Saturday 30 January 2016

Address To The Haggis

I am from England and I speak English, the language of the land where I was born and have lived all of my life. Yet, last Saturday night, I witnessed a tradition that I have never seen before, in a language that I struggled to understand, yet was actually English.

What’s more bizarre are the circumstances. The orator was reciting a poem to a big plate upon which nestled a haggis. The aforementioned Scottish dish had been brought in accompanied by a piper wearing full Scottish regalia and wrestling what looked like a tartan octopus, which made a noise like a cat being strangled.

The man carrying the haggis was accompanied by another rather sinister man holding two very sharp and disturbing knives. The orator spoke these words:

If you didn't understand him, here are the first four verses of what he said:

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, 
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
'Bethankit' hums.

Is it easier to understand written down? For me neither.
After the address, we all applauded and the sassenachs amongst us (a sassenach being an Englishman) asked each other what exactly had been said.

This was my first ever Burn’s Supper, a formal dinner celebrating the birthday of Scotland’s finest poet, Robert Burns, a man held in such high esteem by our Scottish brethren that every year, Scots the length and breadth of the country eat traditional Scottish fare (or “fayre”) and recite the great man’s poems in big booming voices.

If you have never heard of Robert Burns you will almost certainly have heard of, arguably, his most famous work, which is sung as the bells chime to bring in the New Year – Auld Lang Syne. He was born on 25th January 1759 and died at the tender age of 37 in 1796. Our Scottish brethren have been celebrating his birthday since the early 19th century.

The poem above is called Address To A Haggis and was written by Burns in 1786 and is traditionally read out during each and every Burns Supper.

Such was the bonhomie that the Scottish organisers of the event allowed lots of sassenachs to attend and appreciate the great man’s poetry. The dinner consisted of traditional Scottish dishes, starting with:

Cock-a-leekie soup

before moving on to:

Traditional haggis neeps and tatties

I can almost hear you asking: What on earth are “neeps” and “tatties”?

“Neeps” are turnips and “tatties” are mashed potatoes.

Dessert was cranachan, a traditional Scottish sweet made of raspberries, whipped cream, honey and oatmeal, all with a dash of whiskey.

It was a great meal and only the second time I had eaten haggis, a dish made up of sheep’s offal, mixed with oatmeal and suet, before being stitched up into a sheep’s stomach and boiled for a couple of hours.

It sounds disgusting but actually, with the neeps and tatties it is very nice.

After dinner, and a couple of humorous speeches, including more lines of poetry from Burns, we were encouraged to dance in a two hour ceilidh during which an instructor showed us a whole bunch of traditional Gaelic dances and we then proceeded to make fools of ourselves attempting to master them.

This involved one of two things:

(1) Mrs PM and I dancing around together, attempting to recall the instructions but ultimately colliding with other similarly inept dancing couples in a melee of laughter and humiliation.

(2) Dancing with just about every woman at the ball, either swinging them around or being swung around, resulting in more collisions in a melee of laughter and humiliation.

“Hi I’m Dave,” I said as I linked arms with each strange woman.

“Hi, I’m WOOOAAAHHHH!!!” she replied as we were both spun around and released before meeting our next partner.

This is how it should be done/

ceilidh is a great way to meet new people. Even if you are the shyest person in the room, who wouldn't normally say boo to a goose, you can't help but have fun and talk to random strangers as you are hurled around the dance floor.
Personally, we had a bloody great time.

At the end of the evening, we had made new friends, semi-mastered some of the dances and done more exercise in an evening than we probably had in a week.

I would like to thank a long dead Scottish poet for a great evening.

Here's to you, Rabbie Burns! Long may your poems remain, my auld Scottish friend.

I'm just sorry that I don’t understand a bloody word of them.

Monday 25 January 2016

The Eccentric Englishman

I read a news article about David Bowie last week in which he was described as the perfect example of an eccentric Englishman.

And that got me thinking (which is always a dangerous thing).

