Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Eighty Years On

80 years ago fighter aircraft clashed over the skies of south-east England. The nation was gripped by the spectacle and the fears that accompanied each news broadcast with the sombre recitations of missing aircraft and bomb damage. Across the country huge numbers now lived lives very different to those of a year before - children evacuated, blackouts, many non-essential activities cancelled 'for the duration'.

Now, for the first time in my life, I can dimly grasp how it must have been for my parents (my mother a teenager at the time). We too face a deadly foe, the covid-19 infection, and we too listen to news broadcasts dominated by the fight against it. The daily figures of infections, deaths and lockdowns mimic the restrained (and censored) bulletins of the BBC back then. We may not be in a pub after 10pm; we are restricted in visiting family and friends and, until quite recently, the old slogan "Is your journey really necessary?" applied in full force on public transport.

In 1940 sport came to an end. Today it survives in fits and starts but my local football club is unable to admit any fans and without fans has no income. It may not survive 'the duration'.

The second world war dragged on for years, probably far longer than anyone ever imagined that it could but at least my parents could see a way forward, through the application of sufficient military force. With an infectious virus that shows no signs of diminishing naturally, uncertain prospects for a vaccine and an increasingly restive population, we really do seem to be where they must have been during the worst days of the blitz, angry but helpless, waiting and waiting for things to turn round.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Even now you ask questions

 About a year ago I compiled a list of silly names bestowed on cars by their manufacturers for my frankly, rather brilliant, series,  101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die . These monickers were sufficiently off-putting and ludicrous for me to safely avouch that I would never buy the wretched vehicles. That should have been the end of the matter. 

I am at the moment a satisfied driver of the Skoda Octavia. (Now there's a nice, sensible name. Easy to pronounce and no head-scratching about what it means). Sadly the worthy folk at Skoda did not see fit to follow their own, fine, example. Today they emailed me to suggest I take an interest in their latest electric SUV (yes, it had to be an SUV like most of the cars with stupid names that I excoriated back in October 2019). This one is called the ENYAQ IV and it looks like this:

I'm glad they are excited. I'd love to be able to proceed to the excited stage. Even a mild frisson of interest would be nice in these difficult times. But I am, naturally, held frozen by contemplation of the name chosen for this little, boxy thing.

First, what is this mysterious word? I have something of a background in IT and am aware that the first commercial computer, built soon after WWII ended, was called ENIAC (the Electronic Numeral and Integrated Computer). It does seem that Skoda have chosen a name remarkably similar, albeit they have shoe-horned a Y and a Q into places that they really do not belong. The use of the Q, in particular, is of course terribly fashionable amongst designers, especially when they drop the normally-accompanying U (Yes, Nissan Qashqai, hang your head in shame).

But what on earth does ENYAQ stand for? It must be an acronym for it is presented in block capitals. (We shall have to pass over consideration of how on earth I missed the preceding three versions). Here are some suggestions, proposed by the top-level emergency quick-think-of-something team here at Ramblings Central.

  • Effervescent Natural Youth Alliance of Quebec
  • Enthusiastically Neurotic Yet Audaciously Quixotic
  • Extremely Nice Yet Awfully Quick
  • Every Night You Are Quaint

And if you have any suggestions do please send them in to the usual address, where we shall glance cursorily over them and promptly send them back. Meanwhile, shall I take up the offer to keep up-to-date with the latest "straight to my inbox"? Gosh, I don't know, I like it when emails meander around a bit, get classified as spam and are rejected, have all their special characters stripped out, get reformatted, translated into classical Urdu, spend some time in someone else's inbox, return for a rest to the transmitting server and then finally drift in, yawning a bit and ready to settle down. Gives them a bit of style, teaches them the ways of the world and how to smile through every misadventure. But I wager that, even after all those capers in cyberspace, we will still be no wiser as to what the hell ENYAQ means.



Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Obscuring the Message

This ad pops up regularly when I browse through a certain well-known media website. It is oddly fascinating but, as you will have to come to expect, for the wrong reasons.

