Sunday 25 April 2021

More Extraordinary Penpals


Welcome to sunny South Manchester on day 407 of Covid-19 restrictions. The good news is that infection rates are still dropping in the UK even after the slow easing of lockdown. 

At the moment, shops are open again as are gyms and schools, and we can meet up to six people outside (as we did last week) and even sit outside in a pub. The timetable is such that from May 17th people will hopefully be able to meet indoors (again up to six people) and pubs and restaurants will open fully with the same restriction of six people in a group. 

The next and final stage is to remove all restrictions on June 21st and return to something like normality. In theory, by then, all adults in the UK will have at least had one jab (apart from those who can’t have the vaccine or consider it to be a conspiracy that allows Bill Gates to spy on us).

And the weather is improving too. 

Let’s hurl ourselves into some silly questions from Sunday Stealing, shall we? 

1. What issues are important to you?

I am desperately trying to rid myself of the burden of caring about politics. The last eleven years have been bloody awful politically in the UK and I have found myself ranting and raving about what has gone on. And no matter how much I have ranted, I seem to have wasted my breath because we now have an incompetent malignant narcissist that looks like a scarecrow in charge. 

I just want to forget about it and concern myself with less irritating things.

Other things are important too, like the fact that we are turning our planet into a toilet and not really doing anything about it or maybe acting too slowly.

I think I am going to stop answering this question now before I start ranting again.

2. Which breakfast foods are your favourite?

I love a traditional English breakfast of sausage, bacon, eggs, beans, black pudding and toast. I also just love Marmite on toast. I don’t really eat cereals these days and I must attempt that I am tempted just to try some again. Normally, though, I just eat some fruit for breakfast most days in a bid to stay relatively healthy.

3. How often do you change your hair style?

I haven’t changed my hairstyle since 1988. Before that I had a magnificent mullet that was taken off in a misunderstanding with the hairdresser. In the early 1980’s I had a cool and trendy short hairstyle but before that in the 1970’s I let my hair explode into massive long mess. One teacher called me “the boy with the chrysanthemum head”. It looked a bit like this guy’s:

4. Your most peculiar talent or interests?

I have written a post tentatively entitled “The Weirdo” which may go into this in more detail and is due to be published next week on this very blog. Suffice it to say I am a total geek and a nerd and I am very proud of that. 

Watch this space in the next few days…

5. Something you’re a natural at

I have always been a natural when it comes to mathematics and logic, which is ultimately why I am a so-called computer programmer or, as they are referred to these days, a software engineer. My degree was in Computational and Statistical Science and I passed it relatively easily (with a little hard work admittedly). 

Note for American readers: the correct saying is “Do the MATHS” rather than “Do the MATH”. 

6. Women who inspire you

I am very impressed by Greta Thunberg and how she is bringing climate change to the attention of the world, in particular those stuff old white men who think that there is nothing to worry about.

I’m also impressed by Malala Yousafzai, a young woman who was shot in the face by a mad gunman for trying to pursue her education and continues to fight for the same cause for other girls.

7. How often do you take a break from everything?

I am a true believer in work/life balance and try to organise my time such that work does not dominate. I try to start work at the same time (depending on the day) and always try to finish at the same time. I have created a decent routine for every day of the week since lockdown restrictions and that routine allows for fun, hobbies, exercise, habits and also total relaxation. 

It is one of the good things to come out of the last year or so and I plan to let it continue when things go back to normal (hopefully in the next month or two).

8. What are your go to dancing songs?

I don’t really dance much to be honest – but I can dance (I think). Usually if we are out and about for a wedding or Christmas party or something I will usually be led by Mrs onto the dance floor to dance to something that is truly awful. Having said that there are few songs that might tempt me to move my body in time to the music. Something like:

9. Favourite carryout and takeaway foods to order

I love fish and chips though it is quite unhealthy if you eat it all of the time.

We sometimes get pizza and Chinese food as well as Indian and I love them all. We usually prefer to cook though to be honest and eating take outs is relatively rare for us.

10. People you like to spend time with

Family and friends, of course.

11. Hobbies you started within the last year

I haven’t started a new hobby in the past year but I have consolidated a couple. I have started freewriting, which is basically forcing myself to write every single day, even if it is just a few words. I started in 2018 and have written all sorts of junk, ranging from thoughts of the day, to journal entries, writing exercises and other nonsense. It is a bit weird reading it back actually but there are a few nuggets of gold in the rubble.

