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.

-&-&-

Readers! If you would like an Amazo-meter of your very own, just send £200 to our Kickstealer campaign offices. We will rush your Amazo-meter to you just as soon as one is ready.
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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.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

101 Things #7 - Wine making

Inevitably, whilst creating this list of 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die, a certain amount of research was done to see what sort of things other people regard as desirable. Lifeline24 thinks that:

Making Your Own Wine
 
is a jolly good idea and something you will look back gladly upon as time well spent as the ambulance drives you away to your final destination.

Well, unless you happen to own your vineyard (in which case you are already doing it), it really isn't. Oh yes, it sounds so romantic, wandering amongst the vines, caressing the growing fruit, waving away the odd invading insect and then at the end of summer pulling out those trusty old scissors to snip away at the ripe bunches of grapes, inhaling the heady smell of the juice as the mound builds up in the barrels before friends and neighbours arrive from all over to crush them barefoot whilst having a party, and then the months of wandering through your cellar where the miracle of fermentation is hard at work before at last you open a tap, draw a small glass, inhale deeply and start planning your speech at the awards ceremony.

The reality is that you agonise about irrigation, about late frosts, about disease and infestations. When you finally get the harvest in it has to be crushed and liquidised and pasteurised and stuck in huge metal kegs for a few months before going off for testing and blending at an industrial bottling site, and then you get to taste it and it is sour, thin and acidic and then begins the long tedious process of trying to shift a few bottles of the stuff before it all goes vinegary, the bank calls in its mortgage and when you finally sign on at the Job Centre and tell them your last job was as a winemaker you get a hollow laugh and asked if you are any good at working in a call centre.


Even a small  producer needs
 at least this size vineyard.
Pic: mine
This is the stuff you need
to make wine.
 Pic: mine



It's actually hard work to make a decent wine. Mrs. Commuter and I have had a number of holidays recently in the great wine regions of France and Italy hearing about it at first hand. Small producers live on the edge of ruin - one bad harvest and it can all be over. And obviously, if this is something on your bucket list, then, by definition, you must be an amazingly small producer.

Of course, if your ambition is to make just one measly bottle of alcoholic grape juice on which you can proudly stick a hand-lettered label so that you can produce it at Christmas to impress your parents, ("Very nice, dear" says your mother loyally "But I think I'd rather have some of your lovely chlorinated tap water, if you don't mind") then go ahead, plant a few vines in the back garden and have the pleasure of watching them wither. In any case it takes several years before a vine is capable of bearing decent fruit. By then you'll be so fed up of the endless watering and weeding, and always worrying about an overnight frost, that the first taste of your wine will stick like rancid cola in your gullet. "I spent all that effort for this? For this??" you will say incredulously and your partner will nod solemnly and sigh, you know that sigh, the one that means "The penny has finally dropped, we could have had some decent roses by now like I always wanted".

I am not going to make my own wine or any other form of drink. There's loads of the stuff in the shops at very reasonable prices and I don't get to knacker my knees.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Blow My Mind, Waiter.

The trend for even more exotic ingredients in the dishes served by the great restaurants of the world seems to have reached a new, and rather fascinating, point. Forget the old Spagh Bol and a drop of Chianti before your Tiramisu - imagine what the 8 course tasting menu is like at this place:



According to the BBC, he was only growing the stuff as part of his quest to enhance the Mediterranean flavours of his food. That's a useful line to remember the next time you're tapped on the shoulder at a festival.

"Excuse me sir, I have reason to believe you are inhaling a class B substance, which can attract an on-the-spot fine of up to £90. "
"No way man, don't be so heavy, here take a good look. I call this the Colchester Carrot. It's a real carrot infused with cannabis flavour, the genuine taste of Essex, and it's going to be priced at £45 a plate in my restaurant Le Manoir d' Quatre Fumeurs. Would you care for a slice?"
"Oh, yes, right, sir, probably shouldn't while I'm on duty but as it's a festival..., mmm, surprisingly crunchy, oh wow my truncheon has turned into a golden light-sabre ..." etc etc.


With grateful acknowledgements to all behind the film Withnail and I

Saturday, September 28, 2019

101 Things #6 - Everest

For many the ascent of high mountains is a great and memorable achievement. The higher, more remote and more dangerous, then the more satisfying. Naturally, climbing Mount Everest is number one on the bucket list of anyone who goes in for this sort of thing. It seems fair that I should, as part of my continuing series 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die state my position on this matter. It is simple. I will not attempt to

Climb Mount Everest

I have been up the odd high place in my youth. But a poor sense of balance and a inability to deal with exposure - that is, not such a fear of heights but a fear of falling - have always conspired to keep me on the horizontal, albeit happy to let my eyes roam over the peaks and to admire those able to find up every towering face, overhang, chimney and crumbling ridge towards a summit.

In any case, Mount Everest has become a joke. The pictures taken earlier this year of hundreds of climbers queueing to scramble up and around the Hilary Step, and the deaths that occurred when bad weather closed in trapping many high up, mean that for the tourist climber this mountain has become a bit like the Night Watch at Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum or the Mona Lisa at the Louvre - you desperately want to see them to appreciate them as paintings, but not if there are crowds of selfie-snapping, "let's tick this one off the list", casual visitors clogging up the room ahead of you. Those who are very rich will always find some way to climb it, with teams of experienced Sherpas to drag them up the hard bits and keep them well supplied with oxygen and hot tea. Real climbers will find better challenges elsewhere.

One of the most inspiring climbing books in my collection is The Shining Mountain by Peter Boardman. With Joe Tasker, he climbed Changabang in 1976, forcing a route up a hitherto unclimbed and, for many unclimbable, peak. Just the two of them, no support team, no porters, no cameramen and no tourists. I would rather read, and marvel, about such exploits than even consider approaching Base Camp at Everest let alone thinking of climbing it.

 Sadly Boardman and Tasker were lost on attempting the North-East ridge of Everest a few years later.

The Climb-Everest trope is really a symbol for many areas of human endeavour. First considered impossible, then something only for madmen, then attempted and eventually attained by a few at the very top of their game, at last they become something to be commercialised and owned and subject to permits. Is there much point for those of us who are not, and will never be, anywhere near to the abilities of the trailblazers too consider emulating them slavishly? I think I can answer that. No. Only if the doing of it is fun and gasping for breath at 8,000m with sheer drops on either side and rocks crumbling under your feet is not fun. On this one I wish to be excused.

