Tuesday 31 May 2016

Mr Mildly Obsessive

I’ve just returned from what seems to be becoming my annual business trip to China and this particular trip made me realise something about myself that I have suspected for a while.

I am a mild sufferer of OCD or Obsessive Compusive Disorder.

I looked up the definition of OCD to get a handle on what it actually means and I found this:

“An obsession is an unwanted and unpleasant thought, image or urge that repeatedly enters a person's mind, causing feelings of anxiety, disgust or unease.”

It’s something that I think is getting worse as I get older.

Here’s an example.

Yesterday, I left my hotel room in Shanghai for the final time and checked out at reception. I jumped into the shuttle bus to take me to the airport and then had a wild thought that I had left my flight boarding pass in my room and my passport in the room safe. These were the two things that would enable me to get home and, if my worst fears were true, would result in my having to return to the hotel making me potentially miss my flight. I actually panicked and opened my rucksack to double check that I had the required documents.

The truth is I did have them – of course I bloody well had them!

Also, because I am obsessed with the fear of being so late that I would miss the flight, I had checked out so early that I could have easily made the return trip to the hotel (possibly twice) and still had plenty of time to catch the flight.

And the stupid thing is that in the shuttle bus, I checked my passport and boarding passes three times! THREE BLOODY TIMES!

I actually scolded myself the final time, saying rather loudly "You bloody idiot!” which brought a stare of disapproval from another passenger who thought I was referring to him.

Worse, when I got to the airport, I was so early that I had to wait for the check in desks to open. When I finally got through security, I checked my documents a further few times even though I knew that they were there.

I’m the same when I leave the house, generally. I am convinced that there is a window left open, a door left unlocked or a burglar alarm still turned off and on one or two occasions, I have actually returned to the house to double check.

I blame two things for the evolution of this embarrassing peculiarity.

The first thing is my terrible memory. As I get older, I forget things. Everybody my age says the same thing. I look at a person I haven’t seen for a while and say to myself:

 “What the bloody hell is that guy’s name???”

I suffer from all of the typical age-related memory-loss features, such as:

Walking into a room and having no idea why I went there.

Forgetting where I put things. This is particularly frustrating and I have developed a regime to counteract this infuriating problem. I always put things in the same place. However, Mrs PM sometimes decides to have a “tidy up” and moves them, which leads to me turning the house upside down looking for things, convinced that I have lost them.

Such things are affectionately called “senior moments” and many people I know around my age and older complain about this.

The second thing I have to blame is my beloved Mrs PM.  She is the love of my life but she is one of the most scatter-brained people I have ever met. For example, she has driven all the way to work and left her laptop at home. That wouldn’t be so bad if the journey wasn’t about twenty miles, usually through heavy rush hour traffic. She has also left her laptop at work when she has to do some work at home and had to make the journey back. You may think that this is okay if it’s just a one-off but it isn’t; she has done it several times.

Also, I have come home and found windows open and doors unlocked. I find myself being OCD for her too.

“Have you got your laptop?”

“Where are your keys?” 

She also drifts away into her own little world and on occasion has set off for a journey for the shops only to drift into what she and I both call “Mrs PM World” and find herself on her way to work.

This is something that she has had to put up with most of her life but, unlike me, she doesn’t beat herself up about it.

“I know,” she’ll say with a laugh. “It was another Mrs PM moment.”

When such things happen to me, I am furious with myself, which is why my evolving OCD has manifested itself to protect me against my own memory.

I also make lists of things to take with me on holiday and trips generally to make sure that I don’t infuriate myself with my poor memory. And Mrs PM does the same, so it helps her although she has still managed to become a victim of her herself. For example, no list could have stopped her from leaving a coat in Manchester airport or travelling all the way to Alaska, one of the coldest places in America, having left her winter coat hanging up in the bedroom next to her suitcase!

She has improved, mainly due to my own OCD. As she says, I have saved her on numerous occasions with just a couple of simple questions.

I’d rather make sure that everything is fine and make sure that I don’t have to enrage myself with my own shortcomings.

Perhaps mild OCD is a good thing.

I just hope that I remember to post this all on my blog.

At least my daily readership will go up as a result, even if it is only me making sure, four or five times today, that I submitted the post.

Oh crap – maybe that’s why most of my hits come from Manchester!

Sunday 15 May 2016

The Alternative Eurovision Song Contest

Last night I watched a truly European phenomenon on my telly box; The Eurovision Song Contest. This year, the competition was broadcast throughout the world for the first time, including China and the United States.

