Saturday 30 August 2014

The Literalist

The President of the United States of America wants to insert a computer chip into the brains of every American citizen so that the state can monitor their movements; of course, he has told America that this will have enormous health benefits and that people will live longer.

It is a conspiracy, dear reader, and proves, once and for all, that The Leader of the Free World is in fact a shape-shifting alien who wants to enslave the world, starting with the US and then moving onto Europe.

He is also the Antichrist.

Now then! There are people who will read the first three paragraphs of this post and believe every single word. For those of you who are reading this sentence, I can assure you that the previous gibberish is totally untrue. Strangely, though, the idea has not been plucked from my own disturbed imagination; it is based on genuine concerns that have been aired in cyberspace.

And most disturbing of all – there are people who take such nonsense literally and actually believe every single word of it.

I am not joking.

It makes me fear for the future of the human race.

Most human beings are of sound mind and can make rational judgements based on the information that they encounter, whether it is spoken by politicians or written in books and newspapers. I have never believed every shred of information that I have consumed; I am too cynical. When I see a politician preaching to the masses, drowning us in rhetoric, I take his words with a pinch of salt. Equally, when I read newspaper articles that make outrageous claims, I am most definitely not inclined to believe a word of it.

I am a cynic by nature and prefer to do my own research and make judgements based on facts rather than speculation or ridiculous scaremongery.

I recently read an article in a newspaper that highlighted the curse of being a literalist, i.e. a person who takes everything literally. The article was written by a British humour satirist who in the past has made totally untrue claims in the name of humour, claims like:

The Conservative party want to reduce the number of characters in a Tweet from 140 to 135 for those people who have fewer than 200,000 followers so that we didn’t drive these popular Twitter aficionados abroad.

While most people chuckled , apparently there were a few people who took this totally seriously, expressing their distaste at the injustice of it all.

Are these people gullible or just plain stupid?

Everybody is gullible to a certain extent, myself included, but there are limits. Some claims may be believable if they are not outrageous but there are some people out there who do take things literally without questioning the absurdity of what they are reading or watching.

If you don’t believe me, just look up Barack Obama and Antichrist on You Tube.

Here are some famous and not so famous examples:

In 1938, many people in America thought that the Earth was being invaded by Martians, having listened to a radio broadcast based on the War of the Worlds.

The world was due to end on 21st December 2012 because that was the date that the Mayan calendar ended. I have a calendar in my house that ends on 31st December, 2014. Does that mean the world will end on that date?

The Millennium Bug was due to cause total chaos on January 1st, 2000 at the stroke of midnight, with aircraft falling out of the sky and nuclear explosions the world over. I worked in IT and I knew this to be a scaremongering hoax at least ten years beforehand.

All dogs in Denmark are to be painted white so that they are easier to see by motorists. 

The North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has been voted the sexiest man alive.

You can charge your iPhone battery by putting it into a microwave.

See what I mean? Who would believe those things?

If you ask Mr Google about a literalist, he will focus on Biblical literalism, that is, the belief that every word of the Bible is gospel (if you will pardon the pun). Biblical literalists are those people who interpret every single word of the Bible and trust everything contained therein without question. These are the kind of people who say that I am cursed to an eternity in Hell for listening to heavy metal.

While I used to be religious, and made to feel guilty about everything, as a Roman Catholic, it didn’t take me long to start questioning the scriptures – and even questioning my local parish priest. Thankfully, the priest was sensible enough to tell me that perhaps the Bible shouldn’t be taken literally. As I grew up, I realised that the Bible in its current form has been written and rewritten many times, and with each rewrite, the basic messages and facts have been distorted and reinterpreted, so really the Bible is not really the same document as it was originally.

I’m sure that if you are a Biblical literalist you will be horrified by that last paragraph. I have actually had discussions with a Jehovah’s Witness on my own doorstep about this very subject. The very pleasant old lady told me that the Bible was a manual for life and I contradicted this by suggesting to her that the Bible is full of contradiction – so how can we take it literally?

Her answer was to read passages from the Bible she had with her, to prove to me that I was wrong.

So I brought up the subject of  dinosaurs and asked why they are not mentioned in the Bible when there is irrefutable proof of their existence.

