Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Progressive Thoughts - Day 18

Today’s song is called Space-Dye Vest by the brilliant progressive metal band Dream Theater. Again, this is a mellow slow burning song that may make you ask:

“What do you mean “Metal?”.

The song is quite sad and dark and reflects the pain of a relationship being over from the perspective of the person who was dumped while he struggles to get over the fact that everything is over.

There are so many songs about the pleasure and pain of love, so many in fact that often they are quite shallow.

Some, however, are quite profound and this is one of the better ones, both musically and lyrically.

I’ve only ever been dumped once and, to be honest, I could see it coming. I was 18 years old and the girl in question was the daughter of one of my parents’ best friends, so the family connection was quite strong, which is one of the reasons that other people took the break up more seriously than either of us.

As usual, I shall protect the identity of the girl in question by calling her Gwen.

Gwen was my second serious girlfriend. My previous relationship had ended a few months earlier and had lasted for over a year and my parents, particularly my mum, had reacted badly to that one.

“You’ve dumped that poor girl?” she had said angrily and demanded to know why.

I think she saw wedding bells even though I had only been 17 years old. So when Gwen and I got together, I think my mum was totally delighted; not only did I have a new girlfriend, the bonus was that she was best friends with Gwen’s parents.

It was a win-win for her.

The truth is that Gwen and I kind of drifted into the relationship because of our parents. We saw a lot of each other because of them and were already good friends. I was hopeless with the opposite sex at the time and blindly tried to chat up women who were out of my league, making a complete arse of myself every time. I was also very stupid because didn’t really see it when a girl liked me.

This was the case with Gwen and she made all of the moves.

Sadly, for her, I had just discovered the joys of alcohol and was in my final year at school with A-Levels on the horizon and at the same time looking for a place at university. I was also an arsehole generally.

The problem was that I was changing, both my appearance, my outlook on life as well as trying to calm down and stop being an arsehole. Gwen and I got together at totally the wrong time.

I spent Saturday nights in Walsall town centre drinking with my mates and then knuckling down with work the rest of the time. Gwen wanted me to spend time with her and, to be fair to her, I neglected her. When we got together the first thing she used to do was moan about how selfish I was. She was working and not at school so she didn’t understand what I wanted and what was driving me.

Nor did she understand that I needed to spend time with my best friends on Saturdays.

It was doomed and the inevitable happened after about three months.

I called at her house and she opened the door.

“Hiya,” I said.

“I’ve had enough,” she growled. “Why don’t you fuck off back to your boyfriend, Stan!!!”

Stan was my best mate at the time (that wasn’t his real name by the way – I just want to protect the guilty).

“Are you dumping me?” I asked, incredulously.

“I thought you were clever,” she said. “YES I AM DUMPING YOU!”

And then she slammed the door in my face, leaving me standing there shocked. I remained there for about a minute then burst out laughing. I realised at that point that I didn’t really care that I'd been thrown onto the scrap heap and instead, went to Stan’s house (as she had said) where we went to the pub to discuss it over a pint.

Strangely, the next time I saw Gwen, she was her usual self and we actually chatted like the old friends we were.

Gwen will always stand out in my memory, however. A few months after we split up, my dad died. My mum wanted to tell Gwen’s parents but she was a complete mess, so I took that responsibility. I walked the short distance to Gwen’s parents’ house and knocked on the door.

Gwen saw me coming and assumed that I was visiting her.

She opened the door with a smile and said “Hiya! What are you doing here?”

I looked at her and blurted out “My dad’s died!” and then burst into tears.

Gwen grabbed me and gave me a huge hug as I rested my head on her shoulder and wept like a baby, soaking her jumper. She dragged me into her house as I sobbed and gave the bad news to her parents who also fell apart in grief. Gwen made me a cup of tea and sat next to me holding me as if I were going to run away forever.

At that moment, I felt closer to Gwen than I had ever felt to her when we were boyfriend and girlfriend.

Sadly, I lost touch with her after I left Walsall but that one memory of Gwen comforting me is far stronger than just being an ex-girlfriend who dumped me for being an arsehole (which I deserved to be fair).

I will never forget what she did to comfort me.

Thanks again, Gwen.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Progressive Thoughts - Day 17

Today’s song is called Trains by the brilliant Porcupine Tree. This is a beautiful and thought-provoking song written, of course, by the amazing Steven Wilson.

You may initially think the song is about trains but there is much more to it than that. I think it’s a song about summer love and childhood with trains providing the hook for the memory of long summers past.

As I sit here typing this post in the deepest darkest depths of winter I long for sun and summer.

