Saturday 28 June 2014

Train of Thought

It’s happened again, dear reader. There I was, innocently walking downstairs from work, on the way home and I found myself singing a song that I would never ever sing  but, worse, that I don’t even like.

I am not even going to tell you what it is: that’s how ashamed I am.

Nevertheless, it has got me thinking. What train of thought caused this dreadful song to pop into my head in the first place?

With that in mind, I have decided to conduct an experiment. Here are the details:


To evaluate my train of thought and try to make sense of it.


I am going to clear my mind and just write a blog post and let my path through my imagination guide me.


Okay – here goes. As I write these words, I have no music on to distract me or to influence the course of my thinking. What leaps to mind as I drift into my imagination? Well the first thing is that I am writing something new and posting it in cyberspace so that people can read it. And that is quite a scary thing.

Some people who read this will have struggled through my work before and are probably rolling their eyes thinking, “Oh my God! Another crap post.”

Others might be amused. Yet more might think “Why doesn’t Dave talk to me about his odd mind? I’ve known him for years.”

It strikes me that when I write, I bare a little bit of my soul, mostly to people I have never met. What kind of person does that? Am I an attention seeker? To be honest, I don’t think so; I am merely practising for that elusive novel/book that I aim to write. By posting this nonsense into cyberspace I am seeking some form of approval.

So in a way, maybe I am seeking attention. Is that a revelation of some kind?

I am writing these words because I want the feedback of total strangers who may say “Yes, PM. It’s garbage. Don’t give up your day job.”

The problem is there is a part of me that really does want to give up my day job. When I analyse my career, I acquire approval on a regular basis because I am reasonably good at what I do. The problem is I am bored of it. I am bored of trying to teach computers how to behave themselves. I see myself  as a combination of a teacher and doctor, where my pupils/patients are computers. When I teach, I educate these electronic gadgets, instructing them how to operate and how to perform the job that is required of them. And when they get it wrong, I operate on them, to cure them – commonly known in IT as fixing bugs.

Now that’s a strange idea, isn’t it? I see myself as a mentor to computers. It’s like something out of a science fiction novel. The difference is that these computers are generally stupid and I curse their stupidity on a daily basis – actually more like an hourly basis. I find myself swearing at them – and myself.

My work colleagues probably think I’m nuts.

Hang on, I remember something I saw on YouTube – here it is:

Now, rest assured, I am not that bad. I cuss and swear under my breath but I do not destroy company equipment in a fit of rage. I may give the impression that I am a man who likes to stand up and rant on his soapbox about all and sundry but the truth is, I am quite laid back.

I have learned how to step back and take a deep breath when I find myself overcome with negative emotion. Sometimes it’s difficult to control a red mist moment but I find these days that taking a step back and trying to look at the situation from a different perspective does help. Work can be deeply frustrating sometimes, and this doesn’t just apply to my chosen vocation; I can imagine that exasperation can manifest itself in many walks of life.

For example, in my extended family we have a couple who are both police officers, both of whom have to wrestle the stresses of their jobs with bringing up a young child.

And, believe me, I have heard some stories that I wouldn’t want to share.

Yet they are both in control and reasonably happy with the chosen career. One of them even finds time to be a musician.

He is a big fan of Bob Dylan and has produced his own a CD of folk songs.

Click here for an example.

He is also in a band in Blackpool called the X Rays, who play what they call skiffle punk, covering old punk songs from the late 1970’s in a skiffle style.

Here they are performing live:

I’ve seen them play in local pubs in Blackpool and they are entertaining.

And that in itself fills me with a modicum of regret because if I could go back in time to the moment my music teacher asked me at the age of 11 what instrument I wanted to play, I would have begged and pleaded with him to let me play the guitar so that I could write my own songs.

Imagine that –  the Plastic Mancunian a rock God, writing and releasing his own songs?

I may actually have achieved that goal unwittingly. Way back in 2009, I wrote a fun Christmas post with alternative words to Jingle Bells. It was just a bit of fun to cause a mild amount of amusement. I was surprised, however, when a local band from West Yorkshire asked me if they could use my alternative version in a Christmas pub gig in Bradford.

You can read the post (and the comment) by clicking here.

I told them that they could (what do I care?). Whether they did or not I’ll never know but if they did, my alternative lyrics were probably belted out by a folk band to a pub full of people.

And the thought of that makes me smile.

That would never have happened had I not initiated the blog (it may not have happened but I like to think it did).