12. What scents, sounds, and sights of Spring do you like?

Spring is great because after a bleak winter you can start to smell the flowers as they bloom. My morning walks are far more enjoyable now than they were a few weeks ago when it was cold, dark and wet. These days I can hear birds and see squirrels racing around the park. People also seem happier as the days start to get longer. Spring is not a bad season. I just wish it was warmer (it is a bit chilly at the moment).

13. Cultural aspects you cherish and enjoy

Despite all attempts to ruin things by our government I do enjoy British life and British culture. I just wish that we would embrace more from other cultures. There has been a trend towards a more inward way of looking at things, instead of embracing other values and principals (Brexit being the main driver of this – I must not rant). 

This is why I love travel so much. Whenever I go abroad I dive headlong into the country that I am visiting and there is so much to see and learn. If some of my fellow countrymen don’t feel that way inclined, I shall carry that torch. 

For example, when I go to Spain, I don’t want to sit in an English bar drinking English beer and eating fish and chips, like some of my fellow countrymen. I want to eat tapas with the locals and try to speak Spanish (badly). 

When I go to Hong Kong, I don’t want to sit in an Irish Bar eating a roast British Sunday lunch. I want to eat authentic Chinese food with chopsticks.

It’s even the same for America and Australia, which are both similar to my own country. 

14. TV shows and films you liked this month

I watched Zack Synder’s version of Justice League – all four hours of it – and it was a vast improvement on the theatrical release. 

I have also enjoyed The Expanse, The Boys and have just started Narcos. Also, we are currently watching the American sitcom Modern Family, which is quite amusing.

15. What do people usually come to you for help with?

I am a software engineer so it usually involves technology. People assume that I am an expert in all things technical. 

For example, I do not own an iPhone and I have never owned an iPhone. I am an Android person. But people hand me their iPhones and say “You’re a geek – can you get this working for me?” Now, I can usually work things out but iPhones are not that familiar to me – so it takes me longer to find out what is going on – but I get there in the end.

To be fair, I love playing with gadgets.

I am a total geek.

And yes – some people have referred to me as Dilbert in the past.

Thursday 22 April 2021

Jim Steinman

I’ve just heard that Jim Steinman has died. People will know him as the man behind “Bat Out of Hell”, the iconic and best selling album by Meat Loaf but he dipped his creative fingers into various other musical pies too. 

My first memory of Jim Steinman’s music was around the time my old mate Wally (not his real name) bought his first car at the age of 18. He learned to drive as soon as he could and bought himself a red Ford Capri, an iconic car from the 1970’s. It was a great car and most importantly for me it had a decent car stereo that played tapes at high volume as Wally cruised around the streets of Walsall and West Bromwich with me as his passenger, looking for something interesting to do, or more accurately trying to be flash with young ladies. 

Wally was a good looking chap, unlike me, and his attempts to woo young ladies with the aid of his car usually worked. Sadly they weren’t interested in me, apart from when he was too scared to talk to them and he dropped me off just to chat to them on his behalf. 

One girl was gorgeous and he was a coward so I suggested that I break the ice for him. Bear in mind, I was quite shy and I kind of lived in Wally’s shadow. This girl, let’s call her Mandy, had noticed Wally’s car driving up and down the road, with Wally coolly leaning out of the window with sunglasses and blaring songs from Bat Out of Hell. She started waving but he didn’t think he stood a chance – which amazed me, given that he seemed so confident.

“Just stop the car and I’ll talk to her for you,” I said. 

He stopped, I got out and then he just drove off. 

I waited for about five minutes and Mandy looked at me , prpbably thinking "What is that idiot doing just standing there like a lemon?" 

In the end, I just strolled over and said “Hi – I’m Dave. I’ve erm erm erm erm been left here to talk to you for my mate.”

She laughed and said “Really?”

I warmed to her and said “He’s just a coward but he wants to talk to you.”

So we chatted for about ten minutes before Wally reappeared and drove past – again with Meat Loaf blaring out. 

“Why doesn’t he stop?” she asked. 

“Too scared,” I said. 