F-Secure is one of many tech firms supplying security related software. I have never used them but have no reason to doubt the usefulness of their products. This is, of course, irrelevant to my interest. For, as is sadly common with this sort of ad, nearly the entire content is taken up with a picture. They could have used this space to explain more about what they did, why their stuff works and perhaps how much it costs. Nope. A full two-thirds of the space (and they are paying the said media website for the privilege of clogging up my timeline, remember) is the image of an attractive young lady smiling warmly at the camera whilst perched, a little coyly, on a flight of steps in some office or maybe a flat.

 The young lady is not named or identified. She is dangling a smartphone but seems much more interested in whatever the cameraman might be saying. "Come on darling, undo a couple of buttons", perhaps. And hence, rather than click on the ad to find out more about the benefits to my online security from investing in F-Secure, I naturally ponder about this female (remember, she is worth twice as much as the contents of the ad). A number of possibilities suggest themselves, viz: 

  • She works for F-Secure and her happy whistling as she brings round the afternoon tea-trolley lightens everyone's day.
  • She is the girl-friend of their marketing director.
  • She would like to be the girl-friend of their marketing director.
  • She has recently found her phone that she thought lost forever and has invited a photographer chum in to record her relief for posterity.
  • She is an experienced hacker and denizen of the "dark web" and is precisely the sort of person who must be warded off by the appropriate security software.
  • She has installed  F-Secure on her phone and is jolly pleased with herself, despite her IT knowledge being not much than knowing how to press the power button to turn it off.
  • She is the copywriter at the ad agency and author of "Stolen data can lead to financial losses", shortly to be published as part of a series. Other titles include "A nicked car might put up your insurance premium", "Don't fall of ladders if you can help it" and "You better have a napkin with that sticky bun or you'll get marks all over your screen".
  • She is actually modelling the beige cardigan in another photo-shoot and has nothing whatsoever to do with any software vendor.  
And now see why I love this ad. Every time I see it, I add another line to this list. In the long winter evenings I intend to take it out whilst I sit beside the fire and look it over approvingly, making the odd emendation here and pencilled note in the margin there. With such a feast of entertainment, my time for exploring the more risky corners of the Internet will be greatly reduced and hence my risk of stolen data will be minimised. Job done! and I didn't even have to buy the software.

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Disrupt Media Giants the Bognor Way

I don't know why, but I found something endearing about this story on the BBC website yesterday.

Pic: BBC
The hacking event was serious, involving misuse of the credentials of a number of very well-known people. Somehow, one expects the perpetrators to be a sinister gang of Russian or Ukrainian hackers, perhaps led by a bald gentleman who strokes white cats whilst issuing his softly spoken orders to inflict mayhem on the world in order to bring about the end of civilisation, or something. One does not really expect the trail to lead to a small bungalow with sea-shells embedded into the walls and a plastic model windmill on the front lawn, in a quiet street with a friendly corner newsagent who sells beach umbrellas and flip-flops and where the distant smell of seaweed wafts invitingly up from the beach.

I wonder how the local newspaper will play this one -
"Local man displays world-beating tech skills" perhaps or "Hacking: Littlehampton trounced again".

 "He was a quiet lad and we thought some clerical job might have suited him best" his old form master will say "He clearly had hidden depths and I'm pleased that he might have got his start from St Merridew's."

The neighbours will, of course be quoted as saying "We never would have expected it. He was such a quiet man, always kept himself to himself. We always thought he would turn out to be a serial murderer. Who ever would have believed he was up all night on his computer, I mean what kind of normal person does that?"

And when that case gets to the local magistrates court, how many times will the beak peer over her horn-rimmed glasses and murmur to the prosecuting counsel "Remind me again, Mr Jefferies, what is Twitter?"

