Friday 29 December 2023

Goodbye 2023 - Part 2

Welcome to a dull grey old South Manchester. Winter is here, the days are short and the weather is poor. But at least it isn’t raining.

Christmas is over for another year and New Year is just around the corner. Before the big day, here is Part Two of a summary of 2023, questions as usual from Sunday Stealing.

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

I was called up for jury service. I thought that I would get away with it but in early December, a letter appeared through my letterbox telling me that I would have to turn up at court for the last two weeks of December. I had no choice unless my company objected to it or I had a valid reason for not attending (for example being on holiday – that kind of thing). 

In the end, because it was so close to Christmas I ended up only doing a week and I was on a small trial. It was all very interesting and formal and I actually quite enjoyed the experience. I think I am now safe from ever doing it again but I think I would approach it positively in the unlikely event that I ever get called again. 

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?

I did keep my resolutions and I am in the process of deciding what to do next year. 

I’ve carried on with learning Spanish and playing the piano and although progress is slow on both I am improving. I have also started writing a novel which is also progressing very slowly but I have a story and an ending. I also have a better plan for a memoir of sorts based on my experiences of travelling. I may start that next year but it is still at  the planning stage. 

I am still writing a daily “journal” of sorts, which is more like “freewriting” where you basically write any old crap daily. It doesn’t have to be good or grammatically correct; you just have to write. 

Next year I plan to take some of the stuff out of that (the nuggets in the pile of rubbish if you like) and turn them into blog posts. I have been doing Sunday Stealing for a while now with little else but I want to return to the type of blog posts I used to write up until a couple of years ago. Expect to see more blog posts in 2024. I shall almost certainly continue with Sunday Stealing because it’s fun.

My other goals won’t change that much – just more of the same. 

We also plan to travel again this year although we have pushed Malaysia back to the start of 2025. We will probably go to Spain, France and Morocco in 2024. It would be nice to add another new country to the list – that may happen. 

3. Did anyone you know give birth? Or get pregnant? 

No, I don’t think so.

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

Not this year, thank goodness.

5. What places did you visit? 

We travelled to Spain (Tenerife), Morocco, Italy (Sicily), Croatia and I went to the Netherlands for a university reunion. 

I had never been to Morocco before; it was a great experience and we are thinking of going again next year. We spent a long weekend exploring Marrakesh. We had a lot of fun. 

Bahia Palace Marrakesh

Marrakesh Sunset

In Croatia we went to Dubrovnik for a week and I would thoroughly recommend it. It is a beautiful city. We also visited a couple of other places that aren’t too far away. 

Dubrovnik Old Town from above

Dubrovnik Old Town 

Sicily was wonderful. We spent a week in Taormina, which is a beautiful little town in vicinity of Mount Etna, a still active volcano. Thankfully it didn’t erupt while we were there. 

Mount Etna (from a distance)

Taormina from above

In the Netherlands, I met three of my old university friends in Amsterdam, a city I know very well. In our weekend there I acted a tour guide because I have worked there so many times I know the place almost as well as I know the back of my hand. 

Four Reprobates in Front of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (I'm the one in front)

6. What would you like to have next year that you lacked this year (doesn't have to be a physical thing)? 

Nothing really. I’m not a fan of having our house disrupted and that happened this year with the redecoration of the back room, stairs and landing as well as the loft. So I would like less disruption at home – and I know that I am going to get it because we have no plans for anything like that in 2024.

7. What date from this year will remain etched in your memory and why? 

No dates stand out this year. I guess Mrs PMs birthday stands out a little because we went down to London to see the Abba Voyage show, which was surprisingly good. 

Talking of gigs, I saw three of my favourite bands/artists this year: Devin Townsend, Riverside and Porcupine Tree. They stand out because they were amazing. 

8. What was your biggest achievement this year? 

No one thing stands out but I have managed to maintain my daily habits so that counts. I have probably walked further this year than I have walked in previous years (the total mileage will be around 1565 miles if I stick to my step plan for the remaining couple of days of the year).