Eventually, Wally waited for me about two hundred yards away and in exasperation I ran to him jumped in the car and he sped off leaving Mandy waiting. 

Common sense prevailed and he eventually plucked up some courage and they had a bit of a fling for a few months. 

Jim Steinman reminds me of that time of my youth. I loved Bat Out of Hell and also Steinman’s solo album which appeared just after that. I also enjoyed his work with Bonnie Tyler and the Sisters of Mercy.

In honour of him, I present five songs that he has been involved in and that I love. I heard somebody say that Jim Steinman invented the power ballad. Whether that is true or not, I just love the rock songs so the songs below are not power ballads.

Bat Out of Hell from Bat Out of Hell by Meat Loaf (1977)

Bat Out of Hell is probably my favourite song by Jim Steinman. I love the concept and Meat Loaf’s voice is the best it has ever been in my opinion. It is a pure rock song, brilliant to drive to and the guitars are incredible, sounding like the most powerful motorbike on Earth revving up ready to hit the road at breakneck speed. I have driven in America when this song came on the radio and, for a moment, it was pure bliss; the open road in front of me and a fantastic song on the radio. 

Well I can see myself tearing up the road, faster

Than any other boy has ever gone

And my skin is raw, but my soul is ripe,

And no one's gonna stop me now, I'm gonna make my escape

Stark Raving Love from Bad for Good by Jim Steinman (1981)

Meat Loaf had vocal problems and the songs on Bad for Good were meant to be for his second album. Some of them appeared later on Bat Out of Hell II but the best versions were on Bad for Good in my opinion. Jim Steinman’s voice is nowhere near as good as Meat Loaf’s but he does his best to belt out some brilliant songs. Elements of this song were later taken to form Holding Out for a Hero by Bonnie Tyler but this song is much better. If you skip to the 5:14 point in the video you will hear some amazing guitar, reminiscent of Bat Out of Hell itself. This is an amazing song.

Peel Out from Dead Ringer by Meat Loaf (1981)

This is the title track from Meat Loaf’s second album and the best song in my opinion. After the magnificence of Bat Out of Hell, I found this album slightly disappointing. I do love this song though.

Faster Than the Speed of Night from Faster Than the Speed of Night by Bonnie Tyler (1983)

I was stunned when I heard Welsh singer Bonnie Tyler singing rock songs. She started off with a few singles in the 1970’s which were basically pop songs. She had a voice that was rough and rocky and the songs she sang then didn’t do her justice. I heard Faster Than the Speed of Night and immediately recognized the epic nature of Jim Steinman. Another great song.

This Corrosion from Floodland by Sisters of Mercy(1987)

I love a bit of gothic rock and when I heard this song I dived in and bought the CD. Imagine my surprise when I heard that Jim Steinman was involved as the producer. Unlike a lot of songs by the band, it has epic depth and even includes a choir. It has Steinman stamped all over it. A surprising and brilliant addition to his portfolio.

And finally…

I’ll leave with a word from Jim Steinman himself that sums up his legacy.

I simply love the punchline.

Rest in peace, Jim and thanks for the memories.

Saturday 17 April 2021

From Facebook

Welcome to a sunny South Manchester, with the sun shining, a blue sky with a few scattered clouds and reasonable day from sitting in the garden with a couple of friends later. The restrictions have been relaxed slightly so that a group of up to six people can meet outdoors in beer gardens, outside coffee shops and even in private gardens. 

Things are improving nicely just in time for summer.

Shall we dive into some silly questions from Sunday Stealing

1. The best story your parents or grandparents tell about the good ole days.

My grandparents died many years ago but I did hear some good stories when I was much younger. My grandad on my father’s side was a World War Two prisoner of war. He was captured and held in a prisoner of war camp until the end of the war when he was released. My grandmother was led to believe that he had been killed and faced the prospect of bringing up my father on her own. And then, out of the blue, she heard a knock on the front door. She opened it to reveal my grandad who said, “I’m back, love.” 

My grandmother promptly fainted. 

Suffice it to say she was delighted to have him back and, just short time afterwards, their family grew from three to five with the birth of my two aunts. 

My grandad was not very forthcoming about his experience but he told us a few tales and seemed to recover well from the ordeal. He lived to the grand old age of 84 and was the last of my grandparents to die, when I was about 23 years old. 

