Sunday, 27 November 2016

Duck Face

I learned something last week from a bunch of young people and I can’t believe that I’ve never heard of it before.

I am talking about the duck face, an expression that is used by people, usually females, to appear sexy. I know that some women do this, but I have always called it the trout pout.

The idea that the woman concerned seductively pushes out here lips as if she is about to kiss you. The young man who pointed it out, showed me numerous examples, mainly on his dating phone app, Tinder, with most women standing there holding a phone, having taken a selfie in the mirror, from above while shaping their body such that they appear to be thinner.

He moaned about it because having looked at so many duck faces, he couldn’t actually tell how attractive the women really were.

What has happened to the world?

In the past, photographs of women used to show them with an attractive natural looking smile on their faces in a largely natural pose. Personally I would like to see a woman smiling or laughing in a natural pose than to see her pouting her lips with her hand on her hip and her legs crossed in a kind of surreal posture that looks like a human teapot.

If I were young, free and single I wouldn’t want to date a woman whose only photo made her look weird. Imagine meeting her in a bar based solely on a duck face photo; I probably wouldn’t recognise her unless she pouted and then I’d expect her first word to be “QUACK!”.

I blame the cult of celebrity.

Many actresses use the trout pout and the same pose when they are on the red carpet at some stupid award ceremony. In fact, it’s not just photographs. A lot of actresses pout at every opportunity when acting in a movie or a TV programme. Imagine a scene in a restaurant and the leading man is chatting to his leading lady. As she listens to his romantic words, she pouts like a trout as listens – after all, she has to look good, doesn’t she? I would love it if a waiter came up at that point and said “We have two specials today; duck bill and trout lips”.

Worse, it seems that celebrities are taking this a step further and actually "enhancing their lips”, making them plumper by injecting them with an expensive and horrific chemical to do this. One of the main reasons, I believe, is an attempt to make them look younger and more seductive, particularly as they get older.

I’m sad about this because I always believe that people of both sexes should grow old gracefully. The problem is for female actresses as they get older, they are overlooked for parts as film makers choose younger and more attractive women in their place.

This is ridiculous.

The only ugly people you see in films and television series are bad guys or evil people. There are a couple of American television shows that I watch regularly and everybody in them is totally attractive – even the older people.

We seem to be losing the realism. Why can’t characters be portrayed by real people?

Don’t get me wrong, there are some ugly actors, but the latest trend seems to be that the actors portraying ordinary people have to be beautiful people.

No wonder young women are resorting to pouting their lips to look like Donald Duck.

When I was a kid, I did briefly want to be an actor. I appeared in a couple of junior school plays, in particular, Sleeping Beauty where I played the “handsome prince” and had to kiss Clare Bloggs (name changed to protect the poor girl’s identity) during rehearsals and in front of her parents. I also played the Griffon in Alice in Wonderland where I had to dress up with wings and feathers.

I thought I was a good little actor – I was only nine or ten at the time – and had delusions of being the next Laurence Olivier. Sadly as I got older, I realised that I wasn’t a beautiful person and would probably have faced numerous rejections for looking like a strategically shaved orangutan.

The Plastic Mancunian auditions for the part of Jack Reacher
This is just another thing I will change when I become President of the World.

I will make it illegal to pose with a duck face, make cosmetic surgery illegal and also ensure that ugly actors and actresses get key parts in films.

I mean – look at Tom Cruise, a man universally considered to be a good looking actor. He is a very good actor and I love a lot of his films but there is one part that I genuinely laughed at when I heard he was playing it. I’ve read a couple of novels by Lee Child when on holiday. He is the man who created Jack Reacher, an ex-military policeman. They sound cheesy and they are – but they are good reads for travelling or a holiday as long as you can stand his writing style (which isn’t brilliant) and can suspend your disbelief. Lee Child describes Jack Reacher as a huge man, 6ft 5 inches with a 50 inch chest who looks like he can literally tear a man in half. Yet the actor chosen to play him is Tom Cruise who is not huge at all – at 5ft 7 inches he is almost a foot shorter. Tom Cruise is almost 5 inches shorter than I am!

Dwayne Johnson might not be as good an actor but at 6ft 5 and built like a brick shithouse, he would at least look like a Jack Reacher type fellow.

