Sunday, April 18, 2021


In case you missed it, Prince Philip died on the Friday of last week. I found out when my parents rang me and Mum asked me to phone her dad, saying he was pretty broken up about Philip dying. If I'd cared at all it would have been an awkward way to break the news to me!  I gave Grandad a ring and he told me he was sad because the late Duke of Edinburgh was just a couple of months short of his 100th birthday and it was a shame to see someone fall a couple of inches short of finishing a hundred yard race. The way I see it, ninety-nine years of unimaginable unearned wealth and luxury is a good consolation prize!

The idea of royalty doesn't sit right with me. I don't like wealth hoarding in general and I'm a big fan of viewing things from a Rawlsian perspective; imagining you were setting the practice up as if it were new. You do it blindly, not knowing which side of the equation you’d land. If you were setting society up as if it were new, would you have one random family living in a series of lavishly decorated palaces, and have all the other members of society pay for them to be waited on? I suspect you wouldn’t. We’re often told here that the royal family generate more income through tourism and media interest and the like than we spend on them, but I have a feeling that it’s in the interest of those conducting the studies to conclude that! I certainly think we could find a better return on investment.

I wonder if attitudes towards the royal family as a whole have changed over the last couple of decades or whether Philip just wasn’t as popular as Diana or the Queen Mother. I remember thinking it was insane how many regular people paid to have flowers sent to their respective graves, or that common people with no connection to the Queen Mother were queuing up for seven hours in order to pay their respects to her corpse! Madness. I’ve studied management science, and can tell you a better solution would have been to respectfully wheel her corpse past the mourners on a guerney. Poor Philip, on the other hand, had 109,000 people complain to the BBC when they stopped scheduled programming for blanket coverage of the old codger!

I’m aware this is even more tangential and freeform than usual; but I just realised that has to be short for “coffin dodger,” right? I’m not looking it up, I’d rather believe that to be true than to be disappointed! Ha! It’s great when words surprise you like that; I remember a couple of years ago I found out that scumbag literally meant condom! I don’t think many people realise that when they use it as an insult, and I’ve certainly never heard an actual condom described that way. I also heard that the phrase “good egg” has a racist etymology, which kind of fits in with the sort of Hoorah Henrys I think of using the phrase, though I’ve also read this may not be true. It’s not a phrase I ever used anyway!

Anyway, they broke open the liquor cabinet here at the home yesterday and we all got to toast Prince Philip on the day of his funeral. They do drinks on special occasions; Christmas, Easter, St Patrick’s Day and the like. I always have a whiskey and they always mix it with ginger ale; it doesn’t taste great but I can certainly feel the effects for an hour or so! They always serve up the drinks at around 3pm; there's something nice about institutional day drinking! I suspect the carers may have helped themselves to some because they never got round to washing me yesterday, and they forgot to bring me my dinner! When one of the staff did bring it to me all the excess dinner had been thrown away so I had a couple of ham sandwiches instead. She had the audacity to ask if I’d had dinner and forgotten about it! The nerve! Hopefully it won’t be too long before we can order in delivery. When I first arrived here I used to look at JustEat the same way I imagine other people would look at porn, imagining I was getting to eat the curries and pizzas I was reading about! I’m getting hungry writing this!

I'd have been happy with just the pizza!

My only real connection to the late prince was my half-hearted attempt to earn the famous Duke of Edinburgh gold award as a teenager. The scheme is open to anyone between the ages 14 and 25, and was designed in 1956 to produce well rounded, capable and confident young adults. It was based on activities a German educator of the time suggested to combat what he observed to be “The Six Declines In Modern Youth.” I imagine he was missing the Hitler Youth.

