Thursday 29 August 2013

A Book Meme

I found this book meme whilst travelling through cyberspace, so I thought I would have a go.

As usual, feel free to steal it if you want – I did.

1. Favourite childhood book?

I’m sad to say that when I was a kid I used to read a lot of Enid Blyton books. It’s hard to pick a favourite but the one I particularly recall is The Adventures of Mr Pink-Whistle, a strange creature that hates unfairness and strives to put things right; a weird version of The Equalizer, if you like.

2. What are you reading right now?

I’m currently reading my third Lee Child book, called Tripwire, featuring Jack Reacher, the ex-military policeman who drifts from crisis to crisis and uses a combination of investigative powers and brute violence to sort things out.

3. What books do you have on request at the library?

Sadly none. It’s been a couple of years since I last visited the library.

4. Bad book habit?

I don’t know whether this is a bad book habit or not, but I have to finish a book even if it is diabolically bad. And I’ve read some dreadful books I can tell you.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?

Nothing. See the answer to question 3.

6. Do you have an e-reader?

I have a Kindle which makes me a slave to Amazon.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?

I like to concentrate on one novel at a time but I have been known to read a couple of non-fiction books at the same time. As well as reading Tripwire (see question 2) I have The QI Book Of The Dead perched on my bathroom window sill for comfort reading while answering a call of nature.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?

Not really. I have tried drifting into other genres but, like a moth to a flame, I am drawn back to my comfort zone.

9. Least favourite book you read this year (so far?)

I’ve enjoyed them all but arguably the worst is Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, the inspiration for Dexter the TV series. It is not a bad book at all and I really did enjoy it; the rest were just  better.

10. Favourite book you've read this year?

The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons; space opera at its best.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?

Not often enough. I should read much more non-fiction and expand my fiction horizons. Perhaps I should force myself to read one book that is completely outside my comfort zone out of every three.

12. What is your reading comfort zone?

Science fiction, horror, thrillers, fantasy, comedy  or a combination of all of them.

13. Can you read on the bus?

Definitely. Reading saved my life in the days when I didn’t have a car and had to spend an hour or two on the bus to work every single day.

14. Favourite place to read?

On a beach with the waves lapping against the shore – or in bed.

15. What is your policy on book lending?

Since buying my Kindle I don’t lend books. However, I have borrowed books in the past so I think it’s only fair to return the favour.

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?

You can’t dog-ear a Kindle. In the past I have tried not to dog-ear books and mostly succeeded.

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?

Only text books or work related technical books

18. Not even with text books?

See previous question.

19. What is your favourite language to read in?

I am fluent in English, American and Australian so it has to be one of those.

20. What makes you love a book?

A story has to be intriguing, scary, thrilling and the characters have to be constantly having a bad day; either that it makes me laugh out loud.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?

I will recommend a book if I am disappointed that I have finished it.

22. Favourite genre?

With my hand on my heart, I have to say horror fiction.

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)

Any factual non-fiction.

24. Favourite biography?

That’s easy: I am Ozzy by Ozzy Osbourne. It is the funniest book I have read in years.

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?

I’ve read a couple and one or two have helped, particularly those that help me cope with workload, such as time management. I haven’t taken everything to heart but in a book full of advice, you can pick up a few gems and make them habit.

26. Favourite cookbook?

I have never read a cookbook and I have no intention of reading one.

27. Most inspirational book you've read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?

Probably my bathroom book The QI Book of the Dead, simply because I have learned a lot about several famous and fabulous historical people, facts that I had no idea about, as well as being introduced to some really crazy people I have never heard of. I haven't finished it yet either.

28. Favourite reading snack?

What a daft question.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown was hyped to buggery and I succumbed. I thought it was distinctly average and sadly I tried some of his other efforts too  - and they were so disappointing. I can’t believe he is so popular. I won't read any more of his books, that's for sure.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?

I don’t read what critics say about anything.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?

Personally I don’t care. If I read a book and don’t like it, I feel annoyed that I wasted my money buying it. And if it saves somebody else spending their cash on, what in my opinion, is a disappointing book then so be it.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you choose?

