Sunday, 28 February 2010

Talking to Ghosts

About nine months after my father died, I was asleep in bed when something woke me up. It was in the month of June in the year 1982, and my room was still dark, with the morning light beginning to push the night away. Birds were beginning to sing and it seemed as if it might be a nice day.

I lay in bed, wondering what had disturbed me from my slumber and was at the point where you have just travelled from your dream to the waking world and are therefore not actually sure whether you are still asleep or awake. I looked up and tried to focus on the shadows that were still present in the room. I am very short sighted so, as you can imagine, this was impossible.

And then I saw it.

My bleary sleep-filled eyes were drawn to the door and my scrambled thoughts tried to let me know what my faulty eyes were telling me. As I was about to reach out from under the covers to grab my glasses so I could see what the thing was, something happened that was rather bizarre; I froze.

I use the word “froze” quite literally because I found myself unable to move. Bear in mind that it was June, and we are were in the midst of a lovely spell of hot weather, and I was lying there in bed, incapable of any movement and enveloped in what seemed like a cryogenic field.

And the thing by the door that I couldn’t describe due to my failed eyesight had moved towards me.

I tried to work out what the hell was going on; my mind was still scrambled, in that limbo between dreams and the waking world. I was confused and, now, scared.

I simply couldn’t move.

That’s when I heard the voice.

“It’s only me, Dave”.

I heard the words quite clearly – in my head. Still half asleep I couldn’t work out where the words had come from.

And then I was free. I could move and the iciness that had pinned me helplessly to the bed had vanished.

I sat up with a start and scrabbled around looking for my glasses.

I was breathing rapidly and my heart was pounding. As soon as I put on my glasses I looked at the door and saw – just a door. There was no weirdness in the room at all. It was just getting light and the shadows were succumbing to the sun as it gradually rose over the horizon. My room was empty. I was the only person in there. Whatever had been by the door and then moved to the side of my bed had also disappeared.

What did I see?

Well it’s difficult to say simply because my eyesight truly is poor. I am like Mr Magoo without my spectacles. The thing by the door appeared to be a cloud, white and nebulous but transparent enough for me to be able to see the walls and the door. It had no shape that I could make out, but it certainly moved. Had my maker not selected a duff pair of eyeballs for me when constructing me, I would probably have been able to make more sense of it. The thing certainly didn’t seem to me like it was human in form but then again, with my poor eyesight I could have been mistaken.

And what of the words? I could have sworn that the voice was my father.

I leapt up and switched the light on, still totally freaked out by what had happened.

I kept the story to myself and found it hard to sleep for the next few nights. I thought about it right up until I went back to university and then began to seriously doubt what I had seen.
However, when I returned at Christmas, the elder of my two sisters started telling a story about seeing a figure (or something) in her room; what made it stranger was that my youngest sister related a similar story. Neither had heard a voice.

Until that time, I was very sceptical about ghosts and, to be honest, I still am. Whenever I have told the story, I have convinced the recipient (and myself) that I was in between waking and sleeping and that the visitation was merely a figment of my imagination.

My sisters disagree. They are both blessed with perfect eyesight and their use of the word “figure” is quite revealing.

My father actually died in his own bed in the early hours of the morning, so there is a possibility, for those who believe in such things, that his spirit is still there. He was in fine health, or so we thought, and his death was very shocking. I can imagine, if he was aware of what was happening, that he would have been amazed himself.

He was 44 years old.

So, did I see the ghost of my father, and did he speak to me?

I’ve gone over the episode a few times since the occurrence and I’ve gradually convinced myself that I was simply dreaming.

For the first few months after it happened, I was so spooked that I actually began talking to my dead father just before I went to sleep. I lay in bed, in total darkness, and spoke aloud, addressing my father and telling him about my life at Liverpool University, my studies, my friends, my activities and my thoughts.

I was talking to a ghost.

In many ways, it was comforting. It took me several years to fully come to terms with my father’s death; to be honest, I still have a vacuum in my heart where he should be. He was so proud of my academic success and I am delighted that he found out that I was accepted at Liverpool University before he died. The encounter I had, whether it was real or not, caused me to think about what I had lost. By talking to my father I was opening up a whole new experience for myself, focussing on my goals, my desires and my achievements. I gained comfort from it and, as silly as it sounds, chatting to a ghost that may or may not have existed, was therapeutic and helped me get over the loss.

But did I really encounter a ghost?

Ultimately, I didn’t know for sure whether his ghost haunted our house and I still don’t. As far as I know, there have been no other encounters, certainly not for me anyway. My mum was sceptical when I told her some years later, and asked the obvious question: “Why hasn’t he come to see me?”

That’s a good question and is further evidence that I imagined the whole thing.

When I turned 44 myself, a few years ago, I suddenly began to feel a little strange. Deep down in my mind I knew I was being stupid, but I imagined for a while that the same thing would happen to me as had happened to my father. As crazy as it sounds, I began to believe that I, too, would shuffle off this mortal coil. I dubbed the year between October 8th 2006 and October 8th 2007 as “the year of death”.

On my 45th birthday, I celebrated – I mean really celebrated. I was over “the year of death” and I was still alive. I realise that such idiocy is absurd and as the year passed, try as I might, I couldn’t shake the feeling.

Of course, I didn’t let it dominate my life and now, looking back, I actually laugh at how dense I was. However, it just goes to prove that 25 years after his death, my father still influenced me.

He was a kind man, an intelligent man, an honest man and the light of my life as a child. He encouraged me to take the chances that he had been unable to take and I owe everything to him.

