Saturday 13 July 2024

Margery Allingham's Black Plumes

Black Plumes
is a standalone novel, without Mr Campion. It has been extensively reviewed by Clothes in Books, who luxuriates in the mourning garments and points out that the policeman's accent is an "excrescence". I hadn't read it for years, but I remembered who had dunnit and why and how. 

In one way it is a mish-mash of some favourite Allingham tropes. The old-established family firm running a gentlemanly business: here an art gallery, in Flowers for the Judge a publisher. The very old lady who was a force to be reckoned with in the 1880s and is still living in the Victorian era (Police at the Funeral). The Old Dark House that contains surprises (Police at the Funeral). There's a fake engagement (The Fashion in Shrouds). There are old retainers who have no education but a lot of common sense. There's a butler who is there merely to show a man going to pieces. There's a loyal secretary who has grown old with the firm. There's a central character who acts "woman in agony because she thinks her boyfriend dunnit". Here there is too much fear stabbing people's diaphragms and the like. Tell, don't show.

The central character is Frances, the youngest Ivory in the dynasty. She stands around on dark landings, while the drama happens offstage, or is told in retrospect (with lots of "had been"). Her brother in law is found dead in a cupboard, and his elaborate funeral follows, plumes and all. The old lady, Gabrielle, insists on deep mourning and a proper funeral, and "Frances began to recognise for the first time the awe-inspiring common sense behind the absurdities of that great social code of the day before yesterday." The Victorians were the Boomers of their day.

Frances notes that her pseudo-fiançé is very good looking and works out, depressingly, that many other people must have thought the same.

Her half-sister-in-law Phillida is an odd character. She hardly ever speaks, but we are told that she is "greyhound like" (thin) and has "smooth, red" hair. She is a hypochondriac who spends much of her time in a lace negligée, sobbing on a "day-bed". She is very worried by her husband's odd behaviour. We don't have much time to study him as he is soon the body in question. Various other gruesome things happen, there's another death, and Phillida retires to bed to mumble deliriously, and that is the last we see of her.

Various characters warn each other not to "get hysterical" – this seems to mean showing, or feeling, emotion in any way. Meanwhile Phillida is acting as a role model in case they want to "break down".  ("My good girl, you can't hang about this ghastly house day in and day out. It's unhealthy. It'll get on your nerves. You'll get hysterical." Later: "Don't go all ethereal over it." Phillida herself "was nervy anyway and underoccupied and it turned into a neurosis. She's a mass of hysteria now.")

David Field, the pseudo-fiançé, is almost the only one to produce Allingham's usual humour. "A deep feeling of no enthusiasm for both of them descended upon me." In anoter lighter moment, a police station is "neatly decorated in government green".

Everybody seems to think they understand the human mind perfectly, but Allingham points out that "More fantastic beliefs are held by the layman about insanity than about anything else in the civilised world. Frances was no alienist. She had been brought up to believe in the shibboleths." This is the author speaking, not any of her characters.

This paragraph has stayed with me all my life: Frances's mother "used to sit and listen to the intolerable pain of her last illness. 'You can get above it if you do... Listen to it and it's not yours. It's a thing by itself.'" I'm not sure this method works. This also touches a nerve: "The entire gathering was aware of that tingling sensation in the soles of the feet which comes just before the worst is told."

This mystery has slid rather out of sight, perhaps because of the use of the N word by a couple of the servants. It couldn't really be edited out, as it is one of the hinges of the plot. One thing that has long puzzled me: how do those aged retainers carry on scrubbing floors and carrying heavy trays?

More Allingham here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 16 June 2024

Misunderstandings in Shakespeare

We all know that "Wherefore art thou, Romeo?" means "Where are you Romeo?" Juliet is on her signature balcony calling down to her lover in the garden. Isn't she? Actually she is soliloquizing and has no idea her lover is listening. "Wherefore art thou 'Romeo'?" she asks, adding "Deny thy father, and refuse thy name". She is a member of the Capulet clan, and he is a Montague, and the families have been at daggers drawn for decades. Or the other way round. She means "Why are you 'Romeo'?" She adds:

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

The essence of the thing is not contained in the name, said philosopher Ernst Cassirer. Juliet is being quite deep.


If it were done when 'tis done t'were well
It were done quickly

The witches have told Macbeth that he will be "king hereafter". So why not fulfil the prophecy by killing King Duncan?

He ponders: If it's all over when the deed is done, then it's a good idea if it's done quickly.

He is punning on two meanings of the word "done" – "over" and "achieved". But as Agatha Christie proved so often, you commit one murder and then...


There's husbandry in heaven – their candles are all out.

Banquo is walking around Macbeth's castle. He is uneasy and can't sleep, and tries to work out what time it is, observing that the stars can't be seen. "Husbandry" means thrift: the inhabitants of heaven have put their candles out to save money. But it's also a pun – he means that husbands are doing what husbands do after lights out. In the dark he bumps into Macbeth, who is on his way to murder King Duncan. 


Hoist with his own petard clearly refers to suspending someone by a giant skyhook – doesn't it? It means "blown up by his own mine". Here's what Hamlet said:

For 'tis the sport to have the enginer
Hoist with his own petard; and 't shall go hard
But I will delve one yard below their mines
And blow them at the moon.

Friday 7 June 2024

What People Say They Want 3

@DrJenIzaakson The chasm between what people say they want vs what people actually want.

She wanted to make it clear to me that no woman wants to see her husband cry, even though women say men should be more emotional. That’s just what they saaay. Women want strong men. (Via Twitter)

@NatalieKelda (writer): People say they want original ideas but most prefer the same thing just slightly repackaged... It's so sad bc agents and editors keep saying they want unique/different stories but then go "No, not like that" so people from a different cultural background are forced to water down and Anglicise their story to a point they lose their distinct voice.

And while people around the globe think they like spicy food, Mexico is the only country that really does, so chilli Doritos have to be made spicier there. Meanwhile, she says, “even the tiniest level of heat” is too much for Russia. (Crisp flavour creator, Guardian Dec 2023. Conversely, you’ll be safe eating “hot as Hell” food in the US.)

In a 2020 McKinsey U.S. consumer sentiment survey, more than 60% of respondents said they’d pay more for a product with sustainable packaging. A recent study by NielsenIQ found that 78% of U.S. consumers say a sustainable lifestyle is important to them. Yet, ask any CPG executive if this matches actual sales figures for these products and services. ( Presumably “...and you’ll get the answer ‘no’.”)

@FABRICIONAKATA: 70% of straight women say they want a partner over 6ft but only 15% are partnered with a man over 6ft tall (in econ we call this revealed preferences). (In common sense, we call it “availability”.)

@SLCPaladin: 72% of households SAY they want a walkable community, but only 22% actually live in one.

And then there is the more meta problem of personal qualities people say they want to find in others versus what they really want - and what they really mean. Be spontaneous – no, not like that.

And you can’t get much more meta than this: 

@theotheroliver: Do you guys think there is such a thing as an intentional disconnect between what people want and what people say they want? Like "communicate!" etc but more like a lot of people want to get something while specifically not asking for it or denying that they want it? (Now I want you to be totally honest...)

@JennaHollan Many people are rationalising, not rational. They say they want honest communication but feel attacked and take everything personally if you actually offer it.

@sgbrownlow Most of what people say they want is what they believe others think they should want. Most people don't want what they need, or even what their soul cries out for. They desperately want to fit in. So they play it safe, asking for only what they imagine others will approve of them having, determining that through context clues and mind reading.

@sam_d_1995 The problem with "just listen to what people say they want" when it comes to housing and transportation policy is that most people don't know what they want, and even more people want things that are inherently contradictory (you can't have more housing and less development!).

Nice girls. Men say other men should marry nice girls, and that girls should be nice and marry nice men and have nice children. But they go for the painted ladies. And they don’t want to get married.

