Friday, January 31, 2020

101 Things #55 - Spare Any Change?

There are really no rules about what makes a valid bucket-list item. Some are easy to do and seem rather trivial - such as travelling to somewhere that's not too far away and where you had intended to go anyway. Some require a bit more work or dedication, such as getting tattoos, running marathons or swimming with sharks. And some, taken the wrong way, seem to be utterly fantastical and impossible. Taken the right way, maybe they make sense but who are we to take anything the right way if there is a much more amusing alternative to play with? Today the proposal to be reviewed, dissected and discarded belongs to the last category, the impossible, which makes it an obvious candidate for my anti-bucket list compendium 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die.

It is on the website Life Lot that the unwary web traveller will encounter the suggestion that, as something you should aim to achieve, you should

Change the world.

In this column that you will find it argued forcefully that if you go down this path you are venturing into very deep waters indeed. [Is this a path that goes directly into deep water or what? Shouldn't there be a warning sign? Ed]

Change the world, huh? What would you like, a bigger diameter? More landmass, fewer jungles, a more equable climate in the temperate zones?  Perhaps evolution should have taken a different course? Bring on the talking unicorns and let's all live to be 400, be utterly disease resistant and able to fly. Fans of Douglas Adams will know that Magarathea, and the promise of crinklier coastlines with wider and deeper fjords, is what I'm on about here.

OK, OK, that's a bit too sarcastic, I know. So now we have to embark on a long, tedious discussion about what is really meant by "the world". Or would embark on one, if I could be bothered but as I can't let's settle for the shorter interesting version. Let us suppose that by "world" our Life Lot mates mean the biosphere that we, the animals fish, plants, insects and unbelievable numbers of bacteria and single celled things inhabit. Hum, changing that lot would still be pretty hard. I suspect we are meant to narrow our sights a lot more and maybe hone in on what matters to us humans. What might we change?

Technically you are changing the world with every breath as you convert oxygen to carbon dioxide and your internal organs turn complex animal and plant cells into proteins and sugars and the like. You are changing it each time you switch on a light and consume some electricity and every so slightly heat it up. You change other people's lives with every interaction with another person.

Yes, you will be muttering, we all know this, what is meant, clearly, is to make things different from what they otherwise might have been so that you can look back in years to come and think, proudly "I did that". Well, go on muttering, my friends, because this is where it gets murky. Alfred Nobel was really chuffed to have invented dynamite because it made industrial extraction of minerals easier. He was less pleased when people started blowing other people to bits with it. A handful of scientists worked out, purely theoretically, that atomic fission would generate a lot of energy very fast but did not foresee nuclear weapons. How many city centres have been made desolate thanks to the motor car and the shopping mall, and by internet-based shopping? How many humans died because for a long time smoking was thought to be beneficial to health?

"No, no, no" you are saying, angrily "Obviously we want to change the world for the better. Something wonderful like a new medicine, or a Middle East peace plan, or a solution to remove all the plastic in the ocean".

"Yes" I riposte "And how the hell are you going to achieve these things given all the attention that vast numbers of well-qualified and experienced people have given to them and not got anywhere? Answer me that."

"Ah, you've found the weak spot in our defences" you feebly admit "OK, forget the grandiose stuff. What's wrong with just spreading a little happiness? Making one person feel better because we have smiled at them. How about that for a start?"

"Fine, fine" I say, gracious in victory as always "But surely now we have wandered away from the grand theme of Changing The World and ended up with something you might as well have done all the time whether it was on your bucket list or not. Haven't you?"

And there we must pause a while. By all means discover that new vaccine, that new theorem, that breakthrough in international relations - but don't do it because it seems like a neat idea to be ticked off a list. Do it because it is worthwhile for its own sake. Do it because you can. And it is precisely because I know that I can't, that this is one item that goes onto my own list of rejects.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

101 Things #54 - Whiter than White

As I build my collection of undesirable achievements, the anti-bucket list I whimsically call 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die, I tend to wade straight into the attack in tearing to pieces the notions advanced by others. Today is different. When I first stumbled on a certain suggestion found on Bucket List Journey my instinct was it might be rather a good idea. Only on further examination does it turn out to be utterly unworkable. Let me share this journey of discovery with you as I explain why I must, with reluctance, refuse to entertain the idea that I should

Attend a white party.

I don't know what a white party is1. I assume it is not some sort of social gathering held in the American Deep South to which persons of colour are ostentatiously not invited. Instead, I like to think that it must be a party to which all the attendees hold the surname White.

Now, as I do not have such a name, that appears to rule me out but let us assume that this is the whole point of it being a bucket list item for others - You gatecrash the bash, mingle with all the genuine Whites and then grab a few selfies just to prove you were there. I didn't fancy doing that much and I've never heard of such an event anyway. And then I thought - aha, what if this is a party where you invite people called White? Obviously, as the host you can attend the do, but everyone else would fit the requirement.

This was the point at which I thought this could be rather a fun thing to do. Who should I invite?  I decided it must only include people I had heard of and who had a certain degree of fame (If I were to restrict it to people in the vicinity, for example, and invite the Whites of Lower Ruislip Manor (yes, all six and the dog), the White brothers from Ruislip Common (I think they're both currently out on bail) and the Very Rev. White plus "housekeeper" from Over Ruislip-cum-Northolt, the evening would comprise a long, dull discussion about the merits of Waitrose vs Asda and why the Audi 3.6 is better than the 3.53.)

I drew up my shortlist and here it is:

Barry White.

Legendary soul singer with a deep mellow voice.

 Jimmy White.

 Top snooker player of the 1980s and 90s, six times a finalist at the World Championships and still playing.

