a Happy New Year right at the start, and I hope that 2013 brings all of your dreams to fruition.

I will be jetting off to the sun for New Year (we are off to Tenerife) rather than trying to avoid the rain.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

1. What did you do in 2012 that you'd never done before?

I visited a new part of the world, the United Arab Emirates. We have friends who have moved out to Abu Dhabi for a couple of years and we decided to pop over and pay them a visit. These friends are the former owners of our hellcat, Liquorice.

The Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi
Burj Khalifa, Dubai

I was a bit worried because I had read some strange stuff on the internet about the place but, as usual, Captain Paranoia was wrong and I enjoyed every bit of it – apart from climbing the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest building (you can read about it here). I never ever learn.

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

Yes and no. Here are last year’s resolutions:

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

Writing a book still eludes me – but I have cheated a little. I have turned my blog into a book – well sort of. I have pulled together most of my blog posts from 2008, 2009 and 2010 and compiled them into five small books, converted them to eBook format and then dumped them onto my Kindle.

So rather than writing a new book, I have compiled five books from words I have written on this very blog over three years.

That sounds impressive but, really, it isn’t.

Nevertheless I will write a book next year because we are going to Japan and I aim to write my third travelogue to summarise the experience.

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

I am still plugging away at Spanish and have improved, despite a bit of a relapse in the last couple of months. I have been to Spain twice this year and have managed to speak to people without a dictionary – only in restaurants though sadly.

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

I have failed miserably on this promise. I haven’t even taken the bike out this year.

My resolutions for 2013 will therefore remain the same. I’ll report this time next year.

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

We are going to Tenerife this year, so hopefully I will be spending New Year’s Eve in the sun, and then in a restaurant followed by a lively bar.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

No humans died thankfully. Sadly, my old Ford Escort died in September and I managed to kill my iRiver ihP-140 mp3 jukebox. You can read about my losses here and here.

5. What countries did you visit?

I visited Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, Spain and Italy.

6. What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012?

A little willpower wouldn’t go amiss to be honest. I would love to actually say this time next year that I had gone above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to writing, cycling and learning Spanish. I might achieve that with some willpower.

Oh – and maybe a winning lottery ticket would help too.

7. What date from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

I guess October 8th stands out because that was the date I entered my sixth decade. I am now officially an old git, at the tender age of 50.

Despite the slide downhill, I actually feel very content and am looking forward to the next ten years.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

I would say that my biggest achievement this year was standing up to my fear of heights and climbing the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Alas, I didn’t conquer that fear but I am quite proud of the fact that I didn’t turn into a jabbering wreck and scream “GET ME DOWN!!!!”.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Sadly, that would be failing to overcome my fear of heights. I have surrendered in that particular war and promised myself that I will never scale any tall buildings or structures ever again.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

No, thankfully.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

The prize is shared between the following:

(a) An iPod Classic

Yes, I have ventured over to the dark side and bought an Apple product. It has a whopping 160 Gb of storage, four times than my old mp3 player, and is far superior in every way. It currently contains approximately 6300 songs and two recorded rock concerts from DVDs. And it is only a third full.

(b) A Kindle Touch

I debated whether or not to buy a Kindle because I didn’t really want to contribute to the end of the paperback. Unfortunately, now that I have one, I much prefer it, mainly because I can keep any books I read without fear of Mrs PM throwing any away in one of here bi-weekly purges. The added bonus is that I can load it with books and it won't get any heavier, thus saving me valuable luggage space for a work trip to Oman at the end of January and a jaunt to Japan in May.

(c) A New Car

My old banger has been replaced by a three year old silver Vauxhall Astra. I feel like a bit of a traitor because it is a much nicer car than my old dead jalopy.

12. Where did most of your money go?

The new car, although my eldest lad, Stephen, who is 19 and in his second year at university, has tried his best to relieve me of as much cash as he can. I have now become a bank.

13. What song will always remind you of 2012?

2012 was a fantastic year for music and once again I bought loads of fabulous CD’s. It would be unfair to mention just one song – so here are my top songs of 2012, although one or two of them are from previous years. Follow the links to listen to some great music:

At number 8Black Country Communion – Cry Freedom

Black Country Communion released their third album  this year, called Afterglow, and it is just as good as the previous two. This is my favourite song on the album.