Any one of them.

33. Most intimidating book you've ever read?

No books have been intimidating but The Dark by James Herbert scared me half to death.

34. Most intimidating book you're too nervous to begin?

I’ll give any book a go.I can't imagine anything worrying me that much - unless it is a factual book about Satanism.

35. Favourite poet?

I hate poetry.

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?

None (see above). I have taken six out at once in the past for a three week work trip to Russia in the middle of winter. I was 40km away from Moscow in an isolated hotel and the temperature ranged from -20 to -10 degrees. I was totally bored and those books saved my life.

37. How often have you returned a book to the library unread?

Once or twice but only because I didn't read them quickly enough.

38. Favourite fictional character?

I like Harry Keogh, the hero of the Necroscope series of horror stories by Bryan Lumley.

39. Favourite fictional villain?

There are so many villains in the books I read and I love them all. One leaps to mind: Randall Flagg from The Stand by Stephen King – but if you ask me tomorrow I will have a different answer.

40. Books I'm most likely to bring on vacation?

Any books in the genres mentioned in question 12.

41. The longest I've gone without reading.

I never go for more than a day without reading.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.

Fifty Shades of Grey. Mind you, I wouldn’t even start it.

43. What distracts you easily when you're reading?

Music. Music and reading do not go together.

44. Favourite film adaptation of a novel?

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harries was a pretty good adaptation.

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?

The Jason Bourne trilogy by Robert Ludlum. Don’t get me wrong, The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum were fantastic films and I loved them. The big problem for me was the fact that the only thing they had in common with the books was Jason Bourne, the main character.

I would dearly love to see a proper adaptation of the three book based extremely closely to the books. The Bourne Ultimatum ranks as my favourite Robert Ludlum book and it is absolutely nothing like the film at all.

46. The most money I've ever spent in the bookstore at one time?

Probably about £20.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?

Never – unless it is a technical text book.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?

Somebody setting fire to it.

49. Do you like to keep your books organised?

No. Mrs PM makes me get rid of them. However, now I have a Kindle I can keep them all in alphabetical order on my device without interference from my beloved.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you've read them?

I prefer to keep them. Mrs PM prefers to ditch them. I have a rule that I will refuse to break though. Comedy books and non-fiction must be kept (as reference books if nothing else).

51. Are there any books you've been avoiding?

Only books I have no intention of reading. Why avoid a book that you want to read?

52. Name a book that made you angry.

The Dark Tower by Stephen King. This was the pinnacle of a seven book series that supposedly rivalled The Lord of the Rings and when I finished it I was so disappointed that I almost threw the book into the swimming pool (I was on holiday at the time). I actually ranted to Mrs PM about it and she watched me blank faced because she had no idea what I was raving about.

53. A book you didn't expect to like but did?

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K.Rowling. I ended up reading all seven books as a result.

54. A book that you expected to like but didn't?

The Dark Tower by Stephen King.

55. Favourite guilt-free, pleasure reading?

A huge multi-volume space opera full of madness, monsters and mayhem.

Friday 23 August 2013

The Insomniac

Sometimes I suffer from insomnia and I have no idea why. I manage to get to sleep but, being a light sleeper I suddenly ping awake in the middle of the night and absolutely struggle to fall asleep again – until approximately two minutes before my alarm clock goes off for work.

I have tried several cures for insomnia and to be honest I find that a percentage of them work:


The vast majority of them don’t. I’ve tried them all.

Here are some that I have tried and that have failed spectacularly.


I love reading but I simply cannot read a bad boring book without ranting internally, something which fuels my insomnia. Sadly my favourite genres are science fiction, action thrillers and good old heart-wrenching blood-curdling horror; none of these work.

Science fiction sparks my imagination, something that is a true ally to insomnia.

Action thrillers have the same effect.

Horror books just scare the shit out of me and leave me lying in bed convinced that if I fall asleep a mad alien maniac will take me away and perform gruesome experiments on the most tender parts of my anatomy.

Drinking Warm Milk

Drinking warm milk does not work because the idea of warming milk was conceived in one of the more despicable think tanks of Hell itself.