So not only could I be a writer (subject to approving comments from readers) I could also be a comedy lyric writer for bands willing to embrace alternative versions of traditional tunes and perform them at a Christmas gig in a Yorkshire pub.

Who would have thought that?


Unsurprisingly, the song that is in my head right now is this one:

So I managed to conjure up a song from Undertones simply by writing drivel.


I think this post proves something that I think I have always known:

I am one weird individual!

If you disagree, I have a confession to make. This was the song that I was singing out loud on Friday - and I hate it:

Weird, huh?

Sunday 22 June 2014

Are You Listening?

“Are you listening to me?” said Mrs PM the other day.

Although I was listening a little, she did not have my undivided attention. I was watching football on the TV and she was prompted to ask because I made a minor faux pas; I nodded in agreement when she was expecting the answer “No!”

I mastered the art of switching off during a conversation when I was a child. I come from a family containing three extremely talkative women. My mother has the ability to, as the saying goes, talk the hind legs off a donkey and my two sisters are similar.

When I was a kid, trying to concentrate on the TV, homework, a book or anything else, my mother had moments when she was oblivious to the fact that I didn’t want to talk or be interrupted. I was a polite child and didn’t want to incur her wrath by telling her to shut up. I managed to train myself to enter the zone, a haven from outside influence where I can concentrate at the exclusion of any external stimulus I choose to ignore.

My mum’s voice was such a stimulus and, believe me, that took a lot of doing over the years. A lot of the time she would talk about everyday nonsense, banal chatter about friends that did not interest me sufficiently to engage in conversation. I mastered the art of occasionally feigning interest by punctuating her one way chatter with the odd “Really?”, “I didn’t know that!” and “Oh yes.”.

I knew my mum well enough to know that most of the time it would work – and it did. When she wanted to tell me something worthwhile I would of course give her my undivided attention.

It’s the same with my sisters – though in their case I would tell them “I’m too busy – tell me later.”

Unfortunately, Mrs PM knows how to catch me out.  She knows me too well and peppering a conversation with “Really?”, “I didn’t know that!” and “Oh yes!” just does not work.

So during a World Cup football match, Mrs PM was telling me about her friend’s woes when I said the words “Oh yes!”.

“Did you hear what I said?” she said.

“Oh yes,” I said again, having no clue what she had said, too intent on seeing a goal attempt by Brazil against Mexico.

She punched me on the arm and said “Are you listening to me?”.

Now she had my attention.

“Of course I am,” I said looking into her eyes.

“What did I just say, then?” she asked, her face starting to show a mixture of annoyance and impatience.

“What did I just say, then?” I quipped with a smile. That was a mistake.

“I meant before that,” she snarled.

“When?” I said.

“What did I say about Susan?” she asked again.

“Erm!” I said pathetically.

I had no idea.

I was caught out because my ability to switch off from the conversation had let me down.

What I should have done was asked her to talk to me at the half time interval rather than during the game. That too might have caused an issue but at least it would have been better than being caught in the zone.

The zone is a place that I retreat to on a fairly regular basis. It is a place where I can disable external interfaces and concentrate on whatever I need to. An example of being in the zone is when I go for a solo walk at lunchtime.

I leave work with my headphones in place so that I can walk the streets for half an hour with a soundtrack of my favourite songs, switching off from work related nightmares, contemplate life and the universe, or simply drift off into a voyage around my own imagination.

On one such occasion I was marching down the street when a friend of Mrs PM spotted me from a distance. She didn’t know where I worked so was unsure whether it was me or not – until I walked right past her on the other side of the road.

I was in the zone and simply did not see her. She called out to me but my music prevented me from hearing her.

I saw her a few days later and she mentioned this; I was surprised and slightly ashamed. I was very apologetic.

Friends of mine, male friends that is, do make the same mistake. One of my work colleagues had a similar experience but his other half caught him out in a much better way.

He was watching TV and his missus, standing in the doorway, said:

“What do you think of this dress? Should I wear it?”

“Yes,” he replied, still watching the TV.

“What colour is it?” she said.

“Erm – Erm,” he replied sheepishly.

He was so deep into the zone that he didn’t even realise that she had left the room and had not paid any attention whatsoever to the dress that she had showed him when she was in the room.

One thing does puzzle me. I wonder whether the ability to switch off and enter the zone is purely a male ability or whether women do the same.

If Mrs PM is not interested in what I am saying, she is forthright enough to tell me. She does not need to enter the zone.

Perhaps my problem is that I didn’t really want to upset my mum by telling her that I would rather watch television than listen to her talking about her friends.

