Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Quest For Positivity


I just want to reassure you all that this post may initially appear to be a political ranting mess from the mind of an angry Plastic Mancunian.

It isn’t.

It is about positivity.

First of all, let me say this: Donald J Trump is an incredible man.

Yes, you’ve read that correctly.

“Why would you say this?” I hear you cry. “You’ve said horrible things about him on this very blog.” 

That is true. Here are some of the things I have said:

“I mean look at the guy! He has mad hair and a mad attitude.”

“He's like a walking parody of a politician, an idiot who allows his mouth to utter his thoughts without going through his mental firewall.”

“I am a lot younger than the oversized oompa loompa with mad hair currently residing in the White House.”

I stand by those things – I think “the Donald” is as mad as a bag of badgers. Yet the reason I think he is incredible is because he seems to be getting away with it and has conned a lot of people – somehow. I would like to add that he is also a comedian.

The Plastic Mancunian of 2016 would have ranted and raved like an insane lunatic about the antics of the man who is leading America into a deeply uncertain future. However, I want to thank my quest for positivity for making me step back and remove negative thoughts about Donald Trump and also Brexit.

In the case of Trump, I watched the highlights (or should I say lowlights) of his totally embarrassing and deranged press conference last week and I actually laughed.

There was no anger. What is there to get angry about?

His lies were exposed (again!) and most of the western world were and remain incredulous that this man has the balls to say what he says.

That is why he is an incredible man. Everything he says is incredible and his outrageous lies are so breath-taking that they are hilarious.

So instead of dragging my soapbox out of retirement, I have been watching marvellous comedians, satirists and political commentators from both sides of the Atlantic, ripping him apart.

I have had a great time.

A positive outlook also helped me cope with a potentially disastrous family exchange on Sunday.

Before I continue, let me just fill you in on a few things you need to know.

(1) Mrs PM’s mum is a rampant Brexiteer, which means that she gets really, really angry because we haven’t left the European Union yet.

(2) I am the complete opposite and Brexit was the main contributor to my ranting negative angry persona in 2016.

(3) Mrs PM’s mum and I have had several arguments over the years, one in particular over lunch in a nice restaurant where I totally belittled her in public. Mrs PM and Mrs PM’s other half told us both off for being so stubborn and humiliating them in public.

(4) I avoided Mrs PM’s mum for almost five months in 2016 because I knew that the moment she brought up Brexit I would erupt like a human volcano and say lots of things that I would regret.

(5) Mrs PM’s mum’s political views are the polar opposite of mine.

(6) The only political similarity between Mrs PM’s mum and I is that we both have been known to stand up and bellow at political programmes on the television.

(7) Until today, Mrs PM had ordered her mum, that UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should she mention Brexit in front of me.

(8) Apart from politics, Mrs PM’s mum and I get on really, really well and we have been on holiday together quite a few times.

(9) Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, a rampant Remainer last week urged the people of the UK to rise up and fight against Brexit, causing every single Brexiteer in the UK to bellow their hatred of, in their words, “this arrogant delusional undemocratic arsehole”.

(10) Mrs PM’s mum hates Tony Blair.

On Saturday night we stayed at her mum’s house in Blackpool and went out for a lovely Chinese meal. Afterwards we went to the pub for a nightcap before returning to her house to retire for the night.

Now picture the scene:

I came down in the morning to see Mrs PM’s mum with a face like thunder. She was sitting on the television watching a political programme where the interviewer was asking a politician about whether Tony Blair could and should attempt to derail Brexit. The politician was talking and Mrs PM’s mum slapped the sofa in anger and looked like a coiled spring, ready to launch into a tirade of abuse about Remainers.

She knows my political stance and glared at me with the words “I AM SO WOUND UP!”.

Her face dared me to speak, challenged me to rant about Brexit. She had prepared herself for a confrontation with a Remainer, and there was one standing in her lounge - ME! The good time we had had the night before was a mere memory in her eyes.