Warm milk is disgusting and, if I were to survive the foul taste without vomiting, I would almost certainly wake up an hour later, desperate for the toilet and cursing because no amount of minty mouth wash can remove the lingering taste of rancid, stale warm milk.

Counting Sheep

Whoever thought that counting sheep was a good idea is an oddball. I have tried it but I find myself worrying about whether the field into which the sheep are so nimbly leaping into will be able to accommodate them. And then I start wondering why the sheep are jumping the fence into that field in the first place.

Is it a better field?

And why are they leaping over the fence one by one?

Is there a queuing system?

And are there an infinite number of sheep? There must be – because I have reached 2,345,203,334 – and there were still billions of the buggers left.

And what about the poor old sheep that can’t jump the fence?

Do they cry when they see the youngsters leaping over the fence, mocking their invalidity?

Also to be quite honest, I’ve never seen a sheep jump so I find the whole thing worrying and unbelievable.

And that fuels my insomnia.

Listening to Music

This has worked at least for a short while. I have a playlist on my iPod containing lots of mellow sleep-inducing melodies and they help soothe my raging insomnia. Sadly, even my mellow playlist contains a few, shall we say, more heavy numbers and invariably a loud blast of Judas Priest will wrench me from my slumber with maximum prejudice, making me leap out of bed in terror.

Writing a Novel in My Head

I have written around 2,532 novels in my head and they all have something in common – they are utter rubbish, so rubbish in fact that I beat myself up about how bad my ideas are and how, if they ever somehow find their way into print, people will ridicule my poor writing technique, my incredibly bad plots, appalling characters and extremely poor verbiage.

And that keeps me awake.

Lucid Dreaming

I’ve tried this and it doesn’t work. I can’t be aware that I am dreaming because when I am asleep I think I might be awake and when I am awake I think I might be asleep.  But I’m not. I’m either awake or asleep and not both awake and asleep or neither awake or asleep. The great Stan Laurel summed it up perfectly for me:

“I had a dream I was awake and I woke up to find myself asleep.”

Confused? Yes – I was and that kept me awake – or did it?

Not Thinking At All

This is impossible. I’ve tried meditation, clearing my mind of all things that might fuel my insomnia but when a random thought pops into my head I end up arguing with myself:

“Will you stop thinking about rubber chickens? You’re supposed to be clearing your mind.”

“I can’t help it. The thought just popped into my head and now I can’t get rid of it.”

“You’re a bloody arse! You can’t even do this one simple thing.”

“Leave me alone – now I’m stressed by your nagging and the rubber chickens are still there.”

Insomnia rubs its hands in glee.

Eating Cheese Before I Go To Bed

Cheese gives me weird dreams so I have tried eating a fair amount before going to bed. When I lie there in the darkness, I contemplate how magnificently bizarre my dreams are going to be and I look forward to them. Sadly, eating cheese before bedtime doesn’t agree with me and I end up having to get up to deal with a mild and extremely irritating bout of indigestion (see Getting Up later).


I’ve tried hypnosis and this actually works. “Great,” I hear you cry. Sadly, Mrs PM recognises my trance state and has started suggesting things to me.

“You have an urge to clean the bathroom on a daily basis.”

“You hate rock music and consider Lady Ga Ga and Rihanna to be the pinnacle of music.”

“You have this desperate urge to spend money on things I want.”

Getting Up

I’ve heard that when you can’t sleep the best thing to do is to get up and watch TV or do something constructive. Sadly, TV in the middle of the night is so awful that I find myself ranting to the cats about the incredibly bland nonsense I am witnessing on the gazillion channels that I can see. I’ve tried writing a blog post – but that didn’t work either:


Sunday 11 August 2013

I Just Don't Get It

Regular readers will know that I have a soapbox that I get out occasionally to air my views and rant about things that I find disturbing, objectionable or just simply wrong. However, for this post, I don’t want to get my soapbox out. I want to understand. And I am hoping that there are readers out there who will help me.

I will try not to rant, I promise.

