Saturday 30 July 2016

Bring On The Dancing Girls

Regular readers will know that I love music. Some readers may even now that I in the past I have attempted to actually move my body in time to music, usually surrounded by people laughing at my uncoordinated efforts to keep time.

At the weekend I will find myself at a party where at some point in the evening I shall be asked to dance to a song I despise by the love of my life, Mrs PM.

Refusal is not an option so I will have to humiliate myself to the sound of whatever tripe the DJ decides to torment me with.

I hate dancing – that is the truth.

It wasn’t always like this.

When I was young and stupid, I thought I was the world’s greatest dancer.  I thought that “He’s the Greatest Dancer” was written about me.

In fact, I was more like a “Discotheque Wreck"!

I was born after the days when a man had to humiliate himself by asking a woman to share the floor with him in, holding her as they swept around the floor dancing a foxtrot or a waltz.

And I say thank God for that!

I was hopeless as an adolescent and young adult when it came to women. I was one of those spotty little twerps whose nervousness was almost a visible entity in its own right.

And I was ugly and thin with mad hair that was enough to scare away any females – even female baboons. My chat up lines consisted of the words:

“EURGGH!! MEURGGGH! Can I ERRR have a snog?”

This usually ended up with a minor bit of female contact – her hand slapping the glasses off my face!

When I was eighteen I found three things that I thought would help me on my quest; night clubs, beer and dancing. Sadly, as safe as they may seem individually, when combined on a Saturday night with an idiot like me, chaos ensued!

My dad always told me about how he would just ask a girl to dance. It involved walking up to a lady and asking her if you could put your arms around her and actually move your feet in a certain way in time to the music!

That terrified me!

The difference was in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s that people didn’t do that anymore. A man just danced on his own until a woman approached and fell for his wonderful techniques. At least that’s what I thought.

Usually I would go to a night club, with my best clothes on, having bluffed my way past the meathead bouncer on the door, and wait on the edge of the dance floor looking at the women dancing around their handbags each of them yearning for the good looking guys (which I wasn’t) and hoping they would be swept away like a princess being rescued by a prince.

I considered myself to be that prince – every single time I went to a club.

Would I woo here with my charms? Would she swoon at my good looks? In my mind’s eye I saw her almost collapsing in sheer delight as I stepped onto the dance floor like John Travolta before showing the entire night club how a man should really dance to “Night Fever”.

The truth is, in order to pluck up the courage to march on the floor, I had to drink a lot of beer. My addled brain then convinced me that I was Danny Zuko in “Greased Lightning" and, as my mates watched in absolute uproar on the sides of the dance floor, I would strut my funky stuff in front of every vaguely good-looking woman in that small well-lit area of humiliation.

It was worse than that. I was utterly convinced that all women were drooling over my body as I danced in front of them. I was so stupid that I even played hard to get by swinging my shoulder and turning away from a woman as she stared in utter disbelief at the acne-ridden drunk chimp wobbling next to her.

On other occasions I found myself almost alone in a pissed stupor, gyrating in a deeply disturbing way with a gurning phizzog that I thought said  “Bring on the dancing girls” but in reality had a similar effect to a skunk spraying the entire dance floor with its rancid stench.

It was only when a female friend at university told me how I really looked that I began to reassess my dancing skills.

“You look like a scarecrow who has just wet himself,” she told me cruelly. “No woman will dance with that! Even me – and I’m your friend!”

It was like a slap in the face.

Thankfully, she kind of taught me how to dance and over the next few years, I improved massively! Sadly, I was still a mess but at least I was vaguely in time and didn’t lurch around ogling all women in the vicinity like a colossal pervert.

I actually started to enjoy the music and voluntarily walked up without being pissed and on a lot of occasions with actual female friends who were willing to enjoy the music with me without fear of me turning into some kind of leering drunken animal.

In fact, I have even found myself dancing and surrounded by six very attractive women. The sad thing was, they were all friends who wouldn’t let me off the dance floor because the song playing was “Man! I Feel Like a Woman" and they found my total embarrassment absolutely hilarious.

Sadly, I have never evolved and the simple basic moves I used way back in my twenties are still the moves I would use now – and probably will use when Mrs PM drags me onto the dance floor on Saturday night.

And people still laugh at me!

"Who's that goon?"
I hasten to add, that all the night clubs I have mentioned above are your normal everyday disco type place that play dance music.

When I have ended up in a rock club, the story is completely different.

Regular readers will have gathered that I am a bit of a metalhead and when a favourite rock song appeared in such a venue (and I am not talking about token rock songs like “Living on a Prayer”, I am talking about air guitar shredders), I leapt onto the dance floor like a man possessed and shredded my air guitar as if I am Kirk Hammett, Ritchie Blackmore, Joe Satriani and John Petrucci all rolled into one.

