Life Stuff

Thinking Inside The Box

I am something of a Tetris fiend. I could pack for England; were it an Olympic sport, Team GB would be sure to bring home a gold medal. As a party trick, I can pack a fortnight’s change of clothes, toiletries and all imaginable travelling paraphernalia into an overnight bag, and still leave space for the hotel towels on returning. When we were invited to go camping, where all the others required utility vehicles and trailers, and still couldn’t see out the rear window, they were amazed that I packed everything away in a medium sized family car with a clear rear view.

Yet, when it comes to packing removal boxes, I’m in a quandary. I know if I can lift a packed box without sensing I’m about to slip a disc or get a hernia, a professional shifter could manage it effortlessly. But what about the box itself?

I’m developing nightmare visions of all my valuable possessions hitting the street through the flappy bottom of a failed cardboard container. I try to moderate things but it seems everything I own has mass. Gaps in packing are anathema as I feel irked to have to pay out good money for men to transport air from one place to another, ten miles up the road. They already have air down there, they don’t need extra.

I guess I will have to hold my breath on the day, keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best. I’m sure it’ll be okay… 😬

Now, where did I pack my lucky rabbit’s foot?

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Five Questions Answered

Chelsea Owens has tagged me to answer five questions. Here they are,

1. How much chocolate is too much?

I remember the first time I set foot outside Britain, I was on a boat. This was lucky as I wouldn’t have wanted to get my shoes wet. We took the ferry to Holland and onto Amsterdam. Apart from being offered mayonnaise whenever we bought chips (French fries) on the street (in England, it was only ever salt and vinegar) the most amazing cultural shock was that they had actual chocolate shops! Imagine, a shop only selling chocolate.

Now, this wasn’t dainty, little selections of chocolates in a pretty box, like we have now, nor was it offering any number of wrapped branded chocolate bars. The chocolate they sold was presented as big blocks and slabs. From a distance these looked like whole cheeses, and when you told them how much you wanted, they’d actually cut your piece off with a kind of cheese wire, weighed it and wrapped it in butter paper.

There was white chocolate, caramel chocolate, milk chocolate and dark chocolate and all sorts of added stuff to chocolate, nuts and fruit and things. I liked the white best at the time. I’m not saying there was too much chocolate though, in terms of calories and artery clogging saturated fats. There was just a lot of information to take in for a boy fresh out of England.

2. Who would really win: Batman or Superman?

As a kid, I loved super hero comics. There was a specialist shop at the end of our road which sold, amongst other things, imported comics from the States. I know there’s been plenty of movies made in the intervening years but I haven’t really kept up.

The answer to this question is, I think, Batman. He’s a billionaire whereas poor old Clark is having to hold down a job as a lowly reporter for some regional rag. I bet he hasn’t even got gym membership as part of that employment package.

Batman is also tech savvy; he’s got all the gadgets, he’s even got a laboratory. He’s even got somewhere in there where he can change in and out of his bat suit. What’s Superman got? A public telephone booth! There’s not many of those left when everyone has a cell phone. And he must get through a lot of suits, ripping them off like that. And he wears his action clothes under his day ones at all times? Boy, how his suit must stink.

If I remember right, Superman’s ability to fly – or at least leap tall buildings – comes from the fact that his home planet is massive and the difference in gravity is immense. Like when those guys hit golf balls on the moon and they couldn’t find them because they’d probably hit them clean into space. Well, all the time they were fooling around, their bones were disintegrating because the body didn’t need or want to carry around that amount of skeleton anymore. So, Superman, after a year on Earth, would be as puny as any human.

Anyway, Batman has a crystal of green kryptonite tucked into his utility belt, just in case.

3. Why is it always the last place you look?

This is incredibly important. I have learnt the hard way and never again.

I once lost my keys, found them, and then, probably high on success, just kept on looking. It was four days later that I arrived at the conclusion that my efforts were pointless. Had I mislaid my keys again in that period, it might have not been wasted time. Unfortunately, I knew they were in my pocket all the while.

4. What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen European swallow?

I’ll have to admit I didn’t know there was a European swallow. I bet they don’t realise it themselves either. I guess after Brexit we won’t see them ever again. European birds! Coming over here, eating all our flies, sticking their mud nests on the sides of British houses…. (sorry, UK political satire).

I wonder what they would be laden with if they were not unladend. Tiny, little suitcases. What a marvellous thing nature is.