There are certain things in life that I just don’t get. I am fifty years old and I reckon I have a reasonably sensible and well-balanced view on the world. Nevertheless, I find myself looking at certain aspects of life on this planet and shake my head in disbelief at why they are so popular or why they even exist at all.

Am I stupid? Don’t answer that question.

I am going to offer you, dear reader, ten things that make me wonder whether the human race is devolving rather than evolving. And if you are one of those people who champion the things I am about to discuss, please, please, PLEASE tell me why I shouldn’t get on my soapbox and start bellowing about them in future posts.

I will try to be brief.

Sex Addiction

I am a man and I know that over the years I have thought about sex an awful lot – almost constantly in fact. Men do that – they can’t help it. Yet I have to chuckle when certain celebrities have had to undergo therapy for a condition called sex addiction simply because they are so famous that they cannot control the voice of their little fella when his brain alerts him to a woman who has breasts, legs and a pretty face.

Most men look at women and their little fella offers an opinion about whether she is worthy as a mate. To the majority of men, such thoughts are lost in an ocean of other external stimulae and warrant only a verbal exclamation, particularly those men who have a woman already.

“She’s nice,” you hear guys say. The more outspoken ones will suggest a more lurid scenario and single guys may even act on their urges, driven by the need to procreate, by actually trying to chat them up. Yet we find celebrities who simply cannot control their urges and whose little fella is the boss, complaining after having been caught out, that they suffer from sex addiction and, in order to save face, go into therapy to explain why they can’t keep their little fella in his place.

Do me a favour! I think it is an excuse to make people feel sorry for them after been unfaithful. Obviously a celebrity will attract members of the opposite sex.

Just keep your pecker in his cage!

Train Spotting

Why on earth would anybody have an urge to stand on a rainy railway platform with a little book and a pen and mark off the numbers of locomotives as they trundle past? Why would they do it for hours on end? I wouldn’t mind if each locomotive was unique – they aren’t. Most of them are the bloody same!

“Wow – I saw a train!”

How bloody interesting!

Cult of Celebrity

Why are people interested in celebrity gossip, particularly when the so-called celebrity in question is famous for nothing more than being outrageous on television. If you ask me, this obsession with celebrities who deserve no more than a passing thought is damaging people.

You see it whenever a reality show appears on television.  An absolute nobody is instantly turned into an overnight celebrity because they did something disgraceful and acquired an army of fans who are so shallow that they live vicariously through these sad attention seekers.

I just don’t get it. I can’t understand why I should be bothered about a young idiot who gets drunk and makes an arse of himself on a programme like Geordie Shore.

I have been tempted to write a post about the cult of Scientology and I may still do this in future. I was once
almost enrolled in this cult as a young impressionable student (read about it here). When you look into Scientology you can forgive yourself for thinking “WHAT THE PHARRRRKKK?” 
Famous celebrities like Tom Cruise have paid a fortune to rise up the hierarchy and it is all based on the imagination of science fiction writer L.Ron Hubbard a controversial character at best. 
Why would anyone with wealth even consider joining this cult? You may as well just set fire to your cash.

Modern Jazz
Modern Jazz musicians are extremely good at playing their chosen musical instruments. The problem for me is that when they get together to play a song, while they all play their own self-indulgent parts brilliantly, it appears as if they are all playing totally different tunes. 
The result is a total dirge.
Readers of my last post will recall that I love progressive rock. However, one of my favourite champions of the genre, Steven Wilson, has introduced a touch of jazz into his latest solo albums (mainly because his band, like me, can’t stand jazz). 
I don’t play those songs – they are not my cup of tea at all.

Contemporary Art
Regular readers will know about my hatred for modern art. I simply do not get it. I do not understand how random slops of paint on a canvas with the title “My Alien Colostomy Bag” can drive anybody to say anything other than “Let’s burn this piece of excrement!”
The best justification I heard for the bizarre way in which art has migrated straight down the toilet made me rant mercilessly for days.
I said: “Why doesn’t anybody paint pictures any longer instead of gluing bits of metal together and calling it something like “Living Vomit”?"
The lady in question said: “It’s been done – that’s so last century!”
Rant? You would not believe how that poor woman suffered for her art.