 -*-*-

I had intended to finish here but, the day after I drafted this piece, I glanced at the digital Guardian on my tablet and the following story was prominent.


I didn't bother reading the details just in case they conflicted with my instantly-formed assumptions. It seems to be saying that you too can effectively climb Everest if you climb the equivalent amount of height.

Well, this a game-changer. The Base Camp at Everest, that almost everyone uses, (the one in Nepal), is at 5,364 metres. The summit is 8,848. We merely need to ascend some 3,484 metres, 11,430 feet and we too will have climbed Everest. The Guardian piece is about finding various mountains in Britain to climb. Seems like a lot of hard work. I reckon that going up my stairs at home will do the job if I plan sufficiently.

Each of my stair risers is 8 inches and there are 14, with a little half landing after the third. So a full ascent raises me 9.33 feet. I need make just 1,225 ascents. Easy. Say I do just 50 a day, then the job is done in a month, with time off

It's early days but I think I shall make my Base Camp at the foot of the stairs, near the living room door. Of course I shall have to acclimatise by walking in from the kitchen a few times and bringing essential supplies for a stockpile. A couple of cereal bars should help. I won't need the Sherpas (a.k.a. Mrs Commuter) for this part which is just as well as she usually mutters something about having to go into the garden when this sort of project surfaces. The little landing can be Camp 1 and one of the stairs further up can be Camp 2. From there I am confident I can push on to the summit and return without hazard, provided the weather holds. I shall make these ascents alone and without oxygen. Out there it will be just me and the mountain stairs.

Cynics may point out that in no way am I simulating the sheer effort of climbing at real altitude, nor the difficulties of traversing huge crevasses and swarming up ice cliffs. In an way, I must concede that technically they are right; however exactly the same objection could be made to the exploits of the man in the Guardian story (one Graham Hoyland). Was he daunted by the criticism? No, he climbed on, through mist and light showers, sometimes more than three whole hours walk from a pub. And, glancing at the very end of the article, I see he got a book deal out of it. That's the spirit. I am expecting no less than a two hour TV documentary, preferably narrated by my fellow extreme climber Brian Blessed, and several chat show appearances on the back of it.

 Ah, I've just been handed a note by my Editor which informs me that Hoyland actually walked the full height of Everest measured from sea level. The bastard. That's a full 3,100 ascents! I'm having second thoughts about all this.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

101 Things #5 - Rugby Union

With the Rugby World Cup in full swing in Japan, what better time to add to my growing list of  101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die, my determination to dodge any attempt to

Understand the rules of Rugby Union

I played this sport at school. I vividly recall that first day when our PE teacher welcomed his new class of eleven-year-olds into the gym with a sneering sort of snarl, sat us down, pointed at an incomprehensible drawing of dots on the blackboard and in one sentence established for ever my relationship with the game.
"Right, you fairies, get out there into the mud and start tackling, anyone not covered in blood after ten minutes gets a slippering".1
Oh, I forgot to mention he was Welsh. And known as "Killer" Williams.

Somehow against the odds I survived, mainly by hanging around near to the other players, but not so near that I needed to tackle anyone, and the clever tactic of falling over before anyone else could tackle me, on those rare occasions that the ball came anywhere near me. I never had the slightest idea of what was going on during play, it was always cold, the ground either treacherously sticky or gripped by an iron frost, and if there was a player from the other side coming towards me he was always, always, bigger and faster than me. You couldn't kick the blasted ball straight because of its stupid shape and anyway, even as you aimed the kick, someone else would (quite legally) jump on you. Every so often a huddle of boys got together and stuck their heads between each others legs and pushed and shoved while someone else threw the ball into the huddle and the teacher screamed out instructions. If you, quite fairly, pointed out that a bigger boy had knocked you over and trampled you into the mud and that was the reason you were trying to avoid it happening again, you would be called a "fairy" and other contemptuous terms.


I am obliged to say that I have always felt nothing but ill-will toward the Welsh rugby team ever since.

Let us turn our attention, should there be any of it left after the heart-rending stuff above, to the rules of Rugby, specifically of Rugby Union (I mention Rugby League later on). Rugby Union, where the "forwards" are the men who make up the scrums, the general idea of which is to get the ball out to the "backs" who then run past the scrum and go forward and try to score, is the sport where virtually every time anyone does anything it is an infringement and someone gets a sort of free kick whilst the other side line up about twenty yards away and then rush out as it is taken even though it always goes high over their heads, and where, if someone kicks the ball out of touch, his team is not penalised as they would be in every other sport, oh no, there is a "line-out" in which the teams line up facing each other and the ball is chucked back in and the team that booted it out has a fair chance of getting it back again. So great chunks of the game is one team kicking the ball out of play, everything stopping while they form the line-outs, then whoever gets it kicks it out again.

And now we turn to the scrum. I genuinely have no idea why scrums are awarded and why they bother. All these huge men lock their heads down and arms round each other and heave and strain while waiting for the ball to be thrown into the middle. Half the time the ref will spot an infringement (God knows how amidst those thrashing limbs) and they'll do it again, taking ages to set it up each time while absolutely nothing else is going on the field, or else it will be another sodding free kick.

By the way, here is an example of one of the rules (thanks to Wikipedia)
When the kicker moves forward with the intention of kicking the ball they may run at the kicker in an attempt to charge the ball down or put the kicker off. They cannot shout while doing this....
Is there another game where shouting is prohibited during a particular play? Are they allowed to make quiet comments or to snigger suggestively? May they indulge in a brief snatch of some popular song? Alas the rules do not specify. Clearly they are allowed to "put the kicker off" though, so perhaps a suggestion about his parentage or sexual habits is permissible. If done nicely.

Rugby League does not have scrums. If something dodgy happens then one team gets the ball and can instantly pass it and resume play. It's fast and fluid and makes sense. For this reason it is exempt from inclusion in my anti-bucket list.

Now and then I catch a bit of rugby on television. If Wales happen to be losing then I may refrain from switching channels for a few gloating moments. But as soon as the whistle blows and the commentators start mumbling about "The ref's spotted something there" and play grinds to a halt while they start doing yet another scrum or whatever, I find myself wondering if there might not be a decent Western, or a Poirot rerun or, well, almost anything really.