To complete the DofE award you need to show dedicated commitment to a sport, a skill and a service for six, twelve and eighteen months. You can pick how long you spend on which activity. There’s a list of what activities count as skills and which are sports. Looking back, I might have fulfilled the requirements for these three sections, had I bothered to record my activities and got someone to sign them off. I certainly spent enough time volunteering for St Johns Ambulance and at a charity shop. I later became Assistant Manager for a shop in the same organisation, so am reluctant to name it in case I decide to write about my time there later on! Just take it for granted that if you need your heart defibrilated or a second hand copy of The Da Vinci Code priced to sell, then I’m your man! Joking aside, volunteering really is a good way to meet new people and learn new skills for free.

I’m not going to check because my Wi-Fi is awful today and I don’t really care, but I spent enough time doing both geocaching and field archery to theoretically cover the sport component. I’m assuming field archery at least is a sport, especially seeing I was using a recurve bow rather than a compound one. I much prefer field archery to target archery because there’s such greater variety. You shoot at a variety of targets, usually shaped like an animal, sometimes they’re 3D, sometimes they’re painted. The inside of the targets are split into scoring zones outlined by the target maker. You get three chances to hit the target, and there are 3 pegs to shoot from, getting nearer each time. You get more points the further back you are. You follow a course to find each target, generally through a wood, and sometimes you have to shoot over water, up or down an incline, either side of a tree trunk; it all depends on whoever set the course up, You face a lot of different challenges you don’t get shooting the traditional coloured rings in a hall, which I did a few times as a teenager but ultimately decided it wasn’t enough fun to justify shelling out for my own equipment.

Yuck! The compound bow is a real turn off!

Geocaching is essentially using GPS co-ordinates to discover dead drops, known as caches, hints to which are given on the geocaching website. Sometimes the person leaving the cache will be very specific about where to find it, other users will hint at a general area, other caches will require you to find clues from local landmarks or to solve a puzzle first. I saw the idea in a movie and was amazed at how many were hidden in and around my little town! I often went walking with my parents at the weekends and during the summer, so I bought them a Garmin GPS tracker, this being before smartphones rendered the extra equipment unnecessary! One cache we found required us to wade through a river, one needed you to listen to a message that was played out of a false bird box every night at midnight, one needed you to assemble a pole to unhook the cache from the underside of a bridge, another still required you to turn the branc sticking out of a tree trunk, causing the lid of the trunk to open on a hinge! It looked fantastic, aside from the weird branch looking like a hand crank there was nothing to suggest it was in any way abnormal. Eventually we depleted a lot of the more interesting local ones and got tired of the simple “cache and dash” discoveries, the novelty of finding a cache hidden behind a loose stone in a wall became less thrilling and we just sort of abandoned the practice. It’s probably considered more of a skill than a sport as they don’t always require a lot of hiking or whatever to uncover.

My official skill back in the day, and I can’t believe I was ever quite such a nerd, was the use of Graphical Calculators! One of the math teachers ran a club one lunchtime a week and there were exercises and challenges you could complete to learn how to program a graphical calculator to do different things, plot different graphs, solve complex equations, play simple games against you… I don’t really remember all that well, to be honest! I think I did technically receive some sort of qualification, or at least certificates showing my prowess at different levels! Looking back now I don’t know why they didn’t just teach us coding! I say us, I think there were two other students, a boy and a girl, who would drop in intermittenly, independent of one another. I have no recollection of either of them! God knows why they weren’t teaching us actual coding! I took IT for a year, getting an A at AS level. I was predicted an E by the boring bastard who taught us two lessons out of three, a prediction that would have gotten me a lot of hassle from my parents had they believed it for even a second!

In my second year that teacher became my actual math teacher. I didn’t go to the club that year, I was President of the Student Guild, studying five subjects (most kids took three, some took four, but I was travelling on the bus to get there and didn’t want too much time hanging around between classes!) and working at Argos at the weekends. (I worked at the high street retailler, not the historic leather bar!) Still, my hours spent prodding buttons and squinting at pixels paid off in class, as I basically got away with murder! The school switched curriculums between the two years, and we went from being on a program that was two parts applied math and one part pure to two parts pure math and one part applied. Seeing as we’d completed two applied math modules and one pure one in the first year I was staring down the long boring barrel of a year of theoretical math, with no obvious real world application. I had scored 96% in Statistics and 99% in Decision Making, and I think about 90% in Pure Math 1. Anyway, as I got through the year the math became less and less interesting as I could see less and less use for it. When it came to Pure Math 4 I realised that I had scored highly enough in the other five modules to score a zero in the final module and still walk away with a B overall! I decided not to make much of an effort in class, resigned to the fact that without an obvious practical application these new, complex mathematical laws seemed arbitrary and untethered to reality.

