Saturday, 26 April 2014

Fragrant Harbour

Hong Kong is my favourite city outside the UK and I worked out recently that I have spent well over a year of my life there.

My first visit was in the mid 1990’s with work and at first I hated the place, mainly because the project I was working on was very intense and extremely stressful, so much so that I felt physical symptoms, awakening the hypochondriac within me. It was a wake up call and became a bit of a turning point in my life.

I was making several trips to the city every year for around four years and I gradually grew to love the place, particularly because that was where Mrs PM and I got together.

Now, it holds a very special place in my heart, and if I ever win the lottery I will aim to visit there as often as I can. In fact, whenever I head east on a holiday, I always try to squeeze in a visit, even if it is slightly out of the way.

More recently, we popped in on our way to Australia in 2005, on our way to Thailand in 2008 and last year on our way to Japan. I have already made a rough plan to go back to Japan, probably in 2018 and, of course I shall visit Hong Kong as part of the itinerary.

I feel it is like visiting an old friend.

Here are some of my favourite memories of the city.

(1) Top of the list is of course, Mrs PM and I starting out on our relationship way back in 1998. Being a blind fool I had no idea that she was interested in a man like me, so effectively she had to make it obvious. I can be so dense sometimes – particularly when it comes to women.

(2) The view from Victoria Peak is arguably one of the greatest in the world. Hong Kong is resplendent with extremely modern skyscrapers and from the Peak you can actually look down on the splendour of the city. I would recommend having a meal in Café Deco, one of my favourite restaurants in the world. From there you can enjoy fantastic food and enjoy the magnificent view.

(3) Wan Chai is a very exciting area for night life and I have suffered the consequences of an excess of entertainment there on a couple of occasions, whether it be trying to buy a drink in Carnegie’s Aussie bar from between the legs of one of the many people dancing on the bar itself or watching a progressive rock tribute band playing Pink Floyd’s The Wall in its entirety (or at least the first few songs before I was unceremoniously dragged out by Mrs PM as she hates the band).

(4) Chinese food is fantastic, and I have to say that the cuisine in Hong Kong opened my eyes to new things to eat. Not all of them are appetising, for example eel stew or “thousand year old egg” but I certainly tried quite a few dishes I could barely imagine before visiting the city. We once went to a local restaurant , i.e. a restaurant that was not obviously  for tourists, and blindly ordered a set meal from a very grumpy waiter. The meal was fantastic and much cheaper than the more tourist oriented places we had eaten at previously.

(5) The Peninsular Hotel is probably the most expensive hotel I have ever seen. I can only imagine staying in one of the hotel’s most expensive suites, costing a few thousand pounds a night and offering breath-taking views of Victoria Harbour from your own private balcony, enhanced with a telescope, as well as your own private gym and a butler. The hotel also has a fleet of Rolls Royce limousines and a helipad shuttle service to take the most important guests to and from the airport. That is definitely something to do if I win the lottery and want to blow a wad of cash for one night.

(6) I mastered the art of politely refusing an offer without saying a word, thanks to Tsim Sha Tsui, or TST as it is known to locals. TST is a shopping area where there is a plethora of shops (in fact Hong Kong is a magnet for people who love shopping) but you can also buy tailor made suits, copy watches or jewellery. As you walk along the streets, you will almost certainly be asked if you want to buy such items and, being experienced now, all I have to do is raise my hand and shake my head slightly as soon as I am approached, rather than trying to engage them in conversation as I did in my naïve youth.

(7) Hong Kong is made up of the Kowloon peninsula and a staggering 263 islands, only a fraction of which I have visited. Lantau is the biggest island, closely followed by Hong Kong Island; in fact the airport Chek Lap Kok is also an island. Chek Lap Kok was originally just a tiny little place but was utterly flattened and, with the help of land reclamation turned into an island big enough to accommodate a huge airport. Mind you, having flown into Kai Tak, the original airport in Kowloon, I have to say that landing a plane at Chek Lap Kok is much safer. There are few experiences more terrifying than being on a plane that has turned sharply to land between high rise buildings in an extremely densely populated area of a very densely populated city.