Her answer made me laugh out loud.

“Fossils were created by Satan to test our faith.”

“And is that mentioned in the Bible?” I asked.

I don’t want to pick on Biblical literalists at all; it is just easier to highlight what I am saying using them as an example. There are numerous other examples of conspiracy theories that are so absurd you have to shake your head in disbelief when you read them.

But people do actually believe them, theories like:

The world is ruled by lizard people.

The Earth is hollow.

There is a Nazi base on the moon and Hitler himself flew there in 1945.

The truth is that I am not really a normal everyday buffoon living in Manchester; I am an alien and I have written this post from my invisible spaceship that has been orbiting the Earth since 2008. I am in league with Barack Obama and together we are going to take over the entire world.

If you believe that, you’ll believe anything.

Over to you dear reader:

Are you a literalist?

What is the most ridiculous "truth" you have read?

What is you favourite conspiracy theory?

Saturday 23 August 2014

The Blog Tour Blog

I’ve been challenged again, this time by Pandora at Princess Pandora - Queen of Denialto attempt the Blog Tour Blog, answering the following questions:

(1) What am I working on?
(2) How does my work differ from others in its genre?
(3) Why do I write what I do?
(4) How does my writing process work?

I’m also supposed to nominate others – but I won’t do that.

Instead, if you read this and fancy having a go, please feel free and let me know in a comment.

Anyway, here goes:

What am I working on?

As well as writing the odd post for this blog, I am currently working on my third travelogue and an autobiography. The travelogue covers a trip to Japan from last year and takes the form of a daily diary. Japan is a wonderful place to visit and I just wanted to record everything we did, which meant taking copious notes, countless photos and even the odd voice recording while wandering the streets of Osaka. Sadly, progress is slow because, due to work commitments, time is sometimes too short to spend the amount of time I need to spend. Nevertheless, there is progress and one day I will finish it.

As for my autobiography, I realised that I am not getting any younger and it would be nice for my kids to be able to read about my life growing up in Walsall, studying in Liverpool, living in Manchester and travelling around the world. This is most definitely a background project and I add a few notes every now and then. I don’t think it will find its way onto the internet, but I hope that one day, it might be passed down to kids, grandkids etc. I would have loved to have read an autobiography of my own ancestors and I would hope that further down the line, my thoughts and words may be interesting to my future family.

There is one other thing. I have a novel in my head which has a beginning and an end, something that previous novel ideas have severely lacked. I have even written a brief synopsis and a few hundred words. Maybe one day I might actually dive into it with a bit more devotion and actually produce something I am proud of.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

When I first put pen to paper with my China travelogue, I had in mind something similar to the travel writing of Bill Bryson. It soon became clear to me that I wanted it to be more personal, more like a journal than a treat for tourists. My Australia travelogue was actually a birthday present for Mrs PM’s mum who accompanied us on the trip, which meant that this too was very personal; I wanted her to have a detailed reminder of every experience on that once in a lifetime trip. I guess the same is true for my current Japanese travelogue.

Most autobiographies are interesting because the people involves are famous or have achieved something extraordinary. I am just a normal person living a normal life so my autobiography, if I ever finish it, will be not the most riveting read. I guess that, too, is very personal.

As for my novel idea, regular readers will know that I am a huge fan of science fiction and in reality it will not differ that much from the weirder works of Dean Koontz.

Why do I write what I do?

My writing, including my blog posts, has to be of interest to me. I would struggle to avoid expressing my own thoughts and opinions in the nonsense I write, which means that I tend to stick to subjects and genres that interest me. I need to express myself and writing is my favourite way of doing so. In my last blog post, I hinted that I might give up the blog and pour my thoughts into another medium; the truth is, I don’t think I will be able to. There is little point in writing about a subject if nobody reads it. Sadly, this means that I will continue to pour my drivel into cyberspace – I’m sorry, dear reader.

How does my writing process work?

The process is different depending on what I am writing.

For a blog post, a thought usually pops into my head and I immediately try to make a note of it, either by writing it down in a notebook or sending myself an email, if I don’t have a notebook with me. Blog posts are rough and ready and, while I do spend time researching if necessary, I usually post them after one or two minor rewrites.

