Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Making a Tidy Profit

We are beset with election fever, the climate and ecological crises and the imminence of Christmas (sorry, it is #Christmas according to a mysterious advert on Twitter by Twitter which urges me to do something because 'my customers are preparing for it' or some similar rubbish), but the story of the day seems to be the one filed from Tokyo about a woman whose simple but powerful message must surely inspire us all.

Pic: Netflix, reproduced from The Guardian

It seems that Ms Kondo is extremely famous and important because she is the only person on the planet who knows how to tidy things up. Years of study and research, often going against all received wisdom, resulted in her unique message - "Throw out what you do not use, or at least don't think you are likely to need in the next twenty years or so, better be on the safe side". She has attracted millions of devotees who meet in parks all across Japan to engage in ceremonial rituals of hurling unwanted vases into giant wicker baskets whilst chanting "Out, out, out!". The typical Japanese home now looks like this:

Pic: TheAmericanGenius.com
but many followers would go further if they could and remove the floor and windows, so as to reach what they describe as "Decluttered heaven". For those on the extremist wing this is not purist enough; they would dispose of the walls as well so as to remove all temptation to put shelves up.

However, the fuss today is not about chucking stuff out but about buying loads of fresh tat to put in its place and, surprise surprise, Kondo wants all that replacement garbage to be the stuff that she herself is selling. Well, well. I never once in a million years would have seen that one coming. [Scarcasm, right? Ed]

The technique for putting stuff into bins is called the KonMari method. Mari from the ancient Japanese word for "Tidy" and Kon from - well, we all know it's a con, don't we?

Saturday, November 16, 2019

101 Things #26 - Living in the Past

Are you terminally gullible? Do you hold that any idea nobody can explain or substantiate must therefore be true? Have you got nothing else to do this afternoon? If all this is you then you should certainly add to your lifetime bucket list an idea propounded by the Pick your goals website to

Get a past life regression session

and while you are handing over your credit card details, I shall be adding this inane suggestion to my anti-bucket list 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die.

Perhaps you believe that you (and what is understood by "you" in this context is a very slippery concept indeed) were someone else previously, and that when they died "they" in some sense became the "you" that was to born later on, and that the identity of this spiritual ancestor can be ascertained by consulting someone in a dimly lit consulting room with a big notice on the wall saying "No money refunded".

How does that work, then? What is the link between the dead and yourself? Is it anything physical, made of molecules and subject to the known laws of our universe? Or a mysterious "soul" that you just know is there (because you are deeply spiritual, aren't you) and so it must be true and how that soul survives after one death to influence the mind of another person is a detail that can be safely skipped over.

It's always fascinating to see the number of people who were important in a past life; there must be hundreds or thousands of reborn Cleopatras, for example. And they all speak perfect English too, these spirits who inhabit our minds. Remarkable that, does it mean that when you die your soul has to go to some sort of language school in the afterlife so that, when it is your turn to pop into the mind of a newly-born, you will be all set to go?

What of the overwhelmingly vast majority of ordinary folk who have lived and died without record over the past few hundred thousand years? Do they live again? Is our fascination with elephants the result of a dim memory of frying up a tasty mammoth steak by a campfire long ago? Do our fast bowlers at cricket relive the moment when Ug, the caveman, hurled a flint at the head of Ug, the other caveman (not very big on imagination when it came to names, these cavemen)? As a pole-vaulter springs herself elegantly 6 metres into the air, is she channelling the gleeful thoughts of an ape-like being flying through the jungle and contemptuously dropping unwanted bits of fruit on the heads of the plodding beasts far below?

You will gathered by now that I do not believe in reincarnation or the transmigration of souls or anything remotely similar. Our brains and minds are an integral part of our bodies and die when our bodies die. Now, it may be that in the future the complete state of a brain can be downloaded and stored to a computer and that our personalities will continue to exist, in a digital sense, when activated. But that still is not in any sense the same as having a past life. It would be a continuation of the present life.

Consequently I can only feel contempt for anyone offering past life regression sessions. Like all the mediums and fortune-tellers of yore, they feed off the clues given to them by their victims clients. Tell them you feel a bit Slavic and guess what? The blood of the Romanovs runs in your veins. Enjoy music? Welcome back to earth, Wolfgang Amadeus. Nothing they say can be contradicted. If they tell you that in a past life you were Napoleon then how can you disprove it?

