Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Civil Servants and the Time Warp

 Those of us of a certain age and with particular interests in popular software have been having a quiet chuckle as some of the details buried within the UK-EU Brexit trade deal come to light. It appears that the civil servants who drafted it have been locked in a cupboard for the past twenty years, for the document makes explicit reference to Netscape, Mozilla Mail and Outlook as leading technologies. The kindest commentators have suggested that it was getting very late, there was pressure to complete a section on security in IT and someone did what they always do in such circumstances, dig out the previous file and copy the most likely looking bits.

It's funny because, of course, if they had applied this to other sections of the document, then it would been noticed and edited before being released to an incredulous public. Let me give you some examples of errors that would, one hopes, have never seen the light of day.

Transport: - Heavier than Air Flight
Hot-air Balloon stations shall be maintained at the frontiers of each contracting party with adequate supplies of heated air so as to facilitate the onward journeys of the aeronauts.

Fishing: - Whaling
Supplies of sperm oil, baleen and blubber are to be zero rated for tariffs

Alcoholic Beverages:- Tariffs
A maximum import tariff of 10% of the net landed cost may be applied for Mead, Sack, Finest Rhenish and the true, the blushful Hippocrene. Beakers of the Warm South must not exceed 15ltrs. Libations poured to the gods before commencing a journey are exempt.

Opiates and similar controlled drugs: - Sale conditions
Opium, morphine, laudanum, cocaine and related narcotics may be sold freely provided that
a) They are sold in bottles  with labels showing reassuring, full-bearded, gentlemen drinking them.
b) They are branded as "Dr Fields' Essential Remedy for all Household Ills" or similar.
c) They are labelled as "Absolutely harmless"

Computers and electronic equipment: - Security
Babbage Calculating Engines are of strategic significance to the British Empire UK and to the High Contracting Parties of the Congress of Vienna EU  and the export of same is forbidden.





Thursday, December 24, 2020

Better late ...?

 Within the past hour it has been announced that a trade deal between the UK and the EU has been concluded. I say 'concluded' but of course all we have is agreement at the top level, and ratification by the governments must follow. Nonetheless, it enables all of us who believe in the benefits of trade, co-operation and friendship between nations to breathe a huge sigh of relief. The alternative - trading on WTO rules, tariffs and quotas and endless red tape (though there will be plenty of that anyway) and enormous scope for arguments, bans, blockades etc - was regarded by pretty well everyone as unthinkable. Not that this prevented a hard core of nutters from desiring it and no doubt the conspiracy theorists will be hard at work linking the deal with covid-19 and arguing that any deal at all which entails a British prime minister signing the same document as a foreigner must be a betrayal of our sovereignty.

The Brexit referendum was held in the summer of 2016. Here we are, four and half years later and on the verge of completing the exit procedure and only now do we have a trade deal that establishes how business is to take place from 1st January. It is truly staggering that it has taken so long to bring about something that everyone (bar the nutters) profoundly wished. Imagine if this lackadaisical approach had applied to other great events in history, such as this one ...

Scene: The Forum in Ancient Rome. Around lunchtime. Enter a group of senators gingerly testing the sharpness of their daggers and wincing a bit.

Brutus: We agreed, are we not? Today, the Ides of March, we strike at tyranny and bring down Caesar!
Cassius: All of us have sworn to act without hesitation for the good of Rome! Only death can stop us! It must be now! It shall be now!
Decimus Brutus: Death to Caesar and glory to the Roman republic!
Cinna: Er, hold on a second chaps, we still haven't agreed on what colour our flag should be. I still say it should be green.
Casca: Red. My constituents will accept nothing less.
Trebonius: Only if it has a yellow diagonal.
Cassius: Yellow with grey spots. My final offer.
Casca: Impossible. I've been utterly reasonable so far about the order of stabbing and who gets to stand next to Brutus at the press conference afterwards but yellow is a step too far. I'm sorry, I'm withdrawing back to Pompeii.
Trebonius: Then I too withdraw to my estates in Sicily.
Brutus: Ok, alright, let's calm down. I'll send out for some pizzas and we can have a rethink. Ides of March next year alright for everyone?



Thursday, December 03, 2020

Signs of madness

Rather telling juxtaposition of two entirely different stories on the CNN website this evening. 

Accident? Or was it intended? Maybe we shall never know.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Free once more

 England completes a month of lockdown tonight. All but non-essential shops have been shut and all leisure activities suppressed. Tomorrow London moves into Tier-2 restrictions which in practice mean the opening up of High Streets but little social mixing allowed.

