Keeping the Woggle Clean and the Primus Primed

Scouts
24th World scout Jamboree (22 July – 2 August 2019)

Back in the day, I was a scout (actually, the ‘day’ being what it was, I was a Boy Scout – but it wasn’t my fault. There were no Girl scouts: girls were Guides. Boy Scouts and Girl Guides seldom met – except if they happened to be on a weekend camp close to one another, in which case the results could be very unpredictable) and I loved every dib-dib-dib of it.

I was a good Scout. I am by nature polite. I kept my woggle clean. I rose through the ranks from standard pack member to Seconder and, eventually, to fully fledged Sixer. It was a proud day when I attached the Sixer badge to my sleeve. I collected Scout badges like other kids collected nits. They were neatly sewn to my sleeves (the badges, not the nits) with a precision that earned me my sewing badge. My knife was always safely sheathed in my belt and withdrawn only for a bit of authorised whittling. I always helped the elderly cross the road – whether they wanted to or not. I baked bread in an improvised clay oven (it was inedible); I fried semi-gutted fish of some sort on a primus stove (it was inedible); I toasted marshmallows on the campfire (they were inedible and the molten sugar removed most of the hard palate). My ging-gang-gooley was the envy of every campfire encirclement for miles around.

Times were different back then. I remember trudging off from home on a Friday night carrying a tent and a rucksack loaded with food, a meth’s-filled primus stove and a sleeping bag, to hike around the surrounding countryside for 48 hours (remember, no mobile phones back then – I think perhaps my parents had something they should have told me) finding suitable places to camp on the two evenings before returning home only to find my family had moved*. I was fortunate to spend my first night camped on some grass outside a farmhouse. The lady of the house (having met me when I asked permission to camp on her lawn – Be polite: Boy Scout law) brought me hot chocolate to drink and a bacon sandwich to save me from the meth’s-sodden sausages I had planned. She could not, unfortunately, save me from a night in a meth’s-sodden sleeping bag, although she did lend me a torch so that I didn’t try to light my candle lamp. It was a warm night and the meth’s soon evaporated. I slept like a baby, but awoke the next morning with an unexplained headache. I spent the second night, I recall, in an orchard about two hundred yards from home. I attempted to boil sausages because I wasn’t allowed a campfire and I had no oil to fry them in. The results were not pleasant. I ate a couple of unripe apples and slept fitfully.

Anyway, the point is, I did all this to earn a badge (I can’t remember what badge it was – Lunacy, probably) to sew on my sleeve and the memory started me thinking: why can’t we have badges now for doing something that we have never done before. How thrilled I would be to receive my ‘Not putting my foot in it’ badge. I would award myself a badge for the first time I ate Spaghetti Bolognese without pebble-dashing my shirt; the first time I visited a friend’s house without wrecking something priceless; the first time I turned down something sweet because I’d just eaten already; for making an entire journey without shouting at the SatNav; for avoiding the attentions of over-eager scouts when waiting to cross the road; for being prepared with a dob-dob-dob at the drop of a hat. I could be a sixty-sixer in no time…

*That last bit is not true – obviously.

I originally wrote a different piece yesterday evening for publication tonight, but then today I saw a news item about the Scout Jamboree, so I wrote this today instead. 

Below is a photo taken from my window as I typed last night.  It’s not really relevant, but it just seems a shame to waste it…

Night

 

Learning to Roll the Right Way

white toilet paper

I am no longer chastised for not changing the toilet roll when it is empty. Indeed, so assiduous have I become in my dispenser reloading that I now often change the roll before it has reached its full potential (cardboard tube) and I have to search for somewhere to put it until it has run out. In fact, my greatest concern these days is whether I’m hanging the roll the wrong way round. (I have no idea what constitutes the right way round and I am certainly not about to ask.) In twenty years (should I live that long) it will become an art I have mastered.

My brain has great difficulty in accommodating the mundane. In fact, the more routinely an act is performed, the less my grey matter can be bothered with it. Consequently, actions that should become routine take forever to become engrained. Once they do, however, I am able to stop doing them only by sheer force of will.

Now, I have spent most of my life as ‘class clown’ – I am aware that most people grow out of that before they leave school, but it never quite happened for me. My brain has become so accustomed to the smart-arse remark that I often cannot help myself. Don’t get me wrong, I do have a filter that stops me being rude, offensive or inconsiderate, but it doesn’t seem to work so well when confronted with the right thing/wrong time conundrum: something said triggers a response that would be perfectly acceptable at any time, other than a funeral…

What has brought this all home to me at this particular time was that the other day a fellow blogger and first time reader was kind enough to spare the time to post a comment to say that he had enjoyed my most recent post. I replied in my normal flippant manner, and regretted it immediately. I realised, the very second that I pressed the ‘send’ button, that it was not the correct response. The correct response was, of course, as you will know, ‘Thank you very much,’ but I couldn’t resist the joke. I thought it would raise a smile, but instead, what it probably raised was hackles. What I need to do is wait a second. This is a lesson that I have to learn and I cannot wait for endless repetition to sort it out.

