The Plot Against People

12 May

In 1968 Russell Baker wrote a short article entitled ‘The Plot Against People’. For some reason, this story stuck with me through the years.

The goal of all inanimate objects is to resist man and ultimately to defeat him

Baker writes:
"The goal of all inanimate objects is to resist man and ultimately to defeat him. Accordingly, inanimate objects are classified into three major categories-those that don’t work, those that break down and those that get lost.
The goal of all inanimate objects is to resist man and ultimately to defeat him, and the three major classifications are based on the method each object uses to achieve its purpose. As a general rule, any object capable of breaking down at the moment when it is most needed will do so. The automobile is typical of the category.
With the cunning typical of its breed, the automobile never breaks down while entering a filling station with a large staff of idle mechanics. It waits until it reaches a downtown intersection in the middle of the rush hour, or until it is fully loaded with family and luggage on the Ohio Turnpike. Thus it creates maximum misery, inconvenience, frustration and irritability among its human cargo, thereby reducing its owner’s life span.
Washing machines, garbage disposals, lawn mowers, light bulbs, automatic laundry dryers, water pipes, furnaces, electrical fuses, television tubes, hose nozzles, tape recorders, slide projectors-all are in league with the automobile to take their turn at breaking down whenever life threatens to flow smoothly for their human enemies.
Many inanimate objects, of course, find it extremely difficult to break down. Pliers, for example, and gloves and keys are almost totally incapable of breaking down. Therefore, they have had to evolve a different technique for resisting man.
They get lost.
Science has still not solved the mystery of how they do it, and no man has ever caught one of them in the act of getting lost. The most plausible theory is that they have developed a secret method of locomotion which they are able to conceal the instant a human eye falls upon them. It is not uncommon for a pair of pliers to climb all the way from the cellar to the attic in its single-minded determination to raise its owner’s blood pressure. Keys have been known to burrow three feet under mattresses. Women’s purses, despite their great weight, frequently travel through six or seven rooms to find hiding space under a couch.
Scientists have been struck by the fact that things that break down virtually never get lost, while things that get lost hardly ever break down. A furnace, for example, will invariably break down at the depth of the first winter cold wave, but it will never get lost. A woman’s purse, which after all does have some inherent capacity for breaking down, hardly ever does; it almost invariably chooses to get lost. Some persons believe this constitutes evidence that inanimate objects are not entirely hostile to man, and that a negotiated peace is possible. After all, they point out, a furnace could infuriate a man even more thoroughly by getting lost than by breaking down, just as a glove could upset him far more by breaking down than by getting lost.
Not everyone agrees, however, that this indicates a conciliatory attitude among inanimate objects. Many say it merely proves that furnaces, gloves and pliers are incredibly stupid.
The third class of objects—those that don’t work—is the most curious of all. These include such objects as barometers, car clocks, cigarette lighters, flashlights and toy-train locomotives. It is inaccurate, of course, to say that they never work. They work once, usually for the first few hours after being brought home, and then quit.
Thereafter, they never work again.
In fact, it is widely assumed that they are built for the purpose of not working. Some people have reached advanced ages without ever seeing some of these objects—barometers, for example—in working order.
Science is utterly baffled by the entire category. There are many theories about it. The most interesting holds that the things that don’t work have attained the highest state possible for an inanimate object, the state to which things that break down and things that get lost can still only aspire.
They have truly defeated man by conditioning him never to expect anything of them, and in return they have given man the only peace he receives from inanimate society. He does not expect his barometer to work, his electric locomotive to run, his cigarette lighter to light or his flashlight to illuminate, and when they don’t it does not raise his blood pressure.
He cannot attain that peace with furnaces and keys and cars and women’s purses as long as he demands that they work for their keep."

This is where Baker’s essay ends. But I think that inanimate objects have been secretly evolving, resulting in a new class of object: the computing device. Whether it be a desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone, smart watch, Bluetooth speaker or satnav, these smart devices are more cunning than we think. They will, in some cases, get lost. But we have found ways to minimise the impact of this. With ‘Find My Phone’ and location technology, it is almost impossible to lose this class of device for too long, and it has also made it almost impossible to get lost yourself while carrying one. (If, of course, you are carrying a desktop PC you have hopefully not set out on a long walk or extended bike ride anyway).

