Sunday, October 13, 2019

101 Things #12 - Sleeping under the Stars

Continuing our series 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die, it is time to pour a little contumely on the following suggestion found on the website Lifeline24:

Sleep under the Stars 
(You'll be amazed at what you'll see)


I yield to none in my defence of beautiful Ruislip but sometimes you have to draw the line and I've got my pencil ready and waiting. If it isn't freezing, then it's raining. If neither, then the wind is howling or it is oppressively hot and humid, and, if none of these, then the foxes will be scrambling across the back garden, the local cats will be prowling and the odd squeal of brakes from cars racing down Windmill Hill will keep me awake. In short it is ludicrously impractical to camp out where I live and my own bed is where I want to be at night.

And, if I was to set up a camp bed on the patio and find a battery for the torch, what on earth am I going to see in those long hours when sleep escapes me and I stare with aching eyes at the heavens? Cloud, that's what. We have lots of cloud round here. If it isn't cloudy then it's probably very cloudy, or at any rate misty. I think the author of the "sleep outside" idea thinks that one will be dumbstruck by the blazing glories of the starlit sky, gasp as the occasional meteor flashes by and be bathed in the glow of the radiant moon. Yes, no doubt, if your home is in New Mexico or the remoter parts of the Pyrenees, then such things are within your purview and good luck to you. What I would see, apart from the cloud, is the dim shapes of the surrounding houses and the glow of the street lights. There is nothing particularly amazing about that. In fact, come to think of it, nothing whatsoever amazing. I can see the houses any time I want merely by looking out of the window of my study (I'm doing this right now as I write this piece) and the amount of amazement being registered on my Amazo-meter (see ad at foot of page) is precisely zero.

No doubt some nit-picker will say that what I am supposed to do is to go to somewhere with clear night skies where I can unroll a groundsheet, wriggle into a sleeping bag and watch the skies (note, the amazing bits, if any, must surely be associated with the times when one is not asleep, so really this bucket list idea should be entitled "Travel a long way away, hoping that your travel agent does not go bust in the meantime, then find somewhere dry to camp with not too many mosquitos or midges, try to ignore the pain in your back from being on hard ground, and lie around for a bit looking up" but never mind).

I shall endeavour always to sleep under a proper roof in a proper bed. I'm still under the stars, as it were (just that the roof gets in the way) and if there is a lack of amazement, I don't care. It's a decent night's kip that brings that sense of achievement.

-&-&-

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Thursday, October 10, 2019

101 Things #11 - Harrow Borough

In my series 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die, I must sometimes deal with irrational, almost emotional, gut-reactions to certain suggestions rather than the standard sort of bucket-list ideas that are prevalent. Today is one of those days as I consider the reasons why I will not, other than in exceptional circumstances,

Watch Harrow Borough FC play at home

 A little history is in order. I follow a football team called Wealdstone FC who for about 100 years played in the district of the same name in north part of Harrow. The club (invariably known as 'The Stones') was always well known as one of the leading amateur sides until turning professional at the end of the 1960s. These days, the old and much-loved ground in Wealdstone having been sold in 1989, they are based not far from my own home in beautiful Ruislip and very welcome they are too, especially as right now they are top of their league, the Conference South, a mere five leagues below the slightly better known Premier League.

I began following the side in the early 1970s, went to many home games (and a few away ones too), right up until my relocation out of London. Things changed in my personal circumstances and I lost touch until a few years ago when it all started again and I have been a season ticket holder ever since.

The emotional power of supporting a team is hard to explain to those who have not experienced it. When they win one is lifted; when they lose it is depressing. When I watch them, my heart is in my mouth every time there is a goalmouth scramble; when they play away I follow a twitter feed that gives a running commentary on the game and is virtually as gripping.

Once you have invested this sort of interest in a club then naturally you scorn their rivals. Every football team has its local rival over whom victory is always sweet and defeat a crippling blow to self-esteem. In Wealdstone's case that rival is Harrow Borough.

Borough were founded forty years after the Stones so are relative parvenus on the scene. They play in the southern part of Harrow, again not very far from where I live. They have had successful times in the past but are currently in the Isthmian League, one below the Stones, and seem unlikely to progress. Wealdstone were in that league for a long time in the 2000s so rivalry was intense but since we gained promotion in 2014 we only play them if we happen to meet in a cup match.

