Thursday, April 30, 2020

101 Things #98 - The Pursuit of Enlightenment

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

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

Gain enlightenment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

101 Things #97 - Celebrity Special

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

Wherever possible, I resolve not to

Buy anything promoted by a celebrity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 26, 2020

101 Things #96 - Cuddles for Nothing

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

Give a free hug to a stranger on the street.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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


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

Saturday, April 25, 2020

That Missing "Ten Years Ago" panel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 24, 2020

101 Things #95 - Flowers for the One You Love

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

Send flowers to yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

101 Things #94 - Into the Woods

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aokigahara Forest, Japan. Pic: The Independent

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

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

Monday, April 20, 2020

101 Things #93 - Speed Limits Revisited

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

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

Talk your way out of a speeding ticket.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 18, 2020

101 Things #92 - Going Nowhere

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

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

Go on a trip to nowhere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 16, 2020

101 Things #91 - Coffee Altruism

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

Buy coffee for a stranger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

101 Things #90 - Speed Limits

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

Peg the speedometer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 12, 2020

101 Things #89 - Redeye Blues

Mrs C. and I once embarked on a holiday that required a very early start. We took the first train from beautiful Ruislip into central London, leaving at some ungodly hour like 5:30am. We don't boast about this. It never crops up in conversation. We do not see it as in any way remarkable. If travel requires it, one makes the effort.

For this reason it is a simple matter to review, reject and consign to oblivion (otherwise known as the dustbin of vainglory, or 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die, the suggestion made by that anyone compiling a bucket-list should

Fly the red-eye from Vegas.

Let us leave aside the obvious problem that, in order to fly the red-eye from Vegas, one has to be in Vegas to be begin with, and the hassle of flying there is no small matter, quite apart from finding any good reason to be there.
What is the point of it? By "red-eye" is meant any flight leaving late at night or early in the morning. The prices are supposed to be better and the downsides of disturbed sleep and arriving somewhere where everything is shut are the trade-off. And that seems to that. One can, for example, fly Delta leaving at 5:45 and arrive at Los Angeles by 7:00 for a mere $57. Whether LA at that time is worth more than a single bleary look before one hastens back to the airport to go elsewhere is a moot point. And anyway the Delta flight costs the same if you catch the 17:00, arriving at a perfectly sensible 18:24 in LA in time for dinner, so any gloating about the money being saved is gloating wasted.

 After one has done this deed, what then? Is there a Red-eye Club to which one may apply, where yawning businessmen and penniless students can swap stories about sitting outside a locked Starbucks for an hour watching the cleaners? Do they make presentations to Reddest Eye of the Month, the traveller with the greatest sleep deprivation and darkest bags under the eyes? Is there an annual outing to some obscure airstrip, where there is nothing whatsoever to do except sit in a reeking corrugated-iron hanger waiting for the 2:25am back to somewhere with a cafe and working toilets?

The US is a big country and air travel is comparatively cheap and easy. Of course many will choose to fly at unsocial hours. Why on earth taking the red-eye from anywhere should be a bucket-list item is beyond my comprehension. It's just a flight. Of course, any flight away from Vegas has to be a good thing, but let's not boast about it folks, it was your fault for going there in the first place.

Friday, April 10, 2020

101 Things #88 - Party Animal

I have been building up my antidote to bucket-lists, the much-loved series called 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die for quite a while now. Normally I examine, eviscerate and expunge one idea at a time. [Brilliant alliteration, love it: Ed]; today, however, you are in for a treat for the subject is several bucket-list suggestions that I have cunningly combined into one for maximum comedic effect.

Our source of inspiration, not for the first time, is the website of the clearly much-travelled Aussie on the Road. Our Antipodean friend opines that no bucket list is complete without the following:
  • Go to a fancy party with or without an invitation.
  •  Have a drink thrown in one's face or be slapped for being a cad.
  •  Get a kiss from a celebrity. Tongue optional.

I suggest rolling all of these recommendations into one, viz:

Behave outrageously at a party

and however you slice it, I'm not going to do it.

I don't know why the drink-in-face is an alternative to the slap. Surely one must aim for both? Purists can argue about the order of these humiliations - I think the drink should follow the slap, having maximum effect while you are still stroking your reddening cheek. Also the kiss was to come from a "preferably female" celebrity but I prefer it my way. We'll have no sexual discrimination here.

