Saturday 24 September 2011

Outrageous Excuses

“I didn’t have a real nose job – they only shaved the bone, they didn’t break it.” Jordan/Katie Price

Of course I’ve had Botox, everybody’s had Botox! That doesn’t count. Ruby Wax Aug 2011

John Galliano is soooo talented and under suuuuch a lot of strain that we forgive behaviour in him that we’d condemn in other people (like making drunken anti-Semitic remarks). Oh, and it was “a natural extension of his desire to please the fashion industry’s need for outrage”. Hadley Freeman sums up in The Guardian March 9, 2011

I didn’t tell anyone (about the ghost/ufo/alien abduction) at the time, because nobody would have believed me.

A man found naked in a cemetery said he was photographing ghosts, and naked skin was the best canvas for showing the orbs of energy. He said he had only intended to remove his shirt, but got carried away. Fortean Times Feb 11

Murdoch phone hacking: "I accidentally accessed their voicemail when keys on my own phone got stuck."

Actors caught shoplifting always say they were researching a role.

Man smuggling falcon eggs to Dubai taped to his body said they were a cure for a bad back.

Rich Lott said he took part in re-enactments of SS battles as part of a “father-son bonding thing”.

Kolo Toure tested positive for drugs because he “took some of his wife’s diet pills”.

Charlie Sheen’s meltdown in the Plaza Hotel’s Eloise Suite was caused by “an allergic reaction to medication”. (Call girl he’d hired was so scared she locked herself in a cupboard.)

David Wu later explained that he was under the influence of painkillers and mental duress due to stress. US Politician David Wu sent pic of self dressed in tiger suit to female staffer. Aug 2011

The Night Stalker claimed his wife left his DNA at the crime scenes.

Oh dear, I’ve left my wallet behind! (I noticed you had – so I brought it for you!)

A teacher writes: I didn’t do the assignment/turned up late because I had to play cards with a depressed friend.

Friday 23 September 2011


Whenever modernist buildings are demolished, I remember all the propagandists of the late 60s/early 70s who said "You can't stand in the way of progress." Tower blocks were going to be our future, for ever and ever, amen! We were told that progress just happened and things could never change back.

Yes we can! We can even turn it round and make it go the other way, or render it utterly forgotten.

”Secular” Kibbutzim Building Own Shuls (headline Jewish Chronicle June 30, 2011) “Kibbutzim used to be the symbol of secular Judaism, of creating a new type of Judaism that was not religious, but most of that has disappeared now,” said Shlomo Getz of the University of Haifa.

ASDA is bringing back pounds and ounces for fruit and veg. (Did that last?)

Battersea Power Station may be turned back into a... power station. (No – tin can flats as usual.)

Beavers, cranes, wild boar and red kites have returned. And egrets and spoonbills!

British Airways is preparing to reinstate its company crest on airliners – marking the final reversal of the “groovier” rebranding that so offended Baroness Thatcher in 1997.

Catholics to eat fish on Friday, says the Pope.

Companies are moving HQs from business parks back to downtown.

Consignia “The UK Post Office group’s decision at the start of the decade to move some of its operations under the label of Consignia attracted hoots of derision before it eventually and quietly renamed itself Royal Mail Holdings.” (Oct 2010)

County names: new county names like Cleveland, Humberside and Avon were created in 1974, universally loathed, and abolished in 1996 (bringing back Rutland).

Dig for Victory
is back. (Now can we have WI cooking demos?)

Drachmas, marks, lire, francs… we may see them back. (No, still the euro, 2024.)

Estates are razed and replaced with houses on the original street pattern.

Latin Mass: the Pope wants it back. He’s having the vernacular mass “retranslated” to bring it nearer to the original Latin (and people are outraged because they’ve got used to the new one). But the most unpopular aspects of the vernacular mass were quickly dropped (happy are those who are called to his supper, fruit of the vine and work of human hands), even though we were told there was NO appeal (and no consultation). And the Catholic Church wants new music to incorporate more plainsong. Aug 09

Leningrad went back to being St. Petersburg.

London’s rivers are being restored and more may be brought to the surface. ("Daylighting".)

Medieval London Bridge should be rebuilt – says Mayor Boris Johnson. (Sadly his one good idea was never carried out, 2024.)

Mexico City’s rivers may be restored.

Modern music – in the 70s Radio 3 pushed it relentlessly, telling us that everybody would like it one day. Their propaganda told us that music developed towards atonality: Beethoven-Wagner-Schoenberg. What happened? People went right on loathing it, and harmony and melody came back.

Museum charges were brought in in the 70s with great fanfare, loathed, dropped.