So why on earth should I declare that I will not watch the Borough? What are the "exceptional circumstances" that permit a breach of this rule? Easy. The answer to the first is that Stones fans dislike Borough to an extreme degree - and the feeling is reciprocated. It is the Montagus and the Capulets all over again,

Two sports teams, both alike in dignity,
In ancient Harrow, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny
And many a boot is there put in
With shouting and with blasphemies
etc etc

Well, you get that idea with that one. We are the Blues, they play in red and we don't get on. But of course, should we be drawn against them in, say, the FA Cup (not this year as they have failed to reach the next round, what a shame eh?) then I will be lining up to go through the turnstiles. Until that day then it doesn't matter what's going on at the Earlsmead Stadium because all my attention will be on the lads who play at Grosvenor Vale.

Fun fact of the day.
The highest attendance ever at a Harrow Borough home match was 3000, in 1946. Guess who they played that day?

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

101 Things #10 - Hell, Is It Me You're Looking For?

My ongoing antidote to bucket lists, 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die is not just a set of activities and pursuits that I disdain to attempt; it embraces patterns of thought as well. Given that religious ideas continue to be extremely important in human culture, it seems appropriate to take a stand on one of the most popular ideas and explain why, no matter how persuasive and sincere a smartly dressed man on the doorstep may be, I am not going to

Believe in Hell

First let me apologise for the silly title of this piece. It was the Editor's idea, damn him. Ah, you see what I did there? Damnation implies somewhere to go where you are damned, i.e. Hell. Yes, it's so easy to tell people to go to hell, to ponder on which particular circle of the damned they will remain for eternity, to take delight if you are
    a) particularly nasty; and
    b) a fundamentalist,
in the idea that you will spend the afterlife looking down from the comforts of Paradise onto the torments of anyone you didn't much like whilst you were both on earth. When a serious politician like Donald Tusk opines that there
is a special place in Hell for Brexiteers without a plan
then we do need to consider the meaning of this concept.

I have two fundamental objections to Hell, one based on physics and the other on religion.

The Physics problem

Hell is depicted in mainstream religion as lasting for eternity. Although created by God at some point in time, it was made to house the souls of unworthy humans and therefore had no function until the creation of humankind. Once the first souls began arriving they are seen as stuck there for good (apart from the odd intervention such as Christianity imagines for Jesus bringing up a few notables).

The trouble with this viewpoint is that eternity is not simply a very long expanse of time. It is not an infinite amount of time that starts from now on. It is not really a concept that we can understand at all. Any calculation with eternity in it becomes an infinite number and maths and physics can do nothing with such an outcome. Eternity means an infinite amount of time and in an infinite time then everything that can happen will happen (because there is enough time for everything to happen no matter how improbable) an infinite number of times. That's the trouble with infinity - it contains within it an infinite number of sets of infinite things and you can go on adding infinite amounts of sets of infinite things for all eternity and you would still end up with infinity (although the concept of end is no help here either).

Consequently if we assume that a Deity creates us to live and be judged then this process recurs an infinite number of times with an infinite number of outcomes.  I must confess that I have no idea what this really means, other than to make the point that the Deity must surely have envisaged a less demanding job before creating the infinite Universe.

Of course we can argue that Hell is not for eternity but then we are invoking it as a place within time so that simply throws up even harder conundrums about what happens afterwards and whether the Deity is also of finite life. It doesn't assist in grappling with the concept.

The Religion problem

To early man it was obvious. We are on earth, the dead go into the ground, God must be up there and the purpose of life is to spend a bit of time here then a bit more time up there or maybe down there. Modern religions with their more sophisticated concept of one infinite God made matters a lot harder to understand because the idea of a loving Creator making us (not to mention trillions of galaxies with trillions of stars and trillions and trillions of inhabitable planets, as we now know to exist) in order to torment the souls that fail the divine morality test for ever after doesn't work.

Either God loves us or God does not. If you want to posit a rather unpleasant and sadistic Deity then Hell makes more sense but only superficially. It doesn't really make any sense to posit a Deity that transcends time and space doing anything creative within time and space at all. Surely the first thing such a Deity would do is create few more Deities so as to have someone else to chat to (and I mean that seriously, despite the flippant tone). Only from the unbelievable limited perspective of mortal humans thinking "There must be more to life than this" does it make any sense to invoke one Creator. There is, to put it even more flippantly, nothing in it for God - the Deity is defined in all mainstream religions entirely from a human viewpoint.