(It is at this point that I will confess that at one point in my life my secretary suggested that she tie my wallet to one end of a piece of string and my phone to the other, then thread the string through my sleeves in the same way that my mother used to, to make sure I came home with both mittens)

While computing devices do present the opportunity to break down, mankind has realised that in most cases a simple press of the reset button will restore them to their working state. In deference to the behaviours of other inanimate objects that break down, they will of course crash/lose data/inexplicably wipe the hard disk just at the point that you have coompleted your short story/university thesis/project plan/marketing pitch but (and this is the important bit) NOT BEFORE YOU HAVE SAVED IT. Exactly how computers establish this is not yet well understood and is part of an ongoing study. So while they may indeed lose your life’s work and your sole contribution to humanity, they have not, of themselves, got lost.
The sheer cost of smart devices combined with increased expectations and the widespread use of guarantees (a resourceful human trick to fight back against the inanimate revolution) means that even if the devices don’t work, they are quickly returned to the point of sale to be replaced by one that does.
However, they will almost certainly NOT work the way they were expected to. They will exhibit strange and unexpected behaviours which will initially drive the owner to the edge of insanity, but will over time come to be accepted as the norm, forcing their human host to behave in increasingly bizarre and convoluted ways in order to get the job done.
And to just up the ante a little more in this war of objects vs humanity, computers will, suddenly and without warning, change their behaviour. After several months of sending emails to the correct recipients, they will suddenly and inexplicably send your most intimate thoughts to a company wide distribution list. Your chillout playlist for romantic evenings in will inexplicably include ‘both ‘Barbie Girl’ and ‘Agadoo’. A simple text message to your boss will change a single word in a business meeting confirmation to sound like a proposal of marriage. After countless successful journeys they will suddenly divert you down a one way bus lane that leads only to a deserted industrial estate with no visible means of exit. There is no apparent reason for this. Some theorise that a passing beta particle flips the state of a logic gate within the computer that results in this erratic change in behaviour. Yet this random factor cannot explain the completely destructive nature of the change.
And so the struggle continues in a constant campaign of attrition that humanity cannot hope to win. I doubt it will end well for us, as it now seems clear that inanimate objects are a parasitic life form looking only to use the human collaborator as a means to evolve and further their bloodless agenda.

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Karma strikes . . .

21 Apr

external-content.duckduckgo.comWhen I worked for a major multinational I was flying to the US a couple of times a month, and built up a stock of those little amenity kits – you know, the little zip bags that contain anything from eye masks and socks to lip balm, aftershave and mouthwash. I used to use the little travel size containers for, well, travel – in my car, in my luggage… although I never really found a use for the eye masks.

Anyway, one Christmas I was travelling back from my mother’s on her usual Boxing Day ‘invite the whole family’ event, and a while back I had had a glass of my step father’s choice of German sparkling Spätlese. Not enough to put me anywhere near the limit, but even so, I didn’t particularly want to arouse the attention of the local constabulary when I was driving a bright red sports car that might as well have had ‘pull me over’ written on the back.

I reached into the glove compartment and took out the mouthwash specially reserved for this moment (and the unlikely possibility of kissing someone), and took a swig. At this point, I realised I had made a fairly serious mistake, and I had mistaken the bottle of mouthwash for a bottle of far more astringent aftershave.

I had very few options as to what to do, so I wound down the window to get rid of the results of this inadvertent miscalculation. At this point, I realised another grievous error. There’s a awful lot of wind while travelling at 70 miles an hour.

There’s probably a moral to this story. I have no idea what it is though.

2021 memories

20 Dec

Just a few pictures from an interesting 2021 . . . apologies if there seems to be a lot of pictures of Ripley..

An Edinburgh Adventure

7 Aug

It’s been a long time since I went to Edinburgh to see Davey. So I was very excited to get on a train this week to head over there. Fought to get my bike in the bike racks – this is not one of the best parts of the Azuma train design: we need more space for cycles that’s easy to use. And heaven help you if you have a mountain bike.. It was hard enough getting my 34c tyres through the loops, so completely impossible if you’re running fatties.

