Sunday, 30 October 2011

The Music Fascist

I hate X Factor and all it stands for. I think it is destroying music.

And people have called me a music fascist because of this opinion.

I don’t think that I am a music fascist at all. I know what I like and I listen to it and buy it. The problem is that the music I like is rarely played on the radio or television so I find myself exploring the internet in order to get satisfaction.

Radio and television programmes claim to champion music but they don’t. They only play the music that they want you to hear, which means that you either get to listen to the same old songs or are spoon fed the latest trends that the music moguls want you to hear.

Chief amongst the diseases that afflict the music industry are shows like the X Factor, which wind me up for many reasons: here are a few of them:

(1) The winner of the X Factor is “guaranteed” to be the Christmas Number One. I wouldn’t mind because I know that songs that get to number one these days are put there by mass marketing that has nothing to do with the “talent” of the artist. I was delighted a year or two ago when there was an enormous backlash and Killing In The Name Of  by Rage Against The Machine derailed the X Factor juggernaut and slapped Simon Cowell in the face. What’s more, “the coveted number one spot” these days is a joke. Years ago, songs didn’t automatically go “straight in at number one” like they do now thanks to the power of the marketing machine.

(2) Many people watch the X Factor in the early stages to laugh at and ridicule the deluded idiots who think they can sing but can’t. I have caught the odd audition and I know for a fact that I can sing better than they can – and I can’t bloody sing.

(3) Once the final gets underway we get sixteen weeks of it with just one act being voted off each week. And the voting lasts for 24 hours making the producers even richer at the expense of the people who vote.

(4) Phrases like “You OWNED that song” make me want to vomit, as do phrases like “The stage was YOURS” and “You’re going to be a STAR”. The eventual winners usually get forgotten about after two years.

(5) Contestants who say “I want this more than ANYTHING – it’s my DREAM” are ritually raised up and then shot down. It is a truly humiliating experience for some of them and we witness them falling to pieces in the name of entertainment.

I could go on about X Factor but the point is that we as a music loving nation are spoon fed utter dross. Radio One is a major culprit, refusing to play anything that they deem unfit for their audience. Other radio stations are the same.

If the only music I had to listen to was the crap that was served up by Radio One I would only ever listen to Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Jay Z, Beyoncé, Take That and bloody Westlife. We live in times when manufactured pretty boys and girls who can’t sing are suddenly breaking records by having “the most number ones”.

It’s ridiculous.

It’s also bland, repetitive, tedious and awful.

I favour rock music but when you ask for a rock song at any party, pub or wedding you end with Sweet Child O' Mine - Guns n Roses, Living On a Prayer - Bon Jovi Sex On Fire - Kings of Leon or, the crowning turd in the DJ’s collection, Don’t Stop Believing - Journey. I’ve grown to hate those songs because they are overplayed and people always look to me with a face that says “Stop moaning – this is rock music!”. They claim to like these songs. But when I cite other examples by the same bands - BETTER songs that people have no clue about. 

These songs are far superior and you will never hear them played anywhere. If you like the token rock songs I mentioned above, follow the links below - much better songs.

(1) You Could Be Mine - Guns 'n' Roses

(2) Keep The Faith - Bon Jovi

(3) Four Kicks - Kings of Leon

(4) Separate Ways - Journey

It may be rock music – but these songs are just the tip of a planet sized iceberg.

And when people hear me ranting about why I hate Jesse J and Eminem they accuse me of being a music fascist, a one genre imbecile who is living in the past.

They may be partially right – I am living in the past a little because back then a wider range of music used to be available on the radio and television.

We had The Old Grey Whistle Test and Radio One had DJs like John Peel, a man who bought the music he played, and was responsible for launching the careers of some sparkling diamonds in the music world.

Those days are gone. I mourned the loss of John Peel, a man who would play what he liked in a bid to expose new genres.

It really annoys me that there are great bands out there busting a gut to be heard and to gain exposure and being ignored in favour of a bunch of dreadful karaoke singers who are forced to sing songs written by old millionaires or dirges have been dug up from the pit of songs that should have been consigned to Hell within seconds of their conception.

