I have an idea for a book for me to write.
It will be called A Hundred Things To Do Before You Die.
By Miles Kington.
I know what you are going to say
The title may seem vaguely familiar to you.
Does it perhaps remind you of another book by a woman calling herself Patricia Schulz entitled A Thousand Places To See Before You Die, a No 1 New York Times Bestseller?
It may well do.
There is, however, a vital difference between her book and mine.
P. Schulz is not interested in people doing things. She is only interested in people going to see places.
She wants her readers to buy an airline ticket, go halfway round the world, see Wells Cathedral and go home again.
She does not suggest ways of filling in time en route to Wells, or on the way back from Wells, or even, much, while at Wells.
It is, I am afraid, a very American vision of the world, as a series of sights to be ticked off one by one.
My idea may sound similar but it is quite different insofar as it involves doing things.
Not doing things in the sense of doing a bunjee jump or white water rafting, which in its own way is just as bad as going halfway round the world to see Angkor Wat.
What I mean is doing things in the sense of finally getting round to doing all those things you’d always wished you could do, but never did master.
Without leaving home.
Whistling with two fingers in your mouth.
It was always a great regret to me that I grew up not being able to do that, while people who were much stupider than I was had no trouble at all just sticking fingers in their mouth and breaking the sound barrier. I could whistle ordinarily easily enough, and do tunes and everything. But I couldn’t emit that piercing whistle which stopped taxis in their tracks, attracted the attention of everyone with earshot and brought down prices of property in the neighbourhood.
Then one day in my twenties I found an article in Esquire Magazine called something like: Your Very Last Chance To Learn How To Put Your Fingers In Your Mouth (But Wash Them First) And Whistle Like An Errand Boy, Just As You Always Wanted To, and I realised that it was my last chance, and I grimly cut the piece out and started practising. It’s a hit and miss process, but I persevered and one day I flukely got a loud whistle while pushing the tip of my tongue back, and then I got it again, and over a period of time I eliminated the errors until now, in my sixties, I can put two fingers in my mouth and get that ear-quaking blast nine times out of ten.
I don’t do it very often. Sometimes to try to flag a taxi down. Sometimes to tell my wife where I am in a supermarket. Very occasionally to attract people’s attention as they are about to wander out on to that harmless-looking bit of grass which, did they but know it, leads to an unsuspected 300 foot cliff fall or conceals a glutinous swamp from which no-one has ever clambered alive (the trick is to leave the whistle to the last possible moment, as otherwise people think you are just interfering and being bossy).
The important thing is that, whatever the motive for my shrill whistling, someone standing nearby always says: ‘God, I’ve always wanted to be able to do that!’ and they don’t mean to rescue people from certain death, they mean they want to be able to whistle with their fingers in their mouth. Sometimes everyone in earshot says this. Occasionally someone actually says: ‘Please teach me how to do that!’
Yes, the world is full of people who wish they could put two fingers in their mouth and a moment later be heard as far away as Ealing.
(My daughter Sophie is even better at this than I am. She can put two fingers of the same hand in her mouth and get the whistle going. I can only do it with two hands. That is how I would have to teach it, maybe even risking lawsuits from one-handed whistlers who saw me as the Patricia Schulz of the whistling world.)
What is clear from all this is that lots of people, right through their lives, go on wishing they could do the big two-fingered whistle and would pay good money to learn how to do so.
Ah, if only they could buy a book which told them simply and clearly how to do it, wouldn’t they shell out the money?
Especially if it told them how to do ninety-nine other things as well, for the same price?
Dear Miles, I hear you say, Can there possible be ninety-nine other things like that as well?
Of course there are, dear Gill! you hear me reply, in the immortally unctuous tones of an author allaying an agent’s doubts.
For instance, yodelling.
I can do the big two-fingered whistle, but no-one has ever taught me how to do that register change while singing, that slip from normal to falsetto and back which makes you sound like a Swiss busker or like Billy Connolly doing his ten minute routine about learning how to yodel. I have not often wanted to know how to do it, but when I have wanted to know, I have wanted to know very badly.
And if I read A Hundred Things To Do Before You Die, by Miles Kington, I would find out.
Other things covered in this sensationally vital new volume include such techniques and topics as:
‘How a Crossword Clue Works’
‘Why the Ref Blew the Whistle’
‘How to Cut Your Thumb In Half, Using Your Opposite Forefinger as The Knife’
‘How to Stick a Stamp on the Ceiling From Where You are Sitting, Using Only a 50p Coin (and a stamp)’
‘How to pronounce ‘Macho’ and ‘Chorizo’ properly, unlike Mark Lawson’
‘How to send Postcards Home To Your Mother Country’
‘How to Swear in Other Languages’
‘The Do’s and Don’t’s of Wearing a Crucifix’
‘The Secret of Steaming Open an Envelope (Do It at the Bottom)’
‘How to do a Handstand’
‘And a Cartwheel’
‘How to Catch a Barman’s Eye’
‘How to Dive Into a Swimming Pool’
‘Making a Shrieking Sound with a Blade of Grass’
‘Hand-carving your own Wooden Date Retrieving Fork To Replace the Horrible Plastic One They Give You in Boxes of Moroccan Dates These Days’
‘How to Fix a Ballcock . . . ‘
There is a bit of personal experience attached to this last one.
In the 1970s I lived in a modern block of flats in Ladbroke Grove, on the ground floor. There were about ten flats above me, all in identical format. The bathroom was in the same place in each flat. In each bathroom there was a lavatory, with an overflow which led to an outside pipe. Looking up from my garden, you could see nine pipes one above the other, which would only come into action if there was an overflow (of clean water) from the cistern in the loo.
It happened one night. A cistern somewhere upstairs started to malfunction. All I knew about it was that it suddenly started to rain in our garden. I rushed out to see why we had such a localised rainstorm and spotted that it was all coming from four floors up, so I rushed up the stairs and knocked at the fourth floor to tell the occupant that something very odd was going on. She was dumbfounded. I was a total stranger (we were all strangers to each other in the block) and yet I seemed to know that her loo was misbehaving. Was I not rather a burglar tricking my way in? A rapist? A lavatory fetishist?
Eventually I managed to get her to look at her overflow pipe, which was indeed overflowing, and then we had a look inside her cistern. I could see that the water was coming into the cistern to refill it. I could see that the ballcock had not quite got to the top on its floating arm. I could work out that what needed to be done was . . .
Well, never mind what needed to be done, but I bent the arm, or released something and stopped the overflow overflowing, and we parted on the best of terms, and all was as before.
Until the next flat developed an overflow deluge.
And I had to go up and talk my way into the next cistern, and deal with it.
And again, and again and again, over the years.
In every case I managed to mend it.
I met lots of my neighbours.
I streamlined my invasion technique until instead of explaining at great length how I lived on the ground floor and there was water falling on our garden, and if only she would let me look at the ballcock, etc, etc, I merely brushed past the tenant saying: ”Ballcock trouble, emergency plumber, let me through” and got it done in a minute flat.
I began to get a bit of a reputation as a whiz with plumbing, and total strangers would sometimes call from upstairs asking me to look at their boilers, or central heating.
This was beyond me.
I had mastered ballcocks, and that is all I intended to do.
After all, their central heating was no danger to my garden.
Still, it took me weeks and months of trial and error just to work out how ballcocks behave, and I think that if I had had A Hundred Things To Do Before You Die by Miles Kington to hand, I would have blessed its presence.
As indeed would, now, lots of people who are conscious of all those little techniques they have not mastered in life, and all for the want of a little trying and the right book.
Sounds like a bestseller to me.
What do you think?