It’s well known that we, as a nation, are considered a little weird by our European cousins, and, dare I say, by the rest of the world. Eccentricity is in our genes and we express ourselves in bizarre ways.

If you don’t believe me, here are two examples.

First, we have gurning competitions.  Are you wondering what gurning is? It’s basically pulling a funny face and we have competitions throughout the country.

(Cheeky) people have suggested that I could win the World Gurning Championship with very little effort whatsoever.

Second, we have Morris Dancing. I used to work with a Morris Dancer and she turned up to a fancy dress party, clad in her full regalia, whereupon, after a couple of glasses of wine, she stunned us all by performing a solo Morris Dance in the middle of a crowded room, with lots of applause, mainly because we appreciated the eccentric nature of her display. She was passionate about her art, so passionate that she eventually married a fellow Morris Dancer. I wasn’t invited to the wedding but I can imagine that the entertainment would have involved bells, waving hankies and shaking sticks.

Here’s an example of Morris Dancing:

Strange, isn’t it?

There are more examples of British weirdness, such as cheese rolling and bog snorkelling that may make any foreigner wonder whether we are all slightly unhinged.

While the whole world has produced eccentrics, I feel that we have more than our fair share.

We have people like Paloma Faith, Noel Fielding, Eddie Izzard,  Ozzy Osbourne, Stephen Fry, Brian Blessed  and, though it pains me to say it, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

Boris Johnson could be a future Prime Minister - God help us all!

Brian Blessed - "GORDON'S ALIVE!!!"

Eddie Izzard - Very funny and very surreal

Noel Fielding in one of his more sensible moments

Ozzy will soon have a frog in his throat.

Paloma Faith? Eccentric? HA HA HA!!

Stephen Fry - A man so intelligent it makes the rest of us look totally thick!

Of course, there are honorary foreign eccentrics worth a mention too, like Björk and Lady Gaga but I like to think that these people are also outrageous, something that we Englishmen are a little reluctant to be (with the possible exception of Ozzy Osbourne).

To be honest, when you look at the royal family, and the upper classes there are many weird people mingling in those big houses and palaces.

Possibly my favourite is Prince Phillip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth, a man who constantly makes us cringe with his ill-considered outbursts. Political correctness isn’t one of his strong point.

"Have I embarrassed you again, my dear?"
Here are some of the things he has said:

(To a Scottish driving instructor) “How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough for them to get them through the test?”

(To a 13 year old boy while visiting the Space Shuttle) “Well, you’ll never fly in it. You’re too fat to be an astronaut.”

(To a female sea cadet) “Do you work in a strip club?”

(To a Kenyan woman) “You are a woman, aren’t you?”

Eccentricity is a Scottish trait too as I discovered last Saturday when I attended a Burns Ball. That sounds a lot ruder than it is – I will reveal all in my next post.

I’ll leave you with a song by Paloma Faith that I actually like (much to Mrs PM’s utter shock):

Saturday 16 January 2016

Smart Conversation

The art of conversation is slowly dying.

The only people who are currently keeping it active are those above a certain age, like me, who like to have a good old fashioned conversation (or a “chinwag”) with one or more people in pleasant surroundings such as a restaurant, pub of coffee shop.

However, there are a certain group of people (to whom I shall refer as the youth of today) who prefer other means of communication.

I am referring to the smartphone.

Actually, it’s not just the youth of today – some people my age are equally guilty of this crime against humanity.

Picture the scene:

Mrs PM and I walk into a pub and approach the bar. After ordering our drinks we find a seat and chat to each other about our day at work, next year’s holiday plans, what a great guy I am and how lucky she is to have me – you know the kind of thing.

On the table next to us are three people all with drinks who obviously know each other. None of them are talking to each other. Instead, each one of them has a smartphone in their hand and each one of them is doing something like:

(1) Surfing the internet looking at crazy You Tube videos

(2) Posting their status in Facebook (“I’m having a great time with Kate and Paul in The Blue Hippo and am just about to quaff a pint of Old Skunkwarbler”)

(3) Posting their status on Twitter (“Drnkng Old Skunkwarbler with m8s in pub – LOL - #Drunkasskunk)

(4) Texting other friends who aren’t there (“CU L8er @BlueHippo – wot’s ur eta?”)