Footnote:
1: [This seemed to be an exaggeration, coloured by the memories of many years ago, but after rigorous checking it is actually an understatement. The original has been toned down sharply to ensure this column is not banned on grounds of extreme horror: Ed]

Fire in the Deep

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning, Dame Jane Francis, Director of the British Antarctic Survey, discussed the launch of the scientific research vessel Sir David Attenborough. This ship is equipped with some submarines including one named Boaty McBoatface, the name originally voted by the public for the research ship itself. Asked about the cutting edge science that the submarines could do she explained that

... They'll be launched from the ship and will go off under their own steam...
And there was me thinking that these wonders of technical innovation would surely be powered by a couple of banks of sweating oarsmen working to the monotonous beating of a gong as they work out their criminal sentences. I really must get more up to date.


Wednesday, September 25, 2019

101 Things #4 - Extreme Bungee

Some of the things on my anti-bucket list 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die are those that many others find desirable. Some, which may not be specifically on someone else's bucket list, are intended to satirise fashionable trends [Surely all fashionable things are trends? Ed] and one such is the craze for bungee jumping. I have no particular wish to hurl myself into a deep hole at the end of a length of elastic but I do get that some find this fun. I therefore took this to the next level [Horrible cliche alert! Ed]  and thought that what I really would not want to do is

Bungee Jump from a helicopter

Imagine my surprise when on doing some further extensive and detailed research [Quick lookup on Google: Ed], I at once came across this riveting news item that had sadly slipped my attention the first time around.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-45649129

Will Smith is not a name feted in Ramblings' circles but, be that as it may, it seems that bungee jumping from a helicopter is more than a stupid idea to be mocked, it is a real thing that you can do. And I mean you. Not me. Mr Smith may dangle beneath a flying machine high above the Grand Canyon, bouncing gaily up and down and drawing curious glances from the buzzards, and no doubt from freelance undertakers of Flagstaff calculating how long it will take three stout men and a couple of mules to descend into the Canyon to retrieve the horribly mangled body, should the worst occur, but I intend to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground and the contents of my breakfast firmly within my stomach.

For the sake of the record, I have been in a helicopter (with grateful thanks to the Air Ambulance service of the Scottish highlands) and I have swarmed up a rope and jumped off (with grateful thanks to my PE teacher back in primary school a long long time ago) so I know what I am talking about.I don't mind contemplating these two actions as long as they are separate and distinct. I do not wish them to mix.

Monday, September 23, 2019

101 Things #3 - Hayes

Not all of the items on my list of 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die will be found on anyone else's bucket list of things they positively want to do. Some are deeply personal. Inevitably, there are places that we choose to avoid, to eschew, to blot out from memory. Today I consider why I will not, under any conceivable circumstances,

Buy A Property In Hayes.

First we must clear up a few things. I am referring to Hayes in Middlesex, unhappy neighbour, within the surrounding envelope of the London Borough of Hillingdon, to my very own beautiful Ruislip. This must not be confused with Hayes in Bromley, or the one in Staffordshire or the many Hayes' in the United States.

I have a history with this once-village, now suburb of West London. As a young accountant I spent some time working on the audit of a company located in the heart of the trading estate. The job was alright but the surroundings were so deeply depressing, the pubs so rough and the shops so dingy that even the prospect of a long journey homeward on the 140 bus was cheering.

Now, many years later, this is the view that greets motorists as they speed down the Hayes By-pass (and what a wonderful name that is, if you think about it) on their way to Heathrow (or perhaps on their way from Heathrow, or somewhere else), but anyway this is what you can see at the top of the flyover that leaps over the Great Western Railway and various bits of canals.

Pic: Google Maps/Streetview
There is a relatively attractive bit of this town, the remnant of when it really was a village but as it is entirely surrounded by industrial dross one way, grim housing estates another and the Ealing Road, I suggest we spare it no more thought.

You may think I am being biased. In my defence to this baseless charge let me point out that at the Comedy Bunker, a club until this summer based at the Ruislip Golf Course (sadly the demands of HS2 will require demolition of the clubhouse and surrounding facilities), any visiting stand-up comedian could get an easy laugh by mentioning how glad he was to be out of Hayes. Furthermore my brother-in-law, a native of Hayes, thinks exactly the same about it as I do. He now lives the other side of Chesham, by the way.

For a few years, not so long ago, I was a volunteer with Hillingdon Age UK. My job was to collect donations for the charity's shops from people all over the borough. Inevitably that brought me many times to Hayes. Some of my most difficult experiences, such as getting stuck in traffic and getting bogged down in the awful one-way system in the town centre were there. In the end it got so bad I persuaded them to send me no further south than the line demarcated by the A40 and to find some other mug volunteer to go south. Happily for me this is what ensued.

I know that the good people of Hayes couldn't give a toss whether I live there or not, but it would make no difference if they wanted to welcome me in with a marching band and a ticker-tape parade down Botwell Lane. Let me leave you with an image of the delightful and lovingly looked-after local architecture ...

Pic: Google Maps/Streetview



I think I have made my point.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Are You Lookng Closely?

Oh dear. Did nobody proofread this banner, spotted today in Bushey?


I'm rather tempted to phone them to try to make a bookng but I'm not too sure how to pronounce it.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

101 Things #2 - Love Locks

Today our focus in 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die is the ludicrous suggestion found on the website Popsugar (and, no doubt, on many others) to

Leave A Love Lock Somewhere. 

This fashion was unknown to me until in 2013 on a river cruise through Paris we learned that tourists thought it clever to fasten a padlock to the wonderful old bridge Ponts des Arts as a symbol of their love for each other. How sweet, we thought (at first), two people make a physical sign of their love using a lock that will stand forever to show the world their feelings.  The trouble was that so many were following the trend that the bridge was being damaged by the weight of all that metal.

A few padlocks, I hear you scoff, how can those damage a massive iron bridge? Look at this picture and scoff no more.

Picture: CNN

 As we cruised beneath it our guide told us that the city authorities were going to take action and indeed, a couple of years later, they removed the locks. But the idea had long gone viral and bridges everywhere were and are being festooned with locks. Bloody good news for locksmiths, of course, but I want to declare my utter opposition to this practice.