Photo 2021-08-04 13.31.46Caught up with Davey for lunch, with coffee overlooking Arthur’s Seat and the Crags. Holyrood Park is practically Davey and Hannah’s front garden., and it’s a fabulous sight. I did a bike ride round the city in the afternoon, through the Innocent Railway tunnel, down Burnside and even got to the seaside! One thing that Davey and I share is a love for cycling. You can get Photo 2021-08-04 15.07.48out of the city really quickly, so in the evening we headed off down by the canal, carefully avoiding everyone out walking their pupper, and over to Balermo, which apparently isn’t in Italy. Then we cycled back down the Water of Leith for one hell of an evening trip. I was very ready for my Hawai’ian poké bowl for supper though! Fantastic food.Photo 2021-08-04 18.58.24

The following day disaster struck. Fortunately, I didn’t strike anything. Suffered a totally calamitous brake failure, which, at the high road round Arthur’s Seat, is not a good thing, since the only way is down. Skidded and scooted my way back to more level ground and went in search of brake pads. ‘Sintered, unsintered, organic, resin: what sort of braking experience would sir like?’ Finally managed to find somewhere that had the right ones, a quick roadside repair and I am back on the road and able to stop again. There were some interestingly scary moments there…..

Evening ride out this time was up to Blackford Hill and the Hermitage… another lovely burn side trip without too many hills, but enough exercise to work up an appetite for a vegan haggis burrito! (Vegan haggis in a burrito is one of the most wonderful Scots/world cuisine mashups ever – and it really does work!)

Photo 2021-08-04 18.28.34Photo 2021-08-04 18.05.38

A quick pootle around town the next day (with time to get a cinnamon bun from 101 Bakery which was almost ridiculously excellent), a wander round bits of the Fringe festival, and back on the train. It’s been so good to be back in a city I love with a son that I just don’t see often enough.

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Escape to Oakham!

7 Aug

Rutland WaterLockdown has eased a little, and it’s time for an adventure! A chance to escape and see some countryside. A brief escape on the bike and a stop overnight near Rutland Water. My favourite campsite hasn’t opened for campers yet though (Covid precautions), so it’s a hotel today. The hills haven’t changed since I was here last time.. it’s still like a folded bedsheet on the way over.

Checked the weather. There might be gentle showers in the afternoon. Didn’t mention the fact that the heavens were going to completely open. Wasn’t 100% certain I wasn’t going to actually drown.

At least I could get a shower, warm up, get dry again. That wouldn’t have been so much fun in a tent. Of course, I hadn’t packed spare shoes to save weight, so I had to squelch out to the restaurant. Which was some of the best Nepali/Indian food I have had in a while.

Given the cloud cover, there was no chance of me seeing meteors tonight.. I will have to reserve that for another day!

Photo 2021-07-31 19.35.02And then back home in the morning. I had a pupper to look after while her Mummy was playing American Football and her Daddy was coaching the team! Thankfully, no rain. A ride along the side of Rutland Water and then back home with a brief stop for breakfast at a roadside café. Nice.

A chance to think, to solve some of the things puzzling me at the moment, to wonder, ponder, dream. Happy days.

(If you’re wondering why Ripley is wearing a T-shirt, she got attacked by a German Shepherd recently, and the shirt stops her worrying at the stitches)


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Father’s Day and a bit 2021

8 Jul

Photo 2021-06-28 17.55.57Photo 2021-06-28 17.56.56

What a simply brilliant Father’s Day I had this year! OK, so it was a bit spread out over the course of a week and a bit, but I had some very thoughtful presents. ‘What on earth are they?’ I hear you ask. Well, one is a complete s’mores* production kit (Jonny), and the other is a carbon seat tube for my bike (Davey). (It was going to be the start of my new bike build, but I plan on installing it into my existing bike first cos, why miss out on a more comfortable ride? )

Photo 2021-06-28 21.05.33Photo 2021-06-28 21.05.05

AND I got to see my eldest son, who I haven’t seen since September, AND I had an excuse to have my favourite people round for pizza and s’mores* round the firepit. That’d be Davey and Jonny and Leanne, and Ripley of course, although unfortunately Hannah had to stay in Edinburgh to run her tours. But we missed her loads.

