Saturday 31 October 2015

The Meaning of Life - Paint It Black

In 2013, I watched a funny programme starring Karl Pilkington called The Moaning of Life, where he travelled the world seeking inspiration for the meaning of life in key areas, such as happiness, kids and death.

Karl Pilkington is a straight talking funny man whose perception of life in general is rather weird, so weird in fact that he is genuinely funny. The show inspired me to write about the meaning of life from my own perspective mirroring the subjects tackled by Karl.

This is the man at is weirdest best - simply trying to promote the book accompanying the first series:

See what I mean? He can't even talk about his book without flying off at weird tangents.

Anyway, now he’s back with a second series where he continues to give us his view of life with new subjects. Again I have decided to join in and offer my views on the same subject.

The first post discusses something that I have mentioned before (and ranted about):


Regular readers may consider me to be an unsophisticated barbarian when it comes to the arts, mainly because I have written a few posts about my views on contemporary art, the people who produce this art and the people who claim to understand and appreciate it.

These people are wrong.

It’s true that I am a stubborn old git but my opinions on art are just my own. While I may mock the pieces of crap that hang on the walls of museums of contemporary art, I genuinely have praise for paintings and sculptures that, in my opinion, say something to the world.

For example, I love paintings of real things,, such as landscapes, oceans, storms and sunsets, particularly if these images have been captured in the past. I find that they give me an insight into life back then and I can imagine the painter sitting in the English countryside, using his skill to capture a specific moment in time for future generations to enjoy.

Here’s an example or two by J.M.W.Turner:

Joseph Mallord William Turner ‘Crossing the Brook’, exhibited 1815

These are fantastic paintings.
I feel rather sorry for J.M.W. Turner to be honest because, sadly, his name has been used (or should I say abused) in modern times. His name has been given to an annual contemporary art competition that genuinely makes me wonder about the sanity and intelligence of certain elements of my nation. 
The Turner Prize is awarded to a so-called visionary young artist (under the age of 50 – so its ageist as well) for their new works of art.
However, the art is utter nonsense. In fact, it’s worse than that – it’s absolutely shit!
The Turner Prize shows everything that is wrong with art. These days, it has been captured and held captive by the pseudo-intellectual brigade, who refuse to accept genuine art because, in their words:

“It’s been done before!”

I could vomit in a bucket, throw the contents onto a canvas, empty the contents of a filthy cat litter tray on top of that, spread it around with a garden rake, throw in a few packets of cat food for good measure, leave it to dry and then hang it up on a wall with the title “Cat Chores Gone Wrong” and I am sure that some pillock out there in the world of contemporary art would start gushing over it, claiming it to be:

“The most exciting cosmic, trans-species interactive amalgamation in the myriad multiverses”.

I might just do that, actually!
But of course, art is really any form and while I may mock a pseudo-intellectual, I am certain that he has his reasons for spouting pseudo-philosophical crap about a vomit stain hanging on a wall.
I find beauty in many other art forms, such as music, video and the wonders of Mother Nature. To be perfectly honest, I prefer photography to painting, simply because when a camera captures an image, it is real. In the minute moment that a camera clicks, a picture of a moment is preserved, whether it is a moment of beauty or tragedy. 
For me, like a Turner landscape, we have captured a moment in time that can be preserved for our future generations to enjoy, contemplate or simply fantasize about. 
I would love a person from two hundred years in the future to see a photograph that I had taken and just spend a few moments trying to imagine what was going on at the time. 
Another art form that is close to my heart is music. Music is personal and, like a photograph, can have a special meaning for a person. I still maintain that a catalogue of personal music can act as a unique time machine for a person. Whenever I hear certain songs, my mind searches my memory banks for a specific moment, selects it and brings into my thoughts so that I can relive what is probably a cherished memory, either of a specific instance or a special month or year.
In that respect, music gives meaning to life and the good thing about music is that, like a fantastic statue, a beautiful photograph or an oil painting of an ancient landscape, we can think about our lives, past lives, history and the future all at the same time.
I’m not sure that a vomit stain hanging in the Tate Gallery would have such a profound effect.
I’ll leave you with two songs from my vast collection that are very special to me for reasons that I may elaborate on in future posts:

How about you, dear reader. 

Are you a fan of art?

What art do you enjoy?

Do you think that a lot of contemporary art is rubbish?

What does "art" mean to you?

Tuesday 27 October 2015

The Most Dangerous Creature In The World

When people are asked to think about dangerous animal, they normally consider big vicious animals with huge teeth or massively poisonous snakes or spiders.