Wlward Wit (or White).

Saxon Thane under King Harold, holder of the Manor of Ruislip, dispossessed after the Norman Conquest 1066, possibly died at the Battle of Hastings.

Timothy White

Victorian chemist who founded a retail empire that persisted until takeover by Boots in 1968. Sadly no picture of him appears to have survived.

Snow White

Queen of somewhere, rather gullible, fond of apples and small men.

There's a guest list to marvel at, eh? Sport, culture, politics, science and retailing, and a bit of royalty to impress the neighbours. Unfortunately, as keener-eyed readers will have spotted, there is a fatal flaw that undermines the scheme. We no longer have Barry, Tim or Willy amongst the living, and Snow is what we writers call a fictional character. Now, I'd be overjoyed to entertain Jimmy and perhaps I could show him a thing or two about potting those last awkward balls when you've got Steve Davis sitting in the other chair with that quizzical smirk on his face, but it wouldn't really be a party, more like two old blokes having a drink (or several).

I can't think of any other Whites, aside from my cousin Paula who is indeed a true White but not really famous enough to qualify.   On these grounds, sadly, I must decline to host or attend a White party or a party featuring any other surname of colour for that matter. Pity, really, as I happen to know that George Ultra-Violet is in town next year.

1. Naturally I couldn't be bothered to find out and although I asked the Editor for help, nothing was forthcoming (surprise, surprise).

Monday, January 27, 2020

101 Things #53 - Blanking Out

1. The Opening of the Book
A book lies
open. I read the
lines that fill the page, the lines that line the whiteness of
page, that creep toward the number denoting a
a new page
I flip to find each page adorned
with a number
So many numbers I cannot
comprehend them all.
There would be
pages if only each line were a sensible length and if the line breaks made any form of sense but this
not the case.

2. The Marshalling of the Argument
There are things I shall not do, must not do, will reject
Let us cast them out, let us turn our backs, close our eyes, close
and inscribe their names in our list that all may see, that
may know
that all
may understand.

3. The Naming of the List
How shall we understand?
The list of that which is
in our
It shall be named thus:
101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die.
and everything within shall be that which we

4. The Naming of the Thing
 What is it, this stuff, this book of broken lines, wherein are
 the rhymes and the reasons? How shall we
 know it to
 include it? What is it, about it, concerning it that
we shall not do?
We shall turn our backs

 Trying to understand blank verse.

5. The Ending of the Matter
There came one from the east
 who cried Master, it is I,
your Editor. And I have reviewed your opus,
 your works,
your outpourings, your cries are
heard and herein are they well represented.
Let this be an end to it for it is of sufficient length and surely,
by now you have
made your point. I shall put the
on and let us have peace.

6. The Closing of the Book
And at last a sentence was written on one line and did not have a false break anywhere within it and the Writer and the Editor looked on it and were content.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

101 Things #52 - Burns Night

I love Scotland and have visited many times. But an admiration for magnificent scenery, whisky, the birthplace of some world class engineers and Edinburgh, does not mean uncritical acceptance of all things tartan. I need to draw the line and in today's 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die, and cunningly posted on the correct date, the finger of rejection points firmly at any proposal to

Eat a Burns Night Dinner.

I can't claim to be much of a fan of Robbie Burns' poetry but then he's probably not too keen on mine. What I really wish to avoid for the rest of my days is the plate of splodge that is a traditional Burns Night dinner, a dish of haggis, neeps and tatties that looks like something dredged up in a old-fashioned works canteen when you're too late for the fish and chips. Something, in fact, like this:

The white stuff is the tatties, or mashed potato. Fine, I have no problem with a decent wodge of this underneath a couple of sausages, or escorting a lamb shank or a fresh fillet of sea bass. Or almost anything, actually. The orange stuff is mashed swede or turnips, vegetables I will not eat, no matter how much they are boiled and beaten into submission and covered with lashings of brown sauce. And parsnips can get knotted as well. So don't think you can get round me by subtly changing the recipe for neeps.

The haggis, of course, was immortalised by Burns. I believe his first draft went on these lines:

They were burning a witch in Clackmannan
Just for a wee bit o' fun
When she started to smoulder
Said a nearby beholder
"It smells like that hagg is done"

But this never got printed. Anyway, what actually goes into a haggis?
Historically, when hunters made their kill, they would use up the offal, which went off first, using the cleaned animal’s stomach as a cooking bag. Minced heart, liver and lungs are bulked out with oatmeal, onions, suet, seasoning and spices before cooking

source: BBC Good Food

So the bits of the animal that nobody really wanted to eat are cooked inside another bit nobody wants to eat and then, in order to get it into your mouth without you gagging, are concealed under perfectly good oatmeal and onions so as to produce a brown sludge that takes me right back to the school dinners served in my primary school, when the main course was either "hash" or "mince". 

Presumably the good bits, you know, the actual real meat that didn't go off the moment you ripped it out of the stricken animal, were presented to the Laird. Well, I'm one with the Laird here. You may keep your haggis and neeps and pipe them in and salute them to your heart's content. I'll be the bloke in the other room tucking into a decent steak-and-ale pie. With mash.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

101 Things #51 - Mirror, Mirror

When the time comes that the most exciting part of your day is to choose between brown and white bread for your morning toast, then you will undoubtedly reflect, from time to time, on the great, wonderful and varied achievements of your life. Some will perhaps have occurred to you as you examined the ideas and accomplishments of others and, inspired by their example, you will have committed yourself to success in that same field.

And there will be other notions that either you threw straight into the (metaphorical) waste-paper basket of your mind and now, looking back after all those years, you can still smile with satisfaction that your first instinct was correct.

