PC 267 Modern Complexities

I remember my mother’s state-of-the-art Twin Tub washing machine; it was such a huge improvement on what she had had to use before there was much excitement when it arrived. The mangle could be dispensed with but you had to lift the soaking wet clothes from the washing tub across to the spinner – water everywhere. That was of course if you had managed to secure the rubber hoses to the appropriate taps and ensure the drainage hose was over the bath. Thankfully the ‘white goods’ industry today provides  machines which are better, more efficient, better for the environment, more cost–effective than those my parents had to contend with and they can be plumbed in! But with the advantages has come unnecessary complexity.

One of the simplest machines we have in the kitchen is our indispensable toaster. When the last one died about four years ago, choosing its replacement was complex. Did we want a long one, one that could take thick bread slices, two pieces or four, a coloured one costing 200% more than a standard cream or metal? The one we bought has a dial to determine how toasted we want to the bread, numbered 1- 6: one doesn’t make any difference and 6 creates cinders! Mind you it has to cope with a slice of San Francisco Sourdough from the freezer so a difficult challenge. I have only just read the label on the side – and it tells me I should have removed it four years ago!

Down stairs in the utility cupboard is a plumbed-in washing machine from Herr Bosch. We generally use one programme on the basis it’s almost the shortest – 60 minutes (Note 1). It’s not as short as the ‘briefly worn refresh’ although if you use this programme you have to subsequently spin the clothes and the shortest spin time is 22 minutes, so what’s the point? What’s the point of the 30 different programmes you can choose? Well, not actually 30 but a lot; hands up who changes the programme for a ‘special’ more than once a year.

So can I not buy a simpler and therefore cheaper machine? These days I understand the focus on the environment and try to do my bit. However, I think only a research mathematician could work out whether the 2 hours 30 minutes ‘eco’ cycle is better for the environment. The variables are inter alia the amount of water used, the temperature of the water, the cost of the electricity (note 2), the amount of wear & tear using it for twice as long as a standard cycle; does my head in even thinking about it!

There is an ‘eco’ cycle on our dishwasher, another of Herr Bosch’s products, and it’s the same deal here. The programme runs for over two hours – just to wash some cutlery, plates, mugs and glasses. If the machine is relatively full, how long would it have taken me to wash and dry that lot by hand? Twenty minutes maximum? So we chose the same programme every time, just a 30 minute wash and dry; couldn’t I buy a dishwasher with an on/off switch that would just er! wash the crockery?

We have a microwave, our third Bosch! It has a digital clock, various buttons and settings, and a ‘start’ button. Ninety-nine per cent of the time we put something in, adjust the time and press start. What all the other buttons do I have no idea!

Can I use the expression ‘in the old days’ without sounding like a dinosaur? Even writing it is bad enough, but you may remember when you couldn’t control your television remotely. To switch it on you had to press a button on the set itself; changing channels required you to get up off your arse and stagger to within reach of the set. Mind you there were only two channels so you weren’t conflicted by too much choice – “It’s this, or this!” Televisions grew deeper as the Cathode Ray tube got bigger and bigger; now, thankfully, they had got thinner and thinner. I am going to make no comment on their size, believing you need to have one you can view without pushing yourself back into the wall. A neighbour across the garden has one so big we could sit and watch it from our hall.

Recorder, Television and DVD Player remote controls

But it’s the remote control that intrigues me; there are 47 buttons. Normally I use the on/off, the source, the channel selector, the volume control, the button that gives me access to the non-terrestrial stations like Netflix and BBC iPlayer and their associated pause/play/stop, the mute and the ‘return’; a total of 10. I must be missing out big time being so unadventurous; I often wonder what the blue button’s for! The control for the Freeview Box has a similar number and most have a coating of dust.

Don’t get me wrong, domestic machines have changed our lives beyond measure; I admire the way our digital world is progressing and thank the boffins for designing this and that and the other. It’s just a plea for a little common sense when someone says we could design the programme to do this ….. and that …. without someone questioning whether anyone would use it.

