Friday, July 03, 2020

Struggling back

I wrote, a couple of weeks ago, about the strange decision made by the UK government to quarantine arrivals from countries with lower infection rates than here. They have finally seen sense (or been browbeaten by the travel industry) and announced that anyone coming here from one of 55 destinations need not quarantine. Nearly all destinations in Europe and quite a few beyond are on the list, thus saving part of the summer holidays for those bold enough to venture overseas.

Bold is the operative word. Lockdowns have been reimposed in some cities or regions abroad (and in our very own Leicester) that have experienced an upturn in infection rates, so anyone travelling may find themselves caught up in it at very short notice, and possibly having to quarantine there or on return. Being stuck abroad is no joke. For this reason Mrs C and myself will be staying on this island for the foreseeable.

Other signs of a return to some sort of normality are the reopening of almost shops with pubs set to follow tomorrow. Mass gatherings are still banned so some football matches and other sporting events are taking place in the eerie silence of empty stadiums and arenas. My local supermarket still restricts the number of shoppers so I go there early enough to beat the queues. Although shelves are pretty well stocked, a number of brands or varieties have vanished (we are beginning to miss Crunchie ice creams) and the deli counter remains closed, so there is no nice fresh-cut cheese or meat.

But the infection is still with us and people are still dying, thankfully at much lower rate than a couple of months ago, so we still do a slalom-like dance when walking down the local shopping streets as we dodge a couple here, a mother and children there and the queue outside the bakers. The two metre rule has been relaxed to one metre, if unavoidable, and for many this means there is no real need to observe social distancing at all. Therefore we must wait to see if the infection rate goes up or continues to diminish and meanwhile businesses unable to open or to operate normally are bleeding to death. It's all a bit bleak right now.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Stone me - They've done it again

6 years ago I had the pleasure of recording that the football team I have been supporting since 1973 - Wealdstone - won their league and were promoted to the National League South (or League division 6 in old money).

This season they have been regularly playing the best football I have ever seen them play, have been top of the league since August and have the best record in terms of points per game of any team in the English game in the top 6 leagues. But the season was cruelly cut short by the covid-19 crisis and the resulting lockdown. It has been a long and at times agonising wait as the various authorities decided whether to end the season early or hope for a resumption and, once that decision was forced on them, how to end it. They might have declared it null and void, wiping out the Stones' fantastic achievements. They might have declined to make any promotions or relegations.

Tonight after much deliberation the league had a vote of its member clubs and adopted a resolution to  - well, here is the how the news was broken by Wealdstone's chairman Rory Fitzgerald


So, for the first time since 1989, the Stones will be playing just below the English Football League and will be facing teams across the country rather than just from the south. Heady days indeed.

Monday, June 08, 2020

Quarantine and the flight from reason

Britain is, from today, requiring all visitors (subject to certain exemptions) from abroad to quarantine for 14 days. At first sight this may appear sensible, a way to prevent the resurgence of the covid-19 virus at a time when it appears at last to be diminishing. At second sight it appears utterly daft, gormless and another example of the ineptness of a government that is making it up as it goes along (although tirelessly claiming to be "following the science").

New Zealand also has quarantine rules. They are very strict. Nobody gets in, except residents. All returnees are taken to government controlled hotels and must remain there for 14 days. New Zealand has not recorded deaths from the virus for a while and has very few new cases.

Britain is going to require everyone to do the same, right? No. The scheme is self-assessed. It is up to the arrivals to provide the authorities with information about where they are staying and then to go there (themselves) and remain there. They are not taken to their accommodation so presumably it is fine that they travel there anyway they choose, cheerfully spreading the virus as they go. They may be spot-checked or they may not after that, it's all delightfully vague.

And those exemptions  Oh yes. Lorry drivers, seasonal workers and the like can come in freely. Also anyone travelling from Ireland. So what prevents someone going to Dublin first and then flying straight on here? Umm, nothing.

In any case New Zealand, which put in tough rules right at the start, has contained the infection. But only now, after three months of it, are we doing the same. Why is it now sensible to do this, at a time when the travel and entertainment sectors are being wiped out? Oh, because we don't want the infection rate to increase due to all those nasty foreigners spreading it. But - and this is a massive but - most countries have lower infection rates than we do. The probability of the virus spreading due to foreigners is less than it is from the domestic population. A German arrival at Heathrow was filmed making this very comment.
 

Now, if we were really following the science, then either we would have had a proper quarantine system in place weeks ago or we should allow in people who can prove they have been for a reasonable time in countries with significantly lower infection rates. We are in a different place altogether, putting in a washy-washy scheme that is full of loopholes and which will achieve nothing at all. Meanwhile huge gatherings of young people, protesting about racial discrimination, are probably going to trigger a second surge.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Setting My Teeth on Edge

I don't usually use Edge, the web browser supplied as part of Windows 10. Tonight, driven by some devil-may-care sense of adventure, I thought I'd have a look. No sooner had it loaded than it wanted me to update it. I had assumed I already had the latest version, given that Windows 10 has recently updated, but no matter. I clicked to update it.

I wonder what language this message is in


I carried on regardless (us Ruislip Commuters laugh in the face of danger, you know) and was rewarded with the next helpful missive


Soon after this the installation completed. Edge opened and asked me if I wished to import my settings from my normal browser, Firefox. I assented. It pretended to be doing something but did nothing at all. None of my bookmarks were imported.

I did a basic web search to see if others had this problem and found someone with the same issue back in January. Naturally the Microsoft professional who responded was unaware that there was a problem, looked into it, confirmed it and then said it was all a total surprise to everyone at Redmond (including those who presumably wrote and "tested" the import procedure) and why do not an export of the bookmarks out of Firefox to a html file and then import to Edge. Yes, indeed. Just as we used to do this sort of thing 20 years ago.

It's exactly the same as if I were to call up my garage
"Hi, my car is not starting, the computer is showing a couple of error messages"
"Oh yes sir, we get a lot of those. Funny things, these computers, aren't they? Now then, have you got your starter handle handy, plus two strong lads to give you a push start?"

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Nothing to See Here

During the covid-19 lockdown we have been urged (and required) to stay at home and avoid any unnecessary travel. It has emerged that the Prime Minister's advisor Dominic Cummings, closely associated with the strategy, himself travelled from London to be with his family in Durham. There has been much speculation about his position but Boris has stood behind his chum and, far from expressing regret that the Government appears to say one thing but do another, has instead told us all to forget all about it.

BBC News

This is a splendid way to deal with matters of public concern. If only men of such spirit had been around in the past then history would have been so much tidier and certain news stories would have been reported rather differently ...

-&-&-&-&-&

King shrugs off brutal murder claim
Knights exonerated - "They did nothing wrong" says Henry

A defiant King Henry II last night continued to back the men who had, on his orders, hacked to death popular Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas a Becket. Relaxing after a hunt and quaffing a tankard of finest Bordeaux wine, the monarch quipped
"He was getting past it to be Archbishop anyway, let's all look forward to Christmas and stop worrying".
Asked if he should be doing penance, His Majesty said "I am the law, God guides me, what on earth is all the fuss about?
    -&-&-&-&-&

    French army annihilated in Russia
    Emperor Napoleon flees back to France

    "I simply don't see this as a problem" the Emperor was reported as saying as he returned to his luxury apartments in the Tuileries "Yes, a few men died. Alright, a few hundred thousand. But what is that against my personal safety? Surely we can move on now, it's not as if their families are of the slightest account after all"



    -&-&-&-&- 

    Nixon re-elected for historic 3rd term
    Huge majority backs "Hero of Watergate"

    A triumphant Richard Nixon returned to the White House after securing a landslide in the 1976 Presidential election. 
    "I told the people it was time to put Watergate behind us" he said to the world's media gathered in the Rose Garden "I said time and time again that I knew nothing about any bugging or conspiracy to pervert justice and you know, if you tell the American people something enough times, it gets so they come to believe it. I'm gonna keep on running and come the 1980 election I know that I'll be the right man for the job"





    Sunday, May 24, 2020

    Ringing the Changes

    Skimming gently through the BBC news web site this pleasant Sunday morning, I noticed the following snippet. Before I clicked to see what the story was about, I became stuck on what this headline is intended to mean. See what you think.