A year ago, we were in the middle of a General Election campaign. And there was one message I heard loud and clear on the doorstep: We want things to be different. (David Cameron, 2011)

@spectator British couples are having just 1.6 children. However, when you ask them how many they want, the answer is 2.3. 

@Botanygeek Pretty much every ‘heritage’ / ‘heirloom’ tomato you buy in fancy stores… They are usually a mix of weird shapes and colours bred in the last few decades to match what we like to *think* oldy worldy tomatoes were like.

@DelLuna25 People say they want diverse adult animation but then throw a fit any time we get it and it attracts an audience that isn't cishet white college dudes. (He’s talking about anime porn.)

@KebidooO This is a black Muslim man taking public office at a major metropolitan before he’s even 50 and seems to have a clear realistic objective. Why is he getting so much hate when this is what people said they wanted – a young diverse government?

By Heck sausage maker ditches meat-free products due to lack of demand. (Daily Mail 2023-05-05)

The crowning ambition in my life is to be able to be with another person. That’s what we all want. We say we want world peace… (Sue Perkins, Times, 2013)

Spontaneity is a virtue that we wish to have ascribed to us but don’t actually want to act out. (Steven Poole, paraphrase)

Americans like laundry products that are advertised as smelling of lavender, but actually smell of vanilla. (Harper’s Magazine)

What is it about late capitalism that allows a profitable literary industry to be built on telling us we should appreciate simple pleasures, get back in touch with nature, express ourselves creatively, attend to human relationships rather than material things, come to terms with our mortality, and so on? (Sam Leith, Guardian, 2012)

People say they don’t like laugh tracks, but they prefer programmes with laugh tracks.

Everybody says they want to be different. They even claim they ARE different. But they’re very surprised when they meet someone who really is different. They’re convinced you’re normal underneath.

People say they like subtle colours in the garden, like pale pink old roses. But in garden centres, it’s the brightly coloured flowers that fly off the shelves.

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 4 June 2024

Outdated and Unexpected Stereotypes

@QcWynter: I have decided to be "openly Caribbean" tomorrow as I go about my chores and errands in and around Upminster. How best to show it? I know. I shall be "vibrant" and, if I can find it within me, "exuberant".

Alan Frame on being Scottish: Ah, see, that’s what happens when you are a son of Calvin, grandson of Lord Kelvin, nephew of DCI Taggart, great-great grandson of Adam Smith (his “invisible hand” is everywhere, but not in a creepy way). Uncle Iain (M) Banks is much talked about in therapy, but the “Scottish Enlightenment” worked two ways – we are expected to know everything about everything, even when the crystals cannae tak it, Captain.

@QuetzalThoughts: As an immigrant, some American racial stereotypes still leave me baffled. Why is it such a joke that Black people enjoy fried chicken and watermelon? It's so confusing since everyone eats these foods to the point that I have no idea how the premise even took off. (See Wikipedia – circa 1900 there were cartoons of little black boys grinning while eating a slice of watermelon, wearing tattered straw hats, plaid shirts, dungarees held up with one strap, and no shoes.) 

@AlCabbage045: I love that almost every group seems to have the notion that they’re characteristically late to events. I’ve heard of “running on Black Time”, “Arab Time”, “Muslim time,” etc. (And we’re all the nation with the dry sense of humour, and say sorry when someone steps on our toe. And we say "thank you" to the bus driver. In England, Canada and Burma nobody can say "no".)

MNateShyamalan: The saddest thing is when you visit a city that’s not New York or Chicago and they’re like “We also have a distinctive pizza style!”

My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their fascinating graces, and viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood, unable to stand alone. (Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Wollstonecraft wanted women to regain the rights they had lost in the 18th century. We're getting there.)

Many Yorkshire people are immensely proud of both their county and their identity, embracing the popular nickname of God's Own County, which appears on mugs and tea towels and was first used by the writer Nigel Farndale, himself a Yorkshireman, as a headline in a special Yorkshire edition of Country Life magazine in 1995... T
here is a British saying that "a Yorkshireman is a Scotsman with all the generosity squeezed out of him"... Yorkshire people are often stereotyped as friendly but "bloody-minded", stubborn and argumentative. (Wikipedia. There’s also a suggestion of sticktoitiveness.)

The town of Dhamar is itself quite dull and can best be described as the Reading of Yemen: in the middle of nowhere, containing nothing of interest and bearing a generally depressed atmosphere. Despite this the female population of Dhamar have acquired a reputation as being stubborn, hot tempered and quick to violence. (Via FB)

@TristinHopper: Vancouver Island Facebook groups: "Does anyone know of any vegan, sex-positive carbon-neutral employers that will accommodate flexible hours and alternative non-verbal forms of decolonized communication?"

@Burinstou_Pete: I’d like to find out where the woke, anti-Brit sentiment started.

@DaveHeywood16: Probably over a few plates of tofu at a North London dinner party for tree-hugging vegans, no evidence for that just a wild guess. 

(This one is harder to get right. Tristin nails it, but Dave is inaccurate and out of date. TV series get the current psychobabble right, whatever it is. Jim Bergerac: It’s like being bombarded with popcorn.)

double-denim clad luvvies – who are too woke, apparently. (This person has their stereotypes crossed – it’s chavs who wear double denim. See also very young people who condemn Gen X, Y, Z, Millennials, Xennials, the teens, the noughts, the 90s, the 80s, the 70s for being so uncool as to sport side partings and A-line skirts. Please note: it was the 70s. Every decade since would have cringed at side partings and A-line skirts. Likewise serving hatches are not 80s but 50s and 60s and probably 30s and 40s.)

Lefties all live in Hampstead on a diet of muesli. (They’ve been priced out of Hampstead and you can get muesli in Tesco now.)

LibDems in sandals? Most men wear sandals in hot weather.

Place names that are a byword for provincial, narrow-minded, unsophisticated: Kankakee, Sheboygan, Peoria, Wigan, Weybridge. (Disgusted, Tonbridge Wells)

Is your hair real?
But all Japanese are straight-haired.
Um... actually, some people have curly hair like myself.
Oh, OK. But since this show is for 'American audience', and they think Japanese are straight-haired, so...

Actor Yuki Matsuzaki. He also pointed out that the text on a hanging scroll read “Safe and fresh, Habu-snake Pharmacy”, and that you don’t find a gong in a dojo. A fellow-actor, supposedly speaking Japanese, just mouthed gibberish. He refused to learn the lines phonetically because “American audiences don’t care”, and complained it was “racist” to make him speak Japanese. “He did actually end up practicing his lines and performing in Japanese. Even though it was completely butchered, I still give him credit for swallowing his pride and trying it.” He was told: "Since you’re Asian, you can’t be the lead." The same producer's comments include, "She's, you know, very 'Japanese'. Obedient. She’s a good girl." An American actor comments that he gets “The Japanese won’t know the difference” in Japan.)

@juliamorizawa: Or the scene where the Japanese woman seductively teaches the white man to use chopsticks. A classic trope I could never play because I’m terrible with chopsticks.

@edwest: The common American idea of the French as dainty weaklings, rather than the most militaristic and belligerent country in western Europe, is v strange. (“They have a 35-hour week! They retire at 50!” A country can only compete if everyone works 24 hours a day until they drop, without frills like healthcare, pensions, maternity leave etc.)

I was shocked to learn how much the English enjoy visiting the pub and having a drink because their stereotype is that of a stuffy, refined Englishman. (Quora)

23-year-olds in East London with handlebar moustaches and watches on fobs selling their home-fermented kimchi by the peck and bushel and their signature kefir by the scruple to punters who have cycled simply leagues on their penny farthing to try it. (Giles Coren, Sept 2021. Aren’t hipsters all 35 by now? He means "watches on chains". The fob is the thing that anchors the chain in the opposite waistcoat pocket.)

