Saturday 19 December 2020

Christmas Questions


Welcome to sunny South Manchester on a mild but sunny Saturday afternoon. Lockdown still continues with Manchester in the highest tier, although our rates have fallen dramatically and we are below the average in England, which is being buoyed by a rather larger increase in the south east of the country around the London area.

I have now finished work for the year and can enjoy a leisurely two week break, within the confines of the restrictions of course. Now it is time to relax and enjoy what I can of the Christmas and New Year period without the spectre of work to haunt me.

I am writing this on Saturday it isn’t really Sunday Stealing – but who cares? Let’s have some fun with a Christmas theme.

1. What’s your favourite thing about the holidays?

Given that Christmas falls in December, four days after the shortest day of the year (which is on Monday), the weather and the darkness do not really appeal. It is usually a cold, dark, damp and unpleasant time of the year. This year aside, it is usually a good time to meet friends and family and generally have a fun time with get-togethers and parties, over-indulging on food and drink and generally having a great time. This year will be different because of the restrictions but I will do my best. Of course the best thing of all is no work. I love that.

2. Do you send out Christmas cards and if so how many do you send?

I no longer send any Christmas cards. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not because I am a miserable Scrooge-like old git; it is because Christmas cards are a waste of paper, a waste of time and a waste of money. We still get them but I never return them. I prefer to talk to people or see them rather than just wasting a bit of card. 

3. Be honest: holiday newsletters. Love ‘em or hate ‘em?

I hate them. They are usually a way of telling the story of the last year and they are too impersonal for me. I would never bore anybody with such a thing.

4. Be honest: photo cards. Love ‘em or hate ‘em?

The same as newsletters. 

5. How soon do you start shopping?

I hate shopping but Christmas shopping is even worse. The shops and stores are usually crammed full of people and the queues are massive. I return home after such trips feeling stressed tired and in need of a stiff drink. These days, I just shop online. So much more relaxing. For Christmas, I like to get it all done by the end of November.

6. Real or fake tree?

I like the smell of real trees but they are an absolute pain in the backside to maintain. They shed their needles all over the place – even the ones that are “guaranteed not to shed their needles”. And when you finally take them outside they deposit the rest of them all over your house. 

So we have a fake tree. They are less messy and much more cost-effective.  

7. When do you put up your tree?

We usually put the tree about two weeks before the big day, but this year, given the circumstances, we put it up on 1st December.

8. When do you take down your tree?

We usually take it down the day after New Year’s Day. 

9. Describe your typical tree (size, decorations, type)

The tree is about 6ft 3inches and you can see it here.

This year the tree has a dual purpose. It is a Christmas decoration and a plaything for my two kittens.
10. What do you top your tree with?
A star.
11. Do you put Christmas lights outside your house?
No – maybe I am a little odd in that respect but I think it is a pointless exercise.
12. Is there a wreath hanging on your door?
Normally, yes there is, but we haven’t bothered this year – not sure why to be honest.
13. Do you hang up stockings?
Not any more. The kids have grown up an left home.
14. Your favourite Christmas Movie(s)
I like Die Hard – and yes, despite what people say, it is a Christmas movie.
I also like Scrooged, with Bill Murray. 
Finally, I love It’s a Wonderful Life – I shed a tear every time I see it.
15. Be honest: A Christmas movie you hate
Love, Actually? Is supposed to be a Christmas movie – it is bloody awful. I could write an entire blog post on how dreadful it is. 
16. Favourite Christmas Song(s)
Here we go (in no particular order):





and from my home town of Walsall:

17. Be honest: If I hear this/these Christmas songs again I will throw up

I am not even going to post them – just look them up if you don’t know them (which I seriously doubt).

Wham! – Last Christmas

Mariah Carey – All I Want for Christmas is You

Cliff Richard – Mistletoe and Wine

They are ALL awful!

18. Give or Receive?

Both. That is the point, surely?

19. Eggnog or Mulled Cider?

I have never fancied eggnog. It looks like vomit. 

I also like cider – but it makes my stomach churn if I have too much of it. I will say Mulled Cider (I a small glass).

20. Ham or Turkey?

Can I say both? Of course I can.

And Finally …

Since this is a weird Christmas and this will be my last post before the day, I will sign off by wishing you all the best Christmas possible and a Happy New Year. 

I will leave you with some alternative lyrics that I posted waaaaayyyyyyyyy back in 2009 (my second year of blogging). These are my own alternative lyrics to Jingle Bells. 