I still miss him.

So why am I writing about him now?

I was watching a TV programme the other day involving psychics and I began to rant about how these people are preying on the weakness of people who want to believe that their loved ones live on after death. I began writing this post as a means to expose these charlatans and the more I wrote, the more annoyed I became.

I started chatting to Mrs PM about it and somehow the subject drifted back to my father and my encounter with him.

Mrs PM had heard the story before and, being more open about these things, she said something that sent shivers up my spine:

“You know, Dave, you may think you were dreaming but I’m not so sure.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, as you know, I used to be short sighted too, before the laser treatment, and whenever I used to dream I could still see things as clearly as if I had been wearing my glasses. Can you see clearly when you dream?”

“Yes – I can.”

“But in this case, you couldn’t see clearly at all. Whatever you saw was blurred, so much so that you needed to put your glasses on to see it properly. I don’t think you were dreaming. I think there was something really there.”

When she spoke those last few words, I felt like crying. Maybe my father really had visited me. Perhaps he had taken one last opportunity to say goodbye, because he had died so suddenly that he hadn’t had the chance.

Maybe when I spoke to him in the weeks and months after the encounter, there was some part of him there that listened to me and understood.

And dad, if are still around somewhere, I miss you and I hope I’ve made you proud. Hopefully I will see you again one day.

For any psychics reading – you have a temporary reprieve while I contemplate this episode again. However, rest assured I will return with a post all about you and your “art” in the near future.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

A Confession

My dearest darling Mrs PM,

I hope your trip away is going well.

The cats are missing you – well they were until about five minutes ago, but I will explain that.

You see, I have a confession to make. I’ve had a little accident. I was going to ring you to tell you in person but unfortunately I’ve lost my mobile phone and there is something wrong with the landline.

I’ve spilled some red wine on your brand new white sheepskin rug. I know that you are going to be very angry about it because I appreciate that it cost a lot of money but I think that when I explain how I managed to spill wine on the rug you will understand.

You see, the cat was on fire and red wine was the only liquid available.

I’ve told you that Jasper is too fat and, consequently, too slow so it was no surprise to me that he couldn’t escape quickly enough when the kitchen exploded.

Poppy, your dearest other cat, is svelte and fast and managed to race out of the cat flap as if the hounds of hell themselves were on her tail. At least I hope that’s what happened, though the more I think of it, there wasn’t a cat-shaped hole in the back door was there?

Sadly, Jasper was too slow and the explosion blew him through the newly created hole in the wall and into the lounge. I’ve told you he needs to eat less but you never listen to me.

The cat did his best to avoid me as I chased him around the lounge with the red wine. Have you ever tried to throw red wine on a blazing cat when you are off your head on LSD and cocaine and with half a bottle of vodka and a crazy amount of absinthe in your system? It’s bloody difficult, I can tell you. That’s why there’s red wine over the what's left of walls and settee as well.

Thankfully, the wall through which Jasper flew so gracefully was large enough to accommodate me as I flew through the air with him when the explosion took place.

I was sure that when I put that pizza in the oven I had lit the gas; I wondered why, an hour later, it still hadn’t cooked. It was only when I struck the match to check whether the oven was alight that I realised my mistake. As Jasper and I flew through the lounge wall like two graceful birds, it occurred to me that perhaps I should have checked the pizza sooner, which was bloody annoying since the explosion nuked the pizza - and I'm bloody ravenous and I haven't got a kitchen to cook another pizza.

Fancy forgetting the pizza! I simply can’t help it, my sweet; I’m getting old you see. And the drugs and drink don’t help. When I arrived home an hour ago, I had been out on a massive bender, mixing drugs, drink and debauchery on a wonderful night out. It’s only when you are away, my dear, that I get the chance to let my hair down with the lads.

I didn’t mean to get so drunk; absinthe is lethal I can tell you – it makes you see things. In fact, I mistook a police car for an alien and threw several bricks at it, only realising my mistake when it crashed into a wall. I managed to get away, thankfully, although the policemen seemed very angry as they were chasing me through the streets.

Actually, come to think of it – that must have been when I lost my wallet with all of my money and cards in it.

I’m sure I had it when the brick went through the police car windscreen and hit the officer in the passenger seat. That’s a major blow because it contained around £3000 of my money.

Well, when I say “my” money, I really mean “your” money. You see I withdrew the cash from your bank account. Why? Because I’d run out of my own cash and drugs cost a fortune. My overdraft is only so big. I hope you don't mind.

Hang on – I’ve just got an email.

That’s great – I now know where my mobile phone is. I left it with Big Betty, that prostitute I met at the pub. She says I can pick it up at her pad – and that she may give me a gift. I wonder what she means?

Anyway, I’d better go, because the kitchen and lounge are a complete mess. I think I’ve managed to put the fire out but I can still hear and smell gas. Also, the police and fire brigade are here.

Oh dear!! I recognise that policeman and he recognises me too – it’s the one I hit with a brick. Hang on while I take the laptop upstairs and barricade myself in the bedroom.

There, that’s better. I’ve got the air rifle to defend myself when they break down the door. The policeman is shouting “You’re going down!!!” I wonder what he means?

When you return, I think you had better stay in a hotel for a while as I don’t think I’ll be able to clean up the mess in time. If you want to visit me, I will almost certainly be enjoying the hospitality of Her Majesty’s constabulary. I’m sure the visiting hours are reasonable.

Do you know a good lawyer by the way?

Missing you,

Plastic Mancunian.

