Sunday 30 March 2014

The Time Traveller

I love weird stuff.

Most of all, I love laughing at incredible (so-called) footage produced by people that proves with no doubt that the weird stuff we are looking at or watching is in fact proof of crazy conspiracy theories, the existence of aliens, ghosts and monsters, time travel or that our leaders are in fact some form of malevolent shape-shifting creatures that evolved from sentient reptiles who secretly rule the earth and shape the destiny of true humanity.

The internet is full of crazy videos, photographs and verification that the ideas conceived in the minds of highly imaginative yet slightly eccentric people are in fact absolutely true.

While there may be some footage that is difficult to explain (mainly because experts are struggling to prove that the photo or video isn’t in fact fake), I do occasionally love to surf YouTube, blogs and other sites that offer irrefutable substantiation that we are indeed in the dark about the true nature of such mysteries.

I have a very active imagination and I absolutely love science fiction and paranormal eeriness and while I mock the existence of things like yetis, ghosts, monsters in lakes, grey aliens, ghosts, demons and intelligent shape-shifting lizards in reality, I simply love reading about them and the people who believe them. If nothing else it gives me ideas for the future novels I will write.

I am currently reading a Stephen King novel about a man who travels back in time with a view to stopping Lee Harvey Oswald from killing JFK. The idea of the novel fascinates me on several fronts.

First, it involves time travel and potential paradoxes. Second, the assassination of JFK is one the most debated conspiracies of our time and finally, the novel is a riveting thriller.

And, best of all it has prompted me to scour the internet for “proof” of time travel.

I have found some gems, dear reader, that I want to share with you.

(1) John Titor was (or should I say “will be”) a time traveller from the year 2036, who appeared in 2000 and claimed, via internet bulletin boards, that there would be a civil war in America in the year 2004 and that in 2015, Russia would unleash nuclear holocaust on the European Union, China and America, with (as you may predict) America ultimately triumphing but Europe and China perishing. Do you remember the American Civil war of 2004, dear reader? I must have slept through that.

(2) In December 2008 in China, a tomb was opened containing a coffin that had supposedly lain undisturbed for over 400 years. The archaeologists scraped dirt and debris from the sarcophagus and were astounded to discover a tiny Swiss watch, even etched with the name “Swiss”, which was also covered in the same dirt as the coffin. The time on the watch was frozen at 10:06.

(3) A Swede called Håkan Nordkvist  claims to have discovered a time portal under his kitchen sink, while mending a water leak, and found himself in the year 2042 where he met himself at the age of 72. By lucky chance he had a mobile phone and videoed the meeting:

A time portal under a kitchen sink. Well I believe that - don't you?

(4) Andrew Basiago, a Seattle lawyer claims to have been part of a secret US project called Pegasus in the late 1960’s that allowed him, as a child, to travel in time. He claims that there is a photo of him at the Gettysburg address and that he was in the Ford Theatre on the night that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Bizarrely he also claims that he and President Obama were enrolled in a program in the early 1980’s that allowed young Americans to teleport to the surface of Mars. I'm surprised Mr Obama didn't use that in his presidential campaign. I would vote for any man who claimed to have set foot on Mars - wouldn't you?

(5) Eugene Helton claims to have repeatedly travelled back in time and has photographs to prove it. He offers proof that he travelled back in the form of photographs of himself taken by other people.  He also claims to be Blade, i.e. half man half vampire, which makes me think he just found photos of people who look vaguely like him from the past.

Now, is it just me or are people just basically stupid? First of all, I regard the above cases as utterly ridiculous and the claimants to be either totally delusional or out to make themselves famous and rich in the most bizarre way possible.

And what about the people who actually believe them? How can people be so utterly gullible and stupid?

If there really were time portals or time machines then surely these would either remain secret or the authorities would demand tangible proof of their existence rather than the demented ramblings of charlatans or attention seeking weirdos.

Don’t get me wrong; I would dearly love to meet a real life Doctor Who, and I would love to step back in time or see how mankind has evolved in 200 years’ time. But such desires are simply the product of collective science fiction authors – and even my own imagination.