There is the obvious problem that piling huge amounts of weight onto an old structure will cause damage. There is, in addition, the problem that the locks fill up all the spaces between railings and may blot out the view so that all you see is the locks themselves. There is the pollution of the rusting metal. There is the steady erosion of walkway space as the locks bulge out into the centre of the bridge. There is the sheer ugliness of all that stuff piled up. And if you are one who has left a lock that is then crowded out by hundreds of others - what was the point? Isn't your lover aware of your love? Why not give them something personal like a ring? Yes, you can walk away from the bridge with the beautiful (!) memory of that snap as the lock engaged and the clank as your lock hit the one next to it. So what? What about the beautiful sound of the opening of a bar of chocolate to be shared?

There is a wider point about the meaning of public spaces. Bridges, squares, long curving boulevards, intriguing side streets, riversides ... anywhere that is pleasurable to wander, especially in old cities, belongs to us all. As soon as someone appropriates a bit for themselves, as in sticking a lock to a railing, they are effectively claiming it for themselves and shutting everyone else out. Like graffiti artists, they give us something (almost invariably horrible and depressing to look at) and take away something far less so. And like graffiti artists they leave a mess for others to have to clear up. Incidentally, what happens to the keys? Are they thrown into the river? Does filling a river bed with rusting metal improve it?

I am suspicious about all fashions, especially those promulgated on social media. This one, superficially so charming and harmless, is one ruthlessly to avoid.

Friday, September 20, 2019

101 Things #1 - Extreme Origami

In this post in the series 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die, we consider the following suggestion found on the website Personal Excellence:

Fold 1000 Origami cranes and give them to someone special
 
 Firstly, by "crane" the author intends to signify a bird of the type popular in Japan. He does not expect you to make a working model of a piece of heavy machinery used for lifting objects during construction projects, fun though that undoubtedly would be.



Not this sort of crane This is what we are after

Having cleared that up, let us pause awhile and ponder the significance of making one thousand bits of folded paper with a sort of vaguely bird-like shape. Making one might be amusing, especially if one has a restless two year-old on hand to pass it on to. A couple - well, one could put them side by side and consider which is better. But a thousand? Surely you are having a laugh, Mr. Personal Excellence. Would anybody give a toss after picking up more than three?

And now let us turn to the "someone special", the recipient of this huge mound of paper (which presumably one would have to stuff into a suitcase in order to carry it around). An ageing aunt, perhaps, knitting quietly in the sunlit corner of her living room as she waits for her tea to cool.
"Hello aunty" you blurt out, staggering in from the hallway with your suitcase banging into her carefully arranged Dresden china on the little coffee table "You'll never guess what I've got to give you and it's only taken me three weeks non stop effort to make it. ".
"Oh I do love surprises. I really don't mind what it is, although I am rather allergic to paper these days. I always meant to mention it but I kept forgetting"
"Um, absolutely fine, aunty, just let me pop out for a moment and then I shall present you with this beautiful, empty, suitcase because you are someone special"

I have never taken to Origami since school days when everyone used to make those silly snapper things you flicked back and forth over your fingers [Don't worry about it, not important. Ed]. I am certainly not going to take it up now in order to complete an utterly futile task that would only baffle and irritate the someone special who would have to decide what on earth to do with 1000 bits of paper. Furthermore they are likely to enquire why I could not have spent my time more productively and I would be utterly stumped for an answer. For this reason I refuse to do it.

There's a lot of space in here

I use an anti-virus programme called Avira to protect my computer against internet nasties. As far as I can tell it works as intended, though really you can never be sure about this type of software until you actually get an attack. Be that as it may, you do assume that this sort of product is made by people with a fairly good grasp of computer technology. In which case, imagine my bemusement at the following pop-up (Avira likes to show me this sort of message each morning in the hope that I will spend loads of cash with them).


If you enter more than one ordinary space (by touching the space bar on the keyboard more than once), these extra spaces are ignored when a web page is displayed. So a bit of code is needed. "&" followed by "nbsp;" is used to indicate each extra space on the same line. It appears that the person who coded this little message forgot to put the leading "&" in; web code, like all computer code, is unforgiving of errors. No "&" means that it simply displays the rest of the string and the result is what you see above.

The trouble is, if something as basic as that, and as easy to test, slips through the net, who knows what other little bugs may be lurking in the software?

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Election Time?

I've been phoned twice in the past few days by opinion pollsters. They want to confirm that I live in the constituency of Uxbridge & South Ruislip and then what my voting intentions might be should there be an election fairly soon. It is a coincidence that I happen to live in the constituency represented by the Prime Minister? Well, given that I have rarely had my views canvassed before with such frequency I rather think not. I wonder if our beloved leader is either testing the waters for a general election or becoming concerned about his own survival should he take the plunge?


Friday, September 13, 2019

Return to the Rhone

A week in Provence, land of almonds, figs, the magnificent limestone gorges and cliffs of the Luberon and the rolling vineyards of the Cote du Rhone. It was almost liberating to leave Brexit-torn Britain behind and head out for the sunshine. We stayed in Avignon, a city that one can reach on a single train journey from London (though the return must be made via Paris or Lille because Avignon is not yet equipped to handle outgoing international passengers). Imagine my pleasure to find that this delightful city is now installing a tram system; it is still under test and we saw nothing of it until one morning as our coach whisked us past the ancient ramparts ...


Avignon has a severe rush-hour problem (as we can testify having spent about twenty five minutes driving about half a kilometre one evening) but I am not sure what impact the trams will have. They do not go inside the old, walled, city at all and don't seem to follow the ring road around the walls for very far. But no matter. It is always nice to add a tram pic to the collection.

The last time we were in Avignon, French railways did us no favours by running our homeward-bound TGV so late that we missed the Eurostar connection; This time they did run to time (but a four hour journey with no buffet or even a refreshment trolley?) and it was Eurostar who gave us a thirty minute delay in Lille.