The truth is that the most dangerous animal in the world is in fact a tiny barely perceptible little vampiric bastard that is responsible for more illness and death than any other creature.

This little monster is responsible for transmitting disease to over 700 million people every year, resulting in over 2 million deaths.

Can you believe that?

This demonic blood-sucking little fiend is the mosquito and has terrorised me for the last month or so, as well as several times in in my recent lifetime.

Regular readers will know that I am a barely recovering hypochondriac and I have recently fallen off the wagon and spent hours fretting over potential illness. My trip to Brazil meant that I had to be vaccinated against Yellow Fever, a disease spread by these damned insects, and that in itself caused me major mental problems, convincing myself that I would catch the disease before my feet left the shores of Britain (you can read about it here) .

In the past, going to places like China, I have had to take malaria tablets to protect myself against another disease spread by mosquitos. Worse, the bloody tablets made me feel ill anyway with the list of possible side-effects being almost as terrifying as catching the disease itself.

I travelled to Brazil armed with enough mosquito repellent to thwart a vast swarm of the little buggers. If you haven’t used mosquito repellent, let me tell you that it is one of the most revolting substances ever stored in an aerosol can.

First, I had to smother myself in high factor sun screen to protect my delicate skin from the powerful rays of the sun. On top of that, I then had to spray all of my exposed skin with mosquito repellent. 

There are three other things you need to know about mosquito repellent.

First of all, it absolutely stinks. If you want to go out at night time and wear something that makes you smell nice, forget it. My paranoia informed me that the people would probably keel over as I walked past due to the stench of this foul liquid protecting me against blood-sucking mosquitos.

Second, mosquito repellent is nasty stuff. The warnings on the can tell you not to spray it near your lips and eyes because it will cause a lot of irritation. I speak from experience. One night, I was a little overenthusiastic and some of the foul substance hit me in the face. I could feel it on my lips. I was in the bathroom, swearing and cursing as I vigorously removed all traces with copious amounts of water.

Finally, this stuff ruins your clothes. Again, in another bout of overenthusiastic squirting, I managed to spray loads of it all over my shorts, leaving a nasty little stain that made people think I had had an accident on the way to the toilet. I also managed to spray some onto my black leather watch strap, resulting in a black stain on my skin that I had to scrub for hours to remove.

After a week and a half in Brazil, of covering ourselves in this crap, we were delighted to report that no insect had bitten us.

However, something happened that caused the hypochondriac within to surface with maximum prejudice.

There is a disease called Dengue Fever which is prevalent in the tropics, including South America. Brazil has had many problems with it over the past few years. It is spread by a variety of mosquito called aegis aegypti

Worse, this disease is incurable.

We arrived in Búzios at the end of our holiday for a relaxing couple of days by the sea and quickly fell into the routine of lazing in the sun. Sadly, we were so free of stress that we forgot to spray ourselves with mosquito repellent.

The result? We woke up on the first morning with a few bite marks on our legs.

Mrs PM thought nothing of it.

I, on the other hand, mutated into The Hypochondriac, and instead of calmly reading a book by the pool, I spent hours searching the internet on my phone looking for symptoms of Dengue Fever trying to calculate whether the little bastards  that had bitten us where in fact mosquitos or some other nasty little blood-sucking critters.

Within hours I had become an expert on Dengue Fever – and I didn’t like what I read. The chances of catching it were slim (only 250,000 cases out of 180 million people in Brazil), and even if we had been bitten by a mosquito, the chances of it being an aegis aegypti were even smaller.

What's more, the aegis aegypti would have to be infected with Dengue Fever anyway as the disease is spread when the mosquito bites a person infected with the disease. Furthermore, it was spring in Brazil and peak mosquito time is in the summer (December to March).

At university I studied statistics as part of my degree and all of my common sense was telling me that the bites were totally harmless and the chances of catching something nasty were very slim. Logic was thrown out of the window by The Hypochondriac.

The thing is that Dengue Fever is like a really nasty bout of the flu, with added

For the rest of our stay in Brazil, we saturated ourselves in mosquito repellent (I virtually SHOWERED in the stuff) and we weren’t bitten again.

Mrs PM took it all in her stride and enjoyed her time without worry.

I tried to but I struggled to silence the voice at the back of my mind trying to convince me that I was doomed to Dengue Fever.

Thankfully, the bites have disappeared and the incubation period over so I will not succumb to Dengue Fever.

