Wednesday, October 30, 2019

101 Things #20 - The Road Trip

Here is a quite popular item on the bucket list of many and perfect for inclusion in my own anti-list, 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die. For example, we find on Lifehack the suggestion that you should

Go on a road trip

and I have no hesitation in affirming that I have not the slightest intention of doing so. Here's why.

The Myth
Scene: Somewhere in the western United States
The long straight open road, with a vast landscape rolling away in all directions. It's hot.The occasional truck thunders by in the opposite direction. You and your half-dozing companion pass through townships where the old folk sit on rockers and the gas is still delivered by an attendant. Radio stations flicker in and out of range. With a roar, a dozen gleaming motorcyclists pass you. The county sheriff hides behind a huge billboard hunting speeders but you're wise to his tricks. As dusk falls, you pull into a friendly motel, head on down to the nearby bar for a cool one and then on for a steak dinner at the diner.

Thelma and Louise plan their escape at the next table. Philip Marlowe is making discreet enquiries from the taciturn barman and a folded $20 bill changes hands. Jack Kerouac sits on a bar stool nursing a bourbon. William Burroughs and his attorney can be heard stumbling around outside looking for their stash. The door slams open and Clint Eastwood is framed against the last of the sunset, giving a little nod as he scans the room, chewing an unlit cheroot.

You turn to your companion
"Shall we stick around for a while?"
"That's cool, dude. And then we'll push on"
"Anywhere in particular?"
"Nope. We'll just hit the road and see..."

The Reality
Scene: A busy 'A' road somewhere in Britain
"Darling, did you pack the raincoats, it's getting very dark and the weather forecast says floods are expected"
"I thought you did! I was trying to make you some sandwiches, you know the motorway services are closed"
"Damn. Oh, those bloody lorries overtaking, this road is becoming a nightmare, why didn't you find me a better route?"
"I used the satnav, didn't I? It's your fault for buying a cheap one. You should never have thrown out that atlas"
"Was that the sign for the turnoff? Can hardly see now through the rain. Oh, you sod, see that darling? That bloody van cut right in front. And he gave me two fingers."
"Well, don't drive so slowly then. When are we going to get there, my back's getting sore"
"Umm, maybe another couple of hours. There might be road works on the B348"
"And you're sure they got our reservation?"
"Well, I think so, only their website crashed on the last bit while I was giving them our credit card details"
"Oh, marvellous! When we finally get there, if we do get there, we'll be standing around while they say they've never heard of you but there's a nice little B & B ten miles down the road but we better hurry because they lock and bolt the doors at 8pm. Honestly, who in their right minds does a motoring holiday in England these days?"


Need I say more?

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Back to the Hustings

Governments floundering without majority support, febrile calls for elections; major policy decisions stymied by many conflicting views; the hope that an election will sort it out - are we in Belgium,  Italy or Israel? No. We are in Britain and the days of looking wonderingly at chaos in other countries are well and truly over.

The Conservatives have cast off many supporters in the hope of retaining the rest; the Brexit party snaps at their heels. Labour still seems unclear whether to stick to its principles or chase the votes of its traditional supporters. Support for other parties is growing but they will still be minorities in what could well be another hung parliament.

Today we are likely to see agreement on holding a General Election (Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act this is required whereas in the old days all that was needed was for the Prime Minister to take the short drive to advise the Queen that he could no longer lead an administration). Opposition parties always claim to be longing for an election but until recently Labour has been rather coy and without its consent Parliament could not be dissolved. That consent is, it seems, about to be given.

As has become traditional this column will endeavour to convey a sense of how it all feels to the ordinary commuter (or ex-commuter) in the street. We begin being fairly confused about the way ahead and it is entirely credible that in some six weeks time we will be even more so.

101 Things #19 - Piercings

Loads of the items on the bucket lists that people aspire to do before they die are unexceptional - travelling to exotic places or eating great food, for example. Today, unfortunately, I need to deal with a fashion trend that, let us not mince our words here, I find revolting. I am therefore very happy to add to my list of 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die the idea suggested by a correspondent on Bucketlist that I should

Get a piercing
 

Of course, you might say, this is a fashion trend for the young. If they wish to permanently disfigure themselves, run the risk of infection and damage to their ears, noses, cheeks or whatever, that is their privilege. And so it is. But one sees metal and plastic stuck into the features of people of all ages. We'll have no reverse discrimination here - if piercings are a bucket list item then I am going to defy the fashionistas.

