Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Making a Tidy Profit

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

Pic: Netflix, reproduced from The Guardian

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 16, 2019

101 Things #26 - Living in the Past

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

Get a past life regression session

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 15, 2019

Election 2019 - The Candidates Step Forward

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Dr. Commuter helps out ... baffled Colgate users

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

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

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

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

101 Things #25 - Housebuild

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 10, 2019

101 Things #24 - Stomping those Grapes

Some of the activities that I am reviewing for my anti-bucket list 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die are self-evidently rather hard or uncomfortable to attempt; some are pretty easy to do and it may therefore seem a bit churlish of me to single them out for rejection. An idea posited by Popsugar probably falls into the latter category, however the suggestion one should

Stomp on grapes to make wine  

is one I more than happy to roll up and drop in a bin marked "rubbish ideas".

I have already dismissed as ludicrous the idea of making my own wine so we need not examine any other part of the process than the one under discussion. And since we are obviously not considering stomping on our own grapes it follows that we must be asked to turn up somewhere else to do the deed.

There are no vineyards near to beautiful Ruislip but there are a growing number in southern and western England as the climate is becoming more favourable for viniculture. I have not heard that any of them encourage people to wander up, remove their shoes and socks, roll up their trousers and wade in. Nor does this practice appear particularly prevalent abroad where the grapes normally go into large vats to be pressed with maximum efficiency and hygiene. I don't know if loads of folk with purple-stained legs are regularly spotted in places near to where the correspondent at Popsugar lives, of course, but it's of no concern as I have no expectations of ever being there, and even if I am, will almost certainly not be there at grape-stomping time, and even if I am will not bother to do it.

According to Wikipedia the practice of crushing grapes with bare feet survives only as part of a recreational or cultural activity at festivals. It's a tourist thing, in fact. It doesn't matter if any wine is made because it's all done as part of people having fun. Trouble is, it's not much of a bucket-list item, is it - just going to a festival and joining a few drunks in a barrel of grapes? Would you really want to look back on that as they serve you tea in the Sunny Dene Retirement Home for Aged Over-Achievers and think "Yes, beating the crap out of that little bunch of grapes was definitely a real highlight of my life"? No, I don't think so. I don't want to damage my already damaged foot. I don't want to skid around in a puddle of grape juice. I'd rather sip a nice Shiraz knowing that a trudging of sweaty, veruka-ridden and fungally-infected feet has been nowhere near it.

You may have noticed that in the final sentence of the little diatribe above, I used the phrase "a trudging of feet". There is, it seems, no collective noun for feet. We have parliaments of owls, glarings of cats and murmurations of starlings but if you have a group of people and wish to refer to their lower extremities then you are stuck. Until now, because I have just invented the word trudging (and am in process of applying for a patent, so don't even think about nicking it, OK?) to do that very job.

Readers! If you have clever new words to describe groups of things for which there is no currently existing word, then why not send them in to us. The best will be showcased in a glittering awards ceremony and the winner will receive a splendid accolade in these very columns. Probably. If we think it's worth it.

A Befoggment of Terms and a Borefest of Conditions apply, naturally, but as one of them is that the T&C's must remain secret until revealed, we cannot tell you what they are. Sorry. [Apart from the secrecy one which has now been revealed: Ed]

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Dr. Commuter advises ... Confused Guardian Readers

Dr. Commuter writes: Tricky business, eating. It is not surprising that many people turn to the media for help. Even a left-wing, artsy-poncy, lost-cause-supporting newspaper like the Guardian (I only take it for its excellent coverage of transgender ice-hockey in Bolivia) can get roped in, as the following snippet from today's paper illustrates.

There is a standard way to eat which we doctors call the "Stuff it in your gob" method. Select a small piece of food, insert it gently into your mouth, chew for a while and then swallow when ready. Repeat until either
  • it has all gone and you can have your pudding; or 
  • you have had enough and must push your plate away while saying lightly to your host "Simply delicious as always but I really shouldn't have stuffed myself with doughnuts before coming over here"
This technique works for a wide range of foodstuffs including ham, and even Spanish ham. We really must lose these old prejudices about foreign food. Plenty of people live abroad and eat the local food without showing any particularly bad symptoms.  There is no reason to think that Spanish ham is worse than our home-reared varieties.

Of course, simply eating a piece by itself is only the beginning. Why not enjoy a sophisticated dish? Try it on toast, for example. Heat some bread in a toaster or under a grill until crisp and brown (but not burnt!), apply butter or similar to taste and then carefully place a slice of ham on top. (Important: not underneath, it can make things very messy). Then raise to your mouth, bite off a portion and continue as explained above.