(8) Hong Kong is full of skyscrapers and between visits a couple more have risen out of the ground to take me by surprise. I remember looking across Victoria Harbour during one of my more recent visits and exclaiming “Where the hell did that thing come from?” as my eyes caught yet another huge building. Talking of which, the view from the Kowloon side of Hong Kong to the enormous skyscrapers on Hong Kong island is breath-taking during the daytime but even more magnificent at night time when they are all lit up to great effect.

To be honest I could write an entire book on Hong Kong – maybe one day I will (it gives me an excuse to visit the place again) but I shall stop for now. I will leave you with some photographs of my time there.  If you get a chance to visit, please do; you will not regret it for one second. I know my next visit can’t come soon enough.

Taking a little bit of Walsall to Hong Kong in 1999.
I was working - honestly!

Noon Day Gun
Hong Kong Tram

Jumbo Restaurant, Aberdeen

Hong Kong Island at night.

View from Victoria Peak at night

Skyscraper City!
Hong Kong street life

Live band in a very packed bar in Wan Chai.

Dancing on the bar in Carnegie's

Saturday, 19 April 2014

It's Over

It’s official; I am past it!

My life as a human being is over and I should be put out to pasture along with the other old fuddy-duddies.

My life as I have known it is over.

Well, in my opinion my life is far from over but there are people in the world who think it is – or should be.

These people are everywhere – and they are called ( I can barely bring myself to type the word …):


Youngsters think that I am too old to partake in any activity that they consider an infringement to their domain. Youngsters think that I should spend my Saturday nights sitting at home in my slippers watching mind-numbing television programmes like Strictly Come Dancing, or discussing with other oldies what life was like before Playstations, Justin Timberlake and Jaeger Bombs.

If I were a horse I would be in the Knacker’s Yard desperately trying to avoid being turned into glue.

Why am I on my soapbox about youngsters? Let me tell you.

Last Friday night I went to my second rock concert in two days (how many youngsters do that?). The band was called Within Temptation and they were playing at the Apollo Theatre in Manchester. This is what they sound like:

I was with two like-minded individuals who love the band, one is in his early forties, the other is even older than I am – he is fifty six.

We stood watching the band with a fairly eclectic mix of people of all ages. And it was superb.

However, I discovered that a young lad who works with Mrs PM was there as well and he is twenty five years old. He was there because his girlfriend loves the band.

I was intrigued to find out what he thought of the concert, as a person who wouldn’t normally have gone to see Within Temptation.

Did he like the music?

Was the show good?

I asked Mrs PM to find out his opinion. Here’s what he said (paraphrased of course):

“They were better than I thought they would be. But I tell you what was funny – there were so many fifty year olds there in leather jackets and trying to cover their beer bellies with Within Temptation T-shirts. It was really funny.

“WHAT?” I said. I was one of those fifty year olds!”

The implication was that there should be an age limit where only young people should be allowed to go to rock concerts.

“The cheeky little bugger,” I ranted. “What’s he saying? That people like me shouldn’t go to any more rock concerts because we’re too old?”

“I used to think that, when I was his age,” said Mrs PM. “I used to think that it was all over when you reached forty and that you should just stop doing young persons’ stuff.”

Of course, now that Mrs PM is over forty herself, she no longer has thoughts like that, especially since she is living with somebody who is even older.

Not all youngsters think such absurd thoughts. When I was a youngster, I didn’t care about anybody’s age. My own lads don’t care either – as long as I don’t rain on their parade.

My eldest lad, Stephen, was quite happy to come with me to see German rock band Rammstein, along with a similarly eclectic audience – and my fifty six year old mate!

I am not suggesting for a moment that I should get up to all of the nefarious activities I used to enjoy in my twenties – but I will not be judged by kids who think I am too old to do the things I like doing.

There is no way I will go to a night club, for example, or drink stupid amounts of alcohol, or hurl myself off a cliff with an elastic band tied around my ankle. I will never drink a Jaeger Bomb, no will you ever see me at a Bieber concert.

But if I want to play a computer game, see a decent heavy metal concert go to the pub with my mates or hang around with people of any age – I bloody well will.

There is a large group of youngsters who consider people like me to be too old to have fun. If it were up to them, I wouldn’t be allowed to do anything that they consider cool – the reason being, presumably, because once an old git like me has a go at it, the deed is no longer cool.

And before you start thinking that I am going through some kind of midlife crisis, dear reader, you couldn’t be more wrong.