    BBC

    The possibilities include:
    • A lost ring was returned to a woman but sadly she was then swept away in a flood
    • A lost ring was returned to a woman but was then swept away in a flood and so lost again
    • The ring magically returned itself to its owner after her flood trauma
    • After a ring was lost to a woman in a flood, it was found and returned by the finder.

    I'm afraid that the last of these options is the basis for the story.


    -&-&-&-&-


    Readers!: Can you find any more ways of explaining the story behind the headline? Send in your entries to the usual address, marked "Utter waste of time competition".

    The Editor's decision will be final, but irrelevant, as there is no prize for the best entry, nor will we be publishing it in this column or anywhere else; in fact it is unlikely we will even read the entries but it's always nice to have something for the cat to shred.

    Thursday, May 21, 2020

    Hey. good-lookin'

    Is this the least flattering picture of a well known figure in social media ever published? Here is how the BBC chose to depict the founder of Facebook in a story published today:

    If you clicked on the link the following, much more conventional, portrait is employed to illustrate the story:

    Pic: BBC
    When I first saw the top picture I thought it was a image from a computer game, the sort where you play a detective about to interview a serial killer, or maybe the bit where an innocuous citizen changes before your eyes into a zombie. Or maybe the plant behind him would sprout teeth and take a healthy bite out of that pasty face.

    -&-&-&-&

    Game publishers! If you would like further information on any of these great ideas, get in touch via the usual address. I've got loads more, if you're interested.

    Wednesday, May 20, 2020

    Let's Hack

    This ad has appeared a number of times when I have a look at Facebook (I only go there for its superb coverage of aardvark breeding farms in Delft) and I'm beginning to become a little bothered by it.




    No, not the 'Learn to be a Professional Musician in Three Minutes', risible though that is. It is, of course, the unreal juxtaposition of the words "ethical" and "hacking", coupled with the proposition that, for a small outlay of cash, you too can be ethically hacking away with the best of them in no time.

    Ethical does not necessarily mean virtuous, it simply refers to having a consistent set of core beliefs that govern one's actions, but I had a look at the details of the course (purely from detached scientific motives, naturally) and it clearly is being used to mean good, upright and legal.

    Hacking admits of no such ambiguity. Hacking means unauthorised entry to the technical systems (almost invariable the computer systems in this context). Hacking is illegal. This is not a grey area. It is not lawful to hack.

    Consequently there is no such thing as ethical hacking, any more than there is ethical burglary or commendable GBH. If you access someone else's systems without permission you have broken the law. It doesn't matter what your motives are, any more than you can say "Yeah, I chucked that half-brick through the jeweller's window but I just wanted to see if it was brick-proof. Sadly, it wasn't." 1.

    Now there are one or two special exemptions to this rule. There are organisations, and individuals, who probe for weaknesses in systems so that they can bring these to the attention of the systems designers. I don't know what procedures they have to prevent abuse, but what is very clear is that if you fork out your £12.99 or whatever to learn "ethical" hacking over the internet, then there are not going to be any checks or balances on your subsequent roams into cyberspace. I looked in vain for the terms and conditions that required a criminal records check, or that you register your hacking activities with some responsible third party.

    What next from these people, I wonder. Here are some possibilities that I hope never see the light of day:
    • Hit and Run Like a Pro
    • Learn Snitching the Easy Way
    • Five Simple Ways to Dump Toxic Chemicals. With the add-on, for just another £10.99, And How to Blame it all on your Neighbour
    • My Knuckleduster Technique - Don't Delay, Get Thumping Someone, Today!
    • See It, Nick It - a Shoplifter's Tale
    • Principled Grand Larceny in Western Europe




    Footnote:
    1. Well, yes, you can say it but what I mean is, it won't stand up in court and the beak will probably give you an extra three months for being a prat.

    Thursday, May 14, 2020

    High Alert in Ruislip

    The Covid-19 crisis has gripped us for two months. During this time almost all shops have closed, as have many businesses. There is virtually no air travel, the roads are eerily quiet, schools are shut and even hospitals have far less activity in all departments other than those treating victims of the virus. We have been following the slogan "Stay Home", which has always been followed by "Protect the NHS. Save Lives" in every government briefing and policy statement, repeated time and again by our leaders and medical experts.

    Fear of the virus has meant that the Ramblings household has followed the rule. Other than the weekly shop, we have had no physical proximity to others. We go out for exercise or to obtain the odd items from the local shops that the supermarket could not supply, but we have spent day after day behind our doors, as have millions of others.

    As of this week, with a slackening of the infection rate and a drop in the daily deaths attributable to the virus, there has been some relaxation of the lockdown regulations. There is no longer a limit on time one can spend outdoors and all who can work safely (and travel there safely) are encouraged to do so. And the slogan to "Stay Home" has been changed. It is now "Stay Alert".

    I liked "Stay Home". It was easy to grasp and sensible. Staying home is pretty well guaranteed to keep one free from infection. Knowing that others were doing likewise meant that the infection rate was bound to start coming down.

    "Stay Alert" is quite different. I want to be a good citizen. I feel I should, therefore, be on the alert. I stand by the window in my front bedroom from time to time and twitch the net curtains, keeping my eyes trained on the roads outside. I scan the skies whilst sitting in the conservatory which overlooks the back garden. My mobile phone is kept to hand at all times in case that vital call comes in. And yet - is this really enough? Is this, indeed, what we are meant to do?

    I am not totally sure what we keeping alert for. People with the disease, perhaps, sneaking up on us when we are unguarded. But many have the disease and display no symptoms. Others may have coughs and temperatures but how on earth can I spot them if they are outside and I am inside? Should I hide out in the front garden, perhaps cutting a couple of eye-holes in the dustbin and crouch inside with notebook to hand? Should I obtain a tin hat, write "Alert Warden" on it and patrol the street? Maybe I could bang on the odd front door "Here, put that light out, don't you know there's an Alert on?"

    I enjoy the odd light doze in the afternoon, maybe once or twice a week. I had a highly fascinating YouTube video on developments in physics going the other day but must confess to having missed quite a lot of it as my eyes glazed. I came to, though, with a start. Sleeping on duty? When there is an Alert on? That's a court martial offence. I think I got away with it but if Mrs. C turns me over to the authorities then it could be a bleak outlook. They'd take away my tin hat for a start.

    In any case, who do we report to? I mean, if we do actually spot something that ought to be reported, the whatever-it-is that we are on the alert for. I've had no instructions. If they had a sort of Alert Home Guard scheme where you sign up on an official website and receive a badge and maybe a nice pen, plus money-off vouchers at local cafes for being part of the War Effort, then I'd be there like a shot. There is no such website. We are on our own, loyal to the directions of the authorities, but essentially making it up as we go along. I assume we do get tea-breaks whilst being On Alert and have taken them regularly but is this a breach of regulations? Should I be keeping a log of my daily sightings of the postman and the Tesco lorry making its regular deliveries? Is it permitted to have a lie-in on weekends?

    So many questions. So few answers. Actually, no answers at all. Nonetheless, I shall soldier on. I shall remain on a state of High Alert until that glorious day when London advises that the war is over and I can stand down, hang up the tin hat and begin work on my memoirs. Or until they change the slogan.


    Friday, May 08, 2020

    Do you want that bikini with beans, madam?

    During these days of lockdown-enforced idleness, I have been reading through my collection of horror stories. Now, a  horror short story has to pull you in fairly quickly and immerse you. It may seek to have you recoil in shock or with a chill unease. It should not make you put down the e-reader and think "Surely that cannot be what the author meant?"

    But, whilst reading Tighter by Christa Faust, published in The Best New Horror 16, I reached this paragraph on the first page and stopped.