At number 7Ginger Wildheart – Internal Radio

Ginger Wildheart is another criminally underrated songwriter who produces extremely catchy rock songs. His band, The Wildhearts, have been around for about 20 years now. In 2012 he released a solo album called 100% which is full of captivating songs of which Internal Radio is my favourite.

At number 6 - Ten – Arabian Knights

Ten are an English rock band that you will only ever have heard of on this blog – as I have mentioned them several times in the past, mainly because they are wickedly underrated. This year they released their tenth album, Heresy and Creed, and it is a great slice of melodic rock.

At number 5The Hives – Go Right Ahead 

The Hives are a Swedish punky rock band who write some extremely catchy songs. 2012 saw the release of the album Lex Hives and this wonderfully catchy song.

At number 4 - Porcupine Tree – Idiot Prayer

Porcupine Tree are one of my favourite progressive rock bands and I have been collecting some of their older albums. This year I bought 1996’s Signify and the best track is Idiot Prayer – progressive rock at its very best.

At number 3Steven Wilson – Deform To Form A Star

The main man behind Porcupine Tree is Steven Wilson, a prolific prog rock genius. In 2011 he released his second solo album called Grace For Drowning which is a masterpiece. Deform To Form a Star is a beautiful, spine tingling, mellow masterpiece that will make the hairs stand up on the back of your head. I love this song.

At number 2Muse – Survival

2012 was a triumph for Britain, with the Olympics taking centre stage. I loved every bit of the entire event including the opening ceremony, and the incredible sport. Best of all, though was this incredible song from Muse, the official anthem for the Olympics. The album, The 2nd Law, is equally good and easily the second best album of the year.

At number 1Rush – Headlong Flight

So what could beat Survival by Muse? Only one band – the magnificent Rush who released the album Clockwork Angels in 2012, their best album for years. I have barely stopped playing it. How can a band that has been producing superb albums for almost 40 years provide one of their greatest recordings so late in their career? They are geniuses – nothing more; nothing less. Headlong Flight is the song of 2012.

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

I wish I had made a bit more of an effort with Spanish – like starting a proper course. My problem is that work commitments usually jeopardize courses. For example, I can never be sure whether I will have to work late or jet off somewhere. For example, if I wanted a winter course, it would be screwed by a three week trip to Oman I have to make at the end of January.

Maybe I should say no – but it is a brand new country for me and the lure of that makes me excited. I am not looking forward to the work though.

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

As usual, I would like to have done less procrastinating and less ranting. Maybe this year?

16. What was your favourite TV program?

Once again, TV has been great this year. Here are a few to mention:

The Walking Dead, Dexter, True Blood, Fringe, Game of Thrones, Dr Who, Falling Skies, Red Dwarf X, Alphas, Merlin, Warehouse 13 and many more.

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

No – but I have added to the list of people I want to dump into a spaceship bound for the Planet Tharg. One day I will write a list.

18. What was the best book you read?

That’s easy – The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks.

I am gradually working my way through the author’s Culture novels and still have a lot to get through. I may start reading some of his non Science Fiction efforts when I have finished them all.

19. What was your greatest musical discovery?

I haven’t discovered any new bands this year, sadly. Let’s hope that changes in 2013.

20. What was your favourite film of this year?

I have seen some great films this year, including The Dark Knight Rises, Prometheus, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Skyfall (the new James Bond movie).

My favourite, by a long way is The Avengers Assemble.

21. What did you do on your birthday?

On my actual birthday, October 8th, I spent a boring day at work and then Mrs PM and I ordered a Chinese take away and shared a bottle of wine.

However, the real celebrations was a four day break in Rome with friends, which you can read about here.

22. What kept you sane?

Work has been especially hard this year, particularly recently. When I am working long days, I tend to drift into a day dream thinking about spending time with Mrs PM in a foreign country where work is at the other side of the universe and therefore cannot be considered.

Add to that the usual remedies for insanity – beer, blogging and a good dose of music – and I can get through most things.

23. Who did you miss?

Nobody leaps to mind.

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

Nobody stood out this year, but next year I have decided to make more of an effort to chat to strangers, something that I don’t tend to do much because of my inherent shyness. Is that a new resolution? Perhaps – we’ll see.

25. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2012.

I'll tell you three life lessons:

(a) Being 50 years old is actually pretty good.

(b) The Twilight Saga is rubbish.

(c) Gadgets don’t bounce.

Saturday 22 December 2012

The Pros And Cons Of Christmas

Is it just me or are years flying by way too fast?

It seems like only yesterday when I was recovering from Christmas 2011 and, hey presto, here it is again. As a self-confessed grumpy old git, you may imagine that I adopt the role of Ebenezer Scrooge at this time of year and start moaning about humbugs.

That’s not true. Well – sometimes it is to be fair.

I have a love-hate relationship with Christmas; there are elements that I love and embrace, and there are elements that I despise. I’m sure that regular readers will have a guess at which bits of the festive season drive me crazy, given the things I’ve ranted about before on this cyber soapbox.

I thought it would be a nice idea to share with you what I hate and what I love about this time of year.

Without further ado, here are the pros and cons of Christmas.


(1) Choosing presents – I find it really difficult to decide what to buy everybody. I find my thoughts drifting to what I want, which means that I have to resist buying a heavy metal album for Mrs PM for example. Mrs PM says that by now, after almost 15 years together, I should easily be able to select a suitable gift. And I can – after I have beaten myself up over it for several months. Come January, I will be thinking of what I can buy her for Christmas 2013 – yes it takes that long. And she is only one of the people I have to consider.

(2) Christmas shopping – I hate shopping at the best of times and it this time of year, this abhorrent pastime mutates into a monstrous experience – even if you want to buy something unrelated to the festive period. In Manchester we have a huge shopping mall called the Trafford Centre and in December it is like entering Hell itself. The enormous car parks are so full that arriving and leaving take hours to achieve, having blocked up the motorways and main roads around for hours. Inside the Trafford Centre all shops are absolutely crammed with hapless shoppers, none of whom want to be there. You have to queue for hours to actually buy what you want and queue for more hours to leave the bloody place. And supermarkets are the same. There is so much food to buy that the weekly shop becomes a nightmare. People buy so much food you would think that they have predicted World War 3 and are planning for four years in a bunker to avoid nuclear fallout.

(3) Christmas starts earlier and earlier every year. My birthday is 8th October and I use that as a marker to see whether Christmas adverts have started or not. In the past, the first commercials appeared in late October. More recently the adverts have started much earlier; it was in September this year meaning that we have to spend a quarter of the year suffering bloody Christmas commercials – three bloody months of it.

(4) The Queen’s Christmas Message. I am ambivalent when it comes to Liz. I neither hate her nor love her. To me she is just another celebrity who happens to get a lot of media attention. Why should I be even remotely interested in anything she has got to say? I haven’t. The only thing I have in common with Liz and her family is that we live in England. Apart from that I care not one jot about her thoughts, her wisdom or her opinions. Why this is prime time TV on Christmas Day is beyond me.

(5) Travelling. Since I moved to Manchester in 1984, I have had to spend the Christmas period driving around the Midlands, Yorkshire and the North West of England visiting people who demand my presence. Back in 1984 I thought to myself, one day you will all come to me. It is now 2012 and there is absolutely no chance of that happening, This year I have to drive for three hours on Christmas Day, an hour and a half on Boxing Day and three hours the day after that. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

(6) Bad presents. I wish people would just say – “Here’s £20 – go and buy something you like.” Instead I get slippers, hankies and after shave – repeatedly.

Enough of that “Bah! Humbug!” nonsense. Here are the pros:


(1) Time off work. I love being off work and at Christmas I usually manage a week or two off work. I love to wake up with the knowledge that I can stay in bed, relax, go for a walk and take it easy for the duration of the Christmas Holiday period.

(2) Christmas Parties and socialising. Christmas parties can be an amazing experience, with either friends, family or work colleagues and usually I end up attending quite a few events. Generally the pubs and restaurants are full of joy and cheer anyway but whether you go to the pub with your mates or end up at a Christmas Party, fun is freely available to make even the most boring Scrooge smile occasionally – even me:

(3) Kids – Kids love Christmas and there is nothing better than seeing the faces of children when they see Father Christmas and open their presents on the big day. Sadly my two are too old now (19 and 16) and no longer have that innocent enthusiasm.