The human-centric position can be summarised as: - 'There's only God who made all and he made us so aren't we wonderful really, despite being sinners.' In short, it is all about us and says nothing helpful at all about God.

So no Hell. It won't do. If one still wants to believe in an all-powerful loving Creator who nonetheless has a penchant for making us and then (despite omniscience) judging us, it might just work if you believe not in Hell but in a limited form of Purgatory. However that is a discussion for another time.

Saturday, October 05, 2019

101 Things #9 - What's in a Name?

My list of things I really do not wish to have included on the charge sheet when the Eternal Judge begins his summing up, 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die is mainly stuff others think is just right for their own bucket lists. Some of the items, however, are strictly personal. In this piece I am going to discuss the names given to motor vehicles. Let me first declare an interest - amongst the cars I have driven are numbered an MG Midget,  a Triumph Herald,  a Rover 415, a Vauxhall Cavalier and a Skoda Octavia. The link is that all these names are perfectly sensible. You can utter them to strangers without embarrassment. They do not carry any particular associations. Alas, there are names so jarring, so discordant to the ear and so at odds with the image normally conveyed by a car that I have compiled a list, a Top 10, of most egregious. I have no intention of owning any of these

Cars with silly names

As is traditional, we begin with the least worst and progress to the most silly.

10. Nissan Juke
Years ago there was a computer printer called a Juki. That, I imagine has nothing to do with the Nissan SUV other than I imagine they are pronounced in the same way. Otherwise it could be said in the same breath as "box". It is however so easy to think of it as the Nissan Junk that inevitably I do.

9. Renault Kadjar
Some cars are named after attractive towns, such as the Cortina, the Capri and the Cordoba (other initial letters are available) and one might think that Kadjar is a small port somewhere in the Adriatic, with medieval walls, a marina and lots of nice little cafes on the waterfront. No. It is a made up name. Unfortunately it sounds exactly like "Cadger" and one imagines it puffing and gasping on the motorway as it tries to draw level with another car "Lend us some petrol mate and cor, my camshaft couldn't half do with a good greasing if you've any to spare, squire".

8. Vauxhall Mokka
This is the company that gave us the Cavalier, the Senator and the Viceroy For their new SUV they could have given us the Congressman, the Knight, the Equerry but instead settled on a type of coffee and then spelt it wrong. Were there too many "k's" left over from a scrabble game at the North-Eastern dealers spring break in Scarborough? And they utterly failed to use the totally brilliant slogan "Don't knokka the Mokka". Missed opportunity, there, lads.

7.Mitsubishi Pajero
 Another SUV and apparently the name is derived from a Pampas cat. Also sold under the much more reasonable name of Shogun. That one works - Japanese maker, Japanese name. If they wanted to convey nice and cuddly they could have called it the Pussy but I guess that might have caused some tut-tutting from the PC Brigade. As it is, that "j" in the middle makes it ugly.

6. Renault Twingo
I don't know what happened here. Did they rule out the "Bingo" as it was too British? It's a little car and little cars do tend to get lumbered with innocuous little names like Corsa and Ka (which is both silly and rather clever at the same time) but Twingo sounds like a mildly disabling complaint of the lower vertebrae - "It's just a touch of Twingo, Mrs Arkwright, nothing to worry about, rub some liniment in and take it easy". Alternatively it could be a chocolate bar, sold as two sticks in one packet (hence "twin", you see). But it doesn't say car to me.

5. Renault Captur
Renault again and another SUV to boot. Cap Tur is, of course, a well known and highly fashionable resort near Menton, home to an artist colony, a famous perfume designer and a man from Essex with a scar, too much gold jewellery and very high gates around his villa. But Captur? It surely cannot be a contraction of "capture", can it, and if it was what do we make of it?

4. Dacia Duster
These SUVs certainly get more than their fair share of daft nomenclature. Did they do no market research at all? Do people go go into car washes and say "Would you kindly clean my Duster?" If they wanted a name with bit of spirit and boyish aggression they should have called it the Dust-up. Anyway, I'm looking forward to the Mitsubishi Mop, the Bentley Bin and the Volkswagen Vacuum. And, in another context (when I can think of it), the Skoda Soda.