So now the whole world knows that the whole of Europe is absolutely crazy!

I am guilty because this competition, now in its 61st year, is an annual spectacle which is a mixture of pomp and utter madness. Some of the songs are absolutely crazy and, to be honest, absolutely dreadful.

Last night was no exception. I watched the show laughing my head off at the over the top theatrics and marvelled at how poor the continent’s taste in music actually is. Even the United Kingdom’s effort was dreadful and, quite rightly, finished a poor 24th out of 26 songs.

One or two, vaguely interested me but that is about it.

Even Australia had an entry. Why? I don’t know; they were guests last year for the 60th anniversary but why they were in it this year is beyond me. Not that I have anything against Australia – the country is not in Europe so therefore should not take part.

Worse, what amazes me is that all of the nations taking part have artists that can produce genuinely fine music in most genres – ourselves included. Yet we have to endure pop songs, weird songs and absolutely dreadful songs from all nations.

Yet, perversely, I am drawn to it because, in my opinion it is so bad that it is brilliant. Mrs PM and I watched the show picking our favourites (which was a massive struggle for me because they were all awful) only to be disappointed at the end when the rest of Europe (and Australia) voted a dreadful Ukrainian song as the winner.

I may sound like a dreadful bore and a man who criticizes music just for a rant but I can’t help it – and I am certain that most people think the same way (they just won’t admit it).

Anyway, I read a blog post recently that proposed a new slant on Eurovision by selecting Heavy Metal songs from each of the countries. The author is Big D at Assorted Thoughts From An Unsorted Mind and I have decided to plagiarise his idea, except for one subtle difference. I am going to pick songs from my own collection which may or may not be rock songs.

Without further ado, here is my alternative Eurovision Song Contest – limited to 10 songs, rather than the 26 of the original competition (my God – we’d be here all night!).

If you fancy it, take your pick and let me know your favourite. One thing I can guarantee you – there are no singing grannies from Russia, no bearded women from Austria and no bad songs!


I have a beautiful progressive rock song for you to start with from Poland. The band is called Riverside and the song is called Found (The Unexpected Flaw of Searching).


I really like Air, an electronic duo from France who produce very melodic relaxing pop songs. This beautiful song called Redhead Girl is typical of the band.

The Netherlands

Within Temptation are one of two symphonic metal bands I like from Holland. Don’t be put off by the label “metal” because this song, Edge of the World, is a beautiful orchestral piece that would win Eurovision – of that I have no doubt.


If it’s Ireland it can only be Enya. Here is a beautiful relaxing song called Afer Ventus– which bizarrely is sung in Latin.


Livening things up a bit with the Swedish entry, we have The Hives. If at first you don’t succeed Try It Again.


You have almost certainly heard of A-ha. I was a big fan of the band because they wrote great pop songs. Minor Earth Major Sky is a later song after their early to mid-1980’s peak.


Nightwish are another symphonic metal band but veer into the realms of progressive rock by flirting with different styles. The Islander is a almost a folk song.


Gotye was born in Belgium but now lives in Australia so I am killing two birds with one stone with this song. You will have heard it before – a great pop song called Somebody That I Used To Know.


Mein Land is a fun song from German industrial band Rammstein, which believe it or not is not as heavy as their usual numbers. The video is a little naughty and turns into mayhem at the end. It would do well at Eurovision I think.

United Kingdom

For the UK it has to be a song from my current favourite British artist, Steven Wilson. There are so many good songs but here is an upbeat song from his current album called Happiness III.

And Finally…

Over to you, dear reader.

If you feel like telling me which one you would vote for, feel free.

Alternatively, if you watched Eurovision this weekend - did you actually like any of the songs?

Personally I would vote for all of them because in my opinion, they are all better than anything Eurovision has offered (well since Abba and Lordi won it anyway).