P.S. The above is all a pack of lies and a weird episode from my sick and sordid imagination. The confession I have to make is that I have accidentally thrown away your ticket to see Lady Ga Ga. In fact, I think I’ve done you a favour, my sweet.

P.P.S. No pizzas, cats or policemen were harmed in the writing of this post.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Sunday Stealing - Clown's Meme

In between posts again so I thought I’d have a go at another Sunday Stealing Meme. Since I missed last week’s effort, I am doing this long two part meme in one go. Call me crazy if you like but that’s the kind of guy I am.

Here goes:

1. How old will you be in five years?

I will be the grand old age of 52. I’m an old git now so by then I’ll be past caring. In fact, with any luck I will have forgotten how old I am.

2. Who did you spend at least two hours with today?

Mrs PM and our big fat cat. Oh – and my “on call” phone which means I can’t do anything exciting this weekend.

3. How tall are you?

Around 5ft 11 inches – unless I wear platform shoes in which case I grow to well over six feet tall.

4. What do you look forward to most in the next six weeks?

If you said “12 weeks” I would say my holiday. But since the next six weeks are likely to be quite tedious I will say a rock concert (I’m off to see “Airbourne”) and the end of winter.

5. What’s the last movie you saw?

At the cinema, “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief” – a Harry Potter style fantasy that my 14 year old lad quite enjoyed. I merely switched off my brain, stopped picking holes in the plot and watched it with a huge bag of popcorn. Actually, it was quite good – for a teenager’s film.

On the TV, it was “Signs” that creepy alien film by M Night Shylaman. I was on my own because Mrs PM had chickened out in favour of bed. As I said, quite creepy, but Jasper, the cat, held my hand, digging his claws in so that I didn’t run away.

6. Who was the last person you called?

A friend who we are supposed to be going on holiday with in September.

7. Who was the last person to call you?

A friend who we are supposed to be going on holiday with in September.

8. What was the last text message you received?

A voice mail from a friend who we are supposed to be going on holiday with in September.

9. Who was the last person to leave you a voicemail?

A friend who we are supposed to be going on holiday with in September. This is getting tedious now.

10. Do you prefer to call or text?

I am old fashioned and prefer to hear the sound of a voice. Call me weird but “textspeak” is not only lazy, it is totally incomprehensible. I mean, what does this mean?
“c u l8r xxx”

11. What were you doing at 12am last night?

Watching “Signs” while being protected by my big fat cat.

12. Are your parents married/separated/divorced?

My parents were married right up until the time my father died in 1981.

13. When is the last time you saw your mom?

I saw her at Christmas. I really should visit her more.

14. What color are your eyes?

My eyes are a “sexy” blue, so Mrs PM says. In fact most people say that too.

15. What time did you wake up today?

I woke up at 0745, which is bloody annoying considering I wanted a lie in. Why is that at the weekend, when you don’t have to set the alarm clock for an ungodly hour, that your body clock decides to boot you awake at an ungodly hour? I mean come on – it is just not bloody fair is it? I’ll try again tomorrow.

16. What are you wearing right now?

A spacesuit. I’m still spooked by “Signs”.

Not really – I’m wearing a pair of jeans, a pair of socks, a pair of underpants, a T shirt and a jumper.

17. What is your favorite Christmas song?

“Fairytale of new York” by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl.

18. Where is your favorite place to be?

Sitting in a bar in Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong, watching the world go by.

19. Where is your least favorite place to be?

Sitting at my desk in the office at 0730 on a Monday morning.

20. Where would you go if you could go anywhere?

I would go to Tokyo. I am aiming to go there within the next ten years, funds permitting of course. I will keep an eye on the lottery draw tonight because if I win that I will be on my way on Monday morning.

21. Where do you think you’ll be in 10 years?

I imagine that I will be in a pub with all the other old gits, moaning about the state of Britain. Hopefully I will be traveling around the world or finishing off my fifth novel.

22. Do you tan or burn?

I absolutely fry. I become “The Incredible Red Melting Man”. Read about it here.

23. What did you fear was going to get you at night as a child?

I thought that Count Dracula was going to burst into my room, drain me of all my blood and leave lying there looking even more deathly white than I usually do. I wouldn’t have minded had it been a sexy female vampire though.

24. What was the last thing that really made you laugh?

I laugh a lot but the last belly laugh was “Mock The Week” on Thursday night. I love that programme.

25. How many TVs do you have in your house?

Three – one in the lounge for TV obviously, one in the back room for games and DVDs and one in the second of our three bedrooms.

26. How big is your bed?

It is a massive bed, so big that it needs a Satellite Navigation System to find my way out.

No – not really. It’s a King size (mainly to allow our big fat cat to sleep on there).

27. Do you have a laptop or desktop computer?

I have both – a clapped out old desktop with a proper keyboard that I use to write and listen to music, and a fairly new laptop to allow Mrs PM to use when I am hogging the desktop (though occasionally we swap – just for variety).

29. What color are your sheets?

At this precise moment they are red. Don’t ask me why – Mrs PM loves red and purple.

30. How many pillows do you sleep with?

I sleep with one foam pillow that stops me from waking up with a stiff neck and walking around like a robot for the rest of the week.

31. What is your favorite season?

Summer, without a doubt.

32. What do you like about Autumn?

I love the colour of the leaves on the trees. I also like the fact that in the first part of Autumn, the temperature is still quite pleasant.

33. What do you like about winter?

The end of it.

34. What do you like about the summer?

Summer in the UK is perfect (as long as the rain stays away). It is just the right temperature and the countryside is wonderful.

