Friday 31 May 2024

Still Swapping

Welcome to a pleasant South Manchester. The sun is shining and the sky is blue but peppered with white clouds. The forecast is good for the next week or so too. Maybe summer is arriving finally.

It’s election time in the UK and on July 4th we get to hopefully vote out the Conservative Party that has slowly decayed this country for the past fourteen years. Knowing my luck, they will somehow manage to wangle their way into the hearts of the nation again. I sincerely hope not. On 5th July we may welcome a brand new Prime Minister with a new party in power.

Talking of elections, this morning’s news mentioned that Donald Trump has been found guilty on 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up an affair with a porn star. It doesn’t amaze me that he is claiming that this is an elaborate political plot to undermine his presidential campaign – that’s what he does because he lives in Cloud Cuckoo land. What does amaze me is that he can still stand for president with a criminal record – and that there are people who will still vote for him. 

What a choice Americans have – two octogenarians, one of whom is as mad as a bag of badgers and one who looks like he will keel over at any moment. 

This year will be interesting.

Shall we answer some silly questions from Sunday Stealing

1. If you like art, who is your favourite artist and why?

I generally don’t like art. I think most contemporary art is just rubbish and I avoid such museums because I can’t bring myself to see huge slabs of vomit hanging from the wall and being talked about by pseudo-intellectuals who claim to “get it” and then start to talk gibberish about what the “artist” had in mind when he was painting it. I suspect that the “artist” in many cases was either very intoxicated or under the influence of a very strong hallucinogenic drug. 

The art I do like is the older normal stuff, like landscape paintings from Turner or Constable. Things like this from Turner:

Or this from Constable:

I have to shout out to Bob Ross, who I have watched painting mini masterpieces on The Joy of Painting. I first watched this programme a couple of years ago and I was absolutely fascinated with what he was doing. His voice was so relaxing as he talked us through how he was achieving the effects he was creating. I was mesmerised and I still watch the odd programme when I spot in the TV listings. 

I am going to go for it. Bob Ross is my favourite artist, because I have watched in awe as he has painted some wonderful landscapes purely from his own imagination. And he was brilliant at describing how he does it. 

2. If you were able to learn any three skills or talents instantly and with success, what would they be? 

I would want to be able to play the piano like Jordan Rudess. 

I would want to be able to play guitar like Joe Satriani:

I would also want to be able to be a brilliant writer of novels. 

I can dream, can’t I?

3. If you were to live in Ancient Times, where - in what country - would you want to live in?

I would choose ancient Rome. At school I learned Latin for five years – I used to be able to speak it and read it – it didn’t help me much because nobody speaks Latin apart from a few weird scholars. Latin certainly helped learning other languages, specifically German where the grammar elements are similar. 

However, one unintended benefit was to learn about Roman culture and I was fascinated by it. The course we did was based around a Roman family living in Pompeii in the weeks leading up to the eruption of Vesuvius. We were told about Roman customs, lifestyle and basically how advanced they were. They certainly stamped their authority on England and even today you can see what they left behind in various places like Chester, York and quite a few places besides those. 

Here is Monty Python’s view on what the Romans gave us all:

Apparently you can learn Latin on Duolingo. I might try to refresh my knowledge when I retire. 

4. What is something you’re embarrassed to admit to liking? Whether it be a guilty pleasure show, or unusual hobby, etc.

I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you like it you like it. Why feel guilty about it?

We have a daytime TV show in the UK called “Homes Under the Hammer” where people buy houses at an auction, houses that are typically in a bad state, and then transform them and either sell them, rent them or move in. It has many things I hate about daytime TV but there is something about it that I like and when I catch it on TV, I usually get sucked in and end up watching it. 

And people laugh when I tell them. Why? It’s a great show. I guess that is a “guilty pleasure” – as is this song, which is not something you would associate with a prog-loving metalhead. I don’t care – I love it.

5. What is the worst job you’ve ever had?

Probably doing the night shift from 10pm until 6pm at an edible oil manufacturing plant on Liverpool docks in the middle of winter. The things you get to do as an IT engineer are amazing but can be quite taxing.