I am very happy to enjoy stories like H.G. Well’s The Time Machine, Dean Koontz’s Lightning and even romantic stuff like Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife.

I will happily watch Dr Who, Back to the Future, The Terminator series and Star Trek movies that involve time travel such as Star Trek: First Contact.

However, I draw the line at believing it is possible by listening to unverified claims by (how can I put this nicely) disillusioned people who attempt to exploit gullible people with ridiculous claims.

Incredibly there are notable people who have scoured the internet actually looking for proof of time travel. I look at stores that amuse me and make me chuckle in disbelief. Yet I have found stories reporting that physicists have been searching the internet for evidence that time travellers exist, searching for predictions that have supposedly come true. Even Professor Stephen Hawking succumbed by throwing a party for time travellers, holding it before he actually sent out the invitations.

Guess what?

Nobody turned up.

Maybe that was a publicity stunt or maybe the great man dearly wanted to believe that time travel is possible.

Well, Professor Hawking, I have a revelation for you. I will share it with you dear reader.

I think you need to sit down.


We are ALL time travellers, dear reader, every single one of us.

We move forward through time at the rate of one second per second - therefore we ALL travel through time every second of our existence.

Ergo - time travel is all around us and we we can all do it.

Sadly we are constrained by the fact that we cannot travel any faster forwards in time and we certainly cannot travel backwards and anybody who claims that he has travelled into the future or the past is in fact talking nonsense - that is, unless he appears in a big blue box and calls himself the Doctor.

Thursday 27 March 2014

The City of Dreaming Spires

My sixth form chemistry teacher tried to persuade me to go to Oxford University. Actually, that’s a lie. He offered the entire class an option. Briefly it was this:

You can go to Oxford (or Cambridge) but if you want to you must excel at all of you’re a Level subjects and then exceed them. You must take S-level exams – and pass them – and then take an entrance exam. 

For the first time in my life I was forced to examine my own potential. I found all my A-Level courses challenging enough but then I had to do additional work to pass yet another set of exams to get to Oxford (or Cambridge).

I decided that A-Levels were enough for me and I would do my best to pass them and go to a university that I could achieve.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I finally made it to Oxford University after all these years.

I hasten to add – just as a visitor – not a student.

Mrs PM and I are on a quest to visit British cities with a heritage and history that we have ignored in our lives so far. I am ashamed when American tourists say to me:

“You live in England and you’ve never been to Oxford? I have and I live thousands of miles away. You should be ashamed.”

And the truth is I am ashamed – hence our quest.

This weekend it was the turn of Oxford to suffer a visit from the PMs. We found a bed and breakfast with a car park that was just ten minutes’ walk from the city centre. I must admit, I was excited. I had heard that Oxford was a beautiful little city full of history and tradition and I wanted to experience this first hand.

Compared to Manchester, Oxford is a very small city. The centre itself is easy to cover on foot. It didn’t take us too long to get our bearings. We arrived on Friday at around 2pm and, after a pub lunch near to Christ Church College, we mooched around the city for a couple of hours with no real plan of action.

Oxford has a few park and ride sites, which means that you can park your car away from the city centre and catch any one of a number of buses into Oxford itself and stroll around in a city that seems to be populated only by taxis, buses and bikes.

And that’s one of the first things I noticed – the sheer volume of bikes either riding around the streets or chained to railings and special bike areas dotted around the city centre.

Bike City

As we strolled around the city I spotted a little passageway with a sign pointing to “The Famous Turf Tavern”. I was intrigued and led Mrs PM down the passageway at the end of which we found the pub that the sign referred too. It was an opportunity to have a quick pint in a 13th Century alehouse that has featured in Inspector Morse and also gets a mention in the Thomas Hardy novel, Jude the Obscure.

The bar was wonderfully quaint with a low beamed ceiling that I very nearly smashed my head against.

“How many people bash their heads?” I quipped to the barmaid, who must have heard the question a thousand times.