101 punk bands playing 30 second songs! Some real big names, too. A solid purchase!

I sat the final exam knowing I was going to fail it, and left at the earliest available opportunity, heading to the local record shop to reward myself with a copy of Short Music For Short People on CD, a decision I stand by today! I did okay in class, and did all my homework, but just couldn’t retain the knowledge. I was never one for revision, if I understood a concept I would retain it. I think I got 17% for the Pure Math module, the only time I ever got below C grade in anything! I didn’t even earn an F, I got a U, meaning Ungradable. In other disciplines a U grade might mean you’ve made a solid effort but failed to fulfil the criteria of which you were being graded; if you were studying English and were asked to write a poem describing a cherished memory, and you misread the question and submitted a block of prose recounting a favourite childhood holiday, you would receive a U. It didn’t necessarily mean you were a bad writer, it just meant you were failing to fulfil the remit. Getting a U in math, however, just meant that the invigilator felt like you were wasting their time! I did well enough overall to become one of the top eight students that year, earning more than twice the UCAS points I needed to be admitted on my chosen degree course. I had my photo taken for the paper when I collected my results. My mother was still disappointed in me, focusing on that one U. This was before my brother started preparing for his GCSEs, showing her what a lack of interest really looked like!

I remember one lesson I was one of five or six boys that had come back from a trip to the beach a little too late. We were all wearing beach wear and most of us had all our stuff with us. When we got to the classroom I told the fellas I’d handle it. We took our seats and I apologised for the group: “Sorry Sally, we were revising in the library and didn’t hear the bell ring.” It was the most obviously blatant lie; I was holding a fully inflated beach ball as I told it. Another kid had a bucket and spade! Sally just told us to take our seats and carried on teaching. It was great!

Would being taught like this result in better or worse grades? I can't decide!

I approached the Gold award with the same lackadaisical half-assedry that I ended up taking to my math education. My secondary school offered the bronze program, and my mum was adamant I should sign up for it. I just lied, saying I’d applied when I hadn’t. All the school really did was make preparations for the Expedition element. As with the other elements, this element got longer as it increased, but basically it meant planning a handful of multi-day hikes in little groups and then doing them. I had been in the Scouts for about nine years, staying for years after I stopped enjoying it.

Side note: In our town when I was a kid, there were three different Scout meetings: one for Beavers, aged from nearly 6 to 8 years old, one for Cubs aged 8 to 10½, and one for Scouts and Venture Scouts, aged 10½ to 16. The Beaver and Cub groups were led by creative, matronly women who planned a wide range of activities with the focus on earning different badges. Everyone who attended regularly would leave with an armful of badges and rudimentary knowledge of a bunch of subjects. The Scout meetings were run by a disinterested marine who was doing it to help him with his career. We did a lot of fire starting, knots, lashing and the like, but never towards the goal of getting a badge. The regional Scouting group was pretty good, so we did our fair share of camping and competing against other groups in building and racing rafts, and I’m sure other wholesome bits and pieces I can’t remember. The weekly meetings were dreadful, though.