For everything else, I am more of a perfectionist. In a typical session, I do a little research, write freely for a while and then walk away. When I return, I read my words two or three times , refine them, do a little more research and walk away again, repeating the process until I am reasonably happy with my work.

This is an interesting idea, and I am sure that professional writers would be very quick to offer advice on the best practices for writing, how to find ideas, how to go about research as well as how to refine your work into something that people will want to read.

Me? I’m just an amateur who enjoys writing as a hobby.

I just hope that you, dear reader, have a little bit of fun reading my weird words.

Sunday 10 August 2014

The Pros and Cons of Blogging

I’ve recently been considering the future of this blog. I enjoy writing but recently been wondering whether The Plastic Mancunian is a suitable outlet for my random scribbling.

Six years after my first post, I have been asking myself:

Should I continue sharing my thoughts with the world?

Should I just keep them private and locked in a file on my computer?

What do I get out of blogging? 

What is good about writing a blog? 

What will happen if I suddenly stop and consign this blog to Blogger Heaven (or Blogger Hell)?

In order to help clarify the situation, I have decided to consider the pros and cons of blogging.

Unfortunately for you, dear reader, I have also decided to share my thoughts on the subject with you.

Without further ado, here is a list of ten pros and ten cons of blogging as seen through my eyes. I will start with the cons:


(1) Upsetting people 

While I don’t consider myself to be a controversial blogger, I often worry about whether my words may offend sensitive people who may find my posts distasteful. I am a fairly sensitive person myself so if I genuinely upset somebody I wouldn’t like it.

(2) Anonymity

Initially, I was hoping to remain completely anonymous but having been discovered by a very determined work colleague, my anonymity vanished and I embraced a more open approach, gradually revealing more about myself. Mrs PM knew about my blog, of course, but now more and more people are aware of its existence. While some may consider this a good thing, it can be a bad thing particularly in the case of the next con.

(3) Being too honest

Over the years I have opened up a little more, prompting one or two people to say:

“I didn’t know you felt like that!”

I’m not convinced that's a good thing.

(4) Keyboard warriors

I have had the occasional skirmish with a keyboard warrior, an anonymous dickhead who cannot produce a cogent argument, opting instead to hurl insults and vitriol in my general direction. A belligerent part of me wants to combat these people – but the sensitive soul within, the man who hates conflict, abhors taking these people on.

(5) Am I a weirdo?

In many of my posts, I portray myself as a bit of a weirdo and I imagine a lot of people find this an amusing diversion. While The Plastic Mancunian might come across as an arse, the real me is not (well I don’t think so). I hope that people don’t really think I am peculiar – but I do run the risk of that sometimes.

(6) Criticism

Apart from the odd keyboard warrior, I have not been openly criticised on my blog. However, I cannot rule out that possibility and I wonder whether I can cope with that. I think I can, particularly if that criticism is constructive. Other more sensitive bloggers may not be able to accept such criticism and opening your writing up for the world to comment on may expose you to such disapproving comments.

(7) Paranoia

I have always been a little paranoid. Metaphorically speaking I have a constant companion that I have called Captain Paranoia, who spends his time whispering in my ear, exposing my worst fears. He sometimes tells me that I am wasting my time writing this blog, that nobody reads it and the few people that do hate it. There have been times in the past six years when I have considered just packing it in, asking myself whether it is all worth it.

(8) Writers block

Sometimes I struggle to think of something to write about and when I do I feel guilty about not posting. Every writer has suffered from this affliction and when it strikes it can make blogging life difficult.

(9) Getting noticed

I discovered early on in my blogging career that in order to attract readers, you have to do a fair amount of work that does not involve writing, such as exposing your blog on certain websites, mentioning your blog on social media etc. I didn’t really expect this to happen which leads me nicely onto my next con.

(10) Blogging can be time consuming

I have to find time to write blog posts, juggling with work commitments, family life etc. It is not just a case of finding time to write; I have to get noticed too this can consume a lot more time than I have available sometimes.