9. Did you get sick or injured? Anyone you know? 

Apart from a couple of minor colds, I was fine this year. A couple of friends and work colleagues came down with Covid-19 but were fine now it seems to be far less nasty than it has been in the past. 

10. What was the best thing you bought? 

It’s sad to say this but the furniture for our back room is probably the best thing; two new teal sofas, a new desk for me to work on, a new light, new flooring and a new mirror. Also the basic loft conversion we had to allow us to store more stuff up there. 

11. Where did most of your disposable income go (money left over after you pay for food, transportation and shelter)? 

Holidays and home improvements. I love holidays so they were well worth it. Home improvements? I hate them but it does look good so it was worth it. 

12. What song will always remind you of this year? 

On Spotify, this is my most played song of 2023. As you can imagine I love it. I present “Friend or Foe” by Riverside.

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

We were planning to go to Sweden (another new country) this year but home improvements proved to be more important (sadly). So I would like to perhaps do a couple more city breaks (starting with Stockholm) in 2024 – whether it happens or not I don’t know but I hope so.

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

Working. That may change in 2024.

15. 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?

Favourite New TV Programme: The Last Kingdom:

Favourite Movie: Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One:

Favourite Album: “ID.Entity” by Riverside – here’s “I’m Done With You”:

Another Favourite Song: “Impossible Tightrope” by Steven Wilson:

Happy New Year everybody. I hope 2024 is an amazing year for you all.

Friday 22 December 2023

Goodbye 2023

Welcome to South Manchester on a dull, grey, windy day with light rain that somehow manages to get into every nook and cranny during a daily walk. It’s quite mild for the time of year though.

I’ve finished work for the year now (yesterday was my last day) and I’m looking forward to a couple of weeks off before returning. Pity the weather isn’t better.

We’re off to Blackpool for Christmas Eve/Christmas Day to visit Mrs PM’s folks before returning and relaxing until New Year. It should be fun.

The questions from Sunday Stealing this week seem to relate to New Year and I usually provide a summary anyway, so this is likely to be the first of a two or three parter. Shall we dive in?

1. Who did you spend time with this year?

The same people I spent time with in 2022 largely. We are now expected to go into the office twice a week now so I probably spent more time with work friends and colleagues over the year. It’s a bit of a pain going into the office because Covid is still around and there have been a couple of scares. For example we had a huge meeting with about thirty people crammed into an office and two days later discovering that one person actually had Covid. I didn’t catch it this year thankfully. It does seem to be doing the rounds again though, thankfully, it is a much milder illness now. 

2. Anything change with the pets in your life?

Not at all. The still rule us with a rod of iron. Star in particular is fascinated by the cursor on my screen and sits in front of the monitor watching it as I move it around. To anybody watching this, it would appear that she is supervising me and making sure that my work reaches her highest standards. It’s funny too; when I move the cursor off the edge of the screen she looks behind to try to find it. 

3. What was your job like this year? What do you do? Did any roles or assignments change? If you aren’t employed, base this question on your work at home or volunteering.

As I said above, we are now expected to go into the office for two days a week. I am actually much more productive at home. The management use words like “collaboration” and similar bullshit terms to justify this but the truth is that companies are spending money on offices and want them used. They never say this though – they think we are stupid. 

Work wise my job was the same – frustrating, sometimes tedious, occasionally interesting. To be honest, now I don’t let it get to me at all, and while I have had a reputation for comedy ranting, I don’t even do that anymore. I do like the majority of my workmates, I have to say.

I don’t have that long left before I retire so there’s no point ranting anymore.

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

I’ve read quite a few books this year, mostly science fiction but a trilogy of horror stories set in 19th century England which were a minor diversion from the norm. I think the one I enjoyed most was a time travel novel by A.G.Riddle called Lost in Time.

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

I am now 61 years old and I went to one of my favourite local restaurants on my birthday with Mrs PM. I haven’t felt different for the past twenty years to be honest. I have calmed down a little bit and I am more sensible but if I met my 40 year old self I think we would have a fun time together. 