I’m sure there is a parallel universe out there where I am a successful Hollywood actor or maybe President of the Earth.

And in either of those places I can promise you this; I will not have a duck face!

Friday, 18 November 2016

Stop Feeling Guilty

Today I’m going to talk about a subject that really irks me and has made me rant a lot over the years.

The idea comes from a comedian called Dave Gorman, a very funny and clever man. On his latest show, called “Modern Life Is Goodish”, he discusses the term "guilty pleasure”, used by just about everybody, myself included, to describe something that you really like but that you feel guilty about. In fact, I have written a couple of posts about my own musical guilty pleasures that took some doing because, in it, I mentioned songs that I felt embarrassed about. These songs are in my musical collection and I love them, despite people laughing at me or deriding me because of them.

I’ve also discussed the pseudo-intellectual, a person who mocks people like me for not appreciating high-brow items across a variety of disciplines. These people utter complete bullshit and show faux-emotion with feigned enthusiasm about their subject matter, dismissing normal everyday folks for being too thick to appreciate where they are coming from.

There are lots of examples.

Imagine a conversation between such a person (PS) and myself.

PS: I’m currently reading “Dystopian Attitudes To Philosophy” by the renowned philosopher Archibald St-John-Smythe, a professor of applied philosophy at Oxford University. It was reviewed very positively in The Sunday Times last week by the acclaimed critic Theodore Rymplethrope. It is a fascinated read. What are you currently reading?

PM: I’m reading “Alien Immortal”, a science fiction novel by Dirk Prawn. It’s not well known and is about an alien invasion in the near future just when …

PS: Let me stop you right there. That’s your guilty pleasure. It has to be because otherwise you would be ashamed to admit to reading cheap nonsense like that! You need to challenge yourself cerebrally and a cheesy sci-fi novel is no way to do that!

PM: Pardon?

PS: St-John-Smythe discusses the possibility of the existence of an alternative reality, where we are canine beings being held captive as pets by super-intelligent felines and the relevance of this alternate concept to the thought paradigms … Where are you going?

PM: To read my cheesy science fiction book. It’s more interesting than talking to you.

Do you see what I mean? There are certain people who deem themselves to be far superior to the likes of me who say that I should be utterly ashamed about my choice of book, movie or music, my hobbies, the art I like to look at and my lifestyle choices.

If it has not been positively reviewed by a well-respected critic in a high brow newspaper then it is simply a guilty pleasure that you should feel ashamed about admitting to loving.

These are the kind of people who will read anything by Salman Rushdie and criticise those of who don’t as beneath molluscs on the evolutionary scale. They try to make me feel guilty about reading a cheesy horror story over a book that is critically acclaimed by a famous book critic.

I started a Salman Rushdie book once then put it down - it was absolutely dreadful.

These people try to make me feel guilty about choosing to watch a Superhero movie over an Oscar-winning snooze-fest.

They try to make me feel guilty about choosing to watch The Big Bang Theory over a documentary about the evolution of contemporary art in Western Europe in the 20th century.

They simply cannot understand why I would choose to buy a progressive metal CD instead of a critically acclaimed CD by a singer-songwriter that gets a five star review in a high brow newspaper and is advertised on television as “the greatest album you will hear this year”.

I say this; never ever answer the question “what is your guilty pleasure?” with anything other than:

“I don’t have any guilty pleasures!”

The truth is they are simply “pleasures” and there is absolutely nothing to feel guilty about.

Why should you feel guilty?

Is it possibly because you are effectively admitting to being guilty of dumbing down and are too ashamed to admit that you are an avid fan of the latest soap opera and much prefer it to a critically acclaimed series about how opera music changed the style of classic music in the last two hundred years?

It is nobody’s business but my own whether I choose to “dumb down” and watch tacky television.

I like what I like and I don’t care whether it is considered stupid, immature or dreadful by the pseudo-intellectual or those who think they are superior in some way to us all.

By way of research, I just asked Mr Google to tell me about “guilty pleasures” and one of the first things I found was an article with the title “Celebrity Guilty Pleasures Prove Stars Are Just Like Us!”

How dare they? How bloody DARE they imply that so-called celebrities are somehow above the rest of us. It’s almost as if the tabloids and newspapers are implying that in order to evolve, you need to become famous. And when you are famous, the way you connect with the plebeian class (i.e. the rest of us) is by letting your guard down and admitting that you have guilty pleasures in common with them.