Ears have been pierced for earrings for centuries but this practice, restricted to a very small hole in the redundant flap of skin that is the lobe, is not what is meant by "piercing". Rings in noses; pins the size of nails impaled through cheeks; staples surrounding the eyes; bolts through the tongue - this is what your aspiring piercee1 wants. The more shocking the better. The idea is that heads should turn. If stomachs turn as well then that is a bonus.

Like tattoos, a practice I am ambivalent about, the process seems for many to be addictive. You put a huge hole in your earlobes to have a small drainpipe inserted and people notice you, but then others have it done so you don't stand out any more. So you ram a ring big enough to tie a small dog to through your nose and that attracts attention, but it starts to fade so it's down to Screwfix for a gross of nails, a couple of awls and a bolt-gun - nothing else will do but that you carry enough metal stuffed into your nut to make it feasible to offer it to mobile phone operators as a radio mast.

You may be disbelieving. Have a gander at these fine fellows and remember, each of them started out saying "I'll just have teeny little stud where nobody will ever see"

All pictures found on Pinterest and assumed public domain

I must admit that if the fellow at the top left were in the vicinity I would find it hard to restrain myself from rapping his ring sharply against his chin and shouting "Hello, is anyone in?". The one at the top right looks like he would be happiest tied up in a corner of the back yard. As to number three, what one earth does he do if he gets an itch near his top lip? He'd break his nails trying to scratch it.

I am afraid that when I look at piercings my thoughts turn to the practical questions. How do you blow your nose and what happens when you get a heavy cold? How long does it take to be cleared by security when you go through an airport scanner and all the alarms go off at once? How much does it hurt if you pull a jumper over your head and one of the pins catches in it? Do you find yourself irresistibly drawn to large magnets?

I don't claim to have an especially beautiful face [Fair enough: Ed] and it certainly would not be improved by sticking anything into it.

Footnote:
1. This must be a word, surely? [No, sorry: Ed]

Saturday, October 26, 2019

101 Things #18 - Laughfest

Sorry for the strange title but this item in my continuing series 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die, is based on something spotted on the Spaghetti Traveler website. It was too long easily to truncate. Here it is in full:

Laugh the whole day at the Edinburgh Festival
 
First a declaration of interest. I have been to Edinburgh at Festival time more than once. So it is not the idea of going to join the milling throngs on Princes Street that I am rejecting. I may well revisit one day. What I am refusing to try to do, point-blank, is to spend a whole day laughing there.

 I assume that by "Festival" Mr Spaghetti Traveller (or whatever their real name is) means the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the anarchic and grossly swollen offshoot of the original (and still going strong) Festival proper. There is precious little comedy in the main Festival and plenty of time during the day when there is nothing taking place, so too much laughing as you hang around the Queen's Hall waiting for Brunnhilde to burn to death in Gotterdamerung will probably see you discreetly whisked away by the men in white coats. But is it really possible to spend an entire day laughing as you make your way wearily from one Fringe venue to another, jostling past the fire-eaters and the jugglers and the mime artists and the desperate performers handing round flyers for shows nobody will attend? Will you really laugh as you watch two men and a glove puppet portray the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire in forty eight minutes? A snigger as the East Solihull Players do Hamlet in Welsh? A few hearty chortles as a nervous stand-up fluffs a couple of gags about Brexit and how his flat-sharing mate is on drugs?

There's loads of good stuff at the Fringe, of course, but given that there can be 56,000 performances over 24 days - that's 2,300 odd each day, or up to 150 an hour, each lasting up to an hour, how on earth do you choose the most risible where hilarity will definitely prevail? No good waiting till the Fringe has begun and then reading the reviews because by then the really funny ones that everyone loves will be sold out. No, you have to take a chance well in advance on what you think will be the most amusing, or simply choose at random on the day from the many that will have seats available. I know. I've been there, done that; though obviously not with the aim of laughing non-stop from the moment the remains of breakfast are being wiped off my tie to that final stagger back through the dark streets to a cold apartment.