“Lots,” she replied with a polite smile.

The pub itself was full of foreign visitors and Oxford students, a couple of whom appeared to be dressed up for a graduation ceremony.

After a further bit of mooching around the city, we returned to our hotel before strolling out again for an evening meal.

The next day, we had a planned walking itinerary to take in the sights, taking in Alice’s Shop as a starting point. Oxford is the birth place of Alice in Wonderland and Alice’s Shop is mentioned in the book. Today it sells lots of Alice in Wonderland gifts and mementos. Apparently Alice is based on a real girl called Alice Liddell. To be honest, I was intrigued and started looking for a white rabbit and a hole big enough to fall down.

Crossing over the road from Alice’s Shop, we explored Christ Church, including the Cathedral. Sadly, the Great Hall, the inspiration for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies, was closed because our weekend coincided with the Oxford literary festival. It seems that Oxford has now, to a certain degree, claimed Harry Potter as one of its sons, as was evident from the shops selling Harry Potter memorabilia around the city.

The Great Hall in Hogwarts?
Sadly, not open to Plastic Mancunians today.

Our walk took us to most if not all of the other sights in Oxford including the Sheldonian Theatre, the Bodleian Library, the Carfax Tower and the Radcliffe Camara, via a museum or two. I even found a place to hide my fear of heights as we climbed up the relatively small Saxon Tower of St Michael, a tower that is almost a thousand years old. Although it wasn’t as tall as some of the structures I have been stupid enough to climb, I found my legs shaking slightly as I tried to take photographs of the city from this lofty position.

I was particularly fascinated with the Bodleian Library (known by the Oxford elite as “The Bod”), containing over 11 million items. I would have loved to have dived in and asked to wander around the old bookshelves full of dusty and ancient works, reading words from times gone by on all manner of fascinating subjects. Sadly, time and the Oxford literary festival put paid to that idea.

Our time in Oxford was completed on Saturday night with a Chinese meal and a final late evening stroll around the city before retiring back at the hotel for a good night’s sleep before the 160 mile journey back to Manchester.

Here are a few photos we took of the city.

A big bell in the Saxon Tower at St Michael's

Radcliffe Camara

Bodleian Library

Oxford riverside

One of the many churches

Hertford Bridge (aka The Bridge of Sighs)
Finally, here are a few fun facts about Oxford.

(1) Oxford was the capital of England during the English Civil war.

(2) Adolf Hitler had plans to invade England during the World War 2 and if he had succeeded he would have made Oxford his base. This was one of the reasons why he didn’t attempt to bomb the city.

(3) Christ Church Cathedral has a bell called Old Tom that strikes 101 times at exactly 9:05 pm. Traditionally this is a curfew signal for students who should immediately cease their late night shenanigans and return to the college.

(4) Oxford is home to the world’s first public museum, the Ashmolean Museum, opened in 1683.

(5) Twenty six British Prime Ministers were educated at Oxford including Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and the current incumbent, David Cameron.

If you ever get a chance to visit Oxford, I would recommend that you do. And let me know if you say a white rabbit running around – or Lord Voldermort.

Sunday 16 March 2014

The Alpha Male

I’ve just discovered something about myself that I didn’t know, which is amazing considering that I've lived over half a century.

What's more, I’ve also discovered something that I didn’t know about my gender.

First of all, I thought that were two types of male: alpha males and non-alpha males.

I am partially right about the grouping. However, what I didn't know what that non-alpha males are further subdivided into subgroups. To summarise:

An alpha male is effectively the leader of the pack, the man who seems to attract the most women, the natural leader in a work environment whose confidence knows no bounds. He is competitive and demanding and tries to ensure that he cannot be dethroned from his position as leader.

A beta male is your best mate, the guy who will do anything for you. He is the second in command to the alpha male and, in many ways, a better partner for the opposite sex simply because he is more cooperative and helpful and knows how to maintain peace and harmony. He is sure of himself and, unlike the alpha male, does not feel the need to prove himself. Basically a beta male is a nice guy.