Monday, September 02, 2019

101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die

There are many books that tell you what to do. Often these take the form of must-do lists, or must-see lists or must-read lists, all of which one is required to experience before one’s death. Well, obviously, it’s going to be damn hard to do any of them after they start chucking the clods down onto the coffin (apart from Dig your way to freedom after your premature burial, which is number 101 in 101 Things To Do For Nutters)1. But I suppose what they mean is these are things you have to set out to do before age, infirmity, poverty and an ASBO or two render them permanently out of reach. And so we have (as any quick search on the internet will throw up2) 101 Things To Buy Before You Die, 101 Asian Dishes You Need To Cook Before You Die, 101 Places To Have Sex Before You Die, 101 Movies You Must See Before You Die, 101 Exercises To Try Before You Die, 101 Artists You Must Listen To Before You Die3, 101 Places To Visit Before You Die and, of course, 101 Things To Do Before You Die (loads of versions of this by various authors). And there are many more.

All these instructional books (instructional in the sense of giving you, the reader, instructions rather than teaching you something you worthwhile) are about positive actions enjoined upon you with that inevitable, but uncertain, countdown to obliteration ticking away4 in the background. You may seize upon them gladly, relieved to have the problem of what to do in your remaining years solved by an expert. You may well chomp your way through many exotic dishes, visit strange and wonderful places (perhaps photographing yourself tastefully standing in front of one or two), frequent the world’s great museums, theatres and burlesque shows, stagger happily from one obscure distillery to the next, peer through the foaming waves as your yacht escapes the unforgiving rocks of Cape Horn or don dark glasses, military uniform and a sub-machine gun whilst posing with the world’s nastiest dictators. And good luck to you. But you will still die, you know, and when you do all that effort, all that chasing around to tick off one more thing will count for nothing at all: because, as they say, you can’t take it with you.

This series is not about any of that. It is the reverse. It is a list of all those things that I have absolutely no intention of doing, things that I will cross the road to avoid, if necessary. Listing them is a great relief because this is one bucket list I can tick off at precisely the same time as I enumerate it. You are entirely free to adopt this list for yourself or, perhaps using it as a mental springboard, concoct one of your own. Whatever you do you will have the pleasure, the radiant joy, of being able to say “I have triumphed, my bucket list is complete, and everything on this list has not been done, is not being done and never will be done”. You might go on to add “and never should be done by any right-minded individual” but that is going too far. Things to avoid before dying is a highly personal subject, after all, and whilst we may recoil at visiting the world’s top abattoirs, there are bound to be some for whom the wearing of a yet another blood-stained overall is the height of the sublime. Do not, I beg you, take my list too personally. I am not seeking to belittle or degrade anyone.5 If I can inspire you to ignore one place, one action, one meal, one event or one experience and to do so with the confidence of one who does not give a stuff about what people who make bucket lists think then my efforts will not have been in vain.

It is conceivable that you may wish to view these pieces, my personal list of things to ignore, as a challenge. “He scorns to do them” you may think “But I shall do them, do them well and prove him wrong”. You are welcome to see it in this light and I look forward to reading your book of 101 Things I Did Just Because Someone Else Didn’t. Please do not solicit my advice in going about this task. I am not writing about things that I have done and wish I had left well alone. These are things I have not done, do not want to do and will not do.

The series begins shortly ….


Footnotes:
  1. This might be my next award-winning blockbuster
  2. Hopefully you will not be doing the same as you contemplate this list.
  3. I think this should be interpreted as meaning musicians. I doubt if listening to a load of painters droning on about the best way to scrape oil paint off a jumper is that riveting.
  4. Countdowns don't tick. They count down. [Ed] 
  5. This may not be strictly true.  

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Constitution Suspended

Suspending parliament from sitting in order to force through business which it might otherwise prevent is a highly dangerous course. It appears that the government may be about to do so, asking the Queen to prorogue the sitting until later in the year. In this way Brexit can be forced through despite the House of Commons having voted that a deal with the EU must precede such a step.

This may or may not be constitutional - it forces the Queen to make a political decision and by long standing convention the monarch does not do so - but there is a very serious precedent. From 1629 to 1640 Charles I ruled without summoning a parliament. His futile war of religion against Scotland created a crisis that was resolved only by his recalling, and then ceding significant powers to, a parliament that viewed him with the deepest suspicion. His attempt to seize five MPs and a Lord by armed force in early 1642 convinced many that only force could restrain him. Within months the nation was so divided that a civil war - which everyone at the time deplored and feared - broke out and at its conclusion, nearly twenty years later, Charles had been executed, his son had shifted England away from the path toward absolute monarchy and a recognisable form of constitutional government emerged.

I don't think Boris Johnson knows much about modern British history - I believe he is more into the classics - and this ignorance may prove fatal. Fatal to his political ambitions, I hasten to add, before GCHQ decodes this as some sort of threat and sends round the heavy squad to kick in my front door at 3am tomorrow. The government rules by consent of parliament - that is the core message from the bloodshed of the 17th century. It summons and dismisses parliament at its peril.


Monday, August 26, 2019

Who is telling Porkies?

The title of this piece simply wrote itself. Once more our Prime Minister (and my MP) Boris ("Just make something up") Johnson has been caught out lying. Trying to explain how wonderful things will be once we leave the EU and are able to do whatever Trump says make deals with the Americans, he claimed that our economic salvation would be found when Melton Mowbray Pork Pies were freely available in the USA, as they are, he claimed, already in Thailand and Iceland due to the vast demand in those far-off countries for a taste of good old Leicestershire.

Almost at once people who actually know about these things, viz the estimable manufacturers of said comestibles, denied that they are munching the addictive crusty goodies on the beaches of Phuket and whilst roaming the glaciers of Eyjafjallajökul. "Oh yes they are" rejoined a spokesman for the hapless Prime Minister "The Department of Trade told us so".  "Oh no they're not" said the manufacturers "They used to but not any more."

We must, I fear, leave the topic here. Perhaps there was a time when the pork pie, redolent of a decent dab of bright yellow mustard and perhaps garnished with a little green salad, was to be found in the saddlebags of every doughty British explorer. After all, in extremity, with the Gatling jammed and the men reeling back, out of ammo and surrounded on all sides by spear-jabbing natives, what better than to issue two pies per man and, as one, hurl them at the enemy? But those days are long gone [if indeed they ever existed: Ed]. Will Johnson preside over the turning of the tide? Will the sausage roll, lardy cake and Yorkshire pudding triumph at last over the burger, pizza and pitta wrap? Can OK Sauce and Branston Pickle be far behind? These are exciting times, my friends, and perhaps at the end the whole world will be eating better.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Khan: I Want China Shock

The news that Mongolian President Genghis Khan has offered to buy China was circulating amongst the water-sellers near the Dung Gate in Karakorum last night writes our special correspondent who is wearing one of those hoods that conceals your face. According to rumour, Khan was dining with a few clan chiefs when he got a glazed look in his eyes, stood up and proclaimed "You know, China is lot bigger and richer than Mongolia and it's got a hell of a lot more women. Let's buy it." Since nobody was inclined to disagree (and the presence of scimitar-brandishing guards was entirely coincidental) the policy was instantly adopted.

