Saturday 29 July 2023

Grammar: Clichés 7

Goats are sure-footed.
Neo-Nazis are surprisingly dapper.
Terrible parents, once gone, are not bad but flawed.

Curating when you’re selecting or editing, styling when you’re tidying or rearranging.

Winks are solemn. 
Legal disputes are bitter.
Cars guzzle gas.

She works tirelessly for a good cause.
Shots rang out from the book depository in Dallas. (Aerial America)

Backwaters and fishing villages are sleepy.
Rights are enshrined in law.
Summer of holiday chaos looms as BA scraps flights 

Dreams end in tatters. (Hugh Pearman. Why, when they’ve been shattered?)
Old working men have calloused hands.
What do wildfires do? They rage.
Oases are stumbled upon.

All women in positions of power are called headmistressy, or compared to schoolteachers.
Any long, sprawling novel is referred to a loose, baggy monster.

Young women used to be saddled with a kid, or four kids, in the days before the pill.
When writing about cave art, don’t forget the “dim, flickering light of tallow lamps”.

Why is every department in the NHS called a pathway now? (@DerylLynn)

Please ban the phrase “Costa del [place in Ireland]”.

Are there ever any theatrical reimaginings that aren't bold? (@AlexaCoghlan) (When not bold, updatings are "timid".)

How come you can only ever die 'suddenly' or 'peacefully'(@Jessicae13Eaton)

There are a lot of sentences like, “I treasure the memory of his warmth, wit and generosity of spirit”. (The Times on Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais’ memoirs) 

Fought and died for my country... promised my dying mother... sacrificed my marriage... greatest achievement... mother would have been proud... (Marcel Berlins)

Open the news pages today and you’ll struggle to find a policy that isn’t a flagship policy, a ruling that isn’t a landmark ruling, a speech that isn’t a landmark speech, a criticism that isn’t damning, a negotiation that isn’t frantic, a blow that isn’t devastating, a large company that isn’t a giant or a majority that isn’t vast. (Andy Bodie, Guardian, 2014. Or a feature that isn’t key or core.)

His tale is one of “hedonistic pleasure”, “dilettantes” and “love nests”. (Robin Ince on a book detailing Diana’s last day.)

Spanish Stonehenge revealed after brutal drought dries reservoir. It was thought to be condemned to the history books... (Daily Mail. Severe drought, confined to the history books.)

As the excellent Caravanistan travel website notes sardonically, all writing about the region should... include the following words: crossroads, journey, Soviet, ancient, adventures, misadventures, nomad, steppe and Marco Polo... The reader ploughs through potted histories... her pen nib all too often turns to lead. Life in the Soviet Union was no “bed of roses”; Stalin did not wear “kid gloves”; Tajikistan is “as poor as a church mouse”. (The Times on a book about the Stans, 2019)

In grad school, I used to rewrite jargony sentences with their easier to understand synonyms, which made me realize how often some of those sentences were just nonsense.

In grad school, I learned to rewrite my sentences to add jargon so the very senior male medievalist wouldn't give me a C-, or worse, say - "I'm not grading this because I don't want to depress you." I learned to sound how he wanted me to sound. I hated it. (@Lollardfish)

A fluent writer, he is fond of a zippy anecdote. Yet he can strain for effect, favouring pushful adjectives (“remarkable”, “unprecedented”) and overegging his plaudits: William Hazlitt is “the hardest-hitting writer the political left has ever known”, Scott’s Waverley launched a “worldwide craze for historical fiction”, and Nash’s designs for Regent’s Park and Regent Street were masterpieces without which “modern London is inconceivable”... D
abs of colour are applied predictably: clubs are “ritzy”, dinners “gargantuan”, appetites “ravenous”, letters “impassioned”, aristocrats “debauched”, meetings “convivial”, necklines “plunging” and breasts “voluptuous”. And he claims that society was “literally soaked in opium”. (Henry Hitchings on Robert Morrison’s The Regency Revolution)

In book reviews, according to Twitter, "magisterial" means I'll be bored and "lyrical" means there won't be any jokes. The following descriptors are also off-putting: Stirring, poignant, whimsical, romp, liminal, poetical for a novel, heartfelt, breathtaking, voice of a generation, rip-roaring, urgent, triumph of the human spirit, ominous, jaunty, sweeping, beguiling.

I have a joke about literary fiction. Well, less of a joke, more of a 'compelling meditation on love and loss, couched in prose of pellucid beauty'. (@jonathancoe)

What one word puts you off a book? I’ll start: experimental, powerful, definitive, must-read, page-turner, heart-breaking, the next..., urgent, searing, timely, could not be more relevant, essential, This essential powerful tautly evocative debut, heart-stopping (@fliceverett)

The abundance of recipes points to one clear obsession: a society woman’s beauty was as plain as the nose on her face. (Robert Muchembled, Smells. I wonder how it read in the original French?)