Photo 2021-06-28 21.03.58Photo 2021-06-28 20.43.03
Ripley stole my pizza and then ate the box. Then went missing upstairs doing we don’t know what. Then demanded the chance to investigate the interesting sniffs out the back. But mostly she sat on the rug and ate sausages. We sat out under my new parasol to keep the rain off. I burnt the marshmallows every time. We finally got rid of the Christmas tree. We threw multicolour salts on the fire to turn it green and purple and blue. And we talked and laughed and poked the fire a lot. And it was definitely one of my happiest days ever.

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* ‘s’mores. Short for Some Mores (natch) a strange American invention of melted marshmallow and chocolate sandwiched between graham crackers. Odd, but strangely satisfying.

In a Broken Dream

13 Mar night I fell out of bed. Well, perhaps the word ‘fell’ is misleading.

This was not the gentle tumbling to the ground of someone who has turned over one too many times and finds themselves rolling onto the bedroom carpet wrapped in a duvet and desperately clinging to a pillow in the hope it will prevent their fall. Nor was it the awkward crash of someone trying to avoid disturbing a sleeping partner/child/pet and managing only to overbalance to avoid waking the one who is hogging 90% of the bed. Nor was it the controlled landing of someone who, having been pursued across the surface of the mattress by a renegade dreamer, has surrendered to the inevitable and decided to sneak round to the other side of the bed to try again.

Top 10 Common Dreams Explained | LifeCrustThere was, I confess, something of the drama of the sleeper who has forgotten that they have taken up temporary residence on the top bunk and shifted their position only to remember, too late, that the lenient safety of the king-size divan has been replaced by the harsh reality of a narrow mattress and a six foot drop to the floor. And also I found shades of the drama of the night when I reached out of the aforementioned top bunk and stuck my fingers in the shaver socket, somersaulting me out of bed and yet again to the cold, hard floor, somewhat cushioned by my sleeping bag.

So..last night I rolled sleepily yet contentedly over to recapture the duvet which I had tossed away in the earlier part of my slumber. Realising with sudden alarm in my befuddled state that this manoeuvre would place me perilously close to the edge of the bed, and seeking to avoid that inevitable dreamlike descent to the bedroom rug, I hurled myself back in the opposite direction. Only then did I realise that I had seriously miscalculated my position on the mattress, and that I had in fact launched myself dramatically off the other side of the bed, bouncing me off the bedroom wall and into thin air.

Since the laws of physics are harsh and unyielding, gravity took over the rest of the operation and dropped me unceremoniously – yet firmly – to the floor, pausing only to bang my head on the bedside cabinet as it passed by.
Sleeping can be a dangerous pastime.

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Ripley says… Happy New Year!

1 Jan

34415288_10160429581515147_7707758441229451264_nHello. My name is Ripley an’ I am a broken haired lurcher. I live in England with my Mummy an’ Daddy. I’m only three an’ a bit but I have learned one or two things about life an’ I wanted to share them with you. My friend Timmy runs this blog an’ he let me borrow it for a bit.

Have a great year! heart-paw

Ripley’s life lessons . . .

Live your own style


Take time to enjoy the scenery.

Life will sometimes bring you strange bedfellows.
Embrace them.


Enjoy seeing new places.
Photo 2019-08-04 15.24.32_thumb

Ignore your critics


Always check your friends want to play before bouncin’ all over them.

Follow your own path. It confuses people.


Always live hopeful.

Make sure you get enough chill time.


Be ready to drop everything to go on a ‘venture with a friend.

Be polite


Explore everything.

Share a laugh with people you love.


Have fun.

Maintain your boundaries.


Get plenty of exercise . . .

…but know when to stop.

Always have that one special friend you can be yourself with.


Talk to animals. ‘specially dogs.


Did I mention getting’ enough chill time?

It’s OK to get a little muddy sometimes. It’ll wash off and you may end up smellin’ of raspberries.


Don’t worry what others think about you.


Make sure you have somewhere you can feel safe, secure an’ comf’table.


Learn to listen to good advice

If you’re not sure what to do next, have a sit down and listen to what your heart is tellin’ you.


Sometimes, you just need coffee.


If it makes you feel good, do it. Even if other folks don’t understand.