Khan's spokesman is then believed to have saddled up the Presidential camel and ridden south to begin negotiations with Chinese Emperor Bing. It is unclear how the talks went, but the arrival back in Karakorum of the advisor's hands, followed some hours later by his feet and eventually most of the rest of him, appeared to signal that the Chinese wished to decline the offer. President Khan heard the news with his usual equanimity and judgement before declaring thoughtfully "If those bastards won't sell then I'm cancelling the state visit. See how they like them apples".  After some hemming and hawing and clearing of throats, his advisors pointed out that no state visit to China was planned. Khan reportedly suggested that a visit be scheduled at once and demanded to see the Chinese ambassador. Informed that the ambassador was on leave in Beijing for health reasons and had been ever since his first meeting with Khan some two years earlier,  Khan announced that it was time to make them an offer they couldn't refuse.

Speculation is now rife that the "offer" may comprise one or more elements of the following:
  • A straight swap of China's vast Sinkiang province for the bit of swamp just outside the East Karakorum sewer outfall.
  • Bing to have use of a surplus stately pleasure dome in exchange for five boxes of fortune cookies a month.
  • Chinese to share secrets of silk manufacture in exchange for Mongolian expertise in tying enemies to camels and whipping them over cliffs.
  • A joint expedition to conquer Japan. Chinese fears based on previous nautical disasters were dismissed by Khan saying "Once they get a whiff of my Divine Wind they'll be running".
  • A joint expedition to conquer the Mughal Empire, Muscovy, Aragon, the Serene Republic of Venice and the Duchy of Cornwall under the slogan "Kill all Foreign Devils" "Uniting the World in Peace and Friendship" 
When informed about these developments, Emperor Bing is said to have smiled inscrutably.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Lose the Lot the Trading Way

I frequently review and criticise advertisements for their subtle, or blatant, attempts to seduce us into buying something, whether by selective manipulation of the facts, use of utterly irrelevant images or sound bites or by playing on our emotions to create a false connection with a brand. How refreshing  - and yet rather chilling, for reasons I will explore below - to see one that appears to be direct and honest.

Click on this to see it larger

This one popped up on a website offering online word and puzzle games and has absolutely nothing to do with it. I'm rather baffled why the advertiser thought it worthwhile at all but, leaving that to one side, what we have here is someone offering gambling trading in - well, they don't bother to say what it is you will be trading, it probably doesn't matter much because if you are sort of the person whose eyes light up with pound dollar signs at the word "trade" and do an instant mental find-and-replace with the phrase "easy money" then no doubt this ad will suck you in.

I'm glad they regard themselves as a "broker with integrity". The strap-line "Sharks and Co, brokers who'll take you to the cleaners before you can grab a coffee" was probably rejected at an early planning session. But it is the little paragraph at the foot that compels our attention. Having used large letters to promote themselves as intermediaries for trading, they then inform us that 73.5% of "retail investors" (you and me, in plain talk) lose money this way.

Now, if you are someone like Boris "Don't bother me with statistics" Johnson you can blithely ignore this warning, assume that you yourself have no less than a million to one chances of losing and go ahead and put yours and the nation's shirts on a bet. [This piece of anti-Brexit rhetoric is brought to you entirely free as a bonus for reading this far: Ed] And, if you are anyone with a brain, you will surely look at this and think "Gosh, thanks for the warning, guys, my money stays where it is". What we seem to have here, ladies and gentlemen, is an anti-ad, an ad that actually begs its readers to stay away from the poison on offer, and therefore surely one of the most honest ads ever submitted.

Now for the chilling part. Admen do not deliberately waste money. They must have inserted this notice, not to put off potential customers but to draw them in. They are, I assume, complying with an industry regulation by putting up the warning of losses but they don't care that they are encouraging such losses. The ad runs anyway. Therefore, they must assume that plenty of readers are indeed brainless and reckless and furthermore that, even though the ad is encouraging people to lose money through making trades on things they clearly do not understand, this company is going to enable them to do it. It is exactly the same as a dealer in hard drugs saying (in large print) "Feel great and relaxed, sniff all your troubles away" and then in small print below "Drugs lead to dependency, addiction, despair and suicide". 

A cynic like myself, who despises all forms of commercial advertising, will ignore this sort of ad anyway. But how many will be tempted to click on the "Trade now" button so that they can "trade directly from advanced charts" (and that really is snake-oil)  and, get this, "analyse market trends". Yup, in a world where skilled professionals do nothing else but study and analyse markets, you, the ignorant amateur, can outfox them all and decide how to invest your savings just by looking at a few lines on a screen and maybe extrapolating them through cunning use of a pencil and ruler (note: drawing lines on a computer monitor with a pencil may damage the glass). And then you can join the three-quarters of investors who lose money (and how much do the winners actually make, you may ask, but don't ask me because I haven't a clue).

We shall not be studying 100 types of charts, with or without the tempting promise of overlays. We shall not be clicking on the button to trade now or at any time.

Would you like to invest in the Ramblings Financial Derivative? Charts with overlays are available  (once we can find that old pack of graph paper stuffed down the back of the desk and sharpen up a few coloured pencils). Send all the money you have to the usual address. Terms and conditions apply including the one that says we don't have to answer any enquiries or account to you for your money. Warning: You'll lose everything with this utterly useless investment but as you probably haven't bothered to read this far, we have no scruples about putting this warning at the bottom of the page.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Blindingly Obvious

We were in Sainsbury's in Ripon, my good lady wife and myself, stocking up with some essentials to make a light supper in our holiday cottage (having just enjoyed a full Sunday lunch) and whilst waiting to pay I casually cast my eyes over the magazines at the checkout. This is a very helpful way of staying abreast of the most important news stories of the day "My teenage sex hell", "Rick and Dolores - She wants him but he wants her sister", "My dear old grandmother the axe murderer" - you probably know the sort of thing. The beauty of it all is that there is no need to read the stories or to have the faintest idea who anyone is - it is all laid out in the screaming headlines and quite often you get two or three perfectly serviceable exclamation marks thrown in completely free.