And then there is the omega male. He is a loser, a man who does not take responsibility for anything. The omega male is the weirdo, the creepy guy who sits in the corner and doesn’t engage with anybody; the strange fellow who doesn’t have a girlfriend and probably never will. He is essentially the exact opposite of an alpha male.

But there’s more.

The delta male is your general everyday guy. There is nothing special about him and nothing particularly bad. He is the guy you see down the pub with his mates who likes to think he is an alpha male but isn’t really. A delta male is a crowd pleaser, somebody who will follow fashion, act like an alpha male but then stop short of being one.

And still there’s more.

How about the gamma male? The gamma male is the unusual man who thinks that the world is against him and that he is really the best man around. He doesn’t conform and everything he does is for personal gain. He is a man not to be trusted.

There can’t be more, can there? Oh yes.

Let me introduce you to the sigma male. He is the lone wolf, the man who is happy in his own skin and does not follow the masses like a lost sheep or conform to anything he doesn’t believe in. The sigma male will never allow himself to be dominated by an alpha male.

That must be it. Nope – there is one final man I want to tell you about.

The lambda male is, I guess, gay, though from what I can gather he isn’t necessarily that way inclined.

So what kind of male am I? Judging from my own words above, I would put myself in the beta or delta category. However, for a laugh I have tried a few personality quizzes to help me determine my place once and for all.

To be honest, I take such personality quizzes with a pinch of salt, especially since the time that Scientologists used one to try to recruit me by convincing me that I was a suicidal maniac.

Here are the results:

One quiz suggested I am a classic combination of alpha and beta. Another told me I was 86% beta and the final one confirmed that I am in fact like most other men: a delta male.

Personally, I think I was right originally; I am a beta male.

Nevertheless, as one quiz suggested, I don’t think that anything is as clear cut as these categories suggest. I am certain that there are pure alpha males but in my experience most men have traits that fall into a couple of categories.

There are times, for example when I can be an alpha male and under those circumstances I have actually stood up to people who I believe to be pure alpha males. It kind of depends on the situation really.

I am also prone to questioning the establishment and ranting about how the world is a crazy place and that I simply do not want to conform to the path that fate has destined I should take. These are gamma and sigma male characteristics.

I can safely say with my hand on my heart that I am definitely not an omega male nor a lambda male (though to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what a lambda male is. I have certainly met gay men who I believe to be alpha males in the past).

And of course, these categories aren’t just limited to men. All of the classifications apply to women as well. I have certainly met a few alpha females in my time; they can be as difficult to deal with, if not more so, than alpha men to be honest.

So, in conclusion, this post has enlightened me as much as it has hopefully enlightened you, dear reader.

I had no idea that we as people can fall into so many personality categories. I would go further and suggest that, really, there are probably a lot more than the ones I have listed.

Humans are complicated animals and, while attempting to classify us according to our personality and behaviour seems to be a logical thing to do, it is far more complex a task than popping us all into one of seven groups.

I imagine that there are a lot of people in the world with a similar personality to me but one thing I do know is that there is not another Plastic Mancunian on earth (I’m not talking about people who claim to be Mancunian but aren’t really from Manchester).

There is nobody in the world exactly like me.

I am unique, dear reader.

And so are you.

However, I would be interested to hear which group you think you belong to.

Are you alpha, beta, gamma, delta, sigma, omega or lambda or maybe a mixture of all of them?

Thursday 13 March 2014

Grumpy Old Man On Board

On my way home from work, I pulled up behind a car at a red traffic light and started to rant to myself, thus shattering yet another successful stint of being a mild-mannered Plastic Mancunian instead of the raging grumpy old git that I have become in my old age.

So why was I ranting?

Had the driver in the car in front driven like a maniac? No!

Had the driver of the car in front violated a traffic law? No!

Had the driver in front been an inconsiderate arse and pressed the road rage button in my brain? No!

Had the driver done something stupid? Well – depending on your viewpoint – yes!

