Those of the older generations often say that they “had it a lot harder in their day”. I can see their point, they were beaten mercilessly at school, while the existence of spam and corned beef was considered vaguely acceptable. But what of the really old days? You know, the days before things are depicted in black and white in your mind and instead they are imprinted on a clay vase.
The era to which I refer is that of Hercules, the son of Zeus, half brother of Perseus and presumably captain of the 1st XI (it was always some dick with an influential father).
Hercules was driven mad by Hera and killed his six sons. Which seemed rash. By means of punishment, he was forced to perform ten tasks by King Eurystheus, which was then extended to twelve after referee John Anderson (who was cutting his teeth as an official in those days) found him guilty of cheating in two of them.
Anyhow, ignoring the fact that he would definitely have been given multiple life sentences these days (mainly as it would defeat the point of this article – if indeed there is one), I couldn’t help but feel that the punishment was a bit soft. So I set about thinking what dozen tasks I would get the young man to fulfil in the year 2012. Tasks so impossible that, by comparison, slaying the Hydra and capturing the Golden Hind of Artemis would seem a piece of cake in comparison…
So, without further ado, here are the 12 Labours of Hercules (2012 edition):
- Get anything, absolutely anything, done by the DVLA
Quite simply, the worst customer service in the country.
You need to renew your license, so you pop down your nearest Post Office and grab a 9.d. form. You diligently fill it in and off it goes…
About 4 months later it comes back. You have filled in a 9.d. form, when what you really needed to fill in was a 9.D. form. Of course. Silly you.
You find the appropriate paperwork, fill in every one of their pointless, ambiguous questions and send it off. It is, naturally, returned to you. What’s wrong with it? God knows. So you try and call them. Of course, there isn’t a number. Just a website that was seemingly designed by MC Escher (n.b. younger readers, he was an artist, not a rapper).
You give up. It’s useless. The bloody DVLA is located in Swansea, just in case your desperation pushed you to the extent of trying to deliver it by hand.
It’s almost astonishing that anyone in Britain can drive at all.
- Manage the England football team
Imagine trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Then imagine that 60 million people expect you to succeed in the aforementioned task. Now throw in the additional factor that the sow’s ear is trying to rip itself apart at every opportunity. This is, essentially, the England manager’s job.
Every four years or so, some other poor sod decides that they have it in them to do the impossible and simply ends up looking like a prat with an umbrella, being depicted as a vegetable or, even worse, shagging Ulrika Jonsson. The ultimate job opportunity for masochists.
- The crusty baguette
“Oooh, that Upper Crust baguette looks nice.”
“Aaaaagh! The roof of my mouth is in ribbons and I need to see a dentist as a matter of urgency…”
How these things don’t carry health warnings is a mystery. Why I keep on going back to them is mystery. How someone managed to make a sandwich with the destructive properties of broken glass and nails is a feat of culinary engineering. I salute you sirs… Now, the number for that dentist please?
- Resist the urge to pop a spot
There is a psychological term called “negative suggestion”. It plays on the child in all of us and is the reason that when someone tells you not to do something, all you can think about is doing it.
The stupid thing about popping a spot is that there is no-one telling you not to do it. You know it makes it worse. The only person you are disobeying is yourself. It’s utterly pointless. This is equally applicable to picking a scab.
- Watch the whole of Withnail & I without falling asleep
It’s a fairly regular occurrence… You leave the pub at closing time on a Friday night, go home and decide that you simply must watch Richard E. Grant’s homage to alcohol. It’s a great idea. Withnail reflects the semi-intoxication that you have brought upon yourself.
Within half an hour you’re fast asleep. Usually just after he shouts “Scrubbers!” out the window of his car. I must have seen the beginning a hundred times, the scene in the Penrith tearooms about a tenth of that amount, and it was only last year that I managed to work out exactly who “Presuming Ed” was.
See also: Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. There are whole swathes of that film that I have no recollection of.
- Cook a Jamie Oliver 30 minute meal in 30 minutes
If I ever meet the pudgy, lisping bastard, I’d love to ask him if there is ONE of the recipes in Jamie’s 30 minute meals that he can make in half an hour. Even with a team of sous-chefs putting all they’ve got into the preparation, there is no way that any of these recipes do anything approaching the title of the book. The trade descriptions act should outlaw this rubbish… It’s like me referring to my tackle as “Harry’s 3 foot cock”.
Now, Turkey Twizzlers. There’s a 30 minute meal.
- Unknot a pair of headphones
There are many miracles of nature. How a bumblebee flies is one. The sheer intricacy of the human body is another. But nothing on god’s green earth is quite as astonishing as the ability to put a metre of wire in your pocket, only to retrieve an impossible cat’s cradle from the same place 30 seconds later.
This transformation is every bit as impressive as a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Only much more annoying.
- Deal with a trip to the hairdresser
“Hi, I’ll have a, erm, haircut please? I suppose it needs to be a bit shorter, and… um… maybe cut around the ears. What’s that? Do I want it straight or tapered at the back? Oh god, I don’t know. What do you think? Should I? Oh, sod it… Just do what you want. As long as you don’t ask me whether the back looks alright afterwards… Oh, you just did. Brilliant.”
- Maintain a fitness regime at the gym
There can’t be many people who haven’t fallen into this trap. You come back from the Christmas break having given yourself a fighting chance of obtaining gout, squeeze yourself into your work clothes and decide that you need to shed a few pounds/stone/small children. So you join a gym, obviously. The first few weeks sail by, you’re going four times a week, it’s a routine. This all seems so easy. This year’s membership that you’ve paid for is going to be a bargain.
Then comes the day you can’t be bothered. It doesn’t matter, you say to yourself, just one day off, I’ll be back tomorrow. And you are. But the conscientious precedent is set. The following week you miss another. By February you’re going once a fortnight and by the time you’ve stuffed your face full of chocolate at Easter, you can’t even remember where the gym is.
Does anyone actually go to gyms in November? Who knows? It’s the urban equivalent of the tree falling in the woods when no-one’s around.
- Not get lost in Ikea
“I’ll meet you there, in the bit that looks like a tacky modern living room… Oh…Hang on a minute…”
- Like your neighbours
How many of you went to a street party for the Royal Wedding?
How many of you spoke to your neighbours for the first time and found them relatively agreeable?
How many of you have spoken to them since?
Point proved. Enjoy the jubilee…
- Satisfactorily compile an entire list
Whenever you read those “top ten” lists in the papers, they usually start promisingly but by the end are scraping the barrel to the extent that there is nothing left in the barrel and you’re just getting spoonfuls of splinters… I’ve always struggled with metaphors.
They usually occur when some wag in the press decides to make a list of “10 footballers who sound like pets” or something equally inane. It’s usually because they’ve effortlessly thought of a few good ones down the pub and assumed that it would be a doddle to knock out a quick list before they knock off for the day. The fact that said hack will have only managed about 8 by the time his whole office has gone home is the reason you get things like “Wayne Poodley” and “Demba Bark” propping these lists up. The journo has bitten off more than he can chew and we, the readers, must suffer as we groan and mourn our existence.
Who am I to buck the trend?
by Harry Harland