Thank goodness for the internet.

Thankfully, I am beginning to see changes. There is a lot of music out there – it’s just a question of finding it.

And thanks to the internet it is possible to find out when my favourite bands are releasing new albums, something I have struggled with in the past because they have not been favoured by Radio One and that ilk.

Anyway – enough ranting.

I am going to do a bit of a John Peel thing now and provide links to some tunes from my collection, some old, some new, some from artists you may have heard of, others not. The thing they have in common is that they have never been played on Radio One or sung on X Factor.

Have a listen and let me know what you think.

(1) North – Paul Mounsey

(2) Air – Kelly Watch The Stars

(3) Porcupine Tree – Trains

(4) Ink Dot Boy – Circle 

(5) Ten – Endless Symphony 

If you like them – fine. If not then that’s also fine. But at least you had a chance to listen because you would never have heard them if Simon Cowell had his way.

I would ideally like to set myself up as the anti-Simon Cowell and force radio stations to play as wide a variety of music as possible. I would like the X Factor to become a show where new bands are allowed to shine on the television. It wouldn’t matter what the genre was and I wouldn’t stop a young rapper having five minutes to appeal to those who like that style of music (even though I personally hate rap).

I would employ a wide range of judges – not the shower that we see on X Factor – judges who are fair and open and recognise true talent when they see it. There would be judges with amazing eclectic taste not Louis Walsh, the man who infected us with Westlife.

Can you imagine that? Can you imagine an open music talent show with real musicians, real singers, real songwriters and people?

A music fascist is surely somebody who wants to spoon feed everybody with music that they either like or will make them rich rather than allowing free expression for all genres.

I am therefore not a music fascist; those behind the X Factor and Radio One etc. are guilty as charged.

I rest my case.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Tales of Terror

Do you like a good horror story? I do – I am weird that way.

Strangely, I’m not a huge fan of horror films, particularly disturbing films like the Saw series. For me, I prefer to let my imagination do the work and, together with the fine words of an author, I can allow myself to be scared shitless in the comfort of my own bed, on a train etc.

Over the years I have read some fabulously scary books; books that have enthralled me and terrified me; books that prove there are people out there with wonderful imaginations.

With Hallowe’en just around the corner I thought I would let you know about some of the best horror books I have read over the years:

Watchers – Dean Koontz

Watchers was the first book I read by the prolific author Dean Koontz. The idea for the story is amazing. Genetic engineers have created two creatures, one dog whose intelligence has been enhanced, the other a hideous monster whose purpose is to kill the dog. Throw in a ruthless assassin and you have a fabulous tale that is gripping and scary. Watchers is a wonderful yarn.

Necroscope – Brian Lumley

Forget Twilight and other safe vampire tales. Vampires have become cool and trendy these days none more so than those in the Twilight saga. If you want a really scary vampires then look no further than the Necroscope series of books by Brian Lumley. In his books, vampires (or Wamphyri) are terrifying alien creatures that invade their human hosts and mutate them into creatures from Hell itself. They are genuine monsters. Only one man can combat them; the Necroscope, a man who can talk to the dead. Necroscope is the first of a whole series of books, some of which are truly terrifying. I think my favourite is Necroscope III: The Source but they are all worth a read – all thirteen novels (plus some short stories).

The Wyrm – Stephen Laws

Stephen Laws is another excellent British horror writer. The Wyrm tells the story of a sleepy little town beneath which lives a monstrous, ancient and truly evil force that is released inadvertently by the townsfolk and then proceeds to wreak bloody havoc. It is definitely my kind of book.

Imajica – Clive Barker

Clive Barker’s books are quite disturbing and if you have seen the film Hellraiser you will have some idea what I am talking about. Imajica is really a massive fantasy novel. Our own Earth is just one of five dominions yet has been cut off from the remaining four. The heroes of the tale traverse each dominion in a bid to reunite them with Earth, encountering all manner of wonder on their journey, some good and some evil. If you like fantasy horror on a large scale this is the book for you.