I could also nit-pick by treating the attendance at the party with an invitation as a separate objective to that of gate-crashing it. Perhaps, though, merely attending a party to which one is invited is not much of an achievement, however fancy it may be; the challenge must surely lie in taking on the role of imposter.

Obviously all of these events should take place at the same party. It is a "fancy" party (note: not a fancy dress party) so clearly that rules out some of the drunken beach barbecues popular on the Gold Coast of New South Wales (see below) but not so fancy that a guest who is misbehaving is merely shown the door by two hefty footmen, as a polite preliminary to being shown where the dustbins are kept and what the inside of one looks like really close up.

I have no experience in crashing any social event. I have turned up to celebrations taking place in a large function hall with other similar events at the same time, and certainly could have snaffled the odd canap√© or two from the wrong reception had I chosen, but this, I suspect, is too accidental to count. No, we must seek out some fancy party to which we are emphatically not invited and take pains to be there nonetheless. I have suggested some approaches to this problem in my earlier piece on weddings.  In general, it seems that unless one already mixes in the sort of circles where fancy parties regularly take place, merely finding one to invade is going to be pretty damn difficult.

Let us posit, however, that a suitable venue and time has been identified and we roll up to the entrance. Will the hostess be there, turning a puzzled eye on us as we try to bluff that we are a friend of Moira, not not her, Millicent, no no, what a silly mistake, Martin. Nobody by these names present? OK, I've come to unblock the drains/search for a missing cat/on secret Government service, just let me pass, lady and I'll be out of your hair as soon as I may.

Are we in? Now to sweep to the centre of the room, talk loudly and boorishly, monopolise the attentions of a suitable person and make some underhand insinuations about what we might get up to afterwards. A few offhand remarks to passing waiters about keeping our companion well tanked up, and some nudging in the ribs of anyone milling around nearby with remarks about "I'm going to be alright tonight, know what I mean" should help inflame your victim to the point of either a left hook (damn, didn't realise they had boxed for their school) or the pint glass (full to the brim) is upended smartly over one's head, shoulders and upper torso. Or both.

Soaking, smarting and ostracised by all, and with a few of the host's friends from the karate club approaching menacingly, now is the time to complete one's mission. A celebrity. A celebrity who is up for a snog with a undesirable, disgraced, gate-crasher reeking of alcohol. This is where it becomes increasingly clear that the whole concept is flawed.

One might perhaps so enchant a passing celebrity that a quick snog (tongues optional) is achievable. One might force entry to a do and make a scene. It is hard to see how all of this can be done at the same time and even harder to envisage why anyone would want to? Am I guilty of easy stereotyping if I consider that maybe all this is the typical fantasy of the average Australian young man whose unpleasant habits have been so brilliantly captured in a recently published book "Sh*t Towns of Australia"?

Follow them on Facebook

Having browsed through this book I now know more about larrikins, gronks, drongos and bogans than I think anyone needs to know. What emerges is that "culture" down under means getting drunk and rioting, a "quiet day out" means getting drunk and rioting, and a good Saturday night involves getting drunk, rioting and then doing it all over again. I can begin to understand why the height of sophistication, to the dole bludgers and lowlifes depicted, is to attend a "fancy" party. Possibly this means any event held indoors as opposed to a drunken mob vomiting and fighting their way up the main street. That they should go on to do offensive things can be taken for granted.

I don't think I need write any more.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

101 Things #87 - Unfamiliar Menus

Nature is a wonderful protector. Our senses have developed to find opportunities and detect threats. Much of our understanding of our immediate surroundings runs in our subconscious, making us react to anything unexpected and thereby helping to keep us alive. There are (or were) the obvious dangers from wild animals, approaching storms, and our fellow humans. Additionally, we have over many generations developed instincts for the perils of the unknown and chief amongst these is our feelings about what to eat. For example, it is counter-intuitive to eat blue food. Why? Blue is the colour of rot in many foods. And it is counter-intuitive to eat food that looks strange for the obvious reasons that, if we don't know what it is, then it might be dangerous.

With this in the background, consider the suggestion found on the Bucket List Journey website that one of the items on your bucket-list should be

Eat something foreign that looks disgusting.

