Archive for the ‘Home life’ 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).



Americans are obsessed with napkins. Whatever you order, they offer you piles of (paper) napkins. This doesn’t matter much if the food stuff is wet and transferable or dry. I suspect that if you bought, say, a carpet that they would give you some napkins.

My own view is that you should either learn to eat properly; restrict yourself to non transferable foodstuffs; or use your own trousers (my preferred choice).

Now I kid you not, but I watched a Hells Angels biker in an ice cream queue/line the other day ask for additional napkins. I was fully prepared for him to use my trousers to wipe off all of his debris. The US Justice Department consider the Hells Angels to be an organised crime syndicate, but I think that we may have to reclassify them as an anti grime syndicate.

The plentiful availability of napkins is one of the main reasons that my wife likes America so much. She has always been a big fan of napkins, but is a mere amateur amongst American women.

Now in the UK, napkins is a class issue. I’m not saying this is a good thing, but very many things are indications of class difference in the UK. The lower your class the more you are likely to use the word serviette (and the more likely these wipes are to be made of paper). If you are from a higher class, you will use the word napkin. We used to have cloth napkins with accompanying napkin rings.

US Airlines

Travelling on american airlines (whether American, United, Continental or Delta) is mostly a very dispiriting experience.  Every single Asian airline has multiple times better customer experience.  One might even be tempted to think that British Airways is good (in comparison).   I think the fundamental problem is that everything on US airlines is processed to within a millimetre, but with the convenience of their business and its staff rather than the customer. I haven’t even taken off yet, but this flight has all the signs of being a terrible one. The problems started when the wrong plane was delivered.  There were 10 fewer first class seats and an unspecified number of fewer seats overall on top of an already overbooked flight.  They first offered benefits to those in first class to move into economy.  This was not successful, so they had to forcibly downgrade 10 people from first class.  Then they had to find 10 plus and an unspecified number of overbooked economy to give up their seats.  To entice people, they offered 400 Delta Dollars.  These are like ordinary dollars except they are largely worthless (because they can only be spent on “some” Delta flights and Delta shopping).  I’ve had these before and could find no way to spend them (within their expiration time). A few students naively accepted the first offer, but there weren’t enough volunteers.  They allowed some people on the plane so that they weren’t too late and gradually kept upping the offers.  Some started haggling.  I’m not really sure why, because 400 Delta Dollars are worth pretty much the same as 1,000 Delta Dollars…The Delta agents refused to negotiate …only to cave in minutes later. The Delta staff have tried to put a positive spin on things.  Apparently, we are extremely fortunate that we are flying at all as they could have just cancelled the flight. Delta don’t serve food on this 4 hour 45 minute flight, but they do have food available for purchase and small glasses of drink for free.  Unfortunately, the food cart does not fit on this replacement plane.  We are therefore delayed because we are still waiting for further volunteers and because they are waiting for the right sized food and drink cart.   The woman in front was asked if she minded moving to accommodate a family who wanted to sit together.  She refused, but then started to shout.  I’m a million mile flier on both United and American.  This is why I never fly Delta.  The people who fly Delta are the dregs of society.   This has not endeared her to those around her.  I hope she nevertheless enjoys her 4.5 hour flight.  The Stewardess was surprisingly tolerant of this behaviour. Breaking News:  The Stewardess has just made an announcement over the tannoy: “If you are one of the highly strung people who cannot keep their temper, please notify us so that we can arrange for you to be removed from the plane.  We recognise that flying can be a stressful experience, but some behaviour just isn’t acceptable”.  There was a lot of cheering from this part of the plane. More Breaking News: The woman in front of me is now on the phone to a loved one and is recounting her woes.  She again is calling the people around her “horrible, vile people”.  I strongly advise her not to fall asleep on the plane.

Sims 3

You learn a lot about your children from watching them play Sims3 on the Wii.

This is a clever game about relationships; you create a character and a place to live, and then the player decides how they live their lives. There’s a lot of breadth to the game (home, family, work, leisure, nutrition etc). It teaches children about a range of different choices that adults make. I think, in general terms, it encourages good behaviours (though bad ones are available).

Tilly tries to do the right thing. She is nice to others, works hard, and attends to everyone’s needs.

Nancy’s method of play is to see what happens if you do something odd. She will kick over bins in neighbour’s yards; go into a stranger’s house and make herself a sandwich; flirt with 90 year olds (of the same gender); and changes jobs on a daily basis. Her ambition is to raise sufficient money to open a nudist camp. I’m looking forward to this, though expect heavy pixelation (you get this when someone showers).

Some things surprise the children. Nancy is astonished that pregnant and breastfeeding women get paid even when they don’t work. Tilly doesn’t select going steady as an option because she wants the relationship to develop fast.

Cinema vs DVD

I love films. From the time I had a TV in my own room and could watch classic cinema on Channel 4 to moving to London and being able to watch 100 films of quality a year, there are fewer things I enjoy doing more.

I had to question the future of cinema the other day when we went to see the new Narnia film. It cost £39 for the family to see this (what turned out to be fairly average) film. No, we didn’t pay for the premium seats, the latest in a long list of ploys that companies use to persuade richer (or more vain) people to pay more for the same product. No, I didn’t have to pay for 3D glasses (we keep ours in the car to avoid the £1 per person extra charge). No, we didn’t go to cinema in Central London (local cinema in Guildford). And no, we didn’t buy any popcorn or drinks; we looked like fat family of the year by each smuggling in – under our jumpers – supermarket-bought popcorn and pop.

Had we not done all of these things, this 2 hour family entertainment might have cost us £75. This seems pretty steep to me for something that should be a weekly pleasure.