Friday 13 May 2016

Stress Relief

Over the years I have been a victim of stress sometimes and while I still occasionally confront the demon stress-monster, these days I can usually vanquish him with casual and relaxing punch in the face.
Most of my stress comes from my job, something I think is true the world over. It amazes me that we as a society can allow ourselves to wind ourselves up at work to the point where it actually causes physical symptoms. You often feel like you really have been in a fight with a monster.
Something like this happened to me about seventeen years ago and I vowed that I would declare war on the beast that threatens to destabilize my life. These days we spar intermittently with me almost always coming out on top.
I have a few techniques that work for me to deal with stress. Some are obvious, others may seem rather unorthodox. They work for me and usually manage to keep me in control of the demonic beast at both a professional and a personal level. Here they are:
Before you slap a label on me as a crackpot, let me explain. In a previous post, I started out attacking hypnotism as a mystical load of old bollocks for gullible people. That is until I tried it, in the name of research. 
What I discovered was that if you lie back in a darkened room and listen to a hypnosis tape for a while, you actually do start to de-stress. I would never pay money to go for hypnotherapy and on a couple of occasions I have tried it to relax with a lot of success. Try it - YouTube is full of them.
I am still sceptical about it – particularly when people start talking about past life regression and nonsense like that. I can’t imagine for a second that I have lived before, let alone suddenly find that under a hypnotic trance that I weirdly have access to these past lives. That is plain ridiculous.
Beer With Friends
Some foreigners may think that the British tradition of sitting in a pub with friends and/or family at the end of a hard work is a bit strange. The truth is that there is no better way of unwinding with good company, good ale and a bellyful of laughs. The stress monster is never invited to such shindigs.
Listen To Chill Out Music
Music is very therapeutic and it is a very important part of my life. There are numerous songs in my collection that are gentle, peaceful and soothing and usually invoke a special memory like lying on a beach in the sun with the waves kissing the beach and Mrs PM next to me as we sip a cold drink. 
Here is an example of a stress melter:

Playing With Cats

I have three cats, all of which have different personalities. They are getting on a bit at the moment yet I can entertain myself with each one of them, either gently stroking them, or baiting them with string, toy mice or my own hand (which is risky, particularly with the hellcat who has the capability and the will to induce more stress; having to go to hospital can be quite stressful itself).

Ask Yourself “What’s the worst that can happen?”

I am afraid of public speaking and the first time I had to really face my fear was when I was asked to travel to America to give a course. Beforehand, I spent about a month beating myself up about it to the point where I actually decided that I was going to just refuse to go. However, I am professional and I decided to take the bull by the horns and go for it. I asked myself “What is the worst that can happen?” and I answered my own question. Nothing, even the sack, would matter – I would bounce back even from that. In the end, I was nervous but I completed the course. And since then I have given courses in Russia, Switzerland, China and South Africa. I still hate it it but I don’t allow myself to get stressed about it.

Go for a Long Walk

My days are generally split into two when working. I endure the morning period and then at around 12:30, I pick up my iPod, leave the building and embark upon a walk of just over two miles with my music as a soundtrack. Not only does this get me away from my desk, it also allows me free thinking time where I can drift into my own imagination and even reignite my creativity. And of course, my mind wonders away from the pressure of work for half an hour or so.

Go on Holiday

Whenever work starts to grind me down, I look at my calendar and remind myself of my travel plans. Sadly, I don’t get enough holiday to travel anywhere near as much as I want to, which is frustrating but at the same time makes the trips I take very special. At the moment, I have two holidays to Europe booked and a weekend break next week in Barcelona. The stress is fading just thinking about it.

Play a Video Game

You may think that I am a little too old to indulge in childish pursuits such as playing games on a console. And the truth is that I am. Yet when I decide to pick up the joystick and play a football game or become a nightmarish villain in a surreal city or even fight zombies and monsters in a scary labyrinth, my imagination runs amok and once again I have a victory over worries and tension.

Read and Write

I may not be a good writer, but putting down my thoughts on paper is a fantastic way of winding down. Whenever I put myself at the mercy of my imagination, I usually have fun, even if it’s writing a simple blog post, a plan for one of the many books in my head or just my thoughts. Whether anybody reads my words is totally irrelevant – it’s great to just get them down.

Alternatively, there are few things more enjoyable than immersing yourself in a decent book. Stories are wonderful things and I always imagine myself as the constant companion of the heroes of the story, watching them as they struggle, lose and ultimately triumph (though not always). It’s a great way to forget about your own woes.

Listen to Hard and Heavy Rock Music

This may sound a bit weird, but when I allow myself to totally succumb to stress, which does happen, albeit infrequently these days, I simply blast away the negativity with a good dose of noise. It may seem wrong to unleash loud and heavy music when in a mood like that but for me at least it totally works. At the end of a heavy tune I feel a lot better – something like this:

R.I.P Lemmy

Spend Time With Family

Letting off steam to Mrs PM and family generally can be therapeutic because ultimately they will listen to you and offer words of encouragement. Of course, simply chilling out with family is equally good. There are few things I like better than spending time with Mrs PM and/or my two lads.

And Finally …

Over to you, dear reader.

How do you cope with stress?

What techniques have you for winding down and beating back the stress demon?