Today, as we continue to build the veritable warehouse of those discarded suggestions that is 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die, we hurl on top of the pile the paean to narcissism, found on Hello Bestow, that a worthy bucket list item is to

Compliment yourself every day in the mirror.

There does not appear to be a time limit on this one. Normally it is easy to say when a bucket list item has been completed - you run your marathon, you visit the Pyramids, you see the Mona Lisa etc, you pull out your battered old notebook and tick it off. This is not possible with the idea under review - the compliments must flow every day until, presumably, you can no longer see the mirror, or the nursing staff refuse to let you look, or your flat is repossessed together with all your wordly possessions. Maybe this is not really an issue. As you brush your teeth or do your hair then that is the time to say those few gentle, yet heartening words of comfort. Soon it will be become second nature to do so.

Unfortunately there is a catch. For what, after all, is a compliment? To be effective it must be spontaneous and unexpected. If your boss, who has barely grunted at you all year, manages a "Well done" as you once again top the monthly sales charts, then you can truly bask in the glow. If that attractive new person at the social club, who has hitherto ignored you, gives you a long, admiring glance before saying how good you are looking tonight, then you are bucked up. Now contrast these examples with your morning routine as you blink blearily into the glass, wishing you had had more self-control the previous evening before accepting that sixth tequila slammer.

"Morning, gorgeous" you mumble, aware of the hollowness and futility of the remark, sick at your own self-deception "You're really looking well".

You remember that you said the same thing yesterday. And the day before."Ok, I didn't mean it. You look pretty ropey. Oh no, that's a terrible thing to say, I'm so sorry, no, you're good, really you are, that spot on your nose is hardly visible any more and those wrinkles - no, I mean, I'm in awe here, you radiate health and vitality ..."

How can you keep this hollow charade up, day after day, every day trying to find something new to say? I am beginning to see why this might be a creditable bucket list achievement - simply having the stamina and the imagination to go on finding ever more intricate praises of yourself without making yourself utterly sick of your own hypocrisy; it calls out for recognition if not for some sort of award. But even if it does, I'm not going to be the one attempting it. I'd be more likely to start insulting myself, followed by a set of "You what?", "You heard", "I didn't", "Well, I'm not going to repeat it" and quite frankly the prospect of a daily fight with myself does not attract.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

It's up. No, down. Well, one of them, anyway

I am grateful to Mrs Commuter for drawing my attention to the following news item

Source: BBC website today
Apparently the people who put out their trading statements were unable to distinguish between a fall in sales and an increase in sales.Although sales had fallen by 2% in the period up to Christmas (presumably compared to the same period in 2018 although the BBC cannot be bothered to say so), the announcement claimed an increase before it was hastily corrected.

Dixons blamed our old friend 'clerical error' for the misleading first announcement. This probably does not mean that they had invited a vicar in to do the numbers (cynics might say that the group could do with some divine guidance, but not me). It ought to mean something like the following:

Scene: The busy PR department at Dixons Carphone. Staff in the background are being trained to say "Oh sorry, that's not in stock", "Would you like a £30 warranty with your £5 toaster" and "Yes, we do store your personal data insecurely but we really do care about your privacy and security, honestly". Enter Tarquin and Benedict.
Tarquin "We need to issue this wretched trading thingy, Benners. Damn shame, I was hoping to get off early for squash"
Benedict "God, telling the stock exchange how we are doing, it's positively medieval"
Tarquin "Any chance your boys could take a look at it?"
Benedict "Love to help, old man, but we're all planning the corporate away day. Don't you have any spotty-faced school-leavers around?"
Tarquin "No, they're all out the back kicking holes in the packaging and re-routing urgent orders back to Dumfries for onward processing in the Truro depot. Damn, I think we may have to rope in one the clerks. Actually that's good, if anything goes wrong we can blame it all on them. Ha ha"
Benedict "You are a one, Tarquers"

Sunday, January 19, 2020

101 Things #50 - No Flashing, Please

When you are old and grey and sitting quietly in the big chair with the autumn sun warming your legs, will you smile contentedly as you recall all the wonderful achievements of your life? I doubt if  one of those treasured attainments will be the suggestion found on the Pop Sugar website to

Participate in a flash mob.

No? I didn't think it would be. I am very happy to add this to my still-expanding collection of garbage ideas that I wittily describe as 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die.

Oh, come on, some of you may be thinking, it's fun to rush out to a location that somebody else has chosen at a time that somebody else has specified and mill about with loads of strangers, all of whom are picking away at their phones while they photograph each other all milling about and having a really good time as they enjoy a spot of perfectly splendid milling.

Obviously, I do not regard such a gathering as fun and for exactly the same reasons. I see no reason why my life should be at the whim of someone else who may not even bother to turn up to the bash. I don't regard hanging about in a crowd as fun. As I understand it, you don't even get a decent cup of tea as these events, or, if you do, then there's a hell of a queue and, when you get to the head of it, they will have run out of chocolate biscuits and you'll have to settle for some stale bourbons. And, by then, the tea will be cold.

Flash mobs are nothing new. Mobs used to assemble in London and riot for the sake of it during the 17th and 18th centuries, so much so that the Riot Act was put into law in 1714 to counteract them. Mobs gathered to smash machinery during the rapid industrialisation and urbanisation of the 19th century. In those days it was done by word of mouth and by people taking responsibility for leading, now it is anonymous. When once it was dangerous to lead opposition to the established order, now the stupidest ideas can be quickly circulated without the slightest risk to those promulgating them (the recent attempt to storm Area 51 being a very good example). There are a few exceptions - such as the attempts to defend democracy in Hong Kong in recent months - but even there the will to demonstrate came first and the organisation, via phone apps, was merely a means to spread the word, not the fundamental purpose of the gathering.