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday 26 July 2023

The Hellymental

Googling for "search term that gives no results" produces one result. I thought there might be a word for it. Anyway, I Googled for "hellymental" and got no results, so I'll have to tell the story myself. I read it in The Countryman magazine in about 1965.

Once upon a time, a town-dweller was staying in a country cottage. At the end of the day, he decided to walk to the nearby pub. Night had fallen, but it was a short distance along a lane. About halfway to the pub, he was joined by a – something. It was like an animal, but none he could recognise. It was about the size of a pig, but black, as far as he could make out in the starlight. It seemed to wish him no harm, but it stayed closely by him, padding along and occasionally bumping against his legs. It made quiet, distressful snuffling sounds, almost as if it was crying. 

He walked on by the side of his terrible companion, until he saw the lights of the pub up ahead. He broke into a run, and the Thing fell back and faded into the shadows. He fell into the pub and leaned on the bar, shuddering and calling for a double brandy.

"What's up?" asked the landlady, bringing the drink. He described the horrible entity that had followed him down the lane.

"Oh, that's just the Hellymental," said the landlady. "You don't need to be frightened of that. You're staying at Willow Cottage down the lane, aren't you? You see the man that lived there was a wicked man, a wizard. He was in league with the devil, so they said. Anyway, after he died, all his wickedness was gathered up into this Hellymental - but that's all it is. It doesn't harm anybody."

The man spent the night at the inn, and the next day he packed his suitcase and went back to London.

Wednesday 5 July 2023

Inventions and Disinventions 11

Keep Calm and Carry On
, also:


Take a door wedge on holiday to put under the legs of wobbly café tables.  (@elsie_em)

Drop the onshore wind farm ban.
Grow tea in the Scottish Highlands.
Harvest nurdles from beaches and reuse.

Grow pumpkins.
Tax aviation fuel, says Mark Miodownik.
Teach philosophy in schools.
Set up a Single Person’s union.

Install drain nets to stop plastic reaching the sea.
Invent a ship that hoovers up plastic waste.
Make Anne Reid a Dame.

TV programme: The Choir Inspector
Subject religions to equality laws.
Ban inappropriate fancy dress.

Ban dancing en pointe.
Ban carpets in pubs.
Build park-less flats for non-drivers.

Ban facial tattoos.
Introduce queueing in pubs, with numbered tickets.
Limit the size of cruise ships.

Build storm drains in desert areas that collect water from flash floods and melting snow and pipe it somewhere it’s needed. (Wasn't Col. Gaddafi working on a scheme?)

Melt down "copper" coins and make them into something useful.
Use electric cargo bikes: they're 90% less polluting. 

End mowing of road verges to create huge wildlife habitat, says UK study (Guardian)Number job applicants, to disguise gender and “foreign” names. (Being done, needs to spread.)

Consult women before making decisions that affect them, like mixed hospital wards, mixed toilets, mixed changing rooms...

Enable land line phones to send and receive text messages (they'll probably disappear before this happens).

Provide transgender people with separate prison units, hospital wards, changing rooms and toilets. (A domestic violence refuge is on the cards.)

Rewild grouse moors:
if you want to eat grouse you can farm them.
Turn highline park walks back into elevated railways, restore all Els and build more.

Let American workers sit instead of making them stand unnecessarily.
Ban super-strength alcohol and improve obesity, domestic violence and public disorder. 

Leave leaves to fertilise the ground and provide cover for mammals and insects. Scrap all leaf blowers.
Adopt a countrywide standard system of colour-coding bin bags

Supply milk in frozen cubes. (Via Twitter. You could always freeze it yourself in an ice tray.)
Manufacture all-in-one duvets – integral cover, wash the whole thing.

An outdoor composting toilet is the latest middle-class must-have! (They don't sound all that convenient.)

In clothes shops, abolish separate areas for men and women. If the shops won't provide single-sex changing rooms, why are they still segregating the clothes?

Keep those blunt dressmaking shears – use them to cut frozen pizzas or bread slices so they fit in the oven/toaster. 

Institute Aunts’ Day, Spinsters' Pride, Water Day (Apparently the success and prominence of days, weeks and months depend on sponsorship and the selling of merch.)

Repurpose shopping centres, department stores and high streets. Must we sit here and watch them rot or be demolished?

Let women inherit titles formerly passed down the male line. (We’d get more sensible people in the House of Lords.)