Merry Christmas.

Dashing to the shops every single bloody day

Join another queue, pushing people out the way

I need to buy so many presents and a lot of trash

I need to win the lottery cos I’ve just run out of cash

Oh Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells

Jingle all the way

Oh what fun it is to throw your hard earned cash away

Oh Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells

Jingle all the way

Oh what fun it is to throw your hard earned cash away

Eating lots of food and drinking lots of beer

I am getting fat again, much fatter than last year

The weather’s looking nice; I think it might have snowed

And if I eat another thing I think I might explode

Oh Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells

Jingle all the way

Oh what fun it is to double the amount you weigh

Oh Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells

Jingle all the way

Oh what fun it is to double the amount you weigh

Listening to the Queen and watching crap TV

Playing silly games with my entire family

Everybody’s tired and one or two begin to snore

But later we will have to eat and drink again some more

Oh Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells

Jingle all the way

Oh what fun it is to fall asleep on Christmas Day

Oh Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells

Jingle all the way

Oh what fun it is to fall asleep on Christmas Day

So a Merry Christmas to the readers of this post

I like to raise my glass and to propose a toast

To everyone in Blogland; every woman, every man

Here’s to a fun-filled holiday from The Plastic Mancunian

Oh Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells

Jingle all the way

Oh what fun it is to stuff your face on Christmas Day

Oh Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells

Jingle all the way

Oh what fun it is to stuff your face on Christmas Day

Saturday 12 December 2020

COVID Questions

Welcome to South Manchester on a grey rainy day. Autumn is over and winter has effectively started which means short, grey and cold days that are normally buoyed by Christmas parties and celebrations as we head towards the big day. This year is different; no parties and the only celebrations are going to be a small one on Christmas Day itself. 

Still, the end of the pandemic is nigh as people are starting to be vaccinated here in the UK. They have started to vaccinate NHS staff and care workers and those over 85, the most vulnerable people and the people who care for others. 

Also, and this is true, the second person to be vaccinated was a guy called William Shakespeare from Warwickshire, the county were Stratford-upon-Avon is. Straford-upon-Avon is of course the birthplace of the bard. I am not making this up. I thought they were starting with the oldest people but I didn't know that we had a guy who was 456 years old. 

In other news, I have taken a chance and booked a gig ticket; I plan to see Steven Wilson in September – a little risky because we don’t yet know what will happen in 2021. Nevertheless I am going to take the risk because the worst that can happen is a postponement to a later date or a total refund if it is cancelled completely.

Talking of pandemics, the questions from Sunday Stealing are all COVID related so let’s launch ourselves into that COVID space, shall we?

1. Day 1 of serious isolation behaviour:

The company I work for had the foresight to close the office before the UK-wide lockdown occurred on March 23rd of this year. I began working at the desk where I am typing this on 16th March and have been doing so all year. The first thing that I did was get into a routine, a habit that I have kept up throughout the 274 days (so far) that we have had to suffer lockdowns and restrictions. And to be honest it has kept me sane. The good news is that with the advent of three vaccinations (one approved already) I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully I don’t have to put up with this for much longer. I am ever the optimist.

2. First trip you had to cancel.

We planned a trip to Palermo in Italy to celebrate Mrs PM’s 50th birthday with friends. We have another friend who was 60 this year and our trip in June was to celebrate both. We cancelled it, but this is just a postponement because as soon as normality is resumed, we will rebook the same trip.

3. Other trips cancelled     

Mrs PM and I had planned a trip to Brussels and Bruges but we shelved that idea as soon as the pandemic struck. We had also booked a trip to Estepona on the south coast of Spain; that had to go. Also, we were planning to go to Mykonos in Greece in September. Fortunately we hadn’t booked that so we just kissed it goodbye.

4. Last trip out of town before isolation.   

That depends what you mean by “out of town”. Our last trip abroad was to Skala in Kefalonia in Greece in September 2019. After that, we stayed in the UK apart from a trip to Blackpool at Christmas to see Mrs PM’s parents and to Delamere Forest near to Chester for a weekend away with friends in February.

5. Farthest from home since isolation.

In July and August, our restrictions were lifted enough for us to be able to visit friends in Chester (about 40 miles away) for a weekend. We have not been anywhere else.

6. Last Meal sitting in a restaurant before Isolation.   

There is a good Italian restaurant within walking distance of our home and we were allowed to eat out in October (just after my birthday) before the restrictions became really tight again. We had a very good meal. It was just Mrs PM and I (as we haven’t been allowed to socialise with other households since the end of July).