35. What do you like about spring?

The fact that winter has ended and it will soon be summer.

36. How many states provinces have you lived in?

I’ve never lived in a state. I’ve been to quite a few of the American states, including Florida, California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Washington DC, Georgia and later this year I will be going to Alaska and Washington state.

In the UK, I have lived in the West Midlands, Merseyside, Cheshire and Greater Manchester.

37. What cities/towns have you lived in?

I was born in Walsall, moved to Liverpool in 1981, moved to Manchester in 1984, moved to Altrincham ( a small town near Manchester) in 1986 and then back to Manchester in 1998.

38. Do you prefer shoes, socks, or bare feet?

Shoes definitely. The thought of treading in a fouls substance in socks or bare feet makes me feel quite ill.

39. Are you a social person?

I am very social once I can conquer the initial shyness that threatens to stop me from walking into new situations. It is a constant battle but I usually prevail.

40. What was the last thing you ate?

Fish and chips.

41. What is your favorite restaurant?

Café Deco on Victoria Peak in Hong Kong.

42. What is your favorite ice cream?

I don’t really like ice cream but if I must eat it, I usually scoff Häagen-Dazs Chocolate Chip Cookie.

43. What is your favorite dessert?

I don’t really eat dessert but if I must, it is usually mince pie (only at Christmas).

44. What is your favorite kind of soup?

Chicken and mushroom.

45. What kind of jelly do you like on your PB & J sandwich?

Jelly? On a sandwich? That’s bloody weird!!!!!! It must have been written by an American.

46. Do you like Chinese food?

I love Chinese food.

47. Do you like coffee?

I prefer tea and therefore drink very little coffee. When I do drink coffee, I become so wired that I run around like a man on a video tape being fast-forwarded – that’s when I come down from the ceiling.

48. How many glasses of water, a day, do you drink on average?

At work I usually have several but at home just one or two.

49. What do you drink in the morning?

Half a bottle of vodka.

No – just kidding – a huge mug of tea and a glass of grapefruit juice.

50. What non-banking related card in your wallet is the most valuable to you?

My Waterstone’s loyalty card. I read a lot of books.

51. Do you sleep on a certain side of the bed?

Yes – the side that Mrs PM does not like sleeping on (currently the left side of the bed – but it changes when we stay in a hotel. I’ve never understood women).

52. Do you know how to play poker?

I know how to lose badly at poker – that’s why I never play it.

53. Do you like to cuddle?

Of course. I love to cuddle Mrs PM but, when drunk, I will cuddle anybody and anything, particularly lamp posts.

54. Have you ever been to Canada?

Yes – twice. I went to Toronto both times and managed to sneak away from work and visit Niagara Falls. It is one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I am off there again soon but this time heading over to Vancouver.

55. Do you have an addictive personality?

Not really.

56. Do you eat out or at home more often?

We eat at home mostly but try to eat out on Friday nights.

57. What do you miss about highschool, if anything?

I miss absolutely nothing about school. It was ritual torture and humiliation and all teachers without exception are sadistic bullies who don’t like to be called names by anarchistic children like me.

58. Do you know anyone with the same birthday as you?


59. Do you want kids?

I already have two kids.

60. Do you speak any other languages?

I speak a little German, a little bit more French and one or two choice phrases in Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Russian, Mandarin and Cantonese.

61. Have you ever gotten stitches?

Only once.

62. Have you ever ridden in an ambulance?

I’ve never ridden in an ambulance and have no desire to do so.

63. Do you prefer an ocean or a pool?

An ocean – I love the sea.

64. Do you prefer a window seat or an aisle seat?

I prefer an aisle seat; that way I can nip to the toilet without disturbing people.

65. Do you know how to drive stick?

I presume you are not talking about a broomstick because the answer would be “no”.

In the UK we learn to drive with a gear stick and, since 95% of our cars have gear sticks, the answer is a resounding “yes”.

66. What is your favorite thing to spend money on?

Electronic gadgets, music and books.

That was too bloody long - normal service will be resumed soon.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Shakespeare is Rubbish

Am I alone in thinking that William Shakespeare is over-rated? Am I the only one who thinks that most, if not all, of Shakespeare's plays are rubbish?

Sure he wrote some plays at a time when there was probably a serious lack of decent playwrights but to be honest, the things he wrote are not really relevant to our current time.

In fact, when I was at school I distinctly recall reading a Shakespeare play in a book that was 15% introduction, 30% play and 55% explanation of what the hell was going on.

Here is a clip from Blackadder that illustrates my feelings on Mr Shakespeare:

You see, I always had a huge problem with his plays. His tragedies were funny and his comedies weren’t. His plays were written in a form of English that was perfectly acceptable in 1592 but make no sense to an audience of school children in 1975 (when I first encountered him) or later.

English teachers told me that these classic works were leviathans of the literary world that would stand the test of time and that reading and understanding these magnificent works were essential in order to progress in life.

At school I didn’t have the courage to face my teachers and say:

“But they are SHIT!”

Instead I was forced to endure these dreadful and irrelevant plays that bored me to tears. We were forced to sit there and analyse every bloody phrase, every sentence and every nonsensical paragraph in the most stringent manner.

A typical question was “What was Shakespeare trying to say?” and the answer should have been “I don’t bloody well know. I don’t understand it. It is written in a language that has developed into something new over four centuries. It isn’t funny. It is meaningless and it doesn’t make sense. And it is totally and utterly irrelevant. It should stay in the 16th century where it bloody well belongs.”

