Sunday, 26 January 2014

Confessions of a Shopaphobe

I am a shopaphobe, if such a word exists. If it doesn’t then it ought to - and I want it to be added to the Oxford English Dictionary immediately, with the following definition:

A person for whom shopping is a complete nightmare.

Whenever I hear or read about people wanting to improve their mood through retail therapy, I want to scream in anguish on their behalf.

There is no such thing as retail therapy; there is only retail trauma!

If I were feeling low and depressed, the last thing I would do is head off to Manchester city centre or the Trafford Centre in order to combat my dark mood. Such a trip would almost certainly push me over the edge and you would find me sitting cross-legged in the car park rocking backwards and forwards while chanting something incoherent about shopping malls from Hell.

I hate shopping.

I have always hated shopping.

I think I always will hate shopping.

If you are a shopaholic, you may be reading this and shaking your head in disbelief, asking yourself how retail therapy can be rebadged as retail trauma by an idiotic old fool in Manchester.

Allow me to explain:

Shops are generally overcrowded.

Whenever I head towards the city centre or the Trafford Centre, our local piece of Hell, I suddenly become aware that I am becoming increasingly agitated. I am reminded of a Star Trek episode from the original series called The Mark of Gideon, in which Captain Kirk finds himself on a planet that is so overcrowded that there is absolutely no privacy and nowhere free of huge throngs of people, eternally crushed against each other.
Captain Kirk's view of the Trafford Centre

You have to queue for changing rooms, queue to pay, even queue to browse for books and CDs. The staff are run off their feet and seem to be in a constant state of flux, darting around with three pairs of shoes for three separate customers to try on, or struggling to answer questions from around six people about the latest smart TV’s.

I am not claustrophobic at all, but in places like the Trafford Centre on a Saturday afternoon, I find myself fighting to escape. The shops are full but so is the shopping mall itself. There is no escape – except to fight your way out of the place and breathe in precious oxygen in the inevitable rainstorm outside.

I can be indecisive.

Such is my hatred of shopping that I have to decide exactly what I want to buy before I embark upon my trip to the shopping mall from Hell. I have a plan etched into my mind; I know exactly what I want, in which colour and from which shop.

The problem is that when I get there, I find myself changing my mind, particularly if I see something similar that may be slightly more appealing or even better. I am then torn and end up wandering around looking for other alternatives, possibly at a cheaper price. Basically my plan crumbles quicker than badly built skyscraper in a massive earthquake and I either spend hours searching for something else or arrive home disappointed with nothing to show for my trauma.

Mrs PM is indecisive.

Mrs PM claims not to be indecisive - but she is.

I learnt a long time ago not to go shopping for clothes with Mrs PM. Sadly, sometimes, she insists and I have to spend hours in a woman’s clothes shop while she tries of dress after dress after dress, shoe after shoe after shoe, coat after coat after coat, skirt after skirt after skirt – you get the picture.

Even worse, this is not just limited to clothes. If we need something for the house – an item of furniture, a carpet, paint etc. it is even worse. The amount of money we have to spend is potentially larger for such items – so she has to get it right. Consequently I feel that I may as well take a tent and supplies to such shops so that I can bed down for the night while she decides exactly what will fit in our house, what the exactly colour scheme match will be and whether the cats will be comfortable sitting on whatever we buy.

Women’s clothes shops are not designed for men.

You may have seen the episode of Father Ted where a bunch of priests are trapped in the lingerie section of a department store.

I feel the same way as Father Ted but at least I have an excuse because I am with Mrs PM.

The problem is that she is so indecisive (see previous point) that she goes to the changing room with around two hundred  items to try on, leaving me standing outside the changing room like a spare part for the best part of two hours.

Worse, every single ladies' clothes shop has the changing room right next to or within the lingerie section.

What sadistic psychopath dreamt up THAT layout?

I am left standing outside trying my best not to appear to be staring at women’s knickers, bras or the mannequins modelling them.

No matter how obvious it is that I am waiting for my lovely lady, I can’t help thinking that every single woman who sees me considers me to be some kind of colossal pervert who likes to hang around in the lingerie section.

