Sunday 27 September 2015

Who Stole My Milk??????

When I think back to the period of my life between 1981 and 1984, I feel a deep sense of fierce nostalgia and excitement. It was the period of my life when I evolved from a spotty naïve little kid into a more focussed young adult.

That was the time I was a student at the University of Liverpool.

So many things happened during that time that I could almost write a book about them all. However, the lifestyle was something that stands out.

At the time, there was a TV comedy series called The Young Ones about four students sharing a house. While it was a rather extreme portrayal of life as a student with extreme and unbelievably anarchic storylines, there were some scenes that reflected my life as a student enjoying communal living.

Scenes like this:

I had a taste of university life again a couple of years ago when I visited my eldest lad at university in Newcastle. He lived with a few other students and they shared a communal kitchen and bathroom. I looked around the place with a smile because the place looked like a bomb had gone off in it. The bathroom was disgusting and the kitchen had a “lived in” feel about it. It looked like neither had been cleaned for ages.

The memories came flooding back, particularly when he told me that he had made an effort to “tidy up the kitchen” for our visit.

Life was the same for me back in the 1980’s. Communal living with seven other students was an unlikely fusion of entertainment and disgustingness, an amalgam of comradeship and deviousness.

Some of these guys were my best friends and remain so after all these years. Nevertheless, at the time, we had a love/hate relationship with each other due to the pressures of communal living.

Each person had different levels of tolerance when it came to cleanliness, trust and expected behaviour.

Here are some examples (with the names changed to protect the guilty!).

Peter decided that he wanted to entertain a young woman and impress her by making a Spanish omelette. Sadly, he didn’t have a frying pan so he thought to himself “I’ll just use Dave’s”.

He didn’t ask me or tell me.

 I would have said yes, of course, and asked him to clean it afterwards, something I always do. I have a bugbear about dirty plates and will always wash up as soon as I can after eating.

Two days after Peter had entertained his young lady friend, I wanted to use my frying pan. I kept my pots in a cupboard, clearly labelled “Dave” and I knew that my clean pan would be in there because I hadn’t used it. I couldn’t find it.

“Has anyone seen my frying pan?” I asked.

Nobody had seen it and Peter wasn’t around. In the sink, there was a huge pile of dirty washing up (not mine I hasten to add). With my heart sinking, I systematically deconstructed the foul mass of plates, cutlery and pots. When I reached the bottom, I found my pan. At first I didn’t recognise it as it was covered in the burnt remains of a two day old Spanish omelette.

My pan was WORSE than this!
Peter had started the omelette, returned to his room and forgotten about it. When he remembered, he returned to the kitchen to discover that his delicious meal had been incinerated. Rather than cleaning up the mess, he simply threw the pan in the sink, without disposing of the scorched contents, and taken the woman out instead.

I was livid. It took me hours to clean it up and when he eventually returned, I was tempted to either use the pan on Peter as a weapon or a suppository.

I can’t claim to be innocent. Once, I started cooking bacon on a grill that was full of hardened fat (it had never been cleaned to that point). I popped to the toilet and when I returned, I found that the fat had caught fire, cremating my bacon and threatening to burn down the kitchen. With another student’s help and using a fire blanket, we managed to put the fire out but not before the entire flat was full of smoke and every single surface covered in a fine black soot.

Unlike Peter, I was filled with remorse and spent the next few hours cleaning the entire kitchen and washing everything up. When I had finished the only trace of my disaster were a few scorch marks on the cooker.

Sadly, however, another flatmate wasn’t as anal about cleanliness as I am. Months later, the exact same thing happened to him but rather than cleaning everything, he simply put out the fire and went back to his room as if nothing had happened. The timing of this accident was terrible because later that day, the landlady popped around and witnessed the carnage in the kitchen. We were all threatened with eviction as a result but managed to avoid this drastic action by performing the same decontamination operation that I had done.

The fridge was another source of pain. Some of us clearly labelled our food because although we were good mates, we had made an unwritten pact never to have communal food – including milk and bread. Sadly this led to numerous arguments. We all labelled our own items as if this act would protect our food.

It didn’t.

I lost count of the number of times one of my so-called mates had “borrowed” my food. Even that phrase “borrowed my food” makes me laugh because we never paid it back. I was so fed up of my food disappearing that I stooped to their depths of criminality and started stealing their food instead.

The result was total mistrust.

This was aggravated by the fact that we were all absolutely skint, and when our food vanished it was almost as if we had been robbed of what little money we owned. I started storing all my food in my room and I even considered buying my own fridge.