However, my fear of mosquitos is now instilled and I know that in order to eliminate that fear, I have to soak myself in an obnoxious liquid, allow a nurse to stab me with a needle full of an unspeakably vile substance or take tablets that I know will make me ill.

All this because of a tiny buzzing, six-legged little horror that the eye can barely perceive – the most dangerous creature in the world.

I want to go on record right now to reiterate the fact that mosquitos, like wasps, are right up there in the list of creatures that I would eliminate from planet Earth if I were given omnipotent powers.

And, like wasps, I will endeavour to eliminate them one at a time, whenever the opportunity arises.

At least then I will never accidentally spray mosquito repellent in my face again.

Sunday 25 October 2015

Iguaçu Falls

So there I was, dressed like a condom and being drenched by Mother Nature at her most fierce. I looked around through glasses soaked with droplets of water and noticed that a hundred or so other people were also doing passable impersonations of condoms and being equally soaked.

Some brave fools had decided to take on the force of nature protected just by normal clothes and as a result, were totally drenched.

I was standing on a wooden walkway in the middle of Garganta do Diablo (Devil’s Throat) on the Brazilian side of Iguaçu Falls quite literally surrounded by tons of water cascading over rocks both above us and below us. I think the name Devil’s Throat is quite an apt name.

I’ve been to Niagara Falls in Canada and marvelled at its fierce beauty. I honestly never thought that I would see anything better in the waterfall department, that is until I saw Iguaçu Falls.

We arrived in Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil a week or so ago in the middle of a rainstorm and on our first full day caught a local bus to the Iguaçu National Park. We paid our entrance fee and a few moments later we found ourselves on a double decker bus heading for the falls themselves, following a rough tourist map written in Portuguese. The bus stopped a few times but with the help of my poor Spanish and Mrs PM’s limited Portuguese vocabulary, we managed to get off at the starting point for a small hike that would ultimately lead us to Devil’s Throat.

In the distance amongst the trees we could hear a distant rumbling, which meant that I heard the falls before I actually saw them. When I eventually did see them, my first thought was that there were far more than at Niagara. From where we stood the falls were across the river in Argentina and in the distance we could see walkways where Argentinians could get up close and personal. We had already decided to go to Argentina the next day so that was something to look forward to.

Our first view of the waterfalls
A closer look

The trail gradually led us down from our high vantage point. There were hundreds of people all trying to take photos with is so we had to be very patient. While we were waiting we observed the local wildlife, in particular a rather strange creature called a coati, which looks a bit like a raccoon. There were warning signs asking us not to feed these persistent little creatures as they are known to bite. I was happy to oblige because the last thing I wanted to worry about, being a massive hypochondriac, was rabies.

A cheeky coati
As we descended the views of the falls became more spectacular and the noise became louder. Mrs PM was far more prepared than I was and about half way down she bought a couple of human sized condoms from a café, anticipating the need to protect us against the water.

Getting closer

And closer
The lower we got, the spray became more prevalent and, reluctantly, I put on the giant body condom. I felt like a total berk until we arrived at Devil’s Gorge. A wooden walkway led out into Mother Nature’s biggest shower system. I could barely hear myself think, such was the volume of cascading water. We were surrounded by high waterfalls from above and below.

Deep in Garganta do Diablo

Devil's Throat
It was magnificent and I was in awe of the beauty of Mother Nature.

We kept the human condoms when we left the Brazilian side so we could use them in Argentina. The next day, a small minibus picked us up at our hotel in Foz do Iguaçu and after a relatively easy border crossing, we arrived in Parque Nacional del Iguazù on the Argentinian side of the falls.

The main difference in Argentina, apart from the language, was the view of the falls. In Brazil we descended into the Devil’s Throat. In Argentina, we got up close and personal with numerous other waterfalls from both below and above.

There were several trails. The first trail, the so-called “Low Trail” was similar to the Brazilian side apart from how close we got the falls themselves. We didn’t find ourselves trapped in Devil’s Throat but we were a lot closer to the many cascading waterfalls.

There were a couple of instances when my fear of heights joined the party. The low trail was supposed be low but in reality the pathways crossed the falls at quite a height. I was okay but I had to hurry across a couple of the paths because the drop below was enough to make me jittery. I left Mrs PM to take the scary photos as I watched by the sidelines. 

The "Low Trail"

Up close and personal
We had to put on our human condoms again for an encounter with a particularly high waterfall from below.

Later, we took the “High Trail”. I was slightly nervous because the low trail had made me worry about heights but the high trail took us over the top of the falls at an acceptable height above the rivers. The views from these lofty heights were absolutely remarkable. We walked over countless waterfalls, watching the water flow over the edges of cliffs in a raucous fusion of spray, foliage, rock and thunder. 