One of the so-called celebrities actually surprised me with his answer to the question. It was Russell Brand. He said:

 “I don’t have guilty pleasures. If something gives you pleasure, don’t feel guilty about it as long as you’re not harming anybody else!”

I totally agree with that.

To summarise, dear reader, my message to you is this:

Stop feeling guilty!

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Funeral Soundtrack

My uncle died earlier this year. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in September last year and given six months to live. With the aid of chemotherapy, he lasted a year, but sadly, the treatment took its toll and while it prolonged his life, he suffered badly as a result.

In the end, his condition was so bad that his immediate family regarded his passing as a blessing.

He was 68 years old and his name was Paul.

What I found amazing about him was the way he dealt with his condition. I went to visit him and I found a man who was surprisingly cheerful and even joked about his appearance and the treatment. He was very candid about how he felt but, with a smile on his face, he told us how he had remained optimistic. It was clear that he had accepted what was happening to him and the inevitable conclusion.

I was proud of him. He was a very brave man.

His immediate family held him in the highest esteem and effectively had a year to prepare themselves for his eventual loss. When I heard, I called my aunt and cousin to express my condolences and my own pain too and they seemed to be okay but understandably heartbroken.

Mrs PM and I went to funeral where the family turned up and a lot of friends.

Paul was a popular guy and the funeral was very moving.

During the ceremony, his coffin was present with a photograph of him with a cheerful smile that I will remember him by.

I liked Paul a lot.

But one of the main things I remember about the funeral was his choice of songs to play as we all celebrated his life, songs that might just accompany him onto the next phase, if such a phase exists. He chose three songs that he loved – one by Elvis Presley, one by the Beatles and another rock and roll number that I didn’t recognise but was totally upbeat.

Although we were all upset, it kind of made me feel positive in a strange kind of way. I’m too sceptical to believe in an afterlife and, although I am a Catholic, I don’t really buy the idea that we will all go to meet our maker if I’m honest. I realise that if God reads my blog (as he surely must – because he is omnipotent) he may be noting down things I’ve written about Purgatory and Heaven.

He may know that when I openly say “Yes I believe in God”, that in my mind, my own scientific mind is analysing the whole idea of Christianity and thinking “Really?”.

But the whole point to this post is not to dwell on the religious aspects of death; I want to portray the positive undercurrent of the funeral, which, although is a desperately sad occasion, can also be and should also be a celebration of the person’s life.

And what better way to depart than to have people talk about the good things and celebrate his or her life with the music that they loved.

Of course, I realise that being a lover of heavy metal and rock music, some of my choices of the songs to accompany me on my way to the next dimension might be in poor taste but I think I might opt for three songs that were all positive.

In fact, I hope that my demise is a long, long way away – I plan to live forever – and that by then my collection of songs will be so enormous that I will it hard to choose.

I have well over 7000 songs in my collection and I could have gone through the entire lot and spent a month whittling them down to choose three songs to send me off. However, while I love my own music, I decided just to swiftly scan them.

I came up with the following, deliberately rejecting Stairway To Heaven by Led Zeppelin because, as much as I love it, I think it is a little too corny.

So here they are:

Blue Öyster Cult – (Don’t Fear) The Reaper

Okay – I know you may mock me for this choice because it sounds a bit corny, similar to Stairway To Heaven. The difference here is that I genuinely love this song and, while there is a theme of death, I personally think it is very positive, basically seeing, don’t fear death, we can fly and eventually we will all be together again in eternity.

Oh – and I love the guitar solo in the middle of the song.

Journey – Remember Me

I have been known to mock power ballads and AOR, and in the past Journey have been a great target because they personify the essence of what I dislike about this style of slushy, lovey-dovey nonsense. 

Yet, as much as I dislike Journey, they have produced three brilliant songs that I simply cannot mock. Remember Me is one of them – a beautiful piece of music that I wish they had embraced more often. 

The song is about somebody leaving a relationship, but I think that the lyrics apply perfectly to the loss of a loved one. This song would be directed at Mrs PM, but I think that the rest of the funeral congregation might also find meaning. It would effectively my dying wish imploring the people I love not to forget me.