Richard 28th January 2022


Note 1 When it finishes it bleeps. Sometimes I am willing it to finish as I am in a hurry to do something else, after hanging up the clothes. The timer shows 2 minutes ……. sometimes this two minutes can be 5!

Note 2 Most people have no idea what electricity tariff they are on. They probably did when they signed up five years ago, but have a vague memory that Wayne called and offered a slightly better tariff and now you really don’t know. So putting the dishwasher or washing machine on at 0300 might, or might not, make a difference. And living in a building with other apartments, isn’t it inconsiderate to have your jeans spinning around at 1200 rpm with the machine wobbling and about to take off, making a lot of noise?

PC 266 Inside one’s head

The other evening Celina and I started watching a new Scandinavian TV drama series about a criminal psychologist, Maja Angell, trying to get inside the head of someone she assumes to be a serial killer. Not family entertainment you understand but filmed around Kautokeino in northern Sweden, so the scenery is stunning – if you like mountains and pine forests and lakes and more mountains and more pine forests and more lakes. There is an added dimension; it’s high summer and there are 24 hours of daylight!

Some way into the drama Maja is retracing the probable route of the killer with a male colleague, who’s driving. She encourages him to start thinking like the killer: “You’ve picked her up, you’re giving her a lift; she’s pretty and you start imaging what could happen. You’re male, so think of sex at every opportunity, hundreds of times a day, and here’s this young woman, in your car …… you feel horny, do you? You think she’s ‘up for it’? Come on, Claus; start thinking like the killer might.” (Note 1) After a pregnant pause, Claus obviously engages his brain and the two of them start making real progress. This is great television, subtly encouraging audience cerebral participation!

Certainly got me thinking about some of our base human emotions and behaviours. Could someone who is not a sociopath and/or psychopath think like one? (Note 2) Surely one’s own values and morals would prohibit certain threads developing? Do we have an innate sense of whom or what we are, about what goes on inside one’s head, about good and evil? These thoughts occur to me in the middle of a savasana, a yoga posture when you lie still on the mat, completely relaxed, immobile. It is about an hour into my 90 minute hot yoga session, sweat dripping, my mind wandering  … about the posture, the class, the other students, the fact it is Sunday morning, about the rather empty bus in from Hove.

This sequence is described as a ‘conscious moving meditation’; one’s mind is meant to be completely focused on one’s breath and that imaginary spot between your eyes, the ‘third eye’. Sometimes I achieve it but more often than not my mind drifts. Monkey Mind is everyone’s enemy; difficult to still sometimes, when life gets out of control. For instance it’s a challenge to shut out the sounds of one’s own body as its systems work to digest, process, absorb, circulate or pump, not to listen to the vague sounds from outside the studio or those of the heating systems blowing hot air into the room.

The teacher’s voice interrupts my thoughts; Ah! Yes! Concentrate on the breath! My eyes look at the pipework on the ceiling, my slight OCD needing to move one large 40 centimetre pipe about 5 cms to create a proper right-angle! Sad huh? Fortunately most of us generalise what we observe, so avoid information overload; it’s just pipework!

Still in savasana – this one’s about 20 seconds – it’s amazing where your mind will go in that time. “What is this thing that I am, this collection of molecules, cells that form together ……. dust to dust, ashes to ashes ……. a collection for a period of time ….. and then? Now that would be good to know; what then?” I appreciate in the hot room my senses are more challenged, particularly, obviously (!), my awareness of temperature; I feel I am radiating, my sweat glands open, dripping onto the mat. Then there’s the smell. I expect we’ve all been to a gym at some stage – when you’re exercising you’re focused and don’t smell the combined odours in the room. Here I think I smell of Digestive biscuits, so not unpleasant but curious, unlike the whiff of unwashed dreadlocks or garlic carried on someone’s breath from last night’s Indian curry.

