Ragged Clown

It's just a shadow you're seeing that he's chasing…


Things that I have done that you (probably) have not

A friend and I got talking about how to measure whether your life was different to everyone else’s and we came up with a framework where we score a point for each thing we’ve done that most other people haven’t done.

My friend went to Afghanistan with the Parachute Regiment. His life has been quite different to most people’s. I think my life was quite different too.

I have…

photo – Ragged Clown
Diving, not falling.

Left home at 16.

Evacuated from a burning building.

Fallen from the bridge of a ship.

Emigrated multiple times. Four countries. Three states. 13 cities.

Drunk 34 drinks in an evening (all of different colours).

Jumped off Bournemouth Pier.

Been caned once, slippered (Dunlop Green Flash) twice and beaten around the head by a teacher half a dozen times.

Brewed mead.

Fired a torpedo on a Polaris submarine.

Met the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Bill Gates.

Naval Gunfire Support! 300 rounds! Engage!

Won a silver medal in the London Area Sea Cadets rowing regatta.

Was CEO of a Silicon Valley startup.

Flew out of the side of the half-pipe at Squaw Valley on a snowboard and landed on my arse.

They are faster than they look.

Invited to a funeral by the Most Beautiful Girl in Moorea, French Polynesia.

Been apprehended by the police for scrumping.

Loaded a Mk8 4.5in gun during 300 rounds of Naval Gunfire Support.

Been chased by a fur seal in South Georgia.

Scratched Prince Andrew’s car.

Took my girlfriend to Saturday Morning Pictures on the bus every Saturday when we were eight. She was crowned Miss ABC Cinema by the prime minister, Ted Heath.

Met Vice President Biden at the White House.

memories – Page 2 – Ragged Clown
Alarm! Aircraft!

Was pinched on the bottom by a German girl while swimming on the Great Barrier Reef. She thought I had previously pinched her bottom but it was a sunfish. I thought I was being bitten by a sunfish.

Slept on Waterloo Station when I missed the last train home after a well-lubricated evening at The Goose and Firkin.

Invited to a White House meeting with Vice President Biden.

Fired an anti-aircraft gun at an aircraft.

Hitchhiked across Australia. Sydney to Cairns. Cairns to Darwin. The driver knew a shortcut.

Did A-level maths in 6 weeks.

Ran out of money in Tahiti and survived for three days on mangos & coconuts straight from the tree.

When my parents divorced, my mother married the next-door neighbour. So did my father.

Raiataia, French Polynesia.

Walked 100 miles barefoot through the Thai jungle because I lost a shoe getting off the bus.

Was a first responder in a fire on a nuclear submarine.

Was at a party — The infamous Sozzlehurst and Hiccup party — that made the front page of every newspaper in the land.

Been interviewed by the mayor of Raiatea who kindly suggested where I might be able to pitch my tent.

Part of a team that won a Duke’s Choice Award.

Been chased by a Komodo dragon in Komodo.

A hungry Komodo dragon. They are not as fast as they look.

Slid down the metal strip between the escalators at Waterloo underground station.

Got married on the beach in Jamaica.

It’s a long way down!

Ran out of money in Flores, Indonesia and persuaded the airline to let me fly to the nearest city with a bank for free.

Made a bomb from magnesium dust and homemade gunpowder. Injuries were not too severe.

Slept on the beach for a week on Bora Bora, French Polynesia.

Ate homemade crushed beetles with chilli in the jungle.

Been buzzed by a hostile Argentinian jet.

Been mugged in Amsterdam.

Almost tripped over an elephant seal on South Georgia.

Went to London on the bus for the day with my next-door neighbour. I was 10, he was 8.

He wasn’t happy about it either.

The engine fell out the bottom of our van on a backroad in Queensland. Waited 8 hours for the next car to drive by and rescue us.

Snuck into Burma (twice) when the border was closed.

Been on the cover of a magazine.

Was responsible, as a 21-year-old petty officer, for all but one of the sonar systems on a Polaris submarine at sea.

Been to the Top of the Rock in Gibraltar. A Barbary Ape stole my camera.

Top of the Rock of Gibraltar with a Barbary Ape
Top of the Rock of Gibraltar with a Barbary Ape

Was banned from all four pubs in Port Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands.

Rode an Elephant through the Thai jungle.

Rode a homemade raft down a Thai river.

Life in the Falklands
Port Stanley, the home of Penguin Ale

Woke up at the end of the District Line on the last train.

Got snowed in for a week in Manhattan.

Was the only member of Greenpeace on my Polaris submarine.

Won a gold medal in the South East London shooting competition.

Held the hand of a loved one as she died.

Details available on request.

Philosophical Unruliness

I listened to an interview on BloggingHeads.tv a couple of years ago where philosopher Agnes Callard explained the concept of unruliness to Robert Wright.

So maybe one way to think about it to make it seem less crazy would be to put it in a context of thinking about that as a kind of outlier decision among a large field of decisions where I am more open and risk-taking than other people. I’m sort of seeing more possibilities of what to do.