You can now understand why I can say that the idea of arranging matters to provide the continuous chuckling that underpins this bucket list is so ludicrous. It cannot be done. You have to find a bit of time for lunch and dinner. You have to find quite a lot of time to make your way around Edinburgh. You might wish to break up the jollity with time out for a tea-break or a pint. What you cannot do is go directly from one gig to the next laughing all the way (unless you do it in a one-horse open sleigh, obviously). In any case there is way more to the Fringe than comedy. What a shame to turn your back on the huge number of other events.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Utterly Pointless Scare of the Day

I like to keep up to date with computer related news, a hangover from the days when it was necessary as part of my job. Thus it was that a headline in the Daily Express (a newspaper I only take for its excellent Princess Diana coverage) caught my attention. The story was about problems with an update to Windows 10. This is itself of interest since I run that operating system. I skimmed down it and was then taken aback to read the following:

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the latest Windows 10 update is also breaking a bevy of 16-bit apps written in Visual Basic 3, which can be revived after the update is uninstalled. If you rely on applications powered by Visual Basic 3 for your day-to-day, it’s probably worth steering clear of the latest software for the time being.

I read this a couple of times, tried to get my mind out of boggling mode and looked again. The words were still there. The Express is concerned about people who use 16 bit applications (or programmes, as we would have called them) written in the Visual Basic 3 programming language and who are running them 'for day to day', whatever that means, on a computer which has Windows 10 as its operating system.

Visual Basic was introduced around 1991. At the time Windows 2, then Windows 3 were in common use. Many of us made serious use of  Windows 3.1 but with the introduction of Windows 95 all serious programmes were rewritten to take advantage of its 32 bit architecture. Windows 10, like its predecessors 8 and 7, is a 64 bit system. These numbers really matter. The step from 16 to 32 and then 64 bit computing enormously increases the speed and capability of software.

It is possible to run 16 bit programmes on a 64 bit computer (by running them in 'emulation' mode) but I defy the Express to find anyone, anyone at all, in the entire world, who does so for 'day to day'. Maybe for running stuff of historic interest perhaps or to amuse students of software architecture. Visual Basic apps tended to be databases, information systems or programmes used by business that anyone taking seriously would certainly update regularly. VB itself was regularly updated until version 6 in 1998; after that the software ceased to be backwardly compatible.

So now you can see why those amazing words 'And if that wasn't bad enough ....' are utterly ludicrous, as if people hit by other bugs in Windows 10 updates are also going to be hit by the breaking of software written 25 years ago, an huge amount of time in terms of the speed of computing development. I'm struggling to find an analogy. Maybe the Express could run the following scare stories:

  • Starting handle owners hit as new models of cars 'just don't need them'
  • Blank telegram form stockists 'may have to ditch the lot' say experts
  • Red flag makers facing ruin following repeal of The Locomotive Act 1865
  • Confectioners 'baffled and dismayed' at yet another change in the naming of Marathon/Snickers
  • DVDs do not work on gramophones shock
  • Pensioners bemoan loss of in-house gas lighting. "I always enjoyed going round with a taper and taking the risk of blowing myself up" claims granny of eight.
That's me done for the night, this story can go to press. I'm going to have one last go at trying to make my steam pump fit inside the Toyota.

101 Things #17 - Lethal Fish Supper

Humans are omnivores (if we wish to be) and most of us eat a wide range of foods. Some like to eat anything digestible and the more dangerous, the better. Naturally, these foods make it on to bucket lists of things to eat before you die. I, in turn, have no wish to put myself in the position that one of these will be the last thing I do eat before I die and hence have added to my own anti-bucket list 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die
 
Eat Fugu

as, for example, enthusiastically discussed on the website Soranews24.