I’ll leave you with the most disgusting thing that happened in my final year. I have a phobia for mouldy food. If I open a packet of cheese and find a little tiny bit of mould on it, the whole thing goes in the bin. Some deranged people will simply cut off the mould and carry on eating it. These people are either aliens or just plain sick (Of course, I realise that I may have insulted you, dear reader, but please be aware that when confronted with mould, I myself mutate into a deranged subhuman monster, lashing out at any other human being in the vicinity for not having spotted the mould and disposed of the cheese in the first place).

During my last year, we opened a cupboard that none of my flatmates claimed to have used. In that cupboard was a loaf of bread. That loaf of bread had been living in that cupboard for months. It’s original colour (which may have been white or brown) had vanished and been replaced by the sickest green I had ever seen.

It was almost alive!!

One brave soul lifted it out and put it in an already overflowing bin in the kitchen. I ran out of the kitchen screaming and locked myself in my room for four days until all traces of the loaf had been disposed of.

Those memories sound quite bad but I still recall them with fondness. Next month we are having a reunion in Liverpool where I am sure we will reminisce about some of the pain of communal living.

Hopefully, by then, I may just have forgiven Peter.

Sunday 20 September 2015

The Janus Men

There’s been a bit of a furore recently in the UK in the aftermath of the election of the new leader of the Labour Party, the current opposition party.

The new leader is a guy called Jeremy Corbyn, a man whose views are generally a little controversial. The right wing press have had the knives out ever since he put his name forward but, in my opinion have stooped to new depths.

The latest slur against Corbyn is that he was caught doing something absolutely despicable. As controversial as his views are, he has apparently committed a most evil crime against the country, an act bordering on being treasonous that has offended not only the establishment but the veterans of two World Wars and the Queen herself.

Evidently, he can stoop no lower.

So what is this hideous evil thing he has done?

I swear I am not making this up.


Here are some of the headlines:

“Corb snubs the Queen” The Sun

“Corbyn snubs Queen and country” The Telegraph

“Shameful: Corbyn refuses to sing national anthem” Daily Express

“Fury as Corbyn refuses to sing national anthem at Battle of Britain memorial” – Daily Mail

“Corby a zero: Leftie refuses to sing national anthem” – Daily Star

This was front page news despite all of the other tragedy that is going on in the world.

Now I don’t really care what your political views are but this story is typical of the kind of shit that makes headlines in our country. I am convinced that we are becoming a nation of idiots who ignore the real tragedies in our own country and the rest of the world in favour of this misguided madness that fuels the fire of absurdity in the United Kingdom.

My views are summed up in this image:

Let me tell you some things about our national anthem.

It’s called God Save the Queen and it is one of the most boring anthems in the world.

It has six verses and of those people who know the words, only a handful actually know all of them.

The people of Scotland hate the anthem because, nestled away in verse six, are the words:

“May he sedition hush and like a torrent rush rebellious Scots to crush”

Here is the anthem:

I do hope you didn't fall into a coma listening to it.

If you are not religious and not a royalist then the song is meaningless to you.

I’ve been to England football matches and traditionally they play the national anthems of the teams involved. I don’t sing it and to be honest a lot of other people don’t either.

At the last cricket match I went to see involving England, they played Jerusalem:

Another candidate that other people have suggested be the anthem is Land of Hope and Glory:

I would probably sing both of those. because they are better than God Save the Queen, more upbeat and joyous. We want a bit of pomp when the anthem rings out and we want to sing about the country’s good points, not a dreary dirge about whoever the current monarch is.

I have nothing against royalty but I largely ignore them. I’ve said before on this blog that they serve a vague purpose but I have no desire to actually prostrate myself in front of Queen Elizabeth as if she really were a better person than me. I would sit and have a chat with her about her life but I would refuse to cave in to the expected social etiquette.

We don’t live in the times of Henry VIII.

For these reasons, I can understand why people are embarrassed to sing the anthem or simply refuse to do so.

Don’t get me wrong; I love my country but there are more important things to consider other than a politician being caught with his mouth closed when he should have been bellowing the words to an outdated song about the monarchy.

Sadly, he has caved in to pressure and will sing the anthem next time he has to in public, just to please a bunch of fawning royalists.

I mean, I thought that our country was free and you should be allowed to live your life as you please without having to fit in with outraged little Englanders.