Ikea is a Maze 

The worst shop in the world is Ikea.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the wares for sale in Ikea.

What I hate is the shop itself and the layout of the place. I have a theory that there are people who like to explore dark and inhospitable places who will draw the line at exploring their local Ikea simply because it is like a huge labyrinth that is impossible to escape from.

I am convinced there are people who visited for a set of glasses two weeks ago who are still trying to escape from there.

Even if you know how to negotiate your way out of the place, you still end up buying ten times the amount of furniture or household equipment that you planned to buy when you walked through the doors. The worst thing about the store is that you walk around, lifting box after box of build-it-yourself furniture onto you shopping trolley and then have to find a way to somehow cram it into the car for the fifteen mile journey home.

And Finally

There are many more reasons why shopping is a pastime conceived by a particularly devious and sadistic demon from Beelzebub’s legion of pain and I will no doubt elaborate on those in a future post.

In the meantime, I am sure that there are people out there who are shopaholics and absolutely love to traipse around shops for hours and hours on end.

Over to you, dear reader. 

Are you a Shopaphobe or a Shopaholic?

If you are a Shopaholic, why do you think shopping is therapeutic?

More importantly, have you any tips to help me overcome my fear and hatred of places like the Trafford Centre.

My own way is to avoid these places and shop online.

I wonder whether I can get a doctor’s note excusing me from shopping because of “shopaphobia”?

It’s worth a try. All I have to do is video myself after a trip to Ikea.

That would convince even the most sceptical doctor.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

I Wanna Know What Love Is?

It’s time for some stupid research. I’ve always wanted to know what love is and I sure that you, dear reader, are curious about love too. We think we know what love is but do we really?

I’ve decided to look into my music collection for inspiration because most bands, musicians and singers spend a lot of time writing about love – so who better to advise me?

First of all, this post needs a soundtrack – here is "Love" by the French pop group Air who seem to think that repeating the word Love over and over and over again is enough to inspire you to – well – love I guess.

Press play and continue reading – it may just help.

It seems that not all bands and artists know what love is. Foreigner famously said “I wanna know what love is” and asked you, the listener to show them. I don’t think I would want to show a bunch of middle aged male musicians what love is to be fair.

It’s a rather strange request in my view.

 Also, Howard Jones asks “What is love anyway? Does anybody love anybody anyway?"

It seems that when you are in love, you don’t necessarily know it. Whitesnake, for example, ask “Is This Love?”

I think people do love each other and with the help of my musical collection I will prove it.

So what exactly is love?

Well my research has got me slightly worried. Apparently “Love is the Law” (The Seahorses), which implies that it may be a criminal offence not to be in love or not to know what love actually is. Perhaps that’s why everybody claims to be in love without actually knowing what it is in case the love police come to arrest them. The love police, if they exist, may arrest you anyway because “Love is the Drug” (Roxy Music). Robert Palmer must have overdosed on love because he became “Addicted to Love”.

Is there some form of rehab if you suffer from such an addiction? I presume that when you have completed your therapy, you have to shatter your ties with love. Rainbow managed this because they preach that  “Love’s No Friend”.

Whether it’s a drug or not, love can be difficult to find because “Love is Rare” (Morcheeba). This is confirmed by The Eurythmics who go further and tell us that “Love is a Stranger”. If that’s the case then why do so many people claim to fall in love?

I’m confused by this. The Darkness have tried to shed some light on this by telling us that “Love is only a Feeling”; I think it’s more than that, if I’m honest and it can be quite dangerous.

Pat Benatar has warned us that “Love is a Battlefield” with The Little Angels even weaponising love with the claim that “Love is a Gun”. Presumably they used a “Love Gun” (Kiss) when in battle. Anyway, I think that if such a battle were to take place then the odds of winning are slim to non-existent. How do I know this? Because “Love Conquers All” (Deep Purple).

And there will be casualties from this battlefield too; there are no rules in this particular type of combat. Def Leppard report that “Love Bites”. This is confirmed by Nazareth who claim that “Love Hurts”.

Basically, I think we are fighting a losing battle so we may as well dive into love and embrace it, otherwise it could prove fatal because, according to Vixen, “Love is a Killer” and Brian May validates this with the cautionary note that “Too Much Love Can Kill You”. Freddy Mercury goes further and simply states that “Love Kills”.