January and February are the worst months of the year for me and when they vanish I usually celebrate.

December is actually cold and dark too but at least we have Christmas to raise our spirits and make life enjoyable. Remove that and you just have cold, dark miserable January. It’s dark in the morning when I go to work and dark in the evening when I get back. The only daylight I see is through an office window so my daily two mile walk at lunchtime is just that little bit better – that is unless January weather has kicked in and decided to drop snow or what seems like the entire Atlantic Ocean on my poor head as I navigate the cold streets.

These two awful months are the low point and I actually start to feel slightly depressed. I don’t suffer from depression but somehow the dark grey skies and freezing weather haul my usually happy demeanour down towards despair.

However, I’m nothing if not optimistic.

I usually try to arrange a couple of things to make January a busy month so that I can take my mind off the negative aspects that January and February force to the surface. For example, I have a couple of gigs lined up and I am enjoying pouring my thoughts out to the world in a daily blog, as rubbish as they may be. I also have a trip to London arranged and a weekend in Chester enjoying an engagement party for some friends.

I will get through this with flying colours and as soon as the weather warms up and the buds appear signalling the arrival of spring, I shall smile a lot more.

And then summer will come with its wonderful long days.

Mind you, some British people may scoff at that last sentence because although the days are long, the weather doesn’t always play along. I don’t care because summer also brings with it the holiday season where Mrs PM and I will leave Britain’s shores to enjoy a break in places we know will be sunny and beautiful.

This year, we have a couple of holidays booked already and others planned.

For example we are visiting our friends in Abu Dhabi in April, taking time out to go to Dubai for a couple of days. In June we have booked a week in Corfu in Greece with my two lads. Later in the year we off for a weekend break in Madrid with friends before finally heading to Italy somewhere in September hopefully.

When I wake up tomorrow on a cold miserable January morning I shall subconsciously counting down to when the days warm up and grow longer and imagine myself walking around the English countryside on a sunny day or visiting a foreign city in a warm climate or perhaps even strolling along a beautiful beach with the sea lapping up to the shore.

I’ll get through this – I always do.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Progressive Thoughts - Day 16

Today’s song is by my current favourite artist, Devin Townsend. The song is called Bend it Like Bender! and is a very catchy song featuring the amazing Anneke van Giersbergen as a co-vocalist.

Devin Townsend’s music is more towards the Progressive Metal genre but a lot of his music is unique and experimental. In many ways when you hear a new album you aren’t always sure what you are going to get.

This song has elements of dance music in it, particularly the chorus and I can imagine it being played at a rock party to get people up onto the dance floor.

I would certainly join in.

I pointed this out to Mrs PM on New Year’s Eve when we were getting ready to go out. We were accompanied by my eldest lad and his girlfriend and decided to have a few snacks and a glass of prosecco before departing.

Mrs PM wanted to take control of the music. I stepped in.

“You are not taking control of the music,” I insisted.

“Why not?”  she said standing in front of me defiantly.

“Three reasons!” I said.

The first reason I gave was obvious. I simply do not like her music. I cannot stand listening to dreadful dance music with one dimensional lyrics that cover one of two things. These lyrics are either about chatting up members of the opposite sex whilst dancing and using the most innuendo driven hints known to man. Or alternatively, they discuss in sometimes graphic terms, the end result of successfully procuring a member of the opposite sex and the antics the two of them get up to in a bedroom afterwards – usually all night long. Don’t get me wrong; heavy metal and rock songs occasionally do the same but at least they cover other subjects too. Rush, for example, have only one song with word “love” in the title and that is from well over one hundred they have written and recorded.

My second reason was more in keeping with the company we were with. My son likes a wide range of music but he particularly loves rock music and heavy metal (heavier than the music I like in some cases). His girlfriend also likes some rock music including, bizarrely, “screamers”, which is heavy rock where the singers scream rather than singing. Again, in this case, her taste is closer to mine (although she does like some dreadful nonsense too).  Basically, Mrs PM was outvoted because the three of us hate Britney Spears and Rihanna.

My final reason was purely selfish. We were going to a large pub that would clear a huge area as a dance floor and allow people to strut their funky stuff for hours. The problem was that this music would be the kind of drivel you get all the time with terrible dance music, the odd old dance song and, if we were lucky, a vaguely interesting rock song. In short I would have to endure hours of music that I despise – as I usually do.

Mrs PM stared at me then looked around at my lad and his girlfriend for support.

“He’s got a point,” said my lad.

Mrs PM caved in and allowed me to control the music for an hour.

“Okay,” she said.

