Ragged Clown

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


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

photo – Ragged Clown
Diving, not falling.

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.

Here’s a stream-of-consciousness list of some stuff I’ve done.

I left home at 16.

I have evacuated from a burning building.

I fell from the bridge of a ship and narrowly missed hitting my head on the ship’s side.

I’ve emigrated multiple times. Four countries. Three states. 13 cities.

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

I jumped off Bournemouth Pier.

I’ve been caned once, slippered (Dunlop Green Flash) twice and been beaten around the head by a teacher half a dozen times in one session.

I’ve brewed mead.

I fired a torpedo on a Polaris submarine.

I’ve met the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Bill Gates.

I won a silver medal, rowing stroke, in the London Area Sea Cadet regatta.

I was CEO of a Silicon Valley startup.

Naval Gunfire Support! 300 rounds! Engage!

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

I was invited to a funeral by the Most Beautiful Girl in Moorea, French Polynesia.

When I was 10, I rescued a little boy who was floating, face-down, in the swimming pool while his parents enjoyed the entertainment at Pontins, Scratby. When we delivered their very wet six-year-old, they bought us a coke.

I was chased by a fur seal in South Georgia.

They are faster than they look.

I was apprehended by the police for scrumping.

I loaded the shells for a Mk8 4.5in gun during 300 rounds of Naval Gunfire Support.

I scratched Prince Andrew’s car (his fault for parking too close to my ship).

I 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.

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

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

Sunfish. Biting bottoms since 1989 (CC).

I attended a White House meeting with Vice President Biden.

I have fired an anti-aircraft gun at an aircraft.

memories – Page 2 – Ragged Clown
Alarm! Aircraft!

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

I did A-level maths in 6 weeks.

I 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.

I walked 70 miles barefoot through the Thai jungle because I lost a shoe getting off the bus.

I was a first responder to a fire on a nuclear submarine.

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

I was invited to meet the mayor of Raiatea who kindly suggested where I might be able to pitch my tent after gendarmes objected strongly (and violently) to my first location.

I was part of the team that won a Duke’s Choice Award for best new Java software in 2004.

Raiatea, French Polynesia.

I was chased by a Komodo dragon in Komodo. He didn’t catch us.

I slid down the metal strip between the escalators at Waterloo underground station. It didn’t end well.

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

I proposed over the phone. I got married on the beach in Jamaica 10 weeks later.

I ran out of money in Flores, Indonesia and persuaded the airline to let me fly to the nearest city with a bank for free so I could pay at the other end.

It’s a long way down!

I made a bomb from magnesium dust and homemade gunpowder. Our injuries were not too severe.

I slept on the beach for a week on Bora Bora, French Polynesia.

I ate homemade crushed beetles with chilli in the jungle.

My ship was buzzed by a hostile Argentinian jet.

I was mugged in Amsterdam.

I almost tripped over an elephant seal on South Georgia.

I 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.

I snuck into Burma (twice) when the border was closed.

I danced naked in a shopping centre with 40 of my closest friends.

Dance, naked people! Dance!

I’ve been on the cover of a magazine.

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

I climbed 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

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

I rode an elephant through the Thai jungle.

I rode a freshly-made bamboo raft down a Thai river.

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

I woke up drunk at the end of the District Line on the last train.

I got snowed in for a week in Manhattan and for a weekend in Lake Tahoe.

I was the only member of Greenpeace on my Polaris submarine.

I won a gold medal in a London area shooting competition.

I 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.

Tags: ,

22 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.

    Lou April 23, 2022

    Sounds like an exceptional life. I have a tiny fraction of that on my own ledger:

    Like you, I left home at 16.
    I was briefly homeless at the age of 16, while working at an overnight job to keep off the streets while sleeping in a library during the day.
    Spent a month living on a Georgia commune and helped build houses with Jimmy Carter’s Habitat for Humanity while there.
    Volunteered for a month to live in a community Center in a poor urban community where we performed services for the community.
    Wrote a computer program to help enforce a major civil rights consent decree that put 2000 new clean fuel buses on the streets of Los Angeles.
    Patented an AI-based algorithm for interactive screen layout of a set of display elements.

      Ragged Clown April 25, 2022

      Hi Lou! Thanks for stopping by!