There is hope that if you are killed or maimed  by love, you can also be revived quite easily, which is encouraging, because “Love is like Oxygen” (The Sweet).

I’m still none the wiser really because now I have established that love has many violent forms such as “Napalm Love” (Air): I was rather disturbed when I discovered this – perhaps it is a weapon used on Pat Benatar’s battlefield. There seems to be a sinister undercurrent of aggression and insanity as confirmed by the Jim Steinman who reports the existence of “Stark Raving Love”.

Perhaps we all need to fight back. I think we can do this because Def Leppard offer us hope with the existence of “Fractured Love” and The Hives report that they have seen “Love in Plaster”.

There is hope for us all; we can control love and turn it into exactly what we want. We can be a bad influence and create “Tainted Love” (Soft Cell) and “Sinful Love” (Blue Öyster Cult). If you are a bit of a sadomasochist, perhaps you can be tempted by “Dirty Love” (Thunder).

Once you have love under control you can nurture it and make it grow into “Big Love” (Robert Plant, Fleetwood Mac).

Faith No More have gone one step further and gone swimming with their “Underwater Love”.

Once you have love under control you can determine who you want to be in love with. I have some suggestions. Alice Cooper recommends “This Maniac’s in Love With You” which may be a little too hazardous for some readers (me included). If you like to live life in the fast lane with speed as your friend perhaps you could choose a “Turbo Lover” (Judas Priest).  Other options include AC/DC’s “Love Hungry Man” which, to be honest wouldn’t be my cup of tea.

The good news that you can turn to religion for inspiration. Thunder certainly appear to have done this as they told me about “The Gods of Love” - apparently you can pray to them too.

Once you have found love you need to look after it and be wary of the pitfalls. For example Aerosmith warn that “Falling in Love is Hard on the Knees”. Perhaps they are doing it wrong.

And there are things that will try to take your love away from you. Depeche Mode were victims of “The Love Thieves” who were ably assisted by Kate Bush and her “Hounds of Love” and Whitesnake’s “Love Hunter”.

If you can escape these threats you can have a lot of fun. How about riding the “Love Rollercoaster” with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers or joining The B52’s in their “Love Shack”?

Sounds like fun to me.

I hope I have helped you understand the ups and downs of love and I would like to thank my iPod for inspiration.

Please (don’t) take my advice seriously – better still do a little research yourself and let me know what you discover.

If you are struggling after all that you can go to see Level 42 who, I believe, are still offering  “Lessons in Love” at a reasonable price.

They can teach you the inspirational quote from ABC’s “The Look of Love”:

“If you judge a book by the cover
Then you judge the look by the lover.
I hope you soon recover.
Me I go from one extreme to another.”

Mrs PM knows that I love her because I always tell her that “I Love You More Than Rock And Roll”.

And that is something she cherishes.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Caffeine Bomb

I have a love/hate relationship with coffee - or more accurately caffeine.

It all started when I drank approximately a gallon of coffee to help me cram in all of the knowledge in my notes the night before my very last exam at university. Usually I was well prepared but a mixture of laziness and arrogance forced me to spend most of the entire night reading and rereading reams of notes in the hope that some of it stuck.

Caffeine didn’t help me. On the contrary, I think it made the situation worse.

The coffee certainly kept me awake but my brain was totally and utterly fried and I didn’t get a wink of sleep. Sadly my ability to retain facts and apply logic flew out of the window and headed south. That was the worst exam I ever sat. After the initial panic was over, I somehow managed to struggle through dredging my memory to scribble down vague facts related to the subject at hand.

I passed – barely.

As a kid I rarely drank coffee. I would have a cup to force myself awake for a newspaper round at 6am in the morning, but apart from that I was a tea junky. I didn’t actually realise that tea contains a fairly large quantity of caffeine too - that's how stupid I was.

I have always loved my tea to be so strong that I can stand a spoon up in it. I leave the teabag in the cup for as long as possible so that all of the flavour – and caffeine – drains into the hot water.  Yet paradoxically I cannot stand strong coffee.

