Friday, 26 June 2015

The Robot Restaurant

I still have no idea what the show was about, even two years after the event. I’ve had a long time to think about it, to ponder the plot twists, to decipher the amazing music and to try to make any sense of the weird spectacle that was presented to us on the night of 7th May 2013 in Tokyo – but the truth is I can’t.

Mrs PM and I were wondering where to eat that evening and she spotted something on Tripadvisor; the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

It was relatively near to our hotel and it seemed like a good idea. We found it after a short search. It was easy to spot because there was a robot standing outside.

Mrs PM meets her first robot of the evening
I was slightly sceptical at this point but I stuck with it and before we knew, we found ourselves in a brightly coloured neon waiting room, before being led downstairs to the stage area. The wall decorations were reminiscent of a heavy metal album cover. 

If I form a rock band, this will be the cover of our first album

We found ourselves in a large brightly coloured room with three rows of seats on either side and a stage area at each end. Having collected our Bento Box and a small beer we found a seat at one end of the stage on a back row.

The food was minimal and the beer refreshing and this was our meal. What followed was a show that is quite difficult to describe.

On the stage right next to me, a group of scantily clad women suddenly appeared with brightly coloured dragons and started bashing huge bongo drums. Other equally barely dressed young ladies appeared in the centre of the room dancing and playing instruments.

And so it begins

Next, more women appeared, dressed as soldiers, one sitting on a cannon with more playing instruments and dancing.

I'm glad the cannon was pointing the other way

Somebody should say something about those uniforms
“What’s going on?” I asked Mrs PM, feeling a little stupid.

“Absolutely no idea,” she replied.

We were offered a fluorescent tube each and encouraged to wave them about as the next stage of the performance started. More scantily clad women appeared as a precursor to even more robots and women covered in neon tubes, who proceeded to drive around the performance area. 

I used the fluorescent tubes in an attempt to kickstart my brain.

It didn't help me understand
From this point on confusion reigned and I simply watched the spectacle in front of me, as huge female robots ridden by more scantily clad women rolled up in front of me. Lasers flooded across the room with loud music blaring out and I blindly waved my fluorescent tube in the air because everybody else was. 

More giant robots appeared with more scantily clad women dancing around them and singing songs. At this stage, I decided to simply switch off my brain and go with the flow. 

The problem was that I had no idea what the flow was and devolved into a cross between a rabbit caught in the headlights and a young child copying everything everybody else was doing. 

Dinosaurs versus Robots
Random Robots

Rise of the Fembota

A Big Mean Robot

Robot Party

Then the show abruptly ended and we were allowed to meet the stars of the show – the fembots, the giant robots the normal sized robots. 

My new robot army

Our new pet Robot
“Well that was fun,” I said. 

But wait – it wasn’t over. We were all directed back to our seats and the female stars of the show came to each of us in turn and high-fived us. Before I could comment, another group of scantily clad women mounted chairs above us and moved past in unison high-fiving us all as they past while others drove motorbikes and danced.

The climax of the show was the neon tank that I mentioned in my previous post plus a neon aircraft with even more scantily clad women hanging from the wings.

Here is a video that we tried to take to give you some idea of the spectacle that we witnessed.

In fact, if you have seen the Muse video Panic Station the last part of it was filmed in the Robot Restaurant complete with fembots, a dinosaur, the plane and the tank.

I’ll be they had as much fun filming that as we did enjoying this amazing experience.

When I go back to Tokyo, I will go back there, if nothing else to try to make some sense of it all.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Cars, Trains, Bikes ... and a Tank

I was looking through some recent photographs and I noticed that I had taken quite a few pictures of various modes of transport.

I’m not really interested in cars, trains and motorbikes to be honest, but when I see an interesting vehicle, I do feel compelled to take a photo of it.

I thought I would share a few with you, dear reader in the hope that you find them as interesting as I did when I captured them, starting with the car above, which I saw at a classic car show in Manchester.

I spotted the car below in a multistory car park in Bordeaux. I think it's meant to serve as a warning to drivers to be careful when driving around corners.