6. What is something that you wanted to do as a child that you would still like to do now?

I always wanted to be in a rock band and part of me still does. The problem is I can’t play any instruments well enough and my singing voice has been likened to a cat being strangled. 

7. What do you hate being judged for more than anything else?

When I am tired or I need some alone-time, there have been times when people have had a go at me for not wanting to go out and do something exciting. I do love going out and socialising or doing other thigs with mates but there are times when I just want to be at home in my own space doing mundane things like watching TV or reading. People should respect that – I know I try to.

8. What is your life’s mission?

At the moment it is to retire and pursue hobbies that I actually enjoy. I am sick of work now and I want more free time for my own selfish purposes. It’s happening very soon. 

9. If everyone walked around wearing warning labels, what would yours say?


I know people don’t think that I am weird, but I can be – and I think everyone should embrace their inner weirdo. I know I do. 

10. At what age did you first feel like you were an adult?

At the age of 19 when I left home to go to university. I think while I lived with my parents I was still dependent on them and, because I didn’t have a full time job (I was still at school) I felt like a child.  When I left home, I was on my own. I had to look after my own money, shop and cook for myself and basically, looking back, I felt that my three years at university were kind of like a job. So much changed during those three years and I feel that I actually grew up and stopped being the obnoxious little git that I had been up to that moment. 

11. When did you not speak up, but wish you had?

There have been many occasions during my working life when I have had to bite my tongue when dealing with co-workers, managers and customers. More recently, in the past ten or fifteen years, I have definitely changed in that regard. And now as the end of my career approaches, I speak my mind more than I ever have – basically because I no longer care. It’s kind of liberating, actually. 

12. What is something that makes your skin crawl?

Insects and spiders. I am not afraid of insects at all but I really don’t like them. If I catch one crawling on me I become animated trying to rid myself of the six-legged beast. Worse are spiders.

Have you ever walked through a spider’s web? There are few things worse than trying to pull the web off your face and what invariably happens is that you take the spider with it, which means that later you discover a spider crawling on your neck. Yeeeeeuuuuurrrrrggggggghhhhhhh!

13. What was the last thing to give you butterflies in your stomach?

I went to see my current favourite band last week in Manchester city centre. That band are called Riverside and they are a Polish progressive rock band. They were supported by a French rock band called Klone who I have also seen before and they too are amazing. 

Here are Klone (this song is simply beautiful):

And here are Riverside:

14. What's your favourite type of media to work with? (Paint, clay, pens etc.)

I am a terrible artist. I like to write but I do so on my laptop rather than using pens. If pushed I would say pens. 

15. What question do you hate answering?

This one. 

Also, “When are you going to grow up?”