@Lord_Steerforth: Americans still bang on about the fog, more than 60 years after the last London smog. (British journalists refer to every faint sea-mist as a "peasouper". Before the Clean Air Act, the London fog was a mixture of water vapour, smoke from coal fires, and smoke from power stations – burning coal in larger quantities. It was lethal.)

Cartoon: Cliff edge bristling with signs “yield, stop, danger, no, warning, beware, skull and crossbones”. Car drives off cliff. Driver and passenger are cows with rings through their noses. Caption: No one could have predicted this! (BSE is 35 years in the past, but what better avatar for Brexiteers than a couple of mad cows? Bulls, but not cows, have rings through their noses.)

@DrBritWilliams: My tolerance for hot sauce has lowered and I know it’s because I’ve been in Minnesota too long.

According to Aerial America, each state is supposed to contain people with a particular personality. In Missouri they say “Show me!” etc. For Southerners see Florence King

And for London stereotypes, see Glenys Roberts, Metropolitan Myths. If you want to pass as a native, claim that North Londoners never go south and vice versa.

A five-foot tall British woman was pursued down the street by a Hong Kong trader calling out: “We have big sizes for you!” (A male Chinese colleague used to go to Hong Kong to find clothes small enough, and I’ve been deluded by Chinese and Indian clothes marked “big”. I really am large.)

An Indian couple on Nothing to Declare tried to smuggle home-cooked food into Australia. The man kept smiling and saying: “We’re Indian, you see, we’re Indian.” It cut no ice. 

What’s wrong with England? Asks someone on Twitter.

@rodkelly50: The fact that they all believe the hype and yearn for an England that never existed.
@whododgenik: This is true of every single country in the world.

An episode of Perry Mason featured a South African diamond firm. All its personnel were terribly British. One of them even wore a bowler hat!

Did any woman ever lie down with a face pack and cucumber slices on her eyes? There was a moment when every beauty product contained cucumber. Teabags on the eyes might be more effective, but wouldn’t be photogenic.

Why do ghosts wear sheets and clank chains? The sheets are the shrouds people were buried in (woollen, according to an Act of 1666). The chains bound them in the afterlife – see Marley (and Marley) in A Christmas Carol.

Do Tory ladies wear hats and a blue rinse in their hair? People went on calling them “blue-haired” long after the rinses (blue, mauve, peach) had disappeared.

Hillbillies were always “feudin’” and lived in hilarious poverty. They're related to “hicks”, as sent up in the musical Oklahoma.

Pearl-clutching – even “pearl-wearing”. Pearl necklaces haven’t been fashionable since the 1980s.

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday 9 May 2024

Dracula and the Bible

One Saturday, our rabbi pointed out how much Bram Stoker had relied on the Bible when writing his famous vampire novel, Dracula. At this time of year there are some rather mysterious Biblical readings about what to do if you have a skin disease, or if your house has dry rot, or if your yarn is infested with clothes moths. There are various methods for combating these creeping plagues: scrape your walls, wash your yarn, go into isolation. It is easy to see symbolism in these instructions – plagues can take the form of insidious ideas, or corrupt business practices. Marx himself saw capitalists as vampires, sucking the blood of the working classes (Das Kapital, 1867-94).

Leviticus 13:45 Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ 46 As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.

In Dracula (1897), the virtuous Mina Harker is bitten by the evil Count, and feels herself turning into a vampire. Dr Van Helsing and her friends try to protect her by various means including the touch of a consecrated Host to her forehead – but it burns her.

The echo of the scream had not ceased to ring on the air when there came the reaction, and she sank on her knees on the floor in an agony of abasement. Pulling her beautiful hair over her face, as the leper of old his mantle, she wailed out: “Unclean! Unclean! Even the Almighty shuns my polluted flesh! I must bear this mark of shame upon my forehead until the Judgment Day.”

Are there other Biblical parallels?

In 2 Kings 5, the Prophet Elisha heals an Aramaean King, Naaman, of leprosy and refuses payment. Naaman answers: If you won’t take it, please have someone give me as much dirt as a pair of mules can carry. From now on I will sacrifice to the Lord alone. I will not offer any burnt offering or sacrifice to any other gods. (NIV. He takes the earth home so that he can set up an altar to the Israelites' deity.)

Jonathan Harker, while a prisoner of the Count at his castle in Transylvania, discovers where the evil aristocrat sleeps – in a vault full of coffins and wooden boxes: There, in one of the great boxes, of which there were fifty in all, on a pile of newly dug earth, lay the Count! He was either dead or asleep, I could not say which...

When Dracula takes a ship to England he is loaded aboard in a box full of earth from Transylvania. He Count has a minion in England – a mental patient called Renfield given to chanting “The blood is the life! The blood is the life!”

Leviticus 17:10 Any Israelite or any alien living among them who eats any blood – I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from his people. 11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life. 12 Therefore I say to the Israelites, "None of you may eat blood, nor may an alien living among you eat blood."

You can read the whole story of Dracula here. And the entire Bible is here.

The Turin Shroud


The Holy Shroud of Turin was “discovered” in 1354, when it was exhibited in a new church in Lirey, a French village, says Wikipedia. It purports to be the imprint of Christ’s dead body on his shroud, but it was “denounced as a forgery by the bishop of Troyes in 1389”.

Is it a fake? Or is it a miracle, an “image made without hands”? These were popular during iconoclast periods, when those in charge took the ten commandments seriously. Exodus 20:4  You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. (New International Version)

A story is told that as Jesus carried his cross to the place of execution, a woman called Veronica lent him her veil to wipe his face. Later, she found the image of his face imprinted on the veil. Various “veils of St Veronica” have been venerated. Surely it’s only a coincidence that her name translates as “true image”?

The shroud was long thought to be a piece of cloth bearing some dirty marks in the shape of a man’s body, with the faint image of a face. It was not often exhibited, and was hard to study. But in 1898, when Secondo Pia produced the first photographs of the object, he was stunned to find that the negative image of the face showed the moving and lifelike image of a man.


A miracle? Let's look at some art from the 14th century.

“Man Of Sorrows” Tirol Austria 14th/15th Century

Fragment of a Christ from a Pieta, 14th century (ca. 1320-1340)

Edward the Black Prince, Kings Lynn

Gothic sculpture was naturalistic and refined. Men were often shown with fashionable hairstyles such as a chin-length bob with curled ends, and forked beards (see the Black Prince, above).

Could the image on the shroud result from blood, sweat and dirt from a corpse transferring to the fabric? Cover your face with something to simulate dirt – darkish makeup would do. Press a white cloth to your features. Peel it off and lay it flat. It will not look like the face on the shroud – it would look more like the Mask of Agamemnon. (Was the sheet of gold pressed onto his dead visage?)

I imagine the artist of the shroud looking at his model – human or carved – and reasoning: “The forehead, nose, chin and cheekbones stand out the most.” So he paints them onto the linen (red ochre and vermilion have been found). Now he puts in the eyelids, lower lip, moustache and beard. The rest of the face is sketched in more faintly. Take note of that chin-length bob and forked beard. And if it was Christ's shroud, preserved for the imprint of his features, where was it between 33CE and the mid-14th century?

My take? It’s a work of art – and a very good one. It's not often that a degree in Medieval Art History comes in useful.

Monday 22 April 2024

The Crust of Bread


I must not throw upon the floor

The crust I cannot eat;

For many little hungry ones

Would think it quite a treat.

My parents labor very hard

To get me wholesome food

Then I must never waste a bit

That would do others good.

For wilful waste makes woeful want,

And I may live to say,

Oh how I wish I had the bread

That once I threw away!

"Think of the starving children in Africa!" they used to tell us in the 1950s. Our piano teacher quoted this poem to us, but thankfully she wasn't serious. It sounds more 1850s.

More Victorian poetry here.