I squinted at the rear windscreen and saw a sticker. The sticker was a small yellow diamond with tiny writing on it and a picture of a baby’s dummy (or pacifier if you live across the pond).

This was the sticker:

I’m sorry but this sticker has annoyed me ever since I started driving. 


It seems innocuous enough, doesn’t it? Why should it make me pull out my soapbox and make me rant to myself mercilessly? 

Because it is totally and utterly pointless and assumes that random drivers are psychopaths. The problem  is that, while there may be psychopaths on the road, a stupid and pointless sticker is hardly likely to make him stop and think “I won’t smash into the back of THAT car! I'll choose ANOTHER one without a baby on board.”

First of all, the sticker itself has writing on it that is so small that you have to drive almost up the backside of the car before you can read it. 

Furthermore, if I really did have a crazy urge to smash into the back of the car in front, do you really think that when I was a yard away from it and looking forward to destroying both of our cars in a thoughtless act of road violence, seriously injuring or maybe killing both occupants (including myself) and, that a tiny sticker would make me think twice because there was an infant in the car?

There is only one sticker that makes me rant more – and it is this one:

I may be determined to destroy your car and my car even with a child of unknown gender but will definitely back off if it is a little girl.

It’s ridiculous! I just don’t get the reason for making the stickers so small. If anything they are more likely to make a driver think “What does that say” and drive closer than he would normally. I have driven my car with two young children in it and if anybody had dared to buy me a Baby on Board sticker I would have hurled it into the nearest bin.

That pointless sticker wasn’t the only one that irritated me. As I drove on, I turned away from the Baby on Board car, which was a good thing, but then I found myself behind another car with an equally ridiculous sticker in his back windscreen.

I was on a roll now. I ranted to driver in front, even though I knew that he couldn’t hear me.

“What do you mean Jesus I Trust In You? Are you expecting Jesus to drive up behind you and say “Thanks”? Are you just being smug and think that you are better than me because I am not religious enough to boast about my bond with the Son of God? Do you think anybody cares?”

Personally, I don’t have any car stickers because I simply don’t see the point of them. Some of them are vaguely funny but once you’ve got the joke why bother?

Here are a few examples of what I mean:

Yes, they bring a smile – once! See what I mean? They too are pointless –utterly pointless.

I’d rather have a nodding dog – and I hate those too. At least some of them are cute. Thankfully, they are few and far between these days:

And do you remember furry dice? What was the point of those? Do people actually buy them now? It seems they do:

I think a lot of people go overboard when it comes to pointless car accessories. I mean who in their right mind would buy headlight lashes?

Thankfully I have both taste and common sense. I don’t have a nodding dog and no stupid stickers will ever find their way in or on my car. 

The only thing I need is a music machine of some kind so that I can allow myself to drift into song instead of ranting at Baby On Board stickers.

To any readers who think they serve a purpose – they do not. The chances of them preventing a psychopath from ramming your car are miniscule. 

And they annoy people like me!

Mind you, if you like seeing grumpy old gits like me rant to themselves in a car, maybe you can get a perverse kind of pleasure from it.

I think I like my own sticker at the head of this post, actually. Maybe I will print it off and glue it to the back of my rear windscreen. It will certainly be accurate.

What do you think?

Tuesday 4 March 2014

The Gambling Bug

So there I was standing at a urinal, answering a call of nature when I spotted a voluptuous girl lying across a table. Now before you run off screaming about toilets and weirdness, don’t worry; this is not a disgusting tale.

On the contrary, I am about to tell you my thoughts about gambling.

I was in a toilet in a pub in Manchester, and on the wall directly in front of me was a picture of the young lady in question. She was holding a chip in her hand and the table in question was a roulette table.

I was staring at an advert offering me the chance to throw away my money in an online casino and it got me thinking (a very dangerous thing).

The whole world seems to have gone gambling mad.

I’ve been to Las Vegas, arguably the most famous gambling centres in the world, and I was astounded by how much money that was changing hands. On the first night, I had decided on a small amount to gamble every single day.

If I lost it then I would stop.