What annoys me most about this is that the newspapers are claiming the moral high ground about this. It seems to have been forgotten that journalists who work for these papers have been guilty of attacking the royal family in the past. Do they think that we have forgotten about a certain newspaper hacking the voicemail of Prince Charles, the heir to the throne?

The hypocrisy is breath-taking.

What worries me most is that I am surrounded by people who believe absolutely everything they read in the newspapers and their views are moulded by the garbage that they read. There will be people who will never ever consider voting for Jeremy Corbyn because of these pathetic headlines.

The most disturbing hypocrisy has been the refugee crisis where certain newspapers have made a sudden about turn, showing themselves as total hypocrites.

Look at these contrasting headlines in The Sun and the Daily Mail:

Such two-facedness makes me sick.

I’ll end on a lighter note. Here is what Billy Connolly thinks should replace the national anthem:

I think I agree – as long as I can write the new lyrics.

That’s a subject for another post.

Monday 14 September 2015

The Hypochondriac (Part Two)

I have a confession to make.

My name is Dave and I’m a hypochondriac.

Actually, that makes me feel like I’m sitting in a meeting of Hypochondriacs Anonymous. I’ve told the world before that I suffer from hypochondria in an early blog post (you can read it here) and I have learned to stop reading about illness and asking Mr Google about symptoms.

Sadly, a couple of weeks ago, I fell off the wagon and spent a week convinced that I was suffering from a major illness.

It all started when a work colleague who had been on a trip to Brazil advised me that I need to look at vaccinations for my forthcoming trip to that country. Now normally, I’m not too bothered about vaccinations because ultimately they protect you from all manner of nasty viruses that can wreak havoc with your body.

Being well travelled I am used to trips to the doctor to check on what he needs to inject me with. I don’t like needles but I look away as the nurse administers the vaccine before going home as if nothing has happened, with just a small pain in the arm.

I made an appointment and the young nurse told me that I should have Tetanus and Hepatitis A boosters but that I also need to have a vaccine for Yellow Fever.

“Now there’s something I need to warn you about with the Yellow Fever vaccine,” she said. “It can have side effects.”

My mind started working overtime and before I knew it, my imagination was running amok. I envisaged everything from keeling over in a rabid seizure to growing a new head and turning into one of those lizard people that conspiracy theorists think rule the world.

I had a vaccine last week! Now look at me!!

“What sort of side effects?” I said, trying to control my shaky voice.

In a nutshell she told me that one in ten people felt ill with flu like symptoms but there have been cases of people falling really ill up to ten days after injection.

“It’s alright,” she said. “I’ve never known anybody actually turn yellow, but if you do just go to A&E!”

She said this with a smile on her face as she stabbed me with what I now imagined was an alien virus from the Planet Tharg that would make me disintegrate into a mutant creature, like Jeff Goldbum’s character did in The Fly.

She then told me that my immune system would fight off the virus and in ten days I would be fine. But then it got worse. She decided to make casual conversation by telling me that I shouldn’t have the virus if I am ill or that people over 60 are recommended not to have it.


I didn’t really. I smiled and nodded, feigning interest when all I wanted to do was rush out of the surgery screaming.

I drove home with my weird imagination in full control. I had a slight cold and, in my mind, my immune system was going to be fighting that instead of the Yellow Fever and I would end up turning yellow and being strapped to a bed in Intensive care surrounded by lots of armed men in Hazmat suits.

Could it get worse?

Of course it could. The second I got home, I was at my computer asking Mr Google “What are the side effects of the Yellow Fever vaccine?”

What followed was panic as I read all possible effects.

One in three people suffer  from mild effects such as headache, muscle pain, a mild fever and soreness at the injection site.

One in 130,000 suffer an allergic reaction.

One in 250,000 suffer a condition that effects the brain and nervous system causing confusion and coordination problems.

One in 330,000 people can suffer a condition that effects internal organs which can in even rarer cases, actually lead to organ failure.

Guess which category I thought I was going to fall into?

Mrs PM had had a Yellow Fever vaccination about eleven years ago when she went to Nigeria with work and she had to have a booster this time. When I broached the subject with her, she told me that the vaccine caused her to bleed from the eyes for three days. No she didn’t – I made that up.

She suffered no ill effects whatsoever and told me in no uncertain terms that I was being a big baby.

The rational part of me agreed but the Hypochondriac fuelled by Captain Paranoia told me to expect the worst.

I became obsessed over the next few days. Remember that cold I told you I had? Well that got worse, and at work, I looked up yet more symptoms and worked myself up even more.

Oh God NO!! I yelled at my desk.