The news about vaccines against Covid-19 continues to be good and it now seems just a matter of time before the mass vaccination programme begins. Of course none of the vaccines is guaranteed 100% proof so we will all need to go on being careful but at least the infection rate should drop sharply and the pressure on the health services begin to lift. This cannot be before well into the New Year and it is going to be a very gloomy Christmas. Our own regular family gathering is cancelled; Zoom get-togethers are not a substitute for real face-to-face contact.

It is hard to convey the dullness of current existence. The risk of catching the virus, for us, is pretty low because we do not expose ourselves to any potential carriers. But the price of this safety is to eschew so much that we used to take for granted - travelling freely on the Tube, popping into shops, queueing for a coffee, pushing through the crowded turnstiles to savour the excitement of a football match, meeting people without that awful feeling of having stay well clear 'just in case'.

We do at least have the benefit of electronic entertainment in the form of internet, TV and radio but it is too easy to immerse oneself before a screen and try to tune the world out. It saps the motivation to do anything active. The irony that I am immersing myself in front of a screen in order to write and publish this column has not been unnoticed.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

The Lies and the Lawyer

 The attempts of ex-President Trump to retain power in the US continue to boggle our minds. He not only lost the election but now appears to be losing his sanity as he pursues the chimera of overturning the vote by making claims of fraud. Not only that, he appears to have retained the services of the world's most ineffective lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, AKA the Melting Man, who has supervised more than 40 separate challenges to the votes in various swing states and lost them all. Even if he had won some, the recounts would do nothing to change the outcome.

The latest setback was in Pennsylvania where the words of the judge (deliciously, a Trump appointee) have been recorded thus:

“Free, fair elections are the lifeblood of our democracy. Charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here,” Judge Stephanos Bibas wrote for the three-judge panel. The Guardian

 But how did the judge and his colleagues reach their verdict and how did it play out in the other states where similar cases have been brought? Let us return to that courtroom that has been the battleground of so many classic legal cases in the past, the Case of the Rude Waiter and the Case of the Assault by Infant being two of my favourites.

Scene: A courtroom somewhere in a swing state. Huge flag in the corner, impassive gum-chewing marshals, excited crowd, you know the drill by now.

Clerk: All rise for his honor Judge D. Crockett. 
Crockett: Alright, be seated. Now then, I believe that, once again, we are to hear a suit brought on behalf of the Republican Party about the recent Presidential election, even though all the others have been thrown for being too silly. Who's leading on this one?
Giuliani: Your honor, I wish...
Crockett: Oh, you again.
Giuliani: Yes
Crockett: Back again. With the same shtick as last time?
Giuliani: Er, may it please the court...
Crockett: At least you cleaned off that hair dye. Don't want that getting on my suit, thank you very much!
Giuliani: If it please the court, I appear for the appellants and my distinguished colleague, Mr Mason, for the defence.
Crockett: State your case, if you must, Mr Giuliani.
Giuliani: We allege massive fraud and conspiracy to subvert the election in favour of Mr Biden. sits down, beams at his assistant, and nods confidently to the reporters.
Crockett: Is that it?
Giuliani: reluctantly rising Er...what do you mean?
Crockett: Are you not going to call witnesses, supply us with affidavits and evidence of this major crime against American democracy?
Giuliani: Oh shit, do I have to?
Mason: rising Your honor, I move that the case be dismissed.
Giuliani: Oh, hell, come on now fellows, hear me out. I mean, there must have been fraud, our boy was a dead cert, he told everyone he was going to win, stands to reason he must have won really. I submit that it was totally unfair, loads more people voted for Biden, how the hell can my man expect to win if more people vote for someone else? And the sun was in our eyes and they were bigger than us and we were all a bit tired and I had lots of evidence, honest, I was up all night forging  compiling it, but the dog ate it and it got wet and the wind blew it away and I lost my satchel on the way here and now I've got a headache and my hair feels all sticky from that awful cheap dye and IT'S NOT FAIR!
Crockett: Mr Mason?
Mason: That sounds utterly convincing to me, your honor. I simply hadn't realised the strength of the arguments for the appellants. I withdraw my defence of this case and suggest that the entire US election be called in favour of Mr Trump forthwith.
Crockett: Well, if you're sure about that Mr Mason...
Mason: Just joshing, kids. April Fool!
Crockett: That's more like it. Case dismissed.

Footnote - Dec 2nd
US attorney-general Barr, hitherto a staunch ally of Trump, announced that the Justice Department had found no evidence of any fraud in the election. Mr Giuliani instantly replied that the A-G did not have the evidence that he (Melting Man) had. Mr G did not say what the evidence actually was, nor did he explain why he had not handed it over to the FBI or indeed to Mr Barr. Or to anyone competent to investigate. Should his "case" ever reach the Supreme Court and be rejected, he will presumably appeal to God and even then it seems pretty damn certain he won't have any actual evidence. But that won't stop him denouncing God as an asshole.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

US Voter Fraud - We Have The Facts!