If I won, I would stop.

And in both cases I did just that.

Overall, in the week I was there, I lost a relatively small amount of money. Mrs PM had more luck and actually came out on top.

What amazed me about the experience was that it took all of ten minutes to lose the paltry sum of money I had decided to risk. I watched numerous people in many casinos in Vegas who were there for hours.

Either they were very rich or where being constantly savaged by the Gambling Bug.

I watched one man at the roulette wheel lose a ridiculous amount of money. Sure, he won some of it back but, unless he had bottomless pit of money, I calculated that he would hand over a vast wad of cash to the casino owners.

It would have been easier to hand it over to me; I would have taken in a show, had a lovely meal and still been able to return 75% of the amount of money I watched him discard to the croupier.

Because I was jet-lagged, I found myself wide awake at 4am. I decided to take a stroll around the famous Strip but as I left the hotel, I saw people still there hurling large chunks of cash into oblivion in the name of fun even at that ridiculous hour.

Why? Why throw money away?

As part of my degree, I studied probability and statistics and I know for a fact that the odds are in favour of the casino in every single game you play.


The laws of probability say you cannot win.

Okay, granted, when you play as a one off and somehow manage to turn £20 into £250, you can argue that you won. The problem is that if you go back or decide to gamble the £250, you will almost certainly lose the entire lot – eventually.

When I watch James Bond movies and see the suave and sophisticated secret agent walking away from the roulette table having won thousands of pounds with the words “cash that for me” I feel an urge to laugh out loud – or rant at the absurdity of it.

In Las Vegas, there are tiny signs dotted around the casino warning customers about the dangers of gambling – but this, to me, is just a tick in a box to say “We have morality and have warned you” but really they don’t care.

If you lose £100,000 to a casino – you have lost it. They won’t feel sorry for you and hand it back because you could lose your house as a result.

They are in it to win it.

And things are getting worse. There are web sites and applications that allow you to gamble away your money on the go. All you have to do is log in, hand over some cash, play a game and lose your money.

You can do it on your bloody phone.

Even good old fashioned betting has gone mad. For example, you can bet your money in the middle of a football game. At half time, you see adverts such as this:

You can lose your money while you are at the bloody match. Do they really think Ray Winstone is doing them a favour?

Why don’t people just draw money out of the bank and set fire to it? At least you would see the notes and they would probably last longer.

As you have probably worked out, I just do not get it. While gambling and betting might be fun once in a while, as long as tiny amounts of cash are involved you could argue it is a good way to relax. However, for some people it is a nightmare. The people I am talking about are those who argue that:

“I have a system that guarantees a win”.

“I am so good at playing roulette that I will win all of my money back”.

Whenever I am tempted to gamble, I am lead by common sense. On a recent night out to a dog racing circuit in Manchester, I stuck to my limits. I decided that I would gamble £2 per race all night. Hardly breaking the bank is it?

I had no clue who or what to bet on so I acted on instinct and gut feeling (or blind luck if the truth be known).

I won £20 on the first three races and then lost £2 on each of the remaining races of the night. I ended up in credit because I didn’t blow all of my winnings.

I was lucky. There was no skill involved. My winnings paid for a celebratory beer and I went home happy.

That’s how to gamble, if you feel the need to do so.

The problem is that people think their luck is skill. It isn’t. It’s just like Deal Or No Deal where the contestants think that they can influence the amount of money in the box just by thinking positively.

Just watch how everyone cheers when the poor old lady turns down £88,000, gambling that she might win £250,000. Yes – they love a gambler, don’t they?

That is until she throws it away and wins just a penny.

At least in this case she didn’t pay any of her own money; she came out on top (albeit by just a penny).

All this goes to prove is that Deal Or No Deal and gambling in general is just pure luck and the odds are against you.

I’ll leave you with a cartoon that leads me to believe that some people are infected by The Gambling Bug.

I know I’m not.

Are you infected by the Gambling Bug, dear reader?

Or are you sensible, like me?

Or do you just hate gambling?