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Those Awful Advertising Slogans - No. 16 - Money Supermarket (again)

It's a quite a while since the last one in this series. I had begun to hope that better times were upon us. But no, once again we are confronted by a slogan that is simultaneously baffling, irritating and frankly rather nauseous. Not only that, but we have a repeat offender. They just didn't learn after my piece of some four years ago, although I note that they have parted company with their ad agency on that occasion, the pretentiously named "Mother" and gone for the slightly less pretentious but no less skin-crawling "Engine".

Yes, it is our old sparring partner Money Supermarket and this time they have clearly gone for the random name generator approach. You have three columns of words, words about finance and business in column 1, words denoting emotions in column 2 and various nouns of well-known things in column 3. Thus a spin of the dice might give us "Business Happy Clowns" or "Technology Wistful Petunias". What we got this time was "Money Calm Bull" and here is the cash-loving animal doing what all bulls love to do:

pic: Money Supermarket page on Facebook
A confession. Though the current campaign launched a few weeks back and there are ads on TV, some, no doubt, featuring our bovine friend and his trusty inflatable life-raft, I have failed to see any of them. I first became aware of the hitherto unknown link between cattle and valuable pieces of paper from posters recently put up around beautiful Ruislip (which thereby rendered it marginally less beautiful). I have no idea how the animal remains serene whilst maintaining a precarious balance amidst the shark-infested waters into which it seems to have drifted. Regular readers will not need me to add the inevitable "and I couldn't care less".

Fascinatingly, a browse for synonyms for the word "bull" produced many pages of fine examples but all on the lines of "hogwash", "twaddle", "double-talk" or "balderdash". How very satisfying. Money Calm Hogwash is an excellent slogan and I commend it to you whenever anything promoting Money Supermarket (and perhaps anything created by Engine) should cross your path.

As if the random name generator was not enough, those clever chaps at Engine added a cunning "Be like" to the slogan. Be like a bull. Enjoy a short life rampaging around meadows, servicing cows and scaring the life out of ramblers wearing red jumpers, then all the fun of a ride to the abattoir and some sharp knives. But calmly.

I think the sharks are the winners here. Sooner or later that bull is going into the water. There's not going to be a last-minute rescue because even if a ship should pass, our horned ruminant has no way of signalling its distress (anyway it will be too calm to do so). Either a large wave, a gust of wind or the slow leakage of air will do for it, and then it's definitely beef frenzy time with plenty of prime rib, t-bones and sirloin for all. Wealth Expectant Shark - there's a slogan to savour.


Do you work for a ruthless, thrusting, City firm? Does my slogan Wealth Expectant Shark match your business aims and morals? It can be yours for a very reasonable fee. Contact my agents, Crankshaft, for a quote and a sight of the temptingly-priced Terms and Conditions.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

The Knitware of the Baskervilles

Stories about large wild animals roaming around the British countryside crop up regularly. Monsters in lochs. Big cats in Surrey and the "Beast of Bodmin". And, as we move into what they used to call the "silly season" (but is now so stuffed with hard news we need a new name), so we have yet another mysterious and unexplained sighting that has left the boffins baffled. Step forward the elusive and legendary big grey feline of Horsham:-

Pic: Sky News

Only this one did not fool the experts for very long. No sooner were the fine lads of the West Sussex police despatched to investigate than the mere switching on the headlights of their car to the animal in question revealed a large and utterly inert soft toy clinging to the bench for dear life.

End of story? Not in these parts, buster. Just the beginning ....

1. A Visitor from Devon
Mr Sherlock Holmes and I had barely settled down to our landlady's excellent breakfast of scrambled eggs and devilled kidneys before there was a frantic knocking on our door. Before Mrs Hudson could announce him, a young man dressed in country tweeds burst into our room.
"Mr Holmes, you must help me, sir. I have rushed up from Dartmoor by the milk train to seek your advice. My good friend, Sir Charles Baskerville, who has recently inherited the family estates at Baskerville Hall, was seen in the village charity shop - buying a knitted dog""
My friend rose, pale and brows knit in thought.
"Watson, we shall pack at once - to Dartmoor!"