2. The best things in life are...

Free? Possibly. The best things in life are friends, family, travel, music and love. Be nice to people and they will return the favour – usually.

3, Things that drive me batty

Oh dear – where do I begin? The current crop of incompetent buffoons who are the UK government drive me insane with their lies and ineptitude. Our Prime Minister is a scarecrow and an idiot. 

Reality TV also drives me crazy when I accidentally encounter it. I simply cannot understand how somebody can be so famous for doing nothing and having no talent apart from a massive ego and no shame.

UK newspapers also make me batty – they are full of lies and the worst thing is that people actually believe them.

I could write a book so I will stop here in case I bore you insane myself.

4. A place I'd like to live and why

I will mention three places because that’s the kind of rebel I am.

First, Hong Kong. I love the city with its mixture of east and west. It is a beautiful and exciting city and it breaks my heart that the Chinese are starting to impose their iron will on it.

Next, I will say Nice in the South of France. It may sound like a pun but Nice is a very nice place and brilliantly located for exploration of similar places like Cannes, Antibes and Monte Carlo. 

Finally, I will say Marbella in the south of Spain. It is a beautiful little seaside resort and equally well located for exploration of quaint local towns. 

5. The best thing I've ever found

When I was a kid, I was on a bus and spotted a wallet on the adjacent seat. I opened it up and it was crammed full of more cash than I had ever seen in my life. There was a photograph in it and a name and address. I was the only person on the bus so I could have just taken it. Instead, I did the right thing and handed it to the bus driver when I got off. “That’s so honest,” said the bus driver. He promised to hand it in. 

6. The best thing that happened recently is.

Nothing brilliant has happened recently because of this bloody pandemic. I have had to take stock of things and lower my expectations. I would probably say seeing my eldest lad’s new house about two weeks ago. He and his girlfriend have bought a house in the north of Manchester near to a huge park. It needs a fair amount of work but once they have finished it will be brilliant. It’s good to see them finally on the housing ladder, which is difficult for young people in the UK at the moment.

7. I admire people who...

I admire people who are honest and helpful. I also love intelligent and funny people. 

8. What makes me special

Absolutely nothing. I am just an average, ordinary guy. I’m not nasty and I wear my heart on my sleeve.

9. I am looking forward to...

The end of this bloody pandemic. In June, apparently, most restrictions will be lifted and life can return to something approaching normality. By then most people in the UK will have been vaccinated at least once – I should have had my second jab by mid-May. I think, given that Europe is behind us in its vaccination programme, the chances of being able to travel abroad this year are looking slimmer and slimmer. We will see what happens in 2022 – by which time we will hopefully be able to visit Spain, France, Belgium and Greece (as we had planned in 2020).

10. Things that scare me

I am scared of heights, scared of big spiders and I hate public speaking. I have tried to tackle heights by climbing the biggest structures on the planet – but I will never do it again. I have also had to endure public speaking in the past but I hope not to do that again either. I don’t live in Australia so the chances of encountering a monster with eight legs is slim, though it has to be said, it was always at the back of my mind when I visited in 2005. I will return one day but I will never search for the bloody things. That would be insane.

I think that giving a speech to an audience of tarantulas at the top of the Eiffel Tower would be the scariest thing on the planet.

11. Complaints I have

See above about our UK government. Also, the BBC received over 100,000 complaints about its ridiculous coverage of the death of Prince Phillip. Today is the funeral and once again the BBC have block booked the schedule until 5 o’clock. Worse, all football matches have had to adjust their schedule so that they don’t clash with the funeral. What do they expect? Do they expect everybody in the UK to sit solemnly in front of their televisions watching the royal family? Do they expect us to sit and mope and console each other while wearing black suits? 

The over-the-top coverage is ridiculous. 

12. I could never live without...

Music. I love it. 

13. Things that make me laugh 

A decent stand-up comedian. British humour is the best in the world and we have some of the greatest comedians on the planet.

14. What is a new skill that you would like to learn?

I would like to speak a language fluently, Spanish is top of the pile at the moment. I would also like to play a guitar like this guy.

15. What brightened your day today?

The weather and the fact that my mates are coming round in about an hour.

Saturday 10 April 2021


Welcome to a weird day in South Manchester. 

