Sunday 24 February 2013

There's No "R" In "Bath"

“Welcome to Bath,” said the slightly strange landlord of the little B & B we were going to stay in. Except he said Barth instead of Bath
I felt like saying “BATH! It’s B-A-T-H! There is no R in BATH!” 
Bath is in the south and I am from the midlands; what did I expect? Over the years I’ve tried to stop myself correcting southerners but in a city like Bath, it was really difficult, particularly when there was a big rugby match on in the city and every other sentence I heard on Saturday was peppered with phrases like:

“Do you think Barth will beat London Irish?”
 “Come on Barth!”
  Mrs PM and I are on a bit of a mission to see some of the sights of the United Kingdom we haven’t seen yet. Last year, for Mrs PM’s benefit, we spent a weekend in London. Now it was the turn of Bath, a city that neither of us had visited before.
 The first thing that struck me was how small the place is. The city is dominated by Bath Abbey, a phenomenal structure whose origins date back to the 7th century. As we strolled through the city on a cold but pleasant and sunny Friday afternoon, I was quite stunned when I turned a corner and saw this magnificent building in all of its glory.

Bath Abbey
As we walked around I was amazed at the number of tourists flocking around and taking photos. I love the fact that we have so much history in the UK and Bath has its fair share of that. Right next to Bath Abbey are the Roman Baths, dating back even earlier than the abbey, and I simply couldn’t resist the temptation to pay them a visit.
 I’ve always been fascinated by the Roman Empire, possibly assisted and encouraged by spending five years at school studying Latin. I can still recognise Latin words and phrases even now.
 Inside the Roman Baths, I impressed Mrs PM by mentioning that the Roman name for Bath was Aquae Sulis. Used to me now she just rolled her eyes and said “You told me on the way down here.”
 The Romans were a resourceful bunch and built the baths in the first century AD on the site of a hot spring, previously located at a shrine to the Celtic goddess Sulis (hence the name Aquae Sulis – the waters of Sulis). 
 As we descended into the complex, it was quite literally like stepping back in time, enjoying Roman ingenuity and culture.
Roman soldier admiring the Abbey

This guy has hair like me

A bit too cold for a dip
On the following day, we decided to venture even further back in time by visiting Stonehenge, a mere hour away from Bath. After a hearty English breakfast, we drove through fog-shrouded countryside to the adjacent county of Wiltshire.

Foggy Fun
I remarked to Mrs PM that a photograph of Stonehenge in the fog would make a great picture and once again the English weather let us down by warming up just sufficiently enough to disperse the fog by the time we arrived.
 I was quite surprised to see how close the ancient monument was to the road and theoretically we could have just driven past a few times to see Stonehenge from various angles. We decided that we should wear our tourist heads and join the throngs of foreign visitors and get up close and personal with the ancient stones – well as close as they would allow us to – which sadly wasn’t that close.

Welcome to Stonehenge
I loved listening to the accompanying auditory guide and was fascinated by some of the theories about who built Stonehenge and why it was shaped and planned the way it was. The truth is that nobody knows and I loved all of the ideas from Merlin to aliens.

Get your rocks off

Not quite enough fog
We arrived back in Bath just in time to visit the pub for lunch and found ourselves surrounded by crowds of rugby fans having a pre-match pint before the game between Bath and London Irish. The pub we were in was next to the Abbey and from our lofty position upstairs we watched the crowds crossing over the bridge to the game. 
As we left the pub, Mrs PM asked “I wonder where the ground is?” 
The Bath supporters replied. Bath scored a conversion and a huge roar pointed out the location of the ground, just over the river. Not only was the ground visible, but we could also see the scoreboard and, as we crossed the river and walked alongside the ground itself, there were a few vantage points where we could have watched bits of the game. 
Half time - Bath are winning
This way to the rugby game
Hailing from Manchester, it is not often I get to visit a city that has a deep history of rugby; Bath is such a place and various pubs have walls covered in memorabilia from the club, like signed shirts etc.
 On the other side of the river, Mrs PM suddenly turned to me and said:
“I’ve lined up some birds for you.”
 “What?” I said.
 She pointed across the river at this:

Birds for Dave
 On our final day, we checked out of our small B & B and took one last stroll round the city. I’m not a huge expert when it comes to architectural styles but I do appreciate old buildings. Bath is full of them and this is one of the main reasons it is a tourist hotspot.
 Here are some examples.