I was back in the Hope Café this week, able to write in the warmth of a familiar space. You may remember it was closed last week due to Covid and Duncan has used the time to install a limited number of charging points and WiFi – with a proviso that you have to spend at least £5 to gain the password, which will change each day. Clever huh! These places are an attractive alternative from WFH, the collective buzz you can’t get in your spare bedroom, the sights and overheard conversations about life that give you a lift. I see the chap who a few weeks ago was reading John Grisham’s ‘Sooley’ (see PC 258), sitting in a corner, having just been given a second cup of coffee by Susie. This afternoon he’s reading Grisham’s latest ‘The Judge’s List’.

I mention it here as the central figure in the fictional tale is a judge who, whilst outwardly successful and prosperous, is a serial killer. Grisham weaves together many threads that detail the efforts to identify his victims and to eventually apprehend him.

So, the contrast between yoga and its peaceful beliefs of self-actualisation (Note 3) and the actions of a serial killer couldn’t be greater; the celebration of life and someone who wants to take it. All inside one’s head, where these thoughts start and finish.

Richard 21st January 2022


Note 1 These are a synopsis of the actual script, not verbatim by any stretch!

Note 2 I am at last reading the Italian Chemist Primo Levi’s ‘If This is a Man’, first-hand observations of his eleven months in Auschwitz (1944-1945). He experienced and saw humanity at its most basic, in survival mode. Life had little value, unless it was your own but then some just gave up that will to survive, the will to live. Serial killers of course simply want to take life for their own gratification.

Note 3 Ernie Zelinski, in his book ‘The Joy of Not Working’, defines these as being self-confident and secure about one’s position in society, being able to create one’s own purpose in life, not being addicted to material possessions for self-esteem and being able to accept other individuals’ points of view. (A hot topic in 2022!)

PC 265 A Bucket

You may or may not recognise these lines?

“Wenn der Beltz em Loch hat

Stop es zu meine liebe Liese …..


They are from a German song about a hole in a bucket, which dates from about 1700. I remember a much later English version by Harry Belafonte and Odette which reached number 32 in the UK Singles chart in September 1961 – ‘There’s a Hole in My Bucket’. (Note 1)

My last postcard, ‘Bits & Pieces’, engendered some comments about such a bucket, in this case a vehicle used to demonstrate that identifying the crucial aspects of your life must be the top priority. Ted suggested I shouldn’t kick it while Carol still uses one to remove the ashes from her log burner. On the way  back from Rahmi’s last Saturday morning, head down into the latest torrential rain, I thought the humble bucket could be the subject of my next PC, rather like PC 203 on A Milk Bottle (November 2020).

If you were hoping for more erudite comments about China and Covid, Novak Djokovic versus The Australian Government (Advantage Canberra?) or an update on the UK Post Office Scandal or The Cladding Crisis (See PC 235 Generosity in Government June 2021), I hope you won’t be disappointed with what follows?

A bucket is typically a watertight, vertical cylinder or truncated cone or square, with an open top and a flat bottom, with a semi-circular carrying handle called the bail. While a bucket is usually open-topped, a pail (Note 2) can have a top or lid. Milkmaids traditionally carried two pails suspended from a beam across their shoulders.

I am glad Ted suggested I shouldn’t ‘kick the bucket’ as this phrase derives from either the suicide’s kicking away the bucket on which they were standing in order to hang themselves, or from the ‘bucket beam’ on which pigs were hung after being slaughtered. Writing ‘pigs’ reminds me of the bucket used to collect kitchen refuse that was then used to feed pigs. Known as Pigs Swill, pig farmers arranged collection of the swill which was processed into pig food. Although banned in 2001 as a possible key link in a foot-and-mouth outbreak, recent research suggests no such link and the practice may return.

Our little kitchen container for waste

Using a bucket for pig swill brings me nicely to the use of a bucket for slopping out! Prison inmates without a flushing toilet in their cell had to use one for their personal waste. ‘Slopping Out’ was the term given to their manual emptying in the morning. In theory abolished in the UK in 1996, in practice one or two prisons still continue to use it.

By the way, I haven’t mentioned either Susie or Josh so far and that’s because the Hope Café is closed this week. A customer who was resisting vaccination had tested positive for Covid and the manager Duncan had no option but to shut for 5 days. So one person ruins it for the others: bit selfish in my view!