I agree with Mother Nature on this one. This idea goes into my anti-bucket-list compendium, 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die. However we should first dissect the trap in the innocent phrasing of "something foreign".

We are naturally, and quite rightly, suspicious of foreign foods and with very good reason. We are used to eating a certain diet. Going off it can have unexpected and unpleasant consequences. Foods that are fine for the locals are not necessarily going to suit strangers. Europeans travelling to Asia and Africa are routinely advised to be very careful about drinking water or anything made directly from water. Having been on a holiday to Egypt, where, despite all precautions and warnings, everyone on the trip was ill at some point with stomach upsets, I know this advice is based on hard experience. Equally, there is a far higher proportion of lactose intolerance amongst Asians and they must take care before plunging into the more dairy-based diets of Europe.

I think the point about "something foreign" is that, if you are confronted with a familiar food in your own country that is disgusting, then it should be avoided with good reason; if it is foreign then, one might argue, the disgust is simply a cultural phenomenon and merely reflects our upbringing. But here we have a genuine dilemma. Is it apparently disgusting but really absolutely fine, tasty and nutritious or is it genuinely harmful to health and tastes so appallingly nasty that it will haunt our nightmares for weeks to come? How can you tell? Watching the locals tucking in with relish proves nothing - the locals on our Egyptian trip had no problems, it was the unfamiliar bugs in the water that did for us.

I have seen slabs of meat hung up on market stalls in Tibet, festooned in flies and without any form of covering. The locals shopped, unconcerned. I would not then, and would not now, wish to eat such meat. I did once risk having some strange intestine-like sausage at a French motorway service station (out of the same spirit of adventure that underlies the "foreign disgusting" meme) and after two cautious mouthfuls heartily wished I had not done so. And right now the world is grappling with the covid-19 pandemic, caused (probably) by a mutating virus in Chinese food markets. The indiscriminate mixing of species enables the virus to spread and mutate, whilst the crowded markets are there to feed the appetite for weird foods, including plenty that we find disgusting such as bats.

The "foreign" bit is a red herring (and those really are supposed to be rather good, according to a recent TV programme about the fisheries of Lowestoft). If food disgusts then there is a good reason for it. I don't care how popular something may be, if I don't fancy it then I'm not going near it.

Monday, April 06, 2020

101 Things #86 - Can't We Just Talk?

Have you ever made a chance remark to someone in the street - perhaps whilst queueing for a bus?

"They're running late again, aren't they?"
"Been here long?"
" 'bout ten minutes."
"Should be one soon then."

or maybe you have spotted someone staring at a map on the tube, clearly lost
"Can I help you?"
"Kechirasiz, men inglizcha gapirmayman."1
"Oh sorry, you want to change at Oxford Circus then."
"Bu Yoxford naychasi nima, iltimos."2
"And then take the Central Line to Liverpool Street, then change to platform 7."
"Siz nima deyayotganingizni bilmayman."3
"My pleasure, have a nice day."

Congratulations. In both cases you have already done one of the bucket-list ideas suggested by the A Backpacker's Tale website to

Have a conversation with a random stranger.

It seems rather flat. It's hardly a great achievement and certainly not one you are likely to even bother writing up in your journal, the one that you proudly labelled "Things to do before I die". In fact, it is sufficiently pointless that it deserves a mention in my anti-bucket-list, 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die,

There must be more to this one that meets the eye. Purists might object that my two examples are artificial and do not feature truly random strangers because in each case we were both fellow travellers. Maybe this becomes a real bucket-list when the stranger is truly random and, in addition, there is a meaningful exchange of ideas and information that constitutes a proper conversation.The problem is that there is no such thing as a random stranger. Let me explain.

Wherever you are in the world, the people around you will not be a random selection, they will either be people who in the main live there or people like you who are passing through. Merely by going to a particular location you will have selected (consciously or not) a type of person with which to communicate. If, for example, I take myself to the heart of beautiful Ruislip, I will almost certainly encounter people pretty similar to myself.

Furthermore, out of the hundreds who may be strolling by (or pushing by, should you be on the Tube), how do you select one? You will rule out the giggling schoolgirls, the big lads with the tattoos and the loud music emanating from headphones, the elderly couple tottering along with walking sticks. You will turn away from the reeking tramps, the policeman, the bloke handing round free Evening Standards. This is perfectly natural - you are supposed to be having a conversation after all. But this selection process renders otiose the concept of "random".

