Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Keyboard Warrior (Part Two) - The Soul Of The Troll

A few years ago I wrote a post about Keyboard Warriors, also known as Trolls (you can read it here).

These are people who hide behind their keyboards in total anonymity and post vile and vindictive comments, posts etc. under an assumed name, and cause anger, pain and sometimes worse. They range from being anonymously insulting to being utterly malicious cyber bullies.

A couple of days ago I received a comment on a post I wrote three years ago about my thoughts on William Shakespeare (you can read it here). Basically I said that he was rubbish (or at least rubbish in a contemporary way), in what I thought would be an amusing little article with a witty title – and it provoked a Keyboard Warrior, albeit a relatively mild one, to respond.

My desire for the post, like just about all of the posts I write, was to provoke a little debate, with a little light-hearted humour, giving me a chance to reminisce a little about English classes as school and poke fun at a British establishment. I added a little self-deprecation, as I usually do, in order to make reading the post a fun experience.

I was – and still am – quite proud of that particular post. I received a fair few comments, some of which agreed whole-heartedly with my views, and others that disagreed with valid reasons.

It was a bit of fun and I think most people who read it enjoyed the fun too. The post was even mentioned in a Shakespeare blog (something that made me quite pleased with myself).

And then I received another comment from a Keyboard Warrior called “Edward”. Here it is:

I found this drivel by accident. I'm just amazed that there are people out there like you, very many people in fact, who wear their ignorance and foolishness so proudly. I thought I was reading the ramblings of some over-opinionated teenager until I saw what an old fart you were. 

Now I have a thick skin and my first reaction was to laugh out loud. As Edward quite rightly points out – I really am an old fart – which is why I can laugh about it and take his jibes on the chin. Had Edward actually left me a link to his blog or a profile where I could mail him, I would have done that and offered to enter a debate on the pros and cons of the Bard.

Sadly, like all Keyboard Warriors, poor Edward has chosen to hide behind, what I assume, is a pseudonym. There was no debate, no intelligent responses to my points – nothing more than, effectively:

“You are a dickhead”.

And it is this kind of blind thinking that makes a Keyboard Warrior a menace. While I am thick skinned enough to shrug off such abuse, there are a lot of people who take such insults and anonymous negativity to heart.

Trolls cannot debate; they simply have to say nasty things.

Compared to some trolls out there, Edward is an extremely mild form; he didn’t swear yet he chose to call me ignorant, foolish and over-opinionated as well as an old fart – mild by comparison to some troll output I have read.

As somebody who loves the debate, I always find that when the person I am arguing with resorts to petty insults, then I have simply won the argument because they cannot respond.

Believe me, dear reader, I have had some lively debates over the years and been on the receiving end of extremely heavy defeats.  Unlike your average troll, however, I brush myself down and admit defeat.

There is nothing wrong with admitting that you are wrong.

Most debates and discussions I have end up with both parties agreeing to disagree and metaphorically shaking hands across cyberspace as we part amicably having had a fabulous and sometimes lively discussion.

I pride myself in having the ability to be able to be open about things too. I have changed my opinions on many things because of a well-argued and logical point of view. In my experience a large percentage of people are like that.

Of course I can be stubborn – but at least I can and do admit it.

To be honest, the only times I have fallen victim to trolls is when I have commented on other peoples’ blog posts or dived into a debate on a message board. People who stumble across my blog rarely engage in troll-like comment writing.

On one particular message board, I have seen a troll actually threaten another poster with violence, from behind the cover of a pseudonym of course. Thankfully, the other members of that particular community reacted and rallied round the victim, before the board moderators banned the perpetrator.

Sadly, on other social media, trolls can run riot.

My stance is the same as it has ever been; if a troll attacks me I will respond but without resorting to low tactics if I can help it. However, it does annoy me.

Bullying is something that I have dealt with physically in the past; I despise bullies and in one particular episode from my childhood, the red mist descended forcing me to lash out at the perpetrator without fear of the consequences.