We sat there watching them and nobody spoke until one of them ran out of beer and asked whose round it was.

A more extreme case occurred in my own house. I was with Mrs PM, my son and his girlfriend. Mrs PM and I were watching TV and the kids were busy typing on their phones. Suddenly, my lad’s phone chirped – he had received a text message. That text message was from his girlfriend who was sitting a yard away and had texted him asking for a drink.

We like his girlfriend a lot and I have told her that she can help herself to anything in my house (apart from my beer of course!) – and usually she does.

Even my lad was surprised.

He turned to her and said “Get your own drink!”

“What?” I said incredulously. “Have you just texted him to ask for a drink?”

“Yes,” she confessed.

As you can imagine, my soapbox came out and I started ranting about how smartphones are turning people into robotic ignoramuses and that the logical evolutionary conclusion will be that people eventually forget how to speak, only able to communicate with grunts and superfast typing on their devices with their oversized thumbs.

“Ignore him,” said my lad as he got up to fulfil his girlfriend’s request. “He’s old!

“Don’t tell me you’re actually going to get her a drink?” I said.

“Shut up!” shouted Mrs PM, bringing my rant to an abrupt end. My lad and his girlfriend just laughed (as they usually do).

I have now banned the use of phones when I am out with Mrs PM and my immediate family and their girlfriends unless they receive an important text or a phone call.

Actually, that’s another thing. People these days communicate by text instead of ringing each other up. If you want to have a serious chat with somebody or arrange something you cannot do it with a text that is written in the stupid abbreviated slangy language, known as text speak.

You can achieve so much in a five minute conversation. If you text to each other it takes hours to do this, and in my case most of that time is taken trying to decipher the idiotic language that’s used.

Does the following really make sense?


What this means is

“Oh my God! Are you OK? Your boyfriend is a dick, if you know what I mean. There are tears in my eyes. Talk to you later. Hugs and kisses. Kate.”

Actually, she won’t “talk to you later” because she will send you a tweet, post you a message on Facebook or text you.

Don’t get me wrong; I am a technophile who LOVES my smartphone. The difference between me and the youth of today is that I use my phone for learning Spanish, navigating, receiving emails, reading, taking photos, checking the weather, measuring my walking distance and speed, organising my calendar, watching TV via Google Chromecast, converting currencies, translating from English to other languages and vice versa, checking the time, storing useful information, brain training, simulating a torch, reading the news, posting photos on Instagram, checking the names of actors in films, learning other subjects, identifying songs, checking the latest gigs, recording voice notes and looking at You Tube videos.

I hasten to add that I only do this when I am on my own and not when I am in the company of one or more people.

I use my phone in a pub, for example, when Mrs PM has gone to the toilet and I am on my own waiting for her to return. If I am with several people, my phone stays in my pocket.

And that’s the way it should be.

I don’t want the art of conversation to die. While social media has revolutionised communication, it should not be used to communicate with people who are in the same room as you.

People need to talk to each other.

It’s ridiculous.

Anyway, rant over.

I’ve got to go. Mrs PM has just texted me to tell me to start cooking dinner because her favourite television programme is on.

Bloody smartphones!!!

Wednesday 13 January 2016

America Saves The Day - Again

Before I go on, let me just reiterate the fact that I love America and Americans.

Now that’s out of the way, I have a complaint.

Last year, I went to the cinema with Mrs PM to watch San Andreas, a spectacular disaster movie full of earthquakes, tsunamis and The Rock (aka Dwayne Johnson). I loved the film and scoffed my popcorn with a huge smile on my face…until the end.

My enjoyment was stained by the final scene when we saw our hero hugging his family while standing in Golden Gate Park looking over the ruins of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco.

The dialogue went something like this:

Carla Gugino: What happens now?

The Rock: We rebuild.