Perhaps I should tell Mrs PM that I don’t want to know about Susan’s current problems because Belgium are playing Russia in the World Cup.

I’ll let you know in a future post whether I am successful or not – and I will also include a photo of my black eye if it all goes horribly wrong.

Let me know, if you are a female reader, whether you enter the zone and switch off; I am genuinely interested.

And I won’t say “Really?” – honestly.

Saturday 14 June 2014

Rik Mayall

One of my comedy heroes died this week at the tender age of 56.

I still can’t quite believe it.

I grew up with Rik Mayall’s comedy, from the day I first saw him playing Kevin Turvey in A Kick Up The 80’s to his most recent comedy role in Man Down.I’ve also seen him live three times, once with his own extremely manic show in the 1980’s and twice in the stage version of his show Bottom, with Ade Edmondson.

Here are some of my favourite Rik Mayall roles:

First, Kevin Turvey the investigator:

Next, Rick, the People’s Poet, in The Young Ones.

One of my favourite characters was Alan B’Stard, the evil Conservative MP.

And who can forget Richard Richard from Bottom?

And, of course, there is Lord Flashheart:

Most recently he played Greg Davies’s manic dad in Man Down, a role he was due to reprise in the second series:

For the last World Cup, Rik Mayall released a single called Noble England as an unofficial anthem for England. There is a campaign to get this single to number one for the current World Cup. Here it is:

If the campaign succeeds it would be a fitting tribute.

Rest in peace, Rik. You have made me laugh for most of my life.

I will miss you.

Tuesday 10 June 2014

The Technophile: Music

I am a technophile and I love the evolution of technology. My one regret is that I won’t be able to enjoy the technological advances of the next two hundred years, unless I can come back as a ghost (which I fully intend to do to haunt every one of you, dear readers).

I thought I would write a couple of posts about how technology has changed in my lifetime just to impress upon you how wonderful technology is.

I will start with music.

When I was a kid, my parents owned a contraption called a radiogram, which looked something like this:

Basically it was a cupboard containing a radio, a record player and space to store LP’s and singles. If you are under 30 then I think I need to explain what an LP is; basically it is a vinyl record that you played at 33⅓ revolutions per minute on the record player and music came out of the speakers. It stood for Long Play and there was music on both sides. 
The alternative was a single that you played at 45 revolutions per minute but in this case there was only one song per side.
My grandparents lived next door and they actually owned records that you played at 78 revolutions per minute, on a wind up contraption like this:

Over the next ten or so years, these contraptions were replaced by music centres with Dolby Stereo. My dad, also a technophile, had absolutely no idea what Dolby Stereo meant, but he wanted it. He ended up with something like this:

And as technology improved, he upgraded, allowing me to have his cast offs. Music centres had one thing that made life far more enjoyable – cassette tape players. You could record off the radio onto cassette tapes or borrow LP’s off your mates to tape them for yourself at a fraction of the price.
This was good for many reasons. First of all, I hated vinyl records. Many people, even today, are fans of vinyl and my theory is that they are simply purists – or people who do not understand or trust modern technology. I for one am glad that vinyl is on its way out. 
First, vinyl records are easy to scratch, effectively ruining them. Second, if you put them near to a source of heat, they warp. In both cases, they become unplayable:

If you lent them to a mate, they would invariably come back in a far worse state.
Although tapes were better and more robust, even they could be damaged. I have had many a machine, be it a music centre or Walkman that has spontaneously decided to become a cannibal and eat my tape:

For me, the greatest invention was the Compact Disc and they were invented at exactly the right time in the 1980’s. Back then, I was just beginning to be able to save money – and was therefore able to spend lots of money on music. 
So I did. 
I bought loads of CD’s and over the years my collection has exploded. I currently own hundreds of them. and they are in all stashed away in a cupboard in our spare room, banished by Mrs PM, who thinks I am a hoarder and is desperate for me to get rid of them.
No bloody chance!
CD’s were indestructible, although people claim they degrade over time. My CDs from the 1980’s still sound as clear as they always did. 
But now, just like vinyl, they are an endangered species. All of my music is stored on a tiny little device that you may have heard of, called an iPod, which can store an obscene amount of music. If I trebled my CD collection I would still be able to accommodate it on this tiny little device. 