The truck below was parked outside a James Dean themed restaurant in Prague, in the Czech Republic. It was a great advert for a very enjoyable place.

In Collioure, in the south of France, they also use a car to advertise a restaurant.

Regular readers will know that I love the city of Hong Kong and the double-decker trams in that wonderful city are iconic - and cheap too.

In Europe, we rarely see bikes as beautiful as the one below. We have to go across the pond to Boston to catch a glimpse.

Below is another couple of classic cars I spotted at a show in Manchester.

Back across the Atlantic Ocean in Alaska, there is a very enjoyable way to tour Skagway.

In Canada, in the past, a rather special vehicle was required to take tourists onto a glacier. 

These days, the Canadians have replaced it with a monster bus whose wheels are almost as tall as I am.

In a warmer climate, its obvious that there are people in Monte Carlo have a little more disposable income than the rest of us.

And a few kilometres away, in the French city of Cannes, the story is the same. Here is a random car I discovered parked outside the shops.

Before the wall came down in Berlin, East Germans drove around in tiny little cars called Trabants. These days, they also use them to advertise shops.

In Japan, you can travel the length and breadth of the country in super fast Shinkansen bullet trains. They roar through train stations at such high velocities that if you are standing on a platform it is actually almost a scary experience. The picture below was my fourth attempt at capturing this magnificent train. 

Japan is the only place in the world where you will find a neon tank. It is probably the most wonderful place I have ever visited and probably the strangest too. Only in Japan would you experience the Robot Restaurant and find yourself face to face with the tank below while eating your meal and witnessing what I can only describe as the weirdest but most entertaining show I have ever seen.

I will tell you more about the Robot Restaurant in a future post.

The tank was one of the more sensible parts of the show. 

I'll bet you can't wait to hear about it.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Rock Music Through The Decades

Rock music is dead.

Or so it is claimed by purveyors of crap music, like Kanye West. It makes me laugh that there are so many people out there convinced that this fact is true. However, the truth is that despite being given vary little airplay, relatively speaking, rock music thrives and is arguably far more popular now than it has ever been.

In fact, rock music has been around for my entire lifetime and show no signs of disappearing.

So with this in mind, I want to follow up the post Pop Music Through The Decades  with a new post focussing on some of my favourite rock songs during my lifetime.

As you can imagine I have a huge number of songs to pick from so I will choose songs by artists you will have heard of, rather than some of the more obscure bands and artists.

I hope you like them – and remember – rock will never die!

1960’s – Led Zeppelin – Dazed and Confused

Many people consider Led Zeppelin to be the founders of heavy metal.

I disagree – I think that honour goes to Black Sabbath. However, for me, Led Zeppelin were the first major rock band and my favourite album is their eponymous first album, released way back in 1969.

The album is clearly a rock album but also blended with blues influences. The song Dazed and Confused is my favourite from the album and starts like a true blues song before accelerating into a magnificent rock opus.

Robert Plant has a magnificent voice and sings the song with such passion that you feel his pain.

1970’s – AC/DC – Let There Be Rock

The best band to come out of Australia are still going strong today, having survived the tragic loss of their lead singer, Bon Scott, when the band was supposedly at its peak in the late 1970’s.

The band recovered almost immediately with Brian Johnson taking over and have gone from strength to strength.

I love this band but my favourite song, Let There Be Rock, encapsulates everything I love about the band. It is Bon Scott’s greatest moment as a singer.

In fact, it is my ringtone - and certainly wakes people up in the office.

“Let there be light – sound – drums – guitar – LET THERE BE ROCK!!!

You can’t put it any more succinctly than that.

1980’s – Whitesnake – Crying in the Rain (1982 version).

You may know Whitesnake as a big hair metal rock band that took America by storm in the late 1980’s with lead singer David Coverdale becoming a massive heartthrob for a generation of American women who fell in love with his music.

However, before then, Whitesnake were reasonably big in the UK but their style of music was more blues oriented. Although I like their American influenced period, I much prefer the period when they made an impact in the UK from the late 1970’s to early 1980’s.