Dream Theater – The Answer Lies Within

This is a beautiful song and while it sounds quite melancholy, once again the lyrics are wonderful and positive. While the last song may have been a little selfish (with me saying “Don’t forget me!”) this song would be my positive final message,  asking my loved ones to carry on and just be as brilliant as I know they can be:

You’ve got the future on your side
You’re gonna be fine now
I know whatever you decide
You’re gonna shine

And finally ...

Well that’s all a bit morbid, isn’t it? I’m sure that if I were to run through my music collection with an impish glint in my eye, I might choose this one – the lyrics are very funny:

I hope God has a sense of humour and forgives me on Judgement Day.

And, Paul, I’ll miss you! Say “Hi” to my Dad for me.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

The Earth Is Flat

I love weird stuff and I also love people who believe in it.

Whilst stumbling around cyberspace the other week, I stumbled across a particular favourite of mine, a bunch of conspiracy theorists who share an absurd belief.

I am talking about the Flat Earth Society, a group of seemingly eloquent people who truly believe that we all live on a planet that is similar to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

To them, our beloved planet is not a sphere; it is a disk.

To them the Earth is flat.

Given all of the evidence to the contrary, they still maintain in this modern day and age, with all of the advances in space travel, physics and astronomy that the governments of the world are uniting against the population of the world to hide the truth that we live on a giant frisbee.

Here’s what they believe:

The Earth is a disk with the North Pole at its centre.

Antarctica is in fact a wall of ice that surrounds the edge of the disk, keeping the oceans in.

Space travel is fake. The USSR and USA were so obsessed with winning the space race during the cold that they faked their accomplishments to deceive the other into believing that they were ahead.

Photographic evidence of a globular Earth is also fake. NASA is an institute whose sole purpose is to prolong the myth of a Round Earth.

Circumnavigation of the Earth is performed by going around the North Pole in big circles.

The sun moves in circles around the North Pole. When the sun is over your head, it is daytime. When it is not over your head, it is night time.

You cannot see the curvature of the Earth from an aircraft. Your perception of a curved Earth is due to your perception through heavily curved aircraft windows.

Gravity as we know it does not exist.

The sun and the moon are simply rotating spheres, each 32 miles across that can be found 3000 miles above the surface of the flat Earth.

The concept of a Full Moon is impossible in the Round Earth theory.

Earth is not a planet and the other planets are small.

The stars also rotate above the Earth.

The moon landing was a hoax.  Astronauts shown moving on the moon in slow motion were on wire supports.

Here is a picture of what they believe the Earth looks like:

This is amazing and if you take a look at any of the Flat Earth Society websites, they have supposedly scientific evidence to back all of their claims. However, what I find even more amazing is that people actually believe this utter nonsense.

I simply cannot comprehend how, or even why, people choose to ignore reality and shift their belief system to an incredible wild idea that took hold of humanity before the great scientists in our history proved it wrong.

I can understand people in the past believing that the Earth was flat, because they didn’t know any better. However, nowadays, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to support their outrageous claims. On the contrary, there is plenty of evidence to support the Round Earth theory.

Why are these people so delusional?

Why choose to champion a ridiculous lie?

Their theories are totally ridiculous, even laughable. It seems to be that when anybody tries to debunk their weird theory, they simply invent something that explains why you are wrong. An example of this is that if the Earth were indeed flat then at the edges of the disk, gravity would be totally different and approaching the edge would make gravity more pronounced. In fact, the Earth is so big that gravity would pull the Earth into a ball shape. Their answer to this is amazing, as we have seen; gravity simply does not exist or more accurately, it doesn't exist in the way that we have been led to believe.


So all of those science experiments I performed in A-Level Physics to determine the acceleration due to gravity are totally false and pointless?

It's worse, when you consider that Flat Earth conspiracy theorists claim that we are all being kept in the dark about this. What they are saying is that every government in the world is lying to us all in an attempt to cover up this preposterous notion. I know that politicians are all liars but this concept is absurd. As well as that, anybody who is involved in the airline industry must be in on it.

Imagine for a second training to become a pilot. You are taken into a room and forced to sign the equivalent of the official secrets act before a man stands in front of you and says:

“Before you start training, we must inform you that the Earth is not a globe. It is a giant spinning pancake. You mustn’t tell anybody as we are trying to keep it secret. If you do, we will fly you past the Antarctic wall and kick you out into oblivion.”