Monday 2 May 2016

Bridge On The River Cam

Mrs PM and I have a quest to visit some of the great cities and towns in the UK to complement our travels abroad. Two years ago, we visited Oxford and this year we decided that it was the turn of that other great university city; Cambridge.

When I was trying to decide which universities to apply to, both Oxford and Cambridge seemed beyond me because in order to get there, a student would have to acquire the top grade in each subject as well as sitting extra exams, called S-levels (or Scholarship levels) which would have meant extra hours of study.

Oxford and Cambridge only take the best. Sadly I was nowhere near that level and realised this before my school persuaded me to at least try.

Now I found myself in Cambridge, trying to see what I would have missed.

Unlike our journey to Oxford, we caught a train instead of driving so that our journey would be relaxing. Mrs PM used the time admirably – to research an itinerary taking in all of the sights to see. On the other hand, I simply read my book and enjoyed the English countryside accompanied by hard rock music.

Our hotel was about a mile and a half outside the city centre and as soon as we arrived just after lunchtime, we dumped our bags and set off. The walk was pleasant enough, the April sun warming us up enough to be able to stroll without our coats.

The first thing that struck me, like Oxford, was the number of bikes in the city. They were parked everywhere, and many people rode them. As soon as we reached the city, the bikes were ubiquitous, parked in long lines and outnumbering the buses, cars and taxis.

Bike City
Just like Oxford, the city is small compared to Manchester and very accessible by foot. The first day there was an attempt to get our bearings. Mrs PM had been there before with work and had not really looked around the place, so we took a time, wandering around until eventually we found a tourist information office. In these modern times, we had our smartphones to help us with navigation but sometimes, it’s good to have a bit of a plan. With that in mind, we bought a map highlighting a couple of decent walks that we could follow the next day.

As the afternoon crept on, we decided to walk back to the hotel, have a little rest and return in the evening to have a beer and a meal. By then, the weather had turned bad and it had started to pour with rain.

This is bloody typical of England, particularly in April. The weather simply doesn’t understand that it can ruin a day. Thankfully we had umbrellas (always be prepared in the UK with a brolly) and our rather unpleasant walk back to the city proved not to be too traumatic.

We found an Italian restaurant and enjoyed a lovely meal before braving the weather and walking back.

Next day, after a hearty breakfast, we walked back to the city and found the starting point of a walk that would take us around a lot of the colleges. Sadly, the weather refused to change it poured with rain. Mrs PM bravely juggled the map and her brolly.

Despite the weather, there were a lot of people milling around, particularly foreigners being led around in large groups under the guidance of an expert describing the city in their mother tongue. In fact, because we were carrying a map, we were approached a couple of times by potential guides.

Our walk took us in and around a lot of the colleges, including King’s College, Pembroke College and Trinity College as well as around the city to some of more historical buildings. We even had lunch in a famous pub called the Eagle, the place where Francis Crick and James Watson announced that they had discovered the secret of life, their proposal for the structure of DNA.

We strolled across the river Cam, after which the city is named, and watched people punting on the river. We were tempted but the weather was too patchy and the short sharp showers would have meant a good soaking on the river.

I thoroughly enjoyed my tour of the city. Cambridge is similar to Oxford but more compact and has more of a small town feel to it. It is very easy to walk around the place and the colleges are all worth a visit – although some of them were inaccessible to tourists because it was the exam period, which was a shame.

Here are some rainy photos of the city.

Pembroke College

Fancy some sweets (or candy if you are American)?

Ceiling of King's College Chapel

King's College

King's College Chapel 

Bridge on the River Cam

The Round Church (obviously).

Finally, here are a few fun facts about Cambridge.

(1) Lord Byron was told that he couldn’t keep his beloved dog, called Boatswain, in his room at Trinity College. Byron despised this rule so in order to fight back he decided to keep a bear in his room instead because the college did not have a legal basis to force him not to.

(2) The first official game of football was played in Cambridge. The rules, known as the Cambridge rules from 1848, became the basis for the official Football Association rules in 1863.

(3) Some of the most famous alumni from Cambridge include Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton and Professor Stephen Hawking.

(4) The University of Cambridge has over 100 libraries. The Central Library has around 8 million books and is able to request a free copy of every single book published in the UK and Ireland.

(5) Trinity College Cambridge has won more Nobel prizes than the whole of Italy.

I would fully recommend visiting Cambridge. It is a short hop from London (about an hour on the train) and you can easily pop there and back in a day if you are visiting the capital.

In fact, as part of this trip, we decided to pop to London for a short extension to our trip. I’ll let you know about that in a future post.