The camera pans to the ruined bridge and we see the Stars and Stripes unfurl over the disaster area as if that makes everything alright.

I have a request for Hollywood.

Please cut the jingoism out of your movies.

There – I’ve said it.

If I have annoyed any American readers then I apologise but that’s the way I feel.

The United States of America is not the only country in the world. There are 196 more, including my own and to be honest I don't find myself emotionally charged by the American flag flowing in the sky after yet another disaster has been averted.

It's just not necessary.

I can understand that a lot of American citizens are very patriotic but I do wonder how many of them cringe like I do when a movie is ruined by quotes like:

“God Bless America” 

and when Superman stands for “Truth, Justice and the American Way”.

A lot of movies portray the President of the United States in the new role of World President. The worst example for me is a movie that I have ripped to shreds before on this blog. The very title irritates me:

Independence Day

Ignoring the fact that America defeats the aliens on 4th July, we have to put up with America leading the way and the British seemingly doing bugger all until the big American plan pops up:

The special effects were marvelous but the entire story was a joke.

Also I love super hero films and the latest instalments featuring the Hulk, Iron Man and Thor are fantastic. But I have a slight problem with Captain America because he personifies this jingoism. Don’t get me wrong; I like the character but I would have preferred him to be called Captain Shield or something like that.

If any American readers are still reading, can I ask a question?

Does jingoism actually make a film more enjoyable?

Would audiences flock away if the American flag wasn’t unfurled in a blaze of patriotism with a square jawed hero uttering an iconic phrase about freedom, America and justice?

And I have another complaint: why does the bad guy always seem to be English?

Is there something about the English accent that makes us sound like psychopathic lunatics?

Growing up, I was always confused by the comparison between British films and American ones. I concede that in the past we have added our own elements of patriotism, particularly in the decades following the war, with our stiff upper lips, drinking a cup of tea as bombs explode in the vicinity.

Such scenes are usually missing from our films or are completely ridiculed by the likes of Monty Python:

And when we have a national disaster, for example in the brilliant 28 Days Later, there is not even a hint of jingoism with Britain saving the day and defeating the zombie-making virus.

I suppose James Bond has always been quintessentially British and I suppose there are elements of patriotism in his behaviour – and yes – he always saves the day. However, I prefer to think of him as a sex mad psychopath. 

I don’t honestly feel patriotic and have no desperate urge to wave my Union Jack when he vanquishes yet another villain with maximum prejudice.

You may disagree. If you do, let me know.

Thankfully, I think things are changing. Some of the amazing TV shows coming out of America are removing this image of Americans saving the day and involve flawed Presidents, evil politicians and the hero not always saving the day or at least if he does, he does so at a price.

That’s what we like over here in the UK.

More importantly that’s what I want.

Let’s have more of the same please.

Actually, as a footnote, I hear that there is a sequel to Independence Day this year. There is a part of me that is hoping that this time they do it right and don't make it all about America - apparently the rest of the world suffered too. I am a big science fiction geek and I know that it will be popular over here, despite this whinging post.

All we need to defeat the aliens is Jack Bauer and James Bond working together in the name of Planet Earth.

That should sort those alien invaders out.

You know it makes sense,

Monday 11 January 2016

David Bowie

This is my 600th post and it was going to sing the praises of being British. However, I have shelved that idea due to the sad news I heard today: the death of one of my musical heroes, David Bowie,

A few years ago, I posted my favourite David Bowie songs (which you can read here) and to be honest, I am a huge fan of the really early stuff, from Space Oddity all the way up to Scary Monsters at the start of the 1980’s, where for me at least his music drifted away to the fringe of my musical taste,

Don’t get me wrong, there were a few gems there but I still stand by my assertion that his greatest triumphs were in the 1970’s. At that time, my musical taste fluctuated between pop music, dance music, rock music and heavy metal, but somehow the music of David Bowie transcended the entire spectrum, not fitting into a genre of its own but complementing everything else.

I have always loved his music – I think I always will. Every time one of his songs pops onto my iPod, I smile and sing along with it.