Allow girls at schools with mixed toilets to "leave the room" in groups in the middle of class. Or else they could organise shifts: girls 10-10.30, boys 10.30-11 etc. You could install CCTV, and panic buttons. Parents could sponsor Davlavs in the playground. But it would be so much simpler to go back to single-sex toilets.

Make scientific papers more accessible. Writers should give a condensed version on youtube. Writers of popular science books should use a personal version of Twitter (or get me to edit).

Provide showers and lockers in workplaces for the increasing numbers who cycle to work.
Repeal the 1824 Vagrancy Act that criminalises begging and rough sleeping.

Reuse and retrofit buildings instead of knocking them down and building new ones – reduces pollution.

Make drivers pay a carbon tax from which non-drivers are exempt. 
Ban alcohol on planes. Shut bars at airports – or make them stick to normal licensing hours. 

Mine landfill for plastic, gold, rare earth minerals.
3D print lost buildings (Glasgow Art School, St Peter’s Seminary)

Employ moderators for comment sections and social media. And give moderators training, a qualification and a professional association.

Set up a Court of Law for Ideas. Before proceedings start, the judge rules that reality exists, and that anyone using the epistemology defence will automatically lose their case.

Set up a government body overseeing materials supplied to schools, also speakers. It seems anybody can provide educational materials to brainwash children into a point of view or misinform them about biology. Ofsted has produced a report on propaganda July 2021 – watch this space.

Dampen forests before they catch fire
. Turn the hose on the trees around your house. And keep the area free of fallen branches and leaves.

Single-use plastics, what CAN we do?
Bring back drinking-water taps in every public loo.

Persuade organists to follow the congregation, not the other way round – and turn down the volume.

Make museum displays disabled-friendly: everything at wheelchair height, brighter lighting, objects on turntables, with a mirror to shaw the reverse.


I'd build identical apartments – one for each MP and Lord, assigned at the beginning of "term". Randomly.  I'd make them a bit of a step up from a Travelodge, maybe with on-site restaurants, etc. A proper Westminster village. If they want more luxury, they can pay for it themselves. (@BonehouseWasps)

And bedrooms for those MPs who want to stay overnight. No more claiming expenses for a second home. (@GillUpNorth)

And remove all bars from Parliament buildings and forbid alcohol on the premises.

The government plans to issue guidelines on working from home safely: Find a suitable area, with a suitable table, and invest in an adjustable office chair with arms. (And learn to touchtype.)

Firms are considering “spokes and hub” offices post-pandemic, with offices in suburbs and a head office in town. 

Study suggests most firms could continue with staff working a four-day week (Headline, Jan 5 2021)

As people stay at home, there’s less gum on pavements.

“We anticipate never going back to five days a week in the office. That seems very old-fashioned now,” says boss of Unilever.

Covid led to huge London property exodus, says Hamptons (Guardian hed Dec 2020) 
Better connectivity to allow more people to work from home (Penny Mordaunt)

The Centre for Cities suggests moving public sector staff into offices in disused shops. FE colleges, swimming pools, sports halls, libraries, yoga studios, care homes nurseries and health centres should return to the heart of towns. (Janice Turner, Times 2020-12-06)

The chairman of NatWest has said the number of people working in central London will never return to pre-pandemic levels as employees will not return to the office five days a week. Howard Davies told Bloomberg that “the days when 2,500 people walked in through our office door at Bishopsgate at 8.30am and then walked out again at 6pm, I think that is gone”. Several other British banks have already begun cutting office space in the capital. Week July 2021

It’d be pretty cool if we had a centralised UCAS like system for apprentices, then regional Oxbridge-type colleges for apprentices where you could live and socialise and take other courses in languages, philosophy, maths, etc (@danwaterfield)

Protein from gorse bushes could feed millions of people, says expert. (Guardian 2022-01-11)

In Australia, orange farmers are donating orange peel to sheep farmers. The sheep will eat it, and the mice won’t.

Perforated lasagne sheets you can break tidily to adapt to the width of your dish are overdue for invention. (@LucyHunterB)

Farming deer, reindeer and elk is one of the fastest-growing industries in rural America. But farmers must pay for expensive inspections and eight-foot fences. And the animals are raised as stock for private game reserves, not food. (via

Just your regular reminder that most cities in North America have so much surface parking and underdeveloped land that they could double their available housing without demolishing a single building — and could potentially do it in years, not decades. (@AlexSteffen)

New job, old goats. Melissa Jeuken is the new goat herder of Howth Head, Co Dublin. She is managing a herd of Old Irish Goats in a groundbreaking conservation grazing project to reduce gorse cover in an area plagued by wildfires. (@philipbromwell)

The way meat is harvested en masse is unethical and contributes to Global Warming. Instead of farms for Sheep Cows Pigs etc there should be large parks where the animals roam free. During the months of January and July anyone would be able to hunt up to the animals. (@Addy20943225)

Increasingly, if it could be done by machine, it would be, and with the Internet providing global real-time communications, if it could be done remotely cheaper elsewhere, it would be. China is running out of peasants on the farm to become industrial workers. The prevailing trend for a long time in the world economy has been the progressive replacement of labour by capital. There are still decent paying jobs: I suggest people look at skilled trades, like auto mechanic, electrician, or plumber. It can't get outsourced. The issue there is status. It's manual labour and therefore Blue Collar. (DM, via Facebook. He adds that people get degrees to increase their status.)

