Saturday, March 28, 2020

101 Things #82 - Magic Moments

I am a fairly realistic, down-to-earth sort of bloke. I may tut-tut with irritation when there are extensive delays on the tube but I accept that these do happen now and then. I tend to carry an umbrella on most days, however sunny and settled the weather may appear. I take no heed of advertisements for casinos, on-line gambling or the national lottery because I know that the odds of success are against me.

Consequently, as I continue to add to my compendium of the pointless or risible bucket-list suggestions of others, which is known in these parts as 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die, it is the work of a moment to consider worthy of inclusion the proposal found on A Backpackers Tale website to

Expect magic in each moment.

By magic I think we can rule out some fast-talking, dinner-jacketed smoothie who deftly shuffles a pack of cards in one hand whilst relieving you of your watch with the other. In this context it surely denotes an element of wonder, joyful surprise and a keen pleasure in some unforeseen turn of events. There is nothing wrong with hoping for something special, sure, but I would like to muse for a while on the word "expect".

We all assume the sun will rise tomorrow. We base this on the experience of the human race since time immemorial and on upon scientific understanding of the nature of stars. The probability of a sunrise is so enormously high that we can safely base our entire existence upon it. This is a good use of the word "expect". Another is that a train, already visible to us on our smartphone app as having left a nearby station, will shortly arrive in beautiful Ruislip to permit some quality commuting.

We may also expect there to be rain later in the day; this is never certain especially here in the UK where a highly complex weather system makes precise predictions hard. For this reason forecasters will often give a probability to their forecasts.

Expectation is borne out of experience and knowledge. If we have none, then we have no basis to predict anything. The cliche "expect the unexpected" is singularly unhelpful; we may be able to imagine all sorts of outcomes but we cannot expect anything until we have something to go on.

On these grounds, since "magic" is something utterly out of the ordinary, it is pretty damn unreasonable to try to expect it at all, never mind in each moment. We may glimpse it in the face of a loved one, or in a child giggling helplessly at at something we find quite ordinary, we may shiver with pleasure at a multi-coloured sunset over a sweeping landscape or tingle with the last bars of a stirring piece of music; all of these things are, probably, what our good backpacking friends intended to be denoted as magical and all of them are special precisely because they are are rare and arise only in special circumstances. Were we to expect them to occur in each and every moment we would be sorely and continually disappointed.

I contend that only the deluded would expect magic in each moment. The intelligent and rational expect the ordinary - that whatever happens will be roughly in line with the probability of it happening, that magical moments will occur infrequently and often unpredictably and that it is precisely this rarity that makes them special, worth savouring at the time and memorable ever after.

Thus I have no intention of expecting anything other than the normal. I may cherish the hope of the special, of course, but hope and expectation are different animals and should not be confused. I hope that you will be enthralled and delighted by this series of anti-bucket-list themes but I do not expect it.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

101 Things #81 - Slapping Those Hands

There are bucket-list ideas that are highly specific and need effort to achieve - such as running a marathon. There are ideas that are a little woollier but still have a reasonable rationale - such as befriending an older person. And there are those really daft notions that are probably included to make up the numbers for those trying to find 101 things to do before they die and are stuck after listing the first 63. This piece examines one of these. It was suggested on the website Get Off The Couch .

I'm off the couch, thank you, and have no intention whatsoever to

Spend a day giving high fives to everyone you see.*

What I shall do instead is to add this to my still-growing, now four score in number, series 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die.

There were no high fives when I was young. Indeed, there were none for much of my adulthood. Stealthily, without fanfare, this form of social interaction has become acceptable and commonplace. This article, A Brief History of the High Five by Jessica Bloustein Marshall, seems fairly helpful in establishing how the high five become enmeshed within our culture.

If the high five has a value, it is to celebrate a worthwhile achievement. A cricketer scoring successive sixes perhaps or a sales manager acknowledging a new monthly sales record. It should be used sparingly so as to have a real meaning. But we find people high-fiving on the least pretext, and now, here is the ultimate expression of pointlessness, the idea that somehow you will have achieved something memorable if you do it all the time with everyone you meet during a day.