    In one of the older casinos, a tarnished relic from the days when Vegas was still strictly for grownups, Persephone does Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Two shows on Saturday. In the dimly lit lounge, she appears with flashpots, clad only in a golden g-string and tiny, star shaped pasties.
    American readers may be thinking "What's the big deal, bud?". Because they would know that a pastie, in the context of a young lady in a sleazy Vegas show, means two very small strip of materials worn as part of a costume to protect her modesty. Something like these, for example:

    Pic: Amazon

    I, however, as a British reader, can only think of pasties as meaning a Cornish pasty, times two, as follows:

    Pic: Good to Know website


    And now you can see my confusion. I am all in favour of a few tiny pasties at any time, star-shaped or not (actually they would be pretty unusual), even better if chips and brown sauce are involved. Attached to the body of a lady in a casino, though? Not a very effective way to cover the nipples, there would be bits of pastry flying everywhere and how would you stick them on anyway? Perhaps a healthy dollop of mayonnaise might be sticky enough but it seems risky.

    Ms Faust could have matters clearer by using the word "tassels". I shall suggest this, should the editors of the series request my assistance with revisions. In the meantime, let me try to expunge the image of gyrating parcels of fine Cornish cuisine from my still boggling imagination.

    Tuesday, May 05, 2020

    101 Things #101 - Finale

    101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die has reached the end of the road. It all began last September with an exploration of the "must-do" bucket-list ideas of others, and a liberal sprinkling of my own prejudices. I simply wrote about things I did not wish to do and saw no reason to feel guilty about not doing.

    What seems to have emerged is that we can define ourselves as much by what we turn our backs on as that which we embrace. Just because others think something is worthwhile does not mean that it is or that we should worry that we think this way.

    Every one of my preceding pieces has been summarised as as a determination not to do something. Let me now turn the specifics into a single, sweeping generalisation. I am not going to

    Do things just because others say I should


    or to put it another way, I will most definitely not be a dedicated follower of fashion. An anti-fashionista, founder of the Peoples Front Against Trendiness and the Must-Do Ethos, that's me.

    This view is not as obvious as it may sound. I have, on a number of occasions, had salespeople knock at my door to hawk cable TV, driveway cleaning, solar panels or some other service, and they always use the line "Everyone else in your street is having it". Presumably this is effective on others or they would not try it, but it has the reverse effect on me. If everyone else is doing it, and they are doing it because they think everyone else is doing it, then I want out.

    I will go on writing about pointless fashions and trends but not in such a structured way. There is not going to be a 101 More Things I Refuse To Even Contemplate in the pipeline. I shall cease trawling the net in search of ideas to scorn, fun though that has been.

    I am appreciative of the many who have made this series possible, in particular Bucket List Journey (8 times), Aussie on the Road (6 times) and honourable mentions to Pick Your Goals, LifeListed, Personal Excellence, Huffington Post and Lifelot, each of whom have furnished several memorable notions. It is a great relief to know that I can henceforth ignore these sites with their endless exhortations to do things and the underlying sub-text that those who do not flail about ticking off their BL items are somehow missing out on life.

     It is curious to be writing these lines at a time when so many of the ideas I have been discussing are impossible to do because of the covid-19 lockdown. I cannot prance down the street slapping hands, feeding meters or pretending to be someone I am not. I cannot climb the Eiffel Tower, fly the Vegas red-eye, visit Disney Parks or dine in blacked-out restaurants where I shall proceed to order one of everything on the menu. I need no longer try to dodge morris dancers or to gate-crash weddings. Flash mobs are right out! I shall not go to live in Xinjiang, or as a sheriff in a small American town, nor will I venture into space, see exotic shows in Thailand or visit Graceland. I could still, perhaps, compliment myself in the mirror each day, try to collect 100 toothbrushes (online, naturally) or take up hygge but you know what? I ain't gonna do them either and the fact that in theory I could, makes it all the sweeter that I can still turn my back.

     -&-&-&

    At this juncture I want to insert a brief thought about the mentality behind bucket-lists (and doing stuff because others do). I am not alone in my rejection of the "me-too" mentality. Two excellent articles in support of this view may be found courtesy of that august journal The Wall Street Journal by Joe Queenan and in the equally authoritative The New Yorker by Rebecca Mead.

    Queenan comments
    Bucket lists too often are an attempt to compensate for not having done things early enough in life that they would have made a difference. They're a shortcut, a make-up exam, a trick. Bucket  list accomplishments are like Fantasy League baseball: a cheap substitute for the real thing

    Mead makes a very telling point, using President Obama's hurried visit to Stonehenge in 2014 when he took a break from the NATO summit. The President had a lightning tour of the sight and was heard to say "Knocked it off the bucket list right now". Mead and I are agreed that this goes to the heart of the futility of the bucket-list, of doing something because it is fashionable or because "everybody else is doing it".

    You don't "do" Stonehenge by walking once round the stones. You immerse yourself in the landscape. You study the exhibits in the museums and ponder the culture of the people who put so much effort into building a complex of structures stretching for miles, and to which it is known that visitors came from well beyond these shores two and three thousand years before the Romans arrived. And even then you still don't tick it off, because the archaeology is continuing and new information emerges all the time, and there is loads more in the surrounding countryside at other sites. With a site like the Stonehenge Landscape, arguably, you can never tick it off because there will always be more to be learned. For myself, I've been there as a schoolboy and several times since, the most recent being an organised trip led by a specialist and, revealing though this was, it showed how much more there is to discover.

    -&-&-& 

    And finally, this entire series could not have been possible without the constant support and critical reviews offered by my Editor. Whether it be nit-picking about neologisms, lip-pursing over long sentences or head-scratching about obscure references, he has always been there for me. Naturally, full responsibility for any errors or omissions that remain are entirely down to him and not in any way my fault, that's why I have an Editor after all.

    Sunday, May 03, 2020

    101 Things #100 - Ton Up

    Folks, we've reached our century. For the last eight months I have been writing these little pieces to describe, deride and demolish [I shall miss this brilliant alliteration, you know: Ed] popular ideas for bucket-lists, the things one is supposed to be passionate about doing before death. These form my compilation 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die1.

    Some are based on personal dislikes and foibles. The majority have been collected them from quite a number of websites each of which has long lists of recommendations. What connects every piece is that all of these are things I will not do before I die (and I certainly shan't be bothering afterwards).

    In each of the previous 99 pieces I have tried to explain the notion under examination and then ripped into it. Here, in order to do something a little different, I have hand-selected2 several idiotic and risible ideas and will aim to dismiss each in a few lines. Think of this as a sort of coda to the concerto, or as an encore after the main set, or, if you prefer, as the petits fours after a superb six course meal at a swanky restaurant  - you don't need any more food at this stage but who turns down petits fours? 3

    -&-&-&-

     First up, get your thinking gear wrapped around this almost incomprehensible idea from Develop Good Habits to

    Be in two places at once.


    The website doesn't give us the crucial information needed to make this a useful goal, viz. which two places? I assume they don't mean two physically separate places, such as Ruislip and Ruislip Manor for example, divided as they are by about half a mile of fairly dull suburban housing yet linked by the Metropolitan Railway (journey time approx 1 minute). In fact, I can't imagine any two places that one could simultaneously inhabit, although I am reminded of a gag which goes something like "He was in the state of Arizona and I was in a state of exhaustion", but that's not important right now.

     I'm pretty sure this is not meant to be about some assertion based on quantum physics; elementary particles are said to have have wave functions that embrace the entire universe and thereby theoretically being in every place at once. I hope this is not the case because this branch of physics gives me the sort of headaches only peanuts and an hour of two of Skyrim can dissipate.

    I think we can heave this one into the dustbin of despair for the time being.

     -&-&-&-

     Next, step forward the brains behind Lifelot.co.nz and tell us, in your own words, what's so special about attempting to

    Live through 4 seasons of the year:
    Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter.


    I have lived through these very four seasons something like ... well, let's just say quite a few times. There's nothing to it. One only has to go on living and there you are, each year you can tick off another set. Obviously this is not something I can refuse to do, per se, but I can certainly refuse to regard it as anything worth achieving. What makes it odder is that the source is a New Zealand based website and seasons in that part of the world are fairly similar to those in the UK, I gather.