It’s difficult to believe that he has died; it’s almost as if I thought he would live forever. The truth is that he will live forever through his music.

I’ll leave you with a couple of wonderful David Bowie songs that didn’t quite make the top ten post listed above but are deeply embedded in the roots of my favourite music.

Lady Grinning Soul

Queen Bitch


Cat People (Putting Out Fire)


I think this song is the most apt. David Bowie was a hero to me.

Rest in Peace David  - and thanks for all the music.

Saturday 2 January 2016

I Wanna Live Forever

I have stopped trying to give up ranting as a New Year’s resolution because usually, within a day, I have exploded when confronted with the fallout from the Cult of Celebrity from the previous year.

I have just watched Most Shocking Celebrity Moments as I always do at the end of each year. You may ask me why I torture myself with this banal nonsense. I do so, simply to educate myself when my peers, and others who are stupidly obsessed with celebrity, start a conversation about their bizarre antics. I have been chastised in the past for being oblivious to people like Kim Kardashian, Cheryl Fernandinho-Vermicelli and Miley Billy-Ray Cyrus and in order to at least appear to feign interest, I research the antics of these show-offs by struggling through a televisual experience, with the aid of my soapbox, that highlights how deep they will plummet into depravity to maintain their status as newsworthy icons.

Kim Kardashian? No - this is Kym Cardassian
I know you can’t wait to hear what I have learned from last year’s Hall of Shame. I shall begin.

The first thing I discovered was that there is such a thing as a "professional reality star”. These are people who degrade themselves on national television in a variety of bizarre and humiliating ways in order to expose themselves to sad fans who love to watch car crash television.

Shows like I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here, Big Brother, Celebrity Big Brother, Geordie Shore and Keeping Up With The Kardashians are full of these self-important and talentless show-offs whose only purpose in life seems to be is to expose everything about themselves to their baying audience.

These people have no talent, only the balls to make themselves look like the idiots they are. Yes, I know that they are paid a lot of money for doing this but I would not want to show my true self to a thick audience of punters who will watch them spread their vile vitriol all over social media sites like Twitter.

Some people will do anything to get into the news, either celebrity or otherwise.

Who are these people?

Katie Hopkins is one such celebrity wannabe who, in order to annoy religious types, this year declared herself to be “The new Jesus”. Is she that desperate for publicity? She’s not original (John Lennon said something similar years ago). Personally, I was more irritated by her referring to refugees as “plague of cockroaches” and advocating using gunships to send them back where they came from. I hope that in 2016 you get your comeuppance, little Miss Nasty.

Others include the Kardashians, who miraculously have somehow wormed their way into the hearts of an audience of people who I thought had some intelligence. I learned that Bruce Jenner, a former gold medal Olympian, married the widow of Robert Kardashian, the father of the Kardashian women, and has now become a woman called Caitlyn in the second most shocking moment of 2015.

I don’t care!

If he wants to be a woman that’s up to him. What I don’t understand is why anybody else outside the Kardashian family would even consider this to be a newsworthy item.

Another thing I learned was that some so-called A-List celebrities consider themselves to be far more important than anybody else. In their minds, they are gods and we, the plebs, are meant to worship them. Now I like the character Iron Man and I love Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal of his eccentric alter-ego, Tony Stark. Yet when he was interviewed by a Channel 4 news reporter called Krishnan Guru-Murthy about the latest Avengers film, there were rules about the questions that could be asked. Of course, being a news reporter, Krishnan Guru-Murthy deviated from the rules and started asking more personal questions about the actor’s rather controversial past and, like a diva, Robert Downey Jr. stormed out and later referred to the reporter as a “syphilitic parasite”.

I also learned that Mariah Carey has entered the world of online dating, presumably because she cannot find a man who will surrender to her diva demands. Whether or not the myths about her are true or not, I can’t imagine any sane man wanting to enter a relationship with her.