Shakespeare is as dull as dishwater. If I were to read a play now I would fall asleep before the end of the first act.

One of the plays we had to endure was Twelfth Night, supposedly a comedy. I don’t think anybody laughed. Here is the opening speech:

If music be the food of love, play on;

Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,

The appetite may sicken, and so die.

That strain again! it had a dying fall:

O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet sound,

That breathes upon a bank of violets,

Stealing and giving odour! Enough; no more:

'Tis not so sweet now as it was before.

O spirit of love! how quick and fresh art thou,

That, notwithstanding thy capacity

Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there,

Of what validity and pitch soe'er,

But falls into abatement and low price,

Even in a minute: so full of shapes is fancy

That it alone is high fantastical.

What a load of baloney. I’m sure that when it first played at the Globe theatre, the people who went to see it were mesmerised by Duke Orsino’s splendid delivery. But a twelve year old kid from Walsall? No bloody chance.

We were supposedly speaking learning to speak and write English but Shakespeare’s language is so dated that it makes little sense.

Who says “thou” and “receiveth” and “o’er” and ‘thy” and “soe’er”?

Nobody – apart maybe from a pseudo-intellectual who has his Shakespeare mixed up with his philosophers.

Having suffered Twelfth Night at school we were then expected to write essays that analysed it, essay like:

“Discuss the aspects of love in Twelfth Night”.

I wish I had of written:

“I can’t. I don’t understand it because it is irrelevant. And if this is a comedy then I am a monkey’s uncle. I didn’t laugh once. I’m sure the audience in 1592 rolled in the aisles but I think it is totally and utterly unfunny. If you had asked me to write an essay saying “Twelfth Night is not funny. Discuss.” I might have stood a chance.”

In the end, I wrote several pages of horseshit and scraped a pass.

These days it seems that every actor in the world wants to star in a Shakespeare play. Every single actor falls over themselves to walk on stage roaring to a crowd of people, saying bizarre things like “Hey Nonny Nonny”. The crowd nod in appreciation but probably haven’t a clue what it going on. It would appear that playing the lead in a play like Hamlet seems to be the pinnacle of achievement for an actor, particularly if it is in Stratford-upon-Avon.

I would dearly love to stand up and shout “For goodness sake – speak ENGLISH!”

I would love to continue to barrack pseudo-intellectuals in this post, those who appreciate this nonsense in order to be recognised as culture vultures, but there are people who are genuinely moved by Shakespeare.

I had a discussion once with a woman who told me that she cried when she read Henry V’s rousing speech to his soldiers just before the battle of Agincourt. Here is Kenneth Branagh, a fine actor, giving his all:

I must admit that it is an awe inspiring piece of acting and Kenneth Branagh delivers it with gusto. Without necessarily understanding what he is saying, I can get the gist. If we are going to witness this in a modern film, why not simply modernise it? Instead of:

And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,

From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remembered-

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,

This day shall gentle his condition;

And gentlemen in England now-a-bed

Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

why not say something like:

And from today until the end of time on this day, the feast of St Crispin, everybody will remember how you, my brothers, my band of brave warriors, shed your blood with me. And you are my brothers, make no mistake. And those men, asleep in England, will curse themselves for not being here on this momentous occasion; may they hang their heads in shame that they did not fight with us in this glorious battle on St Crispin’s day.

Okay – so I’m not Shakespeare and certainly could not write a modern day equivalent, but I am absolutely sure that a decent writer could capture the passion of that inspiring speech and leave the audience captivated, instead of thinking, “Well, he sounded brilliant but what the heck was he talking about?”

I’d like to finish with a reference to Macbeth. Now, bizarrely, this play is known as The Scottish Play rather than Macbeth because, apparently the play is cursed. The fact that it features witches and witchcraft may contribute to this but I suspect that it is an absolute load of nonsense. It has been used to real comedic effect in one of my favourite comedy shows: Blackadder the Third:

Personally I am not superstitious at all and if I were to star in Macbeth I would gladly say “Macbeth” repeatedly all the time just to irritate any pillocks who thought that mentioning the name would bring bad luck.

I would also try to sneak in a “Hey Nonny Nonny” and at the end I would ask the audience whether they understood a single word I had said.

If you like Shakespeare, dear reader, I would be happy to hear from you; perhaps you can explain why I should change my mind about his works.

In the meantime, enjoy a quote from the great man that some of you may think rather apt when reading this post:

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.

Friday, 12 February 2010

The Blogger

Why do I blog? I’ll tell you.

I occasionally steal memes when I have a particularly nasty attack of writer’s block or am unhappy with ideas for posts. Last week I popped across to Sunday Stealing just to see what was on there and I found the second of a two part meme that would allow me to tell you a little bit about my blog and give you an insight into what goes on in my weird mind.

Since I missed the original meme, I thought I would answer the questions just for fun. The original item was in two parts but I have decided to combine them. In retrospect it would have made a good 200th post (and it may have made a good 300th post). But who cares? It seems like a good idea now.

1. How long have you been blogging?

My first post appeared on Friday 21st March 2008, so that’s almost two years. It was a fairly boring post about Walsall, the football team I support, and received no response whatsoever. But then again why would it? The club only has a few thousand fans and, at the time, nobody was reading the blog (unless they happened to stumble across it by accident).

2. What made you start?

I had been writing for a while and had made several attempts at writing novels and short stories. There are a lot of “Chapter 1” files on my hard drive but only one or two “Chapter 2” files. I had written a couple of travelogues and I found that I really enjoyed writing. Mrs PM suggested that I should get people to read the bilge I write and, if possible, to comment on it. I then discovered that a colleague of mine had been writing a blog for a couple of years about life in South Korea and I thought “I could do that” – write a blog I mean, not write about life in Seoul. The rest is history.