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

Where do I start? The Conservative government this year has been as ludicrous and incompetent as ever. Rishi Sunak is the latest in a list of useless Prime Ministers, though he is nowhere near as bad as Boris Johnson who wins two awards – the most incompetent Prime Minister we have ever had and the biggest liar in the office of Prime Minister. He’s also nowhere near as bad as Liz Truss who was Prime Minister for just 49 days and in that time crashed the economy. Nevertheless he is a weak useless fool who has made five pledges/promises and failed to achieve any of them.

There is an election next year thank goodness and I hope for the sake of my sanity that we turf these buggers out!

I might seriously consider leaving the UK if they win again.

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

I’ve met a couple of new people this year and they are all very interesting. I can’t single one of them out.

8. What changed in your home? 

We have had the back room of my house redecorated along with the hall stairs and landing. We have replaced almost all of the furniture and the stairs and landing carpet. We have also replaced the carpet in the back room with LVT because it looks better and is easier to clean (especially with cats). I have a new desk too and a set of new pictures scattered around as well as two lovely teal sofas that the cats love to sprawl on.

My man cave looks bright, clean and new.

We also had the filthy old loft converted into a proper store room with a membrane to keep it clean. There is lots of room up there now and it is full of my old knick-knacks and memorabilia that Mrs PM says that I “hoard”. I don’t – and there is tons of room up there for much more. 

9. What have you learned throughout the year? (Other than crafts)  Can be a new skill or a life lesson.

My piano playing has improved a lot and so has my Spanish. I haven’t taken on anything new apart from trying Italian after a trip to Sicily. I think I might give that up though because it is affecting my Spanish (the two languages are similar but different enough to make me use Italian words in Spanish by mistake).

10. What was your favourite outfit for warm weather? Cooler weather?  what do you wear when you dress up? Any new clothes or accessories you really love?

When the weather is warm you will find me in a T-shirt or polo shirt and shorts.

When the weather is cooler you will also find me in a T-shirt or polo shirt but it depends on the temperature. I may wear a jumper or a shirt. Today for example I am wearing a sweat shirt with a T-shirt underneath as I bum around the house. I also wear jeans.

When I dress up, it depends where I am going. For a meal, I will wear a shirt with jeans or chinos. For a wedding or something like that I will wear a shirt and tie and a suit (at least until the party starts when I will lose the tie and jacket).

11. Did you make or give up on any efforts to be healthier? Diet, water, exercise etc?

I have increased my step count from last year. Hot off the press – my average step count so far is this year is 8704 per day (4.29 miles per day). This is compared to 8218 per day in 2023 (4.12 miles per day). If I keep this up for the last few days of the year I will have walked 1566 miles this year.

My diet hasn’t changed that much. I eat lots of fruit, drink lots of water and eat a fairly balanced diet. I tend to let myself go a little at the weekend but overall I think I am okay.

I will also try to be healthier in January as usual. I don’t believe in abstinence so although my consumption of alcohol will go down, I will never attempt “Dry January”. 

12. Fave meals, snacks, desserts, restaurants etc? Eat out or eat in?

I love almost every cuisine in the world – I can’t single out a favourite.

My favourite snack is cheese on toast (which I haven’t actually had for a while). 

I like eating in and eating out.

A bit of a boring answer that one – sorry.

13. Did you learn any new crafts or techniques? What was your favourite thing you made? 

Nope. When it comes to crafts I am terrible.

14. What are your hopes and dreams for the new year?  (Some suggestions-family, travel, work, lifestyle, hobbies, pets, appearance)

I hope to improve on the piano and perhaps go to a proper class to improve my Spanish communication.

I will possibly look for a new hobby, perhaps related to music. 

It goes without saying that I will travel. We were going to go to Malaysia next year but I think this will be in January 2025 now because of the weather. It’s fair to say that we will be in Europe somewhere though.

15. What was the best new/new-to-you thing you a) bought b) made c) acquired in some other way?

Best thing I bought? I would say it was everything I mentioned in Question 8 to improve the house, which involved actually “making” stuff also (well – building a cupboard from IKEA).