Let’s contrast this with the experience of watching a DVD on a home cinema. We are fortunate to have a projector in one of our basement rooms. The cost of the equipment isn’t high, maybe 10 trips to the cinema? The size of the image is very large, maybe the size of the screen in one of the smaller screens at our local. There’s no 3D (yet), but we all know 3D is massively over-rated. The sound is excellent. The cost differentials are huge; a DVD costs around £5 to buy and £2 to rent.

Therefore, I watched the advert from Frost and Pegg at the cinema recently which extolled the wonders of going to the cinema over watching a DVD at home. Going to the cinema is still a better experience, but the differentials are smaller than they have ever been and are they really worth £70? On the positive side, I guess we shouldn’t be seeing Frost and Pegg advertising their DVDs.

For the record, we have seen 3 average films at the cinema in the last month (Harry Potter, Narnia and a film whose title I now forget about a train that can’t stop). And over the same period, we’ve enjoyed, say, 15 DVDs at home for a fraction of the price.

Seeing Jaws last night reminded me that:
– 3D is generally rubbish (point of evidence – Jaws was much better than Jaws 3D)
– You don’t need a lot of blood and guts. My children were scared witless by the editing in Jaws (incidentally, now classified as a Parental Guidance film – which means children of any age can see it)
– CGI can been fantastic for cinema (and the shark would look better in a film made today), but it can’t paper over other things a film has to get right (narrative, innovation, editing, cinematography)
– it’s still scary when that dead fisherman falls in front of the hole under water

Royal Wedding

Following the announcement of Prince William’s wedding date (and the public holiday on the Friday to celebrate it), I have speedily shot into action. We’ve booked a long weekend to the Mediterranean. Never mind the fact that we would have only returned from a 2 week holiday the previous weekend, I’d go a long way to miss this sorry affair.

I’m one of the few people I know who boycotted the Charles and Diana wedding in 1981. I recall being the only person in Newton Abbot Town centre that day. I don’t think it’s affected me a fig that I missed seeing how wonderful Diana looked in her dress or seeing the King of Tonga. It’s not as if you could possibly avoid the reruns over the ensuing years.

I don’t incidentally have anything against the individuals in our royal family. Charles seems like a great guy; he’s made a great contribution to youth in Britain (via the Prince’s Trust) and I like hippies who talk to plants. The Queen, Princess Anne etc all seem to work very hard. When he’s not murdering icons in mysterious vehicular tunnel accidents, Prince Philip has a wonderful sense of humour and has consistently entertained the nation with his view of the world. Prince Harry seems to be heading the same way. It’s only a shame that Prince William is so responsible. Imagine the outrage William would have created had he done what we did and get married in a Chapel in Las Vegas. A missed opportunity for a really good joke on the nation.

I believe royalty is a thoroughly bad thing for Britain; it’s a vestige of a hierarchical society that we would be well rid of. I don’t believe any of this guff about royalty being a boon to our tourist industry or next year’s wedding being something which ensures the UK stays out of recession. I bet the analysis doesn’t stack up. When you start to hear those in favour of the royal family argue that the UK needs a Head of State and that the alternative would be some washed up politician, you know the case for royalty is really floundering. It always is when someone argues for something because an alternative is much worse. I wouldn’t like a President Prescott any more than any other sane individual, but at least it would demonstrate a meritocracy in place; a country where anybody could be Head of State. Who knows, people may surprise us and elect individuals for this role with real quality. You will be very pleased to hear that there are still travel bargains to be had for this 4 day weekend (the following Monday is also a public holiday in the UK).

I urge you all to seek them out and secure one of them before it’s too late.

Shaving innovation

Consumers are stupid, and product marketing people feed their stupidity (and should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves and pursue a worthwhile career instead).

This thought occurred to me this morning when I was shaving in the bath.  My shaver is one of these 5 bladed things from Gillette*.  I noticed that the third blade had very few whiskers on it and the fourth and fifth blade were entirely clean.  It then occurred to me that I was paying 40% extra for blades that would never be used.  They could make these blades from jelly (jello for my American readers) and nobody would ever know.

In the olden days when the two bladed razor was invented, I thought this was a useful innovation.  I remember speculating that it would only be a matter of time until they came up with the 3-bladed razor.  Now a further 3 blades later, is it really possible that some marketing specialist will write a blog in a decade’s time saying how wonderful the new 10 bladed razor is?

My sister works for that bit of Procter & Gamble that used to be Gillette, so I pay for few of my razors.  Such is the expense of these refill razors that she has taken to giving me refills for birthday and Christmas presents.  Initially, I remember questioning why she was giving me something I would buy myself, but now it feels like someone has given me a gold ingot.

I’ve noticed that, as each blade is added, they change both the stem of the razor and the connector that joins the blade and the stem.  As with so many business models these days (for example, printers), the cost of the razor plus one blade is not too high.  Procter & Gamble make money solely from the sale of refill razors.  I assume also that the margins on these 5 bladed razors are also much higher for the retail outlet, which explains why you have to crawl on your hands and knees if you want a legacy refill of the “out-of-date” three bladed model.

I can’t really see the point of some of the innovations either.  My last two razors have been battery operated so that the razor buzzes and the razor itself presumably jags around a bit.  I don’t really understand why you want to simulate the shaving style you are going to have when you get Parkinson’s, but I still change the battery.  As for the strip that changes colour when you should change your blade, I believe this may be an innovation that benefits Gillette rather than the user.

A curse on Procter & Gamble’s house.   I hope a Taliban-inspired movement will deprive you of all your shaving business**

*6 if you include the useful one on the back

**This is a joke and in no way should be read as an endorsement for the Taliban or Al Qaeda.