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 (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

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 book 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 this book, 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 ….

  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.