The only way to make it random is to pick a number then count the passers-by until there is a match. Who knows what this will produce? If the sixty-third person happens to be a Chinese tourist eagerly taking selfies of herself and friend, will you really step forward and start making polite enquiries about the weather in Shandong province?

One way of increasing the randomness and also keeping a degree of comfort is to dial a telephone number. You could use a random number generator to give you a suitable 9 digits, stick a 07 at the front and bingo! that's a mobile phone number. But what on earth are you going to say when a hoarse voice at the other end says "Yeah?".
"Hello, you don't know me but I wondered if you shared my feelings about the pleasures of a decent biscuit at teatime .... Hello, hello? Operator, we seem to be cut off ...."

In books people readily strike up chats with strangers in pubs or theatre bars. But these are not random - they are people, like you, who go into bars or who visit the theatre. You already have much in common, whether it be the perfect crime that just needs one more accomplice (the pub) or a spouse who doesn't understand you (the theatre). Your conversation will be the starting point of a deadly road from which there is no return (at least, that's what normally happens in the sort of books I read).

I see no point whatsoever in seeking to buttonhole some innocent bystander just so as to be able to tick off a bucket-list item off the list. I am certainly not going to hang around street corners, airport terminals or supermarket check-out queues in the hope that a random stranger will start a conversation with me. I'm happy to chat to anyone if there is a good reason for it but let's avoid the randomness.

1. I'm sorry I do not speak English
2. What is this Yoxford Circus please?
3. I have no idea what you are saying
Translations from Uzbek courtesy Google Translate

Sunday, April 05, 2020

101 Things #85 - A Roll in the Hay

I've been compiling my set of bucket-list rejects, the stuff that others recommend and which has no appeal to me, for some time now. One of the sources that I have freely plundered for suggestions to ridicule is the Bucket List Journey website and, wouldn't you know it, they've come up trumps again. I shall be adding to my non-achievers bible, 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die, the somewhat offbeat notion that one should

Sleep in a stable on a haystack.

I'm not sure how much experience BLJ have of stables or haystacks. They may, of course, have considerable expertise in sleeping and see this idea as a doddle. Be that as it may, let us consider the position for the rest of us.

Firstly, some light quibbling [He does like a quibble, you know: Ed].

Here are some haystacks.

Those huge structures that look like houses are actually haystacks, built on the Manor Farm site in beautiful Ruislip. The photo was probably taken before 1914 when hay for London horses was the main agricultural output of the area.

And, by way of contrast, here are some stables.

This photo shows the stables at Manor Farm. The building is still there, now converted for public use as a meeting hall.

Readers, do you see the problem? Haystacks are very big and stables, by comparison, are smaller. It is not possible to do anything in a stable on a haystack because it is not possible to build a haystack within a stable. Obviously a very, very small haystack could be put up in a stable but then it would not really be a haystack, just a pile of hay.

I also rule out, just to frustrate any pedants about to put their hands up1, the idea that stables could be constructed on top of a haystack. I think we may assume that our friends at BLJ did mean you to sleep on a haystack within a stable and just worded it clumsily.

Having therefore dismissed the idea that one could even attempt to sleep in a stable on a haystack, let us now be generous and consider the more general concept of having a kip in some sort of farm building using hay as one's bedding. (I don't think I can make the wording any more generalised than this, but anyone who thinks they can do better is welcome to send in their suggestions to the usual address).2

Of course it sounds so romantic and daring. The runaway from home dossing down for the night with only the snuffling of the horses to disturb her. The escaped POWs listening with thumping hearts for the approaching boots. The lovers, burrowing deep into the hay as they lose themselves and forget the dreadful fate hanging over her when Uncle Silas starts the foreclosure proceedings. Yes, we've all read the stories and seen the programmes on telly. Let us return to reality.