It worked and I never suffered again. I have made a pact with myself that I will not succumb to bullying of any kind and I will do my best to bring the bully down as hard and as fast as I can.

There are people out there who simply can’t do that and, worse, it is even more difficult if the bully is a troll who can hide behind anonymity, sitting there behind his keyboard pouring scorn on the world without fear of reprisal because, he thinks, he can get away with it.

I do pity some trolls though, because I have a theory that they have, in the past, been victims of bullying themselves and consider their behaviour to be acceptable. This breed of troll has been a victim in the past and has decided that he will become the very thing he despised because he thinks it will make him a better person.

It’s a kind of warped view on survival of the fittest. Behind the anonymity of the keyboard, the troll can be the alpha male he wants to be without fear of being conquered by others.

I pity those guys and hope that they see the error of their ways. The best way to respond to a bully is to fight back – not bully others.

Anyway, you’re probably curious about how I responded to Edward. Here’s what I said:

Hi "Edward",

It's very nice of you to comment; in particular it is very nice of you NOT to actually attempt to debate with me about the merits of Shakespeare. I am certain that Shakespeare himself would be impressed by your heroic defence of his work.

Except it's not really a defence is it? Clearly you can't put forward a cogent argument as to why I am wrong; you can't give me examples of why I should care one jot about the bard's work, like the other, more reasonable commentators on this post.

But hey - all I do is write drivel, eh?

If you dare, please try commenting again, this time with an email address or something, rather than under the anonymous name "Edward" and with less of a hint of the Keyboard Warrior.

I am willing to listen to people who can debate - but not people who blindly insult without actually thinking about what they are saying.




I even added my usual smiley.

One last thing, Edward – if you stumble across THIS piece of drivel and feel I am picking on you, then please feel free to engage in a discussion:

(a) Why Shakespeare ISN’T rubbish.
(b) Why you are not a Troll.

Let’s have a debate about it.

Anonymity can be used for many things – but using it to become a troll is something I struggle to forgive.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

My A to Z Of Food

I love food. In fact, I haven’t met a person or animal that doesn’t like food. I know for a fact that some people love food more than others – and that’s also true of my cats. Jasper (aka “Fatty”) loves his food so much that he can barely haul his fat arse off the chair to wobble into the kitchen for his bowl of food.

While trawling the internet, I found another A to Z meme, this time food related, and I thought might be fun to have a go at.

As usual, please feel free to steal it.

A - Are you adventurous when it comes to trying unusual food?

Yes and no. There are certain things I will not try – such as insects or gastropods. I have eaten outside my comfort zone, particularly in China, Japan, Australia and even Europe. Most recently in Japan, Mrs PM and I were served an authentic multi-course meal and the waiter took great pleasure in telling us exactly what we were eating, including bizarre foodstuffs like sea urchin. I didn’t think people ate sea urchin. Recently in the UK and France, there was a scandal where it was discovered that everyday processed foodstuffs, such as lasagne, actually contained horsemeat instead of beef. I have to say that I actually willingly had a horse steak in Zurich and I loved it. Sometimes we Brits are a little stuffy when it comes to food; I think we should be more adventurous as a nation.

B - Breakfast – what does your typical breakfast consist of?

During the week I have Oat Flakes with raisins and a banana, all washed down with a glass of grapefruit juice. At the weekend I sometimes treat myself to bacon and egg or toast
or all three, all washed down with a nice strong cup of tea.

C - Comfort food – what do you reach for when you need cheering up?

I’m quite happy to eat a cheese sandwich and a cup of tea.

D - Describe a dessert to die for.

Black Forest Gateaux. I am not usually a dessert person, preferring cheese and biscuits to a sugary, creamy calorific mess that makes you fat just looking at it. However, I cannot resist a Black Forest Gateaux because the combination of ingredients hits a spot – and makes me feel dreadful afterwards, firstly because I have almost certainly put on several pounds, and secondly because I rarely eat desserts, I actually start to feel queasy.