Saturday 16 December 2023

Christmas 2023

Welcome to a pleasant winter’s day in South Manchester. The weather is mild and the clouds are light and fluffy, with a blue sky and a low sun that is beaming into our lounge through the Christmas tree which is positioned at the front window with lights flashing to a rhythm dictated by a switch that we can tweak. Personally I would tweak it every day but Mrs PM likes the current pattern; I am happy to let her have her way. 

Of course, the cats are fascinated by the tree and surprisingly they are well behaved around it. I do catch them tapping the odd globe occasionally but they don’t try to climb it (it is about seven feet tall I think). 
Yes, Christmas 2023 is almost upon us so it seems like a good idea to squeeze in a couple of silly answers to some silly questions from Sunday Stealing with Christmas in mind. 
1. What is the best Christmas gift you’ve ever received?
That’s a difficult one. As a kid, I usually received Christmas presents that I wanted or that excited me but as I became an adult, presents became kind of token presents and, as a man, it started to consist of socks, handkerchiefs, book tokens, beer, chocolate and other gifts that people don’t really know what to buy for the man in their life. The answer is, therefore, I don’t really know. Sorry – that is so boring.
2. What is the worst Christmas gift you’ve ever received?
Have you heard of Derek Acorah? 
He was a “psychic medium” who claimed to be able to converse with ghosts and in my view was a complete charlatan. He also claimed to be “possessed”. The person who bought me this gift had heard me mention his name and knows that I am into weird, spooky stuff. What I was actually doing was ranting about how gullible people are to have believed this idiot.
Here he is being exposed by a parapsychologist. And it’s well worth a look if you have six minutes to spare.

A total and utter charlatan and fraud – and I think most of those similar to him are the same. 
But back to the question. 
This person thought that a book written by Derek Acorah would be the perfect gift for me. How wrong they were.
To be kind, I read the first chapter and I have never read such a load of bullshit in my entire life. I felt bad that somebody has actually paid money for this vapid, turgid, amateurish waste of part of a tree and that some of the money spent had gone into Derek Acorah’s pocket to help prolong his abuse of gullible people.
I recycled it at the earliest opportunity.
Derek Acorah passed away in 2020 and if he really were able to talk to and be possessed by ghosts then surely he would have found his way back. Even if there were a part of me that believed in ghosts, this man is one reason why the sceptic in me will always dismiss such things as fraud.
Who knows? After this I may be visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Future for being a cynical old git about people who claim to be able to talk to spirits. 
3. Do you have a favourite Christmas song?
It is fitting that my favourite Christmas song it Fairytale of New York by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. Shaun MacGowan passed away earlier at the end of last month. Rest in peace Shane.