     -&-&-&-

    Now, please put your hands together for something so easy to mock that BucketList.net should slink away in shame. No, I am not going to

    Say yes to everything for a day


    and nor are you. Consider this simple rebuttal:

    "Darling, you're not going to wear those trousers are you? They're filthy"
    "Yes"
    "Yes? Yes what? Yes you are going to wear them or yes you agree you are not going to wear them or yes they are filthy?"
    "Um....I think I meant no"
    "No? No what? No they are okay to wear, is that what you're saying?"
    "Yes. No. Oh, help me, my friends at Bucketlist, what the hell am I supposed to say?"

     -&-&-&-

     We shall pass swiftly on to consider a frankly unworkable plan proposed by Aussie on the Road.com. I mean, really, one cannot take seriously the notion to

    Go a month without the internet.


    Without the internet it would not be possible to bring you fresh instalments of Ramblings. Nor could you flick through the back numbers whilst waiting for an update. I think I need say no more.

     -&-&-&- 


    And finally, as a perfect example of the utter and complete pointlessness of bucket-lists and their creators, make yourself a strong cup of tea and sit down and have a think about this one -

    Get a pair of plain white canvas shoes and draw on them.


    Daring to Live Fully.com came up with this and quite honestly we think they should have a jolly good lie down and a hard think about the direction of their lives. I suppose a three-year old would regard scribbling on his new shoes as an afternoon well spent. For the rest of us, we do have other things to do, you know.

    And with that we conclude the proceedings, leaving only the wrap-up for the final piece. Go and have that strong cup of tea, you've earned it.

     -&-&-&-

    Footnotes:
    1. My next set, 101 Things I Refuse To Do In The Afterlife may follow, given sufficient interest.
    2. Sounds good that. Hand-selected. It's a bit like calling something 'artisan', Doesn't really mean a thing but definitely impressive.
    3. Some of us would be happy to more or less move directly to the petits fours but it's not as simple as that.

    Friday, May 01, 2020

    101 Things #99 - An Arrondissement Too Far

    With this, the 99th in the almost-completed series of diatribes against things fashionable, we return to the well-worn theme of travel. Worthy of inclusion in the index of impracticability that is 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die is the recommendation on the website Develop Good Habits to

    Stay in each of the arrondissements of Paris


    Whilst I was browsing the DHG site to find out more about the fascination with the administrative districts of Paris, I spotted something else that nearly diverted me to write a separate piece, and spent some time pondering it before deciding it was just too silly. Rather than deprive you of it, here is the cause of that digression - the suggestion that one should, as part of one's all time bucket-list of things worth doing, 

    Sunbathe near the Atlantic Ocean.

    Whatever view one takes on the pros and cons of sunbathing (a no-no in the Ramblings household), what on earth does it matter which ocean one chooses to be near to? Why the Atlantic and not any other great ocean, or come to that, any small body of water? Why is the world-renowned Ruislip Lido not adduced as an alternative? And why (and this is the bit that had me fascinated) must one be "near" to the ocean, as apart from being right beside it on a nice beach or maybe on a pleasant hillside a few miles away?

    Anyway, I just thought I'd throw that one in as a sort of bonus, to you, my loyal readers, as we near the end of this wonderful journey through B-L madness and personal foibles, and now back to the main event.

    To the non-French speaker arrondissement is a lovely word to roll off the tongue. So much more romantic and evocative than, say, district or as we might have in London, borough. But they are just administrative boundaries, part of the system of local government. The map of them does have a wonderful shell-like design because the numbering system moves around in a great spiral, and as the arrondissements further away from the centre are larger than those in the middle, there is a tangible resemblance to the Fibonacci, or Golden Ratio, sequence of numbers found throughout nature (in the design of sunflower seedheads,for example). This map shows it clearly

    Pic: World in Paris


    Paris is a fine city, Mrs C and I have been there a number of times and anyone new to France (or Europe) should have it on their itinerary. What gives me pause is the idea of staying in each of the 20 districts that denote the central part. If "stay" means at least one overnight, then we are being told to spend three weeks changing our living arrangements every day. 20 trudges up a flight of steps to find a surly concierge or a suspicious desk clerk. 20 luggings of a heavy suitcase (we are in Paris for at least three weeks, remember) up a further three flights of twisting stairs into dark corridors until we finally reach a poky little room, open the tatty curtains and gaze out upon the walls of the apartment that faces us across a narrow, rather whiffy, back alley. 20 rounds of French breakfasts consisting of that sludgy indigestible coffee, an iron-hard roll and a damp croissant with a blob of raspberry jam. 20 rounds of packing, lugging the suitcase back down the interminable stairs and then trying to find the clerk to pay the extortionate bill. And then it's out into the wet streets (bound to be raining most days) and off through the puddles and the hooting, street-clogging traffic to the next hotel in the next arrondissement a mile away.

    All these images, (founded, I should add, on bitter personal experiences both on holiday and visiting Paris on business) sprang into my mind the instant that I contemplated what staying in each arrondissement would actually mean. Let me propose something a lot more sensible. Find a decent place to stay and use the excellent Metro to get around to each part of the city. The time saved on the interminable checking-in and out will justify any additional outlay.

    I suppose the DHG people thought that one could truly experience the flavour of each arrondissement only by staying there, that somehow the breakfast in the cafe on the street corner (we have abandoned our dispiriting hotel breakfast in this scenario) will be different each time, that the pungent aroma of cigarettes and dog-pee will change as we cross the streets on the boundaries, that the gendarme will take his hand off the butt of his firearm, smile and welcome us to his manor ... No, those of us who have been know that this not going to happen. Sure, each part of Paris has its own character but you'll pick that up merely by strolling through the streets. As with all great cities, nearly all of it is residential or commercial and the bits we tourists relish are concentrated in a comparatively small area in the centre.

    So forget the arbitrary lines on the map. Visit Paris, sure. And do it for fun, not to tick off a pointless exercise in political geography.


    Thursday, April 30, 2020

    101 Things #98 - The Pursuit of Enlightenment

    So many of our cherished aspirations are trivial. Some wish to visit all the Disney resorts. Others want to drive rather fast or to be arrested for a minor offence. I have been examining, weighing up in a totally objective and non-biased way1 and finally rejecting with disdain a stream of such notions and have documented this quest in this, my soon-to-be-completed series 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die

    At the other end of the wish-list spectrum we find far nobler intentions, often based on the desire to do good, to improve human understanding and society and to leave a positive mark that will forever enshrine one's memory in glory wherever great deeds are recounted [Jolly good stuff this, raises the tone: Ed]. Today I turn my attention to what some may see as the pinnacle of achievement for any person. Nonetheless, (and even though this is recommended by the website Edarabia.com), I shall not be seeking to

    Gain enlightenment.


    The problem with being enlightened is that there is no way to measure it. I may think you are enlightened. You may regard yourself as perfectly ordinary. I may think that I am enlightened. You may regard me as a deluded moron with a ridiculously inflated sense of self-worth. How on earth do we tell? After some painstaking research [The usual quick bit of Googling: Ed] an article published by Charles A. Francis, a contributor to the Huffington Post suggested itself. It lists twelve qualities of the enlightened but I got hopelessly stuck on the first one, which I now reproduce:

    1. Happiness The enlightened person is happy and joyful. He has a cheerful disposition most of the time, and is willing to share that joy with others. He is always optimistic that all challenges have a resolution. Even though the resolution may not be the most desirable, he is confident that he is capable of being at peace with it.

    Older readers brought up in Britain will recall the radio programme The Goon Show. The gifted comics created a range of ludicrous characters, mostly based on the weird imagination of chief writer Spike Milligan and it was Spike who voiced the part of Eccles. Eccles (usually introduced as "The famous Eccles"), was deeply placid and easily satisfied, and the stupidest person ever depicted on radio. His catchphrase for almost any peril or indignity in which he found himself was to mutter (in Spike's mild Irish accent) "Fine, fine, everything's going to be fine". I find it impossible not to associate enlightenment attribute no 1, as described by Mr Francis, with the moronic but utterly content Eccles.

    In fact, all the attributes of the enlightened are simply extrapolations of  human virtues. Being good to others, being unselfish, all that sort of thing. All perfectly acceptable but why seek to "gain enlightenment" in that case? Why not just do it? Why not just live your life in a way that seeks to do no harm to others, and maybe assists them from time to time, and be content with that?