I was, I confess, taken aback by the story on the top left of the cover of some piece of obvious junk called Closer. A picture of some bird in a bikini, cocking her head at the camera in the most approved Lady Diana style and sporting a pair of glaring red eyeballs of the kind that are normally only seen on vampires in the sort of video games that I play from time to time. The strap-line was riveting, so much so that I had to take a picture of it and here it is.




My eyeball tattoos could have blinded me. (by "Mum of three")
Well, I must say. Who knew? You go to some back street tattoo parlour, negotiate for a pair of crossed hearts and the slogan "Elvis - always in my heart", the hefty bloke with the shaky hands rolls his fag to the corner of his mouth, powers up his drill and says "Look up at the ceiling, my darling, and for heaven's sake don't blink". What on earth could go wrong?

I wonder if the same artist does brain transplants on the side, for mums of three who clearly have far more important things in their lives than keeping an eye (tattoed or not) on their offspring. I think she could do with one.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Style Over Substance

The election of Boris Johnson as leader of the Conservative Party, and therefore as Prime Minister (pro tem) has produced some disquieting changes in its wake. Johnson, beholden to the strange people who believe that the British Empire is not dead but just resting, has appointed Jacob Rees-Mogg as Leader of the Commons. And Mogg, reverting to type, has made his first instruction to his staff a set of rules about grammar and English usage in written communications.

 One might think that there were more pressing matters than insisting that all non-titled men should have Esq. affixed to their names and banning words like "unacceptable","very"," disappointment", "equal", "lot" and "ongoing" (though I'm with him on that last one). But Mogg has more serious issues with which to grapple. He has also insisted on the use of Imperial measurements. It is not clear which Empire he has in mind - possibly the one so brilliantly led by President G. Khan whose inspiring use of impalement as a way of settling political disputes has clarified many a knotty debate during the long hot summers in Karakorum.

But be that as it may, let us eavesdrop on a meeting with one of his senior advisors.

"Sir, great news, Adam Peaty has won a gold medal in the fifty metre breaststroke at the World championships"
"We'll have that again correctly, shall we, Rutherford?"
 "Sorry sir. Adam Peaty Esq, a non-titled gentleman and citizen of the Empire has achieved meritorious success at the fifty-four point six eight yard breaststroke"
"How much is that in rods and perches?"
 "I make it about nine point nine four rods, sir"
 "That seems highly creditable."
 "And we've researched the auction you were interested in, sir. There's a very nice snuff box in lot 38"
 "No, Rutherford"
 "I mean in, er, in that segment of the auction that is identified as, er ...."
 "Your conduct is unacceptable, Rutherford. I'm disappointed in you. Very disappointed."
 There is a long uncomfortable silence.
"Perhaps I'm not equal to this line of work after all, Rutherford. Carry on, would you. I think I left my old service revolver with my second footman ...."

[All Imperial measurements have been checked with those helpful folk at Google. Er, Google Esq. No, dammit, those helpful folk, Esq at Messrs. Google. Damn, that's French, Moggy won't like that. Look, just forget the whole thing, would you. Ed]

Friday, July 26, 2019

A Slice of Oral History

A little plug for an interview about my experiences when working for a computer games publisher in the 1980s called Mastertronic. It was recorded by The Retro Hour, the interviewer was the affable Dan Wood and you can hear it right here.


Slowly Cooling

It was, indeed (as predicted previously), pretty damn warm yesterday. Very near the record here in beautiful Ruislip, and across much of Europe. Fortunately some thunderstorms during the small hours have helped lower temperatures this morning though it remains humid. Amazingly England and Ireland (yes, really) played a Test match at Lords, the Tour de France struggled on into the Alps and even my local non-league football team was out training. I don't know how they do it.

[later]
Extraordinary sporting day. In the Test, Ireland  had scuttled out England in their first innings for 85 then scored 207. A historic win looming? Nope. Yesterday England scored 303. A confident Irish commentator opined that Ireland would certainly get the 180 odd runs needed to win. This plan worked brilliantly until they began their innings at which they scored 38 in just 15 overs. That's 38 all out, not for the first wicket or because the match had to be abandoned. 38 all out.

Meanwhile, in the Alps, Egan Bernal made a brilliant attack on Col de Liseran to go into the virtual leadership over the wonderfully combative Julian Alaphillipe and then the race was stopped before the final climb because the mountain road was under several inches of snow. Yes, snow, I saw the live pictures including a bulldozer making valiant but futile efforts to sweep it away. (And there was a landslide across the road as well). As a result Bernal wins the stage and the yellow jersey without Alaphillipe having had the chance to recover time on the long descent.  So this unusual weather continues to wreak its effects.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Boris in PM Brexit Meltdown Heatwave Shock Bid

Five years ago this column exclusively1 broke the story that Boris "Don't bother me with the facts" Johnson was poised to return to Parliament in order to attain his ambition of having his picture hung in the stairwell at 10 Downing Street2.  Today that dream has become a reality. Johnson, having been elected as leader of the Conservative Party by a small number of members, now finds himself without a majority, with "colleagues" who mistrust him and an impossible negotiating position with the EU. Why on earth does he want this job?

Johnson's stance on Brexit seems to be akin to the crusty, argumentative old codger in the golf club who gets so irritated he storms out and tears up his membership card, and then pokes his head round the door and says "I've paid my last penny in fees and I hate you all but I insist on jolly well playing here whenever I like just like all the real members".  What can he possibly say on his first meeting in Brussels that will be different to the scorn and lies he has already put out during his career?