Here are a couple of the most outrageous demands she is alleged to have made:
  • She wanted eleven bodyguards to surround her table in a restaurant so that the plebs could not see her eating.
  • She only drinks soft drinks through a straw, the glass having to be held by one of her minions.
  • She rented every single penthouse in a luxury London hotel “for privacy” and demanded a red carpet lined with white candles so that she could make a dramatic arrival.
I wouldn’t mind – her music is absolutely shockingly bad and she has done nothing to deserve such wanton acts of greed and egomania.

Talking of egomania, the next diva is one of my favourite persons of ridicule, Mr Kanye West who, this year at Glastonbury, declared himself to be “the greatest living rock star on the planet” having just absolutely murdered Bohemian Rhapsody. Worse, at a later event, he declared that he is going to run for President of the United States in 2020. I have to say, this man has either got balls of steel of is genuinely deluded and should seek help.

In other lowlights of 2015, there were a couple of high profile separations and divorces, most notably Ben Affleck who allegedly left Jennifer Garner for a babysitter and Gwen Stefani whose husband, coincidentally, left her for a babysitter.

This is one of the main reasons I would not want to be famous. If you seek fame and fortune you have to sacrifice your privacy and, in my opinion, your love life. If you think about how long the average celebrity marriage lasts, you would never want to enter into such a relationship. I may mock Mariah Carey’s diva attitude but the truth is that I feel sorry for her, as I do any famous person whose life is there for public scrutiny. It’s like a double-edged sword. You have the adoration of your fans (no matter how sad some of them are) but the moment you make a fool of yourself in public or your life starts to fall apart, then your downfall is plastered over all the rags all over the world for all to enjoy.

Have people really enjoyed watching Charlie Sheen self-destruct over the years? Are they happy now that he has admitted being HIV positive? What about all the speculation about Cheryl Ferdinand-Vavavoom and her body size? If she is losing weight because of stress, what do you think seeing terrible stories written in tabloid media are going to do for that stress?

The poor woman cannot win.

Such a lifestyle stinks. If I were famous, I would be a recluse – which kind of defeats the object really.

I wouldn’t even want to be a politician. David Cameron was in hot water because, allegedly, he did something disgusting in his youth, as an initiation to become a member of a posh Oxford Dining Club, involving an intimate part of his anatomy and a dead pig’s head. If you want more information, please watch the following video (it’s a bit rude so reader discretion is advised):

Worse, in my view, were the words of Donald Trump, a man who wants to be President of the United States of America. He wasn’t mentioned in the shocking moments programme but some of the outrageous claims and promises he is making scare me to death.

Please, please, please don’t give this man any power.

And if he stands, please, please, please don't give Kanye West any power.

Anyway, enough negativity.

Some celebrities have shone this year. The first I would like to mention is Barry Manilow. Okay, he has made an arse of himself over the years with plastic surgery, but this year he got married – to a man! After all this time, and presumably to the horror of every Fanilow, he has admitted his sexuality.

Good for him!

The other celebrity who continues to prove that he is the nicest guy in rock is Dave Grohl. Madonna was the most shocking moment according to the TV programme because she was dragged off stage at the Brit Awards.

People praised Madonna for continuing but Dave Grohl surpassed that. He fell off the stage in Sweden and broke his leg. However, instead of cancelling the show, his band mates in the Foo Fighters carried on playing cover versions until Dave Grohl returned, his leg now in plaster and apparently in a lot of pain, to finish the concert.

That’s not all. Over a thousand people in the city of Cesena in Italy recorded a version of Learn To Fly in an attempt to persuade the Foo Fighters to play a concert there:

Dave replied in Italian and promised to visit and play a gig:

And he made good his promise (complete with broken leg) – excuse the rather fruity language:

Now that’s what I call celebrity, not despicable diva behaviour, nasty controversial vitriol or professional humiliation.

Anybody who wants fame for the right reasons, look at the example of somebody like Dave Grohl, not the egomania of Mariah Carey and Kanye West or the nastiness of Katie Hopkins and scary rhetoric of wannabe politicians like Donald Trump.