3. Who inspired you?

Mrs PM I guess. If she hadn’t suggested it, I never would have done it.

4. About how many hours a week would you estimate you spend on your blog?

I would say a couple of hours writing, throwing things away, and writing again.

5. What kind of experience or background do you have with writing?

Not an awful lot really. The only writing I have ever done is technical writing and that is absolutely dreary and totally uninteresting. In fact, as much as I like writing, I absolutely hate writing technical documentation. I suppose I get paid for it, so I have to do it – but it’s hardly something that would interest the general public.

6. Talk about how you come up with blog topics. Where do you get your ideas?

When I first started the blog, I was going to use it to make the world a better place using the power of ranting as a tool. However, it soon became clear to me that there is a lot of craziness out there and an awful lot more inside my own mind. So basically, what I do is keep a little notebook handy and, as ideas pop out of the primeval weird pool that is my imagination, I capture them and imprison them in my book. Sometimes I look at that book and think “Do I take drugs?” and most of the ideas never see the light of day. However, quite a few do – as regular readers will have seen. In fact, readers may also think that I take drugs anyway. I can assure you that I don't (apart from a modicum of alcohol now and again).

7. What or who inspires you and your blog?

At the moment, it is everyday life that inspires me and the antics of those around me (both animal and human). I also prowl around cyberspace, searching for other blogs; most of them are so much better than mine. I am a positive person (despite the apparent grumpiness) so I strive to improve. Reading better blogs inspires me to try to write better posts.

8. Where and/or how do your brainstorming for your blog?

I don’t brainstorm unless I am stuck for a topic. And if that’s the case I usually steal a meme or read the blogs of others in an attempt to kick start my creativity.

9. Do you have any blogging rules or guidelines you follow?

Yes. I try not to be too controversial. I have very strong opinions on a variety of topics and I try my best not to pour forth my true feelings in case I upset somebody. If I unleashed my opinions in full, there is every chance I would offend people. So I rein myself in. Mrs PM thinks I should go for it and be controversial. However, my nature is such that I genuinely do not like distressing others. I also like to inject a little humour into my posts and, although sometimes you can mix controversy and humour, I can never do it to my own satisfaction. I prefer people to read my blog and laugh rather than feel angry about it (unless your name is Simon Cowell, Piers Morgan or any of the hundreds of so-called celebrities that annoy the hell out of me).

10. Is there anything you will not blog about?

I’m nervous about subjects like religion because people can easily be offended – so I try to avoid them when I can. Apart from that, I think I could write hogwash on a variety of subjects. The simple answer, therefore, is “no”.

11. Do you have any sort of a publishing schedule in terms of day of week or topic?

Not really. I average a post or two a week but there is no schedule.

12. How many drafts of potential blog posts do you have right now?

Quite a few; some are just ideas in my notebook, others are draft copies on my desktop.

13. In what medium do you draft your posts?

I use MS Word and then cut and paste the finished item into the blog.

14. How often do you completely scratch or delete drafts or blog post ideas?

I am my own worst critic – so quite often really. If you think the posts you get to see are shit, you should see those that end up being deleted!

15. If you had to leave your blog in your will to another blogger, who would you choose?

I certainly wouldn’t leave it to Mrs PM because she hates writing. It’s a shame really because she is so funny that I feel my blog would improve if I allowed her to post a few items. I guess it would come with me to that great blogosphere in the sky – I may have to rename it though (depending where I end up).

16. Are there other blogs that you feel are similar to yours in content, style, or voice?

Oh yes – and most of them are much better. I love reading funny blogs and have actually howled with laughter at quite a few. One particular blog post made me spray tea all over my screen and keyboard, it was so funny. Like I said before, I want people to read my drivel and be entertained, so I search for blogs that achieve that on a regular basis. And believe me, there are some cracking ones out there.

17. Has anything surprised you since you started blogging?

The amazing thing about blogging is that there are people out there who read my drivel and comment on it – and I love it. I am amazed and inspired.

18. What are your goals or plans for your blog going forward?

I don’t know. I would like to make some improvements – possibly even post excerpts from my two travelogues, possibly on a blog of their own. I guess I want to increase my readership but that’s not the most important thing. As long as people are happy and entertained that’s good enough for me. And as long as I am happy writing then I shall continue – so sadly for you, dear reader, there is more claptrap to come.

19. Do you make any money from your blog? (optional) about how much a month?

Bugger all. I responded to Adsense and thought “that might be worth a try” but apart from a few pennies it’s not worth it. I may just get rid of it in the near future. Money is not my main driving factor by any means.

20. What blogging system do you use?

I use Blogger.

21. How did you come up your blog name?

A bloke I used to work with, called Chris, is a Liverpool fan who has never actually lived there. He has lived close enough to the city to have a vague Scouse accent though he is not really a Scouser. We call him “The Plastic Scouser”. I’m originally from Walsall and have lived in Manchester for the past 26 years – but I am not really a Mancunian. “The Plastic Mancunian” seemed an obvious name.

22. How many blogs do you have? What was your peak?

I have two. The other one is called The Plastic Mancunian’s Eye and is a photo blog. I am trying to improve my photography skills so that particular blog is basically a place where I can show off some of my better efforts. It’s fun and I post fairly regularly (though I have neglected it this year a little bit). I don’t intend to start any more blogs, unless I publish my travelogues.