The good news for her was that I played music from across a few genres, including the song above as well as pop songs, rock, a smidgeon of metal, a pinch of dance music (for Mrs PM) and a soupçon of indie, punk and funk.

Later, I was chatting about how radio plays terrible contrived one-dimensional and repetitive music. I vowed to give up ranting so this was my final rant of 2016.

“I would love to be a DJ,” I said. “I would play all sorts of stuff. I want to be the John Peel of Manchester”.

John Peel was a bit of a hero of mine because he basically played music he loved rather than the playlists that the radio stations wanted him to play.

“Why don’t you create a podcast?” said my lad's girlfriend.

And do you know, I think I might consider doing that in future. I know a guy who does exactly that. He is a super cool person but his musical taste and mine are polar opposites. In fact, he sometimes reads this blog if you have any suggestions, let me know (you know who you are).

So maybe I will do this as a challenge for 2017.

After all, I have almost 7500 songs in my collection and there are vast oceans of music out there in cyberspace to fish from.

Watch this space.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Progressive Thoughts - Day 15

Today’s song is a classic from Pink Floyd’s amazing concept album The Wall, called Comfortably Numb.

There is a common misconception that this song is about drugs, particularly if you watch the video from the movie, which shows attempts to revive the main protagonist, played by Bob Geldof, who appears to be in a drug induced stupor.

Instead, claims Roger Waters, the guy who wrote the song, it is about a state of delirium brought on by illness – and the lyrics do confirm this could be the case.

Regular readers will know that I am a bit of a hypochondriac and have almost made myself ill on one or two occasions simply by reading symptoms of diseases, illnesses and ailments and convincing myself that I actually suffer from them.

I am largely over this now because I have trained myself to avoid reading about such things and as a result I live in blissful ignorance of all of the nasty little bugs that can render me useless.

Part of the problem is that I am rarely ill.

As a kid I caught everything going, but thinking about it, so did everybody else. I had mumps and measles but somehow managed to avoid chickenpox, despite my friends, sisters and even in later life, my kids succumbing to the disease.

I’ve had flu once.

I knew it was flu because I could barely move for a week. I spent several days in bed, drifting in and out of sleep, barely able to find the strength to eat or go to the toilet, opting to crawl to the bathroom when it became necessary. It was a totally unpleasant experience and, I guess, the closest I have ever been to being comfortably numb – although the truth is that I was uncomfortably numb.

I have never taken drugs, if you discount alcohol that is, so I’ve never been in a situation where I’m delirious, hallucinating or high on a weird powder. Also, I’ve never smoked although I have to confess that I did try it one time. I was at university and drunk. A friend offered me a cigarette and I stupidly took it and had a quick puff.

“That’s not what you do,” he said laughing. “Take the smoke right down into your lungs.”

Like an idiot, I followed his instructions and something terrible happened. My entire chest felt as if it were on fire and my mind was enveloped in a wave of dizziness which, when added to the effects of alcohol, triggered a rather nasty physical reaction.

I was in a night club at the time and I somehow managed to get to the toilet just in time to puke my guts up. Everything I had drunk and eaten for the past couple of hours was hurled into the toilet bowl and accompanied by a weird blue fog as the remains of the smoke I had inhaled also decided to leave my body.

That cigarette left me in a bad place and I promptly left the night club and returned home, vowing never, ever to allow a cigarette to approach my lips again.

Thankfully, now we have a smoking ban in the UK, I rarely have to even smell the stuff. In days gone by, a trip to a pub usually meant that the following day my clothes would stink of stale cigarettes. Pubs are now smoke free and I can tell the difference just walking into the places.

I often wonder what years of passive smoking did to my lungs. I can only hope that all of those years where we had to endure other people’s smoke didn’t have a bad effect.

I would look it up on the internet  but, being a hypochondriac, I think I’ll resist.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Progressive Thoughts - Day 14

Today’s song is called Eyes of a Stranger by Queensrÿche and is taken from one of my favourite concept albums, Operation Mindcrime.