The 2016 version of the Plastic Mancunian would have embraced the fight and unleashed my true thoughts about Brexiteers to her. He would have told her what he thought of her views and he would have insulted her with words that he would later regret. He would have pointed out her narrow-minded hypocrisy and upset everybody.

I somehow found something within to calm the situation. I wanted to be positive and non-confrontational. I knew that trying to point out why I hated her views would be as futile as leaping off Blackpool Tower in the hope that I would sprout wings and glide over the Irish Sea like a seagull.

I sat next to her and said, as calmly as possible:

“I am equally wound up but my views are the exact opposite of yours. Let’s find something else to watch.”

She looked at me in a puzzled way and then also found something within. Her face softened and she remembered where she was and who was in front of her.

“Do you want some tea and toast?” she said, finally realising that I was a guest in her house.

“Yes please,” I said. "Remainer tea, with Remainer milk and toasted Remainer bread with Remainer butter.”

I nudged her and grinned.

She smiled back and said “We only serve Brexit breakfast here.”

By this time I had flicked over the channel and Frasier popped on the TV.

“Have you ever seen this?” I said, swiftly changing the subject

“No, “ she said and then got up to make my breakfast.

Her other half then came in and said, “She’s been ranting all morning.”

But now she had stopped. I got my lovely toast and a fine cup of tea. The subject was forgotten and not mentioned again, even though , deep down, the anarchist within me wanted to destroy her argument in a furious verbal attack.

I regard that as a small victory for positivity.

The future is bright.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Bicycle Race



I have an Australian friend who currently lives in London and is a keen cyclist. As I may have mentioned, London during the rush hour is horrific for commuters and, rather than facing day after day of crowds and frustration, he prefers to cycle to work, which not only allows him to clear his head but also keep himself fit; a good thing for somebody who is marginally younger than me.

I will call him Rocky to protect the guilty.

I don’t want to generalise about Australians, but Rocky is a typical Aussie bloke and that’s one of the reasons I like him so much. Conversations with him are amazing and funny.

We visited Rocky and his wife a couple of weeks ago and I was chatting to him about my terrible procrastination when it comes to cycling. And, of course, he was blunt.

“Bloody hell, mate. It’s only FOUR MILES! Get on your bike!”

Of course, he’s right and I really should take his advice. When he said this, I chuckled and said, “You’re right. I have cycled to work before and it’s just a small pootle for somebody like me.”

For those of you who have never heard of the word pootle, it’s a British word that means to travel in a leisurely fashion taking your journey easy and relatively slowly. That’s the way I would pedal to work because I am not competitive and, at my age, racing everyone and everything would be very tiring and also mean that I arrive at work sopping wet, flooding the office with dripping sweat. I would be an even more repulsive creature than I am at the moment.

Rocky takes a different view.

“I’m a MONSTER on my bike,” he claimed when I explained what “pootle” means. “There’s NO WAY you would find me doing that. I go FAST, man. I try to overtake everybody else I see on a bike. It’s like a race and I want to win.”

I can picture him racing along the streets of London, overtaking slower cyclists with a defiant and competitive grin on his face.

However, he told me a story where he came unstuck.

During his normal journey, he spotted another cyclist in the distance travelling at roughly the same speed. Rocky allowed his competitive demon to take control and increased his pace to catch up and overtake the man in front.

At first, he started to gain ground but after a few minutes, the man’s speed also increased and Rocky didn’t like this. The distance between them grew wider and, rather than being sensible and giving up, Rocky became the monster that he had mentioned earlier.

“I pedalled like a bloody DEMON,” he said. “All the time I was watching him and it looked like he wasn’t even trying.”

Rocky pedalled even faster to catch what was now becoming his nemesis and every time he thought he was closing the gap, the man in front surged ahead again.

By this stage, Rocky was distraught. His entire focus was on one thing: defeating this man.

Thoughts started going through his head. Was this man Sir Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome or Peter Sagan? Was he trying to beat an Olympic athlete or a Tour de France winner?

Eventually, Rocky had to reduce his speed. Desperate in defeat he watched the man pull away again, with seemingly no effort.