I remember my first trip to Europe way back in the early 1980’s. My travelling companion at the time was a coffee addict who drank his caffeine bombs by the bucket load. We spent loads of time in coffee shops in Amsterdam drinking the strongest coffee I had had to that point. The taste stayed in my mouth for a couple of hours until it was time to grab the next one. When people ask me how I felt about my first trip abroad, I used to say “the beer and food tasted of coffee and I barely got any sleep at all.”

Amsterdam? No sleep at all? Yes – but not for the obvious reason. I was so high on caffeine that I mutated into a gibbering wreck.

My brain was overstimulated but my body was completely exhausted. My brain wanted me run around like a madman but had no idea how to channel the energy into something constructive. The conversations went something like this:


BODY: Yeah – sleep!


BODY: Do what? I’m exhausted.


Coincidentally, the first time I worked abroad was also in Amsterdam, and my Dutch colleagues used to constantly supply me with huge mugs filled to the brim with potent coffee. I somehow survived on around four hours sleep a night for the entire week I was there.

Gradually as I got older, I started to feel the effects of caffeine more. The tipping point was when I found myself in a bar in Manchester around fifteen years ago with a few friends who insisted on sharing a pitcher of Red Bull and vodka. Until that point I had no idea what Red Bull was and naively thought it was some kind of weird mixer for boring old vodka.

I do not drink spirits but on this occasion I succumbed to peer pressure and had a fair amount. Inevitably I was slightly the worst for wear, noticeably drunk but there was something else wrong. I felt alive and buzzing, so much so that I was actually shaking.

I arrived home, desperate for sleep but lay tossing and turning on the bed with my brain and body completely and utterly wired. I think I eventually passed out at around seven o’clock in the morning some five hours after arriving home.

Red Bull gives you wings indeed – the stuff is lethal!

So why am I blithering on about caffeine?

The reason is that for the past year or two I have seriously cut down on my caffeine intake. I have even purchased decaffeinated tea – which is not exactly the best thing in the world but still infinitely better than the swill you get in Europe and America.

I still drink full fat totally caffeinated tea at the weekend but during the week my sole drink of choice at work is decaffeinated coffee.

I have had some abuse for this. One guy said:

“Why on earth do you drink decaffeinated coffee? Coffee tastes like shit and the only good thing about it is the BUZZ you get. It gets me through the day. Drinking decaffeinated tea is like drinking alcohol free beer – totally pointless.”

Nevertheless, I actually feel better for it. I sleep better and I am reasonably calm at work instead of being so wired that I run around like a demented lunatic.

Some people say that coffee helps the true executive to function correctly, keeping his mind sharp and focussed so that he can be bulletproof. Mr Motivator cannot live without his coffee.

So what does caffeine actually do that makes Mr Motivator so dependent on it? Caffeine actually blocks chemical signals in your brain that tell you how sleepy you are and thus kick starts your mind when really, perhaps, it should be feeling sleepy. I think we all know this especially if we are coffee connoisseurs or Red Bull addicts. However, as well as telling your brain that you should be awake instead of asleep, caffeine enhances mental ability, which is where Mr Motivator comes in.

“I need my caffeine to function at 200%!” says Mr Motivator.

Your body can successfully break down caffeine within a few hours so perhaps my mistake when I sat my final exam was not to drink a monstrous caffeine bomb comprised of Red Bull, caffeine pills and espresso.

Well I can function without it. My mind is clear and relaxed and I don’t end up buzzing around like a wired wasp.

Having cut down severely on my caffeine intake, I find that I am still reasonably agile mentally which is good because I don’t really miss it. I still love my tea and I can channel my energy into something useful. I have no problem staying up later though I don’t drink tea after 5 pm and usually end up falling asleep around midnight in front of Match of the Day or that late movie I really wanted to watch.

And I sleep a lot better when I finally do nod off at the end of the day.

I think I could actually live without caffeine in my life at all.

How about you, dear reader? 

Can you function without full fat coffee or tea?

Is caffeine a help or a hindrance to you?

And have you ever grown wings through drinking Red Bull?