Southwark council has unveiled a new Streets For People strategy. Some really interesting ideas – they want to:

Make all pavements 2.4m min. or 4m in town centres
Plant 20,000 trees
Put a place to rest (e.g. a bench) every 100m on all streets 

(Those wide pavements will need pavement cleaners armed with brooms and soapy water.)

Any pedestrianised shopping area should provide: free mobility scooters, wheelchairs, Uber trikes, rickshaws, horsedrawn fiacres, and a fairground watercourse with coracles or gondolas.


One day we'll blown down huge tower blocks in cities that block the view of the Eiffel Tower.

First class on trains. (Abolishing first class was suggested for some packed commuter routes in the south, said the Telegraph in 2017: “First class compartments will disappear from crowded commuter trains", the Transport Secretary has pledged, as he said passengers should no longer be “segregated”.)

According to George Monbiot, European countries are restricting cattle and sheep farming to preserve the environment.

Hive mind, I am composing a list of unethical technological oversolutions. Coffee pods, creating massive amounts of plastic waste by oversolving coffee prep, are a perfect example. (@raynayler. Someone adds “Campbell’s Soup sippy cup”.)

Abseiling landscapers have recently replaced the entirely dead planted façades of the Atlas building in Old Street. You'd have thought they would have learned by now. (@russellcurtis. If you want green walls, why not just plant some ivy or Virginia creeper?) 

During Vatican II, Bishop Garcia Martinez urged the Catholic Church to move on from the veneration of dubious relics: "reverenter sepeliantur et deinceps nulla mentio fiat". "Let them be reverently buried and then let them not be mentioned." (@Robin_C_Douglas. In 2023 Pope Francis said that maybe not all visions of the Virgin Mary are the real thing.)

About to lecture in a modern, purpose-built education room without a light switch. The lights are on a sensor. So when we're in the room the lights are permanently on with no option to reduce numbers of bulbs, dim or turn them off. Honestly, who designs this crap? (@jpwarchaeology. See also toilets where the light goes out and you have to wave your arms about to turn it on again.)


80s ski-wear in custard, turquoise, pink and purple. Likewise mountaineering gear and backpacks in jade and pink. (Though apparently it makes hikers visible to friends and rescue parties.)

The combination of a van, a motorhome and a boat – perfect for motorists who like to go out into the open waters. Just 21 examples of the Boaterhome were built in the 1980s. (@aut0mob)

More here, and links to the rest.

Pride and Other Marches, Days, Weeks and Months

Why don't spinsters, mistresses, aunts have a banner, a badge, a week, a march? Why isn't there a Water Day? The answer is... MONEY. I asked ChatGPT who sponsors Pride, and it answered:

Pride events and organizations are typically sponsored through various means, including financial contributions from corporations, businesses, nonprofits, and individuals who wish to support and align themselves with the values and goals of the LGBTQ+ community. Sponsorship can take different forms, such as monetary donations, in-kind contributions, or the provision of goods and services.

Corporate sponsorships have become increasingly common for Pride events, as many companies recognize the importance of supporting diversity, inclusivity, and LGBTQ+ rights. These sponsorships can provide financial support for organizing and promoting Pride celebrations, covering expenses such as venue rentals, permits, equipment, marketing, and entertainment.

Sponsors may benefit from the visibility and positive brand association that comes with supporting Pride events. By aligning themselves with the LGBTQ+ community, companies can demonstrate their commitment to diversity and inclusivity, improve their public image, and appeal to a broader customer base. Additionally, sponsoring Pride events can be seen as a way for companies to engage with the community, show support for their LGBTQ+ employees, and foster a welcoming and inclusive work environment.

It is worth noting that sponsorships can sometimes be controversial, especially when there are concerns about "rainbow capitalism" or when sponsorships are seen as mere token gestures without substantial action to support LGBTQ+ rights beyond Pride month. Some organizations and individuals may scrutinize the authenticity and impact of sponsorships to ensure they align with the core values of inclusivity, equality, and social progress.

Meanwhile, July is Disability Pride Month! And I have a badge somewhere...