Opinion

Bucket Lists?

The bucket list is a consumer driven catch phrase; the origin of the bucket and the need for a list to give fulfilment. It is absurd to measure one’s humanity with a bucket, only one’s greed.

“There’s a hole in my bucket dear Liza, dear Liza, there’s a whole in my bucket, dear Liza a hole.” We all know the song, but do we really understand the significance of this volumetric device and more latterly the way the term bucket has been used immorally? Sounds absurd? Perhaps… but listen.

There is a story to tell of the evolution of the bucket and that through a process of ‘natural selection’, peoples across the world have come up with the same solution to the same problem; how to carry enough water, without spraining muscle or dislocating joints, whilst also minimising the number of trips to the well or spring.

Natural selection creates so many shapes of wing from butterfly to bird; yet the biomechanics and physics of the aerofoil do not change after millions of years and countless variants. The trial and error experiments carried out by separate peoples over thousands of years, continents apart, inevitably produced something that was both water tight and could be carried in the hand; not so long that it dragged on the floor and not so large that it weighed too much. There were nice little adaptations as skin, hide or bladder like vessels were replaced by clay and then different metals came into play from copper to silver to pewter and iron and steel; to the modern-day classic; plastic. The pride of the infant, with their first bucket, in lurid yellow, castle shaped, but not so big that a two kilo load of wet sand or sea water for the moat couldn’t make it that short distance up the beach.

The concept of evolution is most easily explained in my mind by this analogy. The morse code is a series of dots and dashes sent over the wireless; remember SOS …—…. In the same way it can send any text message, from the simplest to the complete works of Shakespeare; from simplicity comes complexity. The DNA within a virus, bacterium, plant, animal, fungi or protist; has the same genetic code, made up of three letters in a sequence, a codon; which can be chosen from the four letters in DNA, A, T, G, C. When a virus takes over a cell, it inserts the genetic information that can be interpreted by the cell. The same process determines the shape, size of all life on Earth, each has a unique set of instruction in the DNA, the language of the genes. The process by which humans solve problems, like how to carry a liquid that runs between your fingers or falls from the sky, is somehow encoded within the language of the genes.

The evolution of the bucket is a wonder of advance in material science and design. The earliest populations to farm, maize, rice or wheat had to solve the problem of irrigation and lifting water from the Nile up to a field required, you guessed it in buckets.

If there is a ‘hole in my bucket’ or indeed a hole in my argument, then the need to discuss the points raised is itself important, but I haven’t made my point yet; I’ve simply been setting the scene, placing the humble bucket on a pedestal; but first… imagine a wooded forest slope, two centuries ago in a land far far away.

The California goldrush; a poor beast of burden, a donkey, laden with the possessions of an old gold miner wends its way up the rough track that borders a mountain stream. Years of work on the claim have left its mark on every motion of this seasoned campaigner, the animal and the man. The diversion  of the river to a sluice gate, the physical shovelling of alluvial silt from the river bed, perhaps laden with flakes of a ‘useless golden metal; It is not strong enough and is far too heavy to make a bucket after all. The Fall approaches and at this altitude, the cold nights bite deep through the sinewy muscle, fed on what meagre food reserves there are. Two weeks later the body of this lost soul is found by the river side; a bucket tipped over by his boot, the donkey feeding nearby. Is this the origin myth of the ‘to kick the bucket’ idiom; a phrase in a comedic sense used to suggest that someone has expired, is dead. Their last comic movement to kick it over with a resounding clang?

The use of this phrase on stage and screen in the last century has popularised it none the less and once more has undergone an evolution as all phrases must, and from the first understanding of the metaphor, people have in recent years come to hear a different use that has now become ‘the bucket list’.

I dislike the term and here is why I think you need to consider it immoral.

The goldminer is seeking gold; those that seek a definitive list seek not their fortune, but a mechanism for describing their wealth as much as their fortune.


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The seven wonders of the ancient world might fall within it for the classicist, or the biggest theme parks in the world for your children; perhaps you might consider it a chance to visit the highest mountains, the bluest seas. Why do we need a list; where does it come from; is there a minimum number or hierarchy based on desire or greed, that people know would be recognised by their family or social circle. It’s not a new idea of course; a list of places to visit for the ‘well to do’ or upper class, was the Grand Tour. I am overreacting surely, where is the offence, how can something said in jest perhaps be taken so seriously?

Stop and think, please just consider; you cannot sum up the events of a life in a bucket; a finite volume. I believe everyone has to collect their own aqua vitae, learn how to make the bucket first and then drink from the memories, therein. There is no need to write a list; there is no need to consume more and more. If you have the chance to take on an adventure then take it, do it, but do not set out on this adventure with the desire to simply broadcast it. The child that rushes up the beach with crabs or fish in their bucket is filled with pride and joy; this can also bring happiness but better still for parent and child, to return them to the rock pool, can be just as rewarding for both. Whatever we do in life we have a responsibility to everything and everyone around us. We must try to live, the best we can in the current circumstances of course, but not at the expense of our morality. The idea of a bucket list seems to suggest that being selfish, filling your bucket, consuming endlessly can only result in the vessel overloading, spilling over, to be dropped.

‘There’s a hole in my bucket’, is in fact a song about a dilemma; the need for water to wet the stone to sharpen the blade, that cuts the straw, requires one intact. We do not think to repair a bucket anymore, we throw it away; in a consumer society they are so cheap. In our haste to fill it we have forgotten that it takes more humans to manufacture a bucket, than to make another baby.

The wisdom of millennia is held within the circumference of a bucket; no matter what size or colour.

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