The fugu fish (also known as the puffer fish) is an unpleasant little bastard (if I may use unparliamentary language for a moment) and stores a vicious poison called tetrodotoxin in its internal organs. Eating the fish in a restaurant that has taken insufficient care to remove all traces of these is asking for paralysis and asphyxiation, plus some other side effects, one of which is the realisation that you are likely to be leaving the restaurant without settling your bill and therefore debt collectors will start sending your executors dunning letters; nor will you be able to leave a tip but perhaps under the circumstances the waiters will understand.

Preparing and eating the fish yourself is suicide. Naturally the Japanese, aspects of whose culture will always baffle those of us brought up in Europe, are fascinated by eating fugu and taking the risk, some even deliberately ingesting tiny amounts of the poison to experience the thrill of, well, dying, I suppose. For the rest of us - let this story "Family dinner of deadly pufferfish" be a sobering reminder.

Tasty looking or what?
Pic: Daily Express


 Funnily enough, people who have tasted fugu, as served by those chefs licenced to serve it*, tend to say it doesn't taste of much anyway. It is served, like all sushi dishes, raw.

I think I can happily pass up the chance of blowing up my digestive system and, anyway, I don't much care for sushi. I mean, if you're going to serve me something toxic, let's at least have it hot, with chips.

-&-&-

 *Chefs wishing to serve fugu must serve a three year apprenticeship and pass exams. One of the possible consequences of failing the exam is said to be death (Of the examiner or the student, I wonder?). How do they manage during tutorials? Perhaps they do them side by side with people taking the examinations to join the Japan Ambulance Service and one or two doing the rigorous Advanced Undertaking course.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Another Duff Gig

A picture, newly attributed to Rembrandt, is to be displayed in the UK next year. He was a top-notch painter, no doubt about that. This one is said to be from the start of his career and the young man, who is staring nonchalantly out shown above Christ, Rembrandt himself.

It's a funny business, the art market. If this picture was attributed, as it was originally, to an unknown artist of the Netherlands school it might be worth a few hundred, maybe a few thousand pounds. With the magic of the name of Rembrandt it is probably up in the millions.

I refuse to be impressed just because it may (or may not) be by the great man. It seems fairly obvious that the figure depicting Christ is rolling his eyes despairingly, gazing up to Heaven and calling out to his agent "Oy, oy, more babies, what kind of audience is this, you promised me a decent crowd".

Pic: The Guardian (and heavily cropped)

And that is most definitely not a halo. It's a straw hat (only 3 shekels from Joshua and Sons, 52 Water Street, Jerusalem, hurry while stocks last, special discounts for Pharisees).

101 Things #16 - Black Friday

Economics is a funny subject. It claims to be a science but one of its fundamental principles, barely questioned until recent years, is that humans act rationally when making economic decisions and therefore assumptions can be made about human behaviour en masse. Many years ago, as a student at a well-known British university, I tried to understand this approach and all these years later, I still do not. It seems pretty clear that humans are very happy to act utterly irrationally especially when money matters are concerned. An excellent example can be found in a suggestion on the website Huffington Post (or HP, as those of us who counted amongst our fellow students the founder of the said website like to call it),  a suggestion which I think is so ludicrous it goes straight into my anti-bucket list of 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die and the suggestion is to

Be first in line at a Black Friday sale.

I have commented on Black Friday before, specifically in a British context, and I accept that the HP is written for an American audience. Nonetheless, the being first in the queue bit remains a questionable activity.

There is nothing to guarantee that the goods on sale on BF (as insiders call it, probably) will be any cheaper than at some time earlier in the year. There is plenty of evidence (see my previous piece cited above) that goods are priced up during the summer so that they can be claimed to be at discounted prices for Christmas (Xmas, to us economists). Retailers, whose existence depends on their own self-interest, can be counted on to be doing the same for BF.

 But let us say that there is an item on sale at a genuinely acceptable price and you wish to buy it. I am assuming, by the way (or BTW as we texting experts like to write), that you wish to buy something as part of the bucket list objective. Just queueing for the sake of it - no, that's something that might appeal to some Brits but surely goes against the grain of any red-blooded American. Now, you have to be first in the queue. Second place is for losers, right? How can can you ensure this? By turning up early, obviously. But how early? Some people camp out all night at the sales. It looks like arrival during the day before is essential, perhaps during the late afternoon whilst the store is still trading normally or maybe the day before that. Research it. Make it happen. (These motivational statements are jolly helpful, don't you find?). Great, you're the first in line.