Now you are comfortable with the basics we can move on to the advanced stages. Spanish ham with eggs, Spanish ham with chips, Spanish ham with sausage and beans - the possibilities are limited only by your imagination. How about a Spanish ham sandwich, a truly delightful Anglo/Iberian combination. For this you will need either two slices of bread (toasted if you wish) or a roll that can be sliced half open. Place some ham inside, add salad garnish and a sauce of your choice, close up the sandwich or roll and take a tasty mouthful. Or place inside your briefcase and enjoy it later in a quiet moment during that brain-numbingly dull PowerPoint presentation at the regional sales conference at Darlington.

That should be enough to start you off on your own journey of discovery. Be confident. The next time you are out shopping in Lidl or wherever, stride up to the deli counter, rap on the counter and say loudly "Some Spanish ham if you please". Take your purchase home and consume in any of the ways we have already discussed then relax in the warming glow of contentment that you have mastered the tricky art of how to eat Spanish ham.


If you are baffled by any unusual food of foreign origin - Dutch pancakes, French onions, Portuguese Man'o'war, Scottish shortbread - do please write to Dr. Commuter at the usual address. Terms and conditions not only apply but will be vigorously enforced. You have been warned.

Friday, November 08, 2019

101 Things #23 - Britain by Foot

My ongoing series 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die, is mainly things I could do if I chose but refuse so to do. Sometimes it is necessary to dispose of typical bucket-list ideas on simpler grounds. If you were to ask me why I will not, ever,

Walk or cycle from Lands End to John O'Groats

the answer is easy: I do not have the stamina.

There have been great books about this long walk. John Hillaby's Journey Through Britain, which I bought soon after it was published in 1968, was one I read and reread. Even then Hillaby was warning about the steady encroachment of the urban and industrial onto the rural; things can hardly have improved since. Britain nonetheless has plenty of wonderful open spaces and I can only regret that advancing years and some difficulties with my feet rule me out of such a trip.

 Even if I were fully fit, I think it would remain a pipe-dream [Do we still have pipe dreams. Should that read vape-dream? Ed]. Much of the trip is unrelenting slog. At the end you can wearily tick it off your bucket list, sure, but all you have really done is walked (or cycled) quite a lot. I walk and cycle a bit anyway. Coming home knackered after 8 miles traipsing through the local woods around beautiful Ruislip is a sufficient achievement.

I have to admit that this is one bucket list item I would have been proud to have done in the past but right now it is one to be binned.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

101 Things #22 - Voting Against

We continue to add more bile-laden pieces to this set of anti-bucket list material that comprises 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die   and this piece was started during the final few days before Boris Johnson's absolute, die-in-a-ditch, cast-iron guarantee that Britain would leave the EU on 31 October. For the benefit of historians let us note that Britain did not leave on that date, Parliament having prevented the Government from stupidly going ahead without a deal and without proper scrutiny of the "deal" Mr Johnson claimed to have negotiated.

Instead of leaving, Britain must now undergo a General Election which could well return a hung Parliament and pave the way for months more of chaos and flailing around at Westminster. Perhaps I should restate that: Instead of remaining in the EU, or at least having a straight referendum so that the people can decide if the deal negotiated on their behalf by a minority government is acceptable, we have the hope that Parliament will continue to represent the broad views of all Britons rather than a sect of believers in something they have failed to deliver.

I have commented a number of times on the politics behind the Referendum of 2016 and will keep today's polemic to a minimum. In the light of the way that campaign was conducted, the strategy of the Leavers since and their failure to realise that the peace and prosperity of all of Europe matter deeply to this country, it is easy for me to declare that I will not

Vote for a Brexiteer

Politics tends to be one side stating its case and then refusing to hear or engage with the other side and Brexit has been poisonously dividing the country for way too long. I guess we will have to go through with it. That does not mean I can give forgive the lies or the lack of vision of those whose childish view of the world is that we can only go up if someone else goes down.

By "Vote" I do not mean just in General Elections. I mean local elections, Mayoral elections, elections to the pub darts team and to the football club sub-committee that organises the annual pro-celebrity charity tiddlywinks tournament and pie-eating contest. Right across the board. This will not, of course, have the slightest impact on the Brexit decision or anything else, probably, but it will certainly make me feel a tiny bit happier.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Election 2019 - Boris opens the scoring

The first election leaflet to drop gracefully through our letter box came yesterday.  It was a short one, featuring our well-known MP and occasional Prime Minister, Johnson, B. He appeared in some fifteen pictures inside featuring various locations around the constituency, including one taken outside the very chemist that Mrs C. and I frequent.