5. Where would you go to find The Meaning of Life?

Well, the best answer I can give is – follow this blog!

But, ha ha, no, I can’t be so brazen and to give you false hope too. Besides, I can only offer the meaning of this life. Mine. You’re better off reading Douglas Adams where the short answer would be Earth.

It may be irrelevant but it’s a fact that at the end of my first job interview, which took place a whole year before HHGG was made public, I was tested by two impromptu questions. “What happens when water freezes?” and “What are six sevens?” I must have given satisfactory answers because I got the job but I now know that to the second I should have said, “Surely, you meant to ask, what are six nines?” because that is the meaning of life, folks.


The idea now is to nominate five bloggers and provide them with five new questions. This is like opening a can of worms: who to choose, who to leave off, will they want to, will those I haven’t chosen really really would have wanted to?

The reason I’ve done this is, in honesty, because I enjoy writing about anything and mostly bloggers need prompts like oxygen. So, in the spirit of writing and prompting, here are five questions open to any writer. Please leave a ping-back or comment below, if you like, and we’ll check it out – that’s guaranteed.

1. A Can of Worms: what would that look like? Literal or metaphorical, I’ll not mind.

2. If you never threw any clothes out ever, what would be the worst mistake found in your wardrobe?

3. Can you compose a haikiddle or riddku (that’s a riddle in haiku form, in case you don’t know) to describe something in your room? I’ll try to guess what it could be.

4. As the motto of the USA is “In God We Trust”, should it adopt a dynastic monarchy, or similar, instead of just letting the people decide its leader?

5. Is it a good idea to take potatoes to Mars?

Better Places to Read & Write

I want to record this fact, that I’m writing this after reading through the latest posts from my followed blogs, sitting in The Cricklade Club. They are promoting Veganuary but I chose from the menu a chilli bean doodah which came with a soft poached egg.

I am also sinking deep into a wonderfully distressed, tan leather armchair, part of a suite corralled about a low, broad table. I sip an IPA called Pioneer which isn’t over bitter and has distinct floral-fruity notes. The place is buzzing but oddly not distracting, and it is this which makes me think I should read, and perhaps write, more in places like this.

After we move house, I must try to look for a pub with wi-fi and a comfortable corner, and bring along my iPad (the phone I’m using here is a bit too small for typing). Perhaps, amongst noise and strangers, I will be plagued by far fewer interruptions and distractions.


image: on the wall by the comfy corner, a stranger in contemplation.

The Last of the Wrist Watches

The search on the WP app isn’t at all good but I’m pretty sure I’ve written something about how unnecessary a wrist watch is these days. Well, now the inevitable has happened and the battery powering my wrist watch has died. It’s frozen on six minutes past seven.

It’s a funny thing but when your wrist watch dies is the day you find out how often you look at it. Four times during that day; the little numskull inside my head department put in a request in for knowing the hour. The arm rises, the hand thrusts out, and simultaneously, I glance down, the eyes making contact and… it’s 7.06.

After the fourth time, moments before the end of the day, I took the useless thing off and put it away in a drawer. Throughout the next day, I looked at my bare wrist four times.

What I’m sure I wrote about previously was the two years before my 21st birthday, I never had a watch, and I did okay despite not having constant access to the correct time. I believe even humans with their dumb indoors mentality and general reluctance to commune with nature’s clues, can at least guess the hour within about 30 minutes accuracy either way. I often test myself for amusement and it works. Try it yourself!

So the upshot of this is an unintentional resolution: no more wrist watches for me.


image by James Coleman via Unsplash.com

The Upright Creator

Sue Vincent’s comment on The Name of the Cloud That Ate The Sun has me thinking about a creator and its motives.

The idea of God, the creator, of the Abrahamic faiths has Him creating us in his image. This is understandable as we readily create imaginary beings in our own image, or partly so. Intelligent alien life is usually bipedal, with limbs and a head on top with eyes and ears and a multi-functioning mouth – and many of them speak fluent English in an American accent. The popular idea of a robot is also a bipedal machine.

Given that bipeds came last in line, whether it’s creationism or evolution, what gives with all the other stuff which came before? Well, robots might be the clue. Getting the things to stand upright and walk. It’s not easy and with a lot of robotics, this is an unnecessary fancy but it doesn’t stop a lot of technicians struggling with the concept. They will succeed but more because of god than being good designers, I think.