The difference in this case was that there were few if any women on the dance floor and I was surrounded by similar drunk headbangers and one hundred percent engrossed in the music.

I don’t do that now – in fact I haven’t done it for a while. There have been occasions though – and here they are, including my impression of Slash!

Let’s hope they play “Paradise City” by  Guns’n’Roses on Saturday.

That’ll teach Mrs PM to drag me on the dance floor!

Friday 22 July 2016

Bastille Day - Nice - 2016

I went on holiday to Nice to relax and extinguish residual anger.

I went on holiday to Nice because I had been there before and I loved it.

I went on holiday to Nice because I love France and I love French people.

I was delighted to discover that Bastille Day was right in the middle of my trip and that I would have a memorable day as a result.

It was memorable – but not for the reasons I expected.

The day started well. We woke up and had a stroll to a local café that served a lovely traditional French breakfast with croissants, pain aux raisins with coffee and jus d’orange.  After that we returned to the hotel and decided to have a lazy day by the beach.

Pretty soon we crossed over Promenade des Anglais and settled down on the beach, reading a book, enjoying the sun (under the shade of an umbrella in my case to protect myself from sunburn) and occasionally dipping into the sea to cool off.

That’s when the day started to go wrong.

A lifeguard on the beach saw a young man in difficulty in the sea and raced in to rescue him. Sadly by the time he had approached the man’s position, there was no sign of him. The lifeguard called the coastguard and very soon a couple of rescue boats appeared, searching for the man. After about twenty minutes, one of the divers spotted a body and dived into the water. They dragged the unconscious man to the beach.

It was too late.

Ambulances and police arrived on the beach and despite attempts to resuscitate the young man, the man was declared dead. A lot of people were upset and we saw an Italian woman consoling a French woman in their only common language – English. Neither of them knew the victim but the French woman’s grief got the better of her.

We were fairly far away from the incident but we were still pretty shaken by it.

In the evening, we stopped at a small bar to have a drink or two before following the crowds back to Promenade des Anglais to join in with the Bastille Day celebrations. The promenade was packed with people and families of all ages and although most of the people were French we saw quite a few other nationalities waiting for the festivities to begin.

At just after ten, all eyes turned towards the sea as the first of a spectacular series of fireworks lit up the night sky. I’ve always loved fireworks and the look of glee on my face matched that of the children nearby. I could hear gasps of amazement and whoops and cries of joy as the black sky became a cascading kaleidoscope of colour accompanied by distant explosions from the sea.

When the firework display stopped, there was a huge cheer from the crowd and lots of applause. Just to our right, a small stage suddenly burst into life with live music as the Prom Party started. For a moment we were tempted to stay and listen to the music and watch the people enjoying themselves. I suggested that we head back to the Old Town for a night cap and Mrs PM agreed.

We left the promenade and walked past our hotel with the crowds. A work colleague of Mrs PM’s and his wife were also in Nice that week and we had been out with them a couple of times already. We bumped into them just outside the Palais de Justice and had a quick chat about the fireworks.

Suddenly, a crowd of people came running from the direction we had been in, bumping into us and screaming as they ran past.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” said Mrs PM’s colleague,” but they are all running – so should we.”

Without thinking any further I grabbed Mrs PM’s hand and we ran into the Old Town with the crowd into the narrow streets. People in the restaurants and bars began to panic and as we ran, the proprietors began closing their doors. I looked around and there was no sign of Mrs PM’s colleague.

Eventually, after a few minutes, we stopped as people ran past shouting into their phones, some people crying, others looking terrified.

We passed some stairs that led to a main road and saw a lot of people on the steps staring down towards the promenade. Without warning, there were screams and everyone turned and ran down the steps toward us. One older man tried to leap from the steps over a wall and tripped, landing on his knees. Adrenaline must have been coursing through his body because he jumped to his feet and ran away. We followed the crowd further and stopped again trying to ask what was going on.

A young woman spoke to Mrs PM, who speaks very good French. My French is poor and while I only understood a little of what she had said, her gesture of a man shooting a gun spoke volumes. She switched to English and said “Don’t stay here! Run!”

I grabbed Mrs PM’s hand again and we found the main road and ran towards Place Garibaldi, where we had stayed on our last visit. Mrs PM rang her mum as we ran, but she wasn't in, so she left a message saying that something had happened in Nice but that we were okay – at least for now I thought!

When we reached Place Garibaldi, we noticed that the number of running and panicking people had slowed down and people were standing around, talking to each other and ringing loved ones. I looked for a policeman or somebody else in authority but all I saw were a few emergency vehicles shooting past, sirens blaring.

