Saturday, 24 July 2010

Not enough blogging time

I’ve run out of time this week. I haven’t been to visit all my favourite blogs or made my usual blog comments and I know how much comments mean to bloggers. [In fact, some of us can be childishly overenthusiastic about them!] But I have a good/bad reason. Rod [Mr A.] was hoping [we were all hoping] he could avoid having that stem cell transplant that I’ve been muttering on about in my blogs, but the hospital say that it must be the next course of treatment. The amyloids are building up and if left unchecked they’ll damage his kidneys and spread to other organs in his body. He has no choice and so he will be going into the bone marrow unit on 3rd August.

I used to think that a stem cell transplant meant putting something new into the body, much like a heart transplant, but it’s not. It’s a way for them to give him an extremely high dose of chemotherapy. The dose would be fatal without the reintroduction of his own stem cells to help his body to recover. They were harvested last year and are stored at the hospital in what my mind imagines to be a container full of swirling dry ice, akin to something from a Frankenstein movie. Joking aside, it’s an aggressive treatment. He’ll be in hospital for about three weeks and convalescing for about three months. During that time he must avoid infections. He won’t even be able to touch his lovely garden. [I will try to make sure that it still is a lovely garden when the hospital gives him permission to dirty his hands again but I’m no gardener. Truly I’m not.]

And so we’re going to go out and about this week. We’re going to spend time with good friends, visit exciting places, keep busy and have fun. I won’t be around much in blogland for the next seven days so I thank you in anticipation [that’s a lovely old phrase, isn’t it] for your visits and your comments. Once he’s undergoing treatment I rather think I’ll be visiting you all quite a lot.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

At the end of WHAT day?

‘At the end of the day’ is an annoying modern cliché. I wouldn’t mind if people were talking about bedtime but they rarely are. I can accept its use by people chattering over a pint when language is far less important than a good gossip but I have heard news reporters using it. I’ve heard government officials too, specialist doctors, solicitors, people who should have a better command of the English language.

I’m not suggesting that we all create totally new and exciting phrases each time we speak but we could try to be a little more original. Shakespeare, it seemed, was always creating new phrases. It’s a shame that we’re so lacking in originality ourselves that we’re still copying his ideas.

‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,’ from Romeo and Juliet.

‘All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players,’ from As You Like it.

'There's method in his madness' which was originally ‘Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't,’ from Hamlet.

I could go on and on... and on. His command of language was truly inspiring. When his contemporaries heard some of those lines for the first time they must have leapt about with excitement.

‘Don’t use clichés’ has become a mantra of creative writing classes. They’re normally referring to the old, well-worn type, like ‘dull as ditchwater’. City dwellers rarely see ditchwater and I suspect it’s not really dull. There are probably insects hopping around in it, the odd lizard or mammal and maybe even fish. In other words the phrase does not create a useful picture in my mind. The mantra should extend to modern slang too, like ‘end of’. I’m sure I heard the PM use that the other day.

If it’s good practice for writers to avoid clichés then it’s not unreasonable for speakers to do the same. So, if you’re a reporter, a government representative or even the Prime Minister, please don’t use the phrase, ‘at the end of the day’. Why not use the word ‘ultimately’ or better still nothing at all. Just tell us what it is you’re trying to say and remember, at the end of the day, the phrase adds nothing.

Is there a cliché that really annoys you?

‘To cut a long story short’ was a Tweet suggestion from my Twitter friend @mariaAsmith and I agree with her. It’s really irritating.

Is there a cliché that you rather like?

‘Count your blessings’ was a Tweet suggestion from my Twitter friend @MiriamHalahmy. Her Mum would say this and then tap the heads of her six grandchildren. Now that’s lovely.

Thanks for your contributions.


Tuesday, 13 July 2010

World Cup Sack Race

So it's over. The streets were almost deserted on Sunday evening. Any public place without a wide screen TV might as well have shut for the night. Even I watched the last half hour. I saw extra time and the only goal. But why is football so special? In Medieval times FIFA would have been accused of sorcery, of controlling people's minds with magic chants or with magic football dust. 'How else could this worldwide obsession happen?' a person from Medieval Times would have said.

So humour me for a moment or two and consider what the world would be like if that magic dust had been sprinkled over the Sack Race rather than football:

  • All local parks would have Sack Race fields.
  • Shops would sell designer sacks in local teams' colours at prices that unashamedly exceeded costs.
  • Any self-respecting kid would have his own sack. Girls would sometimes have sacks but men would inexplicably consider girls to be temperamentally unsuitable for the game.
  • People would drive round with tiny sacks in their team's colours flapping from their car windows.
  • Drunken fans would sing Sack Race chants, 'Come on you Bouncers!'
  • The top Sack Racers would earn more money that was good for them but their careers would be short-lived due to repetitive strain injury on their knees from all the bouncing.
  • Children would look up to Sack Race stars even though they elbowed, pushed and tripped up other Sack Race competitors.
  • Those same Sack Race stars would be driven to playing 'dirty' because the prize for winning... the chance to hold that golden Sack Race Cup at the end of the World Cup Sack Race meant so very much to them and their fans.