Rocky was now quite angry with himself. If you are competitive you probably know why. Winning is everything and if you fail to win then you are less than a human being and a total failure. I think all men are competitive to a certain extent but I have come to terms with my flaws over the years (having failed spectacularly on occasion). When I lose I accept defeat and move on.

Rocky struggled – he really struggled.

And then fate stepped in.

Rocky, now cycling much slower, turned the corner and saw in the distance a red traffic light. Waiting there was his nemesis.

“Right,” thought Rocky to himself. “Now I’ve got you.”

Rocky found some inner strength and pushed himself to get to the light before it changed to green. He wanted to see who had beaten him. He wanted to talk to his new nemesis and find out why he had lost.

After a minute or two he pulled up alongside the cyclist and, to his horror, saw that the man was a little chubby and clearly, in Rocky’s view, not as fit as Rocky himself. The nemesis had hardly got any sweat on his face. Rocky on the other hand was gasping for breathe red faced and wild with frustration.

“Bloody hell, mate!” Rocky said to the man. “What are you? Some kind of machine? I’ve been trying to catch you up for the past couple of miles and you look like you’ve hardly broken sweat!”

The man looked at Rocky as if he were an idiot.

“I’m riding an ELECTRIC BIKE mate,” he laughed.

“FOR PHAARRKKS SAKE!” screamed Rocky.

He felt like a complete idiot.

So did I.

Why? Because when he mentioned the electric bike, I sprayed the table with beer because I had been in mid sip. A mouthful of beer and a guffaw do not mix.

“Yeah,” said Rocky laughing as beer dripped down my chin. “That’s exactly how I felt.”


Saturday, 4 February 2017

Fake News


Last week MPs in Britain decided to launch a parliamentary enquiry into something that has been disturbing them more than looking at their own faces in the mirror.

They are worried about what they describe as “the growing phenomenon of fake news”.

When I read this, I struggled to contain myself. After 2016 my soapbox is currently totally worn out and in hiding and I strive to be more positive and this news story almost made me break my resolution not to rant.

Almost!

And then I just laughed at the hypocrisy of it all.

MPs, known for their ability to tell lies at the drop of a hat, are complaining because somebody is actually outdoing them. The number of lies that these mutant power hungry liars told in 2016 is utterly breath-taking. The hypocrisy is so tangible I could shake its hand and take it out for a meal.

Are these MPs just being dumb or do they think that the general public is stupid too?

They portray themselves as paragons of virtue and yet their entire lives are spent fooling the general public by lying to themselves to get elected.

It makes me wonder whether any of them have actually read any tabloid newspapers like the Daily Mail or Daily Express which have basically been publishing fake news ever since I can remember. If they want to have an enquiry into fake news they should visit the offices of these two rags and listen in as their editors discuss the lies they are about to publish for the week ahead.

And then they should investigate their own house, including most of the speeches they make in parliament – or on programmes like Question Time where they hand out half-baked lies backed up by fake figures to an audience.

What they are really pissed off about is the fact that the general public are being swayed by other sources of lies apart from their own. Worse, some of them have even been caught out themselves, using fake news stories to reinforce their points only to discover that they have been led up the garden path themselves.

It’s all about gullibility and personally I love reading truly fake news – because it’s hilarious. Some of the stories out there are amazing.

Many years ago, a spoof newspaper arrived in the UK called “The Sunday Sport” and basically it publishes ridiculous stores in a similar way to the usual British press – but in this case they are clearly crazy.

Here are some example headlines:

“World War II Bomber Found On Moon”

“Statue of Elvis Found on Mars”

“Adolf Hitler Was A Woman”

“London Bus Found Buried At The South Pole”

There are lots more so-called stories but a lot of them these days are rather crude albeit still funny.

However, if you compare these obviously spoof stories with some of the supposedly genuine tabloid newspaper stories, sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference. Headlines like:

“Freddy Starr Ate My Hamster”

“Boy, 4, Has The Mark Of The Devil”

“UFO Hits Wind Turbine”

To be honest, my feeling is that politicians should get their own house in order before targetting so-called fake news. For example, last year, I was beyond being outraged at some of the blatant lies we are hearing from the aftermath of Brexit and also those coming from the other side of the Atlantic as Donald Trump also waged war on those media outlets that are trying to tarnish his image.