Imagine your first day in the Oval Office after being sworn in as President of the USA:

PRESIDENT:  Right – now I’m President, I want to know all about Roswell. Do aliens actually exist?

PRESIDENT'S AIDE: Sir, aliens do not exist. In fact, the Earth is not even a planet; it is a giant frisbee surrounded by a huge wall of ice. The sun and moon are disks rotating 3000 miles above us.

PRESIDENT: No – really. Do aliens exist?

PRESIDENT'S AIDE: No sir! And the Earth really IS flat. We’ve been conning the public for years. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin won honorary and secret Oscars for their parts in the greatest work of fiction known to man; The Moon Landing.


PRESIDENT'S AIDE: Hello? Sir, it’s President Putin wishing to congratulate you.

PRESIDENT: Hello Vladimir.

PRESIDENT PUTIN: Zdravstvujtye, Mr President and congratulations. By the way, have you been told that the Earth is really flat yet? We need to keep this quiet.


It makes no sense to me whatsoever, that supposedly intelligent people continue to defy all the scientific evidence and embarrass themselves by relating this bunkum to anybody who is willing to listen.

Why would you anybody do that?

Even if it’s a question of pride and being scared to admit that they are wrong, surely that’s better than being a laughing stock.

Anyway, here is a fun video about it:

I’m sure when Terry Pratchett came up with the concept of Discworld, he did so after reading, and presumably laughing at, a book about the Flat Earth Society.

Of course, writing a post mocking the concept of a Flat Earth might prove to be a stupid thing to do if Flat Earth conspiracy theorists are right. I may end up with a lot of egg on my face and might have to write another post of apology.

These are the risks that a blogger has to wrestle with.

I don’t care; I’ll take my chances.

That said, as I wrote at the start of this post, I love this kind of weirdness, so if on the off chance you believe that the Earth is flat, please let me know.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Proactive Washing

The other day I had a surreal conversation with Mrs PM.

It went like this.

Mrs PM: I want to weight myself but I can’t.

PM: Why? You’re not scared are you? You look fa… OWWW!!!! Why did you thump me?

Mrs PM: You know why, you arse!

PM: I was going to say, you look fabulous!! What did you think I was going to say? Anyway - why can’t you weigh yourself?

Mrs PM:  Oh! Thanks! The batteries have run out on the scales and we haven’t got any more.

PM: Yes we have. I bought some, remember? I’m proactive. As I’ve always said, it’s better to have stuff in than nothing at all.

Mrs PM: You’re not proactive! I’m the proactive one out of the two of us.

PM: Then why didn’t you buy the batteries? When I bought them two weeks ago, you said “Why have you bought those batteries? We don’t need them!”

Mrs PM: No I didn’t.

PM: Yes you did. I’m surprised you don’t remember. You remember things that I said eighteen years ago. OWWWW!!! What’s that for?

Mrs PM: I’ve just remembered what you said to Susan in 2001!

PM: See? I don’t remember that! In fact, I’m not even sure who Susan is!

Mrs PM: It shows that I’ve got a good memory and that you are a stupid arse!

PM: What did I say?

Mrs PM: Well if you don’t remember, I’m not going to tell you.

PM: What does that even mean?

Mrs PM: It means that you are an arse!

PM: By the way, did you know that women make great archaeologists?

Mrs PM: Why?

PM: Because they love digging up the past. OWWW!!! What was that for?

Mrs PM: Sexist pig!

PM: It was a joke.

Mrs PM: I’ll remember that!

PM: I bet you will. Pity you don’t remember saying what you said about the batteries.

Mrs PM: That’s because I didn’t say it.

PM: Yes you did. Did you know that those batteries are also used for other things like the TV remote control, for example?

Mrs PM: Really? I thought you were just hoarding batteries. You hoard other stuff.

PM: No I don’t. I’m proactive. When you’ve just shopped, you leave things off the list because “we don’t need it”. And then we run out. I’ve always said it’s better to have too much than not enough. We nearly ran out of toothpaste last week you know.

Mrs PM: Yeah – and we’ve got food that’s past its sell-by date because you bought too much.

PM: Nonsense – and when I say that I mean you saying that you’re proactive.

Mrs PM: Okay smartarse! Tell me why you’re proactive and I’m not.