E-  Eggs – sunny side up, scrambled, poached or another way – how do you like yours?

I like eggs, scrambled, fried, boiled and poached. I’m not that fussy to be honest.

F - Fruit – do you find it fiddly or fab? What’s your favourite?

I love fruit. My favourites are apples, bananas, grapefruit, nectarines, peaches, plums and oranges. I eat at least one piece of fruit a day.

G - Gourmet food – what do you make of it?

Sometimes I think it is overpriced rubbish. However, there have been occasions when I have been pleasantly surprised by the amazing taste. The problem is I still feel hungry afterwards.

H - Hangover food – what works for you? 

A full English breakfast: Bacon, eggs, sausages, toast, black pudding and lots of fruit juice.

I - Ice cream – what’s your favourite flavour?

I’m not a huge fan of ice cream but I really like the chocolate chip ice cream I had from Ben and Jerry’s last time I was in the US. Also, Italian ice cream is particularly nice.

J - Juices – just one fruit or a cocktail of flavours? And your favourite juice?

Grapefruit juice is my favourite but I sometimes mix it with orange juice (usually when we are low on one of them). Apple juice is also extremely pleasant as are most juices if I’m honest.

K - Are you a Kitchen King / Queen or a total disaster?

I hate cooking but when I do cook, I am a Kitchen King.  I have never had a disaster yet and I think I could impress a young lady with a wonderful meal, if I were ever to be young, free and single again. Mrs PM certainly likes my culinary efforts, although I’m not sure whether that is because it tastes good or because she wants me to continue cooking and is therefore buttering me up.

L - Lunch – tell us about a lovely lunch, real or ideal. Where? What? Who with?

I love a lunch with Mrs PM and/or friends in a pub or bistro that served decent light wholesome food. However, there are a few celebrities I wouldn’t mind having lunch with. One day I’ll make a list for a separate post.

M - Money is no object so what would you order in a restaurant?

I think I would go for a monstrous and very expensive steak.

N - No way! I’m not eating that! What foods turn your stomach?

Rhubarb. The very thought of putting it in my mouth makes me feel sick. It belongs in Hell (where I am absolutely certain it grows in abundance). It ought to be the 11th commandment: THOU SHALT NOT EAT RHUBARB! Rhubarb should be ILLEGAL!

O - Octopus – would you? Have you? How was it?

Yes I would – and I have on several occasions. It was wonderful. The first time I ate octopus was in a Greek restaurant in Liverpool in 1984. The last time was in a restaurant in Kyoto, Japan earlier this year.

P - Picnics – describe your perfect picnic platter.

Sandwiches, cheese, biscuits, fruit and plenty of wine and beer.

Q - Quick snack – what do you go for when you need something fast?

Sorry to be boring but I usually make a sandwich – or as we say here in Manchester – a butty. I also like olives or a piece of fruit. Mind you, if we have any in, I will also go for chocolate and/or crisps.

R - Roasted, baked, chips or mash? What’s the best way of cooking potatoes?

In this order: mashed, chips, baked, boiled.

S - Signature dish – what’s yours? Why?

Pasta. I can whip up a decent pasta dish in 15 minutes. Quick, easy and delicious.

T - Toast – how can something so simple be so complicated? How do you like yours?

Toast is toast is toast. My favourite toast has lashings of melted cheese on it. Or marmite (I realise that people either love or hate marmite; I love it – I’m sorry).

U - Underrated food you think everyone should try.

Avocado is underrated in my opinion. I love it in salads, on sandwiches with salmon and of course guacamole is simply wonderful. I know people who hate it – or at least claim to, most of whom have never tried it and simply don’t like the look of it.

V - Vegetarian dishes you love or hate.

I hate anything with celery in it. I love a decent salad.

W - Weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten.

Sea urchin.

X - X-rated – what food gets you in the mood?