I have considered putting a disclaimer at the foot of each post: ‘I’m sorry if I offended you – I didn’t mean to.’ But I don’t think I’m actually offensive, just stupid: socially inadequate. In truth, I am the butt of most of my own jokes, but I feel guilty about that as well as I’m such an easy target. Like a big game hunter who only shoots sloths, I can’t help thinking I should take on something a little more challenging. Something that will at least attempt to move whilst the gun is being reloaded.

Anyway, you must excuse me, I return to the toilet. What I do there is I tell myself each time I go in, before I go in, ‘Don’t forget, if the toilet roll is empty, then change it before you come out.’ It seems to work. I prime myself before entry and, somehow, I do not then forget. It is what I must do before I open ‘comments’: ‘Remember, be polite before you try to be funny.’ I’m sure that even I can manage that – at least on initial contact. So, my only problem now is that although I will almost certainly remember to think before I reply, I could well still manage to do it the wrong way…

 

P.S. If you want to comment, I would love to hear from you.  I promise I will be very polite…

The Utter Frustration of Not Being Able to Work Stuff Out…

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I cannot begin to tell you how frustrated I get when I cannot work stuff out. At the moment I have an issue in posting comments on my followed sites on WordPress. I post the comment, it is there, I can see it. I can see the little timer thingy telling me how long it is since I posted the comment. Then I go off to do something else and when I come back to it, my comment has gone. It does not appear on the counter. It does not appear in the conversation. It does not appear to have been there in the first place. Except it was, I put it there.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I know that it doesn’t really matter. But, you know what, it bloody does! First off it matters that I can’t tell people when I really like what they have written. Not to them, I’m sure, but it does to me. Also it matters that I can’t seem to work out why it’s happening or how to sort it out. I’m no tech genius, but this should be easy to sort out. Somehow. But it’s not. I can’t do it. I am totally impotent and it is killing me. I am frustrated beyond words. I just keep on posting comments in case one of them sticks, hoping that I can remember what I did differently should it happen, but knowing that I won’t. If it suddenly sorts itself out, somebody is going to receive a whole lot of comments – all of them the same.

Anyway, until I work this out (actually until somebody else works this out for me) I’m not able to comment on the blogs I like, so, maybe you can just imagine that I have done. I would never bother to comment on blogs I don’t like, so you can discount that. If you haven’t received my comment, I can assure you that I have made it, and if I’ve made it, I can assure you that it is positive – otherwise I wouldn’t have made it.

There. I feel better now that you know and I can get on with my life… except that the pigging thing is haunting me and will do until I sort it out or it gives me a heart attack. Unfortunately I know which is the more likely.

Just as long as you know. If I haven’t commented, I probably have. If I have, it was almost certainly to say how much I liked what you had to say and please forgive me, but I am now going to drown out the pain with loud music and chocolate…

How to Undertake a Futile Quest for the Ultimate Headline

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Now, I know what you’re thinking: ‘Odd title…’, and you’re right. It’s one of those make-do-and-mend things. One of those occasions when the best you have got is far from ideal, but it is still the best you have got. If I’m completely honest, I should really have called this post How to Make Your Nipples Explode with Delight if only I had the courage. But, of course, I did not. Now don’t panic! I have not started to write a tawdry salacious tract about the sex lives of the elderly. My next post will not be called Fifty Shades of Wrinkly Pink and Grey. I do not have it in me. My adjectival range is not sufficiently broad. No, I can explain. It happened like this…

…It started last week when I was just preparing my little salmagundi for the week – titled, in my usual minimalist (lazy) way as ‘Dreams’ – when a missive from WordPress appeared in my inbox suggesting that I avail myself of a little service designed to help me create more attractive headlines for my outpourings. I presume that they believe the modest titles I have a tendency to use could be usefully souped up, giving me increased pulling-power ‘readership-wise’. Now, I must admit that it struck me that it would be nice if a gathering of my readers required something bigger than a phone box – if such a thing still exists – for their annual get-together. If a little tweak to my titles might mean that I could go ahead with my plan to hire the Albert Hall then I might as well give it a go. So I looked and, with the usual missionary zeal I feel at such moments, I fully embraced what it had to offer me. It offered me a little box into which I typed my title before it told me, with a score out of one hundred, how effective it would be at drawing in the reader. I carefully typed in my proposed one-word title and presto! I scored zero. Oh well, time was short and, to be frank, zero is pretty much what people expect from me, so I decided to go with it anyway. But I was just about to push the ‘publish’ button when I caught a little snippet on the news about the on-going soap opera that has become the life of Woody Allen and I remembered an early film from the Allen canon, for no other reason than it once made my grandmother laugh so much that her lunch-time cream of tomato reappeared out of her nostril. So I shamelessly borrowed from it, swapped ‘Dreams’ for ‘Sex’ (story of my life) and popped it into the little box. ‘All You Ever Wanted To Know About Dreams, but Were Afraid to Ask’ scored 72/100 (Oddly, the more correct ‘Everything you ever… etc. etc.’ scored only 66/100 – I should have taken this as a warning.) Anyway, the die was cast, the post was published and I moved on… Except I didn’t. I worried whether, given time, I couldn’t have come up with a much better title. This is what I spend my life doing when I really should be doing other stuff.