And here’s a Limerick about a bucket:

“There was an old man from Nantucket,

Who kept all his cash in a bucket,

But his daughter, named Nan,

Ran away with a man,

And as for the bucket, Nantucket.” (Note 3)

A bucket seat is cosy and sort-of wrap-around, with a rounded high back, whereas the bucket of a water wheel is anything but!

Writing about buckets reminds me of The Slump Test. Some of you will know that I studied Civil Engineering at university, way back when, and inter alia we spent an enormous proportion of those three years studying concrete! Yes, I know, you might think a little like watching paint dry, but it is a fascinating material and worthy of that attention. It’s obvious that concrete needs to be of the correct consistency, too dry and you can’t compact it well, too wet and it loses its strength. For the Slump Test the mixed concrete is poured into an upside down cone, a little like a bucket with no bottom (!), in three distinct layers and tamped. The cone is removed and the decrease in height at the centre is measured to nearest 5mm: the ‘slump’ needs to be within certain limits. Fascinating!

A bucket you may not have heard about is the canvas one kept on a yacht, called a drogue when used in extremely windy conditions. The bucket is attached to a rope which is payed out behind the yacht to slow it down and to prevent the hull becoming side-on to the waves. Without one, the yacht might speed down one wave and crash into the next, with catastrophic results! Fortunately I have never had to use one.

You will, I suspect, remember the 2007 film The Bucket List? Two terminally ill men, played by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, escape from a cancer ward and attempt to do things they’ve always wanted to but ……. before ‘they kick the bucket’. During my coaching years one of my questions asked of clients was to list 30 things they wanted to have, wanted to be and wanted to accomplish. (Note 4)

Samuel Wordsworth (1784 – 1842) wrote a poem – The Old Oaken Bucket:  “The old oaken bucket, the iron-bound bucket, the moss-covered bucket, which hung in the well.

And how can I get to the end of these scribbles without mentioning the plastic bucket & spade, so beloved of children and adults alike.

On the beach, in the warmth of the sun, building castles with wet sand – and no requirement for a Slump Test!

Richard 14th January 2022


Note 1 “There’s a hole in my bucket dear Lisa dear Lisa.” “Then mend it dear Henry, dear Henry, mend it.” “With what shall I mend it …..”

Note 2 Not to be confused with pale. These words are homophones, pronounced the same but are spelled differently and have a different meaning (See PC 256 – towards the end)

Note 3 I guess this should be pronounced ‘Nan took it’

Note 4 Gordon Roddick, husband of Anita, had on his bucket list:  ‘To ride a horse from Buenos Aires to New York’. To keep busy while he was away, she opened a little ‘lotions & potions’ shop in Brighton. It did quite well ……. and grew into The Body Shop!

PC 264 Bits & Pieces

‘Bits and Pieces’ is the title of a hit single by The Dave Clark Five in 1964 (Note 1). The lyrics talk of a lost love – ‘Since you left me’ …… ‘all I do is sit and cry’ ….. ‘I’m in pieces, bits and pieces’. Whenever I see or hear ‘bits and pieces’ the music comes to mind. Additionally it’s a good title to cover some unconnected thoughts for the start of the New Year, some that have been festering in my mental scrapbook.

Last year a couple of particular news items stopped me in my tracks; made me cry ‘Wow’! One concerned the obituary of a chap called Ziona Chana, who had died aged 76. “So?” you might ask, “Who the hell was he?” Well, the Indian living in Mizoram State (Note 2) had 38 wives and 89 children.

Mizoram State lies between Bangladesh and Myanmar

An uncle, Khuahtuaha, had been excommunicated from the local Presbyterian Church sometime in the 1930s for having an illegitimate child. His outgoing charismatic personality led to many people settling near his home and they founded a polygamous sect. Ziona took over in 1997 and the sect currently has some 3000 followers, two hundred of whom live in the main house! Wow!

Ziona Chana and his wives and children

And the other ‘wow’ was news that a 25 year old woman from Mali, Halima Cissé, had given birth to nine babies, two more that doctors had detected during scans. Three months after the birth they were reportedly all alive and well; apparently Halima had said she wanted a big family!