You will have to stake out a space and guard yourself against the many feet and trolleys pushed past or over you. Security guards may try to move you on, regarding you as another homeless person looking for a warm doorway. Well-meaning shoppers may offer you small change or perhaps helpful comments such as "Get outta my goddam way, you bum". It can be a fretful experience, worsened by the likely bad weather at BF time of the year. You have many long uncomfortable hours ahead and must fend off latecomers to the queue who may be jealous of your pole position and try various subterfuges to make you leave your place.

At last the store lights go on, the crowd behind you gets to its feet and begins jostling and you gather up your sleeping bag and possessions (Oops, what do you do with them once the doors open and everyone surges in, fists flying? Better drop them). There, the shutters are up, the doors are unlocked, there is a rising volume of eager conversation and the first, inevitable push in your back "Hey, lady, are you going in there or just being a human door stop" and you realise the doors are opening and the crowd are struggling to do the traditional BF manouevre of several hundred greed-struck shoppers trying to enter a narrow entrance all at the same time.

What happens after that is pretty well documented. You may walk away with the item you had earmarked or you may have it snatched from your hands. Your clothes may be ripped and some fat oaf is certain to stand on your feet. Don't bother going after anything else, by now the store is heaving, the sick and lame are being laid out at the entrance for the ambulance shuttle and the crowd is ten deep in front of each display. Best make your way quietly out, passing the wrecked remains of your camping stuff, and go home to tick off your achievement.

Was it worth it? We return at last to the theme which we started. Has your behaviour been rational? You may have saved something on your purchase but if was something you didn't really need or could have bought anyway at that price sooner or later then no. Factor in the wasted hours in the queue when you might have been earning money. Add up the cost of ruined sleeping bag, missing thermos flask and those damaged shoes, plus expensive podiatry treatment later for a suspected broken toe. You'll probably need a new hair-do too.

 Let's face it, you've lost a hell of a lot more than you gained. You have acted utterly irrationally, driven by the herd instinct of missing out on something everyone is doing, although the only reason they are all doing it is precisely the same irrational fear of missing out. You have been conned by commerce. And you've been conned into putting something utterly futile onto your bucket list. And that is why I will gladly shuffle off this mortal coil not having done it.

Friday, October 18, 2019

101 Things #15 - Called to the Bar

I have nothing against bartenders or bartending.

Ah, I can tell you are waiting for more. You see, I have been turning over in my mind the suggestion I encountered on Lifelisted.com that people wishing to set themselves goals to enrich their lives should

Take a bartending class
 
and I feel this is utterly suitable for inclusion on my own anti-bucket list, 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die.

I assume at once that by "take" they mean attend a class as a student, rather be the one doing the instructing. Both are valid interpretations; however it seems unlikely that a skilled bartender would have as one of his  bucket list goals the training of others (they probably find themselves teaching trainees on the job, anyway) and an unskilled one would make a hash of it, spilling the gin here and cutting himself while peeling a lemon there, so should simply decline.

Thus we are invited to consider enrolling at a suitable academy to commence our exciting journey into the world of pint-pulling and glass-wiping. I've not seen such courses advertised but that doesn't mean there are none - for all I know there are veritable colleges dedicated to the bottle and the ice-tray. Indeed, the most cursory of searches (and who can be arsed to do much more these days?) finds someone on LinkedIn who claims to have a Diploma in cocktail making. Yes, he hasn't just attended a two hour class, he has done a real academic course and has the certificate to prove it (and no doubt, a photograph showing him wearing a silly hat and gown holding it up on graduation day).

I wonder what they have to do to get a Dip.Booze? Drink their way through every bottle in the college bar? Fill a peanut bowl with 150 nuts, subject to a plus/minus error of no more than 3, with a single pour? Spear at least 8 cocktail olives in 10 seconds using no more than 2 cocktail sticks? Invent two ridiculous new names for cocktails and persuade a real member of the public to spend real money trying them, while invigilators cunningly disguised as members of the public lean on the bar, concealed behind newspapers, and watch?