    There is a paradox in the pursuit of enlightenment. Those who do not seek it may well have it. Those who go after it almost certainly are not and probably never will be. The moment you walk down the street intoning "I am truly enlightened. Hearken unto me for I wish to spread my teachings amongst you" is the moment that you are probably round the bend. I say probably, for in this game you never really know if the enlightenment has really struck or it simply looks like it. 

    I don't disdain enlightenment. I simply refuse to attempt to gain it. 


    Footnote
    1. All content has been checked and strictly vetted according to the Ramblings Code of Publishing ("RCP") by the Editor. If you have issues, take it up with him, alright?
    [I'm not in all mornings, and certainly not next Tuesday because I have to go to the dentist: Ed]

    2. The RCP may be obtained on application to the office enclosing an SAE, a postal order for £17.00 and a signed Non-Disclosure agreement("NDA")

    3. The NDA may not be disclosed, nor its contents made known under pain of very strict penalty indeed: don't mess with us on this one, we don't take prisoners when it comes to protecting our NDA. [Actually I think I may have lost my copy. If anyone has a spare, kindly let me know: Ed]

    Tuesday, April 28, 2020

    101 Things #97 - Celebrity Special

    There are not many more pieces to go before reaching the utterly arbitrary number of 101, chosen to make a resounding title for the series that will forever be known as 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die. Along the way I have been plundering the enthusiastic suggestions of bucket-listers upon which to pour some well-honed expressions of disdain; today, however, I shall feature a topic straight from the heart.

    Wherever possible, I resolve not to

    Buy anything promoted by a celebrity.


    A series of advertisements has run recently on television for a business that offers to buy cars from the public, guaranteeing a purchase every time (with the obvious downside that the prices will be pretty low). They choose to explain this not by examples of car prices, not by showing how easy it is to ask for an offer, but by focussing entirely on a TV presenter and showing him posing with his cat or pretending, with the aid of obvious computer imagery, to do fancy football skills in the street. I am not going to name the business or the presenter, but I am aware of the campaign and the consequence is simple. I will not under any circumstances sell my car to these people.

    Of course this is an easy one. I only replace my car every six years or so and am quite happy to either sell it privately or as part-exchange. I am using this as an example of the pervasive power of celebrity culture in our consumer society. Whatever reason one may have to buy from a business, the stupidest has to be because they have paid someone well-known in some other capacity to front an advert. Bearing in mind the celeb may know nothing whatsoever about the products, the people who make and sell them, the technology, the ethos, the business practices and the history of the company they are being paid to represent, it seems incredible that anyone can take such things seriously. But clearly many do or such adverts would never be made.

    To give some further examples of inanity - there is a high street bank that has nothing to say about its customer service or range of facilities but shows a couple of people well known as TV presenters apparently inspiring the bank's own staff with a series of business initiatives. Yes, how amazingly convincing and believable. The funniest, presumably unintended, aspect of the ad is that the bank staff (I assume they are real bank staff but of course they may all be actors) are all shown being utterly amazed at the trite ideas and stupid puns. My reaction would be to shift all my cash from that bank at once; as in fact I have done this some years ago it is no further consequence.

    There is a well known cruise operator who feature a well known comedian and TV quiz show host filmed saying how wonderful the cruises are. Well, he would, wouldn't he? Offer me (and Mrs C) an all-in freebie like that and I'd manage one or two kind remarks.

    I'm not going to labour this point as there are plenty of examples. Advertising is so endemic in all our media (and the reason why much of it exists) and if anything is becoming more endemic as the number of TV and radio channels grows, streaming of TV and films becomes increasingly important and newspapers are forced to fill their pages with ads in order to survive. Celebrities are newsworthy and attract viewers and readers. With the current woes caused by the covid-19 outbreak and enormous economic uncertainty across the world, it is easy to predict an increase in the obsession with celebrities as form of escapism, just as the golden age of Hollywood came on the back of the great depression of the 1930s. But that doesn't mean we at Ramblings Towers have to like it.

    Boycotting those most offensive advertisers is a start. But will it be noticed? Will not the marketing people, once they have come back from their four-hour lunch at the wine bar, review the sales figures and conclude that even more celebrity exposure is the answer to plummeting demand? I always bear in mind the reaction of religious fundamentalists to catastrophe. Whatever happens, the reason is always that the people were not religious enough, not sufficiently devoted and penitent. Nobody ever opines that maybe God, or the Virgin Mary, or the Prophet or whoever is just downright sick of being prayed to and endlessly supplicated. Nope, as soon as there is an earthquake or flood1 then the finger points firmly at those who let the side down by angering the deities (as interpreted by their self-appointed representatives on earth). If having a celebrity fronting an ad campaign is a matter of faith then that faith will only be strengthened through adversity.

    "Send us even more glamorous and well-recognised stars" the admen will intone "And we will deliver you to the promised land of a 4% increase in like for like sales come the next Black Friday (terms and conditions applying to all our promises, naturally")2.

    This is not a campaign I expect to win. I shall go down fighting to the end, despising celebrity culture without compromise or pity. Oh, and if you could get that famous actor off the tele with the cheeky grin to say a few words at my memorial service, that would be awesome. Bless. Love your work.


    Footnotes:
    1. The response to the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 is a classic in this field.
    2. The more famous the celebs the higher the fee. The higher the fee the greater the cut going to the ad agency. The higher the ad spend, the higher must be the company marketing budget and the higher the budget the higher must be the salary, expenses and bonus awarded to the marketing director and his team. It's so beautiful I could weep.

    Sunday, April 26, 2020

    101 Things #96 - Cuddles for Nothing

    Telling people to act in ways that they would normally never do is meat and drink to compilers of bucket-lists, these earnest sets of instructions and perhaps inspiration to others seeking goals and directions in their lives. Equally, a resolute will to ignore, spurn and scorn them is at the heart of my anti-bucket-list compilation 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die. Chucked into the mouldering heap of rejects today is the suggestion found on Bucket List.net (albeit in a section entitled crazy bucket list ideas), to

    Give a free hug to a stranger on the street.


    At the time of writing, the world is gripped by the threat of the corona virus known as covid-19. Emanating from China in late 2019, it has become worldwide since early March.  The UK and most countries in the world are on lockdown and avoidance of all social interactions is a top priority.

    Since this virus is spread through close contact, hugging strangers is definitely out. Indeed, even the customary handshakes at the start of football matches between all the players and officials had been banned by the FA before the lockdown began - though at the end of Wealdstone's match against Dulwich in March, the Stones players were happy to hug each other as they celebrated a win.

    Let us assume we are in happier times and that no medical considerations impede our relations with others. Can the free-hug-stranger concept be endorsed? Of course not! Here is why.

    Humans have a well-founded reason to be wary of strangers. Only young children, whose knowledge of the world is that everything is fun, are happy to be picked up by those they don't know and they soon lose this delightful naivety. Throughout our history (and long pre-history, no doubt), the stranger was a possible threat. Was he intruding on your territory? Did he conceal a weapon? We can see in the behaviour of primates the concept of our group and the rest, and the rest are always treated with suspicion. Of course some human cultures stress good manners to guests but these are overlays on top of our more basic instincts.

    If a stranger was to hug me without warning I should be alarmed and angered. I have been the victim of pickpocketing and it was worked through a sudden contact. I positively do not want strangers to get closer to me than is normal. Nor do I wish to be the hugger; there is enough anxiety in city life without me groping others out of the blue.

    The concept of a "free" hug, which appears to be central to the Bucket List.net people, is one that needs a little consideration. If "free" is to have any meaning, then we must posit that a business based on charging for hugs might be workable. Otherwise all hugs would be free and there would no point in making this part of a bucket-list objective.