New English Bible (1960/70) was universally loathed. It was deliberately turned into “modern English”, using thought-for-thought rather than word-for-word translation. We were told it was what we were going to have so we’d better learn to like it. It vanished within a few years. “It was significantly revised and published in 1989 as the Revised English Bible.” (Wikipedia)

Old tube stations may be reopened and “repurposed”. (No sign, 2024.)

Oxford to Cambridge railway line may be reopened. (Sadly, no, 2024.)

Polish Cultural Institute says Gorecki was “one of the many avant garde composers who ‘converted’ to traditional music”.

Robin Hood Gardens, the brutalist development next to the Blackwall Tunnel (above): after 30 years they decided to dynamite it - and build steel and glass tower blocks in its place. (2009)

Russian Orthodox church, suppressed under Communism, is now flourishing.

Sometimes trying to make us accept a name used on the Continent is a disaster, and Coco Pops is one such example. There was no room in any of our hearts for Coco Krispies. Verdict: They had to change the name back to Coco Pops within a year. (

St. Pancras, empty for years and nearly demolished, is now a hotel again. And it looks much better without a coating of Victorian soot.

Synthetic phonics – or “D says duh” – is used to teach children to read, after years of teachers vaguely hoping kids would just pick it up and refusing to notice that this method doesn’t work. Read the sad story of California’s embrace of non-phonic methods here (reading levels plummeted).

Teaching children to cook instead of making them study “food tech” has been suggested. (Still a suggestion, 2024.)

The 1810s Jewish reformers saw most of their most radical liturgical reforms undone in the following decades as things they had cut as unnecessary, superstitious, repetitious, old-fashioned, un-European crept back because people liked them. Confirmations became bar mitzvahs again.

The Crystal Palace may be rebuilt. (The suggestion turned out to mean "build something completely different on the site", but its ornate underpass has been restored, 2024.)

The Euston Arch may be re-erected. (One day, one day.)

Tower blocks: many have been dynamited. Their destruction began in the mid-70s, about ten years after most of them went up. Unfortunately they are being replaced by a whole lot of new tower blocks, or tacky speculative flats.

Train companies want to reopen 34 lines axed by Beeching.

Underpasses: “The post-war scheme of roads and subways will be completely removed and a straightforward common grade established at ground level for both pedestrians and increased alternative transport modes.” (Elephant and Castle – but sadly the money’s run out and the fate of E&C is at present unknown. But at least someone had the idea of filling in the subways.)

Assorted Types

Be yourself! It's the answer to everything! But if you're tired of your life, your role, your career or your personality, why not try on one of these? (More here.)

bod carpet knight (armchair philosopher)
clutter buster
(professional museum declutterer)
departure-lounge novelist
The property [the flat in Theatre of Blood] became the London home of departure-lounge novelist, failed politician and former jailbird Jeffrey Archer. (wiki)
determined liberals


enfant terrible

femme enfant (child woman)
femme fatale
femme formidable
format fiddlers
(Clive James on people who come up with new TV programmes by combining old ones etc)
G-plan people (Kenneth Williams)
guys in ties, lords on boards (any more?)
has-been heavy (movie villain)
high bohemia (haute boheme)

monstre sacré



plus assorted lovers, writers, sycophants, enablers, academics, gun dealers, snake handlers and hangers-on. on the Beat Generation phenom
sofa spud
spear carrier


terra-firma types
may prefer to take a jeep tour or an old-fashioned bus excursion.
the liberal overclass (Peter Bradshaw)

Monday 19 September 2011

Tautology III

More unnecessarily superfluous and redundantly otiose verbiage (more here and here):

Time, Numbers
There's no need to use “back in” for a few years ago (“back in 2006”), even if it seems like the Dark Ages to you.
the tender age of 24 (we can work it out)

Avoid adding redundant words
has also attracted other imitators (has attracted imitators)
it could also have many other applications (it could have many other applications)
it has indeed
he knew full wellthey might well be
none at all
packed full
prefer instead
pool together (they pooled all the data together = they pooled the data)
together with

Spectre, Scandal, Threat
Crisis argues that instead of doubling its efforts to end the "scandal" of homelessness, the government is in effect making it impossible for those on low incomes to pay their rent. Guardian August 31, 2011 (Crisis wants to end homelesness, which it thinks is a scandal.)

Save Aduga and her cubs from the threat of extinction. (from extinction – they mean “from extinction, which is threatened”)

the prospect of war could yet be avoided – war could etc

"If this is upper Silesia, what on earth must Lower Silesia be like," P.G. Wodehouse asked himself when interned by the Nazis in World War II. Wodehouse never wasted a word - the "on earth" has been added in. There are links to his account of internment here.