It was magnificent.

We barely noticed that the weather had taken a turn for the worse. Our condoms protected use from the torrential rain that had started.

We walked back hoping to see Devil’s Throat from above but sadly we ran out of time and had to meet the minibus so that we could return to Brazil.

I’ll leave you with a video that hopefully gives you a feeling of how beautiful  Iguaçu Falls is. To be honest, I preferred the views from Argentina but I would urge you to visit both for the full experience.

Saturday 3 October 2015

Rock Fusion

I’m off on my travels again on Monday and I can’t wait. I’m heading west across the pond again but this time, I’m heading south of the Equator to Brazil. We are starting off in Lisbon for a day before flying to Salvador, Iguazu Falls, Rio de Janeiro and finally a couple of days by the beach in Búzios.

We’ve never been to South America before and I am looking forward to crossing off another country from my travel bucket list.

I will post more details on my return but in the meantime I thought I would offer you a couple of rock songs that cross over into other genres. 

Regular readers know that I love rock music and I my quest to introduce new music to readers will continue (sorry about that). The songs below are all probably by artists you haven’t heard before but have been influenced by other musical styles.

Rock meets 1980’s Pop – Yes – Owner of a Lonely Heart

I love pop music from the early 1980’s and Yes, a progressive rock band, produced the perfect fusion of this style with rock. Many die-hard fans of Yes hate this song accusing it of being too commercial and that the band sold out. I totally disagree. I love it and it was of my favourite songs from the 1980’s.

Rock meets Reggae – Rush  - Digital Man

Regular readers will know that Rush are my favourite band and they often incorporate other musical styles into their songs, which is one of the reasons I love them so much. This particular song has a heavy reggae influence throughout.

Rock meets Blues  - Led Zeppelin – I Can’t Quit You, Baby

To be fair, Led Zeppelin started life as a blues band and evolved into something that many people think was the start of heavy metal. As you can see from the song below from their eponymous debut album the band’s roots are deeply embedded in the blues.

Rock meets Gospel – The Answer – Preachin’

I love a good bit of gospel and when combined with a bit of rock and a slide guitar, it is a recipe for a cracking feel good song. The Answer are a cracking British rock band who I first saw before they were famous in a tiny venue in Manchester. The next time, they were supporting AC/DC at the Manchester Arena. They are definitely worth checking out.

Rock meets Jazz – Nightwish – Slow Love Slow

Nightwish are a Finnish symphonic metal band who regularly cross musical genres. I am not a huge fan of jazz music at all but this particular slow and sensual song is just brilliant and wouldn’t feel out of place in a 1950’s jazz club. Here are the band performing it live at the Montreux Jazz festival:

Rock meets Latin American – Santana – Smooth

Okay – Carlos Santana is from Mexico so it’s hardly unexpected that his music is heavily influenced by his Latin American roots. However, he is a fantastic guitarist and in my humble opinion it makes his style of Latin American music much more enjoyable.

Rock meets Dance – Nine Inch Nails – Only

Nine Inch Nails have always flirted with electronica (which is the main reason they are one of my favourite bands). Only is a great little song that borders on being a pop song. It’s certainly a song that would persuade me to jump onto the dance floor and strut my funky stuff, even though these days I look like an embarrassing old man at a wedding.

Rock meets Mexican Mariachi – Rammstein – Te Quiero Puta!

Rammstein are always producing bizarre songs and this is arguably the most bizarre of them all. Most fans of the band hate the song but I find it quirky and intriguing. It is sung in Spanish and I won’t bother translating the words for you (because as you can guess they are offensive).

Rock meets Opera – Nightwish – The Passion and the Opera

The original singer of Nightwish, the fabulous Tarja Turunen, has an amazing and very operatic voice. To be honest, I could have chosen many more early songs by Nightwish to illustrate her vocal capabilities, but I selected this one because it focusses more on the operatic range of her voice. I’m not a fan of opera at all but somehow her voice fits in snugly with the heavy music. About two minutes into this song you can hear for yourself how operatic her voice is.

Rock meets Techno – Joe Satriani – Devil’s Slide

Joe Satriani is a brilliant guitarist, arguably the greatest rock guitarist in the world. The album Engines of Creation is probably the most experimental he has produced, with synthesisers and computer manipulation taking centre stage alongside his guitar genius rather than the traditional drums, bass and keyboards.

I hope you enjoyed the songs and I will see you in a couple of weeks.