Mrs PM stopped a group of older people and asked once again what had happened.

The woman spoke in English and told us that a lorry had hit the crowd on Promenade des Anglais but, she thought, there was no danger. At this point we realised that we were about ten to fifteen minutes’ walk away from our hotel.  People were drifting towards the promenade area, slowly and at this point we assumed that there had been a tragic accident.

Mrs PM’s work colleague was staying very near out hotel and he sent us a message saying that they were back at their apartment.

“Come on, “ I said, “let’s hurry back.”

We walked as quickly as we could back the way we had come and thankfully there were no more hysterical crowds running towards us. We could hear sirens getting louder and eventually we reached our hotel.  On the way we saw no open bars, shops or restaurants and our hotel was in darkness. We entered the hotel and the foyer was full of terrified people who had sought shelter in the nearest refuge they could find.

We arrived at our room and saw a young woman on the corridor.

“Have you come from outside?” she asked in English.

“Yes,” we replied.

“Is it safe now? We have strangers in our room who are terrified.”

We told her what we knew and entered our room to watch the news and search the internet for any hints about what had happened. In the next hour or two the full horror of what had happened dawned on us.

A psychopath had ploughed into the Bastille Day revellers, deliberately running people over and shooting people until eventually the police had stopped him by shooting him dead. If we had decided to stay on the Promenade des Anglais and join in the party we may have been in the firing line.

We heard sirens late into the night and drifted into an uneasy sleep.

The next day, the Promenade des Anglais was closed and the police presence was very evident. We saw television correspondents giving reports from the promenade as well as soldiers walking around alert. We had seen soldiers before the tragedy so this was no surprise. To me, however, the police presence was increased slightly, particularly around the tourist areas surrounding the Old Town.

However, I was relieved to see people going about their daily business with an air of defiance tinged by a little sadness. My feelings were exactly the same, as were Mrs PM’s, and despite one or two calls for us to come home, we decided that we were going to stay and enjoy our final few days.

And we did.

We have not been put off by neither Nice nor the rest of France by this and I aim to return to both soon.

The one thing this episode has done has strengthened my resolve somewhat. While we weren’t directly affected, we were both close enough to the attack and, if we had decided to join the party or move closer to where the incident took place, things may have been different.

For three days we stood shoulder to shoulder with France.

We will continue to do so.

Sunday 10 July 2016


Recent events have got me really angry. My normal grumpiness has become rampant and I have an urge to rant at everything I see on the news.

2016 has been, so far, a year I totally want to forget – and it’s not even over yet! I haven’t spoken to Mrs PM’s parents since Brexit because I know that I will say something to them that I regret, upsetting them, Mrs PM and even myself in the process. Mrs PM and her mum have already exchanged tense words resulting in Mrs PM slamming the phone down on her own mother.

My anger is building up so much that I am turning into Mr Angry, the person I mocked so mercilessly just a month or two ago.  As soon as I hear the news I start ranting. I have given up reading newspapers because they make me angry.

Grumpiness is one thing – rage is another and I am full of rage.

And I hate myself for it because this is not me – this is not the laid back guy I have known all my life.

I need a holiday and, thank goodness, I am off tomorrow to Nice, a beautiful city in the south of France.

And for that, I need to calm down before I set foot on French soil.

So to help me, I have been looking through some of my old photos to raise my spirits and try to forget names like David Cameron, Nigel Farage, Michael Gove, the Conservative Party, Donald Trump, Brexit and, yes, bloody England – the country that I love but the country that has pissed me off more in the past few months than it has at any time in my life – even more so than when Margaret Thatcher’s reign of terror was at its peak.

With that in mind, I thought I would share a couple of those photos with you, dear reader.

I hope you like them.
Hong Kong at Night
Tokyo - Barrels of Sake
Budapest - Hungarian Parliament Building

Rio de Janeiro - A Famous Statue

Rome - The Spanish Steps
A Temple in Kyoto
Kyoto - Lots of Torii
Prague - Performing in front of an Old Church

A Big Cathedral in Barcelona

The Great Wall of China
That's better. I feel much calmer now. I need to be in a good frame of mind for packing so maybe I should do that too.

I am making a promise to myself here and now - I will not watch the news between now and 6am tomorrow when I have to be at the airport.

I'll leave with you with a tune that reflects my new found calmness and coincidentally is by my favourite band from France.

Au revoir et à bientôt, mes amis.

Sunday 3 July 2016

Top Ten ELO Songs

The other day, I was flicking through the TV channels when I stumbled across a time machine. The TV programme was coverage of the Glastonbury Festival, an annual music event in the UK where generations of music fans stand in the mud and rain in front of a giant stage shaped like a pyramid and listen to many different bands covering many different styles of music.