Thankfully, I stopped reading newspapers years ago and some fake news sites are far more entertaining. I prefer to rely on news on the TV rather than the intended brainwashing by newspapers whose editors have their own agenda to influence world politics.

Of course, all of this will change when I become world president. I’m just biding my time until I find the right moment to strike.

Don’t laugh.

My time will come. I am younger than Theresa May and a lot younger than the oversized oompa loompa with mad hair currently residing in the White House so there is plenty of time for me to start my own propaganda machine.

In fact, I’ve set the machine in motion by contacting Mr Trump himself. He agrees with me and is preparing an executive order.


Similarly I have been in touch with Theresa May, the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and she is whole-heartedly behind me.


Now how’s that for news?

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Progressive Thoughts - Day 31


At last we’ve reached the final day of this weird blogathon. I’ve enjoyed it – and I hope some of you have too.

My last song is currently top of the list in terms of number of times played on my iPod. To be fair, if ITunes had been available way back in 1973 the song would have been something completely different I am sure.

And yes, you’ve guessed it, the song is a progressive rock masterpiece, in my opinion anyway. It is called Drive Home by Steven Wilson and features an extraordinarily emotional guitar solo at the end by Guthrie Govan.



Steven Wilson has the uncanny ability to write sad songs and this is up there with the best of them.

The song is about a man who loses his wife in a car crash and blocks the incident out completely until, later, his wife comes back as a ghost to remind him what happened, urging him to move on and deal with the pain.

The accompanying video is equally sad – but despite this, the song is absolutely beautiful.  If you don’t want to listen to the entire song, just listen to the guitar solo from about 5 minutes into the video.

Anyway – that’s it. I’ve completed my second 31 day blogathon and I must say that it has been fun and has actually ticked off a couple of “resolutions” for 2017 (although not completely). I don’t really want to highlight resolutions but if you set yourself a target and (kind of) achieve it, you suddenly feel a warm and fuzzy feeling inside – something akin to happiness and contentment.

I moaned earlier about how dreadful 2016 was and how January as a month is dark, dismal and depressing and how I needed a distraction and this series of posts has helped a lot. I have increased the amount of writing I have done and also resurrected a 30 day challenge and this has helped me forget about 2016 and this, the worst month of the year.

As we enter into February I am content. I still haven’t lost my temper with a rant about Brexit and Donald Trump despite provocation of the highest order and I can hopefully put all that behind me and start being more positive.

It’s tough but I recommend it.

What’s in store next?

February will bring more misery in terms of the cold British weather but in terms of writing, I am going to aim to complete the first draft of my terrible novel.

I am also currently attacking my language skills, by brushing up on my German and French and taking on another language – Italian. We are thinking of a trip to Italy in September so I would like to impress the locals by at least being able to ask for things in their native language. My exploits with Spanish have shown that this is very difficult – but I like a challenge.

Whether I’ll achieve it or not, who knows – but it will be fun trying.

I will also continue with this dreadful blog and maybe try to post more regularly. Sadly, for you dear reader, that means more garbage from Manchester but it at least it will help those who want to see “How Not To Write A Blog Post”.

See you in February sometime.

And, as a footnote, I hope you’ve experienced a wider range of music and enjoyed a little bit of prog!

Welcome to my world!

Monday, 30 January 2017

Progressive Thoughts - Day 30


Today’s song is another by Canadian power trio Rush, called Cut ToThe Chase.



This is a song about chasing your dreams and ignoring those who try to dissuade you because they think it is a waste of time.

Everybody should have dreams and strive for them, otherwise what is the point of being alive? I truly believe that with a little willpower, it is possible to achieve your ultimate desires; history is full of such people.

Some people choose to be proactive but others simply wait until they are older and add desires to their bucket list when they realise that death is approaching.

I know that death is following me around and while I am doing my best to outrun him, I am relatively content not to create a bucket list of things that I feel I need to do before the Grim Reaper finally impales me on his scythe.