23. Are you having as much fun as when you started?

I’m having much more fun. I love writing blog posts and have discovered some amazing blogs written by some very talented people world wide. I don’t intend to give up at all.

24. Where do you find other bloggers like you?

I search out new and interesting blogs on subjects that I am interested in and stumble across a lot from various places. Also, if people comment and they have a blog, I will always pop across for a quick shufty.

25. What’s your one wish when it comes to blogging?

I would love to become a writer and blogging has made me concentrate on writing more and more. I just want people to enjoy what I write because that is a step in the right direction.

Well I hope that gives you another insight into my world. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

The Happy Award

I’ve received another award (the first for a while) and this one also comes from across the great pond that separates Great Britain and the United States.

It is the happy award and I’d like to thank a Lady from Delaware called Lynette, who happens to be the girlfriend of a mate of mine called Mark.

Apparently there are “suggestions” – here they are:

1. Link the blogger who gave you the award on your post...

2. Write 10 things that make you happy...

3. Share it with at least 10 friends...Have fun!

I am not one for following rules or suggestions because I am a closet anarchist. However, I will link to the blogger who gave me this prestigious award. You can find her here at an intriguingly titled blog called A Blog In The Rough. I have actually met Lynette when she popped over to see Mark (I think she still has nightmares about it – I am kidding of course – or am I?).

Moving on, I need to write ten things that make me happy. Here they are (in no particular order):

(1) Rock music – I have said this before and I shall say it again, you simply cannot beat a fabulously loud blast of rock music or heavy metal to grab hold of your stress, slap it about the face and send it on its way with a kick up the backside. When I am driving home from work, I tend to turn up the volume and sing along to all manner of metal mayhem. Currently top of the pile are Dream Theater, an American progressive rock band. METAL!!!!!

(2) Mrs PM – I’m sure my beloved will read this and say “Why aren’t I number one?” And my answer is, of course, that she is number one. As I said, this list is in no particular order. Nothing makes me happier than seeing my beautiful lady smiling when I return home after a traumatic day. She is my world and she puts up with my weirdness, despite the fact that I am an annoying, opinionated, grumpy old git with mad hair, a bizarre sense of humour and a tendency to rant at the drop of a hat. I salute you my sweet and I love you.

(3) My two lads – I got divorced ten or so years ago but the one brilliant thing that came from that are my two boys. The eldest is 17 in June and the youngest is 14 in a couple of weeks time. Mrs PM calls them “the clones” because they are like smaller versions of me (though they have almost caught up in height). They are both great kids and, thankfully, aren’t as weird or as childish as I am (they think I am embarrassing – read about it here) – so I have high hopes for them.

(4) Football (or to any Americans reading – “soccer”) – There is no sport in the world better than football. I know people may think it strange that I love the game, given that I support a team in the third tier of the English League but I simply can’t help it. My team, Walsall, possessed my soul at a very early age and, as crap as they can be I am elated when they win. I am not one of these people who jump on the nearest bandwagon and support the team at the top of the Premiership – I regard myself as a “true” fan – a man who supports his team through thick and thin. That said, I love to watch the Premiership and enjoy a good game, no matter who is playing. Of course, the World Cup is coming in June and I am really looking forward to it. COME ON ENGLAND!!!

(5) Beer – As I get older, my capacity for drinking fine ales has diminished significantly. If I overdo it I suffer big time. While I don’t drink as much as I used to, I still love a beer a two particularly at the weekend – and related to that …
(6) Pubs – There is nothing finer than visiting a local hostelry to enjoy a pint or two of fine ale while indulging in a bout of reckless banter with your mates. Equally enjoyable is a nice cosy twosome with Mrs PM, me with my pint of ale and Mrs PM with her glass of dry white wine. Lovely!

(7) Rock concerts – You are never too old to go to a rock concert. Living in Manchester is fabulous because most of my favourite bands visit the city. Only last week, I was present at a pyrotechnic feast of crazy industrial rock – all sung in German. Yes – Rammstein were in town and did their best to set fire to the Manchester Evening News Arena.

(8) Travelling – I am a huge fan of travelling and, the journey there aside, I am delighted to visit foreign countries. My job gives me that opportunity sometimes and even when I have to work I do my best to find some time to see the place and immerse myself in the culture. I have three trips planned this year: a holiday to the west coast of America and Canada in May, a weekend break to Iceland to celebrate Mrs PM’s 40th birthday August and an autumn break to Majorca with friends. I can’t wait.

(9) Writing – Incredibly and much to the surprise of friends, I actually enjoy sitting at a computer to write down the weird drivel that cascades through my brain, some of which makes it onto this blog. When I am angry, I can dissipate the negativity by ranting about it in cyberspace. So, sadly, writing this very blog post (and others like it) makes me very happy.

(10) Tranquillity – Picture the scene; England’s rolling countryside in summer, with green grass, a blue sky sparsely populated with fluffy white clouds, the distant sound of sheep bleating and cows mooing, the songs of many different birds serenading us, and Mrs PM and I strolling along with very few people around and a camera to record the scenes for posterity. It is so tranquil and peaceful and is the best way to unwind and embrace happiness.

There are other things that make me happy but those are the ten that immediately leap to mind. I may share a few more in future.

I am supposed to pass on the award to ten other bloggers but this is the point at which the anarchist in me surfaces and says “No!”

I invite any regular readers to list ten things that make them happy and if you wish, please let me know – I will be interested.

Finally, thanks again to Lynette for the award and allowing me to bare yet more parts of my peculiar soul.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

The Pseudo-Intellectual

I talk crap sometimes.