2. A Warning
We arrived in Dartmoor as the sun was sinking below the sinister outline of the granite tors that overlooked Baskerville Hall. Our visitor - who had announced himself as the local GP Dr Mortimer - stared up at the grim rocks.
"All the evil comes from there, Mr Holmes. There is an ancient legend that the fluffy cats and the teddy bears so beloved by our children do come to life at the call of those with the knowledge and carry out their master's fell wishes"
Even as we paled there was heard a shrill cry as of some carrion bird. Holmes blenched.
"Have you your service revolver to hand, Watson? I fear we may need it before this night is out".

3. The Baronet
Sir Charles was waiting for us in the great hall. Even his naturally ruddy complexion was an unnatural white.
"Mr Holmes, thank you for coming. I laughed at Mortimer's fears about the soft toys but now - I fear the diabolical curse that hangs over this house will shortly alight - upon me!"
I paled. "What can it all mean, Holmes?"
"Courage, Watson" said my friend, looking alertly around "We shall seek out the root of this mystery and it shall have no supernatural cause, believe me. Now then, Sir Charles, tell me about the charity shop at which you purchase these totems?"
"What Mr Stapleton's Emporium? It is the most charming of  establishments and I frequent it with much delight"
"It is as I feared" said Holmes "Sir Charles, you must, on no account, venture out to that shop tonight. You are in peril of your life"
"Indeed, I shall do as you say" stammered the baronet "But surely you will permit me one last indulgence, one final teddy bear to complete my set"
"Not one" Holmes affirmed "Watson, remain here whilst I visit our friend Stapleton".

4. The Peril on the Moor
I watched the grey mist curl down from the menacing tors and realised, with a start, that Sir Charles had slipped quietly out into the night whilst I was thus dreaming. I followed at once, with Dr Mortimer close behind and we raced into the darkening gardens. At once a great scream shocked us to our very marrows and we reached the thick hedges at the boundary of the Hall to find a huddled form slumped to the ground with a hideous bright yellow plastic doll over his face.
"Just in time Watson" It was my friend, emerging from the moor, as pale as ever I had seen him "This is that devil Stapleton's doing. He is out there now, thinking himself safe, but we shall have him yet. See to Sir Charles" and he wheeled about and was gone. I found that the baronet was not dead, as I had feared, but merely stunned. Whilst Dr Mortimer and I assisted him back to the Hall we heard one more terrifying scream.
"My God"  I gasped, turning white "Is it Holmes ...has he...?"
"I am safe Watson" and my friend emerged from the gardens to join us, as blenched and white-faced as any man could be "We grappled on the edge of the mire. He ran off, dropping a Sonic the Hedgehog toy and fell into the depths of the swamp. He is gone and with him his villainous scheme to so bemuse our good friend here with bears and cats and dainty mice and the like that surely the baronetcy - for he was a distant relation - must fall into his grasp as Sir Charles went utterly and irretrievably mad. Now all that remains is to seize his stock-in-trade and burn the lot"
"Mr Holmes, thank you" It was Sir Charles, struggling to his feet "I owe you my life."
"Eschew the soft toys from henceforth" admonished my friend, gently wagging his finger
The baronet paled. "I shall, Mr Holmes. I shall"

The End.

Monday, July 13, 2020

The Fake News that Wasn't.

There's nothing quite like being cheered up first thing on a Monday morning by a news story about someone else's terminal stupidity. Today we have the heart-warming account of the Texan who deliberately exposed themselves to covid-19 and died as a result. And why take such a risk?

Source: The Independent
Yes, of course, a disease declared by the World Health Organisation and the governments of every country (even his own) to be a serious threat justifying closure of air traffic, mass quarantining and the stockpiling of drugs and medical equipment, was really a hoax. Oh, those jolly japesters. They certainly didn't fool our gallant hero anyway. He knew better.

So, that's one fewer Trump supporter and maybe the Texas gene pool will improve a tad.

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 all 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.


    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

    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 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.


    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. 

    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.

    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.



    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]


    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.