Operation Mindcrime tells the story of a naïve political idealist who is manipulated into joining a secret revolutionary society, ultimately being brainwashed into becoming a political assassin with the help of heroin and forced to kill whenever triggered by the word “mindcrime”. When he realises what is happening, he tries to fight back and escape with disastrous consequences.  
The album was such a success for the band that they released a follow up called Operation Mindcrime 2.
The music on the album is excellent but I really love the story and I think that it would make a great film, with a few tweaks to improve the plot.
I often think this, to be honest. When reading a book or watching a movie, my mind tries to retell the story, filling in plot holes or trying to make weird plot twists more credible. I’ve read a lot of great books and in the majority of cases, I have been completely satisfied with what I have read.
Some books, however, have made me rant like a madman. I’m sure that these books have been hailed as masterpieces by some people but to me they are nothing but a disappointment. In some cases, I think the author has simply over-thought the plot to such an extent that he simply cannot finish it properly.
This is particularly true of science fiction, horror and fantasy, three genres that I love. Don’t get me wrong, most of the books I have read are wonderful; it’s just that some of the authors cannot think of a logical ending to the story and just make something up that is unbelievable, even within the context of the incredible storyline.
For example, let me talk about a prolific author whose books I love, on the whole. Stephen King has a fantastic imagination and has written some classic stories, such as Christine, The Stand, It, ‘Salem’s Lot, The Dead Zone, The Running Man, Misery, Needful Things, The Green Mile, Under The Dome and 11/22/63 to name but a few.
However, when he wrote The Dark Tower series, I was filled with anticipation and excitement because ultimately, I hoped, this would be his masterpiece. I decided that I was going to wait until he had finished the series before starting it so that I could read it all in one long sitting without having forgotten what happened in the first books by the time I reached the end.
I was hoping for Lord of The Rings on acid.
What I actually got was a disappointing mess.
I don’t know what he was thinking and I don’t really think that he planned the epic storyline at all. Instead I think it became the bane of his life, and instead of thinking it through, he rushed through it to get it all over with. The first couple of novels were vaguely enjoyable but by the time we ended up with novel number seven, an epic in the number of pages (over 1000) but, to me at least, rushed and disappointing.
The sixth book is bizarre and goes down as one of the worst books of his that I have read.
Yet I had to complete it. Once I have started a novel or series of novels, I have to finish them no matter how awful they are. 
And this is what happened with The Dark Tower.
I remember when I finally finished book 7. I was on holiday sitting by a swimming pool. I closed the book and I was so disappointed that I almost threw the volume into the pool. After suffering books 6 and 7, I had hoped that Stephen King would redeem himself and at least give me a good ending. 
He didn’t.
It was awful.
I threw the book on the floor and moaned like buggery to Mrs PM who was not interested at all.
I won’t add any spoilers because I know that there are a lot of people out there who disagree with me and call The Dark Tower series, Stephen King’s magnum opus. 
How can that be? Did they read the bloody thing?
Anyway, rumour has it that they are making a movie (or presumably an entire set of movies). All I can say is that I hope the filmmakers concentrate on the first couple of books and ultimately rewrite the rest.
Unless there is a massive improvement this is one set of movies I won’t be going to see.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Progressive Thoughts - Day 13

Today’s song is A Soapbox Opera by Supertramp, performed in the video below by co-founder of the band Roger Hodgson with a full orchestra.

The song is really about finding meaning in religion, specifically in Catholicism, which I’m sure that many Catholics struggle with.

I am a lapsed Catholic, if such a thing exists. My mother is Catholic but my father wasn’t. My mum’s parents were also Catholic, particularly my grandad who made sure that my mum, an only child, attended everything that the local church threw at them.

I don’t know for sure, but I imagine that he wasn’t very happy when my mum announced that she was going to marry a non-Catholic. From what I remember of him, he was a very strict and principled man and most if not all of his principles came from Catholicism.

My dad was a good man so I can imagine him sacrificing a lot to marry my mum. In the end, he agreed to live next door to my mum’s parents and also to get married in the Catholic church, agreeing to raise his kids as Catholics.

He left that chore to my mum who made sure that my sisters and I were immersed in Catholicism from the day we were born. We had to attend church every Sunday, every Feast Day as well as taking part in extra-curricular activities that the church organised.

We went to a Catholic infant and junior school where again we were immersed in the religion. From baptism all the way to confirmation, via first confession and Holy Communion, Catholicism was stitched into my psyche. I could and still can recite several parts of the Catholic mass in Latin, such is the manner in which they were entrenched.

I suppose I started to question my religion when I left the Catholic junior school for a non-Catholic grammar school, which claimed to be the best school in my home town of Walsall.

Why did my mum allow this?

Mainly because I passed an exam called the 11 Plus and this qualified me for a school that was sought after by most parents in my town. The school used the 11 Plus as a means to pick the most intelligent kids. If I had failed the exam I would have had to attend a Catholic secondary school.

As I got older, I stopped going to church, much to my mum’s dismay. My grandparents both died before any of this happened and I imagine that my grandad would have intervened.