Domain – James Herbert

The first horror book I read was James Herbert’s The Rats and I have that book to thank for my love of horror fiction. The Rats was in fact the first of a trilogy, the final book being Domain. London is devastated by a nuclear blast and the survivors have to cope with every horror you can imagine in order to survive. Sadly for them these things are the least of their worries because waiting for them are irradiated and demonic super rats. If you fear rats in any way this book will absolutely terrify you.

Swan Song – Robert R. McCammon

I love books set in post-apocalyptic nightmare. In Swan Song, again the theme is nuclear attack, except this time America itself is devastated. Again the survivors have to cope with all the horrors that you would imagine plus armies of evil with their own agenda that eventually culminates in the age old battle between good and evil. It is another massive novel and a mesmerising read.

The Stand – Stephen King

The Stand is, in my opinion, Stephen King’s best novel. Like Swan Song it is a huge novel set in a post-apocalyptic America, this time the devastation being caused by a mutated flu virus that wipes out most of the population. Again the survivors are drawn towards the forces of good or evil, the result being another immense confrontation between the two. Since I read the novel many years ago, a new uncut version has been released and I have been tempted to reread it. Part of me wants to remember the story as it was, which I why I have resisted so far.

Phantoms – Dean Koontz

Phantoms is a fabulous story. A small town is suddenly hit by a terrible unexplained force. A few strangers chance upon the town and see remnants of the disaster (population missing, scattered severed limbs, mysterious noises, etc. ) and then they gradually begin to succumb to the same horror. This is a scary and very intriguing book and I would recommend reading it alone, in a dark house with just the bedside lamp for company.

Daemonic – Stephen Laws

A reclusive billionaire who lives in a monstrous skyscraper called “The Rock” offers a number of seemingly unconnected people to his home, kidnapping those who refuse to come. There they are confronted by something that he has made a pact with – something daemonic. I loved this book; characters lost in a changing labyrinth and being stalked by all manner of beast. It would make a terrific movie.

Cain – James Byron Huggins

Take an ex-CIA assassin, genetically enhanced to become the ultimate killing machine and possessed by an ancient evil and you have one hell of a great idea for a novel. I picked this up in Hong Kong airport ready for the flight home and I read it in two or three days. I have tried to find other books by the author but sadly they seem to be available only in the States for inflated prices. It’s a shame really because this is genuinely a great story and I would love to read more of his offerings.

Black Angel – Graham Masterton

Black Angel is a very disturbing and alarming novel, with extremely graphic descriptions. It tells the story or a serial killer who is so utterly horrific that he is called “Satan” by the police and you can imagine how horrible it becomes particularly the dark supernatural cloud that hovers over the entire experience. I found it very awkward to read not only because of the shocking imagery but also because it is a genuinely frightening novel. I would think twice about seeing any movie adaptation.

Shrine – James Herbert

Some of James Herbert’s books open up a door within my imagination; the door labelled “Do Not Open”. I can’t quite put my finger on why this book scared me so much; possibly because it involves religion and possession, two things that push the wrong buttons. Like all novels by James Herbert, Shrine is a cracking read but has the added bonus of giving you a sleepless night – if you like that sort of thing.

Christine – Stephen King

You may laugh at the idea of a car that is possessed and in turn possesses the young man who buys her. It is a bit slow to begin with but when it gets going Christine is difficult to put down. Like most Stephen King books, it has been turned into a film but that particular film doesn’t do it justice. The book is much better – and much creepier.

The Dark – James Herbert

The final two books I am going to mention are the ones that scared me the most. I wrote about The Dark in a post last year. Here’s an excerpt that says everything I need to say about the book:

I have been known to read horror stories late at night and struggle to sleep as a result – even now. Take The Dark by James Herbert. The synopsis on the back cover of the book describes “a malignant power”, “physical blackness” and “unstoppable evil”.

I read this book before I was married. I was twenty two years old, living alone in a small flat in Manchester and I recall lying in bed at around midnight, totally engrossed in a particularly tense scene. I switched the light off and tried to sleep. As my eyes grew accustomed to the dim room, I looked across at the wardrobe and noticed something odd. The wardrobe was white and clearly visible – except it wasn’t white at all – a black shadow was cast over it.