    Perhaps paid-for hugs, maybe offered by a company called HugsPeople™ (see below for more about this exciting concept that I've just invented) could become a thing if sufficiently funded by some viral YouTube videos and a decent Kickstealer1 campaign. Customers could purchase book of stickers, which, when worn prominently, would attract a HugsPeople™ Associate who would give the required close and crushing grip before deftly peeling off and pocketing the sticker and wishing the huggee [I don't like it, it's not a word but what can I do? Ed] a nice day. Therefore, once this practice was widespread and accepted as normal, it would become terribly meaningful and altruistic to give free hugs - the huggee thereby either saving one of their precious stickers or not needing to buy one.

    "Thank you, thank you stranger" they might say as you released them and the two of you stood there smiling at each other, while passers-by wiped away tears and focussed their phone cameras "I used up my last hug sticker a week ago and I just didn't know where the next one was to come from, what with my husband doing six months in Pentonville and my sister's bad knee and the bailiffs trying to collect £98,000 in gas bills that the company says must be accurate even though they haven't checked the meter for five years and, oh, it was all getting on top of me, but your hug has put everything right again. Bless you, stranger".

    That all seems perfectly right and plausible, does it not? But until the paid-for hug is normal, it is terribly hard to understand what a free hug might be. I wonder if they meant spontaneous? This would suppose there are would-be huggees wandering around with open arms waiting for a hugger to pounce, but the free hugger deliberately picks someone who is not showing these signs. However that might simply mean that they don't wish to be hugged. And there are few things more embarrassing than a huggee turning their back on you just as you pounce, leaving you clasping yourself and probably staggering out of balance.

    Another meaning might be taken from the climbing world, where free climbing means no ropes or pitons, no use of nuts or chocks or bolts and all the clever technical stuff that stops one from encountering the ground somewhat sooner than intended. Free hugging must therefore surely lead on to extreme hugging and hug marathons. Huggers would seek to complete ridiculous numbers of hugs in a set time, or to hug specific types of person - say two nuns, a clown, a hot-dog vendor, three chartered accountants and at least one illegal immigrant within twenty four hours. Huggers with GoPro cameras would stalk minor celebrities with thousands following a live stream. The world of strictly amateur but highly competitive hugging would expand one way whilst the pros, sponsored by companies such as HugsPeople™, would enter the Olympics and have a World Pro hugging cup on alternate years.

    This is clearly a descent into madness. I beg you not to go there. We can stop this insanity right now and right here, by refusing to hug and by disdaining all who do. Fellow citizens, your choice is clear and I commend it to you. And no slapping me on the back as I leave the stage, we all know what that might lead to.

    -&-&-&-&-&-&-

        Readers!     

    Announcing the launch of HugsPeople™
    New from Ramblings of Ruislip. 
    If you have been inspired by the idea of the paid-for hug, this is your chance to subscribe now and be in at the start of a social interaction revolution. Send all you have to the usual address and you will be inscribed in the HugsPeople™ Register of Founders.

    HugsPeople™ is (or will be, if we can get enough backers) registered in Panama or Liberia or wherever is cheapest.There may or may not be Terms and Conditions depending on whether we can be bothered to knock a few out.

    [There isn't actually a trade mark registered yet for HugsPeople but it's the first thing we'll be doing once we get a bit of cash in, alright? Ed]

    -&-&-&-&-&-&-  

    Footnote:
    1. I would not dream of impugning the well known financial launch site Kickstarter. I am sure that in no way would they take a totally relaxed attitude to people taking money from supporters then failing to deliver. My light-hearted japery in invoking the mythical Kickstealer is not intended to suggest that Kickstarter effectively supports criminals, even though this is, sadly, the case, and I can prove it.

    Saturday, April 25, 2020

    That Missing "Ten Years Ago" panel

    Regular readers will note that the popular "Ten Years Ago" panel, normally displayed in the column to the right of the blog, is missing. This is because I am no longer able to update it. The Save button on the form used to identify which posting is to go in the panel does not work.

    I have sought for help online without success, since Google's standard method of dealing with questions that they cannot answer is to mark them as closed and locked.

    I thought "Ah-ha - I shall delete the gadget and recreate it." Well, the deleting part worked just fine. But the recreation failed with the same problem - it refused to allow anything to happen when I tried to save it to the design and therefore it no longer displays at all.

    If it proves possible to restore this feature I shall do so. Meanwhile, feel free to exercise your own skill and judgement by using the Blog Archive panel to browse the rich history of this site.

    Update 26 April.
    I learn that I am not alone with this problem and others are equally frustrated at being unable to maintain their blogs. Perhaps there will be a solution.

    Update to the update 28 April
    It's been fixed. Ten Years Ago is back in its rightful slot. Thank you, Google.

    Friday, April 24, 2020

    101 Things #95 - Flowers for the One You Love

    A rich source of inspiration for some of these little pieces of invective, in which I submit the bucket-list ideas of others to a little light degradation, has been the website Bucket List Journey, so it will come as no surprise that once again I putting one of their recommendations under the spotlight. The latest candidate for enrolment in the Academy of Awfulness, a.k.a. 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die is to

    Send flowers to yourself.


    I suppose the strap-line should be something like "Because you're worth it" but I think another business has registered that one.

    Why should you do this? Buying flowers to adorn one's home, or maybe to display on a desk in the office, sure. Mrs C. is certainly partial to the odd bunch. But why would you want to send them to yourself and why should this be something so notable that it is worth inscribing on a bucket-list to be done at all costs before the men in white coats take away your money and hide the keys to the front door? Could it be that this is how it is supposed to work out?

    Scene: You and a couple of BL high achievers are comparing notes. Naturally the conversation is in American English.
    BL1: "I ran a marathon on all seven continents within one month"
    BL2: "Gee, that's great but hear this - I went to the best restaurant in Bologna and ordered one of everything on the menu, and ate the lot"
    BL1: "Really neat. What did you do, RR?"
    RRC:  "Me. Oh nothing special. Just sent myself a bouquet of daffodils, that's all. They only cost £8 plus £15 delivery from Ruislip Florists."
    BL2: "Wow."
    BL1: "Neato deluxe."
    BL2: "Sensational, RR, you scooped us real good."
    RRC: "Ah shucks, it was nothing, hey you guys will get round to it one day, I'm sure of it."
    BL1: "I don't know about that. You're in a league of your own, dude, you really are. I'm so proud just to be in the same room as you."

    Well, as Harry Hill used to say, you get the idea with that.

    I also like to imagine what happens when there is that ring on the doorbell.

    Scene: Your house. The doorbell rings. You answer it. The delivery man thrusts a bouquet into your arms.
     "Mr Commuter? Flowers for you, guv."
    "Flowers? I ...someone sent me flowers?"
    "Yes, guv. Here's your name on the label"
    "It must be a mistake"
    There's no mistake. I was in the shop when you ordered them."
    "Flowers? For me? Oh, how wonderful. I'm so excited. Who on earth could have sent them?"
    "You did, mate. It was you. I saw you."
    "I'm so happy. I can't believe that I remembered. I thought I didn't care, maybe it was all over between us. But now this. In my wildest dreams I could never have imagined I liked myself so much"
    "Bleedin' hell, mate, give it a rest"
    And he goes back to his van and you whirl about your living room.

    Fade to black. Roll end credits. House lights up.


    I think I have made my case. We'll leave it here, I think. No flowers, by request.

    Wednesday, April 22, 2020

    101 Things #94 - Into the Woods

    I present to you two scenarios. The context is the age-old romantic idea of escaping from the world to find oneself.
    1.   The sun shines through the glades and casts warm shadows over the lush grass. You lie on your back listening to your tent flapping in the gentle breeze, smell the fresh coffee brewing over your little fire and close your eyes to enjoy the birdsong. Maybe this afternoon you will stroll to the lake and catch supper from the abundant fish. Or tuck into the pie your partner so thoughtfully presented to you as you began your trek into this ancient and beautiful wilderness. Either way there's beer cooling nicely in the little stream a few yards away.

    2.    There is no sense of direction here, just innumerable twisted trunks and roots making any progress almost impossible. You cannot remember how you got here. The ground is boggy and insects bite you continuously. You can hear a rustling nearby but the trees block all vision. A twig snaps abruptly. You stumble over another rut and your shins are bleeding. It's going to be pitch dark soon and still there is nowhere to pitch a tent, no source of water, nothing but the oppressive trees crowding you and that sense of something - something big - lurking just outside your eyeline. 
    The problem is to decide which of these two best fits a bucket-list recommendation found on Geeks Mate, a recommendation that I have no hesitation in adding to my vast collection of rejects, going under the name of 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die.