Being in a flash mob is reminiscent of the Black Friday shoppers, except that once all the flashers (is that what they call them?) have gathered, there is nothing at all to do except hang around and then return from whence they came. It has to be one of the most futile activities an adult can do - at least the BF lot can buy something cheap (or at any rate they think it's cheap). The Luddites were attempting to achieve something important to them. The flashers are a sort of 21st century nihilist cult, creating nothing, disseminating nothing, just gathering because, thanks to social media and mobile phones, they can. I hope this trend ceases to be fashionable; even if it does not, I shall not be flashing.

Friday, January 17, 2020

101 Things #49 - Come Along Quietly Now, Sir

We are closing in on the half way mark in this, my collection of aspirations to which I do not aspire, 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die. This item has to be one of the silliest so far.

I have no problems, most of the time, understanding why other people wish to do things from which I resile. We all have different tastes. It is however, really hard to see why anyone should wish to take the advice of Lifehack and
Get arrested for a minor offence.

I suppose Ms Tegan Jones, the person behind Lifehack, thinks that being arrested is cool. Perhaps, being American, she envisages a couple of smooth-talking cops, each wearing mirror shades, strolling up to her apartment in downtown Beverly Hills whilst chewing gum (I believe US cops are able to do these two things at once, when they are not busy arresting children).

So they haul her ass downtown1.  Her rights are read, they make an entry on the police blotter (those state-issue pens are so leaky) and she goes into the slammer (er, jail cell) until the DA is ready to give her the works - probably the Complete Works of Shakespeare or something, there's not much else to do in the slammer2.

So much for fantasy. I think this "get arrested" idea needs closer examination. The key question is whether you committed the offence in question. You, my friend, are undoubtedly honest and upright. You do not have a police record, nor do you associate with disreputable types. You have therefore a difficult choice to make - do you do it or not?

You commit an offence
You decide to commit an offence. Naturally, you will need to consult a lawyer before you do anything to make sure that what you are intending to do is both illegal and classed as minor, but it mustn't be so minor that an on-the-spot fine is the penalty, because you have to be arrested for the "achievement" to qualify.

Now, what sort of offence will guarantee a speedy arrest? You don't want to do it and get away with it, that would simply mark you out as a potentially successful criminal. You don't want this to be one of those cold cases unearthed by retired detectives in twenty years time that you hear about all the time on TV. Whatever it is, justice must be fast. Ideally you want your collar felt within seconds of overstepping the bounds.

I suggest that old favourite, lifting a policeman's helmet. The preferred time, for a gentleman, is on Boat Race Night and the location has to be London's fashionable West End. A quick shove, a deft flick of the hand and the helmet can be secured before the copper can utter the standard wording required in this situation - "'Ere, what's your game?"

A brief chase can ensue but you need to be caught so don't try to outpace him. Remember to say something about "Bang to rights" (not "You'll never take me alive, copper"). Expect to be placed in the back of a police car and whisked off to the cells before an appearance before the beak next morning and a five-shilling fine (This might have been increased in recent years).

I don't see much glory in doing all this, though. You will get a police record, you will have wasted the time of both police and the judiciary, and, as they won't allow any selfies of you languishing in the cell, there will be precious little to show for it other than a paragraph in the local paper3. Why should you endure a sleepless night just so you can see what police station tea in a chipped mug with three sugars really tastes like?

You are wrongfully arrested 
This is harder. People are often arrested for crimes they did not commit but to set out to be nabbed when you didn't do it is hard. Characters in Agatha Christie novels may do it all the time but this, I am afraid, is real life. Simply hanging around in the hope of a wrongful arrest is unlikely to work, unless you want to be charged with loitering with intent but in that case it seems that guilty is the right verdict.

 You could lurk near a jewellers shop with half a brick to hand and hope a real robber will dash in, do the job and make a getaway while you stand there mouth agape. You could stand very close to a drug dealer and keep looking around in a shifty way so that they pick you up at the same time as they jump on him.Taking part in a rowdy demonstration might see you dragged into a side street and given a good thumping before they charge you with assault, damaging a police truncheon and treason.  Or maybe just change your name to "Fingers" O'Rourke and let nature take its course.

Of course you run the risk that, once arrested, you get fitted up with something anyway. Yes, you get the experience of the arrest with all the trimmings as described above, but surely it cannot be worth it to have the magistrate blinking at you over her horn-rimmed spectacles whilst the clerk whispers in her ear to remind her of the maximum sentence she can impose, and your neighbours, gaping incredulously from the gallery, whisper to each other that they always thought you were a bad lot.

 What you must put out of your mind is the dramatic scene in court with your barrister producing a surprise witness who establishes your alibi, the despair of the Crown Prosecutor4, the cheering of the onlookers, even the judge smiling as he asks for silence in court and your autograph on the charge sheet, and warm handshakes from the beaming jury before you are whisked onto the shoulders of your supporters and carried out to meet a vast applauding crowd on the steps of the courthouse ....5


Getting arrested, innocent or not, found guilty or acquitted, is not what I want to think about toward the end of my life when I am reviewing all my achievements. When the recording angel asks me what I am proud to have accomplished, my answer is not going to be "Ruislip police done me for an illegal parking and you know what, I don't care, I did my time and I'd do it all over again".