My imagination screamed at me.

“Come on Dave,” I thought. “You are an adult. You’re eyes are deceiving you.”

I studied the wardrobe and, sure enough, it was obscured by an amorphous black shadow. My mind drifted into the past, remembering the time when I thought I saw the ghost of my father.

Even further back, I started to recall the fear of vampires and the time that I convinced myself Count Dracula was in my room, his red eyes boring into mine as he prepared to feast on my blood.

Even further back, I remembered the Bogeyman and the recurring nightmare that I was being chased by a horrifying monster down an endless tunnel. Images of Jack Frost appeared and I pulled my toes under the duvet, for fear that the shadow was going to lunge forward and attack my extremities. I kind of hoped it was the Sandman – at least if he were to throw sand in my eyes, I might actually get some sleep.

The shadow didn’t move at all. It waited there, teasing me, taunting me, terrifying me.

I had no choice but to reach out and switch on the light. My heart was pounding more than Neil Peart’s drum kit during a Rush drum solo.

I reached for the bedside lamp and promptly knocked it on the floor.

What should I do?

Should I hide under the duvet and hope that it scared the shadow?

Should I be brave and get out of bed and face the beast?

To be honest, the idea that a duvet will act as protection against a hellish fiend is as preposterous as the concept of supernatural monsters actually existing. What use would a duvet be if Count Dracula decided to break down my door and use my neck as chewing gum? How would a duvet protect me against a Bogeyman with ten inch teeth, claws that can rip skin from bone and who delights in dismembering young children?
I went for the light.

I leapt out of bed and fumbled around in the dark, almost crippling myself as I fell over the bedside table. It seemed like an eternity until I got the light on – enough time even for a crippled old vampire to hobble over to my bed and gum suck my jugular.

The room was bathed in glorious bright light.

I stared at the wardrobe.

What do you think I saw?

The bloody door was open. I almost kicked myself in frustration. Why? Because I remember opening the bloody thing. I just forgot to close it.

What an utter arse I was.

Says it all, doesn't it?

‘Salem’s Lot – Stephen King

The image of a little boy turned into a vampire and scratching at the first floor window of his friend to be let in is a disturbing one for a fifteen year old boy. The screen adaptation of ‘Salem’s Lot scared the hell out of me because all of a sudden kids were prey to these monsters. Add to that the fact that the lead vampire was immune to religious symbols and you have a genuinely scary film. I read the book some years later and again I let my imagination get the better of me. The book was better, of course, and opened up that door in my imagination, leading to sleepless nights and fear of everything vampiric.

Yet I am still fascinated by them.


Thanks for reading – I hope you made it to the end without being freaked out.

I am always on the lookout for new authors particularly of horror novels, so if you have any recommendations I will be glad to check them out.

Now, I’ll say good night – I hope the vampires don’t bite.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

I Got Biorhythm

I usually walk into work sit down and scan the office searching for the giant turd that is going to hit the fan and spray a colossal amount of crap in my direction.

Some days I don’t see the turd – those are good days.

Other days the turd is so huge that you see its shadow before you see the turd itself and when it hits the fan, all hell breaks loose.

A couple of years ago I was having a particularly bad day; a fleet of giant turds had repeatedly hit the fan.

Problems were mounting up faster than I could resolve them; emails were pouring into my inbox like a herd of cows crapping through my letter box; the phone rang incessantly. I even managed to pour the entire contents of freshly made cup of tea onto the floor. I was tired because I had been woken up by the cats and then had to deal with a support call in the middle of the night.

To cap it all, it was pissing down with rain and I felt ill. My nose was running like Niagara Falls and I was coughing like a barking seal.

I was shell shocked and in desperation, I howled:

“What the hell is wrong, today? Is thisI hate Dave" day? Have I upset God?”

A female work colleague heard my anguished rant and asked “When’s your birthdate?”

“My birthdate?” I said, incredulously. “Why? Is today the day when all Librans are cursed?”

“Let me check your biorhythms,” she said.