 Our final journey was to visit some friends in the picturesque village of Lacock, about 12 miles from Bath. On the way, I noticed a few of the odder English place names. I’ve always loved the eccentric naming choices made for some places in England and as we drove, I had to chuckle at two places in particular.
 We drove though the village of Box.
 And we saw signposts to a great place called Birdlip.
 I wonder whether the founders of Birdlip actually found a bird with lips?
 Or whether they had a weird sense of humour?
 Anyway, this may be my last post for a while because I am off on a business trip, on 1st March, to the city of Muscat in Oman, another country I have never visited. I'm away for three weeks.

 The hotel I am staying at has wi-fi access so I might be able to write the odd post – if I’m not too busy.
 In the meantime, I’ll bet you are curious about the final score in the rugby game.
 It was:
 Bath 40 London Irish 16
 And for those from Bath …
 Barth 40 London Irish 16

Wednesday 13 February 2013

No Laughing In Heaven

Let me take you back to 1981.

I was in my final year at school and A-Levels were approaching like a speeding train. I had mad hair, so mad in fact that my form teacher, a certain Mr N, decided to humiliate me in class by saying the following in front of a bunch of 17 and 18 year olds:

“Mr Mancunian...” – actually he had no idea that I was going to end up in Manchester – but just go with it.

“Mr Mancunian. Before you come to school please, in the name of God, stick your head in a bucket of water.”

After the inevitable riotous laughter had died down (it took about 20 minutes). He continued:

“Do you know, Mr Mancunian, you remind me of a boy at my old school. He had copious amounts of unmanageable hair. Do you know what we used to call him?”

This was like comedy gold to each and every member of my class – apart from me.

“They used to call him The Boy with the Chrysanthemum Head.”

I think that some kids in my class are still laughing even now.

What on earth was he thinking?

Anyway, that’s just setting the scene.

Back in 1981, we were typical 17 year old lads with all of the pitfalls associated with that particular point in life. I was a mad-haired, rebellious, arrogant, hormone-enraged arse, surrounded by similar people with varying degrees of self-importance and mane madness (it was just a little past the 1970’s after all).

I went to a grammar school and it was, kind of, meant to be for the brightest boys in Walsall. In the sixth form, conversations veered between total immature, hormone-driven stupidity and all manner of intellectual subject matter, embracing just about everything else in between.

One such topic for discussion was religion.

In 1980, I noticed an alarming explosion in the number of born again Christians in my school year and as more of my friends succumbed, I found myself having to defend myself for being a Roman Catholic.

One particularly arrogant mate of mine said:

“I told my pastor that you aren’t a true Christian because you are Catholic. He told me I shouldn’t try to ridicule you; I should try to convert you.”

The fact that I was a lapsed Catholic and had given up going to church two years earlier was irrelevant. My rebellious streak urged me – no – ordered  me to fight my corner.

And then Ian Gillan released a song. This song actually made it into the UK charts. And it stirred up a hornet’s nest, causing several major arguments and several friends to fall out with each other.

It’s called No Laughing In Heaven and, to a born again Christian, the lyrics are totally offensive. I, and many others, found the lyrics amusing.

Here it is – with lyrics. You may not like the song – but stick with it.

 Did we argue about the lyrical content of the song? Of course.

Did we fall out about the song? Absolutely.

I think I started the ball rolling with:

“Surely you find it funny. A man changes his lifestyle so that he can go to Heaven and spend eternity partying, only to find that Heaven is like a perpetual church service and that Hell is the place where the party is. Don’t you understand irony?”

And my final pièce de résistance:

“Hasn’t God got a sense of humour?”

You can imagine the reaction. Those who liked the song or couldn’t see anything wrong with it were lambasted mercilessly.

“You really WILL spend the remainder of your existence burning in Hell,” they said.

And of course I reacted with:

“I’m Catholic – I’ll spend some time in Purgatory and then get my pass from St Peter.”

