Friday 30 December 2022

Goodbye 2022 - Part 3

Welcome to South Manchester where the weather is a little odd and changeable. The sun is out but at the same time, the sky is full of grey clouds, meaning that it will almost certainly rain a little later. 

I usually only do one summary post about the year that is about to finish but Sunday Stealing has another set of summary questions – so welcome to part 3. Shall we dive in?

1. What song will always remind you of last year?  Doesn't have to be a song released last year.

As I have said, my iPod died in September while I was on holiday in Greece forcing me to think about what I want to do with music. I embraced Spotify and a whole new outlook on music. I found myself listening to old and new albums that I probably wouldn’t have listened to. I have discovered a couple of new artists and explored the back catalogues of old favourites. 

A song that reminds me of the year? Well to be honest there are about 300 of them. Here they all are:

Only kidding – I will select this one that I particularly like. It is “Kill or Be Killed” by British prog superstars Muse from their latest album released earlier this year. This is Muse embracing their heavier side with a song that kind of reflects the topsy-turvy year it has been for the UK.

2. What do you wish you would have done more of?

I’m quite happy with what I managed to do in 2022 to be honest. I’ve already made plans for 2023 so let’s see if they come to fruition.

3. What do you wish you would have done less of?

Again, I think it was a good year for personal stuff; in terms of personal stuff it was a well-balanced year.

4. What was your favourite new TV program? Movie? Album/Songs? Or if you didn't pick up any new ones, what are you still watching/listening to? Any recommendations?

TV Programme – Stranger Things and The Boys. Both absolutely brilliant.

Movie – I would probably say The Batman – but there were a lot of others that were equally good.

Albums  - This year saw the release of the first Porcupine Tree album for years, called “CLOSURE/CONTINUATION”, as well as a new album by Devin Townsend called “Lightwork”. Here is a song from each.

5. What did you do on your birthday and how old were you? Did you feel differently? 

I am now 60 years old. On my birthday itself I went out with a few friends but I also saw my two lads a day or two before. We went to Copenhagen a little later and I guess that was slightly birthday related too. Physically I feel the same – and mentally too (an eighteen year old in a old man’s body).

6. What political or social issue stirred you the most? 

Where do I start? The Conservative party led first by the clown, then by an incompetent buffoon and now by a multimillionaire who does not relate at all to anybody in the UK apart from people with equal amounts of wealth. 

The downfall of Boris Johnson was brilliant to see but he was replaced by somebody who was actually worse – Liz Truss. She basically almost destroyed the economy in her brief 45 day reign. Now we have a man who is better than both but still shares the same ideals that have led to the UK becoming a laughing stock internationally. 

This is Boris the buffoon at his most stupid:

And here is the incompetent idiot who replaced him:

And this is the current incumbent:

God help us!

7. Who was the most interesting new person you met?

Most of the new people I met were interesting in their own way. I am not going to single anybody out.

8. What changed at your job?

I am now working part time and winding down to retirement in the next year or two. 

9. What changed in your home? 

We had the bathroom refurbished – and thank goodness we went on holiday while that happened.

10. Describe how a relationship changed. 

My relationship with my two cats changed. They now rule my life with a rod of iron.

11. Do you think you are still the same person that you were at the beginning of the year?  How so?

Apart from having entered my seventh decade on this planet, yes, I think I am largely the same person.

12. Summarize the year in three words or less. Bonus points for doing it in one word. Explain. 

Crap but improved.

Saturday 24 December 2022

Goodbye 2022 Part 2


Welcome to a pleasant and sunny South Manchester on Christmas Eve. I know last week I said that I wouldn’t post anything before Christmas but I have a couple of hours before we have to depart to Blackpool so here goes. 

We’re off to see the in-laws today and returning tomorrow to go to my eldest lads for Christmas lunch – the first in his new house. Both my sons will be there alongside me eldest lad’s girlfriend and her parents. 

It should be fun.

Here are some more end of year questions from Sunday Stealing

1. What did you do last year that you had not done before? 

I travelled to a new country, Denmark. We spent a couple of days in the capital, Copenhagen. The climate is similar to that of the UK and we went in October so it was quite autumnal. It was expensive but we had good fun there. 

I also dropped a day at work.

2. Did you keep your New Year's Resolutions/goals for the year and will you make/set more for next year?  What are they? What are your new ones?

