Thursday 25 April 2013

A Night On The Toon

My eldest lad, Stephen is currently enjoying his student career in arguably the party capital of the United Kingdom.

I am of course referring to Newcastle.

Believe it or not, I had never been to Newcastle prior to 2011, when I first visited him up there, a shocking state of affairs if you think about it, considering my boast about being a seasoned traveller. I have tried to rectify this by visiting again and this weekend just passed, Mrs PM and I arranged to spend a night on the Toon with Stephen.

Newcastle is about three and a half hours away by car and this time I suggested that we catch the train instead of driving so that we could relax and spend the journey with more cerebral pursuits such as reading and in-depth analysis of the nuances of progressive rock (in my case at least).

In the end, my attempts to satisfy my intellectual side were slightly thwarted by what proved to be a very interesting train journey.

The train was full of people travelling to the various stops along the way, such as Huddersfield, Leeds and York. The people who were travelling to Newcastle were the most interesting; those visiting for a good time.

A group of boisterous lads walked past us and left one of their mates coughing his guts up next to the door. As he caught them up, I heard him say to one of his mates:

“Oy! You’re supposed to be looking after me tonight! What chance do I stand if you leave me choking by the door?”

This was one of a couple of stag parties that were on their way to Newcastle.

Right next to us were a group of young women who immediately extracted several alcoholic beverages from their bags when they sat down and proceeded to drink them with gusto. They were all yapping away as you imagine a group of young girls about to go for a night out on the town would do – but their animated conversation did not cause me or any of the passengers to scream “Please keep it down ladies!” in frustration.

All of the young women were deaf.

Each one of them was signing frantically, so much so that their hands were blurred. Their activity was punctuated by the odd noise but apart from that it was pure silence and animated mouthing and lip reading. One of the girls at one stage took something out of her suitcase and struggled to close it again, choosing to sit on it, in the aisle right next to me, and repeatedly bounce on it in a futile attempt to close it.

I couldn’t help myself; it was so funny that I ended up smiling. She looked at me and laughed and then mouthed “Sorry”. I mouthed “It’s OK!” back.

We arrived in Newcastle and checked into our hotel, arranging to meet Stephen there. He turned up looking slightly subdued.

“What’s the matter with you?” I asked. He is normally a chatty young lad. And then it dawned on me.

“Are you hung over?” I asked.

“I’ve felt better,” he confessed. “I didn’t get in until 3am last night.”

After a late lunch we wandered around the city for a while. Mrs PM was tired so went back to the hotel for a snooze, leaving Stephen and I to go to the cinema to see Olympus Has Fallen.

I noticed that the volume of music from various establishments was extremely loud and remarked upon this.

“It’s only 5pm; these places sound like night clubs.”

This is Newcastle,” said Stephen as if that was the sole reason for the activity.

After the film, we collected Mrs PM and went to a pub for a pre-dinner drink. The pub we chose was very noisy and full of large groups of men and women ready for a big night out. There were three hen parties and a stag party, the latter of which had reserved a table that was absolutely full of beer. Most of them were already drunk.

Maybe I’m getting old but it was just a bit too much for me. I suggested somewhere else but it seemed that everywhere was the same. All I wanted was a nice quiet drink and a lovely meal. We had earmarked a restaurant and by the time we got there it was absolutely full.

Eventually, we found a combined bar/eating establishment and managed to get a table. Although it was noisy, the food was superb and I spent the time chatting and watching the other customers. Most of them were young and wearing hardly any clothes. The men wore T-shirts despite the chill and some of the women wore very tight-fitting dresses.

I had to avert my eyes lest Mrs PM punch me in front of my son.

As the evening wore on, the place we were in slowly changed its emphasis. The diners slipped away and a DJ appeared just to my right, playing loud music, as younger people started to enter the establishment.

The sheer volume of music drove me to distraction and I suggested that we call it a night. Stephen was fine with that because he was still recovering from last night’s exertions.

The time was 11pm.