(4) Good presents. Occasionally I have genuinely surprised when receiving gifts. As I said above, these days I love it when people give me gift vouchers or cash so that I have an excuse to hit the sales or go online and splash out on something wonderful for myself.

(5) Christmas Markets. In recent years there has been a trend in Britain where major cities welcome European style markets selling all sorts of Christmas goodies. The annual Christmas Market in Manchester is usually packed but mulled wine is abundant and you can relax in a bar supping your mulled wine or the alcoholic beverage of your choice while watching people enjoying the experience. A great way to spend a few hours in the run up to Christmas.

(6) Food. I love Christmas fare, particularly mince pies. Mrs PM and I eat them by the bucket load and any diets we are considering are shelved for a week or two. Christmas is the time of year when you basically tell your diet to “Bugger off”. I genuinely do not feel bad about gaining a few pounds. Such things can be dealt with in January. This year on Christmas Day I will end up looking like a roly poly old man as I settle down in front of the TV to watch the Dr Who Christmas special. And I won’t care at all.

Well that’s it for now.

I would like to wish everybody a Merry Christmas whether you are a regular reader or a poor unfortunate who has stumbled across this post by accident.

May Father Christmas bring you all the gifts that you want – but please – no more socks and hankies. I have so many now that I could open a shop.

Friday 14 December 2012

Room 101 (Part Two)

Earlier this year I wrote a post about Room 101, a place where all of the horrors of the world are kept and promptly popped 10 things into the room so that they would never be seen or experienced by human eyes ever again – apart from by the eyes of those humans already in Room 101 – like Piers Morgan for example.

You can read it here.

Well, dear reader, it is time to put ten more things into Room 101.

And good riddance!

Monday Mornings

Like Garfield I hate Monday – particularly Monday morning at the precise moment my alarm clock drags me kicking and screaming from the bliss of my beauty sleep into a reality that forces me to get out of bed and go to work. There is no worse feeling than getting dressed and trying to psyche yourself up for the inevitable struggle through five days of frustration, ranting and pleading with yourself not to attack people with cricket bats.

It is the worst day of the week and needs to be dispatched to Room 101 with maximum prejudice.

Antony Worrall Thompson

In Britain we seem to be obsessed with cookery programmes and I hate them. What’s more, I am not keen on any so-called celebrity chefs either. I could spend all day ranting about cookery programmes but I will restrict myself to one person for now: Antony Worrall Thompson, one of the most irritating chefs on television.

His voice is so annoying it makes me feel like my head is pummelled by a woodpecker on speed. How did he ever become a TV chef?

It beats me.

What’s worse is that in 2008 he recommended that we all add a little henbane to our salads. Do you know what henbane is? It is a toxic weed that should not be consumed under any circumstances. Okay – he meant to recommend “fat hen”, a wild herb, so perhaps he could be forgiven.

Except in January this year he was caught shoplifting in Tesco – something he allegedly did on five separate occasions, leading to a tabloid headline “Ready Steady Crook”.

Off to Room 101 you go, Antony; Piers Morgan is hungry.

Immigration and Customs Officers

I am not a murderer. I am not a drug lord. I am not a terrorist. I am not a smuggler. I am not a criminal.

When I visit another country, I do so out of pure pleasure (except when I am working; nevertheless I try to find some pleasure outside work too). Yet when I enter certain countries I am subjected to an interrogation by immigration officers and or certain customs officials. What’s more, I even sometimes suffer on my return to the UK. On a visit to America once, Mrs PM and I approached the immigration officer together as “family” but because we aren’t married, I was bollocked by this uniformed stranger, sent back and then when he finally allowed me to come back, I was interrogated.

“What’s the purpose of your visit to the United States?”

“Let me see your return ticket!” 

“How long do you intend to stay in the United States?” 

“Where will you be staying?”

The temptation to be sarcastic is almost overwhelming but you daren’t lest you be carted off by armed officers, dragged into a room and then subjected to a search that requires a special glove.

Customs officials aren’t much better. On a return trip to the UK:

“Where have you been?”

“What did you buy?”

“Open up your suitcase: I don’t care if it has three weeks of dirty underwear – I have a special glove.”

Into Room 101 you go - and feel free to interrogate and strip search Piers Morgan.