First of all, you may have heard that the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Phillip has passed away at the ripe old age of 99, just two months away from his 100th birthday. I feel really sorry for the Queen and her family but, in typical fashion, and as you can imagine, the whole of the UK has gone crazy over this. The schedule on the main terrestrial channels has been removed and we are now subject to documentary after documentary about his life and what an absolutely wonderful guy he was. Some radio channels have replaced their normal playlists with mournful dirges. The newspapers are urging us to stand up at 12pm today and contemplate his death as gun salutes occur in certain cities across the nation.

There was no other news yesterday and there will be no other news for the next couple of days at least. 

That is all I am going to say on the subject because to be too negative about the over-the-top reaction will invite equally negative responses from those royalists who would have me mourning alongside them for weeks on end as if he were a member of my own family. 

The second weird thing about today is the weather. Mrs PM and I got up for a walk this morning and I had to wear my big winter coat because it was snowing. Yes, in spring in the UK we have had snow and hail for the first few hours of Saturday. This is timed perfectly for the next phase of lockdown relaxation. From Monday, pubs are open again and can serve groups of up to six people outside. You are not allowed to go inside at all apart from a trip to the toilet. 

In true British fashion, rumour has it that some pubs will open their beer gardens at midnight on Sunday night so that people who are brave or stupid or maybe just alcoholics can sit outside at 1am drinking their favourite tipple with up to five friends.

I love the strangeness of my country.

Anyway, enough of all that nonsense. Let’s dive into some silly questions from Sunday Stealing.

1. You have just been hired to clean your own home, what is your first complaint?

The mess that cats make with cat litter. At the moment we are trying to persuade the cats to make use of natural outside facilities and contribute to fertilizing local gardens in their own way. The problem is that they are so well trained to use the litter tray that they actually come in to use the tray and then go outside again. We have been popping the trays out in the garden and it is working; they are using them. It is only a matter of time I think. 

The problem is, with weird weather like the snow we had this morning and the rain that usually comes in April, we are having to be careful about leaving the trays outside. So we bring them in. 

And Ziggy, our male cat, and the bigger of the two, is so OCD about covering up his contributions that he hurls the litter out of the tray and into every nook and cranny of the surrounding area – usually in our kitchen. 

We will get there sooner or later – hopefully sooner. 

2. Are you able to ignore a ringing telephone?

Absolutely. I ignore the phone if I am in the middle of something or even if I am watching a particularly good TV programme. We have an answering machine on the landline (yes – incredibly we still have a landline) and of course on our own personal smartphones. If it is urgent they can ring back. To be fair though, if I am not doing anything I will answer it – and I will get extremely annoyed if it is a nuisance call. One time, we were getting loads of marketing calls from the provider of the phone line and in the end I lost my temper. The conversation went like this.

PEST ON THE PHONE: Hello, this is your telephone line provider. How are you today?

PM: What do you want?

PEST ON THE PHONE: A quick survey if you have five minutes. First question: do you get loads of nuisance calls?

PM: Yes – and all of them are from you. 

PM slams down the phone.

3. How often do you allow a ringing phone to go to voice mail?

I answered that above. Quite a lot actually.

4. Do you answer your cell phone, out in public, every time it rings? Or do you silence it and get back to it when you’re in a more private area?

It depends who the caller is. If it is a friend or member of my family then I will answer it. If I don’t recognise the number then I ignore it. If they are desperate to get in touch they can leave a message.

5. How often would you say you’re on your home phone? Your cell phone?

Rarely to be honest. 

6. Do you like talking on the phone or do you view it as a necessary communication tool?

It is a necessary evil. I don’t like using the phone to be honest. 

7. When did you last go for a bike ride?

A couple of years ago, it was Cycle to Work Day in the UK so I decided to dust down my bike and cycle to work. It’s not that far actually – about a ten mile round trip. 

8. Do you own a bike?

As you can tell from the last question, yes I do but I rarely ride it these days.

9. Given the most popular New Year’s resolution of losing weight, would you consider putting bicycle riding as one of your exercise options? Why or why not?

I think I might but I am always a bit nervous riding a bike because you have to share the road with inconsiderate drivers, lorries and double decker buses. There are places I could go that are safer but I would have to take my bike in the car and then cycle in the countryside. 