Yes I did – largely. I continued learning Spanish and I got a chance to practice when we travelled to Estepona earlier this year. It helps that Mrs PM can speak a little Spanish too and we tried our best to chat to Spaniards in their own language – that is until they started speaking to quickly to us. 

I also started learning the piano and I can now play some very simple tunes. There is still a long long long long way to go. This is very beginning of a bigger project that will lead into retirement involving synthesisers and laptops in the future.

I have continued to write every day too – most of it is total and utter garbage but if you don’t do it, how can you expect to improve?

I aim to continue everything in 2023, travel to another new country (probably Morocco) and revisit Europe – Spain in particular. 

There will be a few other ones too - I am still thinking about them at the moment.

3. What was the best book you read this year?  How many did you read?

I read quite a few books this year. I enjoyed a couple of books by Matt Haig and Dean Koontz – they were probably my favourites.

4. Did anyone you know die? Or have a serious illness/injury?

Not this year, thankfully. 

5. What places have you visited? 

We travelled to Denmark, Belgium, Spain and Greece this year. It was brilliant because it is the first time I had travelled since the pandemic began. 

Next year I really want to make up for lost time and go travelling again. As I said above, we are planning to go to Morocco (a new country), Croatia, Spain and probably Italy. Also, we were planning a university reunion abroad earlier this year but that fell through. It is likely to happen next year and our planned destination is a city I know really well – Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

6. Any new pets? Lost a pet?

No – we still have our two hilarious cats, Ziggy and Star(dust). They are two years old and as I type they are chasing each other around the house like lunatics. They are really funny.

7. What would you like to have next year that you lacked this year (doesn't have to be a physical thing i.e. love, job security, peace of mind...)? 

I just want 2023 to be a peaceful and pleasant year. 2022 was not one of my favourites years but things are improving again. 

8. What date from last year will remain etched in your memory and why? 

Probably 8th October because that’s the day I turned 60.

9. What was your biggest achievement last year?

Getting out of the country for the first time in three years was a bit of an achievement. Continuing hobbies and plans by making them habits, in order to avoid procrastination. And basically still smiling in the face of some adversity in the first couple of months of 2022.

One other thing: I think I will manage an average of over 8000 steps per day this year which is more than I did last year. I am pretty close to having walked 1500 miles this year, which I should complete by New Year’s Eve.

10. Did you get sick or injured?

I caught Covid-19 in July and it coincided with the hottest days ever recorded in the UK, which I guess was a bit of a blessing in disguise. To be honest, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I just felt very weak and had a splitting headache that thankfully was relieved by paracetamol. It lasted two days really and on day three I felt much better. The problem was that I tested positive for ten days which meant I was effectively locked down again – as was Mrs PM who also had it. Even so, I have had a flu and Covid-19 jab this winter too. I think I will be immune for a while hopefully. 

People are still getting it in the UK but thankfully it is nowhere near as bad as it was and barely makes the news these days. 

11. What was the best thing you bought? 

I bought a new tablet which is fantastic when travelling. 

I also bought an electric piano and I think that is my favourite gadget – okay it is a musical instrument but it is also a gadget in my view. 

I also now subscribe to Spotify and it is opening up all sorts of music that I have either ignored or never encountered. I am not just talking about new artists and new albums; there is lots of old stuff out there that has not crossed my radar. 

12. Where did most of your disposable income go (money leftover after you pay for food, medical care, basic clothing, transportation and shelter)? 

Most of it went on holidays, clothes and the gadgets I have mentioned above.

And finally ...

This really IS my last post before Christmas - so once again Merry Xmas one and all. 

Saturday 17 December 2022

December Plans

Welcome to a dull and rainy South Manchester. We’ve just had a cold snap where the temperature reached a low of -10 degrees Celsius – most unpleasant. Now it is getting warmer and with it comes the rain. 

This is how mad weather is in the UK. Last Monday it was -5 degrees Celsius in Manchester and next Monday it is forecast to be 14 degrees Celsius. 


Shall we answer some silly questions from Sunday Stealing

1. My plans for December 

We are half way through December now so there are only about two weeks left. In those two weeks, I have just two days of work left in 2022 (my last day is on Tuesday). Most of the Christmas celebrations associated with work have happened already. Next week will be a quiet one I think until Christmas Eve. We are going for a meal with our neighbours on Thursday and on Christmas Eve itself we are off to Blackpool to see Mrs PM’s parents. We return on Christmas Day and are off to North Manchester to spend the rest of the day with my youngest lad, my eldest lad and his girlfriend and her parents. It should be fun. After that I will be going for a couple of beers with a couple of mates and then we will be spending New Year’s Eve with some friends.