Of course, I happen to know that you were not Napoleon because (whisper it), I am. My genius smashed the Russians and Austrians at Austerlitz. I was the man who remade the map of Europe and who modernised the laws of France. Get your filthy hands of my tricorne hat, I shall need that when I saddle up and ride out to impose EU membership on all who stand in my way, Ha Ha, Vive L'Empereur!

Friday, November 15, 2019

Election 2019 - The Candidates Step Forward

Living as I do in the prime minister's constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip we can expect a fair amount of media attention over the next few weeks. Which will make a contrast to the past ten days in which just one measly leaflet (for Boris) came through my letterbox.

The pace has certainly quickened today thanks to this announcement of the candidates on Twitter

Two members of the aristocracy are gracing us with their presence. I'm impressed. I shall definitely give one of them my vote, unless I don't. And that's a promise. Guaranteed.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Dr. Commuter helps out ... baffled Colgate users

Dr. Commuter writes: There are many deeply troubling questions that confront us in our daily lives. Is there a God? Does my partner still love me? Are there severe delays on the train, again? We doctors call this class of problem "The stumpers". And a worthy candidate to join them is that posed by an advertisement for a well known brand of toothpaste. Going directly to the heart of the matter it demands to know "Are you totally ready""

This question is undoubtedly of great philosophical significance and it is not easy to do it justice within the limited confines of this column. Many have questioned their state of readiness, since it is hard to assess this until the situation for which one is preparing has come about. For example, a tiddlywinks competitor may feel that he is ready for a challenge but when he sees his opponent confidently winking away he may find his own confidence diminishing.

We face a far greater problem as we dissect the meaning, if any, of this question for the crux of the issue is the interpretation of "totally". Are we totally ready? How would we know? Must we take an examination to find out? Is this something that a smart computer app could assess? How in any case could we be sure that, in all conceivable circumstances, we were ready, unless we undergo  each of them and this would take many more lifetimes than any of us has at our disposal (not to mention an inordinate amount of toothpaste, we would be utterly sick of the taste of it long before the end of the exhaustive testing process).

It is surely better for our peace of mind that we put aside thoughts of "total" readiness as belonging to a class of problem that we doctors call "Stupid ideas dreamed up by admen", ignore the product being advertised and remove an unnecessary source of stress from our lives.

101 Things #25 - Housebuild

One of the more outlandish bucket list suggestions found on the internet, that we will dissect today in our series 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die  comes from Pick Your Goals, where they suggest that I should

Build My Own House.
  Obviously this is not going to happen. It was never going to happen. I have lived nearly all my life in London, have been in full time employment for all of it up to my retirement a few years ago and have few skills in architecture, design, building, carpentry, electrics, plumbing, roofing and interior decoration. Why on earth would I wish to dedicate myself to the enormous task of building a house?

There are people who do build their homes. They have lots of time, enough funds and sufficient know-how. They usually build them in secluded country areas. Here, in beautiful Ruislip, land is very expensive, there are building regulations that tell you the standards needed for residential use and planning regulations that determine where you can build, what it can look like and how big. It can be done, certainly, but as I would like to have a few stress-free years, it is not going to be me that starts the long process of local construction.

Of course it is much easier in the United States where this idea originates. Land is cheap and easy to find (if you are happy to live in semi-desert or in the decaying spaces around the rust-belt cities). Construction techniques are simpler too, with wooden frame houses being the norm in a great many places. You don't need to build an upstairs if you've got lots of space to spread out, though a basement is a good idea.Yet to do it oneself is still a massive task and is bound to involve hiring people to do the heavy lifting and digging.

I suppose by "build" could be meant that you design the house and then get others to do the actual construction. That always used to be understood when you heard about someone having a house built; it really meant they paid for it to be built from scratch. Just doing the pure design might be fun, up to a point. Using computer software to lay out the rooms, colour in the wallpaper and place furniture here and there is a clever way to see what it would look like. On the other hand any fool can mess about with a design app - the architecture still has to work - the walls have got to support the load placed on them, the layout has to be sensible for whoever is going to live there - and you still have to get someone to build it.

Some bucket-list ideas are inspirational and achievable. I don't think this one is, certainly not for the vast majority of people, and on this occasion I am happy to be part of the majority.