“What’s up?” asked my work colleague.

“Nothing,” I stuttered. “Just a stupid bug in my program.”

By day three, I genuinely felt ill. My cold had got worse, I had a headache and I had flu like symptoms, just like one in in three people apparently suffer from.

I got home and lay on the settee feeling sorry for myself – a bit like this guy:

Thankfully, the next day I felt a lot better and went to work with no ill effects.

That was a couple of weeks ago and I am now officially immune to Yellow Fever with a little yellow certificate to prove it.

I didn’t turn into Jeff Goldblum’s fly.

I didn’t grow a new head.

I didn’t turn yellow.

The only thing that was injured was my pride.

I pledge to you, dear reader, that I will never ever ask Mr Google again for advice about symptoms.

I’m looking forward to the next meeting of Hypochondriacs  Anonymous.

Saturday 12 September 2015

Apples And Pears

Last week Mrs PM and I were visiting friends and spent  a delightful weekend down in The Smoke or, for any foreign readers, London.  The nickname was coined from the 19th and early 20th century when every cockney heated his home with coal fires which, when combined with fog, created a thick smog that gave the city it’s traditional Victorian atmosphere made famous in tales of Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper.

To many English people, London currently represents affluence and wealth and there is a feeling that the rest of England and the United Kingdom as a whole misses out on everything because London gets it all. Consequently there is some resentment and a North/South Divide.

I have never really resented London and don't really care to much about the North/South Divide; I genuinely enjoy my trips down there, visiting friends and immersing myself in the big city atmosphere with all that entails. A rather splendid train service gets me to London in just two hours.

Mind you, I don’t think I could live there. If you have ever been unfortunate enough to find yourself on the Tube (the underground metro system) during rush hour then you will know what a scary, overcrowded place it is. If you do manage to hop on a train you suddenly find that you don’t just infringe upon the personal space of random people, you actually invade it. Pressed up against a total stranger isn’t pleasant – particularly if that total stranger is a Plastic Mancunian.

Everyone's thinking the same thing: "I hope the Plastic Mancunians's not on this train!"

That said, if you can avoid the crush of rush hour, the Tube is a wonderful place to watch people. London is a diverse place with a wide range of cultures visiting or living there.  The Tube is by far the best way to explore the city and its surroundings. There is always a Tube station near to most places at the heart of the city.

You could also catch a cab if you are feeling rich, although you probably have to endure a conversation with a good old cockney cab driver who stereotypically have their vast opinions on the world and how to solve all its problems. I’m certain that Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, gets most of his ideas from cab drivers.

Mind you, they are impressive simply because in order to be a taxi driver in London, you have to pass a punishing exam called The Knowledge where they have to learn the best routes around the city without ever having to look at a map or relying on satellite navigation systems. They need to learn over 25,000 roads and 50,000 points of interest.

That's an exam I would NOT like to take!

"Where do you want to go? Tower Bridge?"
Talking to cab drivers might be okay for Londoners but the further away you live, or if you are from a foreign country, you may find it difficult to understand the cockney accent, particularly if they start using cockney-rhyming slang.

Basically, cockney-rhyming slang developed out of a need by the dodgy characters in London trying to disguise what they were saying in order to hide stuff from the police. Here are some examples:

Apple and Pears – stairs

Trouble and Strife – Wife

Tea Leaf – Thief

Boat Race – Face

Hampstead Heath – Teeth

Plates of Meat – Feet

Barnet Fair – Hair

Brown Bread – Dead

Duke of Kent – Rent

Does this video make any sense to you?

This man is a cockney:

This man isn’t:

That’s just embarrassing!!!

Next year, we’re planning a two centre holiday, starting off with a weekend in London before catching the Eurostar under the Channel Tunnel to spend a few days in Paris. Basically we’re going to be total tourists for a week in two of my favourite European cities.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a couple of photos of London from previous visits.

The Queen's everywhere. She is now Britain's longest serving monarch. Well done!

Tower Bridge on a sunny day

I have to be nice to royalty otherwise I'll end up here ...

... and these guys will arrest me!

Puttin' on the Ritz!

The Queen lives here!

David Cameron makes bad decisions here!

The London Eye - Forget it! I'm scared of heights!

No fog today!

St Paul's Cathedral.

Tower Bridge opened especially for me!

I'm sure you'll enjoy it if ever you get the chance to visit London. Remember - just nod when cab drivers try to solve the world's problems - and whatever you do, don't say nasty things about their Boat Race or Trouble and Strife!