“My what?

Curiosity got the better of me and I told her my date of birth. She put the details in an application on her mobile phone, waited a minute or two and then nodded sagely.

“Your biorhythms are all at their lowest point,” she said and showed me her phone.

I saw a chart with three graphs, all sine waves, and each one was at its lowest point.

“You’ll feel better tomorrow,” she said. “Just get through today and everything will be fine.”

I was about to launch into a rant about pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo but decided that I had enough on my plate and got back to work.

And she was right – things did improve (well they could hardly get any worse).

Not long afterwards, I was having another particularly bad day at the office. I saw the same female colleague and, out of curiosity, asked her about my biorhythms. She obliged and, hey presto, I was at my lowest ebb again.

I thought nothing else of it – until last week.

On Thursday, last week I had had a bad day at the office. I came home to find that our new cat, Liquorice, had had another run with one of the other cats. I noticed here peering out of the lounge door and then scratching the carpet.

Foolishly, I shooed her out of the lounge and she ran upstairs into our bedroom, her sanctuary from the other two cats. After twenty minutes or so I decided to go and look for her. I walked into our bedroom and was assaulted physically and mentally by the worst stench imaginable – cat shit.

And it was sitting there in the middle of our bed.

And Liquorice was on the floor staring at me as if to say “Look what I’ve done?”

I almost vomited.

I shouted Mrs PM who took pity on me and cleaned the mess up (I cannot stand the sight or smell of shit – especially the feline variety).

But it got worse – later, Mrs PM went upstairs and announced that Liquorice had decided to add to our trauma by pissing on the newly cleaned bed.

I was furious and almost – almost – hurled her outside with a view to locking the cat flap and making her spend the entire night in the rain. I saw her face and relented. She was purring and I simply couldn’t bring myself to upset her.

Instead I decided to check my biorhythms.

According to biorhythm theory, there are three predictable aspects of human life that follow simple mathematical cycles.

The first is physical, following the mathematical formula sin(2πt / 23) (where t is the number of days since your birth).

The second is emotional , following the formula sin(2πt / 28).

The third is intellectual, following the formula sin(2πt / 33).

All this basically means that your physical ability cycles every 23 days, your emotional ability every 28 days and your intellectual ability every 33 days.

On a good day, all three aspects reach a peak at the same time and the world is your oyster. On a bad day, all three aspects plummet to the depths of a trough and the only thing you should do is hide under the duvet.

I checked my biorhythms last Thursday and this is what I saw:

The day the cat shat and pissed on my bed was a GOOD day.

I have just checked my biorhythms for today:

If there is any truth in this pseudoscience then I am about to plunge into the depths of misery for the next few days.

I have THREE cats – can you imagine what could be the worst that can happen?

To be honest, I don’t take this seriously.

Unlike astrology, there is a little science and maths behind biorhythms so although it might be bunkum, it is slightly more believable than a twelfth of the population all believing that they “need to make up with a loved one today”.

Having said that, it could still be a load of old codswallop invented by a pseudo-intellectual who knows a little maths.

In the interests of science (or should I say pseudoscience) I am prepared to be a guinea pig for you, dear reader. I shall monitor my life over the next few days and let you know:

(1) How many cups of tea I pour onto my desk at work

(2) How many times I have to suppress the urge to have my work PC to bits with a sledgehammer.

(3) How many piles of cat shit I have to dispose of from my bedroom.

Wish me luck – I think I might need it.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Now There's A Strange Hobby

There are people in the world who think I am weird; they are easy to spot – they are breathing.

Perhaps their perception of me is a little unfair. I may be weird but there are far stranger people than me roaming the Earth.

How do I know?

I was watching QI on Friday and was introduced to the concept of  worm charming, a hobby that I can only describe as very peculiar (and I am being very kind when I write this). One of the contestants had a look on his face that said it all:

“You sad, sad people – for God’s sake GET A LIFE!”

It got me thinking – what other bizarre hobbies are out there?

I will confess to a couple of strange pastimes I have embraced in my life – but not now. First, I want you to read about some odd leisure activities that Mr Google told me about.