Boris made just three simple pledges
  1. To respect the views of his constituents: a sort of meta-pledge this, a promise to make promises but, given that this is the man who was going to lie down in front of the bulldozers should Heathrow be expanded, and who then ensured he was out of the country when Parliament voted on it, it is hard to give this one the slightest credence.
  2. To put more police on the streets.
  3. To get Hillingdon Hospital rebuilt.
Not a single mention of Brexit or any aspect of Conservative party policy.

I shall await the offerings of the other candidates.

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Your next service is due at 20mb

I was a little surprised to receive an email from BT today announcing some sort of training scheme, as my learning days are long past me and they really ought to know that, but I let my eyes slip down the first paragraph until they stopped, inevitably at the bit marked in bold.

We've launched Skills for Tomorrow, a free digital skills programme to help you and 10 million people across the UK go beyond limits and reach their full potential. We've teamed up with amazing partners, like LinkedIn Learning and Google Digital Garage...
 There was quite a lot more but I am afraid I was unable to proceed any further.

Scene: The Ruislip Digital Garage, in the back alley near Abattoir Road. A young woman, clutching a printout, enters nervously. A man in overalls emerges from the office, tucking his fag behind his ear.

Man: "Morning, darling, what can I do for you?"
Woman: "It's this code. There's something wrong, it doesn't run at all smoothly. Can you take a look at it?"
M: "Let's see here." sucks teeth "Umm, yeah, cor, who wrote this subroutine then? See that incomplete tag? And that function's been deprecated, yeah, must be version 2.4 and you should be on 3.9 by now."
W:  " Oh dear, that doesn't sound too good, but it normally works fine. "
M:  "Have your code regularly checked, do you, love?"
W:  "My husband usually has a look but he's been too busy lately. I did try putting in a recurring do-while loop here but it throws out an exception error in line 220"
M:  "Yeah, bound to do that, this is one of the problems with version 2.4 you see, cor, we get loads of them in here. Don't worry, we'll knock up a few quick algorithms, swap out the reference library for a new one and clean up those REMs while we're at it. Should have it working by next Tuesday"
W:  " That's wonderful. Will be it very expensive?"
M:  "Well, let's see, update version, new lib, algo swap out, a few test runs on the sandbox ... about a hundred and fifty, alright?"
W:   "Thank you so much. I'll leave it with you then"
M:   "Yeah, ta, see you later." She goes.  He has a draw on his fag and chucks the printout into the pending tray "Another one. Money for old rope, this lark"

101 Things #21 - Of Ends and Endings

My list of 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die is not just about places to avoid or activities to shun. There are also cultural trends to deplore and resist. One of them, much used in "discussions" on social media irritates me so much I firmly intend never to

Use the phrase "End of"

One of the current uses for this conversation stopper is in the endless debate over Brexit and its most frequent form goes along these lines:

"The people voted for Brexit. Get on with it. End of"

"End of" does not just signify the completion of the comment. It is an intensely arrogant statement. The words are meant to say there is nothing more to be discussed, my argument is utterly infallible and nothing you say is of the slightest relevance. There is no need for me to add anything because, as Rik Mayall used to say - "A - I said it and everything I say is interesting per se; and B - well there's no need for B because the A was so great"

In the case of Brexit any questions over, say, the border in Ireland or the political rights of Britons living in the EU are swept aside as unimportant. If you query the many statements made during the referendum about how easy it would be get a trade deal there is a sullen silence. The magic phrase "End of" can be invoked at any time to shut down dissent much as the medieval church could end any awkward questions with the accusation of heresy.

Of course it is not just key political questions that are stifled at birth in this way.
"I think that winger was offside"
"Yeah? No, he wasn't. End of"

You can't talk properly to people who respond in this way. Sadly, you have already had to listen to their viewpoint before they hit you with their knock-out blow; if you had known they were going to be such total dorks then you could have walked away at the start.

Perhaps one could reopen a shutdown argument thusly

"Climate change is caused by too many polar bears melting the ice. End of"
"No, you are utterly wrong and moronic to boot. Beginning of"

but I doubt if this will catch on. The only solution is to ignore them. At least they have stymied themselves because, once they declare a subject closed, then they cannot reopen it. That's about it for this topic. End of.