Tuesday 16 April 2024

Outrageous Excuses 22

16 April 2024: it should be a good week for excuses. Meanwhile here are a few from the recent past.

Sometimes people want to point out that they are holier than thou:

@FLKDayton It blows me away how many people justify not tipping delivery drivers on the basis of "it's an exploitative system," and rather than advocating for better labor laws, they exploit them further and think they've done something meaningful. 

@danwaterfield: Guy who’s against smallpox eradication on vegan moral grounds.

Woman announces she is not giving her spouse or children any presents this year because the best Christmas present is no present and her six-year-old understands. (Peak middle-class, especially the meanness.)

Teaching women to protect themselves against rape is turning them into victims

@fem_mb: My friend told me today that she's conflicted about going to a pro basketball game because it might be racist for a white woman to “watch black men performing in a coliseum setting”.

A flatmate thought it was OK to shave your legs but not your knees. She also thought it was wrong to pluck your eyebrows – instead she kept them raised in a surprised expression. 

@laureningram: Ultimately as a c*s person it’s not up to me to decide if Hogwarts: Legacy is tr*nsphobic. The tr*ns people in my life, and online, have told me it is. So I won’t be buying it.

We have to say “adult female human” because “adult human female” is a Terf dogwhistle.

Reading is precious: that’s why I’m giving away my books. (Rhiannon Lucy Cossett in the Guardian, headline. Original head read “But the cult of book ownership can be smug and middle class”.)

@Alicemakochieng: I've never watched or downloaded Netflix and I am happy to remain ignorant. I don't even watch TV, and no TV in our lounge or bedroom. My family is happy, we're good. We have super fast home wifi, for other things - work and leisure. We watched The Crown for history, on an app.

No need to worry about Brexit-caused shortages – seasonal fruit and veg are more nutritious. In fact there is something rather immoral about eating fruit and veg out of season (as we have been doing for the past 50 years or more).


“We need to look at the bigger picture” is a constant. Also “Other things are more important: what about global warming, world hunger etc.” It helps to quote a worldwide problem which one person is powerless to affect.

"I resigned because I didn't want to be a distraction from more important things."

The Christie estate is run by Christie’s great-grandson, James Prichard, who has said that allowing Sally Phelps to change the ending of Ordeal by Innocence was one of the hardest decisions of his working life. He previously told The Telegraph: “I think sometimes you do have to make hard and radical decisions. Yes, we will upset a lot of my great-grandmother’s fans and to some extent I apologise to them and to some extent I don’t. This is not a decision we take lightly. We do set out to use the Agatha Christie story. If we weren’t doing that, why would anyone even bother to attach us to the project and pay us for the privilege? But sometimes you just have to take those decisions.” (Daily Telegraph)

@Wommando Yorkshire: Paedophile comedian, Christopher Thomas Binns, 53, caught with over 25,000 child sexual abuse images, is spared jail. Binns's excuse was that he'd been under the influence of an overdose of prescription drugs for ADHD, which induced OCD.

@LabelFreeBrands Earlier some TRAs were saying “the shark stuffed animal isn’t about mocking the surfer who lost her arm to a shark attack! It’s just Blähaj, the IKEA shark that tr*ns activists have adopted as their mascot! It’s a meme!

I said it was cheese because I didn’t think you’d know what tofu was. (Nothing to Declare, paraphrase)

@exiliaex: Tankie is a derogatory term that usually refers to people who paper over atrocities via some sort of transcendental justification (historical progress, revolutionary-communist necessity, etc)

@DrFrancisYoung: The Moderator of the Church of Scotland describes selling off kirks as “a real opportunity to reimagine ourselves and to let go of some of the baggage that’s held us down.” 

My husband has flown to Fiji for a wedding and this is his luggage.” (The bags contain nothing but black market cigarettes. Nothing to Declare Officer: Her story has changed several times.)

Reasons why women shouldn’t have the vote: 90% of the women either do not want it, or do not care. It means competition of women with men instead of co-operation. 80% of the women eligible to vote are married and can only double or annul their husbands’ votes. It can be of no benefit commensurate with the additional expense involved. In some States more voting women than voting men will place the government under petticoat rule.

@DiscussingFilm Disney’s live-action ‘BAMBI’ remake will be a modernised retelling. “I think that to be able to bring it to life for kids these days in a way that maybe they relate to a little bit more would be of service to the original.”

@msloobylou: At the @NPGLondon they have spelled Dora Bryan’s name incorrectly. A guard said the gallery believes names can be spelled different ways. 

Lots of justifications for some celeb publishing a novel she “wrote” after a few Zoom sessions with a ghost. But the ghost’s name is on the title page! It was all perfectly open!

According to one pundit on unherd, climate protesters all have emotional problems, it’s not about saving the planet.

Trans person at a rally who said something like “If you see a TERF, punch them in the effing face” now says it was a publicity stunt.

Yes, I know it isn’t true, but if we say so it'll upset a lot of people.

Aug 2023: John Eliot Gardiner has been reported as slapping and punching a choir member who exited the wrong way during an opera. Official explanation: “The incident may have arisen as a result of a recent change in medication” and Sir J had been suffering from “extreme heat in France”. “I am taking a step back in order to get the specialist help I recognise that I have needed for some time,” said JEG in early Sept.

@BestForBritain: Challenged by @hilarybennmp on having cartoons removed at a refugee centre for children, Jenrick changes his story a third time. Last week it was that the centre looked too welcoming. Then murals were not Home Office approved. Now, they weren't age appropriate for teens. 

Men are violent, love sport, start wars etc because they are jealous of women's ability to give birth. (Caitlin Moran, paraphrase)

Boris Johnson’s late-night announcement that he was quitting as an MP with immediate effect ensured that he was “shaping the narrative, he was creating the headlines, he was the agent of change”, says BBC political editor Chris Mason. (This is more putting a positive spin on disaster.)

I was rude, aggressive and abusive because “I was in a bad mood.”

Most people I’ve spoken to for this book are veterans of film and television productions where off-color humor, barbed banter and incisive, even stinging, comments are common. None have a real problem with those things, in the right settings and proportions. In fact, humor is not just a form of creativity, it can serve as a necessary pressure-relief valve. (Maureen Ryan, Vanity Fair. Her book is about bullying and racism.)

TikTok prankster who harassed lone women after dark says “I was egged on and my ego got a hold of me... I just do it for fun”. (He is in custody pending inquiries, May 2023.)

@HistoryBoomer: People use made-up quotes or quotes with the wrong source all the time. When called out, they often say they don't care. "So what? It's the words that matter!" I don't understand that way of thinking. Honestly boggles my brain. The truth always matters.

Martin Rowson’s caricature of Richard Sharp has been taken down. (“Those aren’t gold pieces, they are polyps on the mantle of the vampire squid.”)

Actress Eva Green described a film crew as “shitty peasants... from Hampshire”, and called the producer a “moron”. She explained it was “just my Frenchness coming out” and that it made her express things “in a very direct way”. (2023-04-29)

April 2023: Diane Abbott writes to the Observer claiming that racism only applies to white prejudice against black people. For everybody else, it’s just like being bullied for having red hair – and Jewish people were never made to sit at the back of the bus. She gets a huge amount of flak, and writes a letter of apology claiming “The errors arose in an initial draft being sent”.

@tehbewilderness: That didn't happen. And if it did, it wasn't that bad. And if it was, that's not a big deal. And if it is, that's not my fault. And if it was, I didn't mean it. And if I did, you deserved it.

She wasn't in a very good place in life at the time. (She had a public meltdown.)

Supporting Allison Bailey (she sued Stonewall and her chambers) is “stirring up hate and division”.  (She won.)

@NoXYinXXprisons: Over a year ago, around the time of the Prisons Amendments to the PCSC Bill, someone in Westminster told me "prisons must take its turn". That there should not be too much focus on prisons because the "bigger picture" needed to be considered. 