2. How energized I feel at this point in the year 

I am usually quite tired in the winter and December is the most energised that I ever feel because of Christmas and the general feeling of euphoria for the festive season. I always look forward to the Christmas break from work and that also helps to give me a break until the worst two months of the year, January and February, when it is dark and cold and there is bugger all to look forward to apart from spring.  

3. The best things about the holiday season 

I enjoy the social aspect of this time of year and the break from work. We usually get together with family and friends and the general excitement is enough to keep me happy, despite the cold and short days. 

4. Something that changed my perspective on life 

Quite a few things that have happened have changed my perspective on life. Most recently, the loss of my sister made me reconsider my priorities and led to my decision to go part time slightly earlier than planned. But I generally do examine my life on a fairly regular basis anyway and my immediate plans for things like retirement are still in place and on schedule.

5. What I seem to get the most comments about 

I assume you are talking about the blog here. The most commented posts I think are the ones where I have been slightly controversial. The biggest by far is when I basically declared that Shakespeare is rubbish. At the time, I didn’t think it would be that controversial and I was pleasantly surprised that some people who love the bard commented to discuss things in a civil manner. The purpose of the post was not to be critical for the sake of being critical; it was to tell people why I genuinely think that he is overrated. 

Here is a comment that I particularly liked:

Great post. Not just an "I hate Shakespeare post" but a worked out argument. Still I disagree with you, but then, I would, being a fully paid up writer of the 55% explanations!  So much did I enjoy your post, I have blogged about it at The Shakespeare Standard. There's a link to the rebuttal. You'll find that you're in good company on the plots (one Vladimir Nabokov shares some of your view) but you might like to have a go at a Six Word Shakepeare and cut down on those notes!

One or two keyboard warriors attacked my views - but I have a thick skin so I can take it. Here is one of them:

I found this drivel by accident. I'm just amazed that there are people out there like you, very many people in fact, who wear their ignorance and foolishness so proudly. I thought I was reading the ramblings of some over-opinionated teenager until I saw what an old fart you were.

You can read the post here, if you like.

Shakespeare is Rubbish 

6. The changes I’ve made to my style 

Again I assume you are talking about the blog. I haven’t really made any changes to my style which is to be honest, self-deprecating, slightly controversial but above all try to be funny (which I fail miserably at mostly). I think some of my early posts were a little amateurish and now they are still amateurish but slightly better. 

I don’t really care whether people like my blog or not. I like it and that’s all that counts.

7. What gets in the way of my success 

Procrastination and laziness. Over the past few years I have taken on both of these negative qualities and I think that I have improved and (almost) overcome both. 

Also shyness and the willingness to sit in my comfort zone have been a hindrance in the past too but I feel that I am winning the war with those two nemeses too.

8. News sources I trust the most 

What news sources can you trust these days? Almost all of them are biased and a lot of them are full of lies. 

I tend to watch the BBC news and read the BBC news website. They are driven to be impartial and that can be infuriating, especially when it comes to things like Brexit and Boris Johnson. 

Recently a newsreader was suspended for saying that she was “gleeful” that Boris Johnson was not going to try to run for Prime Minister again:

Another BBC presenter recently got into trouble for saying that when covering Brexit they could find thousands of experts who thought it was a terrible idea, but they had to be impartial and find those who said it was a great idea – and they could barely find any with that viewpoint.

It’s difficult to trust any news source these days but I think BBC is one of the better ones.

9. Fictional characters that would easily fit into my life 

Are there any fictional characters who love progressive rock music, are massive fans of Walsall football club, love to travel and like a beer or two while at the same time being a total geek?

I don’t know of any. Do you?

10. My relationship with spirituality 

One of scepticism. 

I don’t mind people being religious as I think it can give comfort. If you are person who regularly goes to church, practices a religious faith and reads the Bible on a regular basis then keep on doing it if it makes you happy.

I won’t do those things. I spent the first sixteen years of my life as a Roman Catholic indoctrinated by guilt, led to believe that the Bible was the source of all knowledge, even though it contradicts itself. I pointed this out to a Jehovah’s witness on my doorstep once (I actually like talking to them) and was told that Satan planted dinosaur bones in the Earth to sow doubt into the minds of non-believers like me. It was an interesting if not flawed perspective.