All of that sounds a bit negative, but being a Libran, I can balance that with positivity. Here are the pros of blogging:


(1) Outlet for creativity

I have a vivid imagination and my brain is a muddle of disembodied thoughts just wanting to escape. Blogging allows me to make those thoughts tangible, no matter how strange or weird, and I get immense satisfaction at being able to see those thoughts on the internet from anywhere I happen to be.

(2) Writing

While I may not be a good writer, I actually enjoy the process of putting pen to paper. As far as I am concerned, the greatest writers are world class footballers, while I am merely an amateur who plays in a local league for nothing more than the love of the game.

(3) Hobby

Blogging is a great hobby. Writing a blog is one good way of bringing together my other interests such as music, travelling, photography,  reading etc. by simply allowing me the pleasure of writing about things I am passionate about and sharing them with anybody who is willing to read about them.

(4) Global appeal

Writing in solitude and saving your work to your own personal computer consigns it to a black hole that nobody will ever find. By publishing my rambling words on the internet, I am exposing them to the entire world. I have had comments from many places, such as Australia, America, Russia and Europe as well as lurkers who often visit my blog but do not actually leave comments, content just to read my nonsense. I love that.

(5) Footprint on the internet

Whether I like it or not, my work is out there for anyone with an internet connection to see. I have a tiny footprint that will be available for people to see for quite a few years yet – hopefully.

(6) Books

I have always wanted to write a book. Since I started blogging, I have enough material to actually produce one, should I wish to do so.  I have printed four blog post compilations – and that only covers up to the middle of 2010. There is a lot of material left, certainly enough to be a little more selective about my favourite posts and produce something that is a little more substantial.

(7) Weapon against procrastination

I struggle with procrastination. Nevertheless, I actually force myself to write a minimum of four posts a month, even if that means giving something up to do so. My ambition is to write a novel and blogging proves to me that there is something inside of me that can force myself to actually get on with it if I really want to.

(8) Education

Writing requires research and research fuels learning. While I don’t write about educational topics on the whole, I have occasionally had to ask my good friend Mr Google for details about random topics and actually learned something new as part of the process.

(9) Letting off steam

Regular readers will know that I like to get on my soapbox and make the world a better place. A lot of the time it is my poor work colleagues, friends and family – and that includes the cats – who have to suffer. Blogging has given me a new outlet to let off steam. Sadly that means that you, dear reader, have to endure my insane bluster. The good news is that you can remove it with a quick click of your mouse.

(10) Diary

Even if nobody ever reads my words again, I have a record of my thoughts and deeds that is six years old. I know that I can read those words and reminisce about what was going through my head at the time. As well as that, the blog provides a crude diary, reminding me of past travels and experiences since those dim and distant days of the year 2008.

And finally ...

Over to you, dear reader:

What do you consider the pros and cons of blogging?

Do you agree with my list?

Why do you blog?

Wednesday 6 August 2014

The Decrepit Old Git

Everybody keeps reminding me of my age.

Even I remind myself of my age by doing stupid things.

While I am quite content to be over fifty, there are times when I want to slap people who feel the need to constantly remind me that I am not getting any younger – and that includes myself.

For example, an insurance company (which shall remain nameless) has employed a much-loved British national treasure to try to sell insurance to over fifties. I am, of course, talking about Michael Parkinson, a man who has interviewed many famous people and has a place in the hearts of many older people who look back on his shows with fondness.

In the advert, he uses his past triumphs as an introduction into the most patronising and guilt-inducing pile of verbal diarrhoea that it has been my misfortune to hear, in order to get you to buy insurance – to leave money for your loved ones after you have popped your clogs. His condescending blurb goes something like this:

“I’ve met a gazillion truly remarkable and fantastic people in my lifetime,” he says, “and my brain is full of unbelievably magnificent memories.“

At this point you think, “Bloody show off!”

He continues.

“But if you, a mere peasant, want to leave your family much more than just happy memories of your existence on this rock that circles the sun, perhaps you can buy this insurance policy. It doesn’t ask for a medical so even if you are a decrepit old walrus on your last legs, you will be accepted. It will enable you, a mere pauper compared to me, the guaranteed lump sum so that your equally poor family can pay for YOUR funeral – or possibly even swell their pathetic bank accounts because you will almost certainly not have saved enough money.”

And the final insult?