Then there is the social skills test. Each time someone enters the bar and makes his way to join the crowd jostling around trying to get served, the bartender must sum them up with a single practised glance. Are they to be acknowledged with a nod or even a "With you in a moment, mate?" Or should they be skilfully ignored, even as they slowly push up to the bar past the customers taking their drinks away and try so desperately to meet your eye?

Be that as it may, we now have a dilemma. Do we take a single class, as a literal interpretation of the goal might have it, or commit to something more substantial. How far we would get in a single class? If there are, say, twenty fellow students and each of you has to take a turn changing a barrel of beer then inspecting the frothy stuff that comes up as you connect it and wrinkling your nose quizzically as you hold it up against the light then there won't be time for much more.

There is so much more to learn. How many times can you put out a beer-mat before it must be consigned to the rubbish? When a customer gives you a £10 note for a drink then after you've turned round to get him his change, insists it was a £20, how long do you argue before reaching for your trusty cricket bat kept just behind the bar? Can you keep a straight face when an attractive young person asks you, coyly, for a "Sex on the beach". Do you shake or stir a Martini if the customer has not given explicit instructions but you don't like to ask? Can you restrain yourself from abusing the customer who asks for whisky and coke?

It is clear that no single class can begin to scratch the surface of what it means to be a bartender. Forget visions of juggling champagne bottles and then pouring out six glasses with one impressive sweep of the hand. That is serious, post-graduate stuff. You are going have to sit down, perhaps on a high stool that wobbles a bit, put your feet up on the polished brass rail and keep your elbows out of that nasty damp patch, and decide how far you want to take this whole 'qualified barperson' thing. And I say to you: I have no intention of commencing one of these classes now that I know that it is simply the first step on a very demanding and difficult path. I would never remember how to make all those cocktails, the differences between Pernod and Absinthe and all those other peculiar French drinks that nobody ever asks for but which would be bound to feature in the exam or precisely how much to put in a pint mug when the customer who is holding it asks for a half and there's already some in there.

Would you know what flavour of crisps to recommend to someone who has asked for something to accompany a '54 Chateau Mouton Rothschild Grand Cru? Is there a vegan equivalent of pork scratchings? When two heavy-set men in raincoats sidle up to you and demand to know where the boss is, do you give him away or stall for time?

All these questions are doing my head in. I need a drink.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Big Brother takes a step back

I wrote several months ago that the government's plans to introduce identity checks on those citizens wishing to view "adult" content over the internet were appalling. Not so much the genuine need to protect children that was at the root of the proposals but the inept way they were going about it by asking an American porn-site operator to run the scheme.

After a barrage of criticism from people who actually know something about the internet, unlike, it would appear the ministers and their senior advisers (who presumably get their servants to look things up online because no person of breeding would go near a computer) have finally grasped what the rest of us knew from the start. The plans for the "pornpass" would not safeguard anyone but would certainly provide rich pickings when the database storing details of who asked for them was hacked. It was announced today that the plan is dead.

Make what you will of the reaction from a firm hoping to make money out of the scheme "it is shocking the government has done a U-turn" and from a civil liberties group "We are glad the government has stepped back from creating a privacy disaster". 

I remain angry that civil servants and politicians are still obsessed with online porn and not with the spread of online hate and violence. How many of those hooded, black-jacketed thugs, who gave nazi salutes at the Bulgaria-England match on Monday night, got their ideas from the web?

101 Things #14 - Same Day Jetaway

Travel ideas are highly popular with the makers of bucket lists so naturally my anti-list, 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die is going to feature a few to ridicule. A fairly easy target is Lifelisted's recommendation to

Buy a same-day plane ticket to another country

Never mind the polluting effect of air travel. Consider the idea that, with the same ease with which one might purchase a coach ticket to, say, Windsor from Victoria station, take a seat on the bus and within an hour be banging on the Queen's door and asking her to put the kettle on, one can roll up at Heathrow, slam the wallet down at the British Airways desk and say "Put me on a plane, don't care where".