Chapman, ever the consummate opportunist, offered his services as a turncoat agent. wikipedia on Agent Zigzag

And don't try to improve a joke: “he simply removed his false leg”, “quick as a flash, he snapped back…” “without missing a beat, he replied…”, "with impeccable timing, he riposted..."

big transcontinental motorways (there aren't many small ones [litotes])

Bill Bratton, the former US police chief now advising the government on gangs, has told the Guardian he can bring about "transformational" change in the UK BBC August 15, 2011 (That's like saying "changey change".)

bodes well for the future (you can’t bode backwards)

brutal axing of the News of the World (you can't axe something gently)

decreed that X had to be done

exploited ruthlessly (can you exploit mercifully?)

fierce riots (we wouldn’t bother reporting tame or feeble riots)

It’s a terrible national embarrassment.

pose a real threat/pose a very real threat (we wouldn’t bother mentioning an imaginary threat)

strongly deny (he strongly denies the charge)

the brutal 1960-1996 civil war in which 200,000 people were killed (brutal not necessary if we have death toll)

The truth/fact is…

total paragon

Saturday 17 September 2011

Art in Manchester

Ford Madox Brown: Pre-Raphaelite Pioneer
Manchester Art Gallery
24 Sept-29 Jan

Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893) painted in the meticulous, naturalistic style of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. But instead of recreating a lost medieval past, he painted the present as it was - mundane, unglamorous and telling a story more interesting than the Morte d'Arthur. In his masterpiece, Work, three muscular workmen take centre stage. The well-dressed gentlemen and ladies in the scene are pushed to the margins, and the ladies hold their skirts away from the hole the men are digging in the middle of a road in Hampstead (for the new sewage system). The workmen are brightly lit, while the gentry are in the shadow of a tree, a sunshade or a hat brim. The genteel lady is handing the workmen a tract warning against the evils of drink. The ragged figure on the left (with a strange resemblance to comedian Alan Davies) is a seller of wild plants, described by Henry Mayhew in London Labour and the London Poor.

The man with his mouth open is a waiter from a nearby pub who has brought the workmen some beer - and a newspaper. In the foreground is a family of gypsy children, the eldest girl wearing a cast-off adult's dress in a fashion about ten years out of date. At the right, leaning on the fence are the writer Thomas Carlyle and a well-known social reformer. Behind them a country family - come to London to look for work - have sat down on the verge to rest. In the distance a procession of men with placard urge us to "Vote for Bobus!". At the bottom edge of the frame the gentleman's whippet faces off with the gypsies' mongrel.

Friday 16 September 2011

Thriller Titles

Add a "the" to these geological, geographic or logical terms and you get a 70s thriller:

Atlantic Façade (seaboard)
Last Glacial Maximum
Little Climatic Optimum (followed by the Little Ice Age)
Marinoan and Sturtian Glaciations
Maunder Minimum of the 17th cent, followed by the Dalton Minimum circa 1800
Messinian Salinity Crisis
Mohorovicic Discontinuity: The Mohorovicic discontinuity, which often is called simply Moho, is the boundary between the earth's basalt rich crust and the planet's underlying, iron rich mantle.
North Pacific Central Gyre (a confluence of ocean currents)
Oloololo Escarpment
Overton Window (logic)
Pontesford-Linley Fault
rain shadow
Refrigerium Interim (between your death and the Day of Judgement)
Storegga Slides in Norway set off tsunami that severed us from continent
Younger Dryas (also known as the Big Freeze) The Younger Dryas stadial, named after the alpine/tundra wildflower Dryas octopetala, and also referred to as the Big Freeze, was a geologically brief cold climate period following the Bölling/Allerød Interstadial at the end of the Pleistocene between approximately 12,800 to 11,500 years ago, and preceding the Preboreal of the early Holocene. In Ireland, the period has been known as the Nahanagan Stadial, while in the UK it has been called the Loch Lomond Stadial and most recently Greenland Stadial. wiki

Thursday 15 September 2011

Yet More Dramatic Clichés

I guess I’m just an old mad scientist at bottom. Give me an underground laboratory, half a dozen atom-smashers, and a beautiful girl in a diaphanous veil waiting to be turned into a chimpanzee, and I care not who writes the nation’s laws. ("Captain Future, Block That Kick!", The Most of S. J. Perelman, 1992)

A genre of play that never goes out of fashion is the one in which two brothers — less often two sisters — meet after long separation, and secrets buried for years are hauled into the open. The meeting will have been prompted by the death of a parent, generally the father, always identified as a bully, psychologically, physically or both. Incest doesn’t have to feature but behaviour that has wrecked the offspring has to be present and must be continuing to do its nasty work. Invariably one of the offspring will have escaped the foetid nest and become successful; almost always the other remained at home and hasn’t. (Jeremy Kingston. Times, 2011)

In American movies, TV, offering people cups of tea is a sign of high gentility – even though it’ll be made with tepid water and a tea bag.