Even better, all of my music is backed up to my desk top computer and I am able to play my entire collection randomly through a couple of tiny speakers with the same quality (if not better) than the hi-fi I had in the 1980’s.
Better still I can compile statistics about my listening habits, genres, song lengths, album ratings etc. 
I am not really a statistics geek but if I were I could tell you that:
The longest song I own is Octavarium by Dream Theater which comes in at a magnificent 24 minutes.
The shortest song is Convict by Queensÿrche at 9 seconds.
In recent weeks the song I have played most is Drive Home by Steven Wilson.
I have 6546 songs which would take me 20.6 days to listen to if I were to play them consecutively.
Now while I have embraced the latest technology, I have stopped short of walking right to the edge. You see, I still share something with my old dad who like to store his LP’s in a cupboard in his radiogram; I want to physically own my CDs. I want the actual CD with the booklet, with the lyrics, the album cover and all of the other bumph that comes with it. 
I know I can download any song I want  from the internet and copy it to my iPod, my desktop computer, my phone, my laptop, my tablet and my memory stick as well as backing it up on my backup disk stowed safely away upstairs.
But I can also rip my CD and do exactly the same – and I have a physical disc to tell me that this is mine – this is my album and you can’t have it.
In that way, I am a little old fashioned.

Over to you, dear reader:

Are you a lover of vinyl?

Do you prefer CD’s? 

Are you riding the tide of technology and downloading everything?

Saturday 7 June 2014

Classical Music - Meet Heavy Metal

While browsing YouTube I came across a music video called Dr Who Meets Metal, which features a guitarist shredding the Doctor Theme tune and it is extremely good, if you are a fan of heavy metal that is.

However, even if you are not a fan of heavy metal, it is certainly interesting. Here it is:

And, dangerously, this got me thinking.

People who hate heavy metal  often tell me that it is a dirge, a hellish noise. The truth is while it may be noisy, typically a great guitarist plays his instrument with extreme virtuosity, similar virtuosity to any great musician.

That is one of the reasons why I genuinely love the genre.

I also read an article once that suggested that people who like classical music share almost identical personality traits as those of us who love heavy metal. What personality traits are these? Apparently classical music lovers and metalheads are both:

(a) Introverted – I am an introvert definitely. That is not the same as being shy (which I am also); I love my own company – but can be extrovert depending on the situation.

(b) Creative – Am I creative? Possibly, if you regard the bilge you are currently reading as “creative” then maybe I am – a little.

(c) At ease with myself – Definitely – more so as I get older.

Classical music devotees and heavy metal lovers are both obsessive about music, something I hold my hand up to – and have no shame about.

And as unlikely as it seems, you can actually mix the two genres.

My favourite heavy metal and hard rock songs are those that walk hand in hand with classical music. I can almost feel the scepticism, dear reader. I can sense you saying:

“Hang on! How can you possibly meld beautiful orchestral music with the dreadful noise pollution that is heavy metal? You talk a lot of rubbish normally but this is a new low even for you.”

I can understand that view – but I am right and hopefully I will prove it.

Here is an example from Rainbow, with their interpretation of Walking In The Air from The Snowman:

Rainbow also produced a song called Difficult to Cure with elements of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony:

These days, bands are not really covering classical music but writing their own versions. Dream Theater for example, a progressive metal band, produced a 42 minute epic called Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence, split into seven parts. The first part is the overture and has all the elements of a spectacular piece of classical music, but with added drums and guitar:

 I would also like to introduce you to a concept called Symphonic Metal, which is a beautiful amalgamation of hard rock/heavy metal and classical music, including orchestral arrangements, opera and sometimes even choirs. A lot of these bands use keyboards to simulate orchestral arrangements and the effect is quite amazing.

An example of Symphonic Metal is a band I have discovered at the start of the year called Nightwish. Well, they are not exactly new, having been around for years, but they are to me. The band is from Finland and their style of music completely embraces both heavy metal and classical music, often merging the two seamlessly.

Here are a couple of examples of their work:

Another example is one of my recent discoveries, a Dutch symphonic metal band called Within Temptation who produced one of my favourite recent albums. Here are a couple of examples:

So, dear reader, there is something more to heavy metal and hard rock than noise and loud guitars; it can embrace other styles of music.

I’ll leave you with another beautiful song that has classical overtones; it is by a little known Manchester band called Ten, who I think ought to be a lot more famous than they are. This song is simply magnificent and the guitars and drums have been toned down in favour of the melody and the vocals.

I hope you like it.

Sunday 1 June 2014

Life's Sick Joke

Life is great.