    I am not going to take my leave of this earthly life regretting that I did not

    Give yourself some quality time staying in a forest alone for a week.


    It should be clear from my two contrasting scenarios that a week alone in a forest might be an uplifting and relaxing experience; equally it could be a descent into a hell of fear, pain and medical complications. Therefore, in order for this to qualify as genuine quality time, a careful selection of forest must be made before donning the backpack, consulting the map and setting out.

     Inevitably we must now ask, how much of a selection are we allowed? A forest that happens to be conveniently close to a major beach resort, with ample inns and nightclubs just a few minutes walk away? Perhaps not. But why not? Because the word forest, in this bucket-list context, is really shorthand for wilderness, remoteness, a landscape devoid of other humans. Surely that is what gives it meaning. But that must push us toward the sort of forest depicted in scenario 2, one akin to the legendary 'suicide forest' in Japan. Surviving a week here, where sadly many go to die, is definitely an accomplishment and can be boasted about later (if you are that sort of person). Quality time though? Hmm, probably not.

    Aokigahara Forest, Japan. Pic: The Independent


    We have a conundrum. A nice domesticated forest, such as we have in the UK? Too easy. The huge forests and mountains of, say, the Appalachian Trail (as so delightfully described by Bill Bryson in A Walk In The Woods)? You are certainly out in the open but there are still always other people on the trail, unless you do it in winter in which case prepare for severe frostbite and hypothermia. Or the eerie silences and oppressive atmosphere of the Aokigahara, the haunted forest near Mount Fuji?

    It seems to me that there is a scale between 'quality time' and 'fight to retain health and sanity' and that it is inversely correlated with the amount of 'forestness' that we wish to experience. If I plump for genuine quality time it is not going to be in a trackless wilderness. Pubs, pleasant little shops,  and a comfortable bed enter the equation. Not much of a bucket-list achievement to be sure, but what the hell, as I have made clear, this one is not going to be done by me.

    Monday, April 20, 2020

    101 Things #93 - Speed Limits Revisited

    In a recent piece reflecting on bucket-list objectives of others that I disdain to contemplate even attempting, part of my ongoing series proudly entitled 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die, I refuted the idea that something called 'Pegging the speedometer' was worthwhile.

    Very soon after that was written I stumbled across this even sillier, somewhat related idea from Airows.com and, quite naturally, I shall refuse the invitation to

    Talk your way out of a speeding ticket.


    There are a few other ideas out there that somehow glorify petty criminal offences. I've covered pickpocketing and Getting arrested for a minor offence (not to mention feeding the meter) but actually trying to get caught for speeding so you can blag your way out of it is a new level of depravity.

    Doing criminal stuff just because it bigs up your bucket list is moronic. What are you going to try as the cops begin photographing your car and you, and their hands are moving close to their truncheons?1  Which time-honoured excuse do you think is going to cut it with guys who have probably heard it all before many times?
    • "Sorry officer, I didn't see the giant speed limit signs because the sun was in my eyes."
    • "My foot slipped onto the accelerator." 
    • "Me no spikka da English." 
    • "Diplomatic immunity old boy, talk to the ambassador."
    • "I say officer, would you by any chance be collecting for the police benevolent fund because I'd like to make a jolly fat contribution?"
    • "I've been working overtime doing vital brain surgery on a much-loved celebrity and now I'm trying to get home for my little girl's birthday party."

     In the UK it's rather hard to be in the position of talking your way out of it because so many speeding offences are caught on camera and rather than have a policeman leaning into your face there is only a letter with the ominous words "Pay up or prison" in large red letters at the top. I don't know how on earth you can talk your way out of that, unless in court, and then all you can really do is plead for leniency. That is not talking your way out of it, merely ducking the nastier consequences.

    There are websites to advise those in receipt of speeding tickets whether to try to get off on a technicality, and, of course, one can always hire a lawyer to do the fancy stuff for you. This, I suspect, is not what those reckless speedsters at Airows meant. I am pretty sure they wanted you to roar down a back road in some remote state in the US, get pulled over by the County Sheriff and then pour out a touching and emotional spiel that would lead to the cops shaking their heads sympathetically before telling you to get the hell out of there before they changed their minds.

    I have no intention of flying the Atlantic to try it on. I can't see it working in the UK.

    Footnote:
    1. Readers in other countries may mentally substitute the appropriate accessory (Guns, tasers, tear gas, pepper spray etc.)

    Saturday, April 18, 2020

    101 Things #92 - Going Nowhere

    In this series, dedicated to the opposite of aspirations (aimlessness, indifference, rejection are some of the antonyms), I have found it easy to turn my back on various recommendations concerning travel. One or two have been so stupidly vague that they were enrolled into my compendium of the pointless, 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die, almost before I gave them a moment's thought. You may not be surprised to learn that here is yet another of the no-brainer, why even waste time thinking about it, suggestions, that, inexplicably, captivate and enchant others.

    I have no intention of following the proposal of Icebreaker Ideas  to

    Go on a trip to nowhere.


    To their credit, the guys at Icebreaker did try to explain why this is such a stonkingly good idea.

    When was the last time you tried to be spontaneous? It’s our primary instinct to plan every step, every activity, and every minute of our day. Even on vacations, we feel like we can’t operate without a pre-determined itinerary! Being spontaneous about plans can help bring you to places you’ve never seen to meet new people and experience new things. So, make time for a day trip. Hop on the first bus to anywhere and see where your feet take you when you travel without a plan. 

    These comments are helpful. Without them I would surely have become enmeshed, maybe bogged down, in a philosophical discussion about the meaning of "nowhere" and whether this meant in a geographical, social or metaphysical sense. Enjoyable though such ruminations might have been, perhaps some of my loyal readers would have, as it were, changed channels long before the end [and who could blame them? Ed].

    We shall take another course now that some of the rules of this game have been clarified. We are going by foot and by bus. We are going on a day trip. There is no plan. How delightful this appears at first. How utterly banal it will work out in practice, especially if we begin our journey from beautiful Ruislip.

    The first bus to anywhere, you say? That will probably be the 114 which, if we cross the road first, will take us just half a mile to Ruislip station where that route terminates. Not really a day trip of much interest. If we stay on this side of the road we will be carried through the depths of neighbouring Harrow and on to the distant heights of far-flung and mysterious Mill Hill1. A lovely spot and just right to catch the first 114 back to Ruislip.

    Mill Hill, famous for being convenient to the A1 out of London
    Pic: courtesy of Google Maps

    I rather doubt if my subsequent Journal Of Discovery - Forty Minutes In Mill Hill And How I Returned will earn me Travel Writer of the Year, though.

    We do not just have the one bus within an easy hop. It is also possible to take the H13 either to the Lido or to St Vincent's Hospital but as both destinations are within a couple of miles of home (and very close to each other, separated only by half a mile of woodland) this is not exactly a Magical Mystery Tour to Nowhere, just a short trip round the block. As to the mysterious 398, it wanders through the back streets in a vague south-easterly direction and then gives up in a place I have never visited (and have no desire to). 

    Is that it, you may be spluttering? Just get on - no sorry, hop on a bus (no doubt "grabbing" a coffee on the way) and go to a nondescript London suburb and then come home? Surely there must be more to it? There should be discovery, marvellous experiences, a realisation that other cultures have so much to offer, a meeting of minds and a sharing of hopes for a better world? Mustn't there? Or do we just pop into the Red Rooster takeaway for a bag of chips?

    That's the trouble with these no-plan, take the first means of transport, concepts. Utterly and stupidly impractical. There are no buses to nowhere (although some might finger the night bus to Hayes as coming pretty damn close). Everything goes somewhere and what's more it gets there from wherever you happen to be starting from. That is the crucial flaw in the plan.

    You have to be somewhere at the start and that automatically fixes where you are going to end up. Buses run where people live and work, attend schools or hospitals, or connect to train stations and airports. By selecting one, however randomly, you are always going to end up somewhere and somewhere you know, to boot.