1. This is really up-to-date and trendy usage. It does not mean that they take her donkey into custody. Nor any separate part of her anatomy. Nor does anything actually get hauled in the sense of being tied to the rear bumper of their police car for a drive down Sunset Boulevard. It just means they give her a lift, that's all.
2. So I gather from my close reading of the works of Raymond Chandler.
3. They do still have local papers, don't they? Or are you to rely on someone snitching you up on Facebook?
4. That's DA for my loyal American followers.
5. Commissioning Editors! This can easily be made into an award-winning script. Drop me a line.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

101 Things #48 - Me, Me, Me

You may have noticed, if you have been following my steadily increasing series of pieces concerning the achievements I steadfastly recoil from attempting, 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die, that many are what other people regard as perfectly sensible objectives. I am pretty damn confident that the offering I have for you here does not fall into that category. It seems to be one of the most ego-centric and eccentric [Nice juxtaposition: Ed] of attainments I have encountered.

It was featured on a website called Brass 612, a site so primitive in design that it looks like it was designed when Netscape Navigator was state of the art and a 200mb hard drive a luxury. I suspect it has not been looked at by its owner for at least 20 years. Nevertheless, I utterly reject his insane idea that one should aim to

Tell someone the story of your life, sparing no details.

It is the "sparing no details" clause that has me bemused. No details? I can't leave out a single measly detail? You want me to accost an innocent fellow human being, peacefully minding their own business and contemplating a full day ahead, with hours of rabbiting about my own life which cannot be of the slightest interest to them even if précised ruthlessly down to a skeletal twenty minutes or so. Well, let me accept the challenge in order to demonstrate how ludicrous it is and, to make it a little more palatable, I shall cast it into a more suitable format.

 I take up my pen in that year of great turmoil when all Englishmen eyed each askance and sought to know whether their fellow was for one of the two great houses of Leave or Remain, and look back to those simpler times of my boyhood.

Know then, reader, that the day of my birth was forecast to be of mild sunny intervals and occasional squally showers, with sleet falling over the hills of Northern Scotland. His Majesty King George VI was not at all well but the Lord Chamberlain was recovering from a slight cold that had mildly inconvenienced him three days earlier. Unemployment stood at 4.7%, England were 33 for 2 against New Zealand in the third Test and a Leyland light van had broken down on the B343 near Warwick. A packet of Lux washing up powder could be bought for 1/3d and whilst chocolate manufacturers eagerly anticipated the end of rationing, the darts team of the Red Fox in Macclesfield were falling out over tactics for the grudge match against the Sefton Arms mob.

The sheets of the bed on which I entered this world were made of Indian cotton with some slight admixture of coarser cloth. The bed itself was some six feet long and three wide, lit by four 60 watt bulbs suspended, some eight feet above the linoleum floor, in fittings made of thin alloy of steel and tin ... 

Umm, before I go on, is this alright? Not too skimpy on the details? I have a great deal more to write about the railway timetables for the LNER that were in force that day, the prospects for Charwoman's Fancy in the 3:15 at York and the worsening relations between Sweden and Chile that threatened a revival in the artificial leg industry in which J. Arthur Maltravers and Son, of East Worksop, were keenly interested. Ah, a bit too much detail? Sorry, sorry. Only I thought - well no matter, I shall, as you rightly say, try to get on with it and cut out the scene-setting; I do hope Brass 612 does not feel let down.

Yes, the hour of my birth.

I was born at about 4:15 am, at home. My mother was at the birth.  Some years later I left school to make my way in the world ...

What was that? Not enough detail? God, you're hard to please. You see my point? If you happen to be sufficiently interesting to have a publisher commission someone to write your biography, then, by all means, sit them down with a nice cup of tea (and biscuit of choice) and let them have the works. If this is not the case who on earth are you going to tell your story to? A stranger? Usually on bucket-lists it is a random stranger who gets singled out for some sort of treatment, as though the word "random" adds any meaning in this context. Yes, I can just see this working out.

"Hello, stranger, whom I have obviously never met before. I intend to tell you the story of my life in some detail. I was born at about - hello? Don't move away, please. I say! I don't want to have to shout - oh, he's gone. And I was just reaching the interesting bit about the colour of the blanket they wrapped me in, and what my father had for breakfast."

Other than kidnapping, tieing up and gagging your victim, I can see no way to accomplish the telling of a life story. We no longer live in a world of lengthy train journeys in closed compartments, or of travellers forced together in the mess-room of a sailing ship caught in the doldrums. Start yakking on whilst on a modern mode of transport and everyone else will be plugged in to their phones, oblivious of your riveting account of all the nursery rhymes you had mastered by the age of three.

As it happens, the story of my life is indeed deeply fascinating and, when alone, I can keep myself entertained for hours recounting episodes - that history essay at school that the master said was "Really not too bad, considering". The first day at a new job when, quite by chance, there were tea and cakes laid on for someone else who was celebrating a third wedding anniversary. That time the Queen was driven past me (and several hundred other onlookers, I hasten to add) and, if only she had been looking the other way, she might have glimpsed my reflection in the window of Rumbelows.

So many rich memories ....But I shall not be burdening a stranger with the duty of listening to it all. I wouldn't want them to be so overwhelmed by the torrent of emotion, the dramas and the epiphanies that it ruined their lives thereafter as they realised that they had missed so much, so very much in their own existence. I couldn't have that on my conscience, could I?

Monday, January 13, 2020

A Telephonic Communication from the Dominions for you, Ma'am

I know our royal family is often caricatured as being somewhat behind the times, but it was surely unfair to insinuate that they still use the rotary-style telephones, as the Guardian has done in this story

Pic: Guardian

Meghan likely to dial in, indeed. Somebody lend the poor woman a smartphone.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

101 Things #47 - New Balls, Please

As I build my wide-ranging collection of things I intend never to do, known to some as 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die, I often need to spend some time thinking through what it is about the suggestion under review that is deplorable and thus why I will not entertain the prospect of doing it. Today is an exception, it is a no-brainer that even an amoeba would find easy to deal with and still have time for a little asexual reproduction. I found it on the frankly rather eclectic website of Aussie on the Road and it is to

Watch a ping pong show in Thailand.