“You will get a free welcome gift.” 

The gifts are a little telly, a tiny camcorder, the cheapest Satnav on the market or £50 to spend in a famous chain of shops specialising in clothes and gizmos for old people.

Actually, that’s not quite the final insult:

“You get a FREE Parker Pen – just for enquiring.”

And the last kick in the teeth? This plan is aimed at ME – because it is the OVER 50 PLAN.

Such adverts are shown during daytime TV right alongside other adverts offering to get me compensation for being a clumsy great oaf.

Other similar adverts suggest that being over 50 means that I have to go on holidays with old aged pensioners being ferried around a weird country in a coach.

Or I can get over 50’s fashion. I may not be the most fashion conscious person in the world, but at my age, don’t these people think that I don’t know what to wear?

Cheap car insurance – “because after driving around for so long, surely I must be a good driver by now!”

And at work, I am constantly reminded that “stepping on my soapbox and ranting” is a typical trait of an old man “because people get grumpier as they get older”.

I am my own worst enemy.

Having younger friends doesn’t help me. When I am asked to burn the candle at both ends and come out on a night out with youngsters, which involves consuming excessive amounts of alcohol or just plain stupid alcoholic concoctions with ridiculous names, I actually hear myself saying “Nah! I’m too old for that kind of shit!”

I mean who wants to drink a Jaeger Bomb? Don’t answer that question.

I am content with sitting in a pub for a couple of pints and then going home between 9 and 10, not staying out until 3am “downing shots” and drinking myself into a coma.

There might be the odd exception but generally I don’t do anything that is likely to hurt. Two nights out on the trot are a definite no no!

And then there is the forgetfulness. I used to have a great memory – I still do, but I find myself walking into a room with no idea what I walked in there for. I look around like a bewildered goon and actually speak the words: “Now what did I come in here for?”

My failing memory let me down again today, this time at the supermarket. In the past I have chastised Mrs PM for forgetting important stuff like a bunch of bananas. Now to you, a bunch of bananas may not be important but to me, a banana for breakfast is the law.

So please, dear reader, help me to understand why today, I forgot to buy bananas. I have never forgotten to buy bananas.

And tell me why I actually remembered that I had forgotten my bananas (if that makes sense!) when I was almost home?

Another thing a younger work colleague said to me today:

“People become more conservative when they get older, Dave, so by next election you will be voting for Boris Johnson; before long you will be goose-stepping up the office with a funny moustache saying ALL HAIL THE GREAT PLASTIC MANCUNIAN!”

That I don’t believe; I hate Boris Johnson.

But this is the nature of what I have to deal with from my work colleagues who constantly remind me of my age.

I was recently received a long service award – a lovely designer watch that I chose myself.

Was I congratulated? Well – yes – but then the banter started.

“You know, Dave, I was still at school when you started working here.”

“How long have you worked here? I wasn’t even born!”

Well, dear reader, enough is enough!

I am over fifty – so get over it. I am happy and I don’t need anybody to keep reminding me.

Michael Parkinson, you should be ashamed of yourself trying to make people feel guilty about kicking the bucket with insufficient funds get the nicest mahogany coffin that will only get chomped by worms anyway.
I don’t want a Parker pen “just for enquiring!

And I’ll tell you something else (and I am talking to The Plastic Mancunian himself here!):


It’s bad enough without being your own worst enemy.

Now then, what did I come into this room for?

Saturday 2 August 2014

Monte Carlo or Bust!

I recently visited a brand new country, my 31st in total. This was no ordinary country; it was The Principality of Monaco, the second smallest country in the world (behind Vatican City).

I’ve always wanted to visit Monaco.

Way back in the 1970’s I would watch James Bond films, and TV series like The Persuaders, where international jetsetters would drive around the French Riviera and pop into casinos winning vast quantities of money while watched by gorgeous women.

I woke up on the morning of our day out to Monaco having dreamt of driving along winding coastal roads high up on hills overlooking a beautiful, tranquil Mediterranean Sea, at the wheel of a flash red car with the wind blowing through my horrific hair.

Mrs PM helped to shatter that illusion: “Shall we go on the bus?”