As for non-religious spirituality, I don’t really know what it is – and this makes me sceptical. People feel “spiritual” if they want to “grow” personally and become a better person – at least that’s what I think it means. Religion is something that achieves this because you become closer to God. And those who aren’t religious obviously feel that they want to adhere to their own values and grow as that person.

The problem is that those values are different for every single person in the world and if you are not being led by religion, how do you define them? People are only experts in their own happiness and fulfilment – not mine.

That’s why I am sceptical. For me, I just want to be happy not follow a doctrine created by another person that tells me how to be happy in their probably flawed view. 

Deep answer there and worthy of a more thought and a proper blog post. 

Apologies for that. 

11. How I feel when I’m being retrospective 

I look back at the past with happiness mainly. There are some bad times but mostly I get a warm and fuzzy feeling when I look back over my life. I listen to music a lot and older songs take me back in time to those places and occasions. 

I love it.

12. My thoughts on AI technology 

I work in IT and although I don’t personally use AI software, I know people who do. Now if you are a science fiction fan you will no doubt be afraid of AI because of stories like The Terminator, where in the future, we go too far with AI and machines become self-aware and rebel against their creators, i.e. us, with maximum prejudice. 

All AI is at the moment is the ability for software to resolve problems on its own with reasoned logic. There is a lot of it about at the moment, for example with software that recommends things for you to watch or buy based on past experience, for example when you log onto Amazon and it offers you things that are similar to things you have bought in the past.

It is all very clever and is getting better. 

The bottom line is though that all of this was written and created by people like me, and has limitations based on the algorithms that have been programmed into it. 

But if can be abused and that is, if anything, the scary thing. 

Will machines become self-aware in the future and try to rid the planet of mankind (like in the Matrix and the Terminator)?

I doubt it. It’s all science fiction and if like me you are a huge fan of science fiction then you can believe anything.

13. The odd/weird things I do when nobody else is around 

That’s a personal question but I am all for a little self-deprecation (see above). Basically if I am alone in the house and I have some decent music on, I will sing along with it very loudly and sometimes even pick up my air guitar and play along with the song as if I am the guitarist. To something like this:

I have done this in public though (in the past) – so people know about it.

Yes - I am a complete idiot, aren't I?

14. What I do when I can’t sleep 

I usually pick up my Kindle and carry on reading. It works 95% of the time. But it is a rare occurrence. The last time it happened was when I accidentally had a caffeinated coffee in the evening (I don’t drink caffeine these days).

15. The winter/holiday season tasks I enjoy

We’ve just been to the supermarket to get in provisions for Christmas. I don’t normally like shopping but this particular shop is not too bad. Apart from that, nothing sticks out as being an enjoyable task.

And finally…

Since this is almost certainly my last post before Christmas, can I take this opportunity to wish everybody, who is unfortunate enough to stumble onto this random set of words, a very Merry Christmas.

May Father Christmas (or Santa Claus if you prefer) bring you everything you need to make you happy.

Saturday 10 December 2022

Goodbye 2022

Greetings from a very cold South Manchester. Winter has well and truly arrived with temperatures plummeting to -5 degrees Celsius and lower in some places. And this morning I woke up to snow. I hate snow but it looks cute from the windows of my warm house. That said, I have been outside wrapped up completely to trudge the snow-covered streets and parks for my usual daily three to four mile walk. 

Today I will just spend the rest of the day at home watching the World Cup quarter finals, which involve England, who are playing the World Champions France. 

I suspect we won’t beat them – but I hope we do.

This week’s Sunday Stealing covers the year 2022 – which has been a mixed year for me. I usually have an end of year summary so I shall bring that forward this year and dive in. 

Care to join me?

1. Wintertime comfort foods, habits, hobbies 

As you may have gathered from my introduction, I usually maintain my walking regime during the winter months, but I tend to spend more time indoors. I hate winter I have to say; it is cold, wet, dark and miserable. December is bearable because of the Christmas fun that we have but once we settle into January and February there is nothing left to look forward too but spring – and that can’t come soon enough for me. 

We usually eat wholesome stodgy food during this period – soups, casseroles, stews and that kind of thing. I usually maintain my habits (and I have a few) – there is no reason not to. I shall be glad when it is over – bring on March I say.

