Saturday 27 February 2021

Senior Life

Welcome to a sunny South Manchester on day 350 of lockdown restrictions. I had my first Covid-19 vaccination this week and it was a piece of cake. I turned up 15 minutes early and was directed through the vaccination centre and, before I knew it, a nurse had me sitting down in a chair and a needle containing the Pfizer vaccination was plunged into my left arm. I then had to wait for 15 minutes before being unleashed back into the wild with, hopefully, my body starting to build its resistance to the coronavirus. 

I am therefore a very happy chap. Spring is in the air, the worst two months of the year are almost over, it’s warming up and we have a rough timetable back to normality in the UK. 

Let’s  answer some silly questions from Sunday Stealing

1. What is the farthest you have ever travelled?

Regular readers will know that I have travelled a lot in my life to various places including Europe, North America, South America, South Africa, the Middle East, East Asia and Australia. The furthest I have travelled has to be Sydney, Sydney Australia. 

The distance between Manchester and Sydney is 10,560 miles as the crow flies. 

That’s a long way.

2. Who did you date while in high school?

I didn’t go to High School. I went to an all-boys grammar school and obviously that stifled my ability to get myself a date. Outside school, I was a short, spotty little git and I had no success with woman. Thankfully at the age or about 16 or 17 I started to grow and my spots disappeared and I managed to convince a young lady to go out with me for an entire year. I was still at school and I kept my romance and my schoolfriends apart. 

I often wonder what happened to her.

3. What is one of the worst trips you've ever taken? What went wrong?

Quite a few years ago, Mrs PM and I booked a trip to Thailand, the beautiful island of Koh Samui. Unfortunately, we messed up the timing of the trip because we didn’t realise that we would arrive and stay in the middle of the rainy season. 

It poured down from the day we arrived until the day that we left, with relentless thunderstorms pouring the entire contents of the Gulf of Thailand onto the island. I lost count of the number of times we took a chance to go for a walk and ended up looking as if we had dived fully clothed into the sea. The road outside our hotel was flooded and I waded across it to get into the hotel and seek sanctuary in the hotel room. We spent a lot of time in bars, as you can imagine in order to try to squeeze some enjoyment as we were deluged by apocalyptic thunderstorms. 

I have never been so relieved to board the plane home. 

I will go back one day – outside of the rainy season.

4. How do you like to spend a lazy day?

The lockdown has provided lots of lazy days in the past year. I will read, write, play computer games, listen to music, watch TV and play with the cats. 

5. How old were you when you found out that JFK had been assassinated? How did it affect you?

I was one year, one month and two weeks old. I was not affected by the assassination in the slightest. 

Since then, though, I have to admit to being intrigued about the conspiracy theories surrounding the murder. I particularly liked a book by Stephen King called 11/22/63 (or in UK terms 22/11/63 – I have never understood why Americans use that weird date format). In the book, a man discovers that he can go back in time and stop the assassination. It was a very good book that was also turned into a mini-series starring James Franco. 

I would recommend them both.

6. Who has been one of the most important people in your life?

There are loads of important people in my life. However, the most important is Mrs PM, of course. She is my soul mate.

7. What is one trait you would most like to improve in yourself?

Procrastination. I have been waging a war on this debilitating trait in my life for a few years now and I am actually winning, thanks to things like creating habits and using rewards to make sure that I deal with things in a timely manner. It does work and it is the kind of thing that I recommend that people try at the beginning of a new year. You can get into the habit of doing anything if you try and this is Captain Procrastinator’s worst enemy.

8. Did you date someone in college?

Well, I had a couple of dates but I was shy and useless. I did meet my future wife at university but we didn’t get together until after I had left. The marriage didn’t last, sadly, but that’s life, I guess. 

9. What was your dream car?

I have never had a dream car. I regard cars as a means to get me from A to B. Some are better than others but I regard them as an expensive luxury. I would never be tempted to by a super car or anything that costs more than my house. That said, I would like to have a go at driving such a car around a safe track.

10. Did you have a family member you wish you'd gotten to know better?

Not really. There are a few people on my mother’s side of the family that I didn’t really know, mainly her cousins and their kids. We rarely encountered each other to be honest.

11. Tell me about your greatest gardening success.   

I hate gardening with a passion. My dad was a very keen gardener and turned our back garden into a huge vegetable patch, which he then spent hours tending to and dragged me into helping him, even during the summer when my hay fever was at it’s worst. It is the one thing that I didn’t like about him, as he tried to turn me into the keen gardener that he was. He grew so many vegetables that we couldn’t eat them all and he ended up giving a load of them away to friends and family. 