Since my schooldays, I’ve mellowed a lot though I am still curious about religion and why a born again Christian would regard me as heathen, despite my being a Catholic and despite having spent the first sixteen years of my life praying in church, confessing my sins to a priest and taking communion.

One of the problems is that you simply cannot argue with some of these people. I enjoy having a discussion with anybody, particularly if I am curious about the subject. I find it difficult to talk to evangelical Christians because their argument is always something along the lines of:

 “It’s God’s will.”

And the discussion terminates at that point.

I watched a comedy routine from Reginald D. Hunter and he pointed out this exact thing. He said something along the lines of:

When a Christian says “It’s God’s Will” that really means “I’m done thinking”.”

There’s many a true word spoken in jest, so the saying goes.

If you are a born again Christian, dear reader, please be aware that I am not here to mock you or your beliefs. I am genuinely interested in why you have the views you have and will gladly and willingly have a chat about it and why you think I am going to be Satan’s plaything for eternity just for trying to have an open mind about these things.

I have a scientific mind and I would dearly love to see proof that God really does exist and that he has a sense of humour – and probably most importantly, if he can divulge what will happen to me when I shuffle off this mortal coil:

(a) Spend eternity in a vast empty void of emptiness … or

(b) Be condemned to eternity in Hell for writing this post and laughing at “No Laughing In Heaven” …or

(c) Be punished in Purgatory, alongside Ian Gillan.

Knowing my luck, it will be (b) – and I will be chained to Piers Morgan and forced to eat rhubarb while listening to opera and Shakespeare for the rest of time.

Saturday 9 February 2013

Roadwork Rage

First of all, I have to apologise to you, dear reader, before I begin this post.

I promised myself that I would try to put my soapbox away in 2013 and seriously cut down on the amount of time that I spend ranting.

Fate has decided, however, that this dream is just that – a pointless and futile dream.

Yesterday, my normal journey home, which usually takes between 15 and 20 minutes, became a nightmare of frustration and rage. To aggravate the situation further, it was my turn to waste an hour of my life in a supermarket doing the weekly shop, something I look forward to as much as a kick in the happy sack.

You can imagine, I guess, how I felt when instead of a 15 minute journey from work to the local supermarket, I had to suffer a 75 minute journey instead.


Because of a single bad decision – and the target of my wrath in this post:


Where do I begin?

I calculate that I have wasted months of my life stuck in traffic jams due to roadworks. There is nothing more exasperating than sitting in a line of motionless traffic with absolutely no escape, because roads are being dug up, resurfaced or diverted.

At the moment is South Manchester the Metrolink system is being extended. This is a good thing in many ways particularly as one of the extensions is to Didsbury, where I live. That particular extension is having virtually no effect on the roads near in the Didsbury area because the trams will run on a former rail line, meaning that all of the track laying and station construction has been done on a path that already exists and therefore does not in any way impinge on the road network.

The East Didsbury line opens later this year and will provide residents of Didsbury with a fast way to get into Manchester city centre. I am actually looking forward to it opening.

The problem I have is the extension to Manchester Airport.

Unfortunately, this particular route cannot use any former train lines and therefore has to traverse existing roads.

The worst part of it is that one or the affected roads is right next to where I work and the entire road network in that area is in a constant state of upheaval and turmoil, leading to an absolute nightmare for any commuters, like myself, who have to negotiate the resulting roadworks to get to work.

If that wasn’t bad enough, this extension isn’t scheduled for completion until 2016.

2016! !!!!!!

That means at least three more years of mayhem.

You might argue that this extension is a good thing and that ultimately I may be able to ditch my car and use Metrolink to get to work. While that may be true – the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, if you like – in order to take advantage of this new and exciting innovation in public transport, I have to suffer three years of constant roadworks every single working day of my life until 2016.

Last night, I left work early and hit a wall of traffic. As I thumped the steering wheel in frustration, I was suddenly faced with a choice.

Should I take a deep breath, turn my music up loud and ride it out hoping for a minor delay of, say, 10 minutes?

Or should I take the next left, go the long way round and arrive at the supermarket congratulating myself that I had, in my own minor way, kicked the system up the arse?

I opted to turn left.