Let’s start with the one I encountered on QI:

Worm Charming

I don’t like worms. I’ve never liked them. I never will. Yet there are people out there who spend their free time trying to entice them out of the ground. I can understand somebody doing this if he is fishing and has run out of bait but doing it for fun? That is ridiculous. Mind you, I think fishing is another ridiculous hobby – but that’s another story.

Nevertheless, I share a country where armies of people do this for fun. People gather in fields, armed with various implements which they use to hit the ground (apparently to simulate rain) in an attempt to tempt the worms to surface.

And then they count them. And the people who have collected the most worms are the winners. I've heard about competition but that is ridiculous.

Ferret Racing

Another creature I am not keen on is the ferret. I have known people who look and act like ferrets (one in particular whom we nicknamed “The Ferret” – how original were we?). Ferrets are vicious little brutes with sharp teeth that should be left out there in the wild and not domesticated.

There are a group of people who keep them as pets and a subgroup who like to wander over to fields filled with plastic pipes and race their pets against each other. I can’t think of anything more tedious myself. I would prefer to starve a ferret for a couple of days and then stick it down the trousers of those who race them; Sadly, there are people who do that already. Apparently the record is over five hours. Words fail me.

Looking for Mythical Creatures

Some people are not content with unusual hobbies with odd creatures. There are a number of people worldwide who simply are not satisfied with something as mundane as luring a worm out of its nice cosy little home of soil. These people think big and think outside the box. Why be content with a ferret when you can have the Loch Ness Monster? Yes, there are people in the world whose hobby is to sit patiently on the shores of a Scottish Loch waiting for a monster; or tramping through the forests of America searching for Big Foot; or risking life and limb in the Himalayas in search of a Yeti. I wouldn’t mind, but the photos I’ve seen of dear old Nessie are totally unconvincing. I could draw a more convincing picture myself. Here’s a message from me to people who believe that the Loch Ness Monster, Big Foot and the Yeti exist:

They DO NOT exist. If they did then we would have found them by now. Find another hobby.

UFO Spotting

There are people who are worse than Nessie hunters; people who aren’t satisfied with searching for mythical creatures on planet Earth; people who take blue sky thinking to the extreme. UFO spotters are utterly convinced that we are being scrutinised, kidnapped and experimented on by aliens from another world. Utter poppycock. I love science fiction but it is incredible to me that aliens are zooming around our skies looking for rednecks to experiment on.

I knew a UFO spotter at university and he was so confident that aliens were roaming the heavens waiting for the right moment to come down and conquer us all, that he spent time at night with telescopes and binoculars hunting them in the skies. I told him that life was not like Star Trek. Talking of which …

Extreme Trekkers

I have to confess that I am a Star Trek fan. However, I have drawn a line. I watch it on TV and that’s the end of it. To some people it is a religion; some people think it is REAL. One guy I used to work with turned up to work with a manual for the Starship Enterprise, describing in detail how the various of the components of a fictional space craft work. I can’t believe he bought it. I can’t believe anybody actually went to the trouble to WRITE it. At least he drew the line at walking around dressed as a Klingon, speaking Klingon and calling himself Thwaktok.

Extreme Ironing

I hate ironing. It is one of the most tedious chores that I have to do. I have tried to bribe Mrs PM to do my ironing but she hates it even more than I do. Some people love it. Some people love it so much that they want to do it in weird places under extreme conditions. In my mind, extreme ironing involves brain surgery – i.e. remove the “common sense” nodule of the brain alongside the “recognising boredom” lobe. Extreme ironing enthusiasts are missing something. Why iron on the top of a mountain, at the bottom of a lake or while hang gliding? If you don’t believe me, here is proof.

Eddie Stobart Lorry Spotters

I was horrified to discover that there actually is a hobby that is sadder than trainspotting. I’ve always questioned why people stand on railway platforms in the middle of winter recording serial numbers of locomotives. These days, the politically correct term for these sad people is “railway enthusiast”. They will always be trainspotters to me. Nevertheless, even lower down the scale than these dreary people are those who drive up and down the motorways of England looking for Eddie Stobart lorries. Eddie Stobart has a fleet of lorries each of which has a name like “Abbey Louise” and “Pamela Jane” and the idea is that you stand by the motorway or drive up and down the length of country recording them as you see them. How sad is that? Eddie Stobart is based in Carlisle – this is one reason I never want to go there.