But why would a creator be bipedal, being, as it were, out there in space and existent throughout all time? Why would it need to stand up when there is no up in which to stand?


image from Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam

History, Prehistory and Everything Before and After

Ours is not as bad as H.E. Bates’ Larkin’s house where there was always a TV on in every room, but the one telly we have does seem to be on a lot. Mostly, I tune it out but sometimes it worms its way past my unconscious defence.

As it did yesterday. It was showing a medieval drama, a jousting event where armoured blokes upon armoured horses charged at each other, aiming poles at the other’s delicate body parts. And at other times on foot, hacking at each other with huge broad swords. Apart from the jousting scene, you could tell it was a medieval setting because all the poor people were dressed in sackcloth and rags. A funny thing though, a lot of them were exceptionally clean shaven and had nice haircuts, and all of them had really clean faces and hands, as if they’d just taken a hot bath or shower.

To be fair, I guessed it was a semi-comedy drama. What gave it away, and what drew my attention to the telly in the first place, was during the jousting tournament the crowd were all chanting Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, and in a subsequent scene there was an incongruous electric guitar solo – not acted out in the scene, thank god, but on the soundtrack.


During the above faux historical drama, I had begun listening to another podcast about the planet Venus. Early on in our history, Venus was considered to be Earth’s twin, it being close to Earth’s size as well as being our neighbour (Mars is much smaller). It’s also most noticeable in the sky having a highly reflective atmosphere; it appears as a star. Early on, people imagined it contained life and, as it was closer to the sun, its life would be consistent with that of hot, tropical jungles.

That idea was binned once scientific evidence established how hostile its atmosphere actually is: mostly carbon dioxide and so thick, the pressure at ground level would crush a human being, and so hot it would melt lead. Mars seemed a better bet for life after that.

One of the three scientists giving account of the planet gave a short description of how planets formed around the sun, beginning with a swirling of space dust, eventually sticking together by electromagnetism and then gravity, the sun then reaching ignition point, and the residual turning forces of swirling matter making everything revolve and orbit. For Venus and Earth, the period from adhering and coagulating dust particles to a proper orbiting sphere would be around 100 million years. At that would just be the beginning.


I was thinking about my primary school and how I remembered a lot of lessons about prehistoric life. We began with fossils of trilobites and ammonites, those funny looking segmented and spirally sea creatures, then the fishes and amphibians, and eventually the rise and decline of the reptiles – dinosaurs! – and ending with a few early mammals.

It seems to me now how each of these periods in Earth’s past is a distinct portion of the Earth’s life simply because of the huge passage of time each had taken. The Earth has had many lives, so to speak. It may have many more ahead, possibly without us.

And there I was, marvelling at those significant names from England’s “Dark Ages”, and how they seem to dabble in politics and culture as much as we do, and write books about it all. And, well, yes, but it’s only 1400 years ago. Nothing in time. When we’ve barely 100 years each in which to experience existence, how inconceivable is a passing of a million years!


It’s extraordinary to me to think how Earth has sustained some form of higher life for so long, and mostly, if not all, by chance. What are the odds? Do you think we’ll come face to face with aliens from another planet? Across time and space, as vast and hostile as it appears, and to coincide with our time here?

I don’t.

In Future This Blog Will Be Closed On Wednesday Afternoons

In preparation for our house move, I loaded up the car with accumulated garage rubbish and we headed off to the dump (aka “the tip” – official name: Civic Recycling Centre). Damn us if the thing weren’t open.

Lots of other people were caught out too, enough to alert us something was up before we even reached the gates. To be fair to the dump, they’ve always been closed on Tuesdays and there’s a dirty great sign by the gate which says so. The thing is, these days, in England, we’re just used to everything being open whenever we need it.

I’m old enough to remember when shops and stores were closed all day on Sundays and shops would close for Wednesday afternoons, and banks, bless ’em, would shut their doors mid-afternoon, Monday to Friday. Weekend banking? Not a chance.

The thing was that this wasn’t really a problem for most of us as the situation was quite clear. Shoppers had a responsibility to mind the time and, if they missed the shop, they only had themselves to blame. It usually meant opening a tin of something, like it or lump it.

I have noticed whenever holidaying in Wales and Spain – in certain parts, at least – you can’t find a restaurant or gastropub (or whatever the Spanish equivalent of that is) open on a Monday. Sundays is normally dead being the Sabbath, so avoid going on a short break anywhere over a Sunday and a Monday, unless you want to eat McDonald’s.