      I think most people would benefit from living a little before getting on the school-college-career treadmill. Check out The Art of Manliness in my reply to Janet.

    Janet April 25, 2022

    Happening upon your blog is the most interesting thing that’s happened to me in months. Re: this post, I think the spread of multinational corporations, the rise of international travel, and the movement of ideas from one part of the country or world to another via electronic media has made it easy to not have as many unique or remarkable experiences as you might have had before no matter where you go. I’m not saying there aren’t interesting things happening everywhere, just that the path of least resistance for most people I know often leads to a meal in a franchise restaurant instead of a local tavern, a room at a chain hotel instead of a little-known inn, an evening spent scrolling on the phone or watching TV series on Netflix or playing online games instead of going out and mingling with the locals. Precious little material for interesting stories there! When I was a child, my family moved a lot between several different countries, I went to 12 different schools in 12 years, and we had no means of communicating with family and friends in the US or in the other places we had lived but those blue “aerogramme” airmail letters. Globalization of the economy and the availability of (not only)US corporations’ products and media products around the world, then the internet and easy “keeping in touch with what’s going on back home and everywhere else” have led to enough homogenization of and indirect exposure to different cultures that many travel tales or stories about “when I was a kid” I hear from my friends and acquaintances under 50 are not that interesting. When your family’s big road trip means staying at Comfort Inn in every town and eating at McDonalds or Denny’s…well, you see what I mean. And those I tell about my life as an adult are not either…but the wild things that happened when I was a kid? People ask me to repeat those stories LOL. (BTW you’ve done many more interesting things in your life than I have–fascinating stuff, would love more details!)

      Ragged Clown April 25, 2022

      Totally agree, Janet. I do think things have changed with the homogenization of the world. I spent a year backpacking around the world in my youth and I’m scared to go back to all those places now because I know that they all will just look like “Miami with a backdrop”. Back then, everywhere was an adventure. Order chicken and they give you pigeon because they are out of chicken. Now they’d get a bad review on Yelp.

      Also agree on the lack of opportunity/desire for adventure among the younger set. I was in a pub a little while ago and met two dudes, one young and one older, who worked on a building site. The older dude and I took it in turn to tell stories of walking across Australia or riding on the outside of a bus for 150 miles in Thailand because the bus was full. The younger dude just refused to believe that those things were even possible.

      I think a lot of it is down to openness to experience. Talk to random people in a pub or up a mountain or in a boat and adventures will happen. Young folks have never learned how to do that. Maybe it was all the lessons about Stranger Danger in the 80s?

    Lucy Pharoah April 25, 2022

    It amuses me that you’re one of the most intelligent people I know, so many wonderful stories and knowledge to share, yet you lost a shoe getting off a bus ?

      Ragged Clown April 25, 2022

      I had been walking barefoot for a few months by then and I carried my espadrilles in my pocket for just-in-case. I tried making shoes out of banana leaves but it didn’t help.

    Ragged Clown May 30, 2022

    I added a new thing that you have (probably) not done. I danced naked in a shopping centre with 40 of my closest friends.

    Aaron Rhodes June 10, 2022

    I hope to have a list as grandiose as yours someday. I have done well for myself, but you set a high bar.