Boy Bands

What is a boy band? A boy band is a bunch of pretty boys who can barely sing and regurgitate the same old insipid song over and over again for an army of teenage girls full of hormones and hysteria, or a bunch of old women who, for some reason, have abandoned all hope and want to be spoon fed dreary ballads.

I hate them; I hate them so much I can barely type out the words that express my hatred of them.

Take That, Westlife, One Direction, Boyzone and all other equally shit “bands” should be locked up and blasted to the planet Tharg at the first opportunity.

Please help me rid the world of them. Oh – OK let’s put them into Room 101 where they can annoy Piers Morgan with their crap cacophony.

Diving Footballers

I enjoy watching Premiership football but there are certain players who are so keen to win or gain an advantage that they throw themselves to the floor when an opposing player breathes on them, screaming blue murder in a vain attempt to be awarded a penalty.

The way some of them do it, you would think a sniper had shot them in the head from the stands. This is not the way football should be played. There should be no reward for cheating. If I had my way, I would ban players found guilty of diving for at least five games and fine them a month’s salary (which could run into hundreds of thousands of pounds). Sadly, I can’t – but what I can do is put them into Room 101.

The Turner Prize

Modern art leaves me stone cold. It is garbage produced by so-called artists for pseudo-intellectuals under the pretence that “it hasn’t been done yet”. The focal point for all that is wrong in the art world is the annual Turner Prize where “artists” compete for a cash prize by producing a piece that makes most people say “What the PHARKKK????”.

Past winners have included:

A bare room where the lights are on for 5 seconds then off for 5 seconds – called “The Lights Go On And Off”.

“60 minutes of silence” in which we see a whole bunch of policemen sitting there staring at the camera for 60 minutes.

It is insanity and only belongs in one place – Room 101.

Lady In Red

Lady In Red is one of the worst songs ever written – four minutes of dreary nonsense masquerading as a romantic song. If somebody were to play it to me in the name of romance I would vomit all over them. The lyrics are so cheesy that they could have been written by mice. And Chris de Burgh’s voice grates my brain and makes me grimace in pain.

A dreadful song – an utterly dreadful waste of four minutes. I’ll bet it is Piers Morgan’s favourite song – he is welcome to it.

Thick British Tourists
Some British people should never be allowed to leave our island. Why? Because they are not equipped to deal with life in foreign countries. In their minds, every country is just like good old Britain, where everybody should speak the Queen’s English and watch British television. In their eyes, Britannia Rules the world, so it is perfectly acceptable to say things like:

“I’m a British ciitizen – give me some Worcester Sauce NOW!!”

I have numerous examples of the obnoxious behaviour of Brits abroad and each time I hold my head in my hands and shake it in despair and shame.

“Give me a pint of lager! What do you mean you don’t know what a pint is?”

“DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH???? WHY NOT??? I thought EVERYBODY spoke English!”

“I’m not eating any of this foreign muck. Have you got any fish and chips?”

“Are you showing Eastenders in your bar? What do you mean you don’t get Eastenders in Spain?”

Let’s hope they are happy in Room 101 because that is where they are going.

Obnoxious Parisians

When I first visited Paris, I was led to believe that all French people were obnoxious arseholes. Later visits to La Belle France have corrected that initial wrong assumption - the problem is limited to a small percentage of obnoxious and extremely rude Parisians.

There are certain Parisians who simply don’t like anybody who is not from Paris. I can speak a little French and my general philosophy is to try to speak the language of the country I am in – with a phrase book if necessary. One summer, I was in Paris and my hay fever was so bad that I had to seek medication. I found a pharmacy and, with streaming eyes and constant sneezing, I tried to buy some antihistamine tablets. Sadly my French didn’t stretch to “Antihistamine” and the phrase book didn’t help. I was unfortunate enough to be served by an obnoxious Parisian:

PM: Pardon, monsieur (AAAATTTTCHHHOOO!!!!) Parlez vous anglais? (AAAAATTTCCHHOOOOO!!!)

Obnoxious Parisian: Non!

PM: D’accord. Avez vous (AAAAATTTTCCHHHHOOOOO!!!!!) quelquechose pour m’aider (AAAAAAAATTTCHHHHOOOO!!!!) ….