To be honest, I feel it’s now too late to try some of the things I would have attempted as a young man.

Age and sensibility have taken over and, for example, the very idea of hurling myself out of an aircraft with nothing but a huge silk sheet attached to my back with rope does not appeal to me in the slightest.

I might actually have tried it at the age of 20 when my fear of heights was non-existent.

Other features of growing old would simply interfere with such desires.

That’s not to say that I don’t have dreams – I do. But the difference is that I don’t want to achieve them just to cross an entry off a list and boast about my achievement to other people. I don’t want to tell my mates that I swam naked in the Mediterranean Sea for many reasons, not least of all that the mental image of me stumbling into a cold sea showing my fat arse and worse would be something that they would never forgive me for.

An image like that remains etched in the area of the brain marked “OH MY GOD!” for eternity.

Friends' response would almost certainly be a tsunami of verbal abuse that would make Quentin Tarantino run away in shock.

Actually, I realise that I may have given you the same mental image of a strategically shaved ape waddling into the sea, dear reader. I am truly sorry about that.

My dreams are personal ones and a lot of them are ongoing. Additionally, there are some that I haven’t even thought of yet.

I believe that no matter how old you get, you should continue to strive to make yourself happy with achievable and pleasant dreams that you can still manage. Put aside thoughts of having a dangerous liaison with the Angel of Death – you can’t do anything about that but you may bring forward the date if you decided that abseiling down the Eiffel Tower was something you feel like you must do.

What’s wrong with making an effort to be nice to people?

What about travelling?

What about writing that book of your innermost thoughts that your family friends can enjoy after the Grim Reaper carts you away?

All of the above are on my list, as is meeting as many new people as possible (as long as I can rid myself of the Shyness Beast).

Such things are easy, dear reader.

I bet you’re still thinking about a naked ape in the Mediterranean aren’t you?



Sunday, 29 January 2017

Progressive Thoughts - Day 29



Today’s song is one of my favourites by Polish progressive rockers Riverside. It’s called Conceiving You.



The song is about a man who is watching a woman from a distance and is totally afraid to actually go and talk to her. Subsequently, he finds himself simply worshipping her from afar.

The poor fellow in the song resonates with me because when I was a shy, spotty ugly youth, I found myself unable to talk to girls that I liked. My rampant shyness was a curse and if I somehow found a nugget of courage in my deranged psyche and actually asked them out, I was destroyed when the inevitable rejection happened.

I chose to look at such girls from afar and watched in agony as other guys succeeded where I knew I would inevitably fail.

Shyness really is a curse and can be debilitating. Over the years I have all but conquered this affliction - though sometimes I am still stuck in a corner terrified to speak to strangers, beating myself up and trying to metaphorically slap my own face in order to snap myself out of the irrational fear that is disabling me mentally.

Nowadays, I consider the worst possible outcome and even then it is not that terrifying. What I have found is that I have an empathy with other shy people and when I see somebody standing uselessly in a corner trying to pluck up the courage to speak, I force myself to actually help them out.

“Hi there; I’m Dave,” I say trying to mask my own nervousness and in a lot of cases I can see a mixture of relief and pleasure that somebody has taken the time to start a chat.

On the other hand my forced efforts to chat to strangers can backfire.

Why?

Because I am a nutter magnet.

There are times when I don’t have to say anything to nutters – they come to me and inflict their strange views on me, much to the amusement of others who may be watching.

Click here to read some encounters I have had with nutters. 

Sadly, some of these encounters with nutters have been self-inflicted. One such incident involved a Manchester City fan (the blue side of Manchester) in my local pub. I was standing next to him at the bar and I just casually started a conversation.

I was with two mates, one of whom supported Manchester United (the red side of Manchester), the nutter’s fiercest rivals.

At first, it all went well.

“Who do you support?” he asked.

“Walsall,” I said proudly.