2. Favourite seasonal/holiday music and songs 

I usually listen to the same music during the winter period but of course it is Christmas and everywhere you go, you hear seasonal songs, carols and ditties. 

Here’s an unusual one from one of my favourite bands. Crank it up!

3. The people I want to spend more time with next year 

I aim to spend more time with my family next year. I lost my sister in 2021 and it has made my remaining sister and I much closer so I will aim to spend more time with her and her other half. They live in Harrogate which is about 80 miles away. I also have family in Walsall (where I was born) so I will aim to see them more too. We actually all met in Sheffield last weekend and it was good fun. 

4. How much I could change my life in one year if I focused 

I think I have changed a bit in the last couple of years. I think if I focussed on one thing for a year I could actually do it. I would have to be interested though. I have some plans for 2023 so we will see if I have improved this time next year.

5. The valuable lessons I learned this year 

It’s been a year of highs and lows. I have realised that I love travelling still, having managed to get abroad, after the pandemic, four times to Spain, Belgium, Greece and a new country, Denmark. I aim to reach five next year, all in Europe before spreading my wings further afield in 2024.

The big decision this year was to go part time and I have never looked back. It is great working four days a week now and I used the extra time sorting out my sister’s affairs and while that is continuing even now, it seems that purely focussing on things I can achieve a lot (see last question). 

My retirement plan is still on schedule and I will spend 2023 looking for new hobbies and activities to try when it eventually happens. 

6. How I’d describe 2022 in 10 words 

A year to forget. There have been a lot lately.

7. My favourite reads of 2022 

I’ve reacquainted myself with a favourite author from a decade or two ago – Dean Koontz. I’ve read three by him this year.

I also read an old classic too – Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

I read Atomic Habits by James Clear – a book I would recommend. I have been trying to create positive habits for a while now and while there was a lot of overlap with the book, I learned a few more tricks.

I also read a couple of science fictions epics by another favourite author, Peter F Hamilton, and a couple of quirky sci-fi novels by Matt Haig. 

It’s been a good year for books.

8. Best movies I saw in 2022 

I enjoyed The Batman – even though Robert Pattinson was playing the Caped Crusader. To be honest, I didn’t get to the cinema this year. I will change that next year I think. 

9. Favourite TV shows/episodes of 2022 

I’ve enjoyed a few things this year. Stranger Things was absolutely brilliant, as was Squid Game. I’ve also enjoyed the Marvel series such as The Falcon and Winter Soldier and Hawkeye. I enjoyed Star Trek Discovery, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and Star Trek: Picard

Also, right up there, was The Orville, Seth McFarlane’s homage to Star Trek.

I also enjoyed The Mandalorian even though Star Wars isn’t really my thing. 

Dr Who was also good this year, featuring the last few specials with Jodie Whittaker playing the Time Lord.

And last but not least, I watched the whole of Line of Duty – a BBC series about corrupt police officers. Well worth it if you like that kind of thing.

10. Memorable experiences from 2022 

Travelling for the first time in two or three years was the best, even though I caught Covid-19 from my weekend in Belgium. It was great to go to foreign places and I hope to do more of the same next year.

Catching Covid-19 was quite memorable. To me it was like having a mild form of flu but with a splitting headache. I caught it on the hottest days of the year – a record breaking 40 degrees in the UK – so we were stuck in the house – probably a good thing. I felt better after two days but given that I was still testing positive I had to self-isolate with Mrs PM (who also had it) for about ten days. 

I also returned to watching cricket too, seeing a test match, a couple of 20-20’s and a new thing called The Hundred.

I also turned 60 this year – so I am officially an old git!

There are probably more but I can’t recall them all. 

11. Three people I enjoyed spending time with this year 

All of my family and friends. I won’t name them individually – they know who they are.

12. How I handled challenges this year 

I was more driven this year. Things have to be done, so I just did it. Some things were good, some things were bad – but just grab that bull by the horns and try to wrestle it to the ground. Sometimes you can do it.

13. What I’m leaving behind in 2022 

My 50’s and full time working.

14. How I changed most from beginning to end of the year 

I think I am a stronger person than I was at the beginning of the year, mainly because, as I said, I have had to attack things that are out of my comfort zone. 

And I am also officially an old git. 

15. What I want to tell myself before the New Year

2023 will be a much better and more interesting year. I actually believe that.