We left Stephen and strolled back to the hotel. Every building seemed to be bursting with life; youngsters congregated outside a seemingly endless number of late night drinking establishments, each louder than the rest, with all manner of loud music bursting out of them. Bouncers joked with perspective customers before letting them in.

I saw one young lad throwing up against a wall as his mates stood around chanting


as if vomiting were a right of passage.

It was yet another poor stag suffering from a massive bout of overindulgence.

When we got back to the hotel, there was a wedding reception in full swing. Large numbers of well-dressed men and women in varying states of high-spiritedness and inebriation wandered about the hotel as we climbed the stairs to our first floor room. Loud music blared from a nearby suite marking the place where the happy couple were celebrating.

We were about to open the glass door to the corridor leading to our room when we spotted a man on the other side of the door staring at us like a member of the cast of The Walking Dead.

I opened the door and said “After you,”.

He muttered something unintelligible and quite literally wobbled through the door. It was then I noticed the vomit stains down his shirt – another victim of overindulgence.

Our night was fairly restful but, being a light sleeper, I was woken up a couple of times by various party animals returning to their rooms in the wee small hours.

We awoke early on Sunday morning and enjoyed a fabulous English breakfast with quite a few other diners, a lot of whom were nursing hangovers.

Mrs PM and I were fully healthy and followed breakfast with a stroll along the Quayside area, enjoying the scenery and the market adjacent to the Gateshead Millennium Bridge. Unlike the previous night the city was peaceful and the night clubs and bars we passed were all quiet and closed up, seemingly resting until the masses descended for the next party.

We met Stephen for a final coffee and lunch and watched the Gateshead Millennium Bridge tilt upwards to allow a couple of boats underneath.

I didn’t know it did that.

Before we said goodbye to Stephen, I  handed over some money to help him cope with life as a student, making him promise to spend it on food rather than another night of debauchery.

“Of course,” he reassured me. “I’ve got work to do, you know – and I DO have to eat.”

On the train on the way back we shared the coach with a bunch of other lads who had been to Newcastle for a stag party and although they were a little worse for wear they were still quite boisterous.

I realised then that I am too old for that kind of thing and while Newcastle is a great place to visit, the social life is a little too intense for a decrepit old git like me. I can still enjoy watching it though – it is a great place for people watching.

That didn’t stop others my age, I have to say.

As Stephen says, this is Newcastle.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Sympathy For The Devil

As a fan of heavy metal, I have often been accused of being in league with the devil. Pseudo intellectuals seem to think I am part of a cult that is being brainwashed by long-haired Satanists and that my ambition is to live a life of debauchery with a view to gathering enough Satanic Brownie Points to make my transition to Hell as easy as possible.

I have laughed this off as mumbo jumbo, although in my youth I used to take it seriously enough to argue with people about it.

Now I just mock these people for being complete idiots, both to their faces and also in this very blog.

However, recently I have been thinking about exactly what I would need to do to actually guarantee my place in Hell, if the place were to actually exist.

You may well be aware that the death of a certain woman in the UK last week has caused quite a stir.

I am, of course, talking about Margaret Thatcher, the so-called Iron Lady.

In the UK there has been a mixed reaction to her death.

Conservative party members, her beloved political party, are in mourning, lamenting the loss of, in their words, the greatest Prime Minister in British history.

Some people, mainly youngsters, are saying “Who?”

A few people are wondering what all the fuss is about. To them she is just another politician.

A large number of British citizens despised the woman in life and of that number, a fairly healthy percentage have taken to the streets celebrating her death to the tune “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead!”, which incidentally has reached number 2 in the UK charts:

What has this got to do with the devil, I hear you ask?

The people who are quite literally dancing on her grave are happily speculating that the Iron Lady is, as I type, on her way to Hell for the horrendous pain she afflicted on the people of Britain during her reign of terror.

I was a student when she was in power and the anti-Thatcher movement was really strong. It was bordering on anarchistic with people rioting, marching to London because of the shortage of jobs and miners striking as she destroyed the lives of a large number of working class people by savagely slashing the manufacturing industry and all but destroying the coal mining industry.