I wonder what the good folk of beautiful Ruislip would think were I to stroll down High Street extending my hand and waving it in the face of all who pass. The young mother with a child on one arm and pushing a pram with the other - will she gladly let go of one to rap my knuckles? The elderly couple moving slowly toward the supermarket, the traffic warden with his beady eye on a Range Rover, the group of teenagers engrossed with their phones - will any of these extend a hand to share a moment with me? Do I dare start high-fiving a couple of schoolgirls or will I instantly face a charge of sexual harassment?

I suppose one could try simply offering a high five to all-comers. This way only volunteers would be involved. But clearly this would not achieve the objective of "giving" high fives so must be disregarded. As to "a day" - what on earth does our couch-bound advisor do all day that makes this sort of activity worthwhile? Presumably he does not drive a taxi or a train; he is unlikely to be a policeman or a coastguard. A scientist carefully carrying radioactive fluids in a testtube is not, I venture, going to risk dropping it and melting his shoes just because a grinning colleague is sticking out a paw to be rapped. And as to the man at the controls of the crane on the building site, making minute adjustments to the five ton load being swung high out over the street - best left well alone, I dare say.

In any case merely looking at a stranger is more social interaction than most of us care to do, and in the wrong neighbourhood, can be positively dangerous. Even in the right neighbourhood there is likely to be a far amount of sideways glances, averted gazes and possibly crossing of the street when an enthusiastic high-fiver is spotted. I must admit that were I to encounter someone doing this, I would be narrowing my gaze, ensuring my wallet was safely buttoned up and putting a hand on my portable umbrella (always useful as an emergency club) just in case. And by extension, if others feel the same way then who am I to put them under such pressure?


* This article was, of course, written some time before the present medical emergency.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

101 Things #80 - Disporting in the Drizzle

I have been building up my little collection of ideas to avoid for some time now. Most of them have been culled from websites full of earnest advice to others about the goals that should be inspiring them to action. I am equally earnest in my desire to be the bloke on the sidelines proudly and ostentatiously not doing whatever it is that is being proposed, whilst adding the recommendation to my justly famed anti-bucket-list index 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die.

Today's piece brings together suggestions that may be found on many bucket-list websites, usually without any explanation as to why they are worth considering. Personal Excellence reckons you should walk or dance barefoot in the rain. is a trifle bolder and opines that you should kiss in the rain. The common denominator here is pretty obvious and therefore let me state my rejection of any suggestion to

Do stuff in the rain. 

I blame Gene Kelly. The musical Singing in the Rain made getting soaked seem romantic and cool. Countless movies have since featured couples smooching under a light shower, or running in slow motion through glistening drops, the female shaking her hair seductively whilst her admirer gallantly lends her his raincoat or extends a protective umbrella.

Let us first deal with the barefoot business. We do not go barefoot normally because city streets are hard and often plastered with noxious substances. Feet are delicate and hurt woefully easily, a really poor design flaw in homo sapiens. Stub a toe and it will throb for a ridiculously long time afterward. Striding out shoeless in the countryside is little better. There are stones, mud and uneven ground to negotiate. We may be fine in smooth grassy fields or on beaches, and some climbers like to scale rock faces unshod, but these are really rather special circumstances. Furthermore, walking through wet fields is not particularly pleasant, being on the beach in a howling gale with the sand being whipped up is a no-no and few climbers would want to try to scaling wet, slippery rocks with the rain soaking their clothes and masking their vision.

How about kissing in the rain? 


Why? Why make this a bucket-list objective? If you fancy a kiss, go for it. Waiting while the sky darkens and the temperature drops, and your partner starts worrying about missing the train or being late for dinner, seems utterly futile. Equally if it has began pelting down and you are both doing up your raincoats and dashing for cover, suggesting a quick snog while her hair gets utterly ruined is unlikely to earn any brownie points. Frequently the rain in these parts can become torrential, if only for a few moments, but quite enough to soak through trouser legs and shoes.