The Hope Café is extremely quiet, the clientele somewhat subdued, the uncertainty of how you identify those who are being selfish and not getting vaccinated permeating into how we behave. Susie comes over and perches on the edge of a chair (Note 3). Discovering I was bringing inconsequential and unrelated notes together, she tells me something she had witnessed the other afternoon. An elderly lady, white-haired and slightly stooped, had come in with a young chap, Susie thought probably her teenage grandson, and had settled in one of the bench seats along the side. Susie took her order “A pot of Lapsang Souchong, with a slice of lemon please, a Cappuccino with extra whipped cream and could we have a couple of rounds of toast, brown bread, and some honey?”

“Is that OK, Stephen?” – who nodded to indicate ‘that would be fine’.  

“Later, I overheard the conversation” recounts Susie. On the arrival of the toast, Stephen had taken a slice off the slab of butter and then, using the same knife and disregarding the spoon beside the honey jar, had scooped out some for his plate. The lady was obviously anxious to improve his manners. “You need to take some butter with the butter knife and use a spoon to take some honey. If you don’t you get the result we have, with butter in the honey. No doubt if you wanted more butter you would simply use the same knife to get it, so transferring the honey to the butter probably with some toast crumbs and stuff. It’s called being couth, dear.”

The business world is full of auditors, accountants and advisors, consultants and coaches, motivators and managers, all wanting to improve the way companies work. Accompanying this lot is the large library of motivation sayings, good ideas, buzz words and phrases like ‘blue sky thinking’, ‘pushing the envelope’, ‘going forward’ and general business gobbledygook that means nothing to anyone else and little to those who use it. I hope you’ve read, for instance, the tale of Hem and Haw, the two mice in ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ by Spencer Johnson, or ‘The Tao of Pooh’ by Benjamin Hoff?

Sometimes the ideas are picked up by the general population, to help us deal with ‘life’. One that has stayed with me, as it’s quite believable in its telling, is the one using a galvanised steel bucket.

The bucket’s put onto a table and it’s filled with large stones. When there is no more room, the audience are asked whether anything else can fit in. As the mutterings of ‘no’ ripple through the crowd, a bag of gravel is tipped into the bucket, until there is room for no more. “Is it full now?” asked the demonstrator. There is uncertainty …. as a bag of sand is emptied in, to fill the holes between the pieces of gravel. “Now?” No one commits themselves. And of course a jug of water completely replaces any air holes left. “What does this show?” “That you can always fit in something else?” “Well, yes, but more importantly, that you need to select the most crucial things in your life before you can fit in anything else.

I recently bought a couple of rechargeable stand-alone light discs for an area of our hall.

The lights are made in China but marketed here by Evatost Consulting in Cardiff, Wales. I am unsure whether the original instructions were written in Chinese or Welsh but their translation, obviously by someone for whom English is not their first language, is a wonderful example of how Google Translate doesn’t always work, however charming the result:

“Please closely touch the light where lies the touch sensor with your finger belly and the touching speed should not be too much quick so that the touch sensor could receive your command successfully and sensitively.”   

Love the ‘finger belly’!

We started with a memory from a 1960’s pop group so it’s appropriate to end with another. Graeme Edge, the drummer of a rock band The Moody Blues (eg ‘Nights in White Satin’), died in November aged 80. I was amused to read this: “(We) Have to get used to the adoration as we know we are not worth it. We still put our trousers on one leg at a time.”

I hope 2022 brings you all you need and some of what you want.

Richard 7th January 2022


Note 1 The Dave Clark Five had 12 ‘Top 40’ hits in the UK between 1964 and 1967. In addition to ‘Bits & Pieces’, ‘Glad All Over’ and other hits, they produced 7 studio albums in just two years.  

Note 2 Mizoram is a land-locked state in the north east of India, sharing international borders with Bangladesh and Myanmar and domestic ones with Assam, Manipur and Tripura.

Note 3 I know all the staff at the Hope Café are fully vaccinated as that has become a condition of their employment.