The bugger just left me standing there and went to serve somebody else. I tried to interrupt but he totally ignored me. The other person was quite surprised and started pointing at me and gestured for the arse to help me. I was clearly struggling – and I would have struggled in an English pharmacy to be honest.

What did this arse do? He shrugged in typical Gallic fashion and carried on serving the woman. Thankfully, another assistant came to my rescue and she spoke a little English. With an exchange of franglais she sold me a box of antihistamines with instructions in both French and English.

I saw her talk to the obnoxious arse as I left – and all he did was shrug again.

There are a fair few people like this in Paris, superior people who look down on non-Parisians. Mrs PM lived in Toulouse for a year and told me that people from that town are generally not keen on Parisians either.

In the other parts of France I have visited, I have been welcomed with open arms and encountered some of the friendliest people I have ever met. I want to dispatch these people to Room 101 where they can be rude to Piers Morgan.

The rest of the people in Paris can then make me welcome next time I visit that beautiful city.

My Hair.

I hate my hair. You can read about the reasons here.

Every day is a constant battle to keep it under control. Every day I look into the mirror and grimace in shame because it has morphed into a totally embarrassing shape. One time, on holiday in Spain, I spent a fair amount of time swimming in the sea before strolling around the holiday resort for the rest of the day. When we returned to the hotel, I looked in the mirror and my hair, which was admittedly a little longer than usual, was sticking up all over the place.

“You let me walk around like this?” I asked Mrs PM.

She sniggered and said “Your hair looks like that all the time. It’s lovely!”

It’s not. And here are some examples:

Shocking hair aged one.

Shocking hair aged 12
Can you spot the bad haired boy in this picture?
Shocking hair aged 17

 Into Room 101 you go – and give me a decent hairstyle.

That’s it for now. I will add some more items to Room 101 next year some time.

I have thousands of things destined for Room 101.

I hope Room 101 can cope.

Thursday 6 December 2012

Tulips From Amsterdam

A week or so ago, I attempted a meme about travel (you can read it here) and it gave me an idea. I have decided to pepper my usual inane garbage with a few posts about my favourite cities but with a bit more detail.

I would like to start with Amsterdam, a city that I absolutely love.

Amsterdam will always have a place in my heart as the first city I visited outside the UK. I was 20 years old and completely naïve, so naïve in fact that I had absolutely no idea about its reputation and why it was, and still is, a favourite location for stag parties.

Since that first visit all of those years ago, I have returned to the city so many times that I have lost count. I was lucky enough to work on two separate projects in the city with work, resulting in countless trips. I have also returned on a couple of lads’ weekends, a city break with W, my ex-wife, and with Mrs PM as well as a stag party.

Here are a few highlights of my trips and some of my favourite places:

(1) On my first visit there, I walked out of Centraal Station with my mate Steve and my first conversation with a Dutch man was this:

Dutch Man: Hello – do you speak English?

Naïve PM (grinning inanely) : Yes – YES I DO!

Dutch Man: Want to buy some hashish?

(2) The reputation of the Red Light area in Amsterdam in legendary and on my first visit I walked around with my mouth wide open in shock at the graphic and extremely hard core pornographic magazines. What’s more, I was flabbergasted by the fact that women sold their bodies for money so openly in shop windows. When I was working there, every single person who came out for the first time wanted to go to the Red Light Area and in the end I was so fed up of endless strolls around there with shocked individuals that I would pop into a bar and wait for them, rather than walk around yet again. When I was with W, we strolled around and were invited to go to a Sex Show. I politely declined and the guy said:

“Oh come on! Tonight it is audience participation and couples are definitely most welcome”.

We, of course, declined.

The funniest thing I saw there was a bunch of Japanese gentlemen standing staring at one of the shop windows. After a couple of minutes, another Japanese gentleman came out of the shop window, having sampled the local delights, and was greeted by rapturous applause from his fellow countrymen.

(3) My favourite bar in Amsterdam is Café Gollem, a small bar with a plethora of beers from all over the world. It is only a small bar but it is always absolutely packed, particularly at weekends. Here I sampled Belgian beers for the very first time and I haven’t looked back since. If you visit Amsterdam, I recommend you to check out Café Gollem if you like decent beer in a laid back environment.