I am still doing the things that I have always loved doing and, as long as I can do, I will continue to partake in such activities. The truth of the matter is that I recognise the limitations imposed by my age and actually cut down on pastimes that I feel I can no longer achieve.

In fact, if anything, I embrace activities that are more suited to my age. I would never start jogging for example because I fear the impact on my joints might be too severe – but that doesn’t stop me walking two miles a day during my lunchtime and walking much further at weekends when the opportunity arises.

Instead of going out for lots of beer and dancing like an idiot until the wee small hours, I tend to stroll to the pub and enjoy just a couple of pints.

But if I want to go and see a band I love, I will bloody well do so, and if I overhear any youngster saying that I am old fuddy-duddy who shouldn’t be at a gig like this, I will launch a tirade on my soapbox that will shock him into submission.

And if you think I am stuck inside on a Saturday afternoon with my slippers then think again. Actually, I am – but I will be off to the cinema with Mrs PM, my twenty year old son and his nineteen year old girlfriend to see the new Spiderman film in about an hours’ time before going for a meal – where I shall drink beer!

Sadly, I may struggle to stay awake for Match of the Day and may end up in bed by 11:30 – but that is a purely physical reaction to my age.

I may be fifty one years old but my mind is as sharp as it was when I was twenty one – sharper even.

It is most definitely not over!

So there!

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Airbrush Strokes

The other night, I caught the Nutty Bus for the first time for a couple of years. The Nutty Bus is basically the late night bus servicing South Manchester and the usual passengers are either drunk, tired, students or a combination of all three. You can read about it here.

I had just been to see one of my favourite bands, The Wildhearts, at the Manchester Academy and was looking forward to my bed. I wasn’t interested in the usual amusing conversations and shenanigans that occur on the Nutty Bus.

I was upstairs, had my trusty iPod serenading me and was hoping for an event free journey back home.

And then I looked out of the window and saw a sign that caught me unawares. It said:

HD Airbrush Makeup

I had a temporary moment of insanity when I forgot where I was, who I was with and what I was actually doing.

I blurted out the words: “HD Airbrush Makeup? What in God’s name is that?”

Sadly, after my moment of madness, I realised that I was not with anybody I knew and the music in my ears had made me shout out the words at a volume that was quite loud.

About twenty pairs of eyes suddenly turned to look at me and, feeling rather embarrassed, I said “Sorry” and pulled out my phone to make believe that I had something important to do. Some people chuckled; some people winced; some people gave me withering and disgusted looks because they assumed I was drunk.

I wasn’t drunk at all and I could feel the shame manifesting itself in the form of a fairly major blush.

I actually used my phone to look up the term HD Airbrush Makeup and was astounded that it actually exists. If you are a female reader,I am absolutely certain that you know exactly what it means. For male readers, HD Airbrush Makeup is basically a powerful formula that you can apply to your skin (on you face and body) that is used to seamlessly cover blemishes for those people who work in High Definition television, a medium that is so crystal clear that it will seek out any warts and imperfections that conventional makeup can only conceal on Standard Definition.

And this got me thinking.

Why on earth do women bother to use makeup in the first place? 

And why would magazines bother to airbrush photographs of people who we know are full of imperfections?

Generally men do not use makeup. There is no need. Okay, vain men, metrosexuals and those appearing on TV will want to pretend that people don’t know about their blotchy skin. 

But nobody is fooled really.

For women, however, wearing makeup is an absolute must, an essential part of their daily routine. I have looked at Mrs PMs makeup collection and, while she is not as bad as some women I know, she has a fairly large collection of goo and substances, the names of which I simply do not understand and the purpose even less so.

I would like to ask any female readers this: 

If you wear makeup to impress a man and make him believe that you have perfect skin, luscious lips, enthralling eyes and wonderful hair, how do you think he will react when the inevitable happens and he eventually sees you as you really are, sans makeup, lipstick and all manner of goo that makes you look absolutely radiant?

Do you really think he will change his mind about you when he wakes up and sees you next to him devoid of makeup and looking clearly as nature intended? If you fear that or the man loses interest when he sees you as God intended, then the man is simply not worth knowing.

Recently, there was a Facebook campaign were ladies tagged their friends to take a selfie with no makeup all in aid of a fantastic cause: cancer awareness.