The good news was that the bus from Nice to Monaco travelled along such a scenic road; it was regular (every fifteen minutes) and cheap (1.5 Euros). Sadly, it was packed and we had to stand up all the way there (an hour in total).

On the bus, I noticed a very strange man. He had dreadlocks that were completely matted and stretched almost all of the way down his back to his feet. What made it worse was that he was receding and had hardly any hair on the top of his head. Two young girls of about eleven actually panicked when they had to walk past him.

The first girl said “J’ai peur!” (“I’m afraid!”).

The second girl said “Ne t’inquiet pas!” (“Don’t worry!”) and they kind of sidled past him.

We left the bus at the iconic Monte Carlo Casino. It was a glorious day and the place was full of tourists all crowding around trying to get photographs. I would have liked to have stepped into the casino but wearing shorts and a T-shirt prohibited me. I saw a couple of people walking towards the place dressed up in full designer suits complete with crisp white shirt and tie. Parked outside the casino were several super cars including a bright yellow Lamborghini. People were just as interested in the cars as they were in the casino itself.

Apart from the casino, Monaco is also famous for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix, and boasts the only circuit that is made up of public roads. I’ve never really enjoyed the Monaco Grand Prix that much because of the nature of the track which makes it very difficult to overtake. That said, however, there have been one or two interesting races in the past and the scenery is arguably the best of all the circuits. The famous hairpin bend was very close to the casino and a lot of tourists were taking photographs of this dangerous curve. We walked down past the bend and through the famous tunnel that makes up the next part of the circuit. It was loud enough with normal everyday cars travelling through it and I can only imagine the noise when several Formula One racing cars are charging through at over 200mph.

After the tunnel, we found ourselves on the marina, where we enjoyed looking at the large expensive yachts, before stopping for a quite expensive lunch.

While Monaco is small, we were a bit limited in time, so we opted to take an open top bus tour around the remainder of the principality, so that we could stop off at places of interest and explore without walking everywhere in the increasing heat.

The bus tour provided us with a lot of useful information about Monaco. I thought I knew what to expect but some things surprised me. For example, Monaco has its own language, Monégasque, and street signs are shown in both French and Monégasque. An example of the language is:

Santa Maria, maire de Diu,
prega per nùi, pecatùi
aùra e à l'ura d'a nostra morte

which is an excerpt from the Hail Mary prayer.

Also, the total area of Monaco is a mere two square kilometres. The principality has a monarchy, the current ruler being Albert II.

Monaco is also a tax haven and as such attracts extremely wealthy people from all over Europe. Imagine being a billionaire and having to pay no income tax at all?

Eventually the bus took us to the old town, called Monaco-Ville, which is located high on a rocky promontory that offers fantastic views of the principality. The area was similar to the old town in Nice with narrow streets containing shops and restaurants.

We took the time to stroll around the streets, devour a wonderfully creamy ice cream and relax enjoying the fabulous views, before catching the bus back to the casino so that we could return to Nice.

Sadly, the journey back to Nice was irritating too because once again we had to stand up all the way back and, thanks to roadworks, had to endure a much longer journey. There was one minor piece of entertainment when the driver ignored a woman who had pressed the “Please Stop the Bus” sign. This small young French lady yelled from the back of the bus, her voice reaching almost ear-shattering pitches until eventually the driver, presumably as deaf as the rest of us, pulled over finally, to let her out. The words that came out of her mouth made the remaining French passengers snigger. I understood none of them. Mrs PM, who speaks French extremely well, also sniggered and told me in no uncertain terms that the woman had poured forth a lot of expletives questioning the driver’s parentage and sexual preferences.

I’ll leave you with a few photographs showing how the other half lives.

Monte Carlo Casino - James Bond won't let me in because I am wearing shorts.
My next car
Monte Carlo Casino - in a mirror
Not quite a Formula One Grand Prix
My next boat
Port Hercule - A place to park my boat when I win Euromillions

What shall I shoot?
Port de Fontvieille - an alternative place for my boat

When I win the Euromillions Lottery I will certainly consider moving to Monaco. Don’t worry, I will tell you all about driving around the Grand Prix circuit in my bright yellow Lamborghini – I owe you that much, dear reader.