Anything – if I’m in the mood I am simply in the mood. I have tried oysters but I have to say I will never ever do that again; one of the most disgusting things I have ever eaten.

Y - Yuckiest meal? What? Where? Why?

I have mentioned this before but I will again; eel stew in Hong Kong. It tasted as disgusting as it looked. Why did I have it? Because I was feeling adventurous, despite the earnings from one of my colleagues who urged me not to try it.

Z - Zero calorie options – are they an option for you? Why?

Absolutely but I need to have something that contains a little substance alongside it. I am slightly overweight but not really fat and I think that having a balanced diet is the key to staying slim. It’s fine to have a monstrously highly calorific meal but you need to cut down later. It works for me and I reckon it could work for most people.

And finally …

As I said above, please feel free to steal this meme. I would be interested in your answers.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Soapbox For Sale

So there I was, searching You Tube for a glimpse of the new video by Nine Inch Nails, suspecting that it would be a pleasurable experience that would add a little extra happiness to my day. The last thing I expected was that I would end up ranting to the cats again.

I found the video and pressed the play button so that I could listen to a brand new song from one of my favourite recording artists.

After 90 seconds I was in full rant mode.


Because I had had to endure 90 seconds of watching an advert for a product that I have no interest in at all. 

I had no choice.

It was the final straw. I was so looking forward to the video that when I was asked to spend a whole minute and a half watching a pointless trailer for a violent computer game, in which I have no interest, I simply flipped.

These adverts are so bloody irritating and are popping up everywhere. The internet used to be a safe haven from the endless adverts that plagued television and radio commercials.

The disease has spread to the internet, dear reader – and I am bloody annoyed about it.

My entire life is invaded by people endlessly harassing and haranguing me, urging me to throw away my hard earned cash on products that I have absolutely zero interest in.

There’s no escape.

I feel like I’m being hunted by relentless marketing people who want to beat me into submission so that I turn into one of those poor unfortunate people who end up throwing away their money and filling their houses with trinkets, gadgets, music, movies, clothes, cleaning products, furniture, food, motor accessories and every conceivable product that can be purchased.

My smartphone is a target for a lot of rants – though not because it is a useless gadget. If I am out and about and want to surf the internet on my phone, I invariably end up having advert after advert hurled at the screen.


Because the advertisers are exploiting my physical weakness and my lack of coordination.

On my tiny smartphone screen (which incidentally is bigger than most, including the latest iPhone), I see a link I have to click with my decrepit eyes. Because my failing eyesight lets me down, my terrible hand-eye coordination and stubby fingers mean that I inadvertently click the wrong link – the bloody link that points to an advert - the link that takes 2 minutes to display and wastes a fraction of MY money because I have forked out for mobile internet and had to waste precious megabytes downloading something that is asking me if I want to buy carpet shampoo.

Imagine this happening on a bus, full of other passengers minding their own business. All they hear is me screaming at my phone:


The passengers are divided. All smartphone owners nod in deep understanding because this has happened to them. Others think I’m an imbecile ranting at a poor victim at the other end of my phone and shy away from me as if I am the nutter on the nutty bus.

Why the blithering flump have You Tube decided that covering their videos with an advert is a good idea? If anything it is going to stop people using the service.

And on Facebook – why do you have to watch a bloody video before you play one of their mind-numbing but hopelessly addictive games?

Ranting about adverts is nothing new for me. I’ve been doing it for donkey’s years. The difference is that I thought I had eliminated them from my life.

On TV, I simply started recording everything, whether it be on a video recorder in the 80’s and 90’s or on Sky Plus since I have had satellite TV. This means that now I can simply zap through the commercials. I rarely see a TV commercial these days.

That said, we now have to suffer adverts from companies that sponsor TV programmes so I can’t eliminate all of them. My current favourite TV programme is Dexter and that. Like all drama on Fox TV, is sponsored by a male fragrance in a pink bottle and usually features a rather suspect male model wearing little clothing being groped by an equally scantily clad woman. I am ranting before the credits start.