@dyslexiamama: So we’ve gone from phonics instruction creates “word callers” to phonics instruction makes kids stop and sound out every single word whether they need to or not. What will the next excuse be? (Earlier excuses: phonics makes children read non-existent words. With phonics, children “bark at print” and don’t understand what they’re reading. Well, they won’t understand it if they can’t read it, will they?)

Shaima Dallili was sacked as president of the NUS for an anti-Semitic tweet. “She has since apologised, saying she was now ‘a different person’,” says the Times Jan 2022.

@brokenbottleboy: They have made an opera of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas... The book that the Auschwitz Memorial said “should be avoided by anyone who studies or teaches about the history of the Holocaust.” The Today programme just played an excerpt; it was a woman wailing, “Why is that fence there? Why is that fence there?” The composer of the opera just said, “The book is, on balance, more true than it is false.” No. It’s not. It’s false. Completely.

@JimmyJenkins: Arizona Department of Corrections Director just told the state legislature we can't shut down private prisons because too many communities rely on the cheap labor they provide and they would "collapse" without it. (I remember when they said that about growing tobacco.)

DANGER! Woman’s suffrage would double the Irresponsible vote. It is a menace to the home, men’s employment and to all business. (All women in the UK got the vote in 1928 – and all men.)

It’s no good making straws available in restaurants for disabled people to ask for them because the disabled are very badly treated in general and some people write articles saying that disabled students shouldn’t get special accommodations because it destroys everybody’s education. And the restaurants are bound to say “So, you don’t care about the oceans, then?” as they begrudgingly hand out a straw. (@EbThen, paraphrase. Since then re-usable straws have become available, and restaurants hand out paper straws and everyone has moved on to the next flap.)

We shouldn’t use wind turbines to create electricity because wind power enabled the trans-Atlantic slave trade. (@ezraklein, paraphrase. Also "conclusion a long way from premise". Any others on this template? Yes, see below.)

An office within the University of Southern California's School of Social Work says it is removing the term "field" from its curriculum because it may have racist connotations related to slavery. The newly renamed Office of Practicum Education, formerly known as the Office of Field Education, within the university's Suzanne-Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, is making the change in order to be more inclusive, according to a memo sent out to faculty and students this week and obtained by NPR. "This change supports anti-racist social work practice by replacing language that could be considered anti-Black or anti-immigrant in favour of inclusive language," the memo reads. "Language can be powerful, and phrases such as 'going into the field' or 'field work' may have connotations for descendants of slavery and immigrant workers that are not benign." (

More here, and links to the rest. 

Thursday 4 April 2024

Writing Tips: Technology

I have upset people on Twitter this week by telling them to make sure all the quote marks in their manuscripts are curly. You can't type them straight into Blogger. But you can turn on curly quotes in Word and import them into Blogger “like this”. There are no such things as "straight quotes", those are inch and foot marks.

When typewriters were invented, inch and foot marks were provided, and typists used them for quote marks. However, any text that is typeset will have the curly quotes that match the typeface. In some typefaces, the quote marks are less curly, but they are still quote marks, and not the upright inch and foot marks. If you self-publish with "straight quotes", you will look amateurish – this was the word that upset people. The subject has its own Wikipedia entry, but it’s misleading and out of date. You may disagree with me, but if you want your text to look professional, use curly quotes.

If you standardise on double quotes (“), you only use single quotes (‘) for quotes within quotes. There are no exceptions for single words, or the names of plants, or anything you care to mention – whatever you may have been taught at school.

Turn on curly quotes before you start writing – but I've just tried searching and replacing in Word and it worked! Never has before.

Another subject that came up this week – a distraught writer reported that he'd lost the latest version of his work in progress. Fortunately he had an earlier draft, and was able to salvage most of what he'd lost. (I once lost the whole of Chapter 12 and had to rewrite it. It was all about getting lost in the mist on a wolf-haunted Bodmin Moor.)

Don't find yourself in this distressing situation. Get an external hard disk and back up everything from time to time. (I'm sure you can automate this process.) Name new versions fileb, filec and so on.

Back up in the cloud - in Dropbox or similar.

Don't keep an entire novel in one file. Save it chapter by chapter. And while you're writing, save every few sentences. Control, Command or Apple+S. You can customise Word so that the command is Cmd+S and you can type it without taking your eyes off the page. (You can customise most keyboard shortcuts.)

And if you really want to make your life easier, learn to touchtype properly.

More writing tips, and links to the rest.

Saturday 30 March 2024

Heartsink Phrases


Not just phrases you dislike, but phrases that usher in an unavoidable experience involving hours of discomfort, distress, embarrassment and/or boredom. And possibly leaving you with a dreary artwork, garment or object – like a coffee-table made out of an old water tank.

shake up, freshen, fresh and modern, playful, renew, reimagine, appeal to young people (who can’t relate Shakespeare because it’s not about them and their lives). (A "fresh and modern" bathroom is painted in grey and black, with white lavatory tiles.)

with a modern twist (Now it’s “sculptures of medieval women”. Or in a food context, chilli beetroot. Chilli Marmite.)

The whole house has been remodernised. (Bland, bland, bland with too many shiny surfaces.)

The 60s estate is being redeveloped. (The next sentence is “Half of it has already been demolished”.)

The performance will run for three hours without a break. (And “All our toilets are gender-neutral.”)

contemporary artistic responses (You haven’t got enough old art, so you eke it out with some mediocre new art. The worst museums of this type have an interesting modern building containing nothing but a perpetual son-et-lumiere performance.)

Der Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny reimagined. (In the latest production it looks as if they were all naked.)

A community mosaic will be unveiled. (Times letter, 2018)

The following piece has been specially composed for the occasion. (Richard Barber, Times letter,  2018)

We want to bring people together. (Like in the Blitz – because hard times are ahead.)

We’ve opened up the action of the original stage play/novel.

This new show confronts the colonialism and patriarchy behind church kneelers/the work of Mary Delaney/Egyptian mummy portraits/18th century silver napkin rings/Welsh love spoons... (Women’s work is destined merely to be knelt on, Mary Delaney was forbidden by society to paint, etc.)

Scan the QR code and order from the menu through your phone. (Translation: We have sacked all our wait staff.)

It’s all done through our app now.

Are there any words in the English language less likely to make the heart sing than "non-dairy creamer"? (@sumit)

There are so many wonderful jewellery projects that you can make with recycled sweaters.

Classic X (Manufacturer diversifies steady-selling product into a “range”. The range includes “Classic X”, but it has been tinkered with and “improved”. The range no longer includes original X. The word “classic” probably means nothing in law, whereas original would mean “original formula’.)

A Jean Brodie for our times. (Re an adaptation of Muriel Spark’s classic.)

The five-mile trail is lined with sculptures by local artists.

an evening of performance art

book of condolence

breaks down preconceptions, challenges/plays with our notions of, subverts pretty much anything

comic ballet

dance piece interpreting Strauss’s Four Last Songs

drinking song

for your safety and comfort
free fun for all the family

fusion food
fusion music

gentle comedy

I don’t want to bother the doctor. (Ushers in long argument where A says “Your tax pays the doctor to be bothered – it’s his job.” And B says “I don’t want to bother the doctor.” And others on this template.)

inspired by... (Nothing like.)
installation (Or still worse, "intervention".)

internal politics

literary fiction

out of your comfort zone (If there is such a thing as a comfort zone I want to enter it and stay there for ever.)

public art

refurbished to a very high standard
religious music for the 21st century

replacement bus service

rock-inspired score
romantic comedy

site-specific devised theatre piece involving the whole community 

This is from our new album.


updated classic

vintage knitting patterns – adapted and updated to suit modern life 

with a nod to...
with a twist, with a modern twist
with hilarious results

work hard, play hard
wow factor

You should have seen your face! (Can I sink through the floor, or should I merely move to another continent?)

You’ll never guess what happened next.

