Monday, January 27, 2020

101 Things #53 - Blanking Out

1. The Opening of the Book
A book lies
open. I read the
lines that fill the page, the lines that line the whiteness of
page, that creep toward the number denoting a
a new page
I flip to find each page adorned
with a number
So many numbers I cannot
comprehend them all.
There would be
pages if only each line were a sensible length and if the line breaks made any form of sense but this
not the case.

2. The Marshalling of the Argument
There are things I shall not do, must not do, will reject
Let us cast them out, let us turn our backs, close our eyes, close
and inscribe their names in our list that all may see, that
may know
that all
may understand.

3. The Naming of the List
How shall we understand?
The list of that which is
in our
It shall be named thus:
101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die.
and everything within shall be that which we

4. The Naming of the Thing
 What is it, this stuff, this book of broken lines, wherein are
 the rhymes and the reasons? How shall we
 know it to
 include it? What is it, about it, concerning it that
we shall not do?
We shall turn our backs

 Trying to understand blank verse.

5. The Ending of the Matter
There came one from the east
 who cried Master, it is I,
your Editor. And I have reviewed your opus,
 your works,
your outpourings, your cries are
heard and herein are they well represented.
Let this be an end to it for it is of sufficient length and surely,
by now you have
made your point. I shall put the
on and let us have peace.

6. The Closing of the Book
And at last a sentence was written on one line and did not have a false break anywhere within it and the Writer and the Editor looked on it and were content.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

101 Things #52 - Burns Night

I love Scotland and have visited many times. But an admiration for magnificent scenery, whisky, the birthplace of some world class engineers and Edinburgh, does not mean uncritical acceptance of all things tartan. I need to draw the line and in today's 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die, and cunningly posted on the correct date, the finger of rejection points firmly at any proposal to

Eat a Burns Night Dinner.

I can't claim to be much of a fan of Robbie Burns' poetry but then he's probably not too keen on mine. What I really wish to avoid for the rest of my days is the plate of splodge that is a traditional Burns Night dinner, a dish of haggis, neeps and tatties that looks like something dredged up in a old-fashioned works canteen when you're too late for the fish and chips. Something, in fact, like this:

The white stuff is the tatties, or mashed potato. Fine, I have no problem with a decent wodge of this underneath a couple of sausages, or escorting a lamb shank or a fresh fillet of sea bass. Or almost anything, actually. The orange stuff is mashed swede or turnips, vegetables I will not eat, no matter how much they are boiled and beaten into submission and covered with lashings of brown sauce. And parsnips can get knotted as well. So don't think you can get round me by subtly changing the recipe for neeps.

The haggis, of course, was immortalised by Burns. I believe his first draft went on these lines:

They were burning a witch in Clackmannan
Just for a wee bit o' fun
When she started to smoulder
Said a nearby beholder
"It smells like that hagg is done"

But this never got printed. Anyway, what actually goes into a haggis?
Historically, when hunters made their kill, they would use up the offal, which went off first, using the cleaned animal’s stomach as a cooking bag. Minced heart, liver and lungs are bulked out with oatmeal, onions, suet, seasoning and spices before cooking

source: BBC Good Food

So the bits of the animal that nobody really wanted to eat are cooked inside another bit nobody wants to eat and then, in order to get it into your mouth without you gagging, are concealed under perfectly good oatmeal and onions so as to produce a brown sludge that takes me right back to the school dinners served in my primary school, when the main course was either "hash" or "mince". 

Presumably the good bits, you know, the actual real meat that didn't go off the moment you ripped it out of the stricken animal, were presented to the Laird. Well, I'm one with the Laird here. You may keep your haggis and neeps and pipe them in and salute them to your heart's content. I'll be the bloke in the other room tucking into a decent steak-and-ale pie. With mash.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

101 Things #51 - Mirror, Mirror

When the time comes that the most exciting part of your day is to choose between brown and white bread for your morning toast, then you will undoubtedly reflect, from time to time, on the great, wonderful and varied achievements of your life. Some will perhaps have occurred to you as you examined the ideas and accomplishments of others and, inspired by their example, you will have committed yourself to success in that same field.

And there will be other notions that either you threw straight into the (metaphorical) waste-paper basket of your mind and now, looking back after all those years, you can still smile with satisfaction that your first instinct was correct.

Today, as we continue to build the veritable warehouse of those discarded suggestions that is 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die, we hurl on top of the pile the paean to narcissism, found on Hello Bestow, that a worthy bucket list item is to

Compliment yourself every day in the mirror.

There does not appear to be a time limit on this one. Normally it is easy to say when a bucket list item has been completed - you run your marathon, you visit the Pyramids, you see the Mona Lisa etc, you pull out your battered old notebook and tick it off. This is not possible with the idea under review - the compliments must flow every day until, presumably, you can no longer see the mirror, or the nursing staff refuse to let you look, or your flat is repossessed together with all your wordly possessions. Maybe this is not really an issue. As you brush your teeth or do your hair then that is the time to say those few gentle, yet heartening words of comfort. Soon it will be become second nature to do so.