Some female friends of mine actually did it, which amazed me. On those rare occasions when I logged onto Facebook, I found myself staring at photos of female friends as I had rarely seen them – a fresh face completely sans makeup showing warts and all.

And for a while it was very refreshing to see women breaking free of the bonds of makeup incarceration. I was happy to see blemishes I didn’t know existed. Okay I got a little bored after a while but at least I knew that women can actually dare to reveal their true selves.

Of course, I have seen Mrs PM without her makeup and the truth is I don’t care whether she wears it or not. I am sure when she reads that last sentence she will cry out “ARE YOU INSANE??” and she will not understand where I am coming from at all.

Celebrities can actually get away with looking good simply because most if not all photos in dreadful magazines such as Hello! are totally airbrushed. Airbrushing photos makes me laugh, particularly when the tabloids obtain photographs of famous people caught unawares, displaying all of their flaws. If I were to meet, say, Madonna, I would be happy to chat to her whether or not she was covered in expensive makeup. I would think nothing less of her if I spotted that she really does have wrinkles that we never ever see in magazines or on the television.

She’s 55 years old, for God’s sake. 

Of course she will have wrinkle.

I also have a confession to make. I have an airbrushed photo of myself. Now before you start calling me a hypocrite, I didn’t want it to be airbrushed.

A couple of years ago, we went on a cruise with Mrs PM’s dad and on one night we all had to dress up in penguin suits (well the guys did anyway). Mrs PM’s dad insisted on buying a proper studio photograph of the four of us and while I was sceptical I didn’t want to rock the boat, so I reluctantly agreed.

When the photo came back a day or two later, I was quite shocked.

“I know I look quite young for my age,” I said to Mrs PM, “but that photo is bloody ridiculous! What on earth have they done to it?”

The cruise was from Seattle to Alaska, with 90% of the passengers being American, a nation that seems obsessed with looking young having the body beautiful.

Here are two photos. The one on the left was taken on my own camera, about ten minutes before the one on the right, which was taken by a professional photographer and then airbrushed, without my permission.

As you can see, I have no wrinkles, no blemishes and even my horrible hair has been tweaked to look only mildly abnormal. I barely recognise myself and I am certain that if I were to suddenly achieve overnight fame, then the whole world would think I looked like a plastic dummy with mad hair; somebody like this:

Or perhaps I could revisit the beauty shop I spotted on the Nutty Bus and ask for a regular HD airbrush makeup makeover every week until I reach the age of 90, at which time no amount of makeup will stop me looking like this:

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Confessions of a Shopaphobe Part Two - Supermarket Hell

Regular readers will know that I despise all forms of shopping. However, there is a certain type of shopping that I hate more than any other. I am talking about the absolute essential pain in the arse that is the weekly grocery shop.
Mrs PM and I take it in turns to traipse around our local supermarket, hunting and gathering for food items, so for me at least this is a fortnightly chore that I have to endure. 
Part of me wants to persuade Mrs PM to do all of the shopping but unfortunately there are several reasons that stop me from doing so. 
Firstly, Mrs PM, who actually likes shopping generally, also hates dragging a trolley around a supermarket. 
More importantly, however, Mrs PM is not very good when it comes to buying the things that I have added to the shopping list. Moreover, she makes unilateral decisions about certain items on the list that are contrary to my wishes.
For example, if I add to the shopping list something like “Mature English Cheddar Cheese”, she will sometimes decide that perhaps we ought to opt for a disgusting smelly French cheese instead. When she returns home from the shop, and I unpack the bag and find this repulsive substance, the conversation will go something like this:

PM: Where’s my Mature English Cheddar Cheese?
Mrs PM: I thought we could try Vieux Fromage Puant instead. It’s French and very potent. 
PM: If I had wanted a stinky old runny French cheese that can render humans unconscious at fifteen paces then I would have written that on the shopping list. I wanted Mature English Cheddar Cheese. That’s why I wrote Mature English Cheddar Cheese on the list. I know you speak French but Vieux Fromage Puant does NOT mean Mature English Cheddar Cheese; it means Smelly Old Cheese and I bloody well hate it. As soon as we open that packet the entire house will stink of smelly six months old  sweaty socks; the cats will pass out. I WILL PASS OUT! That’s why I put English Mature Cheddar Cheese on the bloody list.
Mrs PM: Well I like it and I’ll eat it.
PM: But I won’t. Why didn’t you buy English Mature Cheddar Cheese AND Vieux Fromage Puant? We would both be happy then.
Mrs PM: Well next time YOU do the shopping. 
PM: I will – and perhaps I’ll make a unilateral WRONG decision about what you wrote on the bloody list.