To me that’s when their music was at its peak.

This song is a blues masterpiece, so much so that David Coverdale rerecorded it with his new Americanised version of the band in 1987. Sadly, that version is a shadow of the original from 1982.

Whitesnake are another band that are still going strong, albeit in a slightly different style again. In fact I am going to see them again later this year. They are sharing the bill with Def Leppard which leads me nicely to …

 1990’s – Def Leppard  - Pearl of Euphoria

Def Leppard have survived double tragedy. First, their drummer, Rick Allen, lost his arm in a car crash, something that you may think would have marked the end of his career. Amazingly, he recovered and with the help of a special drum kit, he resumed playing with just one arm. Secondly, the guitarist, Steve Clark, tragically died at the age of only thirty.

You would have thought that such tragedies would have killed the band. It didn’t and they are still going strong.

The band were at their peak in the 1980’s but this particular song from the 1990’s is one of my all time favourites. Another slightly blues influenced song, this is Def Leppard at their very best.

2000’s – Metallica – The Day That Never Comes

Metallica are another band that have been around since the 1980’s and are still going strong today. Their style of music is very fast heavy metal and nothing is better than cranking up the volume when feeling down and losing yourself in a wall of sonic perfection.

This song starts off very peacefully and gradually builds up to a wonderful heavy metal anthem with an amazing guitar driven instrumental crescendo – just the kind of song I like.

2010’s – Deep Purple – Vincent Price

Deep Purple have been around since the 1960’s – almost all of my life in fact – and they are still releasing music. One of the founding fathers of rock and heavy metal, I have loved this band since the 1970’s and throughout the line-up changes they have thrived, despite a hiatus in the late 1970’s early 1980’s.

The line up is very different now but the lead vocalist, Ian Gillan, still has a superb voice, despite being in his late 60’s.

It seems apt that the last and most recent song is by a band that’s been around from the very start again proving that rock will never die.

And Finally...

I hope you liked the songs.

There are plenty more where those came from.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Hell in a Metal Sausage (Part Two)

In the past 6 weeks I have spent a week in Bologna, Italy, a week in Prague and a week in Beijing.

I am totally sick of airports.

Last week I was in China on a work trip that combined two of my major fears; Chinese toilets and public speaking (I was running a training course). 

My trip also involved a major hatred of mine; long haul flying.

I was pleasantly surprised that my fears did not manifest themselves. Beijing is a forward looking city and the toilets I encountered were all decent and western style (as opposed to the disgusting squatters that are still commonplace). My training course went without a single hitch and my fear of standing in front of (at most) ten people and waffling on for four days never actually manifested into anything more than a dry throat.

My Chinese colleagues were excellent hosts; the hotel was perfect and the food was some of the best I have tasted (though I did avoid pig brain as a delicacy).

However, the flights were a bloody nightmare.

It all started off well enough. I caught a domestic flight from Manchester to London Heathrow and arrived in plenty of time for my connecting flight. I even managed to acquire my Chinese currency without a hitch. Moreover, the flight to Beijing boarded on time and at the correct time, I was sitting in my seat, next to an elderly Chinese gentleman, waiting for the plane to push back.

That’s when everything turned to rat shit.

First of all, the captain spoke, saying something like, “We have a minor technical hitch that will delay us for about ten minutes. We’ll hopefully be on our way in due course.”

The temperature in the aircraft began to climb.

Ten minutes later, the captain came on again.

“We’re still waiting to resolve this technical issue. We’ll let you know more in fifteen minutes.”

The temperature in the aircraft continued to rise.

This process was repeated several times until two hours after our allotted take off time. By this time, it was like an oven in the aircraft. The stewardesses had offered us water and apologised about the temperature but “there’s nothing we can do.”

Finally, the inevitable happened. “We’re sorry – we can’t fix the fault and there isn’t another aircraft. The flight is therefore cancelled.”