I have to say, speaking about Red Bull, that it is absolutely disgusting. The taste is abhorrent even when tainted with vodka.

What on earth was I thinking? That is exactly the drunken thought that raced around my head for five hours in the wee small hours of that fateful night - and how disgusting Red Bull tastes.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Beware - Man Flu

I’ve got man flu. Well - to be honest - I am just recovering from an extremely nasty bout and I have found the strength to crawl to my keyboard to tell you about it.

Yes, I know that if you are a female reader you are probably rolling your eyes, shaking your head and tutting in disbelief. I imagine that you are also picturing a scenario similar to this:

If you are then shame on you. I have been poorly – very poorly.


On Monday I went to work and started sniffling and coughing slightly. On Tuesday, my sinuses were completely blocked and my head felt like somebody had stuffed tons of cotton wool into it through my ears and nose.

My throat felt as if somebody had forced my mouth open and sandblasted my gullet with maximum prejudice. At lunchtime I had to visit the dentist so I somehow dragged myself to my car and drove to have my teeth examined by a man who I feared needed a new set of golf clubs and would therefore find something wrong.

As I sat in his chair with my mouth open, ready for the invasion of metal objects he said “I’m sorry if I sniffle, I have a bout of man flu.”

His assistant – a woman – scoffed and tutted. I could feel her eyes watching us as he probed my teeth with his vicious dental instruments while telling me about how bad his sinuses were. We compared notes about our illnesses at the end as his assistant stormed out to the hygienist – another woman who I was due to see next – with the words “OH PURLEEESSE!” echoing from her disbelieving lips.

The hygienist had no sympathy. As she scraped my teeth she moaned and moaned.

“He’s been going on about his sinuses all morning. For God’s sake – IT’S ONLY A COLD!”

“But it’s man flu,” I said with my mouth full of more vicious instruments, so that it sounded more like “BUURRGGGHHHHH EEESSSSSSSS BAAAAANNNN BOOOOOOOO”.

I left with teeth scraped and polished. The hygienist shook her head and said “Men! Honestly!”

On my return to work, a work colleague said I sounded so bad that I should go home. I survived until four o’clock and drove home in the wind and rain feeling extremely sorry for myself and expecting nothing but trauma from Mrs PM when I arrived home.

And then it got worse. I found myself shivering and sweating at the same time and my head felt like it was going to explode. My throat felt like the driest desert on Mars and my hacking cough sounded like the noise made by a rabid monster. I was sneezing so much that I managed to use three whole toilet rolls.

I had no strength to protect myself from a rampant Liquorice, our beloved hellcat, who was using my hand to exercise her already formidable jaw.

Mrs PM was very sympathetic. She cooked my tea did her best to protect me from the cat. The only thing she couldn’t do was go to the toilet for me.

At 9pm I had had enough. I crawled upstairs and fell into bed in a heap.

I hoped that a good night of rest and slumber would defeat the man flu; it didn’t.

I awoke feeling even worse. Mrs PM jumped out of bed and rushed to work with no sign of illness whatsoever, leaving me to fester in a pit of self-pity and debility.

I called in sick, my first day off work due to illness for at least three years.

And I tell you what, dear reader.

If you are ill and off work, don’t you feel guilty?

Why is that?

I barely had the strength to crawl downstairs, fight off the hellcat and make myself a Lemsip before slumping on the sofa with a duvet and a remote control – yet I felt that I should be in work passing my germs to all the male members of the office (because we all know that women don’t get man flu).

Does man flu addle your brain that much?

Back in my sickbed (or more accuratley sick sofa) I watched three movies and was bored out of my brain.

The Lemsip helped and I had perked up by the evening, enough to be able to find my gloves and defend myself against Liquorice, who by now had started boasting about “the biggest prey she had ever felled”.

By bedtime I was much better and this morning I was well enough to go back to work.

All my male colleagues had sympathy. Female colleagues rolled their eyes and muttered “Men, honestly!”.

I spoke to my boss who told me that “Man flu is no myth”.

I decided to investigate this. I discovered an article that suggested that scientists have discovered that manly men, i.e. those with high levels of testosterone, have a weaker immune system and are therefore more susceptible than women to a whole range of bacterial and viral infections.