Even just when I walk down the street, and if there’s a little ledge, I’ll tend to walk on the ledge because it’s more fun. And I notice other people don’t do that.

Callard claims that, because she feels less constrained by convention than other people, she gets to try things that other people don’t think to do and, as a result, has more fun.

The fact that I walk on the ledges and other people just walk on the sidewalk. It’s fun. When I walk down the street, sometimes I skip, sometimes I dance. I’ve noticed other people don’t do that. So I get to have more fun than other people, because I’m seizing these possibilities that are there.

Callard decided to become a philosopher to rein in some of her wilder instincts. Maybe I should try that next.

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5 responses to Things that I have done that you (probably) have not

Gavin Cooper August 6, 2021

Wow, that’s quite some list. I see there are many (many) stories yet to be told.

  • Fran August 7, 2021

    Hey, I walk on curbs. Would that be the same as ledges? Park service person trims tree, so the branches aren’t in my way.

    Ragged Clown September 8, 2021

    It was amusing to read the reactions to this and the many ways that it could be misinterpreted by people who were determined to misinterpret it.

    The most common misinterpretations were:

    • I spent my whole life in the navy (I left the Navy over 30 years ago).
    • Three stories about drinking too much in my early twenties are representative of my life (and British people in general).
    • The list represents the sum total of my accomplishments (I deliberately steered clear of any kind of conventional accomplishments)

    The funniest thing was to read the dismissals by the accomplished young men who comment on Marginal Revolution and have (no doubt) seen a few things themselves.

    These same young men had a lot of advice to give to the young woman who had the misfortune to be featured at the top of Tyler’s list of interesting links after asking for dating advice on Reddit.

    Not that I owe anyone an explanation but my list came as a stream-of-consciousness walk through my memories after a beer at the pub with a friend. I wasn’t trying to claim that my life was better than anyone else’s — just that it has been different.

    Ragged Clown September 8, 2021

    My favourite response came in a blog called Applied Divinity Studies.

    ADS contrasted my list of experiences with an article on The Art Of Manliness about how people don’t have experiences like mine anymore. Especially not Millennials.

    Fine then, The AoM seems to concede, it’s not that millennials are lazy, they’re just boring. The least interesting generation. It’s me, I suck. We suck. You see, I’m also a millennial, and I hate it. Or in the author’s own words:

    So, no, in observing the comparative dullness of the modern generation’s life stories, the intent is not to be accusative, but simply descriptive.

    The AoM article lists a bunch of celebrities from a generation or two before mine and notices that many of them had a start in life that is barely credible today.

    Before Steve McQueen’s 18th birthday, he had worked on a farm, joined a circus, sold pens at a traveling carnival, hitchhiked and rode the rails across the country, worked as a lumberjack in Canada, labored on a chain gang in the Deep South (punishment for the crime of vagrancy), served a short (and illegal — he was underage) stint in the Merchant Marine, and joined the Marine Corps for a three-year enlistment.

    ADS summarizes:

    This is followed by a litany of equally interesting anecdotes. Did you know that before playing James Bond, Sean Connery was a milkman and a truck driver? (Not to mention a “laborer”, whatever that is.) How quaint! How fun! Ralph Ellison? Now famed author of the Invisible Man? He was once a shoeshine boy. Not to mention a waiter, short-order cook, clerk, paperboy, and janitor. What about Ernest Hemingway? A farmhand at 15.

    AoM compares this with the experiences of the Millenial generation:

    Today, the situation is much the reverse. It is very rare to find an individual — whether they’re hugely successful or just an average joe — who has even a modestly interesting background, much less a McQueen-esque one.

    ADS gets a bit defensive at this but I think AoM has a real point: up until about 30 years ago, smart people had options at the end of high school that didn’t involve spending 4 years at college followed by 30 years climbing the greasy pole. Some of those options could lead to interesting life experiences and they didn’t close any doors to future success. Millennials feel that they no longer have those options. My daughter even told me that, for someone of her generation, university is pretty much compulsory or your life is screwed. I don’t think she is right but this is about perceptions not right or wrong views.

    Applied Divinity Studies compares my experiences to the ones that Millennials are missing out on. I thought his observations were thoughtful and they made me reflect.

    In a less ageist tone, the recent My Life Was Different essay (listicle?) via Agnes Callard and Tyler Cowen seems to confirm this view. It’s an interesting set of experiences in aggregate, but pull it apart and the mystique disappears. “Drunk 34 drinks in an evening”? “Slept on the beach for a week”? “Been mugged in Amsterdam.”? “Slept on Waterloo Station because I missed the last train”? That’s just being an alcoholic, homeless, victimized, and bad at planning.

    That made me laugh out loud!

    But it all comes together when interspersed with experiences like “Met Bill Gates” and “Flew out of the side of the half-pipe at Squaw Valley on a snowboard”. Suddenly he’s not a vagrant, he’s a jetsetting socialite. Very cool.

    This comment made me smile, all crinkly in the corners of my mouth. It’s completely wrong, of course, but it made me imagine myself as the kind of person that ADS imagined I might be.

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