Life is a gift that we should all take full advantage of, something we should grasp with both hands and squeeze as much fun and enjoyment out of before fate decides to whisk it away from us.

However, we all know that there are constraints that stop us from acquiring all of the pleasure and delight that life offers.

I hear a little voice from time to time warning me of the consequences of overindulgence, usually in tabloid newspapers, on the news or in the rhetoric of self-obsessed megalomaniacs who seem to think that life should be lived their way instead of mine.

And of course, there is nature itself that seems to delight in playing one almighty sick joke on the whole of humanity.

It is this latter constraint that I wish to bring to you attention, dear reader (even though you know all about it and will no doubt agree with me).

Mother Nature is a wonderful thing but rules us with a rod of iron, applying all manner of rules that are punishable by curtailing the gift of life.

Here are some examples:

Fatty food is divine. There is nothing more satisfying that waking up in the morning and devouring a full English breakfast of bacon, sausage, egg, black pudding, beans, toast covered in butter, all washed down with a massive cup of strong tea or a potent brain boosting cup of extra strong and delicious coffee.

Yet if I were to have that breakfast every single day of my life, I would grow fat and the dark figure with the scythe would almost certainly call for me a lot earlier than his original plan to. Fat is bad for you, caffeine is bad for you and endless bacon and sausage is bad for you.

The same can be said of burgers and fries washed down with fizzy soft drink. Eating such food on a regular basis will turn you into a huge monster and Mr Death will come calling sooner rather than later. Sugar and fat are simply killers in disguise.

And what about chocolate and cream and monstrous desserts? People love them yet if they overindulge the same thing will happen; they will look like a walking whale with the scythe-carrier marching behind and looking at his watch with a knowing grin on his face.

Smoking and alcohol are the same. There is nothing better than a pint of ale after a tough week but if you choose to take it to excess, you will pickle your vital organs.

You can’t even spend your life sitting in front of your tellybox. Watching too much television, so experts say, dulls the brain and at the same time stops you from exercising to keep your body in shape.

And while exercising helps, keeping Mr Death at bay, you can even fall foul of that if you overdo it.

Thrill seekers who like to hurl themselves off cliffs have the Grim Reaper as a constant companion, waiting for a burst of adrenaline so great that the scariest adventure might result in premature demise.

It’s a sick joke, dear reader.

We should be able to live our life as we want to without Mother Nature stepping in and applying certain rules to it.

“Yes, Mr Mancunian, you can stuff your face with steak every night for the next ten years and wash it down with the finest red wine from France – but it will cost you twenty years of this most precious gift.”

“Yes Mr Mancunian, you can bungee jump off a high bridge in New Zealand but one day that bungee rope might just snap.”

“Of course you can drive a fast car around a track, Dave, but I can’t promise that you will not crash into a wall at high speed.”

But it’s worse than that. Some of these constraints are built into my brain. For example, I want to see as much of the world as I can and this includes the desire to climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building and other huge man-made structures, as well as Nature’s own constructs, to see the view and marvel at our beautiful planet.

But in my case, Mother Nature has said:

“Sorry Dave, I’m going to stop you from seeing the whole of Dubai from the top of the Burj Khalifa; you need a fear of heights to limit what you can see of the world.”

It’s not fair.

I’m greedy.

I want it all.

So while life is great, it could be so much better, if Mother Nature cut us some slack and allowed me to indulge in the way I want to.

Sadly, she won’t allow it – and  I, like you, dear reader, am powerless to resist.

I am certain that Mr Reaper is waiting in the wings (at least 200 years in the future with any luck) so now my challenge is to keep him at arm’s length while keeping old Mother Nature happy.

I can do this by indulging my desires – but limiting them.

I can enjoy an English Breakfast every so often, spend the occasional evening watching my tellybox all night, enjoy a pint or three down the pub occasionally and even get some half decent exercise with a daily two mile walk and the occasional six mile hike at the weekend.

Sadly, I think my fear of heights is here to stay so I no longer plan to climb any mountains or man-made structure higher than my own house.

Mother Nature’s henchman might be stalking us all but we should plan to make his life difficult.

Whisking us away may be his raison d’etre but like Mother Nature can play a sick joke on him by keeping him as far away as possible.

The truth is that if you don’t stuff your face with a huge slab of chocolate cake every day, it is certainly more enjoyable when you do allow yourself to have one occasionally.

And when you do, just address Mother Nature and her henchman:

“Screw you! This is MY divine cake and this is my divine day to stuff my face with it.”

That cake will taste so much better, I can assure you.