I realised, too late, that I had slipped into dog-with-a-bone mode and that I would be trapped there for some little time. Would it not, I reasoned, be a great idea to come up with a killer title first and then write a post around it? My capacity for distraction has developed with age and has become something that I spend my whole life fighting against. My propensity to follow any unmarked diversion that becomes available through to its inevitable dead-end is almost as great as my facility for getting lost on the way back. In short, this became the ideal means by which I could divert myself away from what I intended to waffle on about onto something that that might just, after a reasonable length of time, lead me onto something else to waffle about. I am irresistibly drawn away from whatever it is I should be doing, towards whatever it is that stops me from doing it. Willpower is falling away from me as quickly as core-strength and the ability to nap without dribbling.

I tried to decipher what constitutes a good headline. It has apparently the right balance of common words, uncommon words, emotional words and power words. I downloaded a number of lists and, I must admit, I was more than a little confused as to what made the ‘common words’ common, the ‘uncommon words’ uncommon (I never have understood whether it’s toilet or lavatory) and where the ‘emotional words’ finished and the ‘power words’ began. Undaunted, I picked a random jumble from all four lists and threw them at the screen and ended up with How to Discover the Fundamental Principles of Writing a Sensational Headline without Worrying the Mammoth, which I typed in and awaited my expected 90 plus. It scored 59. Better than zero, but still not guaranteed to draw in the punters. I thought it might be a good idea to lob in a couple of ‘depth-charge’ words, and so I tried Brexit – How to Discover the Fundamental Principles of Writing a Sensational Headline without Worrying the Trump, but that scored only 51. I was clearly misunderstanding the system. Undaunted I continued to pump in headlines that became ever more fanciful and began to approach the word-count of a novella. My scores continued to fall. I was forced to take radical action – something that no man ever wants to do: I read the instructions. It became immediately apparent that in order to achieve a good score, I was actually looking for an ideal length of only six to eight words. Miffed at the loss of two hours during which I had been writing ever-lengthening titles that contained more nonsense than a typical Manic Street Preachers lyric, I tidied the word lists (tore them up) and filed them carefully away (jumped up and down on them in a monumental fit of pique). I was about to head downstairs for a small restorative single malt when an even more exciting idea entered my head. What would the analyzer make of the titles of great books?

As a distraction, this ranked even higher than inventing nonsensical sentences of three long-lost nouns, two dozen obscure adjectives and no verbs – they don’t seem to score very highly. However… Thinking about it, I realised that most great novels are saddled with titles that fall well below the ideal word count, but never-the-less I pressed on, best I could. I plucked some titles that might match the criteria from the crumbling rockface of my memory. I started with Far from the Madding Crowd which scored a highly creditable 52 points, considering it is without doubt the single most boring book I have ever attempted to read in my entire life. (To anybody out there who shared with me the dual horrors of that ‘great English novel’ accompanied by The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales for GCSE English, I extend my very deepest sympathies. If, like me, it has scarred you for life and discouraged you from reading for years, I can offer only one word of advice: don’t go back and try them now. They haven’t improved.) The Old Curiosity Shop, despite its lack of length, scored a very similar 51. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, although not quite Dickens, sounded like it might be worth a stab in these circumstances. It scored 62. Perhaps it required some relative modernity. I tried The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (66), So Long and Thanks For All the Fish (69) and finally Second from Last in the Sack Race (my latest re-reading) scored 71. Well, I was making progress, but I had no idea how. I stopped. I shook my head (it rattled). I considered my progress over the last couple of hours. I was clearly wasting time here. Settle down man. Write a blog. The title is unimportant…

I’ll just have a coffee and a biscuit.

…Which is when I stood and caught sight of a row of DVD’s, including a number of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. That phrase popped into my head. I typed in My Nipples Explode with Delight and scored 69. I thought that would be great, but it was just upper-end-of-average. What was I looking for? And Now for Something Completely Different… scored 70 – purely, I assume, because it fell nicely in the word-count. How on earth could I improve this score? Of course. I remember reading somewhere that titles that pose questions or propose answers attract most attention. So How to Make Your Nipples Explode with Delight with a score of 83 became my benchmark: my way forward and my answer. Except that it was actually neither.

I was no closer to knowing what made a good headline, except that it needed to be six to eight words in length and it could possibly do with starting How to… And I was no nearer to writing my blog. It was all beginning to seem a little futile. Unthinkingly I typed in My Futile Quest for the Ultimate Headline. I scored 72. I remembered a little of what I had learned from this whole process. How I Made My Futile Quest for the Ultimate Headline also scored 72 but, finally, How to Undertake a Futile Quest for the Ultimate Headline scored 76. Well, it wasn’t exactly exploding nipples, but it was the best I had, so that’s what you got: not so much a blog as an old man’s spiralling descent into obsessive pointlessness – but, hey, that’s life…

…And in case you are wondering, this nonsense will stop here. The Headline Analyzer will be retired. The shortcut on my favourites bar will henceforward remain idle (until I finally get round to deleting it – if I can work out how) and in future my titles will remain short and unanalyzed. Much like myself…