Nowadays, I only mention that I am Catholic when asked or when I decide to mention it in a blog post such as this.

I do wonder what my grandad thinks of all this.

If Catholicism is to be believed than my grandad will be watching from afar and shaking his head in disbelief at my lifestyle choices, particularly as I no longer go to church and openly question religious beliefs.

He may be impressed that I have actually seen Pope John –Paul II in the flesh when he visited Liverpool in 1982. In fact, that was the last time I openly defended Catholicism. A good friend of mine began mocking me when I returned from seeing the Pope drive past in his Popemobile.

At the time, I felt like I had merely seen one of the most famous people in the world. However, my friend asked, in a mocking manner, whether I felt “spiritually uplifted” having seen God’s representative on Earth in the flesh.

Actually, that’s not true. I didn’t specifically defend Catholicism; I defended religion in general. What I actually saw as the Pope drove by was a lot of happy people. I told my friend that belief in a religious system can help people come to terms with all of the nasty things that happen in life. Some people did feel spiritually uplifted by seeing the Pope and these are the same people who will feel the same when they go to church every Sunday.

And it doesn’t matter what your religion is.

Yes, there are nutters out there who use religion as an excuse to create havoc and catastrophe but these people are the minority. Sadly, they get the most publicity. You only have to look back in history and you can see examples of the abuse of most religions to control people and cause harm.

Yet at the same time, I see people who are happy and content solely because of their religion. I am talking about Catholicism, Christianity in general, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism etc. etc.

I do not regard Scientology as a religion by the way.

A prime example of what I mean is when Mrs PM’s grandfather died. He and his wife were “born again Christians” and had converted to that religion about twenty years before. Mrs PM and I immediately went to visit her grandmother. I walked into her house and immediately hugged her and said

“I’m really sorry about Tom.”

She looked up at me and said, with a smile:

“It’s okay, Dave. He’s with the Lord now.”

Her religion helped her overcome her grief because, in her eyes, her husband was now in Heaven waiting for her in Paradise.

Yes, I am sceptical about this, but in that moment, her words confirmed the point that I had made to my mocking friend.

Religion provides comfort and belief and for that reason I won’t dismiss it - though I still hope God has a sense of humour and can forgive the times I’ve mocked religion in the past.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Progressive Thoughts - Day 12

Today’s song is another by Rush. This is a recent one called Headlong Flight, which basically talks about how being happy about your life despite the ups and downs that you have had to endure.

As you can expect, in 54 years of living on this weird planet, there have been quite a few ups and downs, a lot of which I’ve bored readers with in the (almost) nine years I’ve been writing crap for the world to read.

In the grand scheme of things, however, my contribution to the history of this planet (or more accurately, the history of humanity on this planet) is in fact so tiny that it is negligible. In two hundred years’ time, my contribution to history will probably only be a footnote in the hobby of a descendant researching their family history. That assumes that I am lucky enough to have descendants at that time. I have two boys at the moment and I would like to hope that they will both produce clones who will also produce clones (etc. etc. etc.).

What will they discover?

With any luck, they will find an ancient blog out there on whatever the internet evolves into and hopefully they will regard my wittering as something they can appreciate, despite all of its flaws.

As I get older, I find myself looking backwards to the past more and more often. There are constant reminders, such as music, television programmes and people dying (as morbid as that sounds) that remind me of times gone by and I am beginning to feel an urge to scribble it all down in a medium other than an amateur blog.

That’s why, a couple of years ago, I started scribbling down a kind of autobiography. As usual, procrastination has been victorious and beaten me into submission so I have left it untouched for at least a year. My main reason for starting it was to hand it down to my lads so that they could remember me when the Grim Reaper knocks at my door.

I didn’t do this for selfish reasons. On the contrary, I want them to see what my life was like before they were born first hand rather than looking at history books primarily because I regret not finding out more about my own family history.

My own family may seem unremarkable in the grand scheme of things but when you dig down there are some nuggets of interest.

My grandmother’s brother, for example, was killed in World War I and my grandad was a prisoner of war in World War II.

These stories are gold and I hate the fact that, as a child, I didn’t interrogate my grandad about his experiences in those tragic times.  I can’t change that now because, sadly, there is nobody around to inform me.

My own life is far less exciting, as readers will agree. Nevertheless, there are some nuggets even in my life that may be of interest to future generations. For that reason, I aim to complete my stupid little autobiography and possibly even to delve into my own family history and write something about that.

Who knows what I may uncover?

I may even find an old book written by an ancient ancestor of mine full of rants about how unfair life was back then.

Now wouldn’t that be interesting.