In movies set in a post-apocalyptic future, why does nobody get from A to B by bike?

Why aren’t space missions equipped with night-vision goggles?

Why don’t robots have GPS so you know where they are?

Camera comes slowly up behind someone obliviously working a sewing machine/typewriter/knife grinder – they are going to be coshed on the back of the neck! And then they are!


Tribal drums, woman sings in chest voice in style and language of no particular country or culture – documentary about the origin of Man.

Flute plays Canadian folk song – we are in the land of the beaver, wolf, bear and conifer.

Camera pans over cluttered attic as tinkly music is played by an overturned music box – was it the ghost that done it? Or are we about to find a secret door/dead body/photo with the face scratched out?

Child or young girl sings nursery rhyme in breathy voice – she is a ghost! Also beware the unseen children laughing.

Dies Irae on lower woodwinds or brass – someone’s for it.

High, folky flute music: mass release of coral eggs.

Whenever someone looks out of a cabin door at night, a distant dog barks. When a single woman returns to her country cottage at night, a distant fox barks.

generic melancholy oriental music:
We are in a nearly empty Chinese or Indian restaurant which is either a front for the spy/crime organization or a meeting place for John Le Carré anti-heroes.

Allegri’s Miserere (chopped up and played out of sequence): We are in a religious or maybe just old building dating from 800-1900.

Satie’s Gymnopédies: will do for practically anything.


The Russian agent is sprung from his cell and driven through the night to his own little bedsit in a provincial suburb. He wakes up and sees the sun shining through the orange nylon curtains – he flings them wide and sees… a spotlight. It is a fake room exactly like his own, built in a warehouse. He is back in the hands of the Bad Guys.

In any archaeological dig, one digger wants to tell the world about his important historical discovery, while the other scientist wants to find gold – and lots of it. (Sometimes he wants to find the yeti and make people pay to see it.)

Lightweight has more depth than suspected (Scarlet Pimpernel, Frost/Nixon, Cyrano de Bergerac). Sometimes dies nobly.

Mini e-book here.

More clichés here, and links to the rest.

Friday 2 September 2011

Self-Referential Statements

They sometimes affirm, sometimes negate themselves.*

“It was when I asked the Queen if she ever got bored, and she replied: ‘Yes, but I never say so.’ Nicolas Sarkozy

I'm not the type of person who likes to categorise people. Jennifer Aniston Obs Aug 24 08

Short words are best and the old words when short are best of all. Winston Churchill

The meek shall inherit the earth (if that’s all right with you). The Rev David Grieve

These are positively the last words of Harriet Martineau. (They were allegedly: "I see no reason why the existence of Harriet Martineau should be perpetuated.")

A metaphor is a dangerous tool in the wrong hands.
All cliches contain a grain of truth.
All generalisations are false.
As I told you yesterday, I’m not in the habit of repeating myself.

English is the de facto lingua franca.
Eschew obfuscation.

This [insert social evil here] means we have lost all sense of right and wrong! (If we had, you couldn’t disapprove.)

This literally fabulous piece… Michael Wood on the Sutton Hoo helmet
This not a sentence.
This sentence no verb.
To hell with superstition!
Today's words to avoid include "trope" and "meme". @HughPearman
You don’t catch me being self-righteous!

Grammer Made Easy in Twenty-Three Steps

1. Don't abbrev.
2. Check to see if you any words out.
3. Be carefully to use adjectives and adverbs correct.
4. About sentence fragments.
5. When dangling, you shouldn’t use participles.
6. Don't use no double negatives.
7. Each pronoun agrees with their antecedent.
8. Just between you and I, case is important.
9. Join clauses good, like a conjunction should.
10. Don't use commas, that aren't necessary.
11. Its important to use apostrophe's right.
12. It's better not to unnecessarily split an infinitive.
13. Never leave a transitive verb just lay there without an object.
14. Only Proper Nouns should be capitalized.
15. also a sentence should begin with a capital and end with a period
16. Use hyphens in compound-words, not just in any two-word phrase.
17. In letters compositions reports and things like that we use commas to keep a string of items apart.
18. Watch out for irregular verbs which have creeped into our language.
19. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
20. Avoid unnecessary redundancy.
21. A writer mustn't shift your point of view.
22. Don't write a run-on sentence you've got to punctuate it.
23. A preposition isn't a good thing to end a sentence with.
24. Avoid cliches like the plague.

* Just trying to write like Samuel Johnson.