I did have success because he used to get me to plant various things and then take over responsibility for nurturing them over the weeks. I can’t recall specifically what I grew, but it involved things like potatoes, onions, sprouts, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, parsnips, turnips, leeks etc.

I guess one of those. 

Now, Mrs PM enjoys doing a little gardening (flowers and plants as opposed to vegetables), which is fine by me. I have been known to help on the odd occasion that she needs some heavy lifting or digging – but I avoid it as much as I can.

12. What was your Dad like when you were a child?

My dad was amazing, apart from his love of gardening.

13. What is the best job you've ever had?

Actually, while I was at university, I was briefly a postman in between the terms and I really enjoyed it. It was quite satisfying strolling around the streets delivering letters and parcels. I still enjoy walking now and I think that if I were tempted to work again after I retire, I might consider it as a part time option if I get bored (which is unlikely).

14. What are your favourite songs?

I could write a book on this. But I will give you three examples of my current favourites:

15. If you could choose any talents to have, what would they be?

I would choose to be a good writer capable of writing a decent set of novels instead of churning out the nonsense you are reading right now. 

I would also choose to be able to play a guitar like Joe Satriani and keyboards like Jordan Rudess. I would also love to have the ability to write and sing decent songs.

Sunday 21 February 2021

Coronavirus Part 3

Welcome to a cloudy South Manchester on day 344 of restrictions. It looks like we are going to go for a complete year under some form of restrictions before things get better. We are still in full lockdown in the UK but there is talk of slowly lifting them over the coming months. With vaccinations in full flow, it shouldn’t be too long hopefully.

This week’s Sunday Stealing once again tackle the topic of Coronavirus so let’s just dive in head first shall we?

In the past year have you–

1. Gone without a bra (Plastic Mancunian & Bud may skip this one!)

I won’t skip the question because I think you all know the answer. I can safely say, with my hand on my heart, that I have gone without a bra for the past year. In fact I will go further – I have never ever worn a bra. I hope you didn’t think that I had.

2. Skipped making your bed.

No. One of us always makes the bed (usually the last one to get out of it). 

3. Ordered groceries to be delivered

I am not a fan of having groceries delivered because, more often than not, the supermarket messes up the order. They either substitute things with inferior versions, completely forget an item or completely mess things up. Mrs PM would order groceries to be delivered if it was up to her but I moan so much when they mess things up (every single time) that we actually make the journey there. Also, I often remember things when I am in the supermarket that I would have otherwise forgotten. Covid or no Covid – it is better to go to the shop.

4. Cooked a real meal

Absolutely. Mrs PM in particular has been experimenting with new recipes and she actually enjoys trying new things out. Last week, for example, she made pizza for the first time. I was absolutely astounded by the result – amazing.

5. Spent the day in pyjamas?

No. I like to get dressed as soon as I get up, lockdown or no lockdown. Besides, I usually start the day with a at least a 50 minute walk and I don’t fancy being seen in public in pyjamas.

6. Skipped shaving your legs

I can say, with my hand on my heart, that I have never shaved my legs. One thing I did shave was my beard. On Januarys 1st, I shaved it off because I was fed up with it but, on Mrs PM’s insistence, I have grown it back again.

7. Spent hours on Instagram or Pinterest

In 2020 I took a photo a day but didn’t put anything onto Instagram. In 2019 I added a photo to Instagram every day. This year I haven’t taken many photos or added anything to Instagram, but I think I might pop some of the better ones from 2020 on there. My photos are usually of things and scenes rather than people. 

As for Pinterest, I occasionally dabble but not often to be honest.

8. Eaten in a restaurant

Yes. In summer, were subject to restrictions but pubs and restaurants were open (though under strict rules of social distancing and other precautions), which allowed us to have a couple of meals out. It is one of the things I miss most.

9. Skipped washing your hair.

In the early days of the lockdown, before I bought some clippers and allowed Mrs PM to cut my hair, it grew quite long. Regular readers know that I hate my hair, especially when it is long and one of the only ways to bring it under control and make it more manageable was to skip the occasional day washing it. If I wash it and it is long it explodes outwards but if I just wet it, I can keep it flat. 

Now Mrs PM cuts it fairly regularly to keep it under control so I wash it every day.

10. Not folded the laundry

I always fold the laundry.

11. Worked a puzzle

I work in IT so I am confronted by puzzles every single day of the week. Outside of work I do like to have a go at puzzles too, like crosswords for example. So yes, I have “worked a puzzle” (although I have never heard that phrase before; it must be American).