She was one of the least popular Prime Ministers I can remember. At the time I hated the woman; she was divisive, arrogant, driven and cold. The only reason she was Prime Minister for so long was that the Falklands War happened during her first term in office. If it wasn’t for the Argentinians invading the Falkland Islands, she would have lost her second election.

Despite this, I’m not bitter and I have drawn the line at thinking about dancing in the street. In the end she was just a sick old lady whose life ran out. I won’t mourn her. To me, she is just a politician who I choose to forget.

But that doesn’t stop me airing my views when provoked, as I was on my trip to Oman last week. While I was there I had a rather entertaining discussion with a colleague who, unlike me, actually had a lot of respect for the Iron Lady.

Over a few beers, he did his best to get me to start ranting about the woman mainly, I think, to have a go at me when I started singing Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead.

I disappointed him. All I did was point out to him why I hated her and we had a bit of a political argument. As I consumed my second pint, I decided that I didn’t want to talk politics because it is a sure fire way to get people to argue, sometimes angrily. I don’t like arguing at all; I like discussing politics even less.

I decided instead to lighten the mood with a few cracks about what may happen to Mrs Thatcher if there is an afterlife. Here are some of the quips that I threw into the conversation.

“I’ve heard that Maggie Thatcher has already taken over in Hell and closed two incinerators.” (Ed – not an original Plastic Mancunian joke)

“If you are really upset about Mrs Thatcher’s death, why don’t you see a psychologist? He may help you face your demons. And if you are lucky – one of them might be Thatcher herself.”  (I thought of this myself – I think at least. Apologies if you thought of it first, dear reader).

“St Peter was absolutely terrified when he heard Mrs Thatcher had died; he thought she might come to Heaven.” (Ed – again not an original Plastic Mancunian quip).

Finally, I said “I tell you what, with my luck, I won’t go to Purgatory. Listening to all that rock music will give me a free pass straight to the bowels of Hell. And when I get there, I reckon that Thatcher will be my mentor.” (Ed – ever the pessimist, eh PM?)

It looks like I’m doomed either way.

Rest assured I won’t be watching the funeral tomorrow. To me she is just like another celebrity, albeit a celebrity who did her utmost to ruin the lives of a fair portion of the UK population. I’m a bit sore that, as a tax payer, I have to contribute to it – but then I expected that much anyway.

I will certainly not miss her.

That’s the end of this political post and I promise that I will try not to write another one again, as I hate discussing politics at all.

I will leave you with my favourite song by the Rolling Stones, which coincidentally has a very apt title. If Mrs Thatcher really is going to Hell, then I really do have sympathy for the devil – and for me, if those pseudo intellectuals are correct.

Friday 12 April 2013

Rooting For The Bad Guy

American television dramas have changed over the years. In the past, certainly in my youth, the philosophy was that the good guy had to win otherwise the TV audience would feel that evil had prevailed.
And in America, this went against the grain.
In Britain, we didn’t care about this at all. British drama was grittier, more realistic and sometimes the good guy came a cropper at the hands of the evil villain.
I love it when the bad guy triumphs. If you consider the situation in real life, no hero is so perfect that he can outwit and outsmart the villain. It doesn’t make sense if you think about it. 
I can understand the need to leave a movie theatre with a warm, fuzzy feeling because John Rambo has managed to single-handedly wiped out an entire army of malevolent bandits under the control of a ruthless psychopath. 
By and large I agree with that sentiment. Sometimes, however,  I want the hero to get his arse well and truly kicked and by the end of the film, I want to see him slink away in utter defeat, perhaps to come back stronger in the next instalment or maybe just to take it on the chin and realise that he is not utterly perfect.
And then there is the anti-hero; a guy who is inherently evil yet always seems to get away with murder.
My current favourite American TV series is Dexter, which tells the story of a psychopathic serial killer who works as a blood spatter forensic lab geek in the police force but uses that position to find potential victims.