Approximately 30 minutes later I was sitting in another traffic jam due to one of the main roads having been half closed thanks to Metrolink roadworks. Since that route was not normally on my itinerary, I had no idea that temporary traffic lights were in place, that were badly timed (i.e. we had 10 minutes of red light followed by a second of green)  thus causing long tailbacks.

I found myself heading in completely the wrong direction on a road that had temporarily and unwittingly converted into a car park with what seemed like a thousand cars queuing at a traffic light that only allowed one car through every 10 minutes.

I wanted to cry. I wanted to get out of the car, march up to the guy in the car in front and scream at him for having the audacity of choosing to be on the road at that time in front of me for no reason other than to wind me up.

I turned up the volume on my music so loud that my windscreen shook in fear.

I was listening to Metallica at such a high volume that local people thought the road was being dug up underneath my car.

An hour later I had managed to cover a full circle and arrived fairly close to where I worked. I had wasted a complete hour, an hour I could have spent buying potatoes and cat food.

Driving has a way of bringing out the worst in me. Normally it is not a pleasant experience. I am not one of these boy racers who liked to drive for the sheer fun of being behind a wheel. The only time I have ever truly enjoyed driving is when I have been abroad. Driving from Brisbane to Sydney was a highly pleasurable experience because I was on holiday and in a foreign country. Equally driving around the US in the middle of nowhere listening to rock music is a marvellous experience.

Driving in the UK is as close to driving in Hell as it is possible to get, particularly when the resident demonic entity decides to torture my mind by inflicting pointless roadworks to infuriate me.

Our island is overcrowded and congestion is bad enough even without roadworks to make journeys a hundred thousand times worse. Motorways are a particular target.

The journey from Manchester to Birmingham and the south of England via the M6 motorway is a particularly horrific journey. And when there are roadworks, you may as well just pull over onto the hard shoulder and walk.

I’m sure it would be quicker to walk 70 miles than crawl along at the speed of a lame tortoise in your car.

Sometimes, there are warnings of roadworks ahead and one lane is segregated for about twenty miles by a line of cones with absolutely no workmen in sight, no sign of roads being resurfaced, no holes in the road visible and irritating signs saying:

 Sorry for the Delay to Your Journey

How annoying is that?

When I see such a sign, I want to get out of the car (this is easy because the average speed through roadworks is about 30 inches per hour) and smash these signs into a cube of metal and hurl it in the direction of the Transport Secretary.

Why do they close lanes for weeks before they actually start the roadworks? Are all of the workmen skiving or on holiday? Or – as Ben Elton once said – do they have fun driving up and down the closed off lane, moving cones from end to the other?

I apologise for subjecting you to this rant, dear reader, but if you are British you will know what I mean and hopefully be a kindred spirit.

Even better, if you are a South Mancunian reader and have to do daily battle with the Metrolink roadworks you will applaud and say “Yes YES YES!!!!!

Roadwork rage is a way to make work rage seem insignificant because each day I get to work having endured a journey of frustration, I can then face a hellish day at work before embarking on a repeat journey home.

Thankfully – next week is a four day week. On Friday, Mrs PM and I are going to be English tourists by visiting two places we have never seen before – Bath and Stonhenge.

Hang on – we have to drive down the M6 to get to Bath.


Sunday 3 February 2013

Dexter the Cat

Picture the scene.

I am sitting on the sofa watching England thrash Scotland in the Rugby Union 6 Nations. I am happy because England are dominating the game. A smile forms on my face. Next to me is a small table with a cup of tea steaming gently. Next to the table is Liquorice the hellcat, watching me intently.

My eyes drift to the cat and my smile broadens.

“Hello Liquorice,” I say and gently pat the arm of the sofa to encourage her to come closer. Cats aren’t known for their obedience but on this occasion, the hellcat stands up, jumps nimbly over the cup of tea onto my lap and then leaps onto the arm of the sofa, assuming the position for a little bit of fuss.

The position is an amusing one. The arm of the sofa is quite wide allowing Liquorice to grip the sides with her front paws and crouch, raising her bum into the air so that I can stroke the length of her body.