(4) My first trip, as I said, was legendary. On our last day there two major things happened. Let me tell you about the first. Steve and I were backpacking so we sought cheap accommodation and ended up in a real dive masquerading as a hotel on the edge of the Red Light area. The place supplied breakfast (well when I say “breakfast” I mean a roll, some ham, some cheese and a coffee) and with a hangover, I nursed my coffee with all of the other travellers. After a while, a woman who I presumed was the owner came in and started to scream at one of the other guests, a young hippy with major dreadlocks who looked as if he were high on some drug or another. I took no notice until I heard this:

Angry Woman: I want you out NOW!!!

Hippy Guest: Chill out, man.

Angry Woman: CHILL OUT???? It wasn’t ME who shot my friend.

Hippy Guest: Chill out, man. It was an accident. We were playing Russian Roulette. He’s not DEAD! I’ll pick him up from the hospital later. We’ll be fine.

(5) The second thing occurred on that day, not long before we were about to leave the city. We had three hours to wait before our train left for Munich. As we strolled around the city, a man approached and said:

“Have you got time to take part in a survey?”

Steve and I shrugged and agreed so that we could kill time without having to spend money. We sat down and filled in what turned out to be a Personality Test and at the end were invited to chat with "one of our experts”.  I answered all of the multiple choice questions and after five minutes or so was invited to chat with a very attractive Dutch lady. After telling me that I was a “people person” who “cared about his fellow man”, the conversation went something like this:

Woman: When are you leaving Amsterdam?

Naïve PM: Later today.

Woman: You mustn’t – you must come back here.

Naïve PM: Why?

Woman: Your test shows that you are suicidal; you have problems. We can help. We have this course …

Naïve PM: Hang on – excuse me! What do you mean “suicidal”?

Woman: Your answers reveal that you are very sad and depressed. You may not believe it but you are. There is a darkness inside you that we need to help you with. And we can help you if you stay...

Naïve PM: No I’m not  depressed. I’m very happy. What on earth did I say that makes you think that I’m going to top myself?

After ten minutes or so of disagreeing with the woman, she finally agreed that I could leave without having to be escorted out of the building by a guardian angel. She tried to sell me a book and I refused (well I had little money).

As I left the building, paranoia kicked in and I actually started to question myself. Am I really going to commit suicide? Am I really so depressed that I need to go on suicide watch?

Steve was waiting.

“How did it go?” he asked.

I didn’t want to tell him that I was potentially going to hurl myself in front of a bus. Steve didn’t wait for my answer. He continued:

“You’ll love this,” he laughed. “Apparently I am about to KILL myself. Can you believe that? Pharrking charlatans. They should talk to that arse who shot his mate.”

I laughed and told him that I, too, was a suicide risk.

The book they tried to sell us was Dianetics by L.Ron Hubbard.

Yes, that’s right – this was an attempt to recruit myself and Steve into the Church of Scientology.

(6) If you go to the Amsterdam you must visit the Anne Frank house. I have never been to a place where the memories of the tiny house are so intense that they are almost tangible. Every single person who walked around the tiny house and museum did so in utter silence, contemplating the atrocities of the Second World War and how a little Dutch girl’s diary helped to give a sense of that terrible time.

(7) If you like art, the Rijksmuseum is the place for you. I was working on my own for the weekend and staying near there and, because the weather was dreadful, I thought I would pass an hour or two looking at some paintings. Five hours later, I was still in there and I hadn’t seen half of the place. And I am not a big fan of art at all.

(8) My last visit there was in 2009 when I went on a stag party. The groom was a policeman and four of the group were also British bobbies. And boy can they drink. I spent the weekend trying to stay relatively sober but also, because I had been there before, acting as a tour guide. The sad thing was we all had to wear the same T shirt – complete with porn star name on the back. For the duration of that weekend I became Jake Sin.

I could tell you a lot more, but this post is already quite long so I will leave it at that for now. Suffice it to say, I know that I have not seen the last of Amsterdam and I look forward to my next visit to the city – whenever that may be.

I recommend you visit if you ever get the chance – even if you want to avoid the Red Light area. There is so much to see – the bars, the canals, the restaurants and, best of all, the people who are among the friendliest and most laid back I have ever met on my travels.

I’ll leave you with some photos from my last trip there.




 Next time, dear reader, I will bring you back a gift – some tulips!