The police want to bring bad guys to justice. Dexter wants to put them on a slab, stab them, cut their cold dead bodies into little pieces, pack the bits up in plastic bags and take them out to see and dump them where they will never be found.
And because he is a forensic specialist, he can hide all of the evidence and get away with it.
I watch every episode of the show and all the way through I am rooting for this sadistic bad guy. I want him to get away with murder. 
Purists may argue that he is, deep down, a good guy because the only people he kills are evil serial killers themselves. In a sense, Dexter is a good guy because he is handing out his own form of justice. Nevertheless, Dexter is a flawed character with a deep burning desire to kill.
That makes him a bad guy.
Even in the more conventional films and series, the bad guys are almost becoming lovable rogues. Let’s take another of my favourite bad guys, Dr Who’s nemesis – The Master.
The Master is a fellow time lord and a truly dark version of The Master. In the classic Dr Who series, he was pure evil and totally insane, using hypnosis to persuade people to help his evil plans. His catch phrase, as he stared into the eyes of his hapless victims was “I am The Master. You WILL obey me.”

In the reboot of Dr Who, The Master is still insane but is still eccentric and evil but has a deep charm, with much more humour – a charismatic bad guy who I actually, deep down, kind of hoped would win. His evil exploits in the new version of Dr Who have far exceeded anything the older Master could achieve – turning Earth into a giant warship while holding the Doctor prisoner for a year as well as, in a later episode, turning every single human into a copy of himself – the Master race, as he called it.

Yes the Doctor prevailed eventually but in each case there was a price to pay.
These days, TV series and movies are much more realistic generally. The heroes are flawed and the villains are charismatic and sometimes win.
Even James Bond suffered in his latest outing, Skyfall. I won’t reveal the story because I don’t like spoilers myself, but those of you who have seen it know exactly what I mean.
Regular readers know that one of my ambitions is to write a blockbusting novel. Maybe one day I will, but you can rest assured that because I love bad guys so much, I will endeavour to create the ultimate villain, an utterly contemptible man, but with a hidden charm that will, I hope, make quite a few readers start rooting for the bad guy.
I have some ideas and when I eventually start (maybe in November if I can force myself to have a go at the NaNoWriMo writing challenge) I hope to create a villain worthy of Dexter, The Master, Hannibal Lecter and/or Darth Vader when he was at his most evil.
Evil megalomaniacs should sometimes be allowed the freedom to make their plans come to fruition. 
The bad guy should sometimes win.
And I will continue to root for the bad guy – well sometimes anyway.
After all, we can’t let Jason Bourne, James Bond and Dr Who suffer too much, can we?

Over to you, dear reader - do you have a favourite bad guy?

Thursday 4 April 2013

Left My Soul There Down By The Sea

When I need to unwind and relax I conjure up a picture in my mind.
I see myself relaxing on a beach, lying there in the warm sun as it rises or sets. Next to me is Mrs PM, holding my hand and leaning her head against my shoulder. The waves are gently lapping against shore.
The image at the start of this post was taken in Port Douglas, Australia on the morning of our arrival as the sun rose over the Coral Sea and, although it was almost eight years ago, I still see it every single day, both at work and at home.
Because the image is my background picture on my work laptop, my home laptop, my desktop and my Nexus 7.
When I feel the need to escape from the stresses of everyday life, I find that by staring at that image, I can momentarily immerse myself into the tranquillity of the memory invoked by the photograph.
Ultimately I would like to retire to the seaside, whether it be a cold and breezy British shore or a warm and relaxing southern European beach somewhere.
I’ve even strolled along the promenade at Blackpool on Boxing Day with a biting, icy wind blowing all of the cobwebs from my addled mind; the cold wind and the sound of waves crashing on the shore brings a clarity to my mind – and peace.
I am happiest when I am by the sea – but not in the sea.
I am quite happy to watch the waves, smell the sea air and let the wind carry me away to a restful place in my mind. The thought of stepping into the sea summons an altogether different feeling – one of fear.
I’m not such a scaredy cat that I won’t actually set foot in the water (although Australia is the exception on that front); I just don’t like the things in it.
First of all, I’m not a huge fan of sand. Some people love walking barefoot on the beach and letting the wet sand cling to their feet.
I hate it. Sand gets everywhere. I hate the feeling of it in between my toes and under my toenails. The feeling makes my teeth itch. When I walk on a beach I have to wear sandals and even though they protect me from most of the sand, I still find myself having to wash the sand off my feet as I leave.
And I have another confession, dear reader. I hate seaweed. I hate the feel of it and the look of it. It all stems from an episode in my childhood. I was around five years old and sitting watching television, safely in my own living room with my parents at my side.
Dr Who was on.
I loved Dr Who – I still do – but this particular story scared the shit out of me. It was called Fury From The Deep and basically featured monsters made out of seaweed that terrorised a North Sea gas refinery.