We call it table tennis in beautiful Ruislip. I played it a little myself when younger. 'Ping Pong' is the rather derisive name it was given before some of the great stars that feature in, for example, the Olympics, showed what a hard and skilful sport it can be. Now why would I want to see a match (they are called matches, not shows) in Thailand, of all places? It's a long way to go, requiring wasteful and polluting air travel, and all to watch a few people doing what one could easily see almost anywhere - perhaps at a local youth club.

I suppose they don't get much table tennis in Australia - maybe the harsh climate causes the balls to crack - and of course it is much easier to reach the Far East from there, so no doubt that is why this notion gained traction.

I have no hesitation in utterly rejecting the notion that there is anything remarkable in seeing a table tennis match half way across the world and that is all I have to say on the matter. There, we've finished a little earlier today than usual. You may go now and I hope you will make good use of this unexpected free time.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

101 Things #46 - Get Real

What's on your bucket-list of things you really want to do before it is too late? When you look back and flick through the photos, grandchildren gazing up admiringly, what will you tell them that will inspire them to fulfil their potential and to make the most of their own time while they can?

I'm pretty sure it will not be the suggestion on Bucket List Journey website to

Apply to be on a reality show

because, let's be honest here (and when I am anything else?), this is one of the most unambitious BL items I have ever seen. For this reason it is fitting to be considered for my still-expanding collection of anti-bucket list ideas that I modestly call 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die.

Anyone can apply to be on a reality show. All that is required is to be able to fill in a form. Nothing truthful need be said nor do you have to have the slightest desire to be accepted. Enter some details, click the button (or stick a stamp on and post it) and you can rub your hands with the knowledge of a job well done. Hardly worth putting on your bucket list; hardly worth my while to mock it by including it in my own compendium.

Let us be charitable and assume that what the originator meant was "Go on a reality show". Now that is a very different proposition. To be a participant on Masterchef, or The Apprentice or Bake-off, or to be stuck on a desert island with a bunch of celebrity wannabees, you must meet the criteria specified by the show's producers; some demonstrable talent and achievements, or a dazzling smile, irritating Essex accent and shapely figure, depending on show.

I watch some of these shows either because it is interesting to watch people with skills that I do not possess engaging in a competition or to watch idiots such as those in The Apprentice bigging themselves up before failing spectacularly when they attempt to do something. And there we have the reason why Appearing on a Reality Show is a worthy addition to my set of undesirables, and since applying must precede appearing, why the former is included as well.

None of which militates against being on a reality show if one is invited to do so. A guest appearance as a judge on Masterchef perhaps, tucking into the rack of lamb with dauphinoise potatoes and pea puree, with a chocolate fondant to follow. I'd be happy to do a bit of that, sure. The studios are not too far from my home and they can send round the stretch limo with the complementary champagne any time they like.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

101 Things #45 - Going Up

Today we delve once more into the rich field of travel suggestions that people feel they or others ought to follow. [Warning: horrible cliché follows: Ed]. The topic for review is literally out of this world. [Told you. You can relax now: Ed] for we are going to examine the idea posited on the Location Rebel website, amongst others, that before you die you should
Go into space on Virgin Galactic.

Adding this one to my ever-growing list of achievements to be avoided, 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die was a no-brainer. Here are the reasons.

  1. It's unbelievably expensive ($250k) . 
  2. Rich people have already bagged all the available seats. 
  3. It would mean a long distance flight to the USA. 
  4. It's operated by Virgin and I am still waiting for an apology from R. Branson or one of his minions for making me redundant without good cause when I happened to be employed by that very same organisation some years ago. 
  5. You don't actually go into space at all. You go to the edge of the atmosphere, completely within Earth's gravitational field, and do not so much fly as get hurtled up and then glide back down. 
  6. Virgin Galactic is the most pretentious name since .... no, I shall start again, it is the the most pretentious name. Just getting to the next planet is beyond them, hell, they can't even get to the moon 
  7. You don't get duty frees as you pass through the troposphere. Or coming back. Disgraceful.
Having said all that, to see the Earth from high above and to experience weightlessness would definitely be high on my real bucket-list of things to do, if it could be done cheaply, without the huge waste of chemicals required for the launch and one could spend a bit of time up top. But the VG flight will be about an hour and a half, most of which is getting up and coming down. And can you imagine the safety demonstration?

'The crew will now point out the emergency doors. If these are opened whilst we are pressurised you will be sucked out to certain death unless your seatbelt is fastened. In which case you will asphyxiate in a few moments. Or will be drowned if we have made a crash landing at sea. If we are attacked by a Thargian battlecruiser the crew will endeavour to keep them occupied by showing them offers of Virgin Mobile calling plans. If our parachute should fail upon re-entry, the crew will illuminate the sign that reads "Oh shit"'

I can think of a huge number of better uses for the price of a VG flight, not all of which involve luxury chocolates and 3-Michelin-star petits fours, (though quite a few do, as it happens), but anyway, sitting on top of a rocket is not one of them.

Monday, January 06, 2020

101 Things #44 - Feeling Lucky?

Why do people compile bucket-lists, things to be achieved before a certain age or, at any rate, before death makes further ticking off of any more items a trifle difficult? The essence of BL stuff is doability - it has to be something you can aspire to actually do as opposed to idly pondering how nice it would be to have done it. Some things require a lot of study and preparation, others that you have lots of money and a desire to spend it, but you expect them all to be believable. Nonetheless, there are some I refuse to even consider attempting and I have already detailed quite a number of them in my ongoing series 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die.

