Archive for the ‘Book reviews’ Category

The opposite of a bucket list

People regularly compile lists of 50 or 100 things you should do before you die – places to visit; films to see; books you really should read; and experiences you should have. The topic of this blog is 7 things I never want to do again in my life.

1. Go Whale Watching. I’ve done this at least twice in my life: once off the coastline of Maine; the second time off the coast of California. Now, undoubtedly, these are better places to see whales than in, say, Oklahoma…..but only just.

It seems to me that whale watching consists of getting in a fairly small boat for several hours. After a short period of time, about half of your party goes green with sickness and retreat inside the boat. They can’t wait for the experience to end. The other half isn’t so lucky. They get to point at objects on the far horizon. While it is quite fun to point at a random point in an excited way to see how many people also see the non-existent whale, you do eventually end up glimpsing a whale tail. At the end of the experience, you are left with very many photographs of the sea where allegedly there was once a whale. Whale watching is a waste of time; go and see Shamu instead.

2. Read The Bible. I’ve also done this twice. Now the Old Testament is pretty interesting in parts, but there is far too much begatting for my liking. The New Testament is just made up, and Paul is a bigot who would be too extreme even for Fox News.

3. Go to Disneyland. I have been to all the Disney properties around the globe; California twice; Florida too many times to remember; and Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong once each. That’s it. I don’t need to do it again (sorry kids). I get that it’s magic; it’s definitely clever, but has anyone ever done the math(s) on how expensive it is? It cost about $400 for my family of four for one day at Magic Kingdom. At most times of the year when you get to take a vacation, the park is really crowded. Almost all of the lines quickly extend to over an hour in length. Maybe you will get to do 8 rides or features that are worth paying for. That’s $50 per feature.

4. Eat a Hershey’s chocolate bar. I’m sorry to break this to everyone, but they taste of vomit.

5. Eat at a Taco Bell. I only attempted to do this once. What a profoundly depressing experience that was. Utilitarian, dirty, ingredients seemingly sourced on the basis only of price. A friend of mine recently told me that he had once gone to Taco Bell but that they weren’t able to serve anyone. Apparently, their meat hose was blocked. Yeuch. Go to Willies or Chipotle instead.

6. Watch a Director’s cut movie or indeed any movie over 3 hours in length. Directors – You should be able to tell your story in 90 to 100 minutes (2 hours max). Producers – Fewer people go to very long films. Cut the film and see your revenues rise. I won’t be seeing Wolf of Wall Street.

7. Go to Las Vegas. Where to start? Let’s start with the positive elements. I like the brash nature of the shows, especially the magic ones. I like that the airport is near to the Strip.

Now, let’s move on to the debit column:
i) Incessant noise everywhere and at all times of day and night. The first two occasions that we went there, we checked out and left the city early. Seeing Las Vegas in my rear view mirror were my favourite memories.
ii) What is the point of a slot machine? It’s just a mechanism designed for you to waste your time. You will eventually lose all of your money. I just can’t see the joy in holding a large cup of grubby quarters and putting them into a machine, or of playing long enough for someone to come up to you to offer you a comp (lementary drink)….Especially, when you are obliged to pay a tip greater than the value of the drink.
iii) The length of the buffet lines at any time you typically would eat. The only more depressing experience is the quality of food from most of these buffets, above that of Taco Bell but only just.
iv) There are some seriously long walks either inside the hotel or between hotels. It doesn’t look too far because of perspective; the length of your walk just looks short compared to the huge size of your hotel destination. Also, I don’t much appreciate all of the fliers for girls thrust in your hand or strewn on the sidewalk.

Besides, I was married there.

I am now preparing myself for all of the responses from Shamu-lovers, Vegas residents, bible-bashers, Micky fans, aficionados of long films, smore gourmands and, of course, my wife. The only fans who won’t object are Taco-Bell lovers (because they can’t read).


Book Review – something sensational to read in the train

Some find Gyles Brandreth irritating; others admire his wit, erudition and tenacity. I was somewhere in the middle until I read his edited diary “something sensational to read in the train”*. Now, I’m just a little more inclined to give more weight to his many positive attributes.

Gyles has always been a high achieving and driven individual. Top exam results, Scholarship to Oxford, President of the Oxford Union, accomplished after dinner speaker, TV star and published author by 20, he ends the diaries by announcing that he is going to do one thing of quality before he dies. Passionate about Shakespeare, ballet and hi-brow culture, he has however spent a lot of his life in fluffy jumpers on game shows. Gyles believes that his passion for doing lots of different things means that he is unlikely to excel at any one thing. Businessman, prolific writer**, theatre impresario, politician, TV interviewer, biographer to Prince Philip, tireless after dinner speaker, charity worker etc etc. This man works hard indeed; it’s in his genetic make-up and he believes that he’s only happy if he continues to do work every hour on a variety of enterprises. What I believe Gyles has missed – though its obvious from reading his diary – is that his public image is due to the choices that he himself has made and that he has made these choices because he has chosen to value money highly.

Gyles appears to be a very honest individual, both ethically and in his judgement and observations on himself and others. He has a great strength in disambiguating his version of what happened from his wider analysis on why and how it happened. One of his strongest traits is his non-judgemental attitude to others. He will gossip about others, but does so typically by looking for and finding the positive aspect of the other person’s character. One gets the feeling that Gyles has probably edited the diary to spare the feelings of others. He doesn’t do this however to spare his own feelings and some of the diary is a little uncomfortable to read, especially the early years. I would have been inclined to edit out some aspects of the diary that didn’t show me in a positive light. He hasn’t, and that’s to his great credit.

This desire to see the good in others also restricts his effectiveness in some areas. He is a hopeless politician. He aspires to be Home Secretary (so that he can implement prison reform), but the diary is littered with his spectacularly poor judgements about others (Archer, Neil Hamilton, Hurd).

Gyles knows everybody with any fame in the UK (and many outside the UK too). He has outstanding stories too; ones that will make you laugh uproariously on a train. The stories are enough to warrant you buying the book.

Gyles both values good entertainment in others and seeks to provide it to others. He has done this in these diaries and I recommend them highly. They will make more sense to those from the UK, but it can be enjoyed by anyone. I read it on kindle; and they are available from Amazon.

*referencing the famous Oscar Wilde quote
**really very prolific. Hundreds and hundreds of (largely inconsequential) books