    The only way to put some mystery back into this process is to go to a long distance transport hub. But now we have kicked out the random element and replaced it with a different subset of likely destinations. It is still not going to be nowhere, just somewhere a bit further away than the place you would have got to by walking down to the nearest bus-stop. Also bear in mind this is supposed to be a day trip. No point in settling down on the Inverness Express only to realise, with growing dread, that it takes fourteen hours to get there and the first bus back is not for another seven hours after that.

    Finally imagine how you relay the story of your trip upon your triumphant return:-

    "Darling, I'm home, I went to nowhere for the day. Absolutely nothing happened, obviously, as there is nothing whatsoever to do in nowhere but I can finally tick this one off my bucket list."

    Don't worry about it. Mill Hill (or the equivalent wherever you live) can do perfectly well without your surprise visit. Why not go on a planned trip to somewhere instead? That way maybe you can do something enjoyable and worthwhile with your time.

    Footnote:
    1. That's just where the 114 happens to terminate. There is no particular reason why Ruislip and Mill Hill should be linked in this way. I doubt if anyone ever makes the whole journey. You may, however, have done so or know somebody who has. If so, keep it to yourself, alright?


    Thursday, April 16, 2020

    101 Things #91 - Coffee Altruism

    So many of the bucket-list ideas I have been reviewing, recoiling from and ripping apart [Still doing the fancy alliteration, then. Good: Ed] prior to adding them to my internationally-renowned dunghill of despair entitled 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die are all about personal gratification. Marvel at this sight here. Experience the thrill of something else there. How refreshing to come across a suggestion based on altruism. Nonetheless, as will become clear, I do not intend to be swayed by the idea found on the website Elite Daily.com to

    Buy coffee for a stranger.


    At first glance this seems inspired. Turn to the person in the queue behind you and establish what they want, order it for them, pay for it and sit down with a smug air of satisfaction. What should then happen is that the fortunate recipient of your largesse turns to the person behind them and continues the good deed, and it ripples on through the day as each new customer is delighted by the gift of a free drink and then adopts the role of drink-giver. Apparently [Warning: Internet hearsay can seriously damage your mental health: Ed], the coffee chains can go on for hours.

    Let us now think rationally about all this (and I have to admit that rationality and certain bucket-list objectives are very strange bedfellows). Firstly, must it be coffee? Lots of us drink other things from time to time. Few drinks can rival a good cup of tea at certain times of the day. But we can, I think, append the phrase "or similar beverage" without seriously watering down this particular BL item.

    Secondly, what if you are last in the queue? All those ahead of you have now been served with their drinks and are slyly watching you. You received your free drink with a frisson of delighted surprise then turned to do likewise and discovered nothing but empty space between yourself and the door. The barista eyes you coldly, knowing exactly what has been going on. Do you
    • Order for an imaginary friend? 
    • Ask the barista to have one for himself (Does anybody ever do that, I wonder?). 
    • Start whistling and pretending to read through every combination of coffee bean, brewing method and size of cup on the menu in the hope that somebody will come in and spare you the humiliation of being the only cheapskate freeloader in the shop?
    Thirdly, if the person behind you is not a stranger but a casual acquaintance, what then? Maybe it is your ex-wife's divorce lawyer with a couple of colleagues. Do you still have to offer him a coffee? Or do you ignore him and select one of the other lawyers who is not known to you instead? Tricky decision, seeing as it may jeopardise the still to be resolved question of who gets to to keep the vase Great-Aunt Catherine (It just would be her, wouldn't it?) gave you on your first anniversary.

    Fourthly, how does it work if the family who came in behind you are having coffees, milkshakes, a selection of sandwiches and some of those chocolate things that always look so tempting? You have to interrupt them bickering over who's having the last almond croissant in order to invite one of them to receive your little gift. Oh, she's having the triple mocha with extra shots frappé, it costs four times what your own espresso did and her little sister's face is crumpled with tears as she is left out.

    The coffee chain is one of those ideas that really hasn't been thought through. I cannot imagine it working in the last coffee shop I visited, in a motorway service station shortly before the devastating impact of the covid-19 outbreak closed all the cafes. In these places half the people are hanging around waiting for food to be heated up, nearly all are in groups and I can only imagine the funny looks one might be given when trying to explain that you want to buy someone their drink. " 'ere, Norma, feller here wants to buy me a drink. Think this is okay? I've 'eard about people like him, I have."

    As far as spreading the altruistic effect goes, this idea is a washout. Only the first in the chain gets to do the giving bit. Everyone else simply operates on a sort of deferred payment scheme, apart from the last who may well happily drink up and get out before anyone else enters the shop. I think I can cheerfully go on buying my own coffee (or other beverage of my choice, as we have already established) and if everyone else wants to play silly games, let them.

    Tuesday, April 14, 2020

    101 Things #90 - Speed Limits

    My anti-bucket-list compendium, 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die, is coming along nicely. I must admit that I have already taken pot-shots at most of the easy and obvious targets and increasingly I am drawn to seek out somewhat more obscure aspirations to drown in well-judged vitriol. But it wasn't too hard to admit

    Peg the speedometer


    to the list. It was found on the website of Esquire.com and is a new one to me.

    I presume that by "pegging" the lads (and they are bound to be lads, are they not?) at Esquire mean driving a motor vehicle at maximum speed so as to make the analogue speedometer needle go all the way round and stop because it can move no further. My car has a digital speed reading as well which displays in large characters in the centre of the dashboard so I rarely need to look at the old-fashioned speedo but I take the point. What fun it would certainly be to floor the throttle and watch the rev counter move into the red zone as my car moves to its maximum speed, whatever that may be. Except that this is what would happen next ...

    "Excuse me, sir, I couldn't help noticing that you were driving at close to twice the speed limit for this stretch of motorway. Would your name be Lewis Hamilton by any chance? Was it an emergency? Your cat up a tree or something? Have to rush home for your little girl's birthday party?"
    "Well, officer ..."
     "Just step out the car, sir. I'm afraid you'll be missing that party. You'll be spending tonight in a nice little cell".

     I can just the hear the dripping sarcasm in the traffic cop's voice as his colleague fetches the breathalyser and checks the tyres for illegal treads. No, racing up the M1 is not going to be worth it. Where then to do this pegging business without breaking a number of rather important traffic laws?

    Perhaps one could hire a deserted airstrip and blast up and down the old concrete runways for a while. There will be no other vehicles around (good) but equally bad because without gaping-mouth witnesses - "Blimey, he's in a bit of hurry, didn't know that Skoda could go so fast" - there seems little point in the attainment of some improbable speed. Maybe one could hire a little stand, like they bring in for fetes and horse shows, and one's family and friends could make themselves comfortable watching you. Somehow this seems all wrong. I'm sure that spontaneity is the key here and cold-bloodedly planning this event, together with light refreshments and taking Great-Aunt Catherine, (yes, her again), back to Kensington afterwards, kills that one stone-dead.

    In any case, what would going at top speed do to my precious auto mobile? One is not supposed to drive with the revs into the red. It probably invalidates the warranty, even if the the crankshaft doesn't smash through the tappets, split the upper cylinder grommets and do nasty things to the timing chain in the process.

    Esquire justify this activity thus:
    You only have to do it once to tell people you crave speed. You may only have to do it once to realize that it scares you shitless. Either way, flooring it is one part of learning what a car ought to be. 

     I disagree. What a car ought to be is a safe and convenient means of transport. Racing cars are designed to go very fast, ordinary cars are not. Nor do I feel the slightest need to crave speed or to tell anyone that I do. It would not scare me shitless because in my reckless youth I did once drive a car extremely fast on a motorway1; what subsequently scared me was the realisation that I could easily have lost my licence as a result. The speedometer will remain unpegged on my car and if this bucket-list item appeals to you, please go and do it in Germany where you can race as much as you want and they can't touch you for it.

    Footnote:
    1. Corolla 1.6 Gti, if you must know, the fastest hot hatch of its time (mid 1980s). On the M25 in North London.