I was delighted to read that some obscure politician in Texas was offering cash rewards for anyone coming forward with evidence of voter fraud in the recent Presidential election.

 

Source: The Guardian

 Bearing in mind these people believe anything, provided they have read it on Facebook or Twitter, it has incentivised me to direct my staff to make up report anything that they can imagine find out and thus top up the Ramblings Let's-Make-This-The-Best-Christmas-Ever fund.

Unfortunately, due to a mix-up between my own, well-respected, blog and the blog maintained by this unpleasant American, Ravings of a Rabid Republican, some of the "proofs" from his correspondents have mistakenly found their way into my inbox. I shall of course forward them on but here are a few just to give you a flavour of what he can expect.

----------------------------

From: M. Mouse, Wacky, TX

Sir, I saw with my own eyes two black persons of colour posting votes in a real genuine US Postal Service mailbox and I think they might have been voting for the Dems. Please send me as much money as you can spare. God bless you.

-----------------------------

From: The Very Rev Jeb Delirious III, Carbuncle, TX 

Sir, The Good Lord has commanded me in a vision to impart to you his glorious message of hope which is that the immediate transfer of cash to my church will surely save your immortal soul Amen

----------------------------

From: The Even-Realer Donald Trump, Hicksville, TX

Sir, I know the real facts about the fraud and the conspiracy but THEY are watching me the FBI and the Pope are behind it, plus the Jews and the Mexicans and that Canadian with the French name, I never trusted him, also my neighbour is one of THEM he don't wear a cowboy hat indoors and what kind of man does that, I'll tell you, a COMMIE that's who and make sure you burn this email or THEY will get you too, they listen through the telephone wires so rip them out and don't trust NO-ONE (apart from me, obviously, you can trust me sure enough, yes sirree.....

------------------------------

From: deloriscolquitt6864@gmail.com*

Sir, I am head of postal service in [insert name of town here] and on the night of [insert date] I witnessed goings on the like of which I never done seen before. Click link to enter your bank details and other personal information.

------------------------------

From:Washington.86@mediamagician.co.za *

Sir, Send the money in used $10 and forward this email to 10 others and within a year GOOD FORTUNE will be yours, plus special offer: -  two, yes two matching bracelets in real genuine plastic, offer must end Tuesday, hurry now while stocks last.

----------------------------------

From: Agent Kropotkin, Moscow (in Russia, not the little township outside Dallas)

Comrade! Our plan to destabilize the US political system is working well. Meet me behind the dustbins at Joe's Diner on 14th St at midnight for your next set of instructions

 

* - I knew I'd hear from these guys again, one day

 


Saturday, November 07, 2020

Khan: I won, I really did, really and truly

from our correspondent in Karakorum, who has finally summoned up the courage to go back. 

 The gathering of the conclave of tribal leaders for the Mongolian people has produced a surprising rejection of President Genghis Khan by the unprecedented result of 698-0. The conclave, held in secrecy in a remote desert oasis, was expected to have thoroughly endorsed the incumbent on the grounds that failure so to do would render the families, friends and camels of the chiefs extinct. It is thought that the President was distracted by the promises of Chinese Emperor Bing to "look after him", was spending a little too much time in his various stately pleasure domes and had assumed that Vice-President Groat was keeping an eye on the chiefs.

The president has carefully considered the voting pattern revealed by the conclave and made the following remarks in the market place:

"I am delighted that the glorious Mongolian people have once more put their trust in me and I resolve to continue my brilliant and totally successful policies of slaughtering everyone, building a wall to keep out the Chinese, knocking down the wall so we can invade China, rebuilding it to ensure a fat contract to my son-in-law and declaring war on the Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Animists and followers of Great Cthulhu plus the Christians if my Horde manages to get further west on the next expedition than the last one, which was a glorious success by the way and anyone who says they got wiped out by the Mamelukes will be strung up by the mamelukes, if you take my drift.

"I won this conclave fair and square, once you count the legal votes. Any vote against me is illegal and part of a conspiracy. The soothsayers told me I would win so how the hell could I be losing? Which I am not, I'm winning everything 110% because I'm so popular and those votes must be completely rigged and fake but anyway once we have a recount I know I'm gonna win big time, not that I didn't win big time the first time, I did, but next time I'm gonna win even bigger time.