7. How many books have you read?

During the pandemic I have read about 15 books. 

8. First event you didn’t attend due to virus.

I was scheduled to see Whitesnake and that was cancelled fairly soon into the lockdown. 

9. Date and event of last over 200-person event.

I managed to see Delain in February. They are a Dutch symphonic metal band whose latest album, Apocalypse and Chill is one of the albums of the year.

Here they are in their full glory. 

10. Last live music event.

See previous question. However, I also saw the Wildhearts a week before Delain, a British rock band I have loved for years. Here they are:

11. Things you are eating more of since isolation.

At the beginning of the lockdown Mrs PM and I decided to relieve the boredom with cake and biscuits (cookies to Americans) to “treat ourselves”. The problem is that we don’t normally eat a lot of fattening food and, within a few weeks, I noticed the weight creeping on. So we stopped it. And now we eat normally, apart from the odd indulgence.

12. Things you are eating less of since isolation.

Nothing – as I said above, we are eating normally.

13. What restaurants have you gotten take-out meals from?

We’ve eaten Indian, Chinese, Italian and even ordered fish and chips to be delivered (something we have never done before). 

14. Have you found yourself bored in isolation?

Yes, as I said above. And I am still bored. We can go out and go for walks etc. but we can’t socialise, go to the cinema, go to the theatre or travel – the things that keep me going. What is keeping me going is the fact that I can now see an end to this – plus a little bit of inventive fun that I will mention in a more relevant question below.

15. Have you gained or lost weight?

I am exactly the same. As I said above, I gained weight at first and now I have stabilised. I actually weight slightly less than I did on January 1st of this year.

16. Do you drink alcohol?

Of course – I am British – alcohol is a way of life.

17. If so, more or less in isolation?

I have probably consumed more in lockdown to be brutally honest. However, I don’t drink on what I term as “school nights”, i.e. Sunday to Thursday inclusive (although I sometimes have a cheeky beer on Thursday). 

18. What entertainments have you explored?   

Mrs PM and I usually pop to the pub for a couple of beers/wines on Friday nights. Of course in lockdown, you can’t do that so we have basically created three pubs in our own house. The lounge becomes “The Black Cat” – named after our love of black furry felines. The room I am in becomes “The Warrior’s Arms” named after our Chinese Terracotta Warrior. Here he is:

In the summer, the back garden became our third pub, “The Cat’s Head” but that is closed now because of winter.
We have also binged-watched quite a few TV series.
19. Gotten into anything new?
Not really. I have spent a lot of time exploring potential new pastimes in preparation for retirement in a couple of years but not actually taken anything up yet. I plan to change that is 2021 when I am unleashed on the world again.
20. Have you done crosswords? Board games?  Jigsaw puzzles?
No. I like crosswords but board games and jigsaws are too dull for me. Mrs PM loves jigsaws though and has an app on her phone/laptop where she can spend hours with jigsaws. I just don’t get it. I would fall asleep within minutes. That said, I guess a jigsaw is a good thing to cure insomnia.
21. Have you cleaned out some cabinet, drawer, closet, etc. thoroughly?
Yes. We have cleaned out the cupboard under the stairs, the cupboard in one of the spare rooms and I have tidied up and cleared out my work area. 
22. Are you spending about the same amount of money?
Not really – we are spending less on average because there is nothing to spend it on. We can’t go out, it’s pointless buying new clothes and we can’t book any holidays. I guess one good thing about the lockdown is that I am actually saving money.
23. Done Zoom, Facetime, etc. meetups?
Yes. We have had many quizzes and chats. I quite enjoy quizzes and I have 58 years’ worth of useless trivia in my head, which means that I am very good. We have a quiz every Friday with work to end the week and I have won seven out of the last twelve of them. 
24. Had a social occasion with a small group of people you consider safe?
We only did this in July when the restrictions were eased. We had a couple of nights out with some close friends and, as I said above, visited some other close friends in Chester. I miss them all and I can’t wait to see them again.
25. Did you vote? In Person? On Election Day?
No because we didn’t have an election here in the UK. However, had I been an American citizen living in the US I would have made a special effort to vote the Orange Goblin out of office. Good riddance Donald Trump – the one good thing to pop out of this miserable year.