12. Had Zoom calls

Yes – most recently last night with my two sons. Of course we have regular meetings at work too (although we use Microsoft Teams instead of Zoom).

13. Written letters.

No. I haven’t written a letter for decades. I have sent emails though. 

14. Binge watched a TV show

Yes – and I continue to do so. I am currently trawling through “The Expanse”, “Mayans MC”, “Travellers” and “Lovecraft Country”.

15.Gone barefoot

Only in the house. I'm not a fan of feet - even my own.

Saturday 6 February 2021


Welcome to a cloudy wet South Manchester on day 329 of Covid-19 restrictions. The good news is that vaccinations are going well. Currently 10,971,047 people have had their first dose in the UK with a further 505,993 having had their second. Apparently, they will get around to me sometime in the next two months, but we shall see. We are already hoping to catch some live cricket in late June or early July but we shall see. I fear that a trip abroad may not happen until later in the year (if at all) but I shall be watching developments with interest.

I guess it’s time to answer some silly questions from Sunday Stealing

I am being rebellious and calling this “February” rather than “January Part 2” because January is over (thank goodness) so I want to look forwards. 

Let’s dive in, shall we?

1.  Can you eat with chopsticks?

Of course I can. Having spent more than a year of my life in Hong Kong and eight weeks of my life in China, I have to use them really. It’s not difficult to be honest. I was taught by a guy from New Zealand with whom I was working, way back in 1995 in his favourite restaurant in Wan Chai, Hong Kong and by the end of the meal I was a master. Whenever we go to a Chinese or Japanese restaurant we always use them. 

2. Could you tell real money from counterfeit?

I certainly could in the United Kingdom. In China, however, I was unfortunate to have somebody give me a counterfeit note and it was only when I tried to spend it that I discovered that it was fake. I tried to get rid of it for two days in Beijing and failed miserably – it was worth about £10 I think. What amazed me was that everywhere I tried to spend it had a counterfeit note detector from a taxi driver to a stall on a street selling food. I pleaded innocence when confronted but eventually just gave up and threw it away.

3. What do you think about school uniforms?

I hated wearing a school uniform, particularly a school cap in my first two years in grammar school. It’s weird to see that the uniform is still the same today as it was back in the 1970s. 

4. What ancient civilization would you most like to visit?

Romans, without a shadow of a doubt. At school, I was forced to study Latin for five years but one of the good things about it was that we were given an insight into the Roman way of life. The course books told the story of a family in Pompeii, consisting of a banker called Caecilius, his wife Metella, their son Quintus and their cook Grumio and servant Clemens. 

I have had a taste of what life was like having visited Pompeii itself, which is brilliantly preserved (as tragic as its story is). I have also been to the Colloseum and Forum in Rome, which are also incredibly well preserved. 

I remember thinking, as I was walking around the streets of Pompeii, how I would like to jump in Dr Who’s Tardis and pop back to a time before Vesuvius destroyed the city and just spend an afternoon strolling around with a little cash and some pigeon Latin to help me chat to the locals.

5. What would make a great new Crayola color?

Teal – it may already exist, I don’t know. 

6. If an art project is created with the intent of getting rich and famous, does that cast doubt over its significance as a work of art?

I am a huge sceptic when it comes to the world of art, specifically contemporary modern art. In my opinion, people who produce the garbage that hangs on the walls of modern art museums or the ridiculous sculptures and other rubbish are simply ripping off the pseudo-intellectuals who are crazy enough to pay money for them. The artists who compete for the Turner Prize are definitely doing so for the money and fame and they produce ridiculous works of art that make me question the sanity of the people who laud them.

I wrote a post some time ago about this and produced two "works of art" to prove how stupid it was. 

If anybody wants to buy one of my masterpieces (called “Naughty Cat” and “Plastic Man”), please send me £500,000 (for each one) and I will gladly claim that they are significant as works of art – just to make you feel good about buying the pieces of crap.

7. What do you get in trouble for the most?

Ranting probably. I don’t get into trouble as a rule but sometimes at work I sit and listen to ridiculous nonsense coming from Human Resources and Senior Management and struggle to contain myself. And then something pushes me over the edge and I rant mercilessly about it. 

I have found myself at odds with certain managers as a result and, to be honest, I don’t care. For example, many years ago I told a bunch of new starters that our Quality System was a waste of time. What I didn’t know was that the Quality Manager was standing behind me listening to every word that I had said. 

I stood by my words though because at the time they were ridiculous. 