PM: Well besides the batteries and the toothpaste, I’m proactive with the washing.

At this point I have to pause because Mrs PM burst out laughing and I watched in puzzled astonishment as she struggled to control herself.

PM: What’s so funny?

Mrs PM: Proactive washing? What the hell is that?

PM: Look at the washing basket and you’ll see.

Mrs PM: It’s empty.

PM: Exactly.

Mrs PM: You are deranged. What the hell are you talking about?

PM: I’ve done the washing before the washing basket filled up and started overflowing with dirty shreddies and socks!

Editor’s note – “shreddies” are what the Plastic Mancunian calls his underpants for reasons that I don’t want to go into. Suffice it say, it’s not a pleasant name when you think about it.

Mrs PM: So proactive washing is making sure that the washing basket is empty?

PM: Duh! Yes!

Mrs PM: I thought you meant that proactive washing is making sure that the washing never gets dirty. I’ve got a wardrobe full of clean clothes if you want to be proactive about it. You can wash all my clean clothes BEFORE they get dirty. That way, the washing basket will never ever have anything in it.

PM: What are you talking about?

Mrs PM: You! You’re an idiot!

PM: Well I’ll remember that!

Mrs PM: No you won’t!

PM: Yes I will! I’ll write it down in my next blog post.

Mrs PM: And let the world know exactly what an idiot you are. Proactive washing! Have you heard yourself?

Maybe I will review the conversation and not post it after all. I don’t want to look daft to the world. I also don’t want the world to know that I don’t understand women. Looking back, I still can’t understand why I was thumped three times during these exchanges. It also makes people think that I rarely win these fun exchanges with the love of my life. The truth is I rarely do.

I think I’ll consign this draft post to the “also rans” folder on my computer.

“Proactive washing” indeed! 

What a stupid idea! 

What a stupid title for a blog post.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

The City Life

My last post eulogised about the English countryside. I think it’s only fair to do the same for my adopted home city of Manchester.

Manchester is in the north west of England, not far from the Welsh border, about 35 miles east of Liverpool, 90 miles north of Birmingham and 200 miles north west of London.

I have lived in Manchester since 1984, that’s around 60% of my life. I was also born in a large town called Walsall, near to Birmingham, the second largest city in England, spending 18 years of my life there, before spending 3 years living in another magnificent city, one that you might have heard of called Liverpool, the birthplace of the Beatles and countless other bands.

What I mean is that city life has been good to me over the years and I simply love the vibe in all of them.

I often visit London too, as I have friends who live there and it is a short two hour high speed train journey away (I wouldn’t drive as that would take hours). In fact I’m heading that way next month for another university reunion.

Living in Manchester is fantastic, for the choice of restaurants and pubs in the city, as well as being served by the busiest airport outside London, a mere fifteen minute taxi ride from my house. It means that I can get away and enjoy travelling to foreign places should I so desire. There are hospitals nearby as well as sporting arenas. Manchester is home to two of the biggest Premiership football teams in the world, Manchester City and, the richest and most famous club, Manchester United. As well as football, there is a famous old cricket ground which is a venue for test cricket, as well as other sporting disciplines like rugby (both league and union).

We have the National Cycling Centre for those who like to ride their bikes at speed on a big circular track as well as speedway.

The city also contains lots of theatres and venues for one of my main passions – music. I have seen every one of my favourite bands in the city either in the enormous arena or one of the many other smaller venues around the city. 

We even have a Hard Rock Café.

I could go on, but instead, I thought I would share some photos of Manchester, plus one or two from London and Liverpool, in particular to give any foreign readers a taste of what it’s like to live in an English city.

I hope you like them.

Beetham Tower - the tallest building in the city

New and old Manchester together

Manchester Town Hall

New and old Manchester - I love Manchester

View from Beetham Tower

Another view from Beetham Tower

Yet another view from Beetham Tower

The Final view from Beetham Tower

The Liver Building, Liverpool as seen from the famous Ferry Across the Mersey

John Lennon statue outside the Cavern Club/Pub

You may recognise this bridge in London

Had I been alive in Henry VIII's time I might have ended up here waiting to have my head separated from my body

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The Country Life

I live in Manchester, the third biggest city in England and, while I love the place and love city life, I sometimes forget about the rest of the country. Places like Manchester, Liverpool, London and Birmingham are sprawling metropoles, built up and beautiful in their own way.  The city is full of life, with every single activity you can think of resting gloriously at the end of your fingertips. The city is bustling full of people from all walks of life. City dwellers are rarely stuck for something to do.