I suppose it is incumbent on me to link this story with the return of the very hot weather to the UK. Really very hot, actually. Temperatures in London today are expected to reach about 33c, much the same tomorrow then a rather nasty 36c on Thursday before dropping back to something we are more used to. Can Boris take the heat? Will British politics go into melt-down? Are expectations at fever-pitch and will our man remain icy cool as all around are wilting? These are some of the meteorological/political considerations that headline writers will be pulling out from their rusty old filing cabinets (from the drawer marked "C" for clichés), polishing up and using whilst casually whistling and looking around as if to say "Look how clever I've been and I've not pinched this from anyone, honest". And who are we to stand out from the crowd on this one?


footnotes
 1. Well, maybe a small exaggeration here. Nothing serious. Nothing that will get me slung out of the League of Responsible Bloggers, should that organisation ever get formed and should I happen to become a member.
2.The stairs are lined with portraits of British Prime Ministers which grin down at you as you make your way to the main reception room for a quick glass of warmish white wine and a couple of unidentifiable canapés. I've been there, all right?

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Legend of Arkwright

I have a lot of fun with the scammers who phone up pretending to be from BT or Microsoft or from a (non-existent) Government insurance scheme. Some try to make me pay them for doing absolutely nothing, some wish to install malware on my computer (whilst claiming to be "fixing" it) and others may be fishing for information they can sell. My preferred tactic for the "Your internet has been compromised" line was covered in this piece and "You can get compensation" featured here.

This morning I took another approach when, once more, a gentleman with a pronounced Indian accent phoned to inform me that he was employed by Microsoft Technical Department.
"Oh yes" I replied brightly "Which one?"
"The leading one" he blustered "There is only one".  This was what I wanted to hear.
"Then you must know Steve Arkwright" I rejoined "He knows everyone in that department"
He attempted to say something but I ploughed gaily on "Yes, good old Steve, I haven't seen him for a couple of weeks, how is he?"
"No no, we all have ids here I do not know him" my caller replied, probably riffling frantically through his script to try to regain control of the conversation. I spoke over him.
"You must do, everyone knows Steve. Big man with a beard. He's organising the coach trip to Southend"

The line was suddenly cut off. I might have developed my theme with reference to Steve's wooden leg, that disastrous lads night out in Hackney, whether they've found his missing Sunderland FC mug yet and his plans to take on Apple Tech in underwater tiddly-winks in Malibu but all this must wait until another time.


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Keep Your Wig On, Pablo

One shouldn't laugh at serious crime but I think we can make an exception for the Colombian gentleman who took somewhat too literally his boss's instructions to "keep it under your hat". Attempting to smuggle about a pound of cocaine into Barcelona, he stuck it in a bag on his head then, realising this would be fairly easy to spot even for the sleepiest of customs men just about to go for a siesta, he hit on the cunning plan of buying an unfeasibly large wig to hide it. This plan worked brilliantly up to the point that he boarded the plane and drew attention to himself by acting nervously. On arrival they must have drawn him politely aside and asked if he had anything to declare, other than the ludicrous rug that we see here, courtesy of the Evening Standard


"Nada, nothing officer" he must have stammered.
"I see sir. Are you sure? You're not a supporter of that eighteenth century English political party, what were they called, it's on the tip of my tongue, ah yes, the Whigs, by any chance?"
"No no, I swear on my life of my donkey"
"Was the flight alright sir? No, er, hairy moments?"
"It was fine, thanks be to God. May I go now?"
"Yes, I expect you'll be wanting to get ahead of things sir. Oh, just one thing ... it's a bit warm in here, I'll turn the fan on. Oh dear, sir, I appear to have dislodged your gentleman's grooming accessory....."

And this was the result.

The man, his drugs and his wig are now helping police with their enquiries.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Keeping in Touch

A nice little brochure arrives in the post. It announces a new retirement home opening in Harrow and hopes I may be interested. Yes, I am of that age group that is automatically assumed to be interested in such matters. Idly I scan through it and my eye is caught by the following part of the sales blurb:

... and the telephone point in both the main bedroom and living room means you're always connected

Have the vendors not heard of this remarkable new invention called, if my memory fails me not, wireless? Do they not realise that only one telephone point per household is required if that said household has a modern telephone set with wireless handsets? But wait, surely I have missed something, bear with me, oh yes, I know, there's this brand new invention all the young people are talking about called mobile phones. With one of these in your pocket you are connected no matter where you might be in your home, or (and this is the clever bit) out of it.

I think I can dimly see the logic of the designers of these flats. "Old people are so ignorant of technology" they tell each other between gaps in their Powerpoint presentations "They barely realise that starter handles are no longer needed to get a motor vehicle going. Show them a gramophone and they marvel at how the orchestra has been shrunk to fit into that funnel thing you stick your ear in. They all have just the one phone plugged into the hallway and when it rings everyone in the family rushes down to answer it, just like in those wonderful old TV sitcoms they watch all day while waiting for the wrestling to come on. They'll fall over their Zimmer frames in amazement when we tell them they get two telephone points in our flats."

I am sorely tempted to phone up for an appointment and ask them about provision for stabling the horses, the maid's quarters, if the flats have a back entrance marked "Tradesmen" and where I will be keeping my coal, all the while going "Speak up young man, all you young people mumble so much". They've obviously got a mental picture of me and I do hate to disappoint.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Sweltering

June can be a miserable month in the UK or it can be splendid. Or indeed, both. This week has verged towards the jolly nice end of the spectrum with settled blue skies and temperatures nicely in the mid 20s. However tomorrow we are promised a real heatwave and maybe something closer to 33 - we shall see*. In any case it will all be back to normal on Sunday.

It's a different story in continental Europe where a horrible burst of scorching weather has erupted from the Sahara and blasted intolerable heat from Portugal to Germany. Records are being set, with 45c in southern France today, for example. Looking back through the archives of this very column I see several instances that are similar (such as this one from 2 years ago and this from 2016) but this year is the worst yet. We seem to be getting away rather lightly with it.

Here is the temperature map on the BBC which I hope they won't mind me pinching republishing.





The colours make it look rather friendly but those deep reds are temperatures up and over 40. By contrast it is only (only!) 36c in Cairo and a rather pleasant 33c in Timbuktu. And spare a thought for firefighters in Catalonia, trying to combat forest fires whilst wearing all that heavy protective gear.

*update on Saturday. Yup, we got 34c in West London, the hottest part of the UK. The dryness of the air made it a little more tolerable than it otherwise might have been. And there were severe delays on the Metropolitan Line during the hottest part of the afternoon. Ah, it's good to see the old traditions being observed.