There is a lot of corporate nonsense that irks me today, not just with my own company but generally. One day, when I am free of the shackles of work, I may spill the beans when there will be no comebacks.

Put it this way – I can see why Dilbert appeals to people.


8.  Do you blow your nose in public?

Yes – if I need to. The alternative is worse – I’ll leave that to your imagination.

9. If all the nations in the world are in debt, where did all the money go?

Greedy Bankers and the pockets of people like Jeff Bezos and Larry Ellison.

10. Is it as easy to make you happy now as it was when you were a child?

Absolutely – probably easier because now I am in control.

11. Who knows, or your parents?

My parents thought they understood me – but they didn’t really.

12. What instrument would you like to be famous for playing?

The guitar – no question.

I would love to be able to play as well as this guy.

13. Would you have sex with a stranger for one million dollars?

I would only do that if I weren’t with Mrs PM or anybody else because such an act would seriously damage a relationship. 

14. Are you completely in control of your body?

Yes – apart from when I am asleep, I guess, because I am unconscious the whole time and usually wake up in a different position from when I went to sleep.

15. What is the coolest web site you know of?

The Plastic Mancunian of course. And you are cool for reading it.

Wednesday 3 February 2021

Introducing Devin Townsend

Who here has heard of Devin Townsend? If you have read my blog before you will have seen me expressing my admiration for this talented musician and singer. Like Steven Wilson, you never know what you are going to get with Devin; his style ranges from ambient mood music all the way through to extreme metal via progressive rock. He is from Canada has been making music prolifically since the 1990s. 

My first encounter with Devin Townsend was way back in 1993 when he joined Steve Vai’s eponymous band as the singer. At that time I actually saw him perform live when Vai supported Aerosmith. He was a young man with an incredible vocal range – and he still has that range today. After a stint with another favourite band of mine, The Wildhearts (when I probably saw him live again), I lost touch with him and I had absolutely no idea what he did in the intervening years. That was until 2014 when I was mooching about on You Tube and encountered a crazy song called “March of the Poozers”.

I absolutely loved it and I recognized the name. I did some research and was absolutely astounded to discover that he had a huge back catalogue, a lot of which is now nestling in my CD collection.

As I said, he has been prolific, producing some incredible albums with incredible songs. I was stunned to find that he is a fan of Enya too – which given some of his music, his outstanding. He can sing powerfully but tunefully on ambient songs, almost operatically, powerfully with a colossal rock voice and he can scream effortlessly like the most menacing rock God. He has incorporated layers of music in a classic “wall of sound” no matter what the style is, including, lately, orchestras and choirs.

He can also play a mean guitar and has a sense of humour that is quite catching, especially when you see him live.

There is just so much music to choose from, so I shall try to show all of his styles, starting with the more ambient material.

Fly – from Ghost (2011)

Ghost is a very calm and atmospheric album, full of soothing songs that you can relax to, if you want to chill or simply ponder the meaning of existence. This is the first song on the album.

Divine – from Epicloud (2012)

Here is a lovely little ballad called Divine, another one that shows the softer side of Devin Townsend. When you hear the remaining songs in this collection you may wonder how this is the same artist.

Why? – from Empath (2019)

Why? Is an incredible song that sounds like it belongs in a musical. In my opinion, it shows off Devin’s normal (non-screaming) vocal range perfectly. It’s almost operatic in places with an accompanying orchestra and, really, not like nothing else he has done. Brilliant nonetheless, with a quirky and funny animated video too. What’s not to like?

Stormbending – from Transendence (2016)

I like great full sounding rock and this is a great example of what I like to think of as an epic progressive rock song, bursting with powerful guitar, potent drums and keyboard wizardry. The song is also accompanied by an impressive and ambitious video.

Addicted! – from Addicted! (2009)

Addicted! Is my favourite album by Devin. It is mostly heavy metal with a couple of more accessible rock songs too, and if I am in the mood for something that I can whip out my air guitar too, I sometimes choose the title track. Here it is in its full glory performed live.

Namaste – from Physicist (2000)

Do you want get faster and heavier? Did you think that was possible? Here is Namaste. I think it answers the question. 

And can he be more extreme? Yes he can – perhaps a little too extreme even for me. If you are curious check out the band Strapping Young Lad that he was in. Somebody I know likened it to listening to a set of bricks in a washing machine.

Actually, with Devin, I’ve seen a couple of You Tube videos with vocal coaches analysing his vocal range and technique and almost all of them are impressed by the way he shifts from ranges and screams effortlessly.

If you like what you have heard – or just even some of it – check him out. 

You may be surprised.