When I recently saw a photo of David Beckham my first thought was “What the pharrk has he done to his body?”.
Why would anybody deface their own body with tattoos? They are so permanent and, certainly in the UK on a canvas of pale white skin like mine, they look awful. It’s like a form of modern art (see above). Are you going to tell me that anybody who has covered body in shocking blue colours isn’t going to examine their sagging skin when they are older and say “I wish I hadn’t had a picture of a dragon eating a huge banana scrawled on my belly!”

I love it when people use their imagination to put words on paper in a way that is beautiful and thought provoking.; yet poetry can be utterly ridiculous. I’m not talking about song lyrics, rhymes and funny limerick style pieces – I’m talking about the artistic pretentious rubbish where people put together  random words and the reader has to make sense out of it. In many ways it’s like modern art – appealing to pseudo intellectuals and nobody else. 
Here’s a poem, written by me, that is shit! Some people may read this and say "genius” – please don’t tell them I ate a dictionary, spat out words in random order and put them together to produce this utter mess:
I contemplated the torso of a despondent galactic masterpiece
And my heart thanked my voracious sight.
I hastened my swiftness, disoriented by my awareness
Yet somehow did not submit to fright.
I call it The Loquacious Figment.
And I say to you now, dear reader – if you think it is brilliant then I have to break it to you that you are indeed a pseudo intellectual and I look forward to your explanation of why it is so good as well as the philosophical quotes that support your argument.
Rest assured that this is a one off and I won't be filling this blog with crap poetry.

Outrageous Fashion
Why? Who on earth wears clothes that, at best, can be described as utterly ridiculous? And why are these people willing to pay a bloody fortune for it?

Justin Bieber
Where do I begin with this … this … (careful Dave!) pop star? It seems to me that a fair percentage of the female population have taken leave of their senses and been mesmerised by this young lad. I wouldn’t mind if he were modest about his success. 
He’s not.
He’s one of the most arrogant egotistical celebrities out there. What does he call his fans? Beliebers? I am not a violent person but the more I hear about his escapades, the more I want to give him a hearty slap.

And his music is shit too!

And finally…
Please understand, dear reader, that when it comes to certain topics, I am totally thick. If anybody can explain why any of the ten things above are worthy of my attention in anyway, I will be most grateful.
And I apologise – my soapbox did make an appearance (or ten)!

Sunday 4 August 2013

Progressive Rock Is Magnificent

I have written a number of negative posts about things I dislike, such as golf, opera and Shakespeare. I think it’s about time I started to be a bit more positive and perhaps a little more self-indulgent; I aim to pepper my inane drivel with posts about things I truly love.

I will start with a music genre that you may or may not be familiar with: progressive rock.

What is progressive rock?

Progressive rock (or prog rock) is a subset of rock music where the normal accepted rules about what constitutes a song or the music are cast aside in favour of experimentation, key changes, lengthy masterpieces and fusions with other styles of music to elevate the pieces above the normal formulaic rock recipe.

Basically it is rock music without rules.

Progressive rock music tends to be experimental and the songs range in length for you normal four or five minutes up to 15 minutes, 20 minutes or more. The songs are full of key changes, time signature changes and are serious musical works of art in some case, comparable with classical music. Some songs I have even fused genres I’m not keen on into the mix, such as jazz and although I am not too keen on every experiment they try, for the most part the result is resounding success.

The very first single I ever bought was a progressive rock single by Emerson, Lake and Palmer. My favourite band is Rush, a progressive rock band that are approaching their 40th anniversary. My CD collection is full of albums by artists such as Rush, Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree and Pink Floyd the true heavyweights of the genre in my view.

And these days, Muse are carrying the torch, producing commercially acceptable music but filling their albums with superb progressive songs.

I have mates who share a lot of my musical taste and we often go to rock gigs together. The overlap is significant and I have seen some phenomenal rock bands with them.

However, they draw the line at progressive rock and leave me alone in my love of the genre. I don’t like going to gigs on my own but have recently been forced to simply because I can’t persuade anyone to part with their cash to see a band who, in my opinion, is full of technically brilliant musical virtuosos.