3. Nissan Quashqai
These SUVs don't let up, do they? I think the Nissan men must have been at the same conference as the Vauxhallers, only someone took all their "u's". What an irritating name this is, only you do get 2 "q's" for the price of one and surely that has tipped the balance for many a wavering buyer. Reminiscent of Yiddish, one can imagine an aged lady moaning to her friend "Oy, ikh hobn veytik in meyn qashqai" 1. Not only would I not buy one of these cars due to its name, I don't have a clue how pronounce it.

2.Seat Mii
A small car with a small name and another misuse of letters (No wonder that sales conference ended in uproar with much angry beating of clipboards). Do they want it to be called the Me? Why not say so? I suppose you have to say "Me-ee" like a two year old putting his hands up when asked who wants more jam on his rice pudding. Not to be confused with the even more stupidly named Nintendo Wii. Of course, in Latin, it represents 1002 which, as all numerologists know, is the secret number denoting something parked forlornly at the side of the road with the bonnet up.

And now the number 1, the silliest car name of all. Drum roll, please. I give you (and please remember to take it away at the end):

1. Kia Cee'd.
Plenty of commentators have discussed this one. Curiously, Kia have removed the apostrophe on the current model (perhaps they needed it for a really advanced Scrabble game) so now it is called the Ceed, which I suppose you pronounce as Seed, and which is pretty awful anyway. The car itself is an unexceptional hatchback; maybe a mini version can be called the Ceedless. Anyway, back to that unbelievable apostrophe. Was it put in to win a bet? It is not possible to speak this word as written because the apostrophe thus placed denotes missing letters (as it does in the word "doesn't", for example) but we don't know what they are. Could it be a contraction of "Cedarwood?" or "Seaboard", spelt wrong? Whatever it is, I don't care and I'm not going to buy one.

Special bonus
Thank you for staying with us right to the end. As a reward to you, our loyal readers, we give you the light van with the silliest name. And the award goes to (let's have another drum roll, if the drummer is still here)....

Peugeot Bipper
Bravely rejecting real and gritty words like "gripper" or "flipper" or "nipper" (a very good name for a small and versatile vehicle), and unaccountably ignoring the rather pertinent "shipper", the best brains in Paris went to the playground for inspiration. Is not a bipper that little red button on the side of a toy that squeaks when you press it?

-&-&-


Footnote
 1:  translation. "Oy, do I have a pain in my ****", where **** represents whatever part of the anatomy you feel is most suitable.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

101 Things #8 - Dancing the Night Away

Today's addition to the anti-bucket list 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die will be short and sweet. According to a contributor on Bucketlist everyone should

Dance all night to Hip-Hop

Gosh, what a horrid idea. Gyrating pointlessly to loud music all night. I hate Hip-Hop anyway, find dancing awkward and I become amazingly self-conscious doing it, and am happy to be tucked up in bed not later than midnight. Music to listen all night to? I'm listening to Amazing Blondel as I type these words. Give me Caravan, The Kinks, Hatfield and the North, Gryphon, Renaissance, Pink Floyd, Camel, Wishbone Ash ... if those names mean nothing to you then that's fine, I'm not telling you to put them on your bucket list, am I? Nor am I telling you how to enjoy them or the music of your choice. Or when to do it.

See, that's the thing about us anti-bucketeers (is that a phrase?) [No. Ed]. All suggestions as to what to do are met with suspicion but, when three are combined at once, it is worrying. And furthermore I have a sneaking suspicion you are supposed to do the 'dance/hip-hop to the small hours' thing at a nightclub. I have a deep contempt of nightclubs and you can read all about it in a piece on this very column written a few years ago.

I should perhaps add that a few years back Mrs. C (who spends about as much on the dance floor as I do) and I happened to be in Vienna and were part of a group experiencing waltz music in a ballroom. Taking cunning advantage of a timely power cut we essayed a few steps. That was enough. I am confident that, when I stride up to those Pearly Gates and press the button below the grille with the sign that says "Please state your name and business", my claim to have "Danced nearly all night to Strauss" will be accepted.