What’s my (serious) take on this?

Well, for a long while I’ve kind of missed the spirit of the quite Sunday (early closing Wednesday was sometimes a pain in the arse). There was something ineffably calming and peaceful and ordered about Sundays. I mean, it wasn’t ever a religious thing for us but if that’s what it takes, so be it. A sabbath made for man; I quite like it.

New Endings and Beginnings

Nearing its end, 2018 has been, for me, a significant year: a milestone birthday, a determination to give up routine work, and a decision, soon to be realised, hopefully, to move home.

We are not moving far, no more than seven miles from where we are now and have been for the best part of twenty years. We had intended to move sooner, sometime around 2008, but there was always something going on (in 2008, it happened to be the banking crisis and the recession, but there were personal things happening as well). Every year seemed to bring with it a doubt as to whether it was the right thing to do.

But there comes a time when you think you’re not going to end up on the proverbial death bed with big regrets, so you sort out those dreams which might be realised and act. Big resolution time!


The justification for our move is food. It would be, wouldn’t it. For years, we kept an allotment, a narrow strip of cultivation rented for a small annual amount – £15, I remember – on which you could grow fruit, vegetables and sometimes flowers for cutting. There are rules and obligations to keeping a plot and this, we felt, wasn’t for us. We simply didn’t have the time and we let it go but the keenness to grow some of our own food remained. So we trust we can begin in the new year with a decent sized garden, and a greenhouse included. Straight from the ground, into the kitchen, and onto the table. There’s not much that can beat that, food-wise.


Moving further away from town, the one thing I think I’ll miss most is the easy walk into town for some casual shopping. It’s not much of a walk, as walks go around here, though I have spotted deer, water voles and the intermittent sighting of a kingfisher, a brief halcyon blue dart heading upstream or down.

Apart from this, I’m happy to leave. With the passing of years, town is reminding me a little too much of the suburbia I left thirty years back – though not as bad as suburbia is now. My regular walks will probably have to be to a pub, about a mile away. It’ll be tough but it’s got to be done.

What is Love?

What is Love? as Haddaway once sang (over a rather catchy electro-funk backing track which, in case you’re unfamiliar with it, I’ve linked at the bottom of this post a version of it with some natty street dancing licks.)

What is Love? We know when we feel it but what is it? Is it inexplicable, as is God and Art?

Of all Art, the most inexplicable form, probably, is Music. What is Music? You should hear some of the things I hear presented as Music; it’s hard to differentiate it from just Noise.

But then I was once asked to listen to an egg frying as a piece of, well, Music, in as much as it was featured on a music programme. The recordist had put a contact mic on a pan and recorded from beginning to end, the frying of an egg in some fat. Listening through earphones, is was wonderful, though it did make me hungry.


As promised, here’s Haddaway. Now, does it make you wanna Dance too?

image: “Lovers’ Hands on Sand” by Wilson Sánchez via Unsplash.com

Catch A Spider

Thanks to Pete of BeetleyPete this morning for reminding me of the late Innovations catalogue. This was a mail order catalogue, a precursor to online shopping, and was included amongst all the crap you found inside your Sunday newspaper. The peculiarity of Innovations was that few of its offers were born of the maxim, Necessity Being The Mother of Invention. Not only were the items practically unnecessary but were often presented as solutions to problems which never existed.

I’ve shared the link Pete found below to give an idea of the absurdities you could have had but the one I want to consider here is the Humane Spider Remover. Basically, its a trap on a stick and operated by a trigger comfortingly remote from the offending “insect”. I assume you caught the spider at arm’s length and release it, in a similar fashion, out of the nearest window.

Now it was with some shock and disgust when a mate of mine told us he simply got out the vacuum cleaner and sucked up the offending critter. Oddly, a lot of the shock and disgust came from those in our circle who I knew to be somewhat arachnophobic.

So it got me thinking: what is it with spiders that we honour them above all other bugs? Happy to swat a fly, chop a worm and stamp on ants but render no harm to our eight-legged friends. This appears to be ingrained in British culture, and is adhered to whether you hate them or not. I wonder, do other cultures feel the same?

Personally, being a bit of a born again Nature Boy, I tend to give safe haven to all critters. I even risk life and limb to allow an angry wasp free passage from inside to outside my window (though I have drawn the line at times with the persistent blighters when dining al fresco – there are limits).


17 Majestically Useless Items from the Innovations Catalogue