Unfortunately there is a catch. For what, after all, is a compliment? To be effective it must be spontaneous and unexpected. If your boss, who has barely grunted at you all year, manages a "Well done" as you once again top the monthly sales charts, then you can truly bask in the glow. If that attractive new person at the social club, who has hitherto ignored you, gives you a long, admiring glance before saying how good you are looking tonight, then you are bucked up. Now contrast these examples with your morning routine as you blink blearily into the glass, wishing you had had more self-control the previous evening before accepting that sixth tequila slammer.

"Morning, gorgeous" you mumble, aware of the hollowness and futility of the remark, sick at your own self-deception "You're really looking well".

You remember that you said the same thing yesterday. And the day before."Ok, I didn't mean it. You look pretty ropey. Oh no, that's a terrible thing to say, I'm so sorry, no, you're good, really you are, that spot on your nose is hardly visible any more and those wrinkles - no, I mean, I'm in awe here, you radiate health and vitality ..."

How can you keep this hollow charade up, day after day, every day trying to find something new to say? I am beginning to see why this might be a creditable bucket list achievement - simply having the stamina and the imagination to go on finding ever more intricate praises of yourself without making yourself utterly sick of your own hypocrisy; it calls out for recognition if not for some sort of award. But even if it does, I'm not going to be the one attempting it. I'd be more likely to start insulting myself, followed by a set of "You what?", "You heard", "I didn't", "Well, I'm not going to repeat it" and quite frankly the prospect of a daily fight with myself does not attract.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

It's up. No, down. Well, one of them, anyway

I am grateful to Mrs Commuter for drawing my attention to the following news item

Source: BBC website today
Apparently the people who put out their trading statements were unable to distinguish between a fall in sales and an increase in sales.Although sales had fallen by 2% in the period up to Christmas (presumably compared to the same period in 2018 although the BBC cannot be bothered to say so), the announcement claimed an increase before it was hastily corrected.

Dixons blamed our old friend 'clerical error' for the misleading first announcement. This probably does not mean that they had invited a vicar in to do the numbers (cynics might say that the group could do with some divine guidance, but not me). It ought to mean something like the following:

Scene: The busy PR department at Dixons Carphone. Staff in the background are being trained to say "Oh sorry, that's not in stock", "Would you like a £30 warranty with your £5 toaster" and "Yes, we do store your personal data insecurely but we really do care about your privacy and security, honestly". Enter Tarquin and Benedict.
Tarquin "We need to issue this wretched trading thingy, Benners. Damn shame, I was hoping to get off early for squash"
Benedict "God, telling the stock exchange how we are doing, it's positively medieval"
Tarquin "Any chance your boys could take a look at it?"
Benedict "Love to help, old man, but we're all planning the corporate away day. Don't you have any spotty-faced school-leavers around?"
Tarquin "No, they're all out the back kicking holes in the packaging and re-routing urgent orders back to Dumfries for onward processing in the Truro depot. Damn, I think we may have to rope in one the clerks. Actually that's good, if anything goes wrong we can blame it all on them. Ha ha"
Benedict "You are a one, Tarquers"

Sunday, January 19, 2020

101 Things #50 - No Flashing, Please

When you are old and grey and sitting quietly in the big chair with the autumn sun warming your legs, will you smile contentedly as you recall all the wonderful achievements of your life? I doubt if  one of those treasured attainments will be the suggestion found on the Pop Sugar website to

Participate in a flash mob.

No? I didn't think it would be. I am very happy to add this to my still-expanding collection of garbage ideas that I wittily describe as 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die.

Oh, come on, some of you may be thinking, it's fun to rush out to a location that somebody else has chosen at a time that somebody else has specified and mill about with loads of strangers, all of whom are picking away at their phones while they photograph each other all milling about and having a really good time as they enjoy a spot of perfectly splendid milling.

Obviously, I do not regard such a gathering as fun and for exactly the same reasons. I see no reason why my life should be at the whim of someone else who may not even bother to turn up to the bash. I don't regard hanging about in a crowd as fun. As I understand it, you don't even get a decent cup of tea as these events, or, if you do, then there's a hell of a queue and, when you get to the head of it, they will have run out of chocolate biscuits and you'll have to settle for some stale bourbons. And, by then, the tea will be cold.

Flash mobs are nothing new. Mobs used to assemble in London and riot for the sake of it during the 17th and 18th centuries, so much so that the Riot Act was put into law in 1714 to counteract them. Mobs gathered to smash machinery during the rapid industrialisation and urbanisation of the 19th century. In those days it was done by word of mouth and by people taking responsibility for leading, now it is anonymous. When once it was dangerous to lead opposition to the established order, now the stupidest ideas can be quickly circulated without the slightest risk to those promulgating them (the recent attempt to storm Area 51 being a very good example). There are a few exceptions - such as the attempts to defend democracy in Hong Kong in recent months - but even there the will to demonstrate came first and the organisation, via phone apps, was merely a means to spread the word, not the fundamental purpose of the gathering.

Being in a flash mob is reminiscent of the Black Friday shoppers, except that once all the flashers (is that what they call them?) have gathered, there is nothing at all to do except hang around and then return from whence they came. It has to be one of the most futile activities an adult can do - at least the BF lot can buy something cheap (or at any rate they think it's cheap). The Luddites were attempting to achieve something important to them. The flashers are a sort of 21st century nihilist cult, creating nothing, disseminating nothing, just gathering because, thanks to social media and mobile phones, they can. I hope this trend ceases to be fashionable; even if it does not, I shall not be flashing.