Always be ready to go for a walk in the countryside.

Make lots of time for relaxin’ with a friend.


Eat good food.

Devour good books.


Take an active int’rest in other people’s work.

Sometimes, the only thing to do is to just tune out and let the world go by.

Sometimes, the only thing to do is to just tune out and let the world go by.

Remember . . .You be you.

And remember to enjoy the journey . . .


Back in white pyjamas

19 Nov

IMG_2414So there I was, nervous and uncomfortable, barefoot in a Peterborough gymnasium, clad only in a pair of white pyjamas. The floor cold and hard, adrenaline spiking in my veins. The only source of comfort and security was the belt wrapped round my waist – my name and my old club embroidered on it – that and the months of extra training I’d put in during lockdown, pacing up and down my living room as I practiced. Somewhere in that practice I had tapped into muscle memory, and what I knew slowly started to flow back. They say that what you learn never truly leaves you. They say that any art practiced for ten thousand hours makes you a master. I’m no master – maybe I’d not spent ten thousand hours in practice, but four or five hours a week in class (at least) plus everyday practice for over ten years had made me solidly proficient.

Flashback: When my eldest son was younger, we rocked up to a traditional Shotokan karate class at a nearby school having seen an advert in the local paper. Some very tough years of training followed, with one or two injuries, and struggles with co-ordination, flexibility, speed and my innate lack of timing.. but eventually both he and I made it to our coveted black belt. And a couple of years later, I graduated again as a second dan black belt. But when I set up my own business, something had to give and, sadly, at that time karate was the thing I ended up giving up. But it felt as if a part of me had gone missing.

They say that black belts are masters. They say black belts are the ultimate fighting machines. Black belts know they are not. They know they are just at the beginning of the journey – that the only thing they had achieved after years of training was simply the right to be on that journey – and I had taken time out from that path to focus on other things.. important things, for sure, but now it was time to get back into the dojo, to put the gi back on and to train hard again. This was a new club, new instructor, new syllabus, and a new beginning.

IMG_2403And in the end, I was better than I feared, and probably even better than I had hoped. I could hold my own – not particularly because I had the skills, but because I had the determination to make it happen, and because that which you’ve learned never does really leave you. I had done my preparation work – reviewing what I had learned before, practicing over and over again in my cramped training space. I’d re-read my old books, watched the videos and went through my old applications and bunkai. But in the end it came down to turning up one day, leaving my pride, my ego and my fears outside the dojo doors, and starting again.

I’m nowhere near as good as I used to be – but it’s coming back, piece by piece, as I install new memories of old favourite katas and of fearsome sparring drills. My flexibility and speed need some attention, and there are katas to refamiliarise myself with, but there is progress, simply because I had chosen to turn up and try.

And suddenly, in that moment in the dojo, there was a deep knowing, and a deep sense of calm settled on me – something felt fundamentally right – as if I was putting a shard of who I am back in its right place. S it is that every time I pull the heavyweight white cotton fast around my shoulders, every time I tie the simple ties securely at my side, and especially when I knot that precious black belt firmly round my waist, I know I have come home, and that a piece of my life – a piece of who I am – is back where it belongs.

A long way from home . . or, Plan B!

21 Oct

Around Hartington (5)Time for a bike ride – but somehow my heart and my legs just aren’t in it. What’s more news from home suggests I might be of more value back there – Ripley is missing me and needs to go for walks. A quick 10 kilometres this morning will do it, then I pack my kit up and leave early. There’s still plenty of loveliness in the Peaks, and I route myself down to the south. Around Hartington (2)Reality starts to kick in – a half hour delay on the M1, stuck behind a tanker for five miles.. although I do manage to remember to pick up some oatcakes in Ashbourne.

A brief stop to lay some flowers on my mother’s grave…

Photo 2020-10-20 17.08.51And home to a pupper who’s very glad to see me.

It’s been a great adventure. Strange, because of the COVID-19 crisis, but sometimes that’s been an advantage. There are more adventures to be had on this beautiful island, more wonders and marvels to see. I need to travel in Wales a little more, and there’s still a big tour of Scotland to be done, but I feel as if I can at least tick one of my dream goals for 2020 off the list.


Hartington – Ashbourne – Crick – Home

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