She looks so cute that I momentarily forget that she is a dark hearted monster. She looks at me expectantly and I reach over and stroke her head, moving my hand gently down her body to the bottom of her tail. She raises her hind quarters more and actually starts purring.

My smile broadens even more. England are pressing the Scots and my eyes drift away from the cat as I continue to stroke her. I can hear her purring. England get a penalty.

I am relaxed – totally and utterly. Stroking a cat is, I hear, therapeutic, particularly when the cat in question is purring.

I’m happy and the cat is happy.

And then it happens.

Suddenly, without warning and without any provocation, Liquorice shows her true colours and attacks me with maximum prejudice, sinking her front claws into my hand and biting me at the same time.

As I jerk my hand away with a yelp of pain, my skin is opened up and several small spots of blood combine to form a tiny red stream.

My happiness is gone. I glare at the cat as she glares back at me.


She stands her ground and grips the sofa arm more tightly with a look of venom.

I should know better. Liquorice can be very, very cute but you have to keep your eye on her. My raised voice has no effect whatsoever.

She stares defiantly. I try to read her body language and imagine what she would say if she could speak.

“You don’t scare me; you are nothing to me. This is MY territory. Just be thankful I allow you the privilege to pamper and massage me.”

Knowing that I have lost, I nurse my wounded hand – and my wounded pride.

I stop stroking her and concentrate on the Rugby. England score the penalty. I cheer. Liquorice is unmoved and remains on the sofa arm. I reach for the cup of tea.

A paw lashes out and claws reach my hand before my hand reaches the cup. Another spot of blood and another sharp pain.


Liquorice stares back at me and, unbelievably, lashes out again, despite my pain and anger.

I am her prey. She is the hunter. She has no fear.

I recently read that cats are serial killers and are responsible for murdering several billion small animals per year. Somebody in the US has estimated that cats are responsible for between 8 billion and 24 billion small creatures a year. In essence, these lovable little creatures who sleep, purr and cuddle you are in reality monstrous serial killers who strike terror in the world of mice and birds and insects.

In the case of Liquorice, humans are a target too.

Take a look at this picture of Liquorice. How can such a tiny cute little moggy be such a psychopath?

By day, cats control their human pets using every technique they can to coerce us into keeping them warm and feeding them. Yet despite the amount of food that our cats eat, they still go outside and ruthlessly murder small animals with no pity and no remorse.

Imagine if domestic cats were much bigger? There is a reason why people don’t mess with leopards, tigers and lions.

In our house, the cats are banned from my bedroom, although occasionally Mrs PM sneaks Jasper and Poppy in before we get to sleep.

Why are they banned?

Because in the past, both Jasper and Poppy have seen my feet as woodland creatures and attacked them.

I dread to think what would happen if Liquorice were to spend the night in our bedroom. She has no qualms about stalking me around the house during day time. At night, when cats are at their most vigilant, what parts of my body would be easy prey for her?

I shudder at the thought.

When I think about serial killers, I am drawn to one of my favourite TV series to come out of the US. Dexter tells the tale of Dexter Morgan, a blood spatter expert who works for the Miami police, but in reality is a cold hearted monstrous killer who uses his position in the police to identify bad guys who then become victims that satisfy his dark urge to kill people.

Basically, his catchphrase is “you had better hope that the police get to you before I do”.

I love the idea of a homicidal maniac with a sense of morality and limits his killing spree to other murderous monsters who really deserve to die. Sadly, there is no getting away from the fact that he is a killer himself, however lovable he appears to be on the screen.

And that is why, I have decided that in the future, if we ever get a new cat I will call him or her Dexter (I am not fussy about what sex it will be).

Had Liquorice not already had a name, I would have called her something that reflected her murderous tendencies.

Sadly I couldn’t because Mrs PM put her foot down.

I think she might go for Dexter though because we both love the show and it is a cute name for what outwardly appears to be a cute animal.

That won’t be for a while because our three cats all have quite a few more years left in them.

I hope to show you more of our cats in a future post, with a small video or three to try to capture their personalities, and perhaps show their murderous tendencies.

With Liquorice, this shouldn’t be too difficult – and I apologise in advance for the swearing that will ensue when she inevitably tries to rip my hand off.