    Norma Jean June 10, 2022

    Couldn’t figure out how to subscribe. (As you know, I’m not technically inclined). Hope this will do it. I’m a woman who’s been aboard a submarine. Okay, just once. My ex- was a submarine officer initially assigned to a diesel fast attack sub out of Groton, CT. Unlike the fleet ballistic missle subs, they were at sea ALL the time unless docked for repair, so there was no telling when they’d surface. Older officer’s wives (the Capt. was 32!) said to keep the wardrobe door closed and if you missed your husband to just open the door and sniff, as laundering did not remove the stench of deisel fuel on khaki uniforms). When in port, they died up next to the sub tender which, for one thing, did their laundry. Without ever having seen it for himself, my husband confidently told me that 3 pieces of equipment were used in this process. One snatched all the buttons off of shirts. One ate one of ea. pr. of socks. (I forget what the 3rd one did.)
    Once while in port the wives of the 5 officers were invited aboard, one at a time, to see where it was our spouses spent the majority of their time. I was duly impressed to see that some of the enlisted men’s hammocks were slung under and around torpedos. Although the Capt. had his own cabin, the 4 other officers all slept on shelves in a single cabin, the shelves so close together that it was not possible to stretch out full length and with bend knees one could not turn over. Only one could be out of bed at a time. Since my husband was sonar officer he had to be awakened every time there was some noise detected, much of which apparently was made by shrimp) or some message recv’d. He said he never slept as long as 4 hr. And as luck would have it he didn’t get seasick as did the other 3 ossifers. They were in the No. Atlantic in winter and, as a deisel, riding on the surface most of the time.
    They’d strap his binocs to him over his heavy duty sea gear, shove him out into the conning tower and close him in up there w/ the waves crashing down over him. He not infrequently got to enjoy multiple consecutive shifts of this since everyone else was down below barfing.
    In my tour, I got to see the various compartment doors that would be consecutively closed in a fire or when the sub had been hit and was taking water or on the ocean floor, w/ the men told to lie down and breathe slowly (yeah, right…..), to apparently maximize the time until everyone in every compartment suffocated. It did not give me a warm fuzzy feeling but did make very real what we ossifers’ wives had been told in an initial briefing when we arrived at the base for our husbands to attend officers school (part of which involved an underwater ascent within a water-filled tower which everyone dreaded; they were to take in a lung full of air within a chamber at the bottom and then slowly ascend, rotating in a circle, slowly blowing out bubbles all the way; in chambers up the sides divers were stationed who would rush out and punch the trainee in the gut if he ever stopped blowing bubbles). This all seemed bad enough, given the ht. of the tower and how long that one inhalation had to support the slow bubble-blowing exhalation before they surfaced and passed that test. But in the same lecture we were told about the sinking of one of our subs in which everyone aboard did what they were told, closing off compartments and lying on the floor, where they all died, as the sub was below the depth where a rescue vessel, even if one were close by, could descend to dock w/ them and rescue the crew. That depth was well below what our husbands had had to prove they could ascend.
    I was served coffee that had circulated many times through the percolator and all I could taste besides the extreme bitterness was all I could smell as well, deisel fuel. My husband raved that to keep morale high they ate like kings, steak and eggs, lobster, etc. (with large amounts of the leftovers being jettisoned before they came into port, having been dumped into the sanitary tank and blasted out w/ all the accumulated human waste and shower drainage from that deployment, at taxpayer expense). I imagined the only way they’d know they were eating steak or lobster was by visual confirmation, as it seemed likely that their senses would be saturated by deisel fuel as were mine).
    One visit on my part was sufficient.

      Ragged Clown June 11, 2022

      Welcome to the House of the Clowns, Norma Jean. Lovely to see you!

      I also did the escape training for submariners. Ours was 100 feet deep… Everything else was exactly as you described it. One fun fact: if you have to do an escape for reals on an actual submarine, they flood the escape tower so quickly that your eardrums burst and you arrive at the surface happy to be alive, but deaf!

      The shrimp that your husband heard are known as “snapping shrimp”, he probably heard carpenter fish (sound like someone sawing wood) and underwater pigs (dolphins) too. The occasional whale song is quite magical!

      One of the blessings of being on a nuclear submarine is that it doesn’t stink of diesel. Another is the almost endless quantities of hot, fresh water for showers etc. I was told by my diesel boat colleagues that no one is allowed to wash except (occasionally) hands and face while on patrol. Also no water for washing plates so, after eating, you would wipe your plate clean with bread before giving it to the next person.

    Ragged Clown June 12, 2022

    My step brother and sister, Matt & Ellie, visited yesterday. We established that Matt was implicated in no less than six of these crazy things and we thought of at least 5 more things that should have been on my list. Growing up on a council estate was fun!

    Norma Jean June 15, 2022

    Glad you three got together after so long. Probably good you didn’t continue getting together frequently over the decades, as it didn’t sound as though you and Matt were the best possible influences on ea. other, at least if you wanted to survive beyond adolescence.

    Okay, for benefit of us colonists, what’s a council estate?

      Ragged Clown June 15, 2022

      A housing project. Government-provided social housing.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published.