Fast forward a couple of years and I found myself standing in the sea in Brighton, screaming blue murder while standing in about five inches of sea water.
My dad rushed to my aid and asked what was wrong. I pointed down to my feet and he simply laughed – but saved me all the same. My legs had become entangled with seaweed and in my immature and childlike imagination, the seaweed monsters had come to get me.
Even now, when I swim in the sea, I find myself shuddering in utter disgust if seaweed touches me or drifts to the vicinity of where I am swimming.
I love waves as long as they are small. Big waves are bad.
On a holiday to San Sebastian in Spain, I decided to go for a swim. I noticed that the waves were pretty big but I thought I was a strong enough swimmer to cope with them. I waded out into the sea and started swimming away from the shore. The waves were getting quite big so I stopped swimming and decided to turn back. To my horror I found that I was out of my depth and my feet couldn’t quite touch the bottom.
I decided to tread water and let the waves carry me back ashore. It worked – sort of.
I was floating in the water and noticed a young woman about twenty feet ahead of me.

And then I saw it.

A huge wave was approaching fast.

The woman pushed herself up to try to ride the wave. She failed. It hit her full on and I saw her silhouette in the water as it washed over her and bowled her over completely. I saw feet where her head should have been and as the wave reared up in front of me like a giant leviathan, only one two thoughts entered my head:
        “I hope there isn’t any seaweed in that wave."
    “OH SHIT!!!!”
The wave hit me and I kind of lost track of time for a few seconds. All I remember is being overwhelmed by the sound of water smashing against my head. I had no sense of where I was and had no idea what had happened. I was like a marionette and powerless to fight back against the unknown forces assailing me.
When the ordeal was over, just a few seconds later, I found myself lying on the beach having been washed ashore. My swimming trunks had opted to give a few people a great view of my arse. Thankfully I was face down and I managed to pull up my trunks before too many people reeled back in horror.
Sadly that was when I realised my trunks were full of sand – and seaweed.
I staggered out of the water like a demented seaweed monster from Dr Who, much to the delight of my mates who had seen the entire thing from the comfort of their sunbeds.
The final horror of the sea are the creatures that live within. Billy Connolly once said that we are not ever supposed to be in the sea but are too stupid to take the hint; the hint being that creatures in the sea bite us, sting us and eat us.
I refused to go snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef because of box jellyfish, irukandji and sharks.
I have been snorkelling in Barbados and the Bahamas but on one occasion I almost added my contribution to existing marine excrement when a huge grey fish swan past me.
Of course it was just a harmless fish but to me, viewing it underwater and without my glasses, I thought it was Jaws ready to have Plastic Mancunian for lunch.
In conclusion, I want to be beside the seaside – not in the sea. My ultimate plan is to spend my time strolling by a beach somewhere in the world, watching the sun rise or set and enjoying the beauty and tranquillity of nature.
Here are a couple of relaxing songs that remind me of the peace, beauty and tranquillity of the sea.

And my dearest hope is that the writers of Fury From The Deep didn’t base the story on real life events.