A former work colleague is a keen bike rider and a few years ago he was knocked off his bike by a car and almost killed. He spent weeks in hospital but has made a full recovery. He still rides but it has made me think twice about cycling. 

Really what we need are more cycle lanes and routes in the city. We have then but I think they could do more, particularly as the government are trying to urge us towards a more environmentally friendly existence.

10. If you had to name a smell that always makes you nostalgic, what would it be? What sorts of memories does the smell evoke?

The smell of a Chinese restaurant. When I first went to Hong Kong with work, I was taken to a Chinese restaurant in Wan Chai and the first thing that struck me was the aroma of all the delicious Chinese food from the restaurants of the area. I have such fond memories of my many trips to that amazing city that are conjured up by the smell of Chinese food.

11. What did you do over the weekend? No detail is too small. This is your journal, so tell us about the mundane tasks in your life.

I am bang in the middle of my weekend. Since we are in lockdown, we are limited in what we can do, so it is largely very boring. Okay – the weekend starts on Friday, so here goes.

Friday: After work, I took part in the “after work quiz” that we have every Friday afternoon. I have won it a few times but this time I only managed to finish fourth. I then listened to a bit of music and played a couple of games of football on the PS4. Mrs PM then appeared after an afternoon nap and we opened “The Black Cat” pub in our lounge and had a couple of beers and wines while adding the the playlist (see here) and chatting. We then had a lovely Chinese meal for dinner and watched a little TV before retiring for the night.

Saturday (so far): We got up early today, about 8am, and fed the cats before going for a walk in the snow. After that we had breakfast. I put on the washing and fulfilled my daily habits (a little Spanish, some freewriting, a TED Talk and writing this blog post). 

Saturday (planned): I am going to watch Walsall’s football match later after lunch and then we will probably open “The Black Cat” again for an hour and chat, listening to the playlist before dinner and a little TV. I will watch Match of the Day before retiring.

Sunday (planned): Get up at a reasonable time and go for a walk. I will then have breakfast and get on with a few chores before looking at my finances and have lunch before watching a Premiership football match on Sky. After that we will have dinner and watch a movie, because Sunday night is movie night. 

12. If it weren’t for my blog, I’d ....

Probably be wasting my time on social media. I don’t dabble in social media that much and to be honest I am thinking that I might reduce it even further and try to take up something more constructive. I think I would probably be writing more. 

I did have a blog wobble a couple of years ago where I almost decided to quit the Plastic Mancunian. I am happy to say that I have found new energy and enthusiasm for the blog, possibly down to the pandemic and lockdown I guess, so I am continuing with it for quite a while yet. I am quite happy to continue.

13. When was the last time you replied “because I said so”? Do you find yourself saying that a lot? Or do you prefer to tell people WHY you want them to do something for you.

I rarely say that now but I think I used to say it to the kids a lot, usually when I couldn’t directly think of a reason why they couldn’t do something. 

It is a ridiculous thing to say.

14. What is the worst gift you’ve ever received?

A book by Derek Acorah.

Derek Acorah was a spiritual medium who, in my opinion, was a total charlatan. He used to claim to be possessed by spirits of dead people in haunted houses and did so in the most ridiculous ways possible and was about as convincing as mouse masquerading as a cat. Whenever I saw him on TV I used to laugh at how he tried to convince gullible people that his powers were genuine. 

To me it is praying on the grief of people and exploiting their vulnerability when they have lost somebody close.

Here is Harry Hill taking the mickey on his show TV Burp:

Why did I get the book? I told Mrs PM’s mum that I love anything supernatural. What I meant by that was I love ghost stores and weird stuff like that. Sadly I didn’t tell her that I hate any so-called paranormal experts because they have about as much ability in contacting people who have passed to the other side as I have – that is, none at all. 

She took that as a green light to buy me this:

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I thought the man was a cheating, lying charalatan. I didn’t read it.

15.  Tell us the worst gift you’ve ever given. What was the reaction of the recipient?  

I bought my youngest son a Furby (a joint present with his mother). 

On Christmas morning he opened it enthusiastically and stared at it open-mouthed. “Result!” I said and winked at my ex-wife who smiled back. 

“A FURBY?” he said with a look of total disgust and hurled it over his shoulder. He was five years old.

It wasn't intended to be a bad gift.