What do you mean “I know”?

I may talk crap, but there is one thing I can definitely say with my hand on my heart – I am not a pseudo-intellectual. Why? Because when I am wrong and when I am stupid, I openly admit it. Furthermore, I don’t try to impress people with ideas that are not my own and I try my best not to use words that have been hastily looked up in a dictionary to impress people.

What is a pseudo-intellectual then?

I’ve mentioned them in this blog before. In my view, a pseudo-intellectual is somebody who tries to act and speak as if they are cultured, intelligent and understand everything about everything, usually using words and phrases that are not used in everyday speech. And of course, they are not intellectual at all. Worse, they actually look down on people like me.

The finest examples of pseudo-intellectuals are found in the art world but they exist everywhere.

Next time you are in a contemporary art gallery try and spot them; it’s easy.

Firstly they are dressed in a weird way and walk around with a crafted intelligent expression that, to the untrained eye, makes them look weird and eccentric but, in their eyes, they are intelligence personified.

The good news is that you can expose them quite easily.

When you see such a person staring intently at a totally irrelevant piece of art just stand next to them and ask the simple question:

“What does it say to you?”

In their mind they will immediately start up the bullshit generator, searching out phrases that they have remembered to express their supposedly intellectual opinions. You will hear something like:

“It speaks to me on a kinetic level; the energy of the piece distorts the magnificence of everything else, almost in a primeval, carnivorous vortex of cybernetic passion. It arouses me.”

Resist the temptation to say “What on earth are you talking about?”

You could expose them easily enough by asking “Do you even know what kinetic means? And what is a carnivorous vortex when it’s at home?”

Or you could have some fun.

Pretend to be thick yet fascinated by their bullshit – and they simply get worse. For example, they will start to quote philosophers.

“Wow! You know your stuff, my friend! You’re so clever!”

“Yes, wasn’t it Hippocrates who said What is a friend? A friend is a single soul dwelling in two bodies! It’s so apt, don’t you think?”

The more you praise them the worse they get.

Others look to culture and embrace opera, ballet and other such dreadful pursuits. I once went to an opera to see what all the fuss was about – it was bloody awful.

It went something like this:

Opera Singer 1: I’m going to kill her.

Opera Singer 2: No, don’t kill her.

Opera Singer 1: I’m going to kill her.

Opera Singer 2: No, don’t kill her.

Opera Singer 1: I’m going to kill her.

Opera Singer 2: No, don’t kill her.

Opera Singer 1: Yes I must and I will.

Opera Singer 2: No you won’t.

Opera Singer 1: Yes I will.

Opera Singer 2: No you won’t.

I felt like screaming “For the sake of my sanity – just make your bloody mind up!!”

I have no doubt that if I had, a pseudo-intellectual would have rounded on me and started quoting philosophy to prove I am a cultureless dolt.

I’ve had arguments with these people on a couple of occasions. They assume that I am totally stupid simply because the pursuits I choose to embrace are not, in their view, intellectually stimulating. They, of course, are wrong.

Now I hate to blow my own trumpet, but I regard myself as a pretty intelligent bloke. I have a degree and I work in IT so there must be some intellect in that skull of mine. My problem is that I am slightly geeky, a little nerdy, somewhat weird and very opinionated. And that winds pseudo-intellectuals up very easily.

Take for example the subject of music.

Pseudo–intellectuals regard rock music as the spawn of Satan himself. They assume that because I am a fan of rock guitar that I have no taste and therefore should not be allowed to comment on music.

I have had debates with genuinely clever people about our musical differences and in those cases we have a fun chat, agreeing on some things and disagreeing on others. However, the pseudo–intellectual whose clichéd view of rock is that only devil worshippers love it have absolutely no clue.

They do not acknowledge the genius of guitarists like Joe Satriani, the song writing skills of Rush and Dream Theater, the intelligence of bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden.

To them, intellectuals only like classical music and opera – and anything else is followed by brainless idiots. In their eyes, I like rock ergo I am thick.

When it comes to art, the same thing applies – I don’t understand why somebody would pay a million pounds for a canvas that has random bits of vomit splashed around on it and they assume that I am thick because of that.

Movies and books are another area where the pseudo-intellectual thrives. They choose only to read books that are reviewed in the Sunday Times, saying that anything else is beneath them. The fact that most of these books are dreadful anyway is irrelevant.

It’s the same with films. Somebody, a pseudo-intellectual, once recommended that I watch the film “Eyes Wide Shut”. “You’ll love it,” he said. “It is the epitome of post-modern erotica and Kubrick’s finest work to date. It penetrates your psyche on a subtle intellectual level that transcends the abnormal odyssey of the perverted masses.”

I should have known. His review of it should have made alarm bells ring in my head. I should have said “What on Earth are you talking about you babbling bullshitter?”

I was foolish. I watched it.

And I can tell you now that my review of the film is simple. Here it is – brace yourself.


So beware the pseudo-intellectual folks. Beware the person who uses a hundred words when one will do. Beware the person who criticises your musical taste because you don’t listen to Bach. Beware the buffoon who tries to quote Aristotle to you. Beware the person who chuckles when standing in front of a pile of cat’s puke on a canvas and says “You simply don’t get it because you simply can’t grasp the concept of retro-physical potential in an academic vacuum that procreates despondency while at the same time expanding personal karma in a futuristic yet nihilistic orgy of barbaric crescendo.”

And most of all – beware anybody who tells you that this piece of crap below, that I produced for a previous post, is in fact art.