"I've left a fantastic legacy, not that I'm about to leave office, but let me make it clear for the record books that we've razed cities and wiped out villages from here to Kiev, wherever in hell that is, and I've built more stately pleasure domes than anyone else in history, whatever that is.

"I wanna thank all those enlightened and progressive world leaders who have been my close friends during my presidency - Voivoide Vlad Dracula of Transylvania, King John of England, Ivan the Terrible of Muscovy and those fun-loving heart-rippers from the Aztec Empire. I think we can all learn a lot from them - I sure have.

"Now I want to outline some more of my plans for the next thirty years of my reign ...."

At this point, the audience, two goat-herders and a beggar, were seen to drift away toward the Water Gate and the president found himself addressing a camel, the contents of a dung-barrow and myself. As he still retained his razor-sharp scimitar and seemed to be fondling it lovingly, I recalled an urgent appointment with a seller of fermented yak butter and was forced to leave.

The Chinese ambassador was believed to have smiled inscrutably when informed of these events.

The Editor writes: This really should be the end of our long running series about the Scourge of the West. It all began four years ago with this piece and you can follow the series by selecting posts with the tag 'USA'

Monday, November 02, 2020

Hello Lockdown, My Old Friend

 It's not exactly Sounds of Silence round here, what with yet another burst of HS2 road-building nearby during the day and fireworks heralding the start of the Bonfire Night/Diwali/It's nearly Christmas so why not/ seasons at night but things are getting pretty gloomy. We either see our economy nose-dive again and relieve the pressure on the health services or we face an inevitable surge in covid-19 cases due, in part, to the inability of many people to understand that a respiratory disease spreads if you get too close to others. 

In such moments, let us turn to the wise words of Woody Allen, in his piece "My Speech to the Graduates"

More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly..."

The English government (and it is really odd to be using this phrase, but as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are each governing themselves in this matter, it is appropriate) has opted for another four weeks of lockdown on a similar basis to that brought in at the end of March. It begins on Thursday. 

I have no idea if we are on the right course or not. Our experience with the virus seems to mirror other European countries, most of whom are employing similar measures. What it means for the Ramblings household is pretty well a continuation of what we've been doing anyway since March - avoiding all unnecessary contacts, remaining at home and dreaming about better times.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Batten down the Hatches, Cap'n

 I am rather nervous at the moment. At any moment my entire world may be disrupted. Precautions must be taken.

The source of my discomfort is an email from my internet service provider, who I shall not name (unless offered suitable financial inducement). This was the heading that literally froze every nerve in my body the instant that I read it. 1

Prepare to be blown away, Anthony

And there I was about to set out for beautiful Ruislip on an errand. Prepare to be blown away! Pretty strong stuff. Would I find myself whirled along the pavement to end up gasping and dishevelled outside the newsagent? Or might the winds snatch me into the skies, Dorothy-style, to leave me abandoned in a strange new world confronted by mysterious creatures and threatened by monsters almost beyond imagination?2

How should I prepare, exactly? The email does not say. Instead it blathers on about some pointless awards. Since Ramblings is not on the short list my interest in this part waned rapidly. I turned my thoughts to the packing of rucksacks, water purification tablets, emergency bars of chocolate and whether my papers are in order. Stout boots, wearing on feet for - check. Walking stick, beating off importuning natives for - check.  Short wave radio, home communications keeping up for, er, with - nope. Haven't got one. Maybe my mobile will still get a signal, better charge it up now.

Nothing on the radio about tornados in the Greater Ruislip Metropolitan district. A conspiracy by the authorities to lull me into a false sense of security? No, maybe the email is a part of a conspiracy to lull me into a false sense of panic? Or is it in code? Does "blown away" mean, in marketing-speak, "We've got another dreary and pointless PR announcement to make, please read it, please, we only get paid if enough of our customers read it and we've all got spouses, children, fashionable SUVs with stupid names and second homes in Marbella to keep up, oh go on, we were up all night polishing this heading to try to get your attention".

I have decided, after considerable reflection3 to ignore the exhortation in this unwanted missive. I shall not do the slightest scrap of preparing for any form of blowing, other than perhaps pursing my cheeks to emit the odd raspberry. My stout boots, etc, may remain in the cupboard until genuinely needed. Sorry, PR guys, try something more truthful next time. "We've got some awards that we've invented to create some spurious interest in our business, do please cast your eye over this email if you've got nothing better to do" would certainly fit the bill. I commend it to you. Might even be in the running for a Ramblings award of some sort.

Footnotes:

1.  [A little poetic licence is always allowed in these pieces: Ed]
2. Insert your favourite Hayes reference here
3. See 1.

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.


    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.