Stables and most farm buildings stink of animals, manure, fertiliser and diesel oil. Straw is scratchy, apt to get everywhere in one's clothes and provides no real support for the back unless laid out on some suitable surface3. There is no electricity to hand so nowhere to charge one's phone and no reading light. If you need the loo in the night, the pitch-dark, muddy farmyard is your only option and you had better hope the geese are penned up and the dogs are asleep. If it is a cold night then wrap up in your warmest clothes and wait, shivering fitfully, for the dawn. If you wisely choose a summer night make sure you do not oversleep, you do not want to be prodded by a pitchfork and have goggling yokels eyeballing you. Of course what with the mice, or more malicious vermin, scurrying about and the horse-flies delighted to have found a change to their monotonous diet, you probably won't sleep much anyway.

Sleeping out in the open in fresh air is a better idea but way better still is to stay at the BnB that the farm offers, sleep comfortably in a nice airy bedroom and tuck into a proper farmhouse breakfast the next day.

No sleeping on hay in some freezing farm outbuilding for me, thanks very much, but I am so pleased to have been able to include some photos of beautiful Ruislip in one of these pieces.

1. [I wasn't putting my hand up, actually, I just have this itch on the left shoulder blade that is hard to reach: Ed]
2. All submissions will be vetted with scrupulous care by the Editor before being carefully filed in the little wicker basket at the side of his desk, emptied into the big dustbin out the back on Thursdays, collected by the refuse service of Hillingdon Council and incinerated, probably somewhere near Slough.
3. Yes, I do know what I am talking about. I have slept on straw-filled palliases many times, whilst camping in my youth, and will gladly never repeat the experience.

Friday, April 03, 2020

101 Things #84 - Unwanted Fame

Most of us dream about being famous. We imagine ourselves on the red carpet, being photographed, being watched and admired by the ordinary people. As the author of the increasingly well-known anti-bucket-list 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die, I may be closer to fame than most; however, as things stand, it remains somewhat at a distance. This may seem to open the door for the suggestion found on the website. Amongst the bucket-list items is found the proposal to

Get mistaken for someone famous, don't correct them

but it is devoid of true promise, as I shall attempt to show.

There are several parts to this wannabe bucket-list item; the being mistaken bit, the question of who it is one is mistaken for, who it is that is doing the mistaking and the consequences of disillusioning them.

1. Being Mistaken
This is the hardest part. How do you become mistaken for someone else? Presumably it has to be someone you closely resemble. Merely wandering around, say, Ruislip station, and going up to people saying "That's simply splendid and what do you do?" will not guarantee that you will be taken for Prince Charles. Equally, donning sunglasses and insisting on "No photos, please" as you sweep into the chemists will probably not mean the assistant gasping and saying "Oh, Clint, I loved you in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly." Nor will entering the South African High Commission and going "Zulus. Farsands of 'em" convince anyone that you are indeed Michael Caine.

Wearing a rubber latex mask makes it easier for the public to work out who you are supposed to be but reduces the chances of you being mistaken to pretty well zero. Because famous people do not wear masks depicting themselves.

In short you might spend a long time before anything happens and, if it finally does happen when you are sitting in your retirement home and another inmate decides you are Cary Grant, this is hardly going to count.

2. Mistaken for whom?
Who might some poor deluded innocent bystander take you to be? Do you, in fact, resemble anyone well known? In my case the answer is no. This means that, should some sort of ghastly mistake actually occur, then I won't know who it is I am supposed to be. The consequences are likely to be something like this

PDIB: "It's you. It is! OMG! I don't believe it. I thought you were in Japan!"
Self: "Er, no, well, I was, of course, but I'm not now. I'm here, as it happens"
PDIB: "They said you were having therapy and writing a novel. And Billy-Sue! You're not really going to give her up are you? It would break my heart"
Self: "Ah no, dear old Billy-Sue, we're going to get back together very soon"
PDIB: "I'm so glad. I adore that dog"
Self: "Umm ... yes, so do I ..."

And on you flounder, unable to come clean to the fan because the rules of this bucket-list item are that you don't correct them.

3. The Mistaker 
But now we should consider who it is that is button-holing you. In the ideal case they will be thrusting out a grubby envelope for an autograph and taking selfies. But suppose it is a large, well-muscled gentleman with a scar or two and plenty of gold jewellery on his big, gnarled hands:

"Harry Arkwright! Gord, I don't believe it. It's you, ain't it? Standing here large as life. Jeez, Harry, last I heard you were doing a ten stretch in Wandsworth. Put it there my old son, I gotta tell the boss, this is great, we need a getaway driver for our latest job and you're the perfect man."