Walsall are a club that struggle two divisions below the Premiership and as such are not a threat to Manchester City at all. The nutter liked the fact that I support such a pitiable club and actually patted me on the back stating I was a true football fan. I walked back to my mates with the nutter talking to me but at that point, his true nutter identity revealed itself, prompted by my Manchester United supporting friend whom he overheard talking about their last match and how they were unlucky to lose.

The change was terrifying. This seemingly reasonable and pleasant man suddenly allowed his hatred for Manchester United to transform him from Dr Jekyll to Mr Hyde.

He turned to my mate and introduced himself with these words:

“Unlucky to lose? Your pharking red bastards have the referee in your pharking pockets!”

His tone was menacing and he spat the words out with an ill-disguised threat.

“What?” my mate said in surprise.

And then he made a mistake. He responded.

“Oh – and Manchester City are squeaky clean?”

The nutter reacted in a way that even I couldn’t have predicted.

“Shut your pharking mouth before I put you on the pharking floor!”

My mate just calmly said “Discussion over!” and thankfully the nutter left after briefly staring menacingly.

The other lad I was with looked at me and said:

“For God’s sake, Dave! Will you stop talking to strange men?”

That wasn’t the end of it.

The nutter and his mates later left but had to pass our table to do so. As he passed, he once again flipped between Jekyll and Hyde!

“Here are the GAY BOYS!” he said with a barely disguised threat.

We ignored him but then, bizarrely, he came up to me, patted me on the shoulder and with a genuine smile on his face he said.

“I hope Walsall do well, mate! Good to meet you!”

Now I almost said “Didn’t you just call me a gay boy?” but one look from my mates told me not to open my mouth again!

You see, dear reader?

I am a nutter magnet and I just wish that on this one occasion I had allowed my shyness to win a small victory.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Progressive Thoughts - Day 28

Today’s song is another from the brilliant Porcupine Tree called Sentimental.



This is a rather sad song about young kids not wanting to grow old and somehow stay as young as they are but with the added feeling of having wasted their life so far.

I remember when I was a kid that I really wanted to stay young and play forever, but the overriding issue that I realised would remain was the lack of money. As far as I was concerned, with money came freedom and if I had that money I could do what I wanted.

Sadly, a thirteen year old can’t always get the money they want. My parents looked after us but we weren’t rich by any stretch of the imagination. Unfortunately I went to, what was considered, the best school in Walsall, and consequently a lot of kids with rich parents also attended. The big difference was that a lot of them were pampered by their parents who gave them enough money to buy all the latest gear, whereas I missed out. I could see the unfairness of life and I think that this shaped me politically and certainly changed my outlook.

What I saw was that my own parents immensely proud of what I had achieved but some of the other kids I knew were pushed by already successful parents and really struggled to cope.

I was happy with where I was going but I didn’t like the environment I found myself in, particularly when I was at the mercy of rich kids who showed off their treasures and mocked me for not having the same wealth.

My only option was to get a job to get extra cash and it was the best thing I ever did. It was a simple job, in a newsagent but I was able to buy stuff and fight back against the more privileged kids. I worked at the newsagent from thirteen to eighteen, assisting the manager with delivering newspapers, setting up all the paper rounds, collecting money, stock taking, shelf-stacking and, towards the end, selling stuff from behind the counter.

It was all menial work but I thoroughly enjoyed the job, so much so that the manager of the shop tried to persuade me to ditch the idea of university and consider a career as a manager in the chain of shops.

Sadly that wasn’t for me and I had to disappoint him.

However, what all of this taught me was that working for money was a good thing and while it interfered with my social life a little, it meant that I did have some freedom and the ability to laugh in the faces of the pompous arseholes at school who flashed their daddy’s cash around without having earned it.

The job prepared me for a real career and when I actually started work after university, I embraced it with gusto.

Regular readers will know that I am now sick of the rat race but the truth is that I am not a kid anymore and, having worked in IT for over thirty years, I want a change. Whether I achieve my new goals in the years to come is questionable but at least I am happy being the age I am and looking towards the future as an old man with some pleasure – as long as I am physically able to cope of course.

But that thirteen year old kid is still in my head and occasionally surfaces.

I love that and don't ever want that to change.