Monday 5 April 2021

The Playlist

I have learned something about my relationship with Mrs PM during the year or so of lockdown and restrictions due to COVID-19. It is something that has surprised both of us. 

Over the past year, we have reserved a couple of hours on Friday and/or Saturday night to relax and just chat. Since we are locked down we cannot go out anywhere and so we just talk about life with the assistance of a glass of wine or a beer. 

We used to do this before lockdown in a pub or a restaurant and the one thing that we needed at home was some background music. Usually in a pub, you have no choice about the music that is playing in the background and, as you can imagine, the pop music that plays in these places is not my favourite. I tolerate it because I have to.

Home is a different matter. This is my home and I want to control the music. Mrs PM has the same outlook – she wants the control the music too.

The problem is that our tastes in music are poles apart. She likes dance music and all manner of modern pop music that I despise. I like older pop music and rock music, including progressive rock, heavy metal and basically (as she calls it) “weird music”.

There is no overlap. Here is a Venn Diagram illustrating the music we have in common.

I have all of my music stored electronically on my laptop and I still buy CDs because I want to own it. Mrs PM is transient in her taste and when she hears something she likes, she plays it to death and then discards it when she is fed up of it. She used to buy CDs and then commit an act of pure sacrilege that I can barely bring myself to type – she GIVES AWAY HER CDs. She thinks that I should do the same. 

I know – it’s incredible.

Now she has decided that she won’t buy any more CDs and has taken up a paid Spotify account. This is good for her and I also considered it but for reasons that I am not going to go into now, I decided against it. I have a free Spotify account that I sometimes use to discover new music which results in me buying the CD eventually.

We decided to treat ourselves to a Sonos speaker, a wireless device that you can speak to with Google Assistant and will allow us to set alarms, ask questions, and most importantly play music from Mrs PM’s Spotify account, opening us up to a vast database of music.

If only we could agree on what music to play, given that it has to live in the overlap in the Venn Diagram above.

One Friday, we decided to attack this problem head on. Our discussion was; “What music can we possibly have in common?”

At first we took the tentative steps down the path. 

MRS PM: Do you like Britney Spears?

PM: (having eventually stopped laughing) Of course not.

MRS PM: How about Rihanna? Or Madonna?

PM: NO! I hate them. Oh hang on – there are a couple of Madonna songs I quite like. 

This one:

That was a start. I asked about classic progressive rock and she agreed that this song was good:

That is two songs in common. Over the weeks, we have chatted about music for the first hour or so, popping songs onto the Sonos and either adding them to a Spotify playlist or discarding them. Both of us have been willing to experiment and listen to suggestions and it has only bloody well worked. 

We have built up a considerable playlist of music that we both actually like and this includes, broadly, 1970’s disco, some glam rock, 1970’s David Bowie, 1980’s electronic pop music, ELO, Depeche Mode, Gary Numan, some Nine Inch Nails, one heavy metal song by System of a Down, Some Simon and Garfunkel, one Rush song, early Elton John, Blondie, The Police, Roxy Music, Muse and many many more.

We have between 250 and 300 songs that we can both listen to in the background without either of us complaining. And we are adding more each week.

That’s incredible.

We are both delighted because we can take this playlist with us on holiday or on trips and chat over background music that doesn’t leave one or both of us screaming “For crying out loud TURN THAT CRAP OFF!”

Here a couple of songs from the list to finish off.

The moral of the post is - you can always find common ground and something to agree on.

Saturday 3 April 2021


Welcome to a cold but sunny South Manchester on day 385 of COVID-19 restrictions. Spring is definitely in the air and as restrictions are slowly being lifted, the warmer weather and the potentially resurrected freedom we used to enjoy are slowly raising my spirits. Not that I am struggling, dear reader – on the contrary, I am absolutely fine and the daily routine is keeping me sane. 

Things will improve and that is delightful. 

Let’s leap into a set of questions, as usual compiled by Bev at Sunday Stealing

P.S. You may have noticed that I have corrected the questions from an English perspective, having replaced “favorite” with “favourite”. There are two reasons for this. First, the spelling is labelled as incorrect in Microsoft Word (because I use a UK spell checker) and secondly because I am English and not American. I don’t mind the fact that Americans use “favorite” at all; on the contrary – it means that I am fluent in another language – “American English”. I know the meaning of words like “diaper”, “sidewalk” and “faucet” as well as many others that our cousins across the pond have adopted. 