Do you risk enlightening your new friend and put yourself at serious risk of several mouthfuls of knuckles and a clear threat to "Shut it or else"? Or go along with it and find yourself really doing a ten stretch in Wandsworth?

4. The Consequences
We have moved into the final part of our little discussion. Perhaps the forgoing was a little extreme but who knows what a disappointed and potentially angry member of the public may do when you finally let on that you are not really Rihanna/ United's new Portuguese striker/The President of the North Ruislip Fruiterers Association after all. Remember the whole point of this achievement is to string them along, either actively by telling them what you, Tiger Woods, Hugh Grant, a Kardashian and that ballerina got up to that steamy night in Acapulco, or at any rate by nodding, grinning inanely for the cameras and dropping in the odd "You're too kind" and "Do please look me up the next time you're in Monte".

Sooner or later the pretence will falter, the mask will slip and their adoring eyes will fill with the wild uncontrolled anger of the deceived. Will you able to outsprint them up the High Street or do you go down under a flurry of handbags and "Oogh, the cheek, did you hear who he said he was, the lying toe-rag"?

Usually with a decent bucket-list attainment there is something to look back on with pride or a lasting satisfaction. That long cycle road over the mountains. The glorious sunset over the Grand Canyon. Working the equivalent of a con-trick on innocent and unsuspecting members of the public does not stand comparison. I am not going to go along with it. The next time I am accosted in the street with the delighted cry of "Hey, you're that guy in the pub on Emmerdale" I shall stop, smile, and say pleasantly "No, I'm afraid not. I'm the guy he talks to but you never see me on camera" and I shall pass on my way leaving them baffled yet somehow vindicated.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

101 Things #83 - Ascending La Tour

The good folk who make up well-meaning sets of bucket-list items frequently throw in all sorts of physical challenges. Slog up this mountain here, plunge into that bottomless ocean chasm there, run until your lungs try to climb out of your throat to escape, that sort of thing. I tend to ignore these as I steadily add to my collection of anti-bucket-list tropes that the world knows only by the name of 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die.

However, I find myself strangely drawn to an idea proposed on the Location Rebel website. By "drawn" I certainly do not mean that I wish to do it, or to wish that I had done it once, or to suggest that you may wish to do it. What I mean is, I am moved to say what a ludicrous idea it is to

Walk to the top of the Eiffel Tower.


The highest one may reach on the tower is 276m but this is only attainable by lift to the general public. Walkers may go no further than the second platform, a mere 116m above ground. The stairs leading on up from there are not accessible to the public.

That height is, nonetheless, pretty high. At some 380 feet it is the equivalent of a 34 floor building. I used to work on the tenth floor of a block at Waterloo and tried on most days to walk up. I could do it, but often had to stop by the seventh floor for breath and then struggled on, wheezing a little, to my desk and an essential cup of tea. To climb more than three times that height would have been doable but would have needed a fair amount of time and a number of rest breaks. But to climb up the full height of the Eiffel Tower, assuming one was allowed to do so, would be do to attempt something like an 80 floor building. This would not be fun. It would a gruelling slog up an unyielding metal staircase. The usual rule of thumb for hikers is to allow an hour for each 1000 foot of ascent, which is almost exactly what we have in this case.

So why have this one on your bucket-list? You can't do it anyway and if you could, it is just another endurance test. Why not ascend the staircase in your own home instead - the "faux-Everest" technique pioneered by this very column. The 984 feet of vertical ascent is the equivalent of just 106 strolls up my own stairs and can be accomplished in a couple of days or so. The views are not quite so compelling, I must concede, but there is plenty of tea to be had (unlike on the barren wastes of the upper Eiffel), it doesn't cost €25 either, and nor is there a queue.

I can cheerfully grow old [older: Ed] without ever worrying that I missed out on climbing the Eiffel Tower. In fact, I am fairly happy never having gone up it at all, given the length of the queues the last time I passed that way. I have no plans to wear out my own stair-carpet either. If Location Rebel and those of his ilk wish to try their luck on La Tour, good luck to them, and I am fairly sure that, when they finally stagger down and reel along the unforgiving concrete of the Quai Branly, they will be asking themselves why.