OK, so it was only pretend but football is just a game where men kick a bouncing ball around. How did it come to mean so much to so many people?


Wednesday, 7 July 2010

5 reasons for not having a picnic

Yesterday I went out for lunch with my critique group to a local beauty spot called Wistow Park. It’s not that beautiful but it is in the countryside and it’s close to the canal so it’s one of Josh-the-dog’s favourite walks. (He does love tow paths. It must have something to do with a concentration of smells!) It’s also the place we used to go for picnics when I was a child.

A family of ducks waddled round our table as we ate and exchanged news about our latest writing projects. We were outside a colourful cafe sitting at elaborate picnic-style bench tables with large green umbrellas to shield us from the sun and we were eating food that couldn’t be more different from the picnics that Mum used to make.

Every so often I found myself glancing over to the field where Mum, Dad, my sister and I used to go for those Sunday afternoon picnics and it made me come over all nostalgic. I loved those picnics. Dad used to park the car on the grass verge (That’s not allowed now. There’s a proper car park with tarmac and white lines.) and Mum used to spread an old brown ground sheet in the middle of a big square field so that me and my sister could sit side by side and eat. The square field is fenced off now. Cows graze there and the rest of the area is landscaped with footpaths marked out, shops and even a Garden Centre... but my spectacles are not entirely rose tinted. Here come the five reasons for not having a picnic.

1. There were thistles on that field and I always managed to sit on one.

2. There were cowpats on the field and... ditto No 1.

3. The wasps loved my jam sandwiches more than I did.

4. There were no toilets nearby, the bushes were full of nettles and... ditto No. 1 again.

5. Someone (usually me) always managed to spill the drinks. They inevitably went over someone’s sandwiches (usually my sister’s). She would be upset. I would start to cry. Dad would declare the picnic over and we’d have to pack up before we’d finished and go home.

But in spite of the negatives, I remember those Sunday afternoons with a lot of warmth and affection. Yesterday, as I watched children eating carefully prepared cheese and marmalade onion ciabattas or jacket potatoes with Coronation chicken and side salad with olive oil dressing, I wondered if any of them would remember that outing with the same degree of fondness that I have for my family picnics. Somehow I don’t think they will.


Sunday, 4 July 2010

How Perverse

Bugged Project: I tried but...

There’s something about us humans that makes us want to do things that we know we’re not allowed to do. It’s perverse. Have you ever had the urge to stand up and shout when you’re in a packed and silent hall with a serious speaker lecturing from the front? No? Bother! It’s just me then, huh? It’s illogical because if I was asked to do it I’d be horrified. I never have done it, I hasten to add. I just get the urge... occasionally.

And here’s another thing... If the waiter at our local Indian restaurant had said, ‘Please tap the edge of this burning hot iron plate with your finger,’ I wouldn’t have dreamt of doing any such thing but he didn’t say that. He said, ‘Please don’t touch this plate as it’s very hot.’ That’s what I mean about being perverse.

Some of my perversities are far more subtle. Take eavesdropping. I’m usually good at being a Nosy Adam. Haven’t I, in the ‘pages’ of this blog, said so here and here and possibly here too? Mr A says that I’m far too fond of listening in to other people’s conversations and he always knows when it’s happening. We might be in a cafe or a restaurant when, apparently, I glaze over as I home in on a discussion that promises to be more exciting than the one I’m in the middle of with Mr A. (He’s a very long-suffering husband!) It’s the next best thing to having a good gossip.

And yet last Thursday, when I had not only been given permission but had actively been encouraged to nosy my way around Leicester, I overheard hardly a thing apart from the following:
First woman: 'His eyes are huge.’
Second woman: ‘Yes.’
First woman: ‘But he'll grow round them.'
Second woman: ‘I suppose.’

I was expecting to collect a notebook full of snippets. Had I not been TOLD to do it I’m quite sure I WOULD have collected a notebook full. As I said, I’m just plain perverse. There was an added incentive for being a Nosy Adam too. Bugged are publishing an anthology of poems and stories gleaned and created from snippets of conversations overheard on 1st July. A real writing opportunity based on one of my favourite occupations and I’ve let the opportunity go... or maybe not. Let me think... huge eyes... aliens... owls... there has to be a story there somewhere.

Have you overheard anything hilarious recently? Or maybe something you’ve said has been overheard out of context. If so then please share it in the comments below. I do love a good gossip.