Sunday 6 December 2020

Best Things to Talk About


Welcome to a grey but dry day in South Manchester. England is now free of lockdown and back into a tiered system. Sadly we are tier 3 so really the only difference between the lockdown and the situation we are in now is that we can go to the shops. It’s still crap if I’m honest.

Rather than wittering on about Covid-19, I shall just dive into questions from Sunday Stealing

1. What is the craziest, most outrageous thing you want to achieve?

I might have mentioned this before but I want to go on a trip around the world, visiting as many countries as I can and write a travelogue about my experiences. I have already written three travelogues about trips to China, Australia and Japan and I plan to pen another one about my experiences in all of the other countries I have visited, including the good old UK too. I don’t think these travelogues will ever see the light of day – they are too personal – but they are good to reread and remind myself of these wonderful places. 

Will I get to achieve it?

Who knows. It’s still on the bucket list.

2. Have your parents influenced what goals you have?

Not really. My dad basically pushed me to achieve the best academic qualifications I could but didn’t have any specific goals. He just wanted me to be the best that I can be. I think he would be proud. 

3. What is a fashion trend you’re glad went away.

Most of the fashion from the 1970’s. Big collars and big trousers with big platform shoes. It was horrific.

4. What word or saying from the past do you think should come back?

I probably use a few phrases that are out of fashion, probably from my youth.

How about:

“Hunky dory” – fine or OK.

“Pardon my French” – an apology (of sorts) if I accidentally swear.

“Strewth!” – an exclamation of frustration.

Or perhaps some things my parents used to say to me:

“I’ll wipe that smile off your face!” – a veiled threat.

“I wouldn’t change it for all the tea in China!” – I love this and I am not going to change it or give it away.

“Am I talking to a brick wall?” – are you ignoring me.

5. What do you bring with you everywhere you go?

I’m sad to say that it is my smartphone. I never thought I would come to rely on this gadget and when mobile phones first appeared I used to mock people who relied on them. And now I have become one of those people. I do not use it as a phone; it is a step counter, a language learner, a book, a connection to the internet and countless other things. 

6. Is there such a thing as a soul?

I guess there probably is and I would define it as the essence of a person. If you try to see beyond the physical appearance of a person, you can truly see them – and I think you are seeing their soul. Some people are just beautiful – not necessarily physically beautiful but just wonderful to be with, kind, considerate, funny and charming. Equally, others can be attractive but when you see past the outer beauty you can sometimes see unattractive traits. 

I like to think of this inner person as the soul, if that makes sense.

7. Is there life after death?

I would like to hope so. I was raised a Roman Catholic, guilty from the moment I popped into this world, and I was indoctrinated with all of the teachings, including Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. I was told that when I finally shuffle off this mortal coil I will stand before God and be sentenced to eternity in Heaven, Purgatory followed by Heaven or eternal damnation in Hell with Satan and all of his demons force-feeding me rhubarb while listening to Piers Morgan serenading me with acid jazz.

I would like to be reincarnated as another human being please, if that’s possible and I have a choice. 

Or maybe even just let my spirit roam the Earth and witness the future of mankind through the eyes of a ghost. 

8. Do you think there will ever be a third world war?

Sadly, I think there might be but it will be over in a flash – literally. 

9. What smell brings back great memories?

My mum used to bake pies, especially at Christmas. The smell of baking reminds me of her delicious pies.

10. How would you like to be remembered?

I would like to be remembered as a nice guy, whose heart was in the right place and made people laugh. 

11. What kind of music are you into?

I could write a book on this subject but put simply, I like ambient electronic pop music, new age,  1970’s dance music, early 1980’s electronic pop music, blues, blues rock, heavy blues, soft rock, AOR, hard rock, heavy metal, progressive rock, progressive metal, classical music (not opera) and other odd songs from other genres. I don’t like country music, hip hop, modern dance music, manufactured pop music (boy bands, girl bands) and anything created by arses like Simon Cowell.

Here are two examples of the music I like.

12. What is the biggest surprise of your life?

That I can grow a beard. Past attempts have been a disaster so I thought I would try again during lockdown. Mrs PM likes it (bizarrely). However, it is coming off in 2021. 

13. If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?

A proper Sunday lunch. 

14. Where is the most awe-inspiring place you have been?

I have been to many awe-inspiring places and it is really difficult to choose amongst them. I could list them all but that would be another huge list.

I will choose The Great Wall of China simply because it is the first thing that popped into my head.

15. Describe your life in six words

Looking forward to the next chapter.