When I am presenting awards at the 2040 Ramblings Festival, and the interviewer asks me to list some of my greatest disappointments, I will not be musing about that chance I had to plant a quick peck on the cheek of a casual acquaintance during a cloudburst in Ruislip High Street.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

101 Things #79 - Pick a Card

Today's little diatribe, as part of my now-maturing-nicely series of rejections of the bucket-list ideas of others, 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die, has probably the longest title of the set. So step forth, the author of Daring To Live as we unveil your notion to

Create a set of cards with inspirational sayings on them and leave them in random places for strangers to find.

Actually, others have also proposed this particular idea but that does not make it any better - consider this odd variant from Get Off The Couch:

Leave an inspirational message on a sticky note
 in a bathroom or public place

Let us first clear some of the undergrowth before going for the jugular [Rather confused metaphors there: Ed]. I don't know what a "random" place might be. Wherever you might happen to be is somewhere definite and results in your choice of having gone there. Even if you find a way to be somewhere unexpected (perhaps by jumping into a taxi and telling the cabbie to "Just drive, mate, and here's £200 to be getting on with") then you still have to place your cards. If you drop them in the street you are merely littering. If you leave them on pub tables, they will be used as beer mats. If you hand them out to passers-by they will avoid you with the same disdain we all give to unwanted charity collectors and religious enthusiasts. Resorting to pinning them in phone boxes will mean associating with a very different class of cards and will undermine the image you are trying to create.

Incidentally, you will have to go somewhere you are unknown, otherwise it is possible that the people finding your cards will not be strangers. If they recognise you, or your handwriting, you will find yourself all over Facebook with derogatory postings such as "That nutter from number 38 is doing another of his stupid bucket-list stunts again".

Anyway, let us suppose you are in a new location and have found places to secrete your messages - amongst the romance section in some library, perhaps. You can stand with your back to the cameras and the cool quizzical glance of the librarians as you fumble the cards inside the front cover of Lord Jasper's Marriage, The Mistress of Muldoon Manor and She Got What She Wanted1.

Now we have reviewed the difficulties inherent in genuinely placing our cards randomly amongst strangers, let us turn to the nub of the gist - what are these so-called inspirational messages with which they are to be inscribed?

Are we meant to be recycling the ideas of others or using our own? If the former, then how derivative and boring. And how arrogant, to assume that we have the right to thrust notions in front of others in the first place. They may already be familiar with the constructs in question and might, for very good reasons, wish to reject them. If so, reminding them does not make for a good deed but for a stupid one. More likely the ideas will be utterly trite or utterly unworkable. Ideas such as :
  • See the beauty of the world in every flower. 
  • Smile at strangers to make their day. 
  • Go placidly, and the rest of all that bollocks.2 
  • Do not ask for credit as a refusal often offends. 
  • Please remember to take all of your personal belongings with you when you exit the train.
  • A stitch in time saves having to go to the menders on the corner who are always shut. 
  • Don't put off to tomorrow what you can find some mug to do today. 
  • What goes up must continue going up if it is moving at escape velocity.

Surely you must come up with some inspiration of your own. Aha, but if you were truly inspired then you wouldn't be looking at other people's bucket-lists for ideas, would you? Got you!

The world is full of people telling everybody else what to think. It is ridiculous to add yet more woffle to the pile. Stick your inspiration on a website or something, by all means, so that those in search of enlightenment can find it. Leave the rest of us alone to browse through Sir Henry and the Scullery Maid in peace, please 3.

1. I am not sure if any these titles exists. I would be happy to knock one or all of them out for a reasonable advance. 
2. The first two words are from Desiderata by Max Erhmann. The rest of the sentence is by Ramblings of Ruislip and is strictly copyright  © 2020 so see my lawyers if you wish to quote it.
3. This one is for a rather restricted market.