Friday 29 March 2024

Inspirational Quotes 107

Abusers manage their anger just fine – when there are witnesses. (S.C. Elgin)

Ah well, the world’s a strange place, full of jewels if you can find them. (Felicity Fisher. Her painting of  Hope End, Ledbury, is pictured.)

All opinions are not equal. (Douglas Adams)

All the world’s a stage, and some of us are stagehands. (John Mortimer)

Anatomy is destiny. (Sigmund Freud)

As goes the playground, so goes the world. (Elizabeth Bastos)

Blondes have more fun, are paid more, and marry wealthier men. (Daily Telegraph) 

Bullies get worse as time goes on. (@TheRoyalButler)

Career women: nod less, smile less. (Kate White)

Conciliation makes the conciliated more aware of the effectiveness of their bad behaviour so consequently they increase it. (novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard)

Conferences can be challenging without a sidekick. (Carolina Patino)

Do not despise the past. You came from it, and into it you go. (Ronald Knox)

Don’t loiter hopefully, go now. (Mariella Frostrup) 

Don’t look for people’s motives – look at the results of their actions. They are probably the results they wanted. (Jordan Peterson, paraphrase)

Even those who deny free will exists behave as if they have it. (New Scientist)

Everything is awesome, everything is cool when you’re part of a team. (‏@knitboy) 

Facts aren’t kind to delusions. (Leiv Tunc)

Get out there and actually DO something. Go caving. Join a choir, make something, go somewhere, create – whatever. (AJB)

Get up, get out and do something – it will give you something to talk about. (@RBFesquire)

I am human and I need to be loved, just like everybody else does. (@slowboring)

I am not strong on my own. When I have the support of people around me I am fine. I have a great team. (Susan Boyle) 

I believe that there is still an underlying truth even if we can’t find it. (Christina Rees)

I have plenty of people to do things with. I just have no one to do nothing with. (Katharine Whitehorn)

I no longer had any friends. Everyone around me was on the payroll. (Barry Manilow)

I’ve found that luck is quite predictable. If you want more luck, take more chances, be more active, show up more often. (Brian Tracy)

I’ve noticed even people who claim everything is predestined and we can do nothing to change it look before they cross the road. (Stephen Hawking)

If they attack one personally it means they have not a single argument left. (British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, paraphrase)

If we wait until we’re ready, we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives. (Lemony Snicket)

If you never use small talk, your life will either be very brilliant or very lonely. (Katharine Whitehorn, paraphrase)

Ignoring bullies does not make them go away. (feminist skeptic Rebecca Watson)

In a group, there are several possible roles: leader, side-kick, ideas-guy, comedian, fixer, victim. (BR)

It’s much easier to build friendships within a private community. (

Just teasing – or mistreatment and disrespect? (Shahida Arabi)

Learn three entertaining stories to tell at parties. Cleo Rocos

Life can’t be solved by admirable maxims from modern literature. (Agatha Christie)

Life is full of false starts. (Novelist E.M. Forster) 

Life is not Hollywood, life is Cricklewood. (Humourist Alan Coren)

Life itself is uncertain but think how tedious it would be if it wasn’t. (Patrick McDonnell)

Like all geeky girls on the planet I have no friends. (

Lonely? Join an athletic team or a church. (

Lord, what fools these mortals be! (William Shakespeare)

Maybe you’re not depressed – maybe you had a horrible life. (Jordan Peterson, paraphrase)

Nerds form their own societies where intelligence is the most important thing. (Paul Graham)

No man is an island. (John Donne)

Once she saw to whom I was married she was NICE - AS - PIE. (@Highgatemums)

One person’s “fun joke” is often another person’s “painful jab”. (Danny Lavery)

Partners should be able to cheer you up after a tough day, and they should be able to provide you with love and support. (

People want to be exceptional, unique – even if they don't want to stand out too much. (Colin Scott)

Positivity may prompt us to seek wars we can’t win, make us waste time and money “improving” ourselves when the real impediments to happiness lie far beyond our control. Lucy Ellman  

Proper love should be utterly supportive and comfortable, like a raincoat or a jacket potato. (Olivia Colman)

Psychological maltreatment is just as harmful as other types of maltreatment. (Pediatrics) 

Relationships are key to a successful life, because family and partners provide support. (Brooke Feeney and Nancy Collins)

Relationships should build you up, not tear you down. (@kimgarst)

Resistance is not futile. (Patrick McDonnell)

Resistance to bad things is not produced by being subjected to the badness one is supposed to resist. (Richard Thompson)

Ridicule is dominance-marking behaviour. (@RuffyanMe) 

Self-approval is acquired mainly from the approval of others. (Mark Twain)

Silence encourages the tormentor. (Elie Wiesel)

Some taboos don’t need breaking. (Janice Turner)

Sometimes being too nice is dangerous – you have to show your mean side once in a while to avoid getting hurt. (‏@madfactz )

Sometimes the price of freedom is too high. (AJB)

Sometimes you can fashion a friend out of a human who happens to sit nearby and does the same job as you. (Jezebel) 

Sometimes you have to just smile and say nothing. (@LottyBlue)

Sweet, unspoilt, natural, charming – the usual bag of tricks. (Agatha Christie, The Mirror Crack’d )

The biggest cause of human misery is miserable relationships with others, conducted in miserable circumstances. (psychologist Richard Bentall) 

The outward form – it is a bagatelle – but it matters to people. (Hercule Poirot)

The secret is preparation. (Bill Turnbull)

The toad beneath the harrow knows where every separate toothpoint goes. (William Blake)

The truth is more useful than lies. (NJ)

The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off. (Gloria Steinem) 

There is no-one as judgmental as someone who says they never judge. (LW)

There is nothing in the world so curious and so interesting and so beautiful as truth. (Hercule Poirot)

There is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes)

To feel the supreme & moving beauty of the spectacle to which Nature invites her ephemeral guests! That is what I call prayer. (Claude Debussy) 

To thine own self be true, thou canst not then be false to any man. (Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet)

Tough love is often a pretext for cruelty. (Alex Paknadel)

Try a hairstyle you’ve never tried before. (@chictopia)

United wishes and good will cannot overcome brute facts. Truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it. Ignorance may deride it. Malice may distort it. But there it is. (Winston Churchill)

We are born to be in relationships. We are born for one another. (Lee Weissman)

We cannot survive alone. (Monica Lewinsky. You should have heard what they told me.) 

Wear this year’s silhouette – not last year’s. (Helen Gurley Brown)

What makes a computer inhuman is its complete honesty. (@diggonomics)

When all else fails, kick over the table and run. (Raymond Chandler)

When bullying goes unchallenged, it becomes normalised. (Mairi Black)

When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do? (Maynard Keynes, allegedly)

While people are entitled to illusions they're not entitled to limitless enjoyment of them, or to impose them on others. (David Didau)

While relationships with gold-diggers may not be the best, they are better than no relationship at all. (JP)

Will does not imply ability to implement that will. (Koen Smets)

Without Friends or Family, even Extraordinary Experiences are Disappointing  (Scientific American headline)

Work is more fun than fun. (Noel Coward)

Working behind the bar of his dad’s pub, writer Chapman Pincher learned “the art of easy conversation with men of all ages and ranks”.

You can try hard, don’t mean a thing. (Bananarama)

You carry forever the fingerprint that comes from being under someone’s thumb. (Nancy Banks-Smith)

You don't need religion to be kind to people, you just need to be kind to people. (‏@sherlockmichael)

You play the cards you get given. (Roman Iwaschkin)

You want people who will support your dreams and goals, not squash them. (@HeatherSanto) 

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 24 March 2024

Censorship and the Meaning of Words

On 24 March 2024, @elfbatross asks: All right, what's woke/anti-woke today then? paperclips? squares? the colour yellow? vaseline? door hinges? ear lobes?

@seanonolennon Mar 22 If words are violence, and silence is violence, and violence is violence, what isn’t violence?