Anyway – enough nonsense – let’s dive in.

1. What’s your favourite kind of cake?

Black Forest Gateau by a country mile. In fact, I persuaded Mrs PM to buy one for Christmas Day instead of boring old Christmas Pudding, which I find too heavy. After eating Christmas Pudding, I can feel it squatting in my stomach for hours and days.

“Why have you got that tired and strange look on your face?” people ask.

“I am doing battle with Christmas Pudding,” I say with a sigh.

Black Forest Gateau is a culinary delight and about as evil as food can get – deliciously dark, with cream and a rich cherry filling. It is one of the best things to come out of Germany (apart from their wonderful beer). 

How can you truly resist this?

2. What’s your favourite cocktail?

As a rule, I don’t drink spirits of any kind, although occasionally I will have one if nothing else is available, or as an aperitif. The ones I have tried that are okay are Piña Colada and Tequila Sunrise – so I will opt for those two.

3. If you are alone for the evening, what do you fix yourself for dinner?

As I stated in the last post, I hate cooking. But if I have to cook for myself I will opt for a chicken pasta dish, a stir fry or a typical meat and two vegetable dish.

4. What make was your first car?

It was a Nissan Micra, one of the most reliable little cars I have ever had.

5. What is your height?

I am 5ft 11 inches, I think. My hair makes me look about 6ft 1 inch.

6. What was your least favourite toy as a child?

I don’t think I had a least favourite toy as a child. I had a very active imagination and absolutely everything that I owned could be used to form an elaborate framework for bringing elements of that imagination into reality. Toy soldiers would become an army to fight a giant (played brilliantly by Action Man), marbles would be used to stage football matches for example. I could us anything to create anything that allowed me to dive into my weird little mind, even it if seemed useless. 

7. What’s your favourite cartoon character?

Are we taking classic children’s cartoons or modern cartoons? I tell you what, I will do both. I used to love Scooby Doo, Wacky Races (particularly Dick Dastardly), the Pink Panther show and Tom and Jerry. 

Here’s an example:

Modern day cartoons? It has to be the Simpsons and my favourite is, of course, Homer himself. 

8. What’s your dream car?

I don’t really have a dream car. I guess the ideal car would be one that doesn’t break down, has enough room to accommodate the things I need to drive around, is economical and isn’t so expensive that people try to steal it

9. What’s your favourite pizza topping?

Anything with meat and cheese is good enough for me.

10. What’s your favourite sports team?

Sadly, my favourite sports team is a football team playing in the fourth tier of English football: Walsall FC. At the time I gave my soul to this football club, there were many other teams in the West Midlands that were bigger and better. My dad supported Walsall and he took me to the games – and I have never looked back, despite the fact that they will never compete with the Manchester United’s of this world. 

I have endured many years of people saying “Who?” or people thinking my team is called “Walsall 0” but they have given me enough pleasure to carry on supporting them. Not this year, sadly – they are not doing very well unfortunately.

Here is a game from this season, one of the few games we have won. We are playing in red. Note – the reason there are no spectators there is because of COVID-19 restrictions, not because we are so poor that nobody goes to see us.

11. What’s your favourite TV show?

At the moment it is a toss up between The Expanse and The Boys, both of which I am thoroughly enjoying at the moment.

12. What is your favourite ice cream?

I don’t eat much ice cream to be honest. However, I do like French and Italian ice creams and will always try some in those countries. Also, I do like Häagen-Dazs and Ben and Jerry’s chocolate ice cream.

13. What is your favourite song?

It is difficult to say. However, here are three that I really like at the moment – a pop song, a progressive rock song and a progressive metal song.

14. What’s your least favourite chore?

Cooking and ironing, I particularly hate ironing and I have tried many things in order to avoid it over the years. I have come close but, being a bit of a perfectionist, I can’t stand wearing creased clothes and nothing eliminates creases better than ironing. Mrs PM hates ironing even more than I do so no matter how many times I have tried to persuade her, I have failed, even to the point where she has suggested that I iron her things as well as my own.

15. What was your first job?

My first job was a newspaper delivery boy when I was a kid. I loved it, especially walking around the streets before anybody had arisen from their beds.