On the radio, I have long since stopped listening to commercial radio stations, mainly because the music is garbage (I won’t start a rant about that) but also because the DJ’s all talk shit and the adverts are the worst adverts in the world. Here is a typical 30 minutes on a commercial radio station:

00 to 02: News – 50% of which is about pointless celebrities.
03 to 04: Weather (which in the UK is invariably shit).
05 to 07: Stupid bloody adverts.
09 to 17: Inane bollocks from idiotic DJ’s.
18 to 20: Half of a crap song interrupted by yet more inane drivel from DJ’s.
21 to 23: Yet more stupid bloody adverts.
24 to 27: Half of a crap song interrupted by even more insipid idiocy from DJ’s.
28 to 30: Yet MORE stupid bloody adverts.

I thought the internet was my sanctuary but it’s not. Every single web page has been invaded by the inexorable, ruthless advertising machine that ruins all of our lives.***

I will try to end on a positive note.

While some adverts are totally irritating or just plain annoying I have to admit that there have been some adverts over the years that have made me chuckle.

Here are a few of my favourites:

I apologise for any unsolicited adverts supplied by You Tube when viewing these adverts.

By the way – don’t be misled by the title of this blog post. I have absolutely no intention of selling my soapbox.

I need it and it is priceless.

*** Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed the adverts at the foot of this very web page. I apologise for my hypocrisy; I have made all of fifteen shiny new pounds sterling in five years. Impressed?  I’m not!

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Adventurers

I used to think I was quite adventurous, a man who approached the edge, albeit with caution, and peered over, satisfied that I had actually dared to go close enough to regale friends and colleagues with tales of valour and adventure.

Last weekend I realised that there are people who march up to the edge and throw themselves off with wild abandon and a spirit of adventure that makes my tales and experiences pale into insignificance.

Mrs PM has a friend called Ryan, a man lives life to the full. I met Ryan way back in 1999 in Hong Kong when Mrs PM and I were working together. He was immediately likeable and extremely outgoing. He had left England’s shores and moved to Hong Kong with no plan other than to do something different. When I met him he was writing for a local magazine, mainly as a source of income so that he could remain there.

After Hong Kong, he continued to work his way around Asia teaching English as a foreign language.

The last time I saw him was early in the 2000’s when he returned to England for a university reunion, which coincidentally took place in Manchester. Before too long he was off on his travels again.

I heard snippets of his adventures and eventually found out that he had met an American woman called Tasha and had moved to New York.

Earlier this year, Mrs PM asked if I fancied a trip to London for another of her university reunions. The answer was yes, of course. Not only would it be a good excuse to visit the capital again, I would also get to see her friends again, all of whom are great fun to be with.

“Ryan will be there,” she said. “In fact, it’s really just for him we’re going. He’s going to sail part way around the world.”

The words slowly sunk in.

“You mean on his own?” I asked.

“No – in a clipper with a crew of people.”

His adventures had cranked up a gear.

“We get to go on a spectator boat as his guests,” she added.

Even then I didn’t really sense the full impact of what I was about to see.

We arrived in the East End of London at Sarah and Rob’s who were kindly putting us up for the night. On Saturday night, we arrived at London Bridge station and made our way to St Katherine’s Docks just next to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, where we met some of Mrs PM’s other old friends.

It was then that I realised that this event was much bigger than I initially thought.

There were twelve 70ft racing yachts, each manned by a team of 20. The race was fairly big news, making the national papers and the BBC news. St Katharine’s Dock was very busy with security prohibiting people from getting close to the yachts themselves.

We saw Ryan on one of the yachts and after a brief exchange on the phone with his wife Tasha, we were allowed to bypass security as guests of the crew and have a chance to explore the yacht itself. My first thought was:

“Twenty people on this boat?”