“Why don’t you fancy going to see Dream Theater? “ I asked my mate two years ago.

“Because their songs last about 15 minutes and go on and on and on,” he replied. To him a song should last five minutes at most.

I can see his point but I disagree. When I listen to classical music, a symphony for example, I listen to a musical masterpiece that lasts for ages and carries me to a happy imaginary place.

Progressive rock does the same for me.

Of course, not all of their songs are that long. For example, these days, the average length of a Rush song is around five or six minutes. The problem is that these shorter songs are also technically stunning, intelligent songs that challenge the status quo in terms of acceptable music.

Detractors of progressive rock argue that the genre is self-indulgent, long-winded and pretentious. I know Mrs PM thinks so. To her and many others you should be able to dance to a song and it should be a short sharp bout of happiness. To her, progressive rock is all about fantasy, geekdom, weirdness, self-indulgent solos and nonsensical lyrics.

Her views are summed up in this entertaining  little parody from Bill Bailey:

However, when I listen to prog, I have no desire to dance, mostly I simply want to sing, conduct or play the air guitar or drums or simply close my eyes and let the music take me on a long journey through my imagination. The lyrical content, particularly from Rush, is intelligent and well-crafted.

Music is more than little pop songs. It’s much, much deeper than that.

Here are some examples by my favourite progressive rock bands, that I think illustrate the diversity of the genre. If you are expecting a load of noise, rock guitars and heavy metal, then you will be surprised. Have a listen and see what you think. Don’t get me wrong, some output can be extremely heavy and noisy; the difference is that even the loudest and fastest songs are technically brilliant:

Muse – The Second Law: Isolated System 

If you have seen World War Z then you will recognise this song as it was used as the main theme of that movie. This particular song is almost orchestral, extremely melodic and is a far cry from some of their more commercial output.

Pink Floyd – Comfortably Numb

There are certain songs that bring a tear to my eyes and Comfortably Numb is one of them. Again, it is a wonderfully enchanting song with a beautiful orchestral feel to it, yet with a suggestion of malice as an undercurrent to the song. 

Rush – Mystic Rhythms
Rush are one of those bands that have a loyal army of fans but only few people have heard of. I went to see Rush this year and when I told Mrs PM that the venue was the MEN Arena, Manchester’s biggest musical venue, played by people like Madonna, she simply couldn’t understand how they would manage to fill the place. They did and the concert was fantastic. The fans are loyal because Rush have been producing brilliant music since I was a teenager. Mystic Rhythms is the song I selected because it reminds me of a key moment in my life in 1985. I could write a book about my life with the music of Rush as the soundtrack.

Porcupine Tree – Arriving Somewhere, But Not Here

This song is an example of a relatively long song that is a classical masterpiece. I love songs that start off slowly and melodically, and then build up and up taking you along for the ride. It is a beautiful song and reaches a crescendo about half way through before drifting back to a soothing melodic conclusion. I love it.

Dream Theater – Bridges In The Sky

Dream Theater are classed in some quarters as progressive metal, that is, their music has a much harder edge to it. Furthermore, the average length of their songs is well over ten minutes, some of them approaching and exceeding twenty minutes. This is a typical example of a Dream Theater masterpiece, with throat singing at the start, a choir and an almost orchestral mix before the guitar kicks in and we find ourselves in heavy metal heaven. Dream Theater music is extremely complex and musically very challenging to play, I imagine. Yet at the same time, some of the band’s music is melodic and almost classical.

One of my favourite songs by Dream Theater is the 24 minute Octavarium and I recently found a symphonic version of the song covered by an orchestra. If you are a fan of classical music and have the stamina, listen to this masterpiece below and then look up the original Dream Theater version for comparison.

This sums up why progressive rock is magnificent and my favourite music genre. It is moderan classical music.

Over to you dear reader:

Have you heard of progressive rock?

Are you a fan of progressive rock? If so, who are your favourite bands?

Do you think progressive rock is a load of old pretentious crap?

As usual, if you disagree with me, let me know. I don't mind.