4. Does your family have any favourite holiday traditions?
Not really. We usually go to at least on Christmas Party, have a pub crawl from my place of employment, visit family and get together with friends. We take it in turns hosting on Christmas Day and we start eating lots of fattening food, eating lots of chocolate and drinking more than usual. That’s why we all diet and abstain in January. 
We have a few things planned over the next week or two.
It is also traditional to have Christmas decorations and they are already up. 
5. What is your favourite Christmas snack?
Is a mince pie a snack? If it is then that is it. I love mince pies and we eat loads of them over the Christmas period. 
6. Did you believe in Santa growing up?
Yes – until I worked out that he doesn’t exist by applying logic. My dad came up with ridiculous answers to try to explain to me why he existed. I was asking about time zones, speed of travel, how this fat man could squeeze his bulk down a chimney, how he got in the house for people who didn’t have chimneys, how he managed to avoid the fire for those who had one, how he managed to get round the entire world in one day etc. etc.
In the end I told him that Father Christmas doesn’t exist – and he just laughed. 
7. How early do you start decorating?
That’s up to Mrs PM. She decides. We are decorated now and this year she wanted to do it on December 1st but we couldn’t for some reason. It was soon afterwards. I just allow Mrs PM to reign fully on all things Christmas.
8. Are you an early or last-minute shopper?
I am an early shopper. I like to get it all over and done with by the start of December.
9. Would you rather give or receive gifts?
I would rather receive them, but not because I am a tight-fisted git. I find it really difficult to decide what to buy for people and I invariably get a lot of them wrong (though people don’t necessarily tell me). Plus you have to actually spend time deciding and then buying. It is so easier to receive gifts and I like 99.9% of them. But please – no books, DVDs or anything by people like Derek Acorah.
10. What’s your favourite Christmas movie?
I don’t really like them if I’m honest and I try not to watch them. I do quite like “It’s a Wonderful Life” though, so I will say that one.
11. What is one of your Christmas memories?
The routine we had when I was a child. 
My dad was not a religious person and he was Church of England by baptism. My mum was Roman Catholic and so my two sisters and I were too. On Christmas Day we used to get up really early and my mum would take us to Mass, while my dad would stay in bed for a short while. By the time we got home, my dad had surfaced and spent the time cooking an elaborate and very tasty breakfast, while making a start on Christmas dinner. We would eat breakfast and then after tidying away the dishes, we would open our presents. 
My mum and dad would then spend a while in the kitchen preparing the dinner while we enjoyed our gifts and watched TV to soak up the atmosphere. 
We would be visited by grandparents later and enjoy Christmas dinner while lazing about, stuffing our faces with chocolate and all manner of food. 
The adults would all fall asleep in the afternoon, usually brought on by the Queen’s Speech (which was tedium personified and has been ever since) before playing games for the rest of the day.
It was simple but I can still picture it.
12. Do you open any presents on Christmas Eve?
Not at all. Presents are meant to be opened on Christmas Day. 

I imagine I will probably produce another post before Christmas but just in case I don't, have a Wonderful Christmas, each and every one of you.

Friday 1 December 2023

Plastic Identity

Welcome to a bright and sunny South Manchester. The problem is that when the sun shines in winter, the temperature plummets and now it is just above zero degrees Celsius, with frost and ice still being visible from last night’s low of -3 degrees. I don’t mind days like this; they are cold, sure, but the crispness of the air is invigorating. 

We are now in December and Christmas is approaching faster than Superman. Mrs PM is threatening to put up the tree today and also we are going to my company’s Christmas party tonight. I have even had my first mince pie of the winter.

Since it is December I have to decide what I am going to do in 2024 – and that starts right now. Do I carry on with Spanish? Do I crank it up a notch? What other activities shall I plan into my daily habits?

We shall see and all will be revealed in due course.

In the meantime, here are some silly answers to some silly questions from Sunday Stealing

1. If someone wanted to really understand you, what would they read, watch, and listen to?

I don’t think that even Mrs PM understands me if I’m honest. She constantly says to me “Don’t be weird!” and the truth is that of all the billions of people on this planet, she understands me most of all. 

This is therefore a difficult question because I am a complex person and I don’t think anything that you could read, watch or listen to would even come close. 

Nevertheless, I shall try.

I would probably get you to read James Clear’s “Atomic Habits” to try to understand how and why I am trying to plan my life in the future. I would also get you to read an IT book to try to get you understand how my logical mind works in terms of my day job. And then finally, a great science fiction novel like “The War of the Worlds” or “The Time Machine” to try to understand the geek within me.

What would they watch? Probably a documentary series by Professor Brian Cox about the universe, as I am fascinated by space travel and phenomena. Also, any science fiction TV programme or movie, like Dr Who or Star Trek or something like that.

As for listening, regular readers will know that my taste is quite diverse from progressive rock to ambient electronica. Perhaps these two:

2. Have you ever found a writer who thinks just like you? If so, who?

Not really. Perhaps the closest is Brian Lumley who is responsible for the Necroscope series, which involves the most terrifying vampires I have ever had the pleasure to read. I say “closest” because although I love his ideas, I would have ended the stories in a different way. 

Also Dean Koontz has some amazing ideas in his thrillers and supernatural novels. 