There are massive differences between an eleven year old and a sixteen year old, both physically and mentally. There were a couple of kids my age I got on with. You could easily divide the group into three sets when I started: the older kids aged 13 and up were basically good kids, the kind of kids you’d expect Scouting to appeal to. They had a bunch of badges they’d earned under the previous leader and would look out for the younger kids and treat them with respect. As I got older these kids aged out. There were kids like me who’d enjoyed being a cub and liked the camping and whatever. We didn’t like the meetings and were generally socially awkward, some of the other kid’s parents were very hands on in the community and probably pushed their kids to going. I stayed because I didn’t want my parents to think I was ungrateful for sending me there and was too embarrassed to admit how awful it was. It was awful because of the third set of kids: the disinterested sons of the various leaders. These were kids that would never join any sort of club voluntarily. Thinking about it, their parents probably didn’t trust them enough to leave them at home whilst they conducted meetings (all three meetings took place on the same night, one after another), and certainly couldn’t leave the kids at home unsupervised during camps. The worst kid was the hyperactive adoptive son of the cub leader. He was the first person in our town to get an anti-social behaviour order when they were introduced. These kids embodied all the worst traits of teenage boys; misogyny and bullying and just general toxic douchebaggery. The marine in charge was certainly fine with this behaviour; he is the only adult I can ever remember unironically telling me a racist joke. It wasn’t just me, it was a bunch of us. I won’t repeat it, but the premise of the punchline was that the darker a black child’s skin was the bigger their father’s penis was. If a tabloid newspaper heard about the sort of shit we got up to he’d have been run out on a rail. I’m sure most Scouts today aren’t exposed to quite such a toxic environment, and I’m sure they’re better off for it.

As I got older there were less older kids watching out for us and the worst kids were given more responsibility. Kids ascending from the cubs were less likely to stick around. I quit at 14, the final year of my GCSEs, telling my parents that meetings were getting repetitive and that I’d be better off studying. I guess maybe Mum thought the DofE was necessary to fill that space on my CV or UCAS application or whatever. I don’t know.

Our troop could have used a female presence

Once I cut my thumb with a hatchet so bad that, looking back, I realise I should have gone to A and E for stitches. I still have a scar, shaped like a rough right angle.. Another time the cub leader’s son accidentally hit me in the head with a rounders bat. I was walking behind him and he started swinging it around, connecting hard enough to knock me to the floor! He begged me not to tell on him, genuinely worried for once. I said I wouldn’t because I knew it was a genuine accident. I remember another kid saying it was okay to cry if I needed to; the impact must have looked really bad! I didn’t, though, I think my pain threshold has always been fairly high!

The worst part about weekly meetings was a game called Bucket & Barrel that we played almost every week. A five gallon water container would be placed on an upturned bucket and then all us kids would link hands around it. You weren’t allowed to let go of a hand or knock the barrel over; if you did you were out. The bigger kids would usually grab your wrist to make sure your hand didn’t slip from theirs. As you can imagine, first the smallest kids were pulled into the barrel, then the least popular, until only the real alphas were left duking it out for the top spot. The closest I ever got was third place. I knew I’d be out next so I tried to kobayashi maru the whole thing and let go of the other two kids simultaneously. I figured I had a chance at being joint first; instead I was declared out. Later I would see American kids playing dodgeball on TV or the movies; they didn’t know how good they had it!

Anyhow, the DofE scheme at the VIth form was nothing like this. There were a few meetings where we planned our treks, which got more ambitious as we went. There was an evening spent mincing about on the moors making sure we could use a map and compass, a two day hike, a three day one and finally a four day trek through the Brecon Beacons in Wales. I can’t remember how far we actually walked, but the DofE website states we needed to have walked for at least eight hours a day. I was part of a team of five for all these little excursions; most of us didn’t know anyone else on the program so we sort of fell in together like the crumbs in the corner of a bag of crisps.

Okay, so I’ve written another thousand words at this point and have yet to fill you in on any actual expeditions. I think the smart thing to do here would be to stop here and introdue you to my doomed companions tomrrow! I promise the second half will be funnier, at least in my eyes, as we suffered several setbacks between us. A couple of things happened that seemed unbelievable to me as they were happening; if you saw them happen in a movie you’d say it was too far-fetched. I also promise to start strong by telling you the single action I feel most guilty about, and I once broke a girl's nose! How's that for a hook?



  1. I hope it was not in the context of early sm activities that you broke her nose :)

    1. No such luck! Broken extremities are a hard limit!


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