“Fake Democrat” parodies that “borders are violence”. @votejgr claims “Evictions are violence”. 

And we’ve been told many times that words are violence. And back in the 60s the BBC had similar problems...

Round the Horne, Series 1, Episode 4

Kenneth Horne: The BBC Censors, whose job it is to force out hidden dirt. Wherever there is honi soit, there you will find them mal y pensing. Come with us now down the corridors of power to a small backroom in Broadcasting House... where the censors are in session.

Kenneth Williams: All right, all right, gentlemen, simmer down. There’s too much filth going out on the air, and it’s our job to stop it. Only this morning I heard a reference to a lady’s ankle!

Betty Marsden [pictured, left]: It’s Sodom and Gomorrah all over again!

KW: ...all over again!

Hugh Paddick: I agree. Where’s it going to end, that’s what I ask? Yesterday Mrs Dale said she had a ladder in her stocking!

BT: Ooooh!

HP: Where is it leading to is what I want to know?

BT: What about suggestive titles of programmes?

HP: Suggestive?

KW: What, what, what, eh? Oh, yes! Could you give me an example?

BT: Have a Go with Wilfred Pickles! Tell me! What's the implication of that?

KW: Mmmmm...

HP: I don’t see any harm in saying Have a Go. I mean It’s not going to corrupt the listeners. Anybody who listens to Have a Go is beyond corruption.

BT: It’s not that, it’s not that at all. It’s “pickles”, with its suggestion of vinegar. Everyone knows vinegar is alcoholic and we know what alcohol leads to...

KW: Ooooh, yea! [The meeting begins to take on the tone of a revivalist religious service.] Oh, sister, yea! Screamin’ and carryin’ on, and tearin’ their clothes off... fighting, the debauchery, and tearin’ their clothes off. At least, that’s what always ’appens in my case.

[The cast agree that Wilfred should change his name to Grated-Carrots, fluffing the obvious punchline that the programme should be called Have a Go with a Carrot. "And I defy anyone to find a double meaning in that!", challenges Betty Marsden.]

BT: Ah, gentlemen, I think we ought to do something about Take Your Partners. Gentlemen, who are they fooling? Take your partners for what?

HP: Well, surely it’s just Old-Tyme Dancing?

KW: Aaaaaaah! Dancing with each other! Holdin’ each other close. Their ’ot breath on each other’s neck! The proximity of warm flesh through the bombazine! Ooooh, the knees touchin’, women with their rouged cheeks and carmined lips, and the soft swell of their... Oooooh!

HP: Quick, quick, somebody, a damp sponge on the back of his neck.

KW: That’s better. Now, what else ’ave we got?

HP: A programme called Five to 10.

KW: Oooh, a suggestion of betting. Strike it out! 

HP: Let it be stricken!

BT: [High-pitched] Out with it!

KW: Aye, let it be cast out, brothers! For is it not sinful?

Omnes: Yea!

KW: And is it not written that we should go forth and scourge the fleshpots of the BBC with whips and scorpions?

Omnes: Yea!

The meeting degenerates into shrieks and shouts of “Hallelujah!”, and a brass band joins the fun. The programme itself fell foul of the BBC’s censorship in later episodes, and the cast were warned about “putting emphases on certain syllables”, by Mary Whitehouse, no less.

Censor (Kenneth Williams): Ah, Horne, I have to reprimand you on certain words and phrases used in last weeks show.

What words?

Last week you distinctly said: Hello.

Well whats wrong with that?

Oh come off it, Horne. We all know what "Hello" means. We all know what it suggests. It suggests "Hello, whats this I see through the keyhole? It's a scantily clad female doing an exotic dance with a ball of wool".

Good heavens, Sir, is that what it suggests?

Well that's what it suggests to me... And then there's your name.

What's wrong with "Kenneth Horne"?

Everyone knows that ground-up moose's horn is an aphrodisiac! The very title of your show is an inducement to loose living and carrying on... (pause) I've found. You'll have to change your name.

Douglas Smith (announcer): We now present Round the Larksley-Fortinbras.

Later, they had trouble with "without further ado", which suggested that some "ado" had been going on already...

More Kenneth Williams here.

Monday 4 March 2024

Grammar: Lists

Writers are bad at lists – perhaps because they're worrying about Oxford commas, or have been told they can't have more than one "and" in a sentence. If you want a rule, here's one: Lists must go "noun, noun and noun", or "verb, verb and verb". Your list can't go noun, noun and verb. Make it noun and noun, and verb. Note comma before the last "and".

Children are dying from dirty water, poor sanitation and hygiene. Or is it "poor sanitation, hygiene and dirty water? Water Aid have juggled the voiceover on their TV ad more than once, but they’re still telling us that children die from hygiene. What they mean is: dirty water, poor sanitation and POOR hygiene. Or: poor sanitation and hygiene, AND dirty water.

@MinnOrchia claims: I have a female personality, including high levels of anxiety, submissiveness and low self-esteem. He has high low self-esteem? He means: high levels of anxiety AND submissiveness, and low self-esteem.

@GrimArtGroup: He sold loose biscuits, loose tobacco and strikes me as the type of lovely bloke who wouldn’t hurry you when you were choosing yer tuppenny mix. (He sold loose biscuits AND loose tobacco, and strikes me... Note the comma before the and.)

He went on to write plays for the Royal Court, a screenplay for Ken Russell (in whose film The Devils he acted as Cardinal Richelieu), and his satirical poem I Shall Vote Labour – with its refrain “I shall vote Labour because... – became a popular poster in students’ bed­rooms in the 1960s. (The Week. Needs an and – no comma – after "Royal Court".)

While tradition might provide comfort, familiarity, and even bind groups of people… (Comfort AND familiarity...)

Much aid to “poorer nations” is wasted, mismanaged or goes down the corruption trail. (Aid is goes? Much aid to “poorer nations” is wasted OR mismanaged, or goes down the corruption trail. Note the last comma.)

They have a designated bathroom area, garbage area and are even recycling. (They have a designated bathroom area AND A garbage area, and are even recycling.)

Airbath’s Air Royale has hundreds of microjets, underwater lights and can hold two people. (Evening Standard, 2005. It has underwater lights and hundreds of microjets, AND can hold two people) 

I buy organic milk, free-range eggs and always put the recycling out on a Thursday. (New Scientist 2004. I buy organic milk AND free-range eggs, and always put...)

He became guarded, withdrawn and found solace in the world of books. (He became guarded AND withdrawn, and found solace in the world of books.)

Based on bone density, he was a strong man who lived and worked with a broken back, hand and died of a broken neck. (Based on bone density, THEY CONCLUDED THAT he was a strong man, ONE who HAD lived and worked with a broken back AND hand, AND died of a broken neck. "Bone density" only shows his strength.)

Harnisch spent three decades as a newspaper copy editor, ensuring stories contained no inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and were grammatically correct. ( Harnisch spent three decades as a newspaper copy editor, ensuring stories contained no inaccuracies OR inconsistencies, and were grammatically correct.)

Herne the Hunter is said to have antlers growing from his head, ride a horse, torment cattle and rattle chains. (Put the longest item last. Can we make “have antlers” more active? Herne the Hunter is said to ride a horse, torment cattle, rattle chains and sport a set of antlers. Or start with "The antler-headed Herne...")

Sometimes, these “magi” were depicted as performing divination, ritual activities or educating young boys who would take the throne. ( Sometimes these “magi” were depicted as performing divination OR ritual activities, or educating young boys who would take the throne. You need an “or” between the two verbs: performing and educating; and between the nouns: divination and ritual activities.)

Winchester Market has stalls selling handcrafted gifts, a steel band and a rock choir. (Turn it round, or make it “gifts PLUS a steel band”. The stalls are not selling steel bands. Has a steel band, a rock choir and stalls selling etc.)