3. Do you care about your ethnicity?

Not particularly. I just try to regard all people as the same, whatever, their colour, nationality, background, heritage, ancestry or traditions. I guess I am a white British male but, thanks to travelling, I like to feel that I could fit in anywhere.

4. What musical artists have you most felt connected to over your lifetime?

I would say the artist that has connected to me most is Rush. I have considered writing a post called My Life According to Rush, simply because since the age of about 14 they have been a constant throughout my life. I’ve grown up with them and there are certain songs that send me back in time to a precise moment. Sadly, since drummer Neil Peart sadly passed away in 2020, Rush are no more. I still have most of their CDs and I listen to their music regularly on Spotify from their first album simply called “Rush” in 1974 to their last offering called “Clockwork Angels” in 2012. 

These days, I connect most with Riverside, a Polish progressive rock band who are still producing amazing music.

5. Are you an artist?

Not at all. I did produce this silly piece of “art” for a blog post about how rubbish contemporary art is. 

I called it “Naughty Cat”. And it is absolute rubbish.

Still, there may be somebody who likes it. You never know.

6. Dog person or cat person?

Both. I have two cats so you might say that I am a cat person but the truth is I love both.

7. Inside or outdoors?

Both. The extrovert within me loves the outdoors but the introvert within loves the indoors.

8. Five most influential books over your lifetime.

I am going to say “Atomic Habits” by James Clear as one of them again because, although I was already using habits when I read it, it does cover the way my mind works now and I learned a few things. 

“The War of the Worlds” by H.G.Wells was a starting point for science fiction for me, being the first one I ever read. 

“The Dark” by James Herbert for me is the quintessential horror novel, one that genuinely scared me and ignited my love of horror stories. 

“1984” by George Orwell shocked me because when I was at school we had to read it as part of our English Literature class. Most of the books we had forced upon us were dreadful – and I include Shakespeare in this list of turgid dross – though the worst one was The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy – which was so bad I almost refused to finish it. Back to 1984 – I was pleasantly surprised that this masterpiece was so good. It is also very scary.

“The Throwback” by Tom Sharpe is a brilliant example of how to write a comic novel and it still makes me laugh today. When I read it, I was flying back from Hong Kong and I was struggling not to laugh in an embarrassing fashion but I failed. I was crying and howling in gales of laughter while people were trying to snooze and I had to stop in case I was lynched. I was this guy who was annoying Mr Bean.

9. Would you rather be in Middle Earth, Narnia, Hogwarts, or somewhere else?

Most of those places are dangerous in their own way but if I had to choose a place to be it would be Dr Who’s TARDIS because using that I could travel anywhere in both time and space. 

10. List the top five things you spend the most time doing, in order.

I presume you mean when not working …

Listening to music – I listen to music most of the time when writing, working or just relaxing.

Doing my “daily duties”, i.e. habits that I have acquired. This involves writing, learning Spanish, trying to play the piano or reading a book that is outside my comfort zone.

Watching TV with Mrs PM and the cats.

Going for a walk. I try to walk for about an hour a day (give or take five minutes).

Playing FIFA – a football game on the PS4.

11. Have you ever felt like you had a “mind-meld” with someone?

Not really. The closest person that would apply to is Mrs PM.

12. Could you live as a hermit?

I think I could for a short while. During the pandemic, I realised that this would have to be for a short time because after a couple of days I would start to crave company again. Thank goodness I don’t live alone; it would have been a struggle to deal with being isolated during those terrible lockdowns. But a few days – definitely yes.

13. Do you feel like your outside appearance is a fair representation of the “real you”?

Yes – it probably is. I am a little geeky and I look a little geeky too with stereotypically unmanageable hair and glasses. I would fit right in as a character on The Big Bang Theory or the IT Crowd by appearance alone. 

14. Three songs that you connect with right now.

15. Pick one of your favourite quotes.

“Well, you’ll be glad to know that scientists have finally explained why we’ve been enduring this rather long spell of disappointing weather. Apparently…we live in Britain.” — Hugh Dennis