Vomit Photography

Personally, I consider around 90% of what passes as “modern art” to be pictures of vomit hanging on our walls under the pretence of being some moving philosophical masterpiece that makes pseudo-intellectuals orgasmic with delight. There are weird people out there whose mission it is to walk around with a camera, taking photographs of people vomiting or the after effects of having vomited. I worry about the world sometimes.

Treating Monkeys As Babies

I watched a programme on TV some time ago about people in America who own monkeys and treat them just like babies. It was one of those televisual events where I wanted to switch off the TV but was engulfed in a shroud of disbelief and morbid fascination. I was actually too shocked to rant and too stunned to pick up the remote control. One woman not only dressed her monkey up in a pram, she also put lipstick on the ugly little beast and cuddled it like a child. I sat there for an hour with my mouth open in utter astonishment.

What about me?

I have a couple of hobbies at the moment; blogging, photography and learning Spanish, as well as other interests such as rock music, rock gigs and reading.

I have to confess that I have had a couple of hobbies that may be regarded as quite sad:

(1) Collecting Football Programmes – I have approximately 500 football programmes from games involving Walsall FC between 1973 and 1985. I still have them up in the loft but I no longer actively collect them. Mrs PM wants me to recycle them all but I reckon they might actually be worth something in years to come (well that’s my excuse anyway).

(2) Collecting beer mats – A couple of mates and I challenged each other at university to see who could collect the most beer mat. I went through approximately three tons of Blu Tack pinning them to the walls and ceiling of my room in the halls of residence before thinking – “Hang on! What in the name of all that is insane am I doing?” I recycled them. One friend took it to extreme though and when we were in France together he marched up to a waiter in Paris and said “Moi! J’aime les beer mats.” The waiter gave him a look that I will treasure for the rest of my life – if only I had had a camera with me.

(3) Playing the Air Guitar – I have to confess that in the past when alone in the house I have been known to close the blinds, put on some heavy metal, crank up the volume and become Joe Satriani, Kirk Hammett, John Petrucci, Alex Lifeson or Ritchie Blackmore – or an amalgamation of all of them and more. Thankfully I haven’t done this for years – apart from a stint on Guitar Hero (with a small plastic guitar).

I’ve bared my soul to you again, dear reader, in that last section.

Now over to you – do you have a weird or wonderful hobby?

Let me know – I won’t laugh – after all I’ve just confessed to shredding a non-existent guitar.

How sad is that?

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Beer Versus Chocolate

At work last week, we had a charity coffee morning. The idea was that members of staff buy or bake cakes, bring them into work and then senior managers take on the role of waiters and visit everybody in the office selling coffee and cake for a small fee, with all of the proceeds going to charity.

It’s nice to see a senior manager being a waiter – doing something useful for a change.

I like to do my bit for charity but I decided that I didn’t want to bake a cake because I hate cooking and I am sure that I would have inadvertently poisoned my co-workers. Instead I went to the local supermarket and bought a nice big chocolate party cake. I was convinced that there would not be enough cake for everybody; sadly quite a few others thought the same and in the end, so much cake was baked or bought that we had tons of the stuff left.

This has meant that for the past few days, we have been selling what’s left, again for charity.

Today, in the kitchen at work, there was a huge chocolate monster of a cake. I was urged to buy a slice and the temptation was almost overwhelming but I declined because I am trying to climb back down to a healthy BMI and a slice of this cake would have annihilated a week’s effort. Add to that, if I had had one slice I would have struggled not to go back for more and more and more.

All this got me thinking, which is a dangerous thing.

There one other thing that has the same effect on me as “Death by Chocolate” monstrosity that was tempting me – and that is beer.

For a bit of fun, I have decided to present to you a comparison of these two supposedly evil foodstuffs.