Of course, I won’t do that – because I always buy EXACTLY what Mrs PM adds to the list. But sometimes the things she adds are too vague – and usually it involves women’s things.
I can cope with a vague description of shampoo and conditioner, for example, even though I get some really funny looks when examining lots of female shampoos and conditioners for the gazillion different types of hair that exist in the world. 
I have to draw the line at women’s things now, though, ever since I have had to stand in front of the area selling these objects (and believe me there are hundreds of them), examining each packet or pack trying to decipher exactly what they are and whether they match Mrs PM’s vague description of them. 
I am sure on one occasion that a shop assistant was considering calling the police because “some pervert was inspecting all the women’s things.
Thankfully, Mrs PM now only buys such things when it is her turn to shop. I persuaded her by begging her not to add them to the list when it was my turn, lest I be arrested by the pervert squad. 
And another thing Mrs PM does is forget things that we buy every week because she"doesn’t like them” or “doesn’t need them”. For example, I drink lots of grapefruit juice and you can bet your bottom dollar that when we are about to run out, she will forget to buy some. The reason? Because she doesn’t drink it. 
But I tell you this; woe betide me if I forget to buy cat treats or cat biscuits. 
Supermarkets themselves are awful places. I always go to the same supermarket because I have memorised the locations of everything we normally buy, my sole aim being to get around this fifth level of hell as quickly as possible. 
Yet every time I think I have it down to a fine art, something will happen that makes the shopping trip to hell an even worse experience. 
I hate Valentine’s Day and Hallowe’en and many other ridiculous days that force people to buy things through feelings of guilt. But the thing I hate most about them is that whenever they surface, the supermarket will transmogrify and suddenly I can’t find anything I want. I have to walk through aisles full of crap dedicated to whatever stupid day it is and discover that the little area dedicated, say, to whole foods has now been relocated to a dark and dingy corner of the supermarket where nobody dare go, thus resulting in my wandering around with a trolley full of melting frozen goods searching for a packet of flame raisins and adding about two hours to an already horrendous trip. 
And other shoppers irritate me too. 
You can guarantee that when I want to examine the contents of the dairy counter, there will be an army of people blocking my way with countless trolleys, thus adding yet more time. 
Supermarkets also punish shoppers, I’m convinced of that. They put things on offer, like a breakfast cereal, to tempt you to buy it. You succumb, take it home and over the course of a few weeks, grow to love this tasty breakfast product. And then, without warning, the manager of the store, the dictator in charge of what is sold and not sold, will decide that the cereal will no longer be sold in the shop.
What an arse!
How DARE he tempt me and then take away something I like when he decides I’ve had enough.
There are many other things that irritate me about the weekly shop but I will finish by discussing the checkout. Usually it is a good thing but it signals the end of yet another traumatic experience but this is one final humiliation. The checkout person has the ability to price check every item in your trolley at a speed far faster than your ability to cram them into a bag. Some of them do it on purpose, I’m sure, and you are left crying as objects pile up in front of you as you are trying to make sure that the loaf of bread doesn’t end up at the bottom of a bag full of heavy items that will crush it. The remainder of the queue of shoppers behind stand there impatiently rolling their eyes and shaking their heads in disgust because you are holding them up. 
They can’t wait to get out of the place either.
To be honest, I have been tempted to take advantage of online supermarket shopping, which means you can pick all of your food items from the comfort of your own home and wait for a nice man to bring it all to your door from his big lorry.
Except that is irritating too, because they suffer from the same problem as Mrs PM:

PM: Excuse me, Mr Grocery Delivery Man. Where is the English Mature Cheddar Cheese I ordered?
Grocery Delivery Man: We thought you would prefer Vieux Fromage Puant. It’s on offer. We’ll make sure you like it, and then in six weeks, just when you’re addicted to it, we will stop selling it. And all at NO EXTRA COST.
PM: Excuse me while I get my cricket bat …

How about you, dear reader; are you a lover of grocery shopping?
Or are you filled with dread at the thought of spending time traipsing round a supermarket?