The first problem is to ensure you have a valid passport. It is sensible, though not essential to have travel insurance. You will certainly need a change of clothing and a toilet kit (if not a suitcase of such stuff) because once your plane is delayed, then takes off, then circles for a bit and finally lands hundreds of miles from anywhere and they put you up in some half-built hotel for the night, then you're going to need them. Do you speak the language where you're going? Do you have adequate rainwear/sun protection/anti malaria and hepatitus injections? Do you have sufficient money, in local currency, to pay for whatever it is you may find yourself eating, having staggered into a restaurant that is about to close, been given a menu you can't read and had the little sign saying "Cash only" pointed out and translated by a waiter who is getting ready to go to his night job as a bouncer?

Of course all the forgoing difficulties can be easily obviated if you plan the whole trip in advance, do some internet research and only buy your ticket when you know where you are going and why, have arranged for someone to pop in and feed the cats and remembered to bring (and to charge up) your phone, shaver and tablet. But then it would take away the whole point of the same-day experience - the joyful spontaneity, the delightful uncertainty of being whisked away somewhere at the drop of a hat ready to embrace whatever rich experiences life can supply.

Maybe the countries surrounding the homeland of the Lifelisted correspondent are easier to visit at ultra short notice. Perhaps they all speak his language, accept his cash and waive all entry requirements the moment they spot him looking wide-eyed around the arrivals terminal with that "Bloody hell, where the **** am I?" look. It doesn't work like that round these parts. I do not feel that I missing out on one of life's rich experiences by avoiding the airport.


Note
I have assumed that by "same-day" is meant that the trip is commenced on the day you decide to take it, not the alternative of a plane trip where the return leg is completed on the same day as departure. There is nothing romantic or heart-stoppingly exciting about this - I've done many a dull business trip in this way, early flight from London, clocks go forward, arrive at a main European city and onward to the office around lunchtime, a few hours of meetings then a lift back to the airport, flight home, clocks go back and a weary drive home having drunk too much strong black coffee and longing for a decent cup of tea. You spend more time in the airports or in the air than doing any work and you can't even get duty-frees any more.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

101 Things #13 - Country & Western

With this addition to my slowly growing series 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die, we venture into dangerous territory. For today I am forced1 to make it clear that I intend never, voluntarily, to

Listen to Country & Western Music
 
I don't know if it's the dullness of the subject matter or the monotony of those twangy guitars or the dressing up in cowboy hats and boots but no C&W record has ever touched me, startled me or enthused me. Every piece is a song - I have never heard any instrumentals in this format and certainly not a shred of musicality from the musicians. The drums thud gently in the background and the guitars are played in the foreground but always as a background for a singer and the songs are always a verse and a chorus and a verse and a chorus then maybe a middle eight (if that's the right expression) and then a verse and a chorus. The songs are always short and never develop - it's the same tune to the end.

The men are always a'cheatin on their womenfolk. The greatest love a man can have is for his faithful ol' horse, or maybe his loyal ol' hound. Or hound-dog. A woman stands by her man until it is time to divorce him. Or run away to Reno. The roads are always dirt and the vehicles trucks. It's important not to cross the county line, or the state line, to stay on the right side of the sheriff and keep out of the county jail. Everyone drinks whiskey. Or perhaps red, red wine. There is always a preacher somewhere in the background (never a priest or a bishop or a padre or an imam or a rabbi or a guru, always a sodding preacher).

C&W is much beloved in its home territory of the southern United States and there it seems firmly stuck. I don't live there, have no desire to visit, don't like the "good ol' boy redneck" culture with which it is associated and, having done a few searches online, am delighted that loads of people agree with me.



Footnote:
1. Forced by my conscience that is. No threat of violence or coercion has been made against me in regard to this matter, let me make clear right away. I simply could not sleep at night if this item had been omitted from the list, even though it is unlikely to be on anyone's bucket list of things to do before they die. I am sure that aficionados of C&W may have earnest desires to visit the birthplaces of their idols before they snuff it (the aficionados, that is) but that is not my concern here. Obviously, given all the forgoing, I am not going to be troubling the travel agents with requests for tickets to such places.

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  to 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.