Yes indeed – and there was not much room, particularly below decks. Ryan told us that crew took it in turns to sail the boat, getting four hours sleep then working for four hours before getting more sleep, sharing bunk beds in the cramped space.

Even more surprising was the fact that the teams were largely made up of novices, each of whom had undergone intense training. Ryan and his wife were actually sailing on different yachts.

The trip itself consists of several legs; Ryan and Tasha are sailing the first leg (London to Rio de Janeiro) then the third leg (Cape Town to Western Australia). They are going to visit Rio, then fly to Cape Town before the yachts arrive and explore the area before rejoining the race to Australia. From there they are leaving the race and exploring Australia before heading off to Asia for more adventures.

To me the boat seemed really small for the number of people and I was in awe of the crew. It soon became clear that this was the edge that I would peer at as people like Ryan and his wife marched over gleefully.

Later that evening we had dinner with Ryan and Tasha and their family and friends and I had a chance to talk to Tasha, who was suddenly aware of the enormity of the task in front of her. Her nerves were evident but I sensed that she it was nervous excitement; her enthusiasm was almost infectious.

I chatted briefly to her about my travels but compared to her I had travelled the easy way. For example, I love telling people that I spent three weeks in a hotel in the middle of a Russian winter. Tasha told me about spending many more weeks in Russia in the middle of winter teaching English but in a place where for one reason or another, the electricity was turned off, leaving her effectively living fully clothed in a sleeping bag reading book after book.

She and Ryan seem made for each other, kindred spirits keen to try something new and adventurous while travelling the world.

The next day we arrived at St Katherine’s Dock again just in time to see Ryan’s team being interviewed before departure. The whole place was absolutely packed; in fact there were people along Tower Bridge and the river side waiting for, what turned out be a fairly large flotilla that would escort the yachts down the River Thames towards the race start.

I realised how lucky we were because we were privileged enough to be on a spectator boat. Such was the significance of the race that Tower Bridge was raised to allow the yachts through so that spectators could see for themselves.  I had never seen Tower Bridge raised.

Our boat was one of a quite a few and we sailed beneath Tower Bridge and got the best view as we approached each of the yachts in turn before they set off towards Greenwich. Crowds cheered and applauded from the boats and the riverside as well as Tower Bridge itself.

We cruised down the Thames, following the yachts which, at this stage were all in sequence, the crew on board dancing, waving and shouting to the cheering crowds offering encouragement. Whenever we passed a yacht, family and friends screamed encouragement to their loved ones in the team, waving flags furiously to attract attention.

Ryan actually spotted us and did a little dance on the front of his yacht. Other teams were clapping, singing and dancing.

After a couple of hours of accompanying the yachts, we reached the Thames Barrier and this was the point where we said goodbye to them. The spectator boats lined up to watch the yachts sail past, with every single one of them receiving raucous cheers.

We returned back up river to St Katharine’s Dock and chatted about the task that lay ahead for the intrepid sailors. One of Mrs PM’s friends asked if we should do it.

“I’m a little too old I think,” I said.

“You’re NEVER too old,” she replied. “LET’S DO IT!!”

I suspect that she was joking but there may be an element of true desire to do it. From my own perspective, I may have been tempted to have a go in my younger days but I really don’t think I could now. I feel unable to step over the edge into the unknown.

Yet there is a little part of me that wouldn’t mind – and feels envious.

Nevertheless, I would love to just pack in my job and fly off on a round the world trip; it is still an ambition of mine. It would be an adventure, but not a true adventure like the one Ryan and Tasha are embarking on.

To finish off, here are a few photos of the weekend.

Tower Bridge and The Shard

Spectators next to the Tower of London
Tower Bridge opens for the occasion

Ryan's yacht

Tasha's yacht

River Thames and a few boats
You can read more about the race here.

I am off on my travels again on Friday, this time back to Turkey for a relaxing holiday with a couple of friends.

Not exactly sailing around the world but it will do me for now.