In the red corner we have chocolate; in the blue corner we have beer.

(1) Beer is addictive. If you have a pint at your local pub, you immediately think to yourself “Just one more for the road”. Before you know it you have had several for the road. Similarly, if you open a box of Lindor chocolate, you subconsciously reach into the box eating one after the other until you finally look down and realise with horror that you have eaten every last one – and STILL want more.

(2) Chocolate appeals to half of the human race – the female half. Beer appeals to the other half of the human race – the male half. Of course some men love chocolate and some women love beer – woe betides those who love both.

(3) Beer is brown – well the best beer is anyway. Lager is a kind of yellow colour whereas bitter has the same hue as a bar of Cadbury’s milk chocolate. Chocolate is also brown. I am not talking about that disgusting white chocolate which is especially made for kids and weirdos. I am weird but at least I am willing to admit that white chocolate is like rhubarb – unpleasant, unnatural and belongs in Hell.

(4) Chocolate makes you fat. If you spend your evenings sitting on a sofa munching a box of Quality Street you will inevitably weigh more than your house. Equally, beer makes you fat. If you spend your evenings sitting in a pub drinking pint after pint of Old Stoatwobbler you will eventually have a beer gut so big that you can build a house on it.

(5) Beer is apparently bad for your body. In small doses it can have health benefits. Sadly by “small dose” the “experts” mean one pint a month. Any more than that and you are a binge-drinking boozer with a leather liver, red blotches and a beer gut you could use as an offensive weapon. Chocolate is also bad for your body. If you plough through box after box of Milk Tray, you will rot your teeth and be so obese that the only way you will be able to leave the house is via the window on the end of a crane.

(6) Beer makes you sick. An evening in the company of several pints of Guinness will eventually cause your body to say “ENOUGH!” and hurl the entire contents of your stomach into the nearest receptacle (the toilet, somebody’s lap, a fruit machine) in a bid to rid itself of the ale. Equally if you spend an entire day trying to eat a shop’s worth of Cadburys your body stomach will say “I don’t care if you like the taste of this chocolate – it’s being evicted”. The good thing is that with chocolate at least you will be compis mentis and have some control over the location of the ejected food matter.

(7) Chocolate makes you feel good. Beer makes you feel good. Why? Because both release endorphins in the brain. When I first heard that I asked Mrs PM why we don’t end up dressing up in weird vivid lycra costumes with a crash helmet and start kicking shit out of bad guys.. She said “Endorphins, you moron, not Mighty Morphin Power Rangers”. So what are endorphins? They basically make you feel good and full of energy. That explains a lot and may also contribute to the reason why beer and chocolate are addictive. Sadly, the endorphins seem to vanish when we over-indulge and start throwing up.

I love beer and I tolerate chocolate – but not together. Chocolate is too sweet and ruins the taste of a good pint. Besides, it’s probably a good thing that I don’t like them equally because I would end up being so big that Tories would start pointing to me and saying “That’s what’s wrong with Britain.”

They probably say that about me anyway.

It is possible to combine beer and chocolate in a bizarre way though. At a beer festival earlier this year, I spotted a “Chocolate Beer”. Mrs PM was with me and she said “OOH!! I have to try some of that.”

Me and my mates grimaced and thought that it was an unholy alliance. We weren’t so appalled that we didn’t want to try it though. Mrs PM obliged and gave me a swig.

At first I thought, yes – it really DOES taste like chocolate.

Sadly, that’s about as far as the positives went before being swamped by the negatives. After the initial chocolate buzz the taste of the beer burst through leaving a totally unpleasant bittersweet taste in my mouth that made me feel slightly queasy. Worse, the colour of the beer wasn’t the most alluring thing I have ever seen; a kind of dark diarrhoea brown.

Mrs PM struggled on and by the end of it, her verdict was “I’m never drinking that again.”

This just goes to show that two rights can make a wrong.

Leave the beer in the pub, to enjoy with your mates, and the chocolate at work to get you through the day – especially if served by senior managers with a nice cup of coffee.

Nothing is sweeter than that.