Today is little different.  The suggestion about to be rubbished was found on the Personal Excellence website which put forward (I assume seriously) the notion that something worth doing as a lifetime attainment is to

Win a lucky draw.

I think the author of this proposal is not being quite as excellent as he might wish to be. For the problem here, and the reason why I have no intention of ever trying to do it, is that one cannot just win a draw. One must enter it. Unless it is rigged (and that to me somehow invalidates the key concept of it being 'lucky') then the winning of it is out of one's hands altogether. The word 'draw' tells us that a random selection will be made from all the participants and that the winner will have done no more than buy a ticket or two, using absolutely no skill, judgement, experience or ability of any sort other than going up to a counter (or digital equivalent) and saying "A lucky draw ticket, please".

Now, I suppose, as one lies on one's deathbed with the relatives gathered round, leaning in close in case there is a final change of the will (little do they know it's all going to the Ruislip Dogs Home), one could wheeze
"I entered a lucky draw once, you know, and I ...."
"Yes, yes?" they urge. "What happened?"
"I lost - but I nearly won. If only I had bought the winning ticket I would have won. Honestly".
There is a silence broken by an irreverent nephew muttering "Hoo-bloody-ray".

Leaving aside the bathos of this moment, how actually do you go about winning this draw? Other than by buying a ticket and waiting hopefully1 for the outcome. I ask because surely, if this going on one's bucket-list, there must be a way of doing it. Otherwise you just accumulate tickets here and there and spend your days waiting for the phone to ring. But I cannot, no matter how hard I try (which is not a lot) see any way of improving the odds to be better than the number of tickets you bought divided by the total sold.

 The conclusion is that to aspire to win a draw is a daft aspiration. Daydream about it by all means but do not confuse it with a genuine BL item. Perhaps what the Personal Excellence team should have promoted is "Enter a lucky draw". Anyone can do that and it is something you can legitimately tick off the list. It ranks as about the most pointless achievement you can have and is not something that will have heads turning when you enter the pub - "Blimey, don't look now, but here's that bloke that bought a lucky draw ticket once" - but at least you can take pride in it (if you are that way inclined).

To win a draw reflects nothing whatsoever on you and while it may make you instantly popular, your new-found fame will not last long once everyone hears that the prize was a bottle of David Beckham 'Smell like a Footballer' after shave.


Do you fancy your chances?
Is the goddess Fortuna smiling on you?

Enter the Ramblings Lucky Draw today!! You can at once then tick this off your bucket-list of Things To Do Before The End Of Next Week. Send as much as you can afford to the usual address. Do it now.

The draw will be made sometime and, as always, a shedload of terms and conditions apply, and the Editor's decision is final irrelevant.

1. [Correct use of this much abused adverb. Jolly well done: Ed]

Friday, January 03, 2020

101 Things #43 - Have Dart, Will Travel

Travel to remote or unusual places comprises a very significant part of most bucket-lists. The vast majority of travel recommendations are for specific locations and I see no reason in pouring contumely on them or on those who wish to go there.  Today, however, I am happy to include in my list of rejected ideas, 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die, one of the vaguest and most random proposals I have encountered.  There is no way that I might, as suggested by a contributor on Pinterest,

Throw a dart at a map and travel to wherever it lands.

At first glance this may sound an appealing concept. Let the laws of aerodynamics and the sureness of your throwing arm determine your forthcoming travel plans. No more wearisome arguing with your other half about the local cuisine or the unsavoury habits of the locals - let Fate decide. You take out of your trusty arrows1, kick the cat to get it out of the way and let fly. Off you go.

Let us begin to hack away at the foundations of the whole 'Dart-Travel' conflation. Firstly and most crucial what is meant by "map"? 2. Is it a flat paper map, with all the problems of the most common projections distorting the real shape of the earth's landmasses? If it is, does it cover the whole world or a subset that represents places you would rather go to in the first place (for example, a large scale map of some of the more pleasant harbours of the north Cornish coast). If the latter, this undermines the randomness behind the 'chuck a dart at it' reasoning. But if it is the whole world then most of it happens to be ocean. Do you really want to spend a few nights at 140oW, 22oS, clinging to a raft, watching the foam, the waves and the circling sharks, and wondering if that yacht is really going to come back for you?

It is no better if you use a globe as your target.
Pic:see link

 If it is stationary then you have effectively ruled out some 60% of the world because the dart will not able to hit the bits not facing you or which are occluded by the supporting mechanism. If the globe is given a spin before you throw, then, whilst this will significantly increase the number of places you might hit, the dart will almost certainly rebound instead and perhaps inflict on you or an innocent bystander a nasty injury, one on which no insurance company is going to pay out.

The only reasonable answer is to use a flat map, preferably with something like the Peters projection, but with the major oceans cut out, and keep on throwing the dart until you hit land (or a patch of water that it is reasonable to visit, such as the beach at Monte Carlo). Hopefully you can do this before there are so many holes that it falls to bits.

However, if you want a really random result (as is implied by the spirit of this idea), then actually aiming at the map is right out. You must look away or wear a blindfold.


The consequences for your china-ware, windows and pets may be drastic so you are best advised to do the throwing bit in your shed or outside your property, perhaps with a suitable warning issued to the neighbours and a man with a red flag on standby3.