With its errors, distortions, bias, and evasion, this is a shameful account of the British and their art. No one asks for a roseate and patriotic narrative, just one that is correct, well-informed, and which encourages visitors to assess for themselves. (Spectator on the Tate, 2023. They mean “rosy”, and need an “and” between correct and well-informed.)

@RGRyan777: Are you ever watching a movie, a streaming series or reading a book and think to yourself, “My God. How in the world did this ever get produced/published?” (Are you ever watching a movie OR a streaming series, or reading a book, and think to yourself, “My God. How in the world did this ever get produced/published?”) 

This is George Manuel Unwin, a Chilean opera singer who paraded around Paris in his spats, wearing a monocle, hat and carrying a cane. (...wearing a monocle and a hat, and carrying a cane.)

Savannah cats... are playful, loyal and like to be in water. (Times, April 2024. The cats are playful AND loyal, AND like to be in water.)

Via Twitter: EDI training needs to be legally accurate and not counterproductive. Yet too often in last 10 years it has been activist dominated, divisive and led companies to Employment Tribunals like the Borg-Neal v Lloyd’s Bank or Phoenix v Open University cases. (A list can't go "adjective, adjective and verb". And you can't use the "has" from "has been" twice. Yet too often in last 10 years it has been activist dominated AND divisive, AND HAS LED companies to Employment Tribunals like...) 

@DiningNearMe I baked a Dutch apple pie. Would you add whipped cream, ice cream, or eat as is? (Would you add whipped cream, add ice cream, or eat as is? Verb, verb, or verb. Also possible: Would you add whipped cream OR ice cream, OR eat as is? Noun or noun, or verb.)

The plant is claimed to be antidepressant, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and to have a positive effect on Alzheimer's. (From Twitter. Adjective, adjective, adjective and noun! Prefer: The plant is claimed to be antidepressant, antioxidant AND anti-inflammatory, and to have a positive effect on Alzheimer's.) 

When Isaac Newton stayed at home to avoid the 1665 plague, he discovered the laws of gravity, optics, and he invented calculus. (He discovered the laws of gravity AND optics, AND he invented calculus.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday 19 February 2024

Syndromes We Don't Have a Name For 10: Organisations

Like gangs, fundamentalist sects demand substantial "sacrifices" as proof of loyalty. (Athena Andreadis)

It is with great sadness and regret that I have to report the @sheffielduni executive board had decided to press ahead with their plan to close @UniShefArch and move only two small elements of our teaching into dispersed departments where they shall surely wither and quickly die. (@Hugh_Willmott)

High-handed rule by an arrogant inner group.
(Lucy Worsley)

Founders are often charismatic individuals who can attract well-known public figures and large sums of money to their cause. However, they are not necessarily well suited to running and sustaining the organisations they create. The initial money and the supporters are drawn in by the passion and commitment of these strong personalities, rather than by evidence of their effectiveness… (Peter Kent, letter Guardian, 2007 (He was talking about the late Camila Batmangelidgh.)

Beware of backing the wrong horse. Today the “Lambertist” organisation, now known as the Parti des Travailleurs, is a shadow of its former self. It has lost the thousands-strong activist base which Pierre Lambert won in the 1970s; it retains only some cranky ideas and a bureaucratic internal regime to remind Lambert’s disciples of what once was. The death of the sect-leader Lambert is far less sad than the tale of those who followed him, committed revolutionaries who acquiesced to the rule of a petty tyrant and his coterie in the belief that they were contributing to the cause of socialism and the liberation of humanity, and were politically destroyed and demoralised by the experience. (Read about it here.)

Entryists jump from organisation to organisation, and are adept at manipulating internal structures for their own advantage: sitting out long boring meetings, coordinating interventions, playing victim when it suits.
(Guardian, 2016)

The bigger and more established [a campaigning] organisation becomes the more timid and conformist it seems to get, until it’s almost indistinguishable from the interests it should be confronting. (George Monbiot. See the critical outfit that is in hock to the phenomenon it is criticising, or even set up by it as a front, and intended to be toothless. See internal tribunals that never find bullies or harassers guilty, or force victims to reconcile with perps. See government enquiries set up to not find abuse or discrimination, headed by people who don’t believe it ever happens. See anti-racism initiatives that never lead to change. See many foxes in charge of henhouses.)

UK minister for building pylons loses role after campaigning against them. (Guardian, 2024. And "loses role" is a great euphemism.)

A friendly group recruits you – because they need someone to do the boring jobs. 

If you set up an efficient and well-funded organisation to do anything, beware of a takeover by a charming hard worker. He brings in many of “his people” and turns the purpose of the group into something completely different. A few of the original members cling on, either trying to continue the original project, or being brainwashed into working for the new goal and spreading the new word and repeating the new mantras. 

Or he may just want an important role and eventually a paying job.

A movement arises. It gathers momentum and has some influence on public affairs. Just when success seems to be approaching, it divides into Extremists and Moderates over a minor matter of principle. The factions quickly acquire names. The enemy is no longer the evil the movement started off fighting. What is the next act? The movement tears itself apart? Voices of reason say: "Of course you'll have to give up your more extreme demands." The movement is watered down until not even a molecule is left. The Moderates take over the official organisations and they become bandaid or astroturf outfits – and are known as "the reasonable face of...". 

Boy, some of these foremen are all crazy on this socialistic stuff and they want a union. So management has got up this Associated Foremen to have meetings and speakers to show them they’re part of top management and get ‘em over this union idea. (7 1/2 Cents, Richard Bissell)

But some organisations are set up to fight some evil, while knowing that if they succeed they’ll all be out of a job. What do they do when that happens? Find a new evil?

Perhaps the truth is that, after success in our great 20th-century drive for equality, Stonewall was left with bricks and mortar, an admirable staff, a CEO and a fund-raising team and, unconsciously, craved another big, newsworthy cause. Well, sometimes a big army with only small battles to fight does best simply to scale back. (Matthew Parris) 

They looked up and the times had changed. ( review of John Le Carré’s The Looking-Glass War)

The foreign branch of military intelligence (“The Blackfriars Boys”), a ghost of its wartime self now reduced to gathering remote intelligence and conducting research. (Goodreads commenter on The Looking-Glass War. It’s also known as “the department”.)

LeClerc and his ridiculous “department”. (The Looking-Glass War)

Interpol was once a dozy outfit where officials did a little desultory work in the mornings, went out for a boozy lunch, had a siesta and never came back. They were probably using ancient computers that weren’t linked to Europe’s police forces. A new director came in and made them work all day. 

In the 80s, a church in the East End gave a feminist group a free space to hold meetings. It did nothing but hold meetings – probably about "this group’s attitude to Nicaragua". The vicar eventually took his church hall back and turned it into an outfit that actually did something.

There are four magazines devoted to carp fishing. There are multiple methods of teaching children to read, and depending which is in power at the moment parents must get involved/mustn't intervene/must read a 40-page brochure on the method/must/mustn't mix reading methods. And that’s before we get started on the psychotherapists and the Palestinian Front for Liberation... The humanist societies were eventually persuaded to at least set up their offices in the same building. There were several organisations devoted to reviving Cornish who all thought they had the one true way of spelling, grammar, vocab etc. (Same for Breton, says a Brittany native.) In both countries, they have split their differences and concentrate on teaching the languages.

There are two factions in the Corrugated Iron Appreciation Society and they have furious disagreements in their Facebook group.

A small organisation has too many managers – too many lions and not enough Christians.

The monks of St Athos bar women from their mountain peak. Their tiny domain is big enough to accommodate a breakaway group – the monks of St. Esphigmenou who won’t pray for the Greek Orthodox patriarch because he’s too friendly with the Pope. The Eastern Orthodox broke away from the Catholic Church over a disagreement about the nature of Christ. Is he of the same substance as the Father: homoousion? Or a similar substance: homoiousion? An iota of difference.

There are several schools of dendrochronology, and they don't speak to each other. It's just bigotree.

More here, and links to the rest.