Friday 24 May 2024

Swap Shop

Welcome to a rainy South Manchester. I’ve been away for the past couple of weekends. First we stayed at a lodge in Cheshire near to Delamere Forest with some friends from Chester and for the past two weekends we have travelled to and from Menorca, an island off the east coast of Spain.
It was nice to get away and especially nice to go back to Spain (my second trip of the year). We stayed in Ciutadella on the west coast of the island, which is the former capital and a traditional small Spanish city with an old town and lots of lovely old buildings. Best of all, Menorca is a quiet island and the number of British tourists was small, which allowed us to immerse ourselves in Spanish culture and also practice my poor Spanish. I’m quite pleased that I actually managed to crack two jokes in Spanish on the spur of the moment and make two people laugh. I think (hope) they were laughing at my joke but it is possible they were laughing at my poor Spanish. 
I like to think they weren’t. 
Let’s answer some silly questions from Sunday Stealing.
1. Have you ever been stung or bitten by an animal?
I’ve never been stung by an animal but I have been bitten more times than I can recall. I am usually a target for gnats, which are tiny biting insects in the UK and I find myself constantly trying to avoid bigger biting insects abroad. This sadly means that I have to wear mosquito repellent in such places and, not to put to fine a point on it, the stuff bloody well stinks. Mosquitos tend to appear at dusk and in the past, that has been the time I have been going out to eat and have fun, something that doesn’t appeal when you stink of mozzy repellent. No wonder mozzies are repelled by it. 
In the past I have been bitten by dogs, which is very unpleasant, but only once or twice. 
And of course, cats have bitten me. Anyone who has read this blog a few years ago will have heard tales of my psycho cat, called Liquorice, a mad cat that we took from our friends who were moving abroad. She was lovely but she had a fiery temper and attacked everybody. She used to sit on my knee and I dare not touch her in case she suddenly turned on me. 
2. Do you have a favourite bird? Do you feed the birds at your house or park?
I don’t really have a favourite bird. Parrots are fun and peacocks are nice but they’re not really something I think about. 
3. What is the last thing you said to somebody before replying to this email?
“Do you want a cup of tea?” 
4. How do you get yourself ready to sleep at night?
I usually just read my book until I start to doze off. 
5. When was the last time you wrote a proper letter?
Define a “proper letter”. 
The last letter I wrote was to a solicitor about my sister’s flat that we are currently selling. 
The last letter I wrote to a friend was about seven years ago. I had lost touch with an old university friend and after trying to search for him on social media I couldn’t find him – hardly surprising because he has a very common name. The last time I had seen him was about twelve years earlier and we were trying to organise a university reunion (our first for five years). I had his previous home address and his phone number but the number was no longer valid. So I wrote to his address with my contact details. It turns out that he had moved house but the new occupants had his new address and forwarded my letter to him. And we had our reunion – we have had one every year since. Our next one is in October in Budapest, Hungary.
6. What is the worst injury you have ever sustained?
I’ve never really been injured. When I was at school, I was often battered and bruised after playing rugby – a great game to watch but a dreadful game to play in. I had a hockey ball smashed at my shin from point blank range as a kid too and that stopped me from playing sports for about two weeks – it really bloody hurt. 
As an adult, I have twisted my ankle playing football and running.
Thankfully, I have never broken any bones. Please don’t let that happen to me now I’ve said this. 
7. If you could choose your career based strictly on what you think would be fun instead of your qualifications/salary/etc., what would it be?
I would be a travel writer. This would combine my love of travel with my inept but enjoyable attempts at writing. 
8. You can live on another planet, which one and why?
It would have to be one that Star Trek classed as a class M planet because otherwise I would probably not be able to survive. If I were Superman I would probably choose Saturn or one of its moons because the night sky would be incredible.
9. What is your favourite flavour of ice cream?
I don’t eat ice cream much – though I did have some in Menorca. The favourite one I have had recently is Häagen-Dazs Cookie and Cream. We’re going to Nice in France in summer and in the old town there is an ice cream shop that sells the best ice cream ever (well it is close to Italy). I will definitely try a few of them there. 
10. What do you think of tattoos? Do you have any?
I don’t have any tattoos because when my sagging skin sags more, the tattoos will sag with it. Also I don’t fancy sitting there for hours while they are applied to my skin. 
I am happy for people to have them but not so much on the face or all over their body. I have a friend who is gradually adding really elaborate tattoos to his back, chest, arms and legs and his latest one is very artistic (as are the rest). Not for me though. 
11. Are you very active or do you prefer to just relax in your free time?
I like to balance being active and relaxing. On our recent holiday, we had breakfast and then spent the entire morning until early afternoon exploring or going for a long walk. After lunch we would continue for a short while and then spend a couple of hours relaxing. 
12. If you could bring back one TV show that was cancelled, which one would you bring back?
Probably Babylon 5 – but there are rumours that it is returning in one form or another. 

13. Do you prefer to watch movies in the theatre or in the comfort of your own home?
It depends on the film. If it is a huge blockbuster then I love going to the cinema to watch it because you feel like you are immersed in the story completely. Otherwise I am happy to watch them at home. 
14. If you opened a restaurant, what kind of food would you serve?
Given that I hate cooking, the chances of me opening a restaurant are almost non-existent. However, if I were expected to cook it would just be simple food like a Sunday lunch. If I were allowed to hire a chef I would go for Chinese or Indian. 
15. What do you think is a common thing that is shared between countries despite language barriers?
Football. Most nations on the planet love it, even America (where it is much less popular and is known by the word “soccer”). The World Cup is a major event which occurs every four years. This summer it is the turn of the European Nations cup which is in Germany. It starts in June and I will watch as many matches as I can for four weeks.