Now, if fortune has favoured us, we have stuck the dart in a piece of land that we can actually try to visit (in other words we have not hit the interior of Antarctica, the Darien Gap, Chernobyl, Area 51 or GCHQ, amongst others). Here, though, is where our fortune runs out. On inspection you realise that the place selected is rife with yellow fever and malaria, the government is run by a rabid bunch of xenophobes, disaffected rebels with ground-to-air missiles live near the airport and no sooner has the rainy season ended and the floods finally subsided than the dry season starts and water rationing and power shortages are in force. You will need a visa which takes at least three months and £800 to obtain and must exchange all of your currency for the local, worthless, paper on arrival. The Rough Guide recommends only one hotel but when you look it up on the internet you find it burnt down a year ago. Camping is illegal without a permit (that's another £800) and staying with locals requires registration and reporting to the police daily.

You had better cheat (nobody need know) and take another throw of the dart. You can go on chucking it until at last it sticks in near Disney World, which you always wanted to visit anyway, and you can finally make your travel plans. But let's be honest - you haven't really done the Dart-Travel thing at all, have you? You have done what anyone with half a brain cell does - gone to somewhere you actually want to visit. And that is why my darts set will stay in the cupboard4.

1. Or "arrer", as they say in these parts, especially people from Sarf 'Arrer.
2. I assume you all know what a dart is and how to throw one. If not, there are plenty of educational videos on the internet, I imagine.
3. Green will do in a pinch
4. At least, it was in the cupboard the last time I looked but that was a long, long time ago, now I come to think of it. Trouble is, I don't think I can justify buying a new set. Still, as I am not going to do the 'Dart-Travel' thing, it doesn't matter a jot and I don't know why I bothered to mention it in the first place.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

101 Things #42 - Watch This Space

We all love brands, don't we? Even my good friend, the Editor, swears by his trusty Merridew and Withers Gentleman's Quill Pen. [Very funny: Ed]. No, but seriously folks, an article of clothing with a designer label, a car bearing the badge of a respected marque, laptops identified by the outline of a fruit - brands are important and we aspire to identify with them, to be perceived as more distinguished human beings through a recognised possession.

I have used the inclusive "we" so far but now I must assert and support my own brand, the utterly non-aspirational anti-bucket-list that is 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die. I don't object to brands but I don't worship them either. The notion that one should seek to own something just because it is branded, rather than because it is worth having for its own sake, is one I find repellent. Let us explore this a little further as I pick one of the most popular brands for bucket-lists and explain why I will not

Buy a Rolex.

Pic: It's one of mine, obviously.

Here are the watches I own. On the left my day-to-day trusted companion, the Casio digital. It tells me the time (note, I mean actually tells me the time, as opposed to letting me guess about positions of big hands and little hands). It has an alarm. It has a backlight. It has a stopwatch. It knows what day and what month it is, so it never needs resetting on the first of the month (leap years excepted). It cost me less than £30 and I have had it many years.

On the right is my Sekonda. It is just a plain analogue watch with no fancy features. I like the look of the face and that deep blue background. I wear it when dressing up, because I find it smarter than the Casio. Oh, and it cost less than £30.

I am aware that one can pay much more for a watch. Hundreds, thousands of pounds even. Since the functionality is identical to those I already own, and many of the additional features (such as waterproof to 50 fathoms or a glass face hard enough to park a tank on without either of them cracking, etc) are irrelevant, why on earth would I want one? Of course, at these prices, one is buying an item of jewellery or an investment (or both).

My Sekonda is all the jewellery I desire and if anything should happen to it (I'm fairly sure it would not be working after a tank drove over it) then I would buy something similar - no, let me clarify, I would buy the same model again - it took me long enough to find something I really liked and I don't want to go through that endless looking in jewellers' windows again.

How about as an investment? I think one of the other fancy brands like Patek Phillipe used to advertise that you didn't own one, you merely looked after that for the next generation. [Yes, they did: Ed]. It's a clever marketing line. I don't know if such watches perform better than, say, a broad-based equities fund or rare stamps, but, if you can convince enough punters to take a chance, then they may well do so. Of course this implies that there is a next generation waiting with their grasping little hands out, cold eyes scanning the latest auction sales, totting up the value of the antique china in your old cabinet and wondering whether to sell or melt down your platinum cuff-links. Be proud - you want them to value it, don't you?

The Ramblings household does not have this problem. I intend to leave my watches for the reduction of the National Debt ("Thank you, thank you", says a moist-eyed Chancellor) and the rest will be monetary so that my heirs can do as they choose and not be shackled with the thought that they in turn are supposed to guard a timepiece for their own descendants.

I chose Rolex as the most recognised brand in watches [Is it? Researcher to my office, please: Ed] and see no reason to acquire one. Having had a look at a few online, I have even less reason to stick one on my wrist.

Rolex Submariner: Pic-

I don't think they look particularly attractive with the chunky, pointless bezels engraved with numbers even though they also have digit markers on the watch face. And if I was to sport one, every arm movement must be restrained to prevent scratches, every dark alley avoided to evade muggers and God knows what it would do to my household insurance policy. The item pictured above, for example, will set you back a nice little £5,900.

So I shall not be bothering.With my phone almost as convenient a way of ascertaining the time, and a much more sophisticated alarm app than my Casio can match, maybe even that venerable watch will not be replaced when its quartz crystal drops into a well earned sleep.

Important note:
I have categorically stated that I will not buy a Rolex. This does not in any way rule out my acceptance of, shall we say, a commemorative award involving an expensive and exclusive timepiece presented by an admiring and grateful public. Should you wish to donate to this presentation then the lines are now open and the Editor is waiting to take your calls. [Huh? Ed]. Absolutely no terms or conditions apply. The Submariner is a perfectly acceptable gift for this purpose but plenty of other models are available as I suspect my days of diving deep under the polar ice in the old hunter-killer may be numbered.