And there on stage stood my very first musical hero.

That man is Jeff Lynne, the creator and genius behind the very first band I fell in love with, The Electric Light Orchestra or simply ELO for short.

I was instantly transported back to the 1970’s as a young teenage boy.

At that point in my life I hadn’t discovered the glory of heavy metal or rock music. I liked pop music but by far and away my favourite band at the time. I spent my hard earned paper round money on their albums. Given the ratio of my income then to the amount I spent on music, this was a big deal. I had to negotiate with my dad to let me have time on his music centre (usually when he was out). I played the albums to death and I still have them in my attic until now.

Back to the present, Jeff Lynne, now aged 68, was standing in front of the now called Jeff Lynne’s ELO belting out my favourite songs as if he were still in his 20’s. And amazingly the guy doesn’t look his age at all. What’s more, he’s from Birmingham – just a few miles down the road from where I was born.

Seeing Jeff bang out a load of old favourites  gave me an idea for this post and I am sadly going to inflict it on you, dear reader.

Here are my favourite ELO songs. I hope you enjoy them.

10. Here Is The News

The first song is actually a later one from the early 1980’s when I had actually started university. ELO sacrificed the orchestral side a little in favour of synthesiser but that distinctive ELO sound is still there. 

9. The Diary of Horace Wimp

At the time I heard this song for the first time, I was a weird spotty little seventeen year old with an attitude and girl problems – i.e. I didn’t have one. In many respects I was Horace Wimp, the hero of the song and the song told my story."Well he just stood there mumbling and fumbling"  was a little too close to home.. However, I loved the optimism of the song particularly when Horace finally asks a girl for a date and his amazement when she says “Yes!”. In some ways, this gave me a little bit of courage – if Horace Wimp could get the girl then so could I.

8. One Summer Dream

This is a beautiful song from 1975 and yanks violently on my heart strings. I’ve always loved the way that ELO fuse guitars and drums with violins and cellos simply because it makes a simple song sound more epic and all embracing. When I hear this song, I feel like I’m floating over the English countryside on a beautiful sunny day.

7. Rockaria!

The fusion of styles between orchestral instruments and rock guitar is probably most evident on a song about fusing opera with rock and roll. One of ELO’s most famous songs is about an opera singer, raised on Beethoven and Puccini who is persuaded to apply her vocal talents to good old fashioned rock and roll and is the quintessential ELO song.

6. Do Ya

The very first ELO album I bought was A New World Record, containing the previous song, Rockaria! as well as this one, my favourite song on the album. Sadly Do Ya wasn’t released as a single, much to my surprise. Perhaps it’s a little too much of a rock song for the tastes of the 1976 youth. That’s a shame.

5. Ticket To The Moon

This is another beautiful song from the early 1980’s with a hint of melancholy that shows just how good a songwriter Jeff Lynne is. Again, when I hear the song, I feel my tear ducts starting to work again. I simply love this tune – I can’t say more than that.

4. Turn To Stone

I am so sad that I actually learned the fast bit of this song so that I could impress my two sisters who, in typical sibling style, were no impressed at all and completely took the piss. Listen out for it:

I'm turning to stone
'Cause you ain't comin' home
Why ain't you comin' home
If i'm turning to stone
You've been gone for so long
And I can't carry on
Yes I'm turning
I'm turning

The sad thing is I can still do it – and Mrs PM is not impressed either.

3. Mr Blue Sky

After the sadness of the last song, let’s hear an uplifting tune. Mr Blue Sky is probably the band’s most well-known hit and I can see why. For me in particular, it reminds me of walking the streets of Walsall with a huge bag of newspapers, forcing them through letterboxes that were sometimes too small. At those early hours, the streets were empty and in summer, it was eerie because the sun would rise well before 6am yielding a beautiful blue sky with few people around to witness it, apart from me and a few cats. This song will make even the most miserable person feel positive.

2. Fire On High

Imagine you are walking through a haunted house in pitch black. How scary would that be? The opening of this fantastic song is quite spooky and if I were creeping through such a house and heard this I think I would quite literally shit bricks. After the spookiness, it evolves into a progressive masterpiece and is one of my most played ELO songs, even today.

1. Don’t Bring Me Down

Ultimately I love a good rock song and ELO can do that too. Don’t Bring Me Down has a fantastic drum beat and came at the time I had discovered rock music causing me to embrace it with the hope this was a future direction for the band. Sadly it wasn’t but I still love the song today.

And Finally...

I hope you liked that little collection. ELO still has a place in my heart and it is good to see Jeff Lynne still enjoying himself.

Do you remember ELO, dear reader?
Do you have a favourite song by the band?