Dear female reader - note the words: "more susceptible than women to a whole range of bacterial and viral infections."

So there is proof that man flu really does exist.

And I am recovering from it and have the strength (and testosterone) to be able to tell you about by the media of a very silly but painfully true blog post.

Guys – I know you know how I feel and sympathise.

Ladies – you need to be kinder to your man when he catches this evil little man flu bug.

He really is ill – honestly.

And if I catch you shaking your head and rolling your eyes, I will set my hellcat on you.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

England Rocks!

This post deserves a soundtrack so press play on the following clip:

The song is England Rocks by Joe Elliot’s Down N Outz. Joe Elliot is of course better known as the lead singer of Def Leppard.
This post is a celebration of my wonderful country – England – the biggest country in the United Kingdom. I am proud to be BOTH British and English so really this post is also about every part of the United Kingdom – however I can’t deny that England is my favourite part.
Although I have travelled the world, I always look forward to returning home to a country where the weather is always a subject of conversation simply because we all complain about it. We’re never happy with the weather here. In the winter it is too cold and wet and in the summer it is too cold and wet. Even when we had a wonderful July, last year, with day after day of wonderful sunshine and heat, some people moaned that it was too hot.
We grumble a lot to be honest but we do so with a hint of self-deprecation and in a humorous way that most other countries typically don’t understand. As a nation we are funny, choosing to laugh at ourselves and other people. Our use of humour, sarcasm and self-deprecation is arguably one of our most appealing characteristics.
And I love that.
There are many other things I love too – such as the widespread accents. For example, Liverpool and Manchester are only just over 30 miles apart (around 50 km) yet the accents are completely different as illustrated by John Bishop, a comedian from Liverpool, and Jason Manford, a Mancunian comedian:

I’m from Walsall, around 70 miles from Manchester, and this is what I sounded like for the first 18 years of my life:

Did you understand any of that? My accent is now “neutral” but having lived in Walsall, Liverpool and Manchester there are elements of all three when I speak. Of course, these aren’t the only accents in England and if you include our Welsh, Scottish and Irish brethren the number increases dramatically.
One of my aims over the next few years is to explore more of Britain. We have such history here and sometimes we don’t appreciate what we have on our own doorstep. I’ve travelled to places like New York, Moscow, Sydney, Hong Kong, Beijing and Johannesburg, yet I have never been to places like Oxford, Cambridge, the Cotswolds, Loch Ness, Belfast or any parts of Scotland outside Glasgow and Edinburgh.
That fills me with a sense of shame and I aim to do something about it.
The countryside in Britain is phenomenal and our cities are full of history. In the summertime on a brilliantly sunny day, the rolling hills of the British countryside are a beautiful sight to behold.
Here are a few photos from my collection that illustrate what a fantastic country I live in:

England winning at cricket in Nottingham. The less said about cricket the better given recent events in Australia!

Street Party in Manchester (Diamond Jubilee)

Manchester Town Hall - or should that be City Hall?

"It's hot with this animal on my head"


Let's Have a Beer

Tower Bridge

The Queen lives here

A House full of politicians

Newcastle at dusk

Another thing I love about my country are the people themselves. Despite rumours that we are cold and unfriendly and walk around with an air of arrogance and the typical “stiff upper lip” mentality, we are funny, friendly and warm. Some of us may be reserved but when we let our hair down there are few nations that can enjoy themselves as much as we do.
Of course there are exceptions, like Piers Morgan, Simon Cowell, Katie Price, Jamie Oliver, Boris Johnson, Gary Barlow and most politicians and the stereotypical “Englishman abroad” can be guilty of portraying us as arrogant, insular thugs but I like to think that most of us are like me; nice guys who are willing to embrace other cultures.
Finally, we have given the world some of the greatest music of the last five decades. I am fortunate enough to have been alive during a period when British bands from The Beatles to Led Zeppelin, from The Rolling Stones to Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath to The Sex Pistols have dominated world music and have been responsible for huge movements in the musical world influencing some of my favourite bands from other parts of the world.
I’ll leave you with one of my favourite songs by The Beatles.

England really does rock – and so does Britain.