City life is definitely not boring – that’s why I love it.

Yet there is a part of me that seeks tranquillity and as I get older, I find myself thinking about more serene pastimes and thankfully there are places close by where I can enjoy that side of life too.

Such was the case on my birthday a week or so ago. Mrs PM and I decided to explore an area of England that we had only ever seen through the windows of a car as we drove through it on our way from one city to another.

This time, I wanted to sample country life, the polar opposite of city life.

I have sampled this before, visiting areas like North Wales, the Lake District and the Peak District but I had never visited the Cotswolds, an area in the southern part of the Midlands, that covers six counties. It is located just south of Stratford upon Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare, in the north stretching as far as Bath in the south west and Oxford in the east. The maps below give you some idea of where it is.

I had been to Bath in the south but spent most of the time in the city itself rather than exploring the countryside. We chose the north part of the Cotswolds and a little town called Chipping Campden, with a population of just over 2,000 people situated 135 miles south of Manchester (around two and a half hours in the car).

Our accommodation was provided by a small hotel on the main street, which also doubled up as a pub and restaurant.

The first thing I truly noticed here was how calm, relaxing and peaceful it was. We had arrived fairly late and after the sun went down we went for a short stroll around the small town to get our bearings.

It didn’t take long.

The pubs and restaurants were housed in beautiful buildings made of a honey coloured stone that perfectly illustrated the stereotypical small English country town, complete with thatched cottages.

It was wonderful.

The next day we drove from Chipping Campden for a walk from the even smaller town of Broadway to Broadway Tower, a ramble through the Cotswolds countryside, a distance of around five miles. The weather, for once, didn’t let us down. I was expecting rain but all we had was a typical cloudy and slightly cold day but not one single rain drop ruined our walk.

On the way we saw magnificent views of the English countryside as we climbed to Broadway Tower, the second highest point in the Cotswolds. We stopped for coffee just before we arrived at the tower and listened to a conversation amongst a lively group of pensioners who were walking to keep fit. I was amused because they were all country folk and quite posh, discussing party politics and evangelising about the current Prime Minister and her ministerial appointments in a way that you would never hear on the streets of Manchester.

The view from Broadway Tower itself was wonderful and it wasn’t so high that it would trigger my fear of heights.

After the tower we walked back to Broadway, where we found small shops selling traditional country items, in particular tweed clothing that you would rarely seek in the cities. Moreover, to validate the twee image of the town, some of the people were also dressed like traditional country folk. We even saw a group of Morris dancers.

Later, in the evening, we had a hearty meal in a different pub in Chipping Campden before retiring for the night.

The next day, we enjoyed a full English breakfast served by a waiter who personified the traditional image of an Englishman, complete with polite comments and even a wry smile at one of my jokes, which exposed his true mask after trying to portray himself as formal with a stiff-upper lip.

I almost said “Caught you,” but opted against it after a level one look from Mrs PM.

Later we embarked upon a slightly smaller walk in the countryside surrounding Chipping Campden, passing some very nice and very large houses that probably served as country retreats for rich people living in the Birmingham and South Midland area. We walked past farms, through fields, along country lanes and public footpaths passing other walkers who greeted us with a pleasant “Good morning.”.

It was so peaceful and serene with clean country air, hardly a car in sight and a relaxed gentle atmosphere around the place.

Part of me wanted to stay, to become a member of the country folk and abandon the city forever. When I thought more about this, I realised that deep down I am a city man and I would have to say goodbye to this delightful area of England. The city offers so much more and I would miss that. Yet as I get older, I think I also need to immerse myself in the countryside more, spending weekends away from the hustle and bustle of the city and the hassle of work life. Such trips serve a perfect purpose; to calm me down and make me appreciate fully the country I live in.

Here are some photographs that hopefully give you some idea of what I am talking about.

A cottage in Chipping Campden


Broadway Tower 
Just to prove that Broadway Tower is British

Spiral staircase in a turret

Dry stone wall

Strangely carved bushes

Chipping Campden Town Centre

A church in Chipping Campden

A lovely view of English countryside

I hope you like them.