What followed was a series of barked instructions about how to leave the airport, get hotel vouchers etc. The majority of the passengers were Chinese and, although they were all informed about the problem in Mandarin, every last one of them that I saw looked worried and confused.  I was lucky in a sense because I could leave the airport and get a head start as I am a UK citizen. I managed to get off the plane, through immigration and collect my baggage while the poor Chinese people were queuing and trying to explain why they were coming back into the UK.

However, it took ages for me to get to my hotel. Getting the hotel voucher and meal tokens wasn’t too bad. It was the shuttle bus service that was terrible. We had vouchers for this but I discovered that they cost £5 a pop for a one way trip normally. In a lot of other cities I've been to, hotels offer a free shuttle to the airport - not in London where they take every opportunity to releive you of your cash.

The service is infrequent and, once you have found out which one to catch, it takes bloody ages to get to your hotel via numerous others. 

What a bloody rip off.

When I finally got to the hotel a couple of hours later, I had to queue to check in with others from the flight. 

And I was drenched in sweat. I was paranoid that everybody around me were about to pass out, overwhelmed by foul body odour - although in truth I reckon everybody else was suffering from the same bout of paranoia.

Checking in took ages too. I finally got to my room and I was ravenous and desperate for a cold beer to cool me down. Sadly, the “dinner” I was offered was just a weird buffet and beer was not an option.

I ate it (I would have eaten pig brain at this point) and then found the hotel bar to satisfy my thirst for a cold pint of San Miguel.

As I sat watching the dying seconds of the Champions League final, I saw lots of unfortunate Chinese people from my flight just arriving, having suffered my trauma to get the hotel but far, far later than I did.

I retired to my room and informed my manager and my Chinese colleague, who was supposed to be meeting me, that I wouldn’t be arriving until a day later.

The next morning I had a semi decent breakfast and asked reception about the bus service. I had to get to the terminal again by ten o’clock. At eight o'clock I checked the queue for the shuttle bus and found it was enormous. I ran back to my room, threw all my stuff in the suitcase and checked out of the hotel to join the queue. I was prepared to grab a cab but there were none to be found. The first bus arrived and within minutes it was full. I had to wait for another hour before I managed to get on a bus.

There seemed to be no scope for ordering emergency buses to accommodate the vast number of passengers wanting to get to the airport.

I ended up standing up for half an hour hanging on for dear life as the bus swung around corners. If I didn't have a voucher this journey would have cost me five bloody pounds.

I arrived at ten o’clock and marched up to check in again only to find that the check-in desk wasn’t quite open. One very eloquent Chinese person came to ask me in broken English about checking in and I told her the situation. Other Chinese people saw this and then came and started asking me as well. 

Before I knew it I was attracting confused Chinese passengers like a magnet attracts iron filings.

Being a nice guy and desperately wanting to help, I tried my best to inform them in simple English but as I did so, I noticed that some of the airport staff’s techniques were to simply raise their voices – as if speaking louder made their English clearer. 

You would have thought that they would have made a staff member available who spoke Mandarin just to assist on a rescheduled flight to Beijing.

Well, needless to say I finally made it on the plane and arrived in Beijing a day late, meaning that I had to rush through my five day course in four days.

The return journey was not a problem, thankfully - that is until I reached London Heathrow again. My flight back to Manchester took off an hour and a half after its scheduled time. I arrived home last night, totally exhausted and crawled into bed, in a state of total bleariness having had no sleep for almost 23 hours.

Regular readers will know that I love travelling but hate long haul flights.

And do you know what? This is the second time I’ve been delayed for 24 hours – the last time was flying back from Thailand. On that occasion I almost had a fight with a man who accused me of pushing his wife. 

After that event, I decided this time to approach the situation with a calm demeanour and, although I was fuming, I had a smile on my face – well in public anyway. Inside, I amazed and shocked myself about how many expletives were racing around my brain trying to find their way to my mouth.

To conclude this post, I just want to reassure that I think travel is wonderful – it’s